Redefining the ‘W’

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Some days, I have to force myself to come down to “Fly The W Fitness” to work out . Most days, I have to force myself to appreciate the little victories – and brush off the inevitable setbacks – that dot the road to recovery.

A mature woman with proper perspective on life would take it in stride, rationalizing that since she was THERE when IT happened, all other good stuff is gravy — and any bad stuff can easily be shrugged off. She’d also probably realize how little sports really matter.

I mean, I’m just speculating that’s what she would do. I don’t personally know that woman or relate to her in any way.

Nope, this woman still falls to pieces over the Chicago Cubs. Even in the midst of the most self-improvey era of my life, as I choose personal growth over substance-induced stagnation for the first time in 41 years, I’m still apparently stuck in sports fan infancy. When things don’t go my way, it’s in everyone’s best interest to stay out of it.

What’s making me unfit to mix in society these days, of course, is the Cubs completely missing the playoffs for the second straight year, after a cruelly anticlimactic tease of a season in which Murphy’s Law reigned supreme across the street from Murphy’s Bleachers — just like it always did back in the old days.

It’s ridiculous that I should get upset or let this drag me down, considering I actually lived through some of those old days, growing up in Chicago’s northern ‘burbs in the “Lovable Losers” era, the “Completely Useless By September” 80s and 90s when we barely knew what contention felt like at all. It’s dumb to let this faze me, considering that I actually lived to see — IN PERSON — the miracle of Game 7 in Cleveland just three postseasons ago. It’s not right that I feel a heavy malaise wash over me — if only for minute or two — every morning when I shuffle down to the basement gym I’ve dubbed “Fly The W Fitness” to make a pre-workout hash mark on the whiteboard, and see the ‘W’ flag hanging on the wall and the Nick Castellanos quote, “Every Day Is Opening Day,” scrawled next to my life-without-alcohol ledger.

“Ha,” I said out loud earlier this week as I marked another little vertical line with my red marker. “Every day, except the day y’all pack up and go home and we have to watch the Cardinals and Brewers play for a championship.”

Sobriety Tally: 83 days. Serenity Status: Still completely failing to accept the things I cannot change.


Serenity has always been a completely foreign concept to me, having lived with chronic anxiety, fearfulness and perfectionism since as long as I can remember. So, when special occasions like sporting events popped up on my social schedule, I saw them as a welcome opportunity to completely let loose and escape from life.

In other words, I saw them as an opportunity to get drunk.

Baseball games offered unlimited access to alcohol from early tailgate until the seventh-inning cutoff. With my desperate eagerness to shut off the overly-analytical, self-restraining centers of my brain and revel in the fact that, if only for today, I was completely free and didn’t have to worry about anything, you might understand how most outings to Cubs games — no matter the outcome, ‘W’ or ‘L’ — ultimately ended badly for me and whatever unlucky soul(s) had to take me home.

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The marquee after my most recent trip to Wrigley Field on June 27, 2019, which was the last time I drank alcohol at a baseball game. I think it was also the last time Craig Kimbrel had a decent outing in a major league uniform. It was his Cubs debut.

It’s a lethal combination, when you approach it from a place of clarity (sanity?): the mind-blowingly unpredictable drama of sports, mixed with the equally bonkers melodrama you create by consuming copious amounts of a mind-altering substance. Of course, I never saw the inevitable crash coming, because I always told myself: “This time will be different!” and told anyone who expressed concern: “I’ll be fine!”

Textbook drunk talk that only, and always, leads to stuff like this…

NOT FINE, EXHIBIT A: Sitting/lying down and sobbing in the parking lot of Miami’s old Pro Player Stadium after the Cubs lost to the Marlins in Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS. I don’t remember many details about this display, or really anything about the game itself — beyond Josh Beckett’s dominance on the mound. I only recall having an amazing time (not sarcasm) at the pre-game tailgate, listening and singing along to music blasting from the car speakers, throwing a football around in the blazing South Florida sunshine, befriending random Cubs fans who happened to be walking by, and drinking so much beer that I basically forgot there was a game to go to and had to be dragged inside to watch it. After that, my only recollection of the entire outing is that nonsensical postgame scene. I don’t even know how I got back to the hotel, or how deeply I embarrassed and horrified my dad and sister, who rarely got to see me since I moved away after college and probably wondered who the hell I had become.

NOT FINE, EXHIBIT B: Fighting with my husband for at least two full innings because he didn’t want to get up and walk out of Wrigley Field in the middle of Game 4 of the 2015 NLCS — and despite the fact that we’d spent the money to fly in from Philly JUST FOR THIS GAME, I insisted we leave early. The Cubs were getting killed by the Mets in the final game of a series sweep, and because we’d spent probably two hours partying pre-game at The Cubby Bear, with friendly strangers at the bar buying us drinks, I was well on my way toward a meltdown before we even entered the stadium. I double-fisted Angry Orchards on the way to our seats, and lo and behold, a few early Mets runs and I was completely off in the ditch. My husband got so tired of listening to me bitch at him that he finally capitulated. It was probably the fifth inning. We got on the Red Line back to the suburbs, and I sat there staring at my phone, bitterly unfollowing everyone who dared write something about Daniel Murphy on Twitter, instead of reflecting on how galactically awful I was acting and how I had singlehandedly ruined this expensive trip.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. And damn, before I sat down to write this blog, I hadn’t really thought these episodes through, all the way, ever before. And admitting all this shit really hurts.

Alcoholic or not, it’s pretty painful when you acknowledge the reality of your deepest depths. Painful or not, it’s an essential part of shifting from sobriety (quitting drinking) to recovery (working on yourself) and actually beginning to grow.

Fortunately, there’s a pretty cool flip side to the pain. At this early stage of the game, it comes in the form of gratitude.


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Someone once asked me if the light-up ‘W’ sign on our deck was an homage to my last name. Someone else told us to take it down because it violated the HOA rules about “holiday decorations” and we were going to get fined. Such is life for an out-of-market sports fan. No way you’d get hassled for flying a ‘W’ anywhere in the Midwest.

Gratitude is something you have to actively practice. It is so easy to forget or disregard where you’ve been while you’re all wrapped up in the minutia of where you are.

How can I not feel deeply grateful at 83 days sober, for literally everything — good and bad — that I have in my life right now? I know that if I keep going, nothing ever has to be as bad as it was in October 2003, October 2015…or all those other times I didn’t tell you about. I don’t have to live like that, or treat others like that, anymore!

How can I not feel eternally grateful that I SAW THE CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES, and why can’t I let that memory color every day — as Nick would say, every “Opening Day” — of Cub fandom for the rest of eternity? Why don’t I?

Shit; I’m wearing the damn ‘W’ on my back this very second, as we speak! I got the iconic Wrigley Field ‘W’ flag tattooed on my body in December of 2016, as a permanent souvenir of the history I witnessed and the challenges I had personally overcome.

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I used to always say, “If the Cubs win the World Series, I’ll get a tattoo!” because it was the most outlandishly improbable thing I could imagine myself doing, on account of my fear of needles. My husband held my hand and “Portlandia” played on the parlor TV while I white-knuckled my way through the procedure. If I get another one, it’ll be to celebrate a year sober. (One day at a time!)

My tatt was always supposed to be about more than sports. You see, I spent the entire 2016 MLB postseason doing a self-imposed 30-day “Sober October” challenge, which at the time I thought might help me moderate my increasingly problematic drinking. I made it through that month feeling great. A huge ‘W.’

October was over, so I purchased exactly one Redd’s Apple Ale at Game 7. Half of it spilled out when I chest-bumped someone in my row after Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run in the first at-bat of the game. I was so happy I didn’t care! I remember watching other fans stumbling up and down the upper deck steps throughout the night and thinking, “What a pity they won’t remember this amazing game because they’re too drunk.”

Wow. That sounds like the kind of (admittedly judgmental) comment that a mature woman with proper perspective on life might make…

I do know that woman! True, I lost track of her for a while since October 2016, but I’ve never related to her more than I do right now. And I have some good news for her: As euphoric as she felt that miraculous rainy night in Cleveland, a World Champion and completely sober, it is not the best she’s ever going to feel in her life.

I’m going to make sure of that.

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