Speaker: New Directions for Women presents “From Addiction to Recovery: Inspirational Stories of Courage.”
Melissa: My name is Melissa, I came to New Directions as a kid with my mom. My mom went to the program, she was an alcoholic and I was 11 years old at the time.
Living with my mom as an alcoholic was hard. She was an alcoholic for pretty much most of my life. It was hard because I felt more like the parent and not the kid. I had to take care of her and take care of myself. There was a time in third grade, where I was held back in third grade because I didn’t go to school enough. I think I’d gone to school two months total throughout the whole year, because I spent most of my time at home with my mom, taking care of her and making sure that she was okay, so I didn’t actually get an education. so that was hard.
It was hard. She would sleep a lot and she would be absent, she wasn’t present in a lot of things. And so it was very difficult, it was hard seeing her like that. Hard living with her like that. Hard feeling like I didn’t matter or that I wasn’t enough.
My mom ended up at New Directions. She was really bad, our house had burned down and we’d moved to Big Bear. And we were living in Big Bear with this guy, one of her boyfriends, and he was very abusive, and just everything was really bad. And he ended up leaving and our relationship was hard. I remember one day she was just drunk, and I called my grandma. My grandma called the cops, the cops came and took my mom. She went to jail and I ended up in a foster home. And then from there she took the option of going to rehab, so she went to rehab and I got to go with her, because New Directions allows women to bring their children, which is awesome.
I was only in the foster care system for a 48-hour period, and that’s because of New Directions, something that a lot of women with children struggle with who have addictions and drug and alcohol problems, don’t get help because they don’t want their kids to end up in the system. And so they continue to think they can fix it themselves and never get the proper help or the proper treatment because they’re afraid of their kids ending up in the system. And I didn’t have to be, and I got to go with my mom to New Directions, and I was 11 at the time when that happened. We went in in March. That was 15 years ago this coming March, so March 2017 will be 15 years ago.
My mother is still sober. She will have 15 years sobriety as of this March.
Having to go to rehab as an 11 year old was hard. I was the oldest kid there at the center. All the other kids were either babies, women literally still pregnant, or two and under. And I was the oldest kid, so there wasn’t anybody for me to play with. I couldn’t have friends come over from school, I couldn’t hang out with people outside of school, I couldn’t go to other people’s houses. I couldn’t do stuff like that because they had to know where I was, there was so much legality that was around it. So there was a lot of things like that.
It was difficult with school. A lot of people knew where I came from. And I don’t know how or why, they just knew. So that was difficult, just being an 11 year old and trying to figure that out, plus I moved from Big Bear down to Orange County. And everyone in Orange County is wondering why I was a year older than everybody else, cause I’d gotten held back. So I was the stupid kid, because I’d gotten held back. So it was difficult. And I had a lot of resentment towards my mom.
I knew why we were there. I knew she was an alcoholic. I knew that this was her fault. I knew that she’d uprooted my life and disrupted everything that I was doing with my life because of her poor decisions and her lack of ability to stop and think about how they affected me once. And I didn’t want to be there, I ended up having to do counseling, just like the women have to go through counseling, I had to go through weekly counseling sessions as well. And it ended up being a saving grace, and ultimately salvaged my relationship with my mom, and probably helped me to support her more in sobriety and just support each other through the program that we were there for.
We were there for the six-month program, we did the six months, so from March to September. And we got out, I was in 5th grade at that time. We stayed in Orange County, we felt that was the best option. Going back to old places and old roots wasn’t going to work out and she knew that, there’d probably be triggers and things like that so we stayed in Orange County. Moved to Buena Park and it was hard for the first year, probably for the first five years of her sobriety I was on pins and needles waiting for any upset to be what pushed her over to relapse again. And being afraid of that, being afraid of the things that I said, being afraid of the things that I did. Being afraid of what was going on in life around us, what’s it gonna be that pushes her over and she’s gonna start drinking again?
and so I did have a lot of fear about that. My mom really felt bad about how I jumped around from schools a lot, how I did suffer in my education because of it. So she made a point to make sure I stayed in the same school district, so while I transferred from the Costa Mesa to Buena Park, she kept me in Buena Park until I graduated high school, even though we had moved two other times into two other school districts. She constantly went and fought to make sure I had inter-district transfers so that I could stay with my same group of friends and graduate with my group of friends from elementary, through junior high, through high school. And that was a tremendous thing. I’m still best friends with a few of those people, and I’m very grateful that she put that effort in for me during that time. Because it was, it was a difficult transition.
My relationship with my mom today is better, it’s got its ups and downs as most mothers’ and daughters’ relationships do. But it’s so much better, I don’t worry about her every second on the brink of relapse. I know that she works a solid program and I know that she has fought hard to get where she is today and she’s not throwing that away. And I can trust in that, and I don’t have to feel like I need to take control of her and watch over her anymore.
As for me in my life, I don’t know. I worked hard to overcome the things that I felt maybe held me back. I graduated valedictorian in high school, I graduated top of my class with honors in college and I am now in law school, and I’m about to graduate law school in May. And I will graduate top of my class, and I’m part of four different honors organizations at my law school. So I worked very hard to do those things, I’ve worked very hard to be a part of those things, and to have the life that I have. And I know that a huge part of that comes down to my mom’s sobriety. I don’t know if I would have been able to do everything that I’ve been able to do if it weren’t for my mom getting sober almost 15 years ago. It wouldn’t have been as easy as it has been.
She provides for me a place to live and she takes care of the things that I need taken care of. And while she doesn’t understand the educational aspect and how that all works, she’s supported me and she’s provided a place for me. And I don’t believe if she hadn’t gotten sober, that one, I don’t know if she’d even be alive. But two, she wouldn’t be in a place where she could financially support me by putting a roof over my head and making sure that I was fed while going through all my education. So I know that whether or not I would’ve gotten here or not, I don’t know, but I definitely know it wouldn’t have been as easy, and I wouldn’t have had the support, if it weren’t for her and her sobriety.
So I do credit her for that, and I thank her for that all the time. And it’s been a tough road, but I’m glad to be where I am today, and I’m glad that she’s still a part of my life in that capacity, and that we do have the relationship that we have and that she is still sober, and that she can show up to my graduations and through everything and be the sober mom that I’ve always wanted her to be at those very important times of my life.
If I had a message to anybody about my story, I would say to the child in the situation: first and foremost know that it’s not your fault. There’s nothing you’ve done, there’s nothing you’ve done to make your parent who they are today, and the decisions they’ve made today have nothing to do with you. It is not your burden to bear. So don’t feel like it’s your fault. I struggled with that for a long time, but it’s not your fault. These are their decisions and they just are sick, and they just need help. So I would encourage seeing them through those eyes, seeing them through eyes of mercy, to love them and say, “I love you enough to want you to get help. I love you enough to help you in this, and I want to find help for you.”
And I would also say something that I believe has been a huge part of the reason why I come back and continue to work with New Directions, and continue to do these things, is because I want to speak to the mothers. The mothers are my biggest audience. Because I want them to know the importance of getting sober while their kids are young. If you have kids, get sober while your kids are young, as young as possible. Don’t wait til later, don’t wait til they’re older, because I’ll never be able to forget what I saw and what I endured. But if they’re younger, they’ll never have to know you like that. They’ll know you as the sober mom. They’ll know you as the mom who’s just been there for them through everything. I wish I could know my mom as just the mom who’s been there for me, as the sober parent at my graduations, the support system that she’s been.
But I’ll never forget her from birth to 11, those years, I can’t forget the tough times because I was so old when she did decide to get sober. So I would encourage the mothers, think hard about that. Think hard about how you want your children to know you, and get sober as soon as you can. Get sober now, for them, so they know you as the sober mom.