The never ending possibility of becoming my mother

I remember the day my mom told me she was addicted to meth. 

My pale legs lazily slumped against the car door as my head rested on the window. 

It was an early afternoon in August. I was wearing frayed jean shorts and crummy flip flops wrecked from a chaotic summer. We were parked outside of the 7-Eleven in Fremont, not far from home.

Like usual, we had been bickering. At 13 years old I was nothing but a constant antithesis to my mom’s controlling nature. 

My mom lifted the brake to park and silenced the ignition. We were fuming, refusing to talk to one another. I sat waiting for her to make the first move.

My fingernails dug into my palm, and I let out a loud irritated sigh. I grabbed the Redbox movies we were returning and reached for the door handle. 

“Melissa, wait.” 

I reluctantly fell back into the headrest, making sure my disdain was clear. Staring at the gray felt ceiling, I expected her to nag further or tell me something I thought I already knew. 

I watched as she struggled to find the words to speak, her unexplainable silence gnawing at my anxiety. 

“I have to talk to you,” she said.

Like most parents, my mom carries a specific tone when faced with uncertainty. Hers is timid but unwavering. 

Her abrupt change threw me for a loop. Were we still mad at each other? 

A few moments of anticipation passed. 

I knew exactly where the conversation was headed. I tried not to overreact, but I was struggling to breathe, avoiding her gaze through large crocodile tears. 

“I’m addicted to drugs, but I’m going to stop. I promise you,” my mom said.

I studied my shorts and pale legs, the rental DVDs lying limp on my lap. My shoulders shuddered forward instinctively in shame. My tears dropped into my lap like small raindrops. 

I tried to stifle my emotions, but everything bottled up from the past 13 years of my life came flowing out, uncontrollably. 

I was ashamed of loving my drug-addict mother. My mom admitting to my face that she was a drug addict destroyed me. 

I remembered all of the Narcotics Anonymous meetings we attended together. The Tuesday night meeting right around the corner from our apartment was our favorite. The Wednesday night meeting at St. James Episcopal Church reminded us of home.

All of those meetings and not once did I question why we were there. 

I remembered the NA literature: “The drugs handled us. We lived to use and used to live. Very simply, an addict is a person whose life is controlled by drugs.” 

I heard those lines repeated over a million times like a brainwashing, but only in that very moment, hearing my mother admit it, did the words hold depth and truth. 

I couldn’t speak. 

Memories raced through my mind: Sitting outside of the bathroom on the crusted carpet in our outdated apartment, wondering why she was in the bathroom so long. Crying outside of the door as I begged to use the bathroom. Her accusing me of lying. Her eventually opening the door and a thin film of smoke slipping out of the bathroom. Hearing her leave me home alone in the middle of the night, so she could score with my dad. Only for me to wake up from a nightmare with no mother to turn to and no idea where she had gone. The days where I would get ready for school and she would stay in bed, making us both play hookie. The weekends when the only time she would leave the couch was to buy me a fast food dinner. 

My childhood of unfounded anger finally made sense. 

A night that was seared into my memory, suddenly flashed through my mind, now making sense. I was 12 years old, my mom and I were driving to my sister’s job to pick her up after her closing shift. 

My mother started swerving and screaming, accusing giant lizards of taking up the road. I didn’t see anything. My mother’s genuine fear and vulnerability was an unshakeable image. What was she seeing that I couldn’t? 


Back in the car, listening to my mom explain her drug addiction, I now knew what she’d seen: a frightening hallucination caused by meth. 

She was now crying. I was still frozen in a state of emotional uncertainty. 

“I’m sorry, but I’m getting clean. This time I will get clean. I’m done,” she said.

I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want this to be another empty promise, quickly forgotten.

She forced me to accept that she was a drug addict. I couldn’t live in denial anymore. Her confession made it real. It was so painfully clear who she was now. She was no longer my mother; she was a recovering drug addict struggling to survive. 

Words caught in my throat begged to come out, but I was motionless and incapable of speaking. My right temple ached from crying and I felt an immobilizing anxiety.

Her words were muffled, as if I was submerged by water, completely unattached and distant. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. My body was so tense I felt like I would stay glued that way forever. 

My mom reversed the car and left the parking lot without a word. I stared still at the Redbox movies as they slid off my lap onto the floorboard. 

I began to recognize the patterns of her relapses as I raked my memories. Every single moment I shared with my mom seemed tainted with the possibility of meth.

She had a disease. It was obvious. But for most of my childhood, I chose to ignore it. I was angry at myself, for not seeing this before, for not realizing how different I was from all of my close friends. Had her constant struggle forever changed me as a person?

I felt nauseous, my stomach contorting into a million knots inside of my stomach as I thought about a horrible possibility: I didn’t want to become my mom, yet I couldn’t see myself living long enough to maintain a life so suited for a drug addict. 

A study of children exposed to methamphetamine by a professor at Sheffield Hallam University drew a startling conclusion: “Hair samples were analysed for methamphetamine and amphetamine. From the 52 cases analysed, 38 (73%) were positive for methamphetamine. … This low level of evidence of external contamination suggests that the children are exposed to methamphetamine and are incorporating it into the hair through the bloodstream.”

Could I become a drug addict like my parents―simply because of how frequently I was exposed to their habits? 

“Compared to their peers, children of substance abusing parents show increased rates of anxiety, depression, oppositional behavior, conduct problems, and aggressive behavior as well as lower rates of self-esteem and social competence,” another academic study concluded. 

A select few of my peers matched the same description. We were emotionally underdeveloped and depressed. We struggled to maintain any sense of control. I wondered if they had drug addict parents, too. Were we all destined to become a statistic?

As weeks passed after that day in the 7-Eleven parking lot, my mother remained clean. I watched consciously and intently as she struggled to maintain sobriety. I watched her crash for days, going in and out of a conscious reality like someone on the verge of mental and physical death. 

After months of dragging each other to NA meetings and taking note of her changed behavior, I began to feel hope, to trust her, to trust the process of eliminating drugs from our life. 

Today, seven years after our talk in the 7-Eleven parking lot, she has abstained from drugs. 

Every day of those seven years has been a conscious choice for my mom to choose life over drugs. For that I am truly grateful. We both have had our ups and downs along the way. I had to learn how to trust her as a daughter again, and she had to learn how to make me trust her. 

Today I can proudly say that I’m inspired by my mother―every day. 

Melissa Joseph can be reached at [email protected] or @melisstweetz on Twitter.