I'm not trying to escape anymore. I'm here.
I tried to numb the stress and emotions of being a new mom with weed and booze. I didn't know how to face it all. I had so much grief, rage and regret stuffed down, so much heaviness, guilt and shame I was lugging around.
I would live my days looking forward to when I could drink or smoke to take the edge off, to finally relax, get rid of the anxiety, find fun in the endless playing with baby toys and get through the fits of crying and sleepless nights.
What I didn't realize until it was almost too late was that all that self-medicating with my substance addictions was actually making my issues worse.
Even though the tequila or wine or gin would take the edge off at the moment, it led to more depression.
Even though the marijuana in the middle of the day would take the intensity of my anxiety down a few notches, it led to more anxiety because it suppressed my real emotions.
And all of it made me more exhausted than I already was from the sleep-deprived reality of early motherhood. After a few months, I found myself in a deeply engrained cycle of weed, alcohol and coffee to keep it all going which led to severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
Eventually, it all broke down.
The panic attacks got too frequent and extreme. My self-loathing soared to unbearable, suicidal levels. The alcohol and marijuana no longer did much to suppress anything. The can of worms was open and either I had to face it, get some help and get sober, or lose my mind or life.
It didn't get better overnight. I stopped and started again a few times before I found my way to true sobriety. It was a process.
I found a great therapist that helped me understand my cycle of suppressing feelings with substances and helped me to look underneath the addiction, anxiety and depression to understand what I was actually feeling. I found anger, rage, grief, trauma, shame, resentment, sadness and so much more. I had to actually look at, allow and feel the feelings in order to get through the need to cover them up with addictions.
I also learned mindfulness meditation, which was one of my biggest saviors. I learned how to be with all the anxiety—the tracking, planning, scheduling, worries, endless lists, to-dos and thought loops that come with being a parent. Almost everything I was trying to do with alcohol and pot, meditation did better and without side effects. Then I started going to recovery meetings and quit for real.
Parenting got so much better after I got sober. Not right away though. At first, I hit a serious period of boredom. Life with a baby without alcohol or marijuana seemed so bland to me. The stark reality of the mundane was hard. But over time I learned to find enjoyment without any substances.
There's no more cracking open a bottle of wine, sipping it to relax while I cook dinner. There's no more stepping away to slyly hit my vape pen, returning with bleary eyes and a goofy smile. There's just me, my daughter, my husband and more of myself—breathing, playing, bathing, laughing, dancing, singing, going to bed, waking up early and doing it all again.
Now that I'm sober, I don't have any panic attacks at all. I am way less anxious in general, and when I do feel anxiety I know how to work with it. Depression is almost non-existent, and even though I still feel tired often, I am not utterly exhausted. It's manageable, and I know how to recharge myself.
I'm a better mom now, too. I am more present, patient and kind. I am able to process my emotions faster. I am in a better mood more often. I have more energy. I enjoy our time together and show my love for her more. I am more responsible and available.
I'm not trying to escape anymore. I'm here.
One of my favorite things to do now as the sun sets and I cook dinner is to crack open an audiobook and savor that sweet time in the kitchen. My husband often bathes my daughter and gets her ready for bed and I have that time to myself, listening to something interesting, enjoying the smells and textures of the food, the rhythm of the chopping and my own breath.
I don't need alcohol or drugs to endure parenthood, to get through it, to cope with it, to escape from it. This is my life, after all, and it will be for a very long time.
Instead of using some external things to change how I feel about it, I let myself actually feel my feelings about it. I talk about it. I write about it. I dance about it. I sing about it. I work on it in therapy. I communicate authentically with my husband and other mothers.
Learning how to truly relax and deal with my emotions instead of faking it with wine or weed was the most important thing I ever did for myself as a human and parent. I no longer have to make myself go numb to make it through the days. I get to give my daughter my full attention, love and a childhood she truly deserves—one with a genuinely present, calm and sober mother.