• Janelle

Becoming AF is Hard. Talking about it is Hard, Too

Finally Coming Clean Part II




We were lying in bed, Valentine's Day morning, new puppy between us. Our hearts were full and my mind was clear -- no headache, no anxiety, no regrets.

I had just celebrated one year alcohol-free and I'd topped it off by executing the biggest surprise of my life. I surprised my husband with an 8-week-old yellow lab puppy for his birthday. Since we met, he had always said that a yellow lab was his dream dog. Big and goofy; hardworking and playful; great family dogs. The reactions of my husband and kids when I revealed this little nugget were epic!


I was still marveling at my stealth. It was ninja level. I imagined it was how you'd feel when you pull off a surprise proposal and drop to a knee with a diamond ring in hand 💍. I was walking on air.


During the summer, I contacted a breeder and got added to her email list so I would be notified when new litters were born. No commitment, I thought, just testing the waters. With my husband's birthday not until February, I had plenty of time to think, examine all the details and make a well-considered decision or bail completely.


Months went by and we there were no announcements. I celebrated my birthday in August alcohol-free. The boys returned to school virtually, which was an education in itself. We had our first pandemic Halloween. And then, one-week into November, we got COVID. Thanksgiving came and went without being surrounded by family. Our 15-year-old cat, Max, grew sick and we said our goodbyes as the calendar flipped from November to December.


At bedtime one night, my 10-year-old, Bear, tearfully begged for another kitten. Goodness, no. Our house was far from empty. Pets are our love language and we still had Ernie, our 13-year-old black-and-white kitty, and Tinsley, our 7-year-old Boxer. "Can we get another dog, then? Please?"


"Maybe." The idea was taking root. "We'll see. Maybe for Dad's birthday."


We began to settle into December, making plans and lists, and checking them twice.


On the 16th, I dropped Tinsley off at the animal hospital for tumor removal surgery. Please don't be cancer. But words like mast cell and bone cancer kept flashing through my mind. Seven was not a lucky number for our last two dogs. And Tinsley was just that. Seven.


She came home wearing the cone of shame, and Bear and I took to finding creative ways to hide her antibiotics and pain meds in food.


Several days later, the vet called with the biopsy results and the word benign rang out like a church bell.


We all gathered around her sharing the good news, scratching her ears and rubbing her belly. "You can just tell that she's feeling so much better," TJ commented. "She is able to jump up on the bed again and no more limping," he continued. "We should get her a yellow brother before she is too old to play with him."

... I said nothing.

Bear exclaimed, "WE WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT THAT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY!"

My mouth fell open.

TJ started laughing.


Monkey, not even following the conversation until this moment says, "Well, you screwed it up, brother!" His timing is perfect and hilarious for a 6 year old.


An announcement finally came Christmas Eve. We were exchanging gifts with my in-laws when the email came through.


"Wonderful holiday news!" It read. " A litter of AKC Labrador Retrievers was just born Dec. 23, 2020. The mother is Chocolate, the sire is Yellow. There are 3 yellow males and 6 black males. The puppies will be ready to go 8 weeks after their birth. The pickup date will be Feb 13, 2021."


Three days before TJ's birthday. What timing.


I responded instantly that I was interested in a yellow male if available. I hit send and waited. If one is still available, I reasoned, I'll know that it's meant to be. I didn't hold out much hope.


Thirty minutes later, over Christmas dinner, I was wiring my deposit for my husband's birthday gift. If I was beaming it was surely Christmas cheer.


My friend, Allison, offered to drive with me to the breeder's farm. The only problem was that weather was terrible – it was snowing and the wind chill was 13 below zero.


As we pulled into the farm, we saw another couple walking out of the barn – a squishy black pup tucked under the man's arm. We squealed.


The breeder led us to a horse stall where the three yellow males were huddled under a heat lamp. "Go play," she instructed, and I crouched down with my arms out as they all wobbled toward us – all paws and ears. They huddled at our feet jockeying for position, all seeming to say, Pick me! Pick me! Luckily, they were all spoken for or I might have arrived home with three surprises.


"Did you find your boy?" the breeder asked.

"This is hard!" I said and she smiled knowingly.


I choose the biggest one. He seemed calm-ish and was not chewing the faux fur on my boots. Oh Lord, it was happening!!


I dropped Allie off at home and secured the pup in a laundry basket on the passenger seat. He was too big for the cat carrier I'd brought, and he cried out when I tried to stuff him in it. He was bigger than I thought he'd be, but still so very small.


I disabled the security camera in our kitchen with my phone and tucked him under my arm like a football. I smuggled him into the house and straight upstairs to our master bathroom. I had about an hour to kill before my husband would be home with the boys. Tinsley was curious and interested and drooling buckets.


"He's a baby, Tins, be gentle," I coached. "You're such a good girl."


I had left the house early that morning under the guise of a hair appointment. To buy myself some extra time I told my husband that I'd pick up some Valentine's for the boys afterward. The weather was concerning, and I wanted to allow plenty of time for unplowed or icy roads.


Tinsley was being a sweetheart and the pup was playing and exploring and nipping at me intermittently. They should be home any minute.


My heart was hammering. I kept planning.


When my phone rang, and TJ's profile pic lit up my screen, I panicked. Should I decline it? Text him back? What if the puppy yelps and blows my cover?


I scooped him up, crossed my fingers, and answered.


"Hey, we're on our way back from basketball. Do we need anything? Do I need to stop anywhere? Should I pick up lunch for the boys?"


"Yeah, lunch is probably a good idea."


"OK, we'll be home in half an hour."


30 MINUTES UGH.


We hung up and I texted him: Come upstairs when you get home and I'll show you what I got the boys for Valentine's Day.


No response.


A full eternity later I heard the garage door go up, then the familiar voices and thuds of sports equipment hitting the floor.


I let Tinsley out of the bathroom so she could greet them as usual. I huddled the puppy close and rocked and swayed with him like he was a newborn baby. Promise to be quiet, I whispered.


"Mom?" Said a voice in the other side of the door.

"Go get Dad," I said. "Tell him to come up here."


This was it. I was at the threshold of the moment that I had been preparing two months for.


He knocked on the door. "Did you lock the bedroom door?" I asked. "I don't want the boys to see," I fibbed.


My heart was racing and the puppy was growing heavy in my arms. Awkwardly, I tried to cover him with a blanket and set my phone to record while preparing to open the bathroom door.


"OK, go sit in the chair and close your eyes." He probably thinks he's gonna get a Valentine's Day strip tease. I smirked.


I fumbled with the door handle. "Are your eyes closed?" He assured me that they were and I tiptoed out.


"All right, this is a little outside the box for Valentine's Day," I said. "Open your eyes."


I tugged the blanket off revealing his new best friend.

"No!?"

"Happy birthday!" I handed him the little yellow bundle.

His eyes filled and his heart melted. Right before my eyes my husband became a 10-year-old boy again on the best day of his life. I did it.


The next morning, Valentine's Day, we woke early with Tinsley and the little unnamed puppy between us.


"I want you to know," I began, "that the only reason this was able to happen is because I quit drinking."


"Had I still been drinking I never would have seen this as a possibility. I wouldn't have had space for it -- not in my head or my heart."


"But now, I'm not spending half the day hating myself and recovering from drinking. My life is a lot different now. I'm much happier.


"I'm glad I can tell you now. I was scared to talk about it before because I thought you'd see me as weak.


He squeezed me. " I'm so proud of you," he said. "I'm really glad you're writing again. And you're inspiring people, which is so cool. You're inspiring me, too."


This moment was brought to you by a sober-minded mom. What moments are you fully present for? Comment below. ❤


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