I was six when my mom met my stepdad. Everything seemed great. He was kind, well off, owned his own business, and had a big family. He swept us off our feet. It only took about 2 years for reality to rear its ugly face. He had a problem… a couple of them honestly. I spent a lot of my childhood in bars. It was normal for me, never realizing that there weren’t ever any kids my age in the bars when I was there… and we were there a lot.
I didn’t notice this was unusual or even a problem until I was eight years old. We had moved to a new town, his home town, and started over there. Knowing what I know now about narcissists, I think we started seeing his true sides because he was finally fully in control of the situation. We were in his town, that his family practically ran, and we had all the shiny things that make people think you’re a typical happy Americana family.
We spent a lot more time in bars, alcoholism took over my mom and she drove drunk for the first time with me in the car. I also witnessed my first act of physical domestic violence. There was suddenly a lot of yelling at home. One particular day there was a lot of yelling and then a lot of hitting. I watched my stepdad throw my mom down the back steps. My mom biting and clawing and fighting back, both drunk and blind to the reality of what they were doing. I was screamed at for trying to call the cops and then screamed at again by my aunt when my stepdad was arrested. We left that night, but we came back 6 months later. My mom was addicted, to the alcohol, to the money, to the abuse. I was defensive of her then, convinced if I wasn’t around, she wouldn’t be safe.
This went on for years, ending when my stepdad was coughing up blood from a failing liver and he decided he was done with her. Dragging her name through the mud and his sister attacking me, a 12 year old, for the damage my mother apparently caused to their family. It was at this time that my mother confessed that on top of the alcohol, he was a coke addict and a dealer. What she didn’t tell me is that she was an addict too. We bounced around a lot, me defending her and being by her side that whole year after. Stability wasn’t something I knew, protecting my mom was all I knew.
When I was almost 14 and she dropped me off at my dad’s, claiming she couldn’t handle me. Couldn’t handle the straight A student, couldn’t handle how I cooked and cleaned and stayed up at night listening to her have sex with random men because there was a void she had to fill. I know all this now, at 32. I didn’t know what it was then. All I wanted was for my mom to be okay, and she made me the problem, again. Another person who didn’t want me around. My dad didn’t know what to do with me. Suddenly becoming a full-time parent to a teenager, while he had a 5 year old at home. We barely knew each other, and I didn’t know how to be a kid. I didn’t know how to respect authority. I still got straight As and was involved, but I snuck out. I became a heavy drinker in my sophomore year. I was off kilter without codependency.
At 17 my mom went to the VA to ask for help with her addiction, her 2nd bout with rehab. They got her clean, gave her a job, an apartment, and helped her buy a vehicle. I got sporadic phone calls and IOUs, but we spent time together. She had finally come clean about her coke addiction. There was some semblance of a relationship again, and I saw my pre-addiction mom coming back. Until one day, I called her apartment looking for her and her roommate told me that she had told her and the VA that she was visiting me and had been with me for two weekends. She wasn’t with me. I hadn’t talked to her. I didn’t know where she was, but I had a suspicion. She had relapsed, and relapsed hard. We barely spoke, I tried to encourage her to get clean that she still had so much life.
At 19, we got in a fight over the phone while I was in a Walmart. She said I was crazy and should’ve been committed like her mother should’ve committed her. She said she should’ve aborted me, and only kept me because my father wanted me. Apparently, I was a disappointment, worthless and would amount to nothing. I know now it was the coke, or worse, talking. I told her to never speak to me again. I changed my number, blocked her on socials, blocked her number and cut off all ties. After 13 years of caring for my mother, spending the majority of my days worrying about her, I ended it. She was no longer welcome to even view my personal island from a distance. 13 years later, I still don’t speak to her. She’s still lost to the addiction. She attempts to reach out every few years and I block her new profiles.
I recently came to the realization that she loves me, in the only way she knows how, but it wasn’t enough. I can love her, and she can love me, but that doesn’t mean my boundaries change. If she ever decides to get clean, there are ways she can reach me without reaching me directly.
I can happily say that my stepdad got clean about 5 years after we left. I saw him around my 22nd birthday, 5 years clean and sober. I saw a different man that day. We didn’t need to speak it but there was an understanding… a slate washed clean. I was proud of the man he had chosen to become, something my mother hasn’t been able to do. He got clean, got married, had a son. His daughters are successful. He passed a few years ago, after too many years of abuse on his body for him to live to see his first grandchild, but he looks just like him.
I still hope for the day my mom can see me in person, and show me the person I knew was under there, but I fear the time for that is running short. She’s a veteran, so I’ll know when she eventually passes, I’m the listed as next of kin. Until then, I’ll always mourn the things we could’ve had, the childhood I should’ve had. I make it a point in my life to help give people the support I should’ve had.
Josh, if you read this, thank you for being you. Thank you for this, and for this business, and for speaking out and for giving people hope for the future. RA – thank you for everything you’ve done to help bring this to light.