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Welcome to My New Sobriety Blog

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

Oscar Wilde

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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The little things….

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My posts have all been a bit deep and introspective lately so I thought I’d write something a bit more cheery about (drum roll) – – teeth! A lot of us notice the positive effects of no alcohol on our sleep, our bowel habits, our weight and other physical concerns – for me a big one is teeth. I’ve been blessed with quite nice teeth but when I was drinking a lot I didn’t look after them as well as I should and it was starting to show. A daily reminder that my body wasn’t taking the punishment I was giving it unscathed. It’s hard to clean your teeth well though when standing up is a challenge! Rushing in the morning when you’ve overslept doesn’t lend itself to good dental care either. Trips to the dental hygienist would fill me with dread. Each time as I lay back in the chair with my mouth prised open she would exclaim about the sorry state of my teeth; take photos to show me just how awful they really were and quiz me on my habits and brushing technique. An early return would be recommended with a double appointment as one just wasn’t long enough for teeth this dirty and I would shuffle out armed with new things to use feeling like a naughty kid.

Since I stopped drinking (306 days ago) I have cleaned my teeth religiously every night. Interdental brushes in every space and a proper brush every time. My gums no longer bleed either. It’s a daily reminder that I’m taking better care of myself without alcohol, whatever else is going on and that’s a nice motivator. I was disappointed the hygienist didn’t seem to realise how much better they were on my last visit. ‘It’s been 6 months since I last came – can’t you see the difference’ I wanted to say but couldn’t speak with the cleaning in full flow. It all took a lot less time and hurt a lot less though, and I noticed that even if she didn’t! My teeth are not perfect but they are clean and cared for now and that’ll do for me. 😀

The Guest House

Since I’ve ‘come out’ as depressed I’ve felt as if I’ve allowed it in, to wash over me and occupy the space. ‘Like that poem’ my good friend A said as I tried to explain what I meant. I looked it up and Rumi says it far better than I ever could. Most of my life I’ve been fighting any negative feelings, trying to banish them one way or another. Allowing my depression is a necessary step to becoming comfortable with who I really am but I still want to fight it, berate it, and banish it a lot of the time. I feel as if I’m shedding identities and I’m not sure what’s left or if I like it very much. I’ve shed the party good time girl persona and my competent professional self (though hopefully this one is temporary). I’m still doing horse stuff and being a mum but not a lot else.

I did go to the Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow a couple of weekends ago with 2 of my oldest dearest friends S and B. It was hard being so sociable but it was wonderful. The music and the joy of the musicians as well as the easy company lifted my heart and soul. I stayed out until the small hours – something I didn’t think I’d be able to do without alcohol and guess what – it was better! No glazed eyes, loss of memory, stumbling around etc etc. No anxiety about pacing oneself. Just unfettered enjoyment of the music. Live music is definitely high on my list of sober fun and my love of it is definitely part of the real me.

Returning home I was tired then got ill. The depression and lethargy came back and I found myself resistive again. Feeling frustrated that I’m not doing enough, berating myself for it. Yesterday I woke up really low and C responded to me in a way that made me connect with his frustrations and hate myself even more. I’m questioning a lot of my decisions from my life at the moment and I started to question us which felt really threatening. I’ve never doubted us – I’ve always known we are meant to be together. We reconnected in the evening and I tried to explain how I was feeling. ‘I know I’ve no actual reasons to be depressed which is the most depressing thing of all’ I said. ‘Maybe not in your life now, but I think there’s plenty of reasons in your past’ C replied.

I feel a lot like my 14 year old self right now so I got to thinking about that time in my life. That’s when I first got depressed. I remember being in my room and my stepmum saying in exasperation ‘what’s wrong with you?’ I didn’t know anymore than she did. I do remember that’s when I started smoking again. I’d first smoked as an 11 year old – the end of primary school. I was trying on rebellion for size but it scared me and a part of me was very critical of it so when I got to High School I ditched my rebellious friend and went back to being the clever good girl for a while. When I started smoking again at 14 I was much better equipped to manage the rebellious persona and now there were boys and sex in the mix as well! Alcohol followed but I didn’t really take to that until I was older. I first smoked cannabis aged 15 and I remember thinking it was the best thing I’d ever experienced. Drugs and alcohol have rarely directly given me a bad time or experience which has made it hard to see them as the problem until now. Of course they are not the problem per se; they have been my solution to the problem of my intolerable feelings and dislike of myself. The conflict between the good girl me and the ‘fuck it’ me (the one that smokes and drinks) has been a constant most of my adult life. I would flip from one to the other without really thinking about what they meant, what their function was, and when in one state of being I would be critical of the other, admonishing without compassion or understanding.

When my mum left when I was 13 I remember feeling relief. I was riding before school and I shed a single tear and that was it. The ‘it was better afterwards’ narrative has been the only one I’ve allowed. I’ve not acknowledged how hard it was being a 13 year old girl living in an all male household; how lonely I was a lot of the time; how angry I felt. Nor that whatever the circumstances if your mum walks out and leaves you then that is an abandonment and it’s only natural to interpret that as you somehow not being good enough or loved enough. I’d had a lengthy separation from my mum as a toddler so perhaps the depression goes back to that; a time when we can’t put it into words so we have to embody it. This is the first time I’ve connected my parents divorce to my depression. I can’t help but also link my younger daughter’s struggles since me and her dad divorced to my own unresolved issues. A colleague of mine once said if you can’t understand what’s going on with a child that you’re seeing, ask what was going on for the mum when she was that age. We pass things across the generations in more ways than genetically.

As I was going to sleep last night I was flooded with memories of those years and I forgave myself my failings and comforted myself. I reminded myself I was just a kid. I woke up this morning feeling lighter and brighter and more my adult self – whoever that is these days! My daughter arrived home and she is lighter and brighter too and that cheered me more than I can say. I’m back in a space where I can appreciate this life and for that I’m grateful and in this moment happy.

Does a diagnosis make a difference?

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My last post – The Retreat led to an interesting discussion about depression and anti-depressants in the comments section amongst fellow bloggers. I had been to my GP as I’m off work so needed a sick note. I asked my doctor to write depression on the note which was in itself a significant step for me. I got a prescription but I hadn’t started taking them as I was going on The Retreat, and when I got back I felt so good I didn’t think I needed them. I planned to go back to work next week and ‘get on with it’. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. I continued to feel good until Wed and was functioning better – eating better and fitting in the yoga. Wed I had a riding lesson back where it all started 12 years ago; the 2nd time around horse part of my life. I was flooded with memories and I missed my old horse. I enjoyed it but I came home feeling really sad. I didn’t want to do yoga but I managed a little. By yesterday morning my thinking was dark again, I was crying and couldn’t be bothered doing anything. When I tried my brain was sluggish and I got easily frustrated. I decided to take the tablets.

What has been different is I’ve been more aware of this shift and I’ve not transformed it into something else; an irritation with C, a complaint or just a hissy fit about not much at all. I’ve also stopped myself going too far down the self critical ‘it’s all your fault you always mess up’ path too. That I credit to the retreat and yoga. It helps me keep a little bit of me in an observing role to myself so I can check what I’m doing more easily. I was resistant to it yesterday but managed a 5 minute meditation. However I’m not functioning well and I have now decided to label that ‘depression’. I am depressed or I have depression? Does it make a difference which way I say it? Does it make a difference to label it?

I don’t like diagnoses which is odd considering it’s my job to hand them out. When I first started psychiatry 30 years ago we were taught that basically people were either mad, sad or bad (I kid you not!). Psychosis, mood disorders and personality disorders. I quickly noticed that the people I met had stories to tell and usually their stories told of loss and bad things happening to them. Some people couldn’t tell you their story but their body told it for them – the young girl in a wheelchair with fixed contractures of her legs meaning it unlikely she would walk again though there was no physical reason. She had been sexually abused but she smiled and told you all was fine. She didn’t know what she was doing in a psychiatric unit. I found that the so called bad people were the most likely to go mad or be sad but because someone had labelled them ‘Personality Disorder’ no one was very sympathetic when they did. I still find this 30 years later; even though all the evidence backs up what I noticed back then. In Child Mental Health there has been a shift towards more diagnoses so that a huge proportion of referrals now are for assessments for diagnoses such as ADHD and Autism. I found that giving the child’s symptoms a label and then trying to medicate them away didn’t really work that well; especially if nothing else changed around the child; and especially if other things were not as they should be. I remember as a very green consultant seeing a child who I thought had severe ADHD. I gave the meds and at follow up asked his mum how it was going. ‘Oh I didn’t give him those she said – I stopped giving him Powerade’. A powerful lesson for me that symptoms can reflect many possible causes. I didn’t stop diagnosing completely but I tried to use it as a systemic intervention; a way of shifting parents thinking and their interactions with the child, as well as a way to get support in school. I also couldn’t help noticing that sometimes when you treated one set of symptoms a different sort popped up like an unsolvable puzzle that keeps changing shape. Quite a lot of my patients could have any number of diagnoses and none of them really helped with changing anything. I found that when people were able to put words to their secrets, their unspeakable experiences, their shame often their symptoms diminished somewhat. I was learning that symptoms have a function as well as a cause.

In 2006 I came across Pat Crittenden and the Dynamic Maturational Model (DMM) of attachment theory. (www.iasa-dmm.org). This made more sense to me than any other way of conceptualising mental health across the whole spectrum from well to really unwell had ever done so far. How you function is rooted in your early experiences and is your best adaptation to that unique context is the premise of it in a nutshell. Of course it’s a lot more complicated and I will write more about it in other posts as it has literally changed my life professionally and personally. The more I studied and trained in this the less I diagnosed, and the more I focused on trauma and adaptation.

The DMM conceptualises depression as when your strategies no longer work for you to get your needs for comfort and safety met, and you know it’s not working. Psychodynamic thinking about depression speaks of anger turned on the self; cognitive behavioural of negative thought patterns that bring you down. Women are so much more vulnerable at times of hormonal shifts – puberty, childbirth, menopause which supports a more biological understanding. I’ve used different thinking in different combinations to help patients understand what might be going on for them; a one size fits all approach isn’t that helpful. I still prescribed for patients, recognising that depression stops them from helping themselves, alienates one from loved ones and support. A barbed wire fence that keeps the pain out but the support as well. I know that meds alone can’t fix things but they can get you to a place where you can more easily help yourself. Ive not applied this to myself though. Is it arrogance that makes me think I’m different? Shame? Stigma?

Overcoming addiction is multi-faceted. We have to change our habits, find new coping strategies, new ways to manage our emotions, to have fun, to relax etc etc. We also have to deal with all the unprocessed losses and traumas that alcohol blocked out. I’ve been conceptualising my lack of energy and motivation as this – I’m processing lots of unresolved stuff as well as grieving the person I was and taking responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. I’ve had therapy in the past so I’ve been surprised there’s still a lot of pain buried in my psyche. Also I’ve thought of it as a reorganisation process (that’s the attachment model term for significant change in how we adapt). I’m slowed up because doing things differently takes time; it’s learning a new way that isn’t yet second nature to me. I’ve also attributed it to cannabis. I’m lazy and demotivated because I’m still smoking dope. I’ve smoked dope a long time though and it’s not stopped me wanting to get out of bed in the morning before or had me crying at the thought of going to work. I’ve been reluctant to think of it as depression, an illness – until now. I’ve had enough symptoms for more than enough time to meet criteria for a diagnosis but I’ve resisted. So what difference does it make?

Firstly I think it’s given me permission to take time off work and look after myself. It is socially acceptable to stop functioning when you are unwell. Whilst I am trying to maintain as much functioning as I can, I’m not being so hard on myself for not managing all I set out to in a day. If I manage anything at all that’s ok. This is helping me keep some self compassion and stopping me from beating myself up mentally. It allows me to focus on what I can manage; walking the dogs, doing some yoga, trying to cook and eat well instead of going to work, not performing well and coming home too tired to do those things. Not doing them drags me down further. I can start from where I am at and build it back more slowly. It also allows me to separate it out from myself – one of the most helpful things a diagnosis can do. I’m struggling at work because I am depressed; rather than I’m struggling at work because I’m no good at my job. My GP said I’m self medicating with the cannabis. That’s a part of it for sure and I’m hoping that as I am able to do more I will want to smoke less. That the anti-depressants will take over some of the functions of the cannabis.

I still think the depression is related to the massive change of removing alcohol, processing unresolved issues and learning new ways of being. However I have to function as well as do this. I feel as if I’ve spent several months navel gazing and whilst necessary on one level too much of it takes you away from others and doing things that are good for you. It’s all about balance. Self awareness versus self absorption. I’m hoping the meds will help me reset that balance – reach out instead of hide away as I continue to find out who I really am without the shadow of alcohol. Help me embed the new habits that will help me stay well and connected to others and give me the energy and motivation to make the other changes I need to make; on the outside as well as on the inside.

The Retreat

I saw my doctor Friday morning for a sick note and left with a prescription for antidepressants and a heavy heart. I didn’t want to go to the retreat. I didn’t want to talk to anyone let alone strangers. ‘What if they’re a bunch of weirdos?’ I said to my daughter J. ‘Well you’ll fit right in then’ she replied. I was anxious about leaving C and J for the weekend. We had had our first family meeting Thursday night. It hadn’t gone well and part of me wanted to be here to do what I do; try to keep everyone happy. The knowledge that C wanted me to go and that how things are was beginning to impact on him got me out the door. On the way there if I’d hit traffic I’ve no doubt I would have turned round but I didn’t and I arrived. It was held at a homely country house in Warwickshire near where my mum and grandmother grew up. The area holds a lot of family history for me and I could sense that ancestral familiarity around me.

Of course no one was weird at all. A group of mainly middle aged women looking for some peace of mind in this crazy world we live in. We all gathered around the table in the conservatory and Rina, (www.rinagolan.co) who led the retreat asked us to say a little about why we had come. I’d not intended to share too much but I had to go first. I burst into tears saying I was overwhelmed with loss and grief and couldn’t do my job. I was met with warmth, compassion and love. As we did the first yoga session that evening my body was resistive and sore; my mind distracted by physical discomforts. I went to bed early and slept lightly as my mind continued to spin.

The weekend was also a cleanse so we ate delicious organic vegetarian food, and Rina shared her wisdom in her very down to earth, very real no nonsense style. As my resistance started to lessen I set my intention for the weekend. I started with acceptance and then changed it to spiritual guidance. To reconnect with yoga to help me make the decisions I need to make. Rina spoke of self compassion and letting go. Also of how women need to slow down when they reach the menopause; become a source of wisdom rather than continuing to do things at the pace they have in the past. This really resonated with me. The workplace is unforgivingly relentless these days and one of my constant refrains is “I’m too fucking old for this”. I thought of my dear friend R, a teacher who is going through a similar crisis.

Saturday morning the yoga came more easily and my heart was beginning to open. With Rina was a massage therapist, Lena, a petite ethereally beautiful woman who worked tirelessly all weekend. I felt things release from my body as she kneaded my tight muscles intuitively, with strength and tenderness. In the evening we watched a film – Finding Joe. It was about the work of Joe Campbell, the professor who discovered that mythology in all cultures is one basic story – the Hero’s journey. From an ordinary unaware life, the hero has a calling or awakening (that he may keep ignoring until he can’t any longer). There is resistance and obstacles along his path; and he has to battle dragons and overcome quests to get to his enlightened return. Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix are just a few examples – all movies I love. The film spoke of finding your bliss; your true path. All mythology representing the human struggle to find our true self.

I realised that the reason I keep getting stuck and depressed is I am not on my path. My fear is the dragon that keeps defeating me. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, of not doing the right thing. My fear uses many forms and guises to keep me stuck. Until I find the right path I will keep circling back to the same point psychologically; one of frustration and despair. It is at this point there’s a crossroads, a choice. If I let the fear get the better of me then I circle round again to it. It may not look the same and the fear may find a new form but it’s the same place. It’s easy to get stuck here. You drift along and manage for a while – there’s so much to distract yourself with; until something happens that brings the dilemma sharply into focus once more. For me it was the death of my patient last year. You can block it out; distract yourself fighting the dragons without and within, real and imagined; or lie down defeated in a depression. Many of us live out our lives stuck here, endlessly battling our dragons. When you can step back from it as I did this weekend you realise all of these things are there because you are scared to follow your true path. I almost didn’t go to the retreat. My resistance almost got the better of me as it so often does. One of its many forms is to pre -judge, make assumptions and dismiss in advance. I think it’s my love for C that got me there and what I’ve learnt so far on this journey. I knew I had to do something different. I’ve taken another step forward.

I think all of us who are consciously trying to be sober are heros on a quest to find our true selves, the real meaning of why we are here, what makes us truly content. C has told me that in AA they talk of alcoholics choosing the wrong kind of spirit. Even if we keep getting knocked back whilst battling the demon alcohol we have started the journey; there’s no going back to life as it was; we have to keep going through the forest or get stuck in it. The alcohol won’t do it for us now no matter how much we drink though our fears may keep taking us back to it. If we make it through then we can live as our true authentic selves.

Sunday was a beautiful day. I felt strong but light doing the yoga. We walked in the crisp countryside, frost glistening and mud squelching underfoot. We hugged and shared and others cried this time. The power of the female energy was palpable. I shared that I am quitting my job to follow my own path. Also that I need to get closer to my resistance, to be curious and try to understand it and recognise it’s many forms. I’ve removed the blanket anaesthetic resistance of alcohol but that was just a start. To do this I need to keep up my yoga practice and stay connected to communities I can share with and learn from like this one. No one can do it alone. I need to put in the training like all heroes have to so my other pledge from the weekend is to do yoga or meditate every day for 40 days, even if just for 10 minutes to firmly establish the habit. I’ve no idea how far into the forest I have gone yet or what other trials are going to come my way. Some will be from within and some will be what life throws at me. I know others have much harder lives to battle with than I do. Much of my suffering comes from myself. This weekend I ended up exactly where I needed to be at exactly the time I needed to be there but I had the choice to go or not. I won that battle. I may yet lose many. Where are you up to on your Hero’s Journey? Are you ready to break out of your matrix? Follow your yellow brick road? May the force be with us all.

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Stuck in the spin cycle

My plan to approach 2020 with tolerance and acceptance (mainly aimed at my job) got derailed after 2 days as shared in previous post. Talking it over with C brought some insights that I thought worth sharing.

As we talked over what is bothering me I was lamenting how every time I try to manage differently I end up irritated and discontent again. I try to focus on the positives – the young people, the team, the good salary but it doesn’t last. C asked what I’m not letting go of; and pointed out that I’m spinning between frustration and blame and attempts to be ok without addressing the real reasons it’s not ok. I’m still attached to an idea or belief that is unresolved but hidden from view but powerful in its effects. What was I holding onto? I feel unsupported and unappreciated at work was my first thought. After a moment I remembered that things had changed following an incident over 2 years ago that involved a MHA assessment where the young person was not detainable but the home said she couldn’t come back. Having just spent an hour negotiating with her how we would manage her coming back I then had to tell her at 4pm on a Friday she couldn’t. I didn’t agree with the decision and I broke down with her as she screamed ‘you’re making me homeless’ repeatedly in my face. In her eyes I was the doctor and I had the power. I left in distress, emailed my resignation in tears from my car and came home. I don’t remember but I almost certainly will have got very drunk that night.

I didn’t resign and we did have her back that night until another placement was found. I carried on but something shifted. A lot of my complaining centres around having all the responsibility and little power or influence over what happens. It’s not hard to see the link with this experience; or why my recent MHA assessment triggered me so much. Rather than talking about it I did what I have always done when I feel very threatened – withdraw. I feel overlooked and undervalued at work but in truth I’ve isolated myself from senior management as I don’t trust that they have my back. It doesn’t take much for these unresolved feelings to present themselves around minor issues; excessive irritability that makes me unreasonable and difficult to work with. It’s easy to construct a narrative around these things that perpetuates the negative feelings and the real reasons become buried and inaccessible. When you add alcohol as your primary coping strategy what’s underneath becomes harder and harder to access. Onwards you spin – blaming others for being crap or yourself for not coping. Neither position helps you deal with anything constructively.

I think a similar process happens a lot in families and other relationships. When a family can’t get together without things kicking off you can bet someone is stuck in a spin cycle around an old grievance or hurt; unable to talk about it directly or accept it. If you grew up in a family who were unable to talk things through then it doesn’t come easily; you have no model for it. Much of therapy is about learning to communicate your feelings more directly and experiencing being truly heard. I can do this for my patients most of the time but when myself or my loved ones are involved and I feel threatened I revert back to the spin cycle – blaming and bargaining with myself and others.

Of course there is a deeper layer. My drive and motivation for the work I do comes from my own experiences of being a child who’s needs weren’t adequately met and who’s environment was often unpredictable or frightening. When I think about myself as a child I picture myself alone with my dog. Perhaps this young persons’ experience tapped into my own feelings of abandonment and neglect with me cast as perpetrator? No wonder I couldn’t bear it. In truth after 30 years on the frontline I feel less emotionally equipped to deal with others pain now than at any point in my career. I’m more aware of my own inadequacies as well as the systems inadequacies; I’m more sensitive now I no longer numb it with alcohol and I no longer thrive in or crave high stimulus, high risk reactive environments.

Usually when I get to this point I take a day or two off and then get back to it as too long doing nothing makes me more depressed. This time I’ve stayed off work and I’ve booked onto a yoga retreat this weekend. I’m going to stop spinning, allow my feelings and take care of myself.

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The Drugs don’t Work

My little cat was hit by a car this morning and killed. She’s always been a free spirit – we lost her numerous times, but she always found her way home one way or another. If her heart belonged to anyone it was to my eldest daughter E. In recent years the cat lived between us and a neighbour (her and the dog from Greece didn’t hit it off) but whenever E was home she would appear and stay; less of the teenager only coming home for food and occasional rest. E has been here this weekend so we saw her last night and this morning a couple of hours before we got the call. I’m taking comfort from knowing what happened; when and where more or less. I know she would have died instantly. I know she had food in her belly. I know she slept in the warm last night. She was an old lady now – 14 1/2 years we’ve had her but you wouldn’t know it. She still looked like a kitten. I guess she used up her nine lives today.

I’ve spent the day since being sad and resting. I’m not gonna lie I’ve smoked spliff too. It’s helped me rest but not really taken away my grief. It occurred to me that alcohol might; then I realised it had stopped working for me quite a long time before I stopped drinking it. Stopped making the night out really good fun; stopped numbing me out when my feelings overwhelmed me. Instead of being the lubricant for my life it was becoming the life.

When this first starts to happen you just drink more – chasing the feeling and sometimes you find it. Those sweet nights when you and yours laugh so much and put the world to rights through long crazy conversations. Everything feels right. Mostly it eludes you though until the drinking isn’t about having fun anymore; its an end in itself, the main purpose of whatever it is you’re doing; if you’re doing anything at all other than stay home and drink. It’s like you’ve reached your maximum “lifetime consumption with fun” quota. Without noticing you’ve crossed into the “consumed by your addiction unless you stop” stage of your relationship. There’s no going back from here but there is a way forward if you choose to take it.

Knowing this – really knowing that it doesn’t work anymore; in spite of it looking like it’s fun for everybody else; and every form of media that subliminally enters your subconscious telling you it should be fun; when you really know that for you that ship has sailed there’s absolutely no point in having a drink. The first step forward.

So back to the smoking and the grieving. I know it doesn’t work, I don’t even want it to work. I want to mourn my little cat that we loved as much as she’d let us; her company hers to gift when she chose to. So why am I doing it? It’s my comfort blanket but I’m starting to see that it too takes as well as gives. I know I could get more done and have more motivation without it. If I’m about to pull away my safety net and give up my salaried job then I’m thinking it might weigh me down on the tightrope as I step out alone.

So I’m grieving today and being kind to myself, but I’m mindful of my choices. As I started to have these thoughts the song I’ve stolen the title of started playing in my head. They really don’t work for me anymore and I know which way I want to go on the road.

RIP 2005 – 2020

Struggling with acceptance

I mentioned in a previous blogpost that after inspiration from a fellow blogger my word for 2020 would be acceptance. The reason for this choice is that I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to fix things or to change things. Constantly mixing it up and seeking newness and challenges which have also functioned as one big distraction from whatever is really going on inside. I’m not very good at allowing and being so I thought having acceptance as a mantra would help. I’m already being tested by work or rather my feelings and beliefs about work.

I left the NHS almost 4 years ago and now work for a private company that provides very specialised care to young people who would otherwise be in hospital. I love the client group, the team and the model of care but the corporate structures have grown as the company has and I hate all that being a natural born rebel. I tell myself that’s why I left the NHS so what am I doing here? I spoke to someone about going back to the NHS but was reminded that the emphasis on assessment and through put rather than individualised care and treatment was the other reason I left. I wanted to do work I could feel good about. I also struggle with working in the private sector when I’m a socialist as I’m not being true to my core values and beliefs. If I’d stayed in the NHS I could be retiring now so there’s a layer of regret there too. The result of all this agonising is I’m negative and unhappy at work, and I get moody and irritable about it at home. I’ve started working for myself as well and I love that but it is a lot less secure than a salary. How can I accept that work is never going to be perfect so that the imperfections don’t impact my mood and well being so much? Did I leave my last job too hastily? Probably yes but I can’t change that now and I was miserable. Can I improve things in my current job? Things were better for a while when I made a conscious effort to manage my emotions and expectations but since a young person died the negative thinking and reactions have crept back in.

On a seemingly completely different topic I saw a post about a horse for re-homing last night and thought I might look at it; even though I know it would tie me into massive financial and time commitments when I’ve other things I want to do that I struggle to fit in already; as well as wanting to work less if I can. I told myself I’m tied in to working for the foreseeable future so why shouldn’t I spend the money on a horse for me? I am getting less impulsive as I didn’t call immediately but slept on it. Today I’m not so keen and have decided to wait and see what I think in the summer and to let this one pass me by. I think my unconscious mind was getting uneasy about going back to work and hey presto here’s a distraction! If it was hamsters that floated my boat I’d probably have thousands by now! Excitement at the thought of something new blocking out the complicated difficult feelings I have about my job.

So no new horse and no new job for the time being. I will have good days and bad days, probably good hours and bad hours on the same day. Work is like that; life is like that. The problem when you don’t stand still for long is you don’t learn that most things pass by themselves, and nothing is permanent especially not feelings. When our feelings take charge, especially negative ones, then we view life through a shit coloured lens so even when it’s ok we find the bit that isn’t. Our reactions and responses shape what’s around us and if we keep it up long enough it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

So tomorrow morning before I go in I will do my yoga and meditation and aim to be mindful and calm.

I wrote the above 3 days ago but wasn’t entirely happy with it so it didn’t get posted. I didn’t manage to get up and do yoga but I went to work Wed determined to be positive. In the afternoon I had to go and be part of detaining one of my patients. She’d been found the wrong side of a motorway bridge by the police the night before and was on the local 136 suite (where the police bring people for assessment who they deem are at risk). This was her 5th such assessment in 10 days. We detained her and she kicked off resulting in restraint. I came home feeling both exhausted and agitated. I didn’t sleep well and yesterday all the petty irritations at work got to me and by the end of the day I was in tears. I talked it over with 2 of my lovely colleagues who said they thought I was depressed and should take some time off. I don’t think I am depressed as I’m ok when I’m not at work but when I think about it I’m not very motivated to do anything, can’t get up in the morning and the thoughts that life is a futile exercise and there is no point are never far away. Something about the experience on wed has triggered me; I’ve been in that kind of situation hundreds of times so why now? I would have always drank after a day like that in the past. Now I feel skinless – I have no defences against the pain and misery that is my stock in trade. I can’t do it anymore but I don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t know if I’m absorbing other people’s trauma or if it’s triggering trauma of my own. Am I blaming work for my own weaknesses and faults? Why can’t I just get on with it like normal people do? Why do I feel others pain as if it were my own?

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. Maybe I never will. Maybe I’m just burnt out after 30 years. I’ve taken the day off today and I’m writing this in bed as I can’t face getting up. I think I’m going to resign and figure out the rest (like how I’m going to pay my bills) whilst I work my notice. Perhaps it’s not just acceptance that I need but courage as well?

The love of horses

One of my favourite childhood possessions

I’ve been hesitant about writing this post as it’s not just my story but my younger daughters’ as well. I’ve always talked too much about my girls to my friends, sharing their trials and tribulations and they don’t like it. I’ve got better at containing myself but I know I’m on a line here that I could easily cross. If there are gaps and missing information it’s because I’m trying not to.

I loved horses as a child and when I was 11 my mum bought me a pony with help from the woman who would become my step mum 2 years later. My step sister and I spent many happy days in early adolescence riding free round the countryside. Driving my dad mad building courses of jumps out of straw bales in his newly harvested fields. As we got older the ponies were often neglected for boys – guiltily caught and fussed over when said boys let us down. My 2nd pony became unridable and I spent the insurance money putting her in foal. I came home from school one day and she’d been slaughtered. She’d gone lame and the vet thought she had a brain tumour. She had laminitis – a foot condition that is easily managed. I think that day marked the end of childhood for me.

I didn’t really ride again for many years, the odd holiday ride here and there in my twenties. In my thirties a regular riding holiday in the Brecon Beacons brought me close to my childhood experiences. The freedom and the exhilaration of galloping across the wide open spaces is an incomparable feeling. It wasn’t until my forties that I really got back into it though. When we moved back to England in 2005 J started riding lessons with her friend and I started going too. The yard had jumping competitions and they let you borrow a horse to compete. Not something you find very often. New Year’s Eve 2007 having not jumped since my teens I did 3 rounds – the last ending with me on my arse in a flower pot. I was buzzing all night I’d had so much fun.

By the end of 2008 I’d bought 2 horses – one for me and one for J. A was not happy as I’ve mentioned before. When I’d excitedly show others a picture of my horse he would comment ‘more like your new fucking partner’. He was right in a way; I was in love with Jake (the horse) and I’d found a way to meet my needs other than through my marriage and children. My eldest daughter E was neglected too I’m ashamed to say. Between work, the horses and drinking there wasn’t much space left. Our family became one of two halves.

J is a good rider and shares my passion. We got a lot of rosettes and had a lot of good times. The 1st pony was outgrown and replaced; a horse box was purchased and we went further afield. I worked more to pay for it all but horses are expensive and the angst about money was never far away and the overdraft grew. The rift between me and A got deeper.

Fast forward to September 2012. I’d just met C and was standing at a fork in the road of my life unsure which path to take. J had outgrown pony number two and we were taking the horses to the beach for a last fun ride before she went to her new home. On the way back my car set on fire and we had to unload the horses on the side of the motorway. Luckily we were right next to a works exit and lots of people helped us. As I looked at my car spewing out smoke and making alarming banging noises I realised that life as I knew it had blown up too and there was no going back.

The search for a new horse for J began. C paid for it and we had high hopes. This is one of my biggest regrets. I wish we had waited and allowed things to settle down. I felt so guilty about my girls and the pain of divorce that I was inflicting I wanted to make it up to them. C is a very generous soul and he wanted me to be happy so was a willing accomplice in my efforts to buy them happiness. I see now how unfair this was to A. Creating an uneven playing field for how we would parent once apart. I can’t help thinking that what came next was the karma for this mistake.

2013 and we are at a cross country competition, doing solo and pairs. C is with us. J’s horse falls at fence 5 of the pairs. I know she’s going to be in a foul mood and I want to complete the course so once I know they are both up I carry on. Not my finest parenting moment. From then on J has problems with her horse. Eventually we realise it was from the neck trauma but for ages both me and her instructor think it’s J being stressed and anxious when she rides. Instead of triumph in the ring it’s embarrassment. Where once riding was a source of self worth for J it became the source of self doubt. J’s own well being and the horses were intertwined.

In the midst of all this C had an issue that meant he couldn’t work for a few months. I wept all night as I thought I would have to give up the horses. By the morning I had a plan to keep them. I’d have given up anything else more readily.

Whilst this cycle continued I threw time and money at trying to fix the horse to no avail. June 2015, J came home from a holiday with friends bright and cheerful and excited to see him. An hour later she’s crying in the car that she never wants to ride again. I accepted defeat and the horse physio took him off our hands for 10% of what we had paid for him. I was just glad we didn’t have to put him down.

Two days later J is texting me adverts for horses! I don’t have to accept defeat – I can still fix this! I borrowed the money from my brother and bought another. The plan was to bring her on and compete her then sell her when J went to uni 2 years later. She wasn’t the easiest of horses and the cycle continued – progressively worsening as we slowly unravelled all her problems. 3 months before J left home the horse had back surgery. J had had enough. I’d failed to fix the horse and in doing so had failed my daughter. I was left with an unrideable horse and an unhappy daughter.

I was still riding and competing my horse but the fun was muted now; he had his injuries and issues too meaning I had to retire him late 2017. I turned my attention to Js horse and started her rehabilitation. I couldn’t get on with her at all and after 6 months could barely trot! J decided she would ride her again. I think this took immense courage on her part after so much heartache.

I’ve learnt some painful life lessons through all of this. You can’t always get what you want. I wanted to divorce without fucking up my kids and my attempts to make it better made it worse. Trying to fix everything is a way to avoid feeling the pain. I should have allowed the anger and upset more and accepted them; from my children and myself. Eventually I made the connection between my quest to fix Js horses and the loss of my own as a teenager. My unresolved loss fuelling my actions in the present and in the process passing the pain down the generations.

I’ve viewed my children’s happiness or otherwise as a measurement of my mothering ability over the years, a role I really want to be good at – don’t we all? I’ve realised that’s a lot of pressure for them that they could have done without. There is a fine line between pushy and supportive parenting when it comes to sports or anything else I guess. Of course you want them to do well but when their self worth gets caught up in their achievement; or your own issues in your feelings about it like my grief did then it’s not healthy. We can’t make our kids happy. We can try to make them resilient and we can be there when they struggle. That’s what really matters – not what you or anyone else thinks of your parenting.

Chasing after dreams turns them into expectations and we too easily lose sight of the true pleasures when our hopes are dashed. The feeling of riding across open countryside is what it’s about really, not winning competitions. Like life it’s about being in the moment, really experiencing it as it happens, not dwelling on a past mistake or a future goal.

Things have been up and down these last 2 years with the horse. Since we decided in the summer that she’s staying with us they’ve been doing well. I’ve had to let go of wanting another one for myself and appreciate how lucky I am to have one at all, even if I can’t ride her very well! I’m seeing this time as an opportunity for me and J to re-work our relationship through the horses. We are back doing what we were, going out jumping most weekends but we are calmer, less expectant and learning to just enjoy the ride.

My boy Jake enjoying retirement

New Year past and present

I began and ended 2019 in the beautiful County of Northumberland. Last year we were with friends (and drinking); this year just me, C and the dogs. Lots of scrabble, beach walks and for me an all consuming jigsaw. If I hadn’t finished it this morning I doubt I’d be writing this!

We spent last night with an old school friend and her family. We reminisced, told stories, and laughed a lot. Just before midnight we went out onto the hill above the town and watched the fireworks. It was a very special evening. Driving back to our cottage down the A1 in the small hours we saw a shooting star in the clear night sky. It occurred to me I’ve never driven on New Year’s Day before. Never done much at all other than nurse a hangover. The insight that even the traditionally most boozy night of the year could be more fun sober is a big one for me. Up until 3 years ago I’ve viewed New Year’s Eve as the best part of the Xmas holidays – by a mile. I would volunteer to work Xmas so as not to miss out. The years and the parties have blended together into a memory board of lots of fun moments though there’s a lot I can’t remember at all. 2016 was a heavy one even by new year standards and unsurprisingly I got ill soon after. It turned into pneumonia and I spent most of that January in bed.

This frightened me enough to decide that I’d go away and have a quiet new year in 2017. It took the whole of the year for me to stop drinking and another year and a bit to stop finally; but I think this may have been the moment when I first realised things needed to change. A seed was planted in my consciousness. It has taken time to germinate and find the light of day but it’s growing stronger all the time. I accidentally had a mouthful of Prosecco last night thinking it was my Nosecco. It tasted horrible. Proof if I needed it of how far I’ve come in these 3 years.

So we have a new year and a new decade. The world seems to be going to hell in a handcart and all I can think is that by the end of this next decade things are going to have to be very different if humans are going to survive as a species. We need an antidote to the inevitable fear and anxiety the state of the world generates that doesn’t come in a bottle.

The big picture is very depressing but the word I picked after reading Ann’s inspiring blog https://ainsobriety.wordpress.com/2019/12/28/explore-word-the-year/ for 2020 is acceptance. I’ve wasted a lot of energy in my life raging about things I can’t change whilst not doing something about the things I can. I can’t do much about the government right now but I can get involved in protests, or local projects helping people worst effected. Alcohol makes you very self centred; then when you stop drinking you need to look inwards for a while to process all the shit you’d numbed out with the booze! Connection with others is good medicine for addiction. These are my hopes for 2020. Happy new year everyone! 🥳🥳

Ghosts of Christmas past

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Although this was my 2nd sober Christmas it felt like the first one. 2 years ago I’d stopped drinking on the 15th December. 10 days in I was raw, ashamed and shell shocked. This was new territory. I remember how lovely and kind my girls were that year – as if I was sick which in a way I was. I think their reaction made me realise how much of a problem my drinking actually was for them. Functional alcoholics don’t function where it matters most – in their families. The world may be fooled but your loved ones aren’t.

This year after an interlude of moderate drinking (who was I kidding?) I’ve been alcohol free for 8 months. I hadn’t even thought too much about whether it would be difficult – it’s just the way it is now. I hadn’t anticipated the ghosts of Christmas past paying a visit.

Christmas Eve is spent cooking and sending C out shopping for all the last minute things then my mum comes round for dinner. We’re all in the kitchen and my mum makes a comment about how too strict parenting messes you up in later life like it did her. I didn’t react or even clock my thinking at the time but not long after I got incredibly wound up. I wanted to scream or cry and to be alone. By the time we sat down to eat I’d infected everyone with my bad mood. J tried to help me calm down which just led to tears rolling down my cheeks at the table. I felt awful as of course I wanted things to be perfect and I’d achieved the opposite effect again.

I got back into a more grateful positive space before the evening was done but when I woke up I was sad. I wanted to push it down and get on with the day but C encouraged me to talk. I made the connection with the comment from my mum. I thought back to my own childhood Christmases. I don’t remember them that well. The worst was the year my mum was living in a bedsit with her alcoholic partner and my sister, younger brother and I visited. I was in my early twenties. The car broke down as we got there and there was nowhere to sleep. My mum was drunk. We wanted to leave but couldn’t. My sister and I walked the streets until we found a B&B. We got through Christmas somehow. What possessed us to go? The idea that it might be different I guess. Humans keep hoping they will get what they need from their attachment figures even when the evidence is telling them otherwise. If we hadn’t hung in there with this seemingly false hope we wouldn’t have our mum today though.

Anyway in the recounting of fragmented memories of Christmases past I got angry – ‘never mind your fucking childhood – what about mine – I hate you’. C exclaimed ‘there it is’ and I smiled through my tears and my body relaxed.

The rest of the day was lovely. We all loved our presents (the painting of my dogs on this post was my favourite); dinner was produced without the drama of the night before; games were played and we all had fun. Nosecco was a fabulous drink to have with my Christmas dinner. I realised that I usually spend most of Christmas Day trying not to appear as drunk as I actually am; which takes up progressively more of your attention as the day goes on until you are clock watching and planning your exit. As I watched the Gavin and Stacey Xmas special with my girls it hit me how much more relaxed I was without this internal struggle.

It’s interesting that although I think I’ve resolved a lot of my feelings about childhood, and certainly do not harbour anger or resentment towards my parents; Christmas stepped on the landmine buried in my subconscious. So much expectation and effort helped blow it up. I missed my anaesthetic – how I’ve always dealt with it in the past. I suspect this happens for so many people this time of year. We dare to hope only to have our past disappointments colour our present. Past emotions running roughshod over our present like an unwelcome visitor. I had several moments when I thought about having a drink – I’m so glad I didn’t. Once I’d allowed my feelings they settled back down and freed me up to have a really lovely day with the people and animals I love most. I hope the ghost of this Christmas does visit next year!