“I don’t want to go,” I told my husband. “I’m feeling really vulnerable.”
He looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean?”
Oh boy…how could I put it into black-and-white words? How could I even sift through the avalanche of thoughts that had been rumbling through my brain all morning, as I contemplated the sober women’s retreat I was scheduled to attend?
My mind had been busier than usual, churning out potential excuses. Looking for an out. Strenuously chipping away at my resolve…
“Try to give it up to your higher power,” my mom wrote me in a text, shortly after we’d hung up from my second distress call of the week.
Her message popped in just before I left for an appointment to get my 3-years-sober celebratory tattoo, and my entire body was a crackling live wire of rumination and worry.
It wasn’t because I’m a needle-phobe, though. I got over that with tatt #2. The issue du jour — yet again! — was work.
In short, it’s a shitshow. The “other shoe” I was afraid would drop since I agreed to re-join this chaotic company on a part-time basis back in January…well, it appears to be in motion, spelling the imminent demise of my rough-and-tumble marketing “career,” about six months too soon.
I was counting on this paycheck to get me through my next semester of grad school, or until it’s time to transition from the 100-hour “practicum” that starts in January to the full-time internship our program requires in Year 3.
So, add financial stress to the ever-present professional anxiety/depression that’s been hanging over me since I left journalism and started over from scratch in my 40s, and I quickly slip into an emotional spiral. It’s so easy to lose perspective, abandon my recovery toolbox, and let my agita run amok!
Not to brag, but in the span of two weeks, I handled a dental drill to the mouth AND a tattoo needle to the arm without having a complete nervous breakdown. I didn’t even cry! I mean, I’m still kind of sore from the full-body tense-up I held for an hour at a time, and my hands are still stuck in a bit of a claw from death-gripping the chair arms/table sides…but all in all, I did good.
If you want to go back a month to the date of my COVID booster shot, you can even add a drama-free injection to my big-girl resume.
I proudly texted my friend earlier this month, upon returning home from getting inked for the third time (see above: two wolves on left tricep), that my pain tolerance had finally reached adult levels. 💪🏻
I’m a couple months shy of 44. 🤷🏼♀️
It only took a few decades of downward-spiraling into in an alcohol addiction, and 31 action-packed months of sobriety, but I’m starting to get the hang of facing my fears — and feelings — without my old favorite security blanket.
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…
My husband and I booked an ocean-view suite on the “concierge floor” of a quirky old Victorian hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del., for a brief weekend getaway to celebrate my new job. The accommodations came with a list of perks, and the friendly young man in the suit who greeted us in the lobby (I think he was the actual concierge) was eager to tell us about them as he chaperoned us to our room.
I got distracted staring out the glass elevator shaft at the Atlantic, so I didn’t hear most of what he said. But I snapped back to attention when he pulled a pair of coupons out of his pocket.
“…and as a welcome gift, we’re happy to offer you BOTH complimentary alcoholic beverages at the bar!”
I burst out laughing. An inappropriate reaction, but I couldn’t help myself. It was like some internal pressure relief valve opened, and all the nervous energy and anxious tension I’d felt building up in my body throughout our three-hour drive came gushing out. And of course, because it’s me, this happened in the most awkward way possible.
The guy must’ve been used to all kinds of weirdness, because he barely missed a beat. “Orrrr…” he said, “if one of you doesn’t drink, it’s two drinks for the other person!”
“Thanks,” Hubby replied, taking the vouchers and handing the guy an obligatory tip as the elevator dinged and I dashed, still giggling, out the door down the hallway.
Nearly two years sober, and he still can’t take me anywhere.
Fat, wet flakes started falling as I neared the causeway at Tyler State Park, smacking me in the forehead and occasionally the eyeball, and my face broke into a self-satisfied smile. This was my plan: To be out in nature when the storm started, and before every other human within miles crawled out of bed.
My mom is somewhere cringing, picturing this scene — “Do you always go walking alone?” she once asked me with alarm — but the truth is I much prefer the park when it’s deserted, and even sometimes when it’s dark. To take in a sunrise, witness a change in weather, or just stare at an early morning sky, is such an intensely personal experience for me that I think something would be amiss if anyone else was there.
I guess you could say that it’s when I am isolated that I feel most free.
I’ve been a loner all my life, and at 42, with an annoying habit of getting up at 2AM, I’ve pretty much given up hope of ever fitting in with society. I was always one of those “morning people” that seemed to perplex all the normies. These days, I feel like I’m at my best in the wee hours, when I write or do yoga while excitedly awaiting the dawn.
(Flash forward 12 hours, when some of y’all are just eating lunch):