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Life’s Little Disasters

Beach in AlbertaDoes this rustic Canadian beach look like a nice place for a stroll?

It is.

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.

Rocky Beach in AlbertaNow. 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:

Fallen on Beach(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.

TIMBER!!!

Tree Fell on Cabin

Shit happens.

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

 

 

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Come Paddling With Me

I brought you along for a morning kayak today – a goofy experiment that worked out rather well:

 

If the panda comment seemed random, here is the meme I was referring to:

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 7.09.21 PM

Are you dying to know how on earth I managed to fit a phone in my mouth??! I have a case called “Loopy” with a rubber loop on the back that is meant for a finger but as it turns out works nicely for other purposes. (Sidebar – the case says LOOPY in big pink letters and my husband likes to tease me that makes it “personalized” perfectly for me.)

Let’s continue:

 

If you enjoyed joining me for my morning kayak, be sure to pop over to The Bubble Hour and listen to the short episode I recorded while paddling.

Enjoy the warm weather!

 

 

Forest of Thoughts

On a quiet walk in the woods of Qualicum Beach this morning, I saw a tree growing on top of an old stump.

I reflected on the ability of one life to fuel the next. Again and again it appeared, new growth sprouting from the decaying past.

Some of us push away our past, hoping to deny or overcome the things we’d rather forget. But maybe we can instead embrace it, not erase it, and use it to fuel our futures.

Happy Trails

Oh the simple life. Crawling into our cozy van-bed with a book, quickly drifting to sleep and clocking a miraculous ten hours of deep rest, night after night. Amazing! I rarely sleep longer than seven hours a night at home. How is this even possible?

Our daily adventures look something like this: a gorgeous drive, a good meal, a pretty campsite, a nice walk, a deep sleep, morning coffee, repeat.

A cartwheel on the beach…and a hike through the forest at Porpoise Bay…No make up for days on end! I literally have not gone a week without makeup since I started wearing it (hiding behind it) in the 7th grade.

There is a lot to be said for breaking routine and doing things differently. I realize how stuck in my ways I am at home – from morning coffee to bedtime tea. Being overly entrenched in routine is how I got stuck in the wine loop, and then I leveraged routine to break free.

I’m far from a “Free Spirit” (as our van boasts) but I am embracing this version of freedom on our vacation. It’s nice to know I can do this, to just *be* and just *enjoy*.

Then and Now

This morning I was awake much earlier than necessary. BOING! Eyes open at 6 am. Go back to sleep, I told myself, you have a late curling draw tonight. You need the extra sleep if you’re going to make it through this day….

But it was too late.

COFFEE said my brain.

PEE! said my bladder.

Shhhhhh, go back to sleep, said my grown up voice, soon drowned out with chatter:

Yippeee morning! Coffee and news and what should I wear today and hey I wonder if I lost another pound and oooooh what oil should I diffuse in the sunroom while I read the paper and and and if I get up now I can read for an extra hour instead of sleep! 

Who can resist that kind of enthusiasm? I can’t help myself, I love mornings. Do not confuse this with being a morning person. Morning people get stuff done. I don’t. I love to sit and read and drink coffee and have a slow start without interruptions.

Things sure have changed.

I used to shuffle to the kitchen and reach for Tylenol first, then coffee – both of them extra strength, please. Everything used to hurt in the morning and I never questioned it – I powered through. Hangover? No, of course not. I just had chronic daily headaches and body pain for no reason. It’s not like I was throwing up and calling in sick for work, right?

But a few months after I quit drinking I realized that I was no longer taking those little red pills every morning, and eventually I even had to toss a mostly-full jumbo bottle because it had stale-dated. That’s when I knew things were really different.

Six years later, things continue to change.

Unpickled

This is what recovery looks like….

I no longer stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own eyes, looking for answers to a question I am afraid to ask. Or inspect my nose for whatever it is that supposedly happens from too much alcohol.

I still check my outfit in the mirror before leaving the house, but only to see if I like the combination – not with the scrutiny of an imposter trying to cover her shame and fear with perfection.

I used to arrange and rearrange the furniture and decor in my home, then inspect it by standing at the entrance and surveying the scene with a visitor’s eyes. Is this good enough? Are there flaws? Is it welcoming? It is right? Oh, my home is still quite perfect – once a designer always a designer! – but I please myself first.

As mentioned, Wednesday night is our curling league and I have fun visiting with the other teams. I love to throw a good take-out shot that clears the house, or sweep a teammate’s rock with all my might, but I no longer imagine that people are watching me or judging my form. We often socialize afterwards and it doesn’t faze me that most teams split a pitcher of beer while I have water, though in truth I can’t wait to get home and watch Survivor.

Yep, this is a huge departure from the old days. My husband and I started curling in our 20s before we had kids and oh my, the drinking we used to do! It was all in good fun back then. In my 30s things had started to change – with little kids at home curling was our one night out so we had to get a week’s worth of partying into that one night. I probably drank a similar amount of alcohol as before, but with a different urgency and attitude. Curling was once a prelude to alcohol. Now I actually focus on the game and play hard and feel happy.

I could go on. I drive differently. I listen differently. I work and socialize differently. Everything is better, even though some things are harder now. I got through profound grief this year without the help of alcohol and it was so very large and real, but I did it (am still doing it, to be honest).

I look better. I feel better. My chest doesn’t hurt constantly and I sleep like a baby (at least until 6 am!). I hardly have to think about not drinking now, that part gets SO much easier. But when it does hit me, the old urge to escape – WHAM! There it is like the smell of mould and I pull back in surprise.

Except now I know to ask, what is making me so uncomfortable that I want to check out? Then I deal with that thing, and if I can’t identify it I comfort myself anyway with something safe – a stretch, a treat, a nap, a walk, an unnecessary purchase.

That’s where I am at now, and in time I will surely be in some even more enlightened place.

But one thing is for sure: I am never going back.

 

 

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. 

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

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!

Memory Modification: A Tool for Recovery

 

memory modificationLike many busy moms, my wine habit began with a glass of wine to help me fall asleep at night. It helped smooth the edges off the one part of my day I dreaded: laying in bed, alone with my thoughts. I have written about this in several other posts, and spoken of it often on The Bubble Hour podcast.

Stillness was my enemy, because old memories would jab my brain until shame and regret became an unending loop. Eyes open or closed, I couldn’t look away: a teacher embarrassing me in elementary, the terrible way I sometimes treated my friends in high school. Inexplicable moments of scattered promiscuity, cruelty, apathy, or weakness. Shitty mom moments of being short tempered with my kids. Instances of insensitivity towards employees because I was overwhelmed myself. I never knew what old gem would come floating back if I laid my head on the pillow but it hardly mattered. They all affected me the same way – bringing tears and eventually long silent sobs into my pillow that I hoped my husband wouldn’t hear.

I drank to skip that. I drank to fall asleep the moment BEFORE my head hit the pillow, to avoid the torture of looking inward. I’d been raised to pray before I slept, to take a quiet moment to reflect and give thanks or ask for help to do better. Over time this morphed into self-loathing, until I no longer felt worthy of involving God in the conversation. The more I drank to avoid my inner landscape, the more I had to hate about myself. It was a vicious circle.

Navigating these thought patterns was daunting without a numbing agent, but I had no choice once I left alcohol behind. I’ve talked myself through it, revisited my old rItaly of prayer, and when all else fails I just allow myself to cry.

Thanks to a friend, I’ve learned a new technique that is proving to be the most effective tool yet for banishing those ruminating thoughts.

Memories, it turns out, are neither all that reliable nor accurate. Every time we yank one out of long-term storage, it is momentarily vulnerable to change. Plastic, if you will. So if we retrieve it in a moment of sadness or self-loathing, it will be affected by that perspective and highlighted or tweaked to conform. Likewise, it can also be altered in a more positive way.

My friend shared that her therapist had been helping her rewrite a traumatic memory from her childhood by imagining what characters she needed there with her in that moment – a protector, a nurturer, a companion. She learned to pause the story and bring in those characters, to change the outcome into a happier ending. If it’s all in her head anyway, what’s the difference? If she was remembering an inherently inaccurate version anyway that was painful, why not invent a better, safer version?

This is the basis of memory modification, and here’s how I’ve adapted it for myself. Now if I find myself fixating on an old memory that’s painful, I pause it like a photograph. Then I step into the memory as I am today, taking the form of my highest self – the nurturer, the grandmother, the mom, the wiser, kinder me. I step forward into the thought and face the old me in the memory, coming between she and the other person in the frame (and there’s always another person involved, it seems). I wrap a favourite blanket around the younger me’s shoulders, and I pull her close in a warm, strong hug. In that instant, I can feel in my chest everything that I had been needing in that moment (assurance, affection, acceptance, love, forgiveness) and I am able to transfer that very thing from me to her. I tell her she is safe, that everything will be okay.

Then I take her out of that moment and tuck her into the passenger seat of my car, still wrapped in the blanket. I drive her through Starbucks and buy her anything she wants, and we head for the mountains – then me and now me like the closet of friends. It’s a beautiful drive. She feels calm and safe in my presence. We arrive at our cabin, the stuning mountain home she doesn’t know she will one day own, and I usher her inside. There at a large dining table are three handsome young men playing a board game, laughing together. These are your sons. A blonde, fun-looking grandpa with two little boys. This is your husband and grandchildren. Three radiant young women: your daughters in law.

This is your family. This is your future. All this happiness awaits you. You are safe here. Stay and play. 

Its amazing how this process deflates the negativity out of old memories. If the thought returns, I can say, It’s okay, she’s safe at the cabin having fun with the people who love her. She found what she was looking for.  If a new memory surfaces, I know what to do: blanket, hug, Starbucks, cabin, future family. It works every time.

I’m not a therapist, I don’t pretend to be, but I hope my version of memory modification sparks your curiosity – especially if you are haunted by your past. Think of it like a photograph, one you keep pulling out to reexamine. It’s time to take a felt marker and draw a moustache, a bluebird, a rainbow. It’s time to stop carrying that photo in your wallet and cut it into a snowflake.

You are that powerful, that creative….that free to change.

 

 

NYC Anyone?

 

13886965_10157226987590026_1899476269481178673_n.jpgSoooo I am pretty jazzed about participating in this exciting women’s event May 5-7, 2017 She Recovers in New York City: a three-day extravaganza of amazing speakers (Glennon Doyle Melton, Gabrielle Bernstein, Elizabeth Varga, Elena Brower and Marianne Williamson…are you kidding me? That’s my bucket list right there!), yoga, exhibits, panel discussions, gorgeous meals with 500 women celebrating recovery. (Sorry for leaving you out this time fellas, this one is just for the ladies.)

I will be there live-blogging and participating in a panel discussion with other sobriety bloggers, and hopefully meeting many of YOU!

There are special room rates for participants at the Conrad Hotel in Manhattan, where the event will be held, and the whole thing should be generally AMAZING.

You can learn more and (I do hope!) register by clicking HERE. (As I write this there are still a handful of registrations available at the early-bird price of $379 – that’s a stunning deal for the opportunity to hear not one but FIVE amazing keynotes – one at every meal!)

Many of you ask me how to meet sober friends, and going to meetups and events like this has played a significant role in making connections for me. Build your tribe of sober sisters, find your people.

I would really love to meet up with any readers who attend so if you’ll be there please shoot me a message at unpickledblog@gmail.com so we can plan to grab a coffee together!

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