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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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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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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sober lifestyle

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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sober lifestyle

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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sober lifestyle

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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Resolution

How many licks does it take to completely blow up your healthy diet? Far too few, I’m finding.

True story: Staying sober during the pandemic has been easier for me than staying in shape.

I mean, thanks to my amazing husband keeping our house booze-free (I can’t in good conscience say “dry” when I’m dragging three recycling bins full of empty diet soda and sparkling water conveyances to the curb every Tuesday), I’ve had the safe environment I need to reach the 18-month recovery milestone, then tack on an additional 12 days (and counting).

However, when it comes to diet and fitness, another huge health priority in my life, I’m afraid I’m no longer earning a passing grade.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but it might take a formal declaration of renunciation — made “publicly,” here on the internet — to get me to stop eating candy canes and mini Tootsie pops for lunch every day.

I told the hubby to stop buying these things, too, but the man has as much trouble resisting grocery store markdowns and buy-in-bulk deals (did you SEE the bag in the above picture?) as I do mood-altering substances.

I certainly can’t judge him. Whatever spikes your dopamine! We all have our addictions! And don’t they all seem a little more potent around the holidays, whether we’re out partying with friends and family or cooped up at home in “social distancing” mode?

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