No One Is Fine

Regarding sobriety: it sucks. I cannot believe that people voluntarily feel uncomfortable feelings. It’s the worst.

Avoiding and numbing is the bomb. Now that the 12-step program tells me I can’t continue doing what I normally do in order to avoid feeling my feelings, I’ve just been lying around the house eating chocolate syrup directly from the bottle.

My mother is dying of cancer and I haven’t allowed myself to feel feelings because I have three little kids to care for and I don’t have time to be sad, as ludicrous as that sounds. I haven’t allowed myself to feel feelings about much of anything, really, for almost 9 years. But I’ve been running from my feelings for over 18 years, doing everything under the sun to avoid them.

You know what I’d advise against? Doing that.

Knowing that women have the tendency to put themselves last, I have always prided myself on my ability to make self-care a priority. I shower, I take time away from my house and my kids, I do things that make me feel whole as a human being. Except for one thing: I do not, have not, given myself permission to feel much of anything.

Here are some things (excuses) I’ve been known to say out loud:

I don’t have time to be sad! I have kids to take care of!

I don’t have time to be depressed!

I don’t have time to grieve! 

I’m fine. I can just power through this.

I don’t have time to be sick!

I don’t have time to take a nap!

I don’t have time to process my emotions right now. I’ll just deal with them later.

I’m fine.

I’ll be fine.

Everything’s fine.

These are lies, all lies. No one is fine. I am not fine. I need a thousand naps and several dozen boxes of Kleenex and hours upon hours of therapy. I need jellybeans but I don’t need jellybeans.

I need to feel things because I’m a person and people have emotions that require processing. Motherhood is not an excuse to avoid this process.  Somehow, I’m going to have to learn how to give myself permission to feel shit that I don’t want to feel, while at the same time functioning as a mother and member of society. Women stuff shit down and stuff shit down and then, BAM! We’re alcoholics or bulimics or shopaholics.

Today, I don’t want to stop self-medicating. I miss it. I mean, I really, REALLY miss it. But you know what? It’s been almost 3 weeks, and I’m too stubborn to backslide. I’m going to sit with these feelings that are weighing me down like lead and I’m going to allow myself the time to work through them. And I’m probably going to hate every minute of it.

breathing-into-paper-bag

I would source this image if I had a clue where it came from.

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My Struggles Are His Struggles

When a woman decides that she is ready to take charge of her life and turn the metaphorical ship around, it’s very empowering.

In the first few days of sobriety I was extremely proud of myself. Check this out! Look at how I just dropped my addictions like a bad habit! Friends, family and internet strangers backed me up with their applause. You’re a rockstar! We’re so proud of you! You can do it!

At some point in the past 17 days, the fog lifted just enough for me to make several observations, not one of them pretty.

I’m much worse off than I realized. My body is still detoxing. I may have damaged my health permanently. My soul is, like, NOT RIGHT.

My pride is what rooted me to alcohol, and fear was the soil it drank from.

When all is stripped away, when I stand in the mirror and see myself bare — without makeup or sturdy undergarments, without the things that suppressed my deepest, darkest demons and hid them from everyone, including myself —  what is left? Examining myself under a bright fluorescent light has never, ever, been something I enjoy.

The truth is that I lost myself a very long time ago, and although I’d like to find my way back to that person again, I’m worried I won’t like her. Change is scary. And what about Robbie? What will he think of the new me? I expressed my concern to him the other night and he laughed.

“I fell in love with messed up Harmony,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure I’ll like the new one.”

Robbie didn’t know when he met me how messed up I was. He fell in love with my spirit, just like I fell in love with his. When I start feeling angry about things like my past, my circumstances, the old white men in the A.A. meetings who stare at me like I’m a chunk of meat with no other purpose than to fulfill their perverted desires, my sponsor makes me send her a list of 10 things that I’m grateful for.

My lists vary daily, but always, always on that list is my husband. My addictions are his addictions, my struggles are his struggles, and tomorrow he’s going with me to an A.A. meeting, because that’s how a bad ass husband supports his alcoholic wife.

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Meet Robbie.

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What I Treasure

I had my first drink on December 26, 1992, on my 13th birthday. I was wearing a black velvet dress with a satin bow at the waist. We were in San Antonio for a wedding, and someone handed me a mimosa.

On February 26, 2017, I had my last drink. I didn’t know it was my last drink. It makes me sad that I didn’t make an occasion out of it, honestly. It was just what was left of a bottle of red, poured into a high ball glass with a unicorn on it. If I’d known it would be my last drink, I may have savored it more. Or, maybe I would have gone to the store for a bottle of vodka and really thrown down. It’s hard to say.

Nine days later, I went to my first AA meeting. I did not want to go. I’ve felt feelings of shame and dread before, but nothing like this. I am ashamed that I’m an alcoholic. I am ashamed that I’m an alcoholic who has not had that bad of a life. I’m ashamed that I am an alcoholic who has not had that bad of a life, who also has a beautiful family to come home to every day.

I dread the process of getting better, because I know it’s going to be hard.

I dread the pain of shifting relationships.

And I’ll just come right out and say it: I dread the discomfort of growing as a person. I dread the arduous process of self-evaluation and feeling all the feelings I’ve stuffed down for so long. I dread fully knowing what I have done to my body and soul for the past 15 years.

How did I get here and what changed? That’s a story I’m not ready to tell. The important thing is, I do not look or act like an alcoholic. I’m well put-together. I have a home. I have a family. I put makeup on every day. I’m a good parent and friend. I have a successful writing career and a happy marriage.

There is no way to know what people are struggling with in the quiet.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is picky about her friendships, preferring quality over quantity, and announcing via social media that I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous has weeded out a LOT of undesirable people. I can practically hear the whispers from here: Harmony’s an ALCOHOLIC. Did you see that she’s in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS?! I neeeeeeeever would have imagined she was … you know … an alkie.

THAT’S RIGHT, BITCHES. I can hear you talking, so I’m going to answer you. I am a full-fledged, raging alcoholic. Alcohol dulls my pain like nothing else, but it also damn near ruined my life. I’m approaching my recovery by taking full ownership of all of it. The ugly, the funny, the sad, the embarrassing and the foolish.

What kind of mother allows herself to become an alcoholic?

Me. I did.

This afternoon, I was going through my son’s school papers when I came across this essay he wrote. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting my favorite parts.

Essay

I really needed this today.

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The Blinding Freaking Sun of Sobriety

Today I am 8 days sober. It feels like shit.

I cry all the time. Everything is so clear and so loud that it literally hurts. I’ve been cycling through the process of numbing and recovering from numbing, only to do it all again 12 hours later, for so long that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to experience pure emotion.

Pure emotion is overwhelming. It feels like blinding light after emerging from a very dark cave. My hands are literally clamped over my eyes in an effort to block out the BLINDING FREAKING SUN OF SOBRIETY. It hurts. I’m stumbling. I don’t know how to get where I’m going, because I don’t know where that is; I only know that I don’t want to go backward.

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I’m attempting to take up running. It’s terrible.

I’ve never been the kind of person who hides from her own life or her own feelings, and yet somehow I became exactly that. Facing myself honestly has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, which scares me a lot because it’s only been 8 days and I’m already kind of exhausted.

I started numbing a long time ago, before I met Robbie, before I became a mother. It took a full 18 years to cycle through the process of drinking socially to binge drinking to drinking to completely block out reality.

The first time Robbie and I hung out outside of work, I got so drunk that he had to drive me home.

The second time, we went on a proper date to Applebee’s in the middle of the day. He walked up to the Customer Service counter at the grocery store where we both worked, leaned against the lotto machines, and said, “I want to take you to lunch.”

Somehow, we saw each other. Everyone thought Robbie was an asshole because he has no affect. He lacks emotional expression, both facially and verbally. He literally has a poker face almost 100% of the time. Back then, it was intriguing. Almost 14 years later, it drives me crazy.

Most people interpreted his lack of affect as rudeness, but I liked it. I thought he was non-emotional because he was aloof and self-confident. He wouldn’t need me to fulfill something that was lacking in his life. He would not try to fix me.

I was right — he didn’t try to fix me. He fell in love with me as I was, even though I drank too much and I was addicted to diet pills. When I didn’t take them, I acted like a complete and total lunatic.

He loved me anyway.

He loved how smart and funny I am. He loved how I see him, like he sees me. If the people who can truly see me believe that I can do this, then I believe that I can. I just hope that they’ll still love me by the time it’s all over.

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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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Lessons In Body Acceptance

Yesterday, my 8-year-old and I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. While waiting, he checked his weight and blood pressure on a fancy machine that I’ve never seen there before. When I realized that the machine also checked Body Mass Index, I told him I wanted to weigh myself. As the numbers flashed on the screen, I swallowed hard.

“Is that really how much you weigh?!” His mouth was literally hanging open in shock, because little boys who weigh 68 pounds have no idea how much adults are supposed to weigh. Also, I’ve been stress eating for literally 6 months straight, so you do the math.

I forced myself to erase all emotion from my face and voice as I chirped “Yep!” and got off the scale with as much dignity as one can muster in the pharmacy waiting area of a Rite-Aid drug store.

I wanted to say that I need to lose 15 pounds.

I wanted to say that I feel fat and gross and I need to take better care of myself.

I wanted to say that I’m healthy, I exercise, and it’s just a number.

I wanted to apologize, explain, or drill into his head that it’s never okay to speak about a woman’s weight.

Most of all, I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and say NEVER REPEAT THAT NUMBER TO ANYONE, DO YOU HEAR ME????

Instead, I smiled, put my arm around him, and we walked out of the store. The first step in teaching our children self-confidence is to demonstrate it, even if we have to fake our way through it sometimes. It makes me wonder how many times my own mother masked her true feelings in order to teach me lessons in body acceptance.

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Image via Courtney Privett. Find her on Facebook here!

My weight is a number that changes every day, my weight does not define me as a person, and my job as a mother is to instill in my children what things actually matter in life.

That number is not one of those things.

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How Raising A Strong-Willed Boy Forced Me To Grow Up

I’m a late bloomer and rehabbed people-pleaser, and it wasn’t until I gave birth to our first child that I finally grew the hell up.

4 months old

This photo was taken on my first day back to work after a 4-month maternity leave, January 2009.

He broke my tailbone entering the world. I was bucked off a mule at age 8, which broke my tailbone and left it pointing inward. I was never aware of this until 20 years later when, after two hours of pushing, the doctors determined my baby boy was stuck behind it.

With the threat of a C-section looming, my son and I furrowed our brows, rolled up our metaphorical sleeves and did what we had to do. I pushed with all my might and he re-broke the bone, forcing his way out. It sounds awful, but really, what’s a broken bone when you’re pushing a human being out of your vagina? It was just another source of discomfort in an already uncomfortable area (and it makes a pretty fantastic story).

I was so unsure of myself when I became a mom. When I think about that person—so nervous about changing her baby’s diaper that she had to have “help” doing it for much longer than I’m comfortable admitting—I can’t be mad at her. She had no idea what she was doing. I give her grace. But also, she really needed to grow the hell up.

And so, because the universe knew I needed it, I was given a very challenging first child. I was forced out of my comfort zone in every way, having no other choice but to learn to ignore what everyone else said and go with my gut.

I grew up.

I learned that my mother does not always know what is best. She knew what was best when she was raising me, because she is my mother, but she does not by default know what is best for me now or what is best for my children. There comes a time when things change, and it can be disorienting. But it’s also necessary.

I realized that it doesn’t matter what other people think about my parenting or my children, because they are mine. Mine to screw up. Mine to encourage. Mine to raise into functional human beings. Mine. No one else’s.

I stopped apologizing, for the state of my house, for the food that I did or did not cook, for my appearance, for my child’s personality. One day, I simply ran out of fucks to give. I don’t owe the world apologies for being who I am, and I certainly don’t want my children to grow up under that assumption. Part of growing the hell up is realizing how fantastic you are and owning it.

Cat and boys

A typical scene at my house. Poor kitty.

I found inner strength. Parenting my strong-willed oldest child broke down every wall I’d ever built. It caused me to question every belief I’ve ever had. I had to throw out everything I’d read in every single parenting book and start from scratch. I am no longer a delicate flower—I can throw a 60-pound child over my shoulder and haul him out of Target if I have to, and he knows it. It took time, but eventually I discovered a durability in myself that I didn’t know existed.

I realized that I am a damn good mom. It was a slow progression, but one day I realized that I haven’t completely screwed up this complicated child. In fact, I’ve done an amazing job with him. He is still challenging, and there are still days that I struggle, but because I have grown the hell up I don’t question every choice I make anymore. I am confident in what I say and do because of everything listed above.

That boy who has given me so many gray hairs in just seven short years has also shaped my spirit in countless ways. He helped me grow up.

And thanks to him, I also always know when it’s going to rain, because my aching tailbone tells me.

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

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The Krewe of Survival

My writing is, for the most part, unedited truth.

I take pride in putting myself out there so that other women will hopefully read my words and say, “ME, TOO!”

I’m here to remind you that you are never the only one.

There is always someone else experiencing the exact same frustration that you are experiencing as you snap on a pair of rubber gloves and extract yet another toy from the poop-filled toilet, wondering aloud how the hell you keep finding yourself in this situation.

I am here to assure you that your child is not the only child who screams “I WANT TO LET THE WATER OUT OF THE BATH TUB!” followed immediately by, “I DON’T WANT TO LET THE WATER OUT OF THE BATH TUB!” followed immediately by, “I WANT TO SLEEP WITH MY KITTIES!” followed immediately by, “I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH MY KITTIES!”

You are not crazy. You are not alone.

There have been times when I felt so overwhelmed by the constant demands of motherhood that I just laid in the middle of the living room floor like a cartoon character and let my children stare at me until my lower lumbar started to ache.

I never had lumbar problems until I had children.

You are not the only mom who forgot to be at a thing or failed to send that paper or complete that form before the deadline. I’ve done it. ALL OF IT. I had high hopes for what kind of mother I would be and I’ve continually fallen short.

Today I yelled at my sons.

Yesterday I was struggling to put the third row back up in our van and the back hatch slammed down on me just before the third row somehow landed on my shin. I threw an epic, adult-sized tantrum in broad daylight, right there in my driveway. I threw things and said things and I’m pretty sure my neighbors either think I’m crazy or a terrible mom.

Maybe they think I’m home with my kids because I’m too much of a lunatic to hold down a regular job. That was certainly not the case when I started this stay-at-home-mom gig, but after yesterday … I’m beginning to wonder.

God, motherhood is hard.

And I feel sorry for myself.

But I do have good news, and that’s that children are resilient creatures and they seem to have the ability to see past the exterior and deep into the depths of our soul. Children know if you are good or bad and if you truly, deeply, love them.

I love my kids. I love them so much that I keep getting up, yes, every single day, to try to do better than I did yesterday. Except when it’s PMS week. During PMS week, I don’t give a damn about trying harder or doing better.

During PMS week, I just try not to kill people.

Yesterday, my middle child had a Mardi Gras parade and we (the parents) were supposed to decorate a float for them to ride in. Everyone else’s were totally tricked out, because of course they were, and my kid and my friend’s kid were literally thrown together into a white wagon with no decorations.

We drank our coffee and applauded ourselves for being there.

sURVIVAL

My oldest child came home from school upset because a kid in his class, a little girl, keeps making fun of him for being “too hairy.” I told him to tell her that little girls who make fun of other kids for being too hairy turn into gorillas when they hit puberty.

He just stared at me.

We’re surviving.

That’s allowed.

If I am a truth-teller, and I believe that I am, then this is my message: it’s hard to be a mom and no one gets it right.

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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.

index

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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Focusing On What Is Good.

I haven’t written much lately because the things I have to say aren’t fun or happy and that’s a real drag.

I don’t like to be a downer. I like to be an upper. I said this recently to a very wise woman who replied, “Well, sometimes you can’t choose.”

That’s true. Sometimes, you can’t.

If I’m being honest — and I am, because my writing is based on honesty — this has been a tough year for my family. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and then my uncle was murdered in my childhood home. If that sounds crazy, it’s because IT IS. Every dysfunctional facet of my extended family that I was dimly aware of, but mostly shielded from, rained down on me in the span of about three days. If there was ever a time that I COULD NOT EVEN, IT’S NOW.

I keep waiting for things to get less difficult, but they don’t — in fact, they continue to get harder. That doesn’t seem right. Life shouldn’t get harder the older you get, but it does.

However, as our difficulties increase we get better at navigating the bullshit. We put up boundaries and become more comfortable saying “I’m not okay with that,” or “You are not allowed to do that to me,” or “You are not welcome in my home.” As life gets harder, WE GET BETTER.

We get better.

It’s like parenting. We don’t give birth to a child in the throes of the terrible two’s — we start out with a mewling newborn and it feels like the hardest thing we have ever done. But then they start crawling and running and fighting back when you’re desperately trying to cram them into car seats and grocery carts, and again you think to yourself: this is the hardest thing I have ever done.

You find yourself thinking that every time you face down a new problem or situation that taxes your spirit. But remembering all of the other hard things you have surmounted — the colic, the endless nights, the tantrums, the failures made right — gets you through it.

That is how I am looking at my life right now. I will get through it, because I have made it through a lot of other hard things.

But it’s still really hard.

When life outside of these four walls becomes overwhelming, I turn inward and focus my attention on my people. They make me forget the bad and focus on the good.

There’s a lot of both, but I’d rather focus on the good. And there is so, so much of it.

my people

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