Category Archives: My journey

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!

Guest Blog Post: 5 ways to help a loved one face addiction

So I was approached by Carl on email in January and this is what he said:   “My name is Carl Towns and I am 28 years old.  Just to tell you a little bit about me, I have been sober for 4 and a half years now, I was an alcoholic and I was addicted to some party drugs like cocaine, it has been a hard battle but it has also been worth it, little by little I have gotten bits and pieces of my life back and that’s something I am grateful for every day.  About two months ago my sponsor suggested I should start a new healthy habit, back in the day I was pretty good at writing so I thought I would write to you to let you know that I would love to contribute to your blog.  I would be honored if I could guest post for your blog and here I have attached a piece called ‘5 ways to help a loved one face addiction’.

Over to Carl:

When we think someone we love is struggling with addiction, be it alcohol or drugs, our first caring instincts kick in and we want to help them in any possible way. However, addiction is a disease that if not handled correctly, can end up with devastating effects for the addicted person and his/her loved ones. Especially for the closest people like spouses or children.

If you go about it the wrong way you might end up allowing them to revel in their addiction. If what you truly desire is doing what would be best for them and the people they love, then the tips below will provide guidance regarding how to help your loved one face addiction and seek the help he/she needs.

1.   Knowledge is Power

You need to know your enemy in order to face it. Addiction is a very complex disease, so one of the best things for you to do is learn all that you can about it in order to help and support the person you love.

Dig into family therapies that focus on the partners of addicts and alcoholics. Reach out to 12 Steps support groups or fellowships; basically read all you can about it, including literature; another great thing is to go into support blogs or forums where you can find good advice for people that were in the same place that you are right now.

2.   Judgment is Damaging

As mentioned previously, and contrary to popular belief, addiction is a powerful disease and should not be deemed as mere weakness or moral shortcoming. When you internalize this, you will be able to help your loved one by avoiding thoughts and comments such as:

  • “If they really loved me, they would have quit already.”
  • “All he/she needs to do is have some willpower.”
  • “They have to stop using or drinking for their job… our children… for me, etc.”
  • “How is it possible that they just keep on doing this?”

If a cancer patient does not have to option to just quit cancer, neither can an addict just quit an addiction, impotence is the very foundation that defines addiction. No matter how much you beg or plead; shout, discuss or argue with them. It’s simply not the cure for it.

To put it short, they need professional help. So, in order for you to be able to cope with the toxic symptoms of their sickness; the best thing to do is motivate them to seek that professional help.

3.   The Dangers of Enabling

When you are in love or in a relationship with a person struggling with addiction, you often get thrown into a caretaking role. You are the one who ends up fixing or cleaning up their messes. However, in doing so you are shielding them from the consequences that arise naturally as a result of their actions.  Be honest with yourself and see if any of this seems familiar to you:

  • You offer them financial support such as taking care of their rent or car payment; maybe even health insurance.
  • You feel compelled to look after them so you make sure they don’t miss any appointments or important events such as court dates and similar affairs.
  • You put a good face or make excuses for them in front of the family, their job or school.
  • You take care of their problems like paying the lawyer’s fee or covering a fine and even hospital bills.

If any or all of the above apply to you right now, STOP. Immediately.

When repercussions and consequences are constantly avoided. An addicted individual will never find any motivation for transformation. They will feel free to use and drink, they know they will make it without any negative consequences because you are there to cover for them.

On the other side, when they are exposed to the organic development their actions have had and see themselves forced to deal with the consequences. That will be an important moment for them when facing family and when really starting understanding how grave and painful the situation really is.

4.   Set Up an Intervention

At the moment you are ready to stop supporting the person’s addiction, gather all close family and friends and set up a structured intervention. All the people present must be granted the opportunity to speak to the person. Some goals to have in mind:

  • Let the person suffering from addiction know just how much you and everyone around them has been negatively affected by their constant substance abuse.
  • Let the addict now what would be the real consequences that will transpire should they not accept help such as withdrawal of financial support, end of relationships, loss of custody in case of children, etc.
  • You need to be absolutely ready to go through with these stipulations if they refuse the help.
  •  Always bring in a professional in the field of interventions. They have the experience, training, and skills for this type of situations. They will be able to be understanding but very direct to them and not get judgemental or emotional.
  • Hopefully, the person will accept to get help; if so they need to depart immediately otherwise may regret it soon after and they’ll start seeking excuses why they can’t go anymore. For this very reason, it is highly recommended that you have been in contact previously with a rehabilitation center that has already agreed to take them in and are standing by waiting for them.
  • Should they refuse the help, you need to be true to your word and follow through with the consequences you warned them about until the moment they are ready for help. It might seem like overdoing, however, the so-called “tough love” is sometimes the only way to effectively reach a person suffering from addiction.

5.   Be Their Pillar in the Recovery Process

The road to recovery is a very tough one, it requires all the strength of the addicted person and his/her loved ones. It takes a lot of work.

The first major obstacle is the period of withdrawal which often comes with a supply of very nasty symptoms; your loved one will most likely express how they are unfitted for the task and how they are posed for imminent failure. This is where your support comes in. Encourage them, let them know they are strong and capable enough to get through this. Let them know how proud you are of them for embarking on the road to recovery.

Stick to the advice the professionals at the rehab center will give you:

  • Most facilities have an initial “Zero Contact” rule for a set period of time. Respect this clause and let your partner stay focused on his/her recovery.
  • When you resume contact, focus on positivity. Do not smother them with problems.
  • Do not encourage them if they are talking about exiting the program early. Examples of this include offering them a ride from the rehab center or even money to help with settlement.
  • Don’t miss family meetings

When they reach the end of their residential program and start in-depth outpatient treatment, this is where you can begin to offer them assistance if needed. The process of recovery is their responsibility alone. However, just as you use to enable their addiction, you can and should enable their recovery:

  • If they can’t drive, offer them a ride or perhaps gift them a bus pass.
  • Offer to babysit their children when they have to attend therapy sessions or AA/NA meetings.
  • If their schedule is filled with various activities related to recovery is possible they don’t have time to cook at all. A Homemade meal and great company can be very much appreciated.
  • Do not stop attending 12 Step support groups.

Addiction is a very lonely disease, and recovery can be a very tough path to follow through without a loving and strong support system behind it.

If you know of someone close to you who is battling addiction, it is very important that you encourage them to seek professional help as soon as possible, for their sake, yours and sake of all his/her loved ones.

Have you ever had someone struggle with addiction? What are the stories you know? let us know in the comments below.

Thanks Carl for sharing your writing! I have personally not been involved in an intervention and the treatment centre where I volunteered and worked believed in self-determination so a client would come in of their own volition because they wanted to get clean and sober for themselves.

 

Drinkers struggle to reduce intake due to their partners’ encouragement

So this was some research featured in The Independent back in January.  It was about how our partners’ can handicap our attempts to cut down or stop by encouraging us to drink.  This was something that MrHOF and I struggled with which is why as partners in crime we stopped together.

Over to the research:

Partners sabotage each other’s attempts to cut down on drinking, with men worse than women, new research suggests.

Drinkers struggle to reduce their alcohol intake due to their partner suggesting one more drink or encouraging them on nights out, a poll found.

Among 2,000 couples where at least one drinks more than the recommended 14 units a week, 26 per cent of women said they were concerned about the effects of alcohol on their partner’s health, while the figure was 21 per cent for men.

Women were more likely than men to say they would drink less if it was not for their partner loving booze (29 per cent compared with 16 per cent).

A third (33 per cent) of men also liked to suggest one more drink if their partner was thinking of stopping for the night, compared with 15 per cent of women.

Just 57 per cent of all people said they would drink less to help their partner if they were trying to cut down.

At present, around 40 per cent of men and a fifth of women drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, according to industry-funded charity Drinkaware, which carried out the research.

A third of those surveyed (33 per cent) said alcohol being readily available in the home was an issue when it came to cutting down, while 40 per cent of those whose partner wanted to drink less thought the attempt would fail because stress would drive them to drink.

Reverand Kate Bottley, from the TV programme Gogglebox, is supporting a new Drinkaware campaign.

She said: “It’s quite sad to see that stress can really undo those good intentions, but we are a nation who bottle up our feelings, it would be far healthier to talk through your bad day rather than turn to a glass of wine or a beer.”

Drinkaware’s chief executive, Elaine Hindal, added: “We know that couples who are planning a health regime together fare better when they really support each other.

“It is sometimes difficult to stay on track with healthy plans but we have developed free tools such as the self-assessment and our Drinkaware app which can really help make a difference, especially if you’re trying to make up for the extra pounds gained over the festive period.”

How does your experience compare to this research?  Do you happily abstain while your partner drinks moderately or not so moderately?

Bereaved through Drugs and Alcohol (BEAD) website launched

Featured by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in March is the launch of a website called BEAD (Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs).

Lottery-funded project to offer support to grievers (23 March)

A website has been set up by Cruse Bereavement Care, the UK’s leading bereavement charity, and Adfam, the national voice for families affected by drugs and alcohol to offer support to those who have lost their loved ones as a result of drug and alcohol use.

The new Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs (BEAD) website provides a wealth of information and resources to those unsure where to turn or what to do in such a difficult situation.

The website’s features include:

  • Outlining where and how to access appropriate support
  • Helping people through the grieving process by looking at the emotions one might be experiencing and how to overcome them
  • Providing practical help with the things one will have to deal with a result of their loss
  • Displaying stories and personal experiences

Linking to useful resources and relevant organisations.

The site was designed and developed in close partnership with a peer support volunteer who understood the needs of people accessing this service.

It is hoped that the website will augment the work they do in improving the emotional wellbeing of individuals bereaved through alcohol, ultimately becoming a vital tool for those in need of information and guidance on how to overcome their difficult situation.

Welcome to the Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs website

Support Organisations:

Also!

Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern merge

The trustees of Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern are pleased to announce the merger of the two charities following detailed negotiations over the last few months.

The move will place the unified organisation in a much stronger position to achieve its joint mission to reduce the harms caused by alcohol; combining Alcohol Research UK’s long history of research excellence with Alcohol Concern’s strong advocacy work.

Read our news release to find out more.

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:

Government consultation on high strength white ciders

So budget day came and went last month and the only thing of note as regards alcohol was the decision by the Chancellor to commission a consultation on a new rate for cider under 7.5% ABV in view of high strength white ciders.  Good news I agree which both Alcohol Policy UK and Alcohol Research UK shared.

Alcohol Research UK published that they welcomed the consultation saying:

The Chancellor has announced no changes to alcohol duties in the Budget, meaning they will only increase in line with inflation.  However, he has announced that the Government will hold a consultation on revising the low duties that apply to strong ciders at around 7.5% ABV.  This is explicitly designed to target white ciders.

As a previous Alcohol Research UK funded report has shown, white ciders are consumed widely by very heavy drinkers and so we welcome the Government’s decision to look again at the way they are taxed.

Alcohol Policy UK reported:

On the face of it, both industry groups calling for duty cuts and public health group calling for rises may appear disappointed, but health interests will hope the consultation results in action that will significantly curb ‘pocket money’ high strength white ciders. Alcohol bodies and other groups have called for an end to such drinks, often cited to be consumed mainly by those with alcohol dependency and reportedly sold for as little as 16p per unit of alcohol.

The impact of white ciders though has clearly been of concern to services working with dependent drinkers and those calling for pricing levers including minimum pricing.

Unsurprisingly industry bodies wailed and gnashed their teeth and The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) described the decision as a “major blow.”

To their profitability yes but to the public health of the UK, including 16 year old Megan Craig-Wilkinson? ……

A sixteen-year-old schoolgirl died in her sleep after drinking a cider dubbed ‘the cheapest booze on sale in the UK’.  Megan Craig-Wilkinson was attending a New Year get together, her first big party with friends, where she tried 7.5 per alcohol ‘Frosty Jack’s’ cider – and died within hours.

Campaigners today warned a three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s contains the equivalent of 22 SHOTS of vodka… yet costs just 16p per unit of alcohol.

Grieving mum Joanne Good, 38, found Megan – a talented GCSE student who dreamed of being a teacher – dead in bed the morning after drinking it.  She was a victim of pulmonary aspiration – effectively ‘dry drowning’ as her stomach emptied its contents into her lungs.

Joanne had stayed with her daughter as she fell asleep, and put her in the recovery position as she lay in bed. But she was unaware that she had been drinking such a high level of alcohol.

Further coverage:

Cider duty consultation announced: will ‘white cider’ survive?

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! 🙂

#alcoholfreekids

This was released by Alcohol Focus Scotland earlier this month.   In the report leading academics and health experts outline how the Scottish Government can reduce the unacceptably high levels of alcohol marketing that children and young people are exposed to. (#alcoholfreekids)

Removing alcohol adverts from streets and public transport, and phasing out alcohol sponsorship in sport are among the steps that should be taken to prevent alcohol companies reaching our children.

Children are very familiar with and influenced by alcohol brands and advertising campaigns, despite codes of practice which are supposed to protect them. There is clear evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing leads children to start drinking at a younger age and to drink more if they are already drinking.

Alcohol Focus Scotland was asked by Ministers to facilitate an international expert group on alcohol marketing to advise on the most effective policy options available and how they might be implemented in Scotland.

The group’s recommendations include:

  • removing alcohol marketing from public spaces such as streets, parks, sports grounds and on public transport
  • ending alcohol sponsorship of sports, music and cultural events
  • pressing the UK Government to introduce restrictions on TV alcohol advertising between 6am and 11pm, and to restrict cinema alcohol advertising to 18-certificate films
  • limiting alcohol advertising in newspapers and magazines to publications aimed at adults
  • restricting alcohol marketing on social networking sites

The report also recommends setting up an independent task force on alcohol marketing to remove the regulatory role of the alcohol industry.

More than 30 organisations, including Children 1st, the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network and the medical Royal Colleges, as well as the majority of MSPs (72), have pledged their support to end alcohol marketing in childhood. This report now outlines specific actions which could be taken to achieve that.

Professor Gerard Hastings, one of the group members and internationally renowned expert on social marketing, said:

“Self-regulation does not work; it will not control dishonest banks, over-claiming MPs – or profit-driven multinational drinks companies. And yet we continue to rely on it to protect our children from alcohol marketing. It is no surprise that study after study has shown that, as a result, children are being put in harm’s way – and that parents want policy makers to be more courageous. Scotland now has a chance to grasp this nettle and show how independent statutory regulation of marketing can provide our young people the protection they deserve. The international community is trusting us to take the same public health lead we took on smoke-free public places and minimum unit pricing; let us show them that we will.”

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said:

“An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option, yet we allow alcohol companies to reach our children from a young age. They are seeing and hearing positive messages about alcohol when waiting for the school bus, watching the football, at the cinema or using social media. We need to create environments that foster positive choices and support children’s healthy development. We hope Ministers will respond to this report and the groundswell of support for effective alcohol marketing restrictions in Scotland.”

Tam Baillie, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland said:

“I strongly support this report which provides clear evidence on the nature and reach of alcohol marketing and makes welcome and sensible proposals to safeguard our children. All children and young people have the right to good health and that must include the right to grow up free from commercial pressures to drink alcohol. The extent of the actions we take now are a good measure of the value we place on our children for the future.”

Summary (pdf) and full Report (pdf)

Sober Inspiration: The Tao of Fully Feeling

So I’m reading a new book that I heard talked about recently by Pete Walker called The Tao of Fully Feeling.  I’m only a few pages in but text is already jumping out at me and screaming to be shared!

Here’s the opening:

Feelings and emotions are energetic states that do not magically dissipate when they are ignored.  When we do not attend to our feelings, they accumulate inside us and create a mounting anxiety that we commonly dismiss as stress.

So, like so many of us, I believed that all those years of pouring wine down my neck to manage ‘stress’ was helpful.  In reality I was busy self-medicating away my feelings and emotions.

I felt that emotions were something to be corralled, minimised, denied even.  In my household growing up we ‘didn’t do’ emotions as we were often reminded.  I now understand that we 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.  No wonder I ended up emotionally constipated and believing that drinking allowed me to express my emotions fully because it was only in that dis-inhibited state that I actually heard them as they roared from their cage inside.  “A drunk mind speaks a sober heart” right?  A saying often attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau which we know not to be true.

Pete goes on:

We can learn to be emotional in benign ways.  We can have our emotions without holding onto them.  We can soften and relax into our feelings without exiling or enshrining them.  We can let our feelings pass through us when they have fully served their function.  When we learn to experience our feelings directly, we eventually discover that surrendering to them is by far the most efficient – and, in the long run, least painful – way of responding to them.  We realise first-hand that life does not have to be pain-free to be fully enjoyed.  Life is inordinately more painful than necessary when we hate, shame, and abandon ourselves for not feeling ‘good.’

As we become more emotionally whole, our health and vitality naturally improve.  When we disburden ourselves of old unresolved trauma, energy wasted holding the past at bay becomes available for celebrating daily life.  As we learn to befriend our emotions, we suffer less and less from self-damaging flights from feelings.  We gracefully accept the reality that our emotional nature, like the weather, often changes unpredictably with a variety of pleasant and unpleasant conditions.  We realize that a positive feeling cannot be induced to persist any more than the sun can be forced to continuously shine.

And this reflects my experience over the last 3 1/2 years.  Emotions are no longer something to be scared of but welcomed and embraced, whether happy, sad or mad.  My emotional repertoire has grown incredibly as I have allowed my caged and numbed heart to feel what my head was taught to deny for so long.

Welcome to emotional recovery that forms the biggest part of recovery from addiction.  I think I’m going to really enjoy this book 🙂

 

Radical ketamine therapy could treat alcohol addiction

This was featured in The Guardian in January whereby a one-off dose of the drug, ketamine could help alcohol addicts reduce their intake by ‘erasing’ drink-related memories, say psychologists testing treatment.

Ketamine is used as an anaesthetic agent and also in terminal care in my professional experience and as a recreational drug in my personal experience.

Here’s what the researchers say:

Scientists believe that a radical treatment involving the tranquilliser ketamine could help overcome alcohol addiction by “erasing” drink-related memories.

Psychologists based at University College London are testing whether a one-off dose of the drug could help hazardous drinkers who are trying to reduce their alcohol intake. Alcohol addiction is notoriously difficult to treat, and there are few effective therapies available.

Using a recreational drug to treat addiction may sound counterintuitive, but the researchers say there is a growing body of research suggesting that ketamine can be used to disrupt harmful patterns of behaviour.

Ravi Das, one of the lead researchers, said: “There is evidence that it could be useful as a treatment for alcoholism.”

Crucially, ketamine can disrupt the formation of memories, and scientists believe that this property could be harnessed to over-write the memories that drive addiction and harmful patterns of behaviour.

“Memories that you form can be hijacked by drugs in some people,” said Das. “If you were an alcoholic you might have a strong memory of being in a certain place and wanting to drink. Those memories get continuously triggered by things in the environment that you can’t avoid.”

For instance, seeing a glass of beer, hearing the clinking of glasses or even arriving home from work may trigger memories of the rewarding sensation of taking a drink – and might prompt a person to follow this urge.

“The main problem is the really high relapse rate after treatment,” said Das. “People can successfully quit using over the short term while they’re being monitored in the hospital … but when they return home they’re exposed to those environmental triggers again.”

There is increasing evidence, however, that memories are less stable than once assumed and may be open to manipulation.

Each time our brain accesses a memory, the neural connections that encode it are temporarily destabilised, meaning that our recollection can be slightly altered before it goes back into storage. This is one reason why, in everyday life, people can recall wildly different versions of the same events.

In the clinic, scientists believe this short period of instability, represents a window of opportunity. Ketamine blocks a brain receptor called NMDA, which is required for the formation of memories. So the logic is that giving someone the drug just as a memory has been destabilised could help weaken the memory, or even erase it.

A similar approach with a different drug was shown to eradicate people’s phobia of spiders. And research in rats that were made to be addicted to cocaine showed that the memories underpinning their addiction could be completely wiped out using a similar strategy (although this involved injecting a chemical into the brain).

In the UCL trial, the scientists will intentionally trigger alcohol-related memories by placing a glass of beer in front of the participants, who are all heavy drinkers. They will then disrupt the memory, by surprising the participant (the team is not disclosing the exact details as this could bias the results).

Participants will then be given either a ketamine infusion, with a concentration equivalent to a high recreational dose, or a placebo. The team will follow up the people for a year and monitor whether their drinking has changed and by how much.

In total the scientists are aiming to include 90 people in the trial and more than 50 have already taken part. It involves people who drink harmful quantities of alcohol, but excludes anyone who meets the clinical criteria for alcoholism. The participants were drinking at least 40 units for men (equivalent to four bottles of strong wine) and 28 units for women, and drinking on at least four days.

Nikki, 31, who works as a consultant in London said she decided to take part in the study when she had some time off between jobs and realised she was drinking more than she wanted to. “It’s just in the culture, that’s what all my friends are like. Everyone drinks to excess,” she said.

She described the experience of being given the ketamine as “overwhelming and intense”, but not unpleasant. “My body felt like it was melting away,” she said. “It was quite psychedelic, I felt untethered from my body.”

In the week after the session, she said, she felt in an “incredibly positive mood” and that since taking part she has been more conscious about deciding whether to have a drink, although said this could also be linked to starting a new job and taking up meditation. “In the past, there were occasions where I would be drinking and I’d be on autopilot ‘Let’s get another drink’,” she said.

If the trial yields promising results, the team hope that the approach could form the basis for therapy sessions targeted at alcoholics and people who are drinking unhealthily. However, they acknowledge that there may be resistance to the use of a recreational drug to treat people with addiction.

“There’s just the general social attitude that everything that’s illegal is terrible. There will obviously be that kind of narrow-sighted pushback,” said Das. “But if it’s safe and effective enough it should be recommended.”

Andrew Misell, a spokesman for Alcohol Concern, said: “The researchers have quite rightly highlighted what a lot of people in recovery from alcohol problems know from experience, namely that cues or triggers like the smell of beer can cause a relapse even after long periods of abstinence. Any work looking at how people can overcome these pitfalls is going to be useful.”

However, he added, no drug-based therapy is risk-free “and that certainly includes ketamine”.

Professor Michael Saladin, of the Medical University of South Carolina, is looking at similar approaches to help people quit smoking. “There is a vast animal research literature that suggests memories can be manipulated following reactivation,” he said. “I am convinced that there is sufficient evidence to believe that memory reconsolidation can be harnessed for clinical purposes.”

The Evening Standard also picked up on the research:

Researchers at University College London are trialling the use of ketamine, a powerful anaesthetic used in the NHS and on animals, to block or dismantle the “alcohol reward” memories that cause cravings and addictions. It is hoped the drug, known as ‘Special K’ on the party scene, will help drinkers “reboot” their brain and get their habit under control.

Well I’m all for research and trying new things if it will potentially help.  Although I’d be slightly concerned about cross-addiction because if it is a very pleasant experience people may wish and seek to repeat it and ketamine is available as a street drug.