In the summer of 2015, I entered rehab for alcohol use disorder. I got sober during that month and after a brief stint of living in sober houses, I went back to my life. But what I didn’t realize at the time is that I needed a lot more to support my recovery. I couldn’t just go back to everything I had previously known during my heavy drinking days.
Without support or significant lifestyle changes, it wasn’t long before I drank again. After a few slips, I decided to dramatically change my life in order to stay sober. So, four years ago, I packed up my New York City apartment and moved back to my hometown in Florida.
Over the next few years, I navigated some pretty “adult” life stuff— all while staying sober. And what would surprise me most of all is that everything I learned in recovery would help prepare me for my biggest challenge of all: Having a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When news of the pandemic hit, I was about to have a baby with the husband I met shortly after moving and getting sober, the one who gave up drinking for me. Nearing the end of my pregnancy, at 39 weeks, my anxiety was reaching an all-time high.
Would my husband be able to attend the birth of our first child? Would the hospital be overcrowded? Would I or my baby get sick? Would my parents ever be able to meet my son?
For the few weeks between when we decided to quarantine (the same day the World Health Organization announced that this was a pandemic) to when I had my baby, I was a mess. The anxious, scary thoughts were running through my head every minute of every day and I felt, to be honest, very helpless and near panic attack almost every day.
It was a terrible, anxious time. But when I look back now, months later, I realize one hopeful truth: Going through recovery has actually prepared me for the unique situation of having a child during these tumultuous times.
1. Being in recovery helped me to realize that I can do the hard things.
You know what’s really difficult? Getting sober. I know it’s not difficult for everybody, but it was difficult for me. Before I got sober, I was your typical single 20-something living in New York City. I had a great job, good friends, and I loved going out.
But what I didn’t have was a good handle on my mental health and so my anxiety led me to drink my troubles away. When I got sober, though, I had to learn new coping mechanisms — a skill that I am honestly still working on. And yeah, it was hard. It’s easy to rely on a glass of wine as stress relief or to say “yes” to drinks out with friends. But it’s not easy to admit that alcohol no longer serves you; that you have to find new ways to socialize and de-stress.
Because I’d already done the hard work of getting sober, so I knew I could do this, too.
Getting sober is especially difficult in the beginning when you don’t know anything. Sure, you know that you need to avoid alcohol. But how? Through time, guidance, and experience— eventually you figure out what works and what doesn’t. And that’s what being a parent during a pandemic has been about. I have to just… figure it out. The good thing, though, is that I’ve already done something really, really hard. I got sober. It wasn’t easy but, little by little, I got there.
I took it one day at a time, one lesson at a time, one step at a time. And you know what? Having a baby during a pandemic has been about that, too: One day, one lesson, one step at a time. Unlike having a baby during “normal” times, I didn’t know what to expect. Every day before having my baby, there was a changing stream of news. My biggest fear — that my husband wouldn’t be able to attend the birth of our baby — thankfully didn’t come true. But you know what? During my most anxious times, I knew that even if I had to give birth without him by my side, I could do it. Because I’d already done the hard work of getting sober, so I knew I could do this, too.
2. Being in recovery has strengthened my support network.
In the year before I entered rehab, when my drinking was at its worst, I had been so stressed that my support network had fallen apart. Because I loved my job so much, I spent much of my time working (and stress drinking on the weekends) and my friendships suffered. Soon enough, I was completely isolating from those that cared about me so that they wouldn’t know just how bad my drinking had gotten.
I honestly didn’t know how bad it was until I entered rehab and learned that we need a strong support network in order to get and stay sober. It’s why my sobriety didn’t quite stick for the first few months. When I got back to New York from rehab, I didn’t know how to repair the friendships I had damaged. But when I moved back to live with my parents, and subsequently met my now-husband, I started to put the pieces back together. Now, I’ve not only repaired past relationships that I damaged at the height of my drinking, but I’ve made new ones.
I know that I couldn’t have gotten five years into my recovery without them; and now, I have them with me for the next five years of parenting, too.
When you get pregnant, people tell you how much help you’ll need from others. Friends who are already parents told me about how “it takes a village”. They gifted me with some of their used baby stuff, they gave me much-needed advice, and they listened to all of my questions and all of my worries. They became an even bigger part of my support network. This time, my parenting support network instead of my sober support network.
But you know what? It’s all the same support network. The friends that were there for me when I was in the early days of sobriety are still the friends that are there for my today, years into my sobriety and in my early days of being a parent. We may talk about mostly different things today but they’re still for me, no matter what.
Having that support network of my wonderful husband, my loving family, and my caring friends has been integral to my sobriety. I know that I couldn’t have gotten five years into my recovery without them; and now, I have them with me for the next five years of parenting, too.
3. Being in recovery taught me that change is scary but necessary.
There are a lot of things that changed for me after I entered recovery and got sober. After 12 years of living in New York City, I moved to Florida. I changed the focus of my career from being a food journalist (which caused me too much stress) to focusing on some of my other interests. I also, shockingly, met the love of my life, got married, bought a house, and decided to have a baby. These are all big changes that would have terrified me before I entered recovery. But now? Well, they’re much easier to handle.
One of the things that being in recovery has taught me is that change can be a good thing, even if it’s terrifying at the start. Before recovery, I was dead-set on the path that I had. In fact, I think that my anxiety about staying on The Path is part of the reason why I was drinking so much. I was just stressed about following the plan that I had laid out for myself. But recovery changed all of that. Recovery taught me that plans change, and that’s okay. It’s a lesson I had desperately needed to learn.
Being in recovery reminded me not only that change is constant but that we can adapt and that, at the end of the day, it will be okay.
To be honest, it’s still a lesson that I am learning daily. Sometimes, I admit that my anxiety can still get the best of me. And, well, the anxiety of being pregnant during the pandemic was definitely extremely stressful. I mean, this wasn’t the plan! It certainly wasn’t what I had ever thought would happen during the last month of pregnancy. And having a baby during a pandemic and, even worse, parenting during a pandemic was not part of my plan. But I adjusted, just as recovery had taught me to do years before.
Nothing about these past few months have been easy for me. This was not the kind of change I thought would happen during my postpartum period. I imagined my family happily visiting. I thought friends would come to drop off casseroles and meet the baby. I pictured me, my husband, and our son going to enjoy the park or the beach or even the grocery store. But none of those things happened due to the pandemic. Still, I was okay. Being in recovery reminded me not only that change is constant but that we can adapt and that, at the end of the day, it will be okay.
When I think about the world I had imagined my son entering into, I admit that I still get a little sad. Never in a million years would any of us who had our babies this spring (or who are still pregnant) have imagined all that has happened. But being a person in recovery has given me a unique perspective into all of the changes in the world. Facing the tough challenge of having a kid during difficult times is not something I could have ever imagined handling well, but I also couldn’t have ever imagined handling recovery well, either.
I did, though. I got sober and I had a baby during a pandemic. Was getting sober stressful? Yes. Was having a baby in 2020 stressful? Definitely yes. But just as I got through the early days of sobriety, I got through the early days of parenting too — all thanks to the strength I gained in recovery.