Tag Archives: progress

Retreat

Standard

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.

Advertisements

Bruised not broken

Standard

brene brown bravery

We all start diets on a Monday right? The prospect of impending self-imposed restraint necessitates some lead in time, some memories created to serve as reminders that life was fun, once.

This is the way I used to think about trying to control drinking. A couple of great nights would mean I was fully ready on Monday morning to become an organised, disciplined – normal – person.

Taking on major personality shifts such as this tends to require rather more work than writing a ‘to do’ list and meal plan in order to kid yourself that your life is not in fact, an alcohol induced accident waiting to happen. Not having systems and goals in place is why it fails. Again, and again, and again. Addicts who have woken up one day and decided to quit and have managed it in one go are few and far between. I applaud them while being utterly bamboozled (I wrote that accidentally I promise!) at how they do it.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who has successfully addressed a harmful habit, be it alcohol, drugs, chocolate, shopping, has at least thought about it for a significant period of time and usually will have a fair few failed attempts under their belt before things really change for the better.

In my case, this time last year I joined the ‘Dry July’ challenge. It was a really easy way of explaining to people why all of a sudden I wasn’t drinking – though those close to me of course knew the battles I had been fighting for a while. There is great approval and celebration when you are seen to undertake something that most people would apparently find difficult. The most frequent question I was asked was how I was feeling, so much better? As though we all expect, being drinkers, that we must feel constantly sub-optimal. Otherwise why the expectation of wellness? And this was mainly from people who probably drank very little and had no idea of the extreme from which I had come.

Physically I had become slow, tired, functioning like a distracted sloth, eye always looking to the bottle on the horizon, the crippling chores of the day in between. Mentally I was much worse. Mood fluctuation in the extreme, despondent that I would ever, could ever, change. My mental capacity for much other than planning the next social engagement (read excuse) or obsessing on how I was going to change my life – without doing anything about it, was non existent. My work had pretty much gone out of the window, my writing had dried up. (How Hemingway did it I just can’t fathom – I can barely type my name if I’ve had a drink.)

The month was surprisingly easy – I think – it’s actually hard to remember now just how awful I felt (despite knowing it) and how desperate I was to manage to see the month through. That there was an end point wasn’t what made the difference, though for many that is the thing that gets them through. I had no intention of going back to where I had been and was seeing this month as a jumping off point for a much longer period of sobriety. I owned up to this in this post on August 6th 2016. How far everything has come.

I got to five and a half months before I drank again. During that time there were gatherings and nights out. I didn’t feel able to go to some, and allowed myself to bail out, to feel the guilt and live with it, making my apologies in the knowledge it was the only option. I went back home for three weeks and loved it more than any other trip we’ve done. The clarity and determination with which I was seeing life was addictive!

This time last year I thought I was making a lifelong change. I believed that for five and a half months, had a relapse, then got up and kept going via an online course called Hip sobriety. This has been one of the most important elements to managing my cravings, to understanding the driving factors and acknowledging that any change for the better is a success. The cohort from the course is consistently engaged and endlessly supportive. There is a reciprocity that makes it feel ok to have a (nother) whinge, a huge rant or a tearful confession.

It is a lifetime’s work. But it is worthwhile, whether on top of the mountain or deep in the mire. Connection is what keeps us all going; it is what gives life purpose and meaning. Connection to others is infinitely more possible – and more pleasurable for all concerned – if the connection to our true selves can first be established.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have read my (often very long) posts, got in touch with me and shown your support. Here’s to the next year, being brave and showing up.

bruised not broken

Breaking open.

Standard

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I have never read The Secret. I think I tried once but it felt rather far fetched to me, a bit schoolgirl tarot card-like. But it turns out I might be living its message at the moment.

Have you ever felt as though you are on the cusp of something? Not in a prosaic way, like moving house or changing job. But in a felt way, believing it without material reason then watching with wonder as, jigsaw-like, the pieces fall into place? Sometimes a piece you’ve been staring at for ages and have perhaps tried to attach to various others suddenly slots in and it’s ridiculously obvious that that’s where it goes. You wonder how on earth you didn’t see it before.

The last couple of weeks I’ve felt it, a slow coming together of messages all speaking the same language, all telling me I can do this.  More than that, it feels as though the messages are encouraging me to break open in order to move forwards. Beginning with the Monday morning text message from a hugely supportive friend inviting me to coffee just at the right time, (what I felt like doing was hiding at home), to the postal arrival the same day, of Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol. I had forgotten ordering it but had got it into my head that I couldn’t do this without reading it (it is as brilliant as everybody said).

Last Sunday morning in yoga we were invited to set an intention for the week ahead. Where often I find myself casting about for words of survival or strength, this time there was a palpable bubble of happiness, a feeling of knowing I was finally on the right path. The word that popped up was ‘enjoy’. Enjoy living more simply, more honestly, determinedly not sweating the small stuff. Revel in feelings, even uncomfortable ones, just let them be then let them go.

It is easy to learn the language of the zeitgeist. There are many people out there who spruik mindfulness and the importance in engaging in self-reflection and discovery. I have realised it takes commitment – long long term commitment I’m willing to bet – to find the right voices, the right method, programme, book.  Moving from one guru to another might be necessary at the start. Finding strategies and practices that resonate while also ticking logistical boxes takes time and can’t be faked. But after a while there is a good mix in place and then responsibility dictates that we stick with it, putting our faith into something that works enough for real hope to remain.

I don’t believe in predestination but rather the infiniteness of possibilities, the kind which are always there but not shouting to be seen. Waiting quietly until other elements are in place, until you open the door, then appearing as if in reply to a direct request. Shoring up a choice perhaps, providing acknowledgement only you can see or reassurance in its purest sense. Preventing a backwards step.

So my ‘set’ of signs, messages, call them what you will, included discovering one of my most trusted yoga teachers is connecting with another person on whom I am relying at the moment (step up Holly Glenn Whitaker). Then in the space of a couple of days I saw two friends of mine who had, independently, told me that my words had inspired or supported them. I began a course called The Next Step with Yoga Sivana, just at the time that the Hip Sobriety School course (see my last post for more on this) was drawing to a close and I was having a panic about another period of change. I realised though I didn’t have to see it as an end and beginning, more as adding another element into the mix, another push forwards. My yoga attendance has increased, I tuned in to the lunar eclipse, taking note of my inner landscape, my inner voice and yesterday on the day of the Autumnal Equinox I thought about life as a constant effort to maintain our fragile balance. Just as a tightrope walker will always have a net in place despite being certain she won’t fall, so we need established strategies supporting us.

Within us all there are tools, and maybe kind of magnetic forces that switch on when we wake up to the possibilities life has to offer and that we have to offer life. Almost thirty years ago, ’Carpe Diem’ was volleyed about endlessly (gratitude and love Robin Williams). It was the mantra of the age. Now we have mindfulness, being ‘in the moment’, still reminding ourselves to ‘seize the day!’ Accepting that our ability to understand and be understood is a timeless and endless process is the first step on the path to creating peace in our lives.

enjoy it