Wild Air

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A semi-autobiographical account of my journey to recovery.

The Blackout.

My mouth feels, dry chalky. Full of sawdust. 

My stomach is churning on emptiness. My hip hurts, am I bruised, did I fall? I test my eyelids, one at a time. A slight flutter. Not ready to commit to meeting this day, not ready to fully open. 

An eyelid. Such a minute part of the body, that seems to be causing so much discomfort at this moment. For I have no idea what awaits me in the light of morning. Would be so nice if I could stay in oblivion. 

I cannot determine what I need. Not moving hurts. Moving also hurts. Water maybe? The thought of consuming anything is repulsive. 

Where is the duvet? I hear noises from the bathroom, Kevin must be up getting ready for work. Kevin. If I had energy to command my body I would lift my palm and cover my face. 

There is no help for it. Better to be light, my old self. If I set the tone of nonchalance surely that’s what this will be, nonchalant. No matter that I lost hours of my night. That I do not remember how I got into our bed. 

Kevin emerges from the bathroom. Light I tell myself, airy. Just another Monday morning. 

“Hey.” Testing the waters.

“Hey.” Ok, tone seems even, normal. Couldn’t be that bad.

“Man, I don’t remember much of last night.” I end on some broken laughter. It’s funny right? Who hasn’t been in this situation? Maybe more common for a 20 something instead of the 40 something mom of 2 that I am, but come on. Happens to everyone. 

“And where is our duvet?” More nervous laughter. 

Kevin makes short, clipped movements. Sock drawer, putting on his belt. Not making eye contact. Anxiety is setting in. 

He briefly pauses. “You threw up all over it, and over everything else.” His words are flat, even, emotionless. Belying the severity of the statement. Shit. 

“Penny was really worried about you. You should talk to her.” His words felt like ice water drenching my confused and weary body. What to say to make this better? “I-“ 

“Look Jen, I want to talk but I just can’t this morning, I’ve got to get to work.” I nod slowly, still taking in his words. Questioning the truth of them but having no evidence to refute their legitimacy. 

I lost the time. My husband spent all night cleaning up my vomit, and my daughter is worried about me. Happens to everyone right?

We can’t go back, we can only move forward. 

One of my instructors in grad school always said, “It’s not what you did, it’s what you do after you did what you did that counts.” Yes, good philosophy that one. Energy focused on forward movement. 

But this ache in my chest and gut is keeping me halted, stuck in this time, in this, I don’t even know what to call it, incident? An incident is something you remember though. It has markers of a beginning, ending, and in between. Pretty sure that’s the very definition of an incident. I have no markers, I have no in between. 

And on some level, although I can’t fully allow myself to absorb this, I am terrified. I don’t remember hours of my life. I have no idea what I said or did, I don’t remember emptying the contents of my stomach all over our bedroom. I have a large bruise on my thigh, and I could not say how it came to be. 

This is only as bad as I make it. Perception is everything. Let’s reframe this. I’ve been under a lot of stress, I’m a working mom of 2, dealing with grief and loss. So, I had a glass of wine too many. I’m sure it’s probably just because I didn’t eat enough, didn’t drink enough water in between. I needed to blow off some steam. Sure, maybe I got a little carried away, happens to everyone right

This is any other Monday morning. 

I don’t feel my best, but I am still up, getting the kids breakfast. 

It’s any other Monday morning. 

Penny comes bleary eyed down the stairs. I set the emotional tone, they will react to my response. It’s any other Monday morning. “Morning love, toast or eggs, did you sleep good?”

She sits, not immediately responding which is normal. She is slow to talk in the mornings. 

“No”, she says, “I didn’t sleep good.” 

She frowns, staring at the kitchen counter. Doodling on it with her finger. 

“Mommy why were you bumping into everything last night. What happened to you?” 

She sounded confused, she sounded, God help me, scared. Unlike me, she can give words to the terror I am feeling inside but not willing to let show. What happened to me last night? Indeed.

She added another frigid layer to the ice laden words Kevin threw at me this morning. As much I want to will it so, perhaps, just perhaps, this is not like any other Monday morning after all. 

2 years earlier. The Beginning of the End. 

A new text comes in from mom. A photo of a beautiful sunrise, “His Mercies are New Every Morning” she writes. Aw mom. 

I heart it. And respond, “Yes they are! Love you!” 

She has no need to know the truth right now. Which is I do love her deeply but can’t say I’m in full agreement with her sentiment. I’ve accepted, sometimes it really is ok to tell people what they want to hear. 

“How are you feeling? Can’t wait to see you!” I send hearts and praying hands emojis.

She responds, “I am OK. I am grateful for this morning and can’t wait to see you soon my beautiful daughter. Love you my precious Jenny.”

OK means she feels like shit, but she never cusses. I know she feels terrible. But I also know, that she really is grateful. She is too good, too pure a soul. She sends sun and flower emojis. 

She had a mastectomy a year ago. We were told they caught it early. Mastectomies happen every day. She, we, would get through this. The first time I saw her after the surgery, I knew. I just knew. No amount of positive thinking, visualizing, telling ourselves what we wanted it to be would change what it was.

The diagnosis came the day I ordered invitations for she and dad’s 50th

They were quite lovely. 2 photos side by side, one from their first date. My dad gave my mom a corsage to pin to her dress. They had ridiculously happy smiles on their faces, full of the hope and awkwardness that only comes with youth. The other photo is recent, they are sitting side by side. The same ridiculous smiles. The caption states, “They still do.” 

All the more reason to celebrate this milestone. They have been through so much together, the best is yet to come.

I went with her to her first MRI. The receptionist asked her what her diagnosis was, “breast cancer” she said in a hushed tone, averting her eyes. Like the words carried too much weight to be spoken aloud. She stripped out of her clothes and took off all her jewelry. It’s a shock to see her naked fingers. I don’t think I have ever seen her without her rings, of which she has several she wears every day. Dad loves to buy them for her. It was almost like that was the first thing the cancer took from her, a part of her identify, of how she saw herself. How she was seen by others. Mom loves her rings. 

The day of her mastectomy dad said he needed help with mom’s drain tubes. Ok. Of course. I can do this. The tubes need to be gently squeezed to empty the drainage. We need to watch the amount of fluid, there should be some but not too much. What’s too little and what’s not enough, did they say? Make sure you’re applying pressure the right way, we don’t want to trap air. Make sure to secure the drains. I mean these things are inside her body, does it hurt her when they are handled? It all sounds pretty fatalistic if something is not done right. Shouldn’t someone with medical training be helping with this? 

Her pain is more than we expected. It’s hard for her to move. Walking is hard. Why is walking hard? I make her get up and walk every couple hours. I know she doesn’t want to. But she never says no. She leans heavily on me for support. “Each day is going to get a little better.” I tell her. She smiles, and nods, “you’re right Jenny, got to keep moving.” It worries me that if I didn’t make her, maybe she wouldn’t get up. But I need her to keep moving. 

I see the pink ribbons everywhere. We have whole events dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness. It’s all around us. The pervasiveness of that pink ribbon somehow engenders a commonplace quality to the disease. It’s routine. 

Nothing about this feels routine. 

We caught it early right? Surgery is done, biggest hurdle crossed. 

Looks like the cancer spread more than they first thought. They didn’t think they needed to do chemo but now they want to start right away. Mom doesn’t want to do chemo. She doesn’t want to put poison in her body.

She wants to do natural infusions of high levels of vitamins meant to target cancer. I watch documentaries, I read the testimonials. People are healed with these natural treatments. She is pioneering her own path. 

The latest scans look good, this seems to be working, her body is responding. 

And then one day, dad never woke up. Died in his sleep of a stroke. The 50th anniversary invitations still sit in a box, in a closet. 

A couple weeks after dad’s death, we were watching Hallmark movies on the couch, mom’s choice. She loves them. We’ve both agreed denial is good for us at this time. 

She says, “You know those nice firemen that came to the house for dad?” 

“Yes mom, I remember them.” 

“They were so kind” she said, “so patient. I would really like to find a way to thank them. Could you find their number so I can call and thank them? Nobody probably ever says thank you.” 

“Sure mom, I’ll find the number.” 

We are celebrating mom’s birthday tomorrow, but tonight we are out with friends. I’m drinking and laughing. Is it wrong?

I need to be up early tomorrow, but I ask for more wine. Feels good to forget, to pretend tomorrow won’t happen. I wake up with a headache, I feel dehydrated and somehow no amount of water is helping. We’re taking mom out for lunch. No one gets her gifts, everyone gets cards. We got the news a month ago, the cancer spread. A lot. She’s in pain. Hospice is coming now. 

Mom is mostly in a wheelchair. My daughters Penny and Marin like to take turns pushing her. 

Sometimes the morphine helps, sometimes it doesn’t. She wanted to wait to take the morphine today, she wanted to remember. 

She has a pile of birthday cards. Such a clear implicit statement. We don’t know how much longer she will be here. And she doesn’t want gifts. 

Later, she asks to talk to me in her closet. “There are some things I want you to have Jenny, it’s important to me.” 

“Mom, no, you know they said there’s time still and with your infusions-“ She interrupts me with a soft hand on my cheek. 

“Sometimes it feels as though my body is slipping away.” 

Part of me wants to shake her and say, “well with that attitude I’m sure it won’t be long!” Doesn’t she know attitude is everything, it feels like she’s giving up. I hate that I blame her for this somehow. 

That’s why they call it a battle dammit, because it requires a fight. A fight she seems to want no part of. 

She starts sorting through her jewelry, her vintage Cinderella watch she’s had since 1958, a ring from her grandfather, necklaces from dad. I want to tell her to stop this madness, I don’t need any of it, I don’t want any of it. But she is emphatic, desperate almost as she relinquishes these artifacts.

She looks at me through bright, tired eyes. Her smile takes up the whole of her small face. “You are the best daughter I could’ve ever asked for, Jenny you are an angel.” 

Don’t mom, don’t. I’m none of the things you think I am. 

Help for the Helper

I’m a mental health therapist. Ironic I know. But therapists have problems too. It seems right to say that therapists have just learned how to better manage their problems, but in my case that would an untruth. So, I am “taking a break” from seeing clients. This break has lasted 4 years. 

I’m a utilization reviewer for inpatient psychiatry. When people admit to our hospital psych units, I contact their insurance to request authorization for their inpatient stay. I basically ask insurance companies to pay our hospital for what we do. 

It’s neat and tidy if not tedious. Things fit in boxes. I know when my work is done at the end of the day, even if I haven’t been successful. I need things to fit in boxes right now.

I read through psychiatry assessments all day long. Nothing shocks me. People engage in all manner of odd, reckless, and unhygienic behaviors in episodes of psychosis or major depression. 

What does stir me though are the times when it’s clear that these very strange things people do, are, in their deluded minds, meant to somehow relieve or fix the agony they’re in. The voices tell them if they cut their wrists and bleed out, that will somehow catapult peace in the Middle East. People engage in excessive head banging, or worse take power tools to themselves to, “make the fuzzies go away.” At the end of the day, aren’t we all just trying to find a way to feel better?

I like the containment my work brings me. People are words on a page. I like having this space. I ready myself to complete a review. I read through the assessment. 43 year old female. 3 kids. Her mom’s in hospice care for cancer. Suicidal thoughts to end her life by OD’ing on meds. Arrived at the ER intoxicated. Upon sobering, continues to endorse suicidal thoughts, but denies intent to carry out her plan because she cares about her kids. We admit her to our unit because we believe a brief stay and stabilization on meds will return her to “baseline” level functioning.

Baseline functioning. Sometimes it’s just too much to hope for people to thrive. Better to keep our expectations realistic. Getting her back to baseline level functioning will not, however, take away her mom’s cancer.

Just words on a page I tell myself.

I call in to complete the authorization request. I talk to a “care advocate” named Bev. Bev and I go way back, we have a solid working relationship. 

I provide the demographics for this patient. When people who need mental health care come to a hospital they are no longer called “clients”, they are “patients.” I get to the presenting problem and reason for admission.

“So, she denies intent to carry out her plan to end her life?” Bev asks. 

“That’s correct” I reply, “But she has access to meds to carry out her plan and numerous stressors, as well as her substance use and lack of social support.” 

I feel the first signs of defensiveness. 

“Right” Bev states. “But I guess I’m just not seeing the imminent risk, it sounds like she has protective factors in her kids. Does she have a history of attempts?” 

“Well no.” Isn’t that more of a red flag in this case? It must be really bad for a mom of 3 who has never contemplated ending her life to do so now. 

“Has an intensive outpatient program been explored?” Bev, the care advocate asks. Intensive outpatient is a day treatment program, patients come to group therapy all day, five days a week.

“No, that option has not been explored as she is the primary caregiver for her 3 kids as well as her dying mother.” I cannot hide the bite in my words. My pulse is elevating. 

“Hmmm, you know I’m sorry Jen, but I think I need to deny this one for not meeting criteria. You’re welcome to request an appeal.”

Not meeting criteria. 

Because she’s not a middle-aged white male with access to firearms? This is the demographic we worry most about; men are more likely than women to be successful at ending their lives the research tells us. Not meeting criteria because she has 3 kids and a mom who need her? 

I have a strong reaction to that phrase “not meeting criteria.” 

Who gets to decide who’s worthy enough to have a legitimate breakdown? Apparently this girl didn’t make the cut. She’s just functional enough. Dammit why couldn’t she just tell the fucking truth? She probably does have intent to end her life, she probably thinks about it off and on all day. In between doing the dishes and giving mom morphine. But she knew she couldn’t really say that, what kind of mom would that make her? What kind of daughter would that make her?

I’m sweating. My throat feels choked. It’s hard to make words come out. “Ok.” I state, “we will appeal.” I hang up. It’s not Bev’s fault, I know. She’s just the messenger. 

I had a dream last night that I said fuck in front of my kids. Not in an accidental, under my breath kind of way. It was unmistakable, intentional, clear. 

In my dream they didn’t acknowledge it at all, they were eating breakfast and they just kept on eating. No reaction whatsoever. No sign of curiosity or question. In my dream I had an inner conflict. Do I acknowledge what I said? And explain that even though I said it, it’s really not ok, or appropriate, or good or whatever? But then if I explain it, I’ve given them knowledge of this word that they didn’t have before. By trying to teach them what’s right, I’ve opened their minds to something that’s wrong. Or do I just let them keep on eating, pretend it never happened? Almost like, acknowledging I said it would cement the reality that the word actually came out of my mouth. And maybe, just maybe, not calling attention to it would smooth over the wet pavement, make the fact cease to exist. 

As is typical in dreams, I woke up before there was any resolution. But I was glad it was just a dream. 

The Slow Fade 

We have an around the clock caregiver now. Mom is mainly wheelchair bound. One evening we are helping her get off the couch, to the wheelchair, to get her to the bed. It sounds so simple, just getting up to go to bed. But it is anything but simple. Each one of these movements requires careful effort from my mom, myself, and the caregiver. There is no “just getting up and going to bed.” She stands, unsteadily. 

“Ok mom just a few steps and pivot, the chair is right behind you.”

“I can’t move my feet.” She says. “It’s the strangest thing.”

She can’t move her feet, I think, is it the morphine? Does she not trust us enough to support her weight? I confess sometimes I think she could be more mobile, but I wonder if she’s scared, scared to fall, scared that we might not be able to stop her if that happened. She doesn’t trust her body anymore. 

To my very deep shame, I feel frustration. But I put on my patient voice. “It’s ok mom, this foot. Do you feel me touching this foot, you just need to pick it up and move it where I guide it.” I can move her foot for her, but I need her to lift it. I try to help. Her foot won’t budge. 

“I can’t move my feet.” She says again.

She spends the night on the couch. We try several more times. I doze off and on next to her. The hospice nurse comes in the morning.

“This is the disease process.” The nurse says. “This is the time when all her care from now on happens in the bed.” 

In the bed. From now on. We all know what “on” means. What bed? We can’t get her into her bedroom. The nurse will order us a hospital bed, it will be there today. 

After we make an awkward transfer to the hospital bed, which is set up in the living room, Mom immediately tries to get up. She can’t get out of bed, we can no longer help her get out of bed. She can’t move her feet. But her mind seems to have forgotten this and she continues to move her upper body forward, trying to get up.

I remind her, mom you can’t get up right now. It’s not safe. She doesn’t seem to understand. Her words aren’t making much sense. This is the disease process.

The hospice pamphlet says that in the last days or weeks before death, people may talk about taking a trip, they will feel the urge to go somewhere. Restlessness. Several times an hour she lifts her torso, I remind her she needs to stay in the bed, she’s safe in the bed. She lays back down. We do this again 10 minutes later. 

She’s taking Ativan, the nurse says it will help her breathing. This is a mental health medication meant to help with anxiety. Is mom anxious? She’s not oriented enough to tell me. We have a phrase we use in regard to patients with Dementia, or psychosis. “Exit seeking.” Patients wander the unit, trying to find a way out. To me this behavior has always been a perfect metaphor for the illness. People are just trying to escape what they’ve found themselves in. They are just trying to find a way out. 

She’s not eating or drinking. We offer her water, she appears to choke. This is also the disease process we are told.

She speaks mumbled words. Her eyes look past me. We are told eyesight is the first to go. But hearing remains, mom should always be able to hear us, up until the end. How do they know that? Is this what they tell the dying person’s family as a means of comfort?

I tell her I love her often, she mumbles back to me. She stares beyond me and smiles gently. She lifts her hand repeatedly, she appears to be pointing at something. What does she see that we do not?

She says over and over again that there is a hole in the ceiling. “There’s no hole in the ceiling mom, the ceiling looks great.”

Maybe she really does see a hole in the ceiling. Maybe that is the opening that is calling her away from us. 

She is fading, moment by moment. Death, in this case, is not one event in which she was here as herself and then gone. She is slipping away, grain by gradual grain. The sand moves slow in this hourglass. Each passing particle widens the space between us, she, moving in the opposite direction. And we can’t stop gravity. It’s a law of nature. Her eyes grow glassier, her face paler, her nonsensical speech barely a whisper. 

Sometimes I feel as though my body is slipping away. Exit seeking. 

It feels like she is gone before we have lost her. And now we are simply waiting. 

My brother arrives, we are not close. He is older than me, and we have very little in common. We’ve always been different, and we seem to lack a sense of shared history that bonds siblings together in times such as this. 

But I know he loves her, and I love her too. And we are losing her.

He is sitting on one side of her bed, I on the other. Her breathing takes on a new, labored quality. Her eyes close. It’s as though her whole body is working on only trying to capture breath, her mouth is wide open struggling to take in air. I reach for my brother’s hand. I squeeze it. For all we don’t have in common, we have this, this moment. 

And then, her breathing slows. Methodically. One breath. Pause. We are watching, waiting. Another breath, pause. This continues. It’s silent, except for her painfully diminished, troubled respiration. More waiting, urging the next breath to come. And it doesn’t. She is gone. The space between us complete, solidified. She has moved to the other side. She has found her exit. 

Alone and Adrift 

Is it possible to feel like an orphan as an adult? An orphan is a child whose parents are dead. I am not a child, but I feel very alone. My parents died within 5 months of each other.

I think mom was looking for her exit as soon as dad found his. 

At her memorial service people offer a multitude of condolences, for both she and dad. It’s impossible to not think of one without the other.

We all repeat the same narratives to each other over and over, to somehow make this better, “they are out of suffering”, “they are at peace”, “they are together.” Of all of these the last is what gives me a shred of comfort, for I do picture them together. Although this thought also brings with it the notion that mom left me intentionally to go be with dad. Even if that were true, could I blame her really? 

I am anxious at the church. It’s a memorial service for my mom, but the reality is I’m the host for this event. Guests need to be greeted and hugged, the church staff have questions that need to be answered. I keep feeling in my purse to make sure I still have my notes for when I speak. Penny and Marin are running up and down the halls. I am wound as tightly as can be. And I’m just hoping I can stay coiled for a bit longer. 

We drop roses in her grave site. The girls love this. After everyone attending has dropped their roses, Penny and Marin both go back and take turns dropping in the remainders. 

At the lunch after the service, I ask for wine right away. I am imagining the first crisp, effervescent sip of my Sauvignon Blanc, and I can almost feel my inner spring begin to uncoil. There are too many feelings to feel right now, and I just need them all to quiet down. 

The Monday after her service I am walking the girls into school. I see another mom I talk to sometimes, very casually, superficially. 

“How was your weekend?" She asks.

What a fucking loaded question. She has no idea. I do not blame her. I have an internal struggle with what to say. I land on “Fine”, “How about yours?” 

She had a great weekend, she and her family went to the beach.

I walk the halls, noticing all the other kids and parents I pass by. Smiling, saying “Good Morning.” Realizing that none of these people know our lives have been changed forever. 

Later in the week I’m picking Marin up from kindergarten. The girls’ teachers know what’s happened. Kids don’t have the same hang-ups talking about death that adults do. Penny and Marin freely tell people, “our nana and papa are dead.” When I tell Penny’s teacher about the loss of my mom she asks, “were you close?” 

“Yes” I respond. “Oh, I’m so sorry” she says. Would she not be sorry if we weren’t close? Are people who are not close to their parents not allowed the same sympathies, or the same permission to grieve? 

I enter the school and see Marin’s class walking in a line out of their classroom. Marin is holding the teacher’s hand. I wonder what this means.

The teacher makes eye contact with me and mouths “I need to talk to you.”

I wait there, while all the other parents pick their kids up, Marin being the only one left. Marin stands by me but is distracted. She found something of interest on the floor and is tracing it with her foot. 

Her teacher starts with “We had a rough day.” She explains that someone was using a pair of scissors Marin wanted. Marin could not wait for the scissors. She cried and could not stop crying. “It seems like her anxiety has really increased this past month.”

I feel in this moment that I am watching this conversation outside myself, almost like this is a scene from a bad tv show. I’m just in such disbelief.

“Well” I start, “we went to my mom’s memorial service this past weekend” I remind her, “and we lost my dad 5 months earlier. It’s been a difficult year.” She knows all this. Dammit I feel the tears start. I do not want to be vulnerable right now, I need to shore up my defenses. I hate that she is making me explain. This is a five-year-old who lost two grandparents within 5 months of each other and maybe her mom is not ok. Why couldn’t you just find a way to get her the damn scissors? For fuck’s sake. 

Worse yet, I see her eyes start to water. Though, she does not acknowledge a word of what I said. Maybe it’s too much for her? She probably has no idea what to say.

“A coping skills box might help?” She suggests. 

Yes. A coping skills box. Yes. Great idea, I say, and thank her. I probably need one too. 

I attend Penny’s first grade school conference. She is not meeting expectations in any of her subject areas. She needs to know 60 sight words by the end of next quarter. “Really she just needs to memorize them” her teacher says, “flashcards help.” Of course, flashcards. 

Not meeting expectations, why does this feel as much my report card as it is hers?

I go to Marin’s kindergarten conference. Marin is obsessed with rainbows. Pages and pages of rainbow drawings, always in perfect color order. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple she will gladly tell you, and demonstrate. 

Her teacher shows me her writing throughout the year so far, and of course, rainbows are her interest of choice. 

The teacher says they’d really like her to “expand her writing and explore a variety of topics.” 

Other than rainbows. 

The teacher shares that one day she tried to get Marin to write about her weekend. Marin said that we went out to a restaurant and she had mac and cheese and apple juice. She described her kids’ menu and the crayons they gave her to color. Then, Marin informed her teacher, while she was eating her mac and cheese, she looked outside the window, and wouldn’t you know? There was a rainbow.

It seems none of us are meeting expectations this year. 

My friends and family who know what’s happened do their best to be kind. They ask me how I’m doing. Of course, it’s a struggle, I tell them, but I always feel the need to end on a “but”. But I’m glad they are not suffering, but I’m glad it’s over, but at least there’s lots of distractions. Yes, I’m doing lousy, but really, I’m not that bad off don’t worry too much, don’t feel too sad for me. Don’t be too nice to me because I don’t know how to handle it and it makes me cry more tears that I just don’t have. 

I’m quiet around Kevin. I don’t want to talk because I don’t want to feel. He says I am shutting him out. I don’t know how to help him understand, if I let him in, I don’t think I would be able to hold myself together, and I don’t think he would be able to either. 

Then, people simply stop asking me how I’m doing. 

It’s done now. They’ve moved on. My parent’s deaths are in the past tense. 

Not for me though. Every new milestone faced without them is like re-experiencing their loss anew. Kind of like a movie you’ve seen more than once, it’s the same movie but you notice something different every time. Although this particular storyline has no resolution, it leaves you feeling empty, confused, and most of all angry with the screenwriter. More so with each viewing. 

My birthday comes around. My parents always called on my birthday, they sang to me in unison. The whole song, all the way through. Never failed. 

Every single birthday. 

How selfish that this would be the hardest day, not their birthdays, their anniversary, or even Christmas. I guess it reminds me that I’ve lost the people who possibly loved me more unconditionally than anyone. The people who thought I was great, who saw the best in me even when I was far from it. They made me feel like I was deserving of their view of me when I wasn’t at all. And I believed them, even though I knew they saw me through tainted lenses. With their loss I feel as if I’ve also lost part of myself. 

We are having friends over tonight. I am busy cleaning, getting ready. I am anxious. I have a glass of wine before they come to mellow out. Just one, to ease into the evening. Our friends arrive and the wine begins flowing freely. I ensure no one’s glass is empty. I want others to drink as much as I do. 

I don’t eat much when I drink. They say you should eat to help absorb the alcohol, but “they” obviously don’t know the reasons I drink. Why would I do anything to compromise my inebriation? 

I monitor how much wine is left in the bottle to strategically time when to open another one. If I take the liberty to open a new bottle, I know it gives others the nudge to keep drinking with me. “I just opened it! Don’t make me drink it by myself!” Even though I knew I could. They want to keep drinking, I tell myself, doesn’t everyone? They just need the invitation do to so, to know it’s ok. I am gladly willing to provide this. 

I see myself as the great permission giver, both to myself and to those around me. I provide the entry for escape that I desperately crave, and assume that others want with equal fervor. Never once do I consider that there are those who would not jump on the chance to transport themselves, even for just a little bit, to some other internal place that is not their present circumstances.

Kevin switches to water, so do our friends. I feel a sharp pang of disappointment. The water glass symbolizes the end of my reprieve, my escape is over. 

The girls have fallen asleep on the couch, Kevin puts them to bed. 

I try “drinking in moderation”. To me this really just means the difference between being a little drunk vs a lot drunk. And in my mind once I’ve started running down the hill best to not mess with momentum, better to let it just carry me on and away. 

I find myself feeling saddened when I need to take the girls to activities on weekend afternoons. I like to start Sundays with mimosas, and it’s harder to do that when they have girl scout meetings.

I tell myself I deserve a glass of wine on Tuesday at 3pm. I just finished a hard day at work, I’ll need to start thinking about dinner soon. So much more pleasant of a task with a few glasses of wine. Really, I am more fun as a mom with a little alcohol. 

Any occasion becomes an occasion to drink. It’s raining and we’re stuck inside? Perfect day for cider and whiskey. The first 70 degree of day of spring, time for sparkling rose. My kids’ birthday party, of course there will be beer and wine. How would we survive without it?

I have friends who only drink certain drinks because they don’t like beer, or don’t drink hard liquor. This makes no sense to me, there is no form of alcohol off the table. You mean you can go to a brewery and just not drink beer because you don’t like it? I myself tend to make my selection based on ABV, the higher the better. 

I wake up many, ok maybe most days hungover. Sick. I never admit how sick I feel. Especially to Kevin. I can’t allow anyone to see that alcohol might be something other than a positive force in my life. I’ve already lost so much, I can’t lose this too.

After the Blackout. Monday Morning. 

“It’s not what you did, it’s what you do after you did what you did that counts.” 

I am realizing that this is not any other Monday morning. 

How badly I want to brush this off, chalk it up to a fluke and just pretend it didn’t happen. Something inside is not letting me, it’s growing to the point of bursting and I somehow sense there is no way to relieve this pressure without some kind of drastic measure. The abscess needs to be drained. It will be painful. It’s no longer allowing me to pretend like it’s not there. 

 “Mommy why were you bumping into everything last night. What happened to you?” Penny’s words are on repeat in my mind.

I pick she and Marin up from school. Penny is off. She is teary. She says she is tired. I ask her how her day was. “I missed you.” She says. 

She missed me. Somehow, I don’t think she means she missed the drunk, hungover me. Although I know she doesn’t have the words to say this. I have a suspicion it’s the me before all this who she misses. 

I know I can’t change the fact that my parents died. But alas, “It’s not what you did, it’s what you do after you did what you did that counts.” 

The truth comes crashing in like a flood. Destroying all of my protective barriers that keep my drinking safe. I realize, I either stop or die.

And maybe it wouldn’t be an actual, physical death. But a kind of death, nonetheless. 

What scares me the most, even more than admitting I need to stop, is that I don’t know if I can. Can I let go of this? An illusion I know but it’s kept me safe from so much, safe from all the feelings I don’t want to feel. But I know, with a kind of very deep knowing. Stop or die. 

My mom prayed all the time. She went to church several times a day, to light candles for me, for Kevin, the girls, and pray for us. The thing is, she told me that she did this, she told me she prayed for us every day, but she really meant it, it was the truth.

I wish mom were alive to pray for me right now, because I know she would. I guess this means I need to pray for myself. Ok.

I find myself asking for help. Internally. “Please help me.” That’s about all I can manage. But I pray that hundreds of times a day “please, please help me.” It’s my mantra, over and over.

Sobriety doesn’t enter my life like a freight train. It seems to be gliding in on a gentle landing. 

It’s each moment I am deciding not to drink. And I start gluing each of these moments together, the moments I am deciding not to drink. These moments combine to form one day, then the next day, and then the next. 

Each quiet decision to not drink, made again, and again, and again.

The shame is the worst. It is real, and ever present. I hate remembering what it felt like to wake up after blacking out, to hear my daughter’s terrified questions of me. To remember my desperation to drink at my mom’s memorial service. But I find that each of these patchwork sober moments I’m attaching piece by piece are covering the shame, also piece by piece. 

I don’t like feeling my anxiety, my sadness, my grief. Frustration. I am quickly realizing that I thought giving up the alcohol would be the only step. But I think it was just the first step. The first step in confronting the things I told myself when I wanted a drink, the reasons I gave myself for why I thought I needed a drink. 

There is so much unknown about what my life will look like without alcohol. This is uncharted territory. Can I socialize with friends and not drink? I don’t know. I never have in most of my adult life. 

How will the sober me be perceived, accepted? 

My first social event without alcohol, and no one commented on my lack of drinking. It just was. It was different to be present. To wake up not hungover. 

The weekend afternoons are the hardest. What do sober people do at 4pm on a Saturday? I guess they go for walks and bike rides, play a game with their kids. Do yoga. And they definitely go to bed early. 

There are things I miss about my drinking self. I miss my uninhibited jokes and laughter. I miss the devil may care attitude it gave me, how it made the nights seem endless. But there’s lots, I find, I don’t miss. I don’t miss the insecurity I felt the morning after, not knowing what all I said or did. Sending apology texts to friends as a preemptive strike in case I happened to make an ass of myself. I don’t miss waking up sick. I don’t miss canceling plans we had the next morning because I overslept and was hungover. I don’t miss having to repeatedly explain to the girls why they can’t try mommy’s “grown up drink.” 

I was so worried about the loss of alcohol from my life, but what I didn’t realize, is that it took from me far more than it ever gave. 

I think about the tightly wound coil inside myself, that would curl and wind more and more when I anticipated a drink. I always thought that I needed the alcohol to loosen the spring, to gain some space, to find my breathing room. I firmly believed that drinking allowed me to remain in my body. But I’m learning that I myself created that coil. I allowed it to take shape within myself, my mind allowed it to wind itself over and over, and on my own, I made the choice to appoint alcohol as the only possible remedy. Over and over I taught myself, as my insides curled together that the only solution was a drink. 

But wait, if I created the coil, could it be that I have the ability to loosen it, within myself? If I am the engineer of this faulty spring system, is it not true that I am also the one who is the most skilled to be able to fix it? 

A few weeks into my sobriety, Kevin, the girls and I head to the beach for a hike. A rugged, rocky, remote part of coastline. We get nearer and nearer to the beach. The view is breathtaking. Towering cliffs, a scene that seems untouched by time and progress. But the tide is in, and there’s really no safe way to get down to the beach. There are rocks right below us on the path, which Kevin starts leading Penny and Marin down. 

“I don’t think that’s really safe.” I say. “Not sure I feel comfortable with you doing that.” 

“They’ll be fine” Kevin says. 

They are on the rocks beneath me. Waves are crashing below. One misstep. That’s all it would take, one misstep and they would be gone. I panic, my chest tightens, I feel tears, I ask them to come back. I’m allowing my inner coil to wind and wind like a snake that is choking the life from my lungs. Kevin is taking photos. I turn around, I just can’t look. I can’t even watch. I contemplate heading back up the trail because I just can’t be here in this moment, in this feeling, in my own skin. 

Then, I hear their voices behind me, they are heading back up the rocks. They are safe. They came back to me. They didn’t leave me. The coil gives an inch. 

I am not alone. 

I breathe deeply. I expel all the worried fearful air out of my body. “I would always keep them safe Jenny” Kevin says. They are safe. A gradually loosening. 

We find a spot to sit, I feel myself start to calm. And we take in the view.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” That day, I drank my fill of wild air. To the point of delicious intoxication. I let it fill the space my unwound body provided. 

One afternoon, walking Penny and Marin home from school, they were creating big plans to run a farm together. They talked about all the animals they will raise and named each of them. The firm decision was made for them to live in separate houses, but still on the same property. Marin wants to be a builder and agreed to build each of them a house, but seemingly daunted by her future task she informed Penny “you need to make sure there are enough snacks, because I will need a lot of snacks.” Penny put her arm around Marin and said, “It’s ok Marin, you’re just going to take it day by day.” 

Day by day. Drink the wild air. Day by day. Let it fill the space inside me, space I didn’t allow before. 

My dad always called me kid. Whether I was 5 or 35. How’re you doing kid? Did you change the oil in the car kid? How much did that new job offer you, you negotiated that right, never take the first offer kid. He taught me how to drive a stick shift when I was 15. The car had no power steering. After hundreds of stalls I finally got it to into first with a swift jerky motion that gave us both whip lash. When we got back and went to get out of the car, you could see the outline of my sweat on the leather seat. But he was so damn proud of me, “way to go kid.” 

And so goes my new life. Fits and starts, not nearly as smooth as I’d like. But every day I manage to get it into first. Every day I make the choice to not drink. Sometimes that inner coil wants to tighten up, but day by day, I drink the wild air. Through my sweat and tears. Oh dad, I hope you can see. I know you’d say, “way to go kid.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: July 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Kels Lynn. All rights reserved.

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