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.

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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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The Time For Action Is NOW.

It happened again.

Seventeen people were gunned down at random. At a school. Again.

Our great nation has seen almost 300 school shootings since 2013 and 19 in 2018 so far, including Wednesday’s massacre in Parkland, Florida. When I look at the maps popping up all over Facebook, marking the locations with bright red dots, my throat closes up. How long until it happens in my town? How long until it happens in yours?

I shouldn’t have to add worrying about my child’s safety to the list of concerns running through my head every morning as I pack their lunches — and yet, here we are.

(CLICK TO READ THE REST OF MY LATEST ESSAY FOR BABBLE!)

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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