Boycott Valentine’s Day with these 7 Sassy Mocktails

If you’re one of the thousands of people who are single on Valentines Day, you may be tempted to drown your sorrows. Or, like me, you can host an entire sober party to protest the so-called holiday. With this nonalcoholic anti-V-Day menu, you can happily toast to the single life.

MOCKTAILS

Bitter Brew – cold brewed dark roast coffee, barrel-aged bitters

The Ginger Spinster – ginger beer, clarified lime, candied ginger

The Confirmed Bachelor – boricha (barley tea), barrel-aged bitters, blood orange

Always the Bridesmaid – cinnamon pear cider, club soda, champagne flute

A Kiss With a Fist – club soda, pomegranate grenadine, clarified lime, Sour Punch

The Text Message Breakup – unsweetened cranberry juice, blood orange bitters

Some Ice With That Burn – watermelon, jalapeño, agave, crushed ice

LOVE BITES

Skewered Wienies – served two at a time (as you do) with spicy honey mustard

Tortured Tacos – shredded pork, smashed avocado, diced onions, pulverized lime

JUST DESSERTS

Blue Balls – blue marshmallow, kettle corn

Broken Hearts – sugar cookies, tears

Assorted Bittersweet Chocolate

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Sobriety Savers Reviewed: Cheerwine

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December is now well underway, and with the season comes plenty of holiday cheer—or corporate attempts to shove such cheer down our throats. One blessing of Christmastime for those soberlings who celebrate is that some seasonal beverages, like eggnog and hot apple cider, taste just as good sans booze as avec. But should you ever get bored of standard Christmas libations, consider bringing a couple bottles of Cheerwine to your holiday party.

Cheerwine isn’t really a holiday drink at all, but since it’s Santa-hat red and has “cheer” in its name, it could certainly pass for one. The cherry-flavored soda from Salisbury, North Carolina has developed enough of a cult following to warrant its own merch, including lip balm, lanyards and golf bags. Go figure.

True to its Carolina roots, Cheerwine is marketed as “BBQ’s best friend.” It’s fitting, then, that I first sampled Cheerwine at Bludso’s BBQ on Fairfax. Our helpful server compared its flavor to Dr. Pepper, and she wasn’t far off the mark, though Cheerwine has a distinct cherry component, like cough drops, but less cloying. It’s also delightfully effervescent. My stomach was so full from shoveling ribs and brisket into my mouth that I couldn’t really take a second soda, but flavor-wise I would’ve been game.

Cheerwine certainly is no substitute for wine or any other alcoholic drink. But it’s an interesting and enjoyable flavor that fills a cherry-shaped void in the standard U.S. soda offerings. I can’t remember what Cherry Coke tastes like, exactly, but I’m pretty positive Cheerwine is better. I’ll certainly order another with my next round of BBQ, if not with my holiday dinner.

A baby blog is born!

800px-Sun_Flares_from_Mt._Whitney_towards_Guitar_Lake_(4896504807)Next summer I’m doing something insane: I’m going to hike the John Muir Trail by myself. For the uninitiated, the JMT is a 210-mile long stretch of rugged California awesomeness that links Yosemite to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental States. For the record, I have wanted to do this for years, long before I had even heard of Wild. Eat your heart out, Reese Witherspoon.

I started a separate blog, Whitney Calls, to chronicle my physical, logistical, mental and spiritual preparation for this grand and possible foolish adventure. The blog has its own mission statement that kind of speaks for itself.

Why a second blog? I mean, given the distinct mental health/recovery bent of Whitney Calls, did it really need to be separate from CleanBrightDay? That’s what category filters are for after all. But I decided to give my trail prep its own space for a few reasons:

  • WC is targeted largely (60%?) to a backpacking readership, with many posts that are entirely unrelated to being clean and sober
  • Most of the recovery-focused material on WC (about 40%) will be more generally mental health and less specifically addiction-related. There are several reasons for this, which I will probably share about there at some point.
  • CleanBrightDays’s original purpose was to share lifestyle tips for enjoying sobriety, not to serve as a personal recovery journal. There’s definitely been some bleed of my own life into the mocktail recs and whatnot, but having a separate spot to post the more personal things I want to write will this blog retain its own focus.
  • As a promise to myself to post something every day, WC will be updated a lot more often simply because I have a lot more preparation to do than sober living tips to dispense. The WC posts would quickly overwhelm the CBD posts were they to share a webspace.

I’m still not sure that was the right call—CBD is new and small enough that it could have easily accommodated both concepts— but it is what it is. I do hope a lot of recovering folks who follow this blog check out Whitney Calls as well, even if they can’t tell a bear canister from a fuel canister. I think they will get plenty of enjoyment out of it and that the two blogs will complement each other well. Mental, Spiritual and Physical Fitness will all get their own tags on WC to help you find the stuff you care about and not the stuff that leaves you scratching your head in confusion. In the meantime, if I inspire one recovering soul to pick up a pair of trekking poles and hit the trail, I’ve done good.

Sobriety Savers, Reviewed: Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew

IMG_0640Bad days are totally a thing that happens in recovery and otherwise, but sometimes a bad day comes in the middle of a couple of bad weeks. What to do? A drink is in order, yes?

I still don’t work at Trader Joe’s, by the way, but I couldn’t help but notice the featured item this week was one of my favorite clean bright libations, ginger beer. I’d never tried TJ’s take on the sweet and spicy soda. Cock ‘n Bull is my favorite among the handful of varieties I’ve tried, with Bundaberg a close second. But since some idiot had just slammed into my car and some other idiot had sent me the wrong item on eBay, I needed to buy a bottle of something, and my store wasn’t stocking eggnog yet.

The good:

  • It’s sorta affordable. At $2.99 for three “servings,” you can’t do much better without going the lesser route of ginger ales—Canada Dry et al. While we’re on the subject, can anybody explain why ginger ale is really more like a lager (ie light and useless) while ginger beer is much more worthy of the name “ale” in pretty much everyone’s estimation?
  • I refuse to do math on a day when I’ve been blindsided by a Lexus SUV, but I’m pretty sure this stuff has fewer calories (100 per “serving”) and less sugar than authentic ginger beer.
  • It tastes good. While the first sip was underwhelming, I was delighted by the spicy bite that lingers on the tongue. The gingeryness almost grows in your mouth between sips, which is pretty great.

The bad:

  • It doesn’t taste as complex and hearty as some ginger beers. However, its spiciness is quite satisfying.
  • I’m pretty sure it’s seasonal because I’ve never seen it before. It seems like its part of the same wave of holiday cheer that brought us the iced ginger cake I bought for my Tuesday night group and the eggnog—OH WAIT THERE WAS NO EGGNOG (#notbitter). This means I’m going to have to buy like fifteen bottles on my next Joe’s run.
  • It didn’t change the fact that my front bumper is inside out, my passenger door won’t open and I’m stuck with the wrong VGA adaptor for my new computer monitor. So thanks for nothing, Trader Joe. If that’s even your real name.

On Gratitude

Giving thanks is a funny thing.

Sure, we do it every day. At least I hope I’m not the only one. We thank the baristas, the pharmacists, the customers, the friends who pick up our tabs, the strangers who pick up our dropped car keys. And, with varying degrees of earnestness, we thank God. Giving thanks can range from a polite reflex to a heartfelt acknowledgement.

Beyond that, on the furthest horizon, lies gratitude. True gratitude, the kind that shakes your core, is like staring at the sun. It’s blinding. It is too profound, too immense to process in anything but the smallest slivers of awareness. It cannot be sustained. To live and breathe gratitude 24/7, as admirable as it sounds, would render us incapable of navigating traffic or toasting a sandwich. We can say, “I am really lucky,” or “People have been kind,” and feel relief, and warmth, and love. In doing this, in giving thanks each day, we glimpse a part of the whole as it lights the world we move through. But rarely do we look at it straight on, because to do so is to accept a kind of temporary paralysis. True gratitude is like being punched in the gut. It is the shock of comprehending your own cosmic smallness and the myriad threads of interwoven chance and toil that have kept your small heart beating through the chaos. It is painful, and it is beautiful, and it is sudden, and it is true.

In this age of wonderfully heightened social conscience, there are some who decry Thanksgiving as a whitewashing of history, even a tacit celebration of barbarity. Such criticism is wholly valid. And yet, in this era of constant distraction, we have never more desperately needed to set aside a day to go beyond thankfulness and open ourselves to the full experience of Deep Gratitude. After all, that’s something that many of us can only manage once a year. We are all spinning on the edge of something words can’t contain. It’s those rare moments, when we catch ourselves hurtling through the void and stop to feel it, that fuel and sustain us through yet another revolution. Spin on, fellow passengers, spin on. And thank you.

Scary Monsters: The Spectre of Relapse

The_Grim_Reaper_by_FurNasHWhile relapse stories are a dime a dozen in 12-step programs, I once heard an old timer say he’d never seen anybody relapse who was actively working a step at the time. His words felt true: in my own recovery, the times when I feel most engaged and active are the times I’m least tempted.

Before getting sober I’d always imagined giving up alcohol would make me feel deprived. And frankly, sometimes I do feel that way—like when an ad for a wine tasting event comes on NPR, or when my morning crossword asks me for a six-letter “bourbon alternative” and the best word I can think of is “crying.” But perhaps the most amazing thing about recovery is how rarely I’ve felt that way. And when I do fall into a “crave phase,” I do a spot check and almost always discover that I’ve let my recovery slip into cruise control. Maybe I haven’t gone to as many meetings, or stalled on my stepwork, or avoided calling my sponsor. Maybe I’ve lapsed in my exercise routine or my meditation.

You can’t take drugs and alcohol away from an addict and expect them not to replace it with something else. That’s a huge part of why formal recovery programs, both 12-step and non, do help people. A strong sober social network combined with a spiritually fulfilling practice of some kind can fill the void left behind by substances. True recovery isn’t solely about the absence of alcohol (or whatever), but about the presence of something else. I mean, that’s what makes it tolerable. That’s why some people can live through immense illness and loss while remaining clean and sober.

It’s never enough for me to simply enjoy not drinking, because that satisfaction with sobriety will come and go. Last week, a day came when I really, really did want to get loaded, more than I had in a long time. What saved me was that I wanted to be in recovery more. I valued the people, the feeling of wholeness, the continual self-discovery that seemed to come with the promise of ever-unfolding clean time. The pink cloud may have dissipated and sobriety lost its novelty, but by being of service and continuing to take active part in my own and others’ recovery, I can keep the focus on presence, not on absence.

Happy Halloween to all! I for one will be rocking my Marvelous costume surrounded by sober folk and piñata candy.

Photo: Glogster

4 Reasons Fall is the Best Season to be Sober

1. Hot drinks are in, cold ones are out.

Most hot drinks are nonalcoholic, while most alcoholic drinks are served cold. There are classic exceptions, like Irish coffee, hot toddies and mulled wine, and of course there’s Octoberfest. But with the advent of brisk breezes, “a cold one” begins to lose a bit of its allure next to a steaming mug of hot cocoa. Even if you’re not a disciple of the Pumpkin Spice Cult, it’s easy to appreciate the variety of fall-flavored beverages that start to pop up in coffee shops. By the time winter rolls around, of course, the novelty of the steamy drink has long worn off and we’re back to dodging spiked eggnog and New Year’s champagne. So in the meantime, toast the early days of cooler weather with as much tea, coffee, cocoa and hot apple cider as you want.

2. Holiday angst hasn’t set in yet.

The so-called Most Wonderful Time Of The Year can actually be a bit of a nightmare for the emotionally sensitive, especially those with some family friction. And while I hate to resort to stereotypes, it’s not exactly rare for people in recovery to fall into one or both of those categories. Depending on your particular cocktail of neuroses and emotional weak spots, the holidays may leave you either severely frazzled or depressed. This time of year, except for Halloween—not known to cause too many headaches—the holidays are still a distant speck on the horizon. And while some people find Thanksgiving decidedly uncomfortable, in most of the country the last week of November barely counts as fall anymore.

3. Speaking of Halloween.

Halloween is a very sobriety-friendly holiday. As a rule, anything that’s awesome for kids is awesome for sober grown-ups. In general, the parties that are fun without alcohol are the ones where there’s something else to do besides watch people get wasted, and costumes and candy are the ultimate distraction. Creative types can get seriously into the one-upsmanship side of the dress-up game. Play it right, and will be so busy checking out your impeccable Star-Lord get-up that they won’t even notice the lack of a drink in your hand. Then there are the endless horror flicks and late-night theme park fright-fests to get the adrenaline pumping. If there’s one thing Halloween isn’t, it’s boring.

4.  It’s the best season, period.

Let’s face it, the temptation to drink can arise whether we’re feeling good or terrible. In fact, sometimes contentment breeds the most dangerous thought patternss of all. Hey, I feel great! I feel..recovered. I wonder if maybe, since I feel so good, I could maybe handle a drink. We’re not always drinking to drown feelings of sadness, anger or fear. But for the most part, problematic drinking is self-medication, and the better we feel in sobriety, the better we feel about sobriety. And whether it’s the panoply of delicious seasonal goodies, the end of the stifling heat, the excuse to bust out fashionable boots and sweaters, or the dazzle of the turning leaves, fall brings a lot more comfort and joy than any other season, at least in my book.