Seekers Welcome

This morning the Today show aired an interview with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor about moms who use alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety. I had a lump in my throat as I watched the piece, knowing the impact it would have had on me back when I was starting to notice a terrifying momentum in my nightly wine ritual. It was becoming clear to me that I was losing control as one red flag after another waved – rotating stores because I felt ashamed of how much alcohol I bought; uneasiness about the recycling bin; stashing bottles out of view; cancelling plans so I could spend more time alone (sipping); vowing I’d cut back or quit and failing time after time.

If you are seeking today, I welcome you to this blog and to the online recovery community. My story is one of quitting while I was ahead, before anyone even knew that I had developed an addiction to alcohol. I saw I was losing control and realized that if I continued, things would get worse, then embarrassing, then downright bad. Soon there would be no hiding it. Soon it would not be my choice any more. I had heard that alcoholics have to hit rock bottom before they can get sober, and I did not want to find out what rock bottom might look like for me. Suddenly that whole concept seems utterly ridiculous, like saying “You can’t go on a diet unless you have become morbidly obese.” Screw rock bottom –  I just quit, very quietly and very much on my own.

Now, three years later I am still gratefully sober and recovery is still a surprising amount of work. I thought that by now I would be “fixed” and possibly could even start to moderate (that is, drink a little now and then – I don’t, by the way). I originally thought that 12 step programs that say “alcoholism is forever” were playing it a little heavyhandedly but I was way wrong about that. I also thought it would suck and be awfully boring to never drink again but really I feel great and pleased with my life now. Alcohol addiction alters the brain permanently – the neurological changes can’t be reversed so we live with the condition by avoiding alcohol for life. Recovery consists of more than just “not drinking” – it involves a lot of introspection to uncover and change the reasons WHY we drank in the first place. And now THAT is a big job, and a worthwhile change to pursue.

If you read through my blog entries, you will learn my story. But that is just the beginning. Please, please read the comments – they are an amazing resource and so insightful (except for the weird guy that recently comment “Bullshit” on a few posts – not sure what his deal was).

Check out the list of sober bloggers and resources on the sidebar, sign up for the Booze Free Brigade on Yahoo, and subscribe to The Bubble Hour podcast for which I am a producer and co-host.

I don’t have all the answers, and don’t pretend to have them. I am a little further on the road, waving you forward and (hopefully!) welcoming you to the start of your journey.

There are many pathways to recovery – many people “self-manage” recovery as I have done, without joining a program or attending meetings. Many go traditional routes with great success, and more an more alternative programs are available. Pick a path, any path, and start walking. If you realize it’s not for you, try a different way. Many of us become accustomed to isolating and hiding while we are drinking, and fear reaching out for help to get sober. I urge you to reach out – start with a comment here or on a discussion board like the BFB (above). Go to a meeting and just observe. Call someone you know is sober and ask if they are glad they quit drinking, if they might share about their journey.

The relief you feel will blow you away and you will never meet a kinder, less judgmental group than your fellow recoverees.

 

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Sunshine Blogger Award

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A big part of my recovery has involved stepping back from my addiction to approval, people pleasing, and generally caring wayyyy too much what others think (see “Backsplash on the Sunshine Whore” ) . Some say that pleasing is simply a form of manipulation, and well THAT’S not flattering, now is it?

So all self-awareness, manipulation, and approval drooling aside, it’s beyond wonderful when someone unexpectedly dumps a bucket of sunshine my way. I was mucking through a difficult week and as always, the flow of comment notifications on my blog was providing a lifeline; taking me out of myself to connect with others who understand the journey. Each notification of a comment or new subscriber brightens my day, truly. A comment from Maggie at sobercourage.com was literally full of sunshine: “Hi, I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award!” (Thank you, Maggie – so kind of you.)

As it turns out, The Sunshine Award is all about spreading bloggity goodness – thanking those we appreciate while introducing readers to other great writers and sharing a bit about ourselves in the process. It works like this:

To accept the award, each awardee must do the following:

  • Display the award on your blog.
  • Announce your win with a post and thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • List 10 interesting things about yourself.
  • Present 10 deserving bloggers “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.
  • Link to the awardees and let them know of the nomination.

So…without further adieu…..10 (Interesting?)Things About Me:

  1. I have an amputated finger on my right hand – the result of a childhood accident. I have always been very self-conscious of this and constantly try to keep it discretely out of view. In spite of this, I am right handed and play guitar.
  2. I am ridiculously photogenic but look utterly average in person. I assume people are disappointed to meet me in real life if they’ve seen me first in pictures. I was approached at the age of 12 by a modeling agent and spent a few years as a gangly self-conscious teen model. “You have a photogenic face,” she said and I thought that was a compliment but it’s not really. I hated being on display and never asked my opinion; hated the priority placed on looks over brains. I was called for a shoot with a major skiwear company in 1986 but then they noticed my “handicap” (their actual words), by which they meant my missing finger (see above) , and I was un-selected. That was it for modeling for me but I am grateful for the poise and polish I gained in the training…and the knowledge that I’d rather be heard than seen (but preferably both).
  3. I am going to become a grandmother this summer – I don’t know if that interests anyone but my husband and I are super excited for our son and his wife. We can’t wait to welcome a new little bebop to the family!
  4. My family skis almost every weekend in winter and I must say I am pretty good for an almost-grandma.  I love being healthy and active almost as much as I love eating pizza and ice cream.
  5. I have been on the cover of Profit magazine in Canada (not as a model but as myself), and have been featured in Chatelaine and Alberta Venture in stories about women in business. I’ve always thought this was pretty cool, but now those magazines are in a box in the closet and well, life carries on. (I was on a plane once and the woman next to me was reading a magazine. I looked at the page and saw my own picture looking back at me. “Excuse me,” I said, “what magazine is that?” She looked up and flashed the cover at me without even realizing that I was the SAME person she was reading about (see item 2 re: photogenic people who look different in real life).  I was twitching in my seat with excitement. I knew about the piece but not that they had a photo or were featuring me specifically – to see it in print was a surprise. But I was too shy to tell the woman reading it that she was reading about ME. I quietly bought 2 copies as soon as the plane landed.)
  6. One of my first jobs was working for a company called Scheme-A-Dream that sent out costumed actors to events. You could call them for singing telegrams, clowns, gorilla-grams, you name it. I didn’t last very long at that.
  7. Another one of my early jobs was cleaning rental units after the tenants moved out. This was really disgusting, dispiriting work because it made me so sad how people could live in filth and then leave it behind for a teenager (me) to clean up for $7 an hour. I keep my house quite spotless because I would hate to die suddenly and leave a mess for someone else.
  8. I peed my pants in sixth grade on a school camping trip because I was too scared of bears to pee in the woods. I thought I might get my first ever period at any moment (I’d just read “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” and I was obsessed with menstruation) and I knew that bears like the smell of blood. I have carried the shame of this incident with me for 35 years. Now you may have it for your reading enjoyment.
  9. I have a grey dog named Copper. This is confusing for people, especially because I also have a copper-coloured dog named Scout.
  10. I don’t have a single tattoo anywhere and I am holding out in the hopes that someday being pale, freckled, and completely un-tatooed will be in vogue.

There you have it. Now, more importantly, here are 10 fabulous bloggers upon whom I now bestow (…in my best Oprah shouty voice…) THE SUNSHINE AWARD:

SoberJulie.com

Byebyebeer.wordpress.com

Mished-Up

Drunkydrunkgirl.wordpress.com

Soberjournalist.wordpress.com

Runningonsober.com

Tellingthewords.wordpress.com/

HeatherKopp

NoMoreSally

NewLifeAfter

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Deflecting Douchebaggery: Why (Some) Friends React Badly to Our Sobriety

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.

Posted in Addiction, Alcohol, Getting Sober, Marriage and Alcohol Recovery, Recovery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

New Year’s Evolutions

Every January I see a huge spike in traffic on this blog as the new year gets people thinking about change. Yes, that’s right – if you have searched “quit drinking” and found this blog, you are not alone. I want you to meet the most amazing group of people: the readers of UnPickled.

I’m asking the readers of this blog to comment below and “tell us how you did it”. Most of us come to the idea of sobriety believing that we are different from other people with alcohol problems. Often the stigma of alcohol addiction has us thinking that alcoholics are bums in the park, not soccer moms and business executives and school teachers.

Most especially, people seem curious to know if it is possible to quit drinking without joining a program or going to detox. The answer is yes, many can self-manage recovery successfully – especially those have recognized the need to change before life becomes unmanageable (sometimes called a “high bottom”) and who have lots of personal support, are surrounded by healthy relationships, and who haven’t experienced major trauma (not my opinion, I heard that on the Dr. Drew podcast).

That said, there are many different pathways to recovery and the greatest gift you will receive through the process is getting to know other people just like yourself who totally understand you and listen without judgement. Guess where you meet these wonderful folks? Yep, in recovery groups. (There are more programs to choose from than you may realize. Check out the links at the sidebar.) Many people in recovery make a point of helping others who are new to sobriety because being of service helps keep us strong. The warm willingness of others is astounding and frankly a huge relief after struggling alone for so long.
Gently, I suggest this: try anything to get sober – alone, with a program, online support, anything – but if that doesn’t work, don’t give up. There are many other ways  and one of them will be a fit for you, so be open minded and prepared to try another way. You are worth the effort and you will LOVE how much better it feels to be free of this burden.
Readers, would you be so kind as to share a few words? What would you like to say to someone who is searching today? Tell us how you did it. Tell us why you did it. Tell us if you’re glad you did. And maybe let us know how you differ from the stigma of the bum in the park!
2014 looms ahead all bright and shiny and full of possibility. Let’s help one another make this a Truly. Happy. New. Year.
Posted in Addiction, Alcohol, Getting Sober, Recovery | Tagged , , , , , | 194 Comments

Vacation Recap

Midway through the flight I realized it was going to be a long week. I should have listened to my gut – this trip was a bad idea. Go figure – attending a destination wedding at an all-inclusive resort with a group of party people might not be the best place for a person in recovery. Of course I knew that, I just didn’t want to say no to this trip.

The flight attendants were pouring free drinks for the passengers on both sides of me and the aroma wafted by.

Feeeeck. Five more hours on the plane, seven days at the resort, and another flight home. What have I locked into? My brain was already clicking like an abacus counting the drinks of all 42 people in our group.

I had told myself, “How bad can it be? It’s a holiday! I can handle this.” One hour into the flight and I was bristling already.

I was reminded of having our first son in 1991. I had looked forward to labor and said bravely, “How bad can it be? It’s just a day of discomfort and then we’ll be parents. I can handle it.” When the day came, I was well prepared but things went badly. I was scared and overwhelmed and I wanted a quick fix but there was no way out, only through.  And we did make it through; figuratively for me and literally for my son. Eventually, all 9 lb. 8 oz of him was dislodged (he has been a delight ever since).

I have never forgotten that feeling of wanting out of an experience that couldn’t be stopped. I had a similar realization when alcohol started gaining momentum in my life – trying to moderate was like pulling a handbrake on a runaway train. I couldn’t gain control as long as I was drinking. I held on for a long time trying to change the course of the path but ultimately saw that “change” and “drinking” are mutually exclusive terms once addiction has set up camp.

Suffice to say I have had enough life experience to know better. Booze at the airport, booze on the plane, booze on the bus to the resort, and oh joy, more booze passed around the lobby of the resort. I could feel the anxiety rising as my drink counter click click clicked.

“I have to stop this,” I realized. “I can’t spend this whole week counting every one’s drinks and feeling like each one is a blow to my joy. The world doesn’t owe me compensation for every drink swallowed in my presence.”

Aha! That was it! Little by little I was keeping track of their drinks and adding them up as little bricks in a wall of resentment. We hadn’t even checked into our rooms and I was feeling deprived by my holiday. I knew I had to change my thinking or the situation could switch from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

So here’s what I decided. First, I had to stop thinking of drinks as little bonuses that I was missing out on. I don’t want 5 virgin pina coladas under any circumstances, let alone as a means to keep pace with others. If I caught myself keeping score and feeling resentful, I would realize something else “good” that the day had offered me and give thanks for it instead.

So…my group had had beer at the airport, wine on the plane, beer on the bus, and rum in the lobby. I thought of the nice moments I’d experienced during that same time frame: …watching a towheaded toddler pull his tiny suitcase through the airport…sharing a laugh with the female security guard who had to pat down my “sparkly bits” (I was wearing a sequined shirt)…seeing the excitement of the bride and groom, who we’ve known since they were just kids…the palm trees swaying above – always a delight for a Canadian, especially in November….my dry rough hands were already feeling softer….gratitude, gratitude.

It helped. Over the course of the week, I did a lot of self-talk and quiet reflection (in addition to the survival strategies from my last post). I stayed the course and made the best of the bad situation in which I’d put myself. I’ll know better for next time and I will listen to my instincts.

Speaking of next time, I have decided to give myself a “do-over” of this vacation. Yesterday, I signed up for a springtime yoga retreat in Mexico specifically organized for women in recovery (www.sherecovers.co).

After all, it is just as important to say yes to the good opportunities as it is to resist the bad ones.

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Survival Strategies for Holidays and Vacations

The coming week will be a true test of my sobriety

The coming week will be a true test of my resolve

The coming week will be a true test of my character

The coming week will be a true test of my SPIRIT.

My husband and I have been invited to a destination wedding at an all-inclusive beach resort. As I type this, the November wind is howling outside my window with small blasts of snow ticking the glass. What sane Canuck wouldn’t be thrilled to escape for a week of sunshine?

In fact, a quiet week on the beach sounds completely heavenly but the days ahead will be anything but quiet. There are 50-some guests attending this event, all of us departing on the same flight from Calgary. Many in this group, my husband included, attend Grey Cup together each year in full “party-mode”.

Get the picture? Yah, that noisy section on the plane that all the other passengers are tired of by the end of the flight, praying they are headed to a different resort.

This is a group who is used to having a blast together and I’m not sure where I fit. I don’t want to be the wet rag. I don’t want to give recovery a bad name by being a fun-sucker. And I don’t want to miss out on fun by having an outsider mindset before we even leave home.

SO…. I am giving my head a good “Etch-a-Sketch” style shake and clearing out the negativity. Expectations (good or bad) result in resentment. Resentment feeds the addictive mindset. Let it go…..Breathe…..

There has been a noticeable spike in traffic on UnPickled lately and I wonder if it has anything to do with the upcoming holiday season. (Am I right? New readers, are you searching for answers as you dread another round of family gatherings with too much togetherness, drama, resentments, turkey, and BOOZE. Or perhaps, as New Year looms on the horizon, you are mustering the courage to make THIS the year you stick to your resolution and quit drinking? Am I right? I love being right! If that’s you please comment in the affirmative and make my day.)

Vacations, holidays, hosting 34 relatives for Christmas dinner, sleeping on your mother’s pull-out – whatever it is you dread in the weeks to come. These things can be daunting for anyone in recovery.

Here are my tried-and-true strategies for getting through such times:

  1. BYOD – Bring Your Own Drinks – Always always always show up with your non-alcoholic beverage of choice in one hand and a little something for the host(ess) in the other (flowers, chocolate, a bottle of wine if that’s something you feel safe handling).  Before you know it, your friends will start to keep your favourites on-hand. I am not kidding – this will happen and you might be surprised to see which friends do this for you and which don’t. Take note of those who do – they have your back.
  2. Plan Your Escape – Bring your own vehicle, if possible, and let anyone who comes with you know that they may have to cab it home if you need to leave early. If someone else does the driving, advise them that you should need to leave early, you’ll call a taxi. Do not put yourself into situations where you can’t control your exit. This is always made easier if you do the next step, too:
  3. Enlist a Buddy – At first it is tempting to keep your sobriety to yourself but it is sooo much easier with the encouragement of a trusted friend. If you’re involved in a program, you may have a sponsor as close as your phone. Even so, you may often find yourself among friends or family feeling unnecessarily alone in your efforts. I will never forget the actions of my confidant very early in my sobriety. I was having dinner with a group of girls and the when the waiter came to fill their wine glasses, he also poured into the empty glass in front of me. I almost fainted. Without missing a beat in the story she was telling, my dear friend Cheryl reached across the table, lifted my glass and poured the contents into her own as she carried on with her narrative. She did it so naturally that no one even seemed to notice (or care) – expect for me, of course! I was limp with relief.
  4. Expect to Have Fun – Browse a few headlines, Google some knock-knock jokes, or scan your friends’ Tweets for a few reminders of their interests and connections. Be ready to join into conversation and if all else fails ask everyone questions about themselves. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and LOVES the person who listens with interest.  Learn about the location you are visiting – whether it is a party in a private home, at gala at the local museum, or a vacation in another country. Bone up and be ready to explore and learn. You’ll be sailing smooth before you know it.
  5. Look Your Best – Put some extra effort into your appearance – over-dress even just to be safe. You may have been under a blanket all week sweating through your first week of detox, reading People Magazines and eating chocolate chips from the bag but no one needs to know that when you step out in public. Head high. Brows waxed, chin plucked. White-strips used and removed. You’re going to rock this, dammit. Even if you only stay for 90 minutes.
  6. Nab Little Breaks – It’s perfectly fine to step into the coat closet and text your sponsor or search #xa tweets for inspiration. Go into the bathroom and give yourself the soul-stare in the mirror. Use the seasonal  candy-cane lotion from Bath and BodyWorks  in there while you’re at it – the hosts will be grateful you  helped work through their annual supply.
  7. Practice Some Lines – This sounds super corny but it is helpful: write out some ways to say “no thanks, I’m not drinking” and practice them before the event. Generally, as long as you have a glass in your hand no one will care what is in it. Still, there’s always someone who just insists on getting you something in which case you can say, “Ohhhh, I’ll have some of that delicious-looking San Pelligrino that someone [YOU] brought. Yum! Thank you!!”.  If you are really pressed, just accept the drink offered and quietly set it aside and calmy WALK THE EFF AWAY. If this leaves you overly shaky, refer to items 6, 3, or 2.

So those are some maneuvers that have gotten me through countless events these past 2 ½ years, and I intent to adapt them for the resort week ahead.  What have I missed? What can you add? Let’s get through this holiday season together!

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Surprise in Abundance

My recovery journey has been peppered with unexpected discoveries these past two and a half years.

Surprise! People in recovery make a practice of serving others and many reached out with support and encouragement when I made my first squeak for help online.

Surprise! I was not the last woman on earth who would quit drinking. I began my blog as a tool for my own recovery – to document the journey and find accountability. It never occurred to me that others would come behind me on this path and find inspiration. I realized that millions had walked the path before me but was blinded to the millions who will fall in place behind. It’s a continuum and the energy propels us all forward.

Surprise! Recovery is only partly about ‘not drinking’. It has a whole lot more to do with self-examination and ruthlessly honest introspection. In order to truly change, we have to figure out where all the discomfort originates and deal with it.

Surprise! Life is not compartmentalized – addiction and recovery relate to everything. I sincerely believed my wine problem only existed between the hours of 4 p.m. to midnight and had no connection to my daytime activities or identity. When the links between various aspects of my life became clear, I ran around like Helen Keller learning her first signs from Anne Sullivan. House cleaning! Body Image! Imposter syndrome! Over-achieving! Shopping! Decorating! My parents! Fear of water! Anxiety! Work ethic! Yes, yes, yes – all connected.

All of this leads to the most recent surprise – the sheer volume of others who share my experience.

I confess that some part of me, (the part that ready Diary of Ann Frank when I was 9), thought I had a pretty interesting story to tell. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the sheer dichotomy of my life – a business owner, community leader, wife, mom, performing songwriter and mentor to young women who accomplishes impressive achievements by day while hiding an escalating problem with alcohol at night?

Yet of the thousands of emails and responses to UnPickled, not one has said, “Wow, you sound too amazing to be an alcoholic.” Instead they said, “I am just like you.”

It is because of reader feedback that I came to understand my situation is not at all unusual (a classic recovery lesson).  I worked so hard to separate the good and bad parts of my life, ensuring that the positive far outweighed the negative. I built my life around the idea of leaving this world a bit better than I found it and I am truly proud of my achievements.  The mistake I made was thinking the two categories (good and bad) existed in spite of each other and were unrelated.

In other words, “How could someone so remarkable fuck up so spectacularly?”

When I realized that anxiety and fear (disguised as an unrelenting hunger for approval) fueled a lot of my achievements, I saw that they were also behind my failures.  At one time, this revelation would have struck a blow to my confidence and made me feel like I was fighting a losing battle.

Now, with a new compassion for myself and others who are making our way together to our better selves, I know it is more important to work on the anxiety and fear than to keep score of the good and bad they produce.

Surprise surprise.

I am still amazing, perhaps more so now than ever before. And best of all, I’ve learned it’s not a rarity. It’s pretty common here on the pages of UnPickled , where the fabulous gather and find a common thread.

Posted in Addiction, Alcohol, Getting Sober, Impostor Syndrome, Recovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments