I started this blog primarily to document my recovery, yet it’s been a while since I have actually done so! Yes, my last post was about ditching the booze, which is a biggie, but it was largely focused on why I gave it up, not about the benefits or how I did it…
So, where’s my head at?
Today is Blue Monday – officially the most depressing day of the year. Last year, I was feelin’ it. I was close to breaking point, and it would only be a few days until I snapped completely.
This year, I genuinely feel happier than ever.
Firstly, I want to say that I am by no means an expert, and I don’t wanna get all sanctimonious and shite like ‘yeh get some crystals, activate your chakras, and sit in the forest’, but below I have listed the things that have worked for me so far. If anyone finds it useful, great. If not, I’m certainly going to benefit from writing it down, which is in itself a part of my recovery – a nice little feedback loop.
Firstly, I reconnected with nature.
That sounds totally lame, but it’s 100% true, and possibly the most important part of my recovery journey.
Every single morning (unless it’s absolutely lashin’ it down), after my coffee I take my dog for a walk. I’m really fortunate that my parents’ house backs on to the woods. There, I can let him off the lead for a good ol’ run. Also, it’s a wonderfully peaceful and quiet space for me to disconnect from the madness of the modern world, and truly connect with the natural world.
When I lived in the city centre, I never left it. And I mean, like literally never. My friend lived a few doors down from me (actually above the bar where I worked), and if we went across to the other side of the city centre, we’d get all excited because we were ‘leaving the village’.
I never saw trees.
I never saw fields.
I never saw birds (except pigeons).
I never even saw grass.
On the rare occasion that I would leave the city, it would boggle my mind to see fields – to be able to see further than the other side of the street.
I honestly don’t know how I lived like that.
Why didn’t I make the effort to go to the park? Probably because I was too busy drinking/working around drink…
I liken ‘The Natural World vs The Man-Made World’ to ‘Fruit vs Sweets’.
Sweets are great. We’ve designed them to be that way. But fruit is way healthier, and sometimes just as delicious. And essentially, we need fruit to survive (well, the vitamins etc anyway). It’s easy to get caught up in the sugar rush of sweets, but we’ll eventually have a big crash, and end up feeling lethargic, sick, and probably full of regret. It’s all man-made, all synthetic – a fake high. We’ll be craving the goodness of fruit, but always go back to sweets, because the sugar is so addictive. We weren’t built to eat sweets, but however, we were built to eat fruit.
We weren’t built to live in concrete jungles – humans are natural beings, and nature gives us life.
I know that I am extremely fortunate that my parents live in the rural countryside, with my bedroom literally looking out over a field and onto the woods. But even if I still lived in the city, I could have sought out nature to give me that breath of life. I just didn’t.
That is the first major change.
I completely re-defined my relationship with my phone.
I used to spend hours scrolling, just blankly staring at a screen. And what was I filling my head with? What other people were doing. I didn’t focus on my own existence, because I was too pre-occupied with everyone else’s.
Now I only have Instagram installed as social media on my phone, and I only follow accounts that truly give me joy. I only scroll a couple of times a day, and use it as a way to inspire me, rather than feeling envy or regret. I realise now that I am responsible for the content I see in my feed. I am in control. If I don’t want to see something, I don’t have to.
When I wake up, I still look at my phone first thing. But I don’t check my e-mails or DMs, I use my wellness apps…
I make my sobriety pledge, and then tick off tasks on my life coaching app ‘Fabulous’. It encourages you to take up a new habit every three days. A few examples are drinking water as soon as you wake up, meditating, turning off all your screens an hour before bedtime, and eating a healthy breakfast.
I have found it really useful, and it’s dead satisfying to tick off the daily tasks and build up a streak.
I also got a smart watch, which I don’t use for communication at all, but I use to track my health.
It tracks my sleep, prompts me to move when I’m too sedentary, tells me the weather forecast, and most importantly, counts my steps.
Last week I managed 6,000 steps every day of the week – often a lot more – so this week I have upped my target to 7,000 to give myself an achievable, yet stretching, goal.
I re-joined Slimming World.
I know, I’m so basic.
I did it for years when I lived back in the city, and lost a few stone, but in all honesty, I never really did it 100%. The basic premise of SW is that you can eat as much as you want of ‘free’ foods, such as fruit, veg, pasta, rice, potatoes, meat, and fish. And then you have your ‘Syns’ – all the ‘bad’ stuff. You can still have it, but limit yourself to 15 points a day. For example, a chocolate bar is about 9 syns, and a pint of lager is about the same.
When I did it before, I didn’t count my syns, but I never ate anything that wasn’t free. I just drank. A lot.
Now I’ve stopped drinking, I’m finding that I can still enjoy eating things like chocolate and sausages, and still lose weight.
Diet culture is toxic. Attaining to be skinny is attaining to be unhealthy. But at the start of this year, I was heavier than I’ve ever been in my life. I gained 4 stone since my breakdown, largely due to antipsychotics giving me a never-ending appetite, and my sweet tooth was giving me a 200g+ of chocolate a day habit.
I felt awful.
Mostly because I’m a short arse, and my BMI was nearly 40, putting a load of strain on my knees and hips. My mum’s in her early 60’s and already has 3 out of 4 fake joints, so I know I need to look after mine.
Now I’ve lost 6lbs, and I already feel a dick load better.
It also gives me a feeling of control and satisfaction to have a goal set for myself. Every bite I eat, and every morsel I log in the app, I feel a tiny swell of joy, knowing that I am one step closer to being a healthier, fitter me (most importantly, a me with less musculoskeletal pain).
I attended some group therapy sessions via Zoom.
It was an NHS service, which my consultant psychiatrist referred me to, and the waiting list luckily wasn’t too long. I was on the waiting list for the same intervention for over two years in the city, so another advantage of living in the country…
It was called ‘Emotional First Aid’, and was heavily based on Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which is the primary treatment pathway for Borderline Personality Disorder. All of the women on my course had BPD, and it was run by a really friendly, down-to-earth lady, who I actually knew from Primary School.
It led on really well from the stuff I was doing with my therapist in hospital. A lot of mindfulness, rationalisation, and self-care techniques.
As a result of that…
I have been attending the local NHS Mental Health Peer Support Group.
I’ve been to a face-to-face session once, but didn’t go back afterwards because I got a cold, which totally freaked me out, and then Lockdown 2.0 swiftly came along. However, it has continued on Zoom, which is a bit weird, but better than not having it at all.
The time that I did go along in person, we basically all sat round a massive table for 3 hours, and chatted.
There was no structure to it at all, but it was nice to just sit with people who you know ‘get it’.
We talked about social media, music, dating, and other millennial stuff which I don’t get from my parents.
It was the beginning of September, so I was wearing shorts. As I arrived, I realised that my scars were on show. I got a bit self-conscious because I was meeting new people, and I didn’t want them to think I was a freak, but as I sat at the table, I noticed a lot of other people’s scars of their own.
Turns out that pretty much all of us there had BPD.
We are the outcasts, the weirdos.
I didn’t even really say much, but I felt like I fitted in. I still don’t say much on our remote meetings, but I never feel judged for it. I don’t worry that they’ll like me any less because I don’t say much. I fit in with them because I don’t fit in with everyone else. Whether they like it or not, it just is.
I log on on a Wednesday to say a quick hi, and then join the quiz on Friday night, which is just a load of silly, childish fun. I’m really looking forward to going back once we can meet in person again.
I also did a 3-week training course to become a ‘Volunteer Peer Support Worker’, which gave me a focus and a purpose.
Who knows, an NHS lanyard could be on the cards…
I have started to reduce some of my medication.
Namely, my antipsychotics. Cuz like I said, I’ve gained 4 stone.
They were necessary when I was in my proper mad state, but now I’ve been fairly stable for a while, I want to see if I can manage on my own.
There is absolutely no shame in taking medication. If you need it, you need it – the same as any other type of medication. It just is. The only reason I am keen to cut them down is because of the side effects. Yes, I’ve gained a fuck ton of weight, but I was also sleeping 8 hours a night, then having a 2–4-hour midday nap as well. It’s only been a few days, but already I’m finding myself more productive and energetic.
I’m still on maximum dose of antidepressants. No way I’m giving those up!
The next step is definitely therapy.
I’ve been putting it off for a while, because as someone who studied counselling for years, I know how much shit it can drag up. You actually have to be in a half decent place before you start.
But this week, I finally had a look, and put the feelers out. I am now on a waiting list for a lady who I like the look of. Should hopefully have an assessment session within the next month or so.
MINDFUL ACTIVITIES R BAE!
This encompasses a lot of different things, including walking, playing with the dog, yoga, ballet, reading, sorting through boxes of my stuff.
Basically, anything that you can’t do while you’re also scrolling through your phone.
You can’t scroll while you’re doing yoga, throwing a toy for the dog to chase, or reading a book (or if you can, you’re doing it wrong!). Why can’t you scroll? Because these activities need 100% of your focus. Yes, your mind may wander a little bit, but you always have to drag your focus back to the activity at hand if you’re going to continue.
I now read every single day, and have set myself a target of 50 books this year. I have done 6 so far, which I think is pretty good going in 18 days.
I used to adore reading, but as my stress increased, I found it harder to retain focus.
By reading, I’m also learning to be a better writer, so I feel like I’m contributing towards my MA.
It’s a win win win activity!
I no longer live in squalor.
I think this kind of goes hand in hand with not drinking. I no longer have half eaten kebabs sitting on my desk, or empty beer bottles by the side of my bed.
I have always known that if my environment is clean and tidy that I feel better, but finally, aged 34, I have managed to put this in to action. Even if I really don’t feel like it, I know I will feel tons better once I have put my laundry away, cleared away all my empty mugs, and put back things I have been using in to their proper place.
I have managed to go through half my stuff in the storage unit, all the stuff in the spare room, and will now never have to go through the stuff that was in the garage (ta 4 that, fire).
I plan my day.
I bought this little whiteboard, which is all pastel and dead cute. I always write down what the moon is doing, what I plan to do as self-care, how many days sober I am, what I am going to do spiritually that day, any appointments (even if it’s just watching ‘Pooch Perfect’ with my parents – if you haven’t watched it, do. srsly), and roughly three tasks that I want to achieve.
For instance, today my tasks are ‘writing’, ‘walkies’, and ‘start a new book’. Easy peasy. I know I will achieve them, and then I’ll feel accomplished. I never put any tasks in until the morning, because I don’t know what I’ll feel like doing, and I don’t want to set myself up to fail. Tomorrow I might put on a bigger task, like ‘fire admin’, or ‘clean the bathroom’, but I won’t know how I feel until I wake up. If I feel particularly drained on a day when I’m ‘supposed to’ clean the bathroom, and I don’t do it, then planning my day becomes just as unhelpful as it is supposed to be helpful.
I am also very careful to treat ‘self-care’ with just as much respect and importance as my tasks. They tend to be things like ‘paint nails’, ‘have a bath’, or ‘watch a film’.
What could be as important as nourishing myself?
Absolutely fucking nothing.
At the end of every day, I write down three things that I am grateful for.
This comes from the ‘Fabulous’ app. They could be as stupid as ‘I had a nice burger’, or ‘My eyebrows were on point today’, or as deep as ‘I am well nourished, and can afford to never go hungry’.
Either way, it is always a nice way to end the day, and I often find that those are the things I think about as I drift off to the land of nod.
My dog has been the best therapy.
He undoubtedly deserves a post all of his own. Having a tiny puppy to keep alive and raise properly is not easy, but it’s done eons for my mental health.
There is no greater sight in the whole wide world than seeing this tiny little fluff creature gallop towards me through the woods at the speed of light when I call his name (unless he’s found a sexy girl dog – 7 months old, and those hormones are RAGIN’!).
And he doesn’t care if we’re in another lockdown, or if the garage has just burned down. He’s only ever really upset when my mum gets the hoover out.
That’s really comforting.
Giving up drinking has changed my life.
This is at the root of every single one of the above points. I know for a fact that I would not be where I am today if I was still drinking. It was the one thing holding me back from achieving everything I wanted. Now, I am free.
I am able to savour every single moment of my life without any blur. Everything feels sharp and in focus. I wake up every morning feeling refreshed. I go to sleep every night feeling tired. Not because my body is about to give up because I drank those ten pints, but because my body is exhausted from walking in the woods and doing a ballet barre class on YouTube.
And of course, finding my spirituality has helped me beyond what I could have ever believed.
But I feel like that’s a whole post all of its own…
Like I said, I’m by no stretch perfect. Nor am I 100% well. But I wish more than anything that there was someone to tell me these things this time last year. There probably was, but I just wasn’t listening. It sounds like a load of bullshit when someone says ‘Have you tried taking a bubble bath?’ – used to drive me fucking mental when I would call the Crisis Team and that was their go to – but a little really does go a long way.
I hope that everyone has a bright and sunny Blue Monday. Make sure that you take extra special care of you.
Above all, stay safe. x