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My Mom's Tale

by kasey gresham about a month ago in family

How substance use took my wonderful mom. Twice.

Before I begin, I would like to clarify that this article is not to bash my Mom whatsoever. It is in fact quite the opposite. My argument is that people who use and abuse substances deserve compassion, not condemnation or judgment. It is something that took 17 years for me to understand. After 17 years, I'm finally on my Mom's side instead of fighting against her.

That being said, this article is in memory of my Mom, whom I miss with all my heart.

My mom and I

From the time I was a baby up until I was around 13 or 14, I had the best Mom any child could have asked for. She loved me with all of her heart. My dad worked long hours at a casino so it was quite often just me and her. I'll admit she spoiled me rotten. She tried to buy everything in the world for me. She bought me barbies, baby dolls, legos, and more. It was nice and all, but there are things that I remember even more so. I remember her taking me walking on woodland trails. I remember her standing outside waiting on me to get off the bus after a long day at school. I remember walking into our home to the smell of fresh mopped floors and food that she had prepared for me. I remember her making popcorn for us and us sitting down together to watch tv. Usually, it was Oprah or The Montel Williams show. There is so much that I remember like walking down the road to our church and playing on the playground, visits to the creek, picking blackberries, catching lightning bugs, and more. When my birthday rolled around, she always surprised me with beautiful decorations and a pile of presents. When I was sick, and I got sick frequently, she would stay up with me all night only getting minutes of sleep here and there. I could probably write a whole novel on the most loving things she did for me as a Mom. She protected me from the horrors of the world and made my childhood truly magical.

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When I turned 13 or 14, my life was turned upside down. She changed. The Mom that I once knew was taken from me by a little orange bottle and she was replaced with someone I barely knew. My Mom began to have slurred speech almost every day and was not able to function on her own. She fell down frequently and in the process broke things. When she would sit down to eat, she'd take a bite or two and begin falling asleep in her food as well as dropping it on the couch or the floor. Our couch and floors began to have cigarette burns where she would fall asleep smoking. One time, she shoved a whole stick of butter in the toaster. Her addiction to prescription pills began to ignite anger in my soul. It was the beginning of a 17-year war.

The anger and resentment only got worse over the years. I was 15 years old when I witnessed an overdose for the first time. One of my best friends and I were hanging out at my house playing video games. My Mom had taken muscle relaxers and was out of it. It seemed like just another day. Usually, even when she was messed up, she could still respond and speak a little and acknowledge someone talking to her. She was laid back on the couch. My friend and I tried to talk to her but she wouldn't respond. She was still breathing. She would try to move a little, but barely. My friend who was 2 years younger than me said we had to get her up and keep her awake. As someone who grew up with both of his parents abusing substances, he knew what to do. We were scared to call 911 so instead, we called my Dad who was at work at the time. He left work almost immediately and rushed home. The three of us carried her to the car and got her to the hospital where they pumped her stomach and estimated that she must have taken approximately 20 muscle relaxers. They said it was a miracle that she was still alive and if I and my friend had not done the things that we did, she would have died. She was sent to a rehab where they kept her for around 3 weeks and then released her. On her first day out, she went straight back to the pills.

Over the years following, there would be many times of her coming close to being like that again. There would be more anger, many arguments, and an ocean of tears. One time that stood out to me was when I was 17. One day I begged my mom to not take any pills just for one day and we could go into town, have quality mother-daughter time and just hang out. She agreed and we went. I was driving. The day started well. We went to flea markets and had planned to go eat at a local restaurant. We didn't even make it past the flea markets. Her speech began to slur. I felt so much anger and heartbreak come crashing into me like a tidal wave. I felt like I was not worthy enough of her time. Only the pills were. They were her daughter now.

I remember it was wintertime when this happened. It was supposed to get down to freezing that night. The sun was setting quickly and the temperature was dropping swiftly. We headed home and on the way the anger was festering. I stopped at one of our family friends’ houses because I had planned to see if they would let her stay the night because I didn't want her home. I pulled her out of the vehicle into the yard. When I got her out of the car she simply fell to the ground. I knocked on our friend's door but they weren't home. I thought about leaving her there. I almost did. I didn't care anymore. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of her managing to drag herself into the road and possibly getting run over. We lived in the countryside and there wasn't a lot of traffic but our friend lived next to an extremely dangerous hill that people frequently drove over carelessly. I got help getting her back into the van from one of my own friends that lived in the trailer park nearby.

When I got home, I decided to lock her in the van. I figured when she was sober enough to unlock the doors herself, only then could she come inside the house. At the moment I didn't care if it was going to be freezing that night. I was outraged and hurt and her wellbeing no longer mattered to me. I felt like she deserved it. She did it to herself. When I went inside and told my dad, he wasn't mad at me, just upset. He said "Please. We can't leave her out there. If you won't go get her I will." He was half crippled at that point. He used a walker. He hobbled outside and I followed him. My boyfriend at the time was also there and went and helped him get my Mom out of the car. I refused to help. My heart was hardened.

As my Dad and my boyfriend were trying to get her up the front steps, she fell. As she fell, she pulled my Dad down with her and he fell into a stack of wood nearby and in my mind, I can still hear the cry he let out. I can still see him holding his hand because his thumb has dislocated. I was filled with rage and I went to grab my mom and my boyfriend held me back. All I could think of was how badly I wanted to hurt her.

There would be many incidents like that where I would feel a flood of rage, heartache, frustration, and occasionally guilt. Pills had turned my mom into a narcissist. I spent all those years being a victim of gaslighting and guilt trips. My mom would constantly blame her problems on me and any time I would try to tell her about her problem she would avoid it by changing the subject, making an excuse, or pointing fingers at me or someone else. She made me feel like I was never good enough.

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When she would be coming down off the pills, she would be angry. She would often scream at me for little to no reason. I remember one time she came towards me with her hand raised and my dad stopped her. She was angry because I had thrown the tv remote through the window because the way she was lashing out at me made me furious. Other than that one incident she never tried to physically harm me.

Even though her substance use declined over the years as I approached my mid-twenties, it was still hard. Even as an adult, married and with children, she would try to control me. When I wouldn't give in she would either guilt trip me or just start a full-blown argument which would result in me hanging up on her and us not speaking for 2 and 3 weeks at a time. It would usually happen following her spending 3 or 4 days messed up on pills. There were so many periods of not speaking.

On May 21st, 2021, I could not get in touch with my Mom. This wasn't unusual because sometimes she would leave and go to the store or a friend's house and not tell anyone. Sometimes she simply wouldn't answer the phone because she didn't feel like talking. I would get worried every time because my mom neglected her health severely. Aside from pills, she would smoke like a train and eat so much junk food, and hardly ever anything healthy. I always figured that she would ultimately drop from a heart attack or a stroke.

She had given me and my husband a key to her house in case we ever needed to go over there while she wasn't home or if we showed up and she was in the bathroom because she would always lock the front door when going to the bathroom. That evening we decided to stop by and check on her after not being able to get ahold of her all day. I figured she wouldn't be home or she'd be there and merely avoiding calls because she was in a bad mood. My husband went inside to check on her.

Sure enough, she was sitting on the couch messed up. It was the same old song and dance that I had witnessed repeatedly over 17 years. I went inside and tried to question her to find out who she was with because I had every intention of calling them up and yelling at them. She couldn't even tell me. I told her "Alright Mom. I’m leaving." I walked out. As I walked out, she managed to get one word out of her mouth. It is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life and I will always hear it in my head clear as a bell. "Wait"

I was too angry to wait. I've been waiting for 17 years to have my old mom back. The one who made my childhood magical. The one who loved me and cared about my health and well-being. I blew the candle out on her desk, didn't bother turning the lights off, and I locked her front door as I went out. "Wait"

I had been through it so many times. I knew what was going to happen. I knew that tomorrow she would call me after sobering up and act like it never happened. It's what she always did. I didn't think anything of it. I didn't expect anything else. Don't you understand? This was my life. This was my "Normal". I couldn't have known what would happen. "Wait"

My Mom

The next day, we went to Shabbat fellowship. It felt like any other day. It was on the ride home when I began to feel "off". When we got back into our town, I told my husband we should go check on her again because I tried to call her and still couldn't get ahold of her. We arrived at her house and my husband got the key and went inside. It took him a couple of minutes so I figured he went to check throughout the house to make sure she hadn't collapsed in the bathroom or bedroom. Or perhaps she was in the back of the house smoking and didn't hear us drive up. When he came back outside, I saw his face fall and it's like I knew without him even saying anything. It's like my spirit knew but I denied the feeling and told myself I was imagining it.

"She's cold and she's not breathing". Those are also words I will forever hear in my head. My best friend who works at a hospital was with us. She jumped out of the car and ran inside. I went to step out of the car and fell to my knees screaming at the top of my lungs. "Why God? Why?" I also screamed and begged God’s forgiveness on her behalf. She knew not what she did. I went into Psychological shock. I remember throwing up. I remember a lady pulling over on the side of the road to hold me and comfort me. I remember cops. It all felt like a bad dream and I began to question reality.

It took everything in me to leave that place. I didn't want to move but I didn't want to stay either. My Dad-in-law showed up and he and my husband were able to get me away from there and get me home. My body was drained and I could barely walk on my own. Everything felt weird. Nothing felt real. I questioned reality.

When I got inside our house, the walls felt like they were closing in on me. The rooms felt so small. I spent that evening going in and out of reality. I would be okay one moment and then slip into a psychotic state of questioning reality and running over the events in my head and telling myself that her death really happened and wasn't merely a nightmare. I would have a breakdown almost every hour where I blamed myself for not calling 911 the day before. I hated myself. My husband had to keep reminding me that it wasn't my fault. She had gotten up between the time that we saw her and the time that she passed away. How do we know? Because those lights that I had left on in her house, had been turned off. At some point, she had gotten up and turned them off.

A few weeks later, my husband was researching mental illness so that he could do a youtube video about it. He learned something that changed everything for me. Addiction is considered a mental disorder referred to as Substance Use Disorder. He began to research only that and the things that we learned were shocking. Because of his research, I was able to forgive my Mom for everything and I'm no longer angry at her. Because of his research, everything made sense.

My mom did not choose addiction. Addiction found a woman who was born into a traumatic life and took advantage of her pain. She never knew her real mother because her mother was killed in a car accident when she was a baby. Her father deserted her. She was molested as a child, was a victim of domestic abuse in one of her previous marriages, was robbed at gunpoint, raped, and suffered the loss of many people that meant the world to her including my Dad.

It was a vicious circle for her. Her trauma would lead her to take pills so that she could feel better. Her being on pills would cause me and others to lash out at her, criticize her, belittle her, and make her feel like garbage which, in turn, would lead to her feeling ashamed and worthless and would drive her addiction even more so.

This is why It is so important that people educate themselves on substance use disorder. That way, they don't make the same mistake I did. All those days I wasted on being angry and resentful, I could have spent them being compassionate and caring and above all, understanding. I could have been a light for my mom. If I would have, there's a chance that she might have recovered and she might still be here with me today.

Education and compassion are more powerful tools than you think when it comes to substance use disorder. We need to work together to bring awareness to the truth. The people we love dearly in our lives that fall victim to substance use disorder, don't choose it.

Most of the time, it starts with trauma, a co-existing mental disorder, or chronic pain. I know some will say "I experienced those things and I never did drugs." I say to you, don't invalidate someone else's pain just because you "turned out fine". That's emotional abuse and people who do that are part of the problem. People have different pain thresholds both physically and mentally. People handle pain differently and they shouldn't be belittled for it.

It's time for us to start being part of the healing process. It's time for us to be understanding and loving towards people who have fallen victim to addiction. It's time for us to be a light in the darkness for those who can't help themselves. Many of them truly want to get better, but their want is buried beneath feelings of worthlessness and the stigma surrounding substance use disorder. It is up to us to stop the stigma so that stories like mine and my mom's stop being told.

Don't make a difference. Be the difference. Thank you for reading.

My Mom, Lana Johnson: Oct 1, 1953 - May 22, 2021

If you would like to learn more about substance use disorder, please check out my husband's Facebook page Stop the Stigma. If you have any questions concerning substance use disorder, feel free to message him there.


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