Sick in sobriety – How to avoid the triggers

sick in sobriety

sick in sobriety

Early on in my sobriety, I remember hearing around the rooms people complaining about how hard it was being sick in sobriety .  At the time I couldn’t figure out what one had to do with the other.  Of course, at that time I didn’t have any children.  I had no idea of the biological warfare that is daycare germs.  And as I sit here, having been sick for over a month with one illness after another, while I don’t necessarily want a drink, I have started to understand the problem.  It’s not that I think a drink would make anything better, that’s a guarantee in every situation.  It’s more that my defenses are down, and that little addicted part of my brain, which is usually a pretty good napper, sees its opportunity and starts whispering to me.

This feels familiar

My mouth feels like sandpaper and my head is pounding.  What does this feel like?  A hangover. This is completely unfair.  Because this was part of the deal – I stop drinking, and the hangovers stop. That’s the deal.  Who is messing with the deal? ??

It states clearly in paragraph four.

Though I don’t want to admit it, there is some part of my brain that thinks “If I’m going to feel hungover, I should have gotten to drink!”  This is completely different than how I actually view drinking.  I don’t think of it as a privilege that I am denying myself.  I think of it as something that doesn’t work well with my body.  Kind of like Lean Pockets.

Side note: I got food poisoning from a Lean Pocket once. Why I was eating one in the first place is beyond me.  Alcohol was definitely a part of the decision-making process.  It was horrible and to this day the sight of one turns my stomach.  But when I get the stomach flu I don’t automatically think, “But I didn’t get to have a lean pocket!” Yet feeling sick with hangover symptoms triggers my “No fair!” alarm system.  And what was the one thing that could take the edge off a hangover? Yeah.

A pound of cure

balloon head
I may be sick but I still know how to rock

I do not have a high threshold for being uncomfortable.  If I don’t feel good in some way – either mentally or physically, I want to bomb it out of my body by any means necessary.  A big part of sobriety is learning how to sit with big emotions you’d rather block out.  I have learned to do that for the most part but still haven’t mastered it on the physical side.  So I drag myself to urgent care where they prescribe all manner of pills and potions.

When I still have a cough days later, the doctor wants to prescribe Tylenol with Codeine.  I explain that I am in recovery and would prefer not to use anything with opioids.  (This is a personal choice.  If your doctor prescribes it and you take it as directed, it is not considered a slip, but for me, I just don’t want to mess with it, especially since in the past they haven’t worked well.)  The doctor orders me some other prescription cough medicine which makes the room look slightly melty and makes my head feel like a helium balloon.  But it does help me sleep.  It makes me uneasy though.

So I try the health food store.  A man in a white coat but does not necessarily have any sort of medical or pharmacological degree sells me fifty dollars of tinctures that taste like an ogre’s jockstrap.  50 drops every three hours.  After taking it twice I read that tinctures are usually extracted with alcohol.  Great.  The ones I bought apparently do not, which is a load off, but that’s also a pretty easy way to accidentally ingest alcohol.  I am lucky to have avoided that.  My head is fuzzy and I am not being vigilant.


As alcoholics, we need to be careful about the temptation to take anything that lets us turn off the world for a while.  And just to put it out there – don’t take Nyquil unless it’s the alcohol-free version. Make sure to check everything you take.  Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  Hemlock is natural too but I wouldn’t recommend taking it.

This never used to happen

drunk rhesus monkey
I can’t even feel it

“I never got sick when I was drinking!”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this.  I have even thought it myself a couple of times.  My logic was that the alcohol killed whatever germs were in my system, though science doesn’t really back that up.  If you’re a rhesus monkey trying not to get smallpox it might help slightly, and to be fair, when drinking I never DID contract smallpox…  But beyond that, there is no proof to suggest alcohol boosts immunity.

What’s more likely?  I did get sick, I just figured it was a hangover. Or even more likely, I didn’t get as sick as I do today, because back then I didn’t have children, and could actually REST when I was sick.

No rest for the mommy

I barely remember what it was like to be sick before having a child.  It sounds like it was almost enjoyable.  I could lay down all day and watch bad tv and drink overly salty soup and ginger ale and sleep until I felt better.  I don’t have that option now.  I continue to trudge through my days as if I were healthy, thereby making myself sicker and sicker.

hospital patient
Why aren’t you logged into the VPN?

Part of this is my fault, in that I don’t ask for help early enough, but this isn’t because I am being stoic.  It’s all about the very real issue of balancing child care and the goodwill of our family’s employers.  Do I want to ask my husband to be late to work and come back early so he can do daycare duty, thereby saving me the mile walk each time?  Nah, I should probably save that for when I REALLY can’t do it myself.  Should I take a sick day?  No one really does where I work, since we all work remotely.  It’s considered lame.

Can my husband get up with my son when he starts screaming at night?  Yes, and he does.  And my son will have none of it.  I am getting no more sleep lying in bed hearing him scream “I want Mamaaaaaaaa!” than I would if I just went in there and rubbed his back.  Maybe this puts him back to sleep.  Or maybe he is up for the day at 3AM.  Does he care that I am sick?  Hell no.

Am I done relaxing yet?

Something I have noticed among most people in recovery is that we are high achievers.  We aren’t great at sitting still.  Maybe it’s because of all the years we wasted, or maybe it’s because we learned to function with a handicap of being drunk so much, it acted much the same way as a baseball player swinging multiple bats as practice – a single bat feels like a feather after that.  So for us, sober life feels lighter and easier.  For all these reasons, we do not want to stop and rest.  We hate doing nothing.

enough tranquility
Okay it’s been an hour. Enough tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a duvet day.  In theory.  But I usually can’t stay at it for more than a few hours.  My mind loves the idea of relaxation right until it gets bored.  So when it comes time to rest because my body is forcing it on me, I might take a half day to abandon my everyday chores, and then I get frustrated.  Why aren’t I better yet?  Now I’m still sick and the house is a disaster and I have twice as many emails to return.  This is bullshit.

The Mom Cold

You know how there’s the “man cold”?  Where some men get the sniffles and all of a sudden they act like they’re dying, and insist upon being waited on hand and foot?  My problem is that I THINK I’m behaving that way.  I think I have a man cold, when in fact I have a MOM cold.  This is where you are ridiculously ill but act like you are fine and do everything anyway.  I was certain I just had a persistent chest cold and found out it was really walking pneumonia.  It wasn’t until a doctor told me that and gave me a serious talking to that I allowed myself to call in reinforcements and just rest.

hotel room
Your sickbed awaits madam.

I have a fantasy in which I could just go to a hotel when I get sick.  Because at home, even if I try to rest, there is always something that needs to be done, and I can’t help myself.  But if I could just remove myself to a hotel, order chicken soup and sleep with no one yelling, I could recover.  Alas, I cannot afford it.

Back to reality

This is one of the many ways in which I feel like I should get a gold star for just showing up, while others seem to handle temporary illness with much more grace and little to no maid service.  So what can I do?  I can ask a friend who lives nearby to walk my son to daycare, and promise to do the same for her when she gets sick.  I can make giant mugs of herbal tea with as much honey as I want and drink them all day.  I can order chicken pho from the amazing Thai place nearby.  I can block off an hour on my work schedule and use it to take a nap.  I can go to bed at a very early hour even if I’d rather stay up and watch tv with my husband.  And I can remember that just because it FEELS like it will never end, that doesn’t make it true.  This too shall pass.

Anyone else?  Bueller?



Are you messing up your kid?


What to do when you’ve lost it to prevent messing up your kid

I don’t know whether it’s being an alcoholic or just being a mother, but so many nights I look at my son’s little face and think, “Dear God, please don’t let me mess him up too badly.”

Part of me feels like with alcoholism running in his family, the deck is stacked against him and I want to protect him from any hurt I can, just to give him a fighting chance. But what about when I’m the cause of the hurt? When I go away on business and he doesn’t understand? Or when I realize I’ve been staring at my phone for an hour instead of playing with him? When I attempt to wrestle him into a diaper because he Will. Not. Put. On. Clothes.  When I see his big eyes fill with tears because I yelled?

Does he think I don’t love him? Is he afraid of me? What kind of monster am I if I yell at a small child?

Unsurprisingly it’s not when I am going through this that I find any answers. It’s when my friends go through the same thing that I suddenly have pearls of wisdom about it. I can give them the grace I can’t give myself. But in turn, I can try and remember it for next time. Because as much as I hate it, there will be a next time. And I promise you: You are not messing up your kid as badly as you think.

messing up your kid
Why didn’t I just let him wear his pajamas to school?

We are doing better than our parents

This isn’t to say they did a bad job. I still consider my mother to be one of the best role models around for me or anyone else for that matter, but we learn things as a society from one generation to the next. If you look at parenting just a generation or two ago, it’s pretty crazy to realize the extent to which things have changed. Just as my son rides in a car seat instead of on my lap, we take the information available at the time and we do the best we can with what we know.

rickety playground
Sure, that looks totally safe for a two-year-old!

These are teachable moments

Okay so you yelled at your kid and they cried and now you kind of wish the ground would swallow you up. As tempting as it is to ignore it and figure things will go back to normal when they see you aren’t mad anymore, you are missing an opportunity here.

You aren’t perfect and that’s okay. No one is. It’s important for them to learn how to have humility about their own flaws, and to learn to forgive them in others. I’m not saying to go into a big speech about it, but when you are both calm, find an age-appropriate way of saying, “Hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you. Yelling isn’t a good way to solve problems. We all make mistakes, and then we say we’re sorry.” Don’t give excuses for why you were yelling. You can absolutely discuss their behavior separately. But they are more likely to hear you if you don’t seem mad anymore. And justifying the yelling will just get their back up whether they are two or twenty.

Do Better

Now unfortunately along with the apology, you do actually have to try to do better in the future. I’m not saying you will never yell at your kid again because that’s a joke. But if it’s happening every day, then maybe it’s time to research ways to keep your temper better. Whatever the issue is that’s the problem, look at your part of it.  Your child is going to be on every fourth step you do.  This is the best chance you have at minimizing the extent to which you mess your kid up.

Please let him turn out better than me…

Keep it in perspective

One of my favorite ways to keep things in perspective is to ask myself, “Have I ever heard anyone use this as part of their ‘before’ story in an AA meeting?” 99% of the time, the answer is no. You don’t hear things like, “My mom never gave me the toys I wanted,” or “she yelled at me to put on my clothes every morning”.   A kid isn’t a soufflé. It’s not something where you do one thing wrong and they are ruined. And when you do something truly awful? They love you so much and they will give you a thousand chances to get it right.

(That said, if you are hurting your children, or you are worried about your behavior, talk to a therapist, stat.  They can help you.  If you’re not coping on your own, it won’t magically happen.  Insurance covers some of it and a lot of them work on a sliding scale. )

Make sure your child goes to bed knowing they are loved

There are days that are just awful and the two of you seem to butt heads. You are exasperated and just want them to go to sleep so you can have some peace. (Hey, sometimes I wish for that on a good day too.) I’m not trotting out the old adage of “never go to bed angry” because you can’t always change a feeling on a dime. What you do have the power to do is to say,

“I’m still very upset. But I love you very much. No matter what.”

Having that sense of security and being loved is a huge part of the mental health of a person at any size.

Worse comes to Worst

All this aside, you will mess your kid up at least a little. Everyone does, it’s unavoidable. As they get older, I think it is important to share our stories with them. Perhaps not the gory details, but the general message of, “You can turn it around.” There is a genetic element to this, and what they become is not all down to you and your actions. And if they ever do end up at the wrong end of too many bottles, they have you as living proof that there is a way out.

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Time Flies


Awhile ago I was having a conversation with my best friend, then about 8 months pregnant with her second child.  Her husband was away for work at the time and she was dealing with a three-year-old and a heat wave.  She was obsessing over getting her son’s new room perfect so that they could move him in there before the baby was born.  I was trying to convince her to take it easy, and it all seemed so logical to me that she should just be able to let some things go and give herself a little grace.  I could practically hear her eyebrow arch over the phone. The pot was on the phone to tell the kettle she was black.

Who me?

Fair point.  I do this all the time.  I take whatever life event is stressing me out, and I seem to find some project that I think will fix everything and give myself a million tasks around it.  It’s my way of trying to take control of the situation.  About a year ago, I started a bullet journal to keep myself a bit more organized and fell into an Instagram hole of amazing bullet journalists.  All of a sudden I decided my handwriting was bothering me, so I needed to incorporate 20 minutes of handwriting practice a day.

Plus my new daily workout to fix my mummy tummy.

And cut back on processed foods.

And have a “no spend” day once a week.

And a weekly meal plan for the whole family where I cook dinner most nights.

But I couldn’t figure out why I felt so stressed and unhappy. Why I kept wondering if I needed to call my psychiatrist to up my medication for the first time in ten years.  The idea that I was putting extra pressure on myself never entered my mind.

Maybe Later

These skills are all lovely things to put into practice, but now is not my time for most of them. I’d love to have beautiful handwriting, but I think everyone would prefer I use that time to shower. Because there is only room for one of the two.

While part of my desire for all these projects is certainly about a wish for control and keeping the outside of things looking perfect, I think it harkens back to something else too – the freedom that I had before I became a mother.

Even before I quit drinking, I was always a big fan of self-improvement practices and learning new things. I had a standing new years resolution to learn one new skill a year for no other reason than it interested me. I would dive into new and overwhelming projects, and experience time speed up as I focused intently and felt the thrill of the tiny improvements in my new skill emerging. I still have this urge. I still want to learn calligraphy and how to surf. I want to learn to play the ukulele. I want to learn javascript and how to make jewelry.

Well that’s efficient

But being a mom is a skill that takes more than one year to learn. I don’t know if it’s one I’ll ever master. It’s trickier than say, learning the piano. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out — everything changes.

Tempus Fugit

I am also constantly reminded in subtle ways that I won’t always be so strapped for time. The way my son’s head suddenly appears above the top of the kitchen table instead of skimming beneath it – when did he grow? A couple of months ago, I could count how many words he knows. Now I have no idea. Hundreds?

I have always hated it when mothers look at me and say– almost as a warning – “It goes so fast…” I believe it. But it irks me because my attitude has been, “Yes, I get it, but what do you want me to do about it other than to be sad?”

Maybe this is part of the answer – to put some things I want to do on hold because there will space later in my life. When my son is moody and hormonal and just wants me to leave him alone. When he goes off to college and they have to pull me off his doorjamb. Maybe that’s the time for calligraphy.

The limits of time have never sat well with me.  I remember crying as a child once when I realized I would never have time to read all the books I would want to in a lifetime.  I’m still that same girl.  There are too many things I want to do in this life and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I probably won’t get to do them all.


For me, there is a simple truth that I can’t both DO ALL THE THINGS and enjoy all the things. There is something in knowing the limitations of time.  It means your choices must be considered.  What we choose is special because whether we think about it or not, it’s what we’ve prioritized at this moment above everything else.

I also know I could do everything else on my list, but if I had never gotten to be a mother, it would have felt hollow.  So what if I got to see Kyoto but didn’t have the full human experience of having a child?  This is certainly not the case for everyone nor should it be. It’s just what’s true for me.  I have always wanted this.  It is special, and brief.  It deserves my full attention.

I still have and use my bullet journal. It helps me keep track of play dates and meetings. And I even have a page for “Stuff I Want to Learn”. Having a place to park those ideas somehow lessens the anxiety that I will immediately blank on everything I was ever interested in the moment I am left alone with my thoughts. When I get that down on paper and out of my head, I can then look up and focus on where I am right now. I can see the way my son’s hair sticks up because he’s gotten banana in it again, and notice how he smells like sunscreen and dirt from the playground. And I can know that even if it’s not a skill I can put on my resume, or impress people with at parties, I’m still always learning.


5 Recovery Tools you can do in 5 minutes

5 recovery tools you can do in five minutes a day
Yeah it’s been awhile since I cleaned…


I have a confession — I only get to a recovery meeting every couple of weeks.  When I admitted this to the women on the message board that has kept me sane since becoming a mother, I was terrified.  I figured they would call me a bad alcoholic and not allow me to be a part of the 12 step recovery community anymore because everybody knows, “Meeting Makers Make It!”

Then a funny thing happened – when I admitted how infrequently I went and how embarrassed I was about it, dozens of women acknowledged in the comments that they were in the same position, but were afraid to say anything.   When you are a mom to small children, whether you are working as I do, or you are at home with them full time, prioritizing yourself and your mental health is often last on the list.

“Well, I haven’t been craving a drink,” you think.  “I’m okay for now.  And I really need a shower…” And you don’t drink and it’s fine.  Except that then it’s every day and it’s less and less fine.  The truth is, at this point in our lives, it’s not necessarily realistic to expect to get to an in-person meeting with any frequency.

There’s no question, meetings are definitely the gold standard.  I walk out of a meeting feeling like the freaking Dalai Lama.  But this isn’t a zero-sum game.  Here are five recovery tools that will fit into your crazy mom life.

Recovery Tool #1

book with glasses

Read Program Literature* Every Day

Whether it’s a few pages from the Big Book (and/or the stories in the back), a Daily Reflections, the 12 and 12, or even something like Grapevine or Drop the Rock, this is an old standby. It’s a good way to stay connected to the program. We alcoholics have terrible memories, so the excuse that you’ve read it before doesn’t wash here. Meetings are repetitive as hell and for good reason. We will forget.

If you are not an AA person, check out the resources page for plenty of alternatives.  I tend to use them supplementally, but whatever works for you is awesome.

Recovery Tool #2

Oh look, it’s me postpartum.


Meditation for me is a lot like writing or exercise. I love having DONE it, but I hate sitting down and actually DOING it. I have zero motivation even though I know it helps me in ways I probably don’t even realize. Meditation literally changes your brain and since I was all about the mind-altering substances, it should theoretically be right up my alley! But it’s difficult to get excited about sitting and doing nothing. The only way it happens for me is if it’s built into my routine. If I can hack out ten minutes to listen to a Headspace track during my lunch break consistently, it makes a huge difference in my life.

If you struggle to find five minutes, go for one minute! Some days are a blur. When you get a quiet(ish) moment just take a second to check in with your senses. Feel your feet on the floor.  What else are you touching?  What does the air smell like? What can you hear, both nearby and far away? Can you taste anything? (Is it time for a mint?) What are you looking at that could be seen as beautiful? These tiny check-ins take you out of the constant whir and bustle in your mind. I try to do one of these whenever my son or my husband leans in to cuddle me.

Recovery Tool #3

Make like a Mantis

Pray/Ask for help

It’s staggering how often I forget to do this. It’s such a simple thing, and so important in recovery, but with having to wrangle small people and big business, I am so used to being in charge, that I have trouble remembering that I can ask for help. My main solution to this is that I have created a habit for it – I pray in the shower. That’s the only way I do it consistently. Mainly I just ask for direction and do a modified 3rd step prayer that my sponsor helped me come up with. (I wasn’t relating to it as it is written in the Big Book.)  Whatever else I am struggling with at the time, I just ask for help in accepting it and for guidance on how to get through it with grace.

Recovery Tool #4

woman on phone
Even if she is slightly cray cray.

Call/text (or help) another sober* woman.

Admittedly, I am a full-on hypocrite and I absolutely suck at this one. I hate calling people with a passion. I get stage fright calling for delivery or asking a store if they are open on a holiday. Texting is marginally better, but if it’s someone I just met? Not likely to happen. My answer to this has been Facebook Groups/Message Boards. I can simply go on there and comment on someone’s thread with something supportive, and it’s an instant boost for me. Yes, I sometimes post my own stuff if I’m struggling, but it’s the service aspect of this that really is the meat of recovery for me. And because it’s not a call or a text, I don’t have to worry about whether someone is going to keep me in a conversation that I don’t have time for.

* Don’t limit yourself to helping only sober women. It’s definitely important and you should do this as part of your program. In general though, if you can be on the lookout to help out a stranger once a week (offer directions, pay a compliment, etc.) It will make you feel good. I know it can feel like all we do all day long is help other people, but it feels different when you do it not because you are expected to, but because you just want to spread a little goodness in the world today.

Recovery Tool #5

I spy at least two choking hazards here.

Gratitude journal

I know, I know. You’ve heard it before.  Maybe you’ve even done it before! But humor me. It doesn’t have to be frilly or Pinterest-worthy.  Just a running email/Evernote file to yourself with your favorite thing that happened today is a game changer.  Gratitude trains your eye to look out for the good throughout your day where you might otherwise gloss over it. Think of it as something to check off on your list as you are going through the day.   And always say why you are grateful for it. “I am grateful that there was no traffic today because it let me get to work in a decent mood.”  “That was a damn good ice cream cone!  Those make me feel like a kid again.”  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Writing it down right before bed puts a nice button on your day.

If you struggle to find five minutes, go for one minute! Some days are a blur.

Sometimes you will not do any of this. Some days you will spend the ten minutes you could have used meditating locked in the bathroom playing Candy Crush. Go easy on yourself. Sometimes the to-do list can’t take one more thing without making your head explode. We are aiming for progress, not perfection. If you aren’t doing any of these right now, shoot for one. If you like it, try another one. Easy does it.