In any addict’s life there is a time when the addiction is so consuming that they have to make a decision to either let go of the addiction or risk losing what is precious to them. For parents in addiction, we risk losing our children. Perhaps it’s losing them physically because they are taken away or we let them go because we are incapable of caring for them. Although we may not lose them physically, living with our addiction damages our emotional relationship with them. As a mother of four daughters I can attest to the latter.
While my addiction never reached the depths of losing my girls physically, it most certainly put a giant wedge between us. Even though I only spent a few years of their lives drinking and acting out from a process addiction, I was never the mom I really wanted to be with them. Granted, I was responsible, keeping them well fed, clothed, bathed, and always accounted for. I don’t think anyone who knew me then would have guessed that I was constantly in guilt or shame about not truly giving them my full attention because my actions of proving to everyone (especially myself) that I was a good mom made it look otherwise. That’s what we do as addicts. We overcompensate to cover up the pain inside of us that keeps us from living the authentic lives we wish so badly we could have.
I’ve struggled with one form of addiction or another since I was 17 years old in addition to being cyclothymic (a high functioning version of bipolar disorder.) No matter what our addictions are or how we act out on them, as parents there is shame across the board. I was always distracted whether sober or not. The fact that my daughters learned not to expect me to do the fun things they asked of me wasn’t enough for me to choose them over the distractions and addictions. I was so afraid of letting them in to my heart because I didn’t know how to feel what was good and right. I learned how to put walls up to keep them and my husband just at a distance so that I didn’t have to feel the pain of loving them too much and I always had ways to numb out if the pain became too much.
I have spent my entire adult life in a perpetual cycle of impulsive behavior and shame. Being a mother shined a spotlight on that. The driving force for me to break this cycle of addiction was my desire to be not only a valuable human being, but more importantly to raise healthy girls who will have the understanding that love is not a bad thing. These days I am doing everything in my power to be there for them and hopefully keep them from ever feeling so afraid of abandonment that they have to abuse drugs or alcohol to escape their pain.
Life is so different today because of recovery. I love being with my family no matter what we’re doing. In fact, it is my favorite thing in the world! I am no longer planning my next escape route. I let the love in even when it is so overwhelming that it makes me cry. I’m letting my nervous system learn what is good and I avoid what is not healthy for me. My calendar is full of activities planned with my daughters, instead of activities that kept me away from them.
For years I let the addict voice in me tell me I wasn’t deserving of anyone’s love and certainly had none to give to anyone. That voice reminded me daily that I was a terrible mom and wife and was not deserving of everything I had. These days when the addict voice creeps in, I just send it love. Then I remind it that I’m sober and worthy of love, goodness, and grace in my life. Every day I that I choose recovery, that voice gets quieter and my relationship with my children becomes more beautiful. I finally get to be the mom I always dreamed I could be.
I have a a friend who says “I knew things were different when I started wanting what I had.” Today I want what I have.