This year, the first day of school happened to fall on a Wednesday, which is also Robbie’s day off. I was an absolute wreck worrying about sending our three children, two of whom are too young to be vaccinated, off to school during this catastrophically huge surge of the Delta variant.
In the days leading up to last Wednesday, it felt like my stomach was chewing itself from the inside out, my hands and feet were constantly sweaty, and I found myself walking in circles around the house, unsure of how to go through with the act of sending them to school during a pandemic. At the same time, thanks to years of therapy and ass-busting work, I managed to project a calm, cool demeanor when I wasn’t sobbing in the bathroom or cramming taffy in my mouth in the pantry. Staying calm on the outside is a skill I’ve worked hard to perfect, and it’s vital in our house because Maverick in particular picks up on my worries and tends to take them on.
Robbie’s way of managing me when I’m panicking like this is to suggest food. The last thing I felt like doing is driving downtown to have a nice lunch — OUR CHILDREN ARE SITTING DUCKS, ROBBIE — but I could see the value of a temporary distraction.
The thing about sobriety is that every so often, things come up from the past. For example, there are times when we’re lying in bed looking for a movie to watch.
“Let’s watch that one,” I’ll say.
“We’ve seen that already,” Robbie will answer.
I check the release date: 2015.
That’s when he will sit up a little straighter in bed and tell me exactly where we were and what was happening on the day we watched this movie that I have zero recollection of. And I always feel this strange mixture of sadness, shame, and gratitude because at least if we watch it this time, I’ll remember it.
On Wednesday of last week, when we had lunch at Cecelia’s downtown and he opened the car door for me and held my hand so I didn’t stumble in my wedges, I had another one of those moments. He was backing out of the parking space to begin the drive home and I was staring at my phone when he said something about how public bathrooms are never fun to use, but “nothing will top that time I had to poop in the one with the saloon door in New Orleans.”
I looked up from my phone. “What?”
He stared at me. I stared back.
He cleared his throat and raised his voice, probably thinking I obviously didn’t hear him the first time. “I SAID, NOTHING WILL EVER BE WORSE THAN THE TIME I BLEW IT UP IN THAT HOTEL BATHROOM IN NEW ORLEANS WITH NOTHING BUT A SALOON DOOR BETWEEN ME AND EVERYONE WHO WAS WALKING BY.”
I racked my brain. There was the faintest trace of a possibility that I might recall this happening, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Can you tell me this story from the beginning?” I asked, turning my entire body toward him to make sure not to miss any of the details, because let me tell you, it was the funniest thing I’ve heard in the history of ever.
One of the best parts of being married to a man I enjoy hanging out with is hanging out with him, making fun memories I don’t recall, and then getting to experience it all over again with a clear head. He humors me, and I hope it’s more fun than sad for him to get to re-tell these stories to the woman who lived through them with him the first time, but doesn’t remember a damn thing.
Since March 2020, I’ve really struggled to write freely, especially here on my blog. How can I, when what I want to write about involves other people? The old Harmony wouldn’t have given writing about other people a second thought. She was haplessly selfish. The new me tries really hard to be truthful, but also careful. And sometimes those lines are blurry and hard to decipher.
So here’s the truth: aside from therapy assignments, and freelance work for Upworthy, I haven’t written anything at all since I don’t even know when. A writer who isn’t writing is either struggling with depression (check), overwhelm (check), or panic (double check). Weirdly, writing is part of what keeps me grounded and relatively sane, so not writing for long stretches of time is a sign that I’m not doing very well.
It’s time for me to start sharing again, telling on myself and getting my thoughts out because it helps keep me accountable and healthy. Also, I started seeing a psychiatrist. I’m doing light therapy which involves shining a very, very bright light at my face for 5 minutes per day until I no longer hate my fellow man.
Happily, I am still sober. This is nothing short of miraculous, and I’m here to tell you that recovery from addiction works if you do the work. Now, let me tell you: the work SUCKS. I simply cannot stress this enough. If you expect sobriety to be an easy ride, you’re gonna be pissed. However, the payoff to this is the ability to make it through a shit show of a year in one piece while the people and systems around you fall apart. Does it suck to be keenly aware of how bad things are? Absolutely yes.
So what keeps me moving forward?
In March 2020, just before Covid-19 hit the United States, my oldest child tried to hang himself.
It was a perfect storm: he was stressed out over things that were happening at school. I was stressed out over things happening at school. Tensions were high, and when he’s anxious, he acts out. Even though I know better, sometimes I forget that when Maverick acts out, I have to look beyond the behavior to see the child. In March 2020, I forgot. I was frazzled and exasperated. I yelled at him. Robbie also yelled at him. The entire family was mad at him on that morning before school. His ADHD medication hadn’t kicked in yet, and the thought struck: they would be better off without me.
Of course it’s not true. The thought that entered my son’s head on a loop was a lie, but the voice was loud enough and strong enough to propel him toward gathering a stack of books while I was in my bedroom getting dressed. He took a belt and looped it through a pull-up bar that was in our living room, stood on the makeshift pillar, and put the loop around his neck.
My daughter, who was 6 years old at the time, came running down the hall shouting. I opened my bedroom door and asked her what was wrong.
MAVERICK’S TRYING TO HANG HIMSELF.
That is what she said.
Nothing made sense. That sentence didn’t make sense. Maverick’s trying to what? I don’t know how I got from the hall to the living room. My heart was in my throat. My face was stricken. White as a piece of paper. I caught a glimpse of myself in the round mirror on the wall and I didn’t know who that pale person was. There she is, the lady whose brilliant, creative, amazing kid tried to hang himself.
I couldn’t find him in the house. I was screaming his name and my throat was closing up. He wasn’t standing on the now-scattered stack of books that Pepper was pointing to.
I told her it was going to be okay, even though I had no idea if that was true. I still don’t. I told her she did the right thing and she was an excellent sister, the best sister. She knew to tell me, and I told her over and over, and have many times since, that she did the right thing.
She saved his life that day. She told him not to do it; her yelling at him to stop is what snapped him back to reality.
I found him sitting outside on the driveway, no shoes, holding his belt. His face was also white. We stood in the bathroom together, two matching white faces.
“Brush your teeth,” I said calmly, because even people who are contemplating suicide need to make dental hygiene a priority. He and I robotically got through the next few hours and days and then there was a pandemic that people still seem to be ignoring almost a full 18 months later.
Pepper started eating her feelings and then she started eating her hair. Everyone needed therapy. No one could sleep. And for the first 6 weeks of quarantine my life was a living hell. But then, as you may have read in my last blog post, it eventually got better.
It keeps getting better.
It’s been months since Maverick had thoughts of suicide, but sometimes the voice comes back. Sometimes, it’s louder. He trusts me now enough to tell me the truth.
My thoughts are scaring me again, Mom.
Children who are on the autism spectrum often have co-morbidities. What that means is, they almost always have another diagnosis like ADHD or OCD. Maverick has ADHD and anxiety, which he takes medication to manage. Often, when kids hit puberty and especially if they’re on the spectrum, they struggle with self-harm and/or thoughts of suicide. Multiple studies have been done on the subject and I can tell you from personal experience that my kid is a spectacular human being who also happens to want to end his life from time to time.
This was probably the catalyst for a lot of things I’ve done since then, namely cutting a lot of extra drama out of my life. I don’t have the bandwidth or the tolerance for anything even remotely toxic and I think right now, that’s appropriate. I have to stay sane and sober and strong and present so I can, you know, help my kid stay alive. This situation forced me to create a fortress-like set of boundaries around myself and my family.
Today, we are doing well — all of us. We’re grateful that our support system rocks. I want to stand on the roof of our new house and scream PSYCHIATRY SAVES PEOPLE! Because it does, and also I wish more people who know this amazing fact would talk about it. So many people, including myself, resist the idea of seeing a psychiatrist because that’s for crazy people. Well, no. It’s really not. Because my son isn’t crazy and neither am I.
We have crawled through this difficult time one day at a time, using all of the tools at our disposal. Therapy, meditation, sunshine, exercise, talking, resting, medication, giving each other grace. Every day that Maverick didn’t want to hurt himself and I didn’t drink or punch anyone in the face, we marked a success.
Because it was.
And now we are here, in July 2021. All in one piece. And I still can’t find the words to adequately express my gratitude.
I promised you a special post dedicated to my upcoming hemorrhoidectomy, and today is your lucky day. Gather round kids, it’s story time!
After debating over how much detail to share about what, exactly, is the matter with my asshole, I’ve decided to start with this: a customer service representative from the hospital system where I’ll have my surgeries called me to make sure I am aware of the deductible amount that we’ll be responsible for.
But before she got into the exact dollar amount, she tripped over what I was having done. I think her words were “partial hysterectomy and … ** trails off unintelligibly ** “
Me: Yes, I’m having my uterus removed AND AN ASSHOLE REPAIR. Let’s call it a “butt job” just for fun.
Her: Oh my! That sounds …
Me: Like your worst fucking nightmare? Yes. Mine too.
Her: I was going to say that it sounds painful.
Me: It will be.
Her: Okay, Mrs. Hobbs, have a wonderful day.
Just so we are clear, I’m having two unfortunate procedures done on the same day because I don’t have time to recover from two separate unfortunate procedures. The uterus needs to go and my two hemorrhoids need to go and yes, I’m terrified. I cope with terror by oversharing.
People don’t like to talk about their assholes, I’m finding. Robbie had to ask for a couple days off work so he can keep an eye on me, and he told his co-workers “Harmony is having some woman stuff done.” Uh, actually, I’m having one woman thing done and the other thing is a human being thing, but he didn’t want anyone to ask questions.
“Why not? Are you embarrassed of my asshole?” I asked.
He totally is.
Now I want to talk about fears, because I have a lot of them. First of all, according to my Gastroenterologist, “no one gets hemorrhoid surgery without serious painkillers.” Even with the pain meds, he warned me that it will, and I quote, “feel like someone is stabbing you in the anus with an ice pick for two weeks.”
I corrected him. “You mean, it’s going to feel like someone is stabbing me in the asshole for two weeks.”
“Yes, it will feel exactly like you’re being stabbed in the anus.”
“You mean the asshole.”
“Whatever you want to call it.”
“I’d like to call it the asshole.”
I was probably born with a weak asshole, but childbirth absolutely wrecked it. If it never bothered me, I would be content to ignore it; however, when we went on vacation in January 2019 and I missed out on zip lining because I was in the belly of a Carnival cruise ship where the hospital is located, that did it. I CANNOT LIVE LIKE THAT. It is, like my doctor says, “a quality of life issue.”
I’m afraid of the pain, obviously, but I am also afraid of the painkillers. I’ve never enjoyed taking painkillers, recreationally speaking, but I know myself well enough to realize that the combination of pandemic + painkillers + actual pain is not great for someone who is a recovering alcoholic. My anxiety over relapsing is worse than my anxiety over the actual recovery process itself, which is saying a lot.
My way of coping with the fear of relapse is to talk about it incessantly. I’m locked in a self-propelled cycle right now where I stress myself out and then wish that someone would shoot me with a tranquilizer dart to put me out of this self-imposed misery.
Asher had his tonsils and adenoids removed last week and took pain meds for a total of three days. The remainder of the Hydrocodone is sitting in our fridge. I envision guzzling it. Then I tell on myself. The vision goes away only to boomerang right back when my anxiety ramps back up.
Someone emailed me recently to ask if I am on medication for anxiety and depression. GIRL, YES. 100%. Five stars. Highly recommend. Super grateful that I was already doing this pre-pandemic, because WOW, guys, the world is really imploding out there.
In conclusion, no one talks about butt problems and if I tried not to talk about my butt problems I would feel ashamed of my butt problems and most likely relapse in one way or another. I don’t want to relapse, so I’ve named my hemorrhoids “Trump” and “Pence” and they have got to go.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.