Category Archives: Mindfulness

Breaking Barriers

So I recently listened to Tommy Rosen talking to Nikki Myers as part of his Recovery 2.0 conference and they discussed co-dependency.


Now that I’m coming up 2 years in recovery and have put down the substances I’m left with many residual issues and addictions.  The biggest two for me are emotional eating and co-dependency.  I gave up sugar for Lent and wrote a series of posts about those experiences which you can read here.  Plus I touched on co-dependency here.

Nikki in the last year has launched a training programme to tackle co-dependency called Breaking Barriers and you can attend it if you’re in the US (more details here).

This is what she says:

Co-dependence has been described as ‘the addiction to look elsewhere.’ It’s the belief that something outside of ourselves; people, places, things, behaviors or experiences, can give us fulfillment and joy. This is not only the most common addiction, it is the base out of which all other addictions and compulsions arise.  Codependents can have difficulty: experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem, setting functional boundaries, making decisions and/or verbalizing requests …… codependency is often expressed as the need to control or be controlled and/or approval seeking or confrontation avoidant.
Co-dependency has been called the ‘disease of the lost self’. Thomas Merton wrote ‘To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our time.” This is often how we lose ourselves; we minimize what’s going on inside, while over-reacting to the outside.
Gulp ……. reading that felt like a punch to the gut and listening to what she said to Tommy felt deeply reassuring in a painful way.  She talked about how our thinking becomes delusional and how we can veer from one extreme of arrogance to the other of feeling worthless.  How when we are triggered we dysregulate and how we became not-present and effectively time-travel.  Or in psychological terms we disassociate.
I actually had to watch this part of the interview twice as the first time it was so close to home that I actually disassociated while listening.  My brain couldn’t cope and so I stopped concentrating and didn’t hear – or didn’t want to hear it.  I’ve written about the feeling that she expressed before: these were my words written that day on 21st June last year Is it just me who swings from feeling they are as worthless as something you just trod in to feeling like they are behaving like a cocky gobby upstart in the time it takes to blink? “Worthlessness to arrogance anyone?  It’s spooky how she summarised exactly what I had expressed.
I share this with you and have no answers to offer.  All I can say is that around food and boundaries I am learning to listen to my body because it will tell me if things aren’t right about what I’m putting in my mouth, how I’m feeling and responding to someone and whether it is my work to do, which invariably it is!
She recommends:
  1. Using the pause button with breath because we cannot breath in the past or the future only the present and so it brings up back
  2. To keep coming back into the body as a somatic embodied experience as it is empowering
  3. To surrender using a specific yoga position (which as a non-yoga person I don’t know!) but to make sure that it is a relaxed surrender suggesting letting go rather than a rigid tight position which suggests resignation and collapse, not surrender.

I’m a work in progress and I sense that this will take many more years to work all of this out.  Good job I’m going back into weekly therapy as part of my Cambridge course in October!!

The Power of Sunsets

Once again Jason Silva at Shots of Awe has released a beautiful video looking at the power of sunsets that got me thinking and fits with the rediscovery journey.  Thank  you to a member of the SWAN group over on FB who cleverly suggested rebranding recovery as rediscovery as this is what we do when we put down the drink.

It also reminded me of this creation from A Royal Hangover courtesy of the iconic Jim Carrey.

the power of sunsets
the power of sunsets

Here’s the video and associated quote:

“Attention, if sudden and close, graduates into surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement.” – Darwin

The witnessing of transitions is powerful and is what keeps us mesmerized by sunsets and sunrises.  It forces us to be more present.  It becomes impregnated with a sense of importance and meaningfulness inducing a transformative experience.  We crave these moments and we work hard for these moments but these moments are already there if we are awake and mindful.  So if you are escaping the cravings of booze and looking for something else to transform look to nature, look to mindfulness and meditation and time with others unsullied by mind altering substances that disconnect not connect us.

If you struggle with the idea of mindfulness and presence try this video as an experiment.  It’s 20 minutes long and gives a timelapsed video of sunsets, clouds and stars.  See if  you can quiet the mind by focusing on this instead 🙂  If you need some help to train the mind then you could always enlist the help of Headspace.  I can personally recommend as it has worked wonders for my ability to  be present.

Why not emulate Jim Carrey with the wisdom that life is too beautiful as it is to warrant drugs and alcohol? 🙂

Drinking shame and our responses

So as you know I’ve been following Tami Simon’s Sounds True Self-Acceptance Project which I would really recommend!  This entire series has been so good in helping me resolve some of my lingering shame around my drinking and has helped lift my self-esteem and sense of self-worth and is completely free!


As part of this Brene Brown does a superb talk on developing shame resilience and during it she looks more closely at how we respond to shaming experiences.  In all of her lectures I’ve seen I’d never heard this before so thought it would be worth sharing here.

She describes us having three ways of responding to shame.  We:

  • move away
  • move towards
  • move against

So to move away means to hide or avoid.  This one really struck me.  When we get sick of making an arse of ourselves in public because of our drinking, we isolate.  We still have shame but it becomes a very private shame – which is perhaps worse and harder to get out of for us.  It is so corrosive to our self-worth.

To move towards means we go into people pleasing.  You know when you crawl around someone because you sense you did something wrong and you need to make amends.   You effectively creep or suck up to them.  Yep been there done that.

And then move against means you turn your shame outwards as a weapon.  Eeek done this too!  As my drinking got worse I found myself becoming more and more cynical and bitchy and cruel not just to myself inside my head but to others around me.  I wore my shame almost like a shield.

When we move against, doing any kind of self-compassion or meditative practice became impossible because I would laugh it off and belittle it as ‘woo woo’ and then drink later to cover my self-hatred for behaving and feeling like that.  I was just a massive ball of bravado with a small child crying in the middle of me who didn’t know how to get out.  Who didn’t know how to make it stop and was very afraid.

So Brene wisely says we need to build shame resilience.  For me step 1 of this was taking the leap of faith and stopping drinking.

Her 4 step guide is:

  1. Recognise your shame and your triggers.  How does it feel in your body as you will have a physical response as it is essentially a trauma response.
  2. Practice critical awareness and reality check self messages and expectations
  3. Reach out and tell your story
  4. Make amends

For Brene she says when she experiences shame she has to get away from other people and give herself 15 minutes to regroup.  In that time she doesn’t type, text or talk.  This is because this is when we are likely to act out our shame and move against whoever is around us.

I found all of this deeply reassuring and helpful as it put words to my past experience and tools to deal with it moving forward.  Did you know that I love Brene Brown’s work? 😉

What do you think?  Does any of this resonate for you too?

Edited to add: awoke to the sad and tragic news that Charles Kennedy had died.  RIP Charles and this is by far the best that I have read so far today.

How to drink mindfully

Following on from the past two days posts about Moderation Management and moderate drinking I finish up talking about mindful drinking.


Choosing to alter your relationship with alcohol and drink moderately can be achieved through mindfulness and deliberate behavior modifications.  Mindfulness allows you to become aware of your ongoing moment-to-moment experience.  It is the opposite of “checking out.”  When you choose to tune in to the present moment and tap into your ability to increase self-awareness, changes in problematic drinking habits can occur.

Mindfulness acts as a well-lit mirror turned upon the self.  It allows you to see yourself and reality exactly as they are.  If the idea of casting the bright light of mindfulness onto your drinking habits makes you uncomfortable, it is worth asking yourself exactly what it is that you are afraid to see.  Mindfulness does not create anything that isn’t already present.  It is a tool that enables you to see things exactly as they are. When being mindful, you make no attempts to judge or change reality – you simply accept it.  Once you see things clearly and accept them for what they are, you are in the position to assess what you would like to see change.

So for me the mindfulness only came out when I stopped drinking as I liked to get ‘mindlessly drunk’.  As lovely as the idea of mindful drinking sounds it is also an oxymoron as alcohol reduces inhibitions so works to pull you in completely the opposite direction.  Nice idea – never gonna work for me and quite frankly I’m mad enough as it is! 😉

voluntary madness



Depression-related drinking: going against the grain

I’ve reblogged this from Libby over at the Depression Lab who has let me re-blogged her work before here.

In Britain, people who experience anxiety or depression are said to be twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers.  It surprises me the risk is not much higher.  I mean, why wouldn’t anyone with depression want to get ‘off their head’ with alcohol and into a different head, one with colour, laughter, song, relief and sleep? Perhaps it doesn’t feel like that for everyone; perhaps the light-headedness and loss of control that comes with intoxication is not pleasant to some drinkers. Or the hangover is worse than the anguish of depression.

Sadly, even for people like me who love(d) drinking – from the initial, fleeting pulse of joy at the start of a session, to the numbing slide into sleep – too much of a good thing is a Bad Thing.  Too much alcohol brings headache, fatigue and nausea the morning after. Too much too often and the mental and physical effects become hard to ignore: weight gain (in that peculiar waist-thickening pattern female drinkers have), puffy complexion, jowls appearing from nowhere, sleep deprivation, and loss of self esteem as the drinking starts to take priority over things and people that used to be important.  These are profoundly unhelpful for depression sufferers.

If you persist with the getting off your head trick, as I did for many years, (long after passing the point of too much too often), you may well find yourself with an alcohol dependency problem to add to the depression.  Trying to moderate your drinking becomes extremely difficult, and the inevitable failure to do so further reduces self esteem, with a new twist of despair on top. Very bad news for depression sufferers.

How to tackle a depression-related drinking problem

The NHS has struggled to cope well with ‘dual diagnosis’ – where patients have co-existing mental ill-health and alcohol dependency.  Indeed this was my own experience when I was referred to a CBT course for depression via my GP, only to be told I was drinking too much, and thus unsuitable. (In the end I reduced my consumption levels as much as I could, lied a bit, and was accepted. The CBT course was useful for managing depression, but did not address my drinking. At all.)

I wrote here about how I stopped drinking, and how it only became possible when my depression had improved to a certain level. It had got to that level – and no further – after a few months of trying to do all the right things, eg getting plenty of sleep, healthy eating, exercise, absorbing activity, social contact.  I realised I had to stop drinking if I wanted to feel any better.

Stopping drinking was not easy, but the improvement in my depression and overall health is undeniable, and the benefits came mercifully quickly. If you find yourself in the situation I was in – depressed and drinking out of compulsion (not desire) every day, unable to stop – take heart, there is hope. Here’s what I recommend:

1. Cut back the drinking to a level you can comfortably stand whilst you concentrate on tackling your depression (I am not suggesting you drink  ‘moderately’ – just try to keep the level stable, and not increasing)

2. Use your most lucid/sober spells to do some work on your depression eg CBT, mindfulness, diet, sleep, exercise, social activity. In theory, unless you are drinking 24+ units of alcohol a day, there will be times when the alcohol has cleared your system and you are not ‘under the influence’ – this is the time to tackle the depression.

3. When you start to feel a bit better, plan how and when you will stop drinking – there’s lots of useful guidance and support online eg here, here, here and here as well as AA etc.

4. If you are physically dependant on alcohol (eg experiencing shakes, sweats, hallucinations or fits), take the risks associated with alcohol withdrawal very seriously, as they can be fatal – read this.

5. Stop drinking as per your plan, and give it top priority for as long as it takes. Here’s what I found successful:

  • pick a symbolic date to stop
  • tell nearest and dearest what you are doing
  • find some like-minded new friends in the sobersphere (see links above), or AA
  • use the Soberistas chatroom or other forums to talk through cravings
  • eat lots of chocolate to cope with cravings
  • read lots of sober books
  • buy lots of alcohol free beer and wine here (but note not everyone finds this helpful)
  • start running
  • buy regular treats as a reward

6. Go back to working on the depression when you feel ready. It took me about 6 months to feel stable enough in my not-drinking to go back to prioritising depression.

Note this approach is the exact opposite of official guidance, which is to stop drinking before tackling the depression.  That just was not possible for me; I tried many, many times. Drinking was a habitual coping mechanism, and the depression seemed unbearable without it.  One could easily use this as an excuse to carry on drinking: don’t.

Sources/Further reading

Drinkaware: Mental health and alcohol

NICE Guidance CG115

Alcohol Policy UK

Thanks once again Libby for an excellent guide on depression-related drinking and going against the grain.  Don’t forget to go check out her blog here 🙂

Edited to add: 06/10/2015 A new review and meta-analysis

Depression in patients with alcohol use disorders

Alcohol use disorders are highly comorbid with depression in both the general population and in treatment (Schuckit, 2006). It is estimated that 30-40% of individuals with an alcohol use disorder, experience an episode of comorbid depression (Anthenelli and Schuckit 1993; Schuckit et al. 1997a). In particular patients entering treatment for alcohol use disorders often have high levels of depressive symptoms (Davidson, 1995; Brown et al, 1995)

12 sober treat Days of Christmas – Day 9

Nine ladies dancing – well this one makes me dance anyway!! 🙂
Over the last five weeks of my Cambridge course one of the tutors has repeatedly described mindfulness, and the practice of mindful meditation, as the two wings of a bird.  She describes it as one wing is insight and the other compassion.
And then in a moment of synchronicity Feeling posted a link to a talk by Tara Brach where the very same description was used (Thanks feeling!)
Her talk is so good, and at times funny, that I am sharing it again here as a sober treat and as the idea for another sober treat.  Mrs D is a BIG fan of Tara Brach and I am fast becoming one too.  She has books and meditations free online that you can access here.
As part of my course I am expected to complete a daily mindfulness practice and then journal about it.  Maybe a moment of mindfulness each day would work for you too?  Why not over the next 30 days find a few minutes to be mindful: washing the dishes, making a cup of tea, in the shower, wrapping presents?  Or why not sign up for the excellent Headspace app where you can complete the Take 10 challenge for free and even sign up with a buddy so you can work on it together, as well as support and motivate each other.
As we head into Christmas and New Year when it can be really difficult to remember why we’ve made the choice we have – being present and mindful can help with that.  I find this practice both inspiring, supporting and nourishing and helps me accept that who I am is okay as I am.  What better way to treat yourself? 🙂
Any other ideas for nine ladies dancing – a CD of your favourite tunes? Ticket’s to a gig of a band you love?, A fitness class like Zumba?
PS 15 months today!! 😀
PPS The 600th person has subscribed for my e-book and has been offered a free Udemy course place so now the offer is open to subscriber no 750!

Meditation to help Addiction

Meditation is talked about a great deal out here on the blogs that I read and follow as a way of quieting the mind when the urge to escape takes over and it is something that I have been trying to learn and practising for a few years.

iTunes has many meditations that you access for free and the one that I like is called The Meditation Podcast with Jesse and Jean Stearn.  All of their meditations are good but there is one which is specifically designed for addiction: Episode Nine – June 2007 – Addiction

They have a full series of meditations on many subjects so their whole podcast series is worth a look 🙂

Study on mindfulness based relapse prevention

I’m including this study here because I personally ascribe to this approach and if I think about the sober bloggers that I know, Mrs D in particular, I know that this is a tool used with great success.

Promising signs – but from a single study at a single treatment agency – that integrating Buddhism-inspired mindfulness-based elements creates a more effective supplement to usual (in the US context) 12-step based aftercare than a purely cognitive behavioural approach, helping patients sustain gains from initial intensive treatment.

Summary The featured study tested an intervention based on Buddhism-inspired mindfulness meditation as way of sustaining the gains made by patients who have completed initial intensive treatment. The therapy trains people to focus their attention on emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment and to adopt an accepting and nonjudgmental stance to these experiences. Such controlled attention can be learned through training in meditation, hence ‘mindfulness meditation’. Benefits may for example include the detached self-observation of one’s desires and plans to obtain and use drugs, dissociating these from their emotional force.

Meditation has been incorporated in many therapeutic programmes, commonly in the form of mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally developed for management of chronic pain and stress-related disorders. The usual course consists of eight weekly therapist-led group sessions, one full-day retreat, and daily ‘homework’ assignments. Mindfulness is central to dialectical behaviour therapy developed for borderline personality disorder, acceptance and commitment therapy for mental health problems, and spiritual self-schema therapy for substance use problems. This approach has also been allied with cognitive-behavioural elements, notably in mindfulness-based relapse prevention programmes developed for substance use patients – a version of which was tested in the featured study.

The 286 patients in the study had completed initial 28-day inpatient or 90-day intensive outpatient treatment at one of the two clinics of a US service. Typically they were unemployed men in their thirties and forties who used several drugs with or without alcohol; for just 14% were their substance use problems confined to alcohol.

Authors conclusions:

These findings suggest that the three aftercare options may have been equally effective in the three months after the two relapse prevention programmes ended. After that, these programmes gained greater benefits compared to usual treatment alone, blunting the probability and severity of relapses at the six-month follow-up. By a year after they had ended, the approach incorporating mindfulness elements emerged as preferable to one based solely on cognitive-behavioural elements. Longer-term benefits may be explained by the therapy’s ability to help patients recognise and tolerate discomfort associated with craving or negative emotions and moods. Continued practice in mindfulness over time can strengthen the ability to monitor and address factors contributing to well-being, bolstering long-term outcomes.

Go to the link  below to read the full summary:

In my personal experience, and that is all it is,  I believe that CBT and mindfulness are a good way to manage long term recovery and minimise the danger of relapse.  I will continue to share what I learn about mindfulness and as I learn more myself over the coming months at Cambridge.  If you’ve been using mindfulness has it been helping you?

Flipping Your Lid and Emotional Control

I apologise for blogging twice in one day but I learned some things yesterday that are too good not to share.  If I’d been less tired last night I would have rescheduled this mornings post to make way for this one.

Yesterday I started at the University of Cambridge studying post grad Child and Adolescent Counselling.  As part of the lectures we learned about the brain and it’s propensity to flip it’s lid sometimes in reaction to emotional overwhelm.  Here Dr Daniel Siegel explains it really well as it relates to children and parenting.  However sometimes I feel like I’m parenting myself now that I’ve put down the booze pacifier!

As part of our mindfulness practice we were advised to pause and reflect if we found ourselves experiencing difficult emotions and to take time to name the feeling.  As Dr Siegel says ‘if we name it, we tame it’.  This is a tip from neuroscience as naming your feeling engages a different brain activity and gets your brain to recognise its own reaction and releases a big part of the emotional charge. This seems simplistic but is very efficient when you need to restore emotional equilibrium if it is wobbling and you are about to flip your lid! 😉

I will continue to share anything that I learn about mindfulness here that I think might be useful to you too.  More sober tools for the toolbox 🙂

The 19 best Recovery Apps

I came across this review by Healthline of app’s related to alcoholism and recovery and thought I would share it here.  It covers what they perceive to be the best apps for using if you are trying to manage your drinking or have stopped and need some support while you’re out and about.

I won’t list them all as you can check out the page linked above if you’d like to know what they all are but I’ll share my 5 favourites:

  1. Lift Daily Motivation – This app can help with both accountability and motivation. Enter your goal in the app — it could be as simple as “do not drink today.” When you complete your goal successfully, the app throws a celebration for you!
  2. Mindfulness Meditation – The Mindfulness Meditation app can help you create time for meditation in your busy day. Select the session length you desire, and then follow the app’s audio cues to relax and unwind.
  3. Breathe2Relax – The Breathe2Relax app can help you return to a place of calm and tranquility by encouraging better breathing techniques. Follow the app’s guided breathing exercises when you need to reach a better mental state.
  4. Afternoon Affirmations – This app’s function is very simple: At 1 p.m. each day, it delivers a message of affirmation to your phone. Read it, reflect on it, and apply it to where you are in your day.
  5. White Noise Lite – This app is designed to help your brain block the distracting thoughts, relax, and drift off to sleep. It contains 10 soothing sounds that can transform your bedroom into a blissful oasis. While you’re getting shuteye, the app continues to block all frequencies of sound that could disturb your slumber.

I don’t have a smartphone but I’m beginning to wish I did 😉  Any other app’s that you use that I might find useful?

43 days to go