Tough cookies

I have another post up on The Fix, so please check it out when you have a moment.

Writing for a larger audience has been a humbling experience. It’s taken me well outside my comfort zone into one of excitement but self-doubt. I may have taken the sweet, easy cocoon of blogging for granted. I don’t anymore.

Thank you for reading and for your comments. Thank you for the posts you write and for the comments you leave on other blogs. Sometimes I’m just lurking along and read something that helps me in a way I wasn’t looking for. Sometimes I’ll feel bothered by something I read and chip away at why only to uncover something new to work on. This sounds like it might be exhausting, but it’s not. Overall, it’s refreshing and affirming. It’s concrete, irrefutable proof of the hope found in connection.

I was just trying to think what else to write about and oh yeah, I celebrated 3 years sober last Saturday!  So that happened. I took the train into Philly with my family and we walked around a comic show and visited the market to get cookies as big as my head. I did have a drinking pang at the end of the day when I was feeling overdone and worn out. I took pictures of graffiti from the train and thought about the head-sized cookie in my purse. It passed.

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dont get snotty – unless you have a cold or are doing a cleanse

The very next day I started a 10 day cleanse. The cookie thing, see, it’s a (first world) problem again. This will be my third formal attempt at cookie wrangling. Think what you want, but I’m no quitter. Unless we’re talking about booze and cigarettes.

I’m in the middle of the cleanse. The first few days I felt terrible. Today I feel a little better. It’s like my first week sober all over again. I haven’t run all week because of weird pains and lethargy. I have enjoyed vigorous walks. Why did I ever stop walking? I can’t remember. I notice more things when I slow down and walk. I notice how vibrant and lush everything seems, even the air. I see teenaged geese waddle by in their full-sized bodies and fuzzy brown feathers. I smell dill in the woods or something in the wild that dill smells like.

This is one snapshot in time. I am happy to be alive. I’m grateful for the release and support I’ve found in writing….for the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. I’m even grateful for the cookies because they tasted good and taught me that I can’t conquer everything. I’m a tougher cookie than I knew I could be.

 

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The below post was inspired after reading two recent and lovely pieces by Michelle and Sherry. And also a short trip home.

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While watching my daughters reenact the “I’m Flying!” scene from Titanic on my dad’s boat, I realized I don’t hum on boat rides anymore. It was a bittersweet moment. I’ve always hummed involuntarily on boat rides and took it as a sign I could be deliriously happy at sea no matter my state on land. Watching my girls goof around and sing, I felt like I’d passed the baton.

We cruised past an eroding strip of undeveloped land, my dad at the wheel. I could see a tramped down path in the bluff above, but I’ve never seen another soul up there. My dad told me he’s recently walked along the trails, which branch out like fingers. He asked if I ever explored it as a kid, and incredibly I hadn’t and stopped to think how that could be. Then I remembered Old Man Jenkins.

Jenkins wasn’t really his last name and his real name was actually more fitting, but he’s long gone so let’s just let him rest. He was an ornery old fella when he was alive and who knows what his ghost might be like. The real reason I never explored the bluff was fear of death by shotgun. Neighborhood legend was that he once shot at some kids who wandered onto his land, which was only separated from our neighborhood by a tall chain-length fence strangled with ivy and weeds.

Jenkins ran some kind of ship repair shop or hospice for dying boats and he lived alone on an overgrown compound on at least five acres of prime waterfront real estate. He could have sold it and bought himself a house on the Riviera, but I guess he liked his spot and I can respect that.

The town where I grew up has always been a mix of newcomers who just want a pretty water view and people who stick around for what time hasn’t been able to change. It still has the same old country store my parents didn’t want us going in as kids because it was dirty or the clerk surly or prices jacked too high or all of the above. The post office and fire station look the same from the outside and I can still picture the inside of the fire hall from that neighborhood dance in 7th grade when I was allowed to wear eye shadow and mascara for the first time and felt beautiful for two solid hours.

My brother used to walk home late at night from his dishwashing job at the crab house and sometimes burnouts from the rougher neighborhood threw things at him. Once he got pelted with the letter E from our nautical-themed neighborhood sign. It wasn’t class warfare exactly, but there was a clear divide between new neighborhoods and old. Several decades later, all the neighborhoods are old and waterfront lots are scarce. People with money will buy up anything, tear it down and put up window-covered castles on postage stamp lots.

Jenkins’ old land sold and has a handful of new carriage homes on it. I don’t think he would have cared for anything called a carriage home. The undeveloped bluff has to stay that way, according to my dad. For the record, I don’t think Jenkins ever shot at anyone, but the rumor kept me out. I imagined him poised at a murky window, his sweaty, nicotine-stained finger twitching close to the trigger, his eyesight not all that great but his hearing pretty keen.


 

I love visiting my parents and smelling the brackish tides and watching osprey carry off long sticks to nests high above. I love visiting “home” but the place I miss isn’t here anymore. The kids are old now, like me, and most of them gone. The woods we played in are long gone too, except for that bluff I never went in anyway. Now I want in.

We were only visiting for one night and most of a day, so there wasn’t enough time for trespassing. There was barely enough time for a boat ride and a swim in the creek, but we managed both.

By we, I mean the collective we. I stood barefoot on the pier with my sweet baby nephew while my girls and dad swam in the silty brown water below. I paced to keep the bottoms of my feet from burning as they waded in to water that was still cold but sea nettle free. Soon they were swimming and splashing around. My dad offered a bounty to anyone able to locate the sturdy wooden rocking chair that blew off the pier in a big storm a couple of months back.

My girls felt around tentatively with outstretched legs and arms in the murky water and tried not to think about what else might be down there. Somewhere nearby or far away or who knows really, the rocking chair laid on its side, already fuzzy with algae and forgetting what the warm sun felt like on its softly silvered wood or the sound of unmuffled squeals of girls or rumble of motorboats and other things that had once been home.

He might know, but he's not talking.
He might know where it is, but he’s not talking.

 

Blowing my own anonymity

The same week I finally got around to watching The Anonymous People (on Netflix streaming, thanks for the heads up, Amy!),  I had the opportunity to write something for a new blog feature The Fix is running. I could have used a pseudonym and shadowy picture, but it didn’t feel right after watching so many give convincing arguments for the need to remove the shame and stigma of addiction.

When I first started this blog, it hardly mattered that I didn’t post a picture or use my real name because no one was reading. Around the time when I started to interact more with other sober bloggers and wondered what they looked like – did they look like neighbors, friends, family… you know, like me? – I put up a photo as nonchalantly as I could and waited for the fallout, only to find none.

I’ve used my first name only up to this point for a number of reasons. And while my recovery feels like a sacred, private affair, it also feels wrong to keep it hidden. I am not ashamed of being in recovery.

These are some of the fears I have about being open about my recovery.

What will my family think?

My husband is the one who said “go for it” without hesitation when I told him I was thinking about using my real name on The Fix, so I’m not concerned about ruffling his feathers. In general, I wish I had more of his sense of fuck it when it comes to what other people think. It’s pretty liberating to just be yourself. But I don’t want to bring embarrassment or shame to my family. Let’s think about this for a moment, though. What is shameful about being sober and a better parent and employee and person in general? What is shameful about seeking a solution to a serious problem?

What will my future employer think?

There is no hiding thanks to the almighty power of Google, so I would just like to take this opportunity to point out that untreated alcoholism cost the US workforce $134 BILLION in 1998 due to lost productivity from alcohol-related deaths and disabilities. Over 15% of US workers reported showing up to work impaired and 9% reported being hungover at work, the latter of which seems pretty low based on my own informal research.

What will the neighbors/other parents/mailman think?

This is a mixed bag. There will be some who think getting sober is a brave, wise decision. Maybe they too will have family in recovery, which is likely considering addiction affects two-thirds of US households. Or maybe some will think I’m weak or flawed or making too much of nothing. I’ll never forget a haunting line in True Detective where a reverend said (to an alcoholic) “It’s kind of hard to trust a man who can’t trust himself with a beer.” Some people think this way and it isn’t my job to change their mind.

I do feel it’s important to show others that people in recovery look like everybody else. We’re quietly going about getting help and struggling some days and getting stronger in the process. When I drank and struggled secretively, it made little sense because help was there all along in the form of recovery meetings, therapy, online support and more. Hiding my recovery feels even stranger.

I’m not suggesting we all march into work and announce our sobriety or wear matching jackets to more easily identify as sober brethren. There is no shame in keeping sobriety private and sacred if that feels right to you. No one should put their sobriety or personal livelihood in jeopardy by speaking out. There are ways to speak candidly about being in recovery for those in 12-step programs, but I think more often the fear is for how others will see us because misunderstanding and stigma towards addiction feels too big. That same stigma keeps people like us from getting help every day.

I am in a comfortable place thanks to my sobriety, living a life far better than I could have imagined. There is no shame here, only gratitude.

Click above to read full article
Click above to read full article

 

 

My baby’s first 5K

I stopped timing myself when I run. This started in early winter after I’d gone a long stretch without running at all. My fitness level felt like I’d slid backwards from Queen Frostine to the Peppermint Forest, and rather than get totally discouraged, I decided to lower the bar. It worked. I’m still running. No idea how quickly or not-quickly, but speed never was the point. I run because I feel good afterwards. I run because the simple act allows me to eat cookies. I run to connect with nature and other people.

Last weekend was the 5K I signed up to run with Josie, a great sober blog and race buddy. Thanks, Josie, for the heads up on this race and for this photo of us before the start.

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Josie’s the one with the fancy-colored hair. You know, I’ve always said I wanted pink hair and completely blew the chance to get it. Wth?

It was a beautiful day and the run was in a lovely, historic town. I love races through small towns because neighbors come out on their lawns to wave and cheer and occasionally spray garden hoses in the street for us to run through and cool off.

My two daughters also joined us for this race. My oldest is 13 and she found her own pace and beat her previous finish time by an impressive amount. I’m really proud of her and beamed when she told me she wants to keep running and possibly sign up for track next spring.

My youngest daughter is six years old. A 5K is 3.1 miles, which is a long distance for someone with little legs! She’s a determined little whipper snapper though. She told me two Decembers ago that she wanted to race with me. She even had her outfit picked out down to a purple jacket that she promptly outgrew. This particular race was very kid-friendly, so we signed her up and practiced walk-running 3.1 miles and got covered in tar for good measure. We were ready!

Her strategy was a zig-zag pattern of too-quick sprints and walk-dragging, with an occasional skip through friendly-neighbor hose spray.  She did wipe out coming off a curb near the water table, but she didn’t cry due to an emergency bandaid in my pocket and the kindness of a volunteer who saw the whole thing and brought her a cup of water and told her she was “very brave”.

She popped back up and walk/ran/skipped to the finish line, and both daughters are still talking about the post-race bagels. I have no idea where this love of food comes from.

Here’s a couple of pictures, stitched together, that my husband took just before my youngest crossed the finish line. She’s in yellow, I’m in gray.

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