Weekend Warriors

Okay, Team Unpickled! Time to pull together and put our collective energy to good use.

Weekends are a busy time on this blog.

Weekends can bugger with the newly sober and trip them up. They often come here for help and inspiration.

Weekends are also a busy time for those who are in an ongoing, unhappy relationship with alcohol. Many Saturday morning readers are nursing a horrible hangover (poor souls – such a terrible feeling!) and often it is made worse by shame and regret. Many are here because they started the day saying, “I won’t have any today” and then BOOM; *it* happened *again*.

So here is what I am asking you sober ninjas to do. Please help out seekers by commenting with the following:

1. What you did instead of drinking this weekend and how was it better or worse than drinking

2. On the day you got sober, what is the one thing you did that was different? What made it work THAT time?

3. What is the best part of being sober?

4. What keeps you going?

Here are my answers:

1. MY FRDAY NIGHT: I did an errand I’ve been putting off for weeks – driving 90 minutes to our ski cabin to pick up some things my father-in-law left here. I drove out in the late afternoon and am hanging out in this pretty, quiet place (no one at the ski hill in summer!) alone for a while. I decided to wash some towels and sheets, make a cup of tea, and write on my blog for an hour or two before driving back home again. If I time it right I will be moving through a glorious orange and pink sunset around 8:30 p.m. I could have spent the night here but around 10 pm it gets a little too dark and lonely, which I find triggering. So instead I will drive home, pick up a yummy treat to enjoy once I get home (delayed gratification!), and watch a movie in my pjs (drinking tea!) once I get there. Not the crazy Friday night I would have orchestrated when drinking, but a gorgeous drive to and from the mountains, some quiet time writing to all of you, and listening to Dr. Jenn on the radio while I drive — those are all things I sincerely enjoy and I am happy to be doing them tonight. PLUS I am doing a helpful errand for my father-in-law, which also feels good. Wayyyyy better than drinking too much and hating myself for it!

2. WHAT I DID DIFFERENTLY ON THE DAY I STOPPED DRINKING: I told someone the truth. And that person agreed that something needed to change.

3. BEST PART ABOUT BEING SOBER: I like myself now.

4. WHAT KEEPS ME GOING: The idea of being a really cool, together old lady one day. If I had kept drinking, I would have been a mess – sick, bitter, and alone. Instead I am vibrant, strong, interested, and interesting. I plan on staying this way!

Okay readers, now it is your turn. Please post your answers and know that your comment will 100% help someone!

PS – if you are here looking for answers or encouragement, WELCOME. You are not alone, you are not weird. Alcohol can go off-track for a lot of us and it does not make any of us bad people. Stay, read, and reach out. Consider living without alcohol – it is a lovely, better way that the daily struggle you may find yourself in. Connecting with others is  HUGE help, so muster up your courage and post something in the comments section. You will be amazed by how good it feels to discuss things openly with people who understand.

Posted in Getting Sober | 118 Comments

What Will Others Think?

I recently changed my hair colour from (monthly-salon-visit) blonde to (do-it-myself) red. The change was mostly motivated by convenience, and perhaps Julianne Moore played a role, too. When I had an actual hair colour of my own it was strawberry blonde, so neither one feels to foreign to me.

Blonde to Red

The thing about hair is that others see it constantly while the person under the crop forgets about it by breakfast.  For the first few days, I was a bit startled each time I passed a mirror, but otherwise I felt like myself. Others, though, seem to be having a harder time adjusting to the new look. After four months of redheadedness, I still hear “Wow, I didn’t recognize you!” on a regular basis.

One of my husband’s friends asked him “Who was the red head I saw you with?” after spotting us from afar on the golf course. A friend I met for lunch said, “Wow, it’s like RED red,” which I interpreted as neither a compliment nor a criticism – just a reaction to change.

My feeling is that I messed with others’ perception of me by altering my looks, and no one has been shy about mentioning it. I don’t feel offended by any feedback because I love my red hair – it is on-trend, flattering, age appropriate, lower maintenance, an a small fraction of the cost of those cute blonde salon highlights.

It occurred to me the other day that people have been much more vocal about my hair colour than they have about the even bigger change in my life: becoming a non-drinker. When I gave up alcohol, I worried mightily about what others would think and say about it.  I had none of the confidence about my sobriety that I have about my hair, and felt overly awkward and vulnerable.

If people said the things about my sobriety that they have said about my hair, would it be such a big deal?

Wow, I didn’t recognize you without a glass of wine in your hand!

Hey, who was that sober chick I saw you with?

Wow, you’re like SOBER sober.

It makes me smile just to play the game in my mind. No one says those things, but so what if they did? No one notices or really cares that much what’s in my glass. Still, I’ve worried SO MUCH what people might think about my sobriety and SO LITTLE if they liked a change in my appearance.

These days, I am very open about being a non-drinker and answer (fairly) easily if asked why. But truly, it’s mostly a non-issue for other people.

If you are newly sober and feel self-conscious around others, take heart. Wear something fabulous, learn a couple of new jokes, or change your hair colour. People are easily distracted.

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10 Reasons It Didn’t Suck to Be Sober in Italy

  1. No Wasted Moments…or MoneySunset Over the Sea

Let’s face it: travel is expensive so it is important to make the most of every second.  As I sipped cappuccino and welcomed each morning, I felt rested and refreshed. When our afternoon adventures ran long or we found one more sight to visit before returning for dinner, I had no feelings of rising anxiety or obsessive thoughts about when and how I could start drinking. I was fully present for every wonderful moment.

  1. Mmmmm….That Food!12 Course Seafood Appetizer

When we were finally showered and sitting to dinner, I could focus and appreciate the subtleties of handmade pasta, fresh ingredients, and regional specialties. (Pictured above: a 12-course seafood appetizer and yes, we followed it with entrees!) I happily drank water with dinner to rehydrate after hours of endless walking Venice Streets and hiking the mountains of Cinque Terre. Afterwards, I regularly indulged in desert knowing I saved all those alcohol calories for something better.

  1. No Pressure

I had built up the idea that I would offend restaurant staff by declining wine, as though I was turning up my nose at the pride of Italy. In fact, I was never pressured anywhere and my requests for “Tonica, per favore” – dramatic slashing hand gestures – “NO GIN! NO ALCOHOL PER FAVORE!” were consistently granted without incident.

  1. More Energy for *Other* Things

Italy is very romantic…wink wink …say no more…

  1. Early Morning Church BellsManarola Bell Tower

In my little corner of Canadian suburbia, churches are generally modern buildings without bell towers.  What a treat to wake up at 7 a.m. by the ringing of authentic church bells from multiple nearby locations! The ringing continued several times a day – for morning prayers, at noon, evening prayers, and mass times. Joyous, old-timey, community-calling ringing of the bells. Gorgeous! The morning clangs were doubly lovely knowing that I would not have appreciated them nearly so much in my wine days.

  1. A Lighter LoadI Got This

I am wildly proud of having managed a 70L/55lb backpack throughout this trip, partly because of the physical effort required and mostly because of the necessary packing restraints I had to embrace. I wore the same leggings and sweater for most of the trip and washed socks and undies in the sink at night. Where the hell could I have tucked in the necessary 6 boxes of wine that 16 days abroad would require?! Thank God I am sober! My back couldn’t take another ounce!

  1. Long Walking DaysHiking Cinque Terre

The best way to see a new place is on foot at a leisurely pace. Stroll, feel the breeze in your hair, smell the sea and the bakeries. Hear the languages being spoken around you. Stand at the foot of a historic building and experience its scale against your size. Reach out your hand and touch the ancient stones. Climb the steep terraces that locals have travelled for centuries. (Step aside as a 90-year-old local rushes past with impressive agility.) Spot something in the distance and say, “Let’s go see what that is!” I promise, you’ll be blissfully asleep by 9:30 pm – no emotional numbing agent required.

"Easy" Walkways

  1. My Sweetheart

My husband and I had spoken about our expectations for each other ahead of time. We had a plan to ensure we both experienced the vacation we wanted. It is important to travel with someone you trust, who values and respects your sobriety, and is willing to look out for you.

  1. A Flexible Mindset

I have developed a lot of routines and habits that support my sobriety. Morning coffee, evening tea, time alone, and self-care are vital parts of my day, and missing out on these things can spike my anxiety. I realized that I would have to be flexible and sacrifice some of my routine. Tea before bed was rarely possible, my husband and I were together 24/7, and there was little room in the backpack for my giant bag of cosmetics, flat iron, nail polish and body lotion. I had to make do, and often do without – or at least do differently. I had to get dressed and go in front of other humans before morning coffee (gah!) but Italian cappuccino was worth the effort.

Mmmm

  1. Living the Dream

We waited our whole lives to explore the world, and I didn’t want to miss a thing. Prior to the trip I had worried that being sober would spoil my trip to Italy, and that Italy would spoil my sobriety. It occurred to me as we drove to the airport that the two were not at odds, but a perfect union. Being sober made everything better, more real, more memorable.

14th Century Church

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Follow Me Along

I will be tweeting about my sober travels through Switzerland and Italy for the next two weeks. Follow me on Twitter @unpickledblog 

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4 Years Sober and Still Not Perfect

Four years sober last week and guess what? It still takes effort.

This comes as a surprise. I thought it would be easy-breezey-nothing-to-it by now, and more often than not it is easy and enjoyable to live alcohol-free.  But sometimes….sometimes….I feel a sucker punch of emotion: anger, jealousy, fear, resentment. I’ve spent the past few weeks in a mental stagger – that rocking feeling that something is off yet nothing is really wrong.

I hear from hundreds of people each week in various stages of recovery, and I am honoured to give help and encouragement whenever possible. Often this correspondence comes from people who are struggling with chronic relapse or who give up on recovery because it is harder than they expected. I’ll be honest – I’ve been finding those kinds of messages harder to handle lately.  I want to instantly “fix” them…and not entirely out of kindness.

I want them to stop failing because it bugs me. I want them to keep their failure out of my face because if I can see it, it’s real and I don’t want failure to exist. I want us to all hold hands and skip together into recoveryland. I want everyone to love their lives and get better, dammit.  Just. GET. BETTER. It scares the shit out of me that failure is even an option.

(See what I did there? I made someone else’s pain about ME.)

This is where I am going wrong and I know it. I understand full well that other people’s actions are about them, not me. I’ve learned the value in the recovery adage “Keep to your own side of the street”. The moment I view someone else’s story through the lens of my own feelings, I am setting myself up for trouble.

I have found myself saying, “I am sorry you are hurting, this is hard stuff” and meanwhile thinking, “How come you get to fall apart and I have to keep being strong? It is hard for me, too but I don’t get to relapse.”  (I am literally cringing as I type this brutal truth.)

A better response to these situations is compassion – my heart aches for those who want recovery and can’t seem to grab on, and I feel for people who would rather tolerate an unhappy relationship with alcohol than work through the discomfort of breaking up with booze.  Over the past four years I have learned to feel for others while allowing them full ownership of their situation, knowing that the pathways to recovery are available for those who are ready.

So why the backwards shift in my thinking? Why is my knee-jerk reaction suddenly the opposite of what I know to be good and useful? Why revert to the old self-centered patterns that contributed to my drinking in the first place?

My friend Ellie reminded me to take my gloomy mood seriously, since this type of discontent can be one of the early signs of relapse. Me, relapse? Never! (Hah, denial is the next stage.)  I dug through the Bubble Hour archives for the most recent episode on Relapse, remembering that I’d been shocked during the show to learn that relapse is preceded long before the event by 11 various warning signs. This has been researched and documented in the work of Terence Gorski and can be read here.

Am I subconsciously looking for an excuse to relapse?  Possibly.  My husband and I are leaving soon for a dream trip to Italy and I am anticipating the abundance of wine that will be offered. There is plenty to see, do, eat and enjoy in Italy without wine, but I am bracing for at least a little discomfort. Some corner of my psyche must be considering whether it is truly possible (or necessary) to stay sober on this trip. Much as I hate admitting to imperfection, this bit of doubt is worth acknowledging, considering, and working through.

So keep writing and posting here about your ups and downs, because your journey is your journey. I will do my best to let you own it, and I do hope you will. For those who are struggling, I think you will find Gorski’s work a tremendous resource.

Try doing this assessment called the Aware Score, which stands for “Advanced Warning of Relapse” and consider if you need to boost your recovery efforts. I scored an 85, indicating to me that I need to do some serious work on self care and reach out to my support network.

I am in awe of the changes and insights the past four years have given me. Even more so, I am amazed that at this point in my recovery I still find things that need attention. It is a gentle reminder that recovery is never over, but is more like a garden; as long as we keep to the task of tending it, good things grow in abundance.

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Drinking Dreams

On last night’s Bubble Hour podcast, Ellie and I talked about “Drinking Dreams” with recovery blogger Josie (http://themiracleisaroundthecorner.wordpress.com). We looked back over different stages of our recovery and reflected on how they seemed to bring on different types of dreams. Some of those dreams are recovery-enhancing and some can foreshadowing danger.

Drinking dreams in early recovery happen frequently as the brain is just so used to alcohol being part of every activity. We may be having a perfectly lovely dream about a normal event – say, a family picnic – and suddenly realize we are drinking in the dream. After waking with a start, there is usually relief that “it was only a dream” and we are grateful to still be sober.

In time, the dreams happen less and less frequently, and may take on more of a “processing” quality – like trying to figure out how to handle a situation involving alcohol, or dealing with the aftermath of a relapse. How you feel in the dream (and upon waking in reflection) can indicate if the dream is warning of possible relapse.

Near the end of the episode, I rattled off a checklist to help assess dreams. After listening to the podcast this morning I’ve decided to post that checklist here as a resource.

Here is a link to the episode: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2015/03/09/drinking-dreams

When you wake up from a dream about drinking, reflect on it and consider the following:

  • Was your alcohol use incidental, such as you didn’t know you were drinking and suddenly realized you were holding a glass? (This is an example of the “familiar backdrop” of alcohol – often occurring in early sobriety because the brain is so used to alcohol being ever-present. Your shocked reaction to the alcohol is a positive indication of your desire to stay sober. Write down the dream and keep it as a reminder to strengthen your resolve to stay sober.)
  • Was your drinking dream about using intentionally and were you pleased to find yourself drinking without consequence? (This is an example of “wishful longing for alcohol” and your response may be to spend some time considering all the benefits of your new life in recovery. If you find you have an unstated desire to drink, acknowledge it and look at ways to alleviate it safely. Exercising daily gratitude might be a good idea, to help you focus on the things you love about your life without alcohol, instead of romanticizing it on some level. Going back to journals from your early days of sobriety can be helpful as well. Talk to someone.)
  • Were there consequences to drinking in the dream? (If yes, this is a good sign as it shows the subconscious is aware of consequences and plays them out. If not, heed this dream as a warning sign that the subconscious is responding to the lure and appeal of alcohol as relief. This is a time to assess other means of finding pleasure and assuring that the “recovery toolkit” is stocked and ready. Create and stock your recovery bubble – a safe place and means to look after yourself)
  • Was the drinking in your dream a solution to a problem you are dreading, like an awkward social event or big work project or public speaking requirement? (If so, take note that your mind is stressing about this and defaulting to the old fall-back of booze. Plan ahead for the upcoming event and acknowledge the real concerns you have. Decide if you should attend or participate, and if you choose to be sure you have a solid plan to enjoy yourself and stay sober.)

I found this article to be a great resource in researching this topic: http://www.asdreams.org/magazine/articles/peters_recovery.htm

What about you? Have you experienced drinking dreams? Have they helped firm your resolve or do you find them to be triggering?

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Lucky

A few years back my husband and I hired a business coach to help us write a growth plan for our business. After nearly two decades of operating our company, we wanted fresh eyes to help us see new directions. The business coach gave us a number of written exercises to do, including listing our personal and professional goals.

“You probably already have these handy,” he said. “I assume you already write these out on a regular basis.”

“We own this business,” I replied. “There’s no corporate ladder to climb so I don’t need professional goals. I take opportunities as they come and run with them. I have been pretty successful doing it this way.”

The business coach was shocked. I was shocked that he was shocked. Goal lists were for beginners, in my not-so-humble opinion, not long-time business people like me. I was at the top of my game with the successful career I always wanted.

“If you don’t have specific goals you are missing opportunities,” he said with certainty. I was annoyed. Who hired this guy? What did he know?

“I’ll prove it to you. You mentioned you like cars,” he said. (Apparently he really was listening – I love cars.). “Are you familiar with the Audi Q5? There’s only six of them in town.” (We live in a smallish city that does not have an Audi dealer, so this fact seemed likely. I rarely if ever saw an Audi in our town, and certainly not the SUV model. In fact, I thought six seemed like rather a lot.)

“You probably see thousands of vehicles each week,” he continued, “so the chances of noticing one of six Audi Q5s among them is pretty slim. But I will guarantee you that you will spot one within the next few weeks.”

“I am not a fan of “The Secret”,” I protested. “I hate the idea that we just tell the universe what we want and poof, it delivers. I have gotten what I wanted through hard work and high expectations.”

Fortunately, we had hired a very patient coach. “Don’t worry. That’s not what I am saying at all. Let’s make a deal,” he said. “If you see a Q5 before our next meeting, you have to write out a goal list for me. Deal?”

I agreed, because I thought it seemed a little farfetched.

A few days later I was sitting at a red light and sure enough a Q5 turned in front of me. I burst out laughing, “Dammit!”

At our next session with the business coach, I confessed it had only taken a few days to see the mythical Q5. “But don’t tell me I made it come to me because I wanted to see it!” I warned.

“That’s not it at all,” he smiled. “That car would have passed you then regardless. It’s just that you noticed it because I gave you the goal of seeing it. That’s the power of setting intentions. When you know what you’re looking for, you realize when it is right there in front of you.”

Chance

As a stubborn person who enjoys being right and having the last word, I found this lesson humbling. I wrote my (stupid) list of goals and gave this fellow his due respect.

My newfound regard for acknowledging intentions came in handy as I embarked on a life of recovery. You may find that once you set a goal to stop drinking, you notice others who don’t drink. You start to see alternative beverages at the grocery store that never interested you before. You realize there are events in the evenings that don’t involve alcohol, and that people actually GO to these things and have fun without drinking.

I heard a great suggestion today and encourage all of us to give it a try (perhaps right here in the comments section if you’re willing). The exercise is called “Best Possible Self” and the instruction is simply to spend a few moments imagining what your future life would look like if things went as well as they possibly could and you realized your dreams. Write down how you see yourself in this vision. (Credit for this exercise goes to professor and researcher Laura King, with gratitude to a friend in the BFB for mentioning it today.)

In the words of Louis Pasteur, “Chance favours the prepared mind.” Sometimes I think I am lucky to have a happy life, to be sober, healthy, active and surrounded by people I love. Then I realize that these things exist because I value them and actively seek them out – they aren’t luck at all.

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