Cheers

 

Today I am 52 days sober. I had planned to write this closer to the New Year’s Day. And I’m not sure I ever intended an outright declaration or “announcement” per say. But I posted an image on Instagram that hash tags a movement in the sober society and it got positive feedback and support. So here goes nothing. Or everything.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been known as a drinker. The girl who can drink long past most people. Someone who is in love with vodka, tight with tequila, besties with beer and whimsical with wine. In other words, my liver would take a beating and not say a word. The abuse I’d put it through was all in the name of fun. Or for the sake of chasing away a bad day. Of avoiding an unpleasant situation. Escaping anxiety, suppressing depression, avoiding life for just a few hours. Yet, all those things I was avoiding always seemed to come back the next day. Along with a wicked headache I’d laugh about. Pouring hair of the dog that would turn into a whole puppy.

I think there is a stereotype or a pigeon hole of what people think of as a drunk or an alcoholic. But there are so many degrees of having a problem with drinking (or any addiction, really). I was functional. I waited to get home from work to drink. I day drank on weekends if I wasn’t driving anywhere. But isn’t that what all the fun people do? I’d swear I was going to cut back after this day or that day. I was only going to drink every other day. I was only going to drink on weekends. I was only going to drink on days that had an 8 in the date. I was only going to have one drink. Or two. Yet somehow, I never seemed to make it to any of those goals. There were always excuses. It was a shitty day at work. I was upset with my current relationship and just needed to avoid it for the time being. My kids were being difficult. I was sad. I was happy. The sky was blue.

There are a variety of reasons I stopped. But honestly, one day I woke up, unsure of the night before. Panicked because I wasn’t sure what I had done now. Don’t get me wrong, this was something that happened on a regular basis by the time it got to the weekends. But this time felt different. There are reasons that are too personal to share here. But overall, I suddenly knew. I was never going to be able to moderate my drinking. I was always going to go out and be the one to push shots on people. The one to brag about how many I could take. I wore my tolerance like a badge, yet never realized it was a bandage covering a gaping wound I refused to address fully. I had mornings where my kids would remind me of things I had said or promised and I didn’t fully remember them. The shame of all of it would overwhelm me, my depression would plunge and I would ultimately and ironically suppress the resulting feelings by drinking again.

Yet, as I said, I was fully functional. The most people knew was that I enjoyed drinking. I could drink a lot. I would get liquor as gifts. Beer as thank you’s. Wine to improve a bad day. I was the girl who could keep up, who would always go out for drinks and who seemed okay with it. It was a large piece of my identity. Both to myself and others. Those who know me well know I struggled with the effects. They know I kept trying to quit. They’d listen to my laments over another foolish night. But what Jessica wants to do in the end is always what Jessica is going to do.

When I quit, it felt different than all the other times I had “quit.” It felt like the time I truly needed to. Over the first few weeks, my depression was completely manageable, with very few depressive episodes. The dark circles under my eyes started to fade. Stomach pain I had been experiencing disappeared (which I had even gone to the doctor for and pretended I had no clue what it was. But deep down, I knew). But my anxiety, life, my feelings, oh boy. I had clearly been chasing my anxious nature away with bottomless glasses of Absolut. High strung as a natural tendency, my anxiety was along for the ride like the drunk guy you have to cart home at the end of the night, puking in your backseat and passing out before you get to his place. There’s something I learned about in sobriety called the “pink cloud” and it’s essentially a feeling of euphoria as the weighted effects of alcohol leave your system. It’s when you start to feel all the things you’ve been avoiding, you learn happiness and everything is just there and intense. I have that. But I also now have the lows. The lows of realizing I have to learn how to face my anxiety without running away from it. When something makes me sad or mad or scared, I can’t avoid it with Cabernet. I have to break down each piece and understand what I can change and what I can’t. I have to be in control of my reaction and how I let it take me over or if I even let it into my mind in the first place. Tequila no longer gives me reprieve from feeling lonely. I’ve started tearing up at movies again because my emotions are becoming richer. A bad day sometimes leaves me with a full blown attack that I have to suppress completely so no one knows. Because I still have to function. I have to fight my addiction, carry on like a “normal” adult, be a parent, pay my bills, keep us all fed and clothed and safe. Sober. I can’t buy vodka on the way home. Funny story, I used to stop and buy myself alcohol for later, on the way to get my kids and I would pick up some juice for them at the same time. You know, to be nice to all of us. Maybe they had a rough day and needed some sugar (I’m kidding, simmer down). It was also to suppress the guilt I had over the stop I was making to begin with.

I fear future social settings as the novelty of my sobriety wears off and becomes a wet blanket to some. Don’t get me wrong my friends have been phenomenal. It truly is a part of this that has been much easier than I expected. One of my primary fears was losing people who would no longer see me as fun. Who wouldn’t get to know the sober Jessica. Who would have to find alternate presents to liquor. I luckily have surrounded myself with amazing people. Who are supportive and kind and loving and who don’t give a shit if I order a shirley temple at dinner. (And I don’t care if they order drinks.) Someday, though, there might be a situation where they may not know if I’m comfortable at an event and I may be omitted from the invites. But I’ve made this choice for my own personal health and path and I have to be okay with that. While dating has essentially fallen off the radar in the early part of sobriety as I’m learning who I am, and how to face the intricacies of the nuances of life, I do get lonely and it will come up. (But lesson from sobriety is dating inspired by loneliness is the never the right kind.) Yet, I know from a long history of dating that almost every meeting opener is “want to go have a drink?” As a result, I’m wary and curious how many will end before they’re even planned when I say “I don’t drink.” I mean, I’m well aware I’m fun sober, but alcohol has been welcomed as that social lubricant to the point of it being abnormal if you DON’T need it. But again, as with friends, I know it’s best to surround myself with those who understand my choices, support them and don’t try to dissuade me from doing what’s right for me.  I’m sure there will be more land mines along the way that I wasn’t expecting as I traverse this new trail. I’m going to trip, I’m going to be disappointed and I’m going to see all the things with new eyes.

The key to my success isn’t allowing fear to change my course. Because ultimately I know that fear is what got me here. Fear is what drove me to avoid everything I possibly could. Fear is how I no longer know who I was.

Now, I find out who I am. I’ll let you know about what I find along the way.

It Can’t Rain All the Time

This storm was predictable. Hints of a sharp current in the air; energy bouncing off the trees. Her brain signaling that the clouds were rolling in. The precursors making it clear she could only find shelter, not flee what was overhead. In the past, the storms had battered her and the rain had been torrential and the sadness had washed over her.

She knew it was coming because the changes had started with her. The atmosphere was her comfort level with life. Even if it wasn’t that comfortable; any disruption was sure to affect the air and potentially leave her to encounter what was ahead without the buffer of the temperature she had grown used to.

What she knows is this. Sometimes we come upon a crossroads. One way, is what we know. The other, could be a road previously traveled and it could be an entirely new pathway. More than likely it’s all a part of the same forest; one we’ve known the entirety of our lives. But there are parts of it we’ve never entered; trees we’ve never seen and walkways that haven’t bore our footprints. The sun may filter through spots where the trees aren’t as connected and we may come across clearings where we can bask in the warmth and have our way lit with what seems like all the rays the sun has to offer.

Other times, it’s dark in that forest. And we walk a path we’ve been walking for what seems like ages, and thunder cracks and rumbles. The only light guiding us are the flickers and the flashes of lightning. Bolts streaking across the sky showing us what’s barely in front of us and leaving us back in the dark as they just as quickly disappear. We weather these storms with what we’re carrying. Our fortitude to find shelter. Our logic to know it can’t rain all the time. Understanding that eventually the sun will break through the clearings again, and the latticework of the treetops that let that light in will paint their intricate patterns.

We decide how we brave the downpours that batter the forest and block off paths and flood some of our old walkways. Sometimes trees fall in these storms that give us a bridge to find a way to another part of where we’re going. Only if we notice these brand new pathways and understand it’s where we’re headed next. However, sometimes, it’s so dark up ahead, crossing that tree takes us somewhere there are no clear paths. The underbrush is still flourishing and overgrown. The smattering of brightness through the tallest of the trees isn’t certain. We don’t know how many storms we’ll endure in these parts of the forest.

Whether she knew this storm was coming or not, she still has to get through it. Figure out where the trees may fall and what gets washed away in the end. She knows if she stays out in the open, she risks it all. Should she choose to not seek the shelter right in front of her, she may not realize until it’s too late that she was guiding the way for the other travelers walking alongside her, behind her, ahead of her. In her footprints, or conversely clearing some of the pathways so she doesn’t have to, just as she has unknowingly been doing for them.

There are some days she’s tired of walking. Some where she just wants to stay in the shelter she’s found until the next storm rolls around instead of forging ahead. There are other moments she languishes in the light she sees and embraces it. Instead of thinking to the next rain, or lightning, or darkness, she basks in the momentary warmth. Feels every beam on her skin, looks ahead to that next path she sees. Realizes how alive the forest is around her. Knowing the next storm could keep her sheltered for longer than she’d like, she’s finding these moments to cling to, the further into the woods she gets.

Storms bring change. They renew the earth and the rain nourishes its surroundings. Making everything stronger. Including her. She just has to see it through, to find the flowers growing down the next path she’s on. Because sometimes the patter of the rain on what’s overhead reminds her that she’s been through enough storms and eventually, they stop. Sooner or later, she can keep on her way, finding that next fallen tree or a clearing that is filled with the sun. This shelter is okay. Eventually the rain will slow and the clouds will move away and the noises around her will be of life. Washed clean, ready to find the next part of the forest.

A Boring Old Blog

I was lamenting to a friend today about some choices I had been making and where she found strength to fight her similar demons. Her wisdom was simple and straightforward. Honest as you hope your friends will be. I’ve watched this long-time friend find her way over the last two years or so. We’d always been a little crazy; fun always found us and we always found fun, but not without its caveats. She reached a point where she had stumbled, but suddenly her strength found her and she approached life with a new mindset. I watched her set goals, and reach them. She’d then add more goals, and reach those, too. She grew into herself and I truly was watching her blossom into her own; which at our age, apparently we’re already supposed to have done.

I won’t lie, I was even a little jealous.

I’ve always had discipline. However it’s quite easy for me to talk myself out of some of it. Rationalize it. Just like writing. I love writing. It defines me, it allows me to express myself and it’s helped others. This same friend convinced me maybe I should be doing it more often. In fact, she does that often. When I logged in to my blog admin panel, the first thing I saw was how long since I’d been by to visit my words and add more. And as I sorted through my comments section, and deleted all the spam; I saw one that was either spam or real. Either way, the minimal wind in my sails died down to incredible stillness to a point where I felt as though my boat was stuck on the water. It honestly may as well have just sunk. The comment said that my last few posts had been boring. That they used to like my writing, but I had been off lately. I don’t even know this person. I re-read my last couple and shoot, I thought they were still good. But it was enough for me to wonder if I should even bother.

Now I realize how much I’m doing that to myself. Defeat. Looking for an easy way out or pretending I’m seeking answers, but I’m really just running from the ones I don’t want. I consistently talk about the hurdles I face, the strength I find in jumping them and some of the messes along the way. Not to mention how many times I’ve face planted instead of jumping them. While some situations have happened to me, it truly all is in how you handle it and perhaps I’m still hanging on to them more than I think. I’m going through the motions again, in a moment of simply surviving and as many times as I’ve written about moving past that, here I find myself.

It’s truly an experience to watch another person find who they are. Even more so than experiencing yourself doing it because you can see it with objectivity and compassion. Empathy and love for them that’s often so easy to avoid altogether when it comes to ourselves. Even as we find our way, I think we tend to; or at least I tend to still find the faults and flaws in our course. I’m aware enough to know this is all hitting me because I’m nearing 40. Which is absolutely terrifying. Following my most recent birthday, a strange calm settled over me. A drive to accept myself. A passion to find peace and accept what I cannot change and change the things I can.

It lasted about four days. Small things started to happen, and I righted my course, and then larger things happened and I said screw the damn course and I went back to just getting by. Yet, something stopped me from sinking fully back to just living minimally. I presume my kids are part of it. My age is another.  I started to realize how much my sons are seeing of how I get through life. This was one of the catalysts to my friend’s journey as well. She loves her children fiercely and deeply and she knew her path wasn’t one she wanted to find herself at the end of once her children were grown. I know this not only because she told me, but because I have those same feelings and emotions. An understanding that even when Ty thinks it’s funny to say asshole, or Dylan kicks the wall in anger or they both lose their shit on the way to school, they’re still good kids and it’s my job to raise them right. But also, because this part of life, just like all the others is mine. Each part is. And I’m going to reach a point where I look back and see what I could have done differently for myself and regret is a wicked retirement partner.

I realized as I was watching my friend flourish, and cheering her on and supporting her and loving her evolution; I was simply standing by when I could have been following her lead. Using the inspiration from her to find my fire and live as I wanted. Realizing what she was attaining wasn’t impossible. It didn’t mean I had to set exactly the same goals; but I could stop languishing and start flourishing.

I know, I know. Same shit, different day. Especially if you’ve followed my blogs along the way. (Boring as they may be. Haha.) So I think instead of ending this with some type of resolution; any type of prophetic wisdom, I’m going to highlight the importance of admiration and encouragement. Don’t just see your friends; watch them. Not in a creepy way, unless they’re into that. If you can’t be your own inspiration, be their cheerleader. Support them while they strive towards their goals. Maybe it’s not about you for a while. Maybe it needs to be who you are for others. Perhaps that’s how you find your way. Maybe you’ll find that what you were cheering them on for is something you can cheer yourself on for down the road. Not to mention, if you see it from the perspective I’ve painted above; they are likely not as prone to seeing their success objectively. Don’t be afraid to tell others what you respect in them; to share honesty without fear; but be there if it’s not quite what they were hoping to hear, so they know you still love them. Find your strength in knowing you give of yourself, and you might just find yourself along the way. Still maintain your own courage and tenacity, but maybe for one day or one hour or one minute, lighten up on yourself and project the happiness you’re seeking onto others because they may be seeking the same. Perhaps in the reflection, you’ll see who you are.

Stepping on My Own Feet

My pants are too small.

Some of my pants are too small.

In a size that was falling off me three years ago during another bout of starvation, deprivation and channeling the strength of my eating disorder. A look I’m admittedly wistful for when looking at pictures. A look my best friend called gross. (It’s okay, I love her because she says things like that to me).

Self-worth shouldn’t be in my clothing sizes. I’ve spent the year working out after a few years hiatus from doing so, and actually attempting to eat more than once a day, past 4:00. My Instagram feed is full of body acceptance, love yourself messages mixed in with fitness gurus who do moves I kick myself for not being able to achieve at the same skill level. This is how I try to combat this disorder that has owned my brain for 22 years. By these minimal efforts that still leave me with doubt and dislike for myself. As I dwelled this morning on my new habits likely bringing my body to its natural point; it’s set point as I approach 40 (holy fuck), I realized there hasn’t been one full day in all this time that I’ve liked my reflection. I don’t get dressed and think “I look good.” I find the flaws. The bulges. The parts I believe in my mind people make fun of. I hide the “bad” stuff. Because that’s what this disorder tells you.

I know, I write about this topic all the time. But it’s hitting me hard right now as I find myself in a balance of attempting to accept that this is me. That I have an athletic build and working out emphasizes that. That eating is something most people do throughout the day, without panic. That I may have to go up a size, which shouldn’t matter but I know people can see it. I know people are thinking I’m getting big and wondering if I’ve let myself go. It’s all incredibly exhausting in finding my worth in my appearance. When a habit is ingrained for so long, there’s no other way. You want to see the logic; the path you’re taking and how long you’re going to stay on it. But then I look in a mirror and see how pudgy and unattractive my face looks, how large my legs are and the rationale goes out the window and all I know is I don’t like myself.

I miss the unnaturally sustained gross waif I once was even as unrealistic as that might be. But I also know I wasn’t happy then, either. I still felt too big, too much and like I was taking up too much space. I could still find the flaws in the mirror. I somehow put blinders on to all of the health effects years of abusing my body have caused. Intolerance to certain foods, digestion issues, a metabolism that’s been confused for as long I can remember and that’s not even to say what additional long term effects I will see. Even correcting certain behaviors can’t eliminate what I’ve already subjected myself to. Yet, it doesn’t seem to faze me in considering a dalliance with an old friend. Because all I know is what I see in each mirror, in each reflection, when I look down, when I put on pants… I truly don’t know how to conquer this, I don’t know how to accept what I look like, and while I realize how vain and shallow that makes me sound, it’s still a disease that doesn’t let me remember that enough. An addiction that tells me I need it to be happy, yet, somehow it’s never made me happy.

And as I find myself exhibiting those familiar behaviors and experiencing those difficult thoughts, I battle with the part of me who finds it all so ridiculous. I feel uncomfortable in my own body, like I’m shrouded with an imposter that is too much of me. Yet, I know I should be grateful I’m healthy. I check for rolls when I sit, and I also know that life could be much, much worse. The part of me who hates this tries to combat it with logic and sensibility and the fight between the two can be exhausting. I know all the thoughts people might have when they read of the experiences of someone with this type of disorder. I know they’re not all positive. As I walk toward a mirror in the gym and see how wide I am, I should just be pleased that I can work out and get stronger at the gym. It just doesn’t end up working out where those motivating, self-accepting thoughts win out. I’ve danced this dance before and I keep stepping on my own feet. I’m a terrible dancer.

So here it leaves me. Buying new pants because every morning ends near tears and considering discontinuing working out and definitely scaling back on this whole eating thing. Which, the logical portion of me, that has been louder of late, understands this is just not the right way to handle things. But the me who has always found comfort in finding value in my size just can’t see through the haze that is this dysmorphia. I’d love to use body acceptance hash tags with the confidence and tenacity that others seem to possess. I’d like to believe them. But I don’t. Not enough to feel as though I’ve conquered this. All I can do is keep trying, and I suppose that has to be enough. Revel in having to shop for clothes, even though, I just don’t want to. Know that I’m keeping myself healthier than I have in a long time and my body is trying to reclaim its rightful place and shape. Hopefully, one day, those words won’t ring so hollow as I stare in the mirror and mentally circle what’s wrong. Because right now they feel like lies so I don’t go completely back off the deep end.

Parks and Puppies

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As another birthday passes, I tend to have high hopes in that this is the year I get my shit together. Sometimes I feel like I have most of it at least contained, but for a good portion of the time, it’s still the same uphill battle. My well-earned façade is great at first glance, yet it masks more than anyone would guess on some days. It’s like shutting a bunch of puppies in a room together. If you’re outside, it’s just a closed door. But inside it’s probably one big mess.

I’ve finally, after 20 years, figured out how to manage my eating disorder. The one that has made me hate myself every day I look in a mirror; throw tantrums over how my pants fit and essentially decimates the rest of the day. It’s exhausting to live in constant dislike for everything you see when you look down. To wage mental abuse for how I’m shaped. I’ve longed for (and had) bones extruding, knowing that’s not my body type. I feel massive guilt if I’ve crossed any food boundaries. Yet, within the last year, I’ve reached a point where I’ve been able to move past some of that. I eat meals, and sometimes I even let myself eat before noon. I’ve learned to be okay with what size I wear and if certain pants don’t fit, to just not wear them. These are huge strides for me that have taken so much work; so much rationalization and constant, unending dedication to preserving my self-worth.

There are trade-offs, though, as none of this is without negotiation with the thoughts that linger. These allowances are all as long as I continue working out. So I’m still striking deals with myself, but they’re healthier than striking the deal to avoid food to make up for any I’ve allowed. Yet I still find times where it would be easier to be waif thin; going against my athletic pre-disposition. Making sure I work out, so I can eat still feels like a compromise with my disorder and at times it’s just exhausting. I don’t just work out to stay “thin” or to eat, I do appreciate how strong it makes me feel and the progress I can see myself make. But the caveats are still there, latent because of how I’m wired.

Despite my affinity for working out and desperation to just accept who I am, I find myself sabotaging it consistently with poor outlets and vices that quiet my brain. These vices tend to negate any hard work or effort I make to stay healthy and be happy with myself and go against the thoughts demonstrated in the above rambling. Therein lies the crazy circle that is my brain. It’s like an amusement park. A really lame one. Where the rides are all broken. Every week I set new goals, or measures of moderation. Every week I slip far away from those intentions and set new goals for the next week. Excuses, rationalization, promises, etc. are all my tools of holding off another week on making those difficult choices to limit myself.

As the above starts to crumble, my depression sets in further, like fish hooks, curving back in which makes them much more difficult to remove. The smallest things trigger my anxiety and dark feelings and it compounds in that same little amusement park. Suddenly it all feels out of control, unsettled, like happiness is too far reaching of a goal and the rollercoaster is stuck at the top and none of us have safety restraints on.

Now, at this age, that usual, familiar cycle is wearing out but beyond that, now I feel like I’m too old to ride this ride. Yet I can’t shut it off and it’s often going too fast to jump off. Even as much as I champion for acceptance of mental illness and struggles, I still lambaste myself for experiencing them at times. Why can’t I get myself under control, why does self-harm have to cross my mind as an option. Will I be 60 years old and experiencing suicidal ideation? I sometimes want to just stomp my feet, and say it’s not fair because I truly don’t know what else to do to manage it.

I certainly don’t intend this to sound self-absorbed or whiny; more in that when I’m struggling, I really struggle. I’ve done such an okay job of managing it and learning the best ways to do so, that if I’m crumbling, it’s been a long time coming. My mental health collapses are now cumulative potentially due to ways I handle it, but also because I’ve learned to be strong through so much, I let less break me until I just don’t have any other idea how to maintain my composure.

This is probably the most selfish thing I’ve written in my blogs; the most juvenile and elementary. But I just want things to be fucking easy and maintain that smooth flow for longer than the blink of an eye. While I understand that things aren’t all bad. I do have positives in my life, things I’m appreciative for and treasure. But mental illness and strife just doesn’t allow you to experience those. You’re too busy surviving invisible monsters who just don’t know how to stay under the bed.

Each time I write one of these darker pieces, I sometimes leave it unresolved. Other times I throw around magic fairy dust and claim I’m going to start living and stop fearing. This one, though, leaves me neutral. I’m admittedly struggling with my age and again, wondering if this is how I’ll continue through life. Stumbling, surviving and managing instead of thriving and enjoying the vibrancy that’s often dulled. What do you do when you feel as though you’re too old to be broken? There are paths I haven’t taken in life I’m starting to realize I may never get to and suddenly I face accepting my story. There’s been so much time spent learning from the last hurdle that the next one is upon me before I get to enjoy walking a road with no interruptions. As I get older I start to wonder if I bartered my happiness and levity in some unknown deal that has been wiped from my memory. That’s extreme, I know. But these are all the only ways I can truly express what goes through my mind during these bouts.

On this one, I really am lost currently. How do I find inner peace and learn to navigate depression and everything else in a way that I am able to find joy again. It’s there in little ways; my kids, a joke, that one moment where I’m okay with me. I’m striving for it to be there without interruption. For it to be easy. I know I can never be too old for any of the issues I face; but I do kind of wish I could “grow out of it.” It’s the part they don’t tell you, or at least broadcast as much. We’re stuck with these brains, and we can do all the work in the world and find progress and really apply therapy the best way possible. But we’re still all wired in that one finite way that certain aspects will find little flexibility and that’s not something we can grow out of. I’m seeking a balance and I desperately hope I find it before I age another year.

Throwing Down a Rope

My therapist asked me once what would happen if I ever found myself bored.

And not in the simplest aspect of the word; but in a lack of chaos. An absence of turmoil and pain, at least on a regular basis. If you know me, or have read my entries, you know I’ve encountered some storms that should have toppled me. In humility, I acknowledge I’ve still had positives; and some of my experiences have been self-induced. It’s slightly frustrating that I feel I have to disclaimer my thoughts, but I don’t want anyone to find me self-absorbed. Just reflective, lost, unsure of what path my life is on sometimes.

I recently returned to therapy after taking a break, due to feeling as though it wasn’t helping me any further. Potentially detrimental, as it’s not as though my depression was “cured,” since that’ impossible. I can’t even say it was fully managed. My anxiety and panic attacks hadn’t necessarily dissipated, they still ran roughshod over my brain. Depression and anxiety still scurried away like cockroaches when I could find a way to turn the light on, but the room was often dark and I somehow just became even more adjusted to the dim lighting.

As I spoke to my therapist, I said, “I’m bored. And you’re right, I don’t know what to do with myself or how to face life.” How selfish of me. To have things going okay and I find dissatisfaction in it. Yet, I also realized there are larger issues at hand.

I’m entirely neutral and shut down; I’m numb and I didn’t even realize it was happening to me. Self-preservation. I’m not sure when just getting by became how I function. I imagine the death in my life, the emotional breakdowns and recovery from them; the emotional toxicity I was exposed to all wore me down. Somewhere along the way, instead of getting stronger, I simply just started maintaining. Surviving.

I’ve always appreciated every aspect of my senses. Emotionally, I found the ties to physical effects from happiness, joy, fear, pain, etc. were what kept the experience of life complete. When you’re encountering joy and your chest swells and it feels as though a wave is rising from your stomach to your heart. It’s often momentary, but it’s there. Or the clench of your chest when you’re afraid and experiencing the fight or flight reaction to a questionable experience.

Those are gone. And I miss them. I feel broken; even more so than usual, yet I appear whole on the outside. A mirage. I still feel what I know; my depression, because it’s a mainstay. Disappointment, because it’s a common theme. My life isn’t shitty; I just can’t seem to be able to open myself to that idea or that realization.

I drink to shut the wallowing off. I drink because it’s what I know; yet it makes me irritable; it decimates the work I’ve done to get my body in shape and it often just leaves me feeling additionally depressed and run down. (Shocker that a downer might have that effect, right?) Sometimes I think it’s because my vices are one of few forms of chaos I have left. I became so used to riding tidal waves that now that the waters only throw me an occasional wave, I don’t know who I am. I live in this endless cycle of saying I’ll get back on track; yet I find myself only doing that in some ways and letting the other negative choices stay where they are. I’m excellent at making excuses for myself and fantastic for essentially justifying a negative choice.

I’m disappointed in myself for not pursuing more of my interests that keep me whole. I don’t write, though it used to make me feel as though I was accomplishing something. Yet it’s incredibly easy for me to explain to myself that maybe I’m not as good at it as I think. I can easily tear myself down in regard to my skills.  I don’t get out of the house as much as I yearn to; there’s just a mental exhaustion I carry around with me that makes me find excuses out of it. I often find myself questioning what kind of friend I am, because it seems at some point I became a less than exemplary one for various reasons. I’m caving to my depression because sometimes it feels like a comfortable friend and I don’t really know how to find the other side lately.

I’m going through the motions and it terrifies me. I used to be able to carry the negative with me; yet allow the positives to shine through. I want to laugh freely and with vivacity again. Find the intensity with which I used to approach life. Find my balance; knowing that my mental health will never be free of some of the shackles, but that I used to be able to dig up the key to free myself most of the time. I’m failing myself; I’m letting down my kids. I’m not being the friend I once was. I’m not me, and I don’t know how my strength allowed this to happen. How it slipped away without me even seeing it happen. I’m watching myself, instead of being myself. I used to chase rabbit trails in my thoughts; in my writing and now I have simply fallen down the rabbit hole. This is one of the first times I’ve written these thoughts out, shared them and not found a resolution. There is no tidy ending; not epiphany. I;ts not even my best writing.

I’m simply expressing myself because it’s a little piece that takes me back to where I once was. I’m yelling up from the rabbit hole in hopes maybe I can start to climb out. But I’m the only one who can throw me a rope, and I’m tired. So tired.

The Next Generation

I’m piecing this together from words I’ve said and expressed recently and it just seemed as though I’ve said so much, it was worthy of sharing.

Every damn thing we do stitches together another piece of what our life will mean to us. And what we can handle and who we want to be. You didn’t know if you could handle a situation like this, which is a generalization of life, and now you’re figuring it out. Do what you need to if you’re happy along the way. Happy is not always cut and dry or black and white. It’s intricate and edged with strange little facets.

Parenting is the one of the most difficult areas to know what you’re doing or even know if you are completely screwing up your kids for life. You find your happy moments in the good days, the days that follow the really bad ones where the simplest of improvements can turn everything around.

I got an email from Ty’s teacher this week that broke me a little. Ty, my high spirited, low attention span, impulse control lacking child who fears nothing and no one except at the most surprising moments. He’s loud and loving, forceful and kind. His heart breaks when you don’t ask if he’s okay should he trip or bump his arm or cough at the most random of moments. Wrangling his emotions is an incredibly confusing process for him and it leaves me wondering about the line of nature versus nurture. Whether I’m too kind of a parent in my soft-hearted motherly love or if I’m too stern for him to see the moments when I’m applauding a positive behavior. I spend more time disciplining him than I can rewarding him which leaves us in a paradoxical circle of not enough positive reinforcement because there’s never time and outbursts because he doesn’t get enough positive reinforcement.

He’s already been switched kindergarten classrooms due to some behavior issues (along with a few other kids). But also their inabilities to understand him. Granted, he’s a difficult kid. I love the shit out of him, but it’s so fucking hard. And I’m scared. Of his teenage years. Of his adult choices. Whether he’ll let me help when I need to or if he’ll carry my genetically shared stubborn nature, only learning lessons after the damage has been caused.

The email at hand: “…  I am emailing you today to tell you about an incident that happened during free play today. Ty was playing with a couple other students and I am not sure what happened between them, but it turned into a fight. Ty was standing over another student that was sitting in a chair and he was violently and repeatedly kicking the other student. I have written up an incident report as he was fighting. Ty knows this behavior is totally unacceptable at school. We will continue to help him follow the rules here at school. Please let me know if you have any questions.”

Yes, I have questions. Why choose to use the word violently with a six year old. I realize the difference between maliciousness and child’s play, but he’s six. It’s that fine line of schools being incredibly cautious about bullies in what has become a scary world in which to send your child to school. It opens your eyes when it’s your child who may potentially be targeted not as just as the bullied, but as the bully. And as his mother, I know he’s intense, I know he lashes out, but I also know he’s charismatic and kind; perceptive and complex. The combination is confusing for even him, I think.

It’s an intricately emotional feeling when your child is making you question everything. A deep down pain that makes your brain writhe in confusion and completely unavoidable and intricate heartbreak. All while having to be the adult who should resemble the sane, stable one. You’re doing the best you can yet it doesn’t seem enough. And pieces are broken in you and you see a break in your child, which I see in both of mine in different ways. You realize they may feel the pain or the upset in life you hoped to keep from them.

On the flip side and in my completely opposite battles of two entirely different personalities I’m responsible for, Dylan was terrified to go in the Halloween store the other day. He’s terrified of everything new or uncertain. And it’s him and he’s anxious and he paces and he hugs the parking lot sign post as he screams and hysterically fidgets as adults walk by and two year olds exit the store. In one of my weakest mom moments yet, I called him a wimp after ten minutes of trying to reason with him. I realized as the words left my mouth that it was primarily driven by my own fear of what this could mean in his adult life; his fear. His trepidation. His weakness, which isn’t a weakness at all, but a personality caveat that will likely continue his positive presence as a tender soul. And I cried and told him he couldn’t live life like this and be happy. And we left and I sobbed in the car, next to Dylan full of fear, and Ty who had trotted through the store with no fear at hand. Who had come out multiple times to convince his older brother it was okay inside and he would keep him safe. I felt I had failed my child somehow. In a way I’d never identify. I’d never make mentally tangible; but that would make me doubt who I am as a mother. Because I love the shit out of my kids. Pure, unadulterated, confusing for emotional adults, raw love. And I had let my own fears allow me lose sight of how to comfort when I needed comfort instead. Parenting doesn’t inhibit selfishness. It just makes you realize how terrible it is to allow it to speak for you. In the end, I just wanted him to be okay. I wanted to take his fear and give him my bravery. The badges of honor from walking through life’s fires.

As a parent you realize sometimes it’s going to be hard and scary and tumultuous because that’s just your story. But the complexities of your story are what makes it okay later. For some of us, parent and child are just each wandering with our demons and pitfalls and positives and delights and all the other little facets that will make us stronger later.

Everyone has skeletons in their closet and ghosts in the room, and the ones who turn a blind eye to the battles we all face stigmatize in their perfection proclamations. Leaving behind the brutally honest ones who present in a raw expression of what we battle and feel. We’re humans. Living, breathing beings who have no guide book, have no caretaker like less developed animals. Yet who says we’re not our own animalistic iteration? As feral as that makes it sound, we’re bumbling around the same confusing navigation. Some ignore that, some realize it to a fault, some fail at it and we all bounce off each other’s little bubbles and shift the placement of humanity and interaction.

It’s weird. And it’s hard when you recognize it all. When you feel it all.

And when you recognize you’re responsible for raising the next ones to continue the cycle and evolution.

An Unresolved Ending

Sometimes when we get broken in increments, we don’t realize until much later how decimated we actually are. How much our survival skills are what we’ve been living on. Grazing the surface, floating through our days without the inner passion we once had. The emotion overflowing as we were prone to in the past.

I glance into my kids’ room on a day when they’re not here, and my heart swells at the thought of their innocence and how important they are to me. It’s at that moment I realize my heart has lost the desire to be vulnerable enough to feel joy because when that gateway is open, pain has just crept in too often.

We control our reactions to situations, both positive and negative. Decide how we trudge through murkiness or skip in delight. It’s not until later we realize where it’s either dented us along the way or added to our ability to enjoy happiness. I’m not sure it’s truly until after the fact that we actually heal. Or conversely realize the wall we’ve built out of survival has long outlasted the need to be protected. A safe place has become our dwelling place.

Questioning everything becomes the way of life. Wondering if we’re wrong or if we’re just embracing who we’ve become and what we need to flourish comfortably. Because unlike a literal wall, the proverbial ones are actually much easier to build than they are to tear down.

Survival mode stunts our growth because getting by is the main priority; but it’s easy to forget that it’s necessary to come out on the other side. While it’s protecting us, it’s also suffocating what’s beneath the surface. We realize we’re navigating a shell of our being.

My generalization in using the terminology of we and us is more in my embarrassment in admitting that more often than not, I’m obviously speaking of myself. The realization of my selfishness in doing so creates an environment where I want to hide under the blanket of making it about humanity.

I don’t see my life as being better or worse than anyone else’s. I don’t compare on such a myopic level. I just know that through trials, tribulations, triumphs and all the rest, I got to an age where I’ve lost some pieces of myself and I’m not entirely sure how to reclaim it. If my scars are simply just re-opening old wounds, and only kind of healing again since the integrity of the surrounding tissue has broken beyond repair.

I question my tendency to become so internally focused and my loss of the ability to relax and feel light and happiness. I’ve pulled no punches in acknowledging my struggles with depression, anxiety and all the rest of those potholes along the way that at some point, no matter my swerving, the car is going to blow a tire or bottom out on. Yet I also realize how incredibly exhausted I am from it. Strength and armor have become my main stay and I’ve dropped vulnerability like a bad habit. I’m still here, I still care about others intensely, but choose carefully how to feel it. I let my frustration with what are truly minor issues encompass who I think I am. I doubt the moves I make and feel unsettled in wondering if I have more flaws than I realize.

I can blame the situations in my life; and I honestly think I’m justified in doing so, whether or not I made choices that led to them or if I was just in a situation where my emotions led my mind and the fall out was unexpected. That being said, they’ve piled on so often and affected so many, I wore out my welcome mat to asking for help. My need to get insight, communicate in order to hear reciprocation. I talk and talk and talk because hearing my own words and reading them help me realize the root cause, but I fear that others are humoring me or just letting me handle this on my own at this point after offering ears, hands and hearts along the path of my experiences. I’ve been judged for where I’ve invested my heart. Questioned for the choices I’ve made with others and the reactions have encouraged me to retreat further within myself. To realize that I’m living this life on my own when it comes down to it. And I understand the exhaustion of those who have tried to stick it out. I relish the support I’ve had even while causing immense frustration. When you see someone making choices that you know aren’t healthy or will have devastating or damaging fall out, yet know there’s nothing you can truly do. And I’ve been that person more often than not. Wild, inhibited, prone to caving to passion and my heart without reality weighing in. I’m surrounded by wonderful people who have ridden out my life moments, even while tensing up in anger, frustration, etc. Yet I also realize there comes a point where I can’t keep adding my moments to their stories, I have to figure out how to muddle through in order to grow.

That being said, I find myself behind my wall, on an island I went to myself. No one had actual control of me; my coping mechanisms were my own. I chose this place out of safety, exhaustion and need to be as okay as the fragile parts will let me. Yet I’m tired of being here. I’m starting to realize my fear of drowning in the water around my island are preventing me from taking emotional risks. Yet here I sit.

The discouraging part is that I can see land. Where I once would have relished the excitement and risk of what’s over there; I now feel more content viewing from afar. The internal struggle between hating this island and appreciating how contained everything is where I spend most of my energy. As opposed to just trying to swim there and see what happens. There are no life jackets. Solitude was once my enemy; yet now I find that I turn to it because it’s less complicated. Easier to navigate. This island is everything I was once opposed to. And I don’t remember actually ending up here. It just happened. So here I sit with a beautiful view without the energy to be a part of it.

Untitled

The air conditioner kicked on, its slight rattle either from her poor installation or just its standard machinery awakening. The air conditioner would only be needed for a few weeks longer. Summer passed like that, by degrees and the reduced layers of clothing; in moments that somehow seemed emphatic when bathed in sun.

Summer was nearly over. She thought about what summer had come to mean, as an adult.

Your days still go on; you’re still following nearly the same schedule. If there are children, you try to find more time for them when it’s available, yet realize too late that you haven’t.

This summer seemed lost to her in a way. A blur of confusion, choices, fear, laughs, reassurance, stress and aimlessness.

She had survived, she had fought, taken a chance. Yet, somewhere along the way, she felt sad.

Sad that she hadn’t done enough. Diminished in her ability to be the parent she wanted to be. Hell. The person she wanted to be. Worried that she had worried too much. Certain she’d continued patterns she’d hopefully outgrown.

At an age where it all felt in the balance. You keep learning as you go, but the more lessons you encounter, the more chances you’re hampered by the weight of experience.

She spun in the chair, where she had sat far too long; yet was too tired to do otherwise. Worn out by her thoughts and her days. Thoughts whirling enough to just bump against each other at this point. Somehow summer’s vigorous energy felt as stunning yet cloying as the chilly air ahead.

For some reason she identified this as a pinnacle summer. No rhyme or reason. No inclinations how that would even be defined. But the same patterns, the same choices had led here. To a point where she wanted to ensure the experience was rewarding.

She knew she could potentially feel that way for the rest of her summers and maybe that was the idea. She wondered if she was missing the point.

Closing her eyes, she thought about what she wanted. She only knew the basics. To love and be loved. To be happy and know kindness. She wanted to know her children knew how important they were even if her skills in showing it were less than fine-tuned.

She wanted habits that haunted her to diminish in their hold; yet wondered sometimes if that’s what her identity stood on. She sought to feel content in a human way instead of constantly dissecting the flaws, real and perceived. Knowledge that it had started to get better because it was supposed to.

The fatigue from this many summers was catching up. Time doing its diligent best to tick down. She found she was focusing on the fears instead of relishing what emotions and experiences can inspire fear. Sometimes they’re not negative; just so your gut knows the difference between wanting to fight or finding flight away from what’s in front of you.

She sighed as she realized she’d always known, there would just come a point where she took ownership of the knowledge. How she could possibly have been missing the story, when she was the story.

Yet it all still made little sense. What seemed like it should be a somehow tangible thought was no more able to be held than the humid air outside.

So here she sat. Wondering how the answers were supposed to come to her when she was too afraid of actually looking for them. Too tired to pursue accomplishment and satisfaction.

Realizing she’d sat out the summer. With no self-pity for doing so; in that she wouldn’t wallow. What remained was what she would take with her to each season that followed.

She stood and opened the door.

 

A View from the Fork

I’m writing and re-writing this opening sentence, as it tends to be the springboard for the streaming rambling of my thoughts. My attempt at proper characterization of emotions is indicative of their actual definition. A gray area, written and re-written. Backspaced and re-typed.

I’m tired. I’ve said it more than people probably want to hear. I’m not entirely sure where it happened along the way. Single parenting, work, life, love; all topics that are nothing or out of the ordinary for really anyone. Yet I’m feeling swallowed whole. Somewhere along the way, I forgot who I wanted to be or at least an attempt to claim it.

I’ve spent my summer deciding to have a clear mind, yet failing. Living the same cycle I’ve lived again and again. Determined to figure out who I am and own it; no second guessing or debating with myself over my significance.

I might have a good day with my kids, but focus on the bad ones. The rough drop offs; the therapy sessions where I uncover emotions I’m proud my kids understand yet defeated in that they face them. Find someone who cares, sabotage it. Whether it be through second guessing or a brick wall around my soul I’ve pieced together somewhere over the last few years. Through my realization that my beautiful empathy has seen better days. Weathered storms that tore my sails and made me dock the boat. I’m defeated; and it sucks, for lack of eloquence in speaking.

I miss my sparkle. My sass that broke through even the most difficult of moments. I’ve referenced my laugh that carries and I know is too loud. It seems to be in a place where I make it loud in nostalgia of when it was there with little effort. A heart I bear on my sleeve, both metaphorically and literally in ink. Yet right now, it seems to be below the surface of my skin, much like the tattoo mentioned in the last sentence.

There’s nothing to pinpoint being wrong, and that creates the biggest struggle. I battle stress I used to thrive on. I have trouble feeling sufficient as a parent; yet my kids are cared for and loved and I work hard to meet their emotional and physical needs. I have someone who cares for me; which I’ve lacked as of the last couple years, yet I pick at the tiniest fissure I can find in an effort to tell myself not to get comfortable. I’m 36 and I still can’t eat freely without wondering how much I’ll gain and how I’ll feel in the morning. I resist wearing what makes me happy in an effort to cover what is currently haunting my comfort level with myself.  I have friends who are real and substantial and matter and I pull away, to hide the immensity with which I battle myself regularly.

I share this often, and now it rings true:

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

I’m staring at this fork in the road, facing my path. Large grinned cat staring at me in the form of my doubt and questioning. My vulnerability to find myself on an unknown path that could mean I find the next phase that will bring me the peace I’ve sought. My acceptance to live one day at a time with whimsy and handle adulthood with one hand tied behind my back. I honestly don’t know what’s down the other path. It feels familiar. Like I’ve taken it before, and just keep following it to come back to the cat again and realize this fork has been my landmark through my life. I just don’t choose the other path.

This isn’t one I end with resolution. One of my more rambling pieces that visualizes what I’m trying to break through. How I’m trying to find my way out of this darker place and live like the person who has put it all out there before. Thrown caution aside and embraced the potential. I’m woeful of my fear because it means I’ve let it win. I’m not the same as I was before. I was much more. Muchier. I’ve lost my muchiness and I look to go the right way to find it and keep it much safer this time.