Addiction happens for all kinds of reasons. It can arise from chronic pain or illness. It can start with loneliness, and an attempt to fit in. And sometimes, it can happen as a result of a devastating tragedy. Today, we share one parent’s story of how a broken heart led to addiction.
A Child Is Born
When Daisy was born, I felt like my heart was finally complete. I had wanted to be a Mom for my whole life and after waiting nine months for her to arrive, I knew what I was put on this Earth to do – be Daisy’s Mom.
Daisy was brought to the NICU after she was born due to low birth weight, but the nurses reassured me that this was simply procedure, as she was only one gram off the normal range. When I went to see her, I remember seeing the other babies and feeling confident that she was healthy. Daisy looked like a giant compared to the others because she was born at full-term, which is not the norm for those in the NICU. And everything seemed normal.
But it wasn’t. The doctor came to talk to me and my husband the next day, and I knew that something must be wrong. She explained that Daisy had a small head, called Microcephaly. They did not know what this implicated yet, but they would need to do a lot more testing.
They began to ask many questions, all seeming slightly accusatory. They asked if my husband and I were related – cousins, perhaps. They wanted to know exactly how much alcohol I had consumed during pregnancy (half a glass of wine at my cousin’s wedding and half a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve). I told them about a crazy weekend before I knew I was pregnant and they reassured me that that was not what had caused the damage.
We were asked the same questions by each and every doctor who came to see Daisy, and nothing seemed to jump out as an explanation. Eventually, they let us take her home, but we had multiple follow-ups scheduled. At first, my husband and I went to the appointments together, but someone had to work, so my husband went back to a normal life and mine became all about Daisy.
Early Motherhood With A Vulnerable Baby
I started to take Daisy to doctor’s appointments weekly. If we were not at SickKids Hospital, we were at appointments with physios and occupational therapists.
Daisy wasn’t an easy baby in any respect, as she screamed a lot and would not sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. I would stay up with her at night because my husband had to work, and eventually I brought a mattress into Daisy’s room and we would sleep on the floor, so that I could hold her and get a bit of sleep each night.
Slowly, Daisy began to sleep better and the amount of time I needed to spend with her at night began to lessen. At that point, I began to feel relatively normal again, and I could participate in my life without being a walking zombie.
A Drink At The End Of A Long Day
Before the pregnancy, my husband and I had always been nightly drinkers and enjoyed smoking weed. While pregnant I did not participate in this life, but once Daisy was born, I allowed myself a beer every once in a while. With no sleep, though, I wasn’t able to enjoy that part of my life, since I had to be responsible for everything Daisy.
Once the zombie-like state of early motherhood began to dissipate, I was able to participate again in what I saw as normal life with my husband. Having a drink or two after a long day of taking care of Daisy made me feel like life was manageable again, and a routine started to emerge that is familiar to many parents, not just those with children who have special needs. Once Daisy was down for the night, we would have a drink and share a doobie, getting just enough of a buzz to truly relax. It wasn’t the best coping mechanism, but it worked for us.
Growing Baby, Growing Challenges
As Daisy began to grow, her disabilities began to be more apparent. She was unable to keep herself upright and had no independent movement – she could move her limbs and head, but this was usually not intentional. Somewhere between the ages of one and a half and two, Daisy was fitted for a wheelchair and instead of a regular stroller, I got used to lugging this thing around, lifting it in and out of the car for every errand, doctor’s appointment or family visit. My body began to take on a lot of the physicality needed when taking care of a disabled person and again, I used weed to relax my body at the end of the day.
The stress of taking care of a child with health issues is non-stop. I was constantly taking her to different appointments and learning how to use medical equipment such as a suction machine to help with saliva control. I was constantly worried about Daisy and her health, and every time I felt like I could relax for a moment, something would happen that would send her into hospital.
And as the stress of taking care of Daisy grew, my use of alcohol and marijuana also grew. I knew how to keep myself in a state where I could be responsible, but the wine glass became a bit fuller and the time at which I would allow myself my first drink or puff from a doobie slowly started to creep earlier. I was becoming reliant on both alcohol and weed, and though I would not see this until much later, my addiction was gaining control.
A Heartbreaking Turn Of Events
In her third year of life, Daisy’s health began to deteriorate. The trouble she had always had with swallowing became unmanageable, and she was given a G-tube – a feeding tube that goes straight to the stomach. This was supposed to help avoid aspirating on food and medication, and although this contraption was immensely valuable, Daisy’s lungs had already been damaged by the years of small bits of food, water and medication that had gone down the windpipe due to swallowing control issues.
The damage meant that anytime Daisy caught a cold, she could land up in the hospital. In December of 2015, Daisy had three respiratory infections in a row. She spent the last weeks of her life at SickKids Hospital, surrounded by a caring team of nurses and her family. She passed on her fourth birthday and everything in my life fell apart.
When Grief And Addiction Collide
I dove head first into my addictions and stopped caring about anything but weed and wine. I do not have a lot of clear memory of that time, except to say that I spent a lot of time watching Netflix while smoking weed, before passing out from wine by about 8.30 p.m. Blackouts were common, and even though I knew this was not good, I refused to admit that I had a problem.
A year and a half after losing Daisy, I truly hit bottom, and after a failed suicide attempt I found my way into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was not easy, but I was determined to change my life. The pain I was in after Daisy passed was too much to bear, and I knew that if I did not do something about it, I would die right along with her.
Finding My Way Home
I threw myself into the program and did everything that was suggested to me. I got a sponsor, I joined a home group, I did the steps and I did service. And it worked. I’ve been sober now for 984 days and I am so glad that I decided to change my life. I would not be able to do it alone, though, and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life. Life is still not easy, but I am able to handle it and cope with the grief without drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. And though she is not physically with me, I know that Daisy is here with me cheering me on with every step.