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The Secret is to Know When to Stop

I was running yesterday — yes, running, more on that in a moment — tossing around ideas for what to write. Where to start after the past few weeks? Life has served up extreme ends of the spectrum this year –  so happy, so so very sad – it’s hard to talk about one without slighting the other. (For a recap of this year’s rollercoaster, listen to the intro on last week’s Bubble Hour. Then, of course, listen to the rest of the interview after because Meaghan’s story was captivating.)

We are spending the week at our family’s lake cottage on Lac La Biche, situated in the edge of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. Sometimes there are 18 or more of us here and it’s a blur of beach towels and corn cobs and trying to remember which phone charger or coffee cup is mine. 

This week, however, there’s only  three of us and the focus is on puttering – clearing, burning, building, cleaning – and relaxing in equal measure. 

I take long walks every day, something I’ve done since first coming here in the 80s as a teen (gah!). On a recent walk, I reflected on how grateful I am to have healed so quickly and completely from my broken leg and got the idea to try running a few paces. I was dressed in jeans and flats, so I didn’t want to appear to actually be out for a run — not that there was a soul around to see me anyway. But oh my gosh!! I ran and it worked and it didn’t hurt so I just kept running. And the next day I dressed more appropriately and alternated between 100 steps running/walking. No pain! No swelling!

I was so excited that I didn’t turn around at the usual spot, I kept going until our little side road joined the highway and then without thinking I stepped onto the skinny shoulder of the busy logging/oil route. Every minute or two a rig would rumble past but I didn’t care. I felt reckless and free and powerful. I could run! (And then walk, and run, and walk, and RUN!). 

When I got back to the cabin, I burst through the door with sweaty jubilation, eager to share my achievement with anyone who’d listen. When it came out that my route had taken me onto the highway, my family was understandably horrified. 

“That is so dangerous – don’t do that again!”

So yesterday I set off for another run, mostly motivated by the fact that I’d forgotten to pack milk and had been substituting whipping cream in my coffee since arriving. The events of this year have contributed so a 15 lb weight gain as it is, and something should be done. Clearly that something does not involve black coffee, so running it is. 

I found myself on the route towards the highway, debating whether to turn back at the stop sign or (secretly) run the forbidden loop. Sure, I had promised I wouldn’t, but there it was. 

Stop sign
As the red sign got closer and closer, and my mind bounced from blogging ideas to sneaking onto the highway like a naughty child, I suddenly felt an accountability to YOU, dear reader, to “do the next right thing” – just as I’m always telling others to do, even though this time it had nothing to do with alcohol. 

Or did it?

Who do I hurt when I indulge the part of me that says it’s okay to do something risky as long as I keep it quiet? Who do I slight when I think “no one knows”? Myself, that’s who. If I know, someone knows. Secret behaviours can be just as dangerous as running on the highway. 

I decided to capture this moment of awareness to post here, to show you that you’re with me, to remind us all to just keep going and do the next right thing. 

UnPickled running

Tom Cochran was right: the secret IS to know when to stop – be it drinking or withholding truth or putting heavy cream in coffee or not writing. 

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Killin’ It 

Remember six months ago when I broke my leg skiing? Today I walked 25km – the most difficult portion of our week-long walking tour through England’s Cotswolds. Hills, muddy trails, fields of sheep, steps, I did it all. I’m so grateful to be healed and strong again. 

Remember six years ago when I quit drinking and thought vacations would be a drag? We have been smiling and laughing this whole trip. 

Remember six hours ago when my flat iron refuse to work on a converter? Welp, that’s not even bothering me. Look at this picture, wonky hair, no make up, sweaty and full of JOY!! 

If you’re struggling today, keep going. Do the next right thing, and then the next, and then do it some more. Things will get better. I promise. 

PS – We were overtaken by no less than 5 elderly couples today. I’m talking, WHOOSH! Brits are serious walkers, they don’t mess around.  As I watched yet another pair of silver heads bob past us and into the distance,  I remembered “COMPARISON IS THE THEIF OF JOY” and giggled. 

Little lambPoppy among wheat stalksCotswold farm

Carry On

Yesterday we walked 8 miles in the rain through fields of cows, past gorgeous old homes, moss covered graveyards, and finally into Stow on the Wold where we spend the night in a 400-year-old inn. 


My recently-broken leg is holding up well. I was limping for the last half mile and needed to rest once we arrived but within an hour I was back out exploring the town. 

A walking tour is a great choice for a sober holiday. We are too tired for much besides supper and a good rest at the end of the day. 

This morning we set out for a second day of walking and promptly got lost, so we turned back and returned to the town square where we bought fresh cheese and bread for a picnic along the path (once we locate it!). Then I suggested we stop at the local coffee shop for the wifi, bathroom and a Flat White before heading out again. Cheers!

The Adventure Begins

This morning we start our 7 day walking tour through the Cotswolds in England. We’ve been planning this for a year as a celebration of my 50th birthday. After a long day of travel from Canada, we slept for 13 hours under a cloud-like comforter. Here is the view from our first hotel room, which was once a stable:


I was a little worried it would be nothing but pubs for pit stops, but I didn’t realize there’s a tea shop on every corner, too!


Off we go!

Peek In My Hopper

If only someone could find a way to translate all the blog posts I write in my head while I’m driving or cooking or doing books at the office. If only I could collect a ticker tape of my brain activity (dreams excluded, those are wacky) and cut and paste the best bits for this blog.

I had so many good ones in “the hopper” (which is what I call the mental centrifuge that filters obsessive thoughts into actual truth nuggets).

A few things I planned to write about this week:

– The way my throat clamps shut when I visit a church, and I cannot sing along with the hymns. Even in my son’s hipster congregation on where instead of a choir there’s a “worship team” with a drum kit and bass guitar and the songs are all catchy and upbeat. As a former singer/songwriter I feel strange standing in silence while those around me sing, but some old anxiety clamps on my throat and seals my lips. Instead I close my eyes and sing in my mind, and trust that God understands this little mystery even if I don’t. But then I feel guilty, because if everyone did the same the sanctuary would be silent…and then I wonder, “Wouldn’t God still hear choir, I mean worship team, of our hearts?”….

– That I realized only yesterday at I had confused Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” with 80s actress Terri Garr, who I’d assumed reinvented herself as a radio personality after retiring from acting. I was so impressed how her ditzy, perky blonde stereotype had been shed for the deep-voiced intellect on the radio. “She was a better actor than I thought!” To be fair, I am Canadian and our national NPR equivalent is CBC (tv and radio) and I only recently picked up NPR on satellite radio. The Garr/Gross mix up was the result of catching occasional promos, but minutes into listen an actual episode I was searching “Terry Gross photo” followed by “Phoebe’s mom on Friends” and laughing at my mistake.

– That I spent 4 days at the lake without a packing along a carefully planned array of non-alcoholic beverages for myself. This used to be a big deal – How many days? How many dinners, cocktail hours, card games and evening fires did I need to soothe myself through? This time around, all I worried about was morning coffee and bedtime tea. Seriously. What a shift.

– That we stayed in a theme room at West Edmonton Mall, and like the note above, booze did not even cross my mind. Wine and hotel rooms used to go hand in hand, and I made a point of packing bottles, corkscrew, and glasses in my drinky days because God forbid I might be stuck in a hotel room without my much needed wine. When I quit drinking, I needed to replace all that and you will see in some earlier posts how I kitted out my bag with all kinds of replacements.

– How sometimes it can be hard to be of service to people who are active addiction. I want to help everyone and not everyone wants to be helped, even when they have reached out to ask for help. It is a delicate dance. I am learning and doing my best.

– How I tired AVE (audio visual entrainment) and what a little trip that has been.

But damn, all of those posts wrote themselves in my head and I failed to capture them. Instead I am writing this recap in between appointments and hoping you can hop from dot to dot to build some kind of picture. What did it form? What do you see? A happy, sober lady living a full life? Or a scattered flibbertygibbet who needs to focus and schedule more writing time?

A Hard Month, A Good Month

Oh my goodness, July was a whirlwind of boxes, garbage bags, take out meals, and car rides!

We went to our niece’s wedding in Vegas, moved into a rental after selling our house with a lightening-quick possession, continued building our new home, and welcomed a new grandson into the world. On top of that, my parents just moved into assisted living so my sisters and I are tasked with helping to empty their old home of everything from sewing patterns to office files to endless doilies to memories.

I am not going to lie, there were many moments that I felt overwhelmed and weary. There were some quiet tears in my car and the bathroom stall at WalMart. Not sad tears, just exhausted ones. As if the thoughts I was too busy to think found a way out of my brain through my tear-ducts. I cried sorting the shoes and purses in my mom’s closet, oh dear Lord I am suddenly crying AGAIN NOW remembering it.

Sidebar: I have just had the realization that my mother’s closet holds such emotion for me because I used to hide there as a little girl and fantasize about the woman I might grow up to be as I touched each scarf, bead and fringe. I felt so close to the childhood version of myself this month as I returned to that place – a different closet with decades-different shoes but the same smell of roses and soap. We women define ourselves through our mothers, whether by contrast or copy. My tears that day were because I saw how I drove myself in so many ways to be the woman I wished my mother was – one that’s more assertive and domineering – and to be the mother I wish I’d had (more protective and informed). I became overwhelmingly aware that by forever trying to better her I have failed to fully appreciate her for who she is, and this will need to be a new focus of direction in the years ahead.

Emotions and self-reflection continue to be one of the harder parts of life after alcohol for me – no numbing or checking out. I didn’t exactly feel triggered, but I had that heightened awareness: “It would be nice to not feel this right now.” I did yoga, ate things I shouldn’t, cleaned things that didn’t need cleaning, and walked the dog. Best of all, I’d visit our kids and grandkids and just soak their sweet presence into my soul. (I have grandkids! Plural! What else could even matter in this world?)

The first time I heard the acronym ‘H.A.L.T.” I cringed – I hate to see complex things reduced to mere acronyms – but there is so much truth to the notion that Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired are four of the biggest triggers. I have spent most of the past month perpetually feeling all four simultaneously. Ironically, when I feel uncomfortable I’d rather work harder than take the break that I actually need. My go-to numbing is frenzy. Whirling dervish. I feel safe when I’m in constant motion, no one can hit me with a dart of criticism – even now that I *know better* I still subconsciously hustle to avoid some imagined critic.

Here are the good things that happened this month:

1 – Recording Bubble Hour interviews has been a balm to my soul. An hour once a week to get lost in someone else’s story and connect and share.

2 – Visitors – This is crazy! One of the kind strangers who encouraged me via Twitter when I first got sober emailed (5 years later) to say his family would be vacationing in this area and that we should meet up. Oklahoma and Alberta are 1600 miles apart – I never imagined we would ever meet in person. I had the pleasure of thanking this kind man and meeting his family and sharing lunch and looking into the eyes of someone who literally cheered me through those first few scary days. What a gift.

3 – Enjoying new spaces. Here is my new (temporary) home office, where I am writing this right now:

new office

4 – My new neighbourhood, where I walk my dog 3x a day:

water walk

Gratitude is getting me through and helping to turn a rough month into a good month, and keeping me on the sober path along the way.

This is What Recovery Looks Like

jean and anne

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.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2016/06/23/sobriety-through-a-crisis-guest-anne-s

 

Interviewed by Mrs D

We were lucky enough to have Lotta Dan of Mrs D as a guest on two episodes of The Bubble Hour and now she is flipping the tables round by interviewing me on her Living Sober site.

http://www.livingsober.org.nz/sober-story-jean/

Thank you, Lotta, for all you to do encourage and inspire happiness in life after alcohol!

Prize Update

I spent a few hours this weekend packing up prizes from the 5th Anniversary Giveaway and it was quite an enjoyable task. I seem to be finding pleasure in little things these days – a direct result of not overloading myself, I suspect. With a bin full of packages and customs forms, I headed for the post office to send them on their way.

In true Canada Post fashion, it cost twice as much to send a package 200 km Calgary than 3280 km to Tennessee. After 45 minutes of weighing, printing, signing, posting and paying – thankfully the clerk was methodical and calm – the bin was emptied and the task can finally be crossed off my list (I love my lists!).

What was really cool about this exercise was that it shifted over from a virtual connection to a tangible one. The recipients of those packages will see my handwriting, hold gifts that I chose for them, and read personal messages that were written for their eyes only. I don’t know if they will find that experience as moving as I have, but to me it is new territory. “Our relationship has gone to another level” kind of thing.

I think it can be too easy for bloggers to adopt a “voice” that is almost an alter-ego and it can become a mask of sorts. I have worked very hard from Day 1 of this blog to stay authentic, and that can be hard because I write much more eloquently than I speak. The codependent in me can’t help but think, “Does my handwriting make me look uneducated? Are the lines straight? Will they like this prize? Do I sound silly?”

I was telling a friend recently that I have a vision of heaven as a place that reveals all the unseen aspects of our lives on Earth, and we get to see who we helped along the way as well as the strangers that may have helped us without our knowing. I think all of our questions are answered and life’s little mysteries and coincidences are revealed. I fully believe all of us who have been helped by the recovery blogosphere will have a giant meetup in the sky, where we all get to hug and talk to each other in person (spirit?) and see, feel, understand the enormity of the impact we have all had on one another. Wouldn’t that be cool?

I’ll leave you with that happy thought today.

UnPickled in Liv’s Recovery Kitchen

I was pleased to be interviewed by Liv’s Recovery Kitchen last week, a cool site where blogger Liv writes about recovery, shares kitchen-tested recipes, and posts interviews with sober people from all walks of life.

Liv asks great questions, and as a result she had me covering everything from early recovery to my thoughts on (not doing) the 12 Steps to what the heck “Recovery is Leadership” means.

Please enjoy:

http://www.livsrecoverykitchen.com/interviews/interview-with-jean-greer-mccarthy-of-unpickled

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