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To Mothers Struggling with Addiction: You Are Not Alone

I had an idyllic childhood. I was a cheery kid with great parents, raised in a wonderful neighborhood, always cared for and never wanted for anything. When people hear this background from someone whose addiction was so strong that they planned their methamphetamine use around their pregnancy, it can be hard to reconcile. There is no blueprint for addiction; this disease has no face. Not one person in my life would have guessed I’d be homeless with multiple DUIs, totaled a number of vehicles, and would have my son taken away by authorities twice before his second birthday, but it happened. And despite how absurd it may sound, having my son taken away from me is what saved my life.   

At 14, I was a high school freshman dealing with weight issues, vicious bullying and low self-esteem. This experience left me with few friends, so when the group of cool kids invited me to a party, I went. That’s when my drinking started — leading eventually to other substances and behavioral issues. I barely graduated with my class, and even though I wanted to go to college, it didn’t happen. Instead, I spent my 20s trying any substance that came my way.

Beginning in 2004, and for the next 10 years, I was in and out of treatment centers. I had periods of sobriety, but they never lasted long. During one stretch, I had a corporate job, bought a condo, and purchased a car. Everyone was thrilled for my new life. But on the inside, I was empty. None of the material things fulfilled me, and I eventually relapsed. What many don’t realize is that recovery is an inside job, meaning the want to change has to come from deep within you — and it’s so much easier said than done. When I cycled through facilities, I didn’t want to get clean, so sobriety never stuck.

In my late 30s, I found out I was pregnant which came as a complete shock. In a previous relationship, fertility treatments were not successful, and I was told pregnancy was not a possibility for me. Unfortunately, I was not sober. I tried and wanted to stop but the disease of addiction was stronger. In fact, it was so strong that my addicted brain rationalized using methamphetamine while carrying my child. I knew methamphetamine use in the first trimester can cause a cleft lip, so I waited until the second and third trimesters to use because the risks weren’t as great. That’s how much power these drugs had over me.

Fortunately, Owen was born completely healthy, which I am so grateful for, but my use continued. Six weeks after Owen’s birth, I was staying in a shelter for battered women. My substance use was reported, and the authorities came and physically took Owen from my arms. Unbeknownst to me, this was the start of a slow and painful separation from him, but the beginning of my new life. 

After Owen was taken from me, I knew I had to do everything asked of me. I went to treatment and attempted to get clean. I did all the tasks required of me, but I didn’t work on myself. I kept this up for months and finally got Owen back. And then I relapsed. Owen was taken from me a second time.  

When I lost my son for the second time, I was devastated. At that point, I had nothing left to lose. In the following 90 days, I was Baker Acted eight times — an involuntarily 72-hour hold in a mental health facility — overdosed twice and had two warrants out for my arrest. I was on a suicide mission. I remember thinking to myself, “I lost everything. I’ve lost my family, my soul, my career, and I’m about to lose Owen forever, the only perfect thing in my life.” It was clear I couldn’t get clean for myself, but I had to do it for him.

Fed up with my behavior, my parents stepped in and filed a Marchman Act petition, which allows family members to petition the court for mandatory assessment and treatment for those who are abusing substances and are a danger to themselves. When the petition was filed, I was relieved because my life was so unmanageable. I didn’t want to live that way anymore, so I cried out to God and begged him to do something. I prayed for something greater than me to save my life. I surrendered in that moment and entered treatment for the last time. 

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I entered treatment ready to succeed. Many nights I cried and questioned myself, but Owen was my North Star and guided me along the way. There were so many court battles and legal hurdles, but I had to do everything to prove that I was not the horrible person everyone thought I was. These were some of the most challenging times in my life, but anytime my faith wavered, I’d think of Owen. It took a great deal of work, but I was finally back with my son.

Today, I have full custody of Owen. He’s a happy 7-year-old and I love him beyond measure. My journey to get back to him was not easy, and unfortunately, there are mothers out there who are currently living the life I once had. For mothers still struggling with the guilt of having a disease that is out of your control, here is my advice for you:  

  • Stop thinking you are a bad person. The disease we have, addiction, is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that affects the brain’s reward, pleasure, memory, and motivation. And like many chronic diseases, it causes spiritual, physical, and emotional sickness. The trauma, guilt, shame, fear and resentment that contributed to your addiction are the very things you have to let go of. When you set yourself free of those shackles, you’ll get to the core of who you are.
  • Accept your truth and interrupt the cycle. They say the truth will set you free, and in this case, it does. Not only until I was able to accept the consequences of my situation that I truly began to work on me. The past is not an easy thing to confront. It’s hard recounting some of the worst times of your life, but once you do, it’s much easier to move forward.
  • Use your strength. Even if you don’t believe it, you are stronger than you think, and your children deserve you. Overcoming this disease is more monumental than you realize. Addiction causes physical changes in how the brain responds to situations involving stress and self-control, and the love for your children can help you overpower it.
  • Seek the help you deserve. If you’re still struggling with addiction, you’re certainly not alone. There is hope and there is help. Things are not going to get better overnight, so you have to work your way toward that light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important to never give up on yourself. Work on yourself and seek guidance from professionals.

This year will mark my fifth year in recovery, and I am so thankful of where I am today. None of this would have been possible if not for Owen. He is what saved my life and guided me to the life I’ve always dreamt of living. 

To Mothers Struggling with Addiction: You Are Not Alone

Karen McGinnis

Karen McGinnis is an outreach coordinator for American Addiction Centers. After decades of drinking, substance use and the tumultuous lifestyle that followed, Karen received help and now has more than five years in recovery. She has since made it her career to connect those with alcohol and/or substance use disorder with necessary resources and works with families to help them better understand the disease of addiction. Outside of work, Karen is a full-time single mother to 7-year-old Owen.

APA Reference
McGinnis, K. (2020). To Mothers Struggling with Addiction: You Are Not Alone. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 May 2020 (Originally: 28 May 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 May 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.