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Category Archives: Early Recovery

Not That Bad

“I’m not sure I really need to quit, I’m not that bad. I can’t stop drinking but I’m not that bad.”

I hear it all the time. I used to say the same about myself. 

Today I got a new splint for my hand. This is the third splint in as many weeks, ordered by the specialist after multiple referrals and appointments. The ligaments are torn and I’ll have to wear this custom, hard-shell cast-like splint to bed, in the shower, 24/7   for at least another month. Longer than the cast on my broken leg!

Most people would agree that Skiiers Thumb is *not as bad* as a broken leg, yet the treatment for both is immobilization and protection. 

I think we can say the same for addiction. You might not bad as bad as someone else, but never mind that. 

Just do what you need to do to get better. 

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Inspiration

This is for anyone who is struggling today…. 

These are the stairs in my house:


I did them several times today on crutches. It’s a pain in the butt, but it is also kind of fun. It’s not forever. It’s just for now. It will get easier.

We can do hard things. 

Whatever you’re up against, be patient. Be in the moment and do what needs to get done. Every day is a little different. Nothing stays the same, so step by step just keep doing the next right thing until you’ve moved past it. 

You’ve got this. 

(Written from my bed…at the top of the stairs.)

Replacement Behaviours – Ten Things That Helped Me Kick Booze

tea and oil diffuser

These are a few of my favourite things….

 

 

When the idea to quit drinking started sprouting in my pickled brain, I kept thinking What else IS there? What did I even DO every night before I became a daily drinker? What will I ever look forward to if I can’t drink? How will I relax, celebrate, or pass the time?

I understood that one purpose of recovery meetings is to fill the time previously spent drinking with other activity so, borrowing that concept, when I took the plunge into sobriety I knew I had to shake up my routine. Considering the extent of obsession with alcohol in addiction, it is not surprising that new behaviours took on an addictive-like pattern as well. That’s okay though, because they were easing me out of old ways and replacing them with better alternatives.

Here are some of the most helpful ones that seem to have stuck throughout this journey and continue to have positive effects:

  1. Blogging – On that precious first day, I decided I’d chronicle my experience in a blog (even though I had never read a blog before and wasn’t entirely sure how it worked). Setting it up was time consuming (good distraction), choosing the layout was creative and fun (hurray for creative fun!), and then finally hitting “post” was a leap of faith. Getting that first comment notification might as well have been fireworks, because my joy was that big. I told the truth and someone responded “me, too!” I started searching other sober bloggers – how exciting that lots of people out there are telling their truth! – and our comments became exchanges of encouragement, knowledge, and hope. Here we are more than years years later and this process continues to be a great tool for recovery. Consider giving it a whirl!
  2. Sugar – There are two benefits of using sugar as a tool in early recovery. One is that sugar can negate alcohol nestle-dibs-crunch-smallcravings by triggering the same pleasure/reward circuitry of the brain, so having a few sweets can help get you through the witching hour. (I kept a bucket of “Dibs” in the freezer, and popped one in my mouth whenever the cravings felt overwhelming.) The other thing sugar can help with is to shift your taste buds away from thoughts of alcohol. Since most alcoholic beverages pair better with savouries, it is more likely that eating cheese or nuts will make you long for a companion beverage than if you eat something sugary (even fruit – I sucked on orange slices constantly for the first few weeks). I now try to limit sugar, but in early recovery it was an enormous help. It is still helpful in some situations, for example if we go out to dinner and I feel surrounded by temptation to drink, I will allow myself cappuccino and dessert at the end of the meal as both a reward and an exercise in delayed gratification.
  3. Walking and Podcasts – When I think of the first year of recovery, my strongest memory is of walking while listening to recovery podcasts. I walked before work. I walked after work. I walked after dinner. And I listened constantly to the voices of other people in recovery who were just like me, or not at all like me but still somehow telling my story. It soothes my soul and opened my heart and mind to new ways of thinking. It cleared my head and then filled it back up with better thoughts and new ideas. It made me challenge the things I considered “normal” and gave me pause. When I get this cast off my leg, going for a walk in the sunshine is the first order of business!
  4. Coffee and Tea – One thing I missed about drinking was all of the ritual – the choosing, opening, pouring, holding, yadayadayada. So I channelled some of that energy into coffee and tea. For me, it was evenings at home where I did my problematic drinking, so after dinner I would choose a lovely mug and a fragrant herbal tea (preferable one that promised to promote sleep) and suck back three or four mugs of the stuff through gritted teeth. Eventually I came to like it and now I can’t imagine an evening without my Sleepy Time tea. As a final “nightcap” I would set up the coffeemaker for morning, synchronising the timer with my morning alarm so that I would awake to the smell of a freshly brewed pot – the reward for making it to one more day alcohol free.
  5. Online Recovery Groups – (see my Resources page) – My online groups were my lifeline for a long time and continue to play an important role in my recovery. It gave me a place to share small victories with people who understood, ask questions, vent, help others (one of the best things you can do to stay sober is help someone else do it, too!), and post pictures of the my kooky habits like matching my travel mug to my outfit.
  6. Cleaning – With too much time on my (wineglass-free) hands in the evenings, I busied myself with housework. I had a cleaning company come to our house weekly until then, but with all that energy to burn I found that I no longer needed to have extra help with my chores. It felt good to look after things myself and putting my home in order was therapeutic. I listened to podcasts while I buzzed around the house, feeling productive and positive. (Sadly, this broken foot means I will be hiring a cleaner again for a few months. I am sure I will love the luxury of it once I have it back in my life again.)
  7. Beads – Some women from my online support group were getting together for meetup and I decided to bring a big bucket of beads so we could all make bracelets while we visited through the weekend. It was a hit and we all took home treasures that will forever remind us of a special gathering. I was left with the remaining supplies and an obsession with using them up. I couldn’t stop – it was so fun! I had forgotten the simple pleasure of making something to give away. If this is too girlie for you, stop by the craft store to see if something sparks your interest – paints, metals, or those intricate colouring books that cause you to accidentally meditate.
  8. Sudoku – Speaking of accidental meditation, that’s what seems to happen when I do Sudoku puzzles. I started doing these at bedtime (with my tea) to shush the voices in my head and force me to focus on something meaningless. It quiets my mind and shifts me into sleepiness quicker than any alcohol ever could.  I have advanced to a pretty fierce puzzler (if there can be such a thing), so much so that my husband bought me a thick book of strategies as a Christmas gift and I didn’t hit him with it.
  9. Essential Oil – Er ma gerd! Oils are crazily addictive in a good way. I think there is a part of me that will always look for that “fix” to change how I feel, and oils are full of promises. I diffuse orange and grapefruit in my office while I work and clarey sage by my bed (while I drink tea and do puzzles before konking out), make custom rollerball blends for everything from skin irritations to immune boosters to headaches. Just fussing with them relaxes me and look at the fun rainbow of little bottles. Who could resist?

    essential oil bottles

    Hmmmm, what shall we mix up today?

  10. Yoga – For a long time I rather prided myself on my disdain for yoga because it reflected my busy-ness, which reflected my importance, which validated my worth. Nothing sounded more agonising to me than slowing down and being alone with my thoughts. I worked hard to avoid that very situation and when I couldn’t avoid it I drank it away.  I stumbled into yoga by attending a retreat for women in recovery and was surprised by how soothing and enjoyable it was to be led through every breath and movement by someone else’s voice. It was the opposite of agony – it was deeply calming and safe. It was also surprising challenging and I do so like a challenge. Now I go to yoga several times a week (and will return as soon as my broken foot is healed!) and I can’t imagine my life without this regular treat. I used to run to help burn my energy and keep me in shape, but yoga has improved my body in ways that running never could (more arm definition, a stronger core and more flexibility). The studio I go to has people of all ages, sizes, and abilities – there is no push to perfection – just progress. Sound familiar?

Have you tried any of these things and were they effective for you? What helpful habits helped you break up with booze? Can you feel your tendencies for addictive behaviour spark with these things, and do you find that to be a good thing? I look forward to your insights!

Did You Resolve to Quit Drinking?

If you vowed to give up drinking as your New Year’s resolution, you are not alone. It is a great decision, wherever you find yourself in relation to alcohol. There is no magic level of “bad enough” required to choose sobriety, it is more a matter of being “ready” for a better way of life.

new-year-pic

I felt conflicted when I gave up alcohol. I was scared by the strain of daily cravings, yet my drinking did not seem to interfere with my work or family responsibilities. I assumed (wrongly) that giving up alcohol was something people only did as a result of some dire consequence; if I could hide an addiction maybe it wasn’t so bad. Still, I was drinking more despite resolving regularly to drink less; the pattern was swiftly gaining momentum. I didn’t want to lose my license, wet the bed or pull my skirt over my head at a family wedding. The idea to quit while I was ahead was an epiphany.

Looking back now, I can’t believe I carried such a burden. Booze was a total nag, always demanding my attention and distracting me from everything. It took constant calculation to watch the clock, balance my intake, pace things just right, have enough on hand, and make excuses for the daily disappointment in myself.

If you are contemplating a change, I say this: Decide right now that you want things to be different, and then go after the life you want. Nothing bad will come of living without booze – you will be happier, healthier and free. Part of your brain – the addicted part – will freak out a bit and try to convince you to drink. It will invent all kinds of reasons why you should: you weren’t not that bad, you are more fun when you’re drunk, you are missing out, you just needed a break to reset, your friends will be disappointed, that wedding is coming up…….Don’t be fooled. Stick with it.

Thousands and thousands of people are searching the web for answers to their drinking fears right now. You might feel like the only one in the whole world, but you are not. And tens of millions have walked this path before you – there is lots of help along the way.

A question for readers: how many of you vowed to quit on New Years’ past and how did that work out? What suggestions do you have for others in the same position today?

If you’re new, please post your questions or comments below to receive encouragement from myself and other readers. Those of you who have been here a while, please help out by taking a moment to respond with a kind words for the many people who find themselves here today looking for insights.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Sober Fun is Possible

My first “girls’ weekend” was just a few months after I quit drinking in 2011: a road trip with three friends to the fabulous Farm Chicks Antique Show in Spokane, Washington. We booked a cool house in Sandpoint, Idaho as our home base and returned to Canada three days later with an SUV so full of treasures that I couldn’t see out the rearview mirror. Only one of the three friends was aware that I’d quit drinking and she sheltered me all weekend, helping me fly below the radar. They enjoyed their wine with dinner and through evening conversations, I sipped my substitute, everything was fine.

It was a fun weekend, but by keeping a secret I was also creating  internal drama and chaos unnecessarily. I just couldn’t imagine a girls’ getaway without alcohol because I still believed that alcohol was essential for every occasion. I assumed my new reality a life of resistance in a drinking world and I hoped it would get easier.

Five-and-a-half years later, a few things are different:

  • I no longer hide the fact that I don’t drink
  • I actually like being alcohol-free
  • I am better at assessing which invitations to accept and which to decline
  • I have friends in recovery to plan events with
  • I have built new ways to connect with my friends who do drink

So what is the social life of a non-drinker? Here is a peek at my calendar:

In October I hosted two girls’ getaways at our mountain cabin- one was my book club (mostly normies and 2 sober chicks) and one was a group of sober friends from afar who plan occasional meetups.

The book club getaway was just one night and included a huge feast of a supper, late night saunas and hot tub time, lots of laughing and story-telling. After dark, I brought out a set of glowing poi balls, which a lit balls on strings for spinning like this:

As you can surely imagine, we took turns attempting to twirl and spin gracefully with hilarious results. If you ever want to see a group of women laugh until they cry, go outside after dark with a set of spin balls. No alcohol necessary!

The next morning was all pjs and coffee and chats, when suddenly someone remembered we’d forgotten to talk about about the book! It was a book club meeting after all so we managed to squeak in a book discussion before packing up and heading home.

The next girls’ weekend at the cabin was for three days and included friends that travelled long distances to be together. What a time we had and not one drop of booze was considered or missed! I love to cook and organized the food, plus we had a massage therapist come out and set up a mini spa one day. We hiked, ate healthy meals and treats, talked late, slept in, and shared our stories.

Tomorrow night I am going to a play with a friend, one of the girls who went to Spokane years ago. Although it took me a while to confess to her that I had quit drinking, when I finally did she was very supportive and insightful. It was she who taught me to bring my own drinks wherever I went, and who stocked her fridge with Perrier just for me. She was the one who sent a box of chocolate-covered strawberries on my first sober-versary with a note saying “Now you get to have fun discovering other ways to indulge!”

On Wednesday nights I curl with my husband in a mixed league at the local rink. There is beer everywhere before and after the game, but the focus is on curling and I find it easy to enjoy myself there. We rotate positions and I often volunteer to play lead or second, which involves the vigours of sweeping rocks for three other players so provides the most exercise. My teammates are happy to oblige. Every week we play a different foursome which means I get to meet new people and I am finding this socializing to be good for my spirits.

We were invited to a Halloween Party this past weekend but instead opted for something even better: having our 2-year-old grandson for a sleepover. Being alcohol-free is most important to me in my family roles, especially as a (young!) grandma. To be 100% present allows me to soak in every moment with this little one instead of waiting for his bedtime so I could drink. It allows me to wake up and arrange his berries and orange slices in a funny face on the plate and the giggle at his response, instead of wincing and reaching for the Tylenol. It allows me take him for a walk in the park, looking for bunnies and fish, without ever swatting away voices whispering I don’t deserve to be so happy.

If you are wondering how you will ever have fun again without alcohol, believe me: it is possible. Start by reframing  existing friendships around something other than drinking together (go for breakfast, meet at Starbucks or for a walk). If that isn’t possible, perhaps that person is not a real friend but merely a drinking buddy. As well, make some new connections to build yourself a sober community.

The best thing I ever did was to meet other women in recovery, and for me these relationships were initiated at SheRecovers events and then carried on through our own meetups and gatherings. (Come to New York in May ladies, and I’ll help you connect!)

Recovery groups like AA or SmartRecovery are another place to build relationships. Most of us fear we won’t fit in or tell ourselves, “I’m not one of THOSE people” but the big surprise is that those rooms are full of normal, good people like you and me who share the goal of staying alcohol-free.

As the holiday season looms ahead, this is a great time to think about ways to stay social without endangering recovery. Our social lives should support and strengthen our decision to live in freedom and peace. Does yours?

 

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. 

Craving Buster

You. Must. Do. This.

It’s called the TimTam Slam, a little trick my son learned in when travelling in Australia that involves chocolate-coated cookies and tea (or coffee) and a specific ritual. It hits all the bases for cancelling out booze cravings, which include:

  • ritual (because keeping busy is a good distraction)
  • palate confusion (the sweetness negates alcohol cravings)
  • pleasure (sugar and chocolate wake up endorphins)
  • entertainment (fun for your inner child)

So here’s how it goes. Make yourself a nice warm drink, preferably in an “Un Re” mug from my UnPickled Shop, and grab a package of TimTams.

IMG_5825

Now, take a TimTam and carefully nibble off diagonally opposite corners. (Note, due to my giant rabbit teeth this part is very difficult for me and my nibbles are on the largish side. I have had to ingest multiple extra TimTams due to botched (oversized) corner nibbles. If you don’t want to be *forced* to eat extra cookies, keep your corner bites small.)

IMG_5824

Now…carefully put one nibbled corner into your warm drink and slurp (gracefully!) from the other corner, pulling the liquid through the cookie until the heavenly combination is drawn through the body of the biscuit and you taste the drink.

This action causes a transformative union of cookie, chocolate, and warm drink to occur, which brings us to the *slam* portion of our program: STOP SLURPING AND TOSS THE WHOLE COOKIE INTO YOUR MOUTH. Do this swiftly and without hesitation or the liquid will overtake the biscuit and it will fall in your drink with a disappointing plop.

I promise you that this activity will make you forget your cravings, and probably give you a good chuckle along the way. Do this with friends and take pictures of the crucial moment – you have lots of laughs and great pics for your social media posts.

The TimTam Slam is so popular that it has a WikiHow page complete with illustrations and tips, but the rest of the world hasn’t realized it has anti-craving super powers for people in recovery.

That can be our little secret.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Interviewed by Mrs D

We were lucky enough to have Lotta Dan of Mrs D as a guest on two episodes of The Bubble Hour and now she is flipping the tables round by interviewing me on her Living Sober site.

http://www.livingsober.org.nz/sober-story-jean/

Thank you, Lotta, for all you to do encourage and inspire happiness in life after alcohol!

Questioning My Answers: Reflections on Drinking Quizzes

Raise your hand if you’ve taken an online drinking assessment.

Raise your other hand if you took the same assessment more than once, trying different variations of answers in order to get a better result.  (Jazz hands if you switched to a different country’s website to see if they had looser guidelines.)

Nod your head if you then took those results and tried to work them backwards, in order to figure out how much you should cut back in order to drop into a lower risk category.

chart

Rub your belly and pat your head if you then tried to moderate to those levels, failed, took the test again, and got an even higher score.

Yah, me too. You are not alone.

The one phrase that really stuck in my mind was, “No more than 10 drinks per week, no more than 2 drinks most days, and no more than 3 drinks on any single occasion.” (Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines) The gears in my head began to whir as I read those numbers, trying to comprehend what living within those guidelines might entail. My mental computations resulted in one-word: IMPOSSIBLE.

Impossible is exactly what moderating proved to be for me – I was well past the point of drinking within the guidelines. Living alcohol-free has not always been easy but it is certainly simpler than that hellish cycle of calculations, bargains, failure and regret.

What’s worse, the guidelines are based on a 5 oz serving of wine, something I considered to be a half-glass. I expect my average was an 8 oz pour, meaning what I called 3 drinks was closer to 5.

When I take that assessment now with complete honesty, my end habits were in the “Severe Risk” category – and no one even knew I had a problem!

I am grateful for these guidelines and assessments because they were an important wake-up call for me. There is a lot of rhetoric and nonsense out there that implies no one can tell if someone else needs to quit drinking. I feel that’s a misinterpretation of that fact that the will to change must come from within. But the numbers don’t lie and high-risk drinking is self-evident based on patterns and numbers alone.

So if you’re struggling with alcohol, pay attention to those assessments and guidelines. Share them. Talk about them.

Remember that many of us seemed to be functioning just fine but still fell into the “High Risk” and “Severe Risk” zones. Forget the stereotype of what we all think addiction looks like and trust the evidence.

 

 

Why Self-Care Is So Important to Recovery

Yesterday I spoke to a reader who has been struggling to hang onto her sobriety. She is able to go alcohol-free for weeks at a time but then drinks for reasons she doesn’t understand. Each time it happens she can feel herself make the decision to drink again, but doesn’t know why she does it.

“I am a strong person,” she said. “I have always been strong and can handle anything. Why can’t I get this?”

Here is what I have learned about being a strong person: it’s easy to fool ourselves. We mistakenly think we are being strong when we don’t get upset, don’t let things bother us, and then press on despite discomfort. “Suck it up” we tell ourselves, and then somehow we find a way to keep going.That looks like strength on the outside, but in truth it is denial. True strength is dealing with these things, not stuffing them down and refusing to acknowledge how we really feel.

When we deny reality for the sake of appearing strong, we are destroying ourselves from within. We live with some niggling discomfort we can’t name (refusing to address the real cause), and so look for relief in some acceptable form. This is how it started for me – a glass of wine before bed worked so well at first. It relaxed me, comforted, and brought on sleep. I kicked ass in the world all day, then came home and kicked off my heels and enjoyed a lovely glass of wine – a perfectly reasonable strategy. A glass of wine a day is even said to be healthy so no need for concern.

But over the years….

One glass a night became two or three or more and the wine glasses got larger and the bottles became boxes. I couldn’t quit, or even cut back. Each morning I vowed to quit, but by mid day I’d found a reason why it was important to still drink that day: if something good happened I needed to celebrate, if something bad happened I needed comforting, and if nothing at all happened I drank out of boredom.

I felt the same bewilderment as my friend: I am so strong. Why can’t I stop drinking?

Two reasons: because the illusion of strength I’d cultivated depended on a release valve, and because the addictive nature of alcohol caused it to become the one and only release I wanted. I was caught in a vicious cycle that was camouflaged (and perpetuated) by the outward appearance of achievement and strength.

It is easy to think that life is perfect except for the black mark of the addictive element, and if we can just get rid of the wine (or drugs or roulette or shopping or Chigaco-style popcorn – whatever is being stuffed into the void) then everything will be finally, fully perfect. That’s it, that’s all.

So we quit drinking, or try to quit drinking, but then things go sideways because we no longer have any release valve – the wine goggles destroyed the ability to recognize other pleasures. “What was I thinking? Things aren’t better without alcohol! They’re WORSE! I might as well drink because this sobriety nonsense is screwing up everything.”

First, it helps to recognize that our old ways of doing things were probably not as effective as we thought, or else they wouldn’t have led us to seek ongoing relief. The idea of what strength really is must be revisited and revised. Strength is grounded in honesty, in saying “no” to the things that aren’t serving us well and dealing with painful issues instead of sweeping them under a rug. This is the work of recovery (changing for the better), which takes us past mere sobriety (abstinence from the addictive substance or behaviour). It is possible to get through life without constant discomfort.

The crucial role of self-care then, is to not only nurture ourselves through these changes but most importantly to teach ourselves how to enjoy all of the pleasures that our addiction overshadowed. A walk in the sunshine, a massage or pedicure, a cup of coffee. It is important to plan activities or pleasant actions throughout the day and especially during the “witching hour”, so when cravings for alcohol come we can recognize them as a longing for comfort and offer an alternative. The most difficult part is that in early recovery, we don’t necessarily feel like doing much and little else is appealing. Do it anyway. Try lots of different things and little by little those discoveries will come. The herbal tea I once sneered at has become an indispensable part of my evening routine. The yoga I assumed was stupid is now my favourite way to unwind. Connecting with friends is about conversation, tears or laughter, and not just an excuse to drink. I can even sit still and do nothing, which I avoided before because that’s when all the hurts I had buried in the name of strength would surface and pester.

Be open to approaching things differently and you’ll learn to avoid unnecessary discomfort. Practice self-care and you’ll find new ways to console yourself when needed (and  to celebrate the good things, too).

Undo, redo. Unlearn, retrain. Understand, rethink.

Un Un Un. Re Re Re.

This is what recovery is all about.

What are your favourite means of comfort and self-care? How has that changed throughout the course of your recovery?

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