Last year, my oldest son and I were out running errands by ourselves. Sometimes I do that — taking just one child to the post office is surprisingly enjoyable, especially if compared to that one time when I took all three of them.
Maverick is a delight. He’s bright and engaged and it’s almost like having another adult around, except that this adult asks a nonstop string of deep and complicated questions and talks about penises a lot. He’s intense, but so am I, which means that we generally knock out our to-do list very quickly when we’re working together.
On this particular day, we were discussing how he was 3 years old when we moved to Louisiana. He commented that it’s weird how he can remember our old house in Alabama, but he doesn’t recall the process of moving down here.
That was a dark time in our lives, and I am thankful that he doesn’t remember it. We moved back to Baton Rouge because I was about to lose my mind in a literal way that would involve hospitalization. Maverick’s little brother was only 7 months old, but it felt like he had been crying for 7 years. I was suffering from some major postpartum desperation — that’s a diagnosis that I made up — and Robbie was working in car sales and was rarely home. Maverick started chewing holes in his shirts and gnawing on his fingernails, probably because his brother cried almost all the time and his mother was always yelling or completely stressed out.
After a moment, I said, “Maverick, I am so sorry that I didn’t know back then how to help you. I didn’t know how your brain works.”
He replied quietly, “I’ve gotten into trouble my whole life.”
It took a lot of self-control for me to hold myself together in that moment. He was right, of course. I didn’t understand his behavior, and thinking he just needed more discipline, I doubled down. There are hundreds of reasons behind how things happened the way that they did, and I’m not deep enough into recovery to even go there yet.
I’m sure later that day, after we got home, I gave him a big hug and told him again that I would do better. We have a diagnosis. We have therapy and medication and knowledge. That night, I’m sure I drank to erase the constant, heavy, nagging guilt. I’m positive I drank to quiet the voices that tell me that I’ve screwed up my kid, inflicted permanent damage, that everything that is and ever will be wrong is all my fault.
In sobriety, I am struggling to learn how to forgive myself for what I didn’t know before today. I have to give myself grace for mistakes that I’ve made that affected other people. I’ve always felt like I was truly doing the best I knew how, always — so why is it to hard to show myself some compassion?
I don’t know why, but I’ll tell you what: today, I am grateful to know more than I knew yesterday.
A local magazine published a piece I wrote about addiction and recovery. If you’re interested in reading an online version, you can find it here.
Maverick is the most proud of me, by the way. We are each other’s biggest fans.
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Awesome read. Thank you. I found comfort in reading this. I too must work on learning to forgive myself. Not an easy task to say the least.
This feels so much like my experience and personal struggle. Thank you for sharing. It is a great comfort to know someone else out there who is making their mistakes positive and trying to forgive themselves. It gives me hope.
I wish I knew how to forgive myself like I forgive others. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to-well-everything I suppose. I don’t want to be a perfectionist-I comprehend and understand that perfection does not exist, but still that voice inside me pushes me toward it. I have gone through some dark times. Depression & anxiety got the best of me for years and my family suffered as a result. The guilt is overwhelming, but if I let myself go down that path the vicious cycle will begin again.
Keep moving forward and don’t look back. You’re an inspiration.
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I believe that when we know better, we do better. It sounds like that is just what you are doing.
Children are resilient and love their parents, in spite of the mistakes we (all) make. Your son likely judges you much less harshly than you judge yourself.
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Harmony, forgiving myself for the negative effects I have had on my kids is something I don’t know how to do completely. I don’t know if I can “partially” forgive myself or if that means I still haven’t. I know it “feels” better than it did. In treatment (2016) I told my therapist that I believed that God had forgiven me for how I hurt my children, but I COULDN’T. Unlike you, I knew I was hurting my kids, but I did not know how to stop my addiction. She told me that I was being arrogant to not forgive myself if God could forgive me to which I replied “I’m not God”. I had to think about that for a long time. Arrogance is one of my “character defects” and keeps showing up in weird ways no matter how humble I think I am or am trying to be.
I didn’t get any relief from the guilt/shame of my effect on my kids until I made amends to Ryan-24 and Rachel-21. Rachel told me the only amend I could make to her was to be happy. Ryan told me to exercise and eat better. Both of those amends were extremely emotional for me and resulted in the most relief I have experienced in sobriety. Since then it has become easier to forgive myself.