SHAIR 166 - A Sober Mom's Guide to Recovery

Rosemary O’Connor is a leading expert and spokesperson on women, children, and addiction. As an author, speaker, and outreach manager for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Rosemary helps people find treatment resources to save lives and restore families from substance abuse and addiction. She is also a recovery coach for women.

Rosemary was an alcoholic mom who had no idea that she needed help. Eventually, her high-functioning alcoholism stopped functioning, and she had to get help or risk losing everything.

Listen to her story of acceptance and recovery and why she wrote A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery.

CLEAN DATE: NOVEMBER 13th, 1999

Listen to Rosemary’s story now!

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Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the podcast now!

Daily Routine

The first thing Rosemary does when she wakes up is walk to the coffee pot to get a cup of coffee. Then she gets back into bed. This is her favorite ritual of the day and she often goes to sleep excited about doing it the next morning. As part of her daily recovery routine, she opens one of her spiritual readings and reflects on it. Then she goes inward and meditates. She may do some journaling on the topic. About 3 to 4 times a week, she likes to do some exercise. She’s then either on the computer writing blogs, working on her second book, or working with one of her coaching clients. Every day is different for her.

In the evening she has a 5:30 AA meeting. Afterward, she may have coffee with friends. Her three kids are out of the house and grown, and she has freedom to do whatever she wants to do. She always hits the pillow grateful for another day sober.

Spiritual connection

Rosemary starts the day connecting and asking to be God’s instrument. She wants to get herself out of the way and make her day according to what God wants her to do. She prays constantly throughout the day because her ego always tries to get back in control.

Rosemary sees God wherever she goes – in nature, in babies’ eyes, and in dogs’ eyes. She doesn’t often stop and think about it, but she is plugged in all day long. It has become a habit.

The hardest part is sitting back and listening and being quiet.

Rosemary wakes up as a chronic addict, and she knows she’s always reaching for something. She attends to 3 or 4 meetings a week and is very clear that if she stops any part of her recovery routine, she will pick up a drink.

The First Time

Rosemary remembers her first intentional drinking was when she was in high school. She and her friends would each get their own bottle of a drink called Tickled Pink. Then they’d roller skate up and down the boardwalk at the beach, fall down, throw up, get back up, and start skating again. It was all about acting crazy and having fun.

It made me feel connected to my friends.

Rosemary’s Story

There are lots of old family pictures of Rosemary as a child on her dad’s lap sipping his beer and puffing on his cigar. She grew up Irish Catholic from a long legacy of high functioning alcoholics, but she says she had a privileged upbringing. Her parents were kind and giving people. She is one of seven kids and her father had to work hard to keep them all in line.

I kind of feel like I was born into chaos.

Rosemary did well in high school and was into all the extra-curricular activities. Then she moved far away to attend college. This gave her the license to drink as much as she wanted to, and she did. While she was there, she met her future ex-husband, or “was-band”, in a bar. She says the three of them fell in love, “me, him, and alcohol.”

They got married and her focus was on creating a perfect family. She had 3 kids in 7 years while her husband climbed the corporate ladder. She had the perfect house, the perfect kids, the perfect body, and the perfect man. They traveled together and had fun partying, but the common denominator was alcohol and she was unhappy.

All through my marriage I was miserable.

In her alcoholism, she thought she had a bad husband. She now knows she suffered from depression and anxiety. Her false perceptions lead her to having an affair. Rosemary says if there was one thing she could change, it would be her infidelity. It ended their marriage.

She became a single mom and was scared to death. She lived in an affluent area and her kids were in private schools. The only solution she had to the pressure was alcohol.

Rosemary says she went down “quick and hard” at the age of 37. She began blacking out and waking up in strange places. It all culminated the night of her last drunk. In her state of mind, it was reasonable to hire a ten-year-old babysitter so she could go out. She would do anything to keep drinking and running from her feelings. She got dressed up in a sequin dress and left at 7pm. She said she’d be home after a couple hours.

She stumbled in the next morning covered in vomit. Her husband, her best friend, and her kids in their pajamas were all waiting for her. Her best friend told her to get her act together. Her husband told the kids to pack their bags and so they could go to his house. Her five-year-old with his innocent, blue eyes tugged on her and asked, “Mommy, are you okay?” She said, “No I’m not okay.” She will never forget the look on his face.

They all left. She was still drunk. The house was completely quiet, and she was alone with her own thoughts.

I never had quiet like that before.

Rosemary knew that if she didn’t do something right now, 5pm would be there soon and she would be drinking again. She opened the phone book, looked up the word ‘alcoholism,’ and called the Alcoholics Anonymous hotline. A woman picked up the phone. Rosemary just started talking. The girl who answered also shared some of her experience and offered to meet up with Rosemary to take her to a meeting.

Rosemary’s first thought when she saw all the alcoholics and drug addicts was this is not my world. But they were all happy, sober, laughing, and sharing. Something compelled Rosemary to raise her hand and finally admit she was an alcoholic. At the end of the meeting, they had a reading. She remembers this line bringing her tremendous relief.

And you will know peace.

This was all she wanted.

What kept Rosemary from getting clean?

Rosemary didn’t know she was an alcoholic. She didn’t understand it. She had it all. She thought the alcoholic was the guy in a trench coat on a park bench with a bottle in a brown paper bag.

The aha moment

Rosemary remembers when she was doing her first step where she had to write about her last ten drunks. As she confronted the past, she realized her life was getting so much better. She also saw other people transforming in sobriety, and it gave her the faith to keep going.

It was gradual, but she realized she was doing it. She was sober.

Favorite books

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Rosemary didn’t understand the big book at first. This book ‘slanged’ the steps to her.

Karen Casey Daily Readers
These books inspired Rosemary to write. 

Best suggestion

Reach out. Go to a meeting. Raise your hand. Tell them you need help. 

For the newcomer

Addiction is not your fault. You can’t cure it, but there is help. You’re not a bad person, you just have a really bad disease. Whatever your story is, there is probably a worse one out there. Life in recovery is the best way to live…

We SHAIR our stories every Tuesday so subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher Radio!

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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.