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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Taking Medication Does Not Make Me Weak

I’ve been on anti-anxiety medication at three different points in my life. The first time was after the birth of our first child. The second was after the birth of our second child. And the third time, is now.

I’ve always been an anxious person. As a child, I remember feeling stressed by my parent’s spontaneity. I wanted to know where we were going every time we left the house — my mind raced ahead, planning and preparing. I didn’t like surprises, which was ironic considering I was the only child of two people who have always enjoyed “winging it.”

When I was 6, I began chewing my fingernails. At 9, I started pulling out my hair. I marveled at the strands, each one a different color. Blonde, brown, red—all of them glinted in the sun. One day, I stepped out of the shower and noticed the wide, bald strip running all the way down the middle of my head.

I remember my mom telling me it was okay, that she could cover it up with a side part. I was home-schooled that year, which fortunately spared me from whatever happens to kids who bald themselves in the 3rd grade. It took the remainder of the year for my hair to grow back.

I switched to chewing my cuticles.

At 12, I turned to food. During one particularly stressful Christmas break, I spent all day, every day, at my Grandma’s house eating cheese sandwiches and homemade fudge. I ate until I felt sick. I ate to feel better.

It didn’t work.

I have never been a medicine taker. My mom used to make poultices and tinctures out of tea bags to cure whatever ailed me; we avoided the doctor unless it was absolutely necessary. In fact, until I had my first child and experienced the kind of irrational desperation that made me want to drive my car into a building just to make the pain stop, I was judgmental of people who turned to medication to help them cope. I thought they were weak.

I was wrong.

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The funny thing about people with anxiety is that the mere idea of obtaining a prescription for medication is anxiety-inducing. What if the doctor thinks I’m lying? What if she thinks I’m one of those people who fill the prescription and then sell the meds on the black market? I better dress nicely for my appointment, so I don’t look like the kind of person who engages in criminal activity…but not too nice, because I don’t want to look like I run the crime ring.

Other worries included a paralyzing fear that the apocalypse would arrive and I would not only be unable to see (because I wouldn’t be able to obtain new contact lenses), but I would also lose my fucking mind because I wouldn’t be able to get the anti-anxiety medication that I WOULD CLEARLY NEED TO TAKE IF THE WORLD WAS COMING TO AN END.

I worried about one of my kids getting their hands on my pills and eating them. I worried about turning into a unemotional shell of a person. I worried about which was worse: slowly slipping into alcoholism, or taking medication for stress. Which one would I be judged more harshly for if people found out? Why did it matter?

For a long time, I fought it: I exercised and coped as best I could, but the day finally came when too many things were stacked too high, and they all came crashing down in one fell swoop.

It was time to get help.

My doctor didn’t treat me like a liar. She didn’t judge me. She affirmed, validated and assured me that my emotions were warranted. She patted my arm kindly, a gesture that I assume meant that she didn’t think I was there to con her.

She told me I wasn’t weak. To my surprise, I believed her.

I still read the entire warning label that accompanied the drug prescribed to me, and worried that I would be one of the 1% to experience numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in the hands or feet. I was still concerned that I was losing my mind, but decided that I no longer cared because the tightness in my chest was finally gone.

Medication freed me. I can breathe again, big gulps of air.

People say that it takes courage to ask for help, but I believe that it takes courage to admit that you needed it in the first place.

© 2015 Harmony Hobbs, as first published on Scary Mommy.

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A Very Short Story.

The next time someone comments that I am wound too tight or that I “just need to relax,” I’m going to remind them of the time that Robbie and our oldest child went on a camping trip and left me home with our two younger children, and I decided that the best way for me to power through a weekend with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old is to stay as busy as possible by doing things like going swimming at my parent’s house where I forgot to lock the deadbolt behind us when we returned and my youngest child escaped without anyone noticing and made it almost to the parking lot before I came running and screaming after her.

The end.

(Guzzles wine.)

20150516_173852(If you liked this post, then you will LOVE I Still Just Want To Pee Alone! Click here to find out more!)

The Biggest Sin.

My mother, who I had not talked to in several days, called me.

I was just starting dinner when the phone rang. She had surgery this week, and the last time I saw her, she was still in the recovery room. I was happy that she was calling; I wanted to find out how she was feeling.

I turned off the stove as I strained to hear her. She sounded weak — just tired, she assured me — and right on cue, my toddler poured a cup of water all over the floor while my back was turned. My mom was still talking, but I couldn’t hear a word: all three of my kids were running around in the widening pool of water as the tile grew more and more slippery.

“I know this probably isn’t a good time to call,” she said, likely because she could hear muffled sounds of distress as I rummaged for towels and herded my wet children out of the kitchen.

If we’re being honest, no time is a good time to call me.

“I have it under control,” I told her. “Just hang on a minute.”

That is when I saw my 23-month-old daughter get down on all fours and lap up puddles of water like a puppy.

This is an example of what my days have been like lately. As open as I am about many parts of my life, there are some things I don’t talk about at all. I think most people are like that. Being a woman is complicated, right? I’ll wait while you nod your head in agreement.

I have been stewing for awhile over how quickly women jump to tear each other apart, because quite frankly I am over it.

Judgy look.

We all bear an insanely heavy load; each one of us wade through life loaded down with stuff. It doesn’t matter how “together” or “perfect” a woman seems — good or bad, SHE’S GOT STUFF.

Yet, for reasons I am unable to fully comprehend, even though we are all doing the best we can, even though we are all struggling with our stuff, even though we are supposed to build each other up instead of tear each other down, even though ALL OF THIS, women still get shredded up over absolutely anything and it’s generally at the hand of other women.

I know because it happened to me recently. Want to know why?

Because I’m a good housekeeper.

Let me explain: I cope with the chaos of my life by following behind my family and cleaning up their mess (or asking them to clean up after themselves). Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, it’s pointless, because the messes never cease. I don’t do it because it makes sense. I do it because if my house was a wreck to match my wreck of a life, then I would have a nervous breakdown.

Everyone who knows and loves me accepts this. They are all aboard the OCD train, because no one wants to see me lose my shit. Keeping order makes me feel like things aren’t so terrifying. I can’t stop someone I love from getting sick, but I CAN keep the bathroom from smelling like pee.

I can do that.

It makes me feel better.

Recently, a friend came to my house. Later on, she posted something on Facebook about how clean it is over here. She didn’t name me — she just said, in jest, that her friend who claimed to have a messy house in fact has an abnormally clean one. AND her kid’s beds were made. AND she answered the door in an apron. Triple sin.

My friend probably didn’t realize that every person in her friend list seemed to be sitting around on social media on a Saturday night with nothing better to do than to tear apart an unnamed woman for keeping a clean home. She did not intend for it to be a bash-fest at all — she was actually trying to poke fun at herself for having a messy home — but that’s what happened, because people suck. Women are criticized and judged for having a messy home, a clean home, for their parenting choices and their career choices, and for how they spend their time — which is no one else’s to spend.

We are blasted for being too fat, too thin, too vain, or for “letting ourselves go.” We are judged from the time we get up until the time we go to bed. There is never a time, ever, when everyone is happy with what I’m doing. My children, husband, mother, neighbors, and self are never all happy at the same time for a choice I make at any given time. Even when I do something like drink that third cup of coffee, I do so knowing that if my mother was there she would say “That’s not good for you.” My husband would say “That’s why you can’t sleep at night.”

But my kids don’t care if I do it. None of them will throw a fit … so it’s a win. I’m having that third cup.

Displeased.While I accept that this is how the world works, that you really and truly cannot make everyone happy, it is still wearing on the spirit. And even when you don’t know the people who are criticizing you, as was the case with the Facebook situation, it still hurts. I stood in my clean kitchen wearing my clean apron reading the comments from total strangers who don’t know me or my situation, and I swear … if I could have reached into my phone and bitch slapped some of them, I would have.

I have opinions. I am guilty of making snap judgments of others. There are things I totally disagree with, and things that make me uncomfortable.

I have stuff. You have stuff. We’re all struggling. So why can’t we cut each other some slack?

By far, the biggest sin is tearing another woman down.

The truth is, I’m not a good housekeeper. I have a stressful life and I cope with it by cleaning. I’m sure there is a name for my disorder, which you only know about because I took the time to tell you.

I recently wrote a letter to my daughter telling her that other women will try to tear her apart. I dread that day. In the meantime, at 35 years old, I had to look at myself in the mirror and command myself to SHAKE IT OFF BECAUSE I AM AWESOME AND I DO NOT HAVE TO APOLOGIZE FOR MY AWESOMENESS.

Now go forth and be awesome … and cut a bitch some slack.

(If you liked this post, then you will LOVE I Still Just Want To Pee Alone! Click here to find out more!)

You Are You And You Are Love.

My mother is very sick.

She is also a very private person, and probably won’t like that I’m putting on the internet that she is sick. But I am not a private person, and I don’t know how to deal, and by the end of this post you will likely understand why today is the day that I decided to write about it.

My mom and I are close. I don’t have siblings, and my parents were young when they had me — just 21 years old. I was so much older than that when I had my first child; I can’t imagine my 21-year-old self caring for a baby, but my parents were and are amazing. I remember my dad’s 26th birthday … he got an ax, and it totally freaked me out. What did he need an ax for? But there are pictures of him grinning with it, and he looks so young. I guess because he was.

A year or two later, my mother and I were in an accident. It was winter, and raining. She was wearing a plaid flannel shirt. Daddy wasn’t home yet, and she needed something from the store. We set out in the little tan Datsun, which had no seat belts. We were just a mile or two from home when we came upon a car that was sitting in the middle of the road. We swerved to avoid it, lost control, and flipped several times before landing in a ditch.

Esther, that’s my mother, slung her right arm across my body to keep me from slamming into the roof of the truck. When we stopped rolling, I didn’t have a scratch on me but she suffered enormous internal injuries. Neighbors came down and dragged me out of the truck window, and I remember seeing her bleeding hands and being terrified. For years after that she had the habit of slinging her arm across me in the car and I made fun of her, but now that I’m older and have my own children, I tear up every time I think about it. Because of course she held me down. I would hold my children down too, and slam into the roof of my vehicle a million times over if that is what it would take to keep them safe.

Mothers are amazing in what they will suffer for the sake of their children.

My mom has been sick off and on for as long as I can remember, and the doctors could never seem to get to the bottom of what was going on. In the past few years I have grown more and more concerned as I have basically watched my mother die right in front of me. Her skin, which is naturally a ruddy color, turned a shade of green that varied depending on how she was feeling, and finally it started to look gray.

The gray week was the week that her cardiologist told her unless she made some drastic changes, she was going to die.

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I found this while going through an old folder of stuff my Grandma saved. It looks like she kept everything I ever gave her. My mom thinks I wrote this in first grade. It’s totally deep, right?!

When a parent delivers news like that, news you don’t find surprising because you already knew it deep down, the absence of surprise doesn’t make it any less upsetting. Once the words are spoken into the air, it’s real and you can’t get away from it. I am a person of action, which is both an obnoxious quality and an effective one, and the very moment she told me I started creating a mental checklist of things that needed to HAPPEN. For the next few weeks I was a mad woman, running myself ragged trying to take control of a situation I have absolutely zero control over.

The thing about grief, or in this case, worrying yourself sick, is that if you’re doing something you think will “help” it more than likely is not helping. It’s only making YOU feel better because you can lay your head down at night feeling like you didn’t just sit idly by and allow something terrible to happen. None of us have the power to “allow” or “stop” an illness, and yet, I had to do SOMETHING.

So I put her on every prayer list I could find. Catholic, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist … I didn’t discriminate. If they were praying people, I asked them to pray for her.

I prayed diligently on my own.

I loved her even though I was mad at her for being sick, even though I knew she had no control over it.

I cried and I yelled.

It was literally all I talked about to my close girlfriends, BLESS THEM. I can’t say enough how vital close girlfriends are when you’re going through A Thing That Sucks. I love them for listening to me and loving me despite the nonstop barrage I hit them with on the daily. I would say, “I’m sorry I’m going on and on …” but did that stop me? Nope. Not in the least. If you have a friend who is going through something difficult and you feel awkward because you don’t know what to say to her, don’t let that stop you from listening. Having someone listen is incredibly helpful.

Eventually, I accepted that there is nothing I can do but love her through this journey she’s on, and hold tight to the belief that she’s going to get better and go on to live many, many more years. She has to. There is no other option.

I wanted to talk about this before, but it wasn’t the right time. Today is the right time, I think. I hope. I was inspired to share this particular story today because I was talking to her this afternoon and admitted that I’ve been experiencing major anxiety because, hello. Do I even need to explain? And our conversation turned to prayer. I totally believe in prayer. I’m no Bible-thumper, but I believe in God and I desire Him to lead my life even though I don’t live it in the most graceful and serene way all the time.

Okay, fine. None of the time.

Anyway, I said to her “Of course I pray, I ask God every night for protection and guidance,” and she cut me off and said in that stern way only mamas can, “YOU NEED TO STOP ASKING FOR THINGS AND START THANKING HIM FOR WHAT HE HAS ALREADY DONE.”

I have spent weeks, people. Weeks wallowing in deep, strangulating stress, asking and praying and muddling through. And the woman who has the most reason to be asking God for something told me straight up I needed to spend more time thanking God for what He has already done.

Despite everything she has been through and continues to go through on a daily basis, which is a lot, she is still thankful. She admonishes me every time I so much as hint that God might not know what He’s doing up there. Everything happens for a reason, she says. Well … okay. I try to accept that. Sometimes it’s hard.

My mother will maybe be mad at me for writing about her, but I had to because this is the woman who held me down in that truck. This is my mother. All mothers are extraordinary in their own special way, but mine has a distinct grace about her that allows her to happily say “It could always be worse!” even when the walls are all crumbling down. Because she’s right, it could always be worse. She could be dead, and she’s not. Because she’s going to GET BETTER.

So really, this is a damn good day. And if my mother can seize it and be grateful, I will too. And so should you.

Oh yeah … and my dad bought me a book. It’s perfect.

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