Before I was the middle-aged woman in black Under Armour leggings walking through the neighborhood at all times of day, multiple times of day (doesn’t every suburban neighborhood have at least one of these?), I was the pre-teen in Lee jeans, happily roller skating up and down the block for hours on end, listening to music and stopping only when her mom stepped out the front door to call her in for supper.
Occasionally, I’d get a phone call from another kid asking if I wanted to “ride bikes,” or maybe play catch, but for the most part, my favorite childhood activity involved one pair of white Roller Derbies (with pastel stripes, as shown), and, of course, one double-decker Panasonic boom box with a stack of homemade mix tapes.
When outdoor conditions didn’t cooperate, I skated in my grandma’s basement. That place was the textbook grandma’s basement — both fascinating and spooky, dimly lit, smelling like plumbing and old stuff, packed with appliances and 1950/60s artifacts, like Alvin and the Chipmunks records, early-edition “Clue” and “Life” games, and my dad’s childhood train board that still worked and inspired many a made-up story in my head. (Come to think of it, everything back then inspired made-up stories in my head…)
The basement was not well-suited to serve as a makeshift roller rink, but I carved out enough of a clear path, winding my way around the tiled floor. Then, I literally carved up the tile on the floor with my skate wheels as I circled and circled, singing along to Tiffany and Madonna. I don’t remember Grandma being mad.
I do remember feeling so totally happy when I was free to move.
Maybe it was anxiety driving me, keeping me from ever sitting comfortably still, and fueling a constant desire to break away — to go my own way. I would eventually establish an identity playing team sports, but deep down, I didn’t want to have to perform for other people. Trying to be perfect was too much pressure, and fear of failure was too hauntingly painful to bear for very long. I relished any chance to go away, be alone and calm down by keeping active; skating became my go-to escape, long before I found alcohol.
You can, of course, combine drinking and skating. I’ve done it; see attached picture collage for proof. (That’s Korbel in my cup.)
It was early February 2019, five months before I got sober, and my husband took me pond skating in Northeastern PA for Valentine’s Day. We packed freshly sharpened skates, five layers of clothing apiece, and giant bottles of tequila and champagne. We stayed at an amazing VRBO at Lewis Lake, and even though temps that weekend hovered near 0, we spent full afternoons giddily gliding and spinning — and falling — all over the deserted frozen landscape.
Those were my drink-in-the-morning-because-who-the-hell-cares days, and being able to walk out our apartment door straight onto the lake after a romantic toast chased by a few Cuervo-and-seltzers, and indulge in my other favorite self-soothing ritual under a big, open winter sky made this the perfect getaway for an activity-addicted alcoholic.
If you’re waiting for a catastrophic injury or barf-o-rama story, sorry to disappoint. I remember feeling somewhat dizzy, even a little sleepy, and I came away with a few standard-issue bruises (there’s no Zamboni in the wild; frozen lakes are bumpy, full of ice-fishing holes and often dusted with snowdrifts), but I suffered no lost teeth or stomach contents. I went back to work on Monday wearing heels.
I think back on those days now, not so much with regret, but more bewilderment. Why did I feel like booze was a necessary accessory to the purely blissful childhood wonder of a fresh-air free skate? Similarly, why was I always four or five drinks in when I felt compelled to summon my hubby outside for a stroll, or to toss around the pigskin or softball?
Why did I ever feel compelled to take video of us performing this activity?
That was from our 2018 family trip to Boston (you can hear local sports radio playing in the background), in the yard of an airBNB that I made sure was stocked with spirits — which I didn’t intend to share. I looked reasonably fit and put-together, but that year was one big, hazy, agonizing slide toward rock bottom. It was not uncommon for me to get liquored up and post something like the above on my Instagram feed and not have any logical explanation as to why.
You could argue there is never really any logical explanation for posting anything on social media. These days, I only share blog links and sky pics taken on twice-daily walks in my naturey neighborhood. It’s quite an improvement, for an all-or-nothing addict to actively practice some moderation.
Activity is again my addiction du jour. I find it essential, but not the least bit unhealthy. In contrast to booze, or obsessive Instagramming, physical activity spikes feelings of pleasure without sabotaging long-term happiness. It’s still an escape, at times, and occasionally a crutch in moments of discomfort — I still have far to go on my rather-be-alone issues — but in my first 404 days sans alcohol, perpetual motion has absolutely kept me sober and sane. Case closed.
…Should I up the ante and ask for rollerblades for Christmas? 🤔😂
Funny that this new mood stabilizer I’m taking lists “restlessness” as a side effect. Not so funny: this apparently means I now wake up at 2 AM, rather than 4, thirsty for coffee and raring to go.
Incidentally, if your suburban neighborhood has walkers out before dawn, please be careful not to hit them with your cars.