I have a close friend who is contemplating having children. She asked me the other day how I knew I was ready to take the plunge and I laughed. I realize now that may not have been the most appropriate response but I couldn't help myself as I recalled the first few months of parenthood.
"Nothing can prepare you for motherhood," I told her. "You will never feel ready to become a parent, you just have to jump in."
I didn't have the luxury of deciding when to have my first baby; he came as a shocking surprise, but one that quickly turned into the biggest blessing of my life.
A lot of parents will tell you that having children changes everything. For my husband and I, having children changed us in the most profound way and that change literally saved both of our lives.
You see, my husband and I are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who, before having children, were chronic relapsers. We met in a 12 step meeting and our friendship quickly turned into much, much more. We were young and although we knew we were addicts, our diseases kept tricking us into thinking that we could have just one. Which, if you know anything about addiction, you know that an addict can't have just one, regardless of how much time has passed since the last drink or drug.
We became extremely co-dependent and relied on each other to keep one another sober. It worked for a short period of time; when one of us had the desire to use, the other would remind him/her that we can't use because we are addicts. Well, eventually the day came when both of us had a desire to use on the same day. So we did. I should also mention that we are both the kind of addicts who go from zero to sixty in a millisecond. We've both had extremely low bottoms which included lots of jail time, several overdoses, countless treatment centers and losing jobs, friends and family.
We relapsed once after we were engaged, when each of us had about a year sober. Alcohol turns us into monsters. It guts us of any feeling, moral compass and bleeds us of our conscience. My personal and professional experience with addiction has taught me that when an addict's drug of choice enters their body, their brain switches into survival mode. In our case, alcohol hijacks our brain so getting more alcohol and protecting our addiction is the only thought our brains can access. We both became physically violent toward each other with alcohol in our system and left to go our separate ways to get help in two different treatment centers.
We came back from treatment and were both desperate to stay sober. We got married when we were a year and a half sober but as much as we had thrown ourselves into a recovery program during that year and a half, we got busy planning our wedding and an out of state move so we stopped treating our diseases. Another important lesson I've learned over the years is that alcoholism and drug addiction must be treated on a daily basis, even when I'm clean and sober.
Shortly after we married and moved, we relapsed again and I reached a bottom I never would have thought possible: I tried to kill my husband with a knife while in the midst of a blackout.
I, once more, went off to treatment (this was my 7th residential treatment stay) and came back with a new resolve to stay sober for good. I knew I needed to treat my alcoholism on a daily basis through 12 step meetings, constant communication with other recovering alcoholics, and seeking a spiritual connection with a God I wasn't sure I understood, but I just couldn't find the willingness to put in all that effort.
Two and a half months after my last drink, I discovered I was pregnant. My pregnancy was awful, I had hyperemesis gravidarum and had to quit my job because I couldn't stop throwing up. We needed additional income, though, so I offered to nanny for a friend of mine who had an eight month old.
One day, when I was cooking him some Mac and Cheese for lunch, I just started crying. I fell to the floor, sobbing, as the realization hit me that if I didn't make my recovery a priority, my baby wouldn't have a fighting chance. I felt sad and desperate but was warmed with a sense of hope previously unknown. I was finally willing to do whatever it took to stay sober, knowing that baby wouldn't be able to survive the storm my addiction creates. If my husband and I drank again, our son would not be safe and for the first time in my life I actually wanted to stay sober. Up to that point, I knew I needed to stay sober, I was tired of the consequences of my disease, but the overwhelming desire to never pick up another drink hadn't been there.
In many ways, that baby saved us. I truly believe God did for me what I couldn't do for myself when I got pregnant with him. My son gave me the gift of perspective. He shifted my focus, which was always based in self-centered fear, to a world outside of myself. I drank and used drugs to numb the emotional pain of several traumatic experiences but feeling an innocent life move around inside of me suddenly made my pain seem insignificant.
Having children changed everything for me. It gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to seek help for the trauma that had shaken my core, and most importantly to maintain sobriety. It's been nearly seven years since I've had a drink and ten since I've used drugs. I'm grateful for the life I have and honestly believe that I owe it all to my children. They are worth every ounce of effort it takes to maintain sobriety and so much more.