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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My Struggles Are His Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet Robbie.

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What I Treasure

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

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

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

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

I dread the pain of shifting relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of mother allows herself to become an alcoholic?

Me. I did.

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

Essay

I really needed this today.

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The Blinding Freaking Sun of Sobriety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He loved me anyway.

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

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