this photograph gave me the same rush of anxiety and feeling of lack of mastery over my own life path that I remember all too well from my final drinking days. that I was being carried along, against my will, into unknown and dangerous territory.

but it was not just my drinking that gave me that feeling. it was/is my whole life, which seems often to be a procession of forest fires that I struggle desperately to contain.

here are some synonyms and antonyms for ’emergency’:

difficulty, tension, compulsion, depression, distress, exigency, fix, hole, impasse, meltdown, pinch, plight, predicament, pressure, quandary, scrape, vicissitude, turning point, zero hour.

calmness, peace, ease, benefit, blessing, closure, solution.

in this post I’d like to draw together some of my recent reading so there will be various links coming up, which have been feeding into the thoughts and hopes I have been having about moving away from the former and towards the latter, bearing in mind my word for 2015, peace.

I came across this article about the real reason for the forty-hour working week and found it relevant not only to consumerism as a whole, but also to the reason why I (and, perhaps you?) drank in the first place. these were the passages that particularly interested me:

The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.

As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.

with the proviso that sober treats are EXCLUDED FROM THIS SCENARIO 😉

tired and hungry for indulgence. does that sound familiar? indulgence in the form of a brimming wine glass, by any chance? which is justified because we are so stressed? but are our lives really so stressful, or do we only believe them to be so?

which leads me on to another place I have decided to stop reading, which is any online support forum for those undertaking Dry January. and I’m not giving any more details than that, or putting in a link. because I have been staggered by how upsetting I have found reading those places, and do not wish to direct you there. and what does it mean for my own sobriety that I find it so distressing?

I think it is because it takes me back to a very dark place in my own life. the writers on those forums are deeply concerned about their drinking but have not yet, necessarily, taken the decision to stop completely. it is like seeing a wild animal caught in a trap, gnawing off its own leg in an effort to escape, but knowing all the time that it will limp three-legged gladly back into those iron jaws. and I know drinking is a cruel trap, for me. I don’t need any more examples of that. I can’t watch those people, any more.

one thing that does come across very strongly in those forums is the frequently expressed belief that day-to-day life is unbearably painful without alcohol. that to work, or to be at home with children, all day, and then to have to bathe one’s own children and get them into bed, is insufferable agony without a glass of wine in one’s hand.

how the hell did this become the norm? during the war years when men were away fighting, were the women of our country downing a bottle of sauv blanc just to get them through bedtime? of course bloody not. so why was I?

some of the reasons why women are drinking more are summarised in this factsheet from the Institute of Alcohol Studies. for women, alcohol has become more affordable, more socially acceptable, and more specifically advertised. have you read Ann Dowsett Johnson’s excellent book ‘Drink’? in an interview with Ann here she makes some great points about why women are drinking more. but buy the book, folks. seriously, required reading 😉 we are sitting ducks, ladies, unless we choose not to be. 

those drinkers who are still trying to moderate their consumption sometimes use the phrase ‘pressing the re-set button’ to mean re-setting their attitude to alcohol so that they can drink moderately. I would like to co-opt this phrase to ask:

how can we press the re-set button to change our attitude to life so that we have no need to drink?

top-down approaches to this include immersing oneself in a sober community and becoming informed about the true norms of alcohol consumption in our society. learning to deal with external triggers to our alcohol consumption. letting change work upon us from the outside. these are all highly valuable and irreplaceable engines of change, and are in no way lesser than the ground-up approaches.

the ground-up ways require a complete re-examination of everything that we have always believed about ourselves and our past. when we do this we begin to learn about the internal triggers to our drinking, and how to find ways to meet them that work better than alcohol. of course the very first and vital change is the true acceptance that alcohol is not working for us any more. the change then comes from within ourselves. I have written previously about when all that has to change is everything. it is a deeply unsettling but at the same time vital part of the process of learning to live a sober life, and I am still walking that narrow and perilous path every day.

practical ways in which we can take the latter approach include undergoing counselling. I shied away from this for a long time but now I am undergoing it I am finding it immensely valuable. I thought I had nothing to unearth, but my emotional reaction to telling one person everything I was most vulnerable about shook me utterly to the core, and then liberated me. that’s an amazing experience for which I quite possibly wouldn’t have been ready until when I started it, at just over the one year sober mark.

a way which was much more accessible (and affordable) for me was writing a gratitude list. I did this consistently between 100 and 180 days. I have got out of the habit and am thinking about starting it up again. the title of this post is taken from writings by Ann Voskamp. in her post here she describes how gratitude for the moment arrests the desperate rush of Time:

Life is not an emergency.

And this, this is the only way to slow down time: 

When I fully enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.

Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.

because this moment, this moment, this heartbeat, is all we ever truly have.

one more link and then I’m done! this is from an email sent out by Marc and Angel. by the way, it does occasionally occur to me that I should spend less time on motivational websites and more time, eg. cleaning my kitchen floor. however if I did that there is a chance that I would need that floor to be clean because I would be curled up on it in a foetal ball, sobbing. so, you know. better safe than sorry 😉 Angel writes:

‘Remind yourself that this moment is your most precious resource. One thing I’ve learned from the most heart wrenching moments of my life – losing loved ones to illness and accidents – is that death is an unpredictable inevitability.  Embracing this fact provides a sense of urgency, to realize that you’ve lived a certain number of hours and the hours ahead of you are not as guaranteed as the ones you have already lived. 

When I think of this I am reminded that every day truly is an opportunity to learn and grow, not in a cliché kind of way, but to honestly appreciate what we are capable of achieving and how we are responsible for the quality of our present lives.  This makes our self-respect, focus, work ethic, generosity, self-awareness, and growth evermore important, right here, right now.  It leaves no time to wallow in self-doubt. 

The last thing any of us want to do is die with regret, hence why respecting the reality of death puts life into perspective.  It humbles us and should also deeply motivate us to lead our lives and do our best today: less procrastinating, comparing, criticizing and consuming; more trying, creating, learning and living.’

sounds like a fine plan to me. I’m off to do some trying, creating, learning, and living! Wishing you the same for today! Prim xx