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“You’re different.”

My mom said that to me one morning during my recent holiday visit. We were sitting in the kitchen of my childhood home in suburban Chicago, where my husband and I bunked from Christmas Day until New Year’s Eve, sleeping in my old bedroom until an unheard-of 9 AM (10 Eastern!) every day. I had consumed only half a pot of coffee at the time — 2019 was a year for starting to kick the alcohol addiction; maaaaaaybe we’ll tackle caffeine in 2020 — so I didn’t really grasp what she was saying.

Also, at that particular moment, I absolutely did not feel different.

Long before I had Tyler State Park, I had the Morton Grove Forest Preserve bike trail. My hometown might not be much to look at, but it’s a pedestrian’s paradise.

In fact, even without the full coffee rush, my brain had already begun its daily race, unleashing the same ripples of anxiety that had launched thousands of disappearing acts throughout my life — some as recent as 12 hours prior. I was already busy plotting my next escape out of the house to the local forest preserve trail for a long walk, just me and my new wireless headphones and the Binge Mode ‘Game of Thrones’ podcast that is my latest non-food/beverage obsession.

I moved through my first sober holiday season in a bit of a daze, observing everything around me with wide eyes and mute mouth, like an overstimulated toddler: Bright lights! Lots of people! Piles of gifts! Plates of food! Pots of coffee! Nonstop noise! News and talk shows on TV! Where’s the remote?! Oh shit, there are little kids here and I can’t put on “Game of Thrones”! I have to get the f*ck out of here NOW!

There were times I sat among my loved ones, my parents and aunts and sisters and their hubbies and children, listening to them talk around the table, and was so overwhelmed that I could not for the life of me conjure up one single thing to add to the conversation. So I did what I always do, which is either flee the scene or shove something in my mouth. Continue reading “One-Eighty”

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This happened to be sitting on the end table within reach of my recliner. How convenient.

We just got home from a lovely weekend celebrating early Christmas with my husband’s parents in the Poconos. It’s an hour until my bedtime. And while I only have to get up at 4 a.m. for two more days in the year 2019, tomorrow is one of those days.

So, this is going to be a quick one. (That’s what he said?)

It’s more of a note than a blog post.

A thank-you note.

When I started writing about my sobriety journey almost six months ago, it was only because I desperately needed an outlet for the overflowing toilet that was/is my brain. I never expected anyone else to read, much less care about, my everlong overshares packed with random pop culture references, none newer than 1999. I expected even less that anyone would take the time to reach out and tell me they cared. 

You guys did all three of those things.

You might not anymore if I keep talking about toilets, but while you’re here right now, I want to tell you how much your readership and support means to me.  Continue reading “Appreciation”

sober lifestyle, Uncategorized


Taken after my second half-marathon four years ago. Of course, the next picture in my camera roll was of the free celebratory cup of post-race beer…and this is why I rather dislike scrolling through the old pictures in my phone.

I used to run a lot in my younger years, and while I got gung-ho enough about it to complete two half-marathons, I never crossed the threshold into “hard-core runner” territory. Never did I feel even the faintest shred of desire to run a full marathon, and when people would ask when I was going to move on to that natural next step, I just laughed.

Hell, 13.1 was too much for me. I never lasted longer than 10 miles in training, and during the actual races, I distinctly remember getting to the seven-mile mark and being like, “OK, I’m good now! Ready to do something else!” (the first time), and “Shit! How did I forget about the awfulness of the last six miles and sign up for another one of these?!?” (the last time). Of course, I am a competitor at heart and I don’t quit in the middle of athletic events, so I kept plodding along to the finish line — and got there in less than two hours; thank you. But that invisible “wall” runners always talk about hitting was, to me, a mammoth fortification akin to the home of the Night’s Watch in “Game Of Thrones”, complete with undead ice monsters on the other side whom I didn’t care to meet.

At some point or another, I always smack straight into that damn wall, no matter what task I undertake or journey I embark upon. And it’s not that I get tired physically. It’s some kind of short circuit in my head.

I hit it — or it hit me — for the first time in my recovery last week. I just woke up one morning and felt empty and spent, as if all my positive energy had drained overnight and been replaced by sadness, frustration — and yes, self-pity. I found myself contemplating a dangerous question that tends to pop up during all the low times in my life: “What’s the point of it all?” Continue reading “Endurance”

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For Secret Santa at work, they asked us to write three things about ourselves on a piece of paper, to give the person who ends up picking our name a clue for how to spend their 20 bucks.

I wrote: 1. Chicago sports fan; 2. Love scented candles; 3. No booze.

Yeah, I’m not sure the last one was really necessary. I could’ve just said I drink coffee, or something. At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of bottles change hands in office gift exchanges over the years, and I’m not ready to even hold one in my hands to re-gift it at this point.

Over the past five months, not drinking alcohol has become the biggest thing about me there is. It’s the headline of my bio. The plot of my story. It’s even listed in my Twitter profile, right there alongside my pledged allegiance to the Cubs and Bears.

Thank goodness for the sports thing, by the way, or I’d have literally nothing to talk about with people outside of recovery meetings. As it is, I have to stop myself from blurting out, “I’m [X number of] days sober!” every time someone asks “How are you?” Continue reading “Identity”

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I considered taking this outside and stomping on it and screaming, like Angela on that one Christmas episode of “The Office,” but thankfully, my time-of-the-month hysteria had slowed to a simmer by the time I found this in the tub where we store our decor.

As expected, decorating the Christmas tree without draining a bottle of Jose Cuervo — as much a staple of the season, for me, as Mannheim Steamroller music, “Christmas Vacation” quotes and Hallmark keepsake ornaments — was the hardest part of this holiday weekend.

Well, that, and getting my 🤬-ing period on Thanksgiving Eve, but we don’t need to get into that…too much.

I did dump a bottle of tequila, technically (see picture), but that wasn’t the least bit difficult. When I came across the cheap piece of decorative glass I brought home from my retail job last year around this time, when I had just about reached “raging” on the alcoholic spectrum, I marched right past the tree and over to the recycling bin. RIP, shiny souvenir of shitty decisions!

If there had been any actual booze in that bottle, this might have been a different story, because for all the years since I moved out of my parents’ house back in 2000, drinking and decorating went together like “Why is the carpet all wet, Todd?” and “I don’t KNOW, Margo!” in my head. Continue reading “Gratitude”

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Perhaps my most potent proof-of-a-higher-power moment came Saturday morning when I was asked, five minutes before the start of a recovery meeting, to pick a reading from the literature and start off the discussion. Stricken by a wave of performance anxiety, I fumbled with the book, anxiously flipping through pages until finally landing on one near the middle. The first few sentences sliced straight through my mental fog, instantly dissolving panic into peace.

I’d found a story about an alcoholic who liked to make up stories when she was young!

This is my life story. In fact, just this week, as I cleared the 4 1/2-month mark in my sobriety journey, a dramatic realization hit me: As a kid, I wanted to be an author.

Actually, I kind of was an author, back then. Someone in the family bought me a bunch of little blank booklets, a paper playground for my hyperactive imagination and collection of art supplies, and I would fill pages and pages with fictional tales of talking animals — complete with colored-pencil illustrations. Such riveting titles as “Lucky The Ladybug Goes To School” and “Skiing With The Best Friend Bunnies” (that one was part of a series, in the vein of “The Babysitters Club”) might have — who knows? — gone on to become beloved children’s classics had I ever, once, finished those stories instead of abandoning them mid-plot and moving on to a new booklet because I couldn’t think of a good ending.

Those damn endings got me, every time. My parents found a bunch of my booklets in the basement, years later after I’d moved away, and they texted me, like, “What ever happened to Lucky The Ladybug? This book just stops on Page 12.” 😂 Continue reading “Creativity”

sober lifestyle, Uncategorized



They say you stop maturing when you start developing an addiction, and I look around at my life at 132 days sober, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t right.

Freeing my body and mind from the grip/fog of alcohol has magically time-warped me back to my 18-year-old self, proudly donning Doc Martens every day (the brown boots pictured were my 4 Months present to myself!), re-watching  “The Sopranos” for the 12 millionth time (if I said “16 Czechoslovakians” and “one-shoe c*cksucker,” would you know where I’m at in the series right now? 😂) and working out to such Amazon playlists as “I Miss The 90s” and “90s Alternative Hits,” which, it turns out, play most of the same songs.

It’s a hard-and-fast rule that I have to stop whatever I’m doing and sing along whenever “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe comes on, so I probably should choose different music if I want to get in better shape. I think I have some C&C Music Factory and CeCe Peniston somewhere in my CD collection…

I have no idea why or how this regression to Pre-Drinking Jen happened, but I like it. …Well, except for the acne. WTF, acne?!? Apparently my body decided to go all-in on this “teenage dream” theme and push out fresh new zits for me to notice each morning in the mirror. At 41, I honestly thought my Clearasil days were over. (Do they still make Clearasil? I’m writing out a CVS shopping list.) Continue reading “Nostalgia”