finally home

Last week I took the kids to a park after work and realized how deeply in love I am with where we live. We moved here six years ago after flitting up and down the eastern seaboard and finally, hopefully, settling into a small town my brother jokes we pointed to on a map while blindfolded and said herelet’s move here.

Maybe it was the crisp, sunny day and how the park was framed by giant trees bursting with color. Maybe it was the mix of hot moms in designer jeans and the filthy abandoned pair someone had laid out on top of fallen leaves by the gazebo, but I felt this sense that I am home. This town is just pretty and gritty enough to make me want to put down roots and maybe even dream of buying a restored colonial across from the park because I can’t give up on wanting more, apparently.

Last night we went to the halloween parade in town. We’ve been every year it hasn’t rained since we moved here, but this was the best time by far. The weather was perfect – cool enough for a jacket or warm enough for kids in costumes – and our youngest was abuzz with that blend of wonder and horror that is halloween. One mask at the parade unnerved her. She talked about it all the way home and even brought it up again this morning. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but it’s the Edvard Munch Scream mask, only it looks like blood is running down the front of it. It’s a scary face that won’t stop bleeding.

This morning I heard myself explaining how it might work – that there might be a clear plastic mask over top and some kind of pump that pulls up the red water, I heard myself carefully emphasize, so that it pours down again. I was trying to make it sound fun in a science-y kind of way to a 4-year old. Meanwhile I was pissed at the teenager who wore it to a parade and the odds that she even noticed it. But Halloween has always been like that. Too scary in sudden, unexpected ways. That’s what I love about it, anyway.

What does this have to do with drinking? Nothing, at first glance. I did halloween sober last year. It was fine. We invited people in after trick-or-treating and everyone had red wine except me. (Well, neither did the kids.) I felt a little stiff and like my smile was stretched so tight it might snap, but still I had fun. The kids got too much candy that I helped them eat in record time. I muddled through somehow.

This year feels different. There is no muddling. Last night we had dinner at a pub before the parade and, sure, I noticed people around me drinking. But I didn’t miss it or spend time convincing myself why I shouldn’t miss it. I’ve felt that way lately and I wonder if that’s what people mean when they say their obsession with alcohol lifted. It’s too soon to tell, for sure, but I’m hopeful. I feel on strong grounds, spiritually, and I know this is key. I’ll write about it sometime. I’ve been turning it around in my head, still nervous to share something so personal and therefore open to misinterpretation. So for now I share a post about a halloween parade and a bleeding mask because that’s less scary. I love this time of year.

Sober Parenting

As I pulled out of the driveway this morning, my oldest kid ran out to wait in her usual spot for the bus and scared the bejeezus out of me. She jumped into my peripheral vision and I only registered her wave and smile after I drove away. What I will remember is how her smile faded and she looked away once she saw my reaction, which looked like anger but was more surprise mixed with fear that I was somehow going to hit her.

The image of her hurt face stayed with me all morning. These are the kinds of moments I hope to avoid as a sober parent. One of the main reasons I stopped drinking in the first place was because I wanted to be a better parent. Don’t get me wrong — reason #1 was because I couldn’t take the hangovers anymore, but the shame of being a mother who had to drink every day was a close second. I never beat my kids or neglected to feed them, but I had very little interest in engaging. I was prone to irritability in the mornings and hours leading up to happy hour. Drinking allowed me to check out even more. I felt parenting more as a burden than a joy.

When I quit drinking, I was grateful to find comfort in their love. When you’ve had a rotten day and no longer count on cocktails to make it all better, being hugged by a toddler who smushes her chubby cheek against your own is surprisingly therapeutic, with no side effects, I might add. But my older kid is more challenging. Not only is she less prone to squishy-cheeked hugs, but she also has some of the traits I despise in myself.

Not to get on the couch, but I grew up with a highly critical mother. I never felt smart or capable or, well, good enough in her eyes. I now know she never criticized to make me feel bad, but because she wanted better for me. She was my stepmom, actually, and she married my dad and inherited two young, needy children when she was only 23-years old. I’ve gained a lot of sympathy for her parenting style, I only wish I hadn’t adopted it as my own. But as a therapist once pointed out to me, we go with what we know. When I nag at my kid to recheck something in her homework or brush her teeth more carefully or I call her out on an outfit choice, I hear my mother’s critical voice cutting through what I’m ultimately saying out of love. The good news is sobriety is teaching me to recognize when I’m being a bitch. The bad news is sobriety is really letting me feel it when I’m being a bitch.

This is sort of a topic all in its own and not one I’ll go into much right now, but tipsy parenting is all the rage on social media, I suspect because no one is sure just how to handle all the pressure sober. Parents of young children are often overworked and overwrought. Many are dual-income families with all the usual expectations of kids’ activities and academics and family time, and don’t forget hobbies and personal and marital fulfillment for both parents. How exactly is this all supposed to happen in a typical day or week or even year? In short, it’s not, at least not all the time, and certainly not at various challenging points in parenthood. This has been my own experience anyway. One of the toughest times in my marriage and personal life was after my husband and I had our second child and I had to go back to work. The stress tore up our lives and we both escaped in damaging ways for some time because damage often leads to more damage until you’ve had enough. I guess the burdens we carried at the time were too hard and the future felt hopeless. I wish we’d both known it would pass. I know that now, at least.

It took 16 months into recovery, but I’m dipping my toes into the amends process. I want to focus on making myself more present and loving towards my husband and my kids. My family is the most important thing in the world to me, yet the target for the bulk of my fear and pain. We tend to hurt the ones we love the most, but I can work on my behavior. As I said earlier, sobriety has brought me painful recognition when I am acting like an ass. This self-awareness is a gift because I get to stop and correct myself. There are endless reset buttons. I am learning it is easier not to act like an ass in the first place, but for those moments when I react out of a place of fear or hurt, well, those are the real chances to learn and connect.

I’ll probably think about my daughter’s hurt face all day. I rolled my window down and waved at her from the road and sent her a text a little later, but I don’t know if she saw either. I won’t see her until after school and play practice. At that point it will be dinner time, so the only thing I can do is apologize and look for ways I can be less critical and harried and more supportive and accepting. This is the best gift I can give as a parent, but it’s also how I hope to treat the world around me. It starts at home.

Thoughts after going an old way home

I can be highly resistant to change in some ways, while blindly and happily plunging into the unknown at other times. There seems no correlation between caution and success, so I can’t credit instinct for random pigheadedness. The latest thing I resisted was upgrading my phone’s operating system, which automatically took google maps off and replaced it with another, unknown version. You know what they say about the devil you know.

I finally updated my phone and found the new version of maps is almost identical. I gained some features, lost some — it’s a wash basically and the new one might be better. The way it told me to drive home from a weekend trip to see family in another state reminded me how memories linger and fragments remain oddly intact. We drove past not one but three places I used to live long ago. Near the traffic light by the apartment my husband and I shared before we were married, I thought of our cat when he was a kitten and how we couldn’t leave pennies out because he would carry them away in his mouth and I was afraid he would choke. Driving near another old apartment, I saw a mall I had all but forgotten about and tried to come up with some memory of shopping there but could not. I vividly remembered the time my husband chased a peeping tom through the parking lot of that old apartment complex with a baseball bat. When I later drove through a part of town I lived from birth to kindergarten, none of it looked familiar. I had the sudden compulsion to turn right and drive until I saw something – anything – that looked familiar, but I did not.

I was flooded with memories from my grandmother’s house too. It still smells the same as it did when she lived somewhere else altogether, proving my memory isn’t about a place so much as it is the people we were back then. On the drive home, I had such vivid recollection of a chilly, wet Sunday and sitting in the backseat of her giant silver Thunderbird while windshield wipers screeched across the glass and my grandfather flicked his cigarette ash through the open window. My grandfather is long gone, but I still have my grandmother, or part of her anyway. Time changes people, eats away at them a little like old memories. Because of this, I’m glad I made the trip with my girls to see her. I felt more patient this visit and my grandmother seemed calmer. My girls ran between the hydrangeas in her backyard, playing some morbid hunting game that you’d never guess based on how carefree and happy they looked.

This morning I woke up from a terrible dream that had nothing to do with the weekend, so I’m not sure where it came from. It’s just an issue I still struggle with and I wrestled with it this morning over coffee and then decided to do something I’ve never done before: I let it go. My grandmother might be prone to psychic dreams, but I am not and feelings aren’t facts. One of the things I’m learning I need to practice is restraint of tongue. Just because I think it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because it hurts to keep it in, doesn’t mean I should blurt it out. My girlfriend calls this “emotional barfing” and I think there are certain people it’s safe to emotionally barf on. These people are usually far removed from the emotions being barfed up. Quite enough talk about barf, yes.

These disembodied feelings continue to crop up almost a year from when they first started. I used to think people were full of shit at meetings when they talked about not feeling things when they were newly sober. I had maybe three months then and I was feeling plenty. But after time, I realized what they meant. It wasn’t a total absence of feeling before, but maybe the ability to escape whenever I wanted that kept most pain at a safe distance. It took a good five months for uncomfortable feelings to float back down from wherever they’d been, and the intensity I felt at the time surprised and scared me. Still, this small voice at the back of my head told me they’d go away if I just acknowledged each feeling, which was tied in with some painful memory. Honestly, I had no choice but to hear them. They were very loud. They did go away, though. Some never came back. Some came back in more complex ways, which let me know I was dealing with that pain or discomfort on a more evolved level. I guess this can be called growth.

Coming up Millhouse

I’ve been quiet for a number of reasons. It’s our busy season at work. All day long and some nights too, it’s like a game of Tapper, only instead of demanding customers, I deal in manila folders that seem to multiply when my back is turned. Fun fact for those of you old enough to remember Tapper: did you know that poor, overworked bartender slung root beers in many arcade versions of the game because the original was seen as advertising alcohol to minors? As if anyone could get that excited over root beer.

I’ve been quiet too because every time I’ve gone to write something, it’s felt too small or too loose or too old-hat. But sober blogs are different from regular ones, and I think people worry more when transmission suddenly slows or stops.

I am not drinking, nor am I feeling stirrings or cravings or longings to drink, which is notable because life has been serving up its usual. Instead, I’m comforted by the distinct feeling that everything is turning out exactly as it should.

In our house, we still quote lines from old Simpsons episodes. We also still have an old cat that collapses on my pillow every night and sneezes terrible wet sneezes in my face while I try to sleep, and we keep him around too. Love is like that. One of my favorite Simpsons’ lines is “Everything is coming up Millhouse” and you can see it in context here. It means everything is coming up in your favor. I’ve thought that line in my head so many times lately. I can relate to hapless Millhouse in many ways, but his unsquashable optimism endears me most.

Life can be hard. Whether you drink or don’t drink, people will get sick and sometimes even die, coworkers and grating relatives will stir up trouble when you least have time and energy to deal with it, kids and pets will ring up huge dentist and vet bills.  You still have to deal with all of this and look for that one glimmer of good to mine and hold onto.

My week turned rocky Tuesday (always with the Tuesdays, I’m telling you) and by Wednesday it was looking better and by Thursday everything was coming up Millhouse again. The universe took care of me through supportive friends and family and even a friendly mechanic and librarian and shopkeeper and all the other beautiful souls I encountered yesterday. It was not always like this, but lately it seems to be.

Yesterday as I was walking down Main Street in the next town, it took me back over 20 years ago when I was a foreign exchange student living in Australia. My host family was an Anglican minister and his wife and small children, and they were just about the nicest people I’ve ever known, and they were mine for 6 months. They lived a block from main street of a small town that had everything you needed and a couple things you didn’t but were happy to have anyway. There were two pubs in town, and I got served in both because of the lower drinking age, but that’s not why I fell in love with Australia. It was the people. I thought they were the friendliest people I’d ever met and I thought it was because they were Australian.

Yesterday on main street (usa), I had a lovely chat with a librarian who remembered reading a book I was checking out for my daughter. Then I stopped in a quiet gift shop and met a disarmingly friendly shopkeeper and then walked back over to pick my car up from being serviced at the same dealership that calls to wish you a happy birthday. Australians are nice, no doubt, but so is most everyone when you treat them with kindness and respect.  This feeling of connection with the world around me is the best tool I have available to me right now. I can only do so much to stay afloat on my own when things get rough. I am becoming more comfortable letting people I trust know when I’m struggling. In turn, I am more freely giving my own love and compassion to the world.

So that’s kind of what’s been going on lately. Good stuff, kinda bad stuff, life stuff. This weekend I’m taking my girls to spend time with my sister and grandmother. I’m excited about this in a way I wasn’t the last time I made the trip in July. I’m learning to get over myself and think about other people first. This is not so hard to do, but it gets easier as I do it more because life turns out beautifully.

Hope you all are well (especially all you quiet bloggers out there)…have a wonderful weekend.

Take me down Tuesday

Tuesday is the deceptively quiet day of the week no one ever suspects. You pull up your shirt up to show bite marks along your back and people say “are you sure that wasn’t Monday?” and you shake your head no, no.

Since school started up again, my Tuesdays are packed fat from morning til night. Some of it is elective but most is not. The elective stuff is walking with my friend and my weekly recovery meeting.

I could skip or reschedule the walk, but my friend just  asked if I’m up for walking in the rain and for some reason this is so appealing I said sure (update: we both realized this is a stupid idea; schedule is lighter already). I could skip my weekly meeting, but it’s like home base. I know and like the people and I feel comfortable sharing or not sharing, plus it’s 5 minutes from home.

Taking on too much is a character flaw of mine. It’s a flaw because I pretend I can handle it – and I can in the practical, physical sense. Inside I’m freaking the fuck out. I’m wondering how I’m going to meet someone in 10 minutes when I’m 15 minutes away…I’m worrying where I’m going to find parking when I’m still 5 minutes away…I’m preheating the oven for dinner in my head before I even pull into the driveway. I’m nuts.

I’m not a supermom or superwoman. I am an unrealistically optimistic people pleaser. In an effort to make everyone happy, I say sure. Yes to walking after work and then dance class and dinner on the table as usual and sure I can swing by on my magic carpet and pick you up from play practice. I wish I was like my more assertive girlfriends who get help and regular alone time. I have a hard time getting my needs met. I have a hard time looking at my needs. My needs seem weak and ugly. The fact is I am too afraid to ask for help. I’m afraid I’ll draw attention to my incompetence or make more work for myself or create drama in asking for help. I’m afraid it won’t be there.

I asked my friend if she wants to walk another day of the week starting next week. It’s a start. Tuesday does make me appreciate the hell out of Wednesday. Tuesday tries to kill me, the rest of the days nurse me back to health. I have to remember I created my Tuesday…it is my monster.

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