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 Getting Sober | 10 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!

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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.


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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

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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