I was born in eastern Kentucky and grew up in a holler during the 1980s. Pharmaceutical painkillers played a significant role in my family’s life, as my father frequently used them recreationally, as well as alcohol and other drugs.
His drug and alcohol abuse seemed to intertwine with the physical and emotional abuse he subjected our family to, and sometimes it felt like the only time it was safe in our house was when he had just gotten high – that’s when he was most likely to be cheerful and in a joking mood, but we learned to always be ready for his anger to return.
Addiction drives a person to place a substance above all else in life – above their home, family, financial health, and their own well-being. As a child, I was one aspect of my father’s life that he had no mental or emotional energy for, and I subconsciously understood that I was not as important as the drugs he always prioritized. He neglected every other part of his life, too, but directed so much animosity toward me and the rest of his family, it seemed like he particularly despised us.
One’s understanding of the world begins to take shape during childhood. As a child who was surrounded by chaos and abuse, I interpreted the horror around me not just as my fault, but as something I had power over. I grew up thinking I could fix it and that it was my job to fix it. Nobody tells us when we go from being children to adults, and so the coping mechanisms and sense of responsibility I developed as a child led me into a dysfunctional adulthood.
It has taken a lot of time and conscious effort for me to unlearn so many childhood lessons, and I continue to unravel the impacts of growing up in a home dominated by addiction.
Geri Lynn Utter, PsyD Perspective Piece: Relapse, Mental Health, and the State of the World As I sat down to write this article, I