By Aaliyah Jenson
Image by Claudia Gonzalez
Original art by ‘2Hermano’ for No Such Thing/The California Endowment
Editor and Author’s note: For nearly a decade Merced County has suffered from increasing rates of drug abuse and drug-related deaths, surpassing even the latest state and national rates. The ripple effects of this dangerous trend have grown far beyond the individual addicts themselves as parents, children, friends and neighbors are also scarred by the battle with addiction. Even with 65 percent of Proposition 47 statewide savings (an estimated $34M in 2016-2017) going into mental health and diversion programs, the area continues to lack adequate substance abuse treatment programs. Through the four-part #RecoveryinMerced series, We’Ced hopes to focus on the path to recovery and examine how public health officials, community members and former addicts are working together to heal their community. Below, our youth reporter, Aaliyah Jensen, shares a youth perspective and her personal story as a daughter of addiction.
As a daughter of an addict, I have first-hand experience with drug addiction and its consequences. My mother is a recovering addict who at one point caused me a lot of harm. I cannot speak for her, nor tell her story, but I can tell you mine and what I learned.
One of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood is of my mother locking me in a room while she smoked drugs with her friends in another room. I would just play around with magazines that were lying around or watch tv. Hours would go by. Sometimes I thought my mom had forgotten me.
I didn’t fully understand what was going on, only that my mom didn’t want me around.
I also remember moving around a lot. I met different people, visited different homes, but every person I encountered was on drugs or an alcoholic. I thought it was a normal childhood.
And although I was young, I remember everything as if it happened yesterday. I recall trying to open locked doors, the smell of drugs, the way my mom behaved. Those kind of memories stick with you forever.
One time my mother was so high, she blacked out and fell. My cousins told me to stay in the room, but I ran out to see my mom’s face covered in blood. The trip to the hospital felt like an eternity. Eight stitches were required to fix my mom’s broken nose. That day I will never forget, I was terrified. I kept telling myself it could’ve been worse, she could have died.
My mom finally decided to sober up for me. She says one of the worst days of her life was when I was taken away by Child Protective Services (CPS). I went into Foster Care and she thought she would never see me again.
My mother managed to accomplish the unimaginable. She got clean. But it wasn’t easy. She had to work hard to prove she was a “fit mother.” She had to prove she loved me, and she did.
But not everyone who struggles with addiction recovers. Some don’t receive second chances, while others don’t live long enough.
If you have never experienced addiction, it can be hard to understand what people really go through. It is easy to blame addicts, but no one wakes up one day wanting to be addicted. They face battles everyday. And so to those around them.
A study from 2010 shows that over 23.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol. But only 1 in 10 Americans receives the treatment they need. And as of 2014, there were only around 14,000 treatment centers nationwide, not enough compared to the size of the problem.
We as a society need to understand that addiction is a disease and we need to treat it like one. The more help we provide, the more likely people will recover.
The road to recovery is a long and hard one. Individuals struggling with addiction have already been through so much. Don’t shame or abandon them.
I travelled the road to recovery with my mom despite the pain she caused me. If I found love in my heart to understand, love, and value her, you can find the same love to help others.
A letter to my mom
Dear momma, I love you. Thank you for doing everything you could do to get me back. Thank you for loving me even when you were not at your best. Thank you for getting clean, not only for me, but for yourself. I wouldn’t want anyone else as a mom but you. I didn’t know and still don’t know what you were going through while battling your disease of addiction. But I know now and I know it wasn’t easy. I appreciate you more than you realize.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Remember you are not alone.
Two years ago, Sixteen-year-old Aaliyah Jensen joined We’Ced as a youth reporter. Fueled by her love for writing, she believes every person has a powerful story and hopes to one day become a great story-teller. Among her interests is a strong inclination towards social justice issues, in particular, women’s rights and police brutality. Aaliyah is as passionate about activism as she is about journalism. In the future, she also hopes continue serving her community, and one day, attend UC, Berkeley.