‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’

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It’s been 7 months since I last wrote here. I have hardly been reading sobriety blogs either. I’m not sure I completely understand why but perhaps it will come to me as I write now. I hope you are all ok in your worlds and finding your way forward on your paths. Here’s what’s been going on with me.

After the visit to my dad I started smoking weed again. The niggling pesky uncomfortable feelings were too much when I knew just what would make them go away. However I also decided to get some therapy. “Physician heal thyself” being a familiar refrain in my mind. ‘I thought I’d dealt with all this shit” I said at my assessment. ”You have cognitively but not emotionally” he said and allocated me to M.

One of the things that has put me off going back to therapy (I had some in my 20s) is the thought that I’m a scary patient to have; or that I will be dismissive of their knowledge and skills. A sense of being ’too much’ for them. Of course that’s not happened because what matters is the relationship and being seen as you are and accepted as you are. M is gentle and kind, and reflects things back to me in a helpful way. We started where I was at which was the losses – my own and my children’s. He recommended a book (https://bookshop.org/books/adult-children-of-emotionally-immature-parents-how-to-heal-from-distant-rejecting-or-self-involved-parents-9781626251700/9781626251700) that I’ve since recommended for my clients, my step-sister and bought for my daughter! I recognised my parents, my step mum, myself and my ex in there. I said this to my daughter adding ’I like to think I’ve changed though’. ’You have mum’ she replied. That comment means everything to me and I am holding onto it tightly.

So the autumn months were spent thinking about my parents divorce and my divorce; how I was in my first marriage and beyond. The key has been forgiving myself for my wrongs. that’s allowed me to forgive my ex and my parents, instead of holding us all to some critical judgemental standard. Acceptance can follow forgiveness. I visited my dad again and it was fine as before. I invited them to come visit me but they looked bemused. I know they won’t but I think I’m ok with that. We shall see.

As I work through this stuff, back and forth in between working and living, there are periods of heaviness, sadness and feeling weighed down; but then a joyful lightness of being – dancing in the kitchen, kneading bread, looking at trees when it feels good to be alive. I realise that my yearning to live in the countryside is in part about loss and I’m not yearning very much and am happy here now. I think I might be done with therapy but I’m still smoking so I figure M will help hold me to account.

So far so good. I finally get my vape working and stop smoking cigarettes with a plan to stop all tobacco soon, which will I think massively reduce the weed to a level I can live with. The fellow addicts among you will recognise the bargaining with the devil going on here!

Then I went out for a meal for a friend’s birthday. Not any old friend, my close friend who was my drinking buddy, who gets loud when she’s drunk and who I’ve had issue with in this situation before because she has a problem with non drinkers not splitting the bill. All of the above panned out again. We went home and once more I found myself preoccupied with it. Angry with her. When I brought it up at my next therapy session M got me to stay with how I felt in that moment in the restaurant. Wanting to disappear, embarrassed at being different. He commented ’you’re scared of her’. This shocked me as I get to feeling angry so quickly I hadn’t noticed any fear. I’ve spent this week feeling like a frightened 7 year old. Ive realised the significance of mealtimes, as that was often when things would kick off and get dangerous. The thing with alcoholic families is terrifying things happen and then you all just carry on. The title of this post is from another book about ’the rules’ that alcoholic families have. You don’t tell or trust anyone, you don’t feel, you just carry on as if everything is normal. No one comforts you. No wonder as soon as you can you find ways to comfort yourself. Trauma is frightening experiences without any comfort. Most children of addicts will not have experienced comfort as children making them so much more likely to become addicts themselves.

I’m working on feeling, talking and comforting myself in healthier ways. I don’t know what to do about my friend. She’s reaching out more and I’m stalling her. When I talked to her about the last time she denied having had a problem or very much to drink. I don’t feel safe sharing my feelings with her as I fear she will ridicule me to others. I don’t want to give her emotions that belong in the past and untangling it is difficult. I do know meals out with her are off the menu for the forseeable future! Thanks for reading – it’s good to be back. 💕💕

Unresolved and ongoing loss

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I went to visit my dad this weekend. I’ve only seen him once in the last 2 years. There’s been an underlying tension between my step mum and siblings in the 40 plus years they’ve been together but I’ve managed to be peripheral to that as I managed to get on with her and could see she makes my dad happy. I’m also close to my step sister so had stronger ties. I was my Dad’s favourite as a small child; a status that caused me issues with my sibs as they picked on me somewhat. I was the only one of the 5 of us who saw out my teen years there before leaving for university though my relationship with my dad then was terrible. Through my 20s I visited regularly but in the last 20 years or so it’s got less and less. My Dad rarely visits any of us – he’s come to my home two or three times in over 40 years which I’ve always explained away as him being a farmer, at sea out of his own world. My step sister recently moved away from where they live and they are visiting her for the 2nd or 3rd time soon so my mind had already started to doubt what it has told itself for years.
My dad did what he does and told stories about the past and people I don’t know or can’t remember. My step mum cooked us nice food; and we almost argued about politics. I noticed how threatened my step mum is by disagreement. She accused me of being miserable and unhappy when I talked about the state of the world. ‘I’m not’ I replied ‘but truth is important.’ Surprisingly my Dad agreed. They also talked a lot about their son’s baby, and my step mums grandchildren and great grandchildren; with only fleeting enquiry about my children and my life. I walked round the farm with C, looking at the old house that I grew up in that is no longer in the family, and reimagining it and the fields as they used to be. ‘It all feels so different now’ I said. All of this is normal for a visit there and I felt it had been a success.

When I got home I felt restless and bored. I really wanted a spliff but we don’t have any. I smoked a little last week when my daughter was home so I thought it was just the reawakened addiction rearing it’s hungry head. Then I thought about the wine in the fridge left over from her visit too. I realised I was wanting to block something out. I didn’t succumb and became tearful, angry and sad all at once. Angry that they seem to have a narrative that we don’t bother with them when it’s the other way round. When you make all the effort and do all the visiting in a relationship it’s not really sustainable in a meaningful way. My sibs blame his wife but he’s our father and he doesn’t know me anymore. Angry that my children’s father is exactly the same with my girls since our divorce and left wondering if my own unresolved and unacknowledged feelings had somehow contributed to that? Sad at the loss of a meaningful relationship with someone I love and feeling overlooked, unimportant and unvalued. The problem with the loss of a parent from divorce is the reminders as you go through life that the person has chosen to give you up. Death can’t be construed as a wilful abandonment. No wonder I berate C so much for ignoring me! I was also angry that at 56 I feel like this with a part of me saying ‘for fucks sake get over yourself!’ I thought about writing to my Dad and saying I don’t want to see him again, but after all this time I don’t think he will understand and his wife will get angry and dismissive which will impact other relationships too. I’m going to wait and see how I feel when I’m less raw. After all truth is important but then again it can’t always be heard.

I talked it over with C but got more miserable as the evening went on. J came home with the news that our horse isn’t right – more loss potentially. I couldn’t sleep so got up and watched the olympics until 2 in the morning. I thought about writing then but my mind wasn’t steady enough. Eventually I slept alone so as not to disturb C. I woke up not feeling any better so I’ve taken a mental health day and cancelled my clients today. Time and space to process and allow these feelings that I’ve kept at bay with drugs and alcohol for so long. I can’t help wonder if my life would have been different if I hadn’t blocked things out for so long? One of my daughters has given up on her Dad completely; the other says she prefers a fake superficial relationship than cutting him off. Is she doing what I’ve done and will she suffer later for it? Trauma is truly the gift that keeps on giving, through the years and the generations. Every time I think I’ve faced my demons another one surfaces. I’ve played whack- a-mole with them for years though, shoving them back into my unconscious so I can carry on being outwardly ok and keep up the pretence. I can’t do that anymore and now I need to find a way to make my peace with all the above, accept it and be truly free. Thanks for reading.

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Healing with Horses

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Last weekend I went to an introduction to Equine Assisted Therapy. Given my love of horses and mental health background it’s something I’ve thought of doing for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a growing field with an increasing evidence base for lots of human problems, including addiction. There were 4 of us on the training and we did exercises with the horses in the same way a client would. The idea is that horses being emotionally attuned animals who live in the present and seek connection, reflect back our inner states thereby helping us make sense of ourselves.

After some breathing exercises and a body scan the first exercise was simply ‘meet the herd’. We were told to go and meet the 6 horses in silence and notice what we experienced. The first horse I approached continued to eat grass as if I wasn’t there. ‘You’re ignoring me’ was my first thought – something I often say to C. The next horse greeted me with a nuzzle of my hand and I felt happy. She stayed close to me eating round my feet and I was comfortable with her. The 3rd horse turned his back to me 3 times – ‘you’re rejecting me!’ went through my mind. Boy do I need to be seen and accepted! I persisted with this one, slowly coming closer until he allowed me to stroke him. I’d no time left to do more than quickly say hello to the others. I thought about how I am attracted to the difficult people at work; people who don’t easily engage and who others don’t want to work with. Afterwards we learnt a bit about the horses histories. The one I’d spent the most time with had a very traumatic background.
The next exercise was ‘the journey’. There were 4 obstacles and we had to pick 2 positive areas of our lives and 2 negative to be represented and a horse from the 2 left in the field to come on our journey with us. The 2nd horse was ‘the interrupter’. The first woman who did the exercise was sobbing by the end of it and shared she rarely cries, let alone publicly. Another woman had the army as her interrupter, as her husband wants to join and this could disrupt her pursuit of her goals. As she moved from one obstacle, representing her current job, to the next, representing her future study plans, the 2nd horse came over and got in the way! She too was emotional at the end.

I picked family (as in all the people and animals I love) and sobriety as my positives; smoking and anxiety/stress as my negatives. My interrupter was my own mind. As I was trying to catch my chosen horse another was running up and down the fence in the next paddock asking to be picked so we let her in and she accompanied me. As we tried to get going she was nuzzling my feet and turning circles and I found myself leaning into her shoulder to direct her but not very successfully. When I stepped away that didn’t work either – I was too far away. This got in the way through the family obstacle somewhat and the other horse let out a big squeal as we progressed. This made me think about boundaries; how I can get too involved with my girls issues and clients and how that makes me ineffective; then I distance myself to correct it and that doesn’t work well either. When we stopped in the box representing smoking both myself and the horse were comfortable and could have stayed. The other horse let out a couple of loud squeals. The horse didn’t want to go near the stress and anxiety but when we got there we negotiated the obstacle with ease. As I got to the small jump representing sobriety I whispered to the horse ‘let’s do this’. I had a deep feeling of joy and freedom as I jumped the jump and the horse followed. I set her free but she followed me back to the group and we shared a meaningful hug. I then learnt she’s never done the jump before. Afterwards I felt every cell of my body tingle. ‘You’ve embodied something” the instructor said. This simple exercise had enacted aspects of my psyche in a clear easily understandable way. I expected it to be powerful but it blew me away.

I don’t think it’s unrelated that I watched the football that evening and did not smoke cannabis, even though several people I was with were smoking. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever turned a spliff down in my life and I was more than ok with it. I’ve not smoked cannabis since though have been around it again and although there’s a little part of my brain that’s anxious I could be tempted, the bigger part is saying I’m done with it and I recall that feeling I had of joy and freedom.
On a different note I’m actually glad England lost the final. The racist abuse of the players and the behaviour of the fans was appalling and if we’d won then that nationalism would have been rampant. As it is the players and a lot of the public have denounced both the racism and the government for their part in enabling it. These young men are essentially the only opposition we have to our corrupt, racist, selfish government at the moment and they make me feel hopeful for the future and immensely proud of them. Young people are essentially unrepresented politically in this country and the England team and their manager are stepping up and using their position for the greater good, challenging the government narrative when no one else is. Well played lads!

Friendship, Support and Football

Our back yard

It’s Saturday evening here and I’m making dinner with C in the kitchen, listening to sweet soul music looking at the flowers, birds and waterfall in our beautiful back yard that C created. I’m still not smoking cannabis and I have noticed a shift in my attitude this week. I’d normally be stoned by now on a Saturday so writing wouldn’t be an option! I know I want to do this instead of toying with moderation. I’ve been reading blogs again, and downloaded a tracker app as that helped me with alcohol a lot. Ive watched the tennis and football when I can and got really absorbed – fully present for the experience. I’ve planned and booked things over the summer including an Equine Assisted Therapy study day tomorrow. It’s something I’ve thought about pursuing for a long time so I’m taking the first step. Exciting! Writing the post last week really helped my motivation as did all your comments and support – thank you lovely people! Also had a lovely long chat with my best friend B last week. I’ve not seen her since before the pandemic and I miss her. We’ve been friends since our teens, united by a love of Paul Weller then and now and she knows me better than anyone. She has been the most understanding and supportive of all my friends in my quest for sobriety so if you’re reading this B thank you and I love you!
I’ve felt better all week, in spite of not sleeping well and being really busy. I’m more focused, more connected and calmer…..but I’m a little anxious about tomorrow. We’re watching the Euros final at a friends house and there will be smoking and drinking involved for others. It will also take me back to tournaments past when we all got together, got drunk and shouted at the TV. After the game against Denmark I was so hyped up I couldn’t sleep so I know I could be tempted.
Talking of football I love the current England team and manager. They are a breath of fresh air in this country when selfishness, corruption and hate seem to be championed by our government. They play as a team and there are seemingly no big egos. They use their position to highlight inequalities, racism and wear rainbow armbands. God knows what the nationalistic flag waving fans make of them but they give me hope. I wish Gareth Southgate ran the country! I love the collective spirit of watching the big games and it will be fun to watch in a group again. I need to remember that none of that is diminished by being sober, it will likely be better for it and certainly more memorable!
My other news is we have a new dog – Boy George! He came from Bulgaria where my younger brother lives. He’s taken to rescuing dogs and it seems to suit him. He’s a troubled soul having had the hardest time of all of us growing up. The dogs have given him purpose and I think this is the happiest I’ve known him. George is a delight and Clio has taken to him surprisingly well. Unfortunately the cat hasn’t as George chases him so we have a baby gate to keep them apart when we’re working. The cat has bullied the dogs for years so he’s struggling with his loss of power. I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to get it back in time!
So no doubt tomorrow I’ll be humming ‘It’s coming home’ all day as I have most of the week and will hopefully enjoy the match whether England win or lose but more importantly stay sober!

Boy George

The Forest of Addiction

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I started this post in the middle of May and it was titled ‘Becoming Content”. This is what I wrote: “Lately I’ve been noticing things more – the birds singing, the colour of the leaves against the sky or close to the earth, the smell of the blossom after the rain and the sunlight casting shadows in the woods when I walk the dog. The taste of my coffee and food, the smile on someone’s face, the warmth of C when I snuggle up to him. Each day is full of these precious moments and I’m noticing them and appreciating them more fully than I think I ever have before. I’m becoming content right here right now and it’s wonderful. Simple pleasures that make up a day and ultimately a life”.

Contentment is defined as a long lasting deep feeling of satisfaction and gratitude as opposed to happiness which is more about experiencing positive thoughts and emotions which are less enduring. Attributes of contentment are satisfaction, lack of envy, humility, discipline and abhorrence of greed and corruption (https://www.kofastudy.com).

I didn’t publish or finish the post because there was a nagging sense of a lack of authenticity. Why? Because I was smoking cannabis again on a daily basis. It felt fraudulent to talk of contentment on a sobriety blog whilst using. I’d had a significant break but it had crept back in. At first just occasionally and it was fun again with seemingly none of the bad effects – my senses weren’t dulled, I wasn’t tired and lethargic but I found myself wanting it more and more. I avoided my blog and others as I knew they would increase the conflict in my mind. I was having the best of both worlds and I wanted to keep it that way. I started to avoid yoga and other spiritual nourishment too. I continued to smoke and over the next few weeks my pleasure in life dulled and discontent began to get hold. During the day I would look forward to my evening spliff, then whilst smoking I would think ‘is this all there is?’ I felt bored, apathetic and fed up with myself. My head filled with the conflict – ‘don’t smoke tomorrow, limit it to the weekends’ etc etc knowing full well that I wouldn’t. I was back in the thick of the forest of addiction. My ‘friend’ cannabis was taking more than it was giving once again. I should have known; I did know this would happen but I wanted to be able to have it all. Addiction doesn’t work like that as we all know.

This week we ran out and I’ve stopped – hopefully for good. I’ve been emotional, critical and negative. Less physical withdrawal than last time but I’ve still felt raw. I’ve thought about drinking again – seeking a replacement for the substance I’m grieving. The sense of life being futile and everything being mere distraction and therefore pointless has returned. I’ve disconnected from my soul and my true self and become absorbed in the selfish chatter of my own mind.

I had a dream the other night. I had a tiny baby and was away somewhere. I rolled a spliff and left it on the side whilst I went out. When I came back the police were at the door and of course the first thing they saw was the spliff. In the dream I thought ‘I’m going to lose everything’. The police breathalysed me and I was relieved I no longer drank alcohol. They talked to me and left with a request that I go down the station. I snuggled my baby and fed her. I think the baby represented my sobriety: a little infant that needs a lot of care and nurturing and the warning was in the one spliff – it’s a threat and you can’t have it. Not even one.
As I write this I’m strengthening my resolve and reminding myself that there is life beyond substance misuse. There are other ways to quieten ones’ mind after a day of hearing the woes of fellow humans – a major trigger for me. There doesn’t have to be an obvious point or purpose to life beyond the moment we find ourselves in. All I need to do now is focus on staying sober and allow that to take me where it will. Out of the forest and into the light.

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Triggers for change

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I wrote recently about the ingredients of my addiction recipe but lately I’ve been thinking about the different things that got me to the point of making a change. I passed my 2 year alcohol free point this week. I didn’t feel the need to celebrate or mark it in anyway. It’s just how I roll these days. I saw some friends for a walk and food in a garden last week. Six people felt like a crowd and we laughed and had fun. I took a bottle of AF fizz. When I said that I really liked it a friend commented ‘until you realise it’s not working’. ‘Actually I don’t get that feeling anymore’ I replied and she looked surprised. I had no envy of their alcohol and it felt great.

It took me 15 months from 1st stopping to finally quit for good. I’d had the thought in my head that I needed to cut down for a good few years but the idea of giving up completely never crossed my mind. The death of George Michael in his 50s, heart disease related to addiction for sure and a friend of a friend, 49 years old, alcohol related, 2 teenage children gave me an uneasy feeling that disappeared when I drank. My attempts at moderation got less and less successful but if I had a couple of days off a week I thought I was doing ok.

When I divorced and met C my fears subsided and my drinking escalated. I was in love and having fun but also dealing with heartache – my own and my daughters. The two things don’t co-exist easily and alcohol helped. I signed up for an online rider training programme but couldn’t commit to getting up early to do the workouts. At the back of my mind I knew this was due to drink. I was also getting more erratic at work, increasing my stress and therefore my ‘need’ for a drink at the end of the day. I knew I was spiralling down but I had no idea how to stop it.

A few months before I stopped C and I were in London for a conference. I found the crowds difficult to deal with, I was anxious and irritable – a state that was becoming more normal for me. I now realise I was on a withdrawal intoxication see saw all the time. On the Saturday we had a perfect day. We walked and sat in the park in the afternoon and then went to the theatre, An American in Paris – great seats, drinks along the way. The play was magical and when we came out there was a busker and people singing with him. We joined in and danced in the street. I felt wonderful. Then we went into a restaurant and suddenly my mood switched and I had a go at C. We left without eating and I stormed off. Realising I didn’t know where I was I tried to call him but he didn’t answer for ages and panic set in. Eventually he did. He was in a rickshaw heading back to the hotel and came and found me. I got in and half for real half jokingly beat him up all the way back. My mood was teetering on the edge of happy versus angry and sad and I was too drunk to have any say over which way it would go. By the time we got back the bad mood prevailed. We argued – I don’t know what about and I spent the night sleeping on the floor crying. We missed the morning of the conference and the speaker I most wanted to see. I went home feeling dejected and a failure.

There were a few other incidents like this and I knew that the problem was my drinking whatever I might say in an argument. When I wasn’t drunk I was irritable and thinking when I could have a drink; when I was the nice part was getting more short lived and then I was turning on the person I loved. In those moments I felt like my mother at her worst. Triggered into disinhibited rage at the drop of a hat. I didn’t even know what I was angry about. It had a force of its own and was almost a compulsive re-enactment. Now I think the real argument was internal – between my true self and my addiction. This wasn’t my Mum’s stuff – we just shared the same problem. In spite of this slowly dawning realisation I kept pushing it away with alcohol as the idea of stopping seemed impossible. I wanted someone else to tell me and eventually my daughter did. Another night spent crying with shame and I decided to stop.

In those 1st few months I took up yoga and white knuckled my way through social situations. I felt physically better and both of my daughters and C’s tender care towards me confirmed just how much of a problem my drinking had been. The idea of permanence was still daunting though and at 100 days I decided to try moderation. Over the next 9 months things gradually slipped back. A yoga retreat in India in the autumn that I’d booked whilst sober gave me a break and strengthened my true self. I came back determined to control it but when I’d failed to do dry Jan, Feb or March I signed up for The Sober School, a blog I’d started following the first time round. I’d tried AA but didn’t like it and on line anonymous help seemed a better fit. I knew the demons were just around the corner and I didn’t want them back.
I read a lot of quit lit and followed the daily lessons. One of the most helpful things was learning about the addictive voice. Recognising this part of me as ‘other’ was powerful and a game changer. Realising how much we are sold alcohol as a solution to all life’s problems sealed the deal and half way through the course I realised I didn’t want to drink again. I have occasional urges but mostly it’s easy. It’s not will power it’s mindset and my mind is set to not drink anymore. I’m on the 2nd phase of the rider workouts and have a competition this weekend on the horse I couldn’t ride before I started looking after my body. My daughter hugged me when she realised it was 2 years and told me how proud she is of me. I wouldn’t swap that feeling for anything in the world.

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Catching up with you all

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I’ve not written for a while but for once that’s not because I’ve lapsed back into smoking dope! Tomorrow will be 5 weeks without cannabis as well as my younger daughter’s birthday! I did have a brief relapse of 5 days which I’m not sure I shared about. We got offered a little bit of hash which has been unavailable since the start of the pandemic and was my favourite smoke so I took it. Not straight away but I talked myself into it. Our friend didn’t know we had stopped or wouldn’t have offered. Actually we were kind of glad when it ran out. The actual boredom of it was much more evident.
C has predictably embraced it completely and has no issue with stopping at all. This actually annoys me quite a lot so I’ve been mean to him at times. Particularly if I lose at Scrabble! My delightful ability to lose the plot and rage at my loved ones seemingly over nothing has been showing itself again. Not too much thankfully but more than it has in a good while.

My issue is that I don’t really feel much better. My hope was that I would have more energy, get up earlier, do more yoga and write more. Those things haven’t happened. “Perhaps I’m just a lazy person who hid it behind being a stoner?” I say to myself. I know that’s not really true. What I have been doing more of is working and riding as my daughter has a job now (bank work, zero hours contract, minimum wage but that’s a whole different post) so I ride more days. When I’m in a bad mood I complain that it’s all work and no play, especially when the horse is out of action which she was the best part of last 2 weeks. She’s ok again now. I think she wanted to get out of the dressage competition we entered for Monday! C doesn’t mind his life being this way and that annoys me too! He doesn’t seem to need anything to be content and I’m jealous as well as admiring of that.

I’ve also not been feeling that well the last few weeks after a brief period of having more get up and go. I’ve had a sore throat and a sinus type headache – probably related to the change in habits. The sore throat has felt like things sticking in my throat so I’ve been anxious that I may have throat cancer. At traffic lights in the car I’m either trying to see my vocal cords or rolling a cigarette! I know how ridiculous this is but still I roll them. Similarly I’ve noticed that my sleep is worse when I eat lots of chocolate in the evening which I do quite often. I still do it as in the back of my head the voice whines ‘Do I have to give up everything FFS!’ The super crazy dreams have subsided but I’ve been having a lot of dreams about my Ex. I think in part because there’s been a rupture between him and the girls again; the major difference being my eldest is also really upset and hurt this time. Also I doubt I processed my feelings very well at the time given that I was drinking and smoking my way through it. It hurts me that my girls have lost their dad through me divorcing him but I know that I can’t fix it and I’m not responsible for how it’s panned out.
I’m enjoying work on the whole but finishing for the day particularly after an intense one is when I want to smoke spliff the most. As that’s not available I’ve considered wine more than I have in last year. Switching off from others pain and that intensity is something I am having to find new ways to do. Cooking with music helps, jigsaws and reading. I’m too tired to do yoga and it’s too late to go for a walk. I’ve covered my old job the last 2 weeks and though it was nice to see some of my old team I realised why it was so stressful. It’s really unpredictable because the young people are so high risk. I had to detain someone who was really not well where there was a risk they’d assault us as that happened last time so lots of planning but it all went smoothly in the end; cancel lots of my work to fit it in, different authorities passing the buck for who was responsible; deciding how at risk a chronically suicidal person was when they’d intimated they had a plan for ‘soon’ when I thought I was doing a quick meds review. I’m not used to it now and I’m glad I’m not on the frontline anymore. I’m working more hours for myself but I’m in control of when and there’s not very much that’s not as planned and predicted. It makes a big difference.
As I read over this I can see the addictive voice running through it grumbling in the background. I am glad I’ve stopped and I will stop smoking cigarettes too eventually. I’m up early on a Saturday baking bread and writing this so things are beginning to change. I know from stopping alcohol that our bodies and minds take time to adjust and it’s still early days. Enjoy your weekend everyone! 😘

What’s your addiction recipe?

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The idea for this post came from a discussion on Collette’s blog, (Wine to Water) about Gabor Mate’s view that addiction is always rooted in childhood trauma (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction). My friend did not see herself as having been traumatised as a child so this idea didn’t work for her. I’ve not yet read the book but I will. Whilst I happen to think a lot of mental health difficulties including addiction are rooted in childhood experiences I also think it can be reductionist and unhelpful to have linear cause and effect models for complex processes. The important thing about however you conceptualise a human problem is that it makes sense and is useful to the person with the problem. So this is an attempt to show the complexity of addiction using myself as a case study. These are my ingredients.

A cup of susceptible genes I come from a long line of alcoholism and problematic drinking on both sides of my family. My mum, my paternal uncles, cousins, paternal grandfather, maternal grandmother. That’s as far back as I know but I suspect it goes further. Animal modelling and heritability studies suggest large genetic contributions but epigenetics tells us that which genes get switched on depends on the environment so we can’t really solve the nature/nurture debate other than to say it’s both. There is also the question of how families ‘transmit’ things to each other – is it a genetic propensity to drink, a learnt behaviour or cultural? How our bodies deal with alcohol certainly has a genetic contribution. My ability to hold my drink and still function probably meant I could drink more for longer than some and didn’t have the physical reminders that it wasn’t good for me early enough to stop it becoming a problem.

2 cups of early trauma I did have quite a lot of trauma in my childhood. A prolonged separation in toddlerhood from my mother due to a sibling’s illness, then neglect from her drinking and intermittent unpredictable violence between my parents and sometimes my mum and older siblings. I think the separation probably led me to learn to shut down at times of threatened loss; whilst the violence meant I was physiologically primed to be alert to signals of threat and be ready to fight or run away. My nervous system was either over active or under active meaning I’ve never found it easy to relax. I’m restless, easily bored and easily wound up a lot of the time; and at others I’m flat, demotivated and miserable. Substances have been one of the ways I’ve regulated myself for years – controlling the ups and downs rather than being at their mercy. I have friends who manage themselves by running marathons, doing yoga, working too hard, cleaning excessively etc though so there are other ways to cope with early adversity than addiction.

A pinch of anxiety Its not obvious to many but I’m quite socially anxious and alcohol helped enormously. Once I’d had a few I’d be garrulous and slightly manic. I wasn’t really paying much attention by then to how I behaved or what people might have thought. It got me through that early discomfort. I also struggle being around drunk people – particularly women – clearly linked to my mum. I dealt with this by being the drunk woman myself. Strange but true! I am still triggered by this which makes socialising difficult at times though I’m realising most people my age don’t get drunk routinely. The pandemic has meant I’ve not had to confront this recently and I’ve enjoyed seeing friends on walks more than going to the pub.

A generous splash of stress I have had a stressful job since my early twenties. Life and death stuff and sharing others pain. For many of those years I was also raising my children and running a household. Like many women of my generation we seemingly had it all though it often felt like doing it all instead. I realised last week when I struggled to unwind on a Friday night and the wine witch came calling that my evening drink and smoke were how I switched off from all of it. Numb my brain and relax. Of course it makes it harder to actually deal with the issues but the short term gain seems worth it at the time and it quickly becomes a habit and learnt response.

Cook in a culture of acceptability As a society we have become much more tolerant of substance use and abuse. When I was a student we prided ourselves on drinking the lads under the table and the advertising industry have deliberately targeted women since that time. Alcohol is the accepted lubricant of society and it’s your fault if you develop a problem is the prevailing narrative. In my social circles other drug use is also acceptable and wide spread. I know plenty of people who have it seemingly under control but I’m aware I would have looked like that on the outside too. Increasingly I think it’s a way of keeping us all compliant with a society and system that doesn’t function to meet most people’s needs. We are cogs in the machine and if we get drunk and think we’re having fun at the weekend we’re less likely to complain about the unreasonable demands made on us. The reluctance to tax alcohol is about more than the power of the drinks industry I think. It’s a means of social control and what often starts as a rebellion – like the rave culture, becomes commercialised and sanitised for profit. The memes doing the rounds during the pandemic show this. The associated rise in alcohol related deaths is less publicised. Here’s one sent to one of my group chats recently about the easing of lockdown.

The more a drug is available and acceptable the more people will have problems with it. Anyone can become addicted to anything if they have enough of it for long enough.

So addiction is not just an individual problem; but is rooted in our family, work social and political context. Change starts with ourselves but there’s a lot that could be done in the wider spheres to help others not get to this point in the first place. What are your ingredients? I’d love to hear them.

Embracing Sobriety

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So I’ve made it to 10 days cannabis free and it’s beginning to feel a bit pink cloud like. My sleep is improving again with slightly less crazy dreams! My energy levels are up and most exciting for me I wrote a piece for my other blog that has been in my head struggling to make it out due to stoned stupor for a long time. The editor of the publication I submitted it to likes it a lot and is working on polishing it before publishing. I feel so good about finally doing one of the things I really want to do. Next week is early morning Pranayama again and I’m confident I’ll make it out of bed all week. Concrete changes I can use to motivate me.

It’s not all been easy though. My arthritis is more painful without cannabis so I think I need to get some CBD oil. I had a low 24 hours in the week and I had persistent thoughts of drinking. I was in the shop and stood in front of the wine contemplating getting a bottle. In my head were thoughts of not having fun and missing out but when I considered drinking a bottle of Merlot alone I realised how sad and not fun that really was. I told myself if I still wanted it tomorrow then I would buy it. Thankfully I woke up in a much better mood and was relieved. The wine witch changed tack and I found myself musing about wine with meals – surely that would be ok? I saw a half full bottle of red in the cupboard – I think C got it for cooking the beef stifado he’s making for Valentine’s Day. I sniffed it imagining the taste then thought about how I could never stop at one; I drank to get drunk. I recalled the wise words of fellow bloggers who have tried moderation. I thought about my girls and my health and the moment passed. Phew!

What I’m taking from this is addiction is addiction, and when you can’t have one thing you want another. Substitution is not the same as sobriety. I may be nearly 2 years alcohol free but I’m only 10 days sober. Those grooves in my mind have yet to turn into impassable tracks and perhaps they never will. I still have a way to go to turn the healthy paths into easy drive highways. I need to redefine “fun” for a start!
Whilst much of the fun in my life to date has involved intoxication in various forms, it’s also involved lovely people, good music and good food. The most fun I’ve ever had is on a horse. The bit that’s hard for me is finding the fun in the little things – a game, a film, a walk or a meal. I was always preoccupied with the accompanying or soon to come booze or spliff to fully appreciate them. Sobriety means you can be in the moment and fully appreciate and enjoy it. A slower gentler kind of fun but ultimately more nurturing for the soul. Hope you’re all doing ok and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Checking in…day 3/day673

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I’m awake an hour before my alarm was due to go off so I’ve drank tea and read blogs without taking time from my day – bliss! I decided on Saturday to keep track of what I do instead of smoke spliff to help keep my motivation so where better to record that than on here! The title is to remind myself that if I can not drink for that long then I can not smoke weed too if I really choose to. It’s not as if it’s everywhere I look like booze or even legal here!
Saturday after writing I went and watched J have a riding lesson so I could video – I haven’t been at the yard with her for a while and we had a nice time. C and I did an online dance class sat evening – Argentine Tango with Oti Mabuse. C used to dance a lot and I dabbled with him but we never really kept it up together. It was really fun – though I kept kicking the bin as our kitchen isn’t that big! Made love later 💗.
Sunday a long walk and catch up with a friend not seen in a while then I had a long video call with my brother in Bulgaria. He’s the youngest and we were very close but I’ve drifted from him over the years as he is more one of life’s takers than givers. He had it tough as a child and dealt with it angrily whereas I people pleased more. He seems to have found some peace rescuing dogs – one of which is coming to live with us hopefully! I’ve rediscovered my love and compassion for him and am enjoying reconnecting. After that I cooked for a good few hours listening to Sounds of the 70s on the radio which I love. Played scrabble (lost) and read my book before gratefully falling asleep. I’ve not been reading much lately so getting into it this weekend also been good.

I’ve not actually craved the cannabis at all though I’ve had nicotine which is the main addiction I think and I know that Gollum will make an appearance sooner or later. I’d usually spend a lot of time on my iPad playing games and scrolling when stoned and doing something more genuinely stimulating instead has definitely helped. I’ve hardly done any of that this weekend and my mood was better for it. I’m awake early – one of my main motivations is to get up earlier and get into a morning yoga/meditation habit so that’s where I’m heading now. Have a good Monday my friends!

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