graduate school, sober lifestyle

Performance

Imagine a precocious little girl in a homemade, red plaid dress with matching ribbons in her shoulder-length, sandy-blonde hair (she has bangs, so clearly this is a flashback from long, long ago), and white anklet socks and brown top-siders on her feet. She is marching in the door with a good — in fact, near-perfect — report card, her whole body tingling in anticipation of that intoxicating hit of parental approval she knows is forthcoming.

That girl is me. Did you guess? It’s funny I chose to paint that exact picture, because the outfit was from first grade, when I had…let’s just say, “social adjustment issues,” that led to regular trips to the principal’s office and my teacher installing a special study carrel in the corner of the classroom to keep me from being disruptive.

Legend has it I was doing somersaults one day on the carpet in the back of the room that was supposed to be for, like, naps and storytime and docile 💩 like that. 😳

Explains a lot, right?

I ended up killing it in all the academic subjects, to the point they put me in the “gifted” —sorry, “enrichment” — program, but my conduct left something to be desired. Read on to see just how much has changed! 🤣

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Compensation

This week has been all about making up for lost time. I don’t know if one can actually do that, without injuring themselves…but dadgummit, I’m trying!

It’s like every moment I’m awake, I want to cram it to the brim with activities I enjoy. I want to take full advantage of my freedom and experience life on my terms!

So, I’ve basically been walking/running around Bucks County like a madwoman for days on end.

When I entered Tyler State Park on foot Friday afternoon, eyes fixed upward at the pure blue sky (when they should’ve been checking the path for those little round ankle-killers that fall from the trees 😬), I’d already run from Washington Crossing to Bowman’s Hill Tower on the canal path earlier that morning, then flowed through my usual yoga program on my deck shortly after breakfast. On Thursday, I walked in the park twice, in addition to working out in my basement and doing another hour of yoga. On Wednesday…

OK, Jen; they get the point. 🤐

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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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sober lifestyle

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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Recollection

So many of my bad memories started just like this…

Sitting in one of my very first recovery meetings last summer, I heard people talk about all the mysterious injuries they would wake up with after a night of heavy drinking — unexplained bumps and bruises, dried blood caked here or there, broken digits and the like — and I thought to myself, “Not me! I never hurt myself while drunk!”

Many months later, WHAM! The memory burst into my brain, like a 160-pound human body from a higher row, suddenly toppling on the backs of unsuspecting concertgoers, then slamming into the hard stone amphitheater stairs at their feet.

In case you hadn’t guessed, the uninvited crowd surfer in that scenario was me, six summers ago, “celebrating” my wedding anniversary at the Interpol show at Penn’s Landing after pounding sakis at my hubby’s and my favorite sushi restaurant, then guzzling who-knows-how-many $12 hard ciders from vendors at the venue.

I’ve attached a “BEFORE” photo from that night. Didn’t think you’d keep reading if I chose the “AFTER.”

My shins ended up looking like ground meat after my unfortunate booze-fueled tumbling act, and the (untreated) trauma to my lower extremities was so severe I basically crawled through our subsequent Hawaiian vacation — where, as I’ve recounted in previous posts, I went on to take several more spills while soused. I couldn’t walk normally for like a month. I nearly had to pull out of a half marathon that November.

But no, I never got injured in the throes of alcoholism! 🙄

Tequila Sunrise-to-Sunset…would be an apt tagline for our entire 2015 trip to Hawaii. 🥴

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sober lifestyle

Recommendation

The biggest news in my life right now, other than the tatt and what’s going on every week in Season 4 of “Fargo” (Timothy Olyphant 😍…that’s pretty much it), is my quest to study psychology in grad school.

We’re officially in Phase 2 of that quest; I just received an email from the admissions office saying they reviewed my application and they’d like to invite me to a formal interview with the program director and other high-ranking school officials.

🥳

I learned a few things during Phase 1:

  • Openly identifying as an addict isn’t a professional death sentence;
  • My GPA at Northwestern was lower than I thought;
  • Probably the best decision I made in my (pre-sobriety) life was to move to Bucks County, PA, to join the local newspaper community.

Like most things you’re immersed in day after day for years, I didn’t really appreciate what — and who — I had in that community until I left it. I had a surrogate home/family, both in the company buildings and out on the sports beat, even if my loner personality made me, like, the distant third cousin twice removed in that scenario.

(Here’s where I am obliged to mention that I met my husband at the paper back in 2002.)

Most of us who moved on from the Bucks County Courier Times/Doylestown Intelligencer in the Gatehouse era did not do so voluntarily, so we didn’t really get to stop on our way out the door, look around and get proper perspective on our careers there and all the relationships we built over the years.

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sober lifestyle

Profession

I didn’t tweet it. That’s the old me, rushing to share publicly every thought and event that moves me personally. (I do that here now! Much more mature! 😂) I don’t want to sound tone deaf. Or materialistic. Or like someone who thinks she’s immune to the universe’s twisted, jinx-y sense of humor.

“Watch me get fired tomorrow,” I texted my parents, along with a screenshot of my bank statement, showing what I believe to be the largest direct deposit of my post-college life. 🤑

Recovery from alcoholism doesn’t cure fatalism. I’m still a girl who’s prone to go to extremes.

This girl 💁🏼‍♀️👈🏻 just made it through her first payroll cycle as a full-time content marketing manager for a multi-brand, multinational company (I was part-time in July)…and she did not celebrate with a drink. 🚫🍻

Celebration does seem in order, though. Yes, my salary is relatively modest, and pretty much all earmarked for paying off credit card debt, but given my uphill professional journey over the past two years (411 days of it stone cold sober), I can’t help but be proud of this paycheck.

It’s nice to be able to help my husband with the burden of the bills, after saddling him with the lion’s share of responsibility in our relationship for so many years.

It’s nice to feel like my skills and contributions to a company are valued. It’s nice to feel like I’m moving onward and upward, rather than hopelessly stuck or desperately sinking.

As an active addict, I was basically living in quicksand. No wonder my professional life seemed, for such a long time, to be headed for a dead end.

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sober lifestyle

Transition

One day earlier this week, I was so wrapped up in trying to get a handle on my new job that I burned my dinner to a crisp.

Throwing chicken on the stove to cook, then getting distracted and completely forgetting about it is something I used to do all the time when I was drinking — no fires OR DUIs in 20 years…miraculous 🙏🏻 — and yet here I am, at 370-some days sober, up to the same dumb tricks.

I thought I’d hit a year and experience a mental metamorphosis. I’d even heard people talk about “the fog lifting” at their 1-year mark, and I’d come to expect the same. So how is it that I feel foggier now? How is it that I wake up with headaches, when I long ago traded in my tumblers of tequila for copious coffee, energy drinks and diet soda?

OK, so I know the answer to that. Hydrate properly or get hangovers; this is a fact of life for alcoholics, teetotalers and “normies” alike.

And while we’re on the subject of Wisdom We’re Currently Ignoring, they caution recovering addicts not to make any major life changes in the first year of sobriety. Well, duh! How did I not see it coming, that leaving a relatively stable, structured worker-bee role at a small agency for a leadership position at an international multi-brand company with more moving parts than I can calculate — much less comprehend — at this juncture, when skyrocketing anxiety issues have been my biggest struggle in recovery so far, by far…might be a potential trigger?

Just reading my own rambling words right now, I’m like, “Wow! This chick is NUTS!”

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