sober lifestyle

Construction

My grandfather was a carpenter who built single-family homes for a living, then transitioned to making handcrafted furniture — like my little sister’s rocking chair, shown above — and whittling knick knacks later in life.

When I think about him now, almost 25 years after he passed away, I instantly remember his fingernails.

They were permanently stained. They always looked dirty. When we would go up to visit my grandparents at their farm in Wisconsin, and Grandpa would come in from his workshop and wash his hands for dinner, he would scrub them with the little brush my grandma bought from the Avon lady and kept by the kitchen sink. But I could still see a thin black line under those nails when he sat down at the table.

I’d stare at Grandpa’s weathered fingers, my little kid brain straining to imagine how much hard work it would take to brand the body like that. I knew he’d renovated my parents’ house back in Illinois, and built the farmhouse we were sitting in — hell, I pretty much assumed he built every house everywhere — and it amazed me that a person could make an entire beautiful building with his bare hands.

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Confidence

Covering one of my first stories as a one-woman videography band: the opening of Cole & Heidi Hamels’ charity headquarters on Philly’s Main Line. I ended up doing that video reporting job for six years (2012-2018)…and eventually learned to actually look at the camera. 🙈

There are dense clumps of cobwebs stretched across my memory banks, particularly in the pre-2019 era, so I can’t recall the exact details of the day when I officially became a video reporter.

In my head, it went something like this:

“We’re shutting down phillyBurbs.com [where you’ve worked as an online content writer for the past four years]; either take this camcorder and go shoot high school sports stories [which you’ve never, ever, ever done before] for the newspaper’s revamped website, or…seeya!”

I took the camcorder. That was 2012, and, by my calculations, it marked Major Life Change #4 for a young print journalism major from suburban Chicago.

Today, I’m on the threshold of #8.

Does that mean I have only one life left? 🙀

If everything goes according to plan (🤞🏻🤞🏻) that’s all I will need to reach my ultimate goal.

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Change

I woke up this morning with heart pounding, my body finally catching up to the realities my brain had begun processing over the previous 24 hours.

What the $&@% did I get myself into?!?

No, I did not relapse. But it’s something almost as terrifying.

I received an offer letter for the marketing job that I applied for on a whim back in February and went through an emotional roller coaster of four interviews and a writing test to pursue…and I agreed to accept the position.

😳😳😳😳

Yeah. So, April 2021 is only one day old as I sit down to write this, and already it’s one of the biggest months of my life.

Within the next few weeks, I will turn 43, leave one job where I work remotely to start another where I have to report to an office five days a week, register for my first semester of grad school classes, and…

Well, let’s not even talk about the sober “anniversary” I’ve already circled on the kitchen calendar (would you believe Day 660 of freedom from alcohol is also Day One for the new job?!), because part of me is kind of freaked out, wondering how all this change will affect my recovery. 🤯

OK, so all of me is a little freaked out about having to leave my comfort zone.

I’ve been cozied up in a little bubble of stretchy leggings, hoodies, long midday walks, 12-step meetings every Thursday at 6 and early bedtimes every night — not to mention these weekend wee-hour blogging sessions — since I took my current job back in June 2020, right before I hit one year sober.

That bubble is about to 💥 in a big way.

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sober lifestyle

Worthiness

Someone from another life sent me this picture several years ago, and in case you need help understanding why, I’ve drawn you a big red blob.

It’s very possible I’m the one who needs help.

I mean, I was the one who took the very flattering label of “Most Athletic” female — in a senior class of about 500 total kids — and internalized it to the point where it completely defined my identity. This process started long before the (Niles, IL) West Word staff assigned their 1996 Senior Superlatives; I was probably 8 years old (and going by Jenny Wielgus) when I smacked my first home run in coach-pitch softball, and, based on the reaction of the parents in the crowd, instantly decided that sports were MY THING. From that point on, I was convinced my purpose in life was to be a top athlete, and that my worth as a person was inextricably tied to my performance on the field/court.

To be “good” at all, I had to be better than everyone else. Not that those were my explicit thoughts…but sadly, looking back after a lifetime trapped in a “fixed mindset,” that’s really what my belief system came down to.

And then, I walked on to a Big Ten softball team, and WHAMMO!

Literally. 🥎💥🤯

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sober lifestyle

Comparison

One of my favorite parts of recovery is suddenly remembering embarrassing shit I used to do when I was drinking, and then dramatically clapping my hands together in a prayer pose and jerking my head skyward to thank heaven I don’t do it anymore. Sometimes, I even cry tears of joy.

The feeling of relief really does hit that deep. 🙏🏻

Unfortunately, there are also moments when comparing “Old Me” to “New Me” steals joy, rather than inspires it (see above TR quote.)

Those moments almost always have to do with my body and level of fitness.

“You really let yourself go,” I’ll think to myself as I hold a yoga pose, head bent over one of my legs and eyes pointing straight at my upper thigh. My mind will flash back to my CrossFit days, and I’ll start thinking how much slower and softer and lazier I’ve become. The old inner critic starts whispering: Who I am now is not enough…

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Courage

As soon as I marked the third out on my scoresheet and the teams on the field started their transition from top to bottom of the ninth, I booked, hurrying down the narrow metal walkway from the press box, through the stands, to the big chain-link gate down the right-field line. I positioned my hands on the latch — I’d been scolded by the grounds crew for actually opening the thing before the game was over — and stood at attention, heart pounding. Ready to pounce.

I must have looked like a crazy person. I mean, I pretty much was. The fear of having to walk into a clubhouse full of naked men after the game to do interviews was so strong it snapped me into ‘fight or flight’ survival mode around 10:30PM every night. I was more scared, cornered animal than 22-year-old reporter with a job to do.

What was I so 🤬-ing scared of? Ah, the central question of my existence! And the best answer I’ve been able to come up with as I’ve looked back over my life: I always craved safety and security, and, being prone to extremes, I pretty much viewed any discomfort as a fate worse than death.

Thus, avoiding discomfort became my primary purpose over the course of 40+ years.

In the 20 I spent as a journalist, post-game interviews made me hella uncomfortable, and adding nudity to the equation was just like 😱 to the point of 🤯. So, in my role as a minor-league beat writer in Macon, GA, circa 2000-2002, I went out of my way to avoid that scenario at all cost. I sprinted onto historic Luther Williams Field the second out #3 had been recorded, before the players had a chance to go inside, and got whatever quotes I could in a five-minute span.

Usually that meant turning in a one-source story, but I did not care. Crisis averted!

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sober lifestyle

Trigger

Everything I loved most in the world was at that table: my hubby, the Cubbies (symbolically, at least), tequila…and freedom.

We were about to fly from snowy Philadelphia to sunny Phoenix for a weeklong Spring Training vacation in Mesa, and although we were sitting in a cramped corner of a nondescript airport bar, the promise of fulfilling a lifelong dream, plus the blissful buzz of those first few drinks, made that moment feel like paradise. ☀️🧢😎

Oh my God, those moments when you’re right smack dab in the sweet spot between reality and intoxication, when all seems right with the world and your place in it! I still grieve for those moments.

Sometimes, I wonder if I always will.

I was overcome with grief when the above picture popped up on my phone screen Saturday morning, as I sat in my therapist’s office waiting for my appointment to start. Facebook memories nearly always trigger an emotional reaction, and it makes sense, because pretty much anything I posted prior to my sobriety date — July 7, 2019, not even 2 years ago — involved alcohol. A.K.A., my ex-best friend.

The memories aren’t all bad.

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sober lifestyle

Success

It’s always tough going back through old photos on my phone. My camera roll is full of emotional triggers, from the head-shaking, facepalming, uncomfortable close-ups of tequilas-on-the-rocks and (dear God!) my face under the influence thereof, to the guilty gut-punch of all those CrossFit gym pics.

You guys, I once won trophies for my fitness! One of them was even made of metal! 💪🏻🏆👸🏼

(I don’t know if you can read the plates in the above image, but that hardware was from a local competition called “Masters of the Universe” that I used to enter every year in my late 30s.)

Sitting here years later, sans six-pack abs, and a good two clothing sizes larger (I would guess…my pandemic wardrobe has been 100% extremely lived-in loungewear), having swapped alcoholism for a sugar addiction, I remind myself for the 10 millionth time that I was not happy as a hard-bodied exercise fiend. Doing muscle-ups and deadlifting 300 pounds and running around in public in a sports bra and booty shorts did not fill the hole inside, just as guzzling booze and buying things and cruising social media and even winning awards at work failed to soothe my restless soul.

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