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.

Joy.

If you ever enter my house, you’ll see about 50,000 things that say JOY on it. The word has a special place in my heart. My grandmother, GG, made it her mantra. So much so that at 75 she got it tattood on her wrist like a bad ass grandmother, if ever there was one. She actually convinced me to get my first tattoo at 18, with half of my family standing around in an itty bitty tattoo shop in Torrington, CT on my 18th birthday. She really, really had to convince me. My first reaction was, NOPE.

Nope. Nope. Nope. And then another thought filled my head. ” You gotta live a little.” That was one of her sayings. I can hear her voice right now, ” Katie, you’ve just got to live a little!” So I did. Fastforward many, many years later…I have 8…and I’m getting another one soon. It’s easy to get addicted to tattoos, right? My cousins followed in my path, and now my parents and my sister have ink.

 

Anyway, I digress.

 

That’s how she lived her life. Everyday she was thankful. Everyday she would reflect on the joys in her life. She wrote all of this down, and after she died, as we went through all of her journals and pictures, we saw JOY on every page. She inspired all of us. Even strangers.

Right after I turned 25 and six months before my wedding, She fell ill. Still, she spread her message of joy and love with every single person she knew. I’m not just writing this to write it. I’m writing it to show the absolute magnitude of acceptance of love and life she shared. If you ask ANYONE who ever came in contact with her their lives were better for having her in it.

Honestly, I could write a book about how this woman changed the world on person at a time.

I struggled with God after she died. I wasn’t religious, but I kept thinking if there is a God, why is he taking her away from us? How could he?

 

The day she died, I had a couple hours with her alone while my famiy discussed hospice in the other room. Her eyes were closed. They would never open again. Her chest went up and down, taking in some of her lasts breaths. I held her delicate hand in mind and I wept. This woman was my rock. She was all of ours rock. It was devestating. We all knew she was ready to go, but she kept holding on. My wedding was coming up, and I had spent countless hours talking to her on the phone about it and how important to me it was to me for her to be there.

My tears poured out as I told her, ” It’s ok. You can go now. I know how badly you want to be there, but it’s ok. I will be ok.” I sat with my head on her bed, placing her hand on my cheek. My heart was breaking into a million pieces.

A few hours later, she was gone. Months went by and I couldn’t control my grief. It was too much. I found myself desperate to hear her voice.  I tried to grasp the acceptance of life without her.

It sucked. Really, really sucked.

 

A few months later I got married. It was beautiful. The sun was about so set as we stood under the gazeebo and shared our vows. Everything was perfect. Except one thing. My GG wasn’t there. Nothing could change that. We all tried so hard be brave, but the tears poured and poured.

What happened next was mind blowing.

Here’s two pictures of myself with her.

 

At some point in the evening, my cousin just so happened to be snapping some pictures on the lake. Then she saw this.

 

IMG_2615

 

She found a way to be at my wedding after all.

 

One of my biggest struggles is isolation. I hate being alone. I panic. It sucks. Most of my alcoholism revolved around isolation.

 

Step Two says: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This step was challenging at first. I wasn’t sure if there was a God. I thought this was kind of uncessary. I didn’t need God. Fuck that.

 

Then the miracles started to happen. My sponser said to just get on my knees every morning and night and ask God to help keep me sober throuought the day, and then thank him (or her) for keeping my sober another day. I did this for two weeks. I felt nothing. My sponser told me to be patient and kind to myself.

This shit ain’t easy.

Then all of a sudden, while on my knees, I felt the absolute prescence of my Higher Power, my God. The feeling came out nowhere and blew me away. I was stunned. I went from not believing in anything, to suddenly believing in something HUGE.

It still blows my mind.

 

There were many times when I was drinking that I wished I had GG in my life still. I would drink and drink while asking the universe to somehow bring her back to me. I cried when she missed the birth of my children. I cried at Thanksgiving dinner without her. Hell, I cried driving home from work, because I missed her in my life so badly.

 

Then, just today, another miracle happened.

 

Someone said sonething tonight that touched every part of my soul.

 

He said God works in us in amazing ways. We all will die someday. That’s a given. And, we all go through tough challenges, but we’re not alone. We are jealous of angels. Our loved ones and friends have not left our lives for good. Not at all. They stand side by side with our Higher Power. They live with us and in us along side our Higher Power.

It’s incredible. In that very moment I felt a wave of emotions. My grandmother didn’t leave me. She was waiting for me to find my Higher Power. Through him, she is with me. It’s crazy. Insane.

 

I cried on the way home tonight, because that isolation I had been feeling was gone. I am never alone. Ever.

 

It’s a gift. It’s a miracle.

 

Twelve steps to happy hour…

Habits are hard to change. They become imbedded in our bodies. Muscle memory. That’s just how it is. My habits were out of control.

Cooking dinner? Here! Have a glass of wine!

Putting away laundry? Here! Have two glasses of wine!

Cleaning the house? Here! Have the whole damn bottle!

 

I was cooking dinner the other night and I had the strongest urge to have a glass of wine. I felt like I didn’t know how to cook without it. I was folding laundry and my body just ached to get buzzed so it wouldn’t suck so much.

 

Bad habits are incredibly hard to change. I decided to quit drinking and go sober for one month. My relationship with alcohol had become incredibly desperate and dangerous. I could make up a reason, any reason at all, why I deserved to have a drink. It was easy. I could have a glass and block out my postpartum anxiety like magic.

 

It was very easy to slip and slide into self medicating mentality. It starts with one glass.

 

But it’s never just one glass, is it?

 

I don’t like committing to things at all. I like to have excuses. I like to have a way out if I need one. I need to be in control. But, by my second day of sobriety, I realized I couldn’t do this on my own. I couldn’t commit to making this change all by myself. I needed help. I didn’t even realize how much help I needed, but holy shit did I need it.

My husband half jokingly asked me if I was going to start going to AA meetings. Normally, I would have laughed. I did not laugh this time. Only two days into this whole sober living thing, I realized that my relationship with alcohol was toxic. Slowly turning me into a shell of a human being, hiding behind drunken smiles and laughter.

I couldn’t do this on my own.

So, seven days ago I walked into a room in a local church, scared shitless. I was scared to know that I was going to have to face my demons right then and there, without the cozy warmth of a buzz. As I walked in, a woman rushed over to me and asked me if this was my first meeting. Still skeptical, I said yes. She immediately hugged me and told me how proud she was of me. A woman that I had never met before opened her arms and heart up to me. The tears started pouring out of me. It didn’t stop with her. Every single woman in that room introduced themselves and hugged me. I felt wrapped up in the love that was being poured all over me. I felt something else too.

Support. I felt supported.

Within that first hour, I cried, laughed, listened and embraced the women who had just opened up their lives for me. I walked into that meeting thinking that I was just going to see if I could gain some insight so that I could have a healthier relationship with alcohol. Because, apparently I believed I could have a nice, clean relationship with booze. I figured I would learn a few tips on how to stop drinking after two drinks, and gain some control back in the relationship. I had no idea that I was going to fall to my knees in humility and admit that this wasn’t just a bad relationship.

This is an addiction.

 

For the past five years, I’ve jokingly portrayed myself as the wino mom. Almost every single night I would open up a new bottle of wine and drink the whole damn thing. No problem. I told myself that I could stop whenever I wanted to. I told myself I had a high tolerance. I told myself that it was normal to buy extra wine and hide it in random places throughout the house. I had hundreds of excuses as to why this was normal and that I deserved it.

When I was pregnant with my first kid, I told my birth doula that I couldn’t wait to have champagne after the baby was born. She said, ” You could probably have one glass if you really wanted one.” I replied, ” No. You don’t get it. I don’t want a glass, I want the entire bottle.”

That was the beginning down the path I’ve been drunkenly crawling through for years.

 

As I listened to these women share their stories of sobriety, accomplishments and failures, I could feel my guarded wall slowly breaking down. Slowly but surely. I related to these stories. I have felt the same things.

I found more than just a meeting of women discussing their sobriety, I found a community. A huge, unwavering, welcoming, understanding community. I didn’t even realize how long I had been searching for the peace I felt while sitting in that meeting. The weight of the world was finally off my shoulders.

I could finally admit that this is a huge problem in my life. I could finally admit that I had been lying to myself for years. I could finally admit that I couldn’t do this on my own.

Complete strangers were willing to tell me their deepest, darkest secrets to help me realize that I wasn’t alone. My heart was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. After everyone else had spoken, they asked me if I wanted to share anything. My heart was racing, because I knew exactly what I needed to say.

 

” Hi. My name is Kate and I’m an alcoholic.”

I let out a deep, long breath and felt lighter than I have felt in years. The first step.

I left that meeting with a new sense of purpose, a new reason to be honest with myself and others. The next day I decided to go again. And again. And again. Pretty soon the women started joking that I really got around the block, with all the meetings I was attending. In truth, admitting that I’m an addict was the absolute hardest thing I have ever done. But, attending those meetings made me feel so happy and so alive. I started to look forward to it. Every day around five pm, I start counting down the minutes until my next meeting. My happy hour. 

 

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I can only handle one day at a time, but instead of handling it with a box of wine, I’m handling it with faith, strength, and sharing with others. I know that I could very easily fuck this up. I’m very aware of that. It isn’t easy being sober, it’s a constant battle. I am ready for the fight and I know that I won’t have to fight it alone.

I left that first meeting as an entirely different person. There was the wine drinking, shit talking Kate from before, and now there’s the sober, but still shit talking, Kate.

It feels amazing. This is my new normal. I’m fighting for myself so my children have a mother, so my husband has a wife, so my parents have their daughter back, and a million other reasons. This is probably the best thing I have ever done for myself. I’m going to fight this shit day in and day out, but I’m gaining the skills to kick the hell out of it.

 

One day at a time.  Serenity.