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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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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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

Simplicity

Casting my shadow on the south ridge of Cadillac Mountain, after scaling the highest point in Acadia National Park.

“Do you think I’m boring?” I asked my husband as we sat on a park bench, staring at the ocean, on the final evening of our 15th anniversary trip to Maine.

Foolish question! I mean, the man had been right there with me every second of the previous five days, hoofing it around hiking trails and carriage roads at Acadia National Park, then trekking up and down Portland’s downtown walkways for hours on end, until we both collapsed into our hotel or AirBNB bed — after a tick inspection, of course. He never complained!

Hell, he’s known me for 20 years, and I’ve always been a no-frills nature girl with simple tastes (if also some moderation issues 😬). The frills are even fewer since I quit drinking, and yet, at three years sober, the two of us feel closer and more in sync than ever.

Whether or not a walking tour of Maine was the “romantic getaway” of Hubby’s dreams, he certainly didn’t rain on my parade. And with flawless weather, the freshest of air, plenty of room to move, awe-inspiring scenery and my best guy by my side (maybe a few steps behind? 🤣), I was in paradise!

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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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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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