The last six months I’ve been writing a lot. But not all my blog posts are ending up here, on scrubbedcleanrn.com. That’s because as I work towards (YIKES!) more exposure, I’ve pitched essays to a variety of websites. To my delight a few of them have been picked up and published.
If you follow me on instagram (@scrubbedclean) or Facebook, these may not be new for you, since I always advertise when I get the honor of being published.
But maybe (GASP!!) you’re not following me yet??
Helloooo???!!! Why NOT?????
If that’s the case, here are a few of my favorite posts in one easy place for you to click and read!
(1) Sober Dating is a tricky predicament indeed. My most recent date delivered the trifecta: Alcohol, cigarettes, pills….OH MY!! Read all about it HERE .
(2) Suboxone is increasingly prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment program for opiate addiction…yet it’s controversial, and opposed by many (especially 12 step programs). This ARTICLE shares why I feel Suboxone users deserve to proudly call themselves clean and sober. Drugs are often used to escape reality – even drugs that are meant to help with addiction. My experience with Suboxone and how it differs from other Medication Assisted Treatment and harm reduction plans can be found HERE.
(3) Imposter Syndrome is very real. Does it sometimes seem as though everyone else has it under control, while you’re smiling, trying to look like you have a clue? In this ESSAYI write about overcoming self-doubt, using some of the lessons I’ve learned traveling around in my van.
Imposter syndrome is a form of self sabotage; HERE are my top seven tips for learning to let go and love ourselves.
(4) Cravings Most recently, I blogged about surprise cravings emerging during a recovery conference – of all places. The situation was tough, but all’s well that ends well…. The Light Hustler publication on Medium accepted this ARTICLE.
Since this blog has turned into a self-aggrandizing free-for-all, I might as well continue the theme. Head to my website and sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get the latest pictures and news from my corner, plus links to some of my favorite people, podcasts, and platforms in the recovery/sober/wellness arena. Let’s make this fun….
The 100th person to sign up for my newsletter gets a FREE Recover and Rise Mug + 1 FREE hour coaching session!!! (I’m at 85 right now….so do your timing and math right!)
I’ve never been what you would call a tidy person.
Just ask my ex-boyfriend from 15 years ago, who got fed up with my unkempt ways. He was former Navy and I couldn’t keep up, no matter how many times he stressed the significance of folded socks or scolded me for walking outside barefoot and tracking dirt into the living room. One morning, home from my new job on nightshift after graduating nursing school, I tripped over a package sitting in the doorway. It was a bag of cleaning supplies; Windex, Lysol, dish soap etc. I got the hint, and he got the boot. Soon he was living in his own apartment, free to scrub and fold to his military heart’s content.
Like most people, I’d rate myself near the middle of the spectrum between hoarder and clean freak. I sometimes joke that it looks like REI threw up in my living room – especially during a change in season, when skis come in and out and bicycles aren’t yet put away. I always choose sleep over cleaning; it never bothers me to go to bed with dishes still in the sink.
In recent years, my life, like my house, has been messier than usual.
My prioritization skills went haywire, but are getting back on track, which means my personal well-being and physical surroundings have both been getting a makeover.
Staying clean and organized emotionally are essential to my mental health while recovering from addiction, trauma and co-dependency. Rearranging my home has played an important role as well. I started small. A couple years back, freshly sober, I bought trays to organize and display my jewelry. Such a simple accomplishment, but I remember smiling with pride as I looked over the gift I’d given myself. It had been awhile since I’d had the energy and focus to complete a project like that.
Next came cupboards, junk drawers, the pantry. One area in particular needed more help than I could handle on my own. I’d stopped going there altogether, other than to hurriedly grab an item, averting my eyes from the disarray.
The clutter, chaos, mementos and memories had been sitting stagnant, waiting their turn to be sifted and sorted.
The Garage. I couldn’t put it off forever.
It wasn’t just the vastness of the garage project that bothered me. It wasn’t the act of moving items from one shelf to another or dismantling boxes that made the task so daunting. My garage had become pathological and taking it on has been a major source of anxiety for me. The garage had witnessed and survived too many breakups and held the leftovers of too many losses. Last winter’s ski poles, the star-covered journal my daughter never wrote in, fabric scraps from a decade-old Halloween costume, an unidentifiable metal contraption I think belonged to the camper I once shared with an ex. Perhaps you can relate to that feeling. Procrastination was the safe choice; just toss Dad’s leftover oxygen meter in a random box and shut the door. I sometimes treat health problems or family conflict the same way. I shut the door on the issues, but they gather dust and multiply until I find the tenacity to tackle them. Forgetting doesn’t eliminate the problem. The boxes just grow heavier and the emotional burden does too. Each decision meant a look at the past, and it takes energy and fortitude to endure this. Filtering through my clutter feels like sorting through my soul. Eventually, I was going to run out of room: in my storage space, and in my psyche. I needed “clean the garage” wiped from my to do list, before the summer ended.
My garage was beyond do-it-myself help. It was going to require a professional. Just the thought of standing on the cold cement floor amidst the mayhem was enough to cause heart palpitations. Luckily, I know a stellar resource – Lauren at Casual Uncluttering. I’d found her awhile back through thumbtack.com, which was suggested to me by a coworker when I was looking for a handyman. I didn’t even know professional organizers existed until then.
Lauren helped me when I renovated my daughter’s old bedroom – turned – junkroom into a tidy, organized guest area that I now rent out.
Daughter’s Room Turned Guest Room!
I love the outcome of “spring cleaning”. There’s nothing like order and method to calm my nerves. But the details of getting that outcome can be arduous. Emailing Lauren and scheduling the date gave me immediate peace, and when the day came I was ready. She arrived and right away we started separating and labeling items into categories, deeming them necessary, useful, donation-worthy, or garbage. (Can I tell you the utter relief I feel when she confirms a piece of trash is indeed trash, and that there’s no need to for guilt when I toss it in to the can?!)
As we emptied boxes, she shared resources such as who I might call for art restoration, which companies are best at custom shelving, and what animal shelter takes old dog beds (Homeward Pet in Woodinville, WA). Her toolkit includes painter’s tape, sturdy cardboard boxes, fat sharpie markers, a portable garbage can gadget (that I totally covet), and a vehicle to haul away most of the “To Go” pile that inevitably mounds up as the hours go by. Lauren has a keen eye for space, and a vision for what arrangement might work best, as it relates to a client’s routine and customs.
But Lauren’s qualifications go much further than utilitarian tools and sensible words of advice. She has a special magic that alleviates pressure and pain that can come with these jobs. Her compassionate, yet no-nonsense demeanor settles my nerves and fills me with confidence. The garage I had deemed untouchable became manageable as we moved through it together.
Going through this process reminded me that I don’t have to do life alone. There are times when it’s possible – and advisable – to call for help. Whether that’s sorting picture frames and eliminating dust bunnies, or consulting someone on relationships or careers.
Hiring Lauren’s services feel like a luxury – and I don’t feel guilty indulging. For a long time I held the belief that I “should” be able to accomplish everything on my own, especially when it came to household tasks.
I believed I should be able work full time, parent full time, maintain a clean house, keep a man happy, and pursue my dreams – all without chipping a nail. Anything less was failure. Even though I ended my relationship with the ex-military man, I hung on to the shameful belief that I wasn’t “enough” for a long time. I’ve even carried judgmental and jealous feelings towards others that hired help for themselves. I know better now: these distorted beliefs are false and toxic. No one should feel that asking for help from a friend or a professional is anything other than a wise choice.
The garage is ¾ done and I’m no longer agonizing over an unmanageable mess. There’s always more to do, but I’m proud of the results. And I’m proud that I stopped procrastinating and gave myself permission to ask for help. I’ll never be perfectly spotless, but my life is so much cleaner these days – inside and out.
There’s only a few minor things that I still want organized…. Just a few stacks of boxes in the corner of a room that need sorting through. Does anyone know an accountant who’s willing to work with brand new business owner who’s avoided paperwork and taxes for a year?
I will have been transported through the air, like magic, to Iceland ….and For the next 2 weeks, my risk of death is marginally higher than during my daily routine. At least I think so – I’m not going to research the actual I-5 Corridor freeway death statistics.
I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way – The Peerless Quartet
The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life – Agnes Repplier
Travel: A metaphor for life. Do you go alone, or with a partner? Do you plan or do you wing it? Are you safe while wandering, or adrift without direction? Can you find yourself totally lost, yet know that you’re still connected, and the universe supports you completely?
In a few hours I’ll hand my passport over to the TSA at Sea-Tac airport, board a plane, begin to read, then immediately fall asleep reading (ideally after I’ve secured my head from bobbing around with a trusty neck pillow). When I wake up disoriented, shirt wet with drool (hopefully my own shirt and my own drool) I will have been transported through the air, like magic, to Iceland.
I’ve been to very few countries, although I’ve traveled within the states quite a bit. Iceland is a dream trip come true, but wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list. Mostly because I’ve never really made that list … At least not such a venturous one. My list was comprised of solid basics: become a nurse, buy a house, get a job, marry happily ever after. Three out of Four – near perfection, right?
But now, my perspective has changed. Suddenly I’m afforded the time, means and motivation to go far far away, by myself. (Not suddenly as in overnight lottery. It takes planning to ask for time off work, to save money, to get dog sitters, and to clean out the fridge so I don’t come home to a fungi garden in my kitchen).
It feels a little sudden though. The time is HERE. I leave in 12 hours.
I’m lucky to have friends and coworkers who have traveled these places (did I mention I’m going to London and Paris, too?!) and are willing to share their insight. A few have traveled solo, others are shocked I’m going alone. All have offered well-wishing and I’ve just been percolating with gratitude and excitement.
“You are so brave to go alone!” I hear this a lot. The former me, the girl that lived life as though she was ticking off inventory items, and trying to awkwardly fit into a strict set of guidelines, feels a bit stunned herself. But the new me that knows life is short and meant to be lived with abandon….well, she’s thrilled – and only a fraction nervous.
This new me became a tiny fraction more nervous as I googled last minute things to do “across the pond”. The internet warned: There’s Danger Out There. Bridges actually do fall in London. Sounds like it’s not uncommon to be a pedestrian “under attack by motorized terrorists”. The Chunnel, which I’m using to travel underwater to France, could collapse, and there’d be no swimming out of that scenario. Any one of the 3 flights I’m taking could be hijacked, veer into a mountain, or lose an engine in the air. A clumsy Icelandic traveler could stumble into me, bringing the view of hot geysers up close and personal, leading to my very toasty demise.
For the next 2 weeks, my risk of death is marginally higher than during my daily routine. At least I think so – I’m not going to research the actual I-5 Corridor freeway death statistics.
I’m a little surprised to find my own mortality doesn’t scare me. What does scare me is not speaking French and accidentally asking for directions to a strip club instead of a bathroom. (just for instance. I don’t know how to say either one). I’m scared of being inadvertently served wine or alcohol while politely tasting foods served to me in Iceland or France. What if they don’t have a word for “Sober”?
But I’m not afraid to die. (In theory of course. If the Chunnel goes dark and fills with water, chances are I’ll freak the F out. But who knows? I could stay Zen.) Does travel make everyone think about this? I guess I’m my father’s daughter. When he flew, he always sent me an email with his itinerary, and a reminder of where to find his will.
Mostly, I’m overcome with joy at the opportunity. If I was still actively addicted, this trip would be unlikely. If it happened, chances are I’d jeopardize myself by getting lost, going home with the wrong person, or getting kicked off a plane for being impaired and obnoxious. Instead, I’m wide eyed, awake and life feels quite complete. If I die, it will be knowing I’ve made amends for my mistakes, and I won’t be embarrassed by what anyone finds on my phone or in my closets at home. (Maybe a tiny bit embarrassed, but whatever. I’m human. I’m single. It’s not that weird.)
While last minute planning, I could hear my dad – the life insurance agent’s – voice, so I decided to ensure someone had my flight and lodging info. Six months ago, I would have pitied myself at this task. Once, at the doctors, I cried to myself when I had “no one’s” name to write in the space “Emergency Contact”. The idea that there was “No One” looking after me caused an unnecessary amount of suffering, because having “No One” wasn’t based in reality. I have lots of wonderful “SomeOnes”. It just takes some re-affirming and filtering out limiting beliefs and saboteur thoughts about being incomplete. Today, I simply reached out to one of my favorite “Someones” and gave her my itinerary. No self pity.
Just because my emergency contact isn’t a “significant other” in the usual sense, doesn’t make me deficient. I still need to remind myself of this. Living alone, answering only to myself, feels kind of wobbly -almost unnatural. Especially since society dictates that until the “Soulmate” piece is found, the jigsaw puzzle of “Life” isn’t complete. As though snaring a partner is the ultimate accomplishment, and as long as we have one to lean on, things will be OK. (We all know that even in a committed long term relationship, with a dependable name to scribble in the “emergency contact” section, nothing is guaranteed. One could argue the more people involved, the more precarious the dynamics.)
I’m learning that even when things aren’t OK, they’re OK. It’s an empowering sensation: feeling complete, despite not having all the answers, despite wishing some things were different. It’s like I’m un-tethered, but fully supported. Not quite balanced, but definitely moving towards it – even though I don’t know what “It” looks like.
“Even if things aren’t OK, I’m OK”. I’m finding that it’s true, no partner necessary. I’m learning to glean security from a deep sense of intrinsic wholeness, and the community of support I’ve enmeshed myself in (yep, another She Recovers shout out. It’s true though). So while I’m wild and free to explore as I please, I’ve also got a wide net underneath of me, in case my feet falter. Which they have. Which they will again.
One of the concepts I work on with my clients (and myself!) is trusting the inner compass. Some call this intuition, the Universe, or a higher power. Some relate to this as their Soul, their Spirit, or a Source they are connected to.
I believe my inner compass was calibrated from the beginning, and my choices along the way have created inconsistencies. But I’ve always known when I was steering off course – I’m just a pro at ignoring red flags. Veering off path felt wrong – like striving, craving, desperation, or trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. When my compass is set to True North, I may have doubts, I may have to check frequently, but I’m inhabited by an overwhelming sense of contentment, peace and safety.
That’s where my head and heart are at now: content and safe, as I set out with wanderlust, to find new places. And to find a new place within myself. Circumstances waver, but I’m fully protected. On uneven ground, but with a soft place to land. Often without company, but definitely never alone. And I’m grateful for this approaching adventure – the 2 week vacation I’m about to enjoy, and the adventure that is the rest of my life.
Cross your fingers that no disasters occur; the Eiffel Tower won’t topple over onto the apartment I’m sleeping in, no rogue polar bear takes me out while I’m basking in the Blue Lagoon. I’m crossing my fingers too: that I continue to trust myself, to rely on my amazing support system, and to fly – literally and figuratively – as often as possible.
Continuing to Recover and Rise, … somewhere around 30,000 feet in the air…
You may have read my blog post “Sober Wedding Success”; In a triggered moment I texted a friend: “I need a drink, a cigarette, a man, or a brownie.” A variety of stressors had accumulated, thrusting me into “Fight or Flight” mode. The pressure rising, impulsive thoughts bounced off each other: “You need to feel different and better NOW.” In hindsight, I could have done some stretching, gone for a run or a walk. But the wedding was going to start, I was all dolled up in a dress and heels, and rational thought was hijacked by panic.
What I didn’t mention in that blog was the part where I gave in to a craving. About an hour before the bride was due to walk down the aisle, I changed into flip-flops and stealthily drove to a store.
(Ok not stealthily. Side Note – The story of my life is that I ALWAYS get caught. Sneaking out in the middle of the night at age 15… My friend’s parent saw me and called my parents. Skipping prom to go to Denny’s and hang out at a hotel… I accidentally recorded myself on the answering machine sharing every detail with a friend. A couple years back, during a sober attempt, I hit “facetime” on my phone at the exact moment I took a drink of a beer. But have I learned? Noooooo. )
Someone, who shall simply be called Aunt D. in order to keep her anonymity, (haha, love you Aunt D.) saw me drive away from the church. On my return, I was met with: “Where’d you go, huh? We know you left. Aunt D. told us.” I mumbled about needing to help the bride and hurried away.
The truth is:
I drove to a gas station and awkwardly bought a pack of Camel cigarettes. On a scale of surrendering to cravings, it’s better than a bottle of vodka, worse than a giant brownie. I found a parking lot near the water and walked around in the rain (still in my dress and flip-flops, holding a sweatshirt over my head to save my wedding- hair) searching for a secluded place to smoke my first cigarette in years. It suddenly seemed crowds of people were milling around, screwing up my plan. And I certainly wasn’t going to smoke inside my own car. I have boundaries, after all.
Settling on a spot, I opened the pack. The cigarette fit neatly between my fingers, muscle memory reminding them exactly what shape to make. I lit it, pressed my lips lightly around the filter, and inhaled. Then I made a face. They were gross. I forgot that I actually like menthols, when I do smoke. Which isn’t often. I’ve done this 3 times in the last few years. Once during a (temporary) breakup, and again when I started treatment for addiction and had quit everything else. People smoke like chimneys at recovery meetings, and for a few months I made friends by blowing smoke outside the treatment center doors alongside them.
I’d like to say the non-menthols were gross enough I threw them away, jolting myself back to more effective coping skills. But I didn’t. I finished the pack, and returned to the store to buy the “tastier” minty selection.
Days turned into weeks, and before I knew it, I’d been smoking steadily for a month. I was disgusted with myself. Smoking made me lazy and nauseated. Addiction is dishonest, isolating, depressing, and anxiety inducing; smoking re-awakened all of that, along with the clinging, craving monster inside. Instead of going to the gym – I smoked. Instead of writing – I smoked. I wasted hours lighting them up and putting them out. And yet, a part of me relished every single drag. My dirty little secret made me feel self-righteous, cool and aloof. Emotionally, I was wrecked and seeking relief. I’d found a solution that both soothed and fueled the addiction monster. Returning to this behavior was like slipping back under the mud after a period of living in the sun. I was sober, but acting very much like my non-sober self. Literally playing with fire.
Participating in addictive habits can give one a case of the “F-it’s” and the “Might as wells”. For example “F it. I’m already smoking, might as well eat what I want too.” The mud got deeper and stickier. I ate fast food, ignored deadlines and neglected obligations. I toyed with ideas of “just one drink”. Thankfully I have accountability to my treatment program. When it’s hard to trust oneself, impending drug tests are a convincing reason to abstain. So I didn’t drink, but I smoked nicotine incessantly. Good thing the tests don’t look for nicotine or caffeine. (Treatment centers everywhere would be out of business.)
When I first smoked at 14 years old (and continued for 8 years, minus 9 months of pregnancy), it was the best kind of dangerous fun. I was rebellious, wise, untouchable. Slinking into a store at age 36, making sure no one recognizes me, and asking for “camel crush – yeah the blue box” without meeting the attendants’ eyes, doesn’t have the same ego-stroking appeal. Honestly I was miserable. I succumbed to an obsessive-compulsive drive to do something I was bizarrely convinced would help me overcome anxiety. It only managed to increase the compulsion, all the while invoking deep shame and disappointment. It was repetitious, unfulfilled desperation, with nausea as a side effect. The empty, achy place inside of me found minor temporary relief, but I was simultaneously cognitively aware that the tobacco/poison filled paper sticks offered nothing but dirty lungs, yellow teeth and nasty headache when I eventually quit. Ruminating over all of this, I lit another smoke.
That, my friends, is addiction.
In the past, these episodes of smoking have been brief, due to two compelling factors: a boyfriend and daughter that despise the habit. Smoking is tough to keep secret for long around others. But I was grateful for their disdain, as it forced me to give it up quickly.
During this recent trip down Tobacco Lane, with no suspicious glares or accusations of “You smell like smoke” pressuring me to surrender, I needed motivation. My own willpower and half-assed “This is your last pack, Tiff” was proving ineffective. I needed a reward, ultimatum, or serious kick in the ass.
The light at the end of the smoky tunnel was a shining She Recovers Retreat. The timing was perfect; divine some may say. At the end of July, one of the more challenging months I’ve survived in a while, I would board a ferry and meet my favorite women on Salt Spring Island for a week of rejuvenation. There was no way I’d smoke while enjoying nature, doing yoga, and working on recovery. There was no way I’d admit this to my friends or smoke in front of them.
Tricky thing, addiction. Embeds itself deeply, even when one is determined to set themselves free. Not the retreat, my admiration of the women, or my horror at being found out as a smoker was enough for me to quit. When my fancy Camel Crush ran out on day 2, I bought very light, very bad tasting, non-menthol cigarettes in a Canadian store (they don’t sell menthol in the Gulf Islands!!)
While puffing away on these bland, thin smokes I made a promise. By the time I got on the ferry heading back to America, I’d untangle myself from their grasp. I wasn’t sure how, or if I was ready, but I was WILLING to be ready. I was tired of fighting to stay afloat, and afraid of getting pulled further down into addiction’s muddy grasp.
My answer came on the 3rd night of Retreat, in the form of a letting go ceremony (I also strategically ran out of cigarettes on the very last morning in Canada, and swore I wouldn’t touch another pack back in the US.)
The ceremony symbolizes liberation. We are all carrying some unwanted weight…unspeakable trauma, substance abuse, disordered eating, codependency, unhealthy shopping habits or persistent fatigue and apathy. The ceremony is an opportunity to look these hindrances in the eye, and love ourselves enough to begin to let them go.
The ceremony doesn’t require forgetting our past, but gives us permission to stop suffering over it. Permission to accept experiences, mistakes, relationships, and addictions while releasing the shame, self-loathing, and guilt we’ve attached to them.
We were asked to write down our intentions and a list of what we needed to let go. I wasn’t sure if this would work, but it felt like a legitimate start. I put my heart, soul and energy into that pen and paper as I scrawled out the words
“Let go of SMOKING”.
Then, as instructed, I lined up with the others and waited my turn to be “drummed”. A musician beat a rhythm on a percussion instrument while moving it up the front of my body and down the back – close, but not touching my skin. My understanding is this was meant to improve the alignment of my chakras, a component of self I don’t totally grasp, but am more than willing to offer up for re-structuring. The drumming ended, and as I paused before the next step – a meditative walk – I noticed the outer aspect of each of my hips burned, as though a fire spread across them. The fire pulsated, intensified, simmered, then disappeared. Coincidence? Psychosomatic effect? Bug bites? I can’t say for sure, but it felt significant.
Two days later, on the final morning of the retreat, my heart was light. I’d experienced the fullness of She Recovers retreat magic, and felt empowered to return home renewed. I smoked 3 final cigarettes before leaving the island, that I had ashamedly bummed off a couple of friends (but obviously not too ashamed, since I asked anyway. Love you ladies.)
I haven’t smoked since that morning. Re-entry into real life post-retreat was pretty rocky, but I still did not pick them back up. The first few nights, my sleep was riddled with drinking nightmares. I also had a cigarette-smoking dream (Amy Dresner was there, also smoking, and super pissed off about having to order pizza for a bunch of hyper women in recovery. Bizarre!)
Thoughts of buying a pack – picturing the inhale, the hot menthol taste, the instant and very temporarily relief – flitter through my mind on occasion. But they’re just thoughts. They come, they go. They pass. As do all thoughts, feelings, emotions, if we let them.
Quitting was hard, but not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (I remember trying to quit after 8 years hooked on those things- not sure there’s a drum big enough to beat it out of me then. Torture.) Smoking wasn’t the only thing on my “let go list” either – that was a month-long distraction; an outward sign that my insides were sick. I have a multitude of situations and self-limiting beliefs to shed. But the weight of it all is lifting. Did the drum vibrations shake it off my shoulders? I believe so… along with all the other blessed moments that week. (Read my BLOG to learn more about the Magic of She Recovers retreats) I entered the ceremony with a piece of paper, a trembling hope, and a soul full of desire for health and wholeness. I have a deep, intuitive certainty that this will come to fruition. Where I had felt clouded, uncertain and lethargic, I now felt bright, anticipatory and strong.
In the center of the gardens at Stowel Lake Farm where the retreat is held, there’s a big muddy pond. Across the surface of the murky water, giant Lotus blossoms stretch their pink petals eagerly toward the sun. The lush flowers would be nonexistent if it weren’t for the rich, complicated, nourishing mud beneath them.
Like the flowers, we need rich, complicated, often painful experiences to cultivate growth. “No Mud, No Lotus” as Thich Naht Hahn’s book tells us. Smoking wasn’t mandatory for my growth; it was an outward sign that helped me become more aware of my inner strife. For a month, I was slogging through mud; sluggish, sticky, uncomfortable and difficult to see any light through the darkness. During the retreat, I spent a lot of time being honest with myself, uncovering the source of pain and revealing it’s purpose.
I wasn’t overcome by the mud, but transformed by it. Smoking was a brief detour, and a close call. But I saw the light and persisted. I ascended above the surface; back into the fresh air.
Continuing to Recover and Rise,
Do you have habits you’d like to explore letting go? Perhaps you’re sober but still attached to food, smoking, relationships, and want to set yourself free? I’d love to offer you a system, support and accountability as your coach.
Interested in learning more about She Recovers and their retreats and conferences? Go To www.sherecovers.co
Please contact me! You’re beautiful and deserving of health and wholeness.
I spent many hours in my head thinking about my lifelong friendship with the bride, transitions, and my own failed marriages and relationships. A lot of emotions bubbled to the surface and not a lot of time to think them through realistically or pause to hold them compassionately.
Unlike an addiction to heroin or amphetamines, alcohol will appear on a weekly, if not daily basis. Grocery store aisles, TV commercials, restaurants…these are basically unavoidable circumstances. Learning to live with the trigger of alcohol is essential in sobriety.
Other well known craving-heavy settings are birthdays, holidays, and weddings.
On Saturday, I attended my first wedding since being in active recovery, and I’ll spoil the ending: I stayed sober.
I won’t lie though. It wasn’t a piece of (wedding) cake.
In everyday life, alcohol doesn’t usually get to me. The aforementioned grocery aisles don’t make me twitchy like they did in the early days. I’m also not immune. It’s not the appearance of alcohol on it’s own; it’s a combination of factors – emotional stress, nostalgia, feeling left out or wanting to fit in – these culminate to create a “trigger” (the situation) and an urge – an intense physical and/or psychological craving.
This wedding was special to me. My best friend was getting married and I had the joy of helping, including curling the hair of her two beautiful daughters. Arriving early in the morning at her hotel, I stopped to get breakfast and coffee, but realized I hadn’t brought any water for an 8 hour day.
Grabbing a glass off the counter in my friend’s room, I filled from the tap, took a sip, and spit it out making a face. “The water here’s disgusting!” I said. My friend’s eyes went wide. “Yep there was lemonade in there last night.” I clarified…”Not JUST lemonade, was it?” No… It was definitely spiked.
Figures. I’d started my sober wedding by using a glass with remnants of alcohol in it.
The wedding went beautifully, despite a few bumps in the road. One minor cake disaster that happened on my delivery (but not my fault I swear!), and due to rain we had moved the wedding from outside to inside. Otherwise, it went gorgeously smooth, and I was honored to help the bridal party prepare.
Throughout the day though, I spent many hours in my head thinking about my lifelong friendship with the bride, transitions, and my own failed marriages and relationships. A lot of emotions bubbled to the surface and not a lot of time to think them through realistically or pause to hold them compassionately.
Weddings can be hard for this exact reason. Single guests, including myself, may start to think they’ve missed out on something. Jealousy may rise up along with sadness, regret, and worry about the future.
It didn’t help that I scrolled through my emails and staring in my face was a note from someone I haven’t heard from in a long time. Someone who at one point I thought would stand at an altar with me. One made of snow, to be fair, but an altar nonetheless. The timing of the message couldn’t have been more distressing.
Regardless, even if the sober person in question is partnered up perfectly, there are still challenges. Time consuming, or difficult family members/guests to attend to can make one long for escape in a glass. Celebrating can be just as tough to withstand sober. Wine and champagne advertisements exclaiming “Elevate the moment with every drop” perpetuate the idea that a happy moment is made even happier by a poisonous, addictive substance.
The wedding turned into a cocktail hour, then a reunion. Open bar. Flowing pints of beer and glasses of wine. I stood near the door, partly to avoid the bar, although it wasn’t a conscious thought. I didn’t know many people, didn’t have a date, and was there sort of helping, so I didn’t cozy up to a table right away.
“Not the easiest day to be a non-drinker” I said casually, to the person next to me. Turns out it was the exact right person – brother of the bride. He smiled enthusiastically “I’ve got a six pack of La Croix in my car, want one??”
I could have kissed him. Which would be weird because he’s married, and might as well be my brother. He’s the guy I called an “atrocious butthole” when I was 9, trying to get a reaction using big words and ended up grounded for a week.
26 years late, he’s also the guy who was totally there for me in my moment of need. (I hope you read this and feel my gratitude)
La Croix gripped in one hand, I sent out a couple SOS texts. One was to a dear friend who’s not an alcoholic, but is a teetotalling, single, badass woman who somehow sees right to my heart.
“I delivered a smushed wedding cake, drank from a tainted glass, got an email from you-know-who, and am hanging out at an open bar reunion.”
“I need a drink. Or a cigarette. Or a brownie. Any of them will do.”
She’s a genius, and texted back:
“None of it’s going to fix it. No hot guy. Or drink. Or brownie. Or whatever. It’s just heartbreak. It’s awful and ugly and no one is prepared for it. So you just have to feel it. And know that it’ll pass. In a way. Just breathe through it.”
That could have been hard to hear – that NOTHING is going to fix it. But it wasn’t. With all the mindfulness I’ve been reading and practicing it made sense to me; it was reassuring. She was saying: ‘this is suffering. This is part of life. We all experience some of this, and we all survive in our way. You can meet it with compassion and acceptance, or you can continue to feel resistance and aversion and make yourself freaking crazy.’ I chose not to be crazier than I’d already been.
All the tools I’ve learned about surviving events sober were utilized that afternoon:
“Keep a drink in your hand” I had LaCroix, coffee, and water in front of me.
“Reach out to a friend” – Yep. Did it and felt better.
“Eat something sweet” – Wedding Cake. Times two. Check. (I don’t always buy into this one, because I was out of control for a long time with dessert. But it was prudent this time.)
“Breathe”- This is essential. It brought me back in to the present, and allowed me to let go of disturbing thought patterns.
I enjoyed myself, smiled, chatted, had pictures taken, then I hightailed my ass to a meeting.
(It also doesn’t hurt that I remember in the back of my mind the random tests done to ensure my sobriety. Accountability is a crucial part of my success.)
An additional suggestion would be bring a sober buddy. In fact, that could have eradicated most complications.
My friend was right. Nothing would have “fixed” my feelings, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to realize this. Learning how to be clean and sober has been an education in learning how to tolerate emotional and physical pain. Running away, numbing with substances, controlling with restrictive eating disorders – none of this has ever solved a problem. Self compassion, gentle awareness, and connection with others goes a long way towards easing them though. And I have an abundance of that these days.
I’m not invited to any upcoming weddings, I don’t think. But I won’t be avoiding them either (Please don’t throw out my RSVP!). My goal is to LIVE, to participate in all aspects of life, and to learn how ride the waves with grace. Weddings are stellar grounds for this lesson.
(P.S. Congratulations to the Bride and Groom. My dear bride friend apologized on my way out for the drinking that was happening around me. I’ll write on this another time, but the bystanders are never at fault. And there was absolutely no drunken debauchery – you would have hardly known anyone was drinking. I’m simply hyper-aware. The reason the wedding was triggering has NOTHING to do with the wedding itself – it’s all about my relationship to my emotions, my current circumstances, and my process. And frankly, it made for a great sober blog subject matter and hopefully will help another who may be heading to a summer wedding themselves. So THANK YOU. And may you live happily ever after. I love you.)
Alcohol and opiates are strong depressants, and were adding to the problem at the same time they were helping me stay oblivious. I played around with how much I could take and still maintain some function. Slowly, passively, I was still trying to end my life.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. It’s #2 for 10-14 year olds and #3 for 15-34 year olds.
90% of people who attempt suicide have depression and/or have substance abuse issues.
Trigger Warning: Suicide and Suicide Attempts discussed in light of bringing an end to the shame and stigma surrounding Mental Health Needs and Substance Abuse.
If you need help NOW, call 9-1-1.
I was 14 years old when I intentionally overdosed on Tylenol. This was my first and only serious planned attempt at showing the world – my family at least – that I was sad enough to try and end my life.
In the days leading up to it, I pictured how it would happen, and it came to fruition exactly that way. Out of compassion and sensitivity to my family and those that may be grieving losses of their own, I’m going to leave out details.
Despite the amount of pills I took, I was fairly sure I would not actually die. I knew my mom would take me to the hospital and she did. The first nurse in the ER that I encountered (or ER tech? I’m not sure) said “Seems like a pretty stupid choice. You knew what you were doing right kid? Looking for some attention.” He was right – I needed attention and felt there was no other way to show what it felt like inside of myself. A physician assessed me and said “This is really the worst way to try to die. You wouldn’t die right away – but you’ll hurt your liver so bad you’ll die slowly anyway.” He didn’t offer any quicker solutions however.
The next 4 days were very confusing. I was able to rest, which felt like a small break from the unrelenting anguish I’d experienced. The doctor prescribed a tylenol antidote which they mixed in Diet Coke. After drinking it, I’d throw up, which infuriated a particular elderly night nurse. It was so disgusting that I couldn’t drink, or even smell Diet Coke, for the next 10 years. (Many nurses I know have a story about themselves or a loved one being cared for by amazing nurses. This hospitalization was my first, and nothing about my caregivers made me want to follow in their footsteps. That career choice came later.)
A psychiatrist or psychologist came in and asked weary, uninterested questions. He sat very far away from my bed. His final statement was “I don’t really see what we are going to do for you.” That was the only conversation anyonehad with me regarding my emotional and mental state. As soon as my liver enzymes came back to normal I was sent home.
I began seeing a counselor (not a psychiatrist or psychologist) and was prescribed an anti-depressive by my family doctor that caused terrible panic attacks, so I quickly went off of it. My diagnosis changed frequently – Bipolar, then not. Bipolar 2. Then not. (It was 1995 and seemed everyone was suddenly Bipolar). “Take a pill, see a counselor once a week, and don’t do anything dangerous.” The one time I told a counselor I was considering going to a party with my friends, she said “That’s against your treatment plan. I’m either telling your mom or I can’t see you anymore.” The choice was obvious to me. It also reinforced that I couldn’t be honest with ANYONE.
My treatment was sporadic for a few reasons. I was resistant. There was chaos and divorce in my family home. Then I had a daughter myself at 16 and for years my emotional turmoil sank far under the surface – deeply ingrained but with no outward warning signs for others.
When depression and anxiety resurfaced as an adult, I didn’t fully recognize it. I’d been a mom and nurse for many years. I believed that extreme stress was normal, and that I “should” be more capable. With a perfectionist, overachieving attitude, I added more stress to my life believing that if I accomplished more, I would feel better. Maybe I felt so nervous and dissatisfied because I wasn’t doing enough to feel happy. I went back to school, I got married again, and I took on a supervisor role at work.
And then I began to crash.
I had suffered migraines for years, and when I was prescribed Vicodin, it took away a lot more than headaches. It removed the constant fear of the future; the regrets and dismay of my past. Add alcohol to it and I had found the magic elixir – for awhile. I didn’t know it, but by numbing out everything “bad” in my life I was also numbing out everything good. Alcohol and opiates are strong depressants, and were adding to the problem at the same time they were helping me stay oblivious. I played around with how much I could take while maintaining daily functions. Slowly, passively, I was still trying to end my life.
Sitting across from my counselor about 6 years ago, I admitted “My thoughts are so dark. I constantly picture putting a knife through my chest. I’ll be walking through a grocery store and picture holding a gun to myself. I don’t really want to do this – and I don’t have a gun. But I also don’t want to go on.”
It didn’t occur to me that even as a strong, capable nurse, it would be OK to walk myself into an ER or call a crisis hotline. I couldn’t imagine that I needed – or deserved – that kind of help. I couldn’t “afford the time off” or “show my weakness”. The years went on and the substance abuse – my own personal treatment plan for the emotional and mental pain I was feeling – increased.
I briefly mentioned the anxiety to my physician, but kept the conversation short and light. I knew from past experience that I “shouldn’t” be completely honest with anyone, so I left out any mention of my drug and alcohol use. She recommended a low dose anti-depressant, but I was doubtful. MY depression and anxiety was “situational” I convinced myself. Life was tough! I was going through a divorce. And my doctor agreed. If I could just get a handle on the stress in my life, I wouldn’t feel so bad.
Nobody suggested that it was the opposite – that if I could find a way to stop feeling so bad – learn to accept and cope with painful experiences with self-compassion, learn to love myself and tolerate discomfort – that I would not only be able to handle the stress in my life, I would stop adding to my suffering.
My happy ending is that I did eventually find that formula. In active recovery for substance abuse I’ve learned to change my relationship to my thoughts. Once I was free from the substances, I could begin accepting myself and my life circumstances with love. I began making small daily choices that set me free from internal and external stress: Mindfulness meditation. Self Affirmations. Noticing my inner “saboteur” and working to not believe that voice. Lots of self care. Reducing my hours at work.
I dove headfirst into trusted self-improvement such as Byron Katie’s “The Work”. I found Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability and began to believe that by saying ‘I need help’, I’m actually being my most brave, strong, courageous self. I took Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention and learned that my thoughts are NOT me, and that I have a choice to let them go and can work towards choosing joy.
And I never, ever feel too proud or afraid to ask for help anymore.
When I took 3 months off work to go to outpatient substance treatment, I learned that a mom with a full time job and a mortgage can in fact still find ways and means to pause everything and take care of herself.
I learned that no matter how “shameful” it is to be a nurse in state probation program, I can still show up at my job feeling proud that I’m doing the hard work of healing the wounds in my life, and that I still deserve to be here.
When I read the news this morning about Anthony Bourdain I was sobbing before even leaving my bed. For him and his family. (My father loved him – we watched him together many nights). For Kate Spade. For the desperation and hopelessness they must have felt. I imagine they felt like they couldn’t reach out to anyone. Perhaps they couldn’t admit what felt like weakness; that they didn’t want to be a burden. And no doubt they felt like they couldn’t go one more minute with their anguish filled minds.
I cried for myself, at 14. And at 30, for all the days spent visualizing harming myself. For all of the patients whose bedsides I have sat next to in the dark, knowing that they suffered so deeply and could see no other way out.
There are degrees of mental health/illness, degrees of depression and anxiety, and we should all receive individual based treatment. Mine stemmed from childhood trauma, years of self loathing, and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms, along with a strong lineage of depression and suicide in my immediate family. I feel lucky to have found light through my darkness, and hope that if I enter into darkness again I can speak up early knowing that there is hope.
There’s nothing more important to me right now than ending the shame and stigma of mental health disparities and substance abuse. No one should be afraid to say “I need help.” “I want my life to end.” “I’m angry or sad and afraid all the time.” No one should feel shame for “seeking attention” with this desperate act.
Luckily, healthcare is changing, and so is our culture. But it can do better for all of us. Depression and anxiety need to be treated holistically – not “just” with a pill. Or “just” talking to a counselor. I don’t know the answer, but I want to be a part of finding it.
If you are feeling scared, depressed, anxious or hopeless, know that you are LOVED right now. I am sending you all the compassion in my heart. I have been there – maybe not exactly where you are. But in a similar place. And I have found a new way to live. There is NOTHING wrong with asking for help. NOTHING wrong with saying you’re spiraling out of control and you need someone to help you take of care of yourself. You deserve help. You deserve to love yourself. You are needed and wanted, and if you’re not finding the answers you need, don’t give up. It might be scary to pick up the phone and call the suicide hotline, or you may feel shame about showing up in your local hospital and saying that you’re considering hurting yourself. I promise you, the scary part is temporary. Life on the other side of real help and healing can be worth every scary minute of that first phone call.
Life is very hard, and very beautiful. It’s always changing. Don’t choose a permanent solution for temporary pain. Give yourself every chance to find the beauty.
IF YOU NEED HELP NOW, CALL 9-1-1 OR Call 1-800-273-8255 (SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE).
Make an appointment with your doctor and a licensed therapist. Talk to a trusted family member or friend. Tell someone. And don’t hold back – tell them everything. You’re worth it.
My favorite resources for learning Self Love:
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (find your local classes online)
My loneliness isn’t the absence of another person in my presence. It’s the fear that I’m completely unanchored to a consistent, stable support system. Unattached, Uncertain, Unstable. As though life’s waves could sweep me away at any time.
I have a small confession to make. A relapse of sorts.
I signed back in to a dating app and I swiped.
I swear it was only one time!
Ok, I mean it was only for the one weekend and that’s ALL I did! Only swiping. We didn’t meet in person, there were no dates, we didn’t talk on the phone. You have to believe me!
Feels good to admit it actually…..and that IS the first step, ….right???
Relapse humor aside, swiping is a major RED FLAG for me, something I’ve used to numb myself from real life. So when I realized I was backsliding into this addictive behavior pattern, I knew I couldn’t let it escalate. I had to dig deep to figure out why. Why wasn’t I content with my own company? What was missing? What was I avoiding?
When I got to the core of it, I was surprised to find that I’m actually kind of lonely right now.
I didn’t think this was possible for me – I’ve been a mom since I was 16, so there’s always been at least one other human around me. I tend to keep my days very busy…multiple jobs, volunteer work, and a decently full social roster. Or maybe I’ve just been oblivious. Being an expert at chemically numbing discomfort, I’ve probably been totally unaware.
Now that I’m sober and giving myself permission to feel all the raw feelings. It’s one thing to feel them; harder to accept them.
Like any good relapse, my tinder-lapse started weeks before I participated in the behavior. The environment around me had become particularly stressful. In a short period of time, I bailed someone out of jail, helped another into a detox center, and handled a series of drunk-texts – both from friends and a potential client.
My phone felt like a ticking time bomb; I was nervous that every call or text was another negative or triggering notification, and I started taking it personally. “Did I cause this? Am I helping too much? Not helping enough? Is my sobriety doomed? Don’t they love me enough to stay sober?”
As my safety net of sober friends dwindled, emotions that I’ve made a lot of progress coping with– like doubt and fear – compounded. Before I knew it I was deep in a pile of self pity.
“My friends are all relapsing. My friends are not OK. Sobriety isn’t guaranteed. My future is unclear. I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any security. I’m not OK.”
The “I’M NOT OK” neighborhood is a scary place to hang out, and seems like it’s never ending. It’s a strong trigger for all kinds of addictions, because it makes us feel lonely. “LONELY” is one of the key 4 emotions that recovery specialists encourage us to avoid or immediately remedy before they spiral out of control.
H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
Hungry Angry and Tired? Those I can relate to. Anger in particular triggers me. But I’d ignored “lonely” because “it doesn’t pertain to me.” When it snuck up, I was taken by surprise without a plan of action.
My experience of loneliness has little to do with being physically “Alone”. I love time to myself, and boredom is hardly in my vocabulary. I don’t lay in bed at night wishing someone was there with me, it doesn’t depress me to travel with just my dog.
My loneliness isn’t the absence of another person in my presence. It’s the fear that I’m completely unanchored to a consistent, stable support system. Unattached, Uncertain, Unstable. As though life’s waves could sweep me away at any time. I notice it when I fill out a form at the doctor, and there’s no name for me to write in the spot “emergency contact”. My heart sinks. I begin to think that maybe I’ll never have an emergency contact. I picture myself a little old lady, puttering in the house, losing her keys, and having no one there to remind me where I put them. I know… I’m totally aware that I’m ‘catastrophizing’. But these are the kinds of thoughts that convince us to “settle” for a partner that’s totally wrong for us. The kind of thoughts that feel so uncomfortable, we might just do anything to avoid them. Like drink. Or go on an unadvisable date.
Two years ago, I had 3 men in my life/family that I felt I could call on at any time to be there and save the day if I needed. Today, for different reasons, I don’t. One of them is my father, who passed in 2017 – there’s no doubt this is a major factor in why I feel so unhinged.
This isn’t to say I DON’T have a support system. I do! A wonderful tribe of women (and some great guy friends) that love and encourage and empower me. Depressed and anxious thoughts aren’t generally based in reality though. Gone unchecked, they’ll swarm through my psyche and before I know it, they’re in the drivers seat of my behavior.
In the midst of this loneliness tempest, feeling like there was nothing solid to grasp onto, I reached for the next best thing – a virtual connection. Any port in a storm right? Ten swipes later and bingo – a selection of potential “shelters” displayed in front of me. Substitute sanctuaries for a floundering female.
You know where this is going though….there’s no romantic fairy tale ending. No knight in shining armor arrived on horseback to rescue this princess.
A few vapid conversations and a boatload of disappointment later, I realized I’d made a major detour that wasn’t leading where I wanted.
I LIKE being single. And I LOVE the forward progress my life is taking since become sober and focusing on self love and self actualization. But conditions got rough, and I got scared. I went right back to needing to “get high” off the little ego strokes my phone offered. “You have a match” “Jeff sent you a message!” It increased my dopamine, and soothed my fears – in a superficial, temporary way.
So what can I do differently, to prevent going down this rabbit hole of seeking out external validation? Because trust me – it WILL happen again. Triggering events are not going to go away. Life will continue to be difficult sometimes. And online dating apps will always be there, even if I delete them time and time again.
Here are the 4 lessons I learned to prevent future relapse and cope with the loneliness in a healthier way:
1. Make Boundaries
Relapse happens in the recovery community. I can’t control external events, but I can create safe, compassionate boundaries. Example: I called my friend and told him that I won’t respond to his drunk texts, even if he’s being nice or funny. My boundary: creating space for genuine communication. This was really empowering, and he responded by thanking me for my honesty and willingness to forgive
2. Know the Emotions.
Until now, I didn’t even know I felt lonely. Noticing the triggering emotion and naming it helps us deal with it. “I feel scared.” “I don’t feel safe.” “This feels like loneliness.” Pinpoint where you feel it in your body. My lonely feeling is heaviness in my shoulders and tightness in my chest. Knowing where it is helps me notice it early, so I can tackle it early.
3. Question Your thoughts.
“I’m not safe” – Is this true? No, I’m perfectly safe. I’m alive, breathing and well. “I don’t have anybody”. I have lots of somebodies! I have friends I can call right now. “Dating will fix everything. I just need someone to like me.” I know this isn’t true. I’m seeking immediate gratification.
4. Increase positive energy.
Where do you spend your time? What’s the usual content of your thoughts? Get involved with a program that has members with long term recovery who offer solid support. Listen to or read solution-based self-improvement materials. Begin a routine of daily meditations and self-affirmations.
Dating apps themselves are not overtly “bad”. My use of them is a behavior that I’ve identified as risky and potentially self-harmful. Dating can easily escalate into a drinking relapse for me, and is a co-dependent behavior that reinforces “I am not good enough alone”. Seeking male attention, and feeling insecure being alone, is generally because I’ve let self care lapse and I’ve not adhered to my boundaries. Someday, this won’t be the case. I’ll have made strides in my health, and will be ready. I trust myself completely to know when I’m there (and I likely won’t be swiping for a significant other.)
Participating in life according to my values means focusing on mindful, honest, compassion towards others and myself. I can do this by setting boundaries, exploring emotions, and responding with care, not out of habit or fear. This season in my life is one of Radical Self Love, and that means some things are going to have to shift. It’s not easy, but that’s ok. And I’m ok. I’m perfectly safe, supported and totally OK.
Have you ever created a destructive distraction in your life out of fear or loneliness?
What would it feel like if you could STOP yourself from making a choice that will haunt you tomorrow?
I would LOVE to support you. I would love to share all of the valuable tools I have learned that support me in making healthier choices, one day at a time.
Everyone deserves to live a sober life FREE from the fear of relapse – whatever your current vice may be.
If you want to discuss how working together could offer you support and accountability in this area, please schedule a FREE discovery call by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to this link https://calendly.com/tiffany-59/30min