Hailey Orion: How My Family Is Healing From a History of Addiction

Illustration: Kim Salt

Hailey Orion is a music artist. For PS’s Radical Honesty issue, she discusses growing up with addiction and abuse in her family. Read more radically honest stories here.

The thing about getting older and going to therapy is that I’ve come to an understanding that everything started way before me. When I was going through things as a kid – my dad was very emotionally and physically abusive – I didn’t know why. I’m the oldest to four boys. I didn’t know it at the time, but my biological mother was living in Florida while we were in Texas, and I was with my dad and who I thought was my mom at the time. Then when I got older is when I learned that my dad was addicted to certain drugs and alcohol when we were younger, and that was the reason for his violence and change in moods and things like that. But as kids, we couldn’t really comprehend that. And now I know that my biological mom is an alcoholic as well and has been on her own journey with rehab. And my grandparents on my dad’s side, they were both addicts as well.

Only just recently I’ve learned how big addiction has been in our family.

When you’re a kid, you only know what you’re taught. So when we were really young, I think I internalized a lot of it. A lot of the abuse and violence, I was like, “It’s my fault, I’m not being a good kid, I’m not doing things correctly, that’s why my dad is lashing out.” But I think in middle school, going to other people’s homes and witnessing a family dynamic that was so wholesome and no one was screaming or afraid of doing something wrong because they were maybe going to get hit or yelled at – I think that’s when I started to piece it together. I was like, “This isn’t normal.”

I didn’t fully know everything until I was out of high school. I remember the first time my dad sat down and told me and my brother who’s closest in age to me – we were the siblings who went through the worst of it – he sat us down and told us about being addicted to cocaine when he was younger. And that kind of explained why he had the outbursts he did. At the time, it was hard to hear. I was like, “Why would you risk our safety for something like that?” That was very confusing. But that’s also when I started understanding his journey. Only just recently I’ve learned how big addiction has been in our family. My grandpa was a huge alcoholic and everyone on that side of the family before him has died from alcoholism. And it’s kind of just stopped with my generation.

It needs to be talked about: how these things can be overcome and how you can heal with other people. When I was 21 or 22 and I started therapy, my therapist started teaching me about boundaries. And for the first time ever, I was setting boundaries with my dad. The first one was us meeting in a third-party location away from everyone else where we would go have lunch once a week and start to catch up in that way. It started with us just being very honest with each other and talking to each other, but even then, it wasn’t easy. We were still arguing, but at least we were talking about it.

We want to talk about it, we want to grow together and get past it.

We’ve grown bit by bit, but the biggest step we took was last year. I had just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship and had nowhere to go and didn’t think I’d be able to go home, because our relationship hadn’t been like that. I didn’t think it would be good for me to go back to a place that also hadn’t been healthy for me. But when I came back, my dad really stepped up. He took me in – he was there for me and protected me in a way I don’t think he ever had before. That helped our relationship so much, and over this past year, he has become my best friend. It’s not an accident and it’s not because I’m just forgetting things. He does not do drugs anymore – his parents are also completely sober. And it’s really cool to watch him put in the work, and as I’m putting in the work, we can come together and rebuild that trust. And we still rebuild it every day.

It’s so obvious when we have these conversations that the healing journey could’ve started so much sooner. The first step is speaking up about it and seeing that things can and should be different. I think people don’t speak up about these issues because they’re scared, and they don’t want to impact someone else’s life. But the conversation between me and my father is that this is just the truth. And he’s not that person anymore. Things can change and you can move forward.

My dad and I are excited. We want to talk about it, we want to grow together and get past it. It’s also easy for me to say it’s worth it, because we’re at the end of it. I came from a place where I truly thought that I would never have a relationship with my dad, and now we talk every day. I really did not know I was going to have that. And I want to make it very clear that that’s not the case for everyone, and I’m very lucky. If you’re out there and you’re dealing with things like this, the best thing you can do for yourself is be honest.

Jump back to the Radically Honest issue.

– As told to Lena Felton

Lena Felton is the senior director of features and special content at POPSUGAR, where she oversees feature stories, special projects, and our identity content. Previously, she was an editor at The Washington Post, where she led a team covering issues of gender and identity.

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