Category Archives: Parenting and recovery

Exhaustion, sobriety and motherhood

pexels-photo-269141Most of us realize pretty soon after we get sober that alcohol was never really the true problem. That in fact, it was life that was the problem. Newly sober, we have the challenge of living life without the crutch of alcohol.

We need tools and the instructions on how to use those tools, but most of all we need each other. This path cannot be walked alone. Ask around, many have tried, it never ends well.
Healthy sobriety is about connection and living our truth.
Eventually, if we stick with it, sobriety becomes our ‘new normal’ and our old life seems like it belonged to a different person.
The challenges don’t stop when we get sober, in fact, most of us have lots of learning and growth opportunities to grapple with that we postponed because of our drinking. Like developing emotional intelligence for instance and responding to our feelings in a healthy manner, not a destructive one. Creating balance in our lives where we used to have chaos.

Yep, balance is essential to healthy recovery.
Just because I have balance today does not mean I will have it tomorrow.

I have to work at balance in my life especially now that I’m a mother.
I wouldn’t say that my recovery was easy, it wasn’t, but it was certainly easier than drinking and using. I had a major crisis at about 3 years sober because of a relationship (dating disaster hell) and a few more speed bumps along the way. But I found that as long as I continued to stay connected and use the tools I was given I was able to learn and grow through each challenge.
I was 12 years sober when I had a baby, so I had some solid sobriety under my belt. However becoming a mother was an enormous learning curve. I didn’t sleep for a year. My son is now 5 and I have another son who is 2. I can’t remember what it’s like to feel properly rested. I look back at my old life and actually feel embarrassed at ever complaining I was tired before.
Exhaustion became my ‘new normal’.
All I did for the first year of motherhood was look after my darling one whilst trying to remember to shower occasionally. I didn’t use any of my recovery tools because I didn’t think I needed to. I wasn’t doing a whole lot, I certainly wasn’t getting resentments and I adored my baby beyond anything so I just cruised for a while.
Then came a speed bump. It was a big one.

My son was about 15 months old when I realized I just didn’t feel right in myself. People were starting to annoy me and I was withdrawing from my husband. I was exhausted, nothing else mattered except sleeping and taking care of my son.

Despite my exhaustion, I had to find some internal strength to do what I’ve always done; to take care of myself spiritually and emotionally. Even bone crunching exhaustion wasn’t a good enough excuse.
My mind is insidious like that, it will still look for reasons to not do the things that are good for me. It will always try and find the easier option.
But there is not easier option for someone like me.

I wasn’t close to taking a drink, but I know the pathway to drinking and I had stepped on it. Maybe I’d have stayed a dry drunk for years, who knows?
But there’s no way I want to find out.
My sons deserve a sober mother, but they also deserve an emotionally healthy and spiritually fit mother too. Becasue there’s so much more to staying sober than just not drinking.

The most terrifying post I’ve ever written…

I’ve missed you guys.
I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a while. There have been a lot of things going on and I haven’t had any time to give to my blog. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to tell you, I’d rather pretend that everything is ok, but it isn’t, and I need to be honest.
When I trained as a therapist I also worked as an intern at a local treatment center. I had about 3 years sober and was working with people who had been sober for a matter of days. When you are trying to string together a week of sobriety, you tend to look up to people who have more sober time than you (don’t worry, you get over it eventually). Somewhere in my training I had mistakenly assumed that I always had to be perfect in front of my clients. In that, I always had to have the right answer (I would trot out some trite recovery phrase that seemed to fit the situation and nod wisely) or, I could never lose my cool or, show that I was flustered, or unsure of myself, or god-forbid, scared. This became extremely suffocating and limiting very quickly and it was a huge relief to discover that congruence (counselor stock in trade) and authenticity were far greater tools than always pretending I, and my life, were perfect.

Which is why I want to tell you the truth about what is going on with me right now. I have been sober for 16 years and a half years and this is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. My youngest child has a health diagnosis that could be potentially devastating. It meant that we had to move house very quickly and are living in temporary accommodation until we find somewhere suitable. As you can imagine, dealing with all of this through the summer whilst managing two little children didn’t leave any time or, energy for blog posts.
My emotions have ranged from despair, to fury, to depression to numbness. I never thought about picking up a drink but I did think about self-harming. Which is new for me.
It was then that I realized I needed some help.
As a mother, I can burden any pain or suffering for my children, but I don’t know how to navigate life with a child who may have a catastrophic condition. I feel crushed by the weight of it and sick with fear.

But I will not be broken by it. I had such a feeling of relief when I booked an appointment with a therapist, I started exercising again and my mood lifted immediately. I joined a support group and now I don’t feel quiet so alone. Whatever is in our future now, my family needs me to be strong and stable and I can only do that when I get help and support. I hadn’t forgotten that, it was more like asking for help, meant I had to admit there was a problem and I wasn’t ready to do that. If I didn’t admit it, then maybe it would go away. But it hasn’t gone away and I know this isn’t something I can deal with on my own.

It is always my goal to remain authentic to you, and even though I have experience and real insight into recovery, I am not without my challenges too. No matter how long I am sober for, I can never forget that my greatest strength comes from admitting my pain and weakness. It’s only then I can go forward. If there were ever a time in my life that was going to drive me back to drink, it would be now. But that was never an option. What all my years of recovery have taught me, is that when my back is against the wall, I can only keep applying the tools that have always worked for me.
I’m not going to pretend everything is ok when it isn’t; I always did that when I was drinking and it was so lonely. I’m going to live in the feelings, admit them, and deal with them.
The only way over this, is through it.

Recovery Rocks – Rosemary O’Connor

old biz pic
I’m so happy to have Rosemary O’Connor’s Recovery Rocks interview this week. I meet so many mothers who struggle with enormous shame and guilt in relation to their drinking and I think they will be inspired by her story. Rosemary has been sober since 1999 and understands the challenges of staying sober as a single mom. An experienced life coach, since 2004 she has helped hundreds of people brings about positive changes in their lives. She has a degree in psychology, is a Certified Professional Coach and a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach. Rosemary is the founder of ROC Recovery Services, which offers comprehensive care for women suffering from addictions. In 2015 Hazelden Publishing released Rosemary’s book, A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery. For more about Rosemary visit her website

Rosemary is also giving away 2 FREE copies of her book to Recovery Rocks readers. To win you just need to complete a recovery rocks interview! Send me an email via my CONTACT page, I will send you the interview to complete. The first two back will get a free copy of: A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

(Below are a few paragraphs from Chapter 1 – “Hitting Bottom” from my book, A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery.)

I promised myself I was only going out for two drinks. I told the eleven-year-old babysitter I’d be home in a couple of hours—no later than nine. I walked out the door on my way to a fancy charity event, the Fireman’s Ball at the San Francisco Yacht Club. I was all dressed up in a long, sequined gown, high heels, hair and makeup to the nines (for me it was all about looking good on the outside). At the event, with drink in hand, I started chatting up a guy. I was doing straight shots of tequila and quickly spent $200 buying drinks from the bar—what every classy lady does. Mr. Not-So-Prince-Charming invited me to continue the party at his place. I remember following in my car, gripping the steering wheel, trying to steer in a straight line. The next thing I remember is waking up in Mr. Not-So- Prince-Charming’s bed at ten the next morning, thirteen hours after I’d told the babysitter I’d be back.

I drove home overcome with dread, silently promising never to drink again. The scene that met me there was Dickensian: my three children were lined up on the sofa in their pajamas, eyes wide with horror, staring at me. On either side of them were my best friend, Lori, whose daughter had been babysitting, and my estranged husband. They didn’t look too friendly, either. And no wonder—I was still wearing the sequined gown from the night before, which I’d thrown up on, and my hair and makeup were in shambles.

Lori looked me straight in the eye. “You’d better get hold of yourself,” she said, and stormed out. My husband looked at me with utter disgust. I got the message in his glare: If you don’t get your act together, I’ll take these kids away.

As he gathered the kids to go upstairs for their stuff, my five-year-old son asked me, “Mommy, are you okay?”

I was not. For the first time in the twenty-one years I’d been drinking, I acknowledged there was something really wrong with me. I said, “No, Mommy is not okay.” He grabbed me and hugged me. Then he ran upstairs crying.

My soon-to-be ex-husband left with my children and went to his house. I was alone, an empty shell, physically, spiritually, and emotionally bankrupt. What I feared most was that I would continue to do the same thing over and over and lose my children. This was not the mother I intended to be. That was my bottom. And I knew in that moment that if I didn’t get help, five o’clock would roll around and I’d be drunk once again.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

I got sober in November 1999. My kids were two, five, and eight, and my husband filed for divorced in my first 30 days. I also had to face my daughter’s birthday, my son’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the New Millennium. I was in a complete fog, full of guilt, shame, self-hatred, and utter fear. I thought my life was over and I was going to live a life of misery.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Oh wow, so many great things have happened, and most of them I had no idea they were possible or was not aware they existed. I think the number one thing I am grateful for is I have learned to love and forgive myself. In doing this, I have been able to love and forgive others. I have a wonderful relationship with my former husband and his wife. They have two young children I love and adore. We all celebrate our children’s birthdays, Christmas, and special events together. I have the most amazing friends who I have so much fun with and would be there for me at any given moment. I have a close relationship with a Higher Power who guides me daily. Most recently a dream came true when Hazelden published my first book, A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

That someday I will be grateful I am an alcoholic.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
“I am more than enough.”

unknown6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

Definitely my book being published by Hazelden.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Easy Does It

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

Because it gives me the most amazing life I could ever have imagined.

The children I never should have had

IMG_0245When I had my first child over 4 years ago, I was fairly new to the USA and thousands of miles away from my support system. I was keen to meet other mothers who could help me navigate the travails of new motherhood. I pretty much went to every mother and baby group going and met some wonderful women.

You have a lot of questions when you become a mother for the first time. You are constantly panicking that you are doing ‘it wrong,’ and are going to inadvertently inflict some kind of lasting damage on your precious one.

These women reassured me.

They listened to my concerns and shared theirs. I realized there was no manual to motherhood and it is mostly trial and error.

At one group I attend, as a way of getting to know each other better, we each shared how we had met our husbands.

There were lots of cute and varied stores. A lot of people seemed to meet their partners in college. In fact most of the group was at least ten years younger than me.

I met my husband when I was 33, we married when I was 37 and I had my first child at 38 and my second at 42. I was a late starter and at least a decade behind everyone else. But it wasn’t, as many people often assume, because I couldn’t find the ‘one.’

It was because I’m a recovered drug addict and alcoholic.

When everyone else seemed to be describing how they married in their twenties, bought a house and started a family, I listened with awe and wonder.

When I was in my twenties I was binge drinking and using cocaine every weekend. I wasn’t fit to look after a goldfish and could barely scrape enough money to cover rent, let alone get my finances in order for someone to give me a mortgage.

I delayed any responsibility and pushed away anything that resembled commitment.

I was angry, frightened, lonely, confused and very, very lost.

How could I care for a baby when I could barely care for myself?

That life just seemed a million miles away for me, I really didn’t think it would be possible for me to have a loving relationship, yet alone a family.

Because, by rights I really should be dead now.

But I didn’t, and now I have the children that someone like me, never should have had.
I got a second chance.

Although I’m an incredibly late starter, these wondrous children were given to me when I was finally able to handle the responsibility.

I can’t possibly put into words how grateful I am that I didn’t miss this opportunity.

Getting clean and sober was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but raising children comes a very, very close second.

I’m late to the motherhood party and I have a lot to learn.

When I’m running around after my boisterous pre-schooler and baby, picking up after them and then collapsing into bed at 8.30pm I think back to my old life of partying all night and it seems like a dream now.

I am so different, I have changed so much that if I’d bumped into this older version of me 20 years ago, I would have stared with awe and wonder at how much I had my life ‘together.’

I am the person I always dreamed of being.

Motherhood has been the greatest journey for me. I spent years in therapy and have dedicated much time to personal growth so I could successfully overcome addiction. I didn’t think there was a corner of me left unexamined and yet motherhood has opened up a whole new area for me to explore.

By parenting my children I am able to reflect on my own childhood with greater depth and understanding. I am devouring every parenting book I can get my hands on so I can be the best mother I possibly can.

Alcoholism and addiction can be hereditary so I want to ensure that I do everything I can to protect my children from this fate.

When I got sober I trained to be come an addictions therapist and I’ve had the honor of working with many people suffering from addiction. From my work and my own experiences I’ve put together many theories about why some kids become addicts and some don’t.

This is the first time I’ve had to explore those theories in practice.

Based on all of my experiences, I truly believe that a strong attachment and emotional intelligence are two most important things I can give my children.

Learning how they can deal with and interpret their feelings is what I believe will enable them to understand themselves better. Taking care of their inner emotional world is the key to a successful, happy and balanced life. All of the things I didn’t learn until I got sober. Because the reason anyone uses drugs or alcohol abusively is to numb emotional and spiritual pain.

The most important thing I’ve learned is I have to demonstrate emotional intelligence. For me, sobriety is much more than just not drinking alcohol it’s about taking care of my emotional and spiritual life too. This is what I want to show my sons more than anything.

IMG_0363So, as exhausted, disorganized, and stressed as I feel on some days I can’t resent any of it. This life, this husband, these children that should never have been mine, are a gift I treasure above all things. In order to keep them, I have to ensure I’m taking all the steps necessary to stay sober. Because sobriety gave me my children and nothing is more important than that.

Are you a sober parent?

Me and my boys. Photo courtesy of Cassie McConkey photography

Me and my boys. Photo courtesy of Cassie McConkey photography

I wrote in a previous post that your biggest job when becoming a parent is managing your own fear. Nothing is more terrifying than holding your precious one for the first time and having the realization hit you that there are just so many ways to f**k this up. I came to parenting relatively late (38 when I had my first, 42 when I had my second) with over a decades worth of sobriety under my belt. I really though ‘I’ve got this.’
And I so haven’t.
I pour over parenting books trying to absorb their wisdom so I can manage my preschooler in a way that doesn’t permanently damage his self-esteem. I fret that our recent house move has made him overly anxious. I project into the future about what this will mean for him. And, I feel the cold dark fear in the pit of my belly when I hear of another parent who has lost their child to addiction.
Like all parents we are just muddling through trying to do the best we can. We are all just making it up as we go along.
However, I do feel there is perhaps an added dimension to parenting when you, yourself are in recovery. We have been down a path that we don’t want our kids to go down. We understand the emotional drivers that feed addiction and we all had experiences in our own families of origin, that we don’t want to repeat with our own kids.
My kids are (almost) 4, and 5 months and I’m really interested in learning how I can be the best sober parent possible. I’m interested in learning from people who have already raised kids in sobriety about what they taught them about drugs and alcohol. What did you tell them? How did you share your own story of recovery? What are your fears as your kids go off to college?

With this in mind I have started a new Facebook page where I’m going to share information on parenting that I think is pertinent to parents in recovery. I will also post blogs and interviews with other parents so we can share this information and support each other on this journey. If you are a sober parent and have some wisdom to impart I would love to hear from you. I want to start an interview series (similar to the Recovery Rocks) ones that asks questions specific to parenting. If you are interested in taking part or finding out more, please contact me though my contact page.

Parenting and recovery

Last week I had another baby.

Beloved Luke photo by Cassie McConkey

Beloved Luke photo by Cassie McConkey

My second son Luke was born. Another miracle child for someone with a second chance life. I feel so grateful and blessed to be the mother of two such lovely boys.
Like most alcoholics, my life did not follow the customary route of marrying my college sweetheart, buying a house, having kids…. I’m not knocking that; I just didn’t do ‘normal’ anything. I did everything back to front and upside down. Somehow it worked out.

When my first son was born 3 ½ years ago he was a terrible sleeper, waking up every 2 hours for almost a year.
As you can imagine I was a complete lunatic. I was functioning at a very basic level and everyday felt like I was wading through treacle. When he did eventually sleep for longer periods and I began to feel a little bit like my old self I realized the shine had gone off my recovery. I didn’t want to drink, but everything felt dull. It wasn’t post-natal depression I knew it was recovery related.
For all the time I’ve been sober I have always had a spiritual practice that takes care of my ‘inner life.’ This has made a tremendous difference to my recovery. For those of you who have read my book, you will know I believe alcoholism is an internal condition. That we need to work on our feelings and emotions if we want to get, and stay sober.

Every morning I get up brush your teeth, have a shower, wash my face etc. I do those things because they take care of my external appearance. I also do stuff like meditation, some written work on how I am feeling (fears, resentments etc.) and a gratitude list. I find this enables me to take care of my inner world. I have to take care of both my inner and outer worlds in order to be a sane and functioning human being. Because I was an exhausted first time mum, I just stopped doing all the things that made me emotionally well. I rationalized that I didn’t really need to do anything because I was a stay at home mum and wasn’t really doing much so would be perfectly fine.

How wrong I was.

Eventually everything about other people and the world in general started to drive me crazy. This is a huge red flag for me.
There’s a wonderful saying that I live by, ‘if I’m ok with me, I don’t have to make you wrong.’ It’s a perfect barometer for me; as soon as I start finding fault with the word and the people around me then I know I’m not ‘OK’. It’s never other people; it’s how I’m choosing to respond to others.
I have no control over other people but I do have control over how I respond to them.

When I got home with Luke the baby blues descended, and at about 5pm every day I just wanted to sob my heart out. A real feeling of depression hung over me.
This time I was determined to do something different. Instead of waiting a year to do the things that help me feel whole, I started the first night the baby blues hit and I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made. The hormones after you give birth can be really crazy and you are full of irrational fears for your baby. Just writing these fears down and sharing them with someone else relieved these feelings enormously.
My son is only 10 days old but I already feel lighter, more connected with myself and that the baby blues are making an exit.
It really is the simple things that make the most difference. Despite having 2 children to love and look after I can still carve out 10 minutes every day to look after myself.
Just 10 minutes a day to feel like myself again.
Next month, I look forward to celebrating 15 years sober and the most important thing I’ve learnt is, no matter what, recovery doesn’t stand still. No matter what is happening in my life if I can carve out just a few minutes everyday to take care of my inner world, everything else is manageable. The reason I have the family I’ve always dreamed of, is because (emotional) sobriety, must always come first.