I think it’s pretty much universally agreed upon by those of us recovery that asking for help is hard. Someone mentions the gruesome deliberation it took to get to that seat in their first meeting or rehab and everyone around the room smirks with a nod that says “BEEN THERE” in return. Why is it so hard to ask for help, especially when the conditions so obviously need it?
I finally asked for help with my out-of-control drinking in December 2012. I was on the precipice of losing my family, my daughter, my home, and my job. I had already lost my mind, countless opportunities, and several friends. I consider myself very lucky though because what I had left in my life was enough to point me in a direction where I could ask for help.
There were two people during this time who taught me about asking for help just by being who they were. My younger brother was three years drug and alcohol free. His descent into addiction was similar to mine, I mean we grow up in the same household after all, but different late teen/early adult life experiences led him to recovery sooner. He showed me the result of asking for help. After rehab and in 12 step recovery, he led a life that I envied – a beautiful home, a sweet family, a respectable job, and really cool friends. He asked for help from people who had lived through what he was experiencing, and it worked.
So, great. It works. That seems like the easy part. But HOW do you do it? This lesson was taught by possibly the greatest teacher I will ever have, my daughter, River.
River was born in 2010. I had a pleasant and healthy pregnancy. I was so excited for my first child that abstinence was easy and I stopped drinking as soon as I found out I was pregnant. (Alcohol free, yes. Dry drunk… well that’s another story.)
Sticking with more holistic practices, I opted out of most prenatal testing so it was a complete surprise when River was born with Down syndrome. Now before you come to any faulty conclusions I will clear this up: Down syndrome is not caused by drugs or alcohol. I didn’t know that either. In fact, I didn’t know anyone with Down syndrome until my daughter was born. Several months into her first year, I was very honest about my drinking with a top geneticist at the local children’s hospital during a special appointment. I told her what my life was like before I was pregnant with River. She assured me I should feel no guilt, I did not cause this. She said “Honey, if drugs and alcohol caused Down syndrome, there would be a lot more people with Down syndrome.”
This truth was a bit ‘too little too late’ though because I certainly thought my baby‘s condition was a result of something I did. As if being a new parent wasn’t enough for my alcoholic brain to promptly pursue getting wasted, a child with a lifelong disability was all the excuse I needed to resume alcoholic drinking again in those first few postpartum weeks. And let me tell you, drinking after you’ve been pregnant is next level alcoholism. Two drinks and I’m slurry drunk, four drinks and I am blacked out, cursing, screaming and crying. I continued that way for the next two years. Somehow though I managed to go on taking care of my daughter, going to work, showing up at family and social functions while getting blitzed almost every night.
My experience having a newborn with a disability thrust me into a world that I never knew existed. (search up the short read “Welcome to Holland” sometime) I knew parenting in general would be a new challenge, but tons of people do it every day, stupid people too. My husband likes to say “You need a license to drive, but you don’t need a license to have a baby!” Down syndrome though was a plot twist. Luckily River didn’t have any major medical conditions that required surgery, but she had usual Down syndrome issues that needed immediate attention. This stuff wasn’t in any of the books granted to me at my baby shower. No maternal elder bestowed wisdom to me during my pregnancy about how to handle physical differences and cognitive delays. I needed help, and discovered as a new mom that it was practically an automatic response. “My child needs this, how do I get it?” I guess this is maternal instinct, or simply love.
For example, my daughter, like most children with Down syndrome, has something called hypotonia which means ‘low muscle tone’. This effects how she eats, and since basically that’s all babies do is eat (and sleep and poop), I needed help immediately with feeding. I found that help through the Birth Center.
Hypotonia also affects gross motor milestones. She would not roll over, sit up, climb to stand, crawl, etc. like other kids her age without professional support. I had to ask for help again. Fortunately the public school system has a program called Early Intervention just for families just like us and by three months of age my daughter was in physical therapy twice a week.
With physical therapy, extra doctors appointments, and childcare now burdening the schedule, and me having to go back to my full time job after 12 weeks, once again I had to ask for help. This kind of help was harder to ask for but my Mom was happy to take River a couple days a week and after some tears, my employer offered to reduce my hours while still keeping me at full time status (for the medical benefits).
My alcoholic ego thinks I should be able to do it all but having a child pierced through that brickwall thinking. I have dozens of examples of how I asked for help in the first year of River‘s life. I joined a local Down syndrome support group and trusted people who knew more than me, who had lived what I was going through. Love made it easy to drop any self-consciousness, self-centered and honestly selfish motivations.
Before I found recovery, my infant daughter and her needs taught that there are systems, clubs, and an incalculable amount of big hearts who want to help, groups of people and places I never knew existed. Growing up and into full blown alcoholism, I was conditioned to believe my problems were mine to solve alone. I had internalized so many issues, never once reaching out. Asking for help out loud took practice, and I was clumsy and emotional, but the more I did it, the easier it became. I had to put aside my confident front, the one that protected me from the pain of failure and rejection. This was humility, and that concept was very new to me.
In actuality, humbleness training began before she was even born. Routinely opening my naked nethers for strangers at the Birth Center was definitely a practice in humility. “Will I ever be modest again?” I wondered outloud to one of the midwives. “It does return,” she said while carefully inspecting my privates.
AA boasts being a “we” program. I think most recovery programs are “we”. I learned about Interdependence in a Buddhist recovery program, that all beings near and far rely on each other. I was taught through the example of a shirt. Consider all the hands that brought that shirt together before it came to the hanger in my closet. There’s the person at the store who sold it to me, the person who delivered it to the store, the people in the factory who had cut and sewn my shirt together, the people who made the buttons, the people who created the patterns, the people who designed the style, the people who provided the thread, the people who grew the cotton to make the thread, the sun and the soil that grew the cotton, do you want me to go on? No experience on earth is done alone, why again is it so hard to ask for help?
Today I have much less dramatic problems than I did when I began my journey 2012. I’ve practically “rocketed into the fourth dimension” as promised in AA. These are normal troubles like budgets, my daughter’s education, balance work and family life, or what to cook for dinner.
I’m still learning how to ask for help, or more specifically when to ask for help. When life is good, my ego or alcoholic brain can sometimes tell me “I got this” and I keep going until it’s too much and I lose my emotional balance. I don’t always got this. Getting together with other people in recovery regularly keeps interdependence fresh in my mind. Good friends can tell when I’m doing too much or holding back negative emotions.
“Life is short and pain is long and we were all put on this earth to help each other.” I just love that. I came upon this line while reading Stephen King’s Firestarter novel a few Halloweens ago. He’s an alcoholic in recovery too. I bet he’s learned a thing or two.
My Greatest Teacher River is growing up in a world that isn’t built for her. She will always need help, just like me, the so-called “able bodied” one. If I love myself the way I love her, asking for help comes easy. She taught me to put that I-Can-Do-It-Myself ego aside, and follow my brother’s lesson – find the people who have been there, know that you are not alone. I don’t want to be that person out there trying to grow my own cotton so I can have a shirt ten months from now.
Jenny Hasted is a grateful person in long term sobriety and founder of the Cecil County Recovery Sangha. She lives alongside the Chesapeake with her family.
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