Category Archives: Family and Marriage
We are on a little road trip and I’ll share snippets when I stumble on wifi along the way.
Usually mid-April in our part of Canada is spring showers and new growth. This year, however, spring is taking its sweet time.
So when we planned an April trip in our camper van from Alberta to Vancouver Island, which I’ve dubbed “The Van to Van”, we had a certain (and fair) expectation regarding the weather and road conditions. *Snow* was not part of the equation.
We plan. God laughs.
Yesterday over morning coffee, as I was planning the zillion things I needed to do before leaving, my husband checked the weather and said, “There’s a crazy storm coming overnight. We need to leave today instead of tomorrow and outrun it.”
Yikes. I was barely going to get out the door at the scheduled time, never mind a day early! But it was either that or stay home for two more days, until the storm passed.
I kicked into high gear and packed, cleaned, plowed through the work on my desk, posted a Bubble Hour episode, dropped off the dog, popped in to see the grandkids, and made some granola bars to take along.
My husband also got busy doing the last of the van prepping, including filling the water tanks.
Minutes before take off, just as I was congratulating myself on calmly adjusting to a schedule change that would normally make me crazed and snappish, piercing blasts of noise rang through our house.
MEEEEPPPP MEEEEEPPPP MEEEPPPP
A recorded (bilingual) voice called “FIRE!!! FUE!!! FIRE!!! FUE!!!
I dashed throughout the house to find the problem and discovered water pouring from a smoke detector in the basement, which had shorted the system and set it off. Filling the van with water from the hose caused a pipe to burst – there must have been some ice in the line. Efffffff.
There went my calm.
While my heroic husband contained the problem and shut off the water and breaker to the zone, I hauled out the carpet shampooer and sucked a gallon or two of water up from the flooring.
And then…we left.
We drove to the forecasted edge of the storm, three hours west, and spent the night in a parking lot. Scenic.
Nevertheless, we are feeling happy and relaxed and ready for adventure.
I can’t believe I can handle this stuff so easily. None of this would have sat well with me when I was living my life on the edge of insanity. Every blip along the way pushed me into major anxiety and upset.
Now here I am rolling along without a care in the world. At least for today…we’ll, this morning anyway.
We’ll see what happens this afternoon….!
(Full disclosure: I initially titled this “A Week in the Life of a Sober Grandma” but decided against it and not because I am vain but only because I thought you wouldn’t read it. Was I right?)
If sobriety has been an invitation to rethink my identity, imagine the challenge of being a newly retired workaholic. In case I haven’t had enough trouble wrapping my head around the concept of “I am not what I do,” it is not uncommon for people to ask, “What will you do with all your time? You are too young to retire!”
First, let me say that I am very glad I got sober first and then retired. Recovery has helped me to understand why I felt the need to lose myself in my work and how to feel good about myself apart from approval and accolades. No small task!
I suspect that the freedom that comes from the less-structured routine of retirement could lure many drinkers into a rapid escalation of their consumption and that the red flags of mounting addiction could be masked by fewer obvious consequences. (Has anyone experienced this? I would love to hear from you.)
So what DO I do with all this time? Here are just a few things I have done this past week:
On Tuesday I was interviewed for this video series by Sarah Roberts of “Sobriety Starts Here”. I was a bit under the weather and nervous about being on camera but Sarah is a great interviewer and I am truly honoured to be part of this series:
After finishing two interviews, I went to my sister’s house for one of her amazing Ayurvedic Foot Treatments – a 90-minute process on a heated table. My sister is an incredibly talented healer with a gift for picking up on other people’s energy – I know that sounds “woo woo” but there is no other way to describe her sensitivities.
When she first started working on me I said, “I have been doing recovery interviews all morning and I have a lot of other people’s stuff stuck to me!” She understands exactly what I mean by this – that I am hanging onto the stories and emotions that go with being vulnerable about ourselves and holding space for others.
“Oh, you sure do,” she murmured softly and began gently brushing my arms as she moved around the table. Soon she was massaging my feet and I went into that floaty almost-sleep stage that is somehow better than sleep. Pure heaven.
Wednesday mornings are busy and delightful. I have a standing date with my 80-year-old mother to take her for groceries and then out for errands and lunch. While she toodles around the grocery store, I sit at the coffee bar and read. She is losing her vision and no longer drives, and also she carries a flashlight in her purse to help her read labels and menus and such. You would think this might slow her down but honestly the reason I drink coffee instead of going around the store with her is because I can’t keep up. On the first outing I lost her twice and gave up. We are both happier this way.
After groceries we went out looking for new lamps. She moved into an assisted living facility when my dad was sick and was too busy to decorate or make their new apartment cozy. It has been a year now since my dad passed away, and she is ready to make some changes. We have been doing little bits each week – while she puts her groceries away, I move furniture or set up some new purchase or do some little job she has saved for me. On this particular day, we struck out on finding her new decor but she did succeed in cracking me up. I pointed out this cute ceramic frog in HomeSense and without missing a beat she quipped, “Looks like he just got kick in the slats!”
Such a sweet old lady.
Wednesdays are also a big day because its “Survivor” night and although my enthusiasm for the show is dipping ever so slightly – though I have never missed an episode in 36 seasons – this season we have a pool of ten friends betting on the outcome. Ever week my husband send out a funny newsletter with updates.
Tonight I have a side bet for a $10 Tim Horton’s with my friend Susanna that no one will play an idol. We met over dinner on Monday night to discuss our side bets and we laughed ourselves silly over the nonsense of it all. Susanna and I were only drinking water but we were having the most fun of anyone there.
I continue to get up early every morning and do my “Morning Pages” exercise, and now I have added writing another 500 words on my novel afterward. Yes, I am writing a novel! I am no longer scared to say it because I am really doing it. My goal is to have the first draft completed by my birthday in June.
Even at the cabin on the weekend, with a houseful of guests and a fridge full of groceries in need of cooking, I managed to get up early and write for an hour before becoming the hostess with the most-est. I cooked huge meals including desserts, skiied the mountain from top to bottom repeatedly, played with my grandsons, and slept like a baby every night.
There was an unusual amount of snow in the mountains for the last weekend of skiing. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has flowers in April, I both envy and pity you! We are a few weeks away from green leaves and flowers here in Alberta but they will come soon enough. Meanwhile, we have been having fun in the snow.
Note – I am looking over at my family in this picture but I cropped them for privacy. You understand. The important things to note are the smile on my face (I love them all so much!) and the crazy amounts of snow under my bum.
I got back from skiing and immediately recorded another Bubble Hour episode, this time with my friend Jan. Listen here.
Those are the highlights. I left out the boring bits, like the bookkeeping I still do for our rental properties and the large quantities of time I spend plucking my eyebrows. I did not mention that we have been watching “Barry” on HBO and eating ice cream, or that I almost beat my high score on “Wooden Blocks” while simultaneously watching “The National”. Oh and Rick Mercer’s final show deserves a mention – treat yourself to a half hour of that fine Canadian humour.
In short, being sober and retired still means lots of activity – entertaining, going out, staying in, connecting, creating.
And one more thing I’ve been doing this week – crying. My heart goes out to all affected by the horrific bus crash here in Alberta that has taken the lives of 15 teams members of the Humboldt Broncos. I don’t think anyone who has heard about this tragedy has been unaffected. It is almost too sad to contemplate.
So there you have it, a glimpse into my girl/grandma life. Next week we will embark on a ten-day camping trip to Vancouver Island. More goodness to come….
This morning I was awake much earlier than necessary. BOING! Eyes open at 6 am. Go back to sleep, I told myself, you have a late curling draw tonight. You need the extra sleep if you’re going to make it through this day….
But it was too late.
COFFEE said my brain.
PEE! said my bladder.
Shhhhhh, go back to sleep, said my grown up voice, soon drowned out with chatter:
Yippeee morning! Coffee and news and what should I wear today and hey I wonder if I lost another pound and oooooh what oil should I diffuse in the sunroom while I read the paper and and and if I get up now I can read for an extra hour instead of sleep!
Who can resist that kind of enthusiasm? I can’t help myself, I love mornings. Do not confuse this with being a morning person. Morning people get stuff done. I don’t. I love to sit and read and drink coffee and have a slow start without interruptions.
Things sure have changed.
I used to shuffle to the kitchen and reach for Tylenol first, then coffee – both of them extra strength, please. Everything used to hurt in the morning and I never questioned it – I powered through. Hangover? No, of course not. I just had chronic daily headaches and body pain for no reason. It’s not like I was throwing up and calling in sick for work, right?
But a few months after I quit drinking I realized that I was no longer taking those little red pills every morning, and eventually I even had to toss a mostly-full jumbo bottle because it had stale-dated. That’s when I knew things were really different.
Six years later, things continue to change.
I no longer stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own eyes, looking for answers to a question I am afraid to ask. Or inspect my nose for whatever it is that supposedly happens from too much alcohol.
I still check my outfit in the mirror before leaving the house, but only to see if I like the combination – not with the scrutiny of an imposter trying to cover her shame and fear with perfection.
I used to arrange and rearrange the furniture and decor in my home, then inspect it by standing at the entrance and surveying the scene with a visitor’s eyes. Is this good enough? Are there flaws? Is it welcoming? It is right? Oh, my home is still quite perfect – once a designer always a designer! – but I please myself first.
As mentioned, Wednesday night is our curling league and I have fun visiting with the other teams. I love to throw a good take-out shot that clears the house, or sweep a teammate’s rock with all my might, but I no longer imagine that people are watching me or judging my form. We often socialize afterwards and it doesn’t faze me that most teams split a pitcher of beer while I have water, though in truth I can’t wait to get home and watch Survivor.
Yep, this is a huge departure from the old days. My husband and I started curling in our 20s before we had kids and oh my, the drinking we used to do! It was all in good fun back then. In my 30s things had started to change – with little kids at home curling was our one night out so we had to get a week’s worth of partying into that one night. I probably drank a similar amount of alcohol as before, but with a different urgency and attitude. Curling was once a prelude to alcohol. Now I actually focus on the game and play hard and feel happy.
I could go on. I drive differently. I listen differently. I work and socialize differently. Everything is better, even though some things are harder now. I got through profound grief this year without the help of alcohol and it was so very large and real, but I did it (am still doing it, to be honest).
I look better. I feel better. My chest doesn’t hurt constantly and I sleep like a baby (at least until 6 am!). I hardly have to think about not drinking now, that part gets SO much easier. But when it does hit me, the old urge to escape – WHAM! There it is like the smell of mould and I pull back in surprise.
Except now I know to ask, what is making me so uncomfortable that I want to check out? Then I deal with that thing, and if I can’t identify it I comfort myself anyway with something safe – a stretch, a treat, a nap, a walk, an unnecessary purchase.
That’s where I am at now, and in time I will surely be in some even more enlightened place.
But one thing is for sure: I am never going back.
Notice the lack of palm trees in my posts? I decided to cancel my trip to Palm Springs in order to help one of my sons who has suffered a serious neck injury.
The day after I dropped my husband at the airport – he still went to visit his mom as originally planned – the first winter storm of the season blew in.
I stayed positive while shovelling and tried not to grumble mentally about the sunshine I was missing. The wind was blowing the snow back faster than I could shovel it and I had to keep circling back to redo sections. Oh Canada!
Later I got this message from my husband, who was checking in on our security cameras and watching my progress:
Learning the power of gratitude is one of the great gifts of recovery. I’m grateful for my strong body, for having a property to shovel, for living in Canada, that my son’s injury will eventually heal fully, that my husband is spending time with his mom, and that I now have a travel credit on Westjet.
Now where should I go with that….?
It seemed easier to talk about sobriety and grief than write about it so I recorded this episode of The Bubble Hour, including insightful comments and messages from readers of this blog. Heartfelt thanks to all who have commented about your own experiences with grief and alcohol – good or bad. I have learned so much from you and taken strength from your honesty and kindness.
We pretty much all go through this eventually and we can all learn so much from one another.
Please have a listen.
…and still going strong!
I took a break from blogging to enjoy my grandsons at the ski hill this past weekend. What a treat it is to spend time with little ones! I love the way 2-year-old Calvin says “bo-na-na” for banana and “gii” for ski (both of which he loves). Baby Sam entertained me from his jolly jumper. When the kids were in bed we watched “Eddie the Eagle” – a fun ski movie that took us back to watching the ’88 Winter Olympics from our university basement suite. Good family time all around.
Today I was craving a new pastime and my kids were kind enough to take me to the mall for my first shopping trip in over 3 weeks. It was a ton of effort just to manoeuvre through the mall on crutches but it felt so great to be out and about.
We stopped at the craft store to find me a new activity to pass the next two weeks – 16 more days until I walk again!! – and look what I came home with:
Here is my first creation. It’s a delightful pass time. I highly recommend it for those looking for a way to fill your wine-less evening hours.
Like many busy moms, my wine habit began with a glass of wine to help me fall asleep at night. It helped smooth the edges off the one part of my day I dreaded: laying in bed, alone with my thoughts. I have written about this in several other posts, and spoken of it often on The Bubble Hour podcast.
Stillness was my enemy, because old memories would jab my brain until shame and regret became an unending loop. Eyes open or closed, I couldn’t look away: a teacher embarrassing me in elementary, the terrible way I sometimes treated my friends in high school. Inexplicable moments of scattered promiscuity, cruelty, apathy, or weakness. Shitty mom moments of being short tempered with my kids. Instances of insensitivity towards employees because I was overwhelmed myself. I never knew what old gem would come floating back if I laid my head on the pillow but it hardly mattered. They all affected me the same way – bringing tears and eventually long silent sobs into my pillow that I hoped my husband wouldn’t hear.
I drank to skip that. I drank to fall asleep the moment BEFORE my head hit the pillow, to avoid the torture of looking inward. I’d been raised to pray before I slept, to take a quiet moment to reflect and give thanks or ask for help to do better. Over time this morphed into self-loathing, until I no longer felt worthy of involving God in the conversation. The more I drank to avoid my inner landscape, the more I had to hate about myself. It was a vicious circle.
Navigating these thought patterns was daunting without a numbing agent, but I had no choice once I left alcohol behind. I’ve talked myself through it, revisited my old rItaly of prayer, and when all else fails I just allow myself to cry.
Thanks to a friend, I’ve learned a new technique that is proving to be the most effective tool yet for banishing those ruminating thoughts.
Memories, it turns out, are neither all that reliable nor accurate. Every time we yank one out of long-term storage, it is momentarily vulnerable to change. Plastic, if you will. So if we retrieve it in a moment of sadness or self-loathing, it will be affected by that perspective and highlighted or tweaked to conform. Likewise, it can also be altered in a more positive way.
My friend shared that her therapist had been helping her rewrite a traumatic memory from her childhood by imagining what characters she needed there with her in that moment – a protector, a nurturer, a companion. She learned to pause the story and bring in those characters, to change the outcome into a happier ending. If it’s all in her head anyway, what’s the difference? If she was remembering an inherently inaccurate version anyway that was painful, why not invent a better, safer version?
This is the basis of memory modification, and here’s how I’ve adapted it for myself. Now if I find myself fixating on an old memory that’s painful, I pause it like a photograph. Then I step into the memory as I am today, taking the form of my highest self – the nurturer, the grandmother, the mom, the wiser, kinder me. I step forward into the thought and face the old me in the memory, coming between she and the other person in the frame (and there’s always another person involved, it seems). I wrap a favourite blanket around the younger me’s shoulders, and I pull her close in a warm, strong hug. In that instant, I can feel in my chest everything that I had been needing in that moment (assurance, affection, acceptance, love, forgiveness) and I am able to transfer that very thing from me to her. I tell her she is safe, that everything will be okay.
Then I take her out of that moment and tuck her into the passenger seat of my car, still wrapped in the blanket. I drive her through Starbucks and buy her anything she wants, and we head for the mountains – then me and now me like the closet of friends. It’s a beautiful drive. She feels calm and safe in my presence. We arrive at our cabin, the stuning mountain home she doesn’t know she will one day own, and I usher her inside. There at a large dining table are three handsome young men playing a board game, laughing together. These are your sons. A blonde, fun-looking grandpa with two little boys. This is your husband and grandchildren. Three radiant young women: your daughters in law.
This is your family. This is your future. All this happiness awaits you. You are safe here. Stay and play.
Its amazing how this process deflates the negativity out of old memories. If the thought returns, I can say, It’s okay, she’s safe at the cabin having fun with the people who love her. She found what she was looking for. If a new memory surfaces, I know what to do: blanket, hug, Starbucks, cabin, future family. It works every time.
I’m not a therapist, I don’t pretend to be, but I hope my version of memory modification sparks your curiosity – especially if you are haunted by your past. Think of it like a photograph, one you keep pulling out to reexamine. It’s time to take a felt marker and draw a moustache, a bluebird, a rainbow. It’s time to stop carrying that photo in your wallet and cut it into a snowflake.
You are that powerful, that creative….that free to change.
This morning my guest appearance on the “Your Kickass Life” podcast with Andrea Owen was released and one of the topics discussed was managing life with a “normie” (aka a normal drinker).
I get asked about this a lot. In fact, just this morning in the comments section as a matter of fact. Tracy wrote:
I have contemplated my drinking over the past 16 months and have tried to cut back. My issue is not drinking ever when your spouse drinks! It is a truly huge trigger for me and I feel like a kill joy when everyone wants to go to happy hour and I am looking for alternative drinks and I get soooo bored sitting there after a bit. How do you handle spouse drinking when I want to quit?
Let me start by saying that there are a lot of variables in every relationship, and my experience is limited to my own marriage to someone who drinks “normally” (society views “normal drinking” as that which is asymptomatic of addiction – ironic when you consider alcohol is an addictive substance). Additionally, our relationship is stable and relatively uncomplicated. So when we had to face my decision to quit drinking, there weren’t a lot of compounding issues. My husband was supportive of my decision.
Here are some of the ways that I manage those times when we are out socially in situations that involve alcohol:
- First things first: I ask myself if I really want to go. Do I need to be there? Want to be there? Will it be a safe environment for me? Am I likely to enjoy myself or will I just be tolerating it? It is totally okay to pass on things you really don’t want to attend. I promise.
- Then I make a plan: Is there a way to make it work better for me? Should I take my own car so I can leave if I feel uncomfortable (I did this A LOT in early recovery. I made sure to discuss options before we left with my husband: “Are you willing to take a cab home alone if I decide to leave early and you want to stay? Could you walk home or get a ride with a friend?” Because we had discussed it ahead of time, it was easier for me to slip away knowing he had my back and that there would be no conflict about it later.)
- Go prepared: if it is a house party, I bring my own drinks as well as a hostess gift. I make sure my glass is always topped up with my alcohol-free drinks, which limits the amount of attention other people pay to what I am drinking. When people are offering you drinks, they’re usually just trying to be good hosts. Your empty glass is their cue to pour, so make it easier on everyone by keeping your own glass topped up. Even if you don’t want more to drink – especially if you don’t want more – set a full glass in front of yourself. If anyone offers point to it and say, “I’m good here, thanks!”
- I allow my husband to be my knight in shining armour, protecting me and my sobriety. At events with a bar, he will go and speak directly to the bartender to ask for a non-alcoholic drink for me and then watch the preparation to ensure there are no mix-ups. It is so sweet when he hands me a drink and whispers, “It’s tonic and lemon, I watched them pour to be sure.” Be still my beating heart!
- One thing that really helps me is to build some “treats” into the evening, even if that means driving through DQ for a sundae on the way home as a reward for staying sober. It is hard to watch other people have treat after treat in the form of a drink while you are sitting there stirring your Shirley Temple. Order some damn chicken wings, you deserve them! Get up and dance, go work the room, take your phone to the bathroom and read sober blogs. Try not to feel like you are missing out, instead give yourself a different experience than others are having.
As I understand it, existing problems in a relationship can be highlighted when one partner seeks sobriety. Sometimes a spouse will undermine their partner’s recovery because they feel threatened by it – perhaps because they have gotten comfortable with the role of victim, villain, or hero that they’ve cast themselves into in relation to the other person’s drinking. Perhaps because it makes them feel uneasy about their own drinking. Perhaps because one or both were drinking to cope with unhappiness in the relationship. Counselling can be very helpful, at least for yourself if your partner won’t participate.
Please share your experiences. Was your spouse helpful? What made you feel supported and what didn’t? What are your best tips for socialising?
My interview on Your Kick Ass Life is here.
I was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook page but stopped short for fear of backlash:
I love this saying and I use it all the time when I am talking to people who are struggling, but it can sound like a cop-out to someone who doesn’t understand addiction.
Addiction comes from using, so how can it not be the addict’s fault? If someone chooses to use, shouldn’t they accept the blame for what comes next?
Well that’s the thing, you see, it’s not necessarily a choice to keep using.
Casual drinkers experience alcohol in a way that is social and fun, but they have the ability to stop drinking. They can take it or leave it. It’s a treat, and they know not to over-do on treats. From a casual drinkers perspective it can appear that people who drink too much are choosing the pleasant treat too frequently and need to use more self-control.
If you scroll through the 6000+ comments on the pages of this blog (holy shit!), you will find virtually no one who says, “I should quit drinking but I am just having so much fun.”
Addiction is not fun. Addiction is not a life anyone wants.
Addiction means drinking (or using) to feel normal. Addiction means that without the substance, withdrawals start in the form of pain, anxiety or obsessive thoughts or more obvious symptoms like shaking or sweating.
The thing to blame for addiction is the fact that alcohol is addictive and yet people are expected to use it without consequence. We know not to start smoking if we don’t want to get addicted. We know that drinking coffee every morning will get us hooked on caffeine. Addiction is the normal course of action for using addictive substances. To drink or use drugs WITHOUT becoming addicted is abnormal.
Why why why why do we expect alcohol to be anything other than it is?
The other tricky thing about addiction is that it creeps in slowly and alters self-perception, so it can take a long time to become aware it has developed. Even then, so much shame and stigma exists around addiction that the first reaction can be denial out of self-preservation.
To be fair, it should also be said that people in the throes of addiction can be mighty assholes who defend indefensible behaviour by blaming others. How painful and frustrating it can be for those living with an addict who appears to be having a great time at their expense while taking zero responsibility. How infuriating it must be to see a quote saying “addiction is not your fault…” when you see the same pattern repeating again and again. Fair enough, that is hard, but please understand: addiction isn’t anyone’s fault.
Forget fault. Forget blame, shame, and guilt.
Addiction is a reality, and realities must be dealt with. Trade blame for acceptance and responsibility. Yes, this falls squarely on the shoulders of the addict, who can only assume responsibility by accepting the reality of their own addiction.
Blame lives in the past, hope lies in the future, but recovery happens in each present moment where acceptance and responsibility are found.