The time finally came for us to move the crib-turned-toddler-daybed out of my daughter’s room and clear the way for her new big girl bed. While clearing out the menagerie of clutter that remained from under her bed, I came across a card that I must have given my daughter to play with when she was collecting “credit cards.” It was my therapist’s business card, and on the back, as was typical when I was attending therapy, was a question for me to reflect on before my next session. “What is Normal?”
Growing up, I experienced more square-peg, round-hole situations than I care to recall. Moving, switching from private to public school, changing swim teams to find the right fit kept “normal” seemingly out of reach for me. A career change, divorce, and seven years of therapy later, at the age of 31, I realized that this “normal” that so many of us live in constant pursuit of does not really exist at all.
[Side note: If when you hear the word therapy, you think “I don’t need to pay someone to listen to my problems. I’ve got friends for that, I want to be the first to tell you you’re wrong. There’s a professionalism and unbiased skill that a therapist has when uncovering the root of an issue. Just like content experts don’t make the best teachers, friends don’t make the best therapists.]
I’ve struggled internally with how to write this blog post for a long time. I wrestled with the idea of writing anonymously, but “unnamed” has never been my way about things. My ultimate goal in this is that my experience, strength and hope can inspire, encourage, and support someone who is having a similar struggle. I feel I can do that most effectively with a genuine story, rather than an incognito account. So, without further introduction, I’m taking a deep breath, putting my big girl pants on, and opening up.
Hi. I’m Megan. I’m a mother, a wife, a vegan, a dog lover, a math teacher, and an alcoholic. On March 31, 2012, I admitted my powerlessness over alcohol and this March will mark 3 straight years of sobriety for me. I’ve attended AA meetings, in numerous cities, and the message is the same: The addiction is merely a symptom to an underlying problem.
On August 29, 2010, I gave birth to a baby girl named Maria. Her perfect eyes, toes, and full head of hair illuminated my world like I could not have imagined. Being a mother was going to be the most rewarding, beautiful experience of my life, yet I felt the heavy burden as the life of this child was placed in my arms. Nothing short of divine intervention was going to come between me and protecting my child. Nothing, of course, but the power of an addiction to alcohol, which no human force could ever remove. I remember looking at Maria’s perfect blue eyes and stroking her soft baby skin, while slowly emptying the remaining contents of a bottle of Kettle One vodka I’d stashed under the sink. Alcohol pulled me deeper and deeper into helplessness as it seduced me night after night. That first sip after a hard day dealing with students sent a rush of relief throughout my body. But that relief was short lived when the need for more grew greater and greater.
Everyday, people are touched by the promises of Alcoholics Anonymous. Every profession in the world has been affected by the disease of alcoholism. But as a teacher, I have experienced the anxiety that comes with wondering if AA is truly anonymous. I hesitated so many times to walk through the welcoming doors and admit my powerlessness over a drug that held me down. Fearful that inside those rooms I’d lock eyes with a parent, former student, or colleague who would divulge my secret that I struggled with alcohol. As teachers, we desire control and order. Trying to control my intake of alcohol was something out of my reach, yet the fear of being recognized as a teacher kept me from attending a meeting and seeking real help.
I still attend AA meetings and no longer fear running into school parents or former students. In fact, I’ve become friends with a few that also attend meetings. When I run into former students, I look for ways I can be helpful to them rather than shying away. Along with therapy, I’ve learned to embrace my abnormality. I’m a math and dog-loving, vegan, alcoholic. I’ve been told not to open with that description, but that’s who I am at the core. I don’t fit into many social circles naturally, but I’m fiercely committed to those I call friends. Since I’ve put down my drink, my life has not stopped getting better. And I’ve built a confidence in myself that there isn’t anything I want to accomplish that’s out of my reach.
There’s a lot of cliched “if I can do it, you can do it” rhetoric that follows stories like this, so I’m going to try to go a different route. Social media does a lot of great things, but the glow of perfect Instagram photos and self-congratulatory Facebook statuses seems to tell us to put our best foot forward and discourage us from showing the hurt that lies underneath. Many of us mourned when Robin Williams lost his battle with addiction by taking his own life, but how many of us reached out to the Williams’ in our timelines? The face of addiction isn’t necessarily the homeless person on a bench with a bottle in a bag. Because it’s also the teacher down the hall who holds it together during the day and falls apart at night.
I will be an alcoholic for the rest of my life, and my goal in posting this is to shed light on the deep rooted issues that even the most connected of connected educators hide. If you struggle with addiction, please reach out. Alcohol happened to be my drug of choice, but the many threads of addiction run together under common themes. Please share this post far and wide, especially if you think it would help someone who is struggling with this destructive, life-threatening condition of addiction.
We open our hearts and souls to our children every year, but struggle with opening ourselves to help. We support each other with twitter chats and lesson sharing, but I know that so many fellow educators struggle with similar issues that don’t translate well in 140 characters. But we can’t heal a hurt we keep hidden underneath educational technology and growth mindset posters. Let’s lift each other up in a way that helps us grow from the inside and helps us appreciate our own abnormalities as perfection.
Your courage is amazing! Remember that your ” terrible secret” is also a part of the forging of you. You are a strong and healthy wife, mother, and teacher now and that is what matters most. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks Megan, I work with a couple teachers who are alcoholic and have some 30 years of sobriety between them. I really respect them, and you, for being able to be honest despite working in a field that has a tradition of having unrealistic moral expectations for it’s members. Thanks again for sharing this.
Megan, you are so brave, and I am in tears. My husband is an alcoholic, and not in recovery. The damage to our joint and separate lives after years of his addiction is severe, and 2014 was the year in which I began to decide I could no longer live with it. I’m hoping that in 2015 I continue to take back whatever control over my life is possible,but it is incredibly difficult, as I’m sure you know. Thank you for speaking openly and honestly about this.
I’ve known for a long time that ‘normal’ is illusion, although sadly, it took me the first 40 years of my life to figure that out. I think your daughter and your students are fortunate to have you in their lives; your courage and honesty are beautiful and humbling. Peace.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Wendy. Addiction affects so many more people than just the addict him/herself
AlAnon, Ive heard, is very helpful to family members of active and recovering alcoholics. Ive never been to an Al Anon meeting but ive heard good things.
I will continue to pray that you and your husband find peace. Thank you again for sharing this. It means a lot to me.
Teachers are viewed as role models. Even our contracts are worded to enforce this image of no weaknesses. Is it any wonder we do not share all of who we really are? I applaud your courage and pray for your strength in your journey. Great teaching is like any other true art form: genius often looks like insanity to outsiders!
Megan, I want to truly acknowledge you for your courage and openness. We are so used to putting masks on to hide who we are for fear of being rejected. It takes true courage to stand up to that voice in our heads who tells us to hide indefinitely. I applaud you for your strength and fortitude. May you be an inspiration to all those who still struggle. May you be the light for those who need it . Wishing you the best.
With light and love,
Thank you!! Thank you for your transparency, honesty and candor. My family welcomed a young lady into our home this past June who had just days before graduated from her ninth rehab program. She’s doing well and is thriving…so glad you’ve been successful but know that every day is a struggle. Thank you again for your honesty around such a non talked about subject.
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Megan, I’m in awe of your honesty and bravery. Tell Maria you deserve an extra hug from her tonight because you are such an awesome woman and mom.
Megan, Dad and I are so proud of you now and always. This blog post shows real courage and your words will go far to help others who suffer with addiction or who are impacted by addiction. You are so brave. Secrets hold us down….and by letting them out you have freed yourself. Thank you Megan for being such a wonderful mom and example for your dear little girl. Love you Meggie always.
Thanks, mom. You’re making me blush. 🙂 Love you both.
Thank you so much for being brave enough to post this. My sister struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction for the majotity of her young adult life. As someone who was living through it indirectly, it was absolutely painful to watch her fall apart. Whether it was stealing drug money from her younger siblings or disappearing all the time there was never an easy moment.
This post is really inspirational and I’m so glad that you chose to be positive and a true educator by informing people of the struggle and encouraging them to get help.
Thank you for being a wonderful teacher, and I think showing your weaknesses really proves how strong you are. This post brought me to tears and I’m so proud of you for overcoming something so tough.
Thank you, Storm. I’m glad that my story struck you and hearing of the people that still struggle with addiction is monumentally helpful to me in being willing to open up and reach out.
Your blog is very clever. I have enjoyed reading. Keep writing as you have time. It will be really neat for you to look back on your posts and see how you’ve grown.
Mrs. Schmidt, I am a new student in your class, but you opening up like this is going to make me look at you in a whole new light, a better light. We walk the halls every day making fun of teachers and bad mouthing them, but none of use take into account the troubles that teachers really go through outside of school. You are a real inspiration to me, my mom is an alchoholic but she refuses to admit it. You give me hope that she will stop soon. I have to look at all teachers a little different now because I donMt know what troubles they face outside of school. Thank you so much, and I’ll see you on monday.
I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of love I’ve received after writing this post, but this is perhaps the most important. At school, most times, we are expected (as teachers and students) to put our humanity aside for the sake of learning. To the contrary, it’s our understanding of one another as human that makes it possible for us to learn from one another. Thank you so much for sharing this piece of yourself and never lost hope that your mother will seek the help she needs. 🙂
Megan, hats off to your strength and determination. Teachers continue to be admirable people and so giving of themselves. May the overcoming of your challenges continue to allow many others to see the possibilities. Thank You for having the strength to share your journey. It makes me remember that not only do our students have a story, but our colleagues bring one as well. As we build a positive culture we must not impulsively judge, but rather have empathy for one another.
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Hi Megan! Thanks for sharing!! My husband just received his 9 month chip last week. What a wonderful change this has been for our family! Alcohol is a tough topic. I hope your blog will continue to encourage others. Once Sean was able to be honest with himself and others he is so much happier. I’m not saying it’s been easy for him, but the relief of being unchained from an addiction and the reward of life and freedom has been amazing.
I love how you used the term “unchained” because for those that suffer from addiction, it feels so much like a chain. Congrats to your husband (and your family) for his success! With the obsession over alcohol removed, life just keeps getting better and more rewarding. Thank you for taking time to comment. I truly appreciate it.
Hey Mrs. Schmidt!
I can’t describe how powerful this was to read. You were my teacher, your first year at school. I saw you struggling, my heart hurt for you. I saw you at the Tavern a couple years ago and you remembered me. It was awesome. I also struggled with alcoholism and grew up in a home where it was happening but wasn’t recognized. I admire your honesty and strength. I pray for your future, and may God bless you in your ongoing journey. One day at a time.
Lindsey- i do remember that meeting at the tavern. You were one of my first groups of students and very special to me. When you were in high school, it was very difficult for me to watch two bright young men take their lives at the hands of alcohol but know in my heart, i was abusing the same substance. I was never suicidal, but it was misguided for me to look at one form of abuse through one lens and my own through another.
Thank you SO much for your note. Your class means so much to me and I’m thrilled that youve been able to find help. Please reach out to me if you need it. Im on facebook and twitter and fairly easy to track down. 🙂
These days, students call you Mrs. Schmidt, but I had the pleasure of calling you Miss. Parise. I have been following your blog for quit some time, and I just love to know you now verses when I was your student. You were one of my favorite teachers. You always took time out of your day to help me when i needed it, and you were always so clear when explaining it. I recently (the past 6 months) have gotten, married, built our first home, and purchased our first puppy. No I am not tooting my own horn here, but even in the midst of all of that, I still felt not “happy” enough. I always wanted more, and if I did get more, then i wanted less and wanted to have nothing and move back in with mom and dad. I would always vent to my mom that i cant do it, I cant do it, its to much, I’m to young, I’m not ready. Fact of the matter is, I am not to young. I’m 24 now, time for me to venture out and grow with my new little family. During all of this, the one thing my mom would keep telling me was, “This is Normal.”
I would fight with her that it wasn’t. I would tell her that I should be happy but I wasn’t. Still to this day, I wake up happy and calm, with nothing on my mind. Then surely through out the day, feelings come back to me about all that has happened. When I start to have a mini freak out, I just tell myself, “Your Normal.” Then I go on to think how fortunate I am. A quote that my mom always tell me is, “Everyone is fighting there own battles, Don’t be an ass hole.” haha. I keep that in my pocket with me always.
Whether you know it or not, or know it but don’t truly believe it, you have made an impact on my life in more ways than one, and you continue to make impacts on students life’s daily! Always remember that, that is a trait that not all of us have the privilege of doing. Keep doing you Mrs. Schmidt! Its workin for ya 🙂
Ashley, your words were so kind, thank you so much.
I believe that whats normal to others may not be normal to us. I cant tell you how many times in the midst of chaos, i was told my feelings were normal and i should just “be happy” Youre married, you have a house and a dog, why arent you happy?! Right? I found I used alcohol to “act” happy when everyone said i should be.
Thank you so much again for your kind words. Good luck with your transitions and keep in mind, its ok to not feel normal. 🙂
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Megan, your courage inspires me. I don’t like New Year’s resolutions, but I have set a personal goal for 2017 of extricating myself from the relationship (my marriage) that continues to be eroded by alcohol. Your steadfast commitment to recovery and honesty is a beacon for me, and I am grateful that you take the risk of sharing so publicly.
Love you, Wendy. I’m happy to support you in any way I am able.
Awessome blog you have here