Where Am I?

It is nice to be missed, I must say. I have received several messages asking if I am okay after signing off from the November daily writing challenge and disappearing for the next ten days. Yes, I am okay. Here is what’s up:

I am in the mountains supervising the final stages of renovations to our ski cabin, which unfortunately froze up last spring. Since we had to replace all the heating and plumbing components, we decided to add some extra bedrooms and do some cosmetic repairs at the same time. It was a long summer as we did most of the work ourselves, but now the last stages are up to the pros. The days are busy and exciting, but at dusk the trades drive back to town and I am alone (with my dogs) in a very dark, quiet place with no tv or cellphone service and very few other inhabitants nearby (at least until the ski hill opens next weekend). There is some spotty internet available, by which I am sharing this post. Near isolation, with lots of reading, writing and reflecting.

And what am I writing you ask, if clearly not blog posts?

Well friends I have begun drafting a book about recovery. I hope to have it completed by spring so if you know any agents or publishers please send them my way. The book is the first in a series of four I have planned and I am so excited to bring them all to life.

The odd thing about being out here in the mountains is that I have forgotten all about Christmas! No tree, no lights, no carols, no advertisements to remind me that it is the most wonderful time of the year. Tomorrow I plan to return home and will have to jump into holiday readiness with both feet. I am looking forward to that, but I do recognize the this is a stressful time of year and doubly so for us in recovery.

Please have a listen to last week’s Bubble Hour (which I recorded from out here in the cabin via the neighbour’s landline) on the topic of Surviving the Holiday Season. One of the guests on that episode is fellow blogger Josie from The Miracle is Around the Corner and even though she says she was nervous, she speaks like a pro and shares some really great insights she has gained in recovery that help her get through hectic times.

I hope this post gives you a picture of what’s possible. I never imagined that I could spend so much time alone and not want to drink, that I could accomplish so much and so little at the same time, and that I could feel completely validated and worthwhile in the absence of others.

I may not be feeling very Christmas-y, but I sure do feel God’s peace.

I wish the same for you.

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Whew! Looking Back on a Month of Daily Posts

After 30 posts in 30 days, I am please to say I have successfully completed NaBloPoMo 2014.

My goals were to develop a more structured writing discipline and grow my blog. Check and check.

A daily writing session has been slotted neatly into my schedule and I plan to keep it there. Going forward this time allotment will be divided between UnPickled posts and other projects – a possible book series, two new blogs (TBA), and ongoing script development for The Bubble Hour. (In case “slotted neatly” gives you images of professional perfection, let me say I often write wearing pajamas before my morning shower, and my morning shower can easily be delayed until 1 pm if necessary.) This month of writing has been therapeutic, easing my transition from workaholic to semi-retired business owner. Participating in NaBloPoMo has helped me to look forward into the uncertain future and see exciting possibilities.

As for the goal of growing UnPickled’s reach, the daily stats have doubled and so have the numbers of subscribers. (Welcome all!) It appears that many of the new subscribers are educators, researchers, or industry professionals and it is exciting to think that our conversations about recovery are beginning to resonate further.  I do not benefit financially from this blog (oh, how I loathe “donation buttons” on personal blogs, no matter how apologetic or demure) but writing UnPickled supports my recovery through interaction with others, exposure to new ideas, and the challenge of creating meaningful posts.

Two “musts” for me during this project were to retain my point of view (recovery advocacy supporting various pathways) and to produce relevant content – no cat pictures or breakfast recaps (unless supportive of a sobriety-related message).  I like to think an idea through before writing it, and many days this month I sat down to the keyboard with nothing particular in mind but thankfully produced a good post nevertheless.

A few surprises came of this project, too.  The Nov 4th post “Are You a Recovery Hero” was featured by WordPress on  “Freshly Pressed”  – an honour some call “the holy grail of blogging”. That post was reblogged 22 times by other sites and the graphic has gone a little crazy on my Facebook page.  This is not my Sally-Field-You-really-like-me moment but a reflection of pure gratitude to have shared an old theory with a new twist in a way that is helping others understand recovery differently. I’m staying in gratitude, not ego. (Imagine how dreadful it would be if I posted a half-assed musing with detrimental mixed messages and THAT became widespread! Yikes.)

The survey experiment was fun and the results were powerful. Thank you to all who participated. Watch for more anonymous surveys in the future because clearly we all find it helpful to know more about our similarities and differences.

The best outcome of this month of blogging has been to hear from readers who have found my daily posts useful. I am humbled, honoured, and blessed to share this conversation with you. I am not an expert, but I am good at telling my story in a way that shows our shared truths. I learn so much from your feedback, and this is the beauty of blogging. A post merely presents a story or thought, and then the real magic happens as readers engage and explore further thoughts and possibilities. The comments are the best part of this blog.

Thank you for joining me on this 25,000 word adventure.

I’ll be back soon, although maybe not tomorrow.

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A Little Wisdom

Sometimes I surprise myself with the wisdom that’s rattling around in my brain. I take no credit for creating it; I’ve simply filtered and retained good material over time. I do have a knack for discernment and storage, I suppose. And clearly I can regurgitate well, as evidenced by the volume of good posts I’m pleased to have produced this month through the daily blogging challenge known as NaBloPoMo.

Just today I cleverly told a friend, ” The whole ‘deal’ in recovery is figuring out that how we’ve always operated probably isn’t going to get us sober…and might even be part of the problem.” True, eh? A good one. Chew on that for a moment. I love a meaty recovery insight. As for this particular gem, I’m not sure if I can pinpoint a specific source or if it’s simply a mashup of lessons that time has demonstrated to be true.

Our challenge is to go beyond remembering and repeating helpful bits, and to actually employ them appropriately. Say them in meetings, post them in blog comments, share them as memes until the cows come home but remember to effectively draw on them instead of falling into old patterns. Otherwise they’re just words (no matter how many time they get repinned or liked!)

Yesterday I explained the Drama Triangle but can I over ride my emotions in time to use the tool? I confess that at this stage in my growth I am more likely to clam up under duress and then assess the situation later as I lick my wounds. Even still, this is progress. The old me would have obsessed about an unfair circumstances, stewed in anger, talked about it incessantly and become bitter. Oh, and I’d have drank at it, over it, through it.

Progress is good but it’s a slow process. It takes faith to keep from becoming complacent or frustrated – two opposite conditions that present equal danger to sobriety. Life isn’t perfect, so there are plenty of opportunities to use the many tools acquired along this journey. Hopefully through repetition they will come to mind quicker, eventually as second-nature.

Right now I use most of my tools retrospectively. My goal is to use them instinctively and avoid emotion-driven responses altogether.

That’s all for today. Just a little wisdom.

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The Drama Triangle

Recovery from addiction requires more than simply giving up “X”. The most significant changes come from learning why we ever needed “X” in the first place and then rethinking how we operate. This almost always involves addressing interpersonal relationships. For me, one tool that has been extremely useful in changing my approach is the Karpman Drama Triangle.

Dr. Stephen Karpman developed this simple concept in 1968 to illustrate that three types of roles emerge from every conflict: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer.

Karpman Drama Triangle

When a situation upsets me, I look at the it with above image in mind and take responsibility for my role.

Do you have a favourite position on the triangle? Saying, “Hey, this isn’t my fault. Don’t blame me” means identifying as a victim. The persecutor role is not necessarily evil; it often the person who says, “I’m just doing what I think is right. Sorry but you will have to deal with it.” Then comes the hero, who says, “This is awful, poor you!” to the victim and, “Look what you’ve done!” to the persecutor, rescuing one from the other.

We are drawn to roles by subtle motivations. The victim is motivated by safety, the persecutor by power, and the hero feels a need for admiration.

Manipulators are very good at assigning roles. You might relate a benign experience about work to a friend whose reaction takes you aback:  “You’re kidding! I can’t believe they did that to you!” Before you know it, you start seeing the circumstances differently and feeling resentful about a situation that wasn’t bothering you originally. You might feel like this friend cares about you more than your coworkers, and confide in her more often to get the comforting feedback that paints you as blameless. Your friend is really manipulating herself into the “hero” role by convincing you that you’ve been victimized. You might even think you are lucky to have this great friend, the only one who “really cares about you”. Chances are the problems at work will escalate because you become entrenched in a pattern unknowingly.

Martyrs, on the other hand, love the victim role and no matter what happens, they make certain it is theirs to keep. Everyone else is either a hero or a villain. They are always explaining at length how they’ve been HURT by others, or how WONDERFUL some people are for saving them. We might wonder why martyrs have friends, but it is likely because the rescuers love to be the hero. If the martyr feels safe and the hero feels admired, who cares about the bad guy?

Type A personalities are easily cast as the persecutors, but they can also be good at rotating the triangle underneath everyone to reassign themselves into the hero or victim role. If you have ever been in a meeting or an argument where suddenly the “tables were turned” on you, that is likely how it happened.

For example, I once walked into an industry planning session and faced a hostile group.  Unbeknownst to me, one of my competitors had called everyone ahead of time and told them I would be presenting something that was harmful to the association, and that he would protect the industry by confronting me at the meeting. This peckerhead fellow set up a drama triangle in which I was the persecutor, the group was the victim, and he the rescuer. The “reality” of my presentation morphed into a “problem” under this dynamic.

I felt (rightfully) ambushed and tried to explain that I was acting in the group’s best interest, that I was really a victim here, and that this guy was manipulating us all. All of this made me look defensive and only dug me deeper into my “villain” corner.  In retrospect, I felt wronged (hello, victim!) and then wanted to play the hero by exposing this guy’s tactics (rescuer!) – none of which was satisfying or productive. I didn’t even know about the damn triangle but I hopped all over it unsuccessfully that day.

Now that I know about this tool, here is how I use it when caught up in a situation. The first step is to honestly assess what role I have fallen into and take responsibility for it. Then I am able to disable the triangle by stepping out of that role entirely – not by rotating the triangle but by refusing to participate.

There can be no drama if the victim extends compassion or sympathy to the persecutor, if the persecutor apologizes, or if the rescuer validates the persecutors position. Removing one corner of the triangle diffuses the drama and changes the “problem” back into a “reality”.

If you have one of those families that like to talk about each other behind their backs (*raises hand*), it is likely because they are trying to either assign roles or protect themselves. These conversations can be stopped instantly by politely rejecting the situation as a “problem” and only acknowledge it as a “reality”.  “That’s between the two of them,” is a nice way to prevent triangulation.

If we don’t acknowledge the dynamics of the triangle, then we are left with simple reality. It only becomes a drama when we take up our corners.

There is no winning position in a triangle dynamic. Even the hero/rescuer is ultimately vulnerable because each position is subject to the force of the other two. No one is empowered under these circumstances –they only exist by virtue of the problem. If the motivating factors are power, safety and admiration, we should instead seek to achieve all three through healthy self-esteem and self-advocacy.

This is my simple understanding of the “drama triangle” tool and I hope you find it useful. Please comment to add your perspectives, insights, and experiences with as they relate to your personal growth in recovery.

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Keeping It Real

It is mating season here in southern Alberta, and this morning I watched a large buck chase a doe down a boulevard in my neighbourhood. The doe stopped suddenly and turned to face her suitor, hopping side to side flirtatiously before dodging towards an elementary schoolyard. It was thrilling to watch from within the safety of my car, and thankfully a chilly snowfall has kept the both the schoolchildren and neighbourhood dog-walkers inside and out of harm’s way.

I was giggling as I drove away, wondering if the amorous pair’s nature dance would culminate in lusty deer sex outside a classroom window. Talk about a teachable moment! This is how kids SHOULD learn about sex.  Instead they get twisted messages when Grandma fails to realize Family Guy and South Park aren’t kids’ shows or because the babysitter let them play Grand Theft Auto.

God Bless the brave teacher who doesn’t close the blinds on urban deer mating, because we all need to get more comfortable with reality. Real life is messy, beautiful, ordinary and extraordinary.  Real life happens in a flash and then the world moves on. No soundtrack plays for deer sex, car crashes, failure or triumph.

We are bombarded with fake examples of beauty, violence, terror, power or success that are such heightened versions they barely resemble reality. All that added colour and noise put up a barrier that makes us feel removed enough to disengage and observe. It is one thing to watch an over-the-top tv personality like Donald Trump yell “You’re fired!” but have you ever been in the room when someone actually gets fired? It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Where to look? What facial expressions are appropriate? Display kindness or outrage?

Our own realities can be too much for others. Someone who happily watches Intervention on tv may be very uncomfortable hearing about my experiences as a person in recovery. It is difficult to explain that I responded to a growing knowledge that something was wrong, but have no grand “rock bottom” story to go with it.

“Yah but what did you DO that was so bad?”


“Okay but what HAPPENED that made you decide to quit?”

I just knew I had to.  

Squirm squirm. Awkward pause. “But you’re not like an alcoholic or anything.”

Yah, actually I am. Sorry I brought it up….

Sandra Bullock in “21 Days” or Meg Ryan in “When a Man Loves a Woman” don’t resemble me any more than twerking resembles what went on between those two deer this morning.  And yet…who can blame us for looking away when things are too real?

I said hello to an acquaintance in a book store recently. “How are you?” I asked and he proceeded to tell me more than I wanted to know. Erm. I felt badly for him, it was a sad story. But I also felt badly he was compelled to tell that sad story rather inappropriately; felt badly for his lack of judgment. Then I felt badly for judging his judgment instead of listening with kindness. Pivot! Pivot!

I guess as humans we instinctively look away from things that frighten or overwhelm us. Proximity requires us to respond and perhaps the appropriate reaction isn’t evident or comfortable.

Recently I decided I need to watch the video for “Wrecking Ball” because it’s so often referenced and without seeing it I was missing the joke. I found it on Apple TV just as my husband walked in the room.

“Whoa, what’s this?” he asked.

“Pop culture. We need to keep up with the young’ins,” I said, patting the couch beside me. The two of us sat slack jaw, watching as Hannah Montana’s birthday suit swung back and forth on the screen before us.

Mid-song, our 20-year-old son passed through the room and stopped in his tracks. He paused, and then shouted “OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING? Don’t watch that. I can’t watch you two watching that! Why? WHY? Why are you watching this?”

The discomfort was palpable and existed in layers like an onion. Even the dogs were cowering. The only person in the room who wasn’t embarrassed was the naked singer on the tv. “I just wanted to know what the big deal was with this video,” I stammered, feeling more like the child than the parent in this situation.

I hopped up and quickly uttered the magic phrase that restores order in the universe:

“Let me make you a sandwich!”

Sometimes all you can do is let the moment pass and call for snack time.

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Who (Else) Is Reading UnPickled?

Do you wonder who else is reading recovery blogs besides yourself? Question if you are unique among the group or normal as anything? Curious what their worries and concerns are? Me, too! I have been analyzing the survey results with great interest.

As of this writing, 274 readers took the survey in just 2 days  – a much larger sampling than I expected. Thank you all for taking the time and sharing your experiences.

Without further adieu…the results!

Question 1: Which statement describes you best?

96 of 274 survey participants indicated that they are either wondering if they have a problem or wondering what to do about it. In case you don’t hear this enough from people in recovery, I repeat: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Each of us feels like the only person in the world to sit at our keyboards and search, “How to quit drinking alcohol” but here is proof that there were nearly 100 others just like you in the last few days – and that’s just the ones brave enough to answer the survey!

6 of 274 respondents were just here to learn more about what addiction is like. To you I say THANK YOU for your caring interest. Whomever you are here to support is a lucky person.

172 of 274 that answered the survey are in varying stages of recovery. My guess is that many of you draw on blogs like UnPickled for ongoing support, and I hope that these stats illustrate to you how important your comments are to other readers (i.e. the 96 above who are still drinking and looking for help). Whether you have 3 days or 3 years, you give hope and guidance to those mustering the courage to begin.

I started this blog to document my journey, but I was so inwardly focused that I did not consider for one moment that anyone else would follow my trail of breadcrumbs. It is ridiculous to think I was the last alcoholic who would ever get sober, yet that’s what my self-absorbed attitude amounted to. Those who came up behind me have helped me just as much as those we went before – we are into a current of support that carried us when we need it most.

The readership here represents such a continuum – many came here initially as seekers and keep coming back for new perspectives and information while sharing lessons and encouragement in the comments section. Many start their own (amazing!) blogs and use the interaction as a recovery network. Many slip in and out – still trying, still deciding, still drinking in many cases; to these folks I send a long, strong, two-armed hug of compassion and understanding. (You know who you are. I am hugging you, feel that?)

Question 2: Evaluate your relationship with each of the following:

nov2014 survey q2 responses

This surprised me – alcohol seems to be the main struggle here without a lot of cross-addictions or complications. It is not overly surprising to see that food represents concern for a large number of us, with 117 noting concerns about food and 21 respondents acknowledging an abusive relationship with food.  Some of this may be attributed to using food to soothe the transition away from using alcohol, and in some cases may be true co-morbidities (using that word makes me feel like a bit of a poser, but it’s a good word!).

By the way, a wink to those of you who commented, “Stupid question – it’s pretty hard to abstain from food.” I knew you’d zing me, cheeky buggers! For the sake of time and space, I let you figure out the intent of the question. The survey was also a bit confusing for those who are on antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds, however no one noted abusing prescription drugs and that was the real gist of the question.

In the comments, a number of people share the same concern for the time spent on the internet and/or watching Netflix. Other worrisome activities listed include sex/people pleasing/relationship-based, anxiety, nail biting and/or skin picking, caffeine and/or sugar, anger and resentments, anxiety, working, exercise, and using pills for sleep.

Question 3: What surprised you as you learn more about recovery?

Top 10 Answers

How good it is/ happiness (54)

I’m not alone/ there are others like me (43)

How difficult it is (25)

Seeing true reality of situation (21)

Changes in thinking (20)

Feelings of freedom, self-esteem, authenticity (15)

That I was in denial (11)

Variety and scope of various pathways (10)

The online community (7)

How long it takes; that it really is a lifetime choice (7)

Question 4:  What is your biggest concern currently?

 Top 10 Answers

Relapse/fear of failure (51)

Getting started (32)

Social stigma/acceptance (25)

Health/weight (19)

Feeling low/anxious/unhappy (15)

Marriage/family relationships (14)

The idea of “forever” (10)

Other addictions/eating behaviours (9)

Finances (6)

Other drinkers in life (6)

New relationships/finding a partner (5)

Question 5: If you could be granted one wish for yourself, what would it be?

Top 10 Answers

Happiness and/or success in sobriety (46)

Inner Peace/Balance/Calmness (35)

Self acceptance/self confidence (29)

To have no desire for alcohol (27)

To be able to drink “normally” (22)

Health (20)

To have quit sooner/change the past (8)

Money (7)

No anxiety/stress (7)

Sober friends (7)

Do these results surprise you? Do you find yourself in line with survey participants or does your thinking differ greatly? Please share!

By the way, the survey site was only free for the first 100 responses, which I mistakenly thought it would well suffice. In order to access all of the data, I had to pay $29 for a month of extended services. The good news is this gives us all of December to play with surveys, so if there is more information you’re interested in seeing, let me know.  For the next 30 days, I am the Queen of Quizzes and at your service!

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How Long Does it Take?

A comment yesterday from “BetterWithoutBinging” asked the question that sparked today’s post: “How long does it take to get used to a new identity of being the non-drinker?”

How long does it take to get used to a new identity?

My husband proposed in 1988 on a mountain hike in Waterton National Park. It was a lovely moment, but my most vivid memory of that day is how the ring felt on my finger was we hiked out. It’s amazing I didn’t stumble and fall, because I kept holding up my hand to admire that modest but joyous symbol. I still love that ring, which has nested against the matching wedding band for over 25 years. Funny that this same ring I used to be so continually aware of is now often left by the sink after washing dishes. I usually find it the next morning and slip it back on, slightly surprised that I hadn’t realized it was missing. The ring is an extension of myself that I take for granted, beloved object that it is, yet at some point I stopped noticing it constantly.

In fact, many transitions in life feel foreign at first but eventually fit comfortably.

Most young girls feel both delighted and mortified when their breasts start developing, but eventually we all get used to having them (although with varying degrees of appreciation and acceptance). When I started driving I loved carrying my keys in my hand as a symbol of adulthood and independence. And as a young mom I felt silly giving the babysitter instructions when I felt like I barely knew how to get through the day myself. Even now, four months into my new title of “Grandma” I catch myself asking, “Is this okay for a grandma to wear? Should I stop dropping f-bombs now that I am a grandma? Should I start baking cookies now?”

Some people move so effortlessly through life. They don’t seem so self-aware or self-conscious. They manage to care about others without worrying what others think of them – a distinction I have a hard time conceiving of, never mind achieving.

I have a hunch this has something to do with my new friends co-dependency and narcissism. Until recently I believed that both of these labels could NEVER apply to me, but I was way off. Co-dependency boils down to valuing oneself only through others’ perceptions and narcissism can be a type of self-centeredness that assumes everything reflects back one’s worth.  Narcissists usually partner with co-dependent types, and children that grow up in this delightful family dynamic often absorb qualities of both.

Simply put, our childhoods predispose some of us to looking outside of ourselves for a measure of our worth. Since the narcissist/codependent dance usually often involves addiction (hence the incorrect assumption that codependence = spouse of addict), kids who grow up learning these survival patterns may also inherit genetic susceptibility to alcoholism.


My layman’s understanding is that my hyperawareness of what others’ think of me makes it harder for me to easily adopt new identities. Pleasing others makes me feel safe, and to be a person in recovery means I have set new boundaries that might make others unhappy at times. They might judge me, mock me, or reject my new life, and this is very uncomfortable for a person who believes approval is worth.

How long does it take to get used to being the non-drinker?

That is a loaded question. I can’t help but notice the use of “THE non-drinker” instead of “A non-drinker”. To me this suggests a heightened awareness of what others think, and suggests that the question has been asked by someone (like myself) who cares too much what others think and is not asking how to get comfortable with oneself but rather how to adapt to the discomfort of others’ perceptions.

I guess it takes as long as it takes, which will be longer for some than for others. Once I started dealing with my perfectionism, people pleasing, and other outcomes from codependency and narcissism, (around 18 months sober), I began to feel much more comfortable around other people in social settings.

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