"One of the best things each of us can do—not only for ourselves, but also for our children and grandchildren—is to metabolize our pain and heal our trauma". Resmaa Menakem
Hi, my name is Kayli. Both my parents were teens that struggled with mental health and substance use. As a child, the challenges my parents were going through impacted me a lot, and I remember growing up feeling unheard, unseen, and unimportant. Knowing how my parent’s struggles impacted me as a kid, I vowed I would not let my trauma impact my kids. However, while I tried to move past my childhood trauma* on my own, it all resurfaced while raising my son.
*What is trauma? Trauma is the body's lasting response (like always feeling afraid, angry, sad, or frozen) to a lot of stress.
Source: Starlings (FASC) Forward with Hope Guide
But I know I'm not alone. In a 2021 survey we did through Starlings Community (today called FASC), peers across Canada who grew up with the stress and stigma of a parent's substance use said that their childhood not only impacted their sleep, mental health, and social life but also their parenting. And the reason many didn't reach out was because of stigma and shame.
For me, it went like this: I became pregnant with my son in grade 12, dropped out, then returned when he was 3 months old. One of my biggest challenges was getting past my reactions to the things around me (my triggers*), and over the years, these challenges brought up a lot of resentment toward my parents. The truth was that in the absence of healthy role models, I had to learn how to be a parent.
*A trigger is anything that reminds the body of a past emotional experience. Source: Starlings Forward with Hope guide at www.familyadvocacysupportcentre.ca.
We know the challenges can be different for everyone. Some of us are caregiving for our parents while simultaneously trying to heal our own inner child AND raise our own children. Some of us feel the grief of a lost relationship with a parent, or loss from the death of a parent to substances, yearning for supportive grandparents to be present for us and our kids. Some of us are full of anger, and sadness, or feel frozen in how to raise children in happy ways, as we navigate all of the above. It's all valid, and real.
I understand that there is no one size fits all approach to supporting people, including me. At times, I still struggle with comparing the actions I made as a parent to my own parents' actions, which can impact my overall well-being. But I have learned the importance of having a safe, non-judgmental space to be myself, to ask questions, to feel my feelings, to feel validated, and to feel seen. With the support of other parents that have gone through similar situations, I learned how to move through these struggles.
Today, I am raising a healthy and happy child, I am pursuing a career in social work, I advocate for harm reduction, and I facilitate sessions for other parents through FASC, because I know that with the right care and support, everyone can be a cycle breaker.
The term "cycle-breaker" refers to a person intentionally changing multi-generational family patterns. Source: Psychology Today, "What is a Cycle Breaker
If you grew up with the stress and stigma of a parent's substance use and are a new or expectant parent, we hope you join us for our peer circle. Facilitated by Agnes and Kayli, peers with lived experience. Register here: https://www.familyadvocacysupportcentre.ca/youth
Getting to the Roots is a blog by FASC where we share the science and the stories of the intergenerational effects of substance use stigma and child welfare policies. By making the literature relevant to the experiences of the families we serve, we aim to increase awareness of the real-life harm families face in seeking support while inspiring a society that contributes to generational health, healing and well-being.