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.
Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
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.
I actually can’t believe it’s been a year. When I started Kate Bee’s Sober school I didn’t expect to finish the 6 weeks! At first time seemed slower and the evenings were particularly long but then time has whizzed by and here we are. Somewhere around a month in something changed in my brain and I lost the desire to drink. The key thought processes for me were separating out my addictive voice – aka the wine witch; and also no longer seeing getting wasted as an act of rebellion but as a form of political control. If we’re all downing pints and popping pills at the weekend then we’re not thinking about the state of the world or doing anything about it and I think those in power like it that way. Punk rock and the rave culture were both appropriated by the establishment that derided them in the end; as The Clash sang ‘turning rebellion into money’ when it gets too big to suppress. I think the pandemic may shift our collective consciousness on this score as suddenly everything is political and impacts all of us in some way directly and immediately so can’t be ignored. It will also mean a lot of people drink more too as a way of coping. I know a year ago I would have. I’ve had more thoughts about drinking in the last few weeks than I’ve had for a long time. There’s still a bottle of Prosecco in the fridge from Christmas that my girls didn’t drink and I was thinking I could drink it to celebrate today! I haven’t and I won’t but the thought surprised me. C said it’s because anniversaries reactivate our feelings of loss and grief. That makes sense to me. I’ve had some sort of relationship with alcohol most of my life; fearing it as a child and being vigilant to its effect on others; tentative experiences of my own in adolescence then embracing it wholeheartedly in early adulthood. The first couple of decades alcohol seemed to deliver. I remember a time as a student splashing in the puddles in the rain and feeling carefree in a way that I’d rarely felt as a child. I credited alcohol with giving me that freedom, that playfulness, that fun. I continued to do so for many years and it took me a long time to realise that alcohol was taking not giving. Even once I knew that it took a good few more before I actually stopped. I do miss the way it made me feel back when I didn’t know better though and that’s what I grieve. Of course it wouldn’t be the same now because I can’t un – know what I know; even for one night. That’s why the Prosecco will remain unopened in the fridge.
Of course stopping the booze is only the beginning. Stripping back the layers and learning who you really are is the hard part! I’ve learnt that I’m not really such a party girl after all but I do really like seeing people when you can talk and properly connect. I struggle with negative emotions and used alcohol and manic activity to ward off depression; perpetual oscillation of arousal and mood instead. I’m learning other ways and I like living at a slower pace and noticing more. Some of that may be age related too; we can’t keep doing what we did when we were younger as our bodies won’t take it. I am struggling to give up smoking so I’m not out the woods of addiction yet. I still think of myself as sober though. I read somewhere that only you get to define what sober is to you and I’m going with that.
“The opposite of addiction is connection”. That stuck in my mind from the course too. In real life my mum, my daughters, my friends have all been incredibly supportive and I’m so grateful for them. I couldn’t have done it without C and his unconditional love and support and of course you guys; fellow bloggers, fellow travellers on this path. We struggle and learn together, holding each others hands metaphorically as we all try to become a better more authentic version of ourselves. I genuinely feel like you are my friends and your words have helped so much. I’ll raise a glass of something other than Prosecco tonight and toast you all!
I’ve wanted to write all week but haven’t been able to as I’ve not known which narrative to share or how to combine them. If I told one it would invite a certain response that I didn’t really want, though I knew it would be heartfelt and sincere. To tell the other, and not mention her bedfellow would just be too disrespectful. So, a two part telling of the week.
I did an online yoga class last Tuesday night. Jane the teacher reminded us that life is always precarious but usually we are not aware of it. The practice focused on breath and grounding. I struggled to stay focused for the full session but it felt good to do yoga with others again and to hear Jane’s familiar soothing voice. Life is slower but the days pass. I’m getting used to working remotely. In some ways me and C have been practising for social isolation as we spend a lot of evenings in just the two of us normally. We are at ease with each other and comfortable and I feel lucky I’m with someone I love right now. The idea of not being able to see my friends though is hard. We are slowly getting to grips with the virtual meeting world. I’m very much a people person so I’m grateful I’m more at ease in my own company than I used to be. I miss my daughters terribly. It was J’s birthday on Saturday – the first one in her 22 years I’ve not been with her. We did a family present opening on line and a birthday cake later which was lovely. Imagine a lockdown without internet? The explosion of humour and cute stuff coming through on the WhatsApp groups is a distraction and a reminder of the resilience of humans. Gets in the way of working though and I’m getting less done than I thought I would. It’s too easy to leave it til tomorrow when there’s so much time. I miss the horse so having the dogs and the cat to cuddle helps. Walking the dogs is the highlight of the day. I find myself looking closely at the trees and flowers and wondering at Nature; creator of all this precious life as well as the virus we are all hiding from. There’s a tenderness in everyone’s interactions that’s not normally there. Almost everyone smiles and says hi, and I’ve had long conversations with strangers – at a 2m distance of course. We humans are social animals and you can see the need to connect in everyone’s face. Lots of houses have rainbow pictures in the windows – a message of togetherness and hope. I’m getting better at losing at Scrabble! Not had a tantrum in a long while! On line jigsaws are my new obsession. I’ve only baked one cake, which became J’s birthday cake. I left a third of it on a friend’s doorstep as it was going down a bit too easily! We got out in the back yard Saturday and I planted the random plants from the supermarket and a neighbour gave me a rosemary plant. So far the dogs haven’t trashed them so that’s a result! I’ve stopped avidly consuming the news or reading about Covid-19. In many ways it’s easier to be present and in the moment when every day is similar and there’s less to look forward to or plan for. It’s easier to savour the little moments – the taste of the cake; the joy of a favourite song on the radio dancing round the kitchen; a phone call with a friend; a soothing hot bath with bubbles. I hope that’s something we can all keep after this is over.
I had a call Wednesday morning telling me a young girl I’d seen twice privately had killed herself. Shock and disbelief enveloped me and for the next day I had to keep reminding myself it had actually happened. I emailed her mum then took myself out for a walk. Her mum rang me whilst I was out. Did I see it coming? Had she said anything? No I didn’t and no she hadn’t were the short answers but I shared as much as I could and offered as much empathy and love as It’s possible to through a phone. In normal times I’d have gone to see them but I can’t. For the family to be going through this in isolation and lockdown seems doubly cruel. The initial meeting when all professionals share what they know happened the next day. The thought that I am a lone practitioner in this and the person who others will think could have or should have spotted the signs was foremost in my mind. I looked over my notes and although I’d done a good job I could find holes and found myself mentally cross examining myself like a combative barrister on the one hand; the other trying to tell myself everything will be ok. I’ve voiced frequently that one of the things I like about my private work is it’s less risky; a major reason for leaving my day job. Is the universe trying to tell me to quit altogether? If I don’t will it something even worse happen? I felt guilty that I couldn’t help thinking about myself and the possible consequences when a girl has died. Missing my daughter on her birthday I thought of her mum never seeing her again; it broke my heart. My sleep was restless and images haunted me of her sitting in front of me smiling, as well as of her dead. Could I have done something different that would have made a difference? The next day the internal dialogue lessened and I cried. I realised I have a harsh inner critic and don’t readily accept mistakes or failings and have high expectations of myself. I want to be the person who makes a difference and I am often quick to criticise other professionals for their perceived failings. Humility has been lacking. I certainly feel humble now. I talked to my supervisor who sensitively gave me a reality check. “It’s an awful tragedy but not all suicides are predictable or related to depression, detected or otherwise. It’s often rejection in the moment that is the trigger and whatever you had done it wouldn’t have made a difference in that moment”. After a more restful nights sleep I’ve started to feel more at ease with myself. There is nothing to be gained from worrying; it has happened and what will be will be now. I can try to support the family as best I can and help them make some kind of sense from the incomprehensible. The yoga class this Tuesday had a message of standing tall and strong in the face of adversity. As I breathed deeply through warrior I began to feel like I might just be able to.
So a couple of weeks later than the rest of the world thought we should be, the UK is now in lockdown; though the list of essential workers is long and people are still confused as to what they can or can’t do. We know what is coming but we don’t know either; not really as in what it will actually be like. Most of us have never directly lived through a national emergency, war, pandemic, or indeed anything remotely scary or disruptive on this scale. The news can often have a far away ‘otherness’ about it which no doubt has contributed to people struggling to accept the danger is imminent and real. This kind of thing happens to other people in other parts of the world, surely not here our minds ask?
With the re-introduction of spliff me and C have stopped arguing and are starting to find a rhythm to it. We’ve been gradually isolating more and more these last 2 weeks. We pay money to go stay in cottages to be just us and the dogs; so when I’m not consumed with the news and anxious foreboding I’m trying to look on it as a gift of time together. Lots of connecting with others too via WhatsApp groups and Facetime with my girls and my mum. Hard to get any work done with all the jokes coming through – can’t stop laughing!
Having watched a U tube virology lesson about Covid-19 and been reminded that we can bolster our immune systems to increase our chances; (should there not be a ventilator available if needed); I’m chomping on Brazil nuts, having cider vinegar every morning (my Dad will be proud – he swears by it) and taking Vitamin C. As I edged nervously around other shoppers at the supermarket today, gloves on and scarf over mouth, I felt the urge to bake and bought random ingredients as delicious things appeared in my mind. Randomly bought some bedding plants too – don’t know what they are but we will have the time to watch them grow. It was lovely to see my mum even if at a distance when I dropped her supplies round afterwards. Walking the dogs felt like a treat in the warm sunshine. Nature seems to be celebrating as she always does in Spring but it’s bittersweet this year.
C suggested more love making as a way to pass the time – always near the top of his list anyway! Vaguely remembering that sex boosts your immune system I enthusiastically agreed – ‘at least 4 times a week please!’ It’s fun, it’s free and it’s good for you – what’s not to like!
Of course the other thing that zaps your immune system is stress, and there’s a lot of that to be had right now. I did an online yoga class tonight and though different it was comforting and grounding. Jane, the teacher reminded us that life is always precarious – we just aren’t aware of it most of the time. I thought about the refugees around the world; facing this in overcrowded camps with little medical care available; after having fled their homes leaving all they had behind. I felt grateful I still have a warm home and good food. We may not have lived through anything like it but plenty around the world have. This pandemic is a great leveller.
So I guess this is my personal Covid-19 lockdown survival tool kit: good food, sex, yoga, connection with others whatever ways I can and remembering there are people much worse off than ourselves right now – (and lots of homemade cake!) – what’s in yours?
So I lasted smoke free until Friday night. Worked from home all day – didn’t get much done between meetings (distracted by anxious thoughts and multiple funny Gifs memes etc coming through – humour is universally used to try and stay sane!) and late in the day became aware of a medication error that was in part because I hadn’t written up the plan on the plan though I had communicated it but still my bad. No harm done but it got to me. I was in an over aroused state in spite of meditating and when I’m like that I’m snappy and C got mad at me – really angry which is a rare thing from him. It hit me hard – (I hadn’t realised I was being that annoying!) and that was it.
I am not good at being confined and I’m finding doing everything through a screen unnatural and strange. I’m also really worried both for myself and loved ones but also the NHS, my friends working there and the human race. I don’t know when I’ll next see my daughters. Spliff is calming me down in spite of my angst about the state of my lungs. I’m going to revise my aims as I’m not sure I can be totally smoke free in this extraordinary time; not without serious domestic collateral damage! No cigarettes (which I’ve kept to) and focus on doing more of the other things that help like yoga and meditation so it’s not first port of call and try to have as many smoke free days as I can. I have a yoga book that A got me years ago that says ‘don’t worry about your bad habits – just do more yoga and things will naturally sort themselves’ so I’m going with that. I know it’s a cop out and I know the beginning part is the hardest but it just feels too hard without all of normal life to distract and a shitload of anxiety in its place. Maybe I need to do this over and over like I did with booze until I get sick of it? I don’t want that either so for now I’m retreating from this particular frontline back into my comfort zone.
To end more positively tried a virtual meet up with friends last night which didn’t really work but it was lovely to see their faces. We wanted to sing a tribute to Kenny Rogers together! It might yet happen! I’m seeing a silver lining in the fact the government is having to do socialist things or everything will collapse and I think that will be hard to reverse once this is over as it will be too obvious to fool anyone anymore that neoliberal capitalism is a really bad idea for most of the population. Also the community level humanity and caring that is happening is heart warming and I hope we can keep it up as things get worse. Stay safe everyone and take care.
Well I got through the day! Some sticky points but there were always going to be. I’m writing this to reflect on what helped and what didn’t so I can do better today. By better I mean avoid the meltdowns!
I was busy all day but wrote and meditated in the morning – definitely helped. Then I worked at home all morning then in seeing patients in afternoon then riding. I usually smoke in the car so that was tricky but I ate instead. Got home about 7 and that was the most difficult time. Used to be wine o’clock and also spliff o’clock. I got irritated with C, and decided we would have a spliff. I got the box and C reminded me what I had written yesterday (he reads my blogs!) so I went away to read your comments and then decided to eat dinner first instead.
Your comments were so helpful! Helped me remember what my actual desire is – to be fully sober; encouraged me that I can do it and also that I’m not alone in this. Lots of lovely people are doing this too all around the world and they understand what it’s like. Thank you thank you thank you 💞💞💞 (Nadine I air smoked a bit too and it helped!)
After dinner I decided not to smoke and I was surprised that I didn’t actually crave much the rest of the evening. What I did do though was pick a fight with C just before we went to sleep. I ended up crying in my daughters bed but went back up and made up before sleep. My mum always used to say ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger’ and I try to live by that as leaving stupid arguments overnight blows them up into more than they deserve. When I was downstairs I thought about going and having a cigarette and realised just how stupid that is. As if a smoke makes up for falling out with the person you love? Not being able to see your children for a while? Worrying about Covid 19 and all the people on the frontline and how we will cope as a community, a country, a species? This was clearly my addiction voice (now known as smoke devil 👿)at work and not my true self. It takes hold of my anxiety, distorts it into an all encompassing negative then presents itself as the only possible solace; having dissed all other available comforts along the way. God I hate that bastard! I hate it even more as it’s part of me but I do have a choice about how much it controls me.
When I did Kate Bee’s course I remember she commented to me ‘you’ll have learnt so much from your 3 months”. That really helped me reframe this as not about willpower, a battle, being good or bad but as a learning curve and she was right. I’ve learnt a lot from not drinking for 11 months and that is going to be invaluable in learning to not smoke. I need a toolbox for the trigger moments; recognition of the 👿; other ways to manage my emotions and connection with others. So heartfelt thanks again and I’d best get up and go meditate 🧘🏻♀️🧘🏻♀️.