The five most important lessons I have learned…from my food addiction.

0 (1)Looking at myself in the mirror or glancing down at my legs I hardly recognise myself at times, which is a weird experience.  Sometimes when I look at my jeans I wonder how I am ever going to get into that size 12 rather than the former size 16/18 I was wearing this time last year.  And even the 12s are getting a little big!?

Sometimes when I browse through the clothes stores (no shopping at the moment) I will look at a dress or outfit and wonder if they’ll have it in my size or if I’ll fit into it…and then remember that my body has shed almost sixty 500g blocks of butter in the past year, and of course I will!  Shopping has always been a horror experience for me, taking a range of clothes to the change room only to discover that even the size 18 is a little small in some part.  Avoiding full eye contact with my reflection because I was embarrassed by my own self…thinking that I was lazy and useless to not have been able to stick to yet another diet plan and lose the weight that had crept on over the previous 12 months or so.

One of my biggest realisations over the course of my process has been that a big part of my inability to successfully complete a programme comprised of a couple of elements:

  1. The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
  2. The expectations I placed on myself about the results I was going to achieve and the time frame I was going to achieve them in were completely unrealistic.
  3. The mindset I had around nutrition and exercise where fixed, which resulted in seeing every little slip, scale gain and  plateau as a failure and a chance to give up.
  4.  I did not know how to create accountability around my process, because if I couldn’t get it “right” that must mean I was lazy and incapable.
  5. I just didn’t love myself enough to see it through to the end!

Nothing earth shattering there! And what a load of complete and utter BS!  I have come from the school of dieting that is all about getting on a diet and sticking to a diet until you have achieved the required results.  No erring!  No mistakes!  No excuses!  If you are following the plan/programme, sticking to the instructions and eating the food you are supposed to you WILL LOSE WEIGHT.  So if I was doing all that and wasn’t getting the required outcomes then I  must have been doing something wrong.

Often after a great start of weight loss, I would quickly plateau in my scale losses.  I would become disheartened and frustrated that nothing was changing, and when I would ask the programme leader, dietitian, nurse or facilitator I was working with what was going on they’d always answer with a raised eyebrow and something about “Sticking to the programme!”  These comments and attitudes would leave me feeling uncertain and then I would start to question myself…my will power…my inability to do it right…my frustration at feeling deprived and unhappy…and sure as anything I would  be throwing in the towel and back to my old ways!

My old ways included self-deprecation for being so useless, criticising myself for not being focused and motivated enough, considering myself a loser because I just couldn’t see anything through.  And back I’d go to eating for all the wrong reasons.  The problem with any sort of dysfunctional eating behaviour, is that abstinence is not an option!  Unlike substance abuse, we can’t simply give up eating.  So, I would abuse food in the same way that I abused alcohol.

Depriving myself of anything nourishing or healthy when it came to what I put in my body.  Hiding my eating habits from my family and friends, which included chronic binges that left me feeling sick, guilty and ashamed (not unlike the way I would abuse alcohol in my twenties and early thirties).  The Friday evening shopping ritual was like a visit to the bottle store, piling my trolley with the most highly palatable food I could find and the I’d isolate over the weekends and eat, to the point of physical sickness.  I wasn’t bulimic because it didn’t happen every weekend, and like with drinking I could go for days without being dysfunctional.  But then the urge would strike!

This usually happened when I had nothing planned for the weekend, and I was feeling lonely or excluded, I had not been taking care of my stress, or I was just feeling I needed a reward for a long, hard week.  I’d get home and unpack all the food onto my kitchen counter and plan how I was going to eat it.   How I would have a little of this and one of those, maybe a small bowl of ice cream and just a few of the potato chips.  And it would start of well enough, just like the first couple of drinks in the years gone by.  But then something would happen and my brain would take over, and I would be lost in a hopeless cycle.  I would tell myself that I was only going to have one more brownie and leave the rest for tomorrow, only to end up eating the whole pack and then feeling immensely weak and out of control.  And so it would go until the food was finished or it was all in the bottom of the toilet.

This pattern of eating really got intense over the last few years leading up to when I started to identify that I was actually dealing with a cross-addiction in my life.  As a coach working in the field of addiction recovery, it was an extremely difficult realisation to own that I was abusing food in the same way I had abused alcohol years previously.  I was no longer eating for enjoyment, nourishment or reward, I was eating to punish myself, to hide away and to release negative emotions.  The similarities were difficult to ignore and the consequences were just as negative.  Feelings of self-loathing, isolation, emotions ranging from helplessness to rage, guilt, shame and a tattered self-esteem.

Ever move I made I was conscious of how I hated my body.  I was unable to walk into a room without feeling like everyone was judging me for being fat and lazy, because I was unable to control myself and stick to a diet, lose some weight and get myself into a gym.  Every week I promised myself that I was going to make changes, only to end up slipping off to the kitchen to eat slices of cheese behind the half-closed fridge door!  Not that there was anyone to see me doing it.  It all felt so dark and secretive, so damaging and yet even with a set of tools and practices, I felt powerless to do anything about it.

LEIGH 3 monthsThe challenge with certain addictions though is that the only option is moderation management.  Learning a way of reducing the harm that I was doing to my body, mind and soul through this destructive behaviour, was going to be my only way out of it.  Learning a new set of habits, skills and behaviours that were supportive of change; long-term, sustainable change.  And then I reached out…and like with any recovery that was the beginning of finding my way forward.  I didn’t get the right support for me off the bat, but I did start to make changes.  But what I did get right is that I started to get honest!  I stopped talking about the food and I started addressing my intentions and underlying motivations around the way I used food.  Making changes to my narrative was an essential part of the process, and learning to listen to the quiet, gentle inner voice rather than the angry, destructive critical one became a turning point for me.

In September 2016 I had a real breakthrough with my personal coach when I started to explore how I spoke to myself, and it was there that the real change started to happen.  I wrote about this in my blog post “How Do You Speak to Yourself?” and that was the day that I realised that the only way I was going to move forward was to do something new and different.  Something that I hadn’t tried before…  And so began my real recovery into finding and loving myself.

And after 12 months what I have learned is this:

  1. An eating plan can be as inclusive and exciting as I choose it to be, with all the food groups, and yet healthy and sustainable.  Thank you Flexible Dieting!!
  2. The expectations I place on myself are controlled by me, and need to be realistic, achievable and self-loving; only then can I expect to achieve them.
  3. That if I embrace a growth mindset in my life, then everything becomes a learning and an opportunity for growth and development, and there is no beginning or end just the process I chose to follow.
  4. I have created accountability and support through allowing myself to be vulnerable and reach out, because there is no right or wrong, just finding a way that works for me.
  5. And my biggest learning has been that I am deserving of the love and attention that I give to myself.  That the choices I make are ones that nourish and fulfill my bod, mind and soul, and I am worthy of making those choices and loving myself!

My name is Leigh-Anne and I am a recovering food addict and a flexible dieting convert…

How do you speak to yourself…?

quiet-your-mindIf I spoke to the people in my life the way the voice in my head talks to me I would surely be friendless! It came as a real “aha” moment this morning while working with my personal coach, that I am just downright mean to myself.  I suddenly began to understand why it is that I am unable to achieve certain seemingly simple things in my life… I fail to action so that the nasty little voice in me can shame and guilt me for NOT achieving something as “easy” as going to the gym after a 12-hour working day.  It’s the same voice that chatters away to me when I am unable to resist the chocolate cake, but is oh so quiet when I do succeed in a myriad of other things during the day or the week.  It sits silently by when I receive praise, waiting to pounce at me with some derogatory afterthought as to how I could have done better.

It’s not a kind and loving voice, it’s harsh and critical, echoing failures, but never sharing triumph.  I thought about where it was born while I was working through my realisation this morning, and came to the conclusion that I may never know, but it is time to do something about it.  The most humbling part of the experience was not that the voice was there, but that I’d recognised it so often in my coaching clients, yet failed to hear it for what it was in me…Limiting in its beliefs, stagnant in its mindset and cruel in its choice of language.

It’s the part of me that never truly celebrates all the wonderful things I have achieved, but rather looks for the cracks.  It slides through my mind like volcanic lava, burning the positive thoughts to ashes and leaving nothing but destructive ideas and feelings in its path.  It’s just always been there…the never good enough in me.  It doesn’t speak up when I am feeling grounded and empowered, but waits for a moment of uncertainty when it can lash out with its vicious self-deprecations and taunts.  So although there is a certain curiosity as to where it came from, I am choosing to focus on “retraining” my voice.  Sending it out into the world of gratitudes, teaching it to be softer, kinder and more self-loving.

Because the sudden and profound awareness that it exists and the nastiness of its existence has been a dramatic shift for me today.  I suddenly feel a little more deserving of personally affirming myself.  Because after compliments do come my way, the voice shrieks…and it’s not a display of humility but an inability to be able to practice humility.  There are plenty of areas of life that I have succeeded.  The mere fact that I have been in recovery for this long surely deserves to be celebrated.  My few, but wonderful friends speak of many years of love and connection and deserve to be heard.  Living courageously is where I want to be moving forward, my own voice my biggest fan.  The one that is as fiercely loving and compassionate with me as I am with others…

I feel that through this deepened understanding of self today I have truly stepped into a new dimension of myself and it’s a place I want to slowly explore.  Building on the tools and resources learned to this point, shaping the future of my life with a gentler set of words and ideas.  Rather than the river of fire that burns and destroys, I want the recesses of my mind and soul to be a gently running stream of mindfulness and conscious awareness.  Ever present in my own set of positive beliefs and candid encouragement, I suddenly understand the real work that lies ahead of me and I feel blessed, grateful and truly grounded.  Tonight the soft whispers that drift through my mind are light and ethereal, like mischievous nymphs seeking adventure, and their gentle laughter soothes my soul.  Tonight I feel as though I have started to find my way in the world, with nothing but the truth of who I really am to guide me, and I feel at peace.

Til next time,

Sober Something

I didn’t say it would be easy…I said it would be worth it!

worth it not easyI went to a funeral a couple of weeks ago…and since then I have been experiencing a certain amount of frustration as to why people don’t seem to want to take personal responsibility for their recovery!?  So I have found myself vacillating between anger and minor irritation as to what it is that makes people hand away their personal power at the first given opportunity?

Moving between blame and justification for a slip or a relapse, but seemingly unwilling to take the steps towards personal responsibility, many of my clients seem to be living in some sort of recovery no man’s land…  Not quite in the culture of addiction, but neither firmly standing in the culture of recovery.  It’s almost as though they are waiting to be handed a magical “cure” for their “illness”.  Since I don’t really believe in the disease model of addiction, seeing it more as a social disorder, I don’t believe that we are sick!  I don’t believe that addiction always wins…and I certainly don’t believe that anyone other than us has the capability to “fix” our lives.  Of course I believe in support in numerous forms, whether that is mutual-aid groups, therapy, counselling, coaching or faith-based guidance, but I do believe that ultimately the responsibility for our recovery lies firmly in our hands.

So I ask myself the following questions:

  • Did I follow my recovery plan today and replenish my #RecoveryCapital
  • Did I strive to be a better, more fulfilled person than I was yesterday?
  • Did I practice mindfulness and spiritual principles?
  • Did I use my personal tools and techniques to deal with difficult or stressful situations, so that I responded as an adult, rather than reacting like a child?
  • Was I aware of my triggers and did I use my learned skills to deal with them?

Sound like hard work…?  Well, in early recovery it certainly was, but as time passes these processes and practices become less conscious and more natural.  Not unlike learning to play a musical instrument, speak a  new language or play a sport, the brain and the body take time to develop new thought and behaviour patterns.  Treatment may  be necessary to deal with the symptoms of heavy substance use and the withdrawal, but this is just the beginning of the road for those of us who choose recovery.  The time spent in a clinic or treatment facility needs to be supplemented through aftercare and maintenance programmes, so that the learnings introduced in rehab are practiced and reinforced  over a longer time period.

We need to develop daily routines and practices that support a life of recovery and wellness.  Constantly making choices that exclude the use of substances to deal with life, work, relationships, family, finances…eve fun!  It’s about making choices that support recovery rather than simply allowing the memories (and associated dopamine rewards) of using to take control!  It’s conscious awareness of what’s good for us and conscious avoidance of what isn’t!  Drugs and alcohol are NEVER going away, families are always going to be emotional minefields, jobs and finances are probably going to be the cause of stress at some point, so the thing to do is to develop a set of tools and techniques that ensure that we are empowered enough to deal with these issues in a mature, grounded way.

Life doesn’t miraculously become easier in recovery…in fact sometimes the opposite is true, because sobriety is ordinarily full of technicolour emotions that have been dampened and pushed down for years!  People expect miracles from their loved ones post-treatment, because now that the evil substances are no longer in the picture surely life should be perfect?  The fact is that there is plenty of work for everyone in the family to do now that their loved one is free of substances.  And there is always the chance of a relapse, because that is the unfortunate nature of addiction.  But simply giving into the idea that we are sick and cannot control our lives and recovery doesn’t resonate with me…

It would have been so much easier to go to my client’s funeral with half a dozen Xanax in me…maybe a couple extra in my pocket just in case I felt anything like sadness or anger for his untimely death!  And then a vodka or twelve to get through the rest of the day because it feels crap to feel crap!  But those are the choices of my past.  My present reality at times involves difficult situations, raw emotions, complicated relationships and stress in a myriad of forms , but my choice every day is to get up and action my recovery plan which simply put is this...I am a survivor who takes responsibility, is accountable and practices a set of spiritual principles so that I can sustain my recovery and in so doing continue to live a life of fulfilment and purpose.

I don’t for one minute say that this is easy and I have the humility to know when I am doing well and to be aware of when I am not achieving what I set out to do, but it’s a whole lot better than the alternative which is “just one more” of whatever it is…and a life that would unravel as surely the level in the tequila bottle dropped.  So I know the difficulties and the challenge faced by my clients, and I understand that it is their journey not mine, but I can’t help wanting for them what I have, and sometimes that shows up as frustration I guess…  And I never said it was going to be easy, I said it was going to be worth it!

Til next time,

Sober Something

What do I choose!?

Sometimes life is extremely challenging and there are times when it’s particularly difficult not to curl up in a ball under my duvet and hide from the world…but then I would not be living the learning that I encourage my clients to practice in their lives.  Because recently i have had a really tough run of events that didn’t result in me having a drink, but did find myself slipping back into those nasty thought patterns that ruled my life while I was drinking!  The woe-poor-victim-me way of thinking that never amounts to anything good.  I have found myself throwing a self-pity party or two that were among my finest…  The beauty of this situation though was my awareness of my behaviour and the consciousness of what was going on.  So rather than staying entrenched in these thoughts, words and deeds of all-consuming abjection, I utilise the tools that I have at my disposal to check myself and my unhealthy thoughts.

Instead of getting sucked into the misery vortex, I has to start thinking about my thinking and I dig into my bag of spiritual principles, and decide how to proceed.  I am not for one minute saying that this is an effortless transition, but by applying what I know to be effective, I am able to direct my thinking in a healthier, more empowered way and start to make plans for how I am going to move forward.  Being told by a radiologist that they have found a lump, while my wonderful partner is at home nursing a broken hand, driving a borrowed car while mine was having the clutch replaced and not having the funds to pay for the biopsy, all made me feel like the universe was conspiring against me…and I slipped right into “my addict” way of mentally processing the situation.  It hasn’t been a great year with my boyfriend’s mother and best friend dying, my best friend losing her baby just before he was due to enter the world, coupled with endless financial stresses and all those annoying little things that seem to be constantly happening.

So when I realised that although I wasn’t using like an addict I was thinking like an addict , I decided to get really serious with myself.  And that doesn’t mean berating myself, telling myself to pull myself together.   This is when I really need to practice the principles of self-love, patience and acceptance.  I have been through a lot this year, and I need to be gentle with myself at times.  So instead of chastising myself for slipping, I have given myself the space to process what it’s all about.  I have spent a couple of weeks dancing in and out of fear and anger, even sadness, but I have been aware of my feelings and understood that even though they might not feel good, they are necessary in order to move forward.  Just because I work with chaos, crisis and conflict on a daily basis in the substance abuse treatment and recovery world, doesn’t mean that I am a guru when it comes to dealing with my own upsets.

What I do know now is even when there is huge uncertainty, I need to practice (not just talk about) gratitude, humility, patience, acceptance and compassion.  That I need to be conscious of my thinking, and if necessary express my fear, sadness and anger in a mature and adult way so that they best serve me and those around me.  I have turned not to run from my emotions, but to work through them with the principles I am developing and strengthening in my life.  It’s one thing to know I need to be honest about how I am feeling, but another thing to practice this essential principle (whether or not one is in recovery)…  I can talk about being patient, but how can I truly implement this and other truths into daily life.

I chooseBut I am learning through practiced awareness, consciousness and mindsight to be in control of the things I can control, and in the situations I have no control over, I do have the choice as to how I show up in these  instances.  I have a choice of how I practice and apply my learnings, and I have a choice as to how I respond to the situations that come my way.  I may not always appreciate what is happening in my life, and it might be scary and overwhelming at times, but  I do have a choice at how I look at these events and whether I approach them as an empowered woman’s thinking or that of my addict…  And although there are many things I have no choice or control over, these are a few of the things that I do!!

For more information about Recovery Coaching and living a purposeful, fulfilled life in recovery | (011)728-9200 | leigh-anne@thefoundationclinic.co.za 

Challenge and Change…The Chaos of Recovery

CHALLENGE AND CHANGEOne of the recurring themes in the recovery coaching work that I do is that people think that once they have undergone possible treatment and are now working their recovery, that life is going to be easy.  That everything is miraculously going to get better, that relationships are going to mend and that life is suddenly going to be everything we dreamed of…  The truth is that things are going to get a lot better, but this doesn’t happen overnight and there is no Recovery Fairy that waves a magic wand and fixes everything that was broken.  Recovery takes hard work and dedication to the recovery plan you have decided on for yourself.  Once you have identified the emotional, physical, mental, social and spiritual recovery capital that you need to support you in your journey, and been equally honest about your recovery liabilities – those things that are likely to be detrimental to our recovery.

I can vouch for the fact that recovery is a wonderful journey, but like any adventure there are obstacles and challenges along the way.  As we grow and develop in all areas of our lives, the people closest to us may be confused and unsure of the changes that are taking place.  They may feel vulnerable and “left out” because they don’t understand what’s happening to the person who has for so long been unwell.  Their role in the relationship changes and they may not want or enjoy the new place in our lives that they now occupy.  You may not need them as much…asking them to help you out, fix your mistakes and pick up the pieces as you did in the past.  So even though you are well and growing as an individual, they may feel confused about where they fit into your recovery.  So rebuilding your relationships requires applying the spiritual principles such as tolerance, patience and acceptance.  You may need to practice accountability, forgiveness and love as the people in your life find their place in your recovery space.  It’s not always easy as there may be issues of co-dependency in your relationships, where others are reliant on your substance abuse disorder to define their role in the relationship.

So as you change, grow and develop without them, there is a gap between you.  And this is just one of the challenges of recovery.  Because besides the fact that your friends and family might not understand the changes that you are undergoing, you are also faced with having “lost your best friend” and feeling an unbearable emptiness.  A void that you need to learn how to fill with new, healthy past times and activities.  Exploring what feeds your soul can be exhausting, but the end result is that your life can be filled with meaning and fulfillment.  That you start to live with purpose, pursuing your goals with determination and authenticity.  But these goals don’t determine themselves and purpose doesn’t drop into your lap just because you have decided to work your recovery.  Soul searching with honesty and willingness can be oh so draining, but as you start to (re)learn and (re)discover what drives and motivates you, you will begin to live with a vigor and passion that has been lying dormant through your active addiction.

Whatever your recovery choices are, by moving forward and focusing on the future, rather than wallowing in the past, you will begin to find a new rhythm to your life.  Initially recovery may seem like a lot of work, devoid of any fun and enjoyment, so be sure to reward yourself for the work that you are doing!  My clients often find recovery overwhelming, all work and no play, so to speak.  I believe that it is crucial to take some time out and “pat yourself on the back” for a job well done.  I encourage them to spend some time thinking about healthy activities and events that will bring them a sense of excitement and pleasure, that are inline with their recovery goals.  Perhaps that means a day at the amusement park, a weekend away, a new outfit or pair of shoes, that book or movie they’ve been dying to get to or a relaxing afternoon at the spa.  The choice is yours, depending on the type of activity that brings you enjoyment.  What brings happiness to one person is totally different to that of the person sitting next to them in a Recovery Wellness Program, at an AA or NA meeting or in a treatment program.  The challenge is to find those things that bring a smile to your lips and a glow to your core.

Just remember that everyone’s Road to Recovery is unique.  The successes need to be celebrated and the tests along the way can be triumphantly overcome with learned tools, techniques and recovery capital.  So don’t despair if you are finding your recovery a little chaotic or a touch arduous, there are people to support and guide you through these trying periods.  If you are interested in more information about Recovery Coaching and learning about how to develop recovery capital and spiritual principles and tools and techniques for  living a fulfilled and purposeful life in recovery, visit http://www.thefoundationclinic.co.za  or contact Leigh-Anne (082)442-5710.

Til next time,

Sober Something

Take My Breath Away

I haven’t been able to catch my breath, literally, for more than a week!  And to be honest it’s been really scary!  The doctors have run a bunch of tests and there really seems to be nothing wrong…and then there’s everything emotional that’s going on in my life that have been causing a fair amount of stress.  And suddenly there might be an answer.  There are coaches who might try and tell you that they have all the answers and that their lives are a blissful series of self-actualised moments, without stress or worry, but I am definitely not one of those coaches.  My life is complicated and sometimes I get so caught up in trying to empower and help others, that I forget about my well-being a little.  I am not trying to portray myself as any sort of philanthropic martyr, I am just saying sometimes my life lacks the balance that I am so passionate about helping others find.  Being a self-employed coach comes with it’s own set of challenges and I’m self-aware enough to admit that I don’t have all the answers on any given day.

What I do admit is that I try and be fully present and conscious of what is going on in my life, and through this awareness I find that life is far more manageable.  But I guess this breathing problem, whatever the cause, has thrown me a little.  There could b e any number of reasons that I am more stressed than normal…because as much as recovery coaching is my passion, at the moment it is not proving financially viable as a full-time income.  So I have been in the SA job market since July and that has proved nothing short of humbling, tending towards soul destroying.  I am educated, intelligent, motivated and very good in a number of areas ranging from training and facilitating, to managing people and being an organised and efficient administrator.  But after sending dozens of job applications, maybe in the hundreds, I am still living off my savings.  I always knew that it would take time to build a practice and I am not even in the give-up ballpark, but a gal’s gotta pay the bills!  Especially an independent and proud one like me.

And it’s not so much about the jobs that I am not even considered for, the “if you haven’t heard from us in 14 days, please consider your application unsuccessful” variety.  It’s the ones where there is communication and interviews, promises of follow-up and possibilities, only to materialise into nothing, not even a final call or email, that are difficult to deal with.  It’s been a tough lesson in self-worth, because there are have been days when my professional confidence has hit an all-time low.  I’ve coached myself through the really rough days and talked the situation through with my incredible personal support network, but I can’t help feeling a little defeated.  Recruitment consultants promise the world face-to-face, only to disappear into the abyss of unanswered emails and phone calls.  I get it, it’s a tough market, but surely a little consideration for the job seekers fighting it out in the proverbial trenches would go a long way.  I think it smacks of bad manners and a lack of consideration, especially since I place such a high value on communication at all levels.

So I’m starting to think that this has a lot to do with me not being able to catch my breath.  And then over the last few days while co-facilitating my Recovery Wellness Group I realised that there was another, much deeper element of stress.  And this one has to do with my personal recovery and wellness.  A conversation in the group made me question my own recovery and whether taking addictive, prescription medications at points over the past seven years were in fact relapse episodes!!  Did the use of Xanax or Diazepam during particularly difficult times in my life constitute a break in my recovery!?  And I inadvertently spent 10 days subconsciously obsessing about it…  Because if this was to be considered as such, I wasn’t living or working authentically.  It meant I was being dishonest with myself and my clients and that really shook up my entire value system.  Through personal reflection and honest evaluation, I decided that it hasn’t affected my recovery as I personally understand and believe it to be.  I was very conscious of my use, was upfront with my doctors about my substance abuse disorder and closely monitored my use, following medical advice on decreased dosages over time.  But it was so fundamentally upsetting to me it seems to have manifested itself physically.

Life

So although since I started to explore these possible causes the issue has become a little better, there is still personal work to be done.  Of course my doctor is not prepared to rule out that it might be something physical, but as I mentioned the tests so far have shown nothing!  My less medically-inclined friends have suggested that breathing exercises, acupuncture or Reiki might be helpful.  As for me, I’m exploring all the options, doing a boatload of self-coaching and just trying to keep all the pressures and challenges of daily life in perspective.  After all life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Til next time

Sober Something

Don’t judge my path if you haven’t walked my journey.

It’s not often that I have the time (or the inspiration) to post more than once a week, but the devastating passing of Robin Williams gave me much cause to pause and think over the last few days.  Something that seems prevalent in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is how many truly unhappy people there seem to be in what can only be described as a fish bowl.  But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder why should celebrity pain and suffering be any more tragic than the garden-variety kind.  I’m not for one moment trying to marginalise the grief that many people must be feeling around the death of such a beloved star, but every day there are people living lives of quiet desperation and I only wish that the public’s attention wouldn’t shift quite so quickly from the issues that these people’s deaths raise.

Whenever someone famous meets a tragic end there is a short-lived focus on the issue that was the root of their demise.  Whether that be drug addiction, like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger, or alcoholism which took Amy Winehouse or those suffering from a co-occuring disorder such as seems to be the case in so many of these untimely deaths.  Pills washed down with vodka to overcome sleeplessness is probably not the most holistic way to rest.  But whether the disorder is in the realm of substance abuse, mental challenges or a combination thereof, attention on the subject is ever so short!  Outpourings of sympathy, righteous indignation over the epidemic of addiction and then a silent retreat until the next person falls prey to something unnatural.  I understand that it sounds like I am advocating capitalising on death, but if the celebrities of the world have so much influence in life, then surely their battles  can help others find answers and paths to mental, emotional and physical recovery.

It also made me wonder why people in the limelight are celebrated so much for their attempts at recovery while the average man on the street is not given quite as much support.  Actually there is still some sort of lingering stigma attached to treatment (in a variety of forms) when it comes to us normal lot.  While celebrities are applauded for their efforts to get clean and sober a lot of us are trying to side-step the truth about our addiction and recovery.  And I’m not talking about shouting it from the rooftops, just being able to comfortably state in certain situations that you are in recovery.  However, I do think more influential people should start talking out about their addictions and lead the charge in throwing off the cloak of anonymity.  I’m not saying we should all go around declaring our challenges in inappropriate places.  I definitely don’t go around introducing myself as an alcoholic, but if the subject comes up as to why I don’t drink, I am don’t make a big fuss of it and simply state that I am in recovery.  Subject closed and moving onto those yummy little mini quiches at the cocktail party.  But I do believe that it is time for people to stop feeling so ashamed.

Maybe you did bad things in active addiction, but there are politicians and business people who ruin the lives of hundreds and thousands of people on any given day and sleep just fine at night.  Again, I’m not condoning their behaviour, but what I am trying to say is that there are more shameful things in life than having tried a substance at some point, and for whatever reason, become a chronic user of it.  No one wants to be an addict!  No one aspires to suffering from a mental disorder!  I don’t think the same can be said of people that actively exploit and harm others.  Your recovery is as important and significant as any world renowned star!  You’re as valuable to the people who love you as the multitude of fans that still weep at certain rock stars gravesides.

So even though you may feel a little sad when someone like Robin Williams takes his life, spare a thought for the millions of people that are in similar situations.  The man on the street corner begging for change to fuel his habit might just have taken a slightly different course in life to the mega star drying on at an exclusive five-star treatment centre.  Addiction and mental disorders are not picky, they’ll take whatever they can get, so take a moment and honour yourself and your recovery journey (even if it’s been a bit of a stop-start process).  You’re as much of a star in someone close to you’s eyes as those fallen stars are to their fans, and possibly more because they have the privilege of knowing and loving you.  And in closing today remember, “Don’t judge my path if you haven’t walked my journey.”

Don't judge  my path

‘Til next time

Sober Something

 

 

“Are you willing to do the work?”

I’m feeling pretty proud of myself at the moment having designed and launched my first commercial website…www.recoverycoachingsa.com.  Still tweaking things here and there, but it’s an amazing feeling to be able to put my ideas, thoughts and services around recovery coaching into the market place.  Of course it’s also a little scary and I have to admit quite humbling.  Building a business from scratch is an altogether new experience for me.  There are so many factors to consider, so many things to organise and then of course there’s the constant thoughts around actually helping people grow and progress once they have chosen recovery.

I’ve spent some time networking in the industry and have met some very interesting people.  And I had a very special opportunity this morning and was invited to sit in on a group recovery coaching session.  Since coaching takes place in a safe and secure place, I am not going to discuss the actual happenings of the session.  What it did bring home to me was how I have come over the years.  The raw pain and emotional vulnerability that I saw and felt this morning were a real reminder of how blessed I am to have my sobriety and a firm handle on my continuing recovery.  Of course there are still days when I am not all poised and together, but those are days when I’m dealing with deep personal issues that I am fully aware of and am constantly striving to balance.  The hardest thing in recovery really is accepting that there are elements of one’s self that require honest inspection and hard work, especially if we are going to move from where we are to where we want to be.

Observing someone reach this point of realisation this morning, understanding that they cannot ask for the love of others until they love themselves and coming to this place surrounded by a caring, nurturing group, really was a wonderful process to behold.  I have never had any doubt as to the strength of the coaching model in recovery, but it is a beautiful thing to see in motion.  From slumped shoulders at the beginning to a man standing proud in front of a mirror with his head held high, affirming that he was what he needed to be, was indeed a professional and personal privilege.  For me this morning affirmed that although the path I have chosen to walk may be a tough choice in South Africa, where recovery coaching is still in its infancy, it is indeed the right one.

Giving people the personal power to answer their own questions while holding their truth in a safe space is one of the fundamental tenants of coaching.  All coaches are unique in their approach and have developed tools for assisting their clients’ development and growth, but the underlying idea is that we are helping people move from where they are to where they want to be.  These shifts can be in any of the five areas of recovery capital; physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual.  Whether an individual is seeking to get well, reduce anxiety, find inner peace, rebuild broken relationships or reconnect with their spiritual self, it is possible through the use of any number of approaches.  The main thing is, “Are you willing to do the work?”  Nothing in life that comes easily ever really sticks around for too long and I honestly believe that if my sobriety had simply dropped into my lap, if I hadn’t done the work, and if I didn’t continue to do it, I would not honour my recovery as much as I do every day…and even more so on a day like today.

After all, life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Til next time,

Sober Something

Magnify

What the forgiveness?!

I have spent the last two days completing the theoretical component of my Recovery Coach certification and something came up in the material that I thought truly merited a little consideration.  I’ve touched on it before in previous posts, but never really delved into it too much.  However, I know that it is something that us addicts find ourselves dealing with, especially during early-stage recovery, and it’s anger.  Yup, that nasty little master that pops its head up and makes itself known at all sorts of times.  Sometimes in the most warranted of situations and sometimes for no seemingly sensible reason at all!

There are still times that I can get incredibly angry, but I have learned to avoid triggers that make me upset and I am very aware of situations that likely to wake the beast in me.  I’m not saying that everything that makes me angry is related to my addiction and that there is no place for healthy expressions of disapproval.  What I’m getting at is that senseless rage is not a healthy or constructive part of recovery.  Of course there are things that make me mad, people that push the wrong buttons, injustices that leave me seething.  The anger I am referring to is that which I experienced when I was in my first months (even years) of sobriety.  It’d come out of nowhere, provoked by something innocuous and would erupt suddenly and violently within me.

It could be something as minor as someone pushing in front of me in a supermarket.  Instead of a simple “excuse me”, I would stand and fume – there was not always an immediate outwards display of the emotion.  I’d spend the rest of my time in the queue plotting against the perpetrator, letting the dark emotions build inside me over the next few hours and then something would undoubtedly bring it spewing out, like toxic waste directed at someone I really cared about.  Alternatively it would see me alone at home, crying and raging at the injustices of the world, bemoaning the plight of the exploited masses or the raping of natural resources.  It was never well directed, it was never dealt with in a mature adult fashion and it was most definitely unhealthy!

I realise now that learning to express our unhappiness or discomfort in a healthy way in early recovery is an essential part of sustained sobriety (or abstinence) from the substances and behaviours that we are partial to.  Because anger ignored and unaddressed is a surefire way to relapse!  I couldn’t see at the time that my anger was residual, caused by issues that I hadn’t faced when I was drinking, but had built up over a period of years.  Anger, according to some experts, is also there to cover up our innermost feelings of shame and guilt that have become entrenched in us during our active addiction.  It’s seen as a character defect that develops along with others such as perfectionism, an all-or-nothing grandiosity or being a manipulator, to name a few.  These defects develop to protect denial, which in turn protects our innermost shame and guilt over our addiction.  It’s an intertwined set of internal and external triggers that can bring our anger to light, but it’s going to come!

What we need to do is find ways to heal ourselves, at the same time as learning to deal with these feelings of rage.  Letting go of the anger, denial, shame and guilt are all essential parts of getting well.  Addressing the causes of these emotions plays an important role in our personal recovery journey.  It’s not going to be the same for everyone and there are different paths to letting go of these feeling, we just need to find the one that’s right for us.  It might be therapy, mutual-help groups, coaching, meditation, personal development or exercise.  It might be finding a hobby or a past time that moves us towards a place of forgiveness and inner peace.  And forgiveness of self for past mistakes goes hand in hand with getting over our innate anger (in my opinion).

I don’t think we can successfully walk along the Recovery Road, without being honest with ourselves as to what caused our anger, letting go of denial and getting over our guilt and shame.  It may seem like a tall order, especially at the beginning, but there is no time frame in which we are required to achieve it.  As I faced these elements in my personal journey, dealt with them and left them lying on the side of the path, the more deep and satisfying my recovery became.  Of course I still get mad, but my anger is not senseless and inexplicable!  And of course life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

bad days

You can’t recover until you’ve hit rock bottom!?

I have been studying Addiction and the Brain.  Interesting to be able to see my own cycle of abuse and recovery in the material, and have a better personal (and professional) insight into what happens in our heads during the progression of addiction.  It’s really fascinating to be able to see what actually occurs as we progress through the various stages of addiction, and why we even get to that point to begin with!  The more I study and understand addiction, the more I realise that it’s almost a “Damned if I do.  Damned if I don’t.” crap shoot as to whether we end up in active addiction.  Sure, living in an environment of any type where someone with the predisposition to develop a substance abuse disorder, does place us at a higher risk.  However, there are also people who fall way out of the parameters of these risky surrounds and lifestyles that are introduced and sensitised to substances through medical procedures.  They are just as likely to develop a disorder if they are exposed to substances through completely legitimate avenues.

Of course living in an environment wherein one is exposed to substances is going to increase the chances that we try (and like) these things, especially since we feel less due to lower levels of neurotransmitters and off kilter receptor cells.  Basically meaning that our drug or behaviour of choice makes us feel better and more normal than where we start out because of of brain chemical make-up.  There are various factors that attribute to this including genetics, stress and chronic use.  So it’s a complicated combination of elements that ultimately lead to whether we are likely to develop an addiction.  And it’s an equally tricky balance that allows us to overcome addiction and work through the recovery process.  This is another mine field, depending on our point of progression in the disease when we finally ask for help.

We experience physical, mental, emotional and spiritual deterioration as addiction progresses and we are often faced with crisis before we start looking for help.  It’s normally not the physical side of the illness that leads to us seeking assistance in overcoming our disease, but rather the emotional and mental breakdowns in our state of being, our close relationships or our inability to cope in these areas that leads to us reaching out.  I don’t believe that anyone has to “hit rock bottom” as I have mentioned before, because we all have different breaking points and these are necessarily reached when we are lying in a gutter, with a broken moral compass in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other.  I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea that you cannot get well until you have no further to fall, and there is a stark realisation that you are dying physically and spiritually.

I do believe that some level of understanding of our condition is necessary, that we come to the realisation that we need help and that we seek out this help.  But telling someone that they cannot get well because they still have to experience the deepest depths of their disease does not work for me personally.  Yes, we do have to come to terms with the idea that we can NEVER partake in our substance or behaviour of choice EVER again.  That we cannot control our use and life a happy, healthy life.  These two factors are essential for recovery, but I believe that the “Road to Recovery” can be stepped onto any time we believe that our disease is out (or getting out) of control.  I feel that there is too much one-up-manship going on in recovery programs.  I remember being told in a mutual-help group that I wasn’t a real alcoholic, because I didn’t fit the traditional pattern of what an alcoholic was at the time (or perhaps in that particular group).

But I had decided that my addiction needed to be addressed and I was going to do it!  I attended other meetings and was met with disdain more than once by people who said that you had to drink every day, hide your habits (and empty bottles) and be a non-functioning member of society & family to be looking for help.  There have been changes in this way of thinking, but at the time it made me reconsider my alcoholism and led me to the point that I believed maybe I wasn’t an alcoholic as much as I just needed to curb my drinking and drink a little less on the evenings that I chose to partake.  I wan’t drinking every day, I wasn’t hiding anything from anyone and although some of my relationships were on shaky ground and I’d done some dumb things when I was drunk, according to the feedback I was getting at meetings and the people I was talking to, I certainly wasn’t a full-blown alcoholic yet, I merely had a little drinking problem.

And so I arrogantly thought I could drink and control my use!!  I was wrong!  They were wrong!  And just because I didn’t fit neatly into what people thought an alcoholic should be, I lied to myself.  Ideas and thinking have changed considerably about addiction over the last ten years or so.  Approaches to recovery are constantly being reevaluated because of the phenomenally high relapse rates once people leave treatment.  It has become more and more evident that this disease of addiction presents differently in different people and that that there is no cookie-cutter approach to recovery.  And that just because you haven’t hit the very lowest point that you can hit, doesn’t mean that you can’t and won’t be able to move through the  stages of a recovery process and live a fulfilled, healthy & holistic life, free of your addictive substance or behaviour.

I’ve got lots more thoughts and ideas on this subject, as well as thoughts on the recovery process, but I’ll leave those for another day.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

Your journey has molded you