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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My oldest is very proud.

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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.

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@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.

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A Beautiful Destination

I’m 100 days sober today.

I’ve reached a point in my recovery that is notorious for relapse, and now that I’m in it, I can understand why. I’m unearthing years worth of emotional hurt that I’ve spent half of my life distracting myself from fully addressing, with no way to numb the pain other than to keep pressing through it.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using. It’s not as simple as that. All of us have reasons why we are driven to drink or shoplift or lie or sleep with total strangers or whatever that thing is that keeps you from feeling that thing that you don’t want to feel.

I would go to almost any length to avoid feeling those things that I don’t want to feel, and now that I’m sober, I’ve been sitting in them for awhile. That’s why I’ve found myself doing things like baking cookies and eating the entire batch (on two separate occasions) and then being angry that I’ve gained weight, or working out like a crazy person because I have anger that I don’t know how to process, or calling a friend and just sitting in silence on the phone because the simple act of calling someone reminds me that I’m not alone.

It tethers me to something real. It reminds me that I have support, and even if the person on the other line doesn’t always know what to say to me because she isn’t an alcoholic, she is saving my life simply by being there.

As difficult as experiencing the hard stuff is, the good stuff makes the bad stuff almost forgettable. Just like childbirth made me feel like I was literally dying right there on the table — rationally, I figured I wasn’t actually going to die, but my body felt like it was shutting down and my soul was floating away — but the joy of seeing that little face made me immediately forget. All I can remember is that childbirth is unpleasant. This makes me hope that one day I’ll recall 100 days sober as unpleasant, but not bad enough to kill me.

Drinking would kill me.

As I keep inching forward, the pain lessens little by little. Every day, a tiny piece of my soul is restored … I think. Sometimes I can’t tell if my soul is healing, or if I’m simply losing my mind, but I do know one thing: I can’t go back.

The terrified part of me wants to say “NEVER MIND, I WAS JUST KIDDING!” and go right back to drinking, but the tiny shred of sane self I have left knows that I could never un-know that I’m an alcoholic and that there are things in my past that drove me to this point. I could never un-know that my coping mechanisms will send me to an early grave unless I retrain myself how to cope differently. I could never un-know the joy and peace I feel in my good sober moments.

They say it gets better. I believe them. I have to.

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Ninety Days Sober And I’m Still Here

I’m 90 days sober. This has been the longest, most painful, humbling, frightening, and eye-opening experience of my life.

When I first became a mother, I remember thinking that childbirth was the most painful, humbling, frightening and eye-opening experience of my life. It’s empowering to bring life into the world. The fragility and toughness of babies and vaginas and just the whole motherhood thing really blows my mind. But this.

This.

I was so walled over with addiction, resentment, and pride, so deep into self-medicating to avoid reality, that I had no idea how messed up I was. I still don’t know how messed up I still am, even 2,160 hours into recovery. I don’t know how long or for what reasons I stayed there, hiding from my life, avoiding the discomfort of uncomfortable emotions. I liked it there, in the dark. It felt safe. I mean, a baby feels safe cocooned in utero, but for the sake of her own life, she must eventually experience birth.

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Maya Angelou is my jam.

I’ve had 90 nights of going to bed sober, falling asleep peacefully, knowing exactly where I am and without fear of needing to jump out of bed to throw up.

I’ve opened my eyes on 90 mornings without a hangover. For 90 evenings I have been able to put my kids to bed sober, without stumbling down the hall, dropping my phone because I’m too drunk to find the light switch, or spilling wine all over my pajamas. I ruined a lot of pajamas, because the thing about me when I’d been drinking is that I drank to not care about things like spilling wine on my pajamas. I certainly never had the foresight to spray stain remover on anything.

I am 10 pounds heavier because sobriety is a cold-hearted bitch. She’s not cutting me any slack, and that’s okay, because right now it’s better for me to be fat and sober than not as fat, but also drunk. Please excuse me while I try not to think about Dark Chocolate M&M’s.

Motherhood used to feel hard.

It’s really not that hard.

Sobriety is hard, but it’s making everything else easier.

Day 90

Photo credit: Maverick Hobbs, age 8

Hells yeah.

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Life As A Sober Mother

My writing is so sporadic now that I’m sober. I used to have a routine: get the kids off to school, gulp a few cups of coffee, take an amphetamine, and write. I was fast, certainly. I continued to meet deadlines under some really bizarre circumstances, which is part of why I was able to keep my addictions a secret for such a long time.

In sobriety, my urges to write are calmer and my thoughts have more clarity. I like to think that when I make it to the other side of this phase of being newly sober, I’ll actually be better at my job, but time will tell. In the meantime, I have to tell you about a man named John.

John is quirky and old and speaks metaphorically. I noticed his unusual behavior right away and identified him as an autistic even before he mentioned it. His mannerisms and verbiage gave it away – I know what to look for. John is a retired university professor. He wears suspenders and large spectacles and calls himself a feminist. Sometimes he wears ironic t-shirts and carries a briefcase. He stoops over a little.

I like John.

Part of the dilemma I face as a sober mother is the fact that I have a child who was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and even though we already know that parenthood doesn’t come with a handbook, if it did, parenting a child on the spectrum would mean that I would have to throw that hypothetical handbook into the garbage can and set fire to it.

And also? I have no idea how to be a parent sober. I also don’t know how to be a sober wife, a friend, or a human being, because I have spent the past 15 years (with a few brief breaks known as pregnancy) numbing my feelings with alcohol. Some days, I just hug my kids a lot and feed them Pop-Tarts and call it good. A sober mother isn’t perfect, but she is present.

Maverick’s psychologist told me when he first presented us with the diagnosis that we needed to toss out everything we thought we knew about parenting. We are truly starting over from scratch, and I have a lot of wrongs that I need to make right. It’s kind of nice to just sit next to my 8-year-old and admit out loud that life is really hard but it’s also beautiful, and it’s going to be okay because we are finally on the right track. I think both of us are relieved, each in our own way, to finally have a label to attach to ourselves. There is freedom in having a concrete reason why I feel like I don’t belong anywhere, even though that reason is that I’m an alcoholic.

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I know I need to clear away the old ideas I had about what should be expected from my child (and from me), but I still feel like I’m rooted down in fear. Letting go of my old ideas means that I have to figure out what to do instead.

WHERE IS MY AUTISM PARENTING HANDBOOK?

Oh, that’s right. There isn’t one.

Today, I told John about Maverick. His eyes misted over and he leaned down intently, looked me directly in the face, and said the following words:

“You need to nurture him.

You need to let him rage and wail and say all of the things that the rest of the world will never understand. Let him feel safe with you. Be there for him. Nurture him. I can see that you’re a good mother. Forget about all the things you did wrong before today. Stop beating yourself up over the past.

Nurture your son – that’s what he needs from you.”

I’ve never talked to a man on the spectrum before about my spectrumy kid, but I am so, so glad I did. I gained so much insight from a brief conversation, and I left feeling like maybe what I’ve been doing is good enough, after all.

Nurture him. I can do that today.

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60 Days At A Time

Today is day 60 of my recovery from drugs and alcohol.

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I post a lot of upbeat photos of me smiling, like this one, because I really am proud of myself and happy with where this journey is taking me … except when I’m not.

Recovering from addiction is painful and exhausting. I have to do things I don’t want to do. I have to center my life around recovery, which is really hard when kids are in the picture. It’s very easy for me to find distractions or excuses to get me out of things I should be doing. I’m just going to spell it out: this sucks. A lot.

My recovery means that I’m spending a lot of my time going to meetings or therapy sessions, completing assignments, and working steps. It’s a lot of self-reflection and quiet time left alone with my thoughts, which is LITERALLY THE WORST. It means that I spend a lot of mental energy allowing myself to feel feelings rather than masking them. It means that I text my friends and ask them things like, “Do you think I should start smoking pot? I mean, it’s basically legal.”

They always say no, and I always get mad.

I’m mad that I can’t smoke or drink or do anything that would make my feelings seem less … feely. I’m mad that people are all up in my business about what I’m doing and where I’m going, which is essentially why I’ve been so open about my recovery, because if no one knew I was sober then I could very easily slip back into it. Now that everyone knows, NO ONE WILL LEAVE ME ALONE AND LET ME GET DRUNK. That makes me mad.

And then, I get grateful.

Recently, I spoke up in front of a group of people and said that this is not how my life was supposed to turn out. I mean, seriously — what is this bullshit? THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

But, I’m learning very slowly that it really is supposed to be this way, and it is this way for a very good reason. I just don’t know it yet.

One day at a time.

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The Process of Unlearning

You know how moms always seem to put the needs of their children above their own? No? Then this post probably isn’t for you.

For those of you who are still reading, I have a recurring urinary tract infection because I tend to hold my pee longer than I should, because I am a procrastinator and also because I have a 3-year-old.

I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, too, but children who are three really do not care how badly you have to pee. Children who are three wait until your bladder feels like it may burst and then they break a dish, throw up on the carpet, or run into the street.

By now, I’m a champ at putting my own bodily functions on hold, not because I enjoy it, because I really don’t at all, but because that’s what moms have to do. We put our bodies, needs, and selves aside sometimes in order to keep other human beings alive, and then we resent the hell out of the men in our lives who wander around seemingly oblivious to our reality.

That habit of putting oneself on the back burner is a slippery slope. I used to think that I was pretty good at self-care, but it’s probably no surprise that I really wasn’t. I may be good at hygiene, but I’m terrible at mindfulness, dealing with uncomfortable feelings, doing anything in moderation, and I don’t even want to talk about my health. I haven’t had a pap smear in almost 4 years.

It was gradual, but my slide downhill was steady and unrelenting, and the more stressful life became for me, the farther down I went. Before I could stop the momentum, I was a functioning alcoholic and pill-popper. I don’t know when I crossed the line between normal and abnormal behavior, because to me, it’s all blurry. I was in a perpetual survival mode for years.

Getting sober is a journey in unlearning everything I thought I knew about life. That’s like, seriously daunting. At least once per day, I get into my bed and hide under the covers and wish that I could just go back to how things were. Change is hard and the looming unknown is terrifying to a control freak with anxiety issues, but I’m stubborn, and I am going to do this.

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Today while the kids were in school I watched an entire season of Catastrophe on Amazon. In bed. Without pants.

My whole body is puffy, probably because my liver and kidneys are like, WTF, where are the alcohol and the chemicals that we have grown so fond of?

I have no idea how to do anything, so I just keep doing the same things over and over. The things that I know work, one day at a time.

P.S. Hobbs & Hayworth made an announcement this week. If you’re interested in seeing THAT, here it is. Every time I got uncomfortable, I pet the dog.

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