A Family of My Own Understanding

“I wish I had never adopted you!” “I don’t love you!” “You make me want to kill myself!” These words made up a constant refrain that defined who I believed I was for most of my life. I was convinced that I was fundamentally broken and completely unlovable. Those beliefs would be what drove me for many years until I reached my bottom. Fortunately, much like my understanding of family, my sense of myself has evolved over the years. I suppose I should start at the beginning.

I gained and lost my first family on the day I was born. My birth mother was young, and from a strict Catholic family, so I was placed for adoption. Catholic social services told my mother that a wonderful family was waiting for me and that I would go home with them straight from the hospital. Sadly, this was not the case; I went straight from the hospital to a foster home. I was not adopted until after I was a year old. Caseworker notes from home visits described me as socially avoidant.

My second family was my adoptive family. I can tell you that just because someone looks good on paper does not mean they should raise children. No one knew that my adoptive parents struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness. A couple of years later, they adopted their second victim, my little brother. Early on, my father did multiple tours in Vietnam, which greatly affected his ability to be present as a father. That left us alone with my mother and a cycle of horrific mental and physical abuse that would continue until I was 12. The abuse resulted in many stays at the children’s home and visits to the hospital. It also involved court dates for my parents. In the seventies, what was defined as abuse was relatively arbitrary, and we were always sent back to that insane environment. My younger brother was just a little guy. He was very sick when he was adopted. He recovered physically but, like me, grew to be terrified of our mother. I tried to protect him, often getting into trouble to draw my mother’s attention away from him. She eventually grew wise to that, and then we would both get it. As it does, the abuse worsened, and my focus became self-preservation.

As an Army brat, I remember lots of parties and alcohol. Pictures show me walking on a picnic table, in my diapers, with a beer in each hand. Who knew those pictures would prove to be prophetic? While my parents hosted many parties, they did not have friends, just GIs and their dates who came to drink. Some of those GIs did not bring dates. I quickly learned to avoid them. When my mother caught one she blamed me, reinforcing my belief that something was wrong with me. Once my dad retired, we moved as far away as possible from anyone who knew us. Looking back, I realize that this was so that nobody would know our dirty little secret. Anyone who dared to tell my parents how to raise their children or called the police was immediately denied any further access to us kids.

Both of my parents drank a considerable amount of alcohol, and my mother also liked her pills. In between bouts of violence, my mother would become depressed, and she frequently threatened suicide. There were a few attempts which she never completed, although every night I would pray fervently that she would.

My dad was never physically violent; he never tried to protect us either. The neglect was damaging, nonetheless. He did teach me all about drinking. Ice-cold beer poured into a frosty mug straight from the freezer, was my regular reward for mowing the grass. You can bet our front yard looked fantastic! He taught me not to drink on an empty stomach and not to mix my alcohol. I learned that alcohol reduces fear, and I became increasingly defiant, resulting in ever-worsening violent responses from my mother. I was 12 when I finally had enough. I was done being her punching bag. I grabbed her arm mid-swing and told her if she ever hit me again, I would kill her. Eventually I ran away, the streets of downtown Tucson were preferable to living at home.

Having already found my place as a “freak,” I spent much of my time in middle school ditching, drinking, and trying to be a pothead. I never did become a good pothead, but I kept trying! Hanging out with the freaks and getting loaded made me feel like I belonged.

I ran away continuously from age twelve to fourteen, alternating between being returned home by the police, stints at the juvenile detention center, and frequent returns to the streets. I was on probation and court-ordered to Twelve Step meetings by the time I was thirteen. I hated those meetings and those old men who told me to sit down, shut up and listen. I had no idea that they were planting seeds that would grow one day. I also had no idea that they would be on my first fourth step! I was eventually sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections. I was fourteen when I escaped with two other girls, and we hitchhiked to California.

I found my third family in Santa Ana, California. This family of bikers I picked for myself. It was a family that looked out for each other and protected each other from outsiders. I lived there for a year, partying, working at a hot dog and taco shack. I finally belonged and it felt good to be wanted. I was happy to take care of them in return. For the first time in my life, I felt protected; it seemed like a fair exchange. I probably would have stayed there forever, maybe became an ol’ lady, but that was not to be. I was brutally raped by a hang-around. Since he had disrespected club property, they gave him a lesson in respect. He blamed that on me and began to follow me and make threats. Eventually, one of the brothers bought me a bus ticket and sent me home. I thought it was because he cared about me; I later realized they were getting rid of a liability. Despite the dysfunction, I loved those guys, and I always felt safe, so being protected is what I began to search for.

Back in Tucson, I continued to get in trouble with the law, and I used drugs and alcohol to cope. I met my first husband the first night I got back. He was nice to me, and he was big, not the kind of guy anyone wanted to mess with. I got pregnant at 16, married, and had my first kid by the time I turned 17. I thought I had found my happily ever after, but he did not want a kid and a wife. It did not help that alcohol and cocaine were not good coping skills for him either. He was my legal guardian until I turned 18, which only increased the dysfunction. We were divorced right before I turned 19. I was pregnant with our second child, and the woman he was sleeping with told him the baby was not his. This was what he needed to get out, and out he got. I was scared to death, with a son I could not take care of, and I was not able to drink or drug because I was pregnant. When she was born, I gave my daughter up for adoption, praying she would have a better life than I did. I made sure it was an open adoption so she would know I loved her. That was the end of family number four.

So, there I was, homeless, unemployed, and miserable. My son lived with his dad, and I had no one I could count on. I used or drank to get through the day and worked odd jobs. I met a guy. He was not too mean to me, and I needed a place to live, so we shacked up. I was on the pill, but drugs and alcohol interfered with that, and in a short time, I was pregnant again. He was not happy about it at all. He already had a son and told me he did not think he could love another child like he loved his son. Of course, I knew what to do—I ran. I had my third child alone, and we became a tiny dysfunctional family of our own, family number five.

I bounced around for a while with my little girl, working in restaurants to support her and my habits. Meth had become my drug of choice; I could function better, work longer, and party harder. Then one day I met “the one!” I just knew he was my happily ever after. We went to the same high school, and although he was a couple of years older, he was still good-looking, and he rode a bike, (be still my heart)! He wanted to take care of me, so if he slapped me or yelled at me, it just meant he loved me, and I would just have to do better. He told me the same things my mother had told me years ago, and I tried so hard to be what he wanted. No matter how hard I loved him, how much I submitted to him, I would never be enough because he was broken too. We got married to save our relationship; he said that this would prove I loved him. After the brief honeymoon period, the violence increased. We drank, drugged, and I tried to make him happy. It escalated the way these things always do and the police intervened.

We were court-ordered to marriage counseling. The counselor said that our relationship was the kind that ended with someone dead. I was terrified, so I did what I always do, I grabbed my kid, and I ran. Everywhere I went he found me. He would tell me that he changed, that he loved me and was so sorry. I would go back, I was afraid not to. I wanted to believe his promises. Eventually, I had enough and went toe to toe with him. And I backed him off after causing him some hurt. This time I kicked him out, and after one attempt to return, which I rebuffed, he stayed gone. That is how family number six ended.

I was back to a family of just me and my kids. Since any other family meant pain and loss to me, I quit trying. From then on, every guy that I hooked up with had an expiration date. We would party until it was not fun anymore, and then I moved on. My son was now living with me, and I worked two jobs so I could take care of my kids and still have enough to play on the weekends. I was the textbook weekend warrior. Although there were many illegal activities along the way, I managed to stay out of trouble. My kids tell me those were good years and that they got everything they wanted back then. I was determined not to be anything like my mother, and as a result, I made up all kinds of creative ways to discipline my kids. I taught them to speak their minds and, much to my later dismay, they did! I never hit them, and I am so very proud of having broken that cycle.

I made it through most of the 90s without any problems, hiding my drug use from my kids and avoiding long-term relationships. But the meth was changing. It was harder to get high, more challenging to stay high, and was making my friends weird. The guy I was dating was an IV user, and I tried to avoid it or get him to stop. But he would get SO high, and you know what they say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em. That was the beginning of my final race to my bottom. From 2000 to 2003, I gave away everything I ever loved and destroyed every relationship I had. I sold dope and was involved in the fraudulent schemes that were prevalent in the meth community. At the worst of it, I was homeless, sick, and in and out of the county jail. In 2003 I picked up multiple felony charges, and the court was no longer willing to play with me. I was facing many years on a prison-only plea, and when released on pre-trial, I was told to go to meetings. I informed the pre-trial guy I had done Twelve Step meetings when I was young, and they were not for me. I was not an alcoholic. He asked if I had ever heard of Crystal Meth Anonymous. He gave me a meeting list, and since it was part of the conditions of my release, I went.

I had no idea that this was the beginning of a shift in my understanding of family. I walked into a room of happy people, who looked like me, talked like me, and had many of the same problems as me. These people accepted me with open arms and loved me unconditionally. They taught me how to love myself, how to be accountable, and how to heal the parts of me that were so terribly broken. They taught me how to parent my kids and how to make amends to them. My first sponsor was everything I ever wanted to be: a good mom and wife, kind and wise, and happy and serene. I began to learn how to be those things. I began to build a family of the heart, I had sponsee sisters, and my kids had all the aunts they could have ever asked for. I learned to stand up for myself and set boundaries. I stopped fighting everything and everyone. I no longer felt the need to run away. I learned how to choose to be happy. My family grew some more when I began sponsoring women. Over the years, I have watched a fellowship grow up around me, and it is awesome.

Working on relationship ideals finally stopped the lifelong pursuit of my next ex. Doing that work was pretty cool as I identified all the things that I wanted in a partner. I was a little surprised to learn that I would have to be those things as well. I quit looking for the next ex and did the work. A good friend was at the same place in his recovery. Although we hung out and rode together for several years, something began to change. One date led to another, and we moved in together. I still had fears to work on, but he was patient, and we got married 4 years later. And so began family number seven.

Today, my family includes many people—some related by blood and others by our shared experience. I have children who love me and several grandchildren to spoil. My grandchildren have never seen me loaded. I have a husband who is truly my partner in every sense of the word. We both work a program of recovery and have our own higher powers. We are of service to our respective fellowships, and we have sponsors and sponsees. The family of my understanding today is one filled with joy. This is a direct result of the unconditional love the fellowship of Crystal Meth Anonymous taught me, one step at a time.