“Don’t worry…. my Grandpa used to smoke crack.”
I’m guessing those aren’t words that have been uttered in most households… But in mine, as a response to a friend explaining their father’s battle with alcohol, it seems perfectly normal.
Because it’s a fact that my children know. Something I’ve discussed with them, and something we’re comfortable sharing.
It’s something I’ve never shared here on the blog. I guess maybe the time wasn’t right. For some reason over the past several days I’ve had it in my head that I needed to share my perspective on this sometimes sensitive subject.
My father is a recovered crack addict.
And my kids know about it.
I’ve shared it with them for a number of reasons. Not to bash my father or to make them look at him differently, they love their grandpa and that is something I’d never want to change. They know him for who he is now…the recovered version of him..the better version of him.
So why tell them about the past? Why let them know that another version of him existed?
Because I think it is important. I think it is incredibly important for a number of reasons.
I have friends who’s kids don’t even know what drugs are, or ones who only know that they’re supposed to say no to them because they are bad.
But do they understand why they are bad? Do they understand how they can destroy families, ruin careers, cause upheaval throughout communities…
Do they have any idea what a shell of a person they can turn someone into? How they can cause a person to do things that hurt the people they love the most and alienate them?
Do they understand the incredible amount of pain they can cause?
Probably not. There’s just something lost in “Just Say No!” Something about that doesn’t encapsulate the destruction that drug addiction can cause.
I want my kids to know the reality that exists. I want them to realize that as grown ups are telling them that drugs are bad it encompasses so much more than the physical and mental toll on your body. That it effects you and the people you love forever.
I want them to understand that some people struggle with addiction, that it is a real issue that real people, even their grandfather face. It’s not some obscure thing that happens to other people but could never happen to them.
I think we do children a great disservice not letting them see that things really do happen. We don’t allow them to learn to empathize with people who have had to experience the ugliness of addiction. When we sugar coat things, or don’t tell the truth about why someone is “sick” we don’t allow them to understand the realness of it. We don’t allow them the chance to ask questions, to explore feelings, to learn in a real way.
Now I’m not saying that they need the gory details. But considering most families are in some way touched by addiction I think they need honesty. Whatever honesty is appropriate for their age and understanding.
For me it is important too that they can see my dad, who he is now, what he has accomplished and know that he has overcome a lot to get there. They can know that people are capable of change, are capable of overcoming, and that situations can be made better.
I want them to not judge people who are living with addiction, I want them to be compassionate. I want them to say, “It’s ok, my grandpa used to smoke crack.” to make friends feel comfortable. There is such a curtain of shame that people who have lived with addiction hide behind, I want them to see me step out around it and say, “it’s ok, I’ve been there too,” and for them to be able to understand.
What I went through has made me who I am, and has given me the opportunity to talk with a lot of people who are dealing with an addict or who have lived with one and offer support and understanding. While it’s unfortunate that the circumstances present themselves where I can relate, I’m glad I can.
While I hope that my kids will never relate on the level I do, I want them to be able to in some way. I want them to realize the devastating impact that choices can have on a person’s life, and that when I’m telling them that drugs are bad that they understand that that one choice to try them can lead down a very dark path.
One that can hurt a lot of people. One that can turn their world upside down.
I want them to really grasp it, and really, really get it.
The battle against addiction isn’t fought by the police taking down drug lords, it isn’t fought by campaigns organized in schools, it’s fought in our living rooms, around our dinner tables. It is fought within our families, through education, and openness.
Our greatest weapon in this fight is honesty. It is one I am using when I talk to my kids, and one I encourage you to use when you talk to yours.