Trigger Warning: This blog piece mentions multiple forms of trauma, including drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse.
First, there’s “I’m sure you’re feeling just fine! Maybe you should go take a nap.” Or the occasional “You probably just need to take an aspirin.” And, from my Black folk, I get “Drink some ginger ale.”
Well, guess what?
I got enough sleep, my head feels just fine, and I’m not in the mood for soda.
What I need is REAL help, and so do our kids. And I know this because the childhood trauma I experienced and carry with me today is not one that any child should.
My story begins in the 80s, here in DC when crack and heroin owned the streets. It was hard to realize just how tight of a grip drugs had on my neighborhood, but it was even harder to realize that the grip was even tighter on my mom.
As a young child, I didn’t recognize my mom struggled with addiction, but when I turned 11 my blissful ignorance started to wear thin. It started with the whispered rumors I would hear from other kids at school. They called my mom names like “druggie” and “crackhead.” Then there was the strained relationship building between my mom and my grandparents. Instead of laughter and playful teases, they exchanged curse words and occasional hits.
When my mom’s drug addiction got worse, my grandparents told her that their house could no longer be her home. So she left, leaving me behind.
Despite the trauma I experienced through my mom’s inconsistent presence in my life after that night, my grandparents gave me the stability and love I needed to move forward. But while home life improved, my experience at school got worse because of the bullying I faced. My school did nothing to stop it. Instead, I was told by teachers that the bullying I faced was “preparing me for the real world.”
Things got a little better in high school when I was dividing time between my standard high school and a vocational school. I enjoyed my vocational classes because of the subjects and the fact that most of my bullies were not in them.
Not soon after high school started, my mom re-entered my life again and that’s when everything seemed to fall apart. Since I was older, I felt more inclined to help my grandparents by checking in on her, but this made the impacts of her drug addiction more real to me.
This realization worsened my mental state, and before I knew it, I spiraled. The words of my bullies at school meant more than the grades on my report card, so to ignore them, I started skipping school. This led to me failing classes and my eventual decision to drop out before I could graduate.
The night my mom found out that I had dropped out was a night she had come to visit while high on drugs. While her words were incoherent, her message was clear: I was a failure.
A few years later, I was about six months pregnant, and her words exhausted me physically and emotionally – more than I could handle. After a heated argument, I remember leaving the room, hiding in the closet, and asking God to protect my children because my mother couldn’t protect me.
I’m so glad I said that prayer that night. Because he answered it by blessing me with three beautiful Black sons. They are the reason I’ve kept going when things get hard, including the time I spiraled again after the passing of both my grandparents in the early 2010s. This time, I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. But it was a moment at one of my sons’ high school graduations that helped me get back on track.
The ceremony had just started and I was an emotional wreck. I was still trying to find my way, and while I was more than excited about my son’s next educational step, I worried about how I would handle the change.
My oldest son must have felt my worry because he turned in his seat to face the stands where I sat with our family and he gave me a two thumbs up with a big smile. To him, that thumbs up may have been a small gesture, but to me, it was a clear message that everything was going to be okay.
And things did get better. In 2017, I moved my family to Southwest DC. Not too long afterward, my oldest son and I both decided to re-enroll in school to receive our high school diplomas. I graduated from high school to obtain my GED just six months after re-enrolling – and after a major setback of being in the ICU for almost a month. I then went on to enroll in a four year undergraduate program in October of 2018. I am looking forward to graduating within the next year or so because getting my degree will keep me on my higher-education track so I can one day receive my MBA.
While I am always looking towards the day that I receive my undergraduate degree, and while I am just as excited to receive a master’s, earning my GED is an accomplishment I have deep pride in. Because had I not decided to go back to school, I would never have connected to PAVE, the organization that gave me an extended family, something I had yearned for since the passing of my grandparents.
I am proud that as a PAVE parent leader I consistently advocate for mental health supports. Parent leaders like me know that our kids can’t just rely on naps, aspirin, or ginger ale for them to be mentally well. Instead, we have a vision of mental health professionals and clinicians and social-emotional learning and trauma-informed training in EVERY school, and well-funded community-based providers in EVERY ward.
And these supports are just the beginning. As long as kids experience trauma, there will always be a need to address it. And while I can’t go back in time to provide myself these mental health supports, I can work hard now to make sure my children, and every child in DC, receives them.
By Russchelle Moore, Ward 6 PLE Board member