Children of Addicts Come out of the Closet
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Children of Addicts Come out of the Closet


This post was originally published on April 2, 2014.

When they’re in the throes of their obsession, alcoholics and addicts are often too messed up to notice all the people they’re inadvertently dragging under the bus with them: partners, children, parents and friends.

It’s not that the addicts don’t care about the people in their lives anymore, it’s that they literally can’t see them—they’re so focused on their own tiny  bubble of need that they essentially forget everything else. They convince themselves that they’re not hurting anyone, that their addiction impacts them alone. That’s a lie, of course.

In this powerful essay, Laura Kiesel reflects on what it’s like to grow up with an active addict for a mom. Hint: It felt, in many ways, like she didn’t have a mom at all.

Kiesel writes, “My mother’s state veered dramatically between catatonic and so cranked up that, Catholic schoolgirl that I was, I suspected demonic possession. I kept half-expecting her head to start wheeling around on her shoulders like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist.”

Her mom’s first love was heroin but she bragged that, when it came to drugs, she’d “done it all…PCP, LSD, cocaine, crack, heroin and an assortment of pills, both ‘uppers and downers and often mixed up together in an assortment of self-administered cocktails of her own creation.”

When her mother was incapacitated by drugs—which was often—Kiesel was forced to take care of both herself and her brother. When she asked her mom what would happen if anyone found out how they were living, her mother warned her that she and her brother would be taken away from her.

Kiesel’s story highlights the reality that when famous folks die from this disease—think Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent passing—it reliably triggers a wave of stories from recovering addicts sharing their personal stories as they reflect on their condition. But why, as Kiesel notes, do we so rarely hear from the other folks most intimately affected by the disease—children and families? (Note to Kiesel, though: we do here.)

Of course, some families of addicts are finding their way through the sludge by talking things out in fellowships like Al Anon, CODA, Alateen and other programs. But those are the lucky ones. There are far too many other kids out there with nowhere to turn as they watch their parents succumb to their disease. This needs to change. Especially because there are an estimated 26.8 million children of alcoholics in America alone who are, not surprisingly, at great risk for addiction.

As Kiesel reminds us, “I was the one who watched as our mother morphed from a smart but shy and soft-spoken woman to a depressed and crazed addict prone to violence and abusive behavior. She died at 52.”

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.