When Your Parent is An Addict
CW/TW: Mention of drugs, general mention of abuse
Addiction is an illness. I don’t believe that people who are addicts are bad or weak people. They need help to overcome an unhealthy coping strategy. Because most addicts struggle with mental illness and have ended up in a rut where the thing that has given them relief, creates more issues than it was ever able to solve. Addiction is not an excuse for bad behaviour, for abuse, for lying, or for ruining one’s life. It is an explanation, and the issues and feelings behind the addiction need to be addressed. While those who struggle with an addiction need help, it is often those around them that get hurt, traumatized and have to live with the consequences of the addiction for the rest of their lives.
I am not an addict. I have tried most drugs. Sure, I was out drinking lots when I was younger. But I never got hooked. I never liked the feeling of not having control. I even go so far that I don’t like strong sedatives because they make feel high and without control. But I don’t judge people who take drugs, or drink.
I can understand how it is relaxing. And I still sometimes have a beer, maybe once every few months, during summer, with a good meal. I also am not opposed to smoking weed. I live in Canada, after all, and it is legal here. But drinking and drugs don’t give me much when I am not in a social setting and partying. And as I am not the party animal that I used to be, I just don’t have the need to drink or get moderately high. The only sort of addiction that I have is nicotine. I used to smoke, for 20 years. But I switched to vaping almost three years ago.
It is quite surprising that I don’t have an addictive personality. My sister definitely has and has been a pothead for over 20 years. It helps her cope with the traumatic experiences that we have been through as kids. But every time she takes harder drugs than just weed, she really loses it. There have been numerous calls where I had to talk her through bad trips because she realized how messed up she is, and she got memories popping up that she couldn’t deal with. Drugs and alcohol don’t necessarily make dealing with your mental illness easier.
My Father’s Addiction
So why would I even have an addictive personality? And why am I not surprised that my sister is taking drugs? Because my father is a drug addict. Before I was born, he was an alcoholic. He used to manage a punk club in Northern Germany, and it was part of the job, I guess. But he wanted to turn his life around when he was to become a father. So he stopped drinking on a regular basis. At least that is what my mother told me. She also told me that when he was drinking, he never turned violent.
It all started with when I was born. I have been thinking about that for a long time now. What did I do to turn him to drugs? What did I do to turn him into a violent and abusive man? I know that the sensible response would be to say that a baby can not be at fault for an adult man’s behaviour or choices. It is all on him. But it is still hard for me to grasp that, because it was my existence that turned him into a bad person. That is what it feels like, looking at things chronologically, cause and effect.
I should maybe start with that I was not aware of that my father was (and still is) an addict. Oddly enough, I first found out in my early 30s. I think the drugs were just so normalized in our home, that I never really understood that it was something out of the ordinary. So I was talking to my cousin on the phone and she told me that her mother had told her father that he was not allowed to visit my father anymore. Because he is an addict and she knows that they are taking drugs together. I responded with confusion. My father an addict? – Apparently it was a well-known fact in my family but not something that was openly talked about.
I ended up in a phonecall with my mother, yelling at her. How could she have him take drugs around his children? Doesn’t she know that the smoke can affect brain development and can cause long-term issues with physical health too? She was apologetic but like every time when I pointed out that she enabled his abuse, she became defensive, saying that she stayed because she thought it was better for everyone, financially, safety-wise, and how she would have never made it alone with three kids. I can follow her line of thinking, and I can validate her feelings, but fuck, she made the wrong decision.
My father’s drug of choice is opium. I know that that is not a common drug for anyone to take anymore. It sounds very much 19th century Victorian England, doesn’t it? Well, my father is old school and it only makes sense that he picked an old school drug. And opium is the drug of choice among those with a Persian background, with the opium being a bi-product of heroine production in Afghanistan. So yes, my father is an opium addict.
Addiction and My Childhood
It is odd to think that I never figured it out on my own. There were a million signs. And I think part of the abuse that I had to endure (I would assume the physical one), was caused by his addiction. But again, I didn’t know it back then, and I basically blamed myself for everything. But there were signs, so so many signs. Our house always smelled sweet. I never quite understood why, until in my 30s I found out that opium smoke has a sweet smell. His eyes were often red and he really only had two modes: anger and aggression, or being unresponsive and detached. There were often a lot of strange men in our home, sitting in circles, passing around huge waterpipes.
Knowing that my father is an addict, doesn’t change much how I feel about my childhood. It is an explanation for part of his behaviour, it is not an excuse for it though. And it makes my childhood look even more messed up than I thought it was. It is like: my father is a drug addict who mentally, physically and sexually abused me. That is really textbook messed up. I know that he has had a childhood filled with abuse and neglect as well. And that is probably why he turned to drugs. I can validate his pain. I can never ever excuse his behaviour.
He is still an addict, by the way. He is 77 years old, has heart issues, diabetes and is a cancer survivor. And he still smokes opium every day. The universe doesn’t really do karma well. I want to point out that my experiences, consciously or subconsciously, didn’t have a huge effect on how I look at addiction, addicts and alcoholics. I meet them with compassion and care. My ex-husband had been an amphetamine addict for over 20 years when he met me. He was Hep C positive. And I supported him through NA, and through treatment. He has now been clean for almost 15 years and is Hep C cured. I don’t judge people’s struggles, and I don’t shame anyone for their addiction. I learnt that it is not an excuse though, and that abusive and shitty behaviour should never be validated or respected, no matter the cause.