My father was working as a respiratory therapist in 1986 when a co-worker showed him a “cool, new way” to use cocaine. Since that time, he has been trapped in an endless cycle of drug abuse, recovery and relapse.His addiction to crack
cocaine has had extreme consequences for our entire family. But despite what my family and I have endured, this Mothers Day holds special significance and promise for me.
As his drug use spiraled out of control, my father held up a convenience store, flashing an unloaded handgun. He was presecuted and imprisoned in 1993. As a daddy’s girl and the oldest child, I remember my father before addiction ruled his life. While my younger siblings’ earliest memories of him are tainted by his drug abuse, I knew the real man and the potential he possessed. To see him diminished as a father and driven to steal money and property from loved ones, was devastating to me. There was constant anger and outrage in my family over his behavior. I remember his incarceration as a particularly shameful period for my family.
I credit the unconditional love and forgiveness of my grandmother and mother as the reason I have not allowed anger to take up permanent residence in my heart. I have never sought to distance myself from my father, although there have been many times when, in shame, he has distance himself from the family.
We have lost my grandmother, mother, and my only brother. The incredible grief and loss suffered by my family have been made more complicated by my father’s addiction, which I believe is responsible for my brother’s death. I saw a major shift in his behavior following my father’s addiction. When his behavior got him kicked out of school, he joined a gang and began selling drugs. He was shot at 13, but survived. Drug trafficking landed my brother in juvenile detention first, and later in prison. After his release, my brother apparently saw no positive options for his life and was soon selling drugs again, which ultimately led to his death.
My father has received court ordered treatment and he has sought treatment voluntarily. Income based programs are limited in number, extremely understaffed, and under-funded. Although relapse is a natural and predictable part of recovery, this is usually grounds for expulsion. And limiting programs to 30 to 90-days is simply inadequate for effective rehabilitation. Even when he’s doing okay, the threat of relapse hangs over him like a dark cloud.
This Mothers Day holds special significance because Moms United to End the War on Drugs will launch a national movement led by mothers, many of whom have firsthand experiences with addiction or drug prohibition violence. As I remember my mother and grandmother and their insistence on unconditional love and forgiveness, I pray that Moms United will lead the way to policies reflecting a public health approach to addiction, so that people like my father can be viewed by our society as worthy of compassion and redemption.
Keevonya Wilkerson is Administrative Assistant for Mothers Against Teen Violence and lives in Dallas, Texas