Category Archives: Insights for Supporters
I’ve been on tv and radio for my work hundreds of times, and recorded oodles of Bubble Hour episodes these past years. Even so, today was still nerve wracking.
If you feel like spending ten minutes watching a sober sister talking, or if you’re struggling and you just want to see another human who is in this recovery thing along with you, or if you’re wondering what my living room looks like, please watch:
What have you done lately that was out of your comfort zone? Were you happy with the results? Will you do it again?
There have been some really great moments recently that I’ve wanted to share with you. I get a pretty steady stream of inspiring messages and comments from people who have found my efforts to be helpful. Since one big lesson in recovery is keeping the ego in check, I am careful to stay focussed on service and gratitude when it comes to the role that UnPickled and The Bubble Hour might play in someone’s else’s life. Still, every time someone touches base it feels special and magical, like a butterfly landing on my shoulder. But those messages aren’t mine to share here, much as I would love to repost them all because every single person has a powerful story.
Here are some things that I can share. Three things I am excited about and grateful for and proud to tell you about:
- Recovery Today Online Conference happening Sept 11-15. I am honoured to be one of the session speakers and I hope you will check out this free series created, produced and hosted by the amazing Sherry Gaba, of Recovery Today magazine and former therapist on Celebrity Rehab.. Go here now:
FREE CONFERENCE SIGN-UP
This is the 5th annual Recovery Today Online Conference, there’s nothing quite like it. The speakers share on topics with deliberate creation and goal setting going way beyond the addiction to aspire to a life you’ve dreamed of and I’m sure all those attending will be impacted greatly. It’s totally free and you can attend from anywhere in the world online.
This Online Conference is also for all the parents, spouses, siblings, and children who love an addict.
- Healthline’s Best Alcoholism Blogs of the Year: Again, “watch the ego, amigo”…because who wouldn’t feel pretty puffed up about being included on a list with the likes of Sober Julie, Jennifer Matesa, and Mrs D? I know that this particular listing changes many lives because I can see the volumes of seekers who find their way to this page daily via Healthline. It is a powerful resource and I am glad they have taken notice of this little corner of the “recovery friendly web”. Check out their list here.
3. Last but not least, I have to thank the organizers of the SheRecovers in NYC Conference who presented me with the “Hope Award” in recognition of my recovery advocacy efforts. I had no idea this was in the works and frankly I would have worn cuter shoes that night if I knew I would be on the stage, but that’s how it goes with lovely surprises: you’re not always wearing the right shoes. I joked with the audience that the award was a relapse for me as a former approval addict, and in truth I have been trying for months to figure out how to appropriately share this moment without sounding self-promoting. What I am is humbled, and grateful, and awestruck, and well, I am a much nicer, kinder, better, more settled version of myself which is its own kind of award/reward. Anyway, this pretty award sits on my desk and reminds me daily of that weekend I spent with 500+ women in recovery – in N
ew York City, no less – and how awesome it felt to look out and know that no matter ow lonely I feel sometimes sitting at this desk, I am not alone. None of us are.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
This morning my guest appearance on the “Your Kickass Life” podcast with Andrea Owen was released and one of the topics discussed was managing life with a “normie” (aka a normal drinker).
I get asked about this a lot. In fact, just this morning in the comments section as a matter of fact. Tracy wrote:
I have contemplated my drinking over the past 16 months and have tried to cut back. My issue is not drinking ever when your spouse drinks! It is a truly huge trigger for me and I feel like a kill joy when everyone wants to go to happy hour and I am looking for alternative drinks and I get soooo bored sitting there after a bit. How do you handle spouse drinking when I want to quit?
Let me start by saying that there are a lot of variables in every relationship, and my experience is limited to my own marriage to someone who drinks “normally” (society views “normal drinking” as that which is asymptomatic of addiction – ironic when you consider alcohol is an addictive substance). Additionally, our relationship is stable and relatively uncomplicated. So when we had to face my decision to quit drinking, there weren’t a lot of compounding issues. My husband was supportive of my decision.
Here are some of the ways that I manage those times when we are out socially in situations that involve alcohol:
- First things first: I ask myself if I really want to go. Do I need to be there? Want to be there? Will it be a safe environment for me? Am I likely to enjoy myself or will I just be tolerating it? It is totally okay to pass on things you really don’t want to attend. I promise.
- Then I make a plan: Is there a way to make it work better for me? Should I take my own car so I can leave if I feel uncomfortable (I did this A LOT in early recovery. I made sure to discuss options before we left with my husband: “Are you willing to take a cab home alone if I decide to leave early and you want to stay? Could you walk home or get a ride with a friend?” Because we had discussed it ahead of time, it was easier for me to slip away knowing he had my back and that there would be no conflict about it later.)
- Go prepared: if it is a house party, I bring my own drinks as well as a hostess gift. I make sure my glass is always topped up with my alcohol-free drinks, which limits the amount of attention other people pay to what I am drinking. When people are offering you drinks, they’re usually just trying to be good hosts. Your empty glass is their cue to pour, so make it easier on everyone by keeping your own glass topped up. Even if you don’t want more to drink – especially if you don’t want more – set a full glass in front of yourself. If anyone offers point to it and say, “I’m good here, thanks!”
- I allow my husband to be my knight in shining armour, protecting me and my sobriety. At events with a bar, he will go and speak directly to the bartender to ask for a non-alcoholic drink for me and then watch the preparation to ensure there are no mix-ups. It is so sweet when he hands me a drink and whispers, “It’s tonic and lemon, I watched them pour to be sure.” Be still my beating heart!
- One thing that really helps me is to build some “treats” into the evening, even if that means driving through DQ for a sundae on the way home as a reward for staying sober. It is hard to watch other people have treat after treat in the form of a drink while you are sitting there stirring your Shirley Temple. Order some damn chicken wings, you deserve them! Get up and dance, go work the room, take your phone to the bathroom and read sober blogs. Try not to feel like you are missing out, instead give yourself a different experience than others are having.
As I understand it, existing problems in a relationship can be highlighted when one partner seeks sobriety. Sometimes a spouse will undermine their partner’s recovery because they feel threatened by it – perhaps because they have gotten comfortable with the role of victim, villain, or hero that they’ve cast themselves into in relation to the other person’s drinking. Perhaps because it makes them feel uneasy about their own drinking. Perhaps because one or both were drinking to cope with unhappiness in the relationship. Counselling can be very helpful, at least for yourself if your partner won’t participate.
Please share your experiences. Was your spouse helpful? What made you feel supported and what didn’t? What are your best tips for socialising?
My interview on Your Kick Ass Life is here.
My last post may have left you with the impression that I had a good cry one afternoon and then everything felt better. That was not the case.
I did feel better for an hour or two, but then the tears would return unexpectedly and with intensity. A familiar tightening of my chest and throat emerged and remained for days; something I used to call “stress” because I was ashamed to say “anxiety”. These symptoms persisted but I knew what to do…
…I knew what to do because of this community’s raw, honest comments about their own experiences, such as the following from an anonymous reader to whom I express sincere gratitude:
Jean….please make sure you call your therapist and please make time for therapy to cope with this difficult time.
My dad passed away in February of this year after a long and courageous battle from Parkinson’s…
How I wish I had asked for help. I hit the bottle HARD to cope and it did not work. I drank because trying to remain present in the moment caring for a parent with Parkinson’s was just too damn hard for me at times and while I couldn’t change the situation I wanted an escape. Alcohol numbed the feelings because I felt emotionally trapped with nowhere to go.
You’re going to have a real challenge on your hands because this next journey is painful and all about having to respond constantly to the unexpected and being in crisis mode – you will not be in control. This alone is a major threat to sobriety and will be a cause for relapse. (Anonymous)
…I knew what to do because other bloggers like Anne of “A in Sobriety”, who has written so openly about her approach to mental health, work to shrivel the stigma and shame around asking for help.
…I knew what to do because nearly 50 years of “pressing on” and “being strong” when I’ve felt this way in the past caused me to embrace coping strategies that were ultimately harmful and self-defeating. I won’t make those mistakes again.
…I knew what to do, so I saw my therapist and my doctor and I told the truth: I am struggling. I have chest pain and throat cramps and I cry constantly. They helped me to see that my body was telling a truth that I could not mentally register: I am grieving a parent who is not yet gone. I am ashamed of my sadness because it feels like I am wishing him dead, and yet I am dreading the indignities of witnessing my father further succumbing to Parkinson’s Disease.
He is literally half the size he once was. He needs help to stand or walk, and gentle coaching to find his way down the hall or perform simple tasks. He speaks in a jumbled whisper as his face and throat muscles have atrophied. This is my father and yet it is not, so the time I spend with him each week keeps the heartache fresh even as I grieve the loss of the man I knew.
In the past I would have drank to quiet these feeling and numb the pain. Now I understand that drinking would have made things worse, creating an illusion of comfort that would silently accelerate anxiety and stall true healing.
I have made slow progress these past weeks, patiently tending my routine responsibilities while waiting for the effects of my medical care and talk therapy to loosen the knots. Also I embraced the self-care I so frequently suggest to others and went for a massage, got a fresh cut and colour, went to yoga classes, switched my coffee to half-caff, and spoke honestly to my family and friends about my situation. On my doctor’s advice, I booked a week on the beach (choosing, of course, my favourite getaway: a She Recovers retreat in Mexico that miraculously had a last-minute cancellation).
My emotions are better regulated and my chest pain is dialed down by half.
Last night came a true test of my progress, serving as emcee at my niece’s wedding. Weddings are notorious triggers for people in recovery, and as the official host for the evening I could not rely on old standbys like slipping out the back door when things got uncomfortable.
Hosting hundreds of Bubble Hour interviews prepared me well for staying comfortably professional in front of a microphone while feeling deeply vulnerable and human and flawed. I focussed on my affection for my niece, the happiness of the day, and the script I prepared in an extra-large font for easy reading. I was in my element, in my body, and in the moment. I gave service by way of warmly hosting the proceedings, and felt grateful for the ability to do so.
My father was seated right before me as I spoke. He is no longer able to smile his big grin or laugh from his belly, but he seemed to quietly enjoy the festivities from behind his hazy gaze.
Now as I reflect on that scene – me at the mic and him in the audience – I realize that I did not look to him for approval: he has none left to offer or withhold.
Maybe that is part of my grief too, knowing that something I spent my life striving for is officially off the table. The notion brings me sadness and relief. I allow myself to feel them both fully and move on.
I was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook page but stopped short for fear of backlash:
I love this saying and I use it all the time when I am talking to people who are struggling, but it can sound like a cop-out to someone who doesn’t understand addiction.
Addiction comes from using, so how can it not be the addict’s fault? If someone chooses to use, shouldn’t they accept the blame for what comes next?
Well that’s the thing, you see, it’s not necessarily a choice to keep using.
Casual drinkers experience alcohol in a way that is social and fun, but they have the ability to stop drinking. They can take it or leave it. It’s a treat, and they know not to over-do on treats. From a casual drinkers perspective it can appear that people who drink too much are choosing the pleasant treat too frequently and need to use more self-control.
If you scroll through the 6000+ comments on the pages of this blog (holy shit!), you will find virtually no one who says, “I should quit drinking but I am just having so much fun.”
Addiction is not fun. Addiction is not a life anyone wants.
Addiction means drinking (or using) to feel normal. Addiction means that without the substance, withdrawals start in the form of pain, anxiety or obsessive thoughts or more obvious symptoms like shaking or sweating.
The thing to blame for addiction is the fact that alcohol is addictive and yet people are expected to use it without consequence. We know not to start smoking if we don’t want to get addicted. We know that drinking coffee every morning will get us hooked on caffeine. Addiction is the normal course of action for using addictive substances. To drink or use drugs WITHOUT becoming addicted is abnormal.
Why why why why do we expect alcohol to be anything other than it is?
The other tricky thing about addiction is that it creeps in slowly and alters self-perception, so it can take a long time to become aware it has developed. Even then, so much shame and stigma exists around addiction that the first reaction can be denial out of self-preservation.
To be fair, it should also be said that people in the throes of addiction can be mighty assholes who defend indefensible behaviour by blaming others. How painful and frustrating it can be for those living with an addict who appears to be having a great time at their expense while taking zero responsibility. How infuriating it must be to see a quote saying “addiction is not your fault…” when you see the same pattern repeating again and again. Fair enough, that is hard, but please understand: addiction isn’t anyone’s fault.
Forget fault. Forget blame, shame, and guilt.
Addiction is a reality, and realities must be dealt with. Trade blame for acceptance and responsibility. Yes, this falls squarely on the shoulders of the addict, who can only assume responsibility by accepting the reality of their own addiction.
Blame lives in the past, hope lies in the future, but recovery happens in each present moment where acceptance and responsibility are found.
A reader posted an interesting question on About UnPickled that I wanted to address here so that more of you might add your feedback. Here is the original comment from sunandsand52:
I wonder if you have ever addressed those feelings that overwhelm so many when they desire to stop drinking. ..the feelings of, “Well, I may quit but I have been in this abuse pattern for so long that I most certainly have caused irreparable damage, so what’s the point?”
How did you handle these thoughts? How did you overcome this and other excuses to continue to drink?
The question contains a kind of blind spot we develop in active addiction, which is selective awareness: acknowledging that damage may exist but using it to justify continuation of the behaviour. This thinking also requires the denial that addiction tends to get increasingly worse; there is nothing static about it. So as the addictive mind is telling itself, “I’ve already done the damage so I might as well just keep hanging out at this level,” the reality is in fact that the damage will increase, the behaviour will progress, and problems will mount.
Problematic drinking does not often self-resolve or even remain at the same level for long. Tolerance increases until the body stops metabolizing alcohol, and then the proverbial shit hits the fan for most people. People at this advanced stage of addiction find that their response to alcohol is completely unpredictable – one drink could cause a black out. Additionally, heavy drinking impairs the digestion system so the effects of malnutrition appear as mental confusion, emotional instability, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances. Withdrawal symptoms present themselves if there is a break in alcohol intake. At this stage, a person feels terrible and ironically believes the only relief comes from the originating problem itself: alcohol.
Essentially, it is wishful thinking that the drinking habits (and the associated damage) can just continue at the same level unchecked. SOMETHING will tip the scales – it might be an emotional or physical crisis requiring hospitalization, social repercussions such as family or work-related consequences, or even criminal charges like a DUI or public drunkenness that force the necessary changes. In truly tragic circumstances, alcohol will cause injury or death – either to the drinker or to others in their wake.
So what’s the harm in continuing to drink if some harm has already been done? Plenty.
A better question might be, what’s the harm in living without alcohol? What is there to regret? Who could be hurt? Much of the physical damage can be repaired with abstinence and certainly the social/emotional damage can be much better healed in the absence of alcohol.
My hope for everyone who is drinking problematically is that they might find the willingness to quit before some dire consequence makes the choice for them. My wish is that the hurt, pain and damage that alcohol causes to families affected by addiction could be cut to the quick, and that no one would ever get behind the wheel of a car, tractor, semi truck or bulldozer while drinking. My dream is that we could be as aware of the health hazards of drinking as we are of second-hand smoke, UV rays, asbestos, and old sushi.
It is so confusing to onlookers why the drinker keeps drinking. They cannot possibly understand how addiction scrambles the messages from the body and brain so that alcohol looks like the solution rather than the problem; how a mom who is about to drive her kids to school would drink vodka to stop shaking, actually believing it will make her a safer driver. You can’t even call that a rationalization – it is pure delusion and that’s how addiction keeps itself alive.
I am thankful every single day that I got off the merry-go-round before I got to this point, but it could have happened if I had continued – it was only a matter of time and continued drinking. For me, that knowledge alone was enough – I didn’t want to get to the terrible places that alcohol was leading towards. I had a flashing moment of clarity in which the truth of my trajectory hit me, and it shook me to the core. That was what I needed, and I am grateful.
I could be flippant and say, “If awareness is not enough for you, keep drinking and let the problems build until you get uncomfortable enough to quit.” I hate to say that, though, because of all the innocent people whom that strategy endangers.
All I can do is tell you the truth and hope it is enough: my life is better without alcohol. It is easier, safer, happier and healthier. I do not regret a single day of not drinking; I’ve never gone to bed and wished I drank that day. I feel better about myself. I am more honest and authentic and just a better Jean all around.
I wish the same for everyone, whatever the burden: Lay it down, free yourself. Spare yourself and others the potential pain ahead by believing there is a better way. Know you are worth the effort. Know there is help, and you are not alone.
Know it is possible; know that we do recover.