Running is for humans

Early on in my running journey, I did anything and everything I could to not think about what I was actually doing with my body. I kept abreast of cracks in the sidewalk and gusts of wind. But if I could distract myself from the physical duress I was voluntarily enduring, I did.

Many times, though, I was convinced that my choice to run was not voluntary. It was some sort of cruel punishment for eating too much, or in anticipation of eating too much (Turkey Trots, anyone?). It was to get my body ready for a very long race that I had impulsively signed up for: marathons come to mind.

At first I felt so self-conscious running up and down University Street, a very busy thoroughfare with four lanes. I thought, surely people are wondering why this tall slightly overweight girl is flailing her arms and legs about. But what I learned is that no one cares, or very few people do. And the ones who do aren’t worth my time. I have my music up so loud I can’t hear them anyway.

I grew accustomed to the feeling of badassery and triumph upon completion of a run, whether it was 2 miles, 5 miles, or 15 miles. I’m a purist, so I relish the roundness of the number on my round watch face. I also loved the self-confidence that running imparted to me.

At the beginning I spent a lot of time choosing specific songs to add to my playlists, first on an iPod and finally on Spotify on my regular smartphone. There were many times, either running outside or working out at the gym, where forgetting to charge my phone or headphones would leave me mentally unable to hang with the planned activity for the day. And then guilt would enter, and then the next day I would work twice as hard to work off my guilt, and so on.

The other day I had an absolutely beautiful run. When trying to decide to go for the run or not, two things were not factors in my decisions. I ignored my slightly sore legs from walking and hiking the few days prior, and I ignored the blustery wind I saw from my home office window, bringing down the next-to-last stubborn leaves, not quite given the opportunity to complete their cycle.

As soon as work was done for the day, my physical body matched what had been going on in my head for a couple hours, and I stepped out the back door and pushed “start” on my watch.

Cue exactly 3.10 miles (I’m a purist, remember?) of bliss incurred by the combination of the autumn angle of the sun, a cool breeze off the river, the perfect pace, and the perfect music. I celebrated the best run I’d had in a long time and I’m sure my husband could tell you that my mood was elevated for the entire evening. I was high.

The high didn’t come from a manufactured experience like it did early on in my running days, nigh on a decade ago now. I wasn’t purposely trying to distract my entire being, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional, from what I was choosing to put my body through.

No, I was one hundred percent present. I was present with the leaves on the ground, their crunch barely audible above the Mumford and Sons song blaring in my ear. I was present with my breathing, very labored at the pace I was maintaining. I was present with the contact of my shoes on the sidewalk, then on the board walk, then on the road. I was present with the fact that so many people cannot run because they are sick with this virus ravaging the human race.

And then, I was present with my own thankfulness running up and down Union Avenue. For being alive, for being at the very heart of it, human. And that’s why I run.

November 12, 2019 @ 9:13 pm

We are at a collective breaking point. There is virtually no one I talk to who isn’t busy or overwhelmed or burnt out. Most people give lip service about committing to anything, except they’ve overcommitted to everything, seemingly. It’s strange.

I think we’re headed towards a precipice. All of society is running and careening out of control at full speed. We all know we shouldn’t be doing it. Yet we are anyway. We think our running is only affecting ourselves, that others should just decide to go the other way. Then they do and we run them over and blame someone else for it.

Our actions are ripples that undulate throughout the cosmos. We are all in this together. Individualism is great until it’s not.

There is a different sort of Great Depression coming – a depression of common decency and interprsonal relationship and mutual affection and caring for one another.

I’m just trying to get ahead of it before the stampede reaches me.

November TBR Update

Looks at calendar. Um, what? It’s the middle of November already? A little unbelievable if you ask me.

So far this month, I’ve read three books, two of which I had planned on reading and one that I kind of planned on reading, but then actually did, thanks to the library’s grab-and-go curbside service. And another shout-out to now teaching virtually again, at least for a few weeks. This means I have at least an extra hour in my day, which consequently lends itself to more coffee and reading time in the morning.

If you remember from my November TBR post a couple weeks ago, I mentioned The Dragon Waiting. I tackled that one first because next week I will be discussing it in the award-winning fantasy/sci-fi book club and I wanted to be sure I read it. This coming weekend or early next week I will probably review it a bit and write down some notes.

It was a tough but enjoyable read. The first thing I thought of when it opened to one of the main characters, Hywel, is that 1) I don’t know much about Welsh language and culture and 2) Beowulf. Since we’re discussing it in book club next week, I don’t want to say too much here. But overall I really liked the writing style and flow of the book. The dialog was tough to follow.

My second read was Season of Storms, one of the installments of the Witcher books. I loved this one. It was actually perfect coming right after a heavier, denser fantasy book. I have already had a good introduction to the world of the Witcher through first the TV show and then a few of the books. Geralt and Dandelion are true-to-form and I found myself actually laughing out loud. Mostly it felt like I was riding alongside Geralt as he went from here to there, but there were a couple plot arcs (is that a phrase?) through the book. It’s not billed as a novel, but with the way the stories resolve themselves, I would personally say that it is. Next in that series is Blood of Elves.

The book I just finished tonight was not on my original November TBR. Because the weather is getting cold here and I was already in Europe in The Dragon Waiting, it made me think of a book I loved as a tween called And Both Were Young by one of my all-time favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Last year or the year before I did a re-read of some of her books – A Wrinkle in Time, Many Waters, A Wind in the Door.

And Both Were Young is a really good coming-of-age story set in a boarding school in the Swiss Mountains. There’s all the vibes of a cozy winter story – snowfall, talk of skiing, wool, fireplaces, hot cocoa. Beyond that though, I remember why I loved the story so much. The main character Philippa, or “Flip,” comes to a boarding school as a tall, gangly, slightly socially awkward girl who through about the course of a semester learns to make friends, let things go, and also creates a relationship with what I’m assuming as her first boyfriend, Paul. She’s also very introverted and contemplative, which besides being tall, I can relate to.

The book is set right after World War II, so there is a lot of discussion of other students losing parents and family members, and dealing with the after effects of war. In fact, the book discusses a lot of perspectives of grief, and it’s a way that the characters, both students and faculty, bond with each other. While it’s a very fast and digestible read, it was just as great as I remember.

Today I received on request from the library An Ember in the Ashes, which is a YA fantasy book that’s been on my TBR for quite awhile. I might go ahead and dig into that. All in all, I’d say it’s been a successful month.

Boundaries

I don’t normally write for this blog on my work laptop and I usually have my Sunday post done by now, but my personal laptop seems to be dead. At least for now. Quite a bummer, too, because I was working on a very cozy vibe for a mid-autumn Sunday morning – complete quiet, a drowsy and cloudy sunrise, French press coffee. A few years ago something like my laptop completely kicking the bucket would have really thrown me off, but here I am writing about it.

I think we can all agree that in this time of the pandemic, having boundaries is good and helpful. Obviously we have the concrete example of a face mask, a literal boundary that we wear every day. We have “social distancing” as another concrete physical boundary. I hope that people also are beginning to understand the importance of work/life boundaries.

Fortunately, I’m no stranger to this practice of creating and enforcing boundaries. Long before infertility, long before moving to the East Coast, tunneling through time to when Aaron and I were first married, I had to set a boundary with work and life. He had been laid off and was in the process of joining the military, active duty. I was in my first year of teaching – which many teachers say that no matter what, is like this year for everyone.

In February of that year, Aaron took his last paycheck at the job that laid him off, and he was set to leave for basic training in April. Only two months away. I knew that it would be at least ten weeks from the time he left for Missouri to the time I’d see him again, and who knows after that. So I created a boundary with work, that I would get what I needed to get done at work, and come home at a decent hour so we could take advantage of the time we had together.

My memories of my first year of teaching are becoming fuzzier as I make room for more memories of teaching high school, but I do remember that not everything got done every day. My to-do list was long and never-ending, but I had to draw a line in the sand and say, “Done. I’m done for the day.” Because spending time with my new husband was more important. Because enjoying time we had together before an enormous change in our life was important. I was fortunate to have to learn about boundaries so young.

As the years went on throughout our experience as a military family, many boundaries were created, especially with time. When he would come home for a visit, such as Christmas break during Advanced Individual Training (AIT) or on leave from his tour in Korea, I would drop everything so we could 100% focus on being together – just the two of us and also with family. Yes, work was important, but our time and health of our marriage was more so.

As it turns out, this practice with concrete situations has really served me well throughout our time of attempting to add to our family, failing in the “natural” way, making decisions about which treatments to pursue if any, and then finally deciding to live without children.

It has not been easy, and for most of it I’ve been afraid of pissing other people off or at the very least, making them uncomfortable. However, at some point when you are so desperate for some peace and quiet in your mind, you stop caring about what people think and you just do what you need to do to feel safe.

I had not really considered that avenue before, as growing up I was taught to just deal with the feelings, push through, get over it… whatever phrases there were circulating from parents to children born in the 1980’s or early 1990’s, I heard it. I was taught to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I think that’s a good thing to teach your children, but it crosses a line when that becomes a detriment to the emotional safety of the individual.

Over the last six and a half years, since we officially started “trying” (those of you in the “actively trying” camp, please revise the list of jargon…), I and my husband both have had to lay down some boundaries.

Consequently, they have come in quite handy over the past few weeks. I’ve written a lot about church and the pressure on anyone who is not married with children to become married with children, be it single people, young married people thinking about becoming parents, or older people who have been widowed (minus the children part). I have a lot to say about the culture of the church, but I will leave that there for now.

There are many activities at church that just aren’t comfortable or welcoming for us. They weren’t even as young married people who weren’t ready for children yet. Trunk or Treats… small groups that are demographically alike… certain children’s ministries… They are all difficult, we have had to put our foot down about it. Sometimes we give a reason, sometimes we don’t. Mostly whether we give a reason or not depends on the apparent willingness to empathize of the intended party.

It had been awhile since I waved my infertility flag at church, probably since a Mother’s Day where I wrote in to the person who works on the service order and request that a single carnation be placed on the altar in honor of all mothers who could not become mothers for whatever reason. But I was asked to help out with a virtual “children’s/family ministry moment” and I had to decline, and in addition I have many feelings about the use of the word “family” in church vernacular.

Immediately when in my head I decided “Nope, can’t do it” all the justifications were running through my mind… Things like: ,Don’t get me wrong, I like kids but… or I just don’t have time right now…

But I didn’t use those to justify saying no. Instead, after reviewing the situation and the person asking, I decided to be honest and speak my peace. Having not done that in awhile, I was nervous… and this was over email! So I told the person something to the effect of, “Thank you for inviting me, but after our struggle with infertility, some things involving children are difficult and I cannot participate.” And guess what, my faith in humanity rose even the slightest bit with receiving a very empathetic and caring response.

So that happened shortly before Halloween.

Then Halloween arrived, and we were ready with costumes we bought from Walmart and full size candy bars. Yes, friends, we want to be those neighbors. Just like the folks who lived on Washington Street in our hometown gave out full size candy bars.

I really anticipated that I would be okay. The first few Halloweens of our infertility journey found me grocery shopping – all the kids would be out and about, so it was pretty peaceful to run my errands. For the past couple years, I sat on the fence, one foot in the tradition and one foot out – I would sit on my porch with candy, but have a drink in my hand. Alcohol does wonders for numbing feelings, let me tell you.

This year, I haven’t been drinking, so I’ve been having to deal with my feelings as they come up. It sucks when the feelings are in the “bad” category. And on Halloween, instead of participating like a “normal” human being (I’ve been lied to and tricked into thinking that alllllll Americans participate… and they don’t), I sat in my house, front porch light off, not dressed in my Halloween best, because at the last minute I had to draw a boundary. I didn’t anticipate it, but I whipped out that skill like a pumpkin pie out of the oven on Thanksgiving. (You can see where my mind is…)

So not only have I been running interference on boundaries, but my husband has as well on our behalf. It was pretty clear to him that I was struggling with some things and so when a situation arose with a family member, he shut it down. He didn’t even consult me first, and that felt really nice. Like he had my back. And that comes from me continuing to communicate about the boundaries I need and how I use them, and from his confidence in shutting down certain situations. We’re still a team, children or not, and that is worth its weight in….. candy bars? No, gold. It’s worth its weight in gold.

Meta post

On this blog, you get a little bit of everything. Some reminiscing and retelling of memories. Some analysis of grief. Some water cooler chat – shooting the shit about teaching. Some talk of books, a little of which is actually coherent.

Despite my best efforts to be “on” 95% of the time, it’s just not humanly possible. I’ve had this ridiculous standard for myself for a very long time. Adhering to this standard has made me successful, and I think it’s also been my downfall.

Tonight I feel pressure to write, so that I can stay consistent with my Wednesday/Sunday schedule. It’s okay, though, pressure is actually what propels and motivates me (most of the time). For other things outside of writing, like running, it’s just not very effective anymore. I think I killed that motor, honestly.

After a week of the national election, news about spiking COVID cases, and participating in the collective… grief? sadness? anxiety? of our society, I am just straight up worn out. I think last week I was headed upstairs to bed by 7:45 or 8:00. Granted, I do have to get up early for work, but that’s just ridiculously early.

I’ve been trying to find a term for the fatigue that I’m feeling, and I came across “COVID-19 Caution Fatigue” (see full description here). I think the biggest cause is a long drawn-out fight against an enemy that is intangible but deadly, invisible but definitely real. And the fight is endless.

One thing that’s helped me cope is taking it day by day. As trite as that sounds, that’s my coping mechanism for different periods of grief in my life – loved ones passing, infertility, deployment (not so much grief as stress, but I think it could be included somehow). All of those instances are events without timetables (even deployment was iffy..).

All of those events make us draw on inner strength, if we have it. If we’ve been exercising the muscle. And how would you know to exercise that muscle unless you’ve been through something like that? Those events also make us reach out to others. A global pandemic is arguably the most difficult – we by definition cannot “reach out”. Thank God for technology, right?

I’m still not drinking, by the way, and it’s quite a miracle. I spent so much time thinking about it that I would have probably spent less time actually doing it. And just yesterday I had a huge revelation about drinking… and food. And my relationship to them. But that’s for another entry in the annals of 2020.

So for the foreseeable future, my strategies are:

Caffeine. 95% in the form of coffee or espresso, most of the time by 9 am, most often through a beautiful vessel called a French press.

Reading. Is stress reading a thing? I’m now on to the next Witcher book and highly enjoying it. I can’t wait to finish rewatching Season 1 on Netflix

Sleeping. Yes, I think I need more sleep. Or at least more downtime that might turn into more sleep. What time is it? 6:51 pm? Shoot, too early for bed…

(And yes, I’m fully aware that my caffeine consumption could be harming my sleeping efforts. It is what it is, and that’s also why I’m cutting out any extra cups at work.)

Intermittent fasting. It’s all the rage right now. Honestly, the science behind it doesn’t really motivate me. It’s the fact that I don’t have to obsessively count calories (that is, the only way I do it) and I can still eat the things I want within reason. I don’t have to spend time in the morning prepping breakfast, and I can begin snacking in the late morning. When I stick to it, it works for me.

Cooking. This goes right along with the above topic. I love cooking. Spending a couple hours making a delicious meal after work is one of my favorite things to do. Enjoying the fruits of my labor for a few days afterwards in the form of leftovers is my second favorite thing to do. It’s also great for current times. I try to keep my pantry well-stocked so that I have everything to make comfort food like dairy-free tuna noodle casserole with my homemade cream of ___. (Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.) Cooking also gives me something to look forward to every day and keeps me in the moment

…and I don’t think my husband minds, either.

What happens when you read fiction or fantasy

Like I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I haven’t always been a big reader. I’ve always aspired to be a big reader, maybe even faking it once or twice, but never like my sister. Or my mom. Or even some of the kids in my family.

Truth be told, up until a couple years ago, I never really saw the benefits of reading fiction, and definitely not fantasy. I think my exact words to my therapist were, “It’s a waste of time to read stories that aren’t real.” Well, friends, I stand corrected. And sometimes I have to teach fiction so it’s helpful to everybody for me to read all the time…. right?

One. You learn about places you’ve either been to… or places you want to go. I’m not sure who would read Outlander and then decide they don’t want to go to Scotland. That is, unless you really hate cool rainy weather, endless precipitous sea cliffs, and amazing history. Last month I read Magic Lessons, and I think I fell in love a little more with the Northeast/East Coast region where we live now. We’ve been here about five years, and when we first arrived I wasn’t thrilled, but it is home and there’s so much to love about it. While reading the book, I kept having flashbacks to my short stay in Providence, Rhode Island last year in October. Even though the story was about witches (or because it was about witches?), it gave me a warm cozy feeling. But, Elizabeth, what about places like the Shire? Or Hogwarts? Well, those places can exist in our minds and through our imagination we can have experiences there.

Two. You see real people as complex as the characters you read about. There’s a story arc, character development. Sometimes it takes characters years to develop into their final form, and even then, even after the last page of a series, there’s still a question in your mind of, What if? I think this point is super important because in our world right now, it is so easy and even encouraged to demonize others. When a member of my family was getting out of a bad situation, I kept reminding myself that no person is either 100% good or 100% bad, even the perpetrator. Call it human nature, call it whatever you want, but we are all complex and subject to the human condition, even the murderer Jack Glass. People you may meet now may seem to be two-dimensional or in a plateau of their own personal development, but you have no idea the extent of the life they lived before your life lines intersected. And even our beloved characters in books – there is obviously a story before and after the tiny part of their lives that we see as readers. We meet Harry Potter when he’s 11 and follow his story until he’s 18, but when about when he turns 21? Or 25? Or, gasp, 30? There are innumerable events and chance meetings in his life that can change him still.

Three. Your vocabulary deepens. Research shows that it takes many encounters of a word before it makes it into our vocabulary, maybe even 15-20. Despite the research surrounding literacy and language acquisition, I believe there’s a kind of alchemy that happens in our brain when we read, and eventually those words will make it into our writing, speaking, and even into our imaginations or dreams. Of course, there is vocabulary acquisition that happens during phases of listening, like with podcasts. But I think reading is starkly different from listening to a podcast in that you are the one who adds inflection, who pauses when necessary to mull over something, and you make your own context by the sections you reread.

Four. You have something interesting to talk about… all the time. Even if all you’re reading is historical romantic fantasy, there’s still lots to discuss – characters, settings, and relationships among the characters, even reading habits. If you can get past the conversation where people low-key shame you for having enough time to read a whole book and talk about how horrible they are for not reading, it can be super enlightening to have these conversations. And another perk is that often they have absolutely nothing to do with current events or politics – for once can we talk about things that are not on Facebook??

Perhaps these amorphous conversations evolve into an organized book club. Without a doubt, telling other people about what you read strengthens your own comprehension skills because you’re retelling a story you read with your audience and purpose in mind – maybe it’s being simplified for a child, or someone who’s not as into fantasy as you are. Maybe you cannot stop talking about a book you read (as I am with Court of Thorns and Roses or The Bear and the Nightingale) and you’re trying to persuade someone to read it. That right there is considering your audience and purpose.

Five. You relax your brain and your body. For me, reading can be meditative. Right now, I read when I wake up (after taking the dog and during consumption of a French press). And I let reading put me to sleep. Maybe it’s that I didn’t have bedtimes stories read to me past the age of about 5, but I love being all cozy in bed with a book. The house is quiet, the dog is snoring. It’s like Christmas Eve every night. For just a little while, I can escape.

Five. You introduce yourself to new or possibly contrary ideas from what you know, or what you subconsciously believe. This has probably been the most instrumental thing that’s happened to me as I’ve really become a reader. You’re introduced to relationships you don’t know much about (such as in LGBTQ-affirming books like I’ll Give You the Sun) and decisions made that you don’t agree with, like in Tidelands, but you also can’t fully comprehend. This point of course applies to nonfiction, and this was a big reason I read nonfiction for so long. I wanted to know more, more, more information about a topic. The difference is that I would get stuck on one idea, like when I went through my Mt. Everest phase, and then I would be reluctant to read about new ideas.

I want to conclude with a quote from On Tyranny, a cute little but powerful book I picked up from our library sale…

Staring at screens is perhaps unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.

-Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

November TBR

Guys, at the time I’m writing this post, I just finished my 56th book of 2020. I cannot believe it, honestly. I started reading again as a habit back in 2017, and solidified my habit through my local library’s Winter Reading challenge (5 books from December to March). I started my rekindled relationship with reading with mostly nonfiction, beginning with Endurance by Scott Kelly. Spring and summer 2019 saw me reading the Winternight Trilogy – amazing!! And from there, my love for fantasy and some scifi was born. And as an almost 35-year-old woman, I have no qualms admitting my love for young adult/new adult fantasy like Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses… all the thanks to Sherry of Young House Love Has a Podcast for the introduction to the SJM universe(s?).

Now, it’s November 2020 and I’ve been an active member of a book club that reads award-winning fantasy and scifi. So for sure that book has to be on my monthly TBR. I also recently subscribed to Book of the Month Club, but decided to skip this month because nothing really caught my eye.

1. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon. Guys, I’m balls deep in the Outlander universe. I’m caught up with season 3 so please, don’t tell me anything! I’m not sure I will finish this one in November, as I keep my Outlander books waiting in the wings and want them to last as long as possible.

2. The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford. Historical fantasy set in medieval Europe. Sounds perfect for fall.

3. Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated from Polish). One of my husband’s and my goals for 2020 was to read The Witcher books together. We found a recommended order, so we’re trying to be sure to read the short stories and anthologies before diving into the novels. I’ve never played the video games (not really a gamer) but the TV show on Netflix is so. good.

4. Destierros by Gabriela Riveros (in Spanish)

Earlier this year I worked my way through about half of The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia. It moved very slow, was very descriptive, and lost my attention. It just wasn’t the right book at the right time for me. Next time I pick it up, I will read the rest in Spanish. Now that I’m back teaching high school again, I’ve been having a lot of memories of my first job teaching Spanish right out of college, where I completed a degree that should have been called “Hispanic Literature” because that’s basically what all my classes were.

Now that I’m reading again and with much more self-awareness, I thought I’d pick up some books en espaƱol. I am also on a mission to improve my Spanish proficiency, which hovers around intermediate-advanced to advanced. Anyway, Destierros was recommended by the Goodreads algorithm, so I’ll check it out.

I am teetering on the fence with how much to “study” the books I read. Obviously for the Spanish one (#4) I want to be aware of vocabulary and linguistic devices used so I can further my knowledge. For the book club book (#2), I need to remember things so I can discuss them coherently. I have a feeling the Witcher book (#3) and the next installment of Outlander (#1) will be mostly to go on an adventure.

154 days

I spared a moment of generosity this week and placed my leftover candy in the main office at work. I’d been stealing “fun size” candy for days now, weeks. I had originally bought it for a meeting I had this month, thinking, “Yeah, Elizabeth, you can control yourself with candy in the room. Just three pieces a day. That’s it.”

I was wrong, and I knew I was setting myself up for failure, if eating more than three pieces of candy was considered failure.

The truth is, my body doesn’t tolerate dairy products well, but it’s mostly when they’re raw. When milk is really overprocessed into milk chocolate candy, I can handle it in small(ish) doses. So that’s why I gave myself the green light to essentially binge candy every day.

Now, do I have an unhealthy relationship with food, that is, bingeing? Maybe that’s for my therapist to say. But I know that sometimes I do, especially when it comes to sugar or junk food.

As a rule, we generally don’t keep it in the house. If we do bring junk food into the house, we know that it’s for a special treat and we don’t expect it to survive more than a couple days. This includes Oreos, pints of ice cream, a cake or pie I bake, et cetera.

But I don’t forbid myself to eat sweets. I think that could backfire pretty badly. I also am not prediabetic (according to recent-ish bloodwork). I’m at a healthy weight, I have good blood pressure (albeit kind of low) and I, in general, am a healthy person.

I know that sugar can mess with a host of body processes, including menstrual cycles and metabolism. However, right now it’s been kind of an outlet. An indulgence.

I think at this point in 2020 (almost to the end but who knows what 2021 will bring…) we’ve all found our vices. Maybe we’ve rediscovered them. Maybe we hate them; maybe we embrace them. Maybe like mine, sugar, I say hi, how are you, and move on, neither fixating nor ignoring.

However, one thing I have forbid is drinking alcohol. It’s been about five months since I’ve had an alcoholic drink. I know I’ve passed the 150 day mark.

Before May 2020, I had another dry spell around 2012-2013, when as part of youth leadership at a church we were encouraged not to drink, even in the privacy at our own home. (I have a lot of feels about that that I’m sure I’ll write about… at some point.)

I am genetically predisposed to an addiction to alcohol. I’ve known this for a very long time, but continued to play with fire. It’s very difficult for me to moderate. First, I have one glass of wine. Then, I start to feel a little uninhibitied and want to get to a good buzzed state, so I have another. Cue more intoxicated decision-making and I could polish off a bottle by myself over the course of a weekend afternoon and evening.

Same goes for holidays, though I completely viewed them as a free pass to day drink. Add on trips to wineries, one of my favorite pastimes. There’s something so cozy and “adult” about sitting on a stone patio overlooking rolling hills with a glass of wine in hand on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Late in May, after a particularly active evening of drinking whatever was available, I puked. Thankfully, not in someone’s house or someone’s car (both have happened, unfortunately), but it was enough to jar my brain into rethinking my relationship with alcohol.

I felt like absolute warmed-up death the next day. Missy, our dog, must have known how guilty and physically awful I felt, because she cuddled on the couch with me all day. I don’t have “normal” hangovers, I guess – my stomach feels bad and I have no appetite, not even for that sugary or fried junk food I mentioned earlier.

It was then I decided to see how long I could go without drinking. A long COVID summer lay ahead. First I got through Memorial Day. And then vacation, my first vacation in years that I had been 100% sober. And then a camping trip. Finally, I had made it through a sober summer and stared down the barrel of the beginning of everyone’s favorite shitshow of a school year. Well, now, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Now we’re on the verge of the holidays, and this will be my first holiday season in probably my entire life (since I was a teenasger) where I’ve been completely sober.

The first couple weeks, I felt like I was on Cloud Nine. I felt like all my ducks were in a row, as it were, and that I was in control. Slowly, the elated feeling faded away into monotony. Every day felt the same. Friday? Ok, great. Maybe we’ll order pizza. (No wine.) Saturday afternoon grilling on the patio? Nice, grab a sparkling water. (No tequila mixed drink.) Sunday afternoon, how about the winery? Oh, nevermind, I’m going to do ____ instead.

Throughout this experiment with sobriety, I’ve discovered a lot about myself. For one, I knew I had a poor relationship to alcohol. I’ve used it as a balm for pretty much everything – happiness, grief, weddings, funerals, regular ole days, Superbowl. No longer can I ignore my feelings, though. Friday nights can be particularly difficult as I anticipate the weekend ahead while considering the week behind me. Having a few glasses of wine or cocktails on a Friday night delineated my teacher-ness and my Elizabeth-ness. And now I don’t have that.

I have learned to work through my feelings day by day, which frankly, really sucks. It really sucks to have an intense moment of grief and no way to assuage it besides the meditative coping mechanisms in my mind. There’s no crutch anymore; just me.

I was very worried about appearing socially sans alcohol. I really thought it made me funnier, more charming, more witty. Turns out, I’m alright without it. Now, we also have COVID to thank for not having to navigate the social world in all its glory right now. That I am very thankful for.

I have to find other ways of sorting through feelings and having special moments. My “thing” right now is coffee + reading in the mornings before work. I’ve been making myself a French press every morning that I enjoy with whatever dairy-free creamer of my choice. On weekdays, I don’t have much time, maybe 20 minutes, to sit and read and contemplate the day. But on the weekends, I find I get out of bed with even more gusto than on a regular morning. I have found that I love enjoying my coffee with a book or some writing before the dog and husband are awake for the day. In the summers, I can sit in my chair in the living room and watch the sun rise in the east.

Waking up not hungover is probably the best feeling there is. No regret, no wondering if I say or did anything stupid. No guilt about Aaron having to take care of my drunk ass. And no waking up in the middle of the night, heart racing, sweating, worrying. That’s it, just worrying.

So you see, the sugar consumption is not the biggest deal in the world. Maybe I’m replacing my habit, but there are many reasons why not drinking is the right choice for me right now. And it has nothing to do with an external religious force that makes me feel guilty for imbibing. It has everything to do with my relationship to myself.

This week I felt a really intense craving for a glass of wine, the bottle of Chianti I have in the other room. I could see myself picking out my glass, opening the bottle to let it breathe, take a sip and savor it in my mouth. And then the daydream faded like it was a balloon being popped, and my rose colored glasses were simply just glasses again.

All I can say is that I’ve picked a hell of a year to stop drinking, and it’s not over yet.

Stories abound

From even before we are born, we are told stories. Maybe they’re bedtime stories. Maybe they’re daytime stories. Maybe they’re stories told to us before a nap. But they’re there.

It’s long been debunked that we humans are born as a “clean slate,” without context, completely free to be molded by our environment.

To say that humans are born as a clean slate is to discount our stories.

Which ones have you been told?

And which ones do you believe?

Which ones have holes, incongruencies?

Which ones make you feel warm and fuzzy inside?

In which stories were you told lies, maybe to pacify your curiosity?

In which stories were you presented the truth? (Probably not many, considering every human is a subjective, biased source. Maybe I’m just pessimistic.)

It’s no wonder that at some point every person goes on a self-centered mission to find out who they are. I don’t say self-centered with a negative connotation, either. Because it’s okay to center on yourself in order to fully actualize in the world.

The world now abounds with stories, and it’s gone beyond small concentric and geographic circles. The stories we’re not only told but participants in intersect at many locations, some unintended. Some stories are deafening in their details, trippy in their timelines. Some stories today really convince me that there is, in fact, a monster hiding under my bed.

My whole life I’ve been pretty bad at reading comprehension. Probably a “C” student, if you had to put a letter grade on it. I have a vivid memory in fifth grade when in order to answer a short answer comprehension question fully, I wrote in really big letters thinking I could trick my teacher into believing my answer was sufficient. It turns out it wasn’t.

I think once I was given the whole picture, I was pretty decent at parsing out the details, and I was (am) very good at making philosophical connections and inferences. I was also really good at math, and maybe that’s a reason I was invited to the gifted program.

I was a member of “Avid Readers,” one of the gifted/talented pull-out English Language Arts groups I could choose from. I wanted so badly to be like my friend Kara, who could read very fast and retain information. I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t quite grasp the stories I was reading.

For a long long time after that, I didn’t have much curiosity about the stories I was reading. Romeo & Juliet, Great Expectations, Julius Caesar, The Great Gatsby, The Jungle. They all passed me by. I knew what iambic pentameter and who Charles Dickens were, but summarizing or retelling the story were near impossible without help from my bff, Cliff Notes. It’s a shame, because from what I’ve heard, those are all beautiful stories.

My 11th grade English and etymology teacher, affectionately referred to as Momma Knight, spoke all the time about the human condition. Of course, to a 16-year-old woman-child it sounded very ethereal and esoteric, maybe something I’d understand someday.

Now as an almost 35-year-old woman, I wish I could go back to those classes and read those stories anew. While the context I was born with didn’t lend itself to understanding the plight of those characters, I have context now, and perhaps sometime in the past 20 years walked in the shoes of some of those seminal characters.

I’m critical now, of the stories I read. And more so of the stories I hear. And the most evaluative of the stories that flood my memories. I look at them from all angles, examining the setting, plot, characters, and conflicts. I provide evidence based on my own experience. And in time I will draw my own conclusions.

Fooling myself

For a good chunk of my life I had no idea how to relax. I would be so excited for what seemed like endless amounts of time on the weekends or school breaks, and then it would feel like I squandered it by doing… I don’t even know what, exactly.

By the time I reached high school, I simultaneously was excited for and dreaded breaks or time off. Through high school and college, I suffered from depression during those times, especially summers. The lack of routine and set schedule really got me down.

Since then, there’s been a push and pull of priorities, some due to the privileges I enjoy now and some due to many years of creating healthy boundaries and “work-life balance.”

In talking with my therapist the other day, I discovered that in the times I felt depressed on winter [or insert whatever holiday] break, I didn’t trust myself. During the week or times of routine, I relied heavily on my schedule to determine the appropriate times for all my activities. I hadn’t quite learned self-regulation of my own schedule.

For instance, I have a history of starting a project and either getting so carried away with that I can’t stop until it’s finished, or I leave it to collect dust for a number of months until I remember my fondness for it and dig it out of the pile of Misfit Projects. I think many times I would abandon a project because I would get too much into my own head about “wasting” time on something that I actually did enjoy instead of engaging in something more “productive.”

This practice of never penciling in unscheduled activities came to a fever pitch when Aaron was out and about (either in the field or deployed) with the military. Whether it was for two weeks, a month, or our longest separation of 10 months, I found myself jumping at every last opportunity to be busy or spend time away from the house. It was just too hard to be there alone.

There’s a long path of steps up to my current level of self-actualization that could not have occurred without those trying times and bouts of depression, however. I needed to go through the tough things to appreciate the good ones. To appreciate myself for who I am – independent, worthy of relaxation.

These days I still have a list of projects, some that are completed with a feverish pace, and others that sit for months until I pick them up again. I always am caught in a flurry of hobbies and love immersing myself in creative things when I’m not working. But no longer do I feel guilty or weird if I spend, for example, two hours on a Sunday afternoon napping, or watching football, or cooking food for the week.

I think the key is that I can’t have so many boundaries for myself during my time off. I need to allow myself a large swath of time to ponder, explore, and create. It keeps me mentally healthy. I inwardly rejoice even upon waking up early on a weekend morning, or especially upon waking up early on a weekend morning. I see nothing but potential for the day, be it through a cup (or entire French press) of coffee, reading, cross-stitching, napping, cooking, whatever. The joy in the day is not derived by the activity necessarily, but in the agency involved in choosing the activity. And having no regrets for how I spent my time.

Life right now is not at all what we planned it would look like. Humans are kind of programmed to predict events, so this pandemic really threw a wrench into everything. Nonetheless, it gives us a perfect opportunity to see our habits and actions for what they really bring to our lives – either how they serve us or how they manipulate or cause destruction.

In the view of the finite breaths we all have left, it’s imperative that we take the time to reflect on how we spend our time and if it’s all “worth it.” We can take everything out of our pockets, lay it out on the table, and really examine every piece in an objective light.

For me, hemming and hawing about the way I spend an hour or two, or even an entire day, doesn’t serve me well. If I complete an activity and then spend time regretting it, that is a waste to me, my friends.

In fact, I guess you could say I’d be fooling myself….