Monthly Archives: September 2016

Predisposition

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Today in the Sydney Morning Herald, Sarah Berry wrote a piece about a guy with a famous name and his story of recovery.

http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellbeing/wellbeing/life-lessons-from-recovering-addict-christopher-kennedy-lawford-20160926-grojfn.html

Seeing the subject matter of course made me want to read it. Seeing the Kennedy name can prompt different reactions though; sometimes it makes the article or piece more appealing, such as when talking about Jackie’s fabulous hats (I think!). Other times, such as when hearing what has gone wrong with another one’s life, can initially be a turn-off. It is easy to dismiss ‘celebrity’ experience, advice and opinion. We put it down to availability and affordability. But, as this article points out, addition absolutely crosses socio-economic divides.

It is about self-esteem, confidence and the ability to ask for help. Apologies if this is repetitive. I don’t think it can be emphasised enough how important it is to build bonds, strong ones that say to both the addict and the support person, you are worth this, I am with you, I will stay here for as long as I need to.

The genetic piece is interesting I think. At one point, desperate to try a ‘soft’ approach to recovery, I consulted a team of health advisors who consist of a geneticist and a nutritionist. The idea is that you part with an awful lot of blood (not all at once), accompanied by vast sums of money (immediately) and they go away and test it for all sorts of things you didn’t know were possible then reward you with a folder of unintelligible reports and lots and lots of vitamins. The dosage on the vitamins was handwritten and as unintelligible as the science they went with so I admired the pretty graphs in the folder and for the next few weeks took as many pills as I could stomach with my orange juice on the days I that I remembered.

Not exactly a solution. (I kept drinking.) But I did clock one thing as the science man (dry as a biscuit ) flew through the results; the tests had shown that I am NOT genetically predisposed to addiction. If you click through to the link in Sarah Berry’s article you will get to a page of info on this which, to my admittedly totally unscientific mind, seems all to be rather desperate when citing a definite genetic link. The reasons people, we, I, drink are many and complex. I think the management side is so much more important.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the science stuff, do try to make time to watch this Ted talk by Johann Hari.

Though he is talking primarily about drugs, the concept can be applied to all addicts and actually I think, to anyone who is suffering from a mental illness too.

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Connection

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I am loving feeling ultra connected at the moment. Connected to life without a filter warping the view. Connected to people without the burden of expectations. Connected to myself without the pain of guilt and regret.

All of this I put down to sobriety. It turns out that for me, the short term high of drinking gave way to a mighty long-lasting, almost constant, low. The trouble is, being in that time, in the cycle, it is incredibly difficult to imagine getting out of it, even when realise you want to.

So the challenge of the how comes to define the why – or rather why not –  to a degree. At least it did for me. The low is like a background hum that changes pitch only after a particularly extravagant bender, dropping you into a deep well, with slippery, vertical sides, the light such a long way up. The easiest option is to opt back in, quickly. Until the opting in stops being optional.

Understanding and admitting this, connecting honestly with myself is central to moving forward. But so too are connections with others. If felt as though the universe was colluding in this theory last week as every day saw another meaningful conversation.

Some could have been challenging; the first meeting with someone since I began ‘owning up’ always contains an element of anxiety for me. But the love, the warmth, the unequivocal support I’ve received is far and away the best silver lining of this decision.

I have enjoyed planned walks, impromptu phone calls, delicious coffees, unexpected live messaging on FB and snatched intense ten minute chats on the corner of the street. Without exception, my heart has felt gladdened each time, my soul uplifted, my determination strengthened.

These soul-nourishing interactions have reminded me that we are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for, if only we have connections to anchor us, people to shore us up when we need it and, so importantly, the courage to reach out.

Now I have three weeks of reconnection in the UK. I have day trips and nights out planned, long overdue meetings with friends, our partners and offspring and of course family. I can’t wait. Without connection what is there?

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Standing vigil

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Standing vigil
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Where you are may be uncomfortable but sometimes there is simply no choice.

I am trying really really hard to make this time, this sobering, challenging time, as easy as I can for my family. In the early days of my decision, when I was inwardly crumbling, I was offered a spot in rehab. I declined not because I didn’t think I needed it, but because I didn’t want to feel any more of a failure than I already did.

In future years they may come to realise the magnitude, but at the moment my sons are deliciously naive of what I am going through thank god. It means the drama is all mine though.

Early on, sobriety for me meant that it felt somehow crucial to maintain mundanity. How could I have gone anywhere when so much needed done? Keeping up with the washing (which sat about in buckets, unsorted but clean at least), making sure bellies were full (so what if a few more meals were from the freezer section?) and children were present at school (skidding in as the bell rang) was achievement then.

In between the chores I tried to exude positivity, posting on Instagram with #gratitude, #sobriety, #livingwell. The only cringeworthy hashtag I have yet to employ is #carpediem. At the time of posting I do mean it, I am seizing the moment, shouting hooray for me, look at what I can do!

But there is the fall, the reversal. Recently I have just felt so bloody bored of being positive, of celebrating this thing I know and accept is necessary but sometimes is also just really fucking hard.

And then there is the weekend sigh. The collective exhale as time slows and Monday feels a long way off. From the promise of that Friday night deserved wine, to the friends coming over for Sunday lunch, the weekend is there for the drinking. Not be a part of that is sometimes more than I think I can bear.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has a much-used phrase called ‘distress tolerance’. Even the fact there is a name to describe how I’m feeling can sometimes be a comfort; so many people have been here, where I am, for them to have thought up a name for it, how brilliant!

I have been working through distress tolerance for months, long before I gave up drinking for good this time. (It is never wise, I realise now, to utter the words ‘for good’.) I need to understand that the risk will always be there, dimmed, more subtle, easier to navigate but present nonetheless.

There are three mindsets that come into discussions in distress tolerance. Addict mind, clean mind, and clear mind. This latter ‘mind’ is the aim. Fully committed to the cause but not so obsessed by  positivity as to be blind to danger lurking in the tiredness, the sadness, the celebration, the reward.

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I must then stand vigil for my values, my decision; I am the soldier on the gate. There must, by necessity, be a shift-change, new energy brought in, new tactics. The common goal holds firm though, batting away the temptations, the desires, the cunning, wheedling voices carried on the wind.

Self-awareness is tough, confronting (and bloody boring often if it’s not your own, let’s be honest!), but somehow the mere act of removing the wine, the means of escape, that deceitful old ally, leaves no choice. I am by necessity present all the time.

Every conversation, interaction, raised voice, loving word, is authentic because there is no filter, no mediating substance to allow for future doubt. I will stand vigil, being watchful through the challenge, trusting others have done the same.

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