I grew up in Saugus, Massachusetts. To the average outsider, we appear to be a small, quaint town. My parents moved us to Saugus from Lynn because they thought it would be a better place to raise us. But, as the saying goes, “no matter where you go, there you are”. We could have moved to Beverly Hills and the outcome would have been the same.
My parents were great people and they did the best they knew how to do. They both struggled with their own demons, which forced me to be independent at a very young age. Even before the drugs came into my life, I felt like there was something missing. At the time, I couldn’t say I had a spiritual void because I didn’t even know what that meant. I couldn’t identify that I was empty and discontent. I was always looking around the corner for something bigger and better and more exciting and dangerous. Although these parts of a child can be guided and used for good, I found everything I thought I needed by escaping myself with substances. By the time I started using, it seemed like the natural thing to do. I felt I was finally home. I could no longer live without that feeling, and I had no regard for the cost. The price was the pain and destruction I left in my wake.
At some point in my young life I’d been told to “never do drugs”, but the warning didn’t mean much due to what I saw happening around me. I really believed that drugs were a reward for living responsibly. I showed up to school, I was a cheerleader, I had a part time job in High School, and I was even Prom Queen at my Junior Prom. I thought that as long as it looked like I had it all together, it must mean that I did.
My mother got sober when I was eighteen and a year later my father died as a result of this disease. As I watched my mom get sober, I couldn’t really grasp what was going on. She wasn’t putting up with me anymore and I felt nothing but anger and resentment. My state of mind clouded my ability to see the correlation between my drug use and its consequences, one of many being that I was no longer welcome in my mother’s home. At this time my addiction got deeper and truly took on a life of its own. I slept outside and in shelters. Back in the early 2000’s, the opiates had slammed my community and all the surrounding towns. Everyone I knew was in the same boat as me. Some of us didn’t make it out alive.
I dragged myself to treatment at twenty-one. I stayed clean for almost five years. The foundation of my recovery was built on material possessions and financial success. Looking at that time in hindsight, I really thought that if I got life “right”, I would be okay. That meant having a good job, a nice car, and being in a relationship…all the normal things that people want. But that wasn’t enough for me. What I didn’t know was the “void” was still there, and I was filling it with cars, clothes, and relationships. I put all those things before my recovery. When we put recovering on the back burner, we lose everything we put before it. I resented my disease; it doomed me to church basements far away from all my fun, normal friends. I felt like I was being robbed of something as simple as a glass of wine with the girls. For me, it’s not simple. We aren’t “normal” people. That glass of wine turned into a three year relapse. I lost my job and everything else. I destroyed my life once again.
During this relapse, I got pregnant with my son. I never thought I would use as a mother. I got clean when my son was eleven months old.
I have been clean for over five years now. I finally used my powers for good. I went back to Nursing school and became an RN. I always wanted to continue on with my education and recovery has allowed me to do that. I can only hope to decrease the gap between addicts and medical providers; I want to help them see past the addict and see a person. I also started my own business servicing women suffering from addiction in my local community. In addition, I work with an all star team as a Nurse Case Manger at the Process Recovery Center.
Today, my recovery is built on a spiritual foundation. I focus on paying attention to what I need to do to be a better person and to help others like me. I’ve gotten back a lot of material possessions but those outside things aren’t what keep me happy and content. If somebody came and took my car or my house, it would be tough, but it would just be a circumstance. When I was clean before, my happiness depended on the things that were going on around me. My life is good, not because of the car I drive, but due to my spiritual condition.
I have three children now. I had a lot of shame around the fact that I used as a mom. I found a lot of power in telling the truth about how I was feeling. I was able to say to other parents: “I don’t feel like a mom. I don’t feel connected to my child because I’ve been using”. I drew a lot of hope from knowing that other parents had been there before and then seeing them be able to be connected to their kids and be a good parent. I held on to that hope. I was able to feel shameful but I didn’t carry that as my identity. I just got up every day and did the best I could, and the more I did that, the better I felt. The further I got away from the last day I used, the more I felt like a mom. Other parents who don’t suffer from addiction are not their best every single day. And it’s okay. Being a child of an addict and also a mother in recovery, I know that doing my best is enough.
I never had the legal system imposed on me but I do work with a lot of women who do. Sometimes I want to say to the people assigned to their case: “If you had a mom who was getting chemotherapy in a hospital bed, you would not have anything to say about her lack of parenting. You would know she loves her child and you wouldn’t question it. Like somebody who has cancer, people who are in active addiction are incapable of taking care of themselves. For somebody who has been in those shoes before, it’s just like cancer. It’s a cancer of the mind. It’s a cancer of the soul.
Unfortunately, the disease that we suffer from puts other people at risk. We dislike it as much as you do. I don’t think enough people understand that addiction is not a choice. I think society and families get frustrated with addicts who get offered help and don’t necessarily take it. But I know that every time they set foot in treatment, they’re building on that foundation. Every time I went into a detox – which was a lot, – I built on that foundation. Working at the Process Recovery Center, I see people who come back one, two, or three times. I see the difference in them each time they come through those doors. Even though they used, I see a deeper level of understanding about what they’re suffering from.
No matter how bad it gets, never stop fighting. Keep showing up. Nobody ever told me I didn’t have to listen to the negative thoughts in my mind. In early recovery, people forget that the mind is going to tell you that you want to use even when you don’t. Be a watcher of the mind and don’t participate in it. Let people help you, be as open minded as you can…… even when you don’t want to be. Always tell the truth about what you’re thinking. One thing that has kept me in a good place is constantly telling the truth about what my mind is saying to me. It has kept me safe and connected to the people that can help me.