There is a strange contraption that lives in my basement. It has only been unearthed from the storage room/laundry room/ the “don’t try to shift any boxes or you may be crushed in an avalanche” room/ the “oh please, let there not be any wolf spiders lurking in the dark space behind the washer” room a handful of times this year.
It’s called an ironing board. It’s a symbol of my former life. A relic from a time when I used to actually iron clothes before appearing in public. Back when I used to iron the scrubs I wear to work, rather than grabbing them out of the clean clothes pile and looking at the wrinkles and telling myself maybe no one will notice.
It creaks and squeaks and protests when I unfold it, probably because it rarely gets unfolded anymore. I dragged it out the other day to touch up the kid’s back to school outfits and they all ran screaming from the hideous screech it made. They came back to investigate, only to back away in wide-eyed horror at the clouds of steam rising from the snout of the iron as it sat there puffing like an ancient dragon. “WHAT IS THAT THING??” they cried.
I took a moment to pause since that sound triggered a whole big swirling whirlpool of memory and shame. I hadn’t ironed since I got sober. That board and I have had a complicated history. When my drinking got really bad the last few years, I would wildly overcompensate to prove to myself how “high functioning” I was. I would often set up the ironing board after the kids were in bed and drink while I tackled a huge amount of ironing. It was one of those misguided, wine-fueled attempts at proving that I was still a good mother. And it was something that I stopped doing at all when my drinking started taking me down to my rock bottom day.
During this summer of learning to say no to some things and a lot of new “yeses”/safeguarding my sobriety as my first priority, there was zero ironing. It was one of those things I decided really didn’t matter. I’d rather give kids my time and thoughtful words instead perfectly coordinated outfits and fake “put-togetherness”.
There was something I used to notice whenever I saw pictures my husband has taken of them when I was working.. He sent snapshots of them eating a yummy dinner or at the park and yes, they may not have worn wearing perfectly matched outfits and that was some left-over ketchup on someone’s face, but I would look at those cheeks, the sparkling eyes. The big scrunchy-faced smiles. They were so darn happy to be with their Dad, at the park or wherever. They were completely un-self conscious about how they looked. The were in the moment. And they were gorgeous to me. But I couldn’t let go of overcompensating when I was with them, as though my kids’ appearances were somehow a reflection of me. I could never relax completely, always feeling waves of guilt about being a drinking Mom washing over me. I perfected a fake cheerfulness, an over the top gritting my teeth creating perfect memories all while my brain was screaming for that next drink.
I’m still flawed and get it wrong a lot, but I don’t have that desperation to prove anything anymore. That voice telling me I’m not good enough, not a good mother, a selfish person, a weak person still tries to creep in from time to time. But my brain is no longer pickled and so it can identify when my thoughts head that way and put a stop to it. Its an amazing thing when your voice of reason is no longer gurgling at the bottom of a bottle of wine.
The lost ironing board is perhaps a symbol of me finally coming in to my own . Because most of the time I still have no idea what I’m doing. I still wait for somebody to show up and say “ok, we know you are just faking this whole Responsible Mom of Three thing. Please stand here against the wall with your hands behind your back until a real grown up shows up to take over.” I think that struggle; that feeling like a fraud was one of the things that really fueled my drinking. But as in so many other areas of life in new sobriety, I’m just trying to float in it gently, and stop reacting so much. Give myself the grace I would give a friend who is struggling with motherhood.
I will never do this perfectly. Every day brings its’ challenges, triumphs and crushing moments. Things that worked yesterday suddenly don’t work today. I mull, stew, think and plot. Some days I feel like I’m on some long, long, long version of Survivor where all I need to do is just OUTWIT, OUTLAST, OUTPLAY. And the stakes are high, but I’m tired of being driven by fear, worries about appearances and expectations. So I’m letting go of them.
Because ultimately, no matter what is going on, whatever mind-numbing repetitious “wash your hands, stop hitting, use your words, where are your shoes, say sorry, forgotten lunch, playground drama, phantom stomach ache three calls from the school nurse” kind of day I am faced with, sobriety is forcing me to prioritize. I must choose what will and won’t matter. And I’m growing in confidence about those decisions as a sober, fully present mother. I honestly have no idea how I managed any of it all the years I was drinking. And I’m so grateful to be done with it. Because life has plenty of challenges in and of itself. The massive amounts of energy I used obsessing over drinking, recovering from drinking and feeling awful about drinking is mine again to use for living. And life is less frantic when you aren’t constantly overcompensating and hiding a huge secret.
So going forward, there may days when we look like we climbed out of the laundry basket. And that’s fine by me. There may be other things that will fall by the wayside as we continue on this journey.. but maybe don’t hold your breath for the Legend of the Lost Steam Mop.
Because with two big dogs who sneak slobbery tennis balls into the house, a husband who sometimes forgets he’s wearing muddy boots and kids with questionable snack-wrangling skills, I really need that thing.