after over thirty years of in-depth research I can categorically state that serenity cannot be found at the bottom of a bottle of wine – whatever they put on the bloody label.
(in the last few days I’ve had more new followers than usual to my blog – which is lovely and if that’s you reading this, you are so very welcome! several email followers (hellloooo to you!) and some bloggers who’ve just recently started or re-started sobriety: check out jimsdad and heyamonster … it’s ok, I’ll wait 😉
and this is a post drawing together some of my previous thinking so I might put some links to old posts into this one so you have a chance to check those out if you’re new here and if you’d like to.)
I’ve been doing a fair bit of listening to podcasts that cover the topic I’m particularly interested in at the moment – which is how after we get sober, secondary compulsions start hurling themselves at us like women throwing their knickers at Sir Tom Jones.
trying to map out my previous thought processes on this….I blogged back in December 2014 about how I winkled out my own addiction story, which runs something like this:
I am a bad and weak person.
My life is more difficult than anyone else’s.
I need something to make me feel better.
Drinking is the only thing that makes me feel better.
Drinking makes me feel better.
as I say in the post –
‘I need something to make me feel better. This was, and is, TRUE. this is also something I worked out for myself. it is not something I was ever given permission to believe, while I was growing up. because, you know, you just get on with ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is. and if you can’t do that – if you retreat into food or alcohol or cigarettes or bad relationships or whatever your thing is – that would be evidence to support premise no 1…
and, finally, the corker, no 1. that I am a bad and weak person. and the problem is that the whole addiction story, when applied to this underlying ‘fact’, confirms that belief. so the further I go on the addiction path, the more I believe the underlying statement that supports it. and this statement would definitely fall foul of the ‘ask 100 people on the street’ test. and in the past I would nod, sagely, and believe they were only disagreeing with it because they didn’t know what I was really like inside. uck. so, no: FALSE.
like pulling teeth, writing that last sentence. still. I’m hoping that doing so will help me internalise it and truly believe it.’
then back in March I talked about identifying, naming and experiencing our emotions, to make our responses to them more appropriate and increase our emotional resilience, and by doing so make life easier and more fun.
and later I’ve talked about the PIER chart, how we can change the way we feel in different ways, and how we can assess whether those ways are beneficial or harmful, and whether a behaviour is self-care, or comforting, or numbing, or a compulsion.
one thing that’s been tugging at my mental sleeve recently is a study I quoted saying that:
‘However, research has shown that some types of avoidance coping have beneficial outcomes. A study by Long and Haney found that both jogging and relaxation techniques were equally successful at lessening anxiety and increasing feelings of self-efficacy. Therefore, it seems that positive forms of passive coping such as exercise and meditation have qualitatively different outcomes from negative forms such as binge eating and drug use. These positive forms of passive coping may be particularly beneficial for alleviating stress when the individual does not currently have the resources to eliminate the problem directly, indicating the advantage of flexibility when engaging in coping behaviors.‘
how can we focus more on positive forms of passive coping, if they are the key to alleviating stress when we don’t have the resources to eliminate the problem directly?
compare this to the Serenity Prayer, which states,
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
some wonderful podcasts to recommend here:
first up was Mary O’Malley, who wasinterviewed by Tommy Rosen as part of the Recovery 2.0 conference. the video segment is no longer available, sadly, but you can see Mary speak about her book here. she proposes that our compulsions are themselves the way into healing. on her website she says,
‘Joy and inner peace are our birthright, and meeting our fears and self judgement with curiosity and compassion is the doorway. Compulsions aren’t an indication that something is wrong; they are doorways into the joy of being fully alive in each moment. By learning to respond rather than react, we can gather the gifts that they hold.’
what if our compulsions, our addictions, are in fact themselves showing us the way?
secondly I re-listened to the Bubble Hour podcast ‘Sister Addictions – Food and Alcohol’. this really is a must listen to – in particular for the three cultural narratives that keep us stuck in food addiction and body image distress.
lastly I listened recently to the On Being podcast with Pico Iyer – ‘The Art of Stillness’.
this has particular relevance for those dealing with technology overload, but it was such a broad ranging and valuable discussion it is hard to highlight any one aspect of it. one phrase that stuck with me in particular was this:
‘the only remedy for distraction is attention.’
or you can see Pico’s TED talk here (15 mins).
all of these discussions have been influencing my thinking about my avoidance behaviours. instead of seeing these behaviours as weeds to be rooted out, ruthlessly, I am seeing them as beacons, indicating a way forward.
I am looking at how I can pay more attention to my life – what mindfulness looks like when applied to even those previously railed against and maligned behaviour patterns.
I’ve blogged previously about how we can engender hope for ourselves. and this seems to me to be a way in which I can build serenity itself. other words could be used interchangeably, almost, here: acceptance, resilience. all words that come with the application of a contemplative practice to day to day living. as one website puts it:
‘Historically, contemplative practice has been taught by the world’s spiritual traditions. However, in the last three decades, the fields of psychology, medicine, and education have recognized that contemplative practice can contribute to well-being and maturation. As a result, health professionals and educators have been teaching contemplative practices in ‘non-religious forms’ that can be used as a resource for resilience by agnostics and atheists, as well as by people with a spiritual or religious worldview.
- For an atheist or agnostic, contemplative practice can be a resource to regulate destructive emotions, make thoughtful decisions, develop a more focused mind, and deepen inner peace.
- In addition, for a person with a spiritual or religious worldview, contemplative practice can become a vehicle for a deeper relationship with God.
There are two major types of contemplative practice:
- Contemplation of behavior: When stressed out, angry, or afraid, we tend to become reactive. In such moments, we often act impulsively, in ways that harm ourselves or others. Contemplative practice teaches us to examine and change these destructive forms of behavior.
- Elevation of awareness: The stress of daily life is like a sticky spider’s web. It ensnares us. It prevents us from experiencing the beauty that surrounds us, our capacity for love and compassion, and the presence of a transcendent dimension in life. Through meditation, prayer, the arts, and observation of the natural world (and many other techniques), contemplative practice can help us restore our ability to rise above our anxieties, and to perceive life’s mystery and beauty.
wow that’s a lot of words! time for a picture 😉 here’s a great one of The Tree of Contemplative Practices…
I would say that this is by no means exhaustive – anything that engages us and that we can enter into could be a branch on our own trees. do you see anything there that appeals to you?
phew, what a long post! short version – I’m feeling pretty settled and steady at the moment.
as a matter of fact – I’m feeling peaceful – and that’s good.