Our Stories of Addiction Recovery most often recount stories from 1st person experiences with drug or alcohol addiction, and their subsequent recovery through drug rehab. But as most of us know, addiction affects so much more than just the person afflicted with addiction, and their stories often remain silent. Here, we sit with Elysz, a Recovery Support Specialist at The Granite House for Women, who knows all too well the impact of addiction having grown up as a daughter of an alcoholic.
From the outside, everything looked normal…
Elysz began by telling me she grew up a little north of Concord. Her family consisted of her mother, father, and younger sister. “From the outside, everything seemed normal. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a mechanic. A typical family,” Elysz stated.
But when mom got home, she wouldn’t stop drinking
However, that is where normal stopped for Elysz. “Behind closed doors, when mom got home she wouldn’t stop drinking. As a little kid, I don’t think I noticed it; it was just something I thought adults did. When I was little, my house was the “party house”. All my parents’ friends came over and I just thought it was normal”.
Then, DCYF started to come around
Elysz continued. “DCYF, (Division of Youth and Families), started to come around and investigate our situation. My grandmother basically told my parents that if they don’t stop, they are going to lose my sister and me. That was enough for my dad to stop, but that wasn’t enough for my mother to stop. Her disease progressed even more. There were times when she would stop for a week or a month but then she would start back up and it would be worse than before”. “I think DCYF got tipped off because the cops were involved a lot due to domestic abuse between my parents, because of the drinking. Mom would get really drunk and my father’s personality was, just to ignore it. Ignoring her would feed my mom and she would get even more mad. Pushing and shoving would start and then my mom would end up calling the cops and playing the victim. It always landed on my dad even though it was my mom doing everything”.
Then, my dad got into a motorcycle accident
“I think I understood the addiction piece when my dad got into a motorcycle accident. I was in 10th grade. It was a bad accident and he was in Dartmouth hospital for two weeks and they didn’t think he was going to survive. I ended up staying with my aunt the whole time but when we all came back together at home, the electricity was shut off, the car was being repossessed. I overheard a conversation between my mom and my aunts and they were basically blaming it all on her drinking. And that’s when it all made sense. All this stuff is not normal. Mom coming home and drinking and hiding her alcohol all over the house, is not normal. That is when the addiction piece clicked with me and all of the questions I had as a child were answered in that moment”.
Trying to hide her mom’s addiction
“For a while I hid it from everyone. Even though they all sort of knew. I remember friends telling me your mom brings alcohol to school. I would always say no she doesn’t, that doesn’t happen. Then she started to get fired from schools. I knew people knew but I was in denial. I didn’t want to believe it. “And then, when my mom got fired from the school district I was attending, she went to another district and the same thing happened. At that point I started distancing myself from her. We were never super close anyway. I was getting ready to go to college. I was never home much in high school because I just hated being there”.
Distancing herself from the chaos
Elysz went on to explain that she wanted to get away from the chaos that was her home. However, she would end up surrounding herself with chaos outside of the home. She told me about one instance when she found herself in a less chaotic environment. “I remember telling myself I am going to have this great life, I am going to get away from this whole thing. But surrounding myself with the people I did, the chaos was always there and I fed on it. I had this boyfriend who literally had the ‘white picket’ family. The family sat down for dinner every night and talked about their day. I was so uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe it was real. And that ruined our relationship, because I was just so uncomfortable with how perfect his family was”.
From bad to worse…
Elysz told me that college seemed like an out for her. It was point in time where she could really begin to live a happy and independent life. She finished school and got a great job. “I was excited that my life was taking shape. Then I met this guy, who I thought answered all my prayers. One of the things about me is I always hung out with people who were equal to me. I couldn’t hang out with people who had great lives and upbringings because I always felt less than”. Elysz went on to say that her boyfriend was addicted to heroin. Elysz ended up getting arrested because the police found her boyfriend’s marijuana in her car. She noted this was also the time when her mother’s addiction really started to worsen. “When I got arrested. My mom and dad picked me up. I stayed at their house that night. Now, my dad has MS (Muscular Sclerosis). He was in a wheelchair. A huge fight broke out between my parents. My mom pushed my dad, he fell over and could not get back up. I ended up getting in between them. She freaked out. She probably doesn’t even remember half of the things she said to me. She left and a few days later they filed for divorce. She blamed all of that on me because of the stress that I put on them. And at that point I did think it was my fault. I felt terribly”. “So even though you knew about your mom’s drinking and it causing many fights and her losing jobs, you still thought it was your fault?” I asked Elysz. “In the back of my mind I probably knew it was my mother’s drinking, but I did blame myself for a long time”.
Trying to save her mother…
Elysz explained that because of her father’s health and the guilt she was feeling, she moved back home and built her life around trying to help her father. I asked Elysz where her mother went. “She went everywhere. In the winter, she would stay with friends and in the summer, she ended up getting this job at a campground. They gave her a place to stay if she took care of the grounds. At that point in time, I didn’t talk to my mom often”. Elysz’s self-imposed restitution didn’t end with taking care of her father. Elysz explained that at one point her mother went missing. Elysz took three days off work to try and find her. I asked Elysz if she had a plan as to what she would do if she found her mother. “No. Not at all. I had thought about that afterward. I wasn’t about to bring her with me and I didn’t have the money to put her up in a hotel. Really there was no plan, it was just me needing to know she was alive. Eventually we did hear from her. She was at some random person’s house. Right after that she ended up going into the hospital. Which was normal for her. She was in and out all the time due to her drinking. She doesn’t have a gallbladder anymore; her pancreas is shot. But she refuses to correlate that with her drinking”. Elysz and her sister tried to confront their mother at the hospital but to no avail. Her mother ended up living out of her car near her grandmother’s house. Her mother would use her own mother’s home to take a shower and get cleaned up. One day Elysz was visiting her grandmother with her aunt. They went out to lunch and when they returned the apartment complex had an extremely strong odor of gasoline. They called the police to come and investigate. As Elysz was leaving, she thought she saw her mother. She went back and it was in fact her mother and she had a strong smell of gasoline. Her mother poured gasoline on herself to hide the smell of alcohol. Her mother’s car had been towed so Elysz drove her to her car so her mother could get her phone and her wallet. Her mother then locked herself in the car. Elysz called the police, but her mother managed to avoid any arrest. The next day Elysz’s mother called Elysz’s sister and said she needed detox from alcohol. It was the first time her mother had ever asked for help. Elysz and her sister went and got their mother and spent all day and into the next morning trying to get her into detox. They finally got her a hospital bed. Their mother detoxed and went to a sober house. Unfortunately, she did not work a residential treatment program. When she was discharged, she went to a homeless shelter. Elysz’s mother eventually got kicked out of the homeless shelter for failing a breathalyzer. Last Elysz knew her alcoholic mother was living under a bridge. Elysz knows her mother is alive but does not have contact with her.
Letting go and moving forward…
It is important to note that Elysz is not in recovery for her own addiction. She is not an addict. She does say that she is in recovery from her mother’s alcohol addiction. When you grow up in an addicted household, it is chaotic. You feel guilt, shame, and often responsible. Your focus becomes trying to control the situation so that the addict no longer uses. “I spoke briefly with my mother on New Year’s, but it did not end well. I realize that regardless of her life, I should be living a happy and healthy life,” Elysz stated. “That is not an easy place to get to when you grow up the way you did. How did you get there?” I asked. “I have tried counseling and self-help. I have tried exercise. I tried to focus all my energies on one thing so I didn’t think about it”. “But that is a distraction,” I noted. “Exactly, that didn’t work. I ended up finding a family group called Family Restored. Through that group, I started working the 12-Steps. I have never found such peace and serenity within myself until I honestly worked the 12-Steps. It is hard. I am still working on my 4th step. Trying to find where I am selfish with some of the things my mom has done is probably the hardest thing I have ever tried to do”. “Family Restored introduced you to the 12-Steps but this group is for families of addicts?” “Yes, but the people who run the group are actually in recovery,” Elysz clarified. “Let me ask you about the First Step, Elysz. You are admitting you are powerless over what?” “My mom’s addiction. And that I can’t control her”. “You can’t control her. Does that also tie into the idea that you can’t fix her?” “Yes. And that I have nothing to do with her drinking. Which was truly the first time I believed I had nothing to do with her drinking”. “What made you believe it?” I asked. “Through the people that run that group, listening to them tell me they did the same thing to their families and their addiction was separate from their families. And listening to the other parents that are in that group that have been there for a long time and hearing them say they used to blame themselves for their child’s use but now realize it is not their fault. In that meeting, was the first time I openly said, I am here because my mom is an alcoholic. I don’t think I had ever said those words before. It was freeing. Hiding that inside of me was so draining. I never talked about it because of shame. I was afraid to tell you that my mom was an alcoholic because I thought you would judge me on that. Once I finally did open up, the responses I got were, ‘we are so glad you are here.’ ‘You are so strong.’ I was even expecting that group to judge me”. Elysz explained that she had a powerful third step experience and is currently working on her fourth step. I asked Elysz where she is now with the relationship with her mother. “I have stopped fighting the need to know. I don’t need to know what she is doing. They describe drug addiction as insanity, doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. It is the same thing with the family. Me hunting down my mother time and time again, or giving her five dollars and expecting it to be different this time, is insane. Letting go of all of that; I don’t need to know about her life, for my life to be good”. “Elysz, that means that if something happens to her, you may not know about it”. “That is a big fear of mine. The last time I spoke with her was New Year’s and it was not a good conversation. I do want to speak to her and let her know I love her. I pray that she finds peace. And I had to learn that what is peace for her may be very different than what I want it to be. And I must remind myself of that. My sister is the one who told me that, to pray for her to find peace versus get help. Her getting help is my wish, it may not be hers”. “Elysz, what do you want family members to know?” “They are not alone. There are resources out there for them. And regardless of how their loved one is living, you should be free to live a happy life. I feel there are less resources for children of addicts. I have started one group and am looking to start more”. “What does recovery feel like?” I asked. Elysz responded simply,“Amazing”. If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, call our admissions specialists at (603)339-4160. We can help.
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