Still running (after all these years)

i do it for the sunsets

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.

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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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Click image to read article

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.

Don’t stop believin’

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In less than two weeks, I will run across a 5 mile bridge normally closed to pedestrians. The bridge hovers above the sea, which I have loved since I was a child. As proof, I submit a handwritten short story from the summer of 1985, when I was 11 and had not yet worked through how long it would take to walk 5 miles against the wind versus how quickly a cop car could swing by and whisk me off to jail. I guess I could have told the cop I was going to fix a so and so wire, which is bulletproof as far as excuses go.

The Dream

I had been counting the money ever since Friday when I started my shift. Each day I took a small amount. About $100 every two days. Crumpled, torn bills. Straight, crisp bills. The thing that really mattered was that it was money. I stared out the smeared glass window into the clear dark night.

What my mind was focusing on wasn’t the beauty of the cool clear autumn night but it was on the calm shiny water which I could view quite clearly myself from my booth. I loved the sea. Ever since I was a kid. My dream was to live at sea forever. That is till I died. I wanted actually to die at sea. True that isn’t the nicest thought but perhaps it will help you to understand my craving for sea. As far as I could see there was only the cold, metallic shadows and shapes of the bridge. It’s a wonder anyone would have the stupidity to build such an ugly thing (even a bridge) over an amazingly beautiful thing as water. I knew tonight I must escape. By then I would have enough money and no one would be able to catch me. It was all planned out.

First I would take about $600 out of the cash register. I would wait until 5 minutes before my suspected shift was over and I would leave my toll booth and cross the bridge by foot to my dream come true. A boat shop. I would have enough money. I don’t have a car only because I couldn’t afford to be saving up for a yacht. A beauty too. There I would spend my time every day traveling sea after sea. Come winter time I would be so far away it wouldn’t matter if I docked in for the season. Oh, I’d fish for a living. It would be wonderful. Amazing something could be that good.

I glance at my watch. 11:45 PM. Almost time. I was nervous. Why be? My money (well not exactly) was ready. Neatly packed away in my jacket. Looking around I checked the coast to make sure no one saw me leave. As I stepped out of the door a cool wind made me ask myself whether I wanted to go through with it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a cop! He wouldn’t notice me. But then again it was permitted that no one be able to walk across the bridge. It was 5 miles. I could’ve taken a boat. But that would take money and time. No, I needed to go now. The guard was staring at me. Without a moment’s thought I just walked past the sign that said “No walking or biking past this point”. The wind whipped through my thin hair and summertime jacket. I could have been more prepared but I had no idea it was going to be this cold.

Really it was no big deal. I had been walking like anybody else would. Occasionally a car would come by and the driver would give me a weird look but I could have been a guard going to fix a so and so wire. I could plainly see lights ahead. It would take awhile to get there. The strong wind was slowing down and yet I had 5 miles to walk.

Suddenly I lost balance and fell as my jacket blew open and back in place. Frantically I dug my numb hand into my pocket to see if my treasure had still remained safe inside. That was a big mistake. Because as it was safe, only on the edge of falling out, now that I opened my jacket it blew out. With a miracle happening (indeed it was too) it caught itself between two wires near the railguard. And it wasn’t harmed. Without hesitation I stepped over the rail. Then, while gripping the bar with one hand, bent down and grabbed. I had it safe in my hands before I realized that I was on the ledge of the 50 story bridge. I knew that falling meant worse than falling onto concrete. My friend had once knew a person who jumped off a bridge to commit suicide. With that thought came a loud shrill sound from behind me. A huge rig went shrieking to a hault as with a scare so sudden my nerves and feelings lost control as I went plunging 50 feet to my death, rather my dream.

I had a few thoughts after reading this story and sharing it with my 13 year-old daughter, who asked to read it because she was supposed to be studying for a history test and would have gladly swept the entire house instead.

1) Don’t bring a huge wad of cash to a 10K on a windy bridge. I’m assuming a secondhand yacht would have run around $10K in 1985 and the toll was about $2 then, meaning the thieving toll collector had roughly 10,000 singles. The cash really isn’t an issue, but I’ll secure my phone and car keys in a running belt.

2) Never give up your dreams. Whether it’s to live and die at sea or write short stories or be able to run 6 miles continuously, if very slowly, keep at it. Revisit dreams you had when you were very young if you can remember back that far or maybe you too had the foresight to write them down in a swanky cloth covered journal with built-in bookmark.

3) Share your passion with others. My daughter read a few stories and told me she was sure we would have been friends. She said “if we had a sleepover we’d probably stay up late talking and you’d say ‘oh honey, one day I’m gonna be your mama‘ ” and we both laughed and laughed because we share the same sense of humor and rudimentary grasp of time travel. I feel 10,000 times prouder of creating her, although I had a little help so cannot take all the credit.

Let me tell you something

On the way back from church, we listened to the devil’s music on spotify. Anytime I feel guilty about spending $9.99 a month for premium, I remember how much premium beer I would swill in just one night. By the devil’s music, I mean Halloween playlists. My girls and I are big fans of such classics as Nightmare on My Street and the theme from Ghostbusters. I imagine the devil is probably more into zydeco or Mannheim Steamroller.

My older daughter and I couldn’t wait for Ray Parker Jr. to belt out Bustin’ makes me feel good because it had been a year since we’d heard it last. I was explaining how my second favorite part is when Parker whispers let me tell you something so quiet you could almost miss it, when from the backseat my youngest said “I don’t get why mustard makes him feel good.”

Can I just tell you how much I love kids? I don’t just mean my own, though they’re super swell and I am not at all partial. When I decided to start taking mine to church, I envisioned listening to moving sermons on loving thy neighbor and lip synching hymns because I’m no Ray Parker Jr, while my kids had their own experience downstairs. What happened instead is I volunteered to co-lead my older daughter’s Sunday school class and I’m enjoying this immensely.

My prior group experience dates back to 1995, when this guy Tony and I sat around a circle of folding chairs with “at risk” teens from a Lutheran school down the road from my grandparent’s house. What I mostly remember is this kid, Christopher, talking about building a potato gun to shoot seagulls. I suspect his stories weren’t entirely true since we were hours from the sea, but I myself felt unmoored, adrift. I had no idea what we were supposed to be doing, saying, and I left each week feeling like I let everyone down.

My undergraduate degree was in psychology, though I work in insurance now. How did I wind up here? An old boss said once that he fell sideways into insurance, and I pictured myself doing the same, like a directed freefall. I unconsciously moved away from listening to and helping people, especially young people. Yet here I am in Sunday school, and it feels exactly like where I need to be. These kids, they have so much to say and they are bright and thoughtful and articulate and they have great passion for life and snacks. I feel a deep affection for them.

This brings me to parenting, which is harder to write about without digging into the ugly past when I know I was not the best mom. When I drank, my mind and energy became progressively redirected and preoccupied so that parenting felt tedious, like a distraction. I never was good at multitasking.

I still feel deep regret for this slapdash attention towards my own girls, but mostly I feel grateful I don’t feel it anymore. Over time in sobriety – and this didn’t happen all at once or even in the first year or two for me – I found more patience and genuine interest in listening rather than directing. I learned, I guess, not to make parenting all about me.

After church yesterday, my husband took the kids outside to make our front yard look like a graveyard. It’s a family tradition to dangle plastic skeletons from trees so that we have small heart attacks every time we walk past a front window.

While they hauled out boxes to decorate, I changed in running clothes. I’m training for a 10K next month, and my husband was sort of complainy about me not helping string up demons. I said “I’ll only be gone an hour. You’re getting off easy.” He said “did you ever think you’re the one who’s got it easy?” Touché.

I am super lucky. I have two healthy kids, a husband who loves me, two sweet cats who don’t sit on laps yet but maybe they’ll come around when it gets cold again. We share a cozy old home and not everything works right and we don’t have much money to fix the things that don’t, but there’s food in the pantry and the roof doesn’t leak and ghouls dangle from trees out front. Life is simple and good, and in moments like this and many others, I feel deeply grateful for all that changed since I got sober. On the surface, life looks remarkably the same as it did before, but the way it feels is wholly, entirely richer.

Trail I noticed while running that I want to take the family to sometime. See, running isn't selfish.
Trail I noticed while running that I want to take the family to sometime. See, running isn’t selfish.

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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The split rail fence was already here when we moved in years ago.

“It’ll be perfect if we get a dog,” one of us said. Still no dog, though we haven’t given up on the idea. We’ve also never treated the fence and so watched it silver and soften and thicken with lichen.

Lichen are not one organism but a fungus and an algae growing together in a symbiotic relationship. On Saturday morning, I tackled the fence with a paint scraper, carefully prying up each one in what felt satisfying in a mindless, meditative way. I also felt a bit like a monster destroying tiny, perfect worlds.

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british soldier lichen on a rail

Nature abhors a vacuum, which is never more evident than on an old rotting fence. Take away one thing and another fills in. I scraped and thought how true this is for vices. Love is the only thing that truly fills, but even love isn’t without pitfalls.

After the fence scraping and lunch, I scrapped plans to run on a trail by myself and brought my littlest kid along. In June, I’d like her to come along on a 5K I’m planning to do with a couple sober bloggers. I wanted to see if 3 miles is doable for pint-sized legs.

We were full speed ahead for the first mile. The second mile saw more breaks to rest upon benches, peer down ominous looking grates, pet a giant poodle, and stare in fascinated horror at one long-dead deer that appeared to be melting back into the ground.

The third mile is when we both got covered in tar. Tar! One second we were leaning over a bridge to get a better look at trout wiggling in neat rows in the stream below and the next my little girl said uh-oh and raised her chubby arm to show it was coated in shiny brown tar.

I decided it would be best to wash it off in the creek, which is really code for “here, you can’t keep all that tar for yourself – let me smear some on my hands so they’ll stick to the steering wheel!” Not only was I unable to clean off any tar, I sunk my new running shoes into a thick stew of mud.

On the rest of the walk back, my little girl held her tar arm behind her back when we passed others. “What if it never comes off?” she asked. In her mind, she had already graduated kindergarten and gotten married and raised a brood of babies, all with a gummy coat of tar on her good arm.

“We’ll get it off,” I said and smiled to show her I meant it.

“But what if you can’t?” she asked, already wise to the fact that parents can’t fix everything, especially ones with muddy shoes and sticky tar all over their driving hands.

We made it back to the car and a canister of wet naps, which occupied her until we reached home and warm, soapy water and a good scrub brush.

Now, if I’d just gone those 3 miles on my own like I’d planned before scraping lichen, I guarantee I wouldn’t have come home covered in tar. I also wouldn’t have noticed the melting deer or pet a giant poodle with my little girl. Relationships are messy, and we are richer for having them and letting our hands get dirty.

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lichen love

 

whiskers off kittens (a few of my unfavorite things)

I’m afraid of geese and cat whiskers if you must know. I realize it’s not smart to put my biggest vulnerabilities out there. What if my arch nemesis subscribes and is now loading a pillowcase with whiskers and angry geese? Do arch nemesises have to be mutual, or can mine be someone I’ve never even met? What is the plural of nemesis anyway?

And let me clarify that I am not afraid of whiskers on kittens, but rather when they fall off and are discovered loose on a blanket or, you know, on top of my pillow. Which is where my husband threatened to put one this morning when he found a loose one on a blanket.

He also sent me this picture he snapped this morning of our roof.

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And now I’m not sure where I’m going to move on such short notice.

The goose fear stems from a traumatic memory of getting bit on the butt by one during a kindergarten field trip, but I should probably clarify it was not even my butt that got bit. I was definitely bit on the butt by a dog in second grade, and am proud to announce I am not much afraid of them anymore.

I regularly encounter dogs and geese when I run. I make eye contact with the geese, but do not add a respectful nod like I do with dogs. If the geese start to charge, I usually clap my hands and yell. My husband threw pinecones to get the two off our roof, which seems less efficient but more fun and also not as congratulatory.

Last week I had a close call with a dog I never even saw when I was jogging down a familiar road. I had earbuds in, but still heard a spatter of angry barking behind me. I slowed my pace but did not stop or turn around. I kept waiting for the bite and thought how my butt must have looked like an overly plump set of tenderloins. But the barking eventually stopped and the adrenaline gave a nice energy boost for the rest of the run home.

I often think what I would do if attacked by a dog or a goose. I like to think instinct would kick in, but maybe I should run with some mace. At least then I could accidentally mace both of us and wouldn’t have to remember the pesky, humiliating details. One summer I worked at a camp where some kid “accidentally” sprayed a canister of pepper spray in front of an industrial fan during the farewell dance. Farewell indeed.

I’m less afraid of pepper spray and dogs and getting that way about geese. Whiskers are next!

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