Category Archives: Psychological

Friday Sober Inspiration: Shame and The Squirrel Cage

So I’ve been reading John Bradshaw’s Healing The Shame That Binds You and oh my goodness when I read the section on Shame as The Core and Fuel of Addiction I almost fell off my chair!  It’s called The Squirrel Cage and is so reminiscent of this post I wrote it is spooky …..

I’m going to quote this section from his book but will share a series of Youtube video’s you can watch where he speaks about shame and this book’s premise.  There are 5 video’s in total and I’ll link the first one below.

Over to John:

Neurotic shame is the root and fuel of all compulsive/addictive behaviours.  My general working definition of compulsive/addictive behaviour is “a pathological relationship to any mood altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.”

The drivenness in any addiction is about the ruptured self, the belief that one is flawed as a person.  The content of the addiction, whether it be an ingestive addiction, or an activity addiction (such as work, shopping or gambling), is an attempt at an intimate relationship.  The workaholic with his work and the alcoholic with his booze are having a love affair.  Each one alters the mood in order to avoid the feeling of loneliness and hurt in the underbelly of shame.  Each addictive acting out creates life-damaging consequences that create more shame.  The new shame fuels the cycle of addiction.

The image at the top of the post is taken from Dr Pat Carne’s work, giving you a visual picture of how internalized shame fuels the addictive process and addictions create more shame, which sets one up to be more shame-based.  Addicts call this the squirrel cage.

I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking.  The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed.  Shame begets shame.

The cycle begins with the false belief system shared by all addicts: that no one could want them or love them as they are.  In fact, addicts can’t love themselves.  They are an object of scorn to themselves.  This deep internalized shame gives rise to distorted thinking.  The distorted thinking can be reduced to the belief, “I’ll be okay if I drink, eat, have sex, get more money, work harder, etc.”  The shame turns one into what Kellogg has termed a “human doing” rather than a human being.

Worth is measured on the outside, never on the inside.  The mental obsession about the specific addictive relationship is the first mood alteration, since thinking takes us out of our emotions.  After obsessing for a while, the second mood alteration occurs.  This is the “acting out” or ritual stage of the addiction.  The ritual may involve drinking with the boys, secretly eating in one’ s favourite hiding place or cruising for sex.  The ritual ends in drunkenness, satiation, orgasm, spending all the money or whatever.

What follows is shame over one’s behaviour and life-damaging consequences: the hangover, the infidelity, the demeaning sex, the empty pocketbook.  The meta-shame is a displacement of affect, a transforming of the shame of self into the shame of “acting out” and experiencing life-damaging consequences.  This meta-shame intensifies the shame-based identity: “I’m no good; there’s something wrong with me,” plays like a broken record.  The more it plays, the more one solidifies one’s false belief system.  The toxic shame fuels the addiction and regenerates itself …..

I would really recommend the book but if you’re a visual and auditory learner instead watch here:

Friday Sober Jukebox: I’m Free

So here I am once again reeling from insight after insight triggered happily by reading another Pete Walker book!  Finding that I’m free – or continuing to work myself free from old constraining ways of thinking around my shame from drinking and other perceived weaknesses which is often represented by the voice of our inner critic.  It’s just too good not to share and once again I strongly advise you to go read the whole book! 🙂

14 Common Inner Critic Attacks (He kindly provides a therapeutic thought-correction response with each attack/programme) and these are a great addition to my posts looking at Drinking Thinking errors.

  1. Perfectionism.  This is a self-persecutory myth.  I do not have to be perfect to be safe or loved in the present.  I am letting go of relationships that require perfection.  I have a right to make mistakes,  Mistakes do not make me a mistake.  Every mistake or mishap is an opportunity to practice loving myself in the places I have never been loved.
  2. All-Or-Nothing & Black-and-White Thinking. I reject extreme or over-generalized descriptions, judgements or criticisms.  One negative happenstance does not mean I am stuck in a never-ending pattern of defeat.  Statements that describe me as ‘always’ or ‘never’ this or that, are typically grossly inaccurate.
  3. Self-Hate, Self-Disgust & Toxic Shame. I commit to myself.  I am on my side.  I am a good enough person.  I refuse to trash myself.  I turn shame back into blame and disgust, and externalize it to anyone who shames my normal feelings and foibles.  As long as I am not hurting anyone, I refuse to be shamed for normal emotional responses like anger, sadness, fear and depression.  I especially refuse to attack myself for how hard it is to completely eliminate this self-hate habit.
  4. Micromanagement/Worrying/Obsessing/Looping/Over-Futurizing. I will not repetitively examine details over and over.  I will not jump to negative conclusions.  I will not endlessly second-guess myself.  I cannot change the past.  I forgive all my past mistakes.  I cannot make the future perfectly safe.  I will stop hunting for what could go wrong.  I will not try to control the uncontrollable.  I will not micromanage myself or others.  I work in a way that is ‘good enough’, and I accept the existential fact that my efforts sometimes bring the desired results and sometimes they do not.  A serenity prayer moment 😉
  5. Unfair/Devaluing Comparisons to others or to your most perfect moments. I refuse to compare myself unfavourably to others.  I will not compare ‘my insides to their outsides’.  I will not judge myself for not being at peak performance all the time.  In a society that pressures into acting happy all the time, I will not get down on myself for feeling bad.
  6. Guilt.   Feeling guilty does not mean I am guilty.  I refuse to make my decisions and choices from guilt.  Sometimes I need to feel the guilt and do it anyway.  In the inevitable instances when I inadvertently hurt someone, I will apologize, make amends, and let go of my guilt.  I will not apologize over and over.  I am no longer a victim.  I will not accept unfair blame.  Guilt is sometimes camouflaged fear.
  7. Shoulding‘. I will substitute the words ‘want to’ for ‘should’ and only follow this imperative if it feels like I want to, unless I am under legal, ethical or moral obligation.
  8. Over-productivity/Workaholism/Busyholism. I am a human being not a human doing.  I will not choose to be perpetually productive.  I am more productive in the long run, when I balance work with play and relaxation.  I will not try to perform at 100% all the time.  I subscribe to the normalcy of vacillating along a continuum of efficiency.
  9. Harsh Judgements of Self & Others/Name-Calling. I will not let the bullies and critics of my early life win by joining and agreeing with them.  I refuse to attack myself or abuse others.  I will not displace the criticism and blame that rightfully belongs to my dysfunctional caretakers onto myself or current people in my life.
  10. Drasticizing/Catastrophizing/Hypochondriasizing. I feel afraid but I am not in danger.  I am not ‘in trouble’ with my parents.  I will not blow things out of proportion.  I refuse to scare myself with thoughts and pictures of my life deteriorating.  No more homemade horrors and disaster flicks.  I will not turn every ache and pain into a story about my imminent demise.  I am safe and at peace.
  11. Negative Focus. I renounce over-noticing and dwelling on what might be wrong with me or life around me.  I will not minimize or discount my attributes.  Right now, I notice, visualise and enumerate my accomplishments, talents and qualities, as well as the many gifts that life offers me, e.g., nature, music, film, food, beauty, colour, friends, pets, etc.
  12. Time Urgency. I am not in danger.  I do not need to rush.  I will not hurry unless it is a true emergency.  I am learning to enjoy doing my daily activities at a relaxed pace.
  13. Disabling Performance Anxiety. I reduce procrastination by reminding myself that I will not accept unfair criticism or perfectionist expectations from anyone. Even when afraid, I will defend myself from unfair criticism.  I won’t let fear make my decisions.
  14. Perseverating about Being Attacked. Unless there are clear signs of danger, I will thought-stop my projection of past bullies/critics onto others.  The vast majority of my fellow human beings are peaceful people.  I have legal authorities to aid in my protection if threatened by the few who aren’t.  I invoke thoughts and images of my friends’ love and support.

1 – 9 are what Pete Walker describes as ‘perfectionism attacks, fueled by toxic shame, create chronic self-hate and self-flagellation’ and 10-14 ‘endangerment attacks, fueled by fear, create chronic hyper vigilance and anxiety‘.

Aren’t these just the best?!  What a freeing list to read 🙂

And if you’d like to work on easing your inner critic voice here is a meditation from Melli over at MrsMindfulness

Sober inspiration: Emotional Hunger and Addiction

So I’ve been reading Pete Walker’s second book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.  This is not the first time I’ve talked about Pete’s writing which has been revolutionary for me in deepening my understanding of the emotional recovery aspects of addiction and you can read them all here.  In this book he digs even deeper into recovery from emotional trauma and I felt compelled once again to share what he wrote specifically about emotional hunger and addiction.

He writes “The emotional hunger that comes from parental abandonment often morphs over time into an insatiable appetite for substances and/or addictive processes.  Minimization of early abandonment often transforms later in life into the minimizing that some survivors use to rationalize their substance and process addictions.  Fortunately, many survivors eventually come to see their substance or process addictions as problematic (*raises hand in acknowledgement*).  But many also minimize the deleterious effects of their addiction and jokingly dismiss their need to end or reduce their reliance on them (*raises hand again*).

When the survivor  has no understanding of the effects of trauma or memory of being traumatized , addictions are often understandable, misplaced attempts to regulate painful emotional flashbacks.  However many survivors are now in a position to see how self-destructive their addictions are.  They are now old enough to learn healthier ways of self-soothing.

Accordingly, substance and process addictions can be seen as misguided attempts to distract from inner pain.  The desire to reduce such habits can therefore be used as motivation to learn the more sophisticated forms of self-soothing that Cptsd recovery work has to offer.

Grieving work offers us irreplaceable tools for working through inner pain.  This then helps obviate the need to harmfully distract ourselves from our pain.

If you’d like to listen to someone talking about their experience of PTSD can I recommend the recent interview of Will Young on Bryony Gordon’s Mad World.

I appreciate that not all of those who visit this blog or read these posts come from traumatic or emotionally abusive childhoods, but equally some of us do.  As AA advocates ‘take what you need and leave the rest’ and hat tip to Anne over at ainsobriety who gets a mention in the recovery piece linked to this AA wisdom! 🙂

Sober Friday Jukebox: STAIR-way to heaven

So it feels like all the reading I’ve done of late has been heading to this point.  I recently received an email from Mind the Brain about Complex PTSD, STAIR and social ecology that you can read here.

STAIR is the acronym for Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation.  It’s a training programme that has been developed in the US by psychologist Dr. Marylene Cloitre.  Here’s  how the programme is described on the US Department of Veteran Affairs website:

STAIR is an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for individuals suffering from PTSD, including chronic and complicated forms as well as for individuals with PTSD and co-occurring disorders.

Complex PTSD results from repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic .

“Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past. Compulsive repetition of the trauma usually is an unconscious process that, although it may provide a temporary sense of mastery or even pleasure, ultimately perpetuates chronic feelings of helplessness and a subjective sense of being bad and out of control. Gaining control over one’s current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of healing” (Bessel A. van der Kolk)

Using STAIR will allow you to teach your patients skills in:

  • emotion regulation
  • interpersonal functioning

This online STAIR training consists of 8 modules covering several core treatment components. STAIR can be provided as a standalone therapy or as a complement to trauma-focused therapies.

Goals and Objectives

  • To become informed about the impact of trauma on emotion regulation and social (interpersonal) functioning
  • To be able to identify at least one strategy that increases emotional awareness
  • To be able to identify at least three strategies that improve emotion regulation in PTSD patients
  • To be able to formulate interpersonal schemas related to problematic social and interpersonal functioning
  • To be able to develop and test alternative interpersonal schemas with client
  • To learn at least two strategies for effective assertiveness behaviors
  • To learn at least one strategy for improving flexibility in interpersonal expectations and behaviors

What I found so striking about this is it mirrors the process I’ve been going through as part of my emotional recovery and particularly in my recent discover of the brilliant book The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker.

Here’s more detail on Session Two: Emotional Awareness:

  • Emotions, emotion regulation, and the impact of trauma on emotion regulation.
  • Why feelings are important, the influence of trauma history on feelings, how to use a feelings wheel to help label feelings.
  • How to use a self- monitoring form to identify the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

And Session Three: Emotional Regulation:

  • Recognize that all of their behaviors are efforts to cope with their feelings and environment.
  • Evaluate current coping strategies, their efficacy, and alternative strategies.
  • Learning physiological, cognitive, and behavioral channels of mood regulation

Link to full course content pdf here.

Maybe it’s just my experience and I am generalising wildly but I think many of us boozers struggle with emotions which is part of the reason why we drank how we drank.

There are well researched links between substance misuse and trauma (74% sexual abuse, 52% physical abuse & 72% emotional abuse in this research)  and sources estimate that 25 – 75 percent of people who survive abuse and/or violent trauma develop issues related to alcohol abuse.

All of these skills seem so applicable to a life lived well in sobriety as we learn to deal with all those pesky emotions and renegotiate relationships and learn about boundaries and agency without our crutch.  I’m sharing these resources here in case you would like to research further because to me they feel like a stairway to (emotional) heaven 😉

Hi My name is Lou, and I’m a recovering emotophobic

So this was another new word to me that I heard recently – emotophobia meaning to be emotophobic.  Not to be confused with emetophobic, the fear of being sick!

What is emotophobia?  It is the fear of negative emotion; i.e. a fear of expressing anger, frustration or disapproval.

I am a recovering emotophobic because I grew up with the ‘toxic trio’ as it is called in children’s safeguarding.  The term ‘Toxic Trio‘ has been used to describe the issues of domestic abuse, mental ill-health and substance misuse which have been identified as common features of families where harm to children has occurred. They are viewed as indicators of increased risk of harm to children and young people.

As I wrote recentlyIn my household growing up our family ‘didn’t do’ emotions as we were often reminded.  I now understand that we (the children) weren’t allowed to do negative emotions.  I learned very early on to keep my head down, my mouth shut and a smile on my face.  Look happy even if you were dying inside.

As Pete Walker describes “emotional emancipation happens when a person is both abused for emoting and is, at the same time, abused by toxic emotional expression.  This scares us out of our own emotions while simultaneously making us terrified of other people’s feelings ”  He goes on to say that “much of the plethora of loneliness, alienation, and addictive distraction that plagues modern industrial societies is a result of people being taught and forced to reject, pathologise or punish so many of their own and others’ normal feeling states.”

There was so much negative emotion expressed around me that I effectively developed a fear of them and learned very early on to dissociate as a way of coping with the anxiety and stress that it caused within me.  I also learned to self-soothe my anxiety by skin picking (also called dermatillomania).

Even now if someone around me is verbally expressing an aroused and heightened emotional state, and this is personally rather than professionally where I have learned to manage it well due to the nature of my job, I will tend to dissociate as I find it triggers emotional flashbacks to my childhood. And I still struggle with occasional skin-picking although it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be as I am only too aware of the many scars on my arms and legs that remind me of my past.

This is something I am working hard on as this is according to Braiker’s self-help book,[1] part of the “disease to please”/codependency behaviours I am aware that I struggle with along with these other cluster of traits:

My fear has meant that I have not been good at self-championing which is vital as part of our emotional recovery journey because as Matt at Surviving My Past says:

being our own champion and showing ourselves compassion, erases shame.

For me all of this comes back to shame.  Shame around my childhood and past experiences, shame around my drinking, shame around being me.

A great resource about C-PTSD, toxic shame and recovery from emotophobia is Richard Grannon and in this blog post he gives some great tips for working with toxic shame or in this video on  YouTube he talks about emotional literacy.  I am working my way away from it and towards self-championing one day at a time – a lifelong process.

Friday Sober Jukebox in memory of Robert Miles, RIP

 

 

Repetition Compulsion (Friday Sober Jukebox: I Heard)

So this is something I’ve been reading about in Pete Walker’s Tao of Fully Feeling.  The best description I read was from a blog by Graffiti Girl 2013 and she encapsulates beautifully what repetition compulsion is:

“Repetition compulsion is the repetition of a traumatic event and an attempt at mastery of one’s feelings and experience, in the sense that she unconsciously want to go through the same situation but that it not result negatively as it did in the past. Some people make the same mistakes over and over. The individual unconsciously arranges for variations of an original theme which he has not learned either to overcome or to live with.”

This is what Psych Central had to say about repetition compulsion:

Humans seek comfort in the familiar. Freud called this repetition compulsion, which he famously defined as “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.”

This takes form in simple tasks. Perhaps you watch your favorite movie over and over, or choose the same entrée at your favorite restaurant. More harmful behaviors include repeatedly dating people who might emotionally or physically abuse you, or using drugs (including alcohol) when overcome with negative thoughts. Freud was more interested in the harmful behaviors that people kept revisiting, and believed that it was directly linked to what he termed “the death drive,” or the desire to no longer exist.

But there may be a different reason.

It could be that many of us develop patterns over the years, whether positive or negative, that become ingrained. We each create a subjective world for ourselves and discover what works for us. In times of stress, worry, anger, or another emotional high, we repeat what is familiar and what feels safe. This creates rumination of thoughts as well as negative patterns in reactions and behaviors.

As an example, someone who struggles with insecurities and jealousy will find that when his significant other does not return a call or text immediately, his mind begins to wander to negative and faulty thoughts. The thoughts begin to accumulate and emotionally overwhelm the person, which leads to false accusations and unintentional harm to the relationship.

In spite of not wanting to react this way, the person has created a pattern over years that then becomes familiar to him. To react differently, although more positively, would feel foreign. When someone has done something the same way for years, he or she will continue to do so, even if it causes harm for both herself and others.

This idea also resonates with the concept known as the law of the instrument.  Maslow’s hammer (or gavel), or a golden hammer is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

People also revert to earlier states if the behavior is in any way rewarding, or if it confirms negative self-beliefs. For someone who inflicts self-harm in a time of emotional distress, it is a behavior that momentarily relieves the pain even if later on the individual feels shame over it. In the example of a person who continuously enters abusive relationships, we might find that he or she is highly insecure and does not believe that he or she is worthy of being cared for.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) can provide effective treatment routes for reshaping thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviors. These types of therapeutic approaches focus on bringing awareness to cognitive distortions, irrational beliefs, and negative thought tracks.

By working on different techniques, one can learn how to recognize when thoughts or actions are more harmful than beneficial, and how to stop them from occurring. The brain’s cognitive processes will be rewired and retrained to develop new patterns that are productive, rational, and positive, which ultimately leads to more adaptive behaviors and choices.

It takes years for people to develop maladaptive patterns, habits, and repetitive choices, and it may also take years to reshape them into something that becomes worth revisiting.

References

Dryden, W. (Ed.). (2012). Cognitive Behaviour Therapies. SAGE Publications Limited.

Inderbitzin, L. B., & Levy, S. T. (1998). Repetition compulsion revisited: implications for technique. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 67(1), 32.

I was struck by this psychological theory because it is something I’ve come to learn about only recently and it reverberates through my life in many ways, including my past use of alcohol to psychologically hammer my emotional discomfort.

I recently spent a couple of months working at Focus12 in a nursing consultancy capacity and the Consultant Psychiatrist I was working with there was an eminent and learned fellow.  His parting words to me that summarised his work and life wisdom was:

Sit still and do nothing.

I think much of my repetition compulsion would do well to heed this sage advice!  How about you?

This tune so sums up how this feels for me:

Thoughts of the escape of drinking/Impostor Syndrome

<– This is what drinking was for me.  An escape hatch from myself and the world.  And I still miss this at times of stress and crisis.  Even now this last week I’ve recalled memories where I’ve thought and felt that drinking made the unbearable bearable.  I KNOW that this is a salvation fantasy but it still persists.

So I’ve been struggling a bit recently to feel happiness in life generally prompting mid life musings of the ‘Is this it?’ variety.  Not in a ‘f*ck it, a drink is the answer’ way but in a ‘I wish I could escape these thoughts/feelings’ type way.  The ever present hangover free clear head lamented as a burden, not a gift.  I yearn for an escape or miracle and feel overwhelmed with impostor syndrome.  I must be a fraud right?  Approaching 4 years sober and yet still wishing for an off switch to my brain – the release of being comfortably numb.  And then as often happens I order the perfect book from the library to aid my discomfort.

I’ve been reading ‘Making Miracles in 40 days – turning what you have into what you want‘ by Melody Beattie.  She is a recovery warrior and has written numerous books including seminal works on co-dependency and these were the words that stopped me reading and found me here writing a blog post to share her words:

Either we refuse to talk about the loss or we can’t stop telling the story.  Guilt and obsession are the sixth and seventh stages of loss.

Once I made my choice, I began to consciously grow despite the numbness, rage, and sadness I felt.

When deep change begins – whether it’s a miracle or loss – expect to feel uncomfortable for a while.

I feel all of these things right now.  Not about not drinking – although I can’t stop telling the story here still – but about living life not numbed by booze but numb, rageful and sad because of the reflections on my past life, how they have left me feeling in the present and how it then impacts on my future tripping thinking (which is not the first time either!).  It feels like the deep change with recovery is two-fold: the stopping drinking part and then the emotional learning part.  Getting sober is both a miracle and a loss so you feel very uncomfortable in the beginning and then get waves of uncomfortable as you continue to change emotionally.  This is where I am.

She goes on to talk about happiness after loss:

Your happiness will look and feel more like peace.  But now it will be real, and it will be yours.  It won’t depend on others or what they do or don’t do.  That long, dark tunnel of transformation – when we really become empowered to make miracles – only happens once. 

Happiness means being at peace with ourselves, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, whatever we feel, whatever we’re going through, and whatever we have or lack.  Happiness means working for the sake of doing the work, not for a particular outcome.  Happiness means we’re with someone, because we enjoy the person’s company, not because we want to get that person to ask us to get married.   To feel this kind of happiness, we need to release old unfelt emotions, and feel whatever we feel.  We’re not desperately seeking someone to love us.  We want everyone to be themselves – to be who they really are.

She goes on:

Most of the time we aren’t learning what we think we are.  Being open and empty are the requirements for learning something new.  Later, when we master the lesson, we’ll see what we learned.

By being present for each moment, we learn to live in the Mystery.  We stop trying to figure things out (another form of control) and relax into not knowing.  We trust that our answers will come in their own time.

Time to learn to let go of my impostor syndrome and work on that salvation fantasy of a realistic miracle, non-drinking escape hatch or just peace within myself.

 

Friday Sober Inspiration: Heads Together + Mad World podcast

So this caught my eye over the Easter week-end and struck a cord in so many ways.  The London Marathon is this week-end – Sunday 23rd April and this is the Virgin Money London Marathon chosen charity which is also supported by Prince William & Catherine and Prince Harry.

Here’s what their website says:

ABOUT HEADS TOGETHER

Through our work with young people, emergency response, homeless charities, and with veterans, we have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges.

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental well-being and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.

The Heads Together campaign will build on the great work being done by our partner charities so that prejudice and fear no longer stand in the way of people getting the help they need.

Being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year is the perfect springboard for the Heads Together campaign. We cannot wait to see hundreds of runners hitting the streets of London this April to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all.

Bryony Gordon and The Telegraph have supported them by launching a podcast series discussing mental health with high profile UK figures – the first interview being with Prince Harry himself.  Their website features other well known personalities such as Rio Ferdinand and Lady Gaga.

This is The Telegraph’s brief:

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World is a new ten episode podcast brought to you by The Telegraph. Each week, Bryony will talk to a different guest about how their mental health has been affected by events in their own lives and find out why feeling weird is the most normal thing in the world.

You can listen to Bryony’s podcast interviews and the first one with Prince Harry is well worth your time:

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World

And the impact of this was immediate:

Schoolchildren will get access to NHS mental health workers in wake of Prince Harry’s ‘brave’ intervention

Alcohol dependency is a mental health issue and Prince Harry mentions it specifically in his interview so this is an important new charity both for those suffering because of the devastation of alcohol on them directly and the impact on those around them including children.  The destigmatization and normalisation of the conversation around mental health, and particularly the bolstering of mental health support for children and adolescents, is long overdue and I’m so pleased the Royal Family have got behind the cause and changed the direction of effect!

Friday Sober Inspiration: The Four Essential Processes of Grieving

So I’ve spoken about grief and grieving before in this post and this was a great podcast about the subject too.

As I’ve continued to read Pete Walker The Tao of Fully Feeling he has described his four essential processes of grieving .  So I’m going to add to my knowledge from Kubler-Ross and include it here as a reference for you too.

He argues that “grieving is the key process for reconnecting with our repressed emotional intelligence.  Grieving reconnects us with our full complement of feelings.  Criticism of emotional expression is especially damaging when it is expressed towards expressions of emotional pain as it forces our all-important capacity for healthy grief into developmental arrest.”

Pete Walker maintains that grieving is not just crying but for it to be fully effective it must include the processes of “angering”, verbal ventilation, and feeling.  He says the active resolution comes from crying, “angering” and talking about it whereas the passive resolution comes from simply focusing on and feeling what is stored somatically in our bodies.

I’ll cover a short summary of each here but again go read the book if you want to understand fully (although here is a link to a pdf on grief and complex PTSD written by Pete).

  • Crying is the healing release of pain through tears.  Unashamed crying creates deep, bodily-based feelings of peace and relaxation as tears are the body’s most powerful way of releasing emotional tension.  He believes that crying heals ‘catastrophising‘ and ‘drasticizing’ which are forms of toxic shame that taint our thought processes with unfounded perceptions of dread and doom.  What Brene Brown calls ‘foreboding joy‘.  Crying also allows for positive nostalgia or ‘euphoric recall’.
  • Angering is the process of actively expressing anger in a a safe and healthy way and is as essential to effective grieving as crying.  He believes we can break the ‘repression-accumulation-explosion-guilt-repression’ cycle by befriending our anger and refusing to guiltily squash it when it arises.  He says we can use a range of approaches to releasing anger to allow joy such as: thinking to writing to speaking to shouting to shadowboxing to pounding on pillows to finally breaking expendable objects.  He maintains when we finally end our repression of our anger we often feel exuberant relief and that it also builds confidence and self-assertiveness.
  • Verbal ventilation is when language is charged with feeling and is the release of pain through talking or writing about it.  This is where I have found this blog and therapy the most valuable in moving through my own grief.  It is also therapeutic he says to record jokes, anecdotes, and incidents that make you laugh as these can serve as heartening reminders of the joys of life.  Swearing is a powerful form of  verbal ventilating particularly if you chose words judiciously and sparingly.  He also talks about fully emoting which is when we cry, rage and verbally ventilate all at the same time!
  • Feeling is the process of grieving that focuses on pain with the intention of relaxing any resistance to it, so that it may pass through and out of the body.  I often think of funeral wakes when I think of this as this is where I would use alcohol to not feel the pain and sadness that the loss had triggered.  Some of my most spectacular relapses when I was moderating were after funerals where I would hold it together at the event and then drown myself in alcohol on getting home.  Feeling involves the direction of attention to the internal experiences in the body below the realm of thinking.  Feeling experiences are often accompanied by physical sensations in the heart area or “guts”.  No wonder I struggled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for so much of my adult life.  Feeling is a kinesthetic rather than a cognitive experience.  It’s why I’ve avoided yoga for so long – as I know that this is where I finally need to release the somatic feeling states that I’ve been resisting facing in recovery.  After all this therapy I know they are there and I’ve been scared to confront them …..

He finishes by saying that a balanced approach to grieving includes an openness to feeling emotions as well as emoting feelings.  He says “if we do not accept and value both processes, we will not become fully feeling human beings”.

Here’s to moving on to the next and final stage of learning to fully feel – connecting totally the mind and body experience where feeling becomes a spiritual experience.  He says “perhaps the greatest freedom attainable is that which is born out of a consistent willingness to stay lovingly and acceptingly present to whatever unfolds inside oneself.”

I saw this film again recently and this clip felt so apt:

Sober Inspiration: The four key dynamics of the emotional nature

So continuing on from last week’s post about the Tao of Fully Feeling I’m going to continue inspiring you with Pete Walker’s insights and knowledge on emotions.  He talks about the four key dynamics of the emotional nature which was all completely new to me but yet made perfect sense!

These are: wholism, polarity, ambivalence, and flow.  I’ll do a brief synopsis of his interpretation but I really recommend you go read the whole book.

  1. Wholism: This refers to the fact that the emotional nature cannot be broken down into individual, separate feelings existing independently from one another.  How the psyche cannot be filled with pleasant emotions only while the negative ones are left behind.  As he so beautifully puts it: “Individuals who only identify with ‘positive’ feelings often become bland, deadened and dissociated in a feeling-less desert, a true no-man’s land.  In the psychic desert of disavowed emotion, the smouldering heat of repressed anger evaporates our feelings of love and affection, leaving us emotionally dehydrated.  Rejecting emotions because they are sometimes unpleasant is like cutting off body parts because they are not pretty
  2. Polarity: This is about emotional polars – opposite but complementary halves.  There are graded bands of emotional intensity that stretch between each pair of emotional opposites.  Our emotional experience shifts from one pole to another along a continuum of feeling, and there are many different degrees of feeling on each particular emotional continuum.  We are all subject to both gradual and sudden oscillations between the emotional extremes of the various feeling continua.  As he says: “When we refuse to feel the full intensity of our emotions, we become depressed and stuck in the ‘safe’ and dreary midland plains of the emotional continua.  Apathy is a common result of throwing out the baby of emotional vitality with the bath water of unaccepted feelings“.  He argues that understanding polarity helps us deal with normal loneliness as a certain amount of loneliness is absolutely intrinsic to the human condition.
  3.  Ambivalence: These ‘mixed feelings’ occurs when we entertain opposing emotional experiences simultaneously and he feels this is possibly the most misunderstood and vilified of all the complex emotional experiences.  Ambivalence is also the state of rapidly vacillating between contradictory feelings.  Ambivalence is a normal and healthy response but because it is culturally incomprehensible most  of us repress the unpreferred half of the ambivalence, and only experience it as anxiety.  He argues that intolerance of ambivalence destroys relationships through a process known as splitting.  Ambivalence and splitting are opposite responses to emotional polarity.  A less extreme form of splitting is ambivalating – a relatively rapid wavering back and forth between opposing emotional experiences.  When we welcome our normal ambivalence we achieve a deeper self-understanding and make better decisions about complex life issues.
  4. Flow: The ever-shifting, unpredictable rise and fall of emotions.  An appreciation of flow, the fluid quality of the emotional nature, allows us to respond to our feelings in healthy ways.  He states: “Avoidance of unwanted emotions also commonly leaves us trapped in chronic, low grade manifestations of them.  Many long-enduring moods are caused by repressed emotions that slowly and biliously leak into consciousness.  When underlying emotions are offered no effective expression and release, the moods they create contaminate and dominate awareness for inordinately long periods of time.  Moodiness is a very slow and inefficient way of processing feelings.

He write so much more detail about each element that I can’t even begin to encapsulate here and closes the chapter with “A wonderful grace of self-renewal comes from immersion in the invigorating waters of fully and flexibly feeling.”

I couldn’t agree more! 🙂