sober lifestyle

Reconciliation

At nearly 3 1/2 years sober, I don’t really have drunk dreams anymore. Instead, my “resting” brain has moved on to torturing me with “you’re gonna get in trouble!” scenarios of increasing intensity, and I think that might actually be worse than an imaginary relapse.

The other night, like something out of a 90s teen slasher flick, I dreamt that some woman I didn’t recognize knocked on my door to deliver a hauntingly cryptic message: “I know.” 😱


WTF is that all about?!?

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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

Addiction

You’re my brother, and I love you, but you’re like an alcoholic who refuses to admit he’s got a problem.

Chuck McGill, to Jimmy/Saul/Gene in “Better Call Saul”

My ears immediately perked when I heard those words, as they do at every mention of alcoholism in any form of entertainment. Michael McKean spoke the line midway through Season 2 of AMC’s glorious “Breaking Bad” spinoff, and from that point on, I couldn’t help but see my favorite TV series as a story of untreated addiction.

The Saul Goodman saga feels all the more meaningful to me, because Chuck’s comparison makes so much sense. Seeing the show’s protagonist, a complex antihero played by comic genius/action star/fellow Chicagoan Bob Odenkirk, as a man entrenched in addiction and unable to find his way into recovery, has helped me to understand, if not excuse, his behavior.

It’s easy to embrace Saul, ugly warts and all, as one of the most endearing crooks in the history of fiction. On a deeper level, and this is a credit to the show’s tremendous writing, I can see why he’s so reckless, why his “acting out” frequently goes over the top, and why he seems hell-bent on hurtling toward a tragic end.

That’s what addicts do; they chase their fix at any cost, rationalizing every insane/immoral decision as they slip farther and farther down the spiral toward a final “rock bottom” that they can’t — or won’t — see coming.

I mean, that’s pretty much what I did.

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