sober lifestyle

Fatigue

I attended a panel discussion on prison reform at DelVal U. this past week for a grad school class, and one of the guest experts was a straight-shooting ex-con and recovering addict named Dan, who “graduated” from a life behind bars to become a criminal justice educator, researcher and community leader down in Delaware. (He used the old “Penn State and the State Pen.” joke to describe his background, but I won’t count that against him. 😉)

The second Dan began talking, I felt instantly close to him, like I’d known him a long time. He had the down-to-Earth attitude and weathered, “f^cked around and found out” look of well-earned wisdom you get from the school of hard knocks. It’s a look I’ve seen time and again on sports fields and in 12-step meetings at various points over the past 20 years, and one I’ve come to associate with “my kind of people.”

When Dan spoke about waking up in jail on his 30th birthday and just feeling tired — as in, done with the whole in-and-out vicious cycle of the repeat-offender lifestyle and unable to fathom doing the same old shit for the rest of his life…I felt it, big-time, like a punch in the gut mixed with a nice warm hug.

That’s exactly the feeling that hit me on that June morning in 2019 on my parents’ back deck when my drunk-chick act officially got old. It’s the same kind of “come-to-Jesus” moment that started my recovery story more than three years ago.

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sober lifestyle

Recovery

Funny GIFs might be the best I can do here, because whenever I try to put into words how recovery feels, what I come up with sounds either far-out “woo woo” or downright dull. Most of the time, I can’t find words at all.

And come to think of it, it’s actually not too far off-base to think of recovery as one day being a (self-centered, hedonistic) newt, under the influence of a wicked spell, and three years later, being human.

A dirty, Dark Ages kind of human, but human nonetheless. 🤣

If I wanted to present my incredible post-alcoholic journey in simple, tangible, social media-friendly terms, in honor of National Recovery Month, I guess I could post a series of side-by-side photos: “Newt Life” vs “Got Better.”

But I’m not even sure this says “DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION” to anyone living outside my body. 🤔

Celebrating with my little sis at Wrigley Field: June 2019 (one week before sobriety date) vs. September 2022 (38 months after).
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sober lifestyle

Reinvention

I was scrolling through social media last weekend, trying to self-soothe my anxiety as we drove three hours north for a visit with the in-laws, when I happened upon a news report about the latest round of layoffs at the media conglomerate where I used to work.

Well, I mean, I worked at a well-staffed, family-owned local newspaper that, like publications of its ilk all across the country, went straight to the chop shop when purchased by a soulless corporate behemoth (controlled by the same greed monsters who funded WeWork!) I came to Pennsylvania specifically for that job — and met my husband in the newsroom — but saw the writing on the wall, in blood, back in the fall of 2018. Thinking it was better to start from scratch at 40 than at 44, 45…I grabbed a buyout package and got the 🤬 outta there.

Yada yada…they nuked my entire department within six months of my departure. While I’d found another job by that point, I was basically just wandering lost in the wilderness until I decided to quit drinking in mid-2019. Luckily, as far gone as I got, I didn’t completely lose myself.

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sober lifestyle

Addiction

You’re my brother, and I love you, but you’re like an alcoholic who refuses to admit he’s got a problem.

Chuck McGill, to Jimmy/Saul/Gene in “Better Call Saul”

My ears immediately perked when I heard those words, as they do at every mention of alcoholism in any form of entertainment. Michael McKean spoke the line midway through Season 2 of AMC’s glorious “Breaking Bad” spinoff, and from that point on, I couldn’t help but see my favorite TV series as a story of untreated addiction.

The Saul Goodman saga feels all the more meaningful to me, because Chuck’s comparison makes so much sense. Seeing the show’s protagonist, a complex antihero played by comic genius/action star/fellow Chicagoan Bob Odenkirk, as a man entrenched in addiction and unable to find his way into recovery, has helped me to understand, if not excuse, his behavior.

It’s easy to embrace Saul, ugly warts and all, as one of the most endearing crooks in the history of fiction. On a deeper level, and this is a credit to the show’s tremendous writing, I can see why he’s so reckless, why his “acting out” frequently goes over the top, and why he seems hell-bent on hurtling toward a tragic end.

That’s what addicts do; they chase their fix at any cost, rationalizing every insane/immoral decision as they slip farther and farther down the spiral toward a final “rock bottom” that they can’t — or won’t — see coming.

I mean, that’s pretty much what I did.

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sober lifestyle

Difference

L to R: My last day as a drinker (July 6, 2019); 1 year; 2 years; and 3 years sober.

From what I can tell, studying these selfies, living alcohol-free for three full years hasn’t altered my appearance. I mean, there’s no doubt I was more physically fit in my drinking days, when I hit the gym as hard as the bottle, but I was also addicted to exercise and obsessed with my body size/shape, so…let’s not get nostalgic about shallow shit.

I’m not sure sobriety has really changed my personality, either.

I’m still fiercely independent, and socially awkward, and I much prefer a clear calendar that lets me go off and do my own thing. I still feel most at home in the great outdoors, and most comfortable in my skin when I’m on the move. I’m still an anxious, highly sensitive, hyper-punctual control freak and creature of habit who craves certainty and thrives on structure. I still have hearty appetites and moderation issues, and, since I cut thousands of empty sugar calories from my diet by quitting drinking, I also have an insatiable sweet tooth.

Guess it’s only natural to sub in one self-soothing vice for another. 🤷🏼‍♀️

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sober lifestyle

Grief

A few months back, one of my counseling professors shared an assignment she’d given students in her undergrad addictions class: They had to write a break-up letter to their substance of choice.

It struck me as a powerful, meaningful exercise. I mean, if you really wanna know what it’s like for an addict trying to get sober, you’re going to have to process some pretty intense grief.

I guess that’s what this blog has been for me: one long “Dear John” for what seemed like the most intimate and significant long-term relationship of my life. Quitting drinking felt like losing a huge part of me, and almost three years later, that still stings from time to time.

Alcohol was a true, loyal BFF for someone who always avoided close friendships IRL, and there was a time when stripping “forever” from the equation seemed unthinkable. Impossible.

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Intermission

There are some things you never outgrow — I mean, I suppose you could outgrow them, if you snapped out of your unconscious stupor, got off your ass and put in some effort, but that would take…you know, effort. So, in some ways, I’m still the restless little baby who pitched a hissy fit every time an adult set her down and she had to stay stuck in one place for any length of time.

Knowing how much of a psychological game-changer it was for me to learn to walk, and how much movement has meant to me over the subsequent four decades, maybe I should take this master’s degree I’m earning and become an “eco therapist” who leads her clients on nature hikes. 🤔

Anyway, I think the fact that I sat relatively still through entire 3+-hour classes, all school year long, without completely melting down, is at least a small sign of maturity. And I didn’t knock anyone over, bolting for the door at dismissal time…I only shoved the occasional classmate out of the way when they took too long to clear the aisle!

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sober lifestyle

Payoff

Allow me just one moment of pure, unadulterated elation, universe. Can you do that? Let me snap my head back and yell at the top of my lungs, without worrying what’s going to fall out of the sky and knock me out when my guard is down.

OK? Here goes:

I PAID OFF MY CREDIT CARD!!!!

*Sigh* Thanks. That felt good. Now, I’ll get back to watching this student loan number climb and wondering how long that’s gonna take to take care of, while my husband tabulates how much he needs me to contribute to the credit cards in his name, which have been used for our vacations and household projects over the past 15 years….

It’s always something, you know? But I do want to commemorate this occasion and enjoy the here and now a little bit, before I allow what’s next to consume me.

Just a few years ago, that effing credit card was maxed out, y’all! Something like 10 grand! I signed up for that shit in another lifetime, at the GAP, to get 20% off clothes I have long since stopped wearing — can’t even remember the last time I thought about the GAP, much less shopped there. But since it was a regular VISA, I used it for every little thing: gas, groceries, sports tickets, half-marathon and fitness competition registrations, car repairs, restaurant and bar checks trumped up by numerous shots of Patron, weekly trips to the liquor store where I never spent less than $60. …

I can’t pretend to know everything that was on there, but I guarantee four digits were blown on alcohol.

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