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!


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. 


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, October 30, 2018

How To Conquer Cravings

I’ve said it before, and I’m pretty sure I’ll say it again - this being sober malarky is quite the up-and-down journey. A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post about getting over the hump. I was feeling in a very positive state of mind when I wrote it. The sun was shining, I was relaxing in the garden and life was good. 

This week has been a little different. Winter is making itself known, and it’s been grey and rainy. I’m feeling drained from working some busy shifts at my new cafe job, which is my first job for a long time and is taking some getting used to. And I’ve got a cold. All I want to do is curl up in bed with a cup of tea, seasons one and two of Stranger Things, and a great big doobie. Hey, hang on a second, how did that sneak in there?! I thought I was done with all that shit. Turns out, nah. 

All day yesterday, all I could think about was smoking. Someone sat outside the cafe with their coffee and had a cigarette, and it instantly made me want to smoke. I rode my bike through The Gauntlet (a pathway in the park lined with dudes selling and smoking weed), and  for the first time in ages it was like being kicked in the stomach. When we were at our friends house I saw half a joint in the ashtray, and I wanted it. It was only once I’d distracted my brain with delicious vegan pizza that the thoughts about smoking went away. 

Willpower and cravings seem to go hand-in-hand. You feel a craving, and then you exert large amounts of willpower until those cravings are under control. But what’s interesting about my recent experiences is that I didn’t feel like willpower really came into my resistance of those cravings. They took me by surprise a bit, because lately I’ve been feeling fine. I think because of that I was interested by them. I noticed them because they were unusual, and then I paid attention and asked some questions. What is happening right at this moment that is making me feel like smoking? How do I feel? Am I tired, run down, feeling sorry for myself? I didn’t judge myself, or beat myself up for feeling like I wanted to smoke. I just observed what was happening. 

The problem with willpower in general is that it’s finite, and very dependant on your physical and mental state. Even the word implies strength - you need to be strong to have willpower, and sometimes (or a lot of the time!) we’re just not that strong. We feel like if we have a craving there are two options available to us - we fight it with our willpower, or we cave. The problem with this picture is that both options have the potential for us to ‘fail’, because at any point our willpower can be exhausted, and when we’re too tired to fight anymore, we will give in. So, what can we do when our cravings bust down the door and kick us in the face? 

Take inspiration wherever you find it! 

I was listening to a great This Naked Mind podcast, and Annie Grace and her guest were discussing this very topic. She was talking to Dr Amy Johnson, author of The Little Book of Big Change, and they had some really interesting insights into cravings, and on finding another way to deal with them. Dr Johnson was talking about energy, how everything is just a transfer or movement of energy, and dealing with cravings is no different. Fighting and resisting it, or giving in and rewarding it are both ways that give the craving more energy, meaning it will grow and grow and eventually come to dominate your whole life - whether you cave or not. 

Annie had a brilliant analogy for cravings that has really made it clear to me how important it is to find a different way to deal with them. She compared cravings to a small child demanding ice-cream. They are going to do everything they can to get that ice-cream - beg, plead, manipulate, cry, scream, stamp their feet, the works. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to deal with a child having a tantrum because they’re being denied something, but I think we all know what not to do. You don’t argue, because they will keep arguing back and they’re younger and have more energy and want  the ice-cream more than you will ever understand. And you don’t give in, because that teaches them that tantrums will get them what they want. Instead, you acknowledge their desire for ice-cream, but you tell them in no uncertain terms that since you are the adult, the one who knows best (and more importantly the one with the money), you are in control of this situation and you will not be moved. Yes, it’s very sad that they are being denied ice-cream, but since you know ice-cream will ruin their dinner you will continue to say no, and then not give a shit that they’re going to burst a blood vessel if they keep screaming. Because here’s the thing about toddlers (and cravings) - they wear themselves out. Eventually they stop because no one can maintain that level of righteous indignation for that long and not become exhausted. It’s just a waiting game, and small children are like fire crackers. They are loud with lots of energy but they burn out really fast. Adults have learnt to be like a smouldering bonfire - it looks like nothing much is happening, but it could go on like that for hours. 

This is the third way to deal with a craving, and it seems paradoxical because you are neither fighting it head on or ignoring it completely. You notice it. You acknowledge it. You hear what it has to say. But you never forget that you are in control, not the screaming toddler banging its fists on the floor. Who would let that deranged monster be in charge of anything? No, you are the adult, you are the one who knows what’s best for you, and you can wait out this fleeting tantrum. Cravings really do come and then go, as long as you don’t feed them. 

I have a couple of tips for making this process easier. The first is mediating (something else I’ve said before and will say again!) The more you practice observing your thoughts and your body, the easier it will be to notice those cravings when they pop up. 

The second is to remember that you are not your thoughts. You are not weak, or a bad person, because you crave something that you used to do that is addictive. Parents (or at least the ones that want to remain sane) don’t identity with their screaming toddlers. Everyone knows that’s just how people who’ve yet to learn how to deal with and express all the feelings that they’re feeling behave. It will pass as they learn, and so will your cravings. With enough time, they’ll be less kicks at the door, and more polite knocks. And then you’ll be able to tell them, very politely, to go fuck themselves. 


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, October 23, 2018

D.I.Y and D.I.E

Those of you familiar with anarchist punk culture may know the phrase ‘DIY or die’ - a battle cry for people to eschew the corporate world, to take back power and agency and do things for themselves. The problem I have with anarchist battle cries in general is their fairly aggressive and gloomy nature, so I have a different suggestion:  DIY and DIE - Do It Yourself and Do It Everywhere.

DIY isn’t just the reserve of amateur builders or decorators that spend Saturday afternoons mooching around B&Q spending far too much money on overpriced home improvements. It is an attitude, a state of mind that can be applied to any part of life. It is all the things those angry anarchists want, but you don’t have to go to extremes, squatting empty buildings and sleeping on grubby mattresses to achieve it (unless you want to of course, and then more power to you!). It can take the form of hundreds of tiny actions, and just requires a change of mindset. You can do it yourself. You don’t need a corporation to be at the end of every transaction you make or every service you use. To illustrate what I’m trying (fairly inarticulately!) to say, I’ll give you a few examples from the world of the FREEDOM junkies!

The first, most obvious, thing I can think of is our home, the Ford Transit camper van we built with zero experience and a shoestring budget. When we first started thinking about converting it, there were a few things I thought we would need to get professional help with, like electrical systems and cutting holes in the roof. One staggeringly expensive quote later, and we realised we would be doing the entire thing ourselves, for seriously cheap. We hit the internet, poring over blogs, forums and Youtube. We delved deep into the minds of people who knew about electricity, angle grinders and wood stoves. We spent time with other van dwellers, scrutinising every inch of their set ups and seeing what would and wouldn’t work for us. Basically, we did our research, took a deep breath…and then just got on with it. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a difficult process, that there weren’t mistakes and things we would do differently, but in the end I’m so grateful we were forced into doing it ourselves. Now when I look at our beautiful home that we built entirely with our own hands, I am immensely proud of what we achieved. 

It's amazing what can happen when you just give it a go!

(Side note: If you’re interested in van life, keep checking out the blog for upcoming posts about how we did our conversion…if we can do it so can you!)

As we’ve been driving around Germany we’ve been combining travelling and volunteering with Ryan’s gigs, doing a country-wide Junkie Kut tour. We’ve been to all kinds of towns and venues, but two stand out as perfect examples of DIY culture. The first was a 5 day psycore festival near Frankfurt - completely unofficial and self-organised by a crew of dedicated party heads. The dance floor was in a tunnel under a motorway, complete with sofas and a bar, and an outside area with a fire. 

Epic party space, complete with standard creepy hanging clown

Everyone pitched in carrying heavy equipment up and down a steep flight of stairs, helped with keeping the fire going, cooking food and even driving to town to pick up artists (it’s always nice to have a sober person with a drivers licence and a big van around isn’t it?!). I knew I would struggle to get through the three days we were there without tea, so I asked if we could run a stall. The organisers were very happy for us to do so, and built us a beautiful bar that was my base for the whole festival, selling tea, coffee and cake to immensely grateful party-goers. I made a bit of money, met some lovely people, and (most importantly) had constant access to tea. 

Our beautiful little tea stall - 'vegan cake for the masses' is my battle cry!

The second party marked the end of our tour, as we arrived back in Berlin for Fuck Parade. If you’ve never heard of it, Fuck Parade is a techno parade/demonstration that started in 1997 as an alternative to Love Parade, an event that was becoming commercialised and excluded more extreme and experimental forms of techno. This year it was made up of around 10 sound systems on trucks that crawled through the whole city for around 6 hours, playing the maddest music and surrounded by huge crowds who partied in the streets all day. It was an amazing event to have been a part of, not least because, as a friend of ours was running one of the trucks, we had seen the huge amount of work that had gone into making it happen. People’s commitment to the parade, because the purpose of the day was so important to them, was inspiring; so many people helped with setting up, decorating, driving and being a ‘person in a high-vis vest’ (a super-important role!). We weren’t waiting for a big faceless organisation to make a party happen - we made that shit happen, it was our party, and it was an honour to be involved. 

The absolute nutters and legends that Made Shit Happen on September 1st.

The final example I have of embracing DIY culture is, well…you’re reading it! When the idea of writing a blog first started floating around, I was a little daunted - I don’t know the first thing about the internet, computers or how to make websites. More importantly, I didn’t have any money to spend on it! But we started small, slow and free. We got a free blogger site, and by researching and learning, figured out how to customise it so it looks a bit more like a ‘proper’ website. I ’splashed out’ £1.50 a month on a domain name, and then spent weeks trying to figure out how to link it to the blog, and in the process learning more about the workings of websites that I thought possible! I’ve discovered that starting a podcast is actually pretty straightforward - we’ll be able to record it in the van and, with a few hacks and tricks it will be relatively cheap to make…so we’re doing it! 

Stay tuned for more information about our upcoming podcast - it'll be DIY as fuck!

I’ve learnt how to use Photoshop, how to edit audio recordings, and video editing is next on the list! We do absolutely everything you see, read (and soon hear!) ourselves, because we don’t have a choice. It might seem that not having a choice is restricting, but when you’re forced down the DIY route, suddenly a world of knowledge and opportunity to learn opens up. Now you’re free from the real restrictions, the restriction of needing someone else to do things for you. 

If you want to bring more DIY culture into your life, here are some great places to start:

Food, glorious food: Food is as fundamental as it gets, and if you can grow your own, be it herbs on your windowsill or a full-on veggie patch, then you’re embracing DIY culture in a beautiful and important way. There are so many ways to get involved with growing food - community projects, sharing allotments, guerrilla gardening - that not having a garden is no excuse! And growing food isn't the only way to DIY your dinner - cooking yourself, learning to make new dishes and experimenting in the kitchen will save you money, feed your body and nourish your soul, all at the same time! 

Making Medicine: For so long, medicine has been in the hands of huge corporations making complex chemicals that are sold to us as the only thing that will cure what ails you. But it hasn’t always been that way - for even longer medicine was in the hands of the people, and grew in your garden. It can still be that way - with a little research and time you can learn how to make all sorts of herbal remedies. Have a look at this lovely homesteading blog, which has lots of great recipes and instructions on how to make teas, tinctures, lotions and potions!

Get skillz: Think of something you would normally ask (or pay) someone else to do, and see if you can’t figure out how to…that’s right, DIY! Youtube is a veritable gold mine of information - people take the time to make instructional videos about pretty much everything under the sun. Ask around your friends and see if any of them have the skills you need and the time to show you what to do. I learnt to crochet purely because I wanted a hat and didn’t want to buy one! A friend showed me the basics, I learnt the rest off the internet, and now can make lots of lovely things I can give as gifts or use myself, saving me money (or it would if I hadn’t developed a serious yarn habit in the process!) 

Find and support DIY-ers: If you’re really stuck, or feel like you don’t have the time, and you need to call in an expert, think carefully about who you will use. See if there’s a local person, a skill swap or independent business who embraces DIY culture. They’ll often be cheaper, and need support from people if they’re ever to compete with the big boys. This garage in Bristol is a brilliant example - a woman who is offering to teach people how to fix their vehicles, be it a car, bike or van, within an exchange economy. 

The typical view of anarchists is angry people who shout and demonstrate and want a huge regime-shattering revolution. I believe change is possible, but we won’t get anywhere by shouting. What will change the world is hundreds and thousands of small actions, happening every day and performed by people all over the world. A community garden here, a family making their own pickles over there, people deciding that maybe they’ll just have a crack themselves and discovering that it’s possible. Taking back the power, one new skill at a time. 


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, October 16, 2018

Getting Over the Hump

The other day I reached the 9 month sober mark. Now, counting dates and marking anniversaries is not something I'm necessarily all for (as I saw someone write, 'what am I going to do, count every day of the rest of my life?') and it's true, as the years since I stopped drinking pass by they become less and less noticeable. But I'm just at the beginning of my journey when it comes to weed, and 9 months of no smoking feels like quite an achievement for someone who couldn't get through 9 hours not that long ago. 

The reason that it is useful to keep track of time, whether you attach any importance or sense of achievement to it or not, is that things change, and it can be difficult to notice those changes when you're right in the middle of them happening. Time gives you a bit of perspective. It allows you to see that while only 5 months ago you might have been throwing a childish tantrum in the park and crying because you couldn't smoke a joint, now you are sitting in the sun, playing your ukulele and feeling perfectly satisfied with the way the world is right at this moment. This is progress, and it only possible with the passage of time.

When it comes to addiction and the quitting of substances, people often talk about getting over the hump. Of persevering through that beginning tricky stage where it's all uphill, only to reach the summit and coast merrily downhill into lifelong sobriety with a cheery 'wheeeeee!' This is an incredibly simplified version of events - recovery is less a smooth molehill and more a craggy mountain strewn with ravines. But the idea of the beginning being the toughest part is one I can relate to, and can personally attest to things getting easier over time.

That's some fucking molehill. Photo by Karol Jaworski on Unsplash
The reason I can say this is precisely because I have given it time. Many of you will have heard of Dry July (or in the UK Dry January, although as my excellent best friend pointed out, 'what's the point of that, it doesn't even fucking rhyme') and Sober September (clearly chosen because it's the only month that begins with 'S', but props for alliteration). These are campaigns which encourage people to stop drinking for the chosen month, and while I think they raise awareness about drinking levels and encourage people to start thinking about their drinking (now that's a fucking rhyme mate!) I'm not as pro these campaigns as you would think. Because the big thing they are lacking is time.

Now, you might be reading this, aghast at the idea of not having a drink for 30 whole days (and you wouldn't be alone), but hear me out. It can take your body up to 3 weeks to detox from alcohol (lets not forget it is a poison, after all). So for most of the month what you are experiencing are the feelings of getting sober, and they are kind of shit. It's harder to sleep, you have low energy and the toxins in your body make you feel like crap. You think, this not drinking lark is a bit rubbish, thank god I can start again come February, and all your efforts are wasted with the first big night out on February 1st. What you are missing out on are the feelings of being sober, and that is a very different kettle of fish.

Once you have detoxed, you start to have more energy. Your eyes and skin get brighter and better, and you start sleeping properly (not drunk sleep. Real sleep.) You discover more hours in your day for exercise, reading, macrame (or whatever you do for fun). Weight that you gained consuming empty calories and midnight kebabs just falls off you (believe me, I lost so much weight in the first few months of not drinking I had to keep looking behind me on the street to make sure I wasn't dropping bits of myself all over the place). Positive loop after positive loop means that after a year, you might not even know yourself, and your mates will be wondering who the fuck this bright eyed bushy tailed person chugging pints of water in front of them is. But it doesn't happen in 30 days. 

There are a couple of obstacles our brains throw up that makes getting over the hump a challenge. The first is that we are used to quick fixes. Using drugs and alcohol are a symptom of this - we don't want to put in the hard work and effort needed to achieve a certain mental state, we just want to feel that way now. We need to learn to be patient, to invest time and energy into something, rather than just expecting it to happen straight away. Life as we know it compounds this problem, with phones and ever-accessible emails meaning people want immediate responses and are not prepared to wait. 

Another is your addictive voice. I heard this brilliantly described by Catherine Gray in a podcast, The One You Feed. She talked about that seductive persuasive voice in your head telling you to have a drink, buy those cigarettes, reward yourself, treat yourself, go on, you deserve it. We all know that voice, and it can be hard to resist. 

If you're finding it hard getting some time under your belt to gain that perspective, if that hump is more mountain than molehill, give some of these suggestions a try:

To deal with that addictive voice, you need to realise it's not you, and start to separate yourself from it. Catherine Gray suggests naming it, giving it a personality that isn't yours (she calls hers Voldemort!) so that you can hear what it has to say, but not have to give in to it. It may never fully go away, but realise that you don't have to listen to it. Voldemort doesn't want what's best for you, he wants what's best for him, and if you can remember that, you are indeed the chosen one and will win the day!

"Have a drink Harry, you know you want to." "No. Get fucked you freaky trickster. You have no power over me." Boom. You're free. 

Keep a journal. If that's too 'dear diary' for you, start a blog and force everyone you know to read it (hey, if it works for me...). Keep track of how you feel as you feel it, and write it down so you can look back on it later. We sometimes forget how tough the tough times really were, so having a record means you can see how far you've come. 

Meditation is an excellent habit to take up. If you want to ignore that addictive voice, to notice your cravings but not give in to them, you need to practice observing your thoughts and your feelings, and that's what meditation is. It's noticing, not judging, and just being interested in how you think and feel. Start small, with 2 minutes a day. Download an app like Headspace to get you going. 

But maybe most importantly...make a start. You don't need to wait til the New Year, but this is where Dry January can really make a difference, because it provides people with the motivation to give it a go. Going into it with the mindset that it's a chore to be endured until you're finally allowed to drink again probably won't lead to any lasting change. But using it as the impetus you've been looking for to make the changes you want to can be empowering. Give it time, and I promise, that shit gets easier. 


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, October 9, 2018

The Introverted Addict: Why Drugs Are So Appealing For Social Interaction

Since I stopped using alcohol, weed, tobacco and ecstasy around 8 months ago, I've been noticing many new realisations and perceptions about my personality (and others') that until recently I've never had any helpful explanations for. Stopping regularly using substances has stripped away levels of escapism and has left me confronted with the sometimes harsh reality of beginning to truly understand my-self.

We all love getting swept away with the fruits of the world. The problem is that it's really difficult to identify when we are using life's many portals (drugs, shopping, internet etc) to avoid being honest with ourselves, and respecting and understanding what is truly good for us, or not. There's an endless spectrum of things to do, experience or indulge in, which can cunningly and un-consciously become distractions or coping mechanisms to avoid the visceral confrontation of knowing thy-self.

I'm 31 and have only recently discovered that I am an a class A introvert. This is nothing at all to do with shyness, insecurity or snobbery, but is absolutely to do with how we become energised and therefore where our interests lie, which, depending on how we manage that, affects our happiness, health and confidence. 

As an introvert, I get exited by ideas (philosophical and creative), exhausted by groups and social interaction, and energised by solitude and individualised actions or focus. Spending time alone writing, designing, or making music inspires me emotionally, and stabilises me energetically. Whilst spending too much time socialising, especially in groups, and with banter-based, high energy conversation, drains my energy quickly.

Unfortunately for me, the extraverted pathology dominates our culture. It is what we consider normal, and encourage everyone to be. The world of the outer, the material, the novelty, the dopamine-driven "give me this now!" pathology is valued far more than the world of the inner; the contemplation, the sensitivity, the depth, the integrity.

Recognising this has helped me to understand why I am attracted to the sensations that many drugs can bring. Firstly, they give us a focal point for our attention - they give us something to do. They orientate our perspective, and align our thoughts with the rituals of going for a drink or meeting for a spliff. Focusing on one thing as your social narrative reduces existential complexity, which is often a welcome relief for the introvert. 

Secondly, life feels easier when we're not thinking so much; similar to the above, drinking, smoking or taking class A's definitely offers an easy method of temporarily switching off the mind. I once heard this called "Downwards Enlightenment". This is an awesome feeling, especially for an introvert, as we often spend most of our time lost in observation. Many of us introverts have never found successful ways to simplify our tendency towards depth, awareness or consideration, so drugs and other addictions often become the only known method to enable us to escape the responsibility of owning a soul.

Thirdly, they help us to interact, behave and relate as easily as an extrovert. We "innies" often feel misunderstood and uncomfortable in society in general, because the methods we use to communicate are missed, ignored, or are overwhelmed by others. Keeping up with the pace of extroverted communication can be exhausting and very difficult for an introverted brain. This can make us seem unsociable or even snobby, so the idea of using a drug to facilitate interaction can be our default reaction to even the concept of human communication.

I remember the first time I took ecstasy, I thought, "Wow, I feel like this is how most people must feel most of the time." I was able to think quickly and articulately, and felt emotionally energised, with no trouble communicating with others. Whether or not this is a reality or simply the drug making me feel this way, is still up for debate. However, taking drugs does at least appear to help strip away social anxiety and enhance motivation for communication, which in cases like myself, seems to act as an enhancer of human interaction, making the sugar taste all the more sweet!

Now that I have stopped using all drugs (except for caffeine), it has become pretty clear that the reasons that drug-culture has had such an appeal for me, is at least in part due to my introverted temperament. I have recognised that as an introvert, my brain works differently to the majority, which is helping me to understand why I feel like I do. And I'm only just beginning to skim the surface (I think!?) I've noticed that life gets overwhelming quicker when I don't have enough time in solitude, and have come to accept that this is not something that is "wrong with me" but it is the environment and mechanism by which I re-charge. 

Introversion is really difficult to explain to extroverts. And because of this, almost all the introverts I know are faced with similar struggles. But many, like myself until recently, probably don't even realise it. We all long to be heard, understood, and related with, and it turns out that drugs are used by almost everyone to make that process easier. For the introverted pathology, or at least in my case, the main appeal is connection!

On psychedelics, I used to have profound feelings of separation from others,; on ecstasy I felt a clarity of authentic communication.  With weed there was consistent cognitive dissonance, and with booze I just didn't care. Now all of these sensations from drug use make sense. They all showed me aspects of myself, which I am now beginning to not only listen to, but respect and trust. They all seem to point to that, whilst my introversion enables me to think deeply, creatively and considerately, it also keeps me feeling separate, different, and misunderstood. These are my newest insights from cutting free of addictions.

Although never easy, my journey is now guided with a new level of wisdom. I've begun to understand, that for me to thrive as an introverted addict, I need to find healthy new ways to unlock extraversion within myself (for special occasions), balanced symbiotically with the necessity for deep relaxation or isolation. With these elements harmonised, the introverted addict will no longer feel the drive towards substances to stimulate his/her consciousness, because, in a world of individualisation, (s)he will have developed new weapons in the fight for connection. And one day, maybe the war will be over, and we can all finally be at peace with ourselves. 

For more information on introversion, check out these books.


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.