Does The Body Rule The Mind, Or Does The Mind Rule The Body?

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a while. I wanted to explore the issue of how the mind and body are connected, or rather, as for many people, how they are disconnected. If the mind is the sum total of our emotions, memories, ideas, thoughts, values, beliefs and opinions, the component parts that make up our personalities, then for most people this is what makes us ‘Us’. It is our mind that defines the person we are, and when we die, even though the body remains, we consider the person to have departed.

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We often take our bodies for granted, expecting them to cope with the neglect and strains we put them through: too much food, not enough exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, the ingestion of numerous other drugs, insufficient water, too much stress…the list goes on.

Personally, I embarked upon a punishing relationship with my own body during my mid-teens. Partly down to me being a bit of a perfectionist, partly as a result of the external pressures from the media on women to look a particular way (i.e. thin) in order to be attractive, I set myself very strict boundaries in terms of what I could and could not eat. Simultaneously, I started drinking rather a lot of alcohol. So, it’s fair to say that I didn’t exactly treat my body kindly. In fact, I hurled abuse at it with a fairly consistent intensity until I reached my mid-thirties.

A couple of years ago I noticed a hip flask on sale in the shop, Urban Outfitters, emblazoned with the slogan ‘Fuck My Liver’. And sentiments not dissimilar to this are routinely posted on Facebook and Twitter each weekend as vast numbers of drinkers publicly declare their intentions to get smashed.

But I wonder where this separation of the mind and the body originates, why so many people wind up regarding their physical and mental selves in such a dislocated manner? I know that I often considered my body almost with contempt; ‘You will take this!’ it seemed as though I was saying. Keep on abusing, keep on punishing, keep on expecting to get away with it…

But ever since I stopped drinking, my relationship with my body has totally changed. Now, I really value it. I would even go as far as saying that I love my body, in that it serves me and enables me to do all the things I love in life. It allows me to run, fast and for a long time, up into the hills where the skies are big and the air is clear and fresh. It carries me wherever I want to go with my children, to enjoy playing with the little one in the park, or going for a coffee with my eldest. And the more I value it, the better I want to treat it.

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And, what I have realised, is that when we treat our bodies right, we feel positive and content in our minds. There is a state of balance that we achieve when we act how nature wants us to act. When we don’t poison our bodies with alcohol, and when we get sufficient sleep, and when we eat nutritional food and drink enough water, we feel good. We function correctly. Our whole selves, mental and physical.

It goes without saying that the opposite is true when we abuse our bodies by not eating properly or drinking too much. We feel jittery and depressed, lethargic and filled with self-loathing.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the journey of living without alcohol, I started to love my body and respect it. Like we all should. And I have never felt happier and more balanced mentally as a result.

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Good Decisions. Consistently.

Stopping drinking does not make life all better. The same old shit will still bug you, and your personality will remain pretty much intact (albeit you’ll probably become less down on yourself and more optimistic about things in general). The curveballs will continue to get thrown your way, and the opportunities that seem so close and within reach will still, on occasion, slip away from your grasp leaving you feeling cheated. Some people will still annoy you; things will still, sometimes, not go the way you want them to.

All of this is true. And yet, I found myself thinking a few days ago, ‘everything goes how I want it to nowadays; my life has become so simple to navigate’. So I started to ponder this a bit, why I had arrived at the conclusion that life is easy now that I’m a non-drinker. And here’s what I came up with.

When I drank, I made a lot of ill thought out decisions. These often did not end with the one initial bad decision but seemed to flow, catastrophically, into a maelstrom of dark consequences. Which, in turn, affected a whole host of other areas of my life, with similarly terrible results. It was the lack of consistency and complete inability to sit back and ruminate on anything that got me into so much bother. (And being drunk a lot.)

Think it? Do it. Feel it? Act on it. Say it. Do it. Think it? Go on and DO IT.

But now, I am calm. I am consistently calm. I’m a thinker. I contemplate. I empathise. I sit quietly with my thoughts before I act upon them.

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This brings positive outcomes because my life is no longer a kamikaze frenzy of drunken behaviour. It’s well thought out. And a word that I keep returning to – it’s consistent. I often say that the thing I love the most about being a non-drinker is the clarity it brings, but I’m also extremely happy about another great benefit of this lifestyle, and that’s the level, steady consistency; the predictability, the lack of surprises. The reliability.

This is a good way to live. You get to plan and live a life that is less Russian Roulette and more Chess. You can think about your next move, and make it when you’ve weighed everything up. Partners are chosen because they’re who you really need and want; friends are made because you have solid things in common instead of merely a love of getting pissed; you can concentrate and apply yourself at work, meaning you give your best and excel. You just make better choices – all the time. Good decisions, consistently.

It’s good, this non-drinking life.

My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic

There’s a documentary on Channel 5 tonight at 10pm called ‘My Name Is…And I’m An Alcoholic’. And I’m in it. Along with seven other people who all fell foul of the demon drink but managed to successfully pull their lives back from disaster.

This programme has had a strange effect on me. I’ve already seen the rough cut of it, and it’s profound, sad, moving. It had me in tears. It dragged me right back to a very dark place I inhabited a few years ago where I drank far too much and my perspective on the world was incredibly small, restricted to bottles of wine and trying to lose my mind. A place where I showed myself up on a regular basis, where I wasn’t a fantastic mum, somewhere where I strived to be a person I’m not.

It has been almost five years since I last drank alcohol, and I can barely equate who I am today with that depressed woman who spent half her life in a fog of booze.

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I forgave myself my alcohol-related wrongs a long time ago, because what’s the point in wasting the present wrapped up in feelings of regret over the past? But my involvement in ‘My Name Is…’ has brought me closer to my history than anything else has since I became a non-drinker.

In the making of this film, we were all interviewed in a room in London, and Mikey, the director, asked the questions: a very straightforward set-up, a set-up that brought out some honest and heart-wrenching stories. Talking to Mikey, I forgot that I was being recorded for much of it and I suspect the same is true of the other seven people in the film, as their accounts are brutally frank.

I’m glad I took part in this documentary. I think it’s vital to get our version of things out there, those of us who have struggled with addiction, and especially those of us who have managed to get sober – to offer hope and insight to other people who are fighting the fight, desperate to believe that life can get better but not quite seeing how it ever will.

There’s always been prejudice against people who are alcohol dependent. Those who can manage their intake and exercise ‘responsible drinking’ are at a loss when it comes to understanding anyone who can drink and drink and drink, with terrible repercussions, and who goes back to the bottle for more the next day. And the next. And the next. Knowing that their health is suffering and they are risking everything but still not being able to stop.

Alcohol addiction is a secret and sad state of affairs. When you are floundering in the thick of it, you become wonderful at disguising it. And afterwards, as you recover, you may well prefer to keep your struggles private, and who could blame you, when one considers the stigma that is rife in our society with regards to ‘problem drinkers’?

So, I am pleased I took part in this programme, even though it has upset my internal apple cart a little. I am full of admiration for the other seven who feature in it; they’re a brave bunch of fighters who have my utter and total respect.