By: Shelby Jones
At age 19, Kira Szarka has seen more than her share of the ravages that addiction causes. She has also been part of the addiction recovery process — her parents are drug addicts.
According to a national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in 35 children lived in households with at least one parent who used drugs over the past year. The survey was taken among households from 2009 to 2014.
Kira was 13 when her mother’s meth addiction began. Rhea Graham, now clean for five years and a community advocate for addicts, says life with Kira’s step-father was “a bad situation.” The family eventually left the abusive relationship.
“She’s always been the rock, always been there,” Kira said of her mom. “It was always us three against whoever.”-Kira Szaraka,
Rhea Graham’s daughter
It was a red flag when her mother wasn’t around for her or her older sister. The 13-year-old knew something wasn’t right.
When she was young, Kira says she never fully understood what was going on or that her mom was an addict, at least not at first. She said that her family never had much so she thought some of the circumstances were just part of being poor.
“I just noticed that they were struggling for rent, like really bad every month, like it started to get really bad,” she said. “We didn’t have any food and stuff like that, but I was like, ‘OK this is normal. We are just poor.’”
Kira has blurred a lot of the years together and sometimes has trouble remembering when certain things happened. But she does recall a time when her mom’s new boyfriend was arrested for what Kira thought was just having her grandmother’s old diabetic needles. He was stopped by police and they saw the needles in the car. He was arrested and later released on bail.
That’s when Kira started noticing the bizarre behaviors of an addict. She later learned both were drug addicts and shared the same symptoms.
She remembers thinking it was odd that her mom always was in her bedroom because she and her mom shared a deep connection with each other. What Kira didn’t know at the time was that Rhea didn’t want her daughter to see her as an addict.
“Our electricity got turned off and that was probably the worst time of my life,” said Kira.
She remembered one night, especially. It was a cold night in 2014.
Kira, 14, and her sister shared a room, with beds side-by-side. They didn’t have any electricity but Rhea and her boyfriend had a heater in their bedroom.
That night, Kira and her sister tried sleeping underneath every blanket they owned. Still, she remembers being cold.
“I remember there were so many nights where it was just so hard to sleep like that. I remember one night I tried to use my cats to warm my feet and just to try my best.”
Holidays were no better but Kira continued to think the family was just poor. When Thanksgiving came, she was ready to help her mom with the food like she does every year, but she realized they weren’t going to bother making anything or celebrating. She and her sister ended up making the Thanksgiving dinner themselves. She and her sister ate together. Her mom and her boyfriend took Thanksgiving Day dinner to their bedroom, and ate by themselves
“At that point, I realized something’s not right, because this ain’t cool,” Kira said. “It just continued to go downhill from there.”
The effects of addiction on children include depression, anxiety, doing poorly in school and even unemployment later in life, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control. Children of addicts also are more likely to become addicted themselves, according to the CDC. But more than half don’t.
At one point, Kira and her sister were sent to live with their biological father in another state and told later their mom and her boyfriend had been arrested for drugs.
“I was just like, ‘What?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Are you playing with me?’ because this is something my mom would never do,” Kira remembers. “I just thought so highly of my mom through every battle we fought together.”
Although it was one of the most difficult times in her life, Kira says today she is grateful to have gone through it because not only did it change her as a person, it also started a good relationship with her father, who had not been a part of her life until then.
Kira and her sister stayed with their dad for about six months. Kira says she won’t ever forget the first time she got a phone call from her mom from jail.
“I was very angry because I have always been the strong one between me and my sister,” she said. “I have always been the one that is going to fight. I was so angry with her and remembering telling her ‘I’m going to finish high school with my dad. I don’t want to live with you when you get out, I don’t want to come back with you.’”
Kira couldn’t understand how her mom could have betrayed her. But that feeling didn’t last. She remembers she would plead to God, “Reunite me with my mom. I don’t want her to go away. Let me see my mom again.”
In 2015, Kira and her sister were back with Rhea. But the tough times weren’t over. At one point, she, her sister and mother were in a shelter for battered women.
Once they were able, they left the women’s shelter and moved next door to Rhea’s long-time boyfriend, Brian Graham. Finally, in 2016 Rhea married Brian and life for Kira and the couple started to turn around.
It’s been about five years now since she moved back in with her mom, and Kira says she’s proud of her Rhea and Brian.
“I saw their recovery pan out in front of me,” Kira said. “I just felt so proud.”
Faith has had a strong role in recovery. New Beginnings and Reformers Unanimous keep all of them focused, Kira said. RU has become an extended family, as well as a formal support system with regular group sessions, steps and sponsors.
“God had a purpose for these two, to touch people’s lives and show them that there is recovery,” said Kira. “Slowly, all the pain and everything that happened . . . This is my family now and we are doing really good.”