I’ve never been very good at taking care of myself. It was never more evident than when I was in active addiction. I had no regard for my mind or body. The same can be said at times in my recovery too, although I find I abuse myself in much more subtle ways today – from negative self-talk, to eating poorly, or not getting enough sleep.
I’ve been trying to take better care of myself lately – both physically and mentally. I’ve been spending more time with women in recovery – setting personal goals, ridding myself of emotional baggage and simply making an effort to stay connected. I’ve also made some changes to my diet.
As I was considering different ways I could improve my life, I started thinking about all of the unhealthy coping mechanisms I have acquired throughout my years in active addiction. It really comes as no surprise to me, because as an addict, I demanded instant gratification. I never allowed myself the opportunity to learn any other ways to comfort myself – especially in times of emotional distress or physical discomfort.
I was always reaching for something outside of myself to make me feel better. Whether it was alcohol, prescription pills, the attention of men, food, cigarettes, gambling, etc. I simply wanted one thing…to live a life free from any and all pain – to exist without having to feel any real emotions.
When I came into recovery, the emotional pain I experienced was paralyzing.
First, there was the pain of having to live without the substances my brain was convinced I needed to survive. I felt like I was suffocating – like the walls were slowly closing in and everyone around me was just staring at me, telling me to keep breathing because things were going to be ok.
I thought they were all crazy! Couldn’t they see I was dying?
Then came the pain of finally understanding what I had done to the people I loved most in this world – what I had put them through. I felt ashamed, and unforgivable. It felt as though my head, chest and heart were slowly sinking to the floor, crushing my bones into nothing but a pile of dust. I was so emotionally exhausted, that I felt as if I could lay in my bed for an entire year and I still wouldn’t feel rested.
The most jarring pain I felt was the pain of being a mother who struggles with addiction – one who just realized she had traded precious time with her child, for an escape from the life she brought her into.
That, my friends, is an emotional suffering that I have yet to find words to justly describe.
Here’s the thing about addiction – it is incredibly stealthy. It crept right into my life before I even realized it. I don’t remember what day it was that I decided to trade my dignity and self-respect for a substance. I don’t remember when I decided my substance was more important than my child, my marriage or my family.
I had manipulated myself for so long – a skill I had mastered to protect my disease – that it was nearly impossible for me recognize when I was lying. For years I kept telling myself I was ”fine” because of all the things I hadn’t done yet – my handy dandy list of yets. I liked to pull this list out anytime someone threatened my addiction by suggesting I quit.
I wasn’t homeless…yet. I hadn’t lost my job…yet. I hadn’t gotten divorced…yet. I hadn’t been arrested…yet.
Eventually, I would check off all of those yets and more. For me, it was the consequences of those yets that led me to this life of recovery.
My daughter just celebrated her 9th birthday this past weekend. As a mother, I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is so smart, and kind. She has so much energy, and an incredible personality. She is beautiful, and compassionate, and sometimes I find myself in awe of her. How did this magnificent creature, with all of these amazing attributes, grow inside of my belly?
When I started this journey in 2014, I had hoped that by now she would have forgotten about the bad days. I had hoped that those memories – that desperate version of her mother – would fade away as time went on, but it hasn’t – she still remembers when I was sick. And that is OK! It is OK that she remembers those times, because I still remember too. I don’t want to forget, and sometimes I need that humbling reminder that I am just one drink away from leaving her again.
I hope that she can learn from the mistakes I made. I hope that she learns that no matter how far down the scale a person has gone, there is ALWAYS hope! I hope she learns that it is OK to ask for help, and that she does not have to walk this journey alone.
As for me? I’ve learned that I can be forgiven, and that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life apologizing for my past mistakes. I’ve learned that I can change, that I am good person, and that I am a wonderful mother. I am a woman worthy of my recovery, my family and a blessed life.