A few months ago, my therapist gave me an assignment: I was to fill out four sets of questionnaires and bring them back to her.
“That’s no problem,” I said, gathering them into a stack and placing them neatly in my purse. “I’ll bring them back as soon as I’m done.”
The minute I left her office, I looked at my phone and saw that I’d missed two important e-mails. I drove back across town to pick my three children up from different locations, arriving home to a kitchen that was still dirty from breakfast 10 hours earlier. The worksheets sat in my bag until the next day, when I was rummaging around for a phone charger. And there they continued to sit, for an unknown stretch of time, until I finally took them out — not to complete them, necessarily, but to move them to another location. This pattern continued for several weeks.
Motherhood has a way of stomping all over whatever it is that I’m trying to do on the side, not in a mean way, but in a larger-than-life, grimy manner that is actually sort of charming when I’m not busy feeling like I might die trying to keep up with it all. There’s beauty in the chaos, but I’m neurotic and chaos makes me crazy. Not figuratively. Literally.
A few weeks later, I arrived at my 6:30 p.m. therapy appointment unshowered and covered in whatever popcorn ceilings are made of. My husband and I are renovating his childhood home, a small ranch with dark wood paneling and loads of potential; I’d ducked out early to make it to my appointment.
“I’m sorry I look like this,” I apologized.
“Harmony, you are going to have to learn some self-compassion,” my therapist said. “You are entirely too hard on yourself.”
And that is why I’m in therapy — because I’m too hard on myself, because motherhood makes me want to drink and because I’m not the kind of person who can drink a glass of wine and put the bottle away. I’m an alcoholic and I can’t do anything in moderation and if it wasn’t alcohol, it would be work, and if it wasn’t work, it would be money, and if it wasn’t money, it would be fitness or bingeing and purging or something else that would distract me from feeling my feelings and thinking my thoughts.
Some people spend their entire lives running away from themselves. Maybe no one is aware of their struggle, or maybe everyone is, but they fail to say anything. What’s the difference between the two, really? The real tragedy is the people who never stop running. They die feeling that unsettled feeling of being incomplete and not knowing why, or blaming everyone around them for their discomfort because they are too unwilling to face themselves.
In February 2017, I made the conscious decision to face myself. I stopped running, slowing down to a jog, then to a walk, and finally I just stopped and plopped down in the dirt. Therapy is slowly but surely giving me the instructions I need in order to learn how to function without a drink in my hand. I’ve been parenting from this position for months now.
The thing about being in this phase of life is that I need all the help I can get, but I’m really too busy to get it. I don’t have time to sit in the dirt. I don’t have time for self-help or self-care or self-compassion. I have sh*t to do, people to look after, and a household to run. I have a job; actually, I have five jobs. This is a terrible time to stop running. The logistics alone are impossible.
One afternoon, I tackled the pile of mail on the kitchen table, piling bills and things that I needed to take care of on top of my calendar. I made a separate pile of junk that needed to be tossed, and feeling quite proud of myself, I filled out half of the worksheets from my therapist. By the end of it, I was exhausted. Feeling and thinking wears me the fu*k out.
My 4-year-old dragged the kitchen garbage can over for me, and I let her help me throw away the pile of trash.
“I’m big like you, Mommy,” she said, her blue-green eyes wide like dinner plates. “Can I wear mascara now?”
When I go to therapy, I have a habit of sitting in the parking lot layering more and more makeup on before I go inside. It’s nerves, I think, and possibly a fear of judgement. I want so much not to look like someone who is sitting in the dirt. I want my insides to match my outsides.
“Do you have those worksheets I gave you?” my therapist asked.
“I finally filled some of them out,” I said proudly. “I’ll bring them next week.”
When I got home, my husband met me at the door. The boys wanted to kiss me goodnight; they’d been waiting up for me to get home. I climbed into my middle child’s top bunk with him and whispered the Lord’s Prayer. We both like the ritual of it, and he doesn’t ask me deep philosophical questions like his older brother, so it’s low pressure.
“You look pretty,” he whispered.
As I was drifting off to sleep that night, I remembered the worksheets and scrawled myself a note to find them and put them in my bag. The problem was, I couldn’t find them the next morning. I looked everywhere, my husband helping me overturn every drawer, surface, and stack that they could have possibly gotten mixed into. I was terrified that my oldest child had found them and read them. I looked in my car, in my husband’s car, in all of my bags.
Then, it hit me.
I threw them away. Or, my daughter threw them away, when she was “helping” me sort the mail. I completed, and then lost, my therapy assignment. The irony is not lost on me.
This is the essence of merging self-help with motherhood.