The Lingering Damage of Drug Abuse

A mother and daughter’s memories of an abusive past haunt their adult relationship.

Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash

My marriage to an addict lasted twenty-four years. Many factors go into a marriage. As my mom says, “Takes two to make it or break it.”

My marriage broke and so did I.

It took years of healing to realize just how broken I was. Even with the residue of mental and emotional abuse, I still grieve.

Not because of the loss of a marriage, but a larger, more significant loss. The change of a relationship between myself and my grown daughter. The loss of something I can’t quite put my hands on.

She saw things differently.

Perception is a fickle thing and memory is not always honest. Perception is reality. Everyone sees the past through the lens of their feelings and only from their point of view. This is compounded when there is some sort of drug abuse involved. I can’t tell you what the people in my life were feeling and thinking. I can only tell you what I saw and felt.

My grown daughter will tell you she had an amazing childhood. In a lot of ways she did. She also had a drug-addicted dad and for a long time, she didn’t know it. Her perception was different from mine; as a result, her reality was different.

She will say Mom isn’t telling it right.

My daughter will tell you I am wrong and things happened differently. She will say that I am not telling you the truth. Some things she will blame entirely on me. She will say that I was part of the problem and she will be correct. I wish I had done a few things in my control differently. I have to remember she didn’t live the adult struggle, I did. She was the child; I was the adult.

I did the best I could at the time. I fought every day to protect her from the ugliness of it. Maybe the things she never saw, the things I kept from her in the vain of protecting her was my biggest mistake. Maybe I should have allowed her to experience more of it. Maybe it would have changed her perception as she looks back now as an adult.

She remembers mostly happy times.

The happy days my daughter remembers. I am thankful for that. How much of the bad days and verbal abuse does she really remember, I have no clue.

Maybe she blocked some of it out in her own attempt to deal with the neurotic and often toxic life we led. She will say that he was an alcoholic who stopped drinking for his health. Which is true, he did. He traded drinking a case of beer and occasional joint for unknown amounts of marijuana every day. Eventually, he moved on to add pills like oxycontin that he got legally with prescriptions for the health conditions that he stopped drinking for in the first place. None of that she knew about until she was an adult.

Now she doubts me and trusts him.

She heard him accuse me of being a liar, which I was. It was easier to lie than to deal with his irrational anger. I was a barrier between her and his abuse. He yelled and I distracted her. He threw things and cursed, I sent her out to play.

I blamed all his erratic behavior on his illness. I made the beguine issues bigger than they were to distract her from his behavior. “Daddy doesn’t feel good today,” I would say. I was scared for our children to discover just how close they came to being physically hurt when he was high or drunk.

“She is fine,” I said to her when her stepsister was slung into the floorboard of a truck because he ran a red light while intoxicated and high. It was me who shielded them from his anger only to hear him scream at them anyway. It was me who cried when he punched and kicked our dog because he was mad about who knows what. It was me who then lied to my daughter and stepdaughter about what actually happened. Lying became normal and “Don’t tell dad” became my mantra.

She was taught that manipulation equaled love.

He made a big deal out of doing nice things for us, just to throw it back at us when he was using. “Look at all I do for you. I love you, see what I do for you? See the money I give you. See the food I cook and the clean house I keep for you.”

He would stay up all night for days high on oxycontin pills that he snorted up his nose instead of swallowing which caused him to have obsessive behaviors like sweeping and mopping the floor repeatedly. He said often, “What I do does not affect you.”

He called the girls and me worthless, sorry cunts, lazy, and any other foul names he could think up. Then we were loved and called important, “See what I do for you. I love you.” It was like riding on the pendulum of Big Ben. His moods swung from one side to the other fast and often. This claim of taking good care of us translated when regurgitated out of the voice of my grown daughter sounds like this, “Dad kept the house and took care of you so you could work and go to school. You never appreciated it.” Maybe she has forgotten his other words.

She experienced a broken family, more than once.

My stepdaughter finally had enough and stopped coming for visits. When she got married, she asked her stepfather to walk her down the aisle. Her dad blamed her. He called his daughter an ungrateful bitch. He was heartbroken that she had abandoned him, yet he continued to abuse drugs.

My daughter grew into a normal teenager with a smart mouth and an I-know-everything attitude. She did what a lot of girls do. She wanted to stay out late, sleep in, and not keep her room clean. She made good grades, but he didn’t care, she was never good enough. He pushed her away with his screaming. He called her a stupid ungrateful bitch as well.

Eventually, he had enough of her attitude and threw her out of the house. She has forgotten how much she cried over the things that got destroyed lying in the grass in the rainstorm that day. She says now it was tough love and the best thing to ever happen to her because she learned how to stand on her own two feet. What I saw was my unprepared for life daughter being tossed out homeless. I stood by and let it happen. I made excuses for his behavior, again.

She blames me.

After she left home I did not tell her what happened until it was too late. I kept silent about the escalation of his verbal abuse. I continued to protect her. He continued to abuse drugs and his obsessive behavior increased. He insisted on telling all his friends and family that he was doing everything for me and that he loved me. All the while ignoring me. He had not shown me any sort of affection in years and yet, I was “the love of his life” to everyone else.

I refused to get in a car with him if he drove. I eventually refused to stop going out in public with him completely after he passed out stoned with his face planted in a plate of spaghetti at a restaurant.

I finally decided to leave him, but my leaving was manipulated by his drug abuse too.

One morning at 2:30 am, he was awake in one of his frantic episodes. He saw a text on my phone from a friend about the weather. He woke me up screaming in my face and accused me of having an affair, yet again. He yelled at me to get out of his house. Instead of telling him that he couldn’t throw me out, I lived there too, and go back to bed as I had done many times before, I quietly put clothes in my car and left in my pajamas.

I was numb. I had no hate, no love, I had nothing left.

Even after losing a daughter and a wife, he continued to use drugs.

Yet, to my adult daughter, the divorce was mostly my fault. I did not give him the “one more chance” he begged for. I tried to explain my side of what happened and my hurt to her, but by then it was too late. She did not believe me.

We are still broken.

It has been years now and something is still broken between us. I don’t know what it is or how to fix it. Her past is different from mine even though it was a shared past.

One day she will understand what happened to me and what happened to herself, or she won’t. She will forgive me for my shortcomings or she won’t. I can’t control that. All I can do is love her.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here or sign up for the O’Gara Inner Circle here

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