If we are sober penpals, then we email all the time and I keep track of your dates. Then i can celebrate you online (here) when you hit the big milestones. like these ones (haven’t done this for a while, so the list is longer than it might ordinarily be!):
email from P: “I have been around for a while now with the usual ups and downs. Although more recently the wolf has taken a new path. It really is like little red riding hood being fooled by a wolf in disguise. I have been convinced that if I have a drink late in the evening then I don’t have time to drink much. I take great pleasure in telling people I only have a glass or maybe two in the evening. But I don’t really. I now see the slippery slope and that i have been fooled yet again by that little old lady who smiles and says ‘just one dear’.
Why oh why did I not see the long snout and sharp teeth and ugly sneer? I have always thought little red riding hood must have been a blind idiot not to see what was going on right in front of her. But now I have more empathy.
Just like others, I have ignored advice … I just dropped all my tools and opened not one of your emails, apart from today!
I don’t feel at rock bottom like I have, I am not as far down the elevator as I have been but I can see which way I am heading.
I have suddenly noticed the wolf disguise and realised that it’s a really shit one. I am thinking about drinking, and i now know that the idea of one or two glasses is bullshit. Thanks for just having an email address that allows me to even tell this shit xx.”
DEADLINE IS TODAY
for the One Minute Message Cards.
there will be no late joining: Once I start to mail these, I am not able to add new people later. I’d be too confusing. Everyone gets the same thing every month. Which means we all start together. Now. Like today.
Yoda (day 1149): “There is something about acquiring something tangible that can be accessed without any electronic intervention, or any need to go to the other room or explain why you’re putting your headphones on, just some small nearly invisible talisman that keeps you tied to your own hope perhaps? My bracelet arrived the day after I came back from crazy beach vacation. Usually I get the mail, today Mr. Yoda did. He yelled up the stairs ‘hey, who is Belle Robertson from France?’ Since he knows little to nothing about you and I happened to be awake enough to think quickly I yelled back ‘the lady I get my bracelets from.’ He said ‘well, she loves you.’ Guess he read your note on the back.”
>> cards here <<
Every month for 6 months you’ll get an envelope in the mail, and in that envelope will be two cards AND one photo. Small messages (one-minute messages actually), transcribed, printed, and laminated. Just for you. And I’ll adjust the timing each month, so you won’t know exactly when it’s coming … go here and get one of the last sets.
So in Canada we have an expression, it’s called being madly off in all directions. And actually it probably has a British origin, but the premise is like this: Madly off in all directions means that your brain will ask you to do 100 things at once, and will LIE to you, and tell you they all have EQUAL importance. Madly off in all directions means you run this way, and that way, and this way, and that way, and you never really get anywhere. It looks like you’re doing stuff, but really, you’re just sort of running around like a chicken with its head cut off (which is another good expression). The madly off in all directions thing, though, can wind you up and make drinking seem like a good idea, if you buy into it. So this is when I talk about you NOT stating to make applesauce at 10:30 pm … If you have a brain that suggests that you begin a bunch of things and then drop them, and then begin some more things and then drop them, and then look like you’re busy, but not really—you can remember that wolfie likes to wind you up so that drinking might seem like a good idea, and that your job is to disengage from that. And to strive for underwhelm rather than overwhelm. [listen to this as an audio]
from my inbox:
C (day 818): “Hi Belle. I felt compelled to send you a note. I lost a sister, 50 yrs old, to cancer this morning, she fought a two-year battle. She was my baby sister, 10 years younger than I. It was a very very difficult last few weeks. What makes it so much more heartbreaking is that 4 yrs. ago, I lost another sister to cancer, she was five years younger than I. I know you get thousands of emails from people with their stories, mine is no more special, there are worse stories out there and I know it’s not a competition. I hope you will indulge me for a minute.
When my sister died in 2014, I was not sober. I never gave myself the “alcoholic” label, that couldn’t be me as I didn’t put alcohol on my cereal for breakfast for god’s sake. For sure, I was a high bottom, maybe even medium bottom. Two bottles of wine a night, 5-7 nights a week … I was able to do what I needed to do, but hating myself through every minute of it. I was able to get to every appointment with her, usually at 7 a.m., most mornings hungover and not well. I survived it and got through it, but never felt well and fully engaged. I never thought there could have been anything more devastating. Wrong. Fast forward to today. My other sister passed today on my day 818. What a difference being able to be fully involved, be fully present. She had daily treatments that required transportation back and forth from the hospital for two months. I took her to every one. Fortunately, I am far enough out from Day 1 that I have no desire to drink, it didn’t even enter my mind …
It is so much more rewarding to be a willing, functioning participant. I was humbled to be part of her journey. Wasn’t quite like that with sis #1.
My whole point is that I muddled through the first death, this second one, fully present with a toolbox of tools. I know you hear this often and I know you will say that I’m the one who did the work and quit drinking, but let me tell you this. I attribute my success to all that you provide. You have, in fact, saved my life … nothing worked before, why would it now. But somehow in all this time, finding your book in a library donation section of my local library of all things, reading those first few pages and saying, holy shit, she gets it, keeping up with your OMM’s, your emails, Mr. B’s art, your jewelry, all of it, I’ve managed to do this. Look at my gumroad account, I’m a fan. Never in all my life could I think this could happen. It’s nothing short of a miracle.
The other reason I tell you all this is to let you know my experience with the sober toolbox has taught me there are so many resources out there that I’ve already decided that I will need to seek some sort of grief counseling to get through this second loss. First time around, drinking like a fish, didn’t need any help, I was a genius of course. This time, I am cognizant of the fact WELL AHEAD OF TIME that this second devastation is more than I will be able to handle, and will need to find some new tools from a grief toolbox. But guess what. I am sober. I. Am. Sober …
Thank you Belle from the bottom of my heart. I will continue to follow you, I still need the support. But I have done this, with your virtual help and for that, I am grateful. Keep up the great work and thank Mr. B. for his wonderful art. Hey, if he ever does quarter panels again, I’m wanting to add ‘Stay’ to my collection. (I bought 191b and 191d). With warmest regards, C.”
Season 2 of the
One Minute Message Cards (& Photos) are ready …
Deadline: Sunday, January 27, 2019
Every month for 6 months you’ll get an envelope in the mail, and in that envelope will be two cards.
Small messages (one-minute messages actually), transcribed, printed, and laminated. Just for you.
They will start here, in my office. I’ll feed the envelops, one by one, through the printer, and then the stamps go on — the colourful french stamps — ask me to tell you about how I found these 18 year old stamps sometime!
You’ll get one envelope in the mail, every month, for 6 months.
You can do the math, it’s 6 x 2 cards = 12 cards.
And I’ll adjust the timing each month, so you won’t know exactly when it’s coming …
So here’s what Deepak Chopra says: “I celebrate every breakthrough on the way to being free.” And to me, I have to tell you, that sounds a bit light and airy-fairy. So I’d like to rewrite it. Here’s what I’d say: I’m in my sober car, and it’s not always perfect. I’m going through shitty towns on my way to somewhere sunnier. Yes, we celebrate every breakthrough on the way to being free. But also, we accept that sometimes there are crappy bits on the way to good things. Just like there are crappy towns on the way to nice towns. Just like there are bad meals and then there are great meals. That you’re having a bad meal, a crappy town, or a crappy day doesn’t mean that you aren’t on the way to some place better. [Keep going.] [listen to this as an audio]
these are quarter paintings. mr.belle takes one larger painting, and makes 4 smaller ones, so you get a smaller painting (smaller budget) but also you get to share a piece of art with other sober folks around the world. link here.
from my inbox
nyawa (day 354) (this is about podcast 022 called i heart chicks): “Belle, the metaphoric story you tell int he audio about your heart condition and the medication … is excellent. (thank goodness you are all better.) BTW, I was listening to this audio in the car on our recent long drive. and my 10 yr old daughter asked, ‘Mum, is Belle ok? Whats wrong with her heart?’ I had to explain you were fine now and this was recorded a while ago — but she was very concerned because she is a lovely empathetic girl who is following my sobriety journey with some interest now. I have made the decision to discuss parts of my relationship with alcohol with her in a watered down way, and also talk about other people in our family who have troubled relationships with alcohol, and this helps me to explain why I need to have treats and how I am self-soothing/ taking care of myself, so I don’t get upset or cranky. She told me a few months ago ‘well Im not drinking, Im just going to listen to that lady who swears all the time like you do’. Um, that would be you in the kitchen with me while I am making dinner, she knows your name now.”
Z: “Belle, please please send me a list of supports FREE AND UNDER £30. Thank you for your continued support, I’m so very grateful for your daily emails. I’m on day 297 but am finding it harder and harder to ignore wolfie. My wolfie is called Annabelle (after the possessed doll). she won’t stop telling me that it’s now ok to have one / two max glasses … she keeps telling me that I now have the ability to stop before I get drunk and my personality won’t change from an easy-going woman to a verbally aggressive bitch that hurts those I love. But then I receive your email that tells me just what a lying cow Annabelle is and that I have to stop listening to her. I truly believe that without you I would be getting divorced, I would have lost my business and my children (even though they are adults) I may have even lost my life. I tried AA meetings for the first 4 months of my sobriety but even though I met some really nice people the meetings aren’t for me. So my family and I thank you Belle from the bottom of our hearts.”
MissesT (day 77): “Wondering if you have any podcasts or inspiration on how to move on from berating oneself for past alcohol misdemeanours and fuck ups. So many compromising situations, lost friendships and missed opportunities due to alcohol. Any magic formulas to come to terms with them and stop them popping up on my head? Or is it lying bastard Wolfie trying to get at me? I used to run through decades of drinking dramas and what could have beens during my 0300 nightly dates with Wolfie so perhaps it’s him trying to rattle my cage? In some respects the thoughts are helpful in that they are uncomfortable and remind me of how great it is to be free of adding to the list but will I ever forgive/move on?”
me: I do have audios on this specific subject. there’s a bundle … is it Got Guilt? (no, maybe it’s called Got Shame?). or maybe … maybe it’s about regret …
from my inbox
E: “Hi Belle, thank you so much for the 1 minute message ‘proud’. I’m on day 11 and my daughter is working tomorrow and she has asked me to look after my 4 year old grandson, and do you know what? she can count on me to do it and do it well and I’m so proud. I want to run out in the street and shout YEAH but I won’t because it’s 10.30 pm and I’m having my treat of hot chocolate. But tomorrow I’ll be up early without a hangover to have a fun day with my beautiful grandson. Thanks Belle.”
M (day 25): “I had an endoscopy today. Nothing super serious … I’m pretty chill with doc visits and medical procedures, but this was the first time I’ve been in a hospital since my (9-year old) son died. As they put the oxygen tubes in my son I really lost it. All the images of the last time I saw my son cane flooding back. Such sorrow. My nurse today was a 50-something, bad ass guy, who stayed with me for about 45 minutes to calm me down before the procedure. Turns out he’s a recovering addict 27 years sober. As both of our stories unfolded, I felt a complete connection with him. On the surface, we seemed so different. I was a grieving mom who drank too much wine. He was a high school drop out druggie who ended up in jail. But here we were, hearing each other’s stories, giving unconditional support, staying sober. I had a high low, he had a low low. Both grateful we were off the elevator. The procedure went fine. I’ll get results in a week. But I’ll always consider nurse Tim part of my home team.”
[a note from me: i remember having a cardiac procedure 5 years ago, and was terrified of the next bit they were going to do to me, and so i said very loudly and clearly: “Who is going to hold my hand during this?” (my husband was downstairs at registration getting me signed in, so not available, and he’s a fainter anyway, hardly any help). A nurse came and sat with me, held my hand, asked me where i was from given my accent, then she admitted in a quiet voice that she’d never been outside of france because she had bad anxiety and couldn’t fly, ever. and so i told her about my anxiety/flying things, and how with support we can change our thinking … and i remember her too, as part of my home team. Ask for what you need. Ask clearly. Who is going to hold my hand? Ask for it.]
Paris Podcast Picnic
at any given moment, i have about 40 hrs of work on my desk that i could do. add in laundry and meals and exercise. add in not just the actual catering, but the recipe development and the continuing education. add in a husband. now add in a child or a dog or a sick parent, or all three. add in commuting and a broken car and a 3-foot snowfall expected this weekend.
we go along in our sober cars, and we think: “i will add on more supports when i start to feel bad.”
this is typical. i say to a penpal, “you can email more often,” and they will reply “I’ll email more if i start to feel bad.”
here’s the problem.
our gauge is faulty. the ‘i’ll feel bad’ meter doesn’t work. the gas tank has almost no warning when it’s running out of gas.
you look at all the things to do, and you think: “i can’t possibly stop and do any self-care right now, what about dinner?” belle says order in. you say “i can’t do that every day.” belle says you can do it today.
we wait to feel bad AND THEN we’ll reach out for more supports. i might suggest that you sign up for the coaching call that comes with the jumpstart class, and you’ll think “i’ll save it until i need it. i’ll add in treats if i feel bad. i’ll listen to a podcast if i feel shitty.”
since the gas gauge is faulty, and doesn’t give you a good reading, then what?
well then you err on the side of caution, and you do things preventatively. you do things in advance. have alone time? i’ll wait until i feel terrible? or i’ll plan it now as a non-negotiable half-hour.
having a faulty gas/stress/overwhelm/wolfie gauge means we have to do less and then see how we feel (versus do more and try to pull back). book the treat, the haircut, the manicure, the massage. buy the flowers. cancel the dinner. stop going into pubs saying “i’ll have water, i’ll be fine.” we have to err on the side of caution.
because falling over is dangerous. and can lead to years spent trying to get a new day one.
you’re building a life on this sober foundation. you have to check that foundation for cracks. “but i have a big life on top and it’s busy.” yes, check the foundation. “but i have so much to do that i can’t take the time to check.” yes, but it’s the FOUNDATION. it’s non-negotiable.
i am the same. i think “i shouldn’t need this” but i do. and i think “maybe i’ll go next weekend” but i’m going tomorrow. and we think about filling up our sober gas tank with gas, in advance, preventatively. because the gauge is broken.
we know that it’s broken. we’ve driven off the road before.
not anymore. not now. no longer.
from my inbox:
Cookie (day 3): “I just read your email and yes I’m going to send you multiple emails for the next few days (every hour might be too noticeable at work). Part of the trouble with this (multiple emails, calls, meetings) is that I don’t feel like I have anything to say. I’m more of an internal processor than a “sharer”. Also have the assumption that my “feelings” aren’t very important or interesting. I know these things aren’t meant to entertain others but I am still stuck at the point of being ashamed of my thoughts and feelings, feel inconsequential so why bother. It’s not something I am going to solve right away (honestly, it gets better the longer I am sober). Ok, talk to you soon!” [update: she’s on day 6 today]
F: “I am on day 16 sober and still pinching myself that I am actually doing this, me the fuck up wino, who hadn’t had a single day sober in over 2.5 years!!! I tried everything before and failed at every hurdle (couldn’t even get past the one night without my wine). The wolf in your book is what hooked me. it was like you were talking about my own actual mind. honestly you hit the nerve and made me believe I can tell the wolf to go to hell, thanks Belle xx”
L: “Think you are great and I relate to you so much. I too have an alcohol problem. Thinking of joining up, but maybe you perhaps need to make your emails shorter and to the point. They are War and Peace. People don’t have time to read all that. Better suited to a blog. Kind regards and thanks.”
email from ck:
“Hi Belle, just thought I’d send this along. I finally got my beachy Potential art (#236) framed as my Christmas present to myself. I had the Seas the Day plaque already. (Get it? Course you do). Anyway, thought that would go along well with Potential artwork … Thank you from Arizona. (I live in a desert but I so miss my ocean.) I can seize the day because I have so much potential now, because I am sober (day 808). If you ever find yourself in the southwest part of the U.S., coffee and treats are on me.”
link to original art, here.
I don’t think we can figure out why we’re drinking, why we’re over-drinking, while we’re still consuming. I think that in the time when we’re pouring booze on our head, it makes it impossible to figure out why. I hear second-hand reports of therapists saying, “we just need to figure out why you do this, what are you trying to self-medicate.” And I would say that you can’t figure that stuff out until you’ve been sober for a while. Because really, in the beginning, just being sober is enough. It’s enough of a goal. It’s enough of a project. The excavation of what’s going on underneath can’t really be done while you’re over-consuming. Like how coherent, logical, rational, open, observant are you when you’re over-drinking? It’s like asking the question, “why did I take alcohol to bed with me, like what was the point of drinking right before going to sleep?” And the answer is I could never have possibly figured that out while I was still drinking because it doesn’t make any sense, and it’s only afterwards, looking back on it, that we can start to figure out the meaning in some of these events. But we can only do that from a sober vantage point. [listen to this as an audio]
- my video of the eiffel tower? you can watch it here, recorded from metro line 6 and then i walk around at Trocadero, and you can see Invalides, too.
- then later that same day i did a second facebook live video, in the dark, facing the street, and i talk about feeling heard. it’s here. you don’t have to be on FB to view these videos.
Exit painting #307 Sortie
(which is ‘exit’ in french)
exit the booze elevator. it only goes down. it’s time now. get off. stay off. get out of that shitty place as soon as you can.