the Lancashire version of the Starship Enterprise

this is the part of this post I am finding hardest to write. because I could contentedly write reams of posts, day after day, about the positive payoffs of sobriety. but to write about the pernicious payoffs is far more challenging, not because I can’t think of them but because I worry that I risk upsetting and derailing people, and head of that list of people I could upset and derail is me.

so I will be treading incredibly carefully because I don’t want to put a foot wrong, and because sometimes that’s the only way to get to where one needs to go.

and it is going to be massively hedged about with caveats – the one which applies throughout is that if you are in the early days of sobriety – which is without question the first 100 days, and probably the first six months, or even year – then in my opinion questioning whether there are pernicious payoffs for you is something to be filed on the ‘worry about later’ list. I have had these on that list of mine for a long time and am only now getting round to them!

but please, don’t read further if you think you might be triggered by such a post!

ready? off we go!

after looking for ages for a suitable image for the top of this post, I selected the Wallace and Grommit one because it best encapsulated what I have found, which is that the pernicious payoffs are not at all what I would have expected back at the start of this process. if you had asked me then, on day 1, I would have said that I would be existing in a constant state of tension due to losing my ability to relax with wine – whereas I am far more relaxed and less anxious now than in my drinking days!

and also these are my payoffs, which doesn’t mean they are or will be yours – if you have some pernicious payoffs of your own which you’ve identified and feel comfortable sharing, I’d be really interested to hear them.

firstly, sobriety enables me to feel superior to others.

not to others in recovery, at whatever stage, but to those whose Wolfie sits grinning on their shoulder at me, unseen by them as they justify and normalise their own dependency. and this is in the greatest part a defence mechanism for myself, I know. because it is precisely those drinkers who feel most threatened by my sobriety as it reflects their own selves back to them, and whom I see as therefore most likely to attack me.

but superiority and judgement over others are unpleasant feelings. it makes me uncomfortable writing about it but I feel the need to get those gremlins out into the open in the hope that they will melt away, like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.

interestingly I don’t think I ever have actually had a negative response to my not drinking! discomfortable silences or badly phrased questions about it, yes, but never an attack…. perhaps I should just let go of that worry…

secondly, sobriety enables me to detach myself from others in real life.

ouch. yes, definitely uncomfortable writing this.

sobriety provides me with a ready made excuse not to attend social events where alcohol will be present – whereas in fact my reluctance stems from my (newly discovered!) introversion. because introverts need people too and cutting myself off puts me back in the lonely corner where soon the squirrels come and find me.

those bastards will get inside my head any way they can.

lastly, sobriety enables me to ignore other issues that I could be addressing in my life.

and this is a theme I hear often on the sober blogs, particularly with reference to food, especially sugar. “I’m concentrating so hard on being sober but my weight is getting out of control, now, and I should be doing something about that, too…”

and I would say that often the concern coming up here is a card thrown onto the table by Wolfie. raising the stakes, upping the ante. “you can’t get sober, because, look, you get fat. there must be another way, surely? have you looked hard enough for that third door?”

but it also comes up because often our (my) avoidance tactic just switches to another area when we cut out the escape to Boozeville. I think that compulsive eating comes up so often in these scenarios because it has the most visible, immediate consequences. when I eat my own weight in chocolate chip cookies every evening the results are apparent. all too soon my trousers don’t fit, the dog puts on weight too from all the crumbs, and my kids remark that why are there no biscuits again, Mummy?

however when (deep breath) I spend far too much time online…. there is no visible pernicious payoff for that behaviour.

except that I talk to my son about how much time he should spend on his newly acquired laptop, and feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world. I try and fit in online time before my kids get up and after they go to bed. I tell my daughter I will be up in five minutes to read her a story, and then forget to go up entirely, and she comes down in tears forty minutes later. I check my phone for updates more times an hour than I wish to recognise. I set limits on when I can and can’t go online, and then break those limits, without even caring. for the second month running I exceed the data limit on my mobile phone contract, which feels like the online usage equivalent of a DUI – the first true external consequences for over-usage.

as ever, it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.

my sobriety is heavily based upon online interaction, and to ditch that entirely would be incredibly unwise and short-sighted of me.

and so I am NOT talking about the realer end of my sober interactions with others – in particular my hugely, enormously valued interactions with individuals, whether in real life or online. because if I check where those interactions lie on the PIER chart they are firmly on the self-care and comforting axes.

what I am talking about is the more general online pootling, which feels more and more as if they are on the compulsive end of the PIER chart. if nothing else it makes me feel mentally scattered which I am more and more recognising is not a healthy place to be.

this is not preceding some Captain Oates type pronouncement, where I nobly head out into the snow, never to be seen again. the motto is still sober first and at the end of the day I would rather spend as much time as I can squeeze in online and be sober!

but I am at the point here of recognising that I have a problem, and what I have learnt in sobriety is the value of asking others for help at this point.

so, any wise words?

what I have heard from others who appear to have drifted away from blogging so often is that they are ‘too busy now’ and ‘never seem to have the time’. and I’ve waited for that to happen to me – and it hasn’t 🙂

if you have consciously made an effort to reduce your time online (whether on sober resources or otherwise) how have you done it?

eg in the past I was an avid user of the Mumsnet website. I got to the point where I was spending far too much time on it, so I just stopped, completely. I can’t and don’t want to do that, here.

ideas so far have been:

  • setting maximum time per day online – ie restricting total time
  • setting before and after limits – ie having screen free time in day
  • not using my phone to go online, just the laptop – ie restricting by device
  • setting parameters of stuff I need to have done before I can go online – ie using it as a carrot

have not really tried any of this stuff, yet! any recommendations?

right if you’ve made it this far, here’s one last warning before the next bit, which is not a pernicious payoff but a bit of a view from the mountaintop. I’ve been doing some reading about different coping strategies – which can broadly speaking be divided into approach coping and avoidance coping.

right that’s the amber warning on this Wikipedia article, which describes these coping strategies as follows:

‘Approach coping includes behaviors that attempt to reduce stress by alleviating the problem directly, and avoidance coping includes behaviors that reduce stress by distancing oneself from the problem. Traditionally, approach coping has been seen as the healthiest and most beneficial way to reduce stress, while avoidance coping has been associated with negative personality traits, potentially harmful activities, and generally poorer outcomes.

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.

I found it interesting to hear exercise and meditation described as forms of passive coping!

and now here is a full red warning for the following articles on coping styles and maladaptive coping responses.

I stumbled across these and was very taken aback. it was like suddenly seeing myself in a full length mirror, naked…

in the latter article I scored full-on hits on sections 3, 6 (ouch ouch ouch), 8, 9, 10 and 11.

these are all approaches taken in Schema Therapy, which the website describes as:

‘The main goals of Schema Therapy are: to help patients strengthen their Healthy Adult mode; weaken their Maladaptive Coping Modes so that they can get back in touch with their core needs and feelings; to heal their early maladaptive schemas; to break schema-driven life patterns; and eventually to get their core emotional needs met in everyday life.’

which sound like excellent goals to me. I think I was just a bit shell-shocked to see my behaviour patterns described so clearly. it’s interesting that there are some things that I definitely don’t do, too… and also reassuring, in many ways, that these are traits not just of mine, but of others, as well. being sober does not make me perfect, it enables me to be a fully paid up member of the human race, with all the ills that flesh (and spirit) are heir to.

thanks for listening, lovelies. hope I haven’t thrown too many giant caltraps in your path today.

this isn’t as heavily edited as my posts often are, so there may be glitches and things I’d wish I’d said or hadn’t said, but I’m worried I won’t post it if I don’t just press publish right now.

have a fab Sunday. thanks as ever for being here. Prim xx