By the ripe old age of seven I’d learned to do everything by myself. I cooked. I cleaned. Did the laundry. I also worried constantly that the cops were going to come into my house and take me away from my parents – both of whom were actively struggling with addiction. While I’ve never been addicted to drugs or alcohol myself, I know as well as anyone else just how devastating addiction can be to families like mine. My name is Shannon and this is my addiction recovery story.
Even from my earliest working memory – somewhere around three years old – I knew my role in the family. I didn’t understand why, but it was clear to me that my parents were not going to be the ones to send me to school, tidy up the house or do many of those “normal” parent things. I also knew that if the right people found out about my home life, I’d be taken away from my parents, which is something that terrified me despite how bad the environment got.
And that’s the thing you need to remember. I was a child. I didn’t know anything else, so I didn’t have a frame of reference to compare my life with that of my peers. Not for a long time, anyway. By the age of 12, I started to catch glimpses of what life was like at home for my friends. That’s when the anger really took hold.
My Family’s Addiction Started Before My Time
Addiction runs in my family. Both my mother and father began using drugs and alcohol at an early age. First came the alcohol. Then came the other stuff. LSD, heroin, marijuana. In many ways, my parents’ whole relationship was conceived, defined and, ultimately, undone by years of persistent drug use. Fortunately, my mother was able to cope with her heroin addiction while pregnant with me. But after I was born, she become a full-blown heroin addict almost immediately. Even my grandparents and my uncle struggled with addiction. Everywhere I looked, I could see the devastation of addiction playing out before my eyes. I even saw it in my husband.
My Marriage to Addiction
I met my husband and the father of my children when I was in high school. We had an on-again, off-again relationship for many years and didn’t get married until we both turned 30. He was always a big drinker, and I knew he had a problem a full decade before we tied the knot. Despite knowing this, I thought getting older, getting married and having a son would change him. It didn’t. In fact, the exact opposite happened. The older he got and the more responsibility he had, the more he’d drink.
Of course, all of this took a toll on our marriage. For starters, I was constantly obsessed with his drinking and his whereabouts to the extent that I turned into a neglectful parent and a bad wife. To an outsider looking in, it was obvious my family was falling apart. For me, though, I couldn’t see just how dysfunctional my life had become. That’s when I found Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a path that would eventually lead to my divorce and being awarded full custody of my children.
My Recovery from Addiction
Without really realizing it, addiction had cast a dark shadow over my life. But I finally started coming out of it thanks to Al-Anon where I learned several important lessons.
First, I learned that it’s okay to be angry – something I’d felt extreme guilt over for many years. Second, I learned that I’m not alone… that there are other families just like mine. And finally, I realized I am not to blame for what addiction has done to my family and the people I care about most. For too long, I was driving myself crazy trying to make everything perfect. I figured that if I could just do that, then maybe my husband wouldn’t have reason to drink. Realizing I also needed to heal from addiction even though I wasn’t an addict and asking for help changed how I responded to my husband’s and loved ones’ addictions.
Addiction has taken a lot from me, but it has also given me a lot back. Today, I’m happy to say that I have a healthy relationship with my children. I’m genuinely excited about what’s next for my family. And, my experience with addiction has given me the knowledge and empathy needed in my job to help other people struggling with addiction.