We returned from our vacation to a difficult reality: my husband’s father has entered into the final stages of a terminal illness. He won’t be with us much longer, and it hasn’t seemed right to post all the happy photos from our trip while our family is so heavy with sadness.
We drove through a hailstorm to visit him on Sunday. My new car took a beating – cracked windshield and hail damage to the body – but it was worth it to see him, to be where we needed to be and where we were needed. A car is nothing. Family is everything.
I returned home last night and tried to go through the motions of normal life today.
I was shampooing carpets at one of our rentals when the machine made a strange noise and began to spew smoke. With the receipt for this new machine in my wallet, I decided to load it all into my car and return it to the store. Backing up, something didn’t seem right. I stopped and ran around the car. Apparently, I’d only set the box of parts behind my car, not IN it, and backed over the damn thing. The good news, however, is that I was able to return it anyway.
A phone call came in on my cell. My mom’s condo building was on fire. She made it out safely and was staying with a friend a few blocks away. I drove by, so much destruction. Her unit was untouched by there is no doubt smoke damage to her belongings. No one was hurt, that’s all that matters.
On the way home I picked up a stir fry for supper. It flipped over inside the bag and the contents came out of the container. Teriyaki chicken and rice smoosh.
My car is damaged but I am safe.
My mom is displaced from her home but it’s only temporary.
My carpet shampooer blew up and then I drove over it but the store still gave me a refund.
My dinner dumped all over the bag but I poured it on a plate and ate it anyway.
Is this fucking day over yet?
No, it’s not. It’s messy and it sucks but it’s life and I’m living it.
My heart feels like it’s going to drop into my feet with dread and grief. I don’t want my sweet, funny father-in-law to go. I don’t want to think about the world without him in it. And at the same time I wish him a gentle end.
We can do hard things. It would sure be nice if we didn’t have to do it all at once, though.
Having conquered 100km of The Cotswolds on foot, we moved on to the next phase of our adventure: a cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
It is pure luxury but booze is everywhere – including the cake and chocolates here in Germany where we toured today. It keeps me on my toes and I have to remind myself that there are things I could do to further protect my sobriety, if needed: call the desk to have our mini bar cleared of alcohol and pull a waiter aside and tip him to be my guardian angel (removing wine glasses from my setting and delivering a preagreed order on arrival). If I were travelling alone, I would do this on a heartbeat. As it is, my husband is very considerate and gives me accountability and support.
I’ve grown weary of my puffball hair and booked an appointment for a blow out with the onboard stylist for the hefty fee of 35 euros. Hopefully it will last a day or two. I have otherwise purchased nothing but a book at Heathrow airport (“The Year of Living Danishly” by Helen Russell) and a teensy amber angel today in Heidelberg, so paying for a few hours of sane hair feels justifiable. I’m telling myself it’s also a courtesy to the other passengers, because this current mass of fluff and doingers I’m sporting is plain disrespectful to onlookers. (Post salon update: normality restored!)
We’ve been on board 2 days and have toured castles, listened to opera (which I loved, who knew?), and walked a thousand cobblestone streets already. I write this from a quiet balcony, watching the beautiful German shores go by. Because we are between cities, the internet is quite weak so I am unable to upload photos for now. More to follow when conditions allow, because I so want to share this wonderful experience with you.
PS – Sober is better!
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.
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.
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!
Morning crisis: we have run out of coffee. I managed to squeak two cups out of the meagre grounds available by adding in some decaf and it will have to do. One for the mister and one for me.
Stirring in cream, (also in short supply, I goofed on groceries) I realized a remarkable absence of panic over the scarcity of precious essentials. Hmm, that’s new. Complete calm. It’s fine, I thought, one is enough.
One is enough.
That is new.
One has never been enough for me, not alcohol and not anything. If I find a t-shirt I like, I buy every colour available.
Something hits me. Yesterday I drove right past The Gap even though I had a coupon. I don’t need more tank tops, I have enough. I recall feeling a little *ping* in that moment but the significance is only registering now.
I have enough.
Having enough wine was a constant burden once my drinking crossed into addiction. When, where, how much. Keeping a supply for guests and a reserve for me. Rotating stores out of embarrassment. The bottles afterward. Getting enough. Drinking enough. Hiding enough.
I remind myself that the “enough” of wine wasn’t entirely imagined. Without it comes withdrawal and that feels a lot like danger: sweats, anxiety, obsession. I truly dreaded the way it felt to not consume the right amount of alcohol.
But this other enough, the way I feel about coffee and clothes and ice cream and savings and mechanical pencils, it comes from a different place. I’ve always wanted more more more and now something is starting to shift.
Maybe as we truly receive that we are enough, we begin to feel that we have enough.
Is this a new phase after six years of recovery? I recently heard Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery.com explain recovery as opening a set of nesting dolls. The one that is our true self is the tiny one inside, the only one that is solid. We have to keep going until we get through all the layers to that precious core.
There is no rush. Whatever layer I’m at right now is where I’ll stay a while, to linger in curiosity and build courage for the next phase.
For now, I’ve finished my coffee and my day begins. Obviously, that will include a trip to the grocery store.
My inlaws have a summer cottage on a wooded lake lot. We gather here on (Canadian) May long weekend to open it for the season. We push the pier and boat hoist into the ice cold water, rake the beach, knock cobwebs from the cabin’s rafters and old leaves from the deck.
My husband and I live a day’s drive south on the prairies where trees only grow if they’re planted and pampered. We are always amazed here of the forest’s abundance. Every spring it’s a flurry of cutting and clearing and stacking and splitting and burning because there are TOO MANY trees. Not too many as far as nature is concerned, of course. But as good stewards of our land, we have to stay ahead of trees that are a danger to fall in a storm and damage the cottage or cars.
As I snapped branches and fed the fire continuously, I reflected on how this process is so like life. We keep at it continuously, and nature keeps coming back at us. We can let things grow wildly and unfold as they will, or we can do our best to tend and clear and shape our corner of the world.
Right now in my life, I am working to change my habits of judgement and criticism. I’m trying hard to replace them with compassion, kindness or, in a pinch, detachment. I’m continuously burning broken branches of self-doubt, body image, comparison, and other old habits.
Now that the first jobs of the season are done, our remaining visits here this summer will be more relaxation than work. There’s always some enjoyable puttering available for those inclined to relax via broom, rake or saw, but of course it’s interspersed with fishing, golf, and naps on the beach. At least until September, when we repeat the errands of May in reverse – removing the boat and pier, putting away, shutting down.
All of it is poetry in motion. Year after year, it’s the same and yet different. We flip back through the photo albums and marvel how the babies appeared and grew and even themseves become parents. How our clothes and hairstyles have changed through the decades, but still here we are. The pups that became dogs and then memories, the new pups replaced them who are now old themselves.
Bottom: our son and his wife bathing our grandson on the deck in 2015
Still we rake the beach and cut the grass and sweep the leaves and chop the trees and burn the logs. Nature keeps going and growing, our work just shapes it for a season. The trick is to learn to enjoy it and to appreciate the purpose, otherwise the work seems unending and meaningless.
This is the view from my kitchen sink, looking over our island banquette to a pasture of horses and ponies. Please join me for a coffee at my new kitchen table, which was custom made of salvaged lumber from the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee (no kidding!). The ceiling beams, too. I love this kitchen and this view. I am a designer and this is one of my final projects before we retire.
But wait. What is that field of mud between my fence and the pasture? What are those stakes in the ground?
Yes, I live in a new neighbourhood – the homebuilder’s curse. By summer there will be houses blocking our view, so I am enjoying the vista while I can.
Occasionally my husband and I speculate on what type of homes are most likely to go up before us – front loading garage, two story, hopefully not too tall so we can still see the mountains from our second floor. Then we stop ourselves, it’s beyond our control. This is our home, our neighbourhood. We will embrace what comes and make our own corner the very best it can be.
We have a plan for this. The wooden fence you see pictured is part of a courtyard that will have a carefully planted canopy of trees arranged on both sides, to offer privacy and to become our own view. While I will soon lose sight of distant horses, I’ll gain an arrangement of branches, leaves and blossoms closer by.
The Serenity Prayer applies to landscaping as much as recovery: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
So, too, does the old adage to “stay on your own side of the street”.
It seemed easier to talk about sobriety and grief than write about it so I recorded this episode of The Bubble Hour, including insightful comments and messages from readers of this blog. Heartfelt thanks to all who have commented about your own experiences with grief and alcohol – good or bad. I have learned so much from you and taken strength from your honesty and kindness.
We pretty much all go through this eventually and we can all learn so much from one another.
Please have a listen.
On Monday I celebrated six years of life without alcohol. How is it that the days became years?
The past few months went from trying to taxing to gruelling. I kept my chin up after breaking my leg and spent January indoors. Meanwhile we were preparing to move to a new house, and I paced myself for the challenges of this transition. Being non-weight-bearing on crutches meant giving up a significant amount of my cherished control. Then, just before the move my dad was hospitalized and began a final month-long decline. He passed away earlier this month.
I got through it all, as we do. It so happens that a dear friend of mine went through an eerily parallel experience just a few weeks ahead of me – a cast and crutches, the death of a parent – and she seemed so strong and capable. I resist comparing my insides to her outsides, instead following her lead for getting things done and moving forward.
My leg is slowly healing, my heart is mending, but my mind is dull. I feel kicked and drained. I have nothing left to give at this moment, I need time to fill up again.
I will be back with more podcasts and posts, but I need some time. I read your comments and messages, and they make me smile. I feel behind on responding, but I try not to pressure myself too much. Expectations and resentments, and all that you know.
Six years sober, but these past few weeks were not so easy. It occurred to me on the night my dad died that I had good reason to drink, though I chose not to drink. Drinking dreams have returned, vivid and unsettling – a sign that something needs attention.
Six years of learning, lessons, tribe building, clarity and growth have come to this, prepared me for this. I will gather it all around me like a soft blanket and wrap up in the safety of my recovery to get me through and fill me up, until I have enough reserves to begin sharing and giving again.