Family used to be a big deal for me when I was little. I loved visiting my brother and telling strangers that my cousin was my sister; we were as close as sisters anyway. But from the age of 12, it was just me and mom. She moved us out of state and away from my father’s tainted legacy. She worked a lot. It was her coping mechanism to escape my abusive father. She kept up this behavior long after my father went away. Some behaviors die harder than others. She worked and worked, as she’d always done, so much of the time I was alone.

Living up in a small mountain town was surreal. My nearest neighbor was a half-mile away, and streetlights were nonexistent. No one else from the family lived in the state, so holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas often passed into the flood of endless days. As I grew older, I tried to pretend that I was a lone wolf by choice—who needed family? Not me. Even back then I knew it was a lie. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to not have to choose if my mom took off work on my birthday or Christmas. Pretending it was OK, learning how to numb the pain, made it easier to pretend that it was a normal thing.

I wore a façade that grew thick in the coming years. I found companionship with whoever I was dating at the time. The first guy I used meth with had a mother who loved me like the daughter she never had. I was welcomed at holidays and even had my own gift under the tree. When my mom moved away, she allowed me to stay there so I could finish high school. I had no idea why after feeling so insignificant for so long, she opened her heart so readily to a lost child like myself. Looking back, that’s just the kind of person she was, selfless and amazing. The love I had for my boyfriend’s family made the inevitable meth-induced breakup, years later, so much harder. I hung on to the toxic relationship far longer than I should have out of fear of losing his family.

The parents of all of my exes adored me, considering me a good influence on their sons. I always thought this was funny, especially when I looked in the mirror at my disintegrating teeth and colorless eyes. Did I have them fooled, or did they see something inside me that I couldn’t? To this day I don’t know the answer, but I like to think it’s the latter.

While I was using, both my cousin and brother got married and had kids. I missed my brother’s wedding completely. For my cousin’s, I was high. Years passed, and I jumped from boyfriend to boyfriend, becoming more and more a phantom to my already estranged family. For most of my 20’s no one knew where I was. Hell, I barely knew. When my grandma died, I was in prison. I didn’t find out I’d lost my other grandma until years later. I was so busy looking for “the one” that I missed all those chances to say good-bye. I was looking for that glorious “perfect” family I’d had with my first ex. The thought never occurred to me that my actual family might not be there one day.

I think most little girls dream of motherhood. I definitely did. It seemed the perfect solution to the lifetime of loneliness I’d always known. All of my borrowed families over the years were great, but not one completely filled the void I carried. Surely, having children would be the solution. They would never leave me, and I could be the mother I’d wanted to have. So I tried to get pregnant many times with many guys. I tried high. I tried sober-ish. I tried with partners and with strangers. I tried telling the guy I wanted a baby, and I tried getting pregnant “by accident.” Nothing worked. By the time I was in my early 30s, everyone I knew had kids. I was so envious and began to wonder, Why not me?

When I came into the rooms of recovery, upper 30s and empty womb, I felt defective as a woman. As you get to a certain age, you can count those you know without kids on one hand—back then I couldn’t name one. I carried such resentment. Several years later, after working the Steps, it occurred to me that this self-loathing and pity had kept me from ever getting close to women. I’d feared that they would see how “defective” I thought I was and they’d judge me for it. The strange thing is, it was the women of CMA who really made me feel welcome. It was the women who hugged me and told me I was enough. To this day, it is the women of this fellowship who remind me that no relationship or parental status gets to determine my value.

It took many, many years for me to find family and appreciate it, but I did. First I found it in CMA. Then I learned how to be family to my biological family. Do you remember me saying that my cousin and my brother went on and had lives without me? Well, now they have lives that include me. I’m not only allowed to be near their children today, I am invited and welcomed and trusted enough to babysit them. I now see my mom, who I resented for so long, as a woman who did the best she could at the time. We spend holidays together, and I get to have some peace about my childhood that never would have been possible without recovery.

There are still questions I hold near to my heart about motherhood. And I still wonder if partnership is in my future. But I no longer dwell on them as if I am without definition until I have these things. Today I have so many friends, so many people I really love and who really love me. Today I have relationships with family who once thought I was dead. I get to travel and accomplish milestones. And I get the honor of being of service to the fellowship that not only saved my life but changed my life.

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