Shannon McDonald’s smile is contagious. She’s funny and kind and has a passion for refurbishing furniture and hitting the trails with her family on their ATVs.
But it wasn’t always this way.
In 2009, Shannon’s life was the stuff addiction is made of: a lack of coping skills “I was a negative person”, a troubled relationship “My husband and I were awful to each other” a legitimate cause for pain prescriptions “migraines and herniated discs” and high-stress job as an emergency room nurse in a Level 1 Trauma Center.
Similar to my experience, Shannon learned the hard way: marijuana’s not the gateway drug, opiate prescription pills are.
This post is longer than usual but worth it! In the following interview, Shannon opens up about procuring drug hookups in jail, suffering withdrawal from heroin, and finally, the joy of recovery.
Recover and Rise: Shannon, how long have you been sober, and what do you define yourself in recovery from?
Shannon: My sober date is Dec 2, 2015. I’ve been in recovery for 4 years and 3 months from drugs, alcohol, job burnout, and a generally crappy attitude – LOL!
I’ve suspected for awhile something is wrong with me. For the last couple of months, I’ve been researching and seeking professional opinions to get to the bottom of my issue.
(And for once it’s nothing to do with addiction, alcoholism, job burnout or codependency!)
My search for answers took me to the National Nurses in Business Association conference, which was held in Las Vegas in September. While my alcohol-free lifestyle made me feel like a total stranger in Sin City, I was blown away by the business leaders, innovators, writers, and coaches all gathered together. Each and every one of them a Nurse!
I also met career coach Nurse Keith. He led a workshop on creating written content and I immediately signed up for his services. After just one session together and a brief examination of my blog, we agreed; I’ve suffered a severe case of BLOGHORREA.
I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze.
“I own a surfboard, but I’m not a surfer.” This is my go-to script when discussing the salty sport.“Surfing is the hardest sport I’ve ever tried.” Is the next sentence that flows off my tongue. It’s all true. I purchased a 9’6” bright red longboard before ever attempting to tackle a wave, and once I did, found it to be the most challenging, intimidating and exhilarating activity I’ve pursued.
Surfing requires balance, coordination, strength, mental composure, a love of water and proclivity for adrenaline. When I first donned a wetsuit at age 30, I didn’t possess many of these attributes. I was physically clumsy, preferred reading on the beach vs. frolicking in the waves, and I’ve got a weird quirk about putting my face under water. I hate it. While I grew up thoroughly enjoying swimming in pools and lakes with my dad and siblings, I would rarely immerse my head. Like a cat, when water touches my face, I instantly recoil. Even in the shower. I know, it’s ridiculous.
(I have a couple theories why this is, but not enough blog space to elaborate. Perhaps another time we’ll examine my two near drownings along with early belief that maintaining a perfectly made up face to gain male attention was more important than letting go to playfully swim. I’ve predominately overcome these, gratefully, but I still swim with my face fully above the surface!)
Submersion underwater is non-negotiable in surfing. My face was going to get wet; no way around it. But when one is 30 years old, in a new relationship, leaping into life in a fresh, adventurous way and one’s boyfriend says, “I want to take you surfing!!” one does not say “I can’t do that, I don’t like to get my face wet”. One purchases a surfboard and wetsuit and faces their watery foe head-on (after vomiting in the grassy dunes on the way to the waterfront.)
My first surf adventure was at Short Sands on the Oregon Coast. Lucky for me, my older brother is an excellent surfer and was there to walk me through the process. I’ll never forget laying shakily atop the unfamiliar red surfboard as he held tightly to the sides, chest deep in the water. When the right wave was near, he’d say “Paddle” and push me ahead of the wave. Next, he’d instruct me to “Get up!” as I struggled to get vertical. The ocean was threatening and unpredictable. My brother: reliable and serene.
I’ve surfed a few dozen times since then, but not well. I’d schlep out into the cold liquid and hours would pass as I fell again and again. I’d make it up to my knees a handful of times, but rarely to my feet. The water was frigid, salt relentlessly stung my eyes, and the neck of my wetsuit suffocated me. Mostly, I stood waist deep with my feet firmly planted on the sand, looking out toward limitless rolling waves, hoping everyone was too busy to notice I hardly tried.
Besides avoiding plunging my face under, I was burdened with all the “normal” fears associated with entering a vast, creature-filled body of water:
Deep, primal fear of what lies beneath the surface: jelly fish, stingrays, and sharks oh my!
Fear of possible and probable injury: surfboards are hard when they hit your head and fins are VERY sharp when they cut your ankle, thigh or arm
Fear of unpredictable, merciless currents, waves and riptides: the ocean has a reputation of tumbling people like socks in a giant washing machine.
Signage along the shore warns of the risks assumed by stepping into the sea. The ocean plays by her own rules, and if you don’t know or understand them, you can easily end up a victim to the game.
All of that sounds awful as I put it on paper. “Why do it at all?” you ask. (I’m asking myself as I write this as well.)
I persisted because my partner at the time was into it and it was something to do as a couple. It was also an activity in common with my brother and bonding moments with him were rare and special. I persisted because it was the sexy thing to do. It feels young and trendy to wear a bikini top and a wetsuit pulled up to my waist, flaunting natural beachy waves in my hair. I persisted to belong; to join the after party without feeling like a fraud on dry land when everyone else had kicked ass in, or had their ass kicked by, the ocean.
More significant were the few exceptional moments when I got it. I mean really got it. The wave swelled under me, my body found its way upright and I maintained a balanced, athletic posture all the way to the foamy whitewater at the shore; the moment I caught a wave. That was a feeling I wanted more of. A feeling of alive seldom achieved in any other sport.
That sensation was so pleasant, so magnetic, it was worth facing all my aforementioned fears. Besides, I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze. Somehow, I’d make it safely to dry land and move on to more savory pastimes such as reading, beach combing, and more drinking. Alcohol washed away worry and Vicodin dulled the dread as I hesitantly paddled out into the Pacific, though they certainly never assisted in gaining balance or expertise.
WARNING: Do not ever surf under the influence. I am in no way insinuating substances ACTUALLY made me brave. They simply numbed my fear. Which means they also numbed my joy. And then I became an addict and lost my job and many relationships and almost my nursing license along with my dignity and it’s taken me years to overcome the shame and sickness that ensued from thinking it was a good idea to self-medicate. I’m simply relaying how my brain worked at the time, before I understood the catastrophic consequences and life-threatening risks I was taking and before I truly loved myself. Ok, with that out of the way….
The seductive call of surfing sang to me again in Costa Rica, while traveling with family. The waves were comparatively warm and small, but I was no less terrified than I’d been in the polar Pacific. All my previous fears remained, with one major distinction: I had no addictive crutch to calm my shaking nerves.
In Costa Rica I would be surfing sober, and I lacked a backup coping mechanism. I longed for a super strong IPA and little white pill to transform my cowardice into (false) confidence.
Especially as a woman in recovery from religious trauma, self-loathing, perfectionism, opiates and alcohol, the ability to walk around with the experience that “I am absolutely OK just as I am” is nothing less than a miracle.
It’s been 10 consecutive days camping, hiking, swimming and posting up in driveways. The evidence is indisputable:
I have not changed out of my Olakai sandals, except for ONCE when I used the local Planet Fitness in Eureka California. My feet are toughened up for the barefoot season, to put it nicely. (I did book a pedicure today. I’m camping, but a girl still has needs.)
I’ve not worn a bra once, only occasional tank top like sports bras. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know I probably don’t NEED a bra. (refer to this early blog. Fair warning: not my best material. Raw, genuine, but pre-writing course and I’m not taking the time to edit.) From the looks of the locals, I don’t think this part of Oregon requires the undergarment.
My skin is glowing with summer tan. And by tan, I mean my freckles have grown together close enough that from a distance, if you squint your eyes, I appear to have a mild bronze sheen. I’ll take it, it’s the best I can ask for.
My eyes are sparkling, my gait nonchalant and my face relaxed. (Ok, that could be the botox I got right before the trip…) Schedules/plans/obligations are beginning to feel like a thing of the past.
It’s official. I’m in vacation mode. After a week of reveling in the foggy western coastline and brilliant green shade of Northern California’s Redwoods, it was time to head inland for sunnier times.
Meandering northeast, I stopped for the night in Eagle Point, Oregon where I met a charismatic, van-owning woman whom impacted my life significantly in a matter of hours. She gifted me a homemade smudge stick, added me to a women’s only online van community, and generously shared the journey of her grief/healing process when our conversation turned to aging dogs and loss of parents. She introduced me to Laurie Anderson’s documentary “Heart of a Dog”, and showed me mementos such as a healing candle from her mother’s service, and gorgeous glass pendant created from her beloved dog’s ashes by Psyche Cremation Jewelry in Bend, Oregon (which as you know was my next stop!) Cassie – my own special canine soulmate – is still very much alive, but a large part of my trip’s purpose has been to celebrate her life and prepare for inevitable loss as she begins to slow down at 14 years old. And always, in the back of my mind, are thoughts of how and when I’ll begin to deal with my father’s passing in 2017. So much occurred in one brief night at Eagle Point, it’s hard to explain in a paragraph. Just trust me; I was meant to meet this woman.
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.
I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.
Two point five years ago, I had to leave my position as a nurse in Critical Care due to probably the most shameful and disturbing reasons a nurse can imagine.
It feels nothing short of miraculous that I’ve been given an opportunity to return.
(Although some might say I’m returning to the scene of the crime, and they would technically be correct.)
For nearly five of my 14 years as a nurse, I worked in CCU and loved the job, despite its flaws. I felt at home in the role. But I completely mismanaged the stress in my life, making tragic and regretful decisions.
For the background on my detour away from “overachiever” into “Real Life Nurse Jackie” check out this BLOG I wrote, publicly declaring myself as an addict.
I was let go from the job, spent three months in treatment and submerged myself in recovery. Since returning to work, I’ve been employed in lower acuity areas than CCU, working my way up – but stayed on night shift because it’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable mentally and physically.
Probably beginning somewhere early last Fall, I felt in my soul it was time to take another step forward. I reached out to key people in administration, asking their blessing to apply for a new position. I also talked it over with my case manager and my sober support system.
My current goals aren’t that different from my childhood resolutions, but my outlook is much healthier. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”, and I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.
New Year’s Eve is one holiday I love, even sober. (Especially Sober!) As a kid, my BFF Jenny and I celebrated with a sleepover. We made our favorite bean dip (literally just canned refried beans topped with melted cheese), then rang in the new year by clanging pots and pans with wooden spoons on the front porch. Our poor neighbors!
But I’ve never taken New Year’s resolutions too seriously. The last time I officially set them I was probably 12. They undoubtedly went like this:
Talk to ____ ASAP and get him to like me
Eat 1000 calories a day MAX (no more PIZZA!)
Write in diary every day
I would then immediately scarf down pizza (still my fav food!) and write in my diary for about 3 consecutive days before getting distracted. I did follow through with passing a note to the boy I liked, after which he promptly let me know how much I repulsed him.
My current life goals aren’t that different, but my outlook is much healthier. You could still call me boy crazy, I struggle with emotional eating, and I aim to write daily in a journal yet fall short frequently. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”. I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.
(But I do get nostalgic for that big dish filled with bean dip, and the vibration of pots and pans under my spoon as Jenny and I whacked away, our pajama clad legs chilled by the night air.)
This New Year’s Eve, I’m reflecting on my decisions from 2018 – my second full year in active recovery – to see what worked and what I want to avoid in the future.
Top 5 tools that helped me stay sober in 2018:
Mindfulness is not just a buzzword (though when I first heard it I rolled my eyes painfully). Diagnostics such as MRI (detailed brain scans) prove that a consistent meditation practice can improve the brain in a number of ways – including decreasing addictive habits. I’m proof this is true. Mindfulness is the concept that has become my lifestyle and source of spirituality. Meditation is the tool, or exercise, to sustain it. What I love about this custom is that it’s inherently positive, with core values of loving kindness, gratitude and compassion. It keeps the focus calmly on the present, not anxiously tied up in the past or future. My routine involves attending/facilitating meetings with guided group meditations and a fairly consistent home practice, though it’s always a work in progress! Mindfulness helps me cultivate self-awareness and observe my thoughts vs. being a victim of them. My mind can be chaotic, negative, and limiting; I get to choose whether or not to get attached to that. (I have really exciting news about how I’m furthering my meditation education in 2019 to be of even more service to others!! Info coming soon!!)
As an extroverted introvert, I recharge alone. I thrive for hours (days even???) with my face in a book, lost in my own world. That doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely value, cherish and need intimate connections. I’ve self-medicated to numb loneliness and rejection for a long time. Recovery gives me the gift of connection, and She Recovers is a blessing of highest proportions. I used to feel like a lost speck of space dust hurling aimlessly through the sky. Now it’s as though I’m energetically connected to countless other stars; threaded into a tapestry of constellations, each of us with a significant and solid place in the universe. Face to face events like this one are examples of how we support one another. There’s also a secret Facebook group – it’s open to all women, just secret for privacy. (Are you a woman who wants to join? Email me!) Locally, I stay connected through meetings with others who share similar struggles (My program is Refuge Recovery). Staying close with friends and family who aren’t in the sober squad is fulfilling as well. When I lose connection, and feel (or create) isolation, it’s easy to revert to negative, selfish thinking. Supported, empowered and encouraged within a community, I’ve got a much higher chance of sober success.
If I’m only accountable to myself, I abandon my ambitions. Alone with my thoughts and schemes, I rationalize unhealthy habits, justifying how it’s perfectly OK to “drink just one”, skip meetings or be a “just a little” dishonest. To avoid this pitfall, I stay accountable in a number of ways. The most formal is random drug tests to maintain my nursing license. So as much as I hate someone watching me pee, I’m very grateful for this commitment! Involvement in a recovery community – including local meetings and social media – plays a major role in reliability. I want to be an example that recovery is possible. I want to represent a drug and alcohol free way of life and do everything possible to end stigma. Being of service, volunteering, and partnering with clients keeps my focus outward and forward; helping others ultimately helps me.
Lifting in the gym (THANK YOU to my trainer @Onerepatatime_ !), running outside, or skiing in the winter…frequent physical activity boosts my mood. I find myself craving it in the best way and consider it necessary for sober success. Initially, I had to drag myself to get going. With time and consistency, I really look forward to moving and sweating. It’s especially useful to turn around negative, triggered, anxious or depressed thoughts. Yoga is more than a physical survival tool, it’s holistically healing and an integral part of my exercise/spiritual routine. Nutrition plays a big role in mood, memory, libido, and energy level, so abstaining from toxic substances like alcohol and drugs is a given, but keeping sugar to a minimum and eating whole healthy food has proven to be a challenge for me in 2018. I’ve struggled with sugar cravings even this far into sobriety. Room for growth in the upcoming year!
In 2018 I founded my business, completed a business mentorship and 6 month writing program, wrote a book proposal, built up a social media platform, traveled to Iceland, Paris, & France, drove my Van thousands of miles with a dog as my sidekick, dated a handful of idiots and a few nice guys, published a bunch of articles, and had a bunch more rejected. I overcame obstacles, enforced boundaries, and lost some relationships. I succeeded at many things, and “failed” at many more. In my experience, failure is a necessary part of the adventure. It’s so cliche!! But it means I tried something that was scary and out of my comfort zone requiring courage. Some of you may remember my blog was initially named “Tiffany Tries Again”. Before I disclosed my addiction, I was simply sharing a series of challenging and often humorous undertakings, hoping it would inspire you to keep trying, regardless of outcomes. This is one of my early blogs discussing just that. (And it isn’t one of my best. But that’s really OK.) If I don’t fail a whole bunch in 2019, it’s because I’ve given up and gone to bed. Please break down my door if this happens. (Refer to importance of “connection” and “accountability” above!)
And….3 things I want to avoid…..
Placing others on a pedestal
My internal compass generally steers me right. But I’m not exempt from disregarding it completely and taking over navigation. Sometimes I make decisions based on ego and selfish motivation and it hurts when I’m forced to recognize it.I learned the HARD way this year that regardless of years of sobriety, or status in the media, publishing world, or recovery community….every one of us is flawed. We are capable of letting others down. I let someone shine a little too bright in my Universe this last year, and it was painful when the light went dim. My goal in 2019 is to stay on course and use discernment. This means making an effort to view all with balance and compassion; admiring without setting outlandish and admittedly selfish expectations. (I apologize for the ambiguity of this paragraph, but the details of who/what are not nearly as important as the overarching message.)
Saying Yes when the answer is obviously “NO”
There were wayyyy too many times last year I ignored my gut and went full speed ahead into disaster and disappointment. This is NOT to be confused with taking healthy risks and going on adventures! I’m talking about saying yes when I absolutely know I should avoid something. Ignoring that internal compass again! This includes saying yes to fun things when the smarter self care is take a bath, go to the gym, or even work (to pay for the fun stuff!) Another example is saying yes to a date even when I was too tired, too grumpy, too triggered, or too vulnerable. There were too many shopping excursions frantically looking for a date outfit; too much time on hair, makeup and sending selfies checking for my girlfriends’ approval. Meanwhile my heart and gut were urging me to STAY the HELL HOME. I’d show up for the date and immediately regret it, feeling like a fool for my day of pampering. My plan in 2019? You got it. Stay the hell home and relish every minute of Netflix and pajamas. I also think maybe I should plan a garage sale….seriously, I can’t believe the amount of pointless clothes I bought this year.
OK, I sort of lied.
I thought I’d have a definite 3rd thing I don’t want to repeat in 2019. Last year was a roller coaster of joyous, painful, even embarrassing experiences. But thinking back over mistakes I made and chances I took, I don’t think I’d change much. Even if I’m not in love with every bit of 2018’s reflection, I’m honestly satisfied with my current station in life. All of there is what got me here. I hope to say that again at the end of 2019.
Thank you for encouraging, supporting and sharing with me in this journey. I hope it’s inspired you to love yourself and believe you can overcome anything. Or at the least, showed you what not to do and saved you some heartache.
Cheers to a happy, healthy and bright 2019!
Is a SOBER lifestyle your goal? I wish you complete success!
If you would like accountability, support and structure with addiction recovery or life transition, I would love to help!
Check out my website for program details, or schedule a FREE call with me here!
***I’M HOSTING A FREE ONLINE VISION BOARD WORKSHOP JANUARY 19TH! EMAIL ME TO SIGN UP ASAP! REGISTRATION ENDS JANUARY 9TH.***
Alex may not have wanted me, personally, but the “rejection” isn’t personal. It’s subjective; a projection of his own reality. Other’s opinions and preferences have little to nothing to do with us. They most definitely do not have bearing on our value.
After a week of exchanging lightly sarcastic and flirty texts, Alex and I arranged our first date. We met on a beach in the late afternoon, a ferry ride away from my house. Cassie, my dog, spent 90 minutes chasing a worn green tennis ball across the sand while Alex and I got acquainted. With each inquiry, we uncovered all we have in common.
I drive a sweet Volkswagen van; he’s a huge fan and owned one until recently.
He’s had a successful career in commercial work and television; I’ve moonlighted as the face of Tulalip Casino TV ads, and appeared on Amazon Video Shorts selling camping gear. (totally amateur on my part, but still so fun to say I did!)
He’s passionate about fly-fishing; I spent countless summer months casting for salmon with my dad.
First dates are meant to suss out compatibility, but it’s a delicate balancing act. We expect a genuine introduction, but don’t need to show all our skeletons. Too much digging can result in over-analyzing and sabotaging potential.
There’s bound to be areas of disagreement. That’s ok. I’m pro-discernment (it’s fair to be picky!), but incompatibilities at this early stage should be judged lightly. Who cares if he’s considering moving out of state in two years, is undecided on future children, or would rather spend evenings home playing cards than seeing live music?
It’s JUST a first date.
Alex and I achieved this comfortable balance. Not too hot, not too cold. No overt sexual innuendo, but he was charming and more-than-friendly. I thought so anyway. The air cooled as the sun went down behind the ocean. Alex asked if I was hungry and we spent the next few minutes reading yelp reviews of local restaurants and negotiating gastropub vs. sushi.
The Gastropub won. I was buoyed by the fact that he wanted to continue through a meal. We’d intended the date to be casual and open ended. If we hit it off, we agreed it could range from a quick walk on the beach to other end of the spectrum – an overnight stay at the house his company was renting on the island. He’d mentioned the spectacular water view and hot tub. “Since you’re taking a ferry such a long way, maybe you’ll want to crash over night.”
I firmly informed him that hot tub time wasn’t guaranteed, but I wasn’t ruling it out. Safety and responsibility come first, yet I was optimistic. on dates. When Cassie and I hopped in the car and headed to the ferry terminal, there was a sexy little bikini and toothbrush neatly tucked away in my bag.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but I found him attractive and intriguing. I don’t make a habit of casual sex, one night stands, or even first date kissing. But I’m not averse if it feels right. As we laughed together at the beach, then swooned in tandem over a bacon/date/cheese appetizer, it was starting to feel right.
Alex ordered a glass of red wine and I had my standby- Ice tea. The customary question-answer transpired as I deigned to order alcohol. “I don’t ever drink.” I said, smiling. “How long has that been your choice?” He asked. (BTW – that’s a nice approach to glean info without sounding critical.) I answered, and we moved on from the subject; no awkward silences, no need to press the issue.
Per Alex’s prompting, I’d ordered an expensive crab risotto entree. It was full of rich seafood, butter and oregano. We shared bites off each other’s plates and I asked for a box to take the rest of my large portion home. He paid the bill and held the door open for me as we walked out into the late evening.
We arrived at my car and I set my “doggie bag” on the seat. When I turned around, Alex stood a few feet away fidgeting with his hands. Ignoring my trepidation, I brightly asked “What’s next? What’s our options?”
His eyes got big. He swallowed. “Um, yeah. We have options. Sure.” I quirked an eyebrow at him. “What’s up, Alex?”
His seemed to have trouble forming words. “Well, so. I’m trying to. You know. I need to. Um. I need to listen to my intuition. What I’m trying to say. I just didn’t see this – us- going anywhere.”
It was painful to watch. I took mercy on him. “You’re saying we don’t have chemistry? Right?”
“Yes! Exactly. I’m so sorry.”
Contorting my face into a tight, fake smile and opening my eyes wide as possible to repress unwanted tears, I said “Oh, GOOD!!” in a loud, overly cheerful voice.
Only it wasn’t good.
I’ve never been turned down on a date. I’ve been “ghosted.” Disappointed. Avoided. Dumped. Blocked even. But never has a man looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, our few hours together have shown me how much I don’t like you. My intuition says this won’t work. I’d like you to keep your clothes on and go home.”
I have to give him credit though; he was so contrite. “Tiffany, you’re really nice. Thanks for coming all the way out…You can still crash at the house. You can have my room, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Choking back tears and laughter, my first thought was wonder what the rest of the crew is like? Maybe someone worth meeting there…..
NO. I don’t need a consolation prize.
“I think I WON’T do that. I’ll catch the last ferry home. Thanks again, for the ridiculously expensive risotto. I feel bad I ordered it. I wish I would have known how you felt before I ordered. I totally appreciate your honesty though. Truly.”
Busying myself getting Cassie out of the car, I allowed Alex the time to walk away and for both of us to keep a shred of dignity. As soon as she was leashed and and we’d taken a few steps, the tears fell.
What the fuck? What’s wrong with me? What did I do?
My thoughts went crazy, scrutinizing every single detail of the night. What turned him off? I checked my outfit: Not slutty. Not boring. He’d chosen me initially based on photos, and I looked just like myself.
Was I too aggressive? Too chatty? He was soft spoken, but held up his side of the conversation. Maybe I was overbearing. Did I share too much about my past? I didn’t think so. Alex asked about my daughter’s dad, and I answered honestly but simply that we’d tried to make it work; we’d married twice. Alex shared too. We both disclosed a little about former flames.
I was forthcoming that I’m not very close to my mom or brothers right now. Alex said he couldn’t imagine that. He praised his tight knit family and called his stepmom one of his heroes. Maybe he couldn’t picture adding me as a branch on his family tree.
But I wasn’t interested in putting down roots together. We never even broached the subject, “What are you looking for? Marriage? Kids? How soon?”
My biggest fear is that I’ll be judged by my former addiction and won’t find someone who can overlook it and love me unconditionally, but my sober lifestyle didn’t seem to phase Alex. Of course, I never gave him the chance to condemn me; I never mentioned drugs or probation.
For undivulged reasons, Alex deemed me unattractive enough to spend even one more minute with. Although he kept repeating I was “really nice.” I guess that counts for something.
I’ve yet to ascertain Alex’s reasoning. The following evening, I sent a lighthearted text asking if he’d participate in a post-date survey. I admitted I wasn’t convinced we had a long term future based on our short 180 minutes together, but I had fun and was surprised by the blunt termination. His reply was cryptic. “My head and heart are still buffering. Perhaps I could respond later today?”
But the response never came. I’ve been left to ponder and dissect my weaknesses alone, wondering where I failed. (I still think maybe I over-shared when I mentioned my ability to eat a pound of bacon in one sitting. But if you can’t love me for that, we’re doomed anyway.)
My first reaction to rejection is shame. It feels like a sharp weapon, and causes deep painful injuries if we allow it. I default to self-condemnation and self-doubt. But there’s another option. I don’t have to be a victim, and I don’t have to turn to self-loathing. It’s totally possible to reframe my thinking. (Hint: I learned this in Mindfulness courses!)
I can choose to understand that nothing is personal.
Alex may not have wanted me, personally, but the “rejection” isn’t personal. It’s subjective; a projection of his own reality. Other’s opinions and preferences have little to nothing to do with us. They most definitely do not have bearing on our value. (For an excellent explanation of this phenomenon, check out The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.)
Example: Let’s say Alex won’t date me and feels aversion toward me because I’ve been married before. (I think the odds of this are good. He did seem a little shocked when I explained my previous weddings.)
I have choices.
Chastise myself for being married and divorced, therefore not acceptable. Shame myself for being impure and less than enough. Hate myself for not being lovable.
Realize Alex’s reality is only personal to him. His opinions were cultivated over decades. His parent’s divorce likely skewed his viewpoint. His religion, background, culture, memories, and experiences are the deciding factors. Not me.
Alex’s decision has nothing to do with my worth or quality. I can allow Alex to have his experience and keep my ego out of it. His perspective is based on the conditioning of his consciousness.
It just so happens his consciousness was conditioned to say NO, he ultimately did NOT want to soak in a hot tub with me wearing a Costa Rican made, Brazilian cut bikini that night. Or ever. (To be fair, I didn’t exactly tell him about the suit.)
Letting go of the personal nature of an exchange with another human isn’t easy or immediate. I’m still irked. I still have a shred of hope that he’ll text and let me know what the hell he was thinking and what ultimately made up his mind. What if he’s hanging on to crucial info that could help me improve for my next date??
But instead of suffering needlessly, clinging to negative feelings or letting this sabotage my self-esteem, I see it as a chance to develop self-compassion.
When I became single and began dating, a very close friend told me that this era of my life: “Isn’t about finding the right guy. It’s about you. What you’re really doing is dating yourself.”
She’s so exactly right. (Thanks Tori! You’re brilliant.) I’m not doomed to feel rejected. And even though Alex didn’t show me any love, our date was nowhere near a failure. It’s a golden opportunity to practice the only love I really need right now; radical self-love.
Cheers to Loving Yourself Wholly,
Do you want to stop taking things personally? Are you ready to let go of self-doubt or shame that might be holding you back?
I’d love to help you learn and practice mindfulness tools that will help move you towards your highest well-being!
Schedule your FREE discovery call, and check out my website for more info on my services.
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?