I had always thought I was a good mother even though I used drugs. I gave my daughter, Barbie, food, clothes and a home. I gave her love, too, by holding her and kissing her and playing with her. I would look in amazement at how beautiful she was growing.
But even though all this was true, part of me was kidding myself. When I used drugs, the chemicals altered my mood. I wouldn’t want to talk to my daughter or play with her. I would tell her to go to her room.
Then, when Barbie was 5, my addiction became worse. I lost my job and that really destroyed me. I hated not making my own money, and having to apply for unemployment and welfare, receiving only what the state thinks you deserve when you are poor.
I became so depressed that I started using drugs every day. Drugs gave me the security and comfort I needed. I just wanted to forget my misery, but instead my addiction began to control my life. It became very hard for me to take care of Barbie.
‘Mamí Is Trying’
When Barbie was 8 years old and child welfare came to take her from me, I thought I could convince them that I was a good mother, because I had convinced myself. But they weren’t convinced, and that’s when I began looking more closely at myself. I realized I was neglecting my daughter for drugs. I felt very dreadful about the whole situation.
The first time I saw my daughter after she went into foster care, we met at the agency, in the children’s room. The room was clean and cozy, with decorations on the walls, set up to make parents and children feel relaxed and comfortable. Instead, I felt depressed. I was sitting and crying and feeling awful.
I told my daughter, “Barbie, I love you. I am not perfect. I am a sinner. Mothers are human and make mistakes. Please don’t judge. Don’t think things can’t get better because our lives are apart for now. I love you. Mami is trying to become a better person as well as a mother for you.”
Fighting For Help
I have tried to act in ways that let Barbie know she can depend on me, even though I am not there to take care of her every day. When I visit Barbie at the agency, I am always on time, and Barbie and I play and color together. We talk about the things that are important to her, and I hug her a lot and I look at her with love and grace.
I’ve also tried to help our relationship by fighting for help, not resisting it. The day the system first took Barbie from me, I was confused, devastated and lost. I would have rather had the love of drugs than anything. But seven days later, I realized I needed to change and I started asking for help.
Support and Structure
Truthfully, I believe that I am lucky to have had this time away from my daughter to get to know me. I don’t want to sound selfish, but it gave me a chance to breathe and come to terms with myself and get help from other people.
Rehab gave me the support and structure to break my physical addiction. That made me begin to value myself. I also joined The Child Welfare Organizing Project, a group of parents with kids in the system. I have very little support from friends or family, so having this group to turn to has been important for me.
I still feel like there are many issues I need to work through. I still struggle with depression and anxiety, and I have also suffered some episodes of domestic violence that I feel I need to deal with. I am not rushing to have my daughter come home before I am more confident that I am ready to care for her. After all, I have never dealt with the stress of having her home while I was clean, and I fear that I could overwhelm myself and relapse. I don’t want to do that to myself or to Barbie. Even though she seems strong, I know that Barbie is affected by all that she’s gone through with me.
Until recently, I had visits with Barbie just once a week, but now I’ve received permission to have her for entire weekends. When Barbie was home with me last weekend, we had a wonderful time. We cleaned her room and painted it two shades of light pink so she could feel comfortable and happy sleeping there. Then we went downstairs to jump rope.
When Barbie and I went outside, I told her to put her jacket on because it was chilly, but Barbie refused and she gave me a little challenge. It was just a small thing, but I became nervous and distracted. I remembered when I was getting high and I would tell her to do something and she wouldn’t. At those times, it felt like more than I could deal with, but now I know that it shouldn’t be. Still, I have those old feelings with me. I know I need help to learn how to deal with situations like those.