I suffer from crippling bouts of early morning insomnia. People offer suggestions such as “limit screen time before bed” or “stop being so crazy” but still my eyes fly open regularly at 3am. I have a patented move I call Pillow Cloud™ whereby I fold mine in half and wrap it around my head, leaving a small hole for breathing, and sometimes this buys me a weird dream or two. The cat usually recognizes it as a kind of shield and will not step on me to initiate Food-Time Wakeup™, though sometimes the sensors get clogged with feathers or the two devices otherwise do not communicate.
The bonus of early morning insomnia are the dreams when I do manage to fall back to sleep. The other night I dreamt there was a squirrel in my basement and I had a dickens of a time catching it with my bare hands. When I finally grabbed hold long enough to open the door and fling it into the backyard, I noticed a woman catching another squirrel in a much more effective, professional manner. The trick was, it seems, grabbing a squirrel by its ears, at which point it becomes docile and compliant. It was certainly my subconscious’ knockoff of the way a cat carries kittens. (translation: please don’t try it at home but if you do, comment in great detail about the experience.)
The dream, lazy as my subconscious is, was born of an incident the night before involving a cricket in our basement. In the time I went upstairs to get something to catch it in, the cat was all over it in wild chase. I did manage to wrestle the cricket away and release it outside, saving its life and our indoor sanity, but no doubt depriving the cat of a little fun. This might explain all the early morning stepping-on.
This morning in my facebook feed, I saw the following update: “I found a squirrel in my car!”
Another update from a different person read: “I’m getting a pet monkey!”
In both cases, I believe the exclamation points are warranted and not just braggadocious. (not recognized by spellcheck. FYI.) Both updates were from people I went to high school with and just saw at our 25 year reunion. I’m not sure what it all means except it’s hard to feel accomplished when others are literally living your dreams.
It wasn’t even 11am when we witnessed a grandfatherly type make a pass at a female clown. He asked what her name was and when she told him Sweet Heart he said “That’s a pretty name. Can you share some of that sweetness with me?”
“Right now I’m working,” she said, more resigned than annoyed, like it happens all the time, men hitting on her when she’s in mustard yellow ringlets, full clown makeup and shoes the size of Texas. Her words forced our attention to the agile flicks and twists of her hands as she pumped and threaded balloons into a skeleton before our eyes. We were well down the street of the festival before we noticed the skeleton only had one eye so we’ll never know why. Maybe he’s winking, I suggested.
The haircut place had its own fun. I was buried in a garish children’s book about mummies and only put it back (sheepishly) once I realized my kid had been called minutes ago and I had no excuse to still be reading. Mummies are fascinating but eavesdropping is safer because you can pretend to be thinking about grown up things.
A guy in his 30s was in the chair closest to me with a young pink-haired stylist on one side and another woman, his girlfriend or wife, giving orders from behind. “Take a little more off the top, but not too flat” she instructed, while the man sat looking dim but content. I wondered if he was mute or foreign, but after the woman wandered off to talk to another stylist, he yelled across the room “Hon, how do I want my sideburns?”
I studied his haircut as surreptitiously as possible once the cape came off and he stood and fairly beamed. The cut suited him, if only because I’d never seen anyone look as happy as I feel when I get a good haircut. He swaggered over to his lady and took a bite of the apple she’d been eating and they traded it back and forth for awhile. Once I saw a small child share an apple with a dog but that was kind of cute.
On the way home, we parked by a trail we hadn’t been to in ages and weren’t the only ones to neglect. Already narrow paths were eroding into the creek. I had to warn the kids not to fall in but they were busy jabbing each other with sticks. Several large trees had fallen across the trail at various points. I banged my shin hard climbing across one, not because the walk was cursed but because I was in jeans with a belly full of cheese curd from the festival.
We took the high trail by mistake and came out above the mysterious amphitheater and had to go the long way around a meadow of goldenrod and bees. We’ve always wondered about this amphitheater in the middle of the woods. Who dragged the lumber a mile from the trail head or maybe across a raging creek to build it? And why? Has it ever been used aside from mock pulpit lectures by power-hungry children on family hikes?
Sadly it’s in bad shape, and my shin too, though I managed a series of selfies.
The top photo is me not understanding how to work the timer. (My oldest daughter’s expression is my favorite part.) The middle picture is me not understanding mirror images and which side to sit on. Third time’s the charm!
I’ve been a runner for about 5 years. I still feel funny calling myself one, but read an article a few years ago that said if you accumulate piles of sweaty clothes on the floor, you get to call yourself a runner. And so I am a runner.
I started running when I was about 6 months sober. I’d gained about 10 pounds when I quit drinking. How could this have happened when I’d cut out easily 1,000 calories a day? Witchcraft possibly, though more likely dessert even if I still can’t get the math to come out right.
Most of us feel the octopus effect when we give up drinking, that sly tentacle reach for another substance once we manage to get one in check. For many it’s food because food is delicious and comforting and we need it to survive so there’s always plenty around.
Running became a way for me to lose that extra weight but it turned into its own reward. Here is why it continues to work for me.
It costs nothing to run.
This of course is not strictly true. We must invest in a pair of good running shoes. I buy my $100 pair for half-price when our local running store holds a sidewalk sale on last year’s models. I get running clothes on the cheap because I’ve found all brands trap the stink. Race fees add up if you’re into that sort of thing. Most of my running is done on roads where I live, which costs me absolutely nothing.
Then a funny thing happens a couple times a year and takes me by surprise every time: daylight fucking savings. I go from the freedom of being able to run safely outside before work or after dinner to not at all. So I join Planet Fitness because it’s $10 a month and I can run on treadmills and occasionally get hit on by old men. One guy said “I want you for Christmas” only I had earbuds in and took them out because I thought he was trying to tell me something less disturbing. Christmas had just passed like a month ago. Then he talked about his wife for a few minutes and continued making the rounds to the other ladies on his super early Christmas list. His wife was not going to have a good Christmas.
There are also too many TVs at the gym. Bad news and infomercials splayed like gutted fish. I take my glasses off at the gym so everything is fuzzy and leave my earbuds in. I do this because it’s only temporary and in order to be a runner I have to keep generating sweaty piles of clothes.
I get to do it by myself.
This is notwithstanding awkward social encounters at the gym, i.e. see above or that time an attendant had to ask me to switch machines because mine was making a funny noise, me red-faced thinking I broke it with cloddish heft though maybe it was furious effort or the fact that a hundred people use it per day.
For some, running is a social activity. I see lots of women chat side-by-side on treadmills. My sister belongs to a running group that meets on Sundays to run 10 miles over hills on purpose. Somehow it still sounds fun, but I’m a solo runner. The first time I slipped out the front door in sneakers and earbuds, I looked back for the spotlight and prison guards. I was really getting away with something, a working mother of two with this delicious hour to myself with no questions or demands.
Running also gives me time to think. I’ve pre-written almost as many blog posts on a run as I have in the car, and I spend way more time there. I love being in my own head, listening to favorite songs. I love spending time in nature. One morning I saw 2 doe, 2 fawns (still with polka dots), a heron, a fox, a half-dozen squirrels and at least a dozen bunnies, plus a guy walking a dog. This was all in the span of a half hour.
I don’t have to be the best, which is really fortunate.
I used to feel embarrassed by my pace. Others made the point that at least I was getting out there or that it wasn’t a race, though sometimes it literally was. In five years of running, I haven’t gotten a whole lot faster. The longest distance I’ve run is about 8 miles, which is a far cry from a marathon. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to run a marathon. I also don’t want to put the work in to get a lot faster. I stopped tracking pace and distance in spring so I literally don’t know how fast or far I’m running. I do feel stronger and leaner the more I run. I get to eat 5 cookies and still fit into my pants. Those are the numbers I care about.
Running makes me feel good.
Let me be clear that I do not feel good while running. Around the 15 minute mark I usually feel better than I did at the 5 minute mark, but it isn’t like getting a massage or taking a nap. Running, like any strenuous activity, is really hard. What feels great is being done with the run. I literally get an endorphin boost so that I feel a little high for about an hour afterwards. (There is no subsequent crash either.) Mostly I suspect it feels good because I know I got out there and did it.
I get to share it with others.
This goes against what I said about it being a solo activity, but both of my daughters run too. I wonder sometimes if I’m like a pageant mom who strong armed them into it, but I don’t think so. Or maybe I made running look good, though I’ve seen myself in the mirror afterwards and don’t think that’s it.
My oldest is in her second year of high school cross country. Those girls are hard core. They got up at 6:30 am six days a week all summer long and ran 3-5 miles in some of the hottest, muggiest weather I can recall. My daughter did this despite the very real fear she would not make the team. In fact, she fell short in the timed trial, but the coach let her stay on and she’s well aware what it feels like to be the caboose. She’s the kid who crosses the finish line after some spectators move on because they assume the race is over. Each time she gets close to the finish line, I cheer loud and tear up because I know it’s fucking hard not only to run but to be the very last one. I’m beyond proud of her.
My youngest is about to start a running program at her elementary school. We got her new running shoes and gave a pep talk about how it takes time and practice to get better and stronger. She is not brand new to running so she knows this already. In December, her and I and maybe her sister too will run a 5K race to celebrate end of season. Three miles is almost a cake walk once you’ve done it a few dozen times, so I’m looking forward to being there for her.
Teenaged me, who couldn’t even run a mile in high school, would be in awe of both of them. Adult me knows running beats booze and boys. Every parent wants a better life for their kids and I hope mine will choose to channel stress into something positive and rewarding.
Running works right now for me, but it won’t forever and it isn’t the only way. There’s also walking or biking or maybe knitting, all of which are easier on joints. The key seems to be finding something that is equal parts torture, er, challenge and reward. Taking the healthier routes seems to naturally lead to the next right path.
Yesterday was one of those rare September Saturdays when we had nothing to do, so of course we fixed that. The four of us loaded into the car and rolled past hills and horse drawn buggies into Amish country. When we stopped for gas, there was a young Amish man in a wide brimmed straw hat and suspenders pulling in on a bike with no pedals. He used a credit card at the pump to fill up one of those red plastic gas containers. The soft curve of his mouth and lack of forehead burrows suggested deep contentment, not unlike the usual expression of a dog or a non-Amish person napping at the beach.
Every time we head out this way, I remember the fantasy I have of running off to join an Amish farm. As with all fantasies, this one is not well thought out and I wonder where it came from. Are the peat farmers perched on gently swaying branches of my family tree to blame? Maybe it was just the smoldering Amish sponge bath scene (the first time the previous five words were strung together on purpose?) from Witness.
If you want to kill an Amish fantasy or any fantasy for that matter, take it to a PA Dutch smorgasbord. We line up like cattle to drink lukewarm pepsi from frosted plastic cups and leave half-eaten pieces of fried chicken for starving pigs. The best part of the buffet are these enormous diorama paintings in the lobby. Everything is over-sized at the smorgasbord, but these feel right.
On the drive home, we muscle through clouds of manure and a town where every resident had the same idea to haul their castoffs out to the lawn and see who will pay money to take it away. Soon the sun will set and they’ll have to pack it all back into boxes or bags and pretend they still love it.
Our kids beg us to have another yard sale, but really they just want to drink lemonade and eat brownies in the front yard while strangers appraise bad decisions with hands folded behind backs, heads cocked to feign interest before moving on to the next bad decision. I find it too embarrassing so instead we drag bigger household items to the curb the moment we’ve decided their joy-bringing days are over and later look out the window and they’re gone, vaporized or beamed to another planet for all I know. Clothing and shoes are tied up in garbage bags and delivered to donation bins within the week by a spouse who fights clutter like its crime.
Even though I’ve never read the book on the Japanese art of decluttering, I do the thing where I ask if each item brings joy and then get rid of it if it doesn’t. It may be unfair to expect that of a pair of boots in the first place, but I had three pair at the back of the closet that brought nothing but pain. Earlier this week I got rid of a pair of shoes because one made a sound not unlike a small squeak toy with each step. I threw them away on a whim at the carwash, placing them neatly at the top of a mound of life detritus and later hoped no one thought “oh look, a new pair of shoes!” It took the doc martens I bought in college over 20 years to start squeaking, and even though I can no longer wear them to work because the hallways are too quiet, I don’t throw them out because they still bring joy.
The cats, in their usual helpful way, take turns climbing into storage bins and on top of clothing piles I’m trying to work with. It gives me an idea for a series of books called Organizing With Cats. Organizing Your Kitchen With Cats, for example, would feature tips about the best way to clean and store cast iron pans alongside photographs of cats resting in stockpots or surveying progress from the top of the refrigerator (protip: assess cleanliness by checking the bottoms of paws) and would make the perfect addition to any yard sale.
Please join me in congratulating Whistler on his four years sober. When he hit his first anniversary in September 2013, he wrote a guest post and has done a follow-up every year since. You can read them all HERE.
In this post, Whistler mentions the importance of having a wingman or two (or ten) and I am proud to call him one. I guess we can do just about anything on our own, but sober life gets infinitely better once we share it with others.
Well. What do you want to hear about?
I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know about the time before, the drinking years debacle, all that… you’ve probably got your own story. What about right after stopping? You probably know that one too, but let’s say the biggest surprise was the huge amount of time to fill with something other than boozing. I mean really, do the actual math, it’s crazy.
Remember the first six months sober, the first year? Day by day is right. Triggers around every corner…like walking through an airport and seeing a familiar bar full of people, drinking and talking, and feeling that pull. But it gets easier once we learn how to take care of the time and triggers enough to begin to cope and tolerate. Then it becomes less about us and a little more about, well, others.
That was another surprise, learning I wasn’t the only person on the planet that life was happening to. I mean, I knew that and always said I quit drinking because of my son. I thought he needed to see me quit so he would quit drugs. And that was as far as I could imagine what stopping was about. After a while I had to look at drinking right in the eyes and say I quit because I want to live a real life. The funny thing is the more I admitted I wanted to live a real life, the more of me faded away. Just like the romance of alcohol (oh and remember the insane rush to drink every day, like clockwork), those mirage memories, this fades away too. I’m learning to wait a little more patiently at the end of line.
And hey, you know this, but just because one doesn’t drink anymore doesn’t mean our new enlightened life is a bed of roses, right? Fact is there’s lots of leftover junk to deal with and then more junk knocking on the door every time the sun comes up. Difference is we are now in a position to do something with it that makes better sense for us and everyone in our wake.
Oh, last thing learned. If you can get a wingman or two, someone in the fight like you, I highly recommend that. I’m telling you, they make a huge difference. When you’re pulling the sober plow shoulder to shoulder with someone who knows the score, it spreads out the load, such an incredible help. And the sober blogs. Thank ya’ll, you have no idea how you helped keep me in the game. So, sobriety. It’s a trip. It works. And life is a gift. I am very grateful.
In early summer, my youngest daughter, Audrey, and I sat down one afternoon and jotted down ideas for our first comic book story together. The subject was Boo, the World’s Cutest Dog, though if you have a dog you probably don’t say the second part in front of him/her. We don’t have a dog even though Audrey has long wanted one almost as bad as her older sister used to want a baby brother or sister. And that became the seed to our storyline, which was then beautifully drawn to life by artist Tony Fleecs.
A few months later, we have the finished comic book in hand. Audrey is even on the cover! There are three stories – by three different writer/artist teams – featured in Boo Issue #1 and it’s a great read for kids and Boo fans of all ages. You can find it in fine comic shops or buy it digitally HERE.
I grew up reading Richie Rich and Archie and later moved on to MAD. I have some sweet summertime memories involving stacks of comics and sun-warmed chocolate chip cookies. Sigh. Both of my girls have also grown up reading comic books since their dad works in comics, which is how this opportunity came about for Audrey and me. I’ve long harbored desires to write children’s stories, so I can safely say I had a dream come true this summer.
And Audrey, well, she has her face on the cover of a comic book. How cool is that? She shared a couple copies with close friends but has otherwise been playing it cool. We already have another story idea in the works, so fingers crossed.
While we’re talking books, Kary May Hickey of God Walks Into This Bar has her first book available on Amazon (I believe it’s even free today only). It’s a guidebook to recovery through the help of a bustling online community. She is a fantastically smart and funny writer, so I can’t wait to check it out.
I’ve been thinking about anonymity and how my own rubs me the wrong way. I am not ashamed of being sober any more than I’m ashamed of being a mother or wife or employee, but being a sober person doesn’t always fit neatly into those worlds. The fact is many people don’t understand addiction and make assumptions about recovery that are uncomfortable and untrue.
Chances are most people won’t think about my sobriety much at all. But some might think I’m weak for not being able to drink. Some might imagine the terrible things I must have done in order to need to quit in the first place.
I don’t hide the fact that I don’t drink, but I also don’t really bring it up. If someone asks about it, which only occasionally happens, I willingly and openly share my experience. Up to this point, that’s worked fine. By nature, I’m a quiet reserved person.
But here’s the thing about anonymity: at five years sober, it doesn’t sit the same anymore. When it comes to things I am grateful for, sobriety is right up there with my kids, my husband, and the little things like our health…a roof over our heads…cake. To make sobriety drop me off a block away so I can walk up and be like hey, I’m just naturally this way, well, I can do better than that.
Although, come to think of, naturally is exactly what it is. Take the booze away, see what you can be.
The timing on this is kind of perfect since September is National Recovery Month. Even guacamole gets two days out of the year, so you figure recovery deserves at least a month since it not only tastes good but also saves lives. I also just saw via wordpress notification that today is the 5-year anniversary of this here blog, which seems worth mentioning.
One small way I’ll celebrate is by posting photos of things that help me stay sober via Instagram as part of AfterParty’s Share What Helps You Stay Sober Project. Since I don’t have a separate social media account and follow real life, non-internet acquaintances, some might be surprised. Some might think differently of me. Most already think I post too many cat pictures so I’m not too worried.