Whistles from a chilly wind were brewing as Moe Jiles, then a 5-year-old, hungry and afraid little boy pounded on the front door of his apartment on the East Side of the housing projects in Youngstown, Ohio.
What The Red Zone Qualified Behavioral Health Specialist didn't know at the time, the sounds of his tired fists were going unnoticed because his mother was battling a substance abuse disorder.
"My mom left me outside when she was getting high. I remember banging on the door because I was hungry, but her only concern was getting high."
And like the estimated 8.7 million children 17 and under living in a household with one or more parents dealing with such a disorder, he would be exposed to consistent traumatic experiences beyond his young mind's comprehension. Like the time, he witnessed an array of guns as a friend of his mother's prepared for violence, verbal abuse from his father and an overall lack of structure and financial instability.
"I went to 13 different schools and never felt home anywhere so it made me insecure. We didn't have a lot so I would get bullied a lot. My grades were terrible, I was held back in the 5th grade and would get a headache every Sunday before school."
Despite the turmoil Moe faced as a child, he says he continues to use his childhood as a stepping stone rather than a hindrance. Currently he serves the students of Taft Elementary School and says his own childhood trauma allows him to empathize with the needs of his students. "My biggest accomplishment is working for The Red Zone because I run into so many kids that went through what I did, and I feel I am the best to help guide them to better understanding."
Here are lessons he says his experiences taught him that he hopes the youth he works with and other family members can utilize.
Empathy: It's not always a choice, it's really a disease
"I know my parents may have had the initial choice to try drugs, but for them to lose what they lost, and watch their children go through what they went through, they must have been really dealing with something stronger than their will power."
Though many may disagree, substance abuse is recognized as a disease by many medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Like many diseases, it causes changes in how the brain and the body function. Left untreated, it can manifest in destructive ways that impair the quality of life.
Take heed to other's mistakes
"Going to substance abuse meetings with my mom really helped me stay away from drugs. I loved going with her and hearing those stories."
Watching his mother's recovery process served as a catalyst for Maurice to sustain from drugs and alcohol. He hopes his experiences also drive his young clients to positive life choices.
"I made the same mistakes as my parents, so I don't fault them. I thank them because they empowered me to make different decisions in my life."
One of the biggest tools children who've endured similar trauma can use is forgiveness, Moe notes, the extensive training he's received as a QMHS worker has established greater understanding allowing him to grieve and move towards healing.
In families where alcohol or other drugs are being abused, children are oftentimes exposed to erratic and unpredictable behavior and communication. The chaos Moe endured in his family are examples of the environment many The Red Zone youth face, which makes our work so vital to ensuring our youth have access with the proper support they need to live fulfilled lives.
What are your thoughts?
If you're a parent and need help to start your road to recovery or know someone who is, give us a call at 330-787-9180. We are currently accepting new clients.