sober lifestyle


In a former life, my hobby was signing up for fitness competitions and paying to get my ass kicked — and my nerves rattled — for entire Saturdays, from pre-dawn until whenever the three, four, five workouts were complete, and I got knocked out of the running for the coveted plastic trophy/tin medal/commemorative T-shirt/$5-off Hylete coupon, and I’d fully drained the 12-pack of hard ciders I packed with my CrossFit gear.

Apart from the drinking, I honestly hated every second of those comps. I hated the whole day. It was awful to wake up scared, feeling immense pressure and dreading what I had to do — what I’d chosen to do — and wishing I could just choose not to do it, just change my mind, even if that made me a weakling or a coward.

It’s been a long time since I felt that particular kind of unpleasant anxiety. I’m feeling it now.

Tomorrow, I’m going to wake up and go get a tattoo, all by myself.

The last time I did this, four years ago, I white-knuckle-death-gripped my husband’s hand for 45 minutes straight as Sue, my tattoo artist, branded my shoulder with a simple, monochromatic ‘W’ flag in honor of the Cubs’ historic World Series victory. I think I branded Hubby in the process.

Whether he liked it or not, I fully expected a repeat performance when I scheduled this appointment, also with Sue, to get a much more-intricate (and time-consuming) weirwood tree on my tricep. It’s a belated one-year sober “present,” a symbol of the nature-based (ecocentric?) spirituality I’ve started to cultivate since I quit drinking in the summer of 2019.

But…hello, Jen! COVID! It somehow didn’t occur to me that Sue’s shop would have a no-guests policy, and I harbored a false sense of security for about two weeks before I woke up to reality.

And here we are. Again. Face to face with fear. Heart rate rising. Palms sweating. Brain second-guessing. Urge to run away building…

Despite loving the look of body art, I’ve always had an irrational fear of needles. But then again, what unpredictable situation haven’t I feared, irrationally? I used to be nervous every time I went to the gym, competition or no, and every time I went out on a story in 20 years as a journalist. I did those things sober, but not without insanity, and I still don’t understand why it never seemed to get easier. Why didn’t experience ever bank me some bravery? Why did my Fortitude Meter start back at 0 every time a new challenge arose?

Hell, I was in my mid-30s thinking I needed two shots of tequila just to venture out for lunch with a friend, or attend a niece/nephew’s sporting event. By 41, it took an entire liter bottle to get through Christmas with the family. I mean, that is one of the most predictable situations there is — my mom still hangs our stockings from the 70s — and I still couldn’t conjure up the courage, sans chemicals, to cope.

It was there, no doubt. It was in me. We all have the courage to do what needs to be done. Why we lose track of it so easily, or forget how to harness it, or refuse to get out of the way and have a little faith, I surely don’t know.

As you know, I’m sober now. 15 months. 460 days, as of today, to be exact. I’ve stayed on track through a job change and a deadly pandemic, in a watershed election year, while weathering the myriad mental, physical and hormonal changes that come with middle age. I’m no perimenopausal superhero, but that takes some kind of fortitude. Recovering addicts might be lots of things, but we’re certainly not weaklings or cowards!

After living through the hard-knock life of addiction, you’d think those callouses would’ve formed by now, and I’d be tough and strong and confident in all my affairs, and I wouldn’t need, like, a teddy bear and a blankie to undergo a procedure that millions of people sit through, and live to tell about, every day. A procedure (why am I making this sound like a colonoscopy?) that I chose to schedule.


Did I just sit here and whine at you for an hour, with no concrete point to make? I’m sorry. Just trying to work out these jitters — as if they won’t immediately regenerate, like hacked-off Terminator limbs, or revive, like a field full of slain White Walkers summoned back from the dead by the Night King.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve become a bit of a “Game of Thrones” geek in my old age. Matter of fact, in the absence of Hubby’s hand, my security blanket for Saturday’s tattoo sesh will be “A Clash of Kings” on audiobook. And if you think that’s a riveting revelation, come back Sunday, and I’ll tell you all about the significance of the sacred “godswood” tree that I faced such difficulty, adversity AND danger to get stamped on my arm.

That is, if it doesn’t hurt too much to type. 🤞🏻💉👶🏼😜

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