How To Know If What You're Doing Is Right

“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.

Early recovery is, hands down, the most uncomfortable experience of my life. I have a heightened awareness of the way my thighs rub together when I walk. I feel the heaviness of my breasts. I feel empathy for other people in a way I did not before I got sober, and my mental clarity allows me to comprehend situations that I would have previously written off as impossible. I can feel every creak in my left knee and I have a deep, primal need for simple carbohydrates.

I feel changes in the air, like a golden retriever with his head hanging out the passenger window of a car, except with a lot less joy. Golden retrievers probably don’t have to take stock of, and come to terms with, their emotional baggage. Dogs don’t get addicted to mood-altering substances.

My journey from co-ed Christian boarding school — where pantyhose was not a merely a suggestion, but a requirement — to a full-blown alcohol and prescription drug addiction, was slow but steady. The thing about high-functioning alcoholics and drug addicts is that they seem so pulled together. High-performing, ambitious, gregarious, successful — all of those words described me. But eventually, with all forms of addiction, cracks began to appear.

The psychological aspects of addiction often prevent the user from being aware of or even admitting that there’s a problem. I fell into this category. I’ve long prided myself on my ability to be honest; after all, the tagline on my website reads “honesty and insanity in one fell swoop.” Honesty is kind of my thing — and I was honest about everything — except for the extent of my drinking. Oh, and the pills. No one needed to know about that.

Sobriety feels like nakedness. It feels like someone stripped away my garments and left me standing on a stage in front of everyone I know and love, and people are slowly, kindly, offering me things: a scarf here, a glove there. I’m re-dressing myself, and it’s a painstaking, humbling process. Merging motherhood — a task I don’t take lightly or for granted — and recovery feels so gargantuan, so crushingly impossible, that I can’t allow myself to think past the next 24 hours. Allowing my mind to wander too far ahead leaves me breathless and panic-stricken, and so, upon the advice of others, I just don’t do it.

I used to drink to cope with the stress of parenting. Now, without alcohol, I don’t know how to exist, and I especially don’t know how to be a mom. My default coping mechanism was always wine, and if I happened to be pregnant, I had no choice but to turn to food. Now I understand why I gained over 50 pounds in each pregnancy. I’m an alcoholic; take away the alcohol, and my body craves sugar.

If my middle son fell and busted his lip open, I’d calmly take care of him while telling myself that my reward would be a few glasses of wine after I got him patched up. If my oldest son was having an epic meltdown, I’d walk away, get a glass of wine, and return to him feeling calmer and more in control. When babies were teething and crying and fussing, I held it together until my husband got home — that was my rule, another adult had to be present — and then I would start drinking. I didn’t stop until the stress went away.

Towards the end, the stress didn’t leave until I lost consciousness.

In recovery, I have to walk myself through the day like I’m a small child: What’s the next right thing to do? Take a shower. What’s the next right thing? Get dressed. And so on and so forth.

Think I’m lying? Try destroying your body for 15 years before entering a 12-step program. I literally have to retrain myself in every aspect of my life.

The big, daily question I ask myself is — how can I care for kids when I can’t even care for myself?

The answer is slowly and deliberately. Minute by minute. Thoughtfully. Carefully. I ask for help. I accept help. I breathe more deeply. I sleep better. I meditate. I laugh a lot more.

I’m LIVING.

Getting sober while parenting small children is very difficult. But you know what’s worse? Trying to parent as an active addict. As hard as this journey can be, my most challenging sober day is a hundred times happier than a typical day as an alcoholic. I know this because I’ve experienced both.

“I love being a mother,” I told my therapist. “I think I just don’t know how to do it right.”

“You’re doing it,” she said.

So it’s right.

This essay was originally posted on Babble.com before Disney shut it down. Also, if you liked this post, then you should follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!

A Desire To Remember

My 40th birthday is the day after Christmas and I am in full on, midlife-is-nigh, panic mode.

None of the things I wanted to have done by now are finished. I don’t have a publishable book. I don’t have a literary agent. I didn’t get my face lasered or my boobs lifted and I didn’t lose 20 pounds — so basically, my 40 is NOT the new 30.

My 40 is forty.

Hemingway was chock full of excellent advice, it turns out.

And I thought I’d made my peace with that, honestly. I’ve read some comical pieces about midlife. I joined an enormous Facebook group dedicated to women over 40. I found a few designers who manage to make sensible shoes look not depressing. I’ve stopped shopping in the Juniors section.

I bought eye cream and I use hyaluronic acid and some kind of prescription-level stuff that I think should have erased my hyperpigmentation by now. I remain mystified as to how my forehead wrinkles could possibly be deep enough to collect dirt — and while a very big part of me wants nothing more than to get Botox, there is a still, small voice in the back of my mind that whispers it’s poison, you idiot.

But the concerns I have about my looming birthday screeched to a halt today when I had another one of those awful moments where I realize I’m missing time. There’s this movie — the latest in the the long list of them, because this seems to happen every couple of months — that I have no recollection of seeing. But I watched it, with Robbie, apparently, in our home, at the end of 2016.

Before I got sober.

I do not recall any part of this. How is that even possible? For a slightly obsessive, Type A personality, missing something — anything — is troubling. I freak out when I misplace a pair of socks or an earring; losing time and memories, or in this case, an entire movie, is … what is the word I’m looking for?

Terrifying.

How much of my life have I missed? How many moments did I drink away, and what did I do or say when I wasn’t really there? The harms I’ve done that I don’t know about are what haunt me.

I’m on the precipice of turning 40 years old and I’m grasping for the shreds of what is left. And as I’m hanging on to those pieces, they’re evaporating. This is a very melodramatic way to address a missing memory, but it’s the only way I know how to convey the fear. I’m afraid of my disease. I’m afraid that it will win. I’m afraid that I will one day stop working so hard to stay sober, and instead make the decision to blot out my life.

There is not a cure for alcoholism or drug addiction. I will never be “fixed.” All I get is a daily reprieve, 24 hours of sobriety at a time, which is contingent on my own willingness to depend on a power greater than myself. If I forget, or stop being willing to do the (uncomfortable, hard) work, or if I cease to be honest with myself, or if I simply have a real bitch of a day, it could all come crashing down. We are all one poor decision away from drinking so much that we don’t remember it.

Maybe part of becoming 40 years old will include a desire to remember.

I’ve forgotten enough of my life — I’d like to remember the next forty years with intense and utter clarity.

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The Reluctant Blogger

My therapist and husband keep reminding me to write. “You’ll feel better if you write about it,” they tell me.

Will I? Because quite honestly, the thought of sitting down and dumping my thoughts on paper sounded like much too great a task. It would be so much simpler, I rationalized for months on end, if I just continued to ignore it all.

Eventually — today — I reached a point of such substantial discomfort that I unhappily broke my laptop out of hibernation. So, hi. I’m still alive, sober, and struggling.

Life does not get easier when one stops numbing her emotions, just so you know. Life continues on just as it always has, it’s just that I’m very much aware of it.

I have a hard time during the holidays for a lot of different reasons. The worst part is the inexplicable sadness that sweeps over me, at a time when I feel like I’m supposed to be jolly. I spent many years ignoring/stuffing/numbing my feelings and blaming other people for “making” me feel this way. If only XYZ had not happened, if only I’d done ABC differently, maybe I wouldn’t struggle so hard during the time between Thanksgiving and mid-January.

Well, here’s the truth: trauma changes a person.

Forever.

No amount of time or having good things happen can completely erase the damage that’s already done. There are things that can lessen the effects, and there are plenty of coping skills that can help a damaged person live an emotionally healthy life, but at the end of the day we are all still broken inside.

Most of the women you know and love who suffer from addiction, have a history of trauma. So when people say things like “Why are you so sad? You have a great life!” my blood pressure shoots way, way up. Yes, I do have a great life. I’m incredibly grateful that I found a way out of the darkness, one day at a time. I am one of the very few, which is why it continues to be so important to me to talk about it — because if you’re still breathing, there is still hope that you can overcome whatever obstacles were dropped in your path.

But.

That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. None of it is easy. And while most of the time I am not bitter or angry, around this time of year I get real bitter and angry. I used to drink those feelings away, but now I simply carry them, feel them, accept them.

It is not anyone else’s problem to fix. I have zero control over the past or other people. What I DO have control over is what I choose to do with it all, and every day I get another chance to make different choices.

Today I’m choosing to air out my struggles, if for no other reason than to make someone else feel less alone in theirs.

I went to NYC to film an episode of the Mel Robbins Show, where I had the opportunity to talk about addiction and trauma. I don’t have an air date yet, but I’ll let you know when I do!

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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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