2019: the greatest, most life changing year of my life.
On December 30th of 2018 I got high for the very last time. I woke up on December 31st and decided it was time to start fighting for myself again. I wanted 2019 to be a year where I never touched a drug, little did I know that 2019 would lead to so much more.
I worked extra hard, both in therapy and on my own, to learn what my triggers are and how to cope with them. Then on March 8th, just a little over two months after getting clean, I found out that I was pregnant and my whole life changed in an instant. At a time when it should have felt the opposite my entire world immediately felt at peace (hence the name Paxton meaning “peace town”). I knew that being pregnant while in recovery would mean having to work twice as hard because my life was no longer just about me. And it was hard. Just because I was pregnant didn’t mean that the cravings/urges went away, but it did mean that I now had two reasons to fight hard: for myself and for him. I continued therapy twice a week my entire pregnancy, not because I needed to but because it’s my favorite form of self love. I focused on bettering my mental health, I re-enrolled in school and graduated from college, and worked 4 jobs at one time. I focused completely on myself so that I could shift my focus to be completely on him once he was born. I busted my butt as a single mom to provide everything he could possibly need to give him the life he deserved. I truly made myself proud throughout my entire pregnancy.
While I was pregnant I was told that because of my past I might “not be a good mom.” I got in my car and bawled after those words were spoken over me, who wouldn’t? I let myself feel that pain for a couple minutes, then I reminded myself that I’m a badass because I fought for recovery instead of a life of addiction. I took something that was literally trying to take my life and I turned it into something that made me a warrior. That doesn’t make me less than or unfit to be a mom. Actually you know what? I think my past makes me an even better mom. Being a mom in recovery forces me to be more self-aware and extremely diligent in everything I do. It has challenged me to eliminate all toxic elements, including people, from my life so that I can give Pax the best possible atmosphere to grow up in. It has taught me to set boundaries and the importance of keeping them in place even when it’s hard. Being a mom in recovery reminds me that I’m strong and brave and capable and it has shaped me to be EXACTLY who Paxton needs.
Paxton has never known a world where I was on drugs, and I promise that he never will. For the rest of my life I will wake up and fight because that is what he deserves, and it’s what I deserve too. So here’s to one year + a lifetime of FREEDOM!
(Ps for the judgmental folk: I was clean two months before I got pregnant. I never did drugs or drank while pregnant.)
***I feel like I need to do a little disclaimer before you read this post. If you have never experienced postpartum depression (or loved someone with postpartum depression) some of the things talked about in this post will be unfathomable to you. Please try to have an open mind and to not judge, being honest about motherhood is hard enough without being shamed for being human.***
Before I had Paxton someone said to me, “With your mental health you might not be a good mom.” That person clearly knew nothing about mental health or motherhood, so I tried to give them some grace. But to be honest, I got in my car and bawled my eyes out after those words were spoken. For a moment I let those words take control of my mind and heart. Who wouldn’t? From the time I first found out I was pregnant the thought of “What if I’m not good enough?” has been circling my head. Every mom has that thought but for me it’s a little different, a little more extreme. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few months back, and I’m a recovering drug addict. How could I possibly be a good mom?
I dwelled on that question for a bit, and then I challenged myself to reframe it. How can my mental health, along with my past experiences, help me be a good mom? That’s right, all those years of struggling will actually help me be the best mom possible for my son. Because out of struggle comes strength, and that is exactly what I am: STRONG. First and foremost I had to remind myself that I can be strong and struggle simultaneously. I also had to remind myself that my mental health does not make me a bad person, and neither does my recovery. Let me repeat it, MENTAL HEALTH DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON.
However, because of my history I knew that I would need to have a good plan in place as I entered into the postpartum period. While I was pregnant I spent hours every week with my therapist preparing for the 1 in 5 chance that I would be diagnosed with a postpartum disorder. For me this meant maintaining my regular sessions with my therapist, finding a postpartum-specific therapist just in case, learning new coping mechanisms, and compiling a list of people to reach out to in time of need. Before having Paxton I felt like I was completely prepared for what was to come, and in a lot of ways I was. But, quite honestly, I’m not sure that you can every be fully prepared for the unknown that is postpartum.
Aside from becoming a single mom and all the trials and anxieties that came along with that, my pregnancy was a dream. I was the happiest I have ever been in my entire life thanks to all of the good pregnancy hormones. Then when I had Paxton my entire world changed for the better. I was exhausted and would get overwhelmed easily, but other than that I would say my first two months home were so good. I had visitors coming all the time, I was trying to soak in every last newborn cuddle, and I was just so in love with my son. I loved being a mom and I finally felt like I had found my purpose.
Then when Paxton was about 2.5 months old postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks, although at the time I didn’t recognize that that’s. What was happening. I went from over-the-moon in love to overwhelmed to uncontrollably sobbing to extremely angry (nobody tells you about postpartum rage, it’s a real thing) within a matter of minutes, and it seemed as if the happy moments were few and far between. It was terrifying and exhausting, but I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed that every knew mom felt this way and that it was completely normal. It wasn’t until my son was 3 months old and I was sobbing on my bathroom floor, wondering what my life had come to, that I realized maybe what I was feeling wasn’t normal anymore. I suddenly felt like the connection I had with my son was gone, like nothing I was doing was right, and that I was failing at being a mom. As a new mom it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, some anxiety, and even a little sad from time to time. What is not normal is to be paralyzed by your emotions, to feel like you can’t go on, or to hate your life. Those feelings are not normal, but they are common and they do NOT make you a bad person or a bad mom. They just mean that you need a little extra help regulating the hormones that are causing them, and that is perfectly okay.
When I first realized what was going on I was ashamed of what I was feeling. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t loving being a mom or that I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore so I kept it inside and let this turmoil build inside me until he was 4 months old. The financial stress of being a single mom had sent me over the edge, and I spent the next 3 days crying and having panic attacks all while still managing to take care of my son. On the first night of my meltdown I texted my mom and all it read was, “Being a mom is so hard.” So she spent the next two nights sleeping on the couch with me making it known that I wasn’t alone. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. I realized that I needed help so I reached out to my therapist, my psychiatrist, my midwife, and a couple of other people to let them know what was going on. I upped my therapy sessions to multiple times a week, I vocalized what I was feeling, and I went back on medication.
Paxton is now ten months old and I feel like I am finally starting to feel normal again. I have put in a lot of work the past couple of months to make sure that I am the healthiest version of myself possible. I began working out daily, taking time for myself, and even started a new job. My love for being a mom is resurfacing and it feels like there is finally some sunshine back in my life. I still have my hard days, but the bad doesn’t outweigh the good anymore and that was my ultimate goal. Today I am strong, I am brave, and I am capable. Today I am also overwhelmed, I am exhausted, and I am full of emotion. And today I am a damn good mom, mental health, feelings, and all. Moms often get shamed for showing any sign of “struggle” when it comes to mental health in motherhood. We get labeled as “bad moms” for being human. Humans feel emotion, it’s what we’re designed to do and it’s not something that anybody should ever be shamed for.
So to the mom who’s struggling right now, I see you. I see you having to remind yourself to take deep breaths, I see you having that panic attack in the bathroom, I see you crying yourself to sleep, I see you feeling alone in a room full of people, I see you fighting back tears because your child won’t stop crying. I see you because I am you. We’re in this together. And with that being said, if you are struggling and you need someone to talk to my inbox is always open. I will sit with you in whatever way you need so that you feel a little less alone. I will watch your kid(s) so you can have a few hours to yourself. I will make you a meal or vacuum your house if that’s what you need that day. And if you reach a point where you need more professional help than me, I will help you find someone. When I say I’m in this with you, I mean I’m IN THIS WITH YOU – through the good times and the hard. You’ve got this, Mama, and you’re doing a damn good job.
On March 8th, 2019 I sat at my kitchen counter listening to my mom and stepdad talk to my grandpa on speaker phone. He was randomly talking about how he wanted a great grand child, and my parents were shutting that conversation down by gently reminding him that, “none of the girls are old enough or in serious relationships.” After they hung up the phone my mom came over to reiterate the fact that they were not encouraging any of us to have kids any time soon. Little did she know that just a few hours beforehand I had been sitting on the bathroom floor staring at a test with two little pink lines on it. I sat at the kitchen counter for what felt like an eternity and my mom kept saying, “you look like you have something you want to say,” and I just kept giving a shy giggle and replying with, “nope, I’m okay.” I finally broke down and started sobbing, and before I could even tell her why she wrapped her arms around me and just held me. I told her I was pregnant and she held me tighter and whispered that she loved me. At a time that could have been filled with so much confusion and disappointment she filled it with love. In that moment I knew who I wanted to be as a mom, I wanted to be just like her.
Up until the day I found out I was pregnant you have been the most important person in the world to me. Then on March 8th I found out what it means to feel true love, a love that you have always described but that I’ve never quite been able to fathom. I understood in that moment, but I understand deeper now. And I’ll understand even deeper the moment my son is placed in my arms. My little Sweet P has become the most important person in the world to me, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less. In fact, it has made me love you even more in ways I didn’t know possible.
My whole life you’ve been teaching me all the lessons that are most important to you. You’ve taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes but that it’s not okay to let them define you, that rejection does not equate to failure, and that you have to work hard for what you want. You’ve taught me that laughter is truly the best medicine, that dancing is always a good idea, and that there is no such thing as having too much fun. You’ve taught me not to settle for anything less than I deserve, that there’s nothing wrong with being single, and that no man will ever love me more than Jesus does. You’ve taught me that family should always come first, that family isn’t always blood, and that surrounding yourself with a good community is so important. You have taught me how to give grace where grace is to be given, how to seek happiness when happiness is actually a choice, and to love above all else. And I’m realizing now, most importantly, that you’ve taught me what it looks like to be a really, really good mom (whether single or married).
I know I wasn’t always an easy child to raise, I’m sure in many ways I’m still not. And let’s be honest, up until pretty recently I spent most of my time pushing you away instead of pulling you close. But you never pushed back. You’ve loved me through laughter and happiness, true friendships and good relationships, and the best of times. But you’ve also loved me through anxiety and depression, bad relationships and heartbreak, heart wrenching grief, drug addiction and recovery, and through an unplanned pregnancy. You’ve chosen to love me through the good and the bad; not just because you’re my mom but because that’s who you are as a person. You are the kind of person I strive daily to be like.
So thank you for being my confidant, my go-to advice giver (although sometimes unwarranted), my encourager, my source of constant laughter, my favorite lunch date, my number one cheerleader, my best friend, and above all else, my mom.
If I am even half the mom that you are I will have succeeded. And now your role is changing and I can’t wait to watch you be the best grandma in the world. I love you, mom.
The course my life has taken has made me realize the importance of healthy boundaries and lately those boundaries have been so heavy on my heart. I am a people pleaser by nature and I often have a hard time holding to my boundaries because I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I have learned that I have to put my happiness, and especially my recovery, first so that everything I love doesn’t have to come last.
Boundaries aren’t set in place to change someone else, they’re created to help allow you to be the healthiest version of yourself. You’re changing yourself every time you set a boundary and that’s why they’re often so hard to keep. It’s also why they are so important.
Odds are my boundaries, and how I keep them in place, are a lot different than yours. I have fought too damn hard for my recovery to allow anyone or anything in my life that may alter that. For me that means holding firm in where I spend my time, what activities I engage in, and who I surround myself with. As a soon-to-be mom I have a whole new set of boundaries that need to be put into place. Like who I allow around my child and making sure that others respect the decisions I make for him (ie feeding, sleeping, touching, etc). And I know I can not be in recovery or be a good mom if I don’t have my happiness, and for me that means putting myself and my self care first. That looks like taking time in my day to just be, going to therapy regularly, and removing anything/anyone who takes away from my joy no matter what. Boundaries are hard. Really, really hard. But they’re too important not to discuss.
Here are some things I have learned about boundaries along the way that I feel are worth sharing:
1.) Never feel bad for setting boundaries that may upset other people. It’s not selfish to put yourself first (in a healthy way), it’s necessary.
2.) You are not responsible for other people’s happiness, you are only responsible for yours. However, this is not a license to be disrespectful. Be considerate, always.
3.) The only people who get upset when you set boundaries are those who benefited from you not having any. Don’t let them get to you.
4.) “No.” is a full sentence. End of story.
5.) “But they’re family” is not a valid excuse. Family can sometimes be harmful, and it’s okay to set boundaries with those in your inner circle.
6.) It’s pointless to set boundaries if you can’t stick to them. It’s easy to feel bad for doing what’s best for you, especially when others don’t understand it. Don’t give in, you know you best.
7.) Evolving involves eliminating. This isn’t a bad thing. You’re constantly growing and sometimes you outgrow things and people. Let it happen.
8.) You can be empathetic and still set boundaries. You can be compassionate and still set boundaries. You can care about someone deeply and still set boundaries. Boundaries aren’t negative.
9.) Pay attention to the people who honor your boundaries as much as you pay attention to the people who ignore them.
10.) Sometimes the person you need to set boundaries with is yourself. Be gentle.
Be brave enough to find the life you want and courageous enough to chase it. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you, and know how to set boundaries that will make you the happiest, healthiest version of yourself possible. You get one life, please take full advantage of it.
It’s the middle of the night, I’m almost 31 weeks pregnant, and I’m writing you this letter because I am suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I was chosen for you. I’m 22 years old, single, and often feel as though I’m not ready for a role as important as being your mom. But then I take a step back and I look at all the ways I have already been the best mom possible to you despite the fact that I haven’t even met you yet. That’s because I fell in love with you from the moment I knew you existed, and in that moment I changed for the better.
The past 7 months I have fought harder for myself than I ever have before. I have spent approximately 60 hours in therapy strengthening my mental health, been extra aware of my recovery eliminating people and places that may have even the slightest bit of a negative presence, and I have been focusing on nothing but my happiness. You see my mental health, my recovery, and my happiness have to come first so that you never have to come last. And that’s a promise I plan to keep because you have changed my world in a way that nobody else ever could. You are my peace after the most consuming, chaotic storm of my life, and for you I am eternally grateful.
I have experienced a lot of life in my 22 years. A lot of life means a lot of life lessons, a lot of learning, and a whole lot of growing. Every single thing I have learned in this life has equipped me to be your mom, and as your mom there are a million things that I will teach you and a million promises that I intend to keep. These are the top ten things that I have learned that I hope to pass on to you so that together we can change this world.
Mental health matters. Mine, yours, everyone’s. I really don’t even like the term mental health, the world has given it such a negative connotation, but for lack of a better term I’m going to stick with it. To me your mental health is just as important as your physical health. I hope that you are able to come to me and say, “Mom, today I’m having a hard time” just as easily as you would come to me and say, “Mom, my stomach hurts.” And then together I hope we can talk about, process, and learn from the feelings you’re experiencing. And (God forbid) if you’re ever hurting so deeply that you think this world is not for you, I will be here to remind you that there is something for you out there in this life. I will walk by your side until you find what that something is, because you are my something. I promise to never shame you for anything related to your mental health, no matter what.
Emotions are good. Sometimes life will be overwhelming and you’ll experience big emotions. If you can allow yourself to feel, process, and learn from those emotions I promise you there is nothing in this life you won’t be able to handle. I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to hide your emotions from me, just like I don’t want to have to hide my emotions from you. I want you to see me cry, I want you to know that life gets hard sometimes. I want you to be able to say, “mom, I need you to love me a little louder today,” and I want to be able to do just that. I promise to always be there for you whenever you need it, without judgment. Oh, and son, it’s more than okay to cry.
Therapy is for the brave. My entire life I refused to go to therapy because I thought it was for the weak, that if you went to therapy it was because there was something wrong with you. It wasn’t until your grandma forced me into Elizabeth’s office that I realized how wrong I was. Elizabeth (I’m using her first name because by the time you’ll be able to read this letter you’ll know her well) showed me that it’s possible to struggle and still love life. Now I go to therapy because I want to and it betters my soul, not because I have to. Therapy is for the brave; it’s for those who want to live their best life possible. So you and I, we do therapy. We do talking, we do feeling, we do processing, we do growing, and we do living. I promise to put in every effort possible so that you know that you are always supported.
Be gentle with yourself. This is a quote Elizabeth says to me often and a mantra that I choose to live by. Being gentle with yourself means being patient with yourself, showing yourself compassion, knowing your limits, setting boundaries, and taking time to practice self-love. It is almost impossible to be genuinely gentle with others if you aren’t gentle with yourself. I promise to always demonstrate being gentle with myself so that I can always be gentle with you.
Fight for yourself always. A complete stranger at the hardest, lowest point in my life whispered those words in my ear. They are the four words that saved me and gave me a second chance to be here today. Fighting for yourself means knowing who you are, knowing your worth, and not settling for anything less than what you deserve. But fighting for yourself doesn’t mean that you are fighting alone, you have a whole army behind you because you are worth fighting for. I promise to always fight for myself so that I can always fight for you.
Know that you are enough. This phrase does not mean that you have been measured and judged and that you have earned the label of “enough.” It does not mean that you are flawless or that you don’t make mistakes. It means that you were made to be you, flaws and all, on purpose. There is no mistake in the person that you are, but don’t ever let this phrase get to your head. There is no one in this world that is better than you, but there is also no one that you are better than. Being enough means that you don’t have to strive to become more worthy, more valid, more accepted, or more loved. I promise to never let you forget that you are already all of those things.
Be a walking contradiction. Being a walking contradiction is not an excuse to be inconsistent and all over the place, it simply means you don’t have to try and fit yourself into a box. I hope that you can learn how to be bold but kind, brave but soft, strong but sweet, opinionated but respectful, and confident but humble. Society wants you to think that you have to be this or that, I dare you to try and be both. I promise to accept you for who you are, every piece and part of you.
Being respectful is always the right choice. I could go on and on about this one. But to keep it somewhat short and sweet here are some bullet points:
“No” is a complete sentence. For you and for everyone in your life. It’s your body, you’re in charge of it. You don’t want a hug? Simply say “No.” You don’t want to be tickled? “No.” You don’t want a kiss? “No.” (No thank you works too, just saying). And way, way, way in the future if the person you’re with says the word “no,” (or anything close to it) you stop what you’re doing immediately, no questions asked. Use your voice and use your ears, but remember to be polite.
We don’t say the words “retard/retarded”. We don’t use those words to refer to people with special needs, and we certainly don’t use them as an adjective to describe anything/anyone. If there’s one thing I’m passionate about aside from mental health/addiction, it’s people with special needs. So if I ever hear you say either of those words there will be some serious consequences, this is something I don’t mess around with.
Love is love. I don’t care if someone love girls or they love boys because I personally believe that you love who you love. Whether or not you agree with that statement is completely up to you. Just keep in mind that having your own opinion is not a license to be disrespectful. We support everyone.
Treat others how you want to be treated. This is something that your grandma instilled in me when I was a kid. Treat others how you want to be treated, but don’t expect people to do the same in return. People won’t always be nice to you, be nice anyways.
Demand respect. If you aren’t being respected, speak up. Never be afraid to use your voice, but don’t do it in a way that is harsh or unkind. You deserve respect, too.
I promise to always respect you, even when we may not see eye to eye.
Spread kindness like wildfire. You never know the battles someone else may be facing, and a little kindness can go a long way. This world isn’t always a kind place, but you can always add a little kindness to the world. Be encouraging, be nurturing, be caring, be sympathetic, be understanding, and speak life always. But don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you because of your kind heart. Know the difference between someone needing you and someone using you, sometimes it can be a very hard line to see. I promise to always be kind (even though you may not always see it that way).
You are loved more than you know. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I, without a doubt, have the best village in the entire world. The amount of support you and I have been shown is overwhelming in the best way possible. Your great grandma only refers to you as her “little dude” and is probably the most excited out of everyone. Your grandma and grandpa are head over heals for you. Your aunties and uncles (some blood, some not) are obsessed with you. You already have my friends wrapped around your finger. Even my therapist is thrilled that you are coming into this world. But my love, I promise that no one is ever going to love you more than I do.
My sweet boy, I don’t know what in the world I did right to deserve you. What I do know is that you were sent in to my life at just the right time and that you are here for a purpose. I promise to be the best mom possible for you, to give you the life you deserve, and to never let you go a day without knowing how loved you are. You are the most important thing in the world to me. I can’t wait to see who you are, and to see who I become with you by my side. We’re in this together now and forever. You’ll always be my baby boy.
It was the day before New Years Eve when I decided to get clean. I was desperate for a fresh start and I figured a completely new year was the perfect time. I was convinced that 2019 would be a year where I wouldn’t wait five hours for a dealer to show up, where I wouldn’t touch a needle, where I wouldn’t surrender my life to a drug that was trying to kill me. I was convinced that 2019 would be a year where I would make amends with my family and friends, where I would work my ass off to stay clean, where I would fight for myself. Never in a million years did I think that 2019 would be the year that I would bring life into this world.
“You’re pregnant,” two words I never thought I’d hear just two months after getting clean. Two words that scared the living shit out of me, yet for some strange reason brought me so much peace at the same time. For me, finding out that I was pregnant was like seeing a rainbow after a storm. A sign of hope that I would be okay, that we would be okay. I have always wanted to be a mom, but this is never how I pictured it happening. I always thought I would be older, have a career, be married, and living with the love of my life. Instead I’m barely 22, living with my parents, working at a golf course, and 182 days clean from cocaine and heroin.
So let’s talk about having a baby after addiction. My automatic response was, “I’m not meant to be a mom.” The looks I’ve received from some people after telling them I’m pregnant have had me feeling so down. The people who keep telling me I’m not ready and the ones who keep asking, “Are you sure you can handle this?” have had me crying myself to sleep more nights than not. The shame I feel every time I go to see my midwife and she says, “We need to do a urine sample just to be sure you’re still clean” makes me feel like maybe I’m not cut out to be a mother, maybe it’s too soon after getting clean. I have always been an extremely sensitive person, and all these negative things have been effecting me in ways I never thought possible and have made me question not only who I am as a mom, but who I am as a person as well.
However, the way people’s eyes light up when I say the words, “I’m pregnant” make my heart overflow with joy. The people who congratulate me without judgement are the reason why I have a smile on my face even when it’s hard. The way I feel so proud when my drug test comes back negative every single time reminds me that it’s not too soon after getting clean, it’s the perfect time and another reason to fight for myself. I have worked so hard my entire life, specifically in the past year, to get to where I’m at today. Today I am calm and confident, I have a good head on my shoulders, I know what I deserve and I won’t settle for less, and I love the person I have become. My therapist even jokingly said the other day, “Do you even need to come see me anymore? I’ve never seen you so happy.” (Jokes on her because I’ll be 80 years old and still seeing her becaue it’s my favorite form of self love). But her comment made me realize that I have finally become the person I have always been meant to be.
There’s a lot of negativity that comes along with having a baby after addiction, but the amount of negative will never surpass the amount of positive. To all my supporters and all the people who encourage me everyday, thank you for constantly reminding me that I will be the best mother that I allow myself to be. And to all the moms (and dads) out there, navigating parenthood after addiction, you are a BADASS. Motherhood is hard, I haven’t even held my baby in my arms yet and I already know that. But I also know it is so worth it. I have been given the greatest title in the world, and I promise to never let anything, or anyone, get in the way of me being the best mom that I can be.
One year ago today I woke up in an uncomfortable detox unit bed in a drug rehab facility.
One year ago today I had just finished going through heroin withdrawals.
One year ago today I sat on the hallway floor rocking back and forth, begging to go home.
One year ago today my parents picked me up and I sat silently in the backseat, feeling more embarrassed and ashamed than I ever had in my entire life.
One year ago today I couldn’t bring myself to look my little sisters in the eyes.
One year ago today I laid in my bed wondering how my life had gotten to this point.
One year ago today I thought my entire life was over.
Today I woke up in my own bed and the first thing I saw was the ultrasound of the precious life inside me (oh yeah, I’m having a baby!).I got ready in my sweatpants with draw-strings (if you’ve ever been an addict/been to rehab, it’s kind of a big deal to have clothing with draw-strings).I drove two hours to visit with my sweet friend, the friend who visited me in rehab and has held me accountable (whether I liked it or not), the friend who pours into me the most and who today said yes to being my baby’s God-mother.I left with a full heart and went to Fairfax Hospital, the same rehab center I was discharged from one year ago today.I sat in the same chair I sat in while waiting to be admitted.I was thrown into the biggest hug from my favorite nurse turned friend turned Auntie Cassie to my sweet baby, the nurse who changed my life.I talked with her for a while, and was quickly reminded of just how loved I am.She’s the one who told me to “fight for myself” and a constant reason behind why I am happy to be alive today.I went home and was loved on by my family who chose to love and forgive me even though I gave them every reason not to.
Today I was reminded of all the reasons I have fought so hard for myself this past year.It hasn’t been easy.It’s been painful and heartbreaking.But man, has it been worth it.
“People have a lot to say about lives they’ve never lived.”
When I was being taken back into the detox unit I stayed in the first thing that was said to me was, “You don’t look like an addict, let’s get you help before you do.” Even at an NA meeting I had someone come up to me and because I don’t “look like an addict,” they assumed that I must have been a family member or a friend of an addict; that because I don’t look a certain way I couldn’t possibly be suffering. I get comments like these all the time. All. The. Time. While I understand people are trying to be nice in saying what they’re saying, this comment actually infuriates me because it is placing addicts in a box of what society thinks they should look like. And it makes it harder to recognize those who are suffering who don’t “look” like they’re suffering. It, honestly, has made my recovery harder because I don’t often feel seen or heard.
I recently posted a question on Instagram that asked, “When you hear the word addict, what/who do you think of?” I got a lot of responses: “Dysfunctional. Junkie. Needles. Sadness. Nose bleeds. Ignorant. Piece of shit. Crack whore. Track marks. Crutch. Liar. Alone. Selfish. Weak. Homeless. Strung out. Obsessive. Sick. Death.” All negative. And then one came across my screen that got me thinking. It read, “I think of two types of people, those who have lost their life (physically or mentally) to the disease and those who have fought to find gratefulness and hope to live.” This comment. This is why I fight so hard for the addicts out there, both in recovery and in active addiction. There is hope. There is recovery, if it is wanted. We live in a society that STEREOTYPES addicts like it’s nobody’s business. Most people, who more than likely have never personally been affected by addiction (thank God), have a very clear mental picture of what an addict should look/be like. And I’m guessing that picture entails almost every word that I just listed above. To be completely honest, before addiction touched my life, I got that same picture.
But that picture is not always the case. An addict is not always the homeless person sitting on the street corner. An addict is not always the girl with the messed up teeth. It is not always the guy with all the tattoos to cover up the track marks. It is not always the person you can never count on. It is not always the person asking for money. It simply is not. An addict can be all those people. But an addict is also the person with a steady job. An addict is the person who helped you when you when your hands were full. An addict is the person who smiles at you in the grocery store. The person sitting in church on Sunday mornings. The person always smiling. The easy-going, loving, caring, empathetic person. The person who helps others. The person going to school to get their degree. The person living in a nice home, the person with a loving family. An addict is your peer, maybe your friend even. Me. I am an addict.
I am in NO way, shape, or form trying to glamorize addiction by saying that you can live a “normal” life while using. No, if you’re using life is sad, depressing, excruciating, cruel, lonely, and full of pain, anger, and a hell of a lot of self loathing. What I am trying to say is that addiction and mental illness aren’t always easy to see. Sometimes people who need help look nothing like people who need help. Sometimes it’s the happiest person you know who is barely breathing. Sometimes it’s the person who seems like their life is perfect who is shooting up in the bathroom. Sometimes it’s the person who has been there for everyone else who needs someone to be there for them. Sometimes addiction and mental illnesses are hidden so well that you would never think twice about the fact that maybe, just maybe, that person is suffering.
My whole life has been a silent fight to be okay, and it’s taken me years to be as open and vulnerable as I am now. Only through fighting in silence for so long did I realize that my pain has actually been propelling me into my purpose. And now I feel very passionately that my purpose on this earth is to use my experiences as a catalyst to raise awareness. That I am supposed to use my past to help others. One step at a time, one person at a time, and one day at a time. Addiction and mental illness are all around you. So open your eyes, but more importantly open your heart. Don’t judge. Don’t place blame. Don’t hate. Stop stereotyping. Look. Listen. Help. Love.
Forewarning: this post is going to be really, really sappy. I’m emotional just writing it because my heart is so damn full.
A while ago I was given the opportunity to go back to Fairfax Behavioral Health Hospital to meet with my favorite nurse, Cassie. You’ve heard me talk about her before, and you’re probably going to continue to hear me talk about her for the rest of my life. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I feel like I owe her the world. I’ve been preparing for this meeting for over a month now. Anxiety on anxiety, wanting everything to go perfectly while not even sure that she would remember who I am.
Yesterday the day finally came. I arrived and purposefully sat in the exact same seat I had sat in seven months ago while waiting to be admitted into the detox unit. At that time I was full of anxiety, confused by what my life had come to, and angry at both the world and myself. Yesterday I sat in that same seat but this time full of hope, courage, purpose, and thankfulness. But as I waited my anxiety started to get the best of me. I was playing a scenario over and over in my head that went like this: She would come get me, I would shake her hand and reintroduce myself, and then we’d have some sort of awkward 20 minute conversation followed by the two of us parting ways and never seeing each other again. I could not have been more wrong.
As I sat there getting more and more nervous, she snuck up beside me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry but I literally can’t help it.” So there we both stood, with tears in our eyes and gratitude in our hearts. It was like we were old friends seeing each other after years apart. We sat in a room and talked about life in recovery as well as life in general for well over an hour. I gave her a letter I had written for her that started out by saying, “I couldn’t go the rest of my life living in a world where you didn’t even know I existed when you changed my world so drastically.” Little did I know how drastically I had changed her world, too. She told me about how my blog post had been the talk of the hospital and how a coworker had told her about it but couldn’t remember the name of the writer. She knew it was me before she even read it. She told me how you either click with patients or you don’t, and explained how when she first saw me I was so lost and broken, yet she knew that I was going to be that patient for her. The one who validates the reason why you go into that field. The one who makes the hard days more bearable. The one who changes everything. For you, her remembering me may seem small and insignificant. For me, it was everything.
When I was a patient at Fairfax I was more lost, broken, defeated, and ashamed then I had ever been in my entire life. I was a version of myself that I had never met before, a version I didn’t even know existed. Cassie took me under her wing immediately. She sat with me in the hallway for hours as I rocked back and forth with my head between my knees. She kept me behind during meal times to make sure I would eat. She encouraged me to go to my first NA meeting there, but left with me when I started to panic. She advocated so hard for me to get out when I did so that I wouldn’t be spending my 21st birthday in rehab. I had forgotten how to love myself, so she reminded me how. I couldn’t fight for myself, so she fought like hell for me. She’s the reason I have “Fight For Yourself” tattooed on my arm and why I say “Fight For Yourself. Always” at the end of every blog post. I left Fairfax the day before my 21st birthday expecting to be just another patient and to never cross her mind again. But she didn’t forget about me. She let me help her become a better nurse, and in return she helped me become a better person.
Yesterday she told me, “You’re somebody who I’m going to have in my life forever.” Cassie, I’m honored to be in your life. And I’m even more honored to have you in mine. To the nurse who saved my life, and now my new friend, thank you.
I also want to give a huge shout out to Katy at Fairfax who organized all of this and has been nothing short of amazing! I’m telling you, these people at this hospital aren’t just there because it’s their job. They’re there because they genuinely care about every single person that walks in the door. They’re changing lives, and I’m so blessed that mine was one of them.
With the holidays quickly approaching the subject of eating disorders has been weighing heavily on my heart. The table is generally a place for happiness and laughter, but for some it is a battleground – a place of stress and anxiety. If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, be cautious with them this holiday season. And if you yourself are struggling with an eating disorder, reach out.
Keep in mind that eating disorders have close to nothing to do with food itself. It’s more than starving yourself, throwing up, and/or over eating. It’s a serious mental illness that fixates on fear, power, and control. Eating disorders are dark and twisted and crippling. They go hand in hand with anxiety and depression, and can make each day feel like hell. Eating disorders are often misunderstood and can leave the person suffering feeling lonely and worthless, I know this first hand.
With that being said, please please please remember that eating disorders are not always visible. You don’t have to be extremely skinny or overweight to have an eating disorder. You do not have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one. This is probably one of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders. And this is so dangerous because there are many eating disorder sufferers in need of help, but not seeking treatment because they don’t think they look like someone with an eating disorder. They don’t think they’re sick enough. As someone who struggled with an eating disorder but remained at a “normal” body weight, I know how scary it can be to reach out because you feel like you won’t be taken seriously. But if you think your ideas and behaviors around eating are disordered, please reach out to someone. Eating disorders thrive in the dark. They love secrecy, it makes them stronger.
So this holiday season, please be so gentle with those around you. Don’t comment on your family members’ weight loss/gain. Don’t mention how much or how little food they have on their plate. I personally know how hard the holidays are when you feel like you are trapped inside your own mind. Your loved one more than likely feels guilty for not being able to enjoy the holidays like everyone else, sending them spiraling into a depressive state. Their anxiety is skyrocketing. Their eating disorder becomes all-consuming. Their world feels out of control because of what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. Support them, love them, and let them know you’re there for them.
And to my friends struggling remember this: You are worth more than this. You deserve freedom from your disorder. You deserve a fighting chance. You’re allowed to feel the things you are feeling. You are loved. You are allowed to get help, not matter what. You don’t have to suffer in silence.