Florida House Alumni Patricia reflects on her experience in rehab and it’s meaning during the holidays. Patricia explains how she was able to finally deal with unsettled resentment with lost family members.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” The holidays are supposed to be filled with lots of family, tidings, and good cheer. For the addict in recovery, this time of year can be the opposite. Painful memories, unrealistic expectations, uncomfortable family gatherings, over-commitment, financial insecurities, and even grief can cause emotional turmoil. Some of us return home, prematurely, to less than favorable situations filled with unresolved resentments and dysfunction. Away from our recovery safe haven, many of us are left vulnerable and unequipped to face the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I was fortunate to have a huge family and sober support here in South Florida, but not everyone is so lucky. For me, the holidays continue to be a stark reminder of the absence of my mother and the chaos created by my unrelenting addiction. The beauty of recovery is that I no longer have to live in the past, rather I am able to reflect, take action, and grow from every ounce of pain and discomfort I encounter.
Grief has a funny way of creeping in and demolishing everything in its path. January 10, 2013 life, as I knew it, was completely uprooted. My mother had a massive heart attack and unexpectedly passed away. Prior to her heart attack, the last memories I have with my mother are memories filled with her crying and unable to get out of bed. My mom never missed a holiday, but this particular year she wasn’t able to spend any of the holidays with us. I vividly remember the chaotic events that followed. Instantly I sought out oblivion through any mind/mood altering substance. My remedy of choice was one I danced with for years: opiates. Chasing the dragon, in hopes of avoiding any feelings of grief, I progressively withdrew from the reality that my mom was no longer here. I took on the responsibilities of running our family business, maintaining the household, and taking over the motherly duties left behind by mom. I was incapable of fulfilling my self-induced pressures without the aid of my analgesic. Eventually, I was drowning in full-blown addiction, running from the pain of my mother’s absence.
Divide. Destroy. Rebuild. From mom’s passing to my newly adapted vices, the dynamics of our family had changed. Grief and trauma became our reprieve. Everyone felt as if their grief outweighed anyone else’s. For me, I was drowning in oblivion and suppressing any unpleasant feeling. I truly believed that my emotional absence was for the greater good. Afterall, someone had to “be the strong one,” right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. My son Liam was 3 at the time and he was home alone when she passed and my brother found my mother and watched her take her last breath. I was too emotionally unavailable to even care about their trauma. My father was beside himself and I convinced myself that being high and “showing up” was the best thing I could do. As the days turned into months, my addiction had me by the throat. I was irrational and utterly disillusioned with the idea that I had it all together. Confusion, resentments, and grief swept in as the holidays approached and our family was unraveling at the seams. Not only was my family grieving the loss of my mother, but now the loss of a daughter, sister, and mother they once knew. I was lost, hopeless, and desperate.
“And all the while I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs, and no one even looks up.” I was just like Rose, in the scene from Titanic, fighting against the impossible pressures of family, society, and myself. I was suffocating in guilt, shame, unresolved grief, and crippling insanity. Eventually, my consequences warranted change and I sought help. I left for treatment with the preconceived notion that I was only addressing my substance abuse issues. I convinced myself it was the drugs that led me astray, not my inability to process emotions. My father was smart enough to send me to FHE Health, a dual diagnosis treatment facility, and it saved my life. I entered treatment broken and rebelling against vulnerability. Unbeknownst to me, I was surrounded with professionals who refused to allow me to avoid the grief that overcame me. Left with no escapable option, I acted as if until I gratefully accepted change.
I remember sitting in a case lead group and being asked if I ever dealt with the loss of my mother and why I blamed myself. Immediately I was engulfed with anger. The group facilitator intervened and challenged me to write a “goodbye letter” to my mother. I wanted to puke. I trembled at the idea of hashing out ancient resentments and regrets. Most of all, I was most fearful of accepting the permanence of her fate. I journaled every painful and joyous memory I shared with my mother. After writing the letter, addressing past regrets and letting emotions flow from pen to paper, gratitude rushed over me like sweet summer rain. I felt immediate relief and I was given a whole new perspective.
“Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Upon saying my goodbyes and relieving myself of the bondage of my unsettled resentments, I acquired the ability to put myself into my mother’s shoes. This warranted compassion, understanding, and most importantly grace. I was grateful for the memories I shared with my mother. Even though I couldn’t make peace face to face with my mom, I was able to process my grief through the vulnerable and intimate experience. I felt like I was finally free, no longer enslaved to the pain that became my identity. As time passes, I miss my mom more every day, but my love for her grows stronger. Every year when the holidays come around, her absence still penetrates the deepest parts of our hearts. In sobriety, I have learned how to practice acceptance and walk through any unfavorable situation with grace. I have women in my life that carry me when I cannot carry myself. I have had to opportunity to make amends to the people I have hurt the most. I have learned the true meaning of forgiveness and I try to operate in love, in all of my affairs. This holiday season, I have been blessed with the gift of sobriety and the opportunity to show up for my family during the hardest time of the year. Today, I get the privilege of sharing my anguish and heartache with other women going through similar adversity. My goal is to spread hope and encourage other women to walk through the pain of grief and the holidays without the aid of any mood/mind altering substance. I value every moment exactly as it is and I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for every person in my life.