Why Attachment Matters

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I started this blog without a title writing about where I’m up to and lamenting that I’ve not been making time to write. It morphed into writing about attachment, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so I’ve cut the first part and for once here’s a piece that’s not all about me! In these scary times we need more than ever to understand what makes people tick and why they do what they do. I believe the Dynamic Maturational Model (DMM) of attachment theory is the best thing we have to help us do that so this is an introduction to what it’s all about.

Attachment is the system nature has put in place to help us survive in a dangerous world. Staying alive and keeping our children alive and thereby our genetic potential is the bottom line. That statement alone tells us how important attachment is. The joy of becoming a grandparent is in part because of this I think. You’ve made it in attachment terms and you’re not responsible for making sure this one lives! When I took my mum to see her first great grandchild she commented wistfully ‘to think all this started with me and your father’. I think she was expressing her deep joy at the survival of her genes.

The human infant takes a lot longer than other mammals to be able to survive independently (if we can ever be truly independent of others), so it’s no surprise that our attachment system is complex and evolves as we mature. Our basic attachment needs are protection from danger and comfort. When we are small it helps a lot if our attachment figures understand this as meeting our every need. This has to kick in right away at birth or our chances of survival are not going to be great. So we are born with attachment signals built in. A newborn baby’s cry will melt most people quickly and they will rush to them. That’s what it’s supposed to do. A mother pretty much always wants to protect and comfort their baby – intentions are nearly always good to start with and shouldn’t be confused with outcomes as the two things are often very different. So attachment is in one part the behaviours we use to illicit the care and attention that we need and the responses our carers give back. It’s not ‘in’ one person; it’s what happens between them. As this signal and response dance happens the infant is processing this information about the world and learning how it is for future reference. So our attachment system is also how our minds process information; how we think, how we feel, how we see the world. It’s the lens we view everything through. That lens can be clear and accurate or it can be distorted in some way. Our attachment system colours all aspects of our experience.

Life is not inherently safe so how threat and danger are dealt with by our caregivers determines whether we psychologically adjust rather than whether we are exposed to threat and danger per se; as everyone can be though not equally for sure. Not everyone is traumatised by their traumatic experiences. The impact of them is mediated through our attachment relationships; when young with our parents or carers and when older with our partner, friends and ourself. If parents are not a source of comfort or worse still are the source of the danger; a child must find the best way he can to maximise his chances of them protecting him or comforting him to survive literally and psychologically. To do this their minds need to distort the information coming in (from their body and their environment) which it can do in different ways to create the most helpful conditions in these terms.

There are 2 basic forms of information – cognitive and affective. Cognitive in this context means predictability, order in time. Affective means feelings, bodily sensations, emotions. Our nervous systems take it all in and in a nanosecond decide what to do with it. Remember the primary purpose is safety and protection at all times. What our nervous system and brain need to know is what is about to happen – the future. It can’t know that so it makes its’ best guess based on the past. So every experience we have is through the lens of our past experiences. How we perceive the present depends on what we’ve experienced in the past. Perception is in large part memory based; and dangerous experiences imprint more powerfully than any other kind.

Let’s imagine 3 newborn babies in their cots bombarded with physical sensations – maybe hunger, cold, wet. Our first baby cries and someone comes and sees to his needs. He feels more comfortable. This happens repeatedly and the baby is learning that when he expresses his needs someone predictably meets them and soothes his nervous system. They regulate him as he can’t yet regulate himself. By 6 weeks this baby has learnt that both his feelings (affective information), and predictability (cognitive information) are reliable just as they are in shaping life so it is safe and comforting. He is on his way to a B strategy – balanced and all is well.

Our next baby has the same sensory experiences but when he cries in his cot either no one comes until he falls asleep exhausted or someone predictably comes and does something other than comfort him; shouts, jiggles him vigorously, feeds him when he’s not hungry or hits him. This baby is learning that his feelings and the expression of them does not reliably get his needs met; getting him no response, the wrong response or an aversive response. This baby learns to suppress his feelings, to disconnect from his body. He is distorting affective information by minimising, dismissing or denying it. This is why I get so angry about the ‘sleep training’ of newborns by leaving them to cry espoused by some parenting books. When it’s “worked” from the parents perspective and the infant no longer cries the baby has learnt there is no value in communicating their distress and this is not healthy development. He will also struggle with regulating himself. This process is the origins of the avoidant (A) strategy. What they are avoiding is their feelings, in particular negative ones (anger or desire for comfort) and their bodies. We Brits are a lot like this – stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, boys don’t cry. You get the picture? Like all the strategies as we get older it can evolve into a different behavioural manifestation with a different level of distortion of the information going on in the mind; but all the A strategies have in common an over reliance on cognitive information and a disregard for affective.

Baby number 3 cries and sometimes someone comes but not always. When they come they sometimes do what the baby needs, sometimes something different. They might be cooing and sweet or angry and mean. They are not predictable. This baby learns that there is no order to how things happen so all he has to rely on are his feelings and the expression of same. If he cries loud enough and hard enough someone just might come. He will also have trouble regulating himself. This is the C (coercive) strategy whereby the baby learns that amplifying his expression of feeling is his best chance of getting a response which might be the one he needs. As he gets older this gets more sophisticated; amplifying anger whilst denying a need for comfort or flipping between the two. The toddler who is kicking their mum then bursts into tears and looks vulnerable when the mum gets angry. The teenager who angrily protests that he doesn’t care and doesn’t need you anyway. Showing one feeling whilst denying the other. This style of parenting and the problems it brings are what most parenting programmes are good at addressing; increasing the predictability and sensitivity of parental responses. They work a treat when this is the underlying process going on and it’s not too extreme.

It’s worth mentioning that when Bowlby and Ainsworth did their work figuring this stuff out; the ABC classification wasn’t meant to convey meaning or value and the words to describe them got added later. One strategy is not better than any other – it depends on your circumstances at any given time. The B strategy is most likely to lead to an accurate assessment of the situation. The A strategy is more rigid and can be non-adaptive in ever changing circumstances. The C strategy can make it hard to learn from your experiences as it all depends on how you’re feeling in the moment. It’s also worth saying that in this model of attachment there is no D for disorganised. The ABCD model places most troubled people in the disorganised category. If humans were disorganised in their response to danger we would not survive. I really think it’s as simple as that. In the DMM model we have increasingly complex but strategic responses to danger that might look crazy and disorganised but they are not. This is a really important point. Troubled people’s seemingly disturbed and unhelpful behaviours, thoughts and feelings are their solution to whatever life has thrown at them. It represents the best they could do in their unique set of circumstances. It’s how they have survived. The trouble comes when they are no longer able to adapt their response to new or changing conditions, or are unable to adapt when it’s clearly not working for them. Stuck in a groove if you like; can’t change the record. The same response whatever is going on. It’s not the symptoms necessarily that are the problem but the lack of flexibility in the minds’ responses. We see this with Donald Trump now. All he can do in response to an ever increasing threat is more of the same – blame others, big himself up and lie. To do this his mind is distorting the information available to him – probably in his case to a delusional extent. Actually in his case the symptoms are most definitely a problem as well as their persistence. The tragedy is he’s taking a nation down with him.

So that’s how the 3 basic strategies come into being. A colleague once said that she had a problem with reducing our understanding of the complexity of humans to 3 basic patterns. I thought this was a valid point until I thought about the 3 primary colours and how many actual colours there are in the world. Infinite possibilities. How we blend and combine our attachment strategies probably has the same degree of unique potential. Pat Crittenden has the model as a 2 dimensional circle but I think it’s probably 3 dimensional in real life. The value of the circle is that we can identify where a person is predominantly on it by analysing the way they talk. How we talk about our experiences reveals how we process information. How we process information informs how we behave in our relationships. Thus we can understand ourselves and others better and from understanding comes the ability to change. We no longer act unknowingly or unconsciously. Change isn’t always easy though because when we are threatened the old patterns are triggered before you know it. We need time to change our habitual responses and we need to feel safe enough to take that time. Reflective capacity comes from security. This is the basis of good therapy – creating a safe and secure attachment relationship with the therapist so we can begin to explore different possibilities, experience different responses and create new neural pathways, new strategies for dealing with life. It’s why short term interventions don’t work for anyone other than mildly troubled people who are the least in need of the help in the first place. It saddens me greatly that the majority of our mental health services offer interventions that are not suitable for the people who need them the most. There are less opportunities to do the long term work therapeutic work that many of us need to truly heal.

If you’ve liked this and want more I’ll do some further posts exploring the different strategies and any other aspect people might be interested in. For more information check out Pat Crittenden, http://www.iasa-dmm.org or Family Relations Institute.

A year without alcohol

I actually can’t believe it’s been a year. When I started Kate Bee’s Sober school I didn’t expect to finish the 6 weeks! At first time seemed slower and the evenings were particularly long but then time has whizzed by and here we are. Somewhere around a month in something changed in my brain and I lost the desire to drink. The key thought processes for me were separating out my addictive voice – aka the wine witch; and also no longer seeing getting wasted as an act of rebellion but as a form of political control. If we’re all downing pints and popping pills at the weekend then we’re not thinking about the state of the world or doing anything about it and I think those in power like it that way. Punk rock and the rave culture were both appropriated by the establishment that derided them in the end; as The Clash sang ‘turning rebellion into money’ when it gets too big to suppress. I think the pandemic may shift our collective consciousness on this score as suddenly everything is political and impacts all of us in some way directly and immediately so can’t be ignored. It will also mean a lot of people drink more too as a way of coping. I know a year ago I would have. I’ve had more thoughts about drinking in the last few weeks than I’ve had for a long time. There’s still a bottle of Prosecco in the fridge from Christmas that my girls didn’t drink and I was thinking I could drink it to celebrate today! I haven’t and I won’t but the thought surprised me. C said it’s because anniversaries reactivate our feelings of loss and grief. That makes sense to me. I’ve had some sort of relationship with alcohol most of my life; fearing it as a child and being vigilant to its effect on others; tentative experiences of my own in adolescence then embracing it wholeheartedly in early adulthood. The first couple of decades alcohol seemed to deliver. I remember a time as a student splashing in the puddles in the rain and feeling carefree in a way that I’d rarely felt as a child. I credited alcohol with giving me that freedom, that playfulness, that fun. I continued to do so for many years and it took me a long time to realise that alcohol was taking not giving. Even once I knew that it took a good few more before I actually stopped. I do miss the way it made me feel back when I didn’t know better though and that’s what I grieve. Of course it wouldn’t be the same now because I can’t un – know what I know; even for one night. That’s why the Prosecco will remain unopened in the fridge.

Of course stopping the booze is only the beginning. Stripping back the layers and learning who you really are is the hard part! I’ve learnt that I’m not really such a party girl after all but I do really like seeing people when you can talk and properly connect. I struggle with negative emotions and used alcohol and manic activity to ward off depression; perpetual oscillation of arousal and mood instead. I’m learning other ways and I like living at a slower pace and noticing more. Some of that may be age related too; we can’t keep doing what we did when we were younger as our bodies won’t take it. I am struggling to give up smoking so I’m not out the woods of addiction yet. I still think of myself as sober though. I read somewhere that only you get to define what sober is to you and I’m going with that.

“The opposite of addiction is connection”. That stuck in my mind from the course too. In real life my mum, my daughters, my friends have all been incredibly supportive and I’m so grateful for them. I couldn’t have done it without C and his unconditional love and support and of course you guys; fellow bloggers, fellow travellers on this path. We struggle and learn together, holding each others hands metaphorically as we all try to become a better more authentic version of ourselves. I genuinely feel like you are my friends and your words have helped so much. I’ll raise a glass of something other than Prosecco tonight and toast you all!

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A week of two parts

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I’ve wanted to write all week but haven’t been able to as I’ve not known which narrative to share or how to combine them. If I told one it would invite a certain response that I didn’t really want, though I knew it would be heartfelt and sincere. To tell the other, and not mention her bedfellow would just be too disrespectful. So, a two part telling of the week.

I did an online yoga class last Tuesday night. Jane the teacher reminded us that life is always precarious but usually we are not aware of it. The practice focused on breath and grounding. I struggled to stay focused for the full session but it felt good to do yoga with others again and to hear Jane’s familiar soothing voice. Life is slower but the days pass. I’m getting used to working remotely. In some ways me and C have been practising for social isolation as we spend a lot of evenings in just the two of us normally. We are at ease with each other and comfortable and I feel lucky I’m with someone I love right now. The idea of not being able to see my friends though is hard. We are slowly getting to grips with the virtual meeting world. I’m very much a people person so I’m grateful I’m more at ease in my own company than I used to be. I miss my daughters terribly. It was J’s birthday on Saturday – the first one in her 22 years I’ve not been with her. We did a family present opening on line and a birthday cake later which was lovely. Imagine a lockdown without internet? The explosion of humour and cute stuff coming through on the WhatsApp groups is a distraction and a reminder of the resilience of humans. Gets in the way of working though and I’m getting less done than I thought I would. It’s too easy to leave it til tomorrow when there’s so much time. I miss the horse so having the dogs and the cat to cuddle helps. Walking the dogs is the highlight of the day. I find myself looking closely at the trees and flowers and wondering at Nature; creator of all this precious life as well as the virus we are all hiding from. There’s a tenderness in everyone’s interactions that’s not normally there. Almost everyone smiles and says hi, and I’ve had long conversations with strangers – at a 2m distance of course. We humans are social animals and you can see the need to connect in everyone’s face. Lots of houses have rainbow pictures in the windows – a message of togetherness and hope. I’m getting better at losing at Scrabble! Not had a tantrum in a long while! On line jigsaws are my new obsession. I’ve only baked one cake, which became J’s birthday cake. I left a third of it on a friend’s doorstep as it was going down a bit too easily! We got out in the back yard Saturday and I planted the random plants from the supermarket and a neighbour gave me a rosemary plant. So far the dogs haven’t trashed them so that’s a result! I’ve stopped avidly consuming the news or reading about Covid-19. In many ways it’s easier to be present and in the moment when every day is similar and there’s less to look forward to or plan for. It’s easier to savour the little moments – the taste of the cake; the joy of a favourite song on the radio dancing round the kitchen; a phone call with a friend; a soothing hot bath with bubbles. I hope that’s something we can all keep after this is over.

I had a call Wednesday morning telling me a young girl I’d seen twice privately had killed herself. Shock and disbelief enveloped me and for the next day I had to keep reminding myself it had actually happened. I emailed her mum then took myself out for a walk. Her mum rang me whilst I was out. Did I see it coming? Had she said anything? No I didn’t and no she hadn’t were the short answers but I shared as much as I could and offered as much empathy and love as It’s possible to through a phone. In normal times I’d have gone to see them but I can’t. For the family to be going through this in isolation and lockdown seems doubly cruel. The initial meeting when all professionals share what they know happened the next day. The thought that I am a lone practitioner in this and the person who others will think could have or should have spotted the signs was foremost in my mind. I looked over my notes and although I’d done a good job I could find holes and found myself mentally cross examining myself like a combative barrister on the one hand; the other trying to tell myself everything will be ok. I’ve voiced frequently that one of the things I like about my private work is it’s less risky; a major reason for leaving my day job. Is the universe trying to tell me to quit altogether? If I don’t will it something even worse happen? I felt guilty that I couldn’t help thinking about myself and the possible consequences when a girl has died. Missing my daughter on her birthday I thought of her mum never seeing her again; it broke my heart. My sleep was restless and images haunted me of her sitting in front of me smiling, as well as of her dead. Could I have done something different that would have made a difference? The next day the internal dialogue lessened and I cried. I realised I have a harsh inner critic and don’t readily accept mistakes or failings and have high expectations of myself. I want to be the person who makes a difference and I am often quick to criticise other professionals for their perceived failings. Humility has been lacking. I certainly feel humble now. I talked to my supervisor who sensitively gave me a reality check. “It’s an awful tragedy but not all suicides are predictable or related to depression, detected or otherwise. It’s often rejection in the moment that is the trigger and whatever you had done it wouldn’t have made a difference in that moment”. After a more restful nights sleep I’ve started to feel more at ease with myself. There is nothing to be gained from worrying; it has happened and what will be will be now. I can try to support the family as best I can and help them make some kind of sense from the incomprehensible. The yoga class this Tuesday had a message of standing tall and strong in the face of adversity. As I breathed deeply through warrior I began to feel like I might just be able to.

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Surviving lockdown

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So a couple of weeks later than the rest of the world thought we should be, the UK is now in lockdown; though the list of essential workers is long and people are still confused as to what they can or can’t do. We know what is coming but we don’t know either; not really as in what it will actually be like. Most of us have never directly lived through a national emergency, war, pandemic, or indeed anything remotely scary or disruptive on this scale. The news can often have a far away ‘otherness’ about it which no doubt has contributed to people struggling to accept the danger is imminent and real. This kind of thing happens to other people in other parts of the world, surely not here our minds ask?

With the re-introduction of spliff me and C have stopped arguing and are starting to find a rhythm to it. We’ve been gradually isolating more and more these last 2 weeks. We pay money to go stay in cottages to be just us and the dogs; so when I’m not consumed with the news and anxious foreboding I’m trying to look on it as a gift of time together. Lots of connecting with others too via WhatsApp groups and Facetime with my girls and my mum. Hard to get any work done with all the jokes coming through – can’t stop laughing!

Having watched a U tube virology lesson about Covid-19 and been reminded that we can bolster our immune systems to increase our chances; (should there not be a ventilator available if needed); I’m chomping on Brazil nuts, having cider vinegar every morning (my Dad will be proud – he swears by it) and taking Vitamin C. As I edged nervously around other shoppers at the supermarket today, gloves on and scarf over mouth, I felt the urge to bake and bought random ingredients as delicious things appeared in my mind. Randomly bought some bedding plants too – don’t know what they are but we will have the time to watch them grow. It was lovely to see my mum even if at a distance when I dropped her supplies round afterwards. Walking the dogs felt like a treat in the warm sunshine. Nature seems to be celebrating as she always does in Spring but it’s bittersweet this year.

C suggested more love making as a way to pass the time – always near the top of his list anyway! Vaguely remembering that sex boosts your immune system I enthusiastically agreed – ‘at least 4 times a week please!’ It’s fun, it’s free and it’s good for you – what’s not to like!

Of course the other thing that zaps your immune system is stress, and there’s a lot of that to be had right now. I did an online yoga class tonight and though different it was comforting and grounding. Jane, the teacher reminded us that life is always precarious – we just aren’t aware of it most of the time. I thought about the refugees around the world; facing this in overcrowded camps with little medical care available; after having fled their homes leaving all they had behind. I felt grateful I still have a warm home and good food. We may not have lived through anything like it but plenty around the world have. This pandemic is a great leveller.

So I guess this is my personal Covid-19 lockdown survival tool kit: good food, sex, yoga, connection with others whatever ways I can and remembering there are people much worse off than ourselves right now – (and lots of homemade cake!) – what’s in yours?

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Oops I did it again…

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So I lasted smoke free until Friday night. Worked from home all day – didn’t get much done between meetings (distracted by anxious thoughts and multiple funny Gifs memes etc coming through – humour is universally used to try and stay sane!) and late in the day became aware of a medication error that was in part because I hadn’t written up the plan on the plan though I had communicated it but still my bad. No harm done but it got to me. I was in an over aroused state in spite of meditating and when I’m like that I’m snappy and C got mad at me – really angry which is a rare thing from him. It hit me hard – (I hadn’t realised I was being that annoying!) and that was it.

I am not good at being confined and I’m finding doing everything through a screen unnatural and strange. I’m also really worried both for myself and loved ones but also the NHS, my friends working there and the human race. I don’t know when I’ll next see my daughters. Spliff is calming me down in spite of my angst about the state of my lungs. I’m going to revise my aims as I’m not sure I can be totally smoke free in this extraordinary time; not without serious domestic collateral damage! No cigarettes (which I’ve kept to) and focus on doing more of the other things that help like yoga and meditation so it’s not first port of call and try to have as many smoke free days as I can. I have a yoga book that A got me years ago that says ‘don’t worry about your bad habits – just do more yoga and things will naturally sort themselves’ so I’m going with that. I know it’s a cop out and I know the beginning part is the hardest but it just feels too hard without all of normal life to distract and a shitload of anxiety in its place. Maybe I need to do this over and over like I did with booze until I get sick of it? I don’t want that either so for now I’m retreating from this particular frontline back into my comfort zone.

To end more positively tried a virtual meet up with friends last night which didn’t really work but it was lovely to see their faces. We wanted to sing a tribute to Kenny Rogers together! It might yet happen! I’m seeing a silver lining in the fact the government is having to do socialist things or everything will collapse and I think that will be hard to reverse once this is over as it will be too obvious to fool anyone anymore that neoliberal capitalism is a really bad idea for most of the population. Also the community level humanity and caring that is happening is heart warming and I hope we can keep it up as things get worse. Stay safe everyone and take care.

Day 2 smoke free

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Well I got through the day! Some sticky points but there were always going to be. I’m writing this to reflect on what helped and what didn’t so I can do better today. By better I mean avoid the meltdowns!

I was busy all day but wrote and meditated in the morning – definitely helped. Then I worked at home all morning then in seeing patients in afternoon then riding. I usually smoke in the car so that was tricky but I ate instead. Got home about 7 and that was the most difficult time. Used to be wine o’clock and also spliff o’clock. I got irritated with C, and decided we would have a spliff. I got the box and C reminded me what I had written yesterday (he reads my blogs!) so I went away to read your comments and then decided to eat dinner first instead.

Your comments were so helpful! Helped me remember what my actual desire is – to be fully sober; encouraged me that I can do it and also that I’m not alone in this. Lots of lovely people are doing this too all around the world and they understand what it’s like. Thank you thank you thank you 💞💞💞 (Nadine I air smoked a bit too and it helped!)

After dinner I decided not to smoke and I was surprised that I didn’t actually crave much the rest of the evening. What I did do though was pick a fight with C just before we went to sleep. I ended up crying in my daughters bed but went back up and made up before sleep. My mum always used to say ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger’ and I try to live by that as leaving stupid arguments overnight blows them up into more than they deserve. When I was downstairs I thought about going and having a cigarette and realised just how stupid that is. As if a smoke makes up for falling out with the person you love? Not being able to see your children for a while? Worrying about Covid 19 and all the people on the frontline and how we will cope as a community, a country, a species? This was clearly my addiction voice (now known as smoke devil 👿)at work and not my true self. It takes hold of my anxiety, distorts it into an all encompassing negative then presents itself as the only possible solace; having dissed all other available comforts along the way. God I hate that bastard! I hate it even more as it’s part of me but I do have a choice about how much it controls me.

When I did Kate Bee’s course I remember she commented to me ‘you’ll have learnt so much from your 3 months”. That really helped me reframe this as not about willpower, a battle, being good or bad but as a learning curve and she was right. I’ve learnt a lot from not drinking for 11 months and that is going to be invaluable in learning to not smoke. I need a toolbox for the trigger moments; recognition of the 👿; other ways to manage my emotions and connection with others. So heartfelt thanks again and I’d best get up and go meditate 🧘🏻‍♀️🧘🏻‍♀️.

Testing times

It’s hard to get your head round what is happening globally isn’t it? Within less than a week I’ve gone from relatively normal movements to doing most work remotely and no social contact. My world has shrunk to C, work, walking the dogs and riding though that may get banned soon as too dangerous. I’ll see my mum but not too often due to the risk. They are in lockdown pretty much where she lives. I don’t know when I’ll next see my girls. I’ve decided that I need to stop smoking and attempted this yesterday. It didn’t go well not surprisingly. Giving up the main way you manage your anxiety at the most globally anxious time of your life was never going to be easy. I’m caught between the anxiety of Corona and the knowledge my years of smoking make me higher risk and being stuck in the house with little distraction. What I normally do in this situation is smoke, play games on my iPad, read, etc. I’m not very good at doing nothing when I’m not stoned. My depression meant I’ve done that more in recent months and now I want to connect! I’m out of synch with the world.

If I had any doubt this is an addiction searching for the bits of hash left in the box last night dispelled those thoughts. I’m not sure if it’s the hash the tobacco or both? When away from home I don’t smoke hash and it’s fine but I do have cigarettes. When I’ve not had cigarettes (a 6 month spell a long time ago) I found I didn’t want hash so it was definitely tobacco to start with. I need and want to stop both. When I smoke a cigarette I’m thinking ‘why am I doing this?’ but I keep doing it. I think back to giving up alcohol which was so much harder as the rest of the world thinks alcohol is great. I had been battling with myself a long time and was truly fed up with it. I don’t feel like that about smoking which I know is pretty stupid.

Yesterday the wine witches friend, smoky devil was out in force. She started gently ‘try to notice when and why you smoke today in preparation for stopping’, she said as I had breakfast even though this was stop day and I’ve done that many times before. ‘You’ve got a full pack – stop after those are gone’ etc etc. When I stopped drinking I had a house full of booze and didn’t even throw it all out so whether I have cigs in is irrelevant – there’s a shop over the road. I managed to externalise this internal battle by shouting at C over some minor issue causing him to shout back which he rarely does. I went in a shop and got really anxious as was close to people. By the evening I was feeling miserable and saying things like ‘if I’m going to die then I may as well get pissed and have some fun first’ – ‘hello wine witch not seen you in a while! Come out to party with your friend?’ The addiction playing out in my thoughts and dragging me down once again to the fuck it mode which usually is followed by shame and self loathing.

So this morning instead of reading the Corona news (and ramping up my anxiety) I’m writing this. I’m not going to beat myself up or shame myself for smoking yesterday as that will push me towards doing it again. Instead I’ll try to check in here as often as I can; I will do my meditation this morning so I am grounded for the day ahead rather than late in the day in a vain attempt to calm down and I will prepare by writing down the reasons I want to stop and look at it every time I think of smoking. Take care everyone – sending love to you all and hope for a better world when this is hopefully over.

Hello there!

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Hello fellow bloggers – sorry I’ve not been here for a while. It’s Sunday morning and I’m being lazy drinking tea and reading and writing in bed. The thought of doing this last night gave me a warm feeling! I’ve been thinking of you all but I’ve been busy getting back to work and catching up with friends in the real world now I’m not feeling depressed; as well as reading a great book that you want to keep getting back to (A Gentleman in Moscow) that I’ve really enjoyed. The irony of emerging from my own period of self isolation just in time to enter one for very different reasons is not lost on me, but I’m glad I’ve seen the people I have in the last few weeks. I feel like I’m living again and that has been great. A lovely weekend with my eldest daughter; lunch with my youngest brother and his wife and new baby; dinner with my yoga retreat friend and a few other dear people. A couple of films (Parasite is just brilliant!); yoga, meditation, riding and dog walks. Hard to fit it all in! Going back to work dipped my mood but only for a couple of days and this week I did a full week without that happening. Everyone has been so supportive and lovely, I look back on my anxious paranoid thinking and see it as just that – not a reality except in my mind; but our mind is where we construct our reality whatever our circumstances. Colette (wine to water) and Boozebrain’s posts reminded me of that this morning! (I don’t know how to put links in being technically challenged but they both post great stuff!).

If I’m being entirely honest though another reason I’ve not been posting is because what I would post here is the internal dialogue I’ve been having about cannabis and smoking and whether to stop and when. I’m wondering if I have to give up completely, can I moderate etc but I think I know (as a voice in my head tells me) what you would all say and I’ve not been quite ready to hear it! I’m addicted to it in that my use is compulsive and when I try to cut down/stop I can’t. That isn’t a judgement it’s an observation and a truth that I can no longer ignore.

Anyway, Corona virus has given me a push and I’ve asked C not to get any more in as I want to have a break. We are worried as C is over 70; we have a lot of contact with my 81 year old heart diseased mum, and I’m a 55 year old smoker so also at risk if I get it and medical care is in short supply. If there ever was a time to stop smoking this is it. The reasons are up close and personal. Having had suicidal thoughts intermittently in recent months I can now say unequivocally I don’t want to die just yet if I can avoid it; and there is something I can do to help with that. I’m also coming up to a year AF and I’d like to be fully sober on that day so I don’t feel like a fake in this world.

I’m going to try to emulate the Sober School course applying the lessons and thinking to weed and tobacco whilst only committing to 6 weeks initially. Interestingly in search of literature to support me in this (reading a lot changed my mind set with alcohol but there’s a lot less out there for cannabis) I’ve found a book that advocates ‘changing your relationship’ rather than total abstinence with cannabis. But addiction’s addiction right? If I stop for 6 weeks I can test this all out and decide for myself at the end of that time. An experiment, no more no less.

I hope you’re all safe and well and thank god we have the Internet and these virtual communities to help us through what will undoubtedly be difficult times for us all. Take care and stay strong 💞💞

The Power of Yoga

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I have dabbled with yoga for many years but it’s only since I started my AF journey at the end of 2017 that it’s been in my life more consistently. When I came back from the retreat recently, recognising that I had neglected yoga for a few months I set myself a 40 day challenge to do yoga or meditate every day in an attempt to embed the habit. Ive missed 2 days so far out of 30. Some days it has been really difficult to get myself onto the mat and I’ve literally only been there for 5 minutes. More recently I’ve found myself prioritising it and looking forward to that time.

In his wonderful book, The body holds the score, Bessel van de Kolk talks about how trauma is held in our bodies and nervous systems, and people need more than talking therapy to help with that. It’s like the body’s smoke alarm is set to be triggered at any hint of danger, leading to over reactions, stress and catastrophising all over the place. Their research has confirmed what the yogis already knew; yoga calms it all down; encouraging balance between the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) rather than the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). It is also said in yoga circles that we hold emotional pain in our hips in particular; a result of those muscles contracting whenever our stress response is triggered. Sitting at desks and in cars for long periods doesn’t help either.

I’ve had tight hips as long as I’ve been aware of such things; particularly on the left. Years of running and riding and not stretching – the folly of youth! Yoga has helped ease it but I often have pain in that area, particularly as I fall asleep. I’ve been doing a lot of hip stretches in my yoga routine these last few weeks. When I wrote my last post about getting in touch with the origins of my depression; I didn’t say that whilst the memories flooded me as I was going to sleep my hip was throbbing intensely – not super painful but intense. I wrote the blog and the next night I dreamt that my mum died. It was now, not the past, and all I did in the dream was cry buckets of tears. Since that night I have not felt depressed in the same heavy, unmotivated way; and my hip is looser and the pain has gone pretty much. I’ve felt extremely grateful to my unconscious that it took care of the weeping so I didn’t have to in the day!

Whilst there are other things that can take some credit for my improved mood; time off work and antidepressants have helped for sure; as does writing this blog; I don’t think they can account for the physical and emotional healing happening in tandem. As I move through the poses I feel stronger, more balanced and more connected to my body. I also feel a mental lightness and a sense of well being. My thoughts can still go to anxious places but not the black despairing holes they were finding before. I can rationalise my thoughts and put them in perspective more easily. Best of all I’ve got energy and I’m enjoying the small things again. Doing the weekly food shop no longer seems a gigantic task and I’m getting through things I need to do without getting stressed about them. It will be a challenge to keep it up when I get back to work later this week but I think my well being will depend on it!

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. 😀