I must have heard it hundreds of times as my children were growing up. Someone would see them in the stroller or in my arms and comment on how fast the time goes and how quickly they grow. They spoke from experience, longingly remembering the days that their own children were small enough to ride in a stroller or be carried. They were right. The time goes so quickly. As I help my oldest child with college applications, getting ready to send her off next year, I can’t help think that those days of diapers and bottles were just yesterday.
I’m writing this piece, as I usually do, to share my story with others in the hope of helping someone who is struggling. But today, I’m also writing this as a reminder and help to myself. On the days when the intense battle to resist the urge of picking up a drink ramps up, it’s helpful to be reminded of the joys of sobriety. The gift of being present is way up there. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories about families torn apart by alcoholism and addiction. People who are estranged from their children or parents. Older generations not allowed to spend time with their own grandchildren. Friends cut off completely by loved ones because of their repeated offenses while drinking or using. I have had it clearly presented to me exactly what could have happened had I continued down the path I was on.
But today, as I read my daughter’s college essay, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the gift of sobriety. And for the opportunity to understand what that means to her. While the first line of her essay might suggest otherwise, my daughter has benefitted from my recovery more than I might have thought. She begins her essay by saying “My mom is selfish.” Yup. I am. My sobriety comes first and foremost, and for that I will not apologize, even to friends and people in my life who don’t understand and criticize me for that. My daughter goes on to say that she has learned that it is not only okay to put ourselves first, it is essential and actually selfless, in order to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and allow us to help those around us. I had shared with her my analogy of oxygen masks on an airplane. Parents are always told that they should secure their own masks first so that they can then be able to assist their children with theirs. My daughter describes how she has come to understand that I had to secure my own sobriety first so that I could assist her (and her brothers) in keeping safe on the airplane, or that crazy roller coaster called life.
She also questions her own role and responsibility in my recovery. I am also grateful to read that she understands that ultimately no one else can stop me from picking up that first drink. That’s all me. Not her. Not anyone. The choice is mine. And I have to do the work and all that I can to not let that happen. But those who love me, like she does, can be there to support, encourage and ensure that my oxygen mask is still secured. To tighten it when it gets too loose. To remind me to put it back on if I get too cocky or complacent.
Her first choice for school next year is my alma mater. In a corny act of superstition/hope for good luck/acceptance “rain dance”, I put on my college sweatshirt, torn and tattered from so many years of wear, and we pushed the send button together on the computer and submitted her application. Now we wait. I have told her that it’s out of our hands. That she will end up at the best place for her, even if it isn’t her first choice. I remember well what a stressful time it was for me and I am grateful that I am sober and present to ride through this part of the roller coaster with her. And when the ride gets really bumpy, I’ll make sure my mask is on securely and double-check hers. I am selfish. And so is she. And I’m so proud of her.
“It is not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.” –Mandy Hale