When you think of the word “demon,” what do you imagine? Little Regan from The Exorcist, possessed and spewing pea soup all over her mother’s duvet? A screaming toddler on a cross-country flight? A ghoul? A goblin? Al Pacino?
Me? I think of clowns. I also think of my past, and the imprint it has made on my present. My demons take the form of addiction and mental illness, and up until recently, I have let them define who I am.
As far back as I can remember, my thoughts, ideas, and inclinations have made me nervous. I can recall nightmares as a child - not the images, but the feelings; waking up in a panic, as if my insides were being shaken up like a soda can. I wasn’t raised religious by any means, but as a young teenager, I found myself walking from room to room before bed and making the sign of the cross in front of every door in my house. If I didn’t do it, I was sure something horrible would happen to my family.
At such a young age, I didn’t know that this wasn’t standard behavior. I was unaware that this was just the beginning. The panic attacks started when I was a child, the depression dropped in while I was a teenager; and the addiction was my salvation when the neuroses became too much to bear.
Until I was 27 years old, I was, more or less, constantly under the influence of some kind of psychotropic substance – alcohol, pot, pills, cocaine – getting high was the only way I knew how to cope, the only way I knew how to batten down the hatches of my mind.
And let’s be honest – for a long time, it was fun. A. Lot. Of. Fun. But like most things in life, it stopped being fun – it became a necessity. It was no longer just a tool to pardon the melancholy, or to make me less afraid to be amongst my peers. I lost all ability to function like a normal human being. I was losing jobs, stealing, lying – I was basically the poster child for your typical suburban drug addict. Everything looked okay on the outside (or at least I thought it did) but on the inside I was a hot mess.
So, just shy of my 28th birthday, after getting in a bit of legal trouble (hello 450 hours of community service!) and on the verge of losing my longtime boyfriend, I decided to get clean. I found sobriety and a new way to live. I got a job! I got engaged!
And two years later, I got… surprise! Pregnant!
I remember the moment I saw that little plus sign – I felt a combination of elation and pure, unadulterated horror. Elated that I was going to be a mom! Horrified because… I was going to be a mom. Me. A mom? I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom. Hell, I didn’t know the first thing about being an adult. (Truth: I still kind of don’t.)
But there I was – staring at a positive pregnancy test and wondering how the hell I was going to do it. If there ever was a woman who thought she should never be a mother, it was I. Fear. Fear times 1,000.
What did I know about caring for a child? I didn’t have a motherly bone in my body. I was a recovering drug addict. I was selfish by nature. The idea of bringing another life into the world that I feared so much took a lot of soul searching, because although the pregnancy was a surprise, the baby was very much wanted.
Nine months later, after a very trying pregnancy, wrought with paranoia, panic, and sadness, I gave birth to my daughter. I took one look at her and verbally apologized for doubting her, because doubt her I did. I questioned everything about my pregnancy, about whether we made the right decision; I constantly asked how, against all the odds, I was given this gift that I definitely did not deserve.
It was during the postpartum period that my untreated depression, anxiety, and obsessions would take over. I was standing at the top of the stairs, holding my infant daughter, and it was a flash -- maybe just a flicker -- of a thought. I pictured myself slipping. I pictured my newborn baby falling from my arms. I pictured the landing. The blood. The ambulances. The silence.
I didn’t walk down the stairs that morning. I spent the day, and subsequent night, replaying the imaginary fall over and over in my head, each version more horrifying than the last. I was afraid to leave the house. I was afraid to hold my daughter. I was simply afraid.
That day, something inside of my own mind came inching out of the darkness and made a home in my thoughts. My doctor calls them "intrusive thoughts," and I was diagnosed with OCD. Finally, an answer that took thirty years to get, a diagnosis that took thirty years to finally treat.
Fast forward to present day me: I have two children -- a daughter and a son, and I'm raising them in Los Angeles, where being practically perfect in every way is pretty much the gold standard -- except when it's not. Like in my case? It's definitely not.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve had to find acceptance. I had to accept my past and come to terms with the fact that I will forever be a drug addict. I’ll forever be an alcoholic. I’ll forever be burdened by my thoughts, fears, and often times, my uncontrollable sadness. I had to accept my demons.
As much as I have accepted my idiosyncrasies, I am not my depression or my anxiety or my addiction. I am a woman, a wife, and a mother. I’m sarcastic and crass. I love to cook and bake. I hold my children when they are sick, and acknowledge them when they are sad. I ask my husband how his day was and actually want to know the details. I do homework with my daughter, and play Legos with my son. I am not perfect, but I ride the waves of my imperfections as gracefully as I can. Sometimes I fall down. Oftentimes, I don’t.
I have demons, but my demons do not have me.
If you’re struggling, recovering, and mothering through it all, I know you feel alone, because I feel alone. Almost all the time. But here’s the thing -- you’re not. I’m not. We are out there -- mothers with demons. And maybe it’s time to embrace those demons, and instead of allowing them to define us, perhaps we should start defining them.