{How I Wish I Were Different: After Four Years of Sobriety}

I go to the garden. My reasons are messy and fluid, resembling the task.

The 95 degree temperature hits me in the face as I sluggishly climb out of my car. Searching the field, I identify three backs bent. I see them from afar. Why am I here? There is no turning back as the heat punches then catches in my throat.

There are things growing.  I am amazed my first night by the thought of food coming from somewhere.  I pull up dirt covered onions, cutting of roots and tops.  I learn quickly and try to be efficient.  Drop them in the bin, but not too rough.  Not enough to bruise.  My hands reek of onion and I wipe the moist liquid from the onions on my perspiring arms.  I’m hoping this keeps the mosquitoes at bay as twilight approaches.  I did not spray myself before coming, though in a type A moment I had come prepared.  I didn’t want to come off as a novice stinking of bug spray.  That night was my first in the garden.

I am nervous, as I am doing anything new.  Intensely shy, I do not like meeting people.  I can carry a conversation fine but more often than I like to admit, I’m just too lazy.  Self-centered even, I suppose.  Showing an interest in someone, even when I care about them, even when they interest me, even when I know someone already takes so much out of me.  There is a price.

This is a quality I hate about myself.  How I wish I were different.

I wonder, after getting gussied up for a wedding yesterday, why being with people so hard for me?  I was drained and tired afterward.  Some people relish parties! Though happy for the bride and groom, all I could think about was being exhausted.

Partly this was for the fact that there was an open bar.  That brought up all sorts of unexpected feelings. Damn it, I think to myself, I still resent  that I cannot drink. Being a drunk (former drunk, of course) this is more than a little ironic to me.

It’s just not fair kept echoing through me, whiny and complaining.  Deep and pulsing, a humming in my soul.  Not fair, not fair, not fair!!!  I was feeling deeply sorry for myself. And this is how I know, how I knew, even then that I cannot drink ever again.  I know even now that I am a drunk that doesn’t drink.

I wish I were different.

Four years ago this week I quit drinking – it was for good this time.

I should go to an AA meeting and get a four year chip.  But I don’t do AA.  Not absolutely sure why.

I guess, I like to act like I’m not really an alcoholic.  I just “don’t drink” and when I’m not around it I’m “fine.”  But I don’t think I’m happy not drinking and this scares me more than you could know.

I am finding joy and peace, learning to feel the abundance of my life.  But I need to find out why other sober people are happy even at an open bar. But not me.   

I realized last night, sitting across from a young gal from my church who was kind of sloppy from drinking three giant glasses of wine, that I am not a happy sober person.  I watched her enviously as she made at least three trips to the bar and brought each one back to our table.  And I knew. There are some things that I need to sort out.

I wish I were different but maybe that’s the thing.  I am me.  I was a crazy falling down drunk, once upon a time.  It was no fairy tale. And I am no princess. I am a drunk, I may be sober, straight and clean, but I couldn’t have a good time last night mostly because I forgot who I was.  And I felt deprived.

I wish I were different.  But I am me. 

Trudging through the cauliflower and tomatoes and watermelon plants today, lugging loads of weeds, carrying hefty loads of hay I worked hard.  I worked to help.  I worked for penance. I worked to forget.  Who knows? Perhaps all that and more.

I know this – I am grateful to sweat, for my health, to be here, to be alive.  Yes, even to be sober.

I may wish I were different but I can only be me.

I can only live this one life.  Oh I have regrets.  Watching others last night brought up plenty of regrets, touched a well of sorrow, a deep recess carved in my soul, but in the end as I embraced the truth of Christ’s grace this morning at church, singing gratefully, I was more thirsty for more of Jesus,

You see, I know I’m a sinner.

I know I’m forgiven.

I need to forgive myself.  And perhaps, even give something back.  Four years sober I don’t know much.  I have no great wisdom about how and why.  There is more I don’t know than what I do.  But this is me.  This is who I am.

I have to stop wishing otherwise.

I’m fat. You’re fat. The first lady is not fat. Hey what’s up with that!?

According to the Mayo Clinic I am overweight.  (Thank you very much.)  And I have a sneaking suspicion that my kids are not doing so well either.  But it turns out most parents do not even realize that their children are over weight.  Even our First Lady, Michelle Obama, was caught off guard by a recent pediatrician’s warning.

12.5 million children in America are overweight.

By now we all know obesity is having an excessive amount of body fat.  (check)  Especially around the waist.  (check) And  you know that doctors use a formula based on your height and weight — called the body mass index (BMI) — to determine if you are obese.  Find yours here.  Almost one-third of kids are at least overweight; about 17 percent are obese.

At his most recent checkup, our pediatrician measured one of our kid’s height and weight.  She talked with us about her concern over his BMI.  He has grown out a bit more than up over the last year.  But she seemed reticent to say anything that was too harsh though his weight is on the high side for his height.  I agree that we don’t want to mess with kids’ perceptions of themselves.  They are at very vulnerable age.

Even the First Lady’s girls got a warning recently.  The interesting thing I thought was that within just a few months she made some small changes that got her daughters back on track.  This is the kind of thing you or I can do.

  • No more weekday TV. (Oops)
  • More attention to portion sizes. (Okay)
  • Low-fat milk.  (Check)
  • Water bottles in the lunch boxes. (Rather  than milk or chocolate milk which comes in school lunches?)
  • Grapes on the breakfast table. (Fine)
  • Apple slices at lunch. (Don’t they go brown?)
  • Colorful vegetables on the dinner table. (I’m in agreement in theory.)

And then I got to thinking — this isn’t just about my kids. Or even the First kids.  All of whom eat organic apples, have their own garden and can visit the farmer’s market.  And they have plenty of opportunity to eat three healthy meals a day.

What about inner city kids?  What about low income kids?  What about kids who eat two meals at school.  Or the kids whose parents have to work three jobs and are not around as much to cook for them?

What about kids who do not have a grocery store in their neighborhood?  Last week, the First Lady addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors about cities creating healthier citizens because obesity is a particular problem in some minority communities without easy access to supermarkets, much less farmers markets.

I knew the grocery store over on Verona road had closed down a few years ago (turns out it is more like eight, and that was the third that closed down in that area.)  So I started hunting for information or articles online about that area of Madison, the Verona Road/Allied Drive area of town.

One of the things that Mrs. Obama wants to see happen is increasing access to healthy foods. She says parents tell her they want to feed their kids fresh produce but it is difficult “if you don’t live anywhere near a place that sells fresh produce.”  She also wants to make good food cheaper.  (Ahem, pardon my skepticism on that one.)

In Madison, the poor do not always have access to healthy food?  That should be a headline.

Last year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Cub Foods was closing its store on Verona Road.  It’s a compelling story:

As snow fell around her Monday, Melissa Orr set off on the five-block walk from her home on Madison’s Allied Drive to the Cub Foods store where she shops two or three times a week.  She does not own a car, so the store, 4716 Verona Road, is her only option for grocery shopping unless she takes a bus. At the store, Orr learned it will close by mid March, leaving her and many other residents of one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods without a supermarket within walking distance.   … Ryan Estrella, a Dane County social worker based on Allied Drive, said numerous residents lack vehicles and that the store’s closing will be a hardship. Many neighborhood families are headed by single parents, so taking a bus is a major undertaking when children and bags of groceries are figured in. In the future when people need only a few staples such as milk and baby formula, they will probably end up at a gas station, where costs add up quickly, he said.  “I think this will be devastating to the neighborhood,” Estrella said.

As of writing there still isn’t a grocery store near the Allied Drive neighborhood.  I’ve sent a few emails around trying to find out what the plans are for 2010.

Working together, we can ensure our children’s health—and their future.  But this goes for all children.