When did you start struggling with addiction?
My problems started after I had a sexual encounter at the age of 5 and I quickly learned how to suppress my feelings. I thought, if I can forget about that I can go on with life. When I was 15, I had my first sexual relationship and that’s when everything started coming to the surface and my addictions began. I was drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and going from one partner to another. That’s how I dealt with my feelings.
I didn’t go to therapy. I’m from a big Italian family and therapy just wasn’t an option. I was good at hiding things too, so my parents thought my behavior was normal teenage stuff. They weren’t worried because I never let them see anything they’d think was a problem.
How did becoming a mom affect you?
I’ve been with my boyfriend since I was 16. When I turned 22, we got married and started planning a family. When I became pregnant, I thought it was what I wanted. I remember one day, when my oldest daughter was about six months, another mom said to me, “oh, you’re so and so’s mom” and I thought, no I’m Marguerite. It was like I’d lost my identity.
I spent most of my twenties being pregnant, and my postpartum depression was worse each time. I didn’t want to reach out for help because I was frightened they’d take the children away. In the end, I couldn’t hide it anymore and my parents said it was time to go into rehab. My sister gained control over my children, and I couldn’t get them back because I was still using.
My addictions started spiralling and my husband was using too.
I had 2 more children. With my youngest, I didn’t have any healthcare during the pregnancy, and he was a home birth. When they tested our blood, they found trace amounts of stimulants in both of us. They took these two children to live with my sister too. My husband and I were very far apart emotionally. I felt totally alone.
What made you get help?
I looked at myself in the mirror and asked my reflection whether I wanted to give up or fight. A lot of my story has to do with how I see myself and I thought, I’m a junkie, it’s what I deserve. But I didn’t want my sister to raise my kids.
I stayed in rehab, and I had some suicide attempts that landed me in the hospital. I even went to some of the therapy sessions high. Crisis got involved.
You have to hit that point. You have to lose everything.
That’s when I started my journey towards recovery. It was very difficult and disheartening. I went through several therapists and every time I thought I might be able to get the kids back, there’d be one more thing I needed to prove.
When you were struggling to stay on track, what made the difference for you?
One day I walked into my therapist’s office, and she asked me what was going on with me. She helped me to help myself – I learned how to reframe things. You’re not recovering from drugs – you’re recovering from your old way of thinking.
I was doing 4-5 hours a week of dual-diagnosis group therapy and weekly one-to-one sessions with my therapist. Listening to other people’s stories, they’re all similar and we used to talk about how you stop using, because if you’re not able to feel the pain, what’s to stop you from going back and using again?
The best thing for me was the continued therapy after I’d stopped the drugs. Being in that environment and being able to talk though my feelings every day really helped.
One day I woke up and the leaves on the tree were a lot greener than they’d ever been. I realized, I’m happy with me. It was just a switch, knowing that it has to start and end with me.
I started forming a relationship with God that really helps me. When I don’t know what else to do, I pray. Me, my rosary beads, and God. When I was using heroin, the only time I prayed was to ask God to make me get enough without it killing me. Then I asked Him, why aren’t you killing me? That’s how dark it got. Now, the first thing I do in the morning is pray, to ask Him to help me find some patience to deal with my day. I pray morning, noon, and night to thank God for getting me to where I am.
How are you now?
I’m 38 and I feel like I’m entering a new stage in my life. I’m starting to feel clean and clear-headed. A lot of bad things have happened to me but if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have reached the good times. It’s been over 7 years since I last took heroin and 5 years since I used stimulants. I’ve got my kids back and my husband and I have grown immensely closer by supporting each other in recovery. My sister and I are rebuilding our relationship. Over the last 18 months or so of this crazy world, I’ve actually started enjoying life, just daily things.
My family are all so proud of me. I want my children to be proud of me too and be proud of themselves. I hope they’ll see they have something in their DNA other than addiction and depression. My kids are amazing, and I tell them, sometimes Mama needs a hug more than you do.
It’s not just Mamas though, it’s Dads too, and it’s important we recognize that this can happen to anybody when you don’t have enough support behind you. We need to normalize that it’s ok to struggle and people need to feel they’re not going to lose their kids when they reach out for help.
What advice would you give someone who’s struggling with addiction?
I’d tell them that every day when you wake up, it’s a fresh start. Sometimes progress is two steps back, but you’ve just got to keep moving towards your goal. For me, my first goal was just to live. There are plenty of places that can help start you on the right path.
You’re the only one standing in your way, so if you want something better, go and get it.