Hello and welcome to my latest blog. I trust, because you’re here reading or listening to my ponderings today, that you’re taking some time to care for yourself. That’s important. Like they say on airplanes, always fit your own oxygen mask first as, without it, you’re not much use to anyone! Follow this link if you’d prefer to listen to me reading this blog instead.
Following my own advice
Since I last wrote, I’ve been following my own advice of ‘SELFISH’ (see blog#85 if you missed it) and doing everything I can to take care of my heart health holistically. What I’ve been finding is that the combination of daily exercise, real unprocessed food, meditation, being close to those I love, having a bit of a laugh now and again are all adding up to better sleep so that I am waking up stronger and more resilient. It’s easy to forget that the body and mind need proper rest if we are to fire on all cylinders.
The worst day of my life
Last week was winter solstice here down under and summer solstice up there in the northern hemisphere. Every time June 21st comes around, I pause and reflect. It is a day when I can’t avoid looking back. I am compelled to remember the worst day of my life so far, 13 years since the day of the accident that almost killed my five-year-old son and traumatised my three-year-old daughter. I’ve written about this before so no need to delve into the painful details again. However, the reason that I look back every year is so that I can see how far we’ve come as a family and how much stronger we are. My son is now 18 and well able to talk about his memories of the day. He still has memorabilia from the event such as the cuddly toys his friends brought him when he was at National University Hospital in Singapore. He recounts with self-compassion how he thought he was going to die and remembers the fear that engulfed him in the moments that led to the four-hour surgery that saved his life. My daughter’s memories are more vague, but she bears the little scars on her feet and her back to remind her that she was also there – that she also sustained injuries from the falling shards of glass that fell from the smashed door.
I chose my own medication
It’s crazy how I blamed myself for so long. I wasn’t aware of the blaming at the time. But looking back now, it is clear that I held myself responsible for what was simply an unfortunate accident. It’s no wonder I looked to the numbing effects of alcohol to take the edge off my guilt and pain. I guess in a way I have alcohol to thank for getting me through those times when I wasn’t strong enough emotionally to face the torturous memories. Some people go to their doctor and get prescription drugs, I chose my own medication. But like all medications, their efficacy can diminish over time as the body gets used to them and we are faced with the decision of should we increase the dose or should we see if there is an alternative way to heal.
It is thanks to therapy that we are now looking back at the trauma of the accident without going to pieces. With professional help we processed the event and our responses to it so that we could come to terms with it, understand that it’s OK to go there because we are safe now. Where once there was fear and extreme anxiety, there is empathy, compassion, and love. Kids are amazingly resilient in how they can move on once they get the support they need. It took me a while longer to heal as unfortunately I didn’t have the knowledge that I have now and failed to put on my own oxygen mask first. Instead, I battled on, like many mothers the world over, putting my kids first and reaching for a temporary fix to numb the pain of those things I wasn’t dealing with. Better late than never, eh. I reached a point of no return. And I turned my life around thanks to finally getting the help I needed. It is liberating to no longer have this desperate craving to alter my state of mind. I am able to live with myself exactly as I am, still a bit messy but always making progress and heading in the right direction.
The other day I was volunteering with a community mental health project where I met a man who had fought a war in Afghanistan and returned to Australia suffering from PTSD. He was very open about the fact that he has been abusing alcohol and drugs ever since. From what he told me, it sounded as though he thought self-medicating with alcohol and drugs was easier than seeking professional help. This resonated with me, of course. But now, years later, compounding the unhealed trauma of the war, is the damage the alcohol and drugs have done to his body and mind in the form of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a type of dementia caused by alcohol abuse. I hadn’t heard of this before. It scared me. The thought that I could have ended up not being able to remember what I did from one minute to the next fills me with horror. Memory is something I value as it allows me to appreciate the fullness of my life.
The importance of sleep
Although I managed to get off that slippery drinking slope before I incurred too much damage, I know that my memory wasn’t the best while I was in the throes of that self-destructive cycle. Now that I know more about the importance of sleep, I realise how poorly I used to sleep when I was drinking. The proper rest that I mentioned earlier isn’t just as simple as going to bed and falling asleep. It’s about what happens to your body while you’re sleeping. Studies have shown that alcohol and drugs negatively impact our ability to go through the different stages of sleep, non-REM and REM, all of which are necessary for us to fully function as happy human beings. The deepest stage of sleep is the one that allows the body to repair and regrow tissues, to build bone and muscle, and to strengthen the immune system.
The many gifts of sobriety
Without giving the body a chance to experience deep sleep under natural conditions, it’s hard to appreciate just how amazing proper sleep can make us feel. I’ve said it before, and I will keep on saying it, proper sleep is one of the many gifts of sobriety! Waking up refreshed, ready to take on the world without the desperate need to alter the mind with alcohol or drugs is another of those many gifts. It’s that virtuous cycle where you feel good thanks to sleeping well so you can actually be bothered to do things that are good for you such as getting exercise and eating healthily, being with loved ones and having a bit of a laugh…. all leading to a proper restful night’s sleep. And so, the next day, the cycle continues until one day you look back and think, how did I survive at all! The human body is incredibly adaptable, up to a point. There comes a time when we have to ask ourselves how much more are we willing to put it through before we seek the help we need, before we reach for that oxygen mask and breathe deeply and believe that this one life that has been given to us, while short enough, is a miracle and one that we would be foolish to waste. With a clear mind, an open heart and a body that is still able to serve us, we can experience the most incredible joy and connectedness without the desperate craving that is the torment of living with addiction. There is a way to heal, people just need to want it and they will find it. By the way, I must share with you that on June 21st, while looking back, a notification popped up on my phone from the I Am Sober app flagging the fact that I had reached 1,500 days in my sober journey. It’s a good feeling when you have stepped so far out of the woods that you can look back and see the trees for what they are and know the difference between what’s within your control and what isn’t.
If anyone reading this is concerned about Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, then rest assured that at an early stage of the disease, problems may be reduced or reversed if the person abstains from alcohol, improves their diet, and replaces vitamins especially thiamine and vitamin B1. Thiamine is important to limit some of the toxic effects of alcohol and is an important supplement for heavy drinkers. I urge anyone with concerns to speak to a health professional as soon as possible. Please feel free to share the link to this blog with people you think might benefit from my insights.
To end on a very happy note, my son, Alfie, who is featured in this week’s photo, is now 18 and a drummer with a band who just won a big Music Industry award last week for their song, Illusion. If you’d like to listen to it you can access it here. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing life feels now as I watch my kids thrive in spite of previous challenges. I feel deep gratitude.
Thanks for being here today. All the best for now. Love, Gill x