Thursday, July 2, 2015

Reward Drinking

 ANY FRIDAY; ANY GIN PALACE; ANYTOWN.

Celebrating "Nothing in particular, just that it was Friday, I suppose," you find yourself at the same old place with the same old faces, talking about the same old stuff.

Friday evening - Anytown could be anywhere in the world, and it's populated with anyone who has let reward drinking into her life.  Just like reward eating - reward drinking is an ancient custom, from our hunter gatherer days when we ate or drank to excess to mark a significant milestone or life event.

Industrial Sausage Making
But we couldn't search forever - we had work to do.
Bethany's thumb would make someone, somewhere in the city,
a cannibal that night.


Unsurprisingly, fast forward to 2015, and reward eating and reward drinking are still in our lives - just that there's unlimited food and drink.  Every.  Single.  Day.  Oops.

It's not like we stumble across a woolly mammoth or we're genuinely relieved to survive a freezing winter - but we still have big eating and big drinking as things to do when we get together for events.

So choosing to over-indulge - as a way of signposting an event or a celebration is a cultural habit - and as an alcoholic, it's just not helpful.

Reward Drinking


I practiced reward drinking as a way of life - it was a certain way to build my fondness into a raging dependence - and if I was drinking more, it simply meant I was obviously getting more successful!  So any goals I kicked at work or in business inevitably led along a winding, then staggering path to me literally speechless and fall down drunk.  Yay!  I made it!

 

Reward Eating


In the same way, it was a family custom for everyone to gather and eat from mountains of food and have seconds and extra helpings for hours - as though we had finally managed to cobble together enough food to be able to celebrate! 
Which was fine when my family were a bunch of shoeless serfs in the middle ages - a feast or three would be something to really look forward to as you declined into old age at 36.  But again, in 2015, eating vast bowls of steaming pelmeni or thick steaks that overhang the plate - it's just not really necessary.

 

Be MORE than you Feel


In Reinventing Yourself: How To Become The Person You've Always Wanted To Be  - Steve Chandler writes about banging your knee on the car door as you exit your vehicle. (I know, using the big life metaphors here, Steve) It hurts, you're frustrated and you may even want to lash out - but at what? - at who? - a car door?

Reinventing Yourself  - Buy it Now Clcik Here.

Chandler encourages you to see emotional pain the same way as temporary physical pain - as a passing sensation that does not define who you are.   Just because you are feeling all the pride, honour and satisfaction of seeing your child pass her karate grading does not transfer into a trigger for a feast or overeating and over-drinking.  Or even a reward eating episode of KFC.  It is a moment to be savoured - that's obvious - but we have to break bundling excess food or excess drinking with emotional highs (and lows).

Steve Chandler writes,

"When you bang your knee and it hurts, you do not immediately identify with your your knee.  You don't walk into the house and announce, "I am a sore knee!" You don't allow every cell in your body to take on the identity, as you do with your emotional pain."

"If you feel angry, notice it and don't deny it, but don't identify with it.  Don't let it win you over.  Don't confuse it with who you really are, because it's not who you really are."

Emotional Mastery


It's getting closer to emotional mastery - where we are able to live, feel and experience life in all it's beauty and pace - but still not be lost in the moment.  We have to be mindful of saying "I am angry!" when in fact we feel angry - we are not angry itself. 
The life skill is keeping our present awareness and actually choosing what to feel and how far we are going to let that emotion influence our behavior.  It becomes a choice and a decision.  Not who we are, or something that is fixed.  It is fluid and ours to decide.

Reward Drinking


I still get drawn to events and occasions and moments during the week where it would be almost plausible to open a bottle and drink.  Like running a half marathon (22 days to go!!), or climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge (three days to go!!), or getting my book launched (just days to go!!), or seeing my daughters endlessly cartwheeling along the beach. 

Life's like that - it has really profound moments that suck you up and you can lose yourself in the whirlwind of emotion and power and  - for alcoholics like me - find yourself looking left and right and licking your lips, thinking "this might be time for a drink" - before you loosen your shoulders, breathe slowly and deeply, stand a little taller and remind yourself that that was the "old you."

Reward drinking and reward eating are examples of making feelings and emotions into things - and then letting those things get you drunk, or get you fat.  There are other rewards out there - grasshopper - and it's your challenge to go and find them....

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Enough

Hokusai the great wave
I have this image through my studio - on the walls
 - poster size - framed under glass - painted on
 fabric, postcards, coffee cups.  If I had a tattoo
it would probably be something like this - Hokusai - The Great Wave
I dropped out of university three times - four if you count the time I went back for two and a half years as a 26 year old studying English Teaching.

I failed, quit, didn't implement, couldn't stay the course, withdrew, resigned, ran away, escaped, fled - failed.

People still say it to me - my wife says it when her frustration bubbles over - I don't finish things - "you've always been a quitter!"

It's part of who I am - part of my chemistry - my core - my structure.  I can't go back and change it.

Wounded.  But running with the herd - despite my limp.  And carrying that silent shame of being a failure and drop out.  The understanding that I wasn't enough.

*

But I am enough.  You are enough.

There is a deep feeling of adequacy and completeness now.

I am enough.  You are enough.

We have been forged by the fire and by still being here - just by existing - we are enough.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Flow State


I'm writing here with sad cello 10 hours playing - it is a little bit Murder She Wrote and a little bit quirky writer.  Cello is just sad.

I went out with a girl who played cello -  for the winter of a year while I was at university.  She also played the full sized harp. She was privileged and intense and was fresh from boarding school in the mountains in New Zealand.

But I got drunk, blacked out and crashed her car and I remember her father looking at me and just shaking his head - "Don't worry about it, eh?" - me sheepish and totally humiliated with torn jeans and a deep hangover.

She last saw me, years later, I was crossing the road outside a pub - older, a dropout and lost to drinking - she was rosy cheeked, and all corporate and touched my arm near the elbow - "But Bren, is everything going OK?"

*

On the weekend I ran 20.3 kilometres without stopping.  Planned it for a week.  Dedicated to going.  Woke after 5am and even though it was light rain - I dressed and headed out.

Running is a new delicious activity for me.  Once I am over the first five or ten minutes, my body warms and relaxes into the rhythm and I can truly get into a flow moment.

I have a set path and I follow it along the coast - along beautiful tourist trail for 10.2 km and then, at the half way point, which is a rocky break wall separating the harbour from the beach, I turn and head back for home.  20.4km - half a marathon - non stop.

Focus, Flexibility and Discipline.

Three words that have helped me cover 40kms a week for the last 18 months.  The words chose me in a way.  They are my main character flaws - lack of focus, being inflexible, and lacking discipline.  So I exercise with those words and roll them in my mouth and meditate on their power and meaning as I breathe and pace along the path.

When my mind wanders, I snap back to Focus, Flexibility and Discipline, or - running up a hill, it might morph to Focus, Flexibility and Just-hold-on - there is something about that too.

Now I have done my first half marathon distance - I have entered an official race for next month.  I need photos and some bits of paper to verify it.

I wrote down at the beginning of the year that I would like to do some things for the next decade - like staying sober for 10 years, like doing yoga 4x a week for 10 years, and running a marathon each year for the next ten years.

I thought they were private, never-see-the-light-of-day goals, but here I am actually working on them in just six months.  Amazing.  But nowhere near ticked yet - plenty of miles to put into my legs and downward dogs before that happens...

*

A big part of my life these past months has been the idea of flow.  My attention was drawn to flow through my yoga teacher, who moves us through a series of poses in a flow fashion.  This way we get the body moving with the breath and experience the edge as we move through a range of postures.  But flow has other meanings too, I discovered.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a wonderful, sumptuous name for an author and his book - Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience - reveals how the flow state is key to understanding happiness and living meaningfully.  (Wow - that sentence has eight or so nine letter words - thank you mr morning coffee!)


He writes that being in the flow state is when people truly experience that sense of timelessness and deep engagement that comes form being connected and absorbed in what you are doing.

From playing a musical instrument, to doing yoga, to wood turning - people can arrive in a flow state through any number of paths - but it is the flow state itself that is of such power and value.

Being able to completely lose yourself and feel that deep attachment to what you are doing ins where your mind and body act as one and everything else seems to fall away.  A sort of timelessness ensues and you can literally keep going and lose all sense of time itself.

This is what I'm talking about!  Instead of the cheap fix of drugs, or alcohol or the nervous rush of gambling - how about that deep sense of meaning and feeling at one when you are crafting or writing or playing?  That feeling of satisfaction and of just being when you are doing your flow activity can be intensely revealing.

The author goes onto relate how intentions - which I touched on in an earlier blogpost about setting intentions - is an expression of meaning.   He writes "In this sense the answer to the old riddle "What is the meaning of life?" turns out to be astonishingly simple.  The meaning of life is meaning: whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life." p217

The best thing in life is where you can do an activity that is meaningful to you and transform it  into a flow state.  So finding your flow is the way to go.

I feel I approach the flow state, (although it is an elusive never-quite-there-feeling) when I practice yoga - or in the middle stages of a long run - or when I can write uninterrupted.

As an alcoholic, I confused the drunken torpor with a flow state, and just as ambitiously pursued drinking to the point of exhaustion.

Flow - easy to read, a classic - published in 1990 - and just brilliant.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Awe of Yoga

 I am not afraid of what is about to happen...It's always tempting - no matter how long you're sober.

The house is empty - my wife has gone to a party - my daughters are with their grandmother.

That cheeky imp in the corner of my mind flips a coin in his fingers, and dares me to take a risk.

But it's not happening.

I've made plans.  Up at 5am, writing, then off to yoga at 6am - Sunday morning yoga always has this religious intensity to it - and I know why. 

Is it because as the class comes to an end, and we recline, our backs melting into the floor, pulsing with warm blood; just as we enter the bliss of savasana - the church bells of the cathedral begin to peal and my mind is flooded with all the traditional white bread imagery of orthodox religion?

And as I drift along the edge of meditation and into and out of the gap - the pealing bells regale me with all the images of little old ladies with too much perfume hiding the smell of their urine leaks, or the lonely lost manchild with specks of white hair lint noiselessly mouthing the words to the hymns, or the 2.3 children and the pitch perfect career mum and harried father sitting, erect but disconnected, in row three.

I am thankful and grateful that I am lying on the mat, soaked in my own sweat, my body tingling and little pulses of electro-magnetic sensation flickering along my nerve endings - and my eyes fluttering and breathing that long slow exhale and just feeling my chest cavity collapse and release and hollow out like a old soft melon in the sun.

There is nothing like the deep muscle satisfaction of yoga for me - the absorbing, accomplished feeling that no words can quite capture.  The silent class - working through the poses with discipline and attention.  The sincere respect and purity of moving in utter silence to our global ocean breath.
Bren Murphy - Last 100 Days Alcoholic
So it was a natural progression for me - falling in awe with my yoga teacher.  It has been a long slow imaginary relationship where her voice and simple unadorned commands have me surging to complete the flows in time with the rest of the class.

Me, the 41 year old rusty alcoholic - in awe with the 20-something yoga teacher.  Simple.

She is a giant blonde with muscles and thick arms and legs strong from holding poses and her breath is slow and deliberate and she leans into me to open my hips or loosen my shoulders and I can almost smell her above the distraction of the incense.

She talks through the class and scatters individual pearls on self-development and personal growth as we pant downward dog and I lap it up like brain nutrient in the still-sweat-soak-silence. 

We wash back and forth - like seaweed - a single organism - the class moves and folds and waves and weaves to her command - we hold and let droplets of sweat trickle timelessly off our noses as she counts out the breaths. 

It's is a delicious silent deep burn as my thighs twitch and my glut muscle sears and vibrantly shines as I manifest blood and oxygen to quench it.  My arms outstretched - the opposing tension strung along like wires and my chest and back open and vulnerable and fearless and exposed.

A Tibetan sky burial - me a torn carcass on the rocks - my yoga teacher appears - a vulture - and graces an adjustment with her third finger only - I twitch taller, or curl my pelvis in or scoop my heart with my shoulder blades.  It is a visceral, organic experience.

She talks about her anatomy class - how she went to the morgue - the cadaver on the slab - the muscles cold and dense like livers and the fascia being loosened and me bending and breathing two- three- four - five- six - seven - letting go all the oldness-  the entrenchedness - the ancient toxic history.

Her words and directions kneading my muscles and organs.  It's a silent, unspoken awe.  A never-to-be-lived-love. 

But it's what happens in yoga - I think - or do I feel?

Friday, June 12, 2015

How I Lost 30lbs

I know too much about serial killers.  Mass murderers - spree killers, couple killers, child killers - predators and pretty much you name it - I've studied them.  Read the book - read every single book there is on True Crime and watched every blinking documentary on the Crime Channel.

The Artists Way - Morning Pages - author Bren Murphy
My Morning Pages June 12, 2015.
It was my thing, for over a decade - collecting and reading about true crime and all the grisly voyeuristic details of each mutilation.  Imagined each panting breath as shallow graves were dug just off isolated roads.  Or the look of resigned fear in the victim's eyes as the murderer went about his work. 

Very fucked up, really.  I mean - what was I thinking?  Filling my head with all this poisonous, toxic shit from the most bent and twisted individuals - flicking through a few pages and then falling asleep - or twitching through the pages as I rode the train.  Creepy really.  What was I studying it for?  Was I planning on doing something similar?  Is that what I had in mind?  If not, then why learn it - why put myself into that dark place where murder and torture is revealed in detail?  It had to stop.

So, as part of my recovery, I read about de-cluttering.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing .  How cleansing and emptying makes room for new things to enter and hastens the departure of the old shit.  (Brilliant book and will have you looking at the objects you have attached too much feeling to in a different way.  But I digress..)
Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo
The Life Changing
Magic of Tidying Up


So I put all my books into an old milk crate - seven milk crates to be exact - and then into my black van (ahem - yes it is a serial killer type of van - but I'm getting rid of that too, more on that later...) and drove with a full load of clutter and just life-junk and threw it into skip bins at the waste recycling centre.  I didn't even think to resell them - or even give the books to a book shop - they were cursed, negative, toxic books and they should be turned into compost - not re-read and re-infecting someone else with all that negativity.

Next, I turned my reading focus and energy to something new.  Helping me grow away from the nasty old alcoholic I had become - and instead blossom into the kind of person I only dreamed about.

One of the best books I read, and I have read it three times just this year, like I am trying to absorb each word and thought from it - is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  It is written for people coming out of "artistic recovery" - so you can see how it is just a small step to adjust it for alcoholic recovery. 

Julia Cameron encourages you through week by week steps to grow and develop you artistic inner child - as if it is recovering from years of being stifled by boring shit - like a soul-crushing mortgage, or a meaningless busy-work career, or maybe tending to a faded relationship.


OK, a fundamental part of the healing process in The Artist's Way is writing, by hand, each morning a stream of consciousness journal.  Julia Cameron calls them Morning Pages.

The Artists Way, Julia Cameron
The Artists Way


I have been writing my Morning Pages since January 4 2015, and I've filled two and am onto my third little 96 page exercise book - like you used to use in grade school - filled with my flowery, unedited scribblings. 

I write stream of consciousness as suggested - and it lets me delve into a "writing meditation" each morning.  AND it simply works!

So, there's your daily challenge - get yourself a 96 page exercise book, (for about 79c) and start your own morning pages practice - and make it a rock solid part of your everyday routine.

As a sharing gesture on my 41st Birthday (yes, today is my 41st birthday!) and as a humble acceptance of the changes I have brought into my life these past few years I am sharing my morning pages from this birthday morning.    I hope this isn't too indulgent - but anyway - here it is.  I actually wrote about what I do in my typical normal day. 

12/6
Now well I'm into the six month of the morning pages, running 4x a week, yoga 4/5 times a week weight at 90kg - 14kg less than this time last year.  Is a great satisfied feeling - although it's not nearly achieved anything at all yet.  This is the pre-plan stage - like I am getting ready for my real non alcohol life to come.

There are some things I can reflect on at 41 years old - toxic people - move quietly away from them.  Late nights - nothing good happens after 8pm. Be in bed, reading by 8pm.  Strict night discipline means you can have an easier morning routine - waking at 5am and being out of bed with no delay or snooze button. It's the best feeling writing 500 words hand written for 3 pages in an old school text book - every morning.  Boil water, add peppermint tea, drink and write stream of thought to de-clutter, expurge and plan and organize the day.

Next off to 90 min yoga class - flow aerobic cardio yoga where you move actively through yang poses.  Builds humility core strength and discipline.  NOTHING compares to time spent on the yoga mat.  It is breathing meditation and aligns the mind with all the quirks, stiffness and little aches in your body.  Inviting blood to flow to every niche and crevice in your body at dawn - purifying and invigorating - 4 times a week for 18 months or 80 weeks

Working from home zero commute time - zero traffic chaos - work in 60 min blocks with a timer.  Stick to a daily planner - do specific tasks in order.  Only check email at 9am and 3pm others can wait.

Drink water from 1.5litre bottles - 1 before 9am, 2nd before 11am, 3rd before 3pm, 4th after afternoon run in pm - 6 litres a day there is a fair bit of peeing but I can get dehydrated easily doing yoga and running and dehydrate equals headache, cramps in calf muscles, overall stickyness, soreness.

Eat - raw smoothies - berries banana, broccoli and protein powder with tumeric, fresh cut ginger and rice milk with ice - blend and drink.  Blitz.  Eat after yoga - eat another one after 11am.

Eat - nothing packaged or processed - no chips - no chocolate no bread EVER - except 1 breadroll on weekend at fundraising thing.  Bread just turns into glue /dough in your gut.

2pm - Run for an hour - 8km/5miles - I run down to the beach and then along the beach path to Nobby's Breakwall on the harbour.  It is hilly and and a tourist trail - at 2pm no one is about - no lines, no waiting, no one to trip over.

Whilst running, repeat mantra - "Focus, Flexibility, Discipline" on breath or footfall.  Keep returning to this if your mind wanders to something else - negative thoughts, ruminating on past errors.  Things like that.  Also, repeat Intentions as mantra - "creativity, kindness, love, beauty, expansion, abundance, reciprocity"  Always return to a mantra when your mind wanders.

After run - stretch squat - drink another 1.5l water.  Dinner - whatever the family is having - desert - less and less - drink more water or have a bowl of cereal.

Go to bed 730-8pm - read kindle, inspiration and personal development.  Rinse, repeat, good night.


Oh, and the bit about losing 30lbs or 14kg? 

Yeah, well since January, I have shed that amount of my old alcoholic self!

I feel good and as though I am making some real progress.  For me, it was just this Wednesday when my yoga teacher said I was the 6am class fixture - since the studio opened I had been there week in week out four days a week at 6am. 

Even when it was bloody fucking freezing...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Horror of Ordinary

I know it has happened by now - that I am one of the ordinary and you wouldn't notice me if I was standing behind you at the bakery.  Or crossing the road you wouldn't see me through the trill of your fingers on the steering wheel.  Being ordinary has a quiet silence about it.  When someone does look at you; really looks at you with open eyes - you doubletake and look over your shoulder in case they aren't looking for someone else.  "Um, I'm just ordinary," you think to yourself - "you must have the wrong person?"
*
I've been here for two nights already and there is probably one night to go after tomorrow - so maybe two more nights at best.  If it sounds confusing don't worry - it is for me too - I don't know when I  will be going home.  I'm told that there is another interview this afternoon, so I will have to appear as ordinary as  possible for it.  I think I have learned my lesson and I can safely head home - staying any longer will be more about punishment and suffering than getting healthy.
*
This place has just had a re-design or something - not that I've ever been here before - and everything is white, clean and safe.  Once you get out of the main complex, there is still the sense that you are in a big institution, but things are quieter and more solid.  Doors close slowly and with a heavy permanent feel.  Locks are everywhere - the kind of locks that work one way and open with a magic geometric key.  Windows are dulled with reflective glazes and it's just hard to see anything other than light or blue through them.
*
I ate lunch in the cafeteria, and pointed to the soup, which was ladled into a thick plastic bowl, and I choose a single dimpled bread roll and some sachets of butter.  I sit down by the window - there are groups of two and three around the tables and everyone eats in silence.  Opposite me is a lady I have not seen before and she is not looking up from her bowl - she dips a piece of bread roll into the soup and stays hunched over. 

Next to her is a tall, older man who has grey stubble and a blue bruise over the bridge of his nose.  His eyes are bloodshot with red and I notice a bandage on his hand as he eats.  It's very quiet and the people are just eating - one nurse or student stands around like she is watching or on guard or something but she doesn't move or say anything.  Everyone seems to know what to do and they just go about eating or pulling in a chair or pushing the chair back under the table as they get up and leave the room. 
*
My room is big - it could fit three or four beds but they have only put two in the room.  You walk down the left wall and the two beds jut out at right angles with a chest high bookshelf/mirror divider in between for privacy.  I can lie on my bed and not see the next bed, but if I stand up I can see over the divider so there is no real privacy from the other bed.  But no one is in  the other bed - not last night or so far today so it is a small blessing.  On the first night I shared the room with a younger youth around 20 - he snored and slept and swore at me to turn the reading light off.
*
When I arrived I was a raw state - I had been living on the street for a few days, hiding out on the run  - and all I had left was a grey shirt and some grey shorts.  I had been running for so long and so far that my toenails were red and I had little scratches and cuts over my shins and forearms.  I had launched through the bushes at the side of the road in darkness and crawled under things and jumped fences and as I lay on the bed I would feel new aches and bruises on my torso.  It was like I had been wrestling or in a fight - which I probably had or might have been - I just couldn't remember.
*
It started like it did every other time - with nothing in particular except that vague feeling of tiredness and ill ease that I felt.  I always connected this feeling with the idea that I was not ordinary - that I was special and that this feeling was what set me apart from all the other ordinary people.

Being ordinary isn't about being defeated or broken.    Being ordinary can be such a release and so powerful at the same time that I am almost hesitant to share the details of what has led me to my ordinary life.  But I have to share it - it is a story waiting to be told and for me, like thousands of other ordinary people, our stories are too often lost amid the swirl of color and drama that are not ordinary people's lives.

Earlier in my life I devoted years and whole career paths to prove to myself that I wasn't ordinary - that there was something different about me.  I felt different so I must somehow be different.  But I wasn't - I was just me a 'just me' like thousands and millions of others are just ordinary and like me
*
It comes slowly, over the years, meeting more people through more experiences - the tide of ordinary sweeps in and over me and I just occasionally struggle to push my nose above the waterline and be different, just for a moment or a morning or a mealtime - and then I slip back into the tepid warmth of ordinary. 

And my whole being moves like I am conducting the orchestra of my life under water - heavy arms, flailing through the jelly as the music yaws and distorts.  It's not beautiful or classical - but it's life and it's me and it's what we are used to.  The horror of ordinary I've grown used to and like a humming refrigerator, it's just there and part of my day.  I feel I can lean into it and almost curl into the warmth.
*
Becoming ordinary.

"We were all just a pile of awkward lives, embarrassed by ourselves.  We hadn't the slightest reason to be there, none of us.  Every living being, confused, vaguely anxious, felt redundant..."
Sartre, Nausea.

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