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.
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 !