Word of the Year – follow up

Patience has hair the color of honey and favors flowing skirts and a surprising amount of makeup. She’s thick around the middle and gets much less worked up about it than I do. She always wears this stupid easy smile that I envy so much.

This time last year, I wanted to be Patience, just wanted an ounce of what she had…that quiet reassurance and calm that everything would work out as long as I was, well, patient.

Patience was my Word of the Year last year. It helped me through the grueling process of finding a new job and settling in quite nicely, even if it took some time. For awhile, I questioned the longer commute and my ability to learn complicated new tasks and systems and had to keep reminding myself patience, patience, patience.

Patience helped when I stopped dyeing my hair about a year ago. Five inches of gray root is not for everyone, but I love it because it is mine.

Patience helped each time I felt frustrated with others’ actions or inaction or, more to the point, my tendency to make it about me. It helped when I fell off the wagon time and again with my old foe, Sugar.

Patience became a one-word mantra that made 2015 pretty sweet.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about a new WOTY for 2016, alternating between trying some on and thinking I would skip it this year. The other words I considered were good things for me to work on, but none felt quite right. And then yesterday, while driving to work, which, incidentally has replaced the shower and trails as my number one place for good ideas, the word Time popped in and I knew.

A wise sober friend once said that we have to learn how to fill our time again when we quit drinking. For years, many of us simply drank. We didn’t drink to cope with bad news, except of course when we had bad news (and this happened disproportionately more, we now notice). Because truth is we also drank when we had good news or no news at all. Dare I say, boredom and learning how to fill the time is the biggest challenge in sobriety and life.

If Patience is a honey, homey mom-type, Time is a wizened character with white hair (ahem), but otherwise a blank sort of slate. 

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. I can fill mine with mindless activities, such as internet rabbit holes, or I can spend face to face time with the faces I love. I can read a good book or irritating status updates of irritating people. My choice.

I can eat the junk or go for something greener. I can walk or sit and it’s all the same to me except that it’s not. It does matter, very much, how I pass the time.

Time is also a natural extension of Patience in that when I’m feeling poorly about progress or a complete lack thereof on account of being human, I can remind myself I have plenty of it.

As with Patience, Time is perfect for someone who suffers from anxiety and perfectionism with a healthy side of lackadaisy. We never know how much time we have left, so wallow in it sometimes, sure, but above all make it count.

Happy 2016 to all and because my exclamation mark key appears to be broken, I’ll end this post calmly, like we have all the Time in the world.

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Homework, for life

Homework for Life | Matthew Dicks | TEDxBerkshires

Someone shared this recently and I decided I would try to do it every day, though first thing in the morning because that works better, and in full paragraphs rather than just a few sentences.

The idea is to choose one thing from your day that you could turn into a 5-minute story. I already journal, so it’s a natural fit, and I’m finding the practice feels more focused and generates less whine.

The speaker compares the practice to meditation and promises it will change our lives and I’m a little excited because it may already be working.

Yesterday I forced myself out for a walk during lunch break, even though it had been over a week and my fitness level is so low I don’t even want to exercise. I forgot that could happen, but it can. Sad.

Speaking of sad, I was walking along a razed cornfield and saw all the trash that blew in and got trapped, ugly like scars. The path followed between trees no longer a bustling canopy but naked and silent. The birds will come back, as will the leaves and corn, but it isn’t the same without them. I wondered why I’d want to keep coming in winter with nothing to look at or listen to.

This will sound nutty, but sometimes I feel myself pulled in a certain direction. It’s not exactly physical, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Yesterday something pulled me down a grassy path I’d never noticed before. That’s when I saw a pond I’d never noticed before. 

On the way to the pond, I passed a cluster of trees and a smaller pond and saw out of the corner of my eye a charming wooden statue that I first mistook for Smokey the Bear or a murderer. Relieved it was not the latter, I stopped to take pictures and never made it to the big pond, but thought to myself no rush. I have all winter.

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Truth is, I didn’t think there were any more suprises in this park. I thought I’d seen just about every nook and cranny, and then I felt that pull again and followed the new path around and found fun new graffiti I never would have seen otherwise.

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This Homework for Life might really work. Knowing that I get to pick one thing from each day to write about – a mini story – might sharpen my ability to see.  It might propel me to take new paths. I’m not sure, but by yesterday afternoon I already knew what I would write about. I already have my story for today too.

One of the things the homework for life guy promises is if you do it consistently, time will slow down. This is the part I want the most and don’t believe will happen. 

Fall flew by and the holiday season is almost over and I still feel like I’m hovering somewhere off screen. It’s not entirely unpleasant and memories tell me we lived a full Fall and will be able to say the same at Christmas. But still, if I could just slow it all down, even just by a noticeable increment, I think I would like to do that.

A coworker shared an interesting theory about why time seems to fly more by the year. She said think back to a summer when you were a little kid and how that one season was such a big chunk of your overall short life. Then jump ahead 40 years, and one summer is just a blip. The older you get, the faster it goes until one season seems a blur.

Maybe this building momentum of the passage of time is inevitable, like getting older in general. We can’t fight gravity, but a minute always lasts the same amount of time. So the blur must be perception and there’s got to be a way to feel more present inside it.

I feel like when I wake up soon, the kids will be grown and we’ll have new cats and will have forgotten the names of the ones we have now. Rip Van Winkle meets Homework for Life. This is what I’m playing with at the moment and it beats stressing out over Christmas, which I am also doing, so maybe it’s more of a break.

If you have tips for slowing down the passage of time that doesn’t involve plastic surgery or meditation (none for me, but thanks anyway!), I’m all ears.

 

The Class Ring

In the spirit of free-write Fridays (aka baby, you don’t need to wash your hair today because you already smell real nice), I’m sharing a post I wrote for Chris at KLĒN + SŌBR.

Chris is in his 18th year of abstinent recovery from alcohol and other drugs and is the founder of the KLĒN + SŌBR Project, including the Since Right Now Pod, which is breathing new life into my daily commute.

At first I was going to write about reconnecting with spirituality in recovery, but that story’s barely started. Besides, it was fun to go back to the time before I discovered high school parties and my new god, beer.

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To read the story, say abracadabra and click the above image to find yourself magically transported to a much spiffier site.

Or here’s the link if you too are distrustful of magics:  http://www.sincerightnow.com/insights/2015/2/9/the-class-ring

The fine print:

All the names in my story were changed, mainly to protect the innocent, but also because who would believe the ladykiller I called Glenn was really named Dirk?

Truth > Fiction.

Here’s the poem Class Ring, which I heard in the mid 80s. In the early 90s, it was co-opted and changed to deliver an anti-drunk driving message, which the original author seems cool with. As with middle school poems and many things I read on the internet, this warms the cockles of my heart.

The death of Audrey Conn

Audrey Conn died just before Christmas. According to this article on The Fix, she swallowed pills and vodka and then hung herself. It took awhile for the news to break. The founder of Moderation Management was living in relative obscurity at the time of her death.

In 1996, I knew her as author Audrey Kishline. The picture on the back of her book Moderate Drinking made her seem more school marm than alcoholic. In fact, she was clear her approach was not for alcoholics. Moderation Management was aimed at helping problem drinkers return to moderate drinking. If only the lines in real life were that clear.

Moderation Management guidelines are pretty clear about moderate drinking. For women, this means no more than 3 drinks a day, but here’s the real kicker: no more than 9 drinks in a week. This must be some kind of joke, I thought, when I first pulled Audrey’s book off the shelf at Barnes and Noble in 1996. I was 22 and it was the only book I could find that wasn’t about quitting alcohol, although I knew I needed some kind of help.

I’m in awe of people in their twenties who quit drinking. Those were carefree days for me, and I was in denial about where my drinking was headed. By day, I worked as a mental health worker with schizophrenic adults. I lived with my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and we reserved most drinking for the weekends. A close friend held fabulous cocktails parties so we’d get all dressed up and head into the city. I’d creep outside my comfort zone of beer and guzzle liquor and later spew it back up along the walkway of our apartment building. It was a real classy affair. The next morning I might recline the driver’s seat of my white Festiva so I could curl into a fetal position in the grocery store parking lot. I was alternately working up the nerve to get the shopping over with and wishing I was dead because I felt like I might be already. That was how I drank. Can you believe I stopped?

But I didn’t stop then, no. I bought Audrey’s book and took it home and poured over it. I started the 30 day abstinence period during the month of October. I’d forgotten all about Oktoberfest. I went to one outdoor celebration anyway and white knuckled through while a drinking buddy snorted “What, do you think you’re some kind of alcoholic?” Of course not, I said. That was such an ugly, hopeless word. When November rolled around, I was relieved, but I wouldn’t say it was all that hard to abstain for a month. Thirty days is a light sentence.

By all accounts, Moderate Drinking should have worked on me. I was in my early 20s and not yet a daily drinker. I had a steady job, a nice place to live, a boyfriend, and no real personal or health consequences from drinking. I binge-drank on weekends, but even then puking and hangovers were saved for really special occasions. I continued to drink for the next 15 years, never once sticking to 9 drinks a week.

I read somewhere recently that moderate drinkers don’t call it moderate drinking. Shocking, I know, but they don’t feel the need to count drinks and plan their whole night around how much they drink or don’t drink. The first sign that you’re not a moderate drinker might be using the phrase moderate drinker.

Fifteen years of progressively heavier drinking got me back to the bookstore for another copy of the book that helped me so much the first time around. It was not there. The shelves were lined with books on how to quit. What the hell? I googled and found a book from Moderation Management, but with a different title and new author. Eleven years after it happened, I quietly read about Audrey Kishline’s deadly drunk driving accident. I think that’s the moment it fell into place for me. I’ve always described my decision to quit drinking as a mysterious, quiet thunderbolt from beyond. But now I think this was it. Thank you, Audrey.

I actually wrote to her in October. I said how much her book helped me over the years. I told her because of her book and my inability to actually drink moderately, I’d quit drinking and found something that felt like peace. I told her I would love to interview her, that I was curious how she was doing and thought other people might be too. I hadn’t worked out where the interview would run, and figured I probably wouldn’t hear back from her and didn’t for awhile.

Her response was short and sweet. She thanked me for writing and said she was glad I found the recovery approach that worked for me. She said she was totally abstinent and planning on staying that way. I remember she put a smiley face after that sentence. She said she was too busy for interviews because she was writing again. I was half-disappointed and half-relieved. It felt like a happy ending. I wrote back and told her I was glad to hear she was writing again and wished her well.

Suicide is black hole territory. I can’t help but wonder if I could have reached out differently and helped her in some way, however small. Imagine how her mother must feel. Her children! I feel sad for the woman who lost her daughter and ex-husband in the drunk driving accident and later became friends with Audrey. They wrote a book together, I imagine to tell about the devastating effects of drunk driving and healing powers of love and hope.

For what it’s worth, it all helped me. I can’t say for sure I would have stopped drinking if not for Audrey’s first book and her accident. Her drunk driving accident was my wakeup call. When I read about it in 2011, I thought that could happen to me. I didn’t know then that not drinking would turn out to be easier than counting drinks and trying hard to be something I was not. Everyone involved in her story cleared a path and lit the way.

100 years

Before the big party, my grandmother asks me to do her makeup. Her hands are too shaky, she explains, as she hands me a tube of foundation that looks too tan. I squeeze a tiny amount onto my fingertip and feather and blend in the worn light of her bathroom. She asks for rouge – actually calling it that – and hands me a tube of cheap lipstick. Let me go get my makeup bag, I say. Ok, she says.

My fingers carefully navigate the suddenly unfamiliar terrain of her face. When did her skin get so soft, so thin? When is the last time I’ve touched anyone’s face besides my own and my little girl’s? My grandmother closes her eyes while I work with brushes and pencils and the foamy tip of an eyeshadow wand. I alternate between worrying she’ll look garish and no different at all. When I’m done, she turns to the mirror and says to herself You are old but she smiles and seems pleased.

Five of us pile into my dad’s car and head into the city for this big party. It’s a 100 year celebration for a social club my grandmother joined shortly after she emigrated to this country in the Fifties. I spent a half dozen of the longest evenings of my life in this hall when my brother and I were kids. We were surrounded by old people who smiled a lot and spoke a language we couldn’t understand. They served plates of steaming gray sausages and beef rolls that resembled dog turds but fortunately did not taste like them (I assume).

This might be a good place to back up and explain there’s a generation missing. My dad is not my grandmother’s son. He is her ex son-in-law. My mother died from cancer when I was just over a year old. She was my grandmother’s only daughter. My grandmother never got over that one, I can tell you. My dad remarried eventually and my brother and I grew up with a good woman who I have always known as Mom. My dad, good people that he is, still helps my grandmother with things like taxes and escorting her to 100 year celebrations.

When we get to the hall for this shindig, the foyer is in chaos. I have to root through my purse to find our tickets. We give up our coats to women in folk costumes who usher us to a table and hold out tiny glasses of something. It’s Vityra, a honey liqueur. Oh, no thank you, I say. Here, a woman says and extends the glass again. I don’t drink, I say. Everyone’s wearing tight smiles to mask the sudden awkwardness and confusion. Another woman steps in and says Just a tiny sip like I’ve hit 41 and never tried alcohol. I start to feel indignant, a little hysterical even. She says to me, It will help for the next room. You are sadly mistaken I want to say, but I refuse again and this time it sticks and the others take their shot and toast. Ten seconds feels like ten rounds. I feel oddly fortified to face the next room.

The doors swing open and the room sucks us in. An unsmiling photographer snaps our photograph, only I don’t realize until he tells us we can go. If I ever see the picture, I’m certain I’ll be staring open mouthed at the ceiling or wall. The hall is magnificent. I haven’t been here in over 20 years and it looks better than I remember or imagined. The afternoon sun filters through golden curtains and everyone looks airbrushed and perfect.

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I drink Cokes with the girls. Normally I would drink Diet, but today I’m letting my hair down. I take pictures of the hall. My grandmother finds old friends to talk to, so my dad and girls and I head up three flights of stairs to a museum that needs its own museum. I snap about 200 pictures, all of which I’m going to share with you right now.

IMG_0033Oh, just kidding. Sorry if I gave you a scare.

My kids were the first to fade. Kids these days have no stamina for folk carvings and dolls that probably come to life and dance quaintly. Here’s the moment they realize my 88 year-old grandmother is halfway up the first landing.

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I feel like we’d been caught going out for ice cream without her. It’s too many stairs, I say. It’s really cold up there, my oldest points out helpfully. There’s old dolls, my youngest says unhelpfully. My dad’s no help because he’s still upstairs talking to the curator, but my grandmother doesn’t seem interested in the museum anyway. I help her back down and an older gentleman passes us and she whispers to me He wanted to marry your mother.

She says this again later about another man that stops by our table. He introduces himself to me as the man responsible for getting my mother and father together. I tell him thank you very much because if not for him, my girls and I wouldn’t be here. When he leaves my grandmother tells me he too wanted to marry my mother but he was too short for her.

100 year celebrations are maybe only somewhat surprisingly filled with speeches. A congressman, an ambassador, and a former hall president give speeches. Only one is in english. It sounds like the start of a joke, and the punchline is quaint folk dancing. The jarring accordion starts while we’re in the restroom. It looks like it did 20 years ago. I know it’s bad form to post pictures of restrooms on blogs, but I already worked dog turds into this post and hope you’ll understand.

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If not for the overpowering funk of air freshener, I might have pulled up a chair to take it all in. My grandmother swears it was renovated recently. When we get older, do all the decades bleed together?

After all the speeches and folk dancing, my grandmother wants to walk up to the buffet line and serve herself. They’re calling tables by number, we explain. I see several white-haired renegades totter over with their chinette plates. When you get to a certain age, maybe you realize rules are for rubes. Maybe you hit enough buffets that ran out early.

The salad is the best I’ve ever had. The cake has almond paste and layers and looks like it took someone a long time to make. The kids don’t eat much. I sneak them bland things I brought from home and let them fill up on marble cake with white frosting that someone mercifully put out by the coffee. My grandmother eats everything on her plate and wraps fried dough pastries in a napkin and puts them in her sequined purse to take home. Just when I think the night can’t get any better, a man about my age with spiky hair sets up on stage and plays electric guitar and sings Lithuanian rock songs.

My youngest one wants to dance. This kid, she won’t take no for an answer about anything, so I don’t try too hard. We’re one of two “couples” “dancing”. She likes me to twirl her around so that you or I would vomit. Kids just get crazier when you spin them that fast. She’s like a tiny top of madness and it doesn’t matter that I can’t barely dance the hokey pokey because I’m really enjoying myself. It’s a good thing I don’t drink because I’d never be able to handle these spins, I think.

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Soon the dance floor is cramped. This crowd knows just what to do and forms a giant circle. People wearing black hats are allowed to dance inside it. I don’t understand the rules, but we all abide. After the dance breaks up, my grandmother greets an old friend with a hug.

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We don’t stay too much longer. I’m the first one ready to leave. My grandmother is the last. She says my dad doesn’t want to leave. She says he and my mother used to go dancing all the time before they had kids. Eventually we get our coats and head out into the cold dark night in a huddle to keep warm.

Chorophobia

My grandmother shows up almost three hours late. At first, I’m not worried. I know how long it takes her to get moving these days. Getting out the door to Walmart is an hour-long odyssey. It isn’t just a matter of slow moving limbs, either. She has a set routine she follows before she goes anywhere. Pills and bills sorted and stowed. Cups and bowls washed with care. Wet ‘n wild lipstick applied. Doors locked and checked, then double checked. When I try to speed things up by taking over, the process grinds to a halt.

I hope I’m that sharp at 88. Actually, I hope I’m not still around at 88 because I’m not that sharp now.

Just when I start to map out her search party, she drives up in her spiffy black sedan. The first thing I notice is her hair, snow-white and stylish. She’s not wearing her partials, but her bright eyes counterbalance gaps in her smile. She knows she’s almost three hours late but she’s happy she made it at all.

She hands me a mystery wrapped in foil and a plant she forgot to give me at Thanksgiving. The cats and I kill plants, so I will leave it in the hotel room along with a modest tip on the desk like a plea. Please take good care of my plant. Bless You. Signed, The Black Thumb.

We take my grandmother to lunch at an old riverside restaurant trapped in time. The decor is wood paneling and salad bar. She folds her paper placemat and slides it into her purse to take home. I fight the urge to snap a photo of mine and now can’t show you what it looks like. There were vintage illustrations of a sea captain and crabs. Was there a cartoon clam smoking a pipe? I can’t be sure.

I order shrimp salad on a roll and my grandmother orders a steak sandwich. My husband remarks later he’s never seen anyone enjoy a sandwich so much. Half of it goes home with her. She rests it atop garnish and what’s left of a withered dill spear. This will provide at least one more meal, maybe two.

The word mindfulness gets lodged in my head after I spend time with my grandmother. It makes me think about the word I chose last year as my word of the yearNourish popped into my head and so I picked it and spent all year dodging it. Nourish, I thought as I popped milk duds in my mouth and played dumb-numb games on my phone.

Acceptance would have made a better word for 2014. But I accept that I chose another word and did nothing with it, further proving my point. This year I may not pick a word since I haven’t finished the last one. This feels both mindful and nourishing, or possibly punishing.

Soon we will join my grandmother for a big celebration at the Lithuanian Hall. She skipped over Christmas and has been talking about this for weeks. She tells me what she’ll wear because she knows I haven’t given any thought to what I’ll wear. She tells me I should drive down the day before so we can get ready together. This is serious business. I must not let her down.

I can’t wait to take pictures in the old hall I haven’t visited in nearly twenty years. When my grandfather died, I wrote a letter deep in grief to my new boyfriend who is now my husband. I wrote about how my grandfather used to drag me out on the weathered floorboards of the old hall to dance. He’d whip me around in a polka or waltz or waltz-polka. I always resisted at first from deep self-consciousness and maybe fear of whiplash.

There’s something about dancing. All that movement stirs up dust in the dullest corners and oils stiffened limbs. By the second dance, I never want the night to end.

The night always ends anyway, but it feels best to get lost in it with those who love us as hard as we love them, maybe harder.


Note: Inspired by CoachDaddy’s latest post, I used the Hemingway Editor to pare down flowery sentences. Professor Dowling, wherever you are, I hope you’re happy. This post was also written in the spirit of Just Write, via The Extraordinary Ordinary.

Is it too early to call?

When did I regularly start getting up before 5am? This is the dark side of getting up to write in the morning. Sometimes my eyes pop open at 3:30am and I’ll start thinking about coffee and how good it tastes and smells and, yes, let’s have some. I love coffee so much. I did manage to cut it out for about a week when I started having bad heartburn again. I spent the morning of my 41st birthday having a barium swallow x-ray to rule out causes.

Welcome to middle age! Here’s a hospital gown so confusing we also put up a poster to show you how to put it on. In a little while we’re going to give you a metal milkshake to drink, which we’re pretty sure you’ll find delicious if you followed the rule not to eat anything after midnight, which, yes, always makes us think of Gremlins too. 

The test went fine and when I popped off the raised platform at the end, the technician went “oh-ohh” and said she wasn’t used to such mobile patients. So at least I felt like a spritely 41 year-old.

This holiday season has been marked with minor illnesses. I also had bronchitis before Thanksgiving. A couple weeks later, my husband one-upped me and landed pneumonia. Our youngest then caught a fever-cough combo that lingered far too long. These were all relatively minor, but being sick and then in recovery mode sure screwed up my idea of how the holidays were gonna go down.

On Sunday, I hit 3.5 years sober. Since last holiday season felt easier than any before it, I mistakenly thought they would just keep feeling that way. I don’t know why I thought that or if I somehow thought in ten years I’d wake up on December 1st and all the gifts would be purchased, wrapped and underneath a tree elves cut from the black forest of Soberasia.

This holiday season started out more stressful than I’d anticipated. I white knuckled through. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not a valuable coping strategy, by the way. I don’t recommend it long term, but sobriety and life in general is sometimes very fucking hard. So it makes sense it will also feel that way. Hang in there, kitten! Don’t give up! The storm will pass.

My storm passed on Sunday, which was also Winter Solstice and 3.5 years since my last drink, but those aren’t the reasons it passed. Sunday was also the day I screwed up the nerve to show up for a big local running group in town. I’m no stranger to running groups, but this was a completely different experience from my last one. The group I joined before was more men and more competitive. This is mostly women, and a woman I’d never met before offered to run with me, even though I later found out her normal pace blows mine out of the water. The instant comradery and support reminded me of an AA meeting. I ran 4 miles and joined a group that meets to run when normal folk are still drooling on their pillows.

This is what I needed all along and I feel like someone or something dropped it in my lap like a gift. Here, I got you something I think you’ll like. At first I opened the box and thought what? this sweater? I already have it in three different colors and never wear it. But I held it up and thought what the hell and tried it on and don’t you know it fit perfectly and felt better by the mile. So, yeah, thanks universe. You always know just what to give me.

I got another swell gift from the universe this week. The Fix ran an essay I wrote about the holidays. I wrote it before Thanksgiving and had worked up in my mind that they didn’t like it enough to use, but then I got a very nice email that they were running it as a feature this week. They asked if I wanted to change anything, which I thought about because things went all pear-shaped and then got better, but then decided the holidays weren’t over yet anyway. Is it too early to call now?

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I know better than to label things good or bad, but I still do it. I also eat far too much dessert when stress hits, which makes me feel worse, but I still do that too. What I do differently this year compared to my first sober Christmas is I shop and wrap earlier. When’s the last time a Christmas cookie wrapped all my presents? Thanks a lot cookies, but don’t worry, I still plan to eat every last one of you.

I hope you’ll read the article at The Fix because I tell a story from my first sober Christmas when I was really struggling. A kind stranger I’d never met before or since did something so small I guarantee she had no idea how much she helped me. You never know where the best gifts will come from, but I can tell you sometimes they come from you.

Beat the Bridge

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I’m loading loose groceries into a tiny, ancient rental convertible and waiting for some guy to bring me paperwork so I can leave. Apples roll into the front passenger side, smooshing a shrink-wrapped pack of sausages. I check the time. 6:45am, the same time I’m supposed to meet my sister for the race. I still have a two-hour drive ahead of me. Where is that guy with the paperwork?

The nice thing about built-in alarm clocks is they have the opposite of a sleep function. At least mine does. That’s when you wake up before the alarm is set because your subconscious doesn’t trust real alarm clocks on account of not using them much. I imagine a mostly unused alarm clock might be passive-aggressive when it comes to big events. Plus I’m not sure I even know how to set mine properly.

There’s no taking chances when you have to meet a group of people two hours away at 6:45am on a Sunday morning and you have the parking pass. The rental car dream was a big red flag, so I got up before the alarm did or didn’t go off and I went downstairs to make coffee and mentally prepare for the big 10K.

A 10K is 6.2 miles, which I’d run a half dozen times since late August. My favorite run was also the first one I did along a flat and shaded roadside to an abandoned watchtower on the Delaware coast. On all my practice runs, I paused my running app so the clock wouldn’t roll while I snapped pictures, a hobby that paired nicely with running this summer.

This was the summer of running for the enjoyment of it. Actually, I forgot that I wasn’t going to call it running anymore. I jog. What happened when I went out for sporadic, leisurely jogs and left the timing gear at home was I got slower. Like, a minute-a-mile slower. I started tracking my pace again around the time I started 6 mile practice runs, but I never got faster.

I was nervous going into this race. The night before, we all got an email from the organizer that basically said “Look, we better tell you right now: expect long lines and delays. In case you didn’t know, you’re not the only one doing this race. You’ll be running with 20,000 other people. Twenty thousand. So take off the crown and just show up and enjoy yourself.” I thought it was the kind of email that might be helpful to get every single morning.

It turns out, the race was extremely well organized. I met my baby sister and her running buddies right on time and we parked at the nearest shuttle stop and were whisked off to the start line. Here I am in the only pair of sunglasses I seem to have left after summer, with the stunning Bay Bridge in the background, plus what looks like an unsuspecting woman getting ready to take a swim.

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The course was 4.35 miles of bridge, plus some mileage before and after to make up the 10K. The bridge part was absolutely amazing. At the midpoint, we were hovering 186 feet above sea. There were telephones and sobering signs for a suicide hotline. My sister said she looked over the side at the top, but I didn’t dare. We were so close to heaven. This is where I hit my peak, the part in the run where I felt strong enough to keep going to the finish line and maybe forevermore.

Then mile 5 came. For some reason, I was still chewing gum I’d had since the drive down. I didn’t want to throw it over the side of the bridge and hit an unsuspecting seagull, and suddenly this old gum felt like an albatross, a real liability I was lugging towards the finish line. My mouth was desert-dry and I a little panicky. This is where I wanted to walk so bad. Then a song came on my playlist that made me keep going.

I’m superstitious about using the shuffle feature during races. One reason is that it’s really hard to get my phone in and out of a running belt (more on that in a bit) to skip songs, but I also think the songs talk to me at various points, and often when I need to hear them the most. Around mile 5.2, when desert mouth hit and I noticed a hill looming in the distance, Ray of Light came on. I don’t even know I’d ever listened to the lyrics before, and then in my about-ready-to-give-up-and-walk state, I heard this:

Faster than the speeding light she’s flying
Trying to remember where it all began
She’s got herself a little piece of heaven

I happened to be jogging alongside an airport with grounded planes that were “flying” faster than me, so I got a case of the chuckles, which are like giggles for delirious, tired people. Then trying to remember where it all began brought it home.

Awhile back, I wrote about how driving across the Bay Bridge in the worst hungover state of my life indirectly, and not until many months later, led me to remove the demon alcohol from my life. Running over it sober, healthy? This was a big deal for me. I did remember where it all began and in that moment I was like “okay Universe, thanks buddy” and kept dragging towards the looming hill and heaven.

I got this when I crossed over. The finish line, I mean, not heaven. Maybe they give medals in heaven too, not that I’ll probably find out.

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a major award

I had the best cup of coffee in my life after the run. I got a space blanket, which I thought they only gave out for marathons, but I took mine because a 10K is as close as I’ll get to running a marathon.

The coffee wasn’t free, but luckily I’d brought a twenty dollar bill in my running belt. Remember the post where I shared the preachy, tragic short story I wrote when I was 11? Well, it almost came true.

While taking out my phone at the 1.5 mile mark to take a blurry picture of my feet or something, my precious $20 fell out! Now, I might let a $5 spot go, but not a $20. I nearly took out two unsuspecting runners in a mad scramble to pick it up. I feel really bad about that part and only later did I make the connection that I very nearly died, just like 11-year old me predicted.

So the run is over and I had such a wonderful time. It was amazing and empowering and all the things I’d hoped it would be, despite the race organizer’s low-expectations email. The best part was getting to spend time with my sister, who I don’t see nearly enough. After the race, we cleaned up and went to lunch at a fun place on the water with her husband and sweet baby boy. These are the precious moments, you know? This is what life is all about.

No dealbreakers here

Occasionally I get emails from people who are thinking of getting sober but aren’t quite there yet. I love getting these emails, but they scare me a little too because I want to tell them it’s fine here in Soberland – better than fine, even peachy keen most days – but I remember that jumping off point and how little I thought about it before making the leap. My counselor at the time told me to get to AA and I blindly did that and it just so happened to work for me in those early days. I went to meetings and I soaked in the stories and feeling of support and hope, and sobriety just kind of blossomed from there.

But what about those people who don’t believe AA will work for them? I know numerous people who got and stayed sober without setting foot in a meeting because it didn’t appeal or sometimes didn’t occur to them. They took up blogging or yoga or painting or running or chocolate – sometimes all of the above – to fill that god-sized hole that people at meetings talk about all the time, but of course they don’t know that because they’ve never set foot in one. Is their approach any more doomed or less-than compared to a 12-step recovery program? They certainly don’t seem to think so.

And what about someone who already went the AA route and doesn’t want to go it again but fears there is no easier, softer way? This isn’t a deal breaker. I believe there are as many ways to get sober as there are to go about your day. You can wake up and drink and lose most of it in blurriness and blackout regret or you can choose not to drink and read a sober book or blog or email a sober stranger instead and start to build your sober support network. And not drink. That last part is the only thing you absolutely must do if you want to stop drinking.

In the meanwhile, if you’re thinking of not drinking and aren’t quite there yet or you just want to read a poem about how to climb out of hell, Christy at Running on Sober cranked this out in a bout of sober insomnia. I’ve been up since 3:30 and all I wrote was an essay about carrying a metal Holly Hobbie lunchbox to school  and fighting over a tire swing for my daughter’s first grade class (my daughter just asked who’s Holly Hobbie?). Some of us make beautiful music, some of us clank around pots and pans. It’s still sober, and sober is pretty awesome, let us be the first to tell you.

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