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Keeping My Head Up High

Stay quiet, keep your head down, and work silently. These were the actions that I often upheld to throughout many years of college out of fear that faculty and colleagues will soon discover that I did not belong in their academic world. As the only daughter of two beautiful parents who were battling chronic methamphetamine use, how can I belong in the “higher-education” world that was often painted White. Who would understand what I am going through? Would they judge me or my parents if I shared our story? These questions replayed every single day as I walked the halls of all colleges I have attended. I never fully shared my hardships that defined me as a person and molded me into a bright scholar today. So I kept quiet, kept my head down, and worked silently to ensure that I did not stand out. Today, I will share my story with you.

I remember at the age of 10, my mom would wake me up with Latin music every Saturday morning. My mom and I would talk about anything and everything as she served herself a glass of box wine. My father would sit in front of the television and crack open a 40 oz. beer. Our home was full of love, laughter, and joy. I cherished my parents and only saw two amazing people who have blessed me with my existence.

By the time I entered community college, my mom and dad began using methamphetamines again. Our once joyous home was now fueled by violence, anger, and police visits. Years later, my mom began hearing voices and seeing things that were not there, while my father became successful in masking his own methamphetamine use. I became successful in hiding everything that was happening at home. This time, when I looked at my parents, I saw two people who were hurt and stuck in what felt like an unbreakable cycle. It felt almost impossible to take care of my parents while at the same time trying to meet my obligations as an undergraduate student. I was 20 years old when I decided to leave home, forever, as I came to a realization that I could not take care of my parents and myself. For months, I couch surfed and slept in my car as I completed my undergraduate studies.

I was ashamed to ask for help and scared to share our story as it may validate that I did not belong anywhere – not even with my own family.

As I look back on these experiences that I have faced, I am in awe of how much I have accomplished. I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve experienced. These experiences made me into a strong Latina woman. Our family story pushed me into the field of mental health and substance use; a field that I plan to dedicate my entire life to. I am in disbelief that I am one month away from being a Ph.D. Candidate where I get to present my research dissertation that will look at Latinx childhood trauma, alcohol use, and mental health. I chose to speak my truth because I know my story is not uncommon among other Latinx college students. Substance use disorders permeates Latinx communities.

Although I was once ashamed of this story, I no longer am. I know that sharing my truth could potentially impact someone who is experiencing similar hardships.

Although I am in a constant battle with the imposter syndrome, I know that I do belong in the “academic world”. I have worked so hard despite these adversities. Today, I am proud to say that my parents are 5 years sober. My parents and I talk about anything and everything as it once was 17 years ago.


Sarah Jane Chavez currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Redlands and a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from California State University, Northridge. She is currently a third year doctoral student in a Joint Doctoral Program between UCSD and SDSU. Her doctoral program is called Interdisciplinary Research on Substance Use. During her undergraduate studies, Sarah became interested in researching more about mental health and substance use among Latinx communities and at-risk adolescents. Specifically, Sarah developed a deep passion in exploring various risk factors, protective factors, and racial/ethnic substance use differences in hopes of improving existing interventions and developing culturally based substance use interventions in her near future. As a proud daughter of two recovering parents, her passion for this research stemmed from witnessing the numerous mental health and substance use treatment disparities that existed within her own home and her own community in Southern California.

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