“I was raised in a loving home with two loving parents. My parents were middle-class people who worked hard to make sure that my sister and I never had to go without, and that we had the best possible upbringing they could give us.
“We were happy, and for so many years I truly thought that we would never be anything less than that. But it’s funny, because so often there are cracks under the surface that you can’t even see, and by the time you’ve noticed them, it’s usually too late.
“I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time when my parents started to change. It was a gradual shift in their mannerisms and lifestyle that I was mostly unaware of, as I had been away at school and hadn’t been around to notice. But there was a change, and the more time I spent at home, the less I could ignore it.
“My parents had become more distant, and less aware of the world around them. They often spoke of grandiose plans of moving away and making a fortune, living in distant countries where no one would ever find them.
“They seemed to be perpetually tired and in a fog, as if they hadn’t slept or left the house in days. Both my sister and I thought that maybe this was just their way of coping with the two of us leaving and starting our own lives, but it quickly became clear that there was much more to it than that.
“I guess it’s true what they say, about how blind love makes you. I had been living in my own delusional world, writing my parents’ antics off as stress or simply eccentricity, but when the perfect storm finally hit, the cracks in the foundation gave way, and everything I had ever known and loved came crashing down all around me.
“Three days after I got married, I found out that my parents were addicted to Oxycontin, and had been taking it for years.
“I will never forget the way my heart broke when my sister called me, having found them in bed after four days of no contact. She had stopped by to get some of her things when she found the house a mess, clothes and dirty dishes from days earlier still unwashed.
“They were sleeping in the middle of the day, their room covered in sick as a result of their attempts to self-detox, and they had not even noticed she was there.
“I have done my best to shield my sister from pain for my whole life, but there was nothing I could do to protect her then.
“The aftermath of this discovery was emotional and painful. We tried to talk to them and make them see how they were hurting themselves and us, but we quickly realized that they didn’t care- we were not their priority anymore, and being without us didn’t seem to be hurting them at all.
“They fed off each other’s bad behaviour, rationalizing and making excuses for one another at the expense of my sister and I.
“When we finally posed them an ultimatum, either us or the pills, it seemed like things were slowly improving.
“They apologized and made promises to change and do better, but as anyone who has loved an addict knows, you can’t make someone change unless they want to. And my parents didn’t want to change.
“I’ve often found that, in life, those who carry the heaviest burdens and the darkest secrets are the people you would least expect. People tend to assume that when you’ve experienced pain or hurt it will show somehow, like a tattoo on your skin or a scar that you can’t cover up. Maybe in some cases that’s true, but the majority of us know that we can’t hide away and stop living our lives- we need to keep surviving and pushing through each day despite the suffering we feel inside.
“Witnessing the downfall of my parents has shaped my life in ways that I will never be able to truly express. How can you sit by and watch the people you love self-destruct in such a devastating way? I can no longer try to parent my parents, and I can no longer let myself feel the shame and guilt that I feel as their daughter, as someone who should have seen the signs and prevented this damage from unfolding.
“All I can do is live my life and hope to be better, to go on despite them and to never let their sins become my cross to bear.
“I have found love and I have found life, and I hope one day that my parents will go back to the way they once were, to be the kind of people I can be proud of and love entirely. But until then, I have to remove the chains that seem to get heavier and heavier each day, that drag me down until I feel like I’m running out of air and can’t possibly keep breathing. It is time to cut off the limb that is sick and broken in order to give the rest of the body a chance to heal.
“I have to put myself first and, though I will never stop loving my parents, I have to give myself permission to be free.”
– 21, Female, Vancouver, British Columbia.