Saturday afternoon. The dog and I are cozy on the couch, and I am on nearly the last chapter of The Girl on the Train. The kids are playing out back, and as I turn pages I sigh happily because I am finally going to find out the truth behind all the wacko suspense in this book. And then, I hear it. Cue my own scary suspense music. The back door slams, and Charlie, my seven-year-old antagonist, clomps in. I eye him, over page 298, and slowly sink down lower into the couch cushions. Undeterred, he leans his sweaty self over me, pushes down my beloved book, and says, “Mom? Can you come play ball?”
I had made a promise to myself, long ago, that I would be the mom that plays catch in the back yard. I would promote healthy play and sunshine and all that. Right now, I really regret that promise.
And then the scene develops even more tension, as I head outside and take in the glorious weather. The sun tilts through white, puffy clouds and the backyard is filled with the scent of grapey lilacs. I can hear the lawnmowers from two houses over.
All this springtime glory just makes me want to run back inside for my book.
And, also, for a drink.
Each day, as I wake up, I am grateful to be sober. I am grateful to be encountering my mornings without hangovers and regrets and shame. I find that life has more color and flavor now. It’s as if sobriety offers a daily farmer’s market of choices and sensations, as opposed to what is sealed behind plastic wrap in the grocer’s aisle. But sobriety still presents me with some challenges, and right now, one of them is spring.
Spring means gardens and growth and renewal, all thing vigorous and squeaky clean. It is the poster child for all things virtuous.
But, evidently, spring also means a margarita over rocks, or a tall beer after working up a sweat in the garden. For me, springtime skipped over good intentions long ago and had me at a crisp Pinot gris. I don’t know why, but no other season seems to beckon to me more seductively. I always fight the warmer weather as a sign to relax, kick back and relapse.
So, as I stood outside with my son and all my demons, I did what some would say is cowardice. For me, it was the next right thing. I abandoned my sons and headed straight for my laundry room.
This is not a tale of terrible parenting. It is a tale of survival. My laundry room is tiny, rather damp and strewn with clothes. But for some reason when I first got sober, the laundry room was Ground Zero for my recovery. Perhaps this was because the floor was always covered with ample piles of clothing, thus providing a soft place to collapse and pray. I would sit, cry and wipe snot all over the husband’s shirts, and then take a deep breath and go about my day. It was a common occurrence for me to disappear in there multiple times a day in the early months. Not much laundry got done, but I stayed sober, so it was a fair trade-off.
And so, on this sparkling spring morning, I once again shut myself into this cramped space for some heated discussion with my Higher Power. Triggers happen. Life happens. But, the fact that spring with all its fuzzy bunnies and color would make me want to jump back into addiction, shame and struggle again was troubling.
But here is weird truth: happiness makes me want to drink. Recently, I have faced illness, stress, money issues, and colossal fights with my husband, and with each dire situation my thoughts of drinking were fleeting, if not absent altogether. Even my children, who I admit in the early months of recovery could launch a two-fold tantrum attack against my mental health that would make me long for wine, do not trigger me. Granted, their behavior is no less nutty these days, but I have learned to manage the stress of wailing children, of being uncomfortable or angry. I am ready for those things. I have a plan.
What I didn’t have a plan for was green grass and blue skies. They were killing me.
Recovery has taught me many lessons, but the toughest one, by far, is that sometimes it is hard for me to be happy. I need to relearn this emotion and try to process it in a way that is healthy, not laden with expectations. I fear happiness for two reasons. I need it to stay, at all costs. And, when it was gone, I fear it will never come back.
“Come on,” Spring says to me, “You need to celebrate! Warm weather! Fluffy clouds! And you know, the only real way to be happy is with the good stuff. You can’t just be happy. You need to be BIG happy. You might be miserable tomorrow! So, let’s toast!”
By now, I had Serenity Prayed myself out of the laundry room and back into the backyard. My two boys eyed me, baseball bats in hand, like wary gladiators. I sighed heavily, and grabbed a ball. I would survive the fluffy clouds and sunlight, but I was not going to be happy about it.
And then I remembered a time, long ago, on a similar sunny morning when I watched my children playing in the backyard. I had with me a book about something spiritual and my ever present glass of wine. I was probably working on my third glass by then, and a warm, dulling glow had descended on my day. I remembered thinking, “This is the life.” But then I sat in the memory a bit longer. “The life” then turned into a shuffling fatigue that harnessed me at that table. I didn’t play with the boys. I didn’t read. I was about as blocked from spiritual things as a kinked garden hose. I just slowly turned into a Mom Lump at the picnic table, and the rest of the day? Forgotten. Certainly not a celebration. Certainly not happiness, either.
A friend in recovery told me to always be grateful, for the good and the bad of it. So, as I pitched to my boys, I thanked my Higher Power for my boys’ laughter as they swung and missed at four million wobbly pitches. And I realized too that Charlie and Henry didn’t seem to mind the endless practice and strike outs. They just wanted to play. They kept trying.
And I thanked my HP for the bad of it. The neurotic twists of my brain. The fears that keep bubbling up. The triggers that still creep and pounce on me, after all these years in recovery.
I watched both boys squeal and laugh as they yet again missed the pitch, and I realized two things:
- My children are not ever going to make it to the Big Leagues. Clearly, we need to focus on academics.
- Triggers are not a sign of weakness. They are just a sign that I am ready to learn more and, thus, be stronger for it.
With all this self awareness, I figured I will be ready to present my own Ted Talk soon. Brene Brown should watch out. As I hurled another horrible pitch in the general vicinity of my children I thanked my HP for this as well, because I sure as hell don’t have a future in sports, either.