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Away Again

Back from one trip, leaving already for another. Lest you should think all I do is travel and live the Life of Riley (some days I think so too!), excuse me while I hustle for my worthiness by noting that in the 10 days at home between vacations I hosted two family dinners, babysit my grandkids twice and my niece’s little ones too, sat chained to my desk for several days doing (much loathed) accounting for our business, vacuumed, went to Costco and bought a new vacuum, revacuumed (Dyson V6 – holy hell what a miracle machine!), did 12 loads of laundry, lost 5 lbs, endured a migraine, recorded a Bubble Hour episode, played my first game of curling since breaking my leg (yah, I’ve still got it!), got new boots (see photo above), attended a “Lean In” luncheon, and last night had a great time at a dinner party (for the foodies, the hostess served from Donna Hay’s Easy Entertaining recipes: onion & feta tartlets, grilled salmon, stuffed zucchini, and some kind of fennel slaw. A true Canadian desert: Saskatoon pie from a Hutterite Colony – if that’s garbledegook to you then you need to put Alberta on your bucket list!). 

For pictures from my Europe trip with my mom and sisters mentioned in my last post, visit my Instagram page @unpickledblog. (Btw, that trip worked out wonderfully. If you have teenage girls that are driving you nuts with their squabbling, take heart that they’ll get along fine in their 50s.) 

My trip today is to a little spa on Vancouver Island to meet two friends from high school whom I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. We lived in dorm together at a Lutheran boarding school in the 1980s and life has taken us in dramatically different directions since. I’m flying on points and the three of us are sharing a room, so this is definitely a budget-friendly trip. I won’t worry a speck about splurging on a few massages (3!) and several yoga sessions (6!) while I’m there (4 nights!). 

I’m also excited that I’ve connected with some women in recovery on the island who I’ll meet up with. We don’t know each other but they’re familiar with my work here and on the podcast and a mutual friend put us in touch. I love sober meet ups!
Now you may not believe this, but right before I left my husband convinced me to join him on a trip to visit his mom in Palm Spring five days after I get home again. I started to rattle off all the reasons I should stay home (month end, year end, guilt…) when I realized I could easily bring my work along and manage just fine. 

Why not? Life is for living, and I’m all in. 

(PS speaking of sober meetups, I’d love to have coffee with any readers in the Palm Springs area when I’m there in the first week of November. Leave a comment here or drop a message on my Facebook page if you’d like to connect. I’ll be staying in Indio.)

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The Adventure Begins

This morning we start our 7 day walking tour through the Cotswolds in England. We’ve been planning this for a year as a celebration of my 50th birthday. After a long day of travel from Canada, we slept for 13 hours under a cloud-like comforter. Here is the view from our first hotel room, which was once a stable:


I was a little worried it would be nothing but pubs for pit stops, but I didn’t realize there’s a tea shop on every corner, too!


Off we go!

Your Own Personal Independence Day

07 - 04 - 2015

“I can’t quit drinking this weekend. It’s the July long weekend and there’s a zillion parties.”

“I’ve got a few weeks of sobriety but I am scared I’ll relapse on the long weekend. There’s alcohol everywhere.”

“I have a friend who aways gets way too drunk and I am scared to invite him to my party” or “I don’t know if it’s okay to invite a sober friend to an event that has alcohol”

There are 3 main readers of this blog: people who are in recovery, people who are considering recovery, and those “supportive normies” who don’t have an alcohol problem but care about someone who does.

Whichever category you fall into, I encourage you to declare today, July 4th, your own personal “independence day”.

If you are in recovery but feel triggered by the holiday weekend….(here in Canada we celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 1st, which fell on Wednesday this year – wah wah, always a bummer when it’s mid week – so I’m borrowing America’s day, which has a better name for my purpose in this post anyway)…Backyard parties, hot weather, fireworks…Okay sober warriors, let’s get you through the weekend festivities. Here’s what works for me: 1) plan ahead 2) stay motivated 3)gather support.

Plan ahead by packing your own little cooler with things you enjoy. In my drinking days, this was simple: wine. Once I quit drinking, I thought this meant if I would normally drink 8 glasses of wine I needed to pack 8 non-alcoholic drinks.  The funny thing is, you probably won’t want 8 non-alcoholic drinks in a single afternoon. One or two will suffice, maybe some extra water if it’s hot. However, you will want a number of pleasant little diversions because you will still miss the 8 glasses of wine somehow. So tuck in a few little nice things to treat yourself with when the pangs hit: a mini lotion to massage into your hands, a cheese string, eye drops, a KinderSurprise egg (sorry Americans!), a little book of poems to read in the bathroom – you get the idea.

Stay motivated by remembering all the reasons you got sober in the first place. Write your future self a note and bring it with you everywhere you go. I encourage people to do this in the morning when they are feeling strong and clear. Sometimes it feels like we are completely different people by 4 pm and opening that note can bring back the resolve from earlier in the day. Make a little photo album (on your phone or an old-timey real one) of things that matter to you – people and images that represent the reasons you want to stay alcohol-free. It might be something that reminds you of a future goal (a beach, a classy looking grey-hair couple climbing mountains, a yoga position), or a little face that warms your heart (human or animal). Go on etsy and order a personalized piece of jewelry (did you know you can have a bracelet stamped on the inside with a secret message no one can see? Maybe your sobriety date or a phrase that’s meaningful to you). Anything that acts as a positive reminder that being sober is awesome, recovery is leadership, and you are doing a wonderful thing by freeing yourself from addiction. Strong and proud. Declare this your own personal independence day. Own it, it’s yours.

Gather support and take it with you. Comment here and ask for encouragement. Take your phone with you and check back for messages. Twitter is excellent for following sober people who give one another encouragement. Start with @unpickledblog and @thebubblehour – we love to cheer on others! Search for recovery apps. Join a message board or recovery forum. That smart phone is more powerful than a bottle opener. And never underestimate the power of telling a friend or two that you are living alcohol free and would like their support. Think about whom to enlist – maybe not a drinking buddy, but someone who is understanding, trustworthy and supportive. I have a friend who always keeps weird non-alcoholic stuff in her fridge for me to try. It usually awful but it is so sweet of her. She says it is fun to shop for me when she is getting party supplies, and her efforts make me feel more accountable and cared-for. Even when you feel alone in a crowd, I guarantee that someone in that room would be glad to help you out by engaging you in conversation, getting you an n/a drink, or rescuing you from an annoying drunk.

If you are struggling with alcohol and feel that this weekend’s festivities give you a free pass to keep drinking, here is a loving little kick in the butt. There is always an excuse around the corner – your sister’s wedding, your vacation, your birthday. When all else fails, Friday night rolls around every 7 days and well, don’t you deserve a drink on Friday? We all did it. It’s a pattern. Become aware of it and break the cycle. I can’t think of a more appropriate day to get sober than July 4th. Independence (From Alcohol) Day.

And for you wonderful “supportive normies” who read this blog because you know and love someone affected by addiction…Of course you have already learned a few things you can do by reading the sections above intended for the people whom you support. That’s your nature – to pay attention and try to figure out how to help. That is a wonderful quality and we love you for it. Thank you for your caring nature and big heart. However…I also remind you to claim some independence for yourself today. Remember that on top of all the things you can do to help someone who is in recovery (or wants to be), you cannot change them. Their recovery is not your responsibility. Their choices are not your fault and are not a reflection of your worthiness.

Summer of Love

photo-11

Heads turn when our bright orange 1973 VW camper van passes by. People smile, kids wave, hipsters nod approval. I don’t need to smile back because I’m already grinning as soon as the engine starts.

photo-9I call the camper van my time machine. It’s retro AM radio and clunky controls take me back to being a kid in the 70s when a dashboard was eye level (at least on those occasions I was lucky enough to ride in the front seat). My husband and I keep the windows (cranked) down when we drive because it’s hot as blazes in there, and the breeze whips my hair as I gaze at the passing landscape. How is it that same view looks so different with the window rolled down? I feel like I am part of the scenery instead of a moving observer. I reach my hand out the window and let the air bob it up and down, something my mother never allowed. I hear the echo of a scolding voice in my head but I decide nothing will tear my arm off, as I was once led to believe. I feel free and happy and unfettered.

photo-10

We bought this sweet old van to celebrate our 25th anniversary this summer and retraced our honeymoon route through the Rocky Mountains. Back then, a camping trip in my parents’ motorhome was all we could afford and we hoped someday we would be able to travel in luxury. Now we can afford to travel as we wish, and this humble classic is what we choose.

In my early posts, I feared I would no longer be any fun or have any fun on vacations. I feared life would be dull and I would be a wet rag who dragged down the spirits of those around me. I wrote this on my 7th day of recovery:

My husband and I have had many wonderful adventures together and the mental postcards I’ve collected all include a beverage:  Wiki Wackers on Catalina Island, Margaritas by the Riverwalk in San Antonio, PinaColadas on the beach in Dominican Republic, wine at an outdoor café on the promenade in Santa Monica.  As we plan and save for our retirement, we dream of vineyard tours in Italy and having a pint in an Irish pub.

Would I have any fun without alcohol? Would I BE any fun? Would my husband dread the rest of our lives together, saddled with a tea-tottling ninny for a wife?

Let me tell you something. Buying this van was MY idea and retracing our honeymoon was an amazing adventure. We laughed, talked, hiked, made out, roasted hotdogs, and genuinely enjoyed ourselves.

It isn’t that life is really all that different without alcohol. It is that I have changed. I am able to feel my joy in my bones; a deep peaceful resonance. I am able to relax, to be unhurried. When I drank wine, it was to speed up the process of unwinding and I was never successful at drinking my way to the good feelings that I find myself experiencing regularly in recovery.

It has taken time to get here. For the first year or more I wrestled with feeling awkward and self-conscious as a non-drinker. Then I started to get some results from addressing the underlying issues and became ravenously introspective. And recently this peace emerged, maybe some of the old hippie vibes from my van rubbed off on me.

Do I have any fun without alcohol? Can I BE any fun? Does my husband dread the rest of our lives together? Look at the smiles in this picture, and you tell me.

Yes, you will laugh again!

Yes, you will laugh again!

 

 

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!

Survival Strategies for Holidays and Vacations

The coming week will be a true test of my sobriety

The coming week will be a true test of my resolve

The coming week will be a true test of my character

The coming week will be a true test of my SPIRIT.

My husband and I have been invited to a destination wedding at an all-inclusive beach resort. As I type this, the November wind is howling outside my window with small blasts of snow ticking the glass. What sane Canuck wouldn’t be thrilled to escape for a week of sunshine?

In fact, a quiet week on the beach sounds completely heavenly but the days ahead will be anything but quiet. There are 50-some guests attending this event, all of us departing on the same flight from Calgary. Many in this group, my husband included, attend Grey Cup together each year in full “party-mode”.

Get the picture? Yah, that noisy section on the plane that all the other passengers are tired of by the end of the flight, praying they are headed to a different resort.

This is a group who is used to having a blast together and I’m not sure where I fit. I don’t want to be the wet rag. I don’t want to give recovery a bad name by being a fun-sucker. And I don’t want to miss out on fun by having an outsider mindset before we even leave home.

SO…. I am giving my head a good “Etch-a-Sketch” style shake and clearing out the negativity. Expectations (good or bad) result in resentment. Resentment feeds the addictive mindset. Let it go…..Breathe…..

There has been a noticeable spike in traffic on UnPickled lately and I wonder if it has anything to do with the upcoming holiday season. (Am I right? New readers, are you searching for answers as you dread another round of family gatherings with too much togetherness, drama, resentments, turkey, and BOOZE. Or perhaps, as New Year looms on the horizon, you are mustering the courage to make THIS the year you stick to your resolution and quit drinking? Am I right? I love being right! If that’s you please comment in the affirmative and make my day.)

Vacations, holidays, hosting 34 relatives for Christmas dinner, sleeping on your mother’s pull-out – whatever it is you dread in the weeks to come. These things can be daunting for anyone in recovery.

Here are my tried-and-true strategies for getting through such times:

  1. BYOD – Bring Your Own Drinks – Always always always show up with your non-alcoholic beverage of choice in one hand and a little something for the host(ess) in the other (flowers, chocolate, a bottle of wine if that’s something you feel safe handling).  Before you know it, your friends will start to keep your favourites on-hand. I am not kidding – this will happen and you might be surprised to see which friends do this for you and which don’t. Take note of those who do – they have your back.
  2. Plan Your Escape – Bring your own vehicle, if possible, and let anyone who comes with you know that they may have to cab it home if you need to leave early. If someone else does the driving, advise them that you should need to leave early, you’ll call a taxi. Do not put yourself into situations where you can’t control your exit. This is always made easier if you do the next step, too:
  3. Enlist a Buddy – At first it is tempting to keep your sobriety to yourself but it is sooo much easier with the encouragement of a trusted friend. If you’re involved in a program, you may have a sponsor as close as your phone. Even so, you may often find yourself among friends or family feeling unnecessarily alone in your efforts. I will never forget the actions of my confidant very early in my sobriety. I was having dinner with a group of girls and the when the waiter came to fill their wine glasses, he also poured into the empty glass in front of me. I almost fainted. Without missing a beat in the story she was telling, my dear friend Cheryl reached across the table, lifted my glass and poured the contents into her own as she carried on with her narrative. She did it so naturally that no one even seemed to notice (or care) – expect for me, of course! I was limp with relief.
  4. Expect to Have Fun – Browse a few headlines, Google some knock-knock jokes, or scan your friends’ Tweets for a few reminders of their interests and connections. Be ready to join into conversation and if all else fails ask everyone questions about themselves. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and LOVES the person who listens with interest.  Learn about the location you are visiting – whether it is a party in a private home, at gala at the local museum, or a vacation in another country. Bone up and be ready to explore and learn. You’ll be sailing smooth before you know it.
  5. Look Your Best – Put some extra effort into your appearance – over-dress even just to be safe. You may have been under a blanket all week sweating through your first week of detox, reading People Magazines and eating chocolate chips from the bag but no one needs to know that when you step out in public. Head high. Brows waxed, chin plucked. White-strips used and removed. You’re going to rock this, dammit. Even if you only stay for 90 minutes.
  6. Nab Little Breaks – It’s perfectly fine to step into the coat closet and text your sponsor or search #xa tweets for inspiration. Go into the bathroom and give yourself the soul-stare in the mirror. Use the seasonal  candy-cane lotion from Bath and BodyWorks  in there while you’re at it – the hosts will be grateful you  helped work through their annual supply.
  7. Practice Some Lines – This sounds super corny but it is helpful: write out some ways to say “no thanks, I’m not drinking” and practice them before the event. Generally, as long as you have a glass in your hand no one will care what is in it. Still, there’s always someone who just insists on getting you something in which case you can say, “Ohhhh, I’ll have some of that delicious-looking San Pelligrino that someone [YOU] brought. Yum! Thank you!!”.  If you are really pressed, just accept the drink offered and quietly set it aside and calmy WALK THE EFF AWAY. If this leaves you overly shaky, refer to items 6, 3, or 2.

So those are some maneuvers that have gotten me through countless events these past 2 ½ years, and I intent to adapt them for the resort week ahead.  What have I missed? What can you add? Let’s get through this holiday season together!

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