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Category Archives: Insights and Lessons

Tending

My inlaws have a summer cottage on a wooded lake lot. We gather here on (Canadian) May long weekend to open it for the season. We push the pier and boat hoist into the ice cold water, rake the beach, knock cobwebs from the cabin’s rafters and old leaves from the deck.  

My husband and I live a day’s drive south on the prairies where trees only grow if they’re planted and pampered. We are always amazed here of the forest’s abundance. Every spring it’s a flurry of cutting and clearing and stacking and splitting and burning because there are TOO MANY trees. Not too many as far as nature is concerned, of course. But as good stewards of our land, we have to stay ahead of trees that are a danger to fall in a storm and damage the cottage or cars. 


The whole family pitched in today. Some were cutting, some were hauling. I was on bonfire duty. I burned a dozen trees and both of my shoulders. 


As I snapped branches and fed the fire continuously, I reflected on how this process is so like life. We keep at it continuously, and nature keeps coming back at us. We can let things grow wildly and unfold as they will, or we can do our best to tend and clear and shape our corner of the world. 

Right now in my life, I am working to change my habits of judgement and criticism. I’m trying hard to replace them with compassion, kindness or, in a pinch,  detachment. I’m continuously burning broken branches of self-doubt, body image, comparison, and other old habits. 

Now that the first jobs of the season are done, our remaining visits here this summer will be more relaxation than work. There’s always some enjoyable puttering available for those inclined to relax via broom, rake or saw, but of course it’s interspersed with fishing, golf, and naps on the beach. At least until September,  when we repeat the errands of May in reverse – removing the boat and pier, putting away, shutting down. 

All of it is poetry in motion. Year after year, it’s the same and yet different. We flip back through the photo albums and marvel how the babies appeared and grew and even themseves become parents. How our clothes and hairstyles have changed through the decades, but still here we are. The pups that became dogs and then memories, the new pups replaced them who are now old themselves. 

Top: my husband and I bathing our son on the deck in 1992

Bottom: our son and his wife bathing our grandson on the deck in 2015

Still we rake the beach and cut the grass and sweep the leaves and chop the trees and burn the logs. Nature keeps going and growing, our work just shapes it for a season. The trick is to learn to enjoy it and to appreciate the purpose, otherwise the work seems unending and meaningless. 

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Coffee in My Kitchen

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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”.

Reading Your Messages on Air

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.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2017/04/12/listener-letters-on-staying-sober-through-grief

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Six Years

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.

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27 Days On Crutches, 2138 Days Sober 

…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:


BEADS!!!

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. 

Not That Bad

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

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

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

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

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

Just do what you need to do to get better. 

Thought for the Day

Solving problems

Hello Leg

My leg freaks me out.

My heart was pounding when the fibreglass cast was lifted off a few days ago because I wasn’t sure what I’d see below that clinical white shell. If not for the maroon gel polish matching the other foot, I wouldn’t have recognised the foot and leg at all. It was tender and fragile and bruised.

The left foot I know is in perpetual motion – walking, running, bobbing nervously when I sit. It is a partner in crime to the right. The limp, mottled limb I saw emerge from that cast is a burden, a stranger. I felt like I was looking at a kidney or other internal organ inadvertently exposed; seeing something I shouldn’t see, a fragile thing in need of protection.  My leg was then transferred into a large, removable aircast and strapped in place beneath layers of foam and plastic. I was relieved it was safely out of view.

It bothered me all day, that encounter with my leg. Never mind the pain that ensued from the new cast, I couldn’t stop thinking about the disconnect I had experienced from this poor hurting part of me that had spent two weeks in exile. I was such a bad leg owner!

But there is one thing I can work to repair right now, and that is my relationship with this estranged part. You see, after I quit drinking and started to unravel the all the emotional junk I have been cramming down inside I had a startling realization: I have a cat-perch in my chest. I was ignoring that parts of my body I didn’t like: my big feet, my coltish legs, my bony wrists and the hand with the amputated finger. The wobbly bits on my belly and thighs. The curves that draw male attention and the lumps that draw self-loathing. I would climb up up up inside myself until I was safely located in my chest, shoulders and head. It felt safe up there. No wonder I have chest pains and headaches! A whole body worth of energy was confined to an area that could barely hold it.

I stumbled into yoga a few years ago. I’d previously dismissed it as too slow and woowoo, but once I tried it I was stuck by the way it relieved the head and chest pain I had constantly felt for years. It got me off my cat perch. At the start of every yoga class, the instructor will often say, “Take a moment to set your intention for this class today.” I have no idea what others’ intentions involve (if you do this please share, I am so curious!) but mine is always the same: to accept and appreciate every part of my body, to be here now in my entirety.

 

I did the same thing with my life. Anything I didn’t like I would ignore and pretend wasn’t real, wasn’t me. That didn’t happen, I didn’t say that, I don’r remember. I raced to the future in my mind, always anxious to get to the next moment. Always planning, thinking, worrying. Too busy for the now. Definitely not looking back, it is scary back there.

Healing my life involved making peace with the past, trusting in the future, and living in the now. Healing my relationship with my body meant learning to inhabit all of me. This is why I do so much yoga, because I can unhook for thinking and just follow the instructor’s voice: breath in and do this….breath out and do that. I need every part of me to balance and twist and move through the poses. I fill up my body, and it is safe…I am whole.

So I know I can’t allow myself to see this poor broken leg as “other”. I can remove the cast to shower and get dressed, which frankly scares the shit out of me because IT IS BROKEN and one little bump will hurt like hell and possibly screw up the healing, but I force myself to free my foot for a few minutes to give it some loving care. I clean it, roll on essential oils said to speed healing and keep the skin soft, and gingerly run my fingers from toes to knee.

This morning I whispered, “Thank you for breaking so that my knee didn’t blow. You took it for the team. Get well soon, leg.” Then I realized I was talking to it like it wasn’t mine, so I stared at it a little longer until it felt more familiar, and tried not to notice that it needs a shave.

Before returning my leg into its robo-shell, I allowed my feet to just rest side by side on the floor. For the first time in weeks, both feet felt the same thing at the same time and I felt connected. It was a sweet, peaceful moment; just sitting and feeling my feet touch the floor.

If you have exiled parts of yourself, whether physical or emotional, it is worth while to sit quietly and experience wholeness. It can feel odd or uncomfortable (okay, you don’t have to talk to it, unless you’re quirky like me!), but just allow it for a little while every day until it starts to feel natural. It has been a powerful experience for me, and this week I was reminded that it will be an ongoing process, something I will have to keep working at to overcome a lifetime of sitting on my perch.

 

 

Top Reads: Your Favs and Mine

It’s always fun to look back over the analytics for my site and see what posts have been popular and which ones slide by unnoticed.

A post I wrote three years ago continues to be the most-read, and a cool graphic I made last year gets pinned and repinned on Pinterest constantly, making it a common visit as well. Meanwhile, some of my personal favourites – ones that were so raw and honest my hand shook as I hit “post” – are far from viral. I am sure every writer has those darling pieces that seemed certain to change the world but received little response.

 

READER FAVS:

#1 Top Post: How I Knew It Was Time to Quit Drinking  This post is read and shared on my site more than any other, perhaps because it answers a desperate question that Google is constantly being asked: how do I know when to quit? Even more interesting than the post itself  are the 1000+ (!) comments and interactions that follow.

#2 Top Post: Up and Down the Empathy Spectrum  I wrote this to work out my
understanding of emotional intelligence, sometimes called EQ to show it as a balancing factor to IQ. In doing so, I made a graphic to show the difference between apathy, co-dependence, narcissism, and empathy which turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself. Someone kindly shared it to Pinterest and it has made the rounds there, which was a happy surprise when I was searching for hairstyles and new recipes one day and saw my own graphic float by!

#3 Top Post: Is Non-Alcoholic Beer a Safe Option for Alcoholics? This is a contentious question and I have taken some major slams for my opinion but hey, I get it: Some people protect their sobriety ferociously because it is life or death. I wrote this over two years ago and got several “you’re gonna relapse!” messages as a result, but as you can see I am still going strong despite the occasional non-alcoholic beer. Check it out and consider where you stand on this issue.

MY FAVS:

If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t post it. But….looking back I sometimes cringe at my obvious denial or shortsightedness in some posts. It is tempting to go back and edit out those parts, or at least provide a sidebar to explain my evolution of perspective, but I’ve decided to let them stand as written to document my overall of growth and change.

The ones I’ve highlighted below were especially insightful as I wrote them and sparked some great exchanges in the comments sections.

Are You A Recovery Hero? My English degree comes in handy occasionally, like trying to sort out my life according to narrative tools like the hero’s journey.

Don’t Give Up I felt sick to my stomach after posting this  utterly vulnerable truth bomb but willing to lay it all out there in hopes of helping someone. It did help others, it still does. And it still scares me a little.

The Drama Triangle I love this tool, love it. Understanding the Karpman Drama Triangle changed my life. Check it out and see how you can apply this powerful insight to address patterns of behaviour you fall into yourself.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Yesterday was a blur of appointments, waiting rooms, and long walkways – an exhausting combination in any condition. Everyone I encountered was friendly and professional, but it was a long day.

I was happy to have my fibreglass cast removed (oh, that poor bruised limb inside – was that mottled swollen mess really my foot? The one I knew so well? It looked like it belonged to someone else) and replaced with a boot contraption that can be removed to shower. It is a walking boot but I am not allowed to walk on it – I’m stuck with crutches for the next month and a boot the size of a VW hanging off my leg. But still…showering is good!

My hand is back in a splint and I’m being passed onto another specialist for possible surgery on the thumb (yes, this is yet another blog post tapped with my right thumb on my smartphone).

Air cast

It takes a big boot to make my other foot look small!

When my leg (or whomever’s leg that is down there) was being lifted from the shell of the old cast and laid into the new boot — which by the way looks disturbingly storm-trooperish– it was explained to me that I’d feel some pain as the soft tissue adjusted to changes in position, but not to worry because the bone itself was healing. It’s just that the muscles and tissues had been in the same position for two weeks inside the old cast and the slight change in the new one would cause pulling and tenderness as things settled into a more natural alignment.

Oh. My. God.

At first the pain felt good – the way a morning stretch or cracking the knuckles does. Within an hour or so my leg was achey,the aches became shooting pain, and by bedtime I knew it was going to be a long night.

I was distraught. Fuckity fuck, ability to shower or not, this boot was torture!

Today I’m 100% resting. No yoga stretches, no stairs, no going out. The pain wasn’t a setback, it was necessary in order to keep moving forward, and after a rest I’ll be back on track.

You just know there’s a recovery analogy here or I wouldn’t bother writing about it. A broken leg isn’t a fascinating topic on its own (to me) unless there’s something to be learned.

Here it comes:

Recovery can be painful at times, maybe even disappointing, but keep going. Something better is ahead. Settling into a new position can be uncomfortable and even scary.

Last night, knowing the pain was not a distress signal from the bone but rather other parts stretching and repairing helped make the discomfort more tolerable. It was temporary and beneficial – I just had to hang in there.

You will have hard days in sobriety. You’ll have emotional pain and no numbing agent, but you’ll get through. You’ll have awkward moments and no go-to solution, but you’ll manage. You’ll have moments to celebrate and feel flat.

It will happen. And then it will pass.

And you will be better off.

Hurrah for coffee!

My new sober adventure!

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