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SOS: 3 Holiday Pep Talks

I spent some time today creating three mini podcasts for anyone who is struggling over the holidays. Use as need, book mark for future use as well. My little little gift to you:

Click to Listen:

Holiday Peptalk #1  : When your family is driving you nuts (via The Bubble Hour)

//percolate.blogtalkradio.com/offsiteplayer?hostId=387055&episodeId=10421153

Holiday Peptalk #2: When you feel left out of the fun

Holiday Peptalk #3: When you need a reminder of the basics

Wishing everyone strength, wellness, and freedom.

Jean

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Then and Now

This morning I was awake much earlier than necessary. BOING! Eyes open at 6 am. Go back to sleep, I told myself, you have a late curling draw tonight. You need the extra sleep if you’re going to make it through this day….

But it was too late.

COFFEE said my brain.

PEE! said my bladder.

Shhhhhh, go back to sleep, said my grown up voice, soon drowned out with chatter:

Yippeee morning! Coffee and news and what should I wear today and hey I wonder if I lost another pound and oooooh what oil should I diffuse in the sunroom while I read the paper and and and if I get up now I can read for an extra hour instead of sleep! 

Who can resist that kind of enthusiasm? I can’t help myself, I love mornings. Do not confuse this with being a morning person. Morning people get stuff done. I don’t. I love to sit and read and drink coffee and have a slow start without interruptions.

Things sure have changed.

I used to shuffle to the kitchen and reach for Tylenol first, then coffee – both of them extra strength, please. Everything used to hurt in the morning and I never questioned it – I powered through. Hangover? No, of course not. I just had chronic daily headaches and body pain for no reason. It’s not like I was throwing up and calling in sick for work, right?

But a few months after I quit drinking I realized that I was no longer taking those little red pills every morning, and eventually I even had to toss a mostly-full jumbo bottle because it had stale-dated. That’s when I knew things were really different.

Six years later, things continue to change.

Unpickled

This is what recovery looks like….

I no longer stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own eyes, looking for answers to a question I am afraid to ask. Or inspect my nose for whatever it is that supposedly happens from too much alcohol.

I still check my outfit in the mirror before leaving the house, but only to see if I like the combination – not with the scrutiny of an imposter trying to cover her shame and fear with perfection.

I used to arrange and rearrange the furniture and decor in my home, then inspect it by standing at the entrance and surveying the scene with a visitor’s eyes. Is this good enough? Are there flaws? Is it welcoming? It is right? Oh, my home is still quite perfect – once a designer always a designer! – but I please myself first.

As mentioned, Wednesday night is our curling league and I have fun visiting with the other teams. I love to throw a good take-out shot that clears the house, or sweep a teammate’s rock with all my might, but I no longer imagine that people are watching me or judging my form. We often socialize afterwards and it doesn’t faze me that most teams split a pitcher of beer while I have water, though in truth I can’t wait to get home and watch Survivor.

Yep, this is a huge departure from the old days. My husband and I started curling in our 20s before we had kids and oh my, the drinking we used to do! It was all in good fun back then. In my 30s things had started to change – with little kids at home curling was our one night out so we had to get a week’s worth of partying into that one night. I probably drank a similar amount of alcohol as before, but with a different urgency and attitude. Curling was once a prelude to alcohol. Now I actually focus on the game and play hard and feel happy.

I could go on. I drive differently. I listen differently. I work and socialize differently. Everything is better, even though some things are harder now. I got through profound grief this year without the help of alcohol and it was so very large and real, but I did it (am still doing it, to be honest).

I look better. I feel better. My chest doesn’t hurt constantly and I sleep like a baby (at least until 6 am!). I hardly have to think about not drinking now, that part gets SO much easier. But when it does hit me, the old urge to escape – WHAM! There it is like the smell of mould and I pull back in surprise.

Except now I know to ask, what is making me so uncomfortable that I want to check out? Then I deal with that thing, and if I can’t identify it I comfort myself anyway with something safe – a stretch, a treat, a nap, a walk, an unnecessary purchase.

That’s where I am at now, and in time I will surely be in some even more enlightened place.

But one thing is for sure: I am never going back.

 

 

Shovelling 

Notice the lack of palm trees in my posts? I decided to cancel my trip to Palm Springs in order to help one of my sons who has suffered a serious neck injury. 

The day after I dropped my husband at the airport – he still went to visit his mom as originally planned – the first winter storm of the season blew in. 

I stayed positive while shovelling and tried not to grumble mentally about the sunshine I was missing. The wind was blowing the snow back faster than I could shovel it and I had to keep circling back to redo sections. Oh Canada!

Later I got this message from my husband, who was checking in on our security cameras and watching my progress:


What can you do but laugh at life’s ironic moments? I could have had a big old pity party, and in truth it was tempting. Worried about our son, sad about the trip, annoyed with the weather….

Learning the power of gratitude is one of the great gifts of recovery. I’m grateful for my strong body, for having a property to shovel, for living in Canada, that my son’s injury will eventually heal fully, that my husband is spending time with his mom, and that I now have a travel credit on Westjet. 

Now where should I go with that….?

Away Again

Back from one trip, leaving already for another. Lest you should think all I do is travel and live the Life of Riley (some days I think so too!), excuse me while I hustle for my worthiness by noting that in the 10 days at home between vacations I hosted two family dinners, babysit my grandkids twice and my niece’s little ones too, sat chained to my desk for several days doing (much loathed) accounting for our business, vacuumed, went to Costco and bought a new vacuum, revacuumed (Dyson V6 – holy hell what a miracle machine!), did 12 loads of laundry, lost 5 lbs, endured a migraine, recorded a Bubble Hour episode, played my first game of curling since breaking my leg (yah, I’ve still got it!), got new boots (see photo above), attended a “Lean In” luncheon, and last night had a great time at a dinner party (for the foodies, the hostess served from Donna Hay’s Easy Entertaining recipes: onion & feta tartlets, grilled salmon, stuffed zucchini, and some kind of fennel slaw. A true Canadian desert: Saskatoon pie from a Hutterite Colony – if that’s garbledegook to you then you need to put Alberta on your bucket list!). 

For pictures from my Europe trip with my mom and sisters mentioned in my last post, visit my Instagram page @unpickledblog. (Btw, that trip worked out wonderfully. If you have teenage girls that are driving you nuts with their squabbling, take heart that they’ll get along fine in their 50s.) 

My trip today is to a little spa on Vancouver Island to meet two friends from high school whom I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. We lived in dorm together at a Lutheran boarding school in the 1980s and life has taken us in dramatically different directions since. I’m flying on points and the three of us are sharing a room, so this is definitely a budget-friendly trip. I won’t worry a speck about splurging on a few massages (3!) and several yoga sessions (6!) while I’m there (4 nights!). 

I’m also excited that I’ve connected with some women in recovery on the island who I’ll meet up with. We don’t know each other but they’re familiar with my work here and on the podcast and a mutual friend put us in touch. I love sober meet ups!
Now you may not believe this, but right before I left my husband convinced me to join him on a trip to visit his mom in Palm Spring five days after I get home again. I started to rattle off all the reasons I should stay home (month end, year end, guilt…) when I realized I could easily bring my work along and manage just fine. 

Why not? Life is for living, and I’m all in. 

(PS speaking of sober meetups, I’d love to have coffee with any readers in the Palm Springs area when I’m there in the first week of November. Leave a comment here or drop a message on my Facebook page if you’d like to connect. I’ll be staying in Indio.)

More Sober Adventures

Lucky me, I’m travelling again! This trip will be a little different. My mom is taking my sisters and me on the river cruise she and my dad had hoped to do for their 50th wedding anniversary – a trip that never happened because my dad became too weak to travel. Their world became small for the next several years while mom cared for him at home until he passed away this spring. 

Now my mom wants to travel as much as she can before her age catches up to her, and we are more than happy to help her do this. 
We had all put our share of time into helping with my dad, so when he passed away that time became available to share with my mom instead. I used to spend one morning a week taking Dad for an outing to give my mom a break from caregiving. It was a fair amount of effort as his Parkinson’s progressed and he became less stable both physically and mentally. Now my Wednesday mornings are spent taking my mom shopping, which is easy and fun by comparison. My sisters each have their slots on Mom’s calendar too, but it is rare for the four of us to spend time as a group. 

This trip – from Brussels to Amsterdam – will be a chance to celebrate my dad’s life, my mom’s health, and our new configuration as a family of four strong women (versus our old identity as “Wes and his girls”). 

But it’s also a little nerve wracking. Will we fall into old patterns and behaviours – squabbling sisters, triangulating and polarizing under pressure? Will we jockey for position, doting on Mom to appear helpful and grateful – concerned about the optics, afraid to be judged by strangers? 

Even though there’s free booze everywhere, my main trigger is far more likely to be any potential emotional discomfort of tension between us. I’m not worried about drinking, I just know I have to be proactive about letting my mind play games. 

I’m lucky – my mom and sisters are genuinely nice people. I have no concern that any of us will behave badly or treat each other poorly. It’s just that being with our family of origin can throw us back subconsciously. It’s why so many people relapse between Thanksgiving and New Years as they  return home and fall into old patterns. 

I remind myself though, that we are a new family – not the old one. This dynamic is new, this all-girl group, and we can choose the code of conduct as we wish. 

I’m writing this in the back seat of the car, now just minutes from the airport. I had asked aloud how to spell “squabbling” which begged the question, “what are you writing back there?” so I fessed up I was drafting a post about the four of us. I also promised to read it to them all before making it public. So if you are reading this, know that it passed group approval – which is probably a good sign that our trip is off to a healthy start. 

New and a Little Scary

I’ve been on tv and radio for my work hundreds of times, and recorded oodles of Bubble Hour episodes these past years. Even so, today was still nerve wracking. 

I just did a Facebook live video to promote an upcoming Bubble Hour episode with the creators of a subscription box for people in recovery. 

If you feel like spending ten minutes watching a sober sister talking, or if you’re struggling and you just want to see another human who is in this recovery thing along with you, or if you’re wondering what my living room looks like, please watch: 

What have you done lately that was out of your comfort zone? Were you happy with the results? Will you do it again?

3 Good Things

There have been some really great moments recently that I’ve wanted to share with you. I get a pretty steady stream of inspiring messages and comments from people who have found my efforts to be helpful. Since one big lesson in recovery is keeping the ego in check, I am careful to stay focussed on service and gratitude when it comes to the role that UnPickled and The Bubble Hour might play in someone’s else’s life. Still, every time someone touches base it feels special and magical, like a butterfly landing on my shoulder. But those messages aren’t mine to share here, much as I would love to repost them all because every single person has a powerful story.

Here are some things that I can share. Three things I am excited about and grateful for and proud to tell you about:

  1. Recovery Today Online Conference happening Sept 11-15. I am honoured to be one of the session speakers and I hope you will check out this free series created, produced and hosted by the amazing Sherry Gaba, of Recovery Today magazine and former therapist on Celebrity Rehab..  Go here now:
    FREE CONFERENCE SIGN-UP

    Recovery Today SeriesThis is the 5th annual Recovery Today Online Conference, there’s nothing quite like it.  The speakers share on topics with deliberate creation and goal setting going way beyond the addiction to aspire to a life you’ve dreamed of and I’m sure all those attending will be impacted greatly.  It’s totally free and you can attend from anywhere in the world online.

    This Online Conference is also for all the parents, spouses, siblings, and children who love an addict.

  2. Healthline’s Best Alcoholism Blogs of the Year:  Again, “watch the ego, amigo”…because who wouldn’t feel pretty puffed up about being included on a list with the likes of Sober Julie, Jennifer Matesa, and Mrs D? I know that this particular listing changes many lives because I can see the volumes of seekers who find their way to this page daily via Healthline. It is a powerful resource and I am glad they have taken notice of this little corner of the “recovery friendly web”. Check out their list here.
alcoholism best blogs badge
Healthline

3. Last but not least, I have to thank the organizers of the SheRecovers in NYC Conference who presented me with the “Hope Award” in recognition of my recovery advocacy efforts. I had no idea this was in the works and frankly I would have worn cuter shoes that night if I knew I would be on the stage, but that’s how it goes with lovely surprises: you’re not always wearing the right shoes. IMG_2088I joked with the audience that the award was a relapse for me as a former approval addict, and in truth I have been trying for months to figure out how to appropriately share this moment without sounding self-promoting. What I am is humbled, and grateful, and awestruck, and well, I am a much nicer, kinder, better, more settled version of myself which is its own kind of award/reward. Anyway, this pretty award sits on my desk and reminds me daily of that weekend I spent with 500+ women in recovery – in N

Hope Award

ew York City, no less – and how awesome it felt to look out and know that no matter ow lonely I feel sometimes sitting at this desk, I am not alone. None of us are.

 

The Secret is to Know When to Stop

I was running yesterday — yes, running, more on that in a moment — tossing around ideas for what to write. Where to start after the past few weeks? Life has served up extreme ends of the spectrum this year –  so happy, so so very sad – it’s hard to talk about one without slighting the other. (For a recap of this year’s rollercoaster, listen to the intro on last week’s Bubble Hour. Then, of course, listen to the rest of the interview after because Meaghan’s story was captivating.)

We are spending the week at our family’s lake cottage on Lac La Biche, situated in the edge of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. Sometimes there are 18 or more of us here and it’s a blur of beach towels and corn cobs and trying to remember which phone charger or coffee cup is mine. 

This week, however, there’s only  three of us and the focus is on puttering – clearing, burning, building, cleaning – and relaxing in equal measure. 

I take long walks every day, something I’ve done since first coming here in the 80s as a teen (gah!). On a recent walk, I reflected on how grateful I am to have healed so quickly and completely from my broken leg and got the idea to try running a few paces. I was dressed in jeans and flats, so I didn’t want to appear to actually be out for a run — not that there was a soul around to see me anyway. But oh my gosh!! I ran and it worked and it didn’t hurt so I just kept running. And the next day I dressed more appropriately and alternated between 100 steps running/walking. No pain! No swelling!

I was so excited that I didn’t turn around at the usual spot, I kept going until our little side road joined the highway and then without thinking I stepped onto the skinny shoulder of the busy logging/oil route. Every minute or two a rig would rumble past but I didn’t care. I felt reckless and free and powerful. I could run! (And then walk, and run, and walk, and RUN!). 

When I got back to the cabin, I burst through the door with sweaty jubilation, eager to share my achievement with anyone who’d listen. When it came out that my route had taken me onto the highway, my family was understandably horrified. 

“That is so dangerous – don’t do that again!”

So yesterday I set off for another run, mostly motivated by the fact that I’d forgotten to pack milk and had been substituting whipping cream in my coffee since arriving. The events of this year have contributed so a 15 lb weight gain as it is, and something should be done. Clearly that something does not involve black coffee, so running it is. 

I found myself on the route towards the highway, debating whether to turn back at the stop sign or (secretly) run the forbidden loop. Sure, I had promised I wouldn’t, but there it was. 

Stop sign
As the red sign got closer and closer, and my mind bounced from blogging ideas to sneaking onto the highway like a naughty child, I suddenly felt an accountability to YOU, dear reader, to “do the next right thing” – just as I’m always telling others to do, even though this time it had nothing to do with alcohol. 

Or did it?

Who do I hurt when I indulge the part of me that says it’s okay to do something risky as long as I keep it quiet? Who do I slight when I think “no one knows”? Myself, that’s who. If I know, someone knows. Secret behaviours can be just as dangerous as running on the highway. 

I decided to capture this moment of awareness to post here, to show you that you’re with me, to remind us all to just keep going and do the next right thing. 

UnPickled running

Tom Cochran was right: the secret IS to know when to stop – be it drinking or withholding truth or putting heavy cream in coffee or not writing. 

No Matter What

We returned from our vacation to a difficult reality: my husband’s father has entered into the final stages of a terminal illness. He won’t be with us much longer, and it hasn’t seemed right to post all the happy photos from our trip while our family is so heavy with sadness. 

We drove through a hailstorm to visit him on Sunday. My new car took a beating – cracked windshield and hail damage to the body – but it was worth it to see him, to be where we needed to be and where we were needed.  A car is nothing. Family is everything. 

I returned home last night and tried to go through the motions of normal life today. 

I was shampooing carpets at one of our rentals when the machine made a strange noise and began to spew smoke. With the receipt for this new machine in my wallet, I decided to load it all into my car and return it to the store. Backing up, something didn’t seem right. I stopped and ran around the car. Apparently, I’d  only set the box of parts behind my car, not IN it, and backed over the damn thing. The good news, however, is that I was able to return it anyway. 

A phone call came in on my cell. My mom’s condo building was on fire. She made it out safely and was staying with a friend a few blocks away.  I drove by, so much destruction. Her unit was untouched by there is no doubt smoke damage to her belongings. No one was hurt, that’s all that matters. 

On the way home I picked up a stir fry for supper. It flipped over inside the bag and the contents came out of  the container. Teriyaki chicken and rice smoosh. 

My car is damaged but I am safe. 

My mom is displaced from her home but it’s only temporary. 

My carpet shampooer blew up and then I drove over it but the store still gave me a refund. 

My dinner dumped all over the bag but I poured it on a plate and ate it anyway. 

Is this fucking day over yet?

No, it’s not. It’s messy and it sucks but it’s life and I’m living it. 

My heart feels like it’s going to drop into my feet with dread and grief. I don’t want my sweet, funny father-in-law to go. I don’t want to think about the world without him in it. And at the same time I wish him a gentle end. 

We can do hard things. It would sure be nice if we didn’t have to do it all at once, though. 

Afloat But Not Adrift

Having conquered 100km of The Cotswolds on foot, we moved on to the next phase of our adventure: a cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. 
It is pure luxury but booze is everywhere – including the cake and chocolates here in Germany where we toured today. It keeps me on my toes and I have to remind myself that there are things I could do to further protect my sobriety, if needed: call the desk to have our mini bar cleared of alcohol and pull a waiter aside and tip him to be my guardian angel (removing wine glasses from my setting and delivering a preagreed order on arrival). If I were travelling alone, I would do this on a heartbeat. As it is, my husband is very considerate and gives me accountability and support. 

I’ve grown weary of my puffball hair and booked an appointment for a blow out with the onboard stylist for the hefty fee of 35 euros. Hopefully it will last a day or two. I have otherwise purchased nothing but a book at Heathrow airport (“The Year of Living Danishly” by Helen Russell) and a teensy amber angel today in Heidelberg, so paying for a few hours of sane hair feels justifiable. I’m telling myself it’s also a courtesy to the other passengers, because this current mass of fluff and doingers I’m sporting is plain disrespectful to onlookers. (Post salon update: normality restored!)

We’ve been on board 2 days and have toured castles, listened to opera (which I loved, who knew?), and walked a thousand cobblestone streets already. I write this from a quiet balcony, watching the beautiful German shores go by. Because we are between cities, the internet is quite weak so I am unable to upload photos for now. More to follow when conditions allow, because I so want to share this wonderful experience with you. 

PS – Sober is better!

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