News

Living with addiction: A 13-year-old tells of her life watching her parents confront their addictions

Written by Becky Metrick, Public Opinion Online | Jul 22, 2015 4:05 PM
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(Chambersburg) -- It didn't take long for 13-year-old Alexis to realize something was wrong with her parents.

One big indication was when they both missed her 13th birthday -- hosted by the grandparents she was living with at the time.

"I could tell that something was really going on, because usually they would come to my birthday, but they just -- nobody was there."

It turned out, over about a year period, her mother and step-father had become addicted to heroin.

Alexis is one of a handful of people who will speak at Wednesday's Fulton County Town Hall Meeting to address heroin abuse and treatment in the community. The town hall meeting is open to the public, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Fulton Theater, North Second Street, McConnellsburg.

Earlier in the day, from noon to 2 p.m., a meeting for providers of treatment and other addiction services will be hosted in the Peal Room of the Fulton County Medical Center.

Both events will be live-streamed by the Public Opinion.

From child, to parent

Alexis is the first to admit she doesn't share her emotions. She said she has always been that way, and attributes it to wanting to make sure everyone else is okay. She hardly seems fazed talking about how she's held everything in, just smiling and laughing, but not concerned in the least.

Alexis said whenever her 6-year-old brother started asking questions, she knew she had to explain away her parents' actions, especially once she understood what was going on.

"Because they were in a bad relationship, I couldn't tell if it was just them kind of trying to separate themselves from each other," Alexis said. She noticed her typically motivated dad was suddenly just going to friends' houses, or laying around on the couch. And her mom would be sleeping on the couch if her dad wasn't already occupying it.

It got to the point where Alexis began taking care of her household.

When her dad finally got help, he told her everything and she finally understood.

"It was kind of harder for my mom to get help," Alexis said. "It was really addicting to her. So, she ended up getting help later. It was definitely really scary."

Alexis' stepfather, Tony, whom she calls her dad, said his addiction started with him receiving paid medication for blowing out his ankle in high school. He said eventually he was on enough prescribed narcotics to "tranquilize a horse."

In the eight months leading up to August 2014, he said he was at his worst, switching from prescribed medications to heroin. And similarly, his wife was spiraling along the same path, but he said she wasn't into heroin as long as he was.

"It was the only thing that did anything," Tony said about his use. But in August, he decided to get help, and Alexis was right there with him.

Alexis described the change in her parents from how they treated each other, and how they treated her.

"My mom was working in Shippensburg and she would, kind of like, she would work overtime," Alexis explained. "She would say she's staying home later because she has to work longer and then it's almost like she'd fall asleep."

Alexis is fuzzy on the time lines, but said she began noticing these changes when she was 12. Now she is almost 14.

Though Alexis said she thought she knew something was going on, she wasn't sure and didn't want to question her parents.

"(Mom) didn't have the best health," Alexis said. "It was mix of me taking care of my brother, like I was his mom at the time. And then it was almost like I was her mom at the time."

Alexis would make them dinner, help out, and do whatever she could to make sure her family was okay. Once she understood what was happening with her parents, she also did what she could to convince her mom to get help.

"I tried to tell her that it would be better for (her brother) and stuff, if he actually had his mom up and around," Alexis said. "Not laying in bed or at work and not coming home because she was addicted to something that's not safe at all."

Alexis said her dad also came to her to talk to her about his problems, beginning when he first decided to get help.

"He relied on me a lot. And not only on help but with emotional help, like how he felt," Alexis said. "So he'd tell me as much as he could and try to clear his mind by talking to me."

When her parents got the help they needed, Alexis said she was glad because she knew heroin was really addictive, and potentially deadly.

She also has a unique understanding that she's had to grow up quickly, and is okay with it because she feels like she's helping her family.

"Most of my life I have been a little more grown up than I really should be. Because I am usually the one they come to talk to," Alexis said, not worried about what that means for her own health. "Whenever they need to talk to someone, they usually just talk to me instead of anybody else. It's a lot of weight, but it's just something I guess I can carry because I try to be strong for other people."

This time around, as she approaches her 14th birthday, Alexis said she's noticed great improvements in her family's behaviors.

"There's a lot more family time. We're happier, I know we're healthier, and I guess it's just like, they're more with us than they were," Alexis said. She is also thankful for her friends and boyfriend that have provided her with support through everything.

Alexis has a lot of faith in her parents, and said she doesn't think they'll ever go back to the drug that they both deeply regret using. But she also is continuing to live life day by day.

"I don't really worry how the future will really seem," Alexis said. "I just try to live life and see how it works out."

Staff writer Becky Metrick can be reached at 717-262-4762.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

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Comments: 1

  • James Kyne img 2015-10-13 06:42

    Truly a sad story to move through, but at the same time it's really an inspiring story as well. I can imagine the situations Alexis moved through the years when reading the lines here. It's truly a sad side of a child in growing years, but she managed it quite effectively to turn things positively in favor.

    This is not only the story of Alexis, but many other children are facing the same due to drug addictions of their parents. When a kid was saying that his or her parents not attending the birthday party, not caring about her, etc., it surely needs to be changed and that change can be seen only if measured efforts were being carried out.

    I'm sure the program like this is an essential tool to aware the community of the issues and try to get reduced the numbers as much as possible. I'm working for a resume writing service , but still I'm interested in these kind of good things, after all that's what giving me real pleasure and feeling of something done to the community where we live and breath.

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