Be the Tortoise.

It’s easy to quit drinking: I’ve done it number of times, but it is hard to stay quit.

For those of you who have struggled with drinking, please let me offer some words of encouragement and a little bit of advice. BE THE TORTOISE! You know who wins the race in the end right?

If we use the analogy of life being a race, then let’s think about it like an ultramarathon. It requires endurance, resilience, training and unwaivering faith to make it to the end.

So, if you happen to be someone who is new to recovery and you came out of starting gates like a rabbit, feeling empowered, inspired, motivated and confident, only to find yourself relapsing within a few days or weeks, please keep this in mind… it’s a good thing that you have been feeling so pumped! The excited feeling is what helped you to fall in love with sobriety. It’s like the feeling of being infatuated with a new lover (well maybe not that good). Point is: to get hooked on recovery, you need to have a honeymoon period.

But there is always a bump in the road. It may not be a full-blown relapse, but inevitably you will find yourself losing steam. Old patterns or stress will tempt you to give up on your new lifestyle. You might want to give up and just step out of the race altogether.

This is not an option friend, and here is why. You have already entered the race. You have already taken steps toward creating a better life. Everything you have learned and experienced up until now is still with you, regardless of any setbacks. Of course we want to avoid relapse, but if it happens, be sure to use it to your advantage. Use it to learn about the course and how to steer around obstacles next time. Use your mistakes to improve your running style. Let relapse help you to become a more solid in your sobriety.

Relapse invites you to take a good, honest look at your strengths and weaknesses. It serves as a starting place for digging into your root issues. Maybe your recovery plan needs some tweaking? Maybe you need to acknowledge that you need support or help in some way from friends or family? Maybe you need a pit crew?

Keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving in the forward direction. Just like the tortoise, if you shift into ‘slow and steady’ gear, you are bound to win this race.

Just say to yourself, I am fine with that.

There are some things in life I just don’t do anymore, and I am fine with that.

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For example, I won’t be having any more babies. It was a special time in my life (albeit very tiring) but that time is over. Another example, I don’t do gymnastics. It was fun to do back handsprings as a kid, but that will never happen again for this spine. Here’s another thing I won’t do again: drink alcohol. It served a purpose for me at various times in my life, but the my relationship with alcohol turned bad. My drinking days are over.

In life we learn to accept that certain things will come and go. We expect to go through a number of stages and we appreciate our experiences along the way. When one experience ends, we make space to embrace the next thing. So why is it, when it we realize the time has come to put an end to drinking, we just can’t seem to let it go? We hold onto it like a an old football star who constantly relives his glory days, or a prom queen who wears her tiara to the grocery store. We deny the reality that those days are done. We keep thinking we can go back for one last ‘hurrah’.

Sobriety requires acceptance and understanding. The acceptance is about letting go of the past. The understanding is about knowing yourself and your addiction and learning to love your life right now and plan for an awesome future.

When we relapse, it has a lot to do with the belief that we can go back in time to a romantic moment with alcohol. My romantic moment is always about the first drink. I see myself sipping a glass of wine in this fun or relaxing scenario or that, never fast-fowarding to the second or third or forth glass. My trick for avoiding relapse is to play that tape forward. How does it all work out after the fourth glass? Not well of course.

* This trick only works if you can be really honest with yourself. Ask yourself: When was the last time I had just one drink and stopped there - really?

Everyone has problems. As much as it may seem that the people around you are “lucky’ because they can still drink, your perception may be very skewed. Perhaps the people you see drinking do not have a drinking problem, or perhaps they do and have yet to determine their relationship with booze. You can never know what is going on for them in their lives with any real understanding; you can only know what is true for you - your truth being that drinking is no longer a part of your life.

Once you have decided you are no longer a drinker, the angst of making the decision is over. Few!

You can go out into the world an embrace new things. You will realize that life is enjoyable and exciting and there is so much more out there to rock your world, now that you don’t numb your brain with booze. Work on a mindset that appreciates your personal insight and maturity and rolls with it. You are evolving and making yourself open to greatness!

Quitting drinking is not something to lament over or grieve for any length of time. I invite you to tell yourself “I don’t drink, and I am fine with that” and move on with your day. In the beginning this little ‘mantra’ may feel kind of weird, especially if you identify as a drinker.

The prom queen need no longer tell herself ‘I am a prom queen’. Her tiara does not define her. She might call herself the …CEO, friend, mom, volunteer, activist, or whatever it is that she has become. Don’t define yourself by what you were - rather embrace who you are now and who you are becoming.

Thank goodness I have a drinking problem!

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Of all the problems a person could have in this world, I thank goodness my problem is drinking. I haven’t always felt this way, but I certainly do now that I am 2.5 years sober and still learning and growing from the experience of quitting drinking.

Let me share some of the ways this so-called problem has enhanced and improved my life. Perhaps my realizations will serve to help you see your current struggle with alcohol, as a gift.

  1. Unlike other illnesses labelled as ‘diseases’ the physical symptoms of the disease of alcoholism disappear, when the alcohol disappears. An alcoholic, in most cases, can expect a full recovery if they quit drinking, perhaps even a journey to thriving vitality!

  2. Quitting drinking requires a deep level of self-compassion and significant periods of solitude. Getting to know myself on a new level has been a valuable experience. Especially now that I realize, I am child of this universe, and I deserve to be here.

  3. Until I quit drinking I was unable to see myself in others. I looked for ways to separate myself out of fear and insecurity. Now, I spend a lot of time with people with addictions and mental health issues and I have come to understand, truly, how we are all the same.

  4. Personal development is my jam. When people quit drinking they discover and re-discover things they love about life. We get more creative, more energized and find purpose and meaning in life.

  5. I used to pair alcohol with almost everything under the sun. Name the occasion, I could find a reason why it was better with alcohol. If I had kept drinking I would never have known how to appreciate life naturally. It turns out I gave way to much credit to booze for enhancing my experience. I have discovered that life is actually quite amazing - particularly now that I am present for it.

  6. Patterns are hard to break, especially if you are genetically pre-disposed to certain diseases or disorders such as alcoholism. The study of epigenetics says that we are not slaves to our history. We have a lot more control over who we become and how our lives will unfold. We can break patterns, evolve and make the world a better place for our children.

  7. If I didn’t suffer with a drinking problem, I would not have the deep appreciation for the power of my own mind to overcome adversity. As well I would not have developed the desire to help people on a personal and meaningful level as I do now. I had to experience the depths of despair that came with drinking to know the genuine sense of connection that comes with sobriety. Like most things in life, you can’t know the good without the bad.

What a husband could say to help his depressed wife.

In moments when I am suffering, I do not know what to do to help myself, nor does my husband. The two of us play out a pattern that typically ends in me coming completely undone, feeling totally isolated and hopeless, and him feeling sad, angry, frustrated and helpless.

Depression is a sneaky disorder. I’ve heard the expression “depression lies to us” and in moments of clarity I can see how this is true. Depression tells us terrible things about ourselves and others. Depression tells us life isn’t worth living. Depression is so incredibly dark.

I am guilty of always trying to intellectualize depression, trying to think my way out of the spinning decline to misery, but it is impossible. Thinking amplifies depression. Distorted thinking that is, paired with heightened emotions and some physical symptoms such as exhaustion and pain.

In my last bout of depression I found myself desperately trying to get my husband to help me. I wanted him to say something to make me feel better. I was unable to help myself. We were both at a loss. But now, that the fog is clearing it occurred to me to prepare for next time - and as much as I like to deny it, there is always a next time.

This is what I think a depressed wife needs to hear from her husband, when she is unable to help herself out of the darkness:

You are not wrong, or a bad person, or crazy.

Indeed people have done things to hurt you, but people are flawed. People forgive, that is what they do. Other people get along well because they can forgive. Try to be forgiving. You will feel better soon.

You are not hated, the kids love you like crazy and so do I. This will pass and we will be okay.

Things seem dark right now, but a lot of this is physical. You are tired, how can I help you get rested?

Do you want to watch a show together? It’s time to rest your busy mind.

I can think of so many things that I love about you.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

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Just quit drinking and you have to go to a party? Don't panic! Here are some Dos and Don'ts

It is tough to quit drinking. Not only do you need to re-wire your brain, you need to re-structure your life - every aspect of your life, including your social life.

In the beginning stages, it may seem easier just to avoid socializing all together; just the thought of a party can cause huge fear and anxiety. But eventually there will be a wedding, funeral, birthday party or family dinner that you simply cannot avoid - nor should you, because this event can help you to realize, it isn’t all about you. You need to show up for other people.

And so, how will you do it? Well, let me start by telling you what not to do - based on my own personal experiences:

1) Don’t spend every minute before the event, stressing about it and picturing yourself feeling embarrassed because you don’t drink. Don’t assume people will judge you or that they will think you are judging them. This negative thought loop could tie you up for hours or days… don’t go there. All the fear and anxiety lives in the moments before the event. When you get there, you will realize it was all for nothing. People really don’t care what you are drinking. It is YOU who is overthinking it, and only you.

2) Do not show up empty handed. Set yourself up for success by bringing your non-alcoholic drink of choice. My favourite is non-alcoholic Grolsh beer. Your host will be grateful there are no awkward moments that can happen when trying to find the sober person a non-alcoholic drink.

3) Do not look for evidence that you do not belong. Early in my sobriety, I went to a birthday party at which all I could do was pick out reasons I didn’t belong. People were talking about how much they love having alcohol available in grocery stores; people were complimenting the hosts on the fine wines they were serving; people were toasting and glasses were clinking. It was like the sound of a thousand nails on a chalkboard to me. I ran out of that house within minutes of arriving. All because I convinced myself I had no business being there, as a non-drinker. Of course this is ridiculous. Nobody changed their habits beside me. Nobody had decided I should not be there, in fact I was invited and therefore welcome to be there. It was all in my head. Don’t let this happen to you. Remember: You were invited. You belong.

4) Don’t judge. You quit drinking and I congratulate you and commend you on your choice. But don’t look for reasons why everyone else should quit too. Surely other people have problems they are not recognizing or dealing with, but it is not your business. Try to just be and let be. This can be hard to do when you have been working on your own awareness and trying to surround yourself with awesome people who inspire you - but at a party, it is not your place to judge. It is your place to be polite and honour the people you are there to celebrate.

5) Don’t stay late. Nothing good happens after 11 o’clock. Enjoy the conversation, the food and the fun and then get on outta there before things go sideways. Just don’t be there for it - go home.

6) Celebrate sobriety at home the next morning. Wake up after a great sleep, make yourself some pancakes and a healthy shake, drink some coffee, read, exercise and spend the day with your family or working or whatever floats your boat. It will come so easily to you because your mind is clear and you feel fantastic. You will be present for your children and proud of yourself for making the good choice.

So, go forth sober friends and embrace the celebrations ahead! You deserve to be there! Your true friends and family love the real you - the one who doesn’t drink. Go and support your loved ones in a genuine and healthy way!

Is there anything more important than quitting drinking? Really?

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If drinking is a problem for you and you have decided you need to quit, then quitting must become your absolute top priority - or your chances of success are slim. Sound a bit extreme? Consider this:

Has drinking ever come before your family? Perhaps you have chosen to drink instead of spending quality time with your kids? Perhaps you let drinking cloud your relationships, or cause conflict between you and your loved ones?

What about your finances? Have you ever spent more money on drinking than you meant to? Have you ever regretted your spending after drinking too much? Have you ever missed work because of drinking, or perhaps under-performed at work, therefore negating your chances of a raise?

And then there is your health. How many times have you ignored signs of illness (short-term or chronic) due to drinking? Have you ever picked up a brochure about drinking and read about the health risks and told yourself, that won’t happen to me? Have you lied to yourself and others about your physical well being for fear you might have to consider reducing or quitting drinking, in order to get better, or even to live?

And your mental health? Feeling depressed or anxious? Feeling shame or disgust about your own behaviour? Noticing yourself deny signs of poor mental health, so you can keep on drinking?

Have you turned your back on groups, activities or communities you were once glad to be a part of ?

Has drinking come before every other priority in your life at some point? YES?

Well then, if you have decided to quit drinking, you must make recovery your highest priority. As you heal from your addiction, you will find yourself getting back in touch with what truly matters to you - but only after you give sobriety your utmost respect and commitment.

There is no half-ass, part-time effort involved here. It is a big, big deal.

There is an exercise the SMART Recovery group uses to demonstrate the concept I am discussing here. It is called the ‘hierarchy of values’. I suggest you check it out, as part of your exploration of sober living. The SMART Recovery people are great - wonderful group with really practical tools and strategies for recovery from addiction of all kinds. Go here to learn more www.smartrecovery.org

Force the smile if you have to

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A big part of the recovery process is getting in touch with your real feelings. People spend years of their lives numbing and avoiding unwanted feelings or thoughts, so they can survive in life as they know it.

Indeed it is important to go through the unwanted feelings but is it really necessary to show them? Do you need to get mad, sad and angry? Do you need to let all the people who have done you wrong, know exactly how and why they hurt you?

I’m going to give you advice I wish someone gave me. Don’t show it. And here’s why. Nobody is coming. Nobody is going to respond to your cries for help - sounds harsh, but I’m sorry, it is the truth.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel the feelings and let it all out somehow, I’m just saying not to do it publicly. And I say this to help you - because what you really want in the end is to connect with people and feel supported. You aren’t going to attract love and kindness, by acting out with pain and anger. You will send people running. They will not like you. You will perpetuate a cycle of rejection, sadness and anger.

Here are some ways you can express your negative thoughts and emotions, without ruining your chances at finding love and connection. Hire a therapist, write letters, blogs or poems, draw or paint, run or do yoga. I have seen hundreds (really… hundreds) of women cry on their mats. Scream in your pillow. Shout it out in your car with the window up…. and then let it stop there.

Recently I met a man who showed me this lesson. I couldn’t see it in myself, until I witnessed the way he interacted with the world and how it worked out for him. It was like looking in a mirror. This poor guy had a story about how he was adopted and how he felt like an outsider in his family growing up. He was skinny and unhealthy and people didn’t like him or pick him for teams, or even invite him to birthday parties. He told this story any opportunity he could get. He still wasn’t over the way he was treated as a kid. It was like he expected everyone in his current life (even though they knew nothing of his past) to be on board with the mean people and join in making his life hell. When I saw the way people interacted with him, I realized he was right. People appeared not to like him. They tried to avoid him. They didn’t take any interest in what he was saying. They did this not because they wanted to make him a victim, but because they had no interest in spending time with someone so negative and life-sucking. Why would they?

I realized I do this. I look for reasons to be offended. I expect people to treat me in ways people have treated me in the past. My attitude creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. People shy away from me, because I send out the vibe that I expect them to do or say something mean or hurtful. We are all falling in line with the law of attraction. You get what you put out.

So yes friends… feel all the feelings you need to in order to process your past and then leave it where it belongs. In the past. Get mad and upset and angry and express it through art, writing, crying or screaming… but do it alone (or with a therapist). And then go out and seek what you truly desire and deserve. Wear the smile you want to see smiling back at you. Do the kind deed you would love to receive yourself. Be the kind of friend you seek - loving, compassionate, fun and free.

Don’t forget. You are a child of this universe and you deserve to be here. Who are you not to be amazing?

Namaste.

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.