sober lifestyle

Milestone

The wind always blows straight into your face on the far side of the track at Honesdale High School, and what I can best describe as unwelcome resistance on a warm day becomes, in the winter, a good reason to stay in bed.

When I pulled up to the snow-swept track on the morning after Christmas, the car’s built-in thermostat read 14 degrees.

I had driven up there reluctantly, and groggily, leaving my husband cozy and warm under the covers in the guest room of his parents’ house. It was nearly 8 AM, and the sun was up, making this an unusually late start for me; however, without my usual high-octane pre-workout drink (I forgot to pack it) and a belly that still felt full of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, apple pie and “moose tracks” ice cream (I took the holiday off from my gluten-free diet), it had taken quite a bit of self-coaxing — maybe more like self-flagellation — to get up, get bundled up, and get my ass out the door.

My preferred form of exercise these days is running, and although conditions never seem 100% ideal, and sometimes seem downright hostile, I’ve managed to make a habit of it.

“It” amounts to around 20-30 minutes of movement, three or four times a week, and if you asked me how far I go on a typical day, I could only venture a rough guess. It’s not quite enough to consider myself “a runner,” or to make a significant dent in my level of fitness, or even to burn off all the calories I’ve consumed over the course of this celebratory (read: incredibly lazy) month.

But “it” is something. And once I clear that initial motivational hurdle and start moving, it’s something I always enjoy. Fresh air is life-affirming, even when it’s so cold it numbs your face, and any time spent out in nature feels like sweet freedom, when you’ve spent the bulk of your year cooped up in the same eight-room townhouse.

It also helps to have sweet new custom Nikes, a Christmas gift from my in-laws, and a Playlist Time Machine filled with selections from 80s movie soundtracks (Top Gun, Footloose, Back To The Future), and the Niles West High School varsity volleyball warmup mix circa 1996 (Van Halen, U2, Survivor, Alan Parsons Project)…

Is this a blog post about running? Well, if it wasn’t for running, I’d have nothing to write about this week. It’s literally all I’ve done in my 10-day holiday break from work, other than cozy up in this little townhouse and sleep, eat, and watch HBO Max.

(In case you’re curious, I give “Wonder Woman 1984” a SPLAT, in Rotten Tomatoes terms, and in alcoholic terms, I give “The Flight Attendant” a TRIGGER WARNING — although I did enjoy playing Spot-The-Minor-“Game of Thrones”- Character in both cases: Oberyn Martell! 🤩 Daario Naharis! 😍)

I was especially glad to get out and run this past Monday morning. I usually start the week wracked with anxiety over my unstable job and can barely bring myself to go through the motions of living room yoga. This time, motivated by my latest sober milestone — a year and a half alcohol-free, as of Dec. 27 — I rose with the sun and logged a few miles on the Delaware Canal towpath in Yardley.

Speaking of logs, I had to crawl under a fallen tree near the entry point of the trail and splash over a flooded dam to reach my usual stopping point…but at least it wasn’t too cold. At least I didn’t have a river of snot frozen to my face when I got in the car to come home. 😳

The elation I expressed on Twitter upon completion of the day’s activity — I went right back to my favorite spot on the couch the second I finished showering — was genuine. There was a beautiful bouquet from my husband on the end table, and several thumb-scrolls of well-wishes in my notifications as I settled in for a busy day of binge-watching. How wonderful!

And yet, something still seemed amiss.

You see, we were supposed to be spending this time — the last week of 2020, after our initial Christmas stop in Honesdale — lounging lazily on couches in Chicago. We were supposed to be visiting my family. While the initial decision to cancel our plans seemed like a no-brainer (COVID, obviously), the reality of not being there with my parents, sisters, aunts, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephew for all the beloved holiday traditions hit a little harder than I bargained for.

All week, I’ve been fighting feelings of emptiness, melancholy and malaise, when I truly — maybe naively — expected bliss and joy. To my surprise, I broke down crying when I opened Instagram the other day and saw a picture of the family enjoying the holiday light show at their local Botanic Gardens. We willingly gave up our tickets a month ago, and here I was, feeling like a little left-out kid who wasn’t invited to the party. 😢

I haven’t been in recovery long enough to know why these big sober milestones can bring such mixed emotions, but that’s certainly been my experience. What you’d think would be a joyous occasion can seem anticlimactic, no matter how colorful a circle you draw on the calendar or how many “likes” you get on social media or how big a bundle of flowers your husband buys you.

It makes sense, I suppose, when you arrive at 18 months sober amid holiday homesickness, on top of pandemic-induced isolation and career-related stress that, no matter how hard you try to stuff it down, keeps popping up at random without warning. But I also recall feeling strangely underwhemed back in July when I hit a year, wondering “now what?” as I sat down and struggled with what the hell to say in this space. I remember it took me an entire day of writing, deleting, re-writing, re-deleting, and staring at a blinking cursor before I was able to put my thoughts into words.

Come to think of it, I actually was visiting my family at that time, and while everyone else was horsing around in the yard, I was over in a hammock under a tree, wracking my brain for nuggets of wisdom.

I put pressure on myself to impart some wisdom in every blog entry.

How’s that working out for me so far? 🤦🏼‍♀️

I think the wisest thing I can say to you right now is “thank you.” Thank you all so much. 🥰 I still have as many flashes of confusion as I do moments of clarity, but I know this: Weathering the emotional ups and downs of these tumultuous times without turning to alcohol for temporary relief has been a whole lot easier, with fresh air, good music, cool shoes, a (mostly) clear running trail, and your life-affirming support providing such an amazing, genuine — and all-natural — high.

1 thought on “Milestone”

  1. I’m so very happy for you Jen. Despite your anxieties and triggers you encounter, you still remain sober. No excuses for you! It works if you work it! Keep going!

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