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Category Archives: Pathways to Recovery

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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Sober Fun is Possible

My first “girls’ weekend” was just a few months after I quit drinking in 2011: a road trip with three friends to the fabulous Farm Chicks Antique Show in Spokane, Washington. We booked a cool house in Sandpoint, Idaho as our home base and returned to Canada three days later with an SUV so full of treasures that I couldn’t see out the rearview mirror. Only one of the three friends was aware that I’d quit drinking and she sheltered me all weekend, helping me fly below the radar. They enjoyed their wine with dinner and through evening conversations, I sipped my substitute, everything was fine.

It was a fun weekend, but by keeping a secret I was also creating  internal drama and chaos unnecessarily. I just couldn’t imagine a girls’ getaway without alcohol because I still believed that alcohol was essential for every occasion. I assumed my new reality a life of resistance in a drinking world and I hoped it would get easier.

Five-and-a-half years later, a few things are different:

  • I no longer hide the fact that I don’t drink
  • I actually like being alcohol-free
  • I am better at assessing which invitations to accept and which to decline
  • I have friends in recovery to plan events with
  • I have built new ways to connect with my friends who do drink

So what is the social life of a non-drinker? Here is a peek at my calendar:

In October I hosted two girls’ getaways at our mountain cabin- one was my book club (mostly normies and 2 sober chicks) and one was a group of sober friends from afar who plan occasional meetups.

The book club getaway was just one night and included a huge feast of a supper, late night saunas and hot tub time, lots of laughing and story-telling. After dark, I brought out a set of glowing poi balls, which a lit balls on strings for spinning like this:

As you can surely imagine, we took turns attempting to twirl and spin gracefully with hilarious results. If you ever want to see a group of women laugh until they cry, go outside after dark with a set of spin balls. No alcohol necessary!

The next morning was all pjs and coffee and chats, when suddenly someone remembered we’d forgotten to talk about about the book! It was a book club meeting after all so we managed to squeak in a book discussion before packing up and heading home.

The next girls’ weekend at the cabin was for three days and included friends that travelled long distances to be together. What a time we had and not one drop of booze was considered or missed! I love to cook and organized the food, plus we had a massage therapist come out and set up a mini spa one day. We hiked, ate healthy meals and treats, talked late, slept in, and shared our stories.

Tomorrow night I am going to a play with a friend, one of the girls who went to Spokane years ago. Although it took me a while to confess to her that I had quit drinking, when I finally did she was very supportive and insightful. It was she who taught me to bring my own drinks wherever I went, and who stocked her fridge with Perrier just for me. She was the one who sent a box of chocolate-covered strawberries on my first sober-versary with a note saying “Now you get to have fun discovering other ways to indulge!”

On Wednesday nights I curl with my husband in a mixed league at the local rink. There is beer everywhere before and after the game, but the focus is on curling and I find it easy to enjoy myself there. We rotate positions and I often volunteer to play lead or second, which involves the vigours of sweeping rocks for three other players so provides the most exercise. My teammates are happy to oblige. Every week we play a different foursome which means I get to meet new people and I am finding this socializing to be good for my spirits.

We were invited to a Halloween Party this past weekend but instead opted for something even better: having our 2-year-old grandson for a sleepover. Being alcohol-free is most important to me in my family roles, especially as a (young!) grandma. To be 100% present allows me to soak in every moment with this little one instead of waiting for his bedtime so I could drink. It allows me to wake up and arrange his berries and orange slices in a funny face on the plate and the giggle at his response, instead of wincing and reaching for the Tylenol. It allows me take him for a walk in the park, looking for bunnies and fish, without ever swatting away voices whispering I don’t deserve to be so happy.

If you are wondering how you will ever have fun again without alcohol, believe me: it is possible. Start by reframing  existing friendships around something other than drinking together (go for breakfast, meet at Starbucks or for a walk). If that isn’t possible, perhaps that person is not a real friend but merely a drinking buddy. As well, make some new connections to build yourself a sober community.

The best thing I ever did was to meet other women in recovery, and for me these relationships were initiated at SheRecovers events and then carried on through our own meetups and gatherings. (Come to New York in May ladies, and I’ll help you connect!)

Recovery groups like AA or SmartRecovery are another place to build relationships. Most of us fear we won’t fit in or tell ourselves, “I’m not one of THOSE people” but the big surprise is that those rooms are full of normal, good people like you and me who share the goal of staying alcohol-free.

As the holiday season looms ahead, this is a great time to think about ways to stay social without endangering recovery. Our social lives should support and strengthen our decision to live in freedom and peace. Does yours?

 

The Role of Ego in Recovery

When sober people gather, we often start to speak a different language.

“He’s one of us” means someone is an alcoholic, whether or not in recovery.  Someone who “went back out” has relapsed. “Normies” are drinkers who are not addicted.

There are dialects to this language, depending on program influences. For example, people in AA often refer to themselves as “friends of Bill W”, and call quitting without a program “white knuckling”. Meanwhile, people in SMART Recovery use a lot of acronyms such as CBA (cost-benefit analysis), DIBs (disruptive irrational beliefs), and REBT (rational emotive behavioural therapy). AA uses acronyms too, but they are more to remember helpful cliches rather than therapy tools (“YET: You’re Eligible Too”, “KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid”, “ODAAT: One Day at a Time”.

Usually these phrases, words, acronyms and cliches are clear and helpful. One word, however, can give us some trouble: EGO.

Ego

Most people (normies, that is) equate ego with vanity and narcissism, considering it to be a negative quality. Recovery puts a more complicated twist on those three little letters: e, g, o. Given that the main difference between AA and SMART recovery is powerlessness vs empowerment, respectively, it only makes sense that each would have a different take on the concept of ego.

AA offers another acronym to illustrate its perspective on ego: Edging God Out. Ego is that part of us that is deeply affected by addiction – pushing God away by simultaneous feelings of pride (“I can handle things just fine on my own”) and shame (“I don’t deserve help from God”). The program is based on this chasm between us and God as being the void we try to fill with alcohol – a spiritual sickness that our addiction leverages to sustain itself. The 12 steps work to address the ego, admitting powerlessness and handing things over to a Higher Power – a process that brings healing and insight.

On the other hand, SMART Recovery looks at ego in more psychoanalytical terms. It is our self-awareness and identity, something we can harness and use to drive change. Ego is who we are, not what we do. This program focuses understanding the connection between thoughts and behaviours, working to understand why we have over-invested in maladaptive coping strategies and creating new ways to respond to our environment. Making these changes means using the ego rather than overcoming it, while assessing whether the self is being influenced by irrational beliefs or fears.

My goal here isn’t to show one perspective as being better than the other, but rather that we have to understand the very different premise of both pathways in order to make sense of what sometimes feels like mixed messages. Both programs champion abstinence and connecting with community. They have the same goals but take different routes to arrive. Each has something to offer and some find one fits better than the other for them. Many, like myself, make use of both as resources and have friends in both programs. This is where the language can overlap, where patience and understanding must come into play.

Ego kept me drinking, it’s true. I felt too proud to ask for help, and believed I couldn’t possibly be addicted to alcohol – that was for “other” people. That is the ego that AA speaks of, the prideful mind that causes destruction by attempting to hold power.

Yet it was also ego that got me sober by whispering, “I can change, I can make this happen!” It was self-awareness and self-respect that helped me press on – something SMART Recovery advocates identify as an “internal locus of control”. Ego served me well, in that case.

I admit that sometimes the ego-cliches frustrate me. It can be a “garbage can” phrase that serves as a catch-all for aspects of willfulness, arrogance, pride. But we have to remember that things aren’t always as they seem. If someone is offended by criticism, what appears as injured pride could easily be self-protection from the opening of an old wound – such as a painful childhood memory resurfacing. To brush that off as mere ego would be a missed opportunity to heal and grow.

So do we feed the ego or annihilate it? I think the answer lies in being gentle with ourselves and others. Understanding the many facets of and uses for ego helps us know ourselves better. The question I am learning to ask, regardless of recovery pathway embraced, is “what’s really going on here?” The acronyms, cliches, theories, and memes are simply tools to help us better answer that essential question.

Back up, reassess, move forward differently. That is recovery.

Another Tool for Your Recovery Toolkit

A friend of mine is struggling with a pattern that may be familiar to some readers: weekend benders. I have heard that a binge pattern is the hardest drinking behaviour to stop because it does not respond as well to routine or counting days.

It can also be hard to sustain motivation in between weekends or irregular triggers, and motivation is closely linked to willingness. Motivation refers to the reasons why we want to get and stay sober, whereas willingness is the commitment to do whatever is required to achieve sobriety.

A binge drinker who is motivated by work performance will likely find that alcohol is easy to resist during the work week, but things become unpredictable on days off.  A single mother who is able to abstain from drinking around her children may succumb to the trigger of loneliness when the children are away with the other parent. Some people develop a pattern of drinking on the weekend as a social crutch: they’ve simply forgotten how to socialize any other way or are uncomfortable being their “real” self around others.

This can be confusing, and a binge drinker may wonder, “Why am I able to control my drinking all week but then lose it on the weekend?”

I have received thousands and thousands of emails during the four years since I started this blog, and some patterns are emerging in the experiences that readers relate. What seems to consistently happen for people who stumble, relapse, indulge, or simply give up on attempts to live alcohol-free is that they find they have limits to their willingness.

There may be partial willingness and combined with the mid-week motivation, these two things are enough to sustain temporary “control” over alcohol. Partial willingness might be doing whatever is within a comfort zone while complete willingness means doing whatever it takes, including finding new motivation to stay sober when the usual motivating factor is absent.

Motivation can be external or internal. Showing up for work or being present for the children are external motivators. When the external motivators are gone, we need to have internal motivation to carry us through. This can be a desire to feel better, be more authentic, or live to our greatest potential.

Then comes the willingness – complete willingness to do whatever it takes to get there. Maybe that means joining a recovery program, maybe it means opening up to a doctor or spouse. If there are limits to what a person is willing to do in order to get sober, the addicted mind can always find an excuse to drink.

I encouraged my friend to try this exercise over the weekend, and I ask you to try it as well. Find a string of beads – it can be anything but preferable something you like. Hold the beads in your hands, touching them one by one. For each bead, say this sentence out loud: “I am worth whatever it takes to have freedom, peace and joy.”

You may feel silly while you do this, but try it anyway. It will only take a few minutes – you can go into the bathroom and turn on the fan or the tap so no one will hear you. Better yet, sit outside in the sunshine if you have space that will allow it. Do it Friday, Saturday and Sunday; at least once a day. Yes, you will be repeating this sentence dozens of times over, and yes, say the whole thing out loud (a whisper is fine). “I am worth whatever it takes to have freedom, peace and joy.”

Showing off my new mala beads with dear friends Dawn and Taryn from SheRecovers.I have been doing similar exercises using a “mala” or prayer beads (here I am (left) wearing the beautiful new “She Recovers” malas made by Taryn Strong of Taryn Strong Yoga for Recovery (pictured right) , along with Dr. Dawn Nickel of She Recovers (centre). The malas will be available soon at www.sherecovers.co.)

Whether you think of it as prayer, mantras, or simple “brain training” (as I prefer), this practice can be a powerful tool in your recovery toolbox.

I encourage you to give it a whirl this weekend and comment here with your feedback. I also invite you to share your thoughts on willingness, motivation, and binge drinking.

Happy Friday, Team UnPickled. Let’s all help one another make it a great weekend!

PS also check out http://www.malamomma.com for beautiful malas!

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