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Keeley Milne Headshot

The Things That Haunt Me Now That I Am Sober

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CHILD ADOPTION
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I can't remember how his hand felt in mine.

That little-boy hand, that precious plump skin sheltering delicate bones, cupped within my larger, mother's hand -- I can't envision it, my muscle memory cannot re-create it the feeling.

How have I forgotten? Was I drunk too often? Did I fail to hold his hand enough? Late at night, the thoughts haunt me. I imagine myself walking him to school, as I did many times, and think of that small hand cupped in mine, in the hopes that I'll dream of it.

When I became sober, it was far beyond my capacity to predict the little, sneaky guilt-trips my mind would play on me, two and a half years later. Ridiculous, one might say---after all, I am fully aware and present to hug the whole, beloved 12-year-old young man that he is now. And yet, one glance at a photo of him at age 5 or 6 and I'm reduced to near-tears, overwhelmed with loss.

Guilt and regret are the ugly Hyde to the Jekyll of sobriety, even years in. With new awareness, we relive past experiences---or in many cases bemoan what might have been.

I can't remember the many little conversations I had with that kindergartner, the chats we must have engaged in as I walked him to school or gave him a bath. Certainly, I am being hard on myself -- I had many, many, sober conversations with him; and what parent hasn't forgotten many little dialogues, the minutiae of daily mothering?

Guilt and regret are the ugly Hyde to the Jekyll of sobriety, even years in. With new awareness, we relive past experiences---or in many cases bemoan what might have been. Pain and sorrow previously numbed by a drug or drink of choice is glaringly present, and strikes unpredictably---in the midst of a family gathering; alone, late at night; smack in the middle of an important work presentation, or during a particularly deep yoga class. Often a sober person, after years of deflecting and avoiding feeling, is shockingly unprepared to handle feelings and harsh emotions.

Or at least in my case -- I'm never ready for the overwhelming sadness when it comes, and I certainly cannot avoid the encounters or situations that trigger it. What can we -- what can I -- do when these floodgates of grief occur?

The poet Robert Frost made the oft-quoted declaration "The best way out is through" and the repetition of these words is testament to the innate truth of them. Riding the waves of grief, of regret, and allowing them to exist, to pass through me is the only way I've found to keep functioning, to process the loss and continue.

Being present with the feelings, and then holding tight to what I have now.

Often a sober person, after years of deflecting and avoiding feeling, is shockingly unprepared to handle feelings and harsh emotions.

My son may not let me hold his hand on a regular basis anymore, but he happily will regale me with every detail of his latest car-obsession, or joyously kick a soccer ball around the yard with me.

I may not remember what that five-year-old hand felt like in mine, but I can savour every second of laughter over a meal with my son now, and treasure the good-night hugs he still deigns to bestow upon me every evening.

Being open to all the intricacies of this many-splendoured life, both beautiful and painful, is the only way through.

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