The gifts of imperfection

This book has changed my life.

That’s strong stuff, but that is how I feel about it.

Its a small book, (about 4 hours on audible) and its written by Brene Brown. I started trying to read it some time ago, but I found it almost overwhelming and couldn’t get past the first chapter. Now I’m in a better place I have been listening to it on audible… several times.

The basic themes are that

  • we are all imperfect and many of us struggle to be perfect
  • by trying to ‘fit in’ and be seen as perfect we don’t ask for help or allow our true selves to be seen
  • If we can have the courage to reach out and ask for help / share our struggles, we will encourage deeper connections
  • by recognizing our own struggles and being compassionate and loving to ourselves, we develop compassion for others
  • Connection, compassion and belonging (not the same as fitting in) brings us deep and meaningful contentment which we can share with others.

It’s all very obvious, but also very profound.

Falling out from this is the realisation that wholehearted living, loving and compassion are actions not a static state; that by actively striving and seeking everyday to treat ourselves with love, and nurture our own inner, imperfect selves, we are better able to overcome shame, disappointment, fear, anger and frustration; better able to parent, work and build relationships, which is, after all, the most important part of all of our lives.

This chimes with everything I have been discovering on my sobriety journey, everything that has changed and developed in the last 780 days. The courage to address so many things I have been ashamed of, to name them, share them and learn to accept them, the forgiveness of myself for all my many mistakes and the active process of developing authentic loving relationships based on honesty and compassion. The latest courageous decision – to attend AA meetings, despite my apprehension and fear, has been rewarded 100 fold by the acceptance, genuine affection and support I have received from my peers.

This is still a work in progress, there is much more practice and reflection to work through, but I do truly feel that my eyes have been opened to a new world; a world where I value myself, treat myself with the kindness I would show to others and accept my own imperfections and mistakes, not as shameful stains that make me unworthy of love and acceptance, but as knots worn into a tapestry of personality, that are as integral to the beauty of the whole as the perfect stitches that surround them.

There is a great quote in the book

” She could never go back and make some of the details pretty, all she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful”   Terri St Cloud.

I love that, It gives me great solace, hope, and peace.

imperfection 2

 

 

Attachment

In my ongoing process of (as I put it) working out what is WRONG with me … I’ve been looking at attachment.

Before you get on my case by describing myself in this way , I don’t mean it to sound as self critical as it may come across. I look at it this way, I’m 53. I have a number of wrecked personal relationships (with partners, not anyone else) at least the last two of which were highly abusive . The common factor in these is me … so, it’s only logical to look at me; my decision making, my motivators, my experiences, to see what’s going on and what I can change / work on.

As a result of this I know I’m an addict (drug of choice alcohol but I could get addicted to anything) that I have had very poor boundaries, low self esteem with a big dollop of Shame and perfectionism contributing to my acceptance of far more from partners that I should have accepted. I know that I’ve absorbed a whole load of subliminal messages about my own self worth from both my parents and society, and that I am relentlessly hard on myself in a way that I would never be to another.

All good stuff, and all things I can and have worked on…

This week at work I have been working with a multidisciplinary team of social workers, school and health visitors to tie up the ends of a child safeguarding case. Part of my job is child safeguarding lead from my practice and it’s a role I take seriously. I will not reveal details about the case, for obvious reasons, but it’s been long, complex and heart rending. As part of our work in this case we have had access to detailed child psychological reports which evaluate the attachments of the children. We talked as professionals with the reports’ author, and her professional opinion based on research about attachment and the psychological damage associated with poor attachment was both interesting and rather frightening.

Now, I had a much more secure upbringing than the children I mention earlier, with much better basic parenting, but the theories about attachment, and the consequences of poor or disordered childhood attachment are interesting to me.

Once again, I’m not looking at this to criticise or blame my parents, they did the best they could with the resources available to them; and I’m not blaming or criticising me .. but I know the power of recognising my weaknesses .. once I accepted that I was and had been deeply and profoundly ashamed of myself for more than 30 years.. I was able to access work on Shame, and I have made enormous progress in working through this and dumping a LOT of the shame …

in its most basic form, a man called John Bowlby developed a theory that human infants arrive in the world ready to make attachments, and how their needs are met has a profound impact, especially if the primary care giver is erratic, unavailable or insensitive. Essentially, if your primary care giver is consistent, present, reliable and kind you have a good chance to form a secure attachment …if not, as a young child you are thrown back on your own resources to manage you emotions / the difficulties if your world and problems develop.(BTW; I was relieved to read that the best caregivers only get it right 50% of the time 😏)

That’s a very quick summery ! And I haven’t started reading about adult attachment theory yet …

So, a lot of this makes sense to me, as a theory… and I like the idea that there are things one can work on to improve ones attachment style …So, on line there are little “quizzes” you can do to evaluate your attachment style ….(lots of them ! Most trying to get you to sign up for this or that ) …

So I’ve done a couple of these. And actually the thing that stuck me is how differently I would have answered those questions in the past. Whilst IN my last relationship, and probably until a couple of months ago… anyway, I came out as a mishmash really, not very strongly one thing or another (I’m believing this represents the transition between the ambivalent avoidant thing below, and the development of skills to form secure attachments)but the dominant “style” for me was ambivalent ….

Anyway, this is it …

Ambivalent Attachment

Children who inconsistently had their needs met by parents or caregivers may develop Ambivalent Attachment because they lacked confidence in their parents’ ability to attune to their needs. Parents may sometimes meet their needs, but not at other times. When children are faced with this dilemma, they often develop the ability to “read” situations and cues from their caregivers, causing them to become overly attuned to others and the belief that if they behave in a certain way, they may gain their parents’ affection. Children are often left desperately wishing for and wanting more affection, acceptance, and love.

This leads to confusion and insecurity when it comes to having their needs met. Children may become clingy with caregivers and try to extract more attention and acceptance from the parent. Children can become performance-oriented, people-pleasers as a result of learning that behaving in a certain way affords them the attention they crave.

There are also times when the conditions for Ambivalent adaptation might be due to medical circumstances or when a parent is dealing with their own issues like grieving a complicated loss where the child does not receive the consistent care and love needed.

Ambivalent Attachment in Adults

Adults with Ambivalent Attachment can become preoccupied with pursuing relationships and connection. They may have feelings of being unworthy, which causes desperate behaviors and love seeking. They may look for validation in others and define their own self-worth by how others perceive them. They can often over-emphasize the opinion of others in defining their value.

This can lead to insecurity, clinging, and deep feelings of anger and resentment when their needs are not met. They are often fearful of losing their relationships and desperately beg for forgiveness after outbursts when their needs are not met. This may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy by ending the relationship.

I How to Work Toward Secure Attachment,

By recognizing when needs were not met during childhood and acknowledging the impact on their adult relationships, adults are often able to identify patterns that are a direct result of their childhood experiences.

Surrounding yourself with trustworthy relationships and owning the behaviors that you see as detrimental to developing true Secure Attachment leads to awareness. Practicing self-regulation is helpful.

You may also begin to develop more Secure Attachment characteristics by being in a long-term relationship with a Securely Attached individual. ( ha ha, need to find one and recognise this first !!)

I don’t know what real relevance this Might have, over and above the other stuff im doing, but I thought it was interesting !

The day off: a tale of self compassion

Today I have not gone to work.

😲

This is very unlike me. I am not unwell. A meeting I was supposed to attend was cancelled and I am emotionally drained. Physically I’m tired and I have noticed that I have felt quite irritable that last couple of days.

I have no patients booked to see me, and nothing that will inconvenience anyone else if I don’t do it today; but I do have a lot of work todo.

So I got up and dressed as usual, took son 2 to school and as I was heading to work the message came that the meeting was cancelled. I went home. And I’ve stayed here.

I felt “naughty’, guilty, & ashamed … initially. And then I caught myself, and started a different thought process. Along the lines of, “I work very hard in an emotionally taxing and draining job, I have a number of very stressful emotional issues of my own (think sobriety, connection, compassion) and I’m caring for a mentally unwell teenager. Give yourself a break… others would feel compassionate toward me if I shared this, and i would definitely be compassionate to another in this situation; it’s ok to be overwhelmed, it’s ok to feel worn out and it’s ok to take a day for yourself”

So I have.

And I have done a little work at home, but mostly I have blogged, listened to Brené on audible and made burnt caramel and chocolate ice cream in my new ice cream maker

I feel calmer, more composed and better able to deal with the rest of the week.

I think that’s ok.

Leaps and Bounds

My progress on this sobriety / self compassion /growth / whatever it is, journey has not proceeded in a smooth linear fashion. If I previously thought about it at all, I would have imagined building a wall, or laying a path, with one brick being placed on top of the next deliberately, regularly and predictably to create a neatly interlocking, even wall / path. I would have imagined that slowly (I would have allowed slowly) there would have been continuous progress with less and less issues arriving from my previous alcohol abuse and more and more positive things coming into my life.

It has not been like that AT ALL.

Its been much more like the graph at the top of the screen, with periods of flatness and struggles and occasional big leaps forwards.

When I think about it, I often talk to my patients about grieving, how the process is NOT linear, and mixes up the accepted ‘stages’ of grieving in one big mixing bowl. That each person experiences it differently, emotions are unpredictable, that you never ‘get over it’ but that you do learn to “live alongside”, grief and loss. It seems to me that much the same could be said for recovery.

Of course its not ‘just’ recovery from alcohol abuse for me. Its a whole heap of things that arose from, or contributed to my alcohol addiction that need(ed) addressing. Its like a whole spiritual /emotional/psychological/ personal ‘spring clean’ of the soul; take it all part,  clean it up and then place lovingly back together. All at the same time as being a single parent to three children, running a home and being a full time doctor in a busy practice.

phew. As  part of my loving compassion toward myself I’m going to say right here that I’m proud of what I have achieved. I’m proud of getting sober, and I’m even prouder of maintaining it. I’m proud that I have not become bitter or turned into an angry person, I’m proud of my kids, and how I now parent them

What HAS surprised me is how ‘nothing’ seems to happen for MONTHS in terms of my understanding / ability to help myself or move forward,  and then suddenly its as though something clicks or drops into place, and there is a seismic change.

  • This happened in August 2016 (after 5 months sober) when I had a period of extreme clarity and ended my relationship.
  • again in July 2017 when being at a domestic abuse training day had a massive psychological effect on me (bad initially, but good in the long term) and the reality of just how abusive and toxic my relationship had been hit me like a ton of cement. Looking back at that time, I was quite unwell. I lost 18 lbs in weight, had pretty awful anxiety and was pretty shaky for several months. although nothing actually changed, all of a sudden the truth became starkly and painfully revealed.
  • Now. I think it is going to AA and making connections with other real alcoholics that has been the catalyst for a HUGE leap (forwards this time)

Its as though this small things, clicking into place and the opportunity to get and give support has opened up a whole new dimension for me. All of a sudden the “work” I have been toiling away at for months seems to not only make sense, but be applicable to me. The reading about Shame, perfectionism and poor self worth, the practices of mindfulness and compassion to myself … they seem real and achievable. No longer nice theories and unattainable goals, but genuine principles by which I can help myself and feel happier, more content and peaceful.

As an example. Yesterday I took son2 to an appointment at the Child and Adolescent mental Health service. We met with a ‘case worker’ and after I had briefly outlined the problem (at his request) I left so she could interview him. When the meeting was over, son2 was surly and silent as she outlined the next steps. I asked a couple of questions, trying to include him. When we got into the car I asked how it went, and he replied that he didn’t want to see them again as he felt he was being interrogated.

I was conscious of a surge of ‘something’ inside me. Something that made me feel cross and frustrated. Even a couple of weeks ago I think I would have opened my mouth, but yesterday I checked myself and tried to decipher what the ‘something’ was. After a few minutes I realised the feelings were

  • frustration – because he won’t /can’t do anything at all to help himself. Won’t even try
  • anger – because I’m spending a lot of time and money sourcing help for him
  • fear – because she reinforced to me that son2 feels helpless and hopeless, and that increases the risk of self harm
  • self criticism – because I ‘blame myself’ that he is unhappy.

So I took a few calming breaths, reminded myself that I am human and not perfect, that I am trying my hardest to help him and no-one can do more than their best, that struggles with life are common in teenagers and many many others have faced the same fears. Then I said ” I understand its hard being asked lots of personal questions, but let’s see what is suggested once she has had a chance to talk to other members of the team” I took the opportunity to ask him if he found the sessions with the private psychologist more helpful, given that I knew he had found it hard to talk on the last couple of occasions.

Not much back, but I’m satisfied that my response was calm, pragmatic and loving, that I recognised my own emotions and took care not to pass them on to a stressed teenager, and (perhaps most importantly) I did NOT beat myself up about it. 

Now, I’m not certain that I will be able to behave this way EVERY time, but given that I have literally never done this before, I am amazed, happy and proud that I achieved it on this occasion. Progress not perfection is the goal, and this was definitely progress.

 

new-5-sldd-stages-copy-rz

If you want to call self critisism a ‘disorder’ (not sure about that but anyway) I quite like the diagram above. It seems to me that I have spent literally months stressing and toiling and reading and reflecting and talking to my therapist and writing this blog and feeling like I am getting nowhere. The suddenly, whoosh… and I’m  at stage 4

I feel literally SO happy, and so optimistic.

And there is not a small element of relief too .. maybe I’m not destined to send the rest of my life feeling rubbish about myself !

Women friends

To move to an entirely different subject, I mentioned my brain is overful !

In my life I am happy and lucky to have 6  ( yes SIX ! ) very close women friends that I love and cherish. In general I like women; I find them (on the whole) funny, courageous, supportive, kind and honest. Most women I know are not aggressive, judgmental or critical and I so find their friendship valuable and important as well as less risky than relationships with men. Since I have been sober (or is it since I was in a relationship with that man?)  I have seen much less of some friends, which is entirely my fault because I have been silent, closed and reclusive, but in the last couple of weeks I have reconnected and made more new ‘budding friends’ in the fellowship meetings. This post is to celebrate those relationships and to remind myself why I value them all so much, how essential they are to me (I was going to write important but its more than that) and to express my gratitude for them so that I can look back when things are tough and remind myself that these attachments are valuable and I should cherish them.

I won’t name them, as I have not named other individuals in this blog, but use initials (as I have done previously) If they read this, and they all have access to it, I think they will see themselves. One of my biggest issues has been my own lack of self worth, and I do sometimes wonder why they put up with me, choose to see me or continue to support me when I am so very flawed. But for now I’m just glad that they are there, to hold my hand in the darkness, shine the spotlight of their experience and wisdom into some of the dark corners of my past and walk with me down the rocky path of sobriety, relationships parenting and life.

My friends all add something different to my life with their diverse experiences and personalities, but all are courageous, warm, generous and openhearted people. My friend K who lives in California I have known since I was about 8 years old. Through distance we don’t have the opportunity to see one another often, and life can get in the way of regular communication, but our shared history of childhood and experiences (she is also in recovery) have forged a deep, enduring attachment, and her empathy, compassion and understanding are a rare and valuable gift for me … She is visiting the UK in the Summer with her husband and children, and I am so excited to see her again.

My sober sister, V, is the newest addition to this select group. Although we have not known one another very long, and we have met face to face only a handful of times, she has had similar issues with alcohol misuse – and got sober just a few days after me. We ‘met’ over the internet and she was the first person I have ever met who really understood the struggles I had with alcohol, could empathize with the love/hate relationship that addiction brings, and with whom I did not have to feel ashamed of my ‘weakness’. Offering her support as well as receiving it provided me with my first experience of the connection, support and fierce solidarity between addicts – Its been a wonderfully enriching and valuable stanchion in our recovery journey.

The three women I first met at medical school … our friendships forged in the furnace of a University lifestyle and enduring through career development, marriage (three), (divorce – me) children (three out of 4) moving abroad (One to Australia for three years, one to Indonesia for VSO for a while) , moving away within the UK, sobriety, boyfriends, husbands, family, illness, bereavement and all of life’s vicissitudes. These three women and I are now woven into each others lives like recurring patterned threads that appear in a tapestry, not always visible, but always there. We meet when we can, sometimes together, sometimes individually, perhaps three times a year. I know they have my back, just as I have theirs and I know that, should any one of us need or ask, we would do whatever was in our power, unquestioningly, to help, support and protect one another. Yesterday evening I had an early dinner with my friend H who was in London for a training day. She could see the physical and emotional recovery I have experienced and I felt genuine, pure, uncomplicated JOY when I was with her. What a fantastic feeling to have.

Close at hand is my friend the other K. I met her through my ex husband and our friendship developed through our children and sharing our journey. She is very perceptive and thoughtful, and like all my close friends is able to listen and support without trying to ‘fix’ it, to stand beside me when things are dark and provide a reassuring hand hold. She is also very sociable, great fun and a great cook !

How lucky I am.

High on my gratitude list that I think of every morning as I come too, are these friendships. My life would be a much poorer lonelier place without them, and I am more conscious than ever before that I must nurture and consciously invest in these connections in order to live the fullest life I possibly can.

 

women friends

Self compassion

In the last few weeks I have been doing quite a lot of psychological ‘work’ with myself.

It feels like I have shaken off a lot of the grey gloom and apathy that has dogged me for much of the last 6 months, and been able to take some steps forward.

You know those women, the ones who are just full of love, empathy & wisdom? The ones who are really calm, boundaried and yet genuinely compassionate; who don’t judge or anger quickly, who are considered and deliberate in their actions ? That’s who I want to be.

I have always known that I don’t ‘like’, let alone ‘love’ myself; that I am harder on myself than I would ever be on anyone else; that I hold myself up against an image of perfection and constantly find myself wanting; that I do not feel “good enough” most of the time. And I have known for  along time, that this negative view of myself is unhelpful, probably damaging to me and that it needs to change. It’s just that I have been going about it the wrong way. I have been trying harder and harder to be perfect, to do everything right, to be more productive, exercise, stay slim, socialise, keep the house clean, manage the children perfectly. And that doesn’t work, because NO-ONE can be perfect, so when I inevitably  fail in my endeavours, I beat myself up some more.

This is NOT helpful.

Associated with the perfectionism comes a whole heap of Shame (which I have alluded to before) Again I think I have known for a long time, that things wouldn’t change until I stopped drinking, because it’s pretty hard to like yourself when you repeatedly tip bottles of Sav Blanc down your throat, and you can’t control your drinking. The fact that I have not added anything to my list of things I am ashamed of in the last 25 months is a huge thing to me, and it’s much easier to forgive yourself for past errors when you can honestly see that you are unlikely to repeat them. This is why I see my sobriety as a critical first step on this journey; as essential to maintain as it was to start, and I remain mindful of the risk of relapse.

So having removed a big hurdle in the path of self acceptance and self love, what next? I think there are a few basics which I have been musing about over the last couple of weeks.

  1. asking for help. Like many people I have a huge issues with asking for help. I feel like I ‘should’ be able to cope alone, that needing help and support is somehow a ‘weakness’; yet I am very willing to offer support, practical and emotional where I can see a need. I read something that struck a really big chord with me in Brene Browns work ‘The gifts of imperfection’. She says that when we attach judgement to receiving help we, consciously or unconsciously, attach judgement to giving help. Now I do NOT consciously attach any judgement to offering support – but I can see what she means. I believe the reluctance to ask for support comes from my internal perfectionist, (and the associated shame with being less than perfect) along with a hefty dose of subliminal messaging from my birth family . These messages went something like “Women cope with whatever is thrown at them, their needs can be ignored and they just have to get on with it, not coping or leaving is not an option. If things are hard, you just try harder”. At some later date I will pick this (especially the “women” bit) apart with my therapist.
  2. Lack of common humanity: By which I do not mean I am a horrible inhuman monster, but that (maybe through arrogance, and super inflated ego- although that doesn’t feel quite right) I often fail to see that the struggles I experience are very common. They are not unique, not special to me (and my stupidity) but shared by many many people, ordinary people who struggle with ‘stuff’, because ‘stuff’ is hard.
  3. Emotional over reaction: This is something I think is quite common with addicts, and something I have had for as long as I can remember. I am quite cyclothymic (by which I mean I experience periods when my mood noticeably shifts up and down from my baseline.) I tend to overreact to external stimuli, good and bad. I catastrophise quite a lot and take too much on myself – eg trying to ‘fix’ someone else. This is noticeably better since I have been sober – I am calmer and have less “knee jerk” reactions to things. The tendency is still there (see yesterdays post)  and its still hard for me to sit with uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety and anger, but its improving.

I recognise that the ‘big’ piece of work I need to do now, is on myself. I want to learn to accept myself as I am, flaws and imperfections and all. I want to be as compassionate to myself as I would be to another person, and I want to cultivate self respect. In looking for help in this area, along with Brene Brown I discovered the work of Dr Kristin Neff, who is an associate professor in Houston. Her website here contains a wealth of resources to help develop self compassion, including a self compassion rating scale here

I took this test … my scores are below (Scored 1-5 : 5 being the best for self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness; 1 being the best for self judgement, isolation and over identification)

Self-Kindness: 1.00
Self-Judgment: 5.00
Common Humanity: 1.25
Isolation: 4.75
Mindfulness: 2.25
Over-Identification: 3.25
Overall score: 1.58

Not great.

But I reproduce them here because I am going to do something about this. I realise now that self compassion is  something that has to be practised, and that self love doesn’t ‘just happen’ you have to cultivate it. And my initial cultivation plan is to work though some of the stuff on this website, think about things I read, and much as I practised developing serenity yesterday, I’m going to practice kindness, compassion and tolerance to myself.

In due course, maybe in six months, I will do this test again, and see where I have got to.

I would be really interested in others thoughts about this !

self-compassion

Shitstorm brewing

This is a mind dump. I have learned in the last couple of weeks that meetings are a great place to get this stuff out, but I can’t get to one today so its here.

I’m reciting the serenity prayer to myself, and trying to accept that these are things I cannot change BUT …

My ex husband. The father of my children. Something is up, and given the propensity for the past to be a good predictor of the future, I’m pretty worried…

A couple of small clues to start with … the monthly maintenance money arrives late, in cash because he’s got “trouble with the bank”; my former sister in law cancels a lunch date because she ‘doesn’t want to rock the boat right now’; the boys tell me his car has “died” and hes got a new one. Small things. But concerning.

Then the bigger things; Today son2 is in a complete state. He has had pretty bad anxiety for the last few months but this morning he crawls in with me at 5 am, hes sobbing and shaking and trembling. he cant /wont tell me what is worrying him, but hes ‘too scared to go out of the house’. He saw his father last night. I cuddle him and soothe him like a small child , but my mind is racing. I get a text message saying that my xH is ‘babbling’ – (this is a sign I recognise in him associated with heavy drug use; he often has mild pressure of speech and flight of ideas which make is conversations very one sided and illogical, but babbling and extreme randomness is not a a good sign) …

Now I’m really worried so I call my ex SIL who is a very sensible, pragmatic woman with whom I have maintained a good relationship. She tells me she is really worried; at the weekend he was very aggressive with his brother (her husband) and kept ‘nipping out the back’ – but no cannabis or tobacco smell .. My mind is now in complete overdrive and I’m 75% convinced he’s back on the cocaine.

This would explain the babbling, aggression, the money problems and son2’s concern (not that he would know about the cocaine, but he will see the babbling, randomness, and aggression) The reason ? He doesn’t actually NEED a reason but we think its connected with our mutual friend J’s terminal prognosis and slow decline. As my SIL said “he will take any excuse and we have been worried this was coming for a while”

So , what to do ….

Deep breath.

God (or whatever is out there) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (his behaviour) the courage to change the things I can (his access to son2 ? maybe. son2’s opportunity to get support from somewhere ? where ? I am the obvious person, but he dislikes telling me because he feels disloyal to his father) And the wisdom to know the difference.

I hate this.

Curveball

This morning I went up the road to see my friends J and K. Because I was away last weekend, I haven’t seen them for 2 weeks. It was good to catch up, and take them an apple pastry I made this week.

When I arrived I was talking to J, he handed me a hardback book with a central cut out revealing a picture of a shell. My heart started pounding, I felt the sweat prickle and my hands tremble as I opened the book.

It was a photographic record of the holiday we went on in August 2016. J and K and their son, then 16. My ex P, myself and my two younger sons, then 11 and 14 went to an island paradise for a weeks break .

This was my first sober holiday when I was about 5 months into my sobriety.

The day after we got back I ended my relationship.

the book was created for J and K by my ex Partner and delivered to them via a mutual friend.

In the last few months I have made great progress in closing the door on the past. I have not seen my ex since early December 2017, and I have not replied to the last email he sent me in February. I have not replied because there is nothing for me there.i can never forgive the things he did, and I do not need someone so toxic in my life. He cannot accept his part in the relationship failure, and my conversation with his ex wife confirmed the behaviour patterns I experienced were long standing, deliberate and the results of a manipulative dishonest personality with no integrity.

The book was beautiful. So thoughtfully prepared with photographs of us doing stuff, swimming cycling, eating, there are pictures of the flora and fauna of the island and all carefully curated to tell a story. The last photo of J and K together, brought tears to my eyes, it’s so poignant.

So why has he sent this book to my closest friends at this point. And why am I so thrown by it?

The straightforward answer is that he said at the time he would do this, J is very ill and likely to die soon, it’s a nice thing to have done.

But it brings up all sorts of emotions in me. It shows off a kindness, a consideration for others. It demonstrates keeping a promise and fulfilling a commitment even though he hasn’t seen J and K for at least a year. I don’t want to be reminded of these qualities. I had been quite settled in my decision to cut all contact, certain that it could not benefit me in any way … and then this.

However, I have learned something in the last months. I have learned that shutting off my emotions, keeping them to myself is the road to greater problems. So I summoned up courage, confided in my friends how confused and difficult I found this gesture, and we talked about it. In the exchange I saw the courage, compassion and connection that Berne Brown identified as key to wholehearted living, I felt the care and love from my friends, I heard their thoughtful counsel and I talked much of my emotion out. By stepping outside my comfort zone and allowing them to see my tears and discomfort, I was rewarded by their compassion, genuine empathy and good advice. I felt less alone and more able to cope with the temporary ripples Caused by this book

The cynic in me, and I expect my brother and my therapist would take this view, says that he has noted my complete disengagement, and used this opportunity to present the better side of himself to try and re-establish contact with me. He will have known that J and K would show me that book, and he would know that, soft as I am, it would move me. Not just the gesture of creating the book, but the memories of the holiday and the reminder of his creative talents.

J had already made the decision not to invite my ex Partner to see him, and his view, as another man, was very valuable to me.

So a few hours later I have partly regained my composure. I have resisted the urge to contact him, and I believe the emotion associated with this incident will settle, as long as I don’t close it down.

I do feel unsettled, he is on my mind again, and a small part of the intense love I had for him has been reignited … a small part of the hope I carried, and a lonely lost part of me has woken up … I believe this will be temporary if I do not act on my impulses. But it has taught me a salutary lesson; I have come a long long way since August 2016: but I’m not over him yet.

washing machine brain

Someone the other day said to me that addicts have ‘washing machine brains’ – by which she meant that there is so much activity swirling about that it can be hard to pin down any one feeling or thought. That’s certainly how I feel at the moment, quite caught up in so much ‘stuff’, thoughts, feelings reflections and new connections that I hardly know where to start.

I’m very ‘into’ the work and writings of Brene Brown at the moment. Her work on Shame and imperfection feels like to could have been written for me – and I have come to realise how absolutely my life has been dominated by feelings of shame. From a young child, made to feel ashamed of things I did (my mother uses shaming very effectively) to an adult unmarried mother, to my divorce and my subsequent relationship with an abusive man, I have been so deeply ashamed of myself.

The alcohol problem was just one more thing to add to the list, one more shameful, disgusting, weak, failure. I think that one of the key motivators to stay sober for me is recognizing that I have not done one thing that I am ashamed of since I stopped drinking. Not one. On the contrary, my decision making is getting better and better, I am significantly more conscious of the consequences of my decisions and more considered and thoughtful in my behaviour. Not always, I can get angry at my children and yell at them, but I do it much less, and I can often catch myself before I yell, and identify why I am so cross….then i can explain it in a clear way, no shouting.

Brene’s work, discussion the antithesis of shame – courage, compassion and connection, and the development of shame resilience rings so many bells for me – and although I am at the beginning of my journey down this path, it feels really important to me.

So this is one of the items in my washing machine brain right now.

Others include

  • my feelings about my mother – hugely complex; and complicated by my realisation that she is getting older, more frail and may well require more practical support from me in the future. how will that be ? how will I respond? How will I ensure I maintain effective boundaries and offer help without becoming overwhelmed and resentful?
  • my second son and his anxiety, poor academic performance and general unhappiness. How can I help, what should I do, am I doing right or wrong by my cations and decisions
  • my eldest son, shortly to travel to Vietnam, where he will be staying with someone I met in 1990 in Tanzania – this circle of life, the value of connections and karma (my friend arrived in the UK with £10 and no job, and crashed at my place for some time !), is another seam of reflective thinking;
  • my friends; since i wrote a heartfelt email when I returned from my first AA meeting, I have arranged to meet with two of my oldest friends for a one to one catch up. Their perception, compassion and unconditional support has been really lovely and I’m wondering why it has been so hard for me to reach out and ask for the help I need; this makes me think about
  • perfectionism and the culture that encourages self reliance, and you-can-do-it-all. have-it-all attitude that I somehow swallowed whole … because of course its not realistic which feeds into
  • feminism and the whole societal attitude to women, mothers, professional women and how ‘success is defined’ This is SO HUGE that I’m only scratching the surface … what I find is so profound and has such implications both for me, my sons and the whole world that we live in …
  • connections with women I have met at meetings the value of non judgmental peer recognition from people who have ‘done that’ and survived, and thrived …
  • self love – and the critical self that prevents me believing that I am ‘good enough’ with all my imperfections and errors, that I , just me, am ok and deserve love and respect. which feeds into
  • a small, subtle but significant change in the way I perceive myself and the way that I treat myself… I’m observing this as well as ‘feeling it’; I’m trying to take care of myself better, as I would try to take care of another person. I’m trying to feed myself better, get enough sleep, take more exercise – not because I should, but because I’m worth it. Worth expending energy and effort on. Worth caring for. I have caught myself a couple of times when the familiar refrain starts in my head – the one that goes ‘you are SO stupid because …” and automatically thinking “no, not stupid ….” This is just absolutely HUGE for me, and a real real step forward …

My brain just feels stuffed FULL of thoughts and feelings… I barely have the brain space for work or general domestic trivia and I’m exhausted every night from all this revelation and reflection.

I don’t want to complain, actually a of of these things are quite exciting, and I think that the fruits of 762 days of sobriety, and 86 weeks of therapy are beginning to ripen …

fruit

Happy 12th of April everyone

Lily xx

 

Emotional space

We came home today. The boys were keen to get back to their familiar environment, especially son2 who is struggling with some social problems at the moment. I made my peace with my mother, thanks to a timely intervention from my sister in law.

When I got home I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I awoke I decided I would go to a meeting this evening. One of the women I met last week had offered to meet me, and I was surprised to find that I really wanted to go there. (It’s a long way from the stubborn refusal of only last week isn’t it !)

So I went. A meeting at 6.15 for 75 minutes. It was very powerful. The chair spoke very movingly, and powerfully about his experiences and the sharing felt very pertinent. It occurred to me that though I just sat and listened, that my brain was quiet in that space. I was absorbing comments and hearing stories, recognising similarities , but my thoughts were not racing at 1000 Miles an hour, and I did not feel a) alone b) stressed or c) anxious.

And then I saw one of my patients.

Obviously I knew this was a risk. The meetings I have been to are not in my town, but one quite close. Many people go to lots of meetings. I am a GP to 27,000 patients, by the law of averages there are several hundred addicts in the list …. at first I recognised the person, but could not place him. Then I realised that I have seen him several times, in fact I’m Probably his primary physician. I know that he has had past addiction problems. I’m not sure if he saw me, if he did he would know me. Am I worried? I’m not 100% sure. My gut reaction is no. For several reasons

1. I’m sober, and there is no shame in being sober. If there were fall out, in terms of being reported to any authority, there is nothing to find – and my 2 years + sobriety means I’m no risk to anyone now.

2. The anonymity is taken pretty seriously, as far as I can see. Certainly at each meeting it is reiterated.

3. This particular person has been clean for a while. And with sobriety in general, comes acceptance, accountability and responsibility. I hope that means a capacity to recognise that alcoholism is not discriminatory. No one, lawyer, bin man politician or doctor is immune.

The lady who met me there has more than 5 years sobriety. At some time I will need / want to choose a sponsor. I have a tendency to rush at things, so I’m giving myself a couple of months to go to a few meetings , meet a variety of people, and see what happens.

When I came home, in time to have dinner with the kids I felt good. Calmer, centred and ready for work tomorrow.

Unexpected but good. Who knew?

I’m really wondering why I was SO resistant to this fantastic resource and source of non judgemental support from people just like me….