They say you stop maturing when you start developing an addiction, and I look around at my life at 132 days sober, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t right.
Freeing my body and mind from the grip/fog of alcohol has magically time-warped me back to my 18-year-old self, proudly donning Doc Martens every day (the brown boots pictured were my 4 Months present to myself!), re-watching “The Sopranos” for the 12 millionth time (if I said “16 Czechoslovakians” and “one-shoe c*cksucker,” would you know where I’m at in the series right now? 😂) and working out to such Amazon playlists as “I Miss The 90s” and “90s Alternative Hits,” which, it turns out, play most of the same songs.
It’s a hard-and-fast rule that I have to stop whatever I’m doing and sing along whenever “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe comes on, so I probably should choose different music if I want to get in better shape. I think I have some C&C Music Factory and CeCe Peniston somewhere in my CD collection…
I have no idea why or how this regression to Pre-Drinking Jen happened, but I like it. …Well, except for the acne. WTF, acne?!? Apparently my body decided to go all-in on this “teenage dream” theme and push out fresh new zits for me to notice each morning in the mirror. At 41, I honestly thought my Clearasil days were over. (Do they still make Clearasil? I’m writing out a CVS shopping list.)
Sobriety = second puberty, I guess, and when I think about it, the (vintage) shoe kind of fits. I’m at probably my life’s most momentous crossroads, trying to figure out who I really am and who I am going to become. My first trip through that process ended up taking a bit of a wild detour; now it’s time to begin again.
In order to move forward, sometimes it’s necessary to look back.
Allow me to introduce you to the person buried for 20 years under layer upon layer of booze-soaked sediment — Layer 1: Bud Light; Layer 2: Coors Light; Layer 3: Heineken Light; Layers 4-10: Angry Orchard; then 10 tequila layers topped off with silver Patron, because I eventually got sophisticated 🙄.
That person is a goodie-goodie. She is a very naive and mostly innocent young girl.
I didn’t drink in middle school, high school or even in my first year of college — despite being an athlete that entire time. …Well, actually, I remember sharing one mini bottle of Lynchburg Lemonade on Dillo Day, Northwestern’s spring festival at which some type of debauchery is required of all students, at the end of freshman year. But that was as far as I went with my bad self.
I didn’t smoke. I didn’t go to parties. In matters concerning the opposite sex, like everything else, I was a late bloomer. I didn’t date until I was a junior in high school, and in fact, true story: the first time a boy called the house (seventh grade?) looking for me, my way of getting rid of him was to say, “The only guy I like is my dad.” 😬
I’m pretty sure I was still playing with my American Girl doll (Team Samantha Parkington!) and believing in Santa Claus at that point.
(It’s actually more embarrassing for me to admit this shit than to stand up and say I’m an alcoholic, so, try not to laugh too hard.)
I mean, there were certainly flashes of darkness in my Puritanical Polyanna-esque existence. I brought home a ‘C’ once, in fourth grade, and it was in CONDUCT, you guys. How on Earth did we miss that red flag?
Seriously, though, in addition to the Type-A personality defects outlined in earlier posts, I see now that I definitely had anxiety, depression and hypersensitivity issues — the building blocks of my addictions — going on very early in life.
Of course, I had no idea what any of that stuff meant. I just knew that I worried a lot. I knew that I cried for weird reasons, like when listening to certain song lyrics. I knew other people made me uneasy and I preferred being alone. I knew I sometimes felt a deep, empty despair wash over me without warning. It came on Sunday nights when I thought about going back to school the next day. It came on Christmas Day after all the presents were opened and food eaten and I wondered, what now? What do I do now that everything I’ve looked forward to for so long is over?
I was always afraid of the future. Always mourning the past. Always a little uncomfortable in the moment.
Always looking for an escape.
It’s like Christopher Moltisanti put it in probably my favorite “Sopranos” quote of all time — yes, even more memorable than anything he said in the classic “Pine Barrens” episode:
The first time I heard that, I felt like it explained everything. It only took me a few decades messing around with maladaptive coping strategies to understand that there was a solution to the regularness riddle.
Even the latest of late bloomers eventually arrives where she is supposed to be, if she keeps on growing.
In Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.
This device isn’t a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel; it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
— Don Draper
Nostalgia can be its own addiction, a concept the advertising gurus on “Mad Men” understood and parlayed into selling people things they didn’t need. We feel the constant lure of our memories, a compulsion to dwell on things, events and relationships past, rather than look at what we’re doing right now and ponder where to go from here.
Craving comfort and seeking relief from the pain of the present and fear of the future, we naturally take refuge in what’s familiar. We cling to the same holiday traditions, year after year, listen to our old mix tapes on repeat, watch the shows we loved as pimply-faced teens — and continually reference them, decades later (or is that just me?) — and we constantly repeat the patterns of behavior we know, however unhealthy they might be.
Nostalgia is romantic. Our mind instinctively fast-forwards through all the bad shit and settles on the good times. Isn’t it amazing how you can reflect on the most f*cked-up, toxic relationships and fixate on an image of one, fleeting moment of smiles and butterflies? Isn’t it insane how, even though your relationship with alcohol was 90 percent appalling depravity, when you think back, your first thought is the 10 percent euphoric release from that damn regularness of life?
The first hour, the first three or four drinks…it felt like heaven on Earth. But I could never, ever stop the inevitable descent into hell, and hell got more hellish each time the carousel went around.
I know the truth. I remember the depravity. But I still feel that selective memory thing happening to me, on occasion. Holiday commercials on TV are a huge trigger if you’re like me, a sucker for nostalgia. That “Mad Men” scene makes me bawl, every damn time, even if I see through the schmaltz and recognize the salesmanship.
I have felt a nostalgic ache for that place where a drink set me free from being myself. That’s the insanity of addiction.
The beauty of recovery, though, is that if you constantly, vigilantly remind yourself that that place leads straight to hell, you can get home.
Right now, I’m wearing the same shoes as the goodie-two-shoes circa 1999 and I’m heading there, one day at a time. I think of it as a place I left behind, but also a place I haven’t been before.
It’s a place where I am the real me, and that person feels total, unconditional self-love.