The catalyst

Oh, hi.

Want to know the truth?

Since March 2020, I’ve really struggled to write freely, especially here on my blog. How can I, when what I want to write about involves other people? The old Harmony wouldn’t have given writing about other people a second thought. She was haplessly selfish. The new me tries really hard to be truthful, but also careful. And sometimes those lines are blurry and hard to decipher.

So here’s the truth: aside from therapy assignments, and freelance work for Upworthy, I haven’t written anything at all since I don’t even know when. A writer who isn’t writing is either struggling with depression (check), overwhelm (check), or panic (double check). Weirdly, writing is part of what keeps me grounded and relatively sane, so not writing for long stretches of time is a sign that I’m not doing very well.

It’s time for me to start sharing again, telling on myself and getting my thoughts out because it helps keep me accountable and healthy. Also, I started seeing a psychiatrist. I’m doing light therapy which involves shining a very, very bright light at my face for 5 minutes per day until I no longer hate my fellow man.

Happily, I am still sober. This is nothing short of miraculous, and I’m here to tell you that recovery from addiction works if you do the work. Now, let me tell you: the work SUCKS. I simply cannot stress this enough. If you expect sobriety to be an easy ride, you’re gonna be pissed. However, the payoff to this is the ability to make it through a shit show of a year in one piece while the people and systems around you fall apart. Does it suck to be keenly aware of how bad things are? Absolutely yes.

So what keeps me moving forward?

My kids.

In March 2020, just before Covid-19 hit the United States, my oldest child tried to hang himself.

It was a perfect storm: he was stressed out over things that were happening at school. I was stressed out over things happening at school. Tensions were high, and when he’s anxious, he acts out. Even though I know better, sometimes I forget that when Maverick acts out, I have to look beyond the behavior to see the child. In March 2020, I forgot. I was frazzled and exasperated. I yelled at him. Robbie also yelled at him. The entire family was mad at him on that morning before school. His ADHD medication hadn’t kicked in yet, and the thought struck: they would be better off without me.

Of course it’s not true. The thought that entered my son’s head on a loop was a lie, but the voice was loud enough and strong enough to propel him toward gathering a stack of books while I was in my bedroom getting dressed. He took a belt and looped it through a pull-up bar that was in our living room, stood on the makeshift pillar, and put the loop around his neck.

My daughter, who was 6 years old at the time, came running down the hall shouting. I opened my bedroom door and asked her what was wrong.

MAVERICK’S TRYING TO HANG HIMSELF.

That is what she said.

Nothing made sense. That sentence didn’t make sense. Maverick’s trying to what? I don’t know how I got from the hall to the living room. My heart was in my throat. My face was stricken. White as a piece of paper. I caught a glimpse of myself in the round mirror on the wall and I didn’t know who that pale person was. There she is, the lady whose brilliant, creative, amazing kid tried to hang himself.

I couldn’t find him in the house. I was screaming his name and my throat was closing up. He wasn’t standing on the now-scattered stack of books that Pepper was pointing to.

I told her it was going to be okay, even though I had no idea if that was true. I still don’t. I told her she did the right thing and she was an excellent sister, the best sister. She knew to tell me, and I told her over and over, and have many times since, that she did the right thing.

She saved his life that day. She told him not to do it; her yelling at him to stop is what snapped him back to reality.

I found him sitting outside on the driveway, no shoes, holding his belt. His face was also white. We stood in the bathroom together, two matching white faces.

“Brush your teeth,” I said calmly, because even people who are contemplating suicide need to make dental hygiene a priority. He and I robotically got through the next few hours and days and then there was a pandemic that people still seem to be ignoring almost a full 18 months later.

Pepper started eating her feelings and then she started eating her hair. Everyone needed therapy. No one could sleep. And for the first 6 weeks of quarantine my life was a living hell. But then, as you may have read in my last blog post, it eventually got better.

It keeps getting better.

It’s been months since Maverick had thoughts of suicide, but sometimes the voice comes back. Sometimes, it’s louder. He trusts me now enough to tell me the truth.

My thoughts are scaring me again, Mom.

Children who are on the autism spectrum often have co-morbidities. What that means is, they almost always have another diagnosis like ADHD or OCD. Maverick has ADHD and anxiety, which he takes medication to manage. Often, when kids hit puberty and especially if they’re on the spectrum, they struggle with self-harm and/or thoughts of suicide. Multiple studies have been done on the subject and I can tell you from personal experience that my kid is a spectacular human being who also happens to want to end his life from time to time.

This was probably the catalyst for a lot of things I’ve done since then, namely cutting a lot of extra drama out of my life. I don’t have the bandwidth or the tolerance for anything even remotely toxic and I think right now, that’s appropriate. I have to stay sane and sober and strong and present so I can, you know, help my kid stay alive. This situation forced me to create a fortress-like set of boundaries around myself and my family.

Today, we are doing well — all of us. We’re grateful that our support system rocks. I want to stand on the roof of our new house and scream PSYCHIATRY SAVES PEOPLE! Because it does, and also I wish more people who know this amazing fact would talk about it. So many people, including myself, resist the idea of seeing a psychiatrist because that’s for crazy people. Well, no. It’s really not. Because my son isn’t crazy and neither am I.

We have crawled through this difficult time one day at a time, using all of the tools at our disposal. Therapy, meditation, sunshine, exercise, talking, resting, medication, giving each other grace. Every day that Maverick didn’t want to hurt himself and I didn’t drink or punch anyone in the face, we marked a success.

Because it was.

And now we are here, in July 2021. All in one piece. And I still can’t find the words to adequately express my gratitude.

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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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