What It Was Like Growing Up with a Drug-Addicted Mother
My mother was single, addicted to heroin, and—at least to me—the best mom in the world.
All photos courtesy of Adrian Goiginger
This article originally appeared on VICE Austria.
Looking back, I realize that I was raised in a very strange world. At the center of that world was my mother, who was single, addicted to heroin, and—at least to me—the best mom in the world.
Every day, there would be a moment where she'd tell me, "I’ll be there in a second, mousey," before disappearing into her bedroom with a few of her friends and locking the door. As a seven-year-old, I would stand by that locked door for ages, trying to imagine what was happening on the other side.
It took me years to finally figure out what they were doing in there. For a long time, I assumed the adults were having some sort of power nap—they emerged from that room so quiet, so relaxed, and so cheerful. I felt like I was missing out because even after nights that I'd had a full night's sleep, I was still tired. I wanted to be an explorer when I grew up, which I knew would require lots of energy.
My mother had an enormous amount of love to give, and most of it went to me. We'd play together every day—for hours, we would dream up adventures together. I was Link, she was Zelda, and our mission was to defeat the evil demon Ganondorf, who lived around the corner from our home in Liefering, a suburb of Salzburg in western Austria.
First, we had to secure a map and a compass, so we could locate Ganondorf and destroy him. If my mother became too tired for our mission, she had to drink a potion made from poppy pods, to regain her strength.
My mom usually had a bunch of her friends over at her place—like Werner, who told me that he drew his energy from nature and trees. Bertl always reminisced about the glory days of the SV Austria Salzburg football club, while my mother’s boyfriend, Günter, taught me to play chess when I was six years old. He'd learned to play during a stint in prison.
Watch: 10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask An Undercover Drugs Cop
Probably the only straight-faced lie my mother ever told me was that my dad had died in a car accident before I was born. Only years later, when she and Günter were clean, did they explain that my biological father had died of a heroin overdose. After a few months in prison for possession, he had taken his usual dose—but his tolerance had fallen while he was inside, and it proved to be too much.
In her grief, my pregnant mother considered suicide, but a book she read about Hinduism convinced her that she would be reincarnated as the lowest form of life if she did, so she decided not to.
At school, I was a bit of a problem child—rude and badly behaved, though that was basically the norm where I grew up. We lived in a big, green, ground-floor apartment in an apartment block. We didn't trust anyone who bothered knocking on the main door since only the police or the postman did so—for me, they were the same thing. Everyone else just clambered over the balcony and walked directly into our living room.
A frequent visitor was my mother's dealer, who we called the "Greek." Once, while mom was in her bedroom, the Greek forced me to drink a shot of vodka with him—I was only seven at the time. When my mother found out, she kicked him out of the house. But, as she would later explain to me, everyone deserves a second chance—so she eventually let him come back.
In the summer of 1999, when I was eight, my mother was really struggling with her drug use. Günter seemed near death after 23 years of addiction, and I was slowly beginning to understand what was going on around me. My mother had convinced herself that it was fine to take drugs until I was old enough to figure out what she was doing, but, obviously, the truth was that she couldn’t stop.
One day that same year, her old friend Bedda came to visit. He had been in prison with Günter for smuggling. It was like he was a completely different person—he wasn’t tired, dizzy, or nervous. He radiated a joy and peace that immediately made my mother cry. Bedda comforted her and spoke about how Jesus had healed him and set him free.
His presence alone lit up our dark apartment—it was like someone was shining a torch in a pitch-black cave. Günter kicked him out of the apartment, before smashing up some furniture and screaming that he didn’t want anything to do with religion. But Bedda came back to explain again how God had freed him from addiction.
Sometime after that, my mom and Günter came to see Bedda's new life as a good thing, and the realization helped them both. Dozens of attempts to get clean had previously failed, after doctors, psychologists, and social workers had insisted that the strength to get off drugs had to come from within—a strength that neither of them believed they had. But now their friend Bedda had made it out thanks to his faith in Jesus, and that motivated Günter and my mother to do the same.
My stepfather got clean after more than two decades as an addict, while my mother beat a deep depression that had taken her to the verge of suicide on several occasions. They had felt emptiness, sadness, and despair, but now, they were filled with love and security. Unfortunately, not everyone around them was as lucky—many of their friends died as a result of their addiction.
At just 39 years old, my mother died of cancer on July 4, 2012. Throughout her life, she defeated monsters and demons, all the while showing the people close to her an unbelievable amount of love. In the middle of the drug swamp in the Salzburg suburbs I grew up in, I had a beautiful and fulfilling childhood—and for that, I have her alone to thank.
Adrian Goiginger’s film Die Beste Aller Welten [The Best of All Worlds] is based on his own childhood and dedicated to his mother, Helga Wachter. It's out now in theaters across Germany and Austria.