Five years of sobriety feels different. It feels significant, as though this is my real life now and I'm not just passing through until things get better. It feels like I've landed in my life. All the different sides and pieces of me have been integrated into a person I like and respect. Today, I am completely present and here to stay and there is LOTS to celebrate about that!!
I want to recap where I began and where I was at five years ago to reflect on it for my own process, but also to share my experience to give others faith in the recovery process that sometimes, for some of us, gets really hard in really weird ways.
When I quit drinking alcohol and doing drugs, I didn't know how much that would change my life. I wasn't a daily user, I usually binged on weekends as a stress relief and way to have fun with my friends. Nothing weird about that for me until I experienced trauma that I didn't know how to process and wanted to pretend didn't affect me. Denying my response to a traumatic period of my life is what led me to a life of isolation where alcohol became a completely different animal to me. I was no longer having fun partying with my friends, I was drinking alone and then putting myself and others in high-risk situations. I felt bad about myself ALL THE TIME, whether I was sober or drunk. It was as though I had become a completely different person. I honestly hated myself.
Then I had a spiritual experience and everything changed inside me. I wanted to follow God. I didn't know what that meant or looked like, as the only God I knew was the God of my Catholic family of origin, so I followed that God, or rather, that religion. I went back to my relationship thinking it was the "right thing to do" and it would be different because I was different. It was different as we once we stopped fighting, we realized we didn't have anything in common. When we had two more beautiful children but were still miserable no matter how hard I tried to make it work and even though I tried to follow all the instructions in the BIBLE what to do and how to behave – when that didn't work to "fix" my life, then I was REALLY lost. I shamed, blamed and hated myself even more than before because this time, I had tried to follow God and I felt like an idiot. I felt like a made a mistake in going back to our relationship, which conflicted with how much I deeply loved my children. I was equally ashamed of my recovery, as I was of my addiction. In my opinion, I had become the cliche of a stupid and dependent woman completely focused on a man to save her — a title I never thought I would possess.
In time, I would understand that this title has become a cliche because of the systematic oppression of society, church and government on women and especially mothers – but I was not there YET. I don't say that to blame others, I say that to recognize that if a woman truly has the "the right to choose" LIFE, she should also have the financial means to raise that child without being stigmatized as her and her child/children being a social and financial drain and viewed as what is "wrong" with society. When a mother chooses life, she should also be choosing dignity.
I was still living at my mother's house with my three children, working part-time at a job that I hated and trying very hard everyday to keep my spirits up with the daily grind of being a Mom. I'll be honest, the early years were really hard for me, especially spending all day trying to create things to do for my children. My mental health suffers without structure. I didn't like my life or self and I began to struggle with my sobriety. What did it matter if I began to drink again? There was no hope for my life. All I was going to be was a “Just a Mom” thinking I — FRANCES the creative, ambitious and sensual women I knew and liked had ceased to exist, so f*** it; I might as well have some fun on the weekends.
Except that once using drinking and drugs changed for me, it never changed back. It never went back to being fun for me. Once I stopped denying it was a problem, it was never again a viable solution, it only offered more problems.
Then my mother died. I wasn’t ready. I would have never been ready to say goodbye. She was my best friend and greatest enabler. She took care of me and my children and was the only person in the world I could always tell the 100% truth and still receive unconditional love. There are not enough words to describe my passionate love or the depth of my grief at losing my mother. There will never be enough.
I lost all sense of direction. I began to drink again here and there. I was angry and depressed. I did not know what to do next. What did it matter? What did I matter? All I knew for sure is that my kids needed me to be their mother and take care of them, so they could love me the way I loved my mother, but I hated my life and how I felt again. I had nothing. No plan. No inspiration. Total blank slate.
The last time I drank was at my twenty-year high school reunion. Nothing bad happened. Something bad did not always happen, but it was a roll of the dice where I would end up when I took my first drink. I never knew if I would be safe and I liked the adrenaline that came with that risk. It made me feel alive. My reunion was a good night where I was able to hang out with old friends and our sorted past was discussed over drinks and laid to rest. We moved on. I gave a cute guy my phone number (ironically with the same name as my children's father) and he promised to call. It was the same life I had twenty years before I entered an abusive relationship, had a child and no one wanted to be my friend. When I was left all alone to fend for myself. It was available to me, I could have it now, but I didn't want it. I wanted something different.
It scared me, but I knew NOW was the time to pursue the dreams I thought I didn't deserve or wasn't good enough to have come true. The ones I didn’t tell anyone because they might laugh at me because who did you think you are to dream so big?!?! I needed to risk failing in REAL LIFE to pursue my dreams and that meant to risk losing them. When I only dream of what I could do with my life, no one can take my dream away from me, but if I try and fail at my dreams — then I would really have nothing. NO DREAM = NO HOPE.
I was inspired to begin volunteering at Vancouver Co-Op Radio and soon pitched a show about addiction & recovery and found two other people (Darren & Giuseppe from The Last Door Recovery Society for Men) to host it with me. I made a shift. I aligned my career with my sobriety. That was a HUGE shift for me as I had always tried to keep my recovery separate from my life – A SECRET – just the way I had kept my struggle with addiction a secret which is why I struggled so much with achieving long-term sobriety. I was equally ashamed of my recovery as I was of my addiction. Recently Kate Spade committed suicide for similar reasons and it encouraged me to speak out. I can relate to her struggle and her suicide and the senseless deaths of so many due to addiction and mental health issues is a motivator for me to recover out loud today. The stigma of addiction, mental illness and recovery needs to end. We cannot leave this legacy to our children. I will not co-sign that behaviour from society.
Connecting with the New West Recovery Community immediately changed my life and gave me hope for the future. I met lots of people just like me, sensitive, quirky and a little bit different at different stages of the recovery process. It was a REAL LIFE. People admitted to their mistakes, talked about their feelings and had the courage to be vulnerable. There were lots of people having fun and being of service an it was just the INSPIRATION I needed to have hope again that life in recovery did not have to be boring. Shortly after, I was offered a buyout from my 20 year employer that allowed me to go to school to be an Addictions Counsellor and was soon working towards my CACCF certification through my employment at Westminster House Society for Women.
I was thrilled to be building a career that I loved, but I was still struggling in my family life. I have really struggled with being a mother and it is really important that I be honest about that because I often post pictures on my Instagram and Facebook page and I don't want to present a false image of my reality. Those are the places where, for the most part, I celebrate my recovery and try to bring the message of THE SOLUTION — a relationship with a God of my understanding, abstinence from doing harm to myself and others through addictive substances & behaviours, personal responsibility, working the 12 Steps into my daily life, the importance of meetings, my support group, my Sponsor and surrendering to prescribed medication for the maintenance of my mental health – that's my solution and I celebrate that there is HOPE FOR RECOVERY on my social media pages.
I want other mothers to know I have worked really hard at having a healthy relationships with each of my children which has meant facing the reality of my weaknesses and limitations, not denying them. I am who I am. I have to work with my reality, not against it. To have good mental health, I need structure, quiet and an orderly home to survive and thrive. That means resting, having alone time, a regular sleep schedule with not too much stress and it especially means talking about ALL my feelings. Children are not particularly conducive to that reality, so I’ve struggled so much and for so long with the shame of being myself. I am incredibly grateful that their father is able to play a larger role in parenting during our children's teenage years.
After my mother passed away, I really missed having her to confide in and began to feel very isolated in the family area of my life again. But I didn't want to lose this life I had found (which is exactly why I created it) so I found a solution to my problem that was not alcohol or escape in any form, that required me to face the struggles in my family life with honesty, an open mind and willingness to take action to solve my issues instead of creating more problems. I began to reach out in my new community to other mothers in recovery and started to share about my struggles with being a single mother – a community that would eventually become Mothers Recovery Tribe.
Today, I am currently transitioning from single parenting to co-parenting, giving their father a larger role in these pre-teen and teenage years. This shift has been a game changer for me and my children as I let go of the shame of my imperfection and surrender to what I cannot change to best serve my children's future. It has required me to see and accept myself gently as a mother with more compassion regarding my personal limitations.
Today, life is really unbelievable. I am honestly amazed at the life I get to live. I can actually say that I am proud of myself (eeeek!) for having faith that I could have a good life that I feel passionate and excited about, that I can't wait to wake up to everyday. I wake up EVERYDAY looking forward to the day ahead.
I go to school part-time pursuing a BA in Psychology and I opened a private practice this year and am learning the process of how to make an income at doing work I love, that helps change people's lives. A win-win! I am writing as much as I can, which granted is not much, but I'm hoping to finish the vision for my second book in the next year or years, however long it takes. I am connecting with women through Mothers Recovery Tribe hosting a weekly support group and monthly events. I have friends that get me, love me and respect me and I get them, love them and respect them. Our relationships are strong, vulnerable and reciprocal.
I am even beginning to date again, a year after the ending of my first relationship in recovery. In that relationship, I was able to realize my part in intimate relationships on a new level of safety and I am truly grateful for the experience. I will always love him, but I accept that we are not meant to be together and I honestly wish him peace and happiness. He was the catalyst that taught me that I can love again, hurt again and recover to try again. I know if I don't take the risk of being hurt, I will never love again and that is not a risk I am willing to take with my life. A loving relationship with a partner is very valuable to me.
Through this relationship, I was able to explore my ideas and beliefs about the connection between religion, spirituality and sex. To explore my “secret” self that is private, sensual and intimate as part of the process of accepting and loving all the parts of myself. There is no shame in me anymore. I will not accept it except to correct my behaviour. Through many growing pains, I was ultimately able to resolve whether those ideas are mine, or those of my parents and people that tried to prevent me from getting hurt, but also inadvertently prevented me from learning to live in all areas of my life – including sex – in a healthy, balanced, safe and loving way.
I chose the topic of FAITH for my 12 step meeting celebration because the definition of faith is "things hoped for, but not yet seen" I hoped for this life. I didn't know if I was delusional at times to think I deserved and was worthy of a good life as a ton of labels like bipolar, poor, single mother and alcoholic tried to define me, but through following a God of my understanding, the 12 Steps and having the courage to face life on life's terms – I have recovered. I got more than my life back, I got the life of my dreams.
Every time a person recovers from something that tried to claim their life, they show others what is possible. The next part of my journey is to share what I’ve learned with others that are struggling to KNOW THIS TRUTH — We are enough. We are loved. We are safe. We are not defined by our our income, our relationship status or our past. We are ever-evolving, ever-changing and becoming all that we are meant to be and that has EVERYTHING to do with our spiritual connection and condition to our Higher Power and greatest good. It’s so important to take care of ourselves with gentle self-love, self-talk and self-care. We do not need to be perfect before we love ourselves. We never did. We can give ourselves the love we need and it is absolutely critical to the next generation that we do.
My hope for my future in recovery – in my REAL LIFE – is to spend everyday of it helping others release shame and live in TRUTH, letting go of the mask I’ve worn most of my life – to simply BE ALL OF ME. To love myself just as I am and soothe myself when I make a mistake in functional, productive ways. Seems so simple, but has taken years to learn. I also want to include political action aimed at the liberation of mothers in Canada ... then THE WORLD 🌎
Dream big, right?!
I just want to say, I honestly love my life. I say this from a place of deep, deep gratitude knowing how much faith, determination and perseverance it has required to create this life. I am filled with an equal amount of love, loyalty and service to giving back all that I have received. Thank you for everyone that believed in me and my ability to recover ❤️
CCACF Certified Addiction Counsellor, Author, Radio Co-Host of Talk Recovery & Founder of Mothers Recovery Tribe – helping others navigate their way to recovery through one-on-one counselling, radio, books, blogs and workshops!
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The People I Love – Thank you for being a part of my recovery!
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.