I remember saying in my first year of recovery, “For this holiday season, I am actually going to cook Christmas dinner for my family for the first time in a long time!” I, like many in early recovery, had an all or nothing approach to life. I wanted to get the degree, get the license, get the high paying job, and of course the puppy. I had the good fortune of having a coach and mentor. He helped me understand the concept of moderation and balance.
When the time came to prepare dinner, I warmed up a precooked prime rib, and a premade frozen green bean casserole, frozen scalloped potatoes, and a frozen pie. It was the first meal I had cooked for anyone other than my son and myself. Because I have been a classically trained chef and have catered for thousands, some of my guests at dinner that year might have had higher expectations. In a rare moment of silence, one dear family member said, “Nice, a frozen Thanksgiving dinner…” I love my little sister. The truth was, I cared more about my serenity. It turned out well and the family was grateful for the meal and time spent together.
When I quit drinking, I quit cooking. I used to make my own beer and I had to stop that too. I couldn’t even stand next to a grill without thinking about how much I would like a drink. I struggled with cooking without alcohol, both as an ingredient and as a beverage. Cooking recreationally or professionally has strong ties to drinking.
I was in a period of change. I figured this was just another unfortunate change. As I had become recently single, I did not really have a need to cook. I lived on peanut butter and pizza. I also found myself working in a field other than food for the first time in years. No cooking at home, no cooking at work.
Eventually my job evolved into a food job. It is funny how that happens to people with a background in food. This job had me working with kids. When you cook with and for kids, it is obvious that you do not use alcohol. I did this for about two years and absolutely loved it. I rekindled old recipes, came up with new ones, and got to see the kids grow and acquire a sense of accomplishment that was profound. I then got to work with adults in addition to the kids. I got to teach people in recovery about nutrition as it pertains to recovery – especially early recovery. I also got to bring them into the kitchen with me. When I heard a woman say, “I haven’t baked since before I started using and I can’t wait to go home and bake with my children!” It was so satisfying. There is now no room in my mind for “I miss alcohol in the kitchen.”
The next year I was excited to have a house full of people over for dinner. Actually, I was pretty happy to have a house! So the first family get together was more about the people, not the food. The next year was about progress. Now, eleven years later, I am amazed that everything I did that alcohol played a role in, I can do now without alcohol even crossing my mind. They say if you choose not to drink enough days in a row, there will come a day when you prefer not to drink. That is my experience along with many of my peers. This year, I will serve the prime rib again, but I am going to get the kind you roast for three hours. I will make the scalloped potatoes from scratch, green bean casserole from scratch, and if the pressure is not too much, two cranberry-pear pies from scratch. I also like to have one ‘wow factor’ dish and this year it is going to be an old family tradition; Yorkshire pudding. It is very simple but also very easy to screw up. It contains flour, salt, milk, and a couple of eggs cooked in beef broth. When it is done right, the edges curl three inches up the side of the pan and it looks like a wave. When it is not done right, it just lays there, all wet and soggy, in a puddle of juice. I think this year I am up for the challenge.
Today I get the pleasure of helping people learn the art of balance. It takes practice. We can revert back to the old way of thinking and reacting in a blink of an eye. I know from personal experience I couldn’t do it alone. For those of you helping others as a Recovery Coach, you have a wonderful opportunity to help someone in a potentially volatile environment. Stay with them. Reach out when they are reluctant. I find role-playing or “real-playing” as we say in the Recovery Coach Academy, ahead of time is very effective. Running through a few scenarios prepares them for the good, the difficult and the unexpected. Fill the proverbial tool box up with them. There are so many ways for a person to learn to stay in the moment.
As for the family part, family gatherings can be rough, both in recovery and out of it. Reach out to people if it is a new experience. You may need to arrive late or early. One thing I do in the midst of all the chaos is focus on one thing, like baking a pie. Do it right during the get together. It can be a focal point to help you remember to stay in the moment, to be mindful. When it gets rough in the house, go back to the pie. Focus on it, become one with it…okay, enough already, I am a chef, not a guru!
Remember most family members are willing to give us a chance quicker than expected. I try to be worthy. I try to think of them. Instead of being mad that they talk about me when I’m not in the room, I practice gratitude that they are talking about me at all! Little by little, like I learned at a Recovery Retreat, what ever you’re practicing, you’re getting better at. The time will go by anyway. Might as well do your best and one day you’ll turn around and say, “How did I get here? Is this my life? And it keeps getting better.
Kevin McLaughlin is in long term Recovery for a little over 15 years and a CCAR Core Recovery Coach Trainer, owns his own training and coaching business and happens to be a recovering chef!
Enjoy the Holiday!
By CCAR Core Trainer Kevin McLaughlin