Give yourself a hand

For most of my adult life (i’ve just turned 40) i have attempted to cover up my disability. I use the term disability loosely as its the easiest descriptive noun to use, as the only disability i’ve truly faced is the limits i have placed on myself. I mean i’ll never be a famous juggler but aside from that this label does NOT define me.

I was born with a congenital limb deformity, which in laymans terms means i have a spaz arm, that is pretty useless in many ways, although i could always still roll a decent spliff.

Anyway having spent a lot of time on personal development and reflecting over the last few years, and pushing myself through various fears and insecurities. I thought it would be a great time to write about the experience. That’s what these blog things are for isn’t it.? Hopefully someone can find some value in my ramblings, and if it shines a light for someone struggling then i would love to hear from you in the comments.

Denial

In covering up my disability i was inevitably denying a true part of myself and resisting reality for short term comfort, which was later to be the main reason i used substances. The drugs were never the problem and are only a symptom of something else that we don’t want to face. A survival mechanism that we come to rely upon.

I never covered up my arm out of shame or feeling less than (at least initially) My amazing grandparents did a fantastic job of raising me for my formative years and telling me i could do anything. The main reason was I just did not want to be treated ANY differently to other kids.

I rode a bike, did judo, played football with the best and got in fights with the rest. I could not bare the thought that i’d be treated differently, or allowed certain privileges. If i was going to be a success i’d do it on my own merit. I was stubborn and determined and worked hard to match up.

Somewhere along the line that changed, a subtle shift from courage to avoidance. What bothered me the most was the awkward looks, or the thought that i would have to explain myself. I started making up stories like ‘shark attack’ or ‘acid’ because it was more interesting, and made me feel good instead of awkward and disempowered. Then in my teens i started just hiding it altogether. Lots of times people would say “you hide it well” as if that was a badge of honour, but it became my reality. It was easier and reduced my uncomfortable feelings, at least in the short term.

The fear of fitting in is something we all face at some point of our lives, not wanting to be ostracised by the peer group is a very human thing. When i was 10 I moved to a new city and a new school where everyone had already made connections. My first day I attended in a bright purple shell suit which probably didn’t help me going unnoticed. I started fights to not be a victim, and was not bullied despite my difference. My survival armour seemed to serve me well, and i used humour to deflect.

I started to no longer wear t-shirts in summer and wore jackets instead. I dropped out of sports teams and found cigarettes and alcohol. I realised i’d get the attention i wasn’t getting at home from playing the school clown. My studies suffered as did my mental health as i drifted further away from my true self. Pleasure seeker and people pleaser. Fast forward through the club scene and ketamine, beyond the heroin years, and avoidance had become a default. A victim mentality and a prisoner of my own thoughts. I had self sabotaged my only ambition of going to uni, and school certainly didn’t prepare me for life beyond the gates (which i too frequently snuck out of). Drugs had become a comfort blanket that later became my identity. I was a champion drug user.

My 20s was mostly a blur with a few lucid moments and fleeting achievements. On my 30th birthday I wrote my third car off (intoxicated on diazepam this time). Id had many ‘rock bottoms’ but somehow this was the one. A little magpie sat on the grass as I sat upside down in my car and just stared at me, bemused. It’s strange to say but i think it was an omen. In that moment i just knew that everything was going to be ok. I lit a cigarette and laughed at myself and the absurdity of it all. I then found a couple of key-workers that helped me believe in myself and went above and beyond to get me into a detox facility not long after. I’ve since noticed magpies urging me on at key points in my life since. I guess we are always looking for patterns, or maybe there are things we just don’t understand. I prefer the latter.

Acceptance

5 ways to wellbeing.
Giving actually releases oxytocin (the feel good chemical)

Now coming up to my 10th year in recovery and in that time i have committed myself to personal growth. I have put in many thousands of volunteer hours, created a small recovery community organisation, peer mentored and sponsored others. I have been employed by various recovery organisations including my most recent role for an international charity as a national coordinator for England. I have pushed through many personal milestones including college and public speaking. i have ran half marathons and was due to run the London marathon this year as i turned 40. I do not say this to brag, and actually am pretty uncomfortable about tooting my own horn but i think it is important to take a moment to recognise and celebrate your achievements. The journey to self acceptance is not linear and is an ongoing practice.

One of my biggest barriers to growth has always been self acceptance and love. Anger had become a defence mechanism. Recognising thought patterns that have limited my authenticity and ability to engage with the world in any true and meaningful way has been my biggest lesson. Something we all undoubtedly struggle with to varying degrees. Many of us are given a shit hand in life, some of us more literally, others to a larger degree. The fact is arguing with reality seldom brings happiness. It is undoubtedly easier from a survival perspective in the short term to avoid discomfort, confrontation or stepping into the great unknown. Our brains are wired biologically for survival not for fulfilment. To look for problems not look for joy.

Many people have written about the fabled hero’s journey, from Carl Jung to James Joyce and more recently Joseph Campbell. All good stories have one, from star wars to toy story. The journey of a protagonist setting out on a journey of transformation, coming into contact with a mentor who guides them, facing all manner of challenges and temptations along the way to return victorious having grown through the unknown.

My time of fighting dragons is over as i approach the final stage of my life cycle and reflect on what i’ve learned. An early mid life crisis perhaps, or one of Jung’s stages of life. I ponder what my legacy will be, and what (if any) lessons I can pass on to those at an earlier stage of their journey and how i can be of service to the world. What kind of father I am to be and what guidance can I give to my 3 year old son in this emerging new reality of instant gratification and information overload. I didn’t have a dad in my life so one of my main motivations is to be the father i would have wanted. To strive to be the best version of myself in every moment and interaction with others. I cannot do that if i do not embrace my shortcomings or my vulnerabilities. How can i be truly authentic with others if i am not honest with myself?.

So this blog is the first step in me accepting the current reality of recent redundancy from a career i’ve given a lot of myself to, and embracing the unknown final stage in my life cycle. Perhaps the self actualisation part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So I am creating my own coaching program to support others, and embracing the uncertainty and potential joy of self employment and service. I want to lean further into my true authentic self, something i really should have done sooner, and I would love for you to come on the journey with me.

💜Be the hero in your journey and LOVE YOURSELF💜

3456 days

Sober time apps counting down the seconds to inevitable relapse.

That is not a nihilistic statement that relapses in general are inevitable so why bother, and there are some good apps and resources out there that go beyond counting days (here). I am coming up to 10 years in my own personal and self determined recovery, but it is a perhaps disputable observation of those that focus on that alone as an arbitrary measure of success or achievement.

At the risk of alienating half of my friends. I have never understood the logic or obsession with counting days of ‘sober’ time. I stopped many years ago. Working towards a goal is great and can motivate us but when it becomes the sole focus we can forget the ‘why’. The reasons we are making the change and the benefits of it. Our energy can be taken up by ‘white knuckling’ our recovery and avoiding the thing until the next milestone.

Little bits of plastic i had a few, many of the white ones and a couple of the blue. Even a glow in the dark one of i recall, which came just before i had a great fall.

Celebrating milestones can undoubtedly be a motivating factor for many, however i have come across just as many people that have been triggered by sober anniversaries, or just plain become complacent about their recovery and stopped working whatever program that got them there in the first place.

I have encountered individuals that just seem to make their sober days up, and its different at every meeting. Those that don’t count the days on prescribed meds, those that do. Those that deny a lapse to carry on their “sober” streak. Those that don’t come back to the rooms because the shame of coming back is greater than the pain of staying out there, and those that get (and cover up) “clean date” tattoos to name but a few.

We talk of stigma in recovery coming from those outside ‘the rooms’ but do we ever really consider the stigma and impact of those that use this metric to measure their own and others success?

I remember clearly how difficult it was for me to get one day without my fix, and when the going is good the streaks (and bits of plastic) fill you up with gratitude and excitement that for the first time ever recovery is possible. It truly is. The applause and the plaudits flood your system with dopamine hits. But when it gets hard as we know it does, when that pink fluffy cloud starts to fuzz. When the meetings start to become monotonous, mantras on repeat and not enough of what’s next, it is time to reassess where your focus lies. I wasted way too much time focusing on NOT wanting to relapse, or on avoidance, and not enough on believing i could create a whole new life where ‘the thing’ no longer controlled my thoughts or actions.

If you focus all your energy on avoiding something that thing still has a power over you. It may be a subtle difference but try NOT thinking of a pink elephant, our brains inevitably shift to actively imagining the thing we do not want to focus on.

The last step in the 12 step programme and one of the 5 ways to wellbeing are about ‘carrying the message’ and ‘giving back’. Finding a purpose greater than yourself. Herein lies the beauty of recovery. 💜