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.
If only someone could find a way to translate all the blog posts I write in my head while I’m driving or cooking or doing books at the office. If only I could collect a ticker tape of my brain activity (dreams excluded, those are wacky) and cut and paste the best bits for this blog.
I had so many good ones in “the hopper” (which is what I call the mental centrifuge that filters obsessive thoughts into actual truth nuggets).
A few things I planned to write about this week:
– The way my throat clamps shut when I visit a church, and I cannot sing along with the hymns. Even in my son’s hipster congregation on where instead of a choir there’s a “worship team” with a drum kit and bass guitar and the songs are all catchy and upbeat. As a former singer/songwriter I feel strange standing in silence while those around me sing, but some old anxiety clamps on my throat and seals my lips. Instead I close my eyes and sing in my mind, and trust that God understands this little mystery even if I don’t. But then I feel guilty, because if everyone did the same the sanctuary would be silent…and then I wonder, “Wouldn’t God still hear choir, I mean worship team, of our hearts?”….
– That I realized only yesterday at I had confused Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” with 80s actress Terri Garr, who I’d assumed reinvented herself as a radio personality after retiring from acting. I was so impressed how her ditzy, perky blonde stereotype had been shed for the deep-voiced intellect on the radio. “She was a better actor than I thought!” To be fair, I am Canadian and our national NPR equivalent is CBC (tv and radio) and I only recently picked up NPR on satellite radio. The Garr/Gross mix up was the result of catching occasional promos, but minutes into listen an actual episode I was searching “Terry Gross photo” followed by “Phoebe’s mom on Friends” and laughing at my mistake.
– That I spent 4 days at the lake without a packing along a carefully planned array of non-alcoholic beverages for myself. This used to be a big deal – How many days? How many dinners, cocktail hours, card games and evening fires did I need to soothe myself through? This time around, all I worried about was morning coffee and bedtime tea. Seriously. What a shift.
– That we stayed in a theme room at West Edmonton Mall, and like the note above, booze did not even cross my mind. Wine and hotel rooms used to go hand in hand, and I made a point of packing bottles, corkscrew, and glasses in my drinky days because God forbid I might be stuck in a hotel room without my much needed wine. When I quit drinking, I needed to replace all that and you will see in some earlier posts how I kitted out my bag with all kinds of replacements.
– How sometimes it can be hard to be of service to people who are active addiction. I want to help everyone and not everyone wants to be helped, even when they have reached out to ask for help. It is a delicate dance. I am learning and doing my best.
– How I tired AVE (audio visual entrainment) and what a little trip that has been.
But damn, all of those posts wrote themselves in my head and I failed to capture them. Instead I am writing this recap in between appointments and hoping you can hop from dot to dot to build some kind of picture. What did it form? What do you see? A happy, sober lady living a full life? Or a scattered flibbertygibbet who needs to focus and schedule more writing time?
I was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook page but stopped short for fear of backlash:
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.
I had lunch with 3 beautiful sober ladies yesterday, new friends whom I met through this blog and the “Booze Free Brigade”. What an incredible joy it is to connect with others who understand the journey. I never imagined I would laugh easily for hours with people I’d only just met, and I certainly never thought my recovery peers would be so very much like me.
I also never guessed that I would still be blogging after three years, still be working to change my life, or still be a work in progress. In all honesty, I thought I would be “done” quitting: recovered, emphasis on the “–ed”.
For the most part, I have nailed the “not drinking” part of this deal. My fridge has a selection of non-alcoholic choices I enjoy, and I breeze through most social situations. I order with confidence in restaurants, decline gracefully when offered booze, and generally speaking living alcohol-free is now second nature to me.
I think something clicked partway through the second year; likely the cumulative effect of repeated experiences. Trial and error of what to say, how to act, situations to either embrace and avoid have all added up to a high level of comfort with my new alcohol-free life.
Two of my new friends at lunch yesterday are in their first year of recovery, and to me they seem yonks ahead of where I was at that stage. Ah but we all know better than to compare out insides with someone else’s outsides, right?
The “insides” are the focus of my efforts now. Once we tame the behaviour of drinking we turn our attention to understanding the reasons it was ever necessary. It’s not that hard to see, not that difficult to understand, how things can go sideways. The tricky bit is learning new ways to act and react so that life doesn’t become so painful that we require constant numbing.
This is much more difficult that it might sound. I can intellectualize that I am overly critical on myself; I can understand the root causes of the criticism and identify the patterns of behaviours involved. The real challenge for me is to do things differently moving forward.
It’s not as if I can just say, “I am going to stop being so hard on myself” and BOOM, be gentle. It takes an effort towards awareness.
For instance, last week as I was cleaning my house I could feel my agitation and anxiety rising. The usually euphoric scrub of a toilet was done with resentment; my normally light step was hurried and panic-driven.
In the past, I would have allowed myself to feel righteous anger at everyone else for dirtying the house. This time, however, I was able to realize I was being motivated by a fear of criticism. I was preparing to host a gathering and one of the guests in particular worried me. I was anticipating her critical eye and imagining words she might say if she saw a dusty baseboard or spotted fixture. I was expecting cruelty, bracing for it, resenting it, and allowing myself to feel badly.
On the surface, I was being bitchy about cleaning the house and I was working myself up into a lather. As one of the women said at lunch yesterday, “I just thought that was normal, I thought how I acted was just me. Now I realize I can do something about all that.”
You see, if we just quit drinking and make no other changes, we are stuck with all those old ways of interpreting, internalizing and acting out. This is sometimes called being a “dry drunk”.
If we are going to go to all of the effort of getting and staying sober, we might as well muck through a bit more and change things so that we don’t just end up miserable from some other broken crutch (shopping, gambling, sex, food, and so on).
So while drinking is a long way in the rear-view mirror, I am working on all the other “stuff”, specifically:
I once would have DIED before admitting I suffered from the A-word. That was for weak people.
Oh that shaking? That’s just nerves. Sweating? I am excited. Chest pains? Yes, I have a really stressful life but look at me handling it! Look at me, look at me – look at all the amazing things I can do while I shake, sweat and ignore the pains in my chest!
Now I can call it what it is: AN-fricking-XI-E-TY and I am learning better ways to identify and handle it.
I have had (and hidden) a form of OCD called “dermatillomania” since my early adolescence. It is gross and embarrassing and apparently rather COMMON among those susceptible to addiction.
Please read more about it here: http://www.thefix.com/content/pick-me-baby-one-more-time .
I use behaviour modification and relaxation techniques to deal with it and have had great success.
Many readers may identify with this problem. If this describes you, please understand that the condition has a name, there is help available and, as always, you are not alone. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about it and are uncomfortable commenting publically.
At different times in my life I have fallen into disordered eating patterns – I think that is the right language these days. This partly stems from perfectionism or fear of criticism, and mostly from a desire to exercise control at times when life has felt unmanageable. I have cycled between binge/purge, starvation, and obsessive exercising – all behaviours I expect to leave in my past.
What is the difference between being a high-achiever and an over-achiever? In my experience, it is that an over-achiever is never satisfied because we are driven by shame and fear. I just never felt good enough and thought I needed to do more than everyone else to be worthy of the same level of acceptance.
Anxiety, OCD, disordered eating behaviours, and an insatiable need for success were just other presentations of the same old problems. I had accepted them as normal, as me. I never expected them to change because I never knew they were the outcomes of my own misguided efforts to comfort my old wounds.
So when I talk about recovery, I am talking about getting back to the root of our problems – drinking, yes, as well as other things you and I no longer have to accept as “just us”.
We can do better for ourselves, and just knowing that brings a world of relief.
This is where I am at after 3 years, 3 months, and 10 days of living alcohol-free.
Emphasis on the FREE!
I spent years wanting to quit drinking but continued because I was terrified of pinning on the “ALCOHOLIC” badge. When I finally quit, it was without the certainty that I was an alcoholic at all, but rather that I was in desperate need of peace.
Three years later, I am comfortable with the knowledge that I was an active alcoholic, I am a person in recovery, and that recovery is leadership.
Today I made a new label for myself and this blog.
If there is one question I am most asked about living alcohol-free, it is “How did you know it was time to quit drinking?”
Only occasionally is this question asked with dancing eyes that reveal a quest for titillation: I want to hear every detail of rock bottom. If I sense that is the motive, I generally let them down easy: I was the most boring alcoholic ever – I have no stories of catastrophe. I just knew I was losing control and needed to take charge.
More often it is asked with genuine interest, either because someone would like to know me better or is trying to understand addiction better for personal reasons. Sincere questions deserve honest answers.
I have been reading about the “transtheoretical model of behaviour change” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transtheoretical_model) and I can easily see how it correlates to my journey. In short, it identifies various stages of decision-making and behaviour changes as such:
- Precontemplation (not ready) – in my case, using wine as a daily antidote for stress and anxiety; enjoying the relief it brought; feeling very comfortable with my routine and experiencing no negative thoughts or consequences.
- Contemplation (getting ready) – I began to feel an acknowledgement and growing discomfort with the reality of my habits. I started to pay attention to the red flags (see below). I began watching Celebrity Rehab with intense focus (while drinking).
- Preparation (ready) – I got up the courage to assess my drinking patterns online (I used http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov) and received confirmation that I needed to make changes. I started trying to quit and failed each day. I took no steps to make myself accountable and did not reach out for help, but these initial unsuccessful efforts confirmed my worst fears. Not only could I not quit, but also not moderate or reduce. Throughout this stage, my intake instead steadily escalated and I began to realize where this was headed.
- Action (initiating change) – for me, this was speaking honestly to a friend, starting this blog, and reaching out to the online community for help and support. I threw myself into the task at hand and little by little made it through each difficult day.
- Maintenance (supporting the change) – I guess this is where I am at now – you could call this ongoing recovery. This is a great place to be and many recovery advocates say the goal should be to engage in this phase forever.
- Termination (completion of change) – remembering that the transtheoretical model of behaviour change is not about recovery specifically, there comes an end point where the change is complete and the new behaviours are effortless and normal. There are different schools of thought in the recovery community as to whether or not one can ever end the process. Some pathways teach that if you stop going to meetings and working their program you’ll either start drinking again or fall into the miserable life of a “dry drunk”. Some pathways encourage striving for a point of supported closure on the change – which does not mean it is possible to start drinking again normally but rather that you can go forward as a “non-drinker” and be done with it. I don’t take a position on this – at this point it doesn’t matter to me because I have a lot of work still to do and see myself in the maintenance phase for many years to come.
So what were those red flags for me? It wasn’t any one single “big” thing that led me to change; it was the accumulation of little things. Here are some I recall:
- Unable to stop drinking daily
- Unable to reduce or limit amount
- Drinking alone
- Shame about bottles in recycling bin
- Hiding extra alcohol in cupboard
- Continual concern about having enough alcohol on hand
- Obsessive awareness of alcohol at every event – planning when and how to get in the “right” amount to get through the evening while still managing to drive sober to and from events, and appear “normal” to the outside world
- Becoming very agitated when unplanned changes disrupted my pattern – specifically I recall a friend dropping by and my husband poured her a glass of wine. I began to panic knowing that it meant there would not be enough to get me through the evening. I secretly drank shots of scotch before bed to compensate. I felt guilty about resenting my friend for visiting unannounced.
- Spending the last hour of work each day deciding if I would stick to my plan of quitting drinking or stop at a liquor store on the way home, all the while knowing I would certainly pick up more wine.
- Rotating stores because I was embarrassed of buying wine every day, but never buying more too much at once because I was planning to quit “tomorrow”.
- Finding out that my drinking habits fell into the “high risk” and “heavy drinking” categories. I knew my drinking was only increasing, never declining, and I was running out of categories. Next stop: rock bottom. No thanks.
Now what about you, readers? Do you recognize yourself in the stages of behaviour changes? What were your red flags, and was it many little things or one big incident that initiated your decision to live alcohol-free?
It can be a deflating experience: building up the courage to tell a close friend about the decision to part ways with alcohol, only hear “That’s ridiculous. Don’t be so dramatic.”
Here are some of the more awkward things people have said to me personally:
“Great! Now we’ll always have a designated driver!”
“You can have a drink now and then. It’s not like you’re a raging alcoholic like my brother.”
“It’s okay with me if you don’t drink, but you probably shouldn’t go telling people that.”
“If you were able to just quit, you probably weren’t an alcoholic.”
“I don’t really know if I believe in that.”
Have you seen this too-true video Frankie Norstad a.k.a “Little Miss Addict” made for YouTube called “Sh#t Normies Say to 12 Steppers”?
Anna David wrote a great article for The Fix about how to answer such clunkers. You can read it here: http://www.thefix.com/content/shit-non-addicts-say91717
What’s really behind these questions? What are our friends really trying to say? Why are their words so hurtful?
In early recovery, we are sensitive. We worry so much about what others think, and are coming to terms with our inability to control that very thing. Words do hurt, but compassion lessens the sting.
Here are some common douche-y things normies say and the insights to help you be less affected by them:
Normies say: “Are you going to stop coming out with us now?”
We hear: “You’re ruining our fun.”
It likely meant: “We still want to spend time with you. What’s the best way to do that?”
Normies say: “Did I do something to make this happen?”
We hear: “Your recovery is about me.”
It likely meant: “I would never knowingly hurt you” (or…”I feel guilty for something I’ve done.”)
Normies say: “Do I have to quit drinking around you?”
We hear: “I don’t want to be with you now.”
It likely meant: “I am not ready to face my own issues around alcohol.”
Normies say: “What are we supposed to do after baseball now?”
We hear: “I only want to be your friend if I can drink with you.”
It likely meant: “Is this going to change our relationship? I like things the way they are.”
Normies say: “It’s no big deal. I don’t care if you’re drinking or not.”
We hear: “Don’t expect me to do anything differently to accommodate you.”
It likely meant: “I’m acting nonchalant to show you that I’m supportive.”
Normies say: “My cousin was in rehab and it made him worse. Stay away from recovery programs.”
We hear: “All alcoholics are the same. I know more about this than you do.”
It likely meant: “I don’t know what to say so I’m relating the only thing I know about recovery.”
Of course, while friends can say stupid things there is also the possibility that this person is, in fact, an asshat. How do we tell the difference between friends and asshats? By forgiving the occasional awkward comment while paying attention to actions. Friends will treat us with respect, enjoy finding new ways to connect and grow the relationship in situations that don’t involve alcohol. They will show interest in our wellness, and they will buffer us in social situations.
Asshats and douchbags will reveal themselves through selfishness, disrespect, and a willingness to endanger our sobriety. Allowing ourselves to remove these types from our lives is an important act of self care.
There’s no need for a dramatic blow up. No “friends off” speech required. Just know that we’ve shown them a better way to be, and that for now the friendship has run its course.
The first time I sat down at my computer and searched for information about addiction and recovery, I felt like the only person in the world to ever ask “how do I quit drinking?” Now I am reminded regularly that many people around the world do exactly that every day.
WordPress kindly provides a stats page to show the number of visits a blogger’s page receives, as well as the countries that viewers originate from, and some of the search terms that lead visitors to the page.
Please don’t panic – I have no way to see who you are or where you are live or what other pages you’ve looked at. Your privacy is not comprised. It is simply a snapshot of traffic on my blog – how many clicks on each blog post, and so on. There are hundreds of visits every day from origins around the globe totaling more than 100,000 and growing rapidly. If my little squeak of a blog reaches that many people, imagine the millions of seekers across all the other recovery blogs and websites out there. Ordinary folks just like you and me.
The most common search terms leading to UnPickled include “quit drinking”, “sober blogs for women”, and “sobriety blogs”. Many search “unpickled” and I’m guessing those are repeat visitors or possibly canning enthusiasts. Some searches give me a lump in my throat, such as “please god help me quit drinking” and “quit drinking and be a better mom”.
Every now and then the list of searches includes “who is the author of unpickled” and I hold my breath. Is someone onto me? If so, I pray it’s a kindred spirit like my clever friend in Busted and not one of my husband’s old girlfriends or someone I’ve had to fire at work.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pros and cons of stepping out from the shadows and taking ownership of my identity as UnPickled.
PRO: Help break down the stigma of addiction by showing that I am a real, every day person.
CON: Once it’s out there I can’t take it back and there could be backlash.
PRO: Allow myself to feel proud of my strength in recovery and tell Mr. Shame to take a flying leap.
CON: I am still embarrassed that I was ever addicted.
PRO: Encourage others to open up and get help.
CON: Risk gossip in my community.
Okay now wait a minute – encourage and help others vs. risk gossip? Is there any question that helping others outweighs mild scandal by a long shot?
You see, it’s not a worry if the readers of UnPickled discover my identity as the author. I would love to share more of who I am with you, because even though I own a business you’ve never heard of and live in a city you likely couldn’t find on a map , I know we have a lot in common, you and me. We’ve shared our most private stories, and by doing so realized that all of us struggle and triumph in similar ways.
The hard part is knowing that if I reveal myself, the people of my community will eventually catch wind of this blog and come seeking juicy bits of water cooler chat.
“And then what might happen?” asks the Dr. Drew of my imaginary therapy sessions.
Then they’d laugh about me.
“And then what…?” he presses on, kindly.
They’d know my private stories.
And think I am weak.
“Or possibly they’d see that you are stronger than they ever knew. And more honest.”
To the readers of this blog who came looking for fellowship on their journey to recovery:
You will now see my picture on the About UnPickled page. I am scared shitless, but I believe you will see yourself in me. I am just one of many faces of recovery, and if you ever recognize me in an airport or maybe even in my own hometown I hope you’ll say hello, tell me how we’re connected, and give me a hug. We’re in this together.
To the readers of this blog who are here for pure interest because they know who I am:
Please tread lightly through these woods. Please read the hundreds and hundreds of comments from people around the world and respect that my story is their story. Resist the urge to be entertained and instead let yourself be moved. Something beautiful has been happening here. Maybe it’s time you knew.
My name is Jean, and I am UnPickled.
Before I quit drinking, I worried what people would think if they knew how much wine I was *actually* sipping each night. You’d think that recovery would have brought instant relief from those concerns, but ironically I was just as embarrassed of not drinking at all.
Emphasis on the “was”.
Well into my second year of sobriety, I have begun to feel more open about this part of my identity. The words “No thanks, I don’t drink. I brought my own” just rolled off my tongue at a party one night.
Suddenly at restaurants I could look the server in eye and smile sweetly while saying, “I’ll have an O’Douls, please – the green label if you have it. And could you please bring me a nice big wine glass for that?”
What a huge relief it is to be able to just spit out the words now. I haven’t tattooed “Alcoholic in Recovery” on my forehead, but when asked why I’m not drinking I feel absolutely comfortable saying, “My nice nightly glass of wine quietly grew into an addiction and I had to quit altogether.”
Most people are fine with that and some will ask, “Does it bother you that we are drinking around you?” “Not at all,” I’ll say truthfully, “but what I do find is that I sometimes need to leave earlier that I used to so don’t be offended if I slip off, okay?”
What can be hard is that sometimes it’s the people closest to us that seem the most awkward. It can be really annoying when the people you most expected to count on ask you if you’re ever going to be able to drink again. You’ll notice I mention this particular line of questioning in a few different blog posts, so obviously it gets to me. I’ve thought about it a lot and here’s what I have come to understand:
It’s possible for people who love you to want you to start drinking again because they want you to be “fixed” and for your “problem to be over”. They have the misguided idea that you’ll be “cured” and return to your “normal” self, the old you they used to know.
It took me a long time to accept that I would never be able to drink again. For a long time I stayed open to the possibility that I might be able to return to moderate drinking. Some can, I get that. I’ve learned though, that it won’t be me. I confess that when my eyes fall upon a chilled bottle of white wine across a crowded room, for the briefest of moments it’s just the two of us and I want to grab it and run. I recently heard Anna David (afterpartychatter.com) say on the Dr. Drew podcast that the disease of addiction “does pushups” while you are in recovery and if you let it back in it will be even stronger that before.
This is not an easy idea to understand, and an even harder reality to accept for oneself. If it takes those of us in recovery forever to sink out teeth into these concepts, surely it will take our friends and family even longer. After all, they’re not living and breathing the changes of heart, body, and brain required in recovery. They’re not reading every bit of sobriety lit they can get their hands on, listening to The Bubble Hour constantly, or watching what every single person at a party pours in their glass like we are.
Sure, there will always be a-holes out there who make us feel like party poopers for staying true to our recovery. But some people, some, are just trying to catch up to us on this new path of ours and we need to be as patient with them as they are with us.
Although my life has had its share of adventures, I have lived in the same community for most of my 46 years. It’s a mixed bag of blessings and burdens – sometimes a strange time warp descends over every moment. Here’s where I got my first kiss. That’s where I used to catch the school bus. Here’s the path I used to walk my kids to baseball practice in the park. My friend’s dad yelled at me here when I was 8, accusing me (wrongly) of bullying. I puked by that picnic shelter in junior high after drinking home-made chokecherry wine at a friend’s sleepover. There’s another friend’s house – we used to suntan on the roof of her garage (before we got boobs. After that her mom made us stay in the back yard). Oh and right here a handful of teal pompoms blew off my dad’s car while we were driving to the church for my wedding.
I took up running a few years ago. While exercise clears the mind, it requires effort to not be distracted by the memories all around and the emotions associated with them. It’s an effort to relax, so to speak.
Whether I am writing a song, thinking about a blog post, or sorting out a problem in my head my thought process works the same way. All of the ideas, images, feeling, insights, and such mix together; swirling around in my mind like a cross between a tornado and a cauldron of soup. It all has to mix together for a long time (as verified by the sometimes lengthy gaps between my blog posts). Running can speed up the process if I allow myself to focus on the simmering tornado pot. So can long a car ride (alone), kayaking, and sitting on a beach.
After an indeterminate amount of time, something miraculous happens. The centrifuge slows down and out of the bottom of this funneling mess emerges a crystal clear drop of truth.
And there it is – the answer, the understanding I’ve been working on and waiting for is suddenly there. Perfect and real. A thought fully formed that seems to appear out of nowhere but which in truth has been in production for quite some time.
What’s been bubbling in the “pot of recovery” lately is the realization that so much of what morphed into alcohol addiction in my adult years started in my childhood. When exactly did I start to think I needed to be perfect to be loveable? And when did I start hating being a kid and begin acting 28 instead of 12? My parents were loving and stable – did that make me feel safer to take risks? Thoughts like these all bubbling and swirling around as I continue down the path of recovery.
Yesterday, I was running through the park where I played as a kid, puked as a teenager, pushed a stroller as a young mom, and now where I work out my middle-aged ass on a regular basis. I was listening to Ellie, Lisa and Amanda chat on The Bubble Hour podcast in my earbuds when suddenly PLOP!
A drop of truth fell out of the sky and stopped me in my tracks. I was right under a grove of trees.
I pulled out my headphones and took a sharp breath.
These trees are the size of my recovery.
You see, I was there the day these trees were planted. I lived up the street and I remember the day this park opened to the public. I was nine and my friends and I were so excited to have a park with paths, trees, and even a lake with footbridges to explore.
These trees were nothing but little sticks back then.
What stopped me was this – I was still innocent when these trees were planted.
Later that summer, something happened that became one of the many seeds of my addiction: I was molested on several occasions by another kid. It wasn’t a violent experience or even particularly horrible, to be honest. But I catalogued it as something that made me bad, and now I can see how I started to change afterwards.
See these trees? They’ve been growing since that summer. They are the size of all I seek to overcome; they are the size of my recovery.
So there I was yesterday – sweating from my run, sobbing from this realization, and marveling at the physical presence of my addiction all cool and shady in the morning sun.
These trees are big. No wonder it takes so long to heal. No wonder it sometimes feels overwhelming.
Should I burn them down? Kick at them? Chop them down?
Do I climb up them or sit down under them?
I walk among them, passing through. They can’t move, but I can go wherever I choose.
On my way through the grove, I spot something else. A slender stalk emerging from a trunk – a new beginning.
Life goes on.