Sunday was the first time in a long time that I sat down and intentionally watched sports. It was a “safe” endeavor, given my complete lack of skin in the Eagles-Washington game — which, come to think of it, lacked “skin” altogether, now that the home team has dropped its controversial nickname.
“Safe” is all I do these days, now that I’m sober.
Of course, the second that game was decided, the sports gods LOLed at my snugness (and smugness), and FOX switched to the final seconds of Bears-Lions. Detroit had the ball down 4, with favorable field position and plenty of time to snag the winning score. Then, before I could change the channel in a panic, they had it — no, they dropped it! — and Matthew Stafford was launching one more last-ditch pass…😱
This was precisely the type of emotionally-charged, unpredictable situation I have been strenuously trying to avoid for the past 14 1/2 months.
It’s almost — no, it’s exactly — like I don’t want to feel things I can no longer numb with a drink. 🤔
Sounds nuts, but that, my friends, is the amazing power of the human instinct to self-protect. It’s certainly my strongest instinct. Once I shed my alcoholic shell, I switched into survival mode so subtly and unconsciously that I scarcely even realized I was eating the exact same meals three times a day, every single day, the exact same snacks in between, and finishing it all off with a smoothie/chamomile tea/melatonin bedtime ritual that only veered off its strict clockwork course on Thursdays, when I attend my weekly recovery meeting.
I notice it now, but it didn’t immediately occur to me that I was reaching for a blanket or jacket or handbag, or whatever I could grab, to cover my core whenever I sat down somewhere. I feel an innate need for a shield, against…what?
Am I so fragile without alcoholic armor that I can’t handle even the possibility of my favorite team losing, or someone coming near me, or really seeing me, or something — anything — going wrong? Are all the fears I drank to escape still so exposed and raw that I crave a feeling of certainty, however I can create it?
I think this self-deprecating selfie says it all.
That was actually taken around Christmastime, but it doesn’t seem like much has changed in the 8 months since. I now have a new job that throws unexpected challenges my way every single day, and despite my efforts to plan ahead and impose some structure on my surroundings, I frequently find myself scrambling to find footing and feeling like I’m failing. In that sense, work is a microcosm of the world around us. The only certainty in 2020 is uncertainty, and truth be told, it is taking all the weapons in my 12-step arsenal — plus some mental health meds — to keep my head on straight.
I think this might explain why, at the end of the day, I naturally gravitate to the same old non-threatening TV shows over and over. I find security in a complete lack of suspense; knowing the ending helps steady my shakiness. It’s gotten to the point where I finally started reading “A Song of Ice & Fire” to “change things up,” after I caught myself reciting “Game of Thrones” lines out loud, in sync with my favorite scenes. (Yes, even beheadings can be “non-threatening” after you’ve watched them play out 35 times.)
You can probably surmise how fun it’s been for my husband to live with me, of late. 🙃
Sports fandom is a form of insanity: making the same emotional over-investment in events you can’t control, time and time again, and allowing your mood to hinge on the result.
I lived most of my life at the far end of the insanity spectrum, getting to the point where I had to watch Chicago sports alone, but I found my perfect counterpoint when I met my hubby. He’s an even-tempered Cubs fan (who also likes the Eagles 🤷🏼♀️), and he served as a stabilizing force, there to hold my hand through the post-2003 rebuild, all the way to a tense, rainy night in Cleveland — the height of sports fan insanity 🤯 — that ended when I jumped awkwardly into his arms as Anthony Rizzo’s arms shot up in celebration of the final out, and cried tears of joy.
His stability saved my ass from drowning in a bottle, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Maybe the World Series experience burned me out a bit, or maybe I had too many other issues going on after I stopped covering sports for a living two years ago. Whatever the reason, around this time in 2018, I pretty much forfeited my die-hard fan card for self-preservation purposes. I didn’t actively ignore the exploits of my favorite teams. I just pushed them way down the priority list. And really, it makes sense. When you’re looking for a job, trying to quit drinking and working to save your marriage, balls and strikes and “double doinks” seem somewhat inconsequential.
I didn’t have it in me to handle the volatility of rock-bottom alcoholism and the resulting marital strife, in the midst of a career change, all while riding the never-ending Cubs/Bears/Northwestern football roller coaster. If I lumped any more emotional instability on top of my house of cards, my whole life was bound to blow over. 🌬
My husband, as I said, is a naturally balanced kind of guy, so not only can he sit still and enjoy a live sporting event without freaking the 🤬 out, he also manages to stay calm in the midst of chaos and act like a mature, responsible adult when the situation dictates.
The “situation” of being married to me was pretty chaotic for a good four to five years, and in 2018, it all came to a head. I was at the point in my drinking problem where nothing mattered but my insatiable, selfish appetites, and I figured if my need for validation led to destruction…oh well, I was prepared to go down alone.
Of course, that’s not how it works in a partnership. Your spouse lives in the house, too.
I’ve never doubted that my husband loves me — not since our early days downing Bud Light ponies and watching out-of-market baseball on MLB Extra Innings. I’m fortunate like that; my parents created the same kind of safe, secure environment for us kids growing up, so I’ve always known what it is to be loved unconditionally.
The thing about addiction is, you take that certainty for granted. You just assume that love will endure, no matter what you do. Or, in your more delusional moments, you think you don’t even need love…you just need your drug, and whatever/whoever it is that helps you get “high.”
So, it might not be a complete picnic living with me here in 2020, as my unwieldy post-alcohol neuroses continue to work themselves out, and I cling (far too) tightly to all things familiar. My husband sees me, up close, in all my skittish, strictly-structured sober insanity, so certain of my routines he never needs to check the clock.
At the same time, I know he picks up on signs of progress. The tiny, subtle changes that no one else can see — sometimes, not even me. The overt ways I show him my commitment to a “living amends,” from the chores around the house to the breakthrough therapy sessions and sponsor-led step work. The differences in my demeanor as I become more “me” every day.
For some strange reason, he likes that girl. And the Eagles. 🤷🏼♀️🤷🏼♀️
I can’t expect him to forget the past, or how I trapped him in my house of cards for so long. There’s a certain deep-seated uncertainty that addiction brings to the great unpredictable drama of life. I’d love to make, and receive, guarantees that everything is going to be OK from now on. Alas, all I can do is own my role, to keep walking this path of recovery, steadily and purposefully, so that whether I’m buried in blankets and/or beholding Ned Stark’s beheading, AGAIN, I am acting as a (somewhat) mature adult who can be counted on to get up, to show up, whenever the situation dictates.
The one guarantee I can make today is, I’ll never take the certainty of REAL love for granted, ever again.