A typical day: At 4:00 in the afternoon, I have been at work since 7:00 a.m.; I work straight through, no lunch. (I make a mediocre salary for an international nonprofit, but I work my tail off.)
Afterward, I head to pick up my daughter and deliver her to my partner (who agrees to babysit, but does not “parent” because that is my job), eat a quick bite, grab my books and head to class. I’ll be there until 10:00 (I spend an hour after class in the library so that I can use its reference section for the incessant papers I must write).
This happens Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, I help run a workshop for Adult Children of Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder. Family members in these situations are often just as lost, just as enmeshed, and hurting and crying for help.
The Mother Teresa of lesbian moms
Saturdays, more studying, but Sundays are for my daughter. I take her to the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship so that she can learn about the religious practices of the world’s greater-and-lesser spiritual traditions, even though we’re not really believers in my house (well, we b-e-l-i-e-v-e … things like, “god” is a word for “wind” and turtles have good chi). I want her to have options should she one day wish to choose among them, and for that, she’ll need to know what her options are. Sunday afternoons are for time spent in nature when it’s nice, or time reading when it isn’t. Either way, I believe we’re getting an education.
I volunteer at my daughter’s school, and bring her to work with me twice a year for a full afternoon. We volunteer at a soup kitchen and in a homeless mission thrift store, and pick up trash on the side of a beautiful winding highway we adopted all on our own.
Under the habit
Maybe you think it sounds like I know what I’m doing. But after my Wednesday workshops, I head over to a women’s bar. I’m not a big drinker, and I’m in a long-term, committed relationship, but this is where I go to pick up chicks. My partner doesn’t know that my meeting ends as early as it does, and I’ve never found a reason to tell her. Soon, social networking becomes more popular and eventually I avoid the bars altogether (I don’t need the smell of stale cigarettes in my hair when I come home). I meet women online and then meet them in hotels. I meet men at work and ride with them in cars that we park in broad daylight. When you’re looking for a particular kind of dopamine high, trust me that genitals don’t matter.
I’m reckless. I leave a paper trail and so the truth outs, of course, as the truth always will. My relationship ends in a calamitous mess. I fall into a terrible depression and can’t get out of bed. I fear I’m the worst mother in the world. I know that I am.
Motherhood is knighthood
When she was born, I stared past the blue oceans of her eyes into the thing I was certain had to be her soul — her 6-pound presence had convinced me there was such a thing. I didn’t think for a moment that she was mine. No, she had come through me, but she did not belong to me. I was her guardian. I was commanded to protect her, by what or whom, I did not know. I’d been knighted somehow in that moment, during that awesome realization, and now, here I was, heavy with the awareness of my dishonor. My daughter’s mother was an addict — and not just any addict: a sex addict.
It has been seven years since that particular apocalypse and today my daughter and I are closer than I’d believed mothers and daughters could be. She says, “My mom was a mess and she fixed her mess. It’s what you do,” and she’s right. I fixed my mess. Or rather, I’m fixing my mess. It’s what you do. She doesn’t know the details of my particular addiction, but she understood the consequences very well; she lived them — the depression, the failed relationships, the terrible, haunting sadness.
Recovery changes you
It took being willing to examine what lies underneath addiction, the root of it (childhood sexual and other trauma, in my case), and to begin the work on healing that. It was also vitally important that I learn to let go of the perfectionism and controlling tendencies that had ruled my life up until my addiction collapsed it. I’d continually insisted on being the breadwinner, and yet I’d stacked as many responsibilities as possible on my plate — single parenthood, full-time work, full-time school and on and on. I’d refused to accept help in almost any department, and this tendency had created a stress overload that caused me to seek relief, though in all the wrong places.
Recovery at The Ranch has altered my personality in positive ways; it’s made me more open, less neurotic, more agreeable, more relaxed—and these are qualities that impact my daughter’s life far more than the number of school meetings I get to or how many casseroles I can juggle while reciting Simone de Beauvoir quotes. I’m not a “supermom,” but I’m doing better day by day. According to my kid, a lot better.