Some days it feels like the first six months of 2021 never happened. The countless needles, IVs, meds, PICC lines, surgeries feel like a distant nightmare. I was in survival mode. Other days, I sit with anxiety pounding my chest *knowing* the infection is back or something else will be wrong. I’ve avoided writing, feeling or slowing down since my last surgery on May 20th.
It was like I rolled out of the hospital and sprinted back into the chaos of life, allowing the busyness to protect me from trauma’s shadow lurking behind me. I didn’t want to face it. I still don’t. But two weeks ago, I realized it was time. I need to write. I need to process. I can’t run anymore. I need to face the shadow so I can move forward. Life and recovery always have a way of slapping me in the face and duct taping me to my therapist’s couch.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my sweet Manning has had a rough start to fourth grade. Turns out fourth grade math is no joke. Fourth grade is when kids start noticing differences and students are expected to take on more responsibility. With ADHD and sensory differences, Manning struggled. When you see your child hurt, you hurt ten thousand times more.
We met with a wonderful psychiatrist and decided to try some medication in addition to the other therapies he is receiving. It is very common for children with ADHD to take stimulant drugs to help calm their busy motors. I was so thrilled for my Manning and hopeful this would be another tool to help him succeed. What I did not expect was the mental toll the drug would take on me and my eleven year recovery.
My recovery did not come easy. I still work every day at it. Throughout all of Marjorie’s health battles, my recovery remained solid. When Marjorie was sick, I knew I had to take care of myself to be there as best as I could for her. Her health was my main focus and motivation. I wrote in my blog every day, which was the therapy my wounded momma heart needed.
This past year and a half has been a different story. Life’s curve balls kept being hurled at me, knocking me down physically and mentally. Last year, I received extreme criticism over my writing and decision to tell my prophylactic mastectomy journey. I did not write for months and still hesitate to write today. It felt the lifeline I cultivated and written in for years, had been stomped on and ripped from me in an instant.
Add in the pandemic, my journey through the prophylactic mastectomy, infections, needles and seven surgeries, anyone’s mental state would crumble. My reflection in the mirror is my daily reminder of the horror of this year. Instead of slowing to face the reflection, I sped up and distracted myself every minute of every day. It was hard to focus on work, so I would pace in my house. There was always noise – tv, podcasts, loud kids. I never allowed silence. Silence was deafening and terrifying.
Now mix in navigating your child’s ADHD, mean kids and a tough start to the school year, I was drowning. I felt like I was failing in every aspect of life – work, motherhood, even taking care of our dog. FAIL. Every day was constant worry:
When the kids were at school, I worried – “Would this be a good day?”
“Are kids being nice to Manning?”
“Is Marjorie being kind to other kids?” – if you know Marjorie, you know this to be true. She tends to be on the ‘assertive’ side of the playground!
My strong minded recovery began to falter. Looking at my disfigured and scar filled chest every day took its toll on me. I began noticing other people’s bodies and comparing them to mine. The restrictive ‘what ifs’ slowly crept into my brain. And then I went to fill Manning’s prescription. The memories hit me like a ton of flying bricks…
I was a freshman in high school when I learned about the stimulant drug adderall. For a teen who did not love what she saw in the mirror and constantly felt like the dumb little sister, the drug sounded magical. Not only would it make me focus, it would make me lose weight. I knew it was my golden ticket to loving my body, good grades and feeling good about myself. I weaseled and lied my way into a prescription. It became my drug, my addiction and the catalyst into the depths of a 15-year battle with an eating disorder.
Twenty-four years (and a lot of therapy later), I held in my hand my eating disorder kickstarter and my once beloved drug. I quickly tossed the pills into my car’s center console and drove home. I felt so shaken at my thoughts and reaction. But one thing I know to be 110-percent true in my recovery: thoughts are just that…thoughts. They are not actions. I knew I was okay, shaken, yes, but I was okay.
My panic quickly subsided as I entered the door to my chaotic home. It was 5:30 – the height of chaos. With the cacophony of Manning yelling for homework help, Marjorie singing around the den and the dog barking, I was jerked out of my panicked state. Jordan greeted me with a kiss and excitedly saw the CVS bag. We were so hopeful for the medicine to help our sweet boy. I took the pill bottle out of the brown CVS bag, placed them on the kitchen counter and went to help Manning with his math homework.
That evening after the kids were tucked in bed and fast asleep, Jordan and I assumed our positions on the couch. We watched Ted Lasso, laughed and then went to bed. The pills remained on the counter. And I remained solid in my recovery knowing they were simply thoughts.
The next day we gave Manning his medicine and dropped both kids at school. Fingers crossed for a good day. I went to work and went about my day, passing the pill bottle without notice. Yes, I thought, THIS is recovery.
A few days later, Jordan and I noticed Manning’s mood was irritable. The next day even moreso. Suddenly, it was like our sweet, happy, funny guy was taken from us and replaced with a sad, angry 9-year old. Nothing we did or said made him smile. We called the doctor and only had two days until our med check up.
After a VERY sleepless night and too many Google searches, we decided to pull him from the medicine. And therein lies the problem, a bottle full of my drug – the answer to my anxiety, body image…my lifeboat that could pull me out of the sea that I was drowning in. The lure was STRONG.
I did what any seasoned recovered person does: I text my therapist. SOS. HELP. I’m drowning and I have these pills in my house. I told her that day if the doctor agreed to discontinue I would have Jordan toss the pills ASAP. She agreed, validated all my feelings and we made an appointment for a day later.
The doctor did agree to discontinue Manning. Turns out, Manning is of the small percentage of ADHD cases that cannot handle stimulants. The day we discontinued, we started seeing glimpses of Manning by the time I picked him up that afternoon. I cried tears of sheer joy seeing my sweet boy come back to me.
But the pills remained on the counter.
I did not say anything to Jordan. I don’t know why. I just did not want to. I was so angry at them. Angry they took my sweet boy, angry at them for taking so much of my life. But I was not ready to throw them out. The pills remained on the counter another night. It was like I wanted to prove something to myself.
The next morning, Jordan and I got the kids up, dressed, morning chaos and out the door. I found myself home alone, like always, with the pills still sitting there on the counter. I smiled thinking of the chaos that I live in – the happy chaos. My silly boy was back. My sassy cancer smasher is healthy and I have the best partner anyone could dream of. Life is hard right now. I am drowning and have a lot of work ahead.
But my life is so damn beautiful and I’ll be damned if I let another pill or diet steal that from me again.
I did not tell Jordan to throw the pills away because I wanted to do it. And I did.
Recovery is NOT running into the sunset loving every inch of your body. Recovery is messy and brutiful. It doesn’t matter how many years of recovery you have in your belt – life can still shake you.
Here is what I know in this moment: I am still drowning. But doing the work. I’ve reached out to my people and added extra sessions with my therapist. She is challenging me to write again and I am slowly coming back – returning to my art, to my creativity, my soul. I am taking back what was mine.
I don’t care if I am the only one who reads it. Or if maybe one or two of you out there read it too. This is my heart. My soul on a page. Imperfect, loud, maybe a little extra, but it is me. And it feels so damn good to find a piece of myself again.
I’ve missed her.
I’ve missed ME.