Discuss and debate the issues that mean the most to you.
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.