Category Archives: Life After Alcohol
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.
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”.
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.
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.
…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:
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.
Can you tell that I’m writing super fast? My left thumb is back in action – look at me go! I bet you aren’t even reading as fast as I am writing.
I’ll make this quick.
The same two things that have got me through a lot in recovery are now serving me well with this broken leg: gratitude and humour.
I’m grateful for a zillion things simultaneously: that it was a simple break, that I’m healthy and strong, that we moved our offices home just a few weeks earlier, that my husband is kind, tidy, and can cook. Grateful for the ski patrol who attended me on the hill, splinted my leg and carted me off the mountain on a rescue toboggan. Grateful I didn’t give away those flared jeans.
Today I was grateful to find a little package on my doorstep from my sister. She is super crafty and designs her own knitting patterns, so I asked her if she could use her leftover yarn to make me some “toe cosies” for my cast. Socks are hard to get on and blankets hurt my leg and I just wanted a little cover I could pop over my toes when they get cold. I sent her a photo that I found online and she not only improvised the pattern, she made me three of them by the end of the afternoon.
I couldn’t wait to pop one on and ahhhhhh….warm toes without being squished!
And don’t drink!
While I am not a mental health professional, it feels like I’ve spent as much on therapy as a psychologist spends on education. To stretch the value for dollar, I like to tell others about some of the great strategies and lessons I’ve learned from my therapist – kind of like buying an album and making cassette copies for your friends. And truthfully, I am often so excited by how helpful the process is that I want to share it with others.
Sobriety is about not drinking, but recovery is about changing ourselves from within so that we can enjoy life without constantly feeling the need to numb out. I got sober on my own, but I am recovering with a lot of help.
Recently my therapist did some work with me around “Internal Family Systems”, which is a process developed in the 1990s by Richard Schwartz. It is an evidence-based practice that considers all the ways an individual can fragment into different parts of the self (think about how are you in different situations, how distinct aspects of yourself are more to the forefront at work, with family, in tense situations, at play, and so on).
First, my counsellor assigned me some homework: to list out all of the distinct part of myself. I filled an entire page! Even though I had never given much thought to them, I could quickly give names to distinct roles: The Critic, The Child, The Bad Me, The Entertainer, The Teacher, The Boss, The Mother and several more. The page filled so quickly that I re-wrote it in a new format, with my own notes of whether the parts were “good” or “bad”.
When we went through the list in session, the first thing I learned is that none of these aspects should be seen as bad. All of these parts emerge for a reason, to do a job. Maybe “The Bad Me” had done bad things, but her purpose was to protect and comfort me using any means necessary. When I feel scared, I might act in some immature ways, because The Child is the only part of me who is allowed to cry. The thing to understand is that it can be helpful to have all these aspects of ourselves, but they should be managed by what Schwartz calls the Self (I like to think of it as my Highest Self).
The Entertainer in me can charm a crowd and work the room because I created that part to overcome some natural shyness that wanted to hide in a corner. When I made the list, I identified this part as half bad because it feels fake when I am in The Entertainer role. Now I understand that it is not bad or fake, it is a useful tool. The key is to choose when to use a part and not be led by them, especially in extreme ways. It is good to have a little cry and allow myself to feel like The Child, as long as I don’t throw a tantrum in the grocery store. It’s fine to be The Entertainer in some settings, as long as it is by choice and appropriate.
We can think of that addictive voice in our head the same way, as a part that emerged out of a situation and is trying to be useful. It truly believes that alcohol is necessary for our survival and works hard to convince us that drinking would be the correct response to a situation. I have learned that the goal is to spend the majority of our time the High Self role, to call on our parts if necessary and to relieve them of their duties if they emerge unexpectedly and want to run wild.
A good example of this would be the old patterns we can fall into with our family of origin. Funny how we can find ourselves behaving in ways around our parents and siblings that are so different from how we conduct ourselves as adults in the world. We slip into those darn old parts without even realising it, until we hear ourselves whinging or arguing or feeling wounded and wonder “What the hell just happened here? How do these people push my buttons so easily?” It isn’t them pushing our buttons, it is us following some well-worn neurological pathways, like emotional muscle-memory. The part can be trance-like.
My therapist suggested when I feel myself being a part, I should pause to consider if that role is necessary under the circumstance or if I am just following an old habit. When I am in the closet changing my clothes for the 8th time because nothing seems like the right thing, I can pause and say, “Hey Critic, thanks for showing up. I know you are worried about me going to that event today so you are trying to trying to be helpful by telling me everything I put on looks terrible. I have this under control so I need you to be quiet now. I promise I will take good care of myself so you don’t have to worry.”
Other internal conversations for me sound like this: “Hi Martyr, you are getting very upset about how other people are treating me. I appreciate you are feeling threatened but I am going to be protecting my boundaries so you don’t have to. Thanks, I am taking over now.”
“I am talking so much right now and sitting up straighter than normal, I am in my Entertainer part. That feels okay for now, seems like the right thing to be.”
“I can’t stop thinking about drinking today, my Addicted part is on high alert looking for ways to comfort me today. What is really bothering me? Hey Addict, I know you want me to feel better right now so I am going to take over and book myself a massage. How does that sound?”
The goal is to spend the majority of our lives in our Highest Self, and take charge of the parts as manageable tools.
I hope this explanation does justice to the theory. It is my layman’s perspective of a process that has been very insights and helpful to my recovery.
Mull it over and give some thought to your parts. How would it feel to be in charge of them all instead of a step behind? Does the prospect comfort or frighten you?