It was 4-something in the morning on a Wednesday when I officially re-discovered the love.
I had trudged down to the basement for a workout, and instead of hitting the podcast app on my phone and filling the cold, dimly lit space with the familiar voices of Rick Wilson & Molly Jong-Fast, or Chip Somers & Veronica Valli, something drew me to the old stereo system in the corner, where my husband had hooked up my ancient iPod.
I reached out and toggled the wheel to my most sentimental playlist.
It’s called “JUKEBOX,” because once upon a time in a basement far away, my dad installed one and filled it with an eclectic selection of ’45 records. I used to spend hours down there, punching keys and singing along to Bruce Springsteen, Starship, The Spinners, The Zombies, The Hooters, this amazing Britpop band called Breathe…
I won’t give you a full nostalgic discography. The point is that at some point in my 20s, I rounded up a few digital renderings of those old jukebox tracks and preserved them on the iPod, and earlier this week, I made the monumental decision to bring them — to bring music, in general — back into my life.
I have always had a deep love for music. But when I first quit drinking, I couldn’t listen to it. Not at all.
This wasn’t, like, quickly skipping past that old song the boy you liked and broke your heart put on a mix tape way back when. This wasn’t avoiding certain tunes because they tugged a little too hard on your heartstrings. This was a total moratorium on all things melodic.
I mean, I suppose it was a post-breakup syndrome of sorts, because even the faintest whisper from a radio or speaker did immediately transport my mind back to a barstool, ballpark seat, or the lounge chair on my deck, where I kicked back on countless occasions with a tumbler of tequila and stared at the sky, serenaded by this indie rock hit or that grunge classic, believing intoxicated solitude was pure paradise. (Now playing: Radiohead’s “Bulletproof…I Wish I Was.”)
Hell, every song recorded after 1998 attached to some kind of alcohol association, and songs recorded before that reminded me of childhood, which made me want to break down and cry for different reasons, now that I was newly sober and feeling my feelings with excruciating intensity.
So, for my first year-and-change of sobriety, I could not bear to walk through, or even sit in, the minefield of emotion that music laid out for me. I had my hands full just trying to get up, get dressed, and type words on a computer for eight hours without falling apart.
And as with all the weirdness that’s emerged in my life since the booze went away, I’ve put a lot of thought into WTF was/is going on with this self-imposed music ban. And you know what? It’s fear! (Now playing: the transcendent Toad the Wet Sprocket album I proudly bought with babysitting money at the Sam Goody at Golf Mill mall.)
Turns out I’m terrified of experiencing joy. Happiness has always been my biggest trigger, prompting a self-destructive instinct I wield like a shield. I have to dull or even kill any positive emotions that pop up, my thinking goes, because if I let myself feel unbridled happiness, something is sure to come along and rip the rug out, and a lack of safety and security is just about the worst thing this anxious little girl can imagine! 😱
This anxious little girl is now 42 and still doesn’t really know how to handle feeling good without getting/being drunk.
Being drunk creates the beautiful illusion that happiness can last and won’t go *poof* just when you’re getting comfortable. (Now playing: Sia’s “Chandelier,” which many people think is a drinking anthem, but it’s really about hurting yourself in your desperation to avoid pain.)
That song is on my running mix, and indeed, I initially added it because it sounded upbeat. Inspiring. Then one morning, I actually heard what she was saying, and I ended up plodding along the canal path with tears streaming down my face.
“Party girls don’t get hurt…can’t feel anything; when will I learn?…I push it down, push it down…” 🎶
That’s the danger, so I usually keep my fitness playlists pretty tame (Now playing: Any Kenny Loggins song from an 80s movie), or, play it really safe, sticking to podcasts and audiobooks and leaning heavily on high-octane pre-workout powder to get my adrenaline pumping. I’m not one of those people who can work out in silence; hearing only my thoughts would be even worse than spilling tears.
It’s nice to think I might’ve reached a new level of emotional stability at 17 1/2 months sober, that I can go down to the gym, turn on the likes of “Tunnel of Love” and enjoy a walk down memory lane while pulling on the handle of a rowing machine.
It’s nice to think I didn’t just lose a major part of my life when I quit drinking, but I’ve since re-claimed parts of myself that I haven’t been in touch with for more than 20 years.
Frankly, it’s nice to think I might be lightening the #$&@ up. 🤣
“This house is haunted and the ride gets rough, you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above…” 🎶
I think Bruce is talking about compromise in a relationship, but this wouldn’t be a Jen blog if it didn’t attempt a clever thematic tie-in to wrap up. So here goes:
I rise above my issues a little bit higher every day that I don’t take a drink. I’ve gotten through plenty of rough parts already, and here I am, on Day 525, listening to music like a — dare I say? — normal person! 🥳Will I ever be able to fully live in the moment, experiencing the joy of what’s playing now without fearfully hitting the skip button to whatever’s next?
Well, life is like an ancient iPod you filled up in your 20s. You never know what the hell’s gonna pop up when you press PLAY.