Art

A few years ago I took up painting. I had done no Art since I was 14 and dropped it at secondary school. At that time I didn’t enjoy Art, was quite convinced I had no ability whatsoever and was pleased to drop it from my curriculum.

Over the intervening years I occasionally wistfully wished I could draw /paint, but considered it one of those things that others could do, not me. But the idea of ‘having a go’ appealed to me, and as I got less self conscious about my lack of talent I investigated some options. Back in 2014 I took the plunge and enrolled in a drawing and painting for beginners evening class at the local adult education college. It was true, I discovered, that I did not have a great deal of talent, but I enjoyed it and found it absorbing. My original aim had been to paint with watercolour, but that, I found is a great deal harder than it looks! I decided to have a go at Oil painting, and to my delight found it very satisfying – as the paint doesn’t dry for ages, there is plenty of opportunity to correct mistakes, and I enjoyed mixing colour and trying to create something pleasing to the eye.

I did 2 years of evening classes, and produced a number of paintings, (one of which is pictured above with apologies to M Monet! ) All very positive, but as my relationship broke down I found it impossible to get out in the evenings, and my general apathy resulted in lost motivation. I painted occasionally, but mostly my art box languished in the corner of my room and I made no serious effort to resume any creative activity. Last May, on holiday I had a most delightful chance encounter with a proper artist, which I wrote about here. I was enchanted, inspired and re-energised. But again, general apathy and lack of direction meant that I’ve dabbled a bit since then, tried to engage with another evening class … and its all kind of fizzled out.

But underneath I have realised that, talent-less or not, I am quite creative and really do enjoy ‘crafting and producing’ things. I’ve done silk painting, pottery painting, some patchwork, with varying degrees of success; I’ve attended a variety of exhibitions and tried to learn from the techniques I see displayed. I’ve even read a bit around the techniques, and practised  my drawing skills occasionally…

Following my last, rather spiritless and tedious post (which reflects my mood sadly) I started wondering about what I could do, that I would enjoy, to give myself a bit more purpose and (hopefully) fulfilment. An evening class is too complicated for the moment, as I can’t commit to being out, but it occurred to me that a weekend day course might be an option.

Typically, once that thought has established itself in my brain, I have to act. So, as I write, I have booked a day course at the V&A museum in drawing (in April) ; a watercolour beginners day (in May) and a two day Oil painting course ( in June). I even got vouchers for two of them so that they were 1/2 price …Never one to do things by halves, me !

All of a sudden I feel a bit, well, energised, more positive and slightly invigorated… which is nice 🙂

Onwards and upwards …

Not Depressed …

I’m not depressed.

Depression is a common disorder that causes people to experience low mood, loss of interest or pleasure in doing things (anhedonia), feelings of  low self-worth or guilt, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. Depression is different from feeling down or sad. I’ve been depressed. I’ve been anxious. Biologically not right and I’ve had the weight loss, apathy and inertia that (for me) accompanies this

Right now I’m a lot better. My sleep isn’t great, but I’m neither depressed nor anxious. I take a hefty dose of an SSRI to ensure (as far as I can) that I stay that way. Biological anxiety / depression is really horrible. I’m not depressed.

But I am low.

I’ve now been sober for 675 days. The 2 year soberversary is approaching. My little app tells me I have saved £12, 309 from not drinking (based on a bottle of wine a day and more at weekends plus the extra bottle I was buying for A N Other). My whole life has changed.

But I’m facing up to rather a void. I know this is dull, and for those just starting off on the sober journey I do NOT think this is inevitable. For me its a juxtaposition and a number of different life events / stages all at the same time rather than JUST being sober that has led to this

Looking at what I used to do with my spare time… I had a partner so we spent time together. Cooking together (for pleasure), going out for lunch at weekends (and drinking) watching movies together (and drinking) going to exhibitions and then for a boozy lunch together afterwards. We visited friends together (usually involved some kind of drinking) Now of course I have no partner, so although I do some of these things with others, it requires planning in a away that spending time with your partner doesn’t. I’m not lonely, but I am sometimes a bit purposeless.

I think I’m realizing that I need other things to stimulate me. Its no good expecting to be able to do the same things, just without alcohol. For example, I used to really enjoy entertaining. Now, with just me to prepare everything, clean up the house in preparation, make sure everything is just so… Its really lost its appeal. I’m limited in what I can do out of the house as the kids need me to be there.. not because they have any interest in interacting with me more than they have to, but because they fight, create chaos and do nothing useful eg homework if I am NOT there… social interactions with people I don’t know are a strain without alcohol… I need new things to do…

I’m not depressed, but I feel like I am restarting my personal life with one arm tied behind my back.

sorry, that’s gloomy. Its a LOT better than actively miserable (as I was) but it seems quite a long way from happy, or even content .

 

On community

Since I have been sober I have been more involved with other people. Starting small, because, as previously mentioned I am quite introverted, I have started reaching out a bit to friends I may have lost touch with, or people I don’t see as often as I would like to.

I’ve been building a bit of community around me, to help me when I am down or stressed, and to put some support back in for others when they need it. Dry Lily has more to offer – more time, more patience, more thought… and I have realised more than ever, that it is the quality of our relationships that make the difference to life.

In the past 6 months or so I have been drawn back into the community that I first met when I was married. A group of men (including my exH) who went to College locally remained close and still meet every week for a beer. The wives and partners of these men have become interwoven and its a group of people with different interests, careers and situations – but who have known one another for a long time. When I was living with my ex Partner I drifted away from (most of) this group a bit as I think he found it hard to integrate with them (also they were originally the friends of my ex-husband). I understood this – I wouldn’t have wanted to spend time with a group who were common friends of him and his ex wife, Since I have been alone again I have become closer to them again. Its a nice feeling, spending time with people who have known you for a LONG time, and I enjoy their company. Last weekend I went for lunch with one of the other women, it was good to catch up – and I was able to talk about some of my concerns (about my exH) to someone who knows him, and understands.

There are communities that form between mothers of children at school, between the parents of my son’s friends. There is the work community of which I am part. My brother also has some very close friends, again I have known these people for a log time – and we spend a wonderful evening together at the end of December to celebrate my brothers birthday.

I notice that my relationships with both friends and acquaintances have become more important and more meaningful since I stopped drinking. I’m no longer looking for activities that involve alcohol, no longer drunk, or on the way to being drunk whenever I socialise. I went to an exhibition at the Tate gallery with a colleague I have not worked with for many years, but we have kept in touch via Facebook; I met with another virtual (initially) friend for supper one evening and wandered down the Southbank catching up on each others news.

Since I have been sober I met Tori, my sober sister, who stopped drinking at the same time as I. Like me, she has children, drank too much for too long, struggled to quit, and is negotiating life as a dry, professional woman. She has been a blessing and support to me, as I hope I have been to her.

All these people I have met though different ‘parts’ of me. Tori because we are both sober, some through the children, some via my work, and others socially – either in person or on-line. Each offers something different, a different understanding or perspective, a different (or similar) experience of some facet of my life. Hopefully I can offer something to them as well.

Community, or social capital, has such value. Relationships, both new and old, marked by reciprocity, trust, cooperation and mutual experience. When I look at the photographs of me on holiday in August 2016, I can see no hint of the loneliness at the centre of my life. Outwardly I had everything, outwardly I looked happy. But I was lonely, confided only a little of my desperate unhappiness in K, and tried to manage my anxiety and frustration alone. I had a ‘partner’, but I was (or felt) totally alone with the struggle to try and ‘make’ that relationship work, to balance the wants of my partner against my own needs and those of my children.

By building social networks and connections I hope I wont ever feel so alone again. Certainly I will notice if I feel I can’t confide in anyone, if I feel I’m carrying a heavy burden alone…From my past experience isolation with problems generally means everything is not ok. The shame I felt at my ex Partners behaviour and my own tacit acceptance of it isolated me from everyone…

I won’t do that again …

 

Forgiven

Some months ago, I wrote about me struggle to ‘forgive’ myself for past mistakes. If you are interested you can read it here.

Over the last few days a couple of things have happened that caused me to revisit this topic in my thoughts.  I moved a camera memory disc from an old camera that I am intending to give to Son1 and cleaned the pictures off. Up came a lot of photographs from the last holiday that I went on with my ExP. We broke up the day after we returned from that holiday.

The photographs show a couple who appear to be in love. No hint of my mental turmoil and stress is captured in the photographs, in fact some of them are very good photos of me. But I know I was in turmoil. I’ve read my posts on this blog from that time here here and particularly here. I was absolutely, utterly wretched and desperate. More of this in a minute.

Last Summer I felt quite badly let down by my two business partners. I was very upset because I felt they had made me look ridiculous and as though I was promising things I could not deliver. I felt they had damaged my integrity and professional position in my community. In the past, when things have happened like this I have not allowed my annoyance to show, but inwardly seethed over it . This time, unconsciously, I behaved differently.

I challenged them about their actions.

Not aggressively, but in a straightforward and honest way. I explained how I felt and why. Although initially they were rather defensive, they both later apologised. I would like to say I instantly forgave them: I didn’t, but I have now reflected on the whole incident and acknowledged that I may not have been as clear to them as I had thought about my plans, and that misunderstanding rather than deliberate and willful undermining may have been the underlying cause of the problem.

Yesterday, looking at the photographs of me with my exP, I realised that somewhere, somehow, things have shifted. From being very intensely tied in the emotional fall out of our relationship I feel oddly detached. I can loom at him, think of him with less emotion. The anger is fading, I care much less. I can accept that my life and his have diverged and that we will not be together in the future, because that’s not what I want. That shift from @we wont be together because he is unkind to my children/ doesn’t earn any money/ wont talk to me etc etc’ which implied that if there things were no longer the case we might be… has shifted to ‘we wont be together because I don’t want to be’ And I don’t want to be because he is the wrong partner for me. simple.

I no longer feel so desperately hurt and damaged. I no longer feel that I could never trust anyone else again (not now for sure, but I might, one day) I no longer feel that my life, both now and in the future, is diminished because he is not in it. I no longer feel I’m being denied what I ‘should’ have … I’m not so angry with him. I have forgiven him, not because it means we can start again, but because it means I can move on.

On my own.

Free.

At last.

Mindfulness

“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

I’m interested in this.  As a principle, a technique, it’s very attractive. A non drug based treatment for anxiety / stress management and an uncomplicated process to follow, with the ultimate result of improving well being, Supporting calmness.

I have used these techniques before. During a period of acute anxiety back in 2014, when I could barely function, I found the concentration on immediate physical symptoms; the feel of the sheets on my skin, the hardness of the chair  on the back of my legs, the feel of wind in my hair or the smell of coffee for example, both soothing and grounding. But back then I used the techniques purely to lessen my anxiety rather than to promote well-being.

I attended an awayday about 18 months ago, in which there was a short seminar about mindfulness in the consultation, and how it might be useful for some of our patients. In a group setting, an experienced, serene woman guided us though some simple techniques. I was as impressed by her stillness, self possession and gentle unhurried demeanour as by what she imparted. Perhaps, I remember thinking, if I were more mindful, I too would be less harassed, calmer,  more poised and tranquil.

The key message from the seminar was this: Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. “It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.

“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.

“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.

“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”

So how do we practice mindfulness?

  1. Set aside some time. You can practice anywhere, at anytime.  You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access  mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space, ideally without obvious distractions like the TV / radio / computer
  2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm (at least that’s what they say, I think this IS in fact the longer term, overall desired effect…) In the moment however, the goal is simple: you are aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. Its sounds easy, but actually I find this hard.
  3. Let your thoughts  roll by. When we notice thoughts arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
  4. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge or critisise yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognising when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
  5. Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
  6. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.

That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results should (!)accrue.

A growing body of evidence has found that when people intentionally practice being mindful they feel less stressed, anxious and depressed, with the UK Government’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommending mindfulness based therapies for the treatment of recurrent depression. Research also shows positive effects on several aspects of whole-person health, including the mind, the brain, the body, and behaviour, as well as a person’s relationships with others.

So, I’ve been toying with the idea of adding ‘Do 5 minutes mindfulness a day’ to my New Year resolutions list. I can’t see any reason NOT to do it, It can’t hurt me, and it might help.

I took this On line stress test on a mindfulness website. Rather alarmingly I scored 30/34. A (validated) burnout test for doctors put me at ‘high risk’ of burn out, and that was when I was on holiday. Much of the stress in my life I’m not able to alter, so perhaps I need to alter my response to it.

I’ll let you know how I get on….

pece