“D’you ever feel as if everything you do is gonna end in failure – and flames – because you are inherently bad – on the inside?”

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‘Woman with folded arms’, Pablo Picasso, 1902

this is going to be one of my scrapbook posts, in which I record thoughts and writings other than my own which have been helpful to me, primarily to make them more concrete for myself, but also in case they may help others too.

the title to this post is a quote from a fantastic Since Right Now podcast, ‘Don’t Panic’, in which the hosts, Jeff, Matt and Chris, discuss anxiety and depression and in particular an anxiety episode which Matt had just been going through. If you have ever been subject to persistent negative thinking patterns, rumination, over-thinking, or anxiety spirals, I would very highly recommend listening to the episode. You can find links here to listen to it on iTunes, or Soundcloud, or whatever suits you best.

Matt has been in recovery since April 2014, so coming up for three years soon. Jeff and Chris both have even longer sober time. So these are guys who are well into long term recovery, talking about dealing with one of the most difficult thought patterns.

I’ve listened to this episode several times. the first time I was just blown away by the acuity of Matt’s descriptions – epitomised in this post title – of what it is like to be in the middle of an anxiety spiral. in subsequent listenings I have been enormously helped by the perspective of the other speakers, Jeff and Chris, and their willingness to help Matt understand how he reached such a point and to appreciate the universality of such intense feelings.

understanding that universality has been a HUGE thing for me, and I am enormously grateful for all those whom I read and to whom I listen, who constantly show me that I am never alone, even in my very darkest moments.

I should hastily say here that I am not at a low point myself right at this moment. life is pretty damn good, though work and family are both hectic. however I recognise this description very well from my own past experience and still feel a pull towards it at times, which I am learning increasingly to recognise and head off at the pass before it overwhelms me.

another concept I’ve discovered recently which I’ve found really helpful on this front is the concept of the amygdala hijack, a term coined by Daniel Goleman.

when I think of a hijacker, my brain conjures up an image of an aeroplane filled with terrified passengers and a wild-eyed hijacker waving a machine gun around and demanding that the plane be taken where HE wants to go. all that hi-jacker wants is to feel safe, and that is what our amygdala is trying to achieve for us, by fair means or foul.

the counter to the amygdala hijack is to re-engage our prefrontal cortices, which is shown brilliantly in this Dan Siegel Youtube video, where he uses a hand as model of the brain and shows how to avoid ‘flipping your lid’. I’ve linked to this video several times before on this blog, but I seemed to need to remind myself of it today 😉

one last piece for the scrapbook – I came across a new-to-me idea about interrupting negative thought patterns, and now I can’t find where it came from! so if you recognise it, please do let me know so I can link.

it’s called the BUT strategy. when you find yourself mentally reciting negative thoughts, you interrupt them with a BUT and then add a more positive end to the sentence. eg

“I’m terrible at parallel parking BUT I will go slowly and make sure I and everyone around me stays safe.” or

“I don’t think I can handle this dinner party without drinking BUT I will tell the hostess beforehand that I won’t be drinking tonight and bring something delicious and non-alcoholic for me to drink.”

and finally, to continue the butt theme, and because it’s Sunday afternoon, and I love you all so much, here’s a link to an article showing detailed naked footage of the 24 best man-butts in Hollywood. my vote goes to no 6, Hugh Jackman, but I think you’d better check (cheek?!) for yourself 🙂

Have a great week, sober peeps! Prim xx

In which Primrose visits a wine merchant (for all of eight seconds)

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On a recent outing Mr P asked me, “Is it okay if we pop in here for a minute? I want to buy a bottle to take with us to the lunch on Sunday.”

My reaction was um, yes, all right, so in we went.

It was the sort of small independent wine merchant that models itself on a Victorian haberdashery, all mahogany shelving, wicker basketry and individual hand-written love notes tied around the neck of each bottle in black ink on brown paper labels tied on with string. The underlying message being that alcohol is a normal and even necessary part of ‘the good life’….

I was startled by the klaxons going off immediately in my head, like in the TV series ‘Lost in Space’ where the robot blares out “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Telling a surprised-looking Mr P, “I’ll be in the art shop across the road, all right?” I shot out of the wine merchant as if all my sober buddies had taken me firmly by the shoulders and frog marched me out (which in many ways of course, you were doing, so thank you!)

It’s not so often nowadays that I write on the blog about alcohol related issues in respect of my own drinking/not drinking, I think. Most of the issues in my life tend to be not alcohol problems, but what could be called BMW problems:

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Not that I have a BMW! No, I mean Busy Middle-aged Woman problems, such as how to shoehorn the cost of driving lessons for my teenager into the household budget, or trying new tactics to deal with the peri-menopausal flourishing of my eyebrows which does not include plaiting them like a dressage pony’s mane…

I am glad that my early-warning system is so sensitive to potential dangers, protecting me from the harmful-for-me myth of moderation. I will listen to it and respect it – because it knows bull-shit when it sees it!

Sober first, folks. Have a fantastic weekend! Prim xx

As flat as a flounder eating pancakes in Norfolk

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Finally putting a photo of myself up on the blog.

bah.

writing to hoick myself out of the grumps – nothing major, possibly just far too many consecutive hours of rain meaning I am reduced to doing housework or paperwork, neither of which make me feel like a sparkling fountain of joy.

course correcting, by referring to my list of potential treats in the back of my diary. writing to you was on the list. tick.

tell me a joke, or a happy thing? Prim xx

she learned to open up her heart so that the whale could swim away

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The title of this post is a quote from ‘A Tale For The Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki.  You can read the extract where I did, in Gretchen Rubin’s great post here.

Ozeki’s compelling parable illustrates how we can let go of the largest, most seemingly impossible pain, such as that of grief, or loss, or addiction.

If you are struggling today, please know that it can be done, and that it is worth it.

Prim xx

First sober Saturday night?

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I might have to actually go and make one of these now, drat it.

Firstly, apologies for being hugely behind on responding to comments. Kids are still on holiday here (despite the fact that they haven’t been to school for what feels like about 17 weeks) and their presence severely cramps my access to computer…

I have been thinking a lot about anyone starting (or re-starting) their sober journey this January, and wanted to just send any such readers my sincerest words of congratulation, some virtual Victoria sponge cake, and a few links.

Firstly, here’s a post I wrote to myself-at-the-start-of-my-own-sobriety when I was 11 weeks sober. I thought you might like to read it because with hindsight I am still entirely gobsmacked at how much my life changed in such a short time. How much could your life change by mid-March?

Secondly, another post of mine about not mistaking getting sober for being sober. The former is like voluntarily sticking your arm in a red-ant hill – I know this. If I could give you one gift it would be the reassurance that the pain is worth it.

Lastly, if you do podcasts, here’s a great one with Glennon Doyle Melton on Eric Zimmer’s The One You Feed. In it they discuss, among other things, how we can’t selectively repress emotions, the power of the words “Me, too” and how getting sober is like recovering from frostbite.

More soon!  Hang in there, sober heroes! Prim xx

This Will Be Our Year

the title of this post is that of a song by The Zombies which I’ve had on my brain for the last few days. as usual my musical references here are totally bang up to date 😉 I love this song for its mix of optimism and pain which seems appropriate for today when many of us are thinking new thoughts, trying new things, whilst maybe already prepared a little bit in our hearts that it won’t work, can’t work, because it never has.

there’s a name for this phenomenon – sabotaging ourselves by our own belief that we can’t do something, even as we try to do so for the umpteenth time. it’s called learned helplessness. I discovered it after listening to my own podcast with Belle. we had been talking about why I believed that I wouldn’t be able to stop drinking, because I hadn’t been able to moderate. And Belle asked me, “So, you can’t do hard things?” and I replied, with utter certainty in my voice, “No, I can’t.”

and we had sort of been talking in the past tense, so my answer sort of related to my beliefs in the past – except, of course, that it didn’t, it bloody didn’t, and I’ve been trying to come up with a different answer to that question ever since.

There’s a lot of information out there about learned helplessness, most of it referring to some pretty ghastly experiments involving dogs and electric shocks. the basic premise is that as humans, if we fail enough times at something, we stop trying. the best (and most hopeful) summary I’ve found is on the podcast You Are Not So Smart which you can listen to here. in that podcast they describe the way out of learned helplessness (involving CBT techniques) to change what is called one’s explanatory style. if something goes wrong in one’s life, then it can be tempting to ascribe it to causes which are personal, permanent and pervasive.

e.g. “I drank again because I’m a fuck-up. I always will be, and I am in everything I do.” 

(NB – I could have saved myself a lot of notebooks in the last three years of my drinking if I had just written this on a postcard once and for all.)

whereas in fact the cause could well be external, impermanent, and specific:

“I drank again because I let myself get hungry and tired. In future I will…xyz, and remember that I am an excellent *whatever you are proud of yourself for doing* “

if this former, acutely painful attributional style is a behaviour, then what are we getting out of it? I have blogged previously that every behaviour serves a purpose.

could it be that this belief saves us from the necessity of doing the hard work that is necessary to make a change? because, after all, if it is true, then there is no point in doing that hard work – so I am off the hook. I am squirming here as I write this – I am longterm sober now yes but I have a whole understairs cupboard of other behaviours that I keep closing the door on and ignoring…

if today is your first day sober, please know that you are not alone, that it is possible to change, and that others have done so. the question of whether it is possible for you to change is like a snake biting its own tail. if you have come to believe that you cannot change then that will make it difficult, maybe even impossible, for you to do so. it depends to a significant extent what you are trying to fix… I can’t remember where I read this and please do let me know if you recognise the quote, but if I ask myself the question

“Am I fixing my feelings, or fixing my behaviour?” 

then it usually throws an uncomfortable light on the situation. the impulse to change is a powerful one, but if I am doing it to make myself feel better, without accompanying it with the painful necessary behaviour change, then the impulse will soon peak and crash without achieving its objective. and then I re-commit to another feelings-fix, then crash and burn again, and the snake goes round and round.

there is a world of support and tools available for us, whatever we are trying to achieve, online and elsewhere. they can help us, but we need to seek them out and use them.

that is my wish for me (and perhaps too for you?) for 2017 – that I work out what it takes to change my behaviour, and DO THAT THING.

if your Big Thing is not-drinking, and you would like to show yourself that you can DO SOMETHING, however small, towards that – would you please consider leaving a comment here below? especially if you haven’t commented on a blog before, or if you have been round the non-drinking block once or a gazillion times before.

I’d truly love to hear from you. it’s our year, after all, and I’d like to get to know you!

with all best wishes, Prim xx

PS if you haven’t already done so, please go and read Lou’s post today. it’s a corker!

singing my recovery song

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I was at a carol concert last night and was struck as always by the immense power of music to buoy us up and weld us together as a community. if my recovery had a song, it would have to be – as I suspect it might be for many others – Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, which I remember hearing in the early dark days and feeling it like a splinter in my heart, cracking the shell of pain and fear and opening me wide to feeling and emotion again.

after Leonard Cohen died earlier this year a friend sent me this version by Choir! Choir! Choir! with Rufus Wainwright and 1,500 singers in the Hearn Generating Station, Toronto.

I thought I’d post it now, when it can feel very lonely to be sober – as if you are busking, solo and probably badly, with passers-by ignoring your efforts or even mocking you.

whereas in fact you are part of a HUGE community, online or otherwise, raising their voices in unison and hope. a tremendous variety of people, united in their belief that life can be better than it was, and a preparedness to do whatever it takes to achieve that.

keep singing, my friends! Prim xx

What a fourth sober Christmas feels like

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I’ve written about my first, second and third sober Christmases in the past here (sorry, am on phone so can’t link but if you search on ‘Christmas’ in my blog you will find them, with a couple of images of Sean Connery thrown in for good measure).

It sounds too obvious even to mention but it’s usually the run-up to Christmas that is most stressful, rather than the day(s) itself. This year I seem to be more on top of things, much because I have been making more effort with the bleeding housework for the last couple of months, so the place is tidier and cleaner already with 5 days to go.

Ssome alcohol related milestones:

Having noticed we were out of white wine I offered to pick some up as part of the weekly shop. Since I stopped drinking my husband has been buying any alcohol that he drinks or that we offer to guests. I have bought the odd bottle here and there but not in bulk, not deliberately going into the alcohol aisle and perusing labels, choosing what wine would go with which food when I’m not going to be drinking it. I surprised myself slightly by offering to do that, and I don’t think I’ll be doing it on a regular basis. The actual doing of it was fine – I was more cynical than anything else, reading the marketing guff that wine labels consist of, translating it in my head into either ‘pretentious to be served to someone you want to impress’ or ‘glugging’. Smoke and mirrors, guys – it’s all just ethanol!

Had a dinner out with some friends and took along a bottle of pink non-alcoholic fizz. Having something which is a different colour is really helpful as there’s no chance to mix up your glass with something alcoholic. I felt pleased that I’d made it out into the boozy world and floated through it without feeling as affected by it as I have in previous years.

The last item is the trickiest to accept, for me… When I asked what they’d like for Christmas, a family member asked for an alcohol related item – the sort of accessory I would have appreciated in my drinking days. I bought it with hardly a pang, but the real twinge came later when I thought, “Hang on, they know bloody well I don’t drink – but they think it’s ok to ask me to buy something drink related?!”

I know that people who drink can have a pretty sketchy understanding of what not drinking is like. I get that, and I understand that the drinking norm is so deeply ingrained that this didn’t even raise a red flag for that person. I can choose to be hurt, or I can choose to let it go – my choice.

Overall I am pretty much over the whole idea of alcohol. I need to handle where the world’s attitude to it impinges upon my life, but it’s not something that has any significant power over me these days. That’s such a powerful, steady place to be, and I am so immensely grateful to have reached it.

Wishing you a peaceful and sober Christmas, my dear online friends! Prim xx