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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Day 88

I’m still here and still sober but I haven’t really felt like blogging as much in the last couple of weeks. I’m on day 88 now and not drinking is becoming more normal and routine. Over the last 12 weeks I’ve spent almost as much time thinking about not drinking as I did thinking about drinking and I feel like I’m ready to move on to the next stage, whatever that is.

I still get those ‘Ooh, wine would fit nicely into this moment’ kind of thoughts but I’m now noticing they seem to be more a result of ingrained habitual thinking than a real desire. Those thoughts are fading in intensity and have less power over me. I’m recognising a subtle separation between that restless, uncomfortable ‘gap that needs filling’ feeling and its association with wine. It panics me less and I am able to think, ‘Yeah, yeah, mind the gap, it’ll pass’. When I’ve started to ‘play the movie’ in my head I’ve sometimes even noticed an aversion to the thought of drinking. Deep down I know that looking to alcohol in these moments is pointless and futile and will never solve anything.

I’m starting to recognise the difficult moments as an opportunity to be mindful and a chance to stand up and build something new and better rather than taking the old, familiar and ‘easier’ option. It’s really not easy. I feel like I’m climbing a mountain at the moment. I seem to frequently fall into a trough of TV or game bingeing, pizza and chocolate bingeing or just lethargy, flatness and laziness. I also somehow always seem to find a way to pull myself out of it. I’m hungry for knowledge and experimentation whether it’s in psychology, spirituality, nutrition or any form of behaviour change. Maybe I’m finally ready to make the climb, to do the work that I’ve spent most of my life avoiding? No matter how hard the climb feels at times I’ve come far enough and seen enough benefits to not want to get drunk and slide backwards down the mountain. I can feel a shift towards being motivated by positive and constructive desires to build and grow rather than shying away from negativity and fear.

Now I’m starting to be a bit less preoccupied with not drinking I’m moving back towards some other projects in my life. My artwork is always waiting for me. I’m back on the decluttering mission. I’m also starting a new writing project which I won’t detail here as it won’t be written anonymously. I know that none of this would get the chance to happen if I let alcohol back into my life at the moment. I don’t know what my longer term future relationship with alcohol will be but I know that it has no place in my life for the forseeable future.

I’m still reading other sober blogs every day even though I haven’t been writing. It has been very interesting to read about the experiences of people who have managed increasingly large chunks of sobriety and then returned to drinking for various reasons. Some of their relationships with alcohol seem to have changed for the better and I’m hoping for it to continue for them. I really do wish the best for them but I’m also aware (as I’m sure they are) that alcohol can be deceptive like that while it’s in the process of creeping back in.

I have noticed that people tend to back away from blogging once they reach a point where they are aware they don’t fit neatly into one of the many labels around alcoholism and addiction. I also know many people couldn’t continue to read if a blog described a return to a new relationship with alcohol. For some it would be dangerous and triggery, for others not so much. Like religion, this is one of those subjects that tends to forge extremely strong opinions and the potential for conflict with people holding opposing views. Myself, I can’t help but be curious about the grey areas while respecting, appreciating and learning from all the different points of view from this wonderful community. I would certainly continue to read and be open to a variety of possibilities for how this journey could ultimately unfold.

Maybe addiction isn’t a black and white matter after all and could be more of a spectrum, like autism? Is it possible that once one has repaired the ‘hole in the soul’ then a previously problematic substance or behaviour may end up being no more dangerous than a luxurious soak in the bath? Can we get to a stage where it’s just a non-issue, like me and the smoking that I quit 15 years ago? I don’t spend my life in fear of cigarettes and know it’s going to be zero effort to never smoke again. Will that / could that happen with alcohol?

I know this is trigger territory for many and I apologise if it’s hard to read but I have read so many different views and opinions on addiction that I don’t know what I really believe. I feel more able to ponder questions like this at the moment as I’m genuinely open and curious rather than just looking for a way to talk myself back into the bottle. For now I’ve made my peace with the perspective that I can choose alcohol or spiritual/life/health growth and remind myself of this with my new Spiritus Contra Spiritum bracelet 🙂

bracelet

Take care everybody, be well x

9 weeks – day 63

I’m well into new territory now as this is the longest I’ve gone without alcohol since I was a teenager. 9 whole weeks! I partly feel like it’s been ages and partly feel like it’s flown by.

I’m feeling strong and positive today. I got up early and went for a 45 minute fast walk to get sweaty, get my blood pumping and start the day. The weather looks pretty promising and I have the rest of the week off so that’s all good. I’ve got plenty of ideas and plans for my artwork, decluttering and fermenting for the next few days and I’m definitely appreciating having what feels like a lot of sober, productive time at the moment.

My sauerkraut experiment is now on day 5 and it’s starting to smell like proper sauerkraut and not just like somebody farted while attempting to do the cabbage soup diet. I have an organic cucumber and some carrots hanging about in the kitchen so I might have a go at combining those into some sort of fermentable creation later today. I can feel a new hobby coming on 😀

I did a lot of thinking during my walk, mainly about sobriety and spirituality. I’m feeling different somehow at the moment and I’m not quite sure how to explain it. I’m reconnecting to a feeling I remember having as a child. Whenever unpleasant shit would happen in my life (such as bullying, parental illness, family financial problems etc) I would feel small, scared, sad or whatever negative expression came about but there was always a small light tucked away deep inside me that would feel, or know, or have faith that in the bigger picture everything would somehow be alright in the end. I’ve carried the memory of that feeling with me my whole life but now I think I’m actually experiencing the feeling again which is huge.

I’m not religious and neither was my upbringing although I’ve always had some sense of there being something ‘higher’ but no clear concept of what it is exactly. As it’s not something I’ve ever really talked about I’ve never felt the need to define it. There is much talk about a higher power in 12 step information and I like the concept that the individual can choose what form it takes. I’ve meditated for over 20 years using a set of phrases that give praise, gratitude and love to a ‘higher’ concept of the individual’s choosing. I’ve also had some pretty powerful and inexplicable changes in consciousness, either spontaneously for unknown reasons, through drug taking or through meditation…

I have a vivid memory of slipping into a different state of consciousness when I was still a child young enough to be looking out through cot bars. I recognised this state as familiar when I experimented with hallucinogens as a teenager and once again recognised it during an extreme altered state that was brought about through meditation in my 30s. The common theme that binds all these moments was the experience of being able to really feel and even see energy. I saw everything as being composed of sparkling motes of energy. Woah! now I sound like I’ve been drinking the Kool Aid don’t I?! Or maybe it’s whatever is off-gassing from the sauerkraut?!

What I began to theorize during my walk is that alcohol has been drowning out the small fire deep inside me and also damping down my energy into a much lower state than a human is capable of. When I read all this back it sounds so Woo Woo and mystical but that’s not really where I’m coming from. I get pretty skeptical when I hear people getting excited about something like ‘the secret’ and use it to try to attract themselves a fat salary and a new sports car. I do however keep coming back to energy as some form of attracting/repelling/higher force as a key part of my thoughts today. Um, what am I trying to say here?… focus…

I believe that there are many ways we can move ourselves towards a positive, uplifted, courageous, open minded, open to change/challenge and dare I say it, higher energy state. The content of our thoughts, the ways we breathe and move – or don’t move, the people with which we surround ourselves, the quality of our food and drink! are just a few that come to mind. Alcohol is most definitely not a part of this list. That romanticised moment of glistening glass in the sparkly sunshine will whisper that it is a route to a higher state until we play the film to the end when we’re laid low and bottomed out and we’ve given away our potential energy to the wine witch and spend the next day begging to have some of it back.

By the time I’d finished my walk I’d come up with a new thought/life experiment for myself. I’m offering up my life and sobriety to my concept of a higher power. This isn’t a blind faith, washing my hands of all responsiblity, sit back and let the world give me what I think I deserve kind of thing – far from it. I’ve vowed to be mindful of my thoughts as much as possible, to express gratitude daily, to eat well, exercise, be creative and always look ahead for the next right thing to do and be prepared to work hard for it. When I disappear into future fear or negative thinking I’ll come back to the present and reconnect with that part of me that knows that whatever heaven or hell life throws my way there will always just be the next right thing to do and any worrying I do about the future now is pointless as the next right thing is always now and not then. Oh yeah, and I won’t drink.

Well, now I’m a bit scared of publishing this in case you all think I’m a total weirdo 😀 Maybe I need to also make a vow to stop worrying so much about what people think of me. Have a lovely sober day everybody and if anybody is low on energy today I’ll send you some of mine, I seem to have some to spare today. Hugs x

 

 

Past the quarter century

Today is day 26 so I passed a quarter of the way towards finishing the 100 day challenge. That still seems like such a long way off and I’m trying to think only one day at a time.

I’ve had a couple of difficult moments this week. I had some really sudden and strong wine cravings. I really wanted to grab a bottle of wine on more than one occasion but I didn’t. Last night I was pacing round the house with that familiar looming ’emptiness that needs filling’ feeling. It didn’t help that I had a stomping coffee-reducing headache. I just felt bored and ‘blah’ but instead of drinking I watched a ton of House of Cards on netflix and it got me through. I’m fortunately back to feeling better about it all today and glad that I didn’t give in to the cravings.

I’m really appreciating getting back to that sober state where shit gets done. I’ve done so much stuff around the house and garden; nothing big and dramatic but lots of little bits that slowly add up to noticeable improvements. When I allow drink into my life I tend to spend a lot of time being drunk, lazy and doing bugger all around the house. Then I suddenly look around and think, OMG I need to blitz and stagger around trying to catch up with myself. I think I get more done the slow and steady way but I also completely accept that I’m never going to have a ‘show home’ 😉

I feel like things are getting a bit harder now. The initial novelty and elation of the first few weeks has passed but the ease and bigger rewards that are promised further down the line still seem a world away. It feels like I’m entering some sort of limbo state that has to be waded through for now. I’m trying to think about interesting and positive options that could open up with a sober future. These thoughts at least combat the fear and negativity future thoughts. Mostly I’m just trying to stay present and to deal with the day ahead.

I’m going to try to do some creative stuff today as well as ‘useful’ stuff. Taking time out for creativity is an important part of my self-pampering which I’ve let slip a bit the last few days. I was considering going out to do some shopping but I actually don’t really feel like it so I won’t. There’s nothing I need urgently and I’m a reluctant shopper at the best of times. I think it would be more useful to wait until I’m more in the mood for it later in the week.

The sun has just come out here which will help to boost my mood. Have a lovely sober Monday everybody. Love and hugs to anybody who’s struggling x

3 weeks

This will be quick as I’m in a motorway service station tapping away at my phone. Today marks 3 weeks and I’m feeling good about it.

I’m on guard as I have frequently stumbled at around this time but as it stands I’m not doing too badly for cravings. I also have 10 nights off work now which is adding to my relaxation, yay! 🙂

Last night I met up with friends for a luscious curry and I didn’t want to drink at all. Not even a fleeting craving which was pretty reassuring. 

I feel grateful for my current state and I’m mindful that it could change at any moment. I have a long history of believing that raucous intensity was the way to live but I now realise that mindful, peaceful and relaxed stability has been severely underrated.

Strength and hugs to anybody struggling at the moment. Have a lovely sober day x

40 days and 40 nights

Well, I haven’t had the 40th night yet but close enough 😉

It’s been a strange few days. After a few relatively easy weeks of sobriety I’ve had some sudden stabs of craving this last few days. Being sober feels much harder at the moment.

On Sunday I met up with some friends in a pretty market town. We went for coffee, a walk, a snacky picnic and then spent a few hours in a pub having drinks and a meal. I drank pints of soda and lime and thoroughly enjoyed myself with no cravings. I was driving so I suppose the possibility of drinking wasn’t there at all but even so, I didn’t feel like I was missing out.

The following afternoon I went for a meal with my partner at a bar/restaurant. I drank soda and lime again but as we were waiting in the bar area for a table to be free I was hit out of the blue, like a slap in the face, by an intense wine craving. He was driving, maybe that was the difference? The option was there and my wine-brain damn well knew it. I rode it out and fortunately it passed. We had a lovely meal and then pottered into town to do some shopping. Later on when I got home I ended up doing a bit of house cleaning before settling down to an evening netflix session.

If I’d had a ‘glass’ of wine the day would have gone so differently. The shopping (beyond buying wine) and coffee in town would be rushed, my thoughts constantly drifting to when I could drink more. No way would the cleaning have happened and I’d be quickly drunk in front of the telly. Slouched on the sofa I’d probably fall asleep when the bottle finished and I certainly wouldn’t have been focusing on the series I was watching. Then the hangover would set in, along with the disappointment, guilt and depression. Ugghh, no thanks!

Now I’m past the initial novelty stage of the first month I’m finding that more difficult thoughts and issues are popping up to challenge me. Things that I would usually camouflage with wine are prodding me and making me wonder what I’m going to do to tackle them – other than drink that is.

Two recurring themes keep popping up. The first is feeling isolated and that I don’t fit in anywhere – I haven’t found my place or my people. The second is feeling a lack of meaning, motivation and purpose in life. The former has been a life-long feeling so is nothing new. The latter has been creeping up over time, since I quit my career over a decade ago and since I let go of many classic markers of purpose and success such as job title, salary and outward posessions. Now I’m not drinking away the discomfort it’s creeping up a bit faster.

I need to keep busy and try some of the new ideas that I have. I might make some soap today, or mount and frame the print that’s been waiting for over a year. Maybe I’ll do some extra special cooking or a bit more spring cleaning. I’m definitely not a type A high-stress kind of personality that struggles to slow down. I have the opposite problem – I’m so laid-back and spaced out that I need to speed up and show up to get shit done. My life needs a rocket up its ass!.. or something… anything but that slow slump back down into meaningless drunken lethargy and procrastination.

It’s sunny here, one of the first days it’s warm enough to sit out in the garden which is one of my big triggers… I’m struggling today with the familiar psychological tug-of-war, but it’ll pass. It always passes and I need to remember that – it’s my mindfulness mantra for today…

 

 

 

5 weeks and a day and thoughts about ‘normal’

A while ago I was listening to a dharmapunx podcast and the teacher was talking about how our wanting to escape from everyday reality was influenced by the perspective from which we perceived our ‘normal’ state.

If we’re in a dreadful situation where we’re suffering, in pain or frightened then we look longingly at the idea of getting back to ‘normal’. As a good example he spoke about his excruciating experience of waiting for a kidney stone to pass.

If we’re in a great situation such as being on holiday, partying, or maybe feeling the rush of success or love, then we look grudgingly at the idea of getting back to ‘normal’.

Both ‘normals’ are of course the same thing, just our attitude to them is different.

It sounds so simple and obvious but it’s one of those things that no matter how much we think about it, it is so difficult for it to sink in. Then every so often we get an example or a lesson to remind us. I think this is what my last week has been all about…

First I had a cold. It was fairly mild but still crappy. Then I got a bout of hideous back pain at the base of my back. I was in the sort of pain that just leaves you helpless and surrendered, too scared to move because it brings on the searing hot poker sensation. It was fortunately mostly over in about 3 days. I have a bit of lingering pain when I sit but nothing too bad. The day I started to feel relief from the back pain I woke up with a banging headache and I felt generally awful – very much like a hangover. An hour after I woke I puked my guts out without warning for no obvious reason and then was left with an all-day headache.

Ok universe – I get the message! ‘Normal’ hasn’t looked and felt so damn gorgeous in a long time 🙂 I’ll try to remember to appreciate my everyday, calm, peaceful, pain-free (almost), secure and ‘normal’ moments without trying to escape. I know I’ll forget. The memory of the pain and suffering will trickle away like sand through my fingers and the perspective from which I look at ‘normal’ will begin to shift. I’ll try to remember though, I’ll really try – particularly if I’m thinking of trying to escape.

Not drinking feels good at the moment. I’m thinking about it less obsessively now. I know that that can change at any time so I’m not taking it for granted. I’m appreciating the easier sober moments, hours and days, and observing that they are gradually becoming far more frequent than the craving and psychologically wrestling, conflicted moments. I’m feeling some hope that something is somehow shifting in me on a deeper level but I’m not really sure just yet…

Hugs and strength to anybody who’s struggling and have a lovely sober Sunday night x