‘We placed my son in the back of a black SUV and said goodbye. I lost all hope. Just before I drank myself to death, I found out I was pregnant.’: Mom’s harrowing journey to recovery, ‘It’s up to you to break the cycle’

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“From a very early age, I was hyper aware of the sadness in the world. I worried constantly about losing my loved ones, car accidents, fires, and getting shot or murdered — things no 3 year old should even think of. Because of this, when things really did happen in my life, I felt like I was doomed to live in pain and worry. I didn’t know what was wrong with me or why I felt this way. And I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about what I felt, so I kept it all bottled up. I prayed all the time as a child. My mom taught me to talk to God, which kept me holding on, even though I didn’t think He heard me.

The first thing to really effect my life was my dad leaving; I was 3 and my brother was 1. Eventually he married my stepmother, and had a daughter when I was 9. We visited him every other weekend and my parents had nothing nice to say about each other.

My mom dated a few different men, but when I was about 7 years old, she started dating my brother’s pre-school teacher. We both loved her, but she was only 11 years older than me. So when she moved in and became a parent figure who was able to discipline me, I was confused and angry. It took away from me enjoying the fun things about having another mother. This was before there was an Ellen to help prepare me and the rest of the world. I was badly teased, and kids said I was gay because my mom was. For 10 years, my brother and I both lied about who she was to us; I was saying she was our cousin and my brother was saying she was our aunt.

I started having issues with my weight in elementary school. I hated everything about the way I looked. Although I was always around people, and had a loving family and great friends, I felt alone. I felt ugly, fat, and not heard or seen. I had crippling anxiety and felt as though I wasn’t good enough for anyone. I was very smart and loved school, but by 7th grade, my grades went from straight A’s to barely able to focus enough to learn anything. No matter what I tried, I could not focus and could not quiet the constant negative thoughts in my head, telling me how terrible I was and amplifying the sad and scary things that could happen.

By 12, I would say I knew my father was an alcoholic — I just had no idea what being an alcoholic was. He was in and out of rehabs and A.A. but we didn’t really know the details of any of that. When I was 15, my father stopped picking my brother and I up, and it was a few years before I saw him, my stepmother, and my sister again. It made me really sad, but I didn’t talk about it. I would write him letters, but he wouldn’t write back.

Right after I turned 15, I met the guy who I thought was the absolute love of my life. Apparently, we were never really exclusive. In the summer going into my senior year, I got pregnant. He was going to college… hours away. My mother and her partner insisted I have an abortion, but I refused. I thought I would finally have the family I’d always wanted. I moved out after I was approved for subsidized housing, shortly after my 18th birthday. I went to almost every doctor appointment alone, and still went to school and worked at McDonald’s.

Courtesy Meredith Johnson

In April of my senior year, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. It was six weeks before I graduated, and all my friends were making plans to go to prom and senior week and college. I did graduate and then my daughter’s father and I attempted to play house as teenage parents for a while. It wasn’t long at all before we learned just how NOT ready for parenthood, or even a relationship, we were.

I quickly learned I was clueless about life. I fought constantly with my daughter’s father. I had been purging in high school but had now found out about diet pills, and I became addicted to them — sometimes taking 8 to 10 per day and only drinking water and coffee. My hands would shake constantly but I thought nothing of it. We both had issues we didn’t even know we had, and pain and anger we didn’t know how to deal with. So the stress of a baby, bills, and being grown-ups didn’t help our relationship.

When I would find myself crying constantly and feeling sad and lonely, I learned alcohol numbed the pain. I don’t remember taking my first drink. I just remember alcohol was like liquid courage and I LOVED IT. Drinking made me happy and it made my brain quiet. All of the bad thoughts would stop for a while, I wasn’t as scared and anxious, and it made most of my insecurities go away. It also helped me to be confident, or so I thought.

After my daughter’s father left and moved back to school without telling me, I started partying more and more. I went to clubs all the time, starved myself, and spent my time chasing love and experimenting with a lot of different drugs. I started fighting all the time, and often went to work with scratches and battle wounds. But I didn’t care, because at least I felt alive.

I got two DUI’s in two months when I was 22. I had to spend a weekend in jail, do a lot of community service, and was court ordered to two years of A.A. I hated every minute of it. After a year of visiting my probation officer, going to shock trauma tours, and attending MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) classes; I convinced the judge and my probation officer I had learned my lesson. I also convinced myself I wasn’t an alcoholic like those people at the meetings. I was able to get off probation a year early.

I had started visiting my dad and my sister a few times a year, and he even met my daughter. This was big because first of all, she was a mixed-race baby, and second of all, he had made it very clear he thought I was way too young to have a child.

But in 2003, my dad died in a hotel room at an A.A. convention. He was only 54 years old. When I found out he died, I was numb. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have the chance to find out why he never talked to me. When we attended his services, his fellow A.A. members spoke about him and it was like they were speaking about a stranger. Now that I look back, I know he really did try, and I know he loved my brother and I. He was just losing to the ugly disease of addiction.

In the meantime, my mom basically told me I sucked as a parent because my behavior seemed crazy. I was always chasing guys who weren’t good for me, partying, or going out in order to feel alive. So I thought she was right. It caused a lot of tension, and we always battled about what I should and shouldn’t be allowed to do with my daughter. It made me feel worthless and started a cycle of guilt and drinking too much, as a way to forget things I didn’t know how to fix.

One relationship I had was very abusive, and landed me in jail and in the hospital numerous times because of domestic violence. Trust me, I was no angel, because I fought back with a vengeance. I was addicted to the cycle of fighting and making-up, and the physical pain made me feel alive. He was eventually locked up and I tried dating a female, who was amazing, but I ended up realizing I was in love with the ‘nice guy’ who is currently my husband.

I worked evenings until my daughter started first grade. I did fun things with her and took her to activities. I was a good 8-hour-a-day mom. My mom kept her overnight, so when I got off work I could party whenever I wanted. I battled my conscious, I knew these choices were stupid and the guilt ate away at me. I couldn’t understand how I could know what I needed to do, but choose to do anything that made me instantly happy instead, no matter the consequences.

At work I met one of my best friends and partying buddies. I was introduced to his brother, who is currently my husband of 15 years. I started therapy and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (which I now know was incorrect). The medicine didn’t work and I continued to drink to settle my brain or to fix my pain. I still was all over the place — I dated my husband on and off, fought with him, and dated other people, because I had no idea what I had been blessed with.

By some sort of miracle, when I was 27 and he was 32, after many ups and downs, we decided to get married. I found out I was pregnant again, so we rented a townhouse and moved in together. I had my daughter full-time and I started her in counseling, I was promoted to office manager at the car dealership where I worked, and I felt like things were finally going well. The thoughts of drinking lessened a bit, but not for long.

In November of 2004, our son, Elijah, was born. He was absolutely perfect and so beautiful, and it seemed I was finally getting better at handling life! I was truly happy most of the time.

Then the real nightmare began… Our son started with a fever and quickly got very sick, at 4 days old. What we thought was just a fever from his circumcision, was actually the beginning of the worst days of my life. He was flown from our local hospital to Johns Hopkins Children Center, where he coded and almost died numerous times. He spent five months in the hospital, and throughout the next four years, our lives were turned upside down. I had to quit my job and our lives turned into a series of hospital stays, medications, helicopter rides to the emergency room, intensive home therapy, and doctors’ appointments.

Courtesy Meredith Johnson

In the summer of 2008, Elijah was admitted to Johns Hopkins with pancreatitis, caused by his seizure medications. It would end up killing him, while we watched helplessly. After a four month hospital stay, we decided it was time to let him rest and have peace. He had no more fight in him, and on November 29, 2008, five days after his 4th birthday, we brought him home on hospice care. My husband and I knew it was selfish to keep letting him be tortured with tests and treatments that only prolonged the unavoidable.

On December 14, 2008, less than a month after his 4th birthday, he died in our home, in my husband’s arms. The day we placed my son’s body in the back of a black SUV and said goodbye, was the day that ended the Meredith that had any hope. I had tried so hard to fight the demons inside my mind. I started spiraling with depression, anxiety, and drinking. The pain that followed cannot be described in words.

Courtesy Meredith Johnson

In February of 2009, just before I was able to drink myself to death, I found out I was pregnant. I gave birth to a beautiful boy in November of 2009. Three days after Elijah’s birthday, and almost a year after his death, we were blessed with the gift I thought would save my life. A little over a year later, right after we lost my father-in-law, I found out I was pregnant again. We had a little girl in September of 2011.

My oldest daughter didn’t get the attention she needed from me, because I had become a ‘do as I say and not as I do’ parent. I starved myself and drank and cried, and I wouldn’t go places because I thought I was fat and ugly. I was doing everything I was telling her not to do. She has her own struggles now, but I’d like to hope, along with some negative things I taught her, she learned good things too. I tried my best, and now that I know better, I do better.

My brother was having his own issues and had moved back with my mom. In December of 2017, he left for rehab again, after battling his own addiction problems. I struggled because he had always been my best friend, and now we were not on speaking terms. My mother sold her house and got an apartment. Her health quickly declined and the doctor appointments, surgeries, and hospital stays were nonstop. A year later, she moved in with my husband and I.

She had chronic Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, and I won’t elaborate, but it was a lot to handle and clean up. Thank God for my husband and his help. She could barely walk, but she was still trying to, and asking for her vodka or gin and tonics.

I had gone back to work, since the youngest were now in school, and tried to handle working as a cafeteria lady, just to get away for a few hours to keep me sanity. As she deteriorated before my eyes and basically gave up on life, I drank my pain away. I drank more and more, and earlier and earlier, as each day passed. She died in April of 2018, and my life was about to hit rock bottom.

Courtesy Meredith Johnson

All my life, I tried to help everyone, take care of everyone, and fix everyone… since I couldn’t fix myself. I blamed myself for everything and the guilt was killing me. I began to feel alone and worthless, even though I had a tribe of people cheering me on all the time. I felt hopeless.

In May of 2018, I started therapy. This stirred up a lot of old memories I had blocked out. It was just too much to deal with. I was finally seen by a psychiatrist in October of 2018. I was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and I started medication. I also began drinking more than I ever had and completely shut down to my family. I acted crazy and cried and screamed.

For the first time, I REALLY was done and gave up. I just wanted to die. I was too scared to kill myself, but I was completely checked out. I wanted the pain to end and I wanted to stop hurting everyone around me. I had been aware of my drinking problem for about 15 years at this point. I had reached out to people but wasn’t ready to give up alcohol forever; but I knew where to reach when I was ready and for that I am so grateful.

Before this point, I tried on my own to take a few 30-day breaks and I managed to survive. It was amazing how different I was when I didn’t drink, and how happy my kids and husband were. The problem was, during the breaks I wasn’t really happy and I missed drinking, so I kept going back to the bottle again and again.

EVENTUALLY on January 13, 2019, right before my husband was going to have to get me out of the house and away from the kids, I found that tiny bit of hope I needed in order to get better. As I watched my hands shaking, I prayed for help and I found my truth. I reached out to a friend who was always loyal, even though I didn’t deserve it, and I told her I was done. I was ready to listen and try, and I knew it was possible because she and her wife were 18 years into recovery at the time. They set an example I had been in awe of since the first day I met them.

I decided to have my last drink that evening, because this had to be on my terms. I begged my husband to let me have this last night to say goodbye to what had become my lifeline. ALCOHOL. I had become a vodka drinker, but in my fun years I always loved margaritas. I went with $20 and got a gallon of already mixed margaritas, but of course I needed to go out with a bang, so I also got a pint of generic tequila to mix in it. My stomach hurts thinking about it. At this point, I was sweating every night (soaking my sheets, hair, and pjs) and my heart raced. I never slept more than two to three hours at a time. I was swollen, miserable, and looked terrible.

That next day I was terrified and filled with doubt, but I made a coffee date with my friends. On my 5th day alcohol free, I went to my first N.A. meeting. I picked up my one-day key tag and my friend bought me some books. I began my new life. I eventually got a sponsor and a home group and started my steps.

On Tuesday January 14, 2020, I celebrated one-year alcohol free with my husband, my three beautiful children, and my funny-looking puppy. We had an ice cream bar with all my favorites, and it was AMAZING.

Courtesy Meredith Johnson

I am going to speak at my home group about my journey, at my anniversary celebration next week, and I am scared but so excited and proud. I can’t say I don’t have pity parties some days, as I am left with the memories of my past. As I become aware of just how much I hurt my loved ones, it breaks my heart more and more, but I can’t change my past. I can only be responsible for this moment.

I CAN say I am trying so hard! I have learned so much about myself and why I am the way I am. I have found so much joy in little things again, like sunsets and nature and my kids’ laughter. I am no longer focused on what everyone else thinks of me. I have turned my focus to learning to love myself and doing what I need to do to survive each day and be happy. I am trying to be the best I can be. I don’t have to be perfect, nobody is, I just have to help myself, because I am the only one who can!

As I begin to love myself, I can see how to love people in a healthy way. I am able to attend my children’s school events and be there for my oldest daughter, who is now almost 25 and on her own journey of self-love. I am able to listen to my husband and try to understand and comfort him from the effects of my actions over the years. I stepped out of my box, and after 10 years of self-doubt, I started working for a florist doing weddings and I absolutely love it and I’m good at it! I just went to my brother’s 3-year celebration and was able to share at his meeting. I never thought I would have that relationship back and I am happy we can be there to support each other in our recovery.

I think the biggest thing is I no longer feel lost and alone. I know how much everyone loves me and I know it’s nobody’s fault I am the way I man. My parents did the best they could with the way they dealt with life, and broken people raise broken people. It’s up to you to break the cycle!

Find your joy, no matter how small. I found when I’m stressed or need to think, I go to the duck pond and look at nature and it relaxes me how a drink would have. Give meetings a try even if you don’t agree with everything. In those rooms, those are YOUR PEOPLE and MY PEOPLE… OUR people who will love you and help you even if you don’t know how to love yourself.

It’s scary and hard as hell and A LOT of work, but I promise you’ll be so much happier! You will see the life come back to your eyes very quickly, and after a while you will find so much energy and happiness that you rarely think of drinking. It’s amazing how things get so much clearer as the fog lifts and your brain begins to heal. You begin to refocus your thoughts and energy to positive things. The clearer your mind becomes the more you start to believe in yourself. You begin to forgive yourself and love yourself.

The thing is, you have to do it for yourself and only yourself. You have to want it. But when you are ready there is hope! I pray you find your peace, I believe in you!”

Courtesy Meredith Johnson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Meredith Johnson. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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