Say what you want about social media as a sociopathic cesspool, but without it, I would have forgotten most of my life after the year 2009. I’d also be missing a huge part of the support system that has helped me cope with significant loss over the past year: the loss of my journalism career and the loss of my lifestyle as a habitual drinker.
(Yes, the latter is a good loss, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Ask any new recovering alcoholic OR displaced journalist, and they’ll tell you they feel like a close friend/part of them has died.)
Social media, to me, has become a kind of scrapbook, helping chart the ups and downs of this journey. I bring this up because on Friday (Aug. 30), Facebook took a break from showing me creepy ads that mirror what I was just talking about in real life to send me an emotional reminder.
It’s been exactly one year since I “decided” to leave my job as a video reporter at the newspaper company that brought me to Bucks County, PA, in 2002 as a 24-year-old (holy shit!) sports writer, just two years out of college and 700-some miles from both my home in the Midwest and the site of my first full-time journalism job in the Atlanta area.
Technically, I ended my run on my own terms, accepting a buyout — sorry; “voluntary severance” — in late August 2018, but it was really just “getting them before they got me.” Six months later, the newspaper’s new ownership group eliminated my entire department and turned the lights off on our “Game On” high school sports show for good.
An entire scholastic sports cycle — to me, that would’ve been football, girls basketball, softball/baseball, good old American Legion season and back to the dreaded football preseason circuit — has passed since then. Another cycle has just begun. Time has absolutely whizzed by at warp speed. I’ve been so caught up in the business of economic survival, professional soul-searching and self-medication — of late, sobriety — that I haven’t really stopped to reflect on all that’s happened during this weird, wild trip ’round the sun.
With apologies to the years that I made my two cross-regional moves — Morton Grove, IL, to Macon, GA, and Macon to Bensalem, PA — and the year the Cubs won the World Series, this has absolutely been the most f*cked-up year of my life.
The craziest part is, as I sit here right now, I don’t think I’ve personally ever been happier.
Yes, I miss journalism, which for me really boiled down to telling stories. I had the privilege of telling so many amazing stories, about young people learning life lessons and communities banding together in good and bad times and the exhilarating emotional roller coaster of life, as experienced through athletic competition. It sounds overdramatic, especially considering my job daily required either sweating or freezing my ass off, sitting in mud, standing in the rain balancing a 30-pound camera, unwieldy microphone cord and golf umbrella all at the same time, relieving myself in porta potties in 100-degree weather…you get the picture. But to me, every story I told was a great one. And I think my favorite part of the process, especially in the past six years working with video, was watching a kid (or athletic trainer…LOL hi Taylor) who was terrified to be interviewed on camera find their voice and gain a little extra self-confidence right before my eyes.
I could have gone on with “Game On” as long as my body could handle the necessary physical contortions, but clearly that was not meant to be. I have to believe there’s a reason I ended up starting back at the bottom in my career, even if I’m not even close to figuring that part out yet. I know it was absolutely necessary to do so in my personal life.
Every time I look back at old pictures or posts on my social media and get nostalgic about how I looked (I was in better shape when I was running around football fields trying to follow game action) or the fulfillment I was feeling (for all the less-than-ideal working conditions, I regularly received positive feedback from the communities I covered), I have to force myself to trash the rose-colored glasses. That girl was an alcoholic mess choosing one bad coping strategy after another, and you do not want to go back there!
I can’t claim not to be a mess anymore, in some ways, but I can honestly say I’m taking steps every day to get my shit together, and I am making progress.
I have 55 days sober. That’s not nothing.
I have a job where I get paid to write. That is something.
Whatever fulfillment I lack — at work, at home, in any arena — I’ve stopped using it as an excuse to lose myself in the downward spiral of binge drinking, depression, shame and self-loathing. That, at least for now, is everything. It honestly feels like a miracle.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve gained more than I’ve lost in the last year. …Aaaand it only took me like 10,000 words to finally spit that out. Time to wrap this up.
Like I said, I do miss journalism. I always will. And through the power of social media, I am aware that journalism does, in fact, miss me back. Peeping my @jenwielgus inboxes regularly brings me to tears, because folks from my former life don’t just reach out to bemoan my lack of presence on the sidelines. They offer encouragement for beating alcohol addiction and finding peace. It’s unexpected. It’s overwhelming.
“I’m glad you’re happy because you deserve it,” one local coach wrote me on Instagram just a few days ago.
It feels so crazy to say this: I am happy! I’ve also had a lot of help getting here, and this might be hard to believe if you’ve made it this far, but I don’t even have the words to express my gratitude to everyone who has made this f*cked up year so memorable.
It might turn out to be my best one yet.