When I was turning 40, my husband took me on my dream vacation to Mesa, Arizona, for Cubs spring training. It was snowing in Philly, and I packed a suitcase overflowing with short shorts, tank tops, sundresses and a brand new Cubbie-blue bikini.
I was on this strict “Zone” eating plan where I weighed and measured everything I put in my mouth — except, of course, tequila — and I was hitting the CrossFit as hard as I was the bottle. So I was probably as physically lean as I’ve ever been, and let’s be brutally honest, I was feeling myself a little bit. I snapped selfies showing off my rippled abs and shot videos of myself doing strict muscle-ups in the gym, and I posted them on all the usual channels, flexing, “This is 40!” I couldn’t wait to get away to the sunny warmth of my baseball Mecca, strut my svelte stuff down at Sloan Park and celebrate the shit out of the new decade I was clearly about to rock.
I mean, I doubt I was truly THAT confident, but on the great roller coaster of life, I can’t think of a time (other than the early years of our relationship/marriage) that I felt higher. I was pretty sure that being in great shape meant I was at least some semblance of a success, and that as long as my body was a certain size, everything else was A-OK.
(I’m writing this at 42, as of last Tuesday, and 280 days sober, as of today, and significantly less lean, and I’m still fighting the voice inside that tells me that’s true. How far have I come in two years? Hard to judge when you’ve always had a messed-up measuring stick…)
Never would I call that spring training trip a flop, but the truth is, I don’t remember all of it. I spent the entire week completely blasted, tailgating in the hotel parking lot in the mid-morning with my own bottle of tequila, then shuffling arm-in-arm with my hubby to the ballpark in a giddy haze, then spending God knows how much money on round after round of Hornitos-and-seltzers at the game, then stopping at the gas station on the way back to the hotel to drunk-buy a shitton of snacks, then drunk-ordering pizza back at the room or enough sushi for 3 people (4?) at a restaurant, along with some fruity cocktails I never would’ve otherwise tried, and finally collapsing in bed, an overstuffed brain-dead blob, before sunset. I’m pretty sure we rented one of those overpriced hotel movies one night (no idea which), and I was asleep before the opening credits finished rolling.
I never put on that Cubbie-blue bikini and hung out at the pool. The dresses all stayed packed. I wore workout pants the last two days in Mesa because I felt too bloated and disgusting to move. Not that that stopped me from finishing the last tequila bottle before we checked out, or from drinking at the airport bar while awaiting our flight home.
Hubby and I have since joked, as we assessed the extent of our credit card debt, that our 2018 Mesa trip would not have contributed nearly as dramatically to the total, had we been sober back then. Someday, I hope we can afford to go back and try again.
Flash forward from flying across the country in a (albeit ignorant) state of bliss in Year 40 to the depths of depression and addiction, and that’s where I found myself on April 7, 2019. My 41st birthday consisted of sitting on our back deck drinking — you guessed it — tequila, from like 9:30 AM (‘twas a Sunday) until…I mean, until I passed out, like always, which could have been noon for all I remember. I know a friend stopped by, but I couldn’t tell you what we talked about. Maybe we didn’t talk at all, and that’s why she left quickly and I haven’t heard much from her since. What did we have for dinner? What did we watch on TV? I’m assuming, based on tried-and-true tradition, that cheesecake and a Cubs game worked their way into the “celebration,” but again, all I know for sure is that was one hell of a waste of a beautiful day.
I thought back to that day when a coworker asked me, on our daily team conference call earlier this week, what I did for my birthday. I laughed and said, “well, it was Tuesday…” which you wouldn’t think would mean anything in the current health-crisis climate, but for us means being nose-deep in work and pretty much never leaving the computer.
“I ate cheesecake,” I said.
My husband, in keeping with that decades-old tradition my late, home-baking grandma started when I was a tween, went out (in a handmade face mask) and bought a variety pack of cheesecake. He sliced and arranged it to make us each a scrumptious multi-flavored piece, then lit the candles he could find in the cupboard (who doesn’t have a random ‘2’ lying around?), and we ate while watching Season 4 of “The Wire.” Because, of course, there was no Cubs game. 😐
And then we fell asleep.
And so went my first sober birthday since I turned 21. Not sure how different it would’ve been under “normal” circumstances, because I’ve been all about that homebody life for most of my life, and especially since I quit drinking. Thus far, recovery has been a strange mix of bravely abandoning old habits and desperately clinging to a comfort zone, with a constant tug-of-war raging between hard-wired, unforgiving thinking patterns and a willingness to just be, let go, have faith. Basically, I want to loosen the f*ck up, but still push myself forward and not get re-stuck on yet another plateau.
Currently experiencing a strong case of paralysis by analysis.
If I find it extremely difficult now to measure progress, that’s probably because I’m a human being living in 2020 and no one knows what the hell is going on with anything. So, what I can do is think back and remember moments from my past — or at least what parts I can remember — and take comfort in a few simple truths.
At 42, I wake up every day — Tuesday, Saturday, birthday, work day, even the worst days — free of the guilt and regret that used to consume me. For all my physical imperfections, ongoing mental struggles, and uncertainty as to where I’m going, I know for sure that I don’t want to go back to where I’ve been — and I never have to, if I stay the course. On the great roller coaster of life, the highest highs of active addiction are a house of cards, and the lowest lows can literally put you in the ground. The in-between of early recovery might be uneventful, and not much to talk about, but it honestly never feels like a waste of life.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent birthday wishes. Your continued support humbles me and fills me with more gratitude than I can express. That said, I have about 20 thank you cards to write, so I’d better get moving. I wish you all the best of health and a very happy holiday weekend! 😘