We say this often to people who have had a relapse and are back to day one, we say “be gentle with yourself”. One of the reasons for this piece of advice is that, if you beat yourself up and focus your energy on how ashamed you feel, what a weak person you are, a wretched excuse for a human being, that sort of negative thinking, those thoughts (for that is all they are, thoughts produced by your own mind), that is a sure fire trigger for drinking again to drown out that judgemental voice that never has anything good to say to you about you. We tell you to be gentle with yourself and remind ourselves to do the same.
I regularly quoted from Desiderata which has occupied a wall near me since I was a teenager. I find that, for most things in life, there’s a line in Desiderata. In this case the line is:
“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
And it is to the wholesome discipline bit that I want to address these random thoughts that have been gathering momentum in my headspace for a few days now. In relation to the relapse that brought you back to day one, whilst being gentle with yourself you also need to exercise caution. Question what brought you to this position, be honest with yourself about it. Write it down in a notebook to look back tomorrow and in subsequent days so that you can forensically interrogate it to identify the triggers, the circumstances leading up to it, and keep this to look back on in future times when you have that temptation again. You might even want to share it in a blog to help others who may have the same experience and learn from yours. When boldly setting out again from day one, with your best foot forward, you need to exercise a wholesome discipline. It was the lack of this discipline that allowed you to pick up again.
These words, wholesome and discipline, were the very epitome of boredom in my former life as a drinker. Yawn bloody yawn. It was the lack of a wholesome discipline that allowed me to stay up until the early hours of the morning and carry on drinking whilst there was drink to be had, or even head out into the night to find an off licence that was still open to acquire more. This on a week night when I needed to be up in a few hours’ time and at my desk earning my living. Often it was on the night before a significant event in my life and the lives of those close to me, a family wedding, a Christening, a flight away on a family holiday. Latterly, before I resigned my lecturing job because it was interfering with my more important drinking career, it was on the night before I was due to deliver an important lecture to my students (paying for the privilege) on something like domestic violence, or homicide, child abuse or rape, a lecture I hadn’t even researched yet, let alone written – I would dust off last year’s if I could find it, nobody would know.
It was the lack of a wholesome discipline that kept me drinking until the eve of my 60th birthday, at least 15 years after I knew for sure that I had to stop completely and forever.
Thanks to 3 years of living alcohol free I am happy to say that I now exercise a wholesome discipline in most areas of life. I go to bed at a time that allows me to get eight hours sleep (most nights) and arise refreshed in the morning. I usually get straight out of bed when I awaken and have a heart healthy breakfast of fresh fruit, nuts and oats. My diet is no longer full of empty calories and carbohydrates, processed food and ready meals. I was fortunate over the years that my husband insisted on fresh home cooked food (and is prepared to cook it), so that even when I drank there was always good food on the table. The difference now is that I also insist on it, I respond to my body’s needs and not my mind’s.
A wholesome discipline ensures that, even when I am tempted to isolate as is still sometimes the case, I get up and show up with my family and friends. I don’t turn down invitations because the event will be boring without alcohol, just the opposite. I recognise that boring is turning up for all and every event where there will be free alcohol, drinking to oblivion and staggering home to the bottle I carefully remembered to put in the fridge before I went out – because there’s never enough. I no longer hide in my home but have opened it up to anybody who wants to visit. I answer the door without fear or trepidation. I have opened my heart too and engage in the types of spiritual practices that keep it open.
It’s this same wholesome discipline that allowed me to investigate various health issues that I had been neglecting for many a long year, putting everything down to the effects of drinking too much alcohol and therefore ignoring it because of its inconvenience.
My advice is to be gentle with yourself and with all living beings because that is in the interests of everybody. In the meantime an alcohol free life is a real and richly rewarding ambition that will open doors to a world beyond the imagination – but it requires a wholesome discipline to achieve it. It will change your life, but only if you embrace it and allow it to. “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars you have a right to be here” (Desiderata), and you have a right to be here in all of your glory.
Nana Treen xxx