An Open Letter to the Parent I lost to Suicide

I want you to know I forgive you. 

I wish you would have done the same. 

I’m crying again. I am crying because of the time I lost with you, and I’m crying because of the time I spent with you. I know you don’t want to make me cry. I know you cried enough for us both. 

I think a lot about who you were. Not as a parent, but as a person. What it would have been like to know you before the darkness swallowed you. I wonder what it was like to be your friend, to gossip and laugh with you. I wonder what made you laugh til your cheeks hurt. I wish you were here to tell me about those things. 

The big days have come and gone without you here. Graduations, weddings, babies, first homes, divorce. Life and time marched on, as they do. But you are frozen in time in my pictures. Smiling with me in your arms by the ocean. Holding my sister as she giggles up at you. Sitting at the kitchen table, midway through a joke I’ll never hear. Everyone says you were really funny. I wish I could remember more of that part of you. I would hold it so tight to my heart. I hold so tight to the little things I have left in my mind. I try to let go of the pain…but no matter how much I let go—it holds onto me. You were supposed to be there. When my own days grew dark..you were supposed to be there. And when I crawled out of that darkness that almost swallowed me too…you were supposed to be there.
People tell me you can see me. They tell me you are always with me. But you aren’t. You’re gone. I know they mean well. But you are gone. 

Questions, I must have asked a million. Or maybe I just asked the same one a million times. How many times can you ask “why?” in 19 years? I don’t know. Sometimes I can’t tell how I feel about you. Sometimes I can. Sometimes it’s grief. Sometimes it’s fury. Sometimes it’s pity. Maybe the worst thing I ever felt was the same. The worst was when I felt what I imagine you felt—like a burden. 

Your pain was scary to me. I didn’t know what it was when I was small, but it was always around you. It was always in the air. Some days were better. I wish there were more of those. I wish it for both of our sake. But you were not a burden. If you hear nothing else of all the whispered words and tear-filled screams and letters you would never get to read, I hope that makes it to you. 

I don’t know anymore which words are heavier…the ones I said, or the ones I’ll never get to say. 

I don’t know which pain is deeper…the loss of your life, or the loss of you I had to watch before your death. 

I don’t know which part of my heart breaks more…the one for you, or the one for who you could have been. 

I don’t know much, I guess. That dirty, whispered word. 

SUICIDE. 

It is shrouded with unknown. With stigma, with confusion, and with grief unlike and other.

I can never hear it now without my mind jerking abruptly to you, and to the mountain of pain it evokes. I used to fight with people and get really upset when they didn’t understand. Now I let it go. I know that’s not the part that matters. 

I know I said I asked a million questions, but one thing will never be a question. 

I love you. Even when I hate you…I love you. 

I love you by the ocean and at the kitchen table and holding my sister and decorating the tree. I love you in your cut off shorts, I love you when you cried and seemed like a lost child in a grown-up body, I love you for all the times that you didn’t love you. 

I will be here, appreciating the pain that allows me to more fully appreciate joy. 

I will be here, talking about you in an honest way, whether people like it or not. 

I will be here, making the best of a broken heart. 

I will be here, doing my best, just like I know you would have wanted.  

I’m not crying anymore. I know you didn’t want to make me cry.

I wish I didn’t have to write this letter.

Confused Grief: A Letter to the Children of Addiction

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Confused Grief: A Letter to the Children of Addiction

Sometimes you lose someone and it breaks your heart in a way you didn’t even know was possible because you loved them so.

Sometimes you lose someone and it leaves you angry, bitter and and resentful because they hurt you and you can never tell them.

Sometimes you lose someone and you are overwhelmed with genuine empathy for the internal battlefield that they long fought and ultimately died on.

Sometimes you lose someone and you seethe with quiet rage that they didn’t try harder to pull out of that battle instead of martyring themselves to their own self destruction before your very eyes.

Sometimes you lose someone and you don’t know how you will ever go on without hearing their laugh again.

Sometimes you lose someone and you find yourself having secret moments of something like relief that the category 5 hurricane of pain that surrounded them has gone out to sea.

And sometimes…. it is all the same person.

The years I spent vascillating between cowering, raging, checking out, and pleading for love depending on the state she was in piled on my little shoulders and then as an adult found me broken, alcoholic, anxious, depressed, codependent, addicted to a list of substances, and with no identity of my own.

Her alcoholism didn’t just destroy her. It destroyed me as well. I’m sure you could argue with me that I am not destroyed, and today, I would agree. But there were years and years of my life that I very much felt and behaved as if I were.

Nobody told me how exhausting grieving my mother was going to be. Not because no one told me that it would hurt, I knew that, but because the feelings I had surrounding her were so conflicted, so torn, and that only magnified a million-fold with the explosion that was the news of her self-inflicted death.

So how do I grieve the person who hurt me the most?

How can I miss someone and wish they were here, but at the exact same time, know that her actions almost destroyed me and that if she had lived longer, it may have been enough to drive my own trauma to sentence me to death too?

How is it that I understand with heartfelt, honest compassion and empathy what happened to her and why but also allow myself the anger I have a right to over the childhood that was stolen from me?

How is it that I can genuinely forgive her for the years of abandonment and rejection knowing she was sick and but still have a piece of myself that knows that she could have tried harder and gotten better just like so many others have?

How can I tell myself one second that she did the best she could with what she had and then immediately have the thought that she absolutely did not or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this and she wouldn’t be dead?

How in god’s name do I rectify the fact that in that last moment before she took her own life, she thought of us and still went through with it…or didn’t think of us at all? But then still realize that I cannot try to gauge anything of any great importance based on the moment she was most out of her mind?

These questions aren’t what wreck my soul on some days. It was my own experience with my own addiction and self-destruction that gave me an all too up close and personal look at the darkness she lived with. It made me forgive her in a way that nothing she could have ever said to me would have. But the turmoil of the mutually exclusive is the cross I am now left bearing.

I truly believe that my purpose is to use the awful things I went through to bring a sense of understanding and hope to others who share similar struggles. But how do I speak out about the emotional abuse and neglect that an addicted parent inevitably doles out without telling on her? Without at times almost vilifying her? To many, especially those who don’t understand the disease of addiction, she will appear to be something that I don’t want her to be seen as. But what if that is the truth? Is it all she was? No. But was it for many years? Yeah. So….. what? What do I do with it? What if the information and the experience could help people? But shouldn’t I just let her rest? Am I NOT letting her rest by telling my own story honestly? Do I try to find a way to explain it and relate it without expressing what it was? Isn’t that a lie? Isn’t me censoring the ugly only further validating the exact shame that I am trying to alleviate some of for children of addicts, people with childhood trauma, addiction, and mental illness?

What the FUCK do I do with all of it?

Most days, I do nothing. Those are good days. And thankfully, after many years of handling it wrong, and then these last few handling it right, those days have turned into the large majority. They used to be about non-existent. What I used to do was everything I shouldn’t have. Drink. Use. Hate myself. Abandon myself. Act out. Self-injure. Cling to toxic people. Self-destruct. And I am grateful in a way you can never know that that part is over. But there are times when a song, a smell, a picture, a person, a memory…they send me straight down the rabbit hole of opposing interpretations and feelings I can’t make any sense of.

Because you can’t make any sense of something that is constantly moving and shifting.

There are times I wonder if I am doing something horribly wrong by talking candidly about what it was like to grow up with her in the full grips of her addiction. I fear being viewed as seeking attention, pity, or validation. The honest truth is that there was a time in my life that I did just that. I fear that the people who loved her who are still in my life will look down on me for it for discussing it, or will flat out disbelieve me because they only knew her as the pieces of her they experienced. And god, do I envy them for that. I wish I had gotten to experience more of those pieces. Even as I write this, I am plagued with self-censorship. But in those moments I stop and remind myself of the fact that I know my motives. I know that although there will for sure be those who think that’s why I talk about it, this isn’t for them. They don’t matter. I’m not saying this for them, or for me. I am saying it for the people who write me heartfelt emails, comments, and messages telling me that my words brought them a moment of comfort for the pieces of them that hurt the most, the pieces that they have often spent years hiding and hating. And as far as the people who loved my mother who find it hard to hear these things about her, I emphasize, and I welcome them to bring me their happy memories of her. I treasure those stories, even if they break my heart a tiny bit.

So how do I grieve her and at the same time, grieve my non-existent childhood?

I don’t have a real answer for that. That’s why I’m writing this. This has been one of the most stop and go and delete and re-write things I have written in a long time because I don’t even know how to express something so confusing. But I’m writing it because I know that I can’t be the only one who finds that aftermath of the sharpest grief is this deep seated internal conflict.

If you are reading this, and you have lost a parent to addiction or suicide, I am sending you every ounce of love and strength I have. I want you to know that I know how hard it may have been for you to navigate life with the traits and defenses you developed, because I too developed those things. I want you to know that I too left a trail of failed and unhealthy relationships. I too self-medicated and drank way too much. I too blamed myself for not only the way my parent treated me, but for anything and everything that I was. I too hated myself.

But I want you to know something else.

IT. WASN’T. YOU.

There was nothing you could have done better. It was bigger than you, and them. It’s bigger than all of us.

I am, with every inch of my heart, so sorry for the things you lost, the things you missed, the things you needed and never got. I am so sorry you always came second to their alcohol, their drugs, or their mental illness. I’m so sorry for the broken heart that was handed off to you, without any choice in the matter.

The last thing I want to say is this..

It will never, ever be ok. Things like this are SO far from ok, it’s a ridiculous thing that anyone would ever offer that sentiment as a form of comfort. BUT….YOU can be ok in spite of it. You can become someone who breaks a cycle. You can make peace with the confusion and accept it as something that will always be there, but no longer rules you. You can have a life you long doubted possible if you can begin to heal yourself. I don’t say that just because it sounds nice, I say it because I did it. It’s real. You possess the ability to find it in yourself to understand that while some things are so innately and horribly dark there can be no finding good in them, BUT that you can create something light. And if the only thing you ever do with it is find the patience and strength to forgive yourself for all of the shitty behaviors you learned along the way, and then you CHANGE those behaviors, well…then you’ve done a whole fucking lot. Because hurt people hurt people, and sometimes sick people hurt people, and sometimes people are so hurt and so sick that they leave a giant impression of pain that radiates out in waves of destruction that go on for years and decades to come.

So when you refuse to be what the world tried to turn you into, you absolutely and unequivocally change the world.

In my book, that makes you a superhero.

Year Six

 

 

I saw a quote somewhere that said,
“Addiction is suicide on an install ent plan,”
and few things have ever rang so true to me.

The worst part of addiction isn’t when it finally kills you.
It’s living your life with it’s hands around your neck. It’s the slow deterioration of your personality, your morals, your hope. It’s becoming deadened to the look of disappointment on your loved ones faces. It’s the way you develop compartmentalization skills you never wanted in order to keep living your deceitful double or triple life. It’s stealing and lying and lashing out at anyone who gets to close to the truth. It’s the erosion of your soul.

It kills you, oh yes. And it hurts the whole time you are dying. But death from addiction is only the body dying. It rips away who you are long before, a broken and empty shell, a desperate zombie who is enslaved not only to the substance, but to the sick thinking and overwhelming self loathing that prevents any belief that life could ever really be any different for you. It is the lie addiction sells you that truly is the death sentence.

Six years ago I woke up in a hospital detox bed and was faced with the massive casualties of my alcoholism and addiction…the biggest one being me. To ask someone to face that kind of pain without the only thing that has ever eased it is a nightmare to them. While it may make no sense to you to watch someone run back to the horrible life that they live in their addiction, it is the life they know, and the one where they are able to anesthetize the unrelenting pain brought down upon them by whatever burden they know no other way to bear. When the waves of pain and reality start rolling over you, running back seems the only way to go.

This is why I believe with all my heart that the most important lesson I learned, the thing that you MUST do to stay clean, is to build a life, to build YOURSELF…into something you don’t want to run from. That takes time, my loves. Ohhhhh, it takes time. It is not easy work. Bad days, very bad ones, they will come. But you keep putting that distance between you and the nightmare. You keep adding new hobbies, friends, achievements, and skills. You keep learning you, you keep chipping away at the issues you used over. Codependency, shame, grief, trauma, abuse, lack of self-worth, insecurity, physical pain, emotional pain, financial strain. Anyone can put drugs and alcohol down. But to fight the fight required and face why you were doing it so that you can STAY clean, this is the true test of how badly you really want it.

You see, we live in a time where its perfectly acceptable, even encouraged by some circles, to play the victim, to blame your addiction or mental health problems or the society or the world for why you stay locked in hell. You don’t want to hear the truth, which is that the key to that lock is in YOUR hand.
The truth is, anyone can get clean. But you have to put aside any temptation to make excuses or shirk responsibility. And that can be very uncomfortable.
But don’t let the temptation fool you. You can excuse yourself and your victim mentality right into a hole in the ground.

I have replaced my addiction to drugs and alcohol with another addiction.
And that is an addiction to growth. To evolution. To new beginnings.

My first day of year six comes on my first week of no longer working in the field as an addiction professional and taking the risk I need to take to pursue what I feel pulled to do. New beginnings are not always fun. Sure, there is excitement. But there is also the giant “what if” that looms over you. Sobriety is no different in that regard. But I ASSURE you, with every inch of my soul, that if you do it right, the “what if” that sobriety becomes is beyond anything you would ever believe.

Yes, I’m talking to YOU. You, the one who’s reading this and thinking you’re different. ESPECIALLY you.

It’s hard work. It’s not pretty sometimes. It doesn’t happen fast. It takes brutal, brutal honesty about who you are. There is zero room for denial or blaming. If you aren’t ready for those things, then no, you will NOT stay sober. Do what you must to commit to those truths.

I look forward to year six. My heart tells me it will be an important one.

Much love, and as always, thank you a million times for the support. ❤️

143
Jessie

#sixyears #sobriety #recovery #hope

 

Practiced Professional

The music from the jukebox blares intrusively, vying for place over the din of the crowd. Hooting laughter comes from the far corner of the bar. Somewhere at one of the high top tables, a girl shrieks in boozy delight as her friend shows her something on her phone. She doubles over, slapping the table and nearly knocking her drink over. I stare at her, unaware I am doing so, wondering what is so funny, and who’s expense the laughter might be at. An old high school buddy saying something stupid on Facebook? An ex having a bad day? It could be a million things in this era of everyone sees everything everyone does.

“Excuse me? Miss?”

I continue watching the two girls and absentmindedly pick up my plastic solo cup that anyone casually observing would assume is water. Jokes on them, though, because it’s not. It’s my secret weapon. Rumpleminz. 100 proof of minty flavored liver murder. Now to be fair, to me, at this point it goes down about like water. It’s warm and syrupy, but I don’t flinch as I slug it. Who flinches from water? You have to know what you’re doing.

Again, louder. “MISS!”

Oh, shit. That’s me. I’m working.

I turn my attention toward the voice. Smile, hey, hi there, howya doin, what can I get fer ya? Make drinks. Laugh at terrible jokes. Wipe the bar. Slug the rumplminz. Repeat.

The potent, sugary solution hugs my insides. It puts a hand over the forever yelling mouth of my insecurity and shuts it up with practiced ease.

Some people don’t drink hard liquor because it burns their gut.

I have grown to love that burn, I revel in its caustic effect on both my body and my mind.

Sometimes I love it so much that even a practiced professional high functioning alcoholic like me overdoes it a bit. I can feel the muscles in my mouth get a bit too slack and know my eyes may be glazing over. As much as I seek those feelings, I can’t be letting on that my “water” is actually high-octane schnapps…the bosses tend to frown upon us getting wasted on their dime.

Luckily, this practiced professional has a method for that too.

“Hey, Devon, can you watch the bar for me for a minute? I gotta run to the bathroom.”

She bounces over, a beautiful little redhead with the looks of a flapper and the sass of an actress. Sometimes I wonder who knows. But not enough to give a shit.

She slides behind the bar and takes my place, and I pat her and spit some witty comment about the bitchy server that no one likes. Cool as a cucumber. Grab my purse as I walk out.

I walk out of the bar and detour through the kitchen briskly. Everyone is busy, which is perfect, because no one notices as I grab a little white appetizer plate on the other side of the expo line and drop it in my purse as I walk out and directly into the bathroom.

The countdown begins. I know Devon won’t care if I take a few minutes, but efficiency and time are of the essence. Twenty minute bathroom breaks don’t look that great. Luckily the Adderall are the little pink pills instead of the pain in the ass time-release capsules, which are an absolute BITCH to grind up. I glance in the mirror as I walk by it. Nothing alarming, aside from being a bit too gaunt, and my cheeks are definitely getting flushed from the heat of the liquor in my blood. My Irish lineage seems to make it impossible for me to control that one telltale giveaway. I always turn red.

No time to dwell on that.

Thankfully, the bathroom is empty, not that it would stop me if it wasn’t, but it certainly takes away from the stress. I take a pill out of the zipper compartment of my wallet and grab my driver’s license. Hang my purse up and sit down on the toilet.

I nibble the pill first. It’s a science to me now, how I weave the substances together, including the method of delivery. Eating the pills is a slower starting but longer lasting effect. So when I have enough, I eat a little and snort some, so I get the hard hitting blast of the inhalation high but still the lingering trace of the ingestion.

Practiced professional, remember?

I smash the ID down on a quarter of a pill and grind it against the plate. The pink ones bust up easy and pretty quickly I have a pile of powder. I chop it into two decent lines and am grabbing the twenty out of my pocket when someone comes in.

FUCK.

I can’t do this part with someone in here.

Giggling. The stall door next to me slams. I watch their feet. She stumbles into the stall, still cackling to her friend outside the door.

“Did you fucking SEE that shit? I cannot BELIEVE she has the nerve to come up and talk to Sarah like it’s nothing. What an idiot!”

The girl outside the stalls laughs and slurs something unintelligible. I wait, not patiently, but they move quickly, surely eager to get back to Sarah and their Jaeger bombs.

The door swings open. I can hear Bruno Mars for a second as I watch their feet disappear.

I put the rolled up bill to the plate and suck the lines back, one after another, both with the same nostril so they aren’t both fucked if I overdid it. Squeeze my eyes shut and close the unused nostril, pull back deep with the other. Then snort it all back.

Just as comforting as the burn of the liquor, is the taste of the drip. Each different pill, varying by does, manufacturer, and fast or extended release, has a different taste. This one is actually somewhat pleasant, sweet, reminiscent of candy. A dream compared to the nasty burn of the 30 mg time-release beads that are obnoxious to crush as well. I don’t care anyway though. It’s all part of the ritual.

For a moment, the guilt creeps in. I think of my son, home sleeping. My husband, already exhausted with my shit, and not even aware of the epic extent of it.

But I am also a practiced professional at stuffing those thoughts and feelings, and soon the drugs will take hold and push them out even more effectively, though not for good. Numbness is my lover, and the feelings I experience when it wears off only drive me further into its arms.

 

Lick the plate. Throw it back in my purse to put in the dirty dish bin when I have a chance.

I glance in the mirror again on my way out, this time the check is more thorough. Check my nose. My pupils. Then go traipsing back out to the bar and resume my alternating making and taking drinks.

Closing time. The fun begins now. Restaurant/bar culture is a whole world of it’s own. We come out to play when the rest of the party animals are stumbling in for the night, resigned to another hungover Friday at the office. We don’t have that worry, no one has to be back to work til 4 p.m., and it’s only just after 1 a.m. as we lock the doors. No one wastes a second. Beers are popped open and shots begin to flow as we all laugh and stack chairs.

I’m already drunk, but now don’t have to maintain that I am not. I make a beeline for the Bacardi Dragonberry. I fill a pint glass with ice, then two thirds of the way with the flavored rum, and top it with Sprite to justify that it’s a mixed drink. Open a Coors light and set that next to it.

Laughter, cigarettes, obscenity. We fight over the jukebox and dance clumsily around the high tops. Finally the manager finishes her count for the night and corrals us all out of the place like toddlers on a field trip.

4 am bar. Shots. Bathroom trips. More cigarettes.

Someone is mad at someone, someone can’t find her phone, someone’s arguing about their ability to drive. It’s the same shit. Alcohol fueled Groundhog’s Day. I laugh, sing along to the songs we all know, trade war stories, play the part.

I’m having fun, right?

I am a practiced professional.

But it festers. It festers below the surface.

There is something else I am a practiced professional at.

I am a liar.

I lie about everything. I have to, living this way, a wife and mother, an employee, a daughter, a sister, a friend.

The lies feel like shit. They pile up and weigh me down.

So I drink. And I use.

Then I lie more. Then I drink more. And use more.

These thoughts intrude rudely, interrupting my oblivion with their harsh reality. I can taste shame in the back of my mouth, so I hail the bartender.

“SHOTS!” I demand, gesturing at the cluster of us. “We need some fuckin SHOTS!”

I slap a fifty down on the sticky bar. Easy come easy go.

Bottoms up. Again and again.

After party. Someone’s house. So many hours of my life spent standing around a smoky garage, having conversations I will never remember.

More cigarettes. More booze. Now there’s blow. Not a moment too soon, because the Adderall is beginning to struggle against the amount of alcohol I have consumed since the beginning of my shift 12 hours ago. I try not to let my mind touch the fact that it’s probably easily enough to have put a college football player in a coma, and I barely weigh a buck ten. The fleeting thought that I have to open the bar at ten AM tomorrow for a double does nothing to slow me down. I’m all in now. I have drugs to assist me when that reality rears it’s ugly head in a mere 5 hours.

The last few of us shitshow warriors finally trickle off to respective couches, beds, and sadly, cars, at around 7 a.m.. I collapse onto the upstairs study sofa, wrap my sweater around my legs, and try to figure out how I’m gonna sleep after all that coke. About five seconds after the though passes, I am unconscious.

I startle awake to the sound of my phone alarm. The sun is an ignorant asshole with no sympathy for the disaster in my skull. I can’t move. Everything hurts.

FUCK I gotta work holy shit what time is it goddammit

I grope blindly at the floor where I can hear the phone going off.

Grab it, look at the time with one eye. Must have been going off for a hot minute, because I have much less time then I need to get ready, certainly with the unholy canvas I’ll be working with.

I try to stand up from the couch and have to sit right back down as black spots dance across my vision.

I am weak, I can feel my blood sugar going completely insane. I try to recall if there was any food in the last 24 hours, but I can barely remember how I got here, let alone minor details.

I stumble into the bathroom with my purse. My guts are churning and my head feels like it is filled with hammers and knives.

The shower is supposed to help. It doesn’t.

I step out and stand in front of the mirror to do my makeup.

I flinch at what I am looking at.

Good god. There isn’t enough makeup in the world for this mess.

I HAVE to stop doing this.

Standing up right now is the equivalent of doing a biathlon. I dig out my eyeliner and start to put it on, but there is a problem.

I can’t.

I can’t put my fucking eyeliner on because my hands are trembling so badly.

I swear as I smudge it for the third time.

My stomach churns harder at the knowledge that sets in. I don’t even fight it.

I am a practiced professional at detaching my mind from what my body is doing.

I slink down the stairs to the cabinet I know Wendy keeps her liquor in. I open it, and my eye settles on the bottle of blueberry Stoli.

I pick it up in my shaky hand, twist the cap off, and close my eyes. Two big swallows, I squeeze my eyes harder. The heat blooms in my stomach, searing, horrifying, but soothing.

Twist the cap on and replace the bottle.

I sit on the floor for a moment with my eyes closed. It is oddly quiet, surely the calm before the hangover anxiety storm begins to wrack my brain with unrelenting vengeance.

I relish the peace. Focus on the burning in my gut.

I can feel an ache in my kidneys, but there’s not time to worry about that right now. I open my eyes, look down, and hold out my hand.

It is steady.

Emotionless, I reflect on the fact that I am about to do it all again.

1 month, and countless shots and lines after that disgusting morning, I drag my drunk, depleted shell into a hospital addiction treatment unit. I fight through minutes, hours, and months, of absolutely intolerable cravings to drink.

I miss my lover.

I am not a practiced professional at sobriety.

I am terrified, overwhelmed, and have no idea what the fuck I am doing.

Five years and countless rough patches and life lessons after that drunk, depleted shell walked into that hospital, I am still standing.

I don’t miss my lover.

Like so many of us do after we finally escape a nightmare of a relationship that we couldn’t seem to get out of for way too long, I look back on my time with that lover and shudder.

I no longer seek numbness. I have found what really feels good in life. The things that get me “high” but do not destroy my soul and body in the process.

I am now a practiced professional at surviving.

I now seek feeling, and life, and all of the little moments that make it up.

Real laughter with real friends.

Waking up in the morning with a clear head.

Never having to remember anything, because I always tell the truth these days.

The feeling after a good workout.

The taste of pizza.

A real connection with a good man.

The look in my dad’s eyes on each sober anniversary.

Walking the stage to receive my degree in addiction studies.

Helping those who battle the demons that nearly destroyed me.

And, last, but by far the greatest, the smile on my son’s face when he says, “you’re the best mom ever.”

 

 

 

 

Fine/NOT fine

1524237305071How many of us really want an honest response to the question, “how are you?”

How many of us, if given a truly honest response, could handle it?

How many times have you said, “I’m fine”, knowing goddamn well that you were far from it?

I do it all the time. I do it not for my benefit, but for yours and everyone else’s.

I say “I’m fine”, because I am pretty sure when you ask me how I’m doing, you don’t want to hear me respond with, “oh actually, I’m REALLY shitty. I am obsessing over the horrific emotional abuse my ex put me through as a way to not think about the pain of the current relationship that just fell apart totally unexpectedly on me.  My anxiety makes me yell at my kid, which makes me feel like a shitty mom, which depresses me. Sometimes I resent my sobriety because it makes being single even harder than it already is. Oh, also, my childhood trauma keeps bubbling over into my present life and fucking with my ability to have a normal relationship. I have horrible imposter syndrome today, and I can’t stop comparing myself to people I perceive as better than me. Also, sometimes I can’t stop replaying the sexual abuse I experienced and trying to figure out if it was somehow my fault. Anyway, enough about me, how are you?”

Can you hear the crickets? The meme of the guy blinking? Yeah.

So….

“I’m fine.”

Those two words can be very dangerous. They become automatic. I said them when I was in active addiction all the time. I have said them when I was feeling hopeless and close to suicidal. I have said them when I was wasted. I have said them when I was at work trying to function through a hangover that was bordering on alcohol withdrawal. I have said them when I was paralyzed by fear and anxiety.

I have said those words so many times when I so desperately needed to say anything BUT those words, when I really needed someone to hold some space for me and let me say what was going on, but when I opened my mouth, out it came.
“I’m fine.”

So why the fuck do I say it?

I say it because I don’t want to burden someone with the heaviness of the things that sometimes weigh on my mind.

I say it because I hate the look I have gotten so many times when I offered up only a fraction of the truth.

I say it because if you haven’t had a life that has familiarized you with the kind of things I have lived through, you may judge me or reject me.
I say it because I get tired of being told that I’ve been through worse, that I’m strong, I’ll get through it. As well intended as those words are, in a moment of honest vulnerability about being not okay, they only serve to trivialize how I am feeling and nudge me to stop complaining about it.

I say it now, because I am in recovery, and I am supposed to be ok, right?

Well, here’s the truth.

I AM in recovery. I am NOT fine all the time. Sometimes I am so far from fine I don’t know who the fuck I even am. I think some of us get into longer term recovery and are looked upon to have our shit together, to be pillars of strength, inspirational beings who have beaten down our demons and stand smiling and victorious on their corpses.

That, for me, is simply not the case. Like, at ALL.

I fell into a highly toxic relationship with a coldhearted, cruel, stone cold narcissist who shredded my fledgling self-esteem I had just begun working so hard at. IN RECOVERY.

I stayed in that nightmare for three years.  IN RECOVERY.

I have days where my anxiety leaves me paranoid, obsessing, and unable to do my job or be a parent. IN RECOVERY.

I have been financially irresponsible and totally selfish with my impulses. IN RECOVERY.

I am STILL codependent and have major problems with my ACOA traits. IN RECOVERY.

I have made mistake after mistake after mistake and had bad day after worse. IN RECOVERY.

Getting sober, and even staying sober, does not automatically denote that you are in the clear from all the monsters that clamored inside of you while you were using.

I have to stop myself sometimes when “I’m fine” starts to come out of my mouth, because those too often were the words that hindered me ever getting better. My life did not change until I stopped saying “I’m fine,”, and I plopped down on my dad’s couch and said, “I’m fucked up. I’m addicted to pills and cocaine and I can’t stop drinking. I need help.”

Saying “I’m fine” almost got me killed. My extreme aversion to “bothering anyone” almost cost me my sanity, and my life.

It is still a work in progress. I still say it too much. But now I also do things like texting a trusted friend who is in recovery, as uncomfortable as it might make me, and saying “I’m having a REALLY bad day right now.” And then when she responds, can you talk for a few if I call, then saying yes. And then getting very honest about where I am at.

Because you know what happens after that? Well, I’m not fine, but I am sure as hell better than I was before the call.

We have to remember that even as we get farther along in our recovery, it is FINE not to be fucking FINE all the time. We are humans. We are humans who likely had some serious shit roiling beneath the active addiction, and the shit doesn’t go away overnight. Fact is, some of it is so far in us, or so painful, it may NEVER go away. You may need to talk about some of your shit for the rest of your life. We can find a balance between living in the pain of our past, constantly ripping our scars open to watch them bleed, and stuffing, repressing, and denying our truth.

The other side of this is being the kind of person that people don’t think they have to say “I’m fine” to. The more of us there are, the more chance there is that someone who needs so badly to feel safe enough to be honest about where they are at, will have the opportunity to do so. Be a safe place. Be a lighthouse. Be someone who can handle the squirmy details without flinching.

And for god’s sake, stop being fucking FINE all the time.