Let’s go for a walk.
I lived in fear of hearing those words spoken by my husband. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about it too much, as he had a high-powered job at the time and was rarely home, and I was busy managing our three young children. Taking care of young children was all-consuming, mind-numbing as I went through the rote motions of my day…and isolating.
This was the height of my addiction/alcoholism.
I had started drinking alcoholically in college, later adding anti-anxiety medication to the mix, which my shrink was happy to prescribe for a long time. During these days, I found myself reaching out to her more and more—asking for an increase in prescription strength or dose, or calling her after hours because I had run out of pills and insurance had yet authorized my refill. She became aggravated with me, as you might imagine. But I was left only with some scolding remarks as she obliged my latest request.
My life was in the house.
There was no need to go outside unless I had to. I had all the basic tools needed for raising children in the home—food, toys, crib, etc. I would venture out to break up the day, maybe—to the park, grocery store, a drive-thru, or later to retrieve my daughters in the carpool line at school. These excursions helped to break up the monotony of the day and shaved some minutes off the clock.
As I timed feedings, naps, and play time, I also timed my fixes. I got pretty good at determining how much alcohol/pills I had left in the house and in my system, and how much I needed to get through the day or week.
There’s a story I share sometimes at AA meetings about one of those trips to the grocery store that truly illustrates my life then:
I realized there was no alcohol in the house when it was time to pick up my two daughters from their school. I had not gotten a chance to break away from my children to arrange a trip to the grocery store as my toddler son, coming down with a stomach bug, had vomited about an hour before. My insanity told me he was fine, buckled safely in his car seat, as we left the school with my daughters headed for the grocery store. I told them that Mom needed to pick up a few things. As I pulled into a parking space in the lot, Gavin projectile vomited over everything. Little curds of milk were stuck to the seats and floor mats in the front and back of the van, and all over him. My daughters were upset as I did my best to clean the mess with some paper towels, announcing “it’s not a big deal.” As I reached for the car door handle, my middle daughter asked, “What do you need so bad from the store anyway, Mom?”
I bristled when I heard Gavin proclaim, “Let’s go for a walk!” A lovely idea in theory, right? A young family out for a walk on a nice, sunny day on their beautiful drive in an upper middle-class suburb. “Yes, let’s!” I exclaimed in response, hoping my feigned enthusiasm appeared genuine. In actuality, I hated that I didn’t want to go for a walk, but I didn’t. I had all these feelings and insecurities, and my life was so hard—I was sure that reflected to anyone who might lay eyes on me outside. The act of walking down the street in the sunshine was exposing.
I could pretend in the house.
In the house, I could pretend I wasn’t the fraud that I am—that it wasn’t the alcohol and pills getting me through each day. I could pretend that my skin wasn’t pasty and hollow, and that there wasn’t darkness under my eyes. At that time, I was a young mom, but I didn’t look young and vital. I thought the drugs were making things better, but I see now that the cycle of using and the withdrawal until the next fix made me uncomfortable in my own skin—anxious, jumpy. The substances numbed my brain so I wasn’t fully cognizant of the state I was in. But I still knew that the world looked disapprovingly at me. Things weren’t supposed to be this hard. Other people didn’t have to get wasted to perform the simple, or not so simple, tasks of daily living. What was it about me? What was wrong with me?
It was just so damn uncomfortable being me.
I had often heard the phrase in AA meetings “uncomfortable in my own skin.” That exactly described me…I felt shaky, my body awkward in space, large, cumbersome. Every physical action was premeditated with trepidation…I must make it to the car with my toddler and son in his car seat…that required how many steps? My right arm hurt from the weight of the car seat. The sun was too bright. I was probably sweating. Would the car seat latch? Why did I have a hard time with that? “Just make it to the car,” I told myself. “Just get the kids in the car.” I prayed nightly for God to take away whatever this was.
Because I was so low, everyone else was elevated in my eyes.
If it appeared they were thriving in some which way, I was dumbfounded.
I asked Gavin to wait a second while I went upstairs to check my makeup. I wore makeup every day, and nice clothes…the ones that would fit me now, as I had put on 40 pounds since I had my youngest. I look at pictures from this time in utter dismay.
It’s always amazing to me the stories we can tell ourselves about ourselves, and what we perceive in our environment. The mirror lied to me, but photographs shined a bright light on reality.
The ritual of putting on makeup and picking out an outfit felt comforting to me. But it did nothing to mask the struggling young woman that I was. I look at these pictures and see eyes that are little slits in my head and puffy cheeks. A couple of years into my sobriety, I deleted our home phone’s outgoing voicemail. I couldn’t stand to hear the sound of my slow, deliberate voice. A therapist’s notes in an open file folder on a desk at the inpatient facility my psychiatrist would later check me into said the following: “chooses her words carefully.”
I told myself that was because I was a thoughtful and deliberate person. The fact that I saw this as a testimony to my intellect and character was my inferiority/superiority complex rearing its ugly head. I buttoned up Gavin’s little wind breaker, helped him on with his shoes, and took a deep breath as Gavin Sr pushed the front door open with our girls in tow.
Today, the sun beckons to me.
Come outside! In sobriety, I reclaimed my passion for running. Now, I run daily on our beautiful drive, waving at neighbors as I pass. They know me. On my morning run, I become disappointed when I don’t see Ross come out of his house to walk his two little dogs, or the house guest of the pastor on the corner, who always wears the obnoxious orange hat. There is a comradery between them and me that comes with the consistency and dependability of presence on our daily outings. The woman at #3 said at a neighborhood potluck, “I sit at my computer by the front window and see you go back and forth, back and forth. I tell myself that I should get out there, too, but never do.” I consider how I am now someone’s inspiration for getting outside.
A blessing of the pandemic has been walks with my son, now 12. With the five of us at home from work and school, we’ve had ample time to walk our dog Roxy. Eager for fresh air and exercise, Gav would always accept my request for company on these walks. We’d play “what if” and “would you rather” games, and laugh. I will always look back at this time and remember how we laughed.