My mom’s addiction hurt me, but we’ve found a way to be close

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Rise, New York

When I was little, I would sit in my room and wonder why my life was not like other children’s. I would see kids with their parents, doing things that my mother would not do with me, like going to the park and shopping, and I would feel sad.

My mother was using drugs and she would just come and go. I felt that my mother didn’t want me as much as she wanted her drugs. If she did, she would not be spending more time with them than with me.

My grandmother looked after me when my mother wasn’t there. But when I was 9, my grandmother was no longer able to take care of me, so the city put me in a foster home.

The foster parents treated me terribly. They hit me for no reason and said that I was going to be nothing, just like my mother. Eventually I was moved, but most of the places I was moved to weren’t a whole lot better.

I saw my mother, grandmother and siblings every two weeks, but I wouldn’t tell them what was happening. I thought I’d get in trouble if I did.

During visits, I was especially excited to see my mother. She’d get to the agency first to surprise me and bring me lots of toys and gifts. Whenever my mother was around, something in my heart felt complete.

But when I was 11, she stopped coming. Later I found out that she hadn’t been attending her court dates and she lost her rights to see me. But all I knew was that my mother stopped coming.

I just kept thinking about not seeing my mother, how much I missed her, and when I might see her again. This was the hardest time for me.

Finally, when I was a teenager, I moved in with my cousin Michelle. Living with her felt so good. My cousin made let me know I was safe.

At first, I would do strange things like put my arm around my plate so no one would take my food from me. At some foster homes, they would take my food away before I was finished. I would also stay long periods of time in my room by myself. I would sit alone and think mainly about my mother.

My cousin moved my hand from around my plate, saying, “You can eat as much as you want here.” She would take me with her to the store and spend time with me so I wouldn’t feel alone. When I did something wrong, she would not hit me. She would put me on punishment, or she would talk to me. I gradually became more open and more able to trust people.

Michelle also allowed me to have a relationship with my mother, even though the agency did not allow it. She thought it was important for me to know my mother.

When my mother first came to my cousin’s apartment, I felt so happy. I gave her the biggest hug and kiss. It was like a part of my heart was still cut, but when I saw her it healed.

As I got older and we spent more time together, I started to tell my mother about what I had been through. She said, “I am sorry you had to go through this.”

My mother and I also talked about her problem. I learned that what started her on drugs was that some of my brothers died in a fire before I was born. She couldn’t take the pain and turned to drugs.

My mother admitted that she had a problem with drugs and that she struggled to get clean. She also owned up to how her problem hurt my siblings and me.

Somehow I have managed to not hold a grudge against her for not being able to raise me, maybe because she seems truly apologetic and because I understand that she was in pain.

© 2009 Rise, a magazine by parents affected by the child welfare system.