The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Long Beach Surf Shop, Ucluelet BC

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

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

I made a conscious decision to believe him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stayed in my body.

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

“Get up!” He called out.

I stayed in my body.

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

I stayed in my body.

I caught the wave.

I caught every single wave I paddled for.

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Wickanninish Beach, Ucluelet BC. Surf Success!

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

Instead, I just surfed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cassie enjoying Wickanninish Beach

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

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 5 tools that helped me stay sober in 2018:

Meditation/Mindfulness

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

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Connection/Community

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

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Shout out to Hannah! Connection is essential.

Accountability

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

Physical Health

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

Failing

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

 

And….3 things I want to avoid…..

Placing others on a pedestal

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

Saying Yes when the answer is obviously “NO”

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

OK, I sort of lied.

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

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

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Cheers to a happy, healthy and bright 2019!

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

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

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

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

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com