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Hi from New York

I’m here, it’s happening. A recovery conference in New York City for 500 women. Before things begin this afternoon, I’m headed out for a walk in the rain to stand next to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Trade Centre Memorial and feel my size next to theirs. It’s one thing to see pictures, but to experience the human scale of me:thing is another entirely. 

I remember being scared that travelling would be boring sober. Hah! Last night 7 women – new friends – piled into a cab and made our way through the Trump-protecting barricades to an iconic ice cream shop where we sat over tea and sweets laughing until midnight. Fabulous. 

Here is the view of the river from my hotel room. I slept with the window open and woke to horns and hustle. Little kids walking to school by themselves. Runners. Delivery trucks. Business people strutting past. 

Time to grab an umbrella and go join them. 

In 10 hours, I’ll be listening to Glennon Doyle Melton speak. I hope I can keep my composure and avoid acting like a fan girl at a Beatles concert. 

Life give us so many opportunities. Thank God I removed my wine-blinders!

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Reading Your Messages on Air

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.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2017/04/12/listener-letters-on-staying-sober-through-grief

//percolate.blogtalkradio.com/offsiteplayer?hostId=387055&episodeId=9951889

A Hard Month, A Good Month

Oh my goodness, July was a whirlwind of boxes, garbage bags, take out meals, and car rides!

We went to our niece’s wedding in Vegas, moved into a rental after selling our house with a lightening-quick possession, continued building our new home, and welcomed a new grandson into the world. On top of that, my parents just moved into assisted living so my sisters and I are tasked with helping to empty their old home of everything from sewing patterns to office files to endless doilies to memories.

I am not going to lie, there were many moments that I felt overwhelmed and weary. There were some quiet tears in my car and the bathroom stall at WalMart. Not sad tears, just exhausted ones. As if the thoughts I was too busy to think found a way out of my brain through my tear-ducts. I cried sorting the shoes and purses in my mom’s closet, oh dear Lord I am suddenly crying AGAIN NOW remembering it.

Sidebar: I have just had the realization that my mother’s closet holds such emotion for me because I used to hide there as a little girl and fantasize about the woman I might grow up to be as I touched each scarf, bead and fringe. I felt so close to the childhood version of myself this month as I returned to that place – a different closet with decades-different shoes but the same smell of roses and soap. We women define ourselves through our mothers, whether by contrast or copy. My tears that day were because I saw how I drove myself in so many ways to be the woman I wished my mother was – one that’s more assertive and domineering – and to be the mother I wish I’d had (more protective and informed). I became overwhelmingly aware that by forever trying to better her I have failed to fully appreciate her for who she is, and this will need to be a new focus of direction in the years ahead.

Emotions and self-reflection continue to be one of the harder parts of life after alcohol for me – no numbing or checking out. I didn’t exactly feel triggered, but I had that heightened awareness: “It would be nice to not feel this right now.” I did yoga, ate things I shouldn’t, cleaned things that didn’t need cleaning, and walked the dog. Best of all, I’d visit our kids and grandkids and just soak their sweet presence into my soul. (I have grandkids! Plural! What else could even matter in this world?)

The first time I heard the acronym ‘H.A.L.T.” I cringed – I hate to see complex things reduced to mere acronyms – but there is so much truth to the notion that Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired are four of the biggest triggers. I have spent most of the past month perpetually feeling all four simultaneously. Ironically, when I feel uncomfortable I’d rather work harder than take the break that I actually need. My go-to numbing is frenzy. Whirling dervish. I feel safe when I’m in constant motion, no one can hit me with a dart of criticism – even now that I *know better* I still subconsciously hustle to avoid some imagined critic.

Here are the good things that happened this month:

1 – Recording Bubble Hour interviews has been a balm to my soul. An hour once a week to get lost in someone else’s story and connect and share.

2 – Visitors – This is crazy! One of the kind strangers who encouraged me via Twitter when I first got sober emailed (5 years later) to say his family would be vacationing in this area and that we should meet up. Oklahoma and Alberta are 1600 miles apart – I never imagined we would ever meet in person. I had the pleasure of thanking this kind man and meeting his family and sharing lunch and looking into the eyes of someone who literally cheered me through those first few scary days. What a gift.

3 – Enjoying new spaces. Here is my new (temporary) home office, where I am writing this right now:

new office

4 – My new neighbourhood, where I walk my dog 3x a day:

water walk

Gratitude is getting me through and helping to turn a rough month into a good month, and keeping me on the sober path along the way.

This is What Recovery Looks Like

jean and anne

Recovery looks like two friends having coffee in the sunshine.

Here I am with Anne (ainsobriety.wordpress.com) as we hung out on my front steps after recording an episode of The Bubble Hour for y’all to enjoy.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2016/06/23/sobriety-through-a-crisis-guest-anne-s

 

It’s Not Your Fault

I was about to post the following quote on the UnPickled Facebook  page but stopped short for fear of backlash:

 

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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.

 

 

Craving Buster

You. Must. Do. This.

It’s called the TimTam Slam, a little trick my son learned in when travelling in Australia that involves chocolate-coated cookies and tea (or coffee) and a specific ritual. It hits all the bases for cancelling out booze cravings, which include:

  • ritual (because keeping busy is a good distraction)
  • palate confusion (the sweetness negates alcohol cravings)
  • pleasure (sugar and chocolate wake up endorphins)
  • entertainment (fun for your inner child)

So here’s how it goes. Make yourself a nice warm drink, preferably in an “Un Re” mug from my UnPickled Shop, and grab a package of TimTams.

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Now, take a TimTam and carefully nibble off diagonally opposite corners. (Note, due to my giant rabbit teeth this part is very difficult for me and my nibbles are on the largish side. I have had to ingest multiple extra TimTams due to botched (oversized) corner nibbles. If you don’t want to be *forced* to eat extra cookies, keep your corner bites small.)

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Now…carefully put one nibbled corner into your warm drink and slurp (gracefully!) from the other corner, pulling the liquid through the cookie until the heavenly combination is drawn through the body of the biscuit and you taste the drink.

This action causes a transformative union of cookie, chocolate, and warm drink to occur, which brings us to the *slam* portion of our program: STOP SLURPING AND TOSS THE WHOLE COOKIE INTO YOUR MOUTH. Do this swiftly and without hesitation or the liquid will overtake the biscuit and it will fall in your drink with a disappointing plop.

I promise you that this activity will make you forget your cravings, and probably give you a good chuckle along the way. Do this with friends and take pictures of the crucial moment – you have lots of laughs and great pics for your social media posts.

The TimTam Slam is so popular that it has a WikiHow page complete with illustrations and tips, but the rest of the world hasn’t realized it has anti-craving super powers for people in recovery.

That can be our little secret.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Interviewed by Mrs D

We were lucky enough to have Lotta Dan of Mrs D as a guest on two episodes of The Bubble Hour and now she is flipping the tables round by interviewing me on her Living Sober site.

http://www.livingsober.org.nz/sober-story-jean/

Thank you, Lotta, for all you to do encourage and inspire happiness in life after alcohol!

Weekend Wonders

Sometimes it is just nice to hear what a sober weekend involves for other people. I could hardly imagine it when I was drinking – I remember peeking out my window at the homes in my neighbourhood, wondering what happens in the living rooms of the non-drinkers of the world. Even now, with 5 sober years (totalling 265 weekends!) under my belt, I still catch myself thinking, “Hey, look at me not drinking and still having fun!”

I recently wrote about a super-exciting weekend – a meetup of sober friends in Portland that was SO FUN! – but let me tell you about this utterly normal (alcohol-free) weekend. Then, if you wouldn’t mind, please comment and share your weekend highlights.

Friday Night – My husband messaged me to say we’d been invited out for pizza with friends. I was wearing sweaty yoga clothes and was planning to read in the back yard but I’ve been a little anti-social lately so decided it would be nice to get dressed and get out. I was worried that everyone would be super drink-y (Friday night after all) but the weird-o’s ordered tea and water. (I’m kidding. They’re not weird, they’re lovely.) We had a great visit and ate too much and were home by 9 pm negotiating what movie to download. I was up a few “wife points” for all of the tv golf I’ve suffered through lately, so my husband kindly offered to watch “Brooklyn” (which, by the way, was quietly enjoyable; rather like this post and the rest of my life).

Saturday – I was going to spend the day writing but an early morning text from my daughter-in-law arrived, inviting me to a children’s festival. Petting zoos and bouncy castles with my little grandson? Yes please! (Hurray for life without hangovers!)  I quickly made a pile of sandwiches – packing some for my husband’s lunch since he couldn’t join us and some for us at the festival since I correctly assumed that healthy food would not be available. (Sidebar: a home made sandwich is a joyous thing. My mother-in-law has often made us sandwiches for various adventures and it makes us feel so cared for and loved. If you want to make someone’s day, make them an unexpected sandwich.) (Second sidebar: Recovery is all about gratitude and service. Sandwiches are about gratitude and service. Coincidence?)
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The festival was all kinds of fun. I took 50 or so (blurry) photos of the little dude like a good Grandma should.

By mid-afternoon I was back at my desk with a Tim’s (that’s Canadian for take-out coffee, except mine is a medium-steeped-tea-one-milk-two-sugar) (they often make it wrong) (I persist hopefully with the one-milk-two-sugar-tea order because when it’s right it’s worth it). I got busy packing and labelling prizes to mail to readers while simultaneously arranging dinner out tonight with my kids via text. The international customs forms were a pain in the butt! I took some extra time to write a personal note of thanks to each winner – once again gratitude and service make mundane tasks a sincere pleasure.

Here is a bundle of goodies ready to leave my desk for various lucky readers:

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*****Three-hour pause in blogging efforts while I meet my family for dinner at Boston Pizza. I had shrimp tacos and Diet Pepsi. My little grandson ate an entire pizza and 7 lemon slices. Neither of us drank any wine, nor did anyone else at our table, and our large noisy group had a wonderful time*****

Saturday Night – Buckle up. When I finish this post, it’s just me and Sleepytime Tea (made correctly my me) and whatever I decide to do next. The remote control is all mine as hubby is away overnight so I am thinking something super girly like the Tina Fey / Amy Poehler movie that we can’t ever agree to watch together. I’ve gone a little bead-crazy since the girls weekend – we made bracelets for each other as an activity and now I can’t stop – so maybe I could make a few bracelets while watching/not watching the movie. Maybe I’ll crack the “Venus” catalogue that is (inexplicably) mailed to me and play the “Find One Thing On This Page You Would Actually Wear” game – you know, where you randomly open the catalogue and pretend you HAVE TO buy something on that page, which is super amusing and challenging considering the cougar-ish nature of all things Venus.

I’m not really selling the sober life here, or am I? The point is, I am all alone on a Saturday night, doing things I enjoy and feeling no urge to drink. I don’t miss it (love me some Vanilla Sleepytime, truly), don’t need it (no stress in this day!), and don’t think about it (except when I am writing to you good people!).

Sunday – Tomorrow I am going to dig up three rosebushes outside my office that I have HATED for years. I have spent the last several summers trying to trim, shape, and control them, but these are ALBERTA WILD ROSES – stubborn little buggers with an iron will and no common sense. I was scouring the internet for information on how to win this War of the Roses when it dawned on me: replace them with something more manageable!

I know tomorrow will not be pleasant. I know I will have scrapes and scratches and possibly a broken shovel by the end of the day. I’ve been planning my attack for weeks. First I’ll cut off all the branches, then I’ll dig out the roots, then go in after all the suckers. Let me at ’em!!!

It might get messy, but I am excited to take action on a problem that’s been bothering me for years. Sound familiar?

Now…let’s hear about your weekend.

 

 

UnPickled in Liv’s Recovery Kitchen

I was pleased to be interviewed by Liv’s Recovery Kitchen last week, a cool site where blogger Liv writes about recovery, shares kitchen-tested recipes, and posts interviews with sober people from all walks of life.

Liv asks great questions, and as a result she had me covering everything from early recovery to my thoughts on (not doing) the 12 Steps to what the heck “Recovery is Leadership” means.

Please enjoy:

http://www.livsrecoverykitchen.com/interviews/interview-with-jean-greer-mccarthy-of-unpickled

“How Did I Get Here?”

“I can’t believe this is my life. How did I get here?”

I asked myself this a thousand times when I was trapped in the cycle of daily drinking. I hear the same words often from readers with whom I correspond. How did this happen? How did I get here? I can’t believe this is my life.

I heard it last night from a strong, beautiful mom who is wrestling with her decision and wrote a heartfelt message about her inner battles.

I am saying it myself this morning, only now it has a happy meaning for me, and is said with a spirit of gratitude: I am drinking coffee all alone in a strange city on a balcony overlooking the hippest neighbourhood I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe this is my life. I am about to spend 4 days with a group of sober women I’ve met through blogs, through recovery retreats, and online support groups. We’ve rented a huge vacation property  and filled all nine bedrooms. I can’t believe this is my life.

How did I get here? I arrived a day ahead of the others and had to wander around the area alone for hours before I could check into the rental house. I explored local shops, got a manicure, bought the groceries we’ll need (lots of coffee and ice cream, plus oodles of healthy ingredients for two big suppers we’ll cook together). I hunted through a used bookstore and scored a 1945 edition of Ogden Nash poetry for my son, and seriously considered a vintage hand-tool leather purse from the 70s that might lose its cool style-value the moment I leave this trendy neighbourhood. I ate borscht alone in a cafe.

I can’t believe this is my life. It was when I finally checked into this house that I came to appreciate how far I’ve come.Stillness used to be my enemy. Staying busy was my drug of choice, drinking was a way to numb myself when the busy-ness of each day ended. So spending a night alone in a strange, huge house could be a big trigger. I watched tv, read, fed myself, drank tea, went to bed, read some more, and finally just went to sleep. I tossed and turned. In truth, it was a horrible sleep. I checked my clock every 30 minutes from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. and then finally just got up and made a pot of coffee. So what if I am tired when the others arrive? So what if I maybe talk too much or fall asleep before everyone else or act spacey because I am tired. So what, that’s okay. I am safe with these friends. Perfection is not expected or required.

How did I get here? One hallmark of codependency, I’ve learned, is only valuing oneself through the eye of others. One place I catch myself doing this is in the grocery store: what do others think of me when they see what’s in my cart? It might sound stupid to non-dependent types, but I am sure some of you do the exact same thing. So when I was getting groceries for this meetup, I laughed at the giant bag of spinach, three buckets of gelatto, and tea selection I was placing onto the conveyor belt, thinking the average person would say, “A girls weekend? Where’s the wine?!” And then I noticed the lady ahead of me who was bagging her own groceries, which appeared to be dinner for one but with two bottles of wine. Was I imagining that she looked puffy, tired, and maybe a little sad? Was it fair to assume she was trapped as I had been? Maybe she was on her way to book club. Oh wait, that was one of the things I used to say to the store clerk when I was embarrassed to be buying more wine myself. “Book club! Those ladies love their wine!” I caught myself short of judging this stranger, and instead sent up a little wish for her wellness, whatever that may be.

I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe all the cool things I have done since I quit drinking. A year ago today I went skiing in Switzerland in the shadow of the Matterhorn with my husband. I went to an AA meeting in Manhattan – which is surreal for a small town hick like me (who doesn’t do AA).  I have travelled alone to yoga retreats and sober meetups in Mexico, Boston, Salt Spring Island, Kelowna, and around my home province of Alberta. I can’t believe the amazing people who have been kind enough to meet up with me when my travels bring me to their region, and I love it when you guys let me know you’re coming through my area so I can meet you.

I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe that it feels so natural to live without alcohol when I spent so many years believing it was the only thing that held my life together. I can’t believe it is so easy to share my weaknesses in this blog when I kept them hidden for so long. I can’t believe five years has already passed since I looked at my drinking and asked, “How did I get here?”

Oh wait, I CAN believe it. I DO believe it. It’s real. I acknowledge it all, humbly and gratefully. I am living life fully and fearlessly (albeit still a little anxiously at times).

I don’t drink, and my life is better than ever. It gets better. Believe it.

 

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