Posted in Addiction, Depression, faith, happiness, inner peace, Life, Musings, People, random, Uncategorized

Kindness

kindness

Once upon a time, I was a very, very messed up young lady. Not messed up in the everyday, average, run-of-the-mill way I am now. I’m not talking about depression or anxiety this time, which I seem to suffer from in a very “normal” way, judging by the lives and comments from my friends. I don’t know many people who make it to this age in life without some baggage, vague mental illness, and/or flat out jadedness. I’m not saying this is a good or even acceptable thing, I’m just saying…it’s kind of part of the deal.

What I’m talking about here is my “former life”. The life I began at 19, the part where I wound up on drugs for such a long time. When I tell you that I was bad, I need you to believe me. There were no days off, not if I could help it. I lived, breathed and existed for my drugs. It was my life. I wish that it weren’t true, but facts are facts.

What I don’t often talk about is the kindness that was shown to me through those years. The people who saw something more in me, something good, and gave me chances, reached out a hand, tried to help. There are more kind and giving people in this world than you would ever imagine, if you have never needed help the way I used to.

I was homeless, periodically, many times throughout those years. And yet I never once had to sleep in my car- not ever. My friends would take me in for various lengths of time, never asking for for anything in return. I was always fed when I was hungry, I always managed to have a pack of cigarettes, I never remember feeling afraid or having nowhere to go. I was asked to house-sit, invited to stay over. My clothes got washed, I showered. I honestly don’t know how I got so lucky, but I always felt that I was. Even in the worst of times, I recognized that my life could be so much worse.

Did I disappoint people? Oh, yes. Regularly. The remorse I feel for the people I let down is almost a living thing, sometimes. It’s better now that I’ve made something of my life. I don’t feel it so acutely, with the passage of time. When I think about those years of my life, it honestly feels like I am viewing the memories of another person…someone I could never possibly have been, except that I was. I took advantage, overstayed my welcome, pilfered change from pockets, ate food that wasn’t meant for me. I was given jobs that I casually didn’t show up for, and borrowed money I could never pay back. In short, I was kind of a nightmare. Looked like a sweet kid, behaved like a monster.

And still…people helped me. My friend Debbie, who I’ve lost track of over the years, replaced my headlights when she was scraping by on a waitresses salary. The number of nights I spent in her apartment, blasting Aretha Franklin and driving her nuts, I couldn’t count. A lady named Suzi that I worked with asked me to “house-sit” for her every time she left town, knowing what a risk I was. People rolled the dice on me all the time, and I was not a safe bet. But I’ve never forgotten. I have never forgotten the kindnesses I’ve been shown.

One time, I was at the welfare office in Nevada, in a desperate situation. I needed money, I needed food- at this time I had a small daughter, and I had waited too long to look for help. There was no way I was making rent. I had called the Catholic charities, I had tried to figure it out,  but things were dire. It was winter time, I remember that, and things were not looking good in that welfare office. It was harder to get help in Nevada than it had been in California, and I knew things weren’t going to work in my favor for once.

There was a woman working there…she was probably the age I am now, mid forties, a heavy-set black woman. She had this beautiful necklace on- a simple chain with this big, shiny, single rhinestone hanging from it. In the midst of all the bullshit I was spewing, wired out of my mind, I said “I really love your necklace.” Because I did. I will never, ever forget what happened next. She said “You know, I never wear this thing. I felt called to wear it this morning, and now I know why.” And she took it off her neck and handed it to me. She GAVE it to me.

You know, that meant something to me. It might have just been a little piece of costume jewelry, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, she did something incredibly kind in that moment. She made me feel worthy and special and less like that desperate, messed up young woman I was. I don’t know how to explain it. But it gave me a boost that I needed so much right then. I will never forget it. I still have that necklace, and I wish I could find that lady and tell her I turned out okay after all. She might not remember me, but I will always remember her.

Another time, and this story is very strange, I was at the beach- a beach I frequent, even to this day. I was at the end of my last run, really strung out, really miserable, feeling like I had reached the end of my rope. I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore…I had realized that no one was going to come along to save me, that I was going to have to rely on myself, and that thought terrified me. I just remember feeling incredibly down that day. The beach was nearly deserted, and out of nowhere, this woman approached me. She had on a skirt, I remember, a longish skirt, and she seemed out of place. She had a bag of sea glass with her, and she showed me her finds. I would guess she was in her fifties or sixties, and she seemed a little odd, though friendly enough. All of the sudden she told me she felt called to pray over me and asked if it was okay. Normally, this would have been SO not okay with me. But that day…I really needed it. It was the strangest thing. She held my hands, and she prayed for me, right there in broad daylight on that deserted beach. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it. I never saw her again.

I don’t know where I am going with this, except…I’m just really grateful for the kindness I’ve been on the receiving end of over the years. I have hurt people and let them down, ripped them off and fucked them over. Yet I never saw the end of that kindness. It always kept coming, and always when I needed it most. I forget that sometimes- how kind people are when it matters most. Having been self-sufficient for so long now, relying on the news and social media to tell me how the world is, I let myself forget. But that’s not the truth, the things you see online, or on your phone. The truth is, people are mostly good, they want to help. I bet you know this about yourself. I bet you see it in others.

I would not be here without the kindness of strangers, the giving hearts of my friends. I know that much is true. Never stop reaching out, even when you think it’s a lost cause. You just never know the impact you might have on someone.

Advertisements
Posted in anxiety, Dreams, family, kids, Life, motherhood, Musings, parenting, People, random, relationships, women

Even After all this time

verbal abuse quotes Beautiful Domestic Violence Awareness Get The Facts [Infographic]

I woke up at three o’clock this morning, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I’d had a terrible nightmare, the kind that seems so real, where you wake up breathless- like you were running straight out of the dream. Honestly, I could cry just thinking about it right now. I dreamed about a man I haven’t laid eyes on since I was 15 years old, a man I hope I never have to see again. But for a long time, he was part of my life, and part of my family. He turned what might have been a happy childhood into years of walking on eggshells, afraid to say the wrong thing, or make the wrong face. He was my stepfather, and he was a terrible man.

In my dream last night, somehow, he was back in our lives. We were trying to get away from him- I remember desperately thinking that I should call from a different phone, pretend to be a different woman, convince him that he should meet up with me, but…even in my dream I was too afraid he would recognize my voice, too afraid of what would happen if I were found out. I was standing in my kitchen, in this house, and I could hear the sound of that particular kind of “fight”- the kind that isn’t really a fight at all, but a man overpowering a woman. I know that sound intimately. I rushed out to find him holding my mothers arm behind her back, as she swayed on her feet, looking dazed. He had his arm pulled back, ready to punch her again. My heart was in my throat as I rushed to her side, wedging myself between them, and somehow he didn’t resist me, he let me lead her into the house. This was not how the story went in real life, of course. I was little then, and I couldn’t do anything at all to help, no matter how much I wanted to.

I don’t think my mom likes it when I talk about this. I know these are terrible memories, and she wishes they didn’t exist. But I want to point out how remarkable it is that, at the age of 43, almost 30 years since I’ve even seen this person, my mind, my heart, my consciousness, can still recall exactly the terror and the pain and the helplessness I felt as a child. I want to point out that, even if I never spoke of this again, these feelings still exist in me, whether I acknowledge them or not. I do not think of this man- almost never. I don’t waste my time hating him or being angry about what he did. I figure his biggest punishment is walking around in his skin, with his memories and his broken mind.

But do I ever feel sad for the child I was, who certainly didn’t deserve to have to live that way? Of course I do. Do I ever wonder how much that contributed to my years of drug abuse and dysfunction? You bet your ass I do. How could I not? Do I blame my mother? Nope. We’ve talked about it, many, many times. She was a very young woman, trying to provide a life for her children, and she simply got in over her head. She didn’t know how to get out. The mental manipulation that goes hand in hand with physical and verbal abuse makes it very hard to tell which end is up. There are good days in between the bad days, and remember…this abuser didn’t start off being a monster. You are always looking for the man inside the monster. Sometimes he is wonderful and charming and fun. Towards the end, as I recall it, the monster consumed the man. We left because my mother began to truly fear he would kill us all.

Though he was not my father, he left traces of himself on me. I have had to learn that people aren’t supposed to erupt in rage, or terrify littler people into submission. I have had to learn how to love others without harming them. I did not know how to fight fair. I did not know you didn’t have to fight at all, not like that. I would never tolerate a man putting his hands on me- I made that promise to myself, and I have kept it. But I became the tyrant, at least sometimes, and that has been hard to know about myself. It has been even harder to overcome.

As for my mom- she has gone on to bigger and better things, and she has been successful and happy and done so many wonderful things. But for a long time, she couldn’t talk about those years, not really. I needed to talk about them. I will never forget the night we drove out along the beach, the two of us in her car, and she finally opened up to me. She told me everything I thought was real, my memories were indeed as I remembered, and she said the most important words she’d ever said to me: “I’m so sorry. I wish I could go back and change it, but I can’t.”

Forgiveness was a lot easier after that. I don’t know how to end this, so I’m just going to say this- if you are in a situation where you are being abused, and you don’t think your kids are being affected, please believe me when I tell you that they are, and they will be for many years to come. Even if it seems impossibly hard, you can leave. There are so many organizations that can help.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

 

Posted in Addiction, alcoholism, Blogging, inner peace, Life, Musings, random, recovery

Guilty

guilty

I’m a guilt hoarder. I just realized that this morning, and of course, as usual, I think it might be the root of all my problems- and maybe yours, too. What in the hell is a guilt hoarder, you might ask?

Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like- I hold onto guilt way past the time when I should probably let that shit go. I’m still feeling bad about things that happened ages and ages ago, and how does this serve me? How does it serve anyone, really? Short answer? It doesn’t. The guilt I haul around with me everywhere is soooo old, it’s as if it belongs to a totally different person (because, honestly, who the hell is the same person now that they were 10 or 20 years ago?), and it adds nothing of any value to my life. I think it’s time I let it go.

Here’s the thing- as I have discussed repeatedly throughout my posts, I started using drugs at a very young age. I really threw myself into that role, my friends. I was dedicated. That was my identity for such a long, long time. During those years, I did a lot of things I am not proud of. I hurt people that I loved dearly. I was a terrible friend. I said awful things, and treated people poorly, in general. Some of the things I did, I might not have done had I been older and wiser and had an ounce of empathy in me- But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and that is all there is to it. I just did what I wanted to do, and never thought beyond that. Did I have remorse? Yeah, I did. But unfortunately, that didn’t keep me from repeating it all over again. I was incapable of seeing beyond the immediate, and that was how I lived.

That’s a lot of years of uncomfortable memories to walk around with. I’m sure there are people walking around in this very town who think some pretty unpleasant things about me. But guess what? The joke is on them, because they could never, ever, be as hard on me as I am on myself. Neener-neener. And I know more about the true scope of my behavior than anyone else ever could, so, again…in your face, mystery people who walk around hating me.

Oh, also? Those people probably don’t exist. There is no one sitting around talking about what a nightmare I was twenty years ago. This is all part of the elaborate torture-scape my brain has constructed over the years, just to mess with me. People move on. They have their own shit to deal with. They let go of things, eventually.

You know how I know this? Because people have done terrible things to me, too, and I swear to you that not one of them pops readily into my mind as an example. I could think of something if I tried hard enough, but why would I? It doesn’t matter anymore. My friends are still my friends, even when we don’t talk for years, and when I see certain people, I’m not mad at them. I’m happy to see them! I feel joyful about their successes in life, and marvel at the way things have changed for them. Sometimes, I feel a little bit worried that their lives haven’t changed that much, and I hope for better things for them. And honestly, the shitty things that happened? They seem kind of funny to me now. We were kids, and we were all doing the same shady shit, and that is all.

So why can’t I extend this same love and forgiveness to myself? Why can’t I look back at 25 year old me and think “God love her, she’s lucky she made it out alive!” or even “She just didn’t know what she was doing, that’s all- if she had known, she would have done better.”

An even better question would be, why can’t I look at 43 year old me and think “Wow. Look at what you have done with your life! You are not at all the person you used to be. What an amazing person you are!” Man, I wish I could say that to myself and really believe it.

I’m sure that drug addicts don’t own the rights to guilt- although we sure do give ourselves plenty of reasons to load up on it. I’m sure lots of people walk around with this weight on their shoulders.

What I really want to know is, how do I get rid of it? I deserve my own forgiveness, so how do I do it? Is there a workbook I can fill out, or a doctor I can see, is there some magical incantation I can say three times during the full moon while I sage myself? Because sign me up! I will do it.

Unfortunately, I think what I have to do is accept that I cannot change the past, and stop rehashing it. Stop unpacking it. Stop dragging it with me everywhere. Remember that I am no more the wild girl I was at 20 than I am the child I was at 10. Those were parts of my life, no more.

I have a lot to be proud of, and so many reasons to love who I am today. Living in the shadow of memories of the past is keeping me from growing the way I should. Today, I will work on accepting myself, forgiving myself, and loving who I am now.

Posted in anxiety, family, kids, Life, living, love, mindfulness, motherhood, parenting, People

This Beautiful Moment

winnie

Yesterday, against my better judgement, I went to see Christopher Robin, the new Winnie the Pooh movie that is out right now. I had scheduled a play-date for Camryn and her little friend Robine from school- she’s this adorable little girl who is here for three years with her family from the Netherlands, and she is literally my favorite of all the kids in Cam’s class, aside from Cam herself, of course. Anyway, I had wanted to see The Incredibles 2, but as usual, I missed the boat on that one. So the only thing playing was Christopher Robin, and that was that.

I have never been a big fan of Winnie the Pooh. I don’t know why, I was just never into it. And honestly, the movie wasn’t all that great, but…that didn’t stop me from bawling my eyes out through half of it. Why? You want to know why? Okay, I’ll tell you: Because it reminded me of a few things- one of which is the terrible way we lose our true selves as adults, and become these tense, unimaginative people most of the time. We get our priorities so wrong, we place work and money above our families and the things we truly love. I think about this all the time, but I still catch myself doing it, no matter how bizarre and backwards it seems.

Another reason it made me so wistful was the way it portrayed the sad loss of childhood, the way we leave behind the playful, joyful little people we were. Especially right now, especially for me…dealing with all of this anxiety lately, just trying to hold it all together. It doesn’t allow me a lot of room for full-throttle happiness. I mostly feel like I am peering inside myself with a spotlight and a magnifying glass. Which is utter bullshit, because the world is far too big for me to spend all of my time gazing at myself. I need to stop it.

Which brings me to my third reason for crying- my daughter is having her childhood right this very moment. This is such an odd time for being a child, isn’t it? So different than the way it was when I was little. I played outside, unsupervised, for hours and hours at her age. I explored the woods next door to my grandparents house with a friend my age- we found a creek to jump in and a low-voltage fence to take turns touching, we explored abandoned buildings and did all sorts of stuff that was unwise and dangerous. But I never got seriously lost or gravely injured, and I grew up to be independent and mostly unafraid of the world.

With my anxiety being primarily about the safety of my children, you can imagine what the thought of that kind of free time for my seven year old does to my stomach. And yet, I wouldn’t trade my experiences as a kid for anything. What a quandary. If it is my responsibility to provide her with the most enriching and full childhood that I can, but I am scared to let her loose, what do I do? I guess I find a happy medium. Let go a little, but keep her in sight? Spend more time doing things I don’t really want to do because I’m lazy, knowing they will be the best memories for her? Yeah, I think that’s really all there is to do. Because lets be real- I’m not releasing her into the woods to explore abandoned buildings. I don’t know what the hell my family was thinking. LOL.

More succinctly, I was crying because it hit me that my littlest daughter isn’t going to be a child forever- not even for very much longer, really, and we forget, don’t we? We just live through the days as if they will stretch on forever, forgetting how fast it all goes by. The thing is, childhood is so short, but it is so beautiful and so important. I guess I just want to remember, so that I can make hers the very best I can manage. That’s what I am thinking about today.

Also, spoiler alert: Christopher Robin is a total dick to Pooh, and that also made me cry. The kids didn’t cry, but I was a mess. How embarrassing.

Posted in family, Life, love, Musings, People

Lucky

I’ve always thought of myself as one of the luckiest people alive. I know that might sound weird, considering…well, you know- I was a raging drug addict for a bazillion years. Sometimes I was homeless. I couldn’t keep a job for very long, my love life has been pretty disastrous, etc., etc. Where is the luck in that, you might wonder?

Well, I didn’t look at it like that, to be honest. I always thought how lucky I was that I didn’t die, or worse, look really ugly as a drug addict. (I’m kind of joking here- I mean, I did get to keep almost all of my teeth, which really is lucky, but I thought I was cute as hell. I have some pictures that say otherwise, however). And yes, I might have technically been homeless, but I didn’t feel homeless- I always had a place to crash, and friends who helped me out. I never had to sleep in my car, when I had a car. So that was lucky. Maybe I couldn’t keep a job, but I could always get a job, so it wasn’t bleak. And my love life? I didn’t view it as disastrous- it was just exciting, that’s all.

So perhaps I wasn’t super lucky, or perhaps I was. The important thing is how I looked at it. If I looked at my life as blessed, even when it sucked pretty majorly, it still felt blessed to me. When I gathered with my family on Saturday evening to honor the life of my Uncle who passed away recently, along with many, many of his friends from as far back as his childhood, it came to me why I might feel as lucky as I do.

Man, I have a GREAT family. Normal? Hmm-mm, not really. I would say, if I had to describe my family in terms of a color scheme, they would be considered BOLD. Big colors. Loud. We talk loud and laugh loud and even our lives are above average messy, but, and this is important- above average awesome, too. We make big mistakes, and learn from them big-time, and go on to have large amounts of success and happiness. It’s heartening to know that I belong to this bunch. I feel lucky to have been born into my family.

On first glance, you might not think that my Uncle fit into that bold category, but I can tell you that he did- maybe more than any of us, honestly. His life was marked by tragedy at the age of 21 when he was nearly killed by a drunk driver, and he survived. He didn’t just survive, though, he beat the odds. He had a five percent chance of surviving, a broken back, brain damage, blindness in one eye, and was paralyzed on one side of his body. So you know what he did? He took a job as a ranch caretaker and went on to write music and play guitar in places all over his hometown and beyond. He loved everything about Native American’s, and he read hundreds of books about their lives and cultures. He was adored by so many people. His life could have been sad and depressing, but he chose to feel lucky. He chose to be happy. Oh, he was one of the funniest people around, too- you know, humor helps so much. Anyway, at the end, it was harder for him- his body was harder to cope with, and he was frustrated and angry after dealing with it for so many years, but…he still made room in his heart for the people he loved. He still treated me with so much kindness and love whenever we spoke. It was crazy how much love I heard in his voice when he spoke to me.

Sitting in our family home, the home that my grandfather built, and the only place I have consistently called home since the day I was born, I felt not just his loss, but the loss of my grandparents so deeply- it was like losing each of them all over again. I told my mom I could close my eyes and swear that my grandpa was in his room, taking a nap, and that grandma was fussing around at the coffee pot, while my Uncle was outside with the dogs or something. I mean, I could FEEL it, like it was real. I have memories that are so ingrained in me, so much love in them that I can’t describe it to you, that I can barely contain it all…

How lucky am I? How lucky is that, to have known so much love and joy and laughter and happiness? No matter how far off the path I ever wandered, I have had that love inside of me, anchoring me to what matters in life. I always knew there was a better way because I had seen it with my own eyes. What a gift these people gave to me. That even now that so many of the important ones are gone, it lives on inside of me. I feel them still.

I’d say I’m pretty lucky, indeed.

Posted in faith, family, friendship, Goals, inner peace, kids, Life, mindfulness, Musings, parenting, People, relationships

Remember Me

IMG_8230
The harbor, last night.

Two thoughts have made their way into my head lately, and they are having a kind of profound effect on me. I don’t even remember where they came from, whether I read them somewhere or they just occurred to me on their own, but I can’t seem to shake them. The first one, I’m pretty sure I read it in a blog somewhere, and essentially it is “How will people feel about you long after you are gone?” Like, what is your emotional legacy, the emotional “fingerprint” you leave on the people you love and care for? The second one, which goes hand in hand with that is really random, but…it popped into my head yesterday, and I keep going back to it, and here it is- no one really knows whether they have more of their life ahead of them than behind. Well, I guess some people do- for instance, if you are 93, you can can be pretty sure you have more of your life behind you than ahead. But for average, healthy people, the point is, you don’t really ever truly know when it’s your time, or how much more time you have.

I am not particularly afraid of dying, and that’s not really what this is about, but for me, dying is not something I get too worked up about. I am not religious, but I have a lot of faith, and some pretty comforting beliefs. What I do worry about is dying before I am ready, before my children are grown enough, and before I’ve had time to become the person I want to be remembered as. And that’s where things get troubling for me, that last part- being the person I want to be remembered as- because…well, what in the world is stopping me from being that right now? If I really don’t know (and hardly anybody does) when this whole life of mine is going to end, then why am I not just being the person I want to be right now? Because it doesn’t cost money, and there doesn’t need to be a different set of circumstances for that to happen. It’s not about any of that at all.

What it is about, and what I’m learning that everything is really about, is my own behavior, my own attitude, and my own willingness to engage in my own life and the life of the people I care about, on a deeper level. How hard is it, really, to respond more lovingly? To have a bit more patience, to answer with a nicer tone, to treat someone a little more kindly? Well, when your deeply ingrained habit is to be terse, irritated, impatient and sarcastic, it can be pretty challenging, I can vouch for that. But challenging is not the same as impossible. Do I want my children, friends, and family to look back on all their memories of me and laugh about how difficult I was? Well, I mean, that ship has kind of sailed if I die tomorrow, but…it’s not too late to temper that with better things. It’s never too late to get better. I should know! I’ve been slowly improving all the time in these past few years.

But there is always more that you can do. If you are lucky enough to live to be 100, there will always be another thing to work on, another thing you can improve. It never ends. I have been actively trying to spend more time with the people who matter to me, in ways that THEY enjoy, and as a bonus, I try not to whine about it the entire time. What I am finding out is that I can enjoy myself quite a bit when I stop listing all the reasons why everything is stupid and sucks, even if I’m only doing it internally- so if you do that, just stop it. Just relax, just go with the flow, just see what happens. Because guess what? No one ever died from doing something they find mildly unpleasant, and when you keep an open mind, you might even (gasp!) start enjoying yourself.

Recently, I cleaned off the catch-all surface of my kitchen table, and started insisting that Cam and I sit down at it at least a few nights a week to eat a meal together. At first, she was confused and upset by this-“But WHY?! And why does the TV have to be off, I’ll be BORED!”- but now that we have done it a few times, I think she kind of likes it. It’s just the two of us, sitting face to face, eating dinner and having no choice but to talk to each other about…whatever. Sadly, at first, it was a little awkward- I mean, the first five minutes, but still, it seemed longer to me. All I could think to ask was “So, how was school today?” A question that all kids in every part of the world just relish being asked, you know. But really quickly, we forgot that this was different for us, and we just started being our normal selves, and now we both really enjoy it. It was important to me to do this thing with her, this normal, family thing, and now we are doing it, and it is nice. Little changes, big rewards. This is something that she will remember.

Every morning, before she wakes up, and every day before I pick her up from school, I have a little talk with myself. I remind myself to be patient, kind, and loving, and to treat her in a way that will make her feel happy and loved. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but for me, someone who’s natural state is a little more snappy and self-absorbed, this is important, and it helps. Last night, I was craving a dark chocolate pecan turtle, and I asked her if she wanted to go down to Fisherman’s Wharf and visit the candy store and maybe take a walk around after dinner. Of course, she was into it, so after we sat together and had dinner, we did just that. It was a chilly, overcast day, but we got our candy, and we wandered around in the shops, and then we took a little walk down the bike path and watched the otters play and the seals zip around in the harbor. We took lots of rests, because she is not much of a walker, but it was okay, we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be. And on the long walk back to the car, she held my hand and gave me a million hugs, and told me what a fun time she was having. It wasn’t a big night I had planned- it was just a dumb thing I thought of last minute, a tiny outing. But it was a happy moment, and we were happy in it together. These are the things I want more of in my life. This is the way I want to be remembered.

IMG_8224
Camryn, lost in thought
Posted in Addiction, family, kids, Learning, Life, love, motherhood, parenting, People, relationships

The Best Thing I Ever Did

everything

I have been a mother now for almost half of my life. I have forgotten so many things- my daughter will say “Do you remember that time…” Or “Remember when we…” and I feel terrible about it, but nine times out of ten, I have no idea what she is talking about. Sometimes I secretly think she is just making stuff up to torture me. But for all the things I have forgotten, I will never, ever forget the day that I became a mother. I remember being in labor all night, by myself, timing my contractions, and sleeping between them, and writing them down on a little paper bag that had held a greeting card (I still have that bag, taped inside my daughters baby book). I remember the ride to the hospital, and the giant men’s flannel shirt that I had taken to wearing because it was pretty much all that would fit me at that point.

But more than anything, I remember the moment that my daughter arrived in this world. I remember the doctor holding her up, and the way that time stood still as my eyes beheld her for the first time, the way that something inside of me shifted, and the way my heart changed, in an instant, to something so much bigger than I had ever known it was possible to be. For the first time in my life, I loved someone else more than I loved myself. It pains me to admit how selfish I was until that moment, which is not to say that I immediately was redeemed as a human being, but from then on, I learned a lot about guilt, lets put it that way. But that moment, the moment I met her, was so pure. I remember thinking “Please don’t ever let me forget this.” And I never have.

It’s impossible for me to remember that day without thinking about all the ways it went wrong after that. I wanted so badly to do it right, to be the best mom, but I didn’t stand a chance. My addiction and my immaturity saw to that. I know there were happy times, but it’s so much easier for me to remember everything I didn’t do, and all the things I did wrong. It honestly breaks my heart. Knowing the kind of life my daughter deserved to have, and understanding what I took from her. Knowing that is one thing I can never, ever fix. You can’t give someone back the time you stole. And I know that for her, that’s just what she had, so she doesn’t look at it the way I do- she doesn’t know any different. But for me…how can I not see all that could have been, how can I ever possibly be at peace with these things? How can I ever truly forgive myself?

I still don’t have an answer for those questions. But I can tell you this: From the moment she came into my life, I never stopped wanting and trying to be better. I failed, over and over and over again, but goddammit, I wanted it so bad. And it wasn’t for me, which might have been my first mistake- no, at a certain point, I really began to despise myself for my weakness- it was always, forever, and only for her. And because I kept trying, I managed, somehow, to keep us together (although I’ve often wondered if she would have been better off with someone else), and I managed, somehow, to keep our heads above water, just barely. Sometimes things were really, really bad. I have memories that I would love to banish from my head, and yet I cling to them like a penance. How dare I try to forget?

But sometimes things were good and sweet- her tiny feet in footy pajamas. The way we would sleep curled together, two peas in a pod. Riding in the car together on a beautiful summer day, all the windows rolled down, singing along to “Cowboy Take Me Away”. The fierce love she inspired in me, the deep connection I had never felt before for another human being. She was, and is, my world. I just didn’t know how to do it right. I just couldn’t get there in time. She was all grown up by the time I finally figured out how to do this job. Talk about heartache…you have no idea.

Now she is almost 21, and she has a little sister who reaps all of the rewards of my experience. I do homework and read stories, and worry about shit like too much screen time, and processed food, and nitrates in hot dogs. I pack her lunches, and make sure her hair is brushed, and I would never send her to school with a backpack that reeks of cigarette smoke. I try hard not to say things I will regret later, and I try even harder to say things that let her know she is loved. But most of all, my youngest daughter has had the luxury of a safe life. Things are never up in the air, and we always have a home of our own, and everything is consistent and routine. She will never know what it is like to have the ground beneath her feet shifting constantly. I am so glad that this is true. But I wish I could have given this to both of my children, not just one of them.

The wonder of it all is that, despite everything, my daughter- the 20 year old- loves me more than you can even imagine. You know what she tells me? That I am the only one who was ALWAYS there for her, that she looks back at her life, and the only one that she sees in every memory is ME. She remembers the closeness. She remembers the good things. She is the one who reminds me that is wasn’t all bad, that there were plenty of happy times- Like sliding down the snowy Reno streets in our fake Ugg boots, and laughing so hard our sides ached. And sitting in our car, sharing terrible lemon chicken and chow mein on payday, even though we couldn’t afford it. To her, I am just her mom, and she just loves me.

So today, even though she will probably never even see this, I dedicate this post to my daughter, Aisley. The best thing I ever did, and the person who made me a mother. I love you so much, and I’m grateful every single day that God saw fit to give me you.