The Secret to Unwinding Without Booze

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.” 

the way you do anything (2)

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.”



  1. Hi
    I have decided again to try to stop drinking entirely. Many times I do a 30 day challenge of not drinking succeed and then ramp up to getting drunk every weekend. I do not drink every day but binge on the weekend. I have tried often to moderate and realise I can’t. Today I missed worked due to too much “fun” at the super bowl party. I am also having some marriage problems now and I would be lying to say this has not worn on my husband (who is a “normie”). I am struggling with what to do with my free time especially in the weekend evenings? Do I try to go to the same places? I can lock my self in for a little while but that is not really who I am (or maybe I am?)

    I’m glad I found this blog.
    Thanks for all your insights


  2. I just wanted to say how much your blog helped me on a path back to an alcohol free life. It’s been little over 13 months since I’ve had my last sip. I’m slowly becoming the person I was always supposed to be without the retardant of alcohol. Thanks again.


  3. Thanks for your blog. I’m on Day 3. I’ve been pouring over blogs. That’s what I’m doing at that point of time in the day when I typically have started to contemplate the trip to to liquor store on the way home from work. I’ve also started blogging at that time of day. This is my Day 3.

    So its Friday, Day 3. I don’t think I’ve had a Friday night without wine in quite sometime, but I feel pretty good about the prospect. I was actually thinking of picking up something at the grocery store on the way home to help me look forward to morning. Cooking breakfast for the family. We don’t do that in our house, usually because hubby and mommy have been tired and hung over and also mommy has been too lazy (i.e., tired) to go to the store.

    Tonight is planned, which is a good tip I’ve read about and I like. We are going to take the girls out to look at Christmas lights and eat dinner. Both girls are looking forward to it, as am I.

    Saturday may be a bit harder, but not too bad. We are taking the Santa Train in a nearby town. It’s basically a train to nowhere, but the kids get to go see Santa who is in the front car, listen to Christmas Carols, listen to Twas the Night Before Christmas, have cookies and hot cocoa, and otherwise hang out with their neighborhood friends. They love it.

    I did get a text message last night from one of my neighbors that will also be on the train with a photo of a bunch of airplane liquor bottles, “Ready for Santa Train” it read. Lucky for me, I’m not a big fan of shots of any kind, and I don’t think saying no to that will be a challenge at all. I’m also lucky in that I have one more week before I have to face a Christmas party. There had been a post-Santa Train party planned, but it was subsequently cancelled – so that’s good. After the Santa Train, I can just go home and relax. After that long with the girls (who are 2 and 6 by the way), I’m sure I’ll be pretty tired.

    Still haven’t told hubby about my decision. He’ll figure out something is going on this weekend because I haven’t stayed sober for a whole weekend for a very long time. He will definitely figure out something is going on next weekend. Don’t know why I’m concerned about that conversation. He’s always supportive, but he also really likes his whiskey. I don’t see him giving it up any time soon, probably never. Mostly, I think I hate that I’m really bad at saying I’m going to do something and not following through. And he knows it. I don’t want to tell him and watch his reaction – “Yea right honey… Whatever you say honey.” And its not his fault at all. It’s mine. I have done this before, or tried to I should say. I also start and quit other things in my life, pretty much perpetually. It’s always been a problem of mine. Start a work out routine, stop the work out routine. My longest stint at that began last October and actually lasted nine months. (Another thing I’m hoping to get back into – if I’m not hungover all the time it will be much easier to get up at 5:00 am). So, I think that’s really why I’m worried about telling him. He won’t take it seriously? And why should he? I’ve never given him a reason to trust my promises of abstention in the past.


  4. I was sober for a year and a half and relapsed about 6 months ago. AA was not a good fit for me but I didn’t have any other support in place when I left the program. I started drinking a little here and there but it has quickly gotten out of hand. I didn’t want to face that this was a problem again. I wanted so badly to just not have to worry about alcohol. I realize now (again) that I can not drink at all. Now I am faced with getting sober again and it scares me. I do feel hopeful and optimistic too – a little. My husband, and frankly everyone close to me, drinks to some extent and they don’t see the seriousness in my drinking. That makes it hard to get the support I need. Especially since my husband thinks I’m a lot more fun when I drink. That’s probably true but I’m also not in control and I often do things I regret. I have a nice home, beautiful young twins, a great career and a loving extended family. I so badly need and want to live this part of my life differently. I know now that it’s about taking care of my health. Prioritizing ME. I just don’t really know how to do that. Also, my supposed 2 year sobriety date is quickly approaching and I fear running into people from my old program. I feel ashamed and I also don’t want to tell them I’m struggling since I had such a bad experience in that program previously. I KNOW I can do this. I did it before. I also quit smoking over a year ago which has been empowering. Thanks for being here and for allowing me to post. It has felt good to get this out. I’m going to stay connected here. It feels good and it feels safe. Warmly, Sunrise


    • Sunrise, thanks for the inspirational reply. It touched me, I think so many of us go through the exact same thing that you mentioned above: The shame, the guilt, the worry of what others will think. I believe that there’s purpose in everything, so I would offer this: share your relapse news with your colleagues. Just as you were inspirational to me here, someone in your group will be inspired by your candor and strength. Congrats on 18 months, 36 days here, and thanks to people like you, I will never quit fighting.


  5. This an awesome read! I loved it and mostly this sentence:“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.” I am trying for years to completely quit. I have cut down a lot. I want to stop completely. I believe alcohol is the reason I have recently fell really ill. I will keep this to remind me. Thank you, Cindy


  6. Yes, yes and yes. I’ve read your post and recognized myself. Not in you, unfortunately for me. 🙂 I am (most of the time) that woman who lives her days and weeks and looks forward to a glass of wine. To numb her days and weeks and her life. But there is hope that one day I will stop looking forward or craving my numbing medicine.


  7. I love this post.
    I was always stressed about one thing or another. Always needing to unwind. In retrospect, I realize that I spent years giving myself excuses to drink. Now that I’m sober the days that I need to unwind are few and far in between. Life is much less stressful since I put down that corkscrew.


  8. Awesome post Jean!

    I love this:

    “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.”

    Change is hard, but so necessary in sobriety. Thank you for a beautiful post and the reminder that rebuilding our lives is so very important to our sobriety.


  9. “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.”

    This is exactly it. Thanks, Jean.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love this post, Jean. As I read it I realized that I’m beginning to feel the same way. I very rarely feel stressed out and wound up at the end of the day. It used to be a daily experience, perhaps in part because I spent the day building towards an excuse to drink wine. Thank you for making me notice how much better life is sober!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Beautiful post and quote and it very much synchronises with my dreams of last night.

    Before I went to sleep I asked for a dream which would show me how I could develop myself in sobriety and there were 2 dreams. One where I ignored all the signs from the outside world because I was having a good time and then I almost got killed. Yes, yes, that would be quite dramatic but I guess would I return to alcohol I would not be far off, would I?

    Secondly was a dream where I went into rehab to learn stuff I had not learned on my own and weird, weird, weird rehab guy thought we should detox from EVERYTHING so when I said I was not on anything but sugar he injected me with anything and everything druglike – but sugar. Saying ‘How you deal with this will show you how you deal with sobriety.’

    How is that for synchronised sober awareness? 🙂

    And I’ll copy this to my own blog to unraffle it a little more. I’m not comfortable with this knowledge yet. :-/

    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am 36 years old, recently married. We have been together for 10 years, met while working on cruise ships. My 20”s were a blur, drinking and partying! This seemed normal but my boyfriend, now husband started to show his concern when I was 28ish.

    I started leading a healthier life, got over the drinking every other night, took awhile but I also got over the urge to drink every Friday night.

    Things got better, it was only once a month I would have too much, he would not speak to me and after 3 days of hating myself I had to prove to him I would change.

    After 10 years, this now happens only 2 – 3 times per year. Better but still not good enough for him and he just threaten to leave.

    We have been to counselling, I have tried groups, I have been sober for 5 months and since then can go for several months and just keep it to 2-3 drinks, once or twice a month. I rarely go out which helps, I follow this rule 7 out of 10 times a year. Most often when he is not with me.

    I start with good intentions and then I say, just one more… And in and on.

    I don’t want us to separate, I feel like this is the same problem my mom faced with my dad’s drinking. I am recreating exactly what I wanted to avoid in my marriage, and it is all my fault.

    3 days ago I took my work team out for a holiday activity, followed by drinks and appies. Thought I would be home by 7 but it was 10. Had great reasons in my head for staying longer but hate myself now. My husband told me if this happens again he will move out. I have now commited to stop drinking for 6 months..

    Things on my mind:

    What do I say to people at Work, family over holidays…
    I know I can do it but will this make the difference forever?
    Who am I doing this for?
    I want to be healthier
    I don’t want to be like my parents.
    I want my husband to love me.
    I want to have kids one day soon.
    How am I fun when I don’t drink?

    How do I do this and be successful?
    How do I reassure my husband and have him trust me again?
    How do I love myself?
    How do I escape these “I hate myself” thoughts?

    I am a successful business woman, why do I fail here?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Overandover, I wish I could help. I am in sort of the same situation, only both my partner and I drink (sometimes I do heavily or sometimes I am sober for a week at a time). We fight when we drink, mostly about how opinionated she is (much more when buzzed/drunk) and how I have no opinion about anything. I try to stay quiet, but break (when I’m drinking) because she pushes and pushes me until I say something mean or sarcastic. What a healthy relationship! After 12 years, I know that we both HAVE to stop drinking. We are both in our mid-50’s and have been drinking since our 20’s. This has to be taking a toll on our bodies, and is obviously taking a toll on our relationship. We are rational human beings when we are not drinking. I feel so much better physically and emotionally when I’m not drinking. When I’m not drinking and she continues to drink, then that becomes the issue – she says I’m better than her because I can take a week off. Of course, I don’t say that is true. I mostly stay quiet. Of course, then I get accused of not having an opinion. Sorry I’m making this all about me. Thank you for sharing and I hope that someone or multiple folks can respond with some advice for you to be happy and feel good about yourself and save your marriage. You are not alone in your struggles with alcohol and relationship issues. Blessings to you.


  13. Thank you for all of your posts. I’ve been meaning to comment on any one of them, because they all bring me needed insight, and I love the way you put things. So, I decided that this time was the right time.
    I’m 26 years old, and recently got married. I started drinking when I was 14. I have been sober for 2 years and 1 month. My husband is a huge support and influence in my sobriety. I am so much farther better off than I expected, and am reassured daily that it was the most important choice of my life. I quit from friends’ inspiration and from seeing first hand what alcohol can do to a persons life, and family. Cold turkey. I have a few sober friends (big love and thanks) but other than that didn’t reach out for any other support, which, by the way I think is a great thing to do. I just knew it was time for me. It has been one hell of a struggle and enormous transition in lifestyle and numerous things.
    I am so deeply positive that alcohol has no actual good reason to consume. One piercing question my husband asked me as I was making the transition into sobriety as we were dating, and as it sometimes still haunts me and gets brought up when I may crave a glass of wine is, “what is it (alcohol) doing for you?” That simple. If you really think about it, it is doing absolutely nothing for us. I thought,
    “it’s fun.”
    “It’s been a stressful day.”
    “It’s a family tradition to drink 4 Manhattans and talk about politics.”
    “I feel more confident.”
    Turns out those are all just lame-ass excuses. Yep. Well, the confidence one is my biggest challenge yet. I am an attractive woman, (which is really hard for me to post but I don’t give a crap any more) I keep myself fit and healthy and obsess over the false need for perfection. I guess you could say I have a deep longing for a perfect image. What the f*** is a “perfect image” anywho? Society paints a pretty clear(?) picture. My reasonable mind knows that, “all people are beautiful in their own way,” and, “these people are just movie stars,” and whatnot. But for real though, there’s no way my husband doesn’t admire or even crush on these beauties. I have no control. I have no control. I have no control. Why does this hurt me so? This negativity and anger and possessiveness of mine is so entirely damaging in every way, and I’m working on loving myself etc, etc.
    I’m living a great life and have so many blessings and things could be much worse, my question for now that I can’t seem to shake is about jealousy. Is there any insight you have given on this issue? because I have not come across anything yet…
    I need help with this one. My husband and I get in HUGE fights about my inability to control my jealous instincts. I mean some really deep-issued shit that gets brought up when we even watch a movie together.. And there are beautiful women to gawk at. And the climbing gym.. Where all of the women are conveniently dressed in skin-tight-everything, and being suspended from perfect heights allowing all to have an opportunity to… Gawk, let’s say.
    I know this may not have anything to do with getting sober, and everything to do with being newly weds… Im quickly learning that with the combination of this marriage journey exposing my bad habits while simultaneously healing from alcoholism, I have SO much to work on. My husband and I literally just got in a ferocious fight about how unreasonable my reasons are for bringing other women up (which, I admit, are totally unnecessary) In the most meaningless conversations due to a deep-rooted trigger in me that I cannot pin point.
    I may just need more therapy.

    I read all of your emails and they are all so wonderful. I want to express my gratitude for what you are doing and the help you have given me is powerful!
    Hope you can enjoy this rant and I think just writing these things down helps me slowly.
    Hope to talk further.
    All my commends to you sober folks! It’s worth it. Thanks for reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Steph – I used to do the exact same thing early on in my marriage (we are almost 17 years married now). My insecurity came from watching my mother do it to my father, and from watching my father basically resign himself to the fact that “if he is going to be accused of it, he might as well do it.” Do you believe your husband loves you just as you are? Do you believe he has a crush on other women? Guys do have a natural instinct to admire physical beauty. BUT – if he’s craning his neck to get a look at some chic when you’re next to him, that’s a little much. What are his actions telling you?

      If he is dedicated to you and shows it, you may want to talk to someone to work through your insecurities. Society and Hollywood have done some terrible things for our self-image. Some people are better than others at not letting their blueprint get stamped onto their soul and their feelings of self-worth.

      I finally overcame my issues. It took about 10 years. Not that it will take you that long. Best wishes to you for a long and happy marriage…


  14. Jean, I love every word.
    Life is no longer one long bad day after another, days we endure only to try to forget with wine.

    Instead it is a constant stream of both beauty and pain, intertwined. But we welcome it all, like Rumi urges us to in The Guest House.

    That is the secret to happiness and a gift of recovery.


    Liked by 1 person

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