Square It Up Friday

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I have been working on a longer post for a couple of days which I hope to finish shortly. Ironically, since that post is about self-care, I have been unable to complete it because I have been feeling drained and overwhelmed… all the more need for self-care, I know, I know.

The ability to differentiate between problems and inconveniences would also be helpful.

Onwards and upwards, my sober comrades! Prim xx

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grief in sobriety

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I posted back in March that my father in law had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. after seven months of a fairly good quality of life he went downhill rapidly in the last few weeks. it has been a difficult time for our family.  we were sad but relieved yesterday to hear of his death. as I think I’ve said here before, I wasn’t personally close to my father in law, so I am not experiencing a significant feeling of loss. its impact on me personally is more in how I help support my husband and his family at this raw and emotional time.

I am conscious however that I am feeling spread very thin, and need to be careful of how I look after myself too. so blogging is one way of doing that.

re-reading what I have written here, it seems very formal and detached. I know that I am coping by doing certain things on auto pilot, in finding comfort in routine and structure. for me, sometimes a shiny sink can give reassurance way out of proportion of its actual value. the semblance of order giving us something to cling onto in a fragile and messy world.

C. S. Lewis wrote: ‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’ and this hits home to me. we are conscious of the vulnerability of those we love and of our own mortality.  we fear the changes that may come into our lives, un-invited and un-welcomed.

the image at the top of this post is one I chose because I thought it symbolised well the tangle of feelings which we experience in grief. grief is not a linear path, but one which repeats and twines back on itself. I watch my husband, who is exhausted and unable to settle to anything, and my heart hurts for him. we are careful with one another and with our wider family, so as not to say or do anything which could be misconstrued at this fragile time.

grief doesn’t begin at a death. there is a great article here on anticipatory grief, which I have found very helpful in the last few weeks. I have also found that each episode re-opens memories of previous losses, which I have then needed to process again. in the almost four years since I got sober, I have lost my father, my mother in law, and now my father in law. I am so very tired of grief and its after-tremors. it is familiar and yet hurts afresh each time.

earlier this week my husband went away for a few days to see his father. between 8pm and 10pm on the evening he was away, I needed to separately help each of my teenagers with a different urgent and important issue. I was so profoundly grateful that I was sober and present and able to do so.

there have been no urges whatsoever to drink. the opposite in fact – like an anti-craving – thoughts have come into my head of how glad I am to be sober and on a more stable emotional keel so that I am better able to be with the feelings and let them flow through me and on. some of those feelings are angry ones, and that is ok, too.

one last resource to pass on:  the book ‘Grief Works’ by Julia Samuel. in that book she recommends a grief techniques ‘package’ which I thought might also work well for handling the overwhelming feelings of early sobriety. she says:

‘A package of techniques can work well if practised regularly. The following takes about an hour to complete:

  • ten minutes writing in a journal about everything swirling around inside you
  • twenty minutes running (I would say a brisk walk would do just as well!)
  • ten minutes meditating (you could try Headspace or the Calm app)
  • twenty minutes reading or watching something funny.’

my final thought is that any adverse circumstance, such as a loss, can help us to see our own life in its true perspective. I want to cling onto that clarity and use it to see further into what I want to make of my own future and that of my family.

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Thoughts at 1,400 days sober

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I’ve been keeping an eye on my Living Sober day counter for a while now as I didn’t want to miss this milestone. The monetary figure in the image is misleading as I actually put in the figure in £ sterling – the US dollar equivalent would be about $13,000 saved.

The figure is useful in that it is a concrete reminder not merely of what I was spending, but how much I was drinking. I remember putting in a figure of £50 per week, which I reckoned was an accurate reflection of what I was spending. That was based on six or seven bottles of wine a week, plus up to a bottle of gin – the equivalent of maybe 100 units a week. Which is far, FAR too much alcohol. It’s pretty terrifying that was the amount at which I could still just about function.

The day counter’s calculations also assume that I would have kept drinking at that rate for those 1,400 days, which seems unlikely. To be blunt,  I would either have got worse, or I might not even be here. The wheels were definitely coming off my life this time four years ago. I find September and October emotionally difficult times of year for that reason – memories of my last weeks of drinking are highly painful still, although I am getting better at forgiving myself for them.

I am so hugely grateful that I found this online support community.  Sometimes I struggle with being too bossy, too evangelical about being sober – more so here online than in real life, where I am quite diffident. My previous post was prompted by that quote – and also by some memories coming up for me of my final drinking days. If I sometimes seem as if I am banging the drum too insistently, it will be because I remember how unhappy and hopeless I felt then. I want others to know that change IS possible, and that even on the crappiest of days, the sober life is better than the drinking one.

Prim xx

Square It Up Friday

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I saw this quote recently and thought it would make a good Square It Up Friday post for 1st September. (I have seen it attributed to Paulo Coelho, who certainly has quoted it but I am not sure it is his originally.)

we can get too fixated on continuous day counting, I think. although what do I know, really, having been in the lucky position of never having had a relapse (YET. YET. YET…)

from what I have seen of the experience of others, when focusing on continuous days sober becomes an impediment to long term sobriety rather than an incentive, then perhaps it is time to let it go.

my own experience of giving up smoking was that I made what turned out to be the final decision to give up sometime between 2007 and 2010. (how bizarre that I cannot even remember the dates, now.) I do remember that over the tail-end 18 or so months I had perhaps 4 or 5 occasions when I had a fuck-it moment, went out and bought a packet, smoked several cigarettes and then threw it away again. do those occasions make me any less of a non-smoker now, 7 or 8 or 9 or whatever it is years later? no, I don’t think so. that was what it took to get me to the point when I could finally stop.

having said all that, relapse can undermine long term sobriety, like a besieger’s tunnel underneath a castle wall. best perhaps to employ the tactics of long ago castle defenders: adding buttresses (self-care, supports, accountability if that works for you) to strengthen your walls, or by identifying weak points in the design (corners, sharp angles, boozy friends, times of day or week or month) and rebuilding your castle in a stronger shape. round is less vulnerable than square.

the point of this quote could be that every day is day one. that what bridges the gap between ‘one day’ and becoming whom we want to be is the decision followed by the action. did you know that the Latin root of the word ‘decision’ literally means ‘to cut off‘? it involves an action – not just holding out the damn knife and wishing that someone else would come along and deploy it.

it’s your knife. use it. keep using it every day to create the life you want. start today.

Prim xx

Enlightenment dressed as chaos

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over the last few weeks a series of apparently unconnected external events have hit my family like small and large meteorites. after the latest – and one of the least – when my eldest suffered a twisted ankle which will significantly affect our plans for the next few weeks – something rang a bell in my brain and I remembered an old blog post by Martha Beck on how to survive Life’s rough patches, which you can read here.

in the post Martha advises that when we hit a rough patch – or a rumble strip – the best way to navigate it is to hit the brakes, put your mind in reverse, and then find and follow smooth terrain.

the part about hitting the brakes rings very true for me. having food in the fridge and clean underwear in the drawers can make the difference between bearable and unbearable levels of chaos. running (always!). early bed. quiet time in the mornings. medicinal levels of chocolate.

I also like her explanation of why there sometimes seems to be a procession of unrelated disasters – namely, because our lives are SUPPOSED to be an epic road trip towards inner wisdom, love and joy. and those things are not found on the smooth and straight road. they are found when our life assumptions rub up against reality.

if you are in the early days of sobriety – which I would classify as at least the first 200 days – then you may well have taken that decision because all the evidence has been proclaiming to you that your belief that consuming alcohol is an enjoyable and vital part of life is NOT TRUE, at least for you. and after decades perhaps of drinking, and social conditioning, that is an immensely hard belief to back away from, to challenge, to change.

one thing I continue to find difficult is seeing others in real life, many of whom are very dear to me, who are still stuck in that dark place. no-one can make that leap for another person. one of the reasons I blog is to try to help those who HAVE identified they have an issue with alcohol, and to offer hope and example that life without alcohol is not lesser, but vastly more. that it is not a case of not being able to drink, but not having to drink. which is something I am still thankful for, every day.

if you are in longer term sobriety, chances are you will already have had a meteorite storm of your own. I found Martha’s post most helpful in challenging my own assumption that everyday life should proceed smoothly and without hiccups. once I let go of that, then I reduce the energy I am spending railing against the events, and can concentrate on dealing with them.

and sometimes it turns out that the monster we are dealing with is not so very big, after all… Prim xx

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when the swallows gather

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Swallows Gathering, Geoff Jennings

(this is the post that I have been terrifically busy not-writing since about early May. I am giving myself a bare half-hour to get it down and out there so please forgive any lack in it.)

April this year saw my fiftieth birthday. that may have had something to do with it too, about how I began feeling afterwards and into May. a feeling of restlessness, of what next? I gave myself a necklace symbolising new doors opening, and began looking for the door. because something inside me was urging me, like the swallows, to gather, to rise, to move on to who knew where?

and I was bewildered and angry, a lot of the time, in May. angry because I have worked so hard, first on my sobriety, then on other lesser things, like meditation, and yoga, and getting offline, and putting other self-care routines into place like taking vitamins, and those things began to fall away from me. I couldn’t make myself do them because – what I couldn’t see at the time – was that I needed to make space for the next thing.

those things were all good things, and I had carefully constructed them. I felt like a Great British Bake Off finalist in the first round – the signature round – where I had been asked to create a croque en bouche – the French wedding cake painstakingly created out of a tower of profiteroles cemented together with caramel.

I wanted the next thing to be another teeny tiny cream-filled puff of choux pastry, to balance on the top of my almost-perfect life.

but no, dammit. I am in the next round.

it’s the technical bake, now, guys. where I get a list of basic ingredients and instructions for some mittel-European pastry, but I have not a glimmer of an idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like.

and I’ve decided not to go into here what my secondary Big Challenge is… essentially because I don’t feel comfortable doing so here, also because it could/would be something different for you – whether it is your marriage, your health, your finances, or your job, or your relationship with a parent, or whatever comes up for you when you are in long-term sobriety and STILL tripping over the Something Else.

so I will just describe it here, with entirely teeth-gritting optimism, as The Adventure. I have now been on The Adventure for six weeks, and I am working out a little bit better what it looks like. still a long way to go.

writing this here what I have learnt over the last few months – to say that if you feel those swallows gathering – please, pay attention to them. they are gathering because it is time for them to move on, to survive, to thrive. and if that struggle for you is around alcohol, there is a big leap to make, but you can do it, with faith and support. or if that Something Else is the next challenge, you can do that, too.

the swallows from England take six weeks to fly to Africa.

if a tiny bird the size of a matchbox can fly 6,000 miles over oceans and deserts, then what could you and I do, if we try? Prim xx

Square It Up Friday

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the above photo popped up on my Facebook feed this week. my reaction to it was in a descending cascade – I laughed, winced, and got cross about it.

cross because, you know, my life is shittier than anyone else appreciates, and who the hell are you to call me a miserable cow, and isn’t that the kind of sneery misogynist label applied to truly unhappy women by unpleasant, jeering men?

sigh. my brain is a very busy place.

but it was the wincing that tells me more than I like to hear. I was wincing in acknowledgment that when I have persistent negative thoughts and rumination they are often entirely of my own making, construction, and thus volition.

and just look, in that sentence above, at that one weasel word, ‘often’, which I typed and deleted and re-typed as my get out clause. sigh again.

I am not saying for a moment that anyone’s unhappiness is not valid or real. over-drinking is too often a reaction or a symptom of incredibly adverse circumstances or trauma. the pain of those things should be honoured and given space to heal.

but the humour in this image is a helpful reminder for me that an element of our own suffering can be self-imposed, can be a choice we choose not to make.

what will you choose today?

Prim xx