This Is What Gratitude Feels Like

I am 25 days sober, and I feel amazing.

For a full 3 weeks, I felt almost debilitated. I was depressed, lethargic, and miserable. I had nausea, night sweats, and diarrhea. Some days I literally had to talk myself through putting pants on, and I wasn’t sure if I could keep going.

Are you asking yourself what I mean by “talking myself through putting pants on?” Here’s an example of how I shuffled through my days:

What’s the next right thing?

Putting on pants. I have to get some pants and put them on.

My pants are on. What’s the next right thing?

I need to get my purse. Okay, I have my purse.

What’s the next right thing? I need to find my kids.

Where are my kids?

Shit.

***

That’s what happens when a person suddenly stops drinking after her body becomes accustomed to metabolizing a bottle of wine per day; the body goes into some sort of shock, and trust me, my detox process went a lot better than most. My emotions literally rocketed between intense depression and elation every 5 minutes. I’d go from feeling like sobbing from joy, to wanting to rip our neighbor’s shrubbery out of the ground with my bare hands because I WAS JUST THAT MAD. Mad at myself, mad at the world, and most of all, mad that I will never be able to drink alcohol again without an ugly relapse and even uglier recovery.

Change is scary and it’s hard, but now that I’m starting to feel better, I’m excited to get my life in order. Prior to this, getting my life in order meant going to Office Depot and finding color-coded sticky notes and file folders to keep our paperwork organized. Then I would get drunk and throw a bunch of important papers away because, well, I was drunk, and that’s just how I like to organize sometimes. Throwing everything away means that the mess is permanently filed and I won’t ever see it again.

That’s just how my mind works.

It’s ridiculous that at 37 years old, I’m going to have to re-learn how to cope with the difficulties of life — grief and pain and abandonment and loss and the everyday stress that accompanies motherhood. Maybe I never knew how to handle those things in the first place, and that’s what landed me in a 12-step program. The hows and why don’t matter. I just want to get better.

There are people in my life who don’t believe I’m an alcoholic. There are people who think I’m making it up for attention (please note: this is not the kind of attention you want). Let me share something with you guys: not one of us lives a pain-free, perfectly happy life. Not one. People often assume that because I smile a lot, I’m either stupid or don’t have anything bad going on. The truth is, no one knows anything about me that I don’t want them to know. As much as I freely share in person and online, there are many layers to my story and my days that I keep private. I think most people are like that. We only share what we feel safe sharing, and we may take the rest to our grave.

***

This morning I had coffee outside with two of my favorite people, and I noticed that 25 days into my new life as a sober person, the air feels different. Breathing feels different. It’s like I’ve been living in a musty, dark basement for years, and someone patiently helped me climb the stairs up and out of a situation that I didn’t even know was bad until I saw the sun and felt the warmth of it on my face.

That is what gratitude feels like.

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I told Robbie that if someone had to pick which of us looked like they are in a 12-step program, it would not be me. AND YET.

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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.

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

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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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Time Is Change

Today was my annual eye exam. I completed the paperwork, removed my contact lenses, and settled in.

“Have you noticed any trouble seeing things that are close to your face?”

“Uh, no? Why?”

“Well, you’ll start noticing some vision changes pretty soon. Don’t worry, bifocal contact lenses are a good option for you … unless you’d want reading glasses.”

Wait. Hold up. Bifocals? I’ve reached bifocal age?

I remember turning 30 so clearly: going out with friends, drinking too much tequila, kissing Robbie at Vulcan Park. I remember that birthday, but none since. The time between ages 30 and 37 is muddied by sleep deprivation and hormonal shifts; thankfully, now that my youngest child is nearly four, I’m beginning to emerge from the fog.

Maybe a small part of me knew when we decided to start a family that pieces of ourselves would fall away, dissolve, and disappear. That is aging, after all — but aging is time, time is change, and change is uncertain.

I do not like uncertainty.

Maverick is changing. He won’t hold my hand in public anymore, and he shies away from my hugs. It hurts way more than I expected it would. I wasn’t ready. But yet, much like my eyesight, I can’t prevent it; I just have to lean in, gracefully, and pretend that my heart isn’t breaking.

I remember being 8 and not liking my mother for some unexplained reason.

I wish I could go back and be nicer to her.

Much like everything else in life, the bifocal situation will be determined by how I choose to view it. I could lament the fact that I’m pushing 40, wallow in grief over the loss of my youth, OR, I could give myself a kick in the ass and be proud of the fact that I don’t look nearly old enough to need BIFOCALS.

Today, I choose the latter.

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I’ll Never Show My Face There Again

I respect and love my husband, which is why I would never, ever purposefully embarrass him at his place of employment.

Accidentally (like this day)? Perhaps. But definitely never on purpose. No. We need his job.

I had a good streak going for the first 13 years of our relationship; I never bothered him at work, and I never showed up looking crazy, homicidal, or inappropriately dressed. We never made out in the parking lot. We kept it professional, even when we worked together.

However, this year, things have taken somewhat of a downhill turn. 2016 has been the worst. It started with me getting a major concussion and is apparently ending with me making a complete ass of myself every time I venture out into public.

The kids are on Thanksgiving Break, which means that I have all three of them at home all day, every day, until November 28. No, I’m not counting down the days until they go back to school, why do you ask? Is it the crazy look in my eyes, or the increasingly-high pitch of my voice?

Yesterday I had to take my 5-year-old to the dentist, which required a lot of arranging and re-arranging of childcare because the first rule of motherhood is that you don’t bring more than one kid at at time to the dentist. I was rushed and short on patience and time and after we were done, I went to Robbie’s office to pick up my oldest, who was there waiting.

I decided to leave my purse in the van, because frankly, I was sick of lugging it around. I helped Asher out and locked the doors. We made the long journey inside the building — and as a side note, today was their Thanksgiving feast, so all of the employees were milling around, because OF COURSE THEY WERE — and we walked to Robbie’s office where Maverick was sitting alone, playing on his Nintendo.

“Where’s your Daddy?”

No response.

“Maverick? Where’s Daddy?”

“Oh, hi. Uhhh … I don’t know where he is.”

“What do you mean?”

I looked around the office. Robbie’s sunglasses and keys were on his desk. It looked like he’d just been there, so where did he go? I stepped into the main part of the building to see if he was out talking to someone, but he was nowhere in sight. After waiting a few more minutes, I picked up the receiver of the phone on his desk and called his cell. It went to voicemail.

Briefly, I considered walking back to the van to get my phone to text him, but when I looked over at the boys — one who didn’t even notice we were there, and another who was busy stamping every single important document on the desk with a rubber signature stamp — I realized that I didn’t want to leave them together, alone, in the office. I also really didn’t want to bring them with me. After a few more moments, I decided that I didn’t have time for this shit and I asked his co-worker where he was. The co-worker, with a plateful of food in one hand and a fork in the other, shrugged.

I’d been there for 10 minutes and I was over it. I scrawled a note on an envelope telling him that I was taking Maverick and asking him to call me, and we headed out. As we walked by the men’s restroom, it dawned on me.

He was in the bathroom.

Now, I know it’s not entirely rational, but that made me irate. Who poops for 15 minutes? Who poops for 15 minutes at work? Clearly, he does this at home — but the fact that he gets to do it at work too?! THAT BULLSHIT SENT ME OVER THE EDGE.

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After he walked us out to the parking lot and helped load the kids into the car, and after I made sure the doors were closed so they couldn’t hear me, I turned to him and said the following in my big, strong, outside voice:

“What were you doing in there?”

“Pooping.”

“THAT WHOLE TIME?”

“Yes.”

“What else do you do?”

“I read and I poop.”

“That’s just not normal. Do you do that every day? If I worked with a man who disappeared into the bathroom for that long every day, I’d think he had a problem. I’D THINK HE WAS JERKING OFF OR SOMETHING. WHAT IF PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE IN THERE LOOKING AT PORN ON YOUR PHONE? WHAT IF YOUR CO-WORKERS THINK YOU’RE THE KIND OF MAN WHO WOULD JERK OFF AT WORK?”

I stopped talking when I noticed the stricken look on his face. He took a step toward me and said, very quietly, “There’s someone right behind you.”

And when I turned around, there was one of his co-workers, pretending not to hear me shouting about masturbation.

I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be showing my face there again anytime soon. I think it’s also safe to say that I won’t be invited to.

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I Don’t Want To Go Back In Time

I cannot tell you how deep I had to dig to keep my emotions in check this summer and how deeply I will fall into a cocktail (or five) when school starts again.

But today, I snapped out of survival mode and realized that I made it. I MADE IT!

My oldest starts 3rd grade tomorrow. “I don’t need you to drive me to school on the first day,” he said. “I can take the bus.” He looked at me and grinned and all the sudden I could see what he’s going to look like when I send him off the college, and I felt momentarily sad.

His little brother is starting Kindergarten at the same elementary school this year, and my long time dream of putting both boys on the school bus and waving goodbye will finally be realized. Can I be honest? I’m not sad, or weepy, or wistful for when they were smaller. I’m proud. I’m elated, actually. I’m happy to have made it to this point in one piece, and I don’t want to go back in time. I want to revel in this.

No one wears diapers anymore.

Everyone talks in coherent sentences.

I’ve taught 3 human beings how to use the toilet and how to stay with me in the store; things can only continue to improve from here.

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Summer, 2016

I see photos of myself from 8 years ago when I first became a mom and I feel a little sorry for that version of me. I don’t want to go back in time and be her again. I don’t want to hold my babies or rock them or see them in their infancy or wish for time to go backwards. I MADE IT, which means I have overcome obstacles, which means I have hope to continue overcoming obstacles, which requires me to continue moving forward.

This summer, I got soaked with water by the boys, who thought it would be funny to spray me after I asked them repeatedly to turn off the water. My kids kept me so busy that I never got around to changing clothes, until hours later, I realized that they were dry again.

This summer, we were lazy. I let them have unlimited screen time and we all ate junk food and laid around the house like total couch potatoes. It was amazing. Now I understand why people make this a full-time thing.

This summer, I didn’t work out. I didn’t weigh myself. I put on the same, falling-apart, ill-fitting bathing suit day after day and got in the pool with my kids. I’m 10 pounds heavier than I was last summer, and caring a lot less about how fat my thighs look.

This summer, I really enjoyed my kids. I did. But now, I’m ready for them to go to school, because I need to shake off the experience of having people with me 24/7 for three straight months, and that can only be done by using expletives and bargain shopping alone. By myself. Without anyone hiding in the clothes racks.

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