Category Archives: LIfestyle

PAWS. Rest. Repeat.

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Tackling any sort of long term problem or issue can often feel like a lonely business, especially if it involves making a decision that sets you apart from the pack. There are a huge number of online forums and places of support that can help, one of them, Hello Sunday Morning, has been a constant in my ups and downs for years, as I clambered onto the wagon, lay down, exhausted, got my breath back then promptly (and sometimes after a while longer) fell off again.

I posted recently about the fact my depression has been rearing its head and my disappointment that my abstinence hadn’t ‘fixed’ or at least lightened this a lot; I was convinced that the two were intertwined almost to the point of being one and the same. Not the case. I described in my post how I’d been feeling, my frustration at feeling frustrated and anxious. My inability to see things logically, my snappiness with the boys and crippling guilt afterwards.

A long-term connection on HSM asked if I had heard of PAWS, or Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. When I looked into it I was incredulous. It described exactly how I’d been feeling and explained why. It makes so much sense to me. Reading about other people’s experiences, just knowing it is NORMAL makes the most massive difference. An extract:

‘It is important to remember that symptoms of PAWS come and go. The vast majority of people do not experience excessive fatigue or anxiety for months or years on end, without a break. Instead, these symptoms fluctuate, lasting days or weeks, and are separated by periods that are symptom-free.’

PAWS is a normal part of the recovery process from unhealthy dependence and addiction.’

So I am not doomed to a life feeling miserable, angry and incapable of change, I am just riding the wave, an unexpected part but one I’m coming to know better now. To know your enemy is to be able to work out strategies to defeat her. I am re-visiting strategies I’ve worked on in therapy and am reminding myself to live with ahimsa, or compassion, towards others and myself.

Just after I had discovered PAWS I did an incredible workshop with Cora from Slow Yoga. I had signed up for this because I love Cora as a teacher and it seemed like a nice place to be on a Sunday afternoon so it was spooky how well it fitted in with my decision to accept this part of the journey and look after myself.

If you ever want to see just how quickly two hours can open your heart and help you find peace, do this! The combination of delicious yin poses to iron out the body’s kinks and deep yoga Nidra leaves you feeling clean, rested, refreshed and at peace – yes, all at the same time! I also felt a determination to try and carry this into the everyday, this slowing down, taking everything one step at a time.

Another thing that popped into my inbox just at the right moment it seemed was an email from Holly Whittaker at Hip Sobriety. She is one of my gurus in sobriety, her words reach me, describe me, inspire me. She is running an initiative called The Mantra Project and as soon as I read about it I knew I needed and desperately wanted to do it.

Meditation is something that helps me immensely but something I sometimes struggle to fit into my day. To have a reason to get up, to read what the mantra is for today, then to light candles, sit with the words for a while, give myself peace and time for myself before the inevitable craziness of the day begins feels like absolutely the best kind of treat. One I love and one that is enriching me, helping me heal and grow. I feel stronger, more capable of tackling the demons, keeping them at bay and becoming the me I want to be.

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Love ❤️

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Many of us feel as though we are living in some sort of awful dream-state, when in fact we are learning the hard way that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

I have indulged in my fair share of Trump memes, hilarious while I believed that his election would be an aberration. And now it’s happened. There is such strength of feeling on show, people have shouted, and continue to shout, their fears, masquerading as beliefs. For it is fear that drove the result. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of the unfamiliar. Haven’t we all known that feeling at some point in our lives? My six year old felt it yesterday doing something for the first time; my eight year old every time there is a storm; my ten year old has to work hard not to shut down at the prospect of change. We all, to a greater or lesser extent, know that feeling, that fear.

But to play on those fears, to use them for political gain is, to me, despicable. It is politics. Admitting your fears out loud is the ultimate act of vulnerability. As adults, it is too much for many, for most. The election gave a voice, and an action, to those deeply-rooted fears.

It is easy for us with the skills, the comfort, the knowledge to dismiss the vulnerability. Far easier to be incensed, shocked and angry. But to react with anger and hatred will play into the hands of those keen to maintain the divide.

Far better to try and react with love, with understanding, with an effort to share these qualities, hope the light wins over the darkness.

I spent yesterday morning at Yoga Sivana surrounded by beautiful souls whose hearts collectively expanded as we listened to the Venerable Lama Tendar telling us his story; it is one of exile, uncertainty, imprisonment. And yet.

And yet he teaches compassion. Compassion to all living beings, even, perhaps especially, towards those we don’t immediately connect with or understand. We looked to him for healing, for guidance. Tolerance, understanding, compassion, love.

It is up to us to be brave, to have the courage to go forward with our hearts and minds open, to love freely and without judgement. 

Namaste ❤️

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Memory Lane

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The thing about memory lane is that if ever you have a chance to go back there in person, you’ll find that planning permission has been granted without your knowledge or say so. Buildings, places, monuments (in your head at least), that meant so much will have been radically altered at the very least, if indeed they are there at all.

They might be smaller, dingier, tarted-up beyond recognition, quieter or they may have been bought by a chain and what atmosphere they possessed pummelled out of them so they now fit inside a box. Whatever, there is little chance you will go back and find yourself able to slot back in.

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Try slotting in here…

We all have our own version of memory lane. For most of us it’s probably more like a half-finished spaghetti junction; roads and pathways criss-crossing, sudden dead ends where the way seemed clear. You can think of it like an ever changing map or blueprint, written on sheets of thin paper, each laid down over the one before, so that ideas, even those dismissed, are there, just not at the surface. Visible, memorable just not accessible.

The muddle this can create while being lived, sheet upon sheet laid down as revisions are made, is immersive, the cliched invisible wood thanks to the endless trees blocking the view. The harder you search for a unobstructed path, the ‘right’ way, an escape, the more overgrown every direction can appear.

Time and distance can bring perspective, I discovered recently that it is possible to return to places that hold difficult memories without becoming entangled again. Just because you are there doesn’t mean you are who you used to be. That in itself is incredibly liberating – and sometimes tragic, such as when you find that a much-loved grocer has been replaced by a very up itself yoga studio complete with list of rules on the door. Much as I love yoga, I pity the New Town residents who won’t know the hot, comforting nourishment of a Margiotta’s homemade pizza.

One of the greatest gifts must be having friends who stay put as you tumble through life, providing an anchor through time and over vast distances. I used the phrase ‘good times’ to one of my dearest friends about our flat sharing days in Edinburgh. She wasn’t sure at first that for me they were. She probably has a point, I was certainly a little nuts, but from where I am now I am focusing on the gratitude I have for our friendship and letting the other bits go.

There are lots of friends – not to mention my family – who have borne witness to some crazy shit I’ve got up to or into. Some were made in the midst of my realisation that things had to change so saw me lurching from one extreme to another. I wouldn’t have blamed people for walking away.

Relationships that endure the hills and troughs of life are one sure measure of fulfilment. I cannot again imagine becoming so unhappy as to be hopeless now that I have cemented friendships and relationships in this new stage of life. I didn’t have any doubt, it’s just lovely to have confirmation. To my amazing group of friends tumbling alongside, thank you.

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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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Enough.

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Enough.

Pretty much everyone who is getting sober or overcoming an addiction will talk of the battle waged over the long term before there is any sign of peace, of even a glimmer of success. Much like the Leunig cartoon, there are ups and downs as the journey progresses, such as in life.

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Imagine though the lows gradually deepening, the highs becoming less frequent and you have a picture of a descent into problematic, dispirited living. Combine this with everyday stresses and pressures nice brew for dependency on one or other of the many legal, acceptable substances conveniently awash in our society. Support for chemical support is constant, unwavering.

We have all known the day from hell when wine o’ clock cannot arrive fast enough; the weekend when it’s never too early; the party where it’s never enough. This is the normal face of booze, and it is, it can be, fun. Unless you are one of the unlucky ones who like it just a little sooner, a little more.

The day comes, whether with a loudspeaker, billboard and fireworks, or simply with a shrug and a sigh, when the drawing of the line is no longer optional. This is the day where the presence – or not – of support will make the difference between stumbling and soaring.

Embarrassingly, I can think of at least two occasions in the past where I have proclaimed, even written down, “This is the first day of the rest of my life.” Thank god, the audience began and ended with myself (until now). I have shameful memories going back decades, times when I knew that for some reason, I was unable to join in like normal people. Oh how I wasted time longing to be one of them.

The difference this time is in the planning. Not the kind researched from books though, plotted methodically on a to-do list. Rather the organic, authentic, learn-the-hard-way kind. In between the extremes, and sometimes during them, I have gradually amassed a collection of resources I can tap into depending on mood or need.

I will share these soon in a new section on the blog in case the things that work for me might work for others. That however is the nub: what helps me will not help everyone. It is crucial to remember that it is a journey, a process and each is as uniquely different as we are. 

There are, frequently, still times where the only choice feels like opting out; climbing into bed on a mockingly sunny day and sleeping until the hard feelings pass. I am incredibly grateful to have a reason, three actually, who make this impossible. (They should have been a reason against dependency too, sadly it doesn’t work like that…)

Those days, conversation remains at a high level, the smile plastered on while I interact in shops, welcoming chores, revelling in the basic requirements of living. The need for food, for clean clothes, for bags packed and unpacked, somehow satisfies the huge part of me that needs to be needed. I have achieved, by simple means I have kept going. There need be no depth, no soul baring, no breaking down. On those days I fake it till I look like I’m making it and remind myself it is only one day. That is enough. I am enough.

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Faith and hope

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Faith and hope

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hope. Having hope makes us human. Gives us reason to get up in the morning, hoping that the sun is shining and that today will be a good day.

We are encouraged to hope throughout life, hoping we get this teacher or that, that we get a spot on the team, a part in a play. We go on hoping for many things: a good job, nice friends, invitations to parties, pregnancy, promotion, recognition, fame, fortune, a luxury home, a safe home, the ability to make good choices, feel comfortable in our own skin, be appreciated, be loved.

It is perhaps central to life that we have hope.  But in order to have hope we need to have the belief that our hopes might come to pass. So we need to have faith. Faith gives substance to aspirations, allows us to believe in our dreams.

Faith isn’t always placed naturally or obviously. It is hard sometimes to know where to rest your soul. When it feels as though the world is demanding more than you can give it is especially so.

Some people, perhaps enviably, have an unshakable religious faith. This certain belief in someone being there through good and bad must bring strength. And comfort when that strength falters.

Some have faith in the universe; in forces beyond the realm of understanding but perhaps present nonetheless.

Faith in our family and friends, our practices, our ideas are paramount. The knowledge that people have our back, are in our corner, are rooting gives us confidence, gives us hope.

More than anything though we need to maintain faith in ourselves. We need to believe in our value, our worth. No-one else can give us the ability to say ‘I am great, just as I am.’ (Unless you are Bridget Jones in which case Mark Darcy seems to get close.) In this digital age, no number of likes or clicks or shares can equal the moment when we hold our head high with love.

This is so often what depression robs us of – remembering that. Faith and hope can get bound-up, buried so deeply beneath a blanket of fear, memories of past failures, guilt, remorse, indecision, self-consciousness, that it becomes an endless cycle of negativity from which emergence feels impossible.

But there are moments when the impossible recedes, the fog clears and our eyes are bright. These are the moments to hang on to, to file away and revisit. They form a kind of internal library and if we cherish them they can become building blocks, a staircase by which to haul ourselves out.

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Thank you to my wonderful friend Heidi for sending this picture featuring the amazing work of Nathan Sawaya. She knows me well. (I wish I’d been there to view it with you.) The caption reads:   ‘Sometimes when you’re looking for a step-up you don’t have to look any further than yourself. We’re all capable of more than we think.’

First Step

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In taking on Dry July this year I thought I would give myself an easy intro to change. The idea was that by making myself accountable to others my path to sobriety would be smooth (ish). I chose not to tell people that the month was just the beginning of a longer term plan, a pretty radical plan to alter my lifestyle in a big way.

What I perhaps misjudged about Dry July was the obvious – there was an end point. That I haven’t been guzzling wine in celebration of the month of August seems to have surprised some people.

In an important way the first month helped; it reminded I can do it, I am strong. But I have been here before (not least for three pregnancies) and it has never taken long for the sensible couple of glasses I have gradually allowed myself to creep up to being too much, too often.

I have long known that the medication I take for mental health was negated by alcohol consumption. It has felt like a chicken and egg scenario for the last couple of years, my moods lurching between highs and lows often depending on chemistry. This has affected every element of my life, little, or none of it, positive.

I need to try and create a blank slate where I can rest easy in the knowledge that I am doing my best for me, my family and my future.

The last week has been tough. I haven’t had the safety net of Dry July to catch me; I have understood the concept of ‘one day at a time’. On top of dealing with this it has rained and rained, our car has broken (badly it transpires), my husband is enduring upheaval at work. It has been seriously ‘meh’. Managing cravings while looking after children is hard work. It hasn’t been pretty. But we’re through it. I’m looking forward to next week.

Yesterday, for the first time I admitted that I have ‘management issues’ with alcohol to a friend I haven’t seen for ages. Her beautiful reaction has given me encouragement to be honest, to own and accept this part of myself that I am beginning to realise I am stuck with.

For a long time I felt like I was waiting to hit rock bottom when in reality I was already scraping along it. I am grateful to have the support and resources to embark on the upward journey.

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