I’m not quite sure where to begin so I’ll start by saying, my child was toddler age and I was in an unhealthy marriage. I was under enormous pressure and felt like I needed to be perfect. The perfect wife, mother, friend, sister, aunt. I didn’t know what to do. So, I did everything in my power to not have to go home. I enrolled my daughter in dancing school, signed up for Mommy and Me classes, and visited family.
I remember talking to friends and hearing them say they took tranquilizers to help them with stress. They took the edge off, they said. “It helps you deal,” one friend said. So, I made an appointment with my doctor and told him what was going on in my life. He prescribed me Xanax ⎼ one pill four times a day. And that’s how my love affair started.
You see, Xanax let me get through the day. I would get up in the morning and take my prescription. I would take another one in the afternoon to continue with my day. I’d take my daughter to her activities, socialize with friends, and continue to move forward, all while numbing the pain of what was really occurring in my life. By the time I had to cook dinner, I’d think, “oh, it’s time for another Xanax.” So there I was, on my third Xanax, cooking dinner and having a glass of wine. I realized that adding a glass of wine really helped to take the edge off. Dinner times were so easy to get through. The Xanax and wine combination made it possible for me not to deal with my marriage and the real problems I was having. After putting my daughter to sleep, I would take another Xanax and go to bed. This was my routine for five years. Then one day I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning and found out I needed three root canals. I got them done and left with a prescription for Percocet to manage the pain.
I started taking four Xanax a day and one Percocet every four to six hours. They not only took the physical pain away but also the emotional pain and buried it so deep that I never needed to visit it. After feeling this incredible euphoria, I was hooked on this Xanax and Percocet cocktail. It enabled me to stay in my marriage, go to work, raise my child and live my life ⎼ or so I thought.
Fast forward six years, I was trying to balance running the house, working, and raising my daughter, all while doing my best to avoid the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. I was no longer taking my pills as prescribed. I was taking them as my body needed them, just so I could make it through the day. And yes, the night too. When you’re addicted to opiates, your body wakes you up in the middle of the night to let you know it needs to be fed. It won’t let you sleep otherwise. To avoid withdrawal, I had to make sure my supply never ran out. I would doctor shop ⎼ see doctors in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Avoiding withdrawal became my job, and it was exhausting.
One week, I didn’t do my job very well, and I ran out of pills. I started to go into withdrawal. You see, I didn’t have a dealer. I didn’t buy pills on the street. After all, that’s what drug addicts did, and I wasn’t a drug addict ⎼ at least that’s what I told myself. I knew I needed help, but I was so afraid of being labeled. Afraid of what people would say and think of me. Afraid of being hated or not accepted. I was a suburban housewife and mother, the chairperson of the Halloween fair at my daughter’s school, the Girl Scout troop leader, the class mother. I wasn’t a bad person. I’d later learn that while I wasn’t a bad person, I was a sick person who didn’t know how to ask for help.
I found that alcohol – a lot of alcohol – helped me manage my withdrawal symptoms. But eventually I passed out. I woke up to banging on my house door, red lights flashing and sirens sounding outside. My family and friends had tried to reach me and couldn’t. They thought something had happened to me and called the cops. That was my moment. My life had come to a screeching halt. I was taken to the hospital, then brought to another facility and put in the psych ward, where I stayed for 3 days. There, I was given the opportunity to go to a detox and then a 30- day program. I accepted and welcomed the opportunity.
Today, I celebrate 15 years in long-term recovery. I am thriving. I am also that person I was looking for when I came out of treatment. I am a Recovery Coach. I help others transition into living life on life’s terms. I have learned a lot throughout my recovery journey as well as my experience as a recovery coach. These are some tips I would like to share to help other moms who are struggling to get the help they need.
Build a Strong Support System
Surrounding yourself with other moms who are healing from substance use is crucial to building a solid foundation for recovery. The toll that substance use has on us and our families is devastating. Only another mom can truly understand the pain and challenges. Most women are great at offering assistance but find it difficult to ask for help. Unresolved shame is a significant issue. Moms tend to think we should have everything put together. We are afraid of letting others know our insecurities and failures. Throughout my journey, other moms have shared that it is okay to be vulnerable, to share insecurities, and to work through the hidden secrets of shame. Revealing myself without being judged by these women was truly the beginning of my healing. Moms build an unshakable foundation by going to meetings, making calls, reaching out to other women, and socializing with others on the journey of recovery. This creates long-lasting friendships and empowers moms so they never have to feel alone. This is sustainable recovery.
Let Go of Resentment
Resentment can be a killer for those struggling with substance use disorder. Holding on to bitterness keeps us sick and holds us hostage and stuck in victim mode. Letting go of resentments and learning to deal with anger in healthy ways is a critical part of healing from this disease of addiction. Moms in long-term recovery have learned how to process anger. They don’t blame others or play the victim. Instead, they have learned how to be assertive without being aggressive. What I’ve learned and tell my clients is to pause when they’re angry or feeling uncomfortable. To step back, breathe, be mindful of their feelings and look at the role they may have played in the situation before reacting. Doing this helps them “respond” and not “react.” Learning to use these tools helped me tremendously.
Establish a Daily Spiritual Practice
Here’s what I know for sure: addiction darkens our spirit. Folks who are flourishing in recovery have some type of a daily spiritual practice. Spirituality means different things to different people. It is important to find a spiritual community, as well as what gives you joy, and do it! Here are some of the spiritual practices I have found extremely helpful in recovery.
- Reflection: Unplug from the world. Put down the cell phone, pick up a pen and paper, and write down your feelings, emotions, goals, or what you’re grateful for.
- Meditation: Take a moment to let your mind unwind from the stresses of every day life.
- Prayer: Find your higher power. It does not have to be religion based. Your higher power can be anything that keeps you grounded, such as nature or your community. Feeling part of something greater allows you to stay connected to what is important.
- Volunteer: Find opportunities to give back to others in your community. Helping others gives you a sense of purpose as well as increases feelings of self-worth and strengthens your sense of community.
An important part of healing for moms is learning how to take care of themselves. In long-term recovery, I have learned to slow down and take time for myself. The acronym HALT – hungry, angry, lonely or tired – is always a reminder for me to check in with myself. I tell my clients to be vigilant if they are experiencing any of these signs and to be aware of how they are feeling and why. Remedies that worked for me include:
- Taking a nap
- Going for a walk
- Spending time in nature
- Trying a new hobby
- Binge-watching Netflix (I’ve done this a lot)
- Spending time with friends and family
The road to recovery is not easy but it is worth it. No matter what, don’t drink or pick up your drug of use. Reach out for help instead. There is a recovery community of moms out here that can help and understand; all you need to do is ask.