I was 37 years old when I gave birth to my youngest son. Unhappy and feeling trapped in an emotionally damaging relationship I had been in for only a year, I struggled to juggle the demands of having a newborn into my already hectic life and problems.
I’d stopped drinking and smoking the moment I decided to continue with the pregnancy.
I knew after 16 years of drug and alcohol abuse, heavy smoking and not caring well for myself, I needed to do all I could to ensure he was healthy. I (without realizing it) replaced wine and cider with HUGE bars of chocolate, subjected my womb to countless loud rock concerts, and spent the whole time stressed and unhappy—but I didn’t drink or smoke.
A few months after his birth, I started drinking again. As my unhappiness in the relationship grew, my drinking increased back to pre-pregnancy levels.
When my son was almost two, I ended the relationship with his father. Nearly a year later, after a sustained campaign of emotional abuse (that would continue for a good few more years), he finally left our home, and I was relieved to find myself once again single.
I was in a terrible state mentally. The abuse I had experienced at the hands of my ex—the gaslighting, the attacks on my self-esteem and the bullying—all combined with a history of addiction and depression.
It had all demolished my self-worth and faith in anyone or anything. I was paranoid; unable to relax or trust anyone. I couldn’t sleep and I was living life on the edge.
In August of 2013, on the brink of breakdown, I finally surrendered. On top of the difficulties with my ex, I had to deal with massive insecurities and tension in other areas of my life. I was struggling at work, my mother had cancer, and I was tormented by watching a loved one battle his own addiction and mental health issues.
There was also the matter of my three-year-old son. I found him difficult to manage, to be with, and to care for. To some extent, he scared me. A big boy, with a stubborn streak, he always seemed argumentative, uncooperative, and even aggressive. I worried about who he would grow into. I imagined when he would be able to easily overpower me. I wanted to be able to love him well, but I just didn’t know how. I feel sure now that I should have sought help for postpartum depression then.
When I surrendered to the breakdown, I was a mess for a few months, but then enrolled in a course to train as a Yoga instructor in April 2014. I knew I had finally stepped onto the right path, and immediately felt calmer for having made the commitment to this new path. I felt a shift and level of relaxation descend over me.
Still drinking heavily and smoking far too many cigarettes and joints, I was able to better control my drinking; ceasing to drink alone for the first time in a long while.
Through Yoga training, I learned to relax, let go of tension, and to forgive and accept myself. I started to live with greater gratitude, and sleep. As my resilience grew, I began to feel more comfortable in my skin and became happier in general. Seven months into the course, I stopped drinking. That was over three years ago.
Through all of this, I noticed a visible change in my son. He was calmer, more content and cooperative. He communicated his needs better and seemed much happier. I realized the angry, stressed, rage-filled little boy I had feared so much when he was three was simply reflecting me back to me. I must have been a scary mother to have around—I was volatile, unpredictable, irritable and distracted. It must have been so hard to grow up with me as a guide for handling emotions.
Children sense our emotions. They learn from us how to process them. I have torn myself up with guilt over the mother I was, but realize the futility in that activity.
I cannot go back and change the past, but I can be different now. I can be present with my son; talk to him, listen to him, make time for him, and allow him to express his emotions. I can accept when he has hard truths for me to hear. I can share my experiences of the world with him, and use those to help him to learn about his world. Most of all, I can love him completely; so he never has to doubt that he is loved.
If you are reading this and thinking you can never feel forgiveness and compassion for yourself, try to imagine how life would be if you did.
Try to treat yourself with compassion, and see if there is just one tiny change you can make in how you talk to yourself.
Addiction makes us behave in ways that would not happen if we were not addicted. You cannot return to the days of addiction and change the way you behaved, but you can start from wherever you are and move forward. Forgiveness and compassion for yourself are powerful tools to help in this. It is not easy to do this, but it is a truly valuable lesson, and one which children benefit from witnessing, so that they know that if they make a mistake, they, and you, will forgive them and treat them with compassion as well.
One small shift can make a big difference.