I can't fully explain the impact addiction has had on my family, myself, or my father, whose final breath was shared with fentanyl.
For most of my life, the stigma of addiction prevented me from not only talking about it, but it encouraged me to do everything I could to prevent the outside from looking in. With that - I bottled it all up, and eventually, that secrecy turned into rage. I told myself that I would never answer his phone calls again.
Not only did I feel that I had lost my father mentally and emotionally growing up, as he wasn't always there, but I had ended up losing him physically too, as I was fighting over my dad with drugs, which in the end they won for good. He was gone.
"For years I couldn't talk about it; I couldn't look some family members straight in the eye. I didn't want to even look at myself because I felt so much shame and guilt for the things I said and felt when he was still here."
I felt guilt at not thinking I'd have any time to make up for it, apologize or grow older to finally understand him, his life, or the cards that he was dealt with. I never new that from birth, he may have never stood a chance. For years my life created an array of complicated emotions leading to guilt, shame, isolation and anxiety, which I still gradually struggle with.
I ended up reading a book called In the realm of hungry ghosts by Gabor Maté, in which he said on one page, "Not why the addiction but why the pain."
I remember re-reading that sentence over and over and over again, trying to wrap my head around why I, for so long, couldn't acknowledge the pain and the trauma that aided in the history of my family's long line of addiction.
I subconsciously knew it was there, but the voices from both within and outside were stigma driven and harboured the idea that he chose drugs over me because he didn't love me.
The truth was that he had pain and it felt inevitable to cope with most days, so drugs were often his friend and they were so good to him, especially when the world wasn't. “Not why the addiction but why the pain."
From that moment forward, I realized that I needed to take a step back and work on my own healing, finding forgiveness in my thoughts and not knowing any better, and not having to either- because I was just a child, and nobody told me anything.
Nobody broke down the situation for me, held me or told me it was going to be okay.
Nobody told me that I was going to fall hard and or that I was going to hurt deeply.
And nobody told me that ...
"i was also going to love, that my feelings were and still are valid at every point in my life, and that nobody could take that away from me"....words I so badly wanted and needed to hear.
And I never thought to tell myself that it was going to be okay, but i realize that, today, being able to tell myself this is more worthy than hearing it from someone else.
I still have so much learning to do and I know it's a lifelong journey; It isn't easy, and the pain may not ever go away or feel lighter, but I do know that there are brighter days in between somewhere.
Part of me holds onto faith, knowing that I can get through anything even when I feel I shouldn't have to..and it may not always start from reading a line in a book or hearing a song. It could be a moment of confidence, a moment of self validation or maybe just a hug. there may also come a time where you feel like you're getting nowhere, and that's okay too. Your feelings are part of who you are and what you carry in your heart, and if nobody told you that, I'm here to remind you that your feelings are valid, and you matter today, tomorrow and always - even when society tries to put you in a box, remind yourself of your voice
within and your own lived experiences that nobody can ever take away from you.
About the Author:
C.B is a Starling's Volunteer (the first one to ever join:) Her lived experience, courageous vulnerability, and passion for social justice is leading the way for a society that supports children exposed to the stigma of a parent's substance use. Based on her own experiences in finding a peer mentor group through Starlings, she encourages others to seek out people who understand, accept, and validate them and their experiences.