The Luxury of Tears

My husband is away on a golf trip and I am very good at alone-ing. I clean, bake, read, write, walk the dog, watch documentaries, work, and use complicated beauty products (moisture mask, micro planer, green self-tanner…). I listen to podcasts on speaker and eat supper at 8 pm.

The only thing I don’t do well in the Mr’s absence is go to bed. Correction: go to SLEEP. I actually go to bed earlier than usual but then procrastinate the actual “lights off” part. I’ve written many times about dreading sleeplessness. I know better, I do. I have strategies and thought processes and tea with valerian, and truth be told I don’t often need any of that. Sleep comes easily once I remember to give it a try.

Nevertheless, maybe I am a little short on sleep, okay? Just a few hours behind, but enough to weaken my defences. And also I am reading this great book on attachment theory (“How We Love” by Milan and Kay Yerkovich) – I’ve been picking it up and putting it down for months because it has just been to raw to consider various aspects of my childhood now as I help to care for a parent with Parkinson’s. The then and the now crash together like thunderheads and I have to stop and draw slow breaths and blink blink blink. But with all this alone time I’ve been trying to finish the book by reading chunks and then walking the dog while processing the information.

This afternoon I felt an emotional *clunk* halfway through my walk around the lake. Scattered memories sorted themselves into a pattern and I was simultaneously enlightened and despondent. The combination was overwhelming so I hurried home with a quivering chin (and an oblivious Schnoodle). Safely home, I was about to busy myself with some distraction – the laundry and a Bubble Hour outline for next week’s show – when it suddenly occurred to me there was no reason not to feel the feelings I was pushing away.

With the same sense of wonder as I feel when turning off the lights to sleep (“Oh right, this isn’t hard at all”) I sat on the stairs and held space for myself. (“Go ahead now and allow the response that occurs as a result of those memories.”) I wanted to see what might happen next and I bet you can guess: a cleansing cry of the private sort, the kind that doesn’t worry about how it looks or what anyone thinks but just releases and renews. It went on longer than expected and I marvelled at my own capacity to weep. It felt good to give up this burden I didn’t know I’d been carrying.

Several tissues later, I realized my little dog was watching me with concern. Whoosh! The reflective self returned. I never trouble my loved ones with my uncomfortable emotions and I can’t even tolerate worrying the damn dog. Deep breath…it was finished anyway…I felt better….

I will call my therapist tomorrow. It’s been months since my last appointment and I could use some help making sense of things. Just because it felt good to cry alone does not mean I need to process everything that way.

If I have learned anything in these years of recovery, it is the power of asking for help.

Peek In My Hopper

If only someone could find a way to translate all the blog posts I write in my head while I’m driving or cooking or doing books at the office. If only I could collect a ticker tape of my brain activity (dreams excluded, those are wacky) and cut and paste the best bits for this blog.

I had so many good ones in “the hopper” (which is what I call the mental centrifuge that filters obsessive thoughts into actual truth nuggets).

A few things I planned to write about this week:

– The way my throat clamps shut when I visit a church, and I cannot sing along with the hymns. Even in my son’s hipster congregation on where instead of a choir there’s a “worship team” with a drum kit and bass guitar and the songs are all catchy and upbeat. As a former singer/songwriter I feel strange standing in silence while those around me sing, but some old anxiety clamps on my throat and seals my lips. Instead I close my eyes and sing in my mind, and trust that God understands this little mystery even if I don’t. But then I feel guilty, because if everyone did the same the sanctuary would be silent…and then I wonder, “Wouldn’t God still hear choir, I mean worship team, of our hearts?”….

– That I realized only yesterday at I had confused Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” with 80s actress Terri Garr, who I’d assumed reinvented herself as a radio personality after retiring from acting. I was so impressed how her ditzy, perky blonde stereotype had been shed for the deep-voiced intellect on the radio. “She was a better actor than I thought!” To be fair, I am Canadian and our national NPR equivalent is CBC (tv and radio) and I only recently picked up NPR on satellite radio. The Garr/Gross mix up was the result of catching occasional promos, but minutes into listen an actual episode I was searching “Terry Gross photo” followed by “Phoebe’s mom on Friends” and laughing at my mistake.

– That I spent 4 days at the lake without a packing along a carefully planned array of non-alcoholic beverages for myself. This used to be a big deal – How many days? How many dinners, cocktail hours, card games and evening fires did I need to soothe myself through? This time around, all I worried about was morning coffee and bedtime tea. Seriously. What a shift.

– That we stayed in a theme room at West Edmonton Mall, and like the note above, booze did not even cross my mind. Wine and hotel rooms used to go hand in hand, and I made a point of packing bottles, corkscrew, and glasses in my drinky days because God forbid I might be stuck in a hotel room without my much needed wine. When I quit drinking, I needed to replace all that and you will see in some earlier posts how I kitted out my bag with all kinds of replacements.

– How sometimes it can be hard to be of service to people who are active addiction. I want to help everyone and not everyone wants to be helped, even when they have reached out to ask for help. It is a delicate dance. I am learning and doing my best.

– How I tired AVE (audio visual entrainment) and what a little trip that has been.

But damn, all of those posts wrote themselves in my head and I failed to capture them. Instead I am writing this recap in between appointments and hoping you can hop from dot to dot to build some kind of picture. What did it form? What do you see? A happy, sober lady living a full life? Or a scattered flibbertygibbet who needs to focus and schedule more writing time?

NYC Anyone?

 

13886965_10157226987590026_1899476269481178673_n.jpgSoooo I am pretty jazzed about participating in this exciting women’s event May 5-7, 2017 She Recovers in New York City: a three-day extravaganza of amazing speakers (Glennon Doyle Melton, Gabrielle Bernstein, Elizabeth Varga, Elena Brower and Marianne Williamson…are you kidding me? That’s my bucket list right there!), yoga, exhibits, panel discussions, gorgeous meals with 500 women celebrating recovery. (Sorry for leaving you out this time fellas, this one is just for the ladies.)

I will be there live-blogging and participating in a panel discussion with other sobriety bloggers, and hopefully meeting many of YOU!

There are special room rates for participants at the Conrad Hotel in Manhattan, where the event will be held, and the whole thing should be generally AMAZING.

You can learn more and (I do hope!) register by clicking HERE. (As I write this there are still a handful of registrations available at the early-bird price of $379 – that’s a stunning deal for the opportunity to hear not one but FIVE amazing keynotes – one at every meal!)

Many of you ask me how to meet sober friends, and going to meetups and events like this has played a significant role in making connections for me. Build your tribe of sober sisters, find your people.

I would really love to meet up with any readers who attend so if you’ll be there please shoot me a message at unpickledblog@gmail.com so we can plan to grab a coffee together!

Blog Badge SRinNYC (1)

Top Recovery Blog List from Addiction Unscripted

 

I am deeply honoured that UnPickled has been included in this list of addiction unscripted badgetop blogs from Addiction Unscripted and encourage you to check out the Top 25 Recovery Blogs in 2016 list, as well as the rest of site which is chock-full of recovery resources and articles.

Addiction Unscripted also invites reader
s to submit stories and articles, and I hope you’ll consider doing that. If you’ve never written down your own story before, you really should! It is a powerful exercise, and sharing our stories is a healing gift to both writer and reader.

Sifting through the piles of solicitation emails I get every day is becoming a big job. A lot of people make a lot of money in the *business* of recovery, and if they are doing good work and saving lives then I think they deserve every penny. But it gives me an uneasy feeling to see the eagerness that exists for access to readers of recovery blogs who are often in a vulnerable position. If you’re struggling and suffering and looking for help, I want to protect you and offer you a safe place to explore. I love sharing new resources, websites, other blogs, and cool stuff that’s useful and reputable.

Here are a few things I said a firm “no” to recently who asked me to promote their stuff: a pocket breathalizer company, an online hypnotist, and an online pill warehouse. They want your money, and they don’t care if you benefit or not.

Still, I hope everyone buys a pair of UnPickled underwear and a tank top because they help support the cost of this blog, but please know that my goal at all times is to just be a good steward of this space.

There is SO MUCH GREAT CONTENT out there and information is POWER in recovery, so dig in! The list of blogs above is a great place to start, as are all of my bloggy friends on the side of my webpage on www.unpickledblog.com (view the desktop version if you can’t see them on your mobile device).

Happy reading, and thanks again to Addiction Unscripted for noticing the good things happening here on UnPickled!

 

A Hard Month, A Good Month

Oh my goodness, July was a whirlwind of boxes, garbage bags, take out meals, and car rides!

We went to our niece’s wedding in Vegas, moved into a rental after selling our house with a lightening-quick possession, continued building our new home, and welcomed a new grandson into the world. On top of that, my parents just moved into assisted living so my sisters and I are tasked with helping to empty their old home of everything from sewing patterns to office files to endless doilies to memories.

I am not going to lie, there were many moments that I felt overwhelmed and weary. There were some quiet tears in my car and the bathroom stall at WalMart. Not sad tears, just exhausted ones. As if the thoughts I was too busy to think found a way out of my brain through my tear-ducts. I cried sorting the shoes and purses in my mom’s closet, oh dear Lord I am suddenly crying AGAIN NOW remembering it.

Sidebar: I have just had the realization that my mother’s closet holds such emotion for me because I used to hide there as a little girl and fantasize about the woman I might grow up to be as I touched each scarf, bead and fringe. I felt so close to the childhood version of myself this month as I returned to that place – a different closet with decades-different shoes but the same smell of roses and soap. We women define ourselves through our mothers, whether by contrast or copy. My tears that day were because I saw how I drove myself in so many ways to be the woman I wished my mother was – one that’s more assertive and domineering – and to be the mother I wish I’d had (more protective and informed). I became overwhelmingly aware that by forever trying to better her I have failed to fully appreciate her for who she is, and this will need to be a new focus of direction in the years ahead.

Emotions and self-reflection continue to be one of the harder parts of life after alcohol for me – no numbing or checking out. I didn’t exactly feel triggered, but I had that heightened awareness: “It would be nice to not feel this right now.” I did yoga, ate things I shouldn’t, cleaned things that didn’t need cleaning, and walked the dog. Best of all, I’d visit our kids and grandkids and just soak their sweet presence into my soul. (I have grandkids! Plural! What else could even matter in this world?)

The first time I heard the acronym ‘H.A.L.T.” I cringed – I hate to see complex things reduced to mere acronyms – but there is so much truth to the notion that Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired are four of the biggest triggers. I have spent most of the past month perpetually feeling all four simultaneously. Ironically, when I feel uncomfortable I’d rather work harder than take the break that I actually need. My go-to numbing is frenzy. Whirling dervish. I feel safe when I’m in constant motion, no one can hit me with a dart of criticism – even now that I *know better* I still subconsciously hustle to avoid some imagined critic.

Here are the good things that happened this month:

1 – Recording Bubble Hour interviews has been a balm to my soul. An hour once a week to get lost in someone else’s story and connect and share.

2 – Visitors – This is crazy! One of the kind strangers who encouraged me via Twitter when I first got sober emailed (5 years later) to say his family would be vacationing in this area and that we should meet up. Oklahoma and Alberta are 1600 miles apart – I never imagined we would ever meet in person. I had the pleasure of thanking this kind man and meeting his family and sharing lunch and looking into the eyes of someone who literally cheered me through those first few scary days. What a gift.

3 – Enjoying new spaces. Here is my new (temporary) home office, where I am writing this right now:

new office

4 – My new neighbourhood, where I walk my dog 3x a day:

water walk

Gratitude is getting me through and helping to turn a rough month into a good month, and keeping me on the sober path along the way.

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:

 

IMG_5147.JPG

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.

 

 

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