By Kariba Williams
I was only five when I realized that my mother had a drug habit. She would stay in the kitchen for hours at a time with some of her “friends.” She would only come out when she needed to prevent me from venturing into the kitchen or when it was time for her to go to the “store” to feed her habit. By the time I turned six, my first brother was born, however, my mother continued her drug use and wound having two additional children in a span of three years. My mother was not a “typical” user. She went on heavy binges. She didn’t use every day, but when she did use, she would be hard to reach for days at a time. Because of this, my siblings became my responsibility at a young age. I ensured that they were fed and tried to show them the right things to do, despite my own lack of guidance. I was a good girl for the most part and my mother knew it. As her disappearing acts caught the attention of neighbors, authorities were called in and my siblings and I were removed. This became the norm. She would get us back, we would be removed again, and she would somehow get us back once more.
When she got us back for a final time, she still wasn’t through with her addiction. She knew how to straighten up long enough for the court to believe she was rehabilitated. My mother loved us very much, but her inner demons ran rampant. She had minimal strength in fighting her addiction and that made me an adult before my time. I made hard decisions and became the most consistent thing in the lives of my siblings. I was their guardian. I felt an incredible need to protect them. The feeling was so strong that I couldn’t even fathom the idea of going to college outside of the city. If I left, who would protect them? My life was about them and never about me. I was more selfless than selfish for the first half of my life.
One night, my mom went to the “store” and didn’t come back for two days. I was 21 years old, had a job and was enrolled in school full time. And at that point, I was fed up. I was tired of playing mommy. My siblings were teenagers and one of them was becoming rebellious: arrests, stabbings, juvenile detention, breaking curfew, and possible pregnancies. Things were beyond the usual meetings with the guidance counselor. Things just became too much for me, and I finally realized how overwhelmed I was. For the first time, I knew it was time to pull myself together for me. When my mother came back from that two-day binge, I moved in with a relative and started doing my own thing. From there, I got my own place a year later.