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 real estate in the 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 turn away 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.

134917-Grief

 

I am learning to swim.

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

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.

IMG_20171127_160752_975

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

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

Finding Serenity

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

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

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

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

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

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

23754831_10159920645040508_5653223168870451309_n

This was me. Literally.

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

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

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

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

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

Dealing With Feelings Is A Real Drag

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

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

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

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

They liked me, but they underestimated me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

21443061_10159592860740508_1786495526_n

Yoga helps.

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

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

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

 

What I’ve Learned In Six Months

Six months ago, I took my last drink.

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

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

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

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

It is complete surrender to an unfamiliar way of life.

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

21032437_10159530961560508_1828125078398245860_n

Six months.

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

INFURIATING.

But also, she’s right.

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

There is hope.

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

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

Back To School (Sober)

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

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

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

Please note: I HAVE A LOT OF REDEEMING QUALITIES.

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

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

20733082_10159456301880508_2089537511_n

First day of school, August 2017.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“I can.”

And he smiled.

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

 

 

 

 

Progress Report

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

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

I found life overwhelming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing.

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

Today is day 138.

20067740_10159312524840508_97022461_n

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

Learning How To Forgive Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19873694_10159279554990508_896718429_n

My oldest is very proud.

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)

 

 

Learning To Be Different

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

18813664_10159058355990508_2576325248562401306_n

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

For now, no words. Just thanks.

(If you liked this post, then you should follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!)