About that blog I was writing…

In late 2017, I launched a blog on recovery from alcoholism called “Recovery Notes.” Happily, the blog was very well received and I remain grateful that many of you took the time to comment on it, both online and in person. However, as I carried on blogging I found that the commitment to post regularly became oppressive.

As a writer, I have mostly worked in print where there is more distance between me and my readers. I am used to completing a piece of writing and then handing it off or an editor/publisher. After that, I wouldn’t immediately know who was or wasn’t reading or what they thought and I’d be free to go onto something.

The immediacy of regular blogging didn’t work for me. ‘Likes’ and comments start coming in within minutes of posting. I got obsessed with tracking the reaction and couldn’t let go of the piece and move on. I began to allow the reactions of people influence how and what I was writing. This quickly became stressful and so I quit writing the blog.

But having said all that, I am still working on writing pieces about alcoholism (and other topics) and, without making a commitment to do so, I may post them here from time to time.


It wasn’t until we’d had Princess for a few days, and I found myself laying out a buffet of different kinds of dog food on the kitchen floor, that I realized she was having more success in training me than I was in training her. In fact, we’re not really training Princess as much as negotiating with her. 

The hugely furry, seven-month-old Keeshond-Husky Cross came into our lives one year on April Fools Day. We’d had to put down the second of two beloved old mutts in January and had been dogless for three months. We didn’t expect to ever get another dog but that day we had some spare time and decided to visit the local animal shelter. Princess, who had been in the pound awaiting adoption for four months, captured our hearts in as many seconds. An hour later we were several hundred dollars poorer, and one dog richer. Who says there’s no such thing as love at first sight?

We quickly discovered how appropriately she’d been named. Princess truly is a princess and the first thing she did when she arrived in her new home was launch a hunger strike. I had, perhaps naively, expected her to gobble up the free kibble we got from the dog shelter. Instead, she took a disdainful sniff and turned away. She then went back to select one morsel which she carefully placed in the middle of the living room rug but did not eat. We had bought a big box of treats and I now gave her one. Princess very daintily took it from my hand, then hid it under the recliner.

“Just leave her,” said Bill. “When she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat.” But after twenty-four hours, I began to scramble. I got a variety of dog food samples from the pet store and found myself laying out a doggie banquet. Princess sniffed each one, then daintily selected the most expensive kind. I later discovered she will also eat high-end canned dog food and cooked (not raw) salmon, steak, hamburger, liver and beef bones. She likes to take all of this out of her dog bowl and consume it on the living room rug. This is where we’ve drawn the line. She has agreed to eat from her bowl in the kitchen, as long as we give her food she likes.

We’ve also entered into serious, ongoing negotiations about walks and exercise. After having two geriatric dogs who, in their final years, did little but lie by the fire and go for slow measured walks, I’d forgotten how much energy puppies have. Trouble is I don’t have the energy I had fifteen years ago when our other dogs were young. Even then I couldn’t keep up. Now I get back from a long walk with Princess and drape myself on the recliner for several hours of recovery, while Princess jumps up and down, wondering “what’s next?” 

One day I decided to throw a ball for her, thinking she would tire herself out retrieving, while I basked in comfort on the front step. She’s not a retriever but a burier and burrower who digs up what is buried and buries what isn’t (she has unearthed three dead mice so far). I wanted her to bring the ball back for me to throw again but she wanted to play keepaway. This became another matter of negotiation, along with “sitting,” “staying,” coming when she’s called and not jumping on people.

Despite the battle of wills, Princess is an unending source of delight and makes us laugh every day – when she pounces on blowing leaves, frolics around the living room or runs ecstatically through the bush with her best friend, Griz, the dog next door. Most of all, I love the huge, affectionate reunions, complete with doggy kisses, welcoming whines and serious tail-wagging whether we’ve been apart for five seconds or five hours.

As for the rest, progress is being made. We are enrolled in obedience school after which I am confident that either she, or I, will become more obedient.

*Originally published in Above & Beyond Magazine and in Iceberg Tea.

Recovery Notes #9

Stumbling onto a spiritual quest

I was introduced to the 12 Steps at my first meeting and the only reason I didn’t run screaming in the opposite direction at the references to “God” and a “higher power” is that I was so defeated by alcohol I had a tiny willingness to see things differently. Even so, in the first months of my sobriety, I took comfort in what Jen (and others) said: everything was a suggestion, not a rule, and I was free to “take what I could use and leave the rest.” I ignored anything that smacked of spirituality and that included most of the steps.

I have always had an ambivalent relationship with the idea of God. Even though I grew up in a time when it was assumed that everybody went to church, I was brought up in a secular household by parents who had no use for religion. That meant that I was the only person I knew who couldn’t fill in the box for “religious affiliation” on school forms. It was another way that I didn’t belong. For a time, I went to church with my girlfriends but, other than making me feel less alone, religion didn’t take. When I was 15, a friend told me that “God did not create man. Man created God.” It was a powerful idea. I wrote it on the cover of my school composition notebook and adopted it as my motto.

Depending on how militant I was feeling at any particular time, I defined myself as either an atheist or agnostic.  I agreed with Karl Marx that religion was “the opiate of the masses” and felt that I belonged to a special cadre of people who were open-minded enough to challenge traditional beliefs (but not open-minded enough to truly examine those beliefs). Yet, as my drinking career proceeded, an unfathomable yearning for … something … grew in me. One miserable drunken night near the end, I shocked myself by falling on my knees in inarticulate prayer, to what or whom I didn’t know. I tried to ignore it by calling temporary insanity, but the memory of it never left me.

Now in recovery I was part of a group where people talked about God as though he was their best friend. I found this so simple-minded that I was more afraid of people finding out that I was part of a God-focused group, than I was of them finding out that I was an alcoholic. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only alcoholic for whom religion was a loaded subject. While there were those with strong church connections, many more were skeptical of organized religion. Some had turned their backs on the churches of their youth because they had been hurt by them, either through the imposition of unforgiving dogma, outright abuse or both. Others had merely strayed.

What made the program possible for me was its flexibility. The basic idea was that alcohol had defeated us so we were powerless over it and our lives. We, therefore, had to find a “power greater than ourselves” to “restore us to sanity.” This could be “God as you understand God” or merely a “higher power.” The emphasis was not on what you believed but that you believed in something that was greater than you. The alcoholics liked to point out that it was a “spiritual” but not a “religious” program and for me, and many others, the higher power became collective wisdom of the group of alcoholics who had succeeded in recovery.

My vague spiritual hunger continued to grow. I eventually realized that I had never really been an atheist, and that the spiritual journey was a process of discovery, not an intellectual decision. I began to see alcoholism as a low-grade spiritual quest in which I was eternally chasing the moment when I’d had exactly enough to drink to feel fully alive, present and connected in the world, a moment that never lasted and became increasingly elusive. The effort to recapture and prolong that moment fueled my drinking for years.

Now I stumbled onto another kind of spiritual quest, this time in companionship with people to whom I was connected through wounds and imperfections. Many had beliefs that I found bizarre and some undoubtedly found my beliefs equally bizarre. None of that mattered. We held on to each other and we walked together. And in so doing, we learned that even though our theology may be different, the spiritual experience is the same.

Recovery Notes #8

Maybe God does take care of fools and drunks

I always think of the little white house on Yellowknife’s 54th Street as my place of healing. It was my home for the first three years of my sobriety and I was the last person to live there. By the time I left, it had a buckling foundation so it was donated to the fire department and burnt down to serve as training exercise for firefighters. Today it is the site of the Lynn Brooks Transitional Home for women and I like to imagine that the healing energy I found there has made its way to the women who pass through the home.

The house came to me against all odds in the first autumn of my sobriety.

Back in the 1982 when I moved to Yellowknife, the city was growing rapidly and the vacancy rate had been zero for more than a decade. I spent the first month sleeping in somebody’s walk-in closet. Then a single ad for a four-bedroom rental house appeared in the local newspaper the same week I met a miner during a hungover morning-after while drinking the dregs of booze abandoned the night before (don’t ask). After a ridiculous conversation (considering what we were doing) during which we both assured each other that we were practically teetotalers, we decided to share the house and rent out the other two rooms. Bret* also agreed to lend me money for my share of the rent.

We lived there for most of a year during which Bret and I consumed numerous bottles of beer and wine, he reconciled with his estranged wife and daughter and moved them into the house, quit drinking in favour of smoking dope (and left recovery pamphlets around the house which made me cry but not quit) and then started up again, then quit again (both booze and dope this time). I sobered up in August while Bret and his family were on vacation and, in September, we received an eviction notice because the house had been sold.

Bret bought a trailer for his family, leaving me with no place to go. I didn’t know any sober people with a room for rent and renting a room in a drinking house was dangerous for me. The only suitable accommodation I could find were bachelor units rented by the YWCA for $800 a month but, even though I’d gotten a research job at CBC, that was beyond my means. Then, not long before I had to move, the woman who was buying our place called on the off-chance that somebody might want to take over the little house on 54thStreet that she had been renting. The tiny one-bedroom house with a small patio in front was perfect for me and the rent was only $400 which I could afford. Maybe God does take care of fools and drunks.

On moving day my sponsor, Jen, showed up on my doorstep with a crew of inmates from the local jail. (Jen ran a non-profit organization and the guys at the jail were assigned to her for a half-day a week as part of their work program.) Dressed in regulation green work pants and shirts, the guys marched into my house and then marched out carrying all my worldly goods:  the components of my bed and a motley collection of boxes. The whole move was done in less than an hour — the easiest move I’ve ever had.

Then Jen got busy helping me furnish the place, schlepping me over to the house of friends who were leaving town and wanted to get rid of their living room furniture. They were going to give it away for free but Jen had a different idea. She thought it was time I started to pay my own way so she made me wash walls in exchange for the chairs. At the time, I was not impressed. Looking back today, I am grateful.

My first night in the house, I went over to a colleague’s place to do my laundry. Everybody there was going to a Hallowe’en party, dressing up, laughing, drinking beer and I overflowed with the longing to be a part of it, to be a normal person, not somebody who had to spend her evenings attending meetings in dusty old church basements. But I knew I couldn’t do it. I packed my clothes into their green garbage bag and set off to walk the six or so blocks to 54th Street. It had been raining all day and I could feel the pinpricks against my cheeks as the rain turned into sleet. After a while I realized that the sleet was mixed with tears.

My tenancy wouldn’t be official until the next day so there was no electricity in the house when I came in.  I made my way through the chaos of furniture and boxes by the dim streetlight that shone in the window. I lit a candle that I found in one of the boxes, hung a blanket over the window and wrestled my mattress onto the floor. I made the bed and crawled in and as I looked at the play of shadows on the ceiling, I felt peace settle into my bones. My quiet inner voice told me that this was the place where I would heal and that all would be well.

That night I slept deeply for the first time in sobriety.


*Not the real name

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism. I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation.

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #7

“The mind is a dangerous place, don’t go in alone”

Even though the alcoholics kept telling me to “hang in there” and that “things would get better,” nothing seemed to improve in the first months of my sobriety. Without alcohol and drugs to dim the mental noise, I now had a ringside seat to my own insanity. My mind continued to spin out of control with its obsessions and fantasies. I became acquainted with “the committee,” what alcoholics called the imaginary voices that found fault with everything I tried to do. On top of it all, feelings I didn’t know I had began to come to the surface and I often found myself weeping for no reason.

“The mind is a dangerous place, don’t go in alone,” one of the sober drunks liked to say. They told me that if I continued to keep everything to myself, I was likely to start drinking again. I had to open up, to talk about what plagued me. In other words, I had to connect

The alcoholics were far from perfect. They often said upsetting things that made me cringe (and I suppose some of what I said had the same effect on them). Yet, when the chips were down, these drunks spoke from their hearts in a way that I had never heard before. They would admit to being confused, frightened, rejected or foolish – all familiar feelings that I kept buried. They would unflinchingly divulge horrifying truths about themselves and even manage to laugh at them. And in sharing these hidden truths they built community and stopped being alone. They learned to be “one among others,” not better than, not worse than.

I had been lonely ever since I could remember. Alcoholism is a disease of disconnection and the more I drank, the deeper I locked myself into my own world, and the lonelier I got, the more I drank… It was this haunting loneliness that had driven me to thoughts of suicide. I longed for deep connection but I had always been too frightened to let anybody close to me, had never been able to risk making myself vulnerable. Now, the prospect of no longer being alone with the burden of myself seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world.

At the same time, the temptation to run back to the bar was nearly overwhelming. I had never spoken honestly about myself in my entire life. I grew up in a European family at a time when child-raising was considered to consist of providing food, clothing, shelter and education, not responding to the feelings of an oversensitive kid. My childhood had taught me to repress feelings, not to acknowledge or share them.

Pain is a great motivator for change and it was only the feeling that my back was to the wall (if I didn’t open up, I would drink again) that made me push through the fear. Like so many aspects of recovery, this was simple (but not easy). I tried, to the best of my ability, to drop my defenses and be more honest with people about who I was. It was difficult at first because I had no understanding of honesty. But I got better at it in time and it eventually became a way of life. As it did, my sense of connection grew and my loneliness diminished.


This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism. I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation.

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #6

Trying (and failing) to be grown-up

I was trapped in a corner of a houseful of recovering alcoholics at a sober party. Everybody was having fun, laughing, talking, singing — except me. I felt like an alien. My hands were sweaty and the wide smile on my face felt like it was about to snap like an overstretched rubber band. I desperately had to pee but I was afraid to get up and walk through the crowd to find the bathroom.

After two weeks of sobriety, I discovered that quitting drinking is the easy part of recovery. The hard part is learning to live life without alcohol, or as the alcoholics say living “life on life’s terms.”

It was explained to me that alcoholics stop developing spiritually and emotionally when they start to drink. Unlike most people who grow into responsible adults by learning how to handle the experiences (good and bad) of living, we dealt with everything by getting drunk so we never grew up. When we quit drinking we find ourselves at the same age (or younger) emotionally as we were when picked up that first drink. I was a 30-year-old woman with the emotional age of a teenager. Furthermore, as a result of the ravages to my self-esteem during my drinking years, I had lost even what few social skills I had back then.

I was incapable of making any kind of tangible plan for my life and could only indulge in grandiose fantasies. I fancied that I would spend only a short time in recovery before going on to become a rich and famous something, like a politician or a best-selling novelist. This sounded just like the idea I had, as an 8-year-old, of becoming a famous figure skater without ever learning to skate. Or like the stories I had spun in the bar about the various ways I was going to save the world. Then as now the fantasies skipped over doing the necessary work to meet the goal.

My mind seemed to have a mind of its own and was completely beyond my control. It would hook onto something and obsess endlessly. One minute it would tell me I was an intellectual giant, destined to do great things and then the next minute it would tell me I was so stupid I didn’t deserve to live (alcoholics referred to this as “an egotist with an inferiority complex”). My moods were like a rollercoaster, up and down, over and under and around. Beneath everything was nameless fear that came over me in waves and paralyzed me. I couldn’t sleep and I had to force myself to eat.

The people in recovery still seemed weird to me and I balked at getting too close to them. I kept trying to be a grown-up and take care of myself. But I couldn’t do it and there was nowhere else for me to go. So I hung on to Jen who had been sober for the eternity of two years and who offered to “babysit” me in the beginning. Months later when I finally worked up the courage to ask her, Jen would become my sponsor but in those early weeks asking somebody that question was unthinkable so I just followed Jen around town like a puppy. She took me to meetings, introduced me to other recovering people and listened to the sad saga of my life ad nauseam. She pushed me to do things that scared me, like making me talk to people I didn’t know and dragging me to sober parties.

Most of all, she (and the other alcoholics) gave me something to hang on to by reassuring me, almost on a daily basis, that I was not unique, they had all felt the way I was feeling, had the same kind of thoughts and obsessions and that in time this would pass and my life would get better. It is not an exaggeration to say that this saved my life.


This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism. I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation.

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #5

The thousand pound phone

After finishing a fridge-full of booze the night before, I awoke on the first day of my sobriety shaky but still resolved to quit drinking, a resolve bolstered by the fact that there was no alcohol left in the house. I knew I couldn’t quit alone but the thought of asking for help sent sharp spears of terror through my soul. I’d gotten by for years (with the help of alcohol, of course) by hiding my vulnerability behind a tough persona. Now I faced exposing myself for the uniquely worthless worm that I was secretly convinced I was. (I didn’t understand until years later that thinking myself uniquely worthless was as grandiose as thinking myself uniquely worthy).

I found the number for the self-help recovery group* in the phone book but I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone. Later I would learn that nearly all alcoholics wrestle the fear of phoning for help and I would laugh at my fight with the “thousand-pound phone.” But that day all I could do was pace the floor, smoking and imagining ridiculous scenarios in which I would get rejected: ‘Yes, we help alcoholics but not you (laughs),’ ‘Stop wasting my time! (slams down the phone),’ ‘What’s the matter with you? Don’t you have any friends?’ Finally sometime in mid-afternoon, I exhausted myself and made the call.

The number rang through to the Detox Centre which acted as an answering service for the self-help group. (The centre was part of Northern Addictions Services programming during 1980s and 90s. Today there is no Detox in Yellowknife.) I launched into my tale of woe only to be given a list of three names and numbers. It took nearly everything I had to make that first call and now I had to do it again. I worked up the courage with several more rounds of pacing. I got one busy signal, one answering machine (I was too frightened to leave a message) until, finally, I spoke to a woman who agreed to take me to a meeting the following night. Whew!

I have heard many alcoholics say they felt a sense of belonging and security from the moment they attended their first meeting. That didn’t happen to me. My first meeting was packed with what I thought of as crazy people who engaged in uproarious laughter in between bouts of serious discussion about how they were going to “clean up the wreckage of their past” by “making amends” for the way they had behaved while they drunk. The laughter seemed fake (probably because mine was) and while I could understand that they might need to make amends to people, I did not feel that I would ever have to. I had a long list of people who needed to make amends to me.

I went home that night feeling more isolated than ever. I still wanted to quit drinking but now felt that I had nowhere to go. In tears of desperation the next afternoon, I sought refuge in the office of my friend Mike, the man who had inspired me to quit drinking by telling me his story. “I know somebody you can talk to. She’s been around and is kind of tough like you,” he said.

Mike got Jen** on the phone for me and she to agreed to meet me for coffee in the Miner’s Mess (Yellowknife’s iconic coffee shop). “Look for a tall ugly blonde,” she said. I must have looked like a typical lost alcoholic because she stood up and waved me over as soon as I walked in. After getting us coffee, she sat down and scrutinized me. Then she told me exactly how I felt. Over the years, I have tried to remember what she said but I have never been able to. All I can remember is that for the first time in my life, I felt that somebody saw who I was and understood.

So it began.


*I have chosen not to publicly name the self-help group I joined out of respect for the traditions of that organization.

**Not the real name.


This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #4

Delusions and denial

When I was drinking I thought I had special powers.

I didn’t have any tolerance for the crazy people (aka social drinkers) who only ever had one or two and who (God forbid!) would sometimes abandon their drinks entirely. Instead, I spent my time with the kind of drinkers who would open a fresh bottle of whiskey and throw the cap in the garbage, the kind of drinkers who habitually got so drunk, they stumbled over their own feet, slurred their words and repeated themselves ad nauseam, all the while thinking themselves brilliant. They’d hang their heads and pass out at the kitchen table, or on the floor, or in the bathroom with their heads in a pool of puke, have beer for breakfast and slobber over their clothes. Afterwards, they’d deny what happened and pretend they’d only ever had a few social drinks. Those were my kind of drinkers.

I would match them drink for drink, but I was different (or so I thought). I drank because I was a writer and heavy drinking had a long and illustrious history among the creative class. As a writer, I was called to experience life deeply, to throw myself into the thick of things, to live fully and creatively and this involved lots of alcohol. Creative people like me had special powers so that alcohol didn’t affect us in the same way as it did ordinary people. I never stumbled or slurred my words (although sometimes people couldn’t hear me for reasons I didn’t understand). I did not pass out, (although I sometimes got tired and went to sleep in unusual places). If I drank in the mornings, it was so that somebody who really needed it would not have to feel bad about their morning drinks.

I thought that my biggest problem was that I was unfortunate enough to be attracted to rock-bottom drunks. Out of concern for my alcoholic friends, and also the alcoholics I saw staggering around Hay River, I became interested in the larger problem of alcoholism in the North and set out to sober everybody up.

I began to research alcoholism in my capacity as a reporter, and attended an Alcoholics Anonymous roundup, interviewing members and sitting in on AA meetings. (I also attended their banquet and dance, after a few surreptitious drinks in the bar.) One of the AA members I interviewed explained the role of denial in alcoholism: how alcoholics lie to themselves, and everybody else, about their drinking and how this denial serves to keep them drinking. “Hey, that describes everybody I know,” I thought. I published a detailed story about AA in Tapwe, hoping that some of my poor benighted friends might see themselves in it and get the help that they so badly needed. I may even have urged one or two of them, over drinks in the bar, to join AA.

Sometime later, I left Tapwe for a better-paying job at Hay River’s other newspaper The Hub and launched a weekly column about my personal life. I wrote a piece entitled, My Sweet Seducer, in which I described waking up on a hungover Sunday morning to find a half bottle of Scotch and an overflowing ashtray on my kitchen table, lighting a smoke and then having a conversation (in lurid prose that embarrasses me to this day) with the bottle as though I was trying to resist a lover who had betrayed me and now tempted me again. At the end of the piece I capitulated and reached for a drink.

There is a part of ourselves, often so deeply buried we don’t know it’s there, that nudges us toward healing and we start calling for help, sometimes long before we are ready to receive it. Looking back now, I understand that writing that column was one of my calls for help. But at the time I fooled myself. I explained to anybody who would listen that the column was not about me, that I had turned myself into a character in order to render an artistic commentary on alcoholism. (As far as I know, a lot of people believed me. At least they pretended to.)

It wasn’t until three years later when I had moved to Yellowknife and decided to quit drinking that I saw how deeply I was steeped in denial. It shocked me to realize that while I could see how others denied their alcoholism, I was unable to see it in myself even though I was drinking just as much and behaving in exactly the same way. This, more than anything, made me realize the power that alcohol had over me. And it convinced me that I would not be able to quit alone.


This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!


Recovery Notes #3

I write, therefore I am

Even though I didn’t quit drinking until 1983, I’ve always believed that I took the first step toward recovery in early April, 1978, while I was a student at the University of Guelph. Guelph was in the grip of first days of spring and the air was soft while the sun sparkled on the melting snow, but I had no eyes to appreciate any of it.  Two years earlier, the loneliness brought on by the end of a long-term relationship had hurtled me deeper into the drinking life. I had become a crazy barroom lady, mouthy and laughing on the outside, while dying on the inside. I embarked on a series of unrequited love affairs and the continual rejection battered any remaining self-esteem to a pulp. Finally, there was one rejection too many and I became paralyzed. I stopped attending classes, skipped my final exams and spent my days sitting on the floor in front of the couch drinking, listening to sad music and crying.

Somewhere in midst of my misery, I decided to write a letter to my absconded lover. For three days, I struggled to put my feelings into words, and as I did, something deep inside of me changed. A quiet voice in my head said “writing will get you out of the hell your life has become.” It stopped me cold and, at first, I didn’t know what to do. But I, who had elevated self-doubt and cynicism to the level of an art form, believed the voice without question. I put away the booze (temporarily), showered, changed my clothes, left the house and was able, for the first time in weeks, to look people in the eye.

My lover thought the letter was “too weird” but by the time he read it I no longer cared. I turned my back on Ontario and embarked on the hitchhiking journey that would eventually take me to northern Canada. The trip quickly degenerated into a tour of bars and parties across the country but, throughout it all, I remained convinced that somehow, somewhere, I was going to be a writer.

Eight months later I found myself on a bus heading south from the Northwest Territories. I had been to visit Bart*, an old friend with whom I had hooked up on the road, and who had then gotten work in Hay River. Now I was on my way home for Christmas, but I planned to return in January to set up housekeeping with Bart. When the bus stopped in Peace River, Alberta, a young woman, Violet*, hurried on and plopped herself down in the seat beside me. She had overslept in Hay River so a friend had driven her 600 km south to catch the bus in time to make it to Saskatchewan for Christmas. She told me that she worked at a Tapwe, a small weekly newspaper run by a publisher who would hire anybody who could type.

As soon as I returned to Hay River in the New Year, I made an appointment with Don Taylor, the publisher at Tapwe, and haltingly told him that I wanted to write. It was the first time I had ever admitted my aspirations to anybody and I was terrified he would laugh me out of the office. Instead, he asked me if I could type. When I responded in the affirmative, he hired me on the spot as a reporter/photographer trainee.

Don was an eccentric newshound who had earned his reporting chops at the Regina Leader Post and Canadian Press before venturing north in the mid-1960s to start his own newspaper. I soon became his protégé and I was so smitten with everything that I was learning at my new job — reporting, writing, northern stories — that for a time I was able to restrict my drinking.

But the darkest days of my alcoholism were still ahead of me. The difference was that now I had something to hang on to. Writing gave me a way to fit into the mosaic of the world. It gave me an identity and a purpose. I finally felt that my life could have value. When drinking eventually overtook me and I faced the choice between life and death, I believe it was this sense of identity and value that helped me to choose life.

*not the real names

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #2

To drink is to die

I’ve heard it said that there are three eventual outcomes for a person who continues to drink alcoholically: institutionalization, jail or death. Even though I’d had a number of drunken brushes with death (a car accident, a house fire), the fact that I was courting death didn’t register on me until my last day of drinking.

When I awoke on August 22, 1983,  I was on the seventh day of a binge which I spent at my typewriter drinking and eating hash brownies while attempting to write the great Canadian novel that would stun the world and propel me to sanity and fame (I wrote one short paragraph).

A year earlier, I had picked a fight with my boss, suddenly quit my job as a newspaper reporter in Hay River (a small community south of Great Slave Lake) and stormed off to Yellowknife with a carload of worthless stuff, little money and no place stay (in recovery lingo this is called a “geographical cure). Alcoholics thrive on being victims so if you had asked me why I quit my job, I would have said I was disrespected, overworked and underpaid but said nothing about my unreliability and irresponsibility. The truth was that my job was interfering with my drinking.

I survived that first year in Yellowknife by leaning on others for money, drinks and places to stay, eventually managing to dig myself out of the financial hole through a series of freelance assignments which I was able to complete while in a semi-sober state. But emotionally I was a wreck. I was overcome by haunting loneliness and unnamed terrors that would not let me go, no matter how much I drank. The days when drinking was a magical cure for my feelings of inadequacy were far in the past and now alcohol only magnified my misery. Yet I still I persisted in my belief that it was the solution, not the problem. The more I drank, the worse I felt. The worse I felt, the more I drank. Suicide became a viable option.

That August morning, a friend came over to visit. Mike (not his real name) and I had gone on many binges together and I knew him well. But I hadn’t seen much of him since he quit drinking four months earlier. Now I was astonished at how much he had changed. Instead of whining about how badly the world had treated him, as he would have in the past, he admitted to his drunken wrongdoings. Listening to his honesty, I had an epiphany (I am rather given to epiphanies as you will see in future posts). I saw how drinking controlled my life. For the first time, I realized that it could only end in death, whether by drunken incident, suicide or bodily breakdown.

I burst into tears.

“Mike, tell me the truth,” I said, when I had regained control over myself. “Do you think that I’m an alcoholic?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

It was the perfect answer. If he’d said ‘yes,’ I would have gotten angry and consoled myself by getting drunk. If he’d said ‘no,’ I would have celebrated by getting drunk.

After Mike left, I drank all the booze that was left in the house. The next morning I decided I wanted to live more than I wanted to die. 

Unless I have an unexpected burst of time and energy (highly unlikely), I plan to take a break from this blog over the holiday season. I will post again early in 2018. Meanwhile, happy holidays, everybody! May you all find peace and happiness.

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my HOLIDAY SALE!