Aha! moments

The last couple of days I seem to have emerged from my depression to a degree. It’s a relief. I still don’t feel 100% but I’m a lot better than I was.

I was listening to podcasts at work last weekend and during an interview I heard Paul Chek say that things in the natural world need a winter season, that it’s an important part of the cycle of living. That really struck a chord with me and got me wondering if that was what was happening when I lost all motivation and just slept or vegged out. Once I reframed the depression into a resting winter phase I stopped fighting it and worrying about it and now it seems to have lifted somewhat. Unexpected but also cool.

I love it when I hear a certain phrase or read a particular quote and it just sears through my muddled thinking with a sharp-pointed dose of utter clarity. Aha! moments. Lightning bolt moments. Whatever you want to call them. I’ve had three in the last few weeks although I can’t remember having had one for quite some time before that.

The first one also came whilst listening to a podcast. Robert Lustig M.D. was being interviewed about his latest book, The Hacking Of The American Mind. He pointed out that most people conflate the concepts of pleasure and happiness. Pleasure=happiness, right? Keep chasing the pleasure and the happiness is sure to follow, right? Marketing tells us so. Social media tells us so. Everybody and their dog is telling us so. But it’s a flawed concept.

I was stunned. How could I have got something that simple so wrong? It actually stopped me mid-lift with a dozen tins of soup at face level while I said ‘OMFG!’ out loud. Luckily nobody was around ;D

Pleasure is dopamine driven. Happiness is dependent on serotonin. This is a seriously simplified version of it of course but it serves as a basic representation of the issue at hand. Addictive and excessive pleasure chasing (booze, drugs, food, gambling etc) elevates the levels of dopamine which in turn down-regulates serotonin. So, excessive pleasure chasing actually = less happiness, not more. Of course, it’s one of those fine seesaw balances that human biology is so dependent on.

You also can’t remove the effects of dopamine and hope serotonin and happiness will soar. In his book he writes about a short-lived Parkinson’s drug trial that had this effect and some of the participants fell into severe depression or even committed suicide. Dopamine – and pleasure – is still an essential part of the balance it seems, as long as it doesn’t try to take over. It goes without saying, I’d highly recommend a read of his book. It’s written more with food in mind than alcohol but it still made total sense and I found it extremely helpful to clear up my own thinking.

The second Aha! moment was the winter phase realisation which opened this post.

The third happened a few days ago and involves quotes from The Miracle Of Mindfulness by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

During one of my long inert phases flopped out on the sofa I was trying to observe my thinking and work out what was getting in the way of me being motivated to do anything. Any possibility I presented brought up a stream resistance and judgement which talked me out of doing anything.

Shall I do some housework? No, it’s boring and dull. Once it’s finished it’s just time to start it again; it’s pointless, there’s always more dirty laundry or dishes. I’m depressed, I want to be entertained not be slaving away.

Shall I cook some healthy food? Ugh, too much effort and what was I just saying about dirty dishes?! Takeaway is so easy and tasty, I don’t care right now if it’s healthy or not.

Shall I go for a walk? Then you’ll have to see other people. People are shit. They’re loud, inconsiderate, rude, mean etc. It’s just easier to stay home, on the sofa. I’ve got no energy anyway, balls to that.

Shall I do some creative work? I don’t know, it seems like hard work. I’ve lost my way a bit with all that. I’m not getting the results I want. It’s all too much effort, just stick Netflix back on.

Those are just a few examples. It was an eye-opener how negative and fear-based it all was. It became clear that the only place my conscious thinking mind was taking me was where I already was, sprawled out of the sofa with box sets and the cat. Fortunately I managed to switch the TV off and fire up my kindle which is when the next improvement happened.

I’ve thought I’ve known about mindfulness-of-breath meditation for many years now but one simple line in the book suddenly brought a new and deeper understanding:

‘Our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind…’ I switched from the breath just being a ‘thing’ to be used as a focus for meditation to realising that devoting a portion of my awareness to always staying aware of my breath I could also be aware of my body and of being in the present moment no matter what was happening around me. I have been doing this for a few days now, as often as possible, not just during meditation sessions. It’s making a huge difference.

The next line that made an impact seemed to provide an answer to the mental quandries I wrote about earlier, the fears and resistances that keep me from carrying out even the simplest tasks. ‘The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness’. Oooh! how appropriate. And it does seem to work. I’ve been making my awareness of my breathing my number one priority as much as possible and the last few days I’ve been out and about running errands, catching up on shopping and laundry, cooking healthy food, making breakthroughs and defining my creative directions. No mental pushing necessary. What a difference, it’s almost unbelieveable.

What’s odd is that I’ve had this book on my kindle for at least two years but never got round to reading it. When I was in my low moment on the sofa I talked to my version of a higher-power-thingy and asked for guidance on how to move forward and break out of this state. I have no idea why I just suddenly had the urge to read this particular book but now I’m wondering why it took me so long. I have a comedic image of my infinite-light-being-guide-whatever doing a huge long face-palm groaning, ‘It’s on your kindle dumbass!’ LOL! Oh well, better late than never.

I hope you all have a few Aha! moments of your own this weekend. Sober hugs and strength to anybody who’s struggling and wondering if it’s all worth it. It is, keep going. Keep warm and take care xx

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Feeling much better today

About half an hour after I posted yesterday I did end up chucking my guts up. I felt better immediately afterwards so luckily it wasn’t a hanging around kind of stomach bug. In hindsight I did find the fridge door ajar at work when I retrieved my tuna sandwich and there’s no knowing how long it had been that way. In this heat that obviously wasn’t good.

I slept loads too. My first sleep yesterday was about 6 hours. A few hours after I got up did some meditation and got so chilled out I fell asleep again and slept another 7 hours. I now feel caught up from my weird overheated work sleeps over the weekend.

I’m getting more into my new habit of doing a 24-36 hour fast each week. I have breakfast after my final shift of the week and then fast until at least breakfast the following day. I think that the combination of fasting and huge amounts of sleep is a good one, allowing my body time to make repairs. Given the amount of poison I’ve forced through it for almost 3 decades I think my body is probably thankful.

I bought myself a sober treat last night. I subscribed to the headspace meditation app for a year. I fancied a refresher course in meditation and I’ve tried a couple of different apps but didn’t find one that resonated until this. I like the guy’s voice and teaching style a lot. It costs about the same as ONE bottle of wine per month so when I look at it like that it’s a real bargain. If anybody else is tempted there is a currently valid coupon code of MINDFUL which gets you 25% off a year’s subscription.

That’s about it really. It looks like it’s going to be another super hot day here. I’m feeling good, peaceful, creative and motivated so I’m very thankful for that.

Wishing you all a good one too 🙂 x

Still here

I thought it was time I updated here, it’s been quite a while. I’ve been absent for a few reasons, some good, some not so good. I’ve still been reading other blogs at times and still am so appreciative of the courage and honesty displayed there even though I’ve been silent about it.

I’ve been spending any spare time on my artwork and am now soooo close to having a full enough portfolio of illustrations to start approaching people to kick off my goal of making a living from it. So that is definitely good.

My drinking has been on again, off again, going round in circles. I’ve sometimes been off for as long as 3 weeks but just keep slipping back into it. Each time I end up drinking again I seem to just push it a little harder which is obviously such a bad sign. It’s not normal or healthy to know that a full bottle of wine just isn’t going to be enough. I usually buy some cans of cider or beer *for my partner* at the same time as the wine and end up starting on that too.

I’m sick and tired, depressed and have little energy at the moment. It’s day one and I’m trying again.

I’ve been doing a lot of meditation and listening to buddhism podcasts. I love the teaching of Josh Korda from dharmapunx. Something about his talks really resonate on a deep level. It’s increasingly becoming clear to me that the low-level feelings of discomfort and alienation that I can’t ever remember not feeling is the core problem. I’ve come to the conclusion that my spiritual work and my sobriety work are inextricably linked. After reflecting on this I changed the sub-header of this blog from ‘Drinking less and living more’ to ‘Drinking less and waking up’.

Hugs to all, whatever day you’re on, I hope it’s a good one for you x

8 days in and doing OK

Not terrible, not great but OK – which is OK for now.

It’s been an eventful week with a real mixture of experiences and feelings. I went out bowling with some people from work and didn’t drink which was surprisingly enjoyable. I find it hard to do general chat with people I don’t really know and usually hide behind a few drinks. Doing it sober was easier because my head wasn’t totally fuddled and I could think straight and talk sense. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not actually any easier to do drunk – I think I just talk more crap and tell myself I’ve done OK with it.

What I did find interesting was nobody really noticed or commented on me not drinking. I drank pints of soda and lime and in the dim lighting they may have looked like pints of lager. When we left, people were asking myself and my partner how we were getting home. When I told them I was driving they finally realised I hadn’t been drinking.

Yesterday was a nice sunny day where I am and I went to sit in the garden with the cat. I’ve realised this is a big trigger for me, it’s what set me off 9 days ago. I was thinking ‘Ooh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a glass of wine in the sun and read my book?’ The drinking part of my mind has a very short memory. That’s exactly how it started last time. I drank the bottle, went to my local shop and bought another bottle and some chippy chips. I stuffed myself with chips, drank half of the 2nd bottle, crashed out on the sofa, woke up in the early hours with a sinking heart and a banging head and proceeded to drink what was left. This is the sorry scenario I played out in my mind yesterday to answer that nagging craving voice.

I felt restless, flat, bored and had craving after craving all day and evening. I have so little motivation to do anything at the moment. The house is a mess. I’ve done almost no artwork. I’ve slept huge amounts and binge-watched netflix. I’ve eaten crap food and not really cooked much. An extremely slobby unproductive week all in all – but at least I didn’t drink! I did manage to do a trip to the supermarket yesterday for groceries and just ignore the wine section although I really, really, REALLY wanted a drink. That felt like a real achievement.

I’ve identified a Tuesday meditation class and a Thursday SMART meeting and my next goals are to start attending these. As a person who considers two ‘social/out of the home’ events a month to be plenty to suddenly go to things twice a week will be a big leap. Although I really enjoy and need time alone as a ‘creative introvert’ type it has gone too far in the last few years. I’m tending to isolate and lose the momentum to face my fears/intertia and go out and meet new people.

I feel like I need to meet people that understand where I’m at and what I’m feeling. My few old friends and partner are lovely people but none of them seem to understand or believe how deep my problems run. My wolfie voice is saying ‘See! You’re really not that bad! Everybody says so.’ but it’s time to stop listening to that and acknowledge that I’ve had about 27 years to get really good at hiding aspects of my drinking.

That’s all for now. Strength and hugs to anybody who’s struggling and a happy sober weekend to all X