Que sera sera

18 Feb

I blogged a week or so ago about the pain of uncertainty. It was crippling, consuming and I was suffocated by the anxiety of it all. I was doing (mostly) the right things, but it still hurt.
I got lots of amazing advice from followers of this blog and yet none of it changed how I felt. My head subscribed to the ideas I was being gifted, but my HEART didn’t feel it. 
And then something changed. The penny dropped. I heard an Eckhart Tolle line that made the messy jigsaw puzzle of life I was stressing and weeping over click into place. 
Tolle says: “if you embrace uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” As simple as that. And it’s changed everything.
I’m praying to The Universe, meditating, doing yoga when I can and its helping soothe me. I’m feeling spiritually connected again to something bigger than me and once again I have the comfort that It Will All Be Ok. I feel it in my heart.
Que sera sera…
Edit: I wrote this post 5 days ago, and came back to it to publish, feeling anxious and stressed again. It reminded me of how our feelings are constantly shifting sands and how no emotion, good or bad, lasts forever. Reading it back reminded me to take time to be still, set stress aside and listen to the vibrations of the universe… May tranquility come once again 

Trusting the Universe

3 Feb

Since day 1 of recovery, I’ve been really attracted to the notion of a Higher Power and a Higher Plan. This does take the form of some sort of “God” for me, a notion that I know a lot of people struggle with. Mine is a God separate from the doctrine of any one religion, that operates on a few key principles: there is a force greater than little me and it has a divine plan I cannot yet see.

It dictates: be kind, try hard to act as you should, forgive yourself for being human when you err, give thanks, trust that everything will be ok. I have your back, says my HP.

Most of the time, I find this belief hugely comforting and it really helps me to feel my life is infused with a spirituality that is absolutely essential to my sobriety. Drinking was one means of easing my spiritual discomfort and through connecting with spirituality through prayer, gratitude, yoga, nature and running, I generally feel great.

Except.

Except when i am in a situation where I’m not in control. Where I’m praying for the universe to give me something and I have to sit tight and wait for what it shall offer. I don’t like that. I like it when I can feel the divine wheels in motion in a positive direction or when I can gaze back over something that has happened to me with the superior vantage point that is retrospect, and make sense of “the plan.”

I’m experiencing a huge period of discomfort and no amount of prayer, meditation and yoga seem to be helping. I’m trying to battle the universe by agonising over what my self-will wants. Which is completely fruitless, and yet I can’t help myself.

Dear readers, do you have any tips for handling uncertainty and managing desire? It’s an area I haven’t really truly tested in sobriety yet. I know that if the thing I want doesn’t happen it’s meant to be IN THEORY, but in practice I am in daily agony as I wait.

All wisdom and experience gratefully received 🙂

Yours,

FFF x

2 Years Sober

27 Jan

I haven’t written this post, although my sobriety date passed several weeks ago, because I haven’t quite known what to say. It feels like I should engage in some huge reflection on what I learnt in my second year of sobriety, but for some reason, those reflections aren’t coming.

So let me say this: sobriety is the new normal and I can’t imagine living happily any other way. A subtle gold thread of gratitude runs through my existence, occasionally glinting at me and reminding me just how lucky I am and just how simple my pleasures can be. 

I’ve spent time trying to work out what downs I have encountered because I’m an alcoholic and should be doing in my sobriety to try and tackle them and what is just part of being a HUMAN BEING. My new modus operandi is just trying to get better at Being Human. By risking more, hurting more, experimenting more, helping more, feeling more. By allowing myself the flaws that I fought for so long to show and tackling them (or at least trying) if I need to. This is the theory. Be more Human. The practice of course is different, but I’m trying.

Two years ago I could never have imagined the life I have now. It’s just unthinkable. I have so many wonderful and unexpected things in my life that have exceeded all expectations. 

One day at a time I continue. I ain’t giving up this lifestyle for a bottle of red…

The Weight Issue

12 Jan

Anyone who has followed this blog for some time will know that my preoccupation with weight has haunted me almost as much as alcohol. It’s the niggling source of discomfort that, however sober I’ve felt, has caused me the kind of heartache that makes me want to plunge headfirst into a bucket of Merlot.

First things first: I have never been fat. I have been very, very thin and then, well, normal. I found it excruciating when my weight went from around 51kg to almost 70kg in a year, purely through drinking. My skinny, emaciated frame transformed- the attention and concern I once got for being so thin melted away as people uttered the words that would cause white-hot pain and shame to wash over me: “Ooooh, you look WELL.”

At 70kg I looked fine. Never overweight or wobbly. It sat ok on my frame and I still looked nice in a dress and men still found me attractive. But I felt like I was wearing a fat suit, with the real me underneath. It was very difficult to practice self-acceptance, because the weight gain was a DIRECT result of my drinking, and for some mysterious reason, getting sober hadn’t shifted it. That weight was symbolic of my failure to control alcohol, of my spiral into disaster.

Throughout sobriety, particularly the first year, my seeming inability to lose weight both mystified and perplexed me: I ate well, I was running, surely I should lose weight? But my discomfort at my shape and the ill-fitting new shoes of sobriety were manifesting themselves in a binge eating habit that was scuppering me. Much like my attempts to stop drinking, I’d set myself rules that I then felt compelled to break: no sugar, no chocolate, no food after 6pm, no food on fast days… You can imagine how that went.

And then, last year, I met someone who changed my life in many ways, not all of them positive. I entered a dizzy, exciting and quite dangerous love affair with an incredibly powerful, charismatic man. The kind of person I couldn’t believe had deigned to find me beautiful. Of course, there was a catch. I was beautiful, except my body, which needed to be thinner. I mean, it was OK, he could still bring himself to sleep with me (yep, he said that), but he’d be more attracted to me if I could just lose a few pounds. It was EAM, remember EAM?!:bhttps://fitfatfood.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/a-weight-off/

He encouraged me to start a weight loss blog, and would patronise the shit out of me about the basics of “healthy eating” and weight loss. I wanted to scream at him “I used to be an anorexic, I GET it!” 

I really threw myself into the weight loss attempts, because despite resenting EAM, I wanted to please him and somehow thought he was a sign from the universe that it was time to change. Much like drinking, I had to face my problem head on and get through the tough times. 

Then, I broke. I became FURIOUS with EAM and his controlling ways. I’d been in that kind of relationship before and I wasn’t going to get stuck in one again. So I ditched him, forgot about the weight loss and carried on being me.

I had such a strong anti-EAM reaction that I decided I was done with weight loss and would just get the f**k on with my life. 

That was probably 6 months ago and guess what? Once I stopped thinking, analysing and caring, the weight came off. In the past year, I’ve lost about a stone in total, slowly, without thought or concerted effort. The only spanner in the works was when I started stressing about it thanks to EAM. 

I thought it was important to write about it here because when I stopped drinking, all I wanted to know was when I would lose my booze weight. It was one of the motivating factors for stopping, if I’m honest. I can’t believe the weight loss has finally happened right under my nose without me noticing. I feel so happy and content in my body. And actually, it was full self-acceptance that helped me lose it. When I said to myself: “ok, I’m not going to lose any weight clearly, I’ll just forget about it”, I must have started doing that mysterious art of “Intuitive Eating” that never made any sense to me. 

Even though I haven’t been following any rules at all, I thought it might be useful for me to sketch out some of the patterns i have noticed that must have led to this weight loss:

I stopped stressing- it’s incredibly difficult to stay on the food wagon when approximately 32,000 times a day you’re thinking about calories, what you can and can’t eat and what the “macros” of your next meal should be. By the time 3 days go by, you’re utterly exhausted and are set up to fall into the nearest food black hole. Relaxing about food has got to be the single biggest factor in my weight loss.

Forgetting the rules- post- sobriety, I started looking at lots of diets where high protein was one of the main focuses. I once got a PT to do me a food plan and he suggested I eat around 145g of protein a DAY. Looking back, and as a fairly small woman, that’s ridiculous. It required me to supplement my intake with shakes and protein bars and frankly, it didn’t work. 

Carbs! Here’s a surprising revelation. I stopped worrying about carbs and it helped me lose weight. I just ate them when I needed them. I stopped being afraid to eat fruit (it’s loaded with endless carbs right..?!! Ridiculous) and ate chips sometimes and just ate normally, really.

Stopping allocated meals– I had a bit of a chaotic second half of the year and couldn’t eat at regular times. As per of a diet plan, this would be bad news, but actually, it really benefitted me. It made me think about what I actually wanted and needed to eat when I had the opportunity. If I’d eaten during the day and didn’t feel very hungry, I’d have a smal snack in the evening rather than dinner.

I exercised less- this is the kind of thing you read in rubbish click bait articles: “Exercise less, weigh less!” But it’s true. I had less time to work out, and it did me good. I can’t quite explain the science behind this one, but it’s made my life much easier, taking that huge pressure off to exercise 5 times a week.

Stress less! Stopping worrying about food was transformative. And to be clear, this didn’t mean I ate perfectly and managed to maintain a great diet. I didn’t- I ate some chocolate every day, ate more fast food meals than ever before (disclaimer: this would be once every couple of weeks, but I would NEVER do this before) and of course ate fruit and veg and nice oily fish, but it wasn’t diet meal plan worthy by any means. I just ate what I fancied and the world didn’t implode.

Tuning into hunger– by stopping following all my rules, for the first time in years I started eating according to hunger and what I fancied without worrying about it. Unwittingly, I was practicing “intuitive eating.”

Accepting myself– when I started being happy in who I was, my body changed. It makes no sense to me and it certainly wasn’t my intention, but it worked.

This is a long rambling post, but I wanted to commit pen to paper (I’m killing time in one of life’s most reflective places, a 5 hour train journey) and to share the latest development in my sober experiences. 

Happy Tuesday! FFF x

Message in a Bottle Part 3

26 Dec

Two years ago at Christmas, I wrote this:
Christmas would have been so different if I hadn’t drank. I feel down, anxious and helpless. Today would have been day 45, I would have gone on my annual Christmas run with joy in my heart. Once I drink, the negative effects last for days. I ran this morning and derived no pleasure from it, I felt ashamed, self loathing and deep rooted sadness. I wanted to sit down in the middle of the street and cry.

My family are big drinkers and watching them do it today is making me even sadder. My brother suffers from depression and just looking at him drinking bottle after bottle of beer makes me want to weep.
But, every day is a new start, and tomorrow I’m hoping the post-drinking blues abate and that I start to get some of my sober clarity and peace back. 
This time next year when I post on Christmas day, I want to do so with a year of sobriety under my belt. I want to re-read this and remember the pain and discomfort that drinking has brought back so quickly. I want to have worked through how to cope with my low moods and be a stronger person for it. I want to be 100% sober and comfortable with a new lifestyle. Drinking ruins so much, it’s just not worth it. I’ve written it time after time on here this year and keep slipping. One day, I’ll no longer slip, I’ll wobble along sober but will no longer fall.
This post is like a little message in a bottle for what I hope the next year will bring. It will be my 2014 Christmas Day treat to read how far I’ll have come. I can do this, I know it’s within me to. I just need to keep the faith in myself, which I currently don’t have back, but with a few sober days under my belt, it will come. 
Here’s to ending 2013 sober and starting 2014 on the right foot. 
Once again I celebrate Christmas so grateful for my sobriety. I am calm, happier, relaxed and full of gratitude. Of course “wolfie” is still at the door at times in the wink of a wineglass or the momentary madness of a “was I really that bad?!” thought. 

I blogged a few weeks ago about dark days I was experiencing. Like everything, these were temporary and I feel on the up again. Most pain has a lesson, and for me it was that the depression I felt then felt similar to the hungover depression I chose to inflict over and over. Actually, I didn’t choose. I was powerless to the drink that caused it. 

Sometimes I underestimate the strong grip I currently have on sobriety, and just how precarious it really is. I must never put that in jeopardy.

Good luck to all those who are newly sober, or trying. I will pray for you this Cheistmas x 

Surfacing 

18 Dec

Thank you to everyone who reached out following my desperate last post. I was so down in the dumps I didn’t even have the energy or inclination to reply. For that I am sorry.

Once again life has turned a corner. I feel normal again. I did what I needed to do for my own sanity and took myself out of my ever-chaotic life to get space and perspective and look after myself.

It has worked. I was suffocated and now I can breathe. For now.

And so the carousel turns again, and I’m back to that cornerstone of sobriety: the importance of self care. When I first got sober, I remember believing that my own sobriety was built on four pillars: self-care, spirituality, relationships and solitary space. When just one of those pillars becomes off balance, the whole structure can topple. Time and time again this has been proven to be true, and time and time again I forget to learn the lesson.

I’m lucky in that I don’t have the responsibilities of a family that mean I can slip away and take some time, but it required bravery at work to put my foot down and to display some weakness, which I hate to do, but has been so worth it.

I’m inching towards 2 years sober and every day I’m further down the road of being human. And that’s what’s so hard about sobriety- we have to learn over and over again in different ways to experience the world in technicolor. To accept the shades of grey as well as the dazzling light. It’s not an easy path, but I’m so bloody glad to be on it.

Happy Friday lovely bloggers!

Treading water

29 Nov

I only appear to surface here when I’m struggling, it seems. I’m sorry for that. For my love of writing, for my sanity and for the effect sharing has on others.

I wanted to post today because I’m experiencing a period of mental darkness that’s manifesting itself in physically feeling down and being plagued with ailments, and practically manifesting itself by stopping me doing the things I know make me feel better: going to meetings, getting up and running, doing something of service.

This morning, I’m encompassed by inertia. I feel tired and low and incapable of making a coherent decision. Yesterday I was full of joy. The day before I was low. And the day before that, and the day before that.

What’s going on? What can I do to stop a downward spiral?

Sentire

15 Oct

Sentire, Latin: “to feel.” Re-sentire: “to feel again.”

I’ve been having a tricky period again, where life has got a bit much. I thought this was circumstantial, but after turning my eyes and my heart back to recovery this week, I’ve realised it’s because I haven’t been engaging in any sort of sobriety programme. I thought being sober was enough. I was a bit sick of AA and the notion of “being an alcoholic.” Maybe I was just a human. That my ups and downs were normal and that I could handle them like other people do. That I could let my recovery programme take the backseat, just for a while.

This period of “research” has led to me to one conclusion: life is infinitely better if I put energy into recovery. In recovery i find abundance and joy and of late, all I’ve felt is dis-ease and discomfort. It’s been unpleasant to say the least. I’m not sure quite how I’ve let it happen, apart from the arrogance of thinking that somehow I was ok. That I could go it alone. 

One of the feelings I’ve heard so much about in sobriety is resentment. In the steps of AA, dealing with resentment is crucial to a happy sobriety. When I did my steps the first time round, I genuinely didn’t have any resentments I could locate to bring to the table. How that has changed! I’ve been storing them away inside over the past 6 months, letting them fester and grow, until the point where they’ve become so painful I’ve had an outpouring which has compromised one of my closest relationships. I genuinely hadn’t realised I have a lifelong pattern of doing this, until the last fortnight. 

And so I turn to the programme afresh. The need to look at my behaviour, tendencies and ability to cause myself endless disease. When I looked into the notion of resentment and alcoholism, I was really struck by the etymology and the significance of that meaning “to feel again.” We drink not to feel and don’t address the very circle of feeling we are trying to block out. We feel too much. We feel the same stab of the knife over and over, twisting it for good measure.

To be consistently sober is to learn, and to see ones flaws afresh. But in the painful process of peeling my hands away from my eyes to stare at myself in the mirror that sobriety holds up to my soul, I find the opportunity to grow and to feel. To feel better.
Happy Wednesday!

The Fears

16 Sep

When I was drinking, I remember the feeling of ‘The Fear’ being one of the most horrific things about drinking- that shapeless ball of doom that consumed me the next day. In sobriety I have been free of that, but a new phenomenon has crept up on me- the silent, multiple tendrils of fear that stem from lots of different areas of my life and have slowly gained shape to the point where now, I feel in danger of being strangled.

One of the contradictions of sobriety is that in becoming sober we gain so much that, for some of us, it’s too much to handle. We lose sight of the things that got us sober in the first place and can find ourselves back at square 1. I hear people share about this in meetings all the time and have made endless mental notes not to let life get too full to be sober. I’ve massively taken my eye off the ball and am paying for it.

I’ve taken a job that is all consuming, and whilst the prestige of the job and long term benefit of gaining experience in a really tough field will pay off one day, the pressure is too much. I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘you always have time for self-care, if you make the time’ model, but I’ve become wrapped up in a life where that isn’t strictly true. I work 14+ hours a day, commute 3 hours and I sleep. That isn’t sustainable. I have tried to take my foot of the gas but a culture of fear and pressure has stopped that being possible. I took a holiday and the guilt of being away made me feel worse than I did when I was there. I’m trying to get a Saturday off to go to a wedding but it looks like that might not be possible. My nerves are shot.

The project has the end in sight, but I feel like I’m walking on the fragile glass of my sanity every day and am waiting for it to shatter.

Things in my personal life (the little of a personal life I have) are suffering- I’ve entered a new relationship which is lovely and supportive and exciting and yet it’s making me look at myself in a new light and hate myself, a little. The opening up of myself to another person is making me be vulnerable and look at myself and my flaws afresh as I reveal them to another human being and it hurts. I want to lean on him for support but have tried to learn from relationship mistakes of the past and not push the other person away with my neediness. I feel lost in my own head again and the tendrils of fear wrapping around my brain and my stomach and it’s incredibly painful.

So I need to do something about it, but here’s the thing: I’ve become so practiced in feeling happy and normal, I’ve forgotten what to do. My self-care toolbox feels a distant memory and I don’t quite know what to do. A bit embarrassing really, given I’ve just celebrated my 600th day of sobriety and not drinking is the most natural thing in the world. When did I get rubbish at the ‘life’ bit?!

I need to reacquaint myself with what to do to feel better. Writing is step 1.

Moderation Management

14 Sep

I wanted to post this today because, well, it riled me. There have been some brilliant articles about women and drink recently and yet this one, for me, totally missed the mark. Perhaps I’m biased because I’m an AA fan, so I welcome your comments…

The original article is from MindBodyGreen:

Women & Booze: Is Everything We Know About Alcoholism Wrong?

The popular notion that if you drink too much, you have an incurable disease is not just scary and stigmatizing — it might also be wrong. For many women, moderation could be the answer.

Jenny didn’t think of herself as an alcoholic, but she knew she was falling into some bad habits. She was drinking alone, and sometimes found it hard to concentrate at work after a night of booze. She brought it up with her therapist, but says he dismissed her, saying he was more concerned about the extra calories and weight gain.

Over the years, her consumption ebbed and flowed. During a decadelong marriage to a nondrinker, she cut down; when they divorced, she again found herself drinking heavily alone.
Throughout this time, she remained functional — she always made it to work, for example — and didn’t identify as the kind of chronic “rock-bottom” drinker she associated with Alcoholics Anonymous.
She had evidence she could live without alcohol, but she also struggled to understand what was driving her to drink excessively, and whether her consumption was a problem. She worried that she couldn’t seem to fully control her drinking.
“I’d always thought at some point I’d like to talk to an alcohol counselor, and they’d either tell me to go to AA or say, ‘What you’re doing is absolutely fine, it’s normal,’” she said recently. “I didn’t realize there was a middle way. … I thought it’s either you quit drinking completely and you go to AA, or you just drink.”
And so, for years she just drank.
For women whose lives include alcohol, Jenny’s story may sound familiar: You realize with a pang of discomfort that it now takes two or three glasses of wine to wind down every night instead of just one occasional glass.
Your drinking may concern you, but the idea of standing up in front of a group meeting in a church basement, calling yourself an alcoholic, and renouncing even a sip of beer for the rest of your life … well, that sounds so extreme.
Is AA’s Message Antifeminist?

AA’s increasingly vocal critics say its approach is troublingly one-size-fits-all, that it ignores the majority of people who might benefit from changing their drinking habits, and that it has an alarmingly low success rate.
In the 80 years since Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, its central argument — that the path to recovery requires abstinence and the admission of powerlessness — has not changed despite seismic cultural shifts and new medical understandings of alcohol use.
Suffice it to say that the world has changed for women, even more dramatically than it has for men, and AA has done little to adapt. Most damaging, perhaps is that central message, which can seem fundamentally at odds with feminist ideology: that the addict is powerless, with no ability to control her condition.
“We spend all this time telling women today, ‘You can do this, and you can do this, and you can do this. You have the power and the capability,’” said journalist Gabrielle Glaser, who wrote a recent story in The Atlantic, The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The AA message, she says, and its focus on powerlessness over alcohol, “is exactly the opposite message of everything we want young women to believe.”
A Man’s Program In a Man’s World

In North America, Alcoholics Anonymous, with its 12-step abstinence-only prescription, is overwhelmingly the dominant approach to problem drinking. And it’s indisputable that the program has helped significant numbers of people.
Today, about 1.4 million people are members of more than 65,000 groups that meet all around the U.S. and Canada, in cities and small towns, suburban rec centers and rural churches.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in the 1930s by a former stockbroker named Bill Wilson who had no medical training, but a devastating history as a “chronic drunkard.”
Wilson had experienced a powerful spiritual awakening while hospitalized for his drinking. Soon afterward, he became a follower of the Oxford Group, a Christian movement founded in England whose tenets included the notion that all people are sinners, that sinners can change, and that confession is necessary for change.
With a doctor and fellow alcoholic named Robert Smith, he founded a support group whose tenets were remarkably similar to the Oxford Group’s. A few years later, the now-famous “12 steps” to recovery were formalized, and the group’s methods and orthodoxy began to spread.
As Glaser recounts in her 2013 book Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control, the early AA community was an unfriendly place for women. The group’s first guidebook was tailored to men, with a chapter titled “To Wives” that suggested women were likelier to be married to alcoholics than to have a problem themselves.
Women who did show signs of alcoholism were suspected of being promiscuous, a threat to male members and their marriages. As late as 1959, some chapters refused to allow women to attend meetings. As one prominent early female member and leader put it, “This was a man’s problem and AA was a man’s program and this was a man’s world.”
Today, no one claims that women who drink too much are morally inferior to their male peers, and women are welcome at AA meetings. But some critics argue AA’s approach is not as helpful for women as it is for men, generally speaking.
For starters, the emphasis on “powerlessness” ignores the fact that many women who struggle with drinking aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol, but instead are using it to mask and cope with underlying issues such as anxiety and depression.
“Women drink to medicate their negative feelings away — the negative feelings of anxiety and the sad feelings of depression,” said Glaser, pointing out that women are significantly likelier than men to be diagnosed with both disorders.
“To go to a place where the program tells you you’re powerless over something … it just doesn’t make sense.” If anything, women tend to be experts to a fault when it comes to acknowledging their weaknesses.
Rethinking Alcoholism

Not only does the abstinence model promote a strict definition of “sobriety,” there’s also the question of whether problem drinking is properly understood as a “disease” in the way AA and others describe it.
The American Medical Association calls it an “illness.” But the DSM-5, the definitive diagnostic manual issued by the American Psychiatric Association, identifies alcohol use disorder along a spectrum, indicating that “alcoholic” is not a simple yes-or-no diagnosis.
Even the term “alcoholism,” so widely used in pop culture, has not been used by serious researchers for decades. Following the DSM’s lead, they use more precise terms like “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol dependence.” But the popular notion that if you drink too much, you have an incurable disease is not just scary and stigmatizing, it also implies that no sufferer has the power to heal themselves.

The public information coordinator at AA’s General Service Office wrote in an email: “As a non-professional organization of alcoholics helping alcoholics through sharing our personal experience with each other, we are not qualified to speak on matters of scientific or medical research regarding the effectiveness of our approach.” He emphasized that while AA cooperates with treatment professionals, it does not own or operate treatment facilities.

“It’s hijacked the language, where sobriety means a certain thing: It means you don’t drink anymore,” Glaser said. She mentioned a woman she interviewed who is a member of a program called HAMS (Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support), who at one point was drinking a bottle and a half of wine every night, but who now drinks only in moderation. “That’s exactly what I would call ‘sober,’” Glaser said. By AA’s definition, though, she is anything but.

It is true that chronic and severe overdrinkers typically have chemical dependencies on alcohol. For that group, lifelong abstinence may be the only reasonable goal. But they do not represent the majority of those who drink too much: the stay-at-home mother who finds herself pouring her first glass of pinot grigio a little earlier every day, or the professional who can’t seem to stop at one cocktail at work events.

Dr. Mark Willenbring, former director of the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the NIH, points to a 2007 study that found that more than 70 percent of those who have a period of alcohol dependence have just a single period that lasts less than five years — and then never recurs.

“AA was founded by people whose lives had just been completely exploded by their drinking,” he said. “But most people who develop an alcohol-use disorder never explode their lives because of it.”

That’s why it’s a problem that the AA paradigm is the only one many people know. Willenbring points out that AA members are predominantly the “sickest 10 percent” of people with alcohol-use disorder. “We’ve really focused exclusively all of our attention on the most severe 10 percent,” he said. “They don’t represent the broad group of people who struggle with drinking.”

Framing the discussion in such a binary way (“You’re an alcoholic or you’re not”) means that some people whose lives could be improved by moderating their alcohol intake don’t get the help they need. And the sheer dominance of AA may lead people to believe that there is no other way.

Support Without The Stigma

Many women face this dilemma, wanting to reduce alcohol consumption without placing severe limits or labels on themselves.

It took years for Jenny (not her real name) to discover there was a “middle way” between total, eternal abstinence and the discomforting lack of control she was experiencing. For her, it was a program called Moderation Management, which emphasizes personal responsibility and balance.

Similar programs have varying guidelines, but what unites them is that they give people the tools to cut down and take control, without telling them they are hopelessly in the grip of a disease and that they must abstain forever to recover.

Moderation Management, a support group founded in 1994, believes “self-esteem and self-management are essential to recovery.” It distinguishes between “problem drinkers” and alcoholics, and encourages its adherents to set their own drinking goals. (Moderation Management has its own troublesome history: Its founder ultimately rejected her own method, turned to AA, and then caused a drunken driving crash that killed two people.)

HAMS, a New York-based group that functions primarily online, offers support for “anyone who wants to change their drinking habits for the better.” HAMS uses the “harm reduction” model, a philosophy in public health that focuses on reducing the risks of overdrinking, much like condoms reduce the risks of sex.

Rather than push adherents to abstain, it asks them to identify the negative consequences of their drinking (like risky sex) and come up with a plan to avoid them (like always carrying condoms). Willenbring now runs a treatment facility in Minneapolis that offers help to a much broader spectrum of people with alcohol and other substance abuse disorders. And some doctors prescribe an “opioid antagonist” called naltrexone that has been shown to reduce heavy drinking simply by decreasing cravings.

It’s hard to find reliable success-rate comparisons for these approaches, but with AA’s long-term success rate between 5 and 10 percent, who could argue against making alternatives more widely available? Meanwhile, these non-abstinence approaches are earning plenty of fans, particularly among women. One 2004 survey found that 66 percent of participants in Moderation Management were female, double the percentage in AA.

Brooke, who works in telecommunications in Atlanta and has a part-time job in the restaurant industry, attends occasional AA meetings just to listen in. “As far as being an honest person, trying not to lie and not to be selfish, those principles helped me to become a better person,” she said.

But she wasn’t physically addicted to alcohol, and AA made her feel guilty every time she had a drink, even though she wasn’t convinced she needed to quit cold turkey. She has made more meaningful progress to take control of her own drinking by taking Wellbutrin, starting cognitive behavioral therapy, and connecting online with Moderation Management.

These days, her goal is to drink no more than about 12 drinks a week, no more than four a day. (Moderation Management suggests no more than three a day for women, but Brooke says “it’s a struggle at times.”) She tries to abstain completely for four days a week.

And it’s not just about counting drinks; it’s also important to her to feel good about her behavior while she’s drinking. That means no severe misbehavior, like driving under the influence, but also no acting “obnoxious or bitchy.”

Jenny, who is now in her 50s and working in the arts, leads a Moderation Management group for women in New York, where members gather to share their stories and support each other’s goals.

Last year, she started seeing a new therapist. Within a week, she was able to cut down to just one drink a day. (In the beginning, Jenny’s therapist discounted her bill if she stuck to her intake goals.)

Lately she has been having as few as two or three drinks a week, using concrete tools like delaying her first drink until later in the evening, eating first, arriving late to parties, and pouring the rest of a bottle of wine down the drain if she’s home alone.

Donna Dierker, who lives in the St. Louis area, decided she wanted help getting her drinking under control the year she turned 40. But the “steps” in AA just didn’t resonate with her and she didn’t identify as an alcoholic. After seeing an article in the local newspaper on Moderation Management, she reached out to the organization, and got involved.

Today, Dierker helps keep herself in check by abstaining completely every January, April, and either August or September. She enjoys those months because she concentrates better and eats more healthfully, and the abstinence serves as a “reset” to her tolerance level. But she also enjoys the taste of wine and beer, and the social aspects of drinking.
For drinkers like Donna, Jenny, and Brooke, aiming for moderation is empowering. Every year Dierker hosts a tasting party with friends, where they sample two-ounce servings of unfamiliar varietals and discuss them. Plus, she said, “Dry red wine makes lasagna taste better.”

A Weight Off

5 Jul

I’ve been turning many things over in my mind this week, not least what to do about the food and weight issues I blogged about recently.

Writing about it was transformative because it felt the first step to progress. And after I wrote, I felt I’d opened up the door marked ‘Honesty’ a little crack, allowing myself a peek behind it and eventually, taking a brave stride into that room.

I was keen to take action. I did two things- I went to my first OA meeting (Overeaters Anonymous, which caters for a whole range of people with the spectrum of eating issues) and contacted my old therapist. It was interesting, because I imagined I needed to buckle down and get on with some hard work again, but the results were very surprising.

When I went to OA, I had the overwhelming feeling that it wasn’t for me. I don’t want to write it off in on meeting, as I think that’s a closed minded approach, but I had a strong sense of intuition that throwing myself into a second 12 step programme isn’t the best solution for me right now. I need to do less inward looking and be more outward looking. One of the things I dislike about my weight obsession is that it makes me self-centred, and re-doing the 12 steps in a different programme doesn’t feel the gateway to progress for me right now.

I called my old therapist and as we talked, I realised that if I went to see her, I would have to be 100% honest about where my weight anxiety was coming from. AndI realised that I already knew the answer. It was staring me in the face…

So… Here it is. In Feb/March this year, I started seeing a man, let’s call him The Epitome of an Alpha Male, or ‘EAM’ for short 😉

He said to me, back then, in no uncertain terms that in order to be beautiful to him, I really should lose some weight. That I was pretty and he was attracted to me, but that shifting some pounds would make me truly beautiful.

THIS HAS ALARM BELLS WRITTEN ALL OVER IT. And yet I ignored them. Just as in drinking we ignore the voice that says ‘this is hurting you, you must stop’, I ignored the disaster klaxon and took these words to heart. I couldn’t quite believe this man was interested in me, as he is strong, beautiful, intelligent, funny and has incredibly high standards of the women he has relationships with. I have seen pictures of his exes, and I felt like a clown in a Victoria’s Secret model line up in comparison to them. But somehow, he had chosen me. My ego took over and my desire to please ran riot. I will do anything to keep this man, I thought. I know. I know.

The months went by and I didn’t lose any weight. The stress of the notion that I wasn’t doing well enough was perfectly encapsulated by this image, which I have referred to in this blog before, but it never fails to make me smile:

stress

When he saw me, he would often make me stand there (sometimes even naked) while he ran his eyes over my body, decided whether it was fit for him. He would berate me for my lack of effort, and tell me that my lack of progress was indicative of a lack of commitment by not meeting his standards. I KNOW I KNOW. THIS IS JUST SO WRONG. But in the hands of this particular man I felt at home- his dominance suited me in some respects, and I fell in love with many aspects of his personality and incredibly strong character. So I pushed down that voice and told myself: ‘maybe he is right, maybe I have let my weight get out of control.’

But the whole time this was going on, I had a lingering and quite powerful sense of ‘actually, I think I’m ok.’ I knew this was a power game, and bordering upon emotional abuse. I once challenged him on it and he accused me of not being strong enough for him, and too sensitive. That he was helping me to grow to be the most perfect version of myself and that I was self sabotaging.

Until I met him I  was, contrary to what I may have expressed in this blog in my darker moments, feeling good in my body 70% of the time. But his comments filled me with doubt. Just as I once believed I was fat when I was thin, I wondered whether I had engaged in some reverse body dysmorphia, believing I was thin when I was actually huge.

When I was having a particularly low day, where I’d been swimming with him and some friends and had the horror of wearing a bikini in front of his appraising eyes, I decided to confide in one of his female friends who I really trusted. She’s incredibly straight talking and quite harsh, actually, but in a sassy way that I admire. I knew if I told her what he was asking, she’d tell me straight whether my weight needed addressing. She has a loyalty to him that is absolutely unwavering, and I knew she would defend his viewpoint if it was factually accurate. To my relief, she said to me, and she meant it, ‘I honestly think you look fantastic as you are. You’re not skinny but you’re so shapely and slim. You look great.’ Hearing it from her planted a seed that maybe HE was the one that was being unreasonable here, not me, trying to quietly argue that maybe I’m ok as I am.

What baffles me as I write this is that I consider myself to be a strong, intelligent woman. WHY can a man like this manage to get right under my skin again and convince me I’m not ok? How, in the light of all the warning signals flashing in my brain can I walk blindly towards the darkness, knowing that only danger lies ahead? It’s the age old story and I cannot believe I have fallen victim to it.

Last week’s mini meltdown was prompted by a series of binges after being very restrictive in the hope it might please him to see the ‘effort’ I was putting in. ‘Being very restrictive’ the words that only lead to disaster for me and yet time and time again I give it a go. Hoping this time it will be different.

But, dear reader, there is a happy conclusion to this (frankly embarrassing) woeful tale.

On Monday, I sat alone in a park and thought quietly “it doesn’t have to be this way.’ I decided the only food rule I would set myself is that I wouldn’t binge, that I’d deal with the emotion in another way. And that I’d ditch the man, which I promptly did. With no emotion, no regrets or anger and my head held high.

It has been like the most enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I have had a full week of eating entirely normally and healthily. I have learnt innumerable lessons, and one again have turned a corner in my sobriety and self development. I feel that there were two key things that helped me:

Giving in to my intuition: burrowing deep inside myself and listening to the voice that said ‘this is not ok.’

Knowing that there is another way– the relief that the thought ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’ brought was increible and set me on the path to freedom.

So today I have taken myself out of the bustling city in which I live to write, reflect and that my intuition for giving me the bravery to get my freedom back. Yes I have been stupid but harsh words do not need to be said here; I’m embracing the comfort of knowing that if I trust myself, I will eventually find the right path. And if that path is alone, so be it. Farewell EAM!

Happy Sunday, FFF x

(*panics as she presses publish!*)

States of Change

29 Jun

Thank you for all your wonderful responses to my last post. It was hard to write and hard to publish, but all those little voices from across the world that whispered encouragement and said “me too” have helped me so much.

I don’t know where to begin with what to say next. I suppose I should start with an observation. It struck me this weekend as I was socialising that many people eat more than I do in an absent minded state. I’m actually pretty moderate with food most of the time, even what I would consider a “binge” many people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at. And here comes the parallel with drinking: it’s not about what or how much, it’s about how it makes you feel. And how I feel about my relationship with sugar, to put it delicately, makes me feel like shit.

I think I wrote last year somewhere on this blog that I felt that my issues with food were such that unless I addressed them, and quit my enemies (namely sugar) that I would continue endlessly in the circle of doom. Just as I once likened my alcohol issue to the myth of Sisyphus, endlessly pushing a rock up a hill only  for it to tumble down to the bottom, I suspected it may be the same with food. Almost a year on, I now know this to be the case. But how to make a change?

I was thinking this morning of the ‘Stages of Change’ model, and trying to work out which stage I’m at: the phases go: Pre-Contempaltion, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and relapse can happen at any stage in this process. I think I’m somewhere between Preparation and Action, dancing the line between those two phases, with a healthy dose of ‘Relapse’ for good measure.

I think I’m partly feeling stuck because I don’t know what success would look like. With alcohol, it was quite simply a case of putting down the drink. The emotional implications of doing so were of course more complex, but once I’d mastered the not drinking bit, the rest fell into place. With food, the honest reality is that 75% of my intake is very good. I love healthy food. I love exercise. And yet in that 25% portion where I don’t comply to my idea of ‘good eating’, I go wild.

Now here’s an interesting thing. Most notions of healthy eating operate using the 80:20 rule, which is a pleasant and balanced way to exist. I’ve tried to aim for this. I’ve done a whole year of trying to do that. But it is increasingly becoming apparent that ‘moderation’ does not appear to work. But the alternative, 100% compliance with a healthy eating plan scares me because I perceive it as restrictive. What if I were to perceive it as a gift to myself? Would that help? Can I manage that? That shift of perception? I want to work on doing so.

I could write for hours on this subject but I must go to work. So for now, I’ll continue to try and bash my way through this knotty problem- any thoughts and experience on the matter are very welcome.

FFF x

Denial

25 Jun

When you come into recovery for alcoholism, every fibre of your being is focused on staying sober. Every moment feels like you are inching your way through the day, willing yourself to get your head on the pillow that night.

Each and every time I tried and failed to get sober, I was getting distracted by other things; trying to maintain a carbon copy of my drinking social life, trying to lose weight, the list went on. So when I finally decided I needed to give sobriety my everything in January 2014, it became my sole focus. Everything I did was designed to support my sobriety, to kindle that little sober flame that I’d carelessly blown out so many times in the past.

I have had some absolutely wonderful  experiences in the (nearly) 18 months since I had my last drink.  I’ve had moments of clarity and joy that I never could have imagined. I’ve achieved things I never thought possible when the cloud of alcohol was hanging over me. And yet there has been something rumbling on in the background of my sobriety that I haven’t been able or ready to address: my issues with food, body image and weight.

Many of you who have followed this blog from its inception will know that I came to writing it as a means of working through my food and body image issues. I’d had a form of anorexia for several years, started drinking as a way to cope with the anxiety it induced, and piled on weight from the alcohol calories. I looked like I had ‘recovered’ from anorexia, but little did I or anyone know that the healthier looking exterior was a mask for deeper problems, problems that would soon need addressing very seriously. My drinking got out of control- what I thought was a temporary crutch, a sticking plaster over the wound of my eating issues was revealed to be a dangerous and all-consuming disease in itself. I just couldn’t stop the cycle of drinking. It would drive me to depression, shame and a sense of all consuming entrapment. I didn’t want to drink, but I just couldn’t stop. I’d leave the house, hungover, crawl to work and tell myself that I wouldn’t drink anymore, that this was the last morning I’d endure in that desperate state. By 8pm, I’d be halfway through a bottle of wine and in my happy place, ready to think about lining up the second.

Getting sober has been absolutely transformative and yet, in the past fortnight I’ve had an absolute smack in the face. A realisation I can’t turn away from. It’s been rumbling under the surface for months, if not since the moment I got sober, but I still have SERIOUS issues with food and fixation upon weight that need to be addressed. I’d squished these down, and felt I was doing fine, most of the time. I had extreme highs in sobriety. and thought if I feel THIS good and have this real sense of spirituality that helps me stay sober, all must be ok, right?! Wrong, I unequivocally have symptoms, still, of an eating disorder. I engage in habits that are too painful and shameful for me to articulate. It shocks me to write this, because it’s only this week I’ve admitted it to myself.

Just as I was in denial about alcohol being an issue, pushing down those instinctive warning signals I was getting, I’ve been in denial about my issues in this area. I’ve written posts, throughout my sobriety, which have started to examine my troubled relationship with food and body image, but have left that examination at a surface level. I was in an AA meeting this week where it hit me, that food issues are almost as big a factor in my life as the alcohol; for the first time, it seemed strange to me that I have been addressing one and not the other.

I have a real issue with my body being a symbol of my alcoholism; I started my drinking a bag of bones and finished it in an entirely different body entirely. I have flesh on my bones that to me, symbolises the shame of my dual diseases: the starvation once endured followed by the alcohol-fuelled binges where I spiralled out of control. I look in the mirror and I don’t see the legs that have carried me through countless marathons, or the arms that can lift heavy weights. I see something entirely different- some days I catch sight of myself and feel like I must be wearing a different skin, a fat suit almost, that’s been layered over my ‘true’ body, the body of my pre-drinking days. I am SO confused about it all because if you were to look at me now, as an objective outsider, I have no idea what you would see. My notions of body image are so warped I have no idea what I actually look like. And my food consumption swings from absolute clean perfection to uncontrolled and destructive. I have no true sense of what I should be doing, how I should be feeling or what I should be eating to be my best self. I feel as confused as when I once wrote about alcohol clouding what I really want in life, I feel like this obsessive cycle I’m caught in is dragging me into the abyss once again.

Ugh, this is so hard to write.

But, if I’m to experience TRUE sobriety, I must tackle this head on. I must get help. Just as I used this blog to make me accountable with alcohol, I want to declare my other issues so that I can be accountable by outing myself once again.

I’m fearful of what this next turn in the road might lead to, but I know that I am on the right path.

WHAM

16 Jun

There I was, minding my own business, dancing to ‘I love Rock n Roll’ that randomly came on the radio and WHAM, there was the devastating thought: I can never drink again.

That song reminds me of one of my earliest wild nights out, about 15 years old, dancing in a nightclub and feeling truly free, emboldened of course by my beloved alcohol. Around that age, I worked like an absolute swot during the week at school and let my hair down and got drunk on double vodka and cokes at the weekend. We used to go to a grimy rock club where I’d dance and sweat and kiss boys and it was wonderful.

My reality now is quite different, I get my kicks from elsewhere, mainly running and yes, the occasional kissing of boys (still, for shame.) I’m so happy with my sober life day to day and yet, that one simple thought has crushed me tonight.

I know in sobriety we’re supposed to take things day by day, to avoid thinking in the absolutes that might lead us back to the bottle, and yet tonight all I can think is: those wild days are over. And I crave the craziness. Just one more drunken night dancing. Just one. Please.

Yesterday I was listening to an episode of the Bubble Hour all about coping with the summer sober. As they were listing their sober tools that would get through each tricky moment and day, it hit me that it is an ABSOLUTE BLOODY MIRACLE I have managed to stay sober for over 500 days. Those early weeks and months are a monumental challenge and it’s not often I’m reminded how hard they were. I often thank my lucky stars I’m not back there, but I haven’t reflected on what it was like to commit for the first (few) few times to sobriety. How I counted the minutes of each sober day.

Their reflections on summer also took me back to vivid memories- one summer in particular stands out. Two years ago I had a wild June and July bouncing between ecstasy and depression. And this was the summer in which I tried and spectacularly failed my 1st 100 day challenge. The day when drinking knocked me down so spectacularly I felt for the first time in my soul that I’m an alcoholic. I wrote to a friend, reaching out for help, I started this blog and I sought out therapy. But I would have 6 more painful months of drinking before I would finally be able to stop.

The days were hot, I was newly single and alone and rebellious and unhappy and joyful all at the same time. I went on dates and got wildly drunk and felt confident for the first time since I could remember, a soaring sense of self-love followed by crushing shame the morning after. I remember long nights alone in Ibiza, when I finished a bottle of wine alone on the balcony at 1am, and went out clubbing, alone, just so I could drink more. That holiday was the first time I drank in the morning, having a bottle of fruity cider before lunch daily, to help me over the hangover. It didn’t count because it wasn’t *really* morning, it was *holiday morning* which is entirely different. I remember running out of money at a cash-only bar and being devastated. Desperately slurping some of my friend’s drink on the way back from our final trip to the bar so I could get some alcohol inside me.

These memories are precisely why I don’t drink, and though bitter, they still have a sweet appeal to me. Life feels so different now, so much better, and I have made so much progress. And yet, it’s still hard. I still wish I didn’t have this disease. I wish I could enjoy drinks and party like a normal person, but, in frank terms, I CANNOT do that, and I have other things in my life that truly fulfil me.

I’m running a race this weekend and safe to say this will be on my iPod, fresh and ready to create new memories…

Happy Tuesday!

Memory Lane

30 May

Today I’m taking a walk down memory lane in the most literal sense of the term, reminding myself why the sobriety I now take for granted is so precious.

In early sobriety it was a daily battle to avoid the bottle. Now, I just don’t drink. The thought crosses my mind once in a blue moon, but I never think twice about acting on it.

Today I’ve been forced to stop in my tracks and contemplate the enormity of how problematic alcohol was for me, as I’m at the site of one of my most horrific drinking incidents. I’m away for work in the place I once nearly killed myself through drinking. Never was the term “a sobering thought” so appropriate. I walked down the street I had a very very dangerous night in and experienced a shiver down my spine. Just yesterday I was thinking my drinking wasn’t really that bad, but today being confronted with such a memory has reminded it really was.

Today I have my health and happiness and life back and drinking had taken all that away. So I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on that, to remind anyone who is struggling that freedom is possible. Amazing things can happen and it’s never the end of the road.

Love to all you bloggers whose stories have helped me along the way.

Happy Saturday!

Freedom

7 May

If at first you don’t succeed…

24 Apr

I don’t know WHAT was going on yesterday with my posting- I tried to post twice and thought it worked but apparently didn’t so apologies for clogging up your WordPress feeds.

Here’s the post I was trying to make:

Checking In

23 Apr

Checking in

23 Apr

Snakes and Ladders

25 Mar

I’ve had some dazzling highs in recovery of late, but the last day or two have felt, well, a little flat. It can’t be unicorns and fluffy kittens all the time and sometimes, life is just ok.

It’s good for me to keep this blog because I’ve always charted my highs and lows and it teaches me one message over and over in many different ways: recovering isn’t linear. Some months I’ve felt like I’m walking backwards through mud, others I’ve been quite literally walking on air. And being the temperamental alcoholic I am, this can change in a matter of hours. Knowing I’m susceptible to this change is one of the greatest weapons in my sober armoury: it helps me gain much needed perspective and ride the emotional roller coaster without panicking.

My spiritual growth recently has been blossoming, but this has come at a bit of a price; I’ve felt a little introverted, like I need to be out in the world more. And that’s the next phase- moving from taking time for me to giving time to others, to socialise again and make the most of my freedom.

What I love about maturing in recovery is that ice been through enough ups and downs now to know this: nothing lasts forever. A feeling won’t kill us. But a drink might.

And that’s what I’m saying thank you for today- the compulsion to drink is no longer with me and that is a gift I can enjoy daily.

Happy Wednesday!

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