sober lifestyle

Validation

Source: @dinosaurcouch, another highly recommended follow on the ‘gram

I saved this cute comic to include in an activity packet for the weekly counseling group I run at work. It’s supposed to be a self-esteem group, and as someone who spent 40+ years looking for worthiness in good grades, academic awards, athletic victories, praise from authority figures, attention from dudes, social media “likes,” blog comments and, ultimately, liquor bottles, I could think of no more relevant discussion topic for one of our hour-long sessions than “External vs. Internal Validation.”

But then I found myself Googling “how to do internal validation” and realized I had zero information to impart, let alone strategies and solutions to share, on that subject.

The part of the brain that sends organic approval signals might’ve been missing in me at birth, and I just recently started trying to investigate its absence. So while I could hold a three-day seminar on the dangers of seeking external validation (PM me if interested 😉), when it comes to “WTF do we do about it?” I’d just be standing at the front of the room, stiffly reading off a print-out from Psychology Today.

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sober lifestyle

Fitness

The other day, while sitting in my office trying to take deep breaths and clear my head between back-to-back therapy sessions, my phone vibrated with a text message. It was a marketing blast from a local gym I used to belong to in a former life.

Hey Jen! How are you doing with your fitness goals since we last saw you? If we can help, give us a call!

I let out a guffaw. “Fitness goals”…ha!

The Jen they “last saw” four or five long years ago, bears such little resemblance to the person I am today that I doubt anyone at the gym — or any of my old haunts from the pre-2019 era — would even recognize me. And I’m not just talking about the physical effects of aging and a sedentary lifestyle.

Jen circa 2023 needs professional help, for sure, but it ain’t so I can improve my clean-and-jerk numbers or learn butterfly pull-ups.

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Preference

Sitting in the car in the parking lot of Washington Crossing Park, basking in the glorious — dare I say, addictive? — post-run euphoria, I finished saving the above collage to my camera roll and looked up to see the first drop of rain plop onto the windshield. Another kind of rush ran through my body: that pleased-with-yourself feeling you get when a gamble pays off.

Can you see the smug satisfaction in that selfie? I promise it’s there. 🧐

Not that running in the rain is terrible, but if you’ve visited the Delaware Canal lately when it’s thawed out and muddy as 🤬, you understand my desire to get up early and beat Sunday’s warm, wet weather forecast.

I had no trouble putting my custom Nikes on the path before 7AM. Amid my recent struggles with mental and physical health, running has been my go-to mood booster, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do to celebrate 32 months of continuous sobriety.

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sober lifestyle

Holiday

I’ve started to get a “Twilight Zone”-esque vibe from this blog, where every time I write about being happy about something, it immediately goes all to 💩.

It’s like the classic episode — aren’t they all classic episodes? — where the husband-wife grifter team finds that old instant camera, and when they take a picture in the moment, it shows them what’s going to happen in the future. And most of what the camera foretells, with the (temporary) exception of predicting winners at the horse track, ain’t good.

You thought my 90s references were bad. This TZ episode aired in 1960.

No sooner did I start gushing about my newfound love of running, to the point that I was impulse-blogging from the running trail in a state of exercise-induced euphoria, that my hamstring decided to snap. Just one week after the aforementioned blog outburst, I drove all the way over to Yardley on a beautiful Sunday morning, gulping my usual turbo-charged pre-workout drink as I mentally prepped for a 6-miler, and when I got to the canal path and my feet went to push off toward Washington Crossing…

🏃‍♀️🧨💥☠️

Two weeks later, that hamstring still strenuously objects every time I move. 😩

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Pride

Today, November 7, 2021, I celebrated 28 months of continuous sobriety by rising with the sun (“Fall Back”=Earlier Daylight=Much Happier Morning Person) and heading to the Delaware Canal towpath for a celebratory 5-mile (give or take a few feet) run.

Overcome with the euphoric combo of runner’s high and genuine pride at how far I’ve come, I snapped a pic at my end point to commemorate the occasion.

It might be my favorite self-portrait ever. I look so happy to be alive, and why wouldn’t I be?

Three years ago, at my lowest point, I legit did not want to go on living — like, I was pumped full of tequila and bawling out on my back deck, mere moments from calling the suicide hotline, but I called my mom instead, and together, we backed away from the ledge.

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Reality

I was “running” — I have to put it in quotes; that’s how far I’ve fallen from my own standards — so slow on Saturday morning that I was able to take the attached, crystal-clear picture in mid-stride.

Not sure if that’s a sufficient illustration of rock bottom, or if I should tell you about the time a few weeks ago, when I huffed and puffed my way to the top of a hill in the park, and I felt so awful that I stopped “running,” and doubled over and grabbed my knees. I was wheezing so loudly that a dude walking his dog stopped to ask if I was OK.

I’m not proud to admit that I took my frustration out on this poor Good Samaritan.

“I’m fine,” I snapped. “It’s hot out. And I’m not in good shape.”

I turned in a huff and started back down from whence I came, my descent mirroring the trajectory of my physical fitness over the past three months.

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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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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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