I Gave Up Custody So I Could Get Well

May 1, 2021

I fucking HATE being honest with myself when it comes to shit that really matters.

That’s how it started; the most difficult email I’ve ever written.

I remember having to squint through endless tears to even see well enough to type out the words. Perhaps the memory is so vivid because it was just two weeks ago that I forced myself to write it. I had spoken to many women about my situation, but knew Julie, the founder of this blog, had experienced something very similar. I wanted to share my realization with her because I knew she would not only understand, but also hold me accountable.

I wrote:

I was really in deep denial about my motives for this custody modification. I truly believed I was only doing this for my daughter, but now can see that was bullshit. It was a decision based in self…

Earlier that day, I’d finally admitted to myself the real reason I had been so terribly consumed with constant feelings of guilt and shame.

The admission was the hardest truth I’ve ever had to face about myself.

My daughter is five and has lived with her father, full-time, since I checked myself into rehab for 28 days in October of 2012. Before that, I was a single mother, “living” in active alcoholism and putting her life and safety at risk daily. After my sister kicked us out because I couldn’t stay sober, I was served with custody papers. I was mortified. I had no clue what to do. I had no job, no home, no money, a DUI on record (with my one-year-old in the backseat), and I was STILL drinking…

I knew I was in no position to win a custody battle.

I consulted with my lawyer, decided to sign over temporary custody, and go to rehab.

If you had asked me then, I would have told you I did it out of a mother’s selfless love for her child. You probably would’ve called me “strong” or “brave,” but the truth is, I was thinking only of myself. I was scared. I wanted to run away and hide—and that’s exactly what I did for 28 days. I didn’t want treatment; I wanted an escape. It was completely and utterly selfish.

I was released from rehab on Halloween, and was drinking daily again by early December while my ex maintained custody. I attended outpatient treatment while still steadily drinking, and in February of 2013, I attempted suicide. That landed me in a mental institution for a week. I got out and carried right on drinking.

I carried around an extreme hatred for my daughter’s father for drastically reducing the time I was allowed to see my daughter. I denied my part completely. I was constantly demanding more visitation time, and truly believed I was entitled to and deserved it.

Did I mention my selfishness?

It took nearly dying on my bathroom floor to reach my bottom with alcohol. My sobriety date is December 23, 2013. In July, 2014, seven months sober, I decided I was ready to regain full physical custody of what was rightfully “mine”. I had earned it! That past October, me and my big-bad ten months of sobriety retained the services of the best family law attorney in town.

And then I went mad.

Recovery took a backseat to my custody case, and I became absolutely obsessed with “getting my child back.” I stopped doing pretty much everything I knew was necessary to stay sober and lost all perspective. I began an awful downward spiral. I became more selfish and self-righteous than ever. The words I spoke and texted to my ex during this period were accusatory, mean, and intrusive. They could have cost me my relationship with my little girl. I could not see any of that. In my mind, I was absolutely justified. I was doing what was right for my daughter.

Thank God for other women in recovery who had the balls to call bullshit, dish out some tough love, and be brutally honest with me. Thank God I reached out. I hated what they were saying, but after enough people said the same thing—after an abundance of prayer for clarity, self-awareness, and strength to be honest with myself—I was finally able to see the harsh reality. They were absolutely right. I was in NO position to have my daughter back. She was much better off where she was.

I knew what I had to do.

That’s not the kind of mother I want to be. And that’s not the kind of “love” my child deserves.

I confessed in the email. And I meant it.

It is difficult to explain how much finally being able to do this means to me. So many times I have told myself to just hold on…just hang in there until December. Maybe it’s sick, but I drew a lot of strength and hope from that…

I finished the email around 10:30 PM, and just sat staring at it. I knew clicking send could quite literally be the only way I’d ever follow through with my decision to do what was right. I knew I would receive the support, encouragement, and reassurance I so desperately needed, and I would be held accountable—to take all necessary action to prevent further harm.

Forty minutes later I committed and sent Julie the email.

This was a first for me. Not only had I been able to finally see the truth about myself, I was actually able to use that knowledge to fix a mistake and prevent harm to others. I was able to take my wants out of the equation and do what was right for my daughter. Not easy, but right.

The next morning I headed to my lawyer’s office as soon as their doors opened to drop the lawsuit. I went to work and forced myself to show up for my regular day. By 7:30 PM, I was curled up in fetal position on my bedroom floor. I was in full-fledged grief over the loss of the fantasy “future” I’d held onto for so long.

The following week was pure hell. Thank God for sober alcoholics; people willing to love me through darkness, until I can see the light.

Julie’s response to my email that night included, “Surrender doesn’t have to mean giving up. It can mean the difference between acceptance and change, and a lifetime of bashing our heads against a wall trying to move it. I love you so much. You are stronger than you know.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

I’ve heard that pain is the touchstone of spiritual progress, and that emotional turmoil must come before serenity. Today, I believe these claims to be 100% true. This experience has allowed me freedom, relief, and the unshakable faith that, no matter what, everything will be ok. I finally know in my heart and soul what the selfless love of a mother for her child feels like.

And it’s absolutely beautiful.

Thank you, God—for the blessings that follow pain- for hearing my pleas—and for placing amazing sober alcoholics in my life.

This post was submitted by Raegan.

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