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Emotional support animals for alcoholism

15 Dec

3:21 pm

This past week has been rough, and Monday, especially.  I think it’s all just hitting me now.  And by all, I mean the two hurricanes and the aftermath that has changed entire lives, some in the forever sense.  We are recovering, and things are starting to settle back down…

And then…a few weeks ago, we discovered a couple swollen lymph glands on one of our dogs, took him to the vet, and the vet was like, Oh, Wow, and scheduled him for a biopsy.  Our little man had his biopsy yesterday, is wearing a cone, and is still sort of out of it.  (While the vet did prescribe him the usual course of antibiotics, which I think covers a number of different infections, they haven’t seemed to significantly lessen the swelling.  I am more optimistic than I was on Monday, and I am not sure why–he could have swollen lymph nodes for many reasons, but of course, we can’t help but jump to the worst possible conclusion.)

My sweet bear.  He has been with me these past 5 years through it all:  love, addiction, aging, hurricanes.  I honestly cannot imagine a life without him!

I have written (with my science journalist’s cap on) about emotional support animals (ESAs) for recovery from alcoholism and substance use disorders, in general.  There is no doubt in my mind that my recovery was helped by my two dogs–having them to care for and love helped to negate the triggers, lessen the cravings, and simply kept me from drinking when I really wanted to drink.  Did they understand my mental health crises far better than I, in terms of how to manage them?  Probably.

Walking the dogs–in the morning sun, through the heat, with the gleaming blue water reflected off every green leaf, decaffeinated coffee in hand–was something I LOVED doing when I first got sober.  It was something I relied on to start another day, sober; something that served as a touchpoint to both staying sober and then, growing emotionally and psychologically; to becoming a loving human being again.  I loved all of it–that I could get up and feel so good in the morning, that I had “someone” to care for, to not let down (dogs don’t understand hangovers).  These two dogs were my higher power, my pink cloud.

Both my dogs were my emotional support during my PAWS period, too–a post-acute withdrawal that lasted 18 months.  They quelled my fear of “what now?,” eased my anxiety, helped to block the triggers and numb the cravings with their physical (soft fur, dog scent, warm presence) and psychological support–unconditional love.  My boy was strong for me when I could not be, and did not want to be–if I drank, I would yell, and he would hide under the car, and I NEVER EVER wanted to scare him like that again.  So I did not drink when I really, really, really wanted to.  He was there for me when work frustrated me, or I was (am) beyond frustrated at the pace of my writing life/career–one whiff of his odor was like a hit, one touch of his soft ear like a balm; a belly rub, a roll, and his dog laugh and furious shaking it all out before jumping up on my knees for more.  I adore him so much, and I love what he has meant to me, through my recovery–what he means to me, present tense.  No one knows this but me; even he might not know it, but I truly believe he does.

Now, to imagine the possibility of my boy going down is just…very saddening.  When I watch him struggle a little bit on the walk route he used to BOUND along, tears come; when I obsessively feel his lymph nodes, hard and nodular and big under his neck and behind his legs, and notice they aren’t any different than yesterday, I tremble a little inside; when I kneel on the floor in front of him sitting on the bed, and tears rush down my face, and he licks them away–there are no words for this growing fear.

GAH!

I cried all day Monday, which is not something I want to repeat–too draining, and not helpful to anyone.  I have since started to feel better, optimistic, even.  He’s had his biopsy and all we can do is wait for the results, and then go from there.

One step in front of the other, that is how this is done.  What will be, will be.  I want to accept the things I cannot change, but sometimes I feel so very helpless amidst all this “breaking down,” all this ending, aging, dying–in essence, renewal, but I can’t see it like that through my self-conscious ego.

Maybe I am overreacting–I think I’m just bracing for the worst so that I’m not floored when the worst happens.  Life goes on and things will get better, but why does it feel like we’ve lost SO much of our lives here over the course of a few hours of hurricane activity?  The storms took so many of our physical landmarks and mental and emotional  signposts, all of which are now only memories; why do they have to take my boy, too?  And, at the very moment that we are planning to move on, start over someplace new?  I want to show him the world…  We have SO many more walks to go on…

 

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Redefining yourself sober

30 Aug

11:40 am

I know, I know, it’s been a while.  Seems that once we finally do make it through that whirlwind of sh*& called getting sober, and actually ARE sober, and actually have a ton of amazing and good and interesting things going on, to write about–we stop writing about it!  I, for one, have always tended to write, to express myself, in general, only when I’m experiencing negative emotions.  I always used to drink when I felt bad, to self-soothe, not necessarily to party or celebrate (sure, on the surface it was to party, but really it was to pass time, to avoid committing to spending time, to soothe my social anxiety in group settings, etc.).  Anyway, I’m still here, and still have a lot to write about–being sober is challenging enough, but writing about daily life challenges without whining about being or getting sober is, well, one of the hardest things I’ve had to try to do!

Another thing that I’ve found a LOT harder than I would have thought before getting sober (I know who I am, pfft) is redefining myself.  Man, this is hard.  Everything from how I feel and how I express how I feel, to managing my emotions, to figuring out not only what I want to do, but if it’s OK to actually do what I want to do–all this stuff relates to figuring out how to be sober, how to LIVE sober.  And, it’s a process.  It’s been about 5 years since I got sober, and most of the time I’ve spent getting there.  Now, I’m definitely here (sure, I have a twinge now and then of wanting my old self back, my old life, but it never lasts long and it almost doesn’t make sense to my brain anymore to feel this way), and I’m like, now what?

Of course, I’ve figured it out along the way, but it hasn’t been without angst.  And, every day, I wake up wondering, now what?  Not in the sense of, what am I going to do today?  I have my freelance career (as it stands, I don’t write as much as I work for one place, doing one thing, getting paid once every week–woop!), and my life here, which I try to live to the fullest (walking dogs, meeting friends–err, investing in a social life is still a huge problem area for me–doing yoga, working out, eating out, traveling here and there, etc.).  It’s just…there are all these other things that sort of don’t come naturally that I have to work on–and I often sincerely wonder if “normies” have to “work” on them, or if they just live them, and move on?

Some of these things include wondering what to do next, and how to make it happen; wondering if I should invest in a home, a piece of land, a business, or…a new career; learning how to not feel, in general, that the world is an abrasive, combative place toward me; managing my moods (which have been SERIOUSLY controlled for the better simply by going on the pill last year) such that I don’t let the negative feelings and thoughts set my course for the day and disturb not only my experience of the events but also my productivity…  So many daily things that, well, maybe are new because you grow and change and that is life; or, maybe are new to me because while I was drinking, I was able to avoid dealing with them.  I did what I “had” to do, or thought I should be doing, and then I downed myself in wine every night in order to not have to deal with the stress, or manage the pain, or confront the why and how of the stress and pain in the first place.

Exhale–it’s still my mantra these days.  I realize that there is a higher brain, a higher power, and maybe I’ve sort of neglected the “getting sober” lessons that were so animated in my early sober days/years?  I don’t think about getting or being sober, and I’m kind of starting to think that I need–not want–to put myself back there.  Not to avoid picking up again–that’s unfortunately over, over–but to…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, MOVE FORWARD IN MY SOBRIETY.  I feel stuck, and it’s because I’m not dealing, or confronting.  I’m being, and to be is great.  However, I think I need more.

I think we’re definitely going to move this fall–it’s a big deal, a big change, one that I know we need to do and want to do, but that will bring a lot of bittersweetness (I know what mainland life is about, and I know what this life is about, and I think my soul likes this life better, but my spirit needs out of this place–you know?).  I bring it up because I think once we do hit the road, I’m going to look into finding a counselor to work through some of this…confusion, I guess is the best word to describe it.  I saw someone a few months into getting sober, and it helped, so maybe this will help me iron out some of those big folds in the landscape?

Hope all are well, and here’s to blogging more often!  (Jeez!)

Back from another long journey

11 Aug

11:30 am

This summer (well, the past few years, actually) has been all about searching.  Searching for that next place to call home, that next job, that next big adventure, that next challenge.  Frankly, I do think it’s a part of getting sober, it’s a part of my “plateau’ing”, and it’s a part of my struggle right now with feeling stuck, staid, depressed, angry, whatever.

I am so tired.  I am a writer, and realized long ago that I simply need (more) time and space to just methodically ponder shit.  It’s just who I am, and how I function in the world.  Yet, when you travel, I think you have to become a bit more spontaneous, let go of your routines, and embrace the lack of control that comes from this act.  Which can be hard on people who are normally introverted (inside themselves rather than outside, in the big, bad world).

I spent oh, 2 or 3 weeks on my international volun-touring trip in June (What did I learn?  That I am not young and that I could do what I did locally–something I have already learned, years ago when I took my first volun-touring trip); and then, my fiance and I just spent about 2 weeks literally driving from one end of the country to the other, I guess looking for our next home.  For me, home is not necessarily anymore about place, so that makes it really, well, to use my fave expression right now, EFFING tiring.  I am effing tired of looking.  I know what I like, and where I feel good; those places, however, don’t work for me anymore because they’re too expensive, they don’t offer the quality of life that we’re used to here in the tropics (let me tell ya, everywhere on this planet feels dry as shit to me now if the humidity is under 70%), and they don’t afford a girl proximity to the natural world (which I’ve realized I NEED more than I want, as a soul seeker and a writer).  Exhale, I keep telling myself.  It will come.

We’re back now, and I’m back to writing and working.  We’ll see where the road takes us, but at this very moment, I am happy for the stillness.

Anyway, just a short post to say that I’m back online, and really appreciated all your comments re: whether or not to come out.  I think I will, eventually and soon, but not today.

And, do I feel like drinking?  Never.  Did the thought of “becoming a wine drinker again” come up on this trip or in the past few months?  Yes.  I don’t know what I would get out of it, and cannot even imagine having energy to get out of bed these days AND be a drinker again (let alone give up my hard-won sobriety and all that has come with it)–yet, I have thought about it when I’ve also thought about how bored, or staid, or frustrated I feel in my daily life sometimes.  Like, I want to feel excited again about my daily work/life–and, what do you know, even after all this time, my brain still considers or equates wine with excitement.  It’s a trick, I know, and it’s Wolfie, I know.  But, it’s scary; about 10% scary.

How do I stop that type of thinking?  Well, I’m really used to forcefully pulling my brain back onto the neutral track, if not the positive one, after 5 years of sobriety.  But, I know I also have to work on finding joy again in the day-to-day, and exercising my right to just enjoy life.  It doesn’t have to be hard or stressful; people are not out to get me, to put obstacles in my path.  That is my default neural mode, and until I fully unpack these neuroses, my trick is to just accept and deflect–all the while remaining conscious of the fact that this is how the stress of life transitions makes itself known.  This is that stress, and this is what it does to my brain.  (Maybe it makes others eat more, or run more, or drink more; all those things, too, were and are my self expression of stress.)

I have to say, it REALLY helps to have a home in the tropics, where I get to work alone all day, though–haha.  So, yeah, big changes ahead if we do finally leave this place as a couple (I left 2 years ago on my own for about 9 months).

Sorry for the brain dump, and glad to have you all in my court!  HUGS.

Dealing with negative emotions

22 Apr

2:02 pm

Even today, I get angry.  Depressed.  Sad.  And, I think about drinking.  I do.  I don’t want to, and know that I never will–I’ve been there, done that–but, it’s still there, this DESIRE to soothe.  It’s more like a whine, faint, in the distance, reminding me of the hot mess I was when I first got sober:

But THEY get to get away, to escape, to use their substance of choice–why can’t I?

I was thinking on my run today:  it’s not that I am UNHAPPY–happiness is most certainly a choice.  And, after years of forcing myself to find happiness in the corners of my early sober life; and more years of learning how to cultivate happiness as a choice, 100% of the time–well, I’ve realized that I can be happy without being content.  I am not content, and frankly, I am not sure I ever will be.  At 42 years old, I think I’m just beginning to try things that might actually make me feel contentment, which I suppose might be the opposite of things like accomplished, or having won the prize, of having earned the medal.

It reminds me of where I am right now in my job search:  I have been contracting with the same company for almost two years, but they still haven’t hired me.  Not only that, but I’ve interviewed for more than one full-time job with them, and each time, the interview process has consisted of meeting/being interviewed by 7, 8, 9 people!  I’m wondering, are they simply trying to make me second-guess my abilities?  Cuz, you know, of COURSE, I can do these jobs.  It’s not rocket science.  The drinker in me, though, craves their approval; wants to do it “right;” wants to win!  In reality, for the most part, I so don’t WANT the job.  What I want is them to want me, like me, hire me.  I want to win.  Even if that means that both during the interview process AND while I’m doing a job that I don’t really want to do; I am totally freaking DISCONTENT.

Ahh, life.  Sobriety has allowed me to recognize the nuances to all this “character flaw” stuff, and well, the difference (in my mind, anyway) of being unhappy and being discontent.  And, while I’ve wanted to drink lately trying to figure out just what is going to alleviate this lack of contentment (as a writer, I wonder if I am always going to feel like I haven’t done anything, or need to do something more, or different, or else), the five years of sobriety under my belt–and feeling this way so often back in the early days–has given me the tools to realize that drinking won’t solve anything.  Won’t alleviate anything.  Is not an escape, and is not a reward.  No matter how many people I see drinking to reward or alleviate the stress of transition, or decision-making processes, it still reeks of bullshit.  Drinking is bullshit.  Do I want a thing, somewhere that I can go?  Yes.  Is it up to me to figure out where that so-called place is, that place of acceptance and happiness in the moment, for the moment, and of the moment?  Yes.

We whine, we do.  I do.  Yet, that is allowed.  And then, depending on how practiced you have gotten, you move on.  You place those negative ideas and feelings into the “perspective” box, and you move on.  I feel happy most of the time, and that’s what matters and what I try to continue to focus on.  That and remembering how AWESOME-SAUCE it still is to be here, and not there (hungover on a Saturday afternoon)–being grateful, and cultivating happiness, in spite of this so-called discontentment, which is fleeting, and fickle.

Facebook-free 2017

8 Jan

11:23 am

Well, I’m doin’ it.  Finally.  It’s been 1 week and almost 4 days since I logged onto Facebook.  Like, I literally have not logged in.  I decided that “deactivating” was not the route I wanted to take (in quotes because one, do you really disappear on the back end, and two, all you have to do to “reactivate” your account is log back in!).

And you know what?  I feel good.  Like, really good.

Yes, I feel out of it; and, I’m not sure I can maintain such a distance from my professional sphere for THAT long–personal and professional are intricately intertwined in journalism, and probably other metiers, too.  I don’t mean or want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I don’t want to disappear–I still want a career, and to be present in said career.  And to be present in the world of information is to have it, and to dish it out.

That all being acknowledged (obsessively, over and over), I’m learning to let all these fearful thoughts go because, well, I feel better.

I must admit, I feel that sort of righteous self-satisfaction that is similar to how you feel when you get sober.  I also have this sense of a load having been taken off; I am no longer burdened with YOUR LIVES.  Other people’s lives.  So many other lives to ping me, enrage me, give me joy–I guess it was just too much, and I took it home with me.  Now, I just have this sense of relief, this screaming cheer in my head that keeps saying, I don’t have to take my friends home with me!  Haha.  I get to focus on MY life.  Sure, it’s boring as shit sometimes, but… it’s my life.  Isn’t it worth as much appreciation–time and effort–as I’ve been putting into other people’s lives?  (And, now I really do see how this is related to drinking to drown out:  you tend to put yourself second, then you feel un- or under-appreciated; not to mention, you have ZERO actual connection, and reciprocity, in your relationships if they are primarily virtual ones…all stuff that drives us to drink to soothe, fix, drown out, douse, hide from!  I say, No shit, sherlock, now, but back then, how everything was connected and impacted my drinking seemed so…inaccessible.)

I also think it’s given me the head space, literally, to start digging in on some personal writing projects.  And that digging in entails a lot of things that you forget, as a writer, are necessities to the creative process–one being the time and well, empty-headedness to actually think.  Or not think, as it were.  To conjure memories.  To dream up random plots, or have deeper thoughts that may have been buried, drowned out by all the incessant noise.  The chitter-chatter is gone, and it’s a relief.  The endless drone of increasingly source-less information (i.e., why the eff is THIS in my feed, and is it even real news?), over.

I decided NOT to deactivate because to me, that’s like giving the bird to your friends.  I mean, it’s rude.  It’s like, NO ONE keeps in touch via phone or email anymore, we all know this; so if you’re going to ghost but don’t mean to, at least have the courtesy to give people your “off Facebook” contact info.  Otherwise, you’re just ghosting.  That’s not what I want to gain from this–as it is, I feel guilty just “abandoning” some of my friends, i.e., not keeping up…  I just can’t anymore, is all.  And, it feels good, albeit a little scary, to let go.

I don’t know for how long this will be; maybe long enough to clear the cobwebs from my head, maybe longer.  I’m just going to keep going, and see where it takes me.  (Kind of like getting sober, no?)

Are you afraid to leave the place where you got sober?

12 Dec

1:15 pm

I’ve been wondering this lately, in a tangential sort of way.  Like, I think about other stuff, and my thoughts end up at this question.  Usually I’m thinking about how I feel bored with sobriety, in a general sense.  Like, it’s just not pink clouds anymore, ever.  *I’m* no longer a pink cloud–and I wonder, where have I gone?  Sometimes, I do long for the “old” “just getting sober” me.  The truth is, not only is being sober no longer enough, but I expect a lot LOT more from myself now.  So, it all just feels like work–normal life, I guess.

I miss walking the hills, passing the tropical flowering brush, feeling literally buzzed by the fact that I am sober, that I get this–this life.  These days, I still do very much appreciate all of it–maybe more so now, more fully–but I don’t feel that same rush of getting sober and all the feeling of newness and accomplishment and being newly, well, in love with myself again.  I just feel…bored.  Been here, done this.  Time to move on.

And, move on, I have.  I did.  I went to the west coast last year, for oh, 8 months, and worked a “big girl” job again.  (which, as you can probably guess, was pretty easy, and pretty low-key compared to freelancing)  And, I survived everything I was afraid of, namely, will I not only be able to stay sober in a new place, in a new job, in a new lifestyle, but will I thrive?

I have to say, I guess I did both survive and thrive, even though I felt depressed most of the time.  When I got home, I felt changed, much stronger, much more confident, able to interact with the “real world”–things that never would have been nurtured if I had stayed here, in my old, pink-cloud life.  SO, that was good.  And, it’s had me wondering ever since, how many people don’t leave where they got sober because they’re afraid they’ll lost their sobriety in exchange for possible big personal growth?

Are you afraid that leaving the sober life, patterns, and habits that you’ve developed where you are will put you at risk for relapse?  Do you want to leave, but fear you can’t because you’re not sure how or if you can establish similar new, healthy coping skills somewhere else?  I think I know quite a few people down here who stay for YEARS…and I wonder if it’s for that very reason.

I wasn’t particularly worried about relapsing when I went away, but I did fear that I would be more stressed, and more triggered, and have more cravings.  I did at first, but I was NEVER, EVER at risk of a relapse.  (And, these days,  I don’t think I would even choose to spend money, drink liquid sugar, and feel like total ass the next day, if given the no-strings choice.)  In fact, after the initial freakout (yup, there was one night–week, let’s say), things went back to where they were before I got sober, which is to say, I’m good at work.  I always have been really (pathologically) good at doing well at work while living a (secretly) disastrous personal life.

Still, I had quite a bit of apprehension.  I’m glad I got over it because I came back feeling very much motivated, strong, and confident.  Not that I feel that way every day these days (I’ve been home for 8 months), but more or less, I really do.  And, I wonder, how would it be if I lived out my fear, and stayed “stuck” here–I’m trying not to judge the folks here who have gotten sober and decided to just go with what works, mind you.  For me–and we all know who I am–I have to experiment, and cannot live in fear, as fear is my biggest trigger to use, whether emotionally or actually physically.  And, that leads me to ask another, even more general question about long-term sobriety:  how much fear is acceptable to live with and in, in exchange for security in your sobriety?  Do you–should you–work through your fears, all of them, gradually as the years wear on?

There are lulls, but never lows

5 Nov

2:02 pm

In sobriety, there are lulls–such as the rather lengthy one I’m going through now–but never lows.  I mean, not the kind of lows I had while drinking.  In fact, I’d say sobriety is really one (life)long high, with lulls.

Right now, I’m trying to regain some energy or focus or something that I feel I’ve lost.  Or, lost within.  I’m not off caffeine yet, and I’m still running around (figuratively), doing work to make money and not doing writing to make myself fulfilled.

All in due time.  I’m not too worried–it’s always there, and it’ll always come back, if it’s not there right now, the desire or essential nature that drives me to write.  Mostly, it requires stillness of mind, of heart, and of body.  That is lacking, and in part, it is lacking because I’ve chosen to create a space of constant activity–because writers can be sort of effed up, I’m doing that in order to not HAVE to write.  Sad, but true.  Still, I want to want to write, if that makes sense.

I just spent most of October traveling, and now, I’m back to my “old” life here and it feels…like it did six months ago.  I’m trying not to go there, and to remember that I can change it by staying active.  However, at some point, I have to figure out how to balance staying insanely active/busy with sufficient “still” time for reflection and writing.  It seems so either/or to me right now, and I’m struggling, I guess, to figure this out.

One thing that I’ve noticed throughout this lull (maybe even depression) is that you CAN, with practice, re-frame your thoughts and thereby, divert your mood.  Distractions help, but I’m finding that simply narrowing in on the rogue thoughts and literally thinking myself out of them helps me more than a reward here, a distracting treat there.  I need to work and stay on track; I can’t stay on track if I’m thinking things that are making me feel negative (doubting myself, wondering about the future, feeling vexed that I am not writing or creating).  So, I try to catch myself and think other things, other outcomes, other possibilities.

I am not on that pink cloud anymore, but I think that’s because I re-entered the world of the living a few years ago, and increasingly, it’s made my life feel normal.  Normal is good, though.  I’d rather feel normal and be out and about, able to deal with the world; than on a pink cloud, in my imagined bubble.

So, I keep working, and trying to write, through it all.  And I hope (believe) that it is or will somehow, some day, be enough.  I would never call this a low, though.  And I would never want to distract myself from the struggle–which in itself is enlivening because it is an active one, now that I see how I need to use my mind to control its tendencies toward the complicated or negative–with a drink.  And, frankly, I look at my old friends and think, how on EARTH could you still be doing that?  And, doubly frankly, I wonder, how does it even work on your brain anymore, after all these years (almost 10 years, and definitely 7 or 8, for most of my drinking buddies from the time right before I got sober)???

Time to turn it off and get back to my day.  Much love to all.  Thanks for reading…!  🙂

Laura Parrott Perry

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