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.

An Open Letter to My Kids

kids

 

Dear boys,

As a mom, I know that I am your stability in this world. I keep you safe, I keep you fed and clothed and sometimes I spend too much at an arcade because picking toys you’ve won lights up your faces. I took on the responsibility of bringing you into this world and know that means seeing you through every piece of it.

As babies you never slept. Some nights I had no idea how I was going to make it the next day on one hour of sleep. I’d stare at your cherubic little face in the 2:00 a.m. quiet as we rocked and I’d beg you to please try sleeping. Close your eyes and rest and let me rest so we could start again the next day. Sometimes I got mad, sometimes I cried; there were times I found myself pleading with a two month old realizing how little that was going to do. I loved you through all of it.

As you grew and as I grew and started to realize that the opportunity I had received to stay home with you wasn’t fulfilling me, I started to question myself. What kind of mother doesn’t want to keep that opportunity to be around you at all times. Who was I to want to go back to work when I had the chance to always be the one you woke up to and played with and learned with. I selfishly worried what I had done to my career by staying home. How would I find something new and make the decision to send you to strangers every day. I worried I had failed you by staying home when I wasn’t equipped to. Feared I wasn’t teaching you enough or letting you flourish. I spent so much time feeling out of place. Uncertain where I belonged. But I loved you deeply and immensely and without fail, every second of every day.

When I re-entered the working world, I wondered if it would work. Feared I may not be able to make it all flow smoothly. How often would I be able to pick you up if you were sick. My mind raced with all the things that can happen in daycare, positive and negative. Other kids could be mean, you could get hurt. Almost worse, you could get your feelings hurt. What if the teachers looked the other way at the wrong time. All while realizing I was facing proving myself to my employer and demonstrate why I was a value, after being out of the working world for an extended period of time. I didn’t know if those two years had done any damage to my success when I already started out with hurdles ahead of me. But being successful was a must. I had to do my best for myself and for you. You were always my priority. Always my driving force.

About a year later I made an incredibly difficult life choice and put you both in a confusing, hard to explain position. You were going to have two homes. Your mom and dad would have separate time with you. I had no idea how it would all work. And looking into the faces of two children under four and attempting to explain divorce will always be one of the more difficult periods of my life. You truly had no concept of what was happening. Just that your whole world was upending. All while mine was as well. I was lost, sad and trying to find my way. Keeping my head above water and still giving you the best life. I couldn’t tell you any of this, I couldn’t talk to you about those rough moments, the tears, the ugly times. I was strong for you and remained your pillar even if I was usually crumbling and patched together with crappy glue and duct tape. You were my hearts and you were what mattered.

As my life went on, and you got older, I made some pretty stupid choices. I had some life moments that are still bewildering. More hurdles, more difficulty and more sadness. But you couldn’t see that. You couldn’t be privy to those moments because you needed to know everything would be okay. I was a crumbling façade and at times you saw my weaknesses. You saw my tears and my pain and my inability to hold it together. But I kept you safe, I kept you happy and I loved you. With all of me.

During all of this, I suddenly found myself in a position of explaining death to two kids under five. Ty, with a crayon sticking out of his ear, not really understanding why we couldn’t see Grandpa anymore. Where had he gone, why did he leave. Would he be sad now that he was all alone. I kept my composure, but let you see me sad and told you how that part of life works. Even when months later we’d drive by a cemetery and you’d ask if Grandpa was coming back some day.  In that moment, I made sure you knew that Grandpa loved you very much. That he thought the world of you and that would never change.

As time has gone on, and I’ve seen how the world can be, the good and the bad, and I try to not let you see some of my latent cynicism. I don’t want to spoil any of the world for you, while your eyes still see good and your brain still processes primarily innocence.

When kids were mean to you, Dylan, I felt a rage I’ve never felt. I hurt and I cried and I wanted to put you in a little bubble and keep you with me always. But I knew that wasn’t the best way to see you through this part of life. I restrained from finding those kids and telling them they were not nice. I didn’t call their parents and ask what the hell they were doing. I got you through it. Knowing it will happen again. It’ll happen to both of you. And I have so much to fear sending you out into this big, sometimes scary world, but if I share my fear I don’t set you up for the best life you can have. If I scare you, your fear becomes too large for your hearts and that’s not what a mom wants. That’s not how I help you flourish.

As I’ve faced more difficulties, I hold it together because that’s what I do as a person. But also what I do for you. Knowing that my strength will be what you carry with you, always. The moments you see my emotions, good or bad, are the moments that shape you. Prepare you. Show you my love. Show you love in general.

Life’s going to be a real asshole sometimes. It’s going to knock you down, only to push you back down once you brush yourself off and get back up. It might do it multiple times until you just don’t know if you can get back up. But you do. Because that’s living. That’s knowing that when you didn’t realize it, you had friends helping you back up. You had family making sure you could stay up. And bandaging the wounds from falling in the first place. Life will be unfair, it will hurt, but it will also be great, wonderful and beautiful, if you let it. I’m still figuring out how that works myself sometimes. When you’re in the dark, wandering and lost, just know the sun has to be somewhere. The light has to be in a place you’ll eventually find it. Don’t give up. It’s not who you are and it’s not who we are. Because together we are strong. Together we can find our joy and what makes us who we are.

Don’t let anything stifle you. Don’t let pain guide you in the wrong direction. Keep your beauty and I can only hope the kindness I’ve tried to instill in you. I hope that as life goes on, I can continue to be your rock and the person you know isn’t perfect, but tries her damn best at everything. I hope you’re not embarrassed of my failings and while I would never tell you this now, because I know it’s unfair, sometimes it’s you two and only you two who are the reason I get back up, brush myself off and ask “What’s next.”

Because I love you and I always will.

Sink or Swim

Divorce, break-ups, endings. They’re hard. They’re messy. Even in the most simple, mutual of ways, they’ve left their mark. Emotions are felt differently by each person involved. And even on the parts of those who aren’t, but are more than happy to share their viewpoint (requested or not). When you join your life with someone’s, whether it’s 2 months or 20 years, there’s a connection, a dent left behind in your armor that will leave you either respecting it as getting through or focusing on the damage incurred. There’s never a right or wrong way. Endings can come about in so many different ways; anger, changes, growth that doesn’t match, fear, hatred, realizations, death…..

At some point you have to move forward though, no matter what side you were on. You’re entitled to all of the emotions you encounter, but sometimes they’re overwhelming. Smothering, almost. You rise to the surface for air or you push it to that last minute where you’ve got to catch your breath to save yourself. Moving forward means new encounters, which can make some uncomfortable; can cause others immense fear and in others encourage curious excitement. But truth be told, moving forward involves something new. Finding a fit and a place. Understanding who we are on our own, as opposed to being someone associated directly with another. And depending on how much of yourself you’ve either held on to, or lost along the way, the path can be muddy and dirty and tiring or a cakewalk. Somewhere in between is where more probably go.

If you’re the introspective type, song lyrics suddenly mean more; if you’re the impulsive type, you indulge in momentarily soothing behaviors typically bordering on self-destructive. Those who can ignore their feelings simply land on the next day and don’t look back. Not to say they aren’t blindsided by the acceptance of the situation down the road, but some just see the constant rotation a way of life or what they deserve.

The addition of children to the equation is the hardest part. And that’s how this started. Becoming a single parent, whether you are solely single, as in permanent custody or a co-parenting situation, it’s really effing hard. I respect any single parent who maintains their sanity, even if that means pizza and two hours of Curious George to get stuff done for an hour, only to get those five minutes to sit down before someone needs water. Or food. Or can’t put their pants on. Life’s not fair, we all know that one. But this was a situation created by one or both parties and you can’t rest on the negatives of it. It’s life. It’s the present. You suck it up for the benefit of the kids. Especially because you have to explain to them that life isn’t fair when they use the phrase on you.

Everything is more complicated. Scheduling, dating, planning, identifying your new chapter; all while remembering it has to be as smooth as possible for the children who are involved. One parent brings someone new into their life and that new person goes, you have to address the idea of loss more than once with children. (Break-ups are losses, so that counts any situation). One parent brings more than one person into the children’s life through impulsivity and searching for air in a situation where they feel they’re drowning. Excitement can be that person’s air, and the balance between that, being a good parent and mental health is a potentially combustible moment. A parent decides to move; it creates more change. More upheaval. No matter your age, adult or child, those types of changes have effects. The parents fight and the children are in the middle and the kids absorb that regardless of age. That’s not to say all parenting situations are bad. Some of those aren’t necessarily bad, depending on how the parents handle it individually and with or without a united parenting understanding.

Having a bad day? Suck it up. Those kids need you. You might be lucky enough to have a co-parent who will change the schedule to allow you the time you need to decompress. Yet you also have to understand that you are the parent at that time and you can’t expect another person who has been removed to be that understanding or flexible, given that you now have separate lives, especially if they have brought someone else into their new path. (I hate using the word path. But it’s really the best description. Road? Trip? Go with it.)

You have to understand what you can do in your alone time and what can cross over. The mistakes you make, the losses you experience, those are all a part of their lives and if the children are young, explaining can be difficult and if they’re older, the ability to comprehend the situation without explanation will mold some part of that child’s future. You can have a bad day with the kids, but then you also may get the whole next day off (for lack of a better word) and know that while you’re dwelling on other life moments and feeling sorry for yourself, that parent may be having the same rough day. While having to solely monitor, watch, feed, give permission to, drive to events; etc.

Being alone is hard, no matter how strong you are. No matter how used to it you are. Being with kids alone can be incredibly trying and also incredibly rewarding. You manage to keep a roof over their heads, food in their stomach and clothes to wear and some days, that’s what you have to pat yourself on the back for and be okay. There are days where you have to leave the room and that’s okay. There are days when you don’t have the kids and be okay with that and not feel guilty. If you’re the sole caregiver, you don’t have to feel guilt for relying on a support system, or feeling burdened by the lack of one. We all just do our best, even if our best can suck, subjectively.

As usual, I’ve strayed from place to place. My end implication is always the same. Life is hard. Tricky. Either handed to us or earned. It’s what we do with it. Some choices will be right, some will hurt, some will leave marks and some will be in a gray area. If you want the less sunny description of life, you could compare it to a swimming instructor. Life is either going to teach you by keeping on the arm floaties or standing on the sidelines, yelling “Sink or swim, bitches!”

You can hate yourself for mistakes, feelings, emotions and reactions or you can face them and then make your next choices accordingly. I’ve contradicted myself in the last statement, and I acknowledge that. That’s kind of life, though, isn’t it.