In 2001, New Directions for Women began serving women with their children and pregnant women. We saw how much of a barrier childcare posed to women receiving the addiction treatment they needed to get well. Mothers are oftentimes expected to take care of children more so than fathers are, a primary reason that more men access treatment than women. Coming to rehab with your child not only removes that barrier to care, but also provides a healing opportunity for children to heal from the devastating effects of family addiction.
Children tend to take on a care-taker role, even at very young ages. This can affect them for the rest of their life – causing them to be held back in school, developing depression and anxiety, and taking on the heavy weight of responsibility of thinking their mom’s addiction was their fault. Even if a Mom is able to go to rehab because she has a supportive family who will look after her child, they aren’t a part of that healing process.
Melissa is a brave young woman who came to treatment with her Mom when she was 9. Her life was tumultuous when her mother’s addiction was active. She shares in detail about that experience, and also what happened when she came to New Directions for Women. Today, her life is flourishing and her relationship with her mom has healed, thanks to the power of recovery. Our hope is this story can help other families heal from the cunning, baffling, and powerful disease of addiction. Listening to recovery stories through the eyes of our children will heal the addiction epidemic and ensure our future generations live in a happy, joyous, and free world.
Part One: Melissa
New Directions … I could sum it up in one word. It is transformative. It transformed my life. It transformed my mom’s life. We lived in the desert at that time and we were living in a house with no electricity. We were living by candlelight, no hot water, no fridge. I went to school with dirty clothes. I would just lie about my home life because that was where my protection was and what people didn’t know saved me.
When I was in third grade I got held back because I was home so much more than I was at school. My mom would be throwing up and I’d have to hold her hair back. Her room was at the end of the hallway. Straight shot down the hall … and I used to charge so I could bust her door down because to stop her from drinking, or doing some sort of drug, or meeting with some guy.
Like many mothers facing addiction, before finding a rehab for women, Melissa’s mom found an abusive partner.
We took off and went to the boyfriend’s house. It was late and I’m begging my mom to go home and it was hot. It was nighttime and we could smell like smoke in the air. There were fire trucks everywhere and by the time we got there we realized that our house had burnt down. I was happy that house was gone; I had nothing but bad memories. I didn’t want to go home and now I didn’t have to live there with this man who just became increasingly abusive. He didn’t just hit her. He hit me all the time. We used to have this rock fireplace and he threw me against it and held me up against it by my throat, my feet would dangle. He would throw my toys at me. He would go buy me toys to throw them at me.
The cops took my mom and they needed a place to take me and the judge knew about New Directions and said you can bring your daughter here. I didn’t want to go. My outer shell was very hard and I also had a lot of resentment. I saw New Directions as another sacrifice I had to make.I had to uproot my life again. Go to a new school again. Make new friends again.
The staff at New Directions felt that it would be wise if I sat with a counselor weekly, so I got my own counselor separate from my mom. She was a very impactful woman in my life. She helped me with a lot of my anger and resentment. She helped me learn about alcoholism and about it being a disease. About the 12 steps. I had spent my whole life as the adult – as the caretaker – and my counselor said your mom is to be the mom and to be the parent and you are to be the kid.
I was one of the oldest kids that had gone through New Directions. All the toys there were for younger kids. The only thing that I could really do was play basketball. I even had a few of my counseling sessions there. My counselor would be like “let’s go do something that you’re more comfortable instead of sitting in an office” and we’d go play basketball together. She would ask me questions and say “Okay, if I make this one, you have to answer my question.” “Okay, if I make this one we don’t talk anymore” and the time there went from being something I hated to something I loved. I didn’t want to leave.
That was 16 years ago this last March and my mom is still sober. Every day since then we look back knowing we were a part of each other’s worst and best times. I got to see a lot of her hurt and she got to see a lot of mine. We were standing in this same situation in the same spot but two totally different perspectives. Finally seeing it from that other person’s perspective drew us closer together. That’s forever going to be a part of who we are and we wouldn’t have that if we didn’t have New Directions and if we couldn’t have done it together.
After leaving New Directions, Melissa began to thrive in school. She finished at the top of her class – in high school, in college, and in law school. She currently works for a law firm in Orange County, CA. For more information regarding rehab for women please contact: 800-93-WOMEN or visit www.newdirectionsforwomen.org.