On a quiet walk in the woods of Qualicum Beach this morning, I saw a tree growing on top of an old stump.
I reflected on the ability of one life to fuel the next. Again and again it appeared, new growth sprouting from the decaying past.
Some of us push away our past, hoping to deny or overcome the things we’d rather forget. But maybe we can instead embrace it, not erase it, and use it to fuel our futures.
Oh the simple life. Crawling into our cozy van-bed with a book, quickly drifting to sleep and clocking a miraculous ten hours of deep rest, night after night. Amazing! I rarely sleep longer than seven hours a night at home. How is this even possible?
Our daily adventures look something like this: a gorgeous drive, a good meal, a pretty campsite, a nice walk, a deep sleep, morning coffee, repeat.
A cartwheel on the beach…and a hike through the forest at Porpoise Bay…No make up for days on end! I literally have not gone a week without makeup since I started wearing it (hiding behind it) in the 7th grade.
There is a lot to be said for breaking routine and doing things differently. I realize how stuck in my ways I am at home – from morning coffee to bedtime tea. Being overly entrenched in routine is how I got stuck in the wine loop, and then I leveraged routine to break free.
I’m far from a “Free Spirit” (as our van boasts) but I am embracing this version of freedom on our vacation. It’s nice to know I can do this, to just *be* and just *enjoy*.
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!!!
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….!
(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:
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 new 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 writing 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….
Happy New Year, everyone! May your night be filled with La Croix and sparkles!
I can report that I have had no problem staying sober on the past few new year’s eves because I’ve been otherwise incapacitated.
Dec 31 2015: Suffered gallbladder attack on annual family ski trip and drove myself 150km home to see the doctor, leaving my husband to cook dinner for a dozen or so guests at cabin. Spent New Years Eve alone, watching Netflix, wondering why God invented gallbladders. Here I am going for surgery a few days later. Hurray for Canadian health care!
December 31, 2016: Again, the annual family ski trip did not work out well for me. But, hey, I got out of cooking the New Year’s feast for the crowd once again! The family put together a great meal. Afterward, I laid in bed and people kept coming in to snuggle with me and visit. It was super sweet and I felt very loved. Definitely no temptation to drink champagne at midnight that year.
Which brings us to THIS year….
I’m not going to lie, I have been a little anxious leading up to today. What fresh hell might this year bring?
I awoke with a nosebleed but that was the limit of medical crisis, thankfully. Heaps and heaps of powdery snow came down and it is truly a magical wonderland outside. Not wanting the ski patrol to drag me off the hill again the in toboggan-of-doom, I played it safe the groomed runs despite the waist-deep powder all around. It was exhilarating to be back skiing after laying around all last winter. I couldn’t stop smiling as out there, marvelling with gratitude that the body can get so sick and be so strong again in just a year.
I am having too much fun to want to spoil it by drinking!
PS – the visits to this blog have doubled over the past week, which happens every January as people consider going alcohol-free in the year ahead. The comments section of this blog have always been the heart of the magic, so I invite long-time readers to share a word of encouragement for newcomers. If you are considering sobriety, feel free to post a question or say hi in the comments (anonymous is fine!). Recovery is all about community and sharing. We are all in this together.
This morning I was awake much earlier than necessary. BOING! Eyes open at 6 am. Go back to sleep, I told myself, you have a late curling draw tonight. You need the extra sleep if you’re going to make it through this day….
But it was too late.
COFFEE said my brain.
PEE! said my bladder.
Shhhhhh, go back to sleep, said my grown up voice, soon drowned out with chatter:
Yippeee morning! Coffee and news and what should I wear today and hey I wonder if I lost another pound and oooooh what oil should I diffuse in the sunroom while I read the paper and and and if I get up now I can read for an extra hour instead of sleep!
Who can resist that kind of enthusiasm? I can’t help myself, I love mornings. Do not confuse this with being a morning person. Morning people get stuff done. I don’t. I love to sit and read and drink coffee and have a slow start without interruptions.
Things sure have changed.
I used to shuffle to the kitchen and reach for Tylenol first, then coffee – both of them extra strength, please. Everything used to hurt in the morning and I never questioned it – I powered through. Hangover? No, of course not. I just had chronic daily headaches and body pain for no reason. It’s not like I was throwing up and calling in sick for work, right?
But a few months after I quit drinking I realized that I was no longer taking those little red pills every morning, and eventually I even had to toss a mostly-full jumbo bottle because it had stale-dated. That’s when I knew things were really different.
Six years later, things continue to change.
I no longer stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own eyes, looking for answers to a question I am afraid to ask. Or inspect my nose for whatever it is that supposedly happens from too much alcohol.
I still check my outfit in the mirror before leaving the house, but only to see if I like the combination – not with the scrutiny of an imposter trying to cover her shame and fear with perfection.
I used to arrange and rearrange the furniture and decor in my home, then inspect it by standing at the entrance and surveying the scene with a visitor’s eyes. Is this good enough? Are there flaws? Is it welcoming? It is right? Oh, my home is still quite perfect – once a designer always a designer! – but I please myself first.
As mentioned, Wednesday night is our curling league and I have fun visiting with the other teams. I love to throw a good take-out shot that clears the house, or sweep a teammate’s rock with all my might, but I no longer imagine that people are watching me or judging my form. We often socialize afterwards and it doesn’t faze me that most teams split a pitcher of beer while I have water, though in truth I can’t wait to get home and watch Survivor.
Yep, this is a huge departure from the old days. My husband and I started curling in our 20s before we had kids and oh my, the drinking we used to do! It was all in good fun back then. In my 30s things had started to change – with little kids at home curling was our one night out so we had to get a week’s worth of partying into that one night. I probably drank a similar amount of alcohol as before, but with a different urgency and attitude. Curling was once a prelude to alcohol. Now I actually focus on the game and play hard and feel happy.
I could go on. I drive differently. I listen differently. I work and socialize differently. Everything is better, even though some things are harder now. I got through profound grief this year without the help of alcohol and it was so very large and real, but I did it (am still doing it, to be honest).
I look better. I feel better. My chest doesn’t hurt constantly and I sleep like a baby (at least until 6 am!). I hardly have to think about not drinking now, that part gets SO much easier. But when it does hit me, the old urge to escape – WHAM! There it is like the smell of mould and I pull back in surprise.
Except now I know to ask, what is making me so uncomfortable that I want to check out? Then I deal with that thing, and if I can’t identify it I comfort myself anyway with something safe – a stretch, a treat, a nap, a walk, an unnecessary purchase.
That’s where I am at now, and in time I will surely be in some even more enlightened place.
But one thing is for sure: I am never going back.
Notice the lack of palm trees in my posts? I decided to cancel my trip to Palm Springs in order to help one of my sons who has suffered a serious neck injury.
The day after I dropped my husband at the airport – he still went to visit his mom as originally planned – the first winter storm of the season blew in.
I stayed positive while shovelling and tried not to grumble mentally about the sunshine I was missing. The wind was blowing the snow back faster than I could shovel it and I had to keep circling back to redo sections. Oh Canada!
Later I got this message from my husband, who was checking in on our security cameras and watching my progress:
Learning the power of gratitude is one of the great gifts of recovery. I’m grateful for my strong body, for having a property to shovel, for living in Canada, that my son’s injury will eventually heal fully, that my husband is spending time with his mom, and that I now have a travel credit on Westjet.
Now where should I go with that….?
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.)
I’ve been on tv and radio for my work hundreds of times, and recorded oodles of Bubble Hour episodes these past years. Even so, today was still nerve wracking.
If you feel like spending ten minutes watching a sober sister talking, or if you’re struggling and you just want to see another human who is in this recovery thing along with you, or if you’re wondering what my living room looks like, please watch:
What have you done lately that was out of your comfort zone? Were you happy with the results? Will you do it again?
There have been some really great moments recently that I’ve wanted to share with you. I get a pretty steady stream of inspiring messages and comments from people who have found my efforts to be helpful. Since one big lesson in recovery is keeping the ego in check, I am careful to stay focussed on service and gratitude when it comes to the role that UnPickled and The Bubble Hour might play in someone’s else’s life. Still, every time someone touches base it feels special and magical, like a butterfly landing on my shoulder. But those messages aren’t mine to share here, much as I would love to repost them all because every single person has a powerful story.
Here are some things that I can share. Three things I am excited about and grateful for and proud to tell you about:
- Recovery Today Online Conference happening Sept 11-15. I am honoured to be one of the session speakers and I hope you will check out this free series created, produced and hosted by the amazing Sherry Gaba, of Recovery Today magazine and former therapist on Celebrity Rehab.. Go here now:
FREE CONFERENCE SIGN-UP
This is the 5th annual Recovery Today Online Conference, there’s nothing quite like it. The speakers share on topics with deliberate creation and goal setting going way beyond the addiction to aspire to a life you’ve dreamed of and I’m sure all those attending will be impacted greatly. It’s totally free and you can attend from anywhere in the world online.
This Online Conference is also for all the parents, spouses, siblings, and children who love an addict.
- Healthline’s Best Alcoholism Blogs of the Year: Again, “watch the ego, amigo”…because who wouldn’t feel pretty puffed up about being included on a list with the likes of Sober Julie, Jennifer Matesa, and Mrs D? I know that this particular listing changes many lives because I can see the volumes of seekers who find their way to this page daily via Healthline. It is a powerful resource and I am glad they have taken notice of this little corner of the “recovery friendly web”. Check out their list here.
3. Last but not least, I have to thank the organizers of the SheRecovers in NYC Conference who presented me with the “Hope Award” in recognition of my recovery advocacy efforts. I had no idea this was in the works and frankly I would have worn cuter shoes that night if I knew I would be on the stage, but that’s how it goes with lovely surprises: you’re not always wearing the right shoes. I joked with the audience that the award was a relapse for me as a former approval addict, and in truth I have been trying for months to figure out how to appropriately share this moment without sounding self-promoting. What I am is humbled, and grateful, and awestruck, and well, I am a much nicer, kinder, better, more settled version of myself which is its own kind of award/reward. Anyway, this pretty award sits on my desk and reminds me daily of that weekend I spent with 500+ women in recovery – in N
ew York City, no less – and how awesome it felt to look out and know that no matter ow lonely I feel sometimes sitting at this desk, I am not alone. None of us are.