Choice #1 Kill yourself quickly (suicide) or slowly (this is what I was doing by drinking myself on the way to death).
Choice #2 Relive the losses, day after day at infinitum!!
Choice #3 Made a decision to surrender to a better life, to carry on, to accept and to change.
Use of alcohol to numb my sense of loss, loneliness and depression was proving futile. The more I drank, the deeper my feeling of hopelessness became. My choices seemed to be: end my tragic life quickly with a single suicidal act, or slowly by drinking myself to death.
I realized that if I never let go of the loss, my misery would be with me to the grave. It seemed impossible to accept reality, find a new purpose and move on. But I had to do that to survive. I’ll never quite understand just how I made the decision to seek help when I did. But it was a life-saver. I quickly found myself detoxifying for two weeks in hospital, then entering a 28-day treatment program. That’s where I was given the tools to change my life.
I didn’t just have to quit drinking. I had to fix the cause, the grief and hopelessness that at first seemed insurmountable. How do you overcome the loss of three beautiful, loving children, the break-up of a marriage and the end of 19 years as mother and wife? Is life from now on just going to work and returning to an empty house?
I returned to work right after treatment. But I also joined the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and found a sponsor with whom I could discuss my dead spirit and emptiness. I attended meetings and heard amazing stories of recovery from loss and despair. I soon made friends, many of whom have become my new family.
My first year without alcohol was a huge relief. My physical health improved remarkably and with it my emotional and spiritual suffering faded. I started my days clearheaded. I made a conscious effort to find positives in my life. I consciously set aside thoughts of my losses until I was healthy enough to deal with them. By the second year, I started grieving, not in an alcoholic fog of self-pity but in a real world that moves on. I remembered the accident, the funeral, court proceedings, separation, the second fatal accident. Thousands of memories of my beautiful children returned. I cried. I felt tremendous pain but I was able to share it and to lean on my sponsor for comfort.
The clichés are true. We have to play the cards we are dealt, live life on life’s terms or give up and suffer misery until we die. So we develop ways to cope. I had to learn how to deal with special occasions such as Christmas (which I have already written about). On my children’s birthdays, depending on the month, I usually buy a bush, flowers to plant or a bouquet for my table. I calculate what their age would be. I wonder what they would look like and what kind of career they might have, if they would have married and had children. I do not share with anyone that it’s my child’s birthday that day. I don’t feel the need to mention it. I feel sharing this information makes the recipient uncomfortable. It also initiates a conversation I don’t want. Nor do I want pity. This special day will cross my mind a few times during the day as I proceed with other activities but I do not drag my feet with my head bowed in self pity.
I was a mother and feel I am no longer a mother. I am a woman with stretch marks, but have no children. Even though I talked about moving on, and not dwelling on the loss, there are many things that still and always will come up to twist the knife. I detest Mother’s Day. I’m certain Father’s Day is the same for my children’s father. To escape the special occasion I go cycling, golfing, watch television. But the following day I would be among my coworkers who were sharing happy stories about gifts and cards from their children, special dinners and so on. I don’t indulge in drama or self-pity but I am anxious for this day to end. Occasions where my painful loss strikes me will continue to throughout my life. I can indulge them for a moment or two but I know I cannot wallow in those feelings so I move on.
For example, like anyone my age, I am often asked, “do you have children Helene?” My answer most of the time is no. If I say yes I am compelled to tell the rest of the story and kill the conversation uncomfortably in its tracks. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to see jaws drop, receive condolences and be told, “I can’t imagine, three children, so sad. How do you cope?” The moment becomes awkward and any chance of a normal, light-hearted exchange is lost.
I learned early on that people in a social situation don’t want to hear my personal account of tragedy, depression and drunkenness. It makes them too uncomfortable. But I also know there are important lessons to pass on about my near-fatal descent and recovery.
Hence this blog.
Since I began writing it I have had cards made with the link to it. As I’m leaving someone who has inquired about children I will pass them a card. I gently tell them, “I did have children, please read this”. I make it clear that I want to be friendly but I don’t care to discuss this further.
To be continued …