Did you ever watch scary movies as a kid? As a child, maybe you snuck into an R-rated film. Maybe you hid under the safety of your bed covers afterwards, afraid of boogeyman. Or maybe your parents comforted you after a ghost spooked your dreams.
As a kid, I didn’t need to watch scary movies because I lived in one; complete with zombies, boogeymen, and ghosts. There were no end credits. In some ways, it was even a horror series that auto-played one episode after the other, before I had any time to process what had happened. And there was no mother to soothe my waking nightmare.
Living with the Walking Dead
My mother was an addict, and her active addiction made her a zombie. Drugs and alcohol took her from me and although she was physically present, it was as if she was already dead. She just wasn’t there with me anymore. She was in and out of rehab, constantly withdrawing and relapsing from substances, and even attempting suicide. She was my personal revenant. More alarming than my mother’s literal and figurative absence were the boogeymen that lived beneath my mother’s bed, the boyfriends that threatened my life and what was left of hers.
Halloween came to my home on the night I watched my mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend beat her. Trembling in pajamas, I would scream at him to stop, but I was only three-years old. I was powerless. And the power I did have—my voice—only turned his anger on me. That traumatic moment caused me to block out chunks of my childhood memory, with that man eventually becoming my step-dad.
Alone in a Haunted House
I do, however, vividly remember when my mother sat me down on the end of my bed and told me she was leaving me with my grandparents. She said she didn’t know for how long. She simply said she could no longer get along with my grandmother, and that she knew I’d be better off in her care. She said it so matter-of-factly, as if I was it was but a stint at summer camp. Nothing to be alarmed by.
But children are intuitive. I knew exactly what this change meant. My mother was abandoning me. For a five-year-old, nothing and no one replaces a mother, even one that isn’t entirely there to begin with. I was devastated.
For the next fifteen years, my mother was the spectre that haunted my grandparents’ home. She would wake me in dreams and startle me with the illusion of her presence. Her scent would find me, swirl around me, regardless of how little she visited or how many laundry loads were done since her last stay.
As for her visits, they never lasted long. They were typically the result of yet another release from rehab, a drug deal gone bad or a need to crash in between states on her way to another escape. Her visits were fraught with scares; there was never a dull moment.
She went through heroin withdrawals, has overdosed accidentally and on purpose, and has nearly drowned while intoxicated and passed out in the bathtub. Every time, I was the person who found her and saved her. I would alert my grandmother, sending her into crisis mode in an effort to get her the care she needed. Then, right before I hit full-fledged adulthood, my mother’s self-destructive habits finally led with her passing at the age of 38.
Traumatic events like these are easy enough to list off, like groceries or holiday-gift items. But children who experience true fright nights like mine don’t become desensitized to our memories. These are the nightmares we cannot forget.
Severing the Monsters Head
The traumatic events and all that happened (and didn’t happen) in between, made for a fright life — a horror saga that just would not end. I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder until my mid-thirties. It took seven years of counseling and a lot of work on my own in recovery to deal with the issues of being an Adult Child of an Addict and a survivor of abuse.
It was work, painful and frightening in and of itself, much like physical therapy for a life-threatening injury. And indeed, these were life-threatening injuries, and I had endured them for decades. In the midst of it all, I found myself on a soul mission that I refuse to abort and one that continues to save me from the monsters that chase me to this day.
I Chose Myself
My saving grace came in my decision to build a path of personal empowerment. With three degrees in counseling and psychology with an emphasis in addiction, all the ways that the boogeyman tried to destroy me became the fuel to the fire that lights the dark halls of my past. I now live to turn my negative experiences into inspiration for helping others find their own version of personal growth.
Today, there are countless children who are living in a horror film. Even at the end of Halloween, when the decorations are put away and the scares are long gone, some of those children will continue living their day-to-day lives stuck in a haunted house. Unfortunately, some get consumed and become the same monsters they encountered in their own homes, creating a cycle we all know too well.
But you, too, can choose to heal. If you or your loved one require professional substance abuse and mental health support, we put together a nationwide directory of treatment facilities to help you start your search. You may also call us at 800-772-8219 to inquire about treatment options available in your area.