I am 39 next month. I have 5 children. My eldest son T is 18. R, my eldest girl is 17. SC, my middle daughter is 12. SS, my youngest son is 10 and F my baby girl is 22 months old. Only F lives with me and R, her daddy. My older 4 live with my ex-husband. I never imagined that I would be a mother whose children didn’t live with her. It creeps up on me regularly and devastates me over and over. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the shame and guilt of it. The grief takes my breath away. But, they are happy and we have a wonderful relationship. All of my kids and I see each and speak and text regularly and I know I have to be grateful for this. I have hurt them. Over and over. They have seen things they shouldn’t have seen. A couple of times I have written them goodbye letters but thankfully they have never had to read them.
I had T and R when I was 20/21. Their biological father was an older, married man. He and his wife also had 2 children at the exact same time, like within a couple of months of each other. So he fathered 4 children in 2 years. We lived in a small town (pop. 2,000) and as you can imagine, it was a fucking nightmare. I felt so in love with him but even so, when I found out I was (17 weeks!!) pregnant, I told him I was keeping the baby but he could walk away and I would never tell a soul. Naive I know, but I wanted the baby more than anything I’d wanted in my whole life. I’d had 2 abortions when I was 16 which I’d been pressured into (another even older married man) and I wasn’t going to do that again. I am firmly pro-choice but it had not been my choice and it had affected me deeply.
For a few years my life became the town’s gossip column before he and his wife moved away to make a go of it somewhere new and away from me. I was heartbroken and ashamed but I loved being a mum and was lucky enough to have a nice home that I rented from my mother. I was secure and independent. I soon met J, a boy I’d been to school with and grown up alongside but had never really got to know. My kids adored him. We got on well. We got married and he eagerly adopted T and R. In my heart I knew it wasn’t right but everyone else was so happy, I thought I was doing the right thing. That I could cope with this life. He was good to me, wonderful to my children and provided for us. We went on to have SC and then SS was born in July 06.
J and I had always done recreational drugs on the weekend before SC and SS were born. T and R would spend Sat night at a relatives and we would get high. In our small town there are 14 pubs, most of them next door to each other. It’s a big drinking town with a huge booze problem. My friends and I were drinking at 14 in parks but by 16, we were openly drinking in the pubs. That was typical. You grew up being drinking at weekends in our town. Everyone did it.
J and my drinking and drug use was heavy but only on the weekends and only in the time before we decided to try and have a baby. After I had SC my alcohol use went up a lot. I was drinking every night at home. 1 or 2 bottles of wine a night. I was puffy and lethargic. I convinced myself that it was normal. J was a weed smoker. He smoked, I drank. We decided to have another baby and I quit again. I had the odd glass of lager or red wine but kept within the recommendations for pregnant woman. I know in the US it’s massively frowned upon but in the UK, the guidelines stated you could drink 1 or 2 units a week.
I have a problem coping appropriately in a crisis. I resort to a learned way of substance abuse. This method has failed me every single time and I believed that my repeated failure to learn from my mistake was down to a severe character flaw. It felt hopelessly inevitable. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m beginning to understand it is not just my resolve that is weak. I can apportion a little blame to the example I was given as a child. I know I am nearly 40 and a fully grown woman and should know better but I’m hoping it’s a ‘better late than never’ situation.
I was taught that having a drink or burying my head deep in the sand was the way adults cope when life goes tits up.
10 years ago I used to drink a bottle of wine when the kids went to bed. This was socially acceptable.
Then it was 2 bottles – less acceptable.
So I became secretive about the extent of my habits. My ex husband used to have his friends over and smoke weed all evening. He maintained a job and I continued to be a more than adequate parent and homemaker. There didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.
Then SS was born.
He was 2 days old when the paedtrician casually told me his ‘dismorphic features’ indicated that he had CDLS. A rare genetic condition. We had no idea anything was wrong. We had only come into hospital because we were struggling with breastfeeding successfully.
She gave me this life changing news when I was alone, my husband having gone home for the night to look after our older children. I made the decision to not tell him until he came back the next morning to give him one more night of not having that knowledge.
Within the first hour of a possible diagnosis I was already closing ranks. I was in survival mode 48 hours after giving birth in safe hub of my own bedroom. I believed I could handle it and would cope better than my husband so made the decision to internalize the true depth of this pain. If I was ok as his mother then everyone else would be OK, wouldn’t they?
We never received any kind of counselling. We had Google (I texted a friend that first night in hospital and asked her to look up CDLS. Before I’d even told my husband. I couldn’t do it from hospital. She very tearfully and reluctantly gave me the basics over the phone. I put her in a terrible position, I can see now but I couldn’t wait until I got home. I should have. It didn’t help and only offered more questions than answers.)
Our health visitor spoke of wheelchairs, special schools and life expectancy as I was cradling my 5 day old, 6lb bundle. I bowed my head and felt crushed. My husband made her leave and rang the health authority to complain.
I retreated. From my friends. My family. But mostly from my own terrible imagination of what our future entailed. I learnt how to switch my brain off.
Ten years on I don’t remember ever sitting down with anyone and having an honest conversation about how it all felt. I would say over and over (in my own head, to no one in particular..)
‘Don’t feel sorry for us. This is no tragedy. I’m so glad SS was born to me and not someone who didn’t want or love him. I wouldn’t change a thing.’
I made it look like no big deal a friend told me years later.
My substance abuse problem as a way of coping began in the year after SS’s birth.
Tramadol made my pain go away. All the anxieties and grief I felt was crippling me but I used the pills to cope. It made me feel so happy. I started off taking 3 or 4 with a bottle of wine but within 10 months I was taking 45 a day. I was dying. I was vomiting all the time. I have no memory of the majority of 2007 apart from having 2 huge seizures. The first time my husband had to pull my tongue free as I was choking on it. I signed myself out of hospital and ‘confessed’ to J that I’d been abusing slimming pills. I was sorry but it didn’t scare me enough to stop. I had another fit. More lies and eventually he and I split up. He left the children with me as I’d convinced him I was clean. James and I split when SS was 1.
I became a single parent to 4 children.
Then my brother got ill.
I was in the impossible situation of being a single mum, a non driver, 4 hours away from my brother’s (L) hospital bed with a disabled child who couldn’t just be palmed off on any old relative as easily is the other kids. I had a difficult relationship with my ex mother in law who acted out in a very peculiar way whilst my brother was dying, by making me feel guilty for leaving the children when I visited him.
My own mother and I became estranged during this time. We had always had a difficult relationship and the strain of caring for my brother, watching him slowly deteriorate and trying to navigate between my warring parents, who hadn’t been in the same room since their divorce 20 years previously resulted in a petty argument that neither of us could find the courage to forgive. It was bitter and sad and only now, 8 years later are we tip-toeing into each other’s lives, attempting a cease-fire. Tentative, baby steps.
After we lost L, his lovely 21 year old fiancée committed suicide.
She couldn’t live without him. She couldn’t see a happy future for herself. She hung herself 8 months after he died.
Shortly after that I became homeless because I could not open my mail and therefore pay my bills. My children and I moved into my ex husband’s house and I slept on his sofa. After 3 weeks I felt utterly hopeless and attempted suicide by overdosing where my brothers ashes were scattered. It was a serious attempt. I took enough to kill me but I woke 10 hours later. Not dead. I had failed at that too.
That was 7 years ago and since then I have overdosed several times.
Both accidentally and on purpose.
I have done a great job of not coping well at coping. I have tried my best to protect my older children from my unhappiness but sadly my eldest daughter spelled it out to me recently. She told me that when I used to shut myself away it only made her feel like she’d done something wrong. I thought I was hiding my misery and by leaving my kids to play in the living room with the tv and snacks, I was providing them a happy space. Turns out I very wrong.
I’m sorry kids. I thought I was doing the right thing. It was NEVER you.
Over the years I have had problems with painkillers, speed, benzos, sleeping pills, otc meds and alcohol. I have binged heavily on coke and E but never had the money or supply to maintain that. I have accidentally overdosed twice. My daughters had to call an ambulance and watch me get taken away on a stretcher.
So that’s my history of drug use in a nut shell. I started using recreational drugs at about 16. Going to raves and partying on E but it wasn’t until after SS was born that my drug use became something I hid from everyone. That was when I started using drugs to escape my pain rather than for fun. The alcohol came first but it wasn’t hidden. No-one really cared about that because it was such a normal way of life.
My children have grown into sensitive, intelligent, caring, and dare I say; happy young people despite my failures. They are more understanding and accepting of my limitations than I could have ever hoped for.
But I can not continue to be this way. I have a sweet 22m old baby girl who wakes up with a ceaseless capacity for joy. So far unaffected by my numerous struggles. I need to preserve and protect that for as long as possible.
It’s more luck than good parenting that my older kids and I have scraped by the last 10 years without them being more emotionally scarred. We’ve been lucky. Luck runs out.
My baby needs me to be happy and healthy. I have to put everything into being healthy and hope that will lead to inner peace.
I hope by writing this down, it will help me pinpoint parts of my journey. That I will learn some of my triggers. Maybe it will help teach my brain to stop deleting the negative aspects of my disease. I don’t want to ever relapse again. I want to be proactive in my recovery and sobriety, not reactive. I need to keep reminding myself of how awful it has been for me and my loved ones. I need the bully in my head to be shut down down by facts and truths.
I apologise if this post seems a little disjointed. Some of it was written a few months ago. I wanted to write some of my back story but a lot of it overlapped with a post I had previously written so I tried to patch it together.
Thanks for reading.