Does this rustic Canadian beach look like a nice place for a stroll?
I walk this stretch almost every day when we are here at the lake. Sometimes twice a day. Often with my dog, generally by myself. I know every nook, cabin, rock, weed, and tree. I have come here every summer for 33 years and walked this beach hundreds of times.
When I leave the cabin on my own, my husband says, “Take your phone. Which route are you taking?” It seems slightly overprotective, and I rather love his concern. I am not a risk-taker. Whether I am kayaking, paddleboarding, or going for a walk, rest assured I will proceed in the most awkwardly overcautious manner possible. There is almost zero chance of me encountering a problem, beyond maybe a wasp bite or the misapplication of sunscreen.
My pride has taken a bit of a beating this summer. My swimsuit is now, well, not fitting quite the same. And the other day, I was trying to pull myself up the ladder into the boat and kept slipping back into the water. I felt awkward, all noodle-armed and bottom-heavy. I’ve been slacking on the yoga and exercise, and excelling at the dessert-eating. Plus, you know, menopause and all.
I look the same, I just don’t feel the same.
So needless to say, this particular walk was both necessary (post-dessert) and within my comfort zone.
Take your phone. Tell me your route.
Eye-roll. Smile. Leave.
Now. Do these rocks look like an appropriate place to do gymnastics?
They are not.
Nevertheless, I managed a backward shoulder roll while crossing this short rocky section of the beach. The same rocky section I have walked for decades without incident. But this day, I fell. Slowly. Backwards.
Before it happened, I was simply catching my balance. Hop to a rock, wait, balance, next rock, balance. It is fun. I like it. Wearing flip-flops was a bad idea, though. I knew better but I did it anyway. The sand was wet, the rocks were wet, but I pressed on as if nothing was different. I was taking chances, little baby chances.
Bad idea, I thought as my sandy flip-flops flipped and flopped over a slick stone.
Oh no, I may have said out loud, as the heavy-bottom, noodle-arm feeling returned and I reached out unsuccessfully for something to hang onto.
What is behind me? I tried to remember as I felt myself falling backwards, calmly wondering what part of my body was going to need protecting on the way down.
How is this going to turn out? Why is there time to think so much? I felt myself going upside down and remembered having the exact same thoughts the last time I fell in slow motion, which was on a ski hill and if you are wondering how that went, click here.
Well now, this is just embarrassing. I’d hit the ground without incident or injury but now the force of the fall was propelling me “ass over teakettle” (as my mother would say) and at this particular moment I was upside down and somewhat impressed with myself for turning this into a backward summersault, albeit a graceless one. (Knees apart, toes not pointed, did not stick the landing. My junior high phys ed teacher would grade it a C-.)
Which leads me to this:
(Artistic rendering of dramatic life moment.)
I allowed myself to lay in place momentarily in case someone had witnessed my fall and perchance might come running to my rescue. I wasn’t hurt and yet…well, it seemed appropriate to just give it a few breaths.
No one coming to check on my wellbeing? Oh okay. Great, actually. That means no one witnessed this. Oh right, except me.
Now listen, if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I can suss out a recovery analogy from life’s little moments. Especially the awkward ones.
I knew better but I did it anyway….
I pressed on as if nothing was different. I was taking chances, little baby chances….
This is a story about a middle age woman who went for a walk and had a harmless tumble. It is also the story of that time you went to a party straight from work without eating first. It is about every sober person who said, “I am okay and everything is fine,” when that was not the truth.
Wait, wait, there is more.
The next day, my husband and I decided to cut down a tree that was growing too close to the cabin. I was on the guide ropes, my noodle arms responsible for tugging in the direction we wanted it to fall: away from the cabin.
Nothing was damaged, but the poor dog was terrified from the crash.
I took her for a walk to calm her down.
I double-knotted my runners, and headed back to the beach.
Want to come on retreat with me? Meet You at Kripalu!
Have you watched my kayaking video yet? Come Paddling With Me
Do you ruminate on bad memories? Try this: Memory Modification: A Tool for Recovery
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:
- 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
This 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.
- 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.
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. I 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
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.
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.
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.