I read this excellent book last year by Caroline Myss called ‘Anatomy of the Spirit’ and it is about the power of the mind and how bodily ailments, aches and pains can be signs of unresolved psychological issues. What you don’t express, or suppress, will find a way of expressing itself and you will leak psychological distress and it will manifest physically. This is sometimes referred to as psychosomatic illnesses which can be as real and debilitating as any other physical ailment so should not be dismissed lightly.
For me I had a whole host of symptoms that were associated with anxiety and depression for example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But when you are actively drinking or hungover it is really hard to get past the initial symptoms of a hangover to be aware of anything else. It just took up too much time and space! And because drinking made my anxiety and depression worse I couldn’t see that booze was part of the problem and just assumed it was a flair up in the underlying physical disorder nothing else! Now I’ve stopped drinking my IBS has pretty much gone completely 🙂
As a nurse I was also plagued by back injuries. An old injury sustained as a student nurse repeatedly came back to haunt me and I would end up off work for spells while the osteopath and rest allowed it to heal. Now I’ve stopped I’ve noticed the weirdest thing. I will feel my back start to go and if I stop and pause it won’t go completely. This has never happened to me before and was really quite odd at first.
So I’ve been trying to interpret what my body was trying to tell me, with a little help from a friend 🙂 I thought it was trying to say I was ‘spineless’ or ‘had no backbone’ for the challenge of stopping drinking but my friend suggested an alternative view. She said that maybe it was telling me to slow down as previously I hadn’t listened to it and so it had just gone with no warning whereas now I was getting warnings and if I heeded them the total stopping because of injury was avoided.
I’ve recently needed some more osteopathy to sort it out and when the practitioner assessed me initially he said that my spine was out of alignment in four different places. I had literally ‘bent myself out of shape’ trying to manage my back problem because if you throw it out in one direction at your hips it will naturally try to compensate by throwing it out in the other direction further up and that’s what mine had done several times over.
Our body is such a beautiful, clever, robust but delicate thing and I abused mine so badly when I was drinking paying no heed to the warnings it was trying to tell me and trying to contort myself and my situations to keep drinking. Now I listen more closely and have given up the contortionism (is that even a word?) 😉
What have you noticed since you stopped?
Gotta love me a bit of Oprah! 😉
Another short clip of an interview with Eckhart Tolle about ‘Aha’ moments – something that I’ve experienced quite a lot since I quit drinking. You know, those ‘light bulb’ moments of recognition? Well he explains them 🙂
Killer lines for me: ‘It awakens and it grows. It comes to the surface more and the more you hear the more open you are and you begin to live it in your life’. And that’s how this journey started. An awareness that I was sick and tired of being hungover, of feeling like shit, of treating others badly because I was trapped in the boozer’s cycle of buy, consume, recover and couldn’t see a way out and was scared of changing. But we always have a choice.
Mastin Kipp at The Daily Love also recently used an Eckhart Tolle quote which really resonated for me so thought I’d share it here (thanks Mastin!)
Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Whatever the substance you are addicted to – alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person – you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain.”
I have often been guilty of, and still am really, of ‘if only’ or wishful thinking.
You know, the if only I was thinner/prettier/smarter/richer then I would be happier/less stressed and things would be easier/better. Such a dangerous game to play and it isn’t really living in the moment but wishing away time. Deadly.
And being able to manage my drinking/being sober fitted this way of thinking too. I believed that when I stopped drinking that everything else that wasn’t quite how I wanted it to be would miraculously improve. Now don’t get me wrong many of those things have happened as a by-product of stopping – I’ve lost 7lbs, my face is less ravaged by booze fugliness when I look in the mirror in the morning and I have more money in my pocket. But initially I wasn’t less happy or stressed and things felt harder and worse not the opposite. But the pain in the early days is worth the pay-offs in the longer term.
I guess my point is just don’t expect miracles. I am less moody and generally easier to be around, now that I’m not permanently hungover, but if you had relationships that you struggled with this change in you will not necessarily improve things with them in the short term.
It makes me think of Tuckman’s stages of group development: ‘forming, norming, storming, performing.’ This change is like any other and when you stop drinking it changes the dynamic with others that you relate to, and with, so these stages come into play. I think at almost 7 months I’ve done the forming new ways of relating and it has become more normal but now we’ve hit the storming phase. But as always I suspect, this too shall pass.
I’ll revisit this post in a few months time and see if we’ve got over this bump in the road. Those of you further ahead than me in the journey – what is your experience as I’d love to have some re-assurance? 🙂
On giving up drinking I have noticed that I have been getting these ‘sober boosts’. Every 6-8 weeks or so I get an increase in the feeling of physical and emotional well-being from the increased length of time without a drink. It reminded me of the development of babies and developmental leaps that they have.
So using this analogy (bear with me) when a baby is born it is expelled from a comfortable known warm place into an uncomfortable cold unknown world which is how it felt to me when I stopped drinking.
For the first 4-6 weeks of life a baby spends most of it’s time crying, sleeping and eating (oh and pooing and weeing). Everything is very basic. Well again that is how I felt in the early days. Emotional, wanting to hide under the duvet and sleep, and eating everything in sight to replace the sugar that I was no longer getting from booze.
At 6-8 weeks babies have a developmental growth spurt and start to interact with their surroundings and you see their first smile. They become able to briefly calm themselves. This is when I experienced my first sober boost and I began to become more settled and happy with where I was and what I was doing. My first pink cloud moment came after this 🙂
At 4 months again they have another developmental growth spurt and are able to smile spontaneously and to cry in different ways to show hunger, pain or being tired. When I had my second sober boost I noticed another period of developing my ability to differentiate my emotions and an increase in calmness about who I am and where I am going.
At 6 months (which will be me tomorrow!) they have another developmental boost where they start to roll. At this stage of the game I feel like I’m rocking and rolling 😉 the sobriety thing. They also recognise their name and will turn to look at you. Me too, I now recognise myself as a sober person and if you offered to buy me a beer I would turn and look at you oddly! They also like playing peekaboo with partially hidden objects and I’m enjoying getting to know parts of myself that has been partially hidden by booze.
I am curious to see if this matching will continue and will let you know how I’m getting on at 9 months when babies have their next big developmental leaps. Sober bloggers further on in their journey’s have shared that it gets better at these times so it looks like it might be so.
Comparing sobriety to being a baby may seem a little far-fetched but if you have drank for a long period of time then chances are you are learning everything anew. You are learning how to be in the world without the crutch of alcohol which I found both terrifying in the beginning and exhilarating now. I have absolutely no desire to go back to my old way of being and the groundhog day of hungover, thinking about drinking, drinking, drunk, another hangover. Not drinking is a very small price to pay for the huge benefits I have experienced so far 🙂
Like the postcard above I had always made stopping drinking a joke. That was my defense mechanism to what I knew was a pretty serious problem, even if none of my friends or family saw me as any worse than any of them. But now I wanted to take it seriously and so I made a contract with myself.
This contract is modelled on the making changes worksheet taken from the centre for smoking cessation and training here in the UK. It could be used for any change that you are considering making.
It detailed the change I wanted to make to my drinking, and could just as easily be used for moderating for a specified length of time if you are not ready to stop completely.
It considered; how changing/not changing made me feel. how changing/not changing might affect how others viewed me and the consequences to myself and other people
It listed the advantages and disadvantages of both making the change and not making the change and the conclusions that I had come to.
It then listed a ratings scale of how motivated I was about the change and how confident I felt about the change. Finally at the bottom it had a section for other considerations. So for me previously when I used it to give up smoking I included the risk of drinking alcohol while quitting smoking as for me the two went hand in hand.
Critically I completed it when I was really hungover and my desire to change was at it’s highest. I then posted it up on the front of my fridge so when ever I was tempted to consider having a drink it was there as a reminder of the deal I’d made with myself.
You can use this with yourself progressively as you moderate or stretch your duration of non-drinking to longer and longer time frames. You can keep former contracts as a record of progress and to see how your motivation and confidence changes over time and what influences them as you learn more skills to manage your drinking.
If you would like a print friendly pdf version it is included in a guest feature article that was published on Soberistas yesterday here 🙂