Monthly Archives: May 2014

Drinking Catastrophes

Ooh this one was a biggie for me.  Catastrophising.  I had an old nursing colleague who said that I could take one problem and split that into ten and then split each of those ten into another ten until I had a pyramid of problems, worries and anxieties.  Maybe being a nurse doesn’t help as during your career you get to see the worst possible things happen and you just end up with a jaded view.  Who knows.

But I can magnify a problem like a pro.  Exaggeration? No, just disaster/risk management in my book 😉  But the thing about this line of thinking is that if you see the problem as SO big it becomes unmanageable; the ‘you can’t eat an elephant in one bite’ approach as Belle would say.  You’re also minimising and underestimating your ability to deal with it, like you are looking down a telescope from the wrong end.  So I end up paralysed, in analysis paralysis.

Here’s some catastrophising: I must be an alcoholic, and most alcoholics relapse and can’t quit and keep drinking and ruin their lives.

And here’s some minimising: Sobriety is just beyond me, I have no willpower, I’m just a pretty crap person (Almost Alcohol)

So what to do?

  • When things do go wrong I try to avoid turning a small problem into a disaster.  Mountains out of molehills anyone?
  • I search for the evidence.  How bad is it really?
  • I assess my ability to manage it.  Am I really not able to manage it?
  • I make a list of things I could try to do
  • If all else fails I call in the professionals

the professionals

Sorry not trying to make light – I couldn’t help myself 😀

So this one has taken some major work on my part.  How do you catastrophise around your drinking thinking?

 

 

 

 

Overgeneralisation and Drinking

This is similar in some ways to ‘black and white thinking’.  Overgeneralisation is where we use an experience in one part of our life to influence other parts of it.  A negative example would be the ‘I never get anything right’ kind of thinking where a single negative event is seen as a never-ending pattern of defeat..  A positive example would be ‘everyone drinks like me’ which may be true, as for me personally, most of my friends and family did drink like me – apart from the pre and post event hidden drinking at home, ‘livener’ and ‘night cap’ anyone? 😉

It is a cognitive bias and a logical fallacy but that doesn’t stop me using it to support a line of thinking whether positive or negative.  Who says our brains are rational and logical?

Just because we fail at one thing does not mean that we will fail at everything and transposing negative feelings from one experience to another can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I’d relapsed on my drinking yesterday, smoked, eaten crap and not run I’d have been wallowing in overgeneralisations a bit like this I’m just going to have a crappy life, I’ll be one of those people who disappoint their families, I’ll always regret never making anything of myself. Poor me. Thanks Almost Alcohol 🙂

So how am I working on this line of faulty thinking:

  • Again I look for evidence to support this view.  Does everyone drink like me? Do I never get anything right?
  • I don’t pretend there isn’t a problem.
  • But I am learning to recognise that there is no value in generalising my unhappiness from one situation to the rest of my life.
  • I try to distinguish between things which genuinely are ‘bad’ or unpleasant from other areas of my life that are not and that I am viewing under the same black cloud.

It is a much happier way to be 🙂  How bout you?  What overgeneralisations related to your drinking would you be happy to share?

 

 

Black and White Thinking and Booze

This type of thinking is typified by what I would call, and recognise in myself, as ‘all or nothing’ thinking.  So if I relapse then I’m not just going to have one glass I’m going to get completely smashed.  There is no point relapsing otherwise right?  And if I’m going to relapse on drinking I may as well smoke and eat garbage all the next day and blow off my run.  As Almost Alcohol described it it’s ‘when we finally stop moderating and swan dive down to the rocky, dark, terrifying bottom‘.  No middle ground or grey area.  Success or failure, win or lose, good or bad.

It is related to the common psychological defence mechanism, called ‘splitting‘ which is the error in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.  It is also known as a ‘false dilemma’ and the fallacy is the opposite, unsurprisingly, of the argument to moderation.  Uh oh.  Sounds familiar.

So back to the brilliant passage of Almost Alcohol’s, which you can read in it’s entirety here, these are the lines that resonated with me: I’m a fuck up. I can’t get out of this. I can’t quit.  For me that is at the heart of my all or nothing thinking ‘I’m a f*ck up’.

So how am I working on this thinking error?

By checking the truth of it and challenging myself:

  • What is the evidence for this thought, for saying that I am a f*ck up?
  • It may be true that sometimes I may do things that I regret, and that I could improve the ways I do things
  • However although I feel I have f*cked up – does that make me a f*ck up? NO.
  • I remind myself that reality is made up of many shades of grey (hello, a well known book just popped into my head!)
  • I am not all good or all bad, all right or all wrong
  • There is no black and white.

Does this type of thinking resonate with you too?  What other examples of black and white thinking around booze do you have that you are happy to share, anonymously or otherwise? 🙂

Drinking Thinking Errors

As you know I started some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to look at my thinking around drinking.  Having done a couple of sessions I quickly began to realise that, actually, my drinking was a symptom of a much more complex issue than my inability at times to control how much I drink. Shit, this was not what I thought it would be.

In one of the early sessions we looked at some of the thinking errors that can occur that can keep us trapped in negative thought patterns.  These negative thinking patterns simply convince our mind that what we see is true when it is not.  These cognitive distortions are “maladaptive” and CBT replaces these “coping skills, cognitions, emotions and behaviors with more adaptive ones by challenging an individual’s way of thinking and the way that he/she reacts to certain habits or behaviors” (source)

So the main thinking errors are:

  • Black and white thinking
  • Over-generalising
  • Catastrophising
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Mental filter
  • Discounting the positive
  • Should’s and musts
  • Labelling
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Personalisation

Now I recently read this brilliant post by Almost Alcohol and with her permission I am reproducing this particular paragraph here because she has completely nailed my thoughts around drinking and I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Why is it here? Because it beautifully illustrates some of the thinking errors that I display and that she expressed on my behalf 😉

Shit. I’m pretty drunk. Shit. This wasn’t what I wanted to happen. Maybe I can’t drink normally. Maybe I’m really an alcoholic. Look at how I drink. Obviously I’m an alcoholic. I can’t even quit when I try really hard. I fucking relapsed. I’m a fuck up. I can’t get out of this. I can’t quit. I always thought I could quit when I finally decided to and I can’t. I must be an alcoholic, and most alcoholics relapse and can’t quit and keep drinking and ruin their lives. I’m just going to have a crappy life, I’ll be one of those people who disappoint their families, I’ll always regret never making anything of myself. Poor me. I didn’t mean to be an alcoholic but it’s too late, I guess. Life didn’t turn out like I thought it would. Sobriety is just beyond me, I have no willpower, I’m just a pretty crap person. I might as well learn to live with that. Fuck it. Lots of people are crappy. We all grow up and learn the truth, that we are just not that great. So I drink. So I’m a drinker. What the fuck ever. I wish I weren’t, but also I wish I were thin and dynamic and good at crafts and successful and I’m not. We can’t all be perfect. I’ll just accept that my life isn’t great. At least then I can drink, which gives me something to look forward to when I’m bored and depressed.

Over the next 10 posts I’m going to address each of those thinking errors listed above and we’ll play a bit of buzzword bingo and see if we can spot them in the paragraph above.

Starter for 10? 🙂

Our body speaks our mind

I read this excellent book last year by Caroline Myss called ‘Anatomy of the Spirit’ and it is about the power of the mind and how bodily ailments, aches and pains can be signs of unresolved psychological issues.  What you don’t express, or suppress, will find a way of expressing itself and you will leak psychological distress and it will manifest physically.  This is sometimes referred to as psychosomatic illnesses which can be as real and debilitating as any other physical ailment so should not be dismissed lightly.

For me I had a whole host of symptoms that were associated with anxiety and depression for example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  But when you are actively drinking or hungover it is really hard to get past the initial symptoms of a hangover to be aware of anything else.  It just took up too much time and space!  And because drinking made my anxiety and depression worse I couldn’t see that booze was part of the problem and just assumed it was a flair up in the underlying physical disorder nothing else!  Now I’ve stopped drinking my IBS has pretty much gone completely 🙂

As a nurse I was also plagued by back injuries.  An old injury sustained as a student nurse repeatedly came back to haunt me and I would end up off work for spells while the osteopath and rest allowed it to heal.  Now I’ve stopped I’ve noticed the weirdest thing.  I will feel my back start to go and if I stop and pause it won’t go completely.  This has never happened to me before and was really quite odd at first.

So I’ve been trying to interpret what my body was trying to tell me, with a little help from a friend 🙂  I thought it was trying to say I was ‘spineless’ or ‘had no backbone’ for the challenge of stopping drinking but my friend suggested an alternative view.  She said that maybe it was telling me to slow down as previously I hadn’t listened to it and so it had just gone with no warning whereas now I was getting warnings and if I heeded them the total stopping because of injury was avoided.

I’ve recently needed some more osteopathy to sort it out and when the practitioner assessed me initially he said that my spine was out of alignment in four different places.  I had literally ‘bent myself out of shape’ trying to manage my back problem because if you throw it out in one direction at your hips it will naturally try to compensate by throwing it out in the other direction further up and that’s what mine had done several times over.

Our body is such a beautiful, clever, robust but delicate thing and I abused mine so badly when I was drinking paying no heed to the warnings it was trying to tell me and trying to contort myself and my situations to keep drinking.  Now I listen more closely and have given up the contortionism (is that even a word?) 😉

What have you noticed since you stopped?

Raising the bar on life

So this week-end has really shaken things up for me.  My running buddy was the first person I told I was going to give up drinking the week-end before I did and this was our first time together again since that day.  Not only that but it was a week-end of more firsts – first hotel, first organised run event, first meal out with friend, all sober.

Don’t get me wrong it was a huge success and I feel so proud of myself but that in itself has created a bit of a problem.  See when you start to do well in some aspects of your life you, or I at least, start to question other elements of it that are less rosy.  It’s like you raise the bar on life.

See before if I wasn’t particularly happy about something that was happening, or I had to do, I would drink, smoke and moan to a friend.  You know ‘poor me, poor me, pour me another one’.  But 2/3rd’s of that coping strategy is no longer available to me and so I find myself in a bit of a conniption (I love that word and just had to use it!)

I used to be a happy little wage slave and the private and public corporations could do their worst and I would drink.  Annoying person in the office?  Have a drink when you get home.  Dull and boring task?  Reward yourself later.  So I am struggling with the whole happy in my work day existence and the fabulous week-end just drew attention to that fact.  I love my job, I just hate the office politics and am not very good at playing the game or keeping my mouth shut – can you tell? 😉

What I’m struggling with is do I trust myself and my emotions in these early days?  It feels like a real issue but I can’t work out if it’s a ruse to destabilise things and make drinking more likely or if I genuinely am just not happy with the status quo in a way that I used to be before.  Maybe I’ve always been less than happy with things and I just need to let it go.  I really don’t know and it is giving me angst.

If there are any wise words that you can offer I’d much appreciate it.  Answers on a postcard please, or in the comments section below 🙂

 

Britain Over The Limit

Saw this news piece from Channel 5 and thought I would share it here:

Britain Over the Limit: Would you drink a bottle that comes with a graphic health warning?

Interesting news piece: £800 million a year  is spent on advertising by the big drinks companies within the UK!!  The man from Diageo, the largest spirits manufacturers, pushes it back to personal responsibility as ‘demonising the product to everybody is not the solution’.

OK fair enough, then you won’t mind us sticking a picture of a cirrhotic liver on the side of a bottle of wine or spirits then.  How do people take personal responsibility unless they have all the facts?  In the medical world it’s called ‘informed consent’.

A poll carried out by Channel 5 found that 60% of those canvased thought it was a good idea.  So if minimum pricing is off the table may we suggest this as an alternative then?

Would it have made/make a difference to your drinking if alcohol carried health warnings like cigarettes?  What do you say? 🙂

Finding freedom in facing pain

There is just so much good stuff out here on the interweb, sometimes it takes my breath away (cue images of Top Gun in my head!)

I saw this and just had to share:

I love her 5 action steps for freedom and couldn’t agree more.

  1. Admit you have a problem
  2. Reach out to others
  3. Have the willingness to recognise the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are preventing you from reaching your full potential
  4. Be fearless in seeking solutions
  5. Be courageous in sharing your journey with others

2 and 5 speak so much about the sober blogging community.  And for me 3 and 4 are wrapped up in my ongoing CBT work, which I will blog about in the next couple of weeks.

If you are reading this and would like to reach out and haven’t before then please say hi.  I’d be so honoured 🙂

 

Alcohol killed 3.3 million in 2012

This was a news piece on Reuters yesterday (source)

More than 3 million people died from using alcohol in 2012, for reasons ranging from cancer to violence, the World Health Organisation said on Monday, as it called on governments to do more to limit the damage.

“More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” said Oleg Chestnov, a WHO expert on chronic disease and mental health.

He added there was “no room for complacency”, warning that drinking too much kills more men then women, raises people’s risk of developing more than 200 diseases, and killed 3.3 million people in 2012.

On average, according to the WHO report, every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 liters of pure alcohol per year. But less than half the population – 38.3 percent – drinks, so those who do drink on average 17 liters of pure alcohol a year.

It found that some countries are already strengthening measures to protect people from harmful drinking. Those include increasing taxes on alcohol, limiting its availability by raising age limits and regulating marketing.

More countries should take similar action, WHO said. More also needed to be done to raise awareness of the damage alcohol can do to people’s health and screen for those who may need earlier intervention to cut down or stop.

This is where I start hopping up and down as a public health nurse!  We need to give people the facts about alcohol and we need to screen – as I suggested in my Guardian article (here).  If people don’t know then they can’t change should they wish too.  There has been  extensive research and evidence to support and show that alcohol brief intervention can have a profound impact on someone’s drinking and can be delivered quickly.

Climbing off my soapbox now.  Is it just me that gets so bent out of shape about this?

 

 

 

Guest Post: Addiction and Employment

Today’s post comes courtesy of James White.  He is a content creator for 12 Keys Recovery in the US and enjoys helping people find freedom from their addictions.

Comparing Drug Addiction and Unemployment in the UK and US

Both the United States and United Kingdom have experienced a correlation between unemployment and drug addiction. Studies have found that unemployment increases the likelihood of one bingeing on drugs. Similarly, those who are currently employed are likelier to become unemployed if they are suffering from substance abuse.

When further investigating the link between unemployment and drug addiction, it’s worth considering several aspects of drug addiction and unemployment in the UK that are both similar and different to their US counterparts:

Late 20s and Early 30s Are At the Most Risk

Studies show that, in the UK, the mean age of those unemployed and suffering from drug addiction is 28 to 31. This makes sense because, by that age, one can attain long-term employment while living independently. That factor, combined with potential extra income at that age, make that age group particularly prone to correlated drug addiction and unemployment.

The Harder the Drug, the More Severe the Impact

UK studies have shown that the link between unemployment and “soft drugs” — such as cannabis and amphetamines — is not as substantial as the relationship between unemployment and “hard drugs” — like cocaine and opiates. Although hard drugs pose more of a risk for both self-harm and potential unemployment, it is apparent that all types of drugs can impact one’s employment negatively.

Addicts in the US and UK Share Several Tendencies

Both in the US and UK, unemployment increases a person’s likelihood to binge drink or have a tobacco/drug addiction. There is little difference between the drugs of choice in both countries; the differences primarily involve alcohol, as 18 is the legal drinking age in the UK, while 21 is the legal drinking age in the US. This has little bearing on unemployment-drug correlation statistics though, since employment at these ages is not significant regardless.

Also, in both the US and UK, cannabis is the most popular drug, with millions using it per year. Still, recent studies have suggested that cannabis use is declining in England and Wales. On the contrary, cannabis use appears to be increasing in the United States.

Drug Addiction Is a Barrier to Employment

Even after a drug addict recovers, they will likely find it difficult to find employment due to a criminal record or diminished physical/mental health. Since many drug addicts deplete their funds to support their habit, it will also be difficult to afford aspects like transportation or housing that can aid in a job search.

These difficulties exist in both the US and UK. When one starts to become addicted to drugs, it’s highly recommended to seek treatment immediately. Long-term drug use can result in diminished health and/or criminal charges that can make it extremely difficult to find substantial employment.

Breaking the Cycle Is Universal

Although the US and UK differ in some drug tendencies, laws and treatment, the strategies for breaking the cycle of drug addiction remain the same. By educating people on the dangers of drugs and offering effective, accessible drug treatment programs, both the US and UK can decrease the amount of drug addicts, whose addiction can cost them employment, income and health.

Thanks James! 🙂  Plus when he first contacted me he shared this video too so I’m posting it up for you to enjoy also.

http://www.12keysrecovery.com/blog/unemployment-and-addiction-video/

Any thoughts?

PS I am aware that today was the day that Veronica Valli and I were due to share our first Skype conversation with you.  We recorded it and although the video quality was great, the audio was not and we aren’t happy publishing it until it’s right so we are tweaking the technology and will re-record again soon.  I guess that’s what happens sometimes when you are having a conversation and are 6000 miles apart!