Early Exposure To Addiction
“I attended my first twelve-step meeting at only nine-years-old; my parents have been involved in addiction and recovery for as long as I can remember.
When I was twelve, they divorced. Sober living wasn’t going as well for Mom as it was for Dad. Thus, a significant pivot occurred, and life as I knew it changed.
Even though my father was a more fit parent, I chose to live with my mother. Deep down inside, I felt I could be the one to save her from the demons that drove her to use drugs.
Instead, I fell into the trap of substance abuse right along with her, and by the time I was thirteen, I had experimented with every illicit drug on the market. I dropped out of formal education in the eighth grade by citing homeschooling as a better option. However, realistically, my mom’s household didn’t do foster schooling, and I knew that.
Mom and I bounced around for a few years, moving from a small town in the southeastern United States to a bigger one, Atlanta. Ultimately, we ended up parting ways shortly after my sixteenth birthday when mom went to jail for thirty days.
Partying Through My Early 20s
My father started a new life after the divorce, so, depleted of any immediate family, I disappeared into the party scene once my mom became incarcerated. One night, a talent agent stopped me at a nightclub. Within a year, I packed up my meager belongings and moved to Miami Beach, subsequently signing a contract with Elite Model Management.
I stayed in South Beach working as a fashion model for brands like Kate Spade and Neiman Marcus for over a year before deciding to run away again (this time to New York City).
I’ll never forget the night I purchased the ticket for a one-way flight, less than five hundred dollars to my name and one oversized rolling suitcase. In Manhattan, I crashed on the floor of a studio apartment owned by the sister of a girl I worked with in Florida.
The apartment’s kitchen housed the bathtub, the floor slanted at a reasonably dangerous grade, and three other people lived in the space. It was a mere six hundred square feet of squalor. Naturally, my roommates all drank heavily. It was 2005, and the city had much to offer for club kids and outcasts; I was no exception.
It took less then ninety days for the agency to terminate my modeling contract for insubordination. I was drinking in excess, and I was imbibing daily. I lived in bars and rested my head in a dozen different roommate situations for eight years in tiny, rodent-infested apartments. I transitioned from a harmless party girl to a full-blown alcoholic.
Finally, when I turned twenty-eight, I was broke, unemployed, and homeless, living out of a rented storage closet in Hell’s Kitchen. Something had to give.
Fortunately for me, my parents were clean and sober by that point. They kept reaching out, attempting to make amends. My desire to rebuild a relationship with them certainly paled in comparison to the state of desperation I found myself in, but each felt like a good reason to leave New York.
First Attempts At Sobriety
I found ride-share on an internet forum and paid an unsuspecting man three hundred dollars I had borrowed from my dad. The stranger escorted me and my one oversized rolling suitcase to Tennessee, where my mom was living on a farm with her new husband’s family at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.
I stayed sober for six months, the most prolonged period of continuous sobriety I maintained since I started drinking and drugging during childhood. That fall, I reunited with a fellow I first met when my parents split, and we fell in love.
Immediately, we moved in together. We shared a modest apartment on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, my home state, and less than six months later, I discovered I was pregnant. Amazement and anxiety washed over me simultaneously.
Reasonably sure I’d pickled my ovaries, I asked the doctor, ‘Are you one hundred percent certain I’m pregnant?’ I made the appointment at the free women’s clinic because three home pregnancy tests weren’t enough to convince me I was able to conceive a child.
‘Looks like the baby is due on Valentine’s Day,’ she smiled. The fear overcame the excitement in a flash. I’d already relapsed once since getting sober, and it had only been three weeks since I hopped back on the wagon. I wondered how to prevent another slip into addiction long enough to grow another human being inside my body.
I questioned my emotional strength, willpower, and physical ability.
Finally, I married my son’s father in a rushed and impulse-driven visit to the courthouse and then to a notary public—one who happened to handle business at a kiosk within a well-known packing supply and shipping chain.
Miraculously, I stayed sober for the duration of my pregnancy and delivered a healthy nine-pound baby boy one day later than anticipated. My son’s arrival transpired flawlessly. From the outside, my life appeared perfect. Inside, I felt pangs of terror.
Mental warfare ensued. For weeks after his birth, I obsessed over whether or not my boy’s DNA contained the ‘addiction gene.’
Riddled with uneasiness, I checked his crib at night, every hour on the hour, making sure he was still alive. I imagined I deserved for this fairytale to end in tragedy, solely based upon the bridges I’d burned and the relationships severed over all those years in which I chose alcohol and drugs over alliances and accountability.
My son was four months old when I began sneaking wine into the house after grocery store runs. Vodka followed. Then, opioid pain pills. I don’t recall packing up my car and embarking on a road trip to see my mother that summer.
Still, I remember the officer placing me in handcuffs after removing my baby boy from the backseat of the hot car we’d fallen asleep inside of while parked in a vacant lot halfway to Tennessee. I was locked up in a county jail two hundred miles from home for ten days.
Once released, I maintained my sobriety for the next two years as I attended one-on-one therapy and recovery meetings. A steady job in sales allowed me to enroll my son in daycare, and I spent my weekends surrounded by family.
I purchased health insurance and went to a physician for regular checkups. That’s when I received a diagnosis of ADHD, for which my doctor prescribed Adderall. It didn’t take long for me to abuse my medication.
On June 23rd, 2018, I collapsed onto my bathroom floor, where my husband administered CPR until the paramedics arrived. I overdosed. After using the defibrillator paddles not once, but three times, and to no avail, the hospital’s medical staff announced my death.
Shocked that my heart resumed beating again after my brain lacked oxygen intake for nearly ten minutes, the cardiologist on duty put me into a medically induced coma, where I stayed for four days and nights. Upon waking, I’d amassed a new lease on life. My entire perspective of living and dying, love and loss, changed forever.
Every rock bottom I had hit before seemed like small potatoes when contrasted with this experience.
Since that devastating incident, I have worked tirelessly to break the cycle of addiction and live out my days to their fullest potential. These days, I treat my anxiety, ADHD, and depression symptoms with yoga, meditation, and creative writing.
I find joy in waking up early every morning, without a grueling hangover or severe withdrawal symptoms, eager to face whatever reality has in store for me.
The need to escape when times are difficult is ever-present; I’m not sure it ever stops to be honest. Still, instead of giving in to every temptation, I adamantly remind myself of the consequences I’ll face if I fall back into that cold and isolated well of addiction.
Painful memories of past ramifications aside, I have my now six-year-old son, who is a great motivator to be the best version of myself I can be. I am open with him about my recovery journey—he knows some drugs are illegal and dangerous and drinking alcohol makes some people more inclined to tragedy than others.
But, as anyone who has dealt with addiction knows, recovery is something an addict must do for themselves. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the hard way.
Nothing has helped me more in rediscovering myself as a woman, a mother, and a contributing member of society then embarking on a lifelong dream of becoming a writer. Last year, I completed the first draft of a roughly two-hundred-page memoir. The manuscript is unequivocally a labor of love.
I feel pouring my heart out onto those pages released much trauma and anger from my childhood, which I held on tightly to throughout my life in active addiction.
With my little boy back in school as a first grader this year, led by a fantastic teacher whom I could not love more, I have time to focus on using my voice to advocate for other parents in recovery from substance abuse disorder.
Right now, that looks like a weekly blog article centered around motherhood and mental health, which I typically write in the eleventh hour.
All jokes aside, the blog #parentingSLACKS is a passion project I started a couple of months ago and take very seriously. Researching the neuroscience behind my mental health woes piqued my interest during one of my first sessions with a therapist.
So, the ability to put those hours of investigation toward a piece of writing that could potentially help another addict stay sober is a gift I must share.
I certainly do not consider myself an exemplary mother or a parenting expert by any means; however, I put my best foot forward when learning and growing from all the essential lessons children have to teach us. Being a mom in recovery is not always the most straightforward of tasks, but are the ones worth doing ever easy?”
This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Carter Cash, from Greenville, South Carolina. You can follow her journey on her Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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