{Fly Away From Me: On Children}

I woke up this morning, the sun creeping in earlier than I wanted.  Coming out of my dreams, I felt grief wash over my body, sore from running daily; I felt the years wash over me physically.  And fear.

I am afraid for all the time—lost.  Gone.

My children are almost grownup into people, yet not ready to face the challenges of being adult.  But more and more they are absent from me and I feel their absence, the loss, physically — These babies I fed from my breast, nurtured if feebly the best I knew how.  Babies I brought in to the world through the tearing of my flesh and blood.  They are young adults and the time is gone.

I’m running out of time and as I woke I felt the years,

Weighty, heavy, lost.

Lost to the days of over working; long workaholic driven years of loving work more than I loved being at home.  I have forgotten those toddler years, unable to recall the first word, first steps, first book, I simply cannot remember.  Write everything down they said, but I thought I’d remember.

I was wrong.

Lost, because of so many days of a drunken cloud, a constant buzz from self-medicating.

I was trying to forget the sadness, the feelings of inadequacy. Feeling doubt in a world of devoted, sure people. Feeling the loss of losing the faith of my parents and not being courageous enough (yet) to find my own.

I lost many years of my children’s lives to being a drunk.

I woke this morning feeling the weight of it, a grief that is carved deeply within.  It is a heart ache, and with a cry  I wanted to start fresh.  A second chance; to rewind back fifteen years to hearing that I was pregnant for the first time.  I was surprised that my body, which I had loathed all my life, was capable of giving life.  And then I felt annoyed at the interruption to my career.  And then it came eventually; the felt joy and disbelief.

Now that baby girl, my little bird, is a young woman.  She is gone more than she is here and each interaction feels like our last.  I know we have just a few more years.  I think: hang on to love and do what you can to keep things open and safe.  I want to have a home, a heart that welcomes; A home of second chances, and third and fourth.  Arms open wide.

The days are slipping away, the chances are running out.

Even as I know this I know that I cannot clutch at her.  I must open my hands, joyfully and watch her fly. I will pray that she will want to return.

As I get up and face another day, it is to keep the nest warm and welcoming.    Yes, I woke up this morning already grieving. I knew.

My little bird is practicing her flight away from me.

Faith Transforms Me, Sometimes.

My motto these days is to do the next thing — what’s straight ahead of me.  In life, in faith, in parenting.

The next home task, the next creative project, the next scriptural study challenge — I choose to do this because I don’t know what else to do.  So I do the next thing.  I say yes to requests and a chance to help those in my immediate life.  I want to be useful.  This is tale about something l learned while trying to be helpful to a friend and be a good mom.

I should know to welcome an imminent challenge  when I write about parenting.  And I should also know by now that when I get intentional about any aspect of life, experiences come up that cause my “great” ideas to suddenly seem anemic held up to the light of day, real life.

One of my kids came home today particularly ornery.

Nothing I said was good enough. Or correct. Or useful.  Finally when I had had enough I stormed off angry saying: “I don’t know why I bother to say anything around here.” (I know who’s the kid, right?) The more I thought about it, the madder I got.  I was steaming, white hot mad and before I knew it, even slamming doors.

Fuming I went downstairs to fold their laundry.  I decided if that’s the way she wants it fine.  What if I simply refused to talk to her anymore? …. for a while, for a good long while.  I’m thinking, yeah, I will pass information along via her brothers.  That way I could make my point (which was that she doesn’t listen to my sage advice) and still get things accomplished.

Before long she came creeping downstairs.  Still seething in my plans for my “cold-war” campaign, even though I knew that my plan would never work.  Beyond the plain immaturity of the idea, it just wasn’t kind.  And if anything, I try to always be kind.

“I’m sorry I don’t believe in Jesus” she says inaudibly. “Not right now.”

“What?” I asked breaking my short-lived resolve.  In this moment, when a child says something like that, at least a thousand thoughts run chaotically through your head within the space of milliseconds. You’re dizzy from the swirl of emotion.  Still, in these kinds of parenting moments, my main thought is stay calm.

I remind myself: Do not say anything you cannot take back!   You cannot let on that you’re freaking out … no!  It is not like the whole world is sinking.

How she even knows what she accepts as true is decidedly up for consideration.  She is just a child. Stay calm.

She came home saying she didn’t want to go to church anymore.  What was the point? Then, as well as now in this moment, I mostly listened.  I said something vaguely like: “We just want you to continue going, so that you know what you’re choosing.”

I’m kicking myself.  The last time we had this conversation I totally choked.  Later, as I was telling Tom it was all so clear to him what he would have said.  And with hindsight it was clearer to me as well.  I should have been ready for this one, but instead of that I’m hyperventilating inside about MY BABY is rejecting my faith!  (Perhaps only mothers know what I’m talking about here.)  Yes, I’ve talked about this before, but I just can’t believe that at fourteen she’s already rejecting the Church, and by that I mean big C church.  “I already know everything I need to know” she had said.  And I think that was somewhere in the vicinity of when I stormed out of the room earlier.

“I’m sorry that I don’t believe in Jesus” she repeats.  “Not right now.” And I looked her square in the eyes. And shrugged.  Obviously I’m no Billy Graham.  There will be no coercing from me.  No broad explanations or great appeals for faith.  I know that I understood less than nothing about spiritual things when I was her age, not really.  I really couldn’t grasp the concept of substitutionary atonement at all. If someone had tried to convince me of it, I would have written them off completely.

I believe that one comes to an understanding of the truth of scriptures slowly, and a huge part of that is seeing others whose lives are utterly transformed by Jesus Christ.  This is one reason I had so much trouble with my personal faith for more than two decades—I didn’t see people around me transformed.  (Blame the Methodists and Presbyterians?)

So, I looked her straight in the eye. And shrugged, as I turned back to folding.

Later, I decided that I wanted her to come with me as I delivered soup to some sick friends.   This is it!  (I’m thinking I’m pretty brilliant.)  She will see the feet of faith—the good deed, out of my love of my friends that makes me want to do kind things for others.  This is it!

So with her  mumbling loudly and her iPod blaring, with great drama and complaining, she got into my car as I put the Tupperware of soup on the floor between her feet.

After several questionings about why she had to come, we arrive.  I reached toward her. She reached to hand me the soup, grabbing the handles of a grocery bag – and bam!  Soup splattered everywhere.  “Fuck! ” (Yes, that’s an exact quote)I yell: ” How could this have happened?!!”  I fumed loudly glancing up at the house.  Stomping around the end of the car, I see that there is soup top to bottom in my beautiful (if dirty) Honda—with a large portion of the soup on the floor, irretrievable.  It was a colossal mess!

Again, we find me furious.

Ironically what I had intended to be an example of my benevolence turned into me a fuming and cussing, even accusing her, in my mortification!

Then a light bulb went off. 

This isn’t about the “good deed” or about the soup spilling all over my car and daughter.  And though I was tempted to blame her for the spill, it wasn’t even her fault.

This is about how  I choose to handle it, right now.  This is about me being transformed by Jesus.

Self-conscious about the half empty Tupperware, dripping with soup, I sheepishly rang the doorbell and delivered my soup.  Then I went to the car and calmly drove home.  At home, after collecting my thoughts, I told her “You don’t need to feel badly about this because it wasn’t your fault!”  If anything, I should have warned her that it might be messy or risky to pick up.

So we cleaned up the car together, which was a lot like cleaning up vomit we both agreed, only it smelled really yummy.  It was good soup.  And we had another little disagreement.  This time about whether “Drinking until you vomit” was the same as just social drinking.  (Do I know a thing or two about that?) Still, she walked away from me into the house, sheeshing me about acting like an expert and saying that I was “wrong that I didn’t trust her ideas.”  And I, once again, I was left alone fuming and wondering.

Now if she can just make the connection.  If only I can too, more often be transformed.

Yes, faith transforms me, sometimes.

MH

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor 3:18

I was in Love…with Vodka, Wine and Gin

Wine
Image by isante_magazine via Flickr

On the eve of my birth week, I want to take a moment to remember where I have come from, now that I am three plus years sober.   

While purging and organizing books this week I came across a little orange index card that I wrote to myself while I was working hard at accepting my need for sobriety.  I thought I had lost the card and that would have been tragic because the thoughts written on it are very important to me.

About five years ago, I spent more than a year — at two different stages — seeing counselors specifically about my drinking.  At that time, I wrote what I thought of my life without alcohol so far.  I said:

I value my recovery because …..

  • I have an improved mood.
  • I feel strong.
  • I am more present and self-aware.
  • I am more willing to face my feelings.
  • I am more hopeful about the future.
  • I am more in control of my world, actions, responses to life.
  • My relationships are more honest.
  • I am a good role model for my kids.
  • I am a cultural enigma.
  • I am more relaxed socially (less No worry about embarrassing myself.)
  • I have a higher quality of mental engagement.

All this is true.  And more.  Today when I look back another thing I am so grateful for is that my life partner, family and close friends never judged me. At least I never felt judged. Especially Tom could have. Boy, oh boy, I made some bad choices.  Tom lived with my addiction for many, many years, continuing to love and support me.  At my worst, he wiped up my vomit and put me to bed.  He pulled me out of parties before I could do something stupid.  All those years he was simply loving.  I never felt that I was a bad person because of my dependency to alcohol.  Not from him, but I did judge myself!

In my head, I was constantly accusing myself.

I cannot count, because it happened so many times, the number of Sundays I spent sitting in church nursing the world’s worst hangover, full of shame and self-loathing.   I am not sure which felt worse, the physical symptoms of being hung over or the emotional beating I gave myself.  I just knew I was living the life of a hypocrite.  I didn’t have the courage to give up on churchgoing all together, but I was miserable being there.

For a long time my drinking made family life feel disjointed and a mess, because it was!

I started in on the wine too early in the evening, so I was too “tired” to do anything else in the evenings, except veg in front of the television.  When it was time to put the kids to bed, I was too tired to read to them, something I had always loved.  That memory makes me deeply sad still, but I will forgive myself some day.  Some things are harder to forgive yourself for like driving drunk with my children in the car, even if it was just a few neighborhood streets.  I did that.  I am utterly horrified to think of it now but it happened.  Why do I admit that today?  Why do I force myself to recall the shameful choices I made?

Because I do have fleeting thoughts that perhaps I could drink again.  And those are lies, but it is all too easy to forget.

Back to Tom, he was unhappy with our choices and (very) willingly quit drinking many times with me, for me.  He encouraged me to quit many times and we did quit a few times.  But it was such a part of our lifestyle that we soon were drinking again.

It grew more difficult as the years went by for me to even consider quitting, as I was afraid that I couldn’t live without it.  And, suffering as I was from major depression all those years, I was self-medicating with the very drug that furthered my depression.  (Alcohol is a depressant but I either didn’t know it or didn’t want to know.)

The first time I went to counselling for my alcohol addiction it was an intellectual exercise.

My mother was in a recovery program and addiction is all over my family tree.  I was drinking too much, but I was not yet the sloppy, falling down drunk that I became.  I was “abusing” alcohol.  I was addicted.  But I had convinced myself that I was managing.  I learned a lot from those counselling sessions, most important of which was that I should quit for lots of reasons.

In order to have that type of counselling you must agree to not be drinking as you go through it.  And I did that, but I was just a dry drunk.  All of my behaviors were still of an addict who wasn’t using.  I didn’t yet believe the things I wrote on that index card.  I had not lived long enough as a sober person.

I asked my counselor at my last session, after five months of sobriety,  “What if I just drink socially?  Don’t keep it in the house.  Don’t drink every day.  Just have a drink from time to time (like normal people)?  Maybe I won’t have to quit completely.”  I was desperate to not have to quit.

At that point I could not imagine being happy without alcohol in my life. 

“Then I’ll see you back here in about three years.”  And I literally thought “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.”   That is how far I was into the lie.  Well, I’ve said it before, but it didn’t even take three years.

About a year and a half later I was back and that time I was serious about quitting.  I knew that alcohol had control of me and my life.  I had no power to fight it.  I thought about alcohol all the time.  I was so in love with wine — and vodka — and gin!  I had spent that summer drinking heavily every day and spent most evenings drunk.  I just did it in such a way that I thought I was hiding it from others.

But enough about that.  (Perhaps the rest will go in the memoir.)  Today, I am so grateful for my sobriety.   It isn’t that complicated to figure out if alcohol has power over you.  How much do you think about alcohol? How often do you choose not to drink, because you wonder if you have a problem?  Do you drink every day?  Do you squirm answering those questions honestly?   Although it is certainly not true that every person who drinks too much from time to time is an alcoholic, rather what I think about is, what is the main focus of your life?  Can you live without alcohol?  If you’re not sure , … I would seriously consider talking to someone.

Those are the questions that haunted me and it wasn’t until I quit that I realized without any doubt that I was out of control.

Melody

P.S. Other things I have written about my life  drunk and addicted.