On Three Years Alcohol-Free

On November 22, 2013, I woke up to my last hangover. It had been about a month since I left my job in the beer industry, and I had spent the previous evening drinking too much wine and celebrating my partner's birthday. 

I remember staring at the ceiling of our untidy bedroom that morning, desperately trying to collect my memories of the evening before and scanning each one for careless words or poor decisions that would later require an apology. I had a routine back then (drink-sleep-shame-work-repeat), forged from years of quiet desperation, undertreated mental illness, and deep, unrelenting shame.  

I would like to say that in that moment I saw all of the possibilities that my life held and was emboldened to take action. In truth, I just felt lost and terrified. At 26 years old I was deeply in debt, overweight, sitting on a pile of education with nothing to show for it, and losing the struggle with depression and alcohol abuse. Quite frankly, I was out of options. 

Describing what it is to give up an addiction is tough because it is just so. many. things. It's a loss of self, in a way. It's tearing down your own life - everything that makes you feel safe and soothes your pain, however briefly - and accepting that it may take years to build a new one. 

It's learning to navigate failure without turning back to the one thing that, up until now, has been a constant source of temporary comfort.

It's feeling all of the emotions that you have spent years trying to numb and willing yourself to sit with them, no matter how difficult. 

It's being brave enough to let yourself fuck up without being able to blame your failures on being drunk/high/whatever.

It's not feeling brave at all and going to bed at 6 p.m. because you're afraid of what might happen if you don't.

It's waking up one day and realising that what constitutes "normal" in your life has changed and that you're ready to tackle goals you once thought were impossible.

It's looking back after another year passes and having a little cry, because you survived it all and for a while there you just weren't quite sure that you would. And it was all worth it.

Here's to another year. xx

On Showing Up (and Knowing When to Quit)

I’ve been thinking a lot about showing up lately; about being present in my life, living according to my values, and playing to my own strengths. In particular, I’ve been examining the ins and outs of my day-to-day, thinking carefully about what is working about my routine and what isn’t. What feels right and what feels wrong. 

Until about a month and a half ago I was enrolled in the CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) PREP program (or “preparatory courses” as they are now called). My plan was to squeeze these super-condensed courses in one at a time around the edges of my full-time work schedule, eventually leading me to prestige as a CPA some five or six years down the road.

Except I wasn’t in it to be an accountant. I thought the program would be a great way to gain knowledge and skills to apply to my work in the world of nonprofit community organizations. And, to be honest, I think part of me just wanted to show off those three little letters behind my name. What I didn’t realize was just how intense the program would be and how negatively it would impact my ability to perform in those aspects of my life that I hold dear (volunteer work) or that are necessary to keep me level-headed and effectively manage the depression and anxiety that I’ve lived with since I was a kid (self care). 

After struggling to fit in approximately 20-25 hours of study each week on top of 40 hours at work, I began to question my motivations and ability to live this way for the next five years. I sat down and had a conversation with myself, asking a few difficult questions. Was this path in line with my values? Was the damage to my mental and physical health worth the outcome? Was this really all that important to me? Could I still have an impact and a meaningful career without this education?

What I decided, eventually, was that becoming a CPA just wasn’t important enough to me to continue, but that trading that time for something else - investing myself more deeply in volunteer and community work, doubling down on self care, and really sinking into my life - is what feels right and in line with my values right now. In the short time since deciding to drop the program I have stepped into a more executive role on WFC's board of directors; started reading and learning more about poverty in Winnipeg's inner city; spent real, quality time with friends and family; and, this past weekend, made the journey out to Steinbach, MB to take part in the first Steinbach Pride March. 

Ready to march in Steinbach.

Ready to march in Steinbach.

The change in my mood now from a short time ago is something else. I’m sleeping better, eating more healthfully, getting more exercise, and spending more time connecting with the people and the world around me. I’m working on not being afraid that “just” having a bachelor’s degree and boat loads of relevant skills and experience won’t be enough to keep me employed in my field of choice. And while I’m not done with professional development just yet, I’m now looking forward to attending seminars, reading books, and learning more about things that truly interest me.

Have you ever quit something that just wasn't working for you? What happened?

Oh, Hello There. (An Update)

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I didn’t mean to announce that I would no longer be posting my kindnesses for the 365 Days of Kindness project and then disappear, but that’s exactly what happened. The past month has been a hectic one for us, and this blog took a back seat as J and I worked our way through some pretty big life changes.

On Moving

We moved at the end of September.

It’s such a simple thing to say. We moved. But in practice it was so much more.

We moved. Relocated. Uprooted.

Leaving our little apartment behind was a decision we - I - struggled with a great deal. I was 24 when I moved into the little building off Corydon. It was the first time (and quite possibly the last) that I would ever live completely on my own, sans roommates or romantic partners. When I moved in I was deeply depressed, reeling from the end of an engagement, struggling with a severe drinking problem, and feeling very much alone.

My life was a complete mess, and so was I. But that empty apartment felt a little bit like hope.

I spent four years living in that space; two of them with J. It’s where I decided to leave the alcohol industry and quit drinking; where I gave up cigarettes for good; where I decided to finish my degree. It’s where I chose to leave small business office administration behind and pursue a career in nonprofit, and where I learned how to take proper care of myself.

It’s where I gave myself a chance, took a life that was in shambles, and turned it into something beautiful.

I love our new home. I love living downtown. I love having a beautiful, functional kitchen. And, just as much, I love the little off-Corydon apartment that allowed me the space I needed to grow as a person and craft this life that I am so totally and completely enamored with.

Our new view.

Our new view.

On Work

I mentioned last month that I have taken on a new position at work, but I didn’t dive too deeply on what that has entailed. I transitioned out of a coordinator role and into an executive directorship at the nonprofit I work with, and the change has taken some getting used to. I am learning a lot about what it means to be responsible for running an organization (albeit a smallish one), how to create work/life balance in a challenging position, and how to prioritize when all of the tasks on my to-do list are immensely important and should have been done, like, yesterday.

I’m also learning to quell the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety that threaten to take me over and instead focus on taking my days one task at a time. It has been challenging, rewarding, and a true test of my commitment to carving out a space for myself in the world of nonprofit work. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On 365 Days of Kindness

You guys, of all the decisions I have ever made, deciding to stop posting my kindnesses each week is up there with the best of them. I am still performing and recording kindnesses every day, but I now feel as though I continue to work towards completing this project not for the sake of proving myself to others or making sure I have blog content, but because it has added something very meaningful to my life. My focus is where it should be - on kindness for the sake of kindness.

On What’s Next

I’d like to say that I have a clear idea of where I want to take this website, or my online life in general. The truth is, I am still working on figuring out the role that I want spaces like Twitter, Facebook, or this blog to have in my life. I’ll get there eventually, but for now let’s just say that sporadic, whatever-I-feel-like-typing posts are probably going to be the norm around here for a while. I feel pretty good about letting this be whatever it will be and am looking forward to getting back to enjoying blogging as a hobby without feeling like it is an obligation.

That’s where things are at. My life these days is very full, very rich, and I am loving every minute of it.

So what’s new with you?

#365DaysOfKindness: Saying Goodbye to Posting

I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately; particularly my relationships to social media, to this project, and to this blog.

When I started the 365 Days of Kindness project at the beginning of the year it was a bit of an experiment. I wondered what would happen, how it would affect my life, and whether or not I was up to the challenge of doing something kind, generous, or in service each day. 

It turns out that last bit is the easy part.

The biggest challenge I have faced in this project, and one that I would like to address today, is the struggle to reconcile the relationship between 365 Days of Kindness and self promotion. When I started the project I viewed this blog as a means of holding myself accountable. I assumed that my greatest difficulty would be in remembering or motivating myself to perform an act of kindness each day this year, and that writing a blog would be an easy way to keep myself on track. 

What I did not foresee was that I would begin to feel as though sharing these posts was more about self promotion than accountability. The entire thing has a "look at me, aren't I great?" vibe, despite that not being my intention at all. I have begun to wish that I had kept this project to myself, or that I had shared it only with one or two people who could hold me accountable. I wish that I had focused on doing the thing without feeling the need to talk (brag?) about it. I wish I had recognized and protected the immense value of kindness for the sake of kindness - no pretense.

This blog isn't the only online space I've been struggling to figure out. Over the past month or so I have slowly been removing myself from social media, instead focusing on nurturing my real-world interactions and smoothing the bumps of social anxiety and awkwardness that I've wrestled with since I was a kid. I've deleted most social apps from my phone, save for the accounts for my workplace and my Instagram (which I am still completely enamored with), and I am learning to open myself to the world around me when I find myself seated on the bus or waiting for friends at a coffee shop. Instead of trying to gain others' attention I am trying to pay attention, and I believe I am better for it.

I don't know what this means in terms of my future with social media or blogging just yet, but I do know that I will no longer be posting my kindnesses on this blog. I'll still be keeping track of them on my own and chatting about the experience with anyone who cares to ask, but I am no longer comfortable with having the focus of the project - to be kind , every day, for a year - clouded by self promotion or bragging. It doesn't feel authentic (buzzword alert!), and my gut is telling me that it is time to change the way I am doing things.

I'm sure plenty of you don't understand my decision, and that's alright. I don't expect everyone to understand my desire to unplug a bit from an increasingly plugged in world.  I don't fully understand it myself, to be honest. Where the boundaries lie and what mix of online and in-person interaction will be best for me remains to be seen. Hell, I don't even know if I will share this post on my social media networks or just leave it here on this blog for anyone who happens to look. There is lots to figure out, and only time will tell.

I had written more about social media and my relationships, but I feel like it got off track a bit and didn't really express the point I was trying to make, so I will leave it at this for now.   

#365DaysOfKindness Days 249-255: Subletting, Styrofoam, & Socials

As usual, it has been a crazy week around here. Jackson and I began preparing in earnest for our move downtown at the end of the month, part of which involved staging and showing our apartment at the beginning of the week. I am so excited for the changes ahead, but have also spent quite a bit of time waxing nostalgic about this little space. This was, after all, the first place that I ever lived completely on my own. I've spent four good years here, each better than the last. 

My new position at work has been challenging (in a good way). I'm really enjoying getting myself organized and figuring out how to prioritize all of the new tasks and responsibilities I have. My inner list-making enthusiast is nerding out so hard! I love it. The work I'm doing is closely aligned with my values, and I'm stretching and exercising skill sets that I didn't even realize I enjoyed using so much. It's kind of the best.

Anyway, that's what's been going on lately. Here are last week's kindnesses:

Sun, Sep 6th (249): Gave our friends first dibs on subletting our super affordable, super nice apartment

Mon, Sep 7th (250): Scheduled apartment viewings later into the evening than I wanted to so everyone could have an equal chance at getting their application in first when the rental office opened the next day

Tue, Sep 8th (251): Stopped the car I was driving to rescue a piece of garbage styrofoam that was bouncing across the parking lot and disposed of it properly

Wed, Sep 9th (252): Made an at-the-till donation at Bulk Barn when we stopped for dried fruit (PSA: dried ginger is the BOMB and you need to get some in your life ASAP)

Thurs, Sep 10th (253): Didn't lose my cool on the organizers when things went wrong at the event I was trying to set up at, even though I was frustrated. Everything ended up working out just fine, of course - it usually does! 

Fri, Sep 11th (254): Bought tickets to our friends' wedding social next month

Sat, Sep 12th (255): Helped the director of Inspire with some website updates

See you next week!

#365DaysOfKindness Days 228-248: Playing Catch-Up

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Jackson and I traveled to Seattle with friends of ours at the end of August. We did all of the touristy things we could find, and two of us got tattoos from Alex at Under the Needle. If you are ever looking to get some ink done in Seattle I 100% recommend checking them out.

under the needle

It was a ridiculously fun trip, after which I returned to Winnipeg and immediately jumped into a new role at work. My coworker has left to pursue his master's degree, and I have transitioned from program coordination to an executive directorship (gulp). The first week and a bit in my new position were spent looking for a new program coordinator (found one!) and trying to keep up with everything that was happening. Nothing fell apart, so I'd say I did a pretty OK job of managing everything on my own for a while!

As soon as we got back from Seattle we learned that the lovely downtown apartment we applied for before we left will be ours in October. We found a subletter for our current space quite quickly and are now preparing to move out of the apartment where I have spent a very happy four years. It's bittersweet, but I'm really looking forward to setting up our new space and living downtown.

So that's what's going on around here (and why this post has been so terribly delayed). Here are my kindnesses for the past few weeks:

Sun, Aug 16th (228): Left food in the Winnipeg Harvest bin at the grocery store

Mon, Aug 17th (229): Shared event for Sara Riel fundraising social social

Tues, Aug 18th (230): Bought tickets for Sara Riel fundraising social

Wed, Aug 19th (231): Donated 300 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Thurs, Aug 20th (232): Donated 300 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Fri, Aug 21st (233): Donated clothing to the bin down the street

Sat, Aug 22nd (234): At the till donation for Wpg Harvest

Sun, Aug 23rd (235): Smiled at strangers on the street

Mon, Aug 24th (236): Donated 300 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Tues, Aug 25th (237): Hand-wrote a thank-you note to accompany payment to an artist who did some work for me

Wed, Aug 26th (238): Left food in the Winnipeg Harvest bin when I stopped at the grocery store

Thurs, Aug 27th (239): Gave up my window seat to a stranger on the plane to Seattle

Fri, Aug 28th (240): Tipped all of my servers/tattoo artist generously

Sat, Aug 29th (241): Rescued a renegade tent that was trying to fly away at the Punk Rock Flea Market

Sun, Aug 30th (242): Gave away coupons in line at touristy things

Mon, Aug 31st (243): Tipped a busker at Pike Place Market

Tue, Sep 1st (244): Brought back a gift for the friend who watched our place while we were out of town

Wed, Sep 2nd (245): Provided feedback via Shaw customer survey

Thurs, Sep 3rd (246): Called back interviewees who were not chosen for the job I interviewed them for. Not the most fun phone calls to make, but I think it's important to let people know so they aren't waiting for a call that never comes (not to mention give them a chance to ask for feedback if they want to).

Fri, Sep 4th (247): Donated 300 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Sat, Sep 5th (248): Donated a ton of household stuff to Salvation Army

#365DaysOfKindness Days 221-227: Social Media, Mostly

Just a quick post today:

Sun, Aug 9th (221): Gave some friends a ride home from camping

Mon, Aug 10th (222): Filled out a survey for LinkedIn

Tues, Aug 11th (223): Smiled at strangers while walking

Wed, Aug 12th (224): Donated 700 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Thurs, Aug 13th (225): Went on a Facebook photo-liking spree.

Fri, Aug 14th (226): Tweeted nice things about my favourite artists at Interstellar Rodeo (which was awesome, by the way!)

Sat, Aug 15th (227): Donated 500 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

See you next week!

#365DaysOfKindness Days 214-220: Free Rice and Festivals

#365DaysOfKindness is a year-long experiment in kindness, generosity, and service at VanessaMeads.com. Check back each Tuesday for more kindnesses, or view previous posts here

I had a really good week, you guys. I wrote my final exams and said goodbye to school for good! Or at least for the next year or so, anyway, because who knows. The past few days of doing whatever I want outside of work without having the guilt of knowing I should be studying hanging over me has been just fantastic. 10/10 would recommend. 

Here are last week's kindnesses:

Sun, Aug 2nd (214): Volunteered at Folklorama. J's mom performs at the Pabellón de España each year for the festival, so we both went to help out on opening night. They dressed me up and I spent most of the afternoon/evening helping out with the VIP table and watching the shows. Super fun!

Mon, Aug 3rd (215): Donated 500 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Tues, Aug 4th (216): Donated 400 grains of rice with FreeRice.com

Wed, Aug 5th (217): Donated to my MP candidate of choice

Thurs, Aug 6th (218): Gave a fellow exam writer a pen. Have you ever gotten to an exam and realized you forgot to bring a pen? I've totally been there. Good thing I over prepare for everything these days and happened to have one (er, several) available to share.

Fri, Aug 7th (219): Made an at-the-till donation to a children's charity

Sat, Aug 8th (220): Volunteered at DMSMCA Summer Fest at Jacob Penner Park. I watched over the inflatable fire truck slide all day and it was the most fun! Kids + giant inflatable toys = madness. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was so glad to be there. 

DMSMCA Summer Fest

So that was my week. I'm really looking forward to focusing more on volunteering/donating my time now that my degree is complete. The kindnesses that allow me to get involved in community events are some of my favourites, and one downside to having so much schoolwork to do (particularly during the summer months) has been not having the time to participate as much as I would like.  Freedom!

See you next week, friends.