Drinking guilt and its big brother shame

When I used to drink the drinking threw in a free gift of a helping of guilt and shame on the side – how kind!  Guilt is the emotion that we feel when we have behaved in a way that we perceive to be hurtful to others or as a moral lapse.  Guilt serves a purpose when we recognise, acknowledge and rectify the behaviour, such as apologising if necessary.  The thing is, when I was drinking, sometimes I didn’t remember the behaviour so what I got left with was guilt’s big brother, shame.

Shame is the emotion that we feel when ‘we’ as a person are at fault, not our behaviour.  It is the way we feel if we have fallen short of our own internalised ideals or if there is a public disclosure of a perceived weakness or defect. For me shame was the fast track path to self-loathing, failing self-esteem and crushed self-confidence and it was hard not to feel shame as I felt like I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore my behaviour.  If I couldn’t manage this there was something wrong with ‘me’ right?

But if you drink alcohol, which is addictive and designed to make you thirsty (so you drink more) and acts as a disinhibitor (encouraging behaviour that you would not normally engage in) then how is that a weakness or defect in yourself?  Now I’m not handing total responsibility for my actions over to the booze monster as the choice to pick up the first drink was always mine.  What I didn’t fully choose was the addiction created by the substance to go on drinking to the point of total black out, guilt making antics and no memories to attach the guilt to therefore leaving me with an overwhelming sense of shame.  And then I would drink to forget the shame compounding the problem. Shame, drink, shame, lather, rinse, repeat.

The leading expert and queen of shame research is Brene Brown who I love.  Her PhD was studying vulnerability.

What her research found was that shame is highly highly correlated with addiction.  Shame is the voice in my head telling me that I’m ‘never good enough’ and I can’t do life sober.  Shame is that same internal critic saying ‘who do you think you are’ to blog about my sober journey thinking people would be interested in what I have to say.

This is the most toxic of emotions and now I don’t drink I don’t really experience it like I used to anymore.  I know that I can do life sober and have done it for over five months. I know that people are interested in what I have to say because they take the time to read my blog and comment.  My internal voice of shame has gone quiet and this gift is perhaps bigger than the gift of no hangover.  The no hangover is the physical gift of not drinking but the diminished feeling of shame is the psychological gift of sobriety.  And the two go hand in hand for me as part of the hangover distress was the angst caused by the shame.  In the words of Brene, for shame to survive it needs secrecy, silence and judgement (of self or of others).  Choosing not to drink and this blog is the answer to resolving my shame and I would chose this option hands down every day over drinking now 🙂

PS If you’ve not seen the original Brene Brown TED talk on vulnerability, you can find it here

PPS My other most popular blog post is my Goodbye Letter to Alcohol which you can read here

Edited to add: I found this brilliant card that summed up how this drinking shame and guilt felt for me so if this is how you feel too then can I recommend this self-compassion break  🙂

Overindulgence Disposal Unit

Bonus post: Kindness advent calendar

acts-of-kindness-calendarI’ve had a really tough week and MrHOF very kindly took the HOFlets swimming this morning so I had a bit more extra time for soberverse browsing.  While I was dipping in and out of sober communities I spotted this December kindness advent calendar that someone on Soberistas had shared and I thought ‘how lovely’.

When we’re stuck in the ‘pity party for one’ space it can be all get a bit me me me – well that’s my perception anyway! 😉  Sometimes focusing on something or someone other than ourselves can be really emotionally beneficial and this is the perfect way to do that.  So I’m going to be consulting this every day from now until Xmas too as a way of warding off those potential ‘woe is me’ moments.

I also found this on the wonderful interwebs at 12 kinds of kindness:

A 12 step experiment designed to open our hearts, eyes and minds

So as December 1 asks on the Kindness Advent Calendar I have shared this with you to encourage others to practice kindness this month.  As the calendar says in a final quote from Lao Tzu:

Kindness in words creates confidence

Kindness in thinking creates profoundness

Kindness in giving creates love

Thank you to the kind Soberistas who shared this and therefore allowed me to share it too 🙂

Ho Ho Ho Tis the season to be sober ;)

12-days-of-christmas-drinking-wine-memeSo it’s almost that time of year again, the season where your social media feed will be more full than usual with memes celebrating everything that is great about this booze sodden month (such as this one to the left) peaking with Christmas and New Year.

I’ve been in touch with Arthur Cauty and he has pulled a rabbit out of the ‘A Royal Hangover‘ hat again for us!! If you haven’t yet watched his superb British documentary film go to the image of Queenie on a postage stamp with a bottle in her hand to the right of this blog post and click and it’ll take you to iTunes where you can rent or buy the film.  It really is fabulous (you can read my review here) and will help you gird your loins for the drinking mayhem that is about to descend upon  us ….

Following the success and popularity of last year’s sober advent calendar (which is archived under sober heroes & heroines in the ‘life without booze’ tab at the top of the blog or you can find them here) we have a NEW 2016 sober advent calendar to support you on a daily basis during these sometimes trying times.  Starting tomorrow and rolling all the way to the big day itself 😉

Today and for the next month we raise an AF glass & remind ourselves of our choice of why we don’t drink anymore in the company of the good and the great of the screen, music and written word.

Tomorrow Arthur’s quote and image delights will begin and we hope you like and it keeps you on the straight and narrow fellow sober warriors during this trickiest of times.  I’ll be here so reach out if you need support.

Friday Sober Inspiration: Is there a formula for happiness? (Come As You Are)

TheHappinessEquationI read this article a few weeks ago because of the subject but also because one of the writers is an old friend of ours who we’ve lost contact with.  It was lovely to connect with her again through reading her words.  Plus the first contributor is also in recovery so it felt doubly apt to share it here.  It was in The Telegraph and looking at whether there is a formula for happiness.

A new publication, The Book of Joy, written by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has sparked debate over their theory that joy can be achieved by embracing “eight pillars of joy” – these being perspective, humility, humour, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.

Here, four writers discuss their own rules for happiness.

‘I found happiness when… I learnt to be unhappy’

Bryony Gordon, 36

A friend of mine in recovery once said to me that to be truly happy you had to hit rock bottom. I didn’t really understand what she meant.

Perhaps that’s because I was drunk or high at the time – it was many years ago, when I would self-medicate my obsessive compulsive disorder through alcohol and cocaine, and everyone wanted to be my friend ‘because you’re so fun!’.

I thought fun equated to being happy. I was wrong. It’s only after five or six breakdowns (I lose count) that I have realised that the real key to happiness is to embrace unhappiness – to allow yourself to go to that rock bottom my friend mentioned without trying to shoo it away.

You don’t take your unhappiness and try to water it down with five pints of strong continental lager. You don’t run away from your unhappiness towards the nearest drug dealer.

You sit with your unhappiness, no matter how much of an arsehole you think it is. You talk to your unhappiness, however creepy it makes you feel. Maybe only for an hour each week, with a therapist there, but you talk to it all the same.

Try to at least make an acquaintance of it. Get to know it. Attempt to work it out, so it doesn’t keep getting the better of you. I did this last year when I wrote a book about my mental health, Mad Girl.

It made me very unhappy. Depressed even. Sitting with your unhappiness day in, day out is difficult, like scratching away at a scab. 

Even when the book came out at the beginning of the summer, I had not learnt properly how to deal with it. How to cope with it. But being able to cope with unhappiness is, I realise, all that happiness really is. It is nothing more complicated than that.

To find yourself in a real bind, wondering how you might get out of it, and to realise that you do not have to. You can just ‘be’ and not beat yourself up for just being.

And one day you catch yourself, maybe when you are having lunch with your family or watching someone you love run free across a park, and you get a pang of a memory of the misery you once used to feel all the time. You don’t freeze. You don’t panic. You say, ‘Hello unhappiness, my old friend. How are you?’

Then you smile, and you get on with your day. 

The other contributors are:

  • Elizabeth Day
  • Kerry Potter 🙂
  • Laura Powell

I particularly liked the last box:

It’s okay to embrace your darker side

Learning to cope with emotional states such as anger, envy and boredom can boost happiness, according to Dr Tim Lomas, psychologist and author of a new book, The Positive Power of Negative Emotions. He argues that allowing yourself to feel darker sensations boosts those feelings of joy and elation and can spark them too.

“Often people will think that if they feel pessimistic then something must be wrong with them and they shouldn’t be feeling like that, but negative feelings can send a useful message,” he says. “For example, if you feel lazy it might be more pleasurable to stay at home, but if you go for a run, in the long-term your wellbeing will be better served.”

Dr Lomas says the same is true for more complex emotions. “Take guilt: it can be unwarranted, but it also tells us important information about ourselves, ways we have gone wrong in the past, and make us be better people in the future.” Accepting negative emotions can make you more appreciative of positive experiences.

And in that spirit only Nirvana fits 😉

 

Watch what they do, not what they say

minimum-unit-pricingSo only a week ago I was so happy to watch and celebrate the success of the Scottish courts regarding minimum unit pricing with the caveat that the date by which an appeal could be launched had not yet passed so that I was holding my breath.  I was hopeful yet cynical that this was a success that would be honoured and hold – but no.  Today I read with dismay that sure enough the Scottish Whisky Association will be appealing the decision AGAIN 🙁

Over to Alcohol Policy UK’s coverage:

Further minimum pricing delay as SWA appeal again

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) have confirmed they will appeal the recent decision by the Scottish Courts that minimum unit pricing (MUP) was legal and proportionate. The appeal was announced on the final day of the deadline, ignoring calls from health groups and the Scottish Government for the industry to accept the decision.

The latest announcement brings renewed uncertainty over when MUP will be implemented, but arguably less so as to whether it eventually will be. A common interpretation amongst MUP supporters is all the opposing arguments have been addressed and as such the further appeal simply amounts to ‘delaying tactics’. The Scottish Government first passed legislation to implement MUP in 2012 but have been forced through various legal hurdles primarily as a result of opposition claims that it contravened EU law. However the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled it was for the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session to decide on MUP who decided it was proportionate and justifiable on health grounds.

The decision on the grant of permission to appeal will be judged by the Inner House of the Court of Session who will decide if they are satisfied that the appeal ‘raises an arguable point of law of general public importance’. If they consider it does, the appeal will go to the UK Supreme Court for consideration. Perhaps more likely, the Inner House may deny permission and the SWA can then apply for permission directly to the Supreme Court who will also consider if the appeal stated raises an issue of ‘general public importance’. If they decide not, the case will be concluded and Scotland will have no legal bar to implementation.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, Scotch Whisky Association acting chief executive, said the decision came “after wide consultation with our member companies” but were appealing given their “strong view that minimum pricing is incompatible with EU law and likely to be ineffective”.

Alison Douglas of Alcohol Focus Scotland said the SWA was “ignoring both the will of the Scottish Parliament and the court’s decision”. She also said “SWA members like Diageo and Pernod Ricard continue to put their shareholders’ profits above the public interest” and were “borrowing from the tactics of the tobacco companies in delaying this live-saving measure”.

Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said the SWA’s decision “beggars belief” adding:

“They know that they will not win this case in London. Everyone knows that. Meanwhile 22 people die every week. One can only assume that their accountants have calculated that delaying the implementation of MUP will prolong, albeit for a short period, their profit-making from cheap booze, which damages the poor most of all.”

The Daily Record also strongly criticised the decision, stating the SWA ‘are the puppets of the powerful international drinks industry and their concerns about the health of the country are unconvincing’ and that MUP ‘would not affect the image of the prestigious malt brands that the SWA purport to defend. But it would hit sales of the low-cost white spirits that the same companies produce and which fuel the chaotically bad health outcomes for Scotland.’

See also:

  • Scotch whisky body accused of arrogance over minimum pricing – The Guardian
  • SWA poised for one last round in MUP legal battle – Scottish Licensed Trade News
  • Whisky group takes fight over minimum alcohol pricing to Supreme Court – The Telegraph
  • Bid to appeal against minimum alcohol pricing to Supreme Court – The BBC
  • Scottish whisky industry to appeal minimum alcohol pricing in UK Supreme Court – Drink Business Review

Beggars belief indeed but sadly actions speak louder than words and yes the drinks industry shareholder profits appear to be more important than the health of the Scottish public …….

Making a difference to the child of an alcoholic

nacoa-webWhile the battle about Minimum Unit Pricing rages on this for me is the most important progress being made.  As Liam Byrne promised the Government now wants to “put every child of an alcoholic drinker in contact with help that would make a difference.”

As the Institute of Alcohol Studies reported in September: the National Association for Children Of Alcoholics (NACOA) held their first All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Children of Alcoholics.

Who are NACOA?

Nacoa (The National Association for Children of Alcoholics) is a charity founded in 1990 to address the needs of children growing up in families where one or both parents suffer from alcoholism or a similar addictive problem. We provide a a free and confidential telephone and email helpline that is open to people of all ages, from all walks of life, to offer support and advice to anybody affected. Professionals or concerned others can contact us for information, advice and support. Soon, we will also host an online message board service, where users may record their thoughts and share experiences online. Nacoa aims to promote research into the problems children of alcohol dependent parents face and the prevention of alcoholism developing in this vulnerable group. It is exciting therefore to be connected with the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) as part of the government’s new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Children of Alcoholics, which wants to put every child of an alcoholic drinker in contact with help that would make a difference.

The problem?

As the IAS report Alcohol’s harm to others shows, prevalence of alcohol harm on others in the UK is high, and younger people are more likely to report having experienced a number of harms than older age groups. Research suggests that approximately 1 in 5 children in the UK are living in a household where one or both parents drink hazardously (Manning et al., 2009). Nacoa’s survey of over 4,000 respondents also found that those identifying as children of alcoholics, when compared to a control group, were six times more likely to witness domestic violence, five times more likely to develop an eating problem, three times more likely to consider suicide, and four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol themselves.

How do we help?

Since 1990, staff and volunteers have seen profound changes to the way that children of parents with alcohol problems are discussed in the public domain. As well as providing a national service, Nacoa aims to break down social taboos and afford young people the agency to address their problems rather than hiding away. While alcohol problems are often associated with deprivation, Nacoa also hears from young people suffering in families who, to the outside world, seem functional and successful. These individuals can feel stranded between maintaining the family secret and seeking help for themselves. In these cases, more often than not, young people fall between services and feel totally isolated. Nacoa’s helpline offers the opportunity to discuss problems confidentially with trained helpline counsellors and make plans for a better future. Our nationwide service delivers help to those suffering in silence to all corners of the UK. Through our campaigns with prominent patrons – such as Calum Best, Elle Macpherson and Liam Byrne MP – we aim to share stories, break down stigma, and let people know they are not alone.

NACOA and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics

From September 2016, Nacoa is hoping to use its breadth of experience to influence major policy change in the UK through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics. Since the APPG’s inception, Nacoa has worked hard to encourage people in the public eye to take part as well as facilitating case studies for press and media to change how parental alcoholism is addressed at a national level.

The Group’s first meeting took place on the 15th September at the House of Commons, and the committee heard evidence from IAS, Nacoa patrons – Calum Best, Lauren Booth and Nacoa supporter Kim Woodburn – as well as other charities and research specialists. Nacoa’s Chief Executive and co-founder, Hilary Henriques MBE, presented to the committee and argued that government could and should do more to provide vital lifelines direct to children who may feel scared to speak out and compelled to ‘keep the family secret’. While locally provisioned adult treatment services and support are in need of reform and further assistance, services also need to be provided directly to young people in their own right. On the ITV Good Morning sofa, Liam Byrne said that he hopes this parliamentary attention ‘sends a message out to the 1 in 5 children who are children of alcoholics that says this is not your fault, you are not alone, and there is help available to you, like the brilliant Nacoa helpline.’

Call for evidence

To provide evidence to the APPG from your personal or professional experience, visit: liambyrne.co.uk/coa/. Together, we will be able to reach out to the 2.6 million children living in the UK with a parent who drinks too much and let them know that they are not alone and Nacoa is here to help. Our helpline number is 0800 358 3456 and email is helpline@nacoa.org.uk. You can find further information and research on our website nacoa.org.uk. For regular updates please follow @NacoaUK and like us on Facebook.

This was picked up by The Mirror newspaper:

The Mirror reported shock as 2.6m British children with alcoholic parents are left with ‘no hope and no help from authorities’, as MP Liam Byrne seeks to raise the profile of the harm to children from parental alcohol abuse | Alcohol Policy, UK

This truly swells my heart that the Govt is now seeking to make a difference for this silent and truly vulnerable group.  Now we need to extend that support to include offering restorative therapeutic relationships for these young people 😉

Edited to add: a new resource to add to my list is the blog coa is a thing and this is just one of their many brilliant blog posts:

7 myths about alcoholism, through a child of an alcoholic’s eyes. 

Shoot the Damn Dog

shoot-the-damn-dogBack in June I blogged about the sad death of Sally Brampton and at the time added her book to my reading wish list.  ‘Shoot the damn dog‘ finally arrived from the library and oh my goodness what a beautiful book.  It should be mandatory reading for each and every one of us depressed, drinker or otherwise.

She was the most eloquent of writers and this book is poignant, honest, heartbreaking and brave.  She does for depression what we try to do out here about booze – tell our story in the hope that it helps someone else who recognises themselves in our words.  I saw myself in Sally’s experience and I could quote huge swathes of this book exclaiming ‘me too!’

I shall desist apart from to share brief excerpts as to why she wrote the book, her experience with booze and therapy.

So why am I writing this book?  I’m writing it because although I dislike the confessional, I was (and continue to be) so repulsed by the stigma around depression that I determined I must stand up and be counted, not hide away in shame. …… I wish I could say it was bravery that drove me to pin myself like a butterfly to the pages of a national newspaper, but it was actually anger.  I admit that my anger took me by surprise.  But then, so did depression.  I had never thought about its implications, or its consequences.  The more I inhabited it, the more I came to see the fear and shame surrounding it.  The more depressives I met, the more I came to understand  that we are not simply fighting an illness, but the attitudes that surround it.”  Replace the word depression with alcoholism and all of that could have been said by me, here.  I share her anger at how those of us who become alcohol dependent can at times feel stigmatised and ashamed.

I am drunk, I think, because I learned to use alcohol to try to crush my pain…… I learned that alcohol is the best anaesthetic in the world.  If I drank, I did not feel……. And I knew, in that part of my brain that was still robustly sane, that alcohol would not free me from the pain, except temporarily.  I knew that alcohol was a depressive, that I was taking an anti-depressive pill with one hand and a bottled depressive with the other.  And I also knew that I was trying to kill myself.  Alcoholism is a slow, ugly form of suicide.

As my shrink explained, ‘ You have to find your way into alcoholism which means drinking sufficient amounts to develop a dependency.  Why you do that is open to interpretation.  But once you have developed a dependency, you have an addiction not only to alcohol but also to a pattern of behaviour.  The only way out of addiction is to stop the substance abuse, and to learn new ways of behaviour.’  Shrinks call depressive drinking, ‘self-medication’.  I could stop for a day, a week or a month.  I could stop drinking for 3 months or even six.  Stopping is easy.  Staying stopped is overwhelmingly difficult if you are drinking to stop pain.”

Every addiction is a manifestation of emotional distress.  Nobody becomes an alcoholic or a binge eater because they love alcohol or food, they simply use excess alcohol or food to dull the pain that they are unable to express in words.  Most of this, of course, is unconscious.  If I am in emotional pain, my instinct is to take it away.  My way of doing that is to drink, as I have learned that it relieves (if only temporarily) my pain.  I have learned a disorderly habit of behaviour, that, once learned, is difficult to dismantle.  It is a condition, an emotional illness or a behavioural disorder.  It is, if you like, an inappropriate response to difficulty or pain.  It is the messenger, not the message.  Now that I am well again, perhaps I could drink again.  It is simply a risk that I am not prepared to take.

Yes to all of the above.

Looking at our own selves is horribly difficult to do, requiring a level of honesty and humility that can at times feel unbearable.  Few people are prepared to engage with it fully but without it, I truly believe that we cannot be happy…..  Therapy helped, but it is not magic.  It does not change our thoughts and behaviours.  It only teaches us what they might be.  It does not work unless we take from it what we have learned and put it into action.  So it is not, as so many people seem to think, a piece of indulgent navel gazing.  Nor is it about blaming the parents.  It is, I’d say, quite the opposite.  It is about understanding and accepting our parents.

There is a saying, ‘it’s never too late to have a happy childhood‘.  I’d rephrase that.  I’d say, it’s never too late to stop a difficult childhood from turning us into unhappy adults.  A difficult childhood may have set up a series of behaviours and responses that leads us to repeat those same patterns in our adult lives.  That does not mean that we have to continue those patterns.

I was given a birthday card with those exact words on during the first years of my recovery not just by one person but two – MrHOF and my sister.  The identical card by two different people, who are both very close to me and know me very well, on the same birthday!  It is on the wall above my desk …..

There is so much wisdom in this book I really do urge you to go read it in it’s entirety .