Proof: Reflections on a year without drinking

May 27th, 2015

ScanThe following is from the June 2015 issue of my ezine, That’s Forkin’ Amazing! (If you like this, you can subscribe and receive it monthly!)

Alcohol is a ubiquitous part of modern life. We toast the bride, ring in the New Year and celebrate communion by partaking in alcoholic beverages. If you’ve ever vowed to hop on the wagon—for the week, a month or even for just for one day—you’re not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that over 30% of adults in the U.S. did not drink alcohol last year.

So, whether a break from alcohol is your New Year’s resolution, a mandate from a partner or the result of a DUI, the feelings you experience will probably run the gamut. You can expect to feel alternately anxious, excited, resigned, deprived, smug, bored, elated and more. Believe me, I know.

It started innocently enough
My most recent cocktail was June 23, 2014. My goal was a simple one: take the week off from booze. I had been “celebrating” the second season of my television show Fork in the Road with Sheree Clark, since before our June first premiere and I had noticed the toll that my merriment was taking. I felt tired. Looked bloated. Slept like shit.

The truth is my alcohol consumption had been steadily climbing over the last couple of years. Once I left my former career behind—the one that demanded that I fly over 100,000 miles a year for business—I had more time for socializing. I could accept more dinner party invitations and say yes to more social events. I no longer had to be up to catch 5:50 a.m. flights to Chicago. And now that my career involved food, it also involved…wine! Little by little, I realized, I had begun to drink wine nearly every day. Yes, it was mostly organic. Yes, I balanced with my healthy eating habits. Still, I was starting to feel out of control. I needed to knock it off. Just for a week, I said. Make it through a weekend, I told myself. Then, I would be back to normal. I just needed a breather.

But something happened. After a few days of not having drinks after work, I realized that feeling tired and bloated were just the surface conditions of over-indulging. I also had developed some bad habits: I was using alcohol to numb-out, and to “take the edge off” of just about every activity where it would be considered acceptable. I was getting less done. My yoga practice had reached a plateau. I was settling for “good enough” in a lot of ways. And I didn’t like it. So, I moved the finish line: I’d go alcohol-free for thirty days: until July 24.

Making substitutions
When I look back at my journal from that time, I am amazed I made it through that first month. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the change was not easy for me. I wrote about feeling depressed and anxious, and how I was having trouble falling asleep. I felt awkward at certain social events (they’re all about the drink, have you ever noticed?). I deliberately arrived late for a few get-togethers, just to avoid the cocktail hour.

I knew that the best way to break a habit is to replace it with a different one, so I started doing new things, including a daily morning meditation and writing in my long-neglected journal. I revisited counseling. I participated in (and also led) several group experiences. None of these activities was specifically alcohol—or abstinence—related. They were just things I did in the name of personal growth. And being sober, I think, made the effects more pronounced and more rapid.

So when July 24 rolled around I was faced with a decision: do I resume drinking, or don’t I? After a month of abstinence, things had settled into a new normal. I didn’t think, “I’d love a glass of wine” so often anymore. I had figured out how to navigate social situations, either by simply not calling attention to my choice, or by faking it, depending on whom I was with. (Faking it meant I walked around with the same glass of wine as a prop the entire evening.) My sleep had become more refreshing. My yoga stretches deeper. I liked where I was headed. So…the new finish line was December 24. Yes, I thought: Christmas Eve, how perfect!

Where does the time go?
On the morning of Christmas Eve I received word that the presenting sponsor for the third season of my TV show had been deemed insolvent. The show’s new season would be delayed or possibly even cancelled. And so I had the perfect storm: I had crossed the six-month finish line, it was a holiday and I had every good reason to drown my sorrows. Which is precisely why I didn’t.

Now, as I write this, I am practically moments away from the one-year mark. I don’t know what will come next and the best part is that it doesn’t even matter anymore. I could never, ever have imagined saying that last summer. What I also could not have anticipated is the reaction I have received from others. Responses from people upon discovering that I am alcohol free have ranged from a curiosity bordering on fascination to being practically shunned. (Please remember, when you run into someone like me who is abstaining, whether temporarily or for the long-term, that it’s not a commentary on your drinking and nobody is trying to ruin anyone’s fun!) But most people—especially my partying friends—are intrigued. Many feel they “should take a break” but they don’t know how or are afraid to try. Some of them look to me, hoping to summon the courage to move forward into unfamiliar terrain.

If you’re one of those who are evaluating your relationship with alcohol, it is no coincidence you are reading this. I don’t have answers for you (I barely have them for me!). But I can tell you this: there are scores of ways to quit drinking, if that is what you want to do, and there is no single right way. In my case, I do believe that thinking about “never” drinking again would have gotten me stuck. In the early days of abstinence, everything was already hard, so the idea of never was just too much. Today I can entertain the thought that I never need to drink again. But that may change. I can tell you this much: in the past year I have never once gotten up for my 5:00 a.m. yoga class and thought “Damn, I wish I’d had a few drinks last night.”

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KCAT Exclusive Story! Lotus rebounds: Expects to make full recovery!

April 18th, 2015

(Des Moines, IA) In an unplanned press conference this morning, KCAT reporters photolearned that Lotus Clark, the eight-month old Maine Coon kitten being parented by Sheree Clark, actually chased a ping-pong ball on Saturday.

Though ordinarily not a newsworthy event, the ping-pong occasion is evidence of Lotus’ recovery from an illness that had lasted for several weeks. The cause of the illness remains unknown, but was marked by a gradual—and then rapid—decline in the mobility of the kitten. While at first simply showing a tendency to tire more easily, a pivotal downturn came on a weekend evening in mid-March, when the young cat became unable to walk more than a few steps. An emergency trip to the veterinarian ultimately led to a referral to veterinary specialists at Iowa State University, as well as a consultation with Michigan State University, as experts sought to find the cause of the mystery ailment.

At the lowest point in his illness, Lotus became unable to successfully navigate the litter box by himself, relying on Sheree for assistance. (At Lotus’ request, additional details about this facet of his condition are not available.)

In a tearful statement to KCAT, Sheree recounts, “I was beside myself not knowing where to turn. Lotus is ordinarily so congenial and to see him being lethargic and disinterested was just torture…it was like having a pet turtle or something.”

This mornings’ breakthrough came after weeks of at-home care by Clark, guidance by the veterinary team and support from friends of the Clark family. Diet modifications, supplements, physical therapy, rest and sunshine, as well as weekly acupuncture treatments combined to restore the kitten to what Sheree estimates is “about an 85% recovery.” She has confidence in full restoration of the prowess of the male cat. “Well,” she adds, I mean he is neutered, so…let’s say substantial restoration of his abilities.”

Asked what his plans are now that he is once again agile, Lotus responded by kicking the vent cover off the duct in Clark’s kitchen. “Be careful what you wish for,” murmured his Mom.
Although written tongue-in-cheek, the above is actually a true story (including the part about the vent cover!). If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that my posts about Lotus had decreased. I was in such a funk and so desperate trying to figure out what was wrong with him, I couldn’t even talk about it, except to a very few close friends.

With a lot of luck, patience, prayer and support, I am confident enough to now say I think we are on the other side of the challenge. I wanted to share this news as a means of celebration and also to be able to acknowledge a few of the cadre of professionals who showed such huge hearts and compassion as Lotus and I maneuvered through the medical and informational maze. Thank you from both of us to Dr. Kim Wilke (+ team), Iowa Veterinary Wellness; Dr. Jennifer Loewen, Iowa State University; Dr. John Fyfe, Michigan State University; April Lawrence, Boneapatreat, as well as my friends who let me cancel plans so I could be at home more, and who listened while I lamented and worried.

In addition to gratitude to those who’ve supported me, I want to document what I have learned through this process. I do this as much for me as for anyone reading this, because I have an uncanny ability to “forget” my epiphanies. As a result of this heartache experience I have learned, or perhaps re-learned:

The absolute importance of being present. I am a recovering multi-tasker. I check emails at stoplights, read while on the treadmill, listen to audio books while I prepare dinner. But when I was with Lotus or his care team, I was all in. I had the razor focus to ask questions that led to better decisions about the protocol we ultimately developed for him. I even turned the radio off when the two of us traveled to our appointment at Iowa State, and I talked to him quietly as I drove. Similarly, I avoided the alluring temptations of distraction. I didn’t over-exercise or indulge in fantasy escape. No mind-numbing wine or food-induced comas. And I deliberately did not post about it on Facebook because I knew it would create drama and take me away from the real focus. Through these strategies, I felt connected and oddly capable, which gave me peace and a presence of mind I’ve not enjoyed for a while.

Care giving is tough work. I have never had children. I have not had to attend to aging relatives. I always thought taking care of others was a tough mission, but until I had a first hand look at what it means to anticipate needs and be on call (and on high alert) 24/7, I had no clue. I know I had it easy compared to some. My assignment was a brief one. My ward was/is a cheerful and uncomplaining kitten and I work from my home. Yet, I saw very clearly that the act of compassionate care giving requires time, selflessness and love. I have new (and high) regard for those who provide such service in long-term situations.

Progress is incremental, and sometimes slow. The ping-pong ball moment was not the first indicator that Lotus was making headway, but for me it was the first real sign that he was (dare I say it?) out of the woods. Before that he was able to almost sit up in the litter box, and before that he walked three full steps before he needed to rest. I clung to each little glimpse of increased strength and stamina and to every new accomplishment. I hope to remember that lesson in weeks to come as I become impatient with myself and how long it takes for me to achieve, complete, master and sometimes even get around to certain things. Sometimes, the schedule that happens is not the one that I drew up.

It’s horrible to feel helpless when someone you love is not well. When all you care about is getting “normal” back. You want answers, solutions…you want the pain to stop—for everyone. If you are in such a place right now, my heart truly goes out to you. I am sending you a prayer to find a place of stillness and peace and surrender in your heart, so that you can be present when your presence is needed. I hope you’ll be a compassionate caregiver who also knows you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others. And I hope you will see and celebrate progress in whatever timeframe it decides to present itself.

I didn’t set out for this post to be so long, and since it is a celebration, I would like to end on a happy note, which, for me means a recipe. This one is anti-inflammatory, in commemoration of the lessening of the pain both Lotus and I have experienced. Cheers and gratitude!

Yield: 1 serving


1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup frozen mango
1 frozen banana, peeled
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon chia seeds
2 leaves romaine lettuce OR 1 cup spinach

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.


An outlet. For energy.

March 17th, 2015

outletI don’t remember exactly when it happened, but sometime before Christmas (yes, that long ago), the outlet in my upstairs bathroom let out a puff of smoke and then simply ceased to function. I wasn’t alarmed or worried about safety; I just felt annoyed and a little inconvenienced. But I found a workaround pretty quickly: I got an extension cord and plugged it into an outlet in the next room.

The problem is, my workaround worked so well that there was no real urgency to actually get the outlet fixed. My “temporary” remedy created only a bit of an eyesore, but not a genuine nuisance. Well, I guess on Fridays when the cleaning lady came I did have to unplug stuff get the cord out of her way. And, I suppose I also needed to jostle the bathroom door for it to close around the cord. But, in my mind anyway, compared to finding an electrician—and having to be there when he came—the outlet didn’t seem to be a big deal.

I admit I thought about it every time I was in the bathroom. I’d see the extension cord and I’d think, “I need to deal with that.” Or my kitten Lotus would tug at the cord on the floor and I’d distract him with a toy. Now that I think about it, I guess I did spend a lot of energy on the broken outlet. I lost time thinking about it and feeling guilty for not dealing with it. I kept promising myself I’d make a call tomorrow. Or the next day, for sure. And all the while, in the back of my mind, I was hoping it wouldn’t end up being a major hassle. My house was built in 1939. Some of the wiring is new, but some is still the original. I didn’t want to hear that I needed to upgrade my electrical. I didn’t want to make decisions, and I sure didn’t care to spend money on something as unglamorous as electrical supplies.

Then, one day last week, I met a friend for a drink after work. The outlet must’ve been top of mind for me, because it actually came up in the conversation. While I was lamenting, my friend picked up his cell phone and—before I knew what he was actually doing—was talking to an electrician friend of his on the phone (he’s in the construction business). And I had an appointment for a service call the very next morning.

Sure enough, and right on time, Mr. electrician arrived. It turns out the outlet simply needed replacing. Not the wiring. Not the whole house. Just that one outlet.

And then the funniest thing happened. In addition to having power in the bathroom—from a source that was actually in the bathroom—I found that I too, had more…energy. I woke up earlier the next day, and I actually felt a little lighter. I didn’t have a sense of shame or guilt every time I was in the bathroom. I didn’t need to shoo Lotus away from an extension cord any more. I could close the door to the bathroom effortlessly. And all of this made me think about some of the other “energy leaks” in my world, and about the slow drip, drip, drip of vitality that happens with procrastination. Last year I experienced it during tax season (I eventually applied for an extension which made that whole energy drain even worse). I’ve done it with all kinds of things from dentist appointments to touch up paint, from tire rotation to oven cleaning. And I know that every time I put something off, I am costing myself. Sometimes the price of procrastinating is money, but there is another, more insidious cost: the loss of precious and unrecoverable energy.

So, after this outlet incident, I am committed to taking my power back. I am not going to merely think about writing a blog about what I’ve learned, I’m going to write it. And then…I am going to post it.

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