i have a choice

With a brain that says “I’d like to be sober, I don’t want to give up alcohol, I’d like to be sober, I don’t want to change anything about my life to help make this happen, oh I should probably quit now, why is this so hard when I don’t really drink very much, perhaps because I have a high bottom I could squeeze in a few more years of drinking” … then perhaps the worst case scenario is that you don’t quit now. You keep going until you have really shitty low bottom, or until you’re physically dependent, or both. Then you find that it’s really really REALLY hard to quit. You go to rehab and AA and it’s still hard to quit. Your brain is NOT on your side, and it tells you any manner of things. You have to ask your sponsor if it’s OK to see your ex-husband (no) or if you should go on vacation (do they have meetings?). If booze is an elevator that only goes down, I have a choice.

day 1: don’t toss it away

from my inbox

E (not yet a penpal): “Hi, My day 1 feels like a long time ago now. but it’s only been 146 days. and each one is easier than day 1 was. they’re not all perfect, some are hard, and on some of them, I wish I could crawl into a hole or a bottle. or a hole with a bottle. but it gets easier to resist that temptation.
My day 1 I was hungover. I had told my mom the night before that I had to quit drinking. On the way home from there, I wanted to throw myself out of the car because I had no idea how I was going to stop drinking. I thought it was too hard and I couldn’t picture my life without alcohol to help me.
so day 1 I woke up and went to work hungover…. I knew this change was happening. I was quitting. for real. and I was terrified. I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it. I called a counselling service. I wrote a message to my family telling them I was done with alcohol. I was honest with them for the first time about my drinking. I don’t really remember what I did the rest of the day. it was blurry. I know I cried a lot. I felt sad, lost, confused, scared, but deep inside there was some hope. some tiny hidden part of me believed I could do this. even though the loudest parts of me and my addiction were screaming “don’t do it! you can’t do this!”. I did it anyway …
Those first few days for me were about holding on. So I tell you now, on day 1: hold on to sobriety. even though it feels weird, and like it’s not yours, hold it. don’t toss it away for the comfort of a glass of wine. be uncomfortable, be an emotional wreck, eat a ton of sugar, hide in your room but hold on to that sobriety and soon, sooner than you think, it will feel better. soon it will feel almost normal. soon you will own that sobriety you will feel proud and confident. but you won’t for the first little while. you may feel scared and wrong and doubtful and weak. but you’re not. just hold on to sobriety until it starts to feel right. and it will.”

missing links. (get it?) you know, links you might have missed in the last few daily emails.  

  • discount link where you can get the pdf of year 1 of my blog (500+ pages). you can also read it online, it’s just easier to read it in the PDF when it’s in chronological order and all in one place.
  • the one minute message about julie
  • discount link to podcasts about prelapse. that’s my word for the time that comes before relapse. and when you know what it is, you can learn to identify it and hopefully avoid it …
  • sober is the new black is back. back in black.



written december 30th:

home from trip to australia, all seems well on re-entry thus far. though i do have a full inbox that’ll take 1-2 days to fully answer 🙂 it’s also very cold here (like below freezing) while sydney is having a heat wave.

sober travel. here’s what it means: remember everything. no missed afternoons. no hungover mornings. spend less money (more money for treats; more money for vacations!).

travelling sober means we sleep better, even in strange beds. travelling sober means that even with a spontaneous head cold developed hrs before the flight, even with head/ear pain, you still don’t drink. you sleep instead — you know, that thing you said you never did (sleep on flights), yeah that thing. that’s what you do.

and you eat the food they give you (thumbs down for qantas, hooray for emirates). you take pictures from the window while flying near zurich (no kidding!).

you come home, nap for a few hours, get up and have a regular evening, then you — wait for it — go to bed and sleep all night and are spontaneously adjusted to the time change. yes. sober travelling. no booze to slam me into neutral. no booze to ‘make the time pass’. no booze to ‘celebrate’ or ‘soothe’ the ear ache (which ended as soon as the plane began its descent).

true, i’m home now to 4 loads of laundry (must my husband wash everything in his suitcase? i mean, we did laundry in melbourne and sydney along the way …). i’m home to pledge to eat better (ha. croissants + the best ham/cheese baguette last night). i’m home to sleep in  my own bed (there may not be any better reward for a 25 hr flight than your own bed. the king-sized one. with the right pillow.).

it’s cold outside. the christmas decorations shine and remind us that we weren’t here for christmas. well, we had christmas on the beach, does that count? we had an alternate-reality christmas complete with corn on the cob (hey, i know the last time i had corn on the cob now! it was christmas day).

my husband has (literally) put the map for Portugal into the bathroom as of last night, so he can scope out ideas while in the tubbie for a trip in the spring…

sober travel means that re-entry, transitions are just plain easier.

cuz really, life is plain easier when sober. all of it. the sleep is easier, the travelling, the flying, the thinking.

it’s just easier to be sober. who knew.
love and hugs from me 🙂

p.s. obligatory link you click to indicate engagement (the linked blog post was written april 2013 and is the 3rd most popular on the blog). (i will one day learn to write without parentheticals. (perhaps.))

treats don’t work for me

recently sent this out as a daily micro-email; i’m going to post it here on the blog and add in some of the many emails i’ve received in response. 

email from good:

“i’m totally in the ‘treats don’t work for me’ camp. I eat what I want, when I want, within of course healthy parameters that – if i break them (TWO pieces of cheesecake!) – it doesn’t feel like a treat, it induces shame.

I buy what i want, when I want. Sometimes i have tried to convince myself that an expensive piece of jewelry or pair of jeans I’ve been eyeing or something similar will be a reminder piece to stay sober. But I never can “wait 30 days” to put it on.

I don’t have time for a lot of physical treats. I am craving a good 5-mile hike in the woods right now and it’s been a couple weeks and it hasn’t happened. I have two young kids and my husband and I are to the brim with shared responsibilities.

I cringe when I hear people say “make the time” and “get your partner to help!” – my husband cannot magically get his meetings cancelled to get home early so I can take off. I cannot walk out on my kids who are sitting at the table waiting for dinner. I cannot forget to get the straws or pictures or clothes together for school for the next day or my kid will feel left out and it will be my fault, something I can’t live with. When I’m getting dinner together, husband is busy giving them a bath and has to call his cousin in the hospital.  Later I have to clean or shop for guests or a party we’re having. This is the kind of every day stuff that has to get done. Now. Make time my A%$.  I’m lucky to get a shower in every other day (don’t worry I work from home) and I prioritize exercise, even if it’s whatever I can do quickly and not my favorite kind) over things like bubble baths. If I get a chance to go out for a couple hours and hike, or happen by a cute coffee shop and have a chance to stop, or even get an hour to read at the end of a long day between 10 and 11pm, I will take it, whether I ‘deserve’ it, have X days sober, just got through a tough craving, or not. And honestly, if I feel good enough about however many days of sobriety to deserve a treat, just feeling deserving, that’s treat enough.”

from me: do you agree with Good about the treats thing? i’ve done a lot of writing about this and recorded audios, and talked about retraining your brain … but i wonder if you agree with Good that, no matter what i suggest, it’s all ‘airy-fairy’ wishful thinking …

and if you disagree with Good (or you used to think how she did and now you don’t), you can tell me about that too. I’ll share some ideas in a future email.

fancy food treats (thank you )

returned to the expensive catering take-out places, for more food research …

my ideas: it’s very expensive, which works for that one neighbourhood, but it is still on the very top end of acceptable in terms of expense (and might even be OVER that threshold), the food is homemade and fresh, it is very very good food, better than most of the restaurant food.

the downsides of this particular place (things i would improve): the food is the same day-to-day, week-to-week and in the same location in the chiller. no variety. it could be: this week mustard meatballs, next week it’s chinese meatballs. even the pastries are identical week to week. it’s dull for the cook and perhaps too much the same for clients. i would also have some food in the window. it makes people want to come in if they can see the food from the outside… even better if you can see someone PREPARING the food from the outside …

fancy sparkling water, 3 meatballs with veggies, beet and walnut salad, chicken and artichoke salad with tomatoes, two desserts: chocolate mousse with fruit and creme-anglais, and blackberries and cream on top of chocolate tart on shortbread crust


Thanks to the Tiny Gift Button

“i believe in moderation”

email from ashley: 

“Belle, what if I don’t think [that drink] was wolfie? I guess I feel confused. I haven’t had any drinks since that night because I really haven’t wanted one accept last night. But I forgot and didn’t have one. I guess I feel like I believe in moderation. Since I’ve been going without the social lubricant for so long, I no longer feel like I even need alcohol. Does this make sense? I know I have issues with moderation, alcohol got me into a nasty place about 6 months ago. And I was abusing it, using it in the wrong ways. Now I don’t need it like that. I’ve found other ways to relieve stress, a hot bath, hot tea, a walk. Stuff like that. I’m probably just rambling now i don’t know. Not really sure what to make sense of it. But wondering this as well. Why does a lot of situations have to be so black and white. I feel like this is grey.”

me: I think that the voice in our head does like to suggest that moderation is a good idea. ‘it‘ll be different this time’ it says. ‘you quit for a while so you’re fine now.’

the thing is, we all hear the same voice in our head. we hear the same ideas. and maybe NOW you dont need alcohol like that – for now. for right now. if you arrived in a crappy place before, you may well end up in a crappy place again, and then find it very hard to get sober momentum again. sober momentum is a hard thing to get.

there is grey. there are lots of people standing with one foot in both drinking and sobriety. or they switch between the sober and the drinking camp. the only ones I know who are happy about their decision, and wake up happy for the decisions they’re making on a daily basis, are those who are now sober. I‘ve been penpals with 2,494 people as of today (who’s gonna be 2500?). I wish I could tell you otherwise, that the over-drinkers wake up every day pleased with the decision to drink the night before, but I can’t. and I know it sucks rocks. and I know that your brain throws a tantrum right around now. you hate me right this second. well, not you, wolfie. you’re here asking for sober support. wolfie is something else entirely.

I know that lots of people do many sessions of ‘alcohol research’. you’ve done some before. hopefully you won’t do more now. but you might. we want to think that outcome of drinking will be different ‘this time’ – but it‘s a bit like a shitty boyfriend who makes that ever-tearful promise to CHANGE. “I won’t hit you this time,” he says.

but he does. he will. maybe not the first day. but it’s there.

and yes, it totally makes sense that the voice in your head sounds sweeter than this. any voice that’s saying “you should drink” is wolfie. nobody needs to drink. for any reason, ever. and normal drinkers dont have a voice convincing them that a few drinks here and there will be ok. so yes, it is wolfie. i’m sorry. wolfie hates it when i say that, too. you’re like “it’s not wolfie dammit” and i’m like: that’s what wolfie looks like …

sweet pea, your original place is here, with a sober penpal. you’re member 2133. that’s your sober suite. there’s a nice view and you wake up every day relieved that you didn’t drink yesterday. and it never gets old.

anytime you want to shout, I‘m here.
hugs from me

fill your own holes

extract from a new, undefined writing project:

Question from Grateful Girl: “Why do you do it? Do you get a lot of personal satisfaction?”

What’s the part of being a sober penpal that I like the best?

I have a front row seat while you do some something brave. You dehydrate Wolfie. You learn to ignore the voice in your head that says Drink Now. I throw the glitter, rustle some pompoms. I listen. I point out possible (maybe, theoretical) potholes in the road. But let’s be clear. You do all the hard work. You figure out who you are as a sober human. You have very large realizations and feel proud of yourself and feel relief. So having a front-row seat to that? It’s really very lovely.

Apparently I have a soothing voice. That anyone can feel calmed by me is funny, because I’m anxious by nature. Maybe I sound soothing because I’ve been right there. And I’m a good rememberer and a good describer. I have a few talents – communicate, write, build community, sense of humour, empathy. I’m determined and mostly upbeat, and when I’m not, my husband drags it out of me with his insufferable easy-going-ness.

Where do any of my traits come from? Childhood, I suppose. For some reason, and I really don’t know why, but I could not conform. I was a good student, easily bored, teacher-pleaser. And also insecure, unsure, with poor boundaries. I drank to fit in, and it worked until it didn’t. I don’t want to write a  memoir, and I don’t want to talk about family shit because it’s not my story to tell. This part is my childhood story, I can tell this part: low income family, parental job instability, parental divorce, domestic violence, a time without a telephone, eldest of four children to young parents.

So what happens when you don’t get all of your needs met (and no one does, it’s just not possible)? You either resent those people for not gifting you with attention/self-esteem and a perfect life (I did this, resenting). Or you move on to a place (with therapy? with coaching? with time? with sobriety?) where you can accept that they did the best they could, and that while it wasn’t good enough (it never is), you can now go out into the world and fill your own holes.

My needs weren’t met (no one’s are), I can bang on the drum of “why me, why not this, why that, why this over here.” I can stand there with my needs not met (they never are) waiting for those holes to be filled by someone else. Or I can go out and make shit happen, pay someone to help me change the inside of my head, speak to counsellors, learn new strategies, and fill my own holes.

I’m not broken. I’m learning. Learning what I need.

We all have to do this learning anyway, even when we have cushy lives with money and smothering parents who love each other (!). If that was you, then the challenge would be autonomy, self-direction, internal motivation.

Nobody gets what they need.

OK, so what. So we learn how to do it for ourselves. We learn to self-soothe and have agency and get our shit together. We figure out what our hobbies are, we figure out how to move our buttons so that other people don’t push them so easily.

That’s the part that’s cool about being sober.

And that’s the part that’s cool about being a sober coach.

I get to watch YOU do THAT.