Category Archives: Sober Travels and Adventures
My inlaws have a summer cottage on a wooded lake lot. We gather here on (Canadian) May long weekend to open it for the season. We push the pier and boat hoist into the ice cold water, rake the beach, knock cobwebs from the cabin’s rafters and old leaves from the deck.
My husband and I live a day’s drive south on the prairies where trees only grow if they’re planted and pampered. We are always amazed here of the forest’s abundance. Every spring it’s a flurry of cutting and clearing and stacking and splitting and burning because there are TOO MANY trees. Not too many as far as nature is concerned, of course. But as good stewards of our land, we have to stay ahead of trees that are a danger to fall in a storm and damage the cottage or cars.
As I snapped branches and fed the fire continuously, I reflected on how this process is so like life. We keep at it continuously, and nature keeps coming back at us. We can let things grow wildly and unfold as they will, or we can do our best to tend and clear and shape our corner of the world.
Right now in my life, I am working to change my habits of judgement and criticism. I’m trying hard to replace them with compassion, kindness or, in a pinch, detachment. I’m continuously burning broken branches of self-doubt, body image, comparison, and other old habits.
Now that the first jobs of the season are done, our remaining visits here this summer will be more relaxation than work. There’s always some enjoyable puttering available for those inclined to relax via broom, rake or saw, but of course it’s interspersed with fishing, golf, and naps on the beach. At least until September, when we repeat the errands of May in reverse – removing the boat and pier, putting away, shutting down.
All of it is poetry in motion. Year after year, it’s the same and yet different. We flip back through the photo albums and marvel how the babies appeared and grew and even themseves become parents. How our clothes and hairstyles have changed through the decades, but still here we are. The pups that became dogs and then memories, the new pups replaced them who are now old themselves.
Bottom: our son and his wife bathing our grandson on the deck in 2015
Still we rake the beach and cut the grass and sweep the leaves and chop the trees and burn the logs. Nature keeps going and growing, our work just shapes it for a season. The trick is to learn to enjoy it and to appreciate the purpose, otherwise the work seems unending and meaningless.
I’m here, it’s happening. A recovery conference in New York City for 500 women. Before things begin this afternoon, I’m headed out for a walk in the rain to stand next to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Trade Centre Memorial and feel my size next to theirs. It’s one thing to see pictures, but to experience the human scale of me:thing is another entirely.
I remember being scared that travelling would be boring sober. Hah! Last night 7 women – new friends – piled into a cab and made our way through the Trump-protecting barricades to an iconic ice cream shop where we sat over tea and sweets laughing until midnight. Fabulous.
Here is the view of the river from my hotel room. I slept with the window open and woke to horns and hustle. Little kids walking to school by themselves. Runners. Delivery trucks. Business people strutting past.
Time to grab an umbrella and go join them.
In 10 hours, I’ll be listening to Glennon Doyle Melton speak. I hope I can keep my composure and avoid acting like a fan girl at a Beatles concert.
Life give us so many opportunities. Thank God I removed my wine-blinders!
Last weekend we went to a wedding in Las Vegas and I’ll admit I wondered how it would feel to be sober in THE party town.
Sparks were flying before we even left the airport, as one rowdy passenger was pulled aside at the gate and told he wouldn’t be served alcohol on the plane. Seated nearby once on board, we listened to him pleade and argue with the crew throughout the three-hour flight. Delightful! When we landed, he muttered “See you next Tuesday” to the flight attendant, which my husband informed me is code for the nasty C-word.
I had a small epiphany as we walked the strip after arriving: Vegas might be easier for me sober than it was before. I’d been there twice for conventions many years ago, before drinking became entirely problematic for me. I was there for business conventions and wasn’t interested in the other distractions. If I had visited the city during the time of my active addiction, I would have been very bothered by the public displays of drunkenness because I so cherished my hidden secret. I drank on my own terms, as a reward after working hard all day. Vegas offers no chance to maintain that front! There is no work to be rewarded, no pretence of anything but indulgence. I rejected that image, resented that idea. I drank in a private, regimented way that Vegas would have totally disrupted. I don’t think I could have enjoyed myself there in those days.
It was good to see our family at the wedding, the bride was stunning and the Elvis minister was charming. We had a lot of laughs, ate some very good food, spent a few hours shopping, and were soon on our way home again without ever even sitting at a slot machine.
Earlier in my sobriety, I was very dependent on a certain routine of morning coffee and bedtime tea that would have been difficult to replicate in Las Vegas because there wasn’t even a coffee maker in our hotel room (clearly the hospitality industry is hell bent on keeping visitors out where they can spend money!). I think the noise, crowds, stimulation, and general ick-factor would have spiked my anxiety and I would have been a mess. I doubt I would have drank but I might have taken Gravol to knock myself out, which in some ways is a relapse (pills to escape, even just Gravol!).
One of the great lessons of recovery for me has been withstanding discomfort. I did feel overwhelmed at times, and instead of letting the feelings rule me I breathed and waited. I did see people who were rowdy and loud, and I released the urge to judge. I saw people who made me sad – homeless people, young women who seemed exploited, and foreign workers handing out smut cards – and my heart went out to them.
The most lasting impression – aside from the gorgeous bride, our reason for being there – was a couple we sat behind on the flight home. There was tension between them, clearly. The wife was quite obviously hung over, a shroud of shame and pain clung to her shoulders. Her eyes looked dead in that way many of us in recovery know all too well – a mix of defeat and defiance. Her husband was silent before, during, and after the flight. He sheparded her through the crowds but walked a step ahead. He acknowledged when she spoke to him but his eyes were quiet steel. Jesus,what happened with these two? Whatever it was, the fallout was evident. My heart ached for them both, and I couldn’t help feel that their story was a long way from over.
Just as I wished a life of happiness or the bride and groom, I went home hoping happiness might find the cast of real-life characters whose faces wouldn’t leave my mind: the young man who was drunk at the airport, the homeless man who ran for his life throug the hotel lobby with a stolen sandwich in his hand, the young woman in a leather miniskirt and platform shoes with glazed eyes leaning heavily on an older man, that angry couple on the flight home.
I’d had just as much fun on Freemont Street with my Lime Perrier as everyone else with their booze, but my heart was glad to go home and get back to normal.
Recovery looks like two friends having coffee in the sunshine.
Here I am with Anne (ainsobriety.wordpress.com) as we hung out on my front steps after recording an episode of The Bubble Hour for y’all to enjoy.
“I can’t believe this is my life. How did I get here?”
I asked myself this a thousand times when I was trapped in the cycle of daily drinking. I hear the same words often from readers with whom I correspond. How did this happen? How did I get here? I can’t believe this is my life.
I heard it last night from a strong, beautiful mom who is wrestling with her decision and wrote a heartfelt message about her inner battles.
I am saying it myself this morning, only now it has a happy meaning for me, and is said with a spirit of gratitude: I am drinking coffee all alone in a strange city on a balcony overlooking the hippest neighbourhood I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe this is my life. I am about to spend 4 days with a group of sober women I’ve met through blogs, through recovery retreats, and online support groups. We’ve rented a huge vacation property and filled all nine bedrooms. I can’t believe this is my life.
How did I get here? I arrived a day ahead of the others and had to wander around the area alone for hours before I could check into the rental house. I explored local shops, got a manicure, bought the groceries we’ll need (lots of coffee and ice cream, plus oodles of healthy ingredients for two big suppers we’ll cook together). I hunted through a used bookstore and scored a 1945 edition of Ogden Nash poetry for my son, and seriously considered a vintage hand-tool leather purse from the 70s that might lose its cool style-value the moment I leave this trendy neighbourhood. I ate borscht alone in a cafe.
I can’t believe this is my life. It was when I finally checked into this house that I came to appreciate how far I’ve come.Stillness used to be my enemy. Staying busy was my drug of choice, drinking was a way to numb myself when the busy-ness of each day ended. So spending a night alone in a strange, huge house could be a big trigger. I watched tv, read, fed myself, drank tea, went to bed, read some more, and finally just went to sleep. I tossed and turned. In truth, it was a horrible sleep. I checked my clock every 30 minutes from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. and then finally just got up and made a pot of coffee. So what if I am tired when the others arrive? So what if I maybe talk too much or fall asleep before everyone else or act spacey because I am tired. So what, that’s okay. I am safe with these friends. Perfection is not expected or required.
How did I get here? One hallmark of codependency, I’ve learned, is only valuing oneself through the eye of others. One place I catch myself doing this is in the grocery store: what do others think of me when they see what’s in my cart? It might sound stupid to non-dependent types, but I am sure some of you do the exact same thing. So when I was getting groceries for this meetup, I laughed at the giant bag of spinach, three buckets of gelatto, and tea selection I was placing onto the conveyor belt, thinking the average person would say, “A girls weekend? Where’s the wine?!” And then I noticed the lady ahead of me who was bagging her own groceries, which appeared to be dinner for one but with two bottles of wine. Was I imagining that she looked puffy, tired, and maybe a little sad? Was it fair to assume she was trapped as I had been? Maybe she was on her way to book club. Oh wait, that was one of the things I used to say to the store clerk when I was embarrassed to be buying more wine myself. “Book club! Those ladies love their wine!” I caught myself short of judging this stranger, and instead sent up a little wish for her wellness, whatever that may be.
I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe all the cool things I have done since I quit drinking. A year ago today I went skiing in Switzerland in the shadow of the Matterhorn with my husband. I went to an AA meeting in Manhattan – which is surreal for a small town hick like me (who doesn’t do AA). I have travelled alone to yoga retreats and sober meetups in Mexico, Boston, Salt Spring Island, Kelowna, and around my home province of Alberta. I can’t believe the amazing people who have been kind enough to meet up with me when my travels bring me to their region, and I love it when you guys let me know you’re coming through my area so I can meet you.
I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe that it feels so natural to live without alcohol when I spent so many years believing it was the only thing that held my life together. I can’t believe it is so easy to share my weaknesses in this blog when I kept them hidden for so long. I can’t believe five years has already passed since I looked at my drinking and asked, “How did I get here?”
Oh wait, I CAN believe it. I DO believe it. It’s real. I acknowledge it all, humbly and gratefully. I am living life fully and fearlessly (albeit still a little anxiously at times).
I don’t drink, and my life is better than ever. It gets better. Believe it.
You’re on a plane and you start to notice that the fellow in front of you looks very familiar. Well, at least from behind. You didn’t see him sit down so you’re not sure what he actually looks like but each time he turns his head the glimpse of his profile reminds you of someone. And his mannerisms…He touches his ear again, just like that guy in your math class back in university. Wasn’t that guy a farm kid? You remember him telling some story about a tractor. This guy could be a farmer – he looks very healthy and tan from back here.
By the end of the flight you know him better than he probably knows himself: should you tell him his barber missed a hair on the back of his neck? Maybe his farm-wife clips his hair for him on their front porch (you’ve noticed the sensible gold band). And that mole looks worrisome – his wife would surely have noticed it when she cut his hair. She likely booked him a doctor’s appointment. Country doctors are so kindly. You are so happy that your former classmate has a nice life.
The the plane lands and you wonder briefly what he’ll say, what you’ll say, if (when) he recognizes you as he turns to wait hunched under the overhead bins while the other passengers lumber into motion. You prepare to act a little surprised at that moment of hello, since you suddenly feel weirdly ashamed of watching him so intensely. You are also busily gathering your belongings and these thoughts are so fleeting you barely notice them.
You watch. He turns. And…looks completely different than you imagined. There is nothing familiar – or farmer-ish for that matter – about this man. He is a a complete stranger, and now he is looking at you because you are looking at him. You look away, suddenly feigning disinterest.
This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Or am I the only one who composes stories for the partly-seen strangers before me on planes and in theatres or restaurants?
It occurred to me last evening (as the lady in front of me at The Lion King in Vancouver whose elegance I’d been admiring turned to reveal an unexpected visage) that this experience is not unlike the way we view our own lives at times.
Sometimes we get stuck looking at ourselves, our lives, our relationships from a limited perspective – like considering our parents from only the child’s point of view, or ourselves from the inner critic position. Maybe we are inclined to only see things as the victim or the hero (have you read my post on The Drama Triangle yet?). Our experience can be painful, which is why we then seek relief by drinking (or a myriad of other coping behaviours like shopping, eating, working, escaping by any means) and that process keeps us stuck. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Recovery is all about stepping back, sideways, forwards and seeing things differently. It is about looking at the whole picture and changing the perspective. Sometimes it is a huge AHA! moment just to become aware that what we thought was real was really a skewed version of the truth.
There’s nothing wrong with inventing a story for the back of a stranger’s head – it’s one of my favourite pastimes. However, when the moment of truth comes around may it serve as a gentle reminder for all the ways we fool ourselves with limited thinking and perspectives.