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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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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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Education

The last thing the professor asked us to do in our orientation session Thursday night was go around the room and share one word that described our feelings about the upcoming semester — our first as “Cohort 9” in Delaware Valley University’s three-year MA in Counseling Psychology program.

It’s actually my first as a student, period, since the start of this century. 😳

Anyway, the other noobs were like, “Nervous!” “Overstimulated!” “Ready!” And your trusty wordsmith over here blurted out… “Summit.”

It wasn’t an adjective (still isn’t, actually). It made no sense outside my own head. So, true to form, I took up more than my share of allotted time, explaining myself to the group.

All I could think about during the 3+-hour session was the slow climb to the top of the big drop on a roller coaster — clickety clickety clickety 😳 — and that crazy-making anticipation of the terrifying free fall to come — clickety clickety clickety 😰.

You can’t turn back. You can’t get out. You have no control whatsoever. And you know you’re going to get thrown completely, wildly, out of your comfort zone. 😱

I’m so afraid of this exact scenario that I rarely even go on those coasters.

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sober lifestyle

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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