In April of 2006, I stepped off my bathroom scale and stared half-heartedly at my reflection in the full length mirror.
Tilting my head to the right, I began analyzing the many parts that make up my body. I ran my fingers gently over the bruises scattered across the sharp tips of my hip bones. Heart racing, I placed one hand on each side of my waist, squeezing my insides until my fingers and thumbs touched. My whole life I’d strived for the thinness I embodied in this moment. I didn’t expect the emptiness to coincide.
I was packing for treatment. Again. About to drop life’s crutches and size zero jeans. Although slowly dying felt like the easy way out, recovery beckoned me. The responsibility I felt toward life was reflected back to me in my one-year-old daughter’s eyes. She deserved a mommy who could get out of bed in the morning without popping a cocktail of prescription diet pills. She deserved a mommy who actually ate a meal without vomiting or taking laxatives. She deserved a mommy who didn’t define her worth by numbers—weight, calories and binges. She deserved a mommy who was sober, present, healthy and whole.
I was none of these things.
Sobs trapped in my throat, I bent down to kiss her goodbye. Resting her curly blond head on my chest, “I wuv you too, Mommy,” spilled innocently from her mouth. She giggled and quickly wiggled free to grab the nearest toy. She didn’t understand. I didn’t either.
Years of infantile self-destruction shape-shifted into a grim reality. While protesting my need for nothing, I stood there, stripped of all power and needy in the deepest sense of the word. My desperate attempt to disappear within my own body had me disappearing from my daughter’s life instead. I felt like the textbook definition of a failure as my limiting core beliefs shattered shamefully at my feet. Life was not black and white, Diet Pepsi was not dinner, and thinness could not transcend all human shortcomings or erase all pain.
The decision to go to treatment was not an easy one. In my addict mind I was selfish and abandoning my daughter. I was weak and lacked willpower. I would miss her second birthday and precious childhood moments I could never get back. I was the person who brought her into this world and as depleted and sick as I was, 90 days was synonymous with eternity.
I went anyway. The most difficult and profound decision I have ever made was not made by the addict in me. It was made by my highest version of self. There was an inner knowing that what I didn’t face in myself, my daughter would have to face in herself. I came from a long line of addiction and maybe I could rewrite the story.
I know your struggle because I lived them. Ten years later, they’re still fluid in my bones. I haven’t mastered recovery or been consistent on the path. The only truth I can give you in my own recovery is that I have gotten up more times than I have fallen down. And I always will.
I know what you’re thinking and feeling and running from. You are a walking contradiction—treading water and gasping for air while pleading for an external force to save you. The energy it takes to maintain your addiction expands every day. You’re exhausted. You don’t know what you feel anymore. I promise you this will all change in recovery.
I know your breakdowns do not feel like breakthroughs and your intimate moments with your child are not really intimate. I know the tug-of-war between the mind and heart and what it’s like to be in a constant battle with your addict and authentic self.
I know what it’s like to embody the struggle of having to work twice as hard as most humans just to feel normal.
I know your sensitivity feels like a curse and you feel like you fall down more times than you stand up. The love and creativity you’re capable of lies dormant beneath a web of unawakened beginnings. I know you’re mistaking freedom with rebellion. In your attempts to feel safe in yourself, you’ve become reckless and leap for the nearest form of comfort—sex, drugs, gambling, alcohol, binging, purging, starving, shopping—forgetting the important thing about seeking freedom is the outlet must be effective. Yes, the experiences in your life put your intuition in a choke hold, leaving the words of others to become your inner voice. Yes, you can get that intuition back. I promise you will feel alive again and walk hand-in-hand with authenticity.
I know you say tomorrow will be different.
And like all addicts, you will push tomorrow back another day.
I know waving a white flag of surrender is not a skill you were taught and transcending your only coping mechanism feels more challenging than giving up air. I know the shame coinciding with needing help and the fear of the unknown. I know you’re afraid to be judged. I know treatment and the unknown is scary. I promise you the hardest step is taking the first step. Once you do, the forces of the universe will light your path and conspire for your healing.
As you make this precious, brave decision, allow me to remind you that true transformation is slow, arduous and comes only with acceptance of where you are in this moment. You will inch yourself toward the light, at times leaping backward and forgetting your own power. You will shrink and rise while setting into the ebb and flow of recovery. The process is impermanent and fallible but will teach you to flow with life’s ups and downs. The path is twisted, sometimes murky and far from linear. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
You’ll find what works by first experiencing what doesn’t. Self-sabotage will become terrain you’ll learn to navigate. Your internal compass will become your most accurate source of validity. Surrender will be your most potent teacher. The moments you want to give up, but don’t, are the same moments you’ll learn to trust yourself again. This is growth and where the magic happens. Trust it.
I know you love your child more than life itself. Recovery is not only possible but the bravest decision you’ll ever make. I promise you it’s the best gift you can give to them and to yourself.
They’re better off seeing you struggle in sobriety than numbed by addictions.
They’re better off missing the hell out of you for 90 (or however many) days in exchange for the best possible version of you than missing out on a lifetime with a parent living in wholeness.
They’re better off learning to cope with the realities of life at this age than hiding in the shadow of an addicted parent and never quite understanding the uncomfortable energy swirling around you each day.
Remember who you were before life’s hardships shaped your reality. Step into the shoes of the child who had untouchable dreams and a clear vision of what life could be. Shape shift into your highest self and ask them who you’re destined to become on this earth.
If you’re on the fence, paralyzed with fear or feel like there’s no way out, look into the eyes of your child. Let them reflect back to you the worth and goodness you held when you entered this world. Let the windows to their soul fuel your recovery. Allow their pure heart to open yours. Let them be your muse, not your reason. The latter is not sustainable.
They deserve a parent who is sober, present, healthy and whole.
And let’s be honest. You are none of these things.
The choice is yours. I can only encourage you to fall down the rabbit hole of recovery. Immerse yourself in the shadow work until your clarity and seeking become second nature. Find the strength to take the leap and I promise you the net will appear.
Author: Rachel Dehler
Editor: Catherine Monkman