sober lifestyle

Confidence

Covering one of my first stories as a one-woman videography band: the opening of Cole & Heidi Hamels’ charity headquarters on Philly’s Main Line. I ended up doing that video reporting job for six years (2012-2018)…and eventually learned to actually look at the camera. 🙈

There are dense clumps of cobwebs stretched across my memory banks, particularly in the pre-2019 era, so I can’t recall the exact details of the day when I officially became a video reporter.

In my head, it went something like this:

“We’re shutting down phillyBurbs.com [where you’ve worked as an online content writer for the past four years]; either take this camcorder and go shoot high school sports stories [which you’ve never, ever, ever done before] for the newspaper’s revamped website, or…seeya!”

I took the camcorder. That was 2012, and, by my calculations, it marked Major Life Change #4 for a young print journalism major from suburban Chicago.

Today, I’m on the threshold of #8.

Does that mean I have only one life left? 🙀

If everything goes according to plan (🤞🏻🤞🏻) that’s all I will need to reach my ultimate goal.

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Worthiness

Someone from another life sent me this picture several years ago, and in case you need help understanding why, I’ve drawn you a big red blob.

It’s very possible I’m the one who needs help.

I mean, I was the one who took the very flattering label of “Most Athletic” female — in a senior class of about 500 total kids — and internalized it to the point where it completely defined my identity. This process started long before the (Niles, IL) West Word staff assigned their 1996 Senior Superlatives; I was probably 8 years old (and going by Jenny Wielgus) when I smacked my first home run in coach-pitch softball, and, based on the reaction of the parents in the crowd, instantly decided that sports were MY THING. From that point on, I was convinced my purpose in life was to be a top athlete, and that my worth as a person was inextricably tied to my performance on the field/court.

To be “good” at all, I had to be better than everyone else. Not that those were my explicit thoughts…but sadly, looking back after a lifetime trapped in a “fixed mindset,” that’s really what my belief system came down to.

And then, I walked on to a Big Ten softball team, and WHAMMO!

Literally. 🥎💥🤯

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Comparison

One of my favorite parts of recovery is suddenly remembering embarrassing shit I used to do when I was drinking, and then dramatically clapping my hands together in a prayer pose and jerking my head skyward to thank heaven I don’t do it anymore. Sometimes, I even cry tears of joy.

The feeling of relief really does hit that deep. 🙏🏻

Unfortunately, there are also moments when comparing “Old Me” to “New Me” steals joy, rather than inspires it (see above TR quote.)

Those moments almost always have to do with my body and level of fitness.

“You really let yourself go,” I’ll think to myself as I hold a yoga pose, head bent over one of my legs and eyes pointing straight at my upper thigh. My mind will flash back to my CrossFit days, and I’ll start thinking how much slower and softer and lazier I’ve become. The old inner critic starts whispering: Who I am now is not enough…

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Courage

As soon as I marked the third out on my scoresheet and the teams on the field started their transition from top to bottom of the ninth, I booked, hurrying down the narrow metal walkway from the press box, through the stands, to the big chain-link gate down the right-field line. I positioned my hands on the latch — I’d been scolded by the grounds crew for actually opening the thing before the game was over — and stood at attention, heart pounding. Ready to pounce.

I must have looked like a crazy person. I mean, I pretty much was. The fear of having to walk into a clubhouse full of naked men after the game to do interviews was so strong it snapped me into ‘fight or flight’ survival mode around 10:30PM every night. I was more scared, cornered animal than 22-year-old reporter with a job to do.

What was I so 🤬-ing scared of? Ah, the central question of my existence! And the best answer I’ve been able to come up with as I’ve looked back over my life: I always craved safety and security, and, being prone to extremes, I pretty much viewed any discomfort as a fate worse than death.

Thus, avoiding discomfort became my primary purpose over the course of 40+ years.

In the 20 I spent as a journalist, post-game interviews made me hella uncomfortable, and adding nudity to the equation was just like 😱 to the point of 🤯. So, in my role as a minor-league beat writer in Macon, GA, circa 2000-2002, I went out of my way to avoid that scenario at all cost. I sprinted onto historic Luther Williams Field the second out #3 had been recorded, before the players had a chance to go inside, and got whatever quotes I could in a five-minute span.

Usually that meant turning in a one-source story, but I did not care. Crisis averted!

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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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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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