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 281 – Hi again

I haven’t checked in here for ages now and I just realised I didn’t make a single post in October. I hope folks are doing well and had a good sober October if they were doing that.

I’m still sober and well over nine months now so my absence wasn’t because I’d fallen off the wagon. Instead I’ve been engulfed by a dragging, lurking dark cloud of depression. I don’t know if it’s the change of season or if I’ve hit a burst of PAWS or if it’s just a longer lasting version of the on and off flat state that’s followed me around as long as I can remember.

It’s not severe. Even on my worst days I’m far from suicidal. I’m still working and doing a good impression of a person functioning in society. I just have zero motivation for anything. I’ve withdrawn socially IRL and online; I’m eating junk, sleeping lots (often unplanned and randomly on the sofa), spending whole days on netflix and neglecting my exercise, self care and creative activities.

I know what I need to do to pull out of the nosedive but I have that strange out-of-body point of view where I’m just standing by and watching myself do all the wrong things. It’s odd and frustrating and I recognise it from the many times I’ve watched myself pour glasses of wine even though I didn’t really want to and knew it was a bad idea.

The one silver lining in this very un-pink cloud I’m currently in is that I have absolutely no desire to drink. There has been none of the usual drinking debates in my mind about feeling bad anyway so I might as well drink or that drinking would help. In my more observant moments I can find a surrendered and observing attitude and although I don’t really know what current is dragging me down to this place I definitely knows it’s not due to a lack of alcohol. Alcohol is the last thing I need right now, ugh! Alcohol would just make everything worse. I know that attitude is hard to imagine for some of you in the early stages but I promise you, the shift does eventually happen.

If it gets worse or lasts too long I’ll go see my GP but for now I’m going to wait it out and see what I can learn from it. I’ve already had some shifts in awareness over the last month, mostly around what I can control and do something about and what I can’t and must let go of for my own sanity. I’ve had a lot of anger come up and out too, like a psychological puking. I’m doing a fair bit of reading during this down time too so it’s not all bad. I’ll try to check in here more often. I feel a bit better after writing this.

I hope everybody is doing ok and I’m sorry I haven’t really kept up with your blogs. I’ll try to catch up in the coming days and weeks. Sober hugs and best wishes x

Over 8 months

I passed the 8 month mark a couple of days ago but I can’t remember my day count exactly without checking my phone, which I think is a good thing. I’ve had some time off work and spent some much-needed chillout time and life/home admin tucked away in the house. It’s been an odd week or so which has provided me with quite a few small reminders about why life is better when I’m sober.

We had a sofa delivered at the beginning of the week which has ended up being a bit of a saga. The chaos started with my cat deciding to try to poop out a furball behind the front door, 5 minutes before it arrived. When I found her and she realised she was busted she legged it round the house meowing with the ‘thing’ hanging half out her butt as I ran after her with baby wipes. Yuck!

The delivery guys then arrived and got the sofa stuck in the hallway. They shoved it so hard it sheared off one side of one of the door frames with a massive ‘CRACK’ and a scattering of heavy Victorian-era plaster. I wasn’t happy but these things happen and that’s the reason companies have public liability insurance. I took photos of the damage, emailed the company and I’m now waiting for them to go through their complaints process. Unfortunately the sofa is awful. We unwrapped it and plonked excitedly on it to find it’s rock hard. My kind of sofa will let you sink in and relax. This one felt like I was perched on a horse, sitting upright to attention. It only took a couple of hours for it to make my back ache.

We decided to return it which the company fortunately allows. I had to repack it though. You know when you take something out of its original packaging and then it never fits back in quite right? Try that with a large sofa! They collected it today and I held my breath as they struggled it out through the hallway. Once they’d cleared the front door I let out a sigh of relief, too soon as it turned out because there came a big shattering clunk as they knocked off the top of one of our brick gate pillars. Seriously guys?! To be fair it was probably a bit loose. These houses were built at the turn of the last century and the front walls are getting a bit knackered in places. Even so… it’s two new repair jobs we could do without.

The drinking me would have immersed myself in a spiral of drama with each incident being the ‘justification’ for a drinking session. I was a bit stressed about it but not so much about the material stuff, more the disruption to my routine and the invasion of privacy. I can’t relax when I know strangers are going to come into the house. Now I’m not drinking I can see through the surface stress to a more balanced drama-free perspective.

There’s so much to actually be grateful for in this story if I think clearly about it. Firstly, we’re in a position to be able to afford a new sofa. Secondly, for damage to occur to my home, I need to have one, which I do. I’m grateful that it’s generally safe, warm and happy. Repacking the sofa wasn’t much fun but I’m so grateful that I have the fitness and strength to maneuvre a 43kg sofa on my own (my partner had a crazy work schedule the last couple of days so I dealt with it). I’m grateful that I’m not facing damage from hurricanes, earthquakes or bombs – just some clumsy delivery guys. You get the idea.

None of it is going to matter in a few weeks, never mind the bigger picture. Finally, I’m grateful that I’m sober and can put all this in its proper perspective. It was a small and restrictive mindset that would have manically run with these ‘nice to have’ ‘problems’ in the direction of a drinking binge. What a petty, limiting and negative way to live! I’m so glad that’s not my mindset any more. Life is far from perfect but I have so much to be grateful for.

I still have a couple of nights left of my holiday so I’m planning a seriously chilled and lazy evening. I’ll get into my PJs and sink into our comfy old worn and cracked sofa with a furry blanket, lots of hot tea and a long session of Gotham on netflix. Hell yeah ;D

Have a lovely evening whatever you get up to x