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.  Erik Erikson argued that “shame is blame turned against the self” and Pete Walker writes that “shame is the death of self-acceptance and self-worth.”  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

A conversation with Jean: Interview on The Bubble Hour

So I have been a long time fan and follower of both Jean at Unpickled and The Bubble Hour.

For those who  haven’t yet discovered the wonderful resource that this is here is how they describe it:

The Bubble Hour is co-hosted by Ellie S., Amanda F., Catherine M. and Jean M. – sober women who are dedicated to breaking down the walls of stigma and denial surrounding the disease of alcoholism. Alcoholism effects more than 50% of American adults, either directly or indirectly, and yet it still remains a “taboo” topic and is still mostly misunderstood by the majority of people (even those effected by alcoholism and their loved ones). The Bubble Hour seeks to inform, educate and help people identify with the stories they hear, the conversations and interviews with people who are just like they are, and let people know they aren’t alone. Nobody can take the first tentative steps towards sobriety without first getting past denial, but even once they are past denial the stigma surrounding alcoholism is so strong that people are reluctant to seek help. The Bubble Hour would like to change that stigma. Our Co-Hosts, and the vibrant community of sober people they know, will be recording and downloading this show for anyone to listen to for information, community, empathy and understanding. We are so grateful for the sober people who came before them to help them find this path; this is one way they feel they can give back. Please help us spread the word about this website and the pod casts; you may be helping someone you know well but don’t even know they have a problem. Alcoholism thrives in the dark. Together, we bring light. And hope.

They have interviewed and recorded over 200 episodes that you can find on iTunes or BlogTalkRadio.

So how excited was I to be interviewed for their 202 episode!  We had a wonderful conversation and it felt like two old friends catching up.  As I say in the discussion Jean was one of the first sober blogs I discovered in my very early days and I am so grateful to her for leading the way for me 🙂

If you want to hear me talk about my drinking (we lived in France for 6 months not 1 year – nervous brain fart moment!), my recovery and all the things I’ve been up to since I stopped 1214 days ago you can do so here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2017/01/17/a-hangover-free-life-author-louise-rowlinson

Supplementary links to the discussion should you be interested to read further:

The Conscious Parent is written by Dr Shefali Tsabary, Clinical Psychologist.

Attachment theory where I talked about secure and insecure attachment and omitted a very important word in the insecure categories! I should have said insecure anxious-avoidant and insecure anxious-ambivalent.

Alexithymia which I described as emotional constipation!

The groundbreaking work of Dr Dickon Bevington and team: Adolescent Mentalization Based Integrative Therapy (AMBIT)

Thank you so much Jean for hosting me and I hope you enjoy listening in 🙂

Guest Post: Finding the Link Between Substance Abuse and Schizophrenia

pt_figure_dopamine-pathways-in-schizophrenia_53127-pngI was contacted on email by Justin in November who said; “I am a recovering addict and content writer interested in providing a guest post article.  In my path to recovery I’ve taken to writing content about addiction, recovery and substance abuse through my treatment program.”  Here’s what he wrote about substance abuse and schizophrenia:

New studies have found a link between substance abuse and schizophrenia.  While the relationship between mental health and substance abuse is an incredibly complex one, a group of Denmark researchers have determined that abuse of virtually every type of drug can contribute to mental deterioration and eventual, schizophrenia.

A common misconception about schizophrenia is that those afflicted have split personality disorder or multiple personalities.  However, this has been determined false, as most people suffering from schizophrenia are non violent and lead fairly normal lives, posing no immediate threat to others. Per the National Institute of Mental Health:

“Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling.”

Rather than split personality disorder, which is a separate diagnosis, those suffering from early onset schizophrenia can experience a decrease in mental processing, rational thinking and general mental well being.  Furthermore, in can take years for schizophrenia to fully develop and during this time, can manifest itself as more common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

So what environmental and societal factors can worsen these symptoms into full blown schizophrenia?

The new Denmark study has determined that substance abuse can not only trigger schizophrenia in people genetically at risk, but also increase the chances of developing schizophrenia by up to six times.

While the direct cause and effect relationship between substance abuse and schizophrenia is tremendously complex, the study found the following increases in risk:

  • Cannabis: 5.2 times
  • Alcohol: 3.4 times
  • Hallucinogenic drugs: 1.9 times
  • Sedatives: 1.7 times
  • Amphetamines: 1.24 times
  • Other substances: 2.8 times.

The study notes, while the effects are not often immediately noticed, symptoms of schizophrenia as it relates to drug abuse, often surface later in life: sometimes ten to fifteen years after the substance abuse diagnosis.

Mental health and substance abuse treatment centers often offer dual diagnosis programs for this exact reason, noting that symptoms of schizophrenia can be coupled with drug use.

A particularly worrisome finding of the study is the risk found with two of the most prevalent substances, marijuana and alcohol.  While marijuana is federally illegal, it is used medicinally and recreationally in many stages, including California.  A large factor in the correlation found between cannabis and schizophrenia is due to the fact that people can be exposed to it second hand.  That is to say, unlike most other substances (not smoked), marijuana can be introduced to people’s systems indirectly, simply by being in close proximity of someone that is using the drug.

Alcohol on the other hand, tops the list, as it’s the most socially acceptable and easily obtainable substance given it’s legal place in American media and culture.

While the newly discovered findings presented by the Denmark study do not provide us with a black and white relationship between schizophrenia and substance abuse, the evidence is undeniable: The prolonged abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol increases the risk of developing schizophrenic tendencies and symptoms later in life.

Article courtesy of the team at A New Start

Thank you Justin!

Friday Sober Jukebox – Ghosts in the Machine

ghosts-in-the-machineSo this feels like a timeless sober jukebox tune for a timeless post.  I’m actually writing this at the end of October 2016 because I have been struggling with some recurring demons – my ghosts in the machine as it were.

Coming from the family experience that I do I struggle with fear and anxiety pretty regularly and it settles for long periods of time and then flairs up again.  Invariably I think that I have more power than I do and that everything is my fault, everything will fall apart and it will all be my fault.  I listened to a Yoga Church podcast last night called ‘Step Out of Your Past and Into Your Now’ that got me thinking about this again as I struggle to get on top of another bout of raging anxiety and fear.

shadow-dancerMeadow and Laura McKowen were talking about the words that define their past and for me those two words, fear and anxiety, express it pretty succinctly.  They discussed coming up with an image that portrayed this and pretty similarly to Laura the one I landed on was shadow dancer.  I spent my entire life dancing to the tune of others to dodge the shadows of fear and anxiety – either my own or those of others around me.  No wonder I ended up in the bottom of a bottle!

This image and these words must then be honoured and let go in a ritual of some kind of your making.  To me it felt like I had to sit with them and not dance myself away from them and my shadow side.  To be honest the trigger events have prompted a great deal of soul searching and somatic discomfort so I feel like this has been part of the process and hence why it is time to move on from being stuck in these feelings.

explorerHaving created the image and words that defined the past the task was then to create ones to replace these for the future.  My brain was pretty fried by this point (or I was simply disassociating under the stress of it!) but with the help of MrHOF we came up with calm and fearless as the words and the image was explorer.

This image seemed fitting in terms of my internal exploring of more positive feelings and our external plans for travel as a family too 😉

This is an ongoing process and I continue to have waves of emotional upheaval but like the waves of craving to drink they come less often and are less intense and I see them build to crescendo and break now so I’m making progress.  I recommend you give it a try what with the heralding of a new year not that long ago.

And now to one of my favourite albums 🙂

Back to life, back to reality … Women closing the drinking gap on men

women-closing-the-drinking-gap-on-menIt’s the end of the Christmas and New Year break and most of us head back to work or school, hence the Soul II Soul lyrics in the blog post title.  And part of that reality is that women are closing the drinking gap on men as reported by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in October 2016.  Over to their analysis:

Trend most evident among young adults, international analysis shows (25 October)

Women are catching up with men in terms of their alcohol consumption and its impact on their health, finds an analysis of the available international evidence, spanning over a century and published in the online journal BMJ Open.

This trend is most evident among young adults, the findings show. Historically, men have been far more likely than women to drink alcohol and to drink it in quantities that damage their health, with some figures suggesting up to a 12-fold difference between the sexes. But now evidence is beginning to emerge that suggests this gap is narrowing.

In a bid to quantify this trend over time, a research team pooled the data from 68 relevant international studies published between 1980 and 2014. The studies calculated male-to-female ratios for 3 broad categories of alcohol use and harms (any alcohol use, problematic alcohol use and alcohol-related harms) stratified by 5-year birth cohorts ranging from 1891 to 2001, generating 1,568 sex ratios (see above data table).

Sixteen of the studies spanned 20 or more years; five spanned 30 or more. All the studies included explicit regional or national comparisons of men’s and women’s drinking patterns across at least two time periods.

Results:

The pooled data showed that the gap between the sexes consistently narrowed across all three categories of any use, problematic use, and associated harms over time.

Men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice (2.2) as likely as their female peers to drink alcohol; but this had almost reached parity among those born between 1991 and 2000 (1.1, illustrated). The same patterns were evident for problematic use, where the gender gap fell from 3 to 1.2, and for associated harms, where the gender gap fell from 3.6 to 1.3.

After taking account of potential mathematical bias in the calculations, the gender gap fell by 3.2% with each successive five-year period of births, but was steepest among those born from 1966 onwards.

Associated health harms fall disproportionately on female drinkers

The calculation used was not designed to address whether alcohol use is falling among men or rising among women, the researchers caution.

But among the 42 studies that reported some evidence for a convergence of drinking levels between the sexes, most (n = 31) indicated that this was driven by greater use of alcohol among women, and 5% of the sex ratios were under 1, suggesting that women born after 1981 may actually be drinking more than their male peers, the researchers claimed.

Conclusions

The researchers wrote: “Findings confirm the closing male–female gap in indicators of alcohol use and related harms. The closing male–female gap is most evident among young adults, highlighting the importance of prospectively tracking young male and female cohorts as they age into their 30s, 40s and beyond.”

While they did not set out to explain the reasons behind their observed findings, they emphasised that their results “have implications for the framing and targeting of alcohol use prevention and intervention programmes.”

They concluded: “Alcohol use and alcohol use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon. The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms.

“These findings (also) highlight the importance of further tracking young male and female cohorts as they age into their 30s, 40s and beyond”, they added.

Institute of Alcohol Studies director Katherine Brown said: “The findings from this study illustrate a trend that has been in the making for decades. Women are increasingly subjected to heavily targeted marketing practices by alcohol companies enticing them to drink more. This is a global phenomenon, with drinks manufacturers producing sweet, often pink, fizzy alcoholic beverages that appeal to young women, with glamorous advertising campaigns.

“Another major driver of alcohol consumption is price, with very cheap products commonly on sale for as little as 16 pence per unit in shops and supermarkets. We are no longer a nation of pub goers, with two-thirds of all UK alcohol drunk at home. Pre-loading on cheap shop bought alcohol before a night out is common practice and police have reported strong links to crime, disorder and vulnerable behaviour in towns and city centres.

“Alcohol places a huge strain on our NHS and emergency services, with the total costs to society at £21 billion each year. We need to take this issue seriously and introduce evidence-based measures such as minimum unit pricing and marketing restrictions in order to protect out future generations and improve the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable communities.”

Coverage from Alcohol Policy UK:

‘Women have caught up with men’ in alcohol consumption levels, headlines reported across the media. According to international research the gap between men and women is closing rapidly when it comes to use and alcohol-related harms, though in the UK men still drink more. See NHS behind the headlines analysis or BBC, The Sun and Guardian reports.

To act as a counter-balance to this view here is a recent article from the Guardian citing another BMJ study:

Female binge drinkers unfairly stigmatised by media, says study

It’s worth a read and has an interesting conclusion that begs the question: who is funding this research?

Further evidential data:

(taken from HSE 2015)

Health Survey for England 2015: latest consumption figures

Eight in 10 middle-aged Britons ‘are overweight or exercise too little’ (oh and drink too much!)

Ladies it’s the beginning of January and it’s not too late to join us for Dry January.  You can start the clock today and not become part of these statistics of the future.

Shame Backdraft

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So once again I’m listening to a Ruth Buczynski seminar about shame featuring Peter Levine, Ron Siegel, Kelly McGonigal and Bill O’Hanlon where I learn something new that feels very familiar.  It’s called ‘backdraft’ and is about the backlash that can happen when someone is feeling ashamed and is met by compassion.  It reminds me of that moment when I am close to tears and someone moves into hug me to which I respond “please don’t”.  It is almost a warning that you are in danger of killing me with kindness.  Sound familiar?

Over to the experts:

Most clinicians have witnessed how difficult memories resurface when a client feels truly seen, heard, and loved in therapy. A metaphor for this process is “backdraft.” Backdraft occurs when a firefighter opens a door with a hot fire behind it. Oxygen rushes in, causing a burst of flame. Similarly, when the door of the heart is opened with compassion, intense pain can sometimes be released. Unconditional love reveals the conditions under which we were unloved in the past. Therefore, some clients, especially those with a history of childhood abuse or neglect, are fearful of compassion (Gilbert et al., 2011).

It is related to trauma and the belief held by the person that they are undeserving of kindness but in fact it is more than that.  They are perhaps so unused to compassion that they find the experience unsafe, threatening and dangerous.

Childhood trauma survivors may also equate self-compassion with self-pity or self-centeredness. They may have been told as children to “get over yourself” when they suffered and complained. It is important to understand that by entering into our emotional pain with kindness, we are less likely to wallow in self-pity. The reason is that self-compassion recognizes the shared nature of human suffering and avoids egocentrism. Sometimes only a few minutes is all that is needed to validate our pain and disentangle ourselves from it.

Self-compassion is often confused with narcissistic self-love, although research indicates that there is no link between narcissism and self-compassion (Neff, 2003; Neff & Vonk, 2009).  Victims of childhood trauma often do not have enough narcissism, feeling that meeting their own basic survival needs is a forbidden indulgence. Anxiety may arise from the looming possibility of breaking an invisible bond with a primary caregiver who thought the child should suffer for his or her misdeeds or bad nature. Self-deprivation becomes “safety behaviour” (Gilbert & Proctor, 2006). It is a necessary compromise made by an abused child in order to survive, so the client becomes frightened, viscerally and unconsciously, when he or she breaks the contract. For this reason, sincere efforts by therapists to help abused or neglected clients may be met with resistance. These clients first need to contact their emotional pain, see how it originated through no fault of their own (“you’re not to blame!”), and then gradually bring the same tenderness to themselves that they are likely to give to other, vulnerable beings.

Three symptom clusters commonly found in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are (1) arousal, (2) avoidance, and (3) intrusions. Interestingly, these three categories closely correspond to the stress response (fight–flight–freeze) and to our reactions to internal stress (self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption) mentioned earlier (see below).

PTSD symptom Stress Response Reactions to internal stress
Arousal Fight Self-criticism
Avoidance Flight Self-isolation
Intrusion Freeze Self-absorption

Together they point toward self-compassion as a healthy, alternative response to trauma. Self kindness can have a calming effect on autonomic hyperarousal, common humanity is an antidote to hiding in shame, and balanced, mindful awareness allows us to disentangle ourselves from intrusive memories and feelings. Research shows that people who lack self-compassion are likely to have critical mothers, to come from dysfunctional families, and to display insecure attachment patterns (Neff & McGeehee, 2010; Wei, Liao, Ku, & Shaffer, 2011). Childhood emotional abuse is associated with lower self compassion, and individuals with low self-compassion experience more emotional distress and are more likely to abuse alcohol or make a serious suicide attempt (Tanaka, Wekerle, Schmuck, Paglia-Boak, & the MAP Research Team, 2011; Vettese, Dyer, Li, & Wekerle, 2011).

These quotes are taken from a chapter of a book by Christopher Germer & Kristen Neff that you can read here:

germer-neff_-trauma

I found an excellent blog post about it here:

Mindful self-compassion and backdraft

So there you have the connection between shame and booze once again.  Low self compassion, higher emotional distress and greater levels of self-medication with alcohol.

If you are unsure of how self-compassionate you are you can score yourself here:

Test how self-compassionate you are

Unsurprisingly my score was low to middling but not as low as it used to be when I was drinking!  So how do we work on improving our low self-compassion?

The response is to teach ourselves how to take a self-compassion break

If you start to do this even if you are still drinking, the shift in self-perception may be enough to get you started on thinking about cutting down or stopping.  Give it a try – what have you got to lose? 🙂

 

 

 

 

2017: Freedom & Liberation

Firstly Happy New Year to you from me! 🙂 What does one write about on the first day of a new year that holds so much promise and optimism?  I think the best place to start are with my words for 2017 which are freedom/liberation.  I think they stem from the discoveries I made as I approached 3 years sober.

Perhaps to appreciate my sense of freedom & liberation I have to revisit the life I left.  Once more Sally Brampton in ‘Shoot the Damn Dog‘ describes it more eloquently than I so I’m going to quote a passage from her book here.  The conversation between her and a friend could have been my ‘now sober self’ talking to my ‘old still-drinking self’ and so it feels really fitting for today and this post.

Suddenly she said, ‘Tell me about the drinking too much’.  I shrugged. ‘I drink too much, end of story’.  ‘Shall I tell you about my drinking? Would that help?’.  ‘If you like’.  I was awkward, unused to somebody being open about drinking.  I kept mine secret, even from my closest friends.  I liked to drink alone.  That way, I could drink as much as I liked.  That way, I was the only witness to my shame.  And I was ashamed.  Alcohol does that to you

Lulu said, ‘Every night, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink the next day and every morning, when I woke up, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink that day.  As I left the house to go to work, I promised myself, again, that I wouldn’t drink that day’….  I said nothing.  Those promises were familiar territory.  I had made them to myself, countless times. 

‘I’d get through the rest of the day somehow, but my mind was always fixed on alcohol.  Perhaps if I just had one drink, after that I stop completely.  Just one couldn’t hurt, could it?  Then I would decided that, no, I would be good.  I would go home, have a bath, make myself something nice to eat and have an early night so I’d be fresh for work the next day.  She looked at me, her eyes clear. ‘I knew that was what I was going to do.  But I still stopped at the off-licence and bought myself a bottle of wine and got straight into bed without washing or eating and I drank until I passed out.’  She grimaced at the memory.  ‘I don’t even like the taste of alcohol’.

Nor did I.  In fact, I’d come to hate it.  But I loved the effect, the way it stopped the pain, stopped me feeling.  She said, as if reading my mind, ‘I drank to change the way that I feel.’.  I wanted, right then, to change the way I felt, or how she was making me feel.  Even thinking about it made me want a drink.  What could be the harm in having one drink, to make me feel better? Perhaps she didn’t know what she was was talking about.  After all, it wasn’t as if she had been drinking that much.  I knew people who drank far more and they didn’t think they had a problem.  ‘It doesn’t sound too much’.

‘It’s not how much you drink.  It’s how you drink and why.’

‘I only drink because of the depression*.  If it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t drink, I laugh nervously.  ‘Or I wouldn’t drink so much’. [*You could change the word here to stress, anxiety, debt, work, family, children, boredom, need to get things done, all my friends do/partner does, insert your word(s) of choice].  ‘Seriously though, a drink doesn’t make it better.  It only makes it worse.  How much are you drinking?’  ‘A bottle of wine, perhaps two a day’.  ‘Can you stop?’  ‘Yes, no,’ I sighed.  ‘I don’t know …. No.  Well, I find it hard to stop.  But I’m not an alcoholic’.  Lulu’s smile curved.  ‘What’s an alcoholic?’  ‘Someone who sleeps on a park bench? Who passes out? Who gets violent? Who can’t hold down a job?’  Lulu’s smiled curved even higher.  ‘I am an alcoholic.’  I looked down at my hands.  Her voice was gentle.  ‘Sal, I know exactly how you feel.  I tried to do it on my own too, and it doesn’t work.  We need help.  We cannot do it on our own.’  ‘But you look so well, so happy.’  I shook my head.  ‘I don’t know.  Maybe I can stop on my own.  I’ve done it before’.

Lulu got up and hugged me.  ‘We’ve all done it before.  We’ve done it so many times we’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.  We all think we can do it on our own.  It’s just that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to be alone.’

I nodded.  For some reason, I wanted to cry. ‘OK’.

If this resonates for you too, know that you are not alone and if you are looking for freedom and liberation from booze you can always reach out and email me at ahangoverfreelife@gmail.com.  Or if you would like help to cut down or quit drinking I run an online course and you can use the link here to get a 25% discount 🙂  

If I can do it, you can do it …….

 

 

Friday Sober Inspiration: Stop Abandoning Yourself

chris-carr-stop-abandoning-yourselfThis is another excerpt from Sally Brampton’s ‘shoot the damn dog’ because her words are too powerful not to share.  This passage is about self-abandonment where she has a discussion with her therapist who explains that she needs to stop abandoning herself.

“‘Stop abandoning yourself’ a therapist, Elizabeth, once said to me.  ‘What?’ I didn’t understand.  She explained it like this: 

  • Every time you feel sad and swallow down your tears, you abandon yourself.
  • If someone hurts you and you pretend that you are fine, you abandon yourself.
  • Every time you don’t eat, or fail to feed yourself, you abandon yourself.
  • If you are tired, but refuse to rest, you abandon yourself.
  • If you drink too much and poison yourself with alcohol,  you abandon yourself.
  • If you don’t ask for what you need from someone with whom you are intimate, you abandon yourself.
  • If you don’t ask for help when you need it, you abandon yourself.

‘You suffer’ Elizabeth said, ‘from a failure of care’.  From who? ‘From yourself’, she says. And before that, from your parents.  They are the ones who should have taught you how to take care of yourself.

An inability to take care of oneself or soothe oneself is a sign of immaturity.  It is a failure of understanding, or of teaching.  If you are not taught as a child how to take care of yourself, you do not know as an adult.  The pattern becomes ingrained.  You are now an adult inhabited by a child.  The child pleads, the adult overrules.  You deny yourself proper care.

And so, as I understand it, I adjusted to constant loss as well as the inability to articulate any distress on, as one therapist described it, an ‘adapted’ level.  The term, ‘adapted child’ was originally used by Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis in the 1950’s.  Essentially it means the compliant, orderly side of us that hides anger, pleases others and generally acts the good boy or girl.  The more the behaviour is rewarded (and the more that any other behaviour is punished or, more usually, ignored) the more we adapt ourselves to keeping quiet and not making a fuss.  Put in another way, we adopt the position known in therapeutic terms as ‘abandonment or withdrawal’.

It is not, either, only the still, pale, silent child who has withdrawn.  Withdrawal takes place at a far deeper level and may be disguised by a bright, lively and social exterior – the sort of exterior that indicates compliance because compliance brings its own rewards.

A child who feels ignored or misunderstood turns that message against themselves.  It becomes, ‘I have no right to  feel the way that I do’.  And an analyst will, inevitably, take that to yet another level.  A child whose deeper feelings are constantly minimised, challenged or simply ignored, ends up believing, ‘I have no right to be the way that I am.  I reject myself’.”

We unconsciously reject ourselves so don’t even realise when we are then abandoning ourselves.  And booze is a really good salve for self-rejection.  No pain, no feeling right?  It also helps us play up to that bright, lively social exterior that hides our withdrawn inner self.  This could have been describing me.

Now you see why sober self-care is such a big deal out here in the recovery and sober blogging community.  Self care is the opposite of a failure of care.  Self-care is nurturing and restorative.  January is a good month to start non-alcohol focused self-care 🙂

Christmas Day Blues

So I listened to this last Saturday night – after a day of District Nursing and before going to a wedding reception.  I wanted to listen to it as the image (see left) and brief description called to me.  The podcast description said:

Laura McKowen and Meadow DeVor discuss the not-so-pretty side of the holiday season, the ghost-ships of Christmas Past, how to honor what you’re really feeling, and why we must invite grief into our holiday traditions.

For me it felt like listening in on two sober friends sharing through tears their experience of grief and how difficult this day and time of year can be.  The grief that we might feel for a sense of family present, lost or never had.  The grief for the drinking that we can no longer engage in when we feel like all around us are.  The grief for the loss of the ability to check out from difficult things that alcohol offered us, temporarily at least.  So many things –  which boils down to the death of the ideal.  Pre-meditated expectations and resentments writ large in my case.  It was an important discussion and I wanted to share it here today in case you are feeling this way.  I wrote about grief here.  You are not alone.

Have compassion for yourself today of all days.

If you are really struggling please reach out to someone.  I used to volunteer for the Samaritans and they will be manning the phones, texts and emails today just like every other day.  I shared their contact details here.