As real as it gets.

by Janelle Hanchett

In a fact that strikes me as remarkable, I actually wrote this post a few days before my brother-in-law was killed in a car accident (two weeks ago). For some reason, I didn’t publish it, but for [probably] obvious reasons, I cannot help but publish it now.

Maybe some part of me knew the universe wasn’t done with what it had to say…


When the universe smashes me across the face, repeatedly, with the same damn message, I do my best to engage, wake up a little, rather than ignore or deny it, or pull into some cave, because I’m too scared to face it.

And recently, the universe has pummeled me with the reality of death and loss – the transitory nature of all things, people, life. In a rather compassionate gesture, these messages have been just distant enough that I am not profoundly affected. But I am affected. And I feel compelled to write a few things.

The wife of a friend of mine went to see the doctor about a backache. They did an MRI and found cancer had taken over her body. She was a Pilates instructor in her early 50s. She passed away 17 days later.

The daughter of a best friend of my mom’s died from childbirth complications 24 hours after giving birth to a full-term, healthy baby girl.

A friend of mine is waiting for her unborn baby to pass away. There is nothing they can do.

A woman I used to work with – just facing retirement – died two months after finding out she had cancer.

There is more. But I won’t go on.

The reality of each these events has come into my world within one month. And as each one of them hit me, cut through to my core in rapid succession, I felt a strange feeling I can only describe as the following question: “Janelle, there are people dying suddenly and losing children, and you’re writing about baby sprinkles and ranting about childless know-it-alls. What the hell is wrong with you?”

And something didn’t feel right, and I felt compelled to write this post.

No, I don’t feel the need to defend myself, or this blog, neither its frivolity nor its sarcasm nor its ridiculousness. The truth is I don’t think life should be taken so damn seriously. I just don’t. And I don’t feel guilty about having fun, being as honest and real as I can, and having one helluva time making fun of women who say “baby sprinkle.”

But there’s something I want you all to know, and I’m not sure exactly why, but it has continued popping into my brain, which means I need to write it. When something nags me to be written, I make it a rule to always respond, no matter how much I fear the consequences.

And what I need to say is this: resting beneath my seething pessimism, sharp tongue, goofy flippancy and irrational judgments lies a well of a profound gratefulness – for the kids I whine about, the husband I bitch about, the very life I ridicule.

You see, I am a sober alcoholic. I have alluded to this in the past, but I’ve never said it directly.

I was a daily drinker by the time I was eighteen years old. Over the years, as my alcoholism progressed, I found myself less and less able to maintain the “act” of normalcy that held together the tenuous strands of my life, and in 2007, I became an essentially absent member of my children’s lives. I did not return to them fully until 2009.

Over the years, as I sunk deeper into a pit of alcoholic hopelessness, each morning swearing on my life I wasn’t going to drink again, only to find myself with the bottle that very evening, failing my children, failing myself, failing all, living a life strangled in lies, I began seeking a solution. I tried therapy, gyms, alternative health care, psychiatry, medication. I moved away. I moved back. I left my husband. I returned. I tried churches and spiritual retreats. I went to rehab five times.

But in March of 2009, something happened. I arose one more morning in the black haze of the paralyzing remorse that had become like air to me. But this time, somehow, for some reason, I was able to take a real look at my life and see it for exactly what it was. And I saw myself for what I was. I saw it all, and for the first time there was nothing left to blame (it was all gone) – and the reality of my existence planted fearlessly in the forefront of my mind: I was a failure in this life and I would die a slave to alcohol. I could not keep a job, a home, a friend. I was no mother.

And for the first time in my life I just wanted to be free. I no longer cared what was “wrong” with me. I simply wanted to wake up just one single day and know where I would end up that evening, know I would be there for my children, show up for my life, become a real human living a real life on this planet.

With every fiber of my being, I wanted to live.

I wanted to be free.

I now know that I had hit what some call the alcoholic’s “bottom.”

I had surrendered.

And because I was ready, some teachers came into my life who were able to show me how to live as a sober individual, and I have not taken a drink of alcohol (or any other mind-altering substance) since March 5th of 2009.

And so you see now, I stand in awe of my life. And that’s what I want you to know. I may bitch, and I may whine, and I may talk some serious shit, but if you were to scratch the surface of my complaining, you would find a woman with an exploding heart and tears pouring from her eyes – you would find an ocean of the deepest gratitude – because that woman is living. Because she is there.

And there was a time – many years in fact – when she was neither.

And that is who I really am. That is the other side. The rest, well, is for fun. In fact, had I not such a profound respect for my life, for these kids and this home and my job and motherhood and ALL the mayhem that entails – I doubt I could write this blog with such silliness, such sarcasm. You know, because I have nothing to prove. Nothing to gain. I already have it all. So why not laugh?

I have not kept this whole story to myself because I am ashamed. I am not hiding nor am I afraid. Rather it is because I spent my entire life acting like some victim, playing the role of the wounded puppy, so lost in self-centeredness I didn’t even see the destruction I caused – immature, narcissistic, feeling like the world owed me something…and so, I hesitated to say anything because I’m not interested in begging for attention or special recognition, or congratulating myself on doing the things I should have been doing my whole life, for growing the fuck up, taking on the responsibilities that were always mine. I am not special. I’m just a person with alcoholism.

And one day, I wanted to live more than I wanted to die.

But now, I guess, is the time that whole story needed to be told, cause I started feeling like I was hiding. And I try not to live that way, anymore.

My experience with daily life, beyond the wild sarcasm and smart-ass attitude I share with you, can be summed up in the following story.

As you know, a couple months ago, I dressed up in 1850s garb to participate in a field trip with Ava’s school. Before going to the field trip location, I had to drop Ava off at school. I sat there in my bonnet and giant cotton dress, roasting in 80 degree heat, and watched my daughter hop out of the car. I said “I’ll see you soon, baby, have fun!” And when she got a few feet from the car she looked back at me and smiled. And my eyes welled, and then they simply poured, because in her smile was a knowing, a trust, a security. It was a simple awareness that her mother was going to be there. For her. Today. There was no doubt in her mind. It was a carefree smile, a joyful smile of a child, a passing nod of a girl to her mother.

And I just could not believe it. Once again, I could not believe I have been given this second chance, to be here, now. To dress in these goofy clothes. To volunteer at my child’s field trip.

To be a mother to this girl, who isn’t doubting and isn’t scared, who knows…”she’ll be there.”

And in those moments what washes over me is a grace and light I cannot find the words to explain. It’s as if I’m living a miracle, so precious are those “nothing” moments of life, which I spend so much time joking about on this blog. Sometimes I feel I’ve pulled some giant cosmic joke on the world — sitting there at a Little League game — like it’s nothin’ – when inside, I’m bursting a little, in joyful disbelief that I could ever, EVER, be so damn lucky. To be sitting there, with a clear mind and clear heart, on the bleachers at a Little League game.

I guess that’s all I wanted you to know.

Yeah, that’s it.

I’ve always tried to keep it real on this blog, and this, my friends, is as real as it gets…



  • Shan

    Sending love.

    And adding that I knew so much of this and yet I knew nothing. And I love you more for it.

  • Michelle

    This is my favorite post you’ve ever written.

    The End.

  • Shelly

    Love this!

    Damn onions! *sniff*

  • Michael Ann

    You are a courageous woman, Janelle. Thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad you were able to turn your life around. You have so much to give, not only to your children and husband, but to the world!

  • Alycia

    Next to the letter to Rocket on his birthday, this is one of the best ones you have written.

  • Rachel

    You are such a talented writer. I too think this is one of your best yet. I would say, though, that it must be (or at least should be) clear to anyone who follows your blog, even casually, that you have a sincere gratitude for your life and the people in it “resting beneath your seething pessimism, sharp tongue, goofy flippancy and irrational judgments”.

    I am not so sure that your judgments are irrational, I adore your pessimism and wit, and I believe occasional, if not regular, flippancy is a healthy and invaluable coping mechanism, especially if we want to make it to the end of this journey called life with our sanity reasonably intact. Life is stressful anyway without taking every little thing seriously and even some of the big things.

    I laughed at your reference to the universe smashing you with things because I also feel like I’m being bombarded with little “messages” from the universe all the time. A few weeks ago it was a deer. Mind you, in my imagination I feel like the universe is being a tad passive-aggressive. It would be nice if the universe would just come out and say it in some sort of booming god-like voice or maybe it could use my mother’s enraged voice. Surely that would get my attention.

    Then again, the older I get the clearer it becomes that human beings have this astounding propensity to not hear or see what is directly in front of them…or as in my case with the deer, in their peripheral vision. It is inspiring to read your blog and recognize that you are not one of those human beings who is completely unwilling to open your eyes and mind to the world around you.

    Great post!

  • Shelley

    You are an amazing woman! I have always admired you, even more so now. I appreciate how open and real you are. Much love…

  • Trish

    The best feeling in the world is knowing that my kids trust I will pick them up. You have perfectly described the awe and grace I feel for my life.

  • Jo Eberhardt


  • Kimmie

    Love this. Thank you for sharing this side of yourself πŸ™‚

  • Clara

    So sorry for all your losses, sending peace & hugs to your family and friends. But so happy that you can share all you have gained and all you have to be grateful for.

  • Jessca

    That’s what I feel like doing to you.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  • jennifer

    Holy shit. Thank God for you and Calamity Jane at Apron Strings.

  • Marisa

    This is fabulous, love you!

  • Carrera

    This was absolutely beautiful. You never cease to amaze me. You are a wonderful writer and an amazing mother, and truly inspiring!

  • Renee

    My Dear Janelle, thank you for re-centering me this fuzzy Monday morning. You are amazing. As I was reading this, Nina Simone’s anthem (“Free”) rose in the background. I am sure it will be playing on repeat in my head all day. Non-stop. Thank you for that too.



  • Heather

    I’m so sorry for your recent loss in your brother-in-law. By sharing this post, you’re doing more than being honest for your own benefit: it’s totally inspiring to anyone who has struggled (and we all have).

    Also very much with you that appreciation for the incredible, ordinary joys of life and a well-developed sense of humor are not mutually exclusive- I think the latter is essential.

  • Dawn

    Once again thank you for your writing and your honesty. That’s what it’s all about. Just because someone can laugh about the insanity of our lives doesn’t mean we hate it, doesn’t mean we’re bad at it or that we can’t see the amazing wonders we’re a part of.

  • jackie

    maybe I love your blog because it is so much like me. In that you are being sassy, opinionated and so forth, but deep down, I knew there was something more going on. The sad clown, the depressed comedian. Whatever you call it, I relate to it. I’m not an alkie, but i struggle with ocd/anxiety/depression, whatever the hell it is at the moment, and i am in such deep denial because it just isn’t tangible enough sometimes for me to recognize the problem. So we have these dark pasts and we need to lighten up the rest of the time to just get through life. maybe i’m assuming too much, but your words could have come straight from my mouth. Thank you for keepin’ on truckin’;)

  • Renee'

    You are an amazing writer, amazing mother and a courageous human being. It goes against our nature to admit to someone that you have failed and you just did it in front of the whole world! You are a very, very strong women. I, for one, am very happy that you open your heart to us.

  • Jen

    I live in a small seaside country town in Australia and have just discovered you- I have told my mates about you and we think you should join our gang down here in Wombarra/Coledale…even though we dont do baby sprinkles or mummy cards here in australia, we get you! you rock, amazing post. Thank you.

  • ms lottie

    I only just came over here from Calamity Jane and this is the second post I’ve read. Powerful stuff both of them. Thank you for sharing.

  • Anonymous sober dad no longer ruled by alcohol

    Thank you. I understand your past, and your grateful present!

  • Kristina

    I found myself sobbing by the time I finished the second paragraph.

    I have battled something for years and I am not at rock bottom but I see it coming at me with warp speed. I know it is my fear taking over instead of my strength but reading things like this entry and this blog remind me that it can be good on the other side if I could just make that jump.

    The past three months have been excrutiating and I have no idea how to turn my life around but you showed it can be done and there is life on the other side.

    thank you for being so open, honest and living an authentic life, your authentic life, when so many of us just….aren’t.

  • Calamity Jane

    Holy shit babe.
    I know how scary it is to hit publish on a post like this.
    Youve got big, enormous, gigantic balls.
    I can see them from here.

  • Julia

    I’m so sorry for the tragedies in your life and your loved ones’ lives. Thank you for sharing your experience and your gratitude, I hope it brings you as much comfort and peace as this post brought to me and I’m sure many others.

  • Kelly

    Reading your post, I feel a greater connectedness to life and sense of belonging that I often struggle to find in this world of defenses and facades. Although my struggles are different, your vulnerability and candidness gives me hope and a sense that we are all going to be ok. Thank you so much!

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been in my own little world lately. Sorry I’m getting to this late. Brave post. I’m not sure I would have the courage you do. And, because you do, I know you’ve learned from your past. I’m sure your kids appreciate having you whole and healthy.

  • kim

    I know how you struggled with this post, and I’m grateful you published it. Good God, I love ya!!!

  • Kim

    Beautifully written. Love ya, cuz.

  • meagan

    u are so amazing woman and i bet no one thinks that more than your family, obviously, duh but you get my point

  • Mom of 5

    BAWLING right now! Thank you for your heart! <3

  • Lisa

    Janelle, you never cease to amaze me!. One guarantee is that I’ll be crying at the end of your post; some happy tears, some not-so-happy, but I love you and am so proud of you! Watching you grow has been amazing. Your family is so proud of you.

  • Leah

    You are a fucking rock star. Ballsy and true and articulate and present. Thank you for sharing your incredible strength and reminding your readers, who are all just going from waking to sleeping doing the best job we know how to do, that we are capable of greatness. That is, in fact, my friend, what you are living. Greatness.
    You deserve to rock Laura Ingalls bonnet with pride!

  • Lauren

    I needed to find this blog today. In fact I was ignoring my son when I found it.

    Thank you for your honesty.

  • Niamh

    Wow, thank you for your openness. I found your blog today, after spending an hour or so feeling not good enough, reading Soulemama. I’ve been reading and laughing and enjoying your posts, loving your kickass attitude, and am now crying from reading some of your serious ones.
    Your children are supremely beautiful, you deserve nothing but happiness and joy. I love how your eyes are open, when so many mothers are shut. You see life for what it is and you are present. A real inspiration. You’ve also convinced me to stop censoring my language in my blog, fuck it, it’s my space, I can say what I feel. Thank you, from Ireland

  • Erica

    your blog came my way the other day and i’ve been sending it around to my mama friends…thanks so much. i’m about to celebrate 6 years sober this weekend and also couldn’t be more grateful and occasionally stunned into disbelief that this is my messy, happy, ridiculous, wonderful, sober life. the promises are coming true. more is constantly being revealed. one day at a time!
    take care πŸ™‚

  • Rachel

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My mother wasn’t an alcoholic. She had depression. Deep dark depression. I remember she would come home and sleep and sometimes would never get up until she had to work the next morning. She suffered a lot from her inner demons and never seemed to be able to overcome them.

    She was a great mother. She was strong. She was funny, caring, she laughed all the time. But she still had depression. My mother gave up when I was 15. What do I mean by that? It’s hard to say suicide because that doesn’t describe what happened. She wasn’t in a maniacal rage or sobbing mad. She was fed up, tired and confused. We couldn’t find her for 3 days and basically she died from hypothermia because she fell asleep in the freezing cold. She didn’t give up on my brother and I she gave up on the fact that she didn’t know how to pull herself out of where she was.

    I have been where she has been. I have had my own personal hell take over me. I fought like crazy to get where I am today. Thank you so much for telling your story. I know that my mother and I haven’t dealt with alcoholism but we have felt hell on earth. I thank God everyday for saving me and giving me my precious family. I thank him everyday for saving my mother and giving her a chance to have a break from the fight. For I know that she is up there with Him.

  • Lisa Hardgrove

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Elida

    You’re Story is Very Familiar with Mine! thank you for having that courage to share with us that don’t! God Bless You and Your Family!

    I Just Started reading your blog and I am Loving it already!!

    Sometimes its Nice to Know that Your Not F-ing Up at this so Call “Mother Role”


  • Aimee

    I keep coming back to this post. The rawness (I hope that’s a word). Hitting ‘publish’ was such a brave act and i’m so glad it was met with such kindness. Is it weird to feel so proud for you? Probably. Instead i’ll just admire the size of your balls.

  • katie b

    Thank you, thank you thank you for articulating what is in my heart, in my soul, in every single fiber of my being.
    Sober alcoholic and (once upon a time)cocaine addicted woman here.

    The guilt of the past sometimes makes me want to curl up and cry.

    The NOW of this life, of my children, of my husband, of this SOBRIETY and being LUCKY enough to live, to be here…..It sometimes makes me want to curl up and cry.

    I commend you, mama.
    Thank you, and with love and gratitude in my heart for the whole crazy mess.

  • sarah

    I am so glad you’re here.

    Your presence is a gift to the jillions you touch — your readership is in the jillions, right?

    Grateful for you, and proud to be in your tribe, for 809 days.

    I’m so sorry for your losses. Sending the good stuff via intergalactic gamma juju rays xo

Leave a Comment

Comment policy: Try not to be a dick.