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



Katherine Stone (@postpartumprog) January 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Happy birthday. So glad you’re here.

Sarah Bessey January 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Beautiful, Heather, all of it. xo

erin margolin January 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

i love you, Heather. crying reading this, and thinking about my cutting and how maybe it is more similar to what you were doing that I’d have thought. I’m a saint and a mess, too.

Powerful post. Sharing everywhere.
erin margolin recently posted..Giveaway! Strong Like Butterfly: An Anthology

Leslie January 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Happy Anniversary, Heather. Beautiful words.

Nichole January 21, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Sigh. That’s all of got. Good job, and happy anniversary.
Nichole recently posted..There’s a lot of tomato sauce in our future

Jennifer Evers January 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Amazing, powerful, raw and honest. Just like when you spoke at #BBCChicago. Thank you, again, for sharing. Thank you for making me feel not so crazy, and not so alone.
Jennifer Evers recently posted..Ten Years

Laurie January 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Happy three years. Thank you for sharing so much of what it’s been for you.

I’m living mostly in the mess right now, not a lot of hope for better going on between my ears. This helped. Thank you.
Laurie recently posted..2012 over and over again.

Jessica Ashley (Sassafrass) January 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Lifting you up in my warmest thoughts on this day of reflection and renewal and grace and getting to know and love yourself more and more. xo
Jessica Ashley (Sassafrass) recently posted..Who really tests beauty products before using them?

Schmutzie January 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own sobriety lately, two years and five months in now, and I have so much to learn about being gentle with myself and being forgiving. Thank you for reminding of that today, and that we can let go a little.
Schmutzie recently posted..Grace in Small Things: Sunday Edition #124

Schmutzie January 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Also? Happy three years!
Schmutzie recently posted..Grace in Small Things: Sunday Edition #124

Lorna Weirup January 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Congratulations!!! Your article couldn’t of come at a better time. Thank you for helping me not to take myself so seriously. It has been more like a roller coaster than a uphill trail but your faith, strength and humor always seems to inspire me at the right time. Thank you and never stop writing. : )

Alexandra January 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Yes. To the whatever isms people have. And shelter.

And turn away from. To face the mirror is to start on the road back.

To become more of who we are , not less.

Robin January 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm
Ellie January 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm

This is beautiful, Heather. Happy Sober Birthday. These words all struck me – but especially this part:

“…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”.

I struggle with the me-voice, the one that doesn’t come from God, that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m in that not-quite-perfect space and I don’t measure up. The irony? It’s my own measuring stick of pain/hurt/anger/resentment I use. Not His. I know that’s MY voice, though, and that I’m shutting God out if it’s louder than His. It’s hard, though, many days. It’s part of the roller coaster of sobriety, and life. I am having trouble embracing my messy self, pushing her away instead of embracing her, forgetting when I tell her she’s loved, the peace comes.

Thank you for your words; they soothe me and help so much.


Ellie recently posted..The Problem With Being A Liar

Robin | Farewell, Stranger January 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

A mess and a saint… I like that. I live in the middle too.

Happy 3 years.
Robin | Farewell, Stranger recently posted..Life Well Lived

designhermomma January 21, 2013 at 2:40 pm

congrats heather! Truly a mountain of an accomplishment. I’m sincerely so proud of you.
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JenniferPeterson January 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I love you!!! Happy Anniversary!!!
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Robin January 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm

You just opened the flood gates & now I’m all blubbering & shit. Happy Anniversary. This is no small feat- the sobering up of body, mind, & soul. I love your words & your spirit. Thank you for sharing.
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Shannon January 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Congrats on your three years! And thank you for the words you shared here today. Everyone needs to hear words like these at times; to take them in, internalize them, believe them. Acknowledging our light and our dark, the “saint” and “mess” parts of us, knowing that we can’t have one without the other. Your wise words warm me today.
Shannon recently posted..Lessons Learned While Walking The Dog

Laura January 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Thank you. I needed to read this today. It’s so easy to make God human in our minds… so much harder to accept unconditional love.

Jamie January 21, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Happy Three Years, Beautiful YOU!
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Trish January 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Thanks for sharing!

Kristen @ Motherese January 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Brava, Heather, and Amen! Sending love and giant hugs to the yin and yang of you and of all of us. xo
Kristen @ Motherese recently posted..This is One

Mary Lauren January 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Wonderful. Self-acceptance is such a hard thing for so many of us.

Congratulations, Heather.
Mary Lauren recently posted..The Friday Five

becky January 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Congrats on making it three years.

I so needed to see that about grace & remembering to apply it to ourselves. And about being loved for the good, the bad, and the middle, & not trying so hard to be perfect. I needed it. All of it. Thank you.
becky recently posted..Looking back on 2012

Aidan Donnelley Rowley January 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm

So gorgeous and real and important. Three years. Wow. Xox

Rebekah January 21, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I am finding myself in the middle. And for someone who has always been one extreme or the other, it is hell. But I trust it is where I will find healing.

Congrats on three years sober!
Rebekah recently posted..“It’s Okay.”

Ann January 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I was going to say how proud I am of you, but really that’s not it. I’m so grateful and in awe (in the literal sense) and relieved and so many things of who you’re becoming and that you’re letting us learn along with you with our runon sentences.

You’re amazing. The sound “maze” makes sense to me in that word in this context because it includes all of the right turns and all of the left turns too. All of the dead ends and all of the doorways. All of you, Heather. And all of us.
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Sherry Carr-Smith January 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Thank you, as always, for showing me that it can be done. And happy happy anniversary.
Sherry Carr-Smith recently posted..Let the House Hunting Begin!

Candy January 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I remember precisely the day you first wrote about your alcoholism. It made me hurt so bad for you yet I just KNEW you’d come out on the other side of that mess. And lookee you!! Such a joy, such an inspiration, such a beee-youtiful mess you are. And with backyard chickens, even! God bless you, sweet Heather.
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Leslie January 21, 2013 at 10:34 pm

This was amazing, and just what I needed to hear with what’s been in my head this week. Thank you for your openness and your ability to share.
Leslie recently posted..Give Me A Dose of Kindness; Hold the Criticism Please

Christy Mensi January 21, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Happy Birthday, Heather. I’m proud of you!

the Blah Blah Blahger January 21, 2013 at 10:59 pm

LOVELY! Congrats on a beautiful milestone.
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Glenn January 21, 2013 at 11:13 pm

How did I miss your birthday? Happy Birthday!! And happy 3rd Sober Anniversary. I have known you for over 3 years, before the light turned and you changed. I am so proud of you for all of your hard work and willingness to share with us to help us. I believe with all my heart and soul God is proud of you as well, and I think he is busy making a mansion in heaven for you to move into as soon your time comes to go there.

Elaine January 22, 2013 at 12:29 am

I read your words just nodding along, especially these… “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.”


And congratulations, my friend. Such a wonderful milestone. xo
Elaine recently posted..Nature and Ice Cream

Susan January 22, 2013 at 1:06 am

Happy Birthday – these are wonderful, live giving words — thank you.

Susan January 22, 2013 at 1:07 am

“LIFE” giving words — but I’m thinkin’ you knew that ;-)

denise January 22, 2013 at 6:55 am

Maverick, I am absolutely blown away by this post and by you. I shouldn’t be, of course, because after reading your words for as long as I have I know you have an incredible voice and ability to crack open and show us all what is inside. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, how much I wish people (myself included) would stop the “Oh yes life is grand”s and start leveling the playing field with TRUTH. Just what you’ve done here.

Much love to you–thank you for your words. xoxo
denise recently posted..This Is Childhood: TWO

Keith Palmquist January 22, 2013 at 8:51 am

Happy birthday Heather!
God bless you and your family.

Mitchell January 22, 2013 at 11:01 am

This is beautiful, Heather. And inspiring. Happy day, or day after, as it were. Thank you for sharing yourself this way.
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Deb Rox January 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm

3 is so good. So very good.

Jenny January 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm

I needed to hear this today. I can live in the middle. I am a mess and a saint. I am my own worst critic. Perfectionism just made me anxious all.the.time. If I couldn’t get it right, then I would procrastinate to justify its imperfection. The beauty is in daring.
Jenny recently posted..Journey towards strength

Kerri January 22, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Yes! Exactly what you said. I am going to re-read and re-read and hope it sinks in.

robin January 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Happy birthday. Amazing. <3
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Erin January 23, 2013 at 9:26 am

My psychologist husband often says, “It is what it is.” Congratulations on three years.

Diana Trautwein January 23, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Long, slow, loud clapping over here. BEAUTIFULLY said, Heather. And so, SO important. And so, SO true. Thank you, thank you.

Vikki January 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Your words are gorgeous…like you. Brava.
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Jeni January 25, 2013 at 5:07 am

So needed this tonight. Thank you. And happy birthday.

January January 25, 2013 at 2:49 pm

First of all congratulations. I come from a family where alcoholism is/was/is prevalent. Second of all…you are a wonderful writer. Your voice is soft yet speaks right to the soul. This is my first time visiting – thanks to Mary Lauren from Sweetbitter. I’m so happy she chose this for one of her Friday Fives.
January recently posted..Rise and Shine

Number 9 March 12, 2013 at 9:54 am

Cute dog! Just finding your blog. You’re a great writer!

rebecca @ altared spaces April 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

“We’re either doing well or we’re not. No middle. No both.” This was my experience too. So glad you found Grace.

Heather Novak July 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Thank you. THANK YOU. I’m in the middle. Your words are so powerful and wandering though really deep things….inviting us all in. Thank you.
Heather Novak recently posted..The Simple Potty Training Guide for Frustrated Parents: Booty Camp Rundown

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