What a country….

Tonight son1 and I are in Nagarkot, a small conurbation about 20km from Kathmandu. We are staying in a hotel perched on a hillside with panoramic views over the Himalayas with (on a good day) a view of Mt Everest in the distance. People flock to Nagarkot for the beauty of the sun rising over the mountains, turning the ice of the Everest summit pink in the morning light. Sunrise tomorrow is at 06.50 or thereabouts, and we will be up, hoping for a clear morning.

In the last seven days we have really pushed ourselves. We have travelled to 4 different parts of the country and crammed in the most intense, immersive experiences. We have visited both Buddhist and Hindu sacred places, observed the funeral and cremation practices of Hindus. We have jumped off mountains, climbed to a world peace Stupa, rowed across lakes. We have ridden elephants, walked through jungles, canoed past submerged crocodiles and followed rhino as they went to drink.

What a country where all this is available …

it’s not easy in Nepal.. the water is not fit to drink, nothing has a fixed price, it’s dirty, dusty, and smelly. The roads have no markings, are full of potholes and being driven anywhere is an alarming experience if you are used to traffic lights and the Highway Code. The poverty is all around you, grinding desperate examples of humanity literally scratching a living from the earth. Cows wander the streets (they are sacred) and are avoided and venerated; stray dogs are beaten and have stones thrown at them. Electricity goes off randomly, there are no trains; buses are crammed to capacity twice over… hotels are SO variable, it’s pot luck (slightly improved by the power of trip advisor) … the Nepalese drop litter EVERYWHERE, and seem to care nothing for dustbins, they spit in the street, and double the price of everything the minute you walk into their shop…

But …. but: The Nepalese are friendly and welcoming, they are genuinely kind. They smile and try to help you, it feels very safe here. The scenery is breathtaking and the ongoing efforts at conservation of endangered species are really special. In Chitwan, for example, poaching of tigers has been eliminated by the stationing of significant numbers of Army living IN the Park, regular checks on visitors / permits and guides (four times in the day we were in the park) and rigorous prosecution of any offenders. Tiger numbers are increasing, slowly, but they are increasing. The new government is investing hugely in infrastructure – new roads, safe reliable internal air travel and there are a few small local co-operatives (eg in Sauraha there is one selling jungle honey where all the bee keepers join together, pool their honey to make the best and all charge a fixed price)

I’ve fallen in love with this country with all its problems, and below I’ve posted a few photos to give a taste of the infinite variety of experiences we have had over the last week.

There are so many more things I want to write about, to do with my relationship with Son1, about his maturation and experiences , about what I have learned about myself this week… but these can wait till the thoughts have percolated a little …

just a small word about alcohol. It has not crossed my mind to drink this holiday. I have not missed it at all. The one evening we went somewhere quite nice I had the most delicious minty, citrusy virgin Mohito … I could NEVER have done what I have this week with a hangover, fuzzy head or pre-occupation with the next alcoholic drink… I truly feel like an adult who does not drink because she doesn’t want to – and I have gained so much from this on this trip .. I wonder why I ever drank at all ?

New Eyes

I see things differently now I am sober.

Today is the 196th day of continuous sobriety. The last time I drank was on 11th March 2016, on a Friday night. And predictably I got so plastered I could barely walk home. I’m ashamed of being that person – (can you see a theme in my last posts, because I certainly can) who dragged her family and friends out for a pizza and then got completely drunk.

I see the whole social culture round alcohol with new eyes, I see all the things I have missed, and all the unwise decisions I have made through my new sober eyes. With a clarity I have not had for years. I do not feel smug – don’t get me wrong, I’m a whisper away from a relapse, just like everyone else – and I am far from perfect now. But a big source of cognitive dissonance has been removed from my life – I no longer drink heavily , more than I should ( which I always knew was bad for me, bad for my family, bad for my relationships, expensive, bad for my health and generally stupid – a drunk 51 year old woman is not cool – its a bit sad)

I see my children with new eyes, I see their struggles and the support they need more intuitively – I guess it makes sense, if you (I) are fully THERE, I’m likely to pick more things that are important. I still have a problem I think with boundaries with my kids, I don’t for example really know how much to share with them about my relationship breakdown. They are acutely aware of it – how could they not be – and we have talked about it – but how much do they need to know? how much is it appropriate to share ? how much of my internal struggle should they know ? I think its good for kids (teenagers) to know that adults don’t have all the answers; I think its good for them to know that adults make mistakes and have regrets, I also don’t want them to think I regard relationships / love as easily expendable. I don’t want them to think that I ? we didn’t try to work through our problems. If I am to ask for their help – which I need if the house is to keep running – then they have to understand some part of my struggles.. but how much ?

How much to share about the decision to stop drinking? we are planning an 18th birthday party for my eldest son. I will order alcohol for my guests but I will not drink – he asked me if I would as its a ‘special occasion’ and seemed surprised when I said that I would not. how much should I share about my decision that for me. moderation was impossible and sobriety ultimately the only option.

with my new eyes, I am open to my children in a way that I was not before, but I am also aware that I am not their ‘friend’ I am their mother and need to be in ‘authority’. but does authority come more easily when you discuss issues and reach compromise, or when you lay don the law – ” Because I say so…” I am also acutely aware of being seen to live what I say eg put your shoes in the boot room has a hollow ring if my shoes are all over the house…

My new eyes are kinder to me (you might not believe it, but its true and I have invested in personal therapy for me as a way to help ME. Not for anyone else, for ME.

here are several other demons I need to deal with, and many pot holes to avoid in this journey. I’m pleased, I think, with my progress so far. I feel the capacity to love and to care for my patents, my friends, my colleagues has increased since I became dry. I have more headspace although I’m very distracted since ExP left.

My sobriety remains my priority, although I honestly don’t THINK about it much day to day any more. I think. hope, I’m aware of triggers that could derail me, and have strategies to manage them.

Still few people know I am sober (for ever).. but I have an embryo plan to one day offer support to other medical staff / doctors also struggling with alcohol / substance misuse. I believe its a huge hidden problem … With my new eyes, I believe I could do that

 

 

one day at a time

         This often quoted phrase is a bit of an addicts mantra; and as such has been very over used. I’ve got this on my sobriety pendant – but I have very mixed feelings about this innocuous little maxim.

In one way, when I initially felt compelled to quit drinking (because I didn’t do this voluntarily !) the very thought that I would not be able to drink again, at all,  EVER, was so horrific to me that I literally felt paralysed. How on earth would I manage Christmas, girls lunches out, celebrations, disasters? How would I cope with disappointment and frustration with out a bottle glass of wine to help me calm down. This was back in October 2013, when I hadn’t seriously tried to quit drinking for at least 15 years. The thought of NOT having wine was seriously scary to me (how completely fucked up is that ?) At that time I literally clung to the “one day at a time” .. Pretty often it was reduced to one hour (or less) at a time …

It saved me, I know, not looking too far ahead. The anxiety at having to cope with Christmas sober for example , freaked me out so much, if I had looked at it, I think I would have caved in right then. So I grimly refused to think about anything further than 24 hours ahead and navigated the initial acute withdrawal and the persistent, intrusive thoughts about alcohol, by coping in the minute.

As the days turned to weeks and the occasions I had been so afraid if passed despite me not drinking, (-and oddly seemed to be better sober) I still found myself unable to picture myself long term sober .. So I kept on with the “one day at a time” and that was ok – until it wasn’t.

It took me 22 months to get sober again. And again, this time I started, 132 days ago, by taking each small chunk of time and planning to say sober in the minute. But I think to achieve long term sobriety you have to let go of that at some point. I genuinely feel I am now able to do that. I do not consider drinking again to be an option for me, no matter what situation I find myself in. I can’t envisage any circumstance that would be improved by my drinking alcohol, and so, whilst I still plan, I don’t any longer feel I am lurching unsteadily from one fragile sober day to the next.

Which brings me to the negative connotations of the phrase. To me, it implies that every day will be a struggle, that there is no peace and no security in the choice to be sober; that the decision has to be revisited each day, that even years into sobriety it’s a hard thing to do. I disagree. I’m not expecting it to be always easy – but then nothing at all (worthwhile) is always easy. I anticipate days and events where I would like to drink alcohol, just as there are days when I struggle with my exciting, demanding stimulating job … But it doesn’t mean that the initial decision to take the job was wrong, or that I regret doing so, or that each day I consider again the decision to remain there… And so it is with sobriety. I chose it. And I will stick to it, for good …. Not just “one day at a time” …

Random thoughts about being Adult 

Looking back over the last 8 weeks or so, when I have been making a point to blog regularly, it’s quite obvious to me how my thinking has developed as I have more sober time ‘under my belt’ …

Some of my more esoteric posts about yoga or karma represent initial thinking about subjects I have not previously given any ‘air time’ – probably because far too much space in my brain was taken up with the emotional paraphernalia and fall out from drinking. Now that I am sober, and my mood swings have definitely calmed down, I seem to have a lot more ‘brain space’ for some of these more philosophical musings. At times I don’t think they come out clearly, and my own belief system seems very much in its infancy … But I’m interested, enquiring and reflective, and this represents progress to me.

In the last couple of weeks it has been the end of the school year, for sons no 2 and 3; and we have been to assemblies to celebrate the children’s achievements. Son number 2 attends a local state school with an “outstanding” Ofsted report (those in the UK will understand this, for other readers it’s a government assessment of the quality of education the School provides – or it’s supposed to be ! ) Attending the end of year assembly it struck me how consistent the messages were coming from all the staff. There were prizes for effort, achievement and attendance; some children’s musical or oratorical talents were showcased, but again and again the messages coming from staff were about respect (for yourself, peers, staff, property) hard work and commitment  (academically, in sport, in all endeavours) and self confidence.

Similarly, the leavers assembly at number 3 son’s school, was full of consistent messages promoting respect, reflection, responsibility, resourcefulness, resilience and reasoning (6R’s)

All of this has got me thinking about the role of adults, and particularly parents in promoting the values and attributes we wish children (especially our own) to adopt: not in a passive way – which to be honest is far to often how I have parented- but actively, firmly and consistently. About how to BE an adult who has a huge and direct influence on the way our children develop. I’m beginning to beleive it’s not enough to passively get on with ones own life alongside ones children, expecting them to somehow absorb the lessons we want them to learn. I have always fed, clothed,washed and loved my kids, I have supervised homework, taken them to clubs and parties, taught them to ride bikes and tie shoelaces. I am, at least, a good enough Parent..

BUT… have I really been present? Have I known what consistent messages I needed to deliver to bring up worthwhile adults, have I consistently made them complete tasks to the best of their ability, developed their potential, attended to their moral education? Yes at times, but consistently ? No. Because I have been drunk, and too drunk to do this , or even really understand that this is what needed to be done.

That’s shame. And there is NO-ONE to blame but myself, and no excuse , and it’s probably too late for son No1; but it’s not too late for son’s 2 & 3 who may now find their slightly easy going, lackadaisical mother has  developed some clearer ideas about effective , directional parenting, which might make their lives initially harder, but will, I hope, bear fruit in the end.

I need to think some more, about what I believe to be important. And then take steps to actively, consistently and clearly Instill those behaviours by accepting nothing less. Can I do this? Along with everything else I have to do ? Maybe it’s actually more important than anything else I have to do, and should be prioritised.

That will have implications, but …..

Karma

Following on from my post about yoga a couple of days ago, I’ve been musing about that attractive concept of “Karma”. At least I find it attractive – believing myself to be fundamentally nice, kind,honest and helpful I beleive(d) that my karma would be good, and some people who have hurt me, or wronged me would, at some point get their just “comeuppance” Very satisfying, natural justice delivered by some all seeing deity or force of nature …. And then I discover that the philosophy of yoga incorporates this universal spiritual concept of reaping what you sow: the law of Karma.

What’s not to like !

Since I’ve been looking into this a bit more, well it’s not quite as simple as my atavistic vision of (essentially) hell and purgatory for the bad, and heaven for the good …

Yes, simply put, Karma is the future consequence of one’s current behaviour, but not JUST your Behaviour- also your  intentions, thoughts,  and actions. Hmm, so all those angry thoughts also get weighed up on the giant karmic scales ? There is also the slightly sticky thought that a big chunk of your karma comes from how you behaved in previous lives (for faiths that beleive in reincarnation) which you will neither remember not be able to add to your internal karmic scales … Meaning our lives are controlled completely by our own self-created karma; the actions we do in this lifetime, (as well as what we have done in all our previous lifetimes, which are many in number). However, much of our karmic influences lie hidden in the subconscious part of our minds, which is where all our karmic actions are recorded. So it’s past lives and subconscious thoughts that are the main influences  …. Hmm , the theory goes that these actions, or karma, determine what happens in our lives today, especially as these actions have been repeated over many lifetimes.

So if all of our actions, both current and past, determine what happens in our lives today, this also means that if we act now in ways to improve our life, those actions will have an influence as we move forward. Our so called destiny is of our own making, and we can influence how life turns out for us – quitting drinking anyone ? Is life better now as a result of our sobriety ? I say yes.  Is this karma ? No idea

So, while the Karma you currently create (with your thoughts, actions intentions and behaviour) influences your future life experiences, (the theory goes) your Karma is not your fate. 

It’s central to the idea of karma that one has the ability to consciously choose how you respond and react to Karmic generated events, thus reducing the current impact of your Karma and reducing or eliminating future Karma. Got that?

This is what yoga is supposed to do –  free  you from the accumulation of more Karma, good and bad. Good Karma is good, bad Karma is bad, but attaining any kind of Karma is undesirable. The goal, through the practice of yoga, is to stop the cycle of Karma by ceasing further Karmic accumulation. The yogis tell us the only way to not produce Karma is to act selflessly, without ego, without the desire for any reward. Yoga , and the meditation involved helps us to achieve this goal..

The more conscious we are about how we live our lives and the choices we make, the more we will be able to guide our lives in a particular way. But it is only when we begin to choose the spiritual life that we finally find the fulfillment and happiness we have sought in all of our previous lifetimes.

Like yoga, this is both a psychological and physical practice, with the mental attitude much more powerful than the physical deed.

Liberation from Karma is known as Nirvana, and is a highly esteemed spiritual state. But striving to attain a state of Nirvana is not a necessary goal; any reduction in Karma will improve one’s life, well-being and happiness. So, doing yoga will reduce your karma, good and bad … And mean you are closer to Nirvana …?.

I want to believe this – like I said I find the idea attractive, and of course it means that we can and should let go of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions, which is better for us however you look at it… However I’m really not sure I’m getting the connection between an unsupported half moon and a better life.

I probably need to study some more ! But I do like this below ? You see what I have learned is that the first image is, in itself bad karma – because it is associated with mean thoughts …. Can’t help thinking the world might be a better place if met people adopted this kind of philosophy …

Sharing

I was quite inspired by my friend Tori’s post on “Shame”.. You can read it here.   http://sothisissober.com/index.php/2016/07/19/shame/. In this post Tori looks at the feelings so many drinkers have recounted, of shame, cognitive dissonance and anxiety surrounding their drinking. Most people, myself included, had these feeling at least intermittently for a long time, years probably, before they stopped drinking. I though it was just me ..

Read that again.

I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME

The commonest, most widely described feeling amongst people who drink too much (and let’s not forget the huge number of people that applies to…) One in six women in the UK … Estimating population of 65 million of whom half are women, that’s more than 5 million women in the UK alone, feeling like this .. And I though it was just me … And I bet I’m not the only person who though it was ‘just them’

How can this be ? How can I have got to the age of 51 carrying this enormous burden of shame and disgust with myself and never worked out that OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT FEEL LIKE THIS TOO … I Honestly thought I felt like this because of my upbringing and my mother’s disapproval of my drinking (to be honest, anyone’s drinking) but it’s not that is it – or only a small amount. The majority comes from the internal critical voice, that says you could be ‘doing better’ , that knows you are harming yourself with alcohol , and sets up this shame and self loathing .. And we don’t share it.. We don’t share it…

Tori makes the point that ‘connection’ with others is vital, and honesty is necessary for that connection. I completely agree, but honesty makes us vulnerable which is why we keep the truth, and out shame to ourselves. I am determined to break this cycle of fear and shame, and reach out in real life as I have done on line.

So I told  Mr Lily about my blog.

I have been hesitant about this, because once it’s said I can’t take it back, and the blog is public, and raw and honest in places. To let Mr lily in means exposing aspects of myself that may mean he will run away, and I don’t want that. But by keeping this important part of my life away from Mr Lily, it occurred to me I’m not really being as open and honest with him, as I would like him to be with me… And I should have faith, and trust … Because without faith and trust… Well problems lie.

I hope I don’t regret the decision, it’s a first step in sharing how I really feel. I’m not suggesting I will be sharing my inmost thoughts with all and sundry, but I come back to the phrase ” if you want things to be different, you have to do something different”.. This is fundamentally different. A planned, sober decision to share how it really is .. With the hope of increasing communication and connection.

yoga, Yoga, YOGA

yoga

Yoga. Almost every recovery blog, sober website, or poster on dry threads seems to have got into yoga. I am no exception. I’m a 51 year old, stiff woman with a BMI of just over 25 and I’m contorting myself 4 times a week into the most extraordinary poses, and I LOVE it. Really, I LOVE it, I can’t get enough yoga; I snuck out of work for a 10.30 yoga class this morning (admin day) and claimed the time as my lunch break ( I never, ever get a lunch break – that’s a different story) … I’m planning and plotting to try and get to 5 classes a week, as I feel too clumsy and uncoordinated to practice very much at home at the moment.

Yes, I’m a new convert. I had literally never considered yoga before I got sober this time, I don’t even think I’d given it much thought to be honest, and if in passing I’d wondered about ‘yoga’, I think I imagined a bunch of earnest, vegan, tree hugging people squatting on the ground and meditating. I certainly couldn’t have imagined that I would fit in…, or that the practice of yoga would become a crucially important cornerstone to my life.

So, just in case ANYONE reading this doesn’t already know, and most of you on that sober journey know MUCH more than I do… what is yoga? whats the point ? and how come it’s suddenly become so important to me (and it seems countless other recovering addicts)

Literally yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline which originated in ancient India. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. Yoga’s spiritual side has its roots in the Hindu faith, with some input from other ancient religious traditions. The main philosophy of yoga is simple: mind, body and spirit are all one and cannot be clearly separated and so basically yoga is a collection of techniques and practices aimed at integrating mind, body and spirit to achieve a state of enlightenment or oneness with the universe

Apart from the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used nowadays to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple, and the joints and muscles strong and flexible.

Central to the postures is breathing. For most poses the breath is slow and steady, breathed in and out of the nose and down into the belly. This focus on breathing helps induce a kind of meditative state.

The practice of yoga poses and meditation prove to be a powerful combination. With consistent  practice the wobbly body becomes stronger and steadier and the stressed, over anxious mind becomes calmer, I think this is the main reason why so many people have fallen into the practice of yoga

 

 

So what do I, personally get out of it ? When I quit drinking I started to attend several different type of classes at the gym, but yoga has been the one that stuck. Why ?

I think its

  1. progress – I can literally feel progress. I’m already much better balanced, more flexible and bendy than I was. I like this, It makes me feel like I actively inhabit my body
  2. Its FEELS good – stretching and expanding muscle groups just feels good. Its feels especially good when someone else adds just a little pressure and takes it one stage further!
  3. Its inspiring. My favourite yoga teacher is a woman at least 10 years older than me, who is SO strong and flexible, I find her very inspirational
  4. it is relaxing. It takes practice, but that breathing and mindfulness type exercise does calm the mind and provide some kind of sustenance.

And the lessons I have taken from Yoga so far ?

  •  Flexibility and strength are equally important

I walked into my first yoga class convinced I would be the most uncordinated, useless , weak student. And at first I was, but alongside me was a very strong, muscular youngish man, who equally couldn’t hold the poses… he’s learning  alongside me…

A healthy body needs a balance of flexibility and strength.

Flexibility is good in all aspects of our lives. Learning to go with the flow and adapt to the circumstances is key to stress reduction. We also need to find strength: strength to stand up for our values and strength to keep to our commitments

  • You need to know your limits

Through yoga we learn to listen to our bodies. We try hard, but we don’t push it if it feels painful. I am no where near being able to lift myself into a crow pose… so I dont, I wantch and try to learn, and develop some patience and trust that one day I WILL be able to do this…

(That’s not me !)

This same respect for our limits, patience and trust is important in day to day life. If my workload is overwhelming and I’m feeling stressed, I SHOULD respect my own limits by saying no to more tasks!. When I feel anxious or stressed about drinking, its ok to turn down social invitations..

3. I / You CAN do it ..

When I think I simply CANNOT physically reach the floor, or catch my foot? when I am afraid that standing on one leg means I will fall ? Actually, with help, I CAN do it

Fear, in all aspects of our lives, holds us back. It keeps us from applying for that job we want, stepping in to the unknown, or falling in love. Its a good feeling to get past the fear…”Feel the fear – and do it anyway.” isn’t that the title of a book ?  It is only by acknowledging, accepting, and moving past fear that we can fulfill our potential.And now I CAN do a Warrior balance !

(sadly that’s not me! )

Namaste

Am I an alcoholic?

Oh that word… ALCOHOLIC.

What do most of us think when we hear that word ? I’d pretty much bet you wouldn’t think of me. Middle aged mum of 3, with a respectable life; responsible professional job (should know better); nice house … Not smelly, dirty, unemployed, vodka swilling , wobbly woman who looks 10 plus years older than she is, lurching from off license to supermarket sipping on strong cider from 10am. No, I look like someone “in control”

As in my last post, I felt lost for words when asked why I couldn’t break my sobriety for a special occasion – part of me wanted to say “Because I’m an alcoholic” – but then … Maybe I’m not.. Does it matter ? Again one day I hope I will really not WANT to drink, but that day is not here yet …

The Royal College of Psychiatrists wo do a lot of research into this kind of thing suggest that

  • About 1 in 3 men and 1 in 6 women will develop some sort of health problem caused by alcohol
  • Around 1 in 11 men and 1 in 25 women are physically dependent on alcohol.

That’s a hell of a lot of people. So maybe one in six women are alcoholics … In which case we all need to rethink our definitions, because one in six are not lurching around stinking of stale wine and missing work due to hangovers …

Becoming dependent on alcohol

Alcohol can be a very effective way of feeling better for a few hours. If you are depressed and lacking in energy, it can be tempting to use alcohol to help you keep going and cope with life. The problem is that it is easy to slip into drinking regularly, using it like a medication. The benefits soon wear off and the drinking becomes part of a routine. You start to notice that:

  • Instead of choosing to have a drink, you feel you have to have it
  • you wake up with shaky hands and a feeling of nervousness
  • you start to drink earlier and earlier
  • your work starts to suffer
  • your drinking starts to affect your relationships
  • you carry on drinking in spite of the problems it causes
  • you find you have to drink more and more to get the same effect (tolerance)
  • you start to ‘binge drink’ (see below) regularly
  • other things have less importance than alcohol

Pretty much all of these applied to me – so I definitely have a problem according the RCP. But, like the government guideline, we all know doctors are a bit “pofaced” about drinking – and those things are not that that bad … Are they ?  this

I found this quiz in Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story”, which I found an engrossing, compulsive and disturbing read … I’ve reproduced it here, with my answers …I find this quite a ‘convincing’ quiz, because it comes from a woman who has been there… 

  1. Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone? YES
  2.  Can you handle more alcohol now than when you first started to drink? YES much
  3. Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you didn’t pass out? YES and increasingly frequently
  4. When drinking with other people, do you try to have a few extra drinks when others won’t know about it? YES, I never knew anyone else did this, but I did it often
  5. Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable if alcohol is not available? YES, to the point that I would sometimes avoid going
  6.  Are you more in a hurry to get your first drink of the day than you used to be? YES
  7. Do you sometimes feel a little guilty about your drinking? YES not sometimes , always, constantly
  8. Has a family member or close friend express concern or complained about your drinking? YES
  9.  Have you been having more memory “blackouts” recently? YES see 3
  10.  Do you often want to continue drinking after your friends say they’ve had enough? YES pretty much always
  11. Do you usually have a reason for the occasions when you drink heavily? NO, no excuse needed
  12. When you’re sober, do you sometimes regret things you did or said while drinking? YES when I can remember them
  13. Have you tried switching brands or drinks, or following different plans to control your drinking? YES, I have tried to moderate so often and in so many different ways
  14. Have you sometimes failed to keep promises you made to yourself about controlling or cutting down on your drinking? YES always
  15. Have you ever had a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) violation, or any other legal problem related to your drinking? NO, luckily
  16. Do you try to avoid family or close friends while you are drinking? NO, except my mother
  17. Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of your drinking? DEBATABLE
  18. Has your physician ever advised you to cut down on your drinking? NO, but only because I never told the truth
  19. Do you eat very little or irregularly during the periods when you are drinking? YES, alcohol or food? Alcohol wins every time
  20. Do you sometimes have the “shakes” in the morning and find that it helps to have a “little” drink, tranquilizer or medication of some kind?  YES , not alcohol but painkillers with codeine
  21. Have you recently noticed that you can’t drink as much as you used to? NO
  22. Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time? NO
  23.  After periods of drinking do you sometimes see or hear things that aren’t there? YES, I THINK SO. I sometimes saw flashes of things out of the corners of my eye, like a mouse or something moving – I don’t any longer
  24. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking? NO
  25. Do you ever feel depressed or anxious before, during or after periods of heavy drinking? YES
  26. Have any of your blood relatives ever had a problem with alcohol? NO (that I know of)

That’s 16 yes, 2 maybes and only 8 no’s.. I believe even 2 yes answers indicate a problem with alcohol. So that’s pretty conclusive then… Having said that, you won’t find a bunch of two glasses of wine a month drinkers TAKING a quiz like this, so maybe just taking it means you have a problem …

Maybe, I should just get over myself? It doesn’t really matter does it, if I call myself an alcoholic or not …

Perhaps the best definition of a problem drinker, is someone for whom alcohol causes problems … Sigh – I quite like this little venn diagram below … Says it all really…

Sorry


Sorry For yesterday’s “post of rage” – I was not in a good place.

Yesterday evening I went to a gig. See above. A tribute band. I went with a friend and colleague who is having a tough time at the moment. Given how I was feeling yesterday, and how vulnerable to lapse I was, I would have probably stayed at home if I had not asked R to come with me. Given her troubles, I really didn’t want to let her down.

There was, as always, lots of alcohol outlets at the venues. Pretty much everything I had been lusting after earlier in the day. There were a lot of middle aged folk, with bottles of wine, having picnics and getting drunk in the sun.

I Had said I would not be drinking, because it was a ‘work night’, and if R was disappointed, she didn’t show it,

We found a spot on the lawn, got a coffee (and I had a HUGE cake) … And relaxed. I honestly didn’t feel the need to drink, and I wasn’t seriously tempted.

As the light faded and the band came on I found myself just as caught up in the nostalgia, singing along just as loudly, dancing just as badly unrestrainedly, and just as entranced with the sheer energy in the audience as I ever was when drunk.. And I have been VERY drunk as such events in the past, work night Or not…

We had a great evening. R was able to relax and enjoy herself;  we sang and danced and waved and shouted and cheered with the best… I feel I did something good and thoughtful in offering R the extra ticket, and that also cheered me.

I didn’t drink, I didn’t need to.

And to quote the Swedish pop quartet

The sun is still in the sky, and shining above you,

You’ll be dancing once again, and the pain will end, sing a new song, Chiqitita”

Struggling

This is weird. Today is my 125th consecutive sober day. That’s more than I have had (consecutively) since I was 18 years old. I feel better. I look better. My drinking app tells me I have saved approx £1,250 and 140,000 kcals. I am (fractionally) slimmer. I am definitely healthier. I sleep better and I’m no longer anxious about what I might have said/done when drunk. I’m not ashamed of myself any longer.

SO WHY AM I STRUGGLING TO CONVINCE MYSELF THAT I DON’T WANT TO DRINK ?

I do want to drink. I really do. I want to sit outside and open a bottle of wine and RELAX. I want to get tipsy and escape from the relentless activity of my brain. I want cocktails; I want vodka and gin and big bright mixed drinks with cherries. I want Limoncello and cider and cold Cava. I want to feel drunk. and released from tension, frustration and disappointment in myself.

I bored. I’m frustrated. I’m scared of never reaching that contented sober place that I see other posters have got to. I’m angry , I’ve done everything RIGHT. I’ve reflected and prioritised my sobriety. I haven’t pushed myself, I haven’t cheated, I haven’t taken on too much and exhausted myself (or maybe I have).

I don’t know what to DO.. I can not drink today, I can deny myself for a while, but if this persists this tactic will not be successful long term. I don’t WANT to go back to that place where I was guilty and ashamed, where I was slowing pickling my liver and stultifying my brain with poison. Where I was stressed and anxious, preoccupied with alcohol and how to get enough .. 

But I don’t want THIS reality either. This, where I can’t concentrate at work, and feel like I’m wading through treacle trying to organise myself; where I’m constantly pushing a  boulder uphill to get anything done at home. Where the landscape is grey and relentlessly dull with sentient consciousness. Where the futility of my attempted interventions with son#1 are brutally highlighted every single day and I can’t escape from it. Where I’m stuffing a packet of chocolate biscuits down to satisfy sugar cravings or a ‘need to eat’ and then hating myself. Where I can’t be bothered to exercise and instead spend money I don’t have (how much I don’t know because I can’t be bothered to check my credit card statement, but its in the £thousands rather than the £hundreds) on stuff I don’t need even if I want it. This where I am SMOKING again because I ‘need’ something to manage by stress level… FFS I stopped smoking YEARS ago. I feel bloody rubbish about this – full throttle cognitive dissonance

This is pretty shit too. 

I want to STOP. concentrate on myself for a decent amount of time. Stop working. Stop having to endlessly meet the needs of the hundreds of patients who come though the door every week. Stop having to manage staff disputes, problems, and domestic upsets. Stop listening to my partners with their agenda’s. Stop fretting over tasks done/ not done / the direction of the business. Stop trying to predict the next twist in the story of the NHS, with the implications for funding. Stop listening to the petty whining of the salaried doctors. Stop juggling all the things different people want / need from me. Stop having to shop, cook, tidy, organise, wash clothes, stop juggling finances, stop pacifying my mother, stop organising dog walks, school stuff, …..stop stop STOP.

Maybe the truth is that I drank because I couldn’t cope without drinking. That actually , just maybe, nobody could cope with what I expect of myself, maybe the life I have fashioned for myself is actually unmanageable, especially now I am 51 not 31.  Not one of my female doctor friends with kids works full time. Add to that that I am a single mother – (ok, I live with my partner and he does help, but not with the THINKING, and only with the practical stuff that suits him) and maybe its not surprising I feel I’m am going nuts. 

Maybe the purpose of all this is to MAKE me take a long hard look at my life and work out what is sustainable. But that might mean some VERY big decisions and I’m SCARED of them too … no  wonder I want to hide at the bottom of a bottle.

FFS this is NOT what I expected to be thinking / feeling at more than FOUR MONTHS SOBER. Where is my serenity? my calm conviction that I have made a good decision. ? Where is optimism, peace? where is a better life ??? Maybe its NOT going to happen for me and I’m doomed to either life as a drunken sot or a demented harpy with a fat bottom and rotten teeth and stinking breath…. Maybe the end is cirrhosis from drink or lung cancer from fags ….

FUCK BUGGER BOLLOCKS. That’s all folks 😦

 

 

 

Medics

I have been musing about the rates of addiction in doctors. I was taught, many years ago, that doctors had a higher rate of alcoholism and of suicide than the general population.

The BMA estimates one in 15 medics have a problem with drugs or alcohol at some point in their life-time.

Doctors, as a group, are reluctant to face up to their problems, most are good at hiding it. The ever present fear of the regulatory bodies taking away someone’s livelihood is a strong motivator for doctors to keep quiet and not seek help.

Certainly as a medical student there was a culture of excessive drinking, which I saw mirrored in the qualified staff I was working with. Misuse of prescription drugs is common in health professionals, but alcohol is still the most commonly misused substance.(BMA)

Doctors are known to be at least three times as likely to have cirrhosis of the liver than the rest of the population. This is second only to publicans and bar staff.

There are a number of possible reasons for this

  • Occupational risk factors

Doctors are routinely faced with breaking bad news, and are in frequent contact with illness, anxiety, suffering and death. In day to day practice we deal with many illnesses that cannot be cured, but there are also high expectations from which can put unrealistic pressure on doctors. Aggression from patients is an infrequent, but unpleasant experience. The emotional demands of working with patients can be a major stressor.  Do doctors turn to alcohol (most commonly) or other drugs to relieve stress just because it’s very stressful – rather than because innately people with addictive tendencies choose to be doctors?

For junior colleagues, when maybe the patterns and habits of dealing with stress are formed, you can add heavy workload and long working hours with long shifts, weekend working and sleep deprivation. Quite often there is lack of cohesive teamwork and social support, leading junior doctors  to work individually (whereas working in teams is associated with being better able to cope with stress). Many of these occupational risk factors are intrinsic to the job.

  • Individual risk factors

Some studies suggest that the difficult and emotionally demanding job of a doctor frequently leads to doctors being self-critical. The typical personality traits of many medical professionals, such as perfectionism, can lead individuals to become increasingly self-critical which can increase stress and lead to depression. Some practitioners have unhelpful coping strategies (e.g. emotional distancing, rather than actively dealing with stressors) which may add to psychological distress. Other psychological vulnerabilities common in physicians have been identified, including an excessive sense of responsibility, desire to please everyone, guilt for things outside of one’s own control, self-doubt and obsessive compulsive traits.

Mental ill health in doctors cannot simply be due to occupational stressors, as if it were, a much greater percentage of healthcare professionals would be mentally ill. It may be the case that workplace risk factors can lead to mental ill health in vulnerable individuals – in other words, occupational risk factors combine with pre-existing personality factors to create psychological distress.

Alcohol is a ubiquitous tranquilizer, it’s there in every social experience, Do I think I have an alcohol problem because I am a doctor – No. In fact I think during my early career the fact that I worked every third night, and every third weekend probably capped my drinking because I have never drunk before or whilst on duty. Do I think the stresses of my career have added to my tendency to drink excessively? Yes, but I don’t think it’s unique to medicine, I think If I had been a lawyer or a teacher I would have had the same characteristic traits and the same inclination to drink. I think the ‘lack of an off switch’ is inherent – and would be there whatever occupation I had chosen to follow.

If my alcohol dependence is related to my career its in the character traits that make me a good physician, that also lead me to self criticism and being poor at self care – that leave me vulnerable to substance dependence

Much more to read, and much more to ponder on. Just as a last, today we had notification that a patient, aged 44 was found dead at home. He was an alcoholic who failed, despite numerous efforts, (residential rehab included) to quit drinking. When we run an audit of premature deaths in our practice approx 2/3 of all deaths below 65 are drug or alcohol related. Sobering statistics.

 

 

 

 

Cross addiction

Do you ever have that feeling that you just want something NOW. That  you can’t wait till you have saved up to buy the shoes, or you can’t chose between a skirt or a jumper so you just buy them both; have you ever avoided looking at your bank balance or credit card statements because you know you are overspending, but don’t really want to get the blast of reality that will make you feel guilty, or like you should actually cancel that weekend away you planned?

This is my other problem. Overspending.

I have always found it hard to budget. As a child, my brother would save, and I would spend – thinking only about today, and no cushion for things I might need as opposed to want tomorrow. When I first lived away from home at University (we had grants in those days) I remember looking at my grant cheque and thinking I had LOADS of money – and so I went and spent about half of it on clothes.Of course by the end of term I was overdrawn …

I’m still doing it now. I always always make sure the bills are paid, no mortgage arrears or scary defaulting for me, but I have NO savings, and pretty scary piles of personal debt. This is despite earning a good salary (I have always worked FT)… Every now and then I try to ‘take charge’ of my financial situation: draw up elaborate plans, budget carefully, work out how I will clear the debts, transfer money around and set up spreadsheets to monitor my spending. It lasts a couple of months and then, just as things start to look a little less scary, I find things I WANT  need, and off I go again on a spending spree. This is why all the money I have saved not drinking, probably about £1,200 by now, has been spent several times over.

I definitely get a buzz from spending. It doesn’t matter if its a new football kit for one of my sons, an original painting for the wall, or something personal for me. I enjoy ‘things’ but more I enjoy having what I want. Self denial is not something I am very good at.

I used to think this was a reaction to having grown up in a house where money was tight. Really tight. We lived in an affluent area and all the other families had a great deal more money than we did. I saw what it could buy – holidays, ponies and relief from the stress of wondering how to pay for the car repairs… I genuinely think this stimulated both my brother and I to strive to do well, and get established in secure well remunerated professions.

It’s more than that now. I don’t NEED anything material, we have enough. But I still get that buzz out of spending and seen quite unable to resist – unable to defer gratification. or just do without. Save the money – and pay down my debt, build up some savings for a rainy day, plan for retirement …I know all this – but I don’t act on it

I’ve read a bit about cross addiction, the theory that if you have one addiction, you are more likely to develop another; i.e one addiction came first and a by product of trying to control that is that you develop a different problem. and also the alternative concept of ‘dual diagnosis’ i.e just because you are alcohol dependent does not mean you cannot also be a gambling addict – in other words you have two separate primary problems.

Which ever way you choose to think of it, I quite like the biochemical ‘explanation’ for this which goes something like this:  Whenever you engage in something pleasurable, whether it’s drinking alcohol or spending money , your brain releases the “feel good” chemical dopamine. When you have an addiction, your brain begins to need that feeling. That need is what triggers cravings that drive you back to the substance or activity that made you feel so good. When you’re in recovery – even though the original substance is no longer in your body – your brain continues to desire that feeling. In other words, it wants a new drug or activity to give you that “high”. So whilst I’m not getting my dopamine ‘high’ from drinking, my brain craves it and so I spend (too much).

Need to think about this one some more  …