Category Archives: Life After Alcohol
It has become common practice within my online recovery community group to choose and state a “Word of the Year”(WOTY). I groaned inwardly when I first heard this term, and mentally discarded it into the pile containing vision boards and vajazzling and other fussy things I have no intention of doing. Eventually I *had* to choose a WOTY for an episode of The Bubble Hour for which we had all agreed to discuss the topic; I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t been an active WOTY participant. That year, I chose the word “utilize” to remind myself to actually put into practice all of the great tools I was learning about in recovery.
Ellie was kind enough to make me a custom bracelet with my WOTY, which was a helpful reminder of my pledge. Now that I have moved on to other WOTYs, this bracelet makes me smile because it has a WonderWoman flare to it and I picture myself stopping bullets with my wrist while shouting “UTILIZE!” like a 70s superhero.
I neglected to formally choose a word last year, though in retrospect I clung to words like “endure” and “survive” through a year that offered extreme highs and lows in rapid succession (two deaths in the family, a joyful wedding, incredible travel, and a serious injury).
I took this January off of blogging and podcasting to give myself space to reflect. I wanted to move forward into this year with purpose and intention, and over the course of a quiet month the vision developed. My word of the year is CREATE.
The first thing I have done to implement (or utilize) my WOTY2018 is to drastically change my morning routine. I used to check Facebook and Twitter while the coffee brewed and then spend the first hour of my day consuming the viciously addictive news of the moment. (What did I miss while I slept!?) I realized that the breakneck speed of the current news cycle was fuelling my anxiety and stealing huge chunks of precious time. This had to change. Unhooking from the iv drip of news (and opinion, and the ensuing stream of vitriolic comments in response) meant putting down my devices and picking up a pen and paper. I have begun the practice of “Morning Pages” as suggested in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron.
“Morning Pages” involves writing three pages in long-hand, every day upon waking. No more, no less. Standard lined pages, meant to be read by no one. Clear out the cobwebs and let the stream of consciousness flow before the ego steps in to protect from the world. It is a lovely way to start the day and a complete departure from my old habits.
I have been making and wearing my own jewelry, sending little handmade gifts to others, and whipping up cookies for guests on a moments notice. Doing crossword puzzles. Curling my hair. I am ready to get back to blogging and podcasting with a creative mindset in addition to my heartfelt gift of service.
It is amazing how much time I opened in my day by creating boundaries around the consumption of news, and a little scary to realize how I was allowing it to control me. It triggered my addictive tendencies in a way that was both familiar and shocking.
Once again the lessons of recovery apply to other areas of life.
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.
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!
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.
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.
This morning I was awake much earlier than necessary. BOING! Eyes open at 6 am. Go back to sleep, I told myself, you have a late curling draw tonight. You need the extra sleep if you’re going to make it through this day….
But it was too late.
COFFEE said my brain.
PEE! said my bladder.
Shhhhhh, go back to sleep, said my grown up voice, soon drowned out with chatter:
Yippeee morning! Coffee and news and what should I wear today and hey I wonder if I lost another pound and oooooh what oil should I diffuse in the sunroom while I read the paper and and and if I get up now I can read for an extra hour instead of sleep!
Who can resist that kind of enthusiasm? I can’t help myself, I love mornings. Do not confuse this with being a morning person. Morning people get stuff done. I don’t. I love to sit and read and drink coffee and have a slow start without interruptions.
Things sure have changed.
I used to shuffle to the kitchen and reach for Tylenol first, then coffee – both of them extra strength, please. Everything used to hurt in the morning and I never questioned it – I powered through. Hangover? No, of course not. I just had chronic daily headaches and body pain for no reason. It’s not like I was throwing up and calling in sick for work, right?
But a few months after I quit drinking I realized that I was no longer taking those little red pills every morning, and eventually I even had to toss a mostly-full jumbo bottle because it had stale-dated. That’s when I knew things were really different.
Six years later, things continue to change.
I no longer stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own eyes, looking for answers to a question I am afraid to ask. Or inspect my nose for whatever it is that supposedly happens from too much alcohol.
I still check my outfit in the mirror before leaving the house, but only to see if I like the combination – not with the scrutiny of an imposter trying to cover her shame and fear with perfection.
I used to arrange and rearrange the furniture and decor in my home, then inspect it by standing at the entrance and surveying the scene with a visitor’s eyes. Is this good enough? Are there flaws? Is it welcoming? It is right? Oh, my home is still quite perfect – once a designer always a designer! – but I please myself first.
As mentioned, Wednesday night is our curling league and I have fun visiting with the other teams. I love to throw a good take-out shot that clears the house, or sweep a teammate’s rock with all my might, but I no longer imagine that people are watching me or judging my form. We often socialize afterwards and it doesn’t faze me that most teams split a pitcher of beer while I have water, though in truth I can’t wait to get home and watch Survivor.
Yep, this is a huge departure from the old days. My husband and I started curling in our 20s before we had kids and oh my, the drinking we used to do! It was all in good fun back then. In my 30s things had started to change – with little kids at home curling was our one night out so we had to get a week’s worth of partying into that one night. I probably drank a similar amount of alcohol as before, but with a different urgency and attitude. Curling was once a prelude to alcohol. Now I actually focus on the game and play hard and feel happy.
I could go on. I drive differently. I listen differently. I work and socialize differently. Everything is better, even though some things are harder now. I got through profound grief this year without the help of alcohol and it was so very large and real, but I did it (am still doing it, to be honest).
I look better. I feel better. My chest doesn’t hurt constantly and I sleep like a baby (at least until 6 am!). I hardly have to think about not drinking now, that part gets SO much easier. But when it does hit me, the old urge to escape – WHAM! There it is like the smell of mould and I pull back in surprise.
Except now I know to ask, what is making me so uncomfortable that I want to check out? Then I deal with that thing, and if I can’t identify it I comfort myself anyway with something safe – a stretch, a treat, a nap, a walk, an unnecessary purchase.
That’s where I am at now, and in time I will surely be in some even more enlightened place.
But one thing is for sure: I am never going back.
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?
I was running yesterday — yes, running, more on that in a moment — tossing around ideas for what to write. Where to start after the past few weeks? Life has served up extreme ends of the spectrum this year – so happy, so so very sad – it’s hard to talk about one without slighting the other. (For a recap of this year’s rollercoaster, listen to the intro on last week’s Bubble Hour. Then, of course, listen to the rest of the interview after because Meaghan’s story was captivating.)
We are spending the week at our family’s lake cottage on Lac La Biche, situated in the edge of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. Sometimes there are 18 or more of us here and it’s a blur of beach towels and corn cobs and trying to remember which phone charger or coffee cup is mine.
This week, however, there’s only three of us and the focus is on puttering – clearing, burning, building, cleaning – and relaxing in equal measure.
I take long walks every day, something I’ve done since first coming here in the 80s as a teen (gah!). On a recent walk, I reflected on how grateful I am to have healed so quickly and completely from my broken leg and got the idea to try running a few paces. I was dressed in jeans and flats, so I didn’t want to appear to actually be out for a run — not that there was a soul around to see me anyway. But oh my gosh!! I ran and it worked and it didn’t hurt so I just kept running. And the next day I dressed more appropriately and alternated between 100 steps running/walking. No pain! No swelling!
I was so excited that I didn’t turn around at the usual spot, I kept going until our little side road joined the highway and then without thinking I stepped onto the skinny shoulder of the busy logging/oil route. Every minute or two a rig would rumble past but I didn’t care. I felt reckless and free and powerful. I could run! (And then walk, and run, and walk, and RUN!).
When I got back to the cabin, I burst through the door with sweaty jubilation, eager to share my achievement with anyone who’d listen. When it came out that my route had taken me onto the highway, my family was understandably horrified.
“That is so dangerous – don’t do that again!”
So yesterday I set off for another run, mostly motivated by the fact that I’d forgotten to pack milk and had been substituting whipping cream in my coffee since arriving. The events of this year have contributed so a 15 lb weight gain as it is, and something should be done. Clearly that something does not involve black coffee, so running it is.
I found myself on the route towards the highway, debating whether to turn back at the stop sign or (secretly) run the forbidden loop. Sure, I had promised I wouldn’t, but there it was.
As the red sign got closer and closer, and my mind bounced from blogging ideas to sneaking onto the highway like a naughty child, I suddenly felt an accountability to YOU, dear reader, to “do the next right thing” – just as I’m always telling others to do, even though this time it had nothing to do with alcohol.
Or did it?
Who do I hurt when I indulge the part of me that says it’s okay to do something risky as long as I keep it quiet? Who do I slight when I think “no one knows”? Myself, that’s who. If I know, someone knows. Secret behaviours can be just as dangerous as running on the highway.
I decided to capture this moment of awareness to post here, to show you that you’re with me, to remind us all to just keep going and do the next right thing.
Tom Cochran was right: the secret IS to know when to stop – be it drinking or withholding truth or putting heavy cream in coffee or not writing.
We returned from our vacation to a difficult reality: my husband’s father has entered into the final stages of a terminal illness. He won’t be with us much longer, and it hasn’t seemed right to post all the happy photos from our trip while our family is so heavy with sadness.
We drove through a hailstorm to visit him on Sunday. My new car took a beating – cracked windshield and hail damage to the body – but it was worth it to see him, to be where we needed to be and where we were needed. A car is nothing. Family is everything.
I returned home last night and tried to go through the motions of normal life today.
I was shampooing carpets at one of our rentals when the machine made a strange noise and began to spew smoke. With the receipt for this new machine in my wallet, I decided to load it all into my car and return it to the store. Backing up, something didn’t seem right. I stopped and ran around the car. Apparently, I’d only set the box of parts behind my car, not IN it, and backed over the damn thing. The good news, however, is that I was able to return it anyway.
A phone call came in on my cell. My mom’s condo building was on fire. She made it out safely and was staying with a friend a few blocks away. I drove by, so much destruction. Her unit was untouched by there is no doubt smoke damage to her belongings. No one was hurt, that’s all that matters.
On the way home I picked up a stir fry for supper. It flipped over inside the bag and the contents came out of the container. Teriyaki chicken and rice smoosh.
My car is damaged but I am safe.
My mom is displaced from her home but it’s only temporary.
My carpet shampooer blew up and then I drove over it but the store still gave me a refund.
My dinner dumped all over the bag but I poured it on a plate and ate it anyway.
Is this fucking day over yet?
No, it’s not. It’s messy and it sucks but it’s life and I’m living it.
My heart feels like it’s going to drop into my feet with dread and grief. I don’t want my sweet, funny father-in-law to go. I don’t want to think about the world without him in it. And at the same time I wish him a gentle end.
We can do hard things. It would sure be nice if we didn’t have to do it all at once, though.
Having conquered 100km of The Cotswolds on foot, we moved on to the next phase of our adventure: a cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
It is pure luxury but booze is everywhere – including the cake and chocolates here in Germany where we toured today. It keeps me on my toes and I have to remind myself that there are things I could do to further protect my sobriety, if needed: call the desk to have our mini bar cleared of alcohol and pull a waiter aside and tip him to be my guardian angel (removing wine glasses from my setting and delivering a preagreed order on arrival). If I were travelling alone, I would do this on a heartbeat. As it is, my husband is very considerate and gives me accountability and support.
I’ve grown weary of my puffball hair and booked an appointment for a blow out with the onboard stylist for the hefty fee of 35 euros. Hopefully it will last a day or two. I have otherwise purchased nothing but a book at Heathrow airport (“The Year of Living Danishly” by Helen Russell) and a teensy amber angel today in Heidelberg, so paying for a few hours of sane hair feels justifiable. I’m telling myself it’s also a courtesy to the other passengers, because this current mass of fluff and doingers I’m sporting is plain disrespectful to onlookers. (Post salon update: normality restored!)
We’ve been on board 2 days and have toured castles, listened to opera (which I loved, who knew?), and walked a thousand cobblestone streets already. I write this from a quiet balcony, watching the beautiful German shores go by. Because we are between cities, the internet is quite weak so I am unable to upload photos for now. More to follow when conditions allow, because I so want to share this wonderful experience with you.
PS – Sober is better!
Remember six months ago when I broke my leg skiing? Today I walked 25km – the most difficult portion of our week-long walking tour through England’s Cotswolds. Hills, muddy trails, fields of sheep, steps, I did it all. I’m so grateful to be healed and strong again.
Remember six years ago when I quit drinking and thought vacations would be a drag? We have been smiling and laughing this whole trip.
Remember six hours ago when my flat iron refuse to work on a converter? Welp, that’s not even bothering me. Look at this picture, wonky hair, no make up, sweaty and full of JOY!!
If you’re struggling today, keep going. Do the next right thing, and then the next, and then do it some more. Things will get better. I promise.
PS – We were overtaken by no less than 5 elderly couples today. I’m talking, WHOOSH! Brits are serious walkers, they don’t mess around. As I watched yet another pair of silver heads bob past us and into the distance, I remembered “COMPARISON IS THE THEIF OF JOY” and giggled.
Morning crisis: we have run out of coffee. I managed to squeak two cups out of the meagre grounds available by adding in some decaf and it will have to do. One for the mister and one for me.
Stirring in cream, (also in short supply, I goofed on groceries) I realized a remarkable absence of panic over the scarcity of precious essentials. Hmm, that’s new. Complete calm. It’s fine, I thought, one is enough.
One is enough.
That is new.
One has never been enough for me, not alcohol and not anything. If I find a t-shirt I like, I buy every colour available.
Something hits me. Yesterday I drove right past The Gap even though I had a coupon. I don’t need more tank tops, I have enough. I recall feeling a little *ping* in that moment but the significance is only registering now.
I have enough.
Having enough wine was a constant burden once my drinking crossed into addiction. When, where, how much. Keeping a supply for guests and a reserve for me. Rotating stores out of embarrassment. The bottles afterward. Getting enough. Drinking enough. Hiding enough.
I remind myself that the “enough” of wine wasn’t entirely imagined. Without it comes withdrawal and that feels a lot like danger: sweats, anxiety, obsession. I truly dreaded the way it felt to not consume the right amount of alcohol.
But this other enough, the way I feel about coffee and clothes and ice cream and savings and mechanical pencils, it comes from a different place. I’ve always wanted more more more and now something is starting to shift.
Maybe as we truly receive that we are enough, we begin to feel that we have enough.
Is this a new phase after six years of recovery? I recently heard Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery.com explain recovery as opening a set of nesting dolls. The one that is our true self is the tiny one inside, the only one that is solid. We have to keep going until we get through all the layers to that precious core.
There is no rush. Whatever layer I’m at right now is where I’ll stay a while, to linger in curiosity and build courage for the next phase.
For now, I’ve finished my coffee and my day begins. Obviously, that will include a trip to the grocery store.
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.
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.
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.