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Category Archives: Holidays and Special Events

Carry On

Yesterday we walked 8 miles in the rain through fields of cows, past gorgeous old homes, moss covered graveyards, and finally into Stow on the Wold where we spend the night in a 400-year-old inn. 


My recently-broken leg is holding up well. I was limping for the last half mile and needed to rest once we arrived but within an hour I was back out exploring the town. 

A walking tour is a great choice for a sober holiday. We are too tired for much besides supper and a good rest at the end of the day. 

This morning we set out for a second day of walking and promptly got lost, so we turned back and returned to the town square where we bought fresh cheese and bread for a picnic along the path (once we locate it!). Then I suggested we stop at the local coffee shop for the wifi, bathroom and a Flat White before heading out again. Cheers!

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The Adventure Begins

This morning we start our 7 day walking tour through the Cotswolds in England. We’ve been planning this for a year as a celebration of my 50th birthday. After a long day of travel from Canada, we slept for 13 hours under a cloud-like comforter. Here is the view from our first hotel room, which was once a stable:


I was a little worried it would be nothing but pubs for pit stops, but I didn’t realize there’s a tea shop on every corner, too!


Off we go!

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.

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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!

 

 

Christmas Eve’s Eve

Yesterday I was in a flat panic trying to get *all the things* done before Christmas. I rushed from place to place picking up files, mail and groceries and dropping off bank deposits and Christmas gifts. I had a list and I checked it every five minutes. If I got through *all the things* by 2 pm I would have the remaining hours of the day to finish the pile on my desk before taking off for a glorious week in the mountains. And then…at the bank…it happened….

Me (to the impossibly young bank teller): Oops I forgot to fill out the deposit book….(pen hovering over the date box) It’s the 23rd right?

Bank teller: It’s the 22nd.

Me: WHAT??? Are you kidding??? I have a whole other DAY before Christmas? Christmas is on Sunday, not Saturday??? (wildly looking around bank for the old-timey giant date cards that used to be on the walls) This is great news!!! (giving up finding the giant calendar and pulling out my phone) OH MY GOD!!! It really IS the 22nd!!!!

Bank teller: (clearly pitying a grown, sober woman who doesn’t know what day it is) Will that be all for you today….?

I GAINED A DAY!!! I wouldn’t be skidding into Christmas vacation after all, I could saunter!

And then within the hour…something else happened….I got a migraine. GAH.

My husband and I decided he would head to the ski hill to get the cabin ready (lots of shovelling and maintenance tasks for the week ahead), while I stayed behind to nurse my head, work my bonus day and drive myself out tomorrow. Thank God for that extra day!

So last night and this morning were slow and unproductive, I couldn’t even look at my paperwork. It’s now 8 pm and I am mucking through in a way that is reminiscent of cramming for finals in university. The afternoon turned to evening, and now pretty snowflakes are falling outside the window and the neighbouring homes are twinkling with festive lights. The view from my desk makes me smile.

To recap: I am alone, I feel *meh*, I have to finish several hours of work, it’s pretty outside, and tomorrow I leave for a week away.

It is moments like this when I realize just how much I have really changed since I quit drinking, because I just had the most lovely idea. I decided to put the paperwork on hold, write a post (hello!) to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, walk my dog in the snowy lights, go to bed early and finish all this work with a pot of coffee at 6 am before I leave.

Okay, now that I read that back it just sounds like I am procrastinating, so to be specific: I am excited to get up early and work. I love love love mornings. Old me would have quit work now to drink, and then  would have HAD to get up early to finish and done a crappy job because I would be hungover. Sober Jean is all “ooooh, mornings, yay!”.

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Time to leave this desk and go walk around those pretty lights outside. Merry Christmas my friends!

I am sending lots of love and encouragement to all of you. The holidays can be hard on sobriety, hard on the emotions, and hard on the body. Be good to yourselves. Don’t drink, no matter what.  Break with traditions, if traditions are not feeding your soul or your recovery. Be as generous with yourself as you are with everyone else right now. You’ve got this, we’ve got this.

Thanks for being part of my tribe for another beautiful year. I couldn’t do this without you, and even if I could I wouldn’t want to because recovery is better together!

 

 

 

 

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?

 

Surviving Las Vegas

Last weekend we went to a wedding in Las Vegas and I’ll admit I wondered how it would feel to be sober in THE party town.

Sparks were flying before we even left the airport, as one rowdy passenger was pulled aside at the gate and told he wouldn’t be served alcohol on the plane. Seated nearby once on board, we listened to him pleade and argue with the crew throughout the three-hour flight. Delightful! When we landed, he muttered “See you next Tuesday” to the flight attendant, which my husband informed me is code for the nasty C-word.

I had a small epiphany as we walked the strip after arriving: Vegas might be easier for me sober than it was before. I’d been there twice for conventions many years ago, before drinking became entirely problematic for me. I was there for business conventions and wasn’t interested in the other distractions. If I had visited the city during the time of my active addiction, I would have been very bothered by the public displays of drunkenness because I so cherished my hidden secret. I drank on my own terms, as a reward after working hard all day. Vegas offers no chance to maintain that front! There is no work to be rewarded, no pretence of anything but indulgence. I rejected that image, resented that idea. I drank in a private, regimented way that Vegas would have totally disrupted. I don’t think I could have enjoyed myself there in those days.

It was good to see our family at the wedding, the bride was stunning and the Elvis minister was charming. We had a lot of laughs, ate some very good food, spent a few hours shopping, and were soon on our way home again without ever even sitting at a slot machine.

Earlier in my sobriety, I was very dependent on a certain routine of morning coffee and bedtime tea that would have been difficult to replicate in Las Vegas because there wasn’t even a coffee maker in our hotel room (clearly the hospitality industry is hell bent on keeping visitors out where they can spend money!). I think the noise, crowds, stimulation, and general ick-factor would have spiked my anxiety and I would have been a mess. I doubt I would have drank but I might have taken Gravol to knock myself out, which in some ways is a relapse (pills to escape, even just Gravol!).

One of the great lessons of recovery for me has been withstanding discomfort. I did feel overwhelmed at times, and instead of letting the feelings rule me I breathed and waited. I did see people who were rowdy and loud, and I released the urge to judge. I saw people who made me sad – homeless people, young women who seemed exploited, and foreign workers handing out smut cards – and my heart went out to them.

The most lasting impression – aside from the gorgeous bride, our reason for being there – was a couple we sat behind on the flight home. There was tension between them, clearly. The wife was quite obviously hung over, a shroud of shame and pain clung to her shoulders.  Her eyes looked dead in that way many of us in recovery know all too well – a mix of defeat and defiance. Her husband was silent before, during, and after the flight.  He sheparded her through the crowds but walked a step ahead. He acknowledged when she spoke to him but his eyes were quiet steel. Jesus,what happened with these two? Whatever it was, the fallout was evident. My heart ached for them both, and I couldn’t help feel that their story was a long way from over.

Just as I wished a life of happiness or the bride and groom, I went home hoping happiness might find the cast of real-life characters whose faces wouldn’t leave my mind: the young man who was drunk at the airport, the homeless man who ran for his life throug the hotel lobby with a stolen sandwich in his hand, the young woman in a  leather miniskirt and platform shoes with glazed eyes leaning heavily on an older man, that angry couple on the flight home.

I’d had just as much fun on Freemont Street with my Lime Perrier as everyone else with their booze, but my heart was glad to go home and get back to normal.

Recommended Reading

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Are you feeling introspective and withdrawn as New Year’s approaches? Me, too. It’s a time for looking back, looking forward, looking inward and still some how looking sparkly at parties.

I invite you to make a cup of tea and read a few of my favourite posts, which may trip some insights or ideas for you as you contemplate the year that was and the one to come.

First, “Don’t Give Up” –  a post I wrote just after last New Years, in which I laid bare old wounds with brutal honesty in hopes of encouraging others to look honestly at themselves. Reading it now still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I had the courage to ever post it  but I’m glad I did because it has helped a lot of people.

Next, take a look at “Are You a Recovery Hero” and guage what position you’re at on the hero’s journey as it relates to sobriety. If you read this when it was originally posted last year, you may be surprised to find that you’re now in a different spot. I really love this post, it’s one of my favourites.

Then check out a New Year post from two years ago when I asked readers to comment with messages of encouragement for anyone contemplating sobriety as a resolution. Over 200 responses resulted and the bounty of wisdom and insight there is astounding.

And finally, a post about how to ask the people’s your life for what you need. You can print the graphic from this post to give to loved ones or use it as a guideline to customize your own list. “Top Ten List for Supportive Normies” is a must-read.

As for me, I’ll be spending my FIFTH (!!!) sober New Year’s skiing with family – grateful for the good health to enjoy the snow and sunshine, and the good fortune to have four generations of family to share the experience.

I wish every single one of you joy and peace, those  unexpected gifts of recovery, in the year to come. I wish I could sit with you to drink tea and discuss these things in person because truly, there is nothing better than a heart to heart that’s face to face. Many of you I have managed to meet; from Rome to Calgary to Boston and Palm Springs – I love that wherever I travel I’ve been able to connect with you in person. I hope to do more of that one day.

Hmmmm….perhaps that’s something to consider during my own quiet time.

Happy New Year.

Famous Last Words: “I’ve Got This”

I’m guilty of saying “I’ve got this” to myself as affirmation and “you’ve got this” to others as encouragement, but those words should be used with caution. There is a natural progression from inspiration (“I can do it”) to astonishment (“I am really doing it!”) that can easily slide into complacency (“Easy peasy, no big deal.”) if we aren’t careful. Thinking “I’ve got this” shows the positivity and confidence we aspire to, yet it doesn’t mean we can let our guard down entirely.

I am not saying we have to stay hyper vigilant and afraid for ourselves long into sobriety, but rather that it is important to continue prioritizing our own wellness. Keep growing and learning, keep checking in on ourselves.

Thanksgiving weekend has just drawn to a close for readers in the U.S., and many of you may be breathing a huge sigh of relief for successfully navigating the tricky business of family dinners, large gatherings, and all the stress that can accompany the holidays. Oddly, the quiet times can be just as challenging as the great trials.

Even though you didn’t drink, if afterwards you continually replay conversations that annoyed you, or call up one family member to discuss another, or worry what people thought, or what exactly so and so meant, then you could be burbling away with growing resentments that can put you at risk of reaching for a drink – the familiar solution to familiar pain.

Another phenomenon that many readers write to me about is the feeling that making it through a big family dinner (or other event) without drinking must mean that there isn’t such a problem after all, and ideas of moderation emerge. This never works out well, and many people are thrown right back into the same awful mess with alarming speed. Those who have experienced this say that quitting after a relapse is harder.

Holiday weekends throw many curveballs – everything from misery to joy to plain old habit can be triggering. If you made it through unscathed I salute you. If you stumbled, I send love and encourage you to get back up and move forward. If you stayed sober and had fun, wow that is awesome. If you stayed sober but were kind of miserable to be around, ah well that’s okay too.

Whatever went down this weekend, tomorrow is a new day. Even if it feels easy, let’s all remember to greet each day with gratitude and fresh resolve to continue honouring ourselves and our recovery.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh?

Better Together!It’s Thankgsiving Day here in Canada so I thought I’d pop in quickly to share how sincerely grateful I am for each and everyone one of you who reads, comments, shares, asks, answers, challenges, celebrates, encourages and connects through this blog. It’s an honour to share this path with you.

Everything is better with friends – especially recovery! Here is how I would fill out today’s gratitude board:

Today I’m Grateful For…

1. Another day of freedom and peace in my life

2. The crazy idea to blog my way sober

3. Each and every person reading these words.

Wherever you are, whenever your celebrate this holiday, and however you celebrate it, I wish you the best!
(If this time of year is hard on you, reach out!)

A Secret Code and Good Things for You

From my very first day of recovery to this very day, certain parts of my routine have stood out as notable because of my sobriety: that morning cup of coffee as I realize “I’m not hungover!”…getting in my car and thinking “I never have to worry about being over the limit now!”…cooking supper for my family without opening a bottle…putting on comfy clothes at the end of each day as I prepare to face “the witching hour”…making a cup of evening tea to sooth the frayed edges…and taking time for gratitude as I crawl into bed.

I have often thought how nice it would be to buy nice things that encouraged my recovery throughout the day, yet I was hesitant to wear or carry things that broadcast my sobriety. If only there was a secret code….

I am aware that AA has a simple symbol that members often wear on jewelry or bumper stickers as a nod to sobriety, and wanted to create something similar for people on other pathways of recovery and change. Enter a dear designer friend who understands recovery personally and was eager to help with this project. She created some amazing new graphics for me, including this one as our “secret code”:UP_7748_7699_Icon-01

What does it mean, you wonder? I made this little video to explain:

And now…here’s the fun part! I have created a little shop with mugs for our morning coffee and evening tea, journals and boards for our gratitude practice, aprons for cooking time, keychains that are customizable with our recovery dates, and snuggly shirts for our cozy evenings of self-care. Basically I made a ton of items that I wanted for myself and set up a storefront on Zazzle (a print-on-demand provider) to make them available for others as well.

UnPickled is not a business venture for me nor a get-rich scheme, but simply a passion. I have put countless hours into the creation and maintenance of this blog UnPickled, and I will never ever ever charge readers for my efforts as a blogger or recovery cheerleader.

My main goal for UnPickled Shop is to encourage and support people in recovery with some neat little treats. Zazzle allows a small royalty for the use of my logo on the items it sells, and this amount will go towards paying for my website, domain registration, etc.

Thanks for you patience as I launch this project. I’ll be adding more items over the coming weeks, so please check my Facebook page for updates.

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