Early Recovery & Sober Mom Guilt

I had a birthday Saturday and I have to say turning 34 is just as cool as turning 33 was.

As far as I can tell, as each sober year comes and goes this life stuff is going to continue to get better and better. Apparently, another hidden perk of my recovery has gone unnoticed. I am aging with an expanding sense of wonder and excitement, even as the hair on my head is showing preliminary signs of making me a sliver fox before my fortieth birthday. But again, it’s all good. I’ll take it. I’ve earned it. Also, I sort of like silver.

My oldest son celebrated his birthday eleven days before mine. Each year as he starts to get excited, as he begins the countdown, I get so excited for him. I am enthusiastic about his plans, and  I listen intently to him as he describes his specific dessert recommendations.

When he was younger and I was in the throes of early recovery, I spent a lot of time trapped in my own self-made pool of guilt, imprisoned by embarrassment and shame.

I can remember wondering if I was good enough to be his mom.  I wondered if he would be resilient enough to bounce back from the kind of person I used to be. I didn’t really know if all of the effort I was pouring into him would even make a dent in the damage I felt I had done to his spirit. I also worried that he might hate me for making so many mistakes. He was only four when I began my quest to find my own place in the sobriety world.

I am not winning at adulting or parenting, that’s for sure. I also don’t claim to have it all together as a mom. I am no expert.  But I am currently winning the battle between me and the plague that is infamous mom guilt.

Looking back, I realize why I used to worry so much.

Being a mom is sort of a big job. It’s important. I knew that.

With sobriety being so new to me and having to feel my feelings being introduced into my life, I just wasn’t sure if I was strong enough.

What an intense thing, right?

Like, here’s this child. You love them more than your own life with every single fiber of your being. But, you may have completely screwed him up for life, but maybe not. You could have, but maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, just keep trying. Give it your all, every single day. One day, you will see the fruits of your labor, or maybe not. No one really knows.

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and not just with sobriety or with my feelings. I didn’t know how to do much of anything. I felt like a twenty-something-year-old who had just recently been plopped onto this planet from a different realm. Everything felt foreign to me.

Being a mom felt as natural as breathing air to me. Loving my son, easy-peasy.
But believing and convincing myself that I was good enough to be a good mom? That was a different story. Trying to understand or wrap my head around the idea that I could build new memories and pave new ways with him? Not easy-peasy.

But as much as I worried, I read.
I learned how to cope my fears with prayer, my Bible, meetings, and phone calls to women who were much more wise, patient, and introspective than I was capable of being at that time. I learned something: Self-doubt can sabotage our brains. Shut it down with truth and remember, sometimes it will take someone speaking it to you in order for you to be able to see it.

With as much skepticism I was dealing with, I tried to be optimistic about the future.
Let’s face it. With uncertainty, also comes a blank space open for opportunity. When it came to whether or not I deserved to be a mom, or whether or not someone else could do it better, or if I could hack it, I committed to burying myself in God’s word anyway. No. I still didn’t know if I could do it, or if I was good enough, but I decided that I was going to be optimistic. I would continually ask God to show me. Show me something; anything I can use. Help me to believe that I matter and that I am capable. And He gave me answers. With him, I am strong and capable. Because I know Him, I know I am worthy and valued. Little by little, my shame was silenced with Truth. I learned something: Self-doubt is like a chameleon. It takes the form of whatever thought process you are in and it tries to eat it alive. Don’t let it.

As I continued to face negative consequences for my actions well into my sobriety, and as I took responsibility when I needed to for choices that I had made, I reminded myself that God builds new things.
He transforms. Renovation is sometimes necessary. Not just the changing of the old things, but ripping apart the old things and building brand new things. I was not just changing my life, I was changing the trajectory of my son’s life. We were building new things. Building takes time, and I did my best to remember to be patient through seasons where I lacked vision and understanding. I learned something: You can experience negative things and still, simultaneously have some really great things growing in your garden. It’s true. You always have to clean up the messes that you make, but it can only detract from the progress that you are making if you let it.

I know how hard sobriety can be on a mom’s heart.

We tend to easily believe that we are really bad mothers, rather than, we have made a lot of unhealthy choices, as mothers and that we’re forgiven. And then we go on to think that we aren’t capable of learning how to do things differently.

But we are. We can. You can.

And no, we can’t go back to change what has been done, or what never got done, or to make up for what has been lost. We don’t get to change the past, or erase their memories, or see the things we missed, to remember the things that are lost in our brains, or say that because it was forgiven it was right.

But remember.

Kids just need our consistency, our love, our attention, and for us to make them feel all of the things that we desire most too. To feel noticed, to feel important, to feel connected, to know they are valued, that they are worthy, and are irreplaceable.

Also: they probably don’t have a list of our mistakes under their mattress. They just want us. The best gift that we can give to our kiddos is showing them the power of God in our lives, through the way that we love and lead and live. The rest will fall into place.

For me it feels like I blinked and my sweet four-year-old who I thought I had hurt too deeply for him to go on and lead anything that resembles a ‘normie’ life recently turned fifteen.

He is very much a well-adjusted, sweet, thoughtful, smart, mouthy, fifteen-year-old whom I trust and am in awe of. I have to say, he blows my fifteen-year-old self out of the water when it comes to his level of personal responsibly, understanding of the importance of accountability, self-awareness, and personal goal setting. I shouldn’t forget to add that he loves me and we have built an incredible relationship.

We are still pressing on, and I have no idea how this will all end up playing out. I really don’t. I know we have not crossed into adulthood and the future is unknown, but I do know that I have learned to trust God through this, and to enjoy the process. And the future is shiny and bright.

I want other mommies out there who might be struggling to believe that things can and do and will get better. Little by little it does. It really does. Also, you CAN do this.

4 Comments

  1. Brittany

    Yesss!! I actually completley agree with him and totally understand what you are saying.

    As a fellow aca, I credit my childhood experiences for several of my strengths and resilient characteristics developed as an adult. I found so much digging around in the pain from my experiences. Through healing comes wisdom. I think that hard things can either refine or define, but it doesn’t always mean it is easy, or not packed full of pain and complex crap to sift through.

    But when it shifts for me from being the child who experienced trauma, to the mom who may have negatively effected her own child, I have a tougher time seeing the value that can come from it.

    BUT it is there. He has healed and is thriving and We has an appreciation and conpassion for people. Positive has come from our experiece and I am really grateful for that.

    I am so glad to hear that you have been able to gain and to transform! You sound like you have found peace.

    Thank you for the bday wishes! xxxxxx

  2. Hurrahforcoffee

    The mom guilt can be crippling and all consuming. I recently watched a documentary on Tony Robbins (love him or hate him – he’s is a force of nature) His mother was an alcoholic and he has harrowing stories to tell. To a certain extent he credit’s his childhood with his enormous drive to succeed and to help people. Now I’m not saying that everyone should continue drinking so all his or her children become successful, I realise that adult children of alcoholics have tremendous issues to deal with. What I am saying is that when I look at my life, it’s the suffering and the trauma that made space and provided the impetus for the greatest transformation. Everything happens, as it should exactly when it should not a minute too late or too early. Oh and happy birthday from me too! x

  3. Brittany

    You are welcome. That is why we’re all here, right, to spur one another on?

    I tend to speak specifically to ‘moms’ so thank you for the reminder that all parents experience feelings of inadequacy and levels of guilt.

    Thanks for the bday wishes- I had a great day and I hope you had a good bday too.

  4. Mark David Goodson

    A great light for all parents, not only mothers.

    Those doubts. They creep up on me too. I doubt. I feel undeserving of the gift of children. I feel like I’m inadequate. Thank you for providing the other side of that anguish–the joy of sober parenting!

    And, again, happy belated birthday!

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