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Top Reads: Your Favs and Mine

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.

 

READER FAVS:

#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.

MY FAVS:

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.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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).

Air cast

It takes a big boot to make my other foot look small!

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.

New Bubble Hour Episode

No time to write a post tonight as I was busy interviewing ELLIE as my guest on The Bubble Hour! The Hour flew by. Have a listen. I hope you enjoy it:
//percolate.blogtalkradio.com/offsiteplayer?hostId=387055&episodeId=9742563

Inspiration

This is for anyone who is struggling today…. 

These are the stairs in my house:


I did them several times today on crutches. It’s a pain in the butt, but it is also kind of fun. It’s not forever. It’s just for now. It will get easier.

We can do hard things. 

Whatever you’re up against, be patient. Be in the moment and do what needs to get done. Every day is a little different. Nothing stays the same, so step by step just keep doing the next right thing until you’ve moved past it. 

You’ve got this. 

(Written from my bed…at the top of the stairs.)

Two Thumbs Flying!

Can you tell that I’m writing super fast? My left thumb is back in action – look at me go! I bet you aren’t even reading as fast as I am writing. 

I’ll make this quick. 

The same two things that have got me through a lot in recovery are now serving me well with this broken leg: gratitude and humour. 

I’m grateful for a zillion things simultaneously: that it was a simple break, that I’m healthy and strong, that we moved our offices home just a few weeks earlier, that my husband is kind, tidy, and can cook. Grateful for the ski patrol who attended me on the hill, splinted my leg and carted me off the mountain on a rescue toboggan. Grateful I didn’t give away those flared jeans. 

Today I was  grateful to find a little package on my doorstep from my sister. She is super crafty and designs her own knitting patterns, so I asked her if she could use her leftover yarn to make me some “toe cosies” for my cast. Socks are hard to get on and blankets hurt my leg and I just wanted a little cover I could pop over my toes when they get cold. I sent her a photo that I found online and she not only improvised the pattern, she made me three of them by the end of the afternoon. 

Toe cosies for cast

My Toe Wardrobe


I couldn’t wait to pop one on and ahhhhhh….warm toes without being squished!


And then my sense of humour kicked in….


Keep smiling, friends. 

And don’t drink!

A Message From My Right Thumb

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!

Weekend Reads and Such

The internet seems to have exploded with recovery resources in the past few years, and I have happily clicked away many pleasant hours following the trail of crumbs from article to website to blog to podcast. Often this is how we stumble upon just the lesson needed that day. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Here are some resources that are off the beaten track, but worth a look:

How We Love – this website, blog and book by husband and wife authors Milan and Kay Yerkovitch is about relationships and not recovery, but it should be required reading for those of us who are trying to understand ourselves better in sobriety. It starts with a quiz on the website to determine your attachment style, and then helps you understand how you relate to the others around you. There are lots of articles for free on the website, and I found the book to be a worthwhile investment. This book had a huge impact on me, allowing me to better understand my husbands, kids, and family of origin.

William White – You may recognize Bill White from The Anonymous People film, (which I highly recommend), as the plain-spoken intellectual advocating for a new way to think about recovery. Lose yourself for hours reading his work, which may challenge your perceptions of addiction and recovery. Don’t be dismayed by the old-school website, just appreciate the volume of work you have access to there. There is also a great video series “Life Beyond Treatment”here:

 

Dr Scott Haltzman – Again, not specifically about recovery but rather a topic that is part of many people’s recovery story: infidelity. I came across Dr. Haltzman’s work while I was researching the topic for a Bubble Hour episode (which we ultimately decided against producing). Many people write to me about this issue in their lives, and it seems that there are several ways addiction and affairs can affect each other: sometimes alcohol addiction is the aftermath of an affair as those involved (indirectly or indirectly) look for ways to numb the pain and shame, some may have developed the alcohol problem first and infidelity occurs during a drinking episode, and sometimes the vulnerable circumstances surrounding early recovery can lead people to make bad decisions. Either way, it is a painful issue that is hard to talk about. Dr Haltzman has identified a connection between infidelity and addiction, a phenomenon he calls “Flame Addiction”. Here is an excellent 3-part series of the topic: The Relationship Between Infidelity and Addiction

Mom – I have so much affection for this sitcom about a mother and daughter in recovery.

mom on cbs.jpg

AA meeting scene from “Mom”

It doesn’t always get the details exactly right, but it honours the sobriety experience and the challenges of having relationships in a world full of booze and drugs. Allison Janney and Ana Faris are superb, there’s lots of lingo and messages without being preachy. Often there are scenes in AA meetings that demystify the program, possibly giving someone the courage to attend. I believe all the old seasons are on Netflix and Season 4 is airing now on CBS. Make a pot of tea and spend a quiet afternoon hanging out with the imperfect, funny women.

Well my friends, that should keep you busy on a chilly January weekend. Check these out and let me know what you think.

 

 

Chairing the Committee of Voices in Our Heads

While I am not a mental health professional, it feels like I’ve spent as much on therapy as a psychologist spends on education. To stretch the value for dollar, I like to tell others about some of the great strategies and lessons I’ve learned from my therapist – kind of like buying an album and making cassette copies for your friends. And truthfully, I am often so excited by how helpful the process is that I want to share it with others.

Sobriety is about not drinking, but recovery is about changing ourselves from within so that we can enjoy life without constantly feeling the need to numb out. I got sober on my own, but I am recovering with a lot of help.

Recently my therapist did some work with me around “Internal Family Systems”, which is a process developed in the 1990s by Richard Schwartz. It is an evidence-based practice that considers all the ways an individual can fragment into different parts of the self (think about how are you in different situations, how distinct aspects of yourself are more to the forefront at work, with family, in tense situations, at play, and so on).

First, my counsellor assigned me some homework: to list out all of the distinct part of myself. I filled an entire page! Even though I had never given much thought to them, I could quickly give names to distinct roles: The Critic, The Child, The Bad Me, The Entertainer, The Teacher, The Boss, The Mother and several more. The page filled so quickly that I re-wrote it in a new format, with my own notes of whether the parts were “good” or “bad”.

When we went through the list in session, the first thing I learned is that none of these aspects should be seen as bad. All of these parts emerge for a reason, to do a job. Maybe “The Bad Me” had done bad things, but her purpose was to protect and comfort me using any means necessary. When I feel scared, I might act in some immature ways, because The Child is the only part of me who is allowed to cry.  The thing to understand is that it can be helpful to have all these aspects of ourselves, but they should be managed by what Schwartz calls the Self (I like to think of it as my Highest Self).

The Entertainer in me can charm a crowd and work the room because I created that part to overcome some natural shyness that wanted to hide in a corner. When I made the list, I identified this part as half bad because it feels fake when I am in The Entertainer role. Now I understand that it is not bad or fake, it is a useful tool. The key is to choose when to use a part and not be led by them, especially in extreme ways. It is good to have a little cry and allow myself to feel like The Child, as long as I don’t throw a tantrum in the grocery store. It’s fine to be The Entertainer in some settings, as long as it is by choice and appropriate.

We can think of that addictive voice in our head the same way, as a part that emerged out of a situation and is trying to be useful. It truly believes that alcohol is necessary for our survival and works hard to convince us that drinking would be the correct response to a situation. I have learned that the goal is to spend the majority of our time the High Self role, to call on our parts if necessary and to relieve them of their duties if they emerge unexpectedly and want to run wild.

A good example of this would be the old patterns we can fall into with our family of origin. Funny how we can find ourselves behaving in ways around our parents and siblings that are so different from how we conduct ourselves as adults in the world. We slip into those darn old parts without even realising it, until we hear ourselves whinging or arguing or feeling wounded and wonder “What the hell just happened here? How do these people push my buttons so easily?” It isn’t them pushing our buttons, it is us following some well-worn neurological pathways, like emotional muscle-memory. The part can be trance-like.

My therapist suggested when I feel myself being a part, I should pause to consider if that role is necessary under the circumstance or if I am just following an old habit. When I am in the closet changing my clothes for the 8th time because nothing seems like the right thing, I can pause and say, “Hey Critic, thanks for showing up. I know you are worried about me going to that event today so you are trying to trying to be helpful by telling me everything I put on looks terrible. I have this under control so I need you to be quiet now. I promise I will take good care of myself so you don’t have to worry.”

Other internal conversations for me sound like this: “Hi Martyr, you are getting very upset about how other people are treating me. I appreciate you are feeling threatened but I am going to be protecting my boundaries so you don’t have to. Thanks, I am taking over now.”

“I am talking so much right now and sitting up straighter than normal, I am in my Entertainer part. That feels okay for now, seems like the right thing to be.”

“I can’t stop thinking about drinking today, my Addicted part is on high alert looking for ways to comfort me today. What is really bothering me? Hey Addict, I know you want me to feel better right now so I am going to take over and book myself a massage. How does that sound?”

The goal is to spend the majority of our lives in our Highest Self, and take charge of the parts as manageable tools.

I hope this explanation does justice to the theory. It is my layman’s perspective of a process that has been very insights and helpful to my recovery.

Mull it over and give some thought to your parts. How would it feel to be in charge of them all instead of a step behind? Does the prospect comfort or frighten you?

What’s So Funny About Recovery?

Have you listened to my guest appearance on Your Kick AA Life podcast? (click here) Host Andrea Owen and I trade stories of shame and denial, and we laugh throughout the whole thing. Not that cackling, mean-girl laugh. Not the nervous titters of shame, or shallow giggles of avoidance. It’s a different kind of laughter, an honest expression of joy in celebration of freedom from the burdens of the past.

It isn’t funny when Andrea describes chugging wine from the bottle at the door of the fridge while her husband pulls into the drive way, and it might make you uneasy to think we are making light of that. It was a serious moment, dead serious, but the irony of thinking “I don’t have a problem” in those low moments is crystal clear from the vantage point of recovery and the laughter comes from relief, gratitude, and happiness.

I thought I would never laugh again when I quit drinking.  I thought I would have nothing to say, nothing to celebrate or contribute. I thought life without alcohol would be a death-sentence of boredom and melancholy.

If you need more laughter and truth-telling in your life, check out Andrea’s entire Recovery Series on Your KickAss Life. And don’t forget about The Bubble Hour – a podcast I have been involved in for the past few years. There are 200 episodes in the archives and soon I will be adding more later this month.  (Also if you would like to be a guest I would love to hear from you! Please email thebubblehour @gmail.com and we can set up a time to talk.)

More tomorrow 🙂

Replacement Behaviours – Ten Things That Helped Me Kick Booze

tea and oil diffuser

These are a few of my favourite things….

 

 

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:

  1. 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!
  2. Sugar – There are two benefits of using sugar as a tool in early recovery. One is that sugar can negate alcohol nestle-dibs-crunch-smallcravings 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?

    essential oil bottles

    Hmmmm, what shall we mix up today?

  10. 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!

Hurrah for coffee!

My new sober adventure!

Blog - Laura McKowen

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