I’m quite new to my relative sobriety, finding my way in a world where I’m used to being the helper not the helped. I’m thinking there might be other people out there like me, scared to come out because of their professions so if I reach you and you feel less alone then I’ve helped us both.
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I’ve not blogged for a while and I’ve missed you all! Life has been busier with work, family and horses and I’ve not been able to find the time though ideas have been swirling round my head not making it onto the screen. I’d written about feeling as if I’ve retreated into a cave and a sense I need to be preparing for whatever lies ahead but right now life feels good and I’m learning to appreciate the small things more in the moment and at times feel a deep sense of contentment. I’ve always lived life fast and been onto the next thing before the dust settles so I reckon this slower simpler living experience is good for me. I am where I am and change will come – I don’t need to force anything or make it happen. C says you need to blossom where you are planted so I’m thinking that being content here now rather than planning for the future is a good way to be.
I’m still smoking but I have a plan to stop in September when I reduce my hours at work. I’m in conversation with the smoke devil most days and although he’s not as insufferable as the wine witch was I’d like him gone! I’m also recognising that his ongoing presence enables the wine witch to pop her head up more often. I haven’t drank but I’m wistful at times with a small sense of missing out so I need to watch that.
I’ve been getting plenty of work and I’m enjoying working for myself and I’m ready to drop the day job albeit slowly. I struggle with private healthcare being a socialist so I’m letting people pay what they can afford within a range and that feels right. The emphasis on processes rather than content in mainstream services stifles the creativity and flexibility needed to do really good work in mental health and it’s liberating to be able to focus on the patient and your intervention rather than the forms and recording!
I’m reading a great book about ageing by Parker J. Palmer- on the brink of everything that I discovered from Boozebrain’s blog https://boozebrain.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/road-to-nowhere/. I was interested as I know I struggle with the idea of ageing and in particular with C being older than me. It got me thinking about love and appearances and how the two are really not connected at all. I love the essence of C’s being – his spirit if you like so the body that holds that will always be beautiful to me.
I did have a few days when I felt low and was worried my depression was sneaking back. Having both my girls home at the moment has sorted that thankfully. E is a teacher and I’d not seen her since March. She’s been baking sourdough bread, pizzas and pancakes for us and is easy company. I’ve spoken to both my girls to say sorry for the impact of my drinking on their childhoods. E didn’t really want to hear it stressing the happy memories so I did the same. J told me if I started feeling guilty then I’d probably go moody on her again and she’s ok now so leave it be so I did! It needed to be said though and I feel lighter for it even if they are both too kind to me to say anything! E still struggles with C as she’s spent the least time with him but it’s getting better and I can let them be without an urge to try and fix it.
I’ve saved the best until last – the riding competitions were brilliant fun! I’ve not competed for 3 years and didn’t think I’d ever be able to on this horse and we did a decent dressage and then came 4th in the cross country! The feeling of riding round a course on a willing horse is better than anything else in the world and I had a huge grin all the way! I realised how much I’ve missed it and how much horses are part of my soul. There’s more at the end of the month and I can’t wait! When I did it before I was drinking for fun too and that fun comes nowhere near this, and I’m better at this without the booze so it’s very affirming of my other choices too.
Of course being personally in a good place whilst the world is in turmoil and others are suffering in so many ways means I do feel my privilege and feel guilty that I’m not giving more back or doing something. I can understand the behaviour of ordinary Germans in the build up to the Holocaust now whereas my younger self couldn’t comprehend it. I wonder if the Syrian people were just carrying on before their country tore itself apart? It’s a mixture of helplessness, paralysis and turning inward to protect yourself and yours. I hope that things start to change for the better on the back of this wake up call from nature and that when the time comes I am able to be part of that change. I hope you are all in a good place too.
The first relates to using alcohol as a way to avoid doing all the things you should be doing – circumventing your inner perfectionist critic or rather anaesthetising her. The second is about living on autopilot rather than challenging ourselves to leave our comfort zone and be who we are meant to be.
I no longer drink but I do use cannabis in this way – once I have smoked I have permission to do nothing of consequence, do a jigsaw, read, play scrabble – usually for the rest of the day. Lockdown is perfect for stoners and I’m more comfortable with it since there is no pressure to socialise but I’m more aware of the things that don’t get done as a consequence. Mainly writing and yoga. I am busier by far than I was at the beginning of lockdown – mostly with work and the horse. I’m really loving riding and after nearly 3 years of trying to ride her I’ve entered a dressage and a cross country competition later this month! That’s definitely out of my comfort zone but it’s still purely for pleasure. Shows are back on and I’ve had fun days out with my daughter and friends competing. My work is building steadily but…….
Saturdays typically turn into ‘dog days’ whereby I go ride in the morning then have a spliff when I get home and hang out with C and the dogs and sack off more productive activity. The dogs do this every day and they love it when we do it with them, the 4 of us lounging around. I don’t get my blogs written, the food shop done or much else. Similarly in the evening after a day’s work. I am in my comfort zone on autopilot. However it’s time we spend together when a lot of the week we are busy separately and we like it. When drink was involved with this it stopped being fun and the argument with myself became intolerable. I don’t think I would have stopped if it hadn’t.
I think of the path we are all on as The Hero’s Journey – I’ve had my awakening and I’m in the cave where I should be learning the skills I need for the troubles ahead except instead I’m bunking off. I’m Luke Skywalker not turning up for Jedi classes – missing the nuggets of wisdom from Obi and thinking he can just wing it when the battle starts. I’ve lived a lot of my life like this and I’ve usually got away with it but my fear is this time I won’t know how to use my light sabre when the time comes and I’ll let myself and everyone else down. On the other hand maybe this is exactly where I’m meant to be at this time – trust the process and allow it.
Writing, yoga and meditation are the tools I know I need to invest in for whatever is ahead. When I do them I feel more at ease with myself. My head is writing stuff all the time but I don’t get it out of there. ‘Inspiration will come but it has to find you working’ – I read that in a Carol Ann Duffy interview quoting Picasso. Discipline is as important as talent whatever we want to do and I don’t have much of it!
So I am enjoying my dog days but also anxious that I’m stuck on autopilot. Can I be lazy without being stoned? Can I be productive when I am stoned or with cannabis in my life? Will I withstand the battles ahead or fall at the first hurdle? Help me Obi one!
I noticed today it’s around a year since I started this blog. I’m not great at staying the course with things – I’m your ideas woman not the completer finisher so I’m proud I’ve kept this up. I’m also aware that a year on I’m not so proud that I’ve not done much about the next stage of ‘getting sober’ – the cannabis. I had a thought a while ago that perhaps I would have to reach the point I had with alcohol to stop – the one where you hate yourself and just can’t carry on and just need to end the constant battle in your head. The trouble is smoking doesn’t make me feel like that in quite the same way. It’s not so obviously taking from me. ‘Except for your breath right?’ the sarcastic part of my mind just chipped in. Having just done a week of morning pranayama classes I’m in touch with the idea of breath as the conduit of our life force. It’s literally zapping my life force so why do I seemingly not even want to stop? Maybe I need to look more closely at my history with smoke?
I had my first puff on a cigarette when I was 4 or 5 years old. My brother, just 18 months older persuaded me to steal one from the packet with the lighter that belonged to the teenager who helped look after us. I knew it was wrong and I was nervous but I ran in and did it. We took our booty and ran out the house and into one of the barns. It was an old wooden barn full of straw bales at that time of year. There was a narrow wooden staircase up one level and you could just squeeze in with the bales right in front of you and the open space of a window behind. My brother lit the cigarette and took a few puffs and handed it to me. I don’t actually recall the smoking part. The next thing I remember is my brother saying ‘I wonder what would happen if I …..’ as he lit a piece of straw inches from our faces. It went up instantly and flames and smoke were everywhere. We got out quickly enough down the stairs though the smoke choked our throats and we were scared. Outside my brother (always good at getting out of trouble) quickly came up with a plan. We ran inside yelling ‘mummy mummy we were playing in the garden and saw the barn on fire’. The fire engines came and went, the barn was a blackened shell and I overheard adult conversations that expressed relief we had seen it or the house could have gone up too and what if the children had been in bed? I was consumed with guilt and shame. Over time the memory faded then one evening I was being put to bed early – I can’t remember why and as she swept out the room my mum said ‘and you burnt down the barn!’. ‘How did she know?’ It was never spoken of again until it was joked about in adulthood.
Fast forward and I’m 11 years old roaming the countryside with my friend and we start smoking. The pub sells us them as we chirp ‘10 No 6 for my mum please’ at the hatch at the back. We wanted to be naughty and it felt exciting. The last year of primary school and I was trying on being a bad girl. I didn’t fully commit and in the next year or so I distanced myself from that friend without explanation to her, behaved myself and stopped smoking. I started again when I was 14 and depressed. Wanting to be cool, image and being bad was part of it but looking back it was probably the start of self medicating. The first time I took anti depressants I remember thinking I didn’t feel a need to smoke. I still did though.
There was always a part of me that was ashamed of smoking though. The smoking part of me held the shame and the badness but I turned being bad into a success. I was the rebel who got away with it. I could laugh off those shameful feelings whilst living up to them simultaneously.
My first cannabis experience was visiting my sister at college. We got stoned with a friend of hers and I loved it. Laughed for hours. I didn’t smoke it regularly until well into my university years but it was always associated with fun, friendship, relaxing and not caring about the consequences. Just like alcohol. Slowly it became a necessary part of my day. Like alcohol it came to mark the transition from being a responsible adult all day to switching off, relaxing and taking time for myself. Whenever I stopped smoking cigarettes I kept up the spliff. If I stopped I would get so low and so wound up I would cave in. I stopped smoking completely for 6 months but a spliff at a party got me back just like that. Eventually I gave up giving up and began to accept the smoking part of myself as just who I am. This good girl by day, devil at night dichotomy is how I’ve lived for years.
So in the last few years I’ve not been ashamed of my smoking self and I’ve not really tried to stop. Giving up drinking triggered the internal conflict but I’ve sat with it for over a year now. As I wrote this I became irritable (a sure sign of cognitive dissonance) so I had a cigarette!
So here I am still smoking. I’m fairly sure it’s not adding much to life but I’m not sure I can let it go yet. I don’t want to get in a fight with a part of me it took me a long time to accept, but I’m not sure how to politely say goodbye to her either.
Like Anne who nominated me to do this I’ve been putting this off but it’s just for fun so here goes. Here are the rules if anyone doesn’t know them already!
Thank the blogger who nominated you, and provide a link to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions given to you.
Share 11 facts about yourself.
Nominate 5-11 other bloggers.
Ask your nominees 11 questions.
Notify your nominees one you have uploaded your post.
Firstly thank you to Anne ( Nomorebeer2019) https://canireallybesober.home.blog/2020/05/23/day-261-hit-hard-by-reality/ for nominating me. I love Anne’s blog – she’s honest and real and I feel very connected to her – I think we are probably very alike and I really admire her for getting sober at a much younger age than I have! Same goes for all you young uns actually! Getting your shit together before 50 – I’m in awe!
Answers to Anne’s questions:
If you could have had any job/career what would it have been? I love doing therapeutic work as in essence it’s helping people tell their stories and make sense of them – it’s all the stuff around it I don’t enjoy so much. I would love to earn a living from writing too and I’d love to hang out with horses all day but it doesn’t pay too well!
If you were stranded on a desert island what three items would you choose to have with you? This is hard! Am I allowed people? If so I’d have C my husband and soulmate but also because he’s far more practical than me and would build a shelter, make fire etc. Secondly I’d have my dogs and maybe my horse which takes me over I know. If it’s things not living beings I’d have pen and paper, some way to listen to music and a lighter and something to smoke (sorry – bad but true!)
What’s the thing you like most about yourself? That’s hard – I like my face when I’m in a good mood, and I like that I have a quick mind and get most things easily (as long as the thing don’t require spatial awareness!) though this also makes me impatient!
If you could relive one day again, exactly as it was before, what day would it be and why? Apologies to C but my 1st wedding day, it was a wonderful 24 hours and everyone I cared about was there. It was a wonderful moment in time. My 2nd was also wonderful but my daughters weren’t there nor a lot of family so I felt that.
If you could only see one more band/singer live, who would it be? I love live music so hard to pick one. Probably an intimate small gig with Paul Weller – ideally in my garden playing requests! In many ways he’s provided a lot of the soundtrack to my life.
What is your biggestachievementin life so far? This one is easier! My daughters – they are both beautiful inside and out, wise and kind and it amazes me that I gave birth to and raised them! They are also the reason I stopped drinking so they gave me back my health and self respect.
What’s your favourite way to relax (keep it clean please!) Again being honest smoking a spliff, but I’m working on substituting that with more yoga! Also love walking the dogs, riding, Scrabble a good film and I’ll say it – sex! (With C of course!)
You can have a superpower for a year. Which one would you choose? The ability to make people love and be kind to everyone – as a highly infectious virus that once infected never wore off then I’d make sure the whole world caught it in the year!
What’s your favourite time of day and why? It depends on where I am and what I’m doing – they can all be good in different ways.
What are you most afraid of? Something bad happening to my daughters
What are your ‘words to live by?’ Name the three most important for you. Love, understanding, friendship.
11 Facts about me
I grew up on a farm
I have 4 brothers, a sister and a step brother and sister
I was a punk as a teenager
I’ve been in love 3 times – infatuated many more
I burnt down a barn with my brother when I was 5 – (I’ll tell that story in a blog one day)
I was raised a Catholic but I’m not now
I lived in Dublin Ireland for a few years, otherwise always UK.
I rescued a dog and her pups from Greece with C
My closest group of friends call ourselves the Mad Cows
We have a dance routine to Bat out of Hell – all started on holiday in the BSE crisis 30 years ago
Simon Cowell is my guilty pleasure and I used to love X Factor (I’m getting over it now!)
This bit is hard too as there’s a lot of blogs I like and quite a few of them have done this already so apologies if you have and I haven’t realised!
https://nickreeves.blog/ – Nick writes evocative short fiction and poetry that leaves you wondering with vivid images in your mind. He’s also very supportive to us folk dealing with our demons and I’d love to know more about him especially as he also likes The Clash!
https://sobrietytree.com/ – When I tentatively published my 1st post Nadine of sobrietytree pinged it and has offered words of support and encouragement ever since. She strikes me as a woman with a beautiful soul and a big heart and I’d love to meet her one day.
https://mentalhealthathome.org/ Ashley is a mental health nurse who writes about mental health both professionally and personally. She helps other sufferers with good quality knowledge and insights as well as supporting new bloggers by publishing their posts as she did for me. I really admire her.
https://ainsobriety.wordpress.com/ Anne has been sober over 6 years and still writes and comments sharing words of wisdom, kindness and love in this community. I think of her as a big sister who understands exactly where you’re at and what to say.
There are lots of other blogs I would like to nominate but I’ll stick at 5 as I’m finding it technically challenging to copy the links (impatience again!). Here are my questions for them – some borrowed from above!
Who is your biggest hero/heroine and why?
Where and when were you most happy so far in your life?
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
What 3 words describe you the best?
What’s your greatest achievement so far in life?
What’s your favourite film and why?
If you could be any age you wanted for a year what age would you pick and why?
What are you most afraid of?
What’s a perfect day for you?
Excluding people what is your biggest love/passion in life?
What’s your favourite genre of music and why?
I’m looking forward to reading your answers – hope I can figure out how to notify you all! 💞💞
It’s hard to write a post updating on the trivia of my life when such momentous things are happening in the world. The death of George Floyd has sparked protests in the USA and around the world and the images of ongoing police brutality in the USA against protesters is further confirmation of the death of democracy there with the UK seemingly not far behind. The commissioned report from a leading black doctor into why BAME people are more likely to die of Covid wasn’t published by our government last week. It highlighted things like inequality, disproportionate lack of access to PPE – institutional racism basically which they further confirmed by withholding the evidence. We have a known racist prime minister and the highest death rate from Covid in the world. Perhaps Covid has brought home to white people what the BAME communities have known for a long time – they don’t give a shit about us. Unfortunately not to everyone though. People still challenge the idea of Black Lives Matter stating all lives matter. Of course they do but in our current world system clearly some lives matter more than others and that is what has to change. When our culture and institutions were built on the appropriation of others property and lives, and the system depends on exploitation to maintain the God of profit this isn’t going to change without a struggle. Part of that struggle is for anyone with privilege to really try to understand what that means in reality.
I’ve been reading individual accounts and paying more attention to the news this week. I realised that switching off from the world to protect myself from the anxiety it provokes is part of my privilege too. Reading about the black college professor who was stopped by the police and his emotional reactions; the white woman who is fearful when she jogs with her black husband – he runs in front so no one thinks he’s chasing her and she watches the cars slow and eye him with suspicion; the parents who have to try to ensure their children don’t make mistakes because the consequences will be harder and longer lasting than they ever would for their white counterparts has given me a glimpse of something I won’t experience because of the colour of my skin. I worry about something bad happening to my daughters like any parent but I don’t expect it to. If they or myself were in trouble I would expect the police to help me, not harm me. I expect that I’ll be treated respectfully and left to go about my business – to not be seen as suspicious. I don’t anticipate abuse or mistreatment. I expect to be treated fairly at work, in public places, everywhere. I expect reasonable assumptions to be made about me by others, that are close to the reality of who I actually am. It’s hard to imagine living with perpetual identification as threatening, other, less worthy or deserving in everything you do. That is white privilege – we don’t have to imagine it and we can choose to ignore it. Our silence is complicit.
I’m encouraged that my apolitical daughter asked me what she should read this week as she wants to understand racism better. I’m encouraged by the protests but my hope is fragile. If we want a better world we are going to have to fight for it. I hope the human race is up to the challenge.
This has been a rollercoaster of a week emotionally. My old dog had a stroke last weekend. She couldn’t walk straight, stand up to eat and was really miserable. I waited til after the weekend to call the vets fully expecting to have her put to sleep. Due to Covid they aren’t able to let owners in to the building. I wasn’t going to leave her to die scared and alone so the deal was that one of the vets would come out to the car instead but I had to wait until Wed morning. We sat in the sunshine in the busy car park together and I sang to her and cried. The vet came out and the outcome was to give her a bit longer as she may recover enough to enjoy life again. Apparently dogs often do. A lot of her distress was from nystagmus (rapid eye flicking that makes you dizzy and unable to focus and feel sick) but he had a tablet for that. We went home and she’s still with us. A little brighter but it’s still hanging in the balance. She won’t eat for herself but she’s moving around more. Death is hovering in the wings again, casting a shadow. I can’t help thinking of all the families who have been unable to be with their human loved ones who are sick and have died and I really can’t imagine the pain of that other than to know how unbearable it would be.
Thursday I had a call scheduled with my boss to discuss future plans. I had said I was leaving to work for myself end of August but they persuaded me to stay on some hours to do training, supervision etc. Then my young patient killed herself and Covid happened so I asked if I could defer which we agreed. Things have been ok and mostly I’ve been enjoying work through lockdown. Turns out that’s not possible as the company is looking at a large deficit forecast this year. They can’t afford to replace me now and need me to go when I said I would though I can reduce slowly over a few months. I stayed calm and grown up and got on with my day. I told C and he just said “we’ll be ok” and went back to work. I went grocery shopping after work and ruminated on his unemotional reaction along with the situation. By the time I got home I was tired, hungry and angry with him. I ramped up my emotions and we argued. I got the wine bottle out and poured a glass and took a swig then spat it out. I felt stupid but also a desperate need to go back to not knowing, oblivion, fuck it mode. I wanted him to appreciate how shaken I felt, how anxious I was and to help me find solutions. He pointed out that I’d been wanting to leave my job so struggled to understand my upset. I knew that but now things had been taken out of my control and I was scared.
Later that evening when we’d made up I realised that fear has held me back a lot and fear is the wine witches friend. I was scared to leave my first marriage for a long time until C came along and provided a catalyst. I’m scared to be fully sober and I’m scared to work completely for myself. Fear keeps me stuck in the forest wandering around not sure which way to go. I don’t want to go back to drinking or to working for the NHS but I make half baked choices to hedge my bets. Floating in this limbo makes it more likely I’ll go backwards not forwards. I also realised I don’t like putting the effort in. I’m not very disciplined. I’ve gotten away with that all my life – winging my way along. To make this work I’m going to have to work harder than I’m used to off my own steam. There won’t be anyone else to blame if things go wrong. I’ll have to manage my money more carefully than I ever have. I know what it’s like to not have money from my childhood and student days. Since then I’ve had a well paid job for over 30 years but I’ve not saved or managed it, I’ve just done as I pleased and my current situation is in part a result of that careless attitude. That is going to have to change. To be disciplined I’m going to have to let go of my crutches that ease the fear but keep me stood still. I’ll have to make choices instead of having it all my way. This may turn out to be the best thing that’s happened or it may go wrong. Loss and change are the only certainties in life really. It’s what we do when faced with them that makes the difference. I need to face this, work out what I want to do, feel the fear and get past it through planned sustained effort.
I wrote that Saturday as it is now but I wasn’t happy with it and didn’t want to publish. I thought it sounded preachy and I wasn’t feeling it. I was meeting a few friends for a socially distanced birthday picnic in the park. It was lovely to see them – really special after over 2 months. I didn’t want to drink but I did have a little bit of E. I had a nice time, both before and after the E and if I’m honest it didn’t add a lot to the experience other than I didn’t feel left out. I came home in time to enjoy the rest of the evening with C. I could tell myself that it’s fine – I get to define the limits of my sobriety; but I know that’s not true given the incident with the wine and what I’ve written above. It’s me being scared and retreating back to the familiar and that’s not the direction I’m travelling. The Paul Weller song below has been in my consciousness and on my playlist for many years now – a tune calling me to make changes. I know what I need to do – I just have to get on and do it. It’s the 1st June today – 3 months to get my shit together. When I’ve posted this I’m going to make a start.
“Brand New Start” – Paul Weller
I’m gonna clear out my head I’m gonna get myself straight I know it’s never too late To make a brand new start
I’m gonna kick down the door I’m gonna get myself in I’m gonna fix up the yard And not fall back again
I’m gonna clean up my earth And build a heaven on the ground Not something distant or unfound But something real to me But something real to me
All that I can I can be All that I am I can see All that is mine is in my hands So to myself I call
There’s somewhere else I should be There’s someone else I can see There’s something more I can find
Last weekend I wasn’t in a good mood. I’ve realised that on here I do what I do in real life – when I’m feeling bad I don’t talk to anyone until after the fact so I can present it as a wrapped up dealt with scenario with myself as a far more balanced reasonable human being than I actually am! The only people who really get to see my dark side are my family and a few close friends. Part of last Saturday was running out of weed and the old addiction conflict coming up. Having resupplied a little bit for C’s birthday on Monday we have now actually ran out and I feel differently. More positive that I can actually do all the things I want to today and won’t be derailed by a sneaky spliff and the ‘put it off til tomorrow’ effect it has. I don’t actually want to give it up but I do want to exercise more choice over when I smoke and how often. A break will help with that I hope. Last Sat I nearly drank. I got the open bottle of red wine I’d used in cooking and sniffed it but then I went and did yet another jigsaw instead! Played the movie forward. As we took our evening bath and C gently tried to point out what I was doing with my thinking I snapped ‘so I’m supposed to be present and fucking grateful all the time am I?’ The sensible part of my brain was saying quietly – ‘actually you are!’ C had the good sense not to reply! By Sunday I was able to do those things more and balance was restored.
I’ve had 2 Covid tests this week. The first as work have asked us all to get tested then a few days later I had a cough and felt feverish so had to have another. Both were negative but it got me thinking about how we accommodate to risk and threat when it’s presence is continuous. I’ve been pretty careful but I’d seen a lot of people out on a long walk, been to the stables and visited my mum and gone through her flat to her patio to chat instead of standing in the corridor in the few days since the 1st test. We are all used to it now and the longer it goes on the harder it is to remember to be careful. Our bodies and minds don’t want to be in perpetual threat mode, it’s not good for them, so we adapt and carry on. I understand a bit more why people appear to tolerate awful situations – we can normalise anything if it goes on long enough and in one way that’s adaptive. It also explains why governments can get away with so much. Our outrage naturally wanes over time and our tolerance increases. The ordinary stuff of life and love continues and humans adapt to their circumstances. I’ve often wondered how ordinary Germans stood by as the Holocaust happened. We can see the same thing at work in the USA and here right now – I don’t mean those who believe the lies they spout, but the rest of us, busy making sure our loved ones are safe and well, no energy left to be outraged. It doesn’t bode well for our collective futures.
On a lighter note as I scrolled through the pictures on my phone I realised all the WhatsApp messages and pictures were a visual lockdown diary. Here’s a few of my favourites (the ones without family on – those are my real favourites of course!) Stay safe and sane everybody!
I wrote this on my calendar earlier on in lockdown during a moment of frustration and although it’s true we did fuck all in April (in terms of what might need writing on a calendar) there is definitely something happening as we adjust to our stripped back lives. Other bloggers have articulated this so beautifully -Collette http://wine2water.blog/ and Jim http://formerdrinker.wordpress.com/ to mention a couple, that I almost feel I’ve nothing to add. Almost – ha ha! Collette frames it as authentic living instead of ‘doing’ and Jim talks about the effect of facing our mortality on how we face living. There’s no doubt this is a profound moment for us all to re-evaluate our lives and our inter-dependency with the whole of nature whilst sitting at home drinking tea doing jigsaws! Those of us who have quit drinking were already grappling with these questions so perhaps this has been less of a shock for us.
I’ve found we’ve slipped into a routine like humans do whatever the situation. I was alternating anxious days with more peaceful ones but the anxious days have lessened, mainly through not engaging too much with the bigger picture. My most anxious day has been Saturdays until today. Without the distraction of work I’ve woken up and immediately felt the absence of my girls and got myself in a doom and gloom mindset. I even text my Ex in search of E last Sat am, considering a one woman rave in the kitchen to pass the time. There were none forthcoming and later that day as I danced around making a pecan pie I was glad. I got the feeling all by myself! Later that afternoon I found some ecstasy with C and was even happier!
This week I thought about what I wanted to do today in advance and the anxst has stayed away. Focusing on simple pleasures and taking each day at a time is proving the best approach to all this uncertainty. I don’t want to drink though in the early days of lockdown it was suggesting itself as an option. C accidentally bought normal Becks instead of Becks Blue the other day. I had a sip and immediately said ‘there’s something wrong with that – it tastes horrible!’ It tasted like the poison it actually is. I’d have to try really hard to pour that stuff down my neck again! I am still smoking though we are likely to run out soon and I’m ok with that idea. I’ve lost the sense of having to manage things, force them or make them happen. I’ll just take it as it comes.
I feel the same about work. I spent last year raging at my job and trying to build a private practice so I could leave. I’ve realised now that I don’t want to do the same thing in a different setting, so rather than focusing on how I can make the same money elsewhere I’m just going to stay put and focus on the things I do want to do the rest of the time and see what comes of it. Writing, training and sharing ideas and private therapy clients rather than psychiatry ones. Maybe train in Equine Therapy. Trust the process rather than trying to force it or control it. The result of this is I’m enjoying my job more than I have in a long time.
My old dog is deteriorating before our eyes. Having never thought I’d be the sort of person who put nappies on a dog I am now doing just that at night. I don’t want to put her down without my girls being able to say goodbye and I’m grateful for this time with her. Pets are definitely Covid-19 winners, ours are loving our constant presence.
I’m very disillusioned politically and have left the Labour Party so I’m more in a place of resigned disappointment than righteous anger at the failings of our leaders. Instead I watch birds bathing in the waterfall C built in our backyard and wonder at nature as the seeds I planted push their way into the sunlight.
As others have said the task for us all individually and collectively is to figure out what we want to bring back from our old lives and what we want to preserve from this time. Like Collette I don’t want to go back to all that doing, but I do want to see my family and friends and to ride. I want to keep a slower pace though so I have time to stop and notice the world around me. Keep the simple stripped back feeling whereby the important stuff can be seen clearly, not obscured by a myriad of distractions.
So the rest of the day is cooking (rhubarb tarte tatin is today’s attempt), more writing, yoga, group call with my mum and girls and maybe some Killing Eve and Scrabble later. Simple pleasures to enjoy. Hope you all have a lovely day!
P.S. I’m going to post the follow up attachment articles on my other blog as I want to keep this one more for musings. If anyone is interested let me know how to contact you and I’ll send you the links. I tried to set up an email attached to this blog but failed – too impatient! I’m not anonymous on that one but I’m cool with you guys knowing who I am as I think of you as friends.
My family and I are too close to this mental disorder. Too close to write about it without heart-wrenching emotion. Why? My adult daughter suffers with an E.D. has since she was eleven years old; she will turn twenty-five this year. We did not discover what was wrong, what was actually going on with her […]
I found this blog via Violet’s daughter’s tweet and as I commented it’s close to me too. I know eating disorders and addictions do have a lot in common, and many families have both to deal with, so I for one am really looking forward to reading their story 💞💞
I started this blog without a title writing about where I’m up to and lamenting that I’ve not been making time to write. It morphed into writing about attachment, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so I’ve cut the first part and for once here’s a piece that’s not all about me! In these scary times we need more than ever to understand what makes people tick and why they do what they do. I believe the Dynamic Maturational Model (DMM) of attachment theory is the best thing we have to help us do that so this is an introduction to what it’s all about.
Attachment is the system nature has put in place to help us survive in a dangerous world. Staying alive and keeping our children alive and thereby our genetic potential is the bottom line. That statement alone tells us how important attachment is. The joy of becoming a grandparent is in part because of this I think. You’ve made it in attachment terms and you’re not responsible for making sure this one lives! When I took my mum to see her first great grandchild she commented wistfully ‘to think all this started with me and your father’. I think she was expressing her deep joy at the survival of her genes.
The human infant takes a lot longer than other mammals to be able to survive independently (if we can ever be truly independent of others), so it’s no surprise that our attachment system is complex and evolves as we mature. Our basic attachment needs are protection from danger and comfort. When we are small it helps a lot if our attachment figures understand this as meeting our every need. This has to kick in right away at birth or our chances of survival are not going to be great. So we are born with attachment signals built in. A newborn baby’s cry will melt most people quickly and they will rush to them. That’s what it’s supposed to do. A mother pretty much always wants to protect and comfort their baby – intentions are nearly always good to start with and shouldn’t be confused with outcomes as the two things are often very different. So attachment is in one part the behaviours we use to illicit the care and attention that we need and the responses our carers give back. It’s not ‘in’ one person; it’s what happens between them. As this signal and response dance happens the infant is processing this information about the world and learning how it is for future reference. So our attachment system is also how our minds process information; how we think, how we feel, how we see the world. It’s the lens we view everything through. That lens can be clear and accurate or it can be distorted in some way. Our attachment system colours all aspects of our experience.
Life is not inherently safe so how threat and danger are dealt with by our caregivers determines whether we psychologically adjust rather than whether we are exposed to threat and danger per se; as everyone can be though not equally for sure. Not everyone is traumatised by their traumatic experiences. The impact of them is mediated through our attachment relationships; when young with our parents or carers and when older with our partner, friends and ourself. If parents are not a source of comfort or worse still are the source of the danger; a child must find the best way he can to maximise his chances of them protecting him or comforting him to survive literally and psychologically. To do this their minds need to distort the information coming in (from their body and their environment) which it can do in different ways to create the most helpful conditions in these terms.
There are 2 basic forms of information – cognitive and affective. Cognitive in this context means predictability, order in time. Affective means feelings, bodily sensations, emotions. Our nervous systems take it all in and in a nanosecond decide what to do with it. Remember the primary purpose is safety and protection at all times. What our nervous system and brain need to know is what is about to happen – the future. It can’t know that so it makes its’ best guess based on the past. So every experience we have is through the lens of our past experiences. How we perceive the present depends on what we’ve experienced in the past. Perception is in large part memory based; and dangerous experiences imprint more powerfully than any other kind.
Let’s imagine 3 newborn babies in their cots bombarded with physical sensations – maybe hunger, cold, wet. Our first baby cries and someone comes and sees to his needs. He feels more comfortable. This happens repeatedly and the baby is learning that when he expresses his needs someone predictably meets them and soothes his nervous system. They regulate him as he can’t yet regulate himself. By 6 weeks this baby has learnt that both his feelings (affective information), and predictability (cognitive information) are reliable just as they are in shaping life so it is safe and comforting. He is on his way to a B strategy – balanced and all is well.
Our next baby has the same sensory experiences but when he cries in his cot either no one comes until he falls asleep exhausted or someone predictably comes and does something other than comfort him; shouts, jiggles him vigorously, feeds him when he’s not hungry or hits him. This baby is learning that his feelings and the expression of them does not reliably get his needs met; getting him no response, the wrong response or an aversive response. This baby learns to suppress his feelings, to disconnect from his body. He is distorting affective information by minimising, dismissing or denying it. This is why I get so angry about the ‘sleep training’ of newborns by leaving them to cry espoused by some parenting books. When it’s “worked” from the parents perspective and the infant no longer cries the baby has learnt there is no value in communicating their distress and this is not healthy development. He will also struggle with regulating himself. This process is the origins of the avoidant (A) strategy. What they are avoiding is their feelings, in particular negative ones (anger or desire for comfort) and their bodies. We Brits are a lot like this – stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, boys don’t cry. You get the picture? Like all the strategies as we get older it can evolve into a different behavioural manifestation with a different level of distortion of the information going on in the mind; but all the A strategies have in common an over reliance on cognitive information and a disregard for affective.
Baby number 3 cries and sometimes someone comes but not always. When they come they sometimes do what the baby needs, sometimes something different. They might be cooing and sweet or angry and mean. They are not predictable. This baby learns that there is no order to how things happen so all he has to rely on are his feelings and the expression of same. If he cries loud enough and hard enough someone just might come. He will also have trouble regulating himself. This is the C (coercive) strategy whereby the baby learns that amplifying his expression of feeling is his best chance of getting a response which might be the one he needs. As he gets older this gets more sophisticated; amplifying anger whilst denying a need for comfort or flipping between the two. The toddler who is kicking their mum then bursts into tears and looks vulnerable when the mum gets angry. The teenager who angrily protests that he doesn’t care and doesn’t need you anyway. Showing one feeling whilst denying the other. This style of parenting and the problems it brings are what most parenting programmes are good at addressing; increasing the predictability and sensitivity of parental responses. They work a treat when this is the underlying process going on and it’s not too extreme.
It’s worth mentioning that when Bowlby and Ainsworth did their work figuring this stuff out; the ABC classification wasn’t meant to convey meaning or value and the words to describe them got added later. One strategy is not better than any other – it depends on your circumstances at any given time. The B strategy is most likely to lead to an accurate assessment of the situation. The A strategy is more rigid and can be non-adaptive in ever changing circumstances. The C strategy can make it hard to learn from your experiences as it all depends on how you’re feeling in the moment. It’s also worth saying that in this model of attachment there is no D for disorganised. The ABCD model places most troubled people in the disorganised category. If humans were disorganised in their response to danger we would not survive. I really think it’s as simple as that. In the DMM model we have increasingly complex but strategic responses to danger that might look crazy and disorganised but they are not. This is a really important point. Troubled people’s seemingly disturbed and unhelpful behaviours, thoughts and feelings are their solution to whatever life has thrown at them. It represents the best they could do in their unique set of circumstances. It’s how they have survived. The trouble comes when they are no longer able to adapt their response to new or changing conditions, or are unable to adapt when it’s clearly not working for them. Stuck in a groove if you like; can’t change the record. The same response whatever is going on. It’s not the symptoms necessarily that are the problem but the lack of flexibility in the minds’ responses. We see this with Donald Trump now. All he can do in response to an ever increasing threat is more of the same – blame others, big himself up and lie. To do this his mind is distorting the information available to him – probably in his case to a delusional extent. Actually in his case the symptoms are most definitely a problem as well as their persistence. The tragedy is he’s taking a nation down with him.
So that’s how the 3 basic strategies come into being. A colleague once said that she had a problem with reducing our understanding of the complexity of humans to 3 basic patterns. I thought this was a valid point until I thought about the 3 primary colours and how many actual colours there are in the world. Infinite possibilities. How we blend and combine our attachment strategies probably has the same degree of unique potential. Pat Crittenden has the model as a 2 dimensional circle but I think it’s probably 3 dimensional in real life. The value of the circle is that we can identify where a person is predominantly on it by analysing the way they talk. How we talk about our experiences reveals how we process information. How we process information informs how we behave in our relationships. Thus we can understand ourselves and others better and from understanding comes the ability to change. We no longer act unknowingly or unconsciously. Change isn’t always easy though because when we are threatened the old patterns are triggered before you know it. We need time to change our habitual responses and we need to feel safe enough to take that time. Reflective capacity comes from security. This is the basis of good therapy – creating a safe and secure attachment relationship with the therapist so we can begin to explore different possibilities, experience different responses and create new neural pathways, new strategies for dealing with life. It’s why short term interventions don’t work for anyone other than mildly troubled people who are the least in need of the help in the first place. It saddens me greatly that the majority of our mental health services offer interventions that are not suitable for the people who need them the most. There are less opportunities to do the long term work therapeutic work that many of us need to truly heal.
If you’ve liked this and want more I’ll do some further posts exploring the different strategies and any other aspect people might be interested in. For more information check out Pat Crittenden, http://www.iasa-dmm.org or Family Relations Institute.