Category Archives: My UnPickled Life
Does this rustic Canadian beach look like a nice place for a stroll?
I walk this stretch almost every day when we are here at the lake. Sometimes twice a day. Often with my dog, generally by myself. I know every nook, cabin, rock, weed, and tree. I have come here every summer for 33 years and walked this beach hundreds of times.
When I leave the cabin on my own, my husband says, “Take your phone. Which route are you taking?” It seems slightly overprotective, and I rather love his concern. I am not a risk-taker. Whether I am kayaking, paddleboarding, or going for a walk, rest assured I will proceed in the most awkwardly overcautious manner possible. There is almost zero chance of me encountering a problem, beyond maybe a wasp bite or the misapplication of sunscreen.
My pride has taken a bit of a beating this summer. My swimsuit is now, well, not fitting quite the same. And the other day, I was trying to pull myself up the ladder into the boat and kept slipping back into the water. I felt awkward, all noodle-armed and bottom-heavy. I’ve been slacking on the yoga and exercise, and excelling at the dessert-eating. Plus, you know, menopause and all.
I look the same, I just don’t feel the same.
So needless to say, this particular walk was both necessary (post-dessert) and within my comfort zone.
Take your phone. Tell me your route.
Eye-roll. Smile. Leave.
Now. Do these rocks look like an appropriate place to do gymnastics?
They are not.
Nevertheless, I managed a backward shoulder roll while crossing this short rocky section of the beach. The same rocky section I have walked for decades without incident. But this day, I fell. Slowly. Backwards.
Before it happened, I was simply catching my balance. Hop to a rock, wait, balance, next rock, balance. It is fun. I like it. Wearing flip-flops was a bad idea, though. I knew better but I did it anyway. The sand was wet, the rocks were wet, but I pressed on as if nothing was different. I was taking chances, little baby chances.
Bad idea, I thought as my sandy flip-flops flipped and flopped over a slick stone.
Oh no, I may have said out loud, as the heavy-bottom, noodle-arm feeling returned and I reached out unsuccessfully for something to hang onto.
What is behind me? I tried to remember as I felt myself falling backwards, calmly wondering what part of my body was going to need protecting on the way down.
How is this going to turn out? Why is there time to think so much? I felt myself going upside down and remembered having the exact same thoughts the last time I fell in slow motion, which was on a ski hill and if you are wondering how that went, click here.
Well now, this is just embarrassing. I’d hit the ground without incident or injury but now the force of the fall was propelling me “ass over teakettle” (as my mother would say) and at this particular moment I was upside down and somewhat impressed with myself for turning this into a backward summersault, albeit a graceless one. (Knees apart, toes not pointed, did not stick the landing. My junior high phys ed teacher would grade it a C-.)
Which leads me to this:
(Artistic rendering of dramatic life moment.)
I allowed myself to lay in place momentarily in case someone had witnessed my fall and perchance might come running to my rescue. I wasn’t hurt and yet…well, it seemed appropriate to just give it a few breaths.
No one coming to check on my wellbeing? Oh okay. Great, actually. That means no one witnessed this. Oh right, except me.
Now listen, if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I can suss out a recovery analogy from life’s little moments. Especially the awkward ones.
I knew better but I did it anyway….
I pressed on as if nothing was different. I was taking chances, little baby chances….
This is a story about a middle age woman who went for a walk and had a harmless tumble. It is also the story of that time you went to a party straight from work without eating first. It is about every sober person who said, “I am okay and everything is fine,” when that was not the truth.
Wait, wait, there is more.
The next day, my husband and I decided to cut down a tree that was growing too close to the cabin. I was on the guide ropes, my noodle arms responsible for tugging in the direction we wanted it to fall: away from the cabin.
Nothing was damaged, but the poor dog was terrified from the crash.
I took her for a walk to calm her down.
I double-knotted my runners, and headed back to the beach.
Want to come on retreat with me? Meet You at Kripalu!
Have you watched my kayaking video yet? Come Paddling With Me
Do you ruminate on bad memories? Try this: Memory Modification: A Tool for Recovery
If you have been feeling isolated and and disconnected in your recovery, this is a perfect way to shift gears. There is an incredible array of activities and sessions to enjoy each and every day, plus beautiful meals and, in the evenings, I will hold a special “sharing circle” just for our group.
As you know, I am a big believer in “patchwork recovery” – meaning we use various methods and modalities to create the perfect fit of recovery for ourselves. The theme of the retreat is “Expand your Recovery Bubble” because during your stay you will no doubt find many new tools and patches to strengthen and refresh your recovery – plus make new friendships and connections along the way.
I hope you will join me!
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.
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:
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.)
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!
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.
Oh the simple life. Crawling into our cozy van-bed with a book, quickly drifting to sleep and clocking a miraculous ten hours of deep rest, night after night. Amazing! I rarely sleep longer than seven hours a night at home. How is this even possible?
Our daily adventures look something like this: a gorgeous drive, a good meal, a pretty campsite, a nice walk, a deep sleep, morning coffee, repeat.
A cartwheel on the beach…and a hike through the forest at Porpoise Bay…No make up for days on end! I literally have not gone a week without makeup since I started wearing it (hiding behind it) in the 7th grade.
There is a lot to be said for breaking routine and doing things differently. I realize how stuck in my ways I am at home – from morning coffee to bedtime tea. Being overly entrenched in routine is how I got stuck in the wine loop, and then I leveraged routine to break free.
I’m far from a “Free Spirit” (as our van boasts) but I am embracing this version of freedom on our vacation. It’s nice to know I can do this, to just *be* and just *enjoy*.
We are on a little road trip and I’ll share snippets when I stumble on wifi along the way.
Usually mid-April in our part of Canada is spring showers and new growth. This year, however, spring is taking its sweet time.
So when we planned an April trip in our camper van from Alberta to Vancouver Island, which I’ve dubbed “The Van to Van”, we had a certain (and fair) expectation regarding the weather and road conditions. *Snow* was not part of the equation.
We plan. God laughs.
Yesterday over morning coffee, as I was planning the zillion things I needed to do before leaving, my husband checked the weather and said, “There’s a crazy storm coming overnight. We need to leave today instead of tomorrow and outrun it.”
Yikes. I was barely going to get out the door at the scheduled time, never mind a day early! But it was either that or stay home for two more days, until the storm passed.
I kicked into high gear and packed, cleaned, plowed through the work on my desk, posted a Bubble Hour episode, dropped off the dog, popped in to see the grandkids, and made some granola bars to take along.
My husband also got busy doing the last of the van prepping, including filling the water tanks.
Minutes before take off, just as I was congratulating myself on calmly adjusting to a schedule change that would normally make me crazed and snappish, piercing blasts of noise rang through our house.
MEEEEPPPP MEEEEEPPPP MEEEPPPP
A recorded (bilingual) voice called “FIRE!!! FUE!!! FIRE!!! FUE!!!
I dashed throughout the house to find the problem and discovered water pouring from a smoke detector in the basement, which had shorted the system and set it off. Filling the van with water from the hose caused a pipe to burst – there must have been some ice in the line. Efffffff.
There went my calm.
While my heroic husband contained the problem and shut off the water and breaker to the zone, I hauled out the carpet shampooer and sucked a gallon or two of water up from the flooring.
And then…we left.
We drove to the forecasted edge of the storm, three hours west, and spent the night in a parking lot. Scenic.
Nevertheless, we are feeling happy and relaxed and ready for adventure.
I can’t believe I can handle this stuff so easily. None of this would have sat well with me when I was living my life on the edge of insanity. Every blip along the way pushed me into major anxiety and upset.
Now here I am rolling along without a care in the world. At least for today…we’ll, this morning anyway.
We’ll see what happens this afternoon….!
(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:
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 new 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 writing 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….
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.