You’ve read the headlines (‘Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever’). You’ve heard the disheartening statistics (almost half-a-million Americans have died in the last 15 years from an overdose). The drug and opioid crisis in America is at an all-time high. It is ruining families around the U.S. and the world at staggering numbers. No one is protected, and everyone is at risk.
This. Is. Nothing. New. To. Me.
The headlines you read were my reality. Drugs ruled my every decision for the first 14 years of my life. Drugs consumed my “everything”. I survived the statistics. No, I did not do drugs willingly. No, I did not sell or carry drugs willingly. No, I was not addicted. I am ONE of the children left behind. Here is glimpse into my world. My heart aches to share this because what happened to me 40 years ago is still happening today in more horrific numbers.
It’s become the norm to see, read and hear daily news reports of addicted parents who are found passed out in their car from a “high” – or worse an overdose – with their children in the back seat.
But do you know what happens to those children? Who cares for those children? Who helps those children? What that experience is like for those children?
My story is no different. I was the oldest of four children. Technically five if you include my mother. I was her mother. I protected her and I fixed her bad choices. As the oldest child, I assumed responsibility for my siblings. I was my mother’s best friend. Her personal assistant, if you will. I sat in the circle and did drugs with her and her friends in third grade. I pretended to take the pill or smoke marijuana to not disappoint her, because anger from a drug addicted person could be the scariest monster on earth. If I looked as though I complied with her wishes, then I had the true understanding of the drugs in her system and knew how to help her when she inevitably passed out. Based on the combination of drugs she took and the amount, I knew what to expect.
I stole food to feed my siblings and I. I will never forget the strawberry wafers I would tuck under my shirt at the local gas station. I hated strawberry wafers. But that’s what I could grab easily. The gas station clerk must have known, right? When was the last time I had a shower? Brushed my hair? Had clean clothes? My mouth was full of cavities because a toothbrush was no good without toothpaste and running water. Did anyone notice?
I bet the gas station clerk did notice and gave me grace.
I would come home with my freshly looted wafers to share with my siblings. I would find my mother passed out on the couch and I would check to see if she was breathing. I would turn her head to the side to keep her from choking on her vomit, in case I wasn’t in the room when that happened.
When she would return from her stupor, my orders were to go to the carryout and get her “a Pepsi and a pack”. She would have me buy her SpaghettiOs while we sat starving. And soon, the cycle would start all over again.
This was my every day. My reality.
The holidays were even worse. I would wrap my own presents that the case worker dropped off on the Monday before Christmas. The gifts were what caring families bought for the less fortunate. We got two gifts each. I made sure they were wrapped for my siblings. I wanted their Christmas to be as “special” as the commercials made it look. It wasn’t long after the gifts were opened that the tree was on its side, crashing onto the gifts left under it. You guessed it! Drugs were rearing their ugly head on Christmas Day.
My mother’s boyfriend wanted her stash of drugs. She gave them to me for safe keeping. She told me to guard them, to not give them up. “Do this for mommy okay? No, matter what happens, even if I’m bleeding, even if he chokes me, don’t give them up!”
I was trying to protect my siblings by holding onto the “stash”. The unknown constantly overwhelmed my thoughts:
He is hitting her? What do I do? She is being thrown into the wall. What should I do? She is bleeding from both eyes. Her face is black and blue, and she has bruises on her arms.
Is it okay to give the drugs up now? Will she be mad at me? Will she hurt me? Will he hurt me if he knows I have the drugs and didn’t give them to him? What about my brothers and sister?
The pressure becomes too much! I panic and throw them down the heat register. The neighbors hear the commotion and call the cops. The cops arrive. I think, please protect us…save us. She does not want to file charges. The cops leave. Merry Christmas to us.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for many of the families and children in a life consumed by the horrors and tragedies of drug addiction. When you see the news reports and you hear about the children, I’m asking you to please find it in your heart to save these kids. They are missing out on their childhoods. They are deserving of love and affection. They have been abused and need a soft place to land. Today, much more now, than then. Though the drugs have changed, I am most certain the pain these children feel remains the same after all these years.
Buneka Lucas is a Choice Network champion and former foster care child. During National Adoption Month in November, she is sharing her story of growing up with a mother addicted to drugs, her life in foster care and her adoption story.
Read our 'why' behind National Adoption Month here.