I have two daughters. I had them when I was 22 and 26, respectively. My first pregnancy got — and kept — me sober after a period of methamphetamine abuse. I stayed sober for six years before I began socially drinking. In the four years that followed, social drinking turned into moderate drinking, to heavy drinking, to nightly drinking and daily marijuana use and abusing prescription medication.
A few weeks ago, I entered an inpatient healing facility. This is not my first rehab. I attended two inpatient programs when I was 20, spent a year in a “partial hospitalization” program and completed outpatient drug and alcohol programming. You could say I’ve been around the block.
Then I had this miraculous recovery where I got to build a life and a family and a career. For ten years, I worked diligently, even as I began to self-medicate. Even as I was diagnosed with bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ADHD. Even as I relapsed into the bulimia that had ravaged my life and caused me to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place. I was imperfect, but I was oh, so high-functioning.
Being back in a rehab setting has flooded me with memories of previous experiences. In fact, even researching rehab options, calling my insurance and dealing with what I’ve come to call the “rehab industry,” caused an uptick in my PTSD symptoms in the form of flashbacks and overwhelming fear.
One of the things that helps me remember and realize I’m not the vulnerable 20-year-old in rehab, is focusing on what is different this time. I chose the non-traditional treatment model of the place I’m attending. I have autonomy in my life and choices. And, likely most importantly of all, I am a mom now.
Here are nine reasons why going to rehab is different for me as a mom:
1. Rehab sometimes may seem like vacation.
Mom life is anything but easy. There are no breaks, there is no quiet. Periods of rest and reflection are likely a fantasy at best. So the idea of spending a month away in a serene setting may sound like a vacation. But spoiler alert, rehab is not vacation.
2. My reasons for getting sober are already built in.
Some people may need to search for motivation to get or stay sober. Not me, now that I’m a mom. I believe moms have their reasons in their heads 24/7. My reasons have names and faces and likes and dislikes and are known to shine and shout on the regular. As a mom, I need only say a few words for why I’ve chosen to turn my life around. In my case, Ali and Emmy.
3. Mom guilt is a real thing.
Who gets a month away from their family and kids? Not many moms I know. There is a lot of guilt in having “abandoned” the proverbial nest for such a long period of time. That guilt can hold me back from doing the work I came for if I get too caught up in it. Therefore being a mom in rehab is a constant dance between separating the fact that life inevitably marches on at home, and learning to live in the present moment that’s right before you. The guilt remained, but how I responded to it became my choice.
4. Technology is imperative.
I intentionally chose a rehab that wouldn’t take my phone away so I could stay in contact with my kids. Leaving seemed bad enough, but telling my kindergartner I might not be available for an extended period of time was too much. I’m so grateful for tools like Facetime and Skype to allow me to see their precious faces, as well as hear their voices. We have regularly Skyped from my rehab room, with my image projected on the big screen in our living room — almost as if I was right there with them. Without the hugs of course.
5. It breaks my heart to be without my family.
Last weekend, my family drove five hours to visit me. We spent two days together, exploring the hippy town my rehab sits a few miles outside of, swimming at the hotel they were staying in and trekking to the next town over for Oregon’s only In-N-Out burger. When it was time to say goodbye again, my oldest daughter burst into tears and held me and sobbed. “Why do you have to stay?” she asked. I replied it was good for me, and wish I would have added that staying was going to help me be better for her. Trying to explain what felt unexplainable to my children — and having to only watch as they feel abandoned or forgotten — is a special kind of hell for me. I am hopeful that these are the experiences that stick out when the temptation to use substances arises. I am hopeful that something better can come of such pain and heartache.
6. “Me first” felt like a foreign concept.
Early recovery is an inevitably selfish time. This is something moms — even moms struggling with addiction — don’t necessarily know about. Oftentimes people use to numb their feelings and shoulder their heavy responsibilities. I believe there is nothing heavier than being responsible for a life (or two or three or more) outside of your own. Moms entering recovery need to focus on themselves first and their families second. This is a tall order that’s made easier by space and time — getting away may be as imperative as staying connected. I can’t speak much to actually balancing this tough act at home, but I imagine it will be the challenge of a lifetime. And, it will be worth it. I believe my life is worth it. My kids’ stability is worth it. My family’s health and well-being is worth it. There are so many reasons to break the mold and put myself first in a healthy and loving way. We can do it, moms!
7. Every day I know there’s something to go home for.
It’s not uncommon for people entering treatment to prolong their stay — or even stay around the town they’ve come to find themselves in. This can be a healthy step in a recovered direction. But this may not be an option on the table for moms. I know the clock is ticking on the time I can be away from my family, from the job that supports us and from my kids’ daily lives. This knowing can be both a gift and a burden.
8. Sometimes, rehab actually can feel like vacation (and as a mom, I will take what I can get!).
I may have to work hard on deep-seated shit that’s painful to face, but in many ways, this experience is a vacation from my life. No dishes, minimal laundry, no cooking or cleaning, no errands or extracurriculars, no bedtimes or packed lunches. I get to focus solely on me and my needs, and spend precious time deciphering what those even are and how I can learn to feel into them in my real life. It isn’t your typical vacation, but it’s vacation-like after a decade of child-rearing. And I’m so, so grateful for it.
9. The stakes are high.
When I went to rehab in my previous, childless life, I knew I was only rolling the dice on my own future. That is the biggest truth to have changed now that I’m in rehab with kids. I have these reasons, and they are compelling ones. My kids’ futures, their sense of security and attachment, our shared financial freedom, their exposure to drama and trauma, is all on the line here. The “me first” mentality required to take this step — and walk the path ahead — is the greatest gift I could give to any of us.
Join Mental Health America during Mental Health Month in increasing awareness of risky behaviors and potential ties to mental health conditions. Download the complete toolkit, featuring facts sheets with infographics, social media images, and more here. #riskybusiness #MHM2017.
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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.