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I know something about overcoming challenges. I grew up with a highly educated drug- and alcohol-addicted mother.

When I was three years old, my mother kidnapped me in her effort to assume parental responsibility for me.

That attempt at parenting, however, lacked continuity because of her struggles with addictions to prescription medication.  Unfortunately, she conveniently obtained these drugs in her work as a registered nurse.

For years, my mother was a somewhat high-functioning addict. The outside world was largely not aware of her ongoing battle.

Overcoming these challenges looks like a distant, impossible, dream…

Yet, like many addicts, my mother’s compulsions did not stop at only one vice.

Additionally, she was a chronic chain smoker – something that caused me to be born with smoker’s lungs . Consequently, I was immediately placed in an oxygen tent.

She was also addicted to religion. This that took her from Catholicism, to the Pentecostal Church, to the Mormons and beyond.

As a child, I was not allowed to wear pants because my mother considered them satanic. There were no story books, only the Bible and approved Church readings.

Similarly, there were no movies or television shows, as all of these things were also “from Satan.” My weekends were spent at tent revivals and my evenings on buses going to and from Church.

When my mother got paid, she would immediately buy cartons of cigarettes, stuffed animals for me, and groceries. Yet, these “groceries” consisted of hot dogs and Kraft dinner.

Within a few days, the groceries and the cigarettes would run out. My mother would pick up cigarette butts from the ground and re-smoke them.

I remember once being so hungry that I took Monopoly money to the grocery store in an attempt to buy food. I was so embarrassed when the cashier laughed at me.

My mother often worked the night shift and would leave me alone. This gave me additional challenges to overcome.

I wore a key around my neck on a shoestring. From the age of four I was a “latch-key” kid. When questioned by my father, who lived approximately a thousand miles away, she vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

At night, I would go into our front hall closet with my pillow and teddy bear and surround myself with boxes and other paraphernalia. I was terrified.

I would scream and cry for my mother.

Once, when the landlord came after hearing my cries, I refused to let him in the house. Instinctively, I knew my mother would get in trouble.

The terror also came from the unknown.

My mother liked to continuously inform me, “Satan will come and take you if you are bad.”

Even as a child I was fully aware that the environment I was living in was not healthy. I pleaded with my mom to let me live with my dad. Yet, she refused to let me go.

Overcoming challenges begins to seem possible…

By the time I was eight years old, I began to assert my power.

For three days I stopped eating. Additionally, I informed my mother I would not eat, go to school, or conform in any way until I could go and live with my father.

She finally relented.

Going to live with my father, who ran a restaurant with my grandmother, was like a breath of fresh air.

It was quite literally the polar opposite of the closed-in, suffocative, smoke-filled apartment I had lived in. Neither my father nor my grandmother smoked.

Instead of careless neglect, there were enforced bedtimes, healthy meals, and Saturdays spent going on adventures with my dad. Where there had been no discipline, there was now order.

Although, like many children who had never experienced a “a firm hand,” I initially rebelled. However, today, I thank God I was able to go live with my dad.

Forgiveness – even when not requested, not earned, and seemingly not deserved, is an important aprt of overcoming challenges…

It has taken a long time, and a tremendous amount of work, to be able to forgive my mother.

I love her; however, that does not mean that I agree with her choices.

I accept what happened – the abuse and neglect – not as something that was once an anvil around my neck, but as a beautiful reminder of the contrast of raising a child in a loving, positive home as opposed to the home of an addict.

My mother’s lifelong struggles with addictions to alcohol and prescription medication have caused her to be in and out of my life.

I have friends who have become sober and I have friends who have parents, children or partners that are addicts, and it is one of the toughest things to deal with – to not know what kind of person you are going to and when you walk in the door.

Living with an addict is hard, plain and simple.

I had thought that it was her addictions that caused her erratic behavior. At times my mother would go missing, and then we would receive a call from a hospital or the police.

At times she would be sweet and extremely loving, and then she would become aggressive, only to deny the behavior later on.

Although I love my mother, I had to create a boundary for my children. Nana was unpredictable, and I couldn’t expose them to her strange behaviors.

Honestly, I wrestled with my feelings about my mom.

She conveniently didn’t remember the abuse from my childhood or passing out for days. She didn’t recall calling me and swearing; instead, she told me that it was someone impersonating her.

She would also tell me that she had been robbed of thousands of dollars that she didn’t have or that the ma a was trying to kill her.

Sadly, despite counseling, I longed for her to be different and silently envied women who appeared to have healthy relationships with their own mothers.

At the advice of a therapist, I distanced myself to create my own healthy boundary, though I wrestled with guilt.

Our relationship was relegated to writing letters and occasional visits in public places, such as a Starbucks, that would allow me to feel safe.

In 2009 I received a call from a doctor who was treating her and, after 36 years, was told that my mother is schizophrenic and has borderline personality disorder. I cannot begin to explain what a relief it was to nd out that her unusual behavior was not just in my mind.

So here I am – just Susan, the child of a schizophrenic addict.

Like many women, I have been abused, I have had disappointments, I have longed for my life to be different, and I have begged, on my knees, to be “like everyone else.”

I have chosen not to let my past define me, but to refine me, and I encourage you to do the same. I know you may be hurting and you may have shielded much of your pain from the world, only to cause you heartbreak, sorrow, regret, anguish and perhaps bitterness.

Let it go and please know that you can become the beautiful swan, you can design your life and you can absolutely have it all; because above all else, you are created from God, and there is no power greater than the in nite potential of The Divine.

Susan Sly is a best-selling author, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur.  She specializes in helping individuals, and organizations, become more productive.  She resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, Chris.  Susan is the mother of five children and loves her life! To connect with Susan, visit   

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