Category Archives: Compassion for self and others

Sober inspiration: Emotional Hunger and Addiction

So I’ve been reading Pete Walker’s second book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.  This is not the first time I’ve talked about Pete’s writing which has been revolutionary for me in deepening my understanding of the emotional recovery aspects of addiction and you can read them all here.  In this book he digs even deeper into recovery from emotional trauma and I felt compelled once again to share what he wrote specifically about emotional hunger and addiction.

He writes “The emotional hunger that comes from parental abandonment often morphs over time into an insatiable appetite for substances and/or addictive processes.  Minimization of early abandonment often transforms later in life into the minimizing that some survivors use to rationalize their substance and process addictions.  Fortunately, many survivors eventually come to see their substance or process addictions as problematic (*raises hand in acknowledgement*).  But many also minimize the deleterious effects of their addiction and jokingly dismiss their need to end or reduce their reliance on them (*raises hand again*).

When the survivor  has no understanding of the effects of trauma or memory of being traumatized , addictions are often understandable, misplaced attempts to regulate painful emotional flashbacks.  However many survivors are now in a position to see how self-destructive their addictions are.  They are now old enough to learn healthier ways of self-soothing.

Accordingly, substance and process addictions can be seen as misguided attempts to distract from inner pain.  The desire to reduce such habits can therefore be used as motivation to learn the more sophisticated forms of self-soothing that Cptsd recovery work has to offer.

Grieving work offers us irreplaceable tools for working through inner pain.  This then helps obviate the need to harmfully distract ourselves from our pain.

If you’d like to listen to someone talking about their experience of PTSD can I recommend the recent interview of Will Young on Bryony Gordon’s Mad World.

I appreciate that not all of those who visit this blog or read these posts come from traumatic or emotionally abusive childhoods, but equally some of us do.  As AA advocates ‘take what you need and leave the rest’ and hat tip to Anne over at ainsobriety who gets a mention in the recovery piece linked to this AA wisdom! 🙂

Hi My name is Lou, and I’m a recovering emotophobic

So this was another new word to me that I heard recently – emotophobia meaning to be emotophobic.  Not to be confused with emetophobic, the fear of being sick!

What is emotophobia?  It is the fear of negative emotion; i.e. a fear of expressing anger, frustration or disapproval.

I am a recovering emotophobic because I grew up with the ‘toxic trio’ as it is called in children’s safeguarding.  The term ‘Toxic Trio‘ has been used to describe the issues of domestic abuse, mental ill-health and substance misuse which have been identified as common features of families where harm to children has occurred. They are viewed as indicators of increased risk of harm to children and young people.

As I wrote recentlyIn my household growing up our family ‘didn’t do’ emotions as we were often reminded.  I now understand that we (the children) weren’t allowed to do negative emotions.  I learned very early on to keep my head down, my mouth shut and a smile on my face.  Look happy even if you were dying inside.

As Pete Walker describes “emotional emancipation happens when a person is both abused for emoting and is, at the same time, abused by toxic emotional expression.  This scares us out of our own emotions while simultaneously making us terrified of other people’s feelings ”  He goes on to say that “much of the plethora of loneliness, alienation, and addictive distraction that plagues modern industrial societies is a result of people being taught and forced to reject, pathologise or punish so many of their own and others’ normal feeling states.”

There was so much negative emotion expressed around me that I effectively developed a fear of them and learned very early on to dissociate as a way of coping with the anxiety and stress that it caused within me.  I also learned to self-soothe my anxiety by skin picking (also called dermatillomania).

Even now if someone around me is verbally expressing an aroused and heightened emotional state, and this is personally rather than professionally where I have learned to manage it well due to the nature of my job, I will tend to dissociate as I find it triggers emotional flashbacks to my childhood. And I still struggle with occasional skin-picking although it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be as I am only too aware of the many scars on my arms and legs that remind me of my past.

This is something I am working hard on as this is according to Braiker’s self-help book,[1] part of the “disease to please”/codependency behaviours I am aware that I struggle with along with these other cluster of traits:

My fear has meant that I have not been good at self-championing which is vital as part of our emotional recovery journey because as Matt at Surviving My Past says:

being our own champion and showing ourselves compassion, erases shame.

For me all of this comes back to shame.  Shame around my childhood and past experiences, shame around my drinking, shame around being me.

A great resource about C-PTSD, toxic shame and recovery from emotophobia is Richard Grannon and in this blog post he gives some great tips for working with toxic shame or in this video on  YouTube he talks about emotional literacy.  I am working my way away from it and towards self-championing one day at a time – a lifelong process.

Friday Sober Jukebox in memory of Robert Miles, RIP

 

 

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:

Thoughts of the escape of drinking/Impostor Syndrome

<– This is what drinking was for me.  An escape hatch from myself and the world.  And I still miss this at times of stress and crisis.  Even now this last week I’ve recalled memories where I’ve thought and felt that drinking made the unbearable bearable.  I KNOW that this is a salvation fantasy but it still persists.

So I’ve been struggling a bit recently to feel happiness in life generally prompting mid life musings of the ‘Is this it?’ variety.  Not in a ‘f*ck it, a drink is the answer’ way but in a ‘I wish I could escape these thoughts/feelings’ type way.  The ever present hangover free clear head lamented as a burden, not a gift.  I yearn for an escape or miracle and feel overwhelmed with impostor syndrome.  I must be a fraud right?  Approaching 4 years sober and yet still wishing for an off switch to my brain – the release of being comfortably numb.  And then as often happens I order the perfect book from the library to aid my discomfort.

I’ve been reading ‘Making Miracles in 40 days – turning what you have into what you want‘ by Melody Beattie.  She is a recovery warrior and has written numerous books including seminal works on co-dependency and these were the words that stopped me reading and found me here writing a blog post to share her words:

Either we refuse to talk about the loss or we can’t stop telling the story.  Guilt and obsession are the sixth and seventh stages of loss.

Once I made my choice, I began to consciously grow despite the numbness, rage, and sadness I felt.

When deep change begins – whether it’s a miracle or loss – expect to feel uncomfortable for a while.

I feel all of these things right now.  Not about not drinking – although I can’t stop telling the story here still – but about living life not numbed by booze but numb, rageful and sad because of the reflections on my past life, how they have left me feeling in the present and how it then impacts on my future tripping thinking (which is not the first time either!).  It feels like the deep change with recovery is two-fold: the stopping drinking part and then the emotional learning part.  Getting sober is both a miracle and a loss so you feel very uncomfortable in the beginning and then get waves of uncomfortable as you continue to change emotionally.  This is where I am.

She goes on to talk about happiness after loss:

Your happiness will look and feel more like peace.  But now it will be real, and it will be yours.  It won’t depend on others or what they do or don’t do.  That long, dark tunnel of transformation – when we really become empowered to make miracles – only happens once. 

Happiness means being at peace with ourselves, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, whatever we feel, whatever we’re going through, and whatever we have or lack.  Happiness means working for the sake of doing the work, not for a particular outcome.  Happiness means we’re with someone, because we enjoy the person’s company, not because we want to get that person to ask us to get married.   To feel this kind of happiness, we need to release old unfelt emotions, and feel whatever we feel.  We’re not desperately seeking someone to love us.  We want everyone to be themselves – to be who they really are.

She goes on:

Most of the time we aren’t learning what we think we are.  Being open and empty are the requirements for learning something new.  Later, when we master the lesson, we’ll see what we learned.

By being present for each moment, we learn to live in the Mystery.  We stop trying to figure things out (another form of control) and relax into not knowing.  We trust that our answers will come in their own time.

Time to learn to let go of my impostor syndrome and work on that salvation fantasy of a realistic miracle, non-drinking escape hatch or just peace within myself.

 

Friday Sober Inspiration: Heads Together + Mad World podcast

So this caught my eye over the Easter week-end and struck a cord in so many ways.  The London Marathon is this week-end – Sunday 23rd April and this is the Virgin Money London Marathon chosen charity which is also supported by Prince William & Catherine and Prince Harry.

Here’s what their website says:

ABOUT HEADS TOGETHER

Through our work with young people, emergency response, homeless charities, and with veterans, we have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges.

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental well-being and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.

The Heads Together campaign will build on the great work being done by our partner charities so that prejudice and fear no longer stand in the way of people getting the help they need.

Being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year is the perfect springboard for the Heads Together campaign. We cannot wait to see hundreds of runners hitting the streets of London this April to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all.

Bryony Gordon and The Telegraph have supported them by launching a podcast series discussing mental health with high profile UK figures – the first interview being with Prince Harry himself.  Their website features other well known personalities such as Rio Ferdinand and Lady Gaga.

This is The Telegraph’s brief:

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World is a new ten episode podcast brought to you by The Telegraph. Each week, Bryony will talk to a different guest about how their mental health has been affected by events in their own lives and find out why feeling weird is the most normal thing in the world.

You can listen to Bryony’s podcast interviews and the first one with Prince Harry is well worth your time:

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World

And the impact of this was immediate:

Schoolchildren will get access to NHS mental health workers in wake of Prince Harry’s ‘brave’ intervention

Alcohol dependency is a mental health issue and Prince Harry mentions it specifically in his interview so this is an important new charity both for those suffering because of the devastation of alcohol on them directly and the impact on those around them including children.  The destigmatization and normalisation of the conversation around mental health, and particularly the bolstering of mental health support for children and adolescents, is long overdue and I’m so pleased the Royal Family have got behind the cause and changed the direction of effect!

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

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

Over to Carl:

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

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

1.   Knowledge is Power

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

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

2.   Judgment is Damaging

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

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

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

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

3.   The Dangers of Enabling

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

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

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

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

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

4.   Set Up an Intervention

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

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

5.   Be Their Pillar in the Recovery Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bereaved through Drugs and Alcohol (BEAD) website launched

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

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

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

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

The website’s features include:

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

Linking to useful resources and relevant organisations.

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

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

Welcome to the Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs website

Support Organisations:

Also!

Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern merge

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

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

Read our news release to find out more.

Friday Sober Inspiration: The Four Essential Processes of Grieving

So I’ve spoken about grief and grieving before in this post and this was a great podcast about the subject too.

As I’ve continued to read Pete Walker The Tao of Fully Feeling he has described his four essential processes of grieving .  So I’m going to add to my knowledge from Kubler-Ross and include it here as a reference for you too.

He argues that “grieving is the key process for reconnecting with our repressed emotional intelligence.  Grieving reconnects us with our full complement of feelings.  Criticism of emotional expression is especially damaging when it is expressed towards expressions of emotional pain as it forces our all-important capacity for healthy grief into developmental arrest.”

Pete Walker maintains that grieving is not just crying but for it to be fully effective it must include the processes of “angering”, verbal ventilation, and feeling.  He says the active resolution comes from crying, “angering” and talking about it whereas the passive resolution comes from simply focusing on and feeling what is stored somatically in our bodies.

I’ll cover a short summary of each here but again go read the book if you want to understand fully (although here is a link to a pdf on grief and complex PTSD written by Pete).

  • Crying is the healing release of pain through tears.  Unashamed crying creates deep, bodily-based feelings of peace and relaxation as tears are the body’s most powerful way of releasing emotional tension.  He believes that crying heals ‘catastrophising‘ and ‘drasticizing’ which are forms of toxic shame that taint our thought processes with unfounded perceptions of dread and doom.  What Brene Brown calls ‘foreboding joy‘.  Crying also allows for positive nostalgia or ‘euphoric recall’.
  • Angering is the process of actively expressing anger in a a safe and healthy way and is as essential to effective grieving as crying.  He believes we can break the ‘repression-accumulation-explosion-guilt-repression’ cycle by befriending our anger and refusing to guiltily squash it when it arises.  He says we can use a range of approaches to releasing anger to allow joy such as: thinking to writing to speaking to shouting to shadowboxing to pounding on pillows to finally breaking expendable objects.  He maintains when we finally end our repression of our anger we often feel exuberant relief and that it also builds confidence and self-assertiveness.
  • Verbal ventilation is when language is charged with feeling and is the release of pain through talking or writing about it.  This is where I have found this blog and therapy the most valuable in moving through my own grief.  It is also therapeutic he says to record jokes, anecdotes, and incidents that make you laugh as these can serve as heartening reminders of the joys of life.  Swearing is a powerful form of  verbal ventilating particularly if you chose words judiciously and sparingly.  He also talks about fully emoting which is when we cry, rage and verbally ventilate all at the same time!
  • Feeling is the process of grieving that focuses on pain with the intention of relaxing any resistance to it, so that it may pass through and out of the body.  I often think of funeral wakes when I think of this as this is where I would use alcohol to not feel the pain and sadness that the loss had triggered.  Some of my most spectacular relapses when I was moderating were after funerals where I would hold it together at the event and then drown myself in alcohol on getting home.  Feeling involves the direction of attention to the internal experiences in the body below the realm of thinking.  Feeling experiences are often accompanied by physical sensations in the heart area or “guts”.  No wonder I struggled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for so much of my adult life.  Feeling is a kinesthetic rather than a cognitive experience.  It’s why I’ve avoided yoga for so long – as I know that this is where I finally need to release the somatic feeling states that I’ve been resisting facing in recovery.  After all this therapy I know they are there and I’ve been scared to confront them …..

He finishes by saying that a balanced approach to grieving includes an openness to feeling emotions as well as emoting feelings.  He says “if we do not accept and value both processes, we will not become fully feeling human beings”.

Here’s to moving on to the next and final stage of learning to fully feel – connecting totally the mind and body experience where feeling becomes a spiritual experience.  He says “perhaps the greatest freedom attainable is that which is born out of a consistent willingness to stay lovingly and acceptingly present to whatever unfolds inside oneself.”

I saw this film again recently and this clip felt so apt:

Shame Backdraft

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So once again I’m listening to a Ruth Buczynski seminar about shame featuring Peter Levine, Ron Siegel, Kelly McGonigal and Bill O’Hanlon where I learn something new that feels very familiar.  It’s called ‘backdraft’ and is about the backlash that can happen when someone is feeling ashamed and is met by compassion.  It reminds me of that moment when I am close to tears and someone moves into hug me to which I respond “please don’t”.  It is almost a warning that you are in danger of killing me with kindness.  Sound familiar?

Over to the experts:

Most clinicians have witnessed how difficult memories resurface when a client feels truly seen, heard, and loved in therapy. A metaphor for this process is “backdraft.” Backdraft occurs when a firefighter opens a door with a hot fire behind it. Oxygen rushes in, causing a burst of flame. Similarly, when the door of the heart is opened with compassion, intense pain can sometimes be released. Unconditional love reveals the conditions under which we were unloved in the past. Therefore, some clients, especially those with a history of childhood abuse or neglect, are fearful of compassion (Gilbert et al., 2011).

It is related to trauma and the belief held by the person that they are undeserving of kindness but in fact it is more than that.  They are perhaps so unused to compassion that they find the experience unsafe, threatening and dangerous.

Childhood trauma survivors may also equate self-compassion with self-pity or self-centeredness. They may have been told as children to “get over yourself” when they suffered and complained. It is important to understand that by entering into our emotional pain with kindness, we are less likely to wallow in self-pity. The reason is that self-compassion recognizes the shared nature of human suffering and avoids egocentrism. Sometimes only a few minutes is all that is needed to validate our pain and disentangle ourselves from it.

Self-compassion is often confused with narcissistic self-love, although research indicates that there is no link between narcissism and self-compassion (Neff, 2003; Neff & Vonk, 2009).  Victims of childhood trauma often do not have enough narcissism, feeling that meeting their own basic survival needs is a forbidden indulgence. Anxiety may arise from the looming possibility of breaking an invisible bond with a primary caregiver who thought the child should suffer for his or her misdeeds or bad nature. Self-deprivation becomes “safety behaviour” (Gilbert & Proctor, 2006). It is a necessary compromise made by an abused child in order to survive, so the client becomes frightened, viscerally and unconsciously, when he or she breaks the contract. For this reason, sincere efforts by therapists to help abused or neglected clients may be met with resistance. These clients first need to contact their emotional pain, see how it originated through no fault of their own (“you’re not to blame!”), and then gradually bring the same tenderness to themselves that they are likely to give to other, vulnerable beings.

Three symptom clusters commonly found in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are (1) arousal, (2) avoidance, and (3) intrusions. Interestingly, these three categories closely correspond to the stress response (fight–flight–freeze) and to our reactions to internal stress (self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption) mentioned earlier (see below).

PTSD symptom Stress Response Reactions to internal stress
Arousal Fight Self-criticism
Avoidance Flight Self-isolation
Intrusion Freeze Self-absorption

Together they point toward self-compassion as a healthy, alternative response to trauma. Self kindness can have a calming effect on autonomic hyperarousal, common humanity is an antidote to hiding in shame, and balanced, mindful awareness allows us to disentangle ourselves from intrusive memories and feelings. Research shows that people who lack self-compassion are likely to have critical mothers, to come from dysfunctional families, and to display insecure attachment patterns (Neff & McGeehee, 2010; Wei, Liao, Ku, & Shaffer, 2011). Childhood emotional abuse is associated with lower self compassion, and individuals with low self-compassion experience more emotional distress and are more likely to abuse alcohol or make a serious suicide attempt (Tanaka, Wekerle, Schmuck, Paglia-Boak, & the MAP Research Team, 2011; Vettese, Dyer, Li, & Wekerle, 2011).

These quotes are taken from a chapter of a book by Christopher Germer & Kristen Neff that you can read here:

germer-neff_-trauma

I found an excellent blog post about it here:

Mindful self-compassion and backdraft

So there you have the connection between shame and booze once again.  Low self compassion, higher emotional distress and greater levels of self-medication with alcohol.

If you are unsure of how self-compassionate you are you can score yourself here:

Test how self-compassionate you are

Unsurprisingly my score was low to middling but not as low as it used to be when I was drinking!  So how do we work on improving our low self-compassion?

The response is to teach ourselves how to take a self-compassion break

If you start to do this even if you are still drinking, the shift in self-perception may be enough to get you started on thinking about cutting down or stopping.  Give it a try – what have you got to lose? 🙂

 

 

 

 

2017: Freedom & Liberation

Firstly Happy New Year to you from me! 🙂 What does one write about on the first day of a new year that holds so much promise and optimism?  I think the best place to start are with my words for 2017 which are freedom/liberation.  I think they stem from the discoveries I made as I approached 3 years sober.

Perhaps to appreciate my sense of freedom & liberation I have to revisit the life I left.  Once more Sally Brampton in ‘Shoot the Damn Dog‘ describes it more eloquently than I so I’m going to quote a passage from her book here.  The conversation between her and a friend could have been my ‘now sober self’ talking to my ‘old still-drinking self’ and so it feels really fitting for today and this post.

Suddenly she said, ‘Tell me about the drinking too much’.  I shrugged. ‘I drink too much, end of story’.  ‘Shall I tell you about my drinking? Would that help?’.  ‘If you like’.  I was awkward, unused to somebody being open about drinking.  I kept mine secret, even from my closest friends.  I liked to drink alone.  That way, I could drink as much as I liked.  That way, I was the only witness to my shame.  And I was ashamed.  Alcohol does that to you

Lulu said, ‘Every night, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink the next day and every morning, when I woke up, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink that day.  As I left the house to go to work, I promised myself, again, that I wouldn’t drink that day’….  I said nothing.  Those promises were familiar territory.  I had made them to myself, countless times. 

‘I’d get through the rest of the day somehow, but my mind was always fixed on alcohol.  Perhaps if I just had one drink, after that I stop completely.  Just one couldn’t hurt, could it?  Then I would decided that, no, I would be good.  I would go home, have a bath, make myself something nice to eat and have an early night so I’d be fresh for work the next day.  She looked at me, her eyes clear. ‘I knew that was what I was going to do.  But I still stopped at the off-licence and bought myself a bottle of wine and got straight into bed without washing or eating and I drank until I passed out.’  She grimaced at the memory.  ‘I don’t even like the taste of alcohol’.

Nor did I.  In fact, I’d come to hate it.  But I loved the effect, the way it stopped the pain, stopped me feeling.  She said, as if reading my mind, ‘I drank to change the way that I feel.’.  I wanted, right then, to change the way I felt, or how she was making me feel.  Even thinking about it made me want a drink.  What could be the harm in having one drink, to make me feel better? Perhaps she didn’t know what she was was talking about.  After all, it wasn’t as if she had been drinking that much.  I knew people who drank far more and they didn’t think they had a problem.  ‘It doesn’t sound too much’.

‘It’s not how much you drink.  It’s how you drink and why.’

‘I only drink because of the depression*.  If it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t drink, I laugh nervously.  ‘Or I wouldn’t drink so much’. [*You could change the word here to stress, anxiety, debt, work, family, children, boredom, need to get things done, all my friends do/partner does, insert your word(s) of choice].  ‘Seriously though, a drink doesn’t make it better.  It only makes it worse.  How much are you drinking?’  ‘A bottle of wine, perhaps two a day’.  ‘Can you stop?’  ‘Yes, no,’ I sighed.  ‘I don’t know …. No.  Well, I find it hard to stop.  But I’m not an alcoholic’.  Lulu’s smile curved.  ‘What’s an alcoholic?’  ‘Someone who sleeps on a park bench? Who passes out? Who gets violent? Who can’t hold down a job?’  Lulu’s smiled curved even higher.  ‘I am an alcoholic.’  I looked down at my hands.  Her voice was gentle.  ‘Sal, I know exactly how you feel.  I tried to do it on my own too, and it doesn’t work.  We need help.  We cannot do it on our own.’  ‘But you look so well, so happy.’  I shook my head.  ‘I don’t know.  Maybe I can stop on my own.  I’ve done it before’.

Lulu got up and hugged me.  ‘We’ve all done it before.  We’ve done it so many times we’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.  We all think we can do it on our own.  It’s just that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to be alone.’

I nodded.  For some reason, I wanted to cry. ‘OK’.

If this resonates for you too, know that you are not alone and if you are looking for freedom and liberation from booze you can always reach out and email me at ahangoverfreelife@gmail.com.  Or if you would like help to cut down or quit drinking I run an online course and you can use the link here to get a 25% discount 🙂  

If I can do it, you can do it …….