sober lifestyle

Reinforcement

“If I want to stay married, I’ve got to stay quit.”

The words shot out of my mouth like a knee-jerk reaction. No idea where they came from. But that’s what I said to the new chiropractor I visited yesterday when the topic of alcohol came up.

I’m not exactly sure how my “NO” writ large on the intake form turned into a conversation — do all back specialists ask new patients if they smoke and drink? This one did! — but somehow, I learned that this guy had given up booze for three years and “hated it,” so he “picked up” again. He assured me he was “good now” with alcohol back in his life.

My quick comeback surprised me. Even after 2 1/2 years sober, I’m still quite green when it comes to discussions of drinking in social situations. I’m unpracticed in talking about alcohol anywhere outside the safe bubble of recovery meetings, family gatherings, therapy sessions or grad school classes.

And yet, what I said was perfect. Succinct, 100% accurate, but not overly revealing. I thought about the entire experience on the way home from the appointment — one of many to come as I try to take care of an out-of-whack SI joint that’s making my life miserable — and my mind wiggled down a rabbit hole.

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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

Impermanence

I stirred up some holiday spirit the other day by popping a beloved Christmas classic into my DVD player.

You know, the one where it finally dawns on a guy that his parents were burglars, and his childhood tradition of visiting neighbors’ houses to gleefully unwrap Cabbage Patch Kids, talking robots and other hot 80s toys was actually a criminal enterprise? And another guy realizes that the string of Santas who showed up at his door on Christmas morning, bearing such useful (and intoxicating) gifts as a jar of rubber cement, were really Johns looking for a “date” with his mom? 🤣

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Perfectionism

The professors made it clear: Even though they’re given a 1-to-5 scale to evaluate student performance in each semester of DelVal’s Counseling Psychology grad program, getting a 3 is the actual goal. That rating is labeled “Adequate” on the official form, but it means you’re A-OK. You’re on the right track, exactly where you need to be.

In fact, if an instructor wants to give you anything higher (better) or lower (worse), they’re required to include additional comments that explain why.

If that sounds fair, reasonable, acceptable…I envy your level-headed perspective.

I’ve spent my whole life chasing 5’s, and telling me I’m “Adequate” sets off short-circuits in my head.

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sober lifestyle

Turbulence

I interviewed my first freelance client last Friday around lunchtime — after filling out 100+ mind-numbing applications for content/copywriter positions and sitting on hold with unemployment for two months, to no avail, I figured it was time to take matters into my own hands — and after a quick trip to the local tree farm with my husband to snag a Fraser fir, I was sitting down to an early-dinner splurge on Jules Thin Crust pizza, when by sheer force of habit …(deep breath)…I opened the email app on my phone.

Two hours left in the work week, and out of the blue, I had TWO job offers flooding my inbox.

Neither was ideal, but still…🤯

Up until that point, it had been radio silence, with an occasional sprinkle of rejection, nonstop since early October. I was so thrown off by this sudden avalanche of opportunity that before I knew what was happening, I had housed my half of the pizza — and then some — in less than 15 minutes.

Free advice: if you’re an Highly Sensitive Person with anxiety issues and an all-or-nothing personality, never check your phone while eating. 🤢

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sober lifestyle

Holiday

I’ve started to get a “Twilight Zone”-esque vibe from this blog, where every time I write about being happy about something, it immediately goes all to 💩.

It’s like the classic episode — aren’t they all classic episodes? — where the husband-wife grifter team finds that old instant camera, and when they take a picture in the moment, it shows them what’s going to happen in the future. And most of what the camera foretells, with the (temporary) exception of predicting winners at the horse track, ain’t good.

You thought my 90s references were bad. This TZ episode aired in 1960.

No sooner did I start gushing about my newfound love of running, to the point that I was impulse-blogging from the running trail in a state of exercise-induced euphoria, that my hamstring decided to snap. Just one week after the aforementioned blog outburst, I drove all the way over to Yardley on a beautiful Sunday morning, gulping my usual turbo-charged pre-workout drink as I mentally prepped for a 6-miler, and when I got to the canal path and my feet went to push off toward Washington Crossing…

🏃‍♀️🧨💥☠️

Two weeks later, that hamstring still strenuously objects every time I move. 😩

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Experience

The student finished reading his personal narrative, and one of the English professors running the panel commended him on his closing paragraph. “You see a lot of young writers struggle with endings,” she said, “and yours was really strong.”

I wanted to yell out from my seat in the audience: “YES! Endings are SO HARD! Even for OLD WRITERS!”

The moment kind of reminded me of sitting in an AA meeting early in my sobriety and hearing someone talk about the alcohol-induced anxiety attacks that hit like clockwork every day at 3AM. It’s one of those things that everyone in a certain group of people goes through, but you think you’re the only one, and when someone else brings it up, you’re so relieved to know you’re not alone.

You’re hit with this feeling…like, you’re finally home.

That’s how I felt at the Delaware Valley University Student Writers Conference last week. Not surprisingly, I was the oldest one there — by quite a large margin — and from what I could tell, the only grad student. But art knows no age, and one of the first things you learn in studying this particular art form, other than “know your ending before you begin,” is to “write what you know.”

I was super impressed and inspired by the undergraduate authors all around me — like, to the point of tears. But let’s face it: When it comes to knowing stuff, I blew their little butts out of the water. I’m a 43-year-old recovering alcoholic in the midst of her third career transition (and second month of unemployment), for Pete’s sake! If life experience is a key advantage in the writing “game,” this “competition” was not a fair fight.

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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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