When Things Keep Falling Apart

I'm starting to post a series of vignettes over on Medium that are about relationships and booze. I've been working on these essays for a little over a year now, reading them aloud in my writing workshop and then stacking them in a pile in the corner. So I decided I may as well collect them on a public platform, right?? I'm going to try and post one every other week, so I'd love it if y'all come and check me out over there from time to time. I'm sharing the latest one here, but I won't every time. So in the meantime, Write On!

It was supposed to work. This trip was supposed to fix us. I do remember this. But the rest of that year? It's like trying to remember the year I turned ten. I remember how I felt about turning double digits. I remember how I felt about flying down that hill on my bike, banana seat between my legs, going so fast that I didn't have to hold the handlebars but only feel the streamers flutter in my face. I remember I felt strong and in control of that particular moment, Queen of the Banana Seats, joyfully reigning on that one wild ride of my tenth year. I don't remember if I had a birthday party or who my teacher was that year. I don't remember who my best friend was or if I could even count the number of people who I knew loved me. That's how I remember all of 2004 and particularly that trip to the Catskills for a wedding that was supposed to fix my broken marriage. 

There are other feelings I remember from 2004:  anger, so much anger and vitriol, which always bubbled right below the surface just dying to be poked. It never matter who started it, who hated who more, who was the bigger victim or martyr, it was always there and reeking. There was no sequence of events like clues in a Scooby-Do episode where you can review and say, YES, obviously it was that guy who would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids.  There was just always a low-level rumbling of wrongness and the gallons of booze poured over that made the land far too murky to find the source.  

I also remember laughter, so much laughter everyday until my stomach hurt. Funny how the anger and the laughter caused the same pain, two sides of the same coin that I didn't even want in my pocket, much less tell you how it landed there. But somehow all of that laughter and all of the Lonestar-fueled Jackass antics felt like we were doing something very important. It entitled us to mock and ridicule life and society and anything that remotely resembled being a grown-up, even though being married and having a house and a kid would attempt to argue otherwise. 

I remember always feeling anxious over my toddler and particularly over him never wanting to fall asleep, in spite of the near-nightly loud adult noises and wafts of food and booze going on in other rooms that I had always imagined toddlers should be able to sleep through. I was always anxious over loud thumps in the night that forever will be the sound that is made when a toddler falls out of his bed and hits the hardwood floor. I remember how a cabin in the Catskills sounded like sweet relief from having to manage a chaotic environment of toddler tantrums and biting hangovers, even if only for five days and four nights.  

I remember I packed too much for a cabin in the woods built for two, but where only one would actually stay.  I remember feeling nervous about attending a wedding where I would be mingling with the New York indie scene and I thought someone might actually see me. The days leading up to the wedding, I remember drinking lots of wine alone. I remember there was never enough wine in this beautiful cabin in the woods built for two, while my husband was surely out there in another part of the woods doing things that involved lots of beer and did not involve wearing shirts. I took a lot of walks on the wooded path that led up to the cabin and I remember wishing I would see a bear. I imagined a bear would wander out onto the path, too far ahead that she couldn't outrun me if I had to run but we would both stop and look at each other, or rather, she would notice me. And then we would resume walking. The morning of the wedding, my husband came by to put on his suit and I remember putting on the darkest purple eyeshadow that I had. I remember I felt dizzy and hot and I that I couldn't to talk to him. I remember it took a long time for him to tie his tie. 

I remember missing my toddler because I knew he was the one person in the world that would wake up that morning and notice I wasn't there. And he would still miss me even though in the short time we had known each other I had not really been there because I was always checked out, fallen down, dead drunk or just not noticing. The need to be seen yet not seeing, that is what I remember. 

One morning back in Texas, I was up watching Good Morning America and the scene still plays in my head as clear as anything from that year.  "Up next we talk to a couple that is celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary!" The gray-haired couple smiled at the camera, perfectly nestled into each other, knob into crevasse, as if they were one being.  After commercial, the jolly reporter asked, "So what is the secret to staying married for so long?" They looked into each other's milky-glassed eyes, and he said, "We just never fell out of love at the same time." My mind screen-shotted that moment and filed it away, methodically without one single produced feeling. 

Our marriage was over two months later. 


Denial and Dreamcatchers

"I think you drink too much and that is your problem." 

She may as well had slapped me across the face. Doctors aren't supposed to say that to their patients. I was pissed and clearly she hadn't listened to anything I had told her. Never mind the huge omission of bottles and boxes of my weekly wine intake in our original interview. She obviously didn't hear the part where I said I couldn't get anything done, like I'd fallen down a well and I couldn't climb out, like I'd been slogging through mud, that I'd been stuck for decades. How about testing me for adult ADD? Surely I'm experiencing perimenopause. You don't think this is depression? Tell me fucking anything but that I drink too much. You have no idea what you are talking about. 

Denial has big green Incredible Hulk strength. It can pick you up and throw you into another reality where your sight-line is very different from everyone else's. I read somewhere that it's the denial of death that promoted our species, but all grown up, it's killing some of us. It doesn't come as a parting gift when we're launched into this world, but how quickly we figure out it's effectiveness. Even when you do catch a glimpse of the actual cold, hard situation, it's like the tall guy standing in front of you at a rock show. He may shift his weight and you can see the band for a second, but then he quickly moves back to his original place, leaving you staring at his backside again. 

When you see someone die a particularly long, drawn-out death, you sometimes get to see them return to that baby-like state, before the layers of life's bullshit piled on. I got to see this when my Dad was dying and it punctured some well of compassion deep inside of me where I suddenly saw him as an innocent child. The child that knew nothing but love before his Dad drank too much, before his Dad's rage made him break chairs over little boy's heads and before his Mom pretended not to notice. Before my Dad carried that behavior into his little family, not even needing alcohol, he yelled and thrashed and hit and name-called. He didn't know that that wasn't how other families lived, he didn't share and he didn't care. So he worked, he provided, he bought jewelry and cars and motorcycles and vacations, so he obviously loved us and we would turn out just fine. When I watched him suck down a milkshake on his second to the last day of life, I saw a child that was full of unjaded, unfiltered, unaffected love. 

"The truth doesn't stop being the truth just because we aren't looking at it."

In the last ten years of my drinking I thought my children were safe because I stayed at home to drink. Not that I had never driven them around after a few, but at home, I was certain we were safe. I will never ever forget the look on their little faces, eyes big as plates as they watched flames shoot up from the stove to the vent after I threw too much Pernod into a hot cast iron. Or the time they discovered I left the bathroom sink running and flooded the whole bathroom. Or the time I missed a step carrying my baby girl and landed on my elbow instead of her tiny skull. These things didn't happen because I had a drinking problem. No way. I just forgot to eat dinner. I was over-tired. I just shouldn't have had that tequila shot, but that was a one-time mistake. And besides, my kids are safe. They know I love them.

The best thing I've heard when I was getting sober and voluntarily running my hand over the daily fire of shame was, "model the solution".  I've mentioned this on the blog before, but it bears repeating because I think it's the best message we can send to our children. Every problem is fixable, there is almost always a do-over, life gives us second chances and there is always a solution. Even when we have to swallow the cold, hard pill of reality, if we don't like it, we can fix it. Whether we are ready or not, children can be very adept at lifting the veil, giving the tall guy at the rock show a shove. Asperger kids are especially skilled at this and with his unedited honesty, my son said one night, "Mama, I don't like it when you're drunk." I guess the fifth time is the charm, because I finally heard the truth. And I've finally forgiven myself, forgiven my Dad and his Dad, for not being able to face reality and live accordingly. We did the best we could.

So now, I try and see things for what they are. I'm not perfect but if I was, I guess I would just ascend to Heaven now. I'm finding whatever I'm currently denying seems to pop up in my dreams anyway and since my sleeping head is running clear now, they are often fresh and ready for analyzation come morning. I occasionally have the typical drinking dreams that sober people have, but mine are less about the experience of being drunk and more about the sneaking, hiding, lying and covering-up. I know that is most likely because sober people are expected to show up in their lives with 100% honesty and that is still a tough row to hoe for me. Some habits take longer to die, so in the meantime, I have a dreamcatcher in every room. At the risk of committing a cultural misappropriation crime, I just love what they symbolize and I think they're pretty. I like pretty things. And in giving up my dreams to my dreamcatcher, I'm reminded to give up the rest to the Universe. As long as I can clearly see things for what they are, they can sort out the rest.

p.s. These are pretty easy to make with some embroidery hoops, string, yarn or fabric strips, some beads and feathers. For the center, I use pieces from already crocheted table cloths that I find at thrift stores. This and some glue, color and a tea-pot-filled afternoon, you are on your way giving your dreams a beautiful new home.

The Music Trigger

I can be nostalgic to a fault, and the fault point can be dangerous territory for an alcoholic. They say not to romanticize the drink, but some fun was had and I have some records to prove it. Aside from the fun records, there are also the break-up records, the make-out records, the dance party for one records, the road trip records, the lay on the couch and cry records, the paint all night and indecipherably journal records and every single one of those musical relationships involved booze, in copious amounts. Of course there are all of the other musical montages of dance clubs, dance halls, festivals, dive shows and arena shows---all booze fueled and duh! It's hard to navigate in early sobriety. Sometimes I think I'm longing for a band or a song and I put it on and then, bam, I want to drink. I've had to re-enter with some trepidation and avoid some altogether. Nothing zaps you back to a time and place quite like a song can. 

I have now seen a few shows in sobriety. A few things stand out, some more obvious than others. Buying a ticket, picking out an appropriate outfit, paying for parking, sitters and a tshirt and remembering the entire show is hands-down, pretty amazing. Not losing your phone or purse, pretty cool. Knowing how you are getting home, also not to be scoffed at in the least. The smaller, surprising nuances were having to leave for the bathroom only once and not feeling a cringe over swaying into someone's personal space during my favorite song. I saw Nirvana, the Nevermind tour in 1991 and I remember the very beginning, maybe one song and waiting in line for the bathroom, my entire music concert history X 1000. I've not been to a dance club or a dance party yet. Maybe it will happen, maybe it will never happen, maybe it's already happened and that will just have to do. To be determined.

I've had this relic since my Grateful Dead days, if that is not obvious. They definitely represent a time when some fun was had, I can remember some flashes of fun. I like to pull them out every once in a while and work on them, add a patch or a scrap, repair another hole, add some embroidery. 

Fun tip: Mexican or South American textiles make the best patches. They are already embroidered, the are thick and durable and are found aplenty at most thrift stores (feel free to correct me if that is just specific to Texas thrift). And embroidery is the best way to pass some time, even if you are doing it in front of some Netflix or with some records spinning. I'll do a more embroidery specific post someday, but easy enough to fall down the Google tutorial hole or use a 1970's craft book, my personal fave. 


Some days, it is easier said than done. I have become very good at compartmentalizing and it works. It keeps me from walking into traffic most days. It's those days that I really want to shut that door, slam it even, that the thoughts start spilling under the door like smoke. If I just crack it a little, eventually I'll get used to breathing some smoke. And then I put on some Fleetwood Mac and know that everything is going to be okay. 

Model the Solution

Moms that are also alcoholics carry around an extra piece of baggage in the overhead compartment. We are bombarded with media, social and alike, telling us that we need booze to cope. The memes, the Facebook groups, the Mommy and wine playdates, the wines directly marketed to Moms all validate any reason to drink. And then if you have a night off from the kids? No problem. Book clubs with wine, painting with twists (spoiler: twist = wine), movie dates with bars are all encouraged because obviously Moms need to drink. And there is no inherent problem with any of these things, unless of course, you're an alcoholic.

So here's the rub. What happens to the Mom that wakes up one day with a nasty little addiction? What happens to the Mom that has crossed lines, any line, that society and your integrity determined should never be crossed? I know that my decision making skills became poor to downright terrible after the first glass, even when my kids were present. There is no shame, either internal or societal, that is comparable to the shame showered on an alcoholic Mother who has crossed the line. None. So what do we do? Enjoy all the wine, Mommies, but not too much. It's very confusing and no wonder I see so many Moms everyday that have no idea how they got to where they are or how to back out.

The good news is, there is a solution. But in spite of all of the recovery, including putting down the drink, that shame can still linger. The best thing I ever heard around the topic of all the shame and regret that we Moms feel over what damage we may have done to our children, what precious time has been lost, was this: model the solution. Show our kids how to cope with stress, how to relax, how to wind down, how to decompress, how to show up without booze. We can show them how we are okay, just the way we are, without having to change our physical, mental and emotional states with booze. We're good and we're enough. I don't know about you, but it never occurred to me that I was modeling the opposite of that to my kids. And even though I really want to make up for lost time, I believe it happened the way it was supposed to and now I just keep moving into the right way everyday.

So this is what we now do with downtime.

Besides, how cute is a boy that sews?