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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. 

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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

Top Reads: Your Favs and Mine

It’s always fun to look back over the analytics for my site and see what posts have been popular and which ones slide by unnoticed.

A post I wrote three years ago continues to be the most-read, and a cool graphic I made last year gets pinned and repinned on Pinterest constantly, making it a common visit as well. Meanwhile, some of my personal favourites – ones that were so raw and honest my hand shook as I hit “post” – are far from viral. I am sure every writer has those darling pieces that seemed certain to change the world but received little response.

 

READER FAVS:

#1 Top Post: How I Knew It Was Time to Quit Drinking  This post is read and shared on my site more than any other, perhaps because it answers a desperate question that Google is constantly being asked: how do I know when to quit? Even more interesting than the post itself  are the 1000+ (!) comments and interactions that follow.

#2 Top Post: Up and Down the Empathy Spectrum  I wrote this to work out my
understanding of emotional intelligence, sometimes called EQ to show it as a balancing factor to IQ. In doing so, I made a graphic to show the difference between apathy, co-dependence, narcissism, and empathy which turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself. Someone kindly shared it to Pinterest and it has made the rounds there, which was a happy surprise when I was searching for hairstyles and new recipes one day and saw my own graphic float by!

#3 Top Post: Is Non-Alcoholic Beer a Safe Option for Alcoholics? This is a contentious question and I have taken some major slams for my opinion but hey, I get it: Some people protect their sobriety ferociously because it is life or death. I wrote this over two years ago and got several “you’re gonna relapse!” messages as a result, but as you can see I am still going strong despite the occasional non-alcoholic beer. Check it out and consider where you stand on this issue.

MY FAVS:

If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t post it. But….looking back I sometimes cringe at my obvious denial or shortsightedness in some posts. It is tempting to go back and edit out those parts, or at least provide a sidebar to explain my evolution of perspective, but I’ve decided to let them stand as written to document my overall of growth and change.

The ones I’ve highlighted below were especially insightful as I wrote them and sparked some great exchanges in the comments sections.

Are You A Recovery Hero? My English degree comes in handy occasionally, like trying to sort out my life according to narrative tools like the hero’s journey.

Don’t Give Up I felt sick to my stomach after posting this  utterly vulnerable truth bomb but willing to lay it all out there in hopes of helping someone. It did help others, it still does. And it still scares me a little.

The Drama Triangle I love this tool, love it. Understanding the Karpman Drama Triangle changed my life. Check it out and see how you can apply this powerful insight to address patterns of behaviour you fall into yourself.

Did You Resolve to Quit Drinking?

If you vowed to give up drinking as your New Year’s resolution, you are not alone. It is a great decision, wherever you find yourself in relation to alcohol. There is no magic level of “bad enough” required to choose sobriety, it is more a matter of being “ready” for a better way of life.

new-year-pic

I felt conflicted when I gave up alcohol. I was scared by the strain of daily cravings, yet my drinking did not seem to interfere with my work or family responsibilities. I assumed (wrongly) that giving up alcohol was something people only did as a result of some dire consequence; if I could hide an addiction maybe it wasn’t so bad. Still, I was drinking more despite resolving regularly to drink less; the pattern was swiftly gaining momentum. I didn’t want to lose my license, wet the bed or pull my skirt over my head at a family wedding. The idea to quit while I was ahead was an epiphany.

Looking back now, I can’t believe I carried such a burden. Booze was a total nag, always demanding my attention and distracting me from everything. It took constant calculation to watch the clock, balance my intake, pace things just right, have enough on hand, and make excuses for the daily disappointment in myself.

If you are contemplating a change, I say this: Decide right now that you want things to be different, and then go after the life you want. Nothing bad will come of living without booze – you will be happier, healthier and free. Part of your brain – the addicted part – will freak out a bit and try to convince you to drink. It will invent all kinds of reasons why you should: you weren’t not that bad, you are more fun when you’re drunk, you are missing out, you just needed a break to reset, your friends will be disappointed, that wedding is coming up…….Don’t be fooled. Stick with it.

Thousands and thousands of people are searching the web for answers to their drinking fears right now. You might feel like the only one in the whole world, but you are not. And tens of millions have walked this path before you – there is lots of help along the way.

A question for readers: how many of you vowed to quit on New Years’ past and how did that work out? What suggestions do you have for others in the same position today?

If you’re new, please post your questions or comments below to receive encouragement from myself and other readers. Those of you who have been here a while, please help out by taking a moment to respond with a kind words for the many people who find themselves here today looking for insights.

Happy New Year!

 

 

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!

Blog Badge SRinNYC (1)

This is What Recovery Looks Like

jean and anne

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.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2016/06/23/sobriety-through-a-crisis-guest-anne-s

 

It’s Not Your Fault

I was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook  page but stopped short for fear of backlash:

 

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I love this saying and I use it all the time when I am talking to people who are struggling, but it can sound like a cop-out to someone who doesn’t understand addiction.

Addiction comes from using, so how can it not be the addict’s fault? If someone chooses to use, shouldn’t they accept the blame for what comes next?

Well that’s the thing, you see, it’s not necessarily a choice to keep using.

Casual drinkers experience alcohol in a way that is social and fun, but they have the ability to stop drinking. They can take it or leave it. It’s a treat, and they know not to over-do on treats. From a casual drinkers perspective it can appear that people who drink too much are choosing the pleasant treat too frequently and need to use more self-control.

If you scroll through the 6000+ comments on the pages of this blog (holy shit!), you will find virtually no one who says, “I should quit drinking but I am just having so much fun.”

Addiction is not fun. Addiction is not a life anyone wants.

Addiction means drinking (or using) to feel normal. Addiction means that without the substance, withdrawals start in the form of  pain, anxiety or obsessive thoughts or more obvious symptoms like shaking or sweating.

The thing to blame for addiction is the fact that alcohol is addictive and yet people are expected to use it without consequence. We know not to start smoking if we don’t want to get addicted. We know that drinking coffee every morning will get us hooked on caffeine. Addiction is the normal course of action for using addictive substances. To drink or use drugs WITHOUT becoming addicted is abnormal.

Why why why why do we expect alcohol to be anything other than it is?

The other tricky thing about addiction is that it creeps in slowly and alters self-perception, so it can take a long time to become aware it has developed. Even then, so much shame and stigma exists around addiction that the first reaction can be denial out of self-preservation.

To be fair, it should also be said that people in the throes of addiction can be mighty assholes who defend indefensible behaviour by blaming others. How painful and frustrating it can be for those living with an addict who appears to be having a great time at their expense while taking zero responsibility. How infuriating it must be to see a quote saying “addiction is not your fault…” when you see the same pattern repeating again and again. Fair enough, that is hard, but please understand: addiction isn’t anyone’s fault. 

Forget fault. Forget blame, shame, and guilt.

Addiction is a reality, and realities must be dealt with. Trade blame for acceptance and responsibility. Yes, this falls squarely on the shoulders of the addict, who can only assume responsibility by accepting the reality of their own addiction.

Blame lives in the past, hope lies in the future, but recovery happens in each present moment where acceptance and responsibility are found.

 

 

Craving Buster

You. Must. Do. This.

It’s called the TimTam Slam, a little trick my son learned in when travelling in Australia that involves chocolate-coated cookies and tea (or coffee) and a specific ritual. It hits all the bases for cancelling out booze cravings, which include:

  • ritual (because keeping busy is a good distraction)
  • palate confusion (the sweetness negates alcohol cravings)
  • pleasure (sugar and chocolate wake up endorphins)
  • entertainment (fun for your inner child)

So here’s how it goes. Make yourself a nice warm drink, preferably in an “Un Re” mug from my UnPickled Shop, and grab a package of TimTams.

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Now, take a TimTam and carefully nibble off diagonally opposite corners. (Note, due to my giant rabbit teeth this part is very difficult for me and my nibbles are on the largish side. I have had to ingest multiple extra TimTams due to botched (oversized) corner nibbles. If you don’t want to be *forced* to eat extra cookies, keep your corner bites small.)

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Now…carefully put one nibbled corner into your warm drink and slurp (gracefully!) from the other corner, pulling the liquid through the cookie until the heavenly combination is drawn through the body of the biscuit and you taste the drink.

This action causes a transformative union of cookie, chocolate, and warm drink to occur, which brings us to the *slam* portion of our program: STOP SLURPING AND TOSS THE WHOLE COOKIE INTO YOUR MOUTH. Do this swiftly and without hesitation or the liquid will overtake the biscuit and it will fall in your drink with a disappointing plop.

I promise you that this activity will make you forget your cravings, and probably give you a good chuckle along the way. Do this with friends and take pictures of the crucial moment – you have lots of laughs and great pics for your social media posts.

The TimTam Slam is so popular that it has a WikiHow page complete with illustrations and tips, but the rest of the world hasn’t realized it has anti-craving super powers for people in recovery.

That can be our little secret.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Transferrable Skills

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(Organized Chaos)

I am up to my eyeballs in life right now. Nothing bad, just a lot. Like a LOT, a lot, and all at once. And here’s what happens when the “to do” list is long: I eat poorly, I get stressy, my social life takes a dive bomb, and I don’t sleep well. In other words, I’m perpetually hungry/angry/lonely/tired – the dreaded ‘H.A.L.T.’ triggers that undermine recovery.

We are in that awesome/shitty situation of selling our house super fast and packing for a move before we even know where we are going next. Our new house is under construction so we need an interim rental before the end of the month. (But hey, our house sold so YAY!) At the same time, my parents are downsizing to a seniors’ lodge (more packing!), our son and his wife have baby #2 due in a few weeks, AND we are headed to Vegas for a wedding in the midst of it all. See – all good things, just a lot all at once.

I like a plan. I like my calendar to be orderly and concise and fully detailed. I like to know where to forward my internet and mail, and maybe where I’ll be waking up on any given day. I don’t think it is too much to ask from life, and I feel deprived in the absence of certainty right now.

Last week I drove two hours to Calgary to meet my friend Anne (ainsobriety.wordpress.com) for lunch. Hers is one of the thousands of families displaced by the Alberta forest fires; 90,000 people evacuated en masse through flames with little notice a month ago. We met another dear friend, Jan, who is also in recovery and in the midst of a stressful time with health concerns for her elderly parents. We sat for hours over lunch sharing our struggles and triumphs, marvelling at our respective abilities to deal with enormous amounts of tension and pressure.  All of us used to drink heavily and regularly just to get through the everyday stuff, and now we are managing much heavier loads without any alcohol at all.

“They seem like overly simplified platitudes, but they really are true,” said Jan, referring to recovery slogans like one day at a time and just do the next right thing.  Getting sober is a lesson in small victories; overcoming addiction requires the ability to stay in the moment and just work on the situation at hand, whatever’s before you, and not drink. It got each of us through those shaky early days; through cravings, discomfort, and moments of weakness. In our own ways, we have learned that our years of sobriety were built moment by moment of just doing the next right thing.

Recovery has taught us skills that are serving us well in life and getting us through difficult times. Bit by bit, we move through them. As Anne recounted her evacuation experiences, I was as entranced by both incredible drama of the tale and the amount of strength she has discovered within herself. We can do hard things.

The old me would have been miserable with this whole crazy packing-and-moving situation. I would have been cranky, panicked, and constantly venting. I would have exaggerated and heightened the problem to justify my negative response. And I would have drank at it, a lot. A LOT, a lot.

But now I know better. I will pack and work hard, and try to remember take time for yoga and coffee with friends and maybe even a pedicure if I can squeak it in. I will look for things to be grateful for, and I will continue to reach out to friends who are going through their own difficulties. I will try to address those H.A.L.T. issues, and make this busy month the best it can be.

Recovery really is a life-long process of discovery and growth. It shows up in all kinds of ways, and lends itself to every corner of our experience….if we let it.

 

Interviewed by Mrs D

We were lucky enough to have Lotta Dan of Mrs D as a guest on two episodes of The Bubble Hour and now she is flipping the tables round by interviewing me on her Living Sober site.

http://www.livingsober.org.nz/sober-story-jean/

Thank you, Lotta, for all you to do encourage and inspire happiness in life after alcohol!

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