The Morning I Woke Up.

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was going to become an addict. I don’t think anyone does. It’s just something that happens when you’re too busy not living. Sure, you can argue that “it’s a way of life” or “this is just a thing I do,” but when your days are spent waiting for the dealer, or chasing the next high, it’s not just a thing. When your paycheck goes towards a bottle of pills, or a bag of white powder, it’s not really life, is it? It’s a way to avoid life.

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that would be the day that I smoke a joint, take a pill, and maybe, if time permitted, snort a line. (Who am I kidding? Time always permitted, didn’t it?) It was a gradual process, really. I can absolutely look back and see the rises and falls of my usage – sips of my mother’s wine coolers led to my first blackout at the age of 13. Sneaking a cigarette just to see what it was like was soon followed by stealing quarters from my dad’s coin jar to support my pack a day habit. Smoking really bad weed at 14 in a tunnel around the block from a friend’s house to smoking the good stuff in my childhood bedroom until I finally moved out at 23…only to smoke it in my 2-bedroom rent controlled apartment. Alone, or with a stranger who wouldn’t ever become a friend. That medication prescribed for my anxiety? The one that I was only supposed to take as needed? When ground really fine and snorted through a broken straw, gave me exactly what I needed when I needed to learn how to cut lines of cocaine. 

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that my family was no longer going to trust me, that I would be fired from or walk out of every job I ever had, that I would be walking into a Downtown LA police station and getting slammed with a theft charge at the age of 26. (Twenty-six year olds are supposed to know better, aren’t they?)

But I did go to sleep and wonder how I was going to pay my rent, who I was going to manipulate into giving me a few bucks, or how I was going to work the system in my favor. More often than I care to admit, the last thoughts before I drifted off were, “Am I going to wake up in the morning? Do I want to wake up in the morning?”

Despite the aforementioned effects of my addiction, it really did work in my favor for a long time. I had fun. I made friends and lovers. My addiction numbed what needed to be numbed. It quieted the cacophony of my unrelenting depression and anxiety. But then it stopped working. It stopped being fun. It stopped numbing. Here’s the thing – it stops working for everyone, and the harrowing truth is that most of us only realize it when it’s too late.

The story never changes, and I’ve shared some form of it more than once over the last 9 years. I debated on what I should write here today. I tend to write something on my anniversary, and I don’t do it for me. I don’t share the hardest part of me because I want accolades or a pat on the back. I do it because someone saved my life once and if I can reach one person with my paltry story, I’ll tell it everyday.

I don’t do this sobriety thing perfectly. I’m not the poster child for Alcoholics Anonymous. I don’t go to regular meetings. Hell, I don’t even have a sponsor. (I do not recommend this path – but it’s what works for me right now.) The only thing I do with any kind of consistency is I don’t drink and I don’t use. No matter what.

Three thousand, two hundred and eighty-five days isn’t really any time at all, but it’s my time. Nine years ago I was on the precipice of losing everything that mattered to me, and up until that morning, I didn’t realize that I mattered to myself.

Embracing the Ordinary

It’s something I’ve been trying to do lately – embrace the seemingly ordinary moments that I would have otherwise taken for granted. Silly things, really. Like watching my daughter perfect a fishtail braid on one of her dolls, listening to my son make a lot of noise music on his toy keyboard, or sitting on the couch with my husband watching another movie on another Saturday evening.

How often do I find myself at the end of the day, lying in bed, silenced by the wave of guilt that covers me instead of my blanket? I’d be lying if I said rarely. In fact, it’s almost every night. Did I love enough? Did I show enough empathy? Did I practice patience? I definitely know that I yelled more than I wanted to. I was annoyed with Annabella on quite a few occasions and I’m pretty sure I made that abundantly clear to her. And good lord, if Griffin would have climbed on me one more time I might have mistaken him for a jacket and put him in the hall closet.

People say toddlers whine, kindergarteners have attitude. Breathe. Keep calm and carry on. Keep a stiff upper lip. You’re the adult. Pretend if you have to. Fake it til you make it.

Bippity-boppity-bullshit. I’d need a fairy godmother to make it that easy. There are things no one shares with you when you have children and most of the time, having children is described as sunshine and lollipops, with the *occasional* diaper blowout or 2 am awakening.

That is a bold faced lie. It isn’t always comfortable. It isn’t always a bed of roses. The roses have thorns on them and you have to prune the roses constantly in order for them to grow. There will be pain. There will be guilt. There will be yelling and stomping – from me and the kid. There is always something I could have done better, some way I could have made the morning go more smoothly. It is exhausting and disheartening and sometimes I feel like I just can’t do it anymore.

That’s when I have to stop for a second. Look around myself. What do I really see?

I see my daughter who was not just perfecting a fishtail braid – she had spent literal hours trying to do so and it was a magnificent accomplishment for her. My son was not just making a lot of noise on his keyboard – he was making music and dancing his little diapered booty off. And those times I spent watching another movie on another Saturday night? It was with my husband, in the comfort of the home that we’ve built together. 

It’s in these ordinary moments that I find the mental polaroids, the pictures, that I hope succeed me. So I guess, in a way, there’s nothing ordinary about them. These are the bare bones of my life, and that’s…extraordinary.

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Like I said, extraordinary.

Fight or flight.

Mothers aren’t supposed to leave. Or perhaps I should say mothers aren’t supposed to leave on purpose. But mine did when I was 4 years old.

You know how there are moments in your life that encapsulate every single sense of your being? I mean you can literally feel the moments when you think back to them. Maybe that’s what they mean by “sensory memories” because you can see them, you can smell them, you can almost touch them, or rather, they touch you. And most of the time, those moments aren’t the good ones. They are the painful, ugly moments that you just want to forget.

I vaguely remember the time leading up to that night. To be honest, the only real memory I have of my mother prior to her leaving is the day she picked me up from preschool. It was drizzling outside, and we were walking, holding hands, and singing, “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” all the way to the car. It must have been a short while later, perhaps the following summer, when one single instant became the basis for every relationship I’ve ever had.

It was late. It had to have been. My brother, sister, and I were in bed, or maybe getting ready for bed because I remember pajamas.

Then a front door slamming. Then yelling.
My father taking us all to the living room and turning on the TV, not concerned with what was on; his only concern was getting us out of the way.

(Enemy Mine was on. A movie starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. The things we remember, right?)

The yelling turned to screaming turned to a physical altercation between the two people I trusted most. I vividly recall trying to squeeze my way between my mom and dad. I pulled them close to me, trying to get them to stop, to make-up, but I was pushed to the side.

We were all crying. My brother was only 2, and he had absolutely no clue what was going on. My sister, 7, and probably seeing a very different scene than I was. But the fighting continued and then suddenly it stopped. And my mom was gone.

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me and mom on a school bus, 1984

She never came home. She found a new place to live, with new friends and new boyfriends. We’d see her, don’t get me wrong. But seeing her and seeing her always meant different things. There were a few years of stability, years when she had a solid relationship with a solid man, and during those years we would see her semi-often. But those years were short lived.

My mother suffered many abuses. As I grew up I began to see what a very sick woman she was. She’s never consistently been the same person for long periods of time. She was always changing and I tried so hard to keep up, even when my own safety was at risk. There are stories of some of my visits with her when I was a teenager that have yet to be shared with anyone, and I’m not sure they can be.

She’s missed out on a lot of my life. She’s met my daughter a handful of times, and my son only once. Most of the time I don’t know if she’s living or dying, but the truth is I think she’s been dying her whole life. I’ve always been compared to my mom. We share  a lot of the same personality traits, and we’ve both experienced the death grip of addiction and mental illness. In a lot of ways we had lived parallel lives up until I found sobriety and a really great shrink.

I think it’s a normal feeling that moms have, to want to run away, take a breather, get some space. I’ve felt it more times than I care to admit, and every time I feel it, I wonder if everyone was right – am I just like my mom? Could I just leave, and live freely. I mean the idea sounds so absolutely epic sometimes, you know? But when that urge to take flight engulfs me, when the exhaustion and frustration and irritation become so immense that I feel like I’m going to explode, that’s when that sensory memory returns and I have to remind myself:

I am my mother’s daughter, but I am not my mother.

Non-exempt

Becoming a mother doesn’t automatically exempt you from having demons. I wish it did. No, the past – the mistakes, the regrets, the inadequacies – for me it’s been quite the contrary. I’ve become hyper-aware of the things that plague me.

I wish I could say that I didn’t wake up depressed. That some days the thought of not eating sounds better than all the chocolate and vice versa. The same goes for a line of cocaine, a pill, an upper, a downer.

A cigarette.

To say, “I’m not a perfect mother” would be absurd. I’m a mother, but I’m far from perfect. “I’m not a perfect person?” Eh. Let’s be real – perfect isn’t real.

So I move on to the lesser versions of perfect. Good, kind. I apply those to “mother” and “person.” And I have to get truthful with myself and say that sometimes I am not good, sometimes I am not kind.

Sometimes I am not a kind mom. I yell more than I’d care to admit. Sometimes the thought of being clung to for one more second, or listening to one more whine, makes me want to do a complete ostrich and hide my head in the sand.

Good? I’m really good at being “just okay.”

But still, I move on. I flip through my mental dictionary. Nouns. Adjectives. Adverbs. Words that describe.

And finally I come to honest. And I say, “I am honest.”

I’m honest when I say that I suffer from bouts of depression. That I’m a recovering drug addict. That I’m not sure if what I have is an eating disorder or if I’m just really, really aware of my body and what goes in it. I’m honest when I say that there are days when my anxiety is too much to bear. That my fear of abandoning my children is so intense that I’m not always present because I’m thinking about not being here. It’s a vicious cycle, really.

I’m honest when I say that I’m a mother with demons.

And I don’t believe that makes me any less of a mother. I don’t believe that makes me bad – I believe that makes me the best mother I can be.

I’m a fighter.

A mother who fights her demons – on a daily basis.

I fight them because I am a mother.

And my children will grow up knowing that I’m flawed. Because all humans are flawed and I don’t think they should grow up thinking that we’re not.

Becoming a mother has not made me shiny and pure and magical.

It makes me want to be those things.

It makes me want to be better.

Is that  enough? Is wanting those things enough? Is fighting enough?

Want < do. Fight < win.

Or.

Wanting = doing. Fighting = winning.

I don’t know, I’ve always been bad at math. I’ll probably have to hire a tutor.

Why “June Cleaverish?”

51thGz9gSkL1June Cleaver was your quintessential, suburban housewife. She polished in pearls and shopped in heels. She was a perfectly coiffed, stylish hostess. June was dedicated to her family and friends, she was an active part of her community, and was boss at needlepoint.

Here’s the thing:

June Cleaver wasn’t real.
She was fake. A fraud.
A black & white facade.

There came a point where I began to ask myself why I felt the need to strive to be the anti-me.

When I had my daughter 6 years ago, I found myself at a precipice. I had everything going against me. I was a new, confused mom. I was a tired, haggard wife. I was a recovering alcoholic. I was climbing Mt. Postpartum Depression with nary a safety net.

The expectations were mounting; and it wasn’t the external expectations – it was the expectations that I placed on myself. The expectations to perform at a level that I couldn’t possibly reach.

I refused help. I believed that a good mom, a mom that was meant to be a mom, wouldn’t need help. I had isolated myself from my friends, and I was terrified to leave the house, lest I drop my newborn while walking down the stairs. I was developing an obsession with my health, or lack thereof. Every pain became terminal, every ache meant I was one step closer to leaving this life. I was literally living in fear. I was trying to maintain the sobriety that I had worked so hard to achieve, but the fear of being seen for what I really was, the fear of having to tell the truth, made me abandon the support system I had built in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Motherhood, marriage, life – none of it was what I expected it to be and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

In an effort to have some kind of connection to the outside world, I joined a popular blogging community, picked the pseudonym “June Cleaverish,” and began to post. I was social in the virtual world, and it was the virtual world that I believe gave me the nudge to get well. It became my venting ground, my online diary. I made friends and built relationships that I still have today. And although I wasn’t new to the blogosphere, having had some kind of blog on almost every forum since 2001, it was freeing to be able to write again about my newest endeavor: wife and mom.

Over the last six years I’ve been learning some hard lessons. Mostly that it’s okay to just be okay. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to hate your husband sometimes. It’s okay to want to call your child an asshole behind their back, because let’s be honest – kids are assholes. It’s okay to feel like you’re a square peg trying to fit in the round hole called Motherhood.

I’m learning that it’s okay to be “-ish” – the kinda, sorta, not quite, and in between.

I think I’m almost there.

Well, not really almost.

Almost-ish.

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