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💜

Extra value deals

What makes thousands of people turn out worldwide to protest in the middle of a global pandemic, and what does this tell us about their values ?

Throughout history protests have acted as the catalyst for change and have shaped the world we live in today, from the Suffragettes, Civil rights movement, Stonewall, Labour movements and so many others. There is typically some commentary on ‘legitimate’ forms of protest and acceptable levels of civil disobedience, but many of the changes we now take for granted simply would not have happened solely by banner waving. After the killing of another unarmed black man in the U.S by police protests erupted worldwide, and in the aftermath there was outrage by some at the toppling of a statue at one such demonstration in the U.K. This week also saw some of those claiming to want to “protect the statues” urinating next to memorials, giving the nazi salute and scuffling with police, seemingly conflicting with their projected values.

This was never intended to be a political blog, however as ive turned 40 this week i’m in a reflective mood and have been considering how my own values have changed in recent years. My days of direct action may be over, however i stand in solidarity with those fighting injustices in their own lives. Legality does not equal morality. – Naegeli’s law.

Although clearly i’m no behavioural psychologist i’ve always had a fascination with human behaviour, particularly my own. So what makes us do the things we do?

As well as our basic needs, it is ultimately our values and beliefs that drive our behaviours, whether we are aware of it consciously or not. Many people float through life from one crisis or emotional response to the next without really considering why they feel or act the way they do.

Intrinsically linked to our beliefs, our values are generally the things we view as most important to us, like honesty, justice or freedom. Sometimes these are grouped together with terms such as ‘family values’, ‘national values’ or ‘religious values’.

Values are not fixed and should be reflected on and adjusted as we grow and develop as part of the human experience, but being aware of them is a necessary first step.

When we connect with our values to make decisions, we make a deliberate choice to focus on what is important to us. We are able to engage with the world more intentionally, and lead a more fulfilling life.

I often work with volunteers to help them identify their core values and beliefs. We look at how this impacts on behaviours and the things we view as important. Being aware of our values and recognising how our beliefs affect our behaviour can act as motivation to strive to be the best versions of ourselves. I love values based work because when we genuinely connect with our values and understand how our internal world truly affects us in the ‘real world’ it can be transformational, and bring about long term behavioural change.

So what happens when our own values don’t align with our current situation, or our needs, or even general convenience? Whether that is a relationship, employment or general life. What level of flexibility can we apply to our values, and how do we reconcile these inconsistencies?

Honesty, for example is a commonly stated personal value, but not everyone is as honest as might be desired, and we may too frequently find ourselves being selectively honest. Although values are essentially aspirational and act as a guide, if they are not consciously engaged with or applied to everything that we do, what use are they other than to project a vision of how we want to be seen?

Do you know what your personal values truly are and do you live your life in line with them ?

“One reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one. It can be infuriating, and it’s not just individuals who fall short of the talk. In our experience, only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold people accountable.” Brené Brown – Dare to Lead

Does your organisation truly embody its own values or are they winging it with morality?

Just because an organisation picks a few buzzwords like ‘inclusive’ or ‘non judgmental’ and puts them at the top of their branded stationery does not mean that it embodies those values. So what is the point of espousing such values if we or our organisation do not truly practice them in our affairs? A commodification of morality perhaps, package wrapped and branded to appeal to others rather than a belief system that truly drives change, and what deals do we make compromising our own values for those of an organisation, or a nation, or a tribe?

If you have ever faced redundancy, “organisational restructuring”, or tendering you may have had some conflict between your own values and those of ‘the board’ who make all the decisions. You may have felt that the board had an agenda, or were walking a fine line with legality. You may have felt undervalued, unappreciated, dis-empowered, overworked or just been at a crossroads. I can wholly relate to those feelings, and find myself at somewhat of a crossroads here currently in terms of my own employment.

If we highly value our basic needs of financial security we may stay in a job that is perhaps no longer fulfilling, or we may be asked to compromise some of our own personal values or standards for another paycheck. Is this a deal we are willing to make?

If we value equality or justice more highly than a statue’s right to exist and have exhausted other options, that may drive behaviour, particularly if a belief in the justice system makes an individual value state justice less, based on personal experience. If we value national pride higher than equality for example and believe some humans deserve more rights than others then this undoubtedly shows up in our values system and behaviours.

Practicing unconditional acceptance as a basic strategy to counter general unhelpful beliefs is something we can all do to help manage some of our emotions. Reminding ourselves ‘life is not always fair’ and ‘people are not always virtuous.’ At times however more direct action is required, but which of our values we are willing to trade off, is of course ultimately a matter of personal choice.

In some of my most challenging moments in recent years I have referred to ancient philosophy for guidance. Epictetus, who was born a Roman slave, wrote often about living a virtuous and joyful life, despite the challenges of his day and i find reassurance in his words. What would the Stoics however think of the modern notion of ‘values‘ and the flexibility to which they are often applied and commodified. Virtues are defined as ‘a consistently applied and habitual practice’ and the stoics valued living a virtuous life above all else. https://dailystoic.com/4-stoic-virtues/

So, In these uncertain times I reaffirm to myself daily; ‘Rather than floating through life I will act with intent, striving for personal excellence in the things within my control, and aligning myself with my core values. I will engage with other humans virtuously and compassionately, and through this practice I will lead a more enriching and fulfilling life.’

💜🖤💜

Own your story

Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present and fear the future

-Seneca–

~MementoMori #AmorFati

This is a blog for posterity, about my personal journey through council estates and reprobates, addiction and living with a physical disability, followed as ever by the haunting spectre of anxiety and fear.

Im well aware i’m joining the majority of 30 somethings blogging about their dull lives for nobody to read, but I guess i’m doing this partly as I value the stoic strategy of journalling and find it somewhat cathartic, but also in the hope that it can perhaps be a flicker of light to someone going through their own period of darkness. We can and do recover.

I write this having just completed my third 10k road race in Grimsby. The only time I remember doing cross country at school, we used to dick off to smoke in ‘the pheaso’, so running has never been a friend, unless you count running from my responsibilities, kinda made acquaintance with that for a while.

10k

This race was also a personal milestone for me, in that it was the first time ive ran in public in a tshirt since being an adult.  I have suffered from depression for many years relating to body issues from my congenitive limb defect, and become very obsessive about covering up my imperfections. This year has been a bit of a transformative one in many ways as i also adjust to being a dad and balancing a difficult workload, while working on myself. Really appreciate everyones support and motivation.

 

As a person in long term recovery part of my personal programme focuses on goal setting, so in order to push myself out of my comfort zone this year I have signed up to run the London marathon in 2020, and have been humbled to be given the opportunity to be raising some money for a charity that is close to my heart.

(justgiving link)

Practising acceptance among other stoic and CBT based strategies have been central to my recovery journey and addressing my own thought patterns and behaviours. Ultimately we have a choice to face our fears and try to be the best version of ourselves given the circumstances within our control.

#uksmartrecovery Has been also been present throughout my journey into recovery, from facilitating meetings as a volunteer with a local service provider to delivering the programme as an employed staff member in the NHS, to now being employed full time as UK SMART Recovery National coordinator for England.

I was probably considered a lost cause, disenfranchised from society and unable to talk about my issues, perpetuated by the shame and stigma around addiction, mental health, and the taboo of disability, part of my healing process after a successful spell in detox has been embracing acceptance and facing life on lifes terms, as the cliche goes.

Having worked in the sector for a number of years i am as ever encouraged by my amazing peers that are supporting recovery communities across the uk in increasingly difficult conditions, amidst record numbers of drug related deaths and government austerity measures.

I would encourage anyone looking to regain some control over their addictive behaviours to use mutual aid as part of their recovery capital. There are many pathways to recovery, but acceptance is required in all. We can and do recover.

The obstacle is the path – Old zen proverb

UK SMART Recovery

Narcotics Anon

Act peer recovery

Thank you for reading. All is love. 🙂