Friday, February 22, 2019

1 Year Without Drugs & Alcohol: Reclaim Your Energy, Attune Your Priorities and Manifest New Realities


The concept of this topic alone is enough to raise a vast spectrum of emotional reaction within each and every one of us mere mortals. I can already feel a whole range of responses being projected across the cyber-sphere, as the bold declaration of an entire solar rotation without the use of drugs and alcohol, really settles in. From jealously and disbelief to respect and congratulations, the diverse feelings that surface when someone narrates a landmark of success are all too real and familiar. The digital age has enabled many things, but the oogling observation of our deepest most personal experiences, remains a leading distinction of our time. Have we migrated culturally from the realm of "keep calm and carry on" to a new aeon of the expressed and outspoken? (perhaps). This it seems, is an almost perfect metaphor for my story of 1 year without using drugs and alcohol at all.


We all use distraction tactics to shift our attention. As humans, we crave escapism (in one form or another). We seek transcendence to alleviate our sufferings, no matter how small or trivial they may be. Life is an intense roller coaster of chemical neuro-transmission, so it's not a surprise that substances that alter our bio-chemistry are so appealing and seductive. 

I stopped drinking alcohol, smoking weed (with tobacco), and taking ecstasy 12 months ago, and it's difficult to explain how it has been, mostly because it's been everything and nothing, completely different and yet exactly the same. Because I never really had apparent  or significant problems as a result of my drug use, the changes have been less easy to notice than if had, say, an intravenous heroin addiction or an obsessive fetish for consumption. But no, contrary to the complete-life-changer I had heard about, my experience was a touch more superficial. I have not become spiritually illuminated and still live on hardly any money at all, but if I had to reduce the experience down to one distinctive realisation, it is that I have become increasingly aware of subtlety, both in myself and the outer world. My usual experience has shifted from one of extremes and polarity, to one of detail and relative stability. A shift towards sensitivity and away from ignorance (hopefully!). 

This shift towards a less extreme energetic and emotional routine has allowed me time and afforded attention to re-consider and address my life priorities and where they currently stand. As boring as it sounds to your average party-head, the idea of routine and pattern (especially regularity of sleep!) has become a lot more appealing than the thought of staying up all night at a bangin' techno party. Partly because without the substance, the energy and focus level is very different - at least for myself, with a predominantly introverted temperament. But also because the stability of a structured existence is something I have never really worked upon, therefore never been able to receive reward from such activity, neuro-chemically speaking. As a self-invoked discordian-anarchist-agent of chaos, the appeal of extremes is something that is forever seductive, but these particular, niche and specific habits had become my most dependable direction to happiness; as a consequence, anything "normal" had a distinct aura of pointlessness. These days, I feel more open to experiences outside my ego structure of what is useful, important and enjoyable. I'm not sure I'll ever really love shopping malls, but at least I can handle them for more than 30 seconds without having to quickly skin up a spliff as soon as I get out of that hellhole! Being sober has allowed me to respect my energy, refine my values and maintain integrity to myself.

Another unexpected consequence of 1 year of sobriety is that it seems that now I have to actively inject emotional energy into my daily experience in order to feel happy, content and relaxed. It's a strange feeling to no longer have any quick fix drug to experience happiness; no immediate, external guarantee of the release of dopamine or serotonin. The positive side effect of this is that I have been forced into being an active participant in the pursuit of my own happiness, rather than the victim of circumstance. An activist of my reality. For example, if I am feeling depressed, bored or fatigued, I usually sit with the feeling and experience the un-comfort-ability first, giving my brain enough time to create an alternative method to make me happy, thereby opening the first stages in reprogramming my neuro-circuitry. Sounds easy, but it's a lot more complicated than it seems. When you have relied on substances for so long your nicely paved neural pathways make their use seem like the only way to make things better. According to Loretta Graziano Breuning in Habits Of A Happy Brain, the good news is that you can reprogram your brain, and create new circuits of happiness, but this has to be done through repetition and/or emotion. For me, building new habits, routines and patterns has been integral to my emotional stability and recovery. I suppose to summarise, it has been a year of re-learning how to take personal responsibility for my own mental and emotional health. Becoming more engaged and active in my pursuit of happiness, because I now understand that it never comes for free!

When we become reliant on using substances (or for that matter anything physical and outside of ourselves) to correct or shift our bio-chemical experience, our brain seems to depend on these as the most important or "go to" method of experiencing happiness. I believe this is why the active creation of the new rituals and habits, despite initial insecurities, seem to have been so effective for me in my first year of abstinence. 

If you're interested in going clean to reclaim your energy, attune your priorities and manifest new realities, I can tell you, it's not easy, it's really bloody hard, but what you will be building will hopefully be a more reliable path in the pursuit of your own happiness, that doesn't depend on everything being the way you expect it to be, your bank balance or the notifications in your social media.

-Ryan-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

Friday, February 15, 2019

What I've Learned In A Year Of Sobriety



Who'd have thunk it? If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever even take a break from smoking weed, let alone spend an entire year completely sober, I would have laughed/wheezed in your face. Being a stoner had become so completely wrapped up in my identity (and I was so thoroughly addicted!) that I couldn't even contemplate the idea.




But here I am, one year sober. It's been a year of big changes, and I firmly believe that I've been able to weather those changes because I'm learning how to deal with problems and stress in a much more constructive way now I'm not smoking. 

Now I have some time under my belt I can see the changes and improvements in myself. Firstly, I feel healthier. I'm sleeping better, my lungs feel cleaner, my eyes are brighter. I've saved the equivalent of my van tax, MOT and insurance (my version of rent!). And mentally I'm feeling much more focused - I've built a home, I've started a blog and a podcast, and am making plans for the future with an enthusiasm I haven't felt in a long time. My emotions feel more level too, and I feel like I have more mental space and energy now I'm not constantly distracted by finding and smoking weed. 

Over the last year I've learnt some things that have really helped keep me motivated to stay sober. Maybe the most important has been that everything takes time - you do not untangle yourself from an addiction overnight, but the more time you give it, the easier it becomes. I also learnt that my problems wouldn't all just go away when I stopped smoking. Life is still challenging, things are still hard or upsetting, but now I have to find new ways to deal with these things. And I'm finding that these new ways are better, more constructive and actually work towards finding solutions, rather than just covering things up. Cravings are something I've been learning to deal with; even a year later I can still get hit with the urge to smoke, and often I'll be doing something, like watching a movie or going for a walk, and feel like something is missing because I'm not smoking. It's taking time to re-wire my brain, but it's happening less and less, and when it does happen I'm learning not to beat myself up about it and just notice what is happening in the moment. Finally, I've figured out that I can still have fun, that I'm still the same person and I still enjoy the same things now I don't smoke. I don't need weed to be an interesting fun person. 

So what has helped me throughout this year? 

  • Learning about addiction has probably been the most helpful thing I've done. I've listened to podcasts, read books and articles, I've become interested in what's going on, rather than judgemental, and found a lot of information and resources that has made this process easier. 
  • Writing the blog and making the podcast has helped to keep me accountable, given me a focus and connected me to other people going through the same things.
  • I've said it before, and I'll say it again - meditation! It's early days with my meditation habit, but making the time to relax and quiet my mind is definitely helpful - I'm more aware of my thoughts and how I react to them.
  • Changing my lifestyle, travelling in the van and getting out of my old routines has helped me build new ones that don't involve smoking. 

Spending some time considering my sober year has helped me appreciate how far I've come, and really see how my life has improved in so many ways. I'm motivated and excited for the next year, and I hope that if you're looking for it, you find some inspiration and motivation from my story.

-Ems-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Interview with This Naked Mind's Annie Grace





I feel like I've always been a little bit behind the times when it comes to technology. It took me a while to make the switch from mini-discs (remember them anyone?!) to MP3, mainly because I just couldn't understand how you got all that music in that tiny little machine. I don't have a smart phone, and until last year I had never listened to a podcast and was still a little hazy on what they even were. 



My best friend is the one who introduced me to the magical world of podcasts, which happened to coincide with quitting smoking. All of a sudden I had a world of information at my fingertips, and the very first podcast I listened to was Russell Brand's Recovery Radio, a fantastic 6-part series where he talks to addicts in various stages of recovery about the struggles they face and the tools they use to stay sober. I've branched out to all sorts of subjects - feminism and comedy being my favourites, so The Guilty Feminist remains my top podcast and Mondays, when it is released, is now the best day of the week! - but a lot of the podcasts I listen to are about sobriety, addiction and recovery. Quite early on I discovered This Naked Mind, and knew straight away I had found a real gem. 

My favourite thing about This Naked Mind is the host, Annie Grace. She has a really down-to-earth relatable air about her. No disrespect to ol' mate Russell, but he's very much the celebrity junkie and not everyone can relate to the pressures of presenting an MTV show whilst also being a heroin addict. Annie, on the other hand, is a regular person, with a successful career in marketing, a young family...and before she quit, a two-bottle-of-wine-a-night drinking habit. I also love her approach to sobriety, which is one of curiosity, open-mindedness and lack of judgement. The podcast episodes are usually short, 10-20 minutes that directly answer listener questions, so they go right to the issues that people with alcohol dependency struggle with, and she gives a lot of interesting scientific research and information to explain just what is going on when you're drinking, and what changes when you quit. 

This Naked Mind - first-stop for all your recovery needs!

I've mentioned Annie's podcast a lot in my blog, I've used episodes as inspiration and I've found it incredibly helpful in my own sobriety journey. So I was beyond excited when she agreed to chat to me in an interview for my very own podcast! We talked about how her relationship with alcohol developed, relatively late, into a serious habit because of her corporate career - something I found really interesting. We discussed different methods for quitting drinking, including AA, moderation and focusing on harm reduction rather than abstinence, and how the advertising and marketing of alcohol is ruthless considering the health risks of drinking. A statistic I heard on Annie's podcast that shocked me to my core was that in the USA, alcohol is responsible for more deaths than illegal and legal drugs combined - including the current opioid epidemic and excluding any deaths caused by drink-driving. Yet it remains an ingrained part of our culture, is advertised during sports events and marketed to exhausted mums. Something ain't right with that. 

We also discussed her new project, The Alcohol Experiment, which is a new way to participate in sober months like Dry January. I think Annie's approach is the perfect alternative to existing schemes, which don't involve a lot of education or support - you can sign up for the experiment online, and be guided through the month with information on what's going on in your brain and body, which is something I found really helpful when I quit smoking - making sense of cravings, understanding withdrawals and mood swings made it easier to move past them. 

I had a great time chatting to Annie, and her podcast is a great resource for anyone who wants to make some changes in their lives regarding addiction. It doesn't have to be just alcohol, and it doesn't have to be just abstinence - it's relatable and useful for anyone. I hope you enjoy the interview!

-Ems-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.




Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Dry January Hints and Tips



We're halfway through the month, and the fire and energy of all those post-New-Year hangover-fuelled good intentions might be waning a wee bit. So this seems like a good time for a bonus Dry January episode, full of tips and ideas for making this sober month (or indeed whatever "month of doing something different" you've decided to take on) as beneficial as possible.

I've been doing research to make my month successful, so I've condensed down everything I've found to what I feel are the four most important tips. Here they are!

Change your mindset 
I mentioned in the last episode that one of the biggest pitfalls people fall into with sober months is their mindset - seeing Dry January as a chore or an impossible task. One of the most powerful things you can do is change the language you use, and getting rid of the word "challenge" is a great start. Focusing on the benefits and the things you will gain, such as more energy, more money in your pocket, more mornings without hangovers, rather than lamenting the things you're "missing out on" will also help hugely. 

Have a buddy
"Do you have your exit buddy?" Both in Finding Nemo and life in general, having a buddy makes all the difference. Having a friend or partner who is fully supportive of your decision not to drink, and is there to help you through the tricky times or see off unhelpful people who are overly concerned with what's in your glass is amazing. Or it could be someone else you know who's also participating in Dry January - like a gym buddy they can help keep you accountable and you can encourage and motivate each other. My exit buddies are the best - I highly recommend you get one!



Listen to your body
This can take some practice, especially since so many of us probably haven't had a conversation with our bodies that went beyond "please don't do that to me again for a really long time" in a while. But the more in tune you are with what your body and mind are doing, the more able to experience the very real benefits of being sober. The changes are often small and slow, so by really paying attention you will notice more and be motivated by what you're feeling. Ways to get that conversation going include yoga, meditation, exercise of any kind.

Be interested
This really helped me when I stopped smoking - reading, listening and watching anything about addiction I could get my hands on made the process I'm going through understandable and interesting. We're complicated, our brains even more so, and there's so much going on that it's worthwhile trying to learn about it, even if to start with it's just a distraction from cravings. On the same theme, it's also really great to be interested in your own experiences, so having a journal or making notes about what's going on for you is also very helpful. 

So those are my top tips! For more you could have a listen to Annie Grace's podcast on Dry January and have a read of our Power Of No blog post from a few months ago that has some great tips on how to embrace and practice saying "No", a word you might have to trot out a lot this month!



I have a few more ideas for you from my Month of Mediation, which so far is going pretty well. I've meditated every day and it's getting easier to make the time and fit it into my routine. Here's what I've done to help:
  • I had a clear goal at the start of the month, which was to meditate for at least 5 minutes every day, and I wrote it down.
  • I did some research, learning about different meditation techniques and practices, and downloaded some apps to help get me started.
  • I made a financial investment, by booking a 3-week yoga course with a focus on meditation, which means I'm learning a lot and have added motivation to keep going - I do hate wasting money!
  • I'm keeping track of my progress by writing down a few lines every time I meditate about what I've done and how I feel.
I reckon you could apply some or all of these ideas to just about any challenge you've set yourself. If you're doing Dry January, keep at it, and good luck with the rest of the month!

-Ems-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dry January

  

Happy New Year! It’s officially 2019, and right now, all over the land, people are nursing hangovers and recovering from a festive period full of fun, good cheer and excess. But not me. No, for not only am I now basically middle-aged, it is also ten years since I quit drinking alcohol. Which means my New Years Eve was a nice quiet evening with a cup of tea, crochet and P&P (for the ill-informed, I am of course referring to the 90’s BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, which comes in at a cool 6 hours, and means that while I might not be able to party to midnight, by God I still have stamina.) Today, January 1st 2019, instead of clutching my head and trying to find my dignity by staying in bed for three days (as I did in 2009), I am attending a two hour yoga workshop. Times, they definitely do be a’changing. 

Most importantly, today is also the day that I am unleashing the very first actual episode of Breaking Free on the world. Or at least on the ears of my mum and best friend. (thanks for listening, you’re the best Biggest Fans ever!) To mark the New Year, a time of resolutions, fervent promises of self-improvement and renewed yet unused gym memberships, I’m talking about Dry January.

Calvin, the child philosopher - if only we could all be so wise

Dry January, along with Dry July, Sober September (and October now!) is an event where people commit to going alcohol-free for 30 days. Dry January was started in 2014 by the charity Alcohol Concern, and it has grown and grown in popularity - according to a YouGov Poll, 3.1 million people in Britain did Dry January in 2018. Sober months have become a phenomena it seems, and according to this Australian article, “Sober is the new black”. But before we all go jumping on a (band)wagon - or throwing ourselves off it - and congratulating ourselves on finally, finally being fashionable, let’s have a wee look at the pros and cons of the thing. Ooo, yes, lets, I loves a good pros-and-cons-list I does. 

I present The Pros:

Creating consciousness
I think this is one of the most important benefits of doing a sober month. Removing yourself from drinking could help to show you just what your drinking habits are - who you drink a lot with, when you drink and why. Let’s not forget that in the UK, the NHS advises not to drink more than 14 units a week, which is only 6 pints of mid-strength beer or roughly a bottle of wine. If you have a pint or a glass of wine when you get home of an evening, every evening, you have reached the limit, possibly without even registering it. Maybe you’re so ingrained in the habit of reaching for the vino after a stressful day that you don’t notice it anymore. Do you always get shit-faced every time you go out with certain people? A few weeks of saying “No thanks, I’m doing Dry January” will make you more aware, and more awareness is the first step to making changes.

Getting Healthy
There are significant health benefits to quitting drinking, even for a short time. Your blood pressure drops, your insulin resistance improves, your skin will look better, and you may even lose a bit of weight. 

Safety in Numbers
It’s a shame to say it, but in my experience, no one likes a quitter. Of alcohol that is. Social pressure from friends and family to drink is real, and often over-whelming. Participating in something like Dry January gives you support from other people, motivation, and an excellent excuse to shut down people who just won’t stop giving you shit about the shit in your glass (which happens. Be prepared.)

All good stuff, I hear you say.  Undoubtedly. But it’s not perfect. Bring on The Cons!

If there’s not a problem, it’s not a problem
The thing with sober months is that they generally are most effective for people who don’t have a dependancy on alcohol. In other words, if you take part in Dry January and it’s a breeze, then that’s wonderful for you, but you probably don’t have a problem with alcohol. If you do however, and you try to go sober or 30 days and you fail, (which statistically you are highly likely to do), then you will just end up feeling worse about yourself. There’s very little education or support for people with genuine dependency issues. All-in-all, it ends up feeling like a great big pat-on-the-back-and-a-gold-star for people completing a challenge that wasn’t all that challenging for them, and neglectful judgement for those that need the most help.

Give me a little more time…
I’ve mentioned this before (in this wonderful post about humps and getting over them). 30 days is not a very long time. It might seem it, in the scheme of things. For some people one day is a very long time. But to really feel the benefits of being sober one must first get sober, and in practice this can take weeks. Weeks of detoxing poisons from your system mean that it’s possibly not until the final week that you might start to sleep better, feel more energetic and begin to enjoy doing other things again. And while, as mentioned above, there are health benefits from quitting for a month, it’s not long enough to have an effect on more serious health issues, such as cancer, liver and heart disease. Any health benefits accrued during Dry January will also quickly disappear once you start drinking again. 

Thank Fuck it’s February
This is the mindset I feel a lot of participants of Dry January fall into. They are taking part because they feel like they should (social pressure works both ways), but they’re counting down the days until February 1st, when they go out and get shit-faced, and then it’s business as usual for then next 11 months. Let’s put it this way, it’s not a mindset that is conducive to change. 

Luckily, Dry January and its ilk are not the only options. May I introduce The Alternatives!

Sober Spring
Catherine Gray, (who I’ve mentioned in blog posts before and who has written this lovely book about being sober), has started the initiative Sober Spring, which is from March 20th-June 21st - 93 days of sobriety, to allow the benefits to really make themselves known. They are the key motivators for staying sober, and if you never allow yourself to experience them, you’ll never know just how good it can be. If you want to make some real lasting change, this challenge could be for you.

Alcohol-free days
For those of you who balk at 30 days (and frankly just laughed out loud and told me to sod off when I suggested 93), this alternative could be what you’re looking for. Instead of taking one solid month off drinking, and then continuing to drink heavily for the rest of the year, try taking two or three days off every week. Two days a week works out at 3.5 months, three days is 5 months, nearly half a year. It’s a lot less daunting, it feels more achievable, and the outcome is dramatically reduced drinking. 

The Alcohol Experiment
If you’re still keen to try an alcohol-free month, I highly recommend Annie Grace’s The Alcohol Experiment. Her approach is great - it’s all about experimenting, having an open mind and learning about alcohol and it’s affects, so there’s a lot of information and guidance that is missing from other sober month initiatives. If you want to know more, you can check out Annie’s podcast, This Naked Mind, and listen to the next episode of Breaking Free, when I interview her!

In conclusion, Dry January and sober months have their flaws and they don’t work for everyone. But. If they raise awareness of an issue that becoming more and more of a problem, and if they help people become more mindful of their drinking habits, then this can only be a good thing. 

I quit drinking before Dry January was even a thing (not trying to sound fashionable and trend-setter-ry, ok, maybe I am a little, I’m a crocheting cat lady, you gotta let me have something cool.) so I’ve never participated in one. This year I’ve decided to take it on in spirit, and work on something that I believe will help enormously on my journey with sobriety - meditation. It’s something that you kind of have to do regularly so I’m making a pledge to meditate every day in January. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and I’d love to hear how you’re all doing. 


Ooo, be still my beating heart. 

If you want to make a change but you don’t think sober months would be for you check out the alternatives. For all those embarking on your own version of Dry January, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire, and love you…erm, sorry, little bit of Pride & Predj there for you, couldn’t resist. But seriously. Good on ya and good luck.

-Ems-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Introducing Breaking Free


All has been quiet on the FREEDOM junkies' front for a while now, because we've been working away on our podcast, Breaking Free. I have to admit, it's been far more complicated than I thought it would - but then, anything to do with technology and computers always is for me! 

As well as learning how to create and edit sound files, I've also had to wrestle with the complexities of Libsyn and iTunes to get the pesky thing uploaded to the internet. But, after plenty of trial and error (and a little bit more error!) it seems I have done it. We have a beautiful, professional-looking podcast on iTunes (and soon on other platforms...one thing at a time though!)

As you can see, we've also got the episode in the blog post (isn't technology grand when you get it to do what you want!) so if you don't have iTunes you can listen to the episode through the FREEDOM junkies' blog. 

This first episode is short and sweet, outlining the aims of the podcast and going over a few points I felt it was important to start the show with:

1) I'm not a doctor, drugs counsellor or mental health professional...just someone with some personal experiences and knowledge I'd like to share.

2) I'm not condemning or condoning the use of drugs (and alcohol, which from now on you can assume I also mean when I use the term 'drug'). I don't want to 'should' all over people - this is a personal and complex topic, which is why it needs to be discussed. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the issue of addiction, and judgement has no place here. 

3) I want the podcast to be inclusive, which means being aware of the language we use, discussing a diverse range of experiences, and correcting our mistakes when we (inevitably!) make them. So if you hear something that could be improved on, let me know! 

The aim of this podcast is to help people who feel that they need it, which means it will be all the better if the audience gets involved! I would love to know what it is that people want to learn about, so join the Facebook group and suggest topics, guests and ideas. The more feedback and suggestions we get, the better we can make it for you. 

Thanks so much for all your support and encouragement, and I hope you enjoy the podcast!

-Ems-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Power of No: Reclaiming control of your choices


One of the most thrilling words you learn when you stop doing something, be it drinking alcohol, smoking weed or spending too much time on your smart phone, is one we as people have a long relationship with. It’s commonly one of the first words we learn, and as toddlers are masters of its use. We apply it to everything, much to the annoyance and frustration of everyone around us. But as we grow older and more mature, we seem to let this little word slip from our vocabularies. Once we have to start saying it again, it needs practice and time to get used to it. But when you do, it can revolutionise your life. So, let me introduce you to my new favourite word…”No”.

We live in a world of “Yes” - saying yes when someone asks you to buy something is what makes the world go round. And while positivity, being open to new opportunities and taking time to help people is worthy and important, what’s just as important is recognising that all that noble work starts with you, and that unless you are happy, healthy and whole, you can’t help anyone else. So, perhaps rather counterintuitively,  if you want more “Yes” in your life, you might have to start off with a little more “No”.

The problem is, that apart from those ‘special’ few years as a toddler, when “No” trips off the tongue like it’s going out of style, saying “No” doesn’t come easily to us. This is because of the way our brains have evolved. The first part of our brain to develop, after our super-basic reptilian brain that controls bodily functions, was the limbic system, or the mammalian brain. This is that part of the brain that deals with basic survival stuff - food, sex, emotions - and is the part that says “Yes” to questions like “Should I eat this entire chocolate cake?” The more rational, ‘human’ part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, is all about looking at the evidence, taking stock and thinking in the long-term. It didn’t evolve until later, which means that information, as it travels through your brain, will go to the limbic system first. There your question will receive a resounding “Yes”, before the pre-frontal cortex has a chance to get in on the conversation and remind you that eating an entire chocolate cake has, in the past, made you feel regretful and rather sick, and that perhaps, just perhaps, for your long term health and happiness, maybe a nice bowl of crunchy vegetables would do the trick. Of course, by this point, you’re three slices in and your limbic system, covered in frosting and licking its fingers, has done its job. 

What? Is there something on my face?

Another reason that saying “No” is often a struggle is dopamine. Ah yes, our good friend dopamine. It’s often misunderstood as the ‘pleasure’ chemical, but the way it works is actually much more complex, and therefore harder to combat. When you do something addictive, dopamine is released in your brain, and it creates a reward circuit. This means it registers the experience as ‘important’, and creates lasting, positive memories of it as pleasurable. Dopamine changes the brain on a cellular level - these circuits are hardwired into your brain, and eventually become well-worn pathways that once you’re going down them, it can be hard to get off. So when we start saying “No”, we really are going into uncharted territory, and it takes time for the new pathways to form. We need time for dopamine to create reward circuits for our new behaviours, and for us to collect new positive memories. 

The final reason is more psychological. We worry, about a lot of things. “No” causes us a lot of mental anguish, because we worry so much about the impact of our “No” on others. We worry that people won’t like us any more, we worry what people will think, we worry that we will be missing out on all the fun. We have been conditioned, in a world driven by “Yes” to believe that saying “No” will have a real and negative effect on people, and that that effect is more important than the very real and negative effect saying “Yes” to everything can have on ourselves. We have to remember that worrying solves nothing, and it won’t change the outcome in any way. If you say “No” to someone, they will either be fine with it or they won’t, but using emotional energy worrying about how they will react will not change that reaction one iota.  

So if “No” is so hard to say, what are the benefits? Why should we be letting more “No” into our lives?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly in the context of addiction, saying “No” is extremely empowering. “Yes” is easy, it’s what we’re used to, and it’s the path of least resistance. The first time you say “No” when someone offers you a drink or a smoke, a few things happen. You realise how easy it was just to let that little word “No” drop out of your mouth instead of a “Yes”. You realise that the world didn’t end. And you realise that it is possible to say it again. You have taken control of your life, which gives you confidence in your ability to do it the next time. The first time I said “No thank you” to the offer of a drink, it was so powerful I felt like I could do anything, especially say “No” to the next person. And the next.

Secondly, “No” is honest. If you are swamped at work, and someone asks if you can deliver a report and you say “Yes” because you don’t want to let them down or look like a slacker, you are not being honest. You will either deliver a half-assed piece of work - which is just another way of letting them down - or you will make yourself more stressed and overworked in your attempt to deliver, which means your future chances of doing well are reduced. You don’t have to scream “Are you fucking kidding me, have you seen the size of my in-tray, there’s no earthly way I could ever get that done you slave-driving psychopath!” (Although I’m sure some of us would love to do that one day, just for shits and giggles!) You can just say “I’ve got a lot on at the moment, I’m not going to have the time to do a thorough job. Perhaps Susan might be the best person to tackle this.” You haven’t apologised, you’ve explained that you want to do the best you can, and you’ve also given a nice nod to Susan, who maybe has been dying to show what she can do. Using your “No” to benefit someone else is a positive side-effect that can take the potential sting out of being honest. 

Another benefit of saying “No” is that it makes room for more “Yes”. This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but it makes sense. Each of us is working with the same amount of hours in a day, and trying to fit in all the things we have to do, as well as all the things we want to do. Often we feel like there’s just not enough time. Figuring out what you’ve been saying “yes” to without thinking, things that are taking up a lot of time but not giving you a lot in return, and then starting to say “No” instead, will give you back that time and allow you to say “Yes” to the things you really want to do. Don’t have time to go to ballroom dancing classes, even though you’ve dreamt of dancing like Ginger Rogers your whole life? Maybe saying “No” to the weekly office after-work drinks that have got a bit stale and samey and always end in too many tequila shots and bitching about Frank from Finance might free up the time you need to get your foxtrot on. 

Two, three weeks tops - and you'll be a star!

When I stopped drinking, I was so over alcohol that saying “No” felt like a breath of fresh air - I was excited and happy to be turning down drinks, and spent a lot of time in the pub with my friends, merrily chugging pints of water and gleefully saying “No” to people trying to buy me drinks. When I stopped smoking it was very different. It was hard to be around smokers, and being comfortable in a party environment has taken a lot more getting used to. I’ve had to say “No” to going out because I’ve felt like it would be too hard. I feel like I’ve embraced the “No” a lot more since becoming completely sober - here are a few tricks I’ve used to make that process easier.

The way you say “No” makes a difference to how easy it is. I used to say “No thanks, I don’t drink”, because I felt like I somehow owed the person an explanation. All that did was open me up to invasive and often rude questions from total strangers that made me uncomfortable. Now I just say “No thanks”. I have no responsibility to make someone feel more at ease at the expense of my own comfort. If you really feel like you need a ‘reason’ to give people, saying that you’re driving is great - absolutely no one should hassle you for refusing to drink and drive, and if they do, they’ll look like a dick, not you. I even used to say this when I lived on a island with no roads or cars - it confused people enough for a second that I could just walk away. 

Planning out your “No’s” ahead of time helps a lot - you’ll feel less put on the spot if you have already firmly decided that you’re going to say “No”. With addiction, I feel like this is the moment that you decide you’re going to stop. You make the decision that from now on, any time someone (and that includes the addictive voice inside your own head) asks you to do XYZ you’re going to say “No”. You might be asked the question a hundred times, but you only have one answer, which you’ve already decided is a resounding “No”. 

Offering an alternative is a good way of disguising your “No” as a “Yes”. If someone asks to buy you a drink, you can just say “Sure, I’ll have an orange juice.” You haven’t technically said “No”, and orange juice is technically a drink, so hopefully the person offering will be polite and considerate enough to accept your pseudo-yes and get you the damn juice. In work situations, use your “No” to amplify and put forward someone who’s struggling to get attention. You get some valuable balance, and Susan gets to shine. Everyone is winning. 

Finally, practice, practice, practice. We have evolved survival mechanisms that favour “Yes”, and those mechanisms are being exploited by the corporations around us. If it seems like it’s hard to say “No” in the world right now, you’d be absolutely right, and it is not an accident. Saying “No” takes practice, but it is not something to shy away from or feel guilty about. In so many ways, saying “No” is about reclaiming our power, refusing to be manipulated, and making space for more joyful, meaningful and important “Yes’s”. 

Take some time to figure out what is important to you, start small and let the power of “No” fill you with the confidence to go out into the world as the most awesome foxtrotting version of yourself you can be!

-Ems-



If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Blame - it's not the game I play any more.


I’ve got to tell you, folks, I am angry. 

I am angry about Brett Kavanaugh being appointed to the Supreme Court, despite being accused of sexual assault, where he will be able to make decisions about, say, whether women have the right to an abortion FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. I am angry that the woman who accused him was mocked by the President of the United States, who believes it is a ‘scary time for men’ and that a man who has just got a promotion has ‘lost everything’. 

I am angry that abortion is still ILLEGAL in Northern Ireland, and that now women will be travelling from the UK to The Republic of Ireland to get abortions because, thanks to the people repealing the Eighth Amendment, it is more available there than it is in the country I come from.

I am angry that people, displaced from their homes by war or natural disasters have made it to what they thought would be a tolerant and progressive Europe, only to find that the French military ‘police’ slash their tents and steal their sleeping bags to make Calais an intolerable environment so they will leave…and go where? 

I am angry that three people in the UK who were trying to protect an environment big business and the government are determined to destroy by fracking were imprisoned for protesting that destruction, and that it feels like nothing will stop the madness that is climate change and the trashing of the only planet we have to live on. 


I hear ya sister. 

I am so angry about so many things that sometimes I think I will burst, and spray steaming hot bile-y anger all over everyone. And like most angry people, my first knee-jerk reaction is to find someone to blame. 

Blame is the act of making someone or something responsible for what’s going wrong. It is road rage - yelling at someone you nearly hit because they weren't bloody paying attention. It is all the excuses you use to explain why you are perpetually late. Or it’s  when you've had a really gruelling day and everyone else has pissed you off, so you have to have a drink.

People with addiction issues are often big players of the blame game. I can definitely relate to this. For me, the person I blamed the most, the person I held to be most at fault for all the things that were going wrong with my life, was myself. I turned all that rage and anger inward, and blamed myself for everything. I was a bad person, I did everything wrong, nothing about me was ‘right’, and I drank, and then smoked, to try and make that feeling go away. It didn’t work.

The problem with blame is that it can turn you into a victim, into someone who has no power. As soon as you make something someone else’s fault, you take away any ability you have to change what’s going on. You are refusing to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences, which reduces your power to make any changes if you don’t like what’s happening. 

This doesn’t mean that everything that happens to you is your ‘fault’. That’s just another way of placing blame, this time on yourself. A lot of people with substance abuse problems have been through trauma, abuse, or neglect, and none of it is their fault. But blaming the perpetrators of that abuse creates victims that have no power. Instead, we need to realise that while what happens to us may not be our fault, we are responsible for how we deal with it. We can choose to be a victim, or we can choose to be a survivor. 

What really struck me about the #Metoo movement is that speaking out and sharing stories was a way for women to show that they weren’t victims. It wasn’t about naming and blaming, but about taking control of their situation, being responsible for how they reacted, and choosing to survive and inspire other women to do the same. 

My problem right now is that I'm at a crossroads; there is no point in pointing the finger, and anyway, I know that there is no one person to blame for all the things I’m angry about. Donald Trump and his ilk seem like easy targets, but they are a symptom, not the disease. I don’t want to go down the road of blaming myself, of feeling like I’m not doing enough, not caring enough. I have beat myself up for long enough to know it achieves nothing. 

It feels like my anger has nowhere to go. 

But my sobriety journey is teaching me a lot, especially about taking responsibility. For me, that's what this whole trip is really about - being honest with myself about the things I am doing, and choosing to try something different rather than believe that I'm not able to change. I don’t want to feel like a victim any more, in any area of my life. 

I’ve realised that when I feel most helpless, and most like a victim, is when I am angry without hope. That’s when I want to blame others for the state of the world, because it is the easy option in the face of seemingly insurmountable hopelessness. Anger can be a tool, but on it’s own it is a blunt instrument, as likely to hurt the wielder as those it is wielded against. But what if I can shape that anger into a weapon? When I am angry and inspired, excited about the passion and achievements of others and hopeful that change can happen, then I, and others, can be a force to be reckoned with. 

In Berlin over 200,000 people gathered to demonstrate their opposition to fascism, racism and sexism. In London, feminist anti-fascist groups protested against ignorance and hatred. Women are marching, shouting that they are not a pussy to be grabbed. Ireland declared, with a two-thirds majority, that in the twenty-first century it is no longer acceptable for the state to control women’s bodies. I have no doubt that if the anti-choice faction in the USA get their way, people will take to the streets. They will not meekly ask, like victims. They will not say ‘please’. They will demand, they will shout, they will make themselves heard until they get what they need.



It is time to stop looking around for who to blame for the things that are happening. I am not a victim. I am angry and hopeful. I can, will, and must take responsibility for the changes I want to see, both within myself and in the wider world. I am finding inspiration from all sorts of places - like these amazing people preparing for mass civil disobedience over the climate crisis, ready to go to jail if they have to. There's a women's march in Berlin in January, and you can be damned sure I'll be there. I'm going to stand up, speak up, and stop playing the blame game. 

-Ems-

If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.