Please note: I’m writing this post for posterity. In the event that I don’t survive the remainder of 2020, because there are so many hurdles left before Christmas, you guys — so many hurdles — I want to be remembered … Continue reading
Last week, I shared how the pandemic is affecting my recovery journey on Good Morning America. (Read the full story and watch the interview here!)
Of course, a lot of the things I told Deborah Roberts during our interview didn’t make the cut, and it dawned on me that maybe I could write it all down here, for anyone who might need to hear it.
Let me start by saying that the situation we find ourselves in, A PANDEMIC, is literally the worst. The worst. I am not okay and I don’t want to make it seem like I am — however, I’m not drinking and everyone in my immediate family is healthy, and right now I think that is all we can ask for. The bar for being at “an acceptable level of not horrible” is dreadfully low. In fact, when the producer from GMA called to let me know the segment was airing the following morning, she said, “Hi Harmony, how are you?” And without thinking, I responded, “I’m fine!” followed immediately by “NO ONE I LOVE IS DEAD YET.”
Now that we’ve established that we are all simply doing the best we can to make it through the day, I’m going to share how I’m handling this thing I like to call the Dry Pandemic. It is survival of the soberest. And can I just say, having all my wits about me right now feels almost painful.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times during this thing that I’ve considered drinking. In times of extreme stress, I automatically revert back to my old ways of coping. My knee jerk reaction to a pandemic is not to meditate, pray, or look for ways to help other people. My knee jerk reaction is to drink, and not like a lady. I mean draaaaaaaaaank. Some people in recovery say that the desire to drink has been removed, but I have not experienced that phenomenon. The miracle for me is that even though I might want to hole up in my bedroom with a gigantic cup of alcohol, ignoring everyone and everything, I have the tools today to make different choices.
Being sober does not mean the absence of thinking about drinking (or eating CBD gummy bears). I THINK ABOUT IT, I JUST DON’T BE ABOUT IT. I’ve thought about doing all kinds of things that could take the edge off of what feels like an impossible situation, including running away from home, but the difference is what I choose to do with those thoughts.
First, I acknowledge that they are there. I don’t ignore them or try to stuff them down, I say Hello, crazy idea. How’s it going? And then I immediately tell someone my thought before it has time to take hold. Almost always, when I verbalize something out loud like “I think Robbie might actually have a second family instead of a job,” I am able to hear just how ridiculous it sounds. But, if I keep it to myself, giving it room to grow into a giant clusterfuck, chances are that I will end up hurting someone else or myself.
The benefits of being stone cold sober during the worst health crisis in the history of ever are ever-evolving, but here’s what I’ve got thus far: as long as I continue to take care of my own emotional health, I can continue to help my kids make their way through this without further damaging them. But if I drink, ALL I will do is damage the people that I care about the most.
For today, everyone in recovery is doing the impossible. No matter what happens: loss of loved ones, livelihood, home, and security – we refuse to go back to our old ways of thinking and living. A saying I hear often in the rooms of recovery is “My worst day sober is still better than my best day of drinking.” And it’s true. Because when I was drinking, I hated myself.
If you have the willingness to change, there is always hope. You are never alone.
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.
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.
That patient is me.
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.
I am learning to swim.
(This post is sponsored by Curves® International.)
I’m taking a little break from talking about heavy stuff to bring you something FUN! When I entered recovery earlier this year, I mistakenly assumed that cutting out the 1,000 or so calories per day that I was ingesting in the form of cabernet would cause me to drop weight. And I did, at first, because going through the detoxification process made me really, really sick.
After I got through the first 14 days of sobriety, I started to crave things like Skittles and jelly beans and Coke — stuff I normally would not eat or drink. My body, accustomed to getting a certain amount of sugar from alcohol, craved insane amounts of garbage, and because I was desperate to make my cravings for wine go away, I consumed it allllllllllllllllllllllllll. No, really. All.
I chowed down on 1-pound bags of dark chocolate M&M’s. I ordered everything on the Starbucks menu (side note: their “morning bun” is divine). I ate cinnamon rolls and french fries with cheese on top and deep fried things and full-size ice cream concoctions from Dairy Queen. I ate pizza and drank Ice-es and ate snowballs with condensed milk poured on top. It was very much like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was the Very Hungry Sober Lady.
Everyone assured me that this was normal. Most women in early recovery spend their time crying and eating simple carbs, and that is pretty much exactly what I did for three whole months; by the time I was 4 months sober, I’d packed on 12 pounds. By month 6, I decided it was time to get serious about getting my weight under control, or at the very least, getting physically stronger. My mind is healing, and my body is, too. It would just be nice if there was a little less of me.
When I got the opportunity to spend a full month at Curves, one of the world’s largest fitness chains for women, I jumped on it. The closest franchise is only about a mile from my house, and since the workouts are only 30 minutes, there was really no excuse for me to NOT say yes.
I’d heard of Curves before, but had never been inside one. Isn’t it mostly full of old ladies? I was dubious, but willing to give it a shot.
The informal motto of Curves is “No makeup, no men, and no mirrors!” I have to admit, I can get on board with the no men and no mirrors part, but I still have to wear some makeup. Yes, I realize that’s stupid because no one cares and I’m just going to sweat it off. This is why I’m in therapy, people.
I find the people at Curves to be incredibly welcoming, helpful, and kind. I went through an intense assessment process (hello, body fat measuring thingy) before completing my first workout. The set up is a big room with a bunch of different equipment around the perimeter. You just jump in and start the circuit, and move to the next station every 30 seconds. I like the variety and the pace; 30 minutes flies by quickly.
When I was observing the other women exercise, I noticed that they were moving REALLY slowly on the machines, and — don’t judge me — I stupidly assumed it was because they are old.
The machines are hydraulic and they are really challenging to use. It’s been a pretty humbling experience — I mean, I normally do Spin! Shouldn’t I be able to keep up with old ladies?! I’m in worse shape than I thought.
I roped my friend Megan into going with me every Tuesday and Thursday morning after we drop off our preschoolers, so I’m excited to see our progress through the month.
(This post was sponsored by Curves International, but the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.)
My big kids started school yesterday, entering 1st and 4th grade without new sneakers. This happens every year; I tell myself we will be better prepared next time, and before I know it, it’s August again.
I’ve historically blamed my lack of back-to-school planning on external factors beyond my control, like finances, but the truth is, I obsess over things that don’t matter (dirty dishes in the sink, the emotional state of the family pet, the clarity of my skin) and ignore the things that do.
The truth is, we have — well, had — the money for new shoes, but I spent it on something that didn’t matter. It mattered in the moment, certainly. That’s what always happens. I don’t drink or take pills anymore, but I still make terrible decisions. Some people call this irresponsibility, but I think it’s more like misplaced responsibility. I have no idea why I do this, but I have high hopes that working a recovery program will help me sort it out.
Please note: I HAVE A LOT OF REDEEMING QUALITIES.
This is my first back-to-school experience as a sober mother. I don’t know if my family can see a difference since I got sober almost 6 months ago, but I certainly feel different. Yesterday, I stood at the end of our driveway with my sons, holding a cup of coffee, waiting for the school bus to arrive.
After about 20 minutes, when it became clear that the bus wasn’t coming, I announced that I would drive them to school. My littlest was awake and had already dressed herself in a pair of inside-out pants, so all I had to do was unlock the van and tell them to load up.
Maverick is almost 9. He, more than anyone, knows what life used to be like, before therapy and diagnoses and I quit drinking. If anyone is going to notice changes, it’s him. He’s my barometer.
As we sat in the carpool line, I commented, “This isn’t that bad of a wait — if y’all would rather not ride the bus this year, I could drive you to school.”
“Wait — what?” Maverick’s eyes were wide.
“I don’t mind driving you. Unless you want to ride the bus. Just think about it, and let me know! It’s no big deal either way.”
I looked into the rear view mirror. My big boy, all arms and legs and overgrown, shaggy hair — another back-to-school task that didn’t get accomplished on time — was looking at me quietly.
“I thought you didn’t want to drive us,” he said, lowering his voice.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean … you always seemed like you couldn’t do it.”
I turned around and put my hand on his knee. I knew what he meant. It’s not that I couldn’t physically drive them in the mornings — there was nothing I couldn’t do without the help of an extra-strong cup of coffee and a pair of sunglasses — but I lived in such a constant state of stress that any unforeseen circumstance or extra task would send me over the edge. I was always one event away from a nervous breakdown, and my kids could sense that. I mean, obviously.
I looked at him, dead in the eyes, and studied his face for a long time. A car honked behind us. I continued to look at him.
And he smiled.
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.
I’m 90 days sober. This has been the longest, most painful, humbling, frightening, and eye-opening experience of my life.
When I first became a mother, I remember thinking that childbirth was the most painful, humbling, frightening and eye-opening experience of my life. It’s empowering to bring life into the world. The fragility and toughness of babies and vaginas and just the whole motherhood thing really blows my mind. But this.
I was so walled over with addiction, resentment, and pride, so deep into self-medicating to avoid reality, that I had no idea how messed up I was. I still don’t know how messed up I still am, even 2,160 hours into recovery. I don’t know how long or for what reasons I stayed there, hiding from my life, avoiding the discomfort of uncomfortable emotions. I liked it there, in the dark. It felt safe. I mean, a baby feels safe cocooned in utero, but for the sake of her own life, she must eventually experience birth.
I’ve had 90 nights of going to bed sober, falling asleep peacefully, knowing exactly where I am and without fear of needing to jump out of bed to throw up.
I’ve opened my eyes on 90 mornings without a hangover. For 90 evenings I have been able to put my kids to bed sober, without stumbling down the hall, dropping my phone because I’m too drunk to find the light switch, or spilling wine all over my pajamas. I ruined a lot of pajamas, because the thing about me when I’d been drinking is that I drank to not care about things like spilling wine on my pajamas. I certainly never had the foresight to spray stain remover on anything.
I am 10 pounds heavier because sobriety is a cold-hearted bitch. She’s not cutting me any slack, and that’s okay, because right now it’s better for me to be fat and sober than not as fat, but also drunk. Please excuse me while I try not to think about Dark Chocolate M&M’s.
Motherhood used to feel hard.
It’s really not that hard.
Sobriety is hard, but it’s making everything else easier.