Category Archives: Compassion for self and others

Sober Inspiration: Have a love affair with yourself

So last summer I read this book and there was one chapter that was like a punch to the gut.  It is Ch 11 in Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More and the chapter title is Have a Love Affair with yourself.

I could quote the entire chapter but would get into copy right trouble so I’m going to cherry pick the bits that I reread repeatedly as I attempted to let them sink in.

Over to Melody:

Most co-dependents suffer from that vague but penetrating affliction, low self-worth.  We don’t feel good about ourselves, we don’t like ourselves, and we woudn’t consider loving ourselves.  For some of us low self-worth is an understatement.

We don’t like the way we look. We can’t stand our bodies.  We think we’re stupid, incompetent, untalented, and, in many cases, unlovable.  We think our thoughts are wrong and inappropriate,  We think our feelings are wrong and inappropriate.  We believe we’re not important, and even if our feelings aren’t wrong, we dont think they matter.  We’re convinced our needs aren’t important ….. We think we’re inferior to and different from the rest of the world – not unique, but oddly and inappropriately different.

We pick on ourselves endlessly, heaping piles of shoulds on our conscience and creating mounds of worthless, stinking guilt.  We think a thought and then tell ourselves we shouldn’t think that way.  We feel a feeling, then tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way.  We make a decision, act on it, then tell ourselves we shouldn’t have acted that way …… We are engaged in a form of punishment designed to keep us feeling anxious, upset and stifled.  We trap ourselves.

A few of us believe we can’t do anything right, but at the same time, we demand perfection of ourselves.  We put ourselves in impossible situations, then wonder why we can’t get out.  Then we finish the job by shaming ourselves. 

As codependents we frequently dislike ourselves so much that we believe it’s wrong to take ourselves into account, in other words, appear selfish.  Putting ourselves first is out of the question.

Much of the defensiveness I’ve seen in codependents comes not because we think we’re above criticism, but because we have so little self-worth that any perceived attack threatens to annihiliate us.  We feel so bad about ourselves and have such a need to be perfect and avoid shame that we cannot allow anyone to tell us something we’ve done wrong.  One reason some of us nag and criticise others people is because that’s what we do to ourselves.

We can find endless means of torturing ourselves: overeating, neglecting our needs, comparing ourselves to others, competing with people, obsessing, dwelling on painful memories, or imagining future painful scenes.  This “what if” attitude is always good for a strong dose of fear.  We scare ourselves, then wonder why we feel so frightened.

We don’t like ourselves, and we’re not going to let ourselves get any of the good stuff because we don’t believe we deserve it.

I read this with my mouth open like she was talking directly to me …….

So having deconstructed us she then restores us 🙂

Actually, it doesn’t matter when we began to torture ourselves.  We must stop now.  Right now, we can give ourselves a big emotional and mental hug.  We are okay.  It’s wonderful to be who we are.  Our thoughts are okay.  Our feelings are appropriate.  We’re right where we’re supposed to be today, this moment.  There is nothing wrong with us. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with us.  If we’ve done wrongs, that’s okay; we were doing the best we could.  In fact, codependents are some of the most loving, generous, good-hearted, and concerned people I know.  We can stop picking on ourselves for picking on ourselves.  This habit is not our fault either, but it is our responsiblity to learn to stop doing it.

We can cherish ourselves and our lives.  We can nurture ourselves and love ourselves.  We can accept our wonderful selves, with all our faults, foibles, strong points, weak points, feelings, thoughts, and everything else.  It’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.  It’s who we are, and we we meant to be. And it’s not a mistake.  We are the greatest thing that will ever happen to us.  Believe it.  It makes life much easier.

We aren’t second-class citizens.  We don’t deserve to lead second-hand lives.  And we don’t deserve second best relationships!  We are lovable, and we are worth getting to know.  People who love and like us aren’t stupid or inferior for doing that.  We have a right to be happy.  We deserve good things.

We need to be good to ourselves.  We need to be compassionate and kind to ourselves.  How can we expect to take care of ourselves appropriately if we hate or dislike ourselves?

We need to refuse to enter into an antagonistic relationship with ourselves.  Quit blaming ourselves and being victimised, and take responsible steps to remove the victim.  Put the screws on guilt.  Shame and guilt serve no long-term purpose.  They are not useful as a way of life.  Stop the “shoulds”.  Become aware of when we’re punishing and torturing ourselves and make a concerted effort to tell ourselves positive messages.

We can be gentle, loving, listening, attentive, and kind to ourselves, our feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, desires, and everything we’re made of.  We can accept ourselves – all of us.  Start where we’re at, and we will become more.  Develop our gifts and talents.  Trust ourselves.  Assert ourselves.  We can be trusted. Respect ourselves.  Be true to ourselves.  Honour ourselves, for that is where our magic lies.  That is our key to the world.

And for me that all started when I put down the drink …….

Sober Inspiration: How to Feel Sorry For Yourself

So I read my first Augusten Burroughs book in my very early weeks and months of recovery.  On that occasion it was Dry: A Memoir and what a fantastic book it is too.  This is How is equally as good if not better and I’m going to quote these excerpts from the chapter How to Feel Sorry For Yourself.  It gave me shivers reading this …..

“Self-pity knows it’s hated.  It’s one emotion that lives up to its name: it’s something reserved for the self.  Self-pity is a feeling you allow when you’re alone.  If you allow it when you’re around other people, they fuss at you and never give you the sympathy you want.  So self-pity becomes your private, secret feeling.

I believe self-pity is an emotion from our earliest days, probably among the first emotions we experienced.  You can see self-pity every day if you live near a playground like I do.  Little kids trip or get shoved and they fallover over all the time.  Little kids also know that injuries are an opportunity for extra affection from the adults.

Self-pity isn’t the most accurate description for this feeling because it describes only half of it: sad for me, I’m hurt.  What’s missing is the other half: and you need to do something about it.  In other words, self-pity feels childish to adults.

Which is why self-pity is a very dangerous feeling for any adult to harbour.

It’s one thing to recognize that you’re hurt.  It’s quite healthy, in fact, to see and appreciate your own emotional injuries.  BUT we have to be that adult for ourselves.

Where this healthy self-empathy turns into a malignant self-pity is at the arrival of resentment.  “Fuck everybody.  Nobody gives a shit about me.  Fuck them all.”

That is self-pity and it is dangerous because it signals a lack of accountability for one’s mental state and worse, the outcomes of one’s life.  Self-pity can last for years.  Sometimes, it can last a lifetime.

In pre-school, when somebody hurts us, the teacher sees to it that the person who hurts us apologizes.

It is engrained in us from a very early age that inflicted pain or wrongdoing or unfairness should and will be corrected.

Note the passive phrasing: “be corrected.”  We will not, as children, take control and make sure the amends are delivered in a timely fashion.  That is the job of the teacher.

In adults, self-pity turns darker and more dangerous as no playground rescue arrives.

The feeling solidifies into victimhood.

Somebody with victim mentality believes life has screwed them over.  Somebody with a victim mentality blames everybody else or “them” but takes no responsiblity themselves.

This is the quicksand of life.  Once you have become a victim, you may well remain a victim for the rest of your life.  Taking no responsibility, no action, and, as a result, seeing no change for the better.

The truth is that nobody is owed an apology for anything.  Apologies are lovely when they happen.  But they change nothing.  Thye do not reverse actions or correct damage.  They are merely nice to hear.

The truth is that life is brutally, obscenely unfair.  Fairness is not among the laws of the universe.

Avoid self-pity by taking responsibility for everything that happens to you, even if somebody else is at fault.  By taking responsibility, I don’t mean play doormat.  I mean, repair yourself.  Move forward.  Move on.  Then, only then, see if you can wrangle some empathy.

The truth behind the truth is this: even if you are a victim, you must never be a victim.

Even if you deserve to be one.

Because while you wait for somebody to come along and set things right, life has moved forward without you.”

I think the reason this was such a zinger for me was because when I stopped drinking I wallowed in my own private pity-party for a long time, railing against the world because I thought I could no longer drink and this was horribly unfair.  “Why me?” I cried.  Yes I could argue that things had happened to me in my childhood that were unfair but it was me as an adult who had chosen to drown my distress in alcohol and me who had to take responsibility for what choices I made now.  Tough but true.

What do you think of what he writes?  Does this resonate or hit a nerve for you too?

“My Anxious Heart”

I came across this photo series “My Anxious Heart” by Katie Crawford a few years ago and this has sat in draft since then, bookmarked as it resonated with how anxiety can feel for me too sometimes.  I used to feel like this after a heavy drinking session and I still get the remnants of it if I am very stressed or there is some kind of perceived crisis.

Her words and images are haunting and you can see them all here:

Katie Joy Crawford My Anxious Heart

numb feeling. how oxymoronic. how fitting. can you actually feel numb? or is it the inability to feel? am i so used to being numb that i’ve equated it to an actual feeling?” (accompanying image)

depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning.” (accompanying image)

Over to The Book of Life again:

Anxiety is our fundamental state for well-founded reasons:

– Because we are intensely vulnerable physical beings, a complicated network of fragile organs all biding their time before eventually letting us down catastrophically at a moment of their own choosing.

– Because we have insufficient information upon which to make most major life decisions: we are steering more or less blind.

– Because we can imagine so much more than we have and live in mobile-driven, mediatised societies where envy and restlessness will be a constant.

– Because we are the descendants of the great worriers of the species, the others having been trampled and torn apart by wild animals, and because we still carry in our bones – into the calm of the suburbs – the terrors of the savannah.

– Because visible objects and locations, oak tables and beaches, can only symbolise calm to our eyes rather than instil it in our psyches.

– Because the progress of our careers and of our finances play themselves out within the tough-minded, competitive, destructive, random workings of an uncontained capitalist engine.

– Because we rely for our self-esteem and sense of comfort on the love of people we cannot control and whose needs and hopes will never align seamlessly with our own.

The single most important move is acceptance. There is no need – on top of everything else – to be anxious that we are anxious. The mood is no sign that our lives have gone wrong, merely that we are alive. We should be more careful when pursuing things we imagine will spare us anxiety. We can pursue them by all means, but for other reasons than fantasies of calm – and with a little less vigour and a little more scepticism.

If you are struggling with anxiety while still drinking or because you’ve stopped know that you are not alone.

Sober Inspiration: You are good enough

Words of wisdom from  Marie Forleo and Colleen Saidman Yee and The School of Life. You are enough and good enough 🙂

 

 

 

Just sit. Notice where you feel hard and sit with that.
In the middle of the hardness, you’ll find anger, sit with that.
Go to the center of the anger and you’ll probably come to sadness.
Stay with the sadness until it comes to vulnerability.
Keep sitting with what comes up: the deeper you dig, the more tender you become.
Raw fear can open into the wide expanse of genuineness, compassion, gratitude, and acceptance in the present moment.
A tender heart appears naturally when you are able to stay present. From your heart, you can see the true pigment of the sky.
You can see the vibrant yellow of the sunflower and the deep color of your daughters’s eye.
A tender heart doesn’t block out rain clouds, or tears or dying sunflowers. Allow both beauty and sadness to touch you. This love, not fear.

(meditation from Colleen Saidman Yee)

High ambitions are noble and important, but there can also come a point when they become the sources of terrible trouble and unnecessary panic.

One way of undercutting our more reckless ideals and perfectionism was pioneered by a British psychoanalyst called Donald Winnicott in the 1950s.  The concept of ‘good enough’ was invented as an escape from dangerous ideals. It began in relation to parenthood, but it can be applied across life more generally, especially around work and love.

It takes a good deal of bravery and skill to keep even a very ordinary life going. To persevere through the challenges of love, work and children is quietly heroic. We should perhaps more often sometimes step back in order to acknowledge in a non-starry-eyed but very real way that our lives are good enough – and that this is, in itself, already a very grand achievement.

(text from Book of Life)

You Do Enough, You Have Enough, You Are Enough

Happy sober Friday xx

Alcoholism continues long after you stop drinking: my 15 years sober

This exceptional piece of writing comes courtesy of Tanya Gold featured in The Guardian earlier this year.  Beautiful writing about alcoholism and how for many of us it is but the symptom of much deeper issues.

It is easy to get morphine in University College hospital, London, if you are a good liar. It hurts, you tell the midwife, although you can’t feel anything, being so high on morphine already that someone could hit you with a sledgehammer and you would only laugh: what else you got? It was close to midnight on 13 August 2013, and I was on medical-grade opiates; nothing else can make you forget you are about to give birth. Eleven years without alcohol or drugs, and I fell, complete, into the waiting groove. I loved it. I was having a party in the high-risk maternity ward and they didn’t even know it. I lay back on my pillow and gurned with joy: oh, Morpheus, god of dreams.

When the morphine ran out, I had a baby. He was very small and handsome, and he was an imposition. I could say I was frightened, but that would be self-serving. It is possible, even likely, that I was afraid. I was definitely high.

I stared at him and thought: I am more vulnerable than you, even if you are a baby. Then I told the midwife: my husband is trying to kill me. My evidence was that he had brought me a tin of biscuits. This, then, was the comedown, and I was at the bottom of the curve. I must have said that the baby was not important to me, because my husband became angry and I became angry, and I told him I hated him and had never loved him. I considered walking out into the traffic, or throwing myself under a train, and that was our baby’s first night on Earth. We went home and I locked myself in my bedroom, without the baby, and looked at photographs of him on Facebook, and ate a ham.

Strange things can bring you to a crisis, like realising that you cannot read Dickens out of jealousy. Or more obvious ones, like thinking: the baby should live with my sister, she will do this better than me. Or, when he was two months old: when is he going to university? In my history of alcoholism, I have been at my most healthy when I knew that I was ill. If you remind yourself that you are ill, you can do better. Now, in my son’s room, wishing his childhood away because I did not know how to care for him, I knew I was ill. I was not drinking or using drugs, but I was as lonely and frightened as I had ever been. I was back where I had started.

***

Alcoholism is a strange condition. If you survive the drinking stage, and many don’t, it has relatively little to do with alcohol, which is merely the drug with which the alcoholic treats herself. It is, rather, a way of thinking, and continues long after you have stopped drinking. It is a voice in the head: a malevolent voice that wants you to die. I certainly see it that way: it makes it easier to pick my way through the days if I know what, exactly, I am dealing with. Is this the voice speaking, or not? Which one made a decision, and which one doubted it? To discover the true root of any plan can require forensic vigour, and much time. It is perpetual inner warfare.

The party in the maternity ward aside, I have not taken drugs or alcohol for 15 years. You might think I would be better by now, but for the alcoholic there is nothing as prosaic as “better”. There is only a daily remission, based on how you deal with the voice in your head. (“Hello, monster. Where have you been?”)

One morning in early 2002, at perhaps 5am, which is, as all addicts know, when the night breaks, leaving you with mashed lips and mad eyes, I stood in front of the mirror in my mother’s house. I had been drinking alcoholically – that is, without stopping – for almost nine years, and I was very near the end. I pointed at myself – I remember myself as a very attractive drunk, red-lipped and irresistible, but this is the voice again, for I was nothing of the sort – and I said, very clearly, “I hate you and I wish you would die.” I knew then what the voice in my head wanted, and how powerful it was. It made a mistake by being honest and, because it made a mistake, I lived.

I could no longer blame circumstances or others; I would have to do something about it myself. It is frightening, seeing yourself wish death on yourself in a mirror, and – because you are full of cocaine, as well as alcohol – being able to remember it. Alcohol shrouds itself in blackout, and you wake to a queasy blank; but cocaine is very bright, and pointed – it is almost telescopic. I was frightened enough to attempt one year without alcohol.

I was prepared to be conscious (I loved the WH Auden line “But who can live for long/In an euphoric dream?”) but I was under the delusion I was a literary genius, even though the only job I could get at the time was as a freelance reporter for a now defunct Daily Mail showbusiness column called Wicked Whispers. Wicked Whispers was so awful that, occasionally, the subs forgot to put it in the paper and no one would notice. If the celebrities I stalked stared at me, and asked, kindly, about my pitiful excuse for a career, I was stunned. Looking askance at Gillian Anderson when she, clearly and without malice, pities you, is, for me, a definitive act of insanity.

I was too scared to drink alcohol, but I couldn’t do anything else about a condition I barely understood. I went to self-help groups in gloomy church annexes, which seemed as despairing – though less vivid – as what I had left behind, and heard people talk about “spiritual growth”. I missed my near-death, for it had not been boring. I did not know what they were talking about. I could not hear them. I said I was an alcoholic, because I supposed I must be, but I didn’t really know what it meant.

I did know I needed a new soul, the old one having broken, and I chose to build it with ink. I thought that I should be a famous journalist, so I stood outside the Daily Mail building and offered up a prayer, like Salieri: Lord, make me a great short-form showbusiness columnist, and then, if you think it right, Lord, may I progress to features. I got a job on the features desk, a job I called “Idiot Girl”. I was required to report in fancy dress – Saxon peasant, old woman – and I loved it. It was evidence of my survival: she mugs, she pratfalls, she lives! The voice was impressed, and temporarily silenced. (I believe everyone is a secret Daily Mail reader, even the voice.)

I built a career in journalism but I felt, always, that the person in print had nothing to do with me. She looked like me, but she was my ghost, and she was not reliable. I could never stop working, but I could never stay in any job; as soon as I arrived, I yearned to leave. I became marvellous at being fired and learned to soothe, and even thank, the person who was firing me, the better to start again at the beginning. It was a game I played with myself. I would procrastinate over my work to stoke the fear, but I was not lazy. I met a sensitive, clever man and married him, but I worked on my wedding day. I worked on my honeymoon. I worked in the labour ward, until I was offered the morphine. I was terrified of losing things and I would try to lose them so I could be, momentarily, at peace. My husband, at least, knew that, which is probably why I chose him. I am not a complete idiot.

I was, for a while, a columnist, but that was no good, either. To write a good column, I had to work myself into such a state of rage that the week was empty of anything else. I had a schedule of rage, which I followed dutifully; if I wrote on Wednesday, I would be numb on Thursday and would then stoke the rage over the weekend. On Monday, the rage would ebb, to be replaced by terror, which would reach a pitch on Tuesday night, after which I would write what seemed to me not sentences, but tiny, insistent stabs. That is not a job; it is a condition.

I was still at the mercy of the voice, but she had regressed to sludge. She manifested as a cloud of anxiety that travelled with me and occasionally mutated, helpfully, into dread, and then back to anxiety. I was a cartoon character with a personal cloud, Charlie Brown with a mood disorder.

Late summer in 2013, I was sitting in a self-help group. This one was surrounded by a very fine, old graveyard, like a metaphor, with many famous intellectuals in fabulous tombs; we sat calmly with the dead, as if we belonged there. The baby was at home in the cradle. I always said the same thing at this self-help group, and they were very patient with me. If I had published a good article in the previous 24 hours, I was happy because I existed in a form with which I was comfortable, and which other people could recognise and approve of. If not, I moped, and complained that I was not happy. I avoided self-help groups where they talked about their gratitude. I did not believe them.

I listened and thought about how much, then, I hated being an alcoholic. I mourned the lives I could have lived if I had not been cursed with this condition. I could have been an MEP! I could have been a chef! I wondered, in a broad way, what had happened, and what I could do. I became aware, quite suddenly in the quiet by the graveyard, of the constancy of the voice. I had waited, every day for 15 years, to wake up and find she had gone, and that was my error.

I knew then that she has always been there. When I was five, she told me my parents didn’t love me. I remember repeating, very insistently, to my parents that I knew they did not love me, because she had told me so. Evidence doesn’t matter to the voice; she kicks it away. She cherishes a passing piece of thoughtlessness, nurtures a harm. She lives in the small places beneath my conscious mind.

When I was 10, she said I was friendless at a noisy suburban school. When I was 12, and mooching about the dull streets of Kingston upon Thames, she said I was alone, and probably always would be. For the nine years of my active alcoholism, she told me to drink, first because it wouldn’t harm me – and what else was there? – and then because I couldn’t be saved.

She says only what she can get away with. She could never, for instance, convince me that my sister doesn’t love me; instead, she tormented me, when I was drinking, with the possibility that my sister might die. She wants so much to be believed, this voice, and is almost as pitiful as the other me, which is the one that is writing this story: the one that wants to live. I am quite aware how mad this sounds, but it is the truest narrative of my alcoholism that I can offer. Perhaps in 15 years I will have another one.

We coexist uneasily, today, the voice and I; she tells me to procrastinate over my work, to start fights, to give up. If I am unwary, she can plunge me into the deepest despair, and I have learned to construct an obstacle course to thwart her. It is made only of ordinary human love. Nothing else works.

My son helps me. His is three now, and knows what is important. “I must teach you to play, Mummy,” he says, and invites me, without irony, to pretend to be a monster. Then, of course, the voice whispers, “You have made him a parental child”: a creature who will care for me and not himself. I try to ignore her, because I cannot send her away. But I wonder now if it is she who is afraid, and not I.

As so many of the comments said too – thank you Tanya.

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

 

Sober inspiration: Out of the Shadows, Out of the Shame

So another month another book – the final one downloaded onto my kindle relating to recovery before I pause and allow all of this reading to be internalised and processed.  Out of the shadows, out of the shame indeed.

Claudia Black’s book Changing Course is about recovery and as the book is described:

“Claudia Black extends a helping hand to individuals working their way through the painful experience of being raised with addiction. “How do you go from living according to the rules – Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel – to a life where you are free to talk and trust and feel?” Black asks. “You do this through a process that teaches you to go to the source of those rules, to question them, and to create new rules of your own,” she explains. Using charts, exercises, checklists, and real-life stories of adult children of alcoholics, Black carefully and expertly guides readers in healing from the fear, shame, and chaos of addiction.”

This particular section really struck me and so I’m sharing it here:

Recovery is living a life free from shame.  It is recognising that you are not your secret; you are not your family secrets.  You are a person with a myriad of experiences, some of them very painful.  But, the pain of exposing the secret very, very rarely compares to the pain of keeping the secret.  And once the knowledge is shared, the relief feels like the warmth of the summer sun after a very long, cold winter.

The following are some of the reasons people reveal secrets:

  1. It relieves a burden.  You no longer have to continue to lie to others.  The secret has made life more difficult.  It is no longer necessary to spend any more energy keeping it.
  2. It allows you to be true to yourself.  It allows you to be honest with yourself.
  3. It prevents a possible surprise discovery.  Some secrets are shared to lesson the shock or surprise that would be created if a significant other found out.
  4. It enables you to have a more honest relationship with another.  When you share a secret with someone, you are conveying the added message that you trust them with something very important to you.  You are sharing at a more vulnerable level and that often creates in the other person a reciprocal willingness to be open and vulnerable.  The result is that a greater trust develops between the two of you.
  5. It stimulates family change.  When you decide to speak up, other family members are encouraged to make changes in their own lives.
  6. It could be a plea for help.  When the secret you confide still needs to be attended too (for example, if you are drinking too much and not yet in recovery), telling another person is a way for you to begin to move yourself towards getting help.

Recovery does not include secrecy.  It means speaking your truth.  You must end the Don’t Talk rule for yourself.

This is all so true for me and I carried such shame around my drinking.  At approaching 4 years in recovery my shame is almost non-existent.  A friend recently asked me if I was still not drinking.  I said that I wasn’t and that it held absolutely no appeal to me now.  I now know deep in my soul that drinking would not improve or make any situation better.  To be free from the shame is a gift that one drink can never compete with, and that is all it would take to undo it all.  If you’re reading this and think you’re drinking too much, reach out to someone and share your secret.  It could be the most powerful thing you could do for yourself.

Friday Sober Inspiration: Reasons to Stay Alive

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

You can read an extract from it here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sober Inspiration: Stepping away from Self-Improvement

So I seem to be getting the same message from different sources and in different mediums.  I’m guessing I need to take note!  This also mirrors a conversation I had with Prim about how I’d overdone it somewhat in the self-help reading and had emotionally overwhelmed myself in the process 🙁  So in a direct snapback to that I then read the book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze (see image) and then serendipitously listen to a podcast interview with Danielle LaPorte where in discussing her new book White Hot Truth – she hits upon similar themes 🙂

His book’s premise is this:

The pace of modern life is accelerating. To keep up, we must keep on moving and adapting – constantly striving for greater happiness and success. Or so we are told. But the demands of life in the fast lane come at a price: stress, fatigue and depression are at an all-time high, while our social interactions have become increasingly self-serving and opportunistic.
 
How can we resist today’s obsession with introspection and self-improvement? In this witty and bestselling book, Danish philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann argues that we must not be afraid to reject the self-help mantra and ‘stand firm’. The secret to a happier life lies not in finding your inner self but in coming to terms with yourself in order to coexist peacefully with others. By encouraging us to stand firm and get a foothold in life, this vibrant anti-self-help guide offers a compelling alternative to life coaching, positive thinking and the need always to say ‘yes!’

It introduces 7 steps:

  1. Cut out the navel gazing
  2. Focus on the negative in your life
  3. Put on your No hat
  4. Suppress your feelings
  5. Sack your coach
  6. Read a novel – not a self-help book or biography
  7. Dwell on the past

He espouses the Hellenic tradition of Stoicism:

Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics which is informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting that which we have been given in life, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.

“Will-power is like muscle strength, the Stoics believed: the more we exercise it, the better and stronger it becomes.  No matter how silly such innocent examples might sound, it isn’t so stupid to practice turning down a dessert, a glass of wine or a lift in a car.  Self-control is one of the absolutely key virtues for the Stoics, albeit one that encounters a degree of adversity in our accelerating culture, with its penchant for ‘living in the moment’ and its exhortations to ‘Just Do It!’ as the ad says”.

He goes on to say: “As an ‘anti self-help philosophy’ I definitely think it’s useful, partly because it emphasises self-control, a sense of duty, integrity, dignity, peace of mind and a willingness to come to terms with (rather than find) yourself.”

Quite.  Practical pragmatism if you will.

And Danielle is riding the same vibe too it would seem as a reflection of the backlash against the self-improvement movement.  Her book asks:

Has your self-help become self-criticism?

White Hot Truth is a wise and often (hilariously) relatable exploration of the conflicts between spiritual aspiration and our compulsion to improve, from Oprah SuperSoul 100 member, Danielle LaPorte.

Danielle cheerleads seekers to fully own their wisdom by having a good laugh (and maybe a good cry) at all the ways we’ve been trying to improve on our self-improvement.

I’ve enjoyed reading and listening to these and hope you do to 🙂

Friday Sober Jukebox: Humour as a defence (Lit)

humourThere were so many gems in Sally Brampton’s book ‘Shoot the Damn Dog‘ that I have already shared here before.  This is also utterly true and resonated for me – humour as a defence.  I’m a nurse – gallows humour is our professions stock-in-trade.

First Sally’s words:

They don’t like jokes in group therapy.  Humour is a defence.  I am in denial, they say, which is just another word for smart ass.  I use humour to hide behind, because I cannot bear to feel my feelings, cannot face the truth.  I use too many words, they say.  I hide behind language.  I intellectualise my feelings and then explain them away.

‘Stop using your head, Sally.  How do you feel?’.

‘How can I tell you how I feel if I don’t use words?’

They sigh.  I can see the word ‘difficult’ captured in bubbles above their heads.

‘Feel the feelings’ they say, again.

And then what? My feelings are stuck in my throat.  The feelings that I can’t, actually put into words.

Once again, she nails me, completely.  Yes, yes, yes.  Thank you Sally 🙂

And this is what Psychology Today says:

This may explain why some psychologists classify humour as one of the “mature” defense mechanisms we invoke to guard ourselves against overwhelming anxiety (as compared to the “psychotic,” “immature,” and “neurotic” defense mechanisms). Being able to laugh at traumatic events in our own lives doesn’t cause us to ignore them, but instead seems to prepare us to endure them.

Perhaps laughter could be most properly considered as a weapon against suffering and despair. If we can joke about a disappointing or traumatic event, we’ll often find ourselves feeling that what’s happened to us isn’t so bad and that we’ll be able to get through it. This expectation serves two vitally important functions:

  1. It diminishes or even eliminates the moment-by-moment suffering we might otherwise experience as a result of a traumatic loss, which
  2. Actually makes it more likely we will make it through a trauma unmarred and flourish once again

So back to gallows humour then.  This is what Wiki says:

Sigmund Freud in his 1927 essay Humour (Der Humor) puts forth the following theory of the gallows humor: “The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”

As the Psychology Today article continues: Laughter is a powerful means by which we can encourage ourselves. That when confronted with setbacks, adversity, trauma, or terrible news, even if it may seem socially inappropriate, we should reach toward humor. We should try to find a way to make light of whatever circumstances make us afraid. Because if instead of focusing on the negative impact of an adverse event or experience we focus on simply laughing about it, actively and consciously pursuing a perspective that makes it funny, we just may be able to activate the most under recognized but powerful weapon we have against suffering.

MrHOF asked for this to be the Friday Sober Jukebox and the video made me laugh 😉

PS Don’t forget that this Sunday London hosts its first Mindful Drinking Festival!