The Real Reason I Say ‘No’ To Dinner And Drinks

You probably think I have too much going on or that I have something better to do.

Or maybe you worry that I am pulling away from our friendship.

Or you may just think I suck.

There are so many reasons you could come up with as to why I keep saying “no” to your requests for a ladies’ night or an 8 p.m. dinner without kids. You could spend weeks wondering why I went from the person you used to rely on for late night adventures, to the person you have a hard time getting to a 5 p.m. barbeque.

So let me put that wondering mind at ease and just blurt it out – I say no because of sleep.

If you were around me every day, you would see that there is almost a night and day version of myself.

The first version is happy, super talkative, and a genuine people person. She can have full adult conversations with the intelligence of an MIT grad, and she is confident in her stances on anything from reality TV to politics. She eats healthy, exercises, and breathes through most anxious moments. She loves her kids fiercely and can deal with almost every whiny situation. She wears her entire wardrobe with confidence. Her house is (semi) clean and her husband is happy — because who wouldn’t love this version of someone?


The second version is weak and negative. She can’t even think about the day ahead because she is stuck in the moment right now. She stresses and frets over the dumbest things like clothes not fitting or texts not being returned quick enough. She sometimes feels like the whole world hates her. Full sentences and complete thoughts can sometimes get stuck and make her sound out of it or even drunk. She snaps at her children and just wants to lay on the couch. Her worries feel endless and her brain spins in a constant whirl of anxiousness ALL DAY LONG. She counts the minutes ’til bed…

Sleep deprivation triggers anxiety for me, and I can slip into either version strictly based on a few nights of good or bad sleep. There are days I have not a single worrisome thought, but there are also days I am plagued with such body buzzing concern it’s hard to function. And before you ask, yes, I can say confidently it is related to sleep.

It was well before kids that I knew sleep played a huge role in my mental health. Just a few months after our wedding, I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that required life-saving surgery. The results left me partially immobile and unable to climb stairs. I slept in my living room on a mattress, and night & day had no meaning. I was slipping as the weeks went by into a deep state of panic. It felt like the walls were closing in on me, and I couldn’t figure out why.

I went to a therapist who gave me the simplest life changing advice: “Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.”

She stressed the importance of sleep and its contribution to your emotional well-being, and even mentioned medical studies that connect sleep loss and anxiety. I went home with a hunger for a new sleep routine, and I threw myself in head first.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to regulate your sleep schedule. During the week, you go to bed and get up early, so on the weekends you need to do the same thing.

It changes the dynamic of some relationships. There were no more late night dinners and bar escapades or even staying late at a party. In fact, we were typically always the first to leave. I was a 30-year-old with a self-imposed bedtime.

I am lucky to have a husband who changed with me. We got coffee together every morning instead of drinks at night. We ate dinner around 5 p.m. and lights out by 9. I got called “old” more than I would like to admit, but I was sure that this version of me was preferred by everyone.

Two years after our first pregnancy loss, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. And as all new mothers know, this blew up my sleep routine and set my world on fire.

She didn’t sleep for six full weeks, and so obviously neither did I. Breastfeeding was painful and mentally complicated. My supply was low, so she was always hungry and restless. I struggled mentally to keep it together, and I could feel those walls closing in once again.

We switched to formula when she was about seven weeks old, and we both started to sleep more. As hard as it was to make that decision, we knew our daughter needed proper nourishment and a mentally healthy mother more than anything.

From there, my husband and I did our best to divide and conquer, trying to split the duties as much as we could. Sleep was a commodity I could not squander, and I re-affirmed with myself that I needed to get back on track as much as possible.

Today, I have a 3- and 5-year-old so every night is like a sleeping game of roulette. We can go two whole weeks with solid blissful rest, and then five nights straight of torturous “nighttime naps” that total one night of sleep.

So, at this point in my life, I need to continue my bedtime, and regrettably say no to things even when I want to say yes. I owe it to myself and my family to remain as mentally healthy as possible.

One day things will change for me, and a late night escapade will not only be wanted but needed. But for now, I must stick to daytime or early evening adventures. I promise you the fun me is still here… just not after 9 p.m.

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Dealing With A Toxic Parent Is Emotionally Exhausting

Every time I set a date with my mother, I tell myself it will be different. I haven’t seen her in months. She knows where I stand on her dramatic life, and she won’t bring it up. I have to have zero expectations and let her unload on me and leave it at the quaint table where we share pot stickers. I’ll stuff my face and hope the loud chewing blocks her out.

It never fails, though. It doesn’t matter if I’m meeting my mother for lunch or the entire family is getting together for a birthday party — it never goes well. She can’t seem to help herself and sinks her teeth into everything that is going wrong in her life so she can tell you all the bad things people are doing to her. It’s like a hobby for her. Actually, that’s not true, it’s more of an obsession.

See, it’s never her fault. She has no control over the fact she hates her job, she’s having trouble with her neighbor again, or that her sister is driving her absolutely batty.

I’ve known my mother for over four decades, and drama follows her like a dog follows someone with bacon in their pocket. When I was younger, I used to think she had it pretty bad. People were just mean to her, and no matter what she did, she got the short end of the stick.

Damir Bosnjak/Unsplash

Then I grew up and started to see how she would manipulate situations. Like the time she asked my father (her ex-husband) for some advice on how to handle my older sister who was struggling with a toxic friendship. He told her what he thought she should do, and after what looked like a lovely exchange between two people who were co-parenting together, she turned to me and said, “I love how your father comes over here and tries to tell me how to raise my kids.”

Whoa. WHAT?!

That was an eye-opener for me. I was 15 at the time and that moment allowed me to see my mother for who she really was — a sad, manipulative, toxic woman. This is a painful thing to realize at such a young age, but I’m thankful because it made me realize I didn’t ever want to be like her.

I began to see she craved the drama, the angst, the uncomfortable situations because honestly if they weren’t there, she knew how to create them and she was a master. And now, as she creeps into her 70s, she’s at the top of her game.

Cristian Newman/Unsplash

But, she is my mother. She is my kids’ grandmother. She gave me life and raised me and taught me how to use a tampon for fuck’s sake. Can’t I put up with her drama in exchange for all that?

Her drama has made me do some tough work on myself. I’ve realized that spending time with her made me so angry, I’d be in a horrible state of mind for days after spending just a few hours with her. The hangover she left me with wasn’t worth the time, and I withdrew from her and cut off contact for a few months.

Her drama has given me opportunities to suggest ways I’d handle certain things (mainly the way she thinks about every damn thing) only to be ignored, which makes me frustrated and run to my sisters to complain about mom’s latest episodes. But, hello, look who’s creating the drama now?

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried breaks from her. I’ve tried not feeding the drama by asking her how she was going to fix the situation (advice I heard on a Podcast once that was supposed to work; it didn’t). None of this changed my mother, nor did it feel right because I was using too much of my energy, energy I needed for other things.

I’ve ignored her nasty remarks about how my sisters don’t do enough for her. I’ve listened to her get so excited about a new friend only to dump them in a year’s time because they don’t follow her manual of how they should act. I’ve seen her plow through jobs, boyfriends, and numerous diets and supplements that are supposed to change her life as she demands her money back and leaves seething reviews. I’ve watched her buy expensive hair and face products only to do the same. But this shit is hard.

Her motto is “poor me,” but also “if there isn’t something wrong here, just give me a second and I’ll change that.”

I’m exhausted. Dealing with a family member who is drawn to their own bullshit like a toddler to a set of stairs is annoying to say the least. It feels like poison is being forced into my insides whenever I hear her go off about the latest problem in her life because dammit, there is always a problem.

And I ask myself every time I see her how best to deal with this behavior. Because it isn’t so horrific I need to keep her away from me and my children until the end of time, but it’s bad enough to make me want to put my hand in front of her face signaling her this is a danger zone every time she indulges in this grandiose behavior.

I still don’t have the answer, but I’ve been telling her I need to stay in a drama-free bubble before we meet, and ordering the nachos because my chewing will drown out most of her words when she decides to go for it and tell me “just this one little complaint” because she always does.

My mother isn’t going to change, but she’s given me a huge gift: She’s shown me exactly the kind of person I don’t want to be.

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Why It’s Important To Have Friends Of Different Ages

People tend to have friends the same age they are. My husband and I generally did too, all the way through college and graduate school. We rarely were around kids. We never saw older people. My husband and I lived in this weird world where everyone but our professors was the same age. It was fun when I was 19; no little kids whined, and no one told me what to do.

But as I got older, things shifted. It started to feel more and more artificial. Everyone liked the same things. Everyone mostly had the same opinions; we had the same shared experiences. And that was cool, to an extent. But something felt like it was missing. We didn’t realize what was missing until we made friends of different ages.

We have friends who are at least two and a half decades older than us. At first, it weirded out both my husband and I; these people were our parents’ age. We had to resist the urge to call them Mr. and Mrs. So-And-So. Why would they want to be friends with us, anyway, we wondered. But they treated us like equals rather than kids and a decade later, we’re still close.

It’s possible, we found, that people in their mid-30s can actually not only get along with, but love Baby Boomers who weren’t forced on them by blood or circumstance. We’re dear friends with these Baby Boomers, who actually aren’t that much different than we are even though we span decades. They’ve been together rubbed the rough edges off their marriage, and we have kids but they don’t. Nonetheless we have a lot in common, and the differences we do have seem valuable rather than alienating. We can talk about them rather than around them, the way you might with your parents or relatives.

It actually means a lot to have friends who are significantly older than us, even if it did weird us out at first.

It also weirded us out when we made friends with people a lot younger than us. College students, for example, who we used to run into at church all the time. But they adored our kids. They were fun; we loved that they had so much ahead of them and were always so excited about it. As friends, they made us laugh. They made us remember when we were college students who went out and drank until late at night, who did stupid stuff and studied all night and lived in dorms with annoying roommates. They valued our friendship; we were older enough to be different, but not so old that we intimidated them. Later they’d tell us how much they learned from us, just by watching us be married and parent. The only thing that sucked? When they graduated and left. We celebrated with them but always mourned a little.

They have so much in front of them, compared to us. And when they have babies they’ll still have more in front of them than we will. Always. As friends, it means something special.

Both older and younger friends fill a different space than people the same age as us. They like different things. Our contemporaries tend to have the same tastes in movies and books and music as we do; they’re our friends because of these things.

But when it comes to older and younger friends, they can introduce us to new stuff. Or when we find we like the same things, it’s sort of delightful. Seinfeld and The West Wing cross generations, we’ve found. But other things don’t, and we trade them back and forth. My mom and her buddies took me to see Mama Mia recently. I thought, dear god, I can’t sit still for that long. But I absolutely, positively, completely loved it, and played the soundtrack for weeks (some of you are probably thinking that Mama Mia isn’t a Boomer thing, but it totally was for me). I also got bamboozled into seeing James Taylor play with Bonnie Raitt. Holy shit, I thought. This is seriously the best concert I’ve ever seen, hands-down no question. Never would have seen it without a Boomer dragging me there.

Making friends with people of different ages has meant so much to us. We’re so glad we got over calling people Mr. and Mrs., that we opened our doors to these random college students. It might seem sappy and stupid. It might seem overly sentimental, but these people have filled a gap in our lives we didn’t know we had. People used to know people in different stages, when families lived close, when towns were smaller (or maybe we just like to think that). But we don’t now. We stay wrapped up in our age group, in the echo chamber of our contemporaries. Reaching beyond that has enriched our lives.

Even when the college students try to recommend their music.

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When You Live Far Away From Your Family

I didn’t realize the ways living far away from my extended family would impact my life so much until I was standing at my grandmother’s funeral.

I’d been watching her battle Alzheimer’s, often from her bedside, since my senior year of high school. Her absent-mindedness wasn’t welcome, but it was expected. She’d forget a name here, have to call to ask what route to take to get to her favorite places, and we didn’t take it personally if a birthday passed without a phone call.

After graduation, I moved to another town that was only an hour away. But for a car-less young adult with a single mother, it was worlds away. It was my first time being away from home. For the first year and a half, I prioritized asking about my grandmother daily and calling her a few times a month.

Somewhere in those four years, I learned to drive but I also got busy. I started dating. I fell in love. I graduated. Before I knew it, I was engaged, married, and moving even further from the family that had been the only constant in my life.

I won’t say that I expected life to stay still while I was gone, but I didn’t expect things to move that quickly. Before I knew it, my grandmother didn’t know any of us. She wouldn’t talk. She couldn’t eat. And she was the familiar shell that you only recognized when you’ve watched someone you love lose the fight to Alzheimer’s.

By the time I was settled in my new home more than 800 miles away, I was pregnant and she was gone.

I’d been there for the worst of it and even been her caretaker for a while. But living so far away seemed like I’d blinked, and everything had changed.

But the most terrifying part is that the changes kept coming. Three more relatives got sick. In a quick blur, we’d gone from no deaths in our family in 23 years to three deaths in just four years.

It hurt. And in a weird way, I felt somewhat responsible. I thought that if I’d stayed, I would have been there for them and things could have turned out differently. I knew it was nonsensical, but it felt like my move was the catalyst that got everything started. If I hadn’t changed the family pattern of staying close by none of this would have happened.

Living far away from my extended family meant missing out on a lot of things — both the hard times and the good ones.

My brother was suddenly unrecognizable and at least two feet taller. He was graduating high school and working his first job. Growing up, I never imagined that I would be the one to get married and move to another region. I thought I’d be the one to grow up around my grandparent’s house and raise my own family in its walls but life had other plans.

Of course, living away from my family wasn’t all bad. I was babied a lot as a child. I’d spent a considerable part of my childhood experiences in a sort of pseudo-autonomy. There was a clear boundary in terms of what was acceptable in my family’s eyes. I tried my hardest to operate in those confines.

Jeniffer Araújo/Unsplash

Moving away meant freedom. It was an opportunity to escape the confines of what everyone expected of me and step into my own world. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know who I was at first. When such a large portion of your life is centered on what everyone else thinks of you, you don’t have the chance to find your own likes and dislikes.

I realized I wasn’t religious when I had the chance to escape the condemnation of the Bible Belt. It was easier to realize I wanted to raise my children with more freedom and open communication than I’d seen in my southern upbringing. Not to mention it gave my husband and I the chance to grow in our relationship without a myriad of opinions from my outspoken but well-meaning relatives.

But all of these freedoms came at the expense of support. I’m often at home alone without anyone to help me with the kids. Being married to a man who travels frequently is lonely. REALLY LONELY. And of course, it hurts me to know my children will miss out on the “village-style” upbringing that I had growing up.

I feel like my time away from my family was important for my long-term development. I had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and the world around me. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

I don’t know if I’ll ever live near my family again. I love the freedom that comes with living elsewhere, but I hate missing out on the chance to watch my family age and grow.

I love my family. But I love the life we’ve made for ourselves as well.

Hopefully, one day we will be able to cut even a small portion of the distance between us in half. Until then, video chat and regular phone calls will have to fill the gaps.

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Why You’ll See Me Making Out With My Husband

Last week, my husband held me against the minivan in the middle of downtown, in broad daylight, and kissed me like it was the end of the world. For approximately 15 seconds, but they were a fairly intense 15 seconds — nothing X-rated, but lips-on-lips, against the car, more-than-a-peck-on-the-cheek kissing. The kind of kissing that says we at least want to have sex later, whether or not we get to it. Complete and unabashed PDA.

Totally not ashamed, totally would do it again, even if I knew my mom might walk around the corner and see us. (Sorry, Mom.)

I’m enough of an epicurean to think that if you enjoy something, you should fucking enjoy it, whether that thing is a piece of cake, a good bottle of wine, or your own damn husband. We seem to have this notion that spouses should confine their PDA to pecks on the cheek and occasional sweet hand-holding. I don’t understand this. I didn’t understand it when I was 18 and making out with my boyfriend in public (admittedly, a lot more intensely and publicly), and I don’t understand it now that I’m in my mid-30s and married with three kids.

Katie Salerno/Pexels

Why do we insist that people pretend they don’t want to kiss each other, or confine big kisses to enormous moments, like meeting your spouse at the airport after a deployment? Then we’re okay with it. We expect it. But try to give your husband a serious kiss for no particular reason, maybe just because you’re out for the evening and you had a good time, and you’re pretty in love with him and he’s pretty in love with you? The judgment rains down.

I get it: you don’t want to see it. But what, exactly, about our PDA don’t you want to see? Stop and think about that for a moment. What exactly offends you about two consenting adults displaying affection? Maybe that we aren’t 18. Maybe that we clearly have children. Maybe that we don’t look like supermodels or celebrities. Maybe all of these things in combination with the fact that we clearly want to have sex with each other. What a fucking revolutionary idea, a married couple who want to bang. If the simple fact that my husband and I engage in sexual intercourse offends you, you’ve been brainwashed by a puritanical society that thinks all evidence of sex is dirty and wrong and sinful.

Newsflash, America: Sex is normal. Sex is healthy. Married people have sex; people over 25 have sex; people with kids have sex. People who don’t look airbrushed have sex. People have sex with different genders and the same gender and in all kinds of combinations and rainbows, and all of that is normal and healthy as long as everyone consents. This isn’t the 1950s anymore and we don’t have to hide it.

So why bother? Why not engage in a little bit of innocent, not-even-PG-rated PDA if it makes you happy? This is nothing people haven’t seen at the end of a damn Disney wedding (except for the up against the minivan part). I know it’s not everyone’s thing. It doesn’t have to be. But if it’s yours, why hide it?  Just make out for few seconds.

Carol’s clutching her pearls right now. What if the children see? Won’t someone think of the children?

The children probably should see some decent PDA.

PDA is healthy. It’s normal. And when kids see their parents actually kiss each other, by which I mean kiss more than a peck on the cheeks and/or the lips (only generally permitted when greeting each other), they see that their parents have a secure marriage. They see that their parents love each other. And, frankly, they see that their parents are physically attracted to each other, which normalizes sex in general. Yes, my kids have seen my husband and I do more than peck each other on the lips. They remain thus far unscarred.

Nor do I really care if my kids see PDA, i.e., strangers making out for 20 seconds against a minivan. I mean, it’s rude to stare, of course, the way it’s rude to stare at anyone. But hey, normal part of life. I’d be pissed if my kids saw people groping each other, obviously moaning, or horizontal, but making out like Princess Jasmine and Aladdin? Totally acceptable.

My husband and I engage in this kind of PDA all the time. No shame. We’ll do it again, Carol, thankyouverymuch. We’ll kiss. In public. Our lips will actually move and they will remain touching for more than two seconds and you will know we have probably had sex with each other and want to do so again in the future.

So sorry if it offends you.

Actually, not really.

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When You’re A Person Who Overthinks

When you’re the person who overthinks, everything becomes more complex. You analyze every little detail — every text, every glance, every change in demeanor. Like a detective, you try to see behind the curtain, you have a hard time believing there’s no hidden meaning behind what you see. A one-word answer means they’re mad at you. No answer means they want nothing to do with you anymore. Your mind skips right past the logical explanation that maybe they’re having a hard day or they’re busy. No, it’s personal. ⁣

⁣You spend hours typing and re-typing a two phrase answer, shaking as you hit “send,” and re-rereading your message over and over until finally they answer.⁣ Even after they’ve answered, you can’t help but read your conversation again. You wonder why they said “hi” instead of “hey,” and why they didn’t use an emoji. Maybe you should have worded your text differently. Maybe they’re distancing themselves?

You try to convince yourself that everything’s fine, but you can’t. You don’t have control over your mind. It’s a constant inner fight between the part of you that wants to let go and take words for what they are, and the part that’s guarded and mistrusting.

You come off as needy, and you wish people understood that your heart, trust, and feelings have been broken before. You’re just trying to protect yourself. You prepare yourself for the worst in a vain attempt to cushion your soul, because if you’re prepared for the pain, it hurts a little bit less. ⁣

There aren’t many people who understand you, but you don’t blame them — you’re tired of your own mind too. If you’re on high-alert all the time, it’s because you’ve been there before. You had it all. You allowed yourself to be happy. You allowed yourself to love without worrying about the future. You allowed yourself to not over-analyze everything, but then you got hurt. You made yourself vulnerable, and they left.

So now, you’re afraid of change — afraid people will leave you with a broken heart, one more time. It’s hard for you to believe that happiness can happen to you. You believe the universe has a way of rebalancing everything, so even when it’s all going well, you’re scared that it’s going to get taken away. That’s what your experience has taught you, you say.

⁣You constantly feel drained from the intensity of your mind that never stops throwing a tornado of thoughts at you. You wish there was an off-button, but there’s not.

Your anxiety might be trying to protect you. It might be preparing you for the worst so you have a chance to grab a parachute to soften the fall. One of your downfalls (like me) might be to prevent potential heartbreak, so you might distance yourself from the people you love. It ends up affecting the relationships, even though in reality there was nothing to protect yourself against with to begin with. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to believe that people can stay even when we’re not our best self. It’s difficult for us to believe that there are people who actually stay through the storms life throws at us. It feels like utopia to believe that forever friends do exist and that they can happen to us too. But forever friends exist, and for them I am thankful.

You know it makes it harder for people to love you, so you’re thankful for the people who stay, even if they know you need a little more reassurance than most. They’ve seen you at your worst and they don’t run away. They won’t even mention that you’re telling them the same story for the third time today. They listen every time like it’s the first. They hug you quietly when you can’t express the messiness of your mind into coherent thoughts. They stay.

In a world where people run away at the first sight of struggle, find the ones who stay. They’re the keeper who will keep your heart safe.


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When You Realize You’re Turning Into Your Mother

I am pretty sure I am turning into my mother.

I definitely inherited her love of giant hideous pajamas. We share the inability to keep a car clean for more than a few days. When I stand on my porch at the end of a nice evening with friends, wringing my hands and urging our guests to let me know when they get home safe, that’s my mom shining right on through.

We share the same pasty skin that burns in minutes, and the same fine hair that won’t hold a curl. On the upside, we can sing like nightingales, and we both have the features required to wear a red lip during the day and not look overdone.

I’ve always recognized that my mom and I share these silly little quirks and physical similarities, but I’m in my mid-thirties now, and I am starting to realize that it runs much deeper than that.

Courtesy of Katie Cloyd

I am who I am because my mother is who she is.

I am turning into the best parts of my mother, and that’s not bad news. It’s lucky for me. These are just a few of the amazing things my mom taught me with words and actions, and I’m glad they stuck with me.

1. Pride in your work.

My mother’s career has evolved over the years, but she has always been incredible at anything she put her mind to. My parents didn’t raise me with any respect for traditional gender roles. I always saw my mom making money, raising us, and pursuing her personal goals outside of work and family. She wasn’t a full-time homemaker, so that wasn’t the only thing I thought a woman could be.

It is, however, what I wanted to be. I have always known the world was open to me, and I could pursue any leading I felt in my heart. When I had my first baby, my heart led me home, and that is where I have stayed.

As fate would have it, a couple months ago, I got a job offer that I could never have imagined. I jumped on the opportunity, and I recently made the transition from stay-at-home mom to ecstatic work-at-home mom.

My mother’s blazing ambition has been ignited in me. I love working. I love deadlines and brainstorming, and I really love getting a paycheck with my name on it. When I am working hard, I know it’s because she provided me with the drive to succeed in anything I choose to do. Thanks to my mother, I feel no guilt about splitting my time between work and kids. I know they’ll benefit from the extra income, and also from living with a happier, more fulfilled me. Everyone wins.

2. The importance of hospitality.

It’s not only her drive that has allowed my mom to flourish in her career; it’s her warm, inviting personality. My mother has made lifelong friends on an airplane and in line at the gas station. She is funny and open, and people really love her. Our house was always full of friends and family. People have mourned and celebrated at my mom’s kitchen counter. She knows how to open her home to make people feel love and a sense of belonging.

When my friends are at my table, and I’m standing at my stove cooking a delicious meal, I realize that I am becoming my mother. Both her skills in the kitchen and her knack for hospitality have trickled down to me. Sometimes I look at my hand holding a wooden spoon, stirring a pot of marinara, and I could swear it was hers.

3. How to walk away from things that aren’t meant for me.

I’ll be honest: I used to think my mother had a hidden coldness inside her. As friendly and loving as she is, she is also able to quickly sever ties with anyone who causes her pain or threatens her family’s balance. I have only seen it in action a few times, but it’s always swift and decisive. She has no time to dedicate to relationships that have run their course. When she walks away, it’s final, even if it hurts her to let someone go.

I thought there was a side of my mother that must be unloving and emotionless. She could wash her hands and walk away, seemingly in peace. I realize now that she wasn’t always in peace. She still felt all the pain she didn’t always show me. She mourned those losses. Her heart is soft, but her resolve is firm.

She never begs at a closed door.

Because of my mom, I now value my own peace over peacekeeping. I have learned that I can love someone and walk away at the same time, and that I have no obligation to chase someone who leaves me. I am lucky I am turning into my mother because I’ll never waste another minute fighting for someone who doesn’t deserve it.

I’m not a carbon copy of my mother. I see my dad reflected strongly in parts of who I am. I also have a handful of strong women and mentors who helped me become who I am today.

More importantly, I have made me who I am today. I am exactly who I have chosen to be.

But I’m not fighting against all the ways I am becoming the woman who raised me. I’m lucky that my mother’s blood is in my veins, and her fight is in my spirit.

When I look in the mirror, I am not always proud of every single thing I see, but I am never disappointed to see my mother.

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When Your Mom Is An Alcoholic

For the past few years, my relationship with my mother has been nonexistent. As long as I can remember, something has been off with her. As a child, I remember her spending a lot of time in bed, flying off the handle easily, expecting a lot while giving the minimum out of everyone around her. There was support in my home that was used against me at opportune moments, no “I love yous,” and complete rage if alcohol or drug use was questioned. My mom was always quick to anger and isolated herself from her friends and family.

Fast forward to my early 30’s and this “off” behavior seemed to evolve quickly.

At that time, I made the decision to keep my mom at an arm’s distance. We no longer spoke on the phone, only saw each other at large family get-togethers. We simply didn’t have a relationship. I made the decision to cut my mom out of my life to avoid her outbursts of anger, manipulation and lies. I begged for answers. I begged to help fix whatever problem there was. My pleading was greeted with twisting reality… making it seem like something was wrong with me for insinuating there could be a problem.

See, I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was she a drug addict? Alcoholic? Had psychiatric problems? Or, was she just a bad person? My mom frequently lashed out. She was never the nurturing type, and only told me she loved me when I became an adult. She was almost childlike — someone who needed to be taken care of while she called the shots in her own offensive way. My dad was and is her biggest supporter, protector, enabler and punching-bag.

When I had heard my mom was unable to walk, I decided to intervene as my dad made excuses about why she couldn’t go to the hospital. What is this secret that was being kept? She couldn’t walk but she wouldn’t go to the hospital? After much back and forth, threats of calling an ambulance myself, and convincing, my mom was on her way to our local hospital. Countless tests later, and (of course) lies about her alcohol use, it was determined that my mom’s body was beginning to shut down due to severe and prolonged alcoholism.

It was a lightbulb moment. All of my childhood memories, the fights, the drunken rages, the bad decisions, the excuses, the (obvious) lies — it ALL finally made sense. Unfortunately, this was not a lightbulb moment for either of my parents. The next day I visited my mom as she was detoxing. Her ridiculous arguments intensified, and I left when she told me she had “rights” to see my children that she would pursue. My dad also would spend the following weeks protecting my mom, downplaying her alcoholism, and focusing on the other ailments the hospital found while she was there.

I’ve been hopeful all my life to have a relationship with my mother like I’ve seen from others. I wish she could have told me she loved me growing up. I wish she was more involved with my life. I wish our happy moments were not calculated — ammo ready to be used against me at a later date. I wish that when I got married, she wasn’t at war with the rest of our family and it could have been more of an enjoyable time. I wish my memories were joyful rather than painful. And, I wish that pain didn’t follow me around.

Now that I’m a mother, I wish she was there to guide me. I wish my children knew her and were close with her as I am with my grandmother. I wish we could have become friends in these older years- appreciating our time together. I wish I wasn’t writing this blog. However, I know my mom won’t change. I know that when her hospital stay is over, she will go back to her old ways… this can only carry on for so long. I’ll be here if and when she’s ready to get help.

Until then, I continue to keep my distance and vow to give my children everything my mom could not give me.

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The Shocking Thing I Realized After I Told The World My Secret

Last week, after years of carrying it around as a secret, I came out publicly as gay. Coming out is almost never as simple as it should be, but, for me, it was complicated not only by the fact that I was nearly 40 and married with two kids, but also because I have a decent-sized social media following, many of whom have supported my writing as far back as 2012. I felt a duty to formally announce what was going on with me.

While I realize I don’t owe anyone details about my private life, my connection with my followers, my writing, my novels, all of that has been rooted in the idea of being as honest as possible. I write about my life, my relationships, being a mother, and the novels I’ve written have been inspired by the pain I’ve lived with in secret for so long. It didn’t feel right to march forward as an out woman without clarifying things for those who have supported me and read my words all this time. I wanted to explain myself. And so I did.

But then, in the process of coming out, I had an epiphany: We ⁠— “we,” meaning, humans⁠ — so often don’t allow ourselves to know each other. We are rarely honest enough with each other to truly know each other. And whatever we think we know about a person based on what we see on social media or even when we see them out and about in the real world, we can’t really know.

We don’t know what’s behind the perfectly rehearsed smiles or newly remodeled kitchens or expensive vacations or confessions of “inexplicable” depression. Until we get close enough to someone that they feel safe enough to let down that wall, we just don’t know. And how often do we get that close? It’s rare. Only a couple of very close friends knew I was gay in the years leading up to the moment I finally came out.

A flood of emails followed the post I published. So many people in the same position, hiding painful secrets, living a life that doesn’t feel like theirs, afraid to admit it, afraid of the consequences of being honest. And so they’ve been faking it. And no one knows. No one knows their secret, and so no one knows them.

Are painful secrets just a part of the human condition? Is everyone walking around with a big painful something? Are we all floating through the day assuming we know the people around us, assuming the story we get about a person on social media or via daily interactions, a coffee date here, a girls’ night out there, is the whole story? I bet most of us don’t have time to wonder whether we’re getting the whole truth. We have our own hard shit to deal with.

But there must be something about revealing your own truth that makes others want to open up and reveal theirs, because that is what happened when I came out. There is something uniquely heart-opening about allowing yourself to really be seen. We don’t all have to carve our hearts out of our chests and serve them on a platter to the public, but what if we could at least recognize that each of us has a “thing” we struggle with? Something we wish people could see but for whatever reason, aren’t able to reveal? Feeling seen and validated and accepted is all most people really want, but it’s a thing so few of us ever get to fully experience.

Kristina Flour/Unsplash

Very few people are 100% “what you see is what you get.” Most of us have a private battle or massive secret we feel we can’t share. Almost everyone is dealing with something heavy. Some of the messages I received were reflections of my own story: “I’m gay too, but I can’t tell anyone.” “I feel guilty and trapped.”

Others were different topics but just as heavy: “I want to leave my husband, but he says if I do, he’ll kill himself. And everyone thinks we have the perfect marriage.” “I’m addicted to pain pills and no one knows. I don’t know how to stop.”

I received a lot of messages of support when I came out, and that felt good. Old friends from high school I didn’t even realize followed me reached out to empathize with how hard it must have been for me to admit my truth when I knew it meant hurting those I love. Family members I was worried might disown me reassured me that they will love me no matter what.

But it was the other messages that came in that broke my heart⁠—the messages that showed me so many others are suffering a similar to pain to what I felt. At the same time, these messages provided a comfort. It is an unfathomably isolating feeling to struggle with something huge that you can’t tell anyone about. But so many of us do it. Your coworker, the guy on the subway seat next to you, the acquaintance who is too “extra.” They’re all dealing with their own thing that for whatever reason they can’t talk about. There are so many of us who feel so alone, but we don’t have to.

I’m not encouraging people to dump their secrets. That has to be done when the time feels right. It can’t be forced. But can we at least be more compassionate to one another and understand that behind every half-smile and distracted “I’m fine,” something bigger is going on?

We might feel alone with our burdens, but we aren’t, not really. We all have something we’re struggling with, and in that way, we are very much in this together. If we could operate under that assumption, we’d be a lot kinder to one another.

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When You Love An Alcoholic

I met my husband in the fall of 1996. We were young. Very young. (He was 11 and I — six months his senior — had recently turned 12.) And we were innocent. Life was carefree. But over the years, things changed. We changed, and the boy I met in art class became an alcoholic. A drink ‘til you pass out or blackout alcoholic.

Make no mistake: He was functional. During this time, he held down numerous jobs and received several promotions. He completed an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree and graduated from both programs with high honors. And we got married. During these years, we welcomed the first of two children. But he lost days and weeks to his disease.

He became hollow, and I shut down. In an effort to save myself and our marriage, I shut up and checked out.

Sérgio Alves Santos/Unsplash

The good news is that (eventually) he dried out. He sobered up and got help. And, God willing, this September we will celebrate five years sans booze. But over the course of our 20-plus year relationship I’ve learned a few things about loving an alcoholic, and since alcoholism affects more than 15 million Americans each year, these are lessons that should be shared.

Before I get into nitty gritty, let me say: whether the alcoholic in your life is your mother, your father, your spouse, your child, or a dear friend, their illness is not your problem. It is not caused by something you did or did not do, and it is not your fault. It is also not a reflection of the alcoholic’s feelings towards you, i.e. too often those left in the wake of addiction think “if he only loved me enough” or “if we only had enough.” But stop. That line of thinking is toxic. Your partner and/or loved one’s inability to stop drinking has nothing to do with you — or how much they love you — and succumbing to those beliefs will only harm you.

It will destroy you in the same way liquor is destroying your loved one.

So keep yourself healthy by considering these facts and by remembering that — in spite of their illness — you can (and should) put yourself first.

1. Alcoholism is a disease, not a choice.

I know what you’re thinking; you just said that, and you’re right. This piggybacks on my previous point, but it bears repeating. Why? Because alcoholism is a complex disease. It is a confusing disease, and it is a painful disease. But most importantly? It is a disease, one which your loved one cannot will their way out of.

2. Don’t accept unacceptable behavior.

We’ve all said or done things we regret while under the influence. I have cried and screamed about nonsensical bullshit. On numerous occasions, I’ve demanded a divorce. But that does not mean you should allow yourself to be stomped on or beat up. You shouldn’t be a proverbial punching bag or doormat, and being victimized on a regular basis — physically, mentally, emotionally, or verbally — is a problem. Full stop. So set boundaries because YOU ARE WORTH IT.

Roberto Roman/Unsplash

3. Put yourself first.

Focusing on your health and well-being may seem counterintuitive, especially when the alcoholic in your life is so very sick; however, it is imperative you take care of yourself. I mean, you can’t pour from an empty cup, right? Also, addicts and alcoholics thrive on codependency, so if you want to help your loved one, help yourself.

4. Ask for help.

I know, when I said “help yourself,” you were wondering how. And I get it. I’ve been there. It seems like there are endless resources available to (and for) alcoholics, but those in relationships with addicts or alcoholics seem to be left behind. But fear not, there really is help — and hope. Al-Anon, a program for those “worried about someone with a drinking problem,” hosts meetings in all 50 states and dozens of countries. Substance abuse counselors can be found in Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia and Africa and online support groups are accessible to anyone with internet access.

Kaley Dykstrra/Unsplash

5. Find “your line” (and draw it in concrete).

Boundaries are important in every relationship, but they are particularly important when you are dealing with an addict or alcoholic. Addicts are master manipulators, after all. Of course, only you know what your limitations are. (I stayed in spite of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse, but you don’t have to.) Decide what you are willing to handle and/or can handle and then set hard, fast lines, i.e. “I’m not going to drink with you… or buy drinks for you,” “I’m not going to give money to you,” and “I’m not going to live with you unless/until you get help.”

6. And finally, remember “The Three Cs.”

You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. Period. End of freakin’ discussion.


For more information about loving an alcoholic, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or find anAl-Anon meeting in your area.

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