Category Archives: My UnPickled Life
On Valentines Day 2011, I rushed to the local drug store on my way home from work to purchase a hasty but heartfelt gift for my husband. I chose a few items from the dwindling inventory and stood in line with the other last-minute romantics.
I glanced back at the growing line behind me and spotted a familiar handsome blonde fellow: my better half. Our eyes met and we burst out laughing.
“What are you getting up there?” he asked over the curious folks between us.
“What are YOU getting?” I replied.
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!”
Now the whole line was laughing along with us.
We stepped to the side and looked over the impersonal gifts we’d selected for each other.
“It really is the thought that counts,” one of us wisely concluded. “We don’t need any of this stuff. This was already the best part of the day.”
We put everything back and went home chuckling.
I had forgotten all about that incident but since I wrote about it on Facebook, it cane up this morning as a “Memory” update.
I read it aloud to my husband while we sipped our morning coffee together. He’d forgotten it also and we both laughed all over again as if hearing it for the first time.
Growing old isn’t so bad, especially together.
Happy Valentines Day.
I did it, I survived six weeks in a leg cast.
“You’re done,” said the specialist. “Go home and throw away the air cast. Enjoy. Any questions?”
“Can I ski?”
“Didn’t you break your leg skiing…? Anyway, no. Anything that could cause an uncontrolled fall should be avoided. 12 weeks minimum. Take the rest of the season off.”
Okay, fine. There’s still plenty of activities to enjoy – yoga, snow shoes, Costco….
I went home and quickly discovered Problem #1: we moved into our new house a few days earlier and some boxes had yet to be brought from the old place. The only shoe I had was the one shoe on my good foot when we moved. So back into the car with my aircast to reunite with my beloved footwear collection.
What to wear first…? Wait, my choices would be limited by the snowy conditions. So then, which boots to wear first? Black, definitely the black boots. Maybe the red. Or the tan.
I burst through the door and tore off the air cast, sitting on the step to pull on my go-to black boots.
Cue record scratch. Hello, Problem #2.
My newly freed foot is still so swollen and sore that it wouldn’t go into the boot. Not even maybe. No amount of butter, prayers, or stubbornness could get my Fred Flintsone foot into the lady boot of my choice. I then began working my way through the closet, realizing to my disappointment that the only shoe to fit was a leather high top, the mate to the one shoe I had worn on moving day. Le sigh.
Furthermore, I now walk like a zombie. My leg is squooshy and the ankle is tender. It turns out that a lower leg break is generally preceded by a bad sprain – a limb twisted bad enough to snap the bone is going to have a lot of soft tissue damage, which is slower to heal than the bone itself. So yoga and snow shoes and shopping will have to wait.
I’d looked forward to February 9th as THE day, the cast would come off and rainbows would shine and crowds would part as I sashayed through on two feet, but what I got was….pfffft.
I’ve spent the past two days drawing analogies between all this and recovery, shaping a blog post to capture the lesson but…more pffft. I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of my thoughts, I’m tired of the voices in my head. I’ve spent way too much time there lately and I just. can’t. even. anymore.
I’d rather hear what YOU think. What lesson do you see in this moment? What analogy can you draw between this scenario and recovery?
Please comment with your insight, I’d love to hear it.
Meanwhile I’ll get back to drawing the alphabet in the air with my toes, which is supposed to help bring my leg back to life, pausing only to read your comments and give thanks.
My daily blog posts got sidelined by life. We are building a new house which we move into TOMORROW (!!!) and yes, I am still in a leg cast with crutches and a splint in my hand. Then last week my dad took a turn for the worse and is in the hospital. My sisters and I are taking turns staying with him during visiting hours. My life has been a blur of packing boxes, rides to the hospital, hours at his bedside, and long slow transitions of crutch-walking in between.
What I’m not doing is thinking about drinking. However hard this particular chapter gets I have no urge to numb or escape. We can do hard things, right?
I was watching Melissa McCarthy’s hilarious SNL bit after a long day at the hospital and suddenly felt a flood of gratitude for my tea (in a nice mug, made in my kitchen and not in a plastic cup on a tray like the one on dad’s untouched lunch tray), for my bed with memory foam and nice blankets (compared to the yellow hospital sheets) and my cuddly puppy (oh how many people in care are missing their beloved pets?).
This is LIFE. The freedom to get up and go pee in my own (pretty) bathroom without ringing for help. The freedom to go to the fridge and choose what to eat. To go stand outside and catch a snowflake on my tongue, should the urge strike.
Visiting my kids and grandkids, even briefly, keeps me grounded and full. It puts things in perspective and balances the end-of-life reality that must be faced when I return to my dad’s room. Life has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Recovery has taught me to hold space for people that are hurting. I know how to give service without making the situation about me. I can respect that this is part of his journey, and do what I can to help him through.
It could be days, months, and God help us, years. It’s surprising how a heart can keep beating long after the body and mind are spent. A gentle end would be a gift. We’ve dreaded this stage and yet here it is; worrying did nothing to prevent it.
Life is busy and multilayered. I’m excited about our new house and busy with work and involved with my kids and in love with my husband and committed to my hours each day holding space for my dad. And the dog needs to be fed and let out to pee constantly, and my cast is stinky and annoying, and I miss grocery shopping, and I really need to get my nails done somehow but there’s no time. Little thing and big things. All the things….
I’m behind in responding to comments and emails. Please bare with me (bear with me? Do either or both) as posts and responses may be sparse until things settle. If you’d like to help me, the greatest thing you could possible do would be to answer other comments, especially if you see someone starting out or struggling. (You can do so anonymously by leaving the email address blank when you comment). Not only will you be helping each other, but it fills my heart when I read them.
Thanks all. Stay well.
…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.
Like many busy moms, my wine habit began with a glass of wine to help me fall asleep at night. It helped smooth the edges off the one part of my day I dreaded: laying in bed, alone with my thoughts. I have written about this in several other posts, and spoken of it often on The Bubble Hour podcast.
Stillness was my enemy, because old memories would jab my brain until shame and regret became an unending loop. Eyes open or closed, I couldn’t look away: a teacher embarrassing me in elementary, the terrible way I sometimes treated my friends in high school. Inexplicable moments of scattered promiscuity, cruelty, apathy, or weakness. Shitty mom moments of being short tempered with my kids. Instances of insensitivity towards employees because I was overwhelmed myself. I never knew what old gem would come floating back if I laid my head on the pillow but it hardly mattered. They all affected me the same way – bringing tears and eventually long silent sobs into my pillow that I hoped my husband wouldn’t hear.
I drank to skip that. I drank to fall asleep the moment BEFORE my head hit the pillow, to avoid the torture of looking inward. I’d been raised to pray before I slept, to take a quiet moment to reflect and give thanks or ask for help to do better. Over time this morphed into self-loathing, until I no longer felt worthy of involving God in the conversation. The more I drank to avoid my inner landscape, the more I had to hate about myself. It was a vicious circle.
Navigating these thought patterns was daunting without a numbing agent, but I had no choice once I left alcohol behind. I’ve talked myself through it, revisited my old rItaly of prayer, and when all else fails I just allow myself to cry.
Thanks to a friend, I’ve learned a new technique that is proving to be the most effective tool yet for banishing those ruminating thoughts.
Memories, it turns out, are neither all that reliable nor accurate. Every time we yank one out of long-term storage, it is momentarily vulnerable to change. Plastic, if you will. So if we retrieve it in a moment of sadness or self-loathing, it will be affected by that perspective and highlighted or tweaked to conform. Likewise, it can also be altered in a more positive way.
My friend shared that her therapist had been helping her rewrite a traumatic memory from her childhood by imagining what characters she needed there with her in that moment – a protector, a nurturer, a companion. She learned to pause the story and bring in those characters, to change the outcome into a happier ending. If it’s all in her head anyway, what’s the difference? If she was remembering an inherently inaccurate version anyway that was painful, why not invent a better, safer version?
This is the basis of memory modification, and here’s how I’ve adapted it for myself. Now if I find myself fixating on an old memory that’s painful, I pause it like a photograph. Then I step into the memory as I am today, taking the form of my highest self – the nurturer, the grandmother, the mom, the wiser, kinder me. I step forward into the thought and face the old me in the memory, coming between she and the other person in the frame (and there’s always another person involved, it seems). I wrap a favourite blanket around the younger me’s shoulders, and I pull her close in a warm, strong hug. In that instant, I can feel in my chest everything that I had been needing in that moment (assurance, affection, acceptance, love, forgiveness) and I am able to transfer that very thing from me to her. I tell her she is safe, that everything will be okay.
Then I take her out of that moment and tuck her into the passenger seat of my car, still wrapped in the blanket. I drive her through Starbucks and buy her anything she wants, and we head for the mountains – then me and now me like the closet of friends. It’s a beautiful drive. She feels calm and safe in my presence. We arrive at our cabin, the stuning mountain home she doesn’t know she will one day own, and I usher her inside. There at a large dining table are three handsome young men playing a board game, laughing together. These are your sons. A blonde, fun-looking grandpa with two little boys. This is your husband and grandchildren. Three radiant young women: your daughters in law.
This is your family. This is your future. All this happiness awaits you. You are safe here. Stay and play.
Its amazing how this process deflates the negativity out of old memories. If the thought returns, I can say, It’s okay, she’s safe at the cabin having fun with the people who love her. She found what she was looking for. If a new memory surfaces, I know what to do: blanket, hug, Starbucks, cabin, future family. It works every time.
I’m not a therapist, I don’t pretend to be, but I hope my version of memory modification sparks your curiosity – especially if you are haunted by your past. Think of it like a photograph, one you keep pulling out to reexamine. It’s time to take a felt marker and draw a moustache, a bluebird, a rainbow. It’s time to stop carrying that photo in your wallet and cut it into a snowflake.
You are that powerful, that creative….that free to change.
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.
Yesterday was a blur of appointments, waiting rooms, and long walkways – an exhausting combination in any condition. Everyone I encountered was friendly and professional, but it was a long day.
I was happy to have my fibreglass cast removed (oh, that poor bruised limb inside – was that mottled swollen mess really my foot? The one I knew so well? It looked like it belonged to someone else) and replaced with a boot contraption that can be removed to shower. It is a walking boot but I am not allowed to walk on it – I’m stuck with crutches for the next month and a boot the size of a VW hanging off my leg. But still…showering is good!
My hand is back in a splint and I’m being passed onto another specialist for possible surgery on the thumb (yes, this is yet another blog post tapped with my right thumb on my smartphone).
When my leg (or whomever’s leg that is down there) was being lifted from the shell of the old cast and laid into the new boot — which by the way looks disturbingly storm-trooperish– it was explained to me that I’d feel some pain as the soft tissue adjusted to changes in position, but not to worry because the bone itself was healing. It’s just that the muscles and tissues had been in the same position for two weeks inside the old cast and the slight change in the new one would cause pulling and tenderness as things settled into a more natural alignment.
Oh. My. God.
At first the pain felt good – the way a morning stretch or cracking the knuckles does. Within an hour or so my leg was achey,the aches became shooting pain, and by bedtime I knew it was going to be a long night.
I was distraught. Fuckity fuck, ability to shower or not, this boot was torture!
Today I’m 100% resting. No yoga stretches, no stairs, no going out. The pain wasn’t a setback, it was necessary in order to keep moving forward, and after a rest I’ll be back on track.
You just know there’s a recovery analogy here or I wouldn’t bother writing about it. A broken leg isn’t a fascinating topic on its own (to me) unless there’s something to be learned.
Here it comes:
Recovery can be painful at times, maybe even disappointing, but keep going. Something better is ahead. Settling into a new position can be uncomfortable and even scary.
Last night, knowing the pain was not a distress signal from the bone but rather other parts stretching and repairing helped make the discomfort more tolerable. It was temporary and beneficial – I just had to hang in there.
You will have hard days in sobriety. You’ll have emotional pain and no numbing agent, but you’ll get through. You’ll have awkward moments and no go-to solution, but you’ll manage. You’ll have moments to celebrate and feel flat.
It will happen. And then it will pass.
And you will be better off.
I’m cranking out today’s post from my iPhone. You might wonder why, with my laptop and iPad right here beside me, I chose to make things harder than necessary and my answer is BOREDOM.
So let the good times roll, I’m living it up here! Not only posting from my phone but once again only with the use of my right thumb since my left hand is in a splint.
Today I managed to unfurl my yoga mat and do a few cautious stretches, even with the broken leg, which felt wonderful. Then we wrapped my cast with a garbage bag so I could shower (I’ve been having “bird baths” all week at the sink). My husband’s “McGuyver” abilities came in handy. He set up a thoughtful system of seat, leg rest and handsprayer so that I could actually relax and take my time. It was glorious. I kept thinking of Survivor, when contestants win a shower as a reward after weeks of wearing the same clothes.
Here is an actual conversation I had with my husband yesterday, which was romantic in a “28 years of marriage” way:
Me: Hey I have to ask you something. (Long pause) Do I stink?
Him: No, not that I’ve noticed.
Me: (another pause) Would you tell me if I did?
Him: I would.
He said it so kindly that I swooned a little.
Me: You’re the sweetest.
Yoga, showers and tender moments aside, it’s been a quiet day. My leg aches. I read a lot. We are at the ski hill because the layout is easier for me to manage, but — and it’s a BIG BUT — there’s no tv. Just ancient DVDs and very slow wifi.
I’m full of gratitude because my husband is so helpful with fetching me things and reminding me my job is to rest while I heal. So technically I’m a workaholic here by laying with my foot up, reading for endless hours.
I’m glad I’m sober for this ordeal. Not only because, Hello?! Drunk on crutches?!! But also because have an alcohol-free life is a bonus for healing.
So my friends, my thumb must now return to flipping the pages of “The Flood Girls” by Richard Fifield, who is a person in recovery and sobriety is prominent in this funny book.
Reading and resting. Work, work, work!
When the idea to quit drinking started sprouting in my pickled brain, I kept thinking What else IS there? What did I even DO every night before I became a daily drinker? What will I ever look forward to if I can’t drink? How will I relax, celebrate, or pass the time?
I understood that one purpose of recovery meetings is to fill the time previously spent drinking with other activity so, borrowing that concept, when I took the plunge into sobriety I knew I had to shake up my routine. Considering the extent of obsession with alcohol in addiction, it is not surprising that new behaviours took on an addictive-like pattern as well. That’s okay though, because they were easing me out of old ways and replacing them with better alternatives.
Here are some of the most helpful ones that seem to have stuck throughout this journey and continue to have positive effects:
- Blogging – On that precious first day, I decided I’d chronicle my experience in a blog (even though I had never read a blog before and wasn’t entirely sure how it worked). Setting it up was time consuming (good distraction), choosing the layout was creative and fun (hurray for creative fun!), and then finally hitting “post” was a leap of faith. Getting that first comment notification might as well have been fireworks, because my joy was that big. I told the truth and someone responded “me, too!” I started searching other sober bloggers – how exciting that lots of people out there are telling their truth! – and our comments became exchanges of encouragement, knowledge, and hope. Here we are more than years years later and this process continues to be a great tool for recovery. Consider giving it a whirl!
- Sugar – There are two benefits of using sugar as a tool in early recovery. One is that sugar can negate alcohol cravings by triggering the same pleasure/reward circuitry of the brain, so having a few sweets can help get you through the witching hour. (I kept a bucket of “Dibs” in the freezer, and popped one in my mouth whenever the cravings felt overwhelming.) The other thing sugar can help with is to shift your taste buds away from thoughts of alcohol. Since most alcoholic beverages pair better with savouries, it is more likely that eating cheese or nuts will make you long for a companion beverage than if you eat something sugary (even fruit – I sucked on orange slices constantly for the first few weeks). I now try to limit sugar, but in early recovery it was an enormous help. It is still helpful in some situations, for example if we go out to dinner and I feel surrounded by temptation to drink, I will allow myself cappuccino and dessert at the end of the meal as both a reward and an exercise in delayed gratification.
- Walking and Podcasts – When I think of the first year of recovery, my strongest memory is of walking while listening to recovery podcasts. I walked before work. I walked after work. I walked after dinner. And I listened constantly to the voices of other people in recovery who were just like me, or not at all like me but still somehow telling my story. It soothes my soul and opened my heart and mind to new ways of thinking. It cleared my head and then filled it back up with better thoughts and new ideas. It made me challenge the things I considered “normal” and gave me pause. When I get this cast off my leg, going for a walk in the sunshine is the first order of business!
- Coffee and Tea – One thing I missed about drinking was all of the ritual – the choosing, opening, pouring, holding, yadayadayada. So I channelled some of that energy into coffee and tea. For me, it was evenings at home where I did my problematic drinking, so after dinner I would choose a lovely mug and a fragrant herbal tea (preferable one that promised to promote sleep) and suck back three or four mugs of the stuff through gritted teeth. Eventually I came to like it and now I can’t imagine an evening without my Sleepy Time tea. As a final “nightcap” I would set up the coffeemaker for morning, synchronising the timer with my morning alarm so that I would awake to the smell of a freshly brewed pot – the reward for making it to one more day alcohol free.
- Online Recovery Groups – (see my Resources page) – My online groups were my lifeline for a long time and continue to play an important role in my recovery. It gave me a place to share small victories with people who understood, ask questions, vent, help others (one of the best things you can do to stay sober is help someone else do it, too!), and post pictures of the my kooky habits like matching my travel mug to my outfit.
- Cleaning – With too much time on my (wineglass-free) hands in the evenings, I busied myself with housework. I had a cleaning company come to our house weekly until then, but with all that energy to burn I found that I no longer needed to have extra help with my chores. It felt good to look after things myself and putting my home in order was therapeutic. I listened to podcasts while I buzzed around the house, feeling productive and positive. (Sadly, this broken foot means I will be hiring a cleaner again for a few months. I am sure I will love the luxury of it once I have it back in my life again.)
- Beads – Some women from my online support group were getting together for meetup and I decided to bring a big bucket of beads so we could all make bracelets while we visited through the weekend. It was a hit and we all took home treasures that will forever remind us of a special gathering. I was left with the remaining supplies and an obsession with using them up. I couldn’t stop – it was so fun! I had forgotten the simple pleasure of making something to give away. If this is too girlie for you, stop by the craft store to see if something sparks your interest – paints, metals, or those intricate colouring books that cause you to accidentally meditate.
- Sudoku – Speaking of accidental meditation, that’s what seems to happen when I do Sudoku puzzles. I started doing these at bedtime (with my tea) to shush the voices in my head and force me to focus on something meaningless. It quiets my mind and shifts me into sleepiness quicker than any alcohol ever could. I have advanced to a pretty fierce puzzler (if there can be such a thing), so much so that my husband bought me a thick book of strategies as a Christmas gift and I didn’t hit him with it.
- Essential Oil – Er ma gerd! Oils are crazily addictive in a good way. I think there is a part of me that will always look for that “fix” to change how I feel, and oils are full of promises. I diffuse orange and grapefruit in my office while I work and clarey sage by my bed (while I drink tea and do puzzles before konking out), make custom rollerball blends for everything from skin irritations to immune boosters to headaches. Just fussing with them relaxes me and look at the fun rainbow of little bottles. Who could resist?
- Yoga – For a long time I rather prided myself on my disdain for yoga because it reflected my busy-ness, which reflected my importance, which validated my worth. Nothing sounded more agonising to me than slowing down and being alone with my thoughts. I worked hard to avoid that very situation and when I couldn’t avoid it I drank it away. I stumbled into yoga by attending a retreat for women in recovery and was surprised by how soothing and enjoyable it was to be led through every breath and movement by someone else’s voice. It was the opposite of agony – it was deeply calming and safe. It was also surprising challenging and I do so like a challenge. Now I go to yoga several times a week (and will return as soon as my broken foot is healed!) and I can’t imagine my life without this regular treat. I used to run to help burn my energy and keep me in shape, but yoga has improved my body in ways that running never could (more arm definition, a stronger core and more flexibility). The studio I go to has people of all ages, sizes, and abilities – there is no push to perfection – just progress. Sound familiar?
Have you tried any of these things and were they effective for you? What helpful habits helped you break up with booze? Can you feel your tendencies for addictive behaviour spark with these things, and do you find that to be a good thing? I look forward to your insights!
The bad news is that I broke my leg skiing two days ago. I’m okay as long as I lie still with my leg on a pillow. This is not my natural habitat and I’m not sure how I feel about spending the next six weeks in this cast:
It’s super cold here in Alberta – my (bare!) toes were dragging in the snow as I hobbled on my crutches from driveway to house so I’m content to stay indoors until spring thaw. (Do doctors still make house calls? Does Starbucks deliver?) You fine folks shall be my lifeline so I hope for lots of engagement, if you don’t mind.
Also…I’ve torn up my left hand (Skiiers Thumb) and it’s in a brace so I tapped this entire post on my phone using my right thumb only…..pause for applause….I’m a true blogging warrior.
It’s quite possible I’m not the first person in history to break a leg, so if any of you have tips or suggestions from your own experience please do share. (See how much sobriety has taught me? I know I’m not alone!)
Goodnight friends. I’ll stay sober with you if you hop on one leg with me.