Part three: Suppression

Before you start reading it’s probably a good idea that you recap on Part One (here) and Part Two (here). By now you know the drill. It’s gonna be a long post. Get your cup of tea ready.

(As before my ‘lightbulb moments’ will be in red. Time will also skip forward as we go on – because this particular lesson was learned in segments.)

Chronologically to start with we are in March 2016. At this point I’m a month into my journey (It started when I gave up drinking on January 26th) and little has visually changed.

This is how I looked.

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After almost completely screwing up by handing in my resignation at a job I’d held down for 16 years my manager allowed me to take some time out to deal with my alcohol issues. At the time I was regularly bursting into tears without warning and couldn’t understand why.

I wouldn’t miss my mother (who had passed away a month before) and I couldn’t explain the phenomenon – which was something I’d never experienced previously.

I didn’t feel like I was grieving.

Yet years and years of emotion seemed to be arriving all at once without any warning and it was scaring me. I felt out of control and needed to understand why.

With an agreement from my employer that I could take some time out of work I enrolled in a four week daily course in addiction recovery. I soon found myself in the cold and grim light of a March Monday morning in a bland meeting room surrounded by men and women in a circle.

They too had problems and all were nervously bouncing up and down in neutrally coloured Ikea Poang armchairs. They looked like they needed something badly.

This selection of people were dealing with alcoholism, heroin addiction and the far more visible and arresting effects of years of cutting, burning and self harm. Some were there under a court order to attend or had been compelled to join by the terms of their parole.

Others (such as myself) were voluntary participants with no criminal history.

I felt metaphorically and physically apart from all of them. Firstly, unlike them I didn’t identify with the label of ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addict’ (I preferred alcohol dependant back then) and secondly because I was relegated to a conventional seat – and sitting higher up.

At 35 stone I was too heavy to sit in the comfortable Swedish Poang simplicity enjoyed by the others and felt exposed.

Initially I also felt like a fraud.

I didn’t deserve to be there because I didn’t have the severity of problems that they had.

These people seemed to be way further down the rabbit hole than me. I’d stopped drinking – whereas others were either cutting down, using methadone or sporting fresh bandages from A&E the night before.

Many had also shoplifted, cheated, lied and brutalised their way though life and I felt that I was nothing like them.

Until we started the mindfulness exercises and examined triggers.

These (it turned out) were common to ALL of us.

During these we sat in the dark, slowed down our breathing and went through some guided meditation. The point was to just experience the moment and filter out the mental noise caused by the chaos of addiction.

Most days I felt that this was just a method of relaxing before difficult discussions – and I simply enjoyed it on an abstract level – interested in how mindfulness seemed capable of slowing time down. Until the second week I just enjoyed the sensation of peace that it brought – but then one day the group leader quite unexpectedly said something along the lines of ‘now imagine that you want a drink.’

I did as I was told and imagined it.

I suddenly wanted a drink for the first time in weeks and felt instantly stressed.

‘Now follow the feeling.’ He said.

‘Where is it in your body?’

Amazingly I felt it! I could trace the actual thought moving through my body!

It was in my chest – right in the centre, behind my breast bone. As I zeroed in on it the sensation moved and began to flow upwards, through my neck, until it stopped and hung there – tingling in my cheeks.

I was absolutely gobsmacked. I’d known this feeling all my life. It was as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror – but I’d never noticed it before.

The difference was that this time it was paused under a microscope for examination. I’d been able to delay its progress for a brief moment and while it was slowly moving I could track the sensation and resulting thought process that trailed in its wake.

It was fascinating!

When I’d experienced this in the past I realised that it happened at the speed of thought. My mind had been reacting to happiness, sadness or anything in between and my body had experienced a corresponding physiological reaction. This had in turn triggered a quietly waiting mental process and I had instantly moved from the flush of adrenalin to a fully formed ‘I need a drink’ feeling. 

By then the choice was made and I always acted upon it.

How had I missed this for so long? More to the point how did I deal with it if it happened again?

Well – there was some help at hand to manage cravings in the form of the ‘Three D’s’ which we discussed shortly afterwards (link)

Delay, Distract, Decide.

  1. Delay the decision to give in to the craving for a set time. This could be 15-30 mins or an hour. Usually by this time you’ve forgotten about it.
  2. Do something that will occupy your thoughts and grab your attention. Perhaps do something physical to use the energy of the craving or read a book.
  3. After the set time decide what you want to do (there are no right or wrong answers, just balanced choices) – but in order to answer consider the following:
  • Advantages of not doing it
  • Disadvantages of doing it
  • Reasons I want to stop
  • My life goals

Like many things in life you take what you need from what you experience, and often leave behind what you don’t. In my case these two lessons were my ‘wins’ from attending that group.

At the time I felt that I’d been filled with wisdom and understanding. I thought I’d finally cracked it. I understood things about myself that beforehand had been invisible to the naked mind – and furthermore I now had a coping mechanism!

There was nothing I couldn’t do!

However – the only thing that you can know for certain is that you don’t know everything

I hadn’t realised back then that what I’d failed to ask myself was why that thought process existed in the first place. I was content to simply acknowledge that it was there.

It wouldn’t be until over a year later that I found a deeper insight into the reason it happened. This was thanks to a book lent to me by a lady that I met in my Slimming World group (link).

By this point I was definitely making progress. Externally and internally I was a very different person.

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The book was called ‘Living like you mean it’ by Ronald J Frederick link.

Honestly it wasn’t my kind of thing (it still isn’t) and at the time I only opened it up because this lady had become a friend and I respected her opinion. She had been kind enough to think of me in the first place and it was rude not to investigate something so freely given with the best of intentions – so I started reading the first chapter.

It irritated me.

I mean it really irritated me.

It was all about allowing yourself to feel things.

In my opinion I was more than capable of dealing with my feelings and I wasn’t afraid of talking about them. I wrote a blog for flip’s sake. I knew the value of exploring my emotions and I talked about them with anyone who wanted to listen.

It was kind of my thing. Always had been. I didn’t get why anyone wouldn’t. Even if I didn’t understand why I had them I wanted to talk to my friends about mine and theirs.

Initially I walked away from the book simply with an agreement that I would try to let myself feel down a bit more – and that in itself proved to be very helpful.

I’d not really accepted that it was OK to feel crappy and let it temporarily consume you. This was actually natural and normal – and it was the precursor to healing. If you denied the need to experience pain and sadness by relentlessly smiling through the bad times then all you did was defer it’s arrival – and when it finally hit (and it would) the force that it had gathered by that time would be of a much bigger magnitude.

Some thoughts are slow burners however – and the really good realisations – the ones that matter often take you a while to reach.

I still wasn’t there yet.

Sure. I talked about emotion. I wrote about it. I enjoyed pulling it apart and understanding why I felt what I did.

But why did I do that?

I realised out of the blue – some time after reading the book that I did all of my emotional investigation after the fact.

Every time I got round to talking about how I felt it was a historical analysis. I was dispassionately looking backwards at a moment in time and examining how something had happened, intellectualising the feelings associated with it and chewing through their constituent parts.

never ever talked about a feeing while it was happening – but oddly this fact had always escaped me.

Out of the blue I recognised that as soon as a thought capable of provoking strong emotion had entered my head it then instantly caused a physical reaction. This immediately resulted in my mind moving to one of several well practiced remedies – depending on what I was using at the time.

In these moments I would do one or more of the following:

  • Eat to excess
  • Get drunk
  • Have a cigarette
  • (Insert whatever poison springs to mind here)

What I’d never realised was that all of these activities were actually me moving to immediately suppress emotion – and I’d been doing it since I was a child.

But how had this happened?

Then I remembered a conversation with my Dad when I was very young relating to my mother. After a particularly abusive day where we’d both come under fire from her and I was in tears he had shared his own method of coping in such situations.

It went something like this:

‘Imagine that you’re inside yourself, and then curl up like a little ball and don’t listen. Nothing can hurt you if you withdraw. After a while you don’t feel a thing.’

I’d taken this advice on board and began to use it to deal with her behaviour.

It worked because it typically just made things worse if you reacted when she was on the attack. The verbal beatings just extended from 30-40 minutes to hours. Sometimes if you fought back they would meander into the early hours of the morning – even if you’d surrendered and tried to go to bed.

She would frequently wake me up in the middle of the night, filled with rage, stinking of stale cigarettes, spitting in my face as she shouted at me – adding ‘and another thing‘ (her favourite phrase) to the argument – whether it was related to the initial explosion or not.

A member of my family once woke up with her sitting on top of him, and she was punching him in the face.

It was better not to feel.

It was better not to react.

During the day I could eat a huge mountain of mashed potato and sausages – but at night I had to find another way to cope, and I retreated a little deeper each time. Over the years the mechanism ceased to be conscious and became so practiced that it moved to one that was completely unconscious.

In my later teens (after some experimentation) I learned that I was a placid and happy drunk. When I consumed alcohol it helped me to not react to my mother, and initially I even consciously started to use it to help manage my interactions with her.

When I was drunk time passed quicker and things hurt less.

This was just the start of it though. I realised that I hadn’t just been suppressing pain – eventually I was suppressing happiness too – because the physiological reactions associated with any extremes of emotion were so strikingly similar.

Over time I’d created a situation where if I thought bad thoughts and felt bad emotions then I immediately moved to suppress them by self medicating. By 2016 I’d been doing it for so long that I’d ceased to recognised it for what it was. 

I was eating, drinking and smoking my pain AND HAPPINESS away.

Feeling sad? Have a (insert crutch here). It will make you feel better!

Feeling happy? Celebrate with a (insert crutch here). It will make things even better still!

Incredibly it had taken me 45 years to understand this about myself – but one by one the dominoes were falling. Each time I wrote something new down in my blog it gained a sense of permanence – and as time progressed (and I discovered more about myself) the dots were becoming connected.

I was building a picture of who I was – and gaining a deeper insight what my motivations were than I’d ever done before in my life. I no longer just forget something after a revelation and moved on.

Instead I could refer back to them, build upon them and consolidate my gains.

However – back in March of 2016 I was only a sober man.

It wasn’t until April that the real work started….

Davey

It’s not a maze – it’s a choice

I imagine that the medical profession have a covert diagnosis for many that walk through their doors in January. 

IJFJ is the acronym that springs to my mind (I’ll leave it your imagination but three of the words are January, It’s and just) and the more I talk to people in my life the more I realise that this is about appropriate as descriptions get. 

Everyone has some form of cold or flu, most are missing the holiday period, some have relationship issues and others just feel a bit rough after several weeks of drinking Baileys and eating mince pies for breakfast. 

I’ve had some sleep for my part. Not great sleep if I’m honest – but cumulatively the chunks I’ve nailed down have steadied the ship and combined with yesterday’s loss I feel quite good. 

My new walking shoes however may ensure that tomorrow I will be hobbling into my job interview like a pensioner. They’re working muscle groups in my shins and calves that previously appear to have been chilling out in my (sturdy ankle supported) boots. 

I’ve done only three miles so far today and they’re on FIRE! 🔥 

This is great as I’m actually beginning to enjoy this kind of pain – mostly because it heralds the arrival of physical improvements that didn’t exist before it was there. 

Maybe it’s the sleep, maybe it’s yesterday’s weight loss, maybe the planets have aligned – or maybe the ham and tomatoes I had for breakfast had fairy dust in them but today I feel POSITIVE

What’s more I feel like sharing this with the world – and I’m a big believer in practicing what I preach. 

I’m making a conscious effort (and have been all day) to smile at everyone I meet and say positive things. 

Many years ago I realised that I had lost my happy face and that what I was seeing in other people was simply the reflection of my own less than positive demeanour. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again (and again) before I’m done with blogging but…

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. 

It’s something of a confusing statement when you first hear it but I think few things in life ring as true as these words to me. I may sometimes fall short of my aspirations in this respect and forget my own advice – but every time I come back to them and consider what they mean it’s like a moment of mindfulness and they combine to spiritually uplift me. 

If you smile at people they invariably smile back. If you’re positive with them then they will often be positive back. Before you know it you’re consuming the harvest of the happiness you’ve seeded in others. 

I’m always amazed by people that see nothing but the worst in situations or others – and sometimes despair that they have such negative world views. However – more than that I’m struck by how poorer this ends up making them as their social circles shrink more and more until all they are left with are those that share their diminished world view.

This is the worst case scenario however. Most people (myself included) go through dips – but that’s all they are

Every fantastic rollercoaster needs to slowly climb from the bottom before it can see the world from on high and experience the rush of stepping off into the unknown. 

All of my slimming world buddies are doing just this. They’re putting reminders of past achievements on kitchen cupboards, clubbing together for exercise, posting pictures of new recipes they’ve tried and are gathering their happy thoughts to begin again. 

So – IJFJ internet. It’s not a big deal. 

The leaves will grow back on the trees, the sun will come out, the relationships will repair themselves or better ones will come along, colds and flu will disappear, friends will pop over for cups tea and soon, before we know it there will be more little swanlings in the park, struggling to survive and propelling fatties like me along the river with smiles on their faces. 


It’s not a maze. It’s a choice. 

Enjoy your day Internet 

Davey

What do I love?

I struggled to focus yesterday – and my mind was in a million different places (or so it seemed) all at once.

I started the day cooking. Cooking lots. Three meals at once. This was a sure sign that hunger was on my mind and that I was in a danger zone.

Truthfully I’d been in one all week. The stress of life has made me want to eat anything not nailed down – particularly sweet things which is very unlike me.

I’d had a lot of nightmares, woken up stressed and thinking about food.

If I pre-prepared everything for the day, measured it, boxed it and put it in my rucksack then I’d be safe. Failure would be impossible.

Firstly I prepared my oats – a Slimming world favourite of mine. 35g of rolled oats are classed as a healthy extra, and I mix them in a tupperware box with natural yogurt, cinnamon, Truvia, strawberries and blueberries. They’re delicious, natural, and waaaaay better than a bowl of crappy coco pops.

Ok – breakfast done. The first box is ready.

Then I turned my attention to the stir-fry, which was already taking shape on the hob. 

Lean pork strips and a bag of pre prepared stir fry with additional soy sauce and a couple of cloves of garlic.

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This would see me through work until the evening – and the protein would keep me feeling full. I stirred the contents of the large frying pan and added a bit more soy sauce.

Hmmm. I might need a snack.

I picked a chilled red apple from the fridge and placed it in my bag.

OK – what about my evening meal….

I couldn’t come home hungry. I’d be chewing the door to get into the kitchen otherwise.

I would fill the slow cooker – that makes a bowl and a half of something or other.

Curry – I’d do a chicken balti stew and use my new measuring spoons for the curry paste. That’s 2 syns measured and accounted for.

I got my spoons on eBay. They’re magnetic, stick together – and the red matches my crockery. 

I really like them!

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I’ve never before owned a measuring spoon – and certainly not a tablespoon. Honestly I wonder who does as I’ve never seen them in anyone’s kitchen but they seem omnipresent in almost all recipes.

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I finished filling the slow cooker with ingredients, turned it to low, boxed up my stir fry, wrapped several carrier bags around my tupperware to avoid leakage, placed them in my bag, and made my way to the car, and then work.

As the day wore on I talked to many colleagues while they milled in and out of the office for their appointments with HR. They’ve all asked me and themselves the same question.

‘What are you planning to do next?’

Some have pre-prepared and surprising answers, ranging from chainsaw wrangling to HGV certification. Others feel they will waste a lifetime of study if they change professions and are laser focused on finding something as close as they can to the current status quo. Some still want to pursue roles that may be available in other parts of our company.

There isn’t a unifying response.

At the moment I can’t answer for myself and what I want. I’ve tried a few times – but when the question is asked it ultimately leaves a void hanging in the air that doesn’t currently seem to be fillable.

It’s awkward.

As I type though I’m struck by the fact that I seem to have come full circle since my very first blog post. When I wrote it I was preoccupied with the question ‘What do I love?’

At the time I couldn’t answer.

The question had been gnawing at me for a long time and had made me realise that my life was largely superficial. 

I liked many things but loved nothing. The way I lived had numbed me to most of what surrounded me.

Honestly although some parts of me still feel that way from time to time I definitely feel like I’m different now. 

Not just physically, but mentally.

Although it’s nice to know people read my blog (and I like it to be interesting) I never really set out to do anything other than prove to myself that after years of simply consuming the work and content of others I could once again create something and sustain that creativity.

As life moved on so has my blog. In a relatively short space of time it changed from being about dropping out and getting a dog to facing up to a long term problem with alcohol and the death of my mother. I used it to confront my feelings about these in much the same way as I would use a mirror to come to terms with my reflection.

The act of editing, spell checking, re-writing and trying to ensure honesty has in the past left me exhausted. 

Clicking ‘publish’ when everything is linked to Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and Facebook can sometimes be quite daunting. People you have never met will sometimes see you at your worst and once you have presented this version of yourself then it can’t be taken back.

It’s out there. (cue spooky music)

My diarising has moved recently to another battle – this time with weight, and the theme has become one which I am intensely uncomfortable with – physical fitness.

This is something that I’ve always felt out of place talking about (I still more often than not feel like a failure and a fraud even with minor successes) but like everything else I’ve experienced, the revelation I’m faced with is not that I’m unusual, but how much like everyone else I am.

Funnily enough, they’re also a lot like me. We all periodically struggle for one reason or another and we all feel frail from time to time.

Writing about this has often brought people into my life that I didn’t know who have shared similar experiences, or just feel like they’re also struggling. 

Because I’ve been open they have been kind enough to do the same with me – and often what’s been shared has been truly humbling. The more honest I am, the more people comment or directly share their experiences with me – and the closer I have become to many of them.

I never realised before I started writing that there was a wall around my life, and the world was standing right behind it – within touching distance.

I think what I’m trying to say is that today – amongst all the questions about what to do with my life I realised that I can now say that I have something that I love in my life, and that’s writing.

I think about it all the time, and I now look forward to it as an act of combined creation and therapy. It’s made me think differently about everything and look for the simple things in situations that can enable me to describe how they make me feel.

For a while I tried to use mindfulness to relax, but now I use the structure of words, sentences and paragraphs in my head to bring order and calm. If you see me drift off it’s highly likely I’m considering how I would write about whatever is happening around me.

Every moment has become part of of the creative process, and I cannot imagine at the moment how I ever lived without writing about my thoughts and my life – good or bad.

 Internet – even if this isn’t what I end up doing for a living it really doesn’t matter, because I now know the answer to my question. 

I have two things I now love.

Writing and honesty.

Dave 

Moment of Zen

Zen stones

Zen stones in water

The people who know me will probably be best placed to decide whether I suffer from stress or not. Previously I would have been 99.9% sure that I did not (outside of parental bereavement and funerals etc), but I’m beginning to question that now.

I’m becoming VERY aware lately that my stress management (usually alcohol) in the past may have papered over many many cracks. It’s stopped me from dealing with problems, and hidden some of the obvious symptoms they caused.

It would be fair to say that my life wasn’t all that harsh though, and I’m not claiming to be someone with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

I am a single man, living on my own, content with that solitude, doing things I want to when I want to do them and before I suddenly decided to change direction and leave my job (since reversed thankfully) had been in stable employment with colleagues and friends going back many many years.

Although I still have my job the alcohol is now gone. Its been Sixty-nine days since it ceased to be a crutch.

Although I made a very conscious decision to stop drinking I am also aware that at the same time events overtook me. The death of my mother, whom I struggled to relate to removed a huge burden that I’d carried for years.

The sensation of weight lifting when she died wasn’t instant, and her death created many other ripples, but it was the beginning of a new chapter, which is still unfolding.

With this newfound perspective and lucid thought comes emotion. Lots of it sometimes. Going to group (now in the 3rd week of four) brings a lot of questions – and not always with answers.

Today we discussed dealing with depression. While I can categorically say in the past I have been seriously caught in the grip of this (about 4 years ago I really hit rock bottom), at the moment I am not. For the most part I’m positive, but I’m also conscious that other events in the back of my mind and elsewhere in life are looming large in my head. Now I have made a step toward a new life I’m not only faced with possibilities, but fears.

They’ve probably always been there, but now they’re vivid and real.

I’ve learned how my drinking trigger feels and have blogged about it before. It’s a warm feeling in my chest that leads to a tingling sensation in my neck and face. Now I can see it for what it is I’m becoming more able to deal with it, and slow down the chain reaction that previously resulted in me immediately buying or consuming alcohol.

At the moment I’m slowly getting into Mindfulness, and I’m genuinely surprised at the difference it makes. This evening I got very tense and stressed. EVERYTHING was in place to either make me eat or drink to excess, and then YouTube came to the rescue.

Before and after every group session over the last few weeks we have had a ten minute session similar to this, and whilst my initial estimation of its power was ‘verging on complete bollocks’ its now moved on to ‘actually very good indeed’.

I decided to try and find a home version tonight (previously I’ve just sat quietly trying to breathe and calm down) and the video above popped up in my search. I’m sure there are many many more like this, but in a moment of panic this really hit the spot.

Like most things Mindfulness seems to get better the more you practice it, and as you begin to become more self aware and able to filter thoughts and external sounds out there are genuine benefits to be had. Within the space of 10 mins tonight I went from worried and tense to calm, centred and existing in the moment.

Who knew that such things were possible? Not me thats for sure.

I’ve also had other related things to think about today. Dopamine triggers.

Although I’ve not been able to find any evidence on the web to substantiate this my group leader today suggested that one of the four natural dopamine triggers was caring about other people. This really resonated with me, as thoughts involving others are always with me and I’m very much a person (at least I think I am) who likes to reach out to others.

Since I read whilst researching this that sex is a recognised dopamine trigger I’m willing to get on board with this concept, and instinctively feel that the warmth coming from human contact, and sharing emotions must be related.

However – I’m only a Google and Wikipedia pseudo scientist so it could also be serotonin or endorphins. Or caffeine – which is also consumed in large quantities with friends.

Or sandwiches.

Mmmmm sandwiches….

But I’m getting off the point. WHATEVER causes the nice sensations – sign me up baby and let the good times roll!

I’m going to practice more of this tonight before bed and see whether I can filter out some of the inane mental chatter thats stopped me sleeping the last two nights in a row.

Oh, and finally, I met a nice woman online tonight who was kind enough to chat with me about my blog, and share her YouTube channel with me. It’s not every day that you meet a lady that can review a cordless drill, bake cookies, race radio controlled cars AND write a blog thats not just varied but well composed.

She too writes thoughtfully about the loss of a parent, and I guess I’m far from alone out here in the blogosphere. The internet is a wonderful place sometimes, and just when you need that shot of dopamine/serotonin/endorphins/sandwiches and human contact, unexpectedly someone comes along 🙂

Be mindful internet. The universe is listening!

Davey