“Your birth altered my whole posture on this planet … because of you, I couldn’t die and couldn’t monster myself, either. So you were the agent of my rescue – not a job for somebody barely three feet tall.” –– Mary Karr writing about her son in Lit: A Memoir
Last week my son turned 13 and we gave him a smart phone. We gave it to him as a birthday present, but in reality a smart phone is not a gift. It is an act of submission to our 21st century world of constant contact, instantaneous information and, of course, Amazon and PornHub. It is a recognition of – and ticket to – the world we live in.
I did not want to give my boy this world. I wanted to give him some other world, a world where it is easier to be good and kind. A world where we don’t require constant contact; where our current information is relevant for more than 24 hours; where we don’t need all the stuff on Amazon and where sites like PornHub don’t even exist.
But I am committed to living in reality. I know that I cannot shield my teenage children from the world, but instead am responsible for showing them how to live in it wisely. Mary Karr’s sentiment is also my own: my boys have been the agent of my rescue and in return, I am theirs.
To become a better mother, to become the mother that my children need, I stopped drinking. But sobriety was just the beginning of the changes I had to make. We are walking this world together and what we do matters to one another. This means I no longer numb myself, but instead make myself available to my family. It also means I no longer pretend that my needs are secondary to theirs.
The ultimate act of self-care is asking for help
The world we live in tells us we should never, ever ask for help. That we should keep our struggles hidden from view. That we should not trust other women to gently witness our messy needs. The world tells us that self-care looks like the occasional girls’ nights out; a bubble bath; a new pair of shoes. The world tells us that it’s not very motherly to make our lives about ourselves.
To stay in my recovery, and to stay available for my family, I am increasingly learning that I cannot listen to this world. I am breaking its rules, one by one. It began with asking for help, which is the hardest rule to break. What I know now is that asking for help is not an act of weakness and selfishness; instead it is the ultimate act of selflessness and self-care. It is only by recognizing our own needs that we can truly see the needs of others.
What self-care looks like
Today, the most important element of my self-care program includes making time to be alone – both here at home and trips away. It also excludes small talk (always a bit of a struggle for me) and most items on our family’s calendar. Not all of these changes have been greeted warmly by important people in my life.
My husband has questioned our empty calendar. My friend Emily calls my solo journeys “indulgent.” My friend Sondra can’t even speak the words “self-care,” but instead physically recoils from the very idea of it. At times, their reactions have made me pause and reconsider my actions. Am I being indulgent? Are these changes repugnant? I think not.
At the beginning of this process of recovery, my husband and friends gently questioned my desire to stop drinking. So of course they are also questioning the changes that follow. They love me, but they do not know what I need. Only I know that. I may not always require such an introverted self-care structure, but it is required right now. I am providing it to myself, just as I would provide it for my children.
By trusting and valuing myself, I am creating the world I want to give my sons – a world where it is easier for all of us to be good and kind. When I gave my son a smart phone, when I gave him the world to keep in his pocket, I did it with my eyes and heart wide open. He entered into his teenage years with a mother who may occasionally be out of town or out of the house, but who is always engaged, always available. I am showing him how to be the agent of his own rescue – and perhaps even how not to need rescuing at all. And that is a birthday gift worthy of us both.
Erin W. is the managing editor and lead writer for the She Recovers blog. She lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.
I love this article so much! You touched me in so many of the places that there were question makers where words should be. I really resonate with making changes for our kids, and mine have no qualms about telling me. I love this, and being sober, and finding time to be alone, and your bravery to,share .
This article has touched me deeply. It perfectly captures my current point in time, the place I’m at in my own recovery. I quit drinking in December after decades of trying to “control” my dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I have 15 year old twins and the Mary Karr quote so perfect captures the feelings I have about my two most precious gifts– my children. But I am learning (finally) that to be the best mom I can be does NOT mean being perfectly strong all the time, or pushing aside my own needs to meet theirs. I am carving out space for myself, finally listening to the wise, weathered voice inside and valuing my own needs. It is not indulgent nor selfish. Instead, if we want to be our best selves and have the energy and patience to nurture others, we must first fill our own selves up. I had a slip recently and I did something I NEVER would have done before, I reached out and asked for help. This felt counter-intuitive for me, and I imagine it does for many people, especially women and mothers. But once I did, a whole wonderful world opened up. If you are reading this and struggling, listen to your wise inner voice. Ask for help… that’s when the magic happens!