Blog

Single and Sober …. Directions and Definitions

After all it’s not whether the guy is “sober” that matters….how he interprets sobriety makes all the difference.

I love being single, but I don’t love dating. The only good I’ve derived from dating is an end to writer’s block.

Ok, all the personal growth has been pretty nice. Every time I meet I knew a new guy, I learn more about myself. Whether I like it or not.

For example, it was two years ago when this single journey began and I wrote this blog deliberating whether or not to tell a date I don’t drink alcohol. It was such a conundrum, I went on to write more….This one, and then this!

I wonder if I owe all these guys some royalties.

Just kidding! You think I get paid to do this?!

Despite my public recovery, I was terrified to tell a date. I even created a separate non-recovery oriented Instagram to show them. I don’t know how I thought we would get past a first date, but that’s what shame does; creates secrets and fear. It tells us we don’t deserve to be ourselves or make mistakes. It tells us we’re unloveable.

Today I know better. Why bother meeting a guy if I’m not honest? If sobriety doesn’t resonate with his lifestyle, then I need to know right away. He’s not for me.

So I divulge it right up front. My online dating profile states: “I have an alcohol free lifestyle”.

cadef5fe-da3c-49aa-a7ca-9965162ade3a-2074-000004e853c7f08f

The question I still grapple with is: “Do I only date sober guys?” I’m not sure that’s a hard and fast rule, so I’m trying to find a balanced approach, asking myself: “Does my date understand and/or agree with my perspective? Am I making choices that align with my values? Will my decisions today enhance or inhibit my sobriety? Does this potential partner define sobriety and recovery the same way I do?”

After all it’s not whether the guy is “sober” that matters….how he interprets sobriety makes all the difference.

Webster’s defines “Sober” as not intoxicated or addicted to alcohol. General consensus broadens this to include abstinence from all mind altering substances. But subcategories exist and we need to acknowledge them. It’s not realistic or useful to hold everyone to the same requirements.

Refraining from all intoxicating substances is the gold standard, especially according to 12 step programs. But there’s compelling evidence supporting the role of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Stigma prevents widespread approval, but even skeptics acknowledge its benefit as harm reduction at the least.

Harm reduction is considered an acceptable alternative within many recovery communities, if only as a step towards renunciation. “Harm reduction” …seek(s) to reduce harm associated with drug use and ineffective, radicalized drug policies. Meaning some people can use certain substances under certain circumstances, only if it there are decreased consequences.

The booming popularity of CBD and hemp products is an example of this. As legalization expands and the public’s stance is increasingly casual, it’s not uncommon to hear qualifiers to sobriety such as  “I’m sober EXCEPT for…” or “I’m sober from alcohol, but..I use A, B or C.”

That’s cool. I’m no puritan, and certainly in no place to throw stones; my glass house is made of Suboxone, one of the prescriptions utilized in MAT.  I’m not qualified or interested in defining anyone else’s pathway or establishing their boundaries.

Buuuutttt….. it’s blatantly clear I need to define and establish my own, particularly as I search for a partner. If I don’t, I could be well on my way to adding my own caveats. Making exceptions to my rule of avoiding mind altering substances, it’s a short distance from “I’m sober but I do edibles” to “I’m sober but I drink on holidays” and eventually, “Who me? Nah, I’m not sober.”

A clear mind and body has led to the fulfilling life I have today, and connecting with others on the same journey is essential to my ongoing success. But there are rare moments when my mind questions whether that’s 100% indisputable.

This phenomena of doubt and vacillation has a pattern; it only occurs when I’m on a date or somehow swayed by a relationship – real or potential.

This is a story about one of those times.

He seemed normal ENOUGH. Early 30s, dog owner, and photos which led me to believe he had the capacity for cute. ( But who can rely on profile pics anyway?)

We’ll call him Bob.

A single red flag flew as I decided which way to swipe. At the bottom of his profile sat a one word sentence:

“Drinks?”

It’s only 6 letters, but I suspect a much more subversive message lurks if you read between them. The word stood out like a neon sign at a liquor store; beckoning, winking, hinting at all the temporary pleasure and tinder-style trouble that alcohol can lead to.

img_1384-1

Suspending judgment, I employed my balanced approach. Maybe he’s a normie? (Normie: someone who can take or leave alcohol. Might drink once a week or once a year. Not addicted. Not a threat.) Lots of people rely on the social conditioning of drinking culture to cultivate comfort on a date. Doesn’t mean they’re an alcoholic, or that I’ll be dragged back into that world.

My profile, at the time, stated this:

“I don’t drink alcohol. It’s not a problem for me if you drink, unless you become a problem when you drink.”

I’ve since deleted the second line. I’m not sure I can trust in the self awareness of others to determine if they have a problem.

img_1109
Date ready, semi-optimistic

We made plans to meet the next day to stand up paddleboard (SUP). He said he’d bring lunch. Based on previous experience, I kept my standards low. At worst, it was a day in the sun on the lake. I didn’t bother to think what would happen “at best”.  Online dating is less of a mission to find “the one” (because face it, that’s preposterous) and more of a social experiment that occasionally leads to a friend to adventure with.

 

Our date began with only minor disappointment. He arrived: tall, skinny, and at certain angles leaned towards attractive. The overall picture didn’t do much to get my pheromones percolating. I knew from his photos he had long hair, but it’s not like I expected Jason Momoa (now you know my secret celebrity crush!)

jason momoa
My “secret” celebrity crush

Not at all surprised Bob wasn’t the man of my dreams, I clung to the silver lining  and made a point of enjoying the outdoors. We inflated our boards and launched into the lake.

Small talk revealed Bob owns a business employing hemp as its main ingredient. This didn’t trouble me. I told him a topical hemp product recently helped alleviate my back pain. We agreed the cannabis research is promising, but controversial. As our paddle boards veered toward deeper waters, so did the conversation.

Bob disclosed recent traumatic events helped him turn his life around, “I overdosed, just a few years ago.” It was an unexpected confession and my initial reluctance towards him eased. I felt a glimmer of optimism – even hope. Relating through recovery creates powerful connections, and my heart softened. Bob had suffered, like me, from an addiction to prescription opiates.

I’d never had this experience on a date. Our common history made me feel safe enough to share, “I started with Vicodin for migraines, and at first they made me feel like superwoman. But it spiraled into chaos. Those were the worst years of my life, but I wouldn’t give back what I’ve gained. I’m so grateful to be sober.”

“I can completely relate!” Bob said. “Recovery changed my life. That’s one of the reasons I got into CBD, it’s part of my program. That and mountain biking. Being sober is great.”

Maybe this date was going in the right direction! Maybe I could and forget about physical attraction and focus on our common values.

But wait.

Remember Bob’s profile proposal “Drinks?” ….

I mulled it over silently.  He says he’s sober…..uses CBD….wants to take his date for drinks….

He readily filled me in.

“Don’t get me wrong, I smoke weed every day. That’s part of who I am. And alcohol is no big deal for me. Not really anyway. My friends and family know I need to keep an eye on it, and they’ll tell me if I drink too much. But getting sober after my overdose has brought me new purpose, so I can enjoy nature and mountain bike. I see helping people new to the sport as a type of service.”

Here’s something you may or may not know – I’m opinionated, passionate, and live “sober out loud”, but detest making people uncomfortable, especially in person. I freeze around conflict and can pull a perfect poker face in order to avoid it. Too often, I keep the peace at the expense of my own beliefs. I also experience what I call “empathy on overdrive”. My ability to walk a mile in another’s shoes isn’t always a strength, not when it makes me question my ethical standpoint.

My shock at his version of “sober” never transferred to my face. As my confidence wavered I responded with a watered down version of my viewpoint. “You know, there’s times where I’ve thought someday I could drink. Alcohol wasn’t my primary issue so my brain sometimes falters. I’m so grateful for the probation program I’m a part of, and their vigilance in testing for alcohol too. I can see how others might be able to drink, but it’s forced me to take a break, and given me time to reflect on what I really want – which is a totally clear mind. That’s how I feel right now, anyway.” (ugh…so obliging and wimpy….Where was my affirming recovery voice?!)

“Yeah, I get that.” He answered. “I try to keep it under control. If it bothers you, I won’t drink in front of you today, but I did bring beers for lunch.”

Bob left it wide open for me to advocate for myself, but instead I accommodated him. “Sure Bob, I don’t mind.”

**Words of wisdom to single folk who drink: Meeting at noon to adventure outdoors on a first date never calls for alcohol. And seriously, if your date’s profile says they don’t drink…..better to save that beer for when you get home.**

Failing to set firm boundaries and dismissing my own needs gave Bob permission to take up space on our date with his drinking.  He continued, “I do acid and mushrooms. I used to sell them. But that’s in my past. Now I just do it when I’m with friends and want to trip.”

My mind reeled, but my tone stayed neutral as I continued to diminish my stance on the subject. “Acid huh? I haven’t done that for decades. It always gave me such a terrible chemical hangover. I know a lot of people don’t consider psychedelics in the same category as other drugs…”

“No they’re totally not!” He exclaimed. “After we hang out a few times I’d be happy to do them with you.”

Do you realize what I’m saying???

My date offered to drugs with me.

This had just accelerated from “it’s ok if he drinks” comfort zone into an out of bounds danger zone. It began to feel like a relapse laden minefield.

My heart sank in my chest. All optimism vanished, leaving behind a tornado of worry in my gut.

Bob might have recovered from an overdose, but he’s not in recovery.

Despite the disappointment and undercurrent of dread, I stayed for lunch. He washed his sandwich down with a Pilsner, while I sipped on sparkling water. To make it worse, I agreed to mountain bike with him the following Tuesday. (I know, I know….hindsight’s 20/20). Bob was really into me and I was too chicken to reject him to his face.

The idea of spending more time with him sat sour in my stomach.

For the next few days thoughts agitated me. “What if I just go on one more date to get a mountain bike lesson? Would it be ok if he drank around me then? What if I did try psychedelics again someday? Could it be true that some people have a strong recovery, but drink sometimes?”

Yet I didn’t cancel.

After an initial “thanks for the paddle” exchange, I avoided him. (not my best coping mechanism, I know)  I didn’t hear much from him either and hoped he’d had a change of heart. Maybe I wasn’t his type, or I was too sober, or he was actually married with kids. First dates so seldom turn into a second, it was easy to think he’d vanished into the ether like so many other date “ghosts” have done.

Tuesday morning dawned and my phone lit up with a text. “Dammit” I swore. He wasn’t a ghost after all. “Good morning!” Greeted the text “Checking in to see that we’re still on for biking today.”

My stomach twisted. I knew there was no way I could bike with this guy. Not even as “just friends’. I waffled over my response. Do I tell him I’m sick? Have to work? Taking a last minute shuttle to the moon?

None of that felt right. I had to tell him the truth; at least a version of it. (I figured it wasn’t necessary to mention he had nice hair, but I wasn’t sold on his face. Or that shirtless, he reminded me of Austin powers.)

I respect the varying ways people choose to recover, and I support any version of sobriety that works, as long as it doesn’t harm others. But it turns out definitions matter when deciding who I can be intimate with, and Bob’s version of sobriety scared the hell out of me.

And I’m sorry, but I couldn’t for the life of me fathom how he fit the label sober under even the most liberal of explanations.

I’d spent the majority of our date being inauthentic. I’d avoided speaking my truth in order to bypass conflict, and diluted my opinions because it was easier than being brave. I empathized with Bob’s perspective, but was using that as an excuse to question my own.

It was time to get real. Being honest with Bob was gift of empowerment; a chance to use my voice, declare my line in the sand, let go of self doubt and practice the radical self love that I preach.

I took a deep breath and typed: “Sorry to cancel last minute, but I need to date someone sober and active in recovery. Our conversations about alcohol and psychedelics felt like a slippery slope I can’t afford to tread on. Take care.” I covered my eyes with my hand and pushed “send.”

Just as I feared, Bob didn’t take it well. Defensively insisting he is sober, he repeated that psychedelics assist with staying off hard drugs but neglected to mention his daily weed and drinking habit. He must have felt rejected because he threw in a jab: “Just because I don’t have to get drug tested like you doesn’t mean I’m not sober.” That stung. As nicely as possible, I got the last word in.

“Meeting you has given me a chance to reflect, and to realize I’ll connect best with someone who has shares my perspective and lifestyle. Alcohol and weed do not have a casual place in my life. Thank you for honoring my choice to listen to my intuition. It’s never been wrong.”

I re-read the text. My intuition has never been wrong.

It’s true. I’ve always sensed an internal compass setting my course. An internal GPS, you might say.

A Guiding Protective Source.

That doesn’t mean I’ve followed it consistently. If that was the case, Bob and I never would have met.

There are many many situations in my past where I paved my own trail, against the GPS, and without fail I’ve encountered hardship, regret and despair.

Even when major red flags are present, it isn’t always simple to tell left from right, or right from wrong. If I pay attention, I’ll notice my GPS signaling through my mind and body via emotions, sensations, and feelings.

guiding protective source

In the case of “Bob: to date or not to date?” there were immediate signals, but I just wasn’t convinced we couldn’t connect. I could easily be persuaded to be “just friends” or let him teach me to mountain bike. When paying careful attention to my body’s reaction, it was evident: my stomach felt queasy and my heart sped up a little. The wrong kind of excitement stewed under the surface – the kind of energy that simmers when there’s potential for trouble. 

Breathing into my heart, I let my soul listen. The answer was a resounding “Bob is a no-go.”

Decision made, my body relaxed and my heart felt light with relief. A sure sign I was taking the correct route to safety and well-being.

In my years of drinking and and opiate abuse, I drowned out that voice. I numbed my body and spirit until I could hardly sense my GPS at all.

Today, I’m awake and the volume’s on high.

Which means I have no excuse if I ever choose to ignore it. (You can hold me to that.)

As has been proven time and again in the “Single and Sober Saga”, dating isn’t to meet a guy, it’s to learn more about ME. This time was no different.

img_1385

The word Sober may be left up to the individual’s interpretation, but it’s not the word that matters, it’s the substance of the man himself that makes a difference in my opinion. And I want to date a man who’s substance isn’t altered by….well….substances.

 

So thanks Bob, for the extraordinary blog content. For showing me how often I still silence myself in favor of someone else’s comfort and for giving me an opportunity to declare boundaries and exercise my truth out loud. Thank you for reminding me how vital it is to live clean and sober, and how absolutely satisfied I am to stay single until I meet the right man, walking the same path.

Perhaps I’ll locate him via my GPS.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

Want to read another one of my CRAZY dating stories? You won’t believe what the guy had at his house! 

Could you use support, structure and accountability on your recovery journey? I’d love to talk! Check out my website http://www.recoverandrise.com, and make sure to follow me, @scrubbedcleanrn

 

 

The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #3

I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze.

“I own a surfboard, but I’m not a surfer.” This is my go-to script when discussing the salty sport.“Surfing is the hardest sport I’ve ever tried.” Is the next sentence that flows off my tongue. It’s all true. I purchased a 9’6” bright red longboard before ever attempting to tackle a wave, and once I did, found it to be the most challenging, intimidating and exhilarating activity I’ve pursued.

Surfing requires balance, coordination, strength, mental composure, a love of water and proclivity for adrenaline. When I first donned a wetsuit at age 30, I didn’t possess many of these attributes. I was physically clumsy, preferred reading on the beach vs. frolicking in the waves, and I’ve got a weird quirk about putting my face under water. I hate it. While I grew up thoroughly enjoying swimming in pools and lakes with my dad and siblings, I would rarely immerse my head. Like a cat, when water touches my face, I instantly recoil. Even in the shower. I know, it’s ridiculous.

(I have a couple theories why this is, but not enough blog space to elaborate. Perhaps another time we’ll examine my two near drownings along with early belief that  maintaining a perfectly made up face to gain male attention was more important than letting go to playfully swim. I’ve predominately overcome these, gratefully, but I still swim with my face fully above the surface!)

Submersion underwater is non-negotiable in surfing. My face was going to get wet; no way around it. But when one is 30 years old, in a new relationship, leaping into life in a fresh, adventurous way and one’s boyfriend says, “I want to take you surfing!!” one does not say “I can’t do that, I don’t like to get my face wet”. One purchases a surfboard and wetsuit and faces their watery foe head-on (after vomiting in the grassy dunes on the way to the waterfront.)

My first surf adventure was at Short Sands on the Oregon Coast. Lucky for me, my older brother is an excellent surfer and was there to walk me through the process. I’ll never forget laying shakily atop the unfamiliar red surfboard as he held tightly to the sides, chest deep in the water.  When the right wave was near, he’d say “Paddle” and push me ahead of the wave. Next, he’d instruct me to “Get up!” as I struggled to get vertical. The ocean was threatening and unpredictable. My brother: reliable and serene.

I’ve surfed a few dozen times since then, but not well. I’d schlep out into the cold liquid and hours would pass as I fell again and again. I’d make it up to my knees a handful of times, but rarely to my feet. The water was frigid, salt relentlessly stung my eyes, and the neck of my wetsuit suffocated me. Mostly, I stood waist deep with my feet firmly planted on the sand, looking out toward limitless rolling waves, hoping everyone was too busy to notice I hardly tried.

Besides avoiding plunging my face under, I was burdened with all the “normal” fears associated with entering a vast, creature-filled body of water:

  • Deep, primal fear of what lies beneath the surface: jelly fish, stingrays, and sharks oh my!
  • Fear of possible and probable injury: surfboards are hard when they hit your head and fins are VERY sharp when they cut your ankle, thigh or arm
  • Fear of unpredictable, merciless currents, waves and riptides: the ocean has a reputation of tumbling people like socks in a giant washing machine.

Signage along the shore warns of the risks assumed by stepping into the sea. The ocean plays by her own rules, and if you don’t know or understand them, you can easily end up a victim to the game.

All of that sounds awful as I put it on paper. “Why do it at all?” you ask. (I’m asking myself as I write this as well.)

I persisted because my partner at the time was into it and it was something to do as a couple. It was also an activity in common with my brother and bonding moments with him were rare and special. I persisted because it was the sexy thing to do. It feels young and trendy to wear a bikini top and a wetsuit pulled up to my waist, flaunting natural beachy waves in my hair. I persisted to belong; to join the after party without feeling like a fraud on dry land when everyone else had kicked ass in, or had their ass kicked by, the ocean.

More significant were the few exceptional moments when I got it. I mean really got it. The wave swelled under me, my body found its way upright and I maintained a balanced, athletic posture all the way to the foamy whitewater at the shore; the moment I caught a wave. That was a feeling I wanted more of. A feeling of alive seldom achieved in any other sport.

That sensation was so pleasant, so magnetic, it was worth facing all my aforementioned fears. Besides, I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze. Somehow, I’d make it safely to dry land and move on to more savory pastimes such as reading, beach combing, and more drinking. Alcohol washed away worry and Vicodin dulled the dread as I hesitantly paddled out into the Pacific, though they certainly never assisted in gaining balance or expertise.

WARNING: Do not ever surf under the influence. I am in no way insinuating substances ACTUALLY made me brave. They simply numbed my fear.  Which means they also numbed my joy. And then I became an addict and lost my job and many relationships and almost my nursing license along with my dignity and it’s taken me years to overcome the shame and sickness that ensued from thinking it was a good idea to self-medicate. I’m simply relaying how my brain worked at the time, before I understood the catastrophic consequences and life-threatening risks I was taking and before I truly loved myself. Ok, with that out of the way….

The seductive call of surfing sang to me again in Costa Rica, while traveling with family. The waves were comparatively warm and small, but I was no less terrified than I’d been in the polar Pacific. All my previous fears remained, with one major distinction: I had no addictive crutch to calm my shaking nerves.

In Costa Rica I would be surfing sober, and I lacked a backup coping mechanism. I longed for a super strong IPA and little white pill to transform my cowardice into (false) confidence.

Having no prescription positivity or liquid courage to consume, I was irritable. My pulse clanged in my ears and I couldn’t summon my inner yogi to maintain balance. The instructor was exasperated with my bad habit of reaching up to plug my nose when I thought I was going under. Every time I did, it caused me to fall off. It was cyclical self-sabotage.

Tsurf
Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Rare moment standing up! And about to plug my nose before falling in…

Stone cold sober and scared, my sympathetic nervous system took over and I reverted to “flight mode”. Squeezing my eyes shut, I would either jump off the board physically or try to mentally escape the situation, mimicking what substances had done for me. When the instructor said “Ok, paddle!” panic ensued, causing my limbs and trunk to flail in all directions. While adventuring together as a family in Costa Rica is one of my best memories in this lifetime, the surf lesson was a struggle for me. I did my best to stay distracted and prayed it would end soon.

img_9556
My amazing family, taking a group lesson. Some of the Best memories of my life.

Nearly two years have passed, and surfing hasn’t been a priority. Until now.

I’m staying in Ucluelet, a small town near Tofino, Canada’s #1 Surf City and international surfing mecca.

The remote region of Vancouver Island didn’t make my travel itinerary for the perfect surf waves specifically. I came for the long stretches of coastline, ancient cedar-lined trails, reputation for delicious seafood and diverse demographic. (That it’s crawling with men who surf is not a deterrent. Something about a man in neoprene tossing back his wet hair while balancing on a board is universally desirable.)

My first day here, as I veered left on The Pacific Rim Highway towards Ucluelet and passed Long Beach Surf Shop, I was overcome by a daring disposition. “Tiffany, you’re here! You have to do it!” Within minutes I’d booked a lesson for Sunday morning, when the winds would be calm and the waves manageable.

“I own a surfboard, but I’m not a surfer.” I told the adorable, curly-haired local surfer boy, and he smiled knowingly from behind the desk. I wasn’t the first kook to come across his shop.

Kook: . 1. someone posing very hard as a surfer or skateboarder. 2. someone that goes to every surfing or skateboarding event to hangout, compile pictures, start conversations, and generally be seen with real surfers or skateboarders.

Sunday morning jolted me wide awake with anticipation. I had to stop at two bathrooms on the way as my stomach rolled, much like the ocean would as I tried to balance atop it.

“Am I really doing this?” I asked myself. “I don’t NEED to be a surfer. I’m so many other things.” The answer arrived easily and quietly, as they do when one learns to listen to one’s spirit.

“Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.” (Michael Hyatt) The empowered theme appeared again and again on my road trip, and in these final days of travel I wasn’t about to argue.

Prior to camping in Ucluelet, I’d basked for five days in recovery heaven on Salt Spring Island at a She Recovers Retreat. I felt buoyed by the courage of women I’d connected with and inspired to push myself toward the edge of discomfort; to uncover hidden grit and willingness to fall. Surfing would offer this in spades.

Driving toward Wickanninish beach I experienced a perseverance and purposefulness in my decision. I had no desire to numb or escape. No need to drink or swallow pills in order to pre-medicate and erase the experience before it even had a chance to occur.

There were three of us women in the lesson, all inexperienced. Our instructor, Sean, did not have adorable long curly hair like the boy at the desk, but he did have the body of a professional surfer, (because he is one) the enticing accent of unknown lands (Costa Rica and Canada) and the unwavering patience of an award-winning kindergarten teacher (because apparently, he’s just perfect). I fell a little bit in love.

img_8876
Long Beach Surf Shop, Ucluelet BC

After practicing on the beach, I was no more confident about my stance or my skills, but at least I didn’t vomit as we carried our boards into the chilly undulations of the ocean.

Sean lined us up to take turns. We all cheered as the first woman rode the wave in on her belly. Sean gestured to me, and I knew I was up. Like my brother had years before, he stood in front of me holding the nose of my board. Looking into my eyes he said “I’ve got you. You’ve got this.”

I made a conscious decision to believe him.

Salty water crashed over my head as Sean kept my board still. I chose to feel it. I chose to breathe calmly. I did not escape by sending my thoughts to safer places like the dry beach in front of me. I did not get lost in a panicky state and allow the situation to become bigger than my mindset.

I saw kelp swirling near my feet and knew it as kelp; not a monstrous plant poised to pull me under. I considered the fin under my board as a steering tool instead of a weapon designed to cut my face. Rather than transporting myself into an imagined state, submerged under the surface unable to overcome the rolling weight of the waves, I chose to regard the ocean as a child might; a liquid amusement park, my surfboard a floating raft, the waves produced solely for my laughter and delight.

I felt firm, smooth foam beneath my hands, chest and hip bones.

I breathed in pelagic air and tasted high sodium droplets on my lower lip.

I ebbed and flowed rhythmically with the waves and waited for my teacher to give me the signal.

I was as present in the moment as I’ve ever been.

My wave came, and Sean’s lilting voice hit my ears. “This is it. Paddle!”

I stayed in my body.

The ocean surged under my board, pushing me up and forward.

“Get up!” He called out.

I stayed in my body.

My arms and legs moved in sync, just as we’d rehearsed on the sand.

I stayed in my body.

I caught the wave.

I caught every single wave I paddled for.

img_8879
Wickanninish Beach, Ucluelet BC. Surf Success!

I never plugged my nose in a panic throwing off my balance, frantically wiped salt water out of my face or tugged insistently at the neck of my wetsuit to keep me from choking.

Instead, I just surfed.

The hour flew by. We laughed, cheered and high-fived. I said, “just one more!” to Sean at least five times. When it was over, I kept my wetsuit on for over an hour because I felt happy and secure tucked inside it. img_8896

Catching waves at Wickanninish beach will forever be etched in my mind as the day I learned I am perfectly safe when I choose to stay present in a situation. I’m more than safe; I’m resilient, effective and happy.

This is mindfulness in motion. This is how meditation positively impacts me in everyday life.

Drugs and alcohol numbed my fear and robbed me of joy, competence and strength. This is crystal clear in hind sight. Recovery has been an education in learning to accept the whole spectrum of feelings/emotions as part of the human condition, without needing to escape, through substances or otherwise.

I don’t know when or if I will surf again. I know that on this trip, the timing, waves, instructor and mindset serendipitously became magical marine memories.

Consistently surfing successfully takes repetition and I’m still not 100% sold on spending that amount of time in cold climate water. Besides I still need to ski, run, bike, and paddle board. If I lived in Costa Rica, this may be a different conversation. I’d likely sign up for summer long surf camps and get in line to be Sean’s newest ex-girlfriend. (Not because I want to be an EX…just a realistic assumption he can’t keep them around too long with all the traveling he does for surf competitions.)

I’ll sum up the moral of this story with the words of Jon Kabat Zinn who said it best:

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

img_8907-1.jpg
Cassie enjoying Wickanninish Beach

I’ve learned a thing or two about surfing waves of emotion! If you’d like to chat about how this might help on your journey of recovery, check out my website www.recoverandrise.com or email me, tiffany@recoverandrise.com.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

The Roadtrip Sessions: Installment #2

Especially as a woman in recovery from religious trauma, self-loathing, perfectionism, opiates and alcohol, the ability to walk around with the experience that “I am absolutely OK just as I am” is nothing less than a miracle.

It’s been 10 consecutive days camping, hiking, swimming and posting up in driveways. The evidence is indisputable:

  • I have not changed out of my Olakai sandals, except for ONCE when I used the local Planet Fitness in Eureka California. My feet are toughened up for the barefoot season, to put it nicely. (I did book a pedicure today. I’m camping, but a girl still has needs.)
  • I’ve not worn a bra once, only occasional tank top like sports bras. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know I probably don’t NEED a bra. (refer to this early blog. Fair warning: not my best material. Raw, genuine, but pre-writing course and I’m not taking the time to edit.) From the looks of the locals, I don’t think this part of Oregon requires the undergarment.
  • My skin is glowing with summer tan. And by tan, I mean my freckles have grown together close enough that from a distance, if you squint your eyes, I appear to have a mild bronze sheen. I’ll take it, it’s the best I can ask for.
  • My eyes are sparkling, my gait nonchalant and my face relaxed. (Ok, that could be the botox I got right before the trip…) Schedules/plans/obligations are beginning to feel like a thing of the past.

It’s official. I’m in vacation mode. After a week of reveling in the foggy western coastline and brilliant green shade of Northern California’s Redwoods, it was time to head inland for sunnier times.

img_7813
Sunny spot just outside Eagle Point, Oregon

Meandering northeast, I stopped for the night in Eagle Point, Oregon where I met a charismatic, van-owning woman whom impacted my life significantly in a matter of hours. She gifted me a homemade smudge stick, added me to a women’s only online van community, and generously shared the journey of her grief/healing process when our conversation turned to aging dogs and loss of parents. She introduced me to Laurie Anderson’s documentary “Heart of a Dog”,  and showed me mementos such as a healing candle from her mother’s service, and gorgeous glass pendant created from her beloved dog’s ashes by Psyche Cremation Jewelry in Bend, Oregon (which as you know was my next stop!) Cassie – my own special canine soulmate  – is still very much alive, but a large part of my trip’s purpose has been to celebrate her life and prepare for inevitable loss as she begins to slow down at 14 years old. And always, in the back of my mind, are thoughts of how and when I’ll begin to deal with my father’s passing in 2017. So much occurred in one brief night at Eagle Point, it’s hard to explain in a paragraph. Just trust me; I was meant to meet this woman.

Tuesday allowed for a detour through Umpqua Hot Springs. I love hot springs! Growing up, I had a foggy sense of their existence as there are some near Baker Lake at our family’s annual camping location. But I only came to appreciate the rich, sultry liquid when my former partner and I visited Ainsworth Hot Springs in BC Canada (GO! there are caves to swim through. It’s breathtaking). Later, we enjoyed both primitive and man-made hot spring stops in Utah. I fell so in love with them, I have a future road trip planned entirely around hot pool destinations.

img_7834
Umpqua!

After soaking in nature’s steamy mineral bath (Cassie accidentally soaked for a second herself, thinking it was an individual dog-sized lake) we continued to Bend.

Bend, Oregon. Outdoor Utopia.

Every time I visit I resolve to relocating, along with thousands of other visitors who are searching for the perfect combination of city/country/mountains/nature/metro/hipster/family friendly/dog loving/sunshine/snow sports/progressive paradise.

But don’t tell anyone. If too many migrate, it won’t stay this way! (at least that’s what many of the locals will say if you mention interest in transferring your life to their precinct.)

Nowhere is perfect, but Bend is close. The downside is it’s verrryyy expensive, so I’ll have to find a longterm “Driveway Host” and live out of my van if I’m going to make the move. It’s not a completely preposterous scheme.

  • “Driveway Host”: A van owner who offers other van owners a driveway, curb side parking, guest room or lawn to camp in. They may also provide access to shower, shore power, laundry, mechanical assistance, and if you’re really lucky, as I was – morning lattes and late evening dog-sitting.
    img_7957
    Outside my Driveway Host’s house, with their pup and mine!

Turning the corner in my van, Bend’s city proper welcomed us. The sun shone, freshly filtered through tall evergreens; the Deschutes river burbled in the distance and mixed with a buskers ukulele, composed a uniquely local melody; the subtle smell of coffee, organic gardens, kombucha, hops, and cannabis (all types – CBD, THC, whole hemp) wafted through the air.

Between the the mountainous atmosphere and the eclectic yet cozy culture, I feel at home in this region of Oregon. Free to live my truth without judgment, criticism or dismissal, I feel at home in my mind, skin, and van. My quirky vehicle weighted down with a SUP, bike, wetsuit filled rubbermaid totes and a big-eared cattledog perched in the passenger seat is only one of many on the road. Walking through town sporting overalls, bikini top, and tattoos perpetually attached to a dog at the end of a leash could make me the town’s poster model.

This notion was verified at a food truck lot when I asked the bartender “Do you have anything non-alcoholic?” She smiled widely and listed 4 delicious options besides water, cola, or iced tea. When I googled “non alcoholic beer, Bend” about 5 articles popped up. This is my place, you guys.

The ultimate display of my comfort level occurred at Sparks Lake when I opted to sunbathe topless, completely unprovoked.

If you know me, you know this habit to be opposite my personality. Skinny dipping with friends? Sounds awesome! You go in the buff, I’ll wear prudish undies. Women’s only, clothing-optional spa? I option for clothing, thank you very much! And politely avert my eyes from those choosing otherwise. Not because I judge them; because I judge myself and my own thoughts. I often joke about refusing to go naked in my own sauna at home.  Raised in a conservative household, bodies were invariably covered with clothing. Which is fine. But I’ve had a bit of envy mixed with confusion and uncertainty around people who let it all hang out, in public no less than private. For instance, the free spirited nakeds at Umpqua hot springs. I myself was in a bold bikini, but the uninhibited confidence of those in the nude left me longing for even a hint of that character trait. Turns out, I’m not lacking it altogether. It simply took 24 hours in a safe environment before I could start expressing it.

img_8047
Rare sighting of Tiffany in her natural state

Of course, I kept my top within reach and every time a voice or footsteps got too close, I hurriedly clutched it against the “R” rated parts of my chest. My risk taking behavior was worth it – not a tan line in site.

Cassie and I have been hard at work trying to fit as many activities as possible in our time in Bend. We splashed in the river at Tumalo State Park. We jogged lazily around Mirror Pond, stopping to greet the geese. We bought hipster sunglasses and a variety of “Be nice, you’re in Bend” and “Ride Oregon” stickers. I drank many coffees at many shops and Cassie lapped up water from the plethora of dog bowls available around the city. We ate the best fried chicken po’boy I’ve ever had at ‘The Lot’ food truck park. And there, as if planted right in the middle of a Warner Bros rom-Com, we met the nicest boy with striking light green eyes and his sweet 10 month old puppy, Rolf. (names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Here’s what happens when people feel at home; we become relaxed, confident, at ease and at peace. Self-doubt and self-judgment slips away. We can begin to act without obsessively over-analyzing each move.

As I continue to mature in my late 30’s, I grow less concerned with anyone else’s opinion. But as a human, I have to admit I still fear judgment. I long for acceptance.

Especially as a woman in recovery from religious trauma, self-loathing, perfectionism, opiates and alcohol, the ability to walk around with the inner wisdom that “I am absolutely OK just as I am” is nothing less than a miracle.

When I initially entered into a contract with the state department of health, I lived a double life for about one full year. Desperate to preserve my reputation through anonymity, I went to great lengths to hide the fact I was on anti-addiction medication and attending weekly therapy and support groups. I spent a lot of that time considering whether my life was worth living.

Coming out as a sober, recovering individual gave me the freedom to learn to love myself. I started, of course with a blog. Eternally a work in progress, my confidences waxes and wanes. Many times, prior to meeting a new person or entering unfamiliar territory, I have a debate with myself: “Do I share about sobriety? How much is enough, how much is too much? Will I be judged for my addiction? Will I be dismissed for my past mistakes?” Recovery is not the only factor in my self-imposed deliberation. There’s also my fervent liberal views, Buddhist inspired meditation practice, advocacy for LGBTQ….and Oh Yeah, my passion for hippy van-living.

For four days last week, in Bend, I was nearly 100% free from the inner conflict of how much “myself” I “should” be. I shed my armor and glowed with authenticity. I gathered courage and seized the idea that this roadtrip was welcoming me home to myself.

Find the place that makes you feel most at home and allow yourself to practice being you. Once you encounter the joy and liberation this brings, you can’t settle for anything less. You’ll discover acceptance is defined only by you; those that can’t or won’t accept your truth – even if you love them – have no say in the matter.

I feel exceptionally lucky that traveling landed me in a community that called for me to come as I am. Looking forward to a She Recovers Retreat as my next stop on this adventure, I realize I have many of these spaces. It’s not just luck though, it’s a choice to engage with others who are authentic, seeking transformation and letting go of old shame, stories and habits that poison their perceptions.

It’s a life I’m deliberately cultivating, filled with strong women, opportunities for growth and endless possibilities to experience intrinsic wholeness.

Where are you most yourself? Where can you shed armor and glow authentic?

Where do you feel you need to dampen your shine, or conform to the “norm”?

I challenge you to push yourself to glow more often, more places, regardless of opinion or circumstance!

Looking for support, structure and accountability to make this a reality in your life? I would love to accompany you on your journey.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

Email me: tiffany@recoverandrise.com or make an appointment for a FREE Discovery Call here! 

Recover and Rise: Life and Recovery Coaching for your highest well-being

The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #1

It’s been a minute since I’ve written. More like 6 months actually, since I began working dayshift at the hospital.

Turns out I love working dayshift, but between the new hours and teaching during the school year, I have a lot less time to write. So I’ve been saving ideas, jotting down titles and a few paragraphs here and there in anticipation of summer when I work a lot less and (in theory) have a lot more time to do what I love. Which is write.

Now it’s summer and I’m on a multi-week vacation traveling through the beautiful PNW with (in theory) unlimited opportunity to write and create!

Maybe you don’t know, but I own a super sweet 1987 4×4 Volkswagen Syncro (though if you’re my precocious bandana wearing, sarcasm dripping student whom I will not name you might say “we have very different ideas of what a ‘sweet’ vehicle is.”) He’s right, it’s not a sports car. But she is sweet! Despite her unreliability and inability to go over 40mph uphill, Serendipity Syncro has been a miraculous addition to my life.

img_7517.jpg

Initially I planned to travel internationally for summer vacay. Last year, I spent a week in Iceland and a week in Europe and can’t wait to get back. But Cassie the Wonder Dog is finally slowing down a bit at 14 years old. She’s begun limping after even moderate hikes or beach days. There’s no way I can spend weeks away from her, knowing we don’t have that many summers left together. img_7463 If you could see her face and her wagging tail when we arrive at the shore or mountain trailhead, you’d understand.

Cassie and I are now on day 4 of The 1st annual PNW Recover and Rise Roadtrip. It’s really all about my pup having a big summer adventure. South down the coast, into the Redwoods of California, back up through Bend Oregon, and then taking a ferry onto Vancouver Island. Basically, I’m doing my best to explore all the accessible outdoor utopia possible in 21 days’ time.

Right in the middle of the trip is She Recovers Yoga Retreat on Salt Spring Island (read all about my love for it HERE!) It will be so nice to meet friends in the middle of the trip. I love traveling solo, but I’m not immune from loneliness. The retreat will give me a chance to connect, eat food prepared by someone else, laugh, deepen my recovery, and I’ll still have a week afterwards for solitude in the woods (and surfer boy stalking in Tofino!)

The first night of our adventure was spent in Manzanita – one of my all time favorite beach towns for long sandy walks, sunset gazing, and lazy river paddle boarding. It’s got enough shops and restaurants to keep everyone in the family happy without feeling overly touristy.  418423e6-882a-4dd9-ad1e-801e22204c08Most of the cafes and stores have “dog hitching posts” right outside next to big bowls of cold water. But this time I was only there for a safe (free) place to sleep. If you’re a vanlifer like me, you can join the impromptu campground on the vista right off hwy 101 that overlooks the vast ocean.

Thursday morning after procuring coffee, Cassie and I headed south with a goal to hit Coos Bay by evening. We drove through Pacific City about breakfast time and decided to stop. Pacific City is a surfer’s dream; known for it’s northwest waves, dory boats speeding onto the sand, and a larger than life rock that arises out of the sea high into the sky. Many memories have been made at this beach…learning to surf with my brother and his wife, horseback riding with my daughter in the bluffs, watching the 2017 full solar eclipse on my birthday with good friends.

Pacific City is also the place I had my first wicked “public” hangover in over a decade, and began to realize I might really have a problem.

We were camping with my brother and his friends, all surfers from the Portland area. I was excited to spend time with him as an adult. We were getting to know each other in a new way as we finally shared some hobbies such as snow skiing and paddle boarding and had more in common than the wounds of our childhood.

It was summer 2013 and I was drinking most days. Not drunk every day… but definitely drinking most days. I was also taking Vicodin frequently. My use of pills had already surpassed medicinal for migraines and encroached on recreational…though not yet addictively. Surfing was an excellent excuse for recreational opiate ingestion.

If you haven’t tried surfing yet, you might not understand. But trust me, there’s a lot of pain involved.

Surfing is F’ing scary. As in the scariest sport I’ve ever attempted, especially along the WA and Oregon Coasts. The waves tumble humans like socks in a washing machine. Surfboards are not soft when they swing back and hit you in the head, and the thwack in the skull only adds to the disorientation of being somersaulted by the salty water.

I have a deep love of the ocean; am mesmerized by it, and take every opportunity to be close; to hear, touch, and smell it. But I also have a very healthy fear of the dark liquid filled with unpredictable sea creatures, slimy kelp, and thrashing waves.

(Don’t let this deter you from trying surfing. Really. I totally recommend it. Somewhere warm like Hawaii or Costa Rica.)

In my mind, a pain pill or two was justified. Just enough to calm my nerves and prevent the pain I knew was coming after hours being beaten by the cold water.

Surfing was also an excellent excuse to drink – as if I needed one. Hanging on the beach seems to erase any sense of time. A cold beer at 10am was not unheard of, even for non-alcoholics. We were on holiday! We could live it up, let loose!  Socializing with new friends on a camping trip automatically called for alcohol lubricant.

In hindsight, self- medicating never works. Or when it does, it comes with intolerable consequences and suffering. The surf session ended, and night came. I remember downing large glasses of red wine, refilling my glass when no one was looking and feeling worried that we’d run out, so I’d refill it again before it was empty – to get my share. By morning I had no recollection of interacting with my brother or his friends. I also had no idea if the Vicodin/alcohol combination had helped me avoid the pain of surfing, because I was suffering the anguish of the worst hangover I’d had in years.

Humiliated, I dragged myself into the kitchen. Sharing a beach house meant taking turns with meals, and it was my turn to make breakfast for the whole crew. Sluggishly, I cracked eggs into a bowl and haphazardly whisked them around. A sick feeling rose from my belly and I desperately held back to need to vomit. I looked at my brother with embarrassment and panic. Our friendship was new and delicate; my need for him to see me as cool still strong. Even as an adult, I craved big brother’s approval. Limp and sweating out toxins, I was certain he’d be as disgusted with me as I was with myself.

He surprised me by gently taking the whisk and bowl out of my hands. Smiling kindly he said in his soft voice “go back to bed.”

“But…but…” I’d expected to at least be made fun of, if not seriously scolded. “But I have to take Kaytlyn horseback riding”. My daughter didn’t love the beach, so when I dragged her along on family trips, I tried to reward her by finding a place that offered horseback rides.

“I’ll take care of it,” he offered. His compassion evoked tears. (It still does.)

That afternoon was spent half asleep in the back of a camper van (very different one than I’m traveling in now), holding my stomach and sweating out the previous night’s indulgence in poison.

You’d think I’d learn. But if that was the case, “alcoholics” would not exist. By evening I was eating dinner at Pelican Brewing – the local brewery on the beach with an awe inspiring view of the jutting rock and salty horizon –  ordering a 7.5% IPA, trying hard to forget my misery.

The sight of  Pelican Brewing looking out over surfer boys still got me excited this trip…but not for the same reasons it used to. My current visit to Pacific City feels like worlds away from that disgraceful day.

I woke early and hangover free. Facing the water I laid out my yoga mat and drank from a large jug of cold water. Then I moved into a series of sun salutations, hip openers and standing poses as the ocean lapped the shore and wetsuit clad surfer boys and girls caught wave after wave. The water seemed to move in rhythmic undulation rather than a tortuous washing machine.

Cassie panted in the sand nearby, having completed her daily task of stick chasing in foamy whitewater and sniffing other dog’s behinds.

img_7483.jpg

Breathing in the sea air, I remembered that hard day and felt sadness for the woman I was 6 years ago on the same beach. I wasn’t ignorant of the risks of alcohol but I was  oblivious to the dangerous fire I was playing with.

My brother had no idea I was insidiously turning into a pill addicted alcoholic. He couldn’t have known. Years later, when I was once again too ill to share in the fun while visiting his family, I’m sure he was aware.

As I lay in child’s pose and let the ocean breeze sooth my sadness, I wondered if had I been shamed for my hangover, would it have made any difference? If I had been told to suck it up, make the eggs and get to the horse barn, would I have felt such strong remorse that I would reject alcohol and pills from that day forward?

I know in my heart that wouldn’t have been the case. I would have simply spent the day in greater shame, with more tears. I would have drank more that next night in secret, vs having my beer in public. It’s not hangovers that pushed me toward sobriety (though I’m relishing in my freedom from them now!) it was the realization of everything I was losing, neglecting, and missing out on while escaping through drugs and alcohol.

I’d like a do-over of that weekend. I’d like to re-experience squishing my body into a cold, salty wet suit, feet perpetually coated in sand, and the sound of my brother and child playing guitar together as we roasted marshmallows in the backyard firepit. I would do it different. I’d drink la croix, be the first to bed after washing dishes, and the first one up when the sun started to rise. I would make strong coffee and Swedish pancakes for everyone to wake to. When I whisked the eggs the only feeling I would have rising from my belly would be excitement for the day that lay ahead.

Reflecting on hangovers doesn’t feel great. I purposefully don’t spend much time in shame or regret because a) it sucks to do so, and b) research shows it’s not an effective way to change habits. Instead, I deliberately try to use memories as a way to cultivate compassion, heed teaching, and experience gratitude. Traveling sober is giving me an opportunity to re-create experiences. As I adventure, I’m looking for ways to heal, hope and love.

Vacation can be triggering for those recovering from substances. Old habits and stories are ingrained deep in our psyche, conditioning us to believe being on holiday inevitably means being drunk. The good news: sober travel is not only possible, it’s magical. (And it’s a good thing, because my VW van requires every bit of attention from my clear and sober mind!)

142a146c-61a0-4328-9a19-5740823c7450-713-0000009a521027ff

Have you traveled or vacationed without alcohol and found it to be enjoyable?

What do you love about it, and what has been hard?

Make sure to follow me @scrubbedcleanrn and http://www.facebook.com/recoverandrise/ to see pictures and stories of my #Recoverandriseroadtrip !!

 

Road to Redemption: Return to Critical Care

I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.

Two point five years ago, I had to leave my position as a nurse in Critical Care due to probably the most shameful and disturbing reasons a nurse can imagine.

It feels nothing short of miraculous that I’ve been given an opportunity to return.

img_2986
Fueled by caffeine and ready for orientation

(Although some might say I’m returning to the scene of the crime, and they would technically be correct.)

For nearly five of my 14 years as nurse, I worked in CCU and loved the job, despite it’s flaws. I felt at home in the role. But I completely mismanaged the stress in my life, making tragic and regretful decisions.

For the background on my detour away from “overachiever” into “Real Life Nurse Jackie” check out this BLOG I wrote, publicly declaring myself as an addict.

I was let go from the job, spent three months in treatment and submerged myself in recovery. Since returning to work, I’ve been employed in lower acuity areas than CCU, working my way up – but stayed on night shift because it’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable mentally and physically.

Probably beginning somewhere early last Fall, I felt in my soul it was time to take another step forward. I reached out to key people in administration, asking their blessing to apply for a new position. I also talked it over with my case manager and my sober support system.

I had to ask my case manager because I’m not allowed to work wherever I want. I’m enrolled in a monitoring program for another 2.5 years that restricts some employment, but as long as I remain sober, most doors remain open.

Even though I’m under strict supervision, my nursing license (so far, cross your fingers) is unmarred. That’s a benefit of WHPS; a statewide alternative to discipline program. I wrote all about how it works HERE, dispelling myths and detailing the true nature of this type of probation.

WHPS enables nurses to keep licenses intact, but it can be a substantial challenge to gain employment after being found diverting, stealing/using drugs or even abusing alcohol. This is especially the case if time lapsed between jobs. Too many employers, even in Washington state, simply fire employees on the spot, leaving them to navigate sobriety, employment and licensure on their own. The consequences of this can lead to isolation and suicidal ideation/attempt. Rejection from potential employers, lack of income or insurance to pay for treatment, and the debilitating hit to self esteem can make prevailing in sobriety near impossible. It’s hard enough some days to stay on a sober track when life is running smooth.

I don’t know how to convey this without sounding cliche, but not for a second do I take my continued employment for granted. I’ve done the hard work of recovery, but the support of the organization has been priceless. I can only hope to show this by being accountable and maintaining my integrity and professionalism. Choosing to live “Sober out loud” and advocating to end stigma is a part of my amends as well.

So, I’m halfway through my sentence. I graduate WHPS in August 2021! Thirty One short months! Approximately 133 brief weeks! You can tell I’m joyfully counting down. (I’ll also turn 40 that year – no small feat in itself. I’ll invite you to the party.)

Most nurses in “the program” do not return to the same department, or even the same hospital; for many good reasons. I’ve gone back to the exact department the administration escorted me away from in May 2016. The management has changed, the unit name and skill specialities have morphed, and there’s been a turnover in employees. But physically, it’s the same, with many of the same faces.

I won’t lie, it’s freaked me out a little. I’m worried about the staff being OK with me. I’m cognizant of any discomfort or mistrust that might linger. During my hiatus, interactions with former coworkers were overwhelmingly compassionate and positive. But I wouldn’t blame anyone who feels hurt or hesitant. Fortunately, recovery teaches the difference between guilt and shame; between honoring someone’s feelings and taking things personally. Shame is the worst. I’m lucky to say that it’s possible to find strength on the other side of it.

Of course I have some fear and embarrassment. I’m not impenetrable to the opinions of others; my self esteem’s not fully restored. It’s just that my drive to move forward and enjoy life and my drive to end the stigma of addiction and recovery is greater than any shame, anxiety or doubt that persists. IMG_6302

That sounds brave. I don’t feel brave. I just feel…determined. And brave doesn’t mean fearless anyway. It doesn’t mean I have it all together. It just means I’m doing it despite fear. Recently said by one of my heroes in a women’s recovery group: “Courage, not Confidence”. I’m holding on to that like a talisman.

I worked my first official shift back this week. The night before, I prepared healthy food and packed my lunch bag. Coffee was set to brew at 4:45am, and my favorite scrubs were laid out. (Yes, I’m now working DAYSHIFT! After 14 years on nights. More to come on that soon, trust me.)

Excited, I went to bed early and woke up with enthusiasm. Not that I was mindlessly giddy. But overall I’ve felt really positive about this decision. I really only had one major dread going in.

The nurse who initially reported me still works on this unit.

Let me state very clearly: I am GRATEFUL to this nurse; the role they played was beneficial in my recovery. They did the RIGHT thing. I am solely culpable for the situation and I do not harbor anger toward the informant. I needed help desperately, and probably wouldn’t have turned myself in. Even though I was privately seeing a chemical dependency counselor, I was struggling to stay clean. I am GRATEFUL this person brought attention to the charge nurse. (leaving nurse gender neutral to protect privacy)

Total transparency; I find it difficult to feel grateful for the way this person addressed me publicly at the end of a shift. Regardless of the very positive outcome, that memory brings back anguish and humiliation. The thought of coming face to face is like facing my own atrocities all over again. Seeing each other would be inevitable, but a lot of nurses work there. I figured I’d get into a comfortable routine and eventually we’d cross paths.

This is not at all what happened.

As I walked down the hall on my very first day to approach the very first nurse I’d receive report from; irony laughed in my face.

I was looking right at this nurse.

Out of all the assignments I could have ended up with; out of all the nurses working. I was about to spend 20 minutes with the one nurse I wanted to avoid.

I think I might have said out loud, “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me”.

(As I write this out, I recognize something I never have before. Experiencing this from their point of view and having to report me must have been traumatizing to a degree as well. They were thrown into this mess by me. They didn’t ask for this. I’m sure they never wanted to be labeled the informant. There’s really nothing left for me to feel but compassion.)

Seeing each other was not as awkward as my imagination had created. I was greeted “Welcome back”; we smiled and acted like professionals.

What can I do but laugh? The one thing I was most afraid of occurred in the first half hour.

Moving on, I was met with hugs and a welcoming atmosphere. I experienced a lightness I’ve not felt in a long time at work, and I settled right in to the practice of patient care.

Why would I ever ever do a drug? I thought.

I feel great. I enjoy being a nurse. I love this feeling of productivity and doing service. I’m not a thief. I don’t even like to be drunk. I don’t like to be out of control. Why would I have done any of those things?

For a passing moment, I felt completely dissociated from the “me” that injected IV fentanyl and consumed a mad amount of Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycodone. The “me” that put procuring drugs to escape my own pain above everyone and everything else in my life.

I felt like the “me” before addiction. Eager, energetic, balanced and healthy.

I thought: working in Critical Care is going to be perfect. So what if there’s access to drugs? It’s not going to be a problem. I would never commit such a horrible act. I’m fine!!!

Then I thought: Not so fast, idiot.

“I would never” was precisely my mindset the first decade of my career. I’d NEVER cross that boundary. Until I did it myself, I could not wrap my brain around how a nurse would steal narcotics from their workplace. It was a foreign, forbidden, and ridiculous concept.

But a series of events led me to become compulsive and addicted. I know what many of you must be thinking, especially my sober friends.

“Why the F have you returned to a department where you did this?”

“If CCU turned you into an addict, and your sober life is thriving, why would you go back?”

Those are great questions. And you’ll have to stay tuned for the answers. Next time, I’ll share why CCU didn’t make me an addict and what’s different today.

I’ll also detail how it felt to encounter Fentanyl  – my drug of choice – on my first day back.

I feel happier this week than I can recall. I texted one of my best sober friends:

“I might have sang in my kitchen while I cooked this week. Also I woke up at 5:45am all by myself. No alarm. Goddamn post-acute sober pink cloud.”

Getting off nights is a big part of this transformation. So is the redemption my soul is experiencing, finding I didn’t completely destroy my career. I’m happy to have a job that challenges me intellectually. I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.

3945c1e0-96ad-4bb9-8597-f21555f57630-1757-00000307eda07b7a
First day back: Full on Critical Care

 

I’m primarily happy that by returning I can demonstrate to employers that rehabilitation reigns over discipline, and offer hope to nurses who are just starting a sober journey.

I hope to give back more than I have ever taken. To tip the karmic scales by showing up every day honest and willing. And for all healthcare professionals that have or are suffering from the shame addiction has caused in their lives – I hope to prove recovery is possible.

img_3103
Actual message sent to me by a nurse halfway across the nation that saw my 1 minute video about returning to CCU.

Cheers and Gratitude upon Gratitude,

Tiffany

If you are in need of addiction treatment and you are a healthcare provider in WA state, please contact Washington Health Professional Services at whps@doh.wa.gov or 360-236-2880 for a confidential consultation.

I am always available for anyone looking to explore sobriety. Our conversation is guaranteed confidential. 

And of course – if you’d like to explore working with me as your life or recovery coach – check out my website http://www.recoverandrise.com

Other resources:

www.yesyoucanrn.com (Lists every state that has an alternative to discipline program)

SAMHSA – Substance abuse and mental health services administrations – national helpline

Warming Up to Hot Yoga

The sign on the door warned ominously: “Do not enter until you are prepared to settle in and stay the whole time.” Running late, I didn’t have time to think twice. Prepared or not, I was going in.

People LOVE hot yoga. It’s one of those things where if you’re in, you’re IN. People claim it works for everything from stress detox to curing cancer.

I’ve not been one of those people. Firstly, I’m a skeptic when it comes to cure-alls. Secondly, I prefer Iceland to Costa Rica. I own a beautiful cedar sauna, but that’s mostly ironic. I have to sit in a low chair near the floor to escape the heat.

In spite of my preference for exercising in temperatures that don’t cause heat stroke; and my disdain for humidity (my hair will not behave in it), I am always open to adventure. So when the opportunity arose to join a class while traveling in B.C., I accepted with a (sort of) open mind.

Besides, it’s been on my radar for some time after watching an acquaintance on Instagram attribute her ripped abs to a year of this practice. (I never said my motives were all pure!)

After paying the drop in fee to the extra friendly employee at the desk (Did yoga make her so amicable? Or her good natured Canadian blood?) I was shown the studio where I’d spend the next 75 minutes getting intimate with my sweat glands and bodily odors.

The sign on the door warned ominously: “Do not enter until you are prepared to settle in and stay the whole time.” Running late, I didn’t have time to think twice. Prepared or not, I was going in.

As I made my way in to the aptly named “Sun Room”, I was overcome by two memories:

  1. Running out the door to play at my grandparent’s “over 55” mobile home park in Vegas. In July. In no time at all, my plastic rubber flip flops were melting to the asphalt, and my eyes, nose, mouth – anything previously fortified with natural moisture – were instantly parched. I lasted about 3.5 minutes before submerging myself in a pool.
  2. Eighteen years old and rushing from the baggage claim area in the New Orleans airport. I was a smoker then, and needed to get outside for a cigarette. Once out of the chilly air-conditioned lobby into the sweltering marsh climate, breathing- much less inhaling tobacco I had set on fire- was not an option. My lungs rejected the 100% humidity and I choked on the hot air. Suddenly going without nicotine wasn’t quite so difficult.

In neither one of those situations did I think; “You know what would be really refreshing right now? A long, intense yoga session!”

Yet, there in the “Sun Room”  – 99 Fahrenheit, 40% humidity, 30 human bodies exhaling hot breath – I lay on a mat and hoped to Buddha I was prepared to settle in and stay.

Taking a peek around, I noticed very little clothing. Women were clad in shorts and tank tops or sports bras and briefs. Most men were topless – shorts only. A couple wore loose cotton shirts, which I thought was smart. They could suffice as a towel, in case one didn’t have one to wipe one’s sweaty face. Which I didn’t. And that was unfortunate, because within seconds I was pouring buckets of it.

Since it was winter vacation, I hadn’t really planned ahead for this scenario. My luggage contained one exercise outfit: long, black leggings, and a thick, double layered top – also black. At least it wasn’t long sleeved. This was the type of outfit you’d pack if you planned to power walk outdoors in near freezing weather. An outfit you would layer under a sweater and match with gloves and boots- not proper attire for doing push-ups in a sauna.

So there I was. Bending, stretching, downward-dogging in my black ninja suit, with no towel to wipe the sweat rivers pouring off my forehead onto the mat. “Reach your arms up like branches. Become the tree that you are.” How apropos. As I became the tree, I realized I wasn’t sweating, I was oozing tan colored tree sap.

OK it wasn’t really sap. It was just the ONE day that week I chose to slather my face in a layer of “natural ivory” foundation. Only to have it seep off me into creamy puddles on my blue mat.

The instructor’s voice rose “As you inhale…” (This was a chore in itself, as inhaling meant sucking in hot air. See New Orleans, #2 above). “…plant your hands in front of you on your mat, and raise your hips high into the air.”

I planted my hands and used them to frantically rub the makeup/sap into the mat, in a desperate attempt to keep people from noticing and thinking

  • A) I’m so vain I do my makeup just to attend hot yoga

OR

  • B) I wasn’t perspiring but in fact exuding a tan liquid dangerously close to the color of pus and likely due to an infectious process

I don’t know which of those is worse. Either way, all I managed to do was spread it around like finger painting.

“Hold your pose. Embrace the stillness as you enhance your posture.”

Hold the pose!? I was slip sliding all over! Was everyone else holding still? I peered around, and sure enough, most of them were “embracing the stillness”. Not because they were expert yogis, or suffered from anhidrosis, but because all of them – every single one – had a large, thin towel laying over top of their mats, collecting the sweat and creating a textured, non-skid surface for their hands and feet.

You know who didn’t have one of these magic mats?

Me. The tree-sap leaking, makeup melting, yoga ninja. The puddle was growing, and I was non-too gracefully gliding through it. My head hung down between my lubricated hands, my eyes burned, blinded by sweat, and my butt perched high in the air. Every limb wiggled in different directions. Sort of like a newborn fawn might look on an ice rink. Only less graceful. And less cute. img_2329

I guess when I told the uber-friendly Canadian employee it was my first time and I’d need to rent a mat, she forgot the all too important hot yoga accessory: the “non-slip towel”. I forgave her though. She really was super nice.

I managed to slide my way into puppy pose without breaking my neck. As others dabbed translucent beads of perspiration off their foreheads with towels, I balled up the hem of my thick black shirt to wipe my face. When I stretched it back out, it was ivory tie dyed.

I was hot, thirsty and drenched.

And…

I felt unexpectedly good.

My body acclimated to the heat, like it’s meant to. And my thoughts, feelings and sensations all stayed right where they should – in the present moment – despite being somewhat uncomfortable.

One pose was particularly challenging: Standing on tip toes, then squatting down as far as my butt would go towards the ground, while keeping heels up and staying on tip toes. My hands held in prayer then stretched up toward the sky as my thighs squeezed tighter and my butt lowered further.

It started to hurt like a mother…

The instructor encouraged: “You can stay here, just a moment longer. For 3….2….1…and now stand and allow your arms to fall, as you take the biggest deepest breath. Feel all those sensations fade away.”

And they did. I watched myself in the mirror experience the magic of impermanence…the burning “pain” sensations in my quads faded at the exact moment she said they would. We gently moved to the next pose, the tightness in my legs long forgotten.

For 75 minutes I was fully immersed in the practice of healing yoga (and my own  aqueous material. Ew.) All my focus was directed at balance and breath; there was no brain room left for anything else. For 75 minutes, I was able to release everything in life but the Now.

Hot Yoga was mindfulness in motion. Maybe with enough practice, I could glide through the movements without thinking; distractions like dinner plans, work woes, or family drama could consume me while I posed. But I think the temperature truly helps counteract this. The heat couldn’t be ignored – it served as a constant reminder that I was right there, not in the past or future.

And after all, noticing distraction is the practice. Thoughts won’t go away, but we can learn to bring ourselves back to NOW over and over. As an activity becomes more familiar and automaticity takes over, it’s an opportunity to stretch our limits and push the edges to continue cultivating deep mindful presence.

When class ended, I was so tired, soaked, and buzzed from vasodilation and mild dehydration I could hardly carry my water bottle. I definitely could not pull my denim jeans up over my legs, and was grateful for the dark color as I wore very wet leggings home.

But as we left I had an unanticipated thought:

“I want to do that again.”

I expected to mostly hate it. I thought I’d spend much of the time in “corpse pose”, flat on the ground wishing it would end. Like the heat of Vegas or New Orleans – it was alluring, unfamiliar and initially intolerable. But I adapted. And unlike visiting those areas, when it was over I felt invigorated – not wasted.

I felt the best kind of tired. The kind of tired you get after a day of bright sunshine, swimming in a glacial lake, or belly laughing with your girl friends.

Not weary or lethargic. Just healthily wrung out, grateful, and content.

Two days later, I really did go back! (No abs yet though. Hm.) And I’ve been marking the days on my calendar that I can start attending regularly at my local studio.

This is not an advertisement for a hot yoga studio by the way (the one I went to though, is MODO in Kelowna BC and obviously they were Ahhh Mazing 😁) It’s not even a suggestion to do hot yoga at all. I know it’s not for everyone, and even physically dangerous for some.

I’m simply sharing an experience I expected to leave me high and dry, yet found surprisingly refreshing.

I’m encouraging you to try something new, even if you don’t have the right clothes, the right moves or the right towel. Attempt the unfamiliar and totally drench yourself in the moment. Your body is brilliant – it will adapt to surroundings, even if your mind doesn’t agree.

img_2277-2

And those stretching, pulling, tugging, burning, and even uncomfortable sensations you’re feeling? Take a deep breath; they will always fade and pass.

If you do decide to give it a try – skip the makeup that day. Trust me.

I’d love to hear YOUR experience. Are you a Hot Yogi? Or do you prefer your baby cobra in cooler climates? Comment below! Or email me

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com

 

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

New Year’s Eve Reflection: Top 5 Ways I Stayed Sober in 2018 (and 3 things I won’t do next year)

My current goals aren’t that different from my childhood resolutions, but my outlook is much healthier. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”, and I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.

New Year’s Eve is one holiday I love, even sober. (Especially Sober!) As a kid, my BFF Jenny and I celebrated with a sleepover. We made our favorite bean dip (literally just canned refried beans topped with melted cheese), then rang in the new year by clanging pots and pans with wooden spoons on the front porch. Our poor neighbors!

But I’ve never taken New Year’s resolutions too seriously. The last time I officially set them I was probably 12. They undoubtedly went like this:

  • Talk to ____ ASAP and get him to like me
  • Eat 1000 calories a day MAX (no more PIZZA!)
  • Write in diary every day

I would then immediately scarf down pizza (still my fav food!) and write in my diary for about 3 consecutive days before getting distracted. I did follow through with passing a note to the boy I liked, after which he promptly let me know how much I repulsed him.

My current life goals aren’t that different, but my outlook is much healthier. You could still call me boy crazy, I struggle with emotional eating, and I aim to write daily in a journal yet fall short frequently. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”. I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.

(But I do get nostalgic for that big dish filled with bean dip, and the vibration of pots and pans under my spoon as Jenny and I whacked away, our pajama clad legs chilled by the night air.)

This New Year’s Eve, I’m reflecting on my decisions from 2018 – my second full year in active recovery – to see what worked and what I want to avoid in the future.

Top 5 tools that helped me stay sober in 2018:

Meditation/Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness is not just a buzzword (though when I first heard it I rolled my eyes painfully). Diagnostics such as MRI (detailed brain scans) prove that a consistent meditation practice can improve the brain in a number of ways – including decreasing addictive habits. I’m proof this is true. Mindfulness is the concept that has become my lifestyle and source of spirituality. Meditation is the tool, or exercise, to sustain it. What I love about this custom is that it’s inherently positive, with core values of loving kindness, gratitude and compassion. It keeps the focus calmly on the present, not anxiously tied up in the past or future. My routine involves attending/facilitating meetings with guided group meditations and a fairly consistent home practice, though it’s always a work in progress! Mindfulness helps me cultivate self-awareness and observe my thoughts vs. being a victim of them. My mind can be chaotic, negative, and limiting; I get to choose whether or not to get attached to that. (I have really exciting news about how I’m furthering my meditation education in 2019 to be of even more service to others!! Info coming soon!!)

img_7304

Connection/Community

  • As an extroverted introvert, I recharge alone. I thrive for hours (days even???) with my face in a book, lost in my own world. That doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely value, cherish and need intimate connections. I’ve self-medicated to numb loneliness and rejection for a long time. Recovery gives me the gift of connection, and She Recovers is a blessing of highest proportions. I used to feel like a lost speck of space dust hurling aimlessly through the sky. Now it’s as though I’m energetically connected to countless other stars; threaded into a tapestry of constellations, each of us with a significant and solid place in the universe. Face to face events like this one are examples of how we support one another. There’s also a secret Facebook group – it’s open to all women, just secret for privacy. (Are you a woman who wants to join? Email me!) Locally, I stay connected through meetings with others who share similar struggles (My program is Refuge Recovery). Staying close with friends and family who aren’t in the sober squad is fulfilling as well. When I lose connection, and feel (or create) isolation, it’s easy to revert to negative, selfish thinking. Supported, empowered and encouraged within a community, I’ve got a much higher chance of sober success.
  • The opposite of addiction is connection. – Johann Hari

img_0407
Shout out to Hannah! Connection is essential.

Accountability

  • If I’m only accountable to myself, I abandon my ambitions. Alone with my thoughts and schemes, I rationalize unhealthy habits, justifying how it’s perfectly OK to “drink just one”, skip meetings or be a “just a little” dishonest. To avoid this pitfall, I stay accountable in a number of ways. The most formal is random drug tests to maintain my nursing license. So as much as I hate someone watching me pee, I’m very grateful for this commitment! Involvement in a recovery community – including local meetings and social media – plays a major role in reliability. I want to be an example that recovery is possible. I want to represent a drug and alcohol free way of life and do everything possible to end stigma. Being of service, volunteering, and partnering with clients keeps my focus outward and forward; helping others ultimately helps me.

Physical Health

  • Lifting in the gym (THANK YOU to my trainer @Onerepatatime_ !), running outside, or skiing in the winter…frequent physical activity boosts my mood. I find myself craving it in the best way and consider it necessary for sober success. Initially, I had to drag myself to get going. With time and consistency, I really look forward to moving and sweating. It’s especially useful to turn around negative, triggered, anxious or depressed thoughts. Yoga is more than a physical survival tool, it’s holistically healing and an integral part of my exercise/spiritual routine. Nutrition plays a big role in mood, memory, libido, and energy level, so abstaining from toxic substances like alcohol and drugs is a given, but keeping sugar to a minimum and eating whole healthy food has proven to be a challenge for me in 2018. I’ve struggled with sugar cravings even this far into sobriety. Room for growth in the upcoming year!

Failing

  • In 2018 I founded my business, completed a business mentorship and 6 month writing program, wrote a book proposal, built up a social media platform, traveled to Iceland, Paris, & France, drove my Van thousands of miles with a dog as my sidekick, dated a handful of idiots and a few nice guys, published a bunch of articles, and had a bunch more rejected. I overcame obstacles, enforced boundaries, and lost some relationships. I succeeded at many things, and “failed” at many more. In my experience, failure is a necessary part of the adventure. It’s so cliche!! But it means I tried something that was scary and out of my comfort zone requiring courage. Some of you may remember my blog was initially named “Tiffany Tries Again”. Before I disclosed my addiction, I was simply sharing a series of challenging and often humorous undertakings, hoping it would inspire you to keep trying, regardless of outcomes. This is one of my early blogs discussing just that. (And it isn’t one of my best. But that’s really OK.) If I don’t fail a whole bunch in 2019, it’s because I’ve given up and gone to bed. Please break down my door if this happens. (Refer to importance of “connection” and “accountability” above!)
09c297b8-d33b-4667-a048-698f121b0ae5-1927-0000038dc7c14588
2018 was a BUSY year!

 

And….3 things I want to avoid…..

Placing others on a pedestal

  • My internal compass generally steers me right. But I’m not exempt from disregarding it completely and taking over navigation. Sometimes I make decisions based on ego and selfish motivation and it hurts when I’m forced to recognize it.I learned the HARD way this year that regardless of years of sobriety, or status in the media, publishing world, or recovery community….every one of us is flawed. We are capable of letting others down. I let someone shine a little too bright in my Universe this last year, and it was painful when the light went dim. My goal in 2019 is to stay on course and use discernment. This means making an effort to view all with balance and compassion; admiring without setting outlandish and admittedly selfish expectations. (I apologize for the ambiguity of this paragraph, but the details of who/what are not nearly as important as the overarching message.)

Saying Yes when the answer is obviously “NO”

  • There were wayyyy too many times last year I ignored my gut and went full speed ahead into disaster and disappointment. This is NOT to be confused with taking healthy risks and going on adventures! I’m talking about saying yes when I absolutely know I should avoid something. Ignoring that internal compass again! This includes saying yes to fun things when the smarter self care is take a bath, go to the gym, or even work (to pay for the fun stuff!) Another example is saying yes to a date even when I was too tired, too grumpy, too triggered, or too vulnerable. There were too many shopping excursions frantically looking for a date outfit; too much time on hair, makeup and sending selfies checking for my girlfriends’ approval. Meanwhile my heart and gut were urging me to STAY the HELL HOME. I’d show up for the date and immediately regret it, feeling like a fool for my day of pampering. My plan in 2019? You got it. Stay the hell home and relish every minute of Netflix and pajamas. I also think maybe I should plan a garage sale….seriously, I can’t believe the amount of pointless clothes I bought this year.
img_0751
Dressed up for one of those dates I wish I had skipped altogether…..

OK, I sort of lied.

  • I thought I’d have a definite 3rd thing I don’t want to repeat in 2019. Last year was a roller coaster of joyous, painful, even embarrassing experiences. But thinking back over mistakes I made and chances I took, I don’t think I’d change much. Even if I’m not in love with every bit of 2018’s reflection, I’m honestly satisfied with my current station in life. All of there is what got me here. I hope to say that again at the end of 2019.

Thank you for encouraging, supporting and sharing with me in this journey. I hope it’s inspired you to love yourself and believe you can overcome anything. Or at the least, showed you what not to do and saved you some heartache.

img_1864

Cheers to a happy, healthy and bright 2019!

Is a SOBER lifestyle your goal? I wish you complete success!

If you would like accountability, support and structure with addiction recovery or life transition, I would love to help!

Check out my website for program details, or schedule a FREE call with me here!

***I’M HOSTING A FREE ONLINE VISION BOARD WORKSHOP JANUARY 19TH! EMAIL ME TO SIGN UP ASAP! REGISTRATION ENDS JANUARY 9TH.***

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com