This week I made the mistake of breaking out some old photos and sharing them with Merrick–just some old, old, funny, happy photos of me and Caleb, or me and some old friends, or Caleb and some old friends, or just me, or me and Cheyenne…circa early 2002 through 2004.
*Shockingly*, my son was not able to identify me—at all—in one. Single. Picture. But he gleefully and instantly pegged Caleb in every shot: “Daddy! There’s my daddy!” 3 years ago, 5 years ago, 7, 8, 9…it mattered not how much time had passed between now and the moment the photo was taken. Caleb has not visibly aged, at least not according to Merrick.
I, on the other hand, have undergone a slight transformation over the years. I sat there trying to explain to my 2-year-old how his mother used to be quite the stone-cold fox, but I could tell he wasn’t buying it. “Who dat?” He kept saying, over and over, as he pointed at the pretty girl standing beside his daddy. “That’s me—that’s your mommy,” I repeated. I stared at the pictures—what the hell happened to me?
And I’ll just go ahead and state the obvious and answer my own question here: Freaking life happened. And because freaking life is happening to a few of my dear good friends right now as we speak, and also because I love sharing the private painful details of my life to fake computer-land people, I will elaborate on what I mean by “freaking life.”
This might come as a shock to people I’ve only recently met, but…I used to be bad. I met and wooed my husband the old-fashioned way: in a bar, with skimpy clothes, scandalous dancing, and more alcohol than should ever be consumed by any one person in particular. We spent a pretty decent-sized chunk of our dating life getting drunk, being drunk, or recovering from being drunk. I was a party animal and I spent more time booty-dancing than I did mothering my then kindergartener–Cheyenne. I never worried about what I ate, because I danced it off. Caleb often questioned me about my parenting strategies: “Are you sure (hiccup!) that you don’t need to get home and take care of your kid or something?” To which I would charmingly reply: “Heeeeellll noooo (hiccup!) bicuzzz my MOM will take care of (hiccup!) her! Besides, shezzz alreadddddddddddy in (belllllch) bed!”
I am not by any means proud of the way I spent my early twenties. I settled down a little bit once we got married—and I stress a little bit. I might not have gone out, but I drank like I was at a party just about every night, starting as early as 4:00 in the afternoon. I didn’t see anything wrong with it—I wasn’t driving, the kids would be asleep (except when they were awake), I didn’t have to work the next day, and I was such a happy drunk. I was overly giggly and underly coordinated, but at least I still had enough sense to tell Cheyenne how to heat up a hotdog for herself in the microwave. I could still change Mia’s diaper if it happened to explode between dinner and breakfast. I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to down a beer or two or three.
I think it’s safe to say I had a problem. Had I given much thought to it back then, I would have seen how out-of-control my drinking was; but everyone around me drank, and they were fine. I simply could not—still cannot—handle my liquor. And I literally couldn’t stop once I started. I consumed. I totally drank for the effect, not the taste. And I didn’t think enough about it to care. “What? Doesn’t everyone drink like this? Get off me. I had to take care of my own children today and that was effing hard.”
Looking back, I was so, so lonely, and depressed, and tired—and alcoholism, among a dozen other lovely qualities, runs in my genes. I feel confident enough with where I’m at now to say that I’m doing what I consider better, if that made any sense at all. And part of that (wait for it…) stems from having a really great church family who I can rely on for almost every form of support. The other part of it comes straight from God himself.
And here’s where I lose all my old friends.
“Huh? You’ve stopped drinking? You’re going to church? That’s hilarious! Oh, wait, you’re serious. What the hell? I thought you were normal. I thought you were cool. Seriously Toni, you’re starting to sound like one of those people—the kind of people you and I couldn’t stand back in the day. Am I going to have to watch what I say around you, now that you’re all holier-than-thou? Don’t you think you’re taking this God thing just a bit too far? Did you ever stop and think about how absolutely annoying your blog has become since you started writing stuff like this? Did you stop drinking just because you’re going to a Baptist Church and you don’t want people talking about you? Are you talking about me? Do you think drinking is a sin?”
To which, in another lifetime, I would’ve responded without hesitation with a lengthy f-word-laden speech…but now, I will answer this hypothetical question from a hypothetical friend in a hypothetical scenario that I hypothetically created. I’ve gotten the “So…you’re going to church now? Ohhhhh.” I’ve gotten the uncomfortable silences. I’ve noticed how I don’t hear from certain friends as much as I used to. And that’s okay. I find myself weird. I would have felt the same way had my friend all the sudden gone crazy-Christian on me.
I think it’s important to say why I started going back to church. 2 years ago, when Caleb was laid off and Merrick was born and Merrick had head surgery and everything was horrible and difficult and I was ready to just…die…a neighbor of ours suggested we visit the local church. You know, for funsies. I bucked. I fought it tooth and nail. But Caleb got it into his head that church would be good for us, so off we went one Sunday, to a small-town Southern Baptist church, where the girls had built-in friends and where Caleb felt inspired and at-ease. We visited, very casually at first, and then, as time went on and Merrick got better and Caleb found a job…we stopped going all together.
I can’t say I was disappointed. I had my Sunday mornings back, which means Caleb and I had our Saturday nights back. But we were struggling, big-time, and after 9 months of stressing and drinking and screaming and fighting and crying and promising and drinking some more, we both came to the realization that something really, really had to be done, and it wasn’t in our power to do it. Rock bottom? You betcha. We went back to church and just prayed. We prayed for everything. I prayed for just the desire to pray. I prayed for just a little understanding. I prayed for God to get rid of my skepticism, and my anxiety. I even prayed that He would take away my taste for alcohol.
And you know what? I really think He did.
My life didn’t turn perfect—but what important things I asked for, I was amazed to actually receive. God soooo delivered. He did not disappoint. He gave me the want-to, the motivation—to go to church, to pay attention. He gave it to me, because I don’t know where the hell else it came from. As far as I can tell, Satan does not encourage reading the bible and regular church attendance. God gave me the ability to sit still and to come out of that sanctuary on Sunday mornings without a killer migraine. He even temporarily disgustified beer for me. I seriously lost my desire for it—and it was a burning desire, believe me.
This all went down a little over a year ago. I’ve since then had the occasional drink, but without the crazy. I think it’s better for me if I lay off as much as I can—church or no church. God helps me, for sure, if not just straight-up does it for me, especially on days where the kids and the dogs and the husband have tried my patience and drained my energy levels to zilch. I will say I’ve been tempted, though, since I don’t live in a hole and beer is just a trip-to-the-gas-station away. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes crave a frozen margarita.
Do I think drinking is a sin? Yes—and no. When you’re having a glass of wine with dinner or when you’re drinking a beer on your back porch and you’re not setting out to get trashed? No. Is it a sin when you polish off a 12-pack and drive off into the night? Yes. Is it a sin when you’re drunk before your kids even come home from school? Yes. Is it a sin to give your 11-year-old daughter an hour long slurring lecture about the importance of folding towels a certain way? Yes. Is it a sin to scream at a 1 year old for any reason? Yes. Is it a sin when your 3rd grader is taking care of said 1 year old at midnight while you’re busy puking your brains out because you can’t handle tequila, which you drank because you were out of wine, and tequila was the only liquor you had left in the house? Probably, yes. Is it a sin when you’re too hung-over to pack your daughter’s lunch? When you drunk-dial her girl scout leader? Or when you have regular alcohol-fueled screaming fights with your husband while your children huddle together across the house, hearing every. Single. Word.
The differences in the me, now, and the me in that picture taken almost 10 years ago aren’t just physical. Merrick doesn’t recognize his mommy because she’s changed right down to her very soul. I hope that old girl never shows up again. I cry whenever I think of how horrible a mother, and a wife, (and while we’re at it, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, and friend) I was to everyone I love the most up until just one short year ago. I don’t want my kids to think of me that way, and it pains me to know that Cheyenne was old enough to remember most of it. She’ll probably have some really juicy material for her own blog one day. My little kids will hopefully remember a mommy who was present, who cared for them more than anything, and who relied on God for everything. I am so grateful to be a real-live example of God’s power and his ability to heal.