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Sometimes Everyone Needs a Time Out

Sometimes, the kindest and sanest thing you can do for yourself is to recognise that you need a time out. When you are in recovery, too much freaking out can be dangerous.

I was there recently. The more eagle eyed of you will notice that I have been absent from the site and the page for the last couple of months. It was an act of self preservation.

I had a couple of months where life seemed to be spiralling out of control. As if I was being tested.

So many things were going on at once. I was trying to process a long-buried grief. I discovered that most of my ‘flaws’ can be explained by the ADHD I wish I had been diagnosed with years ago. I was struggling to find traction in my muchloved business. All these things combined caused more stress than I could deal with. I felt dangerously unbalanced and out of control. I needed a holiday from my life. Obviously ,that wasn’t possible, but thanks to the love and support of my Sober Mommies sisters, I was able to take a break from my responsibilities here.

I’m still freewheeling through life a bit, but I am clearer now about what I am doing:

  • I have devised some strategies to get to grips with the worst of the ADHD (apps and Yoga loom large in my plan!).
  • The grief is abating as I am able to make peace with more in my past than I realised I still needed to come to terms with.
  • I am still treading water with my business, but I know who I want to help, and how I want to do it, so that is a powerful start!

And I am back in the loving arms of my Sober Mommies family. I never fully left. I was still part of the gang, still involved in the conversations when I chose to be, and still loved and supported across the Atlantic.

The writing team on this website are truly the most amazing, loving, loyal, generous and supportive group of women—I am so absolutely grateful to them for giving me the space I needed, but still showering me with virtual hugs when I reached out for them.

If you are ever in doubt as to the strength of the love and support in this commuity, please don’t. I am here to tell you that as long as you need it, it is always there for you. You will not find a more fiercely supportive group of women than the Sober Mommies. I’m proud and grateful to be not just a sober Mum (I’m British, so I’m Mum) but a member of the Sober Mommies team.

Thank you so much to my sisters for the love and patience. I am looking forward to paying that love, support and patience forward in bucketloads.

Sayonara my loves, be well.

The Need To Escape is Putting my Sobriety at Risk

I quit smoking over twelve years ago.  I was 29 years old and didn’t want to enter my thirties as a smoker.  I went on “the patch”, read a ton of literature to prepare myself for the day, and was successful.  While I primarily credit the patch for the success, I must also give credit to two fine gentlemen, Ben and Jerry.

I gained 40-50 pounds after I quit smoking.

I used ice cream to soothe my cravings, anxiety, and withdrawal. I had used food compulsively and in an addictive way for years, so it was a logical coping strategy. I eventually stopped using food as a crutch and to others it would have appeared that I was living a healthy lifestyle. Over the course of the twelve years, I managed to stay relatively nicotine free. I was also uncovering a gradual, but very real case of alcoholism.  Six months into sobriety I started smoking again.  Why? It’s very simple.

I’m an addict.

I was in the ‘right place’ at the ‘right time’ (you could easily replace ‘right’ with ‘wrong’ here, depending on perspective), and during a moment of vulnerability, I was able to dive right back into my vice. The person I bummed the smoke from even felt bad handing it to me. She knew I’d quit and was struggling to stay quit. The addict in me was fully committed, and I made whatever argument was necessary to get what I needed. I don’t even remember what I said or what I was going through that made me want to smoke again.

As a sober, healthy mother with two young children, I know all of the reasons that I shouldn’t smoke. None of this stopped me.

A year later, under the supervision of my physician, I have finally agreed to quit again with the help of medication. It’s not as horrible this time, but I have to admit I’m pissed. I need something to escape and everything I turn to is bad for me. I’ve heard all of the suggestions—why don’t you read a nice novel and take a bath? How about a walk outside? Coffee with a friend? Thanks for the suggestions, and pardon me for saying this, but kindly fuck off. I need something that will shut off my brain, something that will make it possible for me to stop the inner dialogue that runs through my head on a constant loop and so far, a walk just doesn’t cut it.

Two weeks after my last cigarette an old voice spoke up and quietly suggested that I have a drink.  Not just the ‘damn I miss wine’ kind of thought, but the scheming kind. It was like a pesky troublemaker who I know is a bad influence, but can’t seem to get rid of.

“C’mon!  Let’s have just one. Why not?  We can stop at this restaurant for a nice lunch, or maybe you could call that one friend who doesn’t know you’re an alcoholic,… right?”

I’ll be honest, it scared the hell out of me.  Just hearing “you’re an alcoholic” in my head was enough to remind me of EXACTLY the reason I can’t have just one today.

I am grateful to say that I did not take a drink, and continue to be sober today.  I’m grateful that today I know that those were just thoughts; thoughts that most addicts have. I am not immune to them, and cannot ignore the lengths that my addict brain will go to in order to convince me that I can still use.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had been in the “right/wrong” place. What if I had had a drink waiting in front of me? I try not to dwell on “what ifs”.  Instead, I remind myself that sometimes there are really hard days that I want to escape.

I have yet to find a way that doesn’t eventually cause problems.  I have to acknowledge that these thoughts can easily put my sobriety at risk.

On days like these, I have to turn my will over to something greater than myself, and humbly ask for the help I still need to get through the day.  Quitting and getting clean from anything is tough. All I can do is pray for the ability to find healthy ways to escape, and that the pesky troublemaker stays away a little longer this time.

photo credit: Rowena Waack via photopin cc

I’ve Lived Longer and Better Than I Expected and You Can Too

This week I turned 41. It’s a day I thought I’d never see.

I was sure I would be dead by 25 the way I was living. Homeless at 21, due to the choices I was making, I didn’t feel I had or was even worthy of any other options.

Alcohol was the love of my life, and I didn’t think I’d ever escape the abusive relationship it had become.

I almost welcomed the idea that I wouldn’t be around very long because life was so painful. Every day seemed an uphill battle I wasn’t ready or qualified to climb.

My daughter was only four, and I honestly believed my disappearance would help her. I knew I wasn’t a good mother. I had no idea how to be what she needed.

Thankfully, I lived long enough to realize I didn’t have to live that way. I got the opportunity to take action and make my way up that hill and battle many of the demons that brought me to that place.

I lived long enough to survive horrible relationships, jobs, and friendships that didn’t serve me.

I lived long enough to understand there was always purpose to the pain.

I lived long enough to find the most amazing man, who IS the love of my life, marry him, and create two more incredible lives together.

I’ve lived long enough to head back to school on my own terms to study social work and better equip myself to help others on THIER terms. I’ve founded the non-profit organization and missioned it to provide the support that I DESPERATELY needed at age 22 when I realized it was time to find recovery.

I lived long enough to celebrate my beautiful daughter’s 23rd birthday last month. I got to answer her call from a bar in Boston because she didn’t feel safe driving with the people she was with. I got to be there for that moment, and she knew I would be. I lived long enough to become the mother she needed and still needs.

In May, I will celebrate 19 years of sobriety. I can barely believe it.

I’m so grateful for all of the lessons, experiences, and knowledge I’ve gained – about myself and other people – in all of my recovery processes…because I lived long enough.

I thank God I gave myself a chance, accepted help (even on days I didn’t feel worthy of it), and got to build the life I always wanted. Today I get to decide where I’m going.

This year has not been easy as Depression hasn’t much minded how much I’d like just be happy and enjoy all of this life I have today. I lived long enough to get through it.

I have lived long enough to conclude my 22-year search for my biological parents and find out WHO I am and WHERE I came from. I learned of the FIVE half siblings I have and got to connect with the two people who created me and gave me this life to live.

I’ve lived long enough to make a million mistakes. To say and do things I haven’t always been proud of, and make them right.

I have lived long enough to live.

And today, more than ever, I am so grateful.

If you are struggling today, that’s okay. As long as you live long enough, things WILL get better.

If I can do it, you can too. XO

This post originally appeared on Facebook.

Advocating in recovery

Advocating for Ourselves In Sobriety: We are Worth It

It’s no secret that the stigma around substance use and mental health is a huge issue. We learn quickly that advocating for our recovery is going to have to be handled on our own and it is often not going to be met with understanding. So we weigh the cost—is my being vulnerable and disclosing my struggles with mental health and substance use going to be worth the potential shaming that may likely come with it? Personally, I have experienced this more in the healthcare field more than any other area.

In chatting this week with some of our Sober Mommies team, we shared stories and it turns out I’m not alone.

“I went to the ER for fluids for dehydration at my doctor’s request when I had the flu. Because I’m open and disclose my substance abuse history, the nurse took one look at me and said, ‘Well we aren’t going to give you pain meds you know.’ My chart specifically says I’m not to be given narcotics, at my own request. She didn’t take time to listen or even look at any of that. She heard my history and labeled me a ‘junkie.’ I told her I wanted a new nurse if she wasn’t able to check her stigma.”

“I was discharged from the ER several years ago when I showed up seizing. They found out my history and on my release paper all it said was ‘Bipolar Disorder.’ I tried to explain that my bipolar disorder didn’t cause my seizures and something was wrong with me. Basically, they thought I was faking. They said, ‘Maybe YOU don’t even know you’re faking, you believe it’s real, but it’s not.’”

“The hair pulling has been so embarrassing. Now I bite my nails, pull out my hair, and I’m semi-bald in the front. None of my doctors take these things seriously.”

“I lost custody of my son when I was 19 and was very depressed. When I went for help, my doctor told me there was nothing wrong with me, I just needed to get a job. So I went to the pub and got drunk and didn’t ask for help with mental health again until I was 41.”

“My doctor told me my oldest was going be stillborn if I didn’t stop smoking. I flipped out. It made me never feel open to talk about any other issues I might be dealing with.”

When we are met with overwhelming judgment is there any wonder why we aren’t more open about our past?

I was years into my recovery before I ever felt comfortable advocating for myself. It was years before I was able to say, “I feel like your attitude toward this is coloring the way you see me and if you can’t overcome that bias, I would like to request a new provider.”

I’m a person with a chronic, critical illness that lands me in the healthcare settings more than the average person, and I have let people speak down to and shame me, rather than advocate for myself.

Why is that?

Shame. Shame makes us believe that we are the only people who feel that way. Shame tells us we probably deserve judgment and condemnation that happens when we’re open about our struggles. Here’s the thing though—there’s nothing you can say about me that is worse than what I have already believed about myself. No one is more judgmental and critical about my past than I have been. I’ve carried more self-judgment in these bones of mine than anyone could ever hope to say about me. For so long, I believed it—I absorbed it—I let it define me. I was fine was someone treating me like I was less-than and I fully believed they were within their right to do so because I deserved that.

Then I found my recovery community and I started healing. Therapy helped, but really what started to change the way I handled this was being part of a community of women in recovery. The more I got to know and respect amazing women in recovery, the less I was okay with anyone ever speaking to them that way. I would hear stories like the ones I shared above and I would get enraged. How dare anyone speak to my sisters like this! How could anyone consider judging such amazing women who’d come through so much?! I wanted to get loud and shed light on how they were being treated. They were worth so much and deserved every ounce of respect and care.

And a quiet voice in me began to whisper, “What if I fought this hard for me too?”

It’s much easier for me to stand up and shout your worth than it is for me to see mine. It’s much easier for me to advocate for you than for myself. It often feels like between my depression and trauma, I live in a house where all the windows are crystal clear but all the mirrors are broken or blurry. I look at a sister in recovery and see how far she’s come. It’s easy for me to cherish how beautiful her story is. I’m quick to tell her how worthy she is of all good things. I look at myself and it takes a while for me to get past, “Meh, you probably had that coming.”

When we choose to disclose our recovery we are worth being heard and respected. Advocating for ourselves begins with knowing our own worth. The reason it’s easier for me to stand up for someone else is that it’s often easier for me to see their worth. So I’m making it my mission now to know mine.

I Drank So I Didn’t Have to Grieve

I spent years lost in an addiction that brought me to places darker than any ray of hope could ever possibly reach. At times, death seemed like not just an option, but the solution to save me from myself.

I never had the guts to do it; take my own life I mean. Instead, I continued on, letting my drinking consume me; bit by bit, piece by piece. I was okay with it. No, I was more than ok with it.

I welcomed death, until one day I didn’t.

My mom died when I was very young, and though it has been 30 years since she passed so suddenly, the intensity, the powerful gripping hold of grief has stayed with me. For years I held onto that grief, not because I missed my mother desperately, not because I never got the chance to say goodbye, and not because I was so angry that she “left me.” I held on to it because I didn’t know that I was holding on to it.

How does a person go on, day by day, filled with so much grief and never know it? Simple, I didn’t acknowledge it, and I drank. I drank until that grief became something that could be locked away underneath all the other garbage I stacked on top of it along the way. Bad choices, lost relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and the chances I didn’t take because drinking was more important than having a life worth living.

Then I sobered up. I sobered up and I realized that the emptiness I’d always felt, the sense that something was always missing, the pain, confusion and loss, all have a name: Grief.

It wasn’t just the grief that I had held on to. It was also the question; why did I live while she had to die?  It was the little girl belief that, somehow, because my mom had been taken from me, I wasn’t lovable; that I didn’t deserve to live. Therein lies the foundation on which I built a life spent proving that point to myself over and over and over again. That was my truth.

I was not worth love, and I should have been the one to die.

It makes no sense, but it was this conviction, conceived and believed at such a young age that I held on to throughout my life and—USED to fuel my addiction.

Today, I recognize that grief, and it’s so very real to me. It’s not something that once recognized can be dealt with swiftly and moved away from; not for me anyway. It’s something that lives inside me every day. Instead of letting it consume me, I use it to drive me. I use it to live the life that was meant for me, because I deserve to live. I deserve to honor the life my mom never got the chance to live.

Those ideas about not being lovable, that I should have died, are often just as constant as my grief. The difference is that in sobriety, I get to KNOW that they no more than an IDEA. They are not true, they are not fact, and they do not have any power; not anymore.

It took getting sober to realize that though my mother is gone, I was not to blame.

My mom never got the chance to live her life. She never got to see me grow up, she wasn’t there every day to guide and love me. But I know with all that I am, that she would not have wanted me to waste my life. The life I lived before sobriety is not one that my mom would have wished for me. I have a second chance today; a chance my mom didn’t get. There is no better way that I can think of to show my mom how much I love her and honor her. Even though she’s been gone so long, she remains in my heart and thoughts every day.

I love you, Momma.

This post is dedicated to

Sober Mommies Dedicated Post

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

I Am Grateful for a Tiny Blue Line

There was a blue line on the plastic stick. That blue line that confirmed my worst fear. That shone a light on another fear that I hadn’t even acknowledged yet. That little blue line was going to change my life forever.

I was struggling to find a happy family dynamic that allowed me and my 12-year-old to live in peace. I was still struggling to come to terms with the death of my brother four years previously. I was working in a job I felt totally out of my depth in, but which paid well enough for me to keep showing up each day. I was in desperate need of mental health support and had been for years, but instead, I medicated with alcohol, cigarettes, and weed.

My self-esteem, my mental health, and even my sense of who I was were in tatters.

I was in a relationship with a man who I knew in my heart shouldn’t be in my life at all. But I was so desperate for someone to tell me they loved me, I had reached for the first one who offered.

He told me that I was beautiful, and he loved me. He couldn’t tell me one single thing he liked about me that wasn’t about my physical appearance. My intuition screamed at me to get out. My ego needed to be told I was beautiful. So I stayed.

He told me that he had been tested during a previous relationship, and knew beyond all doubt that he couldn’t have children. I believed him. Even though there was this little voice in my head that questioned everything he told me (oh, hello intuition!) Even though my friends all told me he was a liar. 

My subconscious knew he was lying, that I was in a destructive relationship. But my ego believed him when he told me he loved me. And I also chose to believe that I wouldn’t get pregnant.

That blue line showed me the lie.

At 36 years old, five months into a new relationship, one that was already showing some pretty big cracks, I was pregnant. I was devastated. I didn’t want another baby. I could barely manage my life as it was. How could I go back to sleepless nights and potty training?

After a tear-filled conversation, I marched to the doctor’s surgery to “sort it out.” Arrangements were made, and I waited for my appointment. Then I got drunk. I took the week off work because I knew there was no way I could spend my days at a desk while trying to process everything.

As the appointment date approached, something shifted in me. I decided that I would keep the child.

A planned day of drinking with a friend got canceled, and for the first time since seeing that blue line, I spent the day sober and alone with my thoughts. A feeling of peace descended on me. I knew I was making the right choice. Worried that I had already caused terrible damage to this unborn child through two decades of hard drinking, I was able to stop immediately…at least in the short term.

The almost ten years since I made that decision have been tough. I returned to drinking as soon as I stopped breastfeeding. My relationship ultimately collapsed, as it needed to. In 2013, I experienced a breakdown, in part a result of that relationship and separation. Also partly due to the struggles I faced as a full-time working single mother of a teenager and a toddler. 

That breakdown saved my life. As a direct result of falling apart, I found my way to yoga teacher training, where I found my salvation.

I know beyond any doubt that if I had not had to contend with parenting a toddler at that time, I would have managed everything else that was happening in my life. When I say “managed,” I do of course mean that I’d have got hammered and angry at the world until it all went away. Having that little boy showed me that I needed another solution.

I really do struggle with being the 46-year-old mother of a nine-year-old child. I struggle with the fact that I have to maintain a relationship with a man who caused me so much pain. I really struggle with challenges that arise in my son’s behavior, partly because I fear that so much of them are the result of damage that happened to him when he was young.

I don’t always like being a mother very much. I often think I am not very good at it. I frequently feel burdened and trapped.

But I know that this little boy came into my life as a gift. He shows me who I am constantly. He reminds me to be present to him and to my life. His presence in my life has saved me from myself time and again. And now, when I go to his bedroom to wake him up, as I am going to when I finish writing this, I will once again be filled with so much love and gratitude for him.

This wasn’t what I had planned for my life. It wasn’t what I thought I had wanted. But it was certainly what I needed. And I will always be profoundly grateful for that.