A little while ago I was asked to review an extraordinary book called: From this day forward, A love story of faith, love and forgiveness by Amy and Matt Baumgardner. I had interviewed Amy Baumgardner previously for my Recovery Rocks interview series. Amy just has one of those jaw-dropping stories of recovery. Her story is so extraordinary that she was featured on Oprah’ Life class with Iyanla Vanzant.
Amy Baumgardner with Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant
Amy lost all sight of what was important to her and her drinking took over, one day she packed her kids into the car and drove them whilst she was drunk. She hit a tree and the accident left her 5-year-old in a critical condition. This was the beginning of the end for Amy, finally realizing she had a problem she began the long painful and guilt-ridden task of getting sober. But how does a family recover from this? How does a husband forgive his wife for almost killing their child? How does a mother forgive herself? How can you repair a marriage with this kind of devastation and pain?
The answer is you can. Which is why Matt and Amy wrote their book, it documents the almost destruction of their marriage and family, and how through faith, love and forgiveness they managed to put it back together.
After reading their amazing book I had questions for Matt and Amy which they very kindly answered here:
1) What motivated you to write the book?
For me, healing! I needed to get my story out of me. When I was in rehab I remember grabbing anything that I could get my hands on to help me understand what was happening. I needed to hear the journey of other women, other mothers who had done the unimaginable and learn how they battled their addiction and guilt while living sober. I was desperate to have answers. After I was sober for about a year I decided that my story was exactly what I had been searching for so I felt I had an obligation, or a call to action to share it.
Matt: Amy was the one who made this idea of writing a book happen. She had begun journaling about the past several years after she came home from rehab. I figured, hey, if this keeps her happy, focused, and off of a bar stool, then I’m all for it. Amy would sit for hours just writing. It gave her something to fill her time with besides alcohol. Her journaling led to her beginning to blog and share some of our story on recovery/addiction-type websites. This led to blogging on Oprah’s website, which led to producers asking us to do the show. It was after the show, in our green-room that Oprah came back to thank us and chat for about 10 minutes. It was at that time that Oprah made the comment that our story should be made into a book. Amy always thought it would be neat to write a book, but I think the final nudge came from Oprah.
2) The book is very raw and honest, how hard was it to sit down and remember the past and get it on paper? Where you worried what other people would think?
Amy: In the beginning of my recovery I worried about what everyone thought. But the more time I had in recovery the more I wasn’t worried about what other people were going to think. I was more concerned about how my children would be treated by those who read the book and didn’t understand mine and Matt’s intention behind sharing our story. Throughout the entire process Matt and I both agreed that we needed to be as honest and direct about our story as possible. Otherwise, what was the point? Our intention was to give Hope to anyone who found themselves in a similar relationship and situation. We aspired to inspire others to tell the truth about their own relationships and how addiction may be affecting it.
Matt: It was difficult, yet therapeutic. It forced us to bring up and discuss some really difficult memories and events. However, looking back, that was a blessing. As a couple, we were forced to have some difficult conversations between the two of us, which in the end, has strengthened our marriage. Yes, initially I worried about what people would think, especially those in our town, my colleagues, our family/friends. However, that has faded. We have been pleasantly surprised with how supportive most have been. Amy gets positive comments from people all over the world now via social media.
Matt and Amy Baumgardner
3) One of the things about the book that really stood out for me is how honest you both were. I’m interested in why Matt decided to give his marriage another shot after Amy had put him through so much.
I wasn’t willing to give my marriage another shot in the beginning. Even though Amy had come home from rehab, I still had my mind made up. In my thinking, I had to keep my children safe from this “time-bomb” that would eventually cause greater harm. I didn’t think Amy had any chance of staying sober. So, I prepared for mine, and the children’s life without Amy. I had visited a divorce lawyer while Amy was in rehab and had discussed/given her all of the necessary info to file the paperwork for divorce. Having Amy living back at home after rehab was very cold. I didn’t speak to her and made sure I was home the least amount of time as possible. Looking back, that was a mistake I regret today. I really feel terrible about abandoning her at the time she probably needed the most support. I should have fought for my bride at that moment, but instead I let anger and fear blind me from what a supportive husband should have been doing. It took several months, but eventually I noticed small changes in Amy. Things like, rolling around of the floor tickling the kids, cooking a nice dinner for us, running/working out. These are all small things, but they were things that Amy had stopped doing during her drinking. In those days, if Amy was home, she was passed out in her bedroom recovering from a hangover. She would want to be left alone.
4) Amy – after your accident you tell of how you were almost shunned in your hometown, has that changed now people have seen you sober?
Amy: Yes and No. The greatest change has been my perception of the accident and my alcoholism. Because of this, I’m no longer affected by what others think of me. I imagine people can appreciate my sobriety and the years I have accumulated in recovery. Even my harshest critic can’t deny me that but for the most part I think the people are just on to the next train wreck, while others may be patiently waiting my derailment. I try to focus on Matt and the kids, always.
My mantra is “Living Sober is the Best Amends”.
5) How do you talk to your children about what happened?
Amy: We have been extremely open with our kids about my addiction, the accident, and the pathology of our family. We want our kids to hear the facts of our story from us. I have taken the time to rebuild trust with them and doing that meant having the patience to let them mature and understand just how serious the accident and my addiction are. They are still learning, they still have questions and Matt and I are continuously reassuring them that our family is intact.
Matt: Gavin and Madison are very aware of what happened. At the time of the accident they didn’t know why mommy ran off the road and into a tree. But, within a few days I told them. I probably told them in a way that I hoped would make them angry at their mommy, which in turn would make the pending divorce easier on them. Obviously, not one of my finer moments as a father. Since then, we have been very open with them about the effects of alcohol on an individual, what can happen, etc. Now, when I have conversations with them about Amy’s past drinking, I remind them about how proud they should be for their mommy. Madison seems to have held on to the memories of the accident the most, in fact, she will remind me if she sees me drinking a beer at a picnic/gathering that I have to drive later.
6) As your children get older what will you tell them about alcohol?
Amy: I talk to my kids about drinking. I let them know that there is definitely going to come a time in their lives where they feel they are mature enough to experiment. And that’s ok. What I don’t want, is them growing up knowing that Mommy had a problem and never understanding why. We talk about addiction and how they are just as susceptible as I was to becoming an alcoholic. It’s not meant to scare them, it’s meant to show them that it can and it does happen.
Matt: I sort of touched on this in the last question. I have explained to them that drinking alcohol as an adult is fine if done carefully. I don’t want the kids associating alcohol with “bad people”. I don’t want them seeing their grandfather, aunt, daddy, etc. enjoying a beverage and think they are doing something wrong. I do want them to realize that when they are old enough, they have a decision to make, however that decision must be made carefully and responsibly.
7) Amy – how did you start the process of forgiving yourself?
Amy: Forgiving myself took patience and time. The longer I had in recovery, the more I began to believe that what I had done was forgivable. For the longest time I held on to my guilt as a way to punish myself and prove to everyone around me that I was sorry for what I had done. After a while I learned to let go of the guilt. I learned that my past actions do not define who I am. I gradually began to view the accident as a positive. I was fortunate that my daughter survived, my marriage was back on track and that I was living sober one day at a time. I started to be grateful for all that was happening in my life around me, in that moment. I stopped looking at my past for validation that I was a horrible mother and wife and started looking at it as the stepping stool I needed to become the person I was created to be. I took the lesson and I applied what I learned to my life. This was how I was able to move forward and forgive myself.
8) Another thing that struck me about your book was how normal binge drinking was in your peer group and culture. Looking back do you think there could have been any information or intervention that would have helped you get help earlier?
Amy: I think I surrounded myself with a select group that was saturated with booze but I don’t think the direction of my life could have been any different regardless. The disease was dormant inside of me. Looking back, I can see that now.
9) What is your message to other families suffering from alcoholism?
Amy: Faith, Hope and Forgiveness are the three main elements to living a sober life. Recovery is an option and it can be obtained. Most importantly, it is possible to have the life you always imagined.
Matt: Ask for help. You have to realize that it may take a small army to support/help someone with an addiction. One person can’t help by themselves. That’s where I screwed up. I thought I could handle my wife’s problem on my own. I was embarrassed to let my parents, friends, etc. find out how much of a mess my family life had become. As I talked about in our book, there is no divorce on either side of my family, which includes seven aunt/uncle couples. So, I felt ashamed to possibly be the first husband in our family that couldn’t manage his own family. Again, looking back, big mistake. I let my ego get in the way of what needed to be done.
10) What does the future look like for both of you?
Amy: I am happy! I feel more alive and in love than ever. Matt and I have started a foundation called 4Give which helps advocate for families in recovery. We are working on our second book together. We are focused on our children and each other.
Matt: We have begun to speak publicly about our story at marriage conferences, treatment centers, etc. We have also started a non-profit, The 4 Give Foundation, that will help keep families, with addiction problems, intact. Money raised will go to fathers or mothers whom are fighting addiction and need additional funds to complete their rehab. Many insurance companies only cover a short amount of time of inpatient treatment. Through the 4 Give Foundation, we will select mothers/fathers, whom are married with children, and pay for the completion of their inpatient treatment. The future looks bright for us. It feels great to help others who are going through what we did. It is also a great way for the two of us to continually strengthen our marriage. We get to work on a common goal/project, which includes traveling and spending time together. Our goal is to build 4 Give into an internationally recognized non-profit foundation. We also look to continue to share our story of Faith, Hope, and Forgiveness with any person/couple whom are willing to listen and want to receive help in their struggle with addiction.
Matt and Amy Baumgardner
You can buy matt and Amy’s book on Barnes and Noble