three years sober

January 21, 2013

{just write will be up tomorrow morning, Tuesday}

{this post was written yesterday}

Our dog is the color of copper, maybe a bit lighter, almost orange. Tia Maria. She has a stripe of white like a cowl around her neck, and more white like sweat socks on her legs. About half of her tail is white, too. It changes from copper to white at the point in which her tail was once broken by an over-zealous preschooler who yanked a wild hello. After that, her tail has always had a bump and a strange bend to it, but it wags just fine. Quite violently, actually. Her happiness is vicious. Thwap slap thwap slap.

She is sleeping on the floor beside me, Tia Maria, with that tail laying over one of her back legs. She is softly snoring. I love her more lately. Many mothers admit that their love for their pets dwindles with each additional human in their care. This has been entirely too true for me. I have ignored this dog for years, leaving her care and affection to my husband while I hustle about wishing for more time. Lately, as our baby stage has come to a close, I’m warming up to Tia again, spending more time scratching her back. How can a woman really think she’s so busy she can’t even pet her dog? I don’t know. But I’m guessing I might not be the only one.

Right now I’m next to the fireplace with Tia at my feet. We already had one fire in the fire place today and I want to start another one. It’s so cold outside, the chill is seeping through the windows and covering the end of  my nose and all of our wood floors. When the dog lays at my feet, I slide them under her for warmth; a blanket and hot tea are not enough on some Minnesota winter days.

This particular below zero day we’re having is also covered in sickness. The flu that started with Miles traveled to Elsie Jane, who threw up in Target while we were checking out. Her vomit splattered across the floor and to the shoes and pants of the lady in line behind us. I hopped around the embarrassing mess on the floor apologizing and having absolutely no idea where to start, what to do. There was a blur; of sliding my red card through that little machine and stripping Elsie and wrapping her in a new shirt and her crying while we were fleeing the building, stinking with that unmistakable acidic stink.

That was that. We came home and ever since, it’s as if it never happened. She’s been fine, her usual desire to eat anything and everything in full swing. This is the way of Elsie Jane. A big hullabuloo of a dramatic scene and then, just like that, she moves on.

Late last night it started with Asher and he’s had the worst of this. It just keeps coming, no matter how many hours go by. He responds with matter of fact statements. I’m going to go throw up now. He doesn’t cry or fuss at all. He just heads back to the couch for more resting. He’s a trooper, this boy, so quick to acceptance and surrender.

All that to say, it’s been an exhausting few days of constant cleaning and laundry and answering to needs. So I found this moment to sit with my feet under the dog, wishing for another fire in the fire place. I found this moment of reflection and deep breaths.

Three years have passed since I had my last drink. Three years ago today. In moments of quiet like this one, there is less denial, more surrender. Less perfectionism, more slow progress. More it is what it is, and less resentment.

That’s not to say that some days I won’t still resent the dog, or maybe next time the flu strikes, I’ll resent the vomit more than this time. Maybe even tomorrow, or later tonight, I’ll do some shitty thing like spewing sarcasm at my husband to hurt him because I’m tired and who better to receive it sideways?

Sure, some days I take a deep breath and feel a peaceful calm enter me, even while wiping vomit off the floor or crumbs off the counter for the millionth time. But some days I still sigh and martyr and grow tense in the shoulders and I want to scream because my insides are bossy and boiling and I don’t even know why. I still do the same things from Before, when I drank it all away, numbing. But I do them less, thank God. And when I behave in ways that make me shake my head at me, I am more quick to forgive myself and move on. I vomit, I clean it up, I move on. Just like that.

I am a mess. I am a saint. Like my sick and innocent children, I am blue eyes begging for help, a whimper escaping trembling lips. I am a mess. I am a saint. Like a copper and white dog, tracking in mud and shedding hair, wanting to warm my master’s feet.  I’m a mess. Scratch my back, just about…there. I’m itchy.

It started three years ago when I asked for help; this realization that I am always both dark and light at once. That doesn’t mean anything goes, that I can do whatever I want–drink myself to liver-death or hurt people I love with no apology and well-kept secrets–but even if it did, there is more freedom in those chains than in the ones that come from feeling guilty no matter what I do or don’t do.

Does that make sense?

I mean, so many places along the way, we’re taught we’re not getting it quite right. And not quite right is just totally wrong. In school and in church and in relationships and at work. We’re either doing well or we’re not. No middle. No both. We carry that with us, I think, into all of our hamster-wheeling. At least I know that has been true for me, and maybe always will be, but I’m working on finding the middle. When I first got sober, a lot of people asked me why there was so much peace. How does it happen? Just from not drinking? What if I’m not an alcoholic, but I want peace and don’t have it? My only answer at the time was, I don’t know. Because my whole life my faith was supposed to be about peace but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t. Not then.

I didn’t know that I was loved by my Higher Power the way that I actually am. You would think I would have known, growing up a good church-going Christian girl, but I didn’t. I think I believed I was only loved fully and fiercely if I was consistently nice to the dog and every person all the time and if I didn’t do wrong things that are bad and I did another list of good things that are good. Only then. One or the other. Not both. No middle. Somehow I came to believe that life is about working toward perfection. Or at least being the most faithful and clean and light and pure and lovely and patient and wise. The most.

I got sober and with that came meetings and in them came a fresh understanding of a God that loves both the mess and the saint, the right and the wrong and the middle of me, furiously. If I really know that, it makes it kind of hard to stay so pissed off at myself all the time, for whatever I’ve done or not done or whatever I am or am not. I thought I knew about grace because it was my favorite part of my faith always, of course. But I didn’t. I had this knowing in my head that wasn’t getting through to the rest of me. The rest of me was just lying there, curled up and afraid that there was no way I could ever get it right enough. Marriage or motherhood or any thing, ever. I needed to see myself curled there and just accept me, that’s what I mean. I know it’s hard, but it’s vital.

All the things of all the days are more resentment-free when I stop resenting my very self and all of her messy human behaviors. It’s not like she-me can really just up and stop being human. How silly to think it possible. But I think I did, if I’m really being honest with me.

So friends, you asked, three years ago. And I still say I don’t know everything or much at all, but I know that first I had to stop doing the things that brought me so much shame, so out of the light, they were. Peace cannot abide in the midst of active alcoholism or killing myself slowly with cigarettes or lying to myself and others about my feelings, no matter how ugly or “wrong”.

Whatever form it comes in, this self harm–over-drinking or over-eating or over-shopping or cutting or not eating or Internet addiction or whatever–the thing is, you are still the beloved middle, still both a saint and a mess. It just feels better to be a mess who is done self-destructing, for the most part, anyway. We’re always going to be self-destructing somehow…I’m not the only one with a disease. We all have the “isms” of alcoholism. This is why there’s no such thing as perfection and I’m tired of people being told, subtly and not, that they are to strip themselves of any human mess or failing or defect and then put a lid on it, yo. Oh how impossible and oh the lengths we will go to box ourselves in, to try and try to do the things that cannot be done on our own. This is the opposite of vulnerability, this pretending and that’s not the truth. The truth is often very ugly and that is the truth for every single one of us. I wish we could just stop lying. To ourselves and each other.

Surrender and vulnerability, I think they look more like Asher and the stomach flu. We need to know, like he does–we’re going to need to rest, call out for help, throw up, move on. We’re going to think it’s time to eat and then we’ll be wrong and we will drink and it will come back up. So we’ll rest again. It just is what it is. Surrender is when we know we can not do the thing or not do the thing on our own, because oh look at that, all that trying not to be sick just wasted time and energy, acting un-sick and fine and smiling.

I’m someone who believes in this furious love kind of God and yes, He is really good at helping us heal these parts of ourselves but damn, they creep back in because of the mess of where we are and how we’re not perfect. Life pushes us down in corners and we can’t expect ourselves to never ever regress not ever.

Maybe it’s time to go easier on yourself by quitting things and starting others. Quit fighting the inevitable truths and start making choices that help you walk around with your head held high in the light. And try to remember, it’s not bad to accept yourself exactly as you are, the dark and light and the middle.

I guess what I’m saying is that now, I pet the dog, unashamed for all the times I haven’t. I used to be so hard on myself, even about this sort of thing. You’re being so unloving, so cold, so selfish…you’re not worthy…those were the messages, over any and everything. That was just the way it was, with the tools I had at the time. Now, I don’t make such a big deal, I see all of me and take a deep breath and tell even the dog that I’m sorry when I screw up. Then I tuck my feet under her for warmth and I sit amazed. That’s what we recovering addicts need to do, sit amazed at all that is still there for us, despite us and because of us.

There but for the grace of God go I…

And I still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,
When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,
And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,
If you believe in me I’ll still believe


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