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I Gave Up Custody So I Could Get Well

I was really in deep denial about my motives for this regaining custody. I thought I was doing it for my daughter, but that was bullshit.

I fucking HATE being honest with myself when it comes to shit that really matters.

That’s how it started; the most difficult email I’ve ever written.

I remember having to squint through endless tears to even see well enough to type out the words. Perhaps the memory is so vivid because it was just two weeks ago that I forced myself to write it. I had spoken to many women about my situation, but knew Julie, the founder of this blog, had experienced something very similar. I wanted to share my realization with her because I knew she would not only understand, but also hold me accountable.

I wrote:

I was really in deep denial about my motives for this custody modification. I truly believed I was only doing this for my daughter, but now can see that was bullshit. It was a decision based in self…

Earlier that day, I’d finally admitted to myself the real reason I had been so terribly consumed with constant feelings of guilt and shame.

The admission was the hardest truth I’ve ever had to face about myself.

My daughter is five and has lived with her father, full-time, since I checked myself into rehab for 28 days in October of 2012. Before that, I was a single mother, “living” in active alcoholism and putting her life and safety at risk daily. After my sister kicked us out because I couldn’t stay sober, I was served with custody papers. I was mortified. I had no clue what to do. I had no job, no home, no money, a DUI on record (with my one-year-old in the backseat), and I was STILL drinking…

I knew I was in no position to win a custody battle.

I consulted with my lawyer, decided to sign over temporary custody, and go to rehab.

If you had asked me then, I would have told you I did it out of a mother’s selfless love for her child. You probably would’ve called me “strong” or “brave,” but the truth is, I was thinking only of myself. I was scared. I wanted to run away and hide—and that’s exactly what I did for 28 days. I didn’t want treatment; I wanted an escape. It was completely and utterly selfish.

I was released from rehab on Halloween, and was drinking daily again by early December while my ex maintained custody. I attended outpatient treatment while still steadily drinking, and in February of 2013, I attempted suicide. That landed me in a mental institution for a week. I got out and carried right on drinking.

I carried around an extreme hatred for my daughter’s father for drastically reducing the time I was allowed to see my daughter. I denied my part completely. I was constantly demanding more visitation time, and truly believed I was entitled to and deserved it.

Did I mention my selfishness?

It took nearly dying on my bathroom floor to reach my bottom with alcohol. My sobriety date is December 23, 2013. In July, 2014, seven months sober, I decided I was ready to regain full physical custody of what was rightfully “mine”. I had earned it! That past October, me and my big-bad ten months of sobriety retained the services of the best family law attorney in town.

And then I went mad.

Recovery took a backseat to my custody case, and I became absolutely obsessed with “getting my child back.” I stopped doing pretty much everything I knew was necessary to stay sober and lost all perspective. I began an awful downward spiral. I became more selfish and self-righteous than ever. The words I spoke and texted to my ex during this period were accusatory, mean, and intrusive. They could have cost me my relationship with my little girl. I could not see any of that. In my mind, I was absolutely justified. I was doing what was right for my daughter.

Thank God for other women in recovery who had the balls to call bullshit, dish out some tough love, and be brutally honest with me. Thank God I reached out. I hated what they were saying, but after enough people said the same thing—after an abundance of prayer for clarity, self-awareness, and strength to be honest with myself—I was finally able to see the harsh reality. They were absolutely right. I was in NO position to have my daughter back. She was much better off where she was.

I knew what I had to do.

That’s not the kind of mother I want to be. And that’s not the kind of “love” my child deserves.

I confessed in the email. And I meant it.

It is difficult to explain how much finally being able to do this means to me. So many times I have told myself to just hold on…just hang in there until December. Maybe it’s sick, but I drew a lot of strength and hope from that…

I finished the email around 10:30 PM, and just sat staring at it. I knew clicking send could quite literally be the only way I’d ever follow through with my decision to do what was right. I knew I would receive the support, encouragement, and reassurance I so desperately needed, and I would be held accountable—to take all necessary action to prevent further harm.

Forty minutes later I committed and sent Julie the email.

This was a first for me. Not only had I been able to finally see the truth about myself, I was actually able to use that knowledge to fix a mistake and prevent harm to others. I was able to take my wants out of the equation and do what was right for my daughter. Not easy, but right.

The next morning I headed to my lawyer’s office as soon as their doors opened to drop the lawsuit. I went to work and forced myself to show up for my regular day. By 7:30 PM, I was curled up in fetal position on my bedroom floor. I was in full-fledged grief over the loss of the fantasy “future” I’d held onto for so long.

The following week was pure hell. Thank God for sober alcoholics; people willing to love me through darkness, until I can see the light.

Julie’s response to my email that night included, “Surrender doesn’t have to mean giving up. It can mean the difference between acceptance and change, and a lifetime of bashing our heads against a wall trying to move it. I love you so much. You are stronger than you know.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

I’ve heard that pain is the touchstone of spiritual progress, and that emotional turmoil must come before serenity. Today, I believe these claims to be 100% true. This experience has allowed me freedom, relief, and the unshakable faith that, no matter what, everything will be ok. I finally know in my heart and soul what the selfless love of a mother for her child feels like.

And it’s absolutely beautiful.

Thank you, God—for the blessings that follow pain- for hearing my pleas—and for placing amazing sober alcoholics in my life.

This post was submitted by Raegan.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this. I find myself in a similar situation, with thoughts such as a child belongs with their mother. But, truth is a mother takes care of their children and I can’t even take care of myself. I know they are getting so much love but it just doesn’t seem right that it’s not me giving it to them. Angry, heartbroken, and confused.

  2. Wow, that’s immense! My heart is aching with love and respect for you chick…
    I pretty much did the same thing about my eldest daughter Alice, who remains with her father.
    Big loves and hugs sweetie x

  3. My children (ages 16 and 12) live with their Father and I have visitation. I used to feel guilty but they love where they live and know that I am always here. I’ve been clean and sober for over a year and have no ideas to change the custody arrangement. This is about the kids and what they want. If that changes, we will reevaluate the custody arrangement but for now-I feel great about this situation. They are safe, well loved and cared for and that is what matters. Now they have four adults all up in their business. Their Father is getting remarried and I live with my boyfriend and they get away with nothing. Four adults raising two kids and loving them? Not a bad thing. Their village raising them is amazing.

    You’re not alone. You’re welcome to contact me any time.

    1. I’m sort of in the same situation except I’m lost…the only thing I KNOW is that my children would much rather live with me then their dad. But he has a house and I do not. I live with my boyfriend in a very small apartment. ,I’d give anything to have my children back. I dont know exactly what to do

  4. Omg. I’m crying. I didn’t know there was really other mothers out there like this….I’m ashamed when I tell people I’m not fighting for my kids back. Thank you fr letting me know I’m not alone.

  5. It is a very HARD, yet selfless act. As a Mother of two Boys (13 & 5) I had to accept that I was unable to care for them in the way I was able to before my Addiction. I lost custody of my boys & my Father passed in the matter of 6 months (2012). To be judged by society when they have not walked in our shoes! I realized in order for me to be the Mother my kids deserve I had to put my Recovery FIRST! If my Recovery was not first then how could everything else fall into place. Being a “Good Mother” in today’s society is and should not be based upon if you have a piece of paper that states you have full custody! I am so relieved that I am now able to relate to other Women dealing with Addiction+Motherhood. It is not easy one bit, but to have come as far as I have and to see my Boys truly Happy has been my reminder why Recovery is #1 in my life today.

    1. Hi, I am in a similar situation. Been sober since 2015, but spent most of that time doing treatment programs in and out of prison. I am considering a custody modification to give me on paper what the father is already giving me. 40% custody of my daughter as long as I’m sober. I am on parole and take 2 U/A’s a month, and am involved in a peer lead recovery center. I still haven’t decided weather to go forward with the modification as the stress of it all puts me at risk for relapse.
      I don’t argue with the fact that my ex uses legal recreational marijuana daily, as he is a recovering alcoholic and this drug is medicinal for him. Maybe I should? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you all for your posts. They are very valid and valuable.

  6. Hello I’m 24 and obtained 8 months clean on April 25th I lost my oldest daughter to my mother when she was about 6 months old and was still in my addiction , I then ended up pregnant again….my daughter’s are 18months and 2 days apart…i ended up getting clean at 5 months pregnant on my own cold turkey everything was going great I had my youngest daughter January 17 2016 and then ended up relapsing when she was 3 months old and cps took her I got her back at 5 months old (still didnt have my oldest tho) when I got her back I was on top of the world until I went back to her father and relapsed again at 6 months old cps took her for good I continued to get high bouncing back and forth between methadone and suboxon and then went back to heroin I ended up going to rehab september 21st 2017 thinking I cpukd maybe get my life together quick because in many states there is a 15month rule if you dont have everything the court says done within the 15months they start the termination process to terminate all rights….oct 12th 2017 I recived the termination papers….my worst nightmare well I slept on it a few days deciding what I was going to do….hardest decision of my life….i had the option sign over my rights or fight and possible lose (if I lost then my rights to both of my children would be terminated) I decided with a lot of tears and courage and wisdom from the staff at the rehab to volentarly sign my rights over….i also decided to go to a 6 month long term rehab. I now sit beside my oldest daughter (she’ll be 4 on July) about to get full custody back (she came to the 6 month rehab with me) I often sit at night and wonder if I made the right decision to place my youngest up for adoption…her foster family for the last year and a half has chosen to adopt her witch is great but I have regrets that I didnt fight for my baby ?

  7. Wow there are so many amazing woman on this page. I gave custody to my daughter’s father nearly two years ago. Because of this my family hates me. When I flew up there with almost a year of sobriety I thought omg what have a done. In two days I go see her again. A trip I’ve managed to hold on to for quite some time. The pain of no family support eats at me everyday. Deep down I know at the time I did this because there was no other way I had two choices for her to live with her dad or live with my family. I don’t regret the decision I made except for the pain I caused my family. I’m not the only one who lost her that day and the guilt is overwhelming. I love my daughter I miss her everyday, she’s happy

  8. The mother of a 14-year-old daughter, I admire you enormously for your strength and wish I had a drop of it. I come from a place of privilege – so there is something about that that seems especially despicable and shameful to me, the squandering of all that people gave me over the years. I too have lost my family, my daughter and am about to lose my job, which I loved and was proud of. The selfishness and senselessness of it all seems breathtaking to me. I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, I’m end-stage. My daughter is with her father – but he cannot provide for her and has another daughter he doesn’t see. I fear she’ll go into foster care. I never imagined I would be in this position. Mired in the past, I’m not yet starting where I’m at

    1. My ex graduated veterans drug court which I never thought would happen, and he’s been sober for five years from alcohol. Of course it doesn’t make him any better of a father. He never spends any quality time with the kids and they tell me they don’t feel loved or wanted. I know he works then sits outside smoking weed all night then repeat..Basically the same thing when we were together just no alcohol. 5 yrs ago –The table’s turned, I went to drugs he got sober he took the kids. Only now I still can’t find out who I am or what state i should move to.. I feel lost and on auto pilot ( gym, work, errands, home). I got out of prison last August and every month he tells me he wants to throw the kids on a bus and be rid of them, but I live in a halfway house and frankly have only been sober 2 months- I’m in no condition to take care of anyone even if I did have my own home but I feel huge regret and constant guilt that I cant get back to that “I can handle it all, person. I know they are better with me as their mother being the caretaker… But again I think that’s that fantasy life I have in my head I just can’t let go of. I Don t know how to do it anymore. Is it selfish to say I don’t know if I want to? I can’t imagine giving more bad memories to the kids. I love my children, I am probably the better parent, but I am not a good mom right now. I don’t know what to do and the pressure is intense. I am letting everyone down all over again

      1. Breanna,

        Firstly, thank you so much for trusting this space and sharing your feelings. I cannot begin to understand how difficult this time is for you, but I hope you are giving yourself a TON of credit for staying put in that house while all of this is happening. It takes incredible strength to acknowledge our limits when it comes to taking care of ourselves, and I know first hand that the love of our children make that the hardest. Please remember, every single day, that you are doing the best you can with the tools you have and that is enough. I missed out on SO much of my daughter’s life my first year of recovery, because I was building a foundation that would last. That was 21 years ago, and thanks to that time I took to get my own shit together, I haven’t missed out on the last 20 years of my daughter’s journey. It’s worth the effort. You are worth the effort. They are worth the effort. Please know you are not alone. Take us with you every step of the way. XO

  9. I’m going to court later on today , I can possibly get my 16 month old back. I drank and couldn’t find a different way of coping with heartbreak with my husband. I almost forgot that my daughter was the love of my life not her dad. We had an abusive relationship and he had to go now I’m staying in a domestic violence shelter and applying for outpatient treatment for alcohol. I pray to God that she doesn’t go by him because of him hurting me in front of her. My heart hurts tremendously and I will do everything possible to be a better mother. It’s a motherly love and instinct to be with your child. I am embarrassed to say I was wrong but I will do it through my actions to tight my wrongs. It’s not selfish to want and earn your daughter’s care its self evolution to get better and more responsible. I deeply regret my actions and I’m not going to stop until I hear her laugh see her smile. I need my baby angel and sharing stories is a little relieving. Thanks for everyone’s input. Hope and pray for recovery and children.

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