A huge part of my continued sobriety is reading. I love books. I love learning. My name is Sara, and I am a nerd. I also like inspirational quotes and passages. I get daily emails with motivational wordstuffs around sobriety. Sometimes, they are so damn on-the-spot that I feel like the writer is spying on me (or is that my anxiety?). Today was not the case. Today, my motivational wordstuffs pissed me off:
In the Sixth and Seventh Steps of the program, we become willing to let go of our defects of character – issues, behaviors, old feelings, unresolved grief, and beliefs that are blocking us from the joy that is ours. Then we ask God to take them from us.
Isn’t that simple? We don’t have to contort ourselves to make ourselves change. We don’t have to force change. For once, we don’t have to “do it ourselves.” All we have to do is strive for an attitude of willingness and humility. All we have to do is ask God for what we want and need, and then trust God to do for us that which we cannot do and do not have to do for ourselves.
We do not have to watch with bated breath for how and when we shall change. This is not a self-help program. In this miraculous and effective program that has brought about recovery and change for millions, we become changed by working the Steps.
All emphasis added was mine. The part in red was what, well, made me see red. So you get to see it in red too! #sharedexperiences
Compared to stories I’ve heard, my road to sobriety was relatively easy. I haven’t relapsed since my last drink on September 9, 2006. I haven’t been incarcerated. I haven’t lost my children, my spouse, my family members, or friends due to drinking. I never lost my job or became homeless. I never had to be hospitalized for health reasons related to drinking or detoxing. I don’t list all these things to brag – I’m grateful that these didn’t happen to me because I understand how easily they could have.
However, it’s not smart to compare your sobriety journey to that of others’. My sobriety journey was not easy, nor was it simple. Also, once I completed the sixth and seventh steps, I didn’t just sit back and let things happen. I continued to work. Instead of making snap decisions based on how I felt at the moment, I tried to consider all consequences that could occur (translation: I cared about how my actions affected others and didn’t just act on whim). I analyzed how I felt, and reached out for help from supportive people if those feelings were too big to handle on my own. Some might call that God working in my life. That’s fine. I choose to also respect the hard work I was doing.
I would also argue that recovery work IS a self-help program. I mean, if I wasn’t willing to admit I was an addict, or seek help, I’d still be blacking out from too many Jack & Cokes on the weekends. Self-help doesn’t have to mean you do it all on your own – it isn’t called All-By-Your-Self-help.
Motivational wordstuffs such as this mean well, but I feel they can be very damaging to recovery work. I could easily see someone thinking, my sobriety wasn’t simple, so what am I doing wrong? It’s dangerous to simplify sobriety work. It isn’t simple. It’s messy and complicated and hard and time-consuming. Is it worth it? YES. Absolutely. Just don’t call it simple.
Picture this: you’ve been terrorized by a miniature version of yourself all morning (in other words, a normal Friday). The typical pattern is toddler asks for something (Waffle! Bite! Milk!), and when given said item, vehemently denies ever wanting it and punishes you for your insolence with assorted fussy behaviors. This pattern continues until toddler finally, blessedly, falls asleep.
Picture this: house is silent. Toddler is crashed out in the bed. You slip out and quietly fist pump over the specter of Free Time. You never know how long this toddler-free time will last, so you intend to use it wisely (HA). It’s time to recharge the batteries, bring the patience meter up from negative 47, restore calm. You browse Facebook, check your email, and revel in the fact that there aren’t any sticky little fingers trying to turn the laptop off. You decide it’s time to dust off the old blog and start writing again.
Yes. It is definitely You Time.
A subtle change occurs in the atmosphere. You glance down the hall and see a little face quietly peering at you around the corner. The toddler has woken up and silently come to find you. He creeps over with a look of complete joy, like he’s just been given carte blanche to write on all the walls and climb on all the tables.
So much for You Time.
But instead of getting frustrated, you welcome him. He crawls into your lap and asks to nurse. You oblige. He nurses for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep.
You could get up and take him back to bed. You might be able to scrape out a little more You Time, maybe even craft that blog post that’s suddenly percolating.
But instead, you let him sleep in your arms. You smile at his little baby snores and memorize his sleeping face. He must have known you both needed this. The two of you sit silently on the couch, his little body sprawled out over your arm and lap, while you type your thoughts on your phone instead of the laptop.
Sometimes You Time is better with him. Sometimes what you – I – need isn’t time without him; its peaceful time with him. I need the reminder that it won’t always be like this – the good and the bad. He may always drive me nuts in one way or another, but he won’t always be able to snuggle into my lap for a midafternoon nurse ‘n nap. So for today, I welcome him into my You Time.
I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about how breastfeeding advocates shame mothers, mothers shame mothers, businesses shame mothers, healthcare providers shame mothers. It’s frustrating. I see a lot of this:
“That doctor made me feel bad for formula-feeding.”
“The server gave me the dirtiest look when I started breastfeeding in the café; it made me feel I was doing something wrong.”
“That sancti-mommy lectured me about using formula. It made me feel horrible.”
“My sister (who breastfed) said I was weird for breastfeeding my 3-year-old; it made me feel terrible.”
“That chick said I’m not a real mom because I work outside the home; that made me feel like shit.”
“It made me feel so awful when that mom told me bed-sharing was dangerous.”
“My doctor made me feel like a terrible mother when I asked about taking antidepressants while pregnant.”
These are just a few of the infinite number of ways parents could be shamed. Basically any decision we make as parents is probably going to be questioned by someone. When someone objects to what you’re doing, or says you’re doing something wrong, it can often lead to feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to.
Do you know what I see in the statements above? A whole lot of refusal to take responsibility for how you feel. A whole lot of letting someone else tell you what your success should look like. A whole lot of letting some jackass decide that you should be ashamed of what you’re doing.
Here’s a way to stop the mom-shaming. Instead of pointing the finger outward at that mom, that breastfeeding specialist, that doctor, that other person – how about pointing the finger inward at yourself? In other words:
STOP GIVING OTHERS THE POWER OVER HOW YOU FEEL.
If you own your decisions, know they were the best for you and your family, and have the confidence to stand by them, nobody can make you feel ashamed. Nobody can make you feel anything – you get to choose how the actions of others affect you.
I’m not saying to never feel anything, or just to brush that dirt off your shoulder like it’s nothing. That’s not going to happen. Shit happens; we react. What I am saying is that when you start to feel ashamed of a parenting decision, take a step back and analyze it. Did I make this decision because it was what was best for ME, or MY family, or MY baby? If the answer is yes, then you have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. Example time!!
Was switching to formula the best decision for you and your family? Then the next time someone says you’re harming your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.
Does seeing the research on breastfeeding make you feel like a bad mom because you didn’t breastfeed? Don’t let it. Increasing risk of something does not equal harm. Infant feeding decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are so many variables to consider; risk reduction is just one of them and not necessarily the deciding factor for everyone.
Do you enjoy full-term breastfeeding? Then the next time someone says it’s tantamount to child abuse, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.
Do you feel pressured by medical professionals to wean because [insert reason here]? Tell them you are the child’s mother and you know what’s best for your family.
Does safe bed-sharing allow everyone in your family to get more sleep? Then the next time someone declares you’re going to kill your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.
See a pattern here? Own your decisions. If someone questions it, tell them to back off in whatever manner you choose (I’ve illustrated a more direct approach; some of you may prefer a more nuanced, less foul-mouthed response).
If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m so frustrated and saddened. I see so many beautiful, strong, amazing women question themselves because of the words of others. I see what amazing mothers they are; I just wish they did, too.
Who cares what other people think about how you care for your family! The only “right” answer in parenting is the one that works for your family.
Don’t let the actions you take as a parent, define you as a parent. You are not a breastfeeding or formula-feeding or bed-sharing or cloth-diapering or [insert label here] mom – you are a mom who loves her children and makes the best decisions she can, based on the information she has at the time.
Taking back power over how you feel isn’t easy. It’s taken me years to recognize that I didn’t have to let anyone make me feel bad and put that into practice. It’s something I struggle with almost every day.
Also, it will be different when the power balance is off. For example, it’s easier to shrug off a stranger’s disdain than it is to speak up against negative comments by someone in a position of “authority” – like a doctor.
If it’s someone you know and care about (such as a family member or close friend), it may be even harder because of the fear of hurting the relationship. But think about this: you can speak your truth gently and with respect; if the person you love reacts negatively, that’s their issue – not yours.
The following are some tips for taking back your power. It’s things I’ve learned through mothering, working as an IBCLC, going through the 12 Steps as an alcoholic, and just life in general.
Grieve your losses. If you wanted to breastfeed more than anything, but formula ended up being a better option for your family, it’s ok to be upset. Grieve the loss of breastfeeding. If you got no support, or really shitty breastfeeding support (like someone saying the latch looks fine even though you’re in pain) – be angry! Do something to work through that anger, though – don’t bottle it up (no pun intended). Take however long you need to grieve, but try to work through it in healthy ways.
Find a mantra. I personally like saying, “Well, that’s just their opinion” if someone says something negative about me. It’s true – it is that person’s opinion – but I don’t have to accept their opinion as my own. Find something that will help you put emotionally charged situations into perspective.
Be confident. This can be really hard. I don’t think I became confident as a mommy until my first son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second. Even so, I still question my abilities. But if I can honestly say that yes, I am doing the best I can, then that is enough for me. If it’s enough for me, it’s damn well enough for the rest of the world.
Be the change. If you catch yourself judging another mom, stop and think. It can be hard to see people doing things differently – after all, I picked my way because I thought it was best. But what’s best for me, may not be best for another mother/family. And that’s OK. Next time you feel yourself start to be a Judgy McJudgyPants, stop and say, “You know, I’ll bet that mom is doing the best she can. It’s different than what I would do, but I’ll bet it works for her.” Change how you think.
Toughen up. You’re going to encounter Assholes – the ones who deliberately try to make people feel bad because it makes them feel better about themselves. Often, you can’t reason with an Asshole. At that point, pull a Jay-Z and brush your shoulders off. Assholes aren’t worth your time or your emotions. BUT…
Don’t assume everyone is an Asshole. Maybe I’m being too Pollyanna, but I really think that most people say stuff out of a desire to help, not to be a jerk. Perhaps they say it the wrong way, with the wrong tone, at the wrong time, or they shouldn’t have said anything at all. Assume that people come from a place of love or concern for welfare, and you might be surprised at the positivity that comes your way.
Awhile ago, I saw a HuffPo piece called “An Apology Letter to My Second Child.” My second child was about a month old, so I was like, ok, I’ll bite. It was one of those funny/cutesy posts where the writer apologizes for all the awful things that happened (brother peed on you, didn’t do your baby book, etc.) but then declares she won’t apologize for loving you less. Slightly Hallmark cliche, but sweet nonetheless. It got me thinking, though…
…and I need to apologize to my first son. So, here goes:
I’m sorry I don’t remember much about your first few months.
Jack will do something adorable, like “shout” at us or make a funny face. I’ll remark, “I don’t remember Colt doing that; did he do that?” And my husband will inevitably reply, “Yes,” with only a hint of an exasperated sigh. I was in such a fog of exhaustion and untreated postpartum depression that I honestly don’t remember most details of his first 3 months. I took a crap ton of photos, so it’s not like it’s a complete blank. But those random moments of looking into his eyes, smiling at his coos, nuzzling my nose into his hair and breathing in his wonderful baby smell? No memory. Makes my heart ache a little.
I’m sorry I was afraid.
I was afraid to bedshare, because I was certain I’d kill him. I was afraid to babywear, because I read one random story about a baby suffocating in a Moby wrap. I was actually afraid to be alone with him at times, because I didn’t know what to do with him! I wish I’d educated myself more. Bedsharing has been a lifesaver with Jack; I get so much more sleep and I know I won’t kill him because I do it safely. I wear him in a wrap often – sometimes, it’s the only thing that calms him down! Again, I educated myself on the safest ways to wear an infant. I can’t help but wonder a bit that if I’d bed-shared (gotten more sleep) and baby-wore (less crying/stress), I might have more memories of Colt’s first few months.
I’m sorry I was so stressed and cried a lot. Most of what I do remember about the first few months is how panicked I felt – especially while home alone. Bryce went back to work 10 days after he was born, he worked 12+ hours a day, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have any friends that lived nearby. Basically, I was too isolated while learning this crazy new job of mother. Plus, there was the untreated postpartum depression. I’d gone off my depression meds before trying to get pregnant. During Colt’s pregnancy, I had no symptoms of depression, so I didn’t think after pregnancy would be all that bad. HA. I had several risk factors for PPD, but ignored the signs when they showed up or lied to health care providers. I mentioned to Bryce once or twice that I thought I needed help, but did it kind of casually and never followed up. I should have told him I’d had fleeting thoughts of what life would be like if I was gone (how would Bryce raise a child alone?) and that I was afraid I could possibly hurt the baby.
With Jack, it’s been 180 degrees different. Bryce took a month off before going back to his laidback, 9-hour-a-day job. I have a car and an older son who loves to go do things. I’ve got several local friends I see regularly. I started taking my depression meds at 36 weeks, so it would have time to build up in my system before delivery. No sadness, anxiety, or unworthy feelings (unless I forget to take my meds for a few days!). I feel so much more relaxed. I’m sure part of it is just the fact that I’ve done this before. However, I think a large part of it is different circumstances (Bryce’s job situation) and that I worked hard to reduce my risk of PPD this time around. If things get bad this time, I will ask for help. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, please don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!
I’m sorry I went back to work because I thought being a SAHM wasn’t enough. I took a full-time job when Colt was 4 months old. Part of the reason was financial; we were barely scraping by on just Bryce’s salary (damn student loans). Another part was me wanting to use my newly earned Master degree. But there was a part of me that felt being “just a mom” wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t fulfilled as a person. In reality, my disease was rearing up. I used to only find my worth in my work and felt like I wasn’t complete without validation from outside sources. This was my disease talking. I’ve since worked through that and I no longer need someone/something to tell me I’m worthy; I’m enough. I’ll be going back to school when Jack is about 5 months, but not because being home with the boys isn’t good enough.
I suppose this is the part where the touching “I’m not sorry I…” comes in. I’m reluctant to add it – mostly because of the Hallmark cheese factor – but also because I don’t want to devalue what I just wrote. I loved Colt then, as I do now. There’s no doubt about that. He made me a mother. I am grateful that I learned from my early motherhood experiences, so that I could make different choices later. Colt is a bright, independent firecracker who tells me he loves me about ten times a day, so I know I didn’t ruin him in those early dark days. I just wish those early days weren’t quite so dark.
Today is my sobriety birthday. 8 years! Originally I thought I’d do something lighthearted; other awesome things that are 8 or notable stuff that happened today.
But then I had a shitty stressful day. ON MY (SOBRIETY) BIRTHDAY. Here’s the rundown:
Packed up both kids. Drove to grocery store. Unpacked kids. Halfway to store, realized I’d forgotten my wallet. This was me:
Packed up both kids. Drove home, found wallet. Finally back to store. Grocery shopping with two littles is never relaxing, especially when the almost-4-year-old chatters nonstop and the 6-week-old wakes up halfway through and screams for lunch.By the time I got home, got everyone fed, put the baby down for a nap and got the groceries put away, my nerves were shot.
And I was like, What. The. Hell. It’s my (sobriety) BIRTHDAY. I should be relaxing or doing something awesome – not feeling like a stretched-out rubber band that’s two seconds from breaking.
But after eating a bowl of popcorn and watching a few episodes of Agents of Shield, I realized this stress was exactly the right way to celebrate my (sobriety) birthday. The morning was shit, so what did I do with the afternoon? Not get drunk, not make bad decisions, not react and reach for something to numb the frustration. Instead, I ate a favorite food, watched a good show and gave myself time to relax.
Sobriety gave me the ability to do that. Sobriety also gave me the ability to still be a somewhat decent mother when my patience is so thin, it’s transparent. What better way to celebrate my (sobriety) birthday than to utilize the most precious gifts this day have given me?
My diseases are liars. When everything is going well, they lead me to believe I’m “fine” or “cured.” If I take my meds for long enough, I start to think I have beaten depression and might be able to live without them. Every now and then, the thought sneaks into my head that my alcoholism is gone and I could handle “just one drink.”
And then I miss my meds for a few days, and crash into familiar territory. Sad for no apparent reason. Overreact to seeming slights. Take criticism too personally. Irritable as fuck.
(Thank heavens I’ve never acted on the thought of “just one drink,” because Bad Shit Would Happen – worse than what I describe above.)
All it takes is a few days off my meds to knock me back into reality. I can’t live without chemical support. And fuck all if that isn’t really depressing. I mean, I’m not going to physically die without it, like someone with diabetes who needs insulin, but living with untreated depression isn’t really living.
It shouldn’t be a big deal. There are millions of people with chronic diseases who take meds. Most don’t have the shitty stigma of mental health problems, but then I don’t really care if someone disapproves of my Prozac. So I’m really not sure what it is that bothers me. Maybe it’s the long-term nature of it; that I probably will have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life in order to be happy or “normal.” That’s kind of tiresome, especially for someone who sucks at remembering to take pills.
I just hope the drug builds back up in my system quickly. I’m sick of these nighttime downers.
My son and I are very much alike in personality. Too much alike, sometimes. We are both ridiculously stubborn (him because he’s 3, me because I’ve been doing it for 32 years). We both assume we are always “right” and know what’s best. We both like to “win” and hate giving in. Throw in my pregnancy hormones and his immature reasoning, and…yikes.
So what do you get when two stubborn people are together pretty much 24/7? And one of them is working on learning common sense, and the other is a small child?
You get tears. And frustration. And anger, annoyance, rage, whining, pouting, door-slamming, toy-throwing, mean-mugging, and a less-than-enjoyable day.
It’s not always like this; otherwise I’d probably have myself committed. Usually we get along famously. But on Those Days, where everything is a challenge and I struggle to stay polite in my words, I start counting down the minutes until Dada gets home from work. Then, at least, the two of them can go play their rough-and-tumble games and I can get a little time to myself to decompress (even if it is over the stove while cooking dinner).
On Those Days, I often skip out of story time. Dada does all the reading anyway; I just lay there and sometimes get a cuddle (or an elbow). More alone time = WIN.
But no matter how bad Those Days are, I always lay with him after story. Dada get his kisses and hugs, shuts off the lights, makes sure Bumblebee nightlight is activated, turns on the Avengers spotlight so Iron Man is on the ceiling, and then Colt and I lay together.
It’s a holdover from our nursing days, when I would often nurse him to sleep. When we stopped nursing, we transitioned to cuddling before bed. It’s my favorite thing. Especially on Those Days.
I always seem to lay with him longer on days that were particularly bad. If I give him a kiss or move slightly, he whispers, “Can you lay with me a little bit?” It’s like we both realize we need that quiet time together to sort of “mend” the relationship. Sometimes I leave before he falls asleep. Often on Those Days, I stay and watch his eyes flutter as he fights sleep. I get to see when they finally close, those gorgeous long lashes sweeping his soft cheeks. I hear the pattern of his breathing slow and deepen. I look at his angelic, sleeping face and my heart feels like it might burst. All the icky stuff of the day melts away, and all I’m left with is the love.
I treasure those nights. I know there will come a time when he won’t want Mama to lay with him. We’ll still have Those Days, but we’ll figure out another way to mend the relationship. Until then, I will savor our quiet moments at night together.