Monthly Archives: August 2018

The exhilaration of relief

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The exhilaration of relief

dumbells

Relief usually feels like a settling, a breathing out after worry and stress. I hadn’t thought of it having such energy, and for me, by extension such ludicrous happiness. Sometimes I wage war against a relentless craving of such strength it renders me incapable of rational thought. I have, in the past had to relinquish car keys and purse lest I find we suddenly need milk or the boys deserve ice cream. I am usually a snotty mess, anxiety clenching my gut, brain rejecting in turn every other means of relaxation. All the tools I  have at my disposal count for nought. There is only one possible solution to the problem – whatever the problem is. CBT for recovery talks about ‘riding the wave’. I feel like I am being dumped over and over and over again.

I know people who have just stopped drinking. Changed their mindsets. Decided it wasn’t doing anything for them and just wasn’t worth it.  I applaud them and celebrate for them. I also feel a furious envy that I can’t be like them. I envy them getting in there before the claws were well and truly sunk. Or perhaps they would never have become so, perhaps they are take it or leave it people. I am not. The claws are deep, extraction excruciatingly hard.

But I can recognise it. I am accepting of the work that must be done. I have realised that this alone represents change, progression of a kind.

And so I will rejoice in the exhilaration that I feel the morning after I win a small battle. A friend who is almost one year sober reminds me this is how we change our neural pathways, repeating the positive pattern until it comes to outweigh the bad.

I told Andrew the other morning that if I could bottle the feeling I was experiencing I could sell it as a true life changing drug. Such was the energy, the joy and actual excitement of the relief it was written on my face, in my whole energy.   

In his book Recovery, Russell Brand describes people who take on their demons as lucky, gifting themselves the opportunity of true happiness. And the hashtag #wearetheluckiest is oftentimes associated with sobriety thanks to Holly Whitaker’s Hip Sobriety (these schools are the bedrock of my toolkit). It’ll take a while until I feel lucky, but in the meantime I plan to revel in every win, every sunrise I watch, every morning I race my kids along the beach or say yes to playing a game with them. One day there will be no relief because I will not have had to fight demons. I long for that day but god, I hope I never forget the deep and emphatic joy of triumphing over that which I myself created.

victory louis l'amour

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Retreat

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All of us have a default position when it comes to the fight or flight defence mechanism.  There must be some occasions which call for a particular response but generally we tend to have a similar reaction to times of stress. Mine is flight. In fact more than that, it could be described as run and hide.

Despite ideas to the contrary though, retreat is not the same as surrender. Surrendering has a finality about it. A giving in. Retreating can be simply a way of gathering strength, of marshalling reserves in order to get up again. There are many ways to retreat, both healthy and unhealthy, all demanding varying levels of effort. The unhealthy are often the easiest, most accessible option. Diving into the rabbit hole of your phone, suddenly cutting off social contact with no plan, hitting the bottle to drown out worries.

When I was young I had a natural way of retreating, going into what is called in Scotland, a ‘dwam’.   Described as ‘a state of semi-consciousness or reverie’, it was my unconscious way of taking myself out of a uncomfortable or unwanted situation. A quietening of the outside world, a refusal to let the pressure in. It wasn’t a learned or practiced response, more of an extended lapse in concentration. Work, children, life chores all mean, that as an adult this has diminished, Other things have taken its place.

As an adult the demands on us are many. In today’s world especially it is practically impossible to retreat, to switch off, excepting perhaps remote travel, and even then there are pockets of connectivity. The beck and call has us by the neck and our defences are not yet honed fully to deal with this endlessly intrusive world. The epidemic of stress, anxiety, depression is an insidious problem affecting roughly one in five of us. Healthy retreat shouldn’t be an optional extra, but a conscious decision we all make from time to time.

It does require effort to fight off mental health demons, or prevent them from forming. Few of us feel we have the time. Which is why we turn to methods outside of ourselves to find solace.

Using alcohol serves this purpose for many. With every glass of wine the tumult inside the head gets quieter. Worries that weighed heavy all day recede. The result of course, is that the stress, temporarily diminished, has merely been turned down, sotto voce. Come the morning, or the later, the volume increases again and the crescendo is often very much worse than the initial stress ever was.

Conscious disconnection, meaningful quiet, even from friends for a time, is the better, though seemingly more effortful way to retreat. Making a decision rather than falling into it, means we have directed the path rather than being led. Reading, meditation, yoga, morning walks, time in the bush, sitting on a beach, watching the sunrise, time with animals, going to the cinema on your own during the day, buying a magazine and sitting in your favourite cafe. These are all such brilliant, healthy and genuinely useful ways to retreat and recharge. They don’t require chatter, expectations or demands. They provide solace, a renewed appreciation of what we have and allow us to gather strength for when it is time to re-emerge.

Since hiding out in a cave sadly isn’t an option it’s important that we find a way to retreat and recharge without turning to booze or other damaging methods.

Since hiding out in a cave sadly isn’t an option it is important that we find healthy ways of retreating and recharging rather than turning to booze or other damaging methods.