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You know you’re on the right track when you become uninterested in looking back.

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How heavy is this glass of water?

A psychologist walked around a room. As he raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on his face, he inquired: ”How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz. He replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it.
Heavy Water
If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem.
If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm.
If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.
In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
He continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.
And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralysed – incapable of doing anything.”
It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them around all day into the night. Let the weight go. Remember to put the glass down!

Moving on from medication

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So today I went to the doctors and picked up my repeat prescription for Acamprosate (Campral). And, whilst walking to the chemist to get it fulfilled I decided not to.

Time to stop.

So I have a prescription available and I was going to make it my last and then wean myself off gradually, to make sure I don’t get any side effects coming off; and to make sure the cravings don’t come back. Because that scares me. It’s hard enough as it is and so even if the pills work as a placebo I don’t care…they have worked for me.

Acamprosate

But I changed my mind, and to make it final, I kicked away the crutches and tore up the prescription.

A quick search around the Internet revealed nothing about what to expect when coming off them so I have no idea what to expect. The only information I found was the standard “check with your Doctor first”, sounds advice of course. Which I am ignoring.

So I don’t know what will happen but I’ll post here, in part for myself, but mostly because I was surprised I didn’t find anything out there telling me what to expect. So maybe it will help someone else. I actually expect nothing to change physically but then again I have been on 4-a-day for over 1 year now, so who knows.

So in 6 days time I run out… I will no longer be taking any medication at all to deal with, well anything. If not sooner; by this time next week I will not be on any medication at all and it will be time to stand alone in my recovery without any real or imagined support from the medical world.

Counselling ended months ago, and now it’s time to move on from medication.

“There will be no more pills.  There will be no more bad food.  No more destroyers of my body.  From now on it will be total organization.  Every muscle must be tight.”  –Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle

Accepting Change

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The winds of change blow through our life, sometimes gently, sometimes like a tropical storm. Yes, we have resting places – time to adjust to another level of living, time to get our balance, time to enjoy the rewards. We have time to catch our breath.

But change is inevitable, and desirable.

Change Process

Sometimes, when the winds of change begin to rustle, we’re not certain the change is for the better. We may call it stress or a temporary condition, certain we’ll be restored to normal. Sometimes, we resist. We tuck our head down and buck the wind, hoping that things will quickly calm down, get back to the way things were. Is it possible we’re being prepared for a new “normal”?

Change will sweep through our life, as needed, to take us where we’re going. We can trust that process, even when we don’t know where the changes are leading.

We can trust that the change-taking place is good. The wind will take us where we need to go.

Today, help me be open to the process. Help me believe that the place I’ll be dropped off will be better than the place where I was picked up. Help me trust, and accept, even if I don’t understand.

What Research Says Happiness Really Is

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.

We all know what it feels like to be happy, but the actual source of our happiness has always been hard to pinpoint. Can we become happier? If so, how? As Darrin M. McMahon, Ph.D., a Professor of History at Florida State University, explains, ancient people actually viewed happiness more as a sign of luck:

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.

How We Measure and Study Happiness

As abstract a concept as happiness may seem, it’s studied the same way as any other scientific concept: with a wide variety of experiments. Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., and Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, explains in his online course The Science of Happiness (free to enroll in right now) that there are four major types of happiness studies:

  • 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).

Self-reporting is far from perfect, though. After all, feeling “happy” can mean a few different things. That’s why Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., developed the “four levels of feeling analysis.” When it comes to happiness, it can be broken down into four conceptual domains to clarify what kind of happiness is being examined. For example:

  1. Well-being: “Overall my life is going well.”
  2. Traits: “I am an enthusiastic and positive person.”
  3. Emotions: “I feel gratitude and appreciation.”
  4. 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.

To make happiness somewhat easier for researchers to measure, Edward F. Diener, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, developed an index called subjective well-being. It allows psychologists to more accurately define your happiness as a combination of life satisfaction and the relative frequency of positive and negative emotions with various methods of self-reporting. There are two parts:

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.

What Research Says Happiness Is Not

Perhaps the best way for science to attempt to define happiness, or anything else for that matter, is with the process of elimination. If you learn what happiness isn’t, you’ll at least able to narrow down what happiness is. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., the Science Director at the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley, explains there are some basic rules that studies have determined over the years. The bottom line? Happiness is not:

  • Having all your personal needs met
  • Always feeling satisfied with life
  • Feeling pleasure all the time
  • Never feeling negative emotions

Surprised? If so, your definition of happiness might be a little skewed in the wrong direction. What the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has found with their research is true happiness is more about overall peace of mind and focusing on the, well, greater good. Happiness isn’t about wanting more, always feeling “good,” or even being satisfied with every aspect of your life. Hedonism, or the pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence, has proven to bring temporary bouts of happiness, but as Kahneman’s research explains, it is not effective at maintaining your overall happiness over time.

An especially important part of the happiness equation is the negative feelings you may be feeling right now. As nice as it might seem, happiness is not the absence of negative feelings. As Dr. Vanessa Buote, a postdoctoral fellow in social psychology, explains, real happiness is about taking the good with the bad:

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.

Second, you can set unnecessary limitations for yourself by trying too hard to be happy. Lahnna I. Catalino, Ph.D., at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests that overly pursuing happiness can actually backfire on you. Catalino cautions that you should avoid relating to your happiness in extreme ways. Don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself, and don’t try to only feel positive emotions all of the time. You’re guaranteed to fail, which will—ironically—lead to unhappiness. Michael Bennett, psychiatrist and co-author of the book F*ck Feelings, notes the importance of staying grounded in your pursuit of happiness:

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.

Specifically, getting plenty of exercise (especially with a set goal in mind), getting plenty of sleep, developing emotional intelligence, and buying experiences over material goods are good places to start. If you’re still not sure what you should be striving for, remember “PERMA.” Created by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, and published in his book Flourish, PERMA stands for the five key elements that comprise well-being:

  • 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.

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Eyes soberly open – the culture about me defamiliarised

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This is an excellent article written in The Telegraph by Hannah Betts; I am reposting it here as her experiences resonated completely with me.

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.

Hannah-Betts Now Sober

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.

Hannah Betts: She lost one and a half stone in the first six weeks of sobriety
Hannah Betts: She lost one and a half stone in the first six weeks of sobriety

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.

Hannah Betts
Hannah Betts: Just say no Credit: Andrew Crowley

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.

Hannah Betts: 'Life feels more lifelike now'
Hannah Betts: ‘Life feels more lifelike now’ Credit: Anrdrew Crowley

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 Guiding Principles of Recovery

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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.

Guiding Principles

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.

The chocolate hangover

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Everybody loves chocolate.

As a kid it’s a treat; as an adolescent you buy lots of it and eat it because it’s lovely. As an adult it’s a treat, it’s a comfort and indulgence.

It’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

Everybody loves chocolate, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s sometimes funny that people eat too much. There are cute pictures all over the Internet of young children with chocolate smeared all round their face. its funny isn’t it. There is nothing wrong with it it’s chocolate.

Chocolate Kid

It’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

Chocolate is cheap; it’s widely available and comes in lots of different yummy yummy flavours and formats. You can get it at the corner shop, you can get it at the supermarket, you can get it in restaurants, petrol stations…it’s everywhere.

Which is great, because it’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

You can have it in breakfast cereals, you can have it in a spicy chilli for lunch, you can have a chocolate dessert, you can have a snack…anytime, any place.

Chocolate Love

It’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

You can have it in the car, in the park, walking along the street. You can have it in everywhere any time in any way it takes your fancy. You can have it at work, on the bus, in the evening sitting on the sofa watching the TV.

Chocolate Friend

It’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

But you can have too much of it and if you do it leaves you feeling sick. It becomes the daily treat that if you over indulged you feel bad about yourself. You wake up in the morning and think I wish I hadn’t eaten so much chocolate.

But it’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

And a little bit of what you love is good for you right? Everyone knows a little bit is a lovely treat.

Chocolate Benefits

I actually get a little apprehensive if my secret chocolate store in the kitchen cupboard is getting low. If it’s on a special deal at the supermarket then I’ll buy it in bulk, just in case. It will get eaten eventually.

It’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

But too much, and I can really make you ill and I mean seriously seriously ill. Sick in the morning, long-term medical conditions needing treatment every day, mood swings, depression, guilt, denial.

Sugar Cocaine

But it’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

Today I woke up and I felt sick.

Today I woke up feeling bad about how much chocolate I had binged on to make myself feel better.

Today I woke up with regrets.

But it’s only chocolate and everybody loves chocolate.

And now replaced the word chocolate with alcohol.

We have a problem. A new problem. A different substance, same addiction pattern.

Choosing a Sponsor in AA

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The sponsor is supposed to not only be a person to guide you through the AA program, but to also be there to listen.

Being able to rely on a sympathetic ear can be particularly important when the individual feels on the verge of relapse. Choosing the right sponsor is important, because otherwise the relationship could prove to be disastrous.

Well that sounds like me, so into the breech I go….no pressure on either side of course!

Sponsorship has been an important element from AA right from the beginning. The founding members realised that that the thing that was keeping them sober was helping other people. In fact the organisation originated from one alcoholic reaching out to help another. At the time Bill Wilson was struggling to stay sober on his own. He was on the verge of relapse when he got the idea of helping another alcoholic. He rang around the local hospitals looking for suitable candidates and found Dr Bob – their meeting is considered to be the birth of AA.

The focus in AA meetings is on members supporting each other. Simply belonging to such a group can be enough to help the member to stay free of addiction, but many find they benefit from a one-to-one relationship with a sponsor. It can be easier to share things with a trusted individual, rather than with a whole group of people. This is why the tradition of sponsorship remains strong and this type of service in recovery benefits both parties because such work keeps the sponsor strong and committed to sobriety.

Well it all sounds very promising, and hard work.

To my mind though, the sole object of the sponsor is to pass on what saved his or her sorry ass to someone who might benefit. Sharing other parts of life isn’t really part of the job description.

Sponsor

Change of scene has no effect upon unconscious conflicts

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Change of scene has no effect upon unconscious conflicts.
–Edmund Bergler, M.D.

There’s no running away from the internal strife. Whatever haunts us must finally be confronted and resolved if we’re ever to grow and thus contribute to our world its due. When we keep secrets locked away, the secrets begin to keep us locked away as well.

It is folly, and yet entirely human, to think a new location, a new job, a new lover will cure whatever troubles us. The truth is, however, that whatever trips us up is at the same time trying to edge us forward to new awareness, and thus the next level of growth.

Our troubles are tools for a strengthened foundation. Without them, we’d soon crumble.

When we consider the conflicts we encounter as opportunities for further development, they excite us rather than provoke anxiety. Changing our perspective can make the same scene appear quite new.

Run Away

“Daddy I can’t hear you very well”…

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That’s all it took, those few words. I couldn’t shake them, I couldn’t deal with them; and all that they embodied.

Standing on a busy street in the centre of town, surrounded by people who had no idea…I slowly unravelled. I was back in a deep, dark hole, alone and with only despair and hurt. I needed a way not to feel what I was feeling. It was too much…

Empty Cave

No meetings, no friends, no….no anything. I just wanted not to feel. I can look back now and rationalise it but now doesn’t fix then. Rationalising doesn’t help to cope, not then.

All that helps, all that used to to help; was getting wasted. And now I don’t do ‘that’, I am left trying to deal with raw emotions that I have never been able to deal with well. I tried so hard, and I have worked so hard these last 16 months that I can say I didn’t drink. I so very much wanted to. Again.

But I didn’t. But I didn’t “cope” in the way that my councillor would have wanted but honestly, fuck that right now. I didn’t drink.

Diazepam

Being sober, or more accurately, not drinking alcohol, is only one part of being in recovery. The bigger and sometimes harder part is learning to cope with whatever it is that made us turn to drink in the first place. For me that has always been dealing with emotions that overwhelm me.

The irony is that without the booze everything feels raw and emotions are harder to deal with. It’s like we have to learn all over gain how to process emotions. What ‘normal’ people learn as they grow up is a healthy response to feelings and emotions; that often people with addictions did not learn.

So now my son is a million miles away, for me it is one such scenario always likely to recur, and I need to be able to deal with that. And even though mostly I do, sometimes I can’t. So today I fell back on some pills but I’m ok with that. It wasn’t an everyday occasion. It could be argued it was a mundane event.

I have been missing my son, and after some ‘negotiations, I was able to get through on the phone, he was watching the TV in another country, in another language with his cousin. He asked her to turn the TV down…she didn’t. She is 4.

So it was left….”Daddy I can’t hear you very well“…and then the phone went dead.

Silence.

Underwater Silence

But I play those words over and over in my head….”Daddy I can’t hear you very well“…”Daddy I can’t hear you very well“…”Daddy I can’t hear you very well“.

I could hear him in the background asking someone to turn the TV off so he wanted to speak to me. But couldn’t.

It’s the sense of complete helplessness that is so frustrating and drives me to want to drink or drug. I’m sorry to say that at no time did the words I needed to remember play over in my head.

I couldn’t accept the things I could not change. Courage and wisdom eluded me.

All the more reason for me to redouble my efforts to find new ways to cope in what I’ll call those ’emergency moments’. Strangely I can handle real emergencies fine. People having accidents, dramas and crises…I cope well with those and I am the reliable one even when many people might justifiably crumble. But I have my Achilles heel.

So the search for ‘something’ for my personal emergencies continues. What do normal people do? Pick up the phone I guess. Talk to someone, talk to a higher power?

One thing ‘normal’ people don’t do is run away or hide from feelings. Like I say, work in progress….

Thinking Alone

 

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Running is play

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Play not only keeps us young but also maintains our perspective about the relative seriousness of things. Running is play, for even if we try hard to do well at it, it is a relief from everyday cares.
Jim Fixx

Running has been keeping me sane lately, when the odds have been stacked against me I’ve forced myself out onto the streets for a run.

For pleasure.

But now I am a number, well for a few days at least:

Numbers

 

What to do when you feel like doing nothing….run (and get a Sponsor)

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It’s not been an easy time of late for me, life and all that; and it’s been a struggle to motivate myself to do anything other than work too hard, eat too much sugar (choc-ices are my downfall) and feel sorry for myself.

But that doesn’t help. So I run, and run, and go for another run. This month I hit the furthest I have done in a while, almost 60 miles!

Miles

And I always deliberately run without music. I just want to be ‘present’ in the place I am running and it gives me time to think. I know running might not be for everyone but it’s really helping me in recovery. It reduces my stress levels, and exhausts me. This has the added benefit of shutting my mind up!

But it does give me time to think…a  lot of time. And I have decided to make changes as I hinted at the other day. Some of these changes have been hard, but necessary, and some are plain scary.

The scary one is that I decided that after being sober for over a year, and attending AA meetings in all that time, that I would take the plunge at get myself a Sponsor. Why it has taken me so long to make that decision I wasn’t sure, until after today’s run.

Seafront Run

It was a hard but long run along the seafront, and with time to think I realised I have been avoiding getting a Sponsor for many reasons. But first the reasons for:

A sponsor is somebody who:

* Has a one to one relationship with a more junior member of a 12 Step group – this other party is referred to as the sponsee.
* Is there to offer advice and support. Some sponsors are willing to offer this at any time of the day or night.
* A sponsor can be a trusted friend.
* They are an information resource about the 12 Step program.
* The guide the sponsee through the steps.
* They offer the sponsee encouragement and praise.
* They provide a shoulder to cry on and an opportunity to vent.
* They are a friendly face in the meetings.
* They individual can feel free to talk about things with their sponsor that they would not feel comfortable discussing in the meetings. Some sponsees will end up revealing secrets that they have never shared with anyone else on the planet.
* A resource for honest feedback.
* Somebody who can spot the dangers signs of an approaching relapse or that their sponsee has gone off course.

So that is the ‘for’; and the against? Well there are pitfalls:

Sponsorship can be hugely beneficial to both parties, but sometimes things do go wrong. The most common pitfalls include:

* Some sponsors can be overbearing and will try to manage every aspect of the sponsee’s life. They may be doing this out of a genuine desire to help, or it could have more to do a type of hunger for power. Escaping addiction is all about finding freedom, so allowing a sponsor to have too much influence is unwise.
* If a sponsor relapses it can be devastating for the sponsee, and it may even put their own sobriety at risk. This is why it is recommended that members of AA always look for people with a strong foundation in recovery – even then there are no guarantees.
* Occasionally sexual feelings can crop up in this type of relationship. Thirteenth stepping is when sponsors, or other senior members, take advantage of newer members in order to gain sexual favors. These predators do exist in AA and need to be avoided.
* The sponsor is usually provided with a lot of personal information about the sponsee. It is usual to share the step 5 moral inventory with the sponsor. This can contain a lot of embarrassing information, as well as things that may even have legal implications. Giving such information to an untrustworthy sponsor could later prove disastrous.
* Sponsors are just people and they are as liable of giving bad advice as anyone else. This is why it is crucial to not accept their opinion as infallible – this is particularly important when it comes to medical advice. There is no obligation to accept the advice offered by the sponsor.
* Sometimes the sponsor can be overly critical of their sponsee. This can damage confidence and self-esteem.

Ultimately it means hard work, and it could be upsetting. I will have to open up and willingly become vulnerable. I don’t want to talk about my past, or my drinking.

I’m not convinced the past is relevant to my future.

However it is about making a commitment to AA that I find the most ‘off-putting’. I can’t sit on the fence. It means committing to the process and trusting someone else. It’s a dangerous game.

It feels especially dangerous right now as I know I am close to relapsing. But that is also my reason to make that commitment to do AA properly. No more sitting on the fence.

Sitting On The Fence

The other “l” word….

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‘Lonely’ is a troubling word and not one to be tossed around lightly. It makes people uncomfortable, summoning up as it does all kinds of harsher adjectives, like ‘sad’ or ‘strange’.

I have always been well liked, I think, always well regarded and respected, but having few enemies is not the same as having many friends, and there is no denying that I am, if not ‘lonely’, more solitary than I’d hoped to be at this time in my recovery.

Lonely road

For me, in my alcoholic memory, my drinking times represented some kind of high-water mark of gregariousness. A time of adventures, of an active and exciting social life, falling in love, splashing around in sex and drugs. I was aware of this demon going on inside but it was drowned out with nightclubs and the gallery openings, the gigs and the demonstrations.

I noted the hangovers, the same clothes worn to work on consecutive days, the kisses on the tube and the tears in the canteen, but I observed it all as if through reinforced glass. I’m thinking particularly of the late eighties, which in spite of all their hardship and turmoil, seemed like a rather exciting time!

Walls were coming down, both literally and figuratively; the political faces were changing. Not quite a revolution or a new dawn – there were wars in Europe and the Middle East, riots and economic turmoil – but there was at least a sense of unpredictability, a sense of change.

It was exciting back then. Now it is not.

I wonder why? Is it because I am older? Is it because I am sober? Is it because I am lonely?

Lonely Blogger

Things are clearly happening, albeit elsewhere and to other people, and I am quietly wondering if another big change is due in my life, too, and how I might bring that about. My recovery has been ‘ticking along’, but I am not growing. I have not given it enough importance and focus.

I must not be scared by this, I must embrace yet more change.

Why it sucks to be a “high functioning” alcoholic

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High functioning means that you will always be disbelieved when you disclose. It means that you will be met with gasps of “But you look so normal!” and “But you don’t seem like an alcoholic ”.

It means that people will call you a fake if you’re having a good day, and also if you’re having a bad day. Because “real” alcoholics are drunk all the time. Or, at least, that’s what people think.

Highly Functioning Alcoholic

High functioning means that you count for fear-mongering statistics but not when you want to share your experiences. It means that I almost think of you as a normal person when you’re agreeing with me, but not when you disagree. It means you will speak hesitantly and warily, bracing for the dismissal of “Oh, but you’re very high functioning, so of course you think that!”.

High functioning means that your struggles will be ignored and disbelieved, and when they’re admitted, they’ll be thought of as your fault for not trying hard enough. High functioning means endless lectures on the importance of effort and a good work ethic. It means being taught that if you just put in enough effort – regardless of the cost to you – that you can become a normal person.

High functioning means that your peers will be allowed to bully and abuse you with impunity because how else will you “learn” not to be so weird? It means living under the constant expectation that you will police your behaviour perfectly, and getting yelled at for every fidget and twitch. It means people with loud voices and grips like thorn bushes wrapped in iron forcing you to do things you don’t want to do, things that hurt – but it’s not abuse, it’s therapy.

High functioning means you don’t have any of the problems that those low-functioning people do, and if you say you do, then obviously you’re lying. High functioning means you will hide and cover up those “low functioning” problems, lest I decide in my infinite wisdom that you’re not high functioning after all. High functioning means you will always walk the tight rope between burnout and dehumanisation. Don’t fall.

Unlike

High functioning means that you will be taught that it’s your job to compensate for your deficits, even when accommodations are supposed to be made available. It means that you will have to fight and struggle to get any help at all, because you’re not really mentally ill.

You’re high functioning, after all.

I say high functioning means whatever we want it to mean. Good luck.

Changes…..

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Sixteen months sober, and the changes keep happening. None of this is easy. It’s hard to convince myself that a drink wouldn’t make it better…tonight it really would.

Stopping drinking has been a psychedelic trip, it does help you to see the world with fresh eyes. Sadly though, sometimes on a day to day level, you can often be too anxious, or depressed or ill feeling to really appreciate any of this though.

Times may change but it’s the changes that happen to people that count the most.