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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
“I can’t believe this is my life. How did I get here?”
I asked myself this a thousand times when I was trapped in the cycle of daily drinking. I hear the same words often from readers with whom I correspond. How did this happen? How did I get here? I can’t believe this is my life.
I heard it last night from a strong, beautiful mom who is wrestling with her decision and wrote a heartfelt message about her inner battles.
I am saying it myself this morning, only now it has a happy meaning for me, and is said with a spirit of gratitude: I am drinking coffee all alone in a strange city on a balcony overlooking the hippest neighbourhood I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe this is my life. I am about to spend 4 days with a group of sober women I’ve met through blogs, through recovery retreats, and online support groups. We’ve rented a huge vacation property and filled all nine bedrooms. I can’t believe this is my life.
How did I get here? I arrived a day ahead of the others and had to wander around the area alone for hours before I could check into the rental house. I explored local shops, got a manicure, bought the groceries we’ll need (lots of coffee and ice cream, plus oodles of healthy ingredients for two big suppers we’ll cook together). I hunted through a used bookstore and scored a 1945 edition of Ogden Nash poetry for my son, and seriously considered a vintage hand-tool leather purse from the 70s that might lose its cool style-value the moment I leave this trendy neighbourhood. I ate borscht alone in a cafe.
I can’t believe this is my life. It was when I finally checked into this house that I came to appreciate how far I’ve come.Stillness used to be my enemy. Staying busy was my drug of choice, drinking was a way to numb myself when the busy-ness of each day ended. So spending a night alone in a strange, huge house could be a big trigger. I watched tv, read, fed myself, drank tea, went to bed, read some more, and finally just went to sleep. I tossed and turned. In truth, it was a horrible sleep. I checked my clock every 30 minutes from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. and then finally just got up and made a pot of coffee. So what if I am tired when the others arrive? So what if I maybe talk too much or fall asleep before everyone else or act spacey because I am tired. So what, that’s okay. I am safe with these friends. Perfection is not expected or required.
How did I get here? One hallmark of codependency, I’ve learned, is only valuing oneself through the eye of others. One place I catch myself doing this is in the grocery store: what do others think of me when they see what’s in my cart? It might sound stupid to non-dependent types, but I am sure some of you do the exact same thing. So when I was getting groceries for this meetup, I laughed at the giant bag of spinach, three buckets of gelatto, and tea selection I was placing onto the conveyor belt, thinking the average person would say, “A girls weekend? Where’s the wine?!” And then I noticed the lady ahead of me who was bagging her own groceries, which appeared to be dinner for one but with two bottles of wine. Was I imagining that she looked puffy, tired, and maybe a little sad? Was it fair to assume she was trapped as I had been? Maybe she was on her way to book club. Oh wait, that was one of the things I used to say to the store clerk when I was embarrassed to be buying more wine myself. “Book club! Those ladies love their wine!” I caught myself short of judging this stranger, and instead sent up a little wish for her wellness, whatever that may be.
I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe all the cool things I have done since I quit drinking. A year ago today I went skiing in Switzerland in the shadow of the Matterhorn with my husband. I went to an AA meeting in Manhattan – which is surreal for a small town hick like me (who doesn’t do AA). I have travelled alone to yoga retreats and sober meetups in Mexico, Boston, Salt Spring Island, Kelowna, and around my home province of Alberta. I can’t believe the amazing people who have been kind enough to meet up with me when my travels bring me to their region, and I love it when you guys let me know you’re coming through my area so I can meet you.
I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe that it feels so natural to live without alcohol when I spent so many years believing it was the only thing that held my life together. I can’t believe it is so easy to share my weaknesses in this blog when I kept them hidden for so long. I can’t believe five years has already passed since I looked at my drinking and asked, “How did I get here?”
Oh wait, I CAN believe it. I DO believe it. It’s real. I acknowledge it all, humbly and gratefully. I am living life fully and fearlessly (albeit still a little anxiously at times).
I don’t drink, and my life is better than ever. It gets better. Believe it.