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Things I've Learned Since You've Been Gone

So I posted this on my Instagram on November 8th, 5 years after my mom passed away. I am copying it below but also adding to it. I've tried to write a blog post, but the words aren't coming to me.. so I'm not going to force it.

It has been 5 years since my mom passed, but I feel as though I lost parts of her long before that, as a result of alcohol.

I am not going to turn this into anything anti-alcohol..

Instead, I'll say this.

I didn't understand. I didn't understand for so long.. and I know there are a lot of kids (or adults now) who don't /won't get the gift I got.

What gift?

The gift of my own struggles with alcohol (and cocaine), that gave me such a different perspective of what you went through and must have felt - without ever being able to talk to you about it.

The gift of compassion, that I'm able to utilize not only for myself, but for every person I connect with.

I got the gift of understanding.

Which gave me the gift of forgiveness.

And I wish I could give that to every single person who has ever grown up with a parent who struggled with Alcohol Use Disorder. Oh I wish that more than anything.

I will write a blog post soon, I just haven't been able to find the words.. but I still wanted to sprinkle some love in your direction today.

You know... we are doing some pretty great things now Mom, I'm so glad you are with me for it all ❤ That was the Instagram post - here is the extension. I don't know why this is so hard for me to write. I find writing therapeutic and it isn't hard emotionally, I just can't seem to choose a direction. Full disclosure, this has been an ongoing process and an open doc on my computer since the 8th. One direction is where I found myself leading up to when my mom passed, and the other direction is discussing that my story isn't particularly unique and thousands upon thousands of kids grow up with a parent who has (or had) Alcohol Use Disorder. I'm going with growing up, and perhaps the other direction will be written another day. When I look back, it is so hard to think of the conversations with my mom and the pain I felt. It is hard for many reasons... but now when I reflect and step outside of my pain, I see and feel hers... and again, I just didn't know what I didn't know. How I wish I knew what I know now so I could just hug her. To be honest, even knowing what I do now, it may have made no difference, because ultimately we can choose to change ourselves but we cannot choose change for someone else... but I do wish I could hug her and tell her it's all okay. And that I understand. (I know she knows).

When I was a nanny I told one of the kids about my moms struggles and also about why I decided to be a coach... I want to help people. He said, "that's pretty cool, so if your mom was around when you did this, maybe she would still be alive." Oh boy did that ever stop me in my tracks. People change based on their choosing. Maybe it would have been different, maybe not... but maybe it can be different for other people who don't want to follow in their parents footsteps or maybe it can be different for parents who are struggling right now and want to be there for their kids.

I wish I could ask so many questions now, I wish I could understand more. Sometimes that is exactly what people need, to feel understood without judgement... I am so grateful to be a part of a movement that is based from a foundation of compassion (and science). I had so much compassion as a kid, I completely lost it in my 20s, but I'm fortunate that I've found it again.

The moment I realized my story isn't all that unique was when I started to join different spaces online, predominantly This Naked Mind. I would read about other people and almost always see a part of myself in them, or I would read things and think "me too."

SO many people either grew up with a parent who had (or has) Alcohol Use Disorder, or they are currently a parent who is struggling. Here is what I didn't understand: I felt like my mom was choosing alcohol over me. Because I thought she was choosing this, I thought it didn't hurt her. Coming from my own experience but also mentoring in groups of thousands of people over the last 3 years, my perspective has definitely shifted. We think it doesn't hurt the person who is struggling. It does (maybe not always, but most times). It is not like they are "making the choice," knowing it hurts their kids and it doesn't affect them at all. It does (again, I cannot say 'always' and I am not speaking to each scenario). It is so hard to understand if you haven't struggled yourself, I get that too. I'm not trying to justify or defend, just having been on both sides of the coin, I am trying to express that it is not a black or white conversation. And I am also not saying there aren't exceptions to that. Living with those feelings of pain and shame would be so hard. From the outside looking in, people think they "should" "know better." No one realizes alcohol is to blame. Not many people take a step back and realize it isn't about willpower, or how much a person loves their kids. That person who is struggling with alcohol, their brain responds differently to the substance. It is brain chemistry, it isn't willpower. And I've said it many times, but this can happen to anyone over a prolonged period of time. No one realizes how hard it is once that flip is switched. No one has their first drink and thinks it will happen to them, and by the time you realize it's happening, it is so hard to get out of. These people always swore they'd never grow up to be their parent who drank too much, and here they are. Which is similar to me, I don't have kids but I always said I would never follow in my moms footsteps, and I mean, technically I threw cocaine into the mix so I really blazed my own trail there, didn't I?!

I can't describe it exactly, but when I'm coaching people (particularly parents), I think my inner child is at the forefront of every conversation. Instead of people feeling shame for the fact that they are struggling, I want them to know, more than anything, how amazing it is that they are reaching out for help. That they are trying. That instead of critisizing themselves for another Day 1 - they give themselves credit, because another Day 1 means they haven't given up. And god damn, it's easy to want to give up when self doubt, limiting beliefs, fear of failure and all of those things are the voices in your head.

Everyone is so quick to judge others for being the person who "can't control their alcohol intake" or the person who "indulges too much," but simultaneously they'll be judged for not drinking at all. What the funk is that?!

Growing up, I was very loved. I was very fortunate. I'm very aware of all of those things. I remember in public school or early in high school being told nothing was hard for me, I had all of the nice clothes, and it must be so nice to have a perfect life. And again, I am fully aware of how fortunate I was but I was also sad... a lot. I also had a parent who drank... a lot. I'm not saying I had it better or worse than anyone, and I know so many people had it the same way. I know we never ever know the full story based on looking at a snapshot. I didn't want to have friends over because I was worried about how it would be. Again, I didn't understand so I remember being embarrassed, heck I felt shame before my own decisions that caused me shame. At this point in time, I blamed the person and not at the substance. I remember many conversations asking or begging her to stop drinking. I remember being compassionate, I remember being sad and I remember being angry. I remember 100% thinking it was a choice and thinking I wasn't being chosen, or my family wasn't being chosen. In the years leading up to her passing, I acted like it didn't bother me, I acted like I didn't care, I was still clearly angry that alcohol did this. At that point, I didn't have the compassion element intact. I didn't start to drink because of this childhood experience (to escape pain). I drank to seek pleasure (and approval), afterall, everyone is doing it. My childhood was incredible in SO many ways and I am forever grateful for all of it. The reason I'm writing these things isn't for people to understand me. It is in the hope that other people realize they aren't alone (or weren't alone). Maybe it offers a different perspective into addiction or alcohol use disorder. To be honest, again, I've had a lot of trouble writing this, questioning the purpose time and time again... which is why it's been open on my computer for almost a month.

The thing is, there are SO MANY KIDS who experience those feelings. Many experience worse if their parent is mean, angry, abusive, manipulative, etc. Did you know in the UK kids can call a charity line to have a bedtime story read to them? This is available because their parents are too drunk and passed out. Think about that for a second. Alcohol is involved in domestic violence, suicide, it contributes to depression and anxiety amongst so many other horrible things. When I think back to fighting or bickering, alcohol was always involved, and I've talked to SO many clients who say the exact same thing. "Normally we don't fight but after we are drinking..." and then you think about the environment that is creating. Both for yourself, and for your kids. I really don't think people understand the magnitude of how much alcohol affects not only individuals, but families.

Here is the thing: people don't want to talk about the fact that they are struggling. There is so much fear and shame associated with the stigma and stereotype. Also this ridiculous idea that you suddenly need to wear a label. You don't. I 100% have always said, my decision not to drink is a reflection of me. I judged myself enough, I'm not here to judge anyone else. I'm also completely aware some people can have 1-2 and that is that. But when I hear people say "oh just have one" or pushing others into drinking, I am definitely more vocal than I once was. No I don't involve myself in things I don't need to. No I'm certainly not going to be loud of make things uncomfortable. But here's the thing... THOUSANDS of people are struggling with their alcohol consumption, and it affects their partner/spouse/kids/family. We do not see everything behind closed doors. What you consider to be 1-2 drinks or glasses of wine with a friend - maybe that turns into them going home and needing to drink a bottle. So when people are trying to cut back or say no, let them. Do not ask why, just let them. If you are so uncomfortable drinking alone that you need to push your friends into it, that's about you and not them. Don't drag someone else into it for your own comfort. Just don't.

As I mentioned above, there is so much judgement when it comes to someone who drinks too much, yet when people try to cut back, they are met with "oh yeah, just have one, it's not a big deal." Maybe to you it isn't a big deal, but maybe to them it is... and maybe they don't want to say that out loud. Quite frankly, they shouldn't have to. No is a complete response. Move on.

When I hear the term "mommy juice" my skin crawls. Or when I see babies in jumpsuits that say "I'm the reason mommy drinks." Ugh. Guys, I 100% would have used the term "mommy juice" and I also would have bought a baby that kind of jumpsuit while I was still drinking. No doubt about it... but I know different so I choose different. I posted this on my instagram before, but if I followed that whole "I'm the reason mommy drinks" gimmick - should I now be wearing a shirt that says "I'm the reason mommy developed alcohol use disorder" or "I'm the reason my mom is no longer here." It might seem real cute and real funny in the moment, but play the tape ahead. Alcohol is addictive, tolerance builds, it is progressive. I don't know anyone who doesn't know someone who is struggling. Why are we encouraging this toxic messaging? I can't imagine parenting, it's above and beyond a full time job with no breaks. Yes, you're damn right you deserve a reward.. but alcohol isn't the reward you thought it was. A reward is a delicious takeout meal. A reward is getting a babysitter and going out for the night. A reward is a day at the spa. A reward is not drinking something that increases women's chance of breast cancer by 15% for every 3 drinks they have during a week. A reward is not drinking something that makes you feel good for approx 20 minutes, only to feel worse later. By the way, if there was a jumper that said"I'm the reason mommy loves cocaine" - people would lose their collective shit. But alcohol gets a free pass, simply because it is legal.

Again, we are so quick to make judgements when we look from the outside. We never know the big picture. We never know what is happening behind closed doors. We never know the battles people are facing, and we don't need to. That isn't the point. The point is, if someone wants to make changes in their lifestyle, let them. Especially when it is actually has nothing to do with you.

For anyone who grew up and felt unloved or not chosen by a parent who struggled, I am so sorry. I can personally say, I understand the logical brain and I also understand a brain when it is hijacked by alcohol. I am not saying I understand your entire experience and I'm certainly not trying to justify anyone else's choices. I just know when consciously you want to stop drinking, but subconsciously your brain is being run by another program, well I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Cognitive dissonance is a vicious cycle. Yes people choose to have their first drink... but when you give alcohol a job or lean into it as a coping mechanism, it's a completely different conversation. I'm not saying you have to meet their/your experiences with compassion, you don't, but perhaps that person was in more pain than you realized too. Perhaps they were doing the best they could with the tools they had. Perhaps shame kept them stuck in the cycle. Viewing things from a lens of compassion might shift the perspective, ever so slightly. And maybe not, your journey and experiences are your own and I understand that I do not understand (as backwards as that sounds)!

Either way, I send you love and healing. I know that weight is heavy to carry.

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So proud of you Hayley. I can imagine this was hard to write but your honest approach is very powerful. Sending love and hugs to you. Looking forward to reading more of your insightful pieces.


Sabine Spaanderman
Sabine Spaanderman
Nov 30, 2023

Hayley you are the best! Your writing is magnificent and só insightful. I love how you go. Steady and focused. I love the part in your writing about the gift that addiction gave to you. (Especially forgiveness.) And I love these last words: "(...) Now I know different. So I choose different. For both of us." Love you my friend. 💗 (I know... lots of "love"haha!)

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