There’s something hypnotic about watching a hairstylist separate, colour, and foil my hair. The same Scottish heritage that curses me with hours of regular eyebrow maintenance and leg shaving also carries the blessing of thick abundant locks. Strand-per-strand, I get my money’s worth out of the beauty industry. I have therefore become quite familiar with my hairdresser, because it takes a whole afternoon to do a bi-monthly colour.
Like most stylists, she is a good conversationalist and makes me feel comfortable in her chair even as she turns me into a foil-headed monster. I’ve told her all about my recovery, and she asks thoughtful questions about sobriety.
The other day, we’d been talking about her hectic work schedule over the holiday season and how she gets through some days by looking forward to that sitting down with a glass of wine at the end of the day. Then she thought for a bit and asked, “What do YOU do? How DO you unwind when things are stressful if you can’t have a glass of wine?”
Normally I would launch into my list of self-care supplies and indulgences – tea, yoga, reading, chocolate, tv, recovery podcasts, reaching out – or explain how *one* glass of wine holds no appeal, how I crave the relief of the second and third glass more than anything. But she’d heard me say all of that before, and I didn’t feel hurried to speak (…okay she was massaging my scalp just then and my eyeballs were rolling…) so I paused to reflect.
“I think what is more important is that I’ve learned to stop living my life in a way that makes me want to numb out at the end of the day, so I just don’t have many bad days anymore.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, extending the massage. Ahhhhhhh…… I’m sure I flatlined for a moment.
“Well I was running my life in a way that left me exhausted – a workaholic approval junkie who felt like if I even sat still I wasn’t justifying my space in the world. So everyday I drank because every day was stressful, and then once it became more of an addiction I also stayed busy to justify drinking. I had to fix a lot of things to make it different – healing old junk so that I didn’t have to run myself ragged trying to feel worthy of being alive.”
“Okay, but when there IS a bad day now how do you treat yourself?”
“Same as anyone, except without booze – ice cream, nail polish, time with friends. But I also do a lot of preventative stuff, like going to yoga or connecting with sober people. And I have learned that not every bad feeling requires a comforting antidote. Sometimes it’s okay to just feel like shit and know that it will pass.”
Our conversation moved on from there – discussing the Amy Winehouse documentary (powerful, a must), then our admittedly-shallow analysis of Amy’s weird bee-hive led to how much we love Gwen Stefani’s hair on The Voice even if the whole Blake Shelton things is sketchy, and suddenly we were away from important recovery talk and into beauty-salon-girl-talk mode.
Still, a buzzing sensation lingered as our conversation replayed in my mind throughout the day; a kind of fresh awareness that recovery has been about changing so much more than my drinking habits. As Tom Waits said, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”
Later that night my husband and I went out for a quintessentially Canadian date night to the local hockey game. Our small-town arena was half full with about 3500 fans, not bad for a Wednesday. For me, going to a game is as much about socializing at intermissions as anything. I chatted with friends I don’t often otherwise see, popped over to my parents’ seats to say hello and bring them warm mochas, and wandered through the modest crowd.
The mayor was there, a friendly fellow showing team spirit in a jersey comfortably visiting with those around him. As I passed by, he reached out a hand and said hello. My previous workaholic nature saw me sitting on numerous volunteer committees and often this overlapped with municipal politicians. Between my business life and performing as a musician, I used to be seen about town quite a lot before I began reconsidering what’s really right for me. Some people are surprised that I’ve quietly disappeared from their sphere of influence. “How are you keeping these days?” he asked. “You seem to be staying well below the radar.”
“I am happily below the radar,” I laughed in reply, “and it is great. I like it much better down here.”