It’s only hindsight that allows me to view this day as a good one. It was April 7, 2010, and the day started like any other for me. I woke up, swallowed a handful of pills, enough to get me going, and began getting the kids ready for school. I believe I was able to get my daughter to her middle school before it all went bad.
This wasn’t the first time my husband or I had overdosed. It wasn’t even the second time. It had happened so many times before this day that I’d lost count. The next thing I knew, an ambulance was there, and on this occasion, the police and CPS (child protective services) were also called. I don’t remember a lot of what happened that day. It’s mostly a blur of questions I was too high to answer, and intense sadness when the kids were removed.
We were lucky, which sounds strange considering the serious situation we were in. My in-laws had been fostering my brother-in-law’s kids, which meant they were set up to take my kids right away. They didn’t have to stay at Child Haven, a temporary place for kids before they go to foster care, for any length of time. My husband and I went through the motions those first few days. I cried all the time. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact they were gone. It’s amazing the lack of self-awareness I had back then. How dare they take my kids from me? I was a good parent…except for the drug problem, but otherwise I was doing a great job. We were assigned someone to help us through the process. They outlined steps we needed to take to get the kids back. The number one thing we had to do was stop using drugs.
Drug addiction is a tricky thing. While you are in active addiction, you lack the ability to stop. It’s a difficult concept if you’ve never dealt with it yourself. I wanted to stop for a long time. We went to 12-step meetings and we “tried.” The truth is that having my kids taken away was not enough to make me stop. This actually helped things spiral for quite a while afterwards. Depression set in even further, and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I felt stuck in a cycle of using, going to work, and using some more. For decoration, I would sprinkle in some visits with the kids and some 12-step meetings. I was addicted to opioids, muscle relaxers, and Xanax so I had the ability to appear normal occasionally. It didn’t hurt that I was using drugs that were considered acceptable by society. It’s a lot easier to justify your actions when your addiction begins inside a doctor’s office with a prescription pad.
Lost is the best way to describe how I felt with my kids gone. On the one hand, I’m a mom, and I’m supposed to want to parent my children. I know I love them, but at the time, I couldn’t find the will to do what I needed to get them back. It’s strange to go from giving birth and knowing you would do anything for your kids to being at the point where you will do anything except stop taking drugs.
Imagine being so dependent on a drug that you won’t stop using even though you know it’s hurting your kids and everyone who loves you. You are willing to lie and do whatever it takes to keep using.
The addiction began innocently enough. I had back problems after I had my youngest, who was days away from turning five at the time we lost custody. My doctor prescribed opioids and muscle relaxers for the pain. It didn’t take long for this to completely consume my life. My habit involved doctor shopping and buying pills off the street. I was thoroughly convinced that my pain was so severe that I needed these drugs to make it through the day.
Despite my half-assed attempts at killing myself through my drug use, I entered rehab in July of 2010. The day I was rescued from my insanity, I was high, home alone, and wouldn’t answer the door. My sister broke in through my laundry room window to get to me. I can’t imagine how scared she must have been, not knowing if I would be alive when she found me. She called my grandparents, and they got me into rehab.
This whole experience was strange for my family. While they knew I was out of control, they didn’t really get it. I come from an average middle-class family. They are all fairly “normal” by most people’s standards. They didn’t understand the obsession and compulsion that fueled me. They didn’t understand that when I was caught in the grip of my addiction, I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.
Rehab went pretty well. The structure was good for me. It allowed me the time my body and mind needed to detox from the drugs. The cravings were there, but I was involved in classes and 12-step meetings and I was on to a new way of life.
I wish I could say that I stayed clean out of rehab. Sadly, I can’t. I still thought there was a chance I could successfully take pills. It made no sense since I was still in the middle of my case plan with CPS, trying to get my kids back. Taking any kind of narcotic would be a setback for me. That Christmas ended up being especially difficult because I started drinking heavily. Drinking really wasn’t my thing, until it was. I was a pill user, not an alcoholic, so I figured things would be okay. They tell you in treatment that you need to stop all drugs and alcohol. Complete abstinence is the way to recovery. My ego wouldn’t let me believe that. I was different. I could drink responsibly to take the edge off.
Spoiler alert: I could not. I began drinking all the time, late at night, early morning, throughout the day and at work. It became quickly obvious that I had no control over any substance that I tried to use.
On January 4, 2011, I didn’t use drugs or alcohol, and I managed to stay sober the next day and the day after. I can’t say what made that day any different from the days that preceded it. I was still just as hopeless as I had been before, and in some ways, I may have been even more hopeless. My husband and I had separated, and we were working separately to try to get our kids back. He was ahead of me since he was doing what he needed to for his program and I’d relapsed.
When you are in treatment, there are so many clichés. I was finally tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of doing the work it took to get drunk or high and go about the rest of my life as if I wasn’t drunk and high. I couldn’t stop for my kids or my family or any other person in my life, and I finally decided I should try to quit for myself. Was I worth it? Did I deserve to live? Would I be able to live with the choices I had made?
It turns out the answers to those questions is yes. I am worth it. I am enough. I have come a long way from the dark place I used to live. If I don’t do the work to stay clean, I will use drugs again. I am no longer confused about that. I had to build a life worth living. I used drugs to change the way I felt. The truth of it is, no matter how many drugs or how much alcohol I poured on a situation, it was never enough. It never filled that hole inside. In addition to recovery, I found therapy as an outlet and a way to heal.
On November 15, 2011, my husband, the father of my children, lost his battle with drug addiction. His death was surreal. We weren’t together when he died, but that didn’t stop it from being an incredibly painful and life changing experience for me. At this point, I had been drug-free for 10 months. Not a long time in the grand scheme of things. At the time, I didn’t think it was long enough to be able to deal with such a devastating situation. The only thing I knew for sure was that using drugs wouldn’t make things any better. Hurting myself wouldn’t bring him back. I was able to be there for my kids in a real and meaningful way. We would be able to get through this together.
In January 2012, I regained custody of my kids. My relationships with them continued to improve. I’m sure they were hesitant at first. I can’t blame them; I wouldn’t have trusted me either. I had to show them things were different in order for them to believe it. The path to the forgiveness I was seeking was long and difficult. The older two know that I chose drugs over them. It was important for me to acknowledge that, because while it may not have been a choice for me, this was their reality. My choices affected their childhood and their sense of safety in a profound way, and I don’t get to tell them how to feel about that. Kids are resilient, and they have been able to forgive me and move on. The older two are adults now, and I have strong relationships with both. My youngest was affected the least because he was so young. I am happy to say he probably doesn’t remember much about those days, and most of his memories are of me clean.
In January of this year, I celebrated nine years drug- and alcohol-free. In the beginning, I didn’t believe this was possible. Turns out, life isn’t all that bad. I’m the mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and co-worker I always wanted to be. I show up for the people I love, and not a day goes by that my kids don’t know how much I love them.
The road may be difficult at times, but those difficulties pale in comparison to how things were in the past. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and there are no accidents. I know the journey toward my recovery began on that awful day when my kids were removed, and for that reason, I now look at that as the day that saved my life.
If you are struggling with addiction, there is help out there. Whether the solution is treatment or 12-step meetings, find someone to talk to and begin the road to recovery. You are worth it.