How to Get Back on Track When You’re a Single Parent in Recovery

By Michelle Peterson

Being a single parent is an extremely difficult job even under the best circumstances, but when you’re also in recovery – and need to find time to focus on yourself now and then – it can be nearly impossible to get through it with minimal stress. After battling substances, there are several things you need to do daily in order to keep yourself healthy and motivated, and it can be hard to find the time and energy to get everything done while taking care of the kids and their needs, too.

It’s important to remember that you are valuable and that sobriety can bring many benefits if you learn how to take care of yourself. Here are some of the best practices for doing just that.

Photo via Pixabay by DesignerLisaHenry

Photo via Pixabay by DesignerLisaHenry

Practice self-care

It can be a chore to find time for yourself, but it’s imperative that you do. One of the easiest ways is to set a strict bedtime for the kiddos and reserve the hours after their bedtime for things you want to do. Channel your energy into something creative, such as writing or painting, or use that time to read or simply catch up on your favorite television shows. Setting a schedule and sticking to it is a big part of learning how to juggle all your responsibilities and keep stress at bay.

Self-care can also be accomplished in small increments, such as before the chaos of a weekday morning begins. Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than normal so you’ll have time to sit with a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, and enjoy some quiet before it’s time to get the kids off to school.

Exercise every day

Daily exercise is an important part of recovery. It can help boost your mood and self-esteem, raise your energy levels, and help you focus and stay motivated. Many of us feel we don’t have enough time to exercise each day, but there are little ways to sneak it in. Take a few brisk laps around the block during your lunch break, or set up a gym area in your home with jump ropes, a yoga mat, a stability ball, and some free weights. You can get in 30 minutes of exercise using these tools while your kids are doing their homework.

Get support

If you have friends and family nearby, don’t hesitate to ask for help from them when your plate is too full. Many individuals in recovery don’t have the best relationship with some family members due to their substance abuse, but part of getting sober is repairing that damage. Get support from your loved ones and begin making steps toward a healthy relationship, or consider looking online for a support group that can help you when things get overwhelming.

Eat well

Part of substance abuse recovery is learning how to treat your body well, so learn how to put together a well-balanced diet and implement some changes if necessary. It can be very difficult to cook a full meal every night when everyone’s lives are running in different directions, but if you do your shopping on the weekend and make some casseroles to freeze – and add in some slow-cooker meals – you’ll have healthy dinner options that won’t take long to cook.

Take time to bond

Spending time with your kids is important, especially when you have a lot going on. Bonding time doesn’t have to be extensive every day, but if you can find moments to sit down with them and talk – over dinner, or before bedtime – you’ll be able to connect with them and strengthen your bond. Set a bedtime ritual of brushing teeth, reading a story, and talking about everyone’s days. Just this simple schedule can help kids feel like they are being listened to and appreciated.

When it all starts to feel overwhelming, take a breath and pause. Remember, being there for your children, going to work, and steering the family ship all take serious effort, so give yourself credit for making the everyday parts of life happen. You are doing the work of two parents and working on your recovery.

Nobody can be a perfect parent all of the time, so allow some room to make mistakes. You really are doing the best you can.

Woman, Holy

By Austin Brown

I am that Holiest of Children
my nativity was hallowed
naked, gasping
unable to see more than mere shapes
and beyond them
this unwelcoming place

I am that Little Girl
perky pigtails
I step on tears that splash on the pavement
other girls skip away
repeating words they heard their fathers say about me
about my charcoal corkscrews
that proudly shine a deep reflection
of a thousand generations
spent baking in the kiln of sub-Saharan Africa.
I am also little girls that giggle at epithets
behind cornsilk hair and aqueous eyes.

I am that Adolescent Girl
who grew up afraid of my father
because he touched me
every day
until one night
without violence,
but certainly by force
by force
decades later, I can smell his sweat and whiskey.

I am a 20-year-old Palestinian Woman
in an Israeli prison
this time it was many men
took turns loving me with the soles of their heavy boots
and broom handles
on a sodden cell floor
while my father was forced to watch.

I am that Woman who has it all
career and family
happy pictures on the internet
weary when I come home from work
I crumple on the couch.
As my bones begin to settle in, my son is hungry.
Before I rise, still in my blue suit
I sigh, “It’s too much.”
Too much.

The nimble curve of my neck balances the head of a sleeping baby.
Burdens belonging to generations rest on my tired hips.
Brutal sexist regimes once fed at my breasts
and never thanked me when I taught them to read.
I have stroked your head when you cried to sleep
and prayed when you never came home at night.
Centuries of wars have sunken my shoulders.
On my brow are etched a million massacres and genocides
that nobody seems to remember
except for me.

What are you?
You are nothing—
empty space and stardust
and so am I, but—
I am Holy
I am Woman
I am the place where you hide
I am nature
I am time.
Long after maggots consume my pretty face
flowers will spring up from where I once lay
and long after the flowers men planted
have detonated their megatons
ushering in a brief, cold silence to the globe,
I will remain
and I will look silently upon the stupid,
filthy, beautiful, poetic pestilence
and clutch it to my chest like pearls
until god sees use for it once more.

Single on Valentine's Day Doesn't Have to Mean Alone

By Michelle Peterson

Valentine’s Day: the commercial holiday for lovebirds everywhere. My first February 14th in addiction recovery was tough, but with the support of my husband, I had a wonderful, sober celebration. Then last year I faced the holiday from a new perspective: recently divorced.

I wasn’t sure how I fit into a celebration that revolves around the idea of a special someone. But it occurred to me that I have more than one special someone, people who make my life brighter every single day—my friends. It got me thinking about the way we see and celebrate the holiday, and how maybe it’s time for a shared shift in perspective.

If you have a significant other, Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful day of gifts, food, candy, and romance, but for all the single men and women out there, Valentine’s Day can be a source of stress. Societal pressure can make it seem like everyone needs to pair off on February 14th lest they spend the holiday curled up in a lonely ball of self-pity.

Of course, that’s just Hallmark talking. If you’re single this Valentine's Day, it’s OK to be alone. You can cook yourself an extravagant meal or buy yourself a gift. Learning to be happy on your own is important, and there’s no better time than on a day when the world is telling you otherwise.

Still, that doesn’t work for everybody. For some, it’s very important to make sure that Valentine’s Day isn’t spent in solitude. Companionship comes in many forms, and this Valentine’s Day, you can be single without being alone. The best way to redefine Valentine’s Day is to make it about friends.

The best part about spending Valentine’s Day with friends is that it takes all the pressure away from the day. No more worrying what you’re going to wear. No more worrying about breaking your bank account on expensive dinners and gifts. You don’t even have to shave. On a day that has the potential to make you depressed and lonely, it seems obvious that you can counteract that by spending time with people who make you feel truly comfortable—your best friends.

One great thing about this kind of Valentine’s Day celebration is that is can be super inexpensive compared to the traditional couples’ celebration. You can stay in and have a craft night, a baking night, or even a Netflix night (without the chill). If you’re not too burned out by the whole concept of V-Day, you can even have a traditional Valentine’s celebration with your best friends, complete with chocolate, flowers, and a jewelry exchange. If you’re single, it’s likely that the people you love the most in your life are your best buds, so make sure they know how much they mean to you on the one day of they year set aside to celebrate love.

While being a homebody on Valentine’s Day can be relaxing, comforting, and cheap, don’t let the world tell you that you need a date in order to go out on the town. If you’re feeling up to it, there’s no better way to celebrate being single than going out dancing. There’s no pressure to find someone—remember, this is about you and your friends. It may sound strange, but this Valentine’s Day, you can leave the romance for another time.

Lastly, what says friendship like a road trip? Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about a single day. It represents an opportunity to take a friendship trip you’ve been meaning to take. Think about it: you’re single; it’s the perfect excuse. This year, celebrate Valentine’s Day by setting off on an adventure.

If all of your friends are busy with their significant others, remember, there’s no shame in taking some well deserved “you time,” but if you really don’t want to be alone, you can always go see a movie or take yourself on a date to a concert or show. Sometimes it helps to be in the company of other singles.


About the author: Michelle Peterson wishes to eliminate the stigma surrounding people who struggle with addiction.

Start You Financial Year Off Right: Five Things You Need to Know About Banking

By Karen Cervantes

Over the course of my career in banking, I've noticed a striking trend: people of all ages are financially illiterate.

There could be any number of reasons for this, from apathy to a lack of education, but regardless of the cause, financial illiteracy is something that you, dear reader, can empower yourself to defeat.

Learning to manage your finances takes work – you’ll need to do research to fully understand your current financial profile and how you can make changes to better manage your money in the short and long terms – but I’ve put together a handy list of things many people don’t understand about banking, which I hope will help you avoid some of the problems I see every day.

1. Bank employees' jobs are not to plot against customers.

Bank employees are often perceived as deceptive salespeople, but believe it or not, all bank employees are held highly responsible for doing what's right for the customer.

At least in departments where I've worked, our goal really is to help people find solutions to their financial problems. This might seem surprising, but the meetings for sales teams are about trying to figure out ways to help the customer, even when the customer is not able to identify where he or she needs help.

For example, say John Doe has a habit of overdrawing his checking account. His savings account has a $0 available balance. A bank employee might suggest he arrange to have funds transferred from a credit card to his checking account to cover the overdraft. Using a line of credit as overdraft protection can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the checking account.

Bank employees are trained to find solutions to problems, and what may look to John Doe like nothing more than a sales pitch designed to bring profits to the bank may actually help him keep his money instead of paying it to the bank. So the next time a bank employee suggests a service to you, you may want to listen. It could pay off – literally.

Even though John Doe may not acknowledge this as a solution to his bad habit, the bank employees are trained to do so. Believe it or not, all bank employees are held highly responsible for doing what's right for the customer. They're not the deceptive salespeople that they're perceived as, just people helping people find solutions.

2. You, as the customer, are expected to take responsibility for your own accounts.

A trend I noticed in my customer service days is that people who have high balances are more likely to take responsibility for their accounts than people who have low or negative balances. Simply put, people like to take responsibility for their good deeds, not their bad ones. I encourage you to take responsibility no matter what the balance is.

If you have a low balance, you may not like what you see, but the good news is that you do have the ability to change it.

The thing is, you have make it happen, not the bank.

Once you take responsibility for your money, you'll see a change in your own attitude. You'll go from, "I didn't do it," to "I made that happen!" It's a difference between embarrassment and pride in yourself. Which would you rather have?

Just so we're clear, the bank is not responsible for money management unless you seek out a financial advisor or planner to help you. Rather, the bank simply holds your cash for you as one of their liabilities. When you need it, they give it to you, and when you don't, it sits in an account.

3. If you sign for a loan, be prepared to pay it back – even if you’re only a co-signer. 

Jane Doe is the second person on the account, so she's obviously not responsible for the payments. WRONG! If you sign the contract, you assume the debt. The verbal agreement between account owners about who is going to pay the bill is irrelevant. Why? That's not what the contract says. Verbal agreements simply don't matter when there's a legally-binding contract stating that both people accept responsibility for the repayment of the debt. An owner (or signer) of a loan cannot simply be removed from the account.

Simply put, the bank doesn't care who pays the bill, as long as it's paid. And if it isn't paid, both signers will be getting a phone call from collections. If neither party pays, it negatively reflects on both credit reports.

Fortunately, co-signer statements are now being submitted with applications stating that the co-signer (the second person on the account) is aware of how a loan works and what the expectations are for all applicants.

4. You are responsible for the fine print, even if you didn't read it.

Federal regulation requires that banks (not credit unions)  give certain information to customers upon account opening so that the customer can make informed decisions about his or her account.

Notice in the previous sentence that I said give, not read to. That's right, even the government expects the customer to read. You're given so much information that it's impractical to expect someone to read pages and pages of disclosures to you. The information given to the customer is typically in the form of a pamphlet and will go over such topics as your annual percentage yield, what's considered a business day, and Regulation E, just to name a few.

So the next time you see a fee on your account, your first thought may be, "No one told me about that." Well, that's because banks don't have to tell you verbally; they have to inform you in writing. Whether or not you read what's written is up to you, but if you're someone who doesn't like to waste your money, I highly suggest you read the information at your fingertips.

5. If you're not an owner of the account, you have no rights to anything regarding the account.

It doesn't matter if it's your spouse's account. If you didn't sign the contract or account agreement, there's no reason for you to try to obtain information about the account. Think of it like medical records:  You wouldn't call your neighbor's doctor and ask for his test results, would you? Of course you wouldn't. In terms of credit-based products, the bank is far less concerned about where the payments are coming from than to where they are applied. Account owners benefit from certain laws and regulations, such as the USA Patriot Act, which requires banks to uphold a customer identification program to prevent identity theft against its customers.

Although at times this may seem like a pain in the behind, this is actually something that was passed by Congress for the customer's protection.


Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Emetophobia

By Susan Elliott Brown

You’re not going to throw up. You’re not going to throw up. You’re not going to throw up…

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent repeating that strange little mantra to myself in the past twenty-some years. I’ve been terrified of vomiting since I can remember. Usually, if I ever have the courage to admit that to someone, it’s met with one of a few set responses: “Yeah, I hate it too,” or “Well, no one likes vomiting.”

But it’s different for me. I don’t just hate it. I don’t just find it unpleasant. I’m deathly afraid of it to my very core. I’m more afraid of vomiting than I am of anything else on the planet.

It sounds unreasonable and irrational for a few reasons. One reason is that it’s just “part of life,” and it happens to everyone. Another reason is that vomiting might actually be good for your body in certain situations of illness. None of these reasons matters to me. My brain cannot see vomiting as a natural part of life or a thing that just happens sometimes. I never learned that about vomiting.

Here are some things this phobia has caused me to do:

·      In second grade, I saw another student vomit into the trashcan, and I ran—and I do mean ran—from the classroom without permission and waited in the bathroom (panicking) for several minutes until knew he and the vomit had been removed from the room.

·      If a family member had a stomach bug, I pretty much stayed in my room, and I would use whichever of the two bathrooms they weren’t using. If I had to walk past them, I’d hold my breath so I didn’t breathe in their germs.

·      When I was in elementary school, I became afraid of going to school at all for fear that I or another student would be sick. I would cry and throw a fit every single morning, and my mother had to get help from a teacher I trusted to walk me in the building sometimes.

·      I would constantly ask my mother for reassurance that I wasn’t going to be sick, and I wouldn’t be satisfied until she basically promised me that I was okay.

·      I became afraid of going to sleep at night because I might wake up sick, so I would have to keep a TV on so I could listen to something else besides my own thoughts until I eventually drifted off. (I still do this sometimes, except now I used podcasts.)

·      I had panic attacks. At school, at work, in the car, in public, anywhere.

·      I carried Tums or Pepto-Bismol with me everywhere just in case I felt ill.

·      If anyone mentioned throwing up in relation to me, I made them knock on wood for fear they had jinxed me.

·      I developed rituals that I felt helped control the phobia and kept it at bay.

I did not seek help for this or admit my phobia to a medical professional until I was twenty-two. By that point, I’d spent at least fifteen years living in fear, having panic attacks, and meticulously counting the number of times I touched something or blinked or made a certain movement, all because of this phobia. I was twenty-two when a doctor first told me I had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that stemmed from emetophobia. Sometimes hearing a diagnosis can be a scary thing, but for me, I felt a sense of relief. This monster had a name. And if it had a name, I could face it for the first time in my life.

I had concealed this from nearly everyone I knew until I sought help. I even hid it from my now-husband, who I’d been dating off-and-on for over two years at the time I was diagnosed. I think I probably seemed fairly well adjusted to most people who knew me. My ritualistic behaviors that turned out to be part of OCD were mostly well concealed from years of practice. And during college, I’d gotten somewhat better for a period of time. I was still terrified of vomiting, but the compulsions and rituals weren’t always at the foreground of my mind like they had been before. I don’t know what it was about this time in my life that allowed me some temporary peace, but I’m happy I had those years because it was about to get much, much worse.

When I began graduate school in the fall of 2010, I moved to a new city and began a journey that was much more difficult and demanding than I realized it would be. Before I knew it, the rituals were back. The panic attacks were back, and they were happening without warning. This frightened me enough that I finally asked for help, despite my fear of talking to someone about my mental state. It’s a shame that there’s still a stigma around mental illness and even seeking treatment (a stigma that I had internalized), especially because I feel like taking that step and confronting my own mental illness with a professional was the most helpful thing I’ve ever done for myself.

After getting diagnosed, I went to counseling regularly and practiced natural methods to calm down in the event of a panic attack, and we talked about ways to help combat the compulsions, like trying to do the opposite thing once and seeing that I was okay afterward. For example, if I had a compulsion to make sure the volume on my television was set to a multiple of three (three was my big number), I should try to instead set it a multiple of two and just see how it felt and notice that the world did not come crashing down around me because I didn’t listen to the compulsion. These things did help for a while.

Things got worse again when I started round two of graduate school for my PhD. Even after that counseling, I felt like I had a huge backslide when I realized I was maybe more afraid of vomiting than I had ever been. I practically ran out of a classroom when someone read a poem with the word “vomit” in it (until 2013, I couldn’t even type the word myself without inducing panic, if that tells you anything about how intense my fear was). I was in second grade all over again. I stood in the bathroom looking in the mirror and shaking under the fluorescent lights. It’s not real. It’s just a poem. The rituals were back, and I couldn’t ignore them. I was back to counting, back to tapping, back to OCD making all my decisions for me. I was back to being powerless, and somehow I still needed to function in school and live up to the high standards of a PhD program. I sought help again.

This is when I met Melanie*. Melanie, a counselor at the university I attended, and another mental health professional worked in tandem to create a plan for me to confront this phobia head-on, not just to stop the rituals. We began working with meditation methods and did guided-imagery exposure therapy to help me re-learn how to cope with situations that made me panic, but from a safe and relaxed environment. I took medication for my OCD for the first time, something I was afraid of doing for so long (partially because medications have the potential for nausea as a side effect). Besides my fear of side effects, I wrongly believed that taking medication somehow made me weak.

Once I was taking medication to help me tolerate the repeated exposure to my phobia in therapy, we confronted the phobic situations one by one, building up from least to most threatening. I won’t go into too much detail about my phobia hierarchy, but I can tell you the smallest one was just seeing the word “vomit” in print, like in a book or magazine. That’s how small I had to start, and even getting past that one was a challenge. Getting through all of the hierarchy—about ten steps—took over a year.

I’ve since moved away from that state and haven’t seen Melanie in over a year. I’m not “cured.” I function much better than I did at my worst, but I still need help. I still see a professional on a semi-regular basis to help keep things in check. I still have panic attacks sometimes, and I am still very afraid of the possibility of vomiting. I will still go out of my way to avoid putting myself in a situation where vomiting could become more likely. I’m fairly terrified of getting pregnant because morning sickness sounds like a living nightmare to me. But one thing Melanie always told me was that I have to remind myself of my “wins” and not just focus on the things that still feel debilitating.

I can type the word “vomit” over and over, as evidenced by this essay you’re reading. I can say the word out loud, along with other trigger words, like retch, puke, throw up, stomach virus, etc. I can stand in the kitchen when my husband prepares raw meat for cooking without thinking about food poisoning and having to run from the room in panic. I can see someone vomit on television and not think about it for the next several hours, replaying it over and over in my head until I’m afraid I might vomit myself. I can be near a person who says he or she was recently sick. I can tell people about my experience.

To be honest, I’ve been a little worried about sharing this publicly. Some people who have known me since I was a kid have no idea this is a part of my life and a part of who I am. Some people still judge mental illness harshly, and I might get some of that judgment from people who don’t know me well. And—let’s just say it—this is personal. It’s super personal. It’s my deepest fear on display for everyone to see, but I feel compelled to share this now that I’m able to talk about it.

Maybe someone reading this sees himself or herself in my experience and finally asks for help. Maybe someone will just feel that sense of relief I felt when I knew my phobia had a name and that I was not alone. Maybe it won’t help anyone else, but I think writing it down helped me. (Seriously, I wrote the word “vomit” so many times!) And maybe helping me is enough.



If you or someone you know needs help with mental illness, please speak to your family doctor for a referral, or visit Psychology Today’s website to search therapists in your area. If you are a student, check your school’s website for counseling options for students. Many universities offer counseling as a free service to students. You don’t have to deal with your mental illness alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

*Name has been changed.