By Stacy Charpentier
I am not a person in recovery from an addiction to drugs and or alcohol. However, I am a family member of a person who suffered from an addiction to alcohol, and several other drugs. My father was an addict for the majority of my life. He drank, he smoked, he snorted and he shot up. His addiction affected my life in so many ways that I would not even come to realize until I began working in this field as an adult.
Although I’m not in recovery, my lived experience should not be discounted.
As a child I often was tasked with walking to the corner store to buy rolling papers and cigarettes for my father. It was routine. I didn’t even realize I was doing something a five year old shouldn’t be doing. I would go with my mother to buy pot every week to a drug dealer a town over. I would sit and play with her two large dogs while my mom handed over money she earned at one of her three jobs, to get a plastic sandwich bag filled with pot. Upon arriving at home, we would climb the stairs to our third floor apartment where my dad would be drunk, eager to grab the baggie away from my mom. On a good night, he would roll his joint, light up, smoke, and fall asleep on the couch. On a bad night, his bag would contain lots of seeds, and he would yell, scream, throw dishes, and punches at my mother who was obviously at fault for the bad batch.
As a child I did not invite friends over to my home. I lived with my own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In one moment, my father could be the most warm, sensitive and caring man, and in the next he morphed into the most terrifying monster I could imagine. I could not bear for anyone to meet him, or see that this was the life I was living. I felt shame, embarrassment, anger and jealousy. I envied all the perfect houses I walked by on my way home from school. I envied the kids at school, thinking they all had these perfect homes, with the perfect parents and I was insanely jealous of them all. I was intensely self-conscious of my situation. I felt as if they all had these happy, loving, wonderful lives, and that they could secretly tell that I did not.
We were often kicked out of apartments because of my dad’s outbursts and violent tendencies…and for a short time were homeless. My great grandparents on my mother’s side took us in for a month, while my mom worked to get us into a new apartment. My father’s father, also an alcoholic, refused to take us in.
When I was 14 years old, my mother finally got to her breaking point. My father, wild on a bender, went nuts and kicked her out of the house demanding she go to get more pot. It was late and my brother and myself each hid under our covers hoping neither of our bedroom doors would open, dragging us into the madness happening right outside. I heard my father scream to my mother as she shut the door,
You’ll be lucky if we are alive when you get back.”
Knowing my father kept a gun in the home, I trembled with the most fear I have ever felt in my life, praying he would just simply pass out – like usual. I heard nothing but silence. I must have eventually fallen asleep, because I remember my mother, eyes dark and puffy, waking me for school the next day. My mother, who has to this day never put one illegal substance in her body, was a survivor, and unbeknownst to my brother or myself, she decided that was the last day she would live under my fathers control, violent temper and threats.
It was 3 months to the day that my mother moved us out, and into an apartment, without my father’s knowledge. She had saved money, bought furniture and in the nights where my father would be passed out drunk, she secretly built us a new home. It was summer and my brother was away at an overnight summer camp where he was working as a junior counselor. I was going on vacation with my aunt and uncle. Neither of us could be contacted in those first few days that we moved out. My father called me at my aunts they day we returned and begged to tell me where we were living. I still did not know. That night my father drank, took whatever pills he had on him and crashed his car into a jersey barrier on purpose. This was the first time he was put into rehab. I would eventually lose count how many times he got clean and relapsed.
Fast forward to 2011. Two heart attacks later, my father was living at a shelter at the VA, a benefit he received from being a veteran in the Vietnam war. My father had finally found recovery. He was on suboxone for his heroin addiction, attended support meetings regularly, and met with a counselor for his diagnosis of PTSD, Anxiety and Depression. Although he only had his one room, he was proud of his success in recovery, and over time, I reconnected through regular visits with him. My children finally got to meet their grandfather at ages 6 and 8. In 2015, I lost him to cancer. Even in this loss, I am grateful that recovery gave me back my father, even if it was for such a short time. The last memory of my father is getting to accompany him to his last chemotherapy treatment. In that time together as we drove to the VA hospital several towns over, we got to talk about our lives, my work at CCAR, and my desire to buy my first home, and the promise from him to help in any way he could. And because of his recovery I believed him. I had the father I had always needed. For that, I will be forever grateful – grateful for his recovery, and recovery in general, and its many pathways and forms.
I tell you all this, because while I may not be in recovery from an addiction, I will always be in recovery as a child of an addict. Even with that, there are some that feel I do not have a place at the table; that I cannot connect with others the way a former addict would. In some states, I am not welcome to become certified, or even apply for certain jobs. My lived experience does not qualify me. I realize that I am privileged in that I was not afflicted with the disease of addiction, in the damaging way my father was. That is not lost on me. I am reminded every day in my work, how hard the struggle to overcome addiction is and how powerful recovery is. I get to see miracles everyday, just like the miracle I saw in my father. I am so very fortunate and grateful to work at an organization that values my contributions, and understands that my ability to care overshadows the label of not being in recovery from an addiction.
I expect to be treated as an equal. I know my lived experience is different than a person who has overcome an addiction. I believe both perspectives are vital to create a powerful recovery movement.
Stacy (Rosay) Charpentier began working at CCAR in 2013 as the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy (RCA) Coordinator and now serves as the Director of CCAR’s Center for Addiction Recovery Training (CART). Although she had the qualifications on paper to serve in this role, she didn’t fully realize that she had a place in the recovery community and felt like an outsider. When Stacy first attended the RCA she discovered her powerful story provides a much needed perspective on addiction and recovery from a family member’s point of view. She hopes to utilize her past experiences, along with her passion for this work, to bring professional development opportunities to people who want to help others discover that Recovery is Possible. Stacy lives in her new home in Bristol, CT with her newly blended family, which includes her husband, 2 daughters, 2 bonus daughters and a new puppy!