I find out 3 weeks before Thanksgiving that my mom would like me to host it this year. My dad has been sick so this is really no surprise to me. I’ve done it before. I’m not freaking out. Really. I’m not.
On Sunday before Thanksgiving I find a checklist on Pinterest. “How to Host the Perfect Thanksgiving” or something like that. Well, it seems I am already 3 weeks behind. Clean your refrigerator, clean your oven, empty your coat closets, clean your baseboards…things you are supposed to begin weeks before the big event. Then, I find all the menus. The perfect holiday feasts were all listed in various forms but sharing mostly the same menu. There is also a cheat sheet for how much of each item you need per person. I don’t think I have enough food. I really know I have enough food, but I start having doubts. I sort of use the lists, to make sure all my bases are covered.
I’m setting out bowls, getting extra chairs, making sure my cabinets won’t be an embarrassment, when I see the most important part of this holiday. My grandmother’s mixer. My grandmother died about 24 years ago and I got her mixer. I use this mixer every year to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. I won’t use my newer, fancier mixers. I use hers.
This sends me down memory lane. I start remembering Thanksgivings past. The entire family sitting in my grandmother’s trailer, on floors, on couches, around the kitchen table, and into the living room. There are a lot of us. She had 4 kids and their families are all present. We fit. I don’t remember anxious hosts. I don’t remember feelings of “not enough”. I remember football and cracking walnuts and the smells. Man, I remember the smells. Turkey and baked goods and chicken smells filled the entire trailer. I remember flour everywhere. There was flour on the counters and flour on her face. And her arms. I don’t know how, but she always had flour on her arms. That might be my favorite memory of her.
“Bobbie, the key to good mashed potatoes is mixing them at the right time,” she told me. She got the potatoes off the stove and drained them and handed me the mixer. “You have to mash them when they are right off the stove and still soft.” I mashed the potatoes that year. I don’t remember how old I was. 12, 14? I just thought it was cool that she let me do this. Carefully I added the milk and the butter. She handled the salt and pepper. They were perfect. Maybe. I don’t remember. I know we weren’t looking at Pinterest or Tasty to find the perfect mashed potatoes. Just a grandma and her granddaughter, sharing a tradition.
So, I set aside the lists. The instructions for hosting the perfect holiday feast. I call my sister who insists I have enough food and we remember Wednesdays before Thanksgiving that were just nights of baking. Our kids playing and sometimes helping. Our memories didn’t involve Pinterest and were not documented on social media. They are in our hearts.
Today, I am grateful for the grandmas, the sisters and the aunts. The ones that insist we all get together, even when our lives have become so busy. The ones that dig out the extra chairs and table cloths to make sure there is enough room at the table. The ones that spent days making enough fudge for every family to take home. I am grateful for women that know how important it is that we pass on mashed potatoes for a family meal. I am really grateful for my grandma’s mixer.
I watched as Bradley Cooper’s character glanced at the camera and pulled down the garage door. I couldn’t breathe. I knew what he was going to do. I knew what he was feeling. I glanced at my husband, who was now sound asleep. I started to cry.
It has been 4 years for me. 4 years since I woke up in the ER surrounded by family. 4 years since I felt what he was feeling on that screen. But I knew those feelings intimately. He was just a character in a movie, but at that moment, he was me. Aging, past his prime, alcoholic, an embarrassment to his family. I had become all those things.
I had this big plan. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but always found a reason to put it off. I was always looking for a reason to put it off. But this day, this Friday morning, I really couldn’t find a reason to stay. I had made a big mess of our lives. My oldest son was angry with me, I was no longer allowed to babysit, my youngest daughter wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, my husband told me he didn’t want to be married to a drunk and my best friend of forty-something years just told me she was done with me. I knew people would grieve, but not over who I was right then, but over who I had been before the alcohol changed me. They would be sad, but they already were. In my head, this would provide my family with the opportunity to move on and stop worrying about me.
You would think that the simple thing to do, and the most obvious thing to do would be to quit drinking. I tried. Every day. I was afraid. It had become such a part of who I was, I was terrified to live without it. My crutch had become my lifeline.
So, I grabbed the bottle of Xanax that I had talked my friend into giving me, I poured them on the counter and mentally thought, that should do it. I grabbed a beer out of the fridge, and I put them all in my mouth. I swallowed them with a big pull from the beer. I went to my room to lay down. I thought I would just drift off to sleep and not wake up again. It would be over.
Suddenly I became frantic. I wasn’t done. I loved my family, and I couldn’t do this. I tried to throw it all up and couldn’t. I called my husband. I didn’t want him to know what I had done, so I began telling him without telling him. I wanted him to come home so my daughter wouldn’t be the one to find me. I was having a tough time being coherent at this point.
I vaguely remember the ambulance and the paramedics. I sort of remember our dear friend showing up to make sure I was still alive. The rest is vague.
I spent almost a week in the psych ward. During the first couple of days, I was still messed up from the Xanax. I know my husband feared I had damaged my brain. Slowly, I began reading. I joined the group stuff. I talked to doctors. I just wanted to go home.
I was okay but felt strange for a couple of weeks. I didn’t know how to exist without alcohol. So, I started drinking again. Slowly at first, then a lot. Right back where I was. It took more fight from me. It took strength I wasn’t sure I had. But the looks from my family was enough. The fact that they kept showing up for me was enough. It was time I showed up for them.
Then, one day, I did. I made an appointment with an addiction counselor. I began doing the work to heal myself. From the inside. It was work, but all I had to do was follow directions. I had to dig deep and look inside myself for what got me there in the first place.
Little did I know that day 4 years ago, how much living I still had to do. I didn’t understand how fulfilling it would be to heal the damaged relationships with my children. I didn’t know how much I could love my husband, whose love saved me. And those grandbabies. It scares me to think I almost missed all of this.
So, I sit here, grateful for the second chance that Bradley Cooper’s character and so many others don’t get. I still have a lot of things to do. I have a lot of life to live. And, if you are ever thinking you can’t find any reason not to, remember me. The purpose was always there. I just lost sight of it for a minute.
“Do you need those?” Someone asked as they pointed to my prescription bottle of antidepressants. My face got red, and I was embarrassed that I forgot to put the bottle away.
“I mean, yeah, for a little bit. I’ve just been feeling kind of off, you know. So my doctor thought I should try them. I probably won’t need them long.” I replied. It was so embarrassing admitting that I wasn’t okay.
“Wow. I always thought you were so strong.” They said.
Bam. There it is. I glanced at the bottle and changed the subject. I never forgot to put it away again.
I stopped taking them after that incident. I would power through the downtimes. That’s what I called it to myself. “Downtimes.” They weren’t often and didn’t last long. They were new. I didn’t know why they were occurring and I didn’t know how to stop them. But, I was determined not to let those times stop me. I had always been so strong.
Strong. Really though? I mean, I was a room mother, a coach, a parent, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and the go-to person — but was I strong? Ask me to take your mom to the doctor and I will. Watch your kid? Sure. Set up a fundraiser, coach the ball team, organize the get-together. Check, check, and check. I rarely said no. I never wanted to disappoint anyone. I wanted to prove I could be superwoman.
I didn’t take my antidepressants because I wanted people to think I was strong. That lead to ten years of anxiety and depression that only progressed. Apparently, “powering through it” doesn’t work. That lead to alcoholism and a breakdown. Strong. Not even close.
Strong is not pretending I’m something I’m not. Strong is not smiling when I’d rather be curled up in a ball on the floor. Strong is not saying “I’m okay” when I am clearly not.
If I could go back to that day, that point in time and look at my friend and say, “Yeah, I’m seeing a doctor. She says I have depression and we should get in front of it. “ Maybe, just maybe, by being vulnerable and allowing my friend to see that I had days I struggled, I would be giving her a chance to be vulnerable too. Maybe, I would have taken some of the pressure off of me and gotten the help I needed so long ago.
We need to change the narrative. We need to teach our children, our friends, and ourselves that “strong” doesn’t look like we think. Perhaps the goal isn’t even to be strong. Let’s be open and honest and vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, the goal is to be real.