Did I tell y’all I am in a magazine? That happened. Now the whole city of Baton Rouge, La. knows exactly who I am and just how big of an alcohol problem I have. I’m embarrassed and proud and kind … Continue reading
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.
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.
It’s true. Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore, for saying so.
I was raised to be a brave person. My parents encouraged me to push myself out of my comfort zones and do scary things in order to grow. I’ve watched them face scary things my entire life, seen their stoic bravery and watched as they carefully avoided the dark vortex of self-pity.
I admire them. They’re real, genuinely kind-hearted people, and because of their example, I am not afraid of having bad things happen to me.
That’s a lie.
I thought I wasn’t afraid of having bad things happen to me. I’ve literally gone for years thinking of myself as a tough, gritty person who can power her way through almost anything. The reality is, I AM A COMPLETE AND TOTAL CONTROL FREAK WHO IS TERRIFIED OF PAIN AND FEARS THE UNKNOWN.
Yes, I can power through hard stuff. Yes, I can robotically and speedily go through the motions of life in order to survive, and sometimes I write in a way that others consider honest, because I’m more willing than some to admit my shortcomings. But does that make me brave or courageous?
No. It made me an alcoholic.
I don’t know when I took a wrong turn, or how much work I’ll have to do in order to correct this (a skilled therapist is in order), but the thought of losing control literally knocks the wind out of me. If I allow myself to meditate on a situation that I have zero control over, it feels like someone is squeezing the air out of my body, and I have to remind myself to breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four — like a Navy SEAL.
How do other women meet the expectations set for us without ending up committed, hooked on controlled substances, or in treatment for depression? I’m going to make it my life’s work to find a solution to this problem, not only for myself, but for every other woman out there trying to be a mom, a friend, a wife, keep up with her health and the health of her family, the condition of her home, her spiritual life, her financial life, and also at the same time remember to feed the cat and pay the damn taxes. TO ALL THESE WOMEN, I SAY, THIS IS BULLSHIT. We can’t keep doing this to ourselves! Who made these rules?! Why do we agree to them?!
More to come.
I have so much to say.
So many unfinished drafts. Thoughts that are still half-formed, nonsensical blobs, because it’s Summer, and I grab my time in 10-minute increments — writing or brushing my teeth or responding to emails furiously because I know that at any moment, someone is going to head butt someone else and I will have to drop whatever I’m doing to attend to the blood-curdling wails.
Writers require time and space. I have neither of those things.
Because I have so much to say, I make the most of what I have to work with. It’s not pretty. I yell a lot. But when you want something bad enough, you find a way to make it happen. I can’t not parent, and I can’t not write, just like I also can’t not clean the kitchen after every meal.
I’m sort of sick of apologizing.
I won’t anymore. Writing is my un-apology.
If you read my work, I hope it’s because you enjoy it and are not looking for meekness or backpedaling for being real. You won’t find that here. Women do enough of that. I DO ENOUGH OF THAT. Let’s all make a promise to each other to stop saying sorry for being true, raw, honest human beings.
Today, my true, raw, honesty is that I enrolled my 2-year-old in preschool for the Fall because I made the decision that I can be a mother and also a person who pursues her wildest dreams, all at the same time.
I realized I was hanging around waiting for someone to give me permission.
I was waiting for someone — specifically my husband — to take me by the shoulders and say “YOU NEED TO PUT OUR KIDS IN SCHOOL SO YOU CAN WRITE ESSAYS AND SELL THEM AND PAY FOR THEIR TUITION AND MAYBE ALSO GET YOUR NAILS DONE.”
But you know what? No one is going to do that. Not even Robbie Hobbs, who we all love dearly because he is hilarious and endlessly supportive.
I took myself by the shoulders, looked myself in the eye, and told myself it was time.
And you know what happened next?
I didn’t apologize.