BEYOND Substance Use | Giving Up on Someone Using Is Hard to Do
I can see the moment as clear as day. She was munching on ramen noodles in the corner of her bedroom. The dimly lit, dank room had been her sanctuary away from parenting three brats. She loudly slurped down the imitation Chinese delicacy. I looked at her, and I could tell that mom was using again.
She was never arrested for any hard drugs. I never saw her directly take any drug other than alcohol, prescription drugs, and weed as a child. I must make that clear, but we knew. We all knew when her moods changed drastically. We went through a lot of Reynolds Wrap for a family that hated leftovers. She used a cornucopia of different things, but most of all, she used people.
Mom worked at the OTB in the big town as a teller. She gave hope to the hopeless, one Meadowlands harness race at a time. That’s where she met my stepdad at the OTB. It’s a tale as old as time. Guy gambles, guy meets girl that works at a gambling facility, guy gambles away girl’s money.
The alleged father figure had me pawned off on him many times. One random Saturday afternoon, we were going to roll into town, and I was totally excited about Krekel’s. My stepdad had an errand to run first, though.
We exited the beat up old pickup truck and walked into a dilapidated house. I remember the smell. It floods back to me. The place had the scent of a coverup. So much Febreze over the smell of something that had been burnt.
Visually the place did not give off good vibes. It felt like a Trainspotting situation. My stepdad walked into the residence with the confidence of a former D2 college basketball star – so not very confident. I tiptoed in and did not know what to expect. I was in grade school at the time. The home’s musty carpet matched its equally musty drapes. The adults told us, kids, to sit down and watch TV while they went into the other room. Not knowing any better, I plopped down on the mauve-colored couch. The box tv was fuzzy, but some knockoff of Dragon Ball Z was on. Above the TV sat a beat-up old bowling trophy and a mousetrap.
Soon we were able to leave, but the other kid, who sat mostly silent, had to stay there. I remember thinking in a classist way, “Thank God I don’t have to live there.” I hope that kid grew up to do great things, but I worry he didn’t. I worry that his situation hurt him, like my situation hurt me.
Driving home in his pickup truck, we started eating Krekel’s. I was stoked about the burgers and shakes. I noticed out of the corner of my eye blood coming out of my stepdad’s nose. The big hoss of a man didn’t notice it, but when I mentioned his nosebleed, he seemed embarrassed. He got some napkins— because restaurants always give you too many — then he cleaned himself up.
I received confirmation of this being a crack den years later from my stepdad. “You know your mom would kill me If she knew I took you to one of those places.” I was old enough at that point to know what “one of those places” were.
The moments of happiness in our household were few and far between for me. My sister had her friends. My brother had his pals. I generally sat in front of the TV, engaging in information overload. I saw a lot at home that my siblings didn’t see. I lashed out in anger at most things. I got in trouble with everyone but didn’t understand why I was angry. I guess I understand now. I must’ve been in “one of those places” in life.
Keeping to myself kept me away from the different side of her. The manipulative side most folks didn’t see. The fall-down-drunk side that needed an abundance of assistance. Unfortunately, after failing in college, the first go round, and getting let go from multiple radio stations, I had to return home with my tail tucked between my legs.
My sister dropped off mom at the house, so she didn’t have to deal with public drunkenness anymore. I was in my 20s and had been away for a few years. It’s my turn to be her caretaker again—the caretaker of someone who should logically be able to care for herself.
She stumbles into the home… Murmurs words that are indecipherable to anyone who doesn’t speak fluent drunk.
Finally, she tumbles over. The turtle-like creature could not get up from off of her back. I had to help her up. That’s when I noticed she’d pissed herself. I probably should have had empathy, but I did not. I told her to clean herself up, but she clearly couldn’t. I had to clean my 40-something-year-old mother up because she couldn’t clean herself up—in more ways than one.
I eventually found out money had been taken from my account, and it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out from where. The genius person that I was biologically tied to also had given my social security number to her friend. I did get confirmation from one of mom’s friends that she had done it. I received confirmation from Ameren that someone used my social security number when I had to pay off a balance after moving into a new place.
I can deal with being beaten down, and I can deal with needing help, but what I cannot deal with is being lied to. When someone else takes money from me, it becomes the poor taking from the poor. I couldn’t afford to live like this anymore. I had to confront her.
I stood in that doorway to her room. She guzzled down the most white trash of imitation Asian cuisines. Her dilated pupils told me all I needed to know, but I had to ask for closure before I left for good. “Are you using?”
She responded by looking dumbfounded. “Using what,” was all she said.
I knew that continuing to be under the thumb of my manipulative matriarch would irreparably damage my future. Eventually, I hatched an escape plan with the help of an old babysitter to get away from the hellhole on Palmer Street. I left early in the morning when my stepdad and she were sleeping. They caught me in the middle of the act. They still couldn’t stop me this time. I did not respond to their pleas to stay. They were the petulant children I was taking care of, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Since moving away, my life has stopped being bogged down. I now get the opportunity to bog my own life down. What a luxury!
Not to be all 80’s sitcom-y, but I learned something from that situation. People who can’t hold their shit hold everyone else accountable but themselves. People under the influence can influence how family members live their lives. I also learned that booger sugar causes nosebleeds. That’s why I never used it. I hate nosebleeds.