That joke isn't funny.

This past weekend, a post by Mel Robbins reminded me to take action and stand up against the perpetuation of problems that not only effect me, but tear down people I care about.

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Brene Brown has encouraged us (in a number of her books) to be brave - to not sit by quietly and passively let racist or oppressive comments be tolerated in our presence. Going against the grain like this might land us in a place where we are discriminated against or abused ourselves - but this is the risk we take for the sake of integrity and respect for our fellow human beings.

Making jokes that promote racism or misogyny are intolerable. It is not funny to generalize, insult or berate a group of people, as part of a campaign to keep a majority group in power. Thank you to those who stand up in these situations to say, that’s not funny. You are raising awareness and changing the way people think.

And so what about people who make jokes about alcoholism? Should I sit quietly while people promote abusive drinking and laugh about the so-called benefits, which in fact are the cause of dis-ease, abuse and death? There is absolutely nothing funny about alcohol abuse. We know it, yet many of us will not stand up and say it out of fear of being stigmatized. We don’t want to be the buzz-kill, right?

As a recovery coach, I refer many of my clients to Mel Robbins and her personal development programs. Currently she is offering a Mindset Reset, which encourages people to look at their negative thinking patterns and make choices to think deliberate affirmative thoughts instead. It is a brilliant and free program, and I am grateful she offers it. This weekend however I was disappointed to see that given everything she has said to us about mental health, anxiety and honesty that she would then contradict it all with an inappropriate post about alcohol abuse.

In her book the 5 second rule, Mel tells us our mind wants the best for us, so if we can use her 5 second method to motivate us into action - we will inherently do what is best for us. In her recent post she said she uses the 5 second rule to get herself to the liquor store to buy wine before the shelves go bare on a weekend of a snow storm. The joke was about how, depending on the severity of the weather we will need to stock up on wine to get us through the weekend. - up to 25 bottles of wine… Is this really what the 5 second rule is about? Of course not. Getting plastered on wine is not what is best for us. We know that, but we are supposed to find humour in the idea anyway. Unfortunately, this kind of humour justifies and perpetuates a culture of abusive drinking. If someone like me stands up to say this is actually not cool - alcohol abuse actually makes people sick and is a major problem for mental health for millions of people - well, I must just be defensive, because I have a problem.

Yes, I do have a problem with alcohol, and so do the people I support and represent. In the past I bought into the idea that drinking (and heavy drinking was a good time) until I learned the truth about alcohol. It is an addictive drug. Abuse of alcohol is not a laughing matter. Wine memes, jokes and the promotion of alcohol abuse should not be supported.

As much as I admire Mel Robbins, I am also concerned about the message she sends about alcohol. She is a model for so many people, and her actions will set a standard for others to live by. She is not perfect, none of us are, but I hope she will recognize the impact of the messages she sends and as a role model for us all, discontinue her jokes about alcohol abuse.

The best apology is not a change of behavior.

When I quit drinking I felt like my life was an apology. This deliberate change, was my way of showing the world, I was sorry for the way I lived my life and I was willing to change my ways. The expression “the best apology is a change of behavior” was my mantra. I was truly sorry, but unfortunately I did not understand how a proper apology works. You see, I have been holding onto the expectation that because I have taken this step to change my ways, that the people who have hurt me, might then apologize back to me. I had expectations. I made assumptions.

I thought…maybe these people who hurt me would also change their ways? Maybe they would come to me and say… “I am sorry for the things I have said and done to hurt you Karyn, can we try to make things right and move forward in this life together, as healed and happy people?” This never happened, even though I spent an enormous amount of time wishing it would - time I can’t get back.

What I refused to recognize all this time, is that people will never see things from my perspective. In most cases, people have good intentions and do not mean to hurt others. Typically, people hurt other people as part of a ripple effect of the pain they experience themselves. If they’ve done you wrong, it’s not about you - it is about them. They are simply trying to cope.

The real shame about all of this is about the people who were in fact, there for me. The voices of the supporters that were dampened by my angst about those who ‘done me wrong’. While I was wishing for certain people to come to me and make things right, I was unable to accept the love and support that was actually coming to me from others. There have been a number of kind and generous people who have reached out, and keep reaching out, to help me through my difficult times. These people have not been thanked - not like they should be. For that I’m sorry.

I’m also genuinely sorry about my failed relationships. I have blamed others for a long time. Indeed, I have something to apologize for as well. I must be accountable for my part in the breakdown of these relationships.

I disagree that the best apology is a change of behaviour. The best apology is the use of words to communicate to other people, what you have done and how you take ownership of it with regret. And then… to have zero expectations of an apology in return. The hardest part about an apology is the truth - the truth that you yourself were in the wrong, and there is nobody else to blame.

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It takes one to know one.

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I can still feel the sting of his words, even though it was over a year ago they were said. A guy that I exercise with said to me… “Why would I hire a life coach, who clearly doesn’t have their life figured out?” At the time, I was in the midst of my life coaching and recovery coaching training, and this question gutted me. He made me feel like a phony. Who was I to think I could help people work their way through depression, anxiety, addiction? Who was I to think I could help someone to see their strengths, set goals and achieve health and happiness? I myself had yet to overcome my mental health issues, and had not yet proven success with running my own business. Some days, I think of his statement and still feel the pain of self-doubt, insecurity and shame. Days like today.

But the real question I need ask myself in these moments of self doubt is… Who am I not to help others? Who am I not to use my skills and training? Who am I not to try to show up as the best version of myself I can be? I refer to Marianne Williamson’s words:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It is because I know depression so intimately that I can empathize with clients who are suffering. It is because I know what it is like to be afraid to walk out my front door, or go to the grocery store, that I can hold space for someone else with anxiety. It is because I have spent 30 years stuck in the cycle of addiction, that I can help another person step into sobriety. If I didn’t have this pain, I would not be able to bring my unique experience to the coaching relationship. A good coach is not someone who can only boast success and perfect health. A good coach is someone who can meet you where you are at. Someone who can listen, advocate and support you as you move through the stages of change. It is because of my ongoing struggle, that I will never, ever become the person who separates herself from you and claim to be someone who is more successful or further ahead than you - rather I am someone who walks along side you - knowing we are the same. We are all doing the best we can.

Sean Corne (yogi) said it the first time I heard it, she explained… “If you want to know your life’s purpose, go to your wound. This is where the light comes in”. I’ve seen it many places since. It keeps me going. Perhaps it will help you today too.

When your heart is two sizes too small

As much as I know it is a symptom of depression and a seriously distorted way to think, I am often (very often actually) consumed with the feeling that people don’t like me. There is a part of my thought process that tells me, it isn’t true, but there is the other part that aligns with the dark feelings of insecurity and worthlessness. How can a smart person like me, who is gifted with such a beautiful life, be so wrapped up in these senseless symptoms of depression? Honestly, I don’t know. I have tried to figure it out - but I don’t really know what has caused this. Perhaps it was my childhood? Trauma? Genetics? Really, it doesn’t matter how I got to this point, it matters where I go from here.

I’ve had two basic behaviours that result from my negative beliefs. First, I have tried to shower these supposed haters, with gifts and attention to try to win over their approval. I have been known to go way above and beyond to impress a boss or friend who has shown signs of disliking me (most likely normal behaviour that I interpret as offensive). I do this thinking it might change the climate between us. But of course when the assumption on my behalf is that I’m fundamentally hated, the results never turn out well. I have also gone wild organizing community events, clubs and parties - all with the driving desire for belonging in a group that rejects me (supposedly).

The other option is to hide. I seclude myself, for fear of running into the haters and enduring the shame, embarrassment and humiliation that comes with being in the presence of the happy people who hate my guts. On some level I know it’s not as bad as I am feeling… but still, I’m overwhelmed. So, I avoid, and make excuses.

Lately (the past couple of years) I’ve gone with the second option - hiding. I’ve avoided my kids activities ie hockey, dance or soccer - because I fear the parents I have to deal with. I have avoided going to grocery stores for fear of running into haters and getting dirty looks or passed by with out acknowledgement. I have opted out of exercise classes, yoga studios and party invites, all because of the anxiety I have about painful encounters. There is almost nowhere left I can go in the small town where I don’t vibrate with stress about who might be hating me.

So what can be done about this miserable symptom of depression? First of all, the fact that I know it is a distortion and not all true is somewhat comforting, but this information does not seem to be able to calm the stormy weather of my emotions. Here is what I have concluded - after having done everything - and I mean EVERYTHING my doctor and counselors have told me to do in the past. (ie. medication, CBT, etc etc)

1) Accept that my mind is flawed. my thoughts and emotions are not always going to be in alignment, so do not keep the expectation that I should be something or someone I’m not. I have a dark side - this is me.

2) Tap into the light. Even in my most miserable moments I have learned that I have gifts that can help other people. This morning for example, I taught a yoga and mindfulness class to a group of people who were so grateful and truly moved by the experience. Their lives are not easy, but my class helped them through their day. This brought the light in for me.

3) Cherish the love. I am aware that my life is essentially a cake-walk. Things are so much easier for me that most people on the planet. I cannot take this for granted. There are also two little people who adore me and I adore them. This I can work with.

4) Get back up on the horse. So, I get knocked down. Sometimes several times a day. But there are moments when the amazing, strong and powerful part of me surfaces and I feel like I can take on the world. So, while I’m in these moments, I’ll get everything I can accomplished. And while I’m not in these moments I’ll have patience. I’ll wait.

5) Write for posterity. I am aware that my father’s mind was a lot like my mind is today. He didn’t work on it. He let it consume him. For my children, should they ever be in this state, and for my community of people with depression, this is for you. I’m writing about this to reduce stigma, and to contribute to conversations and solutions. Depressed people are doing amazing things all over the world - despite their illness, but under the extreme heaviness of it. One thing that has helped me, and will perhaps help you - is to know that others are going through this too.

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Yes, you can quit drinking on your own.

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One thing you don’t hear about addiction is that is is possible to recover on your own. Rather what we are told is that people should go to 12-step programs or rehab, if they want to be successful at beating their addiction. The popular advice may be to seek out professional help, but the reality is that millions of addicted people are navigating their own recovery - and finding success with it. I know this because I was one of these people.

In the beginning stages of my recovery, I spent a lot of time reading about nutrition and wellness. I didn’t even dive into the subject of addiction because I was still dabbling in denial. I just wasn’t ready to say my life was uncomfortable because of addiction, but I could wrap my head around calling myself a health nut.

At a later stage, I would skulk around in book stores flipping through books about addiction, but never buying them. I wanted to bring them home and devour them, but couldn’t bring myself to carry them to the front desk and have the check-out person judge me for my purchase.

I would read articles and blogs about addiction on the internet, and could relate to the stories on many levels. I wanted to dig deeper but felt ashamed of buying a book (online and having it delivered) that might reveal to my husband, family or friends that addiction was a real problem for me.

Eventually, I ordered a book from Amazon, and casually mentioned to my husband that I might need to explore my relationship with alcohol. To my surprise, he was not shocked. I think he had been waiting for the day with great anticipation - hoping I would take some action towards changing my lifestyle.

I started to order book after book, and read each one in day or two after arrival at my front door. I read over 100 books about addiction and recovery, before I was ever comfortable enough with the my identity as someone who was addicted and required recovery.

From the start though, I was someone who valued long-term gain over short-term pain. I knew my lifestyle was making me sick and bringing me down, and that it needed a significant change to improve my future. I believed in myself enough to know that I would do what it would take to make changes. I didn’t know what those changes were going to be - but I was going to get it done.

Many of us are able to make it through the contemplative stage of change (beginning stages of recovery) on our own. What do we have in common that makes us candidates for success? Endurance and Resourcefulness.

Endurance: We can commit to a long-haul, and dedicate copious amounts of energy and hope, without giving up.

Resourcefulness: We are able to do the research, tap into our past experience and contacts and get creative about building a plan - and evaluating it as we go.

Much later, after many months of practicing an alcohol free life, I began to get involved in group programs (SMART Recovery) and taking courses (Addiction Studies). I would never have been able to embrace these programs in the beginning stages of recovery. I needed my privacy and pace - and the right to decide what was okay, and not okay for me.

Many people believe that AA or a group program is essential for recovery, particularly in the very beginning stages of getting sober. This may be true for some individuals, but not for all. In my opinion, we all take a different route to freedom. It matters more that we just get there, than how we get there.

Five ways to feel fantastic, for those who choose to live alcohol free.

A big part of living alcohol free is learning how to feel great and have fun. Yes, I said “learning” because bringing back joy takes practice and skill. Up until the time you decide to quit drinking, most of your fun was somehow wrapped up (paired with) booze. After drinking for a long while the joy in the experience comes strictly from the buzz and no longer from the activity. Did you ever find yourself sitting with people, drinking, and wondering what it was you ever had in common? Have you ever wondered if you would do half of the things you were doing if alcohol wasn't involved? Once you decide to quit, it comes time to re-visit what and who actually brings you joy. What is fun for You? What's your dream?

Here are a few ways to get back in touch with what makes you happy.

Stretch your awareness muscle: practice visualization. Go back to your childhood and remember the things you did just because you got a kick out them. Did you like to play games outside? Roller coasters? Dungeons and dragons? Crafts and creative art? Music? Sit with that visualization and try to picture how that kind of fun would look for you now. Warning: you may get super inspired and run outside to bust out a cartwheel… be careful. That can hurt in your 40s or 50s (if you don't stretch ;)

Pay attention to coincidences: when you find yourself thinking of something you want, or someone you want to connect with, and suddenly they appear, or a sign presents itself - pay attention to that. You are making things happen. You are manifesting your future. Get specific about what you want and enjoy the benefits of making the law of attraction work for you.

Appreciate your gifts. In a moment of self doubt or insecurity remember your greatness and spread the love. The other day I felt sorry for myself and arrived in a miserable state to my yoga class. Then things changed. I realized there were people there who needed me, who were asking for the gifts I had to share. I had the tools and the energy to help them through their tough times. Being able to help others can fill you up. And I mean really fill you up more than any chemical depressant like alcohol could ever do.

Practice laughing. It takes muscle to laugh so build those smile muscles. Learn some jokes, always be prepared. Watch funny movies and find fun people to spend your time with. Make time in your day for silly stuff. I like to laugh with my kids. They are quite hilarious. If you don't have kids to make you laugh, find that funny colleague, or friend. If you don't have one of those, go to a comedy club or to Netflix. Find the funny and silly people in your life to help spark your joy.

Embrace your good health. Because you have made the amazing choice to bring good health to your body and mind you have made yourself unstoppable. You have given yourself back your power. Now that you have a clear mind and healthy organs you can do and be anything you want to be. Your dreams really can come true. Experiment with this. Pick a goal and go for it. You will be so amazed and pumped by how easily things come to you now. You cleared the path for your own accomplishments. There is no end to what you can do for yourself. Including connecting with people and celebrating life.

So go out and do great things today with a smile on your face. Really good things are going to happen for you.

Day 1 again...

I can't tell you how many times I've encountered people who admit they have relapsed from their alcohol free life, back to a bout of drinking. They come forth feeling shame, guilt and embarrassment, as if the slip they experienced was some type of failure, a let down or irreversible mistake. I'm here to tell you friends, this is not a contest or a race. This is your one and only life. It's a journey, and there are no trophies for winning.

I too, have experienced relapse. At the time I framed my non-drinking effort as either a diet or a fitness routine. I did this so I could put a time limit on things or because if I failed, I could say it was about food instead of booze… because I just didn't want to endure the feeling of failure that came with relapse.

Now I understand that relapse is simply a stage of change. It is actually a fantastic teacher, an impactulful learning experience. If you go back to drinking and decide it was a mistake you now have material to pull from to protect you from another relapse. You can ask yourself what triggered you to drink? What were you feeling at the time, what were the circumstances around it? Then, armed with this new information you can make a plan to alter your life, build resilience and get prepared for future stresses or pulls back to the drinking life.

Maybe it's day one for you and you are thinking about how you have disappointed other people you told you would never drink again. Maybe you are punishing yourself and adding to your sense of depression and anxiety that adds to the desire to numb your situation with a drink. Do yourself a favour and keep these two things in mind: 1) you quit drinking for you…other people don't care as much as you do about the quality of your life. Their opinion, if they even formulate one, doesn't matter. 2) Your opinion does matter. It is essential that you be your own best friend when building an alcohol free life. It takes a tonne of self love and respect to live your best life. So be kind and forgiving to yourself.

Day one is not a negative thing. It is a fresh, yet informed start to the next phase of your alcohol free life.

Talk to me about your experience. I am here to support you and tell you you are on the right track.

Five really big things sober people do

As a person who used to drink alcohol at the end of each day, I was surprised to learn that becoming sober, requires a heck of a lot more change than simply putting down the wine glass. It turns out, it requires a total shift in the way you approach life - that is, if you are to be successful in your sobriety.

These are five things successfully sober people do, that may not have been their practice whilst drinking.

Tell the truth - People who drink make a habit of lying to themselves and others. Drinkers may be offended right now, (I would have been) but from what I know - it’s true. They tell themselves stories about how they work hard and deserve a drink, or that they don’t drink too much, or that they only had a few, or that they weren’t bad in comparison to someone else’s drunken spectacle made at the last dinner party or event. Sober people have the courage to be honest with themselves and others about where they are at, and where they want to be - even if this makes them vulnerable or subject to judgement.

Feel pain - Drinking is about numbing. It is a pain-killer, an avoidance tool, a way around instead of through. Drinkers are celebrating or soothing, but in all cases when drinking, you are numbing yourself from the full experience of your life. Sober people feel the pain, and go through it head on. The reason they can endure pain and come out healed is because they are sober; they are able to ground themselves and embrace the present moment. They can also appreciate long-term gain over short term pain. This is the opposite for drinkers - for them it’s about short-term gain. Of course, the pain keeps coming back long-term.

Build community - People who drink experience cycles of depression and anxiety. They are literally messing with stimulants and depressants in their brains, thus disturbing the delicate balance of hormones meant to keep us on track and able to function in the world. When we get depressed or anxious, we isolate ourselves. We suffer from cognitive distortions and become unable to connect with people in healthy ways. Sober people build genuine, supportive relationships with others, based on real common interests, happening in a clear and conscious reality. The joy that comes from these relationships is so much more genuine than the booze-soaked, miscommunications that happen in bars and around dinner tables where people talk, to hear themselves make a point -the same point, over, and over again.

Embrace change - Drinking is a routine that not only robs us of our daily joy, but it locks us into a routine where things just don’t change. We don’t have the energy to propel ourselves forward or to embrace something new. We can’t read, learn, exercise and achieve - when we clouded with booze. We can only drink more, and start over feeling crappy, day after day. Sober people create space for learning; they are creative; inspired and full of hope for the future. Change and evolution happen faster and easier for sober people.

Lead bravely - Brene Brown talks about what it takes to be a brave leader. She says it takes the ability to be vulnerable with integrity. I think it also takes sobriety. You need to be clear, honest and true to yourself and others to actually inspire others and take giant steps forward. Compassion, communications, honesty, integrity - these are all aspects of sobriety. Perhaps a great leader could be a drinker? But if I were making a choice about who to choose as a mentor or model, I know I would pick the one who is sober.

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What does it mean to be 2 years sober

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On December 11, 2018 I’ll be officially 2 years sober, which technically means I haven’t had a drink of alcohol for 2 years. But what does it really mean to me to be 2 years sober? It has meant the total upheaval of my life as I knew it, while maintaining my commitment to managing my problems without numbing or avoiding.

It has been the most difficult and most rewarding experience of my life and I would hands down, recommend it for you if you are newly sober or considering becoming sober. I can tell you for sure it is not what you might expect, but it is totally worthwhile, no matter what your experience might be. Why? Because it is impossible to live your best life, if you avoid being present for it, with the distraction of the drug alcohol. Despite how it might make you feel initially, it does not enhance your experience. It takes you away from it. Over time, alcohol robs you of your genuine and joyful life. Sobriety, gives it back to you.

Today, as I think about wrapping up my second year, I feel grief and joy. My life has changed so significantly. I not only quit drinking, but I quit my job, changed my relationships with friends and family, went back to school, started a new business, brought back yoga and just recently, got a new puppy. It is sad to let go of what I once thought my life was, to make space for what my life is becoming. It is exciting to know that change is possible and that I have to the power within me to change a lot of things for the better. I didn’t used to feel this way. I used to feel stuck and depressed, a lot.

On December 11th, I probably won’t do anything significant to celebrate the two-year mark. There is an expression in the recovery community about ‘creating a life you don’t have to escape from’. I want to embrace that day, the same as I do every other day now. It is not always easy but each day is full of health and hope. This is a life I do not want to escape from. Each day is a celebration.

There is also an expression in the community that says “sobriety is a rebellious act” which I agree is true. It takes a strong and independent person to go against the grain. People will not always understand and support you in your decision to quit drinking. But know this - you have my full support. The decision to choose health and be your best self is the best way to go.

I’m proud to be a sober person, who is improving her life and the lives of the people I love most. I am also trying to help other people who want to do the same thing. If you want to talk about this, please connect with me!

Advice for dealing with Guilt, Shame and Sadness

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These three culprits have been giving me a seriously hard time lately: guilt, shame and sadness.

Maybe it is the weather; maybe it is the chemicals in my brain; or maybe, just maybe it is the thoughts I’m choosing to believe that are influencing my experience and bringing me down. If it is true, that choice is involved, this is good news. It means I have some control over the looming feelings, effected by my ruminating thoughts.

What advice would I give someone who experiences these dark times? Well, let’s go through them:

Byron Katie, wrote a great book called “The Work” which asks us to question whether we should actually believe the thoughts we are thinking. She discovered when she chose not to believe her negative thoughts, that she was instantly freed from crippling depression.

The REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) Model suggests we do something similar to “the work” in that we go through a step by step process of disputing irrational beliefs. We ask ourselves… Is this thought really true? And does this thought actually serve us?

Go outside. Exercise and fresh air have a magical way of boosting neurotransmitters and endorphins, and in turn, changing your perspective to something brighter. Forest bathing, is an actual thing. Mindfully experiencing nature in the forest is proven (some kind of science backs this) to improve mood.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I don’t ask you to do this to evoke empathy or compassion. Rather to help you realize that other people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are. They do not intend to wrong you as much as you feel they do - in fact, they don’t bother thinking about you enough to even give you that energy. This is not said to hurt your feelings, but to lighten the load. People are wrapped up in their own shit.

Do a good deed. Putting your energy in to helping a cause or helping other people, is going to shift your perspective. Kindness, love and compassion start to seep into the space once held by stagnant sadness. Try something small. Pick up garbage, hold a door, buy someone a coffee.

Let go of guilt by living in the present moment. The best apology is a change in behaviour. Just be the best version of your self now and in the future, to absolve yourself of old mistakes. You are not what you have done in the past. You are the person you are becoming in this moment.

Love the ones you are with. If you have a family member, a dog, a friend, or a penpal. Reach out to them GIve them a hug. Show them appreciation. Tell them you love them. What you put out will come back to you through the law of attraction.

Write it all down. Write down why you are sad and upset, but also write down everything you are grateful for and all that you appreciate. Write down your intentions and your goals and allow yourself to get excited about them. People who write down their goals are more likely to be successful in achieving these goals than those who don’t write them down.

Be patient and loving with yourself. Be your own best friend.

This too shall pass. I believe this is true, in fact I know it is true. Every dark time is followed by the light time - it is how the universe works. Your lighter times are coming.

There is no one-best-way to free yourself from the darker moods that come with negative thinking. However there are a number of strategies (a list much longer than this one above) that when put together in a package made just for you - could be your solution.

So, my final advice would be to keep trying - never give up.

Getting Unstuck

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When we are feeling stuck in life, we tend to turn to our addictive habits to cope with frustration. We drink, eat or smoke when we are bored or stressed.

We choose this addictive route for few reasons - it’s familiar, it’s fast and it’s easy. We know there may be other ways to deal with our situation, but we perceive these other ways to be difficult, so we don’t pick them. We take what we think is the path of least resistance.

It turns out the true path of least resistance is to embrace your situation, and work through whatever is making you feel stuck. It may in the short-term seem more difficult than having a cookie or a glass of wine, but in the long-term, when you face your problems head on, you become unstuck faster, build resilience and gain access to your joy!

Living an addiction-free lifestyle greases the wheels of productivity, learning and progress. Change doesn’t seem as hard, and ideas seem more possible. This is because your brain has the freedom, in it’s chemical state of homeostasis, to support you as you work to achieve your dreams. Your organs and physical body are available to help you work hard and stay energized as you persevere through challenges. Your body and mind can focus on you, rather than on repairing themselves from the damage done by using drugs.

If you are struggling with an addiction, it may seem impossible to imagine a substance-free life because the substances we lean on work so quickly. When the pain is intense, it can be hard to buy into the idea of clean living, for long-term gain.

But I assure you it is indeed worth the wait. As someone who has experience with feeling stuck as both an addicted person and as a sober person, the later is the better way to be. Feeling stuck as an addicted person feels depressing and never-ending. It is a miserable state of being. Being sober and feeling stuck feels like a puzzle or a game. It is an invitation to get creative and solve your way up to the next level in life.

The first thing to do if you are considering becoming sober is to visualize your life in the long-term. Ask yourself what you really want, and begin making a list of potential ways to achieve it.

Know that with practice and time you can build strength, endurance and resilience and the rewards will be countless. The freedom and movement you will experience will be amazing.

The other thing to keep in mind is you don’t have to do it alone. When your mind is clear, you are much more able to connect and work together with others. You will find strength through support from a sober community. If you don’t have a community yet, start here… I am just like you. Let’s chat.

I am willing to feel it.

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I can’t say where I first read the line … “pain travels through families until someone is willing to feel it” but I knew immediately what it meant, and how it applied to me and my family.

Mental illness and trauma can be carried through the patterns of our genes and our experiences, and passed onto future generations. We can choose to avoid reality by taking drugs or developing avoidance behaviours, or we can become aware of our truths, and go through the experiences we need to, in order to evolve.

I have been diligently trying to break the negative patterns of my past, but this morning I came to the realization, I’ve been missing the forest for the trees. I could finally see the real problem beneath my problem… let me explain.

For two years I’ve been planning, studying, practicing and celebrating all of the aspects of recovery from alcohol. My effort to quit drinking was all about breaking a pattern of drinking in my family and modeling a healthy lifestyle for my kids. I figured if I could recover from an addiction to alcohol, I could then eliminate the dysfunction for my children - give them hope for a life that doesn’t revolve around booze. Well, I’ve been pretty successful at breaking this pattern, but the happiness factor (my expected rise in joy that comes with clean living) has been slow to arrive. Why am I not happy? It was the wrong problem - the wrong pattern to focus on.

Not to say that it wasn’t necessary to quit drinking first. I needed a clear head and a fresh perspective to become aware of my actual issues. It’s taken this long to see the deeper grooves, the more ingrained pattern that is causing me the most problems. Passing this on would cause more grief for my kids than alcoholism, and so it needs to be addressed..

My dad had the same problem I have now. As much as I tried to avoid becoming just like him, it happened anyway. I took a different route. But here I am, just like him.

My dad had many friends and a thriving life in his 40s. He was a hard-working, social and charismatic person. His alcohol intake increased over time, and as he got older his mental health deteriorated in relation to his alcoholism. He would get into arguments with people, get angry (hurt) and then cut people off, eventually becoming a recluse and a miserable old soul. I remember him repeating the same stories over and over about people who had wronged him. It was impossible for him to forgive, or to have the humility to apologize. He just burned in anger, booze and sickness until he reached the point he started to forget. By the time Alzheimer’s set in, he was a tired and deflated shell of a man.

Looking back I can pick out the cognitive distortions he was experiencing. I can see how the alcohol exasperated his mental health problems. I wonder just how torturous it was to live in his mind. I also wonder what the second half of his life could have been like had he gotten help for his disorders.

As well, I wonder what my life will be like if I don’t fix my own cognitive distortions, and if I don’t learn to apologize, to forgive and to work through my difficult relationships with people. Just because I’ve quit drinking and cleaned up my physical body, does not mean that I’ve cleaned up my behaviour. I haven’t really done the work. Oh yes, I have practiced self-care and kept my gratitude journal - all great ways to quit drinking, but you don’t keep a friend by getting a good sleep or eating broccoli.

How do you keep a friend, or work through problems at work, or fix your relationship problems? I know the the technical answers to this question. Be kind, communicate, assume good intent, apologize and stay positive. But am I willing to push through all of the overwhelming thoughts that tell me this will be too much for me? Am I willing to feel the pain required to break my family patterns and free myself, and my children?

I am willing.

Two words I am proud to say

For all the people out there who happen to be depressed or addicted, this is for you…

DEPRESSION. ADDICTION. There, I said them and I’m still okay. So are you.

Let me add another word to mix - STIGMA. What is stigma? It is the negative stereotyping people do around things like depression and addiction. Why do people do this? fear. And they are afraid because they don’t know. The cycle feeds itself. Ignorance, fear, stigma, shame, silence, ignorance, fear….

Because I have already gone ahead and let the internet universe know I have experienced both depression and addiction (in fact these two things often come together - it’s called concurrent disorders) I’m going to let it all out and make myself the poster girl for both forbidden words.

And that is all they are, is words. They are words used to describe a state that unfortunately so many of us know all too well - but won’t talk about. Ironically, one of the best ways to become free from these experiences, described by the words depression and addiction - is to talk about them.

What is depression? Well, it’s basically a perspective that doesn’t serve you well. It’s made up of a number of cognitive distortions that develop over time, through experience and genetics. Eventually your brain chemistry goes off balance and your thoughts and emotions become unmanageable. Some people can cover up the way they are feeling, others can’t. Some people cannot get out of bed, some people spend every day of their lives believing they are hated.

What is addiction? It is an attempt to ease pain or to avoid pain, through the learned use of a substance or behaviour. Even though we know the long-term effects of this use or behaviour is bad for our health and safety we do it anyway for the short term relief. Addictive behaviors and substances can alter the brain chemicals and make our dependency so intense that we could die without our vices. Addiction is a curable problem, but in many cases we work from the perspective of harm reduction, trying to help the individuals who are addicted, as well as the families and communities they live with.

Depression and addiction are not only a part of my vocabulary, they are a part of my life. The more I learn about them and the more I talk about them, the less power they have over me, and the people I love. It is a struggle however, everyday, to be a person who talks about it. Part of the nature of both depression and addiction, is that people tend to isolate themselves. They are not likely to share and reach out and do all the work that it takes to shine some light and understanding on the subjects.

So for those of us who are lying in bed, or crying inside or scared to death someone might find out you are suffering. I am writing this for you.

“In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem.” CAMH

We are not alone here. We are a massive community of people who experience this pain. Talking about it, could be your way out - or out faster. People do heal from depression and addiction.

If you want to talk about either one of these words with me, I would be honoured to talk with you.

Karyn Dowdall

mom. wife. athlete. friend. writer. coach. teacher. addict. depressed.

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I romanticized drinking

The most difficult thing about giving up drinking was my deeply ingrained belief that alcohol was a good thing. I romanticized drinking.

This kind of thinking came from years of pairing alcohol with celebrating good times and relieving bad times. It was there for every occasion, big or small, as part of a ritual of relaxing, partying and letting go.

It’s no wonder, given the way the brain works that I would believe in the benefits of booze. I have dopamine to thank for reminding me to always want more. The function of this neurotransmitter is to tell the brain – hey, this feels good. Remember to repeat.

Despite the sleepless nights, the hangovers, the agitation and the regret – my brain could not seem to gather the long-term perspective that could have reminded me, drinking nights never end well. And while it was good to gain a basic understanding of how the brain works, this conscious perspective did not stand a chance against thirty years of a drinking behavior plus the addictive components of the drug.

Once I decided I wanted to quit drinking (after several years of ambivalence) I was faced with breaking a pattern and confronting the altered chemical state of my brain. As much as I wanted to just decide to quit, there was the lingering and ingrained sense that I something was seriously wrong (when I wasn’t drinking). It was a constant battle between my rational mind and my deep-rooted feelings and instincts. I wanted to quit drinking, but it felt so bad – so frustrating, annoying, sad and desperate, to fight against my drive to drink.

Through reading over a hundred books on the subject, I learned a couple of things. Firstly, that the feelings of craving or frustration always pass. Secondly, that practice is the key to changing behaviours and beliefs. The only way to make sobriety my new normal was to practice it. I had to challenge, accept and let pass all of the feelings that told me I was doing the wrong thing. I had to constantly remind myself that I was in fact creating new normal and it was the right thing.

If you are struggling with ambivalence about drinking I suggest you read as much as you can about it. Find someone to talk to about it, and surround yourself with people who can show you that not drinking – is normal and a good thing.

Coachingwithkaryn.com

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Addiction and Wellness

At what point does active recovery become simply a healthy living practice? Is a person who was once addicted, always to be considered addicted? Can a person be fully healed from addiction and living a lifestyle of exercising, journaling, thinking positively, eating well and surrounding themselves with like-minded people – just to be a healthy person?

In my experience, the recovery process started long before I quit drinking. For years before I took my last drink I was in what I’ve learned is called the “contemplative stage” of change. At this stage people are ambivalent about change, meaning they are back and forth about whether they have a problem and/or whether they are willing to do anything about it. I had a suspicion there was a problem, but was far from doing anything as profound as actually quitting drinking to solve it. I did have a desire to improve my life however, and I was motivated to break free from feeling miserable. So, I began to systematically make improvements to my life. It started with small changes. I changed my diet and went to a nutritionist; I practiced yoga and ran marathons. These changes left me feeling inspired, but frustrated.

The ambivalence became more intense as I eliminated options; my drinking problem became more obvious. Still I wasn’t ready to quit drinking. So, I went to the doctors and counselors about my mood. I eventually left my job and changed my relationships with friends and family. All of these moves were made with the intention of improving my life. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but these changes were the foundation of my recovery. Eventually, I quit drinking, but only when I was good and ready. If I hadn’t taken the earlier steps, I would not have gained the awareness and the desire to move in the direction of abstinence.

Since I quit drinking, I have continued to deepen my recovery practice. I’ve read books, taken courses, practiced mindfulness and meditation, built new relationships, participated in group sessions and helped other people to recover. Exercise, sleep, journaling and ongoing attention to my thoughts are part of my daily self-care routine. It’s been almost 2 years since I quit drinking, but I would say it has been 5 years since I’ve been in ‘recovery’.

My definition of recovery is broad. For me it has not just been about quitting drinking, but about overcoming depression and breaking a lifetime of unhealthy patterns. It took me a long time to accept the term ‘recovery’ as the actual process I’ve been going through, but I’m okay with it now because I subscribe to my own definition of the word. For me, recovery is spectrum term, just as addiction and depression are spectrum disorders. Life experiences bring us trauma and challenges to overcome on an ongoing basis. Recovery gives us the tools of resilience to bounce back from what life gives you.

Indeed we are able to transition out of recovery mode and into wellness mode. You know it has happened when you reach a baseline of mood you are satisfied with – meaning you are generally ‘happy’ without drugs. As well, it happens when you are equipped with the tools to support yourself when more problems arise in life.

When you no longer have the desire to use drugs to avoid your problems and you are ready to take on life with courage and vigour, then you are not recovering – you are living!

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What are you practicing, really?

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All the self-care routines, yoga classes and meditation sessions in the world are not going to improve your life if you are practicing the wrong way.  Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to improve your life - the right way is called affirmation and the wrong way is called perpetuation of a problem.

The words you say to yourself have a massive impact on your future, because your mind believes them - whether they are true or not. In order to have what you want, use the power of affirmation instead of inviting old negative thought patterns into your life. Say to yourself what you do want, rather than what you don't want. Saying what you don't want just affirms you will have more of that negativity in your life.

Here are a couple of examples....

You go to a yoga class and lay down on your mat. You start to breath deeply and pay attention to your body and how it feels. Then, you start thinking. You begin to think about the girl next to you is more flexible than you. You think to yourself... I am not as flexible as her. She is better than me at yoga. You have a choice at this point. You can continue to keep thinking this way, or when you notice your thoughts are negative, you can consciously choose (therefore wire your brain towards) a more positive thought such as It feels fantastic to stretch my body. I'm grateful to share this space with others who are trying to feel good. I'm grateful to be here right now.

Choosing this positive thought affirms a more positive experience for your mind and raises your happiness baseline.  When you continue with the negative thinking, you affirm the negative experience and lower your happiness baseline.

Next example: You are feeling lonely and sorry for yourself because your friends on Facebook are having a good ol' time without you. You think to yourself. They didn't include me, I'm not part of the cool crowd, they must not like me, we never get invited to these fun events...  You catch yourself thinking this way and then you have a choice. You can continue to go down the rabbit hole of self-pity and negativity or you can choose the more positive. I'm happy for these people who are having a good time. I'm grateful for my experiences, my friends and my opportunities. My life is also full and abundant. There is enough joy, space and happiness available in the world for all of us to embrace. I'm full of love.

Now this may seem difficult to do, but it is imperative to practice this approach if you truly want to be happy. It serves you best to assume people have good intent. It serves you best to choose the affirmative rather than the to repeat negative thinking patterns. *Regardless of whether you think the affirmative is really true in the moment, say it to yourself anyway because you mind will take note of the words and your neurons will fire in alignment with them. Eventually, they will become your reality.

If you can practice the mindfulness, yoga, meditation and self-care all for the purpose of getting to know your thoughts better - you are taking a step in the right direction. You must follow through with affirmation however, to genuinely improve your life as a result of the practice.

Get still and listen to your thoughts. Are they negative or positive? Choose the affirmative (listen carefully to be sure you are not affirming the negative ie. I'm glad I don't have... or I'm grateful I'm not like ... )  Allow your words to create your best life. Here are some examples:

I am loved, I am happy, I am grateful

I appreciate my supporters, my health and my opportunities

I am safe, connected and nurtured

My life is abundant.

 

 

 

 

 

Quitting Drinking PART ONE

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This is the short story of an average mom who quit drinking and improved her life. Its purpose is to provide hope and inspiration for other moms who are also ready for change.

Chapter 1

I was an average mom with depression and a wine addiction.

At 8pm on New Year’s Eve 2016, I sat on my couch sobbing. I was three weeks into my alcohol free life and I was miserable. My husband and children were out skating and enjoying the celebrations with neighbours, but I couldn’t bring myself to join them. I could not stop crying. I was incredibly depressed. Somehow though, I was also feeling a tiny bit hopeful as I devoured my stack of self-help books about quitting drinking and addiction. I was convinced the books were going to be my ticket out of this miserable state. I knew the time to change my life had finally come, and there would be no turning back.

My main problem was my assumption that quitting drinking would catapult me into a world of health and happiness. I thought I would instantly feel clean and free. I figured if I could eliminate the booze, all the depression and stress would disappear. It turns out I was wrong. When you quit drinking, it is just the beginning of the journey to joy – a long and rocky road full of unexpected twists and turns.

Looking back, I’m glad the experience was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It took a lot of hard work, contemplation and tears. Alas, this is how we do our best learning in life – when things are tough.

I wrote a letter to myself that night, which I have since burned in a moment of frustration.  It went something like this:

Dear Sweet Karyn,

You are not as hated as you feel at the moment. You are loved.

In a year from now your weight will be lifted and you will be grateful for the strength you have in this moment to make your future better.

Your kids will live in a home where daily drinking is not normal. They will learn that life is sweet without alcohol. You will show them through your actions and you will break a pattern. Your kids will be better people for this.

You will start a recovery yoga class and create what it is you need. You will help others along the way. You will write a book about this experience and you will talk to schools and other groups about your experience. You will take the sting out of the word ‘addiction’.

You will be forgiven and you will experience redemption.

You will also experience doubt.  There will be people who will attempt to put you down, insult you and belittle you. You will find a way to rise above.

Stay the course Karyn. You have already won.

I am pleased to say that it has been almost two years since that miserable New Year’s Eve I spent crying on my couch and life really is better. The depression is lifting; there is a brighter smile and sense of calm.

Indeed my life is improving by the moment and I am proud of what I am manifesting for my children.  However, it required some pretty bold moves to make it all happen. These major life changes included: quitting my job, telling the world I was an addict, taking a bunch of courses, starting a new business, expanding an old business, counselling, coaching, taking medication, re-building a marriage and finding new friends.

I am living proof that an average mom with a wine addiction and some pretty severe depression (and I’m going to say this is a very common description of a middle class, North American mom) can make huge changes in a life where she once felt stuck. There is nothing special about my abilities compared to any other mom. I simply decided to make the changes, used my resources and believed in myself.

If you are wondering about what quitting might look like for you, know that it is possible! This is coming from someone who once raved about this wine label or that, and what wine goes best with what foods, or what wine could be served as the 4th bottle at a dinner party.  Now I am someone who will never drink again – happily. If I can do this, you can do this too.

Chapter 2

There was no rock bottom, but I was swimming in shallow water.

I have read about 20 memoirs of women who have quit drinking and every one of them includes a dramatic rock bottom story which makes it all very compelling and interesting. You find yourself reading along with intrigue and relief as you compare yourself to the poor woman who found herself in a hospital or waking up in bed with someone she didn’t know, or ruining someone’s wedding. Not everyone has a rock bottom. For me it was a series of less-than-amazing moments that led me to thinking my life was not awesome. In fact, my life was fine if you compare it to most people living on the planet, but it was not what it could be. I was living and behaving way beneath my potential and I was ashamed of myself for that. Each day I was becoming more and more sickened by my own existence. I was disappointed in myself. My desire for change brewed from a long series of bad scenarios, rather than one hum-dinger.

Here is an example of what a typical day was like for me before I quit drinking. Let’s say it was a Tuesday in November. My alarm would go off at 5am causing me physical pain. My head would hurt from the wine the night before and the lack of sleep that comes with the counter effects of the depressant, alcohol.  My first thoughts we extremely negative…

Oh my god, I can’t do this. My head hurts, I can’t handle my day. I can’t go to work. I can’t stand work. My chest hurts, I need to calm down. I need more sleep.” Snooze…

After hitting the snooze button at least three times I would slide out of bed and head to the bathroom. Immediately I would get out the eye drops and pry my red eyes open to for delivery of the liquid bleach. I was dehydrated and toxic. I needed water. Two glasses of water and a coffee came next, maybe an Advil. Then I would eat a banana or power bar or something quick to soothe the burn in my stomach and to nourish myself for my morning run.  I would rarely miss a run because this is what made me feel like a healthy person. I wanted to be a runner, not a drinker. There was a constant dichotomy of messaging in my head…

I’m a healthy running person.

No, you are running to clear up the mess from last night. You are a chip-eating, Netflix-watching, wine-drinking mom who can’t deal with her shit.

No, I’m just like everyone else, doing the routine and getting by…. exercising, working, drinking to relax at the end of the day. I’m fine.

I’m not fine.

Just run, you will feel better.

A run would always make me feel better or at least start to restore my energy back to feeling ok.  Running was helping to bring me from far below the baseline to just beneath it. I don’t think I ever really knew how good it could feel to start at the baseline, and through running, feel better than normal or energized even. After 25 years of running I still didn’t know that it was actually about fueling the tanks and building strength and resilience for the day. This wasn’t something I got from running until after I quit drinking.

After the run I would make a healthy breakfast for myself and my kids and quickly get ready for work. I could feel the anxiety build as I put the work dress on.  (I no longer wear any dress I ever wore to work – too much bad energy).  More negative thoughts would rush through my head…

“What will my boss say to me today? How am I going to get this done? My chest hurts. Why doesn’t anyone do anything about the way she treats people? Should I do something? Can I afford to lose this job? Will I get fired?

Just do the work, don’t let it get to you.

I can’t, it gets to me. I feel sick. What is the right thing to do?

Get the work done and get out of there.

No job is worth this, there are other jobs.

Stick it out, this part will be over soon and things will change.

Things aren’t changing. I’m going to puke.”

At work I felt abused and afraid and it seemed to be a pattern for me. I did not stand up for myself in ways I should have and my stress was amplified. I did not have the resilience to tolerate what other people can easily handle in the workplace. Regardless of who was responsible for the toxic environment, I knew it had to change. I was getting very sick.

I have always despised the office environment. The thought of sitting in a chair and checking off a to-do list that serves someone else’s agenda, was infuriating. Most of my jobs have been in the non-profit field, so I would tell myself that the end cause was good and therefore my efforts were worthwhile. I never did see the results of my work however. What I did see was my boss, donors and in some cases volunteers. The volunteers gave me hope, but the rest of them gave me ulcers.

Had I taken the time to ask myself what I truly wanted, I would have realized I am more suited to working with people directly in the field, on the ground and face to face. I want to be of service rather than at someone’s mercy. I took many jobs like my last one over the past 20 years.  I sold myself out for what I thought was a good paycheck and out of fear of change.

So, after a full day of work my nerves would be shot and I would quickly shift to parent mode. I would zip straight home to meet the kids at 3pm after school.  Snacks, backpacks and dinner prep followed, as well as cleaning up from the chaos that happened in the morning while I was at work. Pets needed to be fed, laundry and groceries. I had from 3pm until 6pm to make it all happen before my husband came home. This was my favourite time to drink.

There were no small glasses of wine. I would just keep topping up one very large glass.  Sometimes I would take a break from drinking over dinner time and then start back up after dinner. Sometimes I would skip dinner and just descend to my basement for Netflix, chips and wine. I made sure my family was always provided a good dinner, but unfortunately they were robbed of a good mom to share their stories with at the end of the day.

Typically my kids would be asleep by the time I came up from the basement. It would only be 8 or 9pm when I went to bed, but for someone who had been sipping since 3pm, I was typically in a full state of numbness or worse, tears.

Tears aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m all about getting your feelings out. But these tears were more the chemical depressant that was coursing through my veins. I was crying about things any sober person would shake off. I was wallowing and it wasn’t pretty. By three in the morning I would wake up feeling regret, anxiety and desperation. I would ask myself…

Why did I need to drink so much? I’m not doing that tonight. I’m not going to drink tonight at all. I’m going to go to yoga. I’m not a daily drinker. This is not me. Why did I do that? Greg (my husband) hates me. My kids miss me. I miss them. I’m so detached from everyone. Everyone hates me. Why am I like this? I always thought I was a winner – but I feel like such a loser. What happened to me?

And then, my alarm would go off and the cycle would start again. I never had the strength to just decide not to drink when I came home at the end of the day. I would always end up telling myself a story about how I deserved a break.

Chapter 3 

Moments of awakening to the notion I might have a problem.

There were some occasions where I stepped out of the safe environment of my own home and realized my performance was not impressive. For example, one night after a few glasses of wine at home, I joined a group of girls at a friend’s house for our regular viewing of the TV series, Grey’s Anatomy.  This particular night, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself about being between jobs and after listening to one of the girls complain about her union situation at work, promptly unleashed on her about her lack of gratitude. I basically told her if she didn’t have her current job she would end up just like me – out there competing with younger, smarter and better candidates than her.  So, she had better suck it up and shut up and so on.  She left in tears, and then so did I,  only after the other girls told me I was just jealous that she had a job and I didn’t (true) and that I was a bitch (true). I apologized to the poor girl a few times afterward, but since then have kept my distance from the group. They have also kept their distance from me. Looking back, I know I would not have acted that way if I weren’t drinking. My behaviour was disgusting and I have been ashamed of that night for years.

I’m not known to say the right thing even when I’m sober but the chances of messing up are lower now that I don’t drink. I used to feel the need to call or text people to apologize for being so rude or for stirring up conflict at what should have been a cordial event the night before. I would shit-disturb when I was drinking and for what reason? Attention I suppose, but now that I don’t drink my desire for attention has dissipated. I actually love not drawing any attention to myself at a party or better yet, not even attending the party.

Oh how things have changed. Having once suffered greatly from FOMO (fear of missing out) I now do my best to find time to spend alone. I am grateful for the small number of friends I have gathered and my precious family. It took a while to get to this point however.

The last party I attended as a drinking person was a book club a.k.a. wine club.  It was a Christmas party and the host had gone all out to put a delicious spread of appetizers together, paired with a special red Christmas cocktail. I was the first to arrive so I happily sampled the fancy treat – twice. It was a fun evening and not unlike many of our previous get-togethers. This time things were different.  It felt surreal to me, almost like I was sitting outside the group as they were talking, watching myself interact and paying attention as a witness to what was happening, as it happened. It was a moment of mindful drinking I suppose.  There was laughing and there was gossip. There was kindness, music and fun, and as the night came closer to the end, there was frustration and anger. People didn’t get along as well as they did when they arrived. People got snippy.

At the end of the night I woke my husband up to drive one of the girls home. She refused to take a cab and the rest of us were not about to let her walk across town alone at 2am in the winter. On the other hand, we were not about to offer to walk her home either. So, Greg got up from his restful sleep and chauffeured my friend, and the rest of us home without complaint. The next day I was greeted with the silent treatment.

I hate the silent treatment. This time it was torturous. There was something brewing in me, something beyond resentment. I wanted to free myself of this lifestyle, this cycle, this less than satisfactory existence. I didn’t want Greg to have one up on me, but even more so I wanted to be a better person. It was time to stop drinking.

Chapter 4

The decision to stop drinking wasn’t a one-time thing

There were various occasions when I tried on sobriety under the guise of something called a ‘diet’ or ‘cleanse’. I was in no place to tell people I thought I had a problem with drinking, but I was curious about how hard it might be to quit. Not surprisingly it was very difficult to quit, and I never made it more than two months in any given stretch. I would use the excuse that the new eating plan was just too restrictive. The truth was, it was too difficult to maintain any eating regime when my secret focus was on quitting drinking. I was shocked at how strong my cravings were and the extremely odd times of day they would occur. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a life where drinking wasn’t a priority.

I would like to say I was able to quit drinking when I was pregnant, but I can’t. I was able to cut down to one glass, which I had nightly during both of my pregnancies. I never had more than one glass, with the rational that the wine was relaxing me. My father, a doctor, insisted that one glass would not be harmful.  Now, when I see posters in restaurants and grocery stores warning pregnant moms not to drink, I feel shame. I took a risk with my children’s health, because I was too selfish to endure the short-term discomfort of being without my wine.

I used to lie in savasanah at the end of yoga classes and cry about my hypocrisy. On the one hand, I was striving to live well and promote a culture of health and happiness, and on the other hand, I was pouring toxins into my body on a nightly basis. How could I teach people about balance and peace within, when my personal insides were in turmoil? I knew, at a root level the answer was in quitting drinking. I did not want to accept that I was addicted to it, yet I knew I was hooked and that I would soon need to stop. I was so conflicted between what I truly wanted for myself and what I was actually doing to myself.  I didn’t know it then, but this inner conflict was the catalyst I would need to finally quit – for real.

Sitting around a pool one afternoon about 6 months before I finally quit drinking, I was talking with a bunch of moms about our addictions. We all used the word so lightly, “Oh, I love chocolate” or “I’m just addicted to those chai lattes from Starbucks”. Nobody was releasing anything too deeply personal or any real truths about themselves. It’s like people were fishing around in the conversation to see just how bad other people’s addictions were (or how much they were willing to admit) and where they stood in comparison. One friend shared that her brother was a smoker and she was a dieter. She claimed that addiction ran strong in her family. She then said something that really stuck with me… “Isn’t that the definition of addiction? Knowing something is going to kill you, but doing it anyway.” I felt sick when she said it. Prior to her statement I had brushed over my drinking calling it a habit, saying “I don’t think it is an addiction, rather something I really like to do. It’s all under control.”  I’m sure the rest of the women at the pool that day were thinking…“OK Karyn, whatever you say… sure it is just a habit. Sure.” Needless to say, when I finally quit, there wasn’t a line-up of people gasping in disbelief.  

…knowing it could kill you… knowing it could kill you…. 

The words my friend had said kept repeating in my mind.  I knew drinking could kill me. I was closer to this morbid consequence than I would ever want to admit. I started to scan my body to look for symptoms of alcoholism…

…stomach pain, irregular and loose bowel movements, irritability, fogginess, depression, moodiness, dehydration…. and my liver – what did my liver look like? What about the stuff I can’t see – my poor organs!!

As I became fearful of my sickly forecast it occurred to me that the reason we all succumb to our addictions is because we push off acknowledgement of the future. We avoid, procrastinate and use excuses like “you only live once”.  If we could somehow keep the future top of mind, we could muster the will power to cope with right now.  I had practiced affirmations in the past for yoga, marathons, school work – why didn’t I just do the same thing with drinking? Well, it turns out the answer to that question was the confirmation that I was indeed, without a doubt, addicted to alcohol. I couldn’t just quit drinking using affirmations or will power - because I was physically and mentally addicted.

Even though we know it could kill us, we do it anyway. Addiction robs us of the ability to stay focussed on the endgame because we are not only mentally triggered to do our drug of choice in the moment, but we are physically and chemically wired to crave it.  In order for me to quit drinking I would need to learn everything there is to know about alcohol and how it works in my body and brain. I needed to know why and how I came to be addicted to it and then how to quit – more importantly, how to stay quit.

The day I quit drinking for good, came just after the Friday night book club a.k.a. wine club event that ended with the silent treatment. As per usual I got up and ran the next morning, fighting a low-grade headache, which was pretty typical for a weekend. On the Saturday evening, I found myself without a bottle of wine in the house. So as not to increase the tension at home, I decided not to go to the liquor store to buy more wine.  Instead I wandered the two blocks over to my mother’s house at cocktail hour and sat with her for a couple of glasses of wine. The visit was nice, but as I sat there drinking I wondered if I could ever pull it off without a glass of wine in hand? I sat there sipping wine with my mother as I have done since I was a teenager, watching the fire and contemplating my boozy life.  I realized I didn’t want to drink in that moment, but I also realized how the first few sips instantly relieved my headache. Gawd, I was in withdrawal! I was only able to feel better, by drinking more alcohol. My dependence had reached a new level of pathetic, and dangerous.  I walked home from my mom’s place and went to bed crying.  I saw myself as an alcoholic that night for the first time. The shame was overwhelming.

When I woke up in the morning, I jumped onto the Amazon website and ordered about fifteen books on quitting drinking.  I am proud to say those were my very last glasses of wine that night after book club, in my mom’s living room. The books couldn’t have arrived soon enough. I cried my way from Sunday to Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning, I sent my family an email to tell them I would not be drinking anymore. This email sealed the deal for me. I would not go back on my decision this time.

This email also included details about my mental health, which I assumed they did not know about, but surely suspected.

Chapter 5

Understanding Addiction and Depression

I was not the only one who thought I should quit drinking. My personal counsellor had advised me to quit as part of a list of options to improve my mood.  I was seeing this counsellor because of a long-time cyclical depression that was getting worse. I had tried a number of medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, naturopathic options, yoga, meditation, hormone therapy and exercise. Nothing was touching it. My doctor diagnosed it as PMDD which is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or severe PMS. It is listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders, under Depression. Honestly, I still don’t know if this is really what I had been suffering from, but I do know addiction was a contributing factor.  I left ‘quitting drinking’ to the very last item on the list of suggestions from my counsellor.  My email to my family went something like this:

Dear family,

I’ve been seeing doctors and counsellors for the past two years to try to deal with a problem which has been recently diagnosed as PMDD. Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It is a form of depression. I will no longer be drinking alcohol at all, as it contributes to depression. I do not expect you to understand, but I would appreciate it if you tried to support me in my effort not to drink at any family occasion, ever again.

Karyn.

My email leaned heavily toward the mood problem rather than the addiction problem. At this point I was unable to admit to my family I was addicted. Also, I truly did not understand the relationship between the depressant alcohol and the mental health disorder depression. With a heck of a lot more learning, I became very familiar with the notion of concurrent disorders.

To understand the interplay of depression and addiction, I started with reading books– plenty of books. One of my favourites was William Porter’s Alcohol Explained. This book breaks down the depressant and stimulant effects of alcohol in detail. One of the key concepts that stood out for me, was how our bodies become efficient at responding to a depressant (alcohol) entering our system at a certain rate (let’s say 5 drinks in a typical sitting). When we start our drinking session the body responds with providing the balancing stimulants at the amount matching the rate we typically drink at – so 5 drinks worth of stimulants. This is why it is so difficult for people to stop at one drink. We feel anxious and jittery if we don’t have the remaining four drinks because we are pumped with stimulants. His message is that the body is always striving for homeostasis. To protect us, our body will counter any threat to our system. A depressant is a threat at the rate of five drinks because it will slow the heart rate to dangerously low levels, and cause other detrimental effects, if it is not responded to appropriately.  I found this information fascinating. Not only that, but the knowledge was turning me off of my attraction to alcohol. I was beginning to prioritize the long-term health over the short term pleasure.

Chapter 6

The problem beneath the problem

In her fantastic book, Women, Food & God, Geneen Roth says “It’s not about the food, but it’s not not about the food”.  This confusing sentence is meant to describe the situation where there is a problem (emotional) beneath the problem (food issues) in any given addiction scenario.  She discusses the need to dig deep in the psyche to figure out what emotions trigger a person’s eating disorders in order to start the healing. It may, however, be necessary to first deal with the food intake (or lack of) if it is posing an immediate threat to the person’s life.  When I apply this theory to my experience, I would say the problem beneath the problem surfaced about the three week mark, into my alcohol free life. I was severely depressed – hence the New Year’s Eve spent crying and combing through self-help books.

Nobody can really say what the catalyst was that started my depression, but the consensus amongst doctors was that I was just prone to it. I had some hormone problems and a case of low resilience.  I thought it was odd to use the word ‘resilience’ when describing my illness.  To me it was more of a physics term than a psychological term. With more reading, I came to learn that ‘resilience’ has to do with one’s ability to bounce back in adverse situations. Resilience can be built through connection in one’s family, school or community. It can also be built through education, experiences and loving relationships.

I can see how I might have come to this state of ‘low resilience’ looking back at my drinking career. I used alcohol to avoid difficult things and to numb emotions. When other kids were learning how to take rejection or to work hard to get the grades, I was learning how to use alcohol to avoid life.

I started drinking when I was thirteen. I was an average kid, with good grades, fairly sporty and came from a good family environment. I did have a bit of a chip on my shoulder however because I was dealing with the death of a best friend from my childhood.  I had a lot of guilt about her death because at the time she died we were not on good terms. Prior to this time, we grew up across the street from each other and spent almost every day together from kindergarten to grade six. Although my parents meant to protect me from pain, their approach to helping me cope with her death was to avoid conversation about it. I was confused, sad and lost for much of my junior high experience – enter drinking, mean girls and puberty.

One particular mean girl befriended me in grade eight. She may not have even been aware of this at the time but she was struggling with her sexuality and was acting out, amongst other problems I’m sure. She was my drinking enabler. She was also as I learned later, a very dangerous person. Once I discovered that her feelings for me were certainly more than I could handle, I cut off the relationship. The booze and cigarettes she was hiding in my bedroom were too big a risk, not to mention the bad actors she continued to bring around. Frankly, she scared me. Indeed, severing our relationship was the right thing to do, but it came too late. A lot of damage had been done. Teachers didn’t like my attitude, my parents were disappointed in me and I lost my drive to achieve in school and sports.  When the mean girl came after me with threats, fists and bullying tactics that would make today’s bully look like a bunny, the community turned away from me.  Teachers ignored the writing on the wall in the bathrooms at school and my friends chose her side. Eventually, when I came clean to my mother, she supported me. She too, was scared of this girl.  Over time, I made some new friends and made my way through high school, but I did not enjoy it. My grades went up and I came out the other side as an average and unimpressive student. I was recently asked what someone would say about me in a high school yearbook. I said “most likely to shine later in life”. 

Now, I’m not going to say that the death of my childhood friend or my relationship with the bully were the reasons I started drinking or the cause of trauma which led to addiction, but they were significant parts of a series of not-so-amazing experiences that led me to choosing to drink instead of learning to cope with my problems. Drinking went hand in hand with depression since I was thirteen.

Drinking continued in high school, university and in my adult life in what I thought was a pretty typical way. I liked to party, and I would often make the wrong choice to go to happy hour at the pub than to my room to study. I played varsity sports, got good grades and made my way through university and college. Still, I was an average and unimpressive student. I was jealous of people succeeding around me because there was small part of me who believed I could do something extraordinary with my life.

The pattern of drinking and mediocracy continued into my marriage. It wasn’t until after I had children, when my cycles of depression became more severe, that I began to drink daily and heavily. Going back to work full-time did not improve my mental health, in fact it worsened the situation. I would find myself up against women in the workplace who I thought were monsters. Perhaps with more resilience I could have handled some of their incredibly inappropriate and abusive behaviour, or maybe not – maybe they were indeed monsters. The good news is that once I quit drinking, my respect for myself started to grow. I would not be treated badly anymore. Finally when I was pushed to my max – I quit my job!

In the moment I quit my job I felt a huge rush of joy and excitement. Something I had not felt in a very long time.  I immediately thought…

Oh, freedom and peace is finally here! I’ll never take that crap from anyone again! Everything is going to be alright!

And then the more sobering thoughts started to come to mind…

What am I going to do now?  How will I afford this? Greg is going to be resentful. My kids will have a mom who doesn’t work. Will they respect me? What can I do to make money?

When I quit my job I was seven months into my alcohol-free life. Still, I was not feeling the joy and light I was anticipating when I first kicked the habit. But, quitting my job gave me the scary but wonderful opportunity to take a look at my life and ask: What do I really want?

I knew what I didn’t want. I did not want to take another desk job, nor did I want to ever have another boss telling me how to spend my days. I wanted to do something meaningful with my time but I had no idea what that was going to be. I now had ample time for introspection. It was time to get connected.

Chapter 7

Growing up and getting connected.

So it turns out if you spend thirty years of your life drinking to avoid your problems, you never develop adult life-skills. You handle your life like a thirteen year-old, with essentially no coping skills.  I took a look at my relationships with my husband, my family, my friends and my (now past) co-workers.  They were childish, gossipy and unstable.  I did not have any genuine relationships. 

My problem beneath my drinking problem was connection. Boundaries, communication, trust and loyalty were essentially new concepts. I was baffled when my relationships with friends and family crumbled after I quit drinking.

It is difficult to see that you have a problem, when you are surrounded by people who drink and live similarly to you.  In order for me to quit drinking I had to step outside of my current story and see myself as different. I had to consciously choose a new lifestyle and in-so-doing, separate myself from the people, places and things I had become accustomed to.

With friends, this wasn’t difficult to do. Some friends actually helped me to make the break by blatantly rejecting me.  Others simply adapted and adjusted to who I was becoming. Now I have a very small handful of friends and I cherish them. I am polite and cordial towards people I used to drink with. I try to remember that we still have things in common and that everyone deserves love and respect. We drifted apart because I changed.  I became a different person. I suspect my changes also made them uncomfortable with themselves. My presence was a buzzkill for them and so they cut me loose. I’m okay with that.

My relationship with my mother has also changed. As the months of my sobriety passed, I slowly began to accept the idea that as we become adults, it is normal for the roles in a family to change. It is expected and healthy in fact, for the child to become an adult and to start giving care back unto the parents.  Growing up for me was about learning to look after my mom, instead of expecting or wanting her to look after me.

Quitting drinking had the most impact on my relationship with my husband. Prior to quitting drinking the tension was high. I often felt he did not respect my opinions. It seemed as though he was treating me as a lower-class citizen in my own home (because of my drinking) and I resented his piousness.  Part of the reason I wanted to quit drinking was to even the playing field. I wanted to win an argument and fight with him on even ground. Once I successfully quit drinking, and spent some time in counselling, I realized the ultimate goal was not to win or to be right. The purpose of our relationship was to find harmony and respect between us. We started to see how we were similar, rather than different. We both love our kids and we are both funny people. Ultimately, we both want to be happy. I’m not going to say our relationship is totally healed, but we are in a much better place. Sobriety helps us to keep our priorities and emotions in check.

The healing connection I have been looking for has been found through my relationship with my children. Prior to quitting drinking I felt we were becoming distant. Once the drinking stopped, my patience and tolerance grew stronger and my capacity to be present with them became was bigger. I feel like I am actually in their lives now, rather than hovering outside just playing the role of mother. Loving my children is the only unconditional love I have ever known. My children are my heart.

Chapter 8

Marketing and the making of a wine-mommy

Part of growing up involves letting go of ideals. I used to think it made sense to strive to become a certain archetype such as good mother, working mom, athlete, martyr or partier – the list goes on. I was constantly disappointed in myself because I was unable to pick a role or do it well. We build our identities based on ideals rather than what makes sense to us in our lives and what we really want. Why? I’m going to suggest it is because marketing companies set ridiculous standards and then tell us to drink when we reach the standard, or drink when we don’t. Either way, bottoms up!

On the one hand as women we are portrayed as powerful working professionals, out there competing with men for equal paying jobs in the workplace. On the other hand we are portrayed as nurturing, feminine mothers, playing a subordinate and supportive role in the home. These standards are hard to combine but there is one little stream of marketing that has managed to appeal to all subscribers – the wine meme.

The social media wine meme suggests that no matter what causes your stress, whether you work or stay at home, wine is your best friend. Social media messaging tells us our kids, our jobs or our patriarchal spouses are the reason we deserve a drink at the end of the day. They say we can rest assured that every other mom across the continent is partaking in their wine of choice to ease the shared tension we experience along with millions of other women.

Whether we are winning or losing, we are drinking. We think we are giving ourselves a break when in fact we are lowering our chances of success in any of our major life areas. Drinking is not a reward, it is a consequence. It is a consequence of the influence of marketing and peer pressure, keeping us addicted and keeping us living beneath our potential. Drinking is slowing our progress towards equality and robbing us of our unique spirit.

Beyond the wine meme, alcohol marketing pops up everywhere. Not just the direct marketing like billboards, magazines and the internet, but it has permeated our society in almost every way. Weddings, funerals, spiritual meetings, all involve alcohol. Celebrations, disasters, dinner time and breakfast time – they are all drinking times. Breakfast time! I mean really, when you think about it, doesn’t it seem absurd how many breakfast drinks exist out there!? There is no need to have vodka in your orange juice.

Just as the world is set up for couples and families, so is the world set up for drinkers. Drinking is the only addiction, that when you quit you are considered to have a problem. People think there is something wrong with you if you don’t partake. For example, if you don’t order alcohol in the restaurant your server will immediately give a sigh of disappointment – there goes the inflated bill and the potentially sweet tip (little do they know I tip more now because I have more cash and I’m not so grumpy).  There is not a day that goes by that alcohol isn’t involved. It is utterly unavoidable.

Chapter 9

The upside of social media – online support groups.

In January of 2017, a few weeks after I quit drinking, I started a yoga class for anxiety, depression and addiction. I also created a facebook group to share affirmations, information and inspirations. My intentions for this group were create a place for conversation, but it turned out it was mostly me posting. I also realized that because I had invited all my friends on facebook to join (and not everyone was a fan of publicly discussing these stigma-ridden subjects) that my page was causing tension. After about a year, I dismantled the page and decided to join a couple of groups online that were specifically dedicated to understanding and supporting people in the areas of addiction and recovery. I don’t regret creating my original group page because there were a few individuals who reached out to me through private messages. These connections are very valuable to me – we need to know we are not alone.

I was so impressed with one of the online groups I attended, called SMART Recovery, that I decided to become a facilitator. Living in a small town, in-person SMART meetings were not accessible. The closest meeting was in Toronto, two hours away. I actually preferred the convenience of meeting with others from my living room online, than sitting in a circle in a room. I just found it less awkward. SMART Recovery offers tools and strategies for people who are dealing with addictions. They teach very practical life-skills and do not promote any kind of religious or spiritual approaches. I use these tools now in my coaching practice and in my daily life. If you are trying to do this on your own, I encourage you to find support for your efforts through a group like SMART. Working with a community helps to build a sense of connection. Connection is a key factor in healing the damaged and addicted brain.

Chapter 10

Joy and Neuroscience.

At the time I enrolled in the SMART Recovery facilitator course, I also enrolled in the Addictions Studies Certificate course at Mount Royal University in Alberta, Canada. I was becoming fascinated with the subjects of addiction and recovery, not just to support my own recovery but as a means to be of service to other people. I did not know how it would all unfold, but I knew I would somehow turn all of this new information into a career adventure. Maybe I would get a job working in an addictions facility? Maybe I would become a counsellor or give motivational speeches to public schools? Ideas were brewing as I immersed myself in my studies.   

One of the most interesting things I learned about recovery was the neuroscience of joy. In my courses ‘joy’ was described as the experience in brain that happens when you are genuinely glad to be with somebody. There is an exchange of joy through face to face, eyeball to eyeball connection. This is the kind of exchange that happens between babies and parents or caregivers. It stimulates neuron activity that builds the parts of the brain responsible for emotion and self-regulation. Those who experience low levels of joy end up with a lesser capacity to self-regulate and are therefore more prone to impulsivity and addiction. Those who experience higher levels of joy, become more stable people with a lesser tendency towards addiction. The good news for the addicted person is that our brains are plastic, meaning that neurons can build new pathways for learning and development. Even later in life, through joy, we can build resilience and increase our capacity to manage addictions.  

So, with that information about joy, I had now I had figured out that the key points to overcoming addiction were firstly, to stay focussed on the long-term gains, and secondly, to find more joy in life.

I went on to learn about models of addiction, neuroplasticity, co-dependency, enabling and other subjects related to addiction and recovery. I learned tools and strategies for helping others to overcome their addictions and mental health disorders. I was so excited to have filled my brain with this knowledge, but I did not know I was going to apply it. In keeping with my future-based approach it would make sense that I landed on coaching.

Chapter 11

Hiring a recovery coach and becoming one too.

In March of 2017 I had returned to teaching yoga and was enrolled in my Addiction Studies and SMART courses. As I contemplated what would come next, I searched the role of Addiction Counsellor. Amongst the google searches the terms Sober Coach, Addictions Coach and Recovery Coach came up. I was curious about the role of Coach, because as an athlete I could relate to the motivation that comes with a coaching relationship. I liked the idea of setting goals and making progress. I wanted to coach people to achieve success. Heck, I wanted success myself. I needed to learn more about this.

I came across a coaching organization called the International Association of Professional Recovery Coaches (IAPRC), which offered the Certified Professional Recovery Coach designation course online. At the same time, a friend of mine sent me a message about her personal coach and mentioned she was a member of SHE RECOVERS ®. SHE RECOVERS ® is an international movement of women in or seeking recovery from a wide variety of issues, including substance use issues, codependency, loss and other life challenges. They have a fantastic website offering a number of opportunities for women in recovery to connect, including hiring a coach.

In talking with this recommended coach, Nicole Cameron from Coach with Nicole, I discovered that SHE RECOVERS ® offered a dual coaching program. I could acquire both the IAPRC and the SHE RECOVERS ® coaching certifications through this dual designation online course.  Nicole gave me the personal number for Dawn Nickel herself, the creator of SHE RECOVERS ® and after a phone interview with Dawn, I was not only committed to the Dual Designation course, but I was signed up for Coaching with Nicole. I had jumped in to the world of coaching and it felt great.

As I made my way through the coaching courses I worked with practice clients over the phone. I also worked with Nicole to build my business and strengthen my own recovery. I realized there was so much I had not addressed with my personal recovery that could be supported through conversations with a coach. The momentum was fantastic. The theory I had learned in my Addictions Studies and SMART courses was now being woven into my personal coaching style. I had built a tool chest of exercises and strategies for helping people – and helping myself.  Talking with practice clients was invigorating because it made the whole thing so real. I had to pinch myself.  I was now Karyn Dowdall, Certified Professional Recovery Coach. I was helping people to set and achieve personal and recovery goals. I was supporting them as they achieved their success. My work was finally meaningful to me. I was feeling my personal depression lifting and my sense of connection with people, deepening.

Since graduating from the Dual Designation course, I have set up my coaching business, created my website and started coaching clients. I continue to offer yoga classes including one dedicated specifically to recovery. I’m also offering a quarterly event called Yoga and Recovery day, where we practice mindfulness, yoga and problem solving strategies as a group dedicated to recovery and vitality. I am so excited to be building this business, and I am absolutely pumped to finally have a job that doesn’t feel like a job. I feel driven and compelled to do my work. I am making a difference for myself and others. Two years ago I could not have imagined I would be doing this.

Chapter 12

Busting through Shame and Stigma

One thing I discovered is there isn’t a lot of competition in my field of work. It turns out nobody in my town and very few people in my province and country are interested in telling the world they are an addict, and then offering to help others overcome this problem. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to do this privately and that is great, but I’m all about challenging stigma. I am finally in a place where I feel like I can comfortably talk to anyone about my drinking history and my depression. It took a while - and it certainly took a lot of practice.   

I have started and stopped a number of blogs and added and deleted a larger number of posts on social media. I used to push myself to send a message and then toil in remorse about the personal details I just shared. Each time I found the courage to share my story, I would make a little bit of progress but then I would take two steps back. There were several people along the way who would send me messages to say my words were inspiring or helpful to them. There were also people who sent me private or public messages to challenge me or put me down.  I believe the more we talk about both subjects, the more we support the healing process. Most people who are depressed or addicted feel alone and disconnected. In response to this my, honesty and publicity were acts of advocacy - at least this was my intention.

There were people who felt my public posts were attempts to draw attention to myself or make people feel sorry for me. I suppose I can see how this could be their impression.  So I adapted and adjusted my approaches to reaching people over the past two years – this book being one of these adaptations. I’m learning to find my audience. If you are someone who is looking for ways to overcome drinking and depression and seeks support through reading, social media and education – you are my tribe. Success! I’m so glad to connect with you and I genuinely from the bottom of my heart want to thank you for reading this book. We were meant to be together!

Chapter 13

What the heck is self-care anyway?

According to the social media memes, self-care involves ‘spoiling’ yourself at the end of a hard day with drinking alcohol, eating chocolate or shopping online. I would not recommend any of these approaches. These things would deplete your energy. True self-care rather, would replenish your energy.  In yoga, we use the term ‘brahmacharya’ meaning ‘right use of energy’.  Drinking for example would deplete you of energy and cause you to waste your personal power, whereas reading would fill you with knowledge and motivation and inspire you to use your power to serve others.  Basically, self-care is brahmacharya.

My typical Tuesday has changed significantly since before I quit drinking. I now dedicate a lot of time to self-care.  At 4am my alarm goes off and I consciously choose the words to say to myself as affirmation for my day… I’m excited about today. I look forward to my run. I am grateful for my running friends. My kids are sleeping like little angels in their beds. My day is going to go well.

For the first hour of my day, I quietly move about my home in solitude, with the exception of the company of my dog, Stanley. He follows me constantly.  I make myself a coffee and write in my gratitude journal.  Typically I list everything that comes to mind that I genuinely appreciate and then move onto make a list of priorities that align with my current goals. Sometimes I write out my goals, or draw a picture of a future project. Visualizing the future is my way of using the law of attraction to help me reach my goals. For many months I would draw my website, which listed the various aspects of my business. One page of the website included a link to this book!

At 5am I meet my friend Amy for a jog around the neighbourhood. We chat and the time flies by. It is typically dark out and sometimes snowy or rainy, but we rarely cancel. We are both grateful for this precious time of day. We work a lot of stuff out on these jogs and we support each other in our efforts to be good moms and do good work.

Before the family wakes up, I spend some time stretching and then preparing breakfast. I’ll then poor a bath for myself and be soaking and reading before the first family member wakes up. I like to have one or two books to read at all times. I also listen to audiobooks while I’m in the bath, driving or washing dishes. I love to learn something new and take advantage of any time I can make available to soak up the knowledge.

 

Then, lunches are packed and kids are out the door and Greg leaves for work. Rather than leaving for an eight-hour work day, I’ve scheduled my hours to suit my needs. I’m teaching yoga classes and coaching while the kids are at school. When I have time in between I can do errands, cleaning or exercise.

Part of the self-care routine is to be sure I eat well and take vitamins and probiotics. If there is time throughout the day I will prepare salad materials, or make myself healthy shake for a snack. In the evening, rather than watching Netflix, I will read books, listen to meditations or go to yoga classes. I spend time with my kids and chat with my husband. It is easier to be with them now that I don’t feel the pull to try to ease the tension from the day with booze. There is barely any tension left to require relief from. At least the kind of tension that used to exist. These days my tension comes from aspiration. I have set goals and I am anxious to achieve them. I am inspired and motivated to improve my life and help others to the same. There is still a struggle, but the karma (action) is different. With the right use of power, I feel stronger, more balanced and I look forward to my days with positivity and hope.

Chapter 14

HOPE is Helping Other People Evolve

I’ve often heard the process of getting sober called ‘an evolution’. When a person decides to change their habits and chooses a more vital lifestyle, they evolve in a number of ways. Evolution implies the making of a more advanced model of you.  Consider the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Within the cocoon, the caterpillar melts itself using enzymes triggered by hormones. Its legs melt away and wings and mouth parts are formed. It becomes a completely different insect. Almost everything about the creature has changed. Once it becomes the butterfly and escapes from the confinement of the cocoon, it is free to be the most beautiful version of itself.

The best part about comparing the human to the butterfly is notion that you can never go back. Once a person is transformed, they can no longer go back to being who they once were. They become enlightened to life without alcohol and the freedom and knowledge that comes with that. They know what it is like to feel good. Just as the butterfly has no desire to go back to being a caterpillar, the recovered drinker has no desire to go back to crawling through life.  Prior to metamorphosis, the caterpillar will molt (shed its skin) several times. The drinker will experience a variety of setbacks or relapses and attempts at change. Eventually, the big change comes. Once it comes, we are permanently changed.

Part of the evolution of becoming a sober person includes the desire to help others. Once you have been through the process and can see how sweet life can be, you are compelled to help others along the way. Not everyone will want to be helped but for those who are reaching out and ready to make the change, there is hope. Hope comes through our connection to others. HOPE is about Helping Other People to Evolve. 

As much as you feel attached to your friends and family and your life as it is right now, you will need sober friends if you are going to quit drinking. You will need someone to support you and connect with you in a way other people cannot. Don’t just pick a non-drinker. Pick a friend who used to drink and now consciously chooses not to drink. Pick someone who knows the struggle and can talk with you about it when you need to. This might be someone in a 12-step group. It could be someone from an online support group. It could be someone you meet at an alcohol-free event. Find someone who is like you, who you can talk to. This is important and not impossible. I used to think it would be impossible to find a friend like this, but if you call in the law of attraction this person will appear for you.  Go out and actively try to meet these people. They are looking for you too.

I’ve never actually met my first non-drinking friend, but he has been a huge part of my evolution. The author of Alcohol Explained, William Porter became my friend after I reached out to him about his book. We discussed his book and plenty of subjects around sobriety and quitting drinking. Eventually, I asked him to be a mentor for me as I navigated my way through the process of recovery and becoming a coach. He has a positive and practical perspective on life – and a great sense of humour. I truly value this relationship.

In person, I have also made an alcohol free friend. I have a tonne of respect for this woman and we can certainly relate when it comes to our drinking backgrounds. We are both from the same community and would sometimes find ourselves in the same circles. We were both wine drinkers. At the end of the day and would reward ourselves, feeling quite justified. Independently, we chose to quit drinking about the same time and eventually made our way to each other through yoga classes. We are now sober friends. We enjoy yoga, running and talking about our lives. The conversation rarely touches on drinking, but when it does I feel very grateful to connect with somebody who can truly relate.

Chapter 15

If I can do it, you can do it too!

I wrote this book because I wanted to connect with like-minded people. I wanted to share my story with moms who may be feeling overwhelmed with the idea of quitting drinking. Two years ago I could not imagine quitting – even though I had known for many years I was addicted to it, in an increasingly unhealthy way. I was ashamed of myself and wanted help but refused to ask for it.

I remember going to the bookstore at a yoga retreat and finding a book on the shelf about using yoga to beat addiction. I wanted the book so badly but could not bring myself to take it to the counter because the title would out me as a person with a problem.  I was so embarrassed, wondering what the girl at the counter would think of me. I assumed she would think I was a powerless, desperate and out of control loser. This of course, was the opposite of the truth. Despite my limiting thoughts about myself I was a powerful, motivated and caring person with a burning desire to break free and live my best life. I know you are that person too.  If you are reading this book right now, you have managed to embrace the title “Quitting Drinking” and have already come a long way!  I named it such because I wanted to call it like it is and debunk some of the negative stereotypes (stigma) around people with addictions. I am also using my own name to write this book, because I want to everyone to know this is my real life and I am not ashamed of it. I want you to know that you can reach out to me and we can connect as friends.

Basically I want you to know that if I can do this, you can do this too. We are the same in that we have it within us to change our lives for the better. As long as we are alive, there is opportunity to evolve and expand. I encourage you to evolve toward vitality by making the change to a sober lifestyle.

 

PART 2

HOW TO QUIT DRINKING

This is a compilation of exercises and strategies to help you quit drinking and improve your life…

(coming up next…)

 NOTE:

After being on both sides of drinking culture I can say it is better over here. Come join me!

Listed below are resources I would recommend if you are quitting drinking. Please feel free to contact me at coachingwithkaryn@gmail.com or visit my website at www.coachingwithkaryn.com. Please follow my blog!

I would love to hear from you, especially any stories about…HOPE!

Resources: Some of my faves…

www.alcoholexplained.com

www.sherecovers.co

www.soberistas.com

www.thesoberschool.com

www.hipsobriety.com

www.thisnakedmind.com

Afraid to be alone? Maybe it's the drinking.

Recently I read a post on facebook from a woman who was incredibly defensive about her drinking. She said a bunch of things like... "I work hard, I don't neglect my kids, I'm a community person... but don't you dare suggest I shouldn't have my wine...." She also went on to say more about how she appreciated good wine and supports the industry and the culture behind it and so on, and so on. I've read a thousand posts like this, but for some reason this one really hit me. It was like the old me wrote this post - her words could have been my words. And then an intense feeling of loneliness came over me as I remembered what it was like to be that person. I was hugely defensive about my drinking because I was desperately afraid I would have to give it up if was identified as problematic - and then what would I do when I was lonely? I would be without my most trusted tool, my emotion-squasher, my best friend in a bottle.  It sounds sad, but I'm going to suggest that there are a lot - like millions - of women out there who are pretending to have it all together, who depend on wine to get them through times of loneliness. A person doesn't have to actually be alone to feel this way. A person can feel alone in a crowd, in a workplace, at a party or in their own company. It's isolation, and it's devastating.

Quitting drinking has led me to make significant changes to my perspective. You see, in order to quit drinking, you have to address the problems that lie beneath the problem (drinking). The problem of loneliness required a lot of self-care and introspection. Without the numbing tool I once used to avoid my feelings, I had to get up close and personal with my own mind. I had to learn to like myself, help myself and entertain myself with the content I truly enjoyed and found satisfying. As a result, my feelings of isolation began to shift towards feelings of solitude. Solitude can also be felt in a crowd. It is a about being okay with yourself and enjoying your own company.

This weekend, while my children and spouse trip through the lakes and forests of Algonquin, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time alone. Reading, writing, cleaning, cooking, working, resting, exercising. In the past I might have tried hard to find someone to drink wine with - and if nobody was available would most likely have justified a Netflix & wine marathon and called it "relaxing". Coming out of a weekend like that I would have felt depressed, exhausted and lonely.

The new me after a weekend alone is rested, rejuvenated and feeling actually joyful in my solitude. (I did actually watch a Netflix show, but it was about nutrition and changing the world for the better - very inspiring).

If you are contemplating quitting drinking, please know that over time your life improves, and continues to improve. If you would like support in your decision, let me know. It took time, but there is no doubt in my mind that life is better without booze!

 

 

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Are we Addicted to Gossip?

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In many ways, gossip could be considered an addiction.

In the short-term, a gossiper feels a sense of confidence, privilege or attention when they tell stories about other people. It gives them a boost for feeling ‘one-up’ on someone else, or perhaps a bit of relief for taking any negative attention off of themselves.  This is how an addict feels when they take a hit of their drug of choice – dopamine rises and pain is temporarily relieved.  Long-term the gossiper starts to feel low as they realize how much damage they are doing to others and how they have discredited themselves by sharing toxic information. They feel so low that insecurity starts to brew and when presented with another opportunity to feel better, they do what they think will quickly bring them back up - they gossip again.  It’s a behaviour pattern that gives us a perceived boost short-term, followed by a low in the long-term, then a craving to feel better quickly.  The good news is this addictive pattern, can be broken.

How do we break this pattern of addiction? It’s simple. We need to assume good intent. This should not be hard, because you know and I know that deep down we are all good people, with good intentions and would prefer love and kindness over pain and cruelty.

 Let’s look at why people gossip in the first place. Typically gossip erupts from a place of fear. We are afraid to communicate with someone who has hurt us, directly or indirectly. We lack the confidence required to confront a difficult situation, so we take a short-cut to healing by villainizing someone else in a story meant to prove we are good and right.

Jealousy, insecurity and fear - these are all inescapable emotions. We all have weak moments. However, if despite what seems like overwhelming evidence that someone has wronged us, when we assume good intent of others, we give ourselves the option to say no to gossip.

Try this:  the next time you find yourself telling a story about people who are not present, ask yourself: Do I know this is true? What is my intention? Would my story be different if the subjects were here? How will this affect them (and me) in the long term?  Assuming good intent does not absolve them of any sins they may have committed against you – it simply does not serve you well to think negatively. You are freeing yourself when you assume good intent.

What do we do if we are the victim of gossip? Again, we need to assume good intent. Although someone may have caused you legitimate pain and angst, it does not serve you to hate or retaliate against gossip. If you are able to assume the gossiper is at heart a good person, who did a bad thing, it will allow you to choose freedom and joy. Rise up, move on and wish the gossiper well.

We can reduce or eliminate gossip from our lives if we assume good intent. In the presence of gossip, do not participate. Move the conversation to building people up – particularly the gossiper, who clearly needs the boost. Choose love and kindness. People will gravitate to your positive energy and join in the fun that comes with sharing compliments.

The more we assume good intent, the more resilience we build for the culture of gossip. We promote confidence, kindness and support. If you are feeling badly about gossiping right now - remember - it is never too late to apologize. Something wonderful may result. Break the pattern of gossiping today.