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


123 days

I was tempted to use the title, as easy as 123 but as you know, it hasn’t always been easy to get to this point. It’s 4 months! It sounds odd to say it, slightly surreal but also very, very real.

I’m feeling fortunate that at the moment it’s taking zero willpower to not drink. I just don’t want to. When I think about a large glass (bottle) of red I get a strange cognitive disconnect. When I imagine smoking a cigarette after 16 years it just seems absurd and unrealistic. I can feel a similar attitude developing in connection with alcohol but it’s still vague and a far weaker internal reaction. Hopefully this will get stronger over time.

Some niggly health issues have escalated, prompting me to get my butt off to my doctor. I’ve had some blood tests and am waiting for the results and a hospital appointment for a scan. My gut feeling is that it’s not a worst case scenario, but there’s always that horrible ‘What if?’ fear lurking deep down. The waiting is the worst part. It’s good meditation fodder along the lines of ‘This is happening, it’s my reality, it’s pointless trying to hide, run away, numb out etc’.

I’m currently about 22 hours into a water fast and feeling fairly good. It’s purely for healing and spiritual reasons and nothing to do with weight loss. It’s something I turn to when I am having health issues or feel like I need to hit the reset button. Previously my longest fast was 5 days when I was having pretty bad skin and gut problems. It helped those but didn’t do my thyroid any favours so I stick to 3 days or less now. I’m aiming for 48 hours but will adjust either way depending on how I feel. Strangely, it has coincided with ramadan and I remember doing some fasting this time last year too. Ironically my muslim-raised partner is not.

I also need to say, if you have any struggles with an eating disorder or think of it as a weight-loss plan, please don’t go there – it’s not a one size fits all kind of thing.

Fasting has long been considered a natural healing practice. Animals do it instinctively, humans tend not to. Huge amounts of our energy is used up digesting our food and processing anything undesirable which realistically includes a lot of the ingredients (and chemicals) in our modern processed foods. It takes a fair few hours without food to ramp up our natural process of autophagy allowing the body to focus more exclusively on its healing and eliminating/detoxing processes.

When I think about the logic of fasting I have a mental image of a factory. Imagine the production lines constantly running, the workers are all focussed there and completely ignore the building that houses them. Over time, the building gets dirty and falls into disrepair because nobody has done any cleaning or maintenance. Fasting seems like stopping the production lines to allow all the workers to spend a couple of days doing this essential work.

It’s going to be a quiet couple of days which I’m really happy about. I’ll do lots of reading, meditation, thinking, drawing, some very gentle yoga – all the peaceful and relaxing stuff. Despite the ups and downs, uncertainties and pain, I’m feeling pretty grateful and focussed at the moment. Last week was scattered and grumpy, next week… who knows, but I’m confident it’ll be a sober one ;D

Wishing you all a good sober week x


My 11 week disappearance

I was surprised to realise that my last post was 11 weeks ago. I was on day 88 then and I went on to do 109 days. On day 110 I had a drink and have since been wandering in the grey area I attempted to label as moderation.

That first day I drank one large glass of red wine and got a dreadful hangover. It was a stark reminder that alcohol is a poison and not something we should be putting in our bodies. After so long without alcohol my body basically went ‘WTF? Seriously, you wanna do this??!!’ each time I drank and as a result it was a few weeks before I drank any more than half a bottle at a time. At that point I could fairly easily have a couple of drinks on one day and have a few days off without cravings.

At this point I’m aware that there has definitely been some creep towards the troubling side of drinking. It’s still not at terrible levels but I have had some ‘red flag’ moments and can clearly see down the shadowy path that could take me back to that place. I’ve observed once again how alcohol tends to contract life into something smaller and less fulfilling. It’s also a very bad influence on my attempts to eat better and avoid foods that I don’t tolerate. I’ve put back on the 7lbs I lost, my skin issues have flared up painfully and I have a lot of GI issues again. *Sigh*

I realised something important from a psychological point of view but I haven’t fully digested its implications. I expected to feel really weird and guilty when I drank but the overwhelming feeling I got was one of relief. The most obvious interpretation of that could be that it was simply an addict finally getting her ‘fix’ but as my body was initially quite grossed out by wine I’m not sure it was that. It was more a sigh of relief at the release from a set of strictly imposed rules. I’d become as obsessive and fixated on abstinence as I had on drinking. I hate being told what to do in an absolute sense, even by myself.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with work colleagues recently, without actually ‘outing’ myself. In my smallish team I have 4 colleagues that don’t drink. One is the child of a severely alcoholic mother who went through the British care system as a result so doesn’t want anything to do with alcohol. Another has quit because of pancreatitis. 2 others are long-term abstainers but in a way that it’s not really a ‘thing’ for them. One woman laughed that although she was previously a heavy drinker on nights out she’d gone off it over the years and hadn’t had any for about 18 months. One of the guys commented he’d toasted at his wedding but that was it for probably 9 months at that point. I find it fascinating that they’re just not particularly interested in drinking and don’t have to give abstinence any thought or effort.

It made me think of a new concept (new to me) and possibly a new goal. I’ve done plenty of obsessive drinking and some chunks of obsessive abstinence. How about getting to a place of non-obsessive abstinence? Or is that just another way of describing a ‘normal’ drinker or a fully freed alcoholic? I don’t know. I’d love to hear other perspectives on this.

I’m still convinced that addiction, whatever the substance or behaviour is still just a symptom of a bigger spiritual problem. Alcohol is an unbalancer. It tips the balance towards the negative side of the bigger, deeper dichotomies in life. From growth to contraction; from full to empty; from light to dark and heavy; euphoria to depression; engagement to indifference and so on…

There’s a song I like called Closer to Fine, by the Indigo Girls. It has an interesting couple of lines:

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.

It’s so easy and tempting to be the one diving head first, screeching ‘Hell yeah!’ into those deep pools of dark pleasure and to hell with the consequences. I’ve learned that during abstinence the call of the lightness was definitely a bit louder and easier to hear. I’ve also realised that alcohol is noisy and when it is allowed back in on a regular basis it’s all too easy for it to completely drown out the quiet call to the light. I want to choose the light. I’ve had some remarkable experiences on the lighter side. It’s important to me.

So, it looks like I’m heading back towards not drinking. This time I’m not setting any absolute rules or day counting. It has to be a daily choice, to show up and engage with life or to check out, shy away and shut down. It’s a new experiment…

Have a good weekend x

Day 73

I was so touched by the responses to my previous post. I’m really happy that there are so many people out there who can relate to what I was talking about with energy and spirituality. That side of me has been kept hidden away for so long I was so relieved to be able to write about it and have people respond so positively. Thank you all so much. I don’t feel so weird or so alone now 😀

It’s been a fairly uneventful week in a nice way. I’ve done some more fermenting and there are currently jars of ginger carrots and kimchi doing their thing on my kitchen worktop.

I found an awesome website called blinkist. It summarises a wide range of non-fiction books into ‘blinks’ that can be read in about 15 minutes. As I have a backlog of books to read on my shelves and my kindle I made a deal with myself and paid the £31 membership fee on the condition that I don’t buy any more books for a year. I can work my way through the ones I already have and the blinkist site will be a good way to introduce new subject areas in a manageble way, without having to chow through whole books. I tend to be so curious about so many subjects that the reading time I have doesn’t allow me to keep up with it all. Hopefully it’s a good plan.

I was hit with a sudden craving yesterday, the worst I’ve had for a few weeks. It was very hot and I felt tired and lazy and spent some time sitting in the garden and suddenly ‘Bam!’ from nowhere came the wine witch harping on about how nice a bottle of wine would be right now. I’m not even going to bother saying a glass because I know that’s bullshit. I actually thought about it slightly differently this time. I pictured myself going to the shops for wine and tried to think the hypothetical thoughts I would be having in that situation. The bottom line at the end of it was that I would still be uncertain that a whole bottle of wine would be enough which is of course a huge red flag, don’t go there, WTF?! kind of thought. I didn’t go there and I’m happy I didn’t.

Other than that it’s still going pretty well. I’m definitely finding it easier now I’m past 10 weeks. It actually seemed to pick up at 9 weeks. I’m also aware I haven’t had to deal with anything too challenging though. I’m happy being a stay-at-home introvert most of the time so haven’t really had to deal with drunk people socialising. My partner rarely drinks, I don’t think he’s had any for about a month now. There have been no major shocks, challenges or changes and I’ve cancelled all going away on holiday plans. I maybe should challenge myself a bit more but I figure by the time something comes along to really challenge me then at least I’ll be somewhere further along the path.

I’ve had 3 drinking related dreams in fairly quick succession. In the first one I drank wine and then woke up in horror thinking I’d blown it for a few moments before I realised it was a dream. In the second one I was asked what I was drinking in a restaurant. I ordered a red wine but then remembered I wasn’t drinking and quickly corrected it to a sparkling water. In the final one, I was bought a pint of lager but I gave it away and went to the bar myself and replaced it with an orange juice mixed with sparkling water. It’s a 2-1 win for the sober version of the drinking dream which I’ll take as a good sign.

I finally bought myself a sober treat that isn’t either food or no-alcohol drinks. I’m not much of a ‘things’ person (apart from books or art materials) so I haven’t really bothered before. After talking about so much spirituality in my previous post it has been on my mind ever since. It’s definitely one of my big motivations not to drink so I ordered an engraved leather bracelet with an inspirational quote on it. Spiritus Contra Spiritum. Alcohol works against spirituality. It feels appropriate. I’m waiting for it to be delivered from the Czech republic so I’m not sure how long it will take but I’ll post a picture when I do have it.

Right, I’ve got to get some sleep, I’m working the next few nights. Have a lovely sober weekend everybody. Hugs x

An important conversation

Something lovely happened last night. I had a long phone call with an old friend who I’ve known since starting college together at sixteen (25 years now, blimey!). We don’t get together that often because we live in different parts of the country but even if it’s been ages, when we get together we just pick up as if we saw each other last week.

During the phone call I told her about not drinking and about some of my recent drinking scenarios and the feelings that they brought up. I even went as far as to tell her I think it was time I admitted I had a problem. I’ve talked to her in the past about my mounting concerns about drinking so it wasn’t really dropping a bombshell but it still felt really huge to actually be saying that to somebody.

She was fantastic. The conversation didn’t skip a beat. There was no awkward silence, no OMG WTF! moment, no ‘you don’t really have a problem’ moment – just total support and acceptance.

We went on to talk about the psychological addiction and how it’s the more ‘hidden’ side of alcoholism rather than the outward measure of how many units are drunk. I told her I recently drank a wine box in two evenings because I somehow had to keep going back for more, because it was there calling to me. She admitted she’s slipped into daily drinking – just one or two – but still, frequently daily. She told me she could so easily slip into a state where she has a problem too and is trying to cut down and find other ways to relax at the end of the working day. We talked about her problems too. She has major self-esteem issues, has had a fairly recent bereavement and a history of codependent behaviour leading to horrendous experiences due to unfortunate choices of husbands or partners.

I felt calm and happy after the conversation. I’m so grateful that I have somebody with whom I can discuss real life shit – warts and all – and be part of a friendship that offers mutual support and acceptance.

She’s a health professional and I have a hunch she may enjoy some of the the secular buddhism podcasts that blend spirituality with psychology and neuroscience approaches. I’m going to find a basic ipod on ebay and load it with this sort of podcasts and post it to her as a gift with the invitation to delete them all and fill it with whatever she feels like if what I send doesn’t resonate. We all have our own paths after all…