I have met with so many of you over the years.
I have listened closely to your painful stories, sat with you as you have willingly unraveled layers of trauma and discourse. I have watched you cry in every form a human can cry, from the slight misting of eyelids to the raw and guttural sobs that seemingly shake the entire room. We go through quite a lot of tissues together. We process quite a lot of pain. And, while you each carry your own unique histories, you mothers share a common thread of dedication and resilience. It is admirable, and it is beautiful.
Sometimes, you sit in still silence. Other times, you express the anger you feel towards yourself, towards your addiction, and sometimes towards the universe altogether. You describe your checklist of doubts and fears with precise and vidid detail. You tell me about the times society has judged, criticized, and even discarded you. I know about the negative interactions you have had with lawyers and social workers, with teachers and police, with doctors and therapists, such as myself. It can be so incredibly overwhelming. You’ve collected so many experiences and created so many narratives; you’ve absorbed so much guilt and embarrassment and disappointment. You take all this in and constantly wonder, Am I a bad mother?
In our therapy together, I like to ask about your children because I know how important and precious they are to you. I hope you know that when you talk about them, you often light up in ways I’ve never seen, so obviously proud and protective of the miracles you created. I love to see you smile, hear you gush, share in your excitement and your joy. You rave about their strengths and successes, their personalities and their wit. You tell me your daughter’s favorite foods and your son’s favorite songs, and you beam as you gloat about their report cards and soccer games. Know that these stories move me as they move you. I see that your children hold a tiny lightbulb in a world that seems pitch black. I see how they anchor, ground, and stabilize you. Your pride for them continues to expand and unfold; it is the purest representation of what limitless love actually looks like.
And, yet, you still wonder if you are bad. You struggle with the fear that you will never be enough, that you will not be able to redeem your past or reconcile the pain. Maybe you talk about the times you have tried recovery before and how you slipped into old patterns. Or maybe you talk about how you tried to tiptoe and conceal your addiction around your children, knowing they were too young to really understand, while also knowing that, one day, they would be able to piece it all together. You question if you should try this all over again. You question if your children will be able to forgive you. You question your own strength and ability to be the mother you know those precious children deserve.
The bravest of you simultaneously juggle all of these heavy thoughts, and despite the mental energy weighing on your heart, still continue to try.
By the time we meet, you have been removed from your children. You either made this choice yourself or someone else made it for you. But, regardless of the circumstance, I know the arrangement is not optimal. It feels difficult and terrifying and incredibly unfair. By all means, the pain is so thick that it is nearly visible. You are away from the ones you love the most, and my job is to tell you that you can still attain the recovery you deserve and provide your children with the chance to have the mother they deserve. My job is to hold the faith that you can do this, that you can move and change and grow and heal, even when it feels utterly impossible.
Your movement towards recovery creates a bidding chance to enter back into the motherhood you know inherently exists inside of you. Addiction distances parents from children, be it in the form of physical or emotional absence. Your recovery can introduce closeness and reunite trust. Recovery will not offer a cure, and it will not transform you into a perfect mother, but it will offer the potential space for shifting and movement. Those beautiful miracles you created want their mother healthy. They want you happy and spirited and energized. They want you as present as you can be.
You choosing recovery acts in the best interest of your children. You may forget, challenge, or disagree with this sentiment from time to time. When you are sitting in treatment instead of playing with them on your favorite holiday, I will remind you. When you are questioning your worth and doubting your capabilities and strength, I will also remind you. No matter what your relationship is with your children, no matter how solid or disconnected or complicated it seems, recovery gives you a chance to make it better.
Nothing about this will be easy, and that makes you more of a warrior for doing it.
Take as many tissues as you need, but do not take a shortcut on this leg of the journey.