self-care resources for all phases of recovery – part 1

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I came late to driving and view it very much as a means to an end – i.e. of getting from point A to point B. one thing that has driven my husband insane with irritation ever since I got my own car is that I never used to know what mileage it had done. I knew it had a mileage counter, but what purpose would be served by keeping that number in my head? so when very occasionally when discussing our household motoring requirements he would ask what the mileage figure on the Prim-mobile was, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea. 75,000? 180,000? some? many? lots?

eventually I decided that the purpose of knowing the mileage figure was to stop myself looking like a flake when my husband asked me 😉 so now I look at it occasionally and know roughly what it is. that knowledge has probably evicted some other vital factoid, such as the lyrics to a Bucks Fizz song.

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hurrah for velour sweatshirts. and is that an ankle chain?

since getting sober I have discovered that I also possess a self-care-ometer. I literally never glanced at that, either, for my entire preceding life, ricocheting instead between gratification, denial, and self-destructiveness – shuddering at the memory, here….

the idea of doing things every day to keep myself on an even keel was not one that I ever got to grips with. and then I stopped smoking, then stopped drinking, and where was my safety valve then?

I had already started running, so that came to the fore. checking into the soberverse daily, blogging, and emailing with sober pen pals helped enormously in the early days of sobriety and continues to do so to this day. I have learnt – often by blogging about how low I feel, and then realising why – that when I feel lowest, I often feel least like doing self-care-y type things, just when I most need to do them. so I haul my arse off my emotional if not literal sofa and go and do it – mostly, anyway.

things are still low around here generally in the period after my father in law’s funeral. I am finding many implications of this bereavement inappropriate to talk about here so will not do so in detail. one specific thing relevant to my recovery is that the night preceding the funeral I had an absolute thumper of a drinking dream. the usual format for me of ‘realising’ that I had been drinking on and off for the last few months and that I am therefore not sober. the crashing regret, sorrow, anguish – I have not relapsed in real life and therefore my brain sees fit to imagine it in the most vivid detail. I wake shaken and uncertain for a few moments what the truth is. yes, there is relief when I realise it is only a dream, and I recognise that it is my subconscious putting swathes of yellow incident tape around the huge hole that relapse would be for me, to protect me from it. but it is so painful to go through, when I am already feeling vulnerable.

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pavement art at its most stomach-curdling.

so, we are trying to get back into normal life. Verity recently commented hoping that we could ‘gently re-group’ which is a lovely way to think of it. as part of that I have been consciously upping my self care and in doing so have been taking a refresher course in the topic. I found a number of new resources which I thought I might pass on in case they were useful to others as well.

My experience of the earliest days of sobriety is of walking around in a haze, not really knowing which way was up in the absence of my previous force field of alcohol consumption. at that time I would have found this cogently named interactive tool helpful:

You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self Care Guide

‘This is meant to be an interactive flow chart for people who struggle with self care, executive dysfunction, and/or who have trouble reading internal signals. It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgment.’

The tool leads you through a series of very gentle questions, which I find surprisingly powerful. When we are at our lowest even thinking of the right question to ask can feel impossible.

(If you do have a play with this guide, I’d love to hear what you think of it.)

I started drafting this post a month ago and the need for self care is still pretty high! There are more great resources to add but I thought I’d make this a two parter, so as to actually press publish before Christmas 😉

More soon, sober compadres! Prim xx

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snapshot at four years sober

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Sea: Mediterranean. Nail colour: Plush Pink. Toes: model’s own.

four years and still here! so, so grateful that I found my way out of that dark place, with the help of lots of marvellous people – like YOU, reading this!

you are all bloody amazing. thank you from the bottom of my heart.

in the past I have written detailed and obsessively  thought-through anniversary posts at my one, two, and three year anniversaries. this is not going to be one of those 😉 there will however be the traditional elements of sober bling, cake, and my next Word Of The Year, so please feel free to skip the chatsome middle section and go straight for those at the end!

for the snapshot at four years sober I thought it would be valuable for my own purposes to review what I am still doing on a regular basis that is specifically recovery-focused. not because there is a ‘right’ amount to be doing at any stage – I know people online whom I think do either considerably less or considerably more than this – but because I hope to continue blogging and will find it interesting in the future if this changes.

daily practices:

  • wearing my Stay Here bracelet and my two-year sobriety ring – usually also one of several necklaces that are also sober tokens.
  • I am still registered with the entirely brilliant Belle. I receive her free emails and subscribe to her podcasts, and spend 10 minutes every morning, while I do my creaky-middle-aged-woman exercises, listening to either a series of her free One Minute Messages or to a section of a longer podcast. Belle inspires me with how she is evolving in her own recovery and is a tremendous role model in how she is continually trying new things and keeping her life exciting!
  • checking in on WordPress and reading and commenting on sober blogs. by the nature of time passing the commenting is less as some of those bloggers I grew up with blog less frequently. I often add new bloggers to my blog roll and always appreciate their perspective.
  • listening to podcasts as I go about my day, some of which are specifically related to recovery, such as Since Right Now, Buzzkill, and The One You Feed (which just had a great interview with Maia Szalavitz, the author of The Unbroken Brain – highly recommended).
  • nightly journalling including a gratitude practice.
  • pretty much daily – checking in by text or email with sober buddies whom I now count as real-life friends: truly priceless.

less frequently than daily:

  • blogging – my posting frequency has decreased as time goes on. there is less urgency and the issues troubling me nowadays are perhaps less recovery-focused, more nuanced and more specific to me. also I think by writing here, and also by writing to sober penpals, I have become better at framing my thoughts and expressing them appropriately to those around me in real life, so I need this less as an outlet, perhaps? without getting all Captain Oates about it, I have had the thought that I should/could deliberately drop blogging at this point. however I think I would miss it if I did, so I won’t!
  • emailing Belle – again, I do this less. it is great to have her there as a resource but again I don’t nowadays often feel the need for it.
  • replacement drink – I make sure that the cranberry and tonic with lime is still always available as a 6pm little something, but it gets deployed only irregularly – maybe once every 10 days or so, when I am feeling in need of a boost – and not as a replacement for alcohol, but just because it is nice in its own right.
  • meeting up with other sober folks – very special. wouldn’t be without it! I am wondering who I will meet in real life in the coming year… now there’s a thought…

just to stress again – I don’t think there is a ‘right’ amount of recovery work that anyone ‘should’ be doing. I have taken to heart Belle’s advice to err on the side of caution. there is a ‘right for ME’ amount and there will be a ‘right for YOU’ amount. if we are sober and happy about it, that’s the right amount!

so – on to the cake! here it is – carrot and peach cake with a caramelised peach topping. please help yourself to a slice. you will need a fork!

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a sober showstopper.

and now for my new Word of the Year, and the sober bling, which tie into one another.

my words in the past have been peace, and attention, and choices. my word for my fifth year of sobriety is going to be brave.  I think there is a pattern, a progression in those words. I hope to be able to live into that word as I carry on in my sober flight. here is my new necklace to celebrate 4 years sober and looking forward to the next adventure.

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one final vignette: recently, in an effort to make paperwork more appealing, I have been lighting a small scented candle on my desk as I work. carefully, of course! flame + paper  -> potential conflagration, which seems an extreme way to reduce one’s intray.

soon after I started doing this, my daughter came into my office after I had put the candle out, sniffed, glanced at the table, and asked,

“Mum, have you been burning a scented candle in here?”

(you should appreciate that my daughter is currently at the age where if she had a dial it would be permanently set to either ‘Flounce’ or ‘Mild Scorn’.)

when I confirmed this, she responded, with faint pity,

“That is just such a Mum thing to do!” 

so my teenaged daughter thinks of me as doing paperwork while burning a scented candle? I will settle for that, sweetheart. I’ll settle for that.

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Square It Up Friday

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I was listening to a podcast recently – it could have been a Lewis Howes one, but can’t track it down now as it was an old one, I think.

Anyway the interviewee was a sports coach for top-notch sportsmen and women. He said that once an athelete gets to a certain level, EVERYONE at that level is giving the maximum possible focus and effort to their training. At that stage what lifts one athelete even higher than the rest is to devote as much focus and effort to their recovery time as to their training time.

What could I do today to rest and recover? What could you do? Let’s be gentle and kind to ourselves, yes? Prim xx

and we are here as on a darkling plain

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a few months back I came up with a quick test to determine my overall state of mind. I call it the Dover Beach Test, after the poem by Matthew Arnold. do you know it? I learnt this poem at school and have seen my life echoed in it down the years. I love its yearning, its historical scope, its beautiful descriptions and cadences.

here is the test. it’s quick – there is only one question.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you agree with the following statement?

‘Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.’

this morning my score is a nice round zero. yesterday it was about a 3. on Thursday it was a bleak-eyed 10.

I find the idea of a one-question test helpful – it is somewhat scary remembering how entirely I believe it when I do believe it. but knowing that there are zero and three days as well gives me a valuable perspective.

now I am sober the score would seldom be high for more than a day or so. or perhaps not even for more than a few hours. it is highly correlated with the time of the month, the amount of sleep I have had, and whether I have run for at least 3 miles in the preceding 48 hours.

I thought I would write about it here to remind myself of those things. also to try and help me accept that those feelings are, apparently, part of my emotional landscape, and that they will pass. at nearly 4 years sober now I am still just starting to get to know myself – to grow up, at the age of 50. it’s a wonderful thing.

more upbeat programming will resume here as soon as possible! Prim xx

Square It Up Friday

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I have been working on a longer post for a couple of days which I hope to finish shortly. Ironically, since that post is about self-care, I have been unable to complete it because I have been feeling drained and overwhelmed… all the more need for self-care, I know, I know.

The ability to differentiate between problems and inconveniences would also be helpful.

Onwards and upwards, my sober comrades! Prim xx

grief in sobriety

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I posted back in March that my father in law had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. after seven months of a fairly good quality of life he went downhill rapidly in the last few weeks. it has been a difficult time for our family.  we were sad but relieved yesterday to hear of his death. as I think I’ve said here before, I wasn’t personally close to my father in law, so I am not experiencing a significant feeling of loss. its impact on me personally is more in how I help support my husband and his family at this raw and emotional time.

I am conscious however that I am feeling spread very thin, and need to be careful of how I look after myself too. so blogging is one way of doing that.

re-reading what I have written here, it seems very formal and detached. I know that I am coping by doing certain things on auto pilot, in finding comfort in routine and structure. for me, sometimes a shiny sink can give reassurance way out of proportion of its actual value. the semblance of order giving us something to cling onto in a fragile and messy world.

C. S. Lewis wrote: ‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’ and this hits home to me. we are conscious of the vulnerability of those we love and of our own mortality.  we fear the changes that may come into our lives, un-invited and un-welcomed.

the image at the top of this post is one I chose because I thought it symbolised well the tangle of feelings which we experience in grief. grief is not a linear path, but one which repeats and twines back on itself. I watch my husband, who is exhausted and unable to settle to anything, and my heart hurts for him. we are careful with one another and with our wider family, so as not to say or do anything which could be misconstrued at this fragile time.

grief doesn’t begin at a death. there is a great article here on anticipatory grief, which I have found very helpful in the last few weeks. I have also found that each episode re-opens memories of previous losses, which I have then needed to process again. in the almost four years since I got sober, I have lost my father, my mother in law, and now my father in law. I am so very tired of grief and its after-tremors. it is familiar and yet hurts afresh each time.

earlier this week my husband went away for a few days to see his father. between 8pm and 10pm on the evening he was away, I needed to separately help each of my teenagers with a different urgent and important issue. I was so profoundly grateful that I was sober and present and able to do so.

there have been no urges whatsoever to drink. the opposite in fact – like an anti-craving – thoughts have come into my head of how glad I am to be sober and on a more stable emotional keel so that I am better able to be with the feelings and let them flow through me and on. some of those feelings are angry ones, and that is ok, too.

one last resource to pass on:  the book ‘Grief Works’ by Julia Samuel. in that book she recommends a grief techniques ‘package’ which I thought might also work well for handling the overwhelming feelings of early sobriety. she says:

‘A package of techniques can work well if practised regularly. The following takes about an hour to complete:

  • ten minutes writing in a journal about everything swirling around inside you
  • twenty minutes running (I would say a brisk walk would do just as well!)
  • ten minutes meditating (you could try Headspace or the Calm app)
  • twenty minutes reading or watching something funny.’

my final thought is that any adverse circumstance, such as a loss, can help us to see our own life in its true perspective. I want to cling onto that clarity and use it to see further into what I want to make of my own future and that of my family.

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Thoughts at 1,400 days sober

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I’ve been keeping an eye on my Living Sober day counter for a while now as I didn’t want to miss this milestone. The monetary figure in the image is misleading as I actually put in the figure in £ sterling – the US dollar equivalent would be about $13,000 saved.

The figure is useful in that it is a concrete reminder not merely of what I was spending, but how much I was drinking. I remember putting in a figure of £50 per week, which I reckoned was an accurate reflection of what I was spending. That was based on six or seven bottles of wine a week, plus up to a bottle of gin – the equivalent of maybe 100 units a week. Which is far, FAR too much alcohol. It’s pretty terrifying that was the amount at which I could still just about function.

The day counter’s calculations also assume that I would have kept drinking at that rate for those 1,400 days, which seems unlikely. To be blunt,  I would either have got worse, or I might not even be here. The wheels were definitely coming off my life this time four years ago. I find September and October emotionally difficult times of year for that reason – memories of my last weeks of drinking are highly painful still, although I am getting better at forgiving myself for them.

I am so hugely grateful that I found this online support community.  Sometimes I struggle with being too bossy, too evangelical about being sober – more so here online than in real life, where I am quite diffident. My previous post was prompted by that quote – and also by some memories coming up for me of my final drinking days. If I sometimes seem as if I am banging the drum too insistently, it will be because I remember how unhappy and hopeless I felt then. I want others to know that change IS possible, and that even on the crappiest of days, the sober life is better than the drinking one.

Prim xx

Square It Up Friday

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I saw this quote recently and thought it would make a good Square It Up Friday post for 1st September. (I have seen it attributed to Paulo Coelho, who certainly has quoted it but I am not sure it is his originally.)

we can get too fixated on continuous day counting, I think. although what do I know, really, having been in the lucky position of never having had a relapse (YET. YET. YET…)

from what I have seen of the experience of others, when focusing on continuous days sober becomes an impediment to long term sobriety rather than an incentive, then perhaps it is time to let it go.

my own experience of giving up smoking was that I made what turned out to be the final decision to give up sometime between 2007 and 2010. (how bizarre that I cannot even remember the dates, now.) I do remember that over the tail-end 18 or so months I had perhaps 4 or 5 occasions when I had a fuck-it moment, went out and bought a packet, smoked several cigarettes and then threw it away again. do those occasions make me any less of a non-smoker now, 7 or 8 or 9 or whatever it is years later? no, I don’t think so. that was what it took to get me to the point when I could finally stop.

having said all that, relapse can undermine long term sobriety, like a besieger’s tunnel underneath a castle wall. best perhaps to employ the tactics of long ago castle defenders: adding buttresses (self-care, supports, accountability if that works for you) to strengthen your walls, or by identifying weak points in the design (corners, sharp angles, boozy friends, times of day or week or month) and rebuilding your castle in a stronger shape. round is less vulnerable than square.

the point of this quote could be that every day is day one. that what bridges the gap between ‘one day’ and becoming whom we want to be is the decision followed by the action. did you know that the Latin root of the word ‘decision’ literally means ‘to cut off‘? it involves an action – not just holding out the damn knife and wishing that someone else would come along and deploy it.

it’s your knife. use it. keep using it every day to create the life you want. start today.

Prim xx

Enlightenment dressed as chaos

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over the last few weeks a series of apparently unconnected external events have hit my family like small and large meteorites. after the latest – and one of the least – when my eldest suffered a twisted ankle which will significantly affect our plans for the next few weeks – something rang a bell in my brain and I remembered an old blog post by Martha Beck on how to survive Life’s rough patches, which you can read here.

in the post Martha advises that when we hit a rough patch – or a rumble strip – the best way to navigate it is to hit the brakes, put your mind in reverse, and then find and follow smooth terrain.

the part about hitting the brakes rings very true for me. having food in the fridge and clean underwear in the drawers can make the difference between bearable and unbearable levels of chaos. running (always!). early bed. quiet time in the mornings. medicinal levels of chocolate.

I also like her explanation of why there sometimes seems to be a procession of unrelated disasters – namely, because our lives are SUPPOSED to be an epic road trip towards inner wisdom, love and joy. and those things are not found on the smooth and straight road. they are found when our life assumptions rub up against reality.

if you are in the early days of sobriety – which I would classify as at least the first 200 days – then you may well have taken that decision because all the evidence has been proclaiming to you that your belief that consuming alcohol is an enjoyable and vital part of life is NOT TRUE, at least for you. and after decades perhaps of drinking, and social conditioning, that is an immensely hard belief to back away from, to challenge, to change.

one thing I continue to find difficult is seeing others in real life, many of whom are very dear to me, who are still stuck in that dark place. no-one can make that leap for another person. one of the reasons I blog is to try to help those who HAVE identified they have an issue with alcohol, and to offer hope and example that life without alcohol is not lesser, but vastly more. that it is not a case of not being able to drink, but not having to drink. which is something I am still thankful for, every day.

if you are in longer term sobriety, chances are you will already have had a meteorite storm of your own. I found Martha’s post most helpful in challenging my own assumption that everyday life should proceed smoothly and without hiccups. once I let go of that, then I reduce the energy I am spending railing against the events, and can concentrate on dealing with them.

and sometimes it turns out that the monster we are dealing with is not so very big, after all… Prim xx

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