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An Open Letter to Mothers

An Open Letter to Mothers

A tremendous amount of those of us in recovery have obliterated our pasts and everything in them. Regardless of our paths to recovery, a true hall-mark of healing and being on a path to wellness is setting right the wrongs that we are responsible for. While I have personally made my own amends to my mother, Melisa (love you mom!), there are hundreds of mothers and similar guardians in this world that may never hear the words that they so rightfully deserve to hear. Regardless of if your loved one has entered recovery or is one of the thousands we have lost to this horrible disease, this letter is for you. Thank you, from me and the millions like me, for being the rock in our lives (no matter how many times we told you to leave):


Many years ago, you were the first thing that I looked upon with tears in my eyes. I knew then that there existed in this world a love that knew no bounds. From the beginning, I felt protected by you, even though I barely knew you.

As time passed, many things happened that brought us both laughter and sadness. My first words; my first steps; my first love, and my first heartbreak. These things bonded us together in a way that no other relationship that has ever existed on this earth ever could.

I grew older, as all children do, and things changed. I found myself hating things I once loved; for no reason other than I was angry at the world. I lashed out and told you I never wanted to see you again. A hole was growing in me, or perhaps it always existed, that neither you nor I could fill – no matter how hard you tried (and you tried so hard). As these feelings of terror grew, I turned to substances to fill the void inside me. I though I was just being a kid, going along with my friends, just having “fun”.

Fun wasn’t stealing from you though. Fun wasn’t lying through my teeth, convincing you that everything was fine and you just needed to get a grip. I spiraled and spiraled out of control, despite your best efforts. The ground was quickly coming, no matter how much neither of us wanted to admit; it took 10 years to finally get here, but we both knew it was coming.

No matter how hard times got, you were always there for me. Sometimes that looked like punishment and anger, but more times than not it looked like unconditional love. I need you to know that I always knew how strong that love was, stronger even than when it was when you held me in your arms at birth; I didn’t always show it, but I loved you just as much. I also need you to know that none of this was your fault, and you were never meant to “fix” me.

I needed to find my way out of the disease of my mind, one that you could not guide me on this time. As my protector you taught me how to think critically, how to treat other people, and maybe most importantly how to tie my shoes. One thing not in that job description is the cure for my substance use disorder.

As the light becomes clearer at the end of the tunnel, no matter what has happened, as my amends have been made, our love will be as strong as ever. Though I can’t take back the things that I did and said, I can make sure that you know just what you mean to me. The road was dark, downright scary some nights, but the constant throughout all of those times was you. You were my light in that darkness, and you will be that same light on the path for the rest of my life.

In a way, my recovery is like a re-birth. A simple truth I have found as we have recovered as a family is that the love I inherently knew when I was born in your arms will always be there. That is more meaningful, more powerful, and more beautiful than any cure.


If you’re a mother, parent, or loved one of an individual still active in a substance use disorder know that you are not alone. There are many groups out there that are an active support system such as F.I.S.T. (families in support of treatment), Loss of Child (run by powerful recovery advocate, Patty DiRenzo), or you can reach out to other mothers such as Karen Zaorski, a vocal mother of loss who fights for the rights of all families dealing with substance use disorders in this country. 

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Robert Ashford, BSW is a man in long-term recovery who advocates for recovery, behavioral health policy, criminal justice reform, and many other social justice issues. He holds a BSW from the University of North Texas, and is currently at University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice to complete an MSW program. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Renew Magazine, Addiction Unscripted, and the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy. He is also the founder of the multi-author advocacy platform, Rights for Recovery.

robert@rightsforrecovery.org

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