When you’re alone, it’s punishment

yesterday I was doing a bunch of behind the scenes catering stuff for next weekend’s wedding. You know, doing the stuff you don’t show on facebook… the real work that gets things done. Making dressings, cooking grains, freezing pie crusts…

The bride has asked me to make some mini-baby sandwiches and since I know that making a bunch of tiny bread buns on the morning of the wedding won’t physically be possible, I have experimented over the past few weeks with par-baking bread (baking it just a little bit so that you can finish it later) and yesterday, Saturday, I had a friend come over to help me form the little buns.  520 of them.

[It’s sort of like deciding to get sober. You have a plan but no real idea on how you’re going to get it done. You know you HAVE to get it done, and you have a general idea on where you’re going, but you have to sort of make it up as you go along.]

My friend arrives at 10:30 am, and first I realize that I can’t make a quadruple batch of bread in my giant mixer, nor can I bake that many at a time, so I make 50% of this batch, and start that one.  Then the other one starts to rise, and we have to stop everything and divide it.  It’s sort of like what Quill calls playing Whack-a-Mole, where you’ve got things popping up that need to be dealt with. [It’s like having emotions running weird — oh where did that feeling come from, really? do i have to deal with that right NOW? yes.]

Around supper time my friend leaves to take a break. I am tired. I look at one buckets of dough rising. I look at the counters and tables covered in par-baked buns cooling from their initial bake. I look at my freezer.

Yes, it had been my plan to have a completely empty freezer before I began the wedding.  [You probably had a plan to have a completely stress-free life before you get sober.]

I look at the freezer.  I look at my husband.  I figure I have only two options (black and white thinking).  I can tell my friend fuck-it, we can’t finish today, there’s no room in the freezer. I’ll just have to work a few all-night shifts nearer the date. OR …

I go online to look at ordering a new freezer but they can’t deliver it until Wednesday, also too late to be useful.

I get myself into a serious funk.  A ‘fuck-it’ funk. A”‘why have I gotten myself into this mess, why am I even trying to do this, I should have said I could cater for 10 not for 50, it’s her wedding for god’s sake, this is major shit, i’m going to fuck it up” — that kind of funk.

To top it off it was pouring-pouring-biblically pouring rain right around 6 p.m. and I had visions of her wedding NEXT weekend being saturated with rain.

I whine to husband: “What if it rains like this next Saturday, she’ll be so disappointed. If I was her, today, I’d be looking out the window at this and I’d be soo worried about next weekend.”

She’s not you, says Mr. Belle.

Meaning, she’s probably feeling like the rain is spending itself in advance and that next weekend will be good by comparison.

sharon sends me an email: “Your wedding will be perfect. No worries. You slayed wolfie so a wedding’s a piece of CAKE.”

and I do I wonder how much catering is like sobriety, or how everything is like everything. I put on my big girl panties, I go to the freezer, I take everything out. I ask Mr. Belle to stand beside me with a garbage bag. I throw out all the food that is more than 2 years old (one small kitchen garbage full … not much, but enough), I take out the plastic storage containers holding food and transfer things to flat plastic bags. There is now magically 1/3 of the freezer empty.

In other words, I have a good hard look at what I have, I toss what isn’t working for me, i rearrange what’s left, and I make room for new things to come.

My friend returns from her break, we begin shift #2 and work until after 9 pm. All buns made, cooled, wrapped, and in the freezer.

So yes, I nearly gave up and called the day a write-off. If my friend hadn’t been there, that’s probably what would have happened.  I would have left it to ‘figure out later’. but because I knew she was going to come back and say “what next?” i was temper-tantruming in my head about how hard it all is, but i also knew because she was there, i had to find a solution. Accountability. As simple as your friend saying what next sherlock.

When you’re alone, it’s punishment. As soon as there’s another person it’s a project.

Just like sobriety.

PS: my treat last night after a long day: bath + candle + book + mint tea while Mr. Belle made supper.  For dessert I had four squares of dark chocolate with salted caramel. Today i slept till 10 a.m. and I’m not working. Oh yeah, and it’s really clear and beautifully sunny today. <le sigh>

fruit & beauty treat


Thanks to the Tiny Gift Button

Blueberries (which are hard to find here), Belgian strawberries, citrus flower body wash, turquoise nail polish for my toes (!), and some raspberry lip gloss.

This is to celebrate my first week of coaching. I will consume/use/smell/wear some of each today!

Today’s Ticker:

(number of people in Team 100)

(spots left in next week’s class)

(wolfie bracelets left in this batch)

(number of kilometres ran this morning)

(this the number of fucking flower venders at the market today – not ONE – it’s vacation time – i want to buy some nice fucking flowers!)

(number of extra catering jobs that came in yesterday, “oh can you do a dinner for 10 and deliver it to us, and can make lots of yummy stuff and homemade cheese crackers … for Tuesday? Yes.)

(number of silicon spatulas that I own that I like; must remedy this situation)

Today I am one year sober

I had read about Dry July and I’d tried not drinking before. I could usually do 3 or 4 or 7 or 9 days. i thought about doing dry july… i mean, surely i could quit for a month…

I was either travelling or on vacation for most of June last year.  There was booze at all meals, lunch and dinner. The last night of vacation (june 27) we went out for dinner at a roast chicken ‘restaurant’ like Church’s Chicken/Swiss Chalet/St-Hubert. My husband had some nostalgic childhood thing he had to fulfill, it wasn’t my idea of a nice place for dinner. We ordered a bottle of wine, had our half-chicken-with-canned-sauce. We ordered more wine. Then we ordered more. It was our last night on vacation. We had purposely left the car behind. The bill came and i reached for the $80 that i had put in my shorts pocket. But the bill was for $130. For two people, two crappy half-chicken dinners, and some seriously overpriced, marked up, not even great wine (a lot of it). I didn’t have my wallet with me. the restaurant was closing. i didn’t have time to take the train back to our hotel room, get my bank card, and return. For whatever reason, all we had between us was my husband’s european driver’s license and $80. So we left his license with the minimum wage employee on the promise that we’d go to a bank in the morning and return before our flight to pay off the bill. and we did.

then we flew home to europe. we had wine on the plane. we had wine once we got home. and i knew i was done. I specifically remember June 30th when i had my last drink. I remember that i didn’t like it, it tasted like garbage, i was so sick and tired of the whole thing. I drank that night just to be finished with it, and so that i could begin Dry July the next day.  And, well, if you’ve read the first part of my long story from last july, you know that i got to day 7 sober and then i knew i was in trouble and that i couldn’t do it alone.

fast forward. today i am one year sober.

Here’s what I know:

  1. it’s much much easier after 30 days. then it’s easier again after 90. then 6 months is rocking. then something happens at about 8.5 months and since then i’ve been riding a pretty big upswing. The first bit of being sober is the hardest, and then it’s an uphill ride of betterness.  i cannot remember the last time i really craved wine. I know that i occasionally think that ‘wine would be a good idea right now’ but it never goes any further than that. it’s probably been 3 months since i’ve had a real craving. I tried to search my blog to find evidence, and all i can find is may 6th, so about 3 months ago: “some blah days it seems like ‘this would be a good time for wine’ is my go-to response to ‘cover up the day and hide from all of this, are we there yet, is this over yet’ feelings.  Instead, I go to bed early, get up and go for a long run, make a new recipe.”
  2. sober help. i would not have gotten (or stayed) sober without help from other sober people. my help came in the form of sober blogging. your help might come from a sober penpal, or commenting on other sober blogs. i really believe now (and i didn’t think this before) that i could not have gotten sober alone. i needed help with the noise in my head. i had to learn it was wolfie. i had to learn to not listen…
  3. i am less grumpy. i don’t go to bed in tears over some misunderstanding. i think i’m more even tempered in general.
  4. i’ve lost 10 pounds since giving up booze even WITH large amounts of cake, without dieting.
  5. we’ve stopped spending ‘dumb’ money, probably about $10 a day, it’s just stopped. We actually went out for dinner this week, and two hamburgers and a large bottle of water = $20.
  6. my husband stopped drinking at home when i quit. when i was 9 months sober, he quit entirely (his idea).
  7. I made room for my passion/job #3 thingy (catering) to really bloom. I am not a morning person. i can only get up at 6 am to bake bread because i’m sober. this i know for sure.
  8. I’m more likely to follow through on a commitment now. I’m better at answering emails and keeping my inbox empty. I follow through on what I say. No more late night facebook posts, and no more (oh god) emailing clients with ideas on how to build their businesses with absolutely no follow-through.
  9. weirdly more patient. I hope that in another year I’ll be writing that i’ve got this patience thing even more ‘figured out’. But today, i’m thankfully MORE patient than i was a year ago. some of my rapid brain syndrome has eased, some of my ADD-like ‘wanting to start a bunch of things and not finish them’ has eased too. I’m more likely to have an idea for … well, for angel food cake. Nowadays i’ll look at a recipe or two, and then roll over and go back to sleep. Before… well, before I would email a bunch of clients, ask their opinions, not follow up, put the new cake on the menu without having really figured it out, and then lose sleep once people started to order it, then deliver something half-assed.  (OK, i’m using cake as an example, right?) Now I’m more likely to have an idea, process it, and then file it away. No new actions taken until other bits are lined up. So what have i learned? I am better able to picture the outcomes of things before i begin, so that i can decide better what avenues to pursue. How’s that for being superbly unclear.
  10. as of today, i have 123 sober penpals. this fucking rocks 🙂 having a sober penpal is like sober insurance for me. Ever since the 100 day challenge started in March, i have known (at least on a subconscious level that now i know in a conscious way), that i will not drink again. When/if wolfie comes calling, i will sometimes say things to myself like “you can drink later” … but as later comes and goes, i think it’s spectacularly unlikely that i will drink again.

I’m writing this in the morning of July 1st, 9:45 am local time (3:45 am eastern).  Later today there will be cake. And we’re going out for dinner.  I will update this post later with a few photos. Happy Canada Day, happy sober birthday to me. Happy day #1 of Dry July to you.

Happy Happy.

Update: 3:22 pm local time


Thanks to the Tiny Gift Button

gold stickers

when we drink, I think our brain gets fucked up about the idea of REWARDS.

“I deserve this. hard week, difficult spouse, i finished the marathon, i’m on vacation, i’ve worked hard.” All those ideas equaled wine for me. Hard work = reward = wine.

And when I first stopped drinking, i was lost … how else could i signal the end of a long day without wine? Where was the off switch — not just to numb me, but to put a clear demarcation between THIS (work), and THAT (relaxation).

Of course, i had to train my brain that there are other ways to ‘celebrate’.  Cuz my fucked up brain had decided that not only were weddings and marathons things to celebrate, but that Tuesday was worth celebrating too. Just getting to 6 pm was in itself a reason to celebrate for me.

what other ways are there to mark celebrations? (OK I know if you’re still drinking, this list will seem absolutely ridiculous): tonic + cranberry right at 6 pm, green tea, a bath, having take out Portuguese food for dinner (of course, in Portugal, they just call it ‘food’). I can celebrate bigger events with new sandals. I celebrated 90 days sober with a big griddle thing to make English Muffins.

Something I learned in my coaching job (job #2), is that the reward system of our brains is sort of like a 4 year old. “You did a good job, here’s a gold sticker.” Do you remember a time when you were motivated by gold stickers? It’s not that long ago. We give ourselves coins, badges, stickers all the time. We get watches and pens and bonuses at work for good performance. But we also get promotions without compensatory pay raises, so in effect we’re rewarded with MORE work and a few kind words.

What i learned from job #2, is that our brains can be retrained when it comes to rewards. (i learned these strategies a long time ago, but until i got sober last July, I never thought to link these ideas to booze; I was originally using these techniques about rewards to reinforce any new behavoir change). And it doesn’t take as long as you think it does to change your brain’s response to rewards.

Here’s an example from job #2, but you’ll see the transparent way it can be about booze (why i didn’t notice this until last July, when i used it to help me stay sober, i have no idea).

Example: you hate to exercise. you think it’s a big gigantic pain in the ass, and even when you feel better after walking on the treadmill, it’s like pulling teeth to get you ON the thing for 15 minutes. So you set up a reward system. You go to the fancy tea store, you buy some mint tea, and you come home, and you say to yourself: Every day when i do 15 minutes on the treadmill, i’ll have a cup of mint tea.

You link a reward to the new action. It has to be immediate, and you have to say “good job” to yourself as you have the tea.  You step off the treadmill, you dance around the garage, and you say “i rock, i’m amazing, i’m going to have some tea to celebrate this treadmill event!”

The first two days, three days, you hate the treadmill, you hate the tea.  You dance, but you’re not enthusiastic.

Then something changes. On day 4 or 5 or 6 you start to think … “i am looking forward to some mint tea today. better get on the treadmill so i can have my tea!” Really. Mint tea. No, really. I’m serious. i have been motivated by mint tea before.

So when i stopped drinking, i celebrated Day 30 and Day 60 and Day 90 (and Day 100, cuz why not). And sometimes when i’m emailing a sober penpal, and she’s coming up to a milestone, i say “do you have a treat planned?” Oh no, i couldn’t, she’ll say. I’ll wait ’til i’m further along before I celebrate…

Really? What about all the smaller bits in between? They can be celebrated too!

Jenni (to celebrate Day 60): “Per your suggestion, I treated myself to: 7 new books from Amazon, essential rosemary oil, and three new t-shirts plus one pair of comfy PJ pants that match one of the t-shirts, emblazoned with tiny cartoon skulls. Just knowing this little treasure trove is on its way is exciting!  These little milestones feel like birthdays used to feel before I got too old to enjoy getting older. If that makes any sense? It truly feels like a special day!! Like a highly anticipated goal that I have worked really hard to reach. And now it’s here and I feel like a giggly kid. Yay for 60 days! I hope you have a delightfully soberlicious day too.” (Jenni is now on day 96!)

Don’t have any ideas for celebration treats? Cake is always good. Don’t have any ideas for how to celebrate your long day? how about a tall glass of tonic water and a bath. I feel now like my life is filled with tea and baths and cake and other small treats.

Just yesterday, i got into the tubbie at 4:30 pm once my catering day was finished, to mark the end of the work day … (and really, there’s nothing better than a daytime bath!). A bath is my go-to reward now. I know, it sounds dumb.  Who is rewarded by a tub of hot water? It may sound ridiculous, but you were once rewarded with gold stickers. And you can again 🙂

perfect photo

Thanks to B for sending me this perfect image 🙂