Seven Years Without A Drink

collage-1471254015079

Today, 23rd January 2017, marks 7 years for me without drinking alcohol.

The celebration of my sober anniversary is a weird thing for me this year. It feels different than any other year and I think it’s because the dynamics of my choice to not drink has shifted in my consciousness. Now, it just doesn’t seem that big a deal. Celebrating it seems a bit too luxurious at this point.

Not drinking alcohol has become just a small part of life my life. I’ve settled into it comfortably and it is now my normal. If I’d been asked several days before I stopped drinking if I’d be booze free for the next 7 years, I’d have laughed hysterically, or been so appalled at such a thought I’d have fainted.

But now my life has become enormous. Simple, but enormous.

Then, drinking alcohol was my normal. It served many purposes in my limited experience of living. It was my motivator, my tormentor, my joy, my pain relief and my laughter. And I saw nothing wrong with that. The bars and clubs were full of people doing exactly the same thing as me. And peoples living rooms were occupied in the evening, by wine drinking mothers, just like me all over the globe.

Numbing.

Just totally normal….right?

At some point, everyone is forced to face themselves. That point for me came when I basically had no choice. My life was catastrophic at best. But something else had changed too. The desire in me to excel at life became much stronger than staying in that wasteful, pitiful limbo I was in. Peace was not available to me. I was stuck between either facing crippling pain, or forever numbing it with alcohol.

I had to make a choice.

I chose to face myself.

Choosing to face ourselves brings with it a great freedom. We then have a choice about what we do with what we see. If we find ourselves in a situation where we need to be picking ourselves apart with microscopic precision, then there’s definitely been some prolonged and very uncomfortable occurrences and realizations to bring us to the greatest challenge of our lives.

The challenge of change.

I had nothing to lose. Whatever I chose was going to be painful. The difference between one path and another was that quitting drinking and facing my malignant, internal pain was going to lead somewhere – probably a fulfilling and functional life. Not quitting and continuing to numb was going to lead to – more pain – that would require further numbing.

Numbing is expensive, life threatening, wasteful and creates the need to be a complete asshole to contain the pain. Who the hell wants to live like that? That’s not living. It’s maintaining existence. The street light outside my house exists. The pavement exists. My house exists. At least they all serve a purpose. Me living in a substance abuse bubble served no purpose, except to self-destruct.

I wanted more than mere existence.

And now I have it.

But sobriety is so much more than an abstinence from chemicals. If that’s all it was about I’d be eagerly waiting to celebrate each anniversary. It would be just about counting and accumulating days of being booze free as a signifier of success. Sobriety for me has to be about insatiable joy or it’s just not worth it.

My successful sobriety is defined by what I do with those abstinent free days. I’ve filled those days with purpose and passion towards the things that matter. My children, my writing, my passion to help other women empower themselves and my own self development is what life is about for me now. In short – liberation is the theme of my life.

Joy.

The forward momentum of growth I have created rapidly detaches me from my past and towards liberation. I’m grateful for that detachment. But I will never conveniently forget how hard the past was.

Anniversaries used to be a big deal for me. Something that I defined myself by. I used to be a sober alcoholic. Now I’m Nicola O’Hanlon, a strong, driven, compassionate, empathic, fierce woman who happens not to drink.

I also turned 42 on January 20th. That is far more significant for me. Being 42 and the kind of woman I used to admire and aspire to be is a big deal. Looking at myself in the mirror and liking what I see is a big deal. Trusting myself is a big deal.

Could I be that woman without removing my alcoholic anaesthetic?

Absolutely NOT.

I highly recommend it.

 

Originally posted on http://www.iloverecovery.com

Advertisements

Does Advocacy Like Carrie Fishers Really Reach The Ordinary Person?

carrie-fisher

Despite being born into movie star fame and wealth, Carrie Fisher still didn’t manage to escape addiction and ill mental health. She was an outspoken advocate for both throughout her life and wrote books and screenplays about the issues. Carrie Fisher was the daughter of movie star Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, some of Hollywoods most elite. The often associated situations seen as contributing factors towards addiction and ill mental health, such as poverty, lack of health care and access to life’s basic needs, were not present in Fishers life. Of course there were other issues, most notably the breakup of her parents, apparently because of Eddie Fishers affair with Liz Taylor.

A line from one of her books, Postcards from The Edge, a semi-autobiographical and comic story of a girl in rehab stood out for me in relation to the false notion that certain conditions need to be present for ill mental health or addiction to occur. The Line is “You know how I always seem to be struggling, even when the situation doesn’t call for it?”

That line highlights for me also, the awareness Fisher had regarding her own mental illness and those of us who struggle will relate on a deep level. When ill mental health afflicts you, even the most mundane tasks, like brushing your teeth, can be a monumental struggle whether you live in extreme wealth or extreme poverty. Ill mental health and addiction are not ruled by socio economic backgrounds, movie star names or dollar signs. Unlike many in her industry at the time, Fisher chose to speak out about her experiences, crushing the idea that glitz and glamour protect humans from the reality of being human. Even for someone like princess Leia humanness was an unavoidable thing.

And still, despite the efforts of people like Carrie Fisher, in almost 2017, we still absolutely know that stigma towards ill mental health and addiction is suppressing and killing those who suffer. But is it easier for the famous and accomplished in our world to speak out and advocate for such universally and still socially unacceptable topics? Is the fact that the people speaking out loudly are largely from the entertainment or sports industries and therefore leaving a divide where the ordinary people still cannot relate to them?

Of course it is helpful when we see huge stars get real about their issues. They get important  conversations started and bring awareness. They encourage others to speak out and seek help and are hailed as heroes for their bravery. However, they are also afforded the best treatment and support available. They don’t have to worry about how they will feed their children or who’s going to take care of them next month because they need to go away for 28 day treatment. That’s if they can access treatment in the first place. They don’t have to worry about being shunned by society for being nuts, because well, the greatest and most talented artists are the whacky ones right?

The contrast of consequences pertaining to the same illness between the rich and famous and the ordinary person is stark and life altering….and usually not in a good way. The fact of the matter is, that for a normal person to speak out openly, the negative consequences often outweigh the positives.

Lets say you’ve been through and survived some of the most horrific experiences due to addiction or ill mental health. You decide to start a blog or share some of these things on Facebook in the hopes of helping others. You may receive great support and “well done you” from your friends and family. Or maybe not. On the flip side, your new perspective employer decides someone else is now more suitable for the position they offered you last week, and wishes you well on your career journey. I’ve been asked many times to remove articles from The Café by writers because they didn’t want employers to see them.

You start to notice that people aren’t so friendly anymore. They avoid you on the street, your phone stops ringing like it used too and suddenly you realise that people don’t want to be associated with you anymore. It’s not that they don’t like or admire you, but being connected to someone who had addiction problems or mental illness makes them look bad. You become one of the untouchables.

The reality on the street is that telling your story impacts your life in uncontrollable ways. It impacts the perceptions people have of you, your children and your extended family. You could be in the best health you’ve ever been in, but the general public will still look at you in a different light. The one thing I do know for sure is, that many people will quietly and privately relate to your experience, but they may never admit that. It may encourage them to seek help and feel a whole lot better about themselves. And if like me, that is your goal in life, then it is a remarkable thing.

However, the life of the rich and famous, despite sharing a similar illness, is still not the reality of the lives of ordinary people. Prejudice regarding certain social taboos do not apply to those who are already in high standing and hailed as icons. If you have struggled with addiction, ill mental health, domestic violence, sexual assault or any other horrific life experience and it’s known by the wider public, it is a rare occurrence to be hailed as a hero or receive awards if you are just another person. Most often the experience is one of rejection, exclusion and intolerance.

This is not to take away from the monumental work that has been done by the famous in relation to the plight of addiction and mental illness. Nor is it to diminish the struggles famous people have with getting well. Their demons are as dark as any other persons and so often they are enabled to self-destruct rather than helped to get well by those who profit from them. I have friends in the entertainment industry who use their talents and past experience in the most wonderful ways to help others and they are to applauded for that.

But we do need to get a reality check regarding the stark contrasts of the famous and not so famous when it comes to the most tragic of life issues. Really taboo subjects are where we as ordinary people struggle to connect. We are fighting stigma still on the ground level of society where we need to address it in solidarity and unity. Stigma will continue to kill until the ordinary human can wake up to their own prejudice and false pride. We love to talk about how open minded, inclusive and accepting we are. But are we really?

Carrie Fisher was undoubtedly an incredible woman who has taught many to live with mental illness without shame. Her legacy both personally and professionally, is one that will remain, hopefully for a long time. She will be greatly missed.

Embracing The Fullness Of My Feelings

collage-1479137590314

Today the moon is full. I follow the moons cycles, as is the way of my spiritual practice. When the moon is at its fullest I use it as a guide to explore how I feel, in an attempt to embrace myself fully. All my parts. Not just the bits I like but also the bits that I’m not totally wild about.

One of the most significant of lessons I have learned is that categorising feelings into good and bad piles is a complete waste of time. Through my years of self-development my perception now is that there is no such thing as a good or bad feelings. Feelings just are.

I noticed the reaction of my rescue dog Ruby, to the new arrival of Reggie, another rescue dog we adopted this week. She wasn’t happy. She sulked and became quiet and basically reacted to the presence of this other being, who she had to now share her space with. She’s giving me looks of WTF have you done to me. And seriously she has a point here!

Us humans would experience those feelings in ourselves as betrayal, jealousy and encroachment of our private space. On top of feeling those feelings, we’d feel associated feelings of guilt for feeling the original feelings.

Why? Because we have been taught that certain feelings are negative or bad. We have come to understand feeling emotion such as anger, jealousy or envy is wrong and if we are not all love and light and accepting every situation we face with open arms, we are selfish…..another perceived bad trait.

But is Ruby judging herself for her feelings and reactions? Well I’m not a dog and I can’t be sure that dogs don’t feel guilt, but I’m guessing that since she hasn’t been indoctrinated with shame around feelings, she’s probably fairly chill with her sulkiness. She will also decide when she’s ready to accept Reggie and until then the household will just have to suck it up.

I have also learned that for the average human it’s impossible to rid ourselves of feelings until we accept that we really get off on feeling them – yes even the bad ones. My teacher Carolyn Elliott says that “having is evidence of wanting.” That concept completely blew my mind.

It meant that my recurrent financial struggles, my disastrous love life, my tendency towards isolation and lack of true friendship, were all things I created because in my very dark reaches, I completely enjoyed the sensations associated with them.

Basically, what keeps showing up in our lives does so because we love the feelings associated with it. We love the burning sensation and adrenaline rush of jealousy or anger or abandonment as much as we love the sweet sensation of love and peace. If we live in chaos or are dealing with inner turmoil most of the time it means we love the burning sensation more than we love the sweet feeling.

And it’s our unconscious or shadow side that creates the situations so that we can keep feeling that exquisite burning over and over again. This is why our conscious and unconscious need to be best friends so we know what the other is up to. Isn’t that mind blowing? I’m absolutely aware, depending on where you are in your development or recovery, that you many find this concept totally offensive and exasperatingly melodramatic and outrageous.

But just think about it for a minute. Really get honest with yourself about the reactions of your body to the situations you encounter. It may be a very enlightening experience for you. How do you feel really, when yet another lover leaves you? Or when you get rejected because of your radical thinking by your community. And what purpose do these seemingly disastrous events play in your life? Well you get to be the eternal damsel in distress feeding off the pity and kind words of others, or the superior mind, never having to conform, a righteous rebel. And how delicious is it to stand out from the crowd as the tortured one living life despite all the adversity?

I would like to clarify that in no way does this apply to things you have no control over. That being the actions of other people or the decisions they make. But it absolutely applies to situations that you place yourself in willingly.

It is my new understanding that I have manifested some of the most awful situations in my life into being. I have in fact, been in charge of things I first thought I had no power over. I saw my life as a series of bad luck events when in actuality I was putting myself in situations because of some deep rooted need for them. I’m a pro at the law of attraction when it comes to the yuck stuff. And seriously can you imagine applying that manifestation process to creating the joyful stuff?

So at this point I’m totally done with manifesting the yuck. I’m on a relentless path to creating a life where I’m not constantly cleaning up my own crap. I’m learning to align myself with feelings of peace and tranquility rather than chaos and drama. Watching my dog Ruby be totally accepting of her shadowy aspects further solidifies that being real and honest about our situation is the first step to making it different.

When Did My Living Become Normal?

normal-living

 

It’s stated that a recovery process is supposed to be a bridge to normal living. It takes a while – this normal living. And it happened for me when I stopped measuring my normalness against others idea of what normal and abnormal is. And on reflection aren’t we all living pretty normal lives? We believe that a normal life is functional, happy, without too much upset, balanced.

But if you look around in our society none of that is normal and probably never has been. We have created an ideal view of normalcy which is unobtainable for most. In fact, normal for most people is experiencing trauma frequently, struggling to make ends meet, worrying about how to meet our basic needs.

And even if our needs are being met, we are consumed by competing, being the best, prettiest, thinnest, and definitely making sure the rest of the world knows we are all those things. And addiction these days, is the most normal, accepted and encouraged state of being there is.

You’re probably thinking I’m exaggerating and I really wish that I was. But in actuality most everyone on the planet is addicted to something. Maybe not drugs or alcohol, but definitely other things like money, self-righteousness, sex, being acceptable – the list is endless, and the consequences are as equally devastating.

Everyone has a go to behaviour that helps us distort reality. Nobody is free of addiction. The only difference between one addicted person and another is that one addiction is more attractive to them than another. And definitely nobody has just one addiction either. One may be more prevalent than the other but there’s never just one.

Even some people in recovery become addicted to recovery and you will be told that’s a great thing. Not for me. How is that normal living? Segregating ourselves from the rest of the population and labeling others as “normies” and ourselves as addicts, not like them, different, special in some way.

I labelled myself as an addict/alcoholic for many years. It made me feel disconnected and abnormal, and sometimes superior because I was led to believe we had a greater understanding of life, God, the world than the rest of the population. And that worked for me for some time. I learned so much from my 12 step involvement and I was lucky to meet incredible people there. Most of its concepts will be part of my life forever. It helped me to focus on my very human behaviour, the part of me that needed an addiction. It showed me where I was dysfunctional and fearful and using obsessive behaviours as coping tools.

But going into meetings and referring to myself as an addict and an alcoholic started to feel very uncomfortable to me. I began to feel like I was lying. I didn’t like the “us versus them” idea because as I grew mentally and emotionally and became compassionate, I saw that everyone is struggling with something. Even the people who had abused me and damaged me irrevocably were attempting to ease their own horrific pain.

I knew I had to widen my experience of the world to truly recover from addiction. I had to read relentlessly about human nature and its deepest taboo concepts. People like Carl Jung, Ken Keys and Carlos Castaneda opened up the truth and expansiveness of my humanness. The parts that are too strange for most of us to even look at. I had to be fearless and thorough; a famous 12 step concept that is grossly underused and undervalued.

I had to learn about the darkest parts of myself and understand that these are the areas that drive my being. I had to have deep conversations with people right across the world who lived authentically, embracing these parts of themselves. People who didn’t pretend that love and light was the way out of addiction, but who understand that making friends with our darkness is the fastest route. Ignoring our own darkness makes us very judgemental, fearful people.

I had to explore, expand and truly learn about my own magnificence and power without shame. And as I grew, I found that I was rejected by those in my recovery community, by lovers, by friends who turned out to be nothing more than acquaintances; some who were using me as their own addiction. I looked at my own ill effective behaviours more deeply than I ever thought possible and I learned to love them and celebrate them as much as my socially acceptable traits. This is the most empowering, spiritual process I have ever encountered. Believe me there is nothing to fear. It’s also another 12 step concept that most people only skim over.

In my quest to know myself, I found that I am a very normal human being. Not different. I found that I am unique as a spirit and a soul, but not unique in my experiences. I found strange and exciting parts of myself which are discoverable for everyone, if we are not suppressed with rules and dogma. I opened my mind. I opened my heart. I went to any lengths and I found my normalcy. I found myself. And I found that if I am an addict, then so are you.

What’s This Then?

peacock-864966_1920

 

 

There’s newness hanging around

spreading it’s peacock feathers

in great displays of eager hope.

I’ve been inspecting it of late

with fifty foot long inquisitive glances.

The unfamiliarity is so very comforting

exciting

full of possibility….

despite my hesitance

which is easy to explain,

because the oldness was a torture,

just repetitive, relentless, torture.

I became so accustomed to it

that I knew what was coming….

so it left.

I ceased to be its narcissistic supply

that is so very necessary for oldness to survive….

and thrive

unable to deal with the lack of control.

I’m not sure who got bored first,

It or me.

I think it was me.

This newness has me stumped though,

like do I stand and face it

or beside it?

Do I sit on it

spit on it

or take it in and love it?

It just one day appeared from nowhere,

apparently homeless.

Strays just fucking love me….

stray cats….dogs….men….bits of paper

all seem to find their home

beneath my covers.

Never newness though….

this is a first for me.

MAD MARTHA

mad-martha

 

Their whispers say her insanity is beyond anything imaginable

and many stories are told around coffee cups of civilised gossip,

of how she got to her mad place.

Some say she is not of this world at all….

A Witch perhaps, who wouldn’t die in the flames

or a Faeire who got tired of pretty wings,

“A Gypsy maybe from the desert?”…they utter over plates full of properness.

She cares not for the opinions of the inferior informed

for she’s far too busy communing with her own kind.

She rolls in the dirt and wades hip deep in the water….

singing at the top of her voice….she sees their terror,

hidden behind comfortable, clannish smirks of condescension.