Midwestern Mama aka Rose McKinney is a community faculty member at Metropolitan State University. Several of her students have written guest blog posts for Our Young Addicts as part of working on a class assignment to support the upcoming “From Statistics to Solutions” conference taking place on May 12. #FSTS16
Beware of the non-user; their adverse childhood experiences coupled with the cost of stigma could potentially be a dangerous recipe for addiction. My life reminds me of the pharmaceutical commercials that warn viewers that side effects are more hazardous than the symptoms I am trying to relieve.
Unfortunately, my life didn’t offer a disclaimer, instead it claimed all that I had.
I was 10 years old when my dad lost his battle with cancer, 12 when my sister’s boyfriend made sexual advances toward me, and just 15 when my oldest sister died from what was ruled an accidental discharge of a .357 magnum to her temple. A single traumatic episode is a lot to handle, three in five years is too much.
People deal with trauma differently. My mom, she constantly needed people around her. So much so that she would send dishonest notes to teachers to excuse me and my siblings from school so that she didn’t have to be alone. My brother and sister, twins that are two years older than me, submersed themselves in their music. My brother was an original member of Mazarati, the first band signed to Prince’s Paisley Park label, while his twin sang in another band and became very promiscuous. They also submersed themselves in drugs and alcohol.
How did I deal with it? With the exception of attempting to smoke a joint of weed shortly after my dad’s death, drugs and alcohol never crossed my mind – unless I was judging the many weak-minded people around me who consumed them.
Ironic that I placed stigma on what later became my own getaway.
Being that my mom didn’t like to be alone, our home turned into the kool-aid house soon after my father’s death. My house was like a 24-hour park that musicians rehearsed, slept, and consumed alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) in. Although I shunned drug use, I became dependent on entertainment and excitement. Dysfunction and trauma became first nature to me and any sign of normality felt uncomfortable. But hey, I still wasn’t using . . . yet.
Unless there was a talent show, basketball game, or event coming up, I rarely attended school – remember it’s all about excitement for me. When I was 15, help appeared to show up through the judicial system. After multiple court appearances to address my truancy, a judge sentenced me to a 35-day evaluation program at a sheriff’s ranch in Austin, Minnesota. Psychological assessments and interviews revealed I still had trauma and anger associated with my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s sexual advances towards me from four years prior. I was amazed, intrigued, and scared by the assessment’s ability to reveal I had traded in my buried pain and trauma for anger for so long afterwards. At the end of the 35-day evaluation period, I initially was court-ordered to undergo counseling, but I received a stay of imposition so long as my family would accept the recommendation for family counseling. I thought it was a blessing in disguise.
Treating the entire problem, the shifting family dynamics, and the underlying issues sounded like a great idea when we accepted the offer.
But after three family-counseling sessions, we allowed the stigma associated with counseling to ruin our chance to heal; after word seeped into our community that we were receiving professional help, we never returned.
If I could have learned to bury the hatchet as well as I buried pain, I might have been able to sustain the conditioned appearance that I was okay. But remember, dysfunction was my normal.
Dropping out of school so I was able to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico with my cousin and his band at the age of 16 was normal; traveling to Los Angles, California while that band prepared for the Black Radio Exclusive (BRE) showcase was normal. And when it was time for that band to head back home to Minneapolis, Minnesota, not telling my mom I was going to stay in Los Angeles with my oldest brother until the beginning of the next school year was normal too.
When the next school year arrived, instead of going back to school, I went on another nine-month music tour – spending my 18th birthday on a bus along some highway in Texas was my normal.
Although I still hadn’t picked up a drink or consumed a drug, I was addicted to a life of excitement that would be impossible to sustain . . . alive.
When the tour was over, I met a beautiful girl whose normal was as dysfunctional as mine. Within a month, Marie and I moved in together and began a very serious and intense relationship. A few years later, I would have my first drink to celebrate Marie’s pregnancy. I also became my aging grandmother’s primary caretaker; so my celebration didn’t last too long before grandma passed. Although my siblings had about a year of sobriety under their belt at the time of grandma’s passing, she still left her home to me. Trusting me with all that my grandparents worked for was a gift of joy that later became a self-inflicted continuum of pain.
I had a good job that I was excelling at before my double-life caught up to me.
Partying all night and then showing up for work an hour late doesn’t work in a functional business. After multiple warnings for tardiness, I was fired. But being jobless didn’t drive me to drink because owning a home gave me some freedom. I have since learned the danger of having too much free time. Since dysfunction was my normal, pinpointing where my downward spiral began is hard. I can’t even remember when I had my second drink, but I know that somewhere around the 10th drink, it took me and not the other way around. I know that when I snapped out of my first binge, I had lost my long-time girlfriend and mother of my daughter and that my drinking had intensified.
Everything after almost seems like one long blurry nightmare. I write almost because I remember being drunk and getting in a fight one night in a club. I remember being retaliated against a couple weeks later when out of nowhere a man popped up and started shooting at me – hitting me in the chin and each arm. I remember the high I got from the pain pills to treat those wounds. I remember becoming addicted to cocaine afterwards. I remember taking a mortgage out on the home I promised my grandmother to raise my family in. I remember my mentor, a surrogate, passing away from cancer just as my dad did. I remember a letter my daughter wrote reflecting on the day we experienced a home invasion. The letter I only became aware of because she won an award for it at school. I remember waking up in the back of a police car after my third DUI, and again after my arrest for fleeing a police officer a week before trial was scheduled for that charge.
So instead of trial, I remember pleading guilty, serving my short sentence in the workhouse. I remember surrendering at my first AA meeting, and the liberation of admitting I was alcoholic.
I remember treatment, and the liberation that followed admitting I was an addict.
I remember my counselor encouraging me to go back to school, my doing so, my nomination to be vice president of the alcohol and drug counseling student association once I did. And I remember the mistake of thinking I was cured because I had been sober. I remember my first relapse, the necessary and dire need to tell people I slipped in order to save myself.
But I slipped again. This time on some ice and broke my leg. I also broke my routine of interacting with my sober-support system. Six months later, with a year of sobriety under my belt, I was arrested for possession of cocaine. My sponsor asked me how I was doing with sobriety. In the midst of my trouble, I was happy to report I was clean. He then asked “how are you doing with your recovery?” There’s a huge difference in recovery and sobriety, one is a lifestyle that prevents winding up in the back of police cars. I have since re-immersed myself in recovery, school and I graduate this May with an individualized degree aimed at alleviating the adverse experiences that children face.
A question I used to ask is “what is so tough about life that causes a person to want to alter their reality by way of potentially fatal substances?” The question I should have been asking is where can I get help for the emotional pain and trauma I’ve endured?
David Starks is a student who completed the required coursework to obtain a bachelor’s of science degree in alcohol and drug counseling (ADC) from Metropolitan State University. However, he is unable to get licensed in that field due to the Department of Human Services (DHS) strict criminal history guidelines. As David’s blog reads, he has refocused his degree to one that will work on the underlying issues of drug addiction versus the treatment of substance use after addiction sets in and will graduate in May of 2016.
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