Tomorrow I mark my anniversary of three years in active recovery, both emotional and substance. Usually, an anniversary contains getting a medallion and enjoying a nice meal with loved ones. While this pandemic changes the course of tomorrow it has given me a remarkable amount of time to reflect on the last three years; it also has given me the chance to contemplate my future.
I wasn't sure if I was going to attend a meeting to receive a medallion. Due to the course of my life, asking to receive accolades in a program I haven't been an active member of lately made me feel like a Catholic that only shows up at church for Easter and Christmas. Everyone knows you haven't been all year and you are taking up the seat of someone who practices religiously. Three years ago, tomorrow, I woke up in another hospital bed, yet another time, but this time with no one doting at my bedside. I had expended everyone's kindness and understanding and I was becoming hard to love. I had made it just about six months in recovery and I had a pretty major relapse. Significant in the sense that I didn't know how to make it stop and I lost everything I had gained back. I was going to begin again, but the stakes were much, much higher.
Year One was a year of court dates and custody hearings. It was a breathalyzer, countless therapy appointments, and weekly check-ins with a parenting coordinator. It was meetings, meetings, and more meetings. It was sitting in the back seat of my dad's car, as he tirelessly drove 30 miles roundtrip, to a town we didn’t live in so I could see my son for two hours. It was making sure I always looked okay, seemed stable, and never let anyone know I was dying inside. It was crying everywhere I could, always saying yes and trying. So. Much. Trying.
Two days before I was to receive my first-year chip, I was sent an email that would rattle anyone to the core. It was filled with vicious hate and negativity and it was sent to me based on a malicious lie someone believed about me. I did what anyone would do who was trying to stay afloat; I chopped my very long hair. Cutting my hair resulted in my having to get an alcohol screening, which I passed with flying colors; but the more significant end result was my life back. And, I made it to my One Year in one solid piece. My insides were dying, but I held that chip in my hand and cried tears of relief that I could stand and keep it, and I hadn't succumbed to what that email and its author wanted from me. Another relapse. This time I was fighting for not only my life but for my son.
Year Two was driving privileges back, custody squared away, and growth. It was reading anything by Brene Brown and embracing that she may be my God. It was going back to school to finish my Bachelors 20 years after I’d abandoned the hope of ever graduating.
Year Two was facing skeletons in my closet and realizing I played a huge role in everything that had happened to me. I couldn’t keep blaming other people. Year Two brought me more insight into my co-dependency issues and I started to work through them to continue my self-improvement. Year Two was hard, and my heart was broken many times. I saw someone who I believed I would spend the rest of my life with deciding to marry another. It was hard to hear the news but harder because I knew he was happy. Year Two allowed me to see that other people’s happiness is equally as important as mine.
Year Two also taught me that I deserve to be happy and I can stop punishing myself for the past. If other people want to continue to punish me, I don’t have to listen. I can walk away. My space and my boundaries are important. I learned I had earned that right.
Year Three was deciding to switch careers after 10+ years to become an advocate for mental health. I left the field of early education, which I had long outgrown, and became a recovery coach. It was embracing all pathways to recovery and deciding it is okay if not everyone agrees with me, I am my own person and I get to forge my own path.
Year Three also saw my son getting extremely sick but he was with me when it happened. I knew what to do and I did it. I refused to leave the hospital and trusted my gut; and that act of trusting myself and refusing to give up on him like I had refused to give up on myself three years earlier, helped him recover faster. It also made me see that I can trust myself. I am no longer "that mom." Year Three also brought podcasts, public speaking, and owning my story. I don’t love being the topic of people's gossip, but Year Three I learned to let it roll off my back easier. It was their stuff, not mine.
Year Three was going rogue and making amends to those I had harmed, even though I hadn't followed the exact protocol to do so. But I did it because I owed apologies and I really wanted to give them. Year Three was losing more people in my life, strengthening relationships with others, and trying to remember that I don't know what I don't know.
Year Four. What will it bring? This isolation with COVID-19 has highlighted a new loneliness that I was unaware I had within me. I am 41 and most of my friends are married. All my siblings are quarantined with their families and I am living with my aging parents. I keep being told how we are all going through our own stuff, everyone is facing their own inner demons, and I know that is true; but for some reason, this is making me feel nervous about the future. I have yet to find a partner and my thoughts just keep coming back to how desperately I don't want to do this alone.
On the other hand, Three Years. I never believed I would make it one year without an inpatient stay, and here I am at three. At one point in my life, stockpiling and hiding vodka made sense but today I stock up on my favorite flavored seltzers and leave them out in the open for anyone in my home to share. I have grown into the Mama I always hoped I would be and I did it without a man supporting me. I have the most supportive family and friends and I am so grateful for that fact, but I know I did the work, I made the choices, and I took every hardship as a pathway to peace.
In the last three years, I have rallied, I have fallen, but I never fail to get back up again. I have changed who I am and how I want to live my life. My values and morals are fundamental to me and I don't allow myself to be pushed around. Well, sometimes, I do. But I know where to turn when I need help with that and it isn't at the bottom of a bottle. I hope Year Four brings real love, more healing, and being able to witness the good fortune come to fruition for everyone I love. So, Year Four here we come…let's see what it brings.
When I made the decision to end my life, I felt that I would be alleviating the world of all the trouble I had caused. My alcoholism, refusal to take my mental health seriously, the pain, so many people felt about the safety and well-being of my son. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Waking up in the ER, my first thought was, "Why"? I wanted to save the world from me and all the pain that came along with knowing me. What never crossed my mind was the pain that would have been felt in my absence. The hollow space that would have still taken a seat at the holiday dinner table, the conversations that would have brought tears to people's eyes, and the anger that would have been felt because I never really said why. My note was small and directed to two people. No explanation, no reason, just a tiny letter to say I was sorry for all I had done.
I know my why today. Why? I have work to do on this planet, and I have people that love me and need me. I have a young child that needs his mother and to know she is a fighter and brave. I had relationships to repair, and I have been given a chance to do so. I had roads to clear, cobwebs in my brain to sort out, and I had a passion that I never knew I had in my belly.
My child will see his mother graduate college in May and see her go on to grad school. My parents will see the same and will feel proud that their daughter worked to correct the course of her life. I have brothers and a sister; nieces and nephews; that need my snarky demeanor and my motherly hugs. And my friends. My lovely, beautiful friends. I would have left this Earth before my time, and I would have robbed them, and myself, of what is to come.
My son is why I am still here. My family and friends are why I am still here. The other moms that have mental health diagnosis and addiction struggles are why I am still here. To break stigma and stand-up to adversity is why I am still here. And, for myself. I want to be here today, and I would feel robbed if my life ended before I see what's to come.
Survival has brought me joy, understanding that sometimes there will be pain and anguish; other days, there will be endless sunlight. It has brought me hope and bravery and the ability to repair things that I thought I had lost forever. It brought me to This Is My Brave. I am here because I am supposed to be, and I am the luckiest person I know. Being here matters, and I hope everyone finds their way of seeing why they need to be here.
Beth Starck-Mother Goose.
Motherhood and Madness: My experience with Postpartum and Addiction
Imagine you are a new mom. All you ever wanted was a baby. It was literally the only thing you wanted in life, was to be a mother. Well, also get married and fall in love. But you get lucky enough to have those two things and then comes the pee stick telling you are going to be a mother. It is a feeling of elation, joy, and sheer happiness. He or she will complete me. He or she will help me stop drinking. I will get better for the baby.
Then imagine you have the world’s most perfect baby. He never cries unless hungry or tired. He gets double ear infections and you don’t even realize because he never cries. All everyone says is how amazing your baby is. You are the luckiest person alive.
Then one day you are driving back from a family vacation and you can’t stop crying. You will be alone with the baby. All day. His dad will go back to work, everyone has their own lives and can’t sit with you, and you can tell you are not feeling right.
It was during this vacation, and the weeks previous, that your “dry” spell had worn off. You aren’t breast-feeding, you can drink because everyone does, and it takes the edge off. But you have no idea of how addiction works, so you did not realize that you re-activated the reward system in your brain, and you will slowly lose it all.
The thing is…you have the perfect baby! So, how can that be? I mean, if life is a lifetime movie postpartum means you want to hurt your baby. If you aren’t elated and over the moon over this perfect baby, you must be the worst person on the planet. Seriously, the worst. He makes everyone happy, why can’t he make you happy? What is wrong with you that you are not over-flowing with gratitude and kissing the rings of every person who contributed to this child coming to fruition?
I can tell you why….postpartum does not look like what is showcased on the television or the movies. It is the four S’s; shame, secrecy, suffering, and silence. It can be hating yourself, not knowing how to ask for help, and the feeling that you are an epic failure. A failure all around. A term used so lovingly on me just over a year ago. Postpartum is hell.
Add a little sprinkle of addiction, a side of bipolar, and you have the recipe for living hell. This is my story of hell; losing my marriage, my home, and partial custody of my son. This is a suicide attempt, rehab, 5 in-patients, and 8 out-patients. But the ending is so sweet. Two and a half years sober, custody of my son, featured storyteller for This Is My Brave, and starting my crusade to spread awareness and hope.