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The Warrior Within: Overcoming Life's Challenges with Addicted Parents

June 12, 2022 | by Margalit Romano, as told to Sarah Pachter

Margalit Romano knows firsthand that there’s no such thing as a quick fix.

There was a time when Margalit Romano was haunted by her memories of growing up with parents who were alcoholics and drug addicts. She has a recollection of running with her parents when she was a young girl. She doesn’t know where they were going but she remembers they were running away from the police.

And the police often came. Margalit remembers her father reading her a bedtime story when the police came and took him. She was six at the time, living in Brooklyn, NY.

Margalit was always a fighter. “My warrior days began in utero” she says. In the early stages of her mother’s pregnancy, several doctors said the fetus would never survive. If by chance the baby would live, it wouldn’t have a normal life. Margalit’s mother was advised to terminate, but she was determined to have the baby. She stayed on bed rest and against all odds, Margalit was born.

Margalit grew up in poverty and had what she described “a crazy childhood.” Her parents had an intense love-hate relationship. There was fighting and chaos. Margalit never wanted to inconvenience anyone or add to the problems. “I didn’t want to take up space, and I didn’t want it to be my fault. I couldn’t fix it, but I at least didn’t want to add to it.” Margalit found small spaces to hide and tried to make herself invisible.

Addicts are generally filling a void connected to a lack of self-esteem or deep-rooted pain. It’s okay if we fall, what matters is that we keep getting back up.

Her parents’ substance abuse began recreationally, and mushroomed into serious addiction. “They both had deep wounds,” Margalit explained, “and once you start with substances to fill a void, you end up needing more and more.”

One day in school, Margalit was taking a spelling test and was asked to write a sentence using the word “food.” She wrote, “I have no food in my—" Margalit couldn’t remember how to spell “house” so she replaced it with “home.” She was fretting about her spelling and word choice but gave no thought to what her teacher would think about the meaning of the sentence. Her teacher praised her for her good work.

A few days later, Margalit magically “won” a contest she never entered for a full Thanksgiving meal and a stocked pantry.

After that, things started to change and Child Protective Services became more involved.

Her father moved out of state and her mother worked to get sober. Margalit remembers attending AA meetings when she was young. “My mother was very determined to get clean. But it was a long process that takes more time than people realize. Even if you can overcome the initial addiction quickly, it takes a lot of time and healing to break free of addictive tendencies and destructive behavior patterns.”

Instead of foster care, Margalit moved in with her grandparents and lived with them for eight years. In the meantime, her mother was trying to heal.

Her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and resented religion. But her grandfather felt differently and did everything he could to ensure she stayed in Jewish school.

By high school Margalit moved back in with her mother.

“In circumstances like this, many people think that once you overcome an addiction it’s ‘happily ever after.’ People tend to minimize where the addiction is rooted – usually due to unresolved trauma – and focus instead on the addiction itself. But it isn’t only about the substance abuse. My mother’s addiction started because of her own childhood trauma. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor and as a child my mother experienced the aftermath of Hitler’s atrocities. As a survivor, she had a lot of unresolved ‘stuff,’ emotional abuse and unhealthy learned behavior of her own.

“Today, I have a good relationship with my mom. Establishing healthy boundaries is important. It was a long process and for many years I didn’t speak to her. I don’t feel anger towards my parents. I understand that pain. People don’t do these things because they are bad. They are just trying to get through the day and survive.”

Margalit’s experiences shaped her, both negatively and positively.

“For a long time, I struggled with the idea of what normal is. I was so afraid to get married and have a family because I had no role models or schema of a normal family. I went to S.A.F.E., an organization that deals with addictions and family members of addicts. They told me I am an ACOA, adult child of an alcoholic. They described typical characteristics and helped me recognize and repair learned behavior, thought patterns, and codependent tendencies. I had to rip apart the word ‘normal’ and redefine it.”

Margalit learned that even when the trauma is over, it never fully goes away.

Through hard work and introspection, they taught Margalit to utilize the positive aspects of these traits while mitigating the negative. “Healing is a lifelong process and I am still working on struggles with perfectionism and insecurity.”

Margalit learned that even when the trauma is over, it never fully goes away. “We learn to grow and rise above, but it’s always there. It’s a part of who I am, my history. And I am proud to have put in the work to face my struggles and strive to overcome them.

“People look for a quick fix. Just tell me the answer, I want it to go away. This isn’t realistic. Healing requires taking time to sit with the darkness. People can move from a painful state to a place of peace if they sit with it. But they have to put in the time.”

Margalit wishes she could tell all children of addicts, “It’s not your fault. You have been put in this position because you have the seeds within you to overcome this. You need to nurture the seeds. And it’s okay to ask for help. You can’t do it alone. Keep going and don’t give up.”

To those who are in the throes of addiction, she says, “Ask for help! Oftentimes, people don’t want to ask for help because they don’t want to deal with the problem. Addiction is about pushing the problem away. Addicts are generally filling a void connected to a lack of self-esteem or deep-rooted pain. It’s okay if we fall, what matters is that we keep getting back up.”

In Hebrew the name Margalit means pearl, a perfect moniker for this female warrior. Pearls originate from a small grain of sand and are built through pressure, grit, and irritation. Over time they are transformed into something rare and special.

Today, Margalit is married and has three beautiful children. She is a self-taught artist. She believes her art is an expression of her trauma. She is a certified Therapeutic Art coach, dedicated to helping others overcome their own struggles through a creativity, color and art.

Follow her creative journey @margalit-arts and visit her website at www.margalitromano.com




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