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Carpe-ing the Sober Diem

The early days of sobriety are sometimes filled with a euphoric feeling known as a “pink cloud” phase. I am years-deep in sobriety and pleasantly surprised to find myself in a bit of a “pink cloud” of sorts lately, a feeling of easy contentment and general goodness.

I think I am due this bit of emotional fair-weather. The last year was just one hard thing after another that seemed to rippled outward to the edges of life. I put my head down, ate more than my share of ice cream and cut myself some slack. Time passed, life moved on.

Gratitude is an amazing thing. It kept me going through the hardest of days, but what I did not expect was how staying grateful would transform the easier, less eventful periods in life into glowing patches of tranquility.

I spent 4 days in Los Angeles for the SheRecovers conference and it was a gorgeous event. I could have focussed on the negative (a long travel day of missed connections, being so nervous about moderating the panels that I now have a huge dry-cleaning bill from flop-sweat on my nice dresses and blazers, the social anxiety that tends to hit in crowds), but I threw gratitude at those moments and they didn’t stand a chance.

UnPickled at SheRecoversLA

Conference Memories

The flights were at least free because, like all of the fun recovery-related trips I do, they were booked on points. (I use my credit card for everything from groceries to utility bills so that I can build points, which adds up to enough for a getaway every 18 months or so.) I was nervous about being on stage but also honoured, and my-oh-my what a stage! The historic Beverly Hilton is home to the Golden Globes and I got to be on that same stage (and in the green room, and the backstage bathrooms…). Gratitude, gratitude. As for the social anxiety, well not much I can do about that but I was thankful for every hug and hello from strangers and old friends alike. There is no warmer, safer crowd than a group of recovery people celebrating together.

It was all a blur but it was wonderful.

And when it was done, I flew (on points!) to Denver where my husband was to meet me for a camping trip, working our way back home to Canada from there. On arrival, my luggage and I took the train downtown and met an old/new friend, a fellow member of an online group whom I’d never met in person. We have been supporting each other’s recovery for years, and I’d reached out to let her know I’d be passing through. We took the opportunity to spend a few hours together, enjoying brunch at Union Station and then going for a walk through her gorgeous historic neighbourhood. She then kindly drove me to the campground. We talked nonstop the whole morning.

Camping in Colorado

The suitcase of dresses and heels was stowed under the bed and I switched into camping mode for the duration of the week. My husband and I had an incredible adventure through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana on our way back home – a Punch Brothers concert in Red Rock, lobster mac and cheese by the river in Steamboat
a romantic stroll through Jackson, and the prettiest Montana sunrisesunrise imaginable in Bozeman.

Dinner in Steamboat

Home feels good, too. Somehow the floaty pink-cloud carried me through all of the laundry today, as well as 52 emails that needed attention. I don’t know how long the feeling will last, but I’ll enjoy it while it does. I have a quiet month ahead and I just want to bump along drinking coffee and paying bills and shaving my legs and walking my dog. All good, all good.

We got through the hard moments of the last year, and thankfully embraced better days. Remind me of all this if things get hard again, and they will, of course they will. That is just life, unfiltered.

New Temptations

Sometimes I am surprised by the power of old thoughts that pop up unexpectedly.

Last weekend I was at a festival browsing through the market stalls of polished stones, nature photos, handmade soaps, and other typical fare when I stopped in my tracks.

A booth selling marijuana products was next and I felt the awakening of a long-quiet part of my brain. I did the mental equivalent of a spit-take and realized this is the new reality here in Canada.

Marijuana will be legalized here this fall and already it is appearing everywhere. This particular stall was selling products – creams, powders, tinctures, edibles – at least I think it was because I didn’t get much closer. My heart was racing and I was inexplicably excited. I walked back and forth trying to get a better look and also trying to avoid it simultaneously.

I was like a twelve-year-old boy at his first school dance. I want to and I don’t.

There are new products to be marketed, and a lot of them have legitimate claims to health benefits. There seems to be this grey area of where health benefits end and recreation begins that my addiction sees as an invitation. Though alcohol was my vice of choice, I will tell you that I am tempted by everything that invites me to escape – even Gravol and cold medicine (though they’re great when needed for an actual illness).

I have spent nearly eight years learning to navigate a world full of alcohol and I feel like I have gotten the hang of it. Now a curve ball is coming, a new thing that is out there in the open and must be simultaneously accepted and avoided.

I am supportive of legalized marijuana and do believe that everyone has the right to do what they want with their own bodies. Likewise, it is my choice to live drug and alcohol free and my responsibility to sidestep temptations, marketing and messages that encourage me to indulge.

I used to feel angry at the ridiculous alcogenic marketing towards women – the bangle flasks, and baby onesies that say “Mommy’s Funner When She Drinks”, the purses built to hide bottles. Now I roll my eyes and scroll on.

I am feeling anxious at the thought of a whole new barrage of marketing to brace myself against, though I know I will get used to it, it’s nonetheless unnerving.

I am curious to hear from sober readers living in areas that already have legalization, if you feel it impacts your recovery and if the marketing feels as pervasive as the alcohol industry.

 

 

Want to read my story from the beginning? Start here.

The most popular UnPickled post ever is here.

Join me for a SheRecovers retreat at Kripalu in November 2018 – info here. 

 

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

 

 

Meet You at Kripalu!

I will be hosting a 4 day She Recovers Retreat November 11-15, 2018 for women in recovery at Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in beautiful Massachusetts.Jean McCarthy 2018

If you have been feeling isolated and and disconnected in your recovery, this is a perfect way to shift gears. There is an incredible array of activities and sessions to enjoy each and every day, plus beautiful meals and, in the evenings, I will hold a special “sharing circle” just for our group.

As you know, I am a big believer in “patchwork recovery” – meaning we use various methods and modalities to create the perfect fit of recovery for ourselves. The theme of the retreat is “Expand your Recovery Bubble” because during your stay you will no doubt find many new tools and patches to strengthen and refresh your recovery – plus make new friendships and connections along the way.

I hope you will join me!

 

To The Hills!

I am back home again in southern Alberta, settling into my routine. To wit, my routine now seems to include not getting to yoga, not getting my 10,000 steps a day in, not cooking regular meals, and not writing as much as I had planned. I am floundering.

On Friday night, we had our little grandsons come for a sleepover and it was a wonderful evening of reading books, sculpting play dough, eating snacks and missing the official bedtime by a long shot (unintentionally – they were too excited to fall asleep even though we got them to bed on time). Mornings are the best – all snuggles and pjs and quiet chatter.

I was feeling desperate to get some serious writing done. I am 19 days out from the arbitrary deadline I gave myself to finish a first draft of my novel and I need to get at it. I decided to send myself on an overnight writing retreat to the ski hill – our big family cabin is empty and quiet in the off-season; a perfect place to hide away and write. As soon as the little boys went home, I grabbed my laptop and a tea from Tim Horton’s (large, one milk, two sweeteners), and started driving.

So here I am, writing on the deck. That is not a painting behind me, that is the reflection of the mountain view. I used to drink a lot here, like a lot of people do on ski vacations. Now I drink tea and revel in the freedom and power of sobriety.

From the Rocky Mountain of southern Alberta, I wish you all freedom and peace.

Writer at Cabin

Van to Van Day 1.5

We are on a little road trip and I’ll share snippets when I stumble on wifi along the way.

Usually mid-April in our part of Canada is spring showers and new growth. This year, however, spring is taking its sweet time.

So when we planned an April trip in our camper van from Alberta to Vancouver Island, which I’ve dubbed “The Van to Van”, we had a certain (and fair) expectation regarding the weather and road conditions. *Snow* was not part of the equation.

We plan. God laughs.

Yesterday over morning coffee, as I was planning the zillion things I needed to do before leaving, my husband checked the weather and said, “There’s a crazy storm coming overnight. We need to leave today instead of tomorrow and outrun it.”

Yikes. I was barely going to get out the door at the scheduled time, never mind a day early! But it was either that or stay home for two more days, until the storm passed.

I kicked into high gear and packed, cleaned, plowed through the work on my desk, posted a Bubble Hour episode, dropped off the dog, popped in to see the grandkids, and made some granola bars to take along.

My husband also got busy doing the last of the van prepping, including filling the water tanks.

Minutes before take off, just as I was congratulating myself on calmly adjusting to a schedule change that would normally make me crazed and snappish, piercing blasts of noise rang through our house.

MEEEEPPPP MEEEEEPPPP MEEEPPPP

A recorded (bilingual) voice called “FIRE!!! FUE!!! FIRE!!! FUE!!!

Efffffffff. Seriously?

I dashed throughout the house to find the problem and discovered water pouring from a smoke detector in the basement, which had shorted the system and set it off. Filling the van with water from the hose caused a pipe to burst – there must have been some ice in the line. Efffffff.

There went my calm.

While my heroic husband contained the problem and shut off the water and breaker to the zone, I hauled out the carpet shampooer and sucked a gallon or two of water up from the flooring.

And then…we left.

We drove to the forecasted edge of the storm, three hours west, and spent the night in a parking lot. Scenic.

Nevertheless, we are feeling happy and relaxed and ready for adventure.

I can’t believe I can handle this stuff so easily. None of this would have sat well with me when I was living my life on the edge of insanity. Every blip along the way pushed me into major anxiety and upset.

Now here I am rolling along without a care in the world. At least for today…we’ll, this morning anyway.

We’ll see what happens this afternoon….!

A Week in the Life of a Sober Girl

(Full disclosure: I initially titled this “A Week in the Life of a Sober Grandma” but decided against it and not because I am vain but only because I thought you wouldn’t read it. Was I right?)

***

If sobriety has been an invitation to rethink my identity, imagine the challenge of being a newly retired workaholic. In case I haven’t had enough trouble wrapping my head around the concept of “I am not what I do,” it is not uncommon for people to ask, “What will you do with all your time? You are too young to retire!”

First, let me say that I am very glad I got sober first and then retired. Recovery has helped me to understand why I felt the need to lose myself in my work and how to feel good about myself apart from approval and accolades. No small task!

I suspect that the freedom that comes from the less-structured routine of retirement could lure many drinkers into a rapid escalation of their consumption and that the red flags of mounting addiction could be masked by fewer obvious consequences. (Has anyone experienced this? I would love to hear from you.)

So what DO I do with all this time? Here are just a few things I have done this past week:

On Tuesday I was interviewed for this video series by Sarah Roberts of “Sobriety Starts Here”. I was a bit under the weather and nervous about being on camera but Sarah is a great interviewer and I am truly honoured to be part of this series:

Later that same day, I recorded a Bubble Hour interview with author of “My Self” Kelley Kitley about her experiences as a woman in recovery who works as a psychotherapist. You can listen here 

After finishing two interviews, I went to my sister’s house for one of her amazing Ayurvedic Foot Treatments – a 90-minute process on a heated table. My sister is an incredibly talented healer with a gift for picking up on other people’s energy – I know that sounds “woo woo” but there is no other way to describe her sensitivities.

When she first started working on me I said, “I have been doing recovery interviews all morning and I have a lot of other people’s stuff stuck to me!” She understands exactly what I mean by this – that I am hanging onto the stories and emotions that go with being vulnerable about ourselves and holding space for others.

“Oh, you sure do,” she murmured softly and began gently brushing my arms as she moved around the table. Soon she was massaging my feet and I went into that floaty almost-sleep stage that is somehow better than sleep. Pure heaven.

Wednesday mornings are busy and delightful. I have a standing date with my 80-year-old mother to take her for groceries and then out for errands and lunch. While she toodles around the grocery store, I sit at the coffee bar and read. She is losing her vision and no longer drives, and also she carries a flashlight in her purse to help her read labels and menus and such. You would think this might slow her down but honestly the reason I drink coffee instead of going around the store with her is because I can’t keep up. On the first outing I lost her twice and gave up. We are both happier this way.

After groceries we went out looking for new lamps. She moved into an assisted living facility when my dad was sick and was too busy to decorate or make their IMG_3331new apartment cozy. It has been a year now since my dad passed away, and she is ready to make some changes. We have been doing little bits each week – while she puts her groceries away, I move furniture or set up some new purchase or do some little job she has saved for me. On this particular day, we struck out on finding her new decor but she did succeed in cracking me up. I pointed out this cute ceramic frog in HomeSense and without missing a beat she quipped, “Looks like he just got kick in the slats!”

Such a sweet old lady.

Wednesdays are also a big day because its “Survivor” night and although my enthusiasm for the show is dipping ever so slightly – though I have never missed an episode in 36 seasons – this season we have a pool of ten friends betting on the outcome. Ever week my husband send out a funny newsletter with updates.

Tonight I have a side bet for a $10 Tim Horton’s with my friend Susanna that no one will play an idol. We met over dinner on Monday night to discuss our side bets and we laughed ourselves silly over the nonsense of it all. Susanna and I were only drinking water but we were having the most fun of anyone there.

I continue to get up early every morning and do my “Morning Pages” exercise, and now I have added writing another 500 words on my novel afterward. Yes, I am writinfullsizeoutput_ff4g a novel! I am no longer scared to say it because I am really doing it.  My goal is to have the first draft completed by my birthday in June.

Even at the cabin on the weekend, with a houseful of guests and a fridge full of groceries in need of cooking, I managed to get up early and write for an hour before becoming the hostess with the most-est. I cooked huge meals including desserts, skiied the mountain from top to bottom repeatedly, played with my grandsons, and slept like a baby every night.

There was an unusual amount of snow in the mountains for the last weekend of skiing. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has flowers in April, I both envy and pity you! We are a few weeks away from green leaves and flowers here in Alberta but they will come soon enough. Meanwhile, we have been having fun in the snow.

Note – I am looking over at my family in this picture but I cropped them for privacy. You understand. The important things to note are the smile on my face (I love them all so much!) and the crazy amounts of snow under my bum.

I got back from skiing and immediately recorded another Bubble Hour episode, this time with my friend Jan. Listen here.

Those are the highlights. I left out the boring bits, like the bookkeeping I still do for our rental properties and the large quantities of time I spend plucking my eyebrows. I did not mention that we have been watching “Barry” on HBO and eating ice cream, or that I almost beat my high score on “Wooden Blocks” while simultaneously watching “The National”. Oh and Rick Mercer’s final show deserves a mention – treat yourself to a half hour of that fine Canadian humour.

In short, being sober and retired still means lots of activity – entertaining, going out, staying in, connecting, creating.

And one more thing I’ve been doing this week – crying. My heart goes out to all affected by the horrific bus crash here in Alberta that has taken the lives of 15 teams members of the Humboldt Broncos. I don’t think anyone who has heard about this tragedy has been unaffected. It is almost too sad to contemplate.

So there you have it, a glimpse into my girl/grandma life.  Next week we will embark on a ten-day camping trip to Vancouver Island. More goodness to come….

My Word of The Year

It has become common practice within my online recovery community group to choose and state a “Word of the Year”(WOTY). I groaned inwardly when I first heard this term, and mentally discarded it into the pile containing vision boards and vajazzling and other fussy things I have no intention of doing. Eventually I *had* to choose a WOTY for an episode of The Bubble Hour for which we had all agreed to discuss the topic; I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t been an active WOTY participant. That year, I chose the word “utilize” to remind myself to actually put into practice all of the great tools I was learning about in recovery.

Word of the Year Bracelet

My WOTY bracelet from the lovely Ellie of One Crafty Mother

Ellie was kind enough to make me a custom bracelet with my WOTY, which was a helpful reminder of my pledge. Now that I have moved on to other WOTYs, this bracelet makes me smile because it has a WonderWoman flare to it and I picture myself stopping bullets with my wrist while shouting “UTILIZE!” like a 70s superhero.

I neglected to formally choose a word last year, though in retrospect I clung to words like “endure” and “survive” through a year that offered extreme highs and lows in rapid succession (two deaths in the family, a joyful wedding, incredible travel, and a serious injury).

I took this January off of blogging and podcasting to give myself space to reflect. I wanted to move forward into this year with purpose and intention, and over the course of a quiet month the vision developed. My word of the year is CREATE.

The first thing I have done to implement (or utilize) my WOTY2018 is to drastically change my morning routine. I used to check Facebook and Twitter while the coffee brewed and then spend the first hour of my day consuming the viciously addictive news of the moment. (What did I miss while I slept!?) I realized that the breakneck speed of the current news cycle was fuelling my anxiety and stealing huge chunks of precious time. This had to change. Unhooking from the iv drip of news (and opinion, and the ensuing stream of vitriolic comments in response) meant putting down my devices and picking up a pen and paper. I have begun the practice of “Morning Pages” as suggested in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron.

“Morning Pages” involves writing three pages in long-hand, every day upon waking. No more, no less. Standard lined pages, meant to be read by no one. Clear out the cobwebs and let the stream of consciousness flow before the ego steps in to protect from the world. It is a lovely way to start the day and a complete departure from my old habits.

I have been making and wearing my own jewelry, sending little handmade gifts to others, and whipping up cookies for guests on a moments notice. Doing crossword puzzles. Curling my hair. I am ready to get back to blogging and podcasting with a creative mindset in addition to my heartfelt gift of service.

It is amazing how much time I opened in my day by creating boundaries around the consumption of news, and a little scary to realize how I was allowing it to control me. It triggered my addictive tendencies in a way that was both familiar and shocking.

Once again the lessons of recovery apply to other areas of life.

 

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

Carry On

Yesterday we walked 8 miles in the rain through fields of cows, past gorgeous old homes, moss covered graveyards, and finally into Stow on the Wold where we spend the night in a 400-year-old inn. 


My recently-broken leg is holding up well. I was limping for the last half mile and needed to rest once we arrived but within an hour I was back out exploring the town. 

A walking tour is a great choice for a sober holiday. We are too tired for much besides supper and a good rest at the end of the day. 

This morning we set out for a second day of walking and promptly got lost, so we turned back and returned to the town square where we bought fresh cheese and bread for a picnic along the path (once we locate it!). Then I suggested we stop at the local coffee shop for the wifi, bathroom and a Flat White before heading out again. Cheers!

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