Over 30 million Americans suffer from substance abuse or alcoholism. Maybe you have loved someone dear to your heart who was an addict, saw an addict in passing on the street, or maybe you have suffered with addiction. Addiction continues to take over people's lives and grasps onto people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. An addict never suffers alone. There is always someone out there who suffers with them: a mother, a father, a daughter, or son.
What happens to the children of addicts? Do they always follow in their parent's footsteps? In the Fall of 2005, I had the pleasure to meet my freshman college roommate, Erica France, a roommate who would become a best friend and attend my daughter's 1st birthday party 11 years later. On entering college, my parents were going on 25 years of marriage, they were financially supporting me, and gave me the love and affection that parents should give a child.
Erica would teach me what it means to attend a 4 year university despite having a heroin addicted mother and a father who checked out long ago. Erica was an independent at a young age. Although the statistics worked against her: children from broken homes account for 71% of teen pregnancies, 75% of all drug users, and 57% of prison inmates, in 2010 she graduated from UC Santa Cruz with her B.A. in Literature.
Here is the interview about how her mother's addiction had an impact on her life and how it did not stop her from breaking the cycle and proving the statistics wrong for once.
1. Describe your childhood.
I was born to a drug-addicted absent mother who spent most of her life incarcerated for drug related offenses, and then eventually for child endangerment. My father was granted custody of me, yet he too was not developed enough to raise a child. We were poor, I had no mom and my dad wasn’t making good choices to keep me safe or help me thrive.
2. When did you start to understand the details about your mother's heroin addiction problem?
I didn’t realize how bad my family situation was until I was in public school and could see what other kids lives were like. I felt jealous of my classmates who had moms that went shopping with them. I always felt like girls in my elementary school who had moms, looked more feminine.
3. What were some vivid memories you had as a child?
I have memories of waiting on the weekend for my mom to show up and her not showing up. I remember her being really inconsistent. There were times when she would have abusive boyfriends and get into physical altercations in front of us. One time I told my mom to get dressed and I picked out a pretty outfit. She was sitting in the living room in her pajamas in the middle of the day. I wanted her to wear a dress and be lively.
Unfortunately my dad was pretty checked out too, he never developed a spine or a voice and he let his girlfriends/wives be the authority. There were times when my dad would let his wife make us take a bath in the same dirty water that he and she used, and then her 3 boys and then us. My dad chose to marry a woman with 3 boys, he had 2 girls and both he and his wife had minimum wage jobs. My father made very stupid choices.
4. Was there a role model in your life growing up? If so, who? Did they encourage you to attend college?
By the time I was 13, my dad had been married and divorced twice and we were for the first time, living alone with him without a stepmom. The couple that owned the low-income house that my dad rented became my mentor. She was the first person to ever really pay attention to me. She and her husband owned several low-income houses that they would fix them up themselves. I started working with them after school and in the summer. Rachel was the name of this woman. She eventually became my guardian and she helped me learn about college and detach from my biological family.
5. What encouraged you to obtain a higher education?
I knew at a young age that I wanted to be different from my family. I wanted to have stability and to be able to afford to live independently. I knew that if I had kids I wanted to be able to take care of them independently and not have to be dependent on a man. My guardian did help me to see that college is the path to independence and that otherwise I would be stuck in a low paying job with little opportunity.
6. Describe the process it took for you to apply to college, get accepted, and attend? Was there anything particularly challenging during the process?
When I applied to college my guardian helped with the application. I lived in Santa Barbara CA at the time, so I went to UCSB and talked to their financial aid department. I brought a portfolio of receipts showing that I had been independent of my family. Because the FASFA only has five categorize that allow you to be “independent” of your family, I needed an appeal in order to get a good financial aid package. With the proof that I brought, the advisor signed the appeal and I added it to the FASFA.
7. While I attended college I received financial and emotional support from my parents. They played a large part in my educational life. You did not quite have that parental support. Can you elaborate on what kept you motivated and inspired?
Finishing school was not easy. I actually did drop out in my second year. I called my guardians and said school was too hard. I had been working full time and going to school full time. They agreed to pick me up so I dropped out and moved to Oregon. Once in Oregon I knew I made the wrong choice and so I decided to go back to Santa Cruz and finish school. At this point I really didn’t understand how the degree would be helpful, I just didn’t want to start a cycle of giving up on important things.
8. Did your relationship with your mom and her addiction problem have an impact on your studies? How did you work through that if it did?
My mom’s addiction didn’t impact my studies at all, her involvement in my life stopped when I was really young. What impacted my studies was having to work full time and not having any financial support. I started counseling in my second year of college. I am still in counseling. For me the path to healing has been a long one. I have been in counseling for about 10 years and I do both cognitive and somatic work.
9. I remember your mom did attend your college graduation, how did it make you feel?
My mom attended my college graduation. She did try to get sober later in life, but she wasn’t able to succeed. In some way her being there warmed my heart. I am glad to have that memory. Her visiting did come with some bizarre stuff. Her boyfriend punched someone and stole a license plate, so that part of her being at my graduation wasn’t fun.
10. After graduating college, what is your relationship now with your mom?
My mom died last year of a heroin overdose. She was at someone’s house when she overdosed and instead of calling the ambulance, her friends dropped her off on a random sidewalk, left her and called my older sister to come get her. She died before getting to the hospital of total organ failure.
11. What is your advice to young people out there who live in similar situations that they might find hopeless?
My advice to young people is to realize that though you may have been part of a family of dysfunction, that dysfunction was not you! You are not responsible for it, you did not create it and you are not dysfunctional. Get out of the dysfunction; there are many opportunities out there. Do not give up on yourself and do not start a cycle of giving up at all! If you can survive the heartache of seeing your parents make bad choices that effect your life, believe me you can accomplish anything! As a child you didn’t get to choose, but as an adult everything is your choice!
Despite the statistics, Erica has transformed her life into one of achievement. Many people can learn from her story and she has proved that being born into a life of poverty, abuse, and struggle, does not have to stop you from achieving a life of success.
Related Blog Post: Learn How To Forgive
Written by Sterp
Welcome my lovely Beings! You can call me Sterp. When I come home from my corporate job I am welcomed by my YouTubing 10 year old gamer and my dancing 15 month old, a ginger husband who specializes in making me laugh every day, a cockatiel named Frida, and my husky Rocko, the Thief of All Food. I practice Buddhism to help keep my sanity while sitting in traffic and cleaning poopy diapers during scream fests. Life presents us with many challenges so I try not to take it too seriously. Don't forget to follow me on social media!