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.

Light My Fire

Life scurries by us like a child who has stolen a cookie; rushes by like traffic during our commute home. It passes us during the hours we count down through our daily life. We live in a flurry of responsibilities, obligations and sometimes just functioning to make it to the next day. As I dwell in a time of year that has sorrowful significance for me, as well as the positives gained from surviving, I wonder if I’m doing it right. But don’t we all. If you’re not questioning, you’re not acknowledging. There’s not always a need to over-think, but there is a need to embrace the here and now.

No one wants to get to their death bed, no matter the timing, and wonder if they did enough. If they loved enough. Asking for do-overs and second chances. Because it comes upon us in the cycle it should.

As does the rest of our life. We don’t realize it at the time; but every move is defining who we are and what we’ll leave behind. I fear not enough are cognizant of this; including myself when I’m simply trying to get to the next day. Because it’s incredibly hard to stop and acknowledge.

I realize my introspection can be cloying; I don’t write mildly. I don’t live complacently. I’ve held the world for those who need me to, while mine lies at my feet. Conversely, I’ve had help with mine. An extra hand to keep it propped up while I rally the strength to keep it there. Those are the times when I realize we don’t get through this alone. Every person has their purpose and they come into ours like oxygen fuels fire. Quietly, subtly but with flickering, blazing outcomes.

Life is fucking hard. Let’s face it. Its trials, tribulations, rewards and gains. Losses and changes. I realize I make it all so grandiose. As though I neglect the smaller details. These thoughts come to me during the smaller moments, as much as the big ones. As I parent alone; two little boys whose life I’m inevitably shaping. While I work a job that is challenging and requires complete diligence to every detail. At night as I come home to fix dinner, clean the house, decide activities, get my kids ready for bed. Go back and forth between helping one in the bathroom (details spared) and giving the other his allergy medication because he can’t breathe through his nose. Already past bedtime and still answering question and giving hugs. The nights when I’m without them. Occupying my time, finding ways to thrive and sometimes just sitting in quiet or cleaning the house. Again.

I realize this doesn’t make me special. It makes me human. I lie awake at night and wonder if I was on my phone too much and if my kids watched too many shows. If we’ll get to later years and I’ll realize I’ve missed so much in the flurry of life. That’s just something I don’t want. We’re all going to have regrets. But if you can see them ahead of time, accept their purpose, not their misinterpreted negativity. You probably learned something. Gained something. Potentially lost when you were supposed to.

As I ramble in my typical way, no pre-defined message, I’ll say this. If nothing else, be kind. If you love someone, tell them. If you like them, make sure they know. If you want to hug someone, do it (but as I tell my son, ask first). If you’re unhappy, don’t let it swallow you whole. Do everything you can to not only survive, but to revel in all of it. Leave a trail behind that lets the world know who you are and make sure it’s someone you want to be defined as. Sometimes when you’re someone’s sunshine when skies are gray, it’s you that you’re actually shining for and it’s them you’re supplying the glow for.

We live for ourselves, but we live life for the pieces we connect. Find yourself so you can be wholly present for all those who dance in and out of our life. Sometimes staying for a while, sometimes leaving a memorable light we bask in like the fire that’s been fueled by what it needed.

Life’s going to kick us in the proverbial balls sometimes, grab it back when you have the chance.

 

A Love Story. Of Sorts.

She was coming off the death of a tainted love. She rebuilt and survived and made it out; barely at times. She had seen dark days and light dance in children’s eyes. She valued others while learning not to let it consume. She realized who she was and who she would be were entirely contingent on who she wanted to be.

She found her resolve, albeit as sound as a house of cards. But it was standing. She sought joy. Pride and happiness.

Often finding wounded birds can lead to a feeling of giving unless you discover you’ve nursed back a pterodactyl.

He was boyish charm. Humor and welcome simplicity. A kindness that dwelled beneath a jaded wit and sardonic undertones. He was a diamond in the rough to a halfway lost girl. A girl who sought to care and be cared for. Sailing along on hope and compassion.

She giddily confided in friends. She enjoyed the momentum and the devotion. She saw cracks in the veneer; but she realized everyone is human. She wanted the best. She wanted her moment.

He supported her during a difficult transition. He carried positive and negative in a teetering balance. He had unpolished kindness. He possessed a compartmentalized coping that seemed endearing. She could help. She’d be the solution.

She didn’t know where her darkness was creeping in from. Life had given her curveballs and lemons and she wasn’t on it enough to sort through them. She had compassion when she was weak. She could disregard the verbal blows. Truth be told; she had a lifelong skill of accepting the blame. Whether or not it was the correct direction. She saw weakness in herself and strength in the ones who could point out those flaws openly.

He had an entitlement that she wanted to understand. He accepted the bad and dwelled with it. His emotions were uncultivated and he struggled to navigate them. To filter them accordingly.

He had little verbal control of his projections.

She doubted herself. She worried. She saw eggshells and landmines and still kept going forward as carefully as possible. Apologies were the currency she was paid. But it wasn’t good to cash in anywhere. She wanted to help. To make him better. This was her place. This was her project that would give her meaning. She loved sometimes blindly.

He accepted her assistance begrudgingly while sometimes belittling her in an effort to stay the same pace. It was always peppered with love. A raw, rough-edged love that had purity at nature, but nurture had decimated. He saw no other way and his blinders made the corners tough to turn.

She saw an upswing in her life. Things were improving. But part of her was missing. It was a little piece. But she felt the wind blow threw her some days. She was chasing happiness and it was fluttering down the street like a piece of paper, barely within reach. As she’d get close; graze it with her fingertips, a gust of wind would come up again.

He was crumbling and his façade had tumbled down. He saw hurdles afoot and it was easier to blame for them being put in his way.

She was starting to wonder if she had limits. How much she was accepting and how much she should. She had so much to love to give; it was easy for it to get taken and tossed about like a water balloon. Was this what she was destined for? Would Atlas shrug at any point?

He rarely smiled. He easily lashed out with words. He felt weighed down by the world and it was easier to throw bits of it at another. He wanted to love and he had no idea how.

She started to realize how much of her was now missing. What energy her heart was spending on repair instead of growth. Her pain and sadness was outweighing her tolerance for it. She wanted to try, for she felt like a failure for not creating beauty with what she was given.

Her heart broke.

He left.

She started to rebuild. But she was rebuilding scars on scars. Bumbling along. Lost. Panicking about lost time.

He made promises.

She refused to listen.

He made more promises. Gestures of goodwill.

She started to hear. She wasn’t sure she was ready, but her heart swells usually drowned out the voice in her head.

She opened the door a crack.

He came back.

She was happy, albeit cautious. Hopeful, but jaded and skeptical. She didn’t want to be jaded. She wanted to be okay.

He started out with hope. He built with positivity. Making what should be important to survive what he actually focused on.

She had a second thought. She ignored it. Her rollercoaster was on a climb. She had gone through some dark tunnels; but she had found they did end at some point. She started to ignore the signs. There was no way this would happen again. Apologies and promises had been doled out. Words had been said.

Words. The antithesis to action.

He was slowly enveloped in a cloying darkness. An overwhelming tendency to watch things happen instead of participate. To give love weighed down by blades and sorrow. To reduce her to tears while hugging her at the same time.

Words were weapons and she’d accept the olive branch that followed while nursing her proverbial wounds. She had hope. She believed. Who would love her again? Can love be damaging in its intensity when not directed properly?

He questioned. He doubted. He ended her nights with discord and sorrow. He started her mornings with kindness and love. He was easily upset. His pain was overwhelming in his ignorance of its depths.

She believed all of it. She believed the remorse; but she believed he had the inability to see how much damage was being done by his choices. She absorbed his energy. The room could be cloying when his mind was in a dark place.

The roller coaster went up; she’d brace herself because it had to go down. Sometimes the hills were numerous and some had more coasting between.

He left.

Repeat the process. Repeat it again. Go up the hills, hurtle down at nearly a 90 degree angle. Get off the ride. Get right back on.

He questioned. He doubted. He spread frenetic bursts of insecurity and word-whipped someone already lying down.

The coaster was running on a rusty wheels. She agonized and continued buying tickets to ride and wondered if she’d ever be able to just sit on the bench and eat some cotton candy.

He made promises. He pleaded. And interspersed it with lashings and pain and love that he couldn’t process or apply. He pledged; he backslid; he apologized and then was quick to anger.

He left.

She realized she was gone, too. Missing. Somewhere along the ride, she wasn’t even sure who had been present. She wasn’t sure where the rest of her went. She wanted to believe there was good. That she hadn’t caused this. That she could make better choices. She was lonely. Lost. She doubted herself; wallowed.

Her house of cards had fallen long ago. She was still finding the rest of them that had floated away along with that same bit of happiness she’d never stop chasing.