Intention Not Habit

Human beings are conditioned, moulded to our own particular design keeping us trapped in repetitive behaviours. It’s easier to live by habit than intention, but when you do, you are ensuring that your life remains the same – fine if it’s all positive, but not so good if you’re unhappy.

I read this quote on Twitter a couple of days ago: “Live less out of habit and more out of focused intention” – Herman Siu. And it struck me that this is really so important, it amounts to an acutely mindful approach to living and when adhered to, this mantra allows us to continually grow and develop.

Mallorca sea

Drinking too much and suffering all of the associated self-loathing and regrets was only one element of my life that was an outcome of habit as opposed to intention. My intentions were always, don’t drink too much; drink water in between alcoholic drinks; leave whatever social event you are at early; don’t text old boyfriends late at night when you are feeling maudlin and pissed…and so on. But I operated out of habit and so perpetually broke all of my own rules.

I occasionally catch myself now leaning towards old habits. Not booze-related but behaviours that I don’t like and no longer wish to demonstrate. They’re like kneejerk reactions to situations; I slide into them before I even know where I’m headed. Sometimes I don’t think things through fully before I act, I have this impetuous nature that I consistently need to reign in. I have a tendency to the negative, which I hate. I have to really talk to myself quite sternly and switch things around so I expect good things to happen instead of the worst-case scenario (I think this is a hangover from my drinking days when bad things did happen all the time because I was always doing stupid things drunk). I can be slightly anti-social and talk myself into spending too much time alone, which never has a good effect on me but somehow I convince myself it’s OK.

To do the opposite of all of these things requires Herculean strength on some days – massive mind-over-matter brain games, strict talking-tos inside my head, unnatural actions that are completely opposed to my automated responses. It all feels very weird and difficult. But, when you act out of intention rather than habit, you can chip away at ingrained behaviours and start to carve out new ones. And that’s how your life changes – wholesale.

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Life’s What You Make It

Most things in life come down to a choice: the choice to focus on the positive or the negative; the choice to go after something you really want or to sit back and let someone else have a go; the choice to try out new experiences or to remain in your comfort zone; the choice to stay in a damaging place or to get out and start afresh.

It’s also possible to choose to see life as a series of choices, not a hand of cards that you are powerless to change. And if you do, there is nothing sitting beyond your reach. This may sound simplistic but I truly believe that it’s the only mind-set to have for living a fulfilling life.

Back in the dark days (when I drank most evenings and hated myself), I had no idea that life could be based on choices. Even down to the most basic of choices – deciding which thoughts I paid attention to and which I let go of – I was under the impression that I was a sitting duck: that whatever terrible episode may land on my doorstep, whichever bit of bad luck might descend upon my world, or however lonely and unloved I felt, I had no control over any of it whatsoever. It felt as though it was all just ‘my lot’.

There are many snippets of wisdom that we pick up during our time on earth but I think that grasping the idea of having choices and living life accordingly can make one of the biggest differences in how happy we are.

I decided that for me to be content and fulfilled, it was necessary for me to not drink alcohol. This was a choice. I could have followed the school of thought that says addiction can’t be beaten, that I am powerless over alcohol, that I had no choice. But I believed in the notion of choice, and I made that choice and stuck to it.

Yesterday I found myself suddenly overcome by negativity. Everything was wrong; I started to flounder in a pit of despair. But then I went for a walk in the nearby woods that are brimming with bright, autumnal colours and I took a few photos of the trees, noticed the beautiful blue sky, and breathed in the cold, fresh air, felt alive, watched my dog trotting amongst the fallen leaves and became aware of how even this mood that had engulfed me moments earlier was, in fact, a choice.

I started to think about all the things in my life that I am grateful for, all the beauty of the earth, the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I stood in front of a tree for a while and observed the way in which the leaves, now littering the ground at the foot of the trunk, appeared as a reflection of the canopy above. It occurred to me that this could all be perceived as the dismal end of summer, a tree moving into a state of hibernation for the winter, or a stunning image of vibrancy, a captivating celebration of change; the beginning of a miraculous new season. I stared at the tree for a long time, and it became a symbol to me of how life is whatever we want to perceive it as.

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Earlier in the week, I had thrown a small Halloween party for my four-year-old and a few of her little friends. The carpet was covered in crisps, toys were strewn all over the lounge, and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. After everyone had left and I’d scrubbed my daughter’s face clean, wiping away every last trace of the ghoulish make-up she’d been wearing, my older daughter shouted down the stairs to me; “Can you help me with that English coursework now please?”

I had a choice in how I perceived all of this; to see the stress, the mess, the chaos, and to focus on my tiredness and how all I wanted to do was go and lie down on my bed. Or I could have chosen to see it as the lovely, hectic, full-on express train journey that is life, with all its demands and busyness.

I took the decision to view it as the latter.

Alcohol-free but still waiting for the benefits?

There’s no doubt it’s easier to stay sober when things are going well. Not only do you feel more hopeful and have a higher degree of faith in yourself to stay committed to an alcohol-free life, but you’re far less likely to hit the self-destruct button when you’re feeling happy.

When things are looking less rosy it can be all too tempting to throw the towel in and get submerged in booze as a way of blotting out the darker aspects of life. For those who have successfully cut out alcohol but are yet to notice any earth-shatteringly positive results, read on…

Life doesn’t become great simply because you stop drinking (at least not for everyone). Many heavy drinkers will have developed their alcohol habit directly because they are attempting to disguise an element of their life which they are fundamentally unhappy with. This may be a bad relationship, a job which is unfulfilling and/or stressful, or a painful bereavement. Alcohol, despite its numerous and severely damaging consequences, does work well in the short-term in numbing emotional suffering thus it’s an obvious choice of self-medication when times are tough.

When you quit drinking, the cushioning and fog disappear leaving the raw truth; this may not always be what you want as your reality.

So what’s the answer; continue drinking and cover the problem areas up (but also have to cope with the untold additional traumas that arise from heavy drinking) or stay alcohol-free and change the factors of life that are less than satisfactory?

There’s no definitive answer – the choice, as always, is down to you the individual. Being told that you should stop drinking by anyone is never going to be effective for your successful sobriety.

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A few years ago when I became alcohol-free there were areas of my life that I didn’t particularly like and that all of a sudden seemed to slam up close, impossible to ignore and demanding attention – any kind of attention. One such problem was that I suddenly realised I desperately wanted a second chance at being a mum and to be a part of a happy family following my acrimonious divorce and the subsequent years of single-parenthood. (The above photograph is of me, four months pregnant with my baby, Lily. To reach this point I had to work through my issues of low self-esteem and depression, both of which took a great deal of effort and time).

As I had spent 20 years blotting things out, covering stuff up and burying my head in a large glass of red I was somewhat unaccustomed to considering difficulties, developing tactics to deal with them and then putting my plans into action. One thing I really noticed as a newly alcohol-free person was that I craved instant gratification – I didn’t want to put any effort into working through issues. I just wanted them to go away, and NOW!

But real life isn’t like that. The big problems that may rear their ugly heads in a newly sober person’s life will not disappear at a click of the fingers. Such matters usually demand a reasonable amount of thought, effort and time (and sometimes a lot of heartache) if they are to be conquered and/or banished for good.

But the benefits to be derived from putting in this extra effort are;

a) reinforced self-confidence

b) increased self-esteem

c) the resolution of whatever the problem was in the first place

d) strengthened commitment to sobriety (because you have proved you can get through the bad times minus the booze).

There is nobody but you who truly knows whether it’s worth staying sober to fight the fight. But there’s nobody but you who will experience first-hand the full rewards of an alcohol-free life either – in the end, it’s a choice only you can make.

Eat And Be Merry!

There’s plenty of evidence which suggests that what we eat has a significant impact on our mental health, so if you’re seeking ways to improve your state of mind as part of the battle against the booze, you could start by taking a look inside your fridge and kitchen cupboards.

The vast quantity of studies which have already been conducted in this area indicate that food is highly influential in the development, management and prevention of a wide range of mental health issues, from depression to Alzheimer’s disease. The evidence is building all the time, and suggests that by making changes to what we eat we can really help ourselves stay on track mentally.

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Over the next week and as part of our Four Weeks of Well Being, we will be posting lots of articles about ‘Mood Food’ on Soberistas (Facebook, Twitter and WordPress) which will provide you with plenty of information about how you can manage your mental health more effectively simply by following a particular dietary path.

For a comprehensive list of ingredients for improving mental health, see the link below. Bon appetit!

 

http://themindsanctuary.com/good-mood-food-%E2%80%93-ingredients-to-improve-your-mental-health/

Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being

Welcome to the start of Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being. Over the next month, we will be posting loads of informative articles, blog posts and helpful pointers (on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook) on the following four areas of well being;

Week 1 – Mindfulness Meditation

Week 2 – Mood Foods

Week 3 – Positive Pastimes

Week 4 – Me Time Moments

As January has now ended and New Year’s resolutions are nothing but a distant memory for most, we hope to inject a little motivation into your day with some ideas for feeling good.

Quitting drinking is about so much more than simply putting down the bottle. For a start we are left with huge amounts of free time, and boredom is a key reason why people often cave into temptation. Secondly, if we are in a good mood, we are more likely to stay on track, think positive and feel energised enough to try new pastimes. Self-esteem can be seriously depleted through years of heavy drinking, so spending time on bolstering inner confidence and self-image is time well spent; feeling down about yourself and life in general means you’re far more likely to pick the bottle up again.

BiTN Meditation

There are many things you can do to help speed up the process of recovery from alcohol dependency – think of it as getting your hands on some effective ammo for fighting the wine witch.

Over the next seven days, we’ll give you the low-down on mindfulness meditation – it’s the first of four areas of emotional and physical well being which should leave you feeling happy and healthy, and full of joie de vivre!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/mindfulness-meditation-benefits-health_n_3016045.html

In Her Shoes

It has been an enormous relief to discover how I truly want to live my life. When I drank regularly and heavily I experienced such a strong sense of being unanchored, as if my true personality had become adrift and was floating fruitlessly, aimlessly, amidst a life that wasn’t really mine.

I always imagined that I was a party girl and when out with friends socialising I filled the shoes of the token loudmouth, the hedonist, the one throwing pints or large glasses of Pinot Grigio back whilst smoking heavily and chatting confidently to strangers. I pursued the rock n roll lifestyle and took pride in my wayward streak.

And yet always in the back of my mind was an idea that I hadn’t found ‘it’ yet, I still hadn’t worked life out.

Now that I look back I can see that much of the depression that was once so inherent, together with my longstanding inability to like myself, came about because I was living like a chameleon with no sense of the person who I actually was. Even worse, I didn’t even realise that I was lacking this essential quality, now so glaringly obvious with a sober perspective.

When I look back on it all, it sometimes feels as though I have walked the paths of two people during my lifetime – one who was a cuckoo, albeit a thoroughly unknowing one, and the other the true me who only bobbed up to the surface following my decision to live alcohol-free. Maybe it is similar for those who have shed stones of body weight following years of being morbidly obese; the stretch marks and the memories of being perpetually under pressure to act the part of the ‘bubbly’ one the only things remaining of a discarded life once the fatness has disappeared.

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I’m not shy but I am fairly quiet, especially in front of those who I don’t know very well. I much prefer the company of my family and small group of close friends to being out and about with people who are unfamiliar to me. I hate smoking and I love keeping fit. I enjoy cooking healthy food. I am something of a workaholic, and I’m definitely a perfectionist. I rarely feel stressed. I love listening to loud music especially when running or driving, I can’t get enough of reading or writing, and I enjoy being outdoors in the countryside or in a park. I don’t mind my appearance but I’m not precious about it at all. My happiest moments are those spent with my children and my partner.

None of the above sounds like the old me, although whilst I would never want to be that person I once was again, I am not full of bitterness or animosity towards the memory of her; I simply have an understanding that who I was as a drinker only ever existed because of alcohol. If I had never drunk as I used to, the imaginary woman I used to see in the mirror would never have lived.

Most importantly, I’m convinced I wouldn’t feel the gratitude for life that I feel every single day, had I never walked in somebody else’s shoes. It was a long time coming but I got here in the end.

Practice Makes Permanent

It is inevitable that when you first cut alcohol out of your life, you will have the odd or perhaps intensely frequent, depending on your level of addiction and consumption, craving for a drink. These thought processes will eventually diminish over time but it is important to remember at the outset that our brains need a fairly substantial length of time to become rewired.

Neurological pathways lie behind our habits, the neuroplasticity of our grey matter meaning we are forever responding to life experiences by the physiological altering of our brain’s structure and function, which in turn affects the habits we employ and our general behaviour. In simple terms, the more you tread a particular path of your neural network, the stronger and apparently ‘natural’ the associated behaviour will become.

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‘Practice makes perfect’ is not simply a throwaway maxim – it is neurological fact.

Breaking a long-standing habit or addiction can take a long time, which can be frustrating and ultimately self-defeating. As the weeks drag by and you find yourself experiencing longing and desirous thoughts about the cold, crisp taste of Chardonnay on a summer’s evening, it can feel as though you will never successfully move forward and think differently. But you will – eventually.

The key is to stick with your intention through thick and thin; in order to rewire your brain, you MUST begin to walk new pathways in your neural network. At first, those paths will be difficult to manoeuvre, thick with brambles and weeds, but over time you will squash the vegetation flat with the weight of your steps and a small but distinctive passage will begin to emerge. Follow that route a while longer and the path will become marked, a natural road to choose. The old alleyways that led you to destruction and misery will gradually witness the dawning and then the maturity of harsh, prickly undergrowth making them inaccessible.

With time, you will automatically opt for the easy route – the gently winding walkway, bathed in sunlight and filled with the sound of happiness, will override the erstwhile dominant negative roads to destruction and loss of self. Stick with it, stay firm – practice makes permanent.

Jason Vale, You’re My Hero.

I promise that I haven’t been paid by Jason Vale to endorse his (fabulous) book ‘Kick the Drink…Easily!’ but that isn’t going to stop me banging on about its wonderfulness. For ANYONE who wants to stop drinking, especially the ones who are scared stiff that by becoming sober they will be missing out on all those great benefits of booze (furry morning tongue, headaches, bad moods, embarrassing incidents, spare tyre, spending money you can ill afford, death to self respect, bad breath, liver damage – I could go on, but you get the picture; there are no benefits), READ THIS BOOK!!!

I spent my spare time on holiday in Mallorca last week reading this literary piece of soul-saving brilliance and as a result, all remaining negative notions regarding being ‘on the wagon’ that lingered after I had my last drink a year and a half ago, have been blown away. Gone, wafting away on the warm Spanish air up towards the Tramuntana Mountains, never to return.

If you refer to my earlier posts, you will glean that I was harbouring the odd   lustful thought for Imagemy erstwhile beloved Pinot Grigio. Honestly, despite being so much happier, calmer, richer, more balanced, more productive, more creative and more energetic, there was still a stubborn chunk of me that wouldn’t let it lie. Niggling somewhere in the back of my sober head, a voice sometimes whispered (pretty convincingly) ‘You will never have fun again without a drink, you are boring now. You have nothing to say, you’ve got no confidence. You have a life to look forward to that is coloured by heartache and your longing for a glass of white wine.’

After reading Jason Vale’s book, I have finally thrown these thoughts out of all consciousness – this isn’t a willpower game, but a firm belief and pride in the fact that I do not need alcohol; I am not addicted to alcohol. I would even renege on my earlier protestation that I am an alcoholic:-

Hello, my name is Lucy and I am NOT an alcoholic. I used to be addicted to alcohol, but I got over it. It’s great. Life without drinking is a life lived in truth. In vino veritas? No, the truth is out there readers, but you won’t find it in your glass of poison. (However, you might find it in Jason Vale’s book).

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The Rise of the Soberista

ImageAfter reading an article today, ‘The Rise of the Teetotal Generation,’ (The Independent Online, 6th July 2011) I was reminded once again of why being teetotal is not, and should not be, something to be slightly embarrassed about. Despite being utterly committed to life as a Soberista, I still find myself tongue-tied in social situations whenever anyone (who I don’t know very well) asks me what I want to drink, and I know that I am soon to be faced with a barrage of questions about why I don’t want something alcoholic.

“Oh, are you driving?”

“No.”

“Well why don’t you want a drink then?”

“Err, I just don’t. I’ve got a lot on tomorrow.”

“Well, just have one then. Come on – what will it be; G & T, a white wine?”

“No really. I don’t want a drink because I am an alcoholic and the last time I had a drink, I ended up collapsing on the pavement, being taken to hospital and waking up at three am with absolutely no knowledge of what had happened to me, only that I was covered in vomit, and that I must never touch alcohol again. So, thanks for the offer, but I’ll just have a water.”

That’s what I want, but find myself unable, to say. However, when I read about the likes of Daniel Radcliffe being on the wagon (see The Independent article, as referenced above), or meet someone who admits to having a drink problem and who has subsequently given it up, the last thing I think is that they are in some way at fault, that they have been weak or have failed at life. Conversely, I regard such people as being brave for fighting a battle that I consider to be one of the hardest there is – to fight against yourself is truly an uphill struggle that never really ends. People who have fought an addiction are, in my mind, heroes.

And yet when it comes to me being honest and giving someone a simple explanation as to why I don’t drink alcohol, I have faltered every time. The first time I was asked why I wasn’t drinking was at a party. A rugby-playing, beer-swilling bloke cornered me and wouldn’t leave the issue alone (clearly, my mineral water offended his rugby-coloured view of the world), resulting in me being a bit stroppy with him. It wasn’t a satisfactory response, and it left me wondering how I should answer the next time such a situation occurred.

Well, the same situation did not occur for a while after that – about ten months actually, as being pregnant gives you a pretty bone fide excuse for knocking booze on the head. As I am breastfeeding, I had expected to be able to avoid the issue for a further few months after giving birth, although I have found that generally it is considered acceptable to have a few drinks whilst nursing (probably not whilst nursing, as in not holding the baby to breast with one hand and clutching a pint of Stella in the other, but during the nursing period. Most women I have spoken to about this admit to having the odd glass of wine).

And so, there it was again, the dreaded question, just six weeks after Lily was born. I met a fellow new mother who I work with for coffee, and she asked me pointedly, “Have you had a glass of wine yet? Are you drinking whilst breastfeeding?” Now, this woman is a colleague, so the answer that I had semi-rehearsed in my head after Rugby Boy had questioned my beverage choice was not so appropriate; “No, I don’t drink because I am an alcoholic who has decided to live without alcohol ruining my life. I used to drink and whenever I had one, it would lead to ten, or however many it took until I passed out. I was ruining my daughter’s and my lives, and I came to the conclusion that you only live once and I wasn’t going to stuff my life (and my daughter’s) up by getting shit-faced every night.” Because you just can’t be that honest with someone you work with.

Or can you? I’m sure that Daniel Radcliffe and his honest confessions about having an alcohol dependency have not gone unnoticed by all the film producers out there. Would they not hire him because of his drinking history, next time he springs to their minds as being perfect for a particular role? Of course not, but then again, your choice of actor would be drastically reduced if you discriminated against all those with addictions, past or present. Is it different in the real world? Am I unusual for admiring people who have fought an addiction?

I have come to the conclusion that in social situations I will give an honest answer if queried about why I don’t drink – maybe not completely honest (I’ll leave out the bit about waking up in a hospital bed covered in puke), but I will explain that I could not stop drinking once I started and that I had a problem with it. I will say that my life is better without alcohol, for me and for those around me and that I am far happier without it.
I think that if anyone feels uncomfortable with that as a response, then they are probably not a person who I would get along with anyway.