Shades of Black

By virago 02/28/18
I used to believe I was in a position to judge, until I wasn't. I used to have a list of things I wouldn't ever do, until I did.

There are different shades of darkness.
Sometimes, the light is just dim, and I know I will find my way out
Other times it is a little darker, almost transparent, yet I know my eyes will adjust. There is darkness that has changed my world and terrified me, but I find a way to walk through it, with help.
Then there is blackness. Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend I am not there, and hope it is not real, that it is just a nightmare.

I am not using my name for only one reason, my children. Most people that know me are aware that I am no longer ashamed of my story, and most of the time have no problem with disclosing my identity. I believe it is important to share your story, with the hope that it will help someone who may be facing the same or similar circumstance. My son may or may not know who I am, that he was adopted, or why…but he might know my name. And this is not the type of information he should read about, that is why I also kept silent during the hearing for the termination of my parental rights. I did not want him to read the court transcripts, as there are no emotions in court documents. Someday I will tell him myself, God willing. My daughter, my first born, knows my story (all of it) but people can be cruel, and I would rather she not have to deal with any intentional or unintentional harmful remarks, so for them, I am anonymous.

The stigma of being a drunk or a drug addict is nothing compared to being a pregnant drunk, or pregnant addict. No one even tries to hide their disgust. I remember standing in front of a judge and having him tell someone (I don’t remember who), to “get this pregnant addict off the streets.” As if that weren’t clear enough for all, he wrote it in black marker across my sentencing order. He was not talking about treatment for me, he meant prison. I never looked at him in the eyes, or anyone else in the courtroom, my eyes were focused on the floor from that point on. I was never more ashamed, and as many times as I have been in court facing charges or violations, that is one I remember clearly. I felt that one all the way through to my core, my shame being an emotion familiar to me, and identifiable. This was in 2000, the drug was alcohol, and there was even less understanding than there is now about addiction. The only thing we all agreed on that day was our mutual hatred of me, the mother. I had long before given up trying to explain why I continued to drink, no matter what the consequence. I had nothing left to say, there was no explanation.

There is a special place in hell for women like me. Every imaginable reaction and comment was directed at me; people would look me right in the eyes, and slowly look downward to my stomach, and back up again, accusing. Nothing in the entire universe will ever allow you to forget those moments. And as painful and demoralizing as it is, I still did it. I could not stop myself. So, I was stopped. And to be honest, I was grateful for that. I knew I was not able to stop using, and considering the circumstances, I was glad I was removed from alcohol. Besides, I had not one place left to go.

Pregnancy is not always the stuff of fairytales and happily ever after’s, they never are for an alcoholic/addict. Even when we think pregnancy is the miracle we were looking for; the reason big enough to make us stop. There is no logical reason or scientific evidence that will tell you love cures alcoholism. Not even a mother’s love for her child. If that were the case, then we would have solved the problem and declared alcoholism a choice, a moral weakness. But I was no more capable of putting that bottle down when I was pregnant as when I was not. It is not about love, love never entered my mind. Shame and guilt because I knew exactly what I was doing, but I did not want to feel what I was doing, but I had to do it because I had to breathe, and I could not breathe without that drink. Alcoholism does not get a maternity leave. Your disease does not say, “hey, you are now responsible for another life, so I am going to give you a break for a while until you are on your own again, and I will be back. Take it easy.” But the same people that were not able to help you, did not have beds, or wouldn’t let you into detox, were now the crusaders for your child. This is how I know how strong the belief is that society thinks we are choosing to be addicts/alcoholics, I saw it then so clearly. My doctor, the judge, and sometimes other addicts, believe I could have stopped on my own free will because somehow love was supposed to be enough to cure me of this disease. They all wanted to protect my unborn child from me, because, they said, my baby had no choice. They were telling me that I did. I wanted nothing more than to be a woman that cared enough to stop something I had no control over, but I had no power to do so.

In 2000, Delaware had a facility for women who were pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol. Women could have their children and stay in the facility until their infant began walking, the mother was stable in recovery, and they had somewhere safe to live. That is not how my story ended, and it would be another twelve years before I became a stable part of my daughter’s life. I had more damage to do, more lessons to learn, and more hearts to break. It is strange how I did not have ability to get sober for my child, but it shamed me and humiliated me enough to send me into the worst years of my addiction, a time where I was completely reckless. Strange only because one would think that I should have been shamed and humiliated into sobriety due to my actions while drunk, not the other way around. I was shamed into oblivion.

Five years later, I look up at the mirror in the hotel lobby, into my own eyes, carried over the shoulder of a sober man I thought was going to take me to detox. We stayed there four days. I did not get to detox, and he did not stay sober. I remember very little, except for looking in that mirror, and then dropping my head down again. I did not let this man know he fathered my child and I blamed him for the situation I was in. I was not happy about being pregnant, I was alone, homeless, jobless, drunk, and trying to die that way. I could not get sober and I stopped trying, it was too hard to get help. I would detox, find a rehab, and then be told I couldn’t stay beyond six to ten days. I would be discharged with no place to go but the same places I was familiar with, and the police would always come collect me. Two years later, in prison, shackled and shamed, I told the courts who the father was and where to find him. Otherwise my son would be the custody of the state, and placed with the devil I did not know rather than the one I did. I ended up having my rights terminated, the father had his new wife adopt him, and I was charged with abuse and neglect. Then, because the court had no record my child was adopted, I paid this man child support for four years, support I believed was going to my daughter, and he accepted the money. He had fucked me again. When I tried to rectify the situation, I was told they did not put me in prison and that I did it to myself, and would have to fix it myself.

The line between the law and medicine has never been so fine as it is today. Pregnant drug-abusers and alcoholics must choose between getting help for themselves and their unborn child, and the possibility of having her child taken away from her and being arrested. The situation these women are placed in is one in which mother and child are pitted against each other, when the goal should be the same. They share one body. That one body should be treated that way, with one goal. All lives matter. Help the mother; help the child. The number of women that are in a position of being pregnant and addicted is overwhelming right now, due to the epidemic involving heroin and synthetic opioids. And they are afraid to ask for help. Delaware doctors, like most other state doctors, are required by law to report a woman to Division of Family Services if they are aware of substance use. And then they report it to the police. And these drugs are illegal, and the mother to be is now a criminal and can be arrested and lose her child. Even if the woman reports past substance abuse, she can be reported. Women are drug tested without their consent, and most women that are tested are not random. They usually fit someone’s criteria of a drug addict. This is not legal.

I have learned that the more I expose what happened and say, “this is what I did, this is me,” the more I am free. It is not a dirty little secret anymore, it is reality, and it is shared, and I heal. There are always going to be the judge, jury, and the executioner, somewhere, pointing at me and making an example of me, but I did my time and what time I still need to serve, it is to my children and no one else. As for the others, I do not care. I am concerned about the woman out there wearing a trench coat, with her head down, waiting until the sun goes down, so she can sneak in the liquor store to get her bottle (or to her dealer for a fix). And when you get to the counter and pay for it and your arms move away momentarily from keeping that coat wrapped over your belly and the clerk looks down, and then back up at you, and you are terrified he might not sell it to you, so you say it is for someone else. This is the darkest shade of black.

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