‘I can’t raise a child. I can’t even take care of myself!’ I had nothing left to live for. Or so I thought.’: Woman recovers from addiction for daughter, ‘All it took was a tiny shimmer of hope’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains themes of abuse, suicide, sexual assault, and self-harm that may be triggering to some.

“I wish I could pinpoint exactly where my addiction story began, but in all honesty, this life has been a kaleidoscope of broken events. Each new fracture, mirroring that of the one before it.  The best I can do is tell my story from where it began.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old. My brother, Paul, who was 4 years older than me, came home and saw my mom was in my bedroom. I had taken a beating from my father that day and she was comforting me. I don’t know why, out of the three of us in the family, he disliked me the most. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest and the least capable of fighting back. Or maybe, somewhere deep down, he knew I never cared for him. For as long as I can remember, I had no feelings of love towards that man.

That night, Paul told me, ‘Before I die, I will kick the sh** out of him for everything he’s ever done to you.’

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

In the summer of 1997, at his after-graduation party, Paul was drinking with his friends at my dad’s acreage when things got out of hand.  That night, he paid the debt of his promise made to me all those years ago. My brother beat our dad and then killed himself.

I was 13 years old and took the news of his death as if I had murdered him myself. That year was my first ‘vacation stay’ at a Psychiatric Hospital.

Things never got easier after that. In the summer of 2002, my grandmother suddenly passed away, which triggered a relapse of unresolved traumatic stress. This time, my stay at the psychiatric hospital was far more dramatic. I had been suffering from insomnia for 3 months and on my third prescribed attempt at antipsychotics. Despite the medication, none of it stopped the cutting. The cutting also didn’t stop the whirlwind of voices in my head that echoed every self-defeating thought I had ever had. Whether the words were my own, or someone else’s, it didn’t matter. I believed the solution lied in a belt: one end looped around my neck, and the other tied to the towel rack in the washroom.

I woke up in the ICU 3 days later.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

The psychiatrist whose care I was under during this time developed a very deep resentment towards me.  You see, her husband (also a psychiatrist) was in the ward at the time of my attempted suicide. When he found me, he suffered a heart attack. This resulted in the position of my legal guardianship being taken to the Board of Psychiatrists where my mother was deemed ‘unfit’ for my care.

From there, I was handed over to the Province. Here, my psychiatrist would have free reign over my care, and her resentment carried on through 7 forced sessions of electroshock therapy. One of which she ‘forgot’ to put the guard in my mouth. I ended up with two broken front teeth. This time around, the ‘vacation stay’ lasted a total of almost 4 months, 3 weeks of which I spent strapped to a bed in a locked room. For the remainder of my time there, I was force-fed and injected with an IV cocktail of antipsychotics and sedatives.

The eighth and final session of electric shock therapy was avoided due to the combined efforts of the nursing staff, as well as my mother, who together fought back against my clinical abuser. The legal right of my guardianship was awarded back to my mom. I was free to go home, but not without a significant amount of traumatic baggage.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

On February 17, 2011, my mother passed away after a 2 year-long battle with breast cancer.

For the last 2 years of my life, I had been living for her and slowly dying with her. A few weeks before she passed, my mom told her best friend she couldn’t let go because she was too afraid of what would happen to me. She didn’t think I would be okay.

During her final day, she teetered back and forth from death’s door. Each time she took what appeared to be her last breath, I would panic, and she would come back. With the aid of our doctor, I signed off on having her drugged until she had no choice but to let go. I crawled into bed with her, and I laid my head on her chest. Breathing in deeply and exhaling slowly, I tried to trance her into my meditation, and it worked. I calmed myself into slumber, and with that, she took her last breath.

Acute Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder was my official diagnosis. It was triggered by a lifetime of events (not all listed here) and fed with years of alcohol/drug over-consumption. I felt I had to do anything to keep myself away from the night-terrors that haunted me. Anything I had to take that would remove the depth of self-hatred I had for taking both my brother and my mother’s lives. Anything I could do that would help me forget I was the deciding factor in both of their deaths. Running away from years of pain and shame led me here: spring of 2016, in a basement suite in Rosewood at 5 a.m., drinking and smoking crack with my boyfriend.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

Self-medication was the only thing that kept me alive to this point. My will was gone, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before my life was also over. I had nothing left to live for. Or so I thought.

On the morning of August 23, 2016, I woke up nauseous. The test I took later that afternoon would confirm I was pregnant. How is this possible? I was never supposed to be able to get pregnant. Panic set in.

‘My boyfriend is a crack addict. He won’t be around. I can’t get sober. I’ve tried many times before. I can’t raise a child on my own. I can’t afford it. I don’t have any family to help. I’m incapable of taking care of myself! What am I supposed to do? Be an addict, alcoholic mother? Raise a child in that, how I was raised?  Disgusting! Shameful! This is a nightmare! WHY WOULD THIS HAPPEN?’

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko
Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

These questions flew through my mind while I sat outside in the driveway chain-smoking and chugging a bottle of wine.  The only option I saw was having an abortion and committing suicide. That’s what I was going to do.

But that’s not what happened…

April 25 of 2017, at 1:25 a.m., I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Kala, named after the Calla Lilies my mother bought me every year for my birthday. The decision to keep my daughter would be the greatest and most defining moment of my life. All it took was one tiny shimmer of hope. One that I clung to. Maybe… just maybe I CAN do it.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko
Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

From there, I committed to years of trauma therapy, counseling, somatic energy healing, A.R.T therapy, and Alcoholics Anonymous. These were all the places I found my strength.  The strength to do my very best to give my daughter the life I never had. The greatest obstacle being I needed to believe, at the very least, I deserved a chance at happiness. The longer I stayed sober and the deeper I dove inward, the louder that once silent voice from within fought for me to KNOW it. To know it, and to meet it.

I had come so far in my journey, so very far. I spent the previous 3 years unpacking an entire lifetime of trauma: I dealt with my father; I dealt with my brother, I dealt with the sexual assaults. I even participated in hypnotic therapy to uncover the events that were buried deep within my subconscious from the electroshock therapy (amnesia is a side-effect of the treatments).

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

‘But why do I still get caught up in things that are not good for me? Why do I have issues creating boundaries, and holding myself to them? Why do I ignore red-flags and create deep, intimate relationships with people who self-sabotage and destruct? Why do I allow myself to be treated with anything but the utmost respect and love? Why do I allow people who claim to love me, hurt me so deeply? Why?! Am I so scared of letting real love in?’

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

The week of October 20, 2020, my fourth sobriety birthday, and 4 weeks into a 5-week intense Recovery Program created by Mark Groves, I broke through.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

My mother was the person I loved most of all.  But, after having searched through every relevant relationship in my life with a fine-toothed comb, I had the devastating revelation she was the person who caused the most damage. Even after all those years of therapy, I wouldn’t let a counselor touch her with a 100-foot pole. Yet, here, I could clearly see every relationship I have had pointed back to a specific situation or conversation with her.

She was the one who kept me there with my dad.  She was the one who loved me but continued to keep me in that situation. All of my love for her was met with emotional and physical abuse. THAT situation was the one that took my brother’s life. Not me. I was only a child. I could not have been responsible for that. I did not take her life from her. Her decisions along the way, her choices, had consequences. Consequences which resulted in terrible things. Consequences which resulted in her guilt literally eating her alive by cancer.

She couldn’t let go, not because of her fear of my inability to be okay. It was because of her fear if she left, I would forget how loved I really was or I would never again feel love.

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

She feared I would carry my head in shame – because that’s what she did. She feared I would never find the root of truth after all I had been left in – not without her. But you see? My mom never found what I found.

She never found we experience shame the moment we realize better behavior was available to us. All we must do is realize the feeling of shame is a gift. It’s an opportunity. An invitation to a new way of life. She never found healing can only be found within the depths of the pain. And love was always in me REGARDLESS of who loved me. She feared I couldn’t face the pain or I couldn’t find my way to truth because she couldn’t. My mother’s inability to find acceptance in her past was her prison. And her prison became mine.

‘Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.’

Rest easy, Mom. Your little girl is going to be okay.”

Courtesy of Kayli Pavelko

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kayli Pavelko from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You can follow her journey on her Instagram or Facebook . Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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