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sober lifestyle

Purpose

Did I ever tell you about the first time I got drunk? Summer of ‘98. My first college apartment. Vodka and lemonade in a Big Gulp cup. Lettuce and mushrooms on my pillow. …

I was 20 years old when I experienced the classic rite of passage that is waking up in a pool of your own vomit.

Somehow, that incident didn’t ruin my ability to stomach salad — I still eat it every day…with mushrooms, even! — or make me think twice about entering an intimate relationship with alcohol.

Nothing in the following 20 years deterred me from pursuing that toxic love affair with complete abandon — not crashing my car into a median while covering Braves spring training in Orlando, Fla.; or cleaning vomit out of the same car (passenger side!) the morning after a Cinco de Mayo party in Macon, GA; or waking up in my Bensalem, PA, apartment with all my clothes lying in a pile by the front door and the wreckage of a binge from the bakery section of the 24-hour GIANT strewn about the living room; or all those countless times I came to, lying next to my husband in our various Langhorne and Newtown abodes circa 2005-2019, and snapped into super-sleuth mode, trying to piece together what embarrassing or hurtful shit I’d done or said under the influence of tequila the previous night. I became quite adept at changing the subject when Hubby tried to confront me about how that shit affected him…

It was all so pointless, riding that vicious-cycle roller coaster, ignoring every “DANGER” sign and passing up every chance to get off.

Sitting here now, at 20 months sober, it’s still hard to figure how I made it out of alcoholism alive, without (physically) hurting anyone else or going to jail, and how I was gifted with a second chance to be a good spouse.

An even bigger challenge is understanding why.

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Anticipation

I woke up nervous Saturday morning, thoughts racing faster than usual, and as the hour of the event drew nearer, my pulse steadily quickened. It felt like I’d been plugged into an electrical outlet, like everything inside was vibrating, and by the time I was set to leave the house, I was so on edge that I felt like crying.

My anxiety is pretty potent on a normal day, but on days when there’s a commitment on my calendar?

(It’s funny because it’s true.)

Leaving an entire pot of coffee on the counter, untouched, for fear that caffeine would trigger a full-blown heart attack, I pushed through the front door. Slowing my pace only to prevent my slick-soled knee-high boots from slipping on black ice, I got in the car and set off to speak at a recovery meeting in a local drug and alcohol treatment center.

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Freedom

Fat, wet flakes started falling as I neared the causeway at Tyler State Park, smacking me in the forehead and occasionally the eyeball, and my face broke into a self-satisfied smile. This was my plan: To be out in nature when the storm started, and before every other human within miles crawled out of bed.

My mom is somewhere cringing, picturing this scene — “Do you always go walking alone?” she once asked me with alarm — but the truth is I much prefer the park when it’s deserted, and even sometimes when it’s dark. To take in a sunrise, witness a change in weather, or just stare at an early morning sky, is such an intensely personal experience for me that I think something would be amiss if anyone else was there.

I guess you could say that it’s when I am isolated that I feel most free.

I’ve been a loner all my life, and at 42, with an annoying habit of getting up at 2AM, I’ve pretty much given up hope of ever fitting in with society. I was always one of those “morning people” that seemed to perplex all the normies. These days, I feel like I’m at my best in the wee hours, when I write or do yoga while excitedly awaiting the dawn.

(Flash forward 12 hours, when some of y’all are just eating lunch):

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Imagination

When I was struck with childlike whimsy on Tuesday afternoon, it didn’t come with a side of foresight. So, I found myself ankle-deep in heavy, wet snow out on my deck, staring at three semi-round blobs stacked on top of one another, with nothing nearby to bring my spontaneous snowperson to life.

I had to traipse down to ground level, my hubby’s ancient duck boots filling with slush, and wrestle a few scrawny twigs off the shrubbery in order to fashion some arms. And I had to remove the soaked boots completely to go hunting through the house for everything else.

Even then, the best I could do was a swath of old T-shirt, a baby carrot and two de-stemmed chocolate Tootsie pops (you think that looks creepy; imagine if I’d chosen cherry!) If not for the souvenir Anthony Rizzo Cubs cap gifted to me by a local American Legion coach back in my reporting days…well, you could argue this accessory adds little cache to my creation here in 2021, given the team’s fire sale of an offseason. 🤕

“Can he pitch?” my dad shot back when I sent the above pictures to the family group text.

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Contentment

“Why don’t you just get your boobs done?”

That’s a thing someone actually said to me. Recently. I was joking with a coworker about being absent the day they handed out endowments — this is my brand of self-deprecating humor 🤷🏼‍♀️ — so I guess I asked for it. But still…

You can tell the speaker does not know me AT ALL.

“You’re really cute! You just need some Botox!”

That one is a blast from my past as a reporter. It came from a consultant who’d worked in TV news and was ostensibly trying to give me advice so I could elevate my on-camera game. I spent the last six years of my journalism career telling visual stories, and being in my late 30s/early 40s with the beauty sensibilities of a sports-writing — and sports-playing — tomboy, my sun-weathered face was apparently too craggily to be taken seriously in the realm of HD video.

But me? Botox? I was like, “If that’s what it takes to advance in this industry, I think I’m good crawling around on dusty gym floors and dodging referees out on frigid high school football fields for the rest of my life!”

🪦 <— Here lies that job. RIP. 😢

And look at me today: Sitting in a cubicle, or on a couch, usually wearing 10-year-old hoodies and stretched-out leggings, anonymously typing out marketing copy to scrape out a living while prepping for grad school and trying to figure out what I really want to do when I grow up.

Rest assured, my vocation will not depend on bra size or require any kind of aesthetic alterations. I’d prefer it didn’t require a bra at all, but anyway…

Shout out to my old friends in AHA! 😘

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Reaction

My job title right now is “Content Marketing Manager,” and although it seems like I’m barely scraping by just trying to manage myself, working for five different brands under one company umbrella, with a skeleton staff — and did I mention I’m the only copywriter? — I’ve been tasked with running a weekly Google Meet with the entire marketing team. On this call, we discuss the myriad visual and written content needed for various projects and campaigns.

Every project and campaign needs content — what is marketing without content? — so there’s a lot to talk about.

Being prone to nervous chatter and anxiety-fueled tangents, not to mention corny jokes, I don’t usually help keep it short and/or sweet.

The other day, I went a little further off the rails than usual.

We were discussing one particularly daunting challenge, and someone suggested we’d all get through it just fine, “but we’re going to need a lot of wine!”

Laughter ensued.

Some of us don’t drink, so that’s probably not going to help,” I fired back.

Laughter stopped.

All sound stopped.

“OK, moving on…” I scrolled my shared screen to the next item on the agenda, thinking, “Great job, Jen; you did it again.” 🤦🏼‍♀️

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Humility

Humility is perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted, or vexed, or irritated, or sore, or disappointed.

It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised.

It is to have a blessed home in myself, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and be at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is troubled.

Canon T.T. Carter

When I heard someone quote this passage in a recovery meeting, my ears perked and my curiosity was piqued. Humility, I always thought, meant meekness. Submissiveness. Devaluing yourself.

This definition? #LifeGoals.

I think these words belong in a frame right above my work station. Or tattooed on my inner forearm where I can look at them every time I feel fretted, vexed, irritated…basically, all day every day.

Of course, Canon Carter doesn’t really explain how to achieve this calm state of quiet-heartedness. I’m guessing it’s prayer and meditation. It’s always prayer and meditation.

It’s always the stuff that seems impossible to a busy-brained worrywart who’s basically addicted to background noise.

Example: I regularly do yoga in my living room with the TV on, unmuted. And we’re talking, like, crime investigation shows full of evil and death. 😳

No matter how you define humility, I’m really not it. I mean, self-worth has always been a huge struggle for me, so I’m certainly not walking around with a cocky swagger. I’ve always been afraid to initiate social interactions and have never learned how to take a compliment.

Actual conversation in my house:

Hubby: “I love you.”

Me: “Even though [insert character defect or personal failing here]?”

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Recollection

So many of my bad memories started just like this…

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! 🙄

Tequila Sunrise-to-Sunset…would be an apt tagline for our entire 2015 trip to Hawaii. 🥴

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