Category Archives: Getting Sober
Today as I was driving about, by coincidence I pulled up behind one of my sons at a traffic light. Even if I hadn’t recognized his black truck, I would have known it was him just from the back of his head – mother’s intuition. My son is 24, has travelled around the world alone and even has his private pilot’s licence – he is by all accounts a grown man. Yet for the 90-odd seconds it took for the lights to change, I felt trapped in an emotional time warp of wishing my little boy was safe in a car-seat behind me, not doing his grown-up errands alone and oblivious to my presence (despite my crazy mom waves at his rear-view mirror). Where did the time go? I blinked and they all grew up.
It is seven years today since I broke free from the burden of daily drinking and claimed my life back. Alcohol Free. I became UnPickled. I blinked and seven more years passed!
If seven years sounds impossibly long, it isn’t. The first two weeks were long, after that the time flew passed much more easily.
These years have had some amazing moments, like travelling to Italy and hiking in the UK; some awful things, like losing my dad and father-in-law last year; some challenging things, like downsizing our business. I did it all sober. Going to industry events were probably my biggest hurdles, I did have one really crappy vacation but that was what ultimately made me decide to go to a “She Recovers” retreat and in the years since I have been to several more (and another next month and then again in December!!).
I celebrated my special day today with a massage and I just recorded a Bubble Hour episode – talking to recovery people always feels so good!.
It is a good day to be sober!
I spent some time today creating three mini podcasts for anyone who is struggling over the holidays. Use as need, book mark for future use as well. My little little gift to you:
Click to Listen:
Holiday Peptalk #1 : When your family is driving you nuts (via The Bubble Hour)
Holiday Peptalk #2: When you feel left out of the fun
Holiday Peptalk #3: When you need a reminder of the basics
Wishing everyone strength, wellness, and freedom.
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.
Lucky me, I’m travelling again! This trip will be a little different. My mom is taking my sisters and me on the river cruise she and my dad had hoped to do for their 50th wedding anniversary – a trip that never happened because my dad became too weak to travel. Their world became small for the next several years while mom cared for him at home until he passed away this spring.
Now my mom wants to travel as much as she can before her age catches up to her, and we are more than happy to help her do this.
We had all put our share of time into helping with my dad, so when he passed away that time became available to share with my mom instead. I used to spend one morning a week taking Dad for an outing to give my mom a break from caregiving. It was a fair amount of effort as his Parkinson’s progressed and he became less stable both physically and mentally. Now my Wednesday mornings are spent taking my mom shopping, which is easy and fun by comparison. My sisters each have their slots on Mom’s calendar too, but it is rare for the four of us to spend time as a group.
This trip – from Brussels to Amsterdam – will be a chance to celebrate my dad’s life, my mom’s health, and our new configuration as a family of four strong women (versus our old identity as “Wes and his girls”).
But it’s also a little nerve wracking. Will we fall into old patterns and behaviours – squabbling sisters, triangulating and polarizing under pressure? Will we jockey for position, doting on Mom to appear helpful and grateful – concerned about the optics, afraid to be judged by strangers?
Even though there’s free booze everywhere, my main trigger is far more likely to be any potential emotional discomfort of tension between us. I’m not worried about drinking, I just know I have to be proactive about letting my mind play games.
I’m lucky – my mom and sisters are genuinely nice people. I have no concern that any of us will behave badly or treat each other poorly. It’s just that being with our family of origin can throw us back subconsciously. It’s why so many people relapse between Thanksgiving and New Years as they return home and fall into old patterns.
I remind myself though, that we are a new family – not the old one. This dynamic is new, this all-girl group, and we can choose the code of conduct as we wish.
I’m writing this in the back seat of the car, now just minutes from the airport. I had asked aloud how to spell “squabbling” which begged the question, “what are you writing back there?” so I fessed up I was drafting a post about the four of us. I also promised to read it to them all before making it public. So if you are reading this, know that it passed group approval – which is probably a good sign that our trip is off to a healthy start.
I was running yesterday — yes, running, more on that in a moment — tossing around ideas for what to write. Where to start after the past few weeks? Life has served up extreme ends of the spectrum this year – so happy, so so very sad – it’s hard to talk about one without slighting the other. (For a recap of this year’s rollercoaster, listen to the intro on last week’s Bubble Hour. Then, of course, listen to the rest of the interview after because Meaghan’s story was captivating.)
We are spending the week at our family’s lake cottage on Lac La Biche, situated in the edge of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. Sometimes there are 18 or more of us here and it’s a blur of beach towels and corn cobs and trying to remember which phone charger or coffee cup is mine.
This week, however, there’s only three of us and the focus is on puttering – clearing, burning, building, cleaning – and relaxing in equal measure.
I take long walks every day, something I’ve done since first coming here in the 80s as a teen (gah!). On a recent walk, I reflected on how grateful I am to have healed so quickly and completely from my broken leg and got the idea to try running a few paces. I was dressed in jeans and flats, so I didn’t want to appear to actually be out for a run — not that there was a soul around to see me anyway. But oh my gosh!! I ran and it worked and it didn’t hurt so I just kept running. And the next day I dressed more appropriately and alternated between 100 steps running/walking. No pain! No swelling!
I was so excited that I didn’t turn around at the usual spot, I kept going until our little side road joined the highway and then without thinking I stepped onto the skinny shoulder of the busy logging/oil route. Every minute or two a rig would rumble past but I didn’t care. I felt reckless and free and powerful. I could run! (And then walk, and run, and walk, and RUN!).
When I got back to the cabin, I burst through the door with sweaty jubilation, eager to share my achievement with anyone who’d listen. When it came out that my route had taken me onto the highway, my family was understandably horrified.
“That is so dangerous – don’t do that again!”
So yesterday I set off for another run, mostly motivated by the fact that I’d forgotten to pack milk and had been substituting whipping cream in my coffee since arriving. The events of this year have contributed so a 15 lb weight gain as it is, and something should be done. Clearly that something does not involve black coffee, so running it is.
I found myself on the route towards the highway, debating whether to turn back at the stop sign or (secretly) run the forbidden loop. Sure, I had promised I wouldn’t, but there it was.
As the red sign got closer and closer, and my mind bounced from blogging ideas to sneaking onto the highway like a naughty child, I suddenly felt an accountability to YOU, dear reader, to “do the next right thing” – just as I’m always telling others to do, even though this time it had nothing to do with alcohol.
Or did it?
Who do I hurt when I indulge the part of me that says it’s okay to do something risky as long as I keep it quiet? Who do I slight when I think “no one knows”? Myself, that’s who. If I know, someone knows. Secret behaviours can be just as dangerous as running on the highway.
I decided to capture this moment of awareness to post here, to show you that you’re with me, to remind us all to just keep going and do the next right thing.
Tom Cochran was right: the secret IS to know when to stop – be it drinking or withholding truth or putting heavy cream in coffee or not writing.
I’m here, it’s happening. A recovery conference in New York City for 500 women. Before things begin this afternoon, I’m headed out for a walk in the rain to stand next to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Trade Centre Memorial and feel my size next to theirs. It’s one thing to see pictures, but to experience the human scale of me:thing is another entirely.
I remember being scared that travelling would be boring sober. Hah! Last night 7 women – new friends – piled into a cab and made our way through the Trump-protecting barricades to an iconic ice cream shop where we sat over tea and sweets laughing until midnight. Fabulous.
Here is the view of the river from my hotel room. I slept with the window open and woke to horns and hustle. Little kids walking to school by themselves. Runners. Delivery trucks. Business people strutting past.
Time to grab an umbrella and go join them.
In 10 hours, I’ll be listening to Glennon Doyle Melton speak. I hope I can keep my composure and avoid acting like a fan girl at a Beatles concert.
Life give us so many opportunities. Thank God I removed my wine-blinders!
This is the view from my kitchen sink, looking over our island banquette to a pasture of horses and ponies. Please join me for a coffee at my new kitchen table, which was custom made of salvaged lumber from the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee (no kidding!). The ceiling beams, too. I love this kitchen and this view. I am a designer and this is one of my final projects before we retire.
But wait. What is that field of mud between my fence and the pasture? What are those stakes in the ground?
Yes, I live in a new neighbourhood – the homebuilder’s curse. By summer there will be houses blocking our view, so I am enjoying the vista while I can.
Occasionally my husband and I speculate on what type of homes are most likely to go up before us – front loading garage, two story, hopefully not too tall so we can still see the mountains from our second floor. Then we stop ourselves, it’s beyond our control. This is our home, our neighbourhood. We will embrace what comes and make our own corner the very best it can be.
We have a plan for this. The wooden fence you see pictured is part of a courtyard that will have a carefully planted canopy of trees arranged on both sides, to offer privacy and to become our own view. While I will soon lose sight of distant horses, I’ll gain an arrangement of branches, leaves and blossoms closer by.
The Serenity Prayer applies to landscaping as much as recovery: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
So, too, does the old adage to “stay on your own side of the street”.
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.
On Monday I celebrated six years of life without alcohol. How is it that the days became years?
The past few months went from trying to taxing to gruelling. I kept my chin up after breaking my leg and spent January indoors. Meanwhile we were preparing to move to a new house, and I paced myself for the challenges of this transition. Being non-weight-bearing on crutches meant giving up a significant amount of my cherished control. Then, just before the move my dad was hospitalized and began a final month-long decline. He passed away earlier this month.
I got through it all, as we do. It so happens that a dear friend of mine went through an eerily parallel experience just a few weeks ahead of me – a cast and crutches, the death of a parent – and she seemed so strong and capable. I resist comparing my insides to her outsides, instead following her lead for getting things done and moving forward.
My leg is slowly healing, my heart is mending, but my mind is dull. I feel kicked and drained. I have nothing left to give at this moment, I need time to fill up again.
I will be back with more podcasts and posts, but I need some time. I read your comments and messages, and they make me smile. I feel behind on responding, but I try not to pressure myself too much. Expectations and resentments, and all that you know.
Six years sober, but these past few weeks were not so easy. It occurred to me on the night my dad died that I had good reason to drink, though I chose not to drink. Drinking dreams have returned, vivid and unsettling – a sign that something needs attention.
Six years of learning, lessons, tribe building, clarity and growth have come to this, prepared me for this. I will gather it all around me like a soft blanket and wrap up in the safety of my recovery to get me through and fill me up, until I have enough reserves to begin sharing and giving again.
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.