Celebrating progress, not perfection.

It’s been a few months since M’s last slip. Things have been gloriously ordinary around here. People ask “What’s new?” and I’m practically giddy when I tell them, “Nothing! Not much going on here. Just the everyday routine, every day.”

But what I really, really want to tell them are the small wins. Like, “M’s been coming to bed earlier.” Or , “We’re really making progress in our couples therapy sessions.” Also, “We have breakfasts together on the weekends now,” and “He’s quitting smoking!” Or even just, “He made it another day fighting the demons. He won today.”

While it might seem very strange for some people, when you’re living with someone in recovery, these small wins can mean everything. Especially when three years ago, our home was filled with resentment, uncertainty, feelings and hurt and worries unspoken and unheard. In Al-Anon, there is the slogan Progress, not perfection. It taught me perspective – really acknowledging how far we have come from sitting alone in those dark holes to climbing our way out, one step at a time, and finding our way back to each other and ourselves. We continue climbing every day.

It’s hard in this age of social media, where everyone is sharing the “perfect” things – celebrations of birthdays, marriages, a first house, a new job. A pregnancy announcement. A check-in from vacation. And attached to each post, a thread of congratulatory comments, hearts and likes and high fives, virtual hugs and pats on the back to let the poster know – Yes! This is worthy of being celebrated! We see you and how great you are living the life that everyone says you’re supposed to live.

And they are worthy of being celebrated! But what about the things that happen in between the big, happy moments? What about real life? The small, ordinary wins that look like nothing but took everything to achieve? How do we celebrate those?

It’s hard. I don’t like saying “I’m proud of you.” For some reason, it makes me feel separate, as though I’m saying it from above, looking down on him as he climbs. When what I really want to do is climb into the hole with him and cheer him on, and shine a light pointing up, so that he can see a little clearer and climb a little higher.

I don’t want to post on Facebook about what time my husband went to bed last night or our latest couples therapy breakthrough. Because it’s not even about the likes and the comments and the pats on the back. It’s about opening our eyes and noticing. Shining that light every day by saying, “Hey, I see you. I’m so happy you came to bed with me last night. It means a lot and I can feel us getting stronger, better. It feels right.”

Yesterday was the first day in 18 years that he did not have a single cigarette. When he told me, I hugged him. Told him it was amazing. And that we should celebrate. Tonight, we’re going out to eat at our favorite restaurant, out little family of three. We’ll get ice cream for dessert.

Let’s lift each other up. Let’s share our stories, our struggles, our big wins and small wins. Let’s celebrate.

It’s the smallest steps, the ones we take when we’re alone and unsure and afraid, the ones we take even though we can’t be certain we’ll make it to our destination because we’re learning, slowly, that maybe there is no destination. It’s just a constant climb, and not always up. Sometimes sideways, a couple of steps down, a pause to wait for the fog to lift before making the next step. These are the ones that are often the hardest to take, and the ones that are most important to celebrate.

And if we fall, the universe is there to catch us.

hello.

i am a writer, mother,
wife of recovering addict
+ more. 
addiction is a family disease. 
healing + telling my story 
through moments + light.

So, here I am. No name, no face, no age, no city. I write anonymously to free myself from judgement of the people I know. I am working on letting that go, too, but until then – just words on a page. Telling my story. To you. I’m not expecting to change lives, and I don’t believe one’s life purpose has to necessarily do that. A connection is all I can hope for. If you’re searching, maybe you will find hope in these words and know that you are not alone.

read more about why i write.

connect. say hello. share your story – ofmomentsandlight (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Relapse, recovery, resilience.

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A week ago, M used again.

As the weekend approached, I had a bad feeling. M had plans to be gone most of the weekend, hanging out with friends as their favorite band played at a local venue three days in a row. I was feeling anxious about solo parenting. I took Friday off to have time to myself, clean the house, run errands, so I could focus my attention on little m the rest of the weekend without feeling overwhelmed with house work.

I was not worried about M using.

His absence all weekend, coming home only to sleep and wake up late, was triggering. Reminded me of a worse time, years ago, before we began the healing process. When the darkness was hovering in every corner of our home, in the air between us, hanging over words said and unsaid.

I tried to wake him up to share my feelings. We had a horrible fight. He said things that were unlike him and looked at me with eyes of disgust. His energy scared me. I couldn’t believe the words he was saying.

We tried to put it behind us. We hugged, said our apologies, and he headed out. I knew as soon as his phone location was acting up – saying he was home, not out – that something was wrong. I spent the rest of the evening on my yoga mat, breathing. Feeling my inhale and exhale as powerful as waves crashing against rocks. I welcomed the universe in.

The universe answered. When M stumbled in the house at 5:00 the next morning, I immediately checked his phone and saw that he had been searching for addresses on the west side, where he gets drugs. He tried to lie, cover it up, but it was too late.

“Did you use?” I asked.

Pause. “Just last night,” he answered.

Truth brings me hope. I hold on to the truth. I grasp it tightly, knuckles white, clinging on for the life of our family. I hold on to the truth. It brings me hope.

Relapse is a part of recovery. It’s a controversial statement, and most people see it as either true or bullshit. It seems contradictory – how can someone be recovering if they’re still sick? It provides addicts with an excuse to use, because they can tell themselves they’re still in recovery even if they keep relapsing. And probably most of all – it can be extremely frustrating for family and friends of addicts who just want to the downward spiral of drugs, lies and darkness to go away forever.

But then take a look at the definitions of relapse and recovery. According to Merriam-Webster:

Relapse is a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement

Recovery is the process of combating a disorder (such as alcoholism) or a real or perceived problem

A recurrence of symptoms. For me, that means going back to the cycle of lies, denial, pain. A return to the darkness. When he uses and gets back into recovery right away, I don’t even call it a relapse. A lapse, a slip, a whatever. I try not to focus on it at all.

Relapse as a part of recovery takes away the belief that a relapse is a failure. It accepts that people are human, that we all make mistakes, that recovery is hard work. Recovery is not just an outcome. It is not just about sobriety. Recovery is about healing, finding a way back to one’s true self by diving into the depths of one’s soul and making it back out alive and reconnected to light. Recovery is about living life as a celebration of that light every day. 

M does not have a sobriety date. We do not measure the quality of his recovery with how many days he’s stayed clean. Instead, we focus on growth. We practice gratitude for the small, happy moments that did not exist when he was using – weekend breakfasts together, weekday evenings flowing through the bedtime grind together, cleaning up after dinner together, long chats about what it means to be a human and a spirit. Together.

What about me? How am I doing? How do I recover?

This week has been hard. Anxiety starts to take over small moments, making it difficult to focus. My chest begins to tighten, heart heavy and sinking to the pit of my stomach, a rumbling, a churning, and I find myself heading for the bathroom, my body literally telling me to release this negative energy. I went to my first Nar-Anon meeting (I have tried several other meetings in the area over the years – a few Al-Anon, a few non-12-step programs) and it didn’t quite fit. I plan to go back to my Tuesday night Al-Anon, which is structured to share the strength and hope of our stories rather than getting sucked into the hopelessness that can sometimes enter the room when we are simply sharing the back and forth of our addicts, the constant relapses and rehabs and disappointments. I joined a yoga therapy group,  practice yoga in a light filled room every other Saturday with a small group of women, then sharing our feelings after. I write. I read. I take pictures. I try not to let fear swallow me up.

My mantra this past week: resilience. I do not see his slips as failures, as long as he gets back up. As long as he stays committed to his recovery – to living the best way he can and giving his family the best version of himself. We deserve that. He deserves that.

And I continue to take each struggle as an opportunity for growth. I prayed and the universe answered. Now I must trust this process. Now I must keep going.

do not break
to break down

break
to break open.

– danielle doby, I AM HER TRIBE

October 8, 2018: The new moon.

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I got lost, confused. There were three houses around a circle driveway, with farmland beyond. Two other cars parked in the lot. I wandered around the driveway, yoga mat and blanket tucked under one arm, wondering if I was in the right place. One house was marked “Office,” another “Private Residence.” There was another house but I felt awkward, worried about embarrassing myself. I get anxious in situations where I don’t know exactly what to do or where to go, and when I think it may seem obvious to others. I worry I’ll look stupid. 

I went back to my car, checked the confirmation email, read a line instructing me to go to the education center. Took a deep breath, shut the fear down, and approached the last house – which was marked “education center” on google Maps. Opened the door. Inside, voices. A long hallway and to my right, a room with two women and a beautiful circle of crystals, flowers, light, poetry, tea. One of the women asked me to remove my shoes, and did I want to be smudged? The space was peaceful, inviting, friendly. Exactly where I wanted to be.

Exhale. Breathe fear out.

This was my first new moon circle. It is something I want to continue to attend – to carve out space at the beginning of each moon cycle to be with like-minded women, meditate and journal, share our stories, set intentions and share positive, loving energy.

A couple of years ago, when I first found out M was using again, I told myself that I had to learn to love myself again. I never in a million years thought that I would one day find myself meditating in a circle with a group of women I didn’t know. That M and I would spend date days crystal shopping, or that I would be lighting bundles of white sage in my home, wafting the smoke with a feather, praying for these spaces and myself be cleansed of negative energy.

I never thought my husband’s addiction would lead me to question my beliefs, to start searching for something greater within this world and within myself, and to find it alone, on my knees, crying in pain, praying in desperation. I never thought I would be one of those people who “found God.” Who believed that miracles do happen. Whose answer to every question has become prayer. Who craves connection with others who feel that same magic when they look up at the moon – others who have suffered and found hope in the synchronicity of the universe. 

“My husband is a recovering addict,” I told the circle of women as we gathered around the alter, sipping rose tea, journals open, goddess cards laid out before us. “The past few years have been hard, and I learned to welcome spirituality into my life – something I had never done before, but I found that when you’re feeling alone and hopeless, prayer becomes the only thing you can turn to.”

I don’t think of my Higher Power as God, although sometimes I refer to God for lack of a better name. My Higher Power is the energy within every living thing, that makes up each body and soul, that is the same energy that makes up the stars. We are vibrations, patterns, cycles, flowing through each other, giving life to one another. 

I feel closes to my Higher Power when I look at the sky.

The moon is my compass. The moon is always there, always listening. The moon knows what to do.

There is still much to learn, but what I have learned so far is that the new moon energy is best for new beginnings, setting intentions, while the full moon is often a time to reflect and release that which no longer serves us.

On this new moon, I intend to balance my energy between my three greatest relationships – myself, my husband and my son. We are a family, and we are all a part of the recovery process.

Recovery, every day.

We keep a weekly planner open on the kitchen table at all times. Monday at 6 – my therapist appointment. Tuesday at 5 – couples therapy. Wednesday after school – a team meeting for M, then his therapy at 6. Thursday at 5:30 – band practice? Friday at 5:30 – M’s dosing and group. Saturday at 8 – Modest Mouse concert. On the opposite page, a daily habit tracker with check boxes for each day of the week. For me, yoga. For him, play guitar. For us, purge (as in, every day contribute to our long-term effort of decluttering).

This is what our weekly calendar looks like on most weeks, although not always as packed with appointments. This is our new normal, our new routine – very consciously making time for our mental health, self care, recovery. Not written in our calendar is the rest of the everyday, the routine that most families are familiar with – drop off little m at daycare, work, pick up m at daycare, plop m in front of the TV for an hour while I space out in front of my phone and stick a few chicken nuggets in the toaster oven for his dinner, feed m, playtime, bath time, bed time, cook dinner for me and M or more often than not, grab takeout because who has the energy to cook anymore? Eat dinner in front of the TV and, lately, pass out on the couch and wake up in a pissy mood, a messy kitchen still left to clean, the next day hovering over me like a dark cloud. Most days, I am very tired. On days like these, self care and recovery just become another to-do on a long list of to-do’s. On days like these, I want to crawl back into bed and throw my life at someone else to do for me. 

And then there are days like today. Sunday at home, no plans except to get the house back in order and re-energize for the week. I started off the morning feeling overwhelmed by all the housework that had to be done. Everywhere I turned there was something to clean, something to put away, something that kept being ignored. I managed to take one thing at a time, focus on each task at hand, then move on to the next. I made time for little m when he asked if I would play with him. I was able to communicate to M that I need a few hours out of the house to take a break from housework and mommy-ing to breathe. To write. Now, I’m sitting in a new coffee shop downtown, the kind that makes coffee foam designs that beg for an Instagram post. My film camera sits next to me, and old hobby from my twenties that I’m leaning into again, an urge to chase the light, feel the click of the shutter, the dreamy images revealed like a Christmas package after a long wait. Just as I wrote that, the barista picked up my empty coffee cup and complimented the camera – “Minolta?” he asked. “I have one too.”

Soon, I’ll pack up and head back home. The quilt in the dryer will likely need another spin. Little m will be ready for dinner and M will ask me what we’re eating. I’m thinking tacos from our regular Mexican spot. We’ll feed the little, get him ready for bed and start to wind down for the evening. Dinner in front of the TV. I feel relaxed knowing that I spent a good chunk of the day checking items off my to-do list, including “write.” There are many days where I feel like I’m drowning in to-do’s, and self care is almost like an impossible joke. I’m thankful for days like today, and I’m glad to be able to write about it – to remind myself that I’m not really drowning. I’m just riding the waves, and some days are rougher than others, but every day I must keep faith that the universe will keep me safe. That the energy of the moon pulls the waters back and forth, the same moon that guides me home.

On days like today, here are the words that help me:

First thing’s first.
“When there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, we can accept our limitations and make choices about what has to be done at once and what has to be postponed. We are not superhuman, we cannot do it all. First things first helps us make more workable choices and live with the choices we make.” – from How Al-Anon Works: For Families & Friends of Alcoholics

Let go.
Let go of expectations of what I think my day or my house or my parenting should look like. Accept, embrace, be grateful for my life just the way it is.

Forgive.
It’s okay that little m didn’t have a vegetable with dinner. It’s okay that I didn’t make it to the yoga mat today. It’s okay to leave that last basket of laundry unfolded. It’s okay that m watched TV while I cleaned. It’s going to be okay.

Recovery isn’t always about therapy appointments or even talking about addiction directly. Sometimes it’s about weaving self care into the everyday: Using an Al-Anon slogan to help get through routines. A conversation with M about purging clothes and items we no longer need, and relating that back to our own healing – removing the dead leaves, what no longer serves us. Making room for new growth. And after a good day, saying thank you – to the universe, to M, to myself. We all worked together to make it through. 

Tomorrow is Monday, and we’ll start over again.

8.

Eight years married. Last year, the significance of seven was not lost on us. Seven chakras, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of creation. And then: 8. The first day of the new week. A never ending flow. Another beginning of our infinite cycle.

Today is also a full moon, and your first day back to school after our small nightmare. We survived it. Yet another. After eight years, we’ve survived more small nightmares than most people. Looking back, it was probably around our fourth year, our halfway mark, that we hit a peak of our marriage. We got pregnant. We got ready for the next step. And then, our sweet son came to us in the middle of the night in the most unexpected way imaginable. We survived his 10 days in the NICU. Our first survival as parents, as a family. I don’t want to say it all went downhill from there, because the day he came to us, we learned the true strength of love. And then, life got hard. Maybe that’s why the universe put our son in our lives when it did – because it knew we would need that strength to help us get through the next three years as we completed our first full cycle of marriage. As the waves seemed to pull us under and we continued to find our way back up for air.

We ebb and flow. The waves of the ocean are influenced by the cycle of moon, and so are we made up of water and energy and vibrations, our bodies and minds and spirits in a constant state of ups and downs. We grow toward the light. Like the leaves on our house plants that have been drawing me in lately. Watching as new growth stems from the top, small baby leaves peeking into life. We pull away the dying leaves and make room for the new. We place crystals around our home and marvel at their beauty, their magic, their knowing. Their sacred patterns that help balance our vibrations like a tuning fork, bringing us back into the flow of the universe. We let love in. We breathe love out.

Who knows where this next cycle will take us? A part of me wants to lean toward fear – we barely survived the last one! How can we do it again? Well. First, we’ll take a deep breath. We’ll recognize that within our cycle of marriage are our own journeys to love and light, our own reflections and intentions, our own unique vibrations, our own purpose. And we’ll take each other’s hands, and let go of fear. Nothing can ever prepare us for what is to come. I go into the next with no expectations. But I know more now than I did then. And I know, my love, that as the next cycle pulls and pushes and feels as thought it’s weighing us down; in the moments when we may forget about our strength – we can be a lighthouse for each other. Let’s always leave the light on to guide the other home – back to infinite comfort of the other’s circling arms.

A journal entry from April 29, 2018.

I struggle with expectations. I set these expectations, then when they aren’t met, I wonder – don’t I deserve what I want to happen, to happen? Why let go and settle for less?

But there is a difference between expectations and needs.

“Attaching our well being to a particular action or outcome is very risky. In essence, we make that situation a kind of higher power – we give our power over to other people and circumstances… We have the ability to change our attitudes. We can detach from our [expectations], anchoring our well being and peace of mind our Higher Power rather than any external situation.” – How Al Anon Works

Do not let your expectations become your Higher Power.

These past two days, this past weekend, I’ve woken up with this idea in my head of what the morning would look like. Maybe it was the Instagram posts of a local mother, a photographer who manages to make suburban mom life look so perfect – her family stylishly dressed, going to hipster cafes and taking perfectly candid photos in front of painted brick walls. So I wanted a morning spent in our little downtown, at a park and then for a meal or dessert. I wanted to make it out by 11, so we could grab a small breakfast and have time to talk and play. M got out of bed at a decent time but took nearly two hours getting ready. We didn’t make it downtown until 12:30. By the time we left the house, I was crabby and short with M and m. Looking back, it seems so silly to have been so angry after having such a nice day.

A delicious bacon sandwich and iced mocha at a new-to-us cafe. A walk in the sunshine along the river, m pushed on his trike. m running around the park with no fear. His laugh. We made it back to get m down for a nap by 3, then I listened to a podcast while making pasta and roasting vegetables for the week. Shawn Achor was on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, talking about happiness and how worry can be a waste of time. They’re just thoughts, noise, taking up space that would be better used for something that brings joy rather than negativity.

Why focus on what’s going wrong? On how my expectations aren’t being met? Why do I let running late get to me? Even when I set the time frame – when I tell myself we have to be somewhere at a certain time for no real reason, and then I let that dictate my attitude. M will take longer than I like, and I take it out on him. Even though he got out of bed when I asked, and even started getting ready without first going out for a cigarette. I still grumbled about it, and got so impatient and frustrated. I yelled at m and he felt my anger. I saw him get quiet and upset as a reaction to my crabbiness. And for what? Everything turned out fine. We had such a nice day. And I regret those few hours when I was just so upset for no good reason.

I have been confusing my expectation for my needs.

What do I need? To spend quality time with my husband and my son. A husband who wants to spend time with me, who loves his family, who takes care of us. It can’t be about what I expect our days to look like before they even begin. Because by the end of the day – there is a little boy playing in the backyard with his daddy, asking questions and saying things like, “Oh, I have an idea!” when he thinks of something new and exciting on his own. There is laundry clean and dry and waiting to be folded. There are windows flung open and a house that finally smells fresh and clean and full of new again. There are plants with fresh soil, watered and green. There is a just vacuumed carpet and pasta sauce bubbling on the stove. There are healing crystals at work around the house, and a full moon, and a clear sky.

Also feeling today:

  • Scattered. I kept starting chores and then getting distracted by another task. I started to hang dry laundry, then got half way done and started clearing the floor to vacuum, then came downstairs and realized I hadn’t finished the laundry.
  • Mom guilt. Totally felt guilty for letting m watch TV while I vacuumed, when outside, it was beautiful. He wanted to watch TV, and he played outside in the morning (and then again after TV), and how else am I supposed to clean without interruption?
  • Letting go. Of my expectations of what I think my writing should look like. What I actually got out on the page today was not what I wrote in my head earlier. But I got it out.
  • Paying attention to my plants. I actually started talking to them, and I noticed I felt better after I gave them some attention. I realized we all share the same energy in this home. If I put more energy into caring for my plants, maybe they’ll help bring more positive energy to our space.
  • Crystals. Charoite was brought to my attention after finding it in my crystal book by mistake. I read the description and it’s what I have been looking for to help with my fears of relapse, as well as letting go of expectations. Prehnite is a stone I just bought last month because I kept stumbling upon its description. I read today that it’s good for connecting with nature – explains my new connection to my plants!
  • Prayer. Please help me to let go of expectations. To keep a positive attitude. To be grateful for all the ways in which my needs are met every day.