guinea pain

March 1, 2012

It hit me right then, Oh. I said to me. One of the reasons I was drinking so much was to be nice to me. Of course now, in recovery, I see I wasn’t being nice to me at all, but then? I wanted to claim my time, give myself the treat of glass after glass that felt like kindness.

It hit me when I got an email from a reader who also struggles with her drinking. In it, she told the story of her day, one in which her child had repeatedly physically hurt her. You know, in the ways that a toddler can–a sippy cup to the head, a tantrum slap to the cheek–things we chalk up to irrational little emotions because a kid is a kid and they’re learning and it’s not personal. But as this lovely mother described this difficult day, I could feel exactly what she was saying. She wasn’t just left with red marks on her skin, she was left emotionally hurting. I hadn’t really seen this in myself until I was reading her words, but yes, it made perfect sense.

Our mother ego, she takes a lot of hits and she has been split wide open with vulnerability from the start with all this crazy love.  I love you so much, why are you hurting me? Sometimes we are still just children, trying not to get hurt on the playground.

The other day Asher was cozied up next to me in my bed, a beautiful moment. Then he looked up at me and with the honest words of a child, he slipped a knife in my heart with the I love Daddy more than I love you line. Is this true? No. I mean, he might feel that way these days–Daddy is more fun. But his love for me is intense and connected, I know that. Yet it hurt, because I spend my days loving him and giving to him, wearing myself out with his needs. My heart is intertwined in his and has been since the day I knew he was a little seed in my belly. That’s the truth with all three of my children. So it hurts. By the end of the day, I want to run from that hurt even while I want to stay cozied up with my three amazing children on my bed for the rest of my life, no matter what they say or do to me.

This love-pain, it is at the crux of the sacrifice of motherhood. A connection that’s being twisted and bent all the hours of all the days.

I’m a sensitive spirit. I feel intensely and love wildly, and my kids have more power than anyone to send sharp pains to my soul. Learning to accept this and surrender to it has been an essential part of healing for me. Because when I let go, I see it–that as much as it has pained me and will pain me as the years go by–when my children express themselves in ways that hurt me, they are showing me that they know they’ll be accepted and loved no matter what they do, and I want that. That’s not to say that their behavior is acceptable and doesn’t need re-direction a lot of the time, it’s just to say that my children feel safe with me while they hurt me. That’s what they need while they try to navigate their own bumpy emotional terrain and learn to express it in ways that are healthier.

I am their mother. I am a guinea pig. I’m an at times tortured little guinea pig who would rather it be me than anyone else, to teach them.

When my drinking increased and increased, it was a season of serious hits. I acted out emotionally like my tantruming toddler. I was (unaware at the time) feeling assaulted at every turn. Asher cried most of every 24 hours and Miles started to handle that with defiance, fighting for control. Naps and mealtimes became more of a fight than ever before. Ryan was traveling for work almost all the time. It was a mess. I was a mess. I didn’t realize it then, but the natural things my boys were going through felt like serious attacks on my heart.  My fragile sense of self was shocked. The pain was coming in, unintentional as it was, and I was taking it on as if it spoke my worth. Logically, I know that their behavior was nowhere near personal, but my heart was crying out for some kind of kindness and recognition. I just wanted someone to be nice to me, for just one minute. And I thought wine was nice to me because it felt so good.

Today, in a rare few hours, I was left alone with Elsie Jane. Miles was at school and Asher was with Grandma, so naturally we went to Target. Elsie had been completely freaking out about taking a morning nap, another non-attack that started to feel like an attack. So I scooped her up out of her crib and packed her into her infant seat and just LET GO. She fell asleep in the cart at the store and I shopped slowly and carefully, which is so rare. I had head space and time. She even stayed sleeping through the check-out and transition to the car. So then I drove and it hit me that I could EVEN PICK UP A FANCY COFFEE. Oh, it had been so long since all the stars aligned in such a gloriously caffeinated way.

I sipped that coffee, NURSED that coffee, its hazelnut goodness all up in my nose. I almost closed my eyes at the joy of it, but I couldn’t since I was driving aimlessly, listening to music and thinking my thinks.

We got home and Elsie woke up and we came in the house to keep going. She fussed and whined about me not getting her food ready fast enough, slamming her little hand on her highchair tray and I hurried and tripped over bags and noticed the dog hair on the floor again. I looked at the clock to calculate the next nap and school pick-ups.  I thought then, about how all the messy behavior in my kids is wrapped up in our messy love for each other and in our messy life. I see that now, unblurred by wine or its shameful hangovers, and I know it’s true like I’ve never known it Before–like all other things, there is grace in every painful and joyful messy day.  I don’t have to run from it, but I will most certainly give myself small joys like hazelnut in the middle of it all, just to be nice to me.


{With permission, I plan to share the email that was sent to me that inspired this post. It says it all better than I can anyway. I’ll do that tomorrow.}




Ginger March 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I just wanted to say thank you for this post because the first lines about thinking that drinking alcohol was being nice to you when it really wasn’t brought me to tears and put my own issues with overeating to “be nice to me” into words I had never been able to find myself, even though they perfectly describe the way I feel every time I dig into a pint of ice cream in order to escape myself. Your entire post is one I will come back to remind myself that I can’t eat my emotions or eat my way out of feeling them or dealing with them. Thank you again.

I wish you and your family the best for the future and please know that, even though we don’t know each other, I’m sending you support for your continued sobriety.

Heather March 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm

and I wish for you all of those same thing…all the best. Peace to you.

shayla March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

“there is grace in every painful and joyful messy day. I don’t have to run from it, but I will most certainly give myself small joys like hazelnut in the middle of it all, just to be nice to me.”

that is my favorite part of this post. it’s wonderful when you can take time to be nice to you!
shayla recently posted..teetering.

lynsey March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm

oh heather, please never stop writing!

i’m in the middle of all that you write. and the reminder to be gentle to myself through it {because sometimes our little ones are not so gentle, even when it’s in their adorably frustrating “non-attack” ways…} is just what i needed to read.

which is now causing me to second-guess my decision to go off of sugar for 40 days?? why am i depriving myself of being gentle to myself?? i kid. sort of. ;)
lynsey recently posted..rash.

Heather March 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

oh lynsey, I just went off the sugar too! ACK! That’s all I can say. ACK!!


kendal March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm

i’m on the other side of that little-kids-sapping-the-life-out-of-me phase. although i miss the cuddles and hugs and kids books, i am loving the head space i get these days. even though i teach full time, i end up with HOURS to myself sometimes. you are doing a great job, mom of three young ones. great reflection.
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Lindsey March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm

There is grace in every painful and joyful messy day. That is the line that sticks with me, too. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Heather. I relate to every word of this. xoxo

Joy March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Man, you sure know how to put this stuff into words. Thank you!!

Heather March 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Aw Joy, thank YOU.
I hope you’re doing well, lady.


Alison@Mama Wants This March 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I’ve felt that emotional hurt inflicted by my toddler, that you describe so eloquently, and I know what you mean by the need, the physical need for kindness. I seek that constantly, ironically, in the same 3 foot tall person who inflicts that hurt on me. And I know, I know he’s just 2 and he doesn’t know how his actions (or inactions) can hurt and heal his mother so, but I still look.

And more often than not, I find it. I find it in his warm head when he curls up to me for his nap. When he comes over and gives me a head hug for no reason. When he smiles at me when our eyes lock.

Gorgeous post, Heather.

Ellie March 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I can totally, completely relate to this. I never realized it either, the drinking-to-be-nice-to-me, but that was a HUGE part of it. This post is totally eye-opening, Heather, in many ways. You teach me so much.


Ellie recently posted..I’m Still Here

Fionnuala March 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm

This is beautiful, and you are a brilliant writer. My favorite piece is, “This love-pain, it is at the crux of the sacrifice of motherhood. A connection that’s being twisted and bent all the hours of all the days.”

I am just a Mom and forever academic (I just keep going to school)…. but this has book option written all over it.

Erin March 1, 2012 at 10:33 pm

I have never had a drink of alcohol other than one little (very gross) sip of some nasty concoction in high school.

But when you write about addiction, and giving yourself a treat, and how they hurt us sometimes, I understand this. In my own ways, with my own pains and weaknesses and the things I run to when I am hurt. I know this.

Your heart is so beautiful.
Erin recently posted..Dust and Beauty

Sarah March 2, 2012 at 12:57 am

no matter how long between the times I dive into and out of your blog I am always amazed at how your words speak so clearly to me, so deeply and raw. I am currently in a rough spot in my life, I actually find myself contemplating whether or not another glass of wine would help as I am so anxious and unwilling to just live life fully. I forget that when my son chucks his toy at my head or screams about lunch that it isn’t me he is angry at, it isn’t my self worth that is in question – it is just that as you put it, life is messy. Children grow and need to be allowed to learn in a loving environment, and we parents are still growing, too. That is the part that helps me stop at one glass of wine, alright maybe two tonight (!!!), but truly allowing myself to be imperfect and know that I am still learning and growing helps a lot.
And knowing through others, as honest as you, helps too. Lord knows my family doesn’t allow any tough feelings to be discussed. Thanks again :)
Sarah recently posted..Hi Ho Hi Ho off to the ER we go!

jen March 2, 2012 at 7:54 am

i think sometimes it’s a test that these littles put us through … to see if, perhaps, we’ll run away from them on the playground when they say that they like sally better. you know?
they need to feel that fulfillment too. they need to feel grounded to us. they need to see how we’ll react when they mention loving someone else more or telling us that we are mean.
(currently? anytime i say no? i’m a mean mom. gah!)
they are renewing their faith in us … that we aren’t going to give up on them and we aren’t going to walk away. we’ll just answer with a simple, well … i love you. “to the moon” or “as big as the universe” or “super big” … or whatever it is we say with that one. and we do.
jen recently posted..he’s two now. my boy is two.

Heather March 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Yes. What you said. I could have just said that and the post would have been much shorter :)


Laura March 2, 2012 at 8:37 am

I’m saving this post to my computer for future reference- I can definitely see myself feeling that love-pain when our daughter arrives, and you write beautifully about how to handle it. Thank you.
Laura recently posted..How to take a Saturday off, by Laura and Matt

But Why Mommy March 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

This describes so much of my experience. The beginning of the end of my drinking came right after we brought our son home from Ethiopia. He (and all of us) were dealing with the trauma of the adoption. He had bonded to me right away so I was his punching bag, black and blue from biting and unable to leave his sight. Drinking was my escape, I thought it made me a better mother. It did not.

A beautiful post. Thank you so much for writing it.
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thekitchenwitch March 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

I love you. That is all.
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Ann March 2, 2012 at 11:17 am

I really loved this post for everything it says about the love and pain of motherhood. How no one can cause us as much hurt as our children but we would never ever go back, never change any of it. But my favorite part is your description of Elsie slamming her little fist on the high chair. They’re such little dictators aren’t they? and instead of being insulted we scramble to do it even faster! Loved it so thank you.

Herb of Grace March 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm

This post brought tears to my eyes today… My daughter is entering those “difficult teen years” and the hurts are so much more public, so much more obvious and less easily shaken off than the sacrifices and pains of the toddler years… At least for me they are. Each one brings an additional, deeper pain of wondering if the foundation of love laid in the early years was good enough to survive the storms of the next few years. This was a good reminder to just keep shoveling on more love to heal the wounds we unconsciously deal each other.

Heather March 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Oh lady. I thought a lot about the teen years when writing this. Of course, at this point I can only imagine what that must feel like…but I know it must hurt a whole lot. Peace to you, Mama.

Ann March 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

The irony–which you know and relate–is that the very reason they can and DO hurt you is because they’re so secure in their attachment to you.

Another fantastic gift of a post.
Ann recently posted..The Shrinking Half-life of Praise

Louise March 2, 2012 at 1:27 pm

climbing into a car with overtired children, driving aimlessly and gifting myself an expensive coffee…..those moments (and the tears that would sometimes slide down my face) are all too easy to remember. thank you for sharing.
Louise recently posted..objects in the rearview mirror

Wendy March 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Heather- Love your blog and am so glad that I found it! We call my one year old the belly boss because he sticks out his belly and straightens his fists while yelling whatever it is that is not happening fast enough. I love that little boy so much it hurts. My kids are my everything so when my everything is hard it makes everything hard!

Since my husband and I have stopped drinking, it can be a challenge to figure out different ways to unwind at the end of the day or even in the middle. I used to crave that feeling that a beer or glass of wine would give me. it is amazing that just a simple deep breath can sometimes help or 2 or 10! I am so amazed by the physical difference I feel by not drinking. I am focusing on trying to be in the moment and not worry so much about tomorrow or the next day. Blogs like yours really help me with that!


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Amber March 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm

How is it that your words are able to lift me up and make me feel the gnawing pain all at the same time? This is beautiful. And oh so true. And sometimes, just sometimes, I do reach for the wine. I think maybe I need to keep an eye on that. Sigh.
Amber recently posted..I Have A Say About My Reproductive Health. And So Do You.

Heather March 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I hope I don’t sound like I’m saying having wine is bad. It was for me, since you know, I’m an alcoholic and drank A LOT A LOT of wine. Just being clear…because I don’t think it’s bad for a non-problem drinker to have wine as a treat. And only each woman knows in her heart gut what kind of drinker she is.


campbell @tumbledweeds March 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm

“This love-pain, it is at the crux of the sacrifice of motherhood. A connection that’s being twisted and bent all the hours of all the days.” THIS. YES.
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Amanda March 2, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I know so much how this feels. The messy hurting, vulnerable, unrelenting love.
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Galit Breen March 2, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Yes, this. Trying to find kindness, any sort of kindness, from any sort of place – I understand this.

This is beautiful (as always), Heather.
Galit Breen recently posted..Practical Parenting

Addie Zierman March 3, 2012 at 8:00 am

Just read this this morning and am so struck by it. Thank you for your beautiful honesty. How true it is, how personal it all feels, how much we ache to be the one who is cared for, just for a few moments …or a few glasses.
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Jay Adams March 3, 2012 at 9:36 am

Thanks – i can really identify with this thoughtful post.

Carrie March 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I found your writing through a link on “Pour Your Heart Out” on the “Things I Can’t Say” blog. This post is so perfect. I can relate to the sudden feeling of calm when all of a sudden, there are a few moments to drink coffee while your child sleeps. It seems so hard to find those moments with one child, and you have three! I am glad you found the time for shopping and Hazelnut – it sounds like you very much deserved it!
Carrie recently posted..The Binky Box

Heather March 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Hi Carrie! Welcome :)
Yes, the sudden feeling of calm…so few and far between and so PRECIOUS :)

Peace to you.

Robin | Farewell, Stranger March 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I so relate to this. My experience with postpartum depression manifested in rage, and so much of it was triggered because I felt assaulted. The crying, the screaming but mostly the physical stuff – slapping me across the face (as babies do), biting while nursing, kicking me while getting his diaper changed. I remember feeling assaulted. I had forgotten, but I remember it now, reading this.

Such a hard thing to realize and acknowledge at the time, but so important in our experience of motherhood, I think.
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Zinedine March 10, 2012 at 4:54 am

You have made a really good point. Sometimes I use alcohol to see something from a different perspective. I am walking towards not needing anything and still be able to see things from different perspective though :)
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