Friday, September 30, 2011

Parenting and Teenage Drinking - What Would You Do?

We are very open with our kids about alcohol.

We explained to them that I have an allergy to alcohol; at their ages this is the best way to explain a concept as complicated as alcoholism.  Greta has asked if she has an allergy to alcohol, too, and we told her that we can't know yet, but that alcohol allergies are hereditary, and she will have to be more careful than most about drinking. 

We also explained that drinking at a young age increases her chances that she will have a problem with alcohol later in life. A recent study indicates that people who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

Her response was to say "Well, then, I'm never going to drink alcohol. If someone asks me I'm going to say NO THANK YOU!"

If only it were that simple.

The statistics about teenage drinking are hair-raising.  72% of teenagers in the US admit to using alcohol at least once, and 2 out of 5 teenagers say they drank alcohol within the last month.   Studies also show that when teenagers drink, they tend to binge drink - consuming 4 or more drinks at a time.

As parents, we all want to believe our teenager would be one of the 28% of teens who don't try alcohol. We do our best to teach our children to make smart choices, we advise them of the dangers of drinking.  We consider good grades or a stellar athletic track record as indicators that our kid couldn't possibly be drinking.  But the statistics are frightening, and even if our own kids are trying to make smart choices, chances are they have friends who aren't.

We all remember the power of peer pressure, of wanting desperately to fit in.  Smart choices have a way of fading into the background in the face of peer pressure. 

I can see it in my mind's eye - Greta and some teenage friends hanging out in a parking lot after a movie, or having an innocent get together at a friend's house. Suddenly a bottle appears from someone's pocket, and gets passed around.  When the bottle lands in her hands, I would love to believe that all our education and open communication would lead her to say 'No thank you,' like her 9 year old brain believes she would.  I would also like to believe she would remember the dangers - elevated for her - and pass the bottle along without taking a sip.  I know she would want to make the right choice, but would she?  

I remember my first sip of alcohol, how it calmed my nerves, made me feel whole, comfortable in my own skin.  For someone who struggled with anxiety her whole life, alcohol was like a magic elixir.  Greta has anxiety, too, particularly in social situations, and my gut churns to think about how her resolve not to drink may fall to pieces when she feels alcohol's magic effects.

I also know I am powerless over what happens, to a large degree.  I can educate, encourage her to communicate with us about drinking, spell out the consequences from drinking in startling clarity.  But how can I put more power into her hands to make the right choice, to help her fend off peer pressure?

It's a fine line between trust and facing a stark reality:  most teens drink.

Technology, of course, is coming up with new devices to address the growing problem of teenage drinking.  Sober Link is such a device; a wireless blood alcohol level monitor that a teen can blow into from anywhere, and it wirelessly and immediately provides parents with their child's blood alcohol level and location.   My immediate reaction upon hearing about this was at a visceral level:  I trust my child, she will make smart choices.  I won't need something like that.   But then I watched the video below, and thought about it some more:

I thought about the scenario in the parking lot, of the bottle being passed around.  If Greta wanted to make a smart choice, but felt pressured to drink, having this device in her pocket would give her an out, would empower her to say she can't drink.  

It feels draconian, on some level, but it doesn't have to be. I do trust my children, and I wouldn't give her a device like this one because I don't trust her, I would give it to her to empower her to make the right choice, if she wanted to. 

At nine years old, Greta is eager to listen and receptive to our advice. I hope she stays this way through the difficult teen years, but I hear stories of how communication changes - and not for the better - when kids hit their teenage (and even pre-teen years).  I recognize that I can't stop her from drinking, if she's determined to try.  Kids make mistakes, they make wrong choices, and oftentimes we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  But the stakes are so high with teenage drinking; one wrong choice can have disastrous consequences. 

What do you think?  Would you give your teenager a device like this?  If you wouldn't, why not?  How do you talk to your kids about drinking, and at what age do you/did you start? 


Full disclosure:  this is a sponsored post.  I get a lot of requests for sponsored posts, but decline them because they aren't topically relevant to my blog, or of interest to my readers.  I am fascinated by how technology can help (or hurt) teenage drinking, so I jumped at the opportunity to talk about this more.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Giggles and Grace

Greta is nine.


Long gone is our chubby cheeked little baby; she is growing into a young woman, full of giggles and grace.

This is for you, sweetheart.  We love you.   HAPPY BIRTHDAY:

Song is "Whole Wide World, by Mindy Gledhill. Thanks to Heather for introducing me to this song; Greta and I love to sing it into our hairbrushes...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The kids run ahead of me, clattering up the walkway to my Mom's house.  I trail behind, laden with bags of presents, an ache in the middle of me.

"Happy Birthday, Greta!" my Mom chirps from the doorway, bending down for hugs.

This moment is always hard.

I can see him there, in my mind's eye, standing behind my Mom and grinning his big, proud grin.  

"Hey there, kid" my Dad would say, and give me a wink as he wrapped me in his strong embrace. 

But, of course, he isn't there. 

The absence of him seems impossible, because in my mind and heart he's everywhere.

My Mom and I exchange a hug and a smile; behind the real joy in her eyes I see the sadness, and a silent acknowledgment - I wish he was here, too - passes between us.

Finn scampers away, digging around for toys and snacks.  On the table in the living room is a colorful pile of presents, and Greta flashes me a big grin. 

As my Mom and the kids chatter - how is school, what's your favorite subject, do you like riding the bus - I breathe deep, let the emotions come.   

I picture him standing in the kitchen, "El, can I get you a cuppa?" he'd say, bringing out mugs for coffee.  Then he'd give the kids a mischievous glance and make that funny sound with his mouth, the one that makes them collapse into giggles.

I need this private indulgence, this ghost landscape of what would have been.   I carry memories in my heart, take them out and roll them through my mind like glittering treasure, and through the ache they comfort me.

We move through the day, go through all the usual motions, balancing the profound feeling of loss with happiness, like tightrope walkers.  We're figuring it out as we go along, eyes locked straight ahead, because if we look down we could lose ourselves to the sadness.

As Greta rips into her gifts, Finn slips silently into my lap and leans his head on my shoulder.  I stroke his spiky hair, and place a little kiss on the top of his head.

After a moment, he buries his head into my chest and whispers, "Momma?  I miss PopPop."

"Me too, buddy.  Me too."


Just Write

This post is part of Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary's link-up, Just Write, where we free write about our ordinary and extraordinary moments. Learn more about it here, and then click here to join in.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Last Cookie

I'm sitting with five or six other moms, at a little lunch get-together at a friend's house.  We're sipping coffee and chatting, pleased to be at the stage in our lives where we have school aged kids and can finish sentences, bond together as women and not just as moms.

The hostess places a platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies in the center of the table.  We make the usual exclamations, and reach out simultaneously to pluck a cookie from the plate.

Minutes pass, sipping and chatting, and eventually there is only one cookie left. Every now and then someone's eyes dart to the platter, but nobody reaches for it.  I call this the 'cookie dance' - nobody wants to be the one to grab for the last one, even though we're all thinking about it.

After a while we drift away to sit and chat on the more comfortable couches, and by the time I stand up to leave the last cookie is gone.  Someone, at some point, snuck away into the kitchen and polished it off when nobody was looking. 

On the drive home I think about the last cookie, about the unspoken code that nobody wants to be the one to eat more than the others.  Part of it is politeness, perhaps, but my suspicion is that somehow scarfing the last cookie represents some kind of weakness, a feeling of need that nobody wants to reveal. Or, perhaps, it is a fear of vulnerability, that the other women will somehow have something over you - they could restrain themselves, and you had to have just one more.

But you know who's really not going to reach for that last cookie?  Someone with an unhealthy relationship to food.  For that person, who is sitting and chatting like everything is fine, that cookie is speaking to her. Her fear of revealing her dark secret, her obsession with food (too much or too little of it), is too great.

It reminds me of my drinking days, when I would put on my mask of normalcy, laughing and chatting with friends at a party and all the while my mind was racing, calculating how much I could drink without judgment. When the hostess would come by with a refill, I would place my hand demurely over the top of the glass and say, "No thanks, I'm driving," and then later at home, when nobody was looking, I would drink like I wanted to. 

We go to great lengths to conceal suffering and vulnerability.

All this makes me think about how important our reactions are to people who take the brave step and admit their vulnerabilities out loud. For someone struggling with a secret obsession, like drinking or food, the expectation of judgment is so great, it keeps them silent and stuck in their secret would of suffering.

If a friend came to you and admitted she had a problem with food, that she was turning to food for comfort and distraction from boredom or pain, would binge eat in secret and then feel terribly about herself (or maybe purge), how would you react?  Would you say "Well, I can stop at one cookie, why can't you?"  Would you feel that tug of superiority that you don't have that problem?  Or would you find a way to identify with her silent suffering, her feelings of inadequacy, her pain?

When someone breaks out of their silence, comes forward and admits they have a problem, they are extremely vulnerable because we are hard-wired to fit in, to color inside the lines, to stay with the pack.  But our sense of the pack is skewed - when you're struggling you think everyone else has it figured out, that you're weak or flawed.  The reality is everyone has something they wouldn't want the world to know about, a way they think or behave in the privacy of their own little world that they don't want anyone else to see.

I realize that alcoholism is really hard to understand for people who don't have any first (or second) hand experience with this disease. The behavior patterns and thought processes of an active alcoholic (or problem drinker) are baffling.  Why on earth would anyone DO that to their lives?  Why would they make such poor choices?  Why would they risk so much for another glass of wine?

The answer is simple, really.  They have a disease, an allergy, an obsession - call it whatever you want - that has taken over their minds and their lives.  They don't want to drink too much, and they are as baffled by their own behavior as you are.  THIS is why getting sober is so hard to do on your own; you are held prisoner within your own body and mind, and need help getting free. 

But asking for that help is hard, because judgment is so prevalent. 

Most women, on some level, can understand food problems, I think. Our culture is so riddled with images of bodily perfection that just about everyone I know diets, or talks about dieting, or has body image issues.  

I find it interesting that visibly obese people are still victims of so much judgment, when most people - especially women - can understand on some visceral level struggling with food/dieting/body image.  We can empathize to a point - when someone says they are dieting we are quick to offer support.  But when someone crosses the line into obesity empathy becomes harder to find, because being significantly overweight pings a fear reaction in people.  That person took too it too far, we think, and instead of offering support and empathy, we avoid, we gossip, we compare instead of identify.

When someone admits to struggling with drinking, or has slid into active alcoholism, they face a lot of judgment.  A large part of this is likely rampant lack of understanding about addiction; people mistakenly believe it is a moral issue or a strength of character problem. If strength of character was enough to stop addiction, there would be no addicts.  But another part of it is a fear response; that person has taken it too far.  We go into that place where we compare ("I'd never drink that much") instead of identify ("she is suffering, and I understand suffering").

My hope is for a world where we can reach past judgment and fear and find empathy. A world where someone can show vulnerability, admit a problem out loud, and find compassion.  We can't understand all problems - and addiction is one of the most difficult to understand - but we all understand suffering.  Stepping outside the pack - reaching for the last proverbial cookie and admitting something isn't perfect - takes courage. And just like we can all understand suffering, we can all understand courage, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On The Inside

As the sky begins to lighten - the first wisps of light poking through a grey sky - I lie in bed, staring at the ceiling.

A glance at the clock tells me it's 5:30am.

I've been lying awake here for a while now, my mind a racing stream of thoughts.  Yesterday was not a good day, and I went to bed early last night, just to have the day over with, with hope in my heart that the dawn would bring fresh perspective, and perhaps a few answers.

It didn't.

The stampede pounds rudely through my mind, thoughts pinging effortlessly from the profound to the ridiculous: Finn needs to take money to school to buy lunch I don't know how to deal with the hurt I feel Greta has to wear a raincoat today I think maybe I'm overreacting where did I leave that permission slip.

The hyperactive squirrel in my brain is on full tilt, burrowing madly for little acorns of anger, hurt and fear.

I try to bring in the voice of reason, my Gentle Observer, the one who pulls me up and out of these hateful little ruts.   But, as usual, she cannot be summoned at will, so I lie there blinking at the ceiling in frozen frustration.

Is back-to-school night Wednesday or Thursday I can't believe they said that about me did Greta do her homework last night am I making a mountain out of a molehill the septic inspector is coming at 9am God I'm angry the kids need to wear raincoats today WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

This last thought causes my teeth to clench, every muscle to tighten.  It's been awhile since I've gone there, to that self-deprecating space, the one that makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep for days.

Finally, she shows up, my Gentle Observer, and she whispers softly to me:  Breathe.

I breathe deeply: in. out. In. Out. IN. OUT.  Gradually, my body unclenches and my mind clears. 

Stop thinking, Ellie. Find your center. Are you there?  Good. Now lean into it, my friend. Lean into the discomfort, anger and pain.

But their words hurt me, the squirrel butts in, madly waving a nasty little thought acorn.

Get back to center. Breathe.  Listen to your heartbeat.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.

You don't get to control people's reaction to you, to what you say, what you do.  The squirrel pauses, ears pricked up and alert, but remains blissfully silent.

Let it go. Drop the anger and hurt, and listen to your heart.  It won't lead you astray. Find the message in the hurt; what is it trying to tell you?  Don't think. Just listen.

I close my eyes and listen to my steady, strong heartbeat, feel the rise and fall of my breaths. 

Some time later I'm jarred awake by a little voice. "Mom?  Can I have breakfast?"


Just Write

This post is part of Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary's free-writing exercise Just Write, where we, well, just WRITE.  Come join us.  Click here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Que Sera, Sera

I'm up early this cool Sunday morning, sipping my coffee and thinking about the day with excited anticipation.

We're trying to sell our house - the place we have called home for the past seven years - and today is our first open house.

We have found another house in the same town, one better suited to our growing family.  It's isn't a huge change, as changes go.  It's only about a mile away from where we are now.  It's far from a done deal, though. If we can't sell our house at the right price, we will stay where we are. Right now we're living in a state of suspended animation; hoping we can get an offer on our house so we can make an offer on the new property.

My stomach gives a little flip-flop as I think about change. I am a person who likes control, and so much of what happens in this deal is out of my hands.

This whole process has been about doing my best and letting go of the outcome.  The first part of that equation isn't so hard; I clean like a madwoman, muck out closets, clear off surfaces and hound the kids to keep their toys put away.   It's the letting go part that is more challenging.

When we first found the new place, I was awash in desire. I needed the new place; it would change everything for the better.   I spent hours obsessing about it.  It isn't a straightforward deal; there are several moving parts that need to fall into place for the transaction to happen. My mind went round and round, thinking it through as though I could make it work by sheer force of will:  first this needs to happen in order for that to work, then we need to get through that for that other thing to succeed.  If all those things fall into place, there is still that other thing, though.

This has been going on for a while, too. We first saw the property back in the spring, and it became something we might actually be able to do  in July. 

It was all making me a little nuts.  I needed to know, dammit, how it was all going to turn out.

I channelled all that restless energy into getting our house ready to sell.  I tucked and straightened, waxed and polished, sorted and organized, all with a lusty feeling rumbling in my belly: gotta get it, gotta get it, gotta get it.

One evening, after spending the day sorting and cleaning, I sank back into the couch, exhausted, and gazed around our sparkling home.  All around me were the ghosts of memories: the wall where Greta meticulously wrote her name in pen and then unsuccessfully tried to blame it on her two month old brother; the little step into the sunken living room where Finn learned to turn his chubby little diapered butt around and climb down;  the yard where my Dad and Steve happily toiled for hours splitting wood to prepare for winter; the cafe curtains my mother lovingly sewed for our kitchen; the closet where I used to hide my booze; the bathroom floor where I sank to my knees and finally asked for help on one fateful August morning.

I love this house, I thought.  And then it hit me: we are okay.  No matter what, we're going to be okay. No matter where we live, there we are.  Together.

Whatever happens is meant to be, I think.  We'll do our best, and then see where the universe takes us.

I finish the last of my coffee, and smile to myself.  This is going to be interesting, I think, my heart full of gratitude and peace.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speaking Out - Redbook Article about Mothers, Drinking and the Power of Sharing

In the October issue of Redbook Magazine there is an article about moms, drinking and the power of sharing our stories. 

I was interviewed for the article, (click here to view it online) along with my sober sisters Heather of The Extraordinary-Ordinary and Corinne of Trains, Tutus and Teatime.  Another amazing woman, Deb, is also featured in the article.  She isn't sober, and she has the grace and courage to talk openly about how she feels about her drinking.  Her story will resonate with so many women who have nagging thoughts about alcohol, but who don't feel safe talking about it. Deb is helping break down the walls of silence and fear, and I am so grateful to call her my friend.

Sometimes I forget to remember that these incredible women wouldn't be in my life if I wasn't sober; their friendship is as essential to me as oxygen. 

Although I've been writing about my addiction and recovery for a couple of years now, sometimes my own words make me cringe, and I wonder: why in the world am I putting myself out there like that?  There have been many times I held my finger nervously over the 'publish' button, contemplating whether I was sharing too much, aching to alter the story to make it prettier, or to make myself less vulnerable.

Especially in the early days of blogging, I would click 'send to publish' quickly, before I could overthink things too much and change my mind.  Then I'd sit nervously by and peer at the comments with trepidation, bracing myself for judgment, condemnation or ignorance.

They never came.

What came instead were words of support and encouragement, and email after email from women saying "your story is exactly like mine", or "I see myself in your words".

A pivotal moment in my own recovery happened early on, as I sat reluctantly in the back row of one of my first recovery meetings.  I hated being there, hated myself.  I thought I was irretrievably broken and weak.  I honestly believed I was a terrible person, that I was alone with my horrible thoughts and deeds.

An attractive woman, a mother, about my age approached the podium and introduced herself as an alcoholic.  She didn't look the part, in my mind's eye.  She can't be nearly as bad as me, I thought.  The words that flowed from her mouth that night told my story.  We were the same; we thought the same, felt the same, did the same things while we were drinking.  She was two years sober, and she was glowing.

In that moment, I realized I was not alone. That I was surrounded by people who understood, who had walked the path before me, who could help. Even more staggering to me was that my story moved them, too, helped them stay on the path of sobriety.  I didn't think I had anything to offer anybody, and here we were, leaning on each other in comraderie and kinship.

So when I put my words out there, tell my truths here in this space or in a magazine article, I remember that feeling from that night. That bolt of electricity and hope that shot through my body:  I am not alone.  There are many women who struggle in silence, who aren't about to walk into a recovery meeting - not yet, and maybe not ever - and who would never know they weren't alone if it wasn't for the stories shared online, or in magazines, or memoirs. In these safe places they can see themselves in the words, and realize there is hope.  There are thousands upon thousands of women exactly like them who have fought back addiction and won, a day at a time.

Writing my truths here has brought me great healing, too, and the unbelievable people I have met on this path - people like Corinne, Heather, Deb and so many more - are one of the biggest gifts I have received in recovery.  The emails I get from women who are struggling - who gulp back the fear and type out their truths - they help me so much.  I am humbled by their bravery, inspired by their honesty and grace.

Addiction is a disease of silence and isolation.  If you're reading this and you are struggling in silence and shame, please know you are not alone. Find someone safe - reach out and connect with someone who understands.  Try a recovery meeting, join a recovery chat room, or send an email to a sober blogger whose story touches you.  We understand.

The response from the Redbook article is amazing; I have received many emails from women who saw themselves in our stories, and are taking that first brave step of reaching out and telling their truth - some of them for the first time ever.

A big thank you to Redbook for tackling this sensitive, controversial topic - the more we talk openly about this, the more we can heal. 

And an extra special thank you to Nancy Ramsey, author of the article, for her professionalism, talent and kindness. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Sign

I'm zooming down the snowy hill; the icy wind makes my eyes water. My body feels young, loose, and I'm laughing with delight.  I hit a bump, the sled is airborne and I throw my arms out.  I'm flying.

Poke. Poke. 

I peel one eye open and see two big pools of brown.  I ache to close my eyes again, lose myself in the dream.

"How do you spell cwazy fish, Momma?"   Finn is mere inches from my face, holding a Sharpie marker and a tee shirt and looking at me expectantly.

I swing my legs out of bed; after the youthful feeling in my dream the creaking in my middle aged joints surprsies me.

There is a bite to the air this morning, the first tendrils of autum, and I pull a sweatshirt over my head as I pad downstairs.  The kids trail after me like ducklings.

"If Sharpies smell so strong to us, can you imagine how they smell to a dog?"  Greta says; she is fully dressed for school already.  Her fear of missing the bus looms large over each morning; she is ready to go at 7:30, even though the bus doesn't arrive until 8:45.

"Or a fly? Flies and dogs have a sense of smell that's like a thousand times greater than ours."

Bleary eyed, I pour milk into two bowls of cereal while the kids orbit around me like little planets.  Their non-stop chatter tugs at my half-awake brain.

"How do you spell Rhododendren?" Greta wants to know, holding a notebook she made of pressed leaves. She is meticulously labeling each page.

"I'm not wearing undahweah," says Finn, "and the dog had anothah accident in the playwoom." 

"Hon? Can you pick up my shirts?" my husband pokes his head into the room, shaving cream covers half his face.  "By 9:30?"

"What about Dandelion? How do you spell that? And Hydrangea?"

"Dis is my cwazy fish!" Finn chirps proudly from the kitchen table. My brain finally registers that he is drawing on the tee shirt with the Sharpie.

"It's 8:25, Momma!  We need to get out for the bus soon!"

With a flurry the kids shrug on backpacks, tie shoes, and jostle out to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus. It won't come for at least ten minutes, but Greta needs to be out there by 8:30 or she panics. 

The sun peeks through the early morning fog, and I turn my face up to soak in its warmth.   The kids spin and laugh, whacking each other with their backpacks.  Inside the house the dog barks insistently, like she does every morning, unhappy that she is left out of the fun.

I smile to myself, lost in thought. Each morning is a carbon copy of the last, and for some reason today this thought comforts me. 

An unfamiliar blue pick-up truck pulls up at the end of our driveway, and the kids turn and look at me with wide eyes.

A stocky woman clambors out of the truck, wielding some kind of large tool.  

"I'm here to put up your sign!" she calls.  "How about right here?"

As she hammers the For Sale sign into our front yard, my stomach gives a flip-flop of nervous anticipation. 

Change, I think, as the warm embrace of familiarity drops away.


This post is part of a link-up called Just Write, the brain-child of Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary.  We're free writing about moments in a day, describing snippets of time, without clarifying or explaining what we want to speak about in the post.  We're just writing about an experience - pure and simple - finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Just Write

Want to participate?  Click here to learn more and here join in.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shadow Dancing

I'm pacing back and forth at the end of my driveway; Finn is late.  He's on his first bus ride ever, and my heart is caught in my throat.

After thirty minutes of edgy waiting in the rain, the bus company finally calls.

"We have him," they say.  "There was a mix-up at the school. He's supposed to be on Bus #1, but they put him on #2.  Hang tight; he's almost home."

I keep my voice light as he skips down the bus stairs.  "You okay, buddy?" 

He gives me a puzzled look. "Sure. I wasn't scared. We drove by the house once and I saw you standing there.  I told them 'Look! There's my Mom!' and so they knew where to go."

I give him a squeeze, smiling with pride, and we head into the house for a snack.

I take a moment to check email and by the time I get into the kitchen Finn is standing on a stool, the ingredients for a sandwich spread out in front of him; he's spreading jelly onto a piece of bread with a plastic knife.  His tongue sticks out in concentration. 

He catches me staring and gives me a grin. "Look, I can do it all by myself, Momma," he says. 

I tell him I can't believe how grown up he is, the same thing I've said to him countless times in the past few days as we prepare for the first day of school, but this time the words trigger a distant, unwanted memory, and the power of it stops me dead in my tracks:

Greta stands on her tiptoes, reaching for a bag of chips on a high shelf in our pantry.  I'm sitting at the kitchen table, watching her, swirling my glass full of red wine.   I'm glowering, nursing a morose, dull feeling, a mixture of rage and boredom.  It's 6pm, and I have no plans for dinner.

A good mother wouldn't let her have a snack this late, I think, but I make no move to stop her.  I'm on my second glass of wine - or is it my third?  The warm glow of the first glass feels long gone, replaced by this sour dullness.  I'm lost in self pity, thinking about how long the days are, how I don't want to fix another dinner, I just want to disappear.

She reaches the chips, and breaks into a smile.  "Look, Momma!  I can do it all by myself!"

I give her half a smile, and take another sip of wine.

She stares at the wineglass a moment, looking uncertain.  "Aren't you proud of me, Momma?"

"Sure," I grunt, and get up to refill my glass.

As she slumps away, I'm thinking a nasty little thought: jeez, the kid can't even get a bag of chips without needing validation.

I realize what has been dogging me these days: Finn is the age now that Greta was when I got sober. He is hitting all these big milestones with his observant, loving, present Mom right by his side. The shadows that follow me are the ringing memories of the past, of how it was for Greta to spend her first five years with a drinking mother.

The guilt wells up, crushing me; I can barely breathe.  Oh Greta, I'm so sorry.

The flood gates open, and oily, black memories flow into my head: Greta poking my inert form under the covers, asking to play, her crestfallen face saying 'Momma, you're ALWAYS tired'; getting up again and again while we play a board game- Mommy will be right back! - to sneak sips from a stashed bottle of wine; reading her a bedtime story with booze on my breath.

I leave Finn at the kitchen table, munching on his sandwich, and go lie down in my darkened bedroom. I let the shame and guilt wash over me, let the memories come. 

After five minutes or so I take a deep breath, and push the memories back into the shadows.  I can't let guilt take the wheel.  I lived so long with guilt as a drinking Mom; as a sober Mom I can't afford to lose myself in the past. I can't change what has happened, and if I let the guilt win out it will lead me back to a drink.  Guilt is, at its root, a selfish emotion; it makes a painful situation all about me, how I feel, how hard it is for me.  And it's not about me anymore.  It's about being a present mom, one who lives her amends to her children as best she can.  Here. Now.


I'm a different mother now, but not it the ways I expected when I got sober. 

In sobriety, I have learned that I'm a more impatient person than I realize.  More anxious, too. I'm capable of rage that is more potent than anything I ever felt when I was drinking.  When I was still drinking and dreaming of sobriety, I saw myself as an apple cheeked, effervescent mother, smiling serenely through the long days, wallowing in my kids.  That's not how it turned out.  I do feel more joy, serenity and peace of mind. But the tough emotions - anger, boredom, irritation, resentment - are all so much pointier, now that I'm not hiding from them, going around the tough stuff by numbing out.

I'm more snappish now than I was when I was drinking, more quick to reprimand or lose it over something small, like spilled juice or sibling rivalry.  

The difference, though, is I don't feel guilt like I used to. I don't have that nagging voice in my head that whispers:  you're like this because you drink.  When I forget appointments, lose homework, show up late or over-react and yell at the kids, I know that it's because I'm human.  I can own my part in things - apologize if necessary - and move on. 

Drinking made me so self-centered; I was constantly awash in guilt.   My disease liked it that way; the guilt drove me right back to the bottle, again and again.  As a sober woman, I refuse to let shame own me anymore.

I take a deep breath, and walk back into the kitchen.  Finn is finishing the last of his sandwich with a sticky purple grin. 

"Let's go wait for Sissy's bus, okay?" I say, and the last of the guilt scuttles away into the shadows.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Need Your Help

As most of you know, I run another website called Crying Out Now.

It's a website where women come tell their stories of addiction and recovery.  Many of the women who post there are telling their truth for the first time ever; they can do so anonymously, if they wish, and it is growing community of women helping each other get, or stay, sober.  I am pleased that it has grown so much in the past year and a half, but I'm always interested in opportunities to spread the word, help more people who are struggling understand that they are not alone.

A local affiliate of CBS runs an annual contest for Boston's Most Valuable Blog, and this year Crying Out Now is a finalist in the Health & Wellness category. 

There isn't a big prize for winning, so that isn't why I'm asking for help - it's a great opportunity to get the word out there about Crying Out Now, and I'd love it if you could take 30 seconds to pop over to their website and vote.   There is no registration - it is literally ONE click, and you can vote once a day until September 9th.  

The contest has been running for a while (One Crafty Mother is also a finalist in the Life category, and you may have noticed the widget in my sidebar asking for votes) but I only found out about Crying Out Now's nomination yesterday.   Had I known it was nominated, I would have asked for votes there, instead of here, because Crying Out Now is really where I want recognition and growth.  Thousands of people across the globe read the site (even though it doesn't get a lot of comments, probably because of the subject matter) and I get several emails a week from women looking to post their story, or who just want to reach out to a comforting voice.

So, PLEASE, can you take a second to head over there and vote?  The link is here, or you can go to:

If you're in an extra generous mood and can help me spread the word about the contest link (or just link back to this post, if that's easier) through your Facebook pages or tweets, I would be so very grateful.  If you do tweet or FB about it, leave a comment below that you did and on Saturday I will randomly choose one person to win a $35 gift certificate to my Etsy shop (my daughter will pull a name from a hat).  

Thank you, so much, for your ongoing support.  It means so much so me, and it is helping many, many women learn more about alcoholism and find the courage to get honest and get help.

And if you are interested in posting your story at Crying Out Now - you don't need to be sober, you don't need to be a writer or a blogger - I would love to hear from you.  Click here to learn more.


Monday, September 5, 2011


I was doing okay until we hit the shoe section.

We're back-to-school shopping with the other procrastinators; school starts tomorrow.  We pick through the remains of school supplies, lunch-sized snacks and new outfits.

Greta had a growth spurt over the summer; she grew more than an inch in one month, and she needs
new shoes.  We steer the overflowing cart into the kids' shoe section, and begin hunting through pink sandals and glittery sneakers.

Not one pair of shoes fit.  Not the kid size 3.  Not even the 4s. 

We end up in the women's section - the women's section - and find a pair of size 5 1/2 clogs that fit just right.

Greta sashays up and down the aisle, a hand on one hip, a proud smile plastered across her face.

I feel like an old hand at this back-to-school stuff, so I didn't think I was going to be emotional about school this year.  But somehow, right under my nose, she has blossomed into a striking young woman. 

She flicks her hair over her shoulder and does a little spin.  "What do you think, Mom?"  When did she start calling me Mom?  What happened to Momma?

I manage a smile, and a quick nod. "Perfect," I choke. 

This long-legged beauty, with a hint of a womanly curve in her hip, is my little girl. 

In the car on the way home, she prattles on about the usual things, then grows quiet for a moment before saying, "I'm a little nervous about tomorrow.  Not a  LOT nervous, but I have the caterpillars-in-my-tummy feeling. It's kind of like a happy-nervous, I guess."

I tell her I remember the feeling so well, how the scent of a new pack of pencils made my stomach churn with nervous anticipation. 

We get home, unload the school supplies, and Greta sets about packing her backpack for tomorrow. 

Finn shuffles in the room, dragging his careworn blanket in one hand and his brand new backpack in the other.  "Will you help me wif my backpack too, Momma?"  

Oh my God, I think with a start, my baby is getting on the bus.  Somehow this milestone - my youngest starting Kindergarten - has been relegated to a mental back shelf, lost in the shuffle of Second Child Syndrome.  He curls up on my lap with a contented sigh, and rubs my arm distractedly.

"Are you excited to start big-kid school?" I ask. 

"Sure," he says. 

"Are you nervous?"

He is quiet a moment., "No," he says, "Sissy told me all about it.  And my fwiends will be there. And I have the same teacher Sissy had, and she's willy nice."

I rock him gently in my lap, and I think about how it's another beginning, having both my kids in school.  Sending Greta off to school every year was cushioned by Finn's presence, of having a child around most of the time.

When they were small, I pined for this moment, for the freedom of unencumbered days, for the chance to focus on me again - my goals, my career, my identity.

Now that it is here, I'm ambivalent.  What is this next chapter of life going to look like?  I am contemplating a job that would accommodate mother's hours but get my head back in the working game.  It hasn't been formally offered to me, yet, but the possibility exists that I will re-enter the work force sometime in the near future. 

Closing my arms around Finn, I inhale his earthy boy scent and think about how I feel about it all.

I have the happy-nervous, caterpillars-in-my-tummy feeling, too.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dr. Fear

My hands are shaking a little as I reach for the phone. I'm finally going to make the call, the one I have been avoiding for weeks.  You would think I was calling to turn myself into the police, my fear is so great.  But the pain has reached an intolerable threshold, and I need to do something about it.

This is a small thing, really, not worthy of more than a few minutes' attention.  But my brain - oh, my brain - has other ideas.

My lower back has been bothering me, to varying degrees, for about two months now.  It started right after my Dad died.

Just after his funeral in late June the twinges started, and by my birthday weekend on July 4th my back was in full-on revolt.  Along with the lower back pain comes my old nemesis, Anxiety, who convinces me that this couldn't be a simple back spasm, that it has to be something awful.  Unlike many hypochondriacs, though, I am one who avoids the doctor, preferring to keep my head in the sand where it is dark and quiet and I can wallow in the not-knowing.

My back improved after a week or so, and I set about forgetting it ever happened.

About a week and a half ago, though, it came back.  I rested and stretched, took Motrin and alternated ice and heat -- anything - ANYTHING - to avoid calling the doctor.

By yesterday morning, though, the pain was finally too much and I called, hoping they would tell me they couldn't see me for at least a week.  They had an opening for 3:45pm that same day.

My anxiety kicked into high gear, horrible scenarios and outcomes tramped through my head all day.   By the time they called my name in the waiting room, I was a complete wreck.  My heart was beating scary fast and my palms were sweating.  The fear was so bad that I barely felt my back pain at all.

I sat on the crinkly paper with a wild look in my eyes as the doctor asked me some basic questions, and I found myself spilling it all out - my Dad's death, the stress of the summer home with two kids, my anxiety about coming to the doctor.  I'd like to say she had all kinds of advice for me, but all she did after I finished my tirade was blink a couple of times, and say, "Okay."  Her response didn't matter, though, because I immediately felt so much better, just from the unburdening of it all. 

She put her hand on my lower back and told me she could feel that the whole left side was in spasm.  After some more checks for neurological (disc) damage, she diagnosed back spasms and mild sciatica and recommended a regimen of ice/heat, rest and medication for the next week.

All that fear, all that wallowing, all those hours listening to the whispering voices of anxiety, for a diagnosis of a back spasm.

As I drove home from the doctor's with a new lightness in my heart, and a sense of pride coursing through my veins that I actually did it - I went  - I thought about fear.

There is fear that comes from things that are actually happening, and then there is anxiety, which is fear of things yet to happen. 

I thought about when I got sober, the fear and anxiety I felt during that tough time.

I experienced real fear of something that actually happened: I stopped drinking.   But most of the fear around getting sober was anticipatory - our old friend Anxiety.  I spent hours running the list through my head: what about my birthday? Christmas? Vacations?  What about so-and-so's wedding next October?  How will I get through the witching hour? 

And then, little by little, those things happened.  I faced the fear and made it through each one.  Looking back, I can see that the anticipatory fear - the anxiety - felt so much worse than the fear I actually experienced as I went through each of these milestones.   Anxiety doesn't come wrapped in a sense of accomplishment, like walking through fear does.  As scared as I was at the doctor's yesterday, I felt a undercurrent of strength and pride:  I'm doing it.  Here's me facing my fear. 

Anxiety is such a waste of time, I thought.  Fear is useful, to a large degree. If we're in real danger, we rely on fear - that old fight-or-flight response - to get us out of danger unscathed.   Anxiety is fear run amok.  My brain latches on to a fear - like the doctor's, or flying in an airplane - and runs with it. 

I had a lot of anxiety in early sobriety.  All that hand wringing - wondering about events down the road - robbed me of gratitude, peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment for the day I was actually living, right then, sober.

Anxiety is the brain's feeble attempt to control fear. Genuine fear - like a plane actually crashing, a doctor finding a tumor or not drinking when every cell in your body wants to - cannot be controlled, it can only be felt.

When I'm experiencing anxiety it is because I'm trying to go around something, like I did when I knew I had a problem with alcohol but tried everything I could to avoid this hard fact, instead of staring it down and doing something about it. 

Looking back now, I can see that the anxiety I felt about getting sober, or staying sober, was so much worse than facing the fear itself.  Each time I faced a fear and moved through it, I was rewarded with a sense of accompishment and peace.  Anxiety carries no rewards, no growth, no sense of accomplishment or peace.

Of course, my brain being what it is, by the time I got home from the appointment, Anxiety was already whispering in my ear: the spasms could be from some underlying cause, maybe tumors pressing on your spine, and the doctor missed it.

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and said, out loud, "we'll cross that bridge if we come to it."

With a smug smile, I think to myself:  Face fear, let go of anxiety.  So there.