This is Why Women Seem Angry.

My friends and I have a working theory that women generally run out of fucks sometime after midlife and that’s why there are so many old women roaming around who simply do not care. I’ve long wondered when I would stop worrying so much.

That time has arrived.

We believe that our fucks ran out ahead of schedule, and the reason why has three main anchoring points.

ANCHORING POINT ONE: The last 4 years.

“What do you mean, Harmony?” Allow me to clarify. THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF LIVING IN TRUMP’S AMERICA.

I have lost respect for so many people. Social media provides a place for literally everyone with internet access to state their opinion and now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are surrounded by racists, people who don’t think racism is a deal breaker, people who grandstand about wanting to close abortion clinics (but don’t want to care for the women and children who are in need), hypocrites, bigots, and religious zealots who cloak all of these things and more under a coat of righteousness.

Clearly, I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the past 4 years have been depressingly eye-opening, horrifying, and my circle of people continues to grow smaller — which is a good thing. Before 2016, I was living in an alcohol-induced fog where it was easy to pretend that nothing was wrong. I didn’t want to look at anything that made me feel uncomfortable feelings.

That’s gone now. I’m awake, and I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.

ANCHORING POINT TWO: The pandemic.

I mean, what else is there to say? The isolation, the fear, the outrage, the pressure cooker feeling of being in a house for months with three children, only to realize (months later) how much I actually enjoy being at home all the time with my kids BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS STUPID.

“But that seems harsh.”

Yeah, it’s actually not. Because a lot of people actually die of this virus. Over 180,000 and counting just in America — and if you try to tell me the CDC cannot be trusted then just do me a favor and never, ever return to this website again because you are shitting on the expertise of every scientist and doctor who have devoted their careers to finding the best ways to care for YOU.

Back to why I hate the general public: why would I want to go anywhere when people don’t even believe that Covid-19 is a real thing? Those dumb motherfuckers could sneeze or cough their ignorance onto one of us and we could become asymptomatic carriers and infect my mother or one of my in-laws and then they would end up dying alone in a Covid unit and we wouldn’t even be able to have a funeral.

So, yes. The pandemic used up the remainder of the tolerance I used to have.

ANCHORING POINT THREE: Racial issues.

See my previous blog post.

Now, I realize this all sounds very gloom and doom and perimenopausal, but it’s actually quite liberating.

For example, I put a Biden/Harris 2020 sign in the front yard. My husband is still arguing that Biden isn’t the best choice and he plans to vote third party, but don’t worry, I’ll keep working on him.

In the meantime, our sign blew over in the wind so I went out to stand it back up. Two doors down from us, a tree service was removing one of our neighbor’s rotting trees. There were about 7 (white, very strong-looking) men standing around on the sidewalk staring at me while I adjusted my sign. I looked over at them and waved hello.

Not one of them waved back.

They just stared — not with interest, but with disgust and possibly disbelief. I actually delighted in knowing that I was ruffling their feathers, because yes, I am a white woman who refuses to accept our current administration’s vision of “Making America Great Again.” In fact, it turns my stomach.

While I’m sharing about things that turn my stomach, I’ll add to my list the people who think it’s okay to shame women who visit Planned Parenthood.

“Why is that, Harmony? Have you had an abortion?”

No, thankfully I have never had to make that impossible decision. However, I believe that Planned Parenthood is an important organization and here is why: when I was in my early twenties, not in school, and working a minimum wage job without insurance coverage, that is where I had to go in order to get a prescription for birth control pills. It was $80 to see a doctor and it was a struggle for me to scrape that money together.

Also, every other woman I saw in the waiting room was white, just so you know.

Had I not had Planned Parenthood, what other choice would I have, really? I’ll tell you. I would have had to depend on my partner to always wrap it up, and I wasn’t willing or able to believe that he would. Most men from my generation were brought up to believe that birth control is the woman’s problem and their thought process ends there. Kind of like how dinner is also the woman’s problem — same school of thought. As an aside, my sons already know that where their ejaculate goes is actually their responsibility, but that’s another topic for a different day.

Some people would say I shouldn’t have been having sex outside of marriage, and to those people I’ll say this: that archaic, Bible-based idea is something I one hundred percent reject. I won’t even have the discussion.

Had I not had Planned Parenthood and I did accidentally end up pregnant at that really stupid age, I would not have chosen to get married before I was ready to, nor would I want someone else to decide for me whether or not I was going to carry a child. Because no one can make that decision for another person.

Even people who think they are ready to become parents (exhibit A and B, Harmony and Robbie) aren’t ready to become parents. People who never wanted a kid in the first place? Those children are the ones who truly suffer. I hope that all of the staunchly pro-life people out there can find a way to band together and figure out how to give unwanted babies safe and secure homes, because the government has FAILED AT THIS.

(See also: the foster care system.)

So back to the fact that I am out of fucks. The longer this pandemic drags on, and the more people continue to refuse to do basic things like put on a damn mask to keep other people safe, and the more I notice how people mistreat those who are different or speak about them in a way that’s really not okay, the less I care about what any of those people think.

And it is awesome.

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Let’s Discuss Butt Stuff

I promised you a special post dedicated to my upcoming hemorrhoidectomy, and today is your lucky day. Gather round kids, it’s story time!

After debating over how much detail to share about what, exactly, is the matter with my asshole, I’ve decided to start with this: a customer service representative from the hospital system where I’ll have my surgeries called me to make sure I am aware of the deductible amount that we’ll be responsible for.

But before she got into the exact dollar amount, she tripped over what I was having done. I think her words were “partial hysterectomy and … ** trails off unintelligibly ** “

Me: Yes, I’m having my uterus removed AND AN ASSHOLE REPAIR. Let’s call it a “butt job” just for fun.

Her: Oh my! That sounds …

Me: Like your worst fucking nightmare? Yes. Mine too.

Her: I was going to say that it sounds painful.

Me: It will be.

Her:

Me:

Her: Okay, Mrs. Hobbs, have a wonderful day.

Just so we are clear, I’m having two unfortunate procedures done on the same day because I don’t have time to recover from two separate unfortunate procedures. The uterus needs to go and my two hemorrhoids need to go and yes, I’m terrified. I cope with terror by oversharing.

People don’t like to talk about their assholes, I’m finding. Robbie had to ask for a couple days off work so he can keep an eye on me, and he told his co-workers “Harmony is having some woman stuff done.” Uh, actually, I’m having one woman thing done and the other thing is a human being thing, but he didn’t want anyone to ask questions.

“Why not? Are you embarrassed of my asshole?” I asked.

He totally is.

Now I want to talk about fears, because I have a lot of them. First of all, according to my Gastroenterologist, “no one gets hemorrhoid surgery without serious painkillers.” Even with the pain meds, he warned me that it will, and I quote, “feel like someone is stabbing you in the anus with an ice pick for two weeks.”

I corrected him. “You mean, it’s going to feel like someone is stabbing me in the asshole for two weeks.”

“Yes, it will feel exactly like you’re being stabbed in the anus.”

“You mean the asshole.”

“Whatever you want to call it.”

“I’d like to call it the asshole.”

***

I was probably born with a weak asshole, but childbirth absolutely wrecked it. If it never bothered me, I would be content to ignore it; however, when we went on vacation in January 2019 and I missed out on zip lining because I was in the belly of a Carnival cruise ship where the hospital is located, that did it. I CANNOT LIVE LIKE THAT. It is, like my doctor says, “a quality of life issue.”

I’m afraid of the pain, obviously, but I am also afraid of the painkillers. I’ve never enjoyed taking painkillers, recreationally speaking, but I know myself well enough to realize that the combination of pandemic + painkillers + actual pain is not great for someone who is a recovering alcoholic. My anxiety over relapsing is worse than my anxiety over the actual recovery process itself, which is saying a lot.

My way of coping with the fear of relapse is to talk about it incessantly. I’m locked in a self-propelled cycle right now where I stress myself out and then wish that someone would shoot me with a tranquilizer dart to put me out of this self-imposed misery.

Asher had his tonsils and adenoids removed last week and took pain meds for a total of three days. The remainder of the Hydrocodone is sitting in our fridge. I envision guzzling it. Then I tell on myself. The vision goes away only to boomerang right back when my anxiety ramps back up.

Someone emailed me recently to ask if I am on medication for anxiety and depression. GIRL, YES. 100%. Five stars. Highly recommend. Super grateful that I was already doing this pre-pandemic, because WOW, guys, the world is really imploding out there.

In conclusion, no one talks about butt problems and if I tried not to talk about my butt problems I would feel ashamed of my butt problems and most likely relapse in one way or another. I don’t want to relapse, so I’ve named my hemorrhoids “Trump” and “Pence” and they have got to go.

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Well, It’s Monday Again

Because when there are no words, there is almost always the perfect GIF. Hello from Groundhog Day #31.

I got some backlash for my latest post, which you can read here if you missed it. If you’re offended by a lot of profanity, I’d advise you to maybe skip that one. Listen close, cats: I love my children. Really. I also realize that I’m fortunate to be married to a man I still enjoy being around. We have a roof over our heads, and I know this won’t last forever. That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be mad about it.

My challenges are mostly due to the fact that I’m

A.) Trying to remain sober, while

B.) Raising two children with very different, very challenging, issues. Plus a third kid.

These facts do not mean it can’t be done. In fact, the reason why I share my experiences is to hold myself accountable as well as help other women in a similar situation see that there really is hope for anyone who is struggling with any kind of addiction disorder. If you don’t struggle with addiction, it might be hard for you to understand why LOSING THE THINGS THAT KEEP ME TOGETHER while at the same time PARENTING CHILDREN WHO ALSO LOST THE THINGS THAT KEEP THEM TOGETHER feels so damn impossible.

If you have not been in this position, please don’t chastise me for freaking out about it, because all that does is make you an asshole.

The thing is, that the feeling of impossibility is actually probably a lie. The truth is that deep down inside of me there is a strength that I can tap into — but only if I choose to.

Every day, I get to make that choice.

So, in the spirit of choosing to be okay when very few things are actually okay, here are a few things that are bringing me joy — or at the very least, a chuckle? — during this very challenging time.

  • This post from McSweeny’s, OMG. Funniest thing ever.
  • I’m growing plants! This orchid has been with me since November, and I just bought the rosemary plant. So far, so good. I’d like to branch out to growing things in the yard, but I’m paralyzed by the fear that I’ll invest a ton of time and energy and then everything will die. Suggestions are welcomed — I live in South Louisiana, so the climate is tropical(ish).
  • I found a bra so comfortable that I went back and ordered two more. Dillard’s is having a great sale on loungewear, and since that’s what I’m living in now I decided to stock up. My curvy sisters, may I present the Natori Bliss Contour Wireless Bra. I am a 34 DDD and am forever in search of support and comfort. This bra is so comfy that I SLEEP IN IT.
  • Videos of hedgehogs as pets. Just trust me on this. I spent several hours watching hedgehogs taking baths, hedgehogs taking foot baths, hedgehogs playing in their spinny wheels, and on and on. My friend Rach (of the blog RachRiot) has a pet hedgehog named … wait for it … Quillie Nelson. Read all about it here, if you are so inclined.
  • Bob Dylan. The calmness of his music makes me happy.
  • And finally, we made names for our alter egos. Example: when Pepper loses her shit, we call her Janice — as in, “Uh oh, Janice is here. Everybody scatter!” Something about referring to our Quarantine Selves as alter egos makes us laugh, and laughing is exactly what we need right now to get through this thing.

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Can We Really Do This? Pandemic Edition

Remember back when 2019 was a little intense and all of us looked forward to 2020? We had no idea what was coming, bless our little privileged hearts.

But it’s fine. Really. Everything is absolutely fine.

Remember when I almost relapsed last summer on diet pills because I was so stressed, and I swore I would never again stay home full time with the kids? I had no clue that was just a teeny, tiny preview into what was awaiting me: full time isolation with my three children, without access to the things that I grew to depend on for my sanity and well being, WITH NO END IN SIGHT.

Making the best of it!

Last summer seems like a breeze compared to this. What the hell even is this? I honestly can’t decide, because my thoughts and feelings shift minute by minute. Sometimes it feels like a gift, a blessing, something divinely orchestrated to open my eyes to the simple joys that I spent so many years drowning out before I got sober. Other times it feels like a dystopian nightmare, like we’re on the verge of societal collapse and there is no way any of us can do this if this virus doesn’t kill us first.

Can we really do this? Or are we, the American people, too soft, too spoiled rotten? Someone said that an Amazon employee tested positive for the virus, and now people are freaking out that Amazon might stop delivering things like bike helmets and creamy peanut butter to our doorsteps.

You fools took all the creamy peanut butter in my town and all that is left is extra crunchy. Peanut butter manufacturers should know by now that nobody likes that extra crunchy shit, you could just as well buy a can of peanuts and smear them on bread, because that’s exactly what it tastes like. The same people who are buying up all the good peanut butter are more than likely the ones hoarding toilet paper, because greedy people are like that. It’s cool, though, because I bought up all the fiber supplements, so the joke’s on you, motherfuckers.

No one knows when — or if — school will resume for the 2019-2020 academic year. None of us were aware, when the kids climbed into school buses or cars at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13, that they wouldn’t be returning the following Monday. We can’t tell our kids for certain when (if?) they will be able to see their friends or teachers again, let alone when libraries and parks will reopen.

I’ve started focusing on reminding them that their friends are safe in their homes — just like we are! — because my kids are only friends with people who come from intelligent homes. And what I mean by intelligent is that the adults in the household can comprehend basic instructions and aren’t out shopping together as a family and then crowding around a food truck afterwards, touching everything.

That’s just stupid.

We are all doing impossible things all day long, trudging a minimum of 6 feet away from each other up a slippery hill. And YES, it is all too much. Way, way too much. I don’t have the answers, people. I am only here to validate our immense and bottomless angst.

Via @happyasamother on Instagram!

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A Homeschooler I Am Not

Ok, look. I’m going to level with you: the past few weeks have been harder than anything I’ve gone through in my life, and that’s saying a lot.

After writing my previous blog post, I basically had a 48-hour meltdown wherein I cried, stamped my feet, and felt sorry for myself. My body felt like it was filled with lead. I had the overwhelm, big time, and my kids were even more anxious (read: hyperactive, emotional, excitable, awful) because their mother couldn’t seem to get it together.

Eventually, I got ahold of myself. I mean, this pandemic isn’t going away. I have no control over an invisible virus. So I’m going to focus on what I can control: living through a pandemic while in recovery for alcoholism, in isolation with my three children, for an unknown period of time. Because WOW.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, slash, writer, for almost 8 years now. To go from what used to be our normal life, to 24/7 parenting without access to libraries, parks, other children, zoos, the swimming pool, or anything other than our own home and yard, is CRAZY DISORIENTING. I mean … you know. We all know. I don’t have to explain to any of you how hard all of this is, because you are already there.

Part of me feels ashamed to complain, because I’m aware that millions of people don’t have it as good as we do right now. My husband is in the car business, and right now vehicles are considered a “necessity” along with hospitals and groceries, so his work load isn’t slowing down anytime soon. And as much as I worry about him going out there into the wild where the viruses live, and as bitter as I sometimes feel because he gets to leave for work and I do not, I’m thankful that we don’t have to worry about our livelihood (at least, not yet).

For 12 hours a day, and it’s just me and the kids.

At first, I tried to homeschool them. It sounded like a good idea. Routine is always good for kids — how hard could it be to carry on what their teachers were doing with them before schools unexpectedly closed down?

WRONG.

It turns out that stressed mothers are terrible teachers. I was stressing myself out as well as my children, so we just … well, we stopped. There was no big announcement, no dramatic throwing in of the towel, I just fucking quit doing it.

And guess what? Nothing horrible happened. My kids didn’t become dumb overnight. They’re still learning, just in a different way. Today we went to a pond and threw out food for the turtles. We’re cooking, cleaning, and learning how to work together under duress. I’m trying really, really hard not to yell.

It’s a work in progress.

My greatest challenge is that I am trapped with my kids during a time that I would absolutely LOVE to numb out, maintaining my sobriety without access to the 12-step meetings that have been such an integral part of my recovery, and surrounded (virtually, not literally) by people who are conditioned to cope with Bad Things by drinking. This is Louisiana. We are famous for our ability to roll with the punches and do it with good cheer, because we’re loaded all the time.

This is what I found myself writing to a woman who is 142 days sober and struggling with the isolation/motherhood problem:

Hi! Mom of an 11 year old boy with Asperger’s and ADHD, a 8 year old boy with ADD, and a 6 year old girl here. First of all, YOU ARE DOING GREAT. None of us are doing this perfectly or even that well, but if you are sober and your kids are loved and safe, then give yourself a huge pat on the back! You are demonstrating every single day what it looks like to love yourself so that you can truly love them.

Now, isolation and motherhood are both huge triggers for me, so this is what I’ve found helpful:

1. Telehealth sessions with my therapist (if you don’t have one, this is a GREAT TIME TO GET ONE). I’m scheduling them weekly. I know cost can be a problem — look for a counselor without all the fancy letters after their name. There are plenty and trust me, they’ve got mad availability right now.

2. Reaching out to all of my friends so I don’t feel alone. I use Zoom, WhatsApp, and Marco Polo, in addition to all the regular ways of communicating.

3. HARD exercise. Wear those kids out! Wear yourself out! Get the anxiety out of your body by doing something outside in the sun or even a Zumba video inside the house. Just move your body, sweat, and get the kids to move too. I cannot stress enough how crucial physical exercise is to my sanity/sobriety/mental health. Hard exercise is the only thing I’ve found to keep my anxiety at a manageable level right now.

4. Give your entire household grace because what we are doing is BATSHIT CRAZY and HARD AS FUCK, DO YOU HEAR ME? We are doing the impossible, and doing it sober. If someone would have told me this is what I’d be doing in 2020, I never would have believed them. But I am. We are.

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The Covid Diaries

Two weekends ago, Robbie and I took the kids to “Cat Video Fest 2020” which was basically just a feature-length compilation of cat videos shown in the classy theatre downtown, and it was there that I saw my friend Gwen.

Gwen reminds me of a hummingbird. Her petite frame and wide-eyed curiosity is almost ethereal, and she always hugs me hello and asks me about my writing. I’m not sure how old she is — maybe in her 50’s or 60’s — but I know she doesn’t have children and she likes to read the newspaper every morning.

Today I’m thinking about Gwen because two weekends ago when we sat in that theatre with the very close together seats, sneezing and coughing and leaning all over each other, none of us had quarantine or lockdown or viruses on the brain. We were thinking about cats hiding in brown paper bags and kittens in mittens, blissfully unaware that our lives were about to be TURNED THE FUCK OVER.

Arrogance, and possibly denial, kept us from considering the fact that a pandemic, Covid-19, would be here. Something about the way we live our lives keeps us from believing that whatever is happening over there could ever actually happen where we live.

Before the viral panic descended upon us, I was wrapped up in the politics of our local public school system. I was busy worrying about whether or not the locker rooms at the kid’s school had appropriate window coverings. I was focused on helping our new principal get the surveillance cameras fully functioning.

I was dealing with the individual challenges of my kids, which have recently become overwhelming. I ramped up my own therapy in response, trying hard to listen to my therapist when she said “Harmony, you need help.” She said it was time to hire someone, maybe a college kid, and I started looking.

But then schools shut down.

And now I am home with my three kids, indefinitely. No playdates. No gym. No library, no seeing grandparents, no playing at the park. Robbie is still going to work. There is no toilet paper to be found. I have a dip manicure that is over two weeks old and I’m not sure when I can go have it removed. My face is breaking out. The kids are anxious. I am anxious.

I’m trying to lean in. I am sober. I can think of this time as a gift. I can try to enjoy my home and my kids and be grateful that I don’t have to go anywhere. I can make gratitude lists, and try to make the best of it, and work on my spiritual growth.

BUT Y’ALL.

I’m in recovery for alcoholism — which 100% ramped up when I became a stay at home mom, even though I wanted to be a stay at home mom. One of my biggest triggers is being stuck at home with the kids because I had no idea how awful it is to be stuck at home with the kids.

Yesterday reminded me.

It is terrible.

I miss the gym. I miss everything I used to do to make myself feel sane. I feel like a whiny bratty baby for complaining, but one glance at social media reminds me that we are likely to be on lockdown soon because all of you idiots refuse to stay home. We are all in the same boat, fellow Americans, and half of you insist on poking holes in the sides because you don’t believe in science.

And so, my friends, I leave you with this. Because Pepper is ALL OF US.

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Standing In A Snow Globe

351 days sober feels like standing in the middle of a snow globe right after a small child shook it so violently that an adult had to intervene. I am standing on two feet, which is good, but I’m also (still) disoriented and dizzy and unsure of what is actually happening and also I can’t see a damn thing because of

all

that

snow.

***

351 days sober is really close to a full calendar year and I almost feel paralyzed by everything I know. The mind is a tricky thing. It’s possible to lock parts of it up and hide the key from yourself, which is exactly what I did. I was depressed for years but did not want to be, so I found chemicals to perk myself up. I drank to deal with the emotions I wanted to avoid: fear, anger, resentment, PTSD, and heartache.

I was like this when I met my husband — he knew I had problems, but doesn’t everyone? Yes, everyone does. We married and vowed to stay with each other in sickness and in health and I guess this whole addiction thing is my sickness.

It’s easy to hide from the truth if you don’t want to see it. I believed all of the lies I told myself: I’m not good enough. Something is inherently wrong with me. I’m a shit mother. My husband doesn’t really love me.

In therapy, I described how, for a very long time, I blamed my family for causing me to believe those lies. If Robbie would just bring home flowers, I would feel loved. If only our children were easier. Then, I would know I was a good mother.  If only my own mother wasn’t so sick. I mean, that’s why I drank, right? Because I have a sick mom and a child on the spectrum and a husband who works crazy hours?

Searching for evidence to support the lies I tell myself occupied my thoughts. If I wasn’t busy thinking that I suck at life and finding examples to support this self-fulfilling prophecy, then I might actually have to look at myself, and clearly, that was out of the question.

So, no. I didn’t drink because of the people in my life. I drank to hide.

“What you just described to me is the definition of addiction,” my therapist said, when I told her how I would nitpick Robbie and blame his scatterbrained-ness, his work hours, his messiness, for my issues.

Oh.

At nearly one year sober, this is what I know: no one can MAKE me feel anything. I am in charge of my emotions. I am in charge of how I allow others to affect me. It’s like standing in the middle of a hula hoop — I can control everything inside of the hula hoop. That’s it. Everything else is outside of the hula hoop, which means it is outside of my control.

The only other thing I’ve figured out in the past 11 months is that the people I blamed for making me want to drink are the same people who loved me when I was at my lowest point. They are the ones who cleaned my vomit out of the car and the bed and went with me to the doctor and loved me, no matter how much I yelled or how unpredictable I was.

Not one of those people stopped loving me. They are living proof that the lies I told myself are, in fact, lies.

I have a lot of love to celebrate on my first sober Valentine’s Day.

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This is me. Can’t you tell?

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What I Cannot Do For Myself

I twisted my hands together, fighting the urge to pick at my cuticles as I watched my therapist’s eyes widen. She put down her pen; I bit my bottom lip to the point of pain, waiting for her to continue.

“That just doesn’t happen, Harmony.”

“I know.”

“No, I don’t think you do. I mean, I think you’re grateful for the people you have in your life. I think you know that you wouldn’t be sober today without them, but Jesus – you are incredibly, incredibly lucky.”

“I know.”

She picks up her pen; I exhale. I want to feel lucky: I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic who is still alive. I have not lost my husband or my kids. My friends still speak to me. I love and I am loved, even though a loud, persistent voice tells me every day that I am unworthy. The other shoe will drop soon, says the voice, and no one can be trusted except for my best friends, alcohol and uppers. Figuring out how to acknowledge that voice and then actively choose not to listen to it is an invisible, exhausting task that is hard to explain to people who have never had to battle with an almost constant feeling that everyone would be better off if they were dead.

I want to feel brave and fortunate and strong. People call me those things all the time – someone from my past recently called me “courageous” – but all I feel is a heaviness that never leaves, no matter how many hours of sleep I get or how many lattes I drink. Some people call it depression, but for me, it’s simply darkness. For years and years, I took uppers to snap me out of the sadness that wouldn’t leave.

It worked. No one noticed how messed up I was.

When that person called me courageous, I wanted to yell the following proclamation:

“I AM NOT COURAGEOUS. I AM EXHAUSTED AND WANT NOTHING MORE THAN AN ENORMOUS BOTTLE OF VODKA TO WASH AWAY THE PERSISTENT PAIN AND DISCOMFORT THAT I CARRY WITH ME ALL THE TIME. I AM DESPERATE TO FEEL BETTER.”

Is bravery the same thing as desperation?

***

On January 9, 2018, my dad had surgery. It was supposed to be minor – my mother couldn’t bring him, because she has virtually no immune system and is almost always narrowly avoiding hospitalization herself. I was happy to do it, especially because I knew this would be the first January 9th I faced in recovery and I needed a distraction.

January 9, 1999 is the day my life imploded. Now that I’m no longer drinking to avoid thinking about it, I’m thinking about it a lot. Here’s where I am: when those people made the decision to cross the multiple lines that were crossed, I was forced to make a series of decisions. First, I pressed charges. Second, I broke up with the man I was planning to marry and spend the rest of my life with, because I could no longer fathom a happy future with him. It wasn’t because of anything that was lacking in him as a person, or in our relationship. It was purely because he happened to be related to the kind of people who thought it was acceptable to slam me, choke me, kick me, punch me, and lick my face. I just … I couldn’t. I was done.

Maybe walking away from that relationship means they won. Maybe becoming an alcoholic means they won. If they wanted to destroy me, they were successful. Not one of them ever acknowledged what they did. Not one of them ever uttered an apology for smashing their brother’s relationship into pieces. They did what they did and pretended it never even happened, and we were left to figure out the rest. I chose to walk away from the relationship, and that is something I drank over for a very, very long time.

When I got sober, it was like awakening from a deep sleep. Like, oh! Okay. I made that decision and now my life is this. That choice led me to point A and then to point B where I seriously screwed up, but how did I get here? It’s a super involved process of turning over every rock and analyzing the how and why of my current situation. Was I sober when I met Robbie? Was I sober when we married? What about when we decided to have kids – was I sober then?

***

This year, I spent January 9 in a hospital waiting room working really hard not to self-destruct. I made it through the day – my dad went home, and so did I – but then I had to rush him back to the Emergency Room two days later.

The E.R. is a terrible place, something I can say with certainty because we spent 16 hours there before he was finally admitted. I was awake for 36 hours straight. My dad was hooked up to morphine. At a few different points, he and I both thought he was going to die.

I’m very good in emergency situations. I fold into myself, feeling nothing until it’s safe to do so. It wasn’t until I’d pitched a fit while holding a barf bag full of my daddy’s vomit in the middle of a flu-infested E.R. with a crazy man sitting in the corner yelling about how he was going to kill us all and they finally found a room for us that I allowed myself to cry.

Recovery feels like that for me. It didn’t feel safe to feel until it was safe to feel.

***

I don’t know how long I was at the hospital before my friend Kate flew in from Virginia. She was there to take care of the kids so I could be with my dad, but she admitted later on that she was mostly there to make sure I was able to take care of myself so I could take care of everyone else.

She came so I could remain sober.

My girlfriends sent food to my house and to my parents. Kate grocery shopped for my kids, bought them balloons, and assured them that their real mom would be home soon. My mother-in-law did all of the laundry, and then, Kate did it again.

“All you have to do is press the button on the coffee maker,” she told me before I fell into bed one night. “The coffee is ready to go.”

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She taught my children ballet poses.

Kate mothered me. She cooked food and encouraged me to eat it. She sent me to my 12-step meetings. For almost a week, she reminded me that it was okay to need and accept help. Her presence made me remember to keep doing the things that keep me sober.

Robbie bought a desk for my office and had it assembled when I got home. He did everything he could think of to make my life easier while I was preoccupied with getting my dad better. And really, that’s the part that touches me the most – how everyone in my life just SHOWED UP. Maybe before now, I was so walled off that I wouldn’t allow people to truly help me or love me. Maybe now I can learn how to do a better job of that, even though the voice still whispers that I don’t deserve love because I’m not good enough.

***

My 50-minute therapy session is drawing to an end, and I kind of don’t ever want to leave but I also kind of want to make a run for it and never come back. Getting better is hard work, something my therapist acknowledges and encourages me to talk about. Owning my issues will help me get better, and I really am proud of my progress, even though right now I’m pretty much constantly in a state of discomfort, shame, or self-loathing.

“Let me sum it up for you like this, Harmony,” she said, snapping her notebook shut and leaning forward. “God is doing for you what you cannot do for yourself.”

Yeah. No kidding.

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This is Kate. She is my sister.

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A Very Sober Halloween

This is the first Halloween that I’ve been sober for as long as I can remember, and I have a lot of feelings about it.

Part of what grieves me about the absence of alcohol in my life is all the fun I used to have while drinking. Clearly, there was lots of bad stuff too, or I’d still be doing it, but when I’m feeling sorry for myself I only remember the good times.

Before Robbie and I had kids, we went to Halloween parties every year, sometimes more than one in a night. We were the people who meandered from party to party — no curfew, no babysitter to worry about, and very few responsibilities to wake up to the next morning.  Because of this, I equate drinking to having very few responsibilities, which isn’t accurate at all, but that’s my way of romanticizing the past. As time went on and our family grew, my sense of responsibility, worry, and fear grew as well. Escaping responsibility and worry was one of the biggest reasons why I drank — and the more I drank, the more I drank, because I’m an alcoholic and my body craves it.

Also? My responsibilities did not go away. At all.

Last year, I was excited about the kid’s costumes — it was the first time in years that I’d planned ahead far enough in advance to avoid making a very last-minute trip to the store — but by that time in my drinking career, I was pretty much a miserable person, wracked with anxiety, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of dread. None of that is evident in the photos, but I remember.

WJHAbrunch

I carried a cup of wine with me the entire time the kids were trick-or-treating, ducking back into my friend’s house to refill without telling anyone. Today, as I was feeling sorry for myself thinking about all the carefree, happy parents who will be able to enjoy a beer or cocktail tonight, I remembered being drunk last year, after dark, with all three of my kids scattered in different parts of an unfamiliar neighborhood. I didn’t allow myself to consciously feel shame at the time, and it certainly wasn’t problematic enough for me to consider stopping my habit, but today, I let myself go there.

I’m ashamed that I was so deep in addiction that I couldn’t stomach the thought of taking my kids trick-or-treating sober. I’m ashamed that I have missed out on so much of their lives because I was either drunk, or miserable, or both. I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate my life because I was too busy running from it.

Thankfully, this year will be different. Although we are all far from perfect, I no longer feel like running away. I’m learning how to embrace the good and the bad, and although it’s really, really hard, it’s better than trying to escape.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m not trying to escape reality, or my emotions, or my fears. How appropriate that this Halloween night, the scariest thing I’ll have to face is myself.

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When Did Authenticity Become Brave?

People keep telling me that I’m brave, but I feel like they’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

They tell me things like “You’re so brave to be living sober,” or, “It’s so brave of you to talk so openly about your problem with alcohol.” For the record, people have been calling me brave ever since I started writing publicly 7 years ago, and back then I was just talking about motherhood. I thought it was weird then, and I think it’s even weirder now.

Since when did living authentically become synonymous with bravery? Are we that out of whack as a society that the simple act of owning one’s shit is considered courageous? I’ll tell you what I think is courageous. Joining the Army.

Walking into a room full of uptight, conservative, Bible-thumping church goers and announcing that you identify as a gay male.

Adoption.

Opting not to pee when there’s a clean restroom available in New Orleans.

Skydiving.

Fostering children over and over again, knowing that you’ll grow attached and feel sad when they leave, but doing it anyway.

Standing up to a person who scares you, even if that person is yourself.

Cloth diapering.

Leaving.

Staying.

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This chick walks away from situations a LOT.

Getting sober is brave. Talking about getting sober is not, at least not for me. It’s part of what keeps me well, and it’s a win-win — I raise awareness, and I keep myself from listening to that little voice that talks to me all day, every day, telling me that I should take up smoking, or that one glass of wine won’t hurt me, or that getting one bottle of Phentermine would knock this extra weight right off and THEN MY LIFE WOULD BE BETTER.

My therapist told me, when I was lamenting to her about how many messages I get from people who seem to think that sobriety is easy for me, as if I’m some kind of unicorn who is magically able to abstain from drinking without any effort whatsoever, that I should write about how it actually feels to stay sober for 24 hours at a time. So here goes.

Staying sober is a 24 hour cycle of ups and downs. I enjoy waking up and feeling awake instead of foggy. I appreciate that about sobriety, the clarity. I’m grateful for it, because without it, around 10 a.m. every morning, when that little voice starts telling me things like you should just stop eating, go get some pills to kill your appetite and the gnawing need to do something, anything, to stop the voice sets in, I need clarity in order to remain in control. I call someone and I talk about it. I go to rooms full of people and I talk about it. I write about it.

I have had to tell strangers about how hard it is for me to give my son his ADHD medication without throwing one into my mouth. I’ve admitted the deepest, darkest parts of me that lurk under the surface, the addiction that wants nothing more than to kill me, and I’ve learned that speaking the words into the air takes away their power.

When I say it, the compulsion to do it lessens, just a little. I do this over and over and over again.

After I work through one issue, another wave will come — this time, the voice will tell me, as my kids shout and paint with toothpaste and fight with each other the way that kids do, that I need something to numb myself from wanting to put my hands over my ears and scream. The voice says, What kind of mother can’t handle a little yelling from three children? What kind of parent doesn’t get ahead of the situation and send her kids outside to play, before she comes unhinged? You aren’t good enough. You need to take something so that you will be better.

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Eating breakfast with the cat.

The self-loathing and the shame creeps in, telling me that I’m deficient, my kids deserve better, and I should just drink. Thankfully, we don’t keep alcohol in the house.

There is something about my brain that is different. There’s an undercurrent there — one that I can’t completely eradicate — that actually makes me want to park my butt somewhere with an enormous bottle of something and drink it or snort it until I feel nothingness. I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to feel. That’s what makes me an addict, and it’s actually the opposite of bravery. It’s cowardice, a fear of feeling.

It’s not bravery or luck or some kind of upper crust morality that keeps me sober. Working a program keeps me sober. Talking about recovery is something that I hope more people start doing, because whether you think so or not, A LOT OF PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE IN RECOVERY OF SOME SORT.

So, yes. Getting help is brave. Talking about getting help is not.

All of us should talk more.

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7 months sober! Photo credit: 4-year-old child.

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