Today Is Day Five

“Own the story and write the ending.” 

– Brene′ Brown

“Do you think I’m an alcoholic?”

Every time I asked my husband or my friends this question, they said no. After all, alcoholics drive drunk and careen into oncoming traffic. They smash through their neighbor’s flowerbeds, over mailboxes and people. They get arrested.

Alcoholics black out and vomit and forget to shower themselves before going in public. They reek of vodka.

Alcoholics ruin their relationships because they choose alcohol over love, safety, and their bank account. This did not describe me — not yet, anyway. I only met 8 out of the 10 criterion on the “Am I An Alcoholic?” quiz that I took online. I was an 80% alcoholic who has literally scrounged together pocket change to buy a bottle of $5.99 wine on more than one occasion.

Let me be clear: my reasons for loving wine are iron-clad. If I were to make a list of all the reasons why I need to throw a few back at the end of the day, you’d probably need a drink by the time you were finished reading it. The problem is, though, that as my life has gradually become more stressful, my drinking also increased. What was once a glass or two a few times a week grew to half a bottle of wine, plus a few shots of whiskey. Eventually, it became a whole bottle of wine, every night.

What will happen if something really bad happens? Will I start drinking at breakfast?

I rarely felt hungover. I’m hardy. Sometimes I felt foggy, yes, but never unable to function. I still got up early in the morning, drank a pot of coffee, and began the day per usual. But increasingly, I panicked if I ran out of wine. I’d frantically text my husband to stop at the store on the way home. I NEEDED it. I didn’t know how else to exist.

Alcoholics don’t materialize in one day, after all.

This my fifth day sober. It’s not so much the not drinking that I’m struggling with, but acknowledging the emotions that I’ve been drinking to avoid. We medicate to protect ourselves from ourselves. Living without that barrier is, frankly, terrifying.

Today, I’m owning my story. The ending is within my control.

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Day five!

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Standing In The Fire

Last night I had the most terrifying dream that I was in the kitchen cooking and a fire started, and it just kept spreading and spreading until I was entirely surrounded. I was YELLING for help, but my family didn’t hear me. They were all in the next room.

That is what grief feels like.

There have been times in my life when a friend confided something shocking to me that I didn’t know how to deal with, and I handled it poorly. When I was 15 and away at boarding school, my best friend back home got pregnant. She informed me via a handwritten letter that was delivered under my dorm room door, because it was 1995 and that’s how things were done before the internet.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do or how to process the thought of becoming a mother when we didn’t even have a license to drive. I’m pretty sure whatever my response was, it sucked. Just like when my high school friend called one day in July to tell me that he was gay. GAY?! I didn’t know anyone who was gay. I stammered and mumbled and got off the phone as fast as I could, because I didn’t know how to be with him in his fire.

I sucked.

These are the things I think of as I grapple with grief over the fact that we don’t know how much time my mother has left. It could be years. It could be days. No one can tell us for sure, because cancer is fucked up and unpredictable and incurable. And I am here, in this fire, burning. Seeing people fidget and stammer because they don’t know what to say because grief is uncomfortable. Death is uncomfortable. Dealing with loss when no one has died is a strange thing that isn’t easily explained.

fire

My sons, November 2014

Yesterday I ran into someone I haven’t seen in a long time. You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just really love them and you don’t even know why? Well, there is a lady named Virginia that I feel that way about. I LOVE VIRGINIA.

She asked me a question — “How is your mom doing?” — and really asked it. She wanted me to tell her the truth. Most people might think they want to know the truth, until you start to tell them and they realize how horrible the truth is and they get weird and then you feel even worse because not only are you carrying around this emotional weight, but now you’ve gone and made someone else uncomfortable with it, too.

When Virginia asks a question, she expects an answer. And when I tried to glaze it over, she stopped me. She wouldn’t let me glaze it over. She stood with me, in my anger and in my grief. Do you know how rare that is, for us to stop our lives momentarily to really connect with another human, and stand with them in their mess?

I needed that.

The world needs more Virginias.

What I didn’t know in 1995, but certainly realize now, is that all people really need is for others to genuinely acknowledge their suffering … even if it’s impossible to extinguish the fire that’s causing it.

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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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I Have A Shit List.

My husband discovered that I have a Shit List. An actual sheet of paper that says “Shit List” at the top, with people’s names written on it.

Robbie: (Uncontrollable laughter)

Me: “What?”

Robbie: “You actually have a ‘Shit List?'”

Me: “Obviously.”

Robbie: “It’s pretty short.”

Me: “It could get longer … if you want.”

Having kids seems to have given me brain rot. I have to write EVERYTHING down — even the people who have wronged me, because my memory can’t be relied upon. I can remember which kid needs which dosage of cough syrup and who wore what pair of underwear two days in a row, but I can’t recall which bitch totally screwed me over.

Not only do I write down the name of the transgressor, but I also note a few details that will jog my memory about what they did to piss me off. Because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s not making the same mistakes twice.

You do not want to end up on this list.

You do not want to end up on this list.

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Bad Poetry From College.

One of my very best friends, Kate, has always encouraged my writing. I love her for it … except that she is also a pack rat and saves everything.

This means that I occasionally receive text messages from her that contain cringe-worthy notes, essays, or newspaper clippings from our college paper accompanied by: “Look what I found!” Or, “Did you write this? It looks like your handwriting.”

YES … I wrote that terrible essay linking fruit flies to the church service requirements at our private, Christian university. Let’s never speak of it again.

YES … I also wrote that opinion piece about Oatmeal Creme Pies. Can you just burn that one?

YES … I wrote that shit, and that shit, and that shit. It’s bad — all of it is so bad — proof that even if you’re born with a talent YOU STILL HAVE TO WORK REALLY HARD AT IT TO GET BETTER.

Most recently, I texted her back and admitted that yes, this trippy poem with the mispelled title was also written by me.

Funny, I don’t recall doing drugs at Bible college. Maybe I was high on life or religion or something. Maybe I wrote this as a joke, or someone dared me to write something that rhymed in under a minute and I scribbled this out as they timed me.

bad poetryMaybe I was just super weird.

It’s probably that.

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My Personal Ad.

Mom dating adIf we lived in a perfect world, there would be an online friend-matching service for busy moms who don’t have time to waste making small talk with people who bother them.

And this would be my ad.