I read a post the other day about “sobriety bloggers” and how a lot of them seem to run out of gas at the 3-4 month mark, and try to return to the nightmare of moderating or just disappear altogether from the blogosphere because they have fallen back into active drinking.
Well, I haven’t done any of those things. Yesterday was four months sober. But as I suspected it would with all of my kids being home for summer, it’s been rough trying to continue my laser-like focus on sobriety. Navel gazing and quiet contemplation of my co-dependent ways have taken a back seat to the urgent needs of three small children. Which is understandable. After our vacation, my two oldest kids plunged right into a week of day camps and I spent the week driving to and from opposite sides of the county and hanging out with my five year old in between picking up and dropping off the other two and dodging severe thunderstorms. I didn’t realize how much energy my first sober vacation had taken from me. Or how dependent I had become on the hour or two of quiet when they were all in school when I could write or read or go for a run. Most nights have found me running after nine pm, when it’s just me and the fireflies glinting in the trees, punctuated by me suddenly flailing to wipe a spider web from my face and praying that the spider isn’t crawling somewhere on me. The other night I almost hit a deer. I came around the corner and there he was, standing gazing at the pond. I freaked him out and he ran away, with me envious of his wild speed as I continued to trudge under moonlight. I guess I’m burning off the crazy. I’m not sure it’s working. I read my support group emails in the wee hours and use my smart phone as a light to read books about recovery while my husband snores and my kids have gone to bed and I steal time from sleep to do the work. It’s not ideal but it’s something.
Two weekends ago was our big neighborhood party that in years past has always marked the beginning of summer. Slip and slide and pool for the kids and volleyball and yard games for the adults and booze everywhere. I woke up the day of the party feeling low energy, and having zero desire to be around a lot of people. I expressed this to my husband and I told him that I was going to go but that I might need to leave early. I got the kids dressed, sunblocked and pool ready and then decided to take my time getting showered and dressed and walk to the party, which is about a mile away on roads within our neighborhood. I thought having time to think and unwind might put me in a better frame of mind. I got there and everyone was drinking. No one was really watching the kids in the pool so my paranoid ER nurse self plunked down with my bottled water and watched about 20 kids as they were swimming. It was blazingly hot, and try as might, I just didn’t want to be there. My son hit his head on the slip and slide and needed to lie quietly with his head on my lap in a shady spot with some ice and recover his dignity. He finally rallied and when we rejoined the party, all the other moms were doing shots and drinking margaritas while floating in the pool in their bikinis and I just felt like the sweaty, grumpy odd girl out. Reaching into the cooler for water and brushing past glowing ice-cold wine bottles every time just got to be tortuous. I ended up leaving early and came home and immediately started thinking that I need to just re-vamp my entire social circle or it’s going to be a lifetime of miserable parties where I feel like an awkward stick in the mud who ends up watching everyone’s kids. Not helpfully, my husband who had been drinking and playing volleyball and oblivious to the fact that we had three kids at the party had the balls to tell me that I am miserable now I’m sober. Gee, thanks. Because going someplace I felt uncomfortable going in the first place and trying to have a good attitude and be in the moment as much as possible wasn’t hard at all.
I sat on my bed and stared at the wall for a while and had my first fleeting thought along the lines of “might as well drink if everyone thinks I’m boring and miserable now.” And I had an actual, physical response to that thought where I felt nauseous and said out loud. “oh, there you are, just waiting for your way back in, huh?” And there it was, the moment when SH#T JUST GOT REAL. The first few months were all about not drinking and triumphs like I was at the high jump and they kept raising the bar and I kept surprising myself when soaring over what seemed like impossible heights. And then I jumped and smacked right into the bar, landing on my back and knocking the wind out of myself. Because not drinking is just the start of it.
I know I’m not the only alcoholic in the world who struggles with excess, boundaries, extremes, always pushing, pushing, pushing. So it’s really not a surprise that I overdid it in taking on boozy scenarios in early sobriety. Like a test. Like I could breezily say “oh, it doesn’t bother me if you drink. I’m fine.” Except I’m not. I hate that everyone is drinking. I hate that there was a pool full of kids with no supervision. I hate that I was left out because I wasn’t doing poolside shots. I hate that I have not one single sober friend in real life. I hate that all of my good intentions and hard work are boiled down to me just being no fun and miserable now. I hate that my disease takes all of these feelings and tries to convince me that I should just start drinking again.
Two days after the party, my parents arrived for a week-long visit. Because they only see us once or twice a year, there is usually immense pressure to be the perfect hostess, make lasting grandparent memories, go fun places, etc. This year, I cleaned up within reason, planned very simple non-gourmet meals and didn’t go overboard and neurotic in trying to appear perfect. Which is a huge (HUGE) step for me. My parents have always had standards that I could never meet and in somehow not trying to meet them, and in just being myself it ended up being a relaxed, natural and meaningful visit. The kids enjoyed just playing games and doing puzzles and swimming in the pool and going for walks. We didn’t do any giant day trips. We ate crabs on the deck. I ended up having an opportunity to tell them that I’m an alcoholic and was met with understanding and compassion. And pride. Which shocked me. But if we had done our normal overscheduled, cram as many happy memories into five days routine, there wouldn’t have been the quiet moment when my dad asked me “are you training to be on American Ninja or something? You look great and something has changed” which segued into a long talk about the last few years and sobriety and what I’m learning. My parents both shared times of deep loss and depression and teared up as I told them how low I had gotten. They hugged me and told me they were proud.
So, in choosing different things, in learning to go with my gut instincts, I am navigating the real hard parts of this journey. Because it really is no joke. The pink cloud has blown away and the voice is like a jackhammer in the background of my thoughts. For a while it was quiet. It was peaceful. And now I am heading steeply uphill with no idea what lies at the top. But I know deep down that it’s still better than the nightmare that drinking had become. I told a friend it’s like the first 100 days or so it was like being at basecamp on Everest. I’m acclimating to low oxygen, getting my body used to a new reality which in this case isn’t altitude but being alcohol free. But now I’ve left the safe place behind and I’m climbing uphill, uphill, uphill and my lungs are burning and my muscles are protesting and every step I hear a voice just saying “give up. This isn’t worth it. Even your kids say you aren’t fun now. You don’t need to go so deep into this. You can drink again now that you know why you did. You can just change those things and manage your stress better.” And with the next trudging step forward I say “No. I want this. I’m not going back.”
Step. “Just quit”. Step. “No.”
So that’s where I am right now. I am trying to make huge changes. In the midst of the demands of motherhood and life and having all my kids home and feeling like I’m on permanent overload. My ADHD has my brain feeling like a Labrador and someone just threw two thousand tennis balls.
But I know what I want. I want the vista at the top of this mountain. And I’m not stopping until I get there.
What is making this possible is the new friends that I’ve found in this journey. They may live hundreds of miles away, but they are in pocket, just an email or a text away. They get it. We can talk about all the FEEELINGS. And how we struggle with how to handle the feelings that are hard to face. The anger, the pissiness, the lack of “me” time as a mom of small kids, the straight up blah parts of this. Giving ourselves permission to not just be shiny happy sober people all the time. Some days totally suck. We see things in ourselves and our children and our partners that we feel responsible for. Things we want to run from. Unweaving all of this is exhausting. And some days we are just mad and it’s not pretty and we have to reach out or drown. But while I float up to my eyeballs in sadness and regret some days, I have other voices that are louder than the one in the background. They tell me it’s ok. It’s ok not to love every part of this. It’s ok to be mad, disappointed, petty, selfish, overwhelmed. And it’s ok to be stupidly happy over a sunset or something cute that my kids did. It’s ok to be annoyed when my kids steal my La Croix water and then leave it sitting around unfinished. It’s ok in that moment to be a little like Gollum hissing “my pressshusss.”
So many of us are black and white thinkers. Things are either good or bad. Sober life; life unbuffered by the numbing effects of alcohol feels wrong at first. The rawness of opposing emotions can be overwhelming when we have spent our whole lives labeling them as “acceptable” or “not acceptable”. We spend so much time trying to wrap it up in perfection that we miss the beauty in the ugliness. In not running from the ugly parts of ourselves, in just acknowledging them as just a part and not the whole, those things lose power. Yes, I have moments where I am not patient, I am monstrously selfish, I am hot-tempered and short-sighted. But I also have moments where I am wise, loving, self-sacrificing, long-viewed. The trick is to stop running from the moments when I’m the former. Just allow myself to be angry or whatever.
So, that’s where I am. My house is a mess. My kids are either adorable or squabbling. I run every night in the company of bats. My marriage is still teetering on the edge of something. My 11 year old was invited to a sleepover by her 5 year old sister with all of their American Girl dolls and I have no idea how many more years are left of that sweet connection. My son has made his first real friend and he’s seven. I’m terrified that he’s going to get crushed or his quirkiness will be too much. I have a snake living in my garden that I’ve named Winifred. My minivan needs new brakes and I think I need a new job. My coffee intake has risen to an alarming level.
There are seismic shifts going on under my surface that no one can see.
And in all of it, I’m trying to embrace the German idea of ” hasslich schon”. Ugly beautiful. Because that sums up life perfectly right now.