sober lifestyle

Manifestation

The woman sitting next to me in the conference room at my sober retreat a few weeks ago was telling a fantastical tale, and I was working hard to keep my incredulous inner cynic from bursting out.


She said she and her husband had traveled from Philly to a quaint little town in the Carolinas, and she loved it so much that she asked God for signs that they were meant to move south. Shortly thereafter, they wandered into a local church, where the door just happened to be unlocked and the priest just happened to be available to chat. He told the couple he knew of a nearby house that had just gone up for sale. They left the church to tour the house, made an offer on the spot…yada yada, it’s two months later, and they’re all set to relocate to their new home.

Pfft! Woo-woo overload, right?

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Passion


You can take the girl out of English class, age her a few decades and put her through the wringer of trying to earn a living wage with the written word, but you can’t take the burning passion for English class out of the girl!

Safe to say I was totally in my element Tuesday night at Delaware Valley University’s annual Student Writing Conference, where I went to read one of my early-2022 blog posts, plus a short snippet of an even older piece that I struggled to slice and dice into a 100-word “Tiny Memoir.” (I only made it down to 126; shit, it’s tough being your own editor! 😫)

I attended the event to “celebrate writing” with classmates and kindred spirits, and just to soak up as much of “carefree” grad student life as I can before “the real world” hits — again — next semester in the form of an unpaid counseling internship that will usher in my second career transition in the past four years.

I was probably the oldest person in the room, besides the professors running the thing, and yet I was acting much like the 1990s tween/teen who sat riveted at a Park View School/Niles West High desk while Mr. Paulos or Dr. Graham led discussions of great literature and the art of storytelling.

Once a “try hard,” always a “try hard”…

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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

Fatigue

I attended a panel discussion on prison reform at DelVal U. this past week for a grad school class, and one of the guest experts was a straight-shooting ex-con and recovering addict named Dan, who “graduated” from a life behind bars to become a criminal justice educator, researcher and community leader down in Delaware. (He used the old “Penn State and the State Pen.” joke to describe his background, but I won’t count that against him. 😉)

The second Dan began talking, I felt instantly close to him, like I’d known him a long time. He had the down-to-Earth attitude and weathered, “f^cked around and found out” look of well-earned wisdom you get from the school of hard knocks. It’s a look I’ve seen time and again on sports fields and in 12-step meetings at various points over the past 20 years, and one I’ve come to associate with “my kind of people.”

When Dan spoke about waking up in jail on his 30th birthday and just feeling tired — as in, done with the whole in-and-out vicious cycle of the repeat-offender lifestyle and unable to fathom doing the same old shit for the rest of his life…I felt it, big-time, like a punch in the gut mixed with a nice warm hug.

That’s exactly the feeling that hit me on that June morning in 2019 on my parents’ back deck when my drunk-chick act officially got old. It’s the same kind of “come-to-Jesus” moment that started my recovery story more than three years ago.

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sober lifestyle

Recovery

Funny GIFs might be the best I can do here, because whenever I try to put into words how recovery feels, what I come up with sounds either far-out “woo woo” or downright dull. Most of the time, I can’t find words at all.

And come to think of it, it’s actually not too far off-base to think of recovery as one day being a (self-centered, hedonistic) newt, under the influence of a wicked spell, and three years later, being human.

A dirty, Dark Ages kind of human, but human nonetheless. 🤣

If I wanted to present my incredible post-alcoholic journey in simple, tangible, social media-friendly terms, in honor of National Recovery Month, I guess I could post a series of side-by-side photos: “Newt Life” vs “Got Better.”

But I’m not even sure this says “DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION” to anyone living outside my body. 🤔

Celebrating with my little sis at Wrigley Field: June 2019 (one week before sobriety date) vs. September 2022 (38 months after).
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sober lifestyle

Reinvention

I was scrolling through social media last weekend, trying to self-soothe my anxiety as we drove three hours north for a visit with the in-laws, when I happened upon a news report about the latest round of layoffs at the media conglomerate where I used to work.

Well, I mean, I worked at a well-staffed, family-owned local newspaper that, like publications of its ilk all across the country, went straight to the chop shop when purchased by a soulless corporate behemoth (controlled by the same greed monsters who funded WeWork!) I came to Pennsylvania specifically for that job — and met my husband in the newsroom — but saw the writing on the wall, in blood, back in the fall of 2018. Thinking it was better to start from scratch at 40 than at 44, 45…I grabbed a buyout package and got the 🤬 outta there.

Yada yada…they nuked my entire department within six months of my departure. While I’d found another job by that point, I was basically just wandering lost in the wilderness until I decided to quit drinking in mid-2019. Luckily, as far gone as I got, I didn’t completely lose myself.

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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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