‘Either you get your sh*t together or I am taking your daughter.’ Without hesitation, I replied, ‘Help me.’: Single mom candidly details her sobriety journey

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of substance abuse and sexual abuse which may be triggering for some.

Growing Up

“My story isn’t one of tragedy. There was no ‘one moment’ that defined why I drank as excessively as I did. It was to the point where I had to decide between being a mother or continuing to drink the poison that was destroying me. It’s a build up of unfortunate circumstances, cruddy genes, and never forming healthy coping mechanisms.

I grew up in a ‘cozy little cottage’ with my parents and older brother in the woods of Schuylkill County, PA. I am just one of 23 cousins in a close knit family. My mother is a teacher at the local high school, and everyone seemed to know everyone in that small area. My parents were, and still are, undoubtedly in love with each other. I always looked up to them and wanted someone to love me the way they did for each other. The one thing that made my parents’ relationship work was the fact my dad got sober for her and our family. He started drinking from a young age and formed an addiction after his father passed. Addiction ran on both sides of his family. He attended AA meetings, classes, and was sober for 21 years. I grew up knowing he was sober, but I never witnessed him drunk or knew what alcohol addiction really was, just that it was possible to recover.

Young blonde girl smiling
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

Although he was sober, he still dealt with anxiety issues and, unfortunately, I also did. Before he was medicated, he would have bouts of anger and get irritated with my brother and I. The one line he said that stuck with me was, ‘I can always make another one just like you.’ Apparently, this affected me more than I even realized. In my head I heard, ‘I’m replaceable and just another person on this planet.’ He shortly noticed how he was feeling wasn’t normal, and was officially diagnosed with anxiety. It was wild to see the change in him just from taking care of his mental health. This also showed me there are mental diseases out there, but there is help. (I want to stop and say how wonderful my father is and I don’t EVER hold any of this against him. I don’t like talking about this part because he is seriously the BEST father a girl could ask for.)

Growing up, most of the adults drank. We were loud and proud Polish Americans. We loved beer and making boilo. I’d hear the ‘Glory Days’ stories of them getting away with drinking and partying while underage. Drinking was what you did in a little coal town. You had to drive to get anywhere and, when your parents told you, ‘Get out of the house and go do something better,’ there really wasn’t anywhere better to go. We would end up sitting in our friend’s house, sitting in a local restaurant trying to stretch meals out as long as we could, or walking around and causing mischief. You almost had to have an extra curricular activity in school to keep yourself busy, and I joined everything.

Girl in yellow jersey kneeling with a basketball
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

I was 13 the first time my lips tasted alcohol. It was the day my uncle passed. I don’t remember being necessarily sad, since he was on hospice and we had time to prepare. The opportunity presented itself to me as an almost empty bottle of Smirnoff with a piece of watermelon soaking in it. When bad things happen, people drink, right? I was finally going to have this forbidden drink everyone else seemed to enjoy so much. I was no longer going to wonder what it was like.

As my high school years passed, my anxiety, depression, and insecurities grew into demons. I was trying to fit in, but felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I had friends, but I was always the ‘funny one.’ The one they kept around to laugh at. When it came to real friend time, I wasn’t invited, and I felt like I was missing out. The exclusion feeling is one that really took control. I turned boy crazy; looking for a guy to just notice me, to love me, to spend time with me. I wanted to be anyone else but me, because no one wanted to actually be around me. These feelings spiraled into self harm and cutting myself. I wanted out of my own skin, as dark and twisty as that sounds. I only told a few friends, and I hid it by cutting or digging my nails into my underwear line. When I talked to my mom about my feelings (excluding the self harm), she would chalk it up to my time of the month or hormones. At that moment, I just assumed every girl felt just like I did and everyone was depressed. Maybe everyone secretly hurt themselves too?

School photo of a 9th grader with pink streaks
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

An Abusive Relationship

When I was 15, I met my high school sweetheart who turned my whole life around in the four years we were together. He was the new bassist for a friend’s band I followed. We ended up clicking on so many levels, and he seemed to be so in love with me. It wasn’t long until our cute, late night phone calls turned into me not being able to sleep on a school night because he thought it meant I was bored of him. I would have panic attacks all hours of the night because he was drunk and going to kill himself for something I did before he even met me. He would call me from fake numbers trying to catch me flirting with ‘other guys,’ and would just start fights with me. He always knew how to turn a fight about his insecurities into me being the bad guy. Anything set him off and, while I was there crying trying to figure out what I did wrong, he would tell me piously, ‘I could be hitting you.’ He let me know he needed to, ‘Break me down brick by brick so I can build you back up. That’s how you get strong.’

With all the emotional abuse, he was also sexually abusing me. Due to starting birth control, my ‘lady bits’ became dry. According to him, this was due to me no longer being attracted to him. So it came down to us having painful sex, because he didn’t believe in lube, or I was going to be verbally and mentally abused because I no longer loved him. I lived my life in fear of him. He isolated me from my friends and family. He told me how awful they treated me and how I didn’t deserve that. I was absolutely dead inside. Even when college came, and it turned into a long-distance relationship, he still had a hold over me. There were times I would try to leave, but he would always threaten to kill himself. It was a never ending cycle.

At the age of 17, I packed up my bags and went off to college. I went an hour-and-a-half away where I had no friends and knew no one. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I wanted to be a fun type, you know, ‘That Girl’ everyone wants to hang out with. I wanted to do everything I didn’t experience in high school because I was under the watchful eye of my controlling boyfriend, who went to another college. Making friends ended up being a fairly easy task, and I started to go out on the weekends with the girls across the hall from me. I felt included for once. I never partied in high school. My friends and I just sat around once in awhile and played a few games. But best yet, when I was drinking, I didn’t have that lingering anxiety I had been feeling my whole life.

Group of college girls posing together in a line
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

College Drinking

About 6 months into my college career, I had an underage citation at school. It stopped me from drinking for a little bit, but that’s also due to pledging to a sorority just two days later. Soon, occasionally drinking on the weekends turned into me drinking every weekend; this then turned into drinking whenever I had free time. If I wasn’t at school or work, I didn’t want to feel. This escalated when I decided to get on anti-anxiety medication, hoping it would solve all of my problems… there is a reason the bottle says, ‘Do not drink while taking these.’

While I was on my meds, I would go from feeling totally fine to blacked out drunk in a matter of what felt like seconds. So, not only was I drinking every weekend and some week days, I was also blacking out almost every time. I was getting kicked out of parties and walking around aimlessly trying to get invited into another one somewhere else in town. I had an actual friend have to chase me out of his house with a shotgun. I never wanted the party to end, and I never wanted to be in the real world. I was turning into ‘That Girl,’ but the one you didn’t want to be around. I was depressed, drunk, angry, and wanted out.

This lifestyle, of course, had a lot of repercussions. I went from having an executive position in my sorority to them wanting to kick me out unless I got help. The frat boys I hung out with would not let me in their house if I was drinking. I woke up one morning to a stranger on top of me, having his way. He ended up giving me a STD. I had ‘guy friends’ who also liked to take advantage of my drunken state. In my head, I was drunk and probably flirty, so I deserved it. All I was good for was a roll in the hay, but at least that meant I was good for something. My grades were awful and my house was a disaster. If I couldn’t drink, I was going to find something else to do and still hang out with my friends. This is when I started snorting Adderall. I still wanted to be up and hype and party, and I wanted to be messed up while I did it. Snorting Adderall turned into me snorting almost anything. I barely graduated college and only did because I got lucky.

alcoholic in cap and gown with parents at college graduation
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

Life After College

When I was 20 years old at my junior college, my boyfriend finally left me and I ended up falling in love with my next door neighbor. We were inseparable. We fell fast and hard for each other. Not even a year later, we moved in together, and not much longer after, I was pregnant. For the first time in forever, I felt whole. I had someone who loved me and a tiny little being on the way, and we were going to be a little family. I stopped everything as soon as I found out. I found a love I never even knew I wanted.

Pregnant woman at her baby shower
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

This sobriety streak was, unfortunately, short-lived. My daughter was born with her intestines on the outside of her body (a medical condition called ‘gastroschisis’), and had to stay in the NICU for a month. This month I spent alone, staring at an empty crib, with a beer in my hand because my partner worked nights. I was alone in my own sorrow with no friends or family around. She did eventually come home. All three of us rented a little house in town, and we tried to do the best we could while struggling with alcoholism. Nothing was perfect, but we loved the life we made. I thought we were happy. Then the news came…

Before our daughter’s third birthday, my partner sat me down and told me they had to talk to me about something important. They then proceeded to tell me the big, burly, alpha male I was about to marry wanted to be a woman. And with those words, my world turned upside down. The words that kept replaying in my head were how they asked me out: ‘Are you ready for a real man?’

The next few years feel like a blur. It seemed like I was just standing on the sidelines, watching my life fall apart. We never fought until this moment, but the two of us were both struggling to be heard by the other. I fought so hard to keep us together, to have an open relationship and still co-parent, all while having a bottle glued to my hand. My partner wanted to see other people. They wanted to experience being with men as a woman. How could I possibly be mad at them for finally wanting to be their true selves? It’s just gender, and she should get to experience the full life. I tried so hard to be supportive and get myself to get out there.

My life was sex, drugs, and alcohol. I felt like the weight of everyone’s life was on my shoulders. I felt like I was taking care of everyone so they could keep being happy, and I was running strictly on the alcohol. If I wasn’t taking care of my daughter or working, I was wasted. I was also self-harming again. This time, I wasn’t even trying to hide it. My partner would get woken up in the middle of the night to banging on our door. It would be one of our friends who found me wandering around town at 3 a.m. blacked out drunk, wearing some man’s coat. I lost control of my ‘nearly perfect’ life and family, so I took it out on myself. My partner was no longer the person I fell in love with. They had this whole new personality and life I couldn’t keep up with. On top of that, COVID happened. I was stuck in my house with a lifestyle I was not ready for, and I was slowly watching her fall in love with another person. A man who obviously had things I could not offer.

Two women and a man at a bar holding beers
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

Hitting Rock Bottom

I realized I had a problem pretty quickly during this time. I hated drinking, but I felt dependent on it to survive. I would try to go without it, but it would end up being the only thing I could think about until I was able to get one in my system… and there was no stopping at one. I could maybe go two days without it, but that was rare. I would start putting my daughter to bed early so I could drink. I would forget about her in the tub because I started to drink during her bedtime routine. I started passing out in the middle of the night and once or twice bashed my head off of the bathroom sink. I would wake up naked in my desk chair with 24+ empty beer bottles sitting on my desk from the night before.

I also started doing something new: huffing keyboard cleaner. I saw it as ‘mommy’s little secret.’ It was a new high that took me somewhere else, and I loved that no one else knew about it. I would try to take as much as I could and hope it would kill me. I eventually crashed my car due to huffing the cleaner while driving. I could have killed someone that day. I could have killed myself and left my little girl without a mother. I, frankly, didn’t care. That was the day I made my peace with death and was ready to embrace it if it came. I needed help but I didn’t know how to get help. I remember sitting in my room, wasted, watching Grey’s Anatomy thinking, ‘How on earth could Amelia make it to 1,000 days sober?’ It seemed absolutely impossible. I could barely make it a day. I started questioning if I needed to go to a psych ward or rehab. Was I crazy or was I an alcoholic? The only person who knew how bad my drinking was, was my partner, and neither of us had the guts to put me away.

My last time drinking was a bender. I woke up wasted from the night before with a hangover coming on. My partner handed me a beer and said, ‘Here, this will help.’ They were heading out with their boyfriend for the day/night, and my best friend was coming to keep me company. It was the first time she ever visited me since I moved away. Later, I found out she came down because she was worried about me and was trying to figure out how to get me back home to my family. She showed up early and I was already wasted. Instead of visiting me and hanging out, she took care of me the entire time. At one point, I passed out and she couldn’t wake me up. I woke up eventually, and then… I continued to drink until I passed out. I officially threw in the red flag and gave up. That was the longest I kept myself drunk for.

Alcohol addict drunk selfie
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

The next day I was sick. In all of my drinking I have NEVER felt this awful. My face was in the toilet for the entire day. I was crying to any god out there to hear me, anyone at all. ‘Either take it away or kill me. Either way I can’t do it anymore.’ While I was begging for my life, my mother-in-law came over to help look for my partner’s hormone medicine I’d lost. She saw the state of the house. She saw how I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone my daughter, her granddaughter. Not to mention, she already didn’t like me to begin with. I was irresponsible, a drunk, and a danger to those around me. She was right. I needed to take responsibility.

She looked me in the eyes and gave me the ultimatum no addict wants to hear, ‘Either you get your sh*t together or I am taking your daughter. As of right now, you are no longer allowed alone with her.’ Without hesitation, I replied, ‘Help me.’ I could see the relief on her face. She never thought I would agree, at least so easily. My daughter was my entire world. She was the only person at that moment I cared about and I knew cared about me. Right then and there, my mother-in-law took me in and helped me find detox centers. Two days later, I was packed into a van and sent on my way to rehab. Finally, someone was taking care of me. I wasn’t trying to hold the world together with one band-aid and a stapler.

A New Lifestyle

Rehab was definitely an experience, and one I am grateful I was able to take part in. When I first arrived, I was sick and terrified. It probably took me about a week to finally eat a full meal. I attended as much as I could and really tried to soak in the information they were giving me. I thought it would just be classes saying the typical ‘Don’t drink’ and ‘Go to AA Classes.’ I was wrong. They taught me how to be a decent human being and different ways to cope without running to the bottle. I met peers who were struggling with the same demons I was. I no longer felt crazy. I no longer felt like I was the only person who felt they were hanging on by a thread. After 32 days, I went home, and not to my partner. I picked up my daughter, and we drove the hour-and-a-half to my parents, while getting the most unapologetic speeding ticket ever on my way.

Recovered addict and her friend after leaving rehab
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

Staying sober is more than not drugging or drinking. Staying sober is changing your lifestyle. It’s working on a better you, for you. Although I do still tend to be messy, my life is no longer a mess. Now, I am not saying every day is a walk in the park. At a year-and-a-half sober, I still have my bad days, days where I still question what I am doing. Thanks to rehab and my support system, I have ways I can dispel those feelings. I learned that, no matter what, there are crappy things that are out of our control. Getting sober doesn’t fix that, but now I can control how I react to those crappy things. I keep my focus on my daughter, my family, and my job.

While in my active addiction, I was a waitress and keeping up with the late night hustle. Now, I am an office manager for a home healthcare agency, waking up bright and early in the morning. I feel like I am actually helping people and making a change in the world, and I have a position where I have to be trusted. Me, the alcoholic who used to steal money from my parents’ bank account, is trusted to run an office. I also have a vehicle that is my own, and I have my daughter for the school year. I remember her birthdays and holidays. I get invited to birthdays and holidays for me to remember!

Recovered alcohol addict with her daughter
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

Never again will I take this life I have for granted. I recover as loudly as I drank. I am sure my Facebook and Instagram are sick of it, but I can’t tell you how many amazing people reached out to me for help. Because I share my journey, I have been able to talk friends through their first days, picking out rehabs, and sending them sobriety books. I have made friends with people who have been sober for years, and I had no idea they even struggled. Being public with my sobriety has helped people who suffer in silence have a voice. Knowing that is what truly makes me feel alive.”

Recovered alcohol addict smiling and holding a '9 months sober' coin
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor
Recovered alcohol addict sitting with her daughter on her lap
Courtesy of Emily Jude Taylor

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Jude Taylor from Shenandoah Heights, Pennsylvania. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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