When You’re The One Parenting Your Parents


My first memory is of my parents swigging bottom shelf vodka out of the bottle while I was in a carseat in the back. That was the precursor for my whole life.

My mother has been an addict as long as I can remember. She was a highly functioning drug user, rarely missing work and often getting promotions. She was the hiring manager for a popular store chain. She always hired the underdogs, the teenagers and felons no one else would hire. And everyone loved working for her.

Working these long hours meant she was rarely home, and when she was, she was waiting for me to fall asleep so she could leave to score drugs, usually crack cocaine. A pattern started. Put me to bed, wait 5 minutes, pull out of the driveway with the headlights off. I always waited for her to leave and then went to wake my dad up. This was long before cell phones, so unless she left a note, which was rare, we had no idea where she was going or when she would be back. I stayed up until 3 and 4am every night watching TV Land, waiting on her. Happy Days and I Love Lucy still remind me of sitting on the couch in a panic, waiting for her to show up. I also developed extreme anxiety that I still deal with today. If someone doesn’t answer my phone or text immediately, I fear that they are dead, overdosed, car wreck, kidnapped.

My mother is not the only adult child in this story. My dad became an alcoholic when he was eight. Something happened to him and his mother shared her whiskey to get him to be quiet. He woke up every morning and drank a 12 pack before work. He was a mechanic at a tiny shop, and the boss also had a drinking problem. There was always a half gallon of vodka in their freezer.

I knew that we didn’t have a lot of money, that food was scarce. There were nights and nights of screaming fights about who spent the bill and food money on drugs, how were we going to keep the lights on. This was all the norm for me. I didn’t realize until I was about 9 that not every family functioned like this.

My dad usually drank himself into a stupor and passed out by 6pm. This left me to fend for myself. I learned how to cook and ate hamburger helper night after night for years. I took care of our dog, learned how to wash clothes after the kids at school made fun of me for wearing the same thing for days at a time.

Once I started driving, I spent most nights out looking for my mother, checking the local crack houses and calling her friends over and over. My dad sent me because at that point he had lost his license to multiple DUIs and was too drunk to talk. Then my dad died.

My mom went into full out binge mode. Drinking all night, doing meth, sleeping with any man that would buy her a beer at our local bar. I knew I had to get out, so I moved two states away and tried to build my own life. This lasted a whole month, when she called to tell me that she had been up for days. I had to move back home and check her into rehab.

I tell you all of this because I realize that this is the reason that I try to fix everyone. Give me your most broken, felonious, jerk of a man, and I’ll show you how to invest years into ‘fixing’ him. How to wait on him hand and foot while crying myself to sleep every night. How to ruin every good relationship by smothering them to death, constantly craving attention. How to jump from man to man trying to find the one that will actually be able to make to me happy, when the reality is that I will never be happy until I am happy with myself.