tunnel, towpath, or lock?

one of the purposes of this blog is to record insights that have come to me: new ways of thinking about things, whether hard-fought for or bolts from the blue. (my erratic typing just wrote that as ‘bolts from the blur’ which is often nearer the truth.)

one such insight came on a recent weekend when I was cycling along a canal tow-path, considerably to the rear of my children with their teenaged legs. the inland waterways of this country are a wonder of the Industrial Revolution. this map shows how comprehensive is their spread. even today there are 2,200 miles of navigable canals, which is almost as much as the 2,300 miles of motorways in the United Kingdom.

Map showing canals of the British Isles. Canals in orange, rivers in blue. image credit: Wikipedia

spurred on by the potential profits and un-encumbered by today’s worker safety legislation, those original engineers dug, blasted and constructed their way through the British landscape to make the impassable routes passable for a horse drawn vessel.

when the option was to build a tunnel, it became necessary to power the progress of a barge. one way was to use manpower in the form of hired ‘leggers’, who lay on their backs, tied onto boards on the sides of the barge, and physically walked the narrowboat through the tunnel. it was menial, arduous and dangerous work – there were cases of leggers drowning after falling from the boat.

Legging through the Butterley Tunnel on the Erewash Canal, Derbyshire, 1895.

Legging through the Butterley Tunnel on the Erewash Canal, Derbyshire, 1895.

for me the early days of recovery felt very much like legging through that tunnel – deeply uncomfortable, repetitive, and not sure if I would ever come out of it. and those phases still happen in my day to day life, too, however sober I am – days when the only option is to keep going and trust that I will see daylight soon.

what kept me going in those days was the promises of others that it gets easier, as in this wonderful post from Carrie which I read in November 2013 when I was less than a month sober.

the hope that eventually we will come to a sunlit towpath, and we will progress through life as effortlessly as a barge floating upon still waters drawn by a carthorse guided by a photogenic bandanna’d bargee with accompanying dog .

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image credit: tivertoncanal.co.uk

and yes, that happens, for a while at least – and thank goodness! but it is by no means the end of the story…

sometimes to get where we need to go, a level path is not going to get us there. floating along cannot change our elevation dramatically. for that, we need to navigate the locks in our lives.

the 5 Rise Locks at Bingley, Yorkshire

it is then we need to stop struggling, and just wait. allow something to flood into our lives. that thing is often just that priceless commodity: time, or something that comes with time, such as the returning trust of others. some might say that thing could be grace. others will experience a new, unsought for opportunity that appears to come from nowhere to change our lives, but in fact is in itself a function of our continuing to live according to our new principles.

for me sitting still and allowing change to work in me can be the hardest path of all.

when legging it is getting me precisely nowhere, it often turns out that I am not in a tunnel, after all, but in a lock. and vice versa: there is no point just sitting there hoping I am in a lock, when actually I need to put my hobnailed boots on and get going.

where are you, today? tunnel, towpath or lock? I’d love to hear. Prim xx

an enormously useful list of suggestions of how to change how we feel

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there was a great post recently on Mrs D’s website, where Sabien, an occupational therapist, gave her perspective on helping people in recovery. at the end of that post was a ‘Distress Management Checklist’ which gave a list of tools to use in changing how we feel when we are distressed.

this was one of the things I found most difficult in early recovery after decades of using alcohol as a kind of Swiss Army knife to manage all emotions. it can be hard to think of anything else to use, but this comprehensive list is a real eye-opener. I particularly liked how it is divided into the different senses – tools that come through the sensation of movement, or touch, smell, sound, sight and taste. do go and have a look if you need inspiration on how to change your emotional radio station.

we can take a fair-ground ride, or crochet. watch a fountain. cut a lemon in half, and inhale deeply. there are so many riches in life: let’s go and spend some!

 

thoughts from three years sober

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I came across this (sadly unattributed) image and was struck by how well it conveyed my experience after three years of sobriety.

I would hope I’ve changed because that’s what I yearned for – hence the name of this blog – and it has been bloody hard work. I’ve now been sober for as long as I was at university, for example – a period that seemed as lengthy and transformational as this one does.

I also love how the image shows the growth and new interaction of my head and heart. Thoughts and feelings are far less frequently at odds, and more likely to peacefully co-exist and reinforce one another.

Looking back over my third year of sobriety, I think it has resulted in improved relationships with those closest to me. My increasing ability to set appropriate boundaries, to be honest with others and most of all with myself, has had a cumulative effect over time which just keeps bearing new fruit.

In some ways I am a good deal less certain than I was in, say, from my six months sober to eighteen months sober. Reading some of my posts from that time they seem more ebullient, more confident, far more black and white in many ways. This was partly perhaps the relief I felt at having escaped the trap I had known I was in. I remember feeling as if I was nearly, surely, ‘done’ and had every expectation of the changes I was seeing fading to a mere trickle. Nowadays life can feel more like Mary Poppins’ handbag – the more I look for in it, the more extravagant and outrageously wonderful the things I find!

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I am also hugely grateful for the deepening friendships with those I’ve encountered through my online recovery, some of whom I am now privileged to consider real life friends. Your steadfast support, wisdom and humour are highly valued pillars of my ability to maintain any semblance of an even keel. I didn’t know, three years ago, that I needed you all so much, still less that you would be there every single time that I needed you. My belief in other people has skyrocketed in recovery. Thank you all, as ever.

I thought you might like to see my necklace I bought as a my three year present!  It is a pendant of three concentric silver circles around a crystal (mine is a clear one, not blue as in the picture below). I appreciate the symbolism of the circles expanding, as my life has expanded, around the clarity of my sobriety at the heart of it all.

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At the start of 2015, inspired by Mished, I chose a Word of the Year, which was ‘Peace’.  I then decided to start my next ‘word’ year at the start of my third year of recovery in November 2015, and my word for that year was ‘Attention’. The latter has been a real eye-opener, concentrating my focus on particular areas of my life and relationships, and I have worked hard to incorporate it into my day to day being.

Having spent a lot of time thinking over my word for my fourth year of recovery, I have decided upon ‘Choices’. It feels like a natural step on from ‘Attention’ – a declaration that I will not merely look, or consider, but take action. Also, it reflects the sage words of Albus Dumbledore:

“It is our choices, Harry, that tell us what we really are, far more than our abilities.”

Looking forward to making more exciting, terrifying and meaningful choices in your excellent company! Prim xx

Recovery cliche #76: running along a beach at sunrise

Okay – strictly speaking, running to beach then standing still for five minutes taking photos to show you lot 😁

I’ve never run along a beach at sunrise before. I am 2 years and 364 days sober today. This time 3 years ago I was also on holiday, but drinking, and so unhappy that it makes my stomach contract thinking about it. Tomorrow will be the last day of our holiday, and the last day of my third year sober.

I’m looking forward to going home and to some sober celebrations on Friday…The future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades! Prim xx

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Scratching the surface

I don’t think I am particularly good at taking holidays.

I try to be. I consciously watch my children, relishing their energy, their quick-silver smiles, their healthy, strong bodies tussling in the pool or walking faster than I do up a coastal road. I have conversations with my husband which muse on the big things in our lives, conversations for which we have time and space, for once. I notice the light dancing on water, the scent of jasmine over a fence, an old man shelling a carrier bag of almonds on the beach at sunrise. I go for runs, switch off my phone (yes, really!) and float in warm seawater.

I do and see all those things, but the darkness still rushes in.

I woke this morning at 5.30 and before I opened my eyes the thoughts swarmed in of the work undone at home.

I worry that one of my children (the physically daring one, who climbs trees taller than houses and walks the top of five bar gates) will swim into an underwater cave and never return to us.

I receive a text message from home and let my interpretation of it drive my thoughts like a cowboy marshalling a herd of cattle towards a cliff.

And I know these worries are irrational – that’s the thing. They are a layer of darkness of my own creation, painted repeatedly and incessantly over the true glowing colours of my life.

Were you taught the technique as a child – often used for portraying firework displays, or bonfires – of crayoning a sheet of paper, then washing over it with black poster paint? When the dried paint is scratched away it reveals the contrasting brightness below.

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I’ve discovered that this technique has a name – scratchboard. I’ve discovered the illustrator Douglas Smith (I’ll put some links in later, please do Google him yourself).

This piece struck me hard – it sums up my own hollow eyed perfectionism uncomfortably well.

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This piece, on the other hand, shows how we can CHOOSE to reveal the colours beneath our own darkness:

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Stopping drinking has helped me understand that I have that choice, even if I have to re-make it seemingly constantly. Wishing you an emerald, coral and aquamarine day today! Prim xx

Sober postcard

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Second full day of sober holiday today. Yesterday had a nice run in the morning followed by a very lazy day reading by the pool – Kate Morton’s The Lake House, a terrifically gripping mystery novel.

We had asked for a welcome pack at our villa which unexpectedly contained a bottle of rose wine and a six pack of beer. The latter didn’t bother me but at six pm last night whilst getting ready to go out for dinner I could hear the wine singing madrigals to me from the fridge. I had forgotten to ask my husband to pick up some tonic water when he went shopping so there was no replacement drink available, drat it! I put on my headphones and listened to the latest Since Right Now podcast whilst drying my hair, which did the trick.

I’ve also followed Mrs D’s advice and created a sober kit which I keep in a little makeup bag. Mine has some scented tea lights, a vial of Penhaligon’s Bluebell, and a bottle of lavender essential oil. I will be reaching my three year soberversary on the day after we return to England, and my sober kit also includes the necklace I have bought myself to mark that, which I can look at to remind myself of who I am – a very sober woman!

There is also the edible version of the sober kit, packed separately as I don’t want everything to taste of lavender, too. A variety of Pukka herbal teabags, Nakd fruit and nut bars, and some Nakd Salted Caramel  Date nibbles which are delicious despite looking exactly like rabbit droppings. The last edible item is the Chilli and Lime Chocolate. I have a row of squares last thing at night so I always have something naughty to look forward to and avoid that dangerous feeling of deprivation.

right, off on today’s run now, shortly to be followed by tonic on the terrace, darlings. Holiday hugs to you all! Prim xx

update from Primrose Towers

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me, about to start on the sheets and towels.

the aftermath of emotional upheaval often seems to include catching up with the non-urgent domestic chores that have been left undone over the period of immediate crisis. the more so here as we are shortly off on a family holiday and most items in my house seem to be either in the wrong place, dirty, broken or even missing…

I’ve now noticed that my peak anxiety over any upcoming event, such as leaving on holiday, or hosting Christmas, occurs a few days before the actual event. whilst previously I would have believed that this anticipatory anxiety would continue building and growing to unbearable levels, I am now more able to assess it as a pre-somethingorother hump and ride it out.

I am less anxious about going on holiday than I was at this time last year. I’m glad I wrote about  the lessons I learnt last year so that I can take action on them this time. Mostly, I am filled with gratitude that I am heading off to sunnier climes with the people I love best in the world.

and with you guys, of course! you will be with me in spirit and, hopefully, on my phone – and hey, I don’t have to bloody PACK for you 🙂 Prim xx

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if you think the Blogger trolley is full, you should see the WordPress one…

Square It Up Friday

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to me this online recovery community is an underground river that flows with wisdom, insight and humour. I have been reading some bloggers since my first day sober and really value their viewpoint from the path up ahead of me.

one such blogger is Mrs D, who has recently passed the five years sober mark. reading her realistic, effervescent writing is like opening the windows on a spring morning and letting sunshine and fresh air into a stuffy room.

this post of hers, Life in the raw, has been a huge help to me in the past few weeks, in giving me some much needed perspective. she says:

When we get to the point of change after a long period of heavy drinking we feel weak, wretched, and miserable. Our self-esteem is damaged, our self-worth is low. We stop drinking and it’s hard bloody work at first. We are so focussed on the LACK of booze in our lives. It’s hard having all that empty space where before we regularly experienced the warm, artificial ‘high’ of alcohol in our systems. We miss the drug. We grind through. Then we start to feel better, sleep better, look better, we hit a high – a pink cloud! Life is great! Our eyes get opened to what our drinking has done to our whole experience of life. We feel incredibly strong and grateful. It’s not hard resisting booze.

Then something emotional happens (because life is like that), we crash off our pink cloud and things get tough again. Physical cravings might come back. Emotional cravings come back (we feel left out, boring, emotional), we grind through, eventually we lift up again, we feel great!, then something emotional happens, things get tough again, we grind through, eventually we lift up again, we feel great!, then something emotional happens, things get tough again, we grind through, eventually we lift up again, we feel great!, then something emotional happens, things get tough again, we grind through, eventually we lift up again, we feel great!, then something emotional happens, things get tough again, we grind through, eventually we lift up again, we feel great!, then something emotional happens, things get tough again, we grind through….

Get the picture?

Welcome to life in the raw. It is up and down and up and down. This is actually what human existence is like. Who knew? I certainly didn’t until I got sober. I had no understanding of the natural ebbs and flows of life. How could I when I interrupted that natural flow of my emotional state constantly with the drug of alcohol.

The good news is the longer you are sober the natural ebbs and flows get easier to manage because;

1) the longer you go without drinking the less extreme your mood fluctuations are
2) you start to understand yourself and your moods better
3) you stop thinking that alcohol is the answer to the low phase
4) you start to develop better coping mechanisms for the low phases
5) you work out natural, effective, authentic ways to lift yourself out of a low phase
6) you worry less about the low phases because you know they will pass
7) you accept that ups and downs are normal and that everyone has them
8) you feel much more connected and at peace with yourself, other humans and life in general

I’m generalising here and obviously this is based on my perspective and experience and there will be people who don’t agree with all of this. But I wanted to type out a summary of what I understand a sober life to involve.

Life in the raw – it’s totally the life for me.

and for me, Mrs D – and for me! rising up here, this morning. 

today’s quote is from W.E.B. Du Bois, an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor. his biography on Wikipedia also makes inspiring reading.

W.E.B. Du Bois in 1918.

 

Right now, I am…

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…sitting in my car, eating seasalt chocolate and waiting for the rain to stop. Which is a pretty good metaphor for my life right now.

Note to self: I am not the only person in the world being rained on at this moment. In fact others scuttle past me, coatless and dripping.

I can take shelter, finish the bar of chocolate I bought yesterday to cheer me up. Remind myself that grief and head colds and rain (and chocolate bars!) don’t go on for ever, but transmute into the next thing.

I write a quick blog post, do up my coat, and head out into the now-fine drizzle.

 

Square It Up Friday

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this is a lesson I learn and forget and re-learn: feelings are not immovable concrete obstacles that arrive and never depart.

I have a tendency to channel Queen Victoria and withdraw to my own emotional Isle of Wight, in perpeptual mourning for how I thought my life should be. but my country needs me…

wishing you all a sober and connected week-end. don’t drift. stay close. stay here.

Prim xx