This morning, I received an email from the assistant of a person I admire, like, A LOT, asking what projects I’ve been working on lately.
Because I’m neurotic and very judgmental of myself, I immediately started to panic. What have I been working on? OMG, NOTHING.
I’m 41 years old, still have not queried any agents, and have accomplished exactly zero since the last time we spoke months ago. In fact, as I pondered her email from the floor of my closet, which is where I go to freak out in private, my hands shook as I texted my best friend Audrey.
This perfectly nice assistant is asking me a completely sane and reasonable question — what new projects are in the works? –– and all I could think of was every missed opportunity, every day that I have not written a single word, everything that I have not done.
That’s it: I’m a failure.
“I’ve literally done nothing but move to the new house and keep myself and the kids okay,” I texted Audrey, in all caps to convey the magnitude of my distress.
“OMG HARD STOP,” she replied. “That is ALL you have to do right now. Period, the end.”
Why didn’t I feel like that was enough?
Robbie and I bought a house and it’s beautiful. The first and only house we’d ever owned before this one was in Alabama, and we left it to move back to our hometown of Baton Rouge when Asher was born in 2011 and cried for 7 months straight. I needed my mom and his mom and anyone else who would hold my babies for a few hours at a time so I could sleep.
The dream of home ownership remained out of our reach for almost exactly a decade, until one day I got a text from a friend saying that her neighbors were about to put their house on the market. The neighborhood was perfect, 3 minutes from the kid’s school, on the bus route, in the middle of town but also in the woods, with a tight-knit community and a swimming pool. I’d brought the kids trick-or-treating there with friends last Halloween, and the freedom there was palpable. Children ran through yards in herds, ahead of their parents who trailed behind with wagons and flashlights. No one was concerned about their child getting lost because everyone knew everyone.
All I could think was that this was a magical place I didn’t know existed: an actual neighborhood inside the city limits where people cared about each other. It was so refreshing, especially after the difficulties of the pandemic.
“We could never afford it,” Robbie said.
So I put it out of my mind.
One of the things I was told when I first got sober and started working a program of recovery was that I would comprehend the word serenity and that I would know peace. EYEROLL FOREVER. I hated hearing that. I hated knowing that what I was doing, which was slowly killing myself, was no longer working. I hated being wrong, I hated being told what to do, I hated being out of my comfort zone and having to do things I didn’t feel like I had time for like helping another alcoholic.
I mean, seriously. I’m a busy person.
There was so much work to do before I found true serenity, and even longer before I found peace, but I’ve continued to show up and do the work and suddenly I think I might understand what those elusive things mean.
We were able to buy this amazing house with a sprawling backyard and covered patio because Robbie and I have worked our asses off for the past 4 years. I didn’t just get sober: I re-learned how to exist as a human, as a wife, as a partner, and as a mother. At first, I didn’t see how that would translate into concrete life changes. I just thought, okay, I’m happier and my family is healthier, so I kept doing the deal.
But it’s more than that. Not only am I emotionally healthy, but I’m able to show up for my kids when they encounter hard things. Because I’m able to do my job, Robbie has been able to more fully focus on his. And even though the past two years have rocked our family to the core, I remained sober. I kept seeing my therapist. I used all my tools, even the ones I didn’t think I needed, and marveled at how well it all actually worked.
So what have I been doing?
I have been carting myself and my three children to various forms of therapy. I’ve been paying our bills on time and answering the phone when it rings instead of letting calls go to voicemail and not checking it, ever. I’ve tried really, really hard to connect with my children in ways that matter.
They tell me things that matter to them, and they tell me because they can trust me. They’ve had enough positive interactions and enough consistency by now to know that there is no longer a scary mom and a sweet mom, there’s just one person all the time who tries her best.
The answer to the question is that I have finally found serenity, that slippery thing that I wasn’t sure existed.