I'm going to tell you about ONE of the worst days of my life as a mother. Unfortunately, when my children were little, I struggled daily with finances, self-care and my emotional nature, which of course I hated about myself, fuelling the fire of perfectionism and self-loathing within me, so there were many hard days, but this one was R-E-A-LL-Y B-A-D.
It was Sunday morning and I was trying to quit smoking - AGAIN - and I wanted to go to church. We had to take 2 busses to get to our church, which with a 4 & 5 year old was an adventure in itself. We had to do this 5 days a week back and forth to my older boy's school, so I tended to not do it on the weekends, but on this day my desire to feel the presence of God and be around community outweighed the logistics, so off we went.
Side note, I tried HARD to quit smoking for over 10 years and had no idea why it was so impossible for me to stop. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2, what I learned was that I was self-medicating my Bipolar symptoms with nicotine and when I would stop smoking, I would begin rapid cycling, which I tried to control without any medication, and that never worked and sending me into a pit of despair about a) what a horrible person I was when I smoked b) what a horrible person I was when I didn't smoke.
Back to Sunday morning. My daughter was in a mood. She didn't want to go and my when my daughter doesn't want to do something, she can be a very dramatic little girl and make it very miserable for everyone around her. I usually try to frame this as a positive attribute in my mind, grateful that she will not be anyone's quiet victim, but somedays like this on this day, it can just be downright exhausting. Long story short, she was basically being a brat for an hour on the bus and then was asked to leave the Sunday school class for being abnormally disruptive as her brother cried that it wasn't fair and he wanted to stay. It was all very stressful and chaotic and I was embarrassed for having to take the bus, for being a single parent and for wanting a cigarette like my life depended on it. I was also trying really hard to be patient and not let her get the best of me because I don't like myself very much when I lose my temper.
But in the end, I did lose my temper.
We were walking back to the bus stop and I was feeling sorry for myself and yelling at her about how "all I wanted was to go to church!" and in my frustration, I spanked her once on her bum and she cried bloody murder, which only added to the stress of the situation. I told the kids to sit on the bench while Mommy tried to calm down. My heart was beating fast from trying to keep it together for the last 2 hours and now my body and brain were on stimulation overload, which is why I asked the kids to stay away from me. What I know now is that taking that space for myself to breathe deeply and let my nervous system calm down is critical to being able to think clearly and regain my perspective. Knowing what is happening in my brain is super helpful too, so I can try to prevent angry outbursts and explain my anger, instead of expressing it. But sometimes, lessons are learned the hard way and this would be one of mine because it was in this moment of trying to regain my balance, that this woman approached me and aggressively put her body and face in mine and told me she saw everything and that I was a horrible mother and abuser.
Push. Push. Push. Went my buttons.
I tried to explain what was happening and that she was basing her judgement on the one interaction she witnessed, not the last two hours where I was patient and loving and kept it together. She couldn't hear me. I thanked her for what she was trying to do, protect children, but that we were fine, I just needed to take a minute to calm down. As a single parent, I had been judged before, so was well versed in trying to see things from the other person's perspective. I kept moving away from her, but she kept coming at me, putting her body in my personal space and waving her finger in my face. I asked her to leave me alone, I was just trying to calm down. My anger was building. My heart was racing. My brain was flooding. My triggers were going off like a shotgun. I was feeling trapped. I had had ENOUGH. I said things I regret and then I pushed her out of my space, harder than I intended to, not even realizing the strength of my emotions.
All I wanted to do was go to church.
I couldn't stay at the bus stop , so I told the kids to walk. The kids were crying. I was crying. A woman from the church came outside and tried to run after me, but I was so upset I couldn't talk. I wanted to run away and hide and I really, really, really wanted a cigarette. She yelled after me, "I know how you feel." Through my sobs, I stopped and thought how could you? You are not single. You are not poor. You don't have to take the bus. You are not addicted. You are not struggling with your mental health. How could you possibly know how I feel? I couldn't appreciate that the frustration, perfectionism and disappointment of motherhood could feel the same regardless of social or economic status because I was so embarrassed being seen by a woman that was all the things that I was not.
We walked to my mother's, where I always ran for help and safety. While she calmed the children, I immediately went into the bathroom and shut the door to shut the world out. I looked at myself in the mirror. All I wanted was a cigarette. I was going to do what I always did and tell myself how stupid I was and berate myself endlessly for every moment of the day where I screwed up, so I could justify that I deserved the cigarettes. I deserved to stay addicted. Instead, I did something different.
I said it to myself so many times and in so many different ways. Breathless. Determined. Forced. Not Believing it. Wanting to believe it. Crying. Sad. Angry. Frustrated. Depressed. Hopeful. DESPERATE. Desperate to forgive myself. At this point in my recovery, I did feel forgiven by God, it was myself I couldn't forgive.
Unfortunately, it got worse and the police and Ministry of Children and Families knocked on my mother's door. They had already been to my church and my home looking for me. I was mortified.
All I wanted to do was go to church.
I originally tried to justify my behaviour and then I began to cry uncontrollably about how hard I was trying to be a good mother and how hard everyday was for us. The social worker was sympathetic once I took responsibility and became vulnerable. "I can see you need help, not punishment. "You are the only one punishing yourself."
This horrible day ended up being a Godsend because I saw the reality of our situation and received childcare supports and counselling. I didn't feel alone anymore. I felt supported. I was so grateful for the help and I didn't smoke that day. I did smoke again, but not for that day. That day I won against addiction through forgiveness of myself.
When I sat in our next meeting, the first thing I said was "I'm not a bad mother, I just had a bad moment."
I believe I was able to say that with conviction because I had finally received my own forgiveness.
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All my Relations - Frances Stone, Ms. Recovery Writes
Frances Stone is the Author of A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story, a Recovery Counsellor and a Radio Co-Host of Talk Recovery Vancouver, a show about addiction and recovery issues, located in the DTES of Vancouver, BC. In her spare time, she does laundry and mothers three clever, curious and challenging little humans.