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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No One Is Fine

Regarding sobriety: it sucks. I cannot believe that people voluntarily feel uncomfortable feelings. It’s the worst.

Avoiding and numbing is the bomb. Now that the 12-step program tells me I can’t continue doing what I normally do in order to avoid feeling my feelings, I’ve just been lying around the house eating chocolate syrup directly from the bottle.

My mother is dying of cancer and I haven’t allowed myself to feel feelings because I have three little kids to care for and I don’t have time to be sad, as ludicrous as that sounds. I haven’t allowed myself to feel feelings about much of anything, really, for almost 9 years. But I’ve been running from my feelings for over 18 years, doing everything under the sun to avoid them.

You know what I’d advise against? Doing that.

Knowing that women have the tendency to put themselves last, I have always prided myself on my ability to make self-care a priority. I shower, I take time away from my house and my kids, I do things that make me feel whole as a human being. Except for one thing: I do not, have not, given myself permission to feel much of anything.

Here are some things (excuses) I’ve been known to say out loud:

I don’t have time to be sad! I have kids to take care of!

I don’t have time to be depressed!

I don’t have time to grieve! 

I’m fine. I can just power through this.

I don’t have time to be sick!

I don’t have time to take a nap!

I don’t have time to process my emotions right now. I’ll just deal with them later.

I’m fine.

I’ll be fine.

Everything’s fine.

These are lies, all lies. No one is fine. I am not fine. I need a thousand naps and several dozen boxes of Kleenex and hours upon hours of therapy. I need jellybeans but I don’t need jellybeans.

I need to feel things because I’m a person and people have emotions that require processing. Motherhood is not an excuse to avoid this process.  Somehow, I’m going to have to learn how to give myself permission to feel shit that I don’t want to feel, while at the same time functioning as a mother and member of society. Women stuff shit down and stuff shit down and then, BAM! We’re alcoholics or bulimics or shopaholics.

Today, I don’t want to stop self-medicating. I miss it. I mean, I really, REALLY miss it. But you know what? It’s been almost 3 weeks, and I’m too stubborn to backslide. I’m going to sit with these feelings that are weighing me down like lead and I’m going to allow myself the time to work through them. And I’m probably going to hate every minute of it.

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I would source this image if I had a clue where it came from.

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My Struggles Are His Struggles

When a woman decides that she is ready to take charge of her life and turn the metaphorical ship around, it’s very empowering.

In the first few days of sobriety I was extremely proud of myself. Check this out! Look at how I just dropped my addictions like a bad habit! Friends, family and internet strangers backed me up with their applause. You’re a rockstar! We’re so proud of you! You can do it!

At some point in the past 17 days, the fog lifted just enough for me to make several observations, not one of them pretty.

I’m much worse off than I realized. My body is still detoxing. I may have damaged my health permanently. My soul is, like, NOT RIGHT.

My pride is what rooted me to alcohol, and fear was the soil it drank from.

When all is stripped away, when I stand in the mirror and see myself bare — without makeup or sturdy undergarments, without the things that suppressed my deepest, darkest demons and hid them from everyone, including myself —  what is left? Examining myself under a bright fluorescent light has never, ever, been something I enjoy.

The truth is that I lost myself a very long time ago, and although I’d like to find my way back to that person again, I’m worried I won’t like her. Change is scary. And what about Robbie? What will he think of the new me? I expressed my concern to him the other night and he laughed.

“I fell in love with messed up Harmony,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure I’ll like the new one.”

Robbie didn’t know when he met me how messed up I was. He fell in love with my spirit, just like I fell in love with his. When I start feeling angry about things like my past, my circumstances, the old white men in the A.A. meetings who stare at me like I’m a chunk of meat with no other purpose than to fulfill their perverted desires, my sponsor makes me send her a list of 10 things that I’m grateful for.

My lists vary daily, but always, always on that list is my husband. My addictions are his addictions, my struggles are his struggles, and tomorrow he’s going with me to an A.A. meeting, because that’s how a bad ass husband supports his alcoholic wife.

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Meet Robbie.

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What I Treasure

I had my first drink on December 26, 1992, on my 13th birthday. I was wearing a black velvet dress with a satin bow at the waist. We were in San Antonio for a wedding, and someone handed me a mimosa.

On February 26, 2017, I had my last drink. I didn’t know it was my last drink. It makes me sad that I didn’t make an occasion out of it, honestly. It was just what was left of a bottle of red, poured into a high ball glass with a unicorn on it. If I’d known it would be my last drink, I may have savored it more. Or, maybe I would have gone to the store for a bottle of vodka and really thrown down. It’s hard to say.

Nine days later, I went to my first AA meeting. I did not want to go. I’ve felt feelings of shame and dread before, but nothing like this. I am ashamed that I’m an alcoholic. I am ashamed that I’m an alcoholic who has not had that bad of a life. I’m ashamed that I am an alcoholic who has not had that bad of a life, who also has a beautiful family to come home to every day.

I dread the process of getting better, because I know it’s going to be hard.

I dread the pain of shifting relationships.

And I’ll just come right out and say it: I dread the discomfort of growing as a person. I dread the arduous process of self-evaluation and feeling all the feelings I’ve stuffed down for so long. I dread fully knowing what I have done to my body and soul for the past 15 years.

How did I get here and what changed? That’s a story I’m not ready to tell. The important thing is, I do not look or act like an alcoholic. I’m well put-together. I have a home. I have a family. I put makeup on every day. I’m a good parent and friend. I have a successful writing career and a happy marriage.

There is no way to know what people are struggling with in the quiet.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is picky about her friendships, preferring quality over quantity, and announcing via social media that I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous has weeded out a LOT of undesirable people. I can practically hear the whispers from here: Harmony’s an ALCOHOLIC. Did you see that she’s in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS?! I neeeeeeeever would have imagined she was … you know … an alkie.

THAT’S RIGHT, BITCHES. I can hear you talking, so I’m going to answer you. I am a full-fledged, raging alcoholic. Alcohol dulls my pain like nothing else, but it also damn near ruined my life. I’m approaching my recovery by taking full ownership of all of it. The ugly, the funny, the sad, the embarrassing and the foolish.

What kind of mother allows herself to become an alcoholic?

Me. I did.

This afternoon, I was going through my son’s school papers when I came across this essay he wrote. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting my favorite parts.

Essay

I really needed this today.

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Hello, My Name Is Harmony

Hello. My name is Harmony and I’m an alcoholic.

(This is where everyone is supposed to say, “Hi, Harmony.”)

I’ve spent the past several years building a platform online, establishing myself as a writer, and doing my best to be a woman who lives her life authentically. People read my work because they know that whatever I’m saying, and however I’m saying it, I’m speaking the truth.

Up until 12 days ago, my truth was that I looked to alcohol and other things to keep me sane, and why not?! My life is ridiculous. It’s a shit show. Don’t I deserve to have a glass or five of wine at the end of the day? OF COURSE I DO.

Except that, for me, alcohol isn’t something I can do on occasion or in moderation. Alcoholism is a disease, and even people who appear to have their shit together in every single way can suffer from it quietly, without anyone else knowing. I don’t look like an alcoholic, I don’t act like an alcoholic, and it is only by the grace of God that I’ve never killed someone on the road.

Today is March 10 and I am 12 days sober. This is the beginning of my journey to recovery. Be nice to me, dammit.

There is a lot I’m not ready to share yet. But I want you all to know that every single comment, message, text, email and prayer sent my way has helped me in ways I can’t even describe. Addiction feels hopeless, but knowing that people truly are pulling for me is a reminder that it is not.

I’m going to face getting sober in the same way I’ve faced every other thing in my life: one thousand percent balls to the wall. I’m going to harness the time and energy I spent on drinking and focus it on getting better. I am going to beat this.

So, if you want to join me on my journey, stick around. I’ll be making jokes about sobriety and sharing tips on how to find a good A.A. meeting. But, if that’s not your bag, I understand. I don’t know if it would have been mine, either, 13 days ago.

I love you all,
Harmony

The Blinding Freaking Sun of Sobriety

Today I am 8 days sober. It feels like shit.

I cry all the time. Everything is so clear and so loud that it literally hurts. I’ve been cycling through the process of numbing and recovering from numbing, only to do it all again 12 hours later, for so long that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to experience pure emotion.

Pure emotion is overwhelming. It feels like blinding light after emerging from a very dark cave. My hands are literally clamped over my eyes in an effort to block out the BLINDING FREAKING SUN OF SOBRIETY. It hurts. I’m stumbling. I don’t know how to get where I’m going, because I don’t know where that is; I only know that I don’t want to go backward.

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I’m attempting to take up running. It’s terrible.

I’ve never been the kind of person who hides from her own life or her own feelings, and yet somehow I became exactly that. Facing myself honestly has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, which scares me a lot because it’s only been 8 days and I’m already kind of exhausted.

I started numbing a long time ago, before I met Robbie, before I became a mother. It took a full 18 years to cycle through the process of drinking socially to binge drinking to drinking to completely block out reality.

The first time Robbie and I hung out outside of work, I got so drunk that he had to drive me home.

The second time, we went on a proper date to Applebee’s in the middle of the day. He walked up to the Customer Service counter at the grocery store where we both worked, leaned against the lotto machines, and said, “I want to take you to lunch.”

Somehow, we saw each other. Everyone thought Robbie was an asshole because he has no affect. He lacks emotional expression, both facially and verbally. He literally has a poker face almost 100% of the time. Back then, it was intriguing. Almost 14 years later, it drives me crazy.

Most people interpreted his lack of affect as rudeness, but I liked it. I thought he was non-emotional because he was aloof and self-confident. He wouldn’t need me to fulfill something that was lacking in his life. He would not try to fix me.

I was right — he didn’t try to fix me. He fell in love with me as I was, even though I drank too much and I was addicted to diet pills. When I didn’t take them, I acted like a complete and total lunatic.

He loved me anyway.

He loved how smart and funny I am. He loved how I see him, like he sees me. If the people who can truly see me believe that I can do this, then I believe that I can. I just hope that they’ll still love me by the time it’s all over.

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Today Is Day Five

“Own the story and write the ending.” 

– Brene′ Brown

“Do you think I’m an alcoholic?”

Every time I asked my husband or my friends this question, they said no. After all, alcoholics drive drunk and careen into oncoming traffic. They smash through their neighbor’s flowerbeds, over mailboxes and people. They get arrested.

Alcoholics black out and vomit and forget to shower themselves before going in public. They reek of vodka.

Alcoholics ruin their relationships because they choose alcohol over love, safety, and their bank account. This did not describe me — not yet, anyway. I only met 8 out of the 10 criterion on the “Am I An Alcoholic?” quiz that I took online. I was an 80% alcoholic who has literally scrounged together pocket change to buy a bottle of $5.99 wine on more than one occasion.

Let me be clear: my reasons for loving wine are iron-clad. If I were to make a list of all the reasons why I need to throw a few back at the end of the day, you’d probably need a drink by the time you were finished reading it. The problem is, though, that as my life has gradually become more stressful, my drinking also increased. What was once a glass or two a few times a week grew to half a bottle of wine, plus a few shots of whiskey. Eventually, it became a whole bottle of wine, every night.

What will happen if something really bad happens? Will I start drinking at breakfast?

I rarely felt hungover. I’m hardy. Sometimes I felt foggy, yes, but never unable to function. I still got up early in the morning, drank a pot of coffee, and began the day per usual. But increasingly, I panicked if I ran out of wine. I’d frantically text my husband to stop at the store on the way home. I NEEDED it. I didn’t know how else to exist.

Alcoholics don’t materialize in one day, after all.

This my fifth day sober. It’s not so much the not drinking that I’m struggling with, but acknowledging the emotions that I’ve been drinking to avoid. We medicate to protect ourselves from ourselves. Living without that barrier is, frankly, terrifying.

Today, I’m owning my story. The ending is within my control.

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Day five!

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Lessons In Body Acceptance

Yesterday, my 8-year-old and I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. While waiting, he checked his weight and blood pressure on a fancy machine that I’ve never seen there before. When I realized that the machine also checked Body Mass Index, I told him I wanted to weigh myself. As the numbers flashed on the screen, I swallowed hard.

“Is that really how much you weigh?!” His mouth was literally hanging open in shock, because little boys who weigh 68 pounds have no idea how much adults are supposed to weigh. Also, I’ve been stress eating for literally 6 months straight, so you do the math.

I forced myself to erase all emotion from my face and voice as I chirped “Yep!” and got off the scale with as much dignity as one can muster in the pharmacy waiting area of a Rite-Aid drug store.

I wanted to say that I need to lose 15 pounds.

I wanted to say that I feel fat and gross and I need to take better care of myself.

I wanted to say that I’m healthy, I exercise, and it’s just a number.

I wanted to apologize, explain, or drill into his head that it’s never okay to speak about a woman’s weight.

Most of all, I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and say NEVER REPEAT THAT NUMBER TO ANYONE, DO YOU HEAR ME????

Instead, I smiled, put my arm around him, and we walked out of the store. The first step in teaching our children self-confidence is to demonstrate it, even if we have to fake our way through it sometimes. It makes me wonder how many times my own mother masked her true feelings in order to teach me lessons in body acceptance.

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Image via Courtney Privett. Find her on Facebook here!

My weight is a number that changes every day, my weight does not define me as a person, and my job as a mother is to instill in my children what things actually matter in life.

That number is not one of those things.

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Lift Women Up (or get out of their way)

I have long considered myself a champion of women. One of the most fulfilling parts of being a writer is empowering others to own their truth by sharing mine.

Honesty is strength; sharing our struggles with each other allows us to be vulnerable. It heals and encourages us. It is one of the million tiny steps that it takes to travel from darkness to hope, and every time I’m honest, I grow stronger — which makes the risk of truth-telling worth it.

Ever since becoming a mother, I have made it my mission to speak truthfully about the beauty and the bullshit of parenthood. I know that one day, my kids will probably read my work and either end up in therapy because of it, or become inspired to write their own truth. Mothers carry so much invisible emotional weight on their shoulders. Weight that no one will ever understand or see, because it comes from places that cannot accurately be imagined or described.

Today, I’m going to try.

I fear that my daughter will one day fall in love with a boy who has a crazy family. This fear is rooted in the fact that I once found myself in this exact situation, and it ended with me getting my face beat in and spending the rest of my life recovering from the heartbreak and anxiety of having people I loved turn on me.

I fear that my children will have unprotected sex. I did.

I fear that they will be so afraid of losing my approval that they will stop telling me the truth.

I do not fear that they will experiment with drugs. I fear that they will experiment with drugs and never be able to stop.

I fear that they will marry the wrong person.

I fear that I will die.

I have many fears, but my greatest fear is that my children will not be strong enough to lift others up, and will instead tear others down. Producing children who grow into adults that destroy others would absolutely devastate and shame me as a parent.

Fear causes us to destroy others rather than empower them. Can we just put fear aside for a little while, cram it into a box and stuff it under the ratty underwear in our dresser drawer? Fear holds us back, while bravery propels us forward.

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Image via download-images.com. All rights reserved.

Fearlessness allows us to experience life in such a way that not only do we change, but we are also able to change the people around us: by loving them, lifting them up, supporting them, and offering our applause. Everyone struggles, but women REALLY STRUGGLE. It’s ironic that women — the ones who need support the most — are often the most destructive to each other. Ask me how I know.

My greatest moment of destruction was at the hands of women.

My greatest moment of achievement was because of women.

Women gave birth to this world and we continue to give it life, so either lift us up or get the fuck out of our way.

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Throwing Out Everything I Thought I Knew About Being A Parent

Last week, our son was diagnosed with a form of autism. He’s 8 years old, which means that I am struggling with the knowledge that for the entirety of his short life, all I’ve done is nag and berate him for things that he truly did not know how to control.

“Parent Coaching” is a nice way of saying “You need to re-learn how to parent your unusual child.” Yesterday I attended our first coaching session alone, because Robbie was stuck at work and unable to go.

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HOLY CRAP.

I learned so much in those 45 minutes. Parenting Maverick has been a huge mystery, a constant uphill battle, and now suddenly all the information is unlocked! It’s flying at me at warp speed — all I have to do is to hang on and keep up.

I learned that when he’s beginning to get upset, we have been approaching him in a way that upsets him even more.

I learned that once the rage cycle starts, he won’t hear or be aware of anything else. That’s why sometimes he denies having said or done certain things after the fact and refuses to apologize. He honestly doesn’t know he did them. OH MY GOD, THAT IS SUCH A RELIEF. I literally thought I was raising a sociopath.

The therapist also made a huge deal over how impossibly, impossibly hard it is for any human being to handle a child on the spectrum without losing her shit. Because it’s not just difficult, and it’s not just challenging. It requires superhuman mindfulness and patience that I have not yet achieved, but hopefully, through the miracle of modern medicine and practice of breathing techniques, I will one day master it.

I learned that my expectations need to be run over, smashed into smithereens, and destroyed. I’m going to have to eradicate every idea I’ve ever had about my child and what he is capable of. I’m going to gather all of the knowledge I’ve gleaned from parenting books and articles and burn it, because none of that applies anymore. I now know that my child thinks differently and copes differently, and it is our job to be flexible.

Even though I have so much to learn, we are definitely on the right path. As the therapist talked to me, my eyes were opened to what I’ve really been dealing with all this time. We’ve already put some strategies into place, and guess what? Things in our house are already so. much. better.

I feel more hopeful than I have in a very long time, and I am grateful to be on this journey with my fascinating kid. I promise to do better now, Maverick. I promise to do better.

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