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.

The Behinder We Get

“I don’t have time for this.”

If I had counted the number of times I said that phrase this morning, yesterday, last weekend, etc. I likely would have lost count by the second day. Sadly it’s a phrase often uttered to my kids and as the spontaneous words come out of my mouth each time, I cringe a little as they stack up.

What don’t I have time for? To break up fights between two brothers? To calm crying over something seemingly irrational, but very serious to a child? To not subdue my irritation due to lack of sleep and a child not listening? Fearing running late as though what I have to go to is more important than an extra 30 seconds with someone who calls me their most favorite mom ever.

And it’s not even always children I think this phrase slips out around at one time or another, or at least passes through our mind. Friends whose perceived drama just seems to be more than we want to get into. A family member who wants to chat on the phone. Waiting in line for that fourth cup of coffee, you really don’t need, but your productivity does.

We’re all human, and as parents we’re sometimes feral humans trying to figure what the hell we’re doing and then doubting it all five minutes later. Driving away from the school, having left a child who probably needed one more hug, but after five hugs we once again panicked over that meeting we were going to be a minute late for. In the moment our frustration, our urgency and the speed at which we have to live life took over.

What haunts me, what sits with me in the back of my mind in that meeting I ended up being ten minutes early to after all, is what happens when that lack of time is directed towards us. When our children are adults and we try to call, but they live their own lives and have their own perceived time constraints and text us to tell us “I don’t have time right now.” That moment when we’re struggling and we need a friend, but our friends aren’t available and we realize we don’t have anyone who does have time for us. When we lose someone and realize we don’t get to have that time we thought we didn’t have back.

In the end, and cumulatively, the person we end up having the least amount of time for throughout these proclamations, is ourselves. If we convince ourselves we don’t have time for our children, our friends, our family, we lose time later fretting and worrying and wandering through a guilt trip we wish we didn’t make time for. Regrets are what eat away at the time we could be using to make up for those moments our life impedes our ability to slow down.

Don’t get me wrong. Parenting can be exhausting and we’re completely justified in getting worn out. There are times we just can’t dedicate the right amount of availability to that friend who needs us, or we’ve already helped them through this situation multiple times or we have our own shit going on. Those moments we don’t have time for are sometimes justified. They’re natural and just a part of the constraints of life.

If we stop for a minute, and really think about each time we’ve said it, we may find that we did have time. However, what may have been missing is our ability to truly handle that moment. Uncertainty as to how we should respond to children fighting. Anger at them not listening. A lack of words for the friend who needs us. Again, ultimately, it’s us we’re not making time for.

We all move so fast, so urgent, always late. We’re perpetual White Rabbits from Alice in Wonderland and the hurrier we go, we think the behinder we get. Perhaps the reason we say “I don’t have time for this” to children so often is because they haven’t yet learned that it’s possible to run out of time. Or at least have the perception that there are more important things than the very present moment we’re in at any given time. Maybe our mental reaction to a friend in need is an eye roll and begrudging tolerance because we can’t handle the emotion of knowing we’re worried about them. That we know what we think we’d do in the same situation, but watching someone else need to learn what they should do can be taxing. Instead of taking a deep breath and knowing we each live our own lives the way we need to survive and maybe their survival and path towards a solution is in fact having us to reach out to. The relative who calls and wants to chat on the phone is someone who appreciates that familial bond and wants to connect accordingly.

Perhaps, what we don’t have time for, is proper perspective of time. What it means. The understanding that it disappears. We can’t get it back. It doesn’t mean we won’t still get irritated, we don’t still have responsibilities that require punctuality. That we do have a friend we truly can’t help anymore simply out of a need for boundaries. But in the grander scheme of things, we can probably reduce what we think we don’t have time for. Maybe half of the moments are ones we can stay in. That half will give us all the time in the world.

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.

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.

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.