This week (November 21 – 27) is National Addictions Awareness Week. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction is posting a different article each day on a different topic to mark the occasion. Today’s topic is “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Below, an article of ours from one of our veteran correspondents, Delphine Caubet, on how addiction afects children:
“Substance abuse has an impact on people long after they’ve stopped using,” Ludivine explains.
By Delphine Caubet
When he was 25 and still single, Ludivine’s father started using heroin, an addiction that would last for 3 years. He would use every day. He was dating Ludivine’s mother at the time, though she, the mother, would not consume.
Before Ludivine was born her father stopped using heroin so that he could start a family. But before the birth of his son, he traded one addiction for another, and started abusing alcohol.
“He told my mom that using heroin was good for him,” Ludivine says. “My father was an anguished man… When he started drinking after the birth of my brother, I thought that he was just afraid to lose the happiness he used to get from heroin.”
For over a decade, her father was a secret drinker. He hid his addiction from his children.
When she was 14 her father stopped living a lie and announced to the whole family: I’m an alcoholic, and I’m going to rehab.
For young Ludivine, who still saw her father as a superman, it was a terrible shock. She had a tough time understanding and digesting the full impact of her father’s addiction. He asked her to not tell anyone about it. She was having trouble putting the situation into words, and there he was, trying to muzzle her.
For several years, Ludivine’s father was sober, freed of all addictions save for cigarettes. That was an important exception, as he came down with throat cancer.
“The consequences of his heroin addiction only came later,” Ludivine recalls. “Once again, he’d traded one addiction for another. When he got throat cancer he went back to drinking.” Ludivine was 17.
This period was very destructive for both father and family. They watched him slide into alcoholism. Even though he barely had anything left of his voice after his throat operation, he went right back to drinking, taking his booze – and his medication – on an empty stomach.
“At first he had to be fed through a tube,” Ludivine says. “But when went back to eating normally, his re-education was difficult. Food went into his lungs and not his stomach. He was close to death several times because of that. His stomach shrank. He couldn’t eat much. He ended up replacing food with alcohol.”
Ever since she was very young, Ludivine would sometimes have to lift her drunken father off the floor and put him to bed. “It was very difficult to talk about it the next day because he never remembered a thing. When I’d talk to him, he’d feel shame, which made him drink even more. It was a vicious circle.”
This addiction, this need to lighten his anguish and torment, had physical repercussions for Ludivine’s father.
“He was like those rock stars who overdo it,” she says. “When they’re only 27 they look twice their age. Today that’s what it’s like with my father. For the last 6 or 7 years he seems to be slipping mentally. He repeats the same things over and over, and he hates people. He looks very old. It’s easier to talk with my 85-year-old grandmother than with him.”
Ludivine is in her mid-20s now, and her father still drinks. She says that for 5 years in a row she never saw him when he wasn’t drunk. Of course, now that she’s an adult she doesn’t go back to the family home very often.
Ludivine has several brothers and sisters, each of whom have experienced these events differently. Thanks to her mother, Ludivine has learned to express her emotions: “Even though it’s not politically correct to say that my father’s alcoholism has done me harm, my mother has helped me say it out loud.” The results are obvious: Ludivine is a young, sensible woman who demonstrates clarity of thought and behavior.
Before finding out about her father’s addictions, Ludivine tried a number of drugs. But being very athletic, she didn’t like what those drugs were doing to her body. The day after using, she would feel an all-pervasive sense of guilt and shame, and she’d be sick for several days afterward.
Reflecting on this, she says: “For a moment you feel great, which is your goal, but it’s all fake. I was once at a party where, after using, I talked to about 50 people. The next day I found a piece of paper on which they’d all left their contact information to see me again. Except that that night, they hadn’t been talking to the real me… I felt like I’d betrayed my own personality.”
Taking a Position
Given her teenage experiences, Ludivine no longer consumes drugs but she admits that it’s difficult to take a position on the subject. On the one hand, she doesn’t want to judge; but on the other hand, she can’t help but think that her mother’s open mindedness may have damaged heir family…
Above all, Ludivine is speaking out to make one thing clear: “Alcoholism is a disease. It’s as uncontrollable as cancer. Making a drunk into a villain only makes the situation worse.” She’s seen that play out several times with those close to her who never understood her father’s state.