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“My Parents’ Addiction”

A winning essay from our Brighter Future Scholarship contest

Growing up, I thought my world was almost picture-perfect. I lived with my mom, dad, half-sister, and the best dog ever in a great neighborhood, just a few blocks away from the playground, the community pool, and the baseball park. My friends and I walked to and from school every day, and my dad was always there waiting for me when I got home. He was disabled and had so many health problems that he could not work, but it seemed that he was always there for me. He taught me to throw and catch, to fish, to ride a bike, and to understand all kinds of sports.

What I did not realize was that he was struggling with addiction to prescription drugs, as a result of the devastating back injury and surgeries that disabled him. From the time I was about 8 years old, there were increasingly frequent times when he was not able to get out of bed at all during the day, and many more and scary times when he was confused or disoriented. My mom had a good job and tried to keep things “normal” in our house for a while, but she also developed a health issue and with it her own addiction to prescription drugs. Mom went into rehab several times over the course of two years, but coming home to a husband in active addiction undermined her efforts to stay sober.

The summer I was 10 was when my life truly changed because of their addiction. Mom sent me to stay with my grandparents across the state while she struggled again – unsuccessfully – to get clean. A short time later she lost her job, and my parents moved back to join me in her hometown, where she again entered rehab with no other option. My dad could not envision dealing with his constant pain without the drugs and did not believe that rehab was an option for him. While Mom was away, determined to move forward in a sober life, Dad moved back home and within several weeks we got a call from my aunt letting us know that he was found dead from an overdose of fentanyl.

Mom and I settled into a new house in a new town, but my head was anything but settled. For a long time after my dad died, I had a tough time just going through a day. I struggled with guilt, feeling that I could have saved him if I had been there. Moving to a new place, changing schools, and trying to make new friends was also hard, and I spent a lot of time being angry at the world about how my life had changed and feeling sorry for myself because of it. Over time, therapy has helped me to deal with the past and look forward to a better future. I’ve also been very lucky during my high school years to have great and understanding coaches in wrestling, football, and lacrosse who have helped me to channel my emotions into athletics.

My experience with my parents’ addiction has been both a positive and a negative experience. It has been 6 ½ years since my dad died, and thankfully my mom has been sober for more than 7 years now. She is remarried to a nice guy who is also sober, and I have a 5-year-old brother, who is autistic. I am grateful for the life I have now. I still miss my dad every day, but I have many good memories of him as a kind and caring person whose life was cut short by addiction. I know more about addiction and recovery than most people do, especially how addiction affects more people than just the addict, and because of my experiences I am trying to live my life every day in a way that will make my family, including my dad, proud. The most important thing I have come to realize about addiction is that it happens in all kinds of families and to all kinds of people. What matters most is how you deal with it. My dad did not believe that he could live without something to kill his pain. Because of that, he didn’t seek help and ultimately died. My mom and stepfather and their friends are examples of people who wanted to change their lives and refused to give up until they got to a better place. I don’t know if recovery would have worked for my dad, but I wish he had tried it.

This scholarship would be a great help to me with college costs as I pursue a major in psychology, with a goal of working with autistic children in sports programs.

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