Many women feel like they know Jean McCarthy
They know Jean as an award-winning blogger, the host of The Bubble Hour Podcast and through her work in recovery advocacy.
But in today’s episode we get to know a more personal and intimate side of Jean through her poetry. Jean describes putting out this book of poetry as if she is saying “Here’s what the inside of my head looks like. Here’s the voice no one else hears.”
In this episode Casey and Jean dive into her new collection of poetry The Ember Ever There: Poems on Change, Grief, Growth, Recovery, and Rediscovery which is being released worldwide on June 19, 2020.
As Jean describes the collection she says, “This isn’t the story of addiction and recovery. This is the story of losing myself and finding myself again”.
Jean goes on to describe her addiction to alcohol as a symptom of her lost self – the person behind the people pleasing, good girl syndrome and losing herself behind the masks she was wearing.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- What Jean wants to say to the thousands of women who reach out to her and say “I want to quit, but I can’t right now”.
- How Jean felt in the very beginning of her own sobriety journey
- The story behind when and why Jean wrote the song “I own it”, the intro song to The Bubble Hour
- How women can stop playing small and embrace their true self
About Jean McCarthy
In addition to being the host of the Bubble Hour Podcast and an award-winning blogger, Jean is also the author of “UnPickled Holiday Survival Guide: Staying Alcohol-Free During the Festive Season,” a resource about sobriety for people in recovery and their families.
Her blog UnPickled began in 2011 and has continued to chronicle Jean’s alcohol-free lifestyle since her first day of sobriety. Thousands of readers credit UnPickled as a motivating factor in their decision to quit drinking.
Jean joined The Bubble Hour podcast as a co-host in 2013. She took over the weekly program as its sole producer and host in 2016.
Jean is a former performing songwriter with two albums of original music to her credit. Fans of the podcast are familiar with the show’s theme song “I Own It,” a single from Jean’s 2008 album, “Blessings and Burdens.”
At a gala in New York City, Jean was named recipient of the 2017 SheRecovers Hope Award in recognition of her efforts to help others seek positive changes in their lives. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband Ross and dog Scout.
Connect with Jean McCarthy
Link to buy book or further information: www.jeanmccarthy.ca/books
Connect with Casey McGuire Davidson
How to find the Best Sober Facebook Groups for busy women:
Connect with Casey
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Want to read the full transcript of this podcast episode? Scroll down on this page.
ABOUT THE HELLO SOMEDAY PODCAST
The Hello Someday Podcast helps busy and successful women build a life they love without alcohol. Host Casey McGuire Davidson, a certified life coach and creator of The Sober Girl’s Guide to Quitting Drinking, brings together her experience of quitting drinking while navigating work and motherhood, along with the voices of experts in personal development, self-care, addiction and recovery and self-improvement.
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RREAD THE TRANSCRIPT OF THIS PODCAST INTERVIEW
Jean McCarthy on Change, Grief, Growth, Rediscovery and Recovery – The Ember Ever There
drinking, change, grief, growth, rediscovery, recovery, coping mechanism, the inner child, stories, losing yourself, finding yourself, good girl syndrome, Why now?, show up, Begin, A Choice, To Live Fully, Separate yourself, Re-integrate yourself, Brave, Arc, self-preservation, contentment, life changing, sparks, Am I an alcoholic?, Patchwork recovery
SPEAKERS: Casey McGuire Davidson + Jean McCarthy
Welcome to the Hello Someday Podcast, the podcast for busy women who are ready to drink less and live more. I’m Casey McGuire Davidson, ex-red wine girl turned life coach helping women create lives they love without alcohol. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was anxious, overwhelmed, and drinking a bottle of wine and night to unwind. I thought that wine was the glue, holding my life together, helping me cope with my kids, my stressful job and my busy life. I didn’t realize that my love affair with drinking was making me more anxious and less able to manage my responsibilities.
In this podcast, my goal is to teach you the tried and true secrets of creating and living a life you don’t want to escape from.
Each week, I’ll bring you tools, lessons and conversations to help you drink less and live more. I’ll teach you how to navigate our drinking obsessed culture without a bus, how to sit with your emotions, when you’re lonely or angry, frustrated or overwhelmed, how to self soothe without a drink, and how to turn the decision to stop drinking from your worst case scenario to the best decision of your life.
I am so glad you’re here. Now let’s get started.
Casey: So Jean, I am so excited that you were willing to come on this podcast and talk about your new book of poetry. I’ve gone through it a couple times. And it is absolutely beautiful and wonderful.
Jean: Ah, thank you, that touches my heart. And I’m happy to be here. It’s really cool, because it’s not that long ago that I interviewed you, Casey, on the bubble hour. And congratulations on your new podcast and thank you for inviting me to be one of your guests.
Casey: Yeah, well, I wanted to have you on and the book of poetry, The Ember Ever There: Poems on Change, Grief, Growth, Recovery and Rediscovery is so perfect because I started listening to The Bubble Hour. And for anyone listening to this podcast who doesn’t know The Bubble Hour is a beautiful podcast that Jean has been posting for years and years. It has women on to tell their story of addiction and recovery. And seven years ago, and four years ago, I quit drinking – twice. When I was in early sobriety, I listened to the bubble hour as my constant companion. Seven years ago, I didn’t know a single other person who would quit drinking and it was such a lifeline for me to hear stories of women like me who had the same thoughts that I had, and the same struggles and we’re telling the stories of not only how they felt, but they’re really beautiful lives that they’re living right now.
Jean: Ah, that means so much. That’s really lovely. And we did. I should say we have men on, occasionally, when I can find one.
But most of the guests are people that write and offer to tell their stories. And by and large, that’s women. I think it’s mostly women listening. And so it’s mostly women that are telling their stories. Um, so glad to know that it’s part of your story.
Casey: Well, It’s not just mine. So many women I talked to, you know, say that in early sobriety or when they’re contemplating stopping drinking, and sort of in that really hard place of struggling and going back and forth, listening to the Bible, our having it in their earbuds, listening to the women’s stories, where they’re like, Wow, that sounds exactly like me, and that person is describing what’s going on in my heart is so helpful.
Jean: Yeah, and I think it reminds us that we’re not alone. And I think a lot of people that are listening are in that stage of trying to find out if there is anyone else like them if someone else’s story sounds familiar, and I’ll tell you what, there’s over 3 million downloads of that podcast. Crazy. Yeah, about 60 to 70,000 a month download that show. So, yeah, I think there’s a few people that are in the same boat as us. They hear themselves in it.
Casey: It’s 60 to 70,000 people who are downloading those stories every single month, and obviously, it meets such a need. And one of the things I loved when I was reading your book of poetry was, I feel like everybody feels like they know you, which I certainly do. You know, when I have your voice in my ear and talking to so many women and you’re sharing little bits of your story, as women are talking, and I know you have a very, very popular blog that you’ve been writing, you know your story from your first day of quitting drinking But this book of poetry is so much more personal. So, tell me about it.
Jean: Yes, it is. Well, I think that I used to be a performing songwriter. And when I knew I had a really good show was when the audience was nodding at times and wiping a tear at times and laughing at times. And what that taught me as a songwriter was that.. the best songs are not about the specifics, like if I tell you everything specifically about my life, my shoe size, my bra size, you know, which, which number of Clairol dye I’m using. Those are going to separate us because we’re all so different on the surface. But the deeper we go inside, the more that we’re the same, and so as much as we all might enjoy like, a country song about, you know, the dog ran down the road today. That might be fun to sing along too. But the songs we really love are what it felt like to lose your best friend, you know? Which is the same as the dog running away. And I think that what matters is poetry deeply about myself, it’s about my experience and losing myself and finding myself again. But when I strip away all the exterior stuff and just get into who I am, I’m probably also talking about who you are, and who someone else is because our experiences when we get right down to it, are very similar.
Casey: And I love that you just said, It’s the story of you losing yourself and finding yourself again, because as I read the book, and especially with the sections that you go through, it really does seem to take women through the different phases of deciding that drinking isn’t working for you anymore and getting up the courage to begin. And, you know, your hopes and your fears as well as the process as well. Realizing why you were wanting to escape and numb out and silence those pieces of you that are deep inside and sort of bringing those to the surface and honoring yourself. And that’s really beautiful. I was wondering, you know, as I started the book, you have this section beginning and two of the poems in there just seem to capture the thoughts of women, the hopes that they have in why you actually decide to take the leap and you know, getting out of the groundhog day cycle. So I was wondering if you might read to us the poem Begin and maybe Why now?
Jean: Okay, Begin. Begin with the choice to live fully, freely. Unafraid to show up, such as you are.
Casey: So, which I want that means to you? Like, where did that come from?
Jean: I’ve been sober for Nine years now. So that first day is a long way back. That was in a different stage of life when I began, and yet, I can feel so closely in my heart exactly what it felt like that thrill of, I’m really going to do it. I’m really going to do it this time, after years and years of trying every day and feeling somehow that day, I just knew I could do it. And it was so exciting and terrifying. And so I just wanted to open the book with a poem about it being a choice to live. Yeah, a choice to live and, and to be fearless and to be who we really are. That I think, boiled it all down to the essence of that moment, and that I had, all the other times I had tried to quit drinking, which we could fill in the blank. Right? It could be quit using drugs or quit using man or quit buying boots or whatever. Whatever, you’re numbing choices. I was afraid in the past, and I saw it as not living fully to quit drinking, I thought as lack and as oppression and as a sadness. And when I finally realized that this thing is killing me, and if I release it, I can get myself back. And really, I can live again. Yeah, be who I meant to be. Not this shadow version of myself that I’ve settled for all these last years. So that’s really what that poem means to me as I read it. And it’s such a tender time. It’s such a special, magical time. And we fear it for so long. And we resist it for so long and yet, it’s, I have a lump in my throat even as I’m discussing it with you now. You would think for all the time I’ve spent talking and writing about my recovery, it might be fuzzy about it, but it’s just such a precious moment in life.
Casey: Just when you write A Choice To Live Fully. I know that I didn’t realize until I got some distance from drinking. How much drinking was keeping my life and my world small. Both what I thought about what life would look like if I did quit drinking, which was so scary, but also how much drinking had limited the choices that I made. And the people I hung out with and what I did with my free time and how, you know, I was essentially like, my best friend was a bottle of wine and I was hanging out on my couch every night, right? You stop driving. After you’ve been drinking. You stop going to places where there isn’t alcohol like God, what a weekend of yoga with no alcohol. That sounds like a nightmare. You know?
Jean: Exactly. A canoe trip? Where do you put the booze?
Casey: Just put a choice to live on. That is what life becomes. And it’s amazing. So the other poem that I loved, and that I’d love for you to read is Why Now?
Jean: Okay, so I’ll tell you before I read it. That this poem is really a reaction that I have to the many, many, many letters and emails and comments that I get up people, women in particular, telling me that they can’t like they want to, but they can’t because they’re just they just can’t right now. For some reason. We’ve all done that. And my response to that is this Why now? Do not ask why now, when the better question is, how could I live another moment separated by myself?
I really feel like when we get that when we realized that this this isn’t about your daughter’s wedding next weekend, it isn’t about the the class reunion you have to go to or all these reasons why you think you can’t do it now because you’re going to have to participate in some social engagement that’s going to require you to be the fun version of yourself that you think needs alcohol in order to exist. It’s when you get to that place of…I can’t not do this. I cannot be myself anymore. That is just it’s such a wonderful awakening and it’s what I wish for everyone is that we could…Recovery to me isn’t isn’t about recovering some sobriety that we had before. It’s about recovering who we are before we started putting on Before we started locking ourselves away, hiding ourselves separating from ourselves and so for me, I was around nine or 10 when that started happening. And so my recovery has really been about reuniting with that girl that’s inside of me, not just in an inner child way and that work is important too, but also bringing her out and polishing her and letting her breathe and experience this world instead of always hiding her way. And that essence of myself that I’ve recovered, that’s really what the title of the book refers to as The Ember Ever There is that that spark in me never went out. I never lost it. It was always there. Just patiently waiting for me to glue in. Wake up and bring it back to life, so that I can be me again.
Casey: And that I realized that when you drink and when you get into that cycle of doing a daily and for years, which is what I did, you are separating from yourself more and more and more. And, you know, I remember and I think I said this on an earlier podcast episode, but I was walking with my very best friend from when I was 15. And she, you know, we, she lives where I live in Seattle. So we had kids together, and she seen me through all of this. And I was 40 when I quit drinking. So that’s a lot of years. And I was walking with her, you know, I may have been 20 days since I quit drinking, and said, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I don’t even know. Like, what I do, what I like, what, you know how to act. And she said, I feel like I finally got my best friend back from when we were 15 and 16 and 17. And that was just, I mean, when you’re saying you’re separating from yourself, it really does take you away from what brings you joy and your…your actual feelings about yourself that aren’t what the hell’s wrong with me. And why can’t you cope? And although all those negative thoughts that creep up and get worse.
Jean: Mm hmm. And it’s not about controlling yourself and tamping yourself down. It really is about laying down all of these ways that we thought we were coping, I guess, you know, they’re coping mechanisms that get out of control, and aspects of our identity that we perhaps overused because we feel like gosh, that serves me well, good girl that serves me really well. People really like it when I’m, when I’m that good girl, even though that’s just, it’s not necessarily that it’s not who you are. It’s just that it’s only one aspect of who we are. And when we overuse that part of ourselves, we are not being true to ourselves. So we’re trying to protect ourselves, but it’s just a little misguided. I explain it sometimes. The idea comes from parts of Self which is an aspect of therapy, sometimes known as internal family systems, where we have sort of these all these aspects of our personality that we, we manage and and we use to get by sometimes we need to be a, you know, a caring caregiver. Sometimes we need to be a little more effervescent, and the party girl, and sometimes we need to hunker down and clean the toilets, because somebody’s gotta do it, you know, those are all different parts of ourselves. And our highest self is the integrated, you know, part of it. And so I like to think of it as our highest self is like the palm of our hand and all of those aspects of ourselves are like the fingers. And so sometimes we need to just use one finger to do a job. Sometimes we need to use the, you know, you can’t, you can’t always just use one finger, sometimes you need to use your whole hand. And so Recovery is kind of like, if we I think if it is we get stuck in a finger, we get stuck in an aspect of our identity that isn’t really all that we can be. It’s not necessarily disingenuous. It’s just not our full self. And we need to kind of climb back down out of that appendage and get into the palm and really re-integrate with who we are. That imagery makes sense to me, I hope it makes sense to you.
Casey: It definitely does. When we talked when I came on The Bubble, our one of the things we both sort of identified with was the, you know, we’re both sort of recovering people pleasers, right, the recovering good girls, not to mean that we don’t help others and love others and also always do our best, but that idea that we need to make other people happy to be seen as worthy and to be kept and accepted. And everyone I think goes through that work when they enter recovery because you…you almost have to write there’s a reason that you couldn’t by wanting to numb out and separate yourself and turn off your brain. The poem you wrote about the girl inside really spoke to me about that sort of process. Could you read that as well?
Jean: Huh? It’s quite a long party. So I’ll just read the first part of it.
“Stay hidden”, I said to the girl inside.
How can I keep you safe if you laugh so loudly in a crowd?
How can I make them like you if you shine in their eyes?
How can we fit in this small space I’ve been given if your bigness is on display?
“Stay hidden”, I said. It’s for your own good. You can’t go around with your heart blazing heat. The moths will come at us and so will the cold souls hands out like zombies seeking warmth, wanting more, always more. It’s too much to bear.
Stay hidden. Stay safe.
If you’re listening to this episode and have been trying to take a break from drinking, but keep starting and stopping and starting again, I want to invite you to take a look at my on demand coaching course, The Sobriety Starter Kit. The Sobriety Starter Kit is an online self study, sober coaching course that will help you quit drinking and build a life you love without alcohol without white knuckling it or hating the process. The course includes the exact step-by-step coaching framework I work through with my private coaching clients, but at a much more affordable price than one-on-one coaching. And The Sobriety Starter Kit is ready, waiting and available to support you anytime you need it, when it fits into your schedule. You don’t need to work your life around group meetings or classes at a specific day or time. This course is not a 30 day challenge, or a one day at a time approach. Instead, it’s a step-by-step formula for changing your relationship with alcohol. The course will help you turn the decision to stop drinking from your worst case scenario to the best decision of your life. You will sleep better and have more energy, you’ll look better and feel better, you’ll have more patience and less anxiety. And with my approach you won’t feel deprived or isolated in the process. So if you’re interested in learning more about all the details, please go to www.sobrietystarterkit.com. You can start at any time and I would love to see you in the course.
Casey: And I think writing this book was a real challenge. Right? because it’s the ultimate step of stepping into your bigness. putting yourself out there, no longer staying small. So tell me about how brave that was of you?
Jean: Well, writing is easy because I would never have thought I was going to show them to anybody. Deciding that they really represented a tool that I thought would be useful to, to my sisters in recovery made me feel more brave about it. So the book isn’t out yet as we’re speaking it out tomorrow, and I’m excited and scared. June 19. That’s right, 2020. And it is a little terrifying because I really am showing you a very, very private part of myself and telling my story in a way I have before. But you know, I, as I, as I gathered together these poems and realized that there was an arc, I didn’t write them in the order that they present in the book, I sort of took them, separated them all out and decided, you know, there’s an arc here and arranged them in in the order of that arc.
And it really made me realize that this isn’t the story of addiction and recovery. This is the story of losing myself and finding myself again. And so I believe that it’s.. It’s a book that will resonate with women who are in any form of trying to change their life and who have lost themselves in a multitude of ways. And so I purposely did not put alcohol in the title of the book, or it doesn’t. I don’t think it appears at all in the entire book, except maybe you on the “About The Author” page because to me it’s my addiction to alcohol that was a symptom of my lost self. So sometimes, a disease of lost self is a way that we talk about codependency. Because codependency is a really misunderstood term but it’s an umbrella term that includes what you were talking about, the people pleasing and the good girl syndrome and the losing ourselves behind this mask that we wear. And I really realized that’s what this story is about and it doesn’t matter what stage of finding yourself you’re at. You can come where you are and see yourself. I believe in these words and in this journey. Because I think we go through it multiple times really. Like we hopefully do it once or twice, right, Casey? But like when we stopped we stopped for good and yet I you know, I didn’t it’s been 9 years, and I’m still learning so much about myself every day. So I feel like the layers are always coming off. And there’s something more I learned about myself and everything I’ve learned before, reinforces it and I think it’s an amazing process.
Casey: The beautiful thing in life, right when we’re young, for self preservation and as we learn about society and what’s acceptable and how you succeed, and how you get accolades, and all those things. You do, sort of try to conform and stay small, and that’s something that you talk about. And then at some point, you say, you know, it’s all those, you know, I feel like you’re, you’re there’s something deep inside of you, that just tells you this isn’t right. This isn’t what I meant to be whether it’s those quiet whispers or anxiety or anger or resentment that you are pushing down, and that is what sort of spurs you to find yourself. So I love how you describe it. Because once you find yourself and integrate yourself and do that work, that’s when you finally live with contentment.
Jean: And you don’t need to people-please anymore. People pleasing is really manipulation. It’s very pleasant manipulation, but it is control and manipulation. And it is about making ourselves feel safe by controlling the way others react to us or react in a moment. And once we are really secure within ourselves, we don’t need to do that as much. So ironically, you know, the second half of that poem, The Girl Inside the second half of that poem is… is the voice of the girl inside, who ends up being the hero of the story. Who, who tries to save the person that’s hiding hurt, you know? So that’s the ironic part to me. Is that the part of myself that I thought I had to say hide away and lock away, was really what I needed to bring out my instincts were 100% wrong. And I had to bring myself out. And this thing that I was so ashamed of about myself was just nothing, you know, just, I just felt like I wasn’t good enough. And that’s never true. But we… we are all good enough where we wouldn’t be here. So, yeah, that’s the irony of it is, that the part that we’re trying to hide, is the part we most desperately need to bring forward and heal, and learn to live with.
Casey: Yeah. This sort of Miss learn selection that I had about when I was trying to be the good girl and helpful and please others and do the right thing constantly, was that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be nice and kind and good. And the truth is that, you know, my essence, your essence, almost everyone’s is to be nice and kind of good. But what you’re not doing is the constant effort of worrying what other people think of you and trying to control them and that exhausting. You know, like, if I do X, What will they think of me? They will think Y and therefore, like you’re just being who you are, and being honest. And then people like the real you and you have that open, honest connection to them. And that allows them to be honest as well.
Jean: It’s okay. If they don’t like you. It’s okay. Because you, when you start to value yourself again, you realize that the currency of someone liking you is also your own. You like yourself. And when you think that you don’t count, you think it doesn’t count, if you don’t like yourself. I mean, it literally… to me, something didn’t happen if no one but me knew about it, you know? It just didn’t exist until someone else knew about it. So if I was happy, I had to share it with someone, so that they could tell me, I was Happy. Or I could, it validated the happiness I… always needed that validation. And then we really start being real with ourselves and considering ourselves a valid person, then we don’t have to go out seeking that validation all the time from others.
Casey: And I am a big vision board girl, it’s kind of funny. But I really believe that putting things up where you can see them sort of replaces the thoughts in your head that aren’t helpful that aren’t serving you. And remind you on a daily basis of what is true. And there are two that I absolutely love that came to mind as you were talking. The first is stop worrying what other people think of you. Most people don’t even know what they think of themselves. And the second one is you will suffer some people. You will always be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.
Jean: Yeah, that is true. And it’s okay for some people to shrug and walkway, you know? It’s okay if relationships run their course. I love the expression to Release with gratitude. Instead of holding on so desperately to friendships that you know have perhaps run their course, served their purpose and to be thankful I had that. I released it with gratitude. And hopefully comes back – at some point. And… and that was…that was quite a revelation for me that I could just let things be. It’s okay. It’s okay if I am not someone’s cup of tea. It’s totally okay.
Casey: It’s hard. but once you got it, it feels good.
Jean: Yeah it does. It boils down for me a lot about feeling safe. I was very invested in being right all the time and I didn’t know that it was one of my children that pointed out to me I was telling a story at dinner about this person did this. Yeah, I had been at a meeting and it was a contentious meeting and so I was retelling this story at dinner and I was really lost in the animation and making a really good story of it to my family over dinner and my son who I think was 11 or 12. At the time, he just sort of took a beat and looked at me and swallowed his macaroni or whatever. And he said, he said, You sound really excited about being right. Yeah, and yeah, I don’t even think he remembers saying that. It was just a childlike observation, you know? And it was a gut punch to me, because I thought, Oh my gosh, he’s so right. And at that time, I was fairly newly sober. And so I was pretty open to receiving lessons. And I dug down in that, you know, what does that he’s right. What is that? What is that? That I’m feeling? Why do I need to feel that? And I realized it’s how I feel safe, is when I feel right or when I feel like I can’t feel liked, then I’ll settle to being right.
Casey: Right? You’re justified.
Jean: Yeah, yes. Yeah, exactly justified. And it was kind of in letting go of that need to feel safe all the time knowing it’s just okay. You don’t, I don’t even know where I got that idea from Casey. I don’t know what I don’t know, did I fall off my bike when I was 3? There’s some, there’s some core thing that happened, I believe as a child that gave me that message. And it doesn’t have to be a trauma, necessarily. It could, you know, I was a really smart, perceptive little kid, the youngest in the family tend to be an observer watching, learning and like a lot of youngest kids would watch what everyone else did and then try to like, like, insert myself seamlessly. You know? You don’t want to have to have anyone ever see you learn how to ride your bike. You just want to show up riding your bike with the big kids one day. And I think so. I think I did a lot of watching and internalizing and you know, when you’re a kid, you just don’t have The emotional intelligence to process all this stuff you’re trying to understand. And so sometimes we carry those little messages into our adult years and we don’t even know. We could go completely unchallenged, especially if we’re capable and cheerful and likeable and good girl syndrome makes you all of those things. So, yeah, people tend not to challenge that a lot. And I’m really glad that I got the message on that. It has been life changing for me.
Casey: And it’s really trying to protect yourself from criticism or embarrassment, sort of proactively, right?
Jean: Yes, yeah. Yeah, you’re trying to, so you’re always trying to think of how you might be criticized before you get criticized, so that you can head it off, fast, right?
Casey: Yeah. It’s so exhausting. Like, I just can’t believe the mental gymnastics we used to go through, just trying to control or micromanage what other people thought of us, or could possibly think of us. By not just standing in who you are and being okay If people don’t like you.
Jean: Yeah, exactly.
Casey: And part of that your own. I think all of it is what you think of yourself right? And the poem I also wanted you to read was called Sparks.
Sparks. The sparks from my heart long received are as problematic as harbinger of doom or needless worry, we’re never to be feared. They were friendly all along. A tap, not a hammer, a bell, not an alarm, asking for my notice. whispers of truth in the language I forgot I’d ever known.
Casey: That’s beautiful. Have you always written poetry?
Jean: Thank you. I have. I have always written poetry from the day I learned how to write. And I would skip around the house, singing songs that I’d made up. An early memory of mine is being at uhm… my mom was a brownie leader, which would be similar to Girl Scouts if you have American listeners. And it’s for 7 to 9 year olds, I think it is brownies. Right? And yes, is that right? Is it younger? So I, being the youngest in my family, I wasn’t old enough to be a brownie but because my older sisters were I had to go to everything that they did. And, like I said, I had to keep up and move along and all that.
So I remember skipping around a table or something,w hile my mom was holding a class. And I was just entertaining myself, amusing myself. So skipping around this gym, singing some song that I had made up and another woman, I overheard someone say to my mum, oh, what’s what she’s singing? And my mum said, Oh, she’s always singing something, but she makes it up herself. And this woman said, Wow, that’s amazing. And it was the first time that I had that I knew that other people didn’t do that. I never knew that I just thought that was a normal thing to do to, to jump around and make up songs and talk to yourself. And so that’s something I’ve always done. And I remember writing a poem and submitting it to my teacher in grade two. That was something about, it was really angsty, like love poem are great too. And so I’m, I feel like my poem. I’ve written poems on my Yeah, which morphed into songwriting in my 30s and 40s. And then, you know, it turned out that I really didn’t enjoy performing as a songwriter, because I’m not a great musician, and I would have a lot of anxiety. And so what I love about doing poetry now is that it’s really like songwriting, but without the angst and, and stress of performing music with them. And it came about a little bit accidentally, to be honest with you, because I am writing a novel right now, this is my second novel. I’ve written one novel, which I’m shopping for a publisher. So if you have any literary agents listening, you know, or think about your novel could look me up.
Yes, so I’m actually writing my second novel now. Well, while my first novel looks for a home, and so the novel that I’m writing right now. About a songwriter who quits drinking. It’s about a singer who loses her voice and quits drinking. And also she starts to write some poetry. So I needed to write a couple of poems for this novel. And then the Coronavirus hit, and we were all on lockdown. And I thought, well, I guess I’ll be finishing my novel. And what happened was, I couldn’t write that novel because the world is in so much flux. And it was a contemporary novel that was sort of set in modern day and I don’t know what our world looks like anymore. So all of this sort of uncertain uncertainty that we all feel about our world right now is affecting a lot of writers, myself included. So I thought, well, at least I can write the poems for this book. So I sat down to write two or three poems, and when I lifted my head, I had written 50 and I realized I think I’m onto something here. I really think I’ve tapped into something. So I had been writing them over the past year, but yeah, this I was trying to write a novel and I accidentally wrote a poetry book. And I think, yeah, thanks. And then the decision to actually publish it really came from just feeling like we are all being really creative about the tools that we’re using to support recovery right now, because we don’t have our meetings have been taken away from us, are all of our usual things, our usual routines have been taken away from us. And I feel like we all need some new tools in our toolbox. And when I looked at these, I thought, this, this is something different. This could be a tool in the recovery toolbox for people and I think I need to share it and offer it up, you know, in that spirit, and I really, I really hope that it is received with as much affection as I offer it.
Casey: Yeah, I think it 100% will. It definitely touched me and I thought it was beautiful. Even though it’s your personal story, so much of it resonated with me. All of it, I would say, the one section in the book that I that I wanted to ask you about was, you included a different poem for each of the 12 steps, but in your recovery and… and on your blog, and in the bubble hour, you’ve been open about not recovering in a 12 step program. So talk to me about how you decided to write about the 12 steps and how you approach that as someone who isn’t immersed in that world day to day.
Jean: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? So this is… this is, this was probably the hardest decision about including these but it wasn’t that hard, because of all the people I’ve interviewed for The Bubble Hour and talked to on many, many retreats. I think I’ve been on 10 or more different recovery retreats – sometimes as a facilitator, and sometimes as a participant. I think I’ve interviewed 300 people for The Bubble Hour now. So I’m always really struck with the affection for which people speak of those steps. And as someone who didn’t get sober using those 12 steps, I sort of saw them as sort of prescriptive and, and sort of sounding like really patriarchal and, and reminded me a lot of going to Lutheran High School. Just gave me that feeling of being really rigid. But that isn’t the impression I got, as people talked about their experiences of getting sober in the 12 steps. And what I realized is that there’s a difference between the step as they’re written, and the experience people have of doing that step. And I wanted to…I wanted to pay homage to that experience that people have going through it. Partly as a kind of a love letter to all of these beautiful conversations I’ve had with people about their recovery, but also to illustrate it for people like me, who are so unfamiliar with it. And so I feel like that section is particularly wonderful for maybe friends or families of people in recovery, who don’t understand why they go to these meetings, or why like, aren’t you done with that yet? You’ve been going to those meetings for years, aren’t you fixed yet? Like, I wanted that to illustrate the process and the beauty of it, and the humor of it. There’s so much laughter. I mean, I do occasionally drop into 12 step meetings, women’s meetings, just to hang out with other sober women and they’re so funny, there’s so much laughter in them. And so some of those poems are quite cheeky and quite funny. And, and some of them are really, you know, sincere and emotive. But that was my, that was my thinking in including that was to sort of give a lyrical take on that process. And the other thing is that because a 12 step program is an anonymous program, and there’s sort of a tradition of not talking about it, because it’s really important, and I understand it, that the program doesn’t want a poster child. They, they don’t want anyone to speak for the program. So people that are in a 12 step program are largely unlikely yet to write a series of poems like this, even though they may they’re those emotions, because it is counter to the culture of anonymity and attraction versus promotion and that kind of thing. So in a way, I hope that I’ve given voice to something that may be the people that have such affection for that program don’t feel at liberty to do themselves. But it also comes partly from my own experience too, because I have definitely had some of those experiences. I resourced the steps. I looked at them and thought, why do they do that? What is this step for inventory business? Why do you do that? How does it help? And I would adapt that and do my own version of it. So, some of the experiences that I write about are from my own experience, but I really hope that it is a gift to the recovery community in that way of shining a different view on something that people think they know a lot about, but maybe don’t.
Casey: Yeah, definitely. You can really tell that it’s coming from a place of love and admiration, even though, you know, you’ve talked about not…not going through the traditional 12 steps or using that as your path to recovery. You know, I hear it all the time when I listen to tThe Bubble Hour. Our you know, I personally didn’t come into recovery through a 12 step program, either I don’t attend it, but I have gone to meetings in the past, when I was sort of starting the journey, and I think that that Anyone who does does have a, you know, certain level of respect and certainly love for for the people in that program because they are honest and..and good and kind and welcoming and, and all the things. But one thing that that I love about your work on The Bubble Hour and on your blog and with this book of poetry and what I’m hoping to do in this podcast is, you know, help other women and men, but my, my podcast is primarily geared towards women who are, you know, stumbling around in the dark, like I was, because with that tradition of, of anonymity. You know, I didn’t know anyone who had quit drinking before I had, and I certainly didn’t know anyone who was sort of talking openly about… Yeah, I used to drink a lot and it was really hard to quit and it took me to a place that was not good for myself and my family and my mental health… and my physical health, and I stopped and I’m so much happier. And here’s how I did it. And here’s what life is like. And by the way, it’s really good and a lot of the fears I had were just unfounded because, you know, as people to protect themselves and to protect the program and not have a poster child, don’t talk about this. It does really limit what other people think of people who’ve quit drinking because they don’t hear about it and realize necessarily that they’re just like us and that life doesn’t suck after quitting drinking. So that’s why you know, the bubble hour was such a gift to me and I do love that it feels like there’s just been this explosion of people coming out of the shadows now. and all the Quizlet books which are awesome and funny and you know, inspiring and real. And the podcasts and the people just telling their stories. I mean, I feel like it’s opening up the world and shattering the stigma around what it looks like to decide that this isn’t working for you anymore.
Jean: Yeah, yeah. It’s exciting. The internet is a game changer for sure. When I started blogging in 2011, there were only a handful of us that I could find that were doing it. And very quickly, I mean, there’s 10s of thousands now. I mean, and that’s great. That is great. The more the merrier. And same with podcasts. I mean, The Bubble Hour was the only one I think for a long time, it started before I joined it. Yes. And there’s tons now and they’re excellent. There’s just so many. So it’s fantastic. And what I think this means is that I believe that people are getting the message earlier in their addiction trajectory.
And that…when we talk about the stages of change, I talk about the stages of change a lot on my show, because it just makes so much sense to me. But the stages of change are pre contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. So, before all of this material was available, if someone wondered, am I an alcoholic? Do I have a problem? You know, their resource was to go to a meeting and see if they heard themselves in it. Well, that Yeah, has to fast track you to action. Going to a meeting is an action. And most of us would resist that. I’m just going to keep drinking for a little while. And that’s, I think, where the idea of rock bottom really started to proliferate was that people felt like Something terrible had to happen in order to make them jump over the stage of contemplation and or preparation and just go straight into action. But now and by the way, that works a lot. Oh, and it worked for a lot of people before.
Casey: It is so hard.
Jean: Mm hmm. And I really think that the internet is raising the bottom because if you start to think, do I have a problem? You can search on your internet and let me tell you, every day millions of people do because I know on my blog, I see the search terms of what landed people there and I know everyday people sit down and type that in. Am I not calling it or how do I know if I’m an alcoholic? And by the way, if you’re listening and you’ve typed that in and you’re like, what she knows I typed that I don’t know who you are. I just see a stat that says come on to your page who searched Am I an alcoholic? So that’s how the mysterious internet works. So, yeah, so people can stumble onto all this information now. And in their contemplation stage, they can find out that not only are there all these resources, but that people are getting help early and you don’t have to keep sliding downhill, and that there’s this joy in recovery, that otherwise you wouldn’t have heard, unless you took that action to go to a meeting and heard the laughter in the meeting. And, and there’s also a lot of other pathways now. Yeah, talk a lot about patchwork recovery and how there’s just so many different ways. There’s the belief really proliferates. I think still in a lot of 12 step circles, that it’s the only way and if you get sober any other way, you weren’t really addicted.
Casey: Are you really trying not to, right? It’s like you’re in denial. You are going to fail. And I think there are a million living examples out there that that’s not true.
Jean: I agree. And I, I take exception to that attitude because I’m proof. It’s not true. But I don’t argue when I do hear that, and it comes up every once in a while. I let it slide and here’s why. Because that might be what’s keeping that person sober. They may need to go to those meetings and having zero other options might be what keeps them going. And I don’t want to take that from them. So far better to just smile and nod and know what I know. And this comes back to that self awareness that we talked about, where I no longer have to be right. Before I quit, I would have taken an argument like that and dragged it till the end. And held on to those resentments. And that’s AA, too, by the way. Resentments and letting go of resentments. So see, I’ve learned a lot from the program along the way. But um, yeah, it’s really important to know that the the more that we hear from other people in recovery, the more we learn and see ourselves. And so the whole point of my rambling is to say that I think people are finding out about recovery earlier in the trajectory. And hopefully, for at least some of them, it’s helping them get into recovery before they have some tragic consequence. That forces them into recovery. And the longer you stay in addiction, the longer you let this get a hold of you and physically decline your wellness. The harder it becomes to quit. So if you’re not sure and you think maybe you have a problem and, you know, you don’t need any more proof than that to quit and nothing bad is going to happen from you quitting. And yeah, I just I love that people are finding, finding different pathways now.
Casey: And I think they know, you really deserve a lot of things. Because you, you know, like you said when you started blogging, there were just a few of you and when the bubble hour started, it was the only one and it’s so important. I mean, I know that I I first heard about any of this through Stephanie Wilder Taylor, and it was, you know, my son was like a year old so it was 11 years ago and I had read all her books, you know, sippy cup cups or not for shard ne and sort of the mom wine culture and then she blogged that she needed to stop drinking you know, the queen of the mommy playdates with adult beverages and and if she hadn’t written did that even six years ago. Before I eventually stopped, I don’t think I’d be where I am now. So, you know, the fact that you were brave enough to put it out there and kept going, I think helps so many women. And from what you were saying the other thing that I thought was that what really helped me was realizing that 12 steps is not the only way and that I don’t need to identify as an alcoholic, to decide that drinking is not working for me. And that those things don’t go hand in hand. And it’s not required for me, for me to be successful. And that there are a million other ways to decide that you, you know, this isn’t good enough to keep going and that you want to try a different approach. And that you want to see whether your life gets better without this thing that’s making you feel like crap. And so the more people talk about it, and as you release your book of fiction and as you release your book of poetry and the holiday survival guide that you wrote for how to get through the holidays without drinking. The better off, all of us are going to be even if people don’t struggle with drinking. The more we talk about it, the more people realize that it’s not a character defect. And there’s nothing wrong with people who decide drinking isn’t working for them. Because by the way, it is addictive in the same way that cigarettes are, right? It’s not a moral flaw in these people. It’s that the substance is designed to take you down a path. And then it happens to a lot of people and it is 100% okay to decide to stop.
Jean: Uh huh. Yeah, it’s really a wellness choice and a perfectly valid one. And this, I really hope that this old sort of just the concept of You, you, you don’t need to quit unless you’re addicted. I call BS on that, you know, if you were smoking I’d say smokings bad for you. I don’t care if you’re addicted and smoking a pack a day or just having one on the weekends, don’t do that. It’s bad for you. There’s nothing good from that. And you know, I feel that way about tanning beds and sunscreen and all that kind of stuff. Right. And certainly at my age, I remember the invention of sunscreen. Because prior to that, in the 70s, it was like baby oil and trying to get a tan and, you know, sunscreen was counterintuitive. We wanted all the sudden we could get. So we’ve changed our thinking on so many things like that. But it’s really a I believe it’s a fiction to think that you only need to quit drinking if you’ve become addicted to that substance. And I I do use the word alcoholic and talking about myself sometimes as a slang, but let’s remember that is not a medical term. It is not a medical diagnosis. It is a term that was sort of invented, I think, by the 12 step movement as a way to identify someone who had come to the trajectory of addiction. And so it is a made up word that is very meaningful and emotional for people that are in that program. When, when they’re in a meeting, and they say, Hi, my name is Jean, and I’m an alcoholic, you know that. That is a loaded term in a meeting, it means I’m telling the truth about myself. I’m taking ownership of my addiction and recovery, like it means so much and in a meeting to the other people that are speaking that same kind of coded language. But if I’m at a party with a bunch of normies, and I say, Oh, I’m an alcoholic. Well, they don’t know what that means. They don’t know if that means I’m currently sober or I’m actively using or I’m sober at this party, but I’m going to go home and drink or, you know, they don’t understand the code, because you’re not in the right place for using it. So… So we’ve taken a term that was really meant to be used in a specific context. And we’re trying to use it in all sorts of different ways. And I think that’s where a lot of the misunderstanding comes from. And, and then we have this myth of that we have to somehow meet this diagnosis that isn’t even real in order to quit drinking. So, I love just talking about being alcohol free. The same way my husband is gluten free and my kids are peanut free. And I’m alcohol free.
Casey: And people decide to be vegetarian or vegan. Right? Something is resonating with them or working on their body or they have a moral objection or they’ve made a choice to see if they feel better, and they go to a dinner party. And you know, you don’t feel like you’re ostracized because you want to bring your lentils or your tofu and not eat, you know, or get a vegetarian lasagna, like whatever it is. It’s not. It’s not a huge indictment on your strength of character, that you decide to be a vegetarian and not eat meat. Like, it’s not a thing.
Jean: If anything, it’s sort of looked upon favorably as being self advocating and wellness, you know, aware of your wellness and looking out for yourself. So, I think you know, anyone that is socially concerned about how to tell people that they don’t drink. I say, go with the term, I’m alcohol free, you know, and, you know, you don’t have to explain why, you know, it’s a wellness choice. And the only thing is it …sometimes makes other people uncomfortable if they have a woky relationship with alcohol themselves. And that’s when it gets tricky is navigating that. That’s a whole different podcast.
Casey: There’s so many tips and tricks and mindset shifts that you can do. And we can there are a million podcasts about it and you can listen to other episodes of this one or, The Bubble Hour.
Jean: Or my book, The UnPickled Holiday Survival Guide: Staying Alcohol-Free During the Festive Season.
Casey: I will link to that, absolutely. And the notes from this episode. The other thing I know is that we, I, could go on talking to you forever. Because I love talking to you and you’re awesome. But the one poem that you have in there that I know sort of intimately and I think a lot of The Bubble Hour listeners will know is I own it and it’s actually you playing the theme song or the music that comes on in The Bubble Hour. It’s so empowering and upbeat and beautiful, but I think a lot of people who listeningThe Bubble Hour don’t realize that you’re playing, that you wrote it and you’re singing it. So tell me about that one.
Jean: So I actually included the lyrics to that song in the book because I’m asked so often about that song. And people that listen to the show, hear it over and over again. So it means a lot to them. And I had no idea of that when I wrote the song. I wrote it in 2007. And I recorded it in 2008. And I was very much an act of addiction when I wrote it. So it was not written about, about alcohol specifically. And it was written about shame. And I live in the community that I grew up in. And so all of my stupid decisions as a teenager and as a young woman, I mean, I bump into those people every day at the supermarket. Not anymore because we’re all in our houses, but
my life is all around me.
My history is all around me. And, and so I was just, I had encountered a real shame moment. And I realized that the only way through that shame was to just stop pretending that that thing hadn’t happened. And just to own it, and just say like, I’m not proud of that, but yeah, that happened. And that was, that was me. And then when I joined The Bubble Hour, which had been in existence for a few years, by the time I joined it, I was an avid listener. It helped me through my early sobriety. And, and then later, I joined as a host and a producer, and they didn’t have anything music, and I said, Well, I have like two albums of original music. I want all the rights to them. Like, take your pick, let me send you a few songs and see if any of them suit you. And Amanda and Ellie, I think were the were running it at that time and and they chose I own it as the as the perfect song you know, and And when I listened to it from that context, I realized, oh, it is how. So it goes to show, doesn’t it? Yes. It was in me all along because it’s, it’s a pump so perfectly about recovery. And yet, I knew it. I knew that lesson, but I could not apply it to my alcohol yet, at the time that I wrote it.
Casey: The idea that life keeps presenting lessons to you until you learn them, right. And it can be in any area of your life. Because once you stop drinking, there’s all the other things that that kind of were underlying that you know, drinking is, to some extent, a coping mechanism the way a lot of other things are – people pleasing and everything else. And so once you’re able, you know, one of the things I love is that once I quit drinking, I was finally able to deal with a bunch of the stuff underneath it like anxiety that I had. The scarcity mindset and where that was coming from and you know, I am..I am a work in progress as we all are, I am definitely not fixed and I don’t know that I ever will be, but I am better.
Jean: Mm hmm. Ever reaching ever striving, right. I mean, that’s, that is the beauty of it. And I think, you know, something happens when when we’re in a group, a recovery group happens after I did. I don’t know if you did.
Casey: I’ve been to a couple of different retreats and sharing circles in Seattle on I love. I love my sober people.
Jean: So at some point after you’ve been in conversation for a little while with people, you realize this person is so beautiful. Have you ever had that experience?
Jean: And then you look around the circle and you’re like, My gosh, that woman is so beautiful. The next woman is…she’s breathtaking. And what’s happening is that we start to see each other’s essence and our… that need for perfection, like, we can meet each other where we’re at and be exactly who we are. And I know that next time I see that person, they’re probably going to be, you know, a little bit farther into their journey. Maybe they backslid a little bit. But they’re, they’re working on themselves. So they’re always going to change. But when you’re in that mindset, you’re really receptive to beauty. And you really emit a lot of beauty. And it’s almost like a perfume in the air, that this just this magical thing happens. And I’m realizing, you know, I’ll be talking to someone and I’m like, I’m just overwhelmed with their beauty and I realized that it’s that soul to soul thing is starting to happen where I’ve laid down my defenses that make me judgmental And fearful and I’m I’m operating on this soul conversation experience and, and I really I love that and so when you talk about being a work in progress, that’s, that’s what I see is that is the most absolutely beautiful version of ourselves that we can be.
Casey: Yes. That is a perfect way to end this. I have so many thoughts going that I could say but I want to. I want to make sure that people know how to get your book. It is wonderful and beautiful and it is coming out tomorrow if you’re listening to this on the first day and if not, it is out there. So tell us how to find your book and also how people can learn more and get in touch with you or follow you if they are inspired to.
Jean: Thank you. Due to COVID distribution of books is a little tricky right now. So ebooks are easy to get and The Ember Ever There is on Kindle, Kobo and Apple books. And you can order it from your local bookstore, they can get it from their catalogs. And it’s also on Amazon. And my website is https://jeanmccarthy.ca/ . And I have a link there for books and you can get an order link from it there. And also you can follow me on Instagram @jeanmccarthy_writes and I have a link in my bio, too, where you can go and find out about books as well. And I’m on Facebook and Twitter and all the things but probably the most current places.
Casey: Perfect. I will have links to all of those in the show notes of this episode. So that will be wonderful. And if you guys are, you know, it’ll be on wherever you Wherever you’re listening to this there will be episode details but you can always go to Hello someday coaching.com forward slash podcasts. And you’ll be able to find all the notes and all the ways to get in touch with Jean. So thank you so much. This has been wonderful and I so appreciate your work and your time.
Jean: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
So thank you for coming on here. I couldn’t appreciate it more.
Thank you for listening to this episode of The Hello Someday Podcast. If you’re interested in learning more about me or the work I do or accessing free resources and guides to help you build a life you love without alcohol, please visit hellosomedaycoaching.com. And I would be so grateful if you would take a few minutes to rate and review this podcast so that more women can find it and join the conversation about drinking less and living more.