This is a reader submission for our Big Girl Badge week. Tell us how you evolved from woman-child to woman, and you could win hundreds of dollars of prizes! (Send your 800 word submissions to Jennifer [at] or Ashley [at]

When I was sixteen, my parents and I discovered my brother’s heroin addiction. This would continue on for several years of rehab, more setbacks, and more rehab until he finally felt whole again. When I was seventeen, I discovered my mother’s way of dealing with it all. With multiple prescriptions for anxiety, depression and preventative migraine medication, she figured out if she took this little blue pill at the same time as that little white one, it would make everything go away.

She went through life half asleep. I would come home from school to her face in a half-melted ice cream cone, or crumbled in the corner of her closet with a mouthful of partly chewed chicken, which I would then use a wet washcloth to remove to prevent her from choking to death. Shit got dark. When she was present and fully conscious, I would reason with her, then cry to her, then scream, anything I thought would work to snap her out of it. Why I never called the cops on my own mother, I’ll never know.

That’s not true. It was the public humiliation. Years before that, our neighbor across the street was on house arrest with an ankle monitor for some kind of money laundering scheme. I knew my family’s own dirty laundry would surely top that and become the greatest gossip around. So I kept things hidden. I graduated from high school and attended the local community college so I could stay home and help my dad keep things together as much as possible. While she was sleeping I’d go through her dresser drawers and closet.

She always hid prescription bottles under the clean washcloths. At the end of the day I’d present my dad with the loot I’d found. My dad is a blue collar man, and it was hard to watch him work hard all day and then come home to that misery. I looked to him to fix it but he had too much on his own plate, he had a son suffering from addiction who needed just as much fixing. I would sign for packages delivered to our door and hear the rattle of pills in the envelope. I started my own stash of bottles in my own dresser drawer, just to keep them away from her.

When I got my AA and transferred to the nearby University, I decided it was time to cut the bullshit. I couldn’t fix her. It wasn’t my responsibility. After falling on deaf ears for so many years I moved out. Financial aid and working part time helped me get my Bachelor’s degree. And being away from my family gave me the time and sanity I needed to put on some big girl panties and say fuck this, it’s my turn. I felt like Bette Midler belting out “Rose’s Turn” at the end of Gypsy (Youtube that immediately).

I didn’t become a woman overnight through this debacle. It’s been a ten year process. Today I keep my distance, visiting my mother only long enough that I don’t gain any suspicion that she’s gone back to her old ways. I think it’s fair to say she’s gotten her shit together as much as possible. Her addictions have created health setbacks and I try to encourage her whenever we speak. But at the end of the day, it’s about my own health and well-being. Realizing that has got to have been the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned.