Parental Addiction, Invisible Victims and Silent Victims

By Antoinette Amos

One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was about 9 years old and planned to meet my friend at the roller skating rink. I knew that day was going to be a disaster because my mother started drinking very early. Already having too much to drink, she then, in my presence asked a friend for some “T”. To this day I still don’t know what “T” is, but I do know that whenever she took it she would get extremely high. On the way to the skating rink, my mother decided to stop at my father’s house. My mother asked the woman on the porch next door, who was a friend of hers, for her gun. As we entered my father’s house I felt this incredible pain in my chest. I was fearful of what she was going to do. My mother insisted that my father sit down and listen to me. Of course I was shocked, as I had nothing to say. I just wanted to go skating. As she screamed at both of us, she put her hand in her jacket pocket. My chest became heavier and my stomach began to hurt. I was so scared that she was going to shoot my father right in front of me. She was screaming at me, “Tell him how you feel”. I started to talk really fast as I remembered a conversation that I had with her weeks prior about being sad that my father and I were not as close as we used to be. I was terrified and crying uncontrollably as I tried to get my words out.

I think I blacked out at some point because I don’t remember anything else until we got back to the car. She told me to get in the car, but she was in no shape to drive. I argued and pleaded with her not to make me go skating. I tried everything to avoid getting in the car with her. Eventually I got in. I had no other choice. At this point, I was thinking, “I’m going to die regardless”! She’s either going to kill me for not listening to her, or she was going to kill me when she crashes the car. The skating rink was just about a half a mile away. I remember praying as hard as I possibly could; “GOD please let us make it!” We were going too fast! She took the short cut through thru the alley. As she made the left turn, she didn’t turn enough and we headed straight towards the back wall of the supermarket. In a panic, I grab the wheel and tried to turn it, but I couldn’t turn it all the way. Bang! The front passenger side of the car hit the wall. The sound of the crash was deafening. Then there was silence. I looked over at her slowly. Her head was bleeding, but she seemed to be ok. She was so disoriented that she didn’t move or say a word. The front of the car was smoking and I still feared for my life. I yelled for her to get out of the car, but she wouldn’t move. My door was jammed. I climbed over her and got out. No one was around! I stood outside of the car for a few minutes not knowing what to do. I then saw a boy on a bike that I knew. I asked him to go tell my father what happened. It seemed like forever, but my father eventually came. My mother now as alert as she could be given her intoxicated state, told my father to take me to the skating rink. I had glass in my hair and all of these little cuts on my arm. I again found myself pleading, now with both of them, not to make me go. Cut, traumatized and an emotional wreck, I did what I was told and went skating. I was a child with no authority, no voice and no one to speak for me. This is one of many times when I felt invisible and unimportant as a child. I was trapped in a life controlled by a substance abuser and the accompanying narcissism.

Even though I failed, I believe that was the day that I became my own child advocate. I often wondered why no one else attempted to save me. My mother’s drug and alcohol abuse, and related risk to me were clearly evident, yet everyone pretended not to notice. How did my father and so many others allow me to be put in harm’s way and remain silent bystanders? I learned early in life that it was best for me to be quiet and unassuming. I was always a respectful child but, it dawned on me that day that no one was going to speak on my behalf and that I had to find my own voice; thus, resulting in my struggle with the respect due a parent versus the honesty due an addict.

Even though my screams for help were silent to, or ignored by those around me, GOD heard me! I’ve always thought that GOD must have assigned me a personal guardian angel because my mother’s substance abuse placed me in many situations that were potentially devastating. So many children suffer damage, often irreversible, as a result of parental substance abuse. These children model their parents’ behavior, become victims at the hands of their parents’ associates, end up in foster care, have babies while they themselves are still babies, make self destructive decisions and so on. Although I too suffered consequences as a result of parental substance abuse as a child, I am one of the lucky ones! I was able to end that which could have resulted in negative generational effects. I used my experiences for my benefit and that of others. With the help of great mentors and role models (some whom did not know that they even were), I was provided with positive examples from which I designed the person that I aspired to become.

I have now been a child advocate for over half of my life. It is my mission to be a role model for other children of substance/alcohol abusers to show them that they are not alone in their struggle and don’t have to live their lives as victims of their parents’ past. I have worked in the field of human services for 23 years with children and families. Over the years I have heard the voices of children who have suffered and continue to suffer the tribulations of their parents’ substance abuse. I found that the stories of these children are eerily similar. Parental substance abuse is an equal opportunity offender and the effects span across racial, gender, sociological and economic divides. I feel that I have a calling to be a child advocate and a reliable voice for abused, neglected and maltreated children everywhere, particularly those affected by parental substance abuse. As a parent coach, professional trainer, youth motivator and author I use any platform available to speak on behalf of children affected by parental alcohol and/or substance abuse and to bring illumination to their feelings and experiences.

We can’t heal that which we don’t acknowledge! Many children of substance and/or alcohol addicted parents don’t have the voices, strength or developmental skills to address their parents’ addiction alone. Parental addiction is typically addressed by professionals, family members and parents with the naive notion that the children will receive positive consequences as a result of the adult receiving successful treatment, and thus, they themselves healed. I have found that even when a parent is in recovery, the children continue to suffer from the unresolved issues of their parents’ substance and/or alcohol abuse. Those on the outside looking in must understand that parental treatment and/or recovery is not sufficient alone to address the needs of the children. Some children of substance abusers draw on their own strengths and resiliency; however, others don’t know how and need the support of those around them. We must assist these children in addressing the guilt, shame, ambivalence, confusion, fear, insecurity, and the numerous other associated ills that may exist as a result of parental substance abuse. We must not stand by as silent witnesses to the issues faced by these children hoping that they will be ok. Social Workers, School Counselors, Child Protective Workers, friends, and family members must notice these children, take a stand and provide not only a voice but, consistent and reliable support with true compassion and empathy.

In addition to role models and a strong support system, journaling and writing poetry also played a significant role in my self-healing and subsequent success. I leave you with a poem from my book; Messages from the Hearts of Children on High: A collection of poems reflecting the feelings of children of substance abusers.

Victim

You say it’s your problem,
You don’t care what others say.
You’re only hurting yourself
When you get that way.

As the child of a user
This is what I know to be true,
I am more of a victim
Of your drug abuse than you.

At least you get to pass out,
Or get too high to care
While involuntarily I stand,
Fully aware.

At least you can’t see clear enough
To notice the stares.
Nor do you notice
It’s too much for your child to bear.

You escape the embarrassment
Of your stumbles and falls,
Each time I catch you,
But you can’t recall.

At least you’re deaf
To the whispers of others.
While I hear the rumors
Spread amongst my friends’ mothers.

You have tantrums
When you don’t get your way.
Then, “don’t treat me like a child”
You say.

You get mad at the world
And curse everyone out.
I keep my composure,
My scream won’t come out.

As the child of a user,
This is what I know to be true,
I am more of a victim
Of your drug abuse than you.

You nod off
In the most inappropriate places.
While I cry and hang my head
Each time I realize you’re wasted.

You’re oblivious to the fact
That you slur your words when you talk,
And it breaks my heart
To watch you stagger as you walk.

You lie
With almost every word you speak.
And then demand
That I your secrets keep.

You never do what you say you will,
Or show up where you’re supposed to be.
So I make up excuses
And take on your responsibilities.

Don’t you see?
I am more of a victim
Of your drug abuse
Than you will ever be!

Antoinette Amos is a Parent Coach, Motivational Speaker, Trainer, award winning poet, and
author of “Messages from the Hearts of Children on High: A Collection of Poems Reflecting the Feelings of Children of Substance Abusers”. In combination with her 20 + years of professional experience working with children and families, Antoinette uses her personal story of grace to train professionals, encourage/motivate youth, and coach parents. To contact Antoinette email her at Toni810@yahoo.com.