Tag Archives: sober toolbox

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.

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Breaking open.

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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