Just putting mine on now. How about you? The trick is to remember we have one… Prim xx
Just putting mine on now. How about you? The trick is to remember we have one… Prim xx
I’ve thought hard about why I wanted to write this post. I was worried that I wanted to write it to ‘fix’ people, to offer suggestions in order to come up with some complex Recovery Theory of Everything to make myself look or feel good… I also don’t want anyone to think that I am aiming this particularly at them personally – I am honestly not. I hope I am trying to convey my understanding of what I have seen in LOTS of online interactions, where accountability to a coach, a forum or any organised group does not help the individual – in fact, quite the opposite.
My starting point for this was reading Gretchen Rubin’s personality model of The Four Tendencies, in which she categorises people according to how they react to outer and inner expectations. you can read about it and take the quiz here, if you like, which will describe you as an Upholder, an Obliger, a Questioner, or a Rebel. I loved this model when I first came across it because it seemed to explain so much about myself. if you have been reading this blog for a while you will know I adore a good graph, a good system.
I now think it can be a helpful starting point to understand ourselves, but that we all have aspects of each of the personality type within ourselves, and it can be hugely over-simplistic to say blithely that we are merely one of them. also what we are feels ‘normal’ and it can sometimes only be when we compare ourselves with others that we see differences. for example, I am definitely NOT a Questioner so when it comes the time to choose a holiday, or buy a new car, I am NOT the one in our family who spends three weekends in a row exhaustively reviewing all the options 😉
the other thing that the model skips out is that I believe it does not account for addiction (of course, Rubin never intended that it should). in addiction one does not merely resist inner and outer expectations, as in the Rebel category – one is unable to meet inner or outer expectations, because the addiction is in the driving seat AND riding shotgun.
so in fact until addiction is out of the picture, it is tricky to assess one’s own true self, one’s own true preferences.
however, accepting the limitations of the model for the moment, where does it leave those who actively resist outer expectations but who want to get sober? if a person is not the sort of person who would derive support from a slimming class in order to lose weight, why do we expect them to use peer or coaching support in order to stop drinking? and I use the term ‘expect’ carefully because I know full well I have a raging case of confirmation bias myself, having successfully used Belle’s 100 day programme to get sober and that therefore it is easy for me to trill annoyingly, “ask for support!” and then shrug in bewilderment when either the person doesn’t ask for support, or they do ask, and it doesn’t work for them.
Rubin has a new book out in September about the Four Tendencies and I expect she will expand on such matters in that book. from what she has suggested already, I anticipate that she will say that for Rebels the concepts of freedom and identity are the most important, so that if those can be brought into play – for example, as an over-drinker, turning that rebellion into a desire not to be manipulated and controlled by Big Alcohol – then the person can drive change in that way.
ok throwing this open now – any thoughts on all this? in particular –
I am aware that people who resist or do not need outer accountability may be the least likely to be reading sober blogs, likely to take a quiz or to answer questions about it 🙂 that’s the joy of us all being different, yes?!
have a smashing day, and don’t let anyone put you in a box if you don’t want to be in one!
I’m pretty sure I reblogged Laura’s one year post, or at least linked to it. Here’s her two year post.
You need to read it.
I needed to read it, too.
Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you’re secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction, but to gauge, miserably, the odds of rain?
I lived in Seattle for more than a decade. When you live in the Pacific Northwest you develop a nuanced relationship with the weather. Most people seem to have the impression that it pours there all the time. Not so, PNW rookies. Not so. It rains a little bit almost every single day for nine months out of the year. Lots of gloom. Meteorologists in the Northwest are prone to saying things like, “It’ll be a brighter grey today.”
I always loved that.
As usual, this morning I woke up long before the alarm at what Favorite is prone to calling, “stupid o’clock.” I stretched. I waited for my eyes to focus and adjust to…
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I’ve been thinking (and thus blogging) a lot about fear recently. I’m addressing some issues in my life which I’ve never really got to grips with and am finding that the old habit of avoidance is a mean bar-fighter with many nasty tricks up his sleeve…
the title of this post is a quote from a 2014 Elizabeth Gilbert video which you can see here.
in it she reframes fear, saying that we should not view it as something – like Kryptonite – which is singular, precious, and terrible. instead we can consider it as boring, something mundane and everyday. in her words: “regular old Made in China fear. Walmart fear.”
I find this a very interesting way of de-fusing from fear. not trying to get rid of it, or fighting it, or asking whether it is valid – just putting it in its place, as something ubiquitous, something so commonplace as to not require our particular attention.
because the more importance I ascribe to my fears, the more magnificence they will take on…
in writing this I have remembered that I have written before about harnessing the power of boredom to take us where we want to go. in my experience, boredom can be a surprisingly tireless steed.
the truth is that yes, I am bored of being afraid. I am ready to take the next steps – alongside that tedious old fear if needs be.
how about you?
looking for a suitable image for my posts often helps me write the post itself. I chose this image because the kind of fear I’m talking about isn’t the sort that protects you when you cross the road, or the kind of fear connected with circumstances and events that we cannot control, such as the recent tragic terrorist attack in Manchester, which has saddened and distressed all those who hear of it.
the type of fear I’m talking about is the kind of fear about a specific circumstance that keeps us small, and trapped, and feeling as if there is no way to take the lid off the jar because we can’t get at it, because we are inside the damn jar.
if you are reading this then it is a fair bet that you are either not drinking any more, or that you are trying not to drink any more, or that you are thinking about it. so this post applies certainly to stopping drinking, but also perhaps to any other change or circumstance within your control, or where at the very least your response to that circumstance is within your control.
I’m listening to a lot of podcasts at the moment and I heard one recently that has been reverberating in my brain ever since. it was from Brendon Burchard, whom I listen to when I need a burst of energy and positivity although it has to be said he is definitely on the Gorgonzola end of the podcast spectrum and so may not be your cup of tea 😉
you can see an 11 minute video or read a transcript of the podcast here.
Brendon’s premise is that we are afraid of three types of pain:
one thing I have found very helpful is the realisation that every behaviour has a purpose. so if I am behaving in a certain way, which I cannot understand or explain, then there is a behavioural payoff for that behaviour, and if I can identify that behavioural payoff it will help me untangle and unpick my own motivation so as to re-orient the behaviour in the direction that I truly desire.
if you are trying and struggling to change a behaviour, would it be helpful for you to try and identify what pain you are trying to avoid?
are you trying to avoid the pain of loss? are you worried, for example, about losing the connection to others that you think can only be found when alcohol is in your glasses (not true, obvs)? Brendon suggests that instead of focusing on the loss that we focus on what we gain in making a change. I would also suggest that we seek other ways of obtaining what we are worried about losing – for example by forming new connections with others in a sober community.
are we trying to avoid the pain of the process? bearing in mind that anticipatory anxiety often means that the anticipation of the process is nearly always worse than the process itself….
here Brendon recommends that we reframe challenge as a good thing as it is how we achieve growth, variety and spice in our lives. this is difficult to do when we are feeling weak, scared and vulnerable. I would suggest that we need to orchestrate a series of small wins, minute by minute, day by day, and linking rewards to the new behaviour until we can feel stronger and empowered by our progress itself.
lastly, am I trying to avoid outcome pain? suppose we try and we struggle and it isn’t worth all the effort? or what if the outcome is something that now feels unbearable? that our marriage doesn’t survive a one-sided sobriety, or that your job isn’t enough once we are sober? here I would suggest that reading others’ experiences can reassure us that it is worth it, that when we are sober then we can handle whatever life throws at us. from my own perspective at over three and a half years sober, there is no outcome of sobriety that does not hugely outweigh any minor losses, inconveniences, or trivial social discomforts.
I’ve been finding it hugely helpful to identify what pain I am anticipating in this way. perhaps you might, too?
if you have been experiencing a particular pain in reference to getting sober, how has that come out for you – as loss pain, process pain, or outcome pain? what have you found helpful in overcoming it? I’d love to hear your experience.
here’s the last couple of paragraphs of the talk:
‘When you’re obsessing about loss pain, process pain and outcome pain, the more you focus on those the more you obsess about those types of pain and your brain and body go no, don’t do that, I don’t want to experience that. We’ve been gifted with this incredible contraption that is unbelievably driven to avoid pain and when we realize that then we have to stop suffering in our minds and stewing in our minds about the pain we might experience if we do the very things that would improve our lives.
You and I both know what would improve our lives, why aren’t we doing it? Because somewhere there we’ve probably associated a lot of loss, process or outcome pain to it. So today might be a great day to sit down and say, what do I really want in my life? Why have I not been progressing faster? When you explore that question you might discover loss, process and outcome pain at work. You can flip it and focus on the gains, the joys and the positive outcomes. When you start doing that you’ll find yourself being that joyous master, getting further ahead in life and you might just find that life can feel fully charged once again.’
Have a great weekend, sober friends. Prim xx
I am finding this quote very heartening today. Courage, mes braves! Prim xx
(I came across this image somewhere on Instagram and then promptly lost the source so apologies for not giving a photo credit. Must Try Harder.)
feeling a bit up and down here. Whatever ‘it’ is does get easier – then sometimes it gets more difficult again, then eases up again, and so it goes on.
still here, still plugging away. if you are in a slump – keep going. if you are watching a sunrise with a glad heart – enjoy, and save a space for me…
have a great weekend, sober warriors! Prim xx
beliefs can feel like a bolted and padlocked door – immovable, intransigent. we can sometimes see the beliefs of others better than we can understand our own.
I had a committee meeting last week where refreshments were to be served beforehand. having realised this I’d taken a herbal teabag tucked into my purse and helped myself to hot water from the urn, cheerfully declining offers of a glass of wine. so far, so usual.
what wasn’t usual was what happened after the meeting. I was talking to another committee member when the chairman of the meeting – let’s call him Tom – came up with a re-corked bottle of wine and asked the woman I was speaking to if she’d like to take it home with her, as otherwise it would go to waste. She looked at him and said,
“Tom, I don’t drink.”
to which he said, “Ah yes, that’s right” and then offered the bottle to me. which was slightly confusing, since I thought that Tom and I had already had That Talk, but he’d obviously forgotten. So I got to have a fucking amazing sober “I’m Spartacus!” moment by repeating,
“Tom, I don’t drink.”
he literally stepped back in consternation at this response, and I added, “I thought you knew that, Tom, I talked about it to you when we came to dinner at your house, if you remember?”
Tom’s wife is nodding in agreement with this beside him, and then Tom asked,
“Have you never drunk, or did you used to drink?”
which is a beggar of a question, with all sorts of stuff behind it. what difference does it make either way? it only matters so that Tom can put a nice tidy label on my head – either ‘weird person who doesn’t enjoy the taste or effect of alcohol’ or ‘person who HAD A REASON for stopping drinking’. and the only person who cares about that is someone for whom alcohol is quite important, actually, and they Need To Know.
I replied quite carefully by merely answering the actual question, saying that I used to drink but that I don’t drink now. and then the conversation widened into Tom mentioning another person who he knows who used to drink but doesn’t now – and why – and the woman next to me explaining why she doesn’t drink, and I couldn’t be arsed with the justification, to be quite honest, so I let them all talk about why other people don’t drink and said nothing about my Big Why, because actually it is no-one else’s business but my own and no-one was asking me in the right way (the right way is hardly ever in a general conversation, incidentally, but usually in a one-to-one chat in which you can gauge why the other person is asking and therefore which of stock answers A, B or C one wishes to give.)
it is rare for me to bump up against the Big Why question from another person these days. most people close to me know I don’t drink and I have talked to them about it at a level appropriate for both our relationship and for their relationship to alcohol.
the best answer I can give nowadays is the empirical one.
that I have tried drinking, and I have tried not drinking, and my life is better when I don’t drink, so I don’t drink.
that when I don’t drink, I use other ways to change how I feel, and those other ways work better.
to borrow another sober blogger’s phrase: that I am happier like this.
I was going to write a post about labels, and whether or not the word alcoholic is useful, but then Laura wrote such a splendid one on this very topic that it spared me the trouble! go and read it here if you haven’t already. in that post she also links to Aiden Donnelley Rowley’s writing. Aiden is another empiricist. she has been writing and asking and living questions about her life, including her relationship with alcohol, for a while. I read her blog when she did a year without wine but lost touch with her after that. I am so glad she is continuing to write and to gather evidence. here’s a post of hers on choosing the dry life – a great read. and not because she has come down on the side of not-drinking – I am far less black and white about that than I used to be – but because she is finding out what is right for her, and that is the only thing that matters, not what others think or say or do.
the other thing I wanted to record for myself here was how unrattled I felt by the above conversation. how comfortable I felt in my own skin, stating my truth, not feeling obliged to over-explain or apologise. in my first months of sobriety that level of sang-froid seemed like something impossible, unachievable. facing questions as to why I wasn’t drinking seemed excruciating, revealing of what I perceived then to be my secret flaw, my dark secret. it is not given to us to go back in time machines and tell ourselves these things… but it is possible for us to speak our truths so that others may hear and perhaps believe that it might be possible for them, too.
here is my truth: I have learnt that our own beliefs about ourselves and how the world works can change.
if you are struggling today, please know that doors can be opened. what seems impossible can come with time and effort and persistence. that perhaps all I ever had to do was turn the handle and take that step through the doorway.
have a great weekend, sober warriors! Prim xx
so what does this square have to do with sobriety?!
well, it made me smile on a recent difficult day, so that alone is enough. finding something – anything – to smile about can sometimes seem near impossible. and, of course, Tom Hardy has been clean and sober since 2002 and works with a variety of organisations such as The Prince’s Trust to encourage others to do the same.
having spent far too long on the internet looking for a Tom Hardy image or clip to include on this post, this has to be my favourite. The BBC chose Tom Hardy this year to read the bedtime story on the children’s channel on Valentine’s Day and on Mother’s Day. An inspired choice for tired mothers everywhere! Tom and his dog. sigh…
Sending love and Tom Hardy to you all, sober warriors, as a small thank you for your unfailing support! Prim xx
the test results for my father in law show that he has terminal cancer. I want to write about this here but am suffused by a realisation that much of this is not my stuff to discuss. so I will feel my way through as best I can, limiting my thoughts here to how the situation affects me and my sobriety.
I am doing ok. sadder than I thought I was going to be, perhaps, but less anxious. we have had eight days of waiting for the test results and in that time I found the concept of anticipatory anxiety very helpful (which I wrote about here). in that post I quote from a article which says,
‘anticipatory anxiety is not a true predictor of how much anxiety we will feel in the actual situation. Although it is impossible to predict with total accuracy, the fact is that 95% of the time, anticipatory anxiety is much greater than the anxiety we experience when we actually make contact with what frightens us.’
I find this concept hugely calming when the dark clouds loom large overhead.
in my last post I wrote that I was looking for support from those who understood this position, and afterwards I thought, and who are they, exactly?
one online resource I found helpful was the cancer section of the verywell.com website, which went into the right level of detail for me about the specific cancer which my father in law is experiencing. another good website is cancerresearchuk.org who also offer a helpline to cancer specialist nurses.
but possibly my most valuable resource is the writings of Kate Gross, whom I first came across in 2014 in this Telegraph article, ‘What to say to a 35-year-old mother dying of cancer’. I read the article, and then her wonderful blog in which she documented the inexorable progress of The Nuisance, and then her luminous, hilarious, heart-rending book.
in the Telegraph article she includes the concept of the support spiral, starting in the centre with the cancer sufferer, then spiralling outwards through partner, children, family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, friends of friends and the world at large. she says:
“Where you sit in the spiral defines how you behave. The rule is simple: you provide support to those closer to the centre than you. And you expect support from those further out than you. So, to put it bluntly, you can only emotionally dump on people in circles further out than your own.
Personally, I’m not averse to being wept on (it makes me feel special and a bit saintly) but in general, save your tears. Of course you are sad that I am dying, but most of the time I just don’t need to hear you snuffle snottily that you are so devastated that I am going to leave my children motherless. Hold it together, and weep on someone further outside your circle. And think about what you can do – practically, emotionally or otherwise – to support someone closer to the epicentre. If not the patient, their partner, mother, children, best friend. This is a powerful and important rule and I suspect you will find it applicable to almost any family crisis you find yourself involved in, whether you are rocked by the blast yourself or just dazed by distant aftershocks.
Once you have steeled yourself not to cry, got over the threshold and said something to us, the real fun begins. Because actually, things haven’t changed. Life has to go on, and no family with small children can exist permanently in a bubble of pain, whether pre-emptive or actual. And we have chosen to angle our chairs towards the sunlight, following the words of Jane Hirshfield’s precious poem: “I moved my chair into the sun/ I sat in the sun/ The way hunger is moved when called fasting.”
So, as you sit in the sun with us we don’t need you to be different, to suddenly speak only of serious matters or hold our words in some precious reverence. We are not made of glass; in fact, this experience reveals our family has a nugget of pure, rough diamond at our core. And you are still the same friends and family we have always loved, and what we need are people who will go on loving us.”
Kate Gross on assignment in Africa
Of course, there are also practical things you can do. But those will differ from family to family and you will have to work hard to find out what they are, to establish a rhythm of assistance which supports but doesn’t intrude. There is a wonderful book called What Can I do to Help? by Deborah Hutton, which I highly recommend.
The key is to ask what we need and if you are met with silence, make suggestions. And then ask again in six months’ time, because the chances are that that is the point at which everyone else will have stopped offering help and your support will be really needed. And if you still don’t get an answer? Well, maybe just do it. Managing all the help that is offered in a time of crisis is tiring. Sometimes I just want someone to sweep in uninvited and quietly do the ironing.”
I was going to write ‘so my primary role is to support my husband’, but that’s not quite true. that is my role in this situation, but my role in my own life is to continue to try to bring my best self out to play in any and all situations. and to do that, I have to be sober.
so it is still sober first, here. for the record, I had zero urge to drink on the day that we heard the news, which is a relief. ongoing self-care going on here, reaching out.
thanks for listening, sober compadres. you are just the best, you know? Prim xx