Category Archives: Long Term Recovery

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.

New Temptations

Sometimes I am surprised by the power of old thoughts that pop up unexpectedly.

Last weekend I was at a festival browsing through the market stalls of polished stones, nature photos, handmade soaps, and other typical fare when I stopped in my tracks.

A booth selling marijuana products was next and I felt the awakening of a long-quiet part of my brain. I did the mental equivalent of a spit-take and realized this is the new reality here in Canada.

Marijuana will be legalized here this fall and already it is appearing everywhere. This particular stall was selling products – creams, powders, tinctures, edibles – at least I think it was because I didn’t get much closer. My heart was racing and I was inexplicably excited. I walked back and forth trying to get a better look and also trying to avoid it simultaneously.

I was like a twelve-year-old boy at his first school dance. I want to and I don’t.

There are new products to be marketed, and a lot of them have legitimate claims to health benefits. There seems to be this grey area of where health benefits end and recreation begins that my addiction sees as an invitation. Though alcohol was my vice of choice, I will tell you that I am tempted by everything that invites me to escape – even Gravol and cold medicine (though they’re great when needed for an actual illness).

I have spent nearly eight years learning to navigate a world full of alcohol and I feel like I have gotten the hang of it. Now a curve ball is coming, a new thing that is out there in the open and must be simultaneously accepted and avoided.

I am supportive of legalized marijuana and do believe that everyone has the right to do what they want with their own bodies. Likewise, it is my choice to live drug and alcohol free and my responsibility to sidestep temptations, marketing and messages that encourage me to indulge.

I used to feel angry at the ridiculous alcogenic marketing towards women – the bangle flasks, and baby onesies that say “Mommy’s Funner When She Drinks”, the purses built to hide bottles. Now I roll my eyes and scroll on.

I am feeling anxious at the thought of a whole new barrage of marketing to brace myself against, though I know I will get used to it, it’s nonetheless unnerving.

I am curious to hear from sober readers living in areas that already have legalization, if you feel it impacts your recovery and if the marketing feels as pervasive as the alcohol industry.

 

 

Want to read my story from the beginning? Start here.

The most popular UnPickled post ever is here.

Join me for a SheRecovers retreat at Kripalu in November 2018 – info here. 

 

To The Hills!

I am back home again in southern Alberta, settling into my routine. To wit, my routine now seems to include not getting to yoga, not getting my 10,000 steps a day in, not cooking regular meals, and not writing as much as I had planned. I am floundering.

On Friday night, we had our little grandsons come for a sleepover and it was a wonderful evening of reading books, sculpting play dough, eating snacks and missing the official bedtime by a long shot (unintentionally – they were too excited to fall asleep even though we got them to bed on time). Mornings are the best – all snuggles and pjs and quiet chatter.

I was feeling desperate to get some serious writing done. I am 19 days out from the arbitrary deadline I gave myself to finish a first draft of my novel and I need to get at it. I decided to send myself on an overnight writing retreat to the ski hill – our big family cabin is empty and quiet in the off-season; a perfect place to hide away and write. As soon as the little boys went home, I grabbed my laptop and a tea from Tim Horton’s (large, one milk, two sweeteners), and started driving.

So here I am, writing on the deck. That is not a painting behind me, that is the reflection of the mountain view. I used to drink a lot here, like a lot of people do on ski vacations. Now I drink tea and revel in the freedom and power of sobriety.

From the Rocky Mountain of southern Alberta, I wish you all freedom and peace.

Writer at Cabin

Come Paddling With Me

I brought you along for a morning kayak today – a goofy experiment that worked out rather well:

 

If the panda comment seemed random, here is the meme I was referring to:

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 7.09.21 PM

Are you dying to know how on earth I managed to fit a phone in my mouth??! I have a case called “Loopy” with a rubber loop on the back that is meant for a finger but as it turns out works nicely for other purposes. (Sidebar – the case says LOOPY in big pink letters and my husband likes to tease me that makes it “personalized” perfectly for me.)

Let’s continue:

 

If you enjoyed joining me for my morning kayak, be sure to pop over to The Bubble Hour and listen to the short episode I recorded while paddling.

Enjoy the warm weather!

 

 

From One Beach to Another

I promised to write during my last trip but I was sooooo relaxed that I could only manage a few pictures on Instagram. Have a peek at @unpickledblog to see a handful of photos from the SheRecovers retreat I was attending in Mexico.

The retreat is held at a gorgeous beachfront home that was built to host private groups so it’s perfectly suited for a yoga retreat. Every single thing about the week is restorative and joyful, but even better than the sun, sand, yoga, massages and gourmet food are the friendships I’ve made with incredible women from around the world.

I came home to a whirlwind four days of laundry, errands, seeing the family, and tending to life before packing up and driving 8 hours north to the lake.

Here in Canada it is Victoria Day Weekend, which for us means opening the lake cottage for the summer. The first to arrive has to ensure a tank of water is delivered, the septic truck is called out, the groceries are loaded and the grass gets cut. Then the rest of the family rolls in – this year totalling 16 humans and 5 dogs. Some put in the pier and boat hoist, some built a fire, some cook the meals, some do dishes, some fish, some read. Everyone does their fair share of work so there’s lots of time to play together. Paddle boards, games, boating, walks on the beach and visiting in the sunshine.

The two locations are worlds away and so too the experience of being with a houseful of new friends vs. together with extended family. Both are wonderful and exhausting in the best kind of way.

I recall writing a post several years ago about feeling upset because one of the kids drank the San Pelligrino I’d brought to the lake for *me*. Now it’s just so much easier. As long as there’s coffee (and cream!) for mornings I’m fine.

After dinner last night I enjoyed a different kind of nightcap: an hour of paddling solo in my kayak. Pure bliss.

I’m grateful to have an interesting life! From the beaches of Mexico to the Boreal Forest of Alberta, I know I am living my life to the fullest and being completely present.

Forest of Thoughts

On a quiet walk in the woods of Qualicum Beach this morning, I saw a tree growing on top of an old stump.

I reflected on the ability of one life to fuel the next. Again and again it appeared, new growth sprouting from the decaying past.

Some of us push away our past, hoping to deny or overcome the things we’d rather forget. But maybe we can instead embrace it, not erase it, and use it to fuel our futures.

A Week in the Life of a Sober Girl

(Full disclosure: I initially titled this “A Week in the Life of a Sober Grandma” but decided against it and not because I am vain but only because I thought you wouldn’t read it. Was I right?)

***

If sobriety has been an invitation to rethink my identity, imagine the challenge of being a newly retired workaholic. In case I haven’t had enough trouble wrapping my head around the concept of “I am not what I do,” it is not uncommon for people to ask, “What will you do with all your time? You are too young to retire!”

First, let me say that I am very glad I got sober first and then retired. Recovery has helped me to understand why I felt the need to lose myself in my work and how to feel good about myself apart from approval and accolades. No small task!

I suspect that the freedom that comes from the less-structured routine of retirement could lure many drinkers into a rapid escalation of their consumption and that the red flags of mounting addiction could be masked by fewer obvious consequences. (Has anyone experienced this? I would love to hear from you.)

So what DO I do with all this time? Here are just a few things I have done this past week:

On Tuesday I was interviewed for this video series by Sarah Roberts of “Sobriety Starts Here”. I was a bit under the weather and nervous about being on camera but Sarah is a great interviewer and I am truly honoured to be part of this series:

Later that same day, I recorded a Bubble Hour interview with author of “My Self” Kelley Kitley about her experiences as a woman in recovery who works as a psychotherapist. You can listen here 

After finishing two interviews, I went to my sister’s house for one of her amazing Ayurvedic Foot Treatments – a 90-minute process on a heated table. My sister is an incredibly talented healer with a gift for picking up on other people’s energy – I know that sounds “woo woo” but there is no other way to describe her sensitivities.

When she first started working on me I said, “I have been doing recovery interviews all morning and I have a lot of other people’s stuff stuck to me!” She understands exactly what I mean by this – that I am hanging onto the stories and emotions that go with being vulnerable about ourselves and holding space for others.

“Oh, you sure do,” she murmured softly and began gently brushing my arms as she moved around the table. Soon she was massaging my feet and I went into that floaty almost-sleep stage that is somehow better than sleep. Pure heaven.

Wednesday mornings are busy and delightful. I have a standing date with my 80-year-old mother to take her for groceries and then out for errands and lunch. While she toodles around the grocery store, I sit at the coffee bar and read. She is losing her vision and no longer drives, and also she carries a flashlight in her purse to help her read labels and menus and such. You would think this might slow her down but honestly the reason I drink coffee instead of going around the store with her is because I can’t keep up. On the first outing I lost her twice and gave up. We are both happier this way.

After groceries we went out looking for new lamps. She moved into an assisted living facility when my dad was sick and was too busy to decorate or make their IMG_3331new apartment cozy. It has been a year now since my dad passed away, and she is ready to make some changes. We have been doing little bits each week – while she puts her groceries away, I move furniture or set up some new purchase or do some little job she has saved for me. On this particular day, we struck out on finding her new decor but she did succeed in cracking me up. I pointed out this cute ceramic frog in HomeSense and without missing a beat she quipped, “Looks like he just got kick in the slats!”

Such a sweet old lady.

Wednesdays are also a big day because its “Survivor” night and although my enthusiasm for the show is dipping ever so slightly – though I have never missed an episode in 36 seasons – this season we have a pool of ten friends betting on the outcome. Ever week my husband send out a funny newsletter with updates.

Tonight I have a side bet for a $10 Tim Horton’s with my friend Susanna that no one will play an idol. We met over dinner on Monday night to discuss our side bets and we laughed ourselves silly over the nonsense of it all. Susanna and I were only drinking water but we were having the most fun of anyone there.

I continue to get up early every morning and do my “Morning Pages” exercise, and now I have added writing another 500 words on my novel afterward. Yes, I am writinfullsizeoutput_ff4g a novel! I am no longer scared to say it because I am really doing it.  My goal is to have the first draft completed by my birthday in June.

Even at the cabin on the weekend, with a houseful of guests and a fridge full of groceries in need of cooking, I managed to get up early and write for an hour before becoming the hostess with the most-est. I cooked huge meals including desserts, skiied the mountain from top to bottom repeatedly, played with my grandsons, and slept like a baby every night.

There was an unusual amount of snow in the mountains for the last weekend of skiing. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has flowers in April, I both envy and pity you! We are a few weeks away from green leaves and flowers here in Alberta but they will come soon enough. Meanwhile, we have been having fun in the snow.

Note – I am looking over at my family in this picture but I cropped them for privacy. You understand. The important things to note are the smile on my face (I love them all so much!) and the crazy amounts of snow under my bum.

I got back from skiing and immediately recorded another Bubble Hour episode, this time with my friend Jan. Listen here.

Those are the highlights. I left out the boring bits, like the bookkeeping I still do for our rental properties and the large quantities of time I spend plucking my eyebrows. I did not mention that we have been watching “Barry” on HBO and eating ice cream, or that I almost beat my high score on “Wooden Blocks” while simultaneously watching “The National”. Oh and Rick Mercer’s final show deserves a mention – treat yourself to a half hour of that fine Canadian humour.

In short, being sober and retired still means lots of activity – entertaining, going out, staying in, connecting, creating.

And one more thing I’ve been doing this week – crying. My heart goes out to all affected by the horrific bus crash here in Alberta that has taken the lives of 15 teams members of the Humboldt Broncos. I don’t think anyone who has heard about this tragedy has been unaffected. It is almost too sad to contemplate.

So there you have it, a glimpse into my girl/grandma life.  Next week we will embark on a ten-day camping trip to Vancouver Island. More goodness to come….

My Word of The Year

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.

Word of the Year Bracelet

My WOTY bracelet from the lovely Ellie of One Crafty Mother

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.

 

Then and Now

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.

Unpickled

This is what recovery looks like….

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.

 

 

3 Good Things

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:

  1. 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

    Recovery Today SeriesThis 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.

  2. 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.
alcoholism best blogs badge
Healthline

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. IMG_2088I 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

Hope Award

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.

 

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