932 Days Sober

I have been in recovery for 932 days.

They say that alcoholics are fortunate because we get to experience two lives. There is Before I Got Sober, which wasn’t exactly the lying-in-the-gutter-covered-my-own-feces kind of bad, but was quickly heading there, and then there is the second part of my life.

This summer, a whole lot of crazy opportunities started falling out of the sky. I was in The Washington Post. I was on the radio. ABC brought a crew to my house and filmed for 12 hours. I spent a lot of time talking to Deborah Roberts.

It’s generally considered positive for amazing experiences to rain down upon a person who is trying really, really hard to do the next right thing, so imagine how confusing it was for me to feel empty and paralyzed.

I wanted nothing more than to hide out in my house, speak to no one, and forget I ever loved writing. I wanted to change my mind on all the things. I wanted to take it all back, undo the improvements and hours of therapy and self healing.

And while I didn’t consciously think that drinking was a good idea, my fallback for every uncomfortable feeling is STILL, after 932 days, to numb out.

“I feel like if I walked into a greenhouse full of marijuana plants, I’d probably start grabbing fistfuls of leaves and cramming them into my mouth,” I told my therapist. “Can you get high from eating raw pot leaves?”

So here is the deal: the addict part of my brain doesn’t want me to get better. She wants to keep me sick. She doesn’t want to help other people. She knows that the more I tell on my disease, the harder it will become for her to destroy me. That part of me flares up, big time, whenever good things happen; she whispers in my ear that it’s not real, that somehow I’m fooling everyone, I’m not qualified or worthy enough to actually succeed.

Sometimes, I believe her.

But, on the day I told my therapist I wanted to cram unprocessed marijuana into my mouth just to see what happens, she pointed out to me that secrets like that one are exactly why I need to keep doing what I’m doing. Yes, it is SO UNCOMFORTABLE AND SCARY, OMG. Yes, it’s possible that I could royally fuck it up in a very public way. Telling the world about recovery means that I have to fully commit to sobriety. There is no going back. I am all in.

And that, to a person like me, is the scariest thing in the world.

Here is a link to the piece they wrote about my story on ABC.

Here is the short segment that aired on Good Morning America last week.

Tonight, the full episode will air on Nightline. I don’t feel ready. I didn’t do the things I wanted to do beforehand, like hire a web designer or finish my book proposal or … or … or. But, like my friend Audrey reminded me, I would never feel ready. So here goes.

It’s DEBORAH!

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Thank You, Jenny

Bigotry, in all of its forms, is a learned behavior.

This thought weighs heavy on my mind today in thinking about *Jenny, a person who worked with the Kid’s Orchestra program last year at the K-8 public magnet school my children attend.

Jenny looked like she may have been transitioning from male to female, and I liked her immediately. She was the one to call me one evening when my youngest, then 5 years old, got sick with a stomach virus during Orchestra practice. At first I was taken aback when I met her, mostly because this is the Deep South and the LGTBQIA (I hope I did that right … I’m awkwardly stumbling through educating myself on these issues, so that I can hopefully educate my children and show them how to be an ally) communities are seriously underrepresented in these parts.

I noticed Jenny mostly because she was different, but I didn’t say anything about her until one evening at Orchestra pick up when all three of my kids piled into the car laughing about something.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

They were laughing about Jenny. The children in their Orchestra classes couldn’t figure out what gender she was, and it sounded like they were making fun of her.

It was mid-winter, and the sun dipped below the horizon. And while the thermometer told me that it was only 57 degrees, I could feel my body heating up, smoldering with an emotion I couldn’t immediately identify. I slowed down, pulled over onto the shoulder, and rotated my entire self so that my children had a clear view of my face.

I kept my voice low and even.

I asked how they would feel if Jenny heard them talking about her right now.

I asked how they would feel if they felt different inside like Jenny, and overheard their friends referring to her or her appearance in a negative manner. What would it feel like, I wondered out loud, to know that you are different but to be told by everyone around you that “different” is bad or shameful?

My kids looked at me with wide eyes.

I wasn’t mad at them. I wasn’t mad at the other kids from school who were talking about Jenny. I was mad at the lack of education these kid’s PARENTS have experienced. Ideas about other people — color, sexual identity, religion, even political affiliation — are largely based on nothing more than asinine assumptions and a significant lack of education.

So thank you, East Baton Rouge Parish School System, for fostering a diverse learning environment for my three children.

Thank you, Target, for hiring LGBTQIA employees.

Thank you, Kid’s Orchestra of Baton Rouge, for hiring Jenny. Having her in my kid’s lives opened up an extremely valuable, powerful conversation in the car during our drive home. Because when you know better, you do better.

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* Not her real name.

We Got A Puppy

A new school year begins tomorrow, and as usual, I am ill-prepared.

My sons don’t have the new belts I promised them. My daughter has a fever and will be at the pediatrician’s office in the morning, rather than taking first day of school pictures with her brothers. Also, the bottom of her hair looks like something chewed on it but we had to cancel the appointment I’d made for her trim because of the aforementioned fever.

The state of Louisiana changed the car seat requirements and two of my children are to travel in booster seats that we do not have yet because I haven’t had time to go to the store and buy them because WE GOT A PUPPY.

A PUPPY.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m like 99% sure it was a horrible, horrible mistake, but her name is Daphne and she’s really cute. It feels like I have a lot more kids now, which isn’t really the life I was hoping for when I agreed to this. I honestly had no idea how much work a puppy would be. Holy shit. Literally.

Every summer with my kids feels like the longest stretch of time imaginable until it is over and I have time to reflect on how little time we have left before childhood ends and adolescence — the Wild West of parenthood — begins. Maybe I got a dog because I’m subconsciously not quite ready to not be needed anymore, despite what my conscious tells me every time I find a new puddle of pee.

Tomorrow I will send a 6th grader and 3rd grader off to school while I cart my 1st grader to the doctor. I am not ready. I am never ready. The difference this time is that I’m not punishing myself for it.

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When Good Things Are Scary

When something bad happens, everyone waits for an alcoholic or addict or anorexic or cutter to relapse. The people who care about the person in recovery hold their breaths and pray, fingers twisted behind backs. They whisper and they watch.

Will this be it? Is this the last straw?

More commonly though, and perhaps less understood, is how recovery can become equally tenuous when good things happen. I am as terrified of success as I am of failure. I purposefully aim low because underachievement feels safer somehow. If the stakes are low, the return is low, and most importantly, so are the risks. Keeping the world at arm’s length means that I never have to FEEL anything, like disappointment, embarrassment, or sorrow.

Holding people at arm’s length means that I never have to be hurt by them or have my trust broken. My life-long fantasy is to envelop myself in a cocoon where I never have to feel any kind of discomfort ever, ever again. For a long time, alcohol did that. It was a blanket fresh out of the dryer, coating me in warmth and the illusion of safety, all while it slowly destroyed my life.

The crazy thing about addiction is that when something amazing happens, at first I experience normal feelings like elation and excitement. But then the dread arrives, like an unwelcome neighbor or member of the family that you wish didn’t know where you live, and proceeds to remind me of every possible thing that could go terribly, terribly wrong.

Fear. That one emotion colors every thought and action unless I bust my ass doing all the things I’ve learned in recovery in order to make that fear my bitch.

Good things are happening that I did not orchestrate and I am terrified. Today I actually laid down on our bedroom floor in the fetal position and stared into space until Robbie asked what I was doing. I mumbled a reply and just laid there, watching his feet move around the room, wondering how he was so calm all the time when THE WORLD FEELS LIKE IT’S BURNING TO THE GROUND.

The world is not burning to the ground.

I eventually got up and forced my body to move around the house as though I am not absolutely, one hundred percent scared out of my mind. Somehow when I make my feet walk and my hands function, the rest of me falls in line after a little while of me pretending to not be freaking the fuck OUT.

Just because good things happen, I do not have to regress into my old patterns of behavior. Drinking a pint of vodka will not make my fear of success or failure any less of a problem; in fact, it would only magnify it. All I can do is step through a door when it is opened, and remind myself that I’m no longer in charge because I was terrible at it (and damn near killed myself).

Harmony is not in charge. The Universe is in charge. Deep breaths. All the cookies.

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That’s When The Magic Happens

You know, for almost 2.5 years I’ve been focusing so intensely on staying sober that I forgot how to blog. Also, nothing was funny in the least and I wasn’t terribly excited about dumping all my dark thoughts out onto the internet for the entire world to see — but I also wasn’t okay with editing myself to make it seem like everything was fine over here.

Everything was so NOT. And I think y’all are smart enough to know when someone is bullshitting you.

So here we are. I have so much to tell you that I don’t know where to start, so in true me fashion, I’ve created a list.

  • A journalist from The Washington Post contacted me several weeks ago. She found me online because I talk so openly about recovery, and we had a nice long chat. A few days later, Pulitzer finalist Edmund Fountain showed up at my door on behalf of The Post to take photos, and now we’re friends. You can read the story in the paper here.
  • To be clear, I don’t understand the “sober curious” movement. I’m an alcoholic. I’ve got no need to be “curious” about abstaining from alcohol — for me, it’s a matter of life and death. However, I’m happy to discuss addiction, recovery, and life as a sober parent all the live long day.
  • KCBS Radio in San Francisco contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to give a live interview in like, two hours. I’d never been on the radio in my life — what could possibly go wrong? (It went great, I’m told by those who listened. I have no idea what the person on the other end of the phone said or what I said in response. It was a total blur.)
  • Two days later, I joined my friend Franz Borghardt, an attorney and sometimes radio personality, on Talk 107.3. We had fun chatting about how weird it is to get sober in a very public way. Also, it’s important to note that it was very early in the morning and I don’t think I’d had enough coffee before I got there. I was concerned about being jittery, but next time? ALL THE COFFEE.

There are other exciting things happening that I’m not ready to share yet, and the reason why I’m bombing you with all of this is simply to say HOLY HELL, THIS IS CRAZY.

***

At the same time all of this other stuff was happening, Health published a piece I wrote; you can find it here. Warning, though: it’s a dark and lengthy read.

The part that isn’t in print is that I started out the summer with my kids feeling extremely swamped and overwhelmed. Poor planning on my part meant that for the first time since I got sober, we weren’t putting any of our kids in summer camp. Now, before you cast judgement, I’d like to point out that two of my children have various forms of ADHD and/or Asperger’s Syndrome, which doesn’t bode well for an unstructured, relaxed sort of summer.

My personality type and the fact that I’m in recovery makes it difficult for me to cope with certain types of stress (read: motherhood). This is not a cop out, it’s almost verbatim what my therapist instructed me to tell my husband when he asks why we’re saving money for next year’s summer camp tuition.

Here’s my 7-year-old, Asher, refusing to walk. He literally scooted on his butt all the way out of the indoor trampoline park, into the parking lot, down the sidewalk, and into our car. This is motherhood.

So far, I’ve managed to make it through this experience unscathed, still sober, and without causing any major damage to anyone in my house. BUT, I almost relapsed. Not on alcohol — on my first love, phentermine.

I wrote the piece that was published in Health because I HAD TO WRITE IT. If I didn’t, if I kept the thoughts inside and didn’t get them out in front of an audience (even if that audience is just my writing partner, Audrey), then eventually my brain would trick me into doing the exact thing I’ve worked so hard not to do.

The article ran. I hung onto my sobriety. And that’s when the magic happened, as it tends to do when we live authentically. Crazy how that works.

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Summer: All About Acceptance

There’s a passage in the recovery world that I adopted as my own personal mantra almost as soon as I was sober enough to understand it.

” … Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed,
it is because I find some person, place, thing, situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world
as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” 

This summer is turning out to be nothing much more than an endless exercise in practicing acceptance.

For example, I have to accept that all of the neighbors within a 5 house radius can hear me screaming things like “I TOLD YOU, DO NOT PEE ON THE SLIP N’ SLIDE!” or, “I KNOW THAT’S PEE THAT YOU’RE PLAYING IN RIGHT NOW!” or, “YES, IT DAMN WELL IS PEE, I SMELLED IT MYSELF JUST TO MAKE SURE!”

I have to accept that my children sneaked out of the house while I was in the shower and tried to sell sandwich baggies full of chopped up fruit and vegetables — food from our refrigerator that we were gonna eat — to anyone who would answer the door. They were also barefoot in their pajamas, and Asher wasn’t wearing underwear.

When I emerged from my bedroom, the kids were super excited to share with me that they’d already earned $5. Oh, and also that I needed to go to the grocery store because we’re out of food.

I must accept that Maverick sometimes runs around naked and screams obscenities in the morning before his meds have kicked in. I wish he would stop; one day, he might. Until then, I can either yell at him until my throat feels sore, or I can simply accept it and move on. I choose to move on.

I’ve been forced to accept that my husband, who has not exercised ever in our entire 16 year relationship, started working out three mornings a week like six weeks ago and already dropped like 20 pounds. WTAF. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super proud of him and his biceps are really quite impressive, but REALLY? I’ve gained and lost the same 4 pounds for the entirety of 2019.

And so, when my children are outside screaming like they’re being skinned alive for no reason at all and I am stuffing my face with the chocolate-covered Rice Krispie Treats that I swore to myself I wouldn’t touch, I repeat to myself for the fortieth time acceptance is the answer to all my problems and immediately count the days until school starts.

30 days.

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Stories of the Brave

Photo credit: Anthony Pierre, Jr.

When my friend Anthony contacted me and asked if I would be willing to tell my story of recovery for a project he’s doing, my initial reaction was ABSOLUTELY NOT.

But then I sat with it for awhile.

And he kept pestering me.

And my therapist asked me why I was avoiding doing things that would be helpful to other people. She called it what it was: laziness and fear.

Not long after that, a clairvoyant in New Orleans called me lazy.

All these people calling me lazy really struck a nerve; I’ve always prided myself on being a hard worker, a hustler, a woman who gets shit done. Why was I working so hard to avoid sharing my story when all I’ve done for the past two years, 4 months, and 9 days is tell my story?

I finally figured out that my issue was lack of control. As a writer, my comfort zone is writing and publishing, not TELLING OUT LOUD and having someone else write. I lose control over the narrative when someone else creates the words. What if I look stupid? What if I let this person take my photo (he’s talented AF, by the way, and I knew that going in, but still) and I look fat or wrinkly or just plain ugly? What if, what if, what if?

It boils down to this: if I really want to help people, then I’m going to have to get over myself. So I did. I lowered my walls and I got out of my own way and now my story can be found here.

After that, in another, unrelated event, I was contacted by a reporter at The Washington Post. A (Pulitzer finalist, very impressive and legit) photojournalist came to my house and followed me around for almost 5 hours and now there is going to be a story that I did not write and I have not seen the photos for, IN PRINT NATION WIDE on Monday, July 8th. (The online version will be out tomorrow, just FYI.)

I’ve been invited to come down to the radio station at 107.3 and talk about all of it. I’ve never been on the radio before. What if I sound stupid? What if all of Baton Rouge judges how I sound at 6:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning?

To say I’m afraid would not do my state of mind justice.

I’m going to do it anyway. Not for myself — if it were up to me, I’d stay home in bed, stuffing my face with Sour Punch Straws and spiraling into deep self-loathing. I’m going to push myself because my therapist asked me to, because other alcoholics ask me to, because my editors ask me to, because my Higher Power asks me to.

As long as I’m being asked, I’ll show up. That is recovery.

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A Slow Rebuilding

Getting sober fucked me up.

Before I stopped drinking, I wrote prolifically for a number of online publications. I was briefly a staff writer for Scary Mommy, one of the most well-known sites in the parenting world. I was asked to interview for magazines and podcasts.

My essays were published in three actual books. Editors called me on the actual telephone. Being in demand gave me the opportunity to negotiate my rates – and I got what I asked for. I made money, sometimes a lot of it.

And then, I got sober.

Stopping my work in order to focus on recovery is the greatest gift I could ever give myself. Yes, I’m afraid I’ll never be successful again. I’m afraid I’ve lost my edge, possibly forever. There was a very specific drug and alcohol combination that fueled my work – a lot of creatives can probably relate to this – and when that combo went away, so did my inspiration.

The past two years have been full of growth and grief and renewal. I am afraid that I’ll never find my way back to where I was, but also, I also never want to go back to where I was.

Louisiana State Capitol observatory deck, Baton Rouge, La.

School is almost out for the summer, and I will officially have a 6th grader, a 3rd grader, and a 1st grader living in my house. Pepper, who will be 6 years old in a few weeks, was barely out of toddlerhood when I entered recovery. She and Asher, my younger son, were too young to remember what it was like before I got sober, THANK GOD. That just leaves Maverick, who remembers everything.

5th grade awards ceremony.

“Did you drink when you were pregnant with him?” he asked us over breakfast one morning, nodding his head over to his brother.

Robbie choked on his coffee.

For the record, I did not.

***

This is the first year that I’ve had it together enough to order yearbooks for the kids.

This is the first year that I ordered school pictures on time and the check did not bounce.

This is the first year that I’ve taken my children to a school fair. Not only that, but I had cash in my purse to pay for whatever they wanted. A SCHOOL FAIR. BY MYSELF.

This is the first year that I don’t feel crippling anxiety when I see summer break looming over the horizon.

I am learning how to be okay, how to not ruin this moment by obsessing over the future or agonizing over the past. I am present in body and in mind, for the first time in my entire life.

When I say that getting sober fucked me up, what I really mean is that substance abuse steamrolled or exploded or otherwise crushed me into teeny, tiny pieces, and it’s been a very slow, deliberate process to rebuild from almost nothing.

After all, sometimes the best thing to do is to just knock it all down and start over.

Downtown Baton Rouge.

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What Wedding Vows Would Look Like If We Were Really Being Honest

Our wedding day, October 9, 2005.

I feel very fortunate to be happily married to my husband of 13 years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could go back and re-write our wedding vows if I had the chance. When we planned our wedding in 2005, I looked up “traditional wedding vows” and copied what a million other couples have been repeating for hundreds of years. And if I’m being honest, the oaths were junk.

Don’t get me wrong — I meant every word. It’s just that, at age 25, I didn’t actually realize what “in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer” truly meant. In my mid-twenties naiveté, I assumed it meant that if God forbid one of us lost a leg or a lung or something, the marriage wouldn’t automatically dissolve. Sounds great! I’m down.

The thing is, we didn’t have two dimes to rub together when we got married, so agreeing to stay in the marriage if we ran out of funds was no big deal. For richer or for poorer? Sure, no problem.

But over the years, my definition of what marriage really means has changed significantly. If we were to renew our wedding vows today, I’d want them to be much more specific in nature. You know, have ’em get at what holy matrimony really entails.

They’d probably look a little something like this …

I promise to love your family as my own.

Let’s be real: I’m not only accepting this man to have and to hold until the day that I die, but also his FAMILY. That means their congealed holiday recipes, outstanding warrants, biting goats, and religious beliefs. That means I promise to ignore Uncle Jimmy when he pees off the back porch and I’ll turn a blind eye to Cousin Willa Mae’s kleptomania. If you love them, I will tolerate them … I guess.

Sidenote: I got really lucky with my husband’s family. NOT ALL OF US ARE SO LUCKY.

Wedding shower, circa 2005.

I pledge to love you even when you start snoring like a freight train.

If you’re in this thing for the long haul, sleeping in separate bedrooms may be in the cards. I swore we would never be those people, but alas, we totally are. After several sleepless years, my husband was forced (by me) into having a sleep study done and was prescribed a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to put an end to his atrocious snoring. By this point, I was so desperate for rest that it didn’t matter if it looked like he was wearing a gas mask to bed. As long as the deafening rumbling stopped, the marriage could continue.

I will cherish you in ugliness AND in beauty.

I look like an entirely different person at bedtime. I remove my contacts, don coke bottle glasses, pop in a mouth guard, insert earplugs, cover my eyes with a mask, and smear goop all over my face. Basically, everything about me says “KEEP OUT.”

Robbie didn’t marry this version of me — the person he married would barely allow him to see her without a generous coat of concealer and mascara on. But this is what marriage has done to me. It’s made me comfortable. I literally let it all hang out, and that’s not a bad thing … it just needs to be addressed in the vows.

Present day shenanigans.

I’ll honor our vows even when I regret marrying you in the first place.

Because trust me, that day will come. It might be a fleeting thought that pops in and out of your mind, or even something you allow yourself to dwell on. The point is, I made a commitment, and “for better or for worse” is directly referencing the fact that I routinely find toenail clippings on the floor. There’s also the pressing matter of who forgot to write “coffee” on the shopping list. YOU SAW THAT WE WERE OUT, ROBBIE. You know I cannot function without at least two cups — are you trying to kill us all?!

I will love you even when you suck.

Sometimes I burp a lot. I cover all the bathroom counter space with random products that are supposed to make me more beautiful. I made fun of him after his vasectomy and later on found out that he really did have a complication that was not funny at all. He’s fine now, but I still felt like a jerk.

I narrowly avoided rehab in 2017. I dragged him to multiple counseling sessions. I blamed him for things that were clearly my fault. I nagged, manipulated, criticized, and eye rolled him. I took the last cookie so many times, and also broke into his candy stash (and blamed it on the kids).

All of this is basically what it means to be married, but this is the kicker: he continues to love me in spite of me.

So yes, I will take Robbie to be my lawfully wedded husband, until death do us part. He is the only person on this planet who knows what I truly look and act like in the morning and he still chooses to live here.

“A partner who supports your dreams and your healing is a priceless gem, a heaven in human form.” – Yung Pueblo

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Teaching My Kids How To Be An Ally

(This piece originally appeared here, written as part of an anti-bullying initiative for Disney/ABC.)

Parent-teacher conferences are right around the corner, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I’m going to discover.

Are my kids measuring up to their potential (whatever that is)? Is my 5th-grader showing his work on math tests? Is my kindergartener learning how to hold her scissors properly? Does my 2nd-grader assert himself?

But most importantly: Do my kids stand up for others?

I was picked on a lot as a kid. Almost everyone is, at one point or another, which is the main reason why I’d never want to relive my childhood if given the chance. But this is why issues of bullying are never far from my mind.

Looking back, it wasn’t so much the bullies that hurt my feelings the most — it was the kids who stood by silently, complicit in the act. The kids who saw what was happening and could have stepped up and said something — anything — but chose not to because my pain wasn’t worth risking their own.

Of course, now that I’m older, I understand why. I’ve certainly been silent and complicit before myself. It takes courage to speak up, especially when doing so might jeopardize your social status. Staying quiet means staying on the bully’s good side; being loud will only draw attention. There’s always a feeling of relief when you aren’t the one being called names in the lunch line, and when it isn’t your backpack being thrown into a lake.

The thing is, there will always be bullies. There aren’t always allies.

Being an ally requires more than just empathy, and I want my kids to know this. It means being willing to be brave, to act with and for other people simply because it’s the right thing to do. In large and small ways, I try and instill in my kids the value of fighting for justice. I just hope these lessons stick.

In our house, there is a combo of neurotypical and neuroatypical children. Our oldest has ADHD, anxiety, and high-functioning autism. Our younger two are not officially diagnosed with anything, but each have their unique sets of challenges and eccentricities. My husband is a rumpled, absent-minded mathematical mastermind, and I’m a recovering alcoholic, neurotic writer.

Basically, our entire family is quirky, and none of us pretend to be perfect. As a result, our day-to-day existence revolves around kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and the ability to say “I’m sorry” whenever it’s warranted.

My kids have grown up intimately aware of the fact that there is always a lot more to people than what we can see on the outside. They know that sometimes, what people need most is a big hug or a super comfy bed to take a nap in, but also, sometimes people don’t have access to either of those things, and it’s our job to understand that.

So we talk about the fact that everyone has challenges. Sometimes we can’t see them. Sometimes they’re not pretty to look at. Sometimes they’re even uncomfortable to be around.

The important thing is that they are learning to be allies, whether or not they ever call it by that name.

Of course, no parent wants their child to be the bully — or worse, be bullied themselves. But I want to take it a step further and give them the confidence and the tools to step up and stand up for other kids who might not have the same.

After school, I ask my kids if they noticed anyone who seemed lonely or sad that day. When one of them mentions social drama, I ask questions. What did you do when you saw Allie getting picked on? How did that make you feel? Then I use real-life situations to point out ways they can help their peers.

At the end of the day, I try not to put pressure on my kids to solve the world’s problems, because that would be an impossible expectation; but it’s important for them to understand that part of being a good human is helping the other humans within your orbit.

And because I want to raise the kind of people who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, I’ve learned that I have to be willing, as a mother, to let them speak their minds. Frankly, it’s exhausting, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

It is my highest hope as a parent that my kids will be gutsy enough to say, “Nope, that’s not okay,” when they spot an injustice. I want them to be friendly enough to say “Hi, new kid, you can sit here,” or “Stop picking on her!”

I want them to understand that saying something can change the course of a person’s day, or even their entire life.

I can’t control whether or not my kids get teased or picked on at school, and the reality of that is painful. But my job as a parent isn’t just to make sure my children know the difference between right and wrong; it’s to make sure they’re gutsy enough to actually open their mouths, speak up, and refuse to be a part of the problem.

If I can pull that off, then my job here is done.

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Things I Would Have Blacked Out Over

I don’t always get the luxury of writing about a profound experience right after it happens. Usually, I’m stuck in traffic or in the middle of an important task and by the time I get freed up to write it down, the inspiration is gone.

Creativity is like that. Elusive. My husband doesn’t understand how I can write prolifically for years, and then all of the sudden arrive at a screeching halt. Believe me, if I knew how to fix it, I WOULD. This is why artists cut off their own ears.

But this morning, I had a thought. Where is my God Box? I really hate the name. God Box sounds like something I might have been instructed to make in my uber conservative Christian elementary school, except that I was taught that we don’t put God in earthly containers. That’s sacrilegious. “Thou shalt not make a box and put me in it.” It’s in the Bible, you heathens.

Nope, the God Box is something I learned about in recovery, an idea given to me either by a sober mentor or my therapist, I don’t remember which, to help me learn in a very simple way how to turn my issues over to a Higher Power. Most of my problems were directly connected to the fact that I didn’t trust anyone or anything to run the shit show I called a life, but in recovery they told me that the reason my life was a shit show was because I was the one running it.

Oh.

I honestly believed that the reason I drank and took pills was because of everyone else. This, I know now, is what every alcoholic or addict believes — that if I just had more security, if I had more love in my life, if I could just lose 20 pounds or erase the wrinkles on my face, if my child wasn’t sick, INSERT WHATEVER THING THAT IS BOTHERING YOU HERE, then I would no longer need to drink.

Bullshit.

So, in order to learn how to turn things over, I needed a box that would be hard to open. I needed to be able to write down a concern, fold it up, and cram it into a locked container. I decided to use a piggy bank. For months, I crammed my worries into that box and felt like an idiot doing it. The thing that kept me going though, was that it actually made me feel better and it’s not like I had any better ideas. Even now, two years into this thing, my default solution is STILL “Your Grandmother died and your family imploded? Let’s get a round of shots!”

I literally have the thought, I let it pass, and then I move on to a second, more sane, idea. That is re-wiring.

I stopped needing the God Box when I successfully rewired my brain to be able to let go of the things I cannot change. I don’t remember when that happened. It was a gradual shift, just like everything else — but this morning, it occured to me that I had no idea what was in that box or where it might be located, and suddenly consumed by the fear of someone in my family finding it, I began a frantic search.

The box was in my closet.

I opened it.

It was stuffed full of scraps of paper.

I pulled out the paper.

I stared at the pile for a very long time.




Every single concern that weighed so heavily on me, things that I definitely would have blacked out over, have somehow been resolved. Not because of anything I have done. Not because of my intense orchestration and manipulation of people and events. Not because of my intellect.

No. My issues got better because I got out of my own way. It’s a gift and a miracle and amazing and I don’t know how any of this works, exactly, but I know that it definitely, totally does.

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A Disease No One Wants

Last night I went somewhere I didn’t want to go and sat in a room full of people I don’t know and did a thing I did not want to do.

I felt afraid and out of place. I had to park in an adjacent parking lot in a questionable part of town and walk next door in the twilight, carrying my enormous (high-quality, fake) Louis Vuitton, angry at myself for not remembering to switch purses. My eyes nervously scanned the uneven parking lot as I crunched through gravel in Converse sneakers, grateful I’d at least had the wherewithal to put on appropriate footwear before leaving the house.

Walking into a detox center alone on a Tuesday night is not high on my list of fun things to do. I’m probably supposed to say that I love being around the newly or not-yet-sober, but the truth is, few things make me more uncomfortable. I can smell the vodka and stale cigarettes and what bothers me isn’t the smell of those things but the fact that I miss them so much that admitting that right now is making my mouth water.

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I walked in like I’d been there a thousand times before — pretty ironic considering the last time I was there, I swore I’d never go back — and while I outwardly appeared unbothered, on the inside I was a wreck. I wanted nothing more than to run back to my car, go home, crawl under the covers, and ghost everyone who would inevitably call, asking what happened. I wondered if it would be a better idea to flake out and just go back to drinking. Somehow that idea sounded a lot easier than my current situation, if only for a moment.

I’m not sharing this with you to generate praise for forcing myself to follow through with my commitment to show up to a place I did not want to be, to sit among other alcoholics and tearfully tell a tiny part of my story in front of what felt like a thousand strangers while fighting back anger over the fact that I — we — have this disease.

I’m telling my story to help people understand what living with alcoholism or drug addiction is like. The amount of strength and courage that sobriety requires is far beyond what I am or will ever be able to do on my own. I can’t take credit for anything other than willingness, and even that is fleeting.

Last night, I got myself there via car, and an unseen force put my ass in a chair. If left to my own devices, I would be high right now. That’s just how it is.

Sometimes I find it hard to genuinely share my thoughts, because they just seem so dark and serious and I’m ashamed of the depth of that darkness. Like whoa — no wonder I used to drink. I’m ashamed that I am always one breath away from a rehab facility, ashamed that I could easily be one poor decision from imprisonment or some other form of embarrassment or despair — but the truth is, we all are. It’s just that when I come face to face with people who are literally living my worst nightmare, I am forced to face myself.

Maybe that constant reminder of my own fragility is a gift.

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Cloudy With A Chance of Sadness

I installed an app on my phone to count the days because I couldn’t trust myself to do it. Even now, 1 year, 11 months, and 25 days later, I still find myself questioning whether I got the date right — was it the 26th of February when I took my last drink, or the 28th?

The pills were the first to go; my stash ran out in late December. For the first time in longer than I could recall, I started a new year with only alcohol (and Zoloft) to lean on. There is little I remember from that time other than the terror of having to face myself.

I’m rolling up on two years sober and I’m sad. I’m grieving, still, for a life I once had; even though that life was hollow and riddled with anxiety, constantly haunted by unaddressed pain and trauma that I shoved down deep and covered with layer upon layer of old and new resentments until it was impossible to tell flesh from bone from maggot.

Self-awareness is a good thing to have but it requires a lot of emotional stamina. I loathe feeling sad. I worked really damn hard to avoid feeling anything but happy for a very long time, so it’s hard for me to accept that sometimes, part of the human experience involves being sad. I want to explain it away, validate it, erase it, busy it into thin air. POOF.

Grief doesn’t work that way. Grief hangs around until it is properly addressed.

They say it’s important to acknowledge milestones in sobriety so that the people behind us can see that recovery is possible. When my good friend hit her 2-year milestone a few months ago, I was ecstatic for her. “HOW DO YOU FEEL?” I shrieked, hopping up and down and clapping my hands in the parking lot.

She felt similar to how I feel today: moderately glum, with a general feeling of is this really all there is?

Yep.

Even in the midst of this current bout of free-floating sadness, I am proud that I’ve come this far. The hesitation comes from knowing that I am an alcoholic/addict who will have to actively participate in my recovery for the rest of my life in order to remain sober. I can’t allow myself to think ahead, or it suddenly feels impossible and I start to shut down.

People who self-destruct always grieve the Thing That Destroys Them. I’ll never quite understand why.

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I spend a lot of time sitting and listening and sharing these days.

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How To Make Anyone Uncomfortable

There are so many things I’ve bungled up due to arrogance.

My daddy used to say all the time when I was a kid, “Vanity, vanity; all is vanity.” I’m not sure where that quote originated — maybe the Bible, or perhaps my grandmother — but either way, I was raised to be humble.

Sometimes, in therapy, I express frustration that my parents didn’t constantly pump me full of baseless pride. Wouldn’t life be easier if I never called into question my body mass index or abilities? My impostor syndrome would cease to exist.

The thing is, though, that it would not have mattered what my parents did or did not do, how high or low my body mass index or education level is. It wasn’t until I entered recovery that I learned that alcoholics and addicts have a special kind of misplaced narcissism imprinted into our DNA. We are a walking, talking contradiction.

God bless the people who fall in love with us, because for someone who is so needlessly terrified of everything and everyone, I’m a very arrogant person.

There was the time that I tried to give myself a Brazilian wax at home, assuming that arming myself with online tutorials, how-to videos, and the best hot wax Sally’s Beauty Supply had to offer would suffice.

“It will be fine!” I chirped to my friend. “I’m going to play Christmas music and rip it all out.” I get it done at European Wax Center all the time — how hard could it actually be? I mean, I have a Bachelor’s Degree.

“Okaaaaay. Call me when you’re done.”

I never called. The pain was too great.

Arrogance is what made me think that having a large brood of children would be easy. It’s what made me leave my job to stay home with the kids. It fooled me into believing that disciplining small humans would be a piece of cake. It tricks me into thinking I can stop eating my feelings by my own sheer will.

It is also what made me think, stupidly, that taking a 7-day cruise with our children would be in any way restful.

Most recently though, arrogance landed me squarely in the office of a Colon and Rectal Surgeon. When he walked in, I smiled brightly, shook his hand, and announced that I was there because I need surgery. He looked surprised, probably because who in their right mind would be peppy and cheerful about having a hemorrhoidectomy?

ME. I WAS. After years and years of dealing with indescribable pain and Issues That Nice People Don’t Discuss, I’d reached the end of my rope. A rectal exam couldn’t possibly be that bad, especially after everything I’ve been through, right? At least, that’s what Google (and my misplaced arrogance) told me.

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In our latest Hobbs & Hayworth video, I shared with the world that I’m gonna have ass surgery.

It absolutely was exactly as bad as they say. Holy numbing gel, nothing about that was acceptable. I could no longer make eye contact. Why would anyone do this FOR A LIVING?!

“I can see why you want surgery,” he said, after my pants were back on. “Ten years of THAT? You need to have it done.” He went on to inform me that for a minimum of 2 weeks after surgery, it will feel exactly like someone is stabbing me in the anus with a knife. By then, I was too invested in the situation to back out — a rectal exam will do that to a person — so I went ahead and put myself on the schedule.

Sidenote: butt issues make everyone uncomfortable. What is more awkward than blurting out that I’m an alcoholic to a room full of drinkers? Saying I HAVE TO HAVE HEMORRHOID SURGERY. That one hundred percent wins the award for Making Any Situation A Weird Situation. Keep that parked in the back of your brain, should you ever need to make people cringe.

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My favorite piece of rectal humor.

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Blurt Sharing: My Kids Are Aspergery

Okay, look — I have a lot of words and I’ve been sitting at my computer trying to form them into readable sentences, but nothing is coming out right, so … I’m just going to do what I like to call “blurt sharing.”

Do you ever do “blurt parenting?” I think I read that term on Facebook somewhere — one of my smart writer friends said it, I think — and it basically sums up my life. I don’t have time to form sensible paragraphs. When I’m in parent mode, I’m seriously outnumbered and outmanned in every way, and the best method of dealing with that is blurt parenting. Here’s an example:

(IN CARPOOL LINE AT THE SCHOOL)

Me: “Hi, kids! How was your day?!”

(All three of my children are yelling over one another, trying and failing to get a word in edgewise to tell me ALL OF THE THINGS)

Me: “OKAY, STOP. HERE. SNACK.”

(Kids make cookie monstery sounds)

Me: “We’re going in order. Pepper, you start.”

(Someone interrupts)

Me: “WAIT YOUR TURN.”

(Spitballs flying)

Me: “NOPE.”

Me: “STOP.”

Maverick: “I have an inflamed blood vessel under my tongue … is there such a thing as a tongue hemorrhoid?”

Me: “You’re fine.”

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Now that I’ve introduced you to blurt parenting, I can move on to the actual thing that prompted me to write today: Asher, our cat-obsessed, overly clumsy, endlessly kind-hearted 7-year-old, is on the autism spectrum. There’s really no way to say that other than to blurt it. I have two children who are, as their pediatrician puts it, “Aspergery.”

It was only two years ago when we learned that Maverick, now 10, has what used to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome (before someone revamped the DSM-5 and made Asperger’s part of the overly-general “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”).

Robbie and I have always suspected, slash known, that this day would someday arrive. We have extraordinary kids with extraordinary abilities and challenges, and there is no shame in identifying what makes them who they are. Also, it’s suuuuuuuuuper fucking hard to parent children who are different, so I feel the same relief now that I felt when Maverick was diagnosed — a giant feeling of “OHHHHH … that explains it.”

And now, we know what to do.

When I met Robbie Hobbs, I found him fascinating. I didn’t marry him for stability or security (although he now offers me that), or because my parents wanted me to. I didn’t marry him because I was pressured into it. I didn’t marry him because it was expected or arranged or agreed upon by people other than ourselves.

No. I married Robbie because he was interesting. Every experience was an adventure, and still is. And then, I was given three extremely quirky children to raise to adulthood, and I could not be more grateful.

For what?

Why am I, a recovering alcoholic with not that much money, raising two kids on the spectrum, plus another child, plus two cats that I never really wanted, while my husband works long hours, GRATEFUL? How can a woman drowning in responsibilities and challenges be happy about it?

My gratitude is the sum of moments like the one I witnessed several evenings ago, when Maverick pulled his siblings into the living room and read aloud the books he was given by a dear friend when he was first diagnosed with autism. As they listened, I saw Asher’s body melt into what appeared to be a palpable feeling of understanding and relief. Pepper, who is only 5, listened quietly.

A few minutes later, I turned around to see Asher standing behind me, clutching a dog-eared copy of All Cats Have Asperger’s. 

“Maverick said I could have this,” he whispered, almost reverently, before running off to display it on his bookshelf. Mav shrugged it off — “It’s no big deal,” he said — but it WAS, because it showed that we’re all pulling for each other, as a family, and the best part is that I noticed. Sobriety has given me that, the gift of noticing.

It’s easy to forget that a diagnosis is just that: a diagnosis. It’s simply a tool to help us navigate complicated things. Asher is struggling to make sense of the world, and the right help will ensure that he will grow into the very best version of himself.

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My Husband Cannot Make Me Happy

I’ve been sitting on this thought for awhile, trying to figure out how to frame it into easily digestible words, but I think I just need to blurt it out: it is not my husband’s job to make me happy.

It is not his job to make me feel any kind of way. Robbie Hobbs cannot make me feel valued, pretty, thin, smart, or like I’m good enough. Sure, he has the power to hurt my feelings — and if he tried to purposefully insult me, I’m sure he could do some damage — but thankfully, I was fortunate enough to marry a man who does not intentionally hurt the people that he loves.

Somehow, I grew up with the idea that my partner is supposed to complete me. Since I wasn’t happy on the inside, surely I’d be happy once I found my soulmate, right? I would finally feel COMPLETE.

No.

Years after falling in love and marrying the man who is now my husband, I am finally beginning to wrap my mind around the concept of happiness being an inside job. For nearly 15 years, I’ve been looking to Robbie to make me feel complete. What I mean by that is, I expected his eternal adoration and undying love for me to patch up the cavern inside my soul, and when he failed to do this, I got mad at him.

“You don’t communicate,” I’d say, which of course actually meant “You are not accurately communicating your undying love and eternal adoration in a way that will fix my soul, and therefore you are falling short as my husband and life partner.”

“I don’t feel like you love me,” I’d complain, after lashing out to piss him off and then waiting for a negative reaction which would, to my dismay, confirm my hunch that I am unloveable.

“You act like you’re bored with me,” I would tell him, which was my way of saying “I want you to believe that I’m such a magnificent creature that you are unable to tear your gaze away,” even though we all know that if he actually behaved that way, I never would have married him in the first place.

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MY FAVORITE PICTURE EVER.

After years of saying I feel unloved, no matter what he said or did to demonstrate that he did in fact love me, he got tired.

Because WHO WOULDN’T? I’m exhausting.

The reason why I felt lonely in my marriage (and in general) was because I was asking a human to do something that isn’t humanly possible. A man can’t make me feel worthy. The scale can’t make me happy. Money can’t make me feel complete. Look around — there are people all over the place chasing happiness, and it doesn’t work.

So, I can no longer say that Robbie Hobbs makes me happy. He is a wonderful man and husband, and I’m so glad we picked each other, but he is just a very important person in my life who brings me an abundance of joy. He’s not the keeper of my worth.

When I finally began to understand how my own expectations were negatively impacting my most important relationships, I finally began to heal. No one on this planet can do this work for me, or make me comprehend it fully. It had to happen organically, as I became ready, and it’s required a hell of a lot of hard work on my end to keep my shit in line.

OUR PEOPLE AREN’T SUPPOSED TO MAKE US HAPPY, YOU GUYS!

We are supposed to find our happiness on our own, ON THE INSIDE. What a revelation! I’m probably the last one to figure this out. Oh, well.

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I’m Back, Bitches!

At the behest of my therapist and everyone else who knows me well enough to understand the tortured artist inside, I’m finally writing again.

I have a love/hate relationship with my blog. First of all, I’m a writer, not a blogger, but actually that’s not true because I AM A BLOGGER. I HAVE A BLOG, DUH, GET OVER YOURSELF, HARMONY.

Additionally, I am a mommy blogger which is a phrase that literally makes me shudder every time I hear it (blech). And guess who put herself in that category by

  1. Creating a blog — and,
  2. Putting “mommy” in the title?

Me! I did!

So, rather than continuing to ignore what is clearly my calling, I’m choosing to lean into it. Here I have a well-documented journey of the past 8 years, the better part of which I thought other people were the root cause of my distress. To be completely honest, I’m embarrassed because now I know better and I want to do better. I constantly fight the urge to go back and edit, erase, and alter the not-quite-right things I said about myself, my husband, my kids, and my life before I got sober.

The thing is, people understood what I said then, and strangely, people understand what I say now. I’m not going to go back and change anything. We are just going to keep moving forward, together.

Speaking of therapy … I need therapy more now, as an almost-39-year-old woman, than I ever did in my teens and twenties, yet this is the time in my life when I have very little free time for anything. Almost everything is like that: ass backwards.

Last year, my therapist gave me an assignment: I was to fill out four sets of questionnaires and bring them back to her. “That’s no problem,” I told her as I gathered them into a stack and placed them neatly in my purse. “I’ll bring them back as soon as I’m done.”

The minute I left her office, picked my three children up from different locations, and arrived home to a kitchen that was still dirty from breakfast 10 hours earlier, I forgot about the worksheets. Motherhood has a way of stomping all over whatever it is that I’m trying to do on the side, not in a mean way, but in a larger-than-life, grimy manner that is actually sort of charming when I’m not busy feeling like I might die trying to keep up with it all.

There’s beauty in the chaos, but I’m neurotic and chaos makes me crazy. Not figuratively. Literally.

A few weeks later, I arrived at my 6:30 p.m. therapy appointment unshowered and covered in whatever popcorn ceilings are made of. My husband and I were renovating his childhood home, a small ranch with dark wood paneling and loads of potential; I’d ducked out early to make it to my appointment.

“I’m sorry I look like this,” I apologized.

“Harmony, you are going to have to learn some self-compassion,” my therapist said. “You are entirely too hard on yourself.”

And that is why I’m in therapy — because I’m too damn hard on myself, because motherhood makes me want to drink and because I’m not the kind of person who can drink a glass of wine and put the bottle away, because I’m an alcoholic and because I can’t do anything in moderation and because if it wasn’t alcohol it would be work and if it wasn’t work, it would be money and if it wasn’t money, it would be fitness or bingeing and purging or something else that would distract me from feeling my feelings and thinking my thoughts.

Some people spend their entire lives running away from themselves. Sometimes, not one other person is aware of their struggle, or maybe everyone is, but no one ever says anything. The real tragedy is the people who never stop running away. They die feeling that unsettled feeling of incompleteness, or blaming everyone around them for their discomfort because they are unwilling to face themselves.

When I got sober, I made the conscious decision to face myself. I stopped running, slowing down to a jog, then to a walk, and finally I just stopped and sat down in the dirt. Therapy is slowly but surely giving me the instructions I need in order to learn how to function without a drink in my hand. I’ve been parenting from a sitting position for damn near two years now, and I have to say, it’s not half bad.

One afternoon, I tackled the pile of mail on the kitchen table, piling bills and things that I needed to take care of on top of my calendar. I made a separate pile of junk that needed to be tossed, and feeling quite proud of myself, I filled out half of the worksheets from my therapist. By the end of it, I was exhausted. Feeling and thinking wears me the fuck out.

My then-4-year-old dragged the kitchen garbage can over for me, and I let her help me throw away the pile of trash.

“I’m big like you, Mommy,” she said, her blue-green eyes wide like dinner plates. “Can I wear mascara now?”

I went to therapy. I have a habit of sitting in the parking lot layering more and more makeup on before I go in. It’s nerves, I think, and possibly a fear of judgement. I want so much not to look like someone who is sitting in the dirt. I want my insides to match my outsides and vice versa.

“Do you have those worksheets I gave you?”

My head snapped up. “The worksheets! I finally filled some of them out,” I said proudly. “I’ll bring them next week.”

When I got home, my husband met me at the door. The boys wanted to kiss me goodnight, they’d been waiting up for me to get home. I climbed into my middle child’s top bunk with him and whispered the Lord’s Prayer. We both like the ritual of it, and he doesn’t ask me deep philosophical questions like his older brother, so it’s easy.

“You look pretty,” he whispered.

I didn’t feel pretty.

Later, I remembered the worksheets. I looked everywhere for them, my husband helping me overturn every drawer, surface and stack that they could have possibly gotten mixed into. I was terrified that my oldest child had found them and read them. I looked in my car, in my husband’s car, in all of my bags.

Then, it hit me.

I threw them away. Or, my daughter threw them away, when she was “helping” me sort the mail. I completed, and then threw away, my therapy assignment. The irony is not lost on me.

The most important lesson I’m learning now is to embrace progress, rather than perfection. Sitting in the dirt is progress. Trying is progress. Sobriety is progress.

Here’s a photo of Robbie and I at a Christmas party. My dress had pockets. He didn’t really say that he wanted to do butt stuff, but I’m almost certain he was thinking it.

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How To Raise An Ally

Parent-teacher conferences are right around the corner, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I’m going to discover.

Are my kids measuring up to their potential (whatever that is)? Is my 5th-grader showing his work on math tests? Is my kindergartener learning how to hold her scissors properly? Does my 2nd-grader assert himself?

But most importantly: Do my kids stand up for others?

I was picked on a lot as a kid. Almost everyone is, at one point or another, which is the main reason why I’d never want to relive my childhood if given the chance. But this is why issues of bullying are never far from my mind.

Looking back, it wasn’t so much the bullies that hurt my feelings the most — it was the kids who stood by silently, complicit in the act. The kids who saw what was happening and could have stepped up and said something — anything — but chose not to because my pain wasn’t worth risking their own.

Of course, now that I’m older, I understand why. I’ve certainly been silent and complicit before myself. It takes courage to speak up, especially when doing so might jeopardize your social status. Staying quiet means staying on the bully’s good side; being loud will only draw attention. There’s always a feeling of relief when you aren’t the one being called names in the lunch line, and when it isn’t your backpack being thrown into a lake.

The thing is, there will always be bullies. There aren’t always allies.

Being an ally requires more than just empathy, and I want my kids to know this. It means being willing to be brave, to act with and for other people simply because it’s the right thing to do. In large and small ways, I try and instill in my kids the value of fighting for justice. I just hope these lessons stick.

In our house, there is a combo of neurotypical and neuroatypical children. Our oldest has ADHD, anxiety, and high-functioning autism. Our younger two are not officially diagnosed with anything, but each have their unique sets of challenges and eccentricities. My husband is a rumpled, absent-minded mathematical mastermind, and I’m a newly-sober, neurotic writer.

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This is us. And yes, my oldest is definitely giving you the bird.

Basically, our entire family is quirky, and none of us pretend to be perfect. As a result, our day-to-day existence revolves around kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and the ability to say “I’m sorry” whenever it’s warranted.

My kids are growing up intimately aware of the fact that there is always a lot more to people than what we can see on the outside. They know that sometimes, what people need most is a big hug or a super comfy bed to take a nap in, but also, sometimes people don’t have access to either of those things, and it’s our job to understand that. So we talk about the fact that everyone has challenges.

Sometimes we can’t see them. Sometimes they’re not pretty to look at. Sometimes they’re even uncomfortable to be around. The important thing is that they are learning to be allies, whether or not they ever call it by that name.

Of course, no parent wants their child to be the bully — or worse, be bullied themselves. But I want to take it a step further and give them the confidence and the tools to step up and stand up for other kids who might not have the same.

After school, I ask my kids if they noticed anyone who seemed lonely or sad that day. When one of them mentions social drama, I ask questions. What did you do when you saw Allie getting picked on? How did that make you feel? Then I use real-life situations to point out ways they can help their peers.

At the end of the day, I try not to put pressure on my kids to solve the world’s problems, because that would be an impossible expectation; but it’s important for them to understand that part of being a good human is helping the other humans within your orbit. And because I want to raise the kind of people who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, I’ve learned that I have to be willing, as a mother, to let them speak their minds. Frankly, it’s exhausting, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

It is my highest hope as a parent that my kids will be gutsy enough to say, “Nope, that’s not okay,” when they spot an injustice. I want them to be friendly enough to say “Hi, new kid, you can sit here,” or “Stop picking on her!”

I want them to understand that saying something can change the course of a person’s day, or even their entire life.

I can’t control whether or not my kids get teased or picked on at school, and the reality of that is painful. But my job as a parent isn’t just to make sure my children know the difference between right and wrong; it’s to make sure they’re gutsy enough to actually open their mouths, speak up, and refuse to be a part of the problem.

If I can pull that off, then my job here is done.

 

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The Consistency Key

I have behavioral problems. Not with my kids — with myself. I just cannot seem to get my act together. 

Since becoming a mother a decade ago (First of all: WHAT? Second of all, I’m old), policing my own behavior has been a huge challenge. All of my energy goes to being a consistent parent, which is great, right? Of course it is! Parenting experts always stress the importance of consistency because kids thrive under steadiness and uniformity; it brings a sense of stable predictability to an often unpredictable world, blah, blah, blah.

Even adults prefer consistency, which is why my husband predictably has to use the bathroom at the exact same time every morning, just when everyone is trying to cram into the bathroom to brush their teeth for school. In response, I predictably roll my eyes and let out huffy sighs to let him know how irritating his predictable bathroom schedule is.

OK Google, make me skinny.

If only it were this easy.

When it comes to dealing with the people I live with, I’m relatively constant, but when it comes to me, a human being with vices and a love for simple carbohydrates, it can only be described as dysfunctional mayhem hidden beneath a highly-functional exterior. The only things I’ve managed to do consistently as an adult involved eating something I shouldn’t be eating when I’ve already gained a few pounds, or spending money that I don’t actually have at the worst possible time — like when bills are due and our account is already in the red. Sure, I’ve got a few redeeming qualities, but as a general rule, I have a long and well-documented history of a self-sabotaging inability to stick with anything that could be classified as healthy.

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I almost skipped going to an NFL game because I was so freaked out by how my legs looked in this dress.

I’ve experimented with every type of diet and exercise available. I’ve owned a ThighMaster, a NordicTrack, rollerblades, a mountain bike with matching helmet, and dumbbells. I have belonged to a multitude of gyms, danced or huffed along with many different workout routines on a multitude of medias, visited yoga studios, cleansing centers, psychics, and therapists. I’ve had a witch doctor in Alabama inspect my fingernails. I’ve spit into a glass of cold water first thing in the morning. I have tried pills, shakes, “dry brushing,” saunas, and massages.

I’ve been a runner and I hated it. I’ve been a swimmer and I almost drowned. I’ve kickboxed, weight trained, raquetballed, and rock climbed. At 38 years old, I’ve tried everything short of plastic surgery to radically change my body, and guess what? I’m still the way that I am. My body likes to be how my body is, and I’m inching closer to accepting that, except for one tiny detail that I’ve failed to mention.

Consistency.

I don’t have it.

Amid all the things I’ve done (keto, Whole 30, vegan, diet pills) to make myself look and feel better, I’ve struck gold with a few. Yoga, for example, makes me feel amazing. My body operates on a much higher level when I eliminate sugar. I absolutely love diet pills, but that’s apparently a really unhealthy thing to get hooked on. So is, unfortunately for me, vodka.  

After hitting bottom nearly 2 years ago, I got sober and ate many pans of cookies and gained a bunch of weight and then I lost some weight and gained it back again. Why is it so hard for me to just be healthy? The thing I’ve missed this entire time is consistency, which is something I didn’t realize until my last therapy visit.

“Why is it so hard for me to take care of myself? It’s EXHAUSTING.”

“Because you’ve never done it consistently,” replied my therapist. “You do great for awhile, start feeling good, and then BOOM.” She slapped the arm of her armchair with an open palm, to demonstrate, I assume, my face slamming against pavement. “Up and down, up and down. That’s how you’ve been living your life for a really long time.”

My eyes widened as I absorbed what I was hearing. It’s true, for certain — I’m a yo-yo dieter, and up-and-down caretaker of myself, and I’m never consistent. In sum, I do whatever I feel like doing, and expect things to magically change.

“You self-sabotage.”

“I do?”

“Um, yes.”

There’s a lot that I am consistent with, though, like my self-loathing. I’m consistently anxious and unhappy with my physical appearance, which leads me full circle back to my original point. If I’m unhappy with myself, and I have the tools to make an improvement, then WHAT IS STOPPING ME?

We tend to pin the blame on our families or our workload, and while those are certainly valid scapegoats for the most part — aren’t almost all American mothers overworked? — it’s mostly just us women avoiding taking care of ourselves the way that we take care of our families. I don’t know why we do it. I have no idea why most moms, myself included, have no problem spending money on a child’s ballet lessons even if said child does not even enjoy said lessons, and yet we can’t seem to bring ourselves to pay for a massage or a gym membership. Or, if we do, we feel guilty.

I’ll leave my kids in the care of someone else so I can run errands, but I won’t leave them to go for a run.

I’ll take my son to the dermatologist to have a wart taken off of his thigh, but I don’t make myself an appointment for a weird mole on my face.

I put breakfast on the table in the morning and make sure my family is fed, but I’ll fail to feed myself. Later on, I’ll hangrily shove processed garbage into my mouth and wonder why I keep doing this to myself.

I don’t make time for self-care, because self-care has never been a priority. I have it backwards. Instead of caring for myself first, I care for everyone else and then run out of steam. There is nothing left. I gave it all away. Then, I act like a raging lunatic and blame it on hormones and then I look in the mirror and wonder where the real me went.

There’s a lot of damage for us to repair, I think, and it has nothing to do with cellulite or wrinkles or body fat percentage. The fixing needs to start inside us, and slowly radiate out. We have to amend the belief that we come last. We have to unapologetically reclaim ourselves. No one is going to tell us it’s time to do it, and no one is going to give us permission. We need to give ourselves permission.

Now is the time to find consistency: within ourselves, for ourselves, because I’m the only me I’ll ever have, and the more I take care of her, the more I like her.

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Hello From The Other Side

Hey, guess what? School is back in session, which means all three of my children are in school for 7 (SEVEN!) hours a day, and I have the luxury of taking a full, uninterrupted, breath.

Once I got past the initial stress of throwing my kids into a brand-new school (all three of them miss their old friends) and adapted to this particular school’s carpool line situation (not enough space for two carpool lines, and yet it’s happening, so, terrifying), I quickly settled into my new life as A Person Who Has 35 Hours Per Week To Do Things. Just so you know, I’m really good at it.

Things are funny again, which is probably good news for those of you who have stuck around here for awhile. For those of you who are new, let me break it down for you:

  1. I used to be funny
  2. I got sober
  3. Nothing was funny anymore

I’d kind of leaned into the idea that perhaps nothing would ever be comical again ever and maybe this was just going to be the new me. Maybe Sober Harmony was going to be like a depressed clown — sort of funny, but mostly not. 

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Thankfully, after working really, really hard to do the things that I have to do to continue growing as a human being, I think I’m seeing life for what it truly is. Just don’t ask me to explain that part yet.

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Becoming Well

This year is supposed to be my year of Becoming A Well Person.

Last year was all about getting myself dried out, staying sober, and remaining afloat — which, by the way, took a literal team of people constantly supporting and pushing me forward. I still have days that are just as difficult as the dark, early days of sobriety, but overall, it’s becoming easier to function in society without feeling like I might have to jump out a window.

comfort-zone

Becoming A Well Person is a lot harder than I imagined it would be, although that’s probably not a shocking revelation coming from an alcoholic. The hard part isn’t figuring out what to do. It’s actually doing it. For whatever reason, people like me (and there are way more of us than I initially realized) are really, really terrible at taking care of themselves.

We are the unwashed, the martyrs and the passive aggressives, the alcoholics and the pill-poppers, the doctor-shoppers and the compulsive gamblers. We starve our bodies, cut our arms, eat until we’re sick and swear we’ll never do it again. We punish ourselves in a million different ways; we’re either overly done or not done at all, and unless you’re one of us you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

So.

Most of the time, the things I need to do in order to be well are often the very things that make me want to wear my frumpiest flannel pajamas, curl into the smallest ball possible, and shove store brand chocolate chips into my mouth. The thing about doing the deal is that it takes an awful lot of energy. It would be a lot easier to just stop trying. I could park myself at home, let the shit pile up around me, yell at my kids, stop doing the things that help me hold my life together, eat nachos or whatever the hell, and do what comes naturally which is absolutely nothing. It would be glorious, until I let it go for too long, as people like me tend to do, and then before I know it I would be doing lines of cocaine off the coffee table at 3 a.m. wondering how I let myself get here again.

Early this morning, I had an appointment that I’d already procrastinated for entirely too long. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed when the alarm went off, in fact I did not get out of bed until a full 20 minutes of Instagram-scrolling later, but I finally managed to drag myself and my kids out the door even though I was in a fasting state as directed by the nurse — no coffee, no breakfast, full on suckage. I dropped the children at Grandma’s and drove myself to the doctor, where I waited and waited some more and finally I had a checkup and blood drawn and even a tetanus shot.

I didn’t want to do any of that, and I’m pretty sure the good people at the medical center could tell, but the way this thing works is that I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other until I was free to exit the building and then I realized that it felt really good to do the right thing. Doing the right thing doesn’t end in 3 a.m. mistakes or trips to rehab. It ends in looking in your doctor’s misty eyes as she tells you how profoundly refreshing it is to have a patient who genuinely wants to be well.

That patient is me.

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Fistfights At Brunch

Two summers ago, I spent an inordinate amount of time making myself beautiful in a hotel room in Baltimore, Maryland.

I was there for a blogging conference with my friend Audrey. On our final day, before returning back home to Baton Rouge, we headed to a nice brunch with a group of smart, influential women. I wanted to make a good impression, and the best way I knew to do that was to walk into the restaurant looking like I just stepped out of a hair salon. Because that makes sense.

If you’ve followed me for awhile, you may remember that I attended a now-defunct blogging conference two summers in a row. The first summer, I loved it. It was one of those life-changing experiences that let me know I am on the right path as a writer. It made me feel like I was a part of something greater than myself: a community of creative, brilliant women who support each other.

The second summer, I acted like an asshole.

This is the truth: I have a chip on my shoulder that may take a lifetime of therapy to eradicate. There are reasons for my irrationalities that I could list here, blathering on for pages and pages, but none of it matters. Not really. On that day in Baltimore, when I was at the height of my alcoholic behavior, full of a dark anger and sadness that I couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge the origin of, I sat at a long table full of power players in the blogging world and pretended.

I pretended to be happy.  I pretended to be calm. I pretended to be sober. I pretended to be whole. I pretended to be strong and unafraid and confident — all of the things that people told me I was, but I knew deep down weren’t true, because do strong, unafraid, confident women have to drink in order to make it through an afternoon at the park?

Maybe.

The lie I’d worked so meticulously to create for myself was blown to smithereens in a very public way when a fellow writer called me stupid in front of the long table full of women. She was joking, she said, but something about her tone and the moment in which is happened sparked a rage that I’d worked very hard to keep under wraps. It was the deep bitterness I’d been ignoring for years, the one that fueled my alcoholism and my incessant need for approval. This was the heart of my need to control, my desire for perfection, my constant feeling of worthlessness, and my many insecurities.

Instead of acting like a normal member of society and laughing it off as a joke, I damn near got into a fistfight. Dead serious, it almost came to blows. Audrey told me later that in that moment, she knew we were probably going to end up in a Baltimore jail that afternoon, rather than in the airport.

Looking back, I wish that had been my low point. It wasn’t. So, I’m taking the experience of threatening to punch another grown woman in the face in front of people who now rightfully think I’m a lunatic and I’m using it as one of many examples of how addiction turns people into horrible versions of themselves.

It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.

Recently, I was invited to keynote the 2018 Women’s Health Conference in Illinois. I honestly thought they were crazy to ask someone who has never given an hour-long presentation to KEYNOTE THEIR CONFERENCE, however, the clear insanity of the situation made me realize that this was clearly an opportunity meant for me. So, I took it.

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Here I am, trying not to puke in front of hundreds of people.

During my speech, I talked about that day at brunch — how I justified my behavior, twisted the situation to make what I did make sense in my mind. How I refused to apologize or own up to my part in it, which strangely enough, is exactly what haunts me about my past. The women who wronged me have never owned up to it or apologized, even when pressed in a court room.

I’ve thought about that day at brunch a lot lately. I think about it when I catch myself judging other people who are acting like assholes. I think about it when I overhear someone talking condescendingly about her addict sibling who just can’t seem to stay sober. I think about it when I see a homeless tweaker standing under a bridge, or pushing a shopping cart full of trash.

I think about it when my son hops in the car and says “Mom? What’s a hoe?” And after I explain that a hoe is a prostitute and prostitution is selling your body for sex which is illegal, he thinks about it and declares prostitutes are bad people and I have to pull over onto the side of the road because I happen to know a few former prostitutes and they aren’t bad people at all.

The deal is, everything I once believed to be true actually isn’t, and all I know for sure is that I need to stay away from alcohol, I’ll probably never go to another blogging conference, and there is a God somewhere out there.

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I Did Not Jump Out: learning how to ride in a car with 4 other humans

Recently, someone commented on an Instagram post that she misses my writing. I never stopped — I have essays littering the internet — but I haven’t been writing here. I’m not sure why.

This site is a clear record of the crooked path I’ve followed over the years, something I regard with both a deep sense of sadness and a healthy dose of pride. Sometimes I want to wipe it all clean, hit delete, and start fresh. Sometimes, I’m too sad to come here at all. I don’t like to be reminded of the past, although it’s important for me to remember.

Making peace with who I am and where I come from is a bitch; the daunting task of acceptance, something so simple yet so freaking hard, reminds me on a daily basis that I’m better but still far from where I’d like to be.

Recovery is like removing layers from an onion. I may never reach the core.

My oldest, my muse, my biggest headache and source of inspiration. Maverick is the only one out of my three who remembers what I used to be like, before I got sober. Every so often he asks me a question like, “Do you ever miss drinking wine?”

I tell him the truth: yes, I miss it.

I might always miss it, in the way that a person misses a thing that might kill them, but missing a thing isn’t so bad if you have the right support. I take it in small bites. I miss it for a few minutes, a few times per day. But the day ends, and so does my desire to get plastered. I sleep, I feed myself properly — I’m having to learn how to do this, so I can continue to take care of myself — and I pray for the strength to creep forward a tiny bit each day.

“I’m proud of you.”

That’s what he says, when we talk about recovery. I’m proud of me, too. I’m also proud of him, and immensely grateful to call him mine. We have come so far since we were in that dark place two years ago, before his diagnosis, before we got the right help for him, and later, for me. The rest of our little family was being dragged along on a crazy — not the fun kind of crazy, the crazy kind of crazy — ride with no end in sight.

It was hell.

My hope is that the kids don’t think of that time when they look back on their childhood. The fire that burns underneath my feet to keep me moving is stoked by the knowledge that if we go backward, it would be so much worse. I don’t have the power to erase their crazy-not-the-fun-kind memories, but I can try like hell to create good ones.

This weekend was the first time I can remember when we all got into a car together and I didn’t want to throw myself out the passenger window. The screeching! The fighting! The kicking of the seats! The way Robbie cranks up the radio to drown them all out, but all it does is add to the chaos!

** INSERT GUTTURAL SCREAMS HERE **

I used to drink to take the edge off, and when I first got sober? No way was I getting in a car with everyone else unless it was absolutely necessary. THIS IS WHY MY SONS USED TO RIDE THE SCHOOL BUS.

But now, 14 months into recovery, I can handle it. The volume might grate on my nerves, but not unbearably so. I didn’t yell. I didn’t jump out of the car or call someone to come pick me up. I simply enjoyed my fun-kind-of-crazy family.

I count that as a win.

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Standing In A Snow Globe

351 days sober feels like standing in the middle of a snow globe right after a small child shook it so violently that an adult had to intervene. I am standing on two feet, which is good, but I’m also (still) disoriented and dizzy and unsure of what is actually happening and also I can’t see a damn thing because of

all

that

snow.

***

351 days sober is really close to a full calendar year and I almost feel paralyzed by everything I know. The mind is a tricky thing. It’s possible to lock parts of it up and hide the key from yourself, which is exactly what I did. I was depressed for years but did not want to be, so I found chemicals to perk myself up. I drank to deal with the emotions I wanted to avoid: fear, anger, resentment, PTSD, and heartache.

I was like this when I met my husband — he knew I had problems, but doesn’t everyone? Yes, everyone does. We married and vowed to stay with each other in sickness and in health and I guess this whole addiction thing is my sickness.

It’s easy to hide from the truth if you don’t want to see it. I believed all of the lies I told myself: I’m not good enough. Something is inherently wrong with me. I’m a shit mother. My husband doesn’t really love me.

In therapy, I described how, for a very long time, I blamed my family for causing me to believe those lies. If Robbie would just bring home flowers, I would feel loved. If only our children were easier. Then, I would know I was a good mother.  If only my own mother wasn’t so sick. I mean, that’s why I drank, right? Because I have a sick mom and a child on the spectrum and a husband who works crazy hours?

Searching for evidence to support the lies I tell myself occupied my thoughts. If I wasn’t busy thinking that I suck at life and finding examples to support this self-fulfilling prophecy, then I might actually have to look at myself, and clearly, that was out of the question.

So, no. I didn’t drink because of the people in my life. I drank to hide.

“What you just described to me is the definition of addiction,” my therapist said, when I told her how I would nitpick Robbie and blame his scatterbrained-ness, his work hours, his messiness, for my issues.

Oh.

At nearly one year sober, this is what I know: no one can MAKE me feel anything. I am in charge of my emotions. I am in charge of how I allow others to affect me. It’s like standing in the middle of a hula hoop — I can control everything inside of the hula hoop. That’s it. Everything else is outside of the hula hoop, which means it is outside of my control.

The only other thing I’ve figured out in the past 11 months is that the people I blamed for making me want to drink are the same people who loved me when I was at my lowest point. They are the ones who cleaned my vomit out of the car and the bed and went with me to the doctor and loved me, no matter how much I yelled or how unpredictable I was.

Not one of those people stopped loving me. They are living proof that the lies I told myself are, in fact, lies.

I have a lot of love to celebrate on my first sober Valentine’s Day.

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This is me. Can’t you tell?

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What I Cannot Do For Myself

I twisted my hands together, fighting the urge to pick at my cuticles as I watched my therapist’s eyes widen. She put down her pen; I bit my bottom lip to the point of pain, waiting for her to continue.

“That just doesn’t happen, Harmony.”

“I know.”

“No, I don’t think you do. I mean, I think you’re grateful for the people you have in your life. I think you know that you wouldn’t be sober today without them, but Jesus – you are incredibly, incredibly lucky.”

“I know.”

She picks up her pen; I exhale. I want to feel lucky: I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic who is still alive. I have not lost my husband or my kids. My friends still speak to me. I love and I am loved, even though a loud, persistent voice tells me every day that I am unworthy. The other shoe will drop soon, says the voice, and no one can be trusted except for my best friends, alcohol and uppers. Figuring out how to acknowledge that voice and then actively choose not to listen to it is an invisible, exhausting task that is hard to explain to people who have never had to battle with an almost constant feeling that everyone would be better off if they were dead.

I want to feel brave and fortunate and strong. People call me those things all the time – someone from my past recently called me “courageous” – but all I feel is a heaviness that never leaves, no matter how many hours of sleep I get or how many lattes I drink. Some people call it depression, but for me, it’s simply darkness. For years and years, I took uppers to snap me out of the sadness that wouldn’t leave.

It worked. No one noticed how messed up I was.

When that person called me courageous, I wanted to yell the following proclamation:

“I AM NOT COURAGEOUS. I AM EXHAUSTED AND WANT NOTHING MORE THAN AN ENORMOUS BOTTLE OF VODKA TO WASH AWAY THE PERSISTENT PAIN AND DISCOMFORT THAT I CARRY WITH ME ALL THE TIME. I AM DESPERATE TO FEEL BETTER.”

Is bravery the same thing as desperation?

***

On January 9, 2018, my dad had surgery. It was supposed to be minor – my mother couldn’t bring him, because she has virtually no immune system and is almost always narrowly avoiding hospitalization herself. I was happy to do it, especially because I knew this would be the first January 9th I faced in recovery and I needed a distraction.

January 9, 1999 is the day my life imploded. Now that I’m no longer drinking to avoid thinking about it, I’m thinking about it a lot. Here’s where I am: when those people made the decision to cross the multiple lines that were crossed, I was forced to make a series of decisions. First, I pressed charges. Second, I broke up with the man I was planning to marry and spend the rest of my life with, because I could no longer fathom a happy future with him. It wasn’t because of anything that was lacking in him as a person, or in our relationship. It was purely because he happened to be related to the kind of people who thought it was acceptable to slam me, choke me, kick me, punch me, and lick my face. I just … I couldn’t. I was done.

Maybe walking away from that relationship means they won. Maybe becoming an alcoholic means they won. If they wanted to destroy me, they were successful. Not one of them ever acknowledged what they did. Not one of them ever uttered an apology for smashing their brother’s relationship into pieces. They did what they did and pretended it never even happened, and we were left to figure out the rest. I chose to walk away from the relationship, and that is something I drank over for a very, very long time.

When I got sober, it was like awakening from a deep sleep. Like, oh! Okay. I made that decision and now my life is this. That choice led me to point A and then to point B where I seriously screwed up, but how did I get here? It’s a super involved process of turning over every rock and analyzing the how and why of my current situation. Was I sober when I met Robbie? Was I sober when we married? What about when we decided to have kids – was I sober then?

***

This year, I spent January 9 in a hospital waiting room working really hard not to self-destruct. I made it through the day – my dad went home, and so did I – but then I had to rush him back to the Emergency Room two days later.

The E.R. is a terrible place, something I can say with certainty because we spent 16 hours there before he was finally admitted. I was awake for 36 hours straight. My dad was hooked up to morphine. At a few different points, he and I both thought he was going to die.

I’m very good in emergency situations. I fold into myself, feeling nothing until it’s safe to do so. It wasn’t until I’d pitched a fit while holding a barf bag full of my daddy’s vomit in the middle of a flu-infested E.R. with a crazy man sitting in the corner yelling about how he was going to kill us all and they finally found a room for us that I allowed myself to cry.

Recovery feels like that for me. It didn’t feel safe to feel until it was safe to feel.

***

I don’t know how long I was at the hospital before my friend Kate flew in from Virginia. She was there to take care of the kids so I could be with my dad, but she admitted later on that she was mostly there to make sure I was able to take care of myself so I could take care of everyone else.

She came so I could remain sober.

My girlfriends sent food to my house and to my parents. Kate grocery shopped for my kids, bought them balloons, and assured them that their real mom would be home soon. My mother-in-law did all of the laundry, and then, Kate did it again.

“All you have to do is press the button on the coffee maker,” she told me before I fell into bed one night. “The coffee is ready to go.”

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She taught my children ballet poses.

Kate mothered me. She cooked food and encouraged me to eat it. She sent me to my 12-step meetings. For almost a week, she reminded me that it was okay to need and accept help. Her presence made me remember to keep doing the things that keep me sober.

Robbie bought a desk for my office and had it assembled when I got home. He did everything he could think of to make my life easier while I was preoccupied with getting my dad better. And really, that’s the part that touches me the most – how everyone in my life just SHOWED UP. Maybe before now, I was so walled off that I wouldn’t allow people to truly help me or love me. Maybe now I can learn how to do a better job of that, even though the voice still whispers that I don’t deserve love because I’m not good enough.

***

My 50-minute therapy session is drawing to an end, and I kind of don’t ever want to leave but I also kind of want to make a run for it and never come back. Getting better is hard work, something my therapist acknowledges and encourages me to talk about. Owning my issues will help me get better, and I really am proud of my progress, even though right now I’m pretty much constantly in a state of discomfort, shame, or self-loathing.

“Let me sum it up for you like this, Harmony,” she said, snapping her notebook shut and leaning forward. “God is doing for you what you cannot do for yourself.”

Yeah. No kidding.

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This is Kate. She is my sister.

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Learning To Swim

Every rental we’ve lived in since we left Alabama came with a disappointing bath tub.

Our town home, although small, had a large garden tub that I kept scrubbed clean. A hot bath with Epsom salts is the only thing that relaxes me the way wine does. When I was pregnant with Maverick, and later, Asher, I soaked in that tub almost every night to relax the muscles wrapping around my midsection.  As I floated, belly protruding, I could breathe.

Weightlessness. That’s what I am always searching for.

After we walked away from our mortgage in 2012 like so many other young couples who found themselves trapped in the real estate market crash, I either drank myself to oblivion or crammed my body into the dingy tub of an overpriced rental home to relax. Sometimes, I did both.

A few days into sobriety, my brain still fogged over from detox, I wondered what would happen if I sank under the murky water and inhaled.

The dense fog has lifted now, and most days, being sober feels like a heavy weight. Drinking was like a weight, too, but this is different. Life is what feels heavy. Alcohol let me block it out but did not provide an escape from my problems. Sobriety opens up the curtains and lets the light in: painful, but promising.

I voluntarily opted to birth my middle child without any pain medication whatsoever. It was an amazing, horrifying, terrible, awesome experience. There were a few points when I was absolutely certain that I was going to die, but I had no choice but to keep going. With the help of my support system, my son and I made it to the other side alive.

It was exhilarating.

That is what it feels like to be in recovery. As terribly uncomfortable as it is, I just have to keep moving forward. Neither stopping nor going backwards is an option for me.

Some days I really wish I hadn’t made the choice to get better. At this particular time in my life, with small kids who have a lot of needs, true recovery can feel like an impossible undertaking. But, just like childbirth, I have to remind myself that I’m not the first woman to do this and I certainly won’t be the last.

Recovery from addiction is painful, but it’s not going to kill me.

My addiction is what will kill me.

Merriam-Webster defines heartbreak as “crushing grief, anguish, or distress.” I define it as something I worked really, really hard for a very long time to avoid. I thought if I moved on fast enough, planned well enough, and accomplished enough, I could somehow escape it. I ran, literally and figuratively; I recoiled from it like someone might from a thing that has the potential to kill you.

I thought it would crush me if I allowed myself to feel it, so I refused to. I masked the pain with a number of relationships, walled myself off, and became an alcoholic. I met my husband and we built a life, but as much as I love him I never allowed him to truly love me.

We can’t ever truly escape the past. My story will never go away, no matter how many times I try to pretend it didn’t happen. On January 9, 1999, I suffered emotional and physical trauma followed by a heartbreak so profound that I never allowed myself to address it at all. I smashed myself back together like a car wreck survivor might if lost in the woods without access to medical care, and I never healed properly.

Just like a broken arm that never healed correctly, I have to re-break my heart in order to allow it to fully mend. There is never, ever an ideal time for heartache. I procrastinated for 18 years, but now, if I want to remain sober from alcohol, and I do, I have no other choice but to surrender.

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I am learning to swim.

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Downward Facing Spiral

I’m going through a really scary time in my recovery: processing major events in my past that my alcoholism is rooted in. Maybe normal people wrestle with terrible things that happen in their lives within a reasonable time frame, without having to hit rock bottom half a lifetime later and narrowly avoiding rehab. Clearly, I am not a normal person.

For half my life, I stuffed and avoided and blocked out and denied and channeled all of the pain and sadness into defiance, drive, and misguided attempts at controlling the outcome of almost every situation I found myself in. When I had fully exhausted myself of all those options, I turned to alcohol.

I would drink anything that was handed to me. I knew it would make everything better, if only temporarily. The liquid burned; I didn’t care. The burning hurt less than the pain inside my chest.

I’m in a really uncomfortable place. I can’t eat and I can’t sleep and I’m sweaty all the time and it sort of reminds me of my first 30 days of sobriety, except without the shakes. I’m afraid. Feelings are terrifying — I’ve spent half my life running from them — but they aren’t fatal. I have to remember that.

Trying to stay focused on today is hard for a planner. Even as a child, I would lie awake in bed at night thinking about the next day, preparing my outfits in my head, making sure I don’t repeat anything twice.

Recovery has hills and valleys. There have been times that I felt amazing and everything was great. This is not like that. Right now, I’m in a valley, a dark one, and someone stole my flashlight.

I won’t stop moving forward, but I gotta say — I DON’T LIKE THIS PART AT ALL.

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I found this meme on Instagram via @hallelujahnellie and I LOVE IT SO.

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Finding Serenity

My first sober Thanksgiving is probably not the ideal time to work my 9th step, and yet, here we are.

I spent Thanksgiving Eve on the couch, reading trashy celebrity gossip and texting my friends who were running around town or traveling, so our conversations happened in snippets. I tried to boil my feelings down to a few short paragraphs.

I got up from my spot on the couch only a handful of times throughout the day to feed the kids and brew more coffee. We left the house exactly one time, and that was to run over to my parent’s to borrow a Crock Pot. There were things I should have been doing instead – I had complicated holiday dishes to assemble, and my house was not suitable for guests – but I felt rooted to the cushions. Almost 9 months into recovery, I have learned not to fight the exhaustion that sometimes comes in waves. I give in.

Change is exhausting. Finding the willingness to learn how to react differently to emotional situations or stress or heartache takes a deep level of mental energy that I’m not sure I have at this stage in my life. I have three elementary-aged kids, none of whom know how to brush their teeth properly, and sometimes I barely have the bandwidth to get everyone to school on time. Digging for the emotional strength that recovery requires is often beyond me.

Thankfully, miraculously, admitting that I JUST CAN’T is enough. I don’t understand how it works exactly, but announcing my powerlessness to another person or group of people gives me just enough strength – not a lot, but just enough – to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve literally drank or pilled my way through the past 16 or 17 year’s worth of holidays. I’d start drinking hard around Halloween and blast through to Thanksgiving, Christmas, December 26th (my birthday), and finally, New Year’s, which is when I would get so shitfaced and feel so horrible after months of unbridled eating and drinking that I would dial it back a bit to get myself straightened out for awhile.

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This was me. Literally.

Time ticked by like that, for years and years, without many people noticing a pattern. I’m a reserved, controlled drunk, until the end, when I hated everything and everyone — especially myself.

As a kid, holidays were my favorite time of year: magical and fun. The Christmas I turned 19 was the worst of my life. I never fully recovered from what happened that year, so from that point until I entered recovery almost exactly 18 years later, I found different ways to mask the pain that always crops up. I bulldozed through it. There is never a convenient time to feel pain or deal with uncomfortable emotions. You either face it, or you numb yourself.

This year, there’s no numbing or masking or bulldozing. There’s simply the experience of being awake. I want to say something nice about blessings and gratefulness and all the jazz, but I’m still too freaked out to feel blessed just yet.

I feel, in the words of my friend Amber, like a vulnerable dumpster fire. But at least I know that is how I feel, and not what I just drank an entire bottle of wine in order to pretend like I feel. So, as crazy as that probably sounds, I think what I’m feeling might be serenity.

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Saying Farewell To My Best Friend

I thought she was my best friend.

We planned to grow old together, laughing on the lawn of the old folk’s home where we would inevitably end up, wearing bright shades of lipstick and gaudy caftans.

We would be like the Golden Girls: brash, spunky, flashy, and so full of life that no one would dare ask us our age — they’d have no reason to, because we’d be so much fun to hang out with that no one would care if we were incontinent. We would outlive our husbands, of course, and maybe take a lover or two. Our children would come visit, their own children in tow, until the day we quietly died in our sleep.

I couldn’t imagine life without her.

I abruptly ended our friendship almost 9 months ago, and she left a bottle-shaped hole that I’ve worked daily to fill with other, less toxic, things. That was the problem; she was a stone cold bitch. I loved her too much to see it before now, but now that she’s out of my life, I understand clearly that she wanted nothing more than to see me dead.

She made me believe I needed her to make me happy. She made me think I had to bring her with me almost everywhere I went, that people wouldn’t like me unless she was there, and that I’m no good without her, period.

She made me sick on my honeymoon, clutching the tiny toilet in our cruise ship bathroom. Because of her, I got myself into dangerous situations. I wandered drunk and alone in the middle of Manhattan at 3 a.m., too messed up to figure out how to get an Uber. I picked fights with my husband, threw things, blacked out, and made terrible decisions.

She erased a whole lot of memories that I wish I had.

Her influence touched every corner of my life. I made a living writing jokes and essays about our friendship. I didn’t miss a day without her, even when I was sick or taking antibiotics or a host of other prescription drugs that you aren’t supposed to mix with alcohol, because I believed the lie that nothing bad would happen.

She put me behind the wheel of every car I’ve ever owned, too drunk to see the lines on the road. She whispered that one more shot of whiskey or tequila or vodka wouldn’t hurt, that I could handle it if I just drank enough water. When I was angry or depressed, which happened more and more frequently toward the end of our friendship, she convinced me it was everyone else’s fault. She fanned the flames of my anger in every direction away from her. My problems were never, ever because of her. They couldn’t possibly be. She was my confidante, my closest companion, the one I ran to when life became too much.

It was always too much.

Towards the end, she was systematically ruining every relationship I had in an attempt to have me all to herself.

Getting sober from alcohol has been liberating and terrifying and life-changing, but I am also grieving the loss of a friend who knew all of my secret fears. She was aware of the darkness that I’ve learned to hide behind a happy exterior, the wounds that have never healed and the pieces of myself that I’ve tried and failed to smash back together without help. Breaking up with her, and staying broken up with her, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But bitch, we are no longer friends. We aren’t even frenemies or arch-nemiseses or regular enemies. We don’t have a connection or a tie whatsoever tethering us together because I have burned every bridge that connected me to you. And really, I’m not even sad because I don’t want to die.

I want to live.

This is why.

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A Very Sober Halloween

This is the first Halloween that I’ve been sober for as long as I can remember, and I have a lot of feelings about it.

Part of what grieves me about the absence of alcohol in my life is all the fun I used to have while drinking. Clearly, there was lots of bad stuff too, or I’d still be doing it, but when I’m feeling sorry for myself I only remember the good times.

Before Robbie and I had kids, we went to Halloween parties every year, sometimes more than one in a night. We were the people who meandered from party to party — no curfew, no babysitter to worry about, and very few responsibilities to wake up to the next morning.  Because of this, I equate drinking to having very few responsibilities, which isn’t accurate at all, but that’s my way of romanticizing the past. As time went on and our family grew, my sense of responsibility, worry, and fear grew as well. Escaping responsibility and worry was one of the biggest reasons why I drank — and the more I drank, the more I drank, because I’m an alcoholic and my body craves it.

Also? My responsibilities did not go away. At all.

Last year, I was excited about the kid’s costumes — it was the first time in years that I’d planned ahead far enough in advance to avoid making a very last-minute trip to the store — but by that time in my drinking career, I was pretty much a miserable person, wracked with anxiety, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of dread. None of that is evident in the photos, but I remember.

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I carried a cup of wine with me the entire time the kids were trick-or-treating, ducking back into my friend’s house to refill without telling anyone. Today, as I was feeling sorry for myself thinking about all the carefree, happy parents who will be able to enjoy a beer or cocktail tonight, I remembered being drunk last year, after dark, with all three of my kids scattered in different parts of an unfamiliar neighborhood. I didn’t allow myself to consciously feel shame at the time, and it certainly wasn’t problematic enough for me to consider stopping my habit, but today, I let myself go there.

I’m ashamed that I was so deep in addiction that I couldn’t stomach the thought of taking my kids trick-or-treating sober. I’m ashamed that I have missed out on so much of their lives because I was either drunk, or miserable, or both. I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate my life because I was too busy running from it.

Thankfully, this year will be different. Although we are all far from perfect, I no longer feel like running away. I’m learning how to embrace the good and the bad, and although it’s really, really hard, it’s better than trying to escape.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m not trying to escape reality, or my emotions, or my fears. How appropriate that this Halloween night, the scariest thing I’ll have to face is myself.

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A Month Of Fitness

(This post is sponsored by Curves® International.)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about embarking on a journey to improve my physical health. Specifically, I was asked to work out at my local Curves franchise for a month and share my experience with others. At first I was like, really? I just wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. I mean, what do you imagine when you think of Curves? I always imagined old women moving at a slow pace.

One thing about early recovery is that I find myself being surprisingly open-minded when it comes to doing things that I previously would not be caught dead doing. I spent a lot of years in a state of avoidance — some of which was simply due to being in survival mode, some because of fear — and I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities. 7 months into sobriety, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more to things I never would have agreed to, and “no” to things I previously would have jumped on.

Agreeing to work out for a month in an unfamiliar establishment is one of those things that old me never would have agreed to, but thankfully, that girl is long gone. The 30 minutes I spent, several days a week, inside Curves was … hmmm, let’s see. How can I describe it?

It was an ADVENTURE.

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Photo credit: Megan

I had my body fat, weight, and measurements recorded before I started my journey, and then again several weeks later. I was shocked to find that I lost several pounds and my body fat percentage went down, just in that short period of regular strength training. (Disclaimer: Curves Fitness members on average lose 5 pounds over a 20-week period. I received promotional consideration.)

My friend Megan and I loved meeting there twice a week and blasting through our workout together — it’s so short, that the time flew by. I got stronger quickly and noticed a major improvement in my mood and energy level throughout the day. I’ve been feeling like strength training is something I needed to start doing, but I didn’t really know where to begin. It was nice to have a coach to guide me, and the way Curves is set up, it’s almost impossible to injure yourself. It also helped kick-start my weight loss, and working out with such a positive group of women was inspiring and challenging.

I won’t join Curves permanently, because we have a family membership at our neighborhood athletic club, but I really enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to any stressed-out, frazzled mom who has 30 minutes a day to devote to herself.

(This post was sponsored by Curves International, but the content and opinions expressed here are all my own. Also, if you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

 

 

 

 

 

When Did Authenticity Become Brave?

People keep telling me that I’m brave, but I feel like they’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

They tell me things like “You’re so brave to be living sober,” or, “It’s so brave of you to talk so openly about your problem with alcohol.” For the record, people have been calling me brave ever since I started writing publicly 7 years ago, and back then I was just talking about motherhood. I thought it was weird then, and I think it’s even weirder now.

Since when did living authentically become synonymous with bravery? Are we that out of whack as a society that the simple act of owning one’s shit is considered courageous? I’ll tell you what I think is courageous. Joining the Army.

Walking into a room full of uptight, conservative, Bible-thumping church goers and announcing that you identify as a gay male.

Adoption.

Opting not to pee when there’s a clean restroom available in New Orleans.

Skydiving.

Fostering children over and over again, knowing that you’ll grow attached and feel sad when they leave, but doing it anyway.

Standing up to a person who scares you, even if that person is yourself.

Cloth diapering.

Leaving.

Staying.

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This chick walks away from situations a LOT.

Getting sober is brave. Talking about getting sober is not, at least not for me. It’s part of what keeps me well, and it’s a win-win — I raise awareness, and I keep myself from listening to that little voice that talks to me all day, every day, telling me that I should take up smoking, or that one glass of wine won’t hurt me, or that getting one bottle of Phentermine would knock this extra weight right off and THEN MY LIFE WOULD BE BETTER.

My therapist told me, when I was lamenting to her about how many messages I get from people who seem to think that sobriety is easy for me, as if I’m some kind of unicorn who is magically able to abstain from drinking without any effort whatsoever, that I should write about how it actually feels to stay sober for 24 hours at a time. So here goes.

Staying sober is a 24 hour cycle of ups and downs. I enjoy waking up and feeling awake instead of foggy. I appreciate that about sobriety, the clarity. I’m grateful for it, because without it, around 10 a.m. every morning, when that little voice starts telling me things like you should just stop eating, go get some pills to kill your appetite and the gnawing need to do something, anything, to stop the voice sets in, I need clarity in order to remain in control. I call someone and I talk about it. I go to rooms full of people and I talk about it. I write about it.

I have had to tell strangers about how hard it is for me to give my son his ADHD medication without throwing one into my mouth. I’ve admitted the deepest, darkest parts of me that lurk under the surface, the addiction that wants nothing more than to kill me, and I’ve learned that speaking the words into the air takes away their power.

When I say it, the compulsion to do it lessens, just a little. I do this over and over and over again.

After I work through one issue, another wave will come — this time, the voice will tell me, as my kids shout and paint with toothpaste and fight with each other the way that kids do, that I need something to numb myself from wanting to put my hands over my ears and scream. The voice says, What kind of mother can’t handle a little yelling from three children? What kind of parent doesn’t get ahead of the situation and send her kids outside to play, before she comes unhinged? You aren’t good enough. You need to take something so that you will be better.

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Eating breakfast with the cat.

The self-loathing and the shame creeps in, telling me that I’m deficient, my kids deserve better, and I should just drink. Thankfully, we don’t keep alcohol in the house.

There is something about my brain that is different. There’s an undercurrent there — one that I can’t completely eradicate — that actually makes me want to park my butt somewhere with an enormous bottle of something and drink it or snort it until I feel nothingness. I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to feel. That’s what makes me an addict, and it’s actually the opposite of bravery. It’s cowardice, a fear of feeling.

It’s not bravery or luck or some kind of upper crust morality that keeps me sober. Working a program keeps me sober. Talking about recovery is something that I hope more people start doing, because whether you think so or not, A LOT OF PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE IN RECOVERY OF SOME SORT.

So, yes. Getting help is brave. Talking about getting help is not.

All of us should talk more.

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7 months sober! Photo credit: 4-year-old child.

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That Feeling When You Kind Of Want The Earth To Swallow You Whole

Robbie and I are very open with our kids. Children are smart — even if they don’t know you’re lying now, they’ll figure it out eventually. And then what? They’ll know you lied. They won’t trust you, and why should they? You didn’t earn it.

Our oldest child is especially perceptive. He’s likely the only one out of my three who will remember what it was like when I was still drinking; there were many nights that an issue with him is what drove me directly to the bottle. I know that he noticed, and when I stopped drinking, I told him the truth: I don’t drink anymore. Alcohol is not good for me.

“Oh,” he said. “I know what you have.”

“You do?”

 “Yep. You have … what’s that thing called that [name removed for confidentiality] has?”

“Alcoholism?”

“Yeah! Alcoholism.”

And there it was. A handful of days after I threw out my wine rack, my kid was calling me on my shit.

When my article about addiction was published in a local magazine this summer, he read it. I wasn’t planning to let him, but I had the kids with me when the publisher called to say that there was a package waiting for me at their office. We all went inside, took an elevator to the third floor, and retrieved the envelope full of magazines. I opened it on the ride back down and audibly gasped — I had no idea that I was going to be on the cover, and Maverick was the first to see it.

I’ll never forget how excited he was, shouting “MOM! MOM! THAT’S YOU!” and jumping up and down so hard that the elevator shook. Before I knew what was happening, he had a copy in his hands and refused to give it back.

“HOLD ON, I’M READING,” he yelled from the third row seat of our van. I finally gave up and let him.

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My oldest and my youngest. They’re beautiful.

Last weekend, it occurred to me that I’ve never taken the time to explain to him the difference between an alcoholic who is still drinking and an alcoholic who is in recovery. I pulled him away from the other kids to have a chat. About 5 seconds into our conversation, he interrupted my explanation about what it means to be in recovery.

“Mom! I wish I would have known this before now!”

I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.

He started talking, and as I listened in horror, he told me all about how his teacher had each member of the class stand up and talk about their mother. I knew what was coming, and I was pretty sure I was going to die a little bit inside when I heard the words. I braced myself.

“So when it was my turn, I got up and said — ”

He took a deep breath.

“My mom’s an ALCOHOLIC!”

And he beamed.

He said it with such pride. He really is proud, though. My whole family is, not because I was lying half-naked in a gutter and they had to save me from myself, but because they mostly had no idea how bad it was and I made the decision to get help without being forced to. And sometimes, I’m proud of me too — but on that day, when I found out that my son had announced to his entire 4th grade class “MY MOM’S AN ALCOHOLIC,” I felt like the Earth fell out from under me.

I mean … you know. That sucked.

Most people die laughing when I tell this story, and I understand why — it’s something you might see on a sitcom — but Robbie didn’t laugh. He looked as horrified as I felt, and when I crawled under the covers at 8 p.m. that night and whispered, “I just want to go to sleep,” he smoothed my hair away from my face and told me he loved me.

I would be lying if I told this story and left out the part where I fell into a pretty major depression afterward, like I always do when it hits me like a ton of bricks that I brought alcoholism into my husband’s life and our children’s lives and now we all have to deal with it. I like to think it will make us all better people, but sometimes, I question what affect this will have on my kids. Sometimes, I worry that one or more of them will inherit it from me, or, like a catching disease, someone close to me will die from it.

The truth is that I can’t control what other people think about me or my journey, and I can’t control what my children say to their friends or what those friends will say to their parents. That scares me. When I talk about these issues, I control the conversation and it feels not scary. When MY CHILD TELLS HIS CLASS THAT HIS MOTHER IS AN ALKIE?

That’s scary.

The good news is, I walked through that experience — the shame, the sadness, the guilt, and every other awful feeling one feels when one has this kind of thing happen — and I’ve made it out on the other side.

And I’m still sober.

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No Makeup, No Men, and No Mirrors

(This post is sponsored by Curves® International.)

I’m taking a little break from talking about heavy stuff to bring you something FUN!  When I entered recovery earlier this year, I mistakenly assumed that cutting out the 1,000 or so calories per day that I was ingesting in the form of cabernet would cause me to drop weight. And I did, at first, because going through the detoxification process made me really, really sick.

After I got through the first 14 days of sobriety, I started to crave things like Skittles and jelly beans and Coke — stuff I normally would not eat or drink. My body, accustomed to getting a certain amount of sugar from alcohol, craved insane amounts of garbage, and because I was desperate to make my cravings for wine go away, I consumed it allllllllllllllllllllllllll. No, really. All.

I chowed down on 1-pound bags of dark chocolate M&M’s. I ordered everything on the Starbucks menu (side note: their “morning bun” is divine). I ate cinnamon rolls and french fries with cheese on top and deep fried things and full-size ice cream concoctions from Dairy Queen. I ate pizza and drank Ice-es and ate snowballs with condensed milk poured on top. It was very much like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was the Very Hungry Sober Lady.

Everyone assured me that this was normal. Most women in early recovery spend their time crying and eating simple carbs, and that is pretty much exactly what I did for three whole months; by the time I was 4 months sober, I’d packed on 12 pounds. By month 6, I decided it was time to get serious about getting my weight under control, or at the very least, getting physically stronger. My mind is healing, and my body is, too. It would just be nice if there was a little less of me.

When I got the opportunity to spend a full month at Curves, one of the world’s largest fitness chains for women, I jumped on it. The closest franchise is only about a mile from my house, and since the workouts are only 30 minutes, there was really no excuse for me to NOT say yes.

I’d heard of Curves before, but had never been inside one. Isn’t it mostly full of old ladies? I was dubious, but willing to give it a shot.

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This is me, right before going inside Curves for the first time. #skeptical

 

The informal motto of Curves is “No makeup, no men, and no mirrors!” I have to admit, I can get on board with the no men and no mirrors part, but I still have to wear some makeup. Yes, I realize that’s stupid because no one cares and I’m just going to sweat it off. This is why I’m in therapy, people.

I find the people at Curves to be incredibly welcoming, helpful, and kind. I went through an intense assessment process (hello, body fat measuring thingy) before completing my first workout. The set up is a big room with a bunch of different equipment around the perimeter. You just jump in and start the circuit, and move to the next station every 30 seconds. I like the variety and the pace; 30 minutes flies by quickly.

When I was observing the other women exercise, I noticed that they were moving REALLY slowly on the machines, and — don’t judge me — I stupidly assumed it was because they are old.

Nope.

The machines are hydraulic and they are really challenging to use. It’s been a pretty humbling experience — I mean, I normally do Spin! Shouldn’t I be able to keep up with old ladies?! I’m in worse shape than I thought.

I roped my friend Megan into going with me every Tuesday and Thursday morning after we drop off our preschoolers, so I’m excited to see our progress through the month.

STAY TUNED!

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Photo credit: my friend Megan.

 

(This post was sponsored by Curves International, but the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.)

 

Marriage In Recovery

I’ve been married to Robbie for 12 years this October, and for almost our entire relationship, I didn’t believe that he truly loved me.

I mean, I thought he thought he did, and if someone thinks they love me, as has been the case in 95% of my relationships, that has always been good enough. I didn’t believe that I was worthy of genuine love, but I wasn’t fully aware of that belief. It lingered in the back of my subconscious, manifesting in the nagging voice that tells me I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough, or good enough to amount to much of anything.

I built a wall.

The wall was up when I met Robbie, and as far as I know, parts of it are still there. Alcohol gave me the courage I needed to step out from behind it on occasion, and quite honestly, I miss the ease that comes with drinking. Sobriety is a lot of work. So is overcoming obstacles. I am effing exhausted.

Sometimes, I really, really think it would be easier just to keep the wall up, smear some extra concrete on it, and stay in hiding forever.

When a person goes through trauma, it literally rewires the brain. Addiction rewires it, too, which means that my brain has a lot of overdue healing to do. For a very long time, I functioned at what I considered to be a high capacity; looking back, I can see that I’ve never allowed myself or my marriage to reach its full potential. I assumed my husband thought he loved me, which was good enough because I really could not stand myself, and I drank to cope with the feelings that go along with self-loathing.

That is no way to live. I am allowing myself to get better because I want to LIVE.

It’s a weird thing to have to look in the mirror every morning and tell my reflection, “You are good enough.” This was an assignment given to me by my therapist.

“You’ll feel weird doing it,” she said. “But it’s important.”

“FINE,” I said.

But I haven’t followed through, not yet. The words sound hollow because I still don’t believe them, and I always cringe, because ew, affirmations.

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Robbie + Harmony on a date.

***

I sit on the couch next to Robbie. There’s a dip in the spot where he always parks himself — I call it The Hole — and my body slides over next to his by sheer force of gravity.

“Hi,” I say, smushing my left shoulder into his right armpit.

“Hi.” I think he feels crowded, but like I’ve told him a thousand times before, maybe he should consider sitting in another spot on the couch, a spot that is less like a giant hole.

“You love me,” I say, not like I’m testing his reaction or fishing for something. I say it with reverence. I’m stating a fact.

“Yes, I do.”

I no longer think he thinks he loves me. I know that he knows that he does.

I’ve given him a lot of reasons to excuse himself from the relationship. The cat’s out of the bag — I’m not the perfect wife or mother — I am an alcoholic. I’m flawed, I’m aware of my flaws, and I’m working on improving them. I’m not pretending anymore. And as screwed up as I may be, he won’t leave. Not today. Not ever.

And for the first time, I actually believe that I’m safe with him.

I know that I am.

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Dealing With Feelings Is A Real Drag

Recently, I took a major risk and wrote about how my issues with addiction are directly linked to a traumatic event in my past. Everyone has been amazingly supportive, and for that I want to say thank you.

Living through an emotionally and physically traumatic event affected me in ways I still don’t quite understand. It wasn’t just that four people I knew physically attacked me in my own bedroom — the emotional pain is my problem. The multiple levels of betrayal, the shame of being involved with something so appalling, and the grief that comes from a terrible breakup all rolled into one big ball of horrible feelings that I didn’t know how to deal with.

Because I was living in a Conservative Christian bubble, I first tried praying it away. I tried ignoring it. I tried throwing myself into religion, and when that didn’t work, I threw myself into the world.

Even though what happened to me wasn’t my fault, there is a big part of me that still wonders if I somehow deserved it — mostly because I chose to ignore major red flags during the course of my relationship with the boy. I wanted to fit in with his family. I wanted them to like me, and they did, at first. I was a sweet, friendly, smart girl — unassuming, eager to please, nonjudgmental, and mostly, I loved the boy.

They liked me, but they underestimated me.

Sometimes, really stupid people mistake kindness for weakness. They think that because I smile a lot, I’m easily manipulated, but actually I am just too polite to speak up and say, “Hey asshole, I know what you’re doing.”

Rather than be rude, I nod and smile. Or, I used to.

The boy’s family eventually realized that I have limits to how far I’ll allow other people to push me. Even at 18 and 19 years old, no one was going to dictate my life, and I encouraged the boy to do the same. My encouragement of his independence is what sealed my fate, and the rest is what I’m dealing with in therapy.

The point of sharing my story is this: my past trauma infects every relationship in my life. I have walls up in my marriage that I didn’t even realize were there. I freak out over stupid things my kids say or do because it reminds me of people who hurt me in the past. I don’t trust ANYONE. I am terrified of people turning on me. And while I have a ton of friends and acquaintances in my life that I could call for anything, I almost never do; vulnerability scares the shit out of me.

I have a guilt complex. My self worth is nonexistent. People call me courageous, but I’m not. I’m terrified. Being sober scares me, the truth scares me, and thinking about the future and the unknown paralyzes me with fear. Things I cannot control are what scare me the most, and guess what? LIFE IS BEYOND MY CONTROL.

So I stay afraid, unless I practice the things that have kept me sober for the past 6 months. I go to exercise classes, even when I don’t feel like it. I cut out junk and eat more protein. I sleep a lot. I meditate. Today, I went to yoga and breathed a lot of deep breaths and then I cried, because that’s what happens when people sober up. They yoga and they cry.

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Yoga helps.

I’m putting one foot in front of the other, and re-learning how to take care of myself. I’ve accepted that I’ll be in therapy for probably a very long time, and I continue to mourn the loss of alcohol because dealing with feelings is a real drag.

People keep telling me I’m worth it. Maybe one day, I’ll actually believe them. Until then, I’ll just keep writing.

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Writing My Own Ending

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

— Brené Brown

192 days. That’s how long I’ve been sober, and for most of that time, I thought that the reason why I ended up being an alcoholic was because maybe I just suck at life. The books I’m reading tell me differently, of course; addictions are usually caused by an unfortunate combination of genetics and circumstances. Maybe I found myself here because I was just self-medicating away anxiety and depression. Or, you know, MAYBE I JUST LIKE ALCOHOL.

No.

It took 6 months for me to recognize and own a part of my past that I’ve never written about publicly. It took days and months of slogging through my personal history, turning over rocks I didn’t want to turn over, weeks of feeling like I couldn’t breathe and countless afternoons of feeling so tired from the exhausting task of being awake and walking around with all of these thoughts and feelings that I parked the kids in front of the TV while I took a nap.

never nap.

Sober Harmony needs a lot of naps.

I’d much prefer to leave the past in the past — I’m a forge-aheader, I’m defiant, and I don’t like to look or feel weak. What’s the point of dwelling in things that happened a long time ago? I take pride in my ability to suck it up and keep moving. My daddy used to say, “I didn’t raise no wimp!” and he was right.

I’m not.

A few days ago, I was sitting in the living room with my 4-year-old daughter. She climbed into my lap, grabbed my face, and licked my right cheek. I don’t think she meant to lick me — she was kissing me, actually — but she’s little and kids are weird and that’s what happened. It felt like the air was sucked out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to cry, I wanted to run, but my daughter doesn’t know that I have PTSD from being attacked in my dorm room my freshman year of college.

She doesn’t know that four girls I knew and trusted somehow finagled their way past the front desk clerk at a private university with key card access in the middle of the night and barged into my room. She doesn’t know that my roommate happened to be gone that night, and my suite mates too, and that those women beat my face in, slammed me against the wall, and threatened me.

She doesn’t know that before they left, the oldest one got down next to my ear and whispered, “You better not tell anyone about this,” before putting her tongue on my right cheek and dragging it all the way from my jawline up to the top of my cheekbone.

Why would anyone think it was a good idea to do that to me? That’s a valid question — one I ask myself still, all these years later. They were upset that their brother asked me to marry him. I wasn’t good enough. I was going to derail his life, they said, and because everything they’d already tried wasn’t working to break us up, they decided to take matters literally into their own hands.

That did it.

Ever since that January morning in 1999, I flinch every time someone touches my right cheek. For some reason, that’s the one everyone kisses; I’ve learned to mask my repulsion because I can’t go around punching people in the face when they get close to me.

Alcohol helped with those feelings.

And then, Robbie and I had kids. Children like to pretend they’re dogs and cats and they slobber a lot. Struggling with flashbacks to something that happened so long ago, something I worked tirelessly to forget, drove me to drink. Kids also sometimes yell terrible things like “I HATE YOU!” or “YOU’RE A TERRIBLE MOM!” Sometimes, they push and shove.

I drank.

I drank to forget.

I drank to stuff it all away and keep it in that box, where it belonged. The thought of those people’s actions affecting my children fills me with a rage so deep and vast that it scares me. I drank to numb the rage.

In sobriety, I’m being forced to process through trauma from 18 years ago without anything to numb the anger, fear, and sadness. I’m not going to lie: it sucks. I’m sad. Sometimes I cry for no reason. I’m experiencing all the feelings now, that I should have had then, because I refused to acknowledge any of my feelings after it happened. What I did do, was allow the local police to photograph my face and my room. I took my attackers to court. I sat in a plastic chair next to my parents in the courthouse while the girls, plus their parents, brothers, and my now ex-boyfriend filled a bunch of other plastic seats and stared at me.

The parents of the girls called everyone who knew me and said I was crazy, that their daughters would NEVER do that. “She beat herself up,” they said.

Yeah, okay.

Trauma causes shame. Even though what happened to me was not my fault, I still feel shame, and shame feeds addiction.

Today, I am choosing to write my own ending to this story. I can’t control what other people have done to me or said about me, but I can control my reaction.

I used to drink. I don’t anymore.

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My daughter is pretty bad ass.

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What I’ve Learned In Six Months

Six months ago, I took my last drink.

I didn’t really believe that it was going to be my last drink, since I wasn’t yet fully on board with the idea that I am an alcoholic, and occasionally when I’m feeling really sorry for myself, I fantasize about all the different ways I would have done my last one differently.

Sometimes I get the feeling that people who aren’t in recovery think that sobriety is something that just happens to a person. It does not just happen.

Getting and staying sober is the hardest, most painful work I’ve ever done. It’s harder than all of the other hard things I’ve publicly written or privately whispered about. It is an exhaustive shedding of my former self, a dissection of every component of my personality that makes me want to reach for a bottle of whatever will drown out the thoughts echoing through my brain that tell me I AM NOT ENOUGH.

It is a systematic dismantling of what I believe to be true about myself.

It is complete surrender to an unfamiliar way of life.

It is saying, daily, “I don’t understand why I’m like this, but I want to be better. Help me be better.”

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Six months.

Sometimes I really resent the hell out of my situation. Cramming recovery into an already overflowing schedule can be very difficult. Sometimes I get mad at my best friend when I’m ranting to her about how stupid everyone is and she responds with, “Have you meditated today?”

INFURIATING.

But also, she’s right.

This process isn’t just about putting my sobriety before everything else and learning how to cope with the stresses of life in a healthy way. It’s about learning how to stop myself from boarding the crazy train. The things other people do or say that have always made me inappropriately upset? There’s a reason why! And guess what? I CAN FIX IT! I can re-train my brain not to immediately jump to irrational conclusions (my favorite is “Robbie thinks I’m boring and regrets marrying me,” or, “I am not and never will be good enough at anything I try to do.”)

There is hope.

All of us struggle with some kind of sickness. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be terminal.

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Back To School (Sober)

My big kids started school yesterday, entering 1st and 4th grade without new sneakers. This happens every year; I tell myself we will be better prepared next time, and before I know it, it’s August again.

I’ve historically blamed my lack of back-to-school planning on external factors beyond my control, like finances, but the truth is, I obsess over things that don’t matter (dirty dishes in the sink, the emotional state of the family pet, the clarity of my skin) and ignore the things that do.

The truth is, we have — well, had — the money for new shoes, but I spent it on something that didn’t matter. It mattered in the moment, certainly. That’s what always happens. I don’t drink or take pills anymore, but I still make terrible decisions. Some people call this irresponsibility, but I think it’s more like misplaced responsibility. I have no idea why I do this, but I have high hopes that working a recovery program will help me sort it out.

Please note: I HAVE A LOT OF REDEEMING QUALITIES.

This is my first back-to-school experience as a sober mother. I don’t know if my family can see a difference since I got sober almost 6 months ago, but I certainly feel different. Yesterday, I stood at the end of our driveway with my sons, holding a cup of coffee, waiting for the school bus to arrive.

After about 20 minutes, when it became clear that the bus wasn’t coming, I announced that I would drive them to school. My littlest was awake and had already dressed herself in a pair of inside-out pants, so all I had to do was unlock the van and tell them to load up.

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First day of school, August 2017.

 

Maverick is almost 9. He, more than anyone, knows what life used to be like, before therapy and diagnoses and I quit drinking. If anyone is going to notice changes, it’s him. He’s my barometer.

As we sat in the carpool line, I commented, “This isn’t that bad of a wait — if y’all would rather not ride the bus this year, I could drive you to school.”

“Wait — what?” Maverick’s eyes were wide.

“I don’t mind driving you. Unless you want to ride the bus. Just think about it, and let me know! It’s no big deal either way.”

I looked into the rear view mirror. My big boy, all arms and legs and overgrown, shaggy hair — another back-to-school task that didn’t get accomplished on time — was looking at me quietly.

“I thought you didn’t want to drive us,” he said, lowering his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean … you always seemed like you couldn’t do it.”

I turned around and put my hand on his knee. I knew what he meant. It’s not that I couldn’t physically drive them in the mornings — there was nothing I couldn’t do without the help of an extra-strong cup of coffee and a pair of sunglasses — but I lived in such a constant state of stress that any unforeseen circumstance or extra task would send me over the edge. I was always one event away from a nervous breakdown, and my kids could sense that. I mean, obviously.

I looked at him, dead in the eyes, and studied his face for a long time. A car honked behind us. I continued to look at him.

“I can.”

And he smiled.

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Progress Report

It probably means something that the intake form I printed and filled out in preparation for my therapy appointment has a big ol’ wine ring on it.

This was something I wrote last year, when I was floundering in depression and didn’t know how to get better. The intake paperwork sent to me from a potential therapist in town overwhelmed me, because everything overwhelmed me: the laundry, my kids, money, unforeseen circumstances, forms sent home to me in my children’s backpacks.

I found life overwhelming.

So, I tried therapy. But the thing about therapy — and self-help in general — is that if you aren’t completely honest about what’s really going on, how is anyone supposed to be able to truly help you? I sat in several different, very nice offices in town and spoke about my difficulties; those sitting across from me were kind, albeit confused, about why I was struggling so hard to cope.

No one asked me if I was an alcoholic. Why would they? I clearly have my shit together. (Sidenote: I clearly do not have my shit together.)

I kept the truth about the scale of my drinking to myself — after all, the thought of giving up alcohol was more overwhelming that anything life was throwing at me. It simply was not an option.

The biggest lesson I’m learning in recovery is that when people are in addiction of any kind, they don’t know how to stop doing that thing that they’ve been doing for so long. Asking an addict to stop drinking or using is a lot like asking someone to stop breathing or eating or sleeping. How is that done? How will we survive?

My last drink was on February 28, 2017, and I still have to talk myself through taking a shower, blow drying my hair, and putting on clothes every day. Some days are worse that others. Sometimes, I require a nap in the afternoon or a good cry mid-day. I have gained 12 pounds from eating my feelings. THERE ARE SO MANY FEELINGS.

I started exercising because I need the endorphins, and then it occurred to me that I haven’t fed myself normally, meaning in a non-disordered way, since high school. It’s time for me to re-learn how to care for myself: the care and feeding of a 37-year-old woman. It’s amazing how eating the right things at the right time can pep a person right up.

Amazing.

We — and I’m talking about myself as well as other people who struggle with substance abuse — are brain-damaged people. We’ve re-wired our brains in our addiction, and reversing brain damage is no easy task, but the miracle is that it can be done.

Today is day 138.

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Learning How To Forgive Myself

Last year, my oldest son and I were out running errands by ourselves. Sometimes I do that — taking just one child to the post office is surprisingly enjoyable, especially if compared to that one time when I took all three of them.

Maverick is a delight. He’s bright and engaged and it’s almost like having another adult around, except that this adult asks a nonstop string of deep and complicated questions and talks about penises a lot. He’s intense, but so am I, which means that we generally knock out our to-do list very quickly when we’re working together.

On this particular day, we were discussing how he was 3 years old when we moved to Louisiana. He commented that it’s weird how he can remember our old house in Alabama, but he doesn’t recall the process of moving down here.

That was a dark time in our lives, and I am thankful that he doesn’t remember it. We moved back to Baton Rouge because I was about to lose my mind in a literal way that would involve hospitalization. Maverick’s little brother was only 7 months old, but it felt like he had been crying for 7 years. I was suffering from some major postpartum desperation — that’s a diagnosis that I made up — and Robbie was working in car sales and was rarely home. Maverick started chewing holes in his shirts and gnawing on his fingernails, probably because his brother cried almost all the time and his mother was always yelling or completely stressed out.

After a moment, I said, “Maverick, I am so sorry that I didn’t know back then how to help you. I didn’t know how your brain works.”

He replied quietly, “I’ve gotten into trouble my whole life.”

It took a lot of self-control for me to hold myself together in that moment. He was right, of course. I didn’t understand his behavior, and thinking he just needed more discipline, I doubled down. There are hundreds of reasons behind how things happened the way that they did, and I’m not deep enough into recovery to even go there yet.

I’m sure later that day, after we got home, I gave him a big hug and told him again that I would do better. We have a diagnosis. We have therapy and medication and knowledge. That night, I’m sure I drank to erase the constant, heavy, nagging guilt. I’m positive I drank to quiet the voices that tell me that I’ve screwed up my kid, inflicted permanent damage, that everything that is and ever will be wrong is all my fault.

In sobriety, I am struggling to learn how to forgive myself for what I didn’t know before today. I have to give myself grace for mistakes that I’ve made that affected other people. I’ve always felt like I was truly doing the best I knew how, always — so why is it to hard to show myself some compassion?

I don’t know why, but I’ll tell you what: today, I am grateful to know more than I knew yesterday.

A local magazine published a piece I wrote about addiction and recovery. If you’re interested in reading an online version, you can find it here.

Maverick is the most proud of me, by the way. We are each other’s biggest fans.

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My oldest is very proud.

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Learning To Be Different

I have recently come to grips with the fact that I am a perfectionistic, uptight person who is way too hard on herself and has a very narrow view of what her life is supposed to look like.

I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this.

When something in my life feels out of my control — and there is literally ALWAYS something bothering me that is out of my control — I have to do something about it. I have to take action, even if that action has absolutely zero effect on the situation. I recently said out loud in a room full of strangers that the scariest thing a control freak can do is have three children, but I also believe that having those children is what will keep me from relapsing. If it were just me and Robbie, and no children, who knows how bad things would have gotten. I wouldn’t have three little people watching me, copying my behaviors, and adapting my fucked up coping mechanisms.

I wouldn’t have a good enough reason to get better.

In the past, my coping included cleaning the house while raging at my family about how messy they are, when in fact, they are just normal people. I would drink to make myself stop obsessing over what I could not control. I would put entirely too much makeup on or nitpick myself to death or yell obscenities or unjustly pick fights with people in my life. I felt personally victimized by minor inconveniences. I was not grateful.

***

“It seems like motherhood is a big source of stress for you.”

My therapist shifted in her seat as she waited for me to respond, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs. I wondered if she was starting to get that tingly feeling that happens just before a limb shuts down.

“I would say so, yes,” I said quietly.

***

Four months into sobriety, I am slowly, painfully, learning how to be different.

I’ve started working again, doing freelance work which is mostly me talking about being sober while also being a parent. My latest essay is one I’m very proud of, and you can find it here.

We have the strength we need to make it through today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but today, right now, we are okay, and for that I am learning to be very, very grateful.

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@audreyhayworth discovered that it’s really hard to find greeting cards for people in recovery, so she made one for me herself. I am so lucky to have an amazing support system. I still haven’t found the right words to describe all of the people in my life who are making it their business to help me stay sober, but when I do, I’ll let you know.

For now, no words. Just thanks.

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A Beautiful Destination

I’m 100 days sober today.

I’ve reached a point in my recovery that is notorious for relapse, and now that I’m in it, I can understand why. I’m unearthing years worth of emotional hurt that I’ve spent half of my life distracting myself from fully addressing, with no way to numb the pain other than to keep pressing through it.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using. It’s not as simple as that. All of us have reasons why we are driven to drink or shoplift or lie or sleep with total strangers or whatever that thing is that keeps you from feeling that thing that you don’t want to feel.

I would go to almost any length to avoid feeling those things that I don’t want to feel, and now that I’m sober, I’ve been sitting in them for awhile. That’s why I’ve found myself doing things like baking cookies and eating the entire batch (on two separate occasions) and then being angry that I’ve gained weight, or working out like a crazy person because I have anger that I don’t know how to process, or calling a friend and just sitting in silence on the phone because the simple act of calling someone reminds me that I’m not alone.

It tethers me to something real. It reminds me that I have support, and even if the person on the other line doesn’t always know what to say to me because she isn’t an alcoholic, she is saving my life simply by being there.

As difficult as experiencing the hard stuff is, the good stuff makes the bad stuff almost forgettable. Just like childbirth made me feel like I was literally dying right there on the table — rationally, I figured I wasn’t actually going to die, but my body felt like it was shutting down and my soul was floating away — but the joy of seeing that little face made me immediately forget. All I can remember is that childbirth is unpleasant. This makes me hope that one day I’ll recall 100 days sober as unpleasant, but not bad enough to kill me.

Drinking would kill me.

As I keep inching forward, the pain lessens little by little. Every day, a tiny piece of my soul is restored … I think. Sometimes I can’t tell if my soul is healing, or if I’m simply losing my mind, but I do know one thing: I can’t go back.

The terrified part of me wants to say “NEVER MIND, I WAS JUST KIDDING!” and go right back to drinking, but the tiny shred of sane self I have left knows that I could never un-know that I’m an alcoholic and that there are things in my past that drove me to this point. I could never un-know that my coping mechanisms will send me to an early grave unless I retrain myself how to cope differently. I could never un-know the joy and peace I feel in my good sober moments.

They say it gets better. I believe them. I have to.

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Ninety Days Sober And I’m Still Here

I’m 90 days sober. This has been the longest, most painful, humbling, frightening, and eye-opening experience of my life.

When I first became a mother, I remember thinking that childbirth was the most painful, humbling, frightening and eye-opening experience of my life. It’s empowering to bring life into the world. The fragility and toughness of babies and vaginas and just the whole motherhood thing really blows my mind. But this.

This.

I was so walled over with addiction, resentment, and pride, so deep into self-medicating to avoid reality, that I had no idea how messed up I was. I still don’t know how messed up I still am, even 2,160 hours into recovery. I don’t know how long or for what reasons I stayed there, hiding from my life, avoiding the discomfort of uncomfortable emotions. I liked it there, in the dark. It felt safe. I mean, a baby feels safe cocooned in utero, but for the sake of her own life, she must eventually experience birth.

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Maya Angelou is my jam.

I’ve had 90 nights of going to bed sober, falling asleep peacefully, knowing exactly where I am and without fear of needing to jump out of bed to throw up.

I’ve opened my eyes on 90 mornings without a hangover. For 90 evenings I have been able to put my kids to bed sober, without stumbling down the hall, dropping my phone because I’m too drunk to find the light switch, or spilling wine all over my pajamas. I ruined a lot of pajamas, because the thing about me when I’d been drinking is that I drank to not care about things like spilling wine on my pajamas. I certainly never had the foresight to spray stain remover on anything.

I am 10 pounds heavier because sobriety is a cold-hearted bitch. She’s not cutting me any slack, and that’s okay, because right now it’s better for me to be fat and sober than not as fat, but also drunk. Please excuse me while I try not to think about Dark Chocolate M&M’s.

Motherhood used to feel hard.

It’s really not that hard.

Sobriety is hard, but it’s making everything else easier.

Day 90

Photo credit: Maverick Hobbs, age 8

Hells yeah.

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Life As A Sober Mother

My writing is so sporadic now that I’m sober. I used to have a routine: get the kids off to school, gulp a few cups of coffee, take an amphetamine, and write. I was fast, certainly. I continued to meet deadlines under some really bizarre circumstances, which is part of why I was able to keep my addictions a secret for such a long time.

In sobriety, my urges to write are calmer and my thoughts have more clarity. I like to think that when I make it to the other side of this phase of being newly sober, I’ll actually be better at my job, but time will tell. In the meantime, I have to tell you about a man named John.

John is quirky and old and speaks metaphorically. I noticed his unusual behavior right away and identified him as an autistic even before he mentioned it. His mannerisms and verbiage gave it away – I know what to look for. John is a retired university professor. He wears suspenders and large spectacles and calls himself a feminist. Sometimes he wears ironic t-shirts and carries a briefcase. He stoops over a little.

I like John.

Part of the dilemma I face as a sober mother is the fact that I have a child who was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and even though we already know that parenthood doesn’t come with a handbook, if it did, parenting a child on the spectrum would mean that I would have to throw that hypothetical handbook into the garbage can and set fire to it.

And also? I have no idea how to be a parent sober. I also don’t know how to be a sober wife, a friend, or a human being, because I have spent the past 15 years (with a few brief breaks known as pregnancy) numbing my feelings with alcohol. Some days, I just hug my kids a lot and feed them Pop-Tarts and call it good. A sober mother isn’t perfect, but she is present.

Maverick’s psychologist told me when he first presented us with the diagnosis that we needed to toss out everything we thought we knew about parenting. We are truly starting over from scratch, and I have a lot of wrongs that I need to make right. It’s kind of nice to just sit next to my 8-year-old and admit out loud that life is really hard but it’s also beautiful, and it’s going to be okay because we are finally on the right track. I think both of us are relieved, each in our own way, to finally have a label to attach to ourselves. There is freedom in having a concrete reason why I feel like I don’t belong anywhere, even though that reason is that I’m an alcoholic.

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I know I need to clear away the old ideas I had about what should be expected from my child (and from me), but I still feel like I’m rooted down in fear. Letting go of my old ideas means that I have to figure out what to do instead.

WHERE IS MY AUTISM PARENTING HANDBOOK?

Oh, that’s right. There isn’t one.

Today, I told John about Maverick. His eyes misted over and he leaned down intently, looked me directly in the face, and said the following words:

“You need to nurture him.

You need to let him rage and wail and say all of the things that the rest of the world will never understand. Let him feel safe with you. Be there for him. Nurture him. I can see that you’re a good mother. Forget about all the things you did wrong before today. Stop beating yourself up over the past.

Nurture your son – that’s what he needs from you.”

I’ve never talked to a man on the spectrum before about my spectrumy kid, but I am so, so glad I did. I gained so much insight from a brief conversation, and I left feeling like maybe what I’ve been doing is good enough, after all.

Nurture him. I can do that today.

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60 Days At A Time

Today is day 60 of my recovery from drugs and alcohol.

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I post a lot of upbeat photos of me smiling, like this one, because I really am proud of myself and happy with where this journey is taking me … except when I’m not.

Recovering from addiction is painful and exhausting. I have to do things I don’t want to do. I have to center my life around recovery, which is really hard when kids are in the picture. It’s very easy for me to find distractions or excuses to get me out of things I should be doing. I’m just going to spell it out: this sucks. A lot.

My recovery means that I’m spending a lot of my time going to meetings or therapy sessions, completing assignments, and working steps. It’s a lot of self-reflection and quiet time left alone with my thoughts, which is LITERALLY THE WORST. It means that I spend a lot of mental energy allowing myself to feel feelings rather than masking them. It means that I text my friends and ask them things like, “Do you think I should start smoking pot? I mean, it’s basically legal.”

They always say no, and I always get mad.

I’m mad that I can’t smoke or drink or do anything that would make my feelings seem less … feely. I’m mad that people are all up in my business about what I’m doing and where I’m going, which is essentially why I’ve been so open about my recovery, because if no one knew I was sober then I could very easily slip back into it. Now that everyone knows, NO ONE WILL LEAVE ME ALONE AND LET ME GET DRUNK. That makes me mad.

And then, I get grateful.

Recently, I spoke up in front of a group of people and said that this is not how my life was supposed to turn out. I mean, seriously — what is this bullshit? THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

But, I’m learning very slowly that it really is supposed to be this way, and it is this way for a very good reason. I just don’t know it yet.

One day at a time.

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The Process of Unlearning

You know how moms always seem to put the needs of their children above their own? No? Then this post probably isn’t for you.

For those of you who are still reading, I have a recurring urinary tract infection because I tend to hold my pee longer than I should, because I am a procrastinator and also because I have a 3-year-old.

I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, too, but children who are three really do not care how badly you have to pee. Children who are three wait until your bladder feels like it may burst and then they break a dish, throw up on the carpet, or run into the street.

By now, I’m a champ at putting my own bodily functions on hold, not because I enjoy it, because I really don’t at all, but because that’s what moms have to do. We put our bodies, needs, and selves aside sometimes in order to keep other human beings alive, and then we resent the hell out of the men in our lives who wander around seemingly oblivious to our reality.

That habit of putting oneself on the back burner is a slippery slope. I used to think that I was pretty good at self-care, but it’s probably no surprise that I really wasn’t. I may be good at hygiene, but I’m terrible at mindfulness, dealing with uncomfortable feelings, doing anything in moderation, and I don’t even want to talk about my health. I haven’t had a pap smear in almost 4 years.

It was gradual, but my slide downhill was steady and unrelenting, and the more stressful life became for me, the farther down I went. Before I could stop the momentum, I was a functioning alcoholic and pill-popper. I don’t know when I crossed the line between normal and abnormal behavior, because to me, it’s all blurry. I was in a perpetual survival mode for years.

Getting sober is a journey in unlearning everything I thought I knew about life. That’s like, seriously daunting. At least once per day, I get into my bed and hide under the covers and wish that I could just go back to how things were. Change is hard and the looming unknown is terrifying to a control freak with anxiety issues, but I’m stubborn, and I am going to do this.

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Today while the kids were in school I watched an entire season of Catastrophe on Amazon. In bed. Without pants.

My whole body is puffy, probably because my liver and kidneys are like, WTF, where are the alcohol and the chemicals that we have grown so fond of?

I have no idea how to do anything, so I just keep doing the same things over and over. The things that I know work, one day at a time.

P.S. Hobbs & Hayworth made an announcement this week. If you’re interested in seeing THAT, here it is. Every time I got uncomfortable, I pet the dog.

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The Miracle of Breathing

All this time I thought I was a highly-driven person, because I throw myself 100% into everything I do, but the truth is, I’m really just an addict.

The most gung-ho, passionate, charismatic, caring people in this world are probably addicts, too.  But don’t worry, we have a lot of redeemable qualities. I have an addictive personality. I prefer to call myself “passionate,” but what it really is, is that I LIKE WHAT I LIKE.

I’m a little over a month into sobriety and I am happy and calm for the first time in a really long time. Like, longer than I can remember. In fact, my entire household is happier and calmer, which means that the chaos I was drinking to cope with was largely MY OWN FUCKING FAULT.

Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s really sad, insane, shocking, and embarrassing how big of an effect my addictions had on the people around me. I may not have gotten arrested, lost my marriage, or had my children taken away from me like some people that I’ve encountered, but my actions still changed the tone of my home. I told myself that what I was doing wasn’t hurting anyone else, but that was a lie.

It was.

Out of all my attempts at getting parenting right, getting sober is the most important thing I’ve done. After all, I have to put my oxygen mask on before I can help anyone else learn to breathe.

I took a picture of myself today, day 37. I look better. I feel better.

Here’s to breathing.

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When The Moon Wakes Up

“Is the moon awake?”

“Almost.”

“Is the sun asleep?”

“It’s going to sleep right now … just like you.”

Pepper smiles then, content, smashing the ear of her bunny rabbit lovey into one eyelid while staring at me with the other. I kiss her, whisper goodnight, and leave, walking down the hall to the computer.

As soon as I open the browser and begin working, I hear her socked feet running down the hall. I stop typing. She peeks in.

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

29 evenings ago, just like every other evening of her life before I took my last drink on February 28, I would have been irritated. I told myself that I drank to cope with the stress of motherhood, that I needed the alcohol to power through rough evenings with three kids on my own without losing my cool. But the truth is, I lost my cool all the time. Alcohol didn’t make me a better mother.

It took nearly a month of detox before I gained the clarity necessary to realize that I’ve cheated my children out of having a sober mother for almost 9 years.

I truly believe that it’s possible to drink like a normal person, it’s just that I’m not able to. Alcoholism is deceitful. It tries to tell me that I’m normal — don’t I seem normal? — and that I can train myself to drink in moderation, if I want to. It tells me that I simply need more willpower. I need to be stronger, and then, I would be okay.

I could win.

Thinking about living the rest of my life sober makes me feel all kinds of feelings that probably aren’t normal or appropriate. I imagine I might feel similarly if I developed a dairy allergy and were facing an uncertain future that did not include real butter, but only if I also held a deep conviction that real butter was the only thing tethering me to sanity.

That’s my relationship with alcohol.

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Me and my smallest.

Slowly, as my body heals from years of abuse and my emotions and soul are restored to a normal state, I am realizing that a great deal of the grief I’ve experienced in motherhood was self-inflicted.

Mothers hold the keys to the emotional health of their household. I knew this, which is why I have been trying so damn hard to get it right. I put enormous pressure on myself to parent effectively, to do the right thing, and I kept failing — which made me drink more. And more. And more. The alcohol numbed me and chipped away at me and distorted my perceptions and clouded my judgment.

That’s not what happens to normal drinkers. That’s what happens to people who drink to completely obliterate their sadness.

***

Pepper waits by the door as I stand up and take her by the hand.

“I forgot to say goodnight to you when you said it to me,” she whispered. “So I came to tell you goodnight, Mommy.”

“The moon’s awake now,” I whispered. And we padded down the hall.

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This Is What Gratitude Feels Like

I am 25 days sober, and I feel amazing.

For a full 3 weeks, I felt almost debilitated. I was depressed, lethargic, and miserable. I had nausea, night sweats, and diarrhea. Some days I literally had to talk myself through putting pants on, and I wasn’t sure if I could keep going.

Are you asking yourself what I mean by “talking myself through putting pants on?” Here’s an example of how I shuffled through my days:

What’s the next right thing?

Putting on pants. I have to get some pants and put them on.

My pants are on. What’s the next right thing?

I need to get my purse. Okay, I have my purse.

What’s the next right thing? I need to find my kids.

Where are my kids?

Shit.

***

That’s what happens when a person suddenly stops drinking after her body becomes accustomed to metabolizing a bottle of wine per day; the body goes into some sort of shock, and trust me, my detox process went a lot better than most. My emotions literally rocketed between intense depression and elation every 5 minutes. I’d go from feeling like sobbing from joy, to wanting to rip our neighbor’s shrubbery out of the ground with my bare hands because I WAS JUST THAT MAD. Mad at myself, mad at the world, and most of all, mad that I will never be able to drink alcohol again without an ugly relapse and even uglier recovery.

Change is scary and it’s hard, but now that I’m starting to feel better, I’m excited to get my life in order. Prior to this, getting my life in order meant going to Office Depot and finding color-coded sticky notes and file folders to keep our paperwork organized. Then I would get drunk and throw a bunch of important papers away because, well, I was drunk, and that’s just how I like to organize sometimes. Throwing everything away means that the mess is permanently filed and I won’t ever see it again.

That’s just how my mind works.

It’s ridiculous that at 37 years old, I’m going to have to re-learn how to cope with the difficulties of life — grief and pain and abandonment and loss and the everyday stress that accompanies motherhood. Maybe I never knew how to handle those things in the first place, and that’s what landed me in a 12-step program. The hows and why don’t matter. I just want to get better.

There are people in my life who don’t believe I’m an alcoholic. There are people who think I’m making it up for attention (please note: this is not the kind of attention you want). Let me share something with you guys: not one of us lives a pain-free, perfectly happy life. Not one. People often assume that because I smile a lot, I’m either stupid or don’t have anything bad going on. The truth is, no one knows anything about me that I don’t want them to know. As much as I freely share in person and online, there are many layers to my story and my days that I keep private. I think most people are like that. We only share what we feel safe sharing, and we may take the rest to our grave.

***

This morning I had coffee outside with two of my favorite people, and I noticed that 25 days into my new life as a sober person, the air feels different. Breathing feels different. It’s like I’ve been living in a musty, dark basement for years, and someone patiently helped me climb the stairs up and out of a situation that I didn’t even know was bad until I saw the sun and felt the warmth of it on my face.

That is what gratitude feels like.

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I told Robbie that if someone had to pick which of us looked like they are in a 12-step program, it would not be me. AND YET.

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