Each morning sky I witness while out on foot in my neighborhood is unique and beautiful in its own way. But after enough mornings wandering the same streets and pathways, adding photo after photo to the Instagram feed, everything kind of starts to look the same.
Each hashmark I make on my basement whiteboard to record another day of sobriety is its own great accomplishment. But more than a year spent performing a ritual tends to lessen its luster.
I actually had to cross-reference the board with the calendar this week, because I absentmindedly missed a few days and fell behind in my tally. A few minutes of calculating cleared up the confusion, and I know for a fact I’ll have 15 months of sobriety as of this coming Monday. It’s clear, though, that the novelty of this mark-a-day tradition — which once had me bounding down the stairs like a kid on Christmas — has officially worn off.
It’s a good thing I’ll be celebrating my “anniversary” by speaking (in person! 🤭) at a 12-step meeting in a nearby town. When your own recovery process has started to bore you, it’s time to ramp things up or the whole deal is bound to break down.
Sobriety is kind of like life, you know? It gets so freaking monotonous — like, to the point that it physically hurts — and to avoid staring into an empty void wondering about the point of it all, you have to invent some excitement.
You might actually physically hurt yourself just to feel more alive.
If this post seems to be taking a dark turn in a hurry…I mean, I’m always up for a good existential chat, but I really just want to talk about this new tattoo I’m getting.
In two weeks, I’ll attempt to stifle a lifelong fear of needles and spend 2 hours trapped on a table with a vibrating piece of metal digging in my skin, just so I can deal with the “regularness of life,” as Christopher Moltisanti so perfectly put it on “The Sopranos.”
Technically, it’s so I can have an iconic “Game of Thrones” weirwood tree stamped permanently on my right arm in a celebration of spiritual growth. (I’m an HBO-phile, in addition to a needle-phobe.)
I’ll be happy to bloviate on the deep personal significance of this symbol in another post…if I survive the tatt session. 😰
Seriously, though, the crazy shit we do for excitement! We pierce and ink our bodies, ride roller coasters, go sky diving or bungee jumping or zip lining (that’s a triple nope over here, BTW, and I won’t even do the big-drop coasters, either 😱), scream our heads off at sporting events, drive way too fast, chase after the wrong men/women, ingest deadly amounts of poisonous substances…
I found myself missing my substance last weekend as I walked through the park in a winter coat and hat and observed hints of red and orange creeping into the leaves of the trees. Fall is by far my favorite season, and it’s always been hard for me to feel feelings of happiness without immediately feeling feelings of impending doom, and…well, it’s a whole thing; kinda hard to explain.
Drinking away the fall weekends used to help me cope.
Alcohol was liquid excitement for me, a magic potion that could help me transcend the uncomfortable dullness of a regular day or fill the uneventful hours of a weekend or alleviate the annoying anxiety of social interactions. An easy way for an acrophobic scaredy-cat to fly without ever leaving the ground. It softened the sharp sting of reality, and while it didn’t fill the empty void I couldn’t bear to contemplate for very long, drinking was the best way I’d ever found to stop worrying about it for a while.
There’s something about this time of year that pushes my buttons — in both a good way and a bad way. God help me when I start smelling smoke from fireplaces wafting through the air…trigger city! I love that smell.
Recovery teaches you to handle triggers — the emptiness and excitement alike — by cultivating a spiritual side. These days, I have a bunch of tools I’m supposed to turn to in those uncomfortable moments when the abyss beckons and it hurts to look, and I start missing the “liquid excitement” that I used to love more than life, and in return, nearly destroyed me.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but one of those coping tools is not supposed to be food.
No, you’re supposed to engage in soul-nurturing “activities” like meditation, which means “sit and do nothing without reaching for an escape hatch,” and NOT “sit and listen to a podcast while drinking coffee and munching on a protein bar and checking work email on your phone.” You’re also taught to forge connections: to a higher power (I’ve chosen the Old Gods over the New 😉), and to other human beings who might understand your special brand of insanity.
(*Texting*) “Hey it’s Jen. Just checking in…feeling like it’s all a big nothing again. NBD. Hope your weekend is 🔥!”
Sometimes, even the simple act of texting can feel like a trigger.
I have a long way to go before I’m a balanced, well-adjusted sober person. It helps me keep going when I have things to look forward to, such as the brand new custom running shoes I bought myself for the 14-month milestone, complete with a personalized message on the tongue. Which wolf wins?…
And, of course, there’s this tattoo I’ve been thinking about since December 2016, when I got my first: the ‘W’ flag, in honor of the Cubs’ historic World Series victory. Why is now the right time for #2? It might not be. …but it’s too late. The deposit is paid! 💉💉💉
Oh 🤬. What have I done?!?
It’s probably better for my overall sober health to find my “excitement” in public speaking engagements where you tell a bunch of strangers the goriest details and most embarrassing moments (well, most of them 😬) of your life. It’s certainly a blessing to be offered that chance.
So, on Monday, I’m going to forego my regular, run-of-the-mill lunchtime walk and travel outside my comfort zone to celebrate an extraordinary milestone. I’m going to break up the monotony of one-day-at-a-time recovery by sharing with kindred spirits some of the amazing joys of living sober that I sometimes take for granted.
Here’s one: Ya girl just successfully submitted her application for grad school and is one baby step closer to a fulfilling future that she never even dreamed of 447 days ago.
Talk about something to look forward to.
Now, I get to worry about whether or not I get accepted to the program!! How exciting!! 😉