Unpacking the Suitcase Days: Healing Through Grief
I think back to when her mother died and how it led her alcoholism spiraling out of control. I have chosen to make my mother’s passing a catalyst for positive change in my life. I know she would want exactly that.
Grief makes you think. Coming into recovery I was so broken. I had such low self-esteem and I felt absolutely worthless. I had NOTHING when I got sober. I walked into detox wearing a tank top, a pair of dirty yoga pants that belonged to someone else and a pair of flip flops with a hole worn in the heel. That was it. I learned quickly that if I were to have anything in life I was going to have to work for it.
I went through treatment and I got a job at a local café for $9. I was the bakery opener, so I would leave my halfway house in the winter and walk to work for 5:30am. It was terrible. For Christmas, each woman in the houser was “sponsored” by someone. I asked for a pair of waterproof boots. I was tired of having to wear wet cold shoes. I had held better jobs prior to this, and had administrative skills. I needed to start from scratch. The friends that I made in my 12-step fellowship thought that I was crazy. Maybe I was — but I was also determined.
Soon enough I was able to afford to move into a sober house. I was so excited on that day. It was the first time I had a set of keys in years.
I was getting to as many 12 step meetings as I possibly could. If there was a fellowship event, I was there. I was doing step-work and jumping onto committees and going on tour speaking at any inpatient facility that I could get in to. I was traveling to meetings all over state of Massachusetts and conventions all over New England. It was nonstop. My life was recovery.
Things started to improve, and I moved into an apartment. I got a car and started to get things. Life was becoming easier. I started to build a life that had parts which weren’t 100% focused in 12-step. I got what I like to refer to as a “grown up job.” Which to me just means I found employment that was challenging and that I could make a living from. I became a mother and shortly after a single mother. Being a mother is a whole new level of responsibility. Being a single mother is a TERRIFYING amount of responsibility. I learned to be financially independent. I went back to school and was successful. I was promoted twice at my job. My hard work was paying off.
Whenever I share my story, I tend to share about what I call the “suitcase days.” This is my version of entitlement. Before my father passed away and when I had first started going to detoxes and residential programs, there was always this big dramatic preparation. We went shopping. He would pay for new toiletries, art supplies, makeup, clothes, shoes, etc.
I would show up with a rolling suitcase (as opposed to a trash bag filled with random clothes, garbage and drug paraphernalia). I was going to treatment facilities that required him to go into a separate room with billing staff and he would pay thousands of dollars for me to be in treatment. I expected it. I took advantage of it. I didn’t take treatment seriously. I held onto a lot of guilt for many years about those days. I can see now that a lot of my tendency to overwork myself now and set the bar so high is almost a way to “make up” for it. I feel like I am always trying to redeem myself.
Which brings me to the present. For the first time in my life, I am good.
Yes, my mom just died, and my father died and its sad, but that does not have to define the rest of my life. I am still here. I have a career. I have a home. I have all the material items that I need. All my relationships are positive and healthy. I am perfectly capable of taking care of my daughter.
I am good.
Being a scrapper, this has become comfortable for me. I am not used to being good. I am used to pushing and fighting and clawing my way up from nothing.
I have always been told that we only grow when we are uncomfortable. So now what? How do I continue to grow emotionally and spiritually? I do what is uncomfortable. I am going to rest.
I am going to stop feeling guilty for not going to everything I am invited to. I am going to take a break from school this summer and not feel guilty or like I am “wasting time.” I am going to work my 40 hours at my job and leave at the end of the day and feel okay with it. I am going to take that time for myself and I am going to have fun. I am going to do things that soothe my soul.
I am finally reaching a point in my life and in my recovery where I no longer feel like I need to fit some ideal of what a woman in recovery needs to be. Or what a single mother needs to be. I can be whatever I choose to be and that is okay. I have the ability to set boundaries and decide what I engage in and who I allow into my life. It is so incredibly freeing.
I am going to be present in the moment. I am going to explore new things and learn what I like. I am going to stop doing things because they’re what people tell me I “should” be doing. I am ready.
I am ready to unapologetically just be myself and okay with exactly where I am at It feels empowering to say so.
I have worked so hard to build this life. Now – I am going to finally enjoy it.
Hillary Dumas is a woman with five years in recovery from substance use disorder and is from central Massachusetts. Hillary is a single mother to a strong willed two year old girl.
Hillary manages a substance abuse treatment program. She has a certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling and is halfway through her Bachelor’s in Business Administration Management. She believes in transparency and sharing her raw experiences to help others feel less alone.