I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since I moved away, back in the year 2000, but on one relatively recent visit to my parents’ house in suburban Chicago, I snapped the above pic — of another pic that hangs in their basement with a bunch of framed sports memorabilia.
My high school softball glory days aren’t really relevant right now; I post this to call attention to my jersey number.
I always felt a special affinity for 17.
So, having made it through that many months of sobriety (510 days as of today), I’m struggling to come up with anything wise to say, because thinking about that number immediately sends my brain into a Mark Grace rabbit hole.
He was my favorite Cub growing up, which made me just like every other female in about three Midwestern states — and any females elsewhere whose homes got WGN — but the sex appeal wasn’t what really mattered to me. The important thing was that Mark Grace was a Gold Glove first baseman and a .300 hitter
who was really cute, and he was basically the captain of my team throughout my teens. He inspired what we all know is a HUGE life decision for a young girl: what number to wear on her back during athletic endeavors.
Seventeen was my number in softball and volleyball. Basketball always pissed me off because you couldn’t go above “5,” to accommodate the refs’ limited digits, and I wasn’t good enough to get the coveted “23,” so I don’t even remember what uni I wore while throwing my body around the JV courts of the Central Suburban League for a short spell in the early 90s. …
OK, historical archives, if you say so 🧐…35.
Yikes; what a tangent! It’s time to rein this in before I get carried away and start reminiscing about “The Great Somersault Incident of 1993,” and other sporting bloopers from the Book of Jen, instead of discussing the real issue at hand.
I mean, doing four forward rolls on a wooden floor in a single basketball game (I was afraid to lay out for loose balls, and rolling head over heels was just my natural instinct 🤷🏼♀️) is notable, particularly when it gets the crowd cheering “DO ANOTHER FLIP!” over and over 🤣, but I am much prouder of my most recent accomplishment.
In the midst of 2020 insanity, I made it through my second Thanksgiving without alcohol!
Two might be the real number of note.
The holidays are a hard time for a lot of people, pandemic or no pandemic, addiction or no addiction. People in recovery face their own special struggle, staring down a firing squad of triggers and putting their arsenal of coping tools to the ultimate test.
For me, any opportunity to slow down and relax was always prime drinking time, whether it was a holiday or a random day off from work. Slowing down forced me to sit still, to take stock, to think, and having to be around other people at the same time made all of the above even more unbearable. Alcohol was armor, a security blanket that I couldn’t ever leave home — or even stay home — without.
So, as you might expect, memories of past pratfalls on the basketball court have nothing on my past drunken holiday escapades. Thanksgiving Eve 2018, for example? When I supposedly dropped and did pushups in the middle of a bar but don’t remember a thing, including how I got myself home? I mean, I guess that wraps up my low points in both sports and life, all in one facepalm-inducing anecdote. 🤦🏼♀️
Speaking of cringe-y stuff, this popped up as my Facebook Memory the other day:
Honestly, though, that kind of nonsense is my only memory of recent Thanksgiving celebrations with my husband’s parents in the Poconos (where that photo was taken): lines of beer bottles, cider bottles, tequila bottles, then fade to black. I also have some vague, general recollections of my mother-in-law’s great cooking…and baking. I wish I didn’t recall bingeing on all those desserts. None of them jived with my doctor-prescribed gluten-free diet, but by the time they appeared on the table, I was so drunk I didn’t care about any consequences.
Nowadays, while I do miss homemade apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, it makes me queasy to even think about wheat beer. 🤢 Blue Moon used to 🤬 me up, like in a “do I have the stomach flu and the swine flu all at once?” kind of way. But I was so desperate to escape from reality that I would guzzle anything — even, apparently, half of an overpriced six-pack my husband bought for himself, and that I was allergic to.
Shit I did in public back then was bad, you bet. My bigger regret, though, is that I acted so childishly and selfishly around my new extended family. Three states away from my roots, and drifting farther from my true center with each passing year, they were a port in the gathering storm. They welcomed me in and helped make Pennsylvania feel like home.
But I was too wrapped up in how I felt and what I wanted, to consider how my drinking might affect my in-laws and their holiday experiences. Hubby’s parents didn’t even drink, and here I was, arriving at their house with a handle of tequila to get me through a 36-hour visit. Then, I spent all of that time, either stuffing my face or completely gone.
Flash forward to Thursday’s masked-up family gathering at my sister-in-law’s house in Blue Bell. Am I a lot more pleasant to be around now that I’ve switched from Jose Cuervo to San Pellegrino? (*pulls on shirt collar*) Well, I am present. I am awake. I am…not eating all the desserts; in fact, this year I held off on the old GI-tract-killers and waited until I got home to my standard fruit smoothie, which I enjoyed before logging on to my weekly recovery meeting. …
…and announcing the arrival of another anniversary.
One, two, 17 months, it never gets old. I’m doing this sober thing, you guys. I’m really doing it! 💪🏻
Thankful isn’t a strong enough word.
Did I just bore you to tears by switching gears from teenage athletic/adult alcoholic blooper reels to mundane recovery milestones? Would you like to talk more about Mark Grace?
OK, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but when I was a summer sportswriting intern at the Daily Herald newspaper and they sent me to cover a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, I had to go into the home locker room afterward and (try not to) see my childhood idol standing by his locker wearing nothing but a cigarette. 😳
Add that gem to the Book of Jen’s cringe-iest chapter, because I’m pretty sure I panicked and ran out of the locker room without getting any quotes.
I do NOT miss those awkward situations. No, sir! Clearly, I was never meant to be a professional reporter, which is basically one big nonstop awkward situation until they lay you off.
Well, y’all, hard to believe we got all those crazy tangents from a simple study of the number 17. But then again, if you know me, it’s pretty much par for the course. Stream-of-consciousness storytelling is coded into my DNA.
Thank you — if you made it this far — for coming along on this weird, wild, winding recovery journey. I hope your holiday was safe and happy, filled with only harmless, painless bloopers that won’t inspire too much head-smacking when Facebook reminds you of them 9 years down the road. 😂