We Recover

Contrary to what I’ve learned in the past about the stages of grief, in this life of loss and moving on, I’m finding that grief doesn’t unfold in some easily identifiable, progressive pattern like I’m playing a board game. Like “Ok, I rolled a 2, now I jump ahead two squares from denial to bargaining.. Ooh I rolled a 10, onto anger for me..” No, it’s not that neat. It’s a crazy hopscotch of two steps to the left, a hard right into acceptance and then back to anger again with a little detour back to denial and a two week cruise on the river of bargaining.  I’m aware that I don’t always just grieve the “right” things. Even letting go of things not meant for us leaves a hole that has to heal. I’ve found that even though by the end I was desperate to be free from my addiction to alcohol, a loss is a loss and the natural pattern of healing has to play itself out.

I’ve moved through all the phases multiple times this past year.

So now I’m into year two and kind of looking around like “what now?” That first raw year of newborn sobriety where I just laser focused on survival and maintaining my tender, non-drinking life has now morphed into an unexpected phase where this disease is fighting back with a toddler ferocity at being squelched.  I wasn’t expecting to suddenly have days of self-pity and moments where I wonder if I’m all better now. I have irrational moments of sadness that this is the new normal which is crazy because sometimes normal is amazing and good and why would I ever want to go back to that life?  The half life of “before”. Yet the thoughts cross my mind about moderating or trying to drink like regular people do.  Even when I know that ship sailed a long time ago.  Now that the first “make it to a year sober” milestone is met and I’m getting into the long haul I find myself contemplating grief and the idea of DNF.

I think its safe to say that a commonality among recovering alcoholics/addicts is a tendency toward perfection, workaholism, hiding weakness, not accepting help, not wanting to appear, well, like recovering alcoholics or addicts.  Which means that even sobriety we want to do perfectly. We want to ace it.  We want to knock it out of the park, get the medal, be a hero.  Yet the very nature of what we are trying to do: get real, show vulnerability, feel all the feelings means that this is a totally messy process.

I had the amazing opportunity to attend #SheRecovers in NYC this past weekend.  Basically, it was like the hall of fame for people in recovery: speakers like Glennon Doyle Melton, Elizabeth Vargas, Nikki Myers, Gabby Bernstein and Marianne Williamson.  They are sober women who are revered, and looked up to; women who have learned and lived and written books, all looking fabulous while doing it and kicking down doors for recovery advocacy while wearing super high heels.  There were famous sober bloggers and yoga gurus and poets and it was all incredibly inspiring in a way that kind of defies describing.

In attendance were 500 women all in various stages of recovery from a variety of things, from all over the US and several other countries, all converging on a beautiful hotel in Manhattan just steps from the Freedom Tower. Early Saturday morning a group of 25 or so of us ran along the Hudson. It was hazy and cool and there was talking and laughter as we ran through beautiful Battery park, looking out across the water to Lady Liberty and ahead towards the looming Brooklyn bridge, the city strangely hushed at that hour.  It was incredible to run in the company of other women who “get it”. And all weekend long there was hugging and laughter and deep discussions and that “me too” recognition and groups soaking up each other’s company.  It was remarkable hearing women with 10+ years of sobriety asking questions with raw emotions in their voices, still deeply engaged in the struggle.  And while I truly admired their eloquence and years of sobriety, part of me recoiled a little: like, wow I hope I’m not still that raw at 12 or 13 years.  And I realize how bad that sounds in a way.  And then of course all the woo woo it’s your journey, lean into the pain, one day at a time pearls of wisdom that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my head and heart reminded me that everyone is different and no two recoveries are the same.  But there’s still a part of me that hopes to be leaping buildings by year 12. Is that crazy?

I also was finally able to meet in person the Super Six: the group of women who have saved my life in this first year of sobriety.  What started as a text accountability group became something none of us could have imagined.  At the beginning of last summer, I knew I was going to struggle.  I knew with my three spirited kids home and all bumping into each other, my busy job and our reputation as the “pool party central house” that it was going to be a rough road. So I did something utterly unlike me. I asked for help.  I reached out on my support group board where I had been posting almost daily and suddenly we had a group.  And it’s been nothing short of remarkable.  In the past year, we’ve talked each other through both incredibly hard and mundane things. And all of us have maintained our sobriety. Meeting them was beyond words.  Six sisters.  And we just picked up where our rambling, long text and video conversations left off; just in person.   It was a weekend full of laughter and deep talking and just solidified for me that connection is the opposite of addiction.  It was a balm at the end of a year that left me with not one single surviving “in real life” friendship.  I got sober and everyone scattered. So, to meet these sisters who have helped me as I move through that grief was a gift.

On Sunday morning the six of us decided to run across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Halfway over, with five lanes of traffic below me and the wind blasting in my face, I looked all around me at the incredibly surreal, breathtaking view and it struck me that just a little over a year ago, I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox without getting winded.  Yet there I was, with five of the most amazing women I have ever met, on our second early morning run in as many days, running five miles like it was nothing.  Later that morning we stood together at the 9/11 memorial in the eerie quiet and it was overwhelming to consider that I was there in that sacred place.  But I didn’t need to escape from the emotions it brought up in me.  I could look down into the endless falling cascading water and feel profound sadness and awe.  I wasn’t numb.  I could stand there in that moment and realize just how remarkably far we have all come.  In one year, I have gone from soul-sick and near death, and being the kind of person who found memes like “If you see me running you better run because I’m being chased by something” utterly relatable and have become a woman who gets up early and moves and breathes and runs and  LIVES.  I’m not wasting my life anymore. And I don’t have to stand there ashamed at the site where so many had their lives violently taken away.  I am profoundly lucky that I am still alive; that I can make connections and form relationships.  I can drive through the Holland tunnel and not have my heart rate go over 60 when I would have been a hyperventilating ball of anxiety with sweating palms and shaky hands 426 days ago.  That’s remarkable.  It blows me away completely.  And it gives me a sense of purpose. And fear.

So now I’m home and the inevitable “what now” hits again.  It was a mountain top. Yet as we are reminded, we live in the valleys.  That’s where the daily grind, the opportunities for pain are. And if this past year has taught me anything it’s that the pain is what makes us grow.  Part of me wants to blast ahead, to the next mountain.  To become a recovery advocate who kicks down doors in her bad ass high heels or maybe in my old combat boots.  Yet, I’m reminded that this journey I’m on is just one day at a time.  One step at a time.  I get too far ahead of myself or spend too much time dwelling on what’s past, then I risk becoming a DNF.  Did not finish.  I want to finish my race, without regrets, in whatever messy way that is entirely mine. And after this weekend, I know even more deeply that I do not journey alone.

run to the ocean, run to the sea

I ran my first ever 10k a few weeks ago. It was held in an idyllic Delaware beach town the day before Easter.  The day dawned very cold with an intense wind blowing off the ocean.  The kind of wind that stops you dead in your tracks and makes your eyes water.  I arrived early, and ventured up onto the boardwalk to stretch and listen to the waves.  Crowds of incredibly fit looking people were murmuring and stretching and running back and forth getting ready to run and the light was breaking through the clouds like a perfect post card picture. I stood at the starting line, moving around a little with my legs feeling numb and listened to the pre-race announcements.  The national anthem was belted out by a local girl with a ton of embelishment; the notes bouncing off the house-fronts and I wondered if the sleepy inhabitants appreciated so much patriotism so early in the morning.

The starting horn blew and within the first three minutes I watched as everyone took off up the street, until the huge clump of people looked like a tiny clump of ants far, far ahead of me.  I nervously looked behind me to notice that I was still in a small group of older runners and some other novice-types so I tried to settle into the steady run I had planned, but my brain was darting all over like a squirrel.  It was so unlike my normal runs where I find my groove and it’s almost an out of body experience. I don’t race anyone, there’s no one to pass or be passed by, there’s no pressure to finish in any particular time. I tell myself its all very zen.  And I went into this race fully intending to be as “in the moment” as possible.  Until the first turnaround point on this double loop course which it turns out can really screw with your head. I was cruising into mile 2 when an entire army of freakishly fast cyborg type runners came blasting past me already well into mile three.  I glanced at my watch and realized they were running six minute miles and that’s exactly when my little zen plans went out the window and I started to have serious concerns about being dead last in my very first 10k.

I picked up the pace a little, got a sudden case of I gotta pee nerves and had to detour to the portajohn.  While in semi darkness, as I listened to my own ragged breathing of chemical fumes, I had a moment to consider how giving birth to three children has robbed me of control, not just of my bladder but of many other things in my life. I also realized that the majestic rising like a phoenix story I was going to share with my friends as proof of the power of sobriety was going to take a beating when I mentioned that I peed myself a little right in the middle of the majestic rise.  So I was rushing and banging my elbows on the side of the portajohn trying to get myself all re-combobulated and back out onto the road, all the while picturing myself crossing the finish dead last.  I envisioned the race organizers having already dismantled the clock, packing up their gear and no one left but my poor family huddled and waiting in the freezing cold.  Talk about a visual.  Clearly, if you are trying to go “all in” on cognitive restructuring along with all of it’s wholesome emphasis on asking “is this true?” then none of this sort of thinking was the way to go.  But there it was: That voice, the one that’s been in my head for as long as I can remember. The one that tells me I’m not strong, not enough, not able, not worthy.  It stuck with me through about mile 5. And then the course led me off the beach road up a steep ramp to the boardwalk for the final mile.  The wind hit me full blast, knocking me backward and I looked to my left and saw that amazing postcard vista again and then I had a new set of thoughts. “I can’t believe I’m actually looking at the ocean right now.  Or that I’m doing this.  Four hundred days ago I was almost dead from drinking.  I just ran five freaking miles. Wow, this wind is seriously intense. But I’m still going and I’m going to finish this race..”

That new voice is just a small voice sometimes, and in things like races where I’m slow and just getting back into running I feel like it’s silly to be giving myself pep talks.  When people are conquering far bigger races and mounting huge comebacks, it’s easy to feel like my own little raggedy runs aren’t important.   The woman who placed first in my race finished her 10k so quickly she had time to stroll around a little and probably have a snack before running the 5k that began an hour after our race. She ended up being the overall winner in that one.  I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive. And even more so when you find out that she’s 48 years old.  I can’t help but wonder what her motivation is and where you get that kind of drive and I try imagine all of her Whys. But her story is hers.  Just like mine is mine.  And when I think about how far I’ve come from my last day one to this day, I feel pride.  I wouldn’t have lasted much longer living the way I was.  I had given up on every dream I had and spent more hours recovering from the severe abuse I was putting my body through than hours spent doing any actual living.  If I was sore it wasn’t because I had just run six miles after running five the day before and maybe three the day before that. It was because I had blacked out and fallen again and had mystery bruises and because actual breathing, the in and out and the moving and the talking and actual functioning had become sheer agony.  I would try to drink to numb it out and then hope to never wake up.

So when I crossed the finish line it may have just been an 11 minute per mile 10k done by a novice middle aged mom of three and utterly non-impressive to what I consider “real runners”  but to me it was more than that.  It’s living, moving, breathing proof that I’m alive again.  I’m moving forward and taking on challenges that scare me.  I’m staring down a road and yes, people may be much further ahead than I am.  But I’m moving. One day at a time. One mile at time.  I’m going to do this. And keep doing it. And if some days the wind knocks me back and the challenge makes me literally pee my pants, then so be it.  That’s why they make black leggings.

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