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Book Review – I’m Just Happy To Be Here

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I’ve been a longtime fan of Janelle Hanchett’s blog, Renegade Mothering, so I already knew I’d connect with her writing style, and I was stoked to receive an advance copy of her book, I’m Just Happy To Be Here.

This beautifully written memoir is gut-wrenchingly raw and real, will suck you in immediately and have you fall in love with all the characters (especially Good News Jack). I worried for a minute that I wouldn’t relate to tale of a life nearly destroyed by depression and addiction, because I haven’t been down the same road. I was wrong. I’ve made plenty of bad choices that I didn’t think I should forgive myself for, so flawed characters and redemption are among my very favorite things, and this book made my heart ache and soar at the same time.

We don’t often see a mother being so brutally transparent about how uncomfortable she was in that role, how depression, boredom and loneliness took her down the road from alcoholism into full-blown substance abuse.  This memoir chronicles her 10 year journey to rock bottom and back to sobriety and peaceful acceptance of the fact that she will never fit perfectly into the mothering world.

I loved reading it, and feel compelled to predict that you that you will see Janelle on Ellen DeGeneres in the near future, talking about shitting in a bag. (I first typed Oprah Winfrey and then had to google to see if she still has a show.) Also that I wish Leslie Mann was 20 years younger to play her in the movie.

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Book Review - I'm Just Happy To Be Here by Janelle Hanchett

“Nearly two years later, I was still looking around at the ‘categories’ of mothers and realizing I fit nowhere.”

This. When I move, and I move often, the first thing I do is search out some kindred spirits. People who curse and refuse to hide their imperfection. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Timothy Leary:

“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?”. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…”

When I first read Janelle’s blog Renegade Mothering, I knew I had found a tribe I fit in.  People who could be honest about how tough and thankless motherhood can be.  You found us Janelle. And we found you. xo

Q&A With Janelle Hanchett

1. Parenting takes serious juggling and serious coping skills – at what point did you realize that your coping mechanism was a full-blown dependency and how did that change your parenting?

Alcohol was largely a “coping mechanism” for my internal life, so even if I never had children, I believe I would have ended up an alcoholic. The pressure and shock of young motherhood and marriage probably accelerated my dependence, but I don’t think softer externalities would have saved me from the disease.

I knew when my first child was about two that I had a problem, because I had been promising “not to drink that day” for years, and always drank anyway. Without realizing it, I had constructed a life that allowed me to drink problematically: We lived with my mother. I had a job that I could do half-asleep. And I had a husband who drank alongside me. This of course affected my children. I tried to construct the best life I could for them, but my ability to do this decreased as my addiction progressed.

2. What was the hardest part about writing the book for you?

Logistically it was incredibly difficult. I have four children ranging from 16 to 3. One of them always seems to need something. And my husband works two hours away as an ironworker, so it all falls mostly on me. Six-hour writing days while they were in school would be cut to three hours, or zero, without notice. Eventually I gave up the fight, and started renting motel rooms for the weekend and writing 10 hours a day. It was hard to leave my family, but I didn’t see a choice. I wrote the whole book that way, alone, fueled with cacao bars and Thai food. Not sure what Thai food had to do with it, but I always ordered it.

Next to that, it was deciding how much was “too much,” and trying to write the truth of my story without usurping the stories of my loved ones. I wanted to write the truth, but I have no interest in shocking people for the sake of spectacle. I think a memoirist has to be hard on herself and deeply compassionate toward others. And I couldn’t write this without involving my children. I worried a lot about that, too, and cut a lot, often. I tried to keep the bigger perspective in mind – why I’m writing it, and to whom.

3. How does it feel to have such a vast community of supporters, cheering you on as you put your book out into the world?

Overwhelming. My sense of gratitude is overwhelming, and it’s a miraculous feeling. Something I never expected when I sat down and started writing a blog eight years ago, for myself, for fun. I had 50 readers for two years, and 20 of them were my cousins. So that aspect of this process has always felt sacred and strange and wonderful.

4. Any pieces of advice for struggling mothers/parents out there?

I’m not sure I’m the person to give parenting advice, but I will say nobody knows what the hell they’re doing, and the ones who say they do are faking it. I got a lot of peace when I realized we’re all just broken humans trying to do right by our kids, and we get to define parenthood for ourselves. I’ve never conformed to a particular parenting philosophy, and every kid requires different approaches anyway. When I accepted that, I was a lot happier as a mother.

5. What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your story?

That we don’t necessarily become better versions of ourselves the day we become mothers, and that it’s possible to find some peace – and joy – right there in our imperfection. The honesty required for that makes us stronger, I think, the whole family.

Well, and that love isn’t always enough to save addicts, so the parent or loved one who couldn’t get sober didn’t necessarily not love her family. And it isn’t that they weren’t loved enough. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about that, particularly as it relates to alcoholic mothers. The sanctimony of motherhood juxtaposed with the horrifying traits of addiction make it easy to demonize the hell out of addict mothers. I am neither excusing them nor minimizing the damage they cause, but rather asserting that love is often not the problem or solution.

Addiction, past a certain point, doesn’t care about love. We don’t want to believe this, but it’s true. If we want to heal, we have to face this.

What other people are saying:

“Janelle Hanchett presents motherhood as we seldom see it: with irreverent humor, brazen honesty, deep love and loss. Her story is about finding peace right in the mess of motherhood, and that’s what makes it wonderful.”
—Jill Smokler, New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of a Scary Mommy and founder of ScaryMommy.com

“Hanchett offers a startling account of her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction in this raw and riveting memoir…. Readers will cheer Hanchett toward her triumphant recovery.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Whilst we are all fighting some sort of inner battle, few of us have the honesty, humor, and heart to describe our struggle like Janelle Hanchett. Her memoir, I’m Just Happy to Be Here, is not just for those touched by addiction, but for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, which is everyone. I could not put this book down.”
— Firoozeh Dumas, New York Times bestselling author of Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without an Accent

“Fiercely talented word-warrior Janelle Hanchett grabs your guts with her frank, brutally funny, and moving memoir of modern motherhood and addiction. You won’t want to let go of this book.”
— Ann Imig, editor of Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now

“Far from your cookie-cutter story of addiction and recovery, I’m Just Happy to Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering describes Hanchett’s journey to recovery and sobriety in imperfect and unconventional ways.”
— Bustle

“Witty, heartbreaking, and enlightening, Hanchett’s memoir will resonate with parents and nonparents alike.”
–Booklist

“By turns painful and funny, [I’m Just Happy to Be Here] explores the pressures of modern motherhood while chronicling one woman’s journey toward acceptance of her own limitations and imperfections. A searingly candid memoir.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Hanchett offers a startling account of her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction in this raw and riveting memoir…. Readers will cheer Hanchett toward her triumphant recovery.”
— Publishers Weekly

 

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