What is emotional sobriety? Some might think that it means being “happy, joyous, and free,” a common saying in 12-Step meetings (which has always driven me nuts), taken from AA literature. Of course, people like this definition. It means that if they work hard on being a good “AA’er”, they will achieve physical sobriety (abstinence) and become happy in the process.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this definition puts a lot of recovering people in a tough spot.
For example, what does it say about a person’s emotional sobriety if they are having a hard time? What if they are afraid, anxious, sad, angry, confused … the list can go on and on. Does this mean that they aren’t emotionally sober?
I believe that emotional sobriety is less about the quality of the feeling (“good” or “bad”) and more about the general ability to feel one’s feelings. Being restored to sanity isn’t about getting the brass ring—or cash and prizes—or being “happy, joyous, and free” all the time, but it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you?
Sometimes emotional sobriety is about tolerating what you are feeling. It is about staying sober no matter what you are feeling.
Actor Gary Oldman is happy for the first time in years. He has a 7-month-old son, a devoted wife (his third) and — at last — sobriety.
“That’s the biggest, hardest thing to do,” he shakes his head, tapping his finger on the table top, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done — more than anything.”
No one came to his rescue, he says. “It’s you and God, basically.”
Oldman says, “Some bottoms are high, some are low. Sometimes people have to go to the gutter, lose everything before they can turn around and say, `I have a problem.’
“Others don’t have to go that far. I found one of the things that was sort of a curse was that I could do this job drunk, on a good day, a lot better than other people do it sober.”
That’s true. People who’ve worked with Oldman say he’s simply a genius. But genius isn’t enough when you’ve lost your passion for the work and life.
Oldman always managed his job, even when he was blotto. “You ask any director who’s ever worked with me and I’d bet a lot of money he’d say he’d work with me again. I turn up, I’m always on time, I know the lines.”
Still, he admits he had a tough time on “Scarlet Letter.” “I’ve never been shy of coming forward about that. But for someone who was falling down (drunk). . . . I don’t remember MAKING `Scarlet Letter,’ to be honest with you. I know I did it ’cause I’m in it. But I was living every day in Nova Scotia, up there in the middle of nowhere. You had a bad time for 90 minutes,” he laughs.
One of the things that helped revive his spirits was the autobiographical movie he wrote and directed, “Nil by Mouth.”
And though he was able to face that raw look at his own life through directing, acting is another thing.
There’s a lot of philosophical debate over what it actually means to “be happy,” but if you’re looking for concrete answers, it can leave you wanting. Here’s what scientific research says happiness is, and—perhaps more importantly—what it isn’t.
It is a striking fact that in every Indo-European language, without exception, going all the way back to ancient Greek, the word for happiness is a cognate with the word for luck… What does this linguistic pattern suggest? For a good many ancient peoples—and for many others long after that—happiness was not something you could control.
This kind of thinking is actually still pretty common today. A lot of people assume that being happy means that you’re fortunate, your life was blessed, or that you’re just one lucky son of a gun. We know that it’s possible to create some luck, but positive psychology, in combination with other scientific fields like neurology, has made a lot of headway in finding out what causes happiness, and that we do have some control over it.
Observation & experience sampling: Capturing people in a moment of their daily lives. “How happy are you feeling when you’re doing the dishes, when at work, etc.”
Cross-sectional/correlation studies: Survey studies where people answer a bunch of questions about how they feel at one moment in time.
Longitudinal studies: When people’s lives are studied over time to find the trajectory of a happy life.
Experimental studies: Experiments that allow the pinpointing of causal relationships between happiness and outside sources.
That’s fine and dandy, but how does one actually measure happiness? The answer is remarkably simple (and imperfect): self-reporting. Usually these studies will ask questions like “How satisfied are you with your life?” and “On a daily basis, what kind of positive and negative emotions are you feeling?” There are no energy outputs to measure, or happiness midichlorians to count in your bloodstream. They simply use surveys to ask study participants if they’re happy at a specific moment in time.
It may sound wishy-washy, but it’s the best we have. The only person that can say whether you’re feeling happy or not is you. That means you’re the most reliable tool for measuring your own levels of happiness (at least for now). These self-reports can be made as a one-time survey, during experience sampling (pinging participants on their phones randomly with “what are you doing?” and “how happy are you feeling right now?”), or sometimes reported by others through behavioral indicators (particularly beneficial for studying infants and children).
Traits: “I am an enthusiastic and positive person.”
Emotions: “I feel gratitude and appreciation.”
Sensations: “It feels good to sit in this hot tub.”
All four of those things are somewhat synonymous with happiness, and it allows study participants to more thoroughly identify what kind of happiness they’re experiencing (or lacking). Someone’s overall life satisfaction and well-being is usually what researchers use these methods to study the most, but to get a good picture of someone’s happiness, all conceptual domains need to be considered. For example, knowing that someone with a high level of life satisfaction also regularly feels gratitude and spends time in a hot tub could be helpful in determining correlations and, perhaps somewhere down the road, causation.
The combination of the two is what makes up your subjective well-being. Your “happiness level” at any given time is equal to your Satisfaction with Life score plus your PANAS score. Of course, your happiness fluctuates, so your score only measures how happy you’re feeling at that point in time. You can take the questionnaires multiple times to see a more average score over days or months. With the knowledge of how science explores happiness, you can begin to paint the picture of how psychological science actually defines it (and how you can use that to help yourself become happier).
As we discuss this, however, know that there has been some controversy in the psychological studies field as of late. A recent, massive study known as the Reproducibility Project, and published in full in the journal Science, found very few psychological studies could be reproduced with similar results. Of course, The New York Times notes that the main focuses of this study were on studies conducted on learning, memory, and cognition, not happiness studies or other branches of positive psychology. It’s always good to bear in mind that no matter what studies might suggest, the results aren’t ever set in stone.
One of the misconceptions about happiness is that happiness is being cheerful, joyous, and content all the time; always having a smile on your face. It’s not—being happy and leading rich lives is about taking the good with the bad, and learning how to reframe the bad.
You can experience negative feelings and overall happiness with your life at the exact same time. In fact, learning how to do that is essential to being a happier person.
The Limitations of Pursuing Happiness
So we know how science defines happiness, but that’s only the first half of the equation. The more important question is: Can you become happier? The short answer is yes, but save for prescription medications designed to adjust chemical imbalances, there’s no “magic pill” for it. It takes some conscious effort, and even then, there are some limitations.
First, you probably have a genetically determined set range for happiness. That means, as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., at University of California, Riverside, explains, that your inherited genes may be what keeps you at your current, or “chronic,” state of happiness. If you come from a long line of melancholic people, you might just be kind of a melancholic person. Your genes might also set a maximum limit for how happy you can ever be. Essentially, your happiness is part of your personality, part of who you are. According to Lyubomirsky, longitudinal studies have shown people’s happiness remain quite stable over the course of their lives, so nothing is going to shoot you from being miserable to the happiest person alive.
The important thing is not what therapy you follow but that you stay grounded in common sense, and whatever therapy or therapies you’re pursuing, you ask yourself repeatedly, have I reached my limit? Has this taken me as far as I’m going to go? So that you don’t get stuck in the “if I did it better” or “if I did it longer” or “if I found a better therapist.” And it’s more, “Has this taken me as far as I’m going to go, and what am I going to do now?”
Remember, you have a limit that you can’t control. Don’t beat yourself up about it, you’re just being yourself. Instead of trying to force yourself to be happy, Catalino advises you simply reflect on the moments and activities that give you joy. So stop trying so hard.
The Common Factors of the Happiest People
The truth is, real happiness and contentment isn’t a single thing. It’s a culmination of genetics, feelings, personality, emotions, and other life variables and circumstances. The dirty little secret about happiness is that researchers are still debating about it, and we don’t know exactly what it is. But research does give us a pretty good idea of what happiness looks like, at least. Even though everyone has their own limitations, there are things you can do to strive for your personal maximum level of happiness.
Positive Emotion: Peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity, and love fall into this category.
Engagement: Losing ourselves to a task or project that provides us with a sense of “disappeared time” because we are so highly engaged.
Relationships: People who have meaningful, positive relationships with others are happier than those who do not.
Meaning: Meaning comes from serving a cause bigger than ourselves. Whether a religion or a cause that helps humanity in some way, we all need meaning in our lives.
Accomplishment/Achievement: To feel significant life satisfaction, we must strive to better ourselves in some way.
There’s still a lot for us to learn when it comes to the science of happiness, but research has so far proven that there’s more to it than luck. Yes, you can be dealt a worse hand than others, but how you play it really is up to you. In fact, many researchers would argue that it’s not even about how you play the cards, but about finding a way to enjoy the playing of the game no matter what.
On Tuesday, it will be a year since I last had a drink: 365 days of not doing the thing that characterised my adult life from the ages of 13 to 43. This is a sentence I never imagined I would write. For 30 years, booze was not only my great love, but my life’s principal purpose. It was the thing that I prioritised above all else: friends, family (damn it, it was how I dealt with family), certainly love.
Alcohol may have got me into relationships, but it just as quickly boomeranged me out of them. People may want to be with the girl dancing on the table, but she loses her appeal when her lack of recall puts them in a permanent Groundhog Day. At this point, I would like to apologise to the man I lived with briefly in my 30s. But, then, he drank, too, and there were times when it tipped us into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? territory. With other lovers, it merely meant that I absented myself – forever focused on the next glass – present, but never there.
In theory, I put work ahead of alcohol. But, then, work appeared to necessitate booze – the bonding over a warm pub red, stress drowned out by medicinal martinis. I never drank in the day because only by night could one truly let rip. Still, how often did I write hung-over? Mostly. How often did I write still hammered? More than I care to admit: exuberance wearing thin as afternoon approached.
My drinking began young because I looked old. At 14, I could order a round in school uniform and be asked whether it was wear-your-uniform-to-work day. I had been too awkward, self-conscious and antagonistic to want an infant social life. However, as a teen, alcohol propelled me from introvert to extrovert, and extrovert is what I wanted to remain. Under the influence, I felt fluent, invincible, intoxicated, in the literal and metaphorical senses.
And, yet, even as an adolescent, there were danger signs. My tolerance was Herculean, a subject of pride, but of no less peril. The first time I really put it away – half a bottle of gin at the age of 14 – I had what I now realise was an extended walking-talking blackout. Oblivious, I put this down to lack of sleep. One Easter, I joked that I had stigmata on my palms. My doctor father informed me that they were more likely to be liver spots. And how I dined – or rather drank – out on that story.
For the next three decades, I loved liquor and it appeared to love me. I was smitten by the people and the paraphernalia, the venues and the venery; the look, scent, sound, touch and taste of the thing; the fizzing up nostrils and dank aftertastes. I relished the nihilism with which it knocked the world off its axis so that only the next drink mattered; the way it suppressed emotion and released it; the heady oblivion it brought.
I adored the very language used to describe this state, much of it kinetically Anglo-Saxon: trolleyed, ratted, sloshed, ripped, wiped, shot, smashed, blasted, blitzed, skulled, guttered, loaded, plastered, wrecked, trashed, slaughtered, wasted, hammered. Normal life was dull, booze life heroic. I craved the adventure, the emphatic loathings and fallings in lust, everything full on and full speed.
I loved others on drink. Smashed sex was clearly what sex was – being out of one’s head the way into one’s body. But, mostly, I loved myself: bolder, brighter, more coruscating, and thus obviously happier, or that was the idea. Not later that night, of course, when 4am paranoia kicked in. Certainly not the next morning, brain short-circuited, life curtailed. Not generally, what with my existence fixed in one small, staggering circle, in which nothing was ever confronted, or changed.
For, increasingly, there were things I did not love. The “scrapes” I got into in my 20s were less amusing in my 40s; moments in which I injured myself, alienated friends, and subjected myself to dismal humiliation. The “lost time” (never “blackouts”) that startled me in my early 30s became my routine way of getting home. And I was tired – stultifyingly, deadeningly tired.
But, then, friends inflicted on themselves the same and worse: UDIs (A&E code for unidentified drinking injuries); a litany of unremembered sexual encounters; sleeping rough after losing bag, phone and keys; episodes in which they soiled themselves. All of these people are middle-class, educated and hold down “good jobs”. Many are also parents, some of these narratives relayed by their infant children.
My epiphany came after I found myself on an inadvertent bender that started at 11am and ended asleep in a friend’s bath. When I add that the bender in question was a christening, you will begin to perceive the enormity of said spree. A summer of hell-raising had left me resembling Vegas-era Elvis Presley. I was leadenly unhappy, the heftiest I had ever been, unable to be around others without being a bottle down, and entirely unable to sleep.
And so, on September 15, I stopped – booze and caffeine – for an experimental three months. The first few days seemed Sisyphean. The brief moments of sleep I managed to snatch were so grotesquely night terror-filled that I would wake sobbing. I was dazed, moody, tearful; throat sore, glands swollen, tongue furred; pink-eyed, my eyelashes moulting.
For 15 days, I barely slept, then, finally – rest, a lifetime’s worth: the sleep lavish, dense, clotted; the stuff of fairy tales, engulfing me the moment my head touched the pillow. I still had nightmares, but they felt further away somehow, less of a psychotic hangover into my waking life.
People asked whether I would be able to do it, and I thought, “Pah,” stubbornness and obsessive-compulsive disorder taking hold. Everything was uncharted territory: how to socialise, relax, dine, be around family, have sex, and endure Downton Abbey sober. It wasn’t easy, but it was 100,000 times less difficult than I had imagined. I kept a sobriety journal, having always been repulsed by diary keeping. I did not attend AA, resisting the requisite “higher power”, but listened to innumerable AA-inspired podcasts. I worked at it because sobriety is work.
As 90 days approached, it was obvious that temperance had transformed not merely my insomnia, but my entire existence. Christmas morning marked 100 days. Everyone encouraged me to celebrate with a glass of fizz. Everyone apart from another drunk, who cautioned: “Do you want a glass? Two glasses even?” He was right – I wanted a bottle, more – so none has carried on being the better option.
The advantages have been legion. For a start, the sleep: I must never forget the sleep. Although, curiously, I tend to, as so many other benefits began vying for supremacy. At the most superficial level, I shed weight – and fast – a mortifying stone and a half. I also lost my booze face: skin hollowed and shrunken about the cheeks and eyes, yet bloated and overblown as a whole, dulled, panda-eyed, parched.
Alas, I never experienced the flood of energy that reformed boozehounds enthuse about. That said, not being permanently hung-over is never not a perk. Life is calmer, more plodding, more genuinely lifelike than the epic, all-or-nothing existence I had contrived for myself. Bores are now so intolerably boring that I have to avoid certain social encounters. However, interesting people are more fascinating than ever because now I can pay attention. While I’ll always be mercurial, I am no longer careering between the abject and the giddy.
At 90 days, I met someone with whom I have been able to enjoy my first sober, thus adult, relationship. He is moderate in all things except his love and support. If I had been drinking, we would not even have spoken. I would have dismissed his not being drunk as dullness; he would have shunned my histrionics. Yet, he may be the love of my not-so young life.
At 98 days, my mother was diagnosed with a sudden, fatally vicious cancer, and, for the last six months of her life, my abstinence meant I could give her my full attention. There were times when I longed to get smashed and blot it all out. Three months after her death, there are still times when I long to get smashed and blot it all out. However, my gratitude for being able to be present for her remains unbounded. I would have given 30 years’ carousing for one sober night’s watch over her bed.
I am writing this because it is not just my story. The way I drank is the way ever more of us drink, women not least. Every fresh news story about alcohol confirms that professionals drink dangerously, people over 50 drink dangerously, our entire society drinks with an abandoned, kamikaze glee. It has been difficult explaining my metamorphosis because listeners tend to say: “Oh, you weren’t a drunk – that’s just normal.” And it is.
People refer to our culture as “alcogenic”. It isn’t, it is alcophiliac. Drink is not merely the socially acceptable addiction, but the socially approved fix. Alcohol is how our society detaches itself from stress, be it the angst of work or parenthood. It is how it celebrates and mourns, marks the holiday and the everyday. Millions of people – like me – come under the category “functional alcoholic”, as if the “functional” somehow negates the disease.
What it won’t negate are its effects: cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular issues, cancer, dementia, strokes, fits, diabetes, reproductive problems and depression. Excessive drinking costs the NHS £2.8 billion a year, excessive defined as beyond the recommended three or four units of alcohol per day for men, two or three for women. No one I have ever met drinks so little. Meanwhile, research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the average drinker would live longer if they avoided just one small glass of wine a week.
When I say “like me”, I am referring not only to my class but also my gender. Time was when fat was a feminist issue. Today it’s booze. Everyone’s fat, but women drink with a recklessness that suggests mother’s ruin has been transformed into mother’s little helper. The same OECD study revealed that the more educated British women are, the more slaughtered they are likely to be. And it’s killing us: the number of females aged 34 and under dying from alcohol-related conditions has more than doubled since the Eighties, and among professional women of every age the figure is up by a quarter.
I am not evangelical. I still have drink in my home. I take champagne to parties, and wish these were festivities in which I could play a part. I still want alcohol – I will always want alcohol – and I am trying to fathom an identity without it. I may not dance on tables, but continue to boast the loudest laugh in any room. I simply have to find other outlets for my largesse.
If my tone sounds uncelebratory, well, that’s about the sum of it. My reaction a year on reminds me of TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”: a “cold coming”, hard, thankless, the benefits of which may be grudging, yet vital. I think of the poem’s close: “…this Birth was/Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death./We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,/But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/With an alien people clutching their gods./I should be glad of another death.”
Eyes soberly open – the culture about me defamiliarised – it strikes me as bizarre that alcophilia should be a religion among men and women for whom drugs, smoking, junk food, and mere lack of movement would be viewed as unacceptable. It may have taken 30 years, but finally I have reached my limit. This is one celebration for which I will not be raising a glass.
SAMHSA has come up with a working definition of recovery and they say there are four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:
Health: overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms—for example, abstaining from use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications if one has an addiction problem—and for everyone in recovery, making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional wellbeing.
Home: a stable and safe place to live;
Purpose: meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society; and
Community: relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
Recovery emerges from hope: The belief that recovery is real provides the essential and motivating message of a better future – that people can and do overcome the internal and external challenges, barriers, and obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized and can be fostered by peers, families, providers, allies, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process.
Recovery is person-driven: Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for recovery as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique path(s) towards those goals. Individuals optimize their autonomy and independence to the greatest extent possible by leading, controlling, and exercising choice over the services and supports that assist their recovery and resilience. In so doing, they are empowered and provided the resources to make informed decisions, initiate recovery, build on their strengths, and gain or regain control over their lives.
Recovery occurs via many pathways: Individuals are unique with distinct needs, strengths, preferences, goals, culture, and backgrounds: including trauma experiences that affect and determine their pathway(s) to recovery. Recovery is built on the multiple capacities, strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources, and inherent value of each individual. Recovery pathways are highly personalized. They may include professional clinical treatment; use of medications; support from families and in schools; faith-based approaches; peer support; and other approaches. Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth and improved functioning that may involve setbacks. Because setbacks are a natural, though not inevitable, part of the recovery process, it is essential to foster resilience for all individuals and families. Abstinence from the use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications is the goal for those with addictions. Use of tobacco and non-prescribed or illicit drugs is not safe for anyone. In some cases, recovery pathways can be enabled by creating a supportive environment. This is especially true for children, who may not have the legal or developmental capacity to set their own course.
Recovery is holistic: Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit, and community. This includes addressing: self-care practices, family, housing, employment, education, clinical treatment for mental disorders and substance use disorders, services and supports, primary healthcare, dental care, complementary and alternative services, faith, spirituality, creativity, social networks, transportation, and community participation. The array of services and supports available should be integrated and coordinated.
Recovery is supported by peers and allies: Mutual support and mutual aid groups, including the sharing of experiential knowledge and skills, as well as social learning, play an invaluable role in recovery. Peers encourage and engage other peers and provide each other with a vital sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles, and community. Through helping others and giving back to the community, one helps one’s self. Peer-operated supports and services provide important resources to assist people along their journeys of recovery and wellness. Professionals can also play an important role in the recovery process by providing clinical treatment and other services that support individuals in their chosen recovery paths. While peers and allies play an important role for many in recovery, their role for children and youth may be slightly different. Peer supports for families are very important for children with behavioral health problems and can also play a supportive role for youth in recovery.
Recovery is supported through relationship and social networks: An important factor in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who believe in the person’s ability to recover; who offer hope, support, and encouragement; and who also suggest strategies and resources for change. Family members, peers, providers, faith groups, community members, and other allies form vital support networks. Through these relationships, people leave unhealthy and/or unfulfilling life roles behind and engage in new roles (e.g., partner, caregiver, friend, student, employee) that lead to a greater sense of belonging, personhood, empowerment, autonomy, social inclusion, and community participation.
Recovery is culturally-based and influenced: Culture and cultural background in all of its diverse representations including values, traditions, and beliefs are keys in determining a person’s journey and unique pathway to recovery. Services should be culturally grounded, attuned, sensitive, congruent, and competent, as well as personalized to meet each individual’s unique needs.
Recovery is supported by addressing trauma: The experience of trauma (such as physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, war, disaster, and others) is often a precursor to or associated with alcohol and drug use, mental health problems, and related issues. Services and supports should be trauma-informed to foster safety (physical and emotional) and trust, as well as promote choice, empowerment, and collaboration.
Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility: Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a foundation for recovery. In addition, individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery. Individuals should be supported in speaking for themselves. Families and significant others have responsibilities to support their loved ones, especially for children and youth in recovery. Communities have responsibilities to provide opportunities and resources to address discrimination and to foster social inclusion and recovery. Individuals in recovery also have a social responsibility and should have the ability to join with peers to speak collectively about their strengths, needs, wants, desires, and aspirations.
Recovery is based on respect: Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation for people affected by mental health and substance use problems – including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination – are crucial in achieving recovery. There is a need to acknowledge that taking steps towards recovery may require great courage. Self-acceptance, developing a positive and meaningful sense of identity, and regaining belief in one’s self are particularly important.
Once you understand the definition, it’s time to move on to the solution to the problem. That is one thing that has not changed. If you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, you need to get help. Once you get help, you will need to practice recovery for the rest of your life.
I have lost a bit of focus here for a while and so I have decided to ‘reconnect’ with my recovery. And as part of that I am creating a new category of posts that are not about ‘me’ per say, but are relevant. This category is labelled ‘Research’ and is of interest to me as I have a scientific background. It might not be to everyone’s taste but I like to balance personal stories with opinions and contradictory “science”.
I think the science of addiction and treatment is in many ways in the dark age. Funding is often questionable, principles based on supposed ‘facts’ and by it’s nature addiction and addictive behaviours are a complex interplay of an individual own make up; psychological, emotional, physical….and biological cause and effects.
Anyway, here we go…welcome to some science. The first article aptly refers to ‘treatment’. I happen to be on long tern Acamprosate and I don’t actually care if it works for me as a placebo or ‘for real’. To me it is real as it makes me feel ‘helped’. That may be pretty poor science…hoipefully you agree this article has a bit more substance 🙂
Tell yourself, “This is what I’m going to do next.”. Instead of having a long to-do list of things you want to do today, have just one thing you want to do right now. Instead of saying you’re going to do this important task sometime, say you’re going to do it right now. Instead of allowing yourself to randomly open websites that give you distraction, deliberately figure out what you want to work on next. Pick one thing. It doesn’t matter what it is, but try for things that are important in your life.
Ask yourself, “What is the smallest step I can do?”. Most of us look at something on our (mental or digital or paper) list and subconsciously think, “That’s too hard.” So we put it off. But that’s because we’re thinking about an entire project, which has many tasks. You can’t do a project right now, you can only do a task. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write that paper that’s due,” you should say, “I’m going to write 3 things in the outline of the paper.” If the smallest task stills seems too hard, say you’re just going to do 5 minutes of that small task right now. Or just two minutes. Make it ridiculously easy.
Ask yourself, “What is stopping me from focusing on that small step?. Even if you figured out a task to focus on, and you’ve broken it into the smallest step, there will still be distractions or resistance. If you’re not immediately doing the smallest step of the next task, ask yourself why. What’s stopping you? Can you resolve this issue, close all browser tabs, shut off your phone, ask co-workers or roommates or family members to give you 30 minutes of focused time? Can you ask for help, get some accountability? The easiest solution is usually to close all distractions. Then get moving on the smallest step.
There’s been a lot said about Mindfulness but not so much on how useful it is for dealing with an alcohol problem. So how does mindfulness help us deal with mental health problems generally, and with alcohol issues specifically?
There is very little research into how it achieves its effects, but it is thought that one of the main mechanisms by which it is helpful is the development of an ‘observer view’ on your own mental processes.
This observer view occurs largely as a result of focusing on clearing the mind and concentrating on the breath. When the mind inevitably wanders off this focus, a key part of mindfulness is to notice that you have started thinking about something, then calmly return to focusing on the breath again. It’s the ‘noticing’ what the mind is doing that is helpful I believe. From that we can learn to observe our own thoughts more generally, when we’re going about the rest of our day, not practicing mindfulness necessarily. If we can be more aware of when patterns shift in our inner landscape, it can only be a good thing. If we therefore become more self aware, rather than reacting automatically to our thoughts, we can have more choice in how we respond, in whether we have a drink, or choose something more helpful for us.
Another effect of mindfulness, or meditation as it used to be called, is in allowing the ever-active mind to take a break. To just perceive and be aware, without any labeling or inner commentary on what’s happening, even if it’s only for a few seconds at a time. A pause for breath, in both a figurative and literal sense. This allows certain neurons to rest and re-balance their associated neurotransmitters (the chemicals which our brain cells require to communicate with each other). If this allows us to de-stress, or for the mind to cope with stress more effectively, then again we can be less likely to reach for alcohol.
If you are drinking as a reaction to anxiety or worry, you can easily see how having a moment to step away from those concerns could be very calming, and potentially help to avoid the urge to calm yourself with a drink instead.
Many people are put off the idea of mindfulness practice because they believe it requires long sessions of sitting cross-legged in front of a candle, chanting certain special phrases. That’s more like the traditional form of meditation, whereas modern mindfulness can be practised for 1 minute at a time, several times during your day, even while you’re sat at your desk working perhaps. The key is to allow your mind to focus on the breath, or a pleasing view perhaps, and try to just perceive it, without discussing it in your mind. You might only be able to sustain that for a few seconds at first, but that’s fine.
Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.
Acceptance may be one of the most difficult things to learn, for it means we must give up on the desire to control our life and its outcome.
Once we have truly received this great gift we will learn that acceptance need not take away our strength – on the contrary, we will have an inner strength we never thought possible.
When we decided to meet the challenge of a sober life we took the first step toward acceptance – we accepted the fact that we have a disease, a chronic disease that will always be with us. By accepting this fact we will be able to cope with our lifelong struggle. This way we willingly accept the friendship of our group members and the wisdom they offer us. They have been where we are coming from, they have suffered as we suffer, and they have felt the hope we now feel.
We are being offered a way of life that, if we follow it, will bring us a peace of mind we may never have felt. By our surrender we are now willing to receive something that is being offered to us – the beginning of a new way of life.
Fantasies are more than substitutes for unpleasant reality; they are also dress rehearsals, plans. All acts performed in the world begin in the imagination.
–Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
We will not achieve, we will not master that which goes unplanned in our dream world. We imagine first, and then we conceive the execution of a plan. Our minds prepare us for success. They can also prepare us for failure if we let our thoughts become negative.
I can succeed with my fondest hopes. But I must believe in my potential for success. I will ponder the positive today.
Recovery is about more than walking away. Sometimes it means learning to stay and deal. It’s about building and maintaining relationships that work.
Problems and conflicts are parts of life and relationships – with friends, family, loved ones, and at work. Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve with time.
Not being willing to tackle and solve problems in relationships leads to unresolved feelings of anger and victimization, terminated relationships, unresolved problems, and power plays that intensify the problem and waste time and energy.
Not being willing to face and solve problems means we may run into that problem again.
Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have, and there is not room to negotiate. In that case, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and what our bottom line is.
Some problems with people, though, can be worked out, worked through, and satisfactorily negotiated. To negotiate problems, we must be willing to identify the problem, let go of blame and shame, and focus on possible creative solutions. To successfully negotiate and solve problems in relationships, we must have a sense of our bottom line and our boundary issues, so we don’t waste time trying to negotiate non-negotiable issues.
We need to learn to identify what both people really want and need and the different possibilities for working that out. We can learn to be flexible without being too flexible.
Today, I will be open to negotiating conflicts I have with people. I will strive for balance without being too submissive or too demanding. I will strive for appropriate flexibility in my problem solving efforts.
Time past is gone forever, and we can never go back to it.
We cannot expect to control addiction by a return to measures which may have worked for a time in the past. Those methods eventually failed, and trying them again will only bring us to the same point of failure.
The only way to avoid repetitious failure is to move forward creatively.
Each day is a new creation, and each day brings new lessons and opportunities. We build on what is past, but we do not need to repeat it.
Moving forward involves risking what is unknown. The old, familiar rut, depressing as it is, is a known quantity. Moving out of it requires that we have courage and that we trust in One who knows and cares.
To move on, we must act. Insights do not produce growth until they are accompanied by specific actions.
For years I was a member of ‘MM‘. Looking back it was a time when I knew I probably drank too much, but never thought I was an alcoholic. Not me, never me…no way was I THAT bad….I just liked a few, nothing wrong with that…
But the mere fact I was a member of Moderation Management, or MM as it’s members refer to it speaks volumes. But there are now detractors, and there are advocates.
I sit in the middle. As a previous member I experienced first hand how it helped many people, many individuals who wanted help and support, but like me at the time preferred the anonymity of online support, the 25/7 availability of someone to chat to…and it worked. Up to a point.
It’s funny, just as I am writing this I have logged back in and some familiar names are still there on the forums, posting good advice. But for me, and many like me it wasn’t enough. I used to think it was but I could never figure out why I found moderation so hard. I failed miserably for years to moderate happily.
I did 30’s…well ok, I did one once about 5 years ago, the month my son was born. But that was the last time I didn’t drink for any length of time until I stopped completely. So, does MM work?
Not for me. But I was saddened to read of the founders suicide. And whatever is written about peiople who try to moderate, or stop completely; I don’t think it’s right to say one way works, and another doesn’t. Or that every drinker should moderate, or someone who can, or is trying to moderate is fooling themselves. In my mind Audrey was just someone who tried to help people who drank to much.
For her and others like her I am grateful. Without her, and MM I’d never have gotr to where I am today. Maybe I would actually…but it would have been because I hit rock bottom hard, not because of a slow gradual awareness that later became a spiral.
The untimely passing of Audrey Conn (formerly Kishline), who took her own life last month, prompts some troubling questions about why our culture promotes fear of “addicts” who attempt moderation.
Conn founded the Moderation Managementprogram in 1994, wishing to start a group that did not differentiate between an “alcoholic” and a problem drinker. Yet after media scrutiny and questions about her motives, she eventually changed to believing there was such a difference. In January 2000 she declared that moderation wasn’t the best goal for her, and that she would instead begin attending abstinence-based programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery. In March of that year, she crashed her car after driving the wrong way down a highway in Washington state while three times over the drunk driving limit, killing a man and his 12-year-old daughter.
Media condemnation ensued, and the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) pronounced it “a harsh lesson for all of society, especially those individuals who collude with the media to continually question abstinence-based treatment.” Conn served three and a half years in prison.
Many people feel a need to confront the “denial” of people like Conn (even though at the time of her crash, she was attempting abstinence, not moderation), to make them “see the light.”
Yet evidence ranging from the recent NESARC study back to the work of the Sobells in the early ‘70s indicates that moderation isn’t just possible, but often probable. People who drank problematically in college, for example, frequently find that family fulfillment and career opportunities lead them down a long-term path of reduced, safer drinking—we all know people whose lives fit such patterns.
Extreme binge drinking in college is often regarded indulgently. But for people who have instead been labeled, at any point in life, with the diagnostic moniker of “alcoholic,” “addict” or “chemically dependent,” a moderation outcome is often not seen as permissible. Our culture finds it necessary to confront and sometimes even ridicule diagnosed people like Audrey Conn who try moderation. Why is this?
A clear delineation between “addict” and “normie” can be comforting. Blurred, nuanced differences in behavior, on the other hand, pose a worrying question.
I believe that when diagnosed people show themselves capable of moderation, it blurs the line we draw between “normal” and addicted, between society and the marginalized. And this frightens a lot of people who need to see themselves as “normal.”
A clear delineation between “addict” and “normie” can be comforting. I’m not one of them, we tell ourselves, so I must be fine. Blurred, nuanced differences in behavior, on the other hand, pose a worrying question: Is what I’m doing OK?
In this way, the “addict” concept is a representation of society’s own denial—the idea of the diseased and abnormal addict shields most of us from having to explore our own relationships with addictive behaviors.
The French philosopher and social researcher René Girardposited that the scapegoat is the end result of a cultural “mimesis,” or imitation, of what is considered “good” (or desirable). What others show us is “good,” becomes “good” to us. Yet if we all went for the same thing, violence would break out and community survival would be threatened. To explain why everyone cannot have the “good,” society creates the scapegoat, refocusing its members’ hostility against one another onto something or someone else. And the “addict”—incarcerated in huge numbers, blamed for crime, the spread of disease, constant lying and much more—is certainly one kind of scapegoat in our society.
This is not to say that addiction does not exist and cause great harm, or is simply a matter of insufficient willpower. It is, however, something we all get caught up in. You find something (or, sometimes, someone) that makes you feel instantly better, and you want that feeling again. So you repeat whatever it is you did before, again and again and again. But is this really a disease? Something only a few people are capable of? Addictive behaviors manifest themselves in our lives as a response to something that we all face: an existence that often feels overwhelming and absurd.
The belief in an all-or-nothing version of addiction is a crutch that allows us to feel like we can deal with our world, that we can control things that deep down we know we have no control over. Just as we dehumanize people who commit terrible crimes, despite evidence that they’re more like the rest of us than we think, to avoid having to place ourselves in the same category as them, we also carry on marginalizing, separating “addicts” from the rest of us.
DSM-5, the 2013 edition of the psychiatrists’ bible, has finally come to regard substance use disorders as existing on a spectrum, with a range of different levels of severity. But wider society is still not ready for the truth that there is no definitive difference between “addicts” and everyone else, that addiction is just an extreme form of normality.
Until that changes, our attempts to help people who are experiencing addiction will remain fraught with difficulty. And many more people like Audrey Conn will feel our anger for denying us our crutch.
Ok, so first off this is not my post but is from ‘A Girl Called Jack‘ who I follow for foodie tips normally. She’s not in recovery…but is doing a ‘dry January’ and so wrote this post. I tried it and it’s lovely!
p.s. I’m going through triggers, triggers, triggers moments right now and it’s the anniversary of the alcoholic meltdown which prompted me onto this path…so more posts about me and my recovery once “I’m through”. I can’t write about it now. Long story..too hard. Will do in about a week…
So, to the non-alcoholic drink:
As a new year has rolled in, one of my resolutions was to try to be a little healthier – starting with Dry January, or no booze for a month! Seeing we spent the new year on a very pretty holiday exploring Up North and the Lake District, my Dry Jan didn’t start until yesterday. That also means no booze in cooking for me for 30 days too, so maybe holding off the casseroles and risottos for a bit – waa!
One of my favourite restaurants in London to grab a spot of lunch at, take friends, or have meetings these days is Duck Soup in Soho, on Dean Street. Their sister restaurant, RawDuck, in Hoxton, has a VERY interesting drinks menu comprising ‘vinegar sodas’. I remembered this this morning, casting around for something interesting to drink and landing on the vinegar shelf in the kitchen (my Mrs is a chef, what can I say, our vinegar collection is frankly ridiculous. Yours needn’t be quite so frivolous, a simple red or cider will do most jobs for you.)
Anyway, eyes landed on the vinegar shelf, vague memory of RawDuck bonkers drinks enu came back to me, and remembering how PACKED the place was when I popped my head in, I figured they were onto a good thing. Various friends tell me that it’s good for digestion, glowing skin, all round gut health – (don’t we all hear a bit too much about our ‘gut health’ this time of year? Sorry to come over all Gillian McKeith on you…) – and so I gave it a go. And really, really liked it. So here’s a brief not-really-a-recipe recipe if I’ve just about talked you into trying it…
10ml (2 tsp) cider vinegar or red wine vinegar, 2p*
300ml soda water, 3p*
First measure your vinegar into a glass – I like a nice tall one, but any will do. Add a little ice, if liked, and top up with sparkling water. And that’s it! You can vary your vinegars if you like, our abundant shelf of exotic and wonderful vinegars includes a damson vinegar from the Lake District and a Georgia Peach and White Balsamic from Los Angeles – but start with a cider, a white, or a red if you’re on a budget, or go mad in the vinegar aisle if you’re not…
Later in the day we tried it with tonic water instead of soda water, which gives it a bit more of an edge, but also a happy replacement for a gin and tonic… “Fancy a V&T, love?”
We know that a totally new life can begin on any day of a year, at any hour of the day, or at any moment of an hour. That new life began the moment we decided to surrender and admit to powerlessness over a substance or an impulse. It began when we accepted the fact that we needed help and could receive it simply by asking.
Many of us used to choose New Year’s Day as a time for making good resolutions and swearing off bad habits. When we failed, we simply shrugged and said, “Maybe I can start tomorrow, next week – or next New Year’s Day.” We were always going to “turn over a new leaf.”
Now, in recovery, we no longer depend on doing it all alone. We know we can stay abstinent only by sharing with fellow members.
Let me remember, each day in recovery is another milestone. I no longer have to use a calendar.
Day by day, a year comes and goes. Today’s end is the beginning of the rest of our lives. We take with us what we have learned today. We are the same and not the same.
As long as we are alive, we will continue to wrestle with questions, seek answers, and solve problems. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and others, choosing to respond with non-judging love and acceptance instead of unrealistic demands of perfection.
We have found a blueprint for recovery. Our preoccupation with not enough and too much has led us to a spiritual solution. Each day brings us new opportunities to express our development – a more patient response to a traffic jam, the ability to empathize with a child’s embarrassment, the acceptance of a disappointment. Today is another day to learn how to be serene, to nurture body and spirit so that we may function as an integrated totality. We will continue to learn and grow toward recovery.
I will begin and end today by listening to my inner voice.
Some days, it seems like our struggles will never end. The pain, the loss, the heartaches, the failures we can recount them all. Where is the strength to go on?
What if we began our day by acknowledging that all things pass? That given time, effort, and patience, we can accept or accomplish most anything? But patience does not mean complacency. On the contrary, each day in recovery requires a new attitude, a new outlook that in time generates its own positive energy for growth and change.
We need strength and patience not only in the difficult moments, but in the easier ones – the days of comfort when things seem to be going almost too well.
Soon, we can look back across the months and see growth. As the skills of the dancer or the carpenter increase with time and patience, so do our skills in recovery. As we grow in recovery, becoming ever more patient, we become ever more in tune with our Higher Power and the promise of a new life.
Today grant me the patience to live in the moment. Help me be willing to believe that all things pass and I can live better in sobriety.
When I was drinking I soon developed into hermit. My drinking took priority over everything. I’d drink ‘to relax’ on my way home from work; to ‘escape’ from having to be someone who interacted with others; I drank at home, alone. I isolated myself from friends, family and the world.
And I was killing myself, twice over.
Which is why this article spoke to me. And now, in my recovery I am trying to piece together a social life. I’m struggling with it I admit. I have lost those social skills that come so easily to some but I am pushing myself to my limits. Slowly but surely.
What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing andconspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.
When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”, he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominins of east Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.
Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults. Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50, and is rising with astonishing speed.
Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.
British children no longer aspire to be train drivers or nurses – more than a fifth say they “just want to be rich”: wealth and fame are the sole ambitions of 40% of those surveyed. A government study in June revealed that Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe. We are less likely than other Europeans to have close friends or to know our neighbours. Who can be surprised, when everywhere we are urged to fight like stray dogs over a dustbin?
We have changed our language to reflect this shift. Our most cutting insult is loser. We no longer talk about people. Now we call them individuals. So pervasive has this alienating, atomising term become that even the charities fighting loneliness use it to describe the bipedal entities formerly known as human beings. We can scarcely complete a sentence without getting personal. Personally speaking (to distinguish myself from a ventriloquist’s dummy), I prefer personal friends to the impersonal variety and personal belongings to the kind that don’t belong to me. Though that’s just my personal preference, otherwise known as my preference.
One of the tragic outcomes of loneliness is that people turn to their televisions for consolation: two-fifths of older people report that the one-eyed god is their principal company. This self-medication aggravates the disease. Research by economists at the University of Milan suggests that television helps to drive competitive aspiration. It strongly reinforces the income-happiness paradox: the fact that, as national incomes rise, happiness does not rise with them.
Aspiration, which increases with income, ensures that the point of arrival, of sustained satisfaction, retreats before us. The researchers found that those who watch a lot of TV derive less satisfaction from a given level of income than those who watch only a little. TV speeds up the hedonic treadmill, forcing us to strive even harder to sustain the same level of satisfaction. You have only to think of the wall-to-wall auctions on daytime TV, Dragon’s Den, the Apprentice and the myriad forms of career-making competition the medium celebrates, the generalised obsession with fame and wealth, the pervasive sense, in watching it, that life is somewhere other than where you are, to see why this might be.
So what’s the point? What do we gain from this war of all against all? Competition drives growth, but growth no longer makes us wealthier. Figures published this week show that, while the income of company directors has risen by more than a fifth, wages for the workforce as a whole have fallen in real terms over the past year. The bosses earn – sorry, I mean take – 120 times more than the average full-time worker. (In 2000, it was 47 times). And even if competition did make us richer, it would make us no happier, as the satisfaction derived from a rise in income would be undermined by the aspirational impacts of competition.
The top 1% own 48% of global wealth, but even they aren’t happy.A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78m found that they too were assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness. Many of them reported feeling financially insecure: to reach safe ground, they believed, they would need, on average, about 25% more money. (And if they got it? They’d doubtless need another 25%). One respondent said he wouldn’t get there until he had $1bn in the bank.
For this, we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.
Yes, there are palliatives, clever and delightful schemes like Men in Sheds and Walking Football developed by charities for isolated older people. But if we are to break this cycle and come together once more, we must confront the world-eating, flesh-eating system into which we have been forced.
Hobbes’s pre-social condition was a myth. But we are entering a post-social condition our ancestors would have believed impossible.
TGIF becomes OSIFA (Oh Shit It’s Friday Again) in early sobriety. For me, I dreaded how the weekend loomed fearfully ahead and taunted me with boozy opportunities for failure. I am not exactly sure when that changed for me, but I like weekends again.
I credit this monumental shift to new practices and habits. Here are some of my tips and tricks for enjoying the weekend:
1. Check the calendar. Do you have events to attend? Do you wish to attend them? The most important thing about going out in early sobriety is planning transportation. Do not allow yourself to be “stuck” somewhere that doesn’t feel good. You need to empower yourself to leave whenever you feel like you need a change of scene. Do it politely, discreetly, and safely. If you arrived with someone else, be sure to communicate the plan so that they don’t have to leave with you. My husband and I would agree before we went out that I would leave if I wanted, and he could take a cab home later – no questions asked and no guilt trips either way. Oh and bring along your own AF beverage – that is your new rule, right?
2. No parties or events on the calendar? Super – it is all about you then. Whereas I used to stop by the liquor store for myself, now I go to the mall and stock up on tea, ice cream, coffee, reading material, fancy lotions, whatever might make my weekend a little more enjoyable. Hello sofa. Hello Netflix. Hello toe separators and purple polish. Let’s all spend some time together. Once you are nesting there, text a few friends and plan short daytime outings for Saturday and Sunday: coffee, a walk, FaceTime. It is important to have a few things to look forward to so you don’t stay on the couch the entire weekend.
3. Map out your weekend. List out the must-dos and the like-to-dos: cleaning, groceries, errands, pampering, coffee with friends, walking the dogs, exercise, phoning your mother. Now plan to do all of it at odd hours: clean house in the evening, meet friends at Starbucks in the sunshine instead of the wine bar at night, move the coffee table and try standing on your head during Saturday morning cartoons, pull out your stove and clean that gunk back there — basically shake up your routine and keep busy. I found that if I broke out the weekend into chunks of time and put an activity or two into each spot, then it gave me something to look forward to and something to do and something to feel proud of at the end of the day. I am someone who needs to actually write down “sit and relax” “read book” in order for it to get done, so even that goes on the list.
4. Drinking caused me to grow blinders for any event that didn’t involve alcohol. Now I am amazed by how much there is to DO in this world! Farmers’ Markets, art galleries, museums, walking tours, lectures, concerts. Stop walking past those event posters at the coffee shop and read them. Go into the library and look at the events listing. Check out the web page for your local schools and see what games, plays, and events they are hosting. Go to some random sporting event where you don’t know any players or teams and just soak up the energy and spirit of youth! When is the last time you watched pre-schoolers playing soccer? It is the most adorable thing in the world.
5. Organize your home. You probably hate me for saying this but trust me, you will feel better.