We returned from our vacation to a difficult reality: my husband’s father has entered into the final stages of a terminal illness. He won’t be with us much longer, and it hasn’t seemed right to post all the happy photos from our trip while our family is so heavy with sadness.
We drove through a hailstorm to visit him on Sunday. My new car took a beating – cracked windshield and hail damage to the body – but it was worth it to see him, to be where we needed to be and where we were needed. A car is nothing. Family is everything.
I returned home last night and tried to go through the motions of normal life today.
I was shampooing carpets at one of our rentals when the machine made a strange noise and began to spew smoke. With the receipt for this new machine in my wallet, I decided to load it all into my car and return it to the store. Backing up, something didn’t seem right. I stopped and ran around the car. Apparently, I’d only set the box of parts behind my car, not IN it, and backed over the damn thing. The good news, however, is that I was able to return it anyway.
A phone call came in on my cell. My mom’s condo building was on fire. She made it out safely and was staying with a friend a few blocks away. I drove by, so much destruction. Her unit was untouched by there is no doubt smoke damage to her belongings. No one was hurt, that’s all that matters.
On the way home I picked up a stir fry for supper. It flipped over inside the bag and the contents came out of the container. Teriyaki chicken and rice smoosh.
My car is damaged but I am safe.
My mom is displaced from her home but it’s only temporary.
My carpet shampooer blew up and then I drove over it but the store still gave me a refund.
My dinner dumped all over the bag but I poured it on a plate and ate it anyway.
Is this fucking day over yet?
No, it’s not. It’s messy and it sucks but it’s life and I’m living it.
My heart feels like it’s going to drop into my feet with dread and grief. I don’t want my sweet, funny father-in-law to go. I don’t want to think about the world without him in it. And at the same time I wish him a gentle end.
We can do hard things. It would sure be nice if we didn’t have to do it all at once, though.
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.
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:
4 – My new neighbourhood, where I walk my dog 3x a day:
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.
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 was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook page but stopped short for fear of backlash:
I love this saying and I use it all the time when I am talking to people who are struggling, but it can sound like a cop-out to someone who doesn’t understand addiction.
Addiction comes from using, so how can it not be the addict’s fault? If someone chooses to use, shouldn’t they accept the blame for what comes next?
Well that’s the thing, you see, it’s not necessarily a choice to keep using.
Casual drinkers experience alcohol in a way that is social and fun, but they have the ability to stop drinking. They can take it or leave it. It’s a treat, and they know not to over-do on treats. From a casual drinkers perspective it can appear that people who drink too much are choosing the pleasant treat too frequently and need to use more self-control.
If you scroll through the 6000+ comments on the pages of this blog (holy shit!), you will find virtually no one who says, “I should quit drinking but I am just having so much fun.”
Addiction is not fun. Addiction is not a life anyone wants.
Addiction means drinking (or using) to feel normal. Addiction means that without the substance, withdrawals start in the form of pain, anxiety or obsessive thoughts or more obvious symptoms like shaking or sweating.
The thing to blame for addiction is the fact that alcohol is addictive and yet people are expected to use it without consequence. We know not to start smoking if we don’t want to get addicted. We know that drinking coffee every morning will get us hooked on caffeine. Addiction is the normal course of action for using addictive substances. To drink or use drugs WITHOUT becoming addicted is abnormal.
Why why why why do we expect alcohol to be anything other than it is?
The other tricky thing about addiction is that it creeps in slowly and alters self-perception, so it can take a long time to become aware it has developed. Even then, so much shame and stigma exists around addiction that the first reaction can be denial out of self-preservation.
To be fair, it should also be said that people in the throes of addiction can be mighty assholes who defend indefensible behaviour by blaming others. How painful and frustrating it can be for those living with an addict who appears to be having a great time at their expense while taking zero responsibility. How infuriating it must be to see a quote saying “addiction is not your fault…” when you see the same pattern repeating again and again. Fair enough, that is hard, but please understand: addiction isn’t anyone’s fault.
Forget fault. Forget blame, shame, and guilt.
Addiction is a reality, and realities must be dealt with. Trade blame for acceptance and responsibility. Yes, this falls squarely on the shoulders of the addict, who can only assume responsibility by accepting the reality of their own addiction.
Blame lives in the past, hope lies in the future, but recovery happens in each present moment where acceptance and responsibility are found.
Sometimes it is just nice to hear what a sober weekend involves for other people. I could hardly imagine it when I was drinking – I remember peeking out my window at the homes in my neighbourhood, wondering what happens in the living rooms of the non-drinkers of the world. Even now, with 5 sober years (totalling 265 weekends!) under my belt, I still catch myself thinking, “Hey, look at me not drinking and still having fun!”
I recently wrote about a super-exciting weekend – a meetup of sober friends in Portland that was SO FUN! – but let me tell you about this utterly normal (alcohol-free) weekend. Then, if you wouldn’t mind, please comment and share your weekend highlights.
Friday Night – My husband messaged me to say we’d been invited out for pizza with friends. I was wearing sweaty yoga clothes and was planning to read in the back yard but I’ve been a little anti-social lately so decided it would be nice to get dressed and get out. I was worried that everyone would be super drink-y (Friday night after all) but the weird-o’s ordered tea and water. (I’m kidding. They’re not weird, they’re lovely.) We had a great visit and ate too much and were home by 9 pm negotiating what movie to download. I was up a few “wife points” for all of the tv golf I’ve suffered through lately, so my husband kindly offered to watch “Brooklyn” (which, by the way, was quietly enjoyable; rather like this post and the rest of my life).
Saturday – I was going to spend the day writing but an early morning text from my daughter-in-law arrived, inviting me to a children’s festival. Petting zoos and bouncy castles with my little grandson? Yes please! (Hurray for life without hangovers!) I quickly made a pile of sandwiches – packing some for my husband’s lunch since he couldn’t join us and some for us at the festival since I correctly assumed that healthy food would not be available. (Sidebar: a home made sandwich is a joyous thing. My mother-in-law has often made us sandwiches for various adventures and it makes us feel so cared for and loved. If you want to make someone’s day, make them an unexpected sandwich.) (Second sidebar: Recovery is all about gratitude and service. Sandwiches are about gratitude and service. Coincidence?)
The festival was all kinds of fun. I took 50 or so (blurry) photos of the little dude like a good Grandma should.
By mid-afternoon I was back at my desk with a Tim’s (that’s Canadian for take-out coffee, except mine is a medium-steeped-tea-one-milk-two-sugar) (they often make it wrong) (I persist hopefully with the one-milk-two-sugar-tea order because when it’s right it’s worth it). I got busy packing and labelling prizes to mail to readers while simultaneously arranging dinner out tonight with my kids via text. The international customs forms were a pain in the butt! I took some extra time to write a personal note of thanks to each winner – once again gratitude and service make mundane tasks a sincere pleasure.
Here is a bundle of goodies ready to leave my desk for various lucky readers:
*****Three-hour pause in blogging efforts while I meet my family for dinner at Boston Pizza. I had shrimp tacos and Diet Pepsi. My little grandson ate an entire pizza and 7 lemon slices. Neither of us drank any wine, nor did anyone else at our table, and our large noisy group had a wonderful time*****
Saturday Night – Buckle up. When I finish this post, it’s just me and Sleepytime Tea (made correctly my me) and whatever I decide to do next. The remote control is all mine as hubby is away overnight so I am thinking something super girly like the Tina Fey / Amy Poehler movie that we can’t ever agree to watch together. I’ve gone a little bead-crazy since the girls weekend – we made bracelets for each other as an activity and now I can’t stop – so maybe I could make a few bracelets while watching/not watching the movie. Maybe I’ll crack the “Venus” catalogue that is (inexplicably) mailed to me and play the “Find One Thing On This Page You Would Actually Wear” game – you know, where you randomly open the catalogue and pretend you HAVE TO buy something on that page, which is super amusing and challenging considering the cougar-ish nature of all things Venus.
I’m not really selling the sober life here, or am I? The point is, I am all alone on a Saturday night, doing things I enjoy and feeling no urge to drink. I don’t miss it (love me some Vanilla Sleepytime, truly), don’t need it (no stress in this day!), and don’t think about it (except when I am writing to you good people!).
Sunday – Tomorrow I am going to dig up three rosebushes outside my office that I have HATED for years. I have spent the last several summers trying to trim, shape, and control them, but these are ALBERTA WILD ROSES – stubborn little buggers with an iron will and no common sense. I was scouring the internet for information on how to win this War of the Roses when it dawned on me: replace them with something more manageable!
I know tomorrow will not be pleasant. I know I will have scrapes and scratches and possibly a broken shovel by the end of the day. I’ve been planning my attack for weeks. First I’ll cut off all the branches, then I’ll dig out the roots, then go in after all the suckers. Let me at ’em!!!
It might get messy, but I am excited to take action on a problem that’s been bothering me for years. Sound familiar?
Now…let’s hear about your weekend.
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.
Raise your hand if you’ve taken an online drinking assessment.
Raise your other hand if you took the same assessment more than once, trying different variations of answers in order to get a better result. (Jazz hands if you switched to a different country’s website to see if they had looser guidelines.)
Nod your head if you then took those results and tried to work them backwards, in order to figure out how much you should cut back in order to drop into a lower risk category.
Rub your belly and pat your head if you then tried to moderate to those levels, failed, took the test again, and got an even higher score.
Yah, me too. You are not alone.
The one phrase that really stuck in my mind was, “No more than 10 drinks per week, no more than 2 drinks most days, and no more than 3 drinks on any single occasion.” (Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines) The gears in my head began to whir as I read those numbers, trying to comprehend what living within those guidelines might entail. My mental computations resulted in one-word: IMPOSSIBLE.
Impossible is exactly what moderating proved to be for me – I was well past the point of drinking within the guidelines. Living alcohol-free has not always been easy but it is certainly simpler than that hellish cycle of calculations, bargains, failure and regret.
What’s worse, the guidelines are based on a 5 oz serving of wine, something I considered to be a half-glass. I expect my average was an 8 oz pour, meaning what I called 3 drinks was closer to 5.
When I take that assessment now with complete honesty, my end habits were in the “Severe Risk” category – and no one even knew I had a problem!
I am grateful for these guidelines and assessments because they were an important wake-up call for me. There is a lot of rhetoric and nonsense out there that implies no one can tell if someone else needs to quit drinking. I feel that’s a misinterpretation of that fact that the will to change must come from within. But the numbers don’t lie and high-risk drinking is self-evident based on patterns and numbers alone.
So if you’re struggling with alcohol, pay attention to those assessments and guidelines. Share them. Talk about them.
Remember that many of us seemed to be functioning just fine but still fell into the “High Risk” and “Severe Risk” zones. Forget the stereotype of what we all think addiction looks like and trust the evidence.