Why I Have a Coach

Coach Sarah Beth Jones and I had an email correspondence which I am sharing with her permission, a few words edited for clarity.

Anne to Sarah Beth:

[Thoughts about outline for memoir mentioned in this post.]

Sarah Beth to Anne:

Absolutely chilling, Anne! There is power absolutely radiating from this outline. So raw, so real, so useful.

What’s your next step?

Anne to Sarah Beth:

May I have your permission to share our correspondence?

Brewing a Cup of Identity CollageI have been asked why I have a coach for writing this book. I’m an excellent writer, I’m a counselor, I could coach myself. I’m organized, driven, can both envision projects and execute them. Why a coach?

Because I go in, and I come out, and I look around and feel sort of vacant. What did I just do? What did it say, where did it go? Did it *work* on some level? And given that I don’t know what I just did or where I am, where do I go next?

During the time we’ve worked together, I’ve kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop – for you to be judgmental and directive like so many people to whom I have turned over my direction for guidance. I keep waiting for the reason to flee, to get out.

Not once have you judged me. Not once have you directed me. You have told me what you felt and what you thought and then asked me a question. That is a perfect fit for what I need. There is nothing wrong with me or weak about me. It’s not me that needs shoring up. It’s me and my creative process that need non-judgmental, accepting, conscious guidance and assistance. Help me see what I cannot see! Help me discern what I cannot discern! It’s so difficult for me to go in and in and in and get out what’s there and also see what’s collecting around the edges on the outside of the in.

Something like that. Anyway, it feels both imperative and organic to have you as a coach.

I am so so so grateful to you.

Back to writing!

With inspired gratitude,


I would want to share what you wrote to me personally once and no more. I need the synergy to be between us. I just want to show an example of what the deal is. Then I want to go back in with just us. No witnesses, no critical doubters. Just us doing the thing.

Image: “Brewing a Cup of Identity” made during collage party workshop with Sarah Beth Jones, displayed in Anne’s refrigerator gallery.

If I Wanted to Quit Smoking

Things I did the day I quit alcohol that I would never, ever do again: keep it secret, not tell my doctor, not tell my friends, just decide one day to quit, and do it on my own.

I’ve been without alcohol for almost two years. If I were also addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, I think I’d be ready to try to become abstinent from smoking. Given my terrible experience with abstinence from alcohol during these past 23 months, and given my research and experience with treating addiction, I would start my quit date completely differently.

I would:

  1. Make a plan.
  2. Create a team.

More specifically, I would:

Study the latest research on smoking cessation. Laurel Sindewald has prepared a compilation for us here and Wikipedia has a nice entry on smoking cessation.

Study the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and determine which I think would be most problematic for me.

If I wanted to stop smoking Make an appointment with my primary care physician. I would tell her I wanted to stop, run my research and anticipation of challenges by her, and ask her if I had her support. (She’s seen thousands of people quit or try to quit. I’ve seen one person quit – my mother.)

If my doctor said yes, I’d listen to her suggestions based on her expertise and experience. Given I have an ingestion addiction – mine is to alcohol – and I ingest a prescribed benzo each night for another condition, I doubt she would suggest medication-assisted cessation. I would be hesitant to ingest another strong substance given I seem to have a Princess and the Pea inner chemistry.

If I didn’t have those conditions, I’d take the meds. It’s the equivalent of detox from nicotine just like detox from alcohol and other drugs. I think the statement “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is cruel and shaming. What’s hard enough to kill you damages you, often beyond repair. I didn’t know meds were available for me when I was quitting alcohol. I would have taken the meds.

Ask my doctor to take my calls for 6 weeks from my quit date. I’ll promise to only call her in emergencies. And it’s only for a short time. By 6 weeks, my nicotinic receptors should be beginning to return to normal. But anxiety for me can manifest as thoughts that something is wrong physically. What it feels like is that my emotional brain takes over and I am unable to access my rational brain. If I could call her and say, “My hands are shaking. I Googled and I think I have Parkinson’s,” she could say, “Hand tremors are normal during nicotine withdrawal.” Her voice of authority and reason would calm and reassure my emotional brain so it would be less overwhelming to my rational brain. That would be a 60-second phone call that would probably keep me from picking up a cigarette.

Ask my friends for help. When I look at the list of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, the two I think would challenge me most would be anxiety and irritability. Anxiety threatens my relationship with myself and irritability threatens my relationship with others. I would ask a friend to serve as my “anxiety coach” and another friend to serve as my “irritability coach.” I would check in with them once per day and call additionally as needed.

Tell my partner, friends, family members, boss and co-workers. While I am going through withdrawal and when I am with others, I anticipate that I will be too absent or too present, either preoccupied with my inner state or taking my inner state out on others. I’m not going to be that great to be with. But there’s absolutely no one who wants me to keep smoking. If I let them know beforehand that I’m going to feel tragically hurt and sob uncontrollably and, in the next moment, feel unjustly treated and shout uncontrollably – and think I’m absolutely right to do so – they’re less likely to take my words personally and will probably voluntarily help me manage my strong emotions.

Ask someone to quit with me. I tried to quit drinking by myself. Only in the company of others was I able to quit and stay quit. I assume the same would be true of smoking.

If I were going to go “cold turkey” and quit out right, I would write an hour-by-hour schedule for myself for an entire week. I’d share it with my team – doctor, friends, etc. I probably would set up a Doodle and ask them to call me hour-by-hour. It’s the all-day, every-day nature of addiction that does us in. I would do everything I could to protect myself from getting worn down and weak from wrestling with my addiction on my own.

If I were going to taper, I would follow this brilliant strategy of a friend who quit successfully: count how many cigarettes I smoke in a day. Let’s say that’s 30. Tomorrow, I smoke 29. The next day, I smoke 28. I cut a cigarette a day. That eases the withdrawal symptoms and eases me into what to do during the day instead of smoke. She didn’t smoke the 1 cigarette on the last day but kept it as psychological protection to have in case she “needed” it. My mother did a similar tapering process, didn’t smoke again, but kept that last cigarette for years.

Know that I’ll experience abstinence from nicotine as pain.   I thought I would feel better once I quit alcohol. Ha.

Knowing better now, I’d plan for pain. If I were having dental surgery, before the surgery I’d help myself out. I’d empty and refill my ice trays and stock up on Jello, pudding, and chicken broth. Maybe some ice cream. Why in the world wouldn’t I plan in the same way to ease and comfort myself through quitting smoking? What helps give me immediate relief from emotional pain is calling someone, plugging myself into an audiobook, and coloring. So I would put the names of people on my refrigerator (knowing that under the duress of withdrawal my mind won’t be able to remember that I have their names and numbers in my phone), download audiobooks onto the iPod, and put coloring books and crayons front and center on the dining room table. I don’t care if it looks messy. I’m quitting smoking here.

Know that what smoking stopped for me will be started again. If I started smoking to feel like I fit in, when I stop, I’ll feel like I don’t fit in anymore. If I started smoking to ease anxiety or anger, the anxiety or anger will be back. Before I got addicted to alcohol, I had reasons why I drank those first glasses of wine. The same would be true for those first cigarettes. The reasons will be back. I would make appointments now to get weekly or twice weekly counseling during the first six weeks, and continue for awhile until I felt really sound.

According to The Fix’s list of The 10 Hardest Drugs to Kick, I’ve been abstinent from alcohol, a measly #6 in the queue. Nicotine is #3, just below heroin and crack. I might or might not be able to kick smoking. But having learned bittersweet lessons from becoming abstinent from alcohol – it’s a hell that can be managed and the people are lovely – with a plan and a team, I think I could give myself a good chance at it.

I Know I Am Disappointing You, My Friend

Dear Friend,

Wine felt like love and relief and sanctuary to me for 5 years. I haven’t had a glass of wine or a glass of any alcohol for almost 700 days. Regardless of what external reality is – that I am loved and cared for by you and more friends and family, even supported in my efforts to stay abstinent by strangers – my internal reality is that I have felt loveless, strained and exposed for 700 days.


I find myself at Kroger almost every day picking up something I’ve forgotten. I’m only just getting my mind back. The produce section is by the wine aisle. I could buy a bottle of love and relief and sanctuary! This terrible state would end! And for 700 days, I have denied myself freedom from suffering.

One of the hardest parts of having become addicted to a substance and then abstaining from that substance and having the eye-popping, jaw-dropping, Edvard Munch silent scream-making results of abstinence is trying to explain to my precious non-addicted friends and family members what it takes and why it takes it for me to not have a glass of wine today.

Every day, I have to ask myself what inner feelings I need to have had most of the day to not behave in ways I don’t want to. I struggle to identify what those are. Today, I choose “love, relief, sanctuary.” For me, those inner feelings have to exist in enough quantity enough of the time for me to not drink.

Then I have to ask what I need to do during the day to feel “love, relief, sanctuary.”

Then I have to ask what I need to not do, or be wary of doing, in order to not deplete or destabilize the stores of anti-upset feelings I am accumulating to protect myself from doing what I don’t want to do.

For me, I have to answer all those questions in one moment and then in the next moment. And then I have to take immediate action. No probably, maybe, or soon for me. I have to do it right now.

I have to manage my feelings immediately or I will drink, or I will long for a drink so elementally that I will begin to wail with pain.

Making the full list of what it takes to keep me from drinking on an on-going basis would take thousands of words. Describing why and how would be tenfold that number. So I’ll just keep it brief.

To feel immediate love, I need to call or text someone in recovery from addiction. To feel immediate relief, I need to run now, I need to write now, I need to eat now, I need to take a nap now, I need to get out of here now. To feel an immediate sense of sanctuary I need to say calming words to myself, to be with two or more people who don’t expect or want anything from me, or to be at home, alone, with my cats.

Look at all the “I’s” – I need, I need. What kind of friend can that be who is all-I?

A lousy one.

A disappointing one.

I experience anguish when doing the I-thing to keep from drinking doesn’t include you. I can’t fix it. I’ve tried everything for it to be different. But it won’t budge. I feel such grief that I am missing out on your life and on the growth of our friendship. I am so very, very sorry.

I realize I am asking, maybe pleading, for forgiveness and understanding. And time. I have been primarily absent from my friendship with you, first because I was drinking and now because I’m not.

When will I be “back”? When will I be the Anne I was in 2006 when I thought my head and heart were my own? I think never. I miss her and long for her as if she had died.

That said, the wherewithal has arisen to make a bed in a guest room. I hope some day I can invite you to spend the night.

But if you say no, I will profoundly understand.


Going Home

Today, I finish packing everything in my townhouse. Tomorrow, after the movers are done, I will unpack everything in a house .9 miles away.

In the past 18 years, I’ve moved over a dozen times. Two times, I moved into houses with husbands. Every other time, I moved into apartments or townhouses, perceiving myself as incapable of taking care of a house by myself. I saw myself as fragile, a dependent, in need of help.

Tomorrow, at age 55, I move into a house all by myself. It was built in 1944 and has 1600 square feet. It has a yard with a lawn and a garden. I’ve mowed a lawn once, tough bahia in Tampa. I can generally recognize a weed and pull one or two. I do know how to find someone to garden beautifully. So I’m not a homeowner or a mower or a gardener and tomorrow I will become all three.

Here is what I intend to do in my new house:

  1. Write a memoir of 2006-2014. I will pen the first word on the first day I wake up there, Thursday, November 20, 2014. Make tea, feed cats, write. Unpack and everything else later.
  2. Watch more Disney movies. That bitch TV stole my husbands and I’ve only let her into my world again recently, scorned, banished to the floor. It’s a groaner to get down there with her to watch Monsters, Inc. Enough. A La-Z-Boy sofa with built-in recliners will be delivered on moving day. Bitch TV is not to blame. I love her, too.
  3. Walk around the yard. The former owner planted blueberries and blackberries and apples and some kind of wondrous exotic pear tree in the front yard. Just look. See what I see.
  4. Have people over.
  5. Acknowledge ambivalence. Eye the bamboo in the backyard, feel the rage and, to quote David Pitonyak, try to make friends with it. Ponder whether or not I will handle my projection onto the bamboo of my rage against all-things-uncontrollable with a hatchet or with a backhoe.
  6. Not have a glass of champagne, or a bottle, or two, to celebrate moving into my new house. In fact, never have a glass, or, inevitably, a bottle, of sauvignon blanc, or Rogue beer, or tawny port there. Ever.

What I will miss most from my townhouse:

1) The Wall

Wall mural designed by Babs Chenault, created by Jeff Proco

2) Tiger, my neighbors’ cat, who made himself at home in my heart.


I am moving to the neighborhood in which I lived from 4th grade until marriage. I don’t remember who lived in the house. But Donita’s parents still live next door and Adrienne’s old house is right across the street. My dad still lives in my childhood home, around the corner, .2 miles away.

At 55, I feel like I might finally have found a home.

. . . . .

Added 11/21/14: My townhouse is ready to be home to a new owner! Here’s a full description!

Treatment Center for One

Looking back, I think two selves moved into the townhouse – my can-do self and my broken-down self. My can-do self decided this townhouse would do as an addictions treatment center and she opened a rehab and put my broken-down self into it.

On July 2, 2012, I moved from a 2001 house into a 1985 townhouse. Six months abstinent from alcohol and newly separated, I would estimate on that day, and many, many to follow, that 95% of my hours – day and night – were distress-filled.

Sixteen months later, now 22 months abstinent and, regrettably, divorced, I experience distress about 10% of each day.

That’s an astounding reduction.

When I moved into the townhouse, my can-do self researched addictions treatment. She found few options locally and an enraging lack of consensus on what addiction is and how to treat it. So she did her linear little thing: called forth her master’s degree in counseling, pondered her experience with what seemed to help people when she worked with them in many settings, relentlessly read as much research as she could, saw my desperation, said, “Good enough will have to do – the client is suffering!”, made judgment calls, and cobbled together a treatment program for me.

She organized and scheduled my days, transported my broken-down self to meetings and appointments with counselors and health care providers and whatever else she could find, and hoped for the best.

She did all right.

I so respect Lance Dodes’s work on addictions treatment. He scoffs, however, at equine therapy and other non-evidence-based treatment for addictions. What I don’t think he gets is that sometimes it doesn’t matter if addictions treatment is evidence-based. It matters that it’s something to do, something pleasant and kind and engaging and absorbing to do as a calming respite from the all-day, every-day strain of not doing, of not drinking or using.

And my can-do self recognized I needed help, not just with doing, but with being. And I needed a place to be to see beauty without when I couldn’t feel it within. My can-do self did something new, too. Instead of trying to do it alone, she asked for help.

Look at my beautiful treatment center.

Wall mural designed by Babs Chenault, created by Jeff Proco

Wall mural concept and design by Babs Chenault, layout and precision painting by Jeff Proco, photo by Sean Shannon.

1722 Emerald Street Front Garden

Fall view of front garden highlighted by geraniums, conifers, and blueberries, designed and planted in May, 2014, by Pamela Cadmus of Specialty Garden Design. Pamela’s three-year plan for a garden is “Sleep, Creep, Leap!”

When I look back at the past 22 months and think of all the people who came to my townhouse, met with me, called me, texted me, emailed me – helped, comforted, calmed, reassured, supported me… Treatment center for one, staffed by hundreds.

Thank you so very, very much, treatment team. The client is progressing nicely.

. . . . .

If you’re interested in a tour of Anne’s little treatment center, here’s a link to more photos. To enlarge, click the image. To scroll, use arrows at bottoms of enlarged images. In the photos, the master bedroom is used as an office and the larger hall bedroom is used as the master bedroom. Not pictured: about a billion cat beds, cat playgrounds, cat toys, and cat litter boxes – except for one little peek here. Photos by Sean Shannon

Wall mural contacts: Babs Chenault, 540-998-6161; Jeff Proco, 540-357-4880

Garden: Pamela Cadmus, 540-651-4464. Here is the garden’s plant list, the garden design layout, and another view.