The Big D

Hidden away in a Lisa Frank neon spiral bound notebook from 1997, lies a two page letter written by a much younger version of myself to my future husband. I remember my pen gliding over the thin white sheets writing the words, ” Dear Husband…”. My heart felt like it might explode out of my chest. That word seemed like the most important thing I had ever put down on paper.

Husband.

Saying it, writing it, even thinking it- it felt like a prayer.

Who would this guy be? Would he love me as much as I already love him? I wondered if his hand would fit perfectly in mine as we sat in movie theaters, snacking on popcorn. I thought about what our first kiss might feel like and if I’d know that he was the one when it happened. I imagined him looking at me from across the library and seeing in his eyes that we were meant to be. I hoped he would want kids, a zip code close to our families and brunch every Sunday with friends. I desperately wanted him to be the kind of guy who didn’t mind my frizzy hair or my singing in the shower. Whoever he was, I knew he would be perfect.

I was eleven.

My only experience with boys was passing notes in study hall and practicing kissing my Leonardo DiCaprio Titanic poster after brushing my teeth every morning.

As time continued to pass, I became more vigilant and determined to find my guy. Walking through the mall after school, my eyes would dart back and forth the food court, hoping I’d catch his eye. Anyones eye. If someone else could see me for more than I could see myself, maybe that would quiet the voices in my head that screamed obscenities at my adolescent body. I had high expectations that my first kiss would seal the deal. He would kiss me and he would never need to kiss another girl ever again. He would be mine. That’s not exactly how it went. My first kiss happened in the middle of a late night game of man hunt in my backyard, where my crush tackled me to the ground and half kissed me, half licked my face.

He tasted like destiny.

I never saw him again. It’s probably for the best, I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my days with a man who would want to lick my face.

One day I would find Mr. Right and I would be able to give him all of me. He would know the way I like my tea, how many times I hit the snooze button in the morning, how I fold my towels and my favorite playlists from high school. He would know the good and the bad. He would know every freckle and every fear. We would build a life together and when it was our time to go, our future children would spread our ashes out into the ocean while our song played in the background. Anyone who couldn’t do these things or fit in my life the exact way I had envisioned it, they would be deemed unacceptable to me.

Onto the next.

And the next.

And so on.

Walking down the aisle with my dad by my side, my parents beaming from the front row, and the sun shining down on a beautiful lake in the middle of Connecticut- I looked into the eyes of a highly qualified candidate. The parts of him that didn’t exactly align with my vision could be changed. There was time for that. Get married. Have kids. Grow old. Become each others soulmates on the journey. The exhausting hunt of finding him had worn me down, and I figured this was the best shot for that white picket fence, two car garage and king sized bed.

Every Disney movie I spent hours watching and re-watching taught me that I had to find this Prince Charming. My unrealistic expectations for what a desirable partner should be were validated every time a helpless, beautiful woman (usually a princess) was saved by a strong, handsome man. Their entire existence seemed to revolve around being found by a savior while maintaining their beauty regime. I used to walk around Chicago trying to figure out how to look street smart and pretty. I didn’t want to come off as too bold or self-assured, I had to maintain that fine line between the girl next door and the girl who could kick your ass. I’m not either of those, but I played the part as needed.

It has been ingrained in our minds over and over that we will only have one true love. One marriage. One partnership. One person forever and ever. ‘Til death (or divorce) do you part. When that person appears in your life, you will have exactly what you’ve wanted. Your search is over. Entering a marriage young, I was clueless. I remember getting ready on my wedding day surrounded by a group of women I loved dearly. As my mom, step-mom and mother-in-law were all fussing over my train and clasping my pearls, I looked at my bridesmaids. All young, smart, beautiful and somehow tragic. I felt sorry for them. They were in their mid-20s and their search for their happy ever after wasn’t over yet. They would still have to go on first dates, awkward one night stands, the agony of breakups and the uncertainty that they would ever find someone. I was lucky. That search was over. I could at least count on that.

Until the day I filed for divorce.

I was in a marriage with someone with whom I would never fully accept. Once the diamond got dusty and the savings account drained, I started to feel the dread of, ” Oh shit. Now what?”. I thought that if he made more money, if he smoked less pot, if I quit drinking, if we moved back home, if we went to every marriage therapist in the state, that we would be able to get back on track. I promised myself that I would never split my family up, my kids would never have two homes and two sets of parents. Doing that would undoubtedly ruin their lives.

My parents divorce wasn’t something I could control. My own divorce wasn’t something that I could control. Whichever way the blame was thrown, it had to happen. There was a reason, a purpose and a lesson to be learned. One of the most profound things I have learned over the past few years in sobriety is that things don’t happen to me, things happen for me. God, the universe or whatever you want to call it- the force in my life that is greater than myself, has a plan for me that I may not understand right away. Tragedy, heartbreak, death, and loneliness are things that would have led me down a spiral of destruction in the past. When moments of clarity arrive, I’m able to recognize that emotions and events had to take place in order for my life to go in the direction it was intended to. I suck at reading maps. The direction I would like to take usually seems easier at first, but never leads me anywhere good. It’s not my job to write the map, it’s my job to ask for directions when I get lost.

It hurts, it’s painful and it routinely brings me to my knees. When I’m down there I have to ask for help, it’s not just handed to me. I have to be willing to put my pride away and sit in the vulnerability for as long as it takes. It might take a day. It might take a decade. When I let go and ask for help, I open myself to a different perspective and I am given an incredible chance of a life I never could have imagined.

Without a husband. Without my own home. Without a clue as to what tomorrow may bring. I am happy. Insanely happy. I’m also still crazy, resentful, mean, judgmental, ignorant and stubborn as hell when I want to be. I have the choice to sit in that garbage or humbly ask for guidance.

One morning a few years ago, I was brushing my teeth and looking at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t standing next to my partner getting ready for the day together anymore. I was alone. I tried to search inside myself to remember what it felt like to start the day next to him. I couldn’t. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I no longer had the satisfaction of sharing a connection that was so simple and yet so profound with another human being. I couldn’t remember what if felt like to be in love. I longed so desperately to feel something, even a slight bit of a butterfly in my stomach. I thought a person could only fall in love, not out of love. I had fallen straight off the cliff. We spent half our lives together and in that moment I came to realize we were strangers. It had become an ownership, not a marriage. I had to process that I had groomed myself into believing that I would only have that connection with my one and only. I couldn’t fathom how different I felt. It was like walking into a new house with the same furniture. You’re comforted by the familiar items, but the walls are new and strange. One day you can hardly breathe and the next you start to feel alright.

Better than alright.

I brush my teeth next to my kids. I sit in the stillness of the night next to my dog. I write down words that I’m willing to share once in awhile, because I’m not the only sober single mom going through it. I stopped planning my revenge on everyone who hurt me. I stopped wasting my time with the what-ifs and pray for the happiness of those I hurt and those I let hurt me. I don’t particularly enjoy practicing humility and understanding, but the peace the comes from it is immeasurable.

This is growing up from the mind set of that eleven year old girl who thought Mr. Right was a prize I had to win. I can love and be loved. I can be in a relationship or be single. I can share a connection, or loose a connection. I don’t deserve any more happiness than the next person. I don’t have to suffer or make anyone else suffer. I don’t have to waste time on people, places and things that I can’t change. Opening my heart and self to new experiences, new people, new perspectives and new challenges is how I want to spend my time now. None of us know how much we have left or how much has been wasted in the past, but we can sure as hell enjoy what we have right now.

Lost Love

It’s time.

You’ve been here long enough. Cut the chains and wipe off the ashes. You have to do this on your own. Take a good look around. Do you see anyone else who can take on this task? No. You’ve tried that before and when they failed, your prison walls came closer and closer. You’re lucky the claustrophobia didn’t kill you. You were so sure that it would.

Take a good look in the mirror. Notice the wrinkles that you once used lotions and potions to prevent. Notice the chicken pox scar on your forehead that a few bad bang haircuts couldn’t conceal. Notice the freckles that once gave you enough faith to let the light in, if only for a brief moment. Notice the frizz and grey hairs popping up on your head that you desperately tried to hide with conditioner and hair dye. Glance down at your arms and the extra skin that sways back and forth when you wave your kids goodbye on the bus in the morning.

This next part will be hard, but you are worth it.

Pull your shirt up and look down at that space on your body that you have wanted to cut off since you were a kid. Try to remember a time when it was smaller. Try to remember a time when it was bigger. Try to remember a time when you didn’t hate it. Think about all of the diets, cleanses, disorders, cuts, Spanx, abuse, and tummy control leggings that suffocated you. Pain is beauty, isn’t it?

Keep going.

Now, focus on your legs that couldn’t sit still. Remember how they couldn’t run fast enough to set you free. Then remember how they ran a little too fast from moments that could have lasted if only you could have stayed in the present. Look at that extra skin that looks like cottage cheese and recall all of the gels, squats and self tanner you tried to use to make the fat disappear.

Lift your head up and look straight ahead. Make eye contact with person staring back at you. Think about all the times you couldn’t face her. Your eyes were always too blurry or too tired to focus. Remember how you wore the shame, disappointment, guilt, hurt, and anger like it was a new shade of foundation from Maybelline. Maybe you were born with it. Think about how you learned to hate that face and what’s behind it Think about all the plans you had, the places you would see, the life you thought you needed. Remember how you told yourself over and over that happiness was a big house, a two car garage and unlimited funds on a credit card. Then, remember how those things brought you desperation, not happiness.

Close your eyes. Fold your shaky hands and breathe.

Take a moment.

Take another moment.

Now, open your eyes. Those wrinkles on your face are souvenirs from happiness. You laughed too loud, now you have smile lines. You looked up to the sun and crinkled your forehead to take it all in. The chicken pox scar that made you feel different from the other kids isn’t visible at all anymore, it’s just part of your face. The freckles are reminders of camping by the ocean, walking the dog, bbqs with family, sitting on the swing with your legs pumping you up to the sky. That grey hair is there for a reason, you’re growing. No one becomes a self-sufficient adult without a few grey hairs. Those flappy arms have grown strong with each child you have carried through the sunshine and the dark. Those arms are home to the ones you love with each and every bear hug.

smile lines

It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to feel fear. Just ride it through so you can feel something better. I promise, you will.

That stomach that you wanted to carve out of your body is the most miraculous part of anatomy. That space is where you get nourished to live each day. That space has been abused for so long, it’s time to have gratitude for it. Your belly holds the memories of each delicious family meal and homemade desserts. It’s an excellent communicator of your daily needs, even when you forget. It may have been the space where you grew a life inside of you. It may have grown or shrunk over the years, but it’s sacred. It is your temple. It sustains your life and holds the parts of you that create the magic and wonder of life. It’s been beaten and bruised over and over again, but it’s still there. Part of you. Big, small, full, empty, covered in stretch marks, covered in scars. You can suck it in or push it out. It doesn’t matter.

Still a part of you.

Your legs are powerful. They have carried you this far, show some respect. Have gratitude for the limbs that have kept you standing on your own two feet. They haven’t given up on you, they just keep moving you right along.

Look back at your reflection again. That is the face of resilience. You are the image of strength, intelligence, perseverance and determination. The parts of you that are on the inside are the most important of all. You’ve let the voices of others create your internal dialogue. I’m here to tell you that you are the only voice you need to hear. You can gain knowledge and inspiration from others, but your thoughts are yours alone. They aren’t your enemy anymore, they are your gift. Your worth and presence in this world isn’t defined by your fears. It’s defined by your ability to go through them and survive.

You are a survivor.

It’s time to love yourself again. Take away your filters and appreciate the person you used to be, the person you are, and the person you are becoming. You may not know when or how you lost it, but you have just created the map to lead you right back to it. It’s always been there.

Love yourself.

happier than ever

Shadowboxer

Shadowboxer:
intransitive
:
intransitive verb: to box with an imaginary opponent especially as a form of training


The greatest thing that I’ve learned thus far is that I know nothing. 

Absolutely nothing. 

I spent most of my life trying to be the ringmaster in my own personal chaotic circus. I thought I could train the people in my life to play different roles for me, to perform different tricks. I may have needed you to be the tightrope walker. Perhaps I needed you to be the knife thrower or the clueless clown. I could have asked you to be the juggler or the lion tamer. Whatever it is I needed you to be in that moment, you would have to play along or you were of no use to me. It was my own masterpiece, and I enjoyed being the puppet master. 

Until you told me that you wouldn’t be willing to fulfill that role anymore. 

Then you became useless to me and I would have to fight to find a new person to replace you in my distorted reality. I have found myself constantly fighting, Not in the sense of a verbal or physical fight at all, but in my mind I couldn’t let my guard down. I had to be prepared for everything and anything, I had to practice over and over. No one could hurt me if I was strong. If I was capable. If I was in control. I became an olympian shadowboxer. 

Training for a knock-out. 

Fists up. 

I came to win. 

Punching the air, ready to attack the enemy. 

I won’t be hurt again. 

I won’t. 

I attended twelve-step meetings and heard over and over again how I needed to rely on something bigger than myself to help me cope with life on life’s terms. I nodded my head. I said proudly that I had turned my will over to this Higher Power of mine, but in reality I was lying. Mostly to myself. 

I had no problem being transparent and honest with others, but I spent most of my time telling myself lies that I thought would help me get through the day. I thought I was doing the right thing. I told myself that the daily exhaustion and emotional blackouts were due to other factors, They had nothing to do with the constant war in my mind that told me I wasn’t good enough, no power in the world could protect me from reality and my solution was to tighten my fists and stand on guard at all times. 

My thoughts would spiral. My mind was cramped with the “what-ifs” and “ I can do this, i should be strong enough to do this.” 

I was two years sober and absolutely miserable. I felt fatigue in a way I had never known possible before. I wanted my divorce to be over. I wanted my kids to be happy and adjusted. I wanted a boyfriend to fill the hole from my empty marriage. I wanted to go above and beyond for my kids, not realizing they didn’t need a super mom. 

They just needed me. 

I laid in bed every night feeling like I had ran a marathon. Every cell in my body just wanted to rest. I couldn’t figure out how to let shit go, trust that everything was going to be ok, or actually use the tools I had been so freely given from other alcoholics. Every once in awhile I would experience a brief moment where I could let my guard down and rest. This usually happened in a room with a bunch of other drunks. I heard them talk over and over how it worked for them. Their experiences, their strength and hope. A little lightbulb would turn on in my head briefly to hear the message- if I wanted to live a life worth living I had to let go of the control.

Turn it over. 

Pray. 

Alcohol no longer controlled my thoughts or actions, but my alcoholism refused to let go completely. I thought it was my job to heal my heart alone. I thought it was my job to make sure my kids never experienced life on life’s terms. I thought my terms were a better bet. I wanted to be successful, in love, and filled with peace.

That’s the insanity.

If I just unclenched my fists and opened my heart, if I could just have faith that things didn’t have to be so hard. I didn’t have to sucker punch the shadows lurking inside in order to survive. 

I had to stop fighting and go with the flow.   

Time to rest.

Time to retire from my former job title as “ Coordinator of Chaos”.

Day by day I started to notice the changes within myself. We’ve all heard the phrase, “ You can’t control people, places, or things.” It takes up so much energy to try to change a person who isn’t you. It takes less energy to see my capability to change myself with the help from a God of my understanding. A few weeks ago, I was driving from Illinois to Connecticut with my three little girls and sister. My brain was all over the place. I was consumed with the stress of driving, stress of keeping kids entertained, and trying to make sure that my sister was ok with the three squealing children in the back seat. I put my earbud in and listened to some recovery podcasts and tried to pray. I prayed for patience and peace. At some point during the two day trip I felt a shift. I had been trying so hard to put my guard down and trust that things would be ok.

All of a sudden, I knew things were ok. I knew I would be ok. I knew my kids would be ok. I knew that the sudden peace and calm that hit me like a freight train happened in that moment for a specific reason. Moments pass, but the clarity stuck. I had been hiding behind the fear of change for over a decade. I had to walk through that fear not only for myself, but for my kids. I had to surrender and go with the damn flow.

The flow led to an opportunity to move back home after seventeen years. I made the decision. I got a job. My family opened up their homes and hearts for us. I would be naive to say this was some sort of easy process. It was excruciating and painful for everyone, especially the other side of my daughter’s family. But- I never faltered. I had been given the grace from God to know that I can get through pain. Pain is necessary sometimes for growth, and it had been a long time since I’d had a growth spurt. For the first time in a long time, I can provide for my kids, have a roof over our heads, and embrace the love and stability my family has showered us with. 

It’s crazy. 

A year ago, or even six months ago, I would have laughed in your face if you told me that I’d be moving back to the area I grew up in with three daughters, a dog, two cats and a job. But- here we are. Home at last. 

This has been one of the hardest things my kids have had to experience so far in life. They are moving across the country from a family that loves them unconditionally and will miss them terribly. I knew that I would not be able to give them the kind of life and home they needed if I didn’t take this leap of faith. 

We are still a family. 

Home is where the heart is, and our hearts are here, there, and everywhere. 

I don’t have to throw punches to protect myself life. I just have to let it go and follow the flow.

Songstress

You never heard me sing. You never knew the lyrics to my song. You never stood barefoot in my kitchen swaying to melody of my life. You never heard the rhythm of little girls tip-toeing in the early morning making pancakes and tea on a rainy Saturday in May. You never spun through the grass while singing to the stars, holding the little hands full of hope and abandon. You never heard the harmonies coming from the second story windows as we turned our stories into musicals note after note, page after page.

And that’s ok.

Sometimes, the greatest lessons of life come in the smallest packages, the smallest moments. My daughter and I were smashing bananas and sifting flour for our favorite muffins when her favorite song came on. The country-pop classic played loud over our afternoon baking session. We belted out the same lyrics we’ve always known, the beat we’ve come accustomed to, and yet it was different this time. As we added the sugar and egg, my brown eyed girl looked up at me while the lyrics, ” You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess, it’s a love story baby just say yes…”played and said this…

” Why would she want to be a princess, when she could be a queen?”

My brown eyes met hers laughing and said, “You’re right. You are right. Queen it is. Now pass me the chocolate chips.”

I’ve spent my entire life trying to transform my body, my mind, my heart for someone else to enjoy. For someone else to give me worth. For all the wrong reasons. I’ve preached but I have not practiced. I have talked and only walked out. I’ve posted notes all over my home with inspirational, uplifting words, but I can’t say them to myself. I tell my daughters to never let anyone tell them who they are or who they aren’t. I tell my daughters to run around barefoot in the back yard, climb the trees, splash in the puddles- experience it all.

But I have sat on the sidelines. Three years ago I surrendered my life to a power greater than myself and stopped allowing cheap wine give me comfort and take away my self worth and value. I have planted roots in sobriety, but I haven’t allowed myself to grow. I can’t tell my babies that they are more than their shade of lipstick, when I can’t even stand the sight of my own face in my reflection every morning. I removed the poison, but I’m still sick. The music notes on the page dance between major and minor, never producing the sounds I wish they would.

I look at my baby with the hazel eyes rolling around on the rainbow carpet in her room laughing with reckless abandon. I ask her what’s so funny, and she smiles her crooked little smile and says, ” Everything.”

Everything.

I sit on the couch and look at my phone. I sit on my bed and look at my phone. I lay next to my sleeping children and look at my phone. I find a new recipe. I download another meditation app. I look at homes I’ll never live in. I check my bank account. I read articles about parenting, without actually parenting. I look at pictures of myself and wonder out loud, how I ever got that fat or ugly. I ask myself why no man can seem to love me for more than a few minutes at a time. I put my phone down. I stare at the wall.

I choke down the emotions that have been following me for years. I can’t let them out, what if they’re contagious? What if my three girls catch the same thing that caught my voice? What if they are silenced too?

My fingers used to stretch across the keys on the piano, eyes closed and let the vibrations pour over each note. Now they stretch over the wrinkles on my face or the stretch marks on my belly. Now they cover my eyes and mouth while I scream over and over- please don’t leave me. Please don’t hurt me. Please just take me. They claw and beg- please stay and dance with me. Please hear what I hear. Be part of my song. Be part of our song.

My green eyed girl with her long blonde hair climbs into my bed almost every night, right when the world seems to go quiet. She takes my hand, puts it in hers and asks me to sing. I hold her as close as I can for as long as I can. I put my cheek right next to hers and we sing ourselves right over the rainbow and back.

You don’t have to be a princess who sings songs about imaginary love from a castle far, far away. You can be a queen. You can write your own song. It won’t be a song for everyone.

That’s alright. Just as long as it’s yours.

Side effects may include:

This past Saturday I pulled into a large field filled with anticipation, dead brown grass and volunteers wearing bright yellow vests. As I pulled in they asked to see the code on my confirmation. A woman much younger than me scanned the barcode and told me which lane to pull in. She and her partner were discussing which Taco Bell they were going to hit up for lunch when they were done. I left my window down and eavesdropped as I watched the line of cars moving at a sloths pace, waiting to get this over with and out. I laughed to myself thinking, ” This teenager is volunteering here and just chit chatting with her friend like this is the most normal thing ever.” Thousands of people have died this past year, and here’s this smiling young lady talking about a cheesy Gordita crunch.

I think that’s pretty awesome.

Looking back, I wish I could have somehow ordered a big card saying, ” You have no idea how far this selfless act of volunteering at this vaccination site will change the lives of so many. Here’s some tacos and mountain dew. Thank you.”

I had no idea how this whole thing was going to make me feel. Last April I sat in my car parked in my garage while my kids watched Paw-Patrol re-runs and screamed. I screamed and I cried. I punched the steering wheel and I asked God, ” Why?”. Why? How could this happen? Tragedies across the globe have always seemed so far away. It would never happen to us. We’re American. We’re safe. We wash our hands and have health insurance. We’re fine. A few years back I was on the red line about to get off at Argyle in Chicago when I first heard of the swine flu. I remember looking around at the other passengers thinking maybe I shouldn’t hold the arm rail, too many germs. As the train pulled into the stop, I lost my balance and grabbed that rail for dear life so I didn’t crush the poor pregnant woman to my left. I never thought about it again until now. I had no fear, I believed that I was different. We were different.

We’re American damnit, we’re elite. We cure cancer! We purify our water! We wear Adidas sneakers and attend large music festivals. We do what we want, bro.

I wasn’t there to say goodbye. I wasn’t there to hold my mother or share her tears. I wasn’t there to see the people lined up and down the streets honoring the life of a man who served his community and family with humor and love. I wasn’t there to stand beside my grandmother as she stood bravely with courage that I have yet to comprehend as they handed her the folded flag in honor of his service as a Marine. So, I sat in my car and screamed. I couldn’t speak my emotions, there was this eerie internal silence that had muted me from the moment my mom called to tell me he was gone. I felt like I was choking for days until I just had to scream. Once in awhile one my kids would peak their head out the door and try to see what the heck I was doing. I’d pull myself together for the .3 seconds I would need to tell them to close the door I”d be inside in a minutes and bribed them with chocolate.

I sat alone. I no longer had a husband. I no longer had the support system that I thought I had in the past. I no longer had the privilege of hoping in the car and driving to the city to be with my family, because it was too dangerous at first. We had so much fear and loosing another family member was not an option. I had never been through anything alone like that. Everything was amplified by my impending divorce and the stale, slow burn of grief for things I could and could not see. I had this imaginary canvas in my mind that reminded me that life wasn’t pretty. It was a canvas splashed with black tar and shards of glass. It was the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to hang on a wall, it might have scared someone. It was the kind of thing that needed to be tossed in a bonfire, letting it go in the ashes and out of your life.

That was my experience with Covid. It took my Grampie from me. I can’t get him back. This past Christmas I stood at his grave with my grandmother and I told myself over and over to keep my shit together, because this poor woman does not need to see me cry like an idiot at her husbands grave. I tried to swallow it down. It was impossible and I realized that I had to let it out and I had to let it out with her. I had grieved without her a million miles away, and finally standing there with her, I wasn’t alone. We held each other close and I can’t explain why- but being there with her, holding hands, looking at the grave of a man who had treated me like I was a person that mattered in this world my entire life- the weight of it all just flew right off my shoulders. I asked God to just be with us and there was no doubt that He was.

When I found out I was eligible to get the vaccine I wasn’t sure I wanted it. It seemed too good to be true. What if it made us sicker? What if this was all some government planned bioterrorism take over? What if it turned us into flesh eating zombies? What if?!

I think I had quarantine brain.

My family back East and family in Chicago started getting it and I saw the relief in their faces through the phone. They were going to be ok. They were excited and hopeful that this shot could potentially put an end to this lonely, bleak time in our lives. So I said- screw it. Zombie or not, I’m getting it.

Which brings me back to that crowded afternoon in a field of people I had never met before who were volunteering their time to potentially save my life and so many others. Even though there were hundreds of other cars there, the line went fairly fast. I pulled into the area where the shot would be administrated. After I filled out the forms, showed them my license and let them know that the only thing I’m allergic to is elementary level common core math, the woman prepped my upper arm, put the needle in, took out a small piece of cotton and then said to me, ” You’re all set! Congratulations!”. As she put the bandaid on I could feel the salty tears pouring out of my eyes and down my cheeks. She looked at my face and said she was sorry. She asked if she hurt me. Did I need anything?

She didn’t hurt me. She healed me. That sounds pretty dramatic, but she did. I’ve watched my family going through grief and anxiety for an entire year. My sister is in nursing school and has always been incredibly selfless and kind. The constant looming fear that this disease could take another one of us down weighed heavily on her. She has one less family member to worry about now. I hope her load is lightened by those of us who have chosen to get this vaccine in a time of so much uncertainty and fear.

I finally had a momentary break from the heavy tears and I looked at this woman who was still holding the wrapper of my bandaid in her hand and said, ” I lost my Grampie last year. I miss him so much. I wish he had been here to get this for himself, but he can’t, so I will… This is for him.”

I’ve heard a lot about the side effects: Fevers, chills, body ache, fatigue, headache, gastrointestinal issues and more. The side effects I was unaware of started with a lighter heart, a hopeful mind and a sense of community knowing that we were all doing this together. There will still be extremely difficult issues worldwide, but in that brief moment after feeling so helpless for twelve months, I was finally able to contribute to the ever changing and evolving treatment and understanding of Covid-19. My contribution is smaller than a speck of sand but every speck counts.

I’m filled with so much gratitude for all the people who worked endlessly to be able to provide this brand new vaccine for all of us. They took the impossible and made it possible.

Me.

Peace, she supposed, was contingent upon a certain disposition of the soul, a disposition to receive the gift that only detachment that only detachment from self made possible. – Elizabeth Goudge

Self-love, or lack thereof, has been the largest stumbling block of my life. I have constantly viewed my outside as too much and my insides as too little. If only I could shrink my physical size and grow some smarts on the inside, maybe I would like myself. Maybe you would like me too.

I need you to like me.

Please like me.

Once we’ve got that covered I’m going to need you to tell me exactly how much you like me several times a day. I’m not going to actually tell you that, I’m going to assume that you can read my mind.

Communication seems to be an on going issue as well.

Insecurity is as much of a part of my DNA as the color of my eyes. It’s been with me always, that loud voice screaming , “You will never be of any value.”

I remember as a child staring at my left arm and feeling embarrassed about the splotchy birthmark that spread out over top of my arm all the way down to my pinky finger. An older neighbor told me that it looked like a map of the world once. I wanted to cut my arm off right then and there. I didn’t want a map on my arm, I wanted a skinny arm. Thin. Long. Skinny.

I was six years old.

I remember learning about birth defects in 10th grade biology and suddenly realizing that this thing on my arm made me defective. My high school boyfriend traced the outline of it with his finger, saying he loved it. It was part of me, and he loved all of me. When he broke up with my shortly after to head to Boston for college my first thought was that he was probably the only man who would ever love me with this defective arm.

Defective and dramatic. Tragically dramatic.

Years later when I gave birth to my youngest daughter I did the same thing I did with the older two when they were born. I counted ten fingers, ten toes, and made sure I saw no birthmark. No daughter of mine would suffer the way I did. So much suffering.

For what? An arm? An arm that works perfectly well. An arm that has carried textbooks and children. An arm that hugs the people I love. What else matters?

When she was two weeks old, a red dot showed up on Lucie face. I asked asked the dr, I asked the nurse, I asked family members- Is that a birth mark?

Wait.

Is that one of those birthmarks that grows and grows and disfigures poor innocent babies all over the world?

Yup.

I watched day after day as it grew and grew. I cried at night when I was breastfeeding her, holding her hand, knowing that people would ask her, ” What’s that thing on your face?”. I imagined all the kids in school who would point fingers and laugh. I took my over dramatic personal experience with birthmarks and marked my daughter with a bleak future of isolation and insecurity.

Her birthmark stopped growing pretty fast. It was dark red and shaped just like a heart on her lower left chin. She was born on February 10th, and her sisters thought it must be shaped like a heart, because her birthday was so close to valentines day. She’s four now. Her birthmark is 99% faded, no one ever made fun of her, and when people asked what it was, it was never a big deal. She’s fine. She was fine.

I wasn’t fine. I was projecting my insecurities on a newborn. I hate that those thoughts ever crept into my mind. If her birthmark hadn’t faded, she would still be the beautiful, crazy, sweet girl that she is. Her birthmark has nothing to do with who she is or who she will become.

When I was in high school I used to spend hours on my Dell computer pretending to do homework. Instead, I was instant messaging this guy I thought was cool. He use big words. He talked about math and space. He quoted historians and famously dead musicians. He was interesting. I was boring. I would type out a message to him and before sending it, I would do spell check, use the thesaurus and double check to make sure I sounded witty enough. I signed up for dictionary.com daily emails so I could pull out a new word to spice things up if I started to sound too basic.

I’m not as smart as you. You probably think I’m dumb. Dumb and fat.

Even after treatment at fifteen for an eating disorder, even after countless appointments with therapists, all I saw was a stupid girl who still doesn’t have a thigh gap. I once dated someone who told me he liked having a little something extra to hold on to at night. I interpreted that as to mean he liked to spoon my belly rolls. Needless to say, we never snuggled again. Later in life, I spent hours on the couch of an older man talking about anything and everything. I felt understood, I felt smart, I felt appreciated and I felt worthy. I figured if this man thought I had something of worth to give to the world, I should start to feel that way too. That was all fun and dandy until he cracked a joke about me still carrying the baby weight from my last pregnancy several years before.

The hate just boiled and boiled until it became too much and the only thing I could shut it up with was a drink. Not one. Not two. No three. As the wine started to do its job, I started to feel better. I began to feel pretty and witty. I would look into the same mirror I had just been staring into crying and see a confident, beautiful, engaging woman who could do anything she wanted.

Get ready world, because here I come! Well, just wait a sec, let me finish this Pinot first.

I wanted more, more, more, more, more to feel less, less, less, and less.

Next came the tears and the blackout. The self loathing would continue to grow evry morning when I couldn’t remember what I did or said the night before. My pounding head would quickly remind me that if I pounded another drink with the sunrise, I would be able to reach that euphoric feeling of self worth, if only for a few minutes.

The same cycle over and over.

I’ve been sober for a few years. Sobriety has given me my life back. Sobriety allows me to be a present mother. Sobriety gives me a healthier perspective on how to cope with hard times. Sobriety has given me friends and love. I surround myself with other sober people and make a conscious effort to work on growth in my sobriety every day.

It’s a beautiful thing.

So, how come I still don’t feel beautiful or worthy? My entire outlook on life has changed, just like they promised it would. I have experienced happiness, tragedy, divorce, death, love and heartbreak with such a different perspective than before. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life even though some stuff really sucks some days.

When I sit down to write, I always hope that my experience may be able to help someone else. I write a lot about the positive changes I have experienced due to my sobriety. I do my best to make sure that the message I want to convey includes the miracle of sobriety.

This post is a little different. This post has been in my heart for so long, I just didn’t know how to share it. I have to be transparent and I have to be vulnerable to allow change. I know that things take time and every single moment of every single day is exactly how it should be. I know that I am not in control. I know that there’s something far larger than myself guiding me on my journey.

And yet- I still don’t know how to love myself.

I still want to apologize for being me.

Where does self love begin? How do I get there? The simple answer is prayer.

Someone out there must feel this way too. Perhaps just knowing that you’re not the only one struggling helps. By sharing this, I wanted to remove myself from the isolation in my mind that I have experienced with this.

This is me now.

I know that if I surrender, if I call myself out, if I stay honest and open- I can get through absolutely anything with a little help from a force larger than myself and the people who have always promised me that with a little work miracles do happen.

I’ve seen it in others time and time again.

I hope that I will see it in myself, with our without that mirror I stood in front of before.

Today, tomorrow and the day after that…

It’s been a hell of a year. The twelve month rollercoaster that none of us wanted a ride on is reaching its final loop de loop. We’re all sitting in our seats, pulling the safety bar close to our torsos, bracing ourselves for the last upside down, hands in the air, twisty, terrifying moments.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve yelled up to God saying, “CAN WE STOP NOW? I THINK WE’VE HAD QUITE ENOUGH.” I can’t think of a single person in my life who hasn’t had their world rocked by this past year. There has been loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of health, and loss of normalcy. Empty classrooms and empty booths at your favorite pizza joint. Abandoned playgrounds and libraries closed until further notice. Nursing homes and hospital floors with big warning signs- no visitors allowed. Grocery stores and targets running out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Mothers with empty arms that once held their precious loved ones, now carry their grief instead of their children. Weddings and graduations postponed until further notice. We wear masks on our faces to stay safe, while others have taken this turbulent time to remove their masks and show us who they really are with violence and hate.

We’ve taken things for granted that would never have crossed our minds before- like breathing. Filling our lungs with the oxygen that’s required to keep us alive. People have suffocated right in front of us.

Breathing. So simple. But- when the breathing stops, so does the living.

I’ve been spending a few much needed days home with my amazing, loving and extremely patient parents, as well as my amazing, loving and extremely patient little sisters and brother.  After months and months of FaceTime and many tears, I’ve finally been able to hug my grandmother and visit my Gramps final resting place. There’s some kind of magic in the New England air that fills up my heart and heals the parts I thought were broken. 

Earlier today, I was sitting at my Aunts house today admiring the warm, familiar space where she and my uncle live. The walls are covered with memories of an ever growing and changing family, the Christmas tree still lit up and pretty.I felt at ease as we sipped on tea and reflected on the past few months.

Yup.

Shit got real this year. Shit got ugly. Shit got desperate and dangerous. Shit was never ending. Shit was big and bad. Shit got messy and we lost our way.

And then we came together.

Eventually.

Slowly.

But- surely we realized that the human spirit is not so easily crushed.

Families came together and made sure that their neighbors didn’t go hungry. Teachers gave their students their all, while taking care of their own families in the classroom or remotely. Parents working from home balanced conference calls and middle school algebra. Bus drivers deliver free food and graded homework to all the kids on their routes. We’ve supported each other in peaceful protest, louder than the contagious hate others have shouted on Twitter and sidewalks all over.

The opportunity to help or hurt others didn’t start in 2020 and it won’t end in 2021. There’s always something happening, somewhere in the world. It’s a little unexpected when it ends up on your doorstep and blows up like a glitter bomb, covering everything and everyone. You can try to vacuum it up, or you can surrender and realize you can sparkle. Even just a bit.

New Year resolutions can be a starting point or a crutch. Loosing ten pounds, quitting smoking, training for a marathon, reducing screen time, finally finishing reading that book you started three years ago- all of that stuff is good.

Instead, wouldn’t it be great if we could all sit back, take a deep breath and search within ourselves to pull out that euphoric feeling we get when we do the right thing? Helping our neighbors. Going that extra mile. Recognizing gratitude. Standing beside those who are hurting.

The date really doesn’t mean much. There’s no real difference from December 31st to January 1st. A resolution doesn’t have to be made. Your expectations don’t need to be all that high. If you fail, it doesn’t have to be the end. You don’t have to wait another full 365 days to make a change in your life or others.

You can do it right now. You can do it tomorrow. Do it whenever you want. When we wake up tomorrow it’s still going to be Friday. The calendar date is irrelevant. Make it simple- just for today. One day at a time. Do your best. And if you can’t? There’s another day coming. I can promise you that.

Happy 2021, happy new day.

(…and don’t be afraid to steal a smooch from someone you like to get smoochie with at midnight. You have to live a little!)


Fear & Loathing

This time last year a lot of us were blissfuly unaware of what lay ahead of us after January 1st. I was adjusting to life in a new town, new state, excited to host Christmas Eve at our house for the first time. New year, new me…right? Let go of the past, march straight into the future with anticipation and hope.

I must have taken a wrong turn, because I marched straight into a tsunami. The sheer depth of the wave stunned me and as the current pulled back from the shore, I watched parts of me drift away. Lost at sea.

I lost friends.
I lost sleep.

I lost weight.

I lost my partner. I mean, he’s still kicking’, he just ain’t kickin’ it around here anymore.

I lost my serenity.

I lost my sanity.

I lost my socks. All of them.

I lost family.

I lost my voice.

I lost my light.

I lost library books.

I lost my patience.

And most recently, I lost my car keys.

Couch diving to find keys…

In the early months of 2020 I had a hard time trying to figure out if I could live through my wreckage. The voice on the other end of the phone repeated over and over that I was crazy. A sociopath. An insecure, jealous, vindictive little girl. My brain tricked me into believe these things were true. I could have let it wash right over me, but my reaction was to make those statements my truth. Night after night screaming and crying in my mind. I am the one who made myself suffer. I could have chosen to pause and breathe. Someone once told me that just because your thoughts are there doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

I didn’t listen. I started to future trip and let fear take over.

What if my kids grow up to hate me?

These people must think I’m super fat.

Only an idiot would fall in love with me.

I’m a disposable piece of trash.

My daughters would be happier without me.

I believed those things for a long time. I felt like a voodoo doll being poked for pain. I just wanted to be happy, but the negativity was smothering me. At some point I realized that there isn’t a single person or thing that can make me happy. My happiness is my issue, no one else’s. My happiness must come from me.

My happiness is right in front of me.

I let fear creep over and over. I feared what life would be like as a single mom. I feared that my ex leave me and I would never have love again, if I ever had it to begin with.

Fear spreads quickly like cancer destroying your insides before you even realize it. Fear lives in the “What if’s?”. What if I hadn’t walked out? What if I asked for help years ago? What if I raised my hand more during class? What if I hadn’t left home? What if I kept pursuing my dreams of music and theater? What if I had waited to have kids? What if I hadn’t snuck away night after night trying to fix or fill my heart with someone or something else?

What if I had surrendered and let go?

What if I held onto the comfort of late nights and cozy blankets? What if I followed my heart, my gut or whatever you want to call it?

Or- instead of running on the hamster wheel of what could have been, or who I thought I should be and decided to embrace the fear. Push through it and never look back. In the words of Robert Frost, “ The only way out is through.”.

Turn fear into motivation. Turn loathing into action and open up to a new way of life without the weight of resentments and broken expectations. Instead of counting losses, count my blessings.

So grateful for these little weirdos…

There are so many right in front of me. I don’t know what lays ahead, but I do know that it’s not my job to control it. My job is to be grateful for what I’m given, stop whining and start living. Half of the reason I write here is to remind myself of these things when the ghosts of the past show up and try to confuse me into believing I’m weak and disposable.

Children live what they learn. Watching my daughters grow and forge their own path is both inspiring and terrifying. I am inspired by their childlike wonder. They approach things with an unbiased view. Each new experience is an adventure, whether realize it or not. They learn as they go and experience bumps along the way. Bumps turn into life experiences that shape who they will become. We all make choices in our lives, but what if we based our choices without the fear that we’re used to? What if we opened up our our minds and hearts with fearless exploration? Will we still have mistakes, heartache, addictions, sadness and grief? Yes. But instead of it detouring our path, what if we accepted those things as a part of our journey thats led us to where we are now and where we will go? What if we replaced fear with gratitude?

I’d like to find out.

Bless This Mess



I’ve been staring at this computer screen for a few weeks now. I have all these words and thoughts running around my mind, but they’re stuck. I can’t seem to convince them to leave my head and make their way onto this page. The longer I delay their exit from this cracked up head of mine, the more stuck they get.

I feel lost.

I want that comfort that you feel when your mom hugs you and tells you everything will be ok. I want the comfort of late night couch dates with my sisters and brother. I want the warmth of my dad’s wood stove that keeps us cozy during the winter months. I want to eat my stepmom’s chicken curry at the family table. I want to wake up to the smell of my stepdad making his morning breakfast scramble. I want to hug my grandmother and laugh at funny stories about my Grampie.

I hope you’re enjoying my pity party as much as I am.

I’ve spent the past year hoping, wishing, and praying that I would somehow be able to drive the 880 miles with my kids to my parents’ houses on the East Coast. Unfortunately, there’s this tiny little pandemic thing that’s really put a damper on our travel plans.

Clicking my heels together three times didn’t do the trick either.

There’s no place like home.

Home is where the heart is, but my heart is all over the place. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, England, Ireland, and California.

I’ve spent a lot of time moving furniture around, buying decorations, hanging pictures, sitting by the fire, and more. I keep thinking that those activities will make this place super homey and cozy. It doesn’t.

It feels broken, it feels unfamiliar, and it feels lonely. That’s not the kind of home I want my girls to grow up in. Recently, I was talking to my sister LeeLee about all of this. I called her up, crying and full of worry that the girls would never have the same comfort of home as I had growing up. I told her I felt like I had failed them, that this was all my fault and I’m a horrible mom. She interrupted me before I could finish that last sentence.

She said, “Katie- you are their home.

BOOM. Instant emotional happy tears cry fest. A big ‘ol mess, and ever so blessed.

When we moved from Michigan, we talked a lot about what a house was and what a home was. My oldest didn’t want to move and leave her purple and yellow bedroom behind. I told her over and over that a house is just some wood, pipes, plumbing, and glass.

That’s it. A house is a bunch of things with a roof. It gives us shelter, but it’s not what makes a house a home. A house can’t hug you or kiss your booboos. It can’t tuck you in at bedtime and it can’t make you laugh. It’s pretty easy to say those things to someone else, but I have a hard time saying them to myself.

Finding Nemo premiered when I was sixteen and my sister was three years old. I took her to see it once, and then took myself about three times. I LOVED IT. The themes of finding your way back home, family, community, figuring out who you are, and unconditional love really lightened my dark teenage angsty heart.

“Because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you and I…I’m home.“- Dory

Home is inside.

Home can be anywhere your heart takes you.

Home is looking into my daughters’ eyes and wondering how I ever lived without them. It’s seeing myself in them and knowing that I’m in their heart and home too. Home is snuggling with my dog and the magical way he brings calm to our racing minds and love to our hearts. It’s the memory of my grandmother’s voice as she sang, “All The Things You Are” at her last Thanksgiving with us. My home is filled with my daughters’ contagious laughter which pulls me back in when my mind wanders far off into the dark. Home is singing them to sleep and snuggling like sardines. It’s spontaneous dance parties when our hearts need a little joy. Home is being able to acknowledge the broken home that took up residency inside of me and moving into the new homestead in my heart while shining out the light that brought us all together.

Wherever I am, wherever they are…we are home.

Just know you’re not alone, ‘cause I’m gonna make this place your home- Philip Phillips

Grandmother

I grew up during a time when Family Video was a thriving business filled with endless amounts of VHS tapes to enjoy on a Friday night. The checkout line displayed row after row of candy. When you reached the cashier you were greeted with signs saying, “Friday Family Fun Night Snacks!” next to large tubs of popcorn with real movie theater butter. That was the shit right there.

She’d let me pick out whatever I wanted. We rented “Selena” with a side of candy lipstick (if you’re a child of the 90’s, you know what I’m talking about), a big tub of popcorn, some skittles, and a soda. If I had asked her to buy the entire place out, I’m sure she would have. I was the only grandkid for ten years and I wore that crown like a boss. She would set me up in the guest room upstairs with the big AC unit so I could watch Jennifer Lopez reenact the career and life of Selena. I learned every word to “Como La Flor” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” while dancing on the queen-sized bed, using the remote as my microphone. I remember knowing right then and there that I wanted to be a singer. The music moved me in a way I had never felt before (I mean… I was nine years old, but whatever). That movie, in that room, on that hot summer night is when my love affair with music began. As an adult working on a degree in musical theater in my 20s, I reflected on that night over and over.

I learned to swim in the pool out back. I can remember the way the pool liner felt on my feet as it dipped from the shallow end to the deep end. “Look! I can still touch here!” Flip flops off the diving board. Underwater handstands that ended with a mermaid splash. I would put my goggles and flippers on and spend hours dipping in and out of the water while getting in touch with my inner mermaid. “Count how long I can hold my breath underwater!” I would yell out as she dipped her toes on the edge, watching me try to break the Guinness World Record for youngest person in the history of time to hold my breath underwater for the longest amount of time. Or, at least that’s what it felt like. She gave me unconditional love and attention, which I’m sure was exhausting. I was kind of dramatic, if you can imagine that!

Hard to picture, right? I was an only child, the only grandchild, THE LIGHT OF EVERYONE’S LIVES until some other kids were born and blah blah blah. (Love you little cousins and siblings!). After my parents got divorced, my grandmother joined my mom and I on a trip to Disney World. It was fantastic- until we lost her. Yes, my mother and I lost her. One minute she was standing next to us, the next I started screaming about wanting my own parasol with my name written on it in cursive and I had to have it RIGHT NOW before the nighttime Disney parade started. If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know that they close the park each night with a massive light spectacle and parade. When the parade starts you can’t really move. If you’re on one side of the street and your family is on the other, that’s just too bad, because Mickey is on his way and you better just stand back.

Did I know this at the time? Probably. But I needed that damn parasol. My parents just got divorced, woe is me, my childhood is ruined forever! The only way that I would ever have happiness in my life was if I had that parasol. The purple parasol with my name written in fancy cursive on top. She crossed the street at the last second. I think we thought she would probably stay there until the end of the parade, but as things came to a closing we realized she wasn’t there.

Imagine losing a family member in Downtown Disney and then having to go to the “Town Hall” where a man in a barbershop quartet is taking your information and putting out an announcement that there’s a lady missing: blonde hair, medium height, probably wearing a fanny pack. My mother was freaking out, and I realized that we may never ever find her- or my parasol.

Priorities.

A few hours later after an extensive search by people and Disney characters alike we realized we had done all we could do. There were no cell phones or GPS trackers yet. We hopped onto the trolly back to the “Mighty Ducks” parking lot trying to figure out what we were going to have to tell everyone back in CT.

“Lost? Disney? What happened?”

“Did she bibbity-boppity-boo herself right out of there?”

“Did she turn into a pumpkin at midnight?”

“Did you call the police?”

As we pulled up to our designated lot we saw a figure in the distance sitting on the hood of a car that looked vaguely familiar. There she was! Sitting there under the stars, waiting for us to finally show up, parasol in hand.

Every winter and summer we would head up to the homestead in Oxbow, Maine. It was a place of serenity and beauty. There were acres upon acres of forest covered in fresh snow and small woodland creatures. We would walk a bit down the road to fill old milk bottles with fresh spring water. If you came for a visit in the summer you would have a chance to see the beautiful gardens cared for by her loving hands and experience the thrill of being eaten alive by 50,000 black flies for weeks on end. My great-great Uncle, whom we called Gramps, warmed the cabin with a wood stove and cooked bran muffins every morning to eat on the screened-in back porch. We’d also do another very fun, exciting – thrilling, if you will- activity while out in the wilderness up there.

Moose watching.

We went moose watching.

Not once. Not twice. But dozens and dozens of times in my childhood.

We’d wait for it to get dark out, hop in the old fashioned mini van that looked like a cross between a station wagon and a box, drive out a bit, turn the lights off and wait.

And wait.

Until all of a sudden you saw something out of the corner of your eye.

“Shhhhh! Look…Katie… see? See over there?” “See what? I don’t…”

…and BOOM turn on your headlights and there’s a handful of large Moose ready to charge into your mini van from 1994. But, they didn’t. They just took a good look at us and we took a good look back, and we continued this tradition for most of my life.

“TEN! Ten moose this time! Can you believe it?”

I had more fun looking for moose with my grandmother as a kid than I’ve ever had playing candy crush on my iPhone. Those were some of the best times, and there was no social media to distract us from the wonder and beauty of life.

She has a green thumb that I envy. I couldn’t keep any plant or flower alive if my life depended on it. She has always taken great pride in her work outdoors. Her garden always flourished, and so did the poison ivy rash she would get countless amounts of times. Honestly, in my 34 years of life, not a single spring or summer has passed without that woman catching some rash from this and that in her own backyard. When I was in high school, I went away for the weekend once. She had come over to help my parents with their garden and ended up staying the night. She slept in my bed. A few days later I overheard her talking about her recent bout of poison ivy which just happened to be all over her body. I started itching before she could even finish the sentence. I somehow manifested phantom poison ivy itching because I was certain that the woman had infested my sheets with it. I was a teenager. I never changed my sheets. All of a sudden I imagined big pink and oozing poison ivy blisters all over my torso and how my boyfriend would never want to hold my hand ever again.

The closet upstairs is where she keeps most of her photos. If you opened the door to the damn thing, you’d be buried alive under all the albums that she’s shoved in there over the years. Books filled with photos from Memorial Day parades, birth announcements, birthday parties, piano recitals and more. She would pull them out for me all the time and say, “Hey Katie- look at this one. Remember that?” She would hand me a picture of the time we had a unicorn at my birthday party in her backyard. Of course I remember.

She’s always made me feel important.

Loved.

Cared for.

She and I have always had a special bond, but I didn’t realize how special it really was until recently. Our demons know each other well. When I was a child I found this all to be very confusing. What happened? What was going on? Was she okay? Where did she go?

She always came back. I didn’t ask questions, I just knew that she loved me and she was trying to love herself too. I had no idea how heavy her burden was. I didn’t know what it felt like to carry that burden alone. I had no idea that one day I would understand.

I do understand, but because of her, I have never had to carry that burden alone.

I woke up a few years ago and realized that I was missing out on life because I was too busy numbing myself from it. I couldn’t experience joy, pain, sadness or happiness. I did my very best to drown my feelings, good or bad. I thought it was normal, until it wasn’t.

I isolated myself from everyone I loved and who loved me. I was too terrified to try to cope with life, I just wanted life to shut up. It was too loud. I drank up everything I could, hoping to float. Instead, I just sunk deeper and deeper to the bottom. The deeper I went, the more the darkness grew.

I was scared. I was ashamed. I was broken. I was nothing.

I thought I was alone.

With trembling hands I reached for my phone, dialed her number and waited for her to say hello. I could hardly get the words out, tears were streaming down my face and I could hardly breathe. I called her because I knew that she knew what this felt like. I could hear her own voice trembling and could picture the tears on her cheeks too.

She said she was proud of me for asking for help. She said she loved me and she was sorry.

“Sorry for what?”, I asked.

All the times she wasn’t there. All the times she tried and failed. All the times I saw her at her worst.

I could feel her heartache in my own heart.

None of that matters, Gram.

Every obstacle we go through in life has the ability to either take us down or make us stronger. Even in defeat we have the opportunity to grow.

I sound like a cheesy self-help infomercial right now, but it’s the truth.

When I think about what she’s given me, I can hardly express my gratitude. She and I share the same disease. Without help, it’s fatal. If she wasn’t who she is and hadn’t gone through what she’s gone through, I’m not sure I would have been able to recognize it in myself and muster up enough courage to say, “My name is Kate and I’m an alcoholic,” if she hadn’t said it first.

Her journey helped me discover my own courage to accept and surrender.

She saved my life.

I love you a bushel and a peck Gram. To the moon and back and over again, endlessly.

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