When The Moon Wakes Up

“Is the moon awake?”

“Almost.”

“Is the sun asleep?”

“It’s going to sleep right now … just like you.”

Pepper smiles then, content, smashing the ear of her bunny rabbit lovey into one eyelid while staring at me with the other. I kiss her, whisper goodnight, and leave, walking down the hall to the computer.

As soon as I open the browser and begin working, I hear her socked feet running down the hall. I stop typing. She peeks in.

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

29 evenings ago, just like every other evening of her life before I took my last drink on February 28, I would have been irritated. I told myself that I drank to cope with the stress of motherhood, that I needed the alcohol to power through rough evenings with three kids on my own without losing my cool. But the truth is, I lost my cool all the time. Alcohol didn’t make me a better mother.

It took nearly a month of detox before I gained the clarity necessary to realize that I’ve cheated my children out of having a sober mother for almost 9 years.

I truly believe that it’s possible to drink like a normal person, it’s just that I’m not able to. Alcoholism is deceitful. It tries to tell me that I’m normal — don’t I seem normal? — and that I can train myself to drink in moderation, if I want to. It tells me that I simply need more willpower. I need to be stronger, and then, I would be okay.

I could win.

Thinking about living the rest of my life sober makes me feel all kinds of feelings that probably aren’t normal or appropriate. I imagine I might feel similarly if I developed a dairy allergy and were facing an uncertain future that did not include real butter, but only if I also held a deep conviction that real butter was the only thing tethering me to sanity.

That’s my relationship with alcohol.

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Me and my smallest.

Slowly, as my body heals from years of abuse and my emotions and soul are restored to a normal state, I am realizing that a great deal of the grief I’ve experienced in motherhood was self-inflicted.

Mothers hold the keys to the emotional health of their household. I knew this, which is why I have been trying so damn hard to get it right. I put enormous pressure on myself to parent effectively, to do the right thing, and I kept failing — which made me drink more. And more. And more. The alcohol numbed me and chipped away at me and distorted my perceptions and clouded my judgment.

That’s not what happens to normal drinkers. That’s what happens to people who drink to completely obliterate their sadness.

***

Pepper waits by the door as I stand up and take her by the hand.

“I forgot to say goodnight to you when you said it to me,” she whispered. “So I came to tell you goodnight, Mommy.”

“The moon’s awake now,” I whispered. And we padded down the hall.

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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 sick 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 rock star! 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 12-step 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 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 12-step 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 a 12-step program has weeded out a LOT of undesirable people. I can practically hear the whispers from here: Harmony’s an ALCOHOLIC. Did you see that?! 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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