Drugs to DUI: Reflecting on Emotional Baggage

Mom Moment 18

It seems to me it cost all of $3, although it's been so many years I can't be certain of that memory. $3 for a tiny square of paper—what was it, maybe a quarter-inch in size?—that was usually stamped with a smeary cartoon design. Papa Smurf. Green Daisy. Smiley Face.

You'd put it on your tongue and taste chemicals and pulp and eventually the stiff cardboard-like texture of the paper would get soggy and you'd chew it up until it felt like a spitball. Then: a long period of nothing. Was it bunk? Aw man, it's—wait. Does that chair look, like, really huge to you? Oh man check out that chair

I took my first hit of acid in eighth grade. From the time I was 14 until 18 or so, I tried everything I could get my hands on. It was all readily available. Tabs of LSD, sold by shady-looking guys who murmured "Doses, doses" over and over. Forty-ounce bottles of Old E 800, flat and saliva-tasting towards the bottom. Shitty bathtub crank manufactured out of Vicks inhalers and god knows what else, which burned like fire as it dripped down the back of your throat. Skunky-smelling weed huffed out of homemade two-liter gravity bongs. Alkyl nitrite sold in tiny bottles from porn shops, inhaled  for a headachy, dizzying effect. Coke—but just once, because I hated how it made my throat feel numb. MDMA tablets purchased after hours of riding in a Greyhound bus to an underage goth dance club in Portland.

What else? Oh, who knows. There was a lot, in those years. I wasn't a disaster, exactly, but I seemed to be trying my damnedest to turn into one.

The disaster didn't come until 14 years later, when I scraped along a vodka-soaked rock bottom for a while, then inexplicably managed to dig myself even deeper. I thought the night of the DUI was the lowest I could go, but it turned out that the night in jail I was eventually sentenced to, the one that came many months later when I was clean and sober but also pregnant, my belly sadly stretching out the state-issued jumpsuit fabric, well, that was worse.

That night—the jumpsuit, the overhead fluorescents that buzzed and flickered all night long, the ratty thin blanket, the cement slab that served as a mattress—hasn't faded from my memory quite yet. Maybe it's not the sort of thing that's ever supposed to. I do know that the shame I felt during that period of my life brought me full circle to my fucked-up teenage self, the one I thought I'd left behind over a decade beforehand. I thought I'd grown up and become responsible and had built miles of distance between the misfit girl and the adult woman that was married and had a good job and drove a nice car ... but it seemed like I was wrong. You were a loser then, you're a loser now, I thought.

Over seven years have gone by since that terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad year, and my life is very different now. I have children, I have responsibilities. I confine my overindulgences to pints of Ben & Jerry's. Maybe you'd look at me now and never guess I have a luggage-cart's worth of baggage. Or maybe we all do, and my story of regret and mistakes is really no different from anyone else's, it's only the details that change.

I can't go back and change my past, but I do think ahead to my children's future. How can I help them avoid making some of the same bad decisions I did? How can I explain my own experiences in a way that has a positive outcome? Is it better to be completely honest, or is it better to paint on a fictional veneer? How will I, personally, handle any evidence of experimentation? Will I overreact? Is it better to overreact?

How can I make sure I'm thinking objectively, when it can be so tempting to feel as though parenthood is somehow a chance to relive our own childhood?

I have no answers to any of these questions. And it's funny, how I used to feel like the choices I made only affected me, so who cares what I did? I could never have guessed that they would stay inside me, a jumble of murkiness, for the rest of my life.

Image via Flickr/meta-man


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fraoch fraoch

Been there, done that, sort of. I didn't get jail time b/c I was under age, but I've had cops search my bedroom, got kicked out of high school my senior year, almost got kicked out of tech school after basic training b/c I had to thumb my nose at the rules...

Then I got married, had a kid and *knock on wood* hopefully never do anything that stupid again. What keeps me from doing anything (I won't even drive if I have 1 drink) is my girls. I don't want to embarrass them.

Hell, b/c of them I quit smoking,drinking, dosing....everything illegal :)

shaun... shaunadale

I also ponder how I will approach my children when it comes to my past. I definitely do not want them to make the same mistakes.

Desir... Desireesmom2011

I think it is important to be completely open and honest with your children. My moms stories are the only reason I didn't go to far down the same path before turning back around. She let me know that she did have fun doing those things. But at times it just wasn't worth it. She lost friends cause they didn't want to be around her,because they died or  got sent to jail. I think the story that terrified me the most was when she broke up with her boyfriend. She stayed at a friends house cause she was scared and for good reasons. He ended up going to her friends house banging on the door and screaming. when my moms friends boyfriend went to open the door her ex boyfriend slit his throat and he almost died. Those stories didn't completely keep me away from drugs. I did ecstasy a few times I drank a lot I did some prescription pills. And I smoked weed ALL the time. But I always stayed away from coke because that was my moms drug of choice before she got pregnant with my brother. 

Desir... Desireesmom2011

If my mom didn't scare the shit out of me with her stories I would have never has the courage to say no...most of the time. I ended up getting pregnant when I was 19. When I found out I stopped everything right away. (well it took a couple of weeks to quite smoking cigarettes but I did it.) I have now been completely clean of everything for a year and a half and I am a proud 20 year old mommy of a beautiful 7 month old little girl. If my mom hadn't been so open with me i might have turned out like a friend of mine who got pregnant and kept using heroine while pregnant. Her daughter isn't doing so well and she could care less. I'm glad I didn't turn out like that.

nonmember avatar Mike M

Regarding explaining your past behavior, I think that first and foremost you'll want to make sure you understand why you were inclined to make the decisions you did when you began (and continued) to use drugs. For example, how much did you value your life? How much self-respect and self-esteem did you have? Did you care what others thought about you and the positions you put yourself into (e.g. did you want others to see you as a respectable person or were you not concerned what others thought of you and the decisions you made?)? How did you feel about how your family and those around you treated you (e.g., did you feel that they weren't treating you with the amount of love and respect you felt you deserved from them?)? The more you understand about your past behavior the better you can explain why you made the decisions you made to your kids, and the more your kids understand about the choices they will be making in their future (such as who to be friends with, what to do with their spare time, etc.) as well as know that you care about them and love them (in ways in which they appreciate such values being expressed [parents often think that if a child/teen is misbehaving then more strict discipline is called for, but from the kid's view that's the last thing they want - they want to feel *loved* and not many kids see more discipline as a loving form of behavior]) the more likely it is that they will make decisions that reflect the way you make them feel about themselves.

nonmember avatar Liz

The sad part is, of all the drugs you consumed on a regular basis (I'm excluding coke since you only tried it once), alcohol was by far one of the worst- besides probably crank- and yet it's legal.

the4m... the4mutts

Liz- really? Alcohol is not worse than any drugs, except pot.

You're claiming booze is worse than ACID?? LSD?

What planet are you on?

All these substances can eventually kill you, but alcohol doesn't literally rot your brain. It doesn't make you hallucinate. Or"trip".

To the OP- the fact that you worry at all, means you care enough to try your best, and it will probably work out for the best. Don't count those bad chickens before you're hatched. You're kids are yours, but they're not YOU. They won't for sure try these things.

I never did. And my mom never talked with me about them either.

Listen to your mommy instincts.

Kritika Kritika

They're both bad in different ways. One goes for the liver the other goes for your mind, your sanity. In a way the latter is worse. Can't transplant that.

Christie Hall

I think there is a balance to be found in this particular area of parenting.  It lies somewhere between letting our children make their own mistakes, and stopping them from repeating ours.  Anyone who follows your blog knows that you are a great parent, and I think you can safely trust yourself to navigate this one when the time comes.  Luckily, you've got a few more years to figure it out.  :-)

Liz Lewis Teubner

I look at my stepdaughter - age 15 - and my heart just HURTS for the 15 year old I was. My stepdaughter is so full of life and promise and I'm sure I was the same, and I remember trying my hardest to destroy. I want more than anything for her to not devalue herself the way I did, but how can you tell them? Sometimes it feels so very much "If tehy don't know, you can't tell them"

Lovely article, Linda. Thank you for writing it.

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