I was born into a family of drug addicts, in a small city in Northeast Ohio. Both my parents had been consumed by drugs for as long as I could remember. As a little kid, I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know why mom and dad would act so odd when they were home. They would party till three o’clock in the morning, playing music so loudly that the bass would rattle the pictures off the wall.
It wasn’t until I was eight years old that I was confronted with the truth. My older brother exposed the facade behind which the family had been living by finding marijuana in the house. The nightmare unfolded completely. Fear, anger, shame, hatred, sadness, disappointment, all the negative feelings grouped together and stood against a happy childhood that the little girl had dreamed about.
Outside our home was a normal environment. The local doctor was living across the street, and our next-door neighbor was a politician. Our family seemed normal from the outside too. My parents functioned fine. My mom was even a school teacher. However, behind the closed doors, we knew the truth. We had seen our parents gradually deteriorate, in both their professions and their lives, with vials of white powder.
The misery affected me on so many levels. I felt cheated. A lot of my friends had normal families, and I desired that too, but I got an abusive opposite instead. The temptation to go down the same path was hard to resist. I started to experiment with alcohol when I was a very young teenager, thinking that would be the solution to curing an aching heart and protecting it from hurting more. For a maturing girl going through school, the damage from my family exposure was obvious.
I wanted to get out and escape all of the pain.
I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandparents from my father’s side. Among all the dismay and despair I was faced with in my young life, there stood one light that led me through the darkness. That was my Grandma, a strong woman, always loving and supportive. She would intervene when she saw inappropriate behaviors and correct me. She helped pull me out of the weight of all those negative thoughts and gave me the hope that things could be different and that I didn’t have to repeat the path.
Determined that I would attend college, I didn’t let my difficult family past get in the way. I knew I had a talent for academics that no amount of alcohol or drugs could silence. I worked tirelessly to graduate high school and headed to Kent State University in the fall. I majored in Marketing.
College life gave me the opportunity to create my own story. I started to realize that drugs and alcohol were not the answer to life’s problems. I dedicated my efforts to positive habits that would grow and expand my education. My newly found freedom acted as a cleansing escape from my toxic family.
My parents, on the other side, were still progressively sinking with their addiction, to a point where my father was living out of his car. He had been forced to sell everything to pay for his drug habits after my parents’ divorce. An intelligent man as he was, he failed to direct his energy in the right way and ended up in a totally wrong place. Grandma recalled, once he was to pick her up at the airport, and he went in with no shoes on. He was as high as a kite.
It was awful seeing the man who should have been my rock at his lowest point. I wanted to end the chronic addiction that had shaken the family for decades. So one day at the dinner table, I told my father that he needed to get his life together. He looked at me and said, “If you don’t like it, you can get out of my life.”
That was the last time I spoke to my father. I was twenty. He died in a motorcycle accident six months later, with a brick of cocaine hidden in one of the saddle bags.
I tried to talk to my mom about it once, too. She mocked and said, “What do you want? An apology?”
No, I don’t need it. Not anymore.
I weathered the next few years without much family support. Out of college, I married a man twelve years older who I thought was “the one”, and moved to Cincinnati. After our son was born, I realized it wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t something that I would want to show my children what love and marriage was about, so we divorced.
Suddenly I was alone in a new city. It was a struggle being a young adult and a single mom with a child and all the responsibilities that came with it. Taking care of my son I felt stranded sometimes; no one was there to offer any help. It was like jumping off a bridge.
But I knew I had to be strong. This was my life, not my parents’. I told myself, you decide, it’s a choice. I could either choose to repeat their behaviors or choose to make a change. I decided to pick a path that my parents could never take.
I worked hard and faced adversity everyday with grit and passion. I focused on building my career, providing for my son the environment that I didn’t have, and guiding him in ways that weren’t presented to me. I made sure I put my energy on positive things that helped me grow.
I ended up meeting the love of my life a few years later. His name is Keith. Growing up in a very compassionate Catholic family himself, he gave me the home of love that I had always wanted. It brought me a sense of security and support that had been alien for me. I finally felt at peace.
It was in this loving new home that I had two more children, a girl and a boy.
However, those scars that had haunted me since childhood did not heal all at once. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I woke up startled one night. I was overcome with the fear that my daughter would have to suffer what I had lived through. She would have to feel the shame and guilt inherited from a broken, addicted, and abusive family. Moreover, I was worried about how to develop a comfortable, healthy and loving relationship with my daughter, because I never had one with my mother.
This fear crept around me for weeks, slithering into an icy stranglehold over my life. Exasperated, I broke down into the arms of a friend. She knew and understood the terror I had. She listened, then turned to me and said, “You know what? This is your opportunity to make things different.”
That one phrase breathed hope into my soul. I realized that though my past was charred and broken, my children’s lives didn’t have to be. I had gone through hell to learn what a bad parent meant to the child and how a good parent should be. My trials taught me how to create a safe and caring home for my children. It was difficult not to have ever been close to my mother, but I can change that with my children.
I’ve found that there are a lot of ways to confront the unfair dealings of life. Some people will take it to the bottle or stick a needle in the arm. Others may go the rest of their life complaining, but never changing anything. Yet some, who choose to be brave, will change a pattern of addictive despair, into a life filled with hope. You cannot pick the life you are given, but you can pick the path you take.
This is the story of Melanie Crispin:
Melanie now lives in Mason, Ohio with her family. She works full time in I.T. and is married with three children. She enjoys growing her career and being the unofficial photographer for her children’s competitive jump rope team.
You Decide; It's a Choice.
I was born into a family of drug addicts, in a small city in Northeast Ohio. Both my parents had been consumed by drugs…
Life Log #1