Sitting in one of my very first recovery meetings last summer, I heard people talk about all the mysterious injuries they would wake up with after a night of heavy drinking — unexplained bumps and bruises, dried blood caked here or there, broken digits and the like — and I thought to myself, “Not me! I never hurt myself while drunk!”
Many months later, WHAM! The memory burst into my brain, like a 160-pound human body from a higher row, suddenly toppling on the backs of unsuspecting concertgoers, then slamming into the hard stone amphitheater stairs at their feet.
In case you hadn’t guessed, the uninvited crowd surfer in that scenario was me, six summers ago, “celebrating” my wedding anniversary at the Interpol show at Penn’s Landing after pounding sakis at my hubby’s and my favorite sushi restaurant, then guzzling who-knows-how-many $12 hard ciders from vendors at the venue.
I’ve attached a “BEFORE” photo from that night. Didn’t think you’d keep reading if I chose the “AFTER.”
My shins ended up looking like ground meat after my unfortunate booze-fueled tumbling act, and the (untreated) trauma to my lower extremities was so severe I basically crawled through our subsequent Hawaiian vacation — where, as I’ve recounted in previous posts, I went on to take several more spills while soused. I couldn’t walk normally for like a month. I nearly had to pull out of a half marathon that November.
But no, I never got injured in the throes of alcoholism! 🙄
Why am I launching into another gnarly drunkalog at 18 1/2 months sober? Well, I’ve had a really rough week at work, and since employment issues are by far my biggest trigger — so closely tied, are they, to feelings of worthlessness, and the haunting fear that life has no meaning — my subconscious has been in hyperdrive, churning up drunk dreams and spitting out random cringe-worthy memories of when I used to use alcohol as both a band-aid and a blindfold.
Yeah, it’s safe to say I’ve been yearning for that old escape hatch. The kind of discomfort I’ve been feeling cuts deep. It’s mightier than anxiety meds, almost strong enough to ruin a runner’s high.
Fortunately, my sobriety is strong, too. It’s kind of like the scars on my once-battered shins. So much healing has occurred that the pain of the past no longer festers, no longer screams for attention, but at the same time, it’s still there. It’s still noticeable enough to remind me: You were in a really bad way, and you don’t want to go back.
These embarrassing memories and nightmares are like little miracles, when you really think about it. They keep me grateful, honest and on track.
So, I’m not in danger of, like, driving to the liquor store over my latest professional crisis. I’m just in a perpetual state of “make these uncomfortable negative emotions STOP!”
And that makes me think about drinking. I remember how it fixed everything, temporarily, in the moment, and I remember how much I loved that.
But time in recovery restores at least some of your sanity. You see things how they really are — for better and for worse. You become a master of “playing the tape forward,” and recall, sometimes out of nowhere, every time that first drink turned into scenes like this:
That was me at a depressing sports bar in an Atlantic City casino — or, maybe it wasn’t fully the bar’s fault; I spent all of 2018 feeling perpetually depressed — and the forced frown was because the Bears had just lost to the Patriots on two or three of the 400 TV screens surrounding us. At the same time, that hangdog expression nicely sums up the entire trip.
I drank an unfathomable amount of tequila, ate like a pound of gummy goo from a bulk candy shop in the Tropicana complex, and on our final day in town, I could barely make it through a leisurely stroll down the boardwalk, at noon, in unseasonably warm weather.
Sober Me would have gone for a sunrise run and felt on top of the world. Today, I’m even thinking of training for another half marathon, breaking a half-decade hiatus from the “sport.”
Speaking of which, it’s almost light out as I write this, and I’ve been lying on the couch for two hours in my running clothes. So I think you might be in luck; I’m almost done with this warmup jog down Drunk Jen memory lane.
Like I said, it’s been a real struggle this week, consciously and subconsciously, and I can’t really go into why in this public space. Through all the intense anxiety and the recurring drunk dreams (wonder why I’m always getting into car wrecks, in white pickup trucks, no less 🤔), through moments of doubt and longing for that easy escape, I can always fall back on gratitude.
Certain life circumstances might seem bad right now, but everything else in my life is so much better than it used to be, all because I am sober.
I might have no idea what the hell I’m going to do in the future, and “the future” might be a lot closer than I bargained for, but I never have to let my painful past suck me back in. I might fail if I keep moving forward on this path, but if I give in and turn around, failure is a near-certainty.
And luckily, so far, no negative emotion I’ve ever felt has been enough to kill a runner’s high.
Pulled hamstrings, however…
I’d better get up off this couch now, and stretch before I go. 😫 Unfortunately, the absence of alcoholic foolishness does not make one injury-exempt.