Category Archives: Holidays and Special Events

Carpe-ing the Sober Diem

The early days of sobriety are sometimes filled with a euphoric feeling known as a “pink cloud” phase. I am years-deep in sobriety and pleasantly surprised to find myself in a bit of a “pink cloud” of sorts lately, a feeling of easy contentment and general goodness.

I think I am due this bit of emotional fair-weather. The last year was just one hard thing after another that seemed to rippled outward to the edges of life. I put my head down, ate more than my share of ice cream and cut myself some slack. Time passed, life moved on.

Gratitude is an amazing thing. It kept me going through the hardest of days, but what I did not expect was how staying grateful would transform the easier, less eventful periods in life into glowing patches of tranquility.

I spent 4 days in Los Angeles for the SheRecovers conference and it was a gorgeous event. I could have focussed on the negative (a long travel day of missed connections, being so nervous about moderating the panels that I now have a huge dry-cleaning bill from flop-sweat on my nice dresses and blazers, the social anxiety that tends to hit in crowds), but I threw gratitude at those moments and they didn’t stand a chance.

UnPickled at SheRecoversLA

Conference Memories

The flights were at least free because, like all of the fun recovery-related trips I do, they were booked on points. (I use my credit card for everything from groceries to utility bills so that I can build points, which adds up to enough for a getaway every 18 months or so.) I was nervous about being on stage but also honoured, and my-oh-my what a stage! The historic Beverly Hilton is home to the Golden Globes and I got to be on that same stage (and in the green room, and the backstage bathrooms…). Gratitude, gratitude. As for the social anxiety, well not much I can do about that but I was thankful for every hug and hello from strangers and old friends alike. There is no warmer, safer crowd than a group of recovery people celebrating together.

It was all a blur but it was wonderful.

And when it was done, I flew (on points!) to Denver where my husband was to meet me for a camping trip, working our way back home to Canada from there. On arrival, my luggage and I took the train downtown and met an old/new friend, a fellow member of an online group whom I’d never met in person. We have been supporting each other’s recovery for years, and I’d reached out to let her know I’d be passing through. We took the opportunity to spend a few hours together, enjoying brunch at Union Station and then going for a walk through her gorgeous historic neighbourhood. She then kindly drove me to the campground. We talked nonstop the whole morning.

Camping in Colorado

The suitcase of dresses and heels was stowed under the bed and I switched into camping mode for the duration of the week. My husband and I had an incredible adventure through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana on our way back home – a Punch Brothers concert in Red Rock, lobster mac and cheese by the river in Steamboat
a romantic stroll through Jackson, and the prettiest Montana sunrisesunrise imaginable in Bozeman.

Dinner in Steamboat

Home feels good, too. Somehow the floaty pink-cloud carried me through all of the laundry today, as well as 52 emails that needed attention. I don’t know how long the feeling will last, but I’ll enjoy it while it does. I have a quiet month ahead and I just want to bump along drinking coffee and paying bills and shaving my legs and walking my dog. All good, all good.

We got through the hard moments of the last year, and thankfully embraced better days. Remind me of all this if things get hard again, and they will, of course they will. That is just life, unfiltered.

Meet You at Kripalu!

I will be hosting a 4 day She Recovers Retreat November 11-15, 2018 for women in recovery at Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in beautiful Massachusetts.Jean McCarthy 2018

If you have been feeling isolated and and disconnected in your recovery, this is a perfect way to shift gears. There is an incredible array of activities and sessions to enjoy each and every day, plus beautiful meals and, in the evenings, I will hold a special “sharing circle” just for our group.

As you know, I am a big believer in “patchwork recovery” – meaning we use various methods and modalities to create the perfect fit of recovery for ourselves. The theme of the retreat is “Expand your Recovery Bubble” because during your stay you will no doubt find many new tools and patches to strengthen and refresh your recovery – plus make new friendships and connections along the way.

I hope you will join me!

 

New Year’s Eve

Happy New Year, everyone! May your night be filled with La Croix and sparkles!

I can report that I have had no problem staying sober on the past few new year’s eves because I’ve been otherwise incapacitated.

To recap:

Dec 31 2015: Suffered gallbladder attack on annual family ski trip and drove myself 150km home to see the doctor, leaving my husband to cook dinner for a dozen or so guests at cabin. Spent New Years Eve alone, watching Netflix, wondering why God invented gallbladders. Here I am going for surgery a few days later. Hurray for Canadian health care!

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December 31, 2016: Again, the annual family ski trip did not work out well for me. But, hey, I got out of cooking the New Year’s feast for the crowd once again! The family put together a great meal. Afterward, I laid in bed and people kept coming in to snuggle with me and visit. It was super sweet and I felt very loved. Definitely no temptation to drink champagne at midnight that year.

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Which brings us to THIS year….

I’m not going to lie, I have been a little anxious leading up to today. What fresh hell might this year bring?

I awoke with a nosebleed but that was the limit of medical crisis, thankfully.  Heaps and heaps of powdery snow came down and it is truly a magical wonderland outside. Not wanting the ski patrol to drag me off the hill again the in toboggan-of-doom, I played it safe the groomed runs despite the waist-deep powder all around. It was exhilarating to be back skiing after laying around all last winter. I couldn’t stop smiling as out there, marvelling with gratitude that the body can get so sick and be so strong again in just a year.

I am having too much fun to want to spoil it by drinking!

PS – the visits to this blog have doubled over the past week, which happens every January as people consider going alcohol-free in the year ahead. The comments section of this blog have always been the heart of the magic, so I invite long-time readers to share a word of encouragement for newcomers. If you are considering sobriety, feel free to post a question or say hi in the comments (anonymous is fine!). Recovery is all about community and sharing. We are all in this together.

SOS: 3 Holiday Pep Talks

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)

//percolate.blogtalkradio.com/offsiteplayer?hostId=387055&episodeId=10421153

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.

Jean

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!

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.

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!

 

 

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.

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