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”.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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 #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.

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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.

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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!)

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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 !!

 

Living Dirty and Getting Clean

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.

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.

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The cleanestI’ve ever seen my own living room…I think it lasted 3 hours!

 

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.

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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?

Just kidding. Sort of!

Cheers to Clean Living –

Tiffany

Follow me @scrubbedcleanrn

And make sure to check out my website www.recoverandrise.com to learn more about coaching for recovery and radical self love!

 

The Saturday Night I Met Myself

In my drinking days, his being a practical stranger would have been the perfect rationale for me to swipe on some lip-gloss, grab my purse and follow him to the bar.

It’s not that long ago I would have said yes.

“I’m headed to the Train Wreck. Come with! You can’t just sit here on a Saturday Night!”

My girlfriend and I were settled on the couch, brownies in the oven. Leaving Utopia wasn’t an option. I could have made the excuse that I don’t drink, but didn’t bother. He was just a guy renting my guest room for the weekend; we’d probably never see each other again.

In my drinking days, his being a practical stranger would have been the perfect rationale for me to swipe on some lip-gloss, grab my purse and follow him to the bar.

There was an awkward pause after he asked…as though he couldn’t believe we would turn down his offer. How could we be satisfied sitting home, when we could be perched on a barstool next to him, indulging in the drink special of the night?

“Oh, you’re serious? Staying home on a weekend? Well, have a good night.”

We nodded and I said “Drive home safe. Call if you need a ride. Don’t drink too much and drive.”

My own response surprised me.

Who was I?

Where was the girl that would do anything to get numb and avoid reality?Even if it meant ditching her friend for an unattractive, unknown guy and a bar literally called the Train Wreck? Where was the girl who would shove the voice of reason so far down it couldn’t be heard, then walk out the door avoiding every flapping red flag?

What about the girl who by 8pm on a Saturday had already consumed a bottle of wine or some ungodly amount of IPA, but would still jump at the offer to drive everyone to the bar?

I was that girl. The girl who would trade a perfectly nice night at home with my dog and my friend, for a night of so-called adventure; even if it meant risking my safety, sobriety, and sanity. The so-called adventure never came to fruition of course. The most exciting thing that would happen was chatting up a greasy stranger and making plans which I had no intention of following up on, but for an hour or two they’d be my best friend and soul mate while we bullshitted at the bartop.

Eventually I’d realize I was the only one left, and after finagling one more drink out of the bartender, the “adventure” would continue: me driving home drunk, followed by a confusing sense of elation having made it home without getting pulled over. The elation would fade away with the drunkenness, leaving only a pathetic, fuzzy memory of secrets shared with my “new best friend”, a mouth resembling a cat’s litter box, and my self worth replaced with soul eating shame.

Ican still touch those memories.

I can reach back into them and experience the sadness and fear. It’s not a stretch to see myself in hindsight and pinpoint the exact minute a bad decision was made. I have a few lingering regrets and a ton of compassion for the hours I spent with my legs wrapped around a barstool.

But I don’t stay there. I don’t go under so far that it takes my breath and is a struggle to come back. Because while I might remember what she looked like and how she acted; I am in no way her any longer.

On this Saturday night, I realized how true this is. I’m the girl that genuinely feels excited for a night of brownies and SNL. Honestly concerned that someone might drink and drive, I’m the girl that offers to be D.D. (kind of halfheartedly, ‘cuz I’m loving my pajamas and no way do I want to leave my house past 9pm; but I do care enough to pick up if he calls).

I’m the girl that laughs louder and bigger and realer than I ever did drunk; that’s impressed by the new flavor of sparkling water in my fridge, that is grateful to be planted in my recliner with my dog. Not as a consolation prize either – thinking I need a break from all the partying I’ve been doing. This is the grand champion of Saturdays. This is the me that experiences zero FOMO when it comes to others’ weekend plans.

I’m the girl that looks forward to hangover- free, early morning runs and pancakes. That loves herself and her friends and shows it by not trading time with them for random male attention. The girl that doesn’t feel provoked, even when the drink invitation comes in the form of a dare. I’m the girl who does not for one second miss the smell of the inside of a bar; and who considers time spent at the Train Wreck a legitimate risk of becoming exactly that.

I didn’t know I was this girl…..and then suddenly, I did. Glowing gently from the inside, I found myself. I had been here all along.

There was nothing more I needed, and nowhere I needed to go. Nothing to numb, avoid or search for.

“You sure you’re staying home? It could be fun….”

And the girl who is ME answered uncompromisingly:

“Of course I’m staying home, everything I want is here.”

I’m the girl that’s recovered. Recovering. Recovered.

If you had any doubts, I’m living proof. We can and DO recover.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

Thank you for reading! If you like what you read here, follow me @scrubbedcleanrn (IG and Twitter) and learn more about how to work with me as your personal Life/Recovery Coach at facebook.com/recoverandrise/

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Thank you for reading! If you like what you read here, follow me @scrubbedcleanrn (IG and Twitter) and learn more about how to work with me as your personal Life/Recovery Coach at facebook.com/recoverandrise/