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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Date Night on Day 70

Last night my husband and I enjoyed a spontaneous “date night” adventure.  The day had been a little emotional for me – we’d attended a family function for my relatives and I’ve been struggling with some tension there (see: No One’s Favourite).  We decided the remedy was to shift gears with a night out.  We wanted to hear some live music and I was willing to endure the bar scene if necessary.  We checked our small town’s event listings and found the perfect venue – the local folk club.

It’s been a few years since I’d been to the folk club, which is understandable since it’s only open one or two nights per month.  I’d played there twice myself, on open mic nights, and enjoyed the seniors-centre-meets-church-basement atmosphere.  The tables and seats are mismatched and practical, the bathrooms are hobbled together, the bar serves canned drinks and popcorn.  The stage is low and close to the attentive audience, and the sound equipment is excellent and well manned.  Nothing else matters more to a performer.

Within moments someone approached me who remembered my last performance.  “Are you still playing?” he asked; a question I hate because the true answer is ‘no’.  I have two small charity gigs over the summer and that’s it.  My voice is out of shape, my daily rehearsals have dwindled to weekly efforts at most, and even my guitar-player calluses have disappeared.  I just don’t have the heart for it right now. I gave my standard answer, “I’m writing my next album so I haven’t been on stage much.”

I continued to chat with a few more musicians and the familiarity felt as warm as a hug.  It’s an older crowd; an eclectic, welcoming mix.  I was misfit there myself with my stylish clothes and highlighted hair – my identity defined by a magazine and purchased at a mall.  Compared to the folksy vests and hats, the grey haired fellow in the sun dress, and the mom jeans everywhere, I felt silly in designer jeans and heels but knew I was accepted anyway.

We picked up our drinks from the cash bar at the back of the room – a paneled affair like that which might have graced your grandmother’s basement circa 1969.  “What do you have without alcohol?” my husband asks on my behalf. The volunteer bartender’s eyebrows fly up as he thinks for a moment. “We got some kinda fake beer but in all my years I’ve never sold one.  I don’t even know if they’re good anymore.”  “I’ll take it,” I say.  It’s fine and somehow suits the room and my mood.

It felt wonderful sitting in the darkened room, surrounded by others who love music more than they love fashion, status, alcohol, or being noticed.   It was a comfort to watch someone else on stage and not wish it could be me — performers often spend so much time working on their act and trying to book gigs that it can be torture for them to sit in an audience instead of being on stage themselves.  I confess I’ve often felt this myself and I was pleased to be free of it.

Our good friends had invited us to come by their home for drinks and snacks later in the evening.  We left the club and stopped to pick up a bottle of Perrier for me.  My friend knows I have stopped drinking (in fact, she was the one who I first opened up to, the first who said, “you’re right, you need to quit”) but I haven’t told her husband yet.  It just hasn’t come up and the longer I wait to tell people the less I feel I need to.  It just is what it is.  I drank my Perrier, they all enjoyed their cocktails, and we stood in the kitchen for hours laughing, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. Four friends.  Good times.  Nothing’s changed.

Well, something has changed.  We didn’t have t take a cab home.  I didn’t have to find a way back over the next day to pick up my car.  I didn’t wake up worrying if I’d made an ass of myself.  I didn’t berate myself for drinking too much, or promise myself I would change.

Instead I drove home, sober and still chuckling over the jokes and conversations.  My friend had told a hilarious story about quitting smoking as an anniversary gift for her (now ex-) husband and being so twitchy as a result that she screamed at him for not appreciating it enough and tore up the anniversary card.  We had laughed until we cried trying to determine which musician I physically resemble most: Steven Tyler or Shania Twain.  We had (literally) wrestled for position around the platter of nachos that we inhaled somewhere around midnight, and when we left it was with laughter and jokes following us out the door and all the way to our car.

I’d had fun, and so had everyone else.  I’d been fun! I’d been funny! I’d been sober and still made others laugh – something I’d forgotten was possible. The lack of alcohol was a sidebar, a footnote.  Resistance was not the axis of my thoughts.

This morning as my husband and I spend a lazy Sunday morning drinking coffee in bed, two sleeping pups cuddled between us while he reads his book and I write about my new life, I realize that I am feeling less fear.  I can cast my gaze a little further into the future and feel confident that my life will continue without alcohol.  I surprise myself by looking forward to summer getaways and other events.  Through reading other’s blogs and connecting online with sobriety supporters I have learned to focus on the present, that there is danger in looking forward or backwards.  So I use this new feeling, this freedom of fear, to live confidently in each moment without anxiety.

Before I left the folk club last night, I handed in a volunteer form.  I’d never offered to help out with the club before because my only focus had been in getting on the stage.  Last night left me wanting more of the camaraderie behind the scenes so I checked the boxes that appealed to me: “I am willing to help out with….set up/take down (yes); concession sales (yes); ticket sales (yes)…”

And then, after some thought, I considered the last box as well:  performing.

(YES)

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Awkward

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to make others comfortable.  Ever a generous host, always a gracious guest.  Perhaps I watched too much Love Boat as a child and was overly influenced by Julie the Cruise Director.  I put the comfort of others ahead of my own, at least I used to.

I am learning that my survival in sobriety hinges on my willingness to allow a bit of awkwardness.

Last night I went to a movie with my sisters, only one of whom is aware that I’ve quit drinking.  That’s all she knows really, that I’ve quit.  Actually I didn’t choose to tell her at all, she noticed and asked, “So what, you’re not drinking at all? Is this like, forever?” (Um, yah.  It’s forever.) “Oh, sweet,” she chirped, a little nervously it seemed to me. “So I guess you’re the DD from now on.” (For sure.)

She knows it but she doesn’t quite “get” it.

My idea was go to the show last night and be home by 9:30.  This didn’t quite match my sister’s expectation at all. “I thought we could all go to the bar after for –” suddenly she remembered my situation and shifted mid-sentence,  “– something to eat. Like a plate of nachos or something….?” She trailed off.

I felt horrible.  I am home alone this weekend and the bar is the last place I need to find myself.  I’d only arranged the movie outing to help fill my time during the witching hours when I most miss drinking. I just wanted to go home after, walk my dogs and crawl into bed with a book.  This was the antidote to drinking for me.  I knew I could “technically” manage to go to the bar and not drink, but I also knew it wasn’t best for me, and wasn’t at all what I wanted to do.

I dropped her off at her house after the movie, earlier than she wanted to be home on a Saturday night.  I could tell she was disappointed.  My other sister didn’t seem to mind; she had a long drive home from there and wanted to get on the road.

“Here, I owe you for the movie,” one of them said, fishing through her bag for her wallet.

“My treat,” I said, feeling badly that I was no longer much fun for her.

“Okay, I owe you then,” she said. “I’ll just bring you a bottle–”  She stopped short.  Her face was a mix of embarrassment and annoyance. We used to often bring each other a bottle of wine in exchange for small favours.  “I guess I can’t pay you in wine anymore so I’ll have to buy you nachos sometime.”

It was awkward, there’s no other word. I never realized wine was so many things in our relationship – a symbol, a currency, an activity, a hobby, a habit.

“No worries,” I said, smiling.

If Good is the Goal

Two months.  TWO. MONTHS. That’s two- or three-HUNDRED glasses of wine that have not entered my body.  Several hundreds of dollars that haven’t left my wallet. I suspect my organs are regenerating.  My eyeballs seem whiter, and I definitely look better when I wake up.

As I began this journey, I imagined a future version of myself: me, only better.  “UnPickled 2.0”.  Stronger and more self-assured. Authentic.

She’s here.  She’s sinking in and taking hold.

I was recently asked to speak at an out-of-town conference as an industry expert.  I do this several times a year and accepted without a second thought.  Then I began to panic. Conferences and alcohol go hand in hand.  I used to pack two little bottles of wine for myself as a nightcap, after the cocktail reception.  Bottles in the blue box, hoping the chamber maids don’t see me leaving the room and think, “Hmmm, that lady drank BOTH bottles?”

As I was packing for the trip, Rob Lowe was being interviewed on The View to promote his autobiography. “Pffft.  Rob Lowe,” I grumbled when he came on.  Like most folks I’d dismissed the heartthrob when he lost face in the late 80s. However, he talked about his recovery from alcohol addiction and 20 years of sobriety, and I immediately downloaded his audiobook (Stories I Tell My Friends) for the five-hour drive.  I enjoyed it immensely, partly because I’m the right age to recognize all of the actors, movies, and headlines he references and mostly because I’m at the right stage to identify with his experiences in recovery.  Amazing.

I arrived at the hotel and checked in.  There was a lavish reception that evening to which I normally would have gone, at least for a few drinks and to “see and be seen”.  It takes a lot of courage for me (or any woman, I believe) to walk alone into a room of strangers and hold her ground.  It’s an effort but I’ve always managed to do it successfully, and the wine helped.  Not this time, though.  I opted to stay in, order dinner to my room and watch Survivor. The day may come when UnPickled 2.o can go back to the cocktail parties and feel emboldened by a cranberry-soda, but not yet.

The next day began with a breakfast meeting and keynote speaker.  The industry is so heavily male dominated that every woman who walks into the room is noticed by virtue of her gender.  As a guest speaker, I had a reserved seat at the front of the room, but the seating chart was out of order and I couldn’t find my table.  Great.  I felt as though all eyes were on me so I postured confidence as I hovered from table to table looking for my place card.  Someone recognized me and came over to say hello.  I was grateful as this made me look less like a gatecrasher and I started to relax.

“I didn’t see you at the party last night,” he says. “You missed a doozie.”  I’m so glad I stayed in my room.  Boston Rob was excellent company.

I give up looking for my name and plop down in an unmarked seat.  When the breakfast session ends, I make my way to the assigned room for my presentation.

I’ve come to realize the role that “impostor syndrome” played in my drinking.  Apparently a common phenomenon in women, and yet another way I felt alone, was a voice in my head that told me my success was a lottery winning of luck, timing, and family connections.  I constantly feared someone would ask me a simple question that I couldn’t answer, and my incompetence would be revealed.  If someone complimented my appearance, I’d remember how bland my face looks before I put on makeup and think, “Well, I’ve fooled them.”  When someone said I was their role model, I’d think “I’m addicted to alcohol.  You wouldn’t look up to me if you knew that.”  Part of me would hear, feel and know the truth, but part was also undermining it.  It’s an exhausting struggle.  At the end of the day, I’d drink just to shut down the battle for a while.

I had a great presentation lined up – lots of good information, dotted with humour and insights.  My years of experience shone through.  If someone asked a question I couldn’t answer, I was prepared to say something new I’d learned: Hmm, I don’t know.  Does anyone else know? A beautiful turn of phrase that shows an honest character and allows others to get involved in the dialog.  Or maybe, no one else knows either.  No matter, I nailed the presentation and the questions afterward showed the audience’s high level of engagement and interest.  Several came to me as the room cleared and continued the conversation – always a good sign.

Back in the grand ballroom for lunch, someone waved me over to my place card.  Now they knew who I was and were anxious to ensure I joined their table. (Turns out I’d been yonks away at breakfast.)  The group was full of lively discussion and I felt totally on my game.  (The Premier and several cabinet ministers were at the next table over, and I snapped a few discrete pictures with my iPhone to show the kids when I got home.  I want them to know that the same mom who folds their underwear and makes them smoothies sits next to the Premier on occasion.)

On the long drive home, I replayed the day and smiled.  I looked good, I had spoken well, I had contributed to a successful event.  And best of all, I didn’t argue with myself about any of it.  No self-doubts, no voice saying “but if they only knew….”. No shame. No shame….

My new life without alcohol is allowing me a new strength.  I’ve always projected confidence, but now I actually feel it.  The insides are starting to match the outsides.  I sense an exponential growth about to emerge – if I’ not drinking I don’t feel so conflicted.  If I’m not so conflicted, I don’t feel such a need to drink.

It’s still a challenge, but it is starting to feel good. Ironically, I drank to try and feel “good” but eventually it stopped working that way.  If “good” is the goal, then this is the only way I can see to achieve it now.  And besides, as a comment to this blog recently pointed out, “nothing bad ever came of not drinking”.

No One’s Favourite

I knew the day would come when something shook me and challenged my resolve.  It happened recently when a conversation with my father took an unexpected turn and ended up with both of us angry and harsh.

I couldn’t have been more surprised by his words – I had stopped by to tell him about a clever idea I’d had to help address some tax issues with his estate planning and expected an intelligent conversation to follow.  We both have good minds for business and love to talk shop.  If I added up all the conversations we’ve ever had and sorted them into categories, “business” would win the majority hands down.

Minutes into the topic and it was clear I’d hit a nerve.  Go figure.  Approach the subject of estate planning with a retired, 75-year old businessman and he gets touchy.  Perhaps I was being insensitive but he came at me with an anger I’ve rarely experienced.  This was more than discomfort with his looming mortality.  This was resentment.  Rejection.

Let’s go, I thought.  You want to fight?  You want to criticize me? You want to argue?  It’s on.  No one else would ever dare to disagree with you or jockey for the last word, but I will.  You want to battle wits? I’m in.

As you can imagine this was a sad thing to witness.  Having spent 43 years trying to earn my parents love instead of just accepting what they were willing to give, I had a lot of ammo to fire.

While my father loudly claimed his right to do things his way, right or wrong, I listed all of my impressive achievements and reasons he should listen to me and respect my opinions.  While he claimed it was none of my business how much money he funnels to other family members who haven’t quite landed on their feet, I noted that I would have been just as well off to have tried less hard and taken the free ride.  While he listed all the opportunities they had provided me, I listed all the ways I had taken those opportunities and succeeded.

We seemed to be in a battle to determine who had the rightful claim to my success.  Wait – when did this become an argument about me?  I tried to get things back on track but it was too late.  He wanted to prove that my accomplishments would have been impossible without him.  I wanted him to recognize that gratitude was self-evident through my efforts and achievements.

My mother and sisters would never dare talk to him this way.  His word has always been the last word.  It is universally accepted in our family that he is the smartest.  And he’s Dad.  Do what he says and that’s that.  Also it should be mentioned that he is cheerful, funny, warm, and loving.  Giving him the last word is usually easy to do.  He usually deserves it.

I’ve almost never argued with my dad.  We’ve certainly never had words like this.  It’s clear that something more is wrong but neither of us knows what.  We go round and round.  My mother sits quietly by and occasionally tries to steer things, but mostly she seems unwilling to take sides. That hurts, too.

I’m emotionally tattered and leave in tears after over an hour of rapid-fire accusations and statements of defense.  I go home and collapse into my husband’s arms and spend the next three days reeling.  I don’t drink but man, it’s calling me.  I struggle with the physical desire to numb the pain, but since I’m going to “fucking show them” I instead default back on the path to being perfect, beyond criticism.

Ahhh, my old friend.  My favourite goal:  beyond criticism.  Over the years my quest for perfection has driven me in so many ways.  It’s the reason I am meticulous with my looks – dressing to perfection, always made up nicely with hair done well.  It’s the reason I work out daily and know the amount of fat and calories in every different brand of yogurt.  I’ve won scholarships, business of the year awards, national recognitions.  I’ve been featured in magazines and have too many news clippings to count.  If that’s not enough, I’ve managed music and tv projects on the side.  I’ve got a good marriage, raised three great boys, manage the family finances, and keep my house orderly.

Is it any wonder that wine flowed through the cracks in the armor?

All I really want is a gold star for my efforts every day.

I don’t do all these things for my own satisfaction, I do them so others will approve.  I expect them to approve, and justifiably so.  But here’s the problem:  I can’t make them do what I want.

“Bob S” – a twitter connection (@Bobby_Steps) with a passion for encouraging others to ‘keep working the steps’ – made it clear to me when I posted that I’d had a frustrating experience with my folks.  “Think what I hear is you expect your parents to be people they aren’t,” he tweeted. “Expectations fuck alcoholics and turn into resentment.”

I see it, I know it.  One of my sisters used to tease me that she was Dad’s favourite, and my other sister was Mom’s favourite, and I was “just the baby”.  I’d quickly joke back, “I’m everyone’s favourite!”  But I never really believed it.

I’ve always felt unconditionally loved, but believed that if I wanted my parents to also “like” me I’d have to earn it.  I don’t know if they could help that each of them has a special tie to one of their children, they just do.  To complicate things further, both of my sisters have gone through marriage break ups and other difficulties.  How dare I resent the help my parents give them while I sit in my happy house on the hill with my husband and perfect life.

So drinking helped numb the unmet expectations of parental approval, helped ease the guilt of resenting the attention showered on others, of resenting how the perfection I’ve come to demand of myself seems to annoy my family instead of impressing them.

The hurt is still there and the issue with my father remains unresolved.  I’ve seen him at family occasions since and it’s clear we both wish it never happened.  It’s the elephant in the room and we’ll have to sort it out sooner or later.  I’m confident we will.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to keep my sobriety on the right path; to ensure I pursue it from a place of honesty and peace, and not out of a spiteful quest for perfection.

Ups and Downs

Work seems to have taken over my life the past week or so and I believe that is a sign that sober living is coming easier.  I don’t have to breath it in through gritted teeth every moment.

I am letting my guard down, and while it’s nice to relax a bit it also leaves me panicked from time to time.  I remember with a jump every now and then – like checking my bikini top for a nipple escape half an hour after getting off the waterslide.

Oh Jeez, am I still okay? Yep, all good.  Still holding.  Whew. Thank God. (Seriously, thank you God.)

We are driving home from the airport right now, my sweetheart and I, having just spent four days at a spa on the coast.  My very manly husband was a wonderful sport about it all – wandering the resort in our white robes, indulging in massages and mud wraps instead of golfing, sipping juice and soda on our waterfront deck instead of wine or scotch.

My husband has been incredibly supportive about my decision/need to leave drinking behind – not at all judgmental or dismissive, as I feared.  Why I ever thought he would be, I don’t know.  His character has always been kind and caring.  Maybe my mind created false possibilities as yet another warp in my pickled thinking.

I continued to mourn for wine on this holiday.   I’ve visited the same resort many times before with girl friends and have always enjoyed it.  I’d quietly pack extra bottles of wine “just for me” in my suitcase and then trip off to the nearby store with the girls on arrival to gather the supplies for our mutual happy hours – cheese, snacks, a bottle or two of wine.  Sometimes I’d grab an extra bottle and say, “Just in case! I can always take it home if we don’t need it,” but honestly, I didn’t want the others to know that after the happy hour wine and the wine with dinner, I’d go back to my room and have some more all alone. “Just in case” meant, “in case I run out” – not “in case us girls need more.”

On this trip, I didn’t so much miss having wine in our suite.  It was during the meals that I felt the absence of my old friend Sauvignon Blanc– the “go to” order that made every meal better.  Two of the lovely restaurants we visited were advertising special 5-course meals with wine pairing hosted by the Chef.  Two months ago we would have been “in” for this – my husband being an avid “foodie” and my being an avid wine drinker.  This got me – we wouldn’t be doing that again – ever.

I felt guilt like a weight on my chest – I messed up something we both enjoyed by taking it too far.  Stupid, stupid me and my stupid, stupid inability to not drink too much.  (My recovery friends on Twitter have taught me this self-destructive voice is nothing but the “itty bitty shitty committee” that whispers malarkey constantly.) I recognized the guilt as useless but knew I had to feel the grief in order for it to pass.

I spent a day or two trying to feel grief without guilt but it isn’t easy to separate the two.  We were having a great time, lots of laughs during our ocean front hikes and restful moments.  Still I had a subconscious stream of thought narrating how much happier my husband would be with someone else (not true), that I’d spoiled everything (even though we were having fun) and that I probably didn’t even need to quit in the first place, it hadn’t really been that bad (the most manipulative self-assessment of all).

Eventually, the tranquility of the scenery settled me down and the expensive spa services started to have the intended effect – peace crept in.  Over a divine plate of seafood I said to my sweetheart of almost 27 years, “I’m feeling like I’ve ruined everything.  I feel like I’ve taken away something that we used to enjoy.”

“Not at all,” he reassured me. “I am so proud of you.  You are being so strong and this is going to be good for us in the long run.  Nothing bad will come of this.”

I know I m fortunate to have a partner who is supportive of my journey.  He enjoys a few drinks but does not have addiction issues of his own, nor do we have any other relationship complications that cause some couples to undermine each other’s successes.  This is all a blessing and one more reason why I should grab onto sobriety with my life.

My final spa session was reflexology, which I was almost dreading but had booked it anyway because it came as part of a package.  I had only had it once before and remembered it as uncomfortable, and that the therapist had analyzed my health afterward based on whatever she detected by poking my awful, lumpy runner’s feet.

This time, I fell asleep and woke refreshed as she whispered, “All done now”.  When I exited the room, she was waiting in the hall to hand me a small cup of herbal tea and go over her ‘findings”.

“Nothing seems to be a problem,” she said with a charming Swedish accent. “You must have a very strong constitution.”

I sipped the tea and answered. “I’m in a good place at the moment.”

Thumb Sucking and Telephone Wires

I spent a good portion the early 70s on the floor of the family car eastbound on the TransCanada, enduring the mind-numbing 9 hour drive to visit our Saskatchewan relatives.

Why the floor? As the “baby” of the family,  I was assigned the middle spot in the back, justified by the fact that my legs were shorter and therefore less affected by the “hump” on the floor.  It was fine with me, actually I felt rather lucky to have a special place in the car and the family.  Within an hour or two us kids would have re-arranged our pillows and blankets – each older sister leaned against a door, while I would set up a little camp on the floor of the car using the axle hump as my headrest or draping my little pre-school body over it in various contortions of the bored variety.  My sisters thought it was sweet of me to relocate down there, but I was partly motivated by the fact that it was easier to hide my thumb-sucking  from my mom.

“Are you sucking your thumb?” my mom would ask from the front, craning her neck. I’d bury farther under my blanket. She’d redirect to my sisters, “Girls, is she sucking her thumb?” “No,” my oldest sister would lie. She used to tell me they shouldn’t try to make me quit because it was cute, so I kept sucking and she kept covering for me. Now I see that as all kinds of passive aggressive on my sister’s part, but at the time I was thankful.

(Sidebar: has anyone done a study on how many thumb-suckers grow up to be addicts? It seems to me I’ve always has some self-comforting habit whether it be my thumb, cigarettes, booze….)

Back to the floor of the family car circa 1971.

One of my favourite ways to pass the hours on those long drives was to watch the wires dance for me. At that time, every road was lined with poles and wires that delivered phone service and electricity.  I knew that if I was too bored, I could look at the lines as our car drove by them and eventually they would feel sorry for me and start to dance by moving up and down, crossing over each other, waving a gentle lazy pattern for me to help pass the time.  I had tried asking the wires to dance while I laid on the grass in our farm yard but those wires never moved. They only did it while I was in the car and only if I was very bored and sleepy. It was so nice of them.

Of course, they weren’t moving at all.  It was just an optical illusion created by the changing perspective as we whizzed by.  It look me years to realize; it dawned on me slowly.  First, I came to understand that the telephone polls weren’t capable of pity, but still felt I was seeing something unique.  Then, perhaps around age 7, my mind began to unwind how this magic occurred and most alarmingly, that it wasn’t only me who could see it.  I wasn’t special and this wasn’t real.

I tell you all this because it parallels my understanding and self-awareness about drinking.  I had allowed my brain to perceive an untrue reality because of the way things looked and felt.  Now I am starting to see it all clearly and realize that I was following a very human pattern into a behaviour.  At first it made me angry, then embarrassed, and now it makes me hopeful, because if I “patterned” my way in I can “pattern” my way out.

I admit it – when it came to drinking I thought I was justified and that my situation was unique and special. Now I know better.

In the mid-70s, when the lines came down and the poles were carried away, ditches were scattered with the beautiful glass transformers which insulated the lines atop the poles.  They were thick clear glass in the shape of a thimble, either clear or blue, and about the size of a fist.  We would comb the ditches for them and bring them home as treasures, lining them on the window sills. All are now useless except to serve as a reminder of another time.

For me, from now on, they will always remind me of my own transformation.

Hurrah for coffee!

My new sober adventure!

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