Category Archives: Sober jukebox

Thursday Sober Inspiration: 4 years clean and sober! (Straight Sun)

As I celebrate 4 years clean and sober it has prompted renewed reflection. So much has happened between this time last year and now.  Much of it has not been as positive as we would have hoped but then sh*t happens whether you are sober or drinking.  Some of it has been stressful, emotionally overwhelming, and felt downright difficult and unfair but again such is life.  One thing is true through all of this though – at no point has the thought of drinking crossed my mind as a good idea.

So when I wrote last years 3 year soberversary post I hoped that we would now be living in Australia and that isn’t so.  Our plans took a turn for the worse at the end of June when the Australian govt announced that they were reducing the age cap on the permanent residency skilled migrant visa from 50 to 45 effective 1st July.  As I’m 48 that was pretty much the end of the road to our emigration plans.  We may get the opportunity to go over on a temporary work visa for 4 years but it’s highly likely we’d have to return after that. The odds aren’t looking good so we’ve accepted as a family this is most likely the end of the living there dream but we  can still go back on holidays to visit our family whenever we wish.

I hoped that I would have been able to successfully publish my Cambridge research and that isn’t so either.  It is however my writing and so I can publish it here if I so wish, and I do.  So here is my research paper written last year for the University of Cambridge Postgraduate Diploma in Education Studies (Counselling).  This isn’t a true academic piece of writing because it is written in the first person rather than the third.  It uses much of my lived experience (phenomenological approach) so is a mix of qualitative and quantitative research.  That is partly why it isn’t suitable for academic publishing without a great deal of rewriting.  What I would ask is that you are respectful to the personal content contained within it.

What is the link between insecure attachment, alexithymia & addiction

If I had to write a time-frame of what this journey has been like to date I would say this:

  • Year 1 was about escaping the physical & psychological pull of drinking & getting through all the social triggers or big sober milestones (week-ends, weddings, parties, Bank Holidays, birthdays, Xmas & New Year, holidays, seasons).
  • Year 2 was about living sober – having made it through the milestones this year can be harder than the first because it is now ‘normal’ to be a non-drinker rather than a drinker in these social situations.  As Mary Karr writes in Lit: “If you live in the dark a long time and then the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling.  There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then – for me, anyway – a profound dislocation.  My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new one’s aren’t yet operational.”  Sums it up beautifully 🙂
  • Year 3 was where I started to process the emotional sobriety elements of living in recovery.  It was too soon to start deep diving in to the issues but I started to tentatively explore the work that needed to be done later and build my emotional resilience in preparation.
  • Year 4 has been the mother-load of emotional recovery work for me.  Now I’ve felt emotionally robust enough to deep dive on some of the underlying reasons why I drank and to be resilient enough to sit with those feelings and it not trigger an emotional relapse that is then a risk for a full relapse.  And again in the words of Mary Karr from Lit: “A lot of therapy is looking through a child’s eyes, she says.  This is looking through an adult’s”  Again, absolutely bang on!

This is only my experience of sobriety though and we are all very different in how we experience both drinking and recovery.  Melody Beattie in her book: Beyond Codependency describes the stages of recovery as expressed by Timmen Cermak as: survival/denial -> reidentification -> core issues -> reintegration -> genesis (which beautifully mirrors my years 1-4 so far!).  She goes on to say: “This is the recovery process.  It’s a fluid process, with carryovers and crossovers at different stages.  There isn’t a fixed time frame for moving through these stages ….. Recovery is a healing and a spiritual process.  We travel from self-neglect into self-responsibility, self care and self love.  I’ve learned that self-care isn’t narcissistic or indulgent.  Self care is the one thing I can do that most helps me and others too.

And of the genesis stage which is where I now consider myself:

This isn’t the end.  It’s a new beginning.  We’re no longer carrying around our “imprisoned” selves.  Nor are we indulging in all our whims and desires.  Discipline has found its place in our lives too.  Like butterflies broken loose from a cocoon, our selves are “flying free” …  We’ve found a new way of life – one that works.

I would not have changed any of it and remain certain that my decision to stop was one of the best of my lifetime so far.  My life would have been poorer were it not for the friendships and connections I have made out here on the inter-webs because of that single decision to put down my last drink on the 20th September 2013.

Although drink holds no appeal right now I am under no illusion that like Smaug in Lord of the Rings my addiction is like a sleeping dragon that one drink could awaken.  Because as Tolkien wrote Smaug is “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked wyrm”.  I remain alert and resolute heartened by the knowledge that as I head on towards 5 years sober this time next year, the risk of relapse drops to around 15%.

And to end this post?  The only way I know how to celebrate – with a tune!  Orbital ‘Straight Sun’ and some fantastic timeframe video of the UK 🙂

Friday Sober Jukebox: Do The Hustle

So it’s been a while since I’ve had a moment of clarity in my sobriety so it feels like one was way overdue and then it arrived.  Not with a bang but as Laura McKowen said recently to Nicole Antoinette in a podcast, it was a ‘soft click’.  I’ve been doing the hustle again – the hustle for worthiness.

The soft click moment came lying in the bath having listened to 3 podcasts in quick succession; Meadow DeVor with Nicole Antoinette, the Laura McKowen one and then Dan Siegel talking about The Wheel of Awareness which I’ve talked about here.  It’s like they all coalesced in my brain and then I have a realisation.

So Dan talked about our Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) score which I also talk about in my attachment, alexithymia & addiction research paper I wrote and I will share soon here, plus Veronica Valli linked to an excellent article about it recently here too.  Mine is 8/10 which meant I was environmentally and genetically primed for addiction.  And Meadow talked about the hustle for worthiness as it relates to professional remuneration, overworking, underearning and overspending – an addiction of another kind in all but substance.

And when I looked back and reflected on different memories it all became clear.  Some clues?  Memories of hearing my parents arguing when I was teenager at being unable to afford the cost of my school fees (I was educated at private boarding school of my mother’s choosing not mine) and how it was wasted on me because he thought I wasn’t intelligent enough – and me thinking ‘I’ll prove you wrong’; having to tenaciously pursuit contacts I’d established to secure an assistant research psychologist post; badgering a manager for a reference to apply to the University of Cambridge and the joy at finding out I’d been accepted; writing the blog and then the tears at people signing up for the London workshops; and most recently approaching agencies as I try to secure a job (and accompanying visa) in Australia.  The soft click of awareness that I was feeling way too comfortable with all of this and how it all felt very familiar – the clenched jaw, breathe holding and giddy rush of the chase.  Good things come to those who hustle right?

And now I have the awareness I have to decide what to do with it and that I haven’t quite figured out yet.  So a musical interlude in the meantime  with Pan’s People no less! 😉

PS Tomorrow is the UK’s 9th Recovery Walk if you would like to join them here are all the details:

Faces And Voices of Recovery UK Blackpool 2017

 

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 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 😉

Edited to add: 03/08/17

Just watched this brilliant video with Tara Brach talking about healing trauma which feels incredibly pertinent to this post so am sharing here:

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:

Friday Sober Jukebox: loud music and getting out of my head (h/t Fat Boy Slim!)

So I was thinking about the fact that I run the Friday sober jukebox and why music (turned up ear bleed loud) continues to be so important to me as a way of getting out of my head.  This also then tied in with some wisdom from Focus12 and another sober bloggers writing about impulsivity I read recently (thanks Rachel for sharing the links!).

I was driving along for work and had the stereo turned up really loud belting out a tune when I remembered some of the rules that Focus12 had for their clients during treatment.

There were a list of activities and substances they were not allowed to have or engage in while resident and working on their fledgling sobriety.  These included:

  • Speakers for playing loud music
  • Henna or ink tattoos
  • Piercings
  • Red Bull or similar energy drinks
  • Permission needed to go to the cinema
  • Permission to go the gym more than a couple of times a week
  • Too much non-food shopping was challenged
  • They were encouraged not to spend too much time watching television
  • No laptops, tablets, gaming systems or e-readers
  • Restricted use of mobile phones

This is because these are all ways of changing the way we feel or allowing ourselves to escape in some way.  The counselling team felt with music systems and mobile phones if you were distracting yourself too much or becoming too involved with the ‘outside world’ that it would be to the detriment of the programme of treatment.  And I have to agree because the reason I love loud music is for that very reason – it assaults my ears and takes me somewhere else, either deep in memories or thoughts away from the here and now.  It gets me out of my head!

As Rachel writes for Sober Nation, “How about tattoos? Getting ink can be impulsive – but I absolutely love it, and oh the tattoo high fills in all kinds of voids.”  So not just me with my music then?

She goes on to say, “Anything done in excess has the potential to be an issue. The purpose of all this is to get you to think about the impulsive behavior and how it relates to alcoholism or addiction, and to let you know you’re not alone. It’s not weak to have cravings for some adventure you’re lacking in the present, in fact, it’s completely normal for those in recovery.”

Wanderlust? Adventure you say?  Again ringing bells for me too!

She ends her piece with this really good question:

What’s filling that void, the itch you can’t scratch? Is it healthy?

I would argue that if you aren’t doing it to excess and it gives you joy and it isn’t booze – all power to you, go get out of your head! 😉

A retrospective on 2016 (Friday sober jukebox: some riot)

So as I have pared down my blog activity and news sources the one I repeatedly return to is Alcohol Policy UK.  They wrote an excellent retrospective piece about 2016 which you can read here:

 

Alcohol policy in 2016 & what’s in store for 2017?

But what really struck me about this blog were the images featured at the end entitled: Selected alcohol slides from the ‘most interesting things about drugs and alcohol in 2016’ from Andrew Brown:

The top image was the first which highlighted how over half (54%) of strong ciders sold in the off-trade in England and Wales in 2015 were sold at below 20p a unit  <pauses to let that sink in for a minute>  so for less than the cost of a pint of milk! 🙁

Below I share the other three because visual images can be so much more impactful than words.  They all tell a compelling story which as yet is not being addressed by our govt sufficiently to change the trajectory of the graphs.

Association between the experience of physical and sexual abuse in the lives of women and dependence to drugs and alcohol …..

 

 

The number of offences committed pre and post treatment for alcohol use disorders ……

 

 

 

Graphic confirmation that those with the most problems with alcohol are more likely to use the NHS …..

 

 

 

I’ll finish with a haunting performance from Elbow and the BBC Concert Orchestra of Guy Garvey’s ode to a friend lost to alcohol addiction  – some riot.

The impact of alcohol is all too plain to see and hear to those who have eyes and ears.  Shame our govt is looking the other way with its collective fingers in its ears (except perhaps Liam Byrne) …..

PS Yesterday was day 1250!

Improve services to address addiction related unemployment (this is not a love song)

So maybe not the sexiest post-Valentine subject matter but important none the less – and an excuse to feature a Banksy which is always a bonus! 😉  This was a report on service provision to address addiction related unemployment featured by Alcohol Policy UK in December.

Over to Alcohol Policy UK:

Dame Carol Black’s review into the effects on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity has been released by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The review sets out a series of recommendations to improve options and support for those with drug and alcohol dependence, and does not endorse restricting benefits as was speculated in 2015.

Whilst the scope of the report covers also the role of obesity on employment outcomes, it states the issue is ‘different’ to substance addiction and ‘is treated seperately’. Specifically on alcohol, the report states:

‘Alcohol misuse may also be a cause or a consequence of unemployment. It is certainly a predictor both of unemployment and of future job loss, but evidence also suggests that increased alcohol consumption may follow job loss. Unlike dependence on heroin and crack cocaine, alcohol dependence is not strongly associated with lower socioeconomic status although the resultant health harms are. Nevertheless, the employment rate for those who develop problematic dependence is less than half that of the rest of the population’.

Overall the review describes the importance of employment in supporting addiction ‘recovery’, but neither drug and alcohol or job support services are sufficiently meeting the needs of service users. As such it recommends ‘practical interventions, including changes in services, practices, behaviour and attitudes.’

Three main areas where action is needed in relation to drugs, alcohol and employment are identified:

  • Addiction treatment does not, in itself, ensure employment, though it brings other social gains. Work has not hitherto been an integral part of treatment, and it needs to be if progress is to be made.
  • The benefits system, which has a central role in helping people enter or return to work, requires significant change. The system is hampered by a severe lack of information on health conditions, poor incentives for staff to tackle difficult or long-term cases, and a patchy offer of support for those who are reached.
  • Employers are the gatekeepers to employment and, without their co-operation employment for our cohorts is impossible. Employers are understandably reluctant to hire people with addiction and/or criminal records. They have told us that they need Government, quite simply, to de-risk these recruitment decisions for them.

Specific challenges are also identified, including ‘fractured commissioning responsibilities and lines of accountability’ that undermine efforts to develop co-ordinated responses. Whilst recognising low waiting times for alcohol treatment, stakeholders reported that alcohol services were ‘still inadequate to meet need in a number of areas’. The Government’s 2010 Drug Strategy, which listed a series of recovery-focused aims, ‘has yet to be realised’, in part owing to the ‘failure of the benefits systems to identify addiction (and indeed other relevant health conditions)’.

A series of recommendations include ‘the introduction of an expanded recovery measure that includes work and meaningful activity (including volunteering)’ as part of the outcomes monitoring for drug and alcohol treatment. It also proposes to trial discussions with a healthcare professional for welfare claimants to discuss ‘the impact of their health condition on their ability to work’. Initiatives to support employers in actively recruiting those in recovery will need to ‘de-risk’ companies from doing so, as explored in an FT blog.

David Best, Professor of Criminology, commented:

“How to read policy reviews? It correctly identifies a gap in supporting the employment needs of alcohol and drug users in employment, and also identifies two key issues – DBS checks and the ‘benefit trap’. The Black Review correctly identifies gaps in provision and joined up working and makes some interesting suggestions around including employment and volunteering in outcome measurement; suggests the use of peer mentors; and has some interesting ideas about collocating workers. But it all feels a bit tame and safe. There is no real drivers for the inter-agency working and pathway modelling that would be required of each workforce and the idea of partnership seems optimistic. There is also little adequate differentiation of the needs of problem drinkers who will typically have a different work history from problem drug users. Individual examples of good practice and innovation are all very well but what is lacking in the review is suggested mechanisms for making these more than beacons of hope in the darkness. So the review is encouraging in as far as it goes… but that is not very far”

A Collective Voice post said the report was a ‘real opportunity for the alcohol and drug treatment sector which we must seize’. According to LocalGov, the Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the report but warned it was not ‘radical’ enough. See also reports in the Telegraph and Guardian.

Earlier this year the BMA released an updated briefing for medical and other professionals on addressing alcohol and drug use in the workplace, including guidance on supporting or recruiting employees with histories of substance misuse.

Agree with all of the above and know that Focus12 is supportive of these recommendations both in theory and in practice – says she who was a volunteer for them to help my own recovery 🙂

It feels only right to follow this blog up with this sober jukebox tune 😉

Friday Sober Jukebox: Right Here Right Now

So I’ve been reflecting a great deal in the last few weeks.  It’s been triggered by changes in events, seeing T2 Trainspotting and a trip to my old spiritual home Brighton.  I’ve been struggling to stay in the present – right here and now and so I’m getting it down on paper.  Just like Spud in T2 to me writing is a vital addiction recovery tool.

This image is of a friend of ours who is no longer with us.  We met Mark as I worked with his partner in medical sales and marketing while living in the city.  He was a great guy who was heavily involved in the music and art scene in Brighton and we last saw him at a 40th bday party for a mutual friend of ours back in 2007.  This graffiti art was sprayed in the North Laine to commemorate Mark who took his own life in 2013.  He had long struggled with depression and it finally won in March of that year – he had not long celebrated his 51st birthday.  This was the first time we’d been back and seen this fitting memorial and it really hit me hard.

What triggered the trip to Brighton was that our plan to emigrate to Australia hasn’t been going as well as we hoped.  Although I have a valued skill which has been welcomed my age is counting against me in the visa process and our family out there have had happy family news here and may be returning later this year.  If that happens our Australia plan may well be sadly no longer viable.  So we were thinking about where else we might like to live – and we’ve missed Brighton since we left and hence the visit.

This scene from T2 and what Renton said has really stayed with me, particularly his last words about getting away.

I interpreted that as him getting away from Edinburgh but actually I think he also may have meant getting away from himself.  And that has got me really thinking about whether, in AA wisdom, I am trying to do a ‘geographic’.

Let me explain.  Stopping drinking was hugely motivated by giving my kids a better childhood, and therefore future, than I had.  I assumed that this meant giving myself the headspace to make better decisions for them including about where we work and live.  But actually when I think about it really deeply where we are has nothing to do with that.

My childhood was less than ideal because I had a father whose primary concern was alcohol and a mother who was at best emotionally unavailable (because of her own self pre-occupation) and at worst emotionally hostile.  Having more emotionally stable, present and available parents would have ensured a better future for me rather than where we lived as children.

Drinking kept me in that same emotionally unavailable place.  Us not drinking has already improved my kids future in terms of how it compares to both my parents way of relating to me in my childhood.  Plus I recently realised that all the professional development I’ve been doing for the last 12 years wasn’t about career advancement but about re-parenting myself so that I could parent my children better.  Psychology degree, health visitor training, school nurse post, child and adolescent psychotherapeutic counselling training – notice a trend?  Maybe that valuable training, experience and getting sober is how I’ve already improved their future?

So does it matter whether we are in Australia or Brighton or where we are currently?  Wherever I go there I am.  So although Renton suggests he was trying to escape the geography of where he was – I think it was more than that and I wonder if that is true of me too?

Reading Pete Walker he says

No “positive” feeling can be induced to persist as a permanent experience, no matter what Rational-Emotive Therapy tells us. As disappointing as this may be, as much as we might like to deny it, as much of a cause of ongoing life frustration for each of us as it is, and as much as we were raised and continue to be reinforced for trying to control and pick our feelings, they are still by definition of the human condition, largely outside the province of our wills.  

I think I am guilty of that here too.  Whereas I am no longer ricocheting off of verges drunk I’ve been cognitively bouncing between the potential sober happy future of Australia and the memory of a happy and booze soaked past in Brighton – and yes memories came back of me taking a break from drinking even when we lived here (I remember achieving one stint of 18 days AF).  I’ve been chasing fantasy chocolate unicorns rather than living in the present – right here, right now.  The week-end in Brighton has allowed me to accept this – not in resignation or defeat but as a sign of growth.  And anyway who needs to live in Brighton when you can have your every fantasy chocolate creation now delivered wherever you live in the UK? 😉

And that segways nicely with this tune that spun round (and video shot as though I was running along the beach) that Sunday morning  as I was making this important realisation.

In memory of Mark – much loved and missed in the present.

Edited to add: Hot dang – Mark Manson wrote a post about a very similar thing on the very same day! https://markmanson.net/disease-of-more

 

Friday Sober Jukebox – Ghosts in the Machine

ghosts-in-the-machineSo this feels like a timeless sober jukebox tune for a timeless post.  I’m actually writing this at the end of October 2016 because I have been struggling with some recurring demons – my ghosts in the machine as it were.

Coming from the family experience that I do I struggle with fear and anxiety pretty regularly and it settles for long periods of time and then flairs up again.  Invariably I think that I have more power than I do and that everything is my fault, everything will fall apart and it will all be my fault.  I listened to a Yoga Church podcast last night called ‘Step Out of Your Past and Into Your Now’ that got me thinking about this again as I struggle to get on top of another bout of raging anxiety and fear.

shadow-dancerMeadow and Laura McKowen were talking about the words that define their past and for me those two words, fear and anxiety, express it pretty succinctly.  They discussed coming up with an image that portrayed this and pretty similarly to Laura the one I landed on was shadow dancer.  I spent my entire life dancing to the tune of others to dodge the shadows of fear and anxiety – either my own or those of others around me.  No wonder I ended up in the bottom of a bottle!

This image and these words must then be honoured and let go in a ritual of some kind of your making.  To me it felt like I had to sit with them and not dance myself away from them and my shadow side.  To be honest the trigger events have prompted a great deal of soul searching and somatic discomfort so I feel like this has been part of the process and hence why it is time to move on from being stuck in these feelings.

explorerHaving created the image and words that defined the past the task was then to create ones to replace these for the future.  My brain was pretty fried by this point (or I was simply disassociating under the stress of it!) but with the help of MrHOF we came up with calm and fearless as the words and the image was explorer.

This image seemed fitting in terms of my internal exploring of more positive feelings and our external plans for travel as a family too 😉

This is an ongoing process and I continue to have waves of emotional upheaval but like the waves of craving to drink they come less often and are less intense and I see them build to crescendo and break now so I’m making progress.  I recommend you give it a try what with the heralding of a new year not that long ago.

And now to one of my favourite albums 🙂