sober lifestyle

Weather


The peaceful calm of Friday morning — I did yoga, attended a 12-step meeting, then took a quick walk around the neighborhood with Christmas classics playing in my headphones — quickly dissipated as the day progressed and the weather intensified.

It was Dec. 23rd, and my husband and I were supposed to drive three hours north for the first leg of our weeklong holiday journey. I sat on the couch, fully dressed and packed, waiting with dwindling patience for him to get ready, and listening with mounting concern as the drip, drip of light rain on the deck turned into the rapid rat-a-tat-tat of sleet against the windows and whoosh of wind around the building.

My thoughts raced: WHAT was taking him so long? Furthermore, WHY was it so important that we leave today, when tomorrow might be safer? Anxiety bubbled up inside me like a runaway train, and I, simultaneously exiting the most challenging month of the year and entering the hyper-hormonal “danger zone” of my monthly cycle, felt completely powerless to stop it…

It’s easy to see, now that it’s Jan. 3 and I’m peering at Christmas vacation in my rearview mirror, how this turned into the most difficult holiday season of my recovery thus far.

It’s clear, in hindsight: Fretting over a storm outside instead of tending to the storm inside can be a recipe for relapse.

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Silence


I enjoy running immensely — I mean, who wouldn’t, with this (👀⬆️) beautiful, soft, flat nature trail at their disposal? — but I am by no means a runner. Come to the Delaware Canal towpath on any Sunday morning if you want to witness the clear contrast between regular, middle-aged schmoes like me and the real deal.

I mean, besides the obvious difference in speed and overall physique, I’ve got music from a carefully curated playlist blaring in my ear buds. I will slow down or even stop, if I need to adjust said music. Serious runners don’t mess with those types of pedestrian creature comforts. They motor through the miles in steely silence.

Me, vs. Them:


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sober lifestyle

Growth

Driving home from class in Doylestown three nights a week is a litmus test for my emotional regulatory skills — still a bit of a shortcoming at 3+ years sober. More often than not, I end up at max acidity, raging behind the bumper of a car doing 25 mph in a 45 zone and braking to 20 at every bend, all the way down 413 to Newtown.


And other times, hallelujah, it’s smooth sailing. This past Tuesday, there was not a car nor a deer in sight, and the U2 station on the free-trial Sirius radio service in my new (Cubbie-blue) Jeep was playing “Angel of Harlem,” after which the Lithium station was playing STP’s “Big Empty,” and “Low” by Cracker, and I felt a glorious sense of freedom as I cruised along the open road, singing my heart out to the same 90s hits that used to pump from the tape deck in my teenage bedroom.


Those two contrasting scenarios are a pretty good illustration of how much my life changed between October 2021 and today. I went from a tired, bitter commuter sitting in rush-hour traffic twice a day, working and going to school full-time, to about as free-spirited as a Type-A gal can be, enjoying plenty of the open space and self-care time that has been such a huge key to my mental health and recovery.

This charmed life is, of course, about to end. I’m in a surreal calm-before-the-storm period with no idea what the future will bring. All the growth I’ve undergone in the past four years is about to be put to the test.

Sounds familiar…

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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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sober lifestyle

Apathy

Source: @anxiety_wellbeing

No offense to the lovely and not-at-all-annoying humans in my orbit, but one of the best decisions I ever made was to “clean up” my Instagram feed so it includes only psychology, sobriety, mental health and therapy-related content.

Now, when I’m strapped into the struggle bus for what feels like a never-ending, monotonous ride, scrolling on my phone can be an effective way to self-soothe. It actually lifts my spirits when I come across posts like these 👀⬆️⬇️ and relate to them on a deep level.

All these ubiquitous, faceless accounts with underscore-heavy handles really get me! I am not alone!

Source: @global_mental_health_support
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sober lifestyle

Qualification

Basically my biography 😬

The reading assignment this week for “Concepts of Psychopathology & Wellness” is two thick chapters — nearly 75 total pages — but I’ve learned not to stress too much about finishing the homework for this class.

I mean, I know it’s a thing for psych students to start self-diagnosing every disorder they study (it’s called Medical Student’s Disease), but for me, this is not about the power of suggestion. This shit is seriously my life story. I could’ve stood up in front of my cohort and spoken with confidence about the last five weeks’ worth of “Abnormal Behavior” readings without having cracked the book.

Many of my classmates have actual professional experience in counseling, in addition to their relevant bachelor’s degrees. So, in some ways, being in grad school for psychology at Delaware Valley University reminds me of my undergrad era at Northwestern, where I was surrounded by kids toting binders full of newspaper clips and highlight reels from TV and radio reporting internships, while I’d just checked “JOURNALISM” on my application because I loved to write.

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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

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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