Breaking the curse as a child of an addict
Let me ask you this: Do you think a heroin addict can be a good parent? How about if they are a high functioning heroin addict?
Social norms teach us what a heroin addict may look like. Homelessness, prostitution, unemployment spring to mind? Even popular music culture like Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’ shows the dark side of drug addiction. In fact two thirds of homeless people cite drug and alcohol abuse as a reason for becoming homeless.
But my story breaks statistics and challenges what we think we know. Introducing my mother: a well-presented woman, with a generous salary, a great career in social work and housing, a brand-new Mercedes car, a mortgage and two successful daughters. On the outside looking in, she is a standard mother. But my childhood was anything but.
A tragic childhood gave my mum the opportunity to victimise her future and allow herself to self-sabotage her happiness, and in turn her partner’s and her daughters’. I am here to break the curse of allowing childhood trauma to shape your future and use excuses for not being happy.
I am here to break the curse
Whilst she was high functioning, she still had the same symptoms as any regular user. After a hit her and my step dad would pass out on the sofas and be unresponsive for hours. My mum is actually on her third marriage, and sadly she did not save the best till last. My step dad is an abusive, power hungry narcissist who installed fear into all of us with his violence and his shouting. He played sick games like daring me to run around our garden naked at a young age, and daring my sister to lick the dead flies off his motorbike for a minimal amount of money.
I only left school recently and I was sworn to secrecy at my mother’s mercy. I was always told that not being with my mum could have been worse, and I knew what she was doing was a criminal act. Would you risk sending your mum to jail? I also did not want to lose my sister. The roles were reversed where I felt I had become my mum’s parent.
I did tell my school
Who else was going to look after her? I did tell my school and showed them the bruises across my chest and my mum told them I was lying, so they sent me on a drug course where the counsellor told me how I could grow up to be a heroin addict and die, while I sat there pleading ignorance. I am hoping my story can shape a change in the approach to situations like these and safeguard the next child who has a story like mine.
My parents did not do regular food shopping. My sister and I lived off Cadbury’s mini rolls, in which I cannot stand now. We may have some stale cereal in the cupboard which could be my dinner which I would have to eat with a heroin stained spoon. My parents injected themselves, meaning all of our spoons were also casualties of their addiction. I used to bleach them and was so embarrassed of them.
Even now when I go out, I am so particular with cutlery. The spoons were almost black. Like they had been revived from a bomb site but completely discoloured. I even remember feeling disgusting if I stirred my tea with it. If I left my spoon in the cup too long I’d have to bin the tea and re make it as I was scared I would get contaminated with the heroin.
I couldn’t expose her and be the reason she was unemployed
The funny side of this, if there is one, is my mum’s career choice. She was the one who would come in and report you to ChildLine if you didn’t take your child to school, or report you if you were incorrectly claiming benefits. She does have an amazing work ethic and her work has always come first, well maybe second to the drugs. My sister and I would be third. Her work is what makes me do this through the hidden lens of someone else.
Whilst my mum has done me wrong, I couldn’t expose her and be the reason she was unemployed, because she could then very easily be pushed to overdose, and I wouldn’t want to have that on my shoulder. My mum still looks down on other addicts that she sees in her work as if she’s better than them because she’s high functioning. But they’re the same. They are heroin addicts.
The hardest thing for my stomach is why when I was a little baby, I wasn’t enough to stop that urge of going out and seeking heroin. It wasn’t available in her or my dad’s friend circle, so she had to actively seek it. It’s not like alcohol where she had one too many. She had to consciously stick that needle in her arm whilst she had a baby there. I hope she didn’t breastfeed me whilst pumping her veins full of ‘smack’.
I am Penelope Red
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. I am Penelope Red and I am trying to get the education on the impacts drug addicted parents have on their children. Whilst I stayed silent for 23 years I am finally coming out and sharing the word and trying to share light on this big issue. Whilst researching through doing my Instagram page @peneloperedtrust, I have found out Joe Wicks MBE’s father was also was a heroin addict, and I reached out to him and he was really good and open. He did a documentary on it recently on BBC iPlayer which I would invite you to watch.
Although my mum was a heroin addict, I found a local Al-Anon group, this is for friends and families of alcoholics (this was due to the fact there was no narcotics anonymous as it is named near me, nor one I could find in a few big radius). Whilst alcoholism is different to heroin abuse, a lot of the impact have similar traits. They handed me a book called Hope For Today, which covers a three ‘C’ principle I would like to share with you:
I did not cause it
I cannot cure it
I cannot control it
These really resonated with me at the time, because a lot of my life I’ve been trying to control my mum’s behaviour and her use. I also thought I can ‘cure’ here as such if I acted in certain ways or was the perfect daughter. And I do struggle with the thoughts of causing the abuse. I can’t help but feel if I wasn’t born maybe she wouldn’t have picked up that needle.
What is my relationship like with my mum now?
Heroin does seem to be quite a taboo word, but did you know every 25 minutes in America is baby is born with an opioid withdrawal? I think there is also an expectation for a child to hate their parents. You can love your family as well as having family wounds. A lot of people tell me, why not cut your mum off? Why are you still protecting her? Parental relationships are complex and a child has a sense of unweathering loyalty, rightly or wrongly.
Strained, to say the least. I am lucky in a way I don’t have to worry about the state my mum is living in, in terms of she does have a house and keeps it respectable. She has disposable income so she still impulse buys as well as spends most of her money on her ‘self-medication’. She did go to rehab, and this sounds like I’m being unfair, but I generally believe she only went in rehab to get me to speak to her again, because I decided to cut her off. Ever since she’s gone to rehab she just constantly calls me and tells me she’s changed, but I’ve found all her stuff.
Why didn’t I get help?
As said earlier I did actually tell my school about my step dad hitting me, and I showed them the bruises. But I didn’t want to tell anyone about my mum’s drug use, for various reasons. A big reason is the shame and embarrassment I feel. It’s only recently I’ve realised my mother’s actions don’t define me. Just because she is a heroin addict, that doesn’t reflect on me in anyway. I did constantly google lots about heroin and a lot of it is very end of the world stuff, how if you do heroin its class A and you will die. So I was too scared to do anything. I also found because I couldn’t find any other research on children with heroin addict parents, I felt like no one would believe me.
What about my real dad?
I went to my biological father’s house every other weekend, and whilst we were presented okay, he chose to look away. He said he didn’t know, and to give him credit, my mum is a great liar. We talk more openly about what I went through now that I am an ‘adult’ and have my own house etc. I can’t say it could have been easy in his position, but I do feel he could have done more. My step mum never wanted children so he probably would have had to pick between us and her, and that is a decision he couldn’t make.
The first thing I want to stress is that if you do not feel safe in your home call 999 immediately. However, I have listed key helplines you can call:
Emergency Services: 999
Local Police: 101
Nacoa 0800 358 3456
ChildLine 0800 1111
Samaritans 116 123
Shout Text SHOUT to 85258 for message services
@Peneloperedtrust on Instagram.
For more experience stories, find Support & Advice.