Drug addiction destroys the “American dream” for many people. According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 approximately 25,000 men and women lost their lives due to prescription drug addiction. My mother, Betsy Cartagena, from Roxbury, Massachusetts, lost her chance at the dream when she fell victim to a world of drugs decades ago.
Betsy, 44, is the mother of five children, including myself. She is also a recovering drug addict. My mother has struggled for over 20 years with an addiction to cocaine, heroin, crack and prescription medication. She has been to detox five times, been in a coma three times and has overdosed 12 times, three of which were intentional. Her motivation to continue on a path to sobriety is myself and her father who she has recently become reaquainted with after 10 years of not speaking to him due to her addiction.
My mother, who also goes by the name Beth, wants to change her life around but is struggling to get her life on the right track. “I don’t want to get addicted to another drug. I’m getting back on my horse to recovery,” she said.
My mother’s path to drug addiction all started with her long time boyfriend of 17 years, Raul (my father), who introduced her to the world of drugs.
“He used to beat on me and I was in a very bad mental and abusive situation,” she said. “I thought I would die without him because my mother told me to always obey the man you were with no matter what the circumstance was.”
False information created a whirlwind effect for Beth. “I caught him doing coke in the bathroom and that was the first time he offered it to me. I said no. That didn’t last. I figured maybe if I joined him maybe he won’t beat on me and cheat on me so much.”
Over the years, my mom has struggled with the relationships in her life, having trust issues, being raped by her grandfather and uncle and even being kicked out and disowned by her mother because she was considered a liar for accusing her family members of rape.
Beth soon realized that the abusive relationship she was in with my father was not okay for her or her children, so she decided to leave him. My mother remained with me and three of my siblings, except for my little brother—because my father would not leave without his youngest son. Beth feared Raul would abuse my siblings and I just like he did to her. For her older children, many times, that was the case. Countless times she acted as a barrier between her children and her boyfriend, receiving the strikes meant for her kids.
A few months after the break up, Beth was arrested for minor charges and as soon as my father heard about this, he rushed to obtain his sons and daughters. “He stole you guys from me,” she said.
During the time my mother was in jail, Raul had taken most of my siblings, including me. By this point in time, Beth had lost the fierce attitude of protection and mothering she once possessed. Drugs became her children and her relationship with them only strengthened. Soon the relationship with her kids had begun to disappear. A few years went in which she was separated from her children when she suddenly heard the news that the father to her children had gone to prison for bank robbery, attempting to give Christmas to his children. He faced up to 10 years in prison.
After I made countless phone calls, my mom thought this was an opportunity to make up for the past and be the mom she used to be. “I went to get you guys, but I wasn’t ready,” she said.
After a short time caring for her children again, Beth knew she could not do it for much longer due to her increasingly bad drug addiction. “As soon as I noticed I had a problem, I called your aunt and gave her custody because you guys [her children] would have been better off in that environment than to stay with me.”
The next day, my siblings and I started our own journey to recovery, but not from drug addiction. We faced a new trial and that was learning how to rehabilitate our lives from all the mental, emotional and physical abuse. That passage started right here in Boston, Massachusetts.
My mother planned on getting her life straight in a couple of months, but two months turned into eight years due to another abusive relationship she entered. “I was locked up, but not in jail. I was locked up in a room and I wasn’t able to contact you guys [her children].” Her path back to her children and becoming clean had only gotten more difficult.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMH), 25 percent of all women experience rape or physical assault of some kind throughout their lives, and many of these women may develop substance abuse issues to cope with trauma.
Beth was able to get out of that relationship and she now views her relationship with her children as “better and fair.” She does have fears that her children may go down a bad path similar to hers, but she’s hopeful that her issues with drug addiction will help her children realize what they can do better with their lives.
Drug addiction does not just favor one particular person or race. Being addicted to any substance can happen to anyone at anytime. No story is more tragic than another. In fact, SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 22.5 million people (8.5 percent of the U.S. population) aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2014. However, only 18.5 percent of them received any treatment that same year. That is to say, we lack reliable treatment options for those in need. This is not to say that treatment is automatically going to cure my mom’s or another person’s addiction, but treatment is one of the first steps to living a healthier life, and without it we are left with a gap in our society.
This journey for my mother has been an up and down battle of pain, tears, struggle and repetition, but she remains optimistic in creating a better life for herself and her family. Beth’s story is one of many more tragic situations that people have to face every day. Change is possible in our system and it needs to happen urgently.