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. Itactually 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!
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.
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.
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.
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?!?!
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.
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…
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!