sober lifestyle

Application

Yeah, so, basically, I wrote a blog post to get into graduate school. Sat down one day, poured my whole heart and spilled a few guts into a Google Doc, then hit “download” and shipped off my application without even showing it to anyone first.

This has been my M.O., in relating to others, for most of my life: Overshare now, ask questions later. Tell ’em how you really feel, and let the chips fall where they may! If they don’t appreciate your authenticity, it wasn’t meant to be/you don’t want to associate with them, anyway! So there!

What really sucks is being like that but also needing a job and realizing, the hard way, that intense passion and professionalism sometimes don’t mix. Sometimes (*grits teeth*), you have to stop being so stubbornly set in your ways and consider what’s “socially acceptable.” You have to compromise for the sake of a paycheck.

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sober lifestyle

Preference

Sitting in the car in the parking lot of Washington Crossing Park, basking in the glorious — dare I say, addictive? — post-run euphoria, I finished saving the above collage to my camera roll and looked up to see the first drop of rain plop onto the windshield. Another kind of rush ran through my body: that pleased-with-yourself feeling you get when a gamble pays off.

Can you see the smug satisfaction in that selfie? I promise it’s there. 🧐

Not that running in the rain is terrible, but if you’ve visited the Delaware Canal lately when it’s thawed out and muddy as 🤬, you understand my desire to get up early and beat Sunday’s warm, wet weather forecast.

I had no trouble putting my custom Nikes on the path before 7AM. Amid my recent struggles with mental and physical health, running has been my go-to mood booster, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do to celebrate 32 months of continuous sobriety.

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sober lifestyle

Tolerance

Not to brag, but in the span of two weeks, I handled a dental drill to the mouth AND a tattoo needle to the arm without having a complete nervous breakdown. I didn’t even cry! I mean, I’m still kind of sore from the full-body tense-up I held for an hour at a time, and my hands are still stuck in a bit of a claw from death-gripping the chair arms/table sides…but all in all, I did good.

If you want to go back a month to the date of my COVID booster shot, you can even add a drama-free injection to my big-girl resume.

I proudly texted my friend earlier this month, upon returning home from getting inked for the third time (see above: two wolves on left tricep), that my pain tolerance had finally reached adult levels. 💪🏻

I’m a couple months shy of 44. 🤷🏼‍♀️

It only took a few decades of downward-spiraling into in an alcohol addiction, and 31 action-packed months of sobriety, but I’m starting to get the hang of facing my fears — and feelings — without my old favorite security blanket.

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sober lifestyle

Reinforcement

“If I want to stay married, I’ve got to stay quit.”

The words shot out of my mouth like a knee-jerk reaction. No idea where they came from. But that’s what I said to the new chiropractor I visited yesterday when the topic of alcohol came up.

I’m not exactly sure how my “NO” writ large on the intake form turned into a conversation — do all back specialists ask new patients if they smoke and drink? This one did! — but somehow, I learned that this guy had given up booze for three years and “hated it,” so he “picked up” again. He assured me he was “good now” with alcohol back in his life.

My quick comeback surprised me. Even after 2 1/2 years sober, I’m still quite green when it comes to discussions of drinking in social situations. I’m unpracticed in talking about alcohol anywhere outside the safe bubble of recovery meetings, family gatherings, therapy sessions or grad school classes.

And yet, what I said was perfect. Succinct, 100% accurate, but not overly revealing. I thought about the entire experience on the way home from the appointment — one of many to come as I try to take care of an out-of-whack SI joint that’s making my life miserable — and my mind wiggled down a rabbit hole.

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sober lifestyle

Compassion

Source: @centerformindfulselfcompassion on Instagram.

RRRRRIIIIIIIIPPPPPP.

A tearing sensation snaked up the right side of my back as I yanked the handle of the rower toward my midsection, and I instantly knew: I was done…probably for a good long while. I released the chain with a snap and toppled stiffly from the seat to the floor, as the digital timer ticked down the final seconds of my workout.

Tears filled my eyes. One thought consumed my brain.

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

I’d just spent almost two months nursing a pulled hamstring, reluctantly ramping down my exercise routine to easy walks and modified yoga, with occasional light rowing and ultra-light lifting. Over a Christmas trip to Illinois, I pushed a little, and was elated to make it around the flat terrain of my childhood hometown in a slow jog, without incident. My patience was paying off!

And now, this. Something worse. A jacked-up back that basically rendered my entire body useless.

OK, universe! I surrender! I’m listening! What exactly are you trying to teach me?!?!

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sober lifestyle

Impermanence

I stirred up some holiday spirit the other day by popping a beloved Christmas classic into my DVD player.

You know, the one where it finally dawns on a guy that his parents were burglars, and his childhood tradition of visiting neighbors’ houses to gleefully unwrap Cabbage Patch Kids, talking robots and other hot 80s toys was actually a criminal enterprise? And another guy realizes that the string of Santas who showed up at his door on Christmas morning, bearing such useful (and intoxicating) gifts as a jar of rubber cement, were really Johns looking for a “date” with his mom? 🤣

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Perfectionism

The professors made it clear: Even though they’re given a 1-to-5 scale to evaluate student performance in each semester of DelVal’s Counseling Psychology grad program, getting a 3 is the actual goal. That rating is labeled “Adequate” on the official form, but it means you’re A-OK. You’re on the right track, exactly where you need to be.

In fact, if an instructor wants to give you anything higher (better) or lower (worse), they’re required to include additional comments that explain why.

If that sounds fair, reasonable, acceptable…I envy your level-headed perspective.

I’ve spent my whole life chasing 5’s, and telling me I’m “Adequate” sets off short-circuits in my head.

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sober lifestyle

Appearance

Another lovely day at the unemployment office.

I’d just snapped the above picture and punched the button in the side of my earbuds to silence the music, thinking, “I just want to listen to nature,” when a familiar voice filled the momentary void.

“Jen, is that you? Girl, you’re looking skinny!”

There it was: The sweet yet shattering sound of my sickness. I know it so well.

Turns out the speaker was an old friend from two gym memberships ago. I hadn’t seen her smiling face in years, and she was pausing her run to pay me a compliment.

It’s not her fault I still struggle to accept one.

Let me just be clear from the jump: This post isn’t about blaming others for my own deep-seated issues.

It’s actually about progress in the weakest part of my recovery “game.” It’s also about messages — the ones we send others, and the ones we tell ourselves. It’s about stopping that cycle of skewed interpretations, where we assign meaning to what someone else says based on our fear, insecurity and need for external validation, instead of our own unshakable personal truth.

I guess, then, it’s really about shaking out what’s true.

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