Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Work Out! Grrrr!

Getting fitter is having a transformative effect on my life.

 I'm gob-smacked that I'm writing this. As a pale and pasty saloon bar-pallored pub rat I rather sneered at the fit, the healthy, the tanned and the toned. I'm certainly not one of them, but I'm on the way towards being much stronger than I've ever been.


I've been going to the gym since November. Sometimes three times a week. I go to an exercise class every Saturday, which'll run out sometime in the New Year, or at least my subsidised access to it will.

I love it though. It's sort of a return to who I was. I was quite a sporty kid. Until the delayed puberty that is genuinely one of the biggest circumstantial contributors to my addiction made rugby games a mismatch between giants and a six stone weakling. I really think that had a lot to do with the start of my bad choices.

I thought I'd share what I now do. If I can manage it, after years of seeing exercise as an excuse to drink afterwards (this accounts for a short but enthusiastic village football career. One of my great achievements was going for a pint with an undiagnosed broken leg).

This programme was given to me on my gym induction and it's supposed to be a good, general workout:

Warm up is 10 minutes on a bike. I try to burn 100 calories by tinkering with the resistance and so on.

The main cardio-vascular thingy is 20 minutes on a step machine/cross trainer. I try to burn 200 calories.

Weights are very variable, but I try to use five machines and do three sets of 10 repetitions each. The most usual pattern is:

Shoulder press, 60lb. Seated chest press, 60lb. Seated row, 60lb. Pull down, 60lb. Leg press, 120lb.

 As you can see, I'm a monster of the multiple of 60. I'm not going to be troubling any body-building contests for a while, but it's lovely to feel fitter and a boost to my confidence. I've been doing this for a while now and I'm going to try to record more of what I do - this is a personal diary for my own use as much as it is an ego-driven sharing of the recovery hoo-ha. I'm very aware that my history is literred with discarded enthusiasms and neglected hobbies - many of them drowned in alcohol - so I need to try to focus on this and give it some firkin effort (that could be my mantra: MAKE SOME FIRKIN EFFORT!).

I made my New Year's resolutions earlier and they're much smaller than going to the gym three-times-a-week, but that's what I'd like to do.

If you spent it, thank you for your time. If you'd like to talk, leave a comment or send me a mail.

Sober New Year

I've never liked New Year all that much. As a regular drinker I'm afraid I was one of those dings moaning on about part timers filling up my pub. Now it's not much more than another day in the calender. 

One is supposed to look forward and look back. I don't feel all that inclined to be doing that at the moment. 

I've had an OK day. Mag and me went out for a ramble round a local wetland reserve. It was very nice. Very flat. Ate a sausage sandwich (as part of my Tools for my recovery, I forgot to mention diet). Came back. 

I do have New Year's resolutions. Experts in making change tend to be against such things, which is fair enough. I just want to keep on on this path, staying sober, changing my life. To give myself something small and manageable I've come up with a couple of things I want to do daily. 

1 - Meditate 

2 - Leave the house

There. Good reachable goals that will have a positive effect. 

My no smoking lasted just about an hour after I'd posted about it on here. I'm not going to quit smoking as a New Year's resolution - I'm on the right path there and will get over the line soon enough. 

I'll have a quiet night tonight, maybe making a list. 

Where ever you are and whatever you're doing have a wonderful, safe celebration and I wish for you all the things you wish for yourself in 2015. 

If you spent it thank you for your time. If you'd like to chat, leave a comment or send a mail. 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

All over the shop...

I'm all over the shop today. The headline may possibly have alerted you to that. I don't know why I'm repeating myself. 

It's quite a positive shop I'm all over. There's just too much going on in my head and I can't make sense of it all. I need to make a list or something. I write very quickly and naturally and have rather avoided planning and the like as being TOO MUCH FUCKING EFFORT. 

However, if I'm going to change I need to accept the challenge.

That's one way I could go with this post. I've accepted that this is going to be hard work. As the clich├ęs all remind us, it wouldn't be worth having if it were easy to come by (though that doesn't stop me buying a lottery ticket every week).

I could easily do a post on the rescuing of yesterday. I jumped out of my routine, you see, and hauled the exercise ball out of the cupboard, and got the new weights I was given for Christmas in my hands and damn well pumped small amounts of iron. Grrrrr! It felt great.

Then I've been thinking about how I'm more ready to accept the idea of incremental change in this process. I tend to be rather all or nothing, a victim of the black-and-white thinking they talk about in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). I'm sure lots of addicts are the same.

In recovery, my top-of-the-world or down-in-the-sewer dichotomy tends to manifest itself in making too ambitious plans and then hating myself for not living up to them. For some reason this seems to have crystallised very strongly around the time of day I do things. I've got a big thing about doing improving things first thing in the morning. "I'll be up at 6, meditating before my jog," I tell myself. Then I fail to do that - I'm terrible at getting up - and the day starts with self-recrimination. 

I think some of this is to do with shame about my work situation. I do work, but I don't feel I work enough. It certainly doesn't amount to the equivalent of full-time hours and I feel bad about it. I feel the need to be sitting at this computer during work hours, even if I'm doing absolutely nothing useful at all (and quite often I'm doing things that are bad for my mental health). A sort of freelancer's version of presenteeism, and bloody stupid. 

So while I haven't got up at 6 again this morning I'm not that bothered about it, because I was up at around 8am reading, and did my first 10-minute meditation session before 9. I had a shower, and breakfast, and checked when the gym will open today, and then I went for a walk.

These are all fabulous achievements for me. Really quite big stuff. To have left the house and done something useful before 11am is a very good and very big step in the right direction.

Oh, and I threw away my tobacco last night. I haven't had a cigarette since about 8pm yesterday. Over the last year or so there have been several "throwing the tobacco away" incidents. I feel quite positive about it now, though craving a cigarette terribly right at this very moment. 

I was thinking last night about the extent to which my smoking is a habit of time and place as much as anything else. I love my routines and ciggies fit in beautifully with them, most often in an “I’ll just have a fag before…” delaying function.

I have to say I'll feel amazing if I manage this. There's no reason why I shouldn't, the only person who can stop me is me, and I don't want to.

If you spent it thank you for your time. If you'd like to talk leave a comment or drop me an email.    

Monday, 29 December 2014

My tools for recovery

My last post was a bit of a downer. I'm keen to avoid that in this blog. I've blogged in the past about addiction and depression and in the end I had to stop - I was becoming defined by my problems. This blog is about being defined by solutions to my problems. So here's a more positive post. 

How the devil am I going to change all the things I want to change? What's this new life, this recovered life, going to be all about?

I've thought about this quite a bit, and I reckon my best tools for recovery are going to be physical, creative, recovery work, success, passions, and life. 

That's already confused me. 

Physical is easy to explain. I want to be fit and healthy. That's in the wrong order. I want to be healthy (then give up smoking you appalling dufus!) then I want to be fit. Beyond that I'd quite like to be strong, which will be a whole new thing for me. I've been lucky enough to get onto a prescribed exercise scheme. I go to a weekly exercise class and get cheap use of my local authority gyms. It's been a revelation. Exercise is the best antidepressant I've ever used. I've managed quite a few weeks where I've gone to the gym three times and gone to my exercise class on Saturday. I need to try to keep that up. 

I also had a spell going to tai chi classes. That's another possibility. I liked parts of it very much and really felt better as a result. I struggled, however, with the need to touch other people (yoiks!) in the classes. It made my very uncomfortable and was probably the main reason why I haven't been for a while. Mag does yoga and I'd like to give that a spin too. I've started to cycle occasionally, though I'm not very confident in traffic, and I walk a fair amount.

Creativity is going to be an important part of this for me. I write for a living, though not particularly creatively. I'd like to do more. I consider this blog under this heading but there are also things I've dabbled with in the past - music, writing fiction, visual art, poetry - that I'd like to reignite. 

This blog could also be classed as recovery work. I'm sure you know the sort of thing I mean. Self-improvement? Is that the right way to put it? Probably. 

Success! Wow. That sounds very big and arrogant. It's not. I just want to start doing what I do better. I'm interested in making music, for example, but that and success doesn't mean I now want to be a rock star, it means I'd like to make music as well as I can. Work is in here too. I'm a freelance writer and I do OK, but I could do so much more. Success is almost more about effort, in fact. 

Passions may be a duplicate of creativity. It's just re-engaging with the things about which I was passionate and maybe finding some more things. Mag is a great gardener and we have an allotment. I could get more stuck into that. 

Life is life is life... I want to live better. I want to be more in control of my life and more grown up and responsible about it - money, the house, work... 

This hasn't been very focused and it may well bear revisiting. That's OK, it's early days here. 

I have now added "go to the gym" to "meditate" on tomorrow's challenge list. Hooray for me! 

If you spent it, thank you for your time. If you'd like to talk, leave a comment or drop me an email.   

Where I am with the rest of life

I'm stuck. 

That's the short of it. The long of it is much longer. 

I knew that one of the first things I would have to do with this blog is take a look at my life. Knowing it hasn't make doing it any less painful.

It's hard to know where to start. In many ways I'm very lucky not to be in a very much worse state. I'm relatively healthy in the physical sense. I'm not in the depths of depression that I have plumbed in the past. Anxiety's more of a problem than depression at the moment. I'm doing OK with money, I'm solvent but could do better. I have work, though I'm not yet financially independent and that fills me with shame. I have a home that's pretty safe and stable. I have a wonderful partner. 

When I was back in counselling I came up with three goals for my recovery. They were to be: healthy, independent, and honest. I'd still stick with those. And I'm not there yet, not by a long chalk. 

I'm drifting. I'm not focused enough. I waste too much time. I spend too much time being afraid. I'm looking for something. I'm lazy... 

Really, I don't feel I'm yet a fully adult person, taking responsibility for myself and my life. That's why I'm here. 

Let's take today, which has been relatively typical of the current state of affairs. 

I woke up at around 8am, then lay in bed going over a familiar, depressing thought routine about a past relationship. All good cheery stuff - revengeful, regretful, angry, frustrated. When I finally got out of bed it was nearly 10am, so I had a go at myself for being so lazy, had a fag, and had a go at myself for having a fag, and so on. 

Then I made breakfast and headed for the computer, where I wasted time doing nothing useful, nothing to earn money, just making myself feel bad. Mag told me she was going out, so I allowed myself to continue in the same vein for as long as I could get away with it. 

Finally, at about 2pm, I left the house for the first time to take my Antabuse. It was the first positive thing I'd managed. I got a walk - the weather here is cold but bright and beautiful. I bought a sandwich for lunch, not feeling I could face cooking and washing up. 

I came home. Mag was back. I ate my lunch, at the computer. 

Then I started writing here. That was another positive. I'll continue for a while, finishing this post and also looking around at social media to promote this blog, watching recovery videos. Then, I'll probably arse around wasting time on Facebook until it's time to make dinner and the evening routine can begin. 

We'll eat. Watch a bit of TV. Eat some chocolate. Go to bed and read. Sleep from around 11pm. 

It's alright isn't it? Well, yes it is. When I was drinking the routine wouldn't be all that different. To complete it I'd just have to chuck in a couple of hours at the pub (much more if Mag was away) and a trip to the shop to get my cans for the evening. 

It's not what I want though. It should be fairly obvious that I've not really managed to replace my drinking yet. There's a big hole in my life and it's yet to be filled. Fear and anxiety is still tying me down and into safe, familiar routines that, while they aren't as horrifically damaging as my drinking was, are almost as deadening. 

So, that's a pretty typical day. There are those that are worse and those that are better. I'm hoping tomorrow will be one of the latter, but we'll see about that.  


Recovery Resource - Bright Eye Alcoholic Help Support Forum

Bright Eye is a counselling service run by a gentleman called Tobin.

Attached to the site for the counselling service is the Alcoholic Help Support Forum that I'm recommending you give a try. Or rather, I'm recommending you look for something similar that suits you.

Groups, meetings, and support networks are big things in recovery. AA is the most famous (and controversial), but there's also Smart Recovery and loads of small groups. My local addiction services clinic runs its own support group.

It's hard getting sober and getting advice from people in the same boat as you is useful. I'm not very good socially, and the idea of a group meeting fills me with dread. Meeting people online is a brilliant way for people like me to find help.

Bright Eye has been one of the constants of my sobriety. I've used it whenever I've got into trouble with drink and I'm using it now that I'm getting sober, going through the Sobriety Challenges boards.

It may well not be for you. Like any group it has a particular character. I won't try to define it (beyond saying that it's very supportive and is UK-based). I think it's best that you take a look and see if it might be for you.

A quick Google for "alcoholism forum" brought up nearly 2 million results, there should be somewhere where you'll feel at home.

I rather rely on Bright Eye, and from what others post it seems that plenty of others have established a long term relationship with the site and people they have met there. I feel slightly guilty that I don't pay a thing for it.

There is a lot of good advice outside the forums and the threads cover a huge variety of alcohol and addiction-related topics.

If anyone can recommend any other sites or similar resources, I'd love to hear about them.

Where I am with other addictions

When I was in school, talking about an "addictive personality" was commonplace. It's certainly something I diagnosed myself with.

Looking it up recently on Wikipedia, I found that science does not agree - the search defaulted to "narcissistic personality disorder". That's changed, but the long article that now sits under the "addictive personality" heading still admits that "there is an ongoing debate about the question of whether an addictive personality really exists."

The point I'm trying to make is that I'm easy prey to addiction. Down the years I've had on-and-off compulsive or addictive relationships with chocolate, caffeine, cannabis, porn, thumb sucking, skin scratching, speed, cigarettes, LSD...

There are a whole host of other behavioural ticks and habits that aren't good for me and which I'd like to something about.

Currently, I'd say the ones that worry me most are smoking and my online behaviour.

Smoking's a no-brainer these days. I've had some success in the last year, stopping for periods, but I'm currently smoking and want to stop. I have an e-cigarette so I can remain addicted to nicotine if I choose and I'd be happy to see that as the first step.

Online I'd like to waste less time. I've got a real magpie mind and the web is made for someone like me to get lost in. Social media, particularly Facebook, is a sink into which I pour too many hours. It interrupts my work, such as it is, and feeds my need for instant interaction. I'd like to use it less and otherwise waste less time online.

I'm addicted to caffeine too, but that's not really a problem. I did go caffeine free earlier this year as I was a bit worried about the amount I was drinking. Anxiety is one of my big problems and caffeine just feeds it. I'll probably have another break soon.

This whole attempt to be More Than Sober is about making big changes in my life. The extent to which I'm governed by routines, habits and compulsions in all areas of my life is one of the biggest. Some of the worst for me are simply repeated thought patterns. There are too many of these to list; things which send my anxiety spiralling if I depart from the established routine.

How does one go about that? We shall see. I've tried in the past and had some success. I'm convinced that meditation will play some part here. I need to change my mind and meditation is an exercise in having some control, just the control to do nothing.

So, as a first positive step I'm setting myself a challenge. I want to meditate every day this week. It might only be for 10 minutes, but it'll be a start, and a good one.

If you spent it, thank you for your time. 


Sunday, 28 December 2014

Where I am with alcohol

Today is my 210th day of sobriety, the end of my 30th week. 

I thought I'd start with where I am (or where I think I am), before looking at where I want to be. 

The big thing is that I'm alcohol free and building up a good long period of abstinence. I've been heading in this direction for a while. In 2009 I did an in-patient detox in a local hospital. After that, I managed about a year completely abstinent. Then there were some ups and downs with alcohol - periods of abstinence, periods of more controlled drinking, periods of caning it. 

I always kept in my mind that I never wanted to end up back in the state that had seen me shaking and sweating away in that hospital ward. I managed that. However, I wasn't able to properly commit to abstinence (as you'll soon gather, that's still a struggle now). That was pretty foolish of me. 

I've had problems with alcohol ever since I met it as a teenager. Like lots of problem drinkers I desperately wanted to land in the Magical Far-Away Land of Moderate Social Drinking. And I tried. There's an outside chance that I may try again. 

The theory goes that we drink for a reason. So after tackling that reason we can drink and it won't be a problem. I did work very hard on finding out what the cause of my love/love relationship with alcohol is. I had counselling. I went to groups. I read a lot. The truth was that if I am ever going to be able to drink in a way that doesn't turn my life into a soggy mess it wasn't then. 

After my detox I had been prescribed Antabuse. That's a deterrent drug - you drink; you get very sick. I take it under supervision (I'm still on it now), going for a breath test before popping my pills every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In my experiments with controlled drinking I tried to use Antabuse. I drank at weekends before going to the clinic on Monday to take the two pills that would keep me sober until the following weekend. That worked, to an extent - I didn't drink during the week, but I overindulged badly at the weekends. However, my supervisors weren't able to back that approach and told me they'd withdraw my Antabuse. I knew that without it I'd be heading back to the detox ward. 

There followed more dances around alcohol and dependence, before I took a community detox. In all honesty I probably didn't need it, I could have cut down and stopped on my own. But I wanted the support and I wanted to go straight on to Antabuse. 

That was on December 19th, 2013. Since then I have drunk alcohol on eight days. That's down to another experiment, and one other problem drinkers will probably recognise, "planned relapses". I took my Antabuse and stayed happily abstinent, but every couple of months (and this only happened twice) I'd have a weekend of drinking. 

Both weekends were chosen to coincide with Mag, my partner, going away. The first also included a gig, which seemed like a good excuse, something noteworthy. Also, I think, a way of making my drinking more "normal" - normal people drink when they go to a concert, so could I. 

I've called these two relapses qualified successes. The qualifications are enormous though. I drank to an extent that I became ill. I'd planned to drink moderately (ha!) every day of my lost weekends, but so overdid it on both first days that I spent the next day in bed. I knew I would stop, but it was hard. The first time I drank on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The second time that became Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. 

That was enough with that experiment. Each drinking session pretty much wiped me out for a week. It wasn't in any way, shape or form moderate, normal or healthy drinking. It wasn't really supposed to be though. It was the aftermath that convinced me to knock the idea on the head. I lost too much time to feeling appalling, sorry for myself, anxious and depressed. 

That's when I swore off alcohol for... for good? For the foreseeable future? I'm not quite sure yet.  In my mind I occasionally say "forever". I haven't said that publicly yet. The best I can say is that I am aiming for a long period of abstinence.

One of the first things I did when I made that commitment (however amorphous a commitment it might be) was sign up at Bright Eye. It's an alcohol counselling service, but attached to that website is a forum. It's the best alcohol forum I've found, and you'll find me posting there. 

That's where I am today then. Tomorrow I'll go to the clinic and take two Antabuse tablets and that'll mean I'll be sober for another five days (I've received differing advice on how long Antabuse is effective for, either five days or a week). 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

To begin at the umpteenth attempt

I'm sober. Hooray for me and so on. I last drank alcohol on June 1st, 2014. Hooray for me again. That's a good run. In fact, since December 19th, 2013 I've drunk on just eight days.

However, I want more. I need more. To make this a successful Recovery, with capital letters and everything, I need to move on from just not drinking to making the most of my life without alcohol. 

That's what this blog is about.

I'm just finding my blogging way right now, as I am with life without booze. I have plans, and I have fears. Losing alcohol is both a wonderful opportunity and the cause of terrible fear. 

Like many drinkers I have more than a problem with alcohol in my mental locker. My drinking had causes. Complicated causes no doubt, not all of which I'm completely on top of. Anxiety certainly, depression in a chicken and egg sort of way... 

I have plans for this blog, as I have hopes in my wider life. I want to keep a diary. I want to use it as a repository of useful recovery resources. I want to review things. I want to use it to earn money. I want to help other people in - or heading towards - recovery.

This is just a hello. A small, scrawled mark on the web to start my journey. I've made so many false starts and I'm sick of it. I'm teetering on the edge of something here and there's a danger of falling back. I've got to start making the most of my opportunity and my abilities and I've got to start moving on. I've got to be more than just sober.

Wish me luck.