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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:

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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!

 

 

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New Year’s Eve

Happy New Year, everyone! May your night be filled with La Croix and sparkles!

I can report that I have had no problem staying sober on the past few new year’s eves because I’ve been otherwise incapacitated.

To recap:

Dec 31 2015: Suffered gallbladder attack on annual family ski trip and drove myself 150km home to see the doctor, leaving my husband to cook dinner for a dozen or so guests at cabin. Spent New Years Eve alone, watching Netflix, wondering why God invented gallbladders. Here I am going for surgery a few days later. Hurray for Canadian health care!

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December 31, 2016: Again, the annual family ski trip did not work out well for me. But, hey, I got out of cooking the New Year’s feast for the crowd once again! The family put together a great meal. Afterward, I laid in bed and people kept coming in to snuggle with me and visit. It was super sweet and I felt very loved. Definitely no temptation to drink champagne at midnight that year.

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Which brings us to THIS year….

I’m not going to lie, I have been a little anxious leading up to today. What fresh hell might this year bring?

I awoke with a nosebleed but that was the limit of medical crisis, thankfully.  Heaps and heaps of powdery snow came down and it is truly a magical wonderland outside. Not wanting the ski patrol to drag me off the hill again the in toboggan-of-doom, I played it safe the groomed runs despite the waist-deep powder all around. It was exhilarating to be back skiing after laying around all last winter. I couldn’t stop smiling as out there, marvelling with gratitude that the body can get so sick and be so strong again in just a year.

I am having too much fun to want to spoil it by drinking!

PS – the visits to this blog have doubled over the past week, which happens every January as people consider going alcohol-free in the year ahead. The comments section of this blog have always been the heart of the magic, so I invite long-time readers to share a word of encouragement for newcomers. If you are considering sobriety, feel free to post a question or say hi in the comments (anonymous is fine!). Recovery is all about community and sharing. We are all in this together.

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 🙂

Christmas Eve’s Eve

Yesterday I was in a flat panic trying to get *all the things* done before Christmas. I rushed from place to place picking up files, mail and groceries and dropping off bank deposits and Christmas gifts. I had a list and I checked it every five minutes. If I got through *all the things* by 2 pm I would have the remaining hours of the day to finish the pile on my desk before taking off for a glorious week in the mountains. And then…at the bank…it happened….

Me (to the impossibly young bank teller): Oops I forgot to fill out the deposit book….(pen hovering over the date box) It’s the 23rd right?

Bank teller: It’s the 22nd.

Me: WHAT??? Are you kidding??? I have a whole other DAY before Christmas? Christmas is on Sunday, not Saturday??? (wildly looking around bank for the old-timey giant date cards that used to be on the walls) This is great news!!! (giving up finding the giant calendar and pulling out my phone) OH MY GOD!!! It really IS the 22nd!!!!

Bank teller: (clearly pitying a grown, sober woman who doesn’t know what day it is) Will that be all for you today….?

I GAINED A DAY!!! I wouldn’t be skidding into Christmas vacation after all, I could saunter!

And then within the hour…something else happened….I got a migraine. GAH.

My husband and I decided he would head to the ski hill to get the cabin ready (lots of shovelling and maintenance tasks for the week ahead), while I stayed behind to nurse my head, work my bonus day and drive myself out tomorrow. Thank God for that extra day!

So last night and this morning were slow and unproductive, I couldn’t even look at my paperwork. It’s now 8 pm and I am mucking through in a way that is reminiscent of cramming for finals in university. The afternoon turned to evening, and now pretty snowflakes are falling outside the window and the neighbouring homes are twinkling with festive lights. The view from my desk makes me smile.

To recap: I am alone, I feel *meh*, I have to finish several hours of work, it’s pretty outside, and tomorrow I leave for a week away.

It is moments like this when I realize just how much I have really changed since I quit drinking, because I just had the most lovely idea. I decided to put the paperwork on hold, write a post (hello!) to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, walk my dog in the snowy lights, go to bed early and finish all this work with a pot of coffee at 6 am before I leave.

Okay, now that I read that back it just sounds like I am procrastinating, so to be specific: I am excited to get up early and work. I love love love mornings. Old me would have quit work now to drink, and then  would have HAD to get up early to finish and done a crappy job because I would be hungover. Sober Jean is all “ooooh, mornings, yay!”.

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Time to leave this desk and go walk around those pretty lights outside. Merry Christmas my friends!

I am sending lots of love and encouragement to all of you. The holidays can be hard on sobriety, hard on the emotions, and hard on the body. Be good to yourselves. Don’t drink, no matter what.  Break with traditions, if traditions are not feeding your soul or your recovery. Be as generous with yourself as you are with everyone else right now. You’ve got this, we’ve got this.

Thanks for being part of my tribe for another beautiful year. I couldn’t do this without you, and even if I could I wouldn’t want to because recovery is better together!

 

 

 

 

Learning To Love Five

I wish every month was Na-Something-Something-Mo.

Some months could have designations that are fluffy and easily achieved, best saved for those short on days (February) or with pre-existing labor-intensive holidays (December):

Na-Clo-Cle-Mo (National Closet Cleaning Month – by then end of which you have a sparkling, organized wardrobe of perfectly coordinated outfits).

Na-Plu-Ha-Mo (National Pluck Hair Month – pluck 1500 individual body hairs every day for a month and be completely smooth from top to bottom in the grand reveal).

Na-Mee-Nei-Mo (National Meet Neighbours Month – knock on one door per day until you have 15 new friends in both directions of your front door).

During the months with lots of daylight and no significant holiday, we could up the ante with some heavier challenges:

Na-Nu-Lan-Mo (National New Language Month – learn a different language everyday and by month’s end you’ll be able to speak 30 languages!).

Na-Dri-Aw-Mo (National Drive Away Month – get in your car on the first of the month and drive in the direction of your choice for 3 hours per day. On the 30th donate car to charity in whichever location you find yourself and embark on the next challenge below).

Na-Hi-Ho-Mo (National Hitchhike Home Month – similar to previous month but in reverse direction begging rides from strangers).

I like a challenge. I like a deadline. I like the word “GO!” and I love the word “STOP!”

I like periods of extremely heavy work followed by periods of intense rest. It’s a pattern I see repeated again and again as I look back over my career and personal endeavors.

A friend recently asked why I don’t perform music anymore. I wrote and recorded two cds of original music, played solo shows and music festivals, and marketed my indie album to music stations across the nation. Then I just stopped.

“What happened?” he asked, perplexed by the sudden change.

“It’s my pattern,” I said. “Balls to the wall until I crash. That’s how I roll.” This had us both laughing, partly because of my ridiculous choice of words and mostly because they so perfectly described the trajectory of my songwriting career.

“I can’t just play guitar by a campfire. I can’t just write a song and leave it at that. I have to record. Have to perform. Have to push the album. I didn’t even like most of the work involved, I was just doing whatever it took to get myself on stage because I like singing for people. I hate setting up equipment, hate travelling to gigs, hate asking for my pay, hate selling cds, hate the stage fright and the awkwardness after the show when I’m still shaking from adrenalin but people want to chat with me. I got to the point where I was doing a thousand things I hated in order to have one hour I enjoyed, and it wasn’t worth it. So that’s that.”

As my mom had said with earnest pity, “You’re just so driven.”

I don’t know about that. “Drive” implies an and goal and a plan. “Compelled” is likely a better word.

Compulsion (kuhm-PUHL-shuhn) noun

A strong usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, especially one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will.

As Ellie once said on The Bubble Hour, “Alcoholics love ten and zero, but we hate five.”

Recovery has been a journey towards embracing five. It is a lesson in balance, in avoiding extremes, in accepting that I don’t have to be either glorified or shattered to be alive.

I’ve learned that the secret to loving five is to stay present, to really take note of what is going on around me. This is hard for an anxiety bag like me to do; I am always rushing forward in anticipation of the next challenge, disaster or reward.

Sometimes this feels quite positive. I open my eyes in the morning and immediately look forward to coffee and the paper. I can’t wait to see what each day holds. Would it hurt, though, to linger a moment longer and enjoy a luxurious stretch under the warm covers, listening to the quiet breathing of my husband beside me? Could I take one extra moment to be grateful and feel the joy of safety and comfort and love in that room?

Gratitude is a key component in overcoming an addiction. My pattern was to numb anxiety with alcohol while simultaneously creating more of it, perpetuating the cycle to which my brain had adapted. We learn what we are taught and our habits train our brains. Now that I live alcohol free, I work to curb the forward-thinking that fuels anxiety (what if…it will…I must…it might…) and focus on what is actually happening around me in that very moment, finding something for which to be grateful (this is…I am…I feel…). Breathe. Focus. Do.

My purpose for joining NaBloPoMo was to challenge myself, grow my blog, and create some better writing habits. I must confess that I momentarily considered doing NaNoWriMo as well, because I want to be the girl who does BOTH. I immediately recognized this compulsion towards an extreme; a self-destructive rush in the direction of perfectionism, competitiveness and the false safety of superiority. Easy girl. Five, not ten.

I am doing all I can to ensure that my month of daily posting is not only accomplished but also thoroughly enjoyed. I make writing the morning priority so I don’t spend the day worrying if it will get done. I take time to poke around other blogs, learn more about the art of writing and business of blogging, and expand my network a little.  And then I stop, and turn my attention elsewhere. I try to keep it at five.

Because five is good. Five is where I need to be. That’s how I roll.

Bump In The Night

This is the hallway from my bedroom to my office.

Hallway from bedroom to office

It’s a four-step commute by day but takes an extra step or two if shuffling sleepily for a 2 a.m. pee. I could use the much-closer ensuite toilet, but journey to the office bathroom out of consideration for my sleeping husband.

I had a strange encounter with this hallway recently. Two steps into the mid-sleep-pee-shuffle I bumped hard into a closed door. Startled but still drowsy, I paused and then walked into it a second time. This jolted me into alertness.

I reached out for the door handle but couldn’t seem to find it in the dark. Wait. Why was it so dark? There is usually a glow from the programmable thermostat in the hallway. I spun around but was afraid I might wobble and fall down the stairs, so I retraced my footsteps backward to look for the glowing gadget on the wall. Nothing. The power must be out.

I stood still in the darkness, my mind now racing to make sense of the closed office door (which I was sure I’d left open earlier), the shortened hallway, the eerie darkness and possible power outage.

I must be somewhere else. Were we visiting some one? No, this was definitely my home’s hallway. I could see the dim outline of my bedroom window behind me, right where it should be. I could hear the dogs snorting on their floor beds. And I needed to pee. That was whole reason for getting out of my nice warm bed in the first place. Hurry Jean! Your bladder will explode! Think, think.

Taking my bearings from the window behind me, I cautiously moved forward down the blackness of the hallway and again encountered the office door entirely too soon.

“I don’t know why this door is closed or why it seems to be in the wrong spot, but I am going to open it and see what is going on here!” My thoughts were now coming in a clear, commanding tone.  I was Sigourney Weaver, Jodie Foster and Mayim Bialik rolled into one.

(Meanwhile, some other part of my brain was narrating the scene in a golf whisper: Jean is confused by this situation but she is handling it calmly, I must say. She’s a clever girl, folks. Let’s watch her figure this out.)  I giggled, perhaps for the sake of the imagined audience. “What the heck is going on here?” I said quietly, still careful to not wake my husband.

I began to feel the door for its handle (why couldn’t I find the handle?!) and touched something soft. Fabric?  Did the door slam in the breeze from an open window? Were the curtains somehow caught in the closed door? Impossible. The curtains wouldn’t reach. I had closed the windows before bed.

Oh God. I knew exactly what had happened: A burglar had cut the power, came in through the office window, and hastily shut the door as I approached – wedging his jacket as he did so and pinning him motionless on the OTHER SIDE OF THIS DOOR.

Sweet mother of mercy, I was inches away from an intruder!

My heart pounded and my head spun. (Golf whisperer: “Ladies and gentleman, this woman’s composure is astounding. She should be screaming right now but she is cool as a cucumber.”)

I leaned my ear towards the door to hear my killer’s breathing but couldn’t seem to land on it. I raised a hand in front of my face and in the blackness touched something so startling I gasped: a shoe.

A shoe I knew immediately: my own Fleuvogs.

Suddenly it all made sense.

Closet beside hallway

I’d missed entering the hallway from my bedroom by a sleepy stumbling step and was instead in my closet. The “door” I’d encountered was really a bank of drawers. The murdering burglar’s jacket was a protruding t-shirt. Above the drawers are shelves for my shoes – had I reached higher to begin with I would have figured this out immediately. Instead I had just spent several moments in the pitch black closet, pondering mysterious circumstances and then fearing for my life.

No time to reflect, though. Back to reality – I needed to pee.

Out in the (actual) hallway the thermostat glowed normally just as it should. The power was not out. Four strides ahead the office door was wide open, and within seconds I was gratefully completing my original mission.

I laid awake in bed afterward, smiling to myself. I have been sober for three years now, and one of the most unexpected gifts of recovery has been my ability to laugh at situations that would have otherwise felt disgraceful.

Had I drunk 5 glasses of wine before walking into a closet to pee, I would not feel so free to laugh at myself. I would have chalked up the misstep to shameful drunkenness, feared greatly for my sanity, and ultimately may have even peed in there. (Golf whisperer: “She is shuddering at the very thought of that. Urinating off-target was one of her greatest fears, folks. One of her greatest fears. And rightfully so.”)

The next morning, my husband asked, “What were you doing in the closet last night?”

“You knew I was in there?” I hooted. The thought of his awareness juxtaposed with my confusion made the situation even more amusing.

“Yes, you were in there for a long time. Just standing there mumbling to yourself.”

“Well, it’s a funny story,” I started and soon I had him laughing with me.

“You’re crazy,” he said, shaking his head.

“Nope,” I smiled. “I am just fine. Clear as a bell.”

“This girl can handle anything now, ladies and gentlemen. Anything that comes her way she can handle.”

(golf clap)

Powerless Over My Eyebrows

Throughout my forties, I have gradually gotten used to the fact that “things change”.

One day I woke up and my right boob was just…bigger. (Yes, I scooted in for a mammogram. Diagnosis: Right Boob Bigger.) High heels are no longer my friends. And don’t even get me started on the chin hair phenomenon.

It’s all okay, though. Truly.

I pluck, fluff, adjust and I don’t mind at all. I rather love getting older.

It threw me, however, when I sat down to my dressing table recently and noticed my grandmother’s eyebrows had replaced my own. Oh dear. How did this happen? I have always had great eyebrows, strongly arched and defined. I’d been plucking stragglers and taming the forest between them since I was 12, tinting them since 35, but now at 47 they’d gone rogue. Well, shit.

Ah, but here’s a lesson in everything, my friends.

Sometimes we are moving along, doing things the way we always do, and then suddenly (or so it seems) it all stops working. As a person in recovery, I know this pattern intimately. It worked until it didn’t, and then it needed fixing.

The analogy became crystal clear to me as I was lying in an esthetician’s chair for my emergency eyebrow repair consultation.

Katie had been recommended by a friend with excellent browscaping. Serious business, this was.  Peering through a suspended lit magnifying glass, Katie silently measured my face and lifted individual hairs delicately with a metal tool to assess the situation. At last, she spoke quietly and gravely.

“I can fix this, but I need you to stop everything you’ve been doing. Come back in two weeks. Do not touch them between now and then.”

I don’t think she understood. That might work for everyone else, but I am different. I’m special.

“Um, well you see, I normally pluck them every day. Like, I have to pluck them every day. So, there’s no way I could go for two weeks. That’s, um, impossible. I am sure that’s the normal process, and not to undermine your expertise, but I just can’t do that. My grandfather was Scottish.”

She was having none of it.

“Just pull your bangs forward. And quit trimming them.”

“My bangs?”

“No, your eyebrows. You’ve been cutting them. Stop that.”

I gasped. She could tell I trimmed my eyebrows? My secret shame exposed! I was horrified. Could she see up my nostrils as well? Oh God.

“I have to,” I whispered dryly. “They….grow…. long….like a man’s.”

It was too late for crying. She knew everything now. I hated those long-growing hairs so much that I had become accustomed to trimming them and pretending it never happened. The shame was buried so deep inside my heart; I hadn’t even thought to mention it.

“Oh Jean,” she said kindly. “Lots of women gets those, it happens. But cutting them is what has ruined your eyebrow shape over time.”

Wait, what? I was causing this to happen? My efforts to fix things were making them disastrously worse? I exhaled.  The solution was worsening the problem? Three-plus years of sobriety had prepared me well for this moment.

“I surrender,” I said and pulled my bangs forward.

Two weeks later I was back in Katie’s chair. A flurry of activity was being carried out above me but I rested quietly and felt the dobbing of tint, then a warm swipe of wax and the sharp tug of removal. It was all out of my hands. I was utterly powerless. I had to trust and wait, and stop doing everything that I’d thought was working so well.

I confess I catch myself in the mirror now and look a moment longer. It will take some time to get used to the change, but I truly see improvement. This is a much better way. I am trusting the process.

My name is Jean and I am a person in successful long-term recovery from alcohol addiction and eyebrow plucking.

New Level, New Devil

If you are a regular listener to The Bubble Hour podcast, you will have heard me speak many times about the beautiful rituals and routines that support my sobriety: grinding good coffee beans, steaming milk to the perfect froth, using beautiful mugs. You’ll have heard how “Dibbs” ice cream nuggets became my pacifier in early sobriety. You’ll know I order O’Douls in a wineglass at restaurants, and sip tonic water with a dash of grapefruit juice at parties.

If you’ve ever ridden in my car or peeked into my (enormous, iphone-swallowing, key-vaporizing) purse, you’ll recognize the smattering of gold-foil balls as the remains of Ferraro Roche chocolates.  I buy them in sleeves of three, saving the last one for The Mr. as an act of self-control. The cleaners at our office could tweet scandalous photos of the empty 100-calorie packs of chocolate covered pretzels they remove from my garbage can each week (they don’t, I hope). Occassionally, when I think maybe the chocolate thing has gone too far, I’ll buy a bag of oranges and convince myself that they are yummy treats, too.

Yes friends, I owe my sobriety to coffee, tea with one milk and two sugars, ice cream, chocolate, fizzie drinks, and citrus fruit. For 3 years and 3 months this perfect magic formula has kept me strong and sober.

hotel essentials

My “essentials” for business travel – sweet snacks and evening drinks, coffee with proper milk for morning. (The can opener is for the milk, but I know you noticed the corkscrew! Wino radar!)

I have everything figured out, thank you very much. Don’t drink and work on the shit. No problem. Tickety boo. I even called a counselor to help me start working on the super-tricky shit that I can’t seem to get past on my own. Yep. I am goooood at recovery.

Until….what is this new agonizing pain?

Excuse me? An ulcer? Ohhh-kay. There’s a pill for that, right?

A what? A special diet? A special diet that requires no coffee, caffeinated tea, dairy, chocolate, carbonated beverages, or citrus? You’re kidding, right? RIGHT? You’re KIDDING, RIGHT??!

Oh My Lanta. Kill me now.

As the Evangelical preachers say “New level, new devil”.  Sometimes when we get strong and become better people, the “devil” will come at us with a vengeance to tempt us back to failure and despair.

That’s how this feels, but I know it isn’t the case.  I am not happy, mind you.  I feel right rotten and all of my favourite things make me feel even worse. But you know what? I can handle it.

I think this is a little nudge from above, telling me it is time to drop the crutches. An opportunity to become (even) stronger, not an evil curse.

Compared to the heroics involved in setting down the wine glass bottle box, this should be a cinch. I bought a bamboo whisk for my green tea and two peacock mugs from Pier 1. You just friggin watch me drink my tea by the campfire this summer.

We can do hard things. Right?

teacups and whisk

It’s all about tools and pretty things. I will survive!

Deflecting Douchebaggery: Why (Some) Friends React Badly to Our Sobriety

It can be a deflating experience: building up the courage to tell a close friend about the decision to part ways with alcohol, only hear “That’s ridiculous. Don’t be so dramatic.”

Here are some of the more awkward things people have said to me personally:

“Great! Now we’ll always have a designated driver!”

“You can have a drink now and then. It’s not like you’re a raging alcoholic like my brother.”

“It’s okay with me if you don’t drink, but you probably shouldn’t go telling people that.”

“If you were able to just quit, you probably weren’t an alcoholic.”

“I don’t really know if I believe in that.”

Have you seen this too-true video Frankie Norstad a.k.a “Little Miss Addict” made for YouTube called “Sh#t Normies Say to 12 Steppers”?

Anna David wrote a great article for The Fix about how to answer such clunkers.  You can read it here: http://www.thefix.com/content/shit-non-addicts-say91717

What’s really behind these questions? What are our friends really trying to say? Why are their words so hurtful?

In early recovery, we are sensitive. We worry so much about what others think, and are coming to terms with our inability to control that very thing. Words do hurt, but compassion lessens the sting.

Here are some common douche-y things normies say and the insights to help you be less affected by them:

Normies say:      “Are you going to stop coming out with us now?”

We hear:             “You’re ruining our fun.”

It likely meant:     “We still want to spend time with you. What’s the best way to do that?”

*

Normies say:      “Did I do something to make this happen?”

We hear:             “Your recovery is about me.”

It likely meant: “I would never knowingly hurt you” (or…”I feel guilty for something I’ve done.”)

*

Normies say:      “Do I have to quit drinking around you?”

We hear:             “I don’t want to be with you now.”

It likely meant:     “I am not ready to face my own issues around alcohol.”

*

Normies say:      “What are we supposed to do after baseball now?”

We hear:             “I only want to be your friend if I can drink with you.”

It likely meant: “Is this going to change our relationship? I like things the way they are.”

*

Normies say:      “It’s no big deal. I don’t care if you’re drinking or not.”

We hear:             “Don’t expect me to do anything differently to accommodate you.”

It likely meant:     “I’m acting nonchalant to show you that I’m supportive.”

*

Normies say:      “My cousin was in rehab and it made him worse. Stay away from recovery programs.”

We hear:             “All alcoholics are the same. I know more about this than you do.”

It likely meant:     “I don’t know what to say so I’m relating the only thing I know about recovery.”

Of course, while friends can say stupid things there is also the possibility that this person is, in fact, an asshat. How do we tell the difference between friends and asshats? By forgiving the occasional awkward comment while paying attention to actions. Friends will treat us with respect, enjoy finding new ways to connect and grow the relationship in situations that don’t involve alcohol. They will show interest in our wellness, and they will buffer us in social situations.

Asshats and douchbags will reveal themselves through selfishness, disrespect, and a willingness to endanger our sobriety. Allowing ourselves to remove these types from our lives is an important act of self care.

There’s no need for a dramatic blow up. No “friends off” speech required. Just know that we’ve shown them a better way to be, and that for now the friendship has run its course.

The Trouble With Shame

My husband and I were high school sweethearts.

I know. Barf.

A funny story from our early dating years comes back to me now as one worth sharing. At the time, it was just an embarrassing incident but now I see it as having greater significance as a true “life lesson”.

At the time, we both lived with our parents in cities some 5 hours apart. I would often drive up for a weekend and sleep on the lumpy hide-a-bed in his parents’ basement. It takes some getting used to life in other households, especially when you want desperately to fit in and win everyone’s approval so they will endorse your candidacy for future spouse.

Now you must understand that my (then future) husband’s family were and are warm and gracious hosts who welcomed me in every way. His mother is an amazing cook who serves beautiful dinners every night and always had home made desert afterward. There was just one teeny problem: their stoic devotion to not eating after supper. Like, ever.

It is pretty common for teenage girls to be self-conscious about eating in front of a boyfriend and it’s likely I was shy about taking that second or third helping I would have  certainly eaten back at home. And moreover my family is famous for the enjoyment of a bedtime snack – a bowl of cereal or a slice of pie left from dinner is as much a part of preparing for bed as brushing the teeth and saying good night.

So not only was I eating less than I’d have liked at supper, but also I was dearly missing that bedtime snack and sorely in need of it. It was more than just shyness that kept me from saying I was hungry, though. It was shame.

Shame that I lacked their discipline. Shame that I was weak. Shame that I had failed to be honest at supper and eat what I needed. I was hungry and I was ashamed.

One restless night, I laid on that sofa bed in the basement and waited for the house to fall quiet (all but for the gurgling of my stomach). When I was sure everyone was asleep, I tiptoed up to that kitchen as quiet as a mouse and stood in the dark kitchen in my white flannel nightgown. I couldn’t open the fridge – they might hear it or notice the flash of light. But I remembered that the bread was always tucked out of sight behind a recipe stand and I reached behind it. Slowly, quietly, I took a piece of bread from a bag and stood nibbling it in the dark.

It was rye bread, a little dry and in need of some butter but I ate it anyway and felt better. I crept back down to the basement and was finally able to sleep.

The next morning, I came upstairs and joined the family in the kitchen where Sunday brunch preparations were already underway. Juice, fruit, bacon, eggs, pancakes with whipped cream – these people know how to eat a good breakfast! I quickly volunteered to make the toast, worried that if anyone else reached for the bread they might notice that the bag had been moved or a slice was missing (As if! Who on earth knows how many slices of bread are left in the loaf? But a guilty conscious make such things seem possible).

I moved the recipe stand to get the bread and gasped. There were two loaves of bread there. One fresh white load of bread…and one not-so-fresh, very green and moldy loaf of rye bread.

“Eeeek!” I shrieked. “It’s moldy!”

My stomach started flopping and tears began welling in my eyes. I realized to my horror that I stood in that kitchen hours before and eaten a slice of that rotten, disgusting bread.

Of course, my future mother-in-law had no way of knowing this – all she saw was a silly girl over-reacting to seeing a little mold. “Well, throw it out and toast the fresh bread,” she said in her practical, no-nonsense way.

I started to laugh. I ‘fessed up through tears and giggles: “I ate that. I snuck upstairs and ate a piece of bread in the dark and it was the moldy loaf.”

29 years later, I can still feel the anguish and relief of that moment. I had to get real with these people, and thank God I did. Because as much as they value discipline and self-control, they value honesty and a good laugh even more.

The moral of the story here is that shame causes us to hide and in doing so, we fool even ourselves into thinking we have found satisfaction in things that would utterly disgust us by the light of day.

We filled the glass before it was empty so we could say it was still “just one”.  We bought wine by the box so even we couldn’t see how much was gone each night. We pulled the damn bag out of that box and squeezed each last drop into the glass, hoping no one would see our desperation. Shame made us hide. Shame made us lie. Shame burdened us and caused us to keep drinking because the truth was just too embarrassing to face.

And now, those of us lucky enough to be standing in the light of truth – having pushed past shame as some life-preserving instinct told us we must “STOP!” – we can see those moments with all the disgust and amazement as my young self holding that bag of rotten bread.

The truth is hard to accept, but it’s a darn sight better than fumbling shamefully through the darkness.

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