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

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

Program

Source: @selfcareexpress

I was a few weeks sober and sitting across the table from the near-stranger I had asked to be my AA sponsor. It was our first official meeting, and we’d just finished reading a chapter from The Big Book when I decided to tell her about my blog.

“I’ve been writing about this whole experience on my personal website, and I’d love for you to take a look!” I said excitedly, as I ripped a page out of my notebook and began scribbling the address.

She held her hand up, palm out. 🖐🏻 A stop sign. 🛑 A rejection, from an authority figure. 🙅🏻‍♀️ My worst nightmare! 😱

Her words were stern and humorless: “I’m not going to go on your blog.”

She was concerned, she said, because I was breaking anonymity and putting personality over principles, and even potentially harming “The Program,” because what if I relapsed? Then all the people reading the blog would think AA didn’t work!

I was confused, hurt, pissed off and put off, for several reasons — one being, her admonition stunk of groupthink, or cult-speak, and I’m pretty much allergic to all that. But I filed my feelings away and stayed the 12-step course, for two full years. Meanwhile, I never stopped writing my little heart out, every single week.

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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

Digestion

If the title isn’t fair enough warning, let me be crystal clear: This post gets down and dirty with some off-color subject matter.

Yes, that would be fecal matter. Feel free to flee while you have the chance! 💩😱

Although the topic is by no means humorous, it’s kind of “funny” that I’m sitting here writing about it, considering that just the other day, that one “Family Guy” episode came on where Brian and Stewie get stuck in the safe at the bank. There’s a point where Stewie prevails upon Brian to help with “cleaning up” his full diaper, and I always have to change the channel during that particular scene. 🤮 Somehow, it’s less triggering for me to watch a dog and a baby get drunk, shoot guns and rip holes in each other’s ears…🤷🏼‍♀️

And somehow, discussing my own digestive issues feels different. Guess I’m just so used to living with IBS-C, so entrenched in the all-consuming daily struggle that started more than a decade ago and has been gradually, insidiously escalating ever since, that I’ve gone “nose blind” to how gross it all is — kind of like a hoarder living obliviously in filth. Or like an alcoholic driving to the liquor store faithfully every Thursday after work for a new bottle of tequila, after promising herself faithfully every Thursday morning that she was “only going to drink on the weekends from now on.”

Humans can truly get used to anything. Bad shit, literally, can become “ho hum” to the conditioned brain.

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sober lifestyle

Compassion

Source: @centerformindfulselfcompassion on Instagram.

RRRRRIIIIIIIIPPPPPP.

A tearing sensation snaked up the right side of my back as I yanked the handle of the rower toward my midsection, and I instantly knew: I was done…probably for a good long while. I released the chain with a snap and toppled stiffly from the seat to the floor, as the digital timer ticked down the final seconds of my workout.

Tears filled my eyes. One thought consumed my brain.

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

I’d just spent almost two months nursing a pulled hamstring, reluctantly ramping down my exercise routine to easy walks and modified yoga, with occasional light rowing and ultra-light lifting. Over a Christmas trip to Illinois, I pushed a little, and was elated to make it around the flat terrain of my childhood hometown in a slow jog, without incident. My patience was paying off!

And now, this. Something worse. A jacked-up back that basically rendered my entire body useless.

OK, universe! I surrender! I’m listening! What exactly are you trying to teach me?!?!

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sober lifestyle

Appearance

Another lovely day at the unemployment office.

I’d just snapped the above picture and punched the button in the side of my earbuds to silence the music, thinking, “I just want to listen to nature,” when a familiar voice filled the momentary void.

“Jen, is that you? Girl, you’re looking skinny!”

There it was: The sweet yet shattering sound of my sickness. I know it so well.

Turns out the speaker was an old friend from two gym memberships ago. I hadn’t seen her smiling face in years, and she was pausing her run to pay me a compliment.

It’s not her fault I still struggle to accept one.

Let me just be clear from the jump: This post isn’t about blaming others for my own deep-seated issues.

It’s actually about progress in the weakest part of my recovery “game.” It’s also about messages — the ones we send others, and the ones we tell ourselves. It’s about stopping that cycle of skewed interpretations, where we assign meaning to what someone else says based on our fear, insecurity and need for external validation, instead of our own unshakable personal truth.

I guess, then, it’s really about shaking out what’s true.

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