My Sober Life, Chapter 23

In which becoming a parent reveals my perfect imperfections

From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a parent. It seemed like the most natural extension of my being. During a conversation with my father late in my senior year, he asked what I wanted to study in college. I woefully remarked, “Can’t I just major in ‘Mom’?”

Oh my dear, eighteen-year-old self…you did not know of that which you desired.

 

Parenting, for me, is one of the most difficult challenges I have encountered. I vacillate between “awesome friendly mom making jokes and conversation” and “hellfire banshee mom with negative patience and zero tolerance for error”. It’s a balancing act.

The struggle extends even further because I am a working parent. I have been away from them more than I have been with them during their lives. I have had to pass the baton to others to help raise them, and they had such discombobulated early years being schlepped from one care-taker to another, with differing routines, differing discipline styles, differing diets. Every day, something different.

It’s easy to see how lack of routine affects them, even now. How it affects me. Now that they are both school-age and have had the same schedule for the past few years, it has been easier. But there are still struggles. We conquer one issue or fear, and there is a new one to replace it. There are boundaries they push. Edicts they refuse to follow. And I have had to be a real hard-ass, taking away the thing they love most (video games) in order to impress upon them the seriousness of their misbehavior. I’m super popular when I do that.

 

In the back of my mind, that little voice repeats, “You could have done more. You should have done more. You should do more. You are failing them. Other people’s kids aren’t like this. Every day, you are failing to be the parent you should be.”

I feel it in my chest when they need me, and I am too tired to be present with them. I feel a sense of guilt at my continued inadequacy as a parent. If only I had been home with them to instill the values, morals, and conduct I feel make a functioning, empathetic human being in this world. If only I was there to provide them stability and routine. If only I had sheltered them more from this video game or that experience or those kids. If only…

I can’t live in these what-ifs. They will drive me to the brink. I can’t compare myself to other parents, wondering how in the hell they manage to work full-time, cook balanced meals, throw Pinterest-worthy parties, travel all over the place (with and without their families). I can’t compare my kids to other kids with their music lessons, sports practices, dance recitals, art camps and sleep-away camps and space camps…seriously, we do not have the time nor the means to be able to keep up with all this shit. It is pure survival to tune out the sanctimommies and critics.

I am doing the best I can with the situation we have. They sometimes forget their manners and to flush the toilet; they sometimes say crude or rude things, hurtful things; they break the rules and electronics; they make messes and arguments; they are not perfect.

But they are mine. They care about the Earth and animals; they love art and sunsets; they share stories and secrets; they give the best hugs and snuggles; they are my perfectly imperfect humans. 

Letting go of perfectionism and using “busy-ness” as a synonym for “accomplished and successful” was and is a practice. There are so many things I want to be doing for and with my kids. But I can’t. I won’t ever be able to do it all. And I no longer want to. I don’t want to sacrifice my patience and attention because I’m so frustrated and stressed out at getting from point A to point B. I don’t want to cultivate stress and exhaustion in them because they can’t maintain an exceptional level of participation in stuff I’m essentially making them do. These days, my measure is if my (almost) 10 year old is willing to say, “I love you, Mom,” in front of his friends, we’re doing OK.

When we cuddle at bedtime, we talk about the best parts of our day; always looking for one thing that stuck out as great and express gratitude for it. And then they repeat after me:

 

I am brave.

I am creative.

I am intelligent.

I am strong.

I am kind.

I am loved.

I love you so much. I’ll see you in the morning.

Cheers. (with bulletproof coffee)

My Sober Life, Chapter 22

In which a marriage becomes a partnership

It’s been almost 15 years since I went on my last first date. My husband and I met at Target. We were both working there at the time, him in the backroom, and me in the photo lab. (I developed real film. In an hour. Remember that? No? Aww, that’s adorable.) We worked in the same building for over a year before meeting each other. And from that first phone call – you know the one, where you stay up all night talking, learning as much as you can about each other – I was hooked. He was mine and I was his. Man, you can get everything at Target.

Within the first six months of our relationship, there were things he would do that would drive me batty. I would get so frustrated by something he would do or say. And then one day, I realized the things he did that drove me the most crazy? They were things I did. He was my mirror (cue Justin Timberlake). He reflected back to me parts of my personality and character for which I did not care. And it was a catalyst for me to change. 

Four-ish years later, we were married, and we just celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. Our relationship has always been against the current. We don’t neatly fit in the husband/wife, male/female boxes. We never have. We’ve never wanted to. It’s one of the things I love most about us. 

After my mother died, we hit a hard rift. Feelings I had been suppressing for years could no longer be suppressed. I exploded at him and my children regularly. Then I would shut down for days. I would will him to do something unforgivable to give me an excuse to throw my whole existence into upheaval. Break up our marriage, our family, our life, just so I could run away without carrying any blame. I only wanted to escape. To never feel. Feeling was too hard.

When we hit our bottom, we had to decide whether we wanted to move forward together or not. We had to learn all over again how to communicate with each other. And ever since then, our life together has been different. It has been strong. Because this time when we chose each other, there was no pomp and circumstance. It was just us, crying in the kitchen, not wanting to give up on each other.

For all my internal self-doubt, I am fairly strong-willed. I am loyal to a fault. I also put an enormous amount of responsibility on my shoulders. When my husband decided to go to film school, I put my pursuits on hold so he could go after it. When he quit a full-time job for a part-time job so he could finish school faster, I supported it and took a position within my office instead of the career change I’d been pursuing to that point. When he was unexpectedly let go from that job, I put my head down, completed classes, and earned certifications so I could be eligible for better jobs and more money. I encouraged him to pursue his art and a career in that field. We’d lost more than a third of our income, but I would not let us fall. I would not fail us.

For the last few years, I have been working to support our family while he stayed home. He has been honing his craft; shuttling our children to/from school and activities; gone from a good cook to an incredible chef; increased his wood-working skills; handled homework duty; maintained our home; coached soccer teams; all while continuing to love all of us. Even when we make it hard. It is exhausting to be the at-home parent, but when I walk in the door from a long day and longer commute, he always greets me with a smile and a hug. He always takes the time to let me know I’m loved and appreciated.

When I was offered my current job position, we were ecstatic. The salary was more than we had ever earned combined. The stability we’d been lacking for so long seemed within our grasp. My family joined in our excitement. But while my father was proud, he also shared with me concern. Not about me taking the job, or my ability to do the job, or my opportunity to provide for my family and grow professionally. He was concerned about my husband. He said, and I quote, “I’m worried that he’ll feel like he’s not contributing.”

Now, my father was born toward the end of the great depression. He’s lived through over eight decades and experienced hardship and strife I will likely never know. He suffered racism and classism in ways I will not experience. He’s witnessed war and death and poverty. And he powered through all of that to become successful, exceeding all expectations. He also grew up in a generation where the man was the breadwinner and the woman kept the home and raised the children. 

So keeping all of that in mind, I gently asked, “Dad. If the situation was reversed, and it was him with the job opportunity, would you be worried that I would feel like I wasn’t contributing?”

Pause. “I never thought of it that way.”

My husband and I are a team. We are equals. We are stronger together because we know we support each other above and beyond all expectation. We balance each other out, we listen to one another, we love each other deeply and profoundly.

He is my twin soul. My partner in crime. 

I can’t wait to see where life takes us next. 

No. 

I can’t wait to see where we take our life next.

Cheers. (with pineapple orange juice made by…you know who.)


My Sober Life, Chapter 21

In which music continuously saves me from myself

Music is the shorthand of emotion. ~ Leo Tolstoy



The first time I remember feeling music in my body, I was five years old. These two songs specifically:





It was like I had discovered new muscles. In the autumn of 1984, I was in preschool, and my teenage sister would blast her stereo while she got ready for the day. I didn’t go to school until the afternoon, so many mornings, her music became my soundtrack. The melodies lured me from my dreams into consciousness. How can this be? I can I feel the music within me.


Music’s role in my life, like many other people, has been profound. Necessary, even. I cannot fathom my life without it. I listened to it. I played it (piano). I sang it (choir and also shower and couch and car and wherever else). Music is the language of the soul, of the universe. Music is life.

When I listen to The Boys of Summer now, I feel that familiar awakening within my chest. Literal heartstrings plucked and played, vibrating with such intense, palpable energy. This feeling has continued over the years, and while there are definitely life-defining albums, there are songs that, for lack of a better cliché, hooked their claws in me and would not let go.


When I get hooked on a song, buckle up. We are going to listen to it on repeat. Not just a few times. Not just for a day. For as long as I need to hear it. (Ask my husband about our first date and how many times he had to listen to Maroon 5, This Love [STILL a favorite. I have yet to get sick of it.]) I honestly cannot listen to anything else. I have to listen to it. It’s not a choice. It is a matter of survival. It is air. One of my best friends made me a mix tape when we left for college, and she literally recorded Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles back-to-back-to-back on one side of the cassette so I wouldn’t have to rewind. That’s friendship, folks.

I also turned to lyrics to express myself. While I did write in a journal, I didn’t fancy myself a writer, so I would use lyrics to describe my feelings. I had pages and pages of notebooks full of lyrics. When my high school boyfriend and I were forcibly broken up (long story…), we sent each other letters of lyrics. When I was heartbroken, happy, confused, frustrated, excited, there always seemed to be a song that fit. When it came to music, I was insatiable. I was indiscriminate (mostly…I don’t care for country all that much, but there are songs I like!). Feed. My. Soul.


Music’s function in my life has evolved over the years, but its role as a key component has never wavered. I can’t even entertain the thought of living without it. It’s in my blood and bones. It’s a part of who I am, of who I want to be.


It’s another cliché to say music saved my life. But it did. It does. 



I threw some of my must-haves down below. Tell me your favorite songs in the comments!


———————————————————————————————————————

R.E.M. – my favorite band – all albums amazing – Endgame is probably my all-time favorite song; when they played Nightswimming at Red Rocks ten years ago, I cried.

Annie Lennox – Diva – Walking on Broken Glass; Cold; Stay By Me

Stone Temple Pilots – Core – entire album but specifically Creep; Wet My Bed

John Denver – Sunshine on My Shoulders; Annie’s Song; Rocky Mountain High; Take Me Home (Country Road). This is standard Colorado-native starter kit. Must have.

Pearl Jam – Ten – entire album but specifically Once. When showering, I played it on repeat (on a cassette, reaching my wet hand out to rewind it) and sang at the absolute top of my lungs.

Roxette – It Must Have Been Love

LL Cool J – Loungin’ – still. so. good.

Simon & Garfunkel – Greatest Hits – required.

Paul Simon – Graceland – required. I cried over and over and over when I saw him perform this year. Bucket list  – check.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince – Summertime. RE. QUIRE. ERRRD.

Enya – Shepherd Moons – entire album. Carribbean Blue is the first song I ever got up the gumption to call in and request on the radio. I’ll never forget the anticipation waiting for it to come on and pure elation as it flowed out of the speakers. Notable songs:  Afer Ventus: There is so much happening simultaneously, you have to just stop and close your eyes to experience all of it. Shepherd Moons: hauntingly beautiful.

George Winston – albums: December and Ballads and Blues 1972

Mariah Carey – Dreamlover; Fantasy; Anytime You Need a Friend; Honey; Without You; Always Be My Baby

Dave Matthews Band – several albums, several songs – Spoon remains the heart-stopper it has always been. I turn into Tim Whatley when Desperado comes on. Just, shhhhhh.

Indigo Girls – albums: Indigo Girls; Rites of Passage; Swamp Ophelia. These women taught me how to harmonize. I listen to their beautifully hand-crafted measures almost every day.

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – Good Vibrations. I dare you not to dance to this when it comes on.

Tommy Tutone – 867-5309 – peak 80s. I love the 80s.

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show. I had never heard anyone rap like him. Master lyricist, even if he scared me a little.

Billy Joel – Moving Out; Only the Good Die Young; Uptown Girl. That last one was a favorite of my mom’s. She was always surprising me.

Radiohead – OK Computer – entire album, but Karma Police still evokes a depth of sadness and compassion words will never describe. This is my go-to album when I am sad and need to cry.

Nirvana – Nevermind – entire album – completely stands the test of time


Eiffel 65 – Too Much of Heaven. While better known for their huge hit Blue, this song had an addictive synth keyboard riff of which I could not get enough. Still can’t.

Beastie Boys – all albums – required. I was first exposed to them while watching Beavis and Butthead. So Whatcha Want. Mind expanding.

Joan Osborne – Ladder – this song. the angst. the hurt. the build. love.


Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell, Katy Perry, & Big Sean – Feels. This only came out last summer, but it had been a long while since new music lit me up like the days of yore. 
Dr. Dre & Eminem – Forgot About Dre – I will crush this if we ever go to karaoke together.

…I could go on forever……..♥♫

My Sober Life, Chapter 20

In which a typical day perpetuates the cyclical desire for isolation

  • Alarm goes off – shut it off
  • 15 minutes later…alarm goes off – shut it off
  • 15 minutes later…alarm goes off – shut it off
  • 15 minutes later…alarm goes off – shut it off
  • 5-10 minutes later…wake up in a panic of oversleep
  • Gently roll out of bed as my chronic pain immediately flares up in every joint in my body
  • Gingerly walk to the bathroom as the feeling comes back into my feet
  • Think about the day ahead and the thousands of people who rely on me and my team to ensure they get paid accurately and timely
  • Mental to-do list becomes overwhelming and i already feel defeated 
  • Dogs and cat are whining/barking/meowing/crying for food and/or water and/or going outside
  • wake up kids
  • go to the bathroom
  • wake up kids
  • look at clock to determine if there is enough time to shower
  • wake up kids
  • wonder how on earth people just wake up early, work out, shower, get all put together like a million bucks, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and leave for work on time. I used to be one of these people…
  • skip shower because there is never enough time
  • worry about kids
  • miss mom
  • frantically pull something clean out of the closet and hope to the gods it matches enough so the busybodies don’t keep gossiping about how i look
  • nicely ask kids to get shoes and socks on
  • open refrigerator hoping for something quick and easy to eat for breakfast
  • firmly ask kids to get backpacks on
  • worry about husband
  • close refrigerator and skip breakfast again
  • rush around kitchen for purse/computer/phone/water
  • yell at kids to get in the car
  • leave house stressed out and late
  • sit in drop off line for 10 minutes
  • eavesdrop on conversation of kids
  • yell at kids for being jerks to each other
  • apologize for yelling
  • drop kids off at school
  • sit in traffic for 35-60 minutes during 30 mile drive to office
  • shoulders, back, hips, knees, quads and calves begin throbbing from sitting in a cramped seat driving stick shift in stop-and-go traffic
  • work work work at a job where someone always wants something from you. always.
  • frantically remember that a bill is due tomorrow
  • worry about family
  • pay bill
  • review finances again and stress out over how we’re going to make all the ends meet
  • miss mom
  • answer text from spouse
  • back to work – hundreds of unread emails all asking for more than i have the time to give
  • go to meeting
  • doodle in notebook
  • interject with question
  • walk back to office
  • take off shoes because arches hurt
  • phone rings – figurative fire that puts any plan for the day on the back burner and takes all the attention
  • asked for the fifth time for something you said you’d get to them later in the week
  • stand at desk to help muscles
  • worry about kids
  • shortened muscles in arms, shoulders, back, legs send shooting pains up and down body
  • sit down
  • hands start to naturally go in a curved position from the constant mouse work and typing
  • get email from dad, worry about how much he has on his plate
  • worry about siblings
  • miss mom
  • have dialogue with colleague
  • 8-10 hours later, pack up for the day
  • sit in traffic for 35-60 minutes during 30 mile drive home
  • get home
  • been giving all day, no energy left for anyone else
  • fake enthusiasm over whatever is happening
  • intense feeling like i need to be doing something – cleaning, organizing, tidying, mommy-ing
  • miss mom
  • exhaustion
  • can’t relax
  • just want to sleep
  • but probably should stretch
  • or probably should write
  • or probably should paint
  • or should do laundry or clean
  • i should go for a walk or a swim
  • and i should eat more vegetables
  • and i should be a better mom
  • i should be a better wife
  • i should be a better manager
  • i should be a better friend
  • i should accomplish more
  • get frustrated for should-ing all over myself
  • go to bed and lie awake mulling over all the things i didn’t accomplish and all the things that won’t get done tomorrow
  • open social media
  • scroll
  • scroll
  • scroll
  • i bet the busybodies wouldn’t gossip if i wasn’t so fat and lazy
  • i wonder why the friends i reach out to don’t respond
  • i wonder what is wrong with me that they don’t want to spend time with me
  • i wonder why others never check in
  • i wonder if it’s me not being a good friend
  • then i wonder why i have to do all the work
  • i wonder if my busy existence repels people, to the point where they make an assumption that i won’t have time for them
  • but then again, i don’t have time for anyone
  • i don’t even have time for me
  • miss mom
  • i don’t want to see anyone or do anything. at all. 
  • the idea of going out somewhere sounds fun two weeks out, but then as it gets closer, the anxiety builds up
  • i don’t want to be around people
  • i don’t like crowds
  • i don’t like being “on”
  • i don’t want to put on uncomfortable clothes
  • i hate getting dressed 
  • because i hate my body
  • i hate working out
  • i hate running
  • i hate group classes
  • i hate knowing that if i don’t do some of these things, i won’t change
  • i hate feeling weak
  • i hate feeling overweight
  • i hate feeling tired
  • i hate feeling unaccomplished
  • i hate feeling inadequate
  • i hate feeling
  • i want to drink
  • i want to drink so i don’t feel
  • i want to drink to escape
  • i want to escape
  • i want to leave
  • i want to run away

  • i want to disappear
  • try deep breathing to slow heart rate
  • miss mom
  • sleep
  • repeat

My Sober Life, Chapter 19

In which my inquisitive mind leads me to let go of institutions

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic church, by fairly strict Roman Catholic parents. I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I have received five of the seven sacraments. As I imagine is the case for other religions, when you’re born into it, things are already laid out for you. Everything is a certainty, right and wrong are clearly defined, and there are no grey areas. Because of this, it isn’t a critical environment. We aren’t taught to ask questions.

But I’m an inquisitive person. At a young age, I had a lot of questions. When I was 9 or 10, I learned what homosexuality was. At church. After mass one Sunday, at the standard coffee and donuts, I overheard some folks talking, no…gossiping about the choir director. A talented man who volunteered his time and was always kind and helpful. They spoke in hushed voices about how he was “gay” and shouldn’t be around the congregation.

I later asked my parents what “gay” meant, and my dad did his best to explain it to me. He made a point to tell me that being gay isn’t a sin, but acting on it is the sin. I didn’t fully understand what sex was at the time, but I knew enough to provide what I thought was an excellent solution: Gay people should just all be priests and nuns. Vow of chastity – problem solved!

Not long after, that choir director was quietly shunned and eventually left. I was shocked. He wasn’t hurting anyone. If anything, he was doing more than most by dedicating his free time to bring music into our lives. It made me sad, and it is the first time I remember thinking, This isn’t right.

In elementary and middle school, I attended mass twice a week, for in addition to mass on Sundays, we had to go to weekly mass from third grade on. I looked forward to mass on Sunday because it was all about people watching and seeing who was there, looking for my friends. I had some knock down, drag out fights with my dad over my church attire. I did NOT want to wear dresses after grade four (hated my hairy legs, if you recall). Mass was a chore and a disruption in my life.

In high school, we only occasionally had all school masses, and I still went to mass on Sundays with my parents until I could drive. I went because I had to, because it was expected of me. But with the exception of getting to sing, I never got anything out of it. I never felt that pull, that joy I’ve heard people talk about. The stories never changed, the lessons. I was being exposed to new friends who practiced other religions or none at all, and it was eye-opening to hear about their traditions and beliefs.

Freshman year of college, there were a few times some friends and I walked to mass talking more about our obligation to go so we didn’t end up in hell. It seemed like going to mass was more about being seen there by others than actually going for myself.

This is when I really started dissecting my beliefs. If I didn’t go to mass, that was a sin. But I could go to confession and then – VOILA – all clean. Someone could murder 30 people, but as long as they’re sorry and confessed to a priest about it, they could go to heaven. What kind of bullshit is that? You shouldn’t get to go to heaven for harming other people. “…but purgatory.” No. In my early 20s, I could not understand that rationalization.

I am fortunate to have a lot of friends who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the way they were (are) treated by the religious community was (is) something I could (can) never reconcile. These people, humans just like me, should not be punished or vilified because of who they love. 

I also could not understand the concept of there only being one right religion. There are too many variables. Most religions have the same core values. That is not a coincidence. How can there be more than seven billion people on the planet, but only the Catholic contingent gets a chance at eternal life? That’s only 14%. The math didn’t add up. “That’s why we have to proselytize and convert people.” But if others do that with their religion, they’re wrong. Got it.

I think I knew it was no longer for me when I started lying about going to church to appease my parents. I wasn’t giving them nor the church respect by pretending. It wasn’t a big to-do and announcement. I just stopped going. And when I told my parents I wasn’t going to get married in the church? They didn’t like it, but they survived. We all survived (even though my dad wouldn’t talk to me for a week).

Over time, with more reflection and exploration into the world at large and my own personal universe, I questioned more and more the existence of a deity at all. I couldn’t understand how a benevolent, omnipotent being could allow for so much suffering. “…but free will.” But, kid cancer.

I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t believe in hell. I don’t believe in a devil. I don’t believe in a god.

I am an atheist. 

This makes people incredibly uncomfortable. They are in fear for my soul; they think I am an anti-theist, an amoral person without any ethics. The misconceptions about atheists are infinite.

I don’t believe that religion and morality are mutually exclusive. I believe I can be “good for goodness’ sake”. Not for fear of eternal damnation, but because it is the right thing to do. I am unmotivated by what will happen to me after I die. I am motivated by what is going on around me right now

Here’s what I do believe in:
  • I believe in you
  • I believe in us, in humanity
  • I believe in my intuition
  • I believe in our shared connection and energy
  • I believe in love, kindness, and gratitude

I believe I can ask for what I want and work toward it, and it will come about. Maybe not in the way I expect or imagine it, but it will happen. From whom/what am I asking? Not sure. Maybe the universe. Maybe myself – maybe I need to give my permission to desire and want certain outcomes for me and my family. But I’ve put it in action numerous times with success. Not because I left it to someone else to give it to me, but because I put my energy and intention behind every action to bring it to fruition.

I also believe if we stopped being so afraid of what and who we don’t understand, there would be less hate, anger, war, and pain. Once you decide to close your heart and mind to someone who is different from you, you cultivate disdain and resentment. You stoke your own feelings of entitlement. You solidify an “Us vs. Them”, black and white, either/or mentality.

Our existence is so much more nuanced than that. Not only are there multitudinous shades of grey, there is a whole spectrum of colors, many of which we can’t see with our eyes. There is life happening all around us all the time, in the very trees that provide us oxygen we breathe to the smallest insect just trying to survive. We are all connected and should treat each other as such.

Let me be clear: I do not think I am right and you are wrong if you are a theist. Most religious people I know are good people and their faith in a god brings them great comfort and peace. I think that is what a belief system should provide. I respect your choice and belief, and my hope is you offer me the same consideration.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a god watching over me as I write this and shaking its head at me. But I am a good person. I make mistakes and missteps, but I am a good person. I practice being present in my life and work to make conscious, moral, kind choices every day. I find joy in the mountains and ocean; in quieting my mind and breathing; in the zen-like meditation of swimming laps; in high fives shared with my volleyball team; in a friend’s hug; in the chaotic hum of family gatherings; in my children’s laughter; in my husband’s eyes; in my own heart. If there is a god and that isn’t good enough for them because I don’t sit in a building for an hour a week? I can live with that.

Two parting thoughts…we are all born atheists. If you were not brought up in a part of the world where theology is present, it would not be part of your every day. Similarly, where you grow up has a huge impact on what you are exposed to. If I had been born in the Middle East or Asia, I may have been raised a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu. Your circumstances and environment greatly influence in what you believe.

Think of the Greek gods. Their history and mythology are beautiful and storied. I love reading about them and understand why they were created, to help explain the world around us. But over time, discoveries were made and beliefs evolved. Many of those gods faded and were traded for one, singular, all-knowing, all-powerful being. 

We are all atheists. I just believe in one less god than most.

Cheers.