Pandemic Parenting

I’m one of those annoyingly literal people who struggle to comprehend abstract ideas, so the concept of a pandemic is like, really hard for me to understand. Everything has a beginning and an end, yes? But we have no idea when this thing’s gonna end?

Bullshit.

I do not accept.

For real, give me an end date. I need to put it on my calendar.

I’m wearing a mask. I’ve been wearing a mask, and the people who claim that they can’t mask up because of their “rights” make me want to scream. Sometimes, I do.

I don’t bring the kids anywhere that I don’t absolutely have to, and when I do bring them out in public, they are also masked. They’re also kids, so it doesn’t really matter that they’re masked because they shove their fingers underneath the mask to dig around in their noses, so there’s that.

We go to the pool. I go to yoga, keeping my mat sort of away from other people. In a desperate, dark moment, I signed all three kids up for a variety of summer camps which they’re attending on a rotating basis, giving each child a week at home with just me while the other two go to camp.

I am walking the squiggly line of following the rules and keeping myself sane because parents, the only way we are going to make it through this nightmare is by taking care of ourselves.

I have always said I could not homeschool.

I never should have said that.

The truth is, I can homeschool, I just don’t want to. I don’t want to with every fucking fiber of my being. My entire system rebels against the mere thought of it. Absolutely nothing could possibly displease me more, except for the idea of living without electricity. And yet, here we are! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.

I’m resentful. I’m bitter. I hate everyone and everything, A LOT. But this post isn’t supposed to be about my irritation. This post is about self-care.

We will not make it to the end of this journey if we don’t put ourselves first. I don’t mean “after the kids start school.” I don’t mean “once Maverick gets braces” or “once I lose 15 pounds” or “after Asher’s tonsillectomy,” which are all actual excuses I’ve given.

I mean today. Now. Right after you finish reading this blog post, you need to take care of yourself. Take a bath. Lock yourself in a room and watch all 5 seasons of The Affair. Pluck your eyebrows. Organize your underwear and throw out the raggedy ones. Set boundaries and stick to them. Feed yourself things that will boost your immune system. Go outside and breathe.

If you think my ideas are stupid then just think of something not harmful that makes you happy and go do that thing. Ignore your family. They will be fine.

Last week I managed to attach magnetic eyelashes to my face and went to dinner for the first time with my husband since Valentine’s Day. It was nerve wracking and I feel like it should have been more romantic than it was, but he’s been working like 72 hours a week and neither of us are great company right now, just FYI.

I’ve seen articles about mom rage in a pandemic and I’m like damn, that’s me. That is all of us. We’re going to all explode into bloody pieces if we don’t figure out how to mother ourselves so we can turn right back around and be a not shitty mom to our progeny.

My therapist has been on my ass about self care for 3.5 years. I blow it off — I don’t know why. It’s HARD to learn how to genuinely care for a body that I abused for so long. When I think of self care, I think of vodka and cranberry and a crushed up Adderall, but that’s because I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict and my thinking is warped.

Actual self care is softer. Gentler. Easy on the liver. Most of it sounds boring, I know. But if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose our shit and I don’t mean in the comical way. This situation is a pressure cooker, both on a very nuclear level (in our homes) and on a majorly large scale (the entirety of America) and I don’t want to see it get any worse. And yet, somehow, it is.

Welcome to 2020.

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Parenting Quirky Kids During A Pandemic

Last night, I leaned against the counter in our hall bathroom with my arms crossed, watching my 11-year-old brush his teeth.

I choose to watch him mostly because if left to his own devices, he only cleans the right side of his mouth, completely forgetting about the left. Kids on the spectrum — who also have ADHD — are like that. It took me a long time to understand and accept this behavior as something other than carelessness.

As he brushed, I noticed that his height likely surpasses 5 feet and made a mental note to measure him. He’s all arms and legs; even though he’s one of the youngest in his class, he will never be the smallest.

Out of nowhere, he blurted, “Sadness is going up, isn’t it?”

I wanted to make sure I’d heard him right, since he was talking with a mouthful of toothpaste, so I asked him to repeat the question.

“Sadness. It’s going up, huh? Because of the virus.”

That is when my child looked at me with genuine concern and asked if the rate of suicide will increase because of what is happening. Because of the number of businesses closing their doors. Because people are losing their homes and their livelihoods and their loved ones.

Oh.

I had to answer him honestly. I told him yes, he’s right, a lot of people are sad and a lot of them are ending their lives. I think I tacked on some stuff about the importance of mental health and how there is ALWAYS a better way out, that there is ALWAYS hope, even if it feels like there isn’t, but I’m sure I bungled that part up because of what I’m going to go over with you in a moment.

So, he’s not the kind of kid who blissfully be-bops through life, and he’s also not the kind of person who is willing to accept what you tell him at face value. He’s going to sniff out a lie — or even a glossed over, watered down version of the truth — like nobody’s business, and if he thinks you’re not telling him the whole truth? HE WILL NEVER LET IT GO.

I don’t even try to skirt issues anymore; I address them directly and to the best of my ability. Maverick just knows things, no matter how much I try to wish away his level of awareness. He notices every slight change in my mood, even when it’s imperceptible to others. All that hyper awareness is exhausting — I should know, because I’m the same way.

Before the pandemic suicide rate discussion took place, we’d survived a typical evening at home.

The first time I typed out that sentence, I’d used the word “enjoyed” instead of “survived.” That was a lie, so I changed it.

My husband arrived from work around 7 p.m. I was hanging by the very last shred of my sanity after helping our 8-year-old assemble his Nintendo Labo. I peaced out for a walk to clear my head, slash, talk myself out of running away from home for good, during which I discovered one of our neighbors (an elderly man wearing sweatpants) playing bagpipes on the sidewalk.

The music was so hauntingly beautiful that I captured it with my phone, although I stayed far enough away so that he wouldn’t be in the video clearly enough for people to know who it was because I’m polite like that.

When I got home, our 6-year-old was insisting in her screechy-screech voice that we all participate in something I can only describe as Hobbs Masterpiece Theater — she wrote a script, we all had lines, and there was singing and dancing involved.

Then there were baths and pajamas for the two younger kids, the usual reading/playing/screaming for no reason combo that our children love so much, an episode of our favorite show, cuddling with Robbie, and at the end of all of that, exhausted, was when I stood in the bathroom with my oldest.

The discussion with my son happened at the end of a very long day of pandemic parenting. And this is why all of us are so beyond over this shit.

Not our kids. We love our kids. But the confinement, the isolation, the “distance learning,” “crisis schooling,” mask-making, scary news bullshit? DONE. WITH. IT.

None of us are doing great. I mean, maybe some people are, but I don’t know those people. Every parent I know well enough to have an honest conversation with is slowly dying inside from the agony that is modern day parenting and working whilst isolating because there is a pandemic out there.

So, if you are wondering if you’re the only person out there who is struggling … you aren’t. (Insert something uplifting here, like “WE CAN DO HARD THINGS!”)

Deep breath.

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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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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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Learning To Swim

Every rental we’ve lived in since we left Alabama came with a disappointing bath tub.

Our town home, although small, had a large garden tub that I kept scrubbed clean. A hot bath with Epsom salts is the only thing that relaxes me the way wine does. When I was pregnant with Maverick, and later, Asher, I soaked in that tub almost every night to relax the muscles wrapping around my midsection.  As I floated, belly protruding, I could breathe.

Weightlessness. That’s what I am always searching for.

After we walked away from our mortgage in 2012 like so many other young couples who found themselves trapped in the real estate market crash, I either drank myself to oblivion or crammed my body into the dingy tub of an overpriced rental home to relax. Sometimes, I did both.

A few days into sobriety, my brain still fogged over from detox, I wondered what would happen if I sank under the murky water and inhaled.

The dense fog has lifted now, and most days, being sober feels like a heavy weight. Drinking was like a weight, too, but this is different. Life is what feels heavy. Alcohol let me block it out but did not provide an escape from my problems. Sobriety opens up the curtains and lets the light in: painful, but promising.

I voluntarily opted to birth my middle child without any pain medication whatsoever. It was an amazing, horrifying, terrible, awesome experience. There were a few points when I was absolutely certain that I was going to die, but I had no choice but to keep going. With the help of my support system, my son and I made it to the other side alive.

It was exhilarating.

That is what it feels like to be in recovery. As terribly uncomfortable as it is, I just have to keep moving forward. Neither stopping nor going backwards is an option for me.

Some days I really wish I hadn’t made the choice to get better. At this particular time in my life, with small kids who have a lot of needs, true recovery can feel like an impossible undertaking. But, just like childbirth, I have to remind myself that I’m not the first woman to do this and I certainly won’t be the last.

Recovery from addiction is painful, but it’s not going to kill me.

My addiction is what will kill me.

Merriam-Webster defines heartbreak as “crushing grief, anguish, or distress.” I define it as something I worked really, really hard for a very long time to avoid. I thought if I moved on fast enough, planned well enough, and accomplished enough, I could somehow escape it. I ran, literally and figuratively; I recoiled from it like someone might from a thing that has the potential to kill you.

I thought it would crush me if I allowed myself to feel it, so I refused to. I masked the pain with a number of relationships, walled myself off, and became an alcoholic. I met my husband and we built a life, but as much as I love him I never allowed him to truly love me.

We can’t ever truly escape the past. My story will never go away, no matter how many times I try to pretend it didn’t happen. On January 9, 1999, I suffered emotional and physical trauma followed by a heartbreak so profound that I never allowed myself to address it at all. I smashed myself back together like a car wreck survivor might if lost in the woods without access to medical care, and I never healed properly.

Just like a broken arm that never healed correctly, I have to re-break my heart in order to allow it to fully mend. There is never, ever an ideal time for heartache. I procrastinated for 18 years, but now, if I want to remain sober from alcohol, and I do, I have no other choice but to surrender.

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I am learning to swim.

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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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That Feeling When You Kind Of Want The Earth To Swallow You Whole

Robbie and I are very open with our kids. Children are smart — even if they don’t know you’re lying now, they’ll figure it out eventually. And then what? They’ll know you lied. They won’t trust you, and why should they? You didn’t earn it.

Our oldest child is especially perceptive. He’s likely the only one out of my three who will remember what it was like when I was still drinking; there were many nights that an issue with him is what drove me directly to the bottle. I know that he noticed, and when I stopped drinking, I told him the truth: I don’t drink anymore. Alcohol is not good for me.

“Oh,” he said. “I know what you have.”

“You do?”

 “Yep. You have … what’s that thing called that [name removed for confidentiality] has?”

“Alcoholism?”

“Yeah! Alcoholism.”

And there it was. A handful of days after I threw out my wine rack, my kid was calling me on my shit.

When my article about addiction was published in a local magazine this summer, he read it. I wasn’t planning to let him, but I had the kids with me when the publisher called to say that there was a package waiting for me at their office. We all went inside, took an elevator to the third floor, and retrieved the envelope full of magazines. I opened it on the ride back down and audibly gasped — I had no idea that I was going to be on the cover, and Maverick was the first to see it.

I’ll never forget how excited he was, shouting “MOM! MOM! THAT’S YOU!” and jumping up and down so hard that the elevator shook. Before I knew what was happening, he had a copy in his hands and refused to give it back.

“HOLD ON, I’M READING,” he yelled from the third row seat of our van. I finally gave up and let him.

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My oldest and my youngest. They’re beautiful.

Last weekend, it occurred to me that I’ve never taken the time to explain to him the difference between an alcoholic who is still drinking and an alcoholic who is in recovery. I pulled him away from the other kids to have a chat. About 5 seconds into our conversation, he interrupted my explanation about what it means to be in recovery.

“Mom! I wish I would have known this before now!”

I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.

He started talking, and as I listened in horror, he told me all about how his teacher had each member of the class stand up and talk about their mother. I knew what was coming, and I was pretty sure I was going to die a little bit inside when I heard the words. I braced myself.

“So when it was my turn, I got up and said — ”

He took a deep breath.

“My mom’s an ALCOHOLIC!”

And he beamed.

He said it with such pride. He really is proud, though. My whole family is, not because I was lying half-naked in a gutter and they had to save me from myself, but because they mostly had no idea how bad it was and I made the decision to get help without being forced to. And sometimes, I’m proud of me too — but on that day, when I found out that my son had announced to his entire 4th grade class “MY MOM’S AN ALCOHOLIC,” I felt like the Earth fell out from under me.

I mean … you know. That sucked.

Most people die laughing when I tell this story, and I understand why — it’s something you might see on a sitcom — but Robbie didn’t laugh. He looked as horrified as I felt, and when I crawled under the covers at 8 p.m. that night and whispered, “I just want to go to sleep,” he smoothed my hair away from my face and told me he loved me.

I would be lying if I told this story and left out the part where I fell into a pretty major depression afterward, like I always do when it hits me like a ton of bricks that I brought alcoholism into my husband’s life and our children’s lives and now we all have to deal with it. I like to think it will make us all better people, but sometimes, I question what affect this will have on my kids. Sometimes, I worry that one or more of them will inherit it from me, or, like a catching disease, someone close to me will die from it.

The truth is that I can’t control what other people think about me or my journey, and I can’t control what my children say to their friends or what those friends will say to their parents. That scares me. When I talk about these issues, I control the conversation and it feels not scary. When MY CHILD TELLS HIS CLASS THAT HIS MOTHER IS AN ALKIE?

That’s scary.

The good news is, I walked through that experience — the shame, the sadness, the guilt, and every other awful feeling one feels when one has this kind of thing happen — and I’ve made it out on the other side.

And I’m still sober.

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Learning To Be Different

I have recently come to grips with the fact that I am a perfectionistic, uptight person who is way too hard on herself and has a very narrow view of what her life is supposed to look like.

I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this.

When something in my life feels out of my control — and there is literally ALWAYS something bothering me that is out of my control — I have to do something about it. I have to take action, even if that action has absolutely zero effect on the situation. I recently said out loud in a room full of strangers that the scariest thing a control freak can do is have three children, but I also believe that having those children is what will keep me from relapsing. If it were just me and Robbie, and no children, who knows how bad things would have gotten. I wouldn’t have three little people watching me, copying my behaviors, and adapting my fucked up coping mechanisms.

I wouldn’t have a good enough reason to get better.

In the past, my coping included cleaning the house while raging at my family about how messy they are, when in fact, they are just normal people. I would drink to make myself stop obsessing over what I could not control. I would put entirely too much makeup on or nitpick myself to death or yell obscenities or unjustly pick fights with people in my life. I felt personally victimized by minor inconveniences. I was not grateful.

***

“It seems like motherhood is a big source of stress for you.”

My therapist shifted in her seat as she waited for me to respond, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs. I wondered if she was starting to get that tingly feeling that happens just before a limb shuts down.

“I would say so, yes,” I said quietly.

***

Four months into sobriety, I am slowly, painfully, learning how to be different.

I’ve started working again, doing freelance work which is mostly me talking about being sober while also being a parent. My latest essay is one I’m very proud of, and you can find it here.

We have the strength we need to make it through today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but today, right now, we are okay, and for that I am learning to be very, very grateful.

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@audreyhayworth discovered that it’s really hard to find greeting cards for people in recovery, so she made one for me herself. I am so lucky to have an amazing support system. I still haven’t found the right words to describe all of the people in my life who are making it their business to help me stay sober, but when I do, I’ll let you know.

For now, no words. Just thanks.

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A Beautiful Destination

I’m 100 days sober today.

I’ve reached a point in my recovery that is notorious for relapse, and now that I’m in it, I can understand why. I’m unearthing years worth of emotional hurt that I’ve spent half of my life distracting myself from fully addressing, with no way to numb the pain other than to keep pressing through it.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using. It’s not as simple as that. All of us have reasons why we are driven to drink or shoplift or lie or sleep with total strangers or whatever that thing is that keeps you from feeling that thing that you don’t want to feel.

I would go to almost any length to avoid feeling those things that I don’t want to feel, and now that I’m sober, I’ve been sitting in them for awhile. That’s why I’ve found myself doing things like baking cookies and eating the entire batch (on two separate occasions) and then being angry that I’ve gained weight, or working out like a crazy person because I have anger that I don’t know how to process, or calling a friend and just sitting in silence on the phone because the simple act of calling someone reminds me that I’m not alone.

It tethers me to something real. It reminds me that I have support, and even if the person on the other line doesn’t always know what to say to me because she isn’t an alcoholic, she is saving my life simply by being there.

As difficult as experiencing the hard stuff is, the good stuff makes the bad stuff almost forgettable. Just like childbirth made me feel like I was literally dying right there on the table — rationally, I figured I wasn’t actually going to die, but my body felt like it was shutting down and my soul was floating away — but the joy of seeing that little face made me immediately forget. All I can remember is that childbirth is unpleasant. This makes me hope that one day I’ll recall 100 days sober as unpleasant, but not bad enough to kill me.

Drinking would kill me.

As I keep inching forward, the pain lessens little by little. Every day, a tiny piece of my soul is restored … I think. Sometimes I can’t tell if my soul is healing, or if I’m simply losing my mind, but I do know one thing: I can’t go back.

The terrified part of me wants to say “NEVER MIND, I WAS JUST KIDDING!” and go right back to drinking, but the tiny shred of sane self I have left knows that I could never un-know that I’m an alcoholic and that there are things in my past that drove me to this point. I could never un-know that my coping mechanisms will send me to an early grave unless I retrain myself how to cope differently. I could never un-know the joy and peace I feel in my good sober moments.

They say it gets better. I believe them. I have to.

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