“I was no longer that girl who had dreams...I was broken beyond repair”
Since returning from four months in residential treatment, I have gone over my story about a thousand times. I have followed its twists and turns, sometimes into oblivion and sometimes, if I was lucky, I come to a poignant realization. It wasn’t until I started to truly get honest with myself that the realizations started flooding my brain.
My story is pretty dramatic apparently. I say apparently because I think when you live it you lose some of the rawness of its entirety. This became obvious when I told my story to a room full of eating disorder patients in a residential facility out west. After I finished retelling my life thus far, I looked up to see a room full of people in utter silence, with an occasional sniffle mixed in between. It was only then that I began to realize that my journey had an effect on people and that it needed to be shared.
When hearing my story it is pretty easy to spot the two dramatic occurrences- one caused by the universe and the other that was solely my doing. I will start with the one that was caused by the universe, as that one is easier to explain because I don’t have to take any responsibility for it- which let’s be honest, is always easier. This event happened on January 5, 2014, when my husband and his brother were on a business trip. The doorbell rang at 4 AM the next morning and as I headed down the stairs half asleep, I was startled to see a highway patrolman through my glass filled front door. My reckless and carefree friend once told me in high school, more years ago than I would like to admit, that a police officer at your door in the middle of the night is never a good thing. She was correct, it wasn’t a good thing- sometimes it’s a life-altering thing. The officer informed me that my husband and his brother had been in a fatal car crash after leaving a business meeting in Florida.
Upon hearing those dreadful words, I went completely and utterly numb. It was as if I left my body and was somewhere hovering above this horrific scene. In hindsight, this separation was a true blessing. It helped me survive telling my in-laws that their only 2 children were no longer on this earth to sitting on the floor of my closet selecting which dress to wear to the funeral of my 35-year-old husband. It helped me pick out his urn, it numbed the morning realization that this was not a nightmare and that the kids were ready for breakfast, and it pushed those tears down somewhere deep inside the hollow shell I had become. I made it through telling my 4-year-old daughter that daddy wasn’t coming home, it gave me the strength to sell my house with that wretched glass door, and it numbed me from the pain one should feel as they place their husband into a large dirt hole. To be honest, the only tinge of pain came when my husband’s belongings that survived the crash were shipped home. Inside the box there was a Disney World bag that held a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal and blanket- the last gifts for his babies that they both cherish today.
Unfortunately, the natural numbing that God granted me only lasted a brief while and when it returned, the pain came back with a fury. My childhood dream of having that “perfect” family had been shattered and I was left with the devastation. I had become the single mom of a 1 and 4-year-old overnight. One that got up each day with a shattered heart to get her babies dressed for the day. Dressed in a way that no one would dare look at them with pitiful eyes. I spent the nights alone, full of dread and countless questions- who will walk our daughter down the aisle, who will teach our son how to be a man, is this what God intended for me? These racing questions and the anger and hopelessness I felt on those nights brought me to my knees.
The pain was unbearable, and I desperately searched for relief. I found this relief in alcohol and through my eating disorder. They were my tools to get through doing this thing called life alone. They gave me the energy, the control, and the numbing I needed to complete each day. Hearing my son’s first words, teaching my kids how to ride bikes, watching my daughter score her first goal, and watching her get onto her very first school bus. These moments that I had looked forward to at their birth all seemed so painful and lonely. I had lost my person- the person I was supposed to share these moments with, and I was furious. I hated the world when I had to ask my father-in-law to take our daughter to her first ‘Father-Daughter dance’ and internally screamed at the Heavens above when our son was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities. It’s not like there were not joyous moments. There were plenty, but looking back they all seemed to be caged behind iron bars made of pain, fury, sadness, and hopelessness. Anger, pain and fury oozed from my pores with each extra mile I forced myself to run, and released with every purge. And the grief? Well I soothed that with my liquid love, because when you are doing the job of two, who has the time for any of that?
Now don’t get me wrong. For a long time, on the outside to those I wasn’t close to, I appeared like I had it together. That I didn’t spend my days with full fledged anorexia and bulimia. That my lonely nights weren’t soaked in liquor and racing thoughts full of worry and dread. Most of all, that I wasn’t having hour-long panic attacks and wasn’t depressed to the point of disappointment each new morning. I was simply a fit suburban mom who did the job of 30 people. I crafted for family members, designed the interiors of other’s houses for kicks, and invited other people over for elaborately themed parties. My house was immaculate and my kids were involved in countless activities. In between the job of “controlling” my life, I ran my kids from here to there, volunteered at their schools, and got my son the help he needed with his learning disabilities. Could I have ever imagined doing any of this without my “tools”? Hell no! I truly believed it was because of them that I could survive existing. When the “problems” got out of hand, I dealt with them, by going to rehab 2 times in 2 years. However, I always returned to my trusty “tools”- the tools that I knew so well and that worked.
It’s true what people say in those caffeine-filled meetings full of addicts- it works until it doesn’t, and that essentially sums up my rock bottom. After years of merely existing with the focus being on what others thought and the idea of being “perfect”, my life began to unravel quickly. I had been taking part in aftercare treatment for alcohol for months, since it had become obvious to others, while secretly depending on my eating disorder, with all its variations. My body ached, my anxiety and depression had become so severe that I had a hard time functioning, and I had learned to exist on a couple of hours of sleep a night. Then came the day of my son’s school conference. After mustering up the strength to go, I sat there alone, yet again, to hear how he was doing in this special school that kept me up for hours with financial worry. I believe that everyone has a breaking point and mine was when they told me that despite the amazing school, that took months upon months to get into, all the speech therapy every week, and the endless amounts of hours spent worrying if I was doing enough for him or if he just needs his dad, he was behind the rest of his peers. I left that conference depleted of the little perseverance and strength I had left after my husband’s death.
A week later, I bought my son tickets to a movie and after 4 days of starvation and purging, little to no sleep, and constant panic attacks, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I was going to muster up the strength to go to the movies. So I bought a bottle of vodka, poured it into a thermos and went to the movie. At the movie theater I passed out, and the rest is history. Ambulances took me to the hospital, where I told them I have had enough of this life and am nothing but an empty shell of what I once was. I was no longer that girl who had dreams or even saw a future for myself - I was broken beyond repair. I was a person who put her makeup on each and every morning in the dark because the person I saw in the mirror was no longer a person I even knew- just a lost and empty shell. I couldn’t even make the shell “perfect” any longer.
It was on that first night in the psych ward that my life made the shift I had been trying to force with my own will for longer than I can even remember now. It happened on the hard ceramic floor in my room when I was cleaning up the vomit of a detoxing roommate. On my knees, I thought to myself- how did this happen? How did I fall this far? I don’t know if it was the smell of the vomit on the floor, the bruises on my battered hands, the utter shame I felt as a mother and a person, or if it was the act of kneeling that made me look up to the ceiling. Whatever it was, it certainly doesn’t matter now, because it is a moment I will never forget- the moment I completely surrendered and gave it up to something bigger than myself. It set me up to do the work of 4 months of residential treatment and to help me survive the news that my rock bottom had gone public nationwide.
As I write this, I am approaching 6 months of full sobriety, and there is nothing that I have done in my life that makes me more proud than the thought of picking up that chip. When I hold that plastic in my hand I always get these flashes of scenes of everything that has brought me to that moment- my rock bottom, the months and months I spent learning how to cry and to be vulnerable, the work it took to let go of the years of shame and to find my true authentic self, and how hard I work daily to be a present mother, not a “perfect” one. It reminds me of how I put my recovery first, from the moment I wake up until the moment I lay my head down at night. Each sobriety chip brings a beaming smile to my face and shivers down my spine. I used to wake up cursing my Higher Power for this horrific life. Now I cherish each day and wake up each morning full of gratitude. I thank God everyday for saving my life enough times in these past 5 years to allow me to slam into the ground- it was only then that I could see the light. And the light- it is the “perfect” I have been searching for these past 39 years.