sober lifestyle


Themed workouts are a big thing in the CrossFit world, and these workouts tend to be community events. So when the holidays rolled around, back when my husband and I belonged to local gyms, both communities offered opportunities to run around for an hour or two in reindeer antlers, socks splattered with Santas, etc., and shove your face full of food and booze…not necessarily in that order.

Hubby’s place was pretty laid back about it — they called it “Festivus” and strung lights on a PVC pipe, then stuck it in a stack of weight plates to represent Frank Costanza’s pole (see above pic) — and we showed up with gym bags filled with Mad Elf (see below pic), ready to sweat through a “12 Days of Christmas” circuit, but really prepared to party.

Some of us took the party portion of the day a bit more seriously than others. I mean, I’m not gonna lie: Working out and drinking were my top two hobbies for most of my adult life, so Festivus was always one of my favorite days of the year.

My gym, on the other hand, framed the holiday gathering as an in-house competition with heats and judges and prizes and the whole shebang. You didn’t have to sign up to compete; you could just go and watch. But that wasn’t my style.

You also didn’t have to show up like 🤢, brutally hung over from guzzling tequila the night before, but that was the norm for me back then. It’s funny to think, actually, that for the stretch of time between ages 35 and 41, I was in the best and worst shape of my life, simultaneously. The human body sure can handle a beating, can’t it?

I will never forget my experience in the…(*checks camera roll in phone*) 2017 holiday comp…when I felt the full impact of the beating I’d given my poor body. I was in the top heat with the best athletes in the gym, and we were doing wall balls — which, as a tall person, was supposed to be right in my wheelhouse — and I felt like I was moving underwater with a bag tied over my head. Soooo sluggish. Soooo nauseous. Soooo miserable.

I’ll just cut to the chase here. I did not perform anywhere close to my best at that event. Looking at my (extremely attractive) Instagram collage from that day, I’m shocked I was able to jump rope without puking. I’m shocked I was able to finish the event at all. My main goal the entire time was for everything to just be over — come to think of it, that was my attitude toward every CrossFit workout I ever did 🤔 — so I could take refuge in the bottle of Cuervo waiting in my bag.

I guess it would’ve been OK if alcoholism only hindered my performance in just-for-fun recreational events, or even everyday workouts that did not matter outside the bubble of one small suburban fitness facility. But over time, it became harder and harder to ignore the overall physical havoc my drinking habits were starting to wreak.

Take, for example, the swelling in my legs. It’s (thankfully) been more than a year since I experienced these types of symptoms — I’m 532 days sober today — but I’m still occasionally struck by memories. It’s like the universe sends me little helpful reminders of just how bad things used to be.

And yeah, it’s hard to forget how my legs swelled up all the time. You could press a finger into my thigh and leave a deep indentation. I would cross my legs while sitting at a desk working on something, and when I uncrossed them, the imprint on the other leg would last for like 10-15 minutes.

I would come home from a particularly boozy outing — which was pretty much any outing between ages 22 and 41, but I’m talking about, like, a baseball game where you sit somewhere drinking nonstop for five hours straight — and I’d get in the shower and notice my feet were like three times their normal size. 😧

As time went on, my lower belly began to look kind of puffy, and the puffiness didn’t seem to go away. And of course, I did notice my skin starting to take on a yellowish tinge, and my pores starting to perspire even while I was at rest, but it was definitely the swelling that caught my attention the most.

I now think the issue was “edema,” a buildup of fluid in body tissue that, according to the Mayo Clinic, can result from liver damage (hello!!), but I never saw a doctor about it, so I can’t be sure. I was pretty deep in denial for a really long time, so I would notice these strange physical changes and think things like, “Huh. That’s kind of gross. Wonder what’s up…” 🤔 and quickly reach for a distraction before my thoughts dug too deep. I remember being more alarmed about how the swelling looked, like it meant I was gaining weight, which was exponentially worse in my f*cked up mind than killing my major organs — maybe even killing myself. 🙄

This is the part of the blog when I talk about how much better things are today, now that I don’t drink. Well, I wish I could tell you I’ve made a complete 180, but I just underwent a certain invasive, exploratory medical procedure usually reserved for folks over 50 that would suggest otherwise. No idea how 20 years of binge-drinking — the last 5 filled mostly with straight hard liquor — contributed to my digestive issues. But it’s a pretty good bet that shit didn’t help.

Just think how much worse things could have become if I hadn’t stopped when I did.

I’m pretty fortunate, considering my sordid past. I don’t think I was ever physically addicted to alcohol. Like, I never got “the shakes” (DTs), and I was able to go cold turkey back in July 2019 without medical intervention, and for heaven’s sake, I somehow made it through CrossFit competitions with a pounding hangover…

Our bodies are so amazing, I sometimes think they do our brains a disservice.

Once, I was swapping war stories with someone I met in recovery, and when I told her how much I drank and that tequila was my drink of choice, she looked at me with something like admiration. “You’re a total badass to have made it through that!” she said.

Maybe she was right, but I actually think my “badass” body’s ability to keep functioning reasonably well, when I was basically poisoning it every day, kept me on the path of destruction a lot longer. I mean, those strange symptoms I described earlier were NOT the reason I decided to quit. My hand was forced by other side effects, such as soured family relationships and even thoughts of suicide.

It took all that. It took pushing my life to the brink of complete oblivion in order for my brain to shift.

Not so badass, that.

I’ll probably never be in “CrossFit shape” ever again, and that’s not because my body couldn’t handle the beating it would take to get there. It’s that I’m kind of, finally, over the whole beating myself up thing. My mind has changed. At 42 years old and nearly a year and a half into recovery, I’m taking a slightly different approach to physical activity than I did back in 2017, or really any point in the past two decades.

Basically, my approach is to do whatever makes me feel good on a given day and let that be enough. And, wonder of wonders, waking up each day without a hangover — and excess swelling and/or flop sweat — means that most anything I decide to do for fitness ends up feeling pretty good.

I started running again (peep my new custom kicks, a Christmas present from my in-laws. They match all my Cubs gear. 😍) I do yoga regularly — not that it’s made me much more flexible. I swing kettlebells and press dumbbells and occasionally even do pull-ups in my basement. I go for one or two walks every day, even in sub-20-degree temps that literally frost my hair, and during pre-dawn snowstorms on un-plowed paths where your feet sink with each step and it feels like you’re walking underwater…

It’s not so bad once you’ve removed the bag from your head. 😉

I’ll happily trade being in “badass” physical shape for maintaining a nice, peaceful, loving relationship between my mind and my body. And honestly, to take the mental leap from wanting to end your life to waking up, excited to get out and see the sunrise every day…what’s more badass than that?

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