Week 23: What Self Care Looks Like

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Self-care is crucial to our well being, and it’s important to make time for it in our busy schedules. To truly take care of yourself, every day you should:

  • Sip tea near a window, allowing the morning sunlight to hit your face
  • Do at least 30 minutes of yoga
  • Meditate for 20 minutes
  • Write in a journal
  • Drink an organic green smoothie with flax seed, turmeric and chia seeds
  • Read a book
  • Volunteer for an hour
  • Spend two hours outside
  • Work on a side-hustle project for an hour
  • Sleep for nine hours
  • Throw your phone in the river so you aren’t tempted to answer emails or text messages
  • Buy a tiny elephant to bring you joy

Just kidding. That’s all bullshit.

I feel like every day I come across a list about tips for self-care or things to do be happy. Most of these are written by “entrepreneurs” or “life coaches” trying to sell you some crap with listicles of  things YOU MUST DO EVERY DAY IN ORDER TO EXPERIENCE THE MOST AMOUNT OF JOY. But if you don’t sip warm lemon warm and write down your top five goals for the day each morning before dawn, well, then you will probably fail at life.

Self-care – along with the likes of vulnerability and, for heaven sakes, authenticity – is a buzzword walking around pretending to be inspirational. Honestly, though, I’m a sucker for these lists and I carefully read them (well, just the bolded parts, I don’t have time for the entire paragraph) and silently commit to following each one because I, like anyone, want to have a better life. But what happens is that self-care, when presented with bullet points, tends to look more like a to-do list and less like suggestions on things that have worked for other people when caring for themselves. It becomes a formula and if you don’t follow it carefully it’s your own fault when things blow up.

When I was in the Peace Corps, options for self-care were limited. I couldn’t get a massage or watch a movie at the end of a long day. So, I ran, wrote and drank a lot, almost to unhealthy amounts (well, except for the writing, I don’t think one can write too much). In the vast comforts of America, I can take a bath, buy an expensive organic smoothie or listen to live music in the park. I have all the tools to be well rested, well feed, well cared for.

Sometimes, though, I am so overwhelmed by what self-care should look like and what must be involved that it becomes more of a chore than an actual means of relaxation. One Sunday morning during my first year in Chicago, I nearly had a panic attack trying to fit in all the things I “needed” to do for a relaxing day – read the paper, go to church, hang out at the beach, go for a run, write. Going to the beach should NEVER feel like work and, yet it did for me because I was more obsessed with ticking it off as part of the self-care routine than enjoying it.

But like everything in life, there is no one set of things for each of us to follow in order to achieve happiness, success or enlightenment. You have to do what is right for you and that can change at any point.

For example: As some have noted, the blog has been a bit of dreary place as I work through some emotional turmoil. I cleared my schedule last Saturday so for a self-care day and assumed I would do yoga, take a bath, read a book, all those things on the master self-care list. But, with my yoga mat rolled out, a scented candle burning and my body posed to fall into down dog, I got the sudden urge to clean. I followed it and used the next three hours scrubbing grime off the tiles in my shower, wiping away any unsightly dust bunnies and giving every loose pen, shoe and old bill a home. It was not all what I had planned for the day, but it was quite successful in spending my anxious energy.

The next day, I read, wrote and did yoga.

 

The list of things that make me happy, that help me hit the reset button, change often but they are also unique to me. I can’t be happy if I am following guidelines someone else set, and I know that’s elementary to say but I have always had a hard time living in that truth. It’s good to get suggestions and ideas from others, but we are the only ones responsible for our happiness.

There are a lot of areas in my life where I need to stop listening to chatter from the outside world, but I think self-care is a good place to start. Instead of thinking, “Well, it’s a nice day to go to the beach and I should go because that will make me happy,” I can instead ask, “What do I want right now?” And if that’s staying indoors and watching movies, then who cares. This is my life and I get to decide how I want to take care of myself.

Hardest part of being sober this week: I had to excuse myself from planning a wine event for an organization that I am part of. I hate feeling like I am or could be letting people down, but I just couldn’t be involved in this event anymore. Thankfully, I work with some really amazing people who were very understanding, but I still weak in admitting that I couldn’t do it.

Best part of being sober this week: Instead of green beer for St. Patrick’s Day, I made us Shamrock Shakes and they were amazing. Ice cream > beer.

 

 

 

Week 22: Priorities

stormThe other night I made a list of all the things that require my attention in any given day. It contained 53 things. Then, I made a list of which of those items I actually cared about and enjoy. That list had six bullet points. I made a third list of things I need to care about for my survival and that came to seven. All of this to say that in any given day my thoughts are consumed with 40 different things that I do not enjoy nor are necessary in keeping me alive. Nearly each of those 40 things that I think about each day can be linked back to letting others down or failing to meet someone else’s expectations.

One day this week I woke up early to write, but instead answered emails and recorded my volunteer hours until it was time to shower. Work was work, and by the end of the day my soul had little fight left in it, despite that it would be several more hours before I could crawl back into bed and leave everything behind. Before an event that night, I went to a coffee shop and wrote in my journal every thought I had, hoping giving them space on a page would loosen their grip on my throat. Several times, I wrote how much I hated the woman sitting next to me, working on some kind of presentation. I didn’t share a single word with her and I don’t think she ever looked my direction after I sat down, but I could tell by the diamond ring on her finger and perfectly tailored blazer that her life was better than mine and that her demons were less persistent, and so that made me hate her. The most happiness I felt all day up until that point was fantasizing about throwing my phone in the river and wandering through a part of the city where I knew I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.

Later, I walked to the event several blocks away and noticed every single bar along the way. One themed fancy cocktails, another Irish beers. Each one became harder to walk past. I could skip everything, I thought, still throw my phone into the river, and hide in the bar, drink and drink until I couldn’t stand. Alcohol wouldn’t fix me, but goodness I would feel better.

Of course, I didn’t do that, though. I went to the event, reaffirmed my commitments, and fueled up on other’s reassurance. The person inside of me who felt her wants weren’t being heard had been silenced again and I could go on without her pounding on my chest. She’d come back, though, I knew. She’s been coming more frequently lately.

I am writing this on Saturday, when I have made no plans and have decided to keep my phone shut off for the entire day. It’s my sober hangover day, and I want to use it to really listen to what I want and what I need to take care of myself. And, I don’t know how to do it. The voice of should and must are too close in tone and it’s hard to decipher what would be self care and what would be fulfilling expectations. Should I go to a movie? Should I clean my bathroom? What about work on that short story or go to the gym?

I’ve thought a lot about priorities this week and how I have little skill in managing them. I never not want my debts and responsibilities to be settled, and so I am left frazzled trying to accommodate every request and every inclination. I want the house to sparkle, all friends to feel loved and tended to, and all of my projects and ambitions set in forward motion.

But I can’t keep doing this. I have to learn the language of my wants and make them a priority. I have to say no, I have to care less about letting someone day, I have to start giving into my dreams. Or, I am going to have more days when I want to throw my phone in the river and one day I may just do it.

This blog hasn’t been a real cheery place lately and I tend to forget that this is a public space and not the insides of my journal. Confessional bloggers aren’t real writers they say, and yet here I tell you things that I would never say to you if we were sitting at a table, face-to-face. I keep thinking about a comment someone left on a blog (different from this one) years and years ago about how I can’t call myself a writer if I make so many grammatical errors and I should be ashamed of myself to not take more care when posting. Earlier this week I thought about closing the blog down or at least posting something more upbeat. But, I’ve been working on this particular post for more than an hour and I feel much better than when I opened the browser. I need this time to work out the emotional kinks, to open my chest, to inch closer to my own peace. So, in knowing the difference between what I want and meeting expectations, I am going to post this very personal account. I want it in the world and so it will be.

The hardest part about being sober: To explain my sobriety project, I always justify how much I used to drink. Right after telling someone I am not drinking yesterday, I told a story about drinking 10 drinks in a hour during college, more than 10 years ago. I don’t know why I have to tell people I don’t know well that I used to be a heavier drink and now I don’t as if saying I don’t drink is not enough.

The best part about being sober: Not drinking and wanting one more makes it so much easier for me to leave places when I want to leave, instead of getting sucked into empty a glass that always seems to be full.

 

Week 21: What if I gave up?

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Everything comes undone at mile 18.

Months ago, when you decided to run a marathon, you believed that these 26.2 miles will change you into something better. Maybe you’ll be skinnier or faster than last time, but you charge your credit card and look ahead at 14 weeks of training with the audacity that you will come out a greater version of yourself. That belief often sustains you through 5:30 a.m. wake up calls, runs that feel like you are underwater up until the last step, the burns on your lower back from hours of your clothes rubbing against your skin. Then you get to race day and none of that matters, you will triumph, you know it.

Miles 18  will rip that from you. It will mock your fake courage and remind you that you never  stood a chance in its presence. You will want to quit. You will question your good decision making skills. You will wonder why you ever thought you could do this.

At Mile 18 you have come so far, yet you have so far to go.

I am at Mile 18. I am not even five months into sobriety and I don’t know how I will continue this adventure – through wedding season, through the summer, through the little curve balls that life throws.

As I mentioned in my last post, I went to two events at breweries this week and bought tickets that entitled me to as much craft beer as I’d like in a couple of hours. My mouth salivated as friends filled up cups of golden ales and dark stouts, swishing them back freely because they had no self-imposed restrictions. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the beer lists, read their names and descriptions, because resisting the urge already felt like walking past a pile of free money.

More than once, I imagined myself walking up to the bar, ordering a Daisy Cutter and returning to my group of friends. The carbonated grains would flush my esophagus, my head a good kind of dizzy. And it would be OK. Nothing would be undone.

My whole life I’ve imposed arbitrary restrictions derived from fear. I can only go to the ice cream shop one time a month because more than that will make me fat. I can only watch an hour of TV or I will become a lazy sloth. I have to stop drinking for a year because …

There were a lot of reasons why I quit drinking – to save money, be healthier, drop all the needless next-day guilt. But a driving force was a undercurrent of fear that I drank too much, that one was never enough. Alcoholism runs in my family and it wouldn’t be too far of a leap for it to my haunt my door, too. When I became sober, I figured there would be a stark difference. People and myself would notice a gentler, more whole me without alcohol. It’d be come clear that I needed the break, that my drinking had cause problems that I could only see now in the vein of sobriety.

A few weeks ago I asked E if he noticed anything difference now that I am sober. He said did not. He continued that he never though I abused alcohol or was even a bad drunk. Even though he doesn’t drink, he’s never had any issues with my drinking. I am a moderate drinker, he claimed.

This should have been good news, that my drinking was healthy, that sobriety hadn’t unveiled a demon everyone knew that I did not. But, this didn’t make me feel better. If there hadn’t been a major change in me, then why I am doing this? Why am I going through all of the internal turmoil to turn down a drink and suck down a much too sugary one instead if I know my drinking isn’t as harmful as I suspected? E and I talked about this, too, and he said that it was a valid question, as he doesn’t think I need to quit for this long.

“Why don’t you end this project?”

“Well, because, I’ve blogged about it.”

That was my best answer.

Maybe the problem lies in where I am looking for this confirmation of being sober. The other night I came home from my writing class feeling defeated, as often I do after the class. I love the class – the exchange of ideas and words – but I constantly don’t feel like I belong. From the very first day I wanted someone to pull me aside and say, “You are such a great writer; you are going to go places.” While complimentary at times, no one in my class (including the instruction) has given me that validation. So, I linger behind the table and wonder how do I convince them all that I should get a seat.

Deep down, I know that I am the one who gets to decide if I belong or not yet it’s a hard belief to swallow. Outside validation and approval drive me. I am constantly searching for my next compliment and when it comes it’s not enough. I need another and another. I am a junkie for phrase. My internal monologue is a dark and discouraging one, so I look to the bright outside to find the proof that I am good and right and special.

Sobriety is no different. I want someone to tell me that, yes, you needed a break and you look/act/are great because you no longer drink. Tons of people have offered me such sweet words of encouragement and strength during the last five months, which means so much to me, but I think I need to do some deeper searching and find out what this means to me. I need to listen to my own voice and let that be the one I sink my teeth into and carry me to the finish.

Best part of being sober: No hangovers on a Tuesday

Worst part of being sober: In addition to the two brew pub events, I was at a seminar with free wine and beer. I could have used a glass of red, or three.

A note: I am not checking social media until after Easter, but I still have my WordPress linked to my social media so it will push out automatically when I post here. So if you leave a comment on my Facebook I will not see it for several weeks. Feel free to comment here, though 🙂 

 

Happy Peace Corps Day

Me Makhiba.jpgSometimes I worry that I don’t have what it takes to chase my dreams. That my passion is low, my strength on empty. Successful people and me, we don’t have the same DNA.

Today is Peace Corps Day, 56 years from when John F. Kennedy signed the Peace Corps into law. I was reflecting on my time in Niger and Lesotho today and looking back at what those experiences demanded of me and it felt like I was recalling someone else’s history.

The first time I applied they said no. My first assignment ended after seven months. My friend died. My reapplication was stalled for months. My school nearly closed. I was medically evacuated. Laughed at because I couldn’t speak the language. Missing weddings, holidays, births. Filthy from days without a shower. Parasites and amebas wreaking my insides. Experiencing the deepest loneliness I may ever know.

I may not feel like I am worthy or strong most days, but today I get to remember how far I’ve come and know that those attributes are still inside of me. I fought like hell to one day call myself a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and I can fight to do all the other things I aspire. For the rest of my life I will continue to discover lessons from those three and half years, but this one I need to carry daily.

Read more about my Peace Corps service here

 

Week 20: Things I’m not doing

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Hi. Let’s talk about all the things I am not doing lately, because it seems like a lot.

I am not using social media. I can’t do Facebook anymore. Sure, there are cute kid photos and funny videos, but these days my feed is 75 percent political posts, and I know I am not alone in that fact. The world is such that many of us are feeling something and we want to express it, but what comes out on Facebook is flattened and one sided. Social media, I don’t think, was ever meant to be a political sounding board for all of our ideas and we as humans can’t compress that much opinion in such a small space and amount of time. Even when I agree with general points, the onslaught of strong opinions I see in the first minute I open my Facebook exhausts me. I mean that literally; I leave Facebook tired and a bit sadder than I had when I logged on. Not to mention, people are extremely rude and mean to each other, acting in ways I am sure they wouldn’t in person. It’s incredibly disheartening to see high school classmates, old friends and members of the same community tear each other down over a political action. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s extremely imperative to express your opinion, but I personally don’t believe Facebook is the way to do it and it causes more harm than good. My personal policy is to not engage in any political discussions on Facebook (while I’ve been a bit more political on my other social media platforms), but, oh have I been tempted. My decision to get off of social media may make me a “snowflake” (if being a snowflake means that I care about others and demand equal treatment, so be it), but I’ve found myself checking into Facebook too much recently to see those bitter comments, to find that underbelly of the internet. Not only had Facebook become an ugly place, but I was seeking out the nasty parts. Like my usage of alcohol, my social media habits teeter on unhealthy and so the Lent season presented a good time to log off all the platforms for awhile. I will miss important updates, but I’ve been missing too much in the real life with my head stuck to a news feed and I want to re-enter that world.

I am not running. Again. After running a blissful eight miles at dusk last Friday (the longest I’ve run in more than a year), I’ve finally came to terms with the persisting pain in my right hip, specifically when I couldn’t stand up for the next day without wincing. Luckily, I had a doctor’s appointment a few days later and she set me up with a sports medicine physician, who is miles better than the guy I saw for my knee last year. It’s unclear if the knee and hip pain are related, but I am headed back to physical therapy and on prescription anti-inflammatory medication. I can’t run while I am on the meds so we can  determine if they are working. I really like this doctor and have much better feelings about this physical therapist, but it’s possible that I have a tear. Whether or not I will be running the marathon this fall is to be determined, and my heart hurts more every day that I don’t run. I try to do yoga or hop on the bike and it’s just not the same. I just want to run.

I am not writing (as much). For several weeks, I got up at 5:30 and wrote all the way until 7:15 when I needed to hop in the shower and get to work. At one time I was working on several projects: a deep edit of my book, a short story for my creative writing class, a personal story for a storytelling show, these blog posts and other random essays and stories. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I had gone through the book, finished the short story and told the other piece on stage. Now, I’m at a lull and most of my writing needs heavy revisions before I can put it out into the world, and that’s not the kind of work that makes you spring out of bed at 5:30 a.m. I also have some deep seeded fears about where my projects should go and what they should be that I think are the undercurrent to my procrastination. All of these projects need my attention, but my brain is scattered and I don’t know where to go first, so I pretend not to hear them screaming at me and sleep until the last possible moment.

I am not feeling like myself lately. My mentee asked me yesterday if I ever felt jealous, and I gave her two examples from that day of my envy. She laughed a bit uncomfortably and I recognized how unhealthy my internal dialogue had been. Maybe it’s seasonal depression (can you still get that if it’s been 70 degrees lately?) or just a dip in my state of being, but a general malaise has taken up residency in my attitude. I feel a bit bad for others around me because I don’t go into situations with a light hearted attitude, or at least I don’t feel that way. I feel somber and gloomy, like I am struggling just to get through the day when I have no major obstacles in my way.

I am not drinking. You knew that one, but sometimes I like to remind myself that I don’t drink because I grasp at identities trying to find one that sticks and feels like the real me, whoever that is, and maybe that could be a sober person. I am going to TWO beer-doused events this week, where you pay a flat fee and get a bunch to drink. I am writing to you before going to these events, so I will report next week how bad/great this went. Both events are fundraisers and I feel pretty solid about their causes, but still. I miss getting buzzed for a cause. It’s in these cases I think, Would it really bother anyone if I had a drink? And the answer is no. It would not make one damn difference if I had a drink and the world would keep ticking and likely not a single thing would be made better or worse in my life. That’s been the saddest realization of being sober – little has changed and this crusade for sobriety feels pointless. I know it’s not, but sometimes when I am at a brewery and I have to explain that I am not drinking, I ask myself the hard question: Why? Because I chose not to. And there isn’t some gold star or candied prize waiting for me at the end of this journey, just the knowledge that I could give up drinking, and sometimes, that doesn’t feel like enough of a motivator.

This is a pretty gloomy post (and long, so if you made it this far, thanks), but it’s how I feel lately. I am not sure I have a happy bow to tie this one off, but I suppose that this is how life is – sometimes all the pieces click and you are reassured, other times they don’t fit and you are filled with doubt about everything. I am trying to take care of myself in this down moment. Last night, I saw a late invitation to my writing group’s monthly meeting that I hadn’t originally planned to go, but decided to at the last minute. I didn’t have anything to read (see the not writing section), but I am glad I did. I needed the companionship of creative people to realign my values and ambitions. It didn’t pull me right out of this hole I’ve dug myself in, but it gave me a boost. The best thing I can do is look for those boosts and give them the opportunity to help me, and then I’ll find way my way to the next high.

The hardest part of not drinking this week: Alcohol is quite desirable in moments when you don’t feel up for the world, and that was much of my week.

The best part of not drinking this week: Having a partner who also doesn’t drink. It’s really nice to not be the only one abstaining from alcohol in social situations.

 

 

Week 19: How to relax?

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E and I shared a romantic Valentine’s Day in bed, both of us sick. Actually, he was on the couch and I was in the bed.

Even though it was a sick day and I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t relax. I kept checking my work email, trying to put out little fires. Work plagued my thoughts for most of the day. This was my day away from the office, and I should’ve been away. I specifically took this time to heal so that I could fire back the next day, but I still was chained to my phone and my responsibilities.

In the U.S. we never fully take breaks. We bring our phones to dinner and our laptops on vacation. We hustle because it’s how we’re programmed, and we have this innate belief that something glorious is waiting for us at the finish line. We don’t really know what that is, but when we get there we are tired, stressed, a little unhealthier and lacking all the joy we surpassed to get that far.

I’m not a good relaxer – I can barely watch a movie without pausing it to wash the dishes or put away the mail. I’m addicted to lists and chores and goals and making everything perfect. People with that kind of nervous energy don’t have the skills to relax.

My two years in Lesotho aided my anxiety a bit, and I’ve maintained a pretty strict boundary about not bringing work home. I also take sick days when I needed them.

Yet, I’m hardwired with the idea that relaxing is being lazy and lazy is failure and failure is the worst thing you can be. So, I check my work email while drinking Emergence C and taking naps.

Drinking is how I used to relax. I am not alone in that, and I think the pressure put on us to do so much is why we have massive addiction rates, whether to alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication, in our country. My reward after a long hectic day was a bottle of wine. When things are going haywire, my instinct is to get a beer. It’s a relaxer and a treat. How many jokes do we make about someone who is stressed out “needing a drink?” It’s what we’ve defined as letting loose.

Things didn’t bother me when I am drunk. I could let everything roll off of me, just like I had hoped I could be when sober. I’d pay for that carefree attitude the next day, with sever guilt trips, but drinking was relaxing. It’s was a brief time when I traded aliments for ales. I’d have a beer after work and then decided I deserved another and then a third because it had been a really rough one. I could justify drinking based on all the stress building in my shoulders, and it was never questioned.

Now, I need to figure out how to relax without alcohol. Before I gave up drinking, I took baths, exercised, read books, treated myself. I can do all those things now, but I don’t drink. And I am not sure there is a way to fill that void with something else. Actually, nothing really matches drinking, so instead of replacing it I just do more of the other things.

Alcohol was a great relaxer, but only for a few hours. Eventually guilt about drinking too much, spending a lot of money, or doing something stupid would outright undo any comfort that the binge brought. And, essentially, that’s why I quit drinking. The calm drinking brought me wasn’t worth all the anxiety.

The hardest part about being sober this week: Those Friday night cravings for a beer after a long week just don’t go away. I can practically taste the beer sometimes.

The best part about being sober this week: Instead of drinking that beer, I ran eight miles after work – the longest I’ve run since the Chicago Marathon in 2015. My knees and hips  hurt, but my goodness did the city sparkle. So worth it. Plus, then I got to indulge at dinner.

Week 18: The journey is not the end point

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2017 is going to bring more humans into this world than any other year.

This is my theory based on how many people I know expecting babies this year. From family to co-workers, friends to casual acquaintance, I venture that 50 percent of people I know are pregnant.

Outside of my own hyperbole, I am sure this is just a thing a woman in her early 30s notices, just like the splurge of marriages in my mid-20s. But, to be honest, the weekly pregnancy announcements hit a nerve. Why I am not to the child-rearing phase of my life yet? When will it be my turn? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere? 

I feel left behind in 2017’s race to populate the Earth. I am so lucky to have a wonderful partner, the ability to sleep in on Saturdays, and a stable bank account, but I still get sad when I see that yet another person is expecting. Why is my journey different?

This is not a new question I’ve posed on this blog. nor new to my psyche. Baby bellies aside, my internal dictator hounds me daily about why I am not further along on the path, whether it be my career, my writing, my retirement, etc.

I’ve been to a lot of therapy, prayed, journaled, meditated,  drank from bowls of , Cheryl and Elizabeth, and this is may just be something I live with, until I near the end of my life and don’t give a hoot anymore. I will always interrogate myself as to why I am not further in all the journey’s that make up my life. I am just not sure I can change that about myself.

Even so, I try to approach acceptance of the path in those moments I’m engulfed in self-pity. When I am upset that I am not further with my writing, I think, “But look where you are. Can you be happy here? Can you recognize the accomplishments that have brought you this far and basque in the length and energy this journey has?” Sometimes that’s enough I am content and jump to the next worry waiting in line for my fixation.

But, as I write this from my bed, before my day has really begun, I wonder, can I be OK with my sober journey? As I’ve mentioned before, I thought that there would be more tangible results from not drinking that I could sink my teeth in and raise above me as a prized trophy to prove to everyone that I wasn’t crazy in doing this. That hasn’t happened, and so I am left with daily urges and wondering if this was really necessary. Even this blog isn’t enough, I had hoped to grow it into a community for other people trying to be sober and the numbers slowly decline each week.

I don’t know how to do sober any different. With the other things I question about my life, there are things I can change along with things I can’t. I can’t be better at being sober (I could maybe invest a bit more into this blog, though) so my journey will be what it is. And the tricky thing is knowing it is not less special than anyone else’s because there is something great challenge to overcome or shiny reward at the end. It’s special because it’s mine and because itself is not an end point. There is so, so much more.

The hardest part of being sober: I picked the wrong administration to not drink in.

The best part of being sober: Training for the Chicago Marathon starts in a few months and so I am trying to slim down a bit before then and I am really watching what I eat. It’s super nice not to add empty calories from umpteen pale ales.