When journalist Chloe Shantz-Hilkes started assembling a collection of true short stories about kids coping with addiction in their families for a book geared towards youth, she questioned herself more than once.
"I found myself at times wondering ... 'Oh my goodness, are these stories too much for such a young audience?'" she told Calgary Eyeopener during a recent interview.
Her doubt was never strong enough to stop her, mainly because this book project brought her in touch with kids as young as 11 or even younger who were struggling with addicted, absent parents.
"If it's something that they're experiencing, then of course, it's something we should talk candidly about. "
The short story collection, Hooked: When Addiction Hits Home, is indeed candid. She's changed the names of the people she interviewed for their stories to protect their identities. But the tales of children growing up confronting the consequences of many types of addiction, from alcohol to hard drugs to gambling to food addiction, are drawn from real-life.
Shantz-Hilkes was particularly compelled by the story of "Mary Rose," whose father was an alcoholic, a widely recognized illness, and whose mother was a workaholic. She was mostly left alone as a child, with one parent always in a bar and the other at the office. Mary Rose coped by becoming an over-achiever, hoping her good grades and extra-circular achievements would get their attention. The young girl actually talked about resenting her mother more because she felt her addiction seemed more of a choice than a substance dependency like her father.
In hearing stories like this, Shantz-Hilkes observed that whether someone is dealing with an addiction -- be it substance, psychological, or physiological -- the negative effects on the family can be quite similar.
She didn't grow up with an addicted family member, but one of her parents did, and she's seen how that made his own life more difficult at times. "I saw some of the ripple effects addiction can have, even generations on."
Ultimately, the aim of her book is to let other young people confronting addiction in their families to know that they're not alone, and to share examples of coping strategies. One of the most lasting results of writing this book for Shantz-Hilkes was developing a deep appreciation for how strong and resilient children can be.
"[I was] continually amazed by their survival ability, their ability to eke some sense of normalcy for themselves, even in the midst of these really troubled childhoods."