3 Sure-Fire Ways to Sabotage Your Own Recovery

SIMPLE NOT EASYPeople have different reasons for sabotaging endeavours.

Back in university, a good friend was on track to graduate with honours in the fine arts program but blew her final tuition installment on designer boots and cosmetics. She finished all her courses and had top marks, but her degree was witheld because of the overdue fees. She later realized that she was afraid of the pressure to make her living as a performer. She loved school and was proud of her grades and acheivements as a student, but could not see how to translate that to a career as a working artist. In short, she was afraid of the responsibility that came with success.

I often think of her when I encounter someone who appears to be undermining their own recovery plan. Why would anyone do that, you wonder?

Well, for starters some people are deeply invested in drama and crisis. This is how they stay connected to people in their life; by being needy. This type of person is terrified of allowing others to choose to be with them so, fearing abandonment, they orchestrate situations that make others feel obligated to help and support them. Someone in this situation may fear having long-term sobriety, because the extra attention from loved ones they may receive during early recovery could fade away. You may know them when they say, “It’s not my fault I relapsed. I need more help.”

Others may sabotage their sobriety for exactly the opposite reason – they WANT to push people away. Some people invite rejection from others because it allows them to paint themselves as the victim and gives someone else to blame for shortcomings and failures. Consider the Karman Drama Triangle discussed in an earlier post, with its victim, villain, and hero roles. For someone who is deeply invested in remaining a victim, doing something as heroic as getting sober represents a huge identity shift, and one that requires taking responsibility for oneself. If this prospect feels overwhelming, a person will consciously or subconsciously act in ways that bring their heart’s desire (blamelessness and victimization). This type of person says, “Thanks a lot, it’s your fault. If you’re going to keep screwing up my recovery then I might as well keep drinking.”

But let’s not waste time on asking why. Let’s just get right down to what you can do today to sabotage your recovery. Whatever your reason for wanting to screw things up, that’s your own business. I am not here to judge. I am sure they are very good reasons and only you know what it is you get out of jumping in and out of recovery. Whatever the payoff, the process is pretty simple.

Based on the thousands of letters I receive from readers, here is my list of the top three ways to ruin your own recovery*:

  1. Quit by Committee – tell everyone that you are quitting drinking, especially people who you usually drink with, and value their feedback more than your own understanding. (Note: do not consult actual people in recovery. They will try and help you get sober!) This will ensure you are fed with a steady stream of “you’re not that bad” and “just cut back” and “if you’re an alcoholic then what does that make me?”. Really try to focus on how others see you and let their opinions drown out your own thoughts. Worry about hurting their feelings or offending them with your decision to get sober, and socialize with them as much as possible – especially when they are drinking. If you ever start to have your own thoughts about “I need to quit” just replay their voices in your head telling you that’s silly. Really wear down your motivation and resolve with input from people who don’t realize you are in pain and who are threatened by your efforts to better your life.
  2. Stay Angry – this is an excellent tool to sideswipe your recovery. Get mad and stay mad at all the people and all the things that aren’t fair. On a nice sunny day it might take a lot of effort to work up a good angry lather, but don’t be tempted into cheerfulness. Close the blinds, put a rock in your shoe, close your eyes and focus! Relive old arguments, recreate hurt feelings, and count the ways that others have wronged you. Say, “I am a victim of the universe” aloud and plot revenge. After really getting those emotions stirred up, put a smile on your face and walk into the world. If anyone asks you how you are, say “fine”. Keep those wounds hidden from the world do that no one can help you heal them or give you insights. You don’t want that.
  3. Do Everything Else the Same Old Way – this is a quick route to recovery sabotage and it’s effectiveness has been proven again and again. Quit drinking but do everything else exactly the same way as before. Do not change your routine, your social habits, or read any self-help books that might give you crazy ideas. Avoid recovery people, groups, books, and podcasts. If anyone tries to accommodate you, insist that they treat you like everyone else. Give special focus to all of the ways that it sucks to not be drinking in these “normal” circumstances and pause at every opportunity to consider this. Really notice how your way of life is disrupted by the absence of alcohol and reflect with self-pity.

There are many more ways to ensure that sobriety doesn’t work for you, but these three should do the trick for you within short order. If you find yourself accidentally succeeding, simply go on Facebook to read wine-lovers memes and drinking slogans – THOSE ARE HILARIOUS! Be sure to repost silly things like “wine o’clock” so you can feel validated by all “likes” you get.

*caution: may contain sarcasm

Posted in Humor, Insights and Lessons | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Nurse Jackie Finale – Review by a Person in Recovery

I discovered the “Nurse Jackie” series  within my first year of sobriety, around the same time as I started learning a lot about myself and recovery. I connected with the idea of a “high functioning” addict, although my life as a small-town business owner who drank too much wine paled in comparison to the drama of a pill-popping ER nurse in New York. I’ve since learned that’s the beauty of recovery – we all have a lot in common even when the details differ.

*SPOILER ALERT * It’s impossible to talk about the relevance and validity of this show without discussing how the series ends. Bookmark this post for later if you’re set on watching out the series unscathed.

I’ve been writing about sobriety for 4+ years now, and more importantly I’ve been reading about all of you throughout that time. For every word I’ve written about my own recovery, I’ve read a thousand more. Emails, comments, messages, and other recovery blogs fill my days with a steady stream of insights and information. I’ve learned a lot.

When I started watching Nurse Jackie, it was with interest as a student of recovery. I was curious about the story. I felt a kinship with Jackie as a high-functioning character and with actor Edie Falco as a recovery advocate. As the series progressed in step with my own recovery, something troubling was becoming clear in both real life and the Nurse Jackie series; that if an addict of whatever stripe (pills, drugs, booze, or other) is fortunate enough to be “high-functioning”, it is not a sustainable state.

Someone who can perform reasonably well despite a growing drug or alcohol problem can only balance the scales for so long. Eventually one of two things happens: the addict either stops using or stops excelling. “High functioning” is nothing but a snapshot – a timeframe of suspended animation. The addiction trajectory will eventually escalate and the function will eventually decline – the paths merely intersect briefly in a temporary state of competency despite impairment.

I exhaled in Season 4 when Jackie’s family became aware of her drug use and her rehab journey began. Thank God! I was becoming frustrated with the idea that she could continue her complicated status quo. Hurray for recovery! Hurray for Jackie being just like us! I looked forward to identifying even more as she liked arms with us recovery peeps and started writing out her steps in a journal (okay I never did that but I understood the process).

But as the ground slipped out from her on subsequent seasons, my heart sank. Because here, in my real life as Jean-who-writes-UnPickled I was learning the hard truth: untreated addiction is often fatal. It kills people – fiction, famous or otherwise.

As it happens, I’m in a hotel room in Vancouver watching over my adult son who had day-surgery this morning. He’s asleep in the next room, so I’m alone with a mini bar and his pain meds. My purpose here is to nurse and protect my son, to be his trusted caregiver. My sobriety is unwavering, but it’s not lost on me that many others would sadly not fare so well under these conditions. Hence, this seemed the perfect opportunity to watch the final episode of Nurse Jackie. I’d been saving it – partly for delayed gratification and partly out of dread. The irony of learning Jackie’s fate with booze and pills in my own room was not lost on me, no matter how firm my resolve.

In this final season, Jackie lost her nursing license due to her drug use and the moment it was reinstated (thanks to some borrowed urine) she was popping pills again. I guessed then how the finale would end. As I said earlier, the high-functioning addict has two choices – quit using or quit functioning. Clearly this would not be a happy ending.

In the last moments of the final show Jackie – never one to pass up a golden opportunity – was in possession of heroine from a patient and sure enough, she used. A lot. Decisively.

Tears rolled as I watched the scene unfold. Although it isn’t clear if Jackie survives the overdose, that’s irrelevant. She’s moved on from pills to heroine. In the unlikely event that she lives, things are looking very grim for our favourite ER nurse. Her story is a tragedy.

But I wasn’t crying for her. I was crying for every reader who struggles and says, “I can’t.” I cried for every alcoholic and addict who don’t see the addiction/function lines cross and part. I cried because losing to addiction is optional.

Please. If you need to quit drinking and you can’t seem to find the strength, know this: you have the choice to change course now. Take your life back. Nothing is as simple or as complicated as a tv show, but addiction kills too many good people.

I hope to God you won’t be one of them.

Posted in Getting Sober, Insights and Lessons, Reflections on Recovery | Tagged , , , , | 41 Comments

Stranger on a Plane

I'm Sure I KNow That Guy

You’re on a plane and you start to notice that the fellow in front of you looks very familiar. Well, at least from behind. You didn’t see him sit down so you’re not sure what he actually looks like but each time he turns his head the glimpse of his profile reminds you of someone. And his mannerisms…He touches his ear again, just like that guy in your math class back in university. Wasn’t that guy a farm kid? You remember him telling some story about a tractor. This guy could be a farmer – he looks very healthy and tan from back here.

By the end of the flight you know him better than he probably knows himself: should you tell him his barber missed a hair on the back of his neck? Maybe his farm-wife clips his hair for him on their front porch (you’ve noticed the sensible gold band). And that mole looks worrisome – his wife would surely have noticed it when she cut his hair. She likely booked him a doctor’s appointment. Country doctors are so kindly. You are so happy that your former classmate has a nice life.

The the plane lands and you wonder briefly what he’ll say, what you’ll say, if (when) he recognizes you as he turns to wait hunched under the overhead bins while the other passengers lumber into motion. You prepare to act a little surprised at that moment of hello, since you suddenly feel weirdly ashamed of watching him so intensely. You are also busily gathering your belongings and these thoughts are so fleeting you barely notice them.

You watch. He turns. And…looks completely different than you imagined. There is nothing familiar – or farmer-ish for that matter – about this man. He is a a complete stranger, and now he is looking at you because you are looking at him. You look away, suddenly feigning disinterest.

This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Or am I the only one who composes stories for the partly-seen strangers before me on planes and in theatres or restaurants?

It occurred to me last evening (as the lady in front of me at The Lion King in Vancouver whose elegance I’d been admiring turned to reveal an unexpected visage) that this experience is not unlike the way we view our own lives at times.

Sometimes we get stuck looking at ourselves, our lives, our relationships from a limited perspective – like considering our parents from only the child’s point of view, or ourselves from the inner critic position. Maybe we are inclined to only see things as the victim or the hero (have you read my post on The Drama Triangle yet?). Our experience can be painful, which is why we then seek relief by drinking (or a myriad of other coping behaviours like shopping, eating, working, escaping by any means) and that process keeps us stuck. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Recovery is all about stepping back, sideways, forwards and seeing things differently. It is about looking at the whole picture and changing the perspective. Sometimes it is a huge AHA! moment just to become aware that what we thought was real was really a skewed version of the truth.

There’s nothing wrong with inventing a story for the back of a stranger’s head – it’s one of my favourite pastimes. However, when the moment of truth comes around may it serve as a gentle reminder for all the ways we fool ourselves with limited thinking and perspectives.

Posted in Getting Sober, Humor, Insights and Lessons, Reflections on Recovery, Sober Travels and Adventures | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Your Own Personal Independence Day

07 - 04 - 2015

“I can’t quit drinking this weekend. It’s the July long weekend and there’s a zillion parties.”

“I’ve got a few weeks of sobriety but I am scared I’ll relapse on the long weekend. There’s alcohol everywhere.”

“I have a friend who aways gets way too drunk and I am scared to invite him to my party” or “I don’t know if it’s okay to invite a sober friend to an event that has alcohol”

There are 3 main readers of this blog: people who are in recovery, people who are considering recovery, and those “supportive normies” who don’t have an alcohol problem but care about someone who does.

Whichever category you fall into, I encourage you to declare today, July 4th, your own personal “independence day”.

If you are in recovery but feel triggered by the holiday weekend….(here in Canada we celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 1st, which fell on Wednesday this year – wah wah, always a bummer when it’s mid week – so I’m borrowing America’s day, which has a better name for my purpose in this post anyway)…Backyard parties, hot weather, fireworks…Okay sober warriors, let’s get you through the weekend festivities. Here’s what works for me: 1) plan ahead 2) stay motivated 3)gather support.

Plan ahead by packing your own little cooler with things you enjoy. In my drinking days, this was simple: wine. Once I quit drinking, I thought this meant if I would normally drink 8 glasses of wine I needed to pack 8 non-alcoholic drinks.  The funny thing is, you probably won’t want 8 non-alcoholic drinks in a single afternoon. One or two will suffice, maybe some extra water if it’s hot. However, you will want a number of pleasant little diversions because you will still miss the 8 glasses of wine somehow. So tuck in a few little nice things to treat yourself with when the pangs hit: a mini lotion to massage into your hands, a cheese string, eye drops, a KinderSurprise egg (sorry Americans!), a little book of poems to read in the bathroom – you get the idea.

Stay motivated by remembering all the reasons you got sober in the first place. Write your future self a note and bring it with you everywhere you go. I encourage people to do this in the morning when they are feeling strong and clear. Sometimes it feels like we are completely different people by 4 pm and opening that note can bring back the resolve from earlier in the day. Make a little photo album (on your phone or an old-timey real one) of things that matter to you – people and images that represent the reasons you want to stay alcohol-free. It might be something that reminds you of a future goal (a beach, a classy looking grey-hair couple climbing mountains, a yoga position), or a little face that warms your heart (human or animal). Go on etsy and order a personalized piece of jewelry (did you know you can have a bracelet stamped on the inside with a secret message no one can see? Maybe your sobriety date or a phrase that’s meaningful to you). Anything that acts as a positive reminder that being sober is awesome, recovery is leadership, and you are doing a wonderful thing by freeing yourself from addiction. Strong and proud. Declare this your own personal independence day. Own it, it’s yours.

Gather support and take it with you. Comment here and ask for encouragement. Take your phone with you and check back for messages. Twitter is excellent for following sober people who give one another encouragement. Start with @unpickledblog and @thebubblehour – we love to cheer on others! Search for recovery apps. Join a message board or recovery forum. That smart phone is more powerful than a bottle opener. And never underestimate the power of telling a friend or two that you are living alcohol free and would like their support. Think about whom to enlist – maybe not a drinking buddy, but someone who is understanding, trustworthy and supportive. I have a friend who always keeps weird non-alcoholic stuff in her fridge for me to try. It usually awful but it is so sweet of her. She says it is fun to shop for me when she is getting party supplies, and her efforts make me feel more accountable and cared-for. Even when you feel alone in a crowd, I guarantee that someone in that room would be glad to help you out by engaging you in conversation, getting you an n/a drink, or rescuing you from an annoying drunk.

If you are struggling with alcohol and feel that this weekend’s festivities give you a free pass to keep drinking, here is a loving little kick in the butt. There is always an excuse around the corner – your sister’s wedding, your vacation, your birthday. When all else fails, Friday night rolls around every 7 days and well, don’t you deserve a drink on Friday? We all did it. It’s a pattern. Become aware of it and break the cycle. I can’t think of a more appropriate day to get sober than July 4th. Independence (From Alcohol) Day.

And for you wonderful “supportive normies” who read this blog because you know and love someone affected by addiction…Of course you have already learned a few things you can do by reading the sections above intended for the people whom you support. That’s your nature – to pay attention and try to figure out how to help. That is a wonderful quality and we love you for it. Thank you for your caring nature and big heart. However…I also remind you to claim some independence for yourself today. Remember that on top of all the things you can do to help someone who is in recovery (or wants to be), you cannot change them. Their recovery is not your responsibility. Their choices are not your fault and are not a reflection of your worthiness.

Posted in Building a Support Network, Early Recovery, Getting Sober, Holidays and Special Events, Insights and Lessons, Insights for Supporters, Life After Alcohol, Long Term Recovery, Marriage and Alcohol Recovery | Tagged , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Another Tool for Your Recovery Toolkit

A friend of mine is struggling with a pattern that may be familiar to some readers: weekend benders. I have heard that a binge pattern is the hardest drinking behaviour to stop because it does not respond as well to routine or counting days.

It can also be hard to sustain motivation in between weekends or irregular triggers, and motivation is closely linked to willingness. Motivation refers to the reasons why we want to get and stay sober, whereas willingness is the commitment to do whatever is required to achieve sobriety.

A binge drinker who is motivated by work performance will likely find that alcohol is easy to resist during the work week, but things become unpredictable on days off.  A single mother who is able to abstain from drinking around her children may succumb to the trigger of loneliness when the children are away with the other parent. Some people develop a pattern of drinking on the weekend as a social crutch: they’ve simply forgotten how to socialize any other way or are uncomfortable being their “real” self around others.

This can be confusing, and a binge drinker may wonder, “Why am I able to control my drinking all week but then lose it on the weekend?”

I have received thousands and thousands of emails during the four years since I started this blog, and some patterns are emerging in the experiences that readers relate. What seems to consistently happen for people who stumble, relapse, indulge, or simply give up on attempts to live alcohol-free is that they find they have limits to their willingness.

There may be partial willingness and combined with the mid-week motivation, these two things are enough to sustain temporary “control” over alcohol. Partial willingness might be doing whatever is within a comfort zone while complete willingness means doing whatever it takes, including finding new motivation to stay sober when the usual motivating factor is absent.

Motivation can be external or internal. Showing up for work or being present for the children are external motivators. When the external motivators are gone, we need to have internal motivation to carry us through. This can be a desire to feel better, be more authentic, or live to our greatest potential.

Then comes the willingness – complete willingness to do whatever it takes to get there. Maybe that means joining a recovery program, maybe it means opening up to a doctor or spouse. If there are limits to what a person is willing to do in order to get sober, the addicted mind can always find an excuse to drink.

I encouraged my friend to try this exercise over the weekend, and I ask you to try it as well. Find a string of beads – it can be anything but preferable something you like. Hold the beads in your hands, touching them one by one. For each bead, say this sentence out loud: “I am worth whatever it takes to have freedom, peace and joy.”

You may feel silly while you do this, but try it anyway. It will only take a few minutes – you can go into the bathroom and turn on the fan or the tap so no one will hear you. Better yet, sit outside in the sunshine if you have space that will allow it. Do it Friday, Saturday and Sunday; at least once a day. Yes, you will be repeating this sentence dozens of times over, and yes, say the whole thing out loud (a whisper is fine). “I am worth whatever it takes to have freedom, peace and joy.”

Showing off my new mala beads with dear friends Dawn and Taryn from SheRecovers.I have been doing similar exercises using a “mala” or prayer beads (here I am (left) wearing the beautiful new “She Recovers” malas made by Taryn Strong of Taryn Strong Yoga for Recovery (pictured right) , along with Dr. Dawn Nickel of She Recovers (centre). The malas will be available soon at www.sherecovers.co.)

Whether you think of it as prayer, mantras, or simple “brain training” (as I prefer), this practice can be a powerful tool in your recovery toolbox.

I encourage you to give it a whirl this weekend and comment here with your feedback. I also invite you to share your thoughts on willingness, motivation, and binge drinking.

Happy Friday, Team UnPickled. Let’s all help one another make it a great weekend!

PS also check out http://www.malamomma.com for beautiful malas!

Posted in Getting Sober, How I Did It, Insights and Lessons, Long Term Recovery, Pathways to Recovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

When The Worst Thing Happens

Imagining the worst case scenario comes easily to us anxious types. I regularly remind myself to stay in the moment and dispel runaway thoughts. I’ve learned to say, “Nevermind the worst that can happen. I trust I will handle it as it comes.”

Last week, I had to face a dreaded worst.

One of my little dogs was mauled to death by a large dog that wandered onto our copperlake property, and I had the misfortune to witness the attack. I reacted appropriately in the moment: I was strong and brave as I ran towards the scene and called for the brute to stop and drop my dog. I quickly assessed the horrific damage – death was imminent – and focused on comforting my little friend as he passed. I whispered “thank you Copper, you’ve been a good dog” over and over so the last thing he heard on this earth was my gratitude, and I silently thanked God that all the kids had already gone home. No one else had to witness this terrible, heartbreaking sight.

I am shaken, but I am strong.

This sad story has a purpose as it relates to recovery. I have often told myself that abstinence would serve me well in life’s most horrible moments. I was right. Not only did I have the clarity and focus I needed to deal with the traumatic ordeal, but I was spared the temptation to numb out.

copper readingI am feeling the feelings, processing the pain, and moving through. No numbing with booze – that’s just a pause button that drags out the heartache indefinitely.

Some of you wonder if abstinence is necessary in recovery. My belief is that abstinence is a best practice because it closes the door on the possibility of drinking my way through grief and misery. Perhaps moderation might actually be possible for me under everyday circumstances, but in crisis I am greatly relieved that drinking is simply not an option. Because, let’s face it, eventually the shit hits the fan and we have to deal with the tragic, the bloody, the messy, the unwanted.  Life is only smooth sailing for so long.

They say that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I don’t know that I am tough, copper and scoutbut I feel thankfully equipped to get through. Considering that there was I time when I could not endure any emotion – good or bad – without alcohol, this sad event has shown me how far I have come as a result of working my way through recovery.

copper and scout heartRIP, little Copper. We’ll take good care of Scout for you – your sister and partner in crime.


Posted in Getting Sober | Tagged , , , , , , , | 79 Comments

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 | 174 Comments