Fun but profound: declining a gift of limitless proportion

If you could have one dream gift what would it be?

A new car? £1000000? An island in the carribean? Maybe it would be marrying the love of your life with no spending limit for the ceremony. Or how about first class flights to anywhere in the world for the rest of your life for free?

The big bucks: image from amazon.co.uk

That was a question presented to me during a recent Zoom discussion. The lady running it private messaged us all a potential not-your-average gift based on what she thought each of us would be extatic to receive.

We each then shared it with the group (the conceptual gift that is) and mine was the £1000000. Then we had to consider and discuss what the downsides of each would be. Trust me, it was a hard one!

But with many things in life, to every high has it’s lows.

I met my fiance in rehab, for example. Had I not had the issues that took me there I never would have met him. But the shame of the reason I was there in the first place caused me to isolate from many friends and family members.

Then there’s Covid. Just look at the amazing work people are doing to help others.. For me, personally, it has been the offers of help with shopping or picking up meds from virtual strangers, and the man who helped me when I collapsed in the street. Plus I’m now talking to my grandma every week. We never used to do that. So in that way isolation has ironically made us closer.

But back to the gift of a life time idea. I realised it would potentially drive me away from the people I love not on the same financial level as me. I would squander money on useless things. I would probably become more selfish and no longer feel any desire to work, thus eliminating the joys of success and the new friendships I would make with my colleagues. I mean, I’m not working now and I really miss that. Would I ever truly feel content?

And of course there’s the elephant in the room of my own personal problems. Would my eating disorder worsen to the point of hospitalisation? Would I kill myself through drink? Recently I was in hospital and all I could hear one night was a man screaming over and over again. He was dying. From alcohol. His skin was yellow and bruised. They were basically keeping him alive on painkillers. The next day the bed was empty.

Jen went on to read a passage from the bible that highlighted the very same concept.

I can’t become a believer overnight. But with the help of others I can apply some of the principles of the bible to everyday life. And it becomes more manageable and less overwhelming.

And as for my £1000000, I guess it’s true what they say, money can’t buy you happiness.

Whats in your mirror today?

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Image from Steemit

When you look in the mirror what do you see?

Is it an image of success? Or one of failure? It’s a strong word that. Failure. And I believe we use it way too much. Because really, just having got out of bed and fixed the sheets is a success. If you’ve got a pet you’ve probably fed it and possibly yourself. You may have said a prayer if you’re a religious person. And most of us will already have an idea of what we want to do with our day and been in contact with friends or family.

So really, the day will have got off to a fairly good start.

But have you said anything positive to or about yourself today? Or have you focused on the negatives? The washing up left in the sink from last night’s dinner or the hoovering that needs doing?

I’ve written recently about self judgement and the ways in which others judge us. Or at least, the way we think they’re judging us.

I’ve been in hospital not too long ago and when going through my medical history and what medication I’m on, the nurse’s voice often turns to a bit of a whisper when going on to ask about my alcohol consumption and what I’m doing about it.

Immediately I feel judged and ashamed. I feel like a failure.

The image of the below was sent to me when I was going through a particularly tough time. And when I spoke to friend of mine who is very religious she told me to rememver that Jesus doesn’t judge me. He loves me. And he forgives me. That’s positive self talk.

So why do we judge ourselves so harshly?

If we take the statement from the image and apply it to ourselves we face the question of why we allow ourselves to believe the judgements of others or our assumption of their judgements?

Perhaps instead we shout be asking: what is that person thinking and feeling? Can we help them? The obvious reaction might be to feel resentment towards them but does that help us ourselves or them?

I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. But maybe this is the exception to the rule.

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions but they’ve been circling round in my head and I’d love to hear what anyone’s thoughts are. (if you’d read this post this far. I know it’s a bit of a ramble).

And there I go again – self judgement and assuming no one will find it interesting. I want to read more into what has been written on the topic and I’ll blog about what I find out.

Sliding doors: everything happens for a reason

Image found on Pinterest

Do you ever wonder what would have happened if not for that one encounter? Where your life would be if you’d taken the bus instead of your normal tube to work; bought your lunch in Tesco not Sainsbury’s?

For me it was a coffee shop in London. If I’d gone to cafe Nero I wouldn’t be writing this. But I didn’t. I was in Pret.

A lady struck up a conversation with me. I felt a little nervous at first as in my true british-stiff-upper-lip way I just wanted to present myself as unbreakable and then run away and hide! No way was I going to admit I was unemployed due to mental health, or that I felt completely lost in life.

But she persevered, invited me to a church group (admittedly not really my thing but I went) and 2 years later we’re still in touch.

Which path will you choose?

A few weeks ago she asked me if I’d like to join a Thursday evening ‘Zoom’ discussion. I was wary given the religious element I was expected but instead of a lecture it was a short bible passage followed by a general discussion about how we could related to the thoughts/feelings/concepts within.

The whole experience really stuck with me and it got me thinking about the other random encounters that have changed my life.

Destiny

There’s the girl who I was introduced to as a pen pal when I was about 5 and still haven’t met but recently sent me a beautiful Bible and has been helping me with love, support and guidance.

Then there’s the guy who helped me when I collapsed outside the doctor’s surgery, and the woman down the street who gave me the ‘stories’ book that I blogged about not long ago which gave me so much comfort and reassurance. People writing honestly l about their hardships and how they overcame their struggles.

What if a housemate-to-be hadn’t failed his exams and dropped out of uni in my 3rd year, only to be replaced by a girl who rapidly became and still is one of my best friend?

Oh and last but not least there’s the guy who texted me out of the blue, thinking he was texting his friend Laura. Now, whether or not we do know each other and he’s gotten the two Lauras mixed up (me being one of them), or whether this other Laura gave him the wrong number and it’s a total coincidence… I have no idea. But his contact has helped me, and I think and hope my texting him has helped him.

The list just goes on and on the more I think about it. But I think I’ve made my point

I am really coming around to the idea that this is all happening for a reason. Call it fate or faith or God or whatever… I’ve had a few sliding doors moments recently and I do believe it’s in someone’s plan for me.

And I never thought I’d say that.

Conquering self-judgement

If your school career was anything like mine, it will have been drilled into you from a young age that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.

But it would seem many of us still rate a novel’s merit on the ethnicity of its writer.

According the black author Candice Carty-Williams, publishing remains a ‘white middle class industry’ with little recognition of its non-white contributors from ethnic backgrounds.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, The ‘Queenie’ author talked about the lack of recognition for black writers, the morning after she won overall book of the year at the British Book Awards, making her the first black woman to win the accolade.

And it got me thinking about the way we judge others in a general sense, and perhaps more importantly, about how we judge ourselves.

Candice Carty-Williams and her award-winning debut novel Queenie

I know I for one am guilty of imparting on others the judgements I hold about myself. I assume people look down on me for the aspects of my life or past that I am ashamed of. But that’s only my own opinion and fear of being judged poorly and I’m trying hard to challenge it.

A friend recently shared with me that she too had gone through a time in her life when there were things about herself of which she was ashamed. But her faith in God helped her through. She told me that Jesus is not ashamed of me and that if I put my faith in him he will remove my shame too.

Now, I’m not a religious person. I never have been. But I do envy the people I know who have found God and seem to be so much more at peace. It is, after all, a comforting idea that someone somewhere out there is looking out for each of us, no questions asked, and guiding us in the right direction.

So I’m giving it a go. That’s not to say I’ve got my nose in a Bible or that I’ll suddenly start preaching from the rooftops. But I’ve started reading a book of short stories by people who have overcome adversity with the help of their faith.

The book, simply called Stories, is a compilation of extracts from King’s Church, Newport attendees writing openly and truthfully about their experiences. And it is followed by some really eye opening questions to encourage self-reflection.

It’s given me the opportunity to explore the way my past shaped how I think and behave and feel a connection with the people behind the extracts. There’s no preaching, no forcing opinions or beliefs on others, just a series of normal people – most of whom I’ve found I have at least one thing in common with.

Do I judge the authors? No. I am inspired by their strength in overcoming hardship to lead happy, fulfilled life.

And perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I began by opening on a random page and reading a page. One per day, and answering the questions that followed. Every single one read like an extract from my own story. I’m willing to consider the belief that it wasn’t just coincidence that drew me to them, so I can stop judging myself and feeling shame.

Dear life, Please take away my pain

Image from Healthy Place

It’s 4am and I’m doing everything you’re not supposed to do when you can’t sleep. I’ve checked the time, put a film on. I’m writing this blog post. Basically I’m stimulating my brain which yes, I know, isn’t the greatest idea when sleep isn’t happening.

I woke up probably about an hour ago, having slept in a position that gave me cramp/pain in my right elbow. I also needed a wee and was thirsty so I dealt with all those things and got back into bed with a handful of painkillers for my mouth.

I know I could just block everything out – physical and mental – by drinking loads and effectively numbing myself but I don;t wan’t to. pain

Ideally I’d like the NHS to actually help me. I’m bottom of the list really because as far as they’re concerned I’ve brought this on myself. And to some extent I suppose I have, and I know doctors and hospitals are already overwhelmed.

What they don’t seem to get is that I’m trying so hard to get better. If you get the right doctor then getting sober can be sorted with diazipan. But I’ve not been hugely successful in persuading a doctor to give me any and the only other safe option is to slowly reduce: effectively continue drinking until there is space in a rehab facility.

The other thing no one seems able to help me with is the struggles I have with eating properly. I’m trying, I really am. I want to eat, but currently I can’t use my front teeth because of the damage caused during my most recent seizure. And even if I chew with the back ones the front set still clash together.

I’m sure most people will think I just making excuses to cover up my eating disorder. But when I’m really trying it just seems unfair that physical ailments are holding me back.

It’s times like this I wish it would all just end. Like the couple in The Titanic who accept their fate and lie in bed holding hands as the water fills their cabin. But as I’ve previously posted, I don’t want to die. I want to get better.

So that’s my depressing rant over, I’ve got a lot of appointments coming up – mostly telephone rather than face-to-face due to the coronavirus outbreak. Hopefully that’ll keep me busy and laying off the woe-is-me attitude. Day by day I hope I’m making progress.

Re-learning the art of sleep in recovery

1 sheep… 2 sheep… 3 sheep… 4…. Image from bioresonance.com

Rock-A-Bye-Baby, on the tree tops. When I go to bed my whole head seems to rock…

Recovery is a double edged sword when it comes to sleep; you have to basically re-learn how to do it properly. When we’re drunk we simply pass out, stay that way for several hours and tell ourselves we’ve had a decent night’s kip despite still feeling exhausted.

But it’s really not proper sleep. Not by any stretch.

As Drink Aware warns: ‘When you drink alcohol before bed you may fall into deep sleep quicker. … But as the night goes on you spend more time in this deep sleep and less time than usual in the more restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. This can leave you feeling tired the next day no matter how long you stay in bed.’

When we are sober, however, given time our REM cycles return to normal.

But if you’re anything like me it can take some time to get there. I lie in bed with things buzzing round my head, unable to switch off, knowing, just KNOWING, that a drink would temporarily solve my insomniac tenancies.

I’ve found that listening to what I would refer to as ‘plinky plonky’ music – otherwise known as meditation music – can help. (this one here is one of my favourites) I struggle with visualisation. And as hard as I try to keep the thoughts and worries out of my mind the just circle around, keeping me awake.

In rehab meditation sessions we would do a body scan, lingering our focus on one small part of the body at a time. ‘the big toe on your right foot… Your second toe…’ and so on. Usually by the time I reach close to the end I’m asleep.

But in the early days it’s broken sleep. The advice I’ve been given, and struggle to follow, is to refrain from checking the time. It only adds to the worries – I’ve only been asleep for X number of hours, I have to be up in X number of hours, why can’t I sleep???

The dangers of the phone/time check… image from technologyreview.com

Searching the Internet, I found some useful tips for restful sleep on sleepfoundation.org

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
  3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
  4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
  5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
  6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
  7. Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
  8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
  9. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
  10. If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
  11. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a sleep diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.

As luck would have it, as I’ve been writing this post I’ve been flipping through this month’s issue of In The Moment magazine and there’s a whole feature on how to sleep well. It talks about magnesium – something I take on prescription – which is often overlooked as a sleep aide. Ever put Epsom Salts in your bath? Packed full of the stuff, hence why a 20 minute soak can help you feel more relaxed.

According to The Sleep Council, as the magazine quotes, 70 per cent of people don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. When pissed you may enjoy 12 or 14 hours flat out but proper sleep – which is crucial for helping with concentration, coping with stress, productivity and positive thinking – it is not.

To anyone who suffers from poor sleep I’d really recommend reading the magazine because there are a whole host of tips on how to gently drift off, as well as expert advice and statistics. Better yet, there are first person extracts from people whose alcohol consumption has impacted on their sleep, backing up my original point.

I could go on but I feel as though I’m starting to ramble so I’ll leave it here and bonne nuit for tonight – I’d love to hear anyone’s feedback on what they do to help them get to sleep.

The dangers of complacency

Courtesy of Talent Culture

Complacency can be such a dangerous thing. 

And the England rugby team came close to just that during today’s 6 Nations rugby match against Wales. After what seemed to be such a promising 1st half – kicked off with a very early try, the second half saw them reduced to 13 men with the Welsh rapidly reducing the gap. 

Image courtesy of Rugby addict

Not exactly what I had hoped for. And it echos what was said of England’s performance in the 2019 World Cup. Fantastic semi final leading to a thoroughly disappointing loss Against South Africa in the final.

I would suggest that the same could be said of recovery from addiction. 

Yes, the initial stage of withdrawal are horrendous: sickness, shaking and sweats. Not to mention complete fatigue and inability to do practically anything, plus the possibility of life threatening seizures. 

Yet once you get through such pain and regret and feel better again it’s so easy to forget just how awful it was. 

After several days of wanting to die and vowing this really is the last time I put my body through this, for so many of us we find ourselves picking up again, convinced that we can manage it this time; prevent it from getting to such desperate levels again. 

We can’t though, or at least I can’t – I’ve learnt that one the hard way… and thus begins the slippery slope back to where I was before and I know I’m not alone in this. For some it may be after a few days of sobriety, others manage weeks, months or even years. 

As I think I have previously posted one of the therapists I respected the most during my time in rehab had 18 years sobriety under his belt. Yet his attitude was that he could never promise it wouldn’t happen again. He would tell us he could be back where he was tomorrow, living the life of a homeless addict. 

And I say life but it isn’t really is it? It’s pure existence with little drive to do anything other than sit and use to the detriment of ourselves and everyone around us. 

So I’m trying not to be complacent. I’m sober now but it’s been a struggle. I don’t want to go back to where I was, not just because of the hellish withdrawal period but because I don’t want that life. I want a proper, fulfilling life with prospects. I’m far more productive and motivate when I’m sober – you may notice I blog a lot more when I sober then just stop. I basically can’t be bothered.

I’m hoping this really will be the last time I spend days shaking, dripping in sweat despite feeling freezing cold, with a throbbing headache, unable to eat or wash or even get out of bed without being sick – coupled with the constant fear of having a seizure or worse due to alcohol induced health problems.

Fingers crossed I have finally had my last drink.

Mindfullness – yay or nay?

It’s often said that Alcoholics Anonymous is the saviour for all addicts, young or old.

For me this hasn’t been the case.

In all honesty I left meetings wanting a drink more than when I went in And with my social anxiety I hated the end where people would approach you and try to talk/preach/change numbers. I’ve also been to NA meetings (narcotics anonymous – same thing but covers all substances – where I would see people passing each other drugs and hurrying off to the toilet.

It turns out I’m not alone. In a recent news report from US News Joe Fox, 37, talked about how AA hadn’t worked for him and he had turned to mindfullness instead – something his psychiatrist recommended.

Image from bathingsolutions.co.uk

When I was in rehab we were all encouraged to practice being ‘mindful’, mainly by doing a daily whip round in the group therapy room of what we were grateful for that day. I’ve never truly understood what to do though or how it works.

In a nutshell, basically being mindful means being ‘present in the moment’. I hope I’m not alone in thinking that’s a bit vague.. But with 1 in 4 people suffering mental health issues and many quoting mindfulness as a good recovery technique I’m willing to give it a try.

So this morning I’m going to be ‘mindful’ about my breakfast and try to think of nothing else other than the sound of the milk hitting my Weetabix, the feel of the banana I will chop on top, the tastte of the slightly moist bix going into my mouth and the sound of me chewing it before swallowing.

Let’s see.

Bananas for bananas and a restful sleep

We’ve all seen it: Wimbledon tennis players chowing down on a banana and a swig of Robinson’s squash or Evian water before striding back into the match.

As a kid it was drilled into me that bananas give you energy. As time went on and I started to become obsessed with losing weight they were firmly placed on the no-go zone. So I don’t really think I need to say that it’s taken me a while to get around my fear of the calorific content..

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.

I’ve done some research into it and apparently bananas can actually aid a good night’s sleep.

According to Forbes: “Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxants, and bananas are a good source of both. They also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which gets converted to 5-HTP in the brain. The 5-HTP in turn is converted to serotonin (a relaxing neurotransmitter) and melatonin.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2012/06/30/5-surprising-foods-that-help-you-sleep/#6bed07d374d2

And other bloggers have been posting about the benefits of bananas too.

“After a hard day’s work, a banana will help you sleep better. This fruit also contains tryptophan, which serves as a precursor for melatonin. Melatonin promotes relaxation and regular sleep. So if you’re suffering from restless sleep, you might want to consider peeling a banana before you hit the hay.” https://muwellness.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/why-you-should-be-bananas-for-bananas/

So tonight, alongside my epsom salts and eye mask, I’m adding half a banana to my bedtime routine. I’m on sleeping pills from the doctor and I’d really like to get off them. They help with sleep, yes, but they also leave me groggy and irritable in the morning. It would be nice to knock something off my prescription of endless meds and vitamins.

How can I relax and sleep when I can’t?

Epsom salts and a sleep mask, the perfect remedy?

Trying to relax on instruction is a bit like being given an essay title at university and a stack of plain pages of paper. The night before it’s due it’s still blank. You have to do it but you can’t.

This is how I feel when I’m told to shut my eyes and relax. ‘Just switch off’ I’m told. ‘Allow your thoughts to pass by like clouds’. Easier said than done. Fact.

I truly considered taking my bedtime eye mask to acupuncture the other day because when the practitioner turns off the lights and instructs me to shut my eyes and that he/she will be back in an hour I promptly do as I’m told but I can feel my eyelids fluttering and end up spending more effort trying to force myself to relax than actually relaxing itself.

The same comes to when I’m trying to get to sleep at night.

It’s been said to me that the best thing about being clean and sober is getting your feelings back and the worst thing about being clean and sober is getting your feelings back. I’d add to that, that being unable to relax and to sleep are other major set back. It’s something I’ve been really struggling with. So I did some research and alongside not watching a screen (eg TV or phone) just before bed, I found that magnesium can help.

According to the Sleep Doctor:

“Insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels often leads to deeper, more sound sleep. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome.”

https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/11/20/magnesium-effects-sleep/

So I’ve invested in some magnesium packed Epsom salts for my bath and will be taking my eye mask to bed tonight. fingers crossed! And apologies to my knee-jigging friend who I scoffed at when he told me I had restless leg syndrome, not believing it was an actual thing.