Category Archives: Interviews

Friday Sober Inspiration: Reasons to Stay Alive

So I read the book by Matt Haig Reasons to Stay Alive quite early on in my recovery.  It was published in December 2015 and it was Bryony’s interview with him on the MadWorld podcast series that reminded me of what a great book this is.

You can read an extract from it here.

And here’s an interview with Matt from The Guardian when it was published:

Why did it take you 15 years to get the courage to write about depression?
I was meant to be writing a blog for the Books Trust, as their writer in residence, about novel writing but ran out of things to say and was starting to repeat myself. So I thought: OK, I’ll write about depression, this thing I had always had inside me and wanted to get out. And I got an incredible response, not because the blog was great but because I’ve noticed when anyone talks honestly about depression, it breeds a warm, sincere response from people. Everybody has a story about depression yet, for decades, we have been silent about it.

Is writing a way out of depression?
Writing is not the way but it helps. In February 2000, I was in the depths of depression. I was 24 and back from Ibiza, living at home in Newark [Nottinghamshire], in my childhood bedroom. I started writing bits and pieces – unreadable, angsty stuff. Articulating what is in your head is therapeutic. Words are a shared thing – depression lends itself to melodrama: you believe you’re going through something no one else has been through. At 31, Abraham Lincoln wrote: “I’m the most miserable person now living.” That is the drama of being a young man. That is the drama of depression.

How did you recover?
I still get bouts of depression but I am a lot better than I was. Staying sane and well is a complicated, never-ending process. The critical thing was that I had people I could talk to around me. My solution was never medical. What ultimately helped me was time. Depression told me I wouldn’t make my 25th birthday, then I made my 25th … and then I made my 30th.

One of the surprises is how speedy you make your experience sound, saying that adding anxiety to depression ‘presses fast-forward’?

Most people have depression with anxiety. They overlap in complicated ways. Mine trickled over into OCD and panic disorder. One of the main symptoms of anxiety is racing thoughts.

Why were you living in Ibiza?
I was a party person at university. I went to Hull, then Leeds. I used to drink a lot. (In one fell swoop, I gave up drinking and smoking. I became scared of anything that could alter my brain chemistry). Anyway, I met my partner, Andrea, early on and we went on holiday to Ibiza. After another winter in Hull, we thought it would be nice – probably against our parents’ wishes – to try and get work in Ibiza. I was selling tickets, doing a bit of PR. Andrea got the good job – running the office for the island’s largest party. Ibiza contributed to depression in that I was run down: we weren’t eating well, there had been heavy drinking, no sleeping, a lot of unhealthiness.

How worried were your parents when depression struck?
It happened suddenly so they had to be aware of that. I wasn’t mad or delusional but I was worrying about things too much. I knew who I was. I could hold a conversation, there was nothing obviously wrong with me. My mother had experienced postnatal depression but that made it harder for her because it brought it all back. Unlike with physical illnesses, there is always with depression, I believe wrongly, guilt and blame attached.

Your dad is quoted telling you to pull yourself together …
I feel guilty about that but you can’t write what is vaguely a memoir without betraying someone. I wanted the main person I betrayed to be myself. My mum has only just read the book…

How did she react?
Long, emotional texts that said it was hard for her to read but she thought it was brilliant and that it made her understand depression better.

Is depression different for each person who experiences it?
I don’t know. I’ve only ever been me.

Is it safe to generalise?
It is dangerous not to – despair is universal.

Is technology a contributing factor?
I became ill in 1999 and didn’t even have a mobile phone. Facebook and Twitter provide a Samaritans culture: people are there to chat to 24/7. That said, the addictive aspects of the internet, comparing yourself against other people, is negative for mental health.

Your most unexpected message is that depression can be a force for good?
If you took away all pain, if everyone lived for ever, everything would be bland, flat and boring, there would be no reason for art, music, newspapers, love because we would all be in a mono state of happiness. You cannot belittle depression yet a lot of people would not undo that side of themselves because it changes your thoughts. It makes you appreciate things you would not have appreciated before: like just being alive. Thinking about death makes you analyse what life is. Anxiety makes you curious and curiosity leads to understanding. I wouldn’t be a writer without depression.

Did becoming a published author boost your self-esteem?
It gave me a sense of identity. I had the confidence to write a novel and send it off which I wouldn’t have had before. We were in debt which gave me this ridiculous drive. I wrote a book about talking dogs – a reworking of Henry IV Part 1 – and ended up in more debt! Being published gave me that sense of: that is what I am here for.

What does Andrea make of your writing about depression and her role in helping you?
She is a shy person and we are both a bit antsy because it is your life and people are going to be disbelieving. She and I used to write side by side. Her books were – she hates the word – “chick lit”. When we had kids [now 5 and 7], she stopped but is now writing again, she has some ideas for children’s books.

Do you worry about your children inheriting the depressive gene?
Yeah. It is a confidence thing – if there is a link between how you raise a child and the adult. We try not to be unreasonably critical but I’m of the grim belief that each generation corrects its parents’ mistakes and then makes new mistakes of its own.

You once worked in a cabbage factory warehouse. That could bring on a depression?
Strangely, I don’t get depression in adverse situations. Hard work can be therapeutic. I hated the cabbage factory but it wasn’t capital D depressing.

You suggest we’re losing sight of what matters in over-affluent lives?
Yes, absolutely. I’d feel worse in shopping centres. Adverts, designed to make you feel bad, depressed me – they create a void. It’s easy to lose your priorities and think: I’ve got to have this sort of job or earn this amount of money. It would be lovely to live in a culture where calmness was the aim.

What is the single most important thing to tell someone depressed?
However much in the foreground depression feels, you are separate to it. This is going to sound cheesy but I’d say: You are the sky. A cloud comes and dominates the sky. But the sky is still the sky. Depression tells you everything is going to get worse but that’s a symptom. Don’t give depression power – constantly discredit it.

Giving up alcohol was a major part of Matt’s recovery in the earlier years and you can hear him talk about it with Bryony here:

https://bryonysmadworld.telegraph.co.uk/e/mad-world-matt-haig/

Like Bryony I loved his lists in the book.  Although this is written about depression it could so easily be about alcohol dependence too (excerpt taken from his blog):

7. Ignore stigma. Every illness had stigma once. Stigma is what happens when ignorance meets realities that need an open mind.

Depression in Recovery


So I’ve talked before about depression and drinking here so this is not a new topic.  However I’ve not really discussed it in recovery.

Often our drinking is a self-medication for depression and keeps us stuck in a place where we don’t look at the underlying driver to our drinking.  However when we stop we remove that coping strategy and also the distraction and suddenly our underlying low mood comes fully into view.  This can be disconcerting when we’ve achieved so much in stopping and are hoping for pink clouds and get dark skies instead.  This is something I’ve experienced in recovery so know you are not alone.

If you’re struggling with low mood can I recommend listening to the brilliant podcast featuring Mandy Stevens which was featured on Bryony Gordon’s MadWorld podcast series in April.

If you wish to read Mandy’s story you can do so here:

From NHS Director to mental health inpatient in 10 days

The podcast is superb because she talks so eloquently about her depression and suicidal thoughts as one with the insight of both mental health professional and also client struggling with this debilitating mental health illness.

Her words:

As I have worked in mental health services for 29 years, one would think I would be immune to mental illness. I am a Registered Mental Health Nurse with 15 years experience as a clinician and latterly 14 years as a manager and then Director. But there is no immunity; mental illness can come out of nowhere and affect anyone at any time.

From initial symptoms of depression to admission to a mental health unit 10 days later via the Crisis Team, depression ripped the rug out from under my feet and emptied my whole being. I have been completely disabled and incapacitated by this illness.

If I had been in hospital with a broken leg, or a physical problem, no doubt I would have been sharing amusing photos of my drip stand, the signed plaster cast and the hospital food; laughing with my family, friends & extended Social Media community. Instead I have hidden myself away, scared of my own shadow and told very few people. Sad to say, I have also been embarrassed, shy, suicidal, phobic, anxious and scared of everything.

She also in the podcast shares some superb resources including:

The Beck Depression Inventory

This is a free self-scoring resource that you can complete, print out and take to your GP to start a discussion with your healthcare professional should you find yourself struggling.

GO HERE TO ACCESS THE TEST

She also shares many tips including those for managing panic attacks and some excellent mindfulness resources.  It is well worth your time and I thank her for it.

As she advocates if you are struggling please reach out to someone – anyone be it family, friend or supportive stranger.  You can find a supportive stranger at the Samaritans here 🙂

 

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!

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 🙂

Edited to add: 20th January 2017.  I didn’t mention running in my conversation with Jean which I should have done as part of my sober toolbox.  It set me on the road to sobriety when I trained for the London Marathon in 2011 and has been a vital decompression tool ever since.  Which ties in nicely with this clip from T2 Trainspotting which is released next Friday and boy I can’t wait to see this film.

Renton is so right – be addicted to something else ……

Friday Sober Inspiration: Love Warrior On!

love-warriorSo just over a week after I hit 3 years sober I share with you this little nugget of wisdom from Glennon Doyle Melton founder of Momastery who I saw interviewed by Marie Forleo recently.  Instead of sharing a tune tonight I’m going to link their interview for you to enjoy and boy it was a aha-moment fest!

Glennon knows addiction well having been in recovery for 20 years and some of her shared insights during this interview were exceptional.  I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the interview by sharing too much but here are the three that had me hastily reaching for a pen!

I am not what just happened to me, but I might be what I do next.

As you may have noticed ‘doing the next right thing’ was my mantra for year 2 in recovery and I was looking for one for year 3.  I think I just found it! 😉

Plus if you’re drinking, worried about it and reading this then this one is for you too.  It reminds me of that saying that ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’.  Why not do something different?

Shame is not true.  It’s a lie and it tells us that our experience is different than everyone else and we’re bad.

This one gave me goose bumps!  We’re not different and bad *nodding head furiously in agreement as she said the words* That critical shame voice in our head just wants us to think so.  This quote will be linked and added to my most popular blog post about drinking shame.

Writing from a scar and not a wound.

This one was both very personal and rang true because it spoke of how I share things out here in the sober blogging world but that I do so once I have processed the experience first.  That I’m not still caught up in the heat and the emotion of the triggering event as that is a safer approach for both me the writer and you the reader 🙂

So without further ado here’s the interview.  Enjoy!

It’s Different for Girls

benchgirlHave you ever seen this photo accompanying an article about women and drinking?  The ubiquitous #benchgirl photographic image from 2008 gets a mention in this excellent presentation (the back story being that whenever this image appears in the media accompanying a new story about alcohol, researchers take to Twitter with the hashtag benchgirl as it has become so well known!)

This was a webinar entitled ‘It’s different for girls’ presented by Soberistas and featuring Dr Sally Marlow a research scientist from King’s College London.  Dr Marlow is also featured in the excellent documentary film A Royal Hangover.

Within this 50 minute presentation Sally discusses:

  • Perceptions about women and alcohol
  • The truth about women and drinking
  • Differences between men and women when it comes to alcohol – biological, including the telescope effect;  psychological, including the self-medication hypothesis and social.
  • Stigma, shame and barriers to getting help
  • The abstinence violation effect (which I discussed here)

It is an excellent discussion, very informative and I highly recommend 🙂

Please do share your thoughts and comments below!

Veronica Valli & I (16) discuss Step 12

Today Veronica & I discuss the last of the 12 steps – Step 12 which reads: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The final step is discussed particularly how a spiritual awakening as meaning ‘seeing everything differently’.  Something internally shifts Veronica says and you see yourself and the world differently.  What’s not to like about that? 🙂

We are planning on discussing sponsors and sponsorship and the 13th step I’ve heard about once Veronica returns from maternity leave.  Is there anything that you would like us to discuss?  Please feel free to email me at ahangoverfreelife@gmail.com or leave a comment, anonymously or otherwise, of other topics for us to chat through and share.

Veronica Valli is an Addictions Therapist and the author of Why you drink and How to stop:http://www.amazon.com/Why-You-Drink-H…

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Veronica Valli & I (15) discuss Step 11

So today Veronica and I discuss Step 11 which reads: Sought through prayer and meditation o improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

How can we apply Step 11 to our lives? What does prayer and meditation mean? These questions and more are answered.

In one word we need to GROW.  That’s it, or put another way, ‘change or die’ as the lovely Carrie Armstrong reminded me recently in this post and who I’ll be meeting today at the press/industry screening of A Royal Hangover!!  A write up post to follow 🙂

Veronica Valli is an Addictions Therapist and the author of Why you drink and How to stop:http://www.amazon.com/Why-You-Drink-H…

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Veronica Valli & I (14) discuss Step 10

Step 10 reads:

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong  promptly admitted it.

So this discussion takes a look at what Step 10 means and as a practical step how you can apply it to our life.

This is all about the importance of emotional sobriety.  I assumed when I stopped drinking that once you stopped it was ‘problem solved’ but as I soon realised this was just the start of the process!!  Recovery is about two things – physical sobriety, as in we don’t drink alcohol, and emotional sobriety which is addressing why we drank in the first place.

Veronica Valli is an Addictions Therapist and the author of Why you drink and How to stop: http://www.amazon.com/Why-You-Drink-H…

2013 How to Stop Cover 960x1280