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On Mother's Day 2002, unwed and addicted, I discovered I was pregnant. I alternated between staring at the test in my shaking hand and at my bloodshot eyes in the bathroom mirror. I tried to force these truths to mesh: I am a drunk. I am alone. I am pregnant.
And because I had no clue what else to do, I prayed. I prayed the only way I know how to pray -- in moans and accusations and apologies and tears and wild promises. When I finally stood up I decided to become a mother. A good one. I walked out of the bathroom and vowed to never again have another drink, cigarette, drug, unhealthy relationship, or food binge (did I mention that I'd been bulimic since adolescence?). That promise has been hard to keep.
When I got sober, I stepped into real life for the first time. I was 26 years old but I'd been in hiding since I was 8, so I saw the world through the eyes of a child. I was awed and afraid. I looked closely at humanity in all of its brokenness and chose to forgive it and myself. I decided I had nothing to be ashamed of. I'd done the best I could with what I had. I'd do better now.
This newfound state of forgiveness and hope allowed me to trust another human being with my whole heart. Marrying Craig -- a man I'd been dating for a year but had never really known sober -- turned out to be the best decision I never really made. I found out that I could do the hard work of marriage, and that confidence helped me widen my circles. I gave birth to Chase, Tish, and Amma. And I reached out to God, the ultimate circle.
Having learned that wifedom, motherhood, and sobriety were really quite difficult, I began to wonder if other women found them equally so. One day I was at the playground with a new friend from church named Tess. I suspected she was having trouble in her marriage, but we didn't talk about that because we were too busy talking about more important matters, like our kids' soccer practice and whether we should get highlights. We seemed incapable of sharing the thoughts and feelings that were most important.
I considered all the ways I'd distanced myself from other people -- people I feared might hurt me more than I was already hurting. People who might be disgusted if they saw the real me. These were the same fears that had driven me to hide inside the bunker of addiction for decades. Once I finally crawled out, I pulled on my secrets and shame like armor. But standing beside Tess at the playground, I realized I wasn't beside Tess at all. There we so many layers of protection between us -- hers and mine -- that we couldn't even touch each other. Suddenly this seemed ridiculous.
Sure, I was sober and out of hiding, and I'd been lucky enough to end up with a husband and three kids I adore. But by denying my past, I'd isolated myself. I was still lonely, and a bit bored. It hit me that maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons. That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove those defenses and walk out onto the battlefield naked.
So I shed my armor and waved my white flag and hoped Tess would do the same. I heard myself saying, "Listen. I want you to know that I'm a recovering alcohol, drug, and food addict. I've been arrested because of those struggles. Craig and I got accidentally pregnant and married a year after we started dating. We love each other madly, but I'm secretly terrified that our issues with sex and anger will eventually mess things up. Sometimes I actually feel sad when good things happen to other people. I snap regularly at my kids, my husband, and customer service representatives. Rage is always seething just beneath my surface, especially now, because I'm wrestling with postpartum depression. I spend most of my day wishing my kids would just leave me alone. What if that feeling never goes away? What if I can't handle this mommy thing?"
Tess stared at me for so long that I thought she might call our minister -- or 911. Then I saw tears dribbling down her cheek. We sat down on a bench, and she told me everything. The situation with her husband was bad. Really bad. Tess felt scared and alone. And that day at the playground, she decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think her life was perfect.
We barely knew each other, but we saw instantly that we were in this together. The next few months were tough. Therapy, separation, anger, fear, and lots of tears. But a little army of love circled the wagons around Tess and eventually things got better. Now Tess, her husband, and their beautiful children are healing and thriving. I got to watch all of that. I got to see the truth set a family free.
At that point in my life I was desperate to do something meaningful outside of my home and family, but no one would have me. Craig and I tried, again and again, to adopt a child but, again and again, we were rejected. I volunteered to help out at the local nursing home. The management seemed thrilled -- until they did the background check. Next I signed up to volunteer at a local shelter for victims of domestic violence. It looked like I was going to be accepted. Then, at the final interview, the woman said, "As a formality, I have to ask if you've ever been arrested." It was hard to explain that it was only five times.
I was dejected, increasingly certain that my altruistic impulses were destined to go unfulfilled. Then the Tess episode happened. And I thought, Maybe I can do that. Maybe my public service can be to tell people the truth about my mixed-up life because it seems to make them feel better about theirs. And for this particular "ministry," my criminal record was a plus: It gave me street cred.
A few days after I'd told Craig I was going to "volunteer" as a "reckless truth teller," my minister phoned. My first thought was that Tess had ratted me out. But the minister said, "I know you're having a hard time with the baby and I think you need to tell your story to the church. On stage. Live."
I wrote down my story, leaving nothing out. I read it to my church, shocking many congregants. But lots more wanted to cry with me and tell me their stories. I thought, Take that, nursing home. I didn't want to serve your stupid lemonade anyway. Does one get standing ovations and tears of empathy for serving lemonade? I think not.
I'd found my calling. A few months later I started my blog, Momastery. After reading some of my posts, my dad, Bubba, called and said, "Glennon. Don't you think some things should be taken to the grave?" I thought hard for a moment and said, "No, I don't. I don't want to take anything to the grave. I want to die used up and emptied out."
The more I opened my heart, the more convinced I became that life is equal parts brutal and beautiful. Both are woven together so tightly they can't be separated. Life is brutiful. Sharing that truth is what makes us feel less alone and afraid. It took a long time, but I finally realized that my acceptance of myself, my partner, my children, my community, and my faith are the only protection I need. They are my life, and I am at its center: naked and honest and sober and broken and imperfectly perfect. A work in constant progress.
Excerpted from Carry On, Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton. Copyright © 2013 by Glennon Doyle Melton. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.