Monthly Archives: March 2016
“I can’t believe this is my life. How did I get here?”
I asked myself this a thousand times when I was trapped in the cycle of daily drinking. I hear the same words often from readers with whom I correspond. How did this happen? How did I get here? I can’t believe this is my life.
I heard it last night from a strong, beautiful mom who is wrestling with her decision and wrote a heartfelt message about her inner battles.
I am saying it myself this morning, only now it has a happy meaning for me, and is said with a spirit of gratitude: I am drinking coffee all alone in a strange city on a balcony overlooking the hippest neighbourhood I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe this is my life. I am about to spend 4 days with a group of sober women I’ve met through blogs, through recovery retreats, and online support groups. We’ve rented a huge vacation property and filled all nine bedrooms. I can’t believe this is my life.
How did I get here? I arrived a day ahead of the others and had to wander around the area alone for hours before I could check into the rental house. I explored local shops, got a manicure, bought the groceries we’ll need (lots of coffee and ice cream, plus oodles of healthy ingredients for two big suppers we’ll cook together). I hunted through a used bookstore and scored a 1945 edition of Ogden Nash poetry for my son, and seriously considered a vintage hand-tool leather purse from the 70s that might lose its cool style-value the moment I leave this trendy neighbourhood. I ate borscht alone in a cafe.
I can’t believe this is my life. It was when I finally checked into this house that I came to appreciate how far I’ve come.Stillness used to be my enemy. Staying busy was my drug of choice, drinking was a way to numb myself when the busy-ness of each day ended. So spending a night alone in a strange, huge house could be a big trigger. I watched tv, read, fed myself, drank tea, went to bed, read some more, and finally just went to sleep. I tossed and turned. In truth, it was a horrible sleep. I checked my clock every 30 minutes from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. and then finally just got up and made a pot of coffee. So what if I am tired when the others arrive? So what if I maybe talk too much or fall asleep before everyone else or act spacey because I am tired. So what, that’s okay. I am safe with these friends. Perfection is not expected or required.
How did I get here? One hallmark of codependency, I’ve learned, is only valuing oneself through the eye of others. One place I catch myself doing this is in the grocery store: what do others think of me when they see what’s in my cart? It might sound stupid to non-dependent types, but I am sure some of you do the exact same thing. So when I was getting groceries for this meetup, I laughed at the giant bag of spinach, three buckets of gelatto, and tea selection I was placing onto the conveyor belt, thinking the average person would say, “A girls weekend? Where’s the wine?!” And then I noticed the lady ahead of me who was bagging her own groceries, which appeared to be dinner for one but with two bottles of wine. Was I imagining that she looked puffy, tired, and maybe a little sad? Was it fair to assume she was trapped as I had been? Maybe she was on her way to book club. Oh wait, that was one of the things I used to say to the store clerk when I was embarrassed to be buying more wine myself. “Book club! Those ladies love their wine!” I caught myself short of judging this stranger, and instead sent up a little wish for her wellness, whatever that may be.
I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe all the cool things I have done since I quit drinking. A year ago today I went skiing in Switzerland in the shadow of the Matterhorn with my husband. I went to an AA meeting in Manhattan – which is surreal for a small town hick like me (who doesn’t do AA). I have travelled alone to yoga retreats and sober meetups in Mexico, Boston, Salt Spring Island, Kelowna, and around my home province of Alberta. I can’t believe the amazing people who have been kind enough to meet up with me when my travels bring me to their region, and I love it when you guys let me know you’re coming through my area so I can meet you.
I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe that it feels so natural to live without alcohol when I spent so many years believing it was the only thing that held my life together. I can’t believe it is so easy to share my weaknesses in this blog when I kept them hidden for so long. I can’t believe five years has already passed since I looked at my drinking and asked, “How did I get here?”
Oh wait, I CAN believe it. I DO believe it. It’s real. I acknowledge it all, humbly and gratefully. I am living life fully and fearlessly (albeit still a little anxiously at times).
I don’t drink, and my life is better than ever. It gets better. Believe it.
Several names have been selected to receive UnPickled gear, but please keep entering (click here for entry form) because I have more goodies to give away in the weeks to come. I am away on a meetup with some lovely sober ladies (more on that in a separate post shortly) and when I get home next week I’ll be busy assembling parcels.
P.S. – Thank you to those who took the time to include a message on your entry. I am compiling them into a little desktop calendar for myself – a message a day just for me from you. I am honoured to be connected to so many kind, beautiful, thriving humans who are walking the walk.
P.P.S. Have you watched my little “Un Re” video yet? Cuz if you’re looking for a subtle symbol of recovery, this is it 🙂
Weekends can be hard, even when things are on track. It’s only Saturday afternoon and I’ve already exhausted myself with busy-ness.
Yesterday we hosted a family gathering to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. I took the day off to cook a feast for 24 (4 generations were here!) and I quite enjoyed the whole process and event. Today we were up early to head to an out-of-town funeral.
I’m now on the couch in my lulus, grateful that there’s leftovers in the fridge for supper. Time for some self-care. Time to offer the same kindnessto myself as I often extend to others.
What challenges are you facing this weekend? What has gone well? What new tools are you trying out, and what lessons can you share?
It is pouring rain at the ski hill. Yesterday it was snowing and the conditions were glorious but today is just a few degrees warmer, which has made the difference between snow and rain. Snow builds the base and extends the season; rain exposes rocks that chew up skis. Snow is good, rain is bad, and the only difference between the two is one tiny line on the thermometer.
I am not prepared for ski season to end; it’s only been a few weeks since I got the green light to resume usual activity since gallbladder surgery. After all that down time, getting back on skis has been exhilarating. Spring can wait a little longer – I am not ready for this change. I don’t want it, don’t welcome it, and can’t stop it.
So I am snuggled here in this quiet cabin, considering the rain as a metaphor. Some things are inevitable and the only thing we can control is our own response in the midst of it all.
You know how sometimes it seems like bad things happen in clumps? I find myself in one of those mucky, yucky periods. It started at Christmas, and to my continued amazement one crappy thing after another just keeps unfolding. Have you ever experienced that? When every phone call or email seems to bring bad news from someone you care about? Those times when we tell ourselves that “bad things happen in threes”, but then hear of the fourth, fifth, eighth and eleventh bad thing? More than a few nights, the sum total of my bedtime prayers has been Seriously, God? Seriously? followed by a long quiet pause while I wait for answers and settle instead for acceptance.
Three years ago we went through one of these spells, and it was a hard time. Just one shitty thing after another for months on end. Worry, sleepless nights, drudgery of dealing with unwanted (undeserved) problems.We kept going, we got through it. I was glad to be sober, because the temptation to numb out and escape was strong. A lot of readers in early recovery worry about living without alcohol forever, but in my experience it is so much easier to just know that drinking isn’t an option. Numbing with alcohol never really did help, even though it felt like it worked at the time, and only slowed down the process of getting through the tough stuff.
Almost exactly a year ago, I was feeling really overwhelmed and dragged down by sadness because of several readers I’d been trying to help who all seemed to relapse at once. I felt like a failure, and – to be honest – a little resentful. (You can read that post here but then come back and read the rest of this post about what I have learned since!)
I confessed in that post that helping someone who ends up relapsing can feel like a sucker punch, and my subsequent resentments posed a palpable threat to my sobriety. It was a real wake up call to me that I had to examine my thinking. I felt people had taken advantage of me and wasted my time by pretending to want help while living a double life. I felt I had set them up for success and been duped. After a lot of reflection, I came to see otherwise.
Here is a lesson in codependency, people pleasing, and perfectionism: there’s a fine line between helping others and controlling their actions, and that line can separate outcomes as powerful as the one degree of difference between snow and rain.
When we offer help to others, the best we can do is hold space and provide the framework for their success regardless of whether or not they choose to do the next right thing. If someone is offered help and doesn’t make good use of it, that is their choice. It might feel like we have been taken advantage of, but it can also be viewed in the opposite way: that they chose to NOT take advantage of the opportunity provided, or maybe they wanted to but couldn’t.
Thousands of comments on this blog say sweet, kind things like, “UnPickled got me sober!” Those words always touch me deeply and affirm my effectiveness and purpose. I cherish the knowledge that my story has been helpful to others and made a pivotal difference in their lives. However, I came to see that by allowing myself to take credit for some people’s sobriety, I was also setting myself up to feel responsible for others’ setbacks. I had to reframe it to see that each person is responsible for their own outcome and the role of this blog is as a resource for insight and encouragement.
The term “holding space” is often heard in recovery circles. It means creating that safe, non-judgemental place of opportunity for another person to express themselves and heal. It also means allowing that person to proceed as they will, which is not necessarily as we might wish. “Holding space” does not come naturally to me; it is a skill I am learning. My instinct is to decide what a person “should” do and then try to coax them to my conclusion like a lawyer leading a witness. I thought this was the way to help others, and never understood it as manipulating or controlling. I surely could never sit quietly while someone spun an edited version of events or exaggerated their situation. I was the queen of correcting, arguing, setting the record straight. Okay, I still am that but I try not to be – it isn’t usually helpful. Things tend to unfold as they will regardless, so the difference is how agitated and annoying I want to make myself in the process.
I am taking that lesson I learned from the recovery world and applying it to the stuff of everyday life. This mucky murky cluster of unrelated unfortunate events that seems to hover lately will pass, and I am making it through by letting go and allowing others do as they will. I am not trying to control things that don’t belong to me, and focussing on how I respond (with kindness, patience, indifference, silence, compassion). I am trying to remember the drama triangle and assessing which corner I’m casting myself into, so that I can dismantle the tension (really helpful – go read that post if you need help with difficult people!). I am getting to yoga several times a week as a means of healthy escape, one that is good for my body. Things seem easier than they have in the past, I think these tools are helping enormously.
Rain at the ski hill sucks, but in my garden back home tomorrow I may have a whole new perspective. I’ll go hunting for spring shoots and worms. Maybe I’ll do a little spring cleaning and put my winter sweaters into storage. There’s some skirts and boots in the back of the closet I haven’t seen for a while.
I can’t stop the rain, but I can wear something cute and get ready for what comes next.