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“Heroin as a Third Parent”

A winning essay from our Brighter Future Scholarship contest

In June of 2017, my father was at fault for a nearly-fatal car accident. On July 1st, I was woken up by my grandmother, who was frantically rushing to bring me to my dad’s hospital room. My father’s neck was broken. I listened to the questions my grandmother asked him, eagerly anticipating his response. I was a curious nine-year-old. Thoughts were racing, analogous to “It couldn’t be his fault. Could it?” My worst fears were confirmed when I learned his Blood Alcohol Content was 0.17%. He lived to see the charges he was facing for the accident, in 2020.

Late February, 2020, the police invaded our home to conduct a full search. The following chaos was exasperating, but I still didn’t want to leave home. After watching my father go through hell in the form of withdrawal, I witnessed him begin to live life in stable recovery. I would sit with my dad and talk to him for hours, asking every question I could possibly think of in regards to what happened to him. The courageous man beside me would answer every question I pelted at him. He soon met a woman he loved, and I spent most of 2020’s summer with them. In September, school started. Two weeks into the new school year, I went to stay with my mother for the weekend. I stayed from Friday night until she drove me home on Sunday morning. I entered the house in my usual pattern, enthusiastically exchanging greetings with my grandmother before rushing to my dad’s room to wake him up. Except, something felt different this time. Harsh, yellow light emitted from the small gap between the door and the ground. I knocked on the door and received no answer. I opened the door. From outside of the room, I couldn’t tell where he was. I stepped into the room, scanning it slowly as I moved towards the foot of the bed. My footsteps crept along fearfully, and I began to panic. I was approaching my father’s body. I heard my grandmother screaming in terror as she viewed her son lay lifeless in the house she raised him in. I ran outside, barefoot, through the gravel to get my mother. Loud, frantic shouting just sounded like noise. Immediately, what I had just seen became a mystery to me. I told my mother to go inside to figure out what was happening. I spent my time locked inside of her car until I heard her disclose the most heart-wrenching information I’ve ever heard: “He’s gone.”

That was the day that fentanyl stole the life of my father. This had a negative impact on my mental health and the grieving process was worsened by the knowledge that my mother was using, too. I lived in constant fear. My parents and grandparents each struggle with substance use disorders. I felt hopeless for my future. I was completely devastated. The stigma around substance use was fuel for my decade-long resentment of my mother. I believed that my mother didn’t love me. I convinced myself that any mental health issues that weren’t my fault, were caused by drugs. I hated my mother for neglecting me. I hated my mother for her addiction. So why was I so capable of being empathetic towards my father? I pondered these questions endlessly, and every second of the process was excruciating. I still would go back and live through the experience a hundred times over.

I fought tooth and nail with my own stigmatizing thoughts. From a young age, my father and I were incredibly close. I idolized him. He paid attention to me and parented me, so I loved him unconditionally. I had no idea he was using heroin the entire time. My father loved me and his disease still killed him. My mother loved me and her disease still prevented her from caring for me. I am capable of empathizing with others in a more comprehensive way now, and I am a better person because of it. Growing up around people with substance use disorders caused me to become more compassionate and patient. Most importantly, I forgave my mother.

I am confident that I will lead a different life than my parents. My only wish is to make them proud. I am determined to graduate high school because my father couldn’t. My mother and father both did not graduate college, so I will. I plan to use my education to help others. I want to achieve CASAC certification someday. Receiving this scholarship would be incredibly important to me because it proves to me that my story matters. I don’t have very much money, but I do have a story that I can use to learn and educate. I would greatly appreciate your consideration.

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