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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A Desire To Remember

My 40th birthday is the day after Christmas and I am in full on, midlife-is-nigh, panic mode.

None of the things I wanted to have done by now are finished. I don’t have a publishable book. I don’t have a literary agent. I didn’t get my face lasered or my boobs lifted and I didn’t lose 20 pounds — so basically, my 40 is NOT the new 30.

My 40 is forty.

Hemingway was chock full of excellent advice, it turns out.

And I thought I’d made my peace with that, honestly. I’ve read some comical pieces about midlife. I joined an enormous Facebook group dedicated to women over 40. I found a few designers who manage to make sensible shoes look not depressing. I’ve stopped shopping in the Juniors section.

I bought eye cream and I use hyaluronic acid and some kind of prescription-level stuff that I think should have erased my hyperpigmentation by now. I remain mystified as to how my forehead wrinkles could possibly be deep enough to collect dirt — and while a very big part of me wants nothing more than to get Botox, there is a still, small voice in the back of my mind that whispers it’s poison, you idiot.

But the concerns I have about my looming birthday screeched to a halt today when I had another one of those awful moments where I realize I’m missing time. There’s this movie — the latest in the the long list of them, because this seems to happen every couple of months — that I have no recollection of seeing. But I watched it, with Robbie, apparently, in our home, at the end of 2016.

Before I got sober.

I do not recall any part of this. How is that even possible? For a slightly obsessive, Type A personality, missing something — anything — is troubling. I freak out when I misplace a pair of socks or an earring; losing time and memories, or in this case, an entire movie, is … what is the word I’m looking for?

Terrifying.

How much of my life have I missed? How many moments did I drink away, and what did I do or say when I wasn’t really there? The harms I’ve done that I don’t know about are what haunt me.

I’m on the precipice of turning 40 years old and I’m grasping for the shreds of what is left. And as I’m hanging on to those pieces, they’re evaporating. This is a very melodramatic way to address a missing memory, but it’s the only way I know how to convey the fear. I’m afraid of my disease. I’m afraid that it will win. I’m afraid that I will one day stop working so hard to stay sober, and instead make the decision to blot out my life.

There is not a cure for alcoholism or drug addiction. I will never be “fixed.” All I get is a daily reprieve, 24 hours of sobriety at a time, which is contingent on my own willingness to depend on a power greater than myself. If I forget, or stop being willing to do the (uncomfortable, hard) work, or if I cease to be honest with myself, or if I simply have a real bitch of a day, it could all come crashing down. We are all one poor decision away from drinking so much that we don’t remember it.

Maybe part of becoming 40 years old will include a desire to remember.

I’ve forgotten enough of my life — I’d like to remember the next forty years with intense and utter clarity.

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Becoming Well

This year is supposed to be my year of Becoming A Well Person.

Last year was all about getting myself dried out, staying sober, and remaining afloat — which, by the way, took a literal team of people constantly supporting and pushing me forward. I still have days that are just as difficult as the dark, early days of sobriety, but overall, it’s becoming easier to function in society without feeling like I might have to jump out a window.

comfort-zone

Becoming A Well Person is a lot harder than I imagined it would be, although that’s probably not a shocking revelation coming from an alcoholic. The hard part isn’t figuring out what to do. It’s actually doing it. For whatever reason, people like me (and there are way more of us than I initially realized) are really, really terrible at taking care of themselves.

We are the unwashed, the martyrs and the passive aggressives, the alcoholics and the pill-poppers, the doctor-shoppers and the compulsive gamblers. We starve our bodies, cut our arms, eat until we’re sick and swear we’ll never do it again. We punish ourselves in a million different ways; we’re either overly done or not done at all, and unless you’re one of us you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

So.

Most of the time, the things I need to do in order to be well are often the very things that make me want to wear my frumpiest flannel pajamas, curl into the smallest ball possible, and shove store brand chocolate chips into my mouth. The thing about doing the deal is that it takes an awful lot of energy. It would be a lot easier to just stop trying. I could park myself at home, let the shit pile up around me, yell at my kids, stop doing the things that help me hold my life together, eat nachos or whatever the hell, and do what comes naturally which is absolutely nothing. It would be glorious, until I let it go for too long, as people like me tend to do, and then before I know it I would be doing lines of cocaine off the coffee table at 3 a.m. wondering how I let myself get here again.

Early this morning, I had an appointment that I’d already procrastinated for entirely too long. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed when the alarm went off, in fact I did not get out of bed until a full 20 minutes of Instagram-scrolling later, but I finally managed to drag myself and my kids out the door even though I was in a fasting state as directed by the nurse — no coffee, no breakfast, full on suckage. I dropped the children at Grandma’s and drove myself to the doctor, where I waited and waited some more and finally I had a checkup and blood drawn and even a tetanus shot.

I didn’t want to do any of that, and I’m pretty sure the good people at the medical center could tell, but the way this thing works is that I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other until I was free to exit the building and then I realized that it felt really good to do the right thing. Doing the right thing doesn’t end in 3 a.m. mistakes or trips to rehab. It ends in looking in your doctor’s misty eyes as she tells you how profoundly refreshing it is to have a patient who genuinely wants to be well.

That patient is me.

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Fistfights At Brunch

Two summers ago, I spent an inordinate amount of time making myself beautiful in a hotel room in Baltimore, Maryland.

I was there for a blogging conference with my friend Audrey. On our final day, before returning back home to Baton Rouge, we headed to a nice brunch with a group of smart, influential women. I wanted to make a good impression, and the best way I knew to do that was to walk into the restaurant looking like I just stepped out of a hair salon. Because that makes sense.

If you’ve followed me for awhile, you may remember that I attended a now-defunct blogging conference two summers in a row. The first summer, I loved it. It was one of those life-changing experiences that let me know I am on the right path as a writer. It made me feel like I was a part of something greater than myself: a community of creative, brilliant women who support each other.

The second summer, I acted like an asshole.

This is the truth: I have a chip on my shoulder that may take a lifetime of therapy to eradicate. There are reasons for my irrationalities that I could list here, blathering on for pages and pages, but none of it matters. Not really. On that day in Baltimore, when I was at the height of my alcoholic behavior, full of a dark anger and sadness that I couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge the origin of, I sat at a long table full of power players in the blogging world and pretended.

I pretended to be happy.  I pretended to be calm. I pretended to be sober. I pretended to be whole. I pretended to be strong and unafraid and confident — all of the things that people told me I was, but I knew deep down weren’t true, because do strong, unafraid, confident women have to drink in order to make it through an afternoon at the park?

Maybe.

The lie I’d worked so meticulously to create for myself was blown to smithereens in a very public way when a fellow writer called me stupid in front of the long table full of women. She was joking, she said, but something about her tone and the moment in which is happened sparked a rage that I’d worked very hard to keep under wraps. It was the deep bitterness I’d been ignoring for years, the one that fueled my alcoholism and my incessant need for approval. This was the heart of my need to control, my desire for perfection, my constant feeling of worthlessness, and my many insecurities.

Instead of acting like a normal member of society and laughing it off as a joke, I damn near got into a fistfight. Dead serious, it almost came to blows. Audrey told me later that in that moment, she knew we were probably going to end up in a Baltimore jail that afternoon, rather than in the airport.

Looking back, I wish that had been my low point. It wasn’t. So, I’m taking the experience of threatening to punch another grown woman in the face in front of people who now rightfully think I’m a lunatic and I’m using it as one of many examples of how addiction turns people into horrible versions of themselves.

It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.

Recently, I was invited to keynote the 2018 Women’s Health Conference in Illinois. I honestly thought they were crazy to ask someone who has never given an hour-long presentation to KEYNOTE THEIR CONFERENCE, however, the clear insanity of the situation made me realize that this was clearly an opportunity meant for me. So, I took it.

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Here I am, trying not to puke in front of hundreds of people.

During my speech, I talked about that day at brunch — how I justified my behavior, twisted the situation to make what I did make sense in my mind. How I refused to apologize or own up to my part in it, which strangely enough, is exactly what haunts me about my past. The women who wronged me have never owned up to it or apologized, even when pressed in a court room.

I’ve thought about that day at brunch a lot lately. I think about it when I catch myself judging other people who are acting like assholes. I think about it when I overhear someone talking condescendingly about her addict sibling who just can’t seem to stay sober. I think about it when I see a homeless tweaker standing under a bridge, or pushing a shopping cart full of trash.

I think about it when my son hops in the car and says “Mom? What’s a hoe?” And after I explain that a hoe is a prostitute and prostitution is selling your body for sex which is illegal, he thinks about it and declares prostitutes are bad people and I have to pull over onto the side of the road because I happen to know a few former prostitutes and they aren’t bad people at all.

The deal is, everything I once believed to be true actually isn’t, and all I know for sure is that I need to stay away from alcohol, I’ll probably never go to another blogging conference, and there is a God somewhere out there.

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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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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.

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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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