Results for needles in our arms

We don’t start with needles in our arms

by renegademama

Sometimes I write about parenthood. Sometimes I don’t.

Today I’m writing about alcoholism.

For those of you who are new here, I am a recovering alcoholic. On March 5, I will celebrate 5 years of sobriety. So yes, I am a relatively new sober alcoholic. For background, please read this or this.

I don’t particularly love talking about motherhood and alcoholism. It’s not exactly the high point of my life to announce to a few thousand people that I was that mother, the trash, the hated one, the drunk, drug-addicted one, the one with two gorgeous, innocent children caught in the cross-fire. And her, that dirty bitch, selfishly killing herself.

But I write about it anyway, because after about a year of writing this blog, I realized I was only telling you people half the story, and I realized I might be of help to somebody, some day in some way and something, I tell you, something has to make those years worth living.

And sometimes, when a famous, brilliant actor dies with a needle in his arm, I read the comments from America and I can’t take it. There’s so much ignorance, so much blind condescension based on NOTHING. NOTHING. Opinion. Observation from afar. Some article you read somewhere. An addict you “know.” A drunk you worked with.

The comment that stuck with me like a knife in my brain is this one: “Yeah, addiction isn’t a choice, but shoving a needle in your arm sure as hell is.”

It’s as if people think we start with a needle in our arm. Yeah. Newsflash. WE DON’T.

Alcoholism and addiction are progressive diseases. THEY GET WORSE OVER TIME. We don’t start with a damn needle in our arm. We start drinking beer with friends in high school. We start like you did.

Do you get that? Do you see that? We don’t wake up one day when we’re 19 or 20 or 35 and say to ourselves “You know what I need? A motherfucking bag of heroin and a syringe.”

I started out like you. I partied and experimented with alcohol and marijuana and a couple psychedelics like a whole lot of other kids in school. Yes. I am responsible for that. I made that choice. If that makes me responsible for my alcoholism, well then I guess I’m responsible.

But do you think I knew I was playing with fire? Do you think I knew when I was 17 years old hanging at a friend’s house drinking Peppermint Schnapps that I would one day lose my children to this substance? That I would go to rehab FIVE TIMES, each time sure I would emerge “fixed?” Do you think I knew that my brain from the moment I tasted that alcohol was altered, that from that point forward my brain would tell me that “pleasure” equals “booze” and booze only, that I would one day pursue that relief, that feeling from alcohol, at the cost of everything of value in my life?

Do you think I knew I’d lose my job to the stuff, spend years fighting it, catch 3 or 4 psychiatric diagnoses resulting in ELEVEN different medications at one time, as the doctors tried to figure out what happened to this smart, promising woman?

Do you think I knew I’d end up in a mental institution, having spent a few days on a whisky binge in a small apartment with a dog shitting and pissing on the floor, and the doctor would look at me and say “We knew you were crazy, because no sane person would live in those conditions.”?

Do you think I knew I’d wake up one morning on a respirator in an ER with a doctor who was sure I was trying to kill myself because there were so many substances in my body? Do you think I knew I’d look at him and quite honestly defend myself with the words “Oh no, doctor, I’m not trying to kill myself. I do this every day.”

No. I didn’t know. I didn’t know or think any of this. I was a kid who got good grades and went to college and worked hard. I thought everybody had the experience I was having with alcohol. I thought I was “having fun” like everybody else.

And by the time I realized I was in trouble, I couldn’t stop.

By the time I realized I couldn’t stop, I COULDN’T STOP.

And that, my friends, is the piece you’re missing: By the time we realize we’re dying, we’re dying. By the time we begin to suspect a problem, we are in the grip of a deadly disease, a disease that lives in the body and the mind. The body demands more – aches and screams and begs for more; the mind says “You’ll die if you don’t have more. It will be okay this time. Just one more time, Janelle.”

It’s not rational. It doesn’t weigh options. It doesn’t think about kids or home or acting careers or any other fucking thing. It thinks about itself. It tells me “You’re fine, Janelle. One drink won’t hurt.”

How do you change a mind with an insane mind? Tell me, how do you? How do you alter the thoughts of a brain when it’s the brain making the thoughts?

Do you see the problem, folks? There’s where the element of choice gets really, really sticky. MY BRAIN IS MAKING THE CHOICES AND MY BRAIN IS THE PROBLEM. You’re telling me to “choose” different behavior when my brain is the thing that’s hardwired to choose more alcohol.

And then, the more I drink and the sicker I get, I start looking for other substances to fill an ache in my mind and soul and heart like I cannot describe – the alcohol isn’t enough anymore. I’ve progressed to a new level. I take everything, anything to kill the insatiable need that’s become like air to me.

For my family who will read this, who knew me as a cute little blond-headed, precocious kid, I won’t say how far that need took me.

Does this make you uncomfortable? Does it make you sick? Yeah, me too. But this is it, people. This is what it is. Most of us start out good and decent and wanting a real life with kids and a house and job, and we start out fooling around and maybe we’re a little overzealous but by the time we’re really, really in trouble, we’re dying, and we’re powerless, and the chances for recovery are really, really freaking slim.

Most of us rot in the streets and die in beds in the houses of strangers. We die in bathrooms with needles in our arms, while the world looks on and says “Why didn’t you just choose not to do it, you trash?”

Why don’t you ask a fucking schizophrenic to “just stop having those weird delusions.”?

Why don’t you ask a cancer patient to just stop creating cancer cells?

Why don’t you ask a person with asthma to just get beefier lungs?

What’s that you say? The disease model of addiction removes the element of responsibility? Really. So if you were told you had cancer and need chemo, would you respond “Nope. Not doing it. Not treating my disease. It’s not my fault I have cancer. Therefore, no chemo.”



I have no words

It wasn’t until somebody explained to me that I was dying of a progressive disease, that I could never consume alcohol safely IN ANY FORM, that my mind would always, always lie to me, that for me, to drink is to die – it was only then that a beam of understanding crept across my mind. It was only then that I began to understand my condition, what had been plaguing me the whole of my adult life and how I could, finally, live freely, like a real human, wife, daughter, employee and mom.

At this point I know I seem like I’m contradicting myself. I just said you can’t fix a broken brain with a broken brain, and now I’m telling you that an understanding of my disease helped set me free. I can only tell you this: all alcoholics and addicts have moments of lucidity – tiny cracks of sanity where we see the truth of ourselves and our lives. And I believe some of us are lucky to get the kind of help we need during that moment of clarity, or surrender, or internal death. And if we’re set on a path from that point, we might make it. That, at least, is what happened to me. But it’s a long, long desperate and dangerous path to get there, and some of us don’t make it.

Then again, maybe it’s just dumb luck. Maybe some are sicker than others. Why does treatment work for some cancer patients and not others? Why do some people die and some don’t? And is it the sick person’s fault? Should they be blamed for losing the battle?

Don’t ever put me up on some pedestal. Don’t ever tell me “Great job, Janelle. Look at the way you turned your life around.”

Don’t ever set me above the homeless crack-addict on the street, thinking I’m better because I survived my disease.

There’s no reason I’m here and she’s there, and there’s no difference between us. I don’t know why I got to live. I don’t know why I didn’t die alone in some bathroom, leaving two blond-headed children to wonder, and miss their mom, while the world packs up its trash in the form of one more useless addict, one more drunk, one more loser who “chose” to throw her life away.


I take a breath and hold my kids and weep for the ones still dying.


Me, at 24 years old, at the beginning stages of the deadly grip of alcoholism. I sure don't look sick, do I?

Me, at 24 years old, at the beginning stages of the deadly grip of alcoholism. I sure don’t look sick, do I?

296 Comments | Posted in alcoholism | February 7, 2014

Beyond rants: Mastering the skill of argumentation

by renegademama

A workshop with Janelle Hanchett

February 21 – March 28, 2018

This is a brand new, intensive online workshop for people who want to write valid, credible, effective arguments in essays, social media and blog posts.

In this workshop you will learn how to write about controversial subjects in a way that invites people to listen and consider your perspective.

You’ll figure out how to situate your argument in the larger discussion, see where your ideas come from, and assess them within their larger social context.

You will learn how to clarify your audience and purpose as well as tailor your message effectively to resonate with that audience. Specifically, you will learn to adjust your tone, voice, and actual content to remain in discussion with as opposed to IN ATTACK OF others.

There is a time for ranting – and god knows I do it often – but ranting is easy. We all know how to do that.

This is different.

This is hard.

This is powerful.

When we rant, we’re spewing our opinions across the page. Those who agree with us will jump up and down and high-five the air and yell “fuck yeah” into the void. Those who don’t agree, however, will send us emails letting us know our children should be removed by social services. And also, we’re fat.

More thoughtful individuals who disagree with our rants will point out the fact that we didn’t really make viable arguments, use evidence, or offer claims supported by anything beyond rampant swearing and rage.

So we rant when we really don’t care too much about changing minds or offering new ideas or affecting “the opposition.” We rant because it’s fun, and often funny as hell, and feels good to write and read. It’s a bit – dare I say it? – cathartic.

We write an actual argument, though, when a topic means enough to us that we genuinely want people to listen, understand, and consider our ideas. We are not interested in attacking, alienating, or isolating (although some people will get that from even the best arguments, and with those people, we simply do not concern ourselves).

Examples of essays I’ve written that meant a lot to me and were attempting to make sound arguments are: We Don’t Start with Needles in our Arms and How I Discovered I am White.

This workshop is to help you perfect your ability to frame and write arguments, from opinion editorials to compelling social media posts to full-blown submittable essays. I have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English, so I’ve spent more years than I’d like to admit crafting essays, studying rhetoric, tone, language, voice, and working on the craft of argumentation.

I also fight with my husband a lot, but perhaps that doesn’t count.

It’s hard to write about things we’re passionate about that also happen to be controversial. It’s hard to do justice to topics that really matter, and we need a blueprint. We need a place to begin.

This workshop offers that. I gives you a blueprint to determine what and how much to research, who to cite, what to argue, and how. It will teach you how and why some arguments are effective and others implode. It will remind you of the most common logical fallacies that undermine credibility, as well as the myriad other ways we manage to dilute our messages.

Unlike some (most?) other types of writing, there is actually something of a method to persuasive writing. There are actual steps you can take to improve your arguments and essays, and I am in fact qualified to teach that shit.

Also, in this workshop, you will either write a piece from scratch, or you can submit to me a piece you’ve already written, and I will offer you 1:1 feedback on that work.

Please do not stress out over the writing in this workshop. It can be ONE page. It’s simply to practice forming and writing an argument/persuasive piece, and to receive feedback on it. This isn’t college. You don’t have to write some 7-page essay on some bullshit topic for some bullshit professor.

Wait. I didn’t mean that. College writing is THE BEST! (Seriously though, this isn’t school. I promise.)

Since this is the first time I’m offering this workshop, the price is significantly lower than it will be next time. We will hold weekly live video workshops, and enrollment is limited to eight people. I hope you join us.

Your voice matters, and I want to help you gain the tools to feel confident getting it out there.


Week 1: Nothing happens in a vacuum

This week we will discuss Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle and how to situate our arguments in larger discussions, as well as ways to establish credibility.

Due: Topic for argumentative essay/editorial/blog post  

Week 2: Message, Purpose & Audience

We will help you define the difference between message and purpose, and using those two pieces of analysis, we will figure out how to find your key audience, which is probably the most critical guide to how to write the essay.

Due: Outline of argumentative piece

Week 3: Tone, Voice & Content

How do we create a tone that’s appropriate for our purpose and thus effective with our audience? Of ALL the information in the world, how do we choose that which will bolster our effectiveness?

Work on argumentative piece

Week 4: Logical Fallacies and The Art of Undermining One’s self

A fun reminder of the rampant logical fallacies in our world. I promise, this is actually fun. And once you see these fallacies, you can never unsee them, and you will never watch the news or listen to holiday party political discussion with your family the same (god help us all).

Work on argumentative piece

Week 5: Self-awareness (we are all biased), reasonableness, and the ability to anticipate audience questions

How do we find the holes in our arguments? How can we create a balanced and fair discussion? How to we choose which counter-arguments to address?

Due: Second or later draft to Janelle

Week 6: The magic is in the revision

What do we look for when we revise? How do we determine what’s working in our piece, or not? How do we find places where we are undermining ourselves? What critique should we consider and learn from? And what should we ignore completely?

1:1 video consultation with Janelle re: your piece


Participants: EIGHT

Dates: February 21 – March 28, 2018, video conferences held on Wednesdays at 10am PST

Cost: $389* for workshop, which includes a 20-minute video consultation

Option 2 (workshop + extras): $499* for workshop, 1-hour video consultation, plus written feedback and direct editing on your piece

*Installment plan available, but I have to charge $10 for it as I too am charged. Apologies. Before signing up, please review the refund policy stated below. Thank you!

NOTE: This workshop is sold out. To be notified of future workshops, please sign up for my mailing list on this page. Thank you!

REFUND POLICY: I can offer a full refund up to and including January 20. I can offer a 50% refund up to and including February 5. After February 5, I cannot offer a refund. By signing up for this workshop, you agree to this refund policy. Thank you!

Comments Closed | Posted in | November 27, 2017

New here? Read these.

by renegademama

If you’re new here, read the posts that [evidently] suck less than the others. If they don’t make you want to call Child Protective Services, we could probably be friends.

The most popular post I’ve ever written is The No-Bullshit, No-Drama Friendship Manifesto. Someday I’ll make it into a contract and we can use it on first playdates and shit.

Or maybe it was this one: “Breaking news: Don’t be a dick in restaurants.” It was one of those.

Probably my favorite post ever is this one. Not sure why: “Hey, Hi. I want off your parenting team.” Other people seemed to like it too.

My kids are becoming teenagers, and I want to know why we aren’t talking about how hard it is: “Why aren’t we talking about parenting teenagers? Because I’m lost AF.”

This post, “I became a mother, and died to live,” sparked a heated conversation about feminism and post-partum periods and newborns and stuff, and is pro

bably closest to my heart. Read it and see why.

And then there’s “We don’t start with needles in our arms” about motherhood and alcoholism. This post earned a 2014 Blogher Voice of the Year Award. I got to read it aloud and everything. That reading was also featured on Upworthy, much to my awe.

How I discovered I am white,” along with the alcoholism post, are the two essays on this blog I am the most proud of, and was the most terrified to write.

With some of these I was famous for like 7 minutes. Maybe even 8. Actually not really. Not really at all. I’ve never been famous. People keep telling me I’d be way more popular if I’d stop swearing so much but FUCK THAT.

And if you decide you like my work, you can find 300 pages of previously unpublished content by buying my fuckin book. And you’d be helping me stay on this writing path. 



0 Comments | Posted in | March 26, 2011

the players

by renegademama


Attempting to write 4-sentence summaries of human personalities is an absurd and unreasonable task, but I shall do it any way to provide a little background. Besides, absurd and unreasonable have never really been deal-breakers for me.

304852_10151048917233860_2137311768_nFirst, there’s Mac. He’s my husband. He’s 36 years old. I have loved him since the moment I laid eyes on him, about 17 years ago as he sat on the floor of my living room, surrounded by my roommates, stoned and drinking Captain Morgan. When I saw him working at his dad’s slaughterhouse, covered in goat blood and cursing unruly chickens, I knew he was the one for me. After we had our first kid, I spent 3 to 7 years sure I married the wrong dude, but then we turned some corner and I found myself enjoying him, our marriage, us. It was actually kinda surreal. I had resigned myself to marriage as hell. I’m still not totally sure where he came from as by all appearances he seems an impossible juxtaposition. He’s a tattooed ranch man – a gentle ironworker – a “tough guy” who doesn’t mind some pastel pink on occasion. If anybody ever asked me for marriage advice (not a likely event) I would tell them “marry somebody you love and respect but don’t fully understand.” It seems to hold up. Despite our best efforts to blow up our marriage, we’re still here.

That was more than 4 sentences.

photo(41)Our first child is Ava. She’s 16 years old. (<<<That picture is when she was like 13 but I’m leaving it.) She is strong, intellectual, independent, and slightly skeptical. She reads a couple books a week and actually practices piano. She has a hard time suffering fools (as her grandma says). I watch her struggle in the precarious space between total disdain and impatience with others and an acute desire to love them completely. We are in many ways the same.



Our second child is Charles, but we call him Rocket. When I was pregnant with him, Ava named him “Rocketship Rock on.” Obviously, Rocketbecause we’re Frank Zappa, we kept the nickname. Anyway, he’s 12. He has his daddy’s gentle eyes and freckles across the bridge of his nose. I believe those freckles are responsible for the fact that he owns me. He likes to run jump get wet climb kick swim and make profoundly irritating noises. He has the gift of dyslexia. When he was younger and heard music (real or imagined) he transformed into a crazy dancing machine, doing interpretive moves that may be characterized as something between break dancing and the Tango.

That torch has been passed to his younger sister, Georgia.
IMG_3575She’s 7. She gives approximately zero fucks.  She IS who she IS, done. Her favorite pastime is doing whatever the hell she feels like. Dancing in public is top, though. She also enjoys launching herself off the back of the couch onto the ottoman.  She has a cleft chin and a dimple on each cheek, so when she smiles, her face explodes in little indentations and I kinda want to eat her. All of us spend a lot of time trying to make sure she doesn’t get maimed. We also just watch her because she’s ALWAYS DOING STUFF and she’s so cute and alive and real it hurts. Hurts.


IMG_5903And finally, there’s Arlo. He was born June 4, 2014, delivered by his dad on the living room floor after virtually no labor. This led us to believe he was a mellow human who prefers not to cause a ruckus, and that was kind of true when he was an infant, but he’s three now, and generally quite batshit. He likes  smiling, talking incessantly, taking things out of things and putting them in other things, dropping items around the house, running, unrolling toilet paper, and getting super fucking dirty. He also enjoys sleeping horizontally while pinching my back fat with his toes.

And there’s me. I’m Janelle. I am a 39 year old woman and a mother and a wife. I was born and raised in California (mostly northern, a little central), and we now reside in the Sacramento area. My favorite line from any song ever is “Everybody who’s anybody in my opinion, at one time, lived in somebody’s hallway.” Since I once lived in a hallway (I think), I must be somebody. Therefore, I should write a blog.

I have no pieces of wisdom or advice on mothering and I definitely don’t have any “straightforward parenting tips.” People who have straightforward parenting tips are generally full of shit.  I don’t know what I’m doing as a mother or on earth. If you know, please tell me. Actually no. Don’t.

For more information, please read playdate in my trailer. Or, if you’re interested, you may find a rather schizophrenic “about me” list here. You can read the story of my alcoholism (and recovery) here.

Thank you for reading.

It amazes me that people would do so and I am genuinely flattered and grateful.


12 Comments | Posted in | January 27, 2011