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Back in 2013 when I was beginning to experiment with writing, my friend, MrsP who I’ve talked about in another post had made the decision to stop drinking.
She’d tried many times before. She’d make the decision, do two or three dry weeks, then decide that she could moderate. The first week of moderation went well. Then she’d slowly start sliding back down the slippery slope.
I remember asking her once how the moderation was going. She smiled and told me that she was still only drinking a glass of wine a day. I congratulated her.
A couple of weeks later, I called in on her on the way back from work. She opened the door clutching a glass of wine. At that moment I realised that the glass was actually a pint (450 ml) glass. So yes technically she was only drinking a glass of wine a day, but that glass was filled with over half a bottle of wine.
I have to say that during her first dry week I was very worried for her. She was jittery, irritated, on edge. She couldn’t sleep and she was still working long hours. She had joined the site HelloSundayMorning and was making new friends with people in the same predicament as her. She knew that she had to keep busy otherwise she would fall down the rabbit hole.
It wasn’t long before the glass became two glasses, then two and a half, for which she hated herself.
Eventually, she decided to stop again. She asked me to visit her every day to check up on her. I was happy too.
She had pledged to stay dry for 90 days but decided to extend it to 100 as it seemed a bigger achievement despite being on day seven and having no idea how she was going to make it to 90.
That’s when she came up with the very simple idea: keeping busy in a purposeful way:
1 Doing things that she had stopped doing as her drinking advanced
2 Doing things that she avoided doing while she was drinking
3 Doing things that she meant to do but was always too drunk to do
4 Doing new things that she’d always wanted to do
5 Reading the books and watching the films that she had watched and read, but she was too drunk to remember
6 All of the tedious cores that you couldn’t be arsed to do while you had a buzz on or recovering from the night before
She started by listing all of those things down, one by one. To her surprise, when she’d finished, the list had 100 items on it.
She decided to do one of those things every single day for 100 days.
As she moved towards her goal, she found that some days she didn’t have the energy to do anything, whilst on others, she did two or three. But, she kept on going down the list.
She hated some of the activities with a vengeance. She particularly loathed colouring books for adults. Others, like baking cakes and music, filled her with so much joy that she continues to do them today.
She found that the scariest thing brought her the most joy. She buzzed for a week after she got into her car one evening and drove to a salsa class. This was something she’d always wanted to do, but because she couldn’t drive after 5 pm as she was well on her way to having a buzz on, she’d never done it. She swears that tasting the freedom and the joy that she did on that night was the game-changer.
The beginning of your journey towards sobriety could be a lot of fun. All it takes is giving yourself a bit of space to reflect and dream, a pen and a piece of paper.
You can decide whether you’re going to throw money at what you want to do; using the money you’re saving from not drinking means that you can probably afford a bit of self-indulgence, or you can do it in the cheap.
The important thing is not to transfer one addiction into another. One of my clients decided to build boxes to store his collection of 45 vinyl records in. This turned into obsessive record collecting. He came into therapy because his wife was on the verge of leaving him because now that he was sober with an all-consuming hobby, he was even more distant and neglectful of her and their family than when he was drunk.
Dr Gabor Mate’s views on this phenomena are quite strong. He suggests that addictions are both a defence and an escape mechanism intended to shield the addict from unbearable pain that started in very early childhood, if not before. His theory is that distressed mothers have distressed babies, not because of a lack of love, but because their pain is transmitted to the child through their lack of presence, which prevents the baby from learning self-soothing skills. In the absence of these, a child learns at an early age to zone out and fill the void with unhealthy and/or difficult behaviours.
Drinking and drugging work for a while. In the early days of your addiction, you may first feel solace and absence of pain, but eventually, your habit grows bringing with it insistent pain in the form of toxic guilt and shame, which leads to taking ever-increasing doses of your ‘painkiller’ of choice.
If you think about it, when you are in a state of drunkenness or you are chilled out on dope or stimulated by speed, you are not present: you are zoned out to such an extent that you don’t feel the unbearable pain that your drug of choice soothes.
Although she didn’t realise it at the time, Mrs P’s idea was all about learning to self soothe. Far from being a distraction, these activities teach how to be present in a mindful way. They allow frustration, patience, determination. to be felt. These activities encourage the building of resilience and the exploration of your natural gifts by connecting you with long-forgotten latent abilities.
Some people who have at last done something that they always wanted to do, discover new gifts, others find that having the time and space to follow a dream teaches them that the dream was fun but the reality was not for them.
In reality, the purpose of the 100 is to spark new life and creativity in you after a considerable time of not feeding your innermost secret needs.
The beauty of this method is that it can be used not just to help recovery from addictions, but can also help anyone who is feeling a bit stuck in their lives to answer the question: what do I really want to do? Making the list and carrying it through can be the start of changing your life from unfulfilling to satisfying. Making the list can open the door to a future you never imagined.
And what of MrsP? How did she get on with her challenges?
When I asked her this question, she gave me a wry grin. Pointing to her overflowing ironing basket she answered.
‘I didn’t complete task 100′.
You can hear this and other podcasts on https://wordpress.com/posts/ericagoesforth144245625.wordpress.com