Questioning My Answers: Reflections on Drinking Quizzes

Raise your hand if you’ve taken an online drinking assessment.

Raise your other hand if you took the same assessment more than once, trying different variations of answers in order to get a better result.  (Jazz hands if you switched to a different country’s website to see if they had looser guidelines.)

Nod your head if you then took those results and tried to work them backwards, in order to figure out how much you should cut back in order to drop into a lower risk category.


Rub your belly and pat your head if you then tried to moderate to those levels, failed, took the test again, and got an even higher score.

Yah, me too. You are not alone.

The one phrase that really stuck in my mind was, “No more than 10 drinks per week, no more than 2 drinks most days, and no more than 3 drinks on any single occasion.” (Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines) The gears in my head began to whir as I read those numbers, trying to comprehend what living within those guidelines might entail. My mental computations resulted in one-word: IMPOSSIBLE.

Impossible is exactly what moderating proved to be for me – I was well past the point of drinking within the guidelines. Living alcohol-free has not always been easy but it is certainly simpler than that hellish cycle of calculations, bargains, failure and regret.

What’s worse, the guidelines are based on a 5 oz serving of wine, something I considered to be a half-glass. I expect my average was an 8 oz pour, meaning what I called 3 drinks was closer to 5.

When I take that assessment now with complete honesty, my end habits were in the “Severe Risk” category – and no one even knew I had a problem!

I am grateful for these guidelines and assessments because they were an important wake-up call for me. There is a lot of rhetoric and nonsense out there that implies no one can tell if someone else needs to quit drinking. I feel that’s a misinterpretation of that fact that the will to change must come from within. But the numbers don’t lie and high-risk drinking is self-evident based on patterns and numbers alone.

So if you’re struggling with alcohol, pay attention to those assessments and guidelines. Share them. Talk about them.

Remember that many of us seemed to be functioning just fine but still fell into the “High Risk” and “Severe Risk” zones. Forget the stereotype of what we all think addiction looks like and trust the evidence.



The Role of Ego in Recovery

When sober people gather, we often start to speak a different language.

“He’s one of us” means someone is an alcoholic, whether or not in recovery.  Someone who “went back out” has relapsed. “Normies” are drinkers who are not addicted.

There are dialects to this language, depending on program influences. For example, people in AA often refer to themselves as “friends of Bill W”, and call quitting without a program “white knuckling”. Meanwhile, people in SMART Recovery use a lot of acronyms such as CBA (cost-benefit analysis), DIBs (disruptive irrational beliefs), and REBT (rational emotive behavioural therapy). AA uses acronyms too, but they are more to remember helpful cliches rather than therapy tools (“YET: You’re Eligible Too”, “KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid”, “ODAAT: One Day at a Time”.

Usually these phrases, words, acronyms and cliches are clear and helpful. One word, however, can give us some trouble: EGO.


Most people (normies, that is) equate ego with vanity and narcissism, considering it to be a negative quality. Recovery puts a more complicated twist on those three little letters: e, g, o. Given that the main difference between AA and SMART recovery is powerlessness vs empowerment, respectively, it only makes sense that each would have a different take on the concept of ego.

AA offers another acronym to illustrate its perspective on ego: Edging God Out. Ego is that part of us that is deeply affected by addiction – pushing God away by simultaneous feelings of pride (“I can handle things just fine on my own”) and shame (“I don’t deserve help from God”). The program is based on this chasm between us and God as being the void we try to fill with alcohol – a spiritual sickness that our addiction leverages to sustain itself. The 12 steps work to address the ego, admitting powerlessness and handing things over to a Higher Power – a process that brings healing and insight.

On the other hand, SMART Recovery looks at ego in more psychoanalytical terms. It is our self-awareness and identity, something we can harness and use to drive change. Ego is who we are, not what we do. This program focuses understanding the connection between thoughts and behaviours, working to understand why we have over-invested in maladaptive coping strategies and creating new ways to respond to our environment. Making these changes means using the ego rather than overcoming it, while assessing whether the self is being influenced by irrational beliefs or fears.

My goal here isn’t to show one perspective as being better than the other, but rather that we have to understand the very different premise of both pathways in order to make sense of what sometimes feels like mixed messages. Both programs champion abstinence and connecting with community. They have the same goals but take different routes to arrive. Each has something to offer and some find one fits better than the other for them. Many, like myself, make use of both as resources and have friends in both programs. This is where the language can overlap, where patience and understanding must come into play.

Ego kept me drinking, it’s true. I felt too proud to ask for help, and believed I couldn’t possibly be addicted to alcohol – that was for “other” people. That is the ego that AA speaks of, the prideful mind that causes destruction by attempting to hold power.

Yet it was also ego that got me sober by whispering, “I can change, I can make this happen!” It was self-awareness and self-respect that helped me press on – something SMART Recovery advocates identify as an “internal locus of control”. Ego served me well, in that case.

I admit that sometimes the ego-cliches frustrate me. It can be a “garbage can” phrase that serves as a catch-all for aspects of willfulness, arrogance, pride. But we have to remember that things aren’t always as they seem. If someone is offended by criticism, what appears as injured pride could easily be self-protection from the opening of an old wound – such as a painful childhood memory resurfacing. To brush that off as mere ego would be a missed opportunity to heal and grow.

So do we feed the ego or annihilate it? I think the answer lies in being gentle with ourselves and others. Understanding the many facets of and uses for ego helps us know ourselves better. The question I am learning to ask, regardless of recovery pathway embraced, is “what’s really going on here?” The acronyms, cliches, theories, and memes are simply tools to help us better answer that essential question.

Back up, reassess, move forward differently. That is recovery.

Doing the Ill-Advised…

…and posting from my phone. Considering every text I send has multiple follow up corrections (“Sorry – that should say ‘paid’ not ‘laid'”) (“Oops my bad – that’s pm not am”) (“Sorry son I thought I was texting your father. Please try to unsee that eggplant emoji”). 

Anyway for those of you who are in your bubble on this Saturday night, taking care of yourself and staying sober despite all the Halloween party posts, I salute you! I spent the evening roasting pumpkins for baking and seasoning the seeds – an annual treat at our house. We ran out of candy (boo – none for us!) so it’s tea and movie time. Thought I’d high five all my sober pals here before curling up. 

Looking for something to pass your night? The other day I was a guest on the Since Right Now podcast with Chris, Jeff and Matt (okay Matt had the night off but I didn’t want to leave him out!) — have a listen to our conversation here:

Now as I prepare to hit “post” I’m denying myself the (useless anyway) urge to scroll back over this teensy screen and look for glaring errors. I can’t see it anyway so this is really my idea of getting scared shitless on Halloween – posting something I haven’t proofed or edited. Welcome to the dark side!

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh?

Better Together!It’s Thankgsiving Day here in Canada so I thought I’d pop in quickly to share how sincerely grateful I am for each and everyone one of you who reads, comments, shares, asks, answers, challenges, celebrates, encourages and connects through this blog. It’s an honour to share this path with you.

Everything is better with friends – especially recovery! Here is how I would fill out today’s gratitude board:

Today I’m Grateful For…

1. Another day of freedom and peace in my life

2. The crazy idea to blog my way sober

3. Each and every person reading these words.

Wherever you are, whenever your celebrate this holiday, and however you celebrate it, I wish you the best!
(If this time of year is hard on you, reach out!)

Why Self-Care Is So Important to Recovery

Yesterday I spoke to a reader who has been struggling to hang onto her sobriety. She is able to go alcohol-free for weeks at a time but then drinks for reasons she doesn’t understand. Each time it happens she can feel herself make the decision to drink again, but doesn’t know why she does it.

“I am a strong person,” she said. “I have always been strong and can handle anything. Why can’t I get this?”

Here is what I have learned about being a strong person: it’s easy to fool ourselves. We mistakenly think we are being strong when we don’t get upset, don’t let things bother us, and then press on despite discomfort. “Suck it up” we tell ourselves, and then somehow we find a way to keep going.That looks like strength on the outside, but in truth it is denial. True strength is dealing with these things, not stuffing them down and refusing to acknowledge how we really feel.

When we deny reality for the sake of appearing strong, we are destroying ourselves from within. We live with some niggling discomfort we can’t name (refusing to address the real cause), and so look for relief in some acceptable form. This is how it started for me – a glass of wine before bed worked so well at first. It relaxed me, comforted, and brought on sleep. I kicked ass in the world all day, then came home and kicked off my heels and enjoyed a lovely glass of wine – a perfectly reasonable strategy. A glass of wine a day is even said to be healthy so no need for concern.

But over the years….

One glass a night became two or three or more and the wine glasses got larger and the bottles became boxes. I couldn’t quit, or even cut back. Each morning I vowed to quit, but by mid day I’d found a reason why it was important to still drink that day: if something good happened I needed to celebrate, if something bad happened I needed comforting, and if nothing at all happened I drank out of boredom.

I felt the same bewilderment as my friend: I am so strong. Why can’t I stop drinking?

Two reasons: because the illusion of strength I’d cultivated depended on a release valve, and because the addictive nature of alcohol caused it to become the one and only release I wanted. I was caught in a vicious cycle that was camouflaged (and perpetuated) by the outward appearance of achievement and strength.

It is easy to think that life is perfect except for the black mark of the addictive element, and if we can just get rid of the wine (or drugs or roulette or shopping or Chigaco-style popcorn – whatever is being stuffed into the void) then everything will be finally, fully perfect. That’s it, that’s all.

So we quit drinking, or try to quit drinking, but then things go sideways because we no longer have any release valve – the wine goggles destroyed the ability to recognize other pleasures. “What was I thinking? Things aren’t better without alcohol! They’re WORSE! I might as well drink because this sobriety nonsense is screwing up everything.”

First, it helps to recognize that our old ways of doing things were probably not as effective as we thought, or else they wouldn’t have led us to seek ongoing relief. The idea of what strength really is must be revisited and revised. Strength is grounded in honesty, in saying “no” to the things that aren’t serving us well and dealing with painful issues instead of sweeping them under a rug. This is the work of recovery (changing for the better), which takes us past mere sobriety (abstinence from the addictive substance or behaviour). It is possible to get through life without constant discomfort.

The crucial role of self-care then, is to not only nurture ourselves through these changes but most importantly to teach ourselves how to enjoy all of the pleasures that our addiction overshadowed. A walk in the sunshine, a massage or pedicure, a cup of coffee. It is important to plan activities or pleasant actions throughout the day and especially during the “witching hour”, so when cravings for alcohol come we can recognize them as a longing for comfort and offer an alternative. The most difficult part is that in early recovery, we don’t necessarily feel like doing much and little else is appealing. Do it anyway. Try lots of different things and little by little those discoveries will come. The herbal tea I once sneered at has become an indispensable part of my evening routine. The yoga I assumed was stupid is now my favourite way to unwind. Connecting with friends is about conversation, tears or laughter, and not just an excuse to drink. I can even sit still and do nothing, which I avoided before because that’s when all the hurts I had buried in the name of strength would surface and pester.

Be open to approaching things differently and you’ll learn to avoid unnecessary discomfort. Practice self-care and you’ll find new ways to console yourself when needed (and  to celebrate the good things, too).

Undo, redo. Unlearn, retrain. Understand, rethink.

Un Un Un. Re Re Re.

This is what recovery is all about.

What are your favourite means of comfort and self-care? How has that changed throughout the course of your recovery?

Why Self-Acceptance Make Us Nicer to Others

Sometimes kind words fall on deaf ears.

“You’re too hard on yourself,” my friends would often tell me, and I never knew how to respond. In fact, it was strangely validating. I felt that I had to be hard on myself, to push for an extra measure of excellence that might ward off criticism or rejection. If I could pinpoint and eradicate faults before others identified them, I could spare myself pain.

I believed in this process, I put my faith in my ability to protect myself with vigilance and attention to detail. I never expected anyone to accept me as I was; I simply wasn’t good enough.

Where I got this idea, how these messages were instilled, when the mighty inner critic was born I cannot say. My best guess is around age 7 or 8, when self-awareness begins. I believe I have elementary school report cards on which teachers took note of my exacting habits, using words like “driven” and “ambitious” in ways I felt were affirming. What began as an effort to “be good” swelled to monster proportions as the years went by.

I quit drinking in order to fix the only perceptible imperfection in my otherwise great life. If I could just tweek that, all would be well. Nothing else need change. Thank God, it wasn’t that simple. In order to stay sober, I had to unearth the reason I drank and with that I had to reconsider the effectiveness of constant self-condemnation.

Even as I became more aware of my habits and their negative impact, I faltered to replace them. I had to imagine what it might feel like to be accepted as I am. In wide-eyed wonder, I’d consider “What if it didn’t matter if I said something dumb or wrong? What if i just made a mistake and it happened and I moved on?” I tried it. I went to the grocery store without makeup. I admitted it when I didn’t know how to do something. I stopped overscheduling myself, overcommitting, and overdoing in general.

Little by little, it came to me: I don’t have to earn my place in this world. It was mine to claim on the day I arrived in my mother’s arms. I already felt that way about my own children, and I believed it was true for everyone else. Then I stumbled upon the work of Brene Brown who gave such wonderful language and perspective to these ideas I struggled to understand. Her phrase “hustling for our worthiness” made it all so clear.

And then came another bonus of recovery. Just as I did not expect that healing from addiction would also mean undoing my entire concept of self-worth(lessness), neither did I realize that learning to value myself would change my appreciation for others.

You see, the belief that I was an unworthy person implied an inherent truth that human life can be valued in varying degrees. No one’s life is worth more than anyone else’s. There is no such scale. It doesn’t exist. It isn’t true.

I was always working to avoid being hurt by others, and this caused me to constantly judge and assess other people. Who might hurt me? Who might be critical? Who to avoid, to befriend, to please? The harder I was on myself, the harder I was on those around me. I learned that being a people pleaser is a form of manipulation. Manipulation?! Yes, and that one really turned me around.

It is all starting to sink in, and I see the difference in how I relate to myself and others. Last week I attended a She Recovers retreat (fabulous, and wonderfully described here by Anne of “A in Sobriety”) and nervously entered into a sharing circle with 28 other women. In the old days, I’d have been trying to figure out my place in a group like that; sizing up each person and preparing how to handle them. Thanks to the work of recovery, I looked at each new face and wondered what we could learn from one another. 28 new friends! It never even occurred to me to brace myself for rejection or to prove myself worthy. I’m sad that I ever thought I had to live that old way, and grateful that I can see things differently now.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Wayne Dyer speak earlier this year, and something he said resonated with me. He explained that when an orange is squeezed, orange juice comes out for one simple reason: because that’s what is inside. Likewise, he went on, we can also expect that what comes out of us when we are under pressure is an indication of what we hold inside.

If we fill our hearts with anger, we lash out under pressure. If we are full of hatred, out it sprays when the chips are down. And if we fill ourselves with love, positivity, grace, and acceptance, that is what we spread to others even in the worst of times.

That is the dot on the horizon I want to get to, the one I want to be: a woman who responds kindly in all circumstances.


A Secret Code and Good Things for You

From my very first day of recovery to this very day, certain parts of my routine have stood out as notable because of my sobriety: that morning cup of coffee as I realize “I’m not hungover!”…getting in my car and thinking “I never have to worry about being over the limit now!”…cooking supper for my family without opening a bottle…putting on comfy clothes at the end of each day as I prepare to face “the witching hour”…making a cup of evening tea to sooth the frayed edges…and taking time for gratitude as I crawl into bed.

I have often thought how nice it would be to buy nice things that encouraged my recovery throughout the day, yet I was hesitant to wear or carry things that broadcast my sobriety. If only there was a secret code….

I am aware that AA has a simple symbol that members often wear on jewelry or bumper stickers as a nod to sobriety, and wanted to create something similar for people on other pathways of recovery and change. Enter a dear designer friend who understands recovery personally and was eager to help with this project. She created some amazing new graphics for me, including this one as our “secret code”:UP_7748_7699_Icon-01

What does it mean, you wonder? I made this little video to explain:

And now…here’s the fun part! I have created a little shop with mugs for our morning coffee and evening tea, journals and boards for our gratitude practice, aprons for cooking time, keychains that are customizable with our recovery dates, and snuggly shirts for our cozy evenings of self-care. Basically I made a ton of items that I wanted for myself and set up a storefront on Zazzle (a print-on-demand provider) to make them available for others as well.

UnPickled is not a business venture for me nor a get-rich scheme, but simply a passion. I have put countless hours into the creation and maintenance of this blog UnPickled, and I will never ever ever charge readers for my efforts as a blogger or recovery cheerleader.

My main goal for UnPickled Shop is to encourage and support people in recovery with some neat little treats. Zazzle allows a small royalty for the use of my logo on the items it sells, and this amount will go towards paying for my website, domain registration, etc.

Thanks for you patience as I launch this project. I’ll be adding more items over the coming weeks, so please check my Facebook page for updates.


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

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.

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.

A Spiritual Evolution

an alcoholic's blog and addiction memoir

life without vodka rocks

Quitting alcohol on my own terms

A Rewarding Life

Sober Treats

Reads and Recovery

Everyone is recovering from something. Here are my stories about life in long-term recovery from addiction.

the pickled pastor

a journey in recovery


living without alcohol, living again

Seeing Clear Lee

musings on becoming alcohol-free

Needy Helper

Helping You Stop Drinking Alcohol Today

My Road To Abstinence

Sober, me? Really?


Trying to ace sober living


Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Starting today I am on my way.

A Dappled Path

Kicking the bottle

Leave the Fade

My light was starting to dim. Actually it has been diminishing for some time now. So a change needs to be made, time to leave the Fade.

sparkly sober

writing my way out of drinking

And Everything Afterwards

How I quit alcohol and discovered the beauty of a sober life

Raising Healthy Children in an Alcoholic Home

A Book and Blog for Parents in Recovery from Alcoholism and Codependence


Finding myself by leaving the wine behind...


From daily wine drinker to alcohol free living...this is my journey. I finally commited to alcohol free living on Jan 12, 2015.

Sober Courage

From liquid courage to sober courage!

Mrs D Is Going Without

How I Secretly Quit My Secret Habit of Secretly Drinking

A hangover free life

Waking up to the sobering reality that booze is the problem not the solution

telling the words

the last day one, one day at a time


Mixed-up, Mashed-up, Mished-up.

The Soberist Blog

a life in progress ... sans alcohol

Life Unbuzzed

Rowing my sober boat gently down the stream


A woman's journey to happiness and health

Heather Kopp

Spiritual Awakenings on the Path of Recovery

Sober Grace

Finding and practicing grace in recovery


There are no coincidences.

The Sober Journalist

A blog about quietly getting sober

Running on Sober

I'm not empty, just sober

Message in a Bottle

Swimming in Big Chunks of Truth

Sober Identity ~ Reprogramming an Addictive Mind

Life Skills (Recovery) Coaching - My views on maintaining a recovered (ing) attitude & My book: Sober Identity


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