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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Pick Up The Phone: Being Responsible For Your Own Happiness

My platform is rooted in honesty.

Lately I’ve felt like a liar because I used to be a humor writer, I think. But then a lot of bad things happened in my life, and I couldn’t find humor as much anymore. But you guys stick with me anyway, even when I write about things like my mom having cancer and about my need for anxiety medication and my uncle getting murdered in my childhood home, and my head injury which, let’s face it, COMPLETELY KNOCKED ME OFF MY GAME.

Here is the truth: I got very depressed in February. Maybe I was depressed in January, and December, and November, and October. I don’t know because I’m in the thick of life right now. I’m swallowed up. I’m in the weeds, you guys. It’s disorienting and I have claustrophobia and I hate how this feels. I hate how it makes me anxious, and my anxiety manifests in anger, so I find myself yelling at my family a lot when they are just doing normal family things like smearing toothpaste on clean hand towels and leaving crumbs all over the floor.

They deserve a better me. I deserve a better me.

So I started therapy — for myself and for my oldest child. It turns out that I am not crazy, it’s just that the anxiety medication I was on was making me depressed and also I have a lot on my plate and my brain was bruised.

Maybe the knock to the head changed my brain chemistry, or maybe I just didn’t need that particular medication anymore, but either way I flushed all those tiny white pills down the toilet and breathed a sigh of relief.

I breathed another sigh of relief when we were told that our child isn’t crazy — in fact, he is quite the opposite. Extremely bright and polite to everyone except for his parents, so we can rule out Oppositional Defiant Disorder (thank God).

Maverick has ADHD. And I’ve long suspected it and I knew it, deep in my soul, but I just didn’t want it to be so. I knew he was hard to parent. So, so hard. He never has been much of a sleeper; he stopped napping at 18 months old. He’s extremely defiant and stubborn and loud and messy, more so than other boys. But he’s also brilliant and charming, just like his Daddy.

OMG … his Daddy.

His Daddy has ADHD, too.

THAT MUST BE WHY I FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM, BECAUSE HE WAS SO QUIRKY AND BRILLIANT AND UNPREDICTABLE AND NOW WE HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR 13 YEARS AND SOMETIMES HE MAKES ME WANT TO SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW BUT I DON’T BECAUSE I REALLY DO LOVE HIM.

I married the right man for me, but it doesn’t mean that we are without our struggles. When we come out on the other side of this difficult phase, I’d maybe like to just forget it ever happened. It’s hard. Marriage is hard. But would I want to tough it out with anyone else?

No.

Mommy and Mav

Back to Maverick, all of the parenting tactics that work for other people? None of them were working for us. We have very low lows and very high highs and as much as I struggled, I fought for my son because I believe in him.

But then I reached a point where I was out of ideas. I needed help.

The day I sat in that dark gray chair decorated with silver studs and the counselor said, “You have done a fantastic job for the past 7 years, but you must be emotionally exhausted,” I burst into tears.

Yes. I am emotionally exhausted.

“Parenting is supposed to be exhausting,” she said. “In fact, if you aren’t exhausted, you probably aren’t doing it right.” She went on to say a whole bunch of other validating, complimentary things that gave me hope and let me know that I did a good thing by seeking help.

People say all the time that it takes a village to raise our children, and lament the modern loss of the village. I say that we have to make our own damn village. My village consists of a therapist for myself, a therapist for my child, teachers for all three of my children, and a handful of extraordinary friends.

Extraordinary friends get a phone call halfway through getting hair extensions put in and head over right away to drive you to the hospital because you’re feeling weird 6 weeks after a concussion and need to have your head scanned again.

Extraordinary friends learn your actual weight — which is not the weight on your driver’s license — because you have to say it out loud in the E.R. triage.

They also understand that they are never speak of it. Ever.

Part of being a grown up is knowing what you need and then going out and getting it, because grown ups are responsible for their own happiness and well-being. So today, my friends, I ask you to take stock of your own lives and make sure you have what you need.

And if you don’t, then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING READING THIS?! Pick up the phone and make shit happen.

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Captain Underpants.

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This is in the back of Maverick’s favorite book. I nearly wept when I read it. I bet if his mother and I met for coffee, we would be instant besties.