Surviving Las Vegas

Last weekend we went to a wedding in Las Vegas and I’ll admit I wondered how it would feel to be sober in THE party town.

Sparks were flying before we even left the airport, as one rowdy passenger was pulled aside at the gate and told he wouldn’t be served alcohol on the plane. Seated nearby once on board, we listened to him pleade and argue with the crew throughout the three-hour flight. Delightful! When we landed, he muttered “See you next Tuesday” to the flight attendant, which my husband informed me is code for the nasty C-word.

I had a small epiphany as we walked the strip after arriving: Vegas might be easier for me sober than it was before. I’d been there twice for conventions many years ago, before drinking became entirely problematic for me. I was there for business conventions and wasn’t interested in the other distractions. If I had visited the city during the time of my active addiction, I would have been very bothered by the public displays of drunkenness because I so cherished my hidden secret. I drank on my own terms, as a reward after working hard all day. Vegas offers no chance to maintain that front! There is no work to be rewarded, no pretence of anything but indulgence. I rejected that image, resented that idea. I drank in a private, regimented way that Vegas would have totally disrupted. I don’t think I could have enjoyed myself there in those days.

It was good to see our family at the wedding, the bride was stunning and the Elvis minister was charming. We had a lot of laughs, ate some very good food, spent a few hours shopping, and were soon on our way home again without ever even sitting at a slot machine.

Earlier in my sobriety, I was very dependent on a certain routine of morning coffee and bedtime tea that would have been difficult to replicate in Las Vegas because there wasn’t even a coffee maker in our hotel room (clearly the hospitality industry is hell bent on keeping visitors out where they can spend money!). I think the noise, crowds, stimulation, and general ick-factor would have spiked my anxiety and I would have been a mess. I doubt I would have drank but I might have taken Gravol to knock myself out, which in some ways is a relapse (pills to escape, even just Gravol!).

One of the great lessons of recovery for me has been withstanding discomfort. I did feel overwhelmed at times, and instead of letting the feelings rule me I breathed and waited. I did see people who were rowdy and loud, and I released the urge to judge. I saw people who made me sad – homeless people, young women who seemed exploited, and foreign workers handing out smut cards – and my heart went out to them.

The most lasting impression – aside from the gorgeous bride, our reason for being there – was a couple we sat behind on the flight home. There was tension between them, clearly. The wife was quite obviously hung over, a shroud of shame and pain clung to her shoulders.  Her eyes looked dead in that way many of us in recovery know all too well – a mix of defeat and defiance. Her husband was silent before, during, and after the flight.  He sheparded her through the crowds but walked a step ahead. He acknowledged when she spoke to him but his eyes were quiet steel. Jesus,what happened with these two? Whatever it was, the fallout was evident. My heart ached for them both, and I couldn’t help feel that their story was a long way from over.

Just as I wished a life of happiness or the bride and groom, I went home hoping happiness might find the cast of real-life characters whose faces wouldn’t leave my mind: the young man who was drunk at the airport, the homeless man who ran for his life throug the hotel lobby with a stolen sandwich in his hand, the young woman in a  leather miniskirt and platform shoes with glazed eyes leaning heavily on an older man, that angry couple on the flight home.

I’d had just as much fun on Freemont Street with my Lime Perrier as everyone else with their booze, but my heart was glad to go home and get back to normal.

Feedback Friday: What Changed?

I made this inspirational graphic for my UnPickled Facebook page and it clearly hit home for a lot of people. 
“To recover is to create a life in which numbness is no longer necessary for survival.”

For me, this meant stopping my “perfectionist hustle” – the insatiable appetite for approval, the endless busy-ness of trying (dying) to *earn* my place on this earth through achievements and accolades.  It’s meant tinkering under my own hood and challenging some of my long-held beliefs that were not so much truths but misinterpreted lessons from childhood. 

What have you changed about yourself and your life to make numbing unnecessary? 

Please share, and then stop back to see what others have written as well. 

This is What Recovery Looks Like

jean and anne

Recovery looks like two friends having coffee in the sunshine.

Here I am with Anne (ainsobriety.wordpress.com) as we hung out on my front steps after recording an episode of The Bubble Hour for y’all to enjoy.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2016/06/23/sobriety-through-a-crisis-guest-anne-s

 

Big News

Little messages have a way of turning up if we pay attention. The other day, my tea bag whispered “be heard” just as I was thinking how much Iimage miss being on The Bubble Hour. It was the nudge I needed to send a few emails, sort out the details, and make a decision. Soon I was booking guests, brushing up on my studio skills, and recording interviews again.

It’s official. I am producing and hosting new Bubble Hour episodes and if you subscribe to the show you may have already heard my first interview with Kelly.

The down side is that the other 3 co-hosts, my dear friends Ellie, Amanda, and Catherine, are not able to participate just now. All of them are well and working their recovery, but don’t have the extra time required to be involved in the show. Ellie, the creative force behind the project, wants the podcast to continue and gave me her blessing to take it and run.

The Bubble Hour has 40,000 downloads a month, which is one per minute 24 hours a day. That’s a lot of listeners, and a lot of opportunities to help people.

It will be a new experience for me, doing the interviews on my own instead of with a team. There is a lot of other work involved that gives me appreaciation for everything Amanda and Ellie have been doing behind the scenes all these years – writing copy, updating all of the sharing sites and scheuling episodes. But I think it is worth the effort to keep the conversation going.

“Service” is one of the 12 Steps for a reason. Helping others boosts our own efforts to stay motivated and accountable in sobreity. I am sincerely honoured to do my part by encouraging others to share their stories.

I hope you will listen. For those interested, I’ll be posting updates on how you can be a guest on the show in the weeks to come, or contribute your story in writing. Stay tuned!

 

It’s Not Your Fault

I was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook  page but stopped short for fear of backlash:

 

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I love this saying and I use it all the time when I am talking to people who are struggling, but it can sound like a cop-out to someone who doesn’t understand addiction.

Addiction comes from using, so how can it not be the addict’s fault? If someone chooses to use, shouldn’t they accept the blame for what comes next?

Well that’s the thing, you see, it’s not necessarily a choice to keep using.

Casual drinkers experience alcohol in a way that is social and fun, but they have the ability to stop drinking. They can take it or leave it. It’s a treat, and they know not to over-do on treats. From a casual drinkers perspective it can appear that people who drink too much are choosing the pleasant treat too frequently and need to use more self-control.

If you scroll through the 6000+ comments on the pages of this blog (holy shit!), you will find virtually no one who says, “I should quit drinking but I am just having so much fun.”

Addiction is not fun. Addiction is not a life anyone wants.

Addiction means drinking (or using) to feel normal. Addiction means that without the substance, withdrawals start in the form of  pain, anxiety or obsessive thoughts or more obvious symptoms like shaking or sweating.

The thing to blame for addiction is the fact that alcohol is addictive and yet people are expected to use it without consequence. We know not to start smoking if we don’t want to get addicted. We know that drinking coffee every morning will get us hooked on caffeine. Addiction is the normal course of action for using addictive substances. To drink or use drugs WITHOUT becoming addicted is abnormal.

Why why why why do we expect alcohol to be anything other than it is?

The other tricky thing about addiction is that it creeps in slowly and alters self-perception, so it can take a long time to become aware it has developed. Even then, so much shame and stigma exists around addiction that the first reaction can be denial out of self-preservation.

To be fair, it should also be said that people in the throes of addiction can be mighty assholes who defend indefensible behaviour by blaming others. How painful and frustrating it can be for those living with an addict who appears to be having a great time at their expense while taking zero responsibility. How infuriating it must be to see a quote saying “addiction is not your fault…” when you see the same pattern repeating again and again. Fair enough, that is hard, but please understand: addiction isn’t anyone’s fault. 

Forget fault. Forget blame, shame, and guilt.

Addiction is a reality, and realities must be dealt with. Trade blame for acceptance and responsibility. Yes, this falls squarely on the shoulders of the addict, who can only assume responsibility by accepting the reality of their own addiction.

Blame lives in the past, hope lies in the future, but recovery happens in each present moment where acceptance and responsibility are found.

 

 

Craving Buster

You. Must. Do. This.

It’s called the TimTam Slam, a little trick my son learned in when travelling in Australia that involves chocolate-coated cookies and tea (or coffee) and a specific ritual. It hits all the bases for cancelling out booze cravings, which include:

  • ritual (because keeping busy is a good distraction)
  • palate confusion (the sweetness negates alcohol cravings)
  • pleasure (sugar and chocolate wake up endorphins)
  • entertainment (fun for your inner child)

So here’s how it goes. Make yourself a nice warm drink, preferably in an “Un Re” mug from my UnPickled Shop, and grab a package of TimTams.

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Now, take a TimTam and carefully nibble off diagonally opposite corners. (Note, due to my giant rabbit teeth this part is very difficult for me and my nibbles are on the largish side. I have had to ingest multiple extra TimTams due to botched (oversized) corner nibbles. If you don’t want to be *forced* to eat extra cookies, keep your corner bites small.)

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Now…carefully put one nibbled corner into your warm drink and slurp (gracefully!) from the other corner, pulling the liquid through the cookie until the heavenly combination is drawn through the body of the biscuit and you taste the drink.

This action causes a transformative union of cookie, chocolate, and warm drink to occur, which brings us to the *slam* portion of our program: STOP SLURPING AND TOSS THE WHOLE COOKIE INTO YOUR MOUTH. Do this swiftly and without hesitation or the liquid will overtake the biscuit and it will fall in your drink with a disappointing plop.

I promise you that this activity will make you forget your cravings, and probably give you a good chuckle along the way. Do this with friends and take pictures of the crucial moment – you have lots of laughs and great pics for your social media posts.

The TimTam Slam is so popular that it has a WikiHow page complete with illustrations and tips, but the rest of the world hasn’t realized it has anti-craving super powers for people in recovery.

That can be our little secret.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Anxiety or Imagination

My work as a designer and home builder requires me to spend a great deal of time in my head, translating lines on a blue print into visions of colour and space. I am always working months into the future, which means I hover over the “date” section when filling any given form because I must pause to consider which month it is presently – I live that far into the future.

Designers don’t just walk into a shop and order tile, cabinets, finishes and fixtures on the basis of simply coordinating colours; we have project all the selections into a mental image that moves from room to room conceptualizing corners, ceilings, logistics, building code and finally, visual appeal.

My hyperactive imagination serves me well in my work; to me a floorplan is just as interesting as a novel. It is a thrilling experience to walk through a home we have built, seeing my thoughts come to life. I did that, I made that happen. I dreamed it and made it real.

Yet the same gifts that allow me to be creative have also caused me a lot of grief, since for much of my life I just observed my thoughts without applying any discipline to them. I was along for the ride to wherever my imagination took me, believing it was beyond my control. I so enjoyed the good things that my thoughts produced –  music, stories, homes, crafts, thoughtfulness and insight –  that I was willing to to tolerate the inherent negatives: dread, anxiety, fear, worry.

I can imagine criticism, shame, disaster, pain and harm with the same ease and clarity as a sunroom with shiplap walls and oversized lanterns. I believe that a big part of alcohol’s appeal to me was the quieting of my mind, the numbing of unwanted images and noise.

Once I stopped drinking, a new self-awareness began to emerge that invited me to take a more empowered approach with my thoughts. I could control them, pull apart the jumble to assess for validity or benefit. Imagination and anxiety both require a willingness to plunge into the unknown and look for shapes in the darkness. Recovery, for me, has largely involved identifying when I’m spinning out in anxious thoughts and experiencing emotions based on what *could* happen rather than what is *actually* happening.

Maybe for you the line that gives you trouble is something different. Maybe you struggle with the line between friendly vs flirtatious, or entertaining vs attention-seeking, or introverted vs isolated. The idea is to examine our tendencies and keep what serves us well, knowing that left unchecked our gifts can naturally slip into variations of harmful forms.

It’s easy to justify our character flaws when they masquerade as positive traits, and it takes courage to call ourselves on crossing the line. I used to think my thoughts weren’t hurting anyone, yet they have a funny way of creeping into tone and action, which over time becomes habit and character. If my thoughts made me anxious, and being anxious made me snappy, and being snappy made me defensive, and being defensive made me withdraw, well…I guess I was hurting those around me on a regular basis – so regular it maybe seemed normal. No wonder normal hurt.

I love that I am now free to challenge my own thinking in ways I never considered before. I love the simplicity of asking myself, “Is that true?” when a negative idea takes hold.

I’m so stressed out right now. (Is that true?)

These people are judging me. (Is that true?)

Everything needs to be perfect. (Is that true?)

I work harder than others. (Is that true?)

Hey! I have to work harder than others (not true), to make things perfect (not necessary), so that when others judge me (if they do, but they probably don’t)  they won’t find things to criticize (not necessarily true), so I am stressed out (by choice).

I wouldn’t trade my creativity for the world, so I have to learn to manage the anxiety it can produce. This is recovery, folks. This is what’s it’s all about. These changes of thought are just as important to staying sober and not drinking.

What are your gifts and what are their flipsides? What has sobriety and recovery taught you about being present and aware? What answers do you find when you ask, “Is that true?”

 

Transferrable Skills

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(Organized Chaos)

I am up to my eyeballs in life right now. Nothing bad, just a lot. Like a LOT, a lot, and all at once. And here’s what happens when the “to do” list is long: I eat poorly, I get stressy, my social life takes a dive bomb, and I don’t sleep well. In other words, I’m perpetually hungry/angry/lonely/tired – the dreaded ‘H.A.L.T.’ triggers that undermine recovery.

We are in that awesome/shitty situation of selling our house super fast and packing for a move before we even know where we are going next. Our new house is under construction so we need an interim rental before the end of the month. (But hey, our house sold so YAY!) At the same time, my parents are downsizing to a seniors’ lodge (more packing!), our son and his wife have baby #2 due in a few weeks, AND we are headed to Vegas for a wedding in the midst of it all. See – all good things, just a lot all at once.

I like a plan. I like my calendar to be orderly and concise and fully detailed. I like to know where to forward my internet and mail, and maybe where I’ll be waking up on any given day. I don’t think it is too much to ask from life, and I feel deprived in the absence of certainty right now.

Last week I drove two hours to Calgary to meet my friend Anne (ainsobriety.wordpress.com) for lunch. Hers is one of the thousands of families displaced by the Alberta forest fires; 90,000 people evacuated en masse through flames with little notice a month ago. We met another dear friend, Jan, who is also in recovery and in the midst of a stressful time with health concerns for her elderly parents. We sat for hours over lunch sharing our struggles and triumphs, marvelling at our respective abilities to deal with enormous amounts of tension and pressure.  All of us used to drink heavily and regularly just to get through the everyday stuff, and now we are managing much heavier loads without any alcohol at all.

“They seem like overly simplified platitudes, but they really are true,” said Jan, referring to recovery slogans like one day at a time and just do the next right thing.  Getting sober is a lesson in small victories; overcoming addiction requires the ability to stay in the moment and just work on the situation at hand, whatever’s before you, and not drink. It got each of us through those shaky early days; through cravings, discomfort, and moments of weakness. In our own ways, we have learned that our years of sobriety were built moment by moment of just doing the next right thing.

Recovery has taught us skills that are serving us well in life and getting us through difficult times. Bit by bit, we move through them. As Anne recounted her evacuation experiences, I was as entranced by both incredible drama of the tale and the amount of strength she has discovered within herself. We can do hard things.

The old me would have been miserable with this whole crazy packing-and-moving situation. I would have been cranky, panicked, and constantly venting. I would have exaggerated and heightened the problem to justify my negative response. And I would have drank at it, a lot. A LOT, a lot.

But now I know better. I will pack and work hard, and try to remember take time for yoga and coffee with friends and maybe even a pedicure if I can squeak it in. I will look for things to be grateful for, and I will continue to reach out to friends who are going through their own difficulties. I will try to address those H.A.L.T. issues, and make this busy month the best it can be.

Recovery really is a life-long process of discovery and growth. It shows up in all kinds of ways, and lends itself to every corner of our experience….if we let it.

 

Interviewed by Mrs D

We were lucky enough to have Lotta Dan of Mrs D as a guest on two episodes of The Bubble Hour and now she is flipping the tables round by interviewing me on her Living Sober site.

http://www.livingsober.org.nz/sober-story-jean/

Thank you, Lotta, for all you to do encourage and inspire happiness in life after alcohol!

Prize Update

I spent a few hours this weekend packing up prizes from the 5th Anniversary Giveaway and it was quite an enjoyable task. I seem to be finding pleasure in little things these days – a direct result of not overloading myself, I suspect. With a bin full of packages and customs forms, I headed for the post office to send them on their way.

In true Canada Post fashion, it cost twice as much to send a package 200 km Calgary than 3280 km to Tennessee. After 45 minutes of weighing, printing, signing, posting and paying – thankfully the clerk was methodical and calm – the bin was emptied and the task can finally be crossed off my list (I love my lists!).

What was really cool about this exercise was that it shifted over from a virtual connection to a tangible one. The recipients of those packages will see my handwriting, hold gifts that I chose for them, and read personal messages that were written for their eyes only. I don’t know if they will find that experience as moving as I have, but to me it is new territory. “Our relationship has gone to another level” kind of thing.

I think it can be too easy for bloggers to adopt a “voice” that is almost an alter-ego and it can become a mask of sorts. I have worked very hard from Day 1 of this blog to stay authentic, and that can be hard because I write much more eloquently than I speak. The codependent in me can’t help but think, “Does my handwriting make me look uneducated? Are the lines straight? Will they like this prize? Do I sound silly?”

I was telling a friend recently that I have a vision of heaven as a place that reveals all the unseen aspects of our lives on Earth, and we get to see who we helped along the way as well as the strangers that may have helped us without our knowing. I think all of our questions are answered and life’s little mysteries and coincidences are revealed. I fully believe all of us who have been helped by the recovery blogosphere will have a giant meetup in the sky, where we all get to hug and talk to each other in person (spirit?) and see, feel, understand the enormity of the impact we have all had on one another. Wouldn’t that be cool?

I’ll leave you with that happy thought today.

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