What Mothers with Addiction Have in Common

-Star, Self-portrait. 2005.

I met Star fourteen years ago.

She barged through the front doors of the agency where I worked. We provided services to women involved in sex work.

I could hear her voice through the thin walls. She was blurting something out to the receptionist about her dad and broken promises. She was jittery and nervous and had that deer caught in the headlights look. Fingernails chewed to the quick. And, a baby bundle clutched in her arms.

Dramatic entrances were normal for us. Most of our clients were homeless and turning tricks to pay for their drug addiction. But a child was unusual. Most women had already lost their children to government care. I knew before Star said another word this was her biggest dilemma.

It was the year of the heat wave. Star was using the corner of her baby’s blanket to mop her forehead. Her long, brown hair was springing loose from a knot she’d piled on top of her head. Her wrinkled clothes smelt of stale cigarettes and beer. Even so. She was lovely, and a far cry from how she would look in a year.

I half expected her to purr like a kitten when she spoke. That would have suited her. Instead, her voice trembled. And she had a difficult time concentrating and stringing her thoughts into coherent sentences, each word spoken carefully and methodically. She was a little girl trapped inside a sexy body. One who lacked the savvy to deal with her womanly powers, rendering her beauty more a curse than a blessing.

Star described a world of loneliness and confusion. She grew up poor. Her parents were alcoholics. She had a chaotic upbringing and vague, unpleasant memories of an uncle. She had her first drink at age 11. Remembers thinking it was cool. At 16 she started using cocaine. Her mom died when she was 22.

“I really loved my mom. I miss her so much,” she choked. Tears rimmed her eyes, gumming up her lashes. “After that things fell apart what with her gone and dad drunk all the time. She’d be ashamed of him now.”

Her story was not much different than most. But something about her tugged at my heartstrings a little more than usual. She had a kindness and vulnerability about her. Not the usual hardened edge.

One thing led to another. Star made fast money working in a strip club. Lived the high life. Met a gangster. Got pregnant. Had a baby. She named her Haley.

Star, Age 25. 1999

Here They Were…. Five Months Later

Star was attentive when Haley fussed. Popping bottles in and out of her hungry little bird mouth. Checking nappies. Hugged her when her arms stretched out for love. Star was up, then down. Either bouncing baby on her knee, or pacing and pumping Haley up and down on her hip, the intensity increasing with her agitation. Haley’s little head bobbled up and down, oblivious to her crazy life. She kept busy rubbing the satin edges of her blanket with one hand and sucking on her first two fingers of the other.

We helped Star and Haley move into a subsidized housing unit. Star got Haley to day-care on time, paid her rent and other bills, got groceries, kept her apartment clean, and made meals. But she struggled, and felt frantic under the watchful eye of children’s services.

Things began to slide.

Haley was was apprehended a second time; and then again before her fourth birthday and placed for adoption.

Oh, such grief the mothers suffer.

At the thought of Haley living with strangers and their bond severed forever, Star spiraled down.

Hard and fast.

I Was Afraid for Star

She disappeared for longer periods of time. When she did surface, the change in her appearance was startling. She became very thin. Her clothes were dirty. Her eyes looked dead and hollow. She had scabs and bruises on her face and arms. Her usually vibrant hair hung in long, greasy strands.

We were hearing about violent turf wars and brutal beatings taking place in crack houses. Some women were leaving and going to Vancouver’s downtown eastside where women were disappearing off the street. A pig farmer was later caught. A serial killer who brutally murdered his victims and ground their bones up into pig feed.

Occasionally my phone would ring and there she’d be. I need to see a friendly, familiar face. Can we hook up?” “What a life, honey,” I’d say. Once she reached up and stroked my cheekbone with her bony finger. Her sleeves accidently slid up, revealing angry razor cuts on her wrists and arms.

“It’s not that bad,” she replied.

A Spark of Hope Ignited

Behind the scenes, we had been contacting some of Star’s relatives. Names she had given us of extended family members. Then out of the blue, Star’s cousin and husband from another province applied to adopt Haley.

The possibility of Haley being with family ignited a spark of hope. Star wanted to be a part of Haley’s life and shocked us with a fierce determination. First detox, then stabilization, and finally into residential treatment. She glanced back and blew a kiss over her shoulder when she boarded the Greyhound to move closer to Haley. I grew a lump in my throat.

Before Star’s departure, we found an outreach worker for Star. Rosa was very helpful. She helped Star find an apartment. Then acted as job coach when Star got a job in a drug store. The manager noticed Star’s artistic abilities and promoted her to manager of cosmetics.

Things were up and down. But Star remained determined. She got her driver’s license and saved for a car. Went back to school. Then got a job as a tattoo artist in a studio where she met the man she would later marry.

Star didn’t have the contact with Haley that she wanted, but knew she needed to keep her life on track to see her at all.

A Happy Ending

Today, Star is a different person. She recently went back to school and graduated with honours. She has always been caring, but is now happier, more mature and thoughtful.

I asked Star what made the most difference in turning her life around. “Having something to believe in. And, having someone believe in me. Nobody, except my mom, ever believed in me. Not ever. And then because people believed in me, I started to believe in myself.”

Star has been off heroin for over 11 years. Haley is now a teenager. They have regular contact. Haley is the spitting image of her mother.

No Mother Plans on Becoming Addicted

An alcohol or drug problem can take hold quickly, regardless of race, culture, or socio-economic background.

Which of the following do you have in common with Star?

  • Do you love your children unconditionally?
  • Do you drink (and/or use) because you feel increasingly overwhelmed at the duties of motherhood?
  • Do you ever hide your drinking?
  • Are your relationships suffering?
  • Do you worry your children will see you drunk, high, or passed out?
  • Do you sometimes forget important events or neglect your children?
  • Have you had difficulty stopping drinking during pregnancy?
  • Do you feel guilt as a mother?
  • Do you beat the shit out of yourself inside?

If you suspect you have an addiction issue, seek help. If you are pregnant and can’t stop drinking, alcohol can harm your unborn child. Getting help is the greatest gift you can give your children.

Breaking the Cycle

Addiction has a genetic component and often runs in families. More so when both parents are alcoholic. And it’s like Russian Roulette, jumping around amongst siblings; sometimes skipping generations. Combined with the environmental and social effects, this is a potent cocktail.

Numerous studies also show a strong connection between childhood trauma and addiction. All the women we worked with at the agency had been sexually abused. There’s good reason women slit their wrists and drink themselves into oblivion.

If this psychic and spiritual wound isn’t healed, it too gets passed on to future generations.

Ready for some good news?

This cycle of pain and addiction can be broken.

All it takes is one person to set the wheels of change in motion.

This may seem overwhelming.

It is certainly not trivial.

I have grown to see this as a tremendous honour.


Can you relate?

Mothers are particularly fierce, often able to do for our children what we cannot do for ourselves. Positive action taken now will benefit yourself, your children, and generations to come.

This sets in motion an incredibly powerful loving force.

A paradigm shift.

It will give you a sense of purpose.

It will fill those swiss cheesy holes inside.

It will heal you.

Star picked up the torch in her family.

Are you a torchbearer, too?

Janet Christie


Health Canada funded project. 2005. FASD national networking project. PEERS: Victoria, BC.

Janet Christie is an Addiction Recovery Coach, blogger, educator, and intuit. Janet loves to facilitate positive change which empowers women, mothers, and families. In her spare time, she likes to…haha! Spare time. You are adorable. Janet is available to provide recovery coaching support. What is Addiction Recovery Coaching? Book your FREE 30-minute consultation.

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