The Calm Button, a Sober look at Mindfulness. Mrs D Is Going Within – Lotta Dann.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the moment without being lost in your head.

These mindfulness techniques might sound ridiculously simple. Seriously, just feeling the vibrations of the steering wheel makes a difference? Yes, it really does.

Lotta Dann explains how she uses mindfulness techniques.

It’s not so much about the steering wheel or my breath or the sensations in my toes, these are just readily available grounding tools.

It’s about recognising the actions of my thinking mind and not being sucked in by them. It’s about awareness, and most importantly it’s about kindness.

Practising mindfulness is the ultimate act of self-care. I care that I don’t get wound up. I care that I don’t have butterflies in my tummy. I care that I don’t make a busy day worse by thinking negatively about it. And in return all the people around me benefit, and I feel like I’m connecting with them more intensely.

Also, since I’ve begun thinking so often about my breath, I’ve become very connected to the whole of myself in a wonderful, subtle way. There’s something about focusing on this vital bodily action that is incredibly enriching, and noticing it regularly has fostered in me a deeper level of self-love.

This is not the same as me looking in the mirror and thinking: ‘Boy, do I look shit hot today!‘. Or seeing myself being mentioned online and thinking, I am so clever! Actually, it’s not about thinking about myself at all. It’s about feeling myself and, as someone who has never really been connected to their physical self at all (how could I be when I was all noise and booze?), slowing down and focusing on my breath regularly has led to me settling and becoming very connected with the whole of myself.

A lot of it comes down to me realising this: I am not my thoughts. I am way more than my thoughts. I am my heart and my soul and the blood pumping in my veins and a miraculous collection of atoms and molecules that takes up space on this earth.

My thoughts, on the other hand, are little energy puffs created out of the restless frontal cortex of my mind. They are influenced by the current state I am in, and are often not factual.

If I’m tired, I think more negatively. If I’m sick, I think more negatively. If something tricky is going on, I think more negatively.

For the first time in my life, I am able to separate out my thinking mind from the rest of me, to recognise when it is dominating, and to get it to just stop.

This is my simple little mindfulness mantra, and it repeats itself often in my mind. It comes to me in a voice that is kind and wise it’s my foxy Internal Observer! and she says,

Just stop!

Just stop with all the mental habits that are winding you up.

Just stop with all the worrying about your life, other people’s lives, life in general.

Just stop with all the ruminating over how things should or shouldn’t be.

Just stop with all the thinking about yourself that you do.

Just stop with all the planning about how things should be in the future.

Just stop with all the judgement about what’s going on.

Just stop with all the comparing yourself to others.

Just stop with all the speculating about what other people are thinking.

Just stop with all the endless mindchatter.

Just stop.

Of course, I still do all of the above who doesn’t? but if I catch myself letting it go on for too long I think, ‘Just stop’, and some sort of switch gets flicked in my mind. I relax my thinking into focusing on what is actually happening right in front of me in the exact moment I’m in.

This is mindfulness! Paying attention to the moment without being lost in my head.

The freedom, the freedom, when I practise this regularly is so great. It’s like being able to push a CALM button in my brain so that everything turns lovely. And there are no downsides.

Practising mindfulness hasn’t led to me forgetting things or mismanaging things or underperforming at things. On the contrary, it’s loosened me up overall so that I can perform better when I do need to focus on tasks.

Mindfulness has turned out to be the magic ticket I was looking for.

Mrs D Is Going Within

Lotta Dann

Introduction

I am an alcoholic. An A-grade, first-class boozer. I could couch myself in more delicate terms maybe, and call myself a wine-lover or an enthusiastic drinker, but I prefer the more blunt and honest approach. Alcoholic, that’s what I am.

The truth is that for almost all of my adult life alcohol has been my constant companion. I drank determinedly and heavily, religiously, almost from the age of fifteen to the age of thirty-nine. When I first tried alcohol as a fresh faced teenager, I overdid it and ended up vomiting the entire contents of my stomach into the bath (sickly-sweet bubbly wine and marshmallows, to be precise, an image that has never left me), but that didn’t put me off. No way! I was hooked from the get-go, completely drawn to the fun, danger and allure of this magical drug.

I loved the way it felt in my body, trickling up my spine and entering my brain. I loved the way it loosened my limbs and loosened my mood. I loved that it shifted reality, made everything more gnarly and more fun. Teenage me, a heady mix of nerves and rebellion, thought that this wonderful, powerful liquid was the golden ticket to life. And, since I lived in a society where drinking regularly was not only the norm but a celebrated and even encouraged thing to do, it was easy for my teenage crush to steadily morph into an adult love affair. Regularly drinking was how I rolled, and as far as I was concerned imbibing alcohol almost every single day was a very ordinary, grown-up and acceptable thing to do. Five o’clock is wine o’clock right? It certainly was in my world.

I drank through my student years and my early jobs in journalism. I drank as I travelled the country and the world. I drank when l was achieving great things; I drank when I was idle and miserable. I drank in stressful jobs; I drank when unemployed. I drank alone and in groups. I drank when l was single, throughout happy romances, and during dysfunctional relationships.

I used booze to bond with friends, to fit in to groups, to prove that I was a good hostess, and to make myself comfortable in social situations. I drank it to mark achievements, drown sorrows, cure boredom and dull sadness. I drank when celebrating, congratulating, relaxing and memorialising, and when grieving, stressing, being let down or heartbroken. I drank in bars, at work, on aeroplanes, in parks, at the beach, up mountains and sitting on the sofa. I even drank in bed. The only time I didn’t drink was when I was pregnant or laid up with a tummy bug (sad but true).

Alcohol was just there for me all the time, impacting every experience I had, sometimes elevating my experiences, sometimes smoothing them out, sometimes ruining them. (I have a bunch of best, forgotten memories from events where I got completely blotto and lost the plot, not pretty.)

I can’t even begin to imagine how many litres of alcohol I have consumed in my life. I shudder to think about how much booze my internal organs have been forced to process. Beer, wine, gin, whiskey, peach schnapps You name it, I have drunk plenty of it. Mostly though, and certainly towards the end, it was pretty much only wine. Glass after glass after glass of wine. Wine was my constant companion, my trusted friend, my go-to solution, my crutch.

Until it wasn’t.

Towards the end of my drinking days I completely lost the ability to moderate my intake. I struggled to have any alcohol-free nights. Once I started drinking I wouldn’t stop until all the alcohol in the house was gone. I needed more and more to feel ‘full’. Where one bottle of wine in a sitting used to be enough, soon I needed one bottle plus another glass (or four). Time and time again I made promises to myself that I failed to keep, promises like, ‘I’m only having one tonight.’ I was frequently sloppy, slurry and messy. I’d stumble and fall. There was vomiting.

I was permanently exhausted, hungover and wracked with guilt. Every day was an endless cycle of regretting drinking, recovering from drinking, convincing myself I didn’t have a drinking problem, planning on drinking, acquiring alcohol and drinking again. Once it hit my system, I was a goner and I just wanted more, more, more. I was a slave to the drug of alcohol, locked in a miserable binge-and-regret cycle. What had started out as a fun, edgy habit ended up in a dark and dysfunctional place where I had very little pride, strength or self-respect left.

I quit drinking on 6 September 2011 after a particularly miserable Monday-night binge at home, during which I hid an empty bottle of wine from my husband to conceal how much I’d had while he’d been out. This was something I’d never done before. it wasn’t so much the events of that evening which forced my point of change, although the dysfunctional behaviour of hiding the bottle was a horrifying new development. Rather, it was the accumulated knowledge gained over the preceding months, during which I’d been trying desperately to gain control of my habit. I couldn’t gain control, and it all finally came to a head on the night that I hid that empty bottle.

I woke at 3 am that morning full of despair and guilt and frustration and desperation. This was my personal rock bottom, me at my lowest ebb, a miserable, teary mess. Finally, l accepted that the only way I was going to gain any control was by removing alcohol from my life completely. So I quit, thinking that if I just broke my nasty little drinking habit and learned how to live alcohol-free then life would carry on the same as before.

Boy, was I wrong. First of all, breaking my ‘nasty little habit’ was bloody hard work. My brain freaked out when it realised I’d taken away its beloved fix. ‘I WANT MY WINE!’ it would scream as 5 pm approached. Every. Single. Day.

And every single day I’d have to grit my teeth and resist the urge to drink. It was hell. I’d snap and be grumpy with my family. I’d guzzle sugary drinks. I’d clean the house like a mad woman to distract myself. (Never has my house been as clean as it was when I first quit drinking.) I’d force my thoughts forward through the evening, visualising myself getting into bed sober then waking up in the morning without a hangover. I knew that if I could get through the dreaded ‘witching hours’ of 4 pm to 7 pm without drinking I’d be so happy and proud of myself. Sometimes I’d go to bed at six-thirty just to get the day over with.

Slowly, as the days and weeks passed, the intense physical cravings lessened, and l was able to relax a little.

But beating the cravings was just the beginning.

Next, I had to work on entirely reshaping my identity. No longer was I ‘fun Lotta’, the upbeat party girl who was always game for a laugh. No longer was I ‘cruisy Lotta’, the awesome hostess who always had wine on ice to offer her guests. No longer was I ‘naughty Lotta’, with the twinkle in her eye, getting amongst it into the wee small hours. So who was I instead? My biggest fear was that I would become ‘Lotta the boring, sober loser’.

In my early days of sobriety, I struggled through social events, feeling terribly awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin, but-as with everything in sobriety, slowly things took a turn for the better. I discovered that not only did no one care whether I drank or not, but not everyone else was getting hammered all the time. Who knew?! I’d been so locked in to my own boozy mindset that I hadn’t noticed how many people take it extremely easy. Furthermore, as I started hanging out without a glass in my hand, I began to realise that, surprise, surprise, alcohol is not the magical, golden ticket to fun I once thought it was.

My entire life, I had given alcohol the power to make events successful, but when I removed it I began to learn that a fun party is a fun party not because my glass contains a brain-bending liquid, but because it’s full of elements that make it fun for me, things like a crowd of people I love, a great location, a good atmosphere, music I dig, and me in a good mood and happy in my outfit. I also realised that no amount of booze can improve a boring or nerve-wracking party, all booze does is make you drunk at a boring or nerve-wracking party.

In fact, the longer I went without drinking, the more I started to understand that all of my hardwired beliefs and romantic notions about alcohol were complete and utter bullshit. This revelation was HUGE for me and, quite honestly, fascinating.

Here I was at the age of 39, having spent over twenty years worshipping at the altar of my idol, alcohol, and only now was I discovering that it wasn’t actually the glorified substance I thought it was. My false god fell off its pedestal, and I started to see it for what it really was: expensive, destructive, foul-tasting shit that did nothing to enhance my life and everything to dull it. I discovered that alcohol wasn’t essential for good times; good times are good because they contain naturally enjoyable elements. I discovered that it wasn’t the best thing to help me relax at the end of a busy day; relaxing is about being finished with work, putting on comfy pants, lighting a scented candle, connecting with family or unwinding with enjoyable activities.

And the biggest mindshift of all? That alcohol wasn’t a ‘treat’ to ‘reward’ myself with, but a costly drug that stifled my inner spark and messed me up.

As I slowly clocked up the sober days, and as each of these revelations emerged, I started to feel so great about being free of the stuff. I also started sleeping better, looking better, listening better, concentrating better, parenting better, writing better, singing better, dressing better. Just being a much better version of myself than I had been before. Fantastic!

Initially, I thought that I’d escaped my drinking days largely unscathed and was on the path to a settled and happy second half of my life, particularly because my story lacks the usual litany of dramatic incidents and monumental cock-ups that can follow in the wake of an alcoholic.

But I soon realised this was not the case. I may not have had a criminal record or any failing organs to my name, but did I have widespread emotional deficiencies as a result of my long-term alcohol abuse? Yes indeed.

From the moment I put down the bottle, I was all over the show with my moods. Without a daily liquid suppressant, every tricky emotion burst out of me with ovewhelming intensity. I felt raw, drained, teary, super sensitive, uncomfortable, alarmed and confused, sometimes all within the same hour! It was like I’d crawled out of a dark cave, one in which I drank alcohol all the time and never matured properly, and into the bright sunlight.

I started to see that alcohol had been a great leveller for me, one that I had used to keep myself on an even keel so that no big highs or lows ever came my way. My regular alcohol habit had dulled all of my feelings and emotions into a fuzzy, boozy mess. I wasn’t expecting it, but boy was the shift to living sober a dramatic one. Without my beloved smooth-all, I started living on high alert, feeling every emotion very acutely.

My anger was rage. (Ask my sister about the time I punched the wall in the midst of an argument.) My sadness was despair. (Ask my friend about the time I sobbed all over her about something that had happened twenty years prior.) These extreme emotional outbursts were deeply uncomfortable. I hated being angry, and I thought that sadness was the worst thing in the world, a feeling to be avoided at all costs. Now that I was sober, these emotions were not only unavoidable, but it also quickly became apparent that I was woefully illequipped to deal with them. I couldn’t be like, ‘l’m having a bad day so I need to do X, Y, Z to look after myself,’ or, ‘l’m fuming, Ineed to X, Y, Z to manage this.’ I didn’t have an X, Y, Z! I had no emotional coping mechanisms, no tried-and-tested methods of dealing with stuff. The only tried-and-tested method I had was to be found in a bottle.

Time has helped somewhat. As I’ve pushed on through over three years of being sober, I’ve naturally calmed down and the dramatic lurching from one emotional state to another has quietened. I’m still way more heightened than I was when boozing, but I’m no longer all over the show like when I first quit. I’m much more accepting of my emotions nowadays and am a little more in tune with them coming and going. I’m simply more used to feeling. I still don’t like tricky emotions, but have grown to tolerate them, much as you would an annoying neighbour or insect bites.

But I still need to do some serious work. The truth is, I’ve never sat with myself ‘in the raw’ for long enough to gain any real insight into how I function as a human being. Emotionally, I am very unformed and unresolved. Sure, I’ve lived a full life and have built up a decent amount of experience and wisdom just from having been on the planet for many years, but having booze as my constant companion in life has prevented me from properly developing any robust coping strategies. I thought I was quite a well-adjusted, mature and wise woman, but putting down the bottle has proved otherwise. I now know that using alcohol for most of my adult life to enhance, distract, avoid, numb and blur reality has messed with my brain chemistry and left me an emotional fledgling.

In many ways, I am writing this book as a typical woman in her forties. My body is that of a typical middle-aged woman (saggy but also soft and strong). My life is full of the typical trappings of middle age (family, mortgage, reading glasses, teacup collection). I’ve experienced many things and have a bunch of memories to show for it. But I lack something important. I lack a solid perspective on myself, how I work, how I process and deal with things. I lack any fundamental knowledge or good tools to help me navigate the remaining years of my life. I’m sober and that is fantastic, but putting down the drink was just the first step. Now I need some next-level help to get me through.

As it stands, I have only two tools in my toolbox that have helped me get to this point in my sobriety. The first tool is massively powerful and the most important, and that is my awesome online recovery community. Thanks to my blog, Mrs D Is Going Without, which I started when I first quit drinking, and now Living Sober, the government-funded recovery website I run, I’m constantly surrounded by a wonderful tribe of like-minded people who know exactly what I’m going through.

Through my blog, Living Sober and my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, I’m in daily contact with thousands of equally brave and amazing people who are also working hard to reshape their lives and get sober. We all share openly and honestly about what we’re going through, our trials and triumphs, and how we are navigating our sober lives in a world awash with booze. The connections I have made online are incredibly strong and heartfelt. Knowing I can always find a wise and sympathetic ear online when the going gets rough is gold.

The second tool that I have whole-heartedly embraced is the concept of ‘sober treats’. All the money that I used to spend on wine, I now spend on special things to treat myself with when I’m feeling low, fresh flowers, scented candles, fancy soaps, delicious chocolates and glossy magazines. These items may sound trite or superficial, but with every purchase I send myself a little self-care message that I am worth being treated well and that I am brave and amazing for quitting booze. It’s an important message.

So my toolbox isn’t empty. It’s just a bit light. At the moment, I don’t even have any regular exercise in there, and everyone knows that is super important.

MY TOOLBOX

Recovery community, Sober treats

I need more tools, a better range of tools, deeper tools, more robust tools, because the problem is, life keeps coming at me. Tricky stuff keeps happening, big stuff, hurtful stuff, complicated stuff, painful stuff, confusing stuff, and my tools aren’t proving tough enough. I need more techniques for when I’m struggling. My online community is fabulous, but I don’t share everything with them (some things are just too private), and a scented candle only goes so far. I’m lucky to have an extremely supportive husband in Corin, a great family and some wonderful friends, but I still desperately feel the need to develop some better coping strategies.

Because, honestly, things aren’t going great. Lately I’ve been experiencing low-grade anxiety, and the sober treats that fall into the ‘sweet’ category are getting way out of hand, so much so that I’m often caught in a cravings-binge-self-loathing cycle with sugar that is scarily reminiscent of my drinking days.

Sober me needs some serious work. And I’ve got to do it now, or maybe I will end up back in a bottle, once again using wine as my main emotional coping mechanism.

And that would be extremely dumb.

Chapter 1

What the bloody hell is the problem?

It’s 5 pm on a Tuesday. In an hour I need to take my middle son to his Cubs meeting, but before that we’ll have dinner. I’ve got sausages in the frying pan, potatoes roasting in the oven, broccoli and carrots chopped and ready to cook. My three boys are happily playing video games (or watching YouTube videos of other people playing video games, which is apparently a fun thing to do). While it’s quiet, I’m tidying up the house, repositioning things so that they are in their rightful place, something I seem to do endlessly. Corin will be arriving home from his job as TVNZ’s political correspondent later. It’s an ordinary Tuesday evening. So why do I feel nervy and on edge, like something is wrong?

I can feel it in my belly, there are butterflies there. I mentally run through a list of things that might explain why I am feeling this way. (‘There always has to be a clear reason for any emotion,’ is how I think.) Butterflies usually equal nerves. Am I nervous about something? Have I got a scary work meeting coming up or a talk to do? Did I just receive a snippy email or nasty text message that I’ve forgotten about? I stop my tidying and lean over to place both hands on the corner of the kitchen table. I try to reach back into my mind. Nope, can’t remember anything specific. So what is going on? Is my health worrying me? Is there a social event looming that I’m dreading? Nothing. Well, what the bloody hell is the problem, then? Why the butterflies? I can feel them dancing around in my belly and hate that I can’t pinpoint why they’re there. What on earth are they trying to tell me?

I despise this sense of impending doom, this feeling like I’ve got something to worry about.

It’s not an unfamiliar sensation and often, like right now, I can’t put my finger on what that something is. I take a deep breath and push myself off the table then carry on tidying things away. As I head back over to the kitchen bench, picking up some shoes on the way and chucking them in the basket, I’m still edgy and worrying about what’s wrong. Surely there must be a simple and clear answer to why I’m feeling wound up. Did I sleep badly last night? Am I due for my period? Have my food choices been crap lately and that’s what’s bringing my mood down? No silver bullet springs to mind to explain why I have this nervous tummy. lt’s annoying.

I keep ruminating on what’s wrong as l chuck a couple of glasses into the dishwasher then turn on the elements under various pots and pans. The edginess stays with me as I move about the kitchen, getting dinner plates out of the pantry and putting them on the bench. I need a solution.

It’s a pretty fraught conversation, this one I’m having in my head.

The only solution I have is to distract myself. I’m very good at this. I reach into the ‘secret’ cupboard (the one that everyone knows about), where treats for lunchboxes are stashed, to grab two mini bags of salty chips and tear them open. I’ve been sober for so long that wine isn’t on my radar any more and, thankfully, I’m not having a fierce internal debate about whether to have a glass (or five) of merlot to smooth out the edginess but the chips are a nice, salty distraction for sure.

My phone rings (more distractions-yay!) so I grab it to check out what has arrived. (Must check notifications on my phone immediately or the device will explode.) It’s an email from a North American rehab wanting me to publish their infographic about addiction on my blog. Do I want to do that? It apparently details the struggles a child faces when their parent is an addict. Still holding my phone, I grab a tea towel and open the oven door then give the roasting spuds a good shake. They look ready so I turn the oven off and leave the door ajar, then quickly reach into the cupboard for another mini bag of chips. I gobble them down while thinking about emails and infographics and addicted parents and my work in general.

I decide to quickly check lnstagram (a couple of new followers, someone’s salad, a dog on a beach), then Twitter (two likes on my last tweet, endless boring tips on how to live well, local politicos bickering), then my Facebook page (a couple of new comments, someone has shared a mocktail recipe), and finally my blog to see if there are any new comments (a reader has shared a quote attributed to Helen Keller about the world being full of suffering but also the overcoming of it). I then head to the Living Sober website and navigate to the community section to make sure all the members are playing nice (they are-they’re all rallying kindly around someone who relapsed last night, and yet again I’m heartened by how kind and non-judgemental the community is).

When I finally tear myself away from my online world I look over and realise l’ve overcooked the broccoli. Shit! I drop my phone on the bench and grab the pot off the stove, yelling ‘Dinner!’ at the boys. The butterflies in my tummy come back into focus and I’m aware my shoulders are tense. I’m definitely on edge. I think about the member who relapsed, it’s a bummer, as she’d been doing so well, and mull over the Helen Keller quote, before mentally starting to write an email response to the American rehab. I’m going to have to turn down their request because info graphics aren’t my thing. I’m busy trying to word my response so that I don’t sound uncaring or flippant. I wonder what other bloggers say when they turn down such offers.

There’s no sign of my boys.

‘Get off your screens now!’ I yell, and start worrying once more about this edgy feeling I have. As I drain the hot water off the veggies, I decide it must be my work that has me worried. Not the Living Sober job, that is running very smoothly. It’s the media advisory work I’m doing on the side. I’m having trouble managing one relationship in particular, and I’m feeling stressed about the whole situation. I don’t know what to do to improve things, and I feel that I’m being totally misunderstood. It’s very unsatisfactory. This must be what’s got me on edge.

I’m still alone in the kitchen. ‘Dinner, now! GET! OFF! YOUR! SCREENS!’

As I begin to plate up, I start a conversation in my mind with the colleague I’m having trouble working with. It’s a pretty fraught conversation, this one I’m having in my head, but at least when I’m having it I’m not thinking about the butterflies in my tummy.

Sausages on the plate.

I imagine the colleague being rude and dismissive towards me and I’m being defensive and emotional back.

Broccoli on the plate.

The imaginary conversation is not going well; it’s heating up. I’m getting more and more upset.

Carrots on the plate.

‘We think your work is shit!’

Potatoes on the plate.

‘You don’t value what I’m doing!’

‘Mum Mum Mum MUM!’ I’ve hardly noticed that the boys have finally arrived in the kitchen.

‘What?’ I snap at my ten year old, then instantly feel bad. The poor guy doesn’t realise he’s interrupted a tense imaginary work meeting.

‘Did you sign the form for the class photo?’

Did I?

‘ls there any tomato sauce?’ Mr Twelve queries.

Is there?

‘Knock-knock!’ says Mr Seven.

‘Who’s there?’ I say, handing over the tomato sauce while wondering about class photos and still feeling like I’m locked in an imaginary fight with my colleague. My phone rings again. I grab it. It’s a text from Mum, who lives in the South lsland: Call me.

It’s always a sure sign I’m in a gritty phase when I’m eating bagels covered with butter and jam.

Mum tells me my step-father has terminal lung cancer. Holy shit. The news hits like a bomb and I simply don’t know what to do with this awful, gut-wrenching sadness. It hurts, this emotional pain. It hurts down deep. Grief is not something I’ve had a lot of experience with. I’m struggling big time to know what to do with this. Forget about work woes and nervy tummies, this is the really big stuff of life. I feel utterly wretched that this kind and gentle man who has been an unwavering presence in my life for over twenty years is going. I feel deeply for my mother, who is heartbroken at the prospect of losing her best friend and dear mate. I just feel so deeply sad. I’ve had people close to me die before but back then my coping mechanism was booze (and lots of it). Obviously, that particular remedy is gone now. So what to do with this pain? I desperately read up about grief, searching for material on the internet that will give me tips on how to deal with it, watching YouTube clips and TED Talks. Mostly, though, I just keep wishing it away. Wishing he wasn’t sick. Wishing this wasn’t happening to our family, that we weren’t preparing for him going. Why does it have to be this way? I really do wish this wasn’t happening.

I feel deeply, heartbreakingly, devastatingly sad. I use the tools I do have, talking to my online community (they are very kind) and diving head first into my sober treats. Well, one type of sober treat, in particular: food. Basically I eat as much as is humanly possible. It’s like I can’t possibly be full enough. I binge on foods full of sugar and fat. It’s always a sure sign I’m in a gritty phase when I’m eating bagels covered with butter and jam. Quite why I consider these foods to be treats is beyond me, they might be yummy immediately, but the after-effects are grim. I feel fat and unhealthy and weak.

I have other ways to distract myself from the sadness: cooking, cleaning, working and worrying about tricky colleagues also keep me occupied. My mind has kicked into overdrive, fretting about the less-than-satisfactory relationship I feel I have with that colleague, and the tenuous position I feel I’m in with regards to the work.

In real life, nothing new about this situation has developed, but it sure has escalated inside my head. By now, I’ve spent so many hours carrying out a crazy imaginary feud with my colleague that the argument has dug out well-worn pathways in my mind and I’ve lost sight of what’s real and what’s not. It almost feels comforting to keep returning to this fierce dialogue in which I’m battling for my point of view to be heard, and so I do go back to it, again and again and again.

And, more than ever, I busy myself online. Every new lnstagram follower, Twitter notification, Facebook like or blog comment is a welcome distraction. So, too, is parenting my three boisterous sons. They’re extremely busy, and even more so than normal as we’re heading into the end of the school year. There are endless forms to fill in, gifts to be bought, plates of food to be prepared and activities to get to.

But, during the moments in the day when I’m not able to distract myself with sugar, technology or the kids, my mind wanders like buggery and my thoughts are busy and noisy. In the shower, driving the car, washing the dishes, any time when I’m alone and doing something menial, I’m actually miles away, lost in thought, feeling annoyed that my work relationships aren’t easier or feeling sad and wishing my stepfather wasn’t dying. It’s exhausting and depressing. It’s no bloody fun at all.

Chapter 2

I’m far from a ‘happy, joyous, free’ housewife, that’s for sure

Eight days before Christmas, just a few short weeks after his diagnosis, my step-father dies. We travel to the South Island for the funeral, which is a small gathering in my mother’s garden. I wear sunglasses during the service and try to distract myself by thinking about other things (I literally try to get lost in thought, remembering happy times), but it’s hard to tune out the poems being read and speeches being made. I cry a lot.

Once the formalities are dealt with, I slip into social mode. There are a few tricky dynamics with some people, which is a little stressful. There is booze flowing, of course, because booze always flows at social events in this country of mine, but I’m not bothered by that. No one is getting sloppy and I have relaxed an awful lot since I first stopped drinking. (Back when I first quit, I used to take every alcoholic drink consumed by another person as a huge slap in the face, but nowadays I feel much more chilled out about having it around. Other people can have it; I’m not interested in the stuff. Booze really has lost its allure for me.) However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t dearly love to escape the deeply uncomfortable sadness that is overcoming me right now, and thankfully there is cake!

After the funeral there’s no time to pause and gently recover from the shock and emotional outpourings, as we’re straight into Christmas. We launch into the silly season head first, racing around visiting friends and relatives, socialising up a storm. All this interacting and negotiating with other people is tiring, and there are complicated relationships simmering away that I feel hyper-aware of. Why do relatives always have such brilliant button-pushing abilities?

After a couple of weeks of hardout socialising, Corin, the boys and I go camping for a week. I’m hoping the deckchair lifestyle will give me a chance to finally de-stress, regroup and unwind, but it doesn’t. Pausing all the busyness only serves to highlight how unrelaxed i am. There’s still so much noise whirring around in my mind. I’m far from a ‘happy, joyous, free’ housewife, that’s for sure.

I’m also still busy working online. My social media spaces require constant updating and checking for feedback (at least, I choose to constantly check them for feedback), and I’m permanently on duty as moderator at Living Sober. The website is super busy of course, because this time of year is particularly hard for people who are trying to give up booze. (They don’t call it the ‘silly season’ for nothing.) Members are turning to the site in their thousands and leaning on each other for help navigating social events and family tensions. Things hum along smoothly, the community vibe is unfailingly kind and supportive, but then a bunch of bastard spammers set their spam bots on us and we get hit with hundreds of bogus sign-ups and comments. It’s a spam attack like I’ve never experienced before, intense and nasty. It gets so bad, the techies have to take the entire site down for a few days while they fix the problem. I’m having to liaise with them and ease the concerns of worried community members from my ‘office’ at the campsite (my deck-chair outside the tent). This is not the completely stress-free holiday I might have hoped for.

Distracting myself with bad foods and the internet isn’t cutting it any more.

I’m tight. Mentally, I’m tight. Emotionally, I’m tight. My shoulders are tight. My breath is tight. There are butterflies in my belly regularly and I’m pretty sure it’s a symptom of low-grade anxiety. I constantly try to reassure myself by thinking that all of this is normal, spammers attack, people die, families are complicated, everything is OK. I’m generally in good health. My husband is good. My kids are good. Everything is as it should be. It’s OK. Really, it’s OK. Yet I remain tight and on edge. Why do I feel so unsettled? Why is my brain whirring along nineteen to the dozen all the time? Why have butterflies clustered in my belly? Why do l have endless heated discussions with people in my head? Why am I not moving through my days in a blissful state of Zen-like calm? Why am I so goddam tight inside and out?

On top of all this worrying, I also feel slightly fraudulent because of the nature of my work. I’m a recovery advocate; I spend all my time talking online about how great it feels to be sober (and really it does, believe me, I am a million miles from the boozy hell I was living three years earlier), yet I’m hardly the model of a super-calm, fully resolved, perfectly Zen housewife.

In fact, in some ways, the longer I go in sobriety, the harder things seem to get. Not the not drinking part, that’s easy. Like We said, I no longer crave booze or have the knee-jerk reaction to reach for a substance to blur the edges of my brain. But, while time has removed my urge to drink, it has also made me more aware of my inability to calmly process and deal with all the stuff that keeps going on in my life. It’s almost as if the novelty of sobriety has worn off, which is a real bummer. I used to experience lovely waves of happiness and pride every time I ground through tough times without drinking, and those proud feelings would act as a fantastic buffer to the tricky emotions. Just thinking, Yay, me! I got through that without drinking! used to be a wonderful antidote to any shitty times, but the longer I’m sober, the more ordinary it becomes and subsequently the less proud of it I remember to feel. Not drinking is a given now; it’s the normal way that I live. In many ways, this is fantastic, how great that I have got to this place in my sobriety, but it’s also a bit of a downer because that pride really did help to counterbalance the sharp edges of life.

Much like when I reached the point where I realised I had to stop drinking, I slowly come to the conclusion that something has to change. Distracting myself with bad food and the internet isn’t cutting it anymore. I need some new tools in my toolbox, some new techniques. I need a new plan.

But what?

Everybody and their dog (if their dog has a Twitter account) is banging the drum about mindfulness.

The internet leads me to the answer. No surprises there, given how much time I spend online and how constantly bombarded I am with other people’s ideas and messages. On my various social media accounts I follow hundreds of addiction experts, fitness boffins, health gurus, researchers, authors, rehabs and other organisations devoted to wellness and recovery. They all keep going on about tools and practices that are necessary if you want to maintain a happy lifestyle. Twitter in particular keeps giving me snappy one-liners that until now I’ve been ignoring. But, given I’m so wound up and struggling with things, I’m finding it hard to ignore the endless wellness chatter.

Take yoga, for example. Yoga is touted everywhere online as the answer to everything, and I mean everything.

#yoga is powerful for helping people with #depression

#yoga is helpful for improving arthritis pain

Need to improve your balance? #yoga is the key

#yoga lowers stress and anxiety

#yoga can teach us about happiness and contentment

How #yoga can help clean your house

OK, I made that last one up, but there is a theme here. Yoga is the miracle cure, according to the internet. I’m not convinced. In fact, I heartily disagree. I’d like to never have to think about yoga again, except it keeps bloody well being tweeted about. Can it really be that good?

Another thing that keeps being mentioned in Twitter’s 140-character bursts is ‘gratitude’. There’s a lot of talk in recovery circles about gratitude and how beneficial it is if practised daily. Sober bloggers often write gratitude posts listing all the good things in their lives. Lots of people in my personal Facebook feed have been doing ‘seven days of gratitude’ lists, and all the wellness boffins on Twitter are obviously in favour of it.

The daily practice of gratitude is one of the conduits by which your wealth will come to you #gratitude

A moment of #gratitude makes a difference in your attitude

Begin with #gratitude and watch the #miracles flow your way

Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have #gratitude

Listing what I am grateful for is a practice that contributes to a sense of joy and peace #gratitude

All right, Twitter. I hear you. Clearly gratitude is a helpful thing, but how do I incorporate it into my life so that it actually makes a difference? I’d love it if I could just write out one list of all the things I am grateful for and then be miraculously filled with joy and peace for evermore. Maybe I’ll start now.

I’m grateful that I no longer drink alcohol. I’m grateful that l have a lovely family. I’m grateful that l have a nice house to live in.

I’m grateful that l have the internet to connect me to a world of stimulating people who want to help me live better even though I don’t always get what they’re on about.

I do get that gratitude is something that needs to be practised in an ongoing way for it to have any real benefit, but how on earth do you bring it into your life on a regular basis? I have no idea how to do that.

The big kahuna, though, seems to be mindfulness. This is the thing I find is most often talked about by all sorts of people in all of my internet spaces. I think mindfulness might be like meditation but slightly different, but I’m not entirely sure about that. In fact, I really don’t know much about mindfulness at all, other than that it gets a lot of air time. Like, a lot. It is the hot trend among wellness experts. Everybody and their dog (if their dog has a Twitter account) is banging the drum about mindfulness. They’ve been going on about it for so long it’s virtually impossible to ignore. Problem is, I think it sounds freakish and wishy-washy and not like something I’d be keen on at all.

Thoughts may be treated like sounds: you hear them, you recognise them, you let them go #mindfulness

Thoughts may be treated like sounds? What the hell does that mean?

Real but not true: freeing ourselves from harmful beliefs #mindfulness #meditation

Say whaaaaat? How can something be real but not true?

When practising #mindfulness there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no to-do list

Huh? So it’s nothing at all? What is it then, if it’s nothing? How can something be nothing?

#mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that

Awareness of the present experience? How can life be anything but awareness of the present experience? I’m aware of everything I’m doing all the time. At least I think I am. Aren’t I overly aware, in fact, isn’t that my problem? Is mindfulness just going to make me even more hyperaware of everything and therefore even more wound up and unsettled? What’s the point then?

In meditation, do not seek anything at all. Simply become comfortable in the void. Become the formless consciousness beyond the mind #mindfulness

What the? This is bonkers talk. Formless consciousness beyond the mind? And this stuff about meditation, is that what mindfulness is? is mindfulness actually meditation? Sitting crosslegged with your eyes closed and chanting? That’s just for hippies, isn’t it? Monks on mountaintops?

Honestly, the thought of meditation terrifies me. I think it sounds boring, introspective, boring, scary, boring, indulgent, hard work, and did I mention boring? And well, frankly, a challenge. How on earth am I going to fit it into my life?

I am busy. I run a website that has me online seven days a week. I am also a recovery advocate, blogger, full-time housewife and mother to three boisterous boys. I like watching Dr. Phil (he’s so wise!), listening to pop music and catching up with girlfriends over coffee or dinner or a movie. I’ve got no time for mountaintops or chanting.

Part of me just wants to keep ignoring all this waffle about mindfulness, but the other part of me, the part desperately seeking a solution to my fraught state of mind, won’t let me. I need something to help soothe my uncomfortable emotions and quieten the butterflies in my tummy.

Maybe this trendy new mindfulness thing is the way to go. Lately even the mainstream media appears to be jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon. Headlines like ‘Mindfulness Therapy as Good as Medication for Chronic Depression’ and ‘Meditation Really Works’ stare at me every day from local news websites. And the tweets keep showing up in my feed.

Mindfulness offers support for working with intense and difficult emotions

Well, that sounds good. So, this thing that is mindfulness is nothing, but something, and could help me deal with emotions? That can’t be a bad thing. I need help here, because I’m not coping brilliantly. I really do think my coping mechanisms are weak, to say the least (not that surprising, given I spent most of my adult life using alcohol as my main emotional management tool). Fingers crossed I’ll live to be a ripe old lady, which means I’ve got decades of sober living ahead of me, and big life stuff is going to keep happening, and my moods are going to keep happening, and I’m always going to be busy because life is bloody busy. I need new tools, and maybe mindfulness is the answer.

The secret to feeling total relief and inner peace? Embrace everything just as it is. #mindfulness and #meditation for beginners

Well, that sounds like just the ticket. Total relief and inner peace is exactly what I’m after. But again, precisely how do I ‘embrace everything just as it is’? What does that even mean? I’m doing that already, aren’t I? isn’t that just called living? I’m dealing with everything that comes at me, I’ve no choice but to embrace it. It happens; I deal with it. isn’t that embracing everything just as it is ? Then again, I’m far from inner peace, so maybe I’m not.

All right, Twitterati. You’ve got me. My interest has been piqued. I’m going to explore these practices that you’re all banging on about. This is a firm decision. I’m going to make this my next project. My first big project was getting sober; the next is going to be developing some new wellness strategies and coping mechanisms for dealing better with life. I’m going to learn how to navigate tough situations, people and emotions in robust ways. I’m going to make a concerted effort. I’ll sign up for courses, read books, listen to podcasts, make lists. You name it, I’ll do it.

I’ll learn all these new wellness strategies and they’ll solve all my problems. Then, like magic, once I’ve learned them all I’ll be a flexible, grateful, mindful guru and the most Zen housewife you have ever seen. All will be peaceful in my world and in my brain. l’ll be a perfect human! Easy, right?

Chapter 3

‘To be honest, I’ve been worried lately that you’re getting depressed’

I inform Corin of my decision over dinner the next evening. The boys have gobbled down their food in record time and left the table, so it’s just the two of us now, chewing slowly like cows (or that’s how we always feel compared to our sons). Corin’s just finished telling me about his stressful day at work, which was filled with pressing deadlines, demanding bulletin editors and grumpy politicians, when I say, ‘Well, anyway, I’ve got news. I’m embarking on a new project. I need to get some more tools together to help me deal with stuff. So I’m going to start exploring uh mindfulness and maybe yoga and stuff.’ I’m feeling energised and determined, but also a bit embarrassed. I still think mindfulness sounds a little kooky, and Corin knows I have a strong dislike for yoga.

‘OK,’ he replies, slowly chewing his cudsorry, lasagne. He sounds interested even though I’m pretty sure he’d never explore such things himself. ‘I think it’ll be good for you to have something new to put your energies into.’ He reaches for his water and then drops a bombshell. ‘To be honest, I’ve been worried lately that you’re getting depressed.’

Holy heck! This comes like a bolt from the blue. I’m so taken aback I don’t even know how to react. I’ve thought of myself as many things lately, but I hadn’t gone so far as to consider myself depressed. But Corin is right. I am more prone to low states of mind now that I’m sober, and things have been particularly bad lately with my step-dad’s death and my work pressures.

‘I’m not depressed, I don’t think,’ I tell him, ‘but I’m not great. I’m wound up. Sort of anxious, I suppose. I feel in a bit of a rut in general.’ I feel like a failure admitting this because shouldn’t everything be great all the time now that I’m not necking wine like it’s going out of fashion? Sadly, this isn’t the case. Aside from the obvious sadness and grief I’ve been dealing with lately, I am struggling a bit more overall with my general emotional state. My anger still comes out pretty strongly at times, I often have anxious butterflies in my tummy, and my shoulders are regularly tight from stress. Sometimes

I experience a strange restlessness where I feel ‘itchy’ and a bit directionless. I used to think it was boredom (and I’d often say that I drank because I was bored), but I don’t think this ‘boredom’ I’m experiencing is actually boredom. I think it’s a symptom of something else but who knows what. A ‘hole’ inside me that I need to fill?

But how? I tend to fill it nowadays with salty chips or sugary treats, checking my online spaces over and over (and over and over), playing Scrabble online, writing blogs, watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians or The Walking Dead (so in love with Daryl), or having fierce imaginary discussions with tricky people in my life.

I’m sick of all of it. I’m sick of going around and around the internet in a directionless manner.

I’m sick of working myself up by getting into fights with people inside my head, when no actual resolution is occurring in real life.

I’m sick of mindlessly pigging out on ‘treat’ foods that are not actually treating my body well at all.

I’m sick of feeling distracted all the time.

I’m sick of flaring up and bickering with the kids when they are trying to bicker with me.

I’m sick of feeling sad about things that are out of my control, and worried because I know there are many more sad things to come.

I’m sick of arriving places in my car and realising that I don’t remember any of the journey because I’ve been so lost in thought along the way.

I’m sick of it all, and I want something to change.

I do, of course, feel incredibly proud of myself for kicking booze to the curb, but that feeling has lost some of its shine. I’m starting to understand what the famous saying ‘Putting down the drink is just the beginning’ means. Taking alcohol out of your life is monumental and wonderful, a hugely enriching and positive thing to do, but then the real work begins. Now it’s time for me to do some concerted ‘next stage’ work on myself.

I desperately want to become more peaceful inside of myself, deep down in my core.

The only thing is that, since l’ve never done this before, I don’t know the first place to start. In the absence of any better ideas, mindfulness (and related ‘wellness’ strategies) seem my best (and maybe my only) starting point.

Oh, gawd. Just thinking about a life filled with gratitude lists, downward dogs, quiet contemplation and focusing inwards sounds stupid and uncomfortable and boring. I’m deeply sceptical. How can these things possibly improve my day to day experience? They’re not going to stop loved ones from dying, make Facebook any less alluring, turn my kids into perfect angels, or remove all the tricky people from the world. But, goddammit, something has to change.

It’s true. I’m really not in a great space right now, something Corin has just confirmed with his statement about me being depressed. I haven’t got any other bright ideas, so these wellness strategies are it. Anyway, I like to have a forward looking plan. Plans are good. Just having this plan has lifted my mood somewhat.

Corin is right. I need something new to put my energies into. A new project!

It’s a bit too McMindfulness

The next day, I’m in town having coffee with a new friend at a hipster cafe. I don’t know him that well but he’s pretty cool, and it’s always nice to meet face-to-face with other people in recovery, as most of my sober friends are online. Sipping my decaf flat white I decide it’s safe to share with this like-minded soul a little about how I need to sort my mental shit out. I mention the m-word.

‘Oh, mindfulness!’ He’s instantly down with the vibe, like, what took you so long?!, and starts raving about a meditation app he uses called Headspace.

‘Are you actually meditating?’ I ask, struggling to picture this young bearded dude taking time out to go inwards, but he nods easily. I’m desperate to pry further and ask, ‘What do you do? When do you do it? How does it work? What is it like?’ But I don’t want to be too pushy, so instead I get my phone out to try to find this app. Sure enough, there it is-in all its orange and blue cartoony glory. Headspace: Meditation made simple. I download it and sign up for the free ten-day trial. I don’t feel like laying out any dosh just yet.

At home after my coffee date, I log in to Headspace. It’s incredibly slick and modern looking, all pale pastel colours and blobby, colourful cartoon figures juggling and waving and saying, ‘Welcome!’ I figure the juggling must be a metaphor for busy modern lives, all those figurative balls in the air, rather than because the app is aimed at circus performers.

I click on a link to an animated video called ‘How It Works’. It’s short, under two minutes long, and very cutesy and slick. Cute cartoons do cute things with cute sound effects while a cute-sounding English man speaks to me about what the app will do for me. He tells me to think of it like a ‘gym membership for the mind’ and that I can learn the basics of meditation by listening to him for just ten minutes a day for ten days in a row. And I can do that for free! Well, that sounds doable. I like free.

I watch some of the other animated videos, and they’re all just as cutesy and slick and voiced by the same super-laid-back English guy. I’m not sure the pastel figures and their cute noises are really doing it for me. it’s a bit too McMindfulness. I feel babied. And who is this Zensounding dude doing all the talking anyway?

I go back to the main menu and see a link called ‘Who’s Andy?’, who indeed?! When I click on it, up pops a photo of a trendy dude with a youthful, tanned face and smooth bald head, smiling broadly. This is Andy, the voice of all things Headspace. Apparently he’s a meditation and mindfulness expert, presenter, writer of three bestselling books, and has been featured in numerous magazines and on TV. He’s also an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk and a trained circus performer, yes, a circus performer! Is there no end to this man’s talents? This could explain the juggling balls.

I decide to listen to Day One of the trial right now. Go, me! This is great. I’m already mentally adding it to my toolbox.

MY TOOLBOX

Recovery community, Sober treats

Mindfulness (Headspace)

Andy tells me to sit comfortably in a chair with my eyes open, then instructs me to shut them gently and start focusing on my breath. I lower my eyelids and immediately feel worried that my posture isn’t correct because the sofa I’m sitting on is too low. My bum is lower than my knees. That’s bad posture, isn’t it? Maybe this isn’t the right spot for me to sit and chill.

While I’m shuffling around worrying about my posture and trying to sit more upright, Andy is saying, ‘Notice the gentle rising and falling of your chest as you breathe.’ I do that for a nanosecond then I start wondering how much this bald ex-monk is going to charge me for a subscription after the free ten-day trial is over. I start thinking about our household budget and whether I can justify spending money on meditation apps, then I start thinking about how much money I used to spend on wine and wonder where the hell all that money is now, and then I start thinking about buying lottery tickets again, and then I start fantasising about what I would do if I won millions of dollars (always a fun fantasy).

I manage to drag my thoughts away from new carpet to catch Andy telling me to listen to the sounds in the room. I hear the drier going in the laundry, and I don’t even know what he says after that because I go off on a huge mental tangent about all the housework I need to do (the toilet is disgusting, my boys keep peeing all over the seat and the floor, what if someone popped in unannounced right now and needed to use the loo?), then I segue into thinking about the door-knockers who come by to try to get me to sign up to their power company or whatever, and what a terrible job that must be, and how I ducked into the pantry one time to avoid being spotted by one of them and stayed there for ages worried that they hadn’t left so I ate some chippies while I was in there, and then I wonder why I keep buying mini bags of chippies when I can’t resist eating them and I should buy kale chips instead but there’s no way my kids are going to eat kale chips in their school lunchboxes, and suddenly I realise the audio is nearly over and Mr Ex-Circus Performer is telling me he looks forward to me coming back tomorrow for the Day Two audio.

I never do.

I don’t know why. It is just a bit cutesy or boring or something. Just not for me. I don’t feel drawn back to it. I get into the flow of life once more, super busy with all my usual jobs in the real world and online. A couple of times I contemplate sitting back down on the sofa in the study to listen to Andy’s free Day Two audio but I never do.

MY TOOLBOX

Recovery community, Sober treats

Mindfulness (Headspace)

‘If you queef, we quit!’

I’m not sure yoga will ever make it into my toolbox, either. There’s a good reason I’m anti-yoga right now. I had a bad experience with it. Like, super bad.

Back when we were living in Auckland, my sister and I attended some yoga classes together for quite a few weeks. It was her suggestion, and I thought it sounded like a good healthy, sisterly and potentially enjoyable thing to do. Boy, was I wrong! It was lovely to be attending evening classes with my sister, that much is true, but everything else about the experience was sheer hell.

I hated it. The instructor was a heavy-accented, humourless woman who ran her classes like a military operation. She had a fancy studio built in the garden at the front of her suburban home. We had very strict instructions about where we could park outside her house, very strict instructions about how to store our belongings, and very strict instructions about how to use her gear. She disliked noise of any kind and would silence us with a sharp ‘Shhhhl’ She was really into upside-down poses (not just downward dogs, but handstands and stuff) and balancing poses and tricky poses that were just bloody hard work, and she was militant about how perfectly we had to achieve each pose. Of course, I was far from perfect, so in order to get me perfectly positioned she used to approach me constantly, touching me to shift me around. Maybe she was approaching others as well; I can’t remember. I just felt excessively manhandled. I felt like I could never get it right, because she’d forever be moving my hands a little to the left, my feet a little to the right, my shoulders around or my hips up. I felt singled-out, unfit, inflexible, out of place and usually annoyed that, at seven in the evening, I was there feeling uncomfortable in a silent and sterile garden studio instead of sitting on my sofa guzzling wine.

That was the other major problem with attending evening classes of any sort back then, a problem I can’t blame on a perfectionist yoga instructor. At that time, I was deep in my alcohol addiction and not inclined to work any part of my body other than my arm as it lifted a wine glass to my mouth. Evenings were for enthusiastic wine consumption, not leaving my house to suffer physical discomfort and humiliation.

Actually, to be honest, I’ve never really been inclined to work my body much. I’ve got short legs, flat feet, big boobs and no natural inclination towards exercise at all. My mum still tells stories about how she used to wait at the finish line of my primary school running races to cheer me on as I crossed last and usually in tears. I’ve never experienced an intoxicating endorphin rush from working out. There have been phases in my life when I’ve managed to go to the gym regularly and get a little bit fit, but it’s always felt like a chore. It’s just never been something I’m that into. Some people get sober and transfer their addiction to marathon running, how great would that be for the thighs? That has not been the case for me, though.

So yeah, downward dogs aren’t my thing, and although I’m far more inclined to go out in the evenings now that I’m sober (night-time driving is one of the many joys of sobrietyl), an absence of wine does not automatically lead to a sportier mindset or more flexible limbs. Despite what the Twitterati say, I’m not feeling inclined to sun salute. Not, that is, until a real life person starts bugging me to do it as well.

I’m visiting a neighbourhood friend for lunch one week day and as we’re scoffing bacon and egg pies from the local bakery we watch her six month old baby, who is lying on the rug playing with her toes. Trying to eat her toes, to be precise.

‘I love this age,’ my friend says. ‘She’s sleeping through the night finally, but not running around creating havoc yet.’

‘And so flexible!’ I say. ‘Imagine being able to lick your own toes like that. Actually, don’t. Gross.’

‘Oh, I couldn’t even if I wanted to,’ my friend says. ‘All the sitting and breastfeeding I do has made me so stiff and inflexible. I’m feeling awful. Oh, that reminds me! I keep meaning to ask, do you want to try a yoga class at the Rec Centre with me?’

‘No.’ I shudder. ‘I hate yoga. It’s too scary and uptight for me.’

‘It is not!’ My friend laughs. She has finished her pie and is now down on the floor changing her baby’s nappy. ‘It’s all local mums there so it can’t be that fancy. Why don’t we just try it once and see if we like it?’ she says. ‘We can stop if we don’t.’

‘I hate yoga!’ I repeat firmly, still eating my pie. ‘I did it in Auckland and the teacher was so strict, it was awful. And I could never do a downward dog without fanny-farting,’ I admit.

She laughs. ‘You mean queefing?’

‘Queefing?’ I splutter so hard pastry flies out of my mouth. ‘What the hell is that?’

‘That’s the proper name for fanny-farting.’

We both crack up. The baby thinks we’re hilarious and starts giggling along with us. Little does she know what joys await her

‘Seriously, though,’ I say, trying to get my composure back, ‘I’m not a major queefer.’ I snort. ‘I just did it once or twice and had recently had babies. I just hated every minute of the whole yoga thing.’

‘Try it with me. It might be totally different and really good.’

‘Or it might be hell.’ I’m all set to keep resisting her suggestion but suddenly remember my new project and my promise to myself to work on changing things for the better. ‘Well, I suppose a lot of people in addiction and recovery rave about yoga,’ I admit. ‘They’re always tweeting about it and sharing photos of ridiculous poses under waterfalls.’

‘There you go!’ My friend is making for the rubbish bin with the dirty nappy.

‘OK.’ I cave. ‘I’ll try it. Once. But if it’s awful and I fanny-fart my way through it I’m not going back!

‘Deal. If you queef, we quit!’

I can’t believe I’m actually going back. But yay, me, for adding yoga to my toolbox. The Twitterati would be proud.

MY TOOLBOX

Recovery community, Sober treats

Yoga

Chapter 4

Minecraft and mindfulness do not mix well

Heading home from my friend’s I decide I’m not going to give up on my quest to try mindfulness. Just because McMindfulness from bald Andy the ex-monk didn’t work for me doesn’t mean there aren’t other programmes around that will. I’ve got an hour or so before school pick-up, so I jump on Facebook and, in among the usual cat videos and recipes forjelly swirls, I see someone recommending a meditation programme run by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. Maybe this is for me? I read a book of Deepak Chopra’s once (I think it was on weight-loss), and of course Oprah is the guru of all things. Maybe together these guys can sort my head out? I find their website and register via email for something, I’m-not-quite-sure-what. Nothing is free, but then sometimes they offer stuff for free. It’s all rather confusing. Maybe I’ll get another email when whatever-it-is is ready?

I see on the website that there’s a free app, so I download it to my iPad. It’s not as slick, modem and cartoony as Headspace, Oprah and Deepak favour a more mellow approach. (Their logo is a lotus flower. Enough said.) The app tells me I have access to a free audio as a welcome gift. (After that do I have to pay? Still not entirely sure how this all works.) Three o’clock is fast approaching, so I plan to listen to it later.

I race down to school to get the boys, then the next hour or so is taken up with attempting to stop them bickering, listening to their stories, feeding them snacks, doing spelling practice and getting their dinner underway. At four-thirty they’re allowed some screen time, and I fight them for the iPad so I can listen to Oprah. Here’s me being mindful again!

MY TOOLBOX

Recovery community, Sober treats

Yoga

Mindfulness (Oprah and Deepak)

I take the iPad into the sunroom and sit myself down on an old cane chair to listen. Turns out the free audio doesn’t feature Oprah, but rather a man with an Indian accent who must be Deepak. He is saying ‘I will embrace all the beauty around’ over and over and over, and in the background there is some music playing.

I sit on the too low cane chair, worrying once again that this seat is not giving me the right posture, the floral cushion sinks awfully low on the old springs so that, once again, my knees are higher than my butt. I decide to ignore this and instead shut my eyes and try to relax and focus on the audio.

The music on Deepak’s app reminds me of the sort of underwater music you’d hear at the beauty therapist, all whales and chimes and floaty sounds. Talk about clichéd! But that’s not the biggest problem I have. The biggest problem is the sound of a gamer playing Minecraft on YouTube that is coming from the computer in the next room, where my ten-year-old is sitting. Minecraft and mindfulness do not mix well, and despite Deepak’s best efforts I am finding it hard to embrace anything other than my annoyance. Deepak’s calm voice and whale music are constantly interrupted by the excited gamer next door.

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ What I need is a crap-ton of wood…

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ Oh, yeah. This is awesome!

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ I need to break this down into dust

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ Man, I need to get some crafting tables

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’

It’s impossible to focus, and I’m frustrated as all hell. I yell at my son to turn his computer down (not a very Zen yell). He does, but I can still hear it. The beauty therapist music grates, the gamer grates, and I decide I’m hungry, so I give up on listening to Deepak telling me to embrace the beauty all around and instead go butter some crackers.

That was over almost as soon as it began.

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Recovery community, Sober treats

Yoga

Mindfulness (Oprah and Deepak)

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I spend the rest of the evening feeling dissatisfied and pissed off. I do battle with the kids.

I do battle inside my own head, telling myself to get over myself, that my problems are very First World and that I should just cheer the hell up.

But I can’t. Two things I’ve tried now haven’t helped, Headspace nor Deepak and the whales. These failed attempts at something, I’m not-sure-what are only serving to exacerbate my feelings of dissatisfaction and put me in an even grumpier mood. Why can’t these things work, goddammit? I want a quick fix!

I don’t get a quick fix.

I get my period instead.

It arrives right before bedtime, along with a nice crampy tummy. Blah. I eat some biscuits, pop some painkillers and get into bed with my iPad to spend a mindless hour or so surfing the internet, in the same Facebook-lnstagram-Twitter-blog-website loop as always. Eventually, I fall asleep, but when I wake in the night to use the loo I pull a muscle in my hip, making my entire right lower back sore. It keeps me awake, as does my crampy tummy, and I lie there worrying about getting old and worrying that I’m tense and wound up and just worrying, worrying, worrying. I’m so sick of all this worrying.

I get up to fetch some more painkillers, which help with my cramps and muscle pain, and I fall back to sleep for a couple of hours.

When I wake again, I’m super grumpy, still wound up and hassled about the world and my life. Before I even get out of bed, I reach for the iPad to check all my online spaces. We received an email overnight from a friend who lives out of town asking me how I am, so from my prone position I reply to her, moaning about how much parenting I do and how intense it is and how I’m still sad about my step-dad being gone and life is just a bit hard and gritty right now. Woe is me.

Eventually I drag myself out of bed. While I’m grunting my way through making the school lunches, Corin employs his psychic abilities and senses that I’m not in tip-top shape. He offers to take the boys to school on his way to work. Yes! I get them packed up and out of the door while I’m still in my PJs, and once they’ve gone and the house is quiet I stand in the kitchen for a while before deciding to get back into bed. I never do this. I feel like a total slacker, but to hell with it.

As I lie there with the electric blanket on, thinking about my failed plan to learn mindfulness (or something), I suddenly remember someone on my blog mentioning Tara Brach’s guided meditation podcasts, and I think Of course! because I love Tara Brach.

She is a psychologist and author who posts loads of free hour-long talks online that l have listened to and find really good, talks about forgiveness and kindness and so on. Some of her talks have been hugely helpful to me in times of extreme angst, but I’ve never listened to her twenty-minute guided meditations before because, well, meditation isn’t something I do (the talks are active listening and that’s why I like them). But maybe now is a good time to start. So, still lying in bed (and trying not to feel guilty because it’s nine-thirty on a Friday morning and I really should be at the gym or fermenting veggies or something), I pull a Tara guided meditation up on my iPad and start listening.

Must achieve an intense, vibrating, awed silence! Must!

Tara starts talking and I think about how I love her voice and what a lovely person she would be to have over for dinner, then I wonder what sort of food she eats, then I think about how good it is that I’m lying down and not sitting on a toolow chair, but then I worry that lying down isn’t the right thing to do either. So much bloody worrying all the bloody time!

I catch Tara telling me how to breathe, so I follow her instructions. I don’t chant ‘Ommm’ like she tells me to, but I hear all the people in the room with her on the recording chanting and that is lovely, but then I start wondering about all those people and what their lives are like over in the United States, and then I hear the rubbish truck down the road tipping bottles out of neighbours’ bins and I realise we forgot to put our recycling out last night-dammit, I hate it when that happens! Then I start mentally planning a trip to the dump this weekend, there’s a huge pile of crap in the garage that needs to go out. Then I remember I should be listening Tara, and I try to quiet my mind, but soon I start planning some work stuff and it goes like this until I say out loud ‘Sorry, Tara’ and turn the meditation off with four minutes and fifty-eight seconds still to go. Fail.

I’m still feeling like being in bed is a good thing, though, and the electric blanket is incredibly toasty and warm, so rather than get up I look over to the pile of books sitting beside my bed. Right at the bottom of the pile, underneath a Chelsea Winter cookbook and some random parenting book my sister lent me, is a dusty copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I bought it at a school gala and started reading it ages ago, but for some reason never finished it. I grab it and resume reading where I left off. Oh, look at that! She is writing about trying to learn how to meditate while at an ashram in India, and about her monkey brain and how she has to fight against her thoughts and ego, and her busy, busy mind and the battles that go on in her head. (Hello?! Yes, Liz, that’s me too! Maybe we could be besties! ) And then suddenly she writes about an intense moment that occurs for her while she is trying to meditate when all the chattering, negative thoughts in her mind scatter and a regal silence follows. She calls it an ‘intense, vibrating, awed silence’. I put the book down and stare at the ceiling.

Oh. My. God. I want this so bad. I want an intense, vibrating, awed silence. I want it desperately!

Liz’s vivid description combined with my desperation give me a little surge of energy and renewed determination, enough to get me out of bed, into the shower and dressed. I must keep going with my plan. Must achieve an intense, vibrating, awed silence! Must!

I go down to the study, sit at the computer, open up Google and type ‘learn mindfulness’ in the search bar. I land upon a site called Mindful (mindful.org). They have a free regular newsletter, so I fill in the required fields to register for it. I know this sounds like nothing much, but it actually does feel quite significant, like l’m doing something positive to alter my state of mind. Even just this teeny-tiny step has me feeling encouraged.

Instantly I receive an email confirmation with a friendly ‘Welcome!’, and attached to it is a document called ‘5 Techniques for a Mindful Day’. At the top it says: ‘Mindfulness is a natural human ability. It’s also something you can improve with practice. When you create ways in your day to slow down and be fully present, you can reconnect with this basic but transformative quality.’

OK, bring it on! I want to create ways in my day to slow down and be present. I do! The techniques read as pretty uncomplicated.

Technique One is about sitting and getting your posture right and relaxing.

Technique Two is about settling into a comfortable position and scanning your entire body, slowly lingering on the different sensations in each area as you go.

Technique Three is a ten-minute tea-making ritual-slowly making a good cup of tea and being aware of every step, being a part of it all, even when the water is boiling. Just ‘be with the water boiling’, and then sip and really notice the taste and sensation of the tea. (Not sure how to ‘be with the water boiling’ but anyway …)

Technique Four is a stress-busting technique that has you stopping, breathing, observing your thoughts and emotions. Stop, breathe, observe, proceed.

Technique Five is about mindfully listening, about being fully present with another person.

I read through this list, then before leaving the computer I navigate to the public library website and its online catalogue to search for some books. First I go for three on mindfulness that have been recommended to me by blog readers (they know all my woes). The first is an anthology of essays on mindfulness, the second a sort of memoir-journalism crossover by an American TV reporter (apparently he had a panic attack live on air before he discovered the joys of meditation, sounds juicy) and the third is some sort of eight-week plan to turn me into a chilled-out, happy camper. I find them all, place reserves and organise for them to be sent to my local library branch (the eight-week guide is popular, I’ll have to wait a while for that one). Then, on a whim, I reserve some books on sugar because I know that’s a big area of concern for me as well.

Next, I go to YouTube and find a clip of Dan Harris’s live-on-air panic attack. It is pretty uncomfortable to watch. Poor dude! No wonder he turned to meditation after that embarrassment.

After all this effort, well, OK, not that much effort, but some, I decide to go and lie on the sofa and start watching the Real Housewives of Somewhere fight about who-said-what-to whom. At 3 pm I get the kids from school, then work like a demon until 8 pm when, lo and behold, I’m back on the sofa binging on chocolate. Is this a happy sober life?

I do manage some nice thinking-about-nothing-but-mybelly-button moments.

I wake at six-thirty the next morning feeling sick and guilty about all the chocolate I ate the night before. The idea pops into my head that I could try the ‘body-scan’ technique from the mindfulness newsletter I got yesterday. I could lie still on my back and go around my body thinking about all the different areas, bringing awareness to each. (Is that what you do?) That would be something proactive, wouldn’t it? But then Corin rolls over and flicks on the radio, and our youngest son arrives to snuggle in with us, all full of chatter about his dreams, then our middle son arrives, and he gets into bed as well even though he’s quite big now, and suddenly we’re all squirming bodies and noise and my mindful moment is lost.

But after getting everyone off to school and work and doing some jobs around the house I realise I’m at a point in my day where I could choose to sit at the computer and do some work or I could (gulp) actually sit down and do a body-scan. Holy shit. This is it. I’m actually going to do it!

First, I print off the mindfulness newsletter from yesterday and head into the TV room to sit on the edge of the sofa. Is this a good spot to sit in? No, I don’t think so, too squishy. Maybe cross-legged on the floor would be better? I grab one cushion to plonk my burn on, and two more to put under each knee, then hold my newsletter up and read about what to do.

I’ll start with Technique One, I tell myself, because it’s only three minutes long and if I can’t sit for three minutes then I have a serious problem. The newsletter tells me that meditation begins and ends in the body, and that I need to take the time to pay attention to where I am and what’s going on, and that starts with being aware of my body. ‘That very act can be calming, since our body has internal rhythms that help it relax if we give it a chance.’ Oooh, internal rhythms. That sounds groovy.

I read on. They tell me to take a seat (have done that already and the cushions are nice and soft, although maybe I should have bigger ones under each knee?), straighten my upper body, not stiff, just straight, I straighten but try not to stiffen, flexing my back up and down, and wonder, Is this straight or stiff ?, position my hands and arms comfortably, then drop my gaze, close my eyelids and relax. I drop the newsletter and let my hands rest on my knees, then I lower my eyelids and relax.

For about a nanosecond. Or maybe a bit longer. Five nanoseconds.

After my five nanoseconds, I grab the newsletter again to read what it says to do next. Nothing! That was it! Just take time to settle myself into a comfortable seated position and relax, that was Technique One. It definitely didn’t take me three minutes, but what the hell. The newsletter says I could stop now or move into some mindfulness practice. Well, hell, let’s go for broke, eh!

Technique Two is the body-scan one. This is just an extension of what I’m already doing: sitting comfortably, so I feel supported and relaxed, then bringing awareness to my whole body, piece by piece. They give me a helpful order to do this in: toes, feet, legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower back, upper back, et cetera, et cetera, right through my whole body. They tell me to linger on each body part and notice the different sensations. If I find my mind has wandered, I have to bring it back to the last body part I was on.

So I launch into it and I try really hard to focus on each body part. Really, I do. But my mind is wandering like buggery. I try to pull it back each time, and I do manage some nice thinking about-nothing-but-my-belly-button moments, but by the time I arrive at my back the only sensation I am aware of is a dull ache, so I call it quits.

I’m a little bit proud of myself for actually doing something concrete, but overall my main feeling is that I was doing it all wrong and it was a big failed attempt. It just didn’t really feel like anything much, I certainly didn’t achieve an intense, vibrating, awed silence a la Liz Gilbert. I must be doing it all wrong, I decide as I get up off the floor and get on with some jobs around the house.

But something interesting happens a short while later. It’s a tiny little moment, but it feels rather significant.

It’s just a small thing, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I’m outside later in the day, hanging out the washing and thinking about an email I just received from a writer in the UK. She’s setting up an alcohol-free reviewer group to help authors get feedback on their manuscripts, and wants me to join it. Should I? The sun is shining and I’m distracted by the annoying hot stones under my feet. They’re hot, like, super hot. Too hot-to-stand-on-in-bare-feet hot. But I’ve got bare feet, so I’m jiggling around, trying to keep my feet moving so they don’t get too sore while also thinking about my emails.

Suddenly I remember the body-awareness thing from my time on the cushion earlier, so I stop thinking about the UK author’s request and think about my feet instead. I let myself become super aware of my hot feet, and my mind kind of goes quiet. I focus on my hot feet, like, really focus. I think about my hot feet and concentrate on feeling the heat, and my mind is quiet.

It’s a tiny little moment, but it feels rather significant and, to be honest, nice. It’s nice to not be thinking about work stuff and just feeling my feet.

I decide the hot stones aren’t that bad and play a little game to see how long I can stand still without needing to move. I discover I can bear the heat for longer than I thought, and the hot stones are actually rather lovely.

I finish hanging out the washing and head inside, aware of the fact I did something a little different and it feels kinda nice. Subtle but freeing somehow to not just be thinking about work stuff.

A little later, I’m standing at the kitchen sink washing some dishes and I’m worrying about a friend’s relationship with her husband, which seems a little strained. Suddenly I catch myself worrying and again remember about the body awareness thing. I look down and, instead of continuing to worry about the state of my friend’s marriage, I look hard at what my hands are doing. They’re busy with the pots and pans in the full, soapy sink. Look at my busy hands efficiently washing pots! I probably wash dishes with my bright, green rubber gloves three or four times a day, yet I’ve never really noticed how they look moving away in the suds.

I slow my hands down and notice the fingers covered in green rubber moving in and out of the water, holding a red dish brush. They look rather nice! Add the yellow dish-cloth into the mix and I’ve got a wonderland of colour. Sounds weird, but it’s quite cool and also satisfying.

I slow down and observe my hands closely. I start to kind of enjoy washing the dishes. It’s far more enjoyable than worrying about the state of someone else’s marriage.

Is this mindfulness? I think it might be.

It feels nice. These are only small steps that I’m taking, but there’s definitely something there. Certainly enough that I feel confident to mentally put mindfulness back in my toolbox. I might only be scratching the surface, but it’s happening. It is.

MY TOOLBOX

Recovery community, Sober treats

Mindfulness

Yoga

Nobody wants to see a lumpy, knicker wearing housewife trying to go all Zen in her living room

The next day I do nothing. Well, nothing mindful anyway. Nothing towards my goal of pure, blissful nirvana. I run around like a blue-arsed fly, busy with the kids, busy with the house, busy online, busy thinking, busy snacking, busy, busy, busy. Who knows where my mind is at, but it’s not focusing on hot stones or rubber gloves, that’s for sure.

I have an empty 40 minute window in the middle of the day when I could choose to do something mindful, meditation, whatever it is I’m trying to do, but I don’t. I fill those 40 minutes with some fiddling around trying to resize a photo for my blog, replying to a couple of emails (there’s one from the colleague who I am finding it tricky to work with, which activates my stress a bit), and interacting with members on Living Sober.

Then Friday rolls around. It’s yet another busy day, as per usual, but after I post a mocktail recipe on my Facebook page I again find myself with a 45 minute window of free time before school pick-up. This time I resist getting sucked into an online vortex of celebrity gossip and local news. Instead, I grab my printed mindfulness newsletter and put my cushions back down on the floor and try to sit on them with my legs crossed. It’s hard, because my jeans are tight like, super tight! So I get up and wrestle them off before sitting back down with just my knickers on. Then I realise I need to wee so I pop to the loo quickly, then return and sit back down crosslegged again. I start by repeating the three minute posture practice from a couple of days ago, which just involves taking the time to sit properly, back straight but not stiff, arms by my sides and hands resting where they fall on my legs, gaze lowered, relaxing.

It’s sort of nice being back in that position. Actually, that’s a lie. It’s not really. Cross-legged sitting is hell, and it’s quite hard to focus on my posture because I’m hyper aware that if anyone came to the window right now they’d get a full view of me in my smalls. And nobody wants to see a lumpy, knicker-wearing housewife trying to go all Zen in her living room. Although, on second thought, maybe that’d get rid of the door-knockers once and for all!

I try hard to push self-conscious thoughts out of my mind and instead get my posture sorted, then start to do the body-scan, going around each area of my body, bringing consciousness to each body part. I do OK going around each part (still a bit of an ache in my back when I get there, so I straighten myself a little and it feels better). By the time I’ve made my way around my entire body (with a lot of mind wandering in between), I’ve forgotten the possibility of being caught out in my knickers, am warm from the sun coming through the windows, and feel rather relaxed. I decide to give my stiff knees a break by stretching my legs out in front of me and lying back on the rug. One of my library books has arrived and l have it next to me, so pick it up to read a bit. It’s an anthology of essays called The Mindfulness Revolution, edited by Barry Boyce. (I later find out he is also editorin-chief of the mindful.org site whose newsletter I subscribed to.)

In the introduction Barry says, ‘By taking time away from the pressures and needs of daily life to work only on mindfulness, with no other project at hand, we refresh our ability to be mindful when we return to our everyday activities.’

Ah, OK So this is like the other day when I sat to do a formal meditation type thing for a bit, then later found myself really noticing the hot stones under my feet and the look of my hands in the soapy sink. It’s good that Barry is reassuring me that my goal doesn’t necessarily have to be an intense, vibrating, awed silence or some other kind of far-fetched meditation achievement. My goal can just be bringing attention to my body when I’m taking time to sit and breathe, then remembering to do it later when I’m feeling busy. But is he telling me that I have to do the formal sit down every day in order to remember to notice the little things when I’m back at work?

I feel stressed about this, which kind of defeats the purpose of it all. I don’t want to feel pressured to have to find time every day to sit and focus on my breath or body (or whatever). Honestly, I don’t really want to do this. It’s boring! It feels like a hassle to have to find the time to do it every day on top of all the other demands on my time. Can’t I just skip the formal sit-downs and try to remember to focus on my body parts while I’m busy doing things (rather than being lost in thought)?

I’m not sure I can. I’m not sure about any of this. I’ve still got this notion that I need to be striving hard to do something formal every day, and it’s making me feel pressured, like if I don’t do it I’m failing in my mission to really nail this mindfulness stuff.

There’s no way I’m going to sit on the floor cross-legged when I could be judging movie stars’ outfits.

Whatever is required, I do nothing much of it at all over the weekend. Saturday, I do zero of a sit down-and-be-quiet-and-mindful nature. There’s a moment in the afternoon when everyone else in the family is watching TV and it occurs to me that I could take myself into the study, shut the door, sit cross-legged and focus on my breath and do a body-scan but I dismiss that thought and instead find myself at the laundry sink scrubbing stains out of white rugby shorts.

Sunday, I manage to sit myself down crosslegged on the bedroom rug and listen to my breath and start with a bit of a body-scan, but I only last for about 90 seconds because it just feels dumb. But I’ve committed myself, and the stubborn part of me is telling me to keep going until something happens. I know other people can get something out of this and I’m determined to see what it is they’re on about.

Monday rolls around and it’s Oscars day. I love the Academy Awards! There’s no way I’m going to sit on the floor cross-legged when I could be judging movie stars’ outfits.

I watch E! channel’s red-carpet coverage while clipping in and out of my library book, and a passage grabs my attention for long enough that I stop wondering why Gwyneth Paltrow has planted a giant pink flower on her shoulder. This passage is from a chapter written by a Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, and he’s saying, ‘Have you ever stopped to consider what a thought is, not the content but the very nature of thought itself?’

No, Joseph. Now that you ask, I haven’t.

‘Few people really explore the question,

“What is a thought?” What is this phenomenon that occurs so many times a day and to which we pay so little attention?’

Right now, on glancing up at the TV, I’m thinking, Why has J-Lo dressed herself up like a Disney princess? But her ginormous, poofy dress doesn’t hold my attention for long. This talk of the nature of thought has piqued my interest. I tear my eyes from the screen to read on.

Not being aware of the thoughts that arise in our minds or of the very nature of thought itself allows thoughts to dominate our lives. Telling us to do this, say that, go here, go there, thoughts often drive us like we’re their servants. Unnoticed, they have great power. But when we pay attention, when we observe thoughts as they arise and pass away, we begin to see their essentially empty nature. They arise as little energy bubbles in the mind rather than reified expressions of a self.

How utterly fascinating. He’s right. I have never explored the nature of thought itself. I have had people say to me ‘thoughts aren’t facts’ but I’ve never really known what they meant. I once asked a very wise woman with over twenty years of sobriety under her belt what her best tool was for dealing with life in the raw and she replied, ‘Not believing everything I think.’ I remember nodding sagely at her as though I knew exactly what she meant, but in truth she might as well have been speaking Chinese for all I understood. Maybe she was already attuned to this concept that thoughts are nothing more than empty little energy bubbles? Well, this is all new to me! I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of some sort of radical concept here, but in no way have I got my head around it yet.

Are thoughts truly empty? I feel like my thoughts are rich and full and interesting. They’re me. I am my thoughts. My thoughts lead me and guide me and make sense of the world for me. My thoughts help me to process stuff, to explain things to my kids, to communicate with people and to write. It’s my thinking that helped me realise I had a problem with alcohol and got me sober, for goodness’ sake! And I wouldn’t be exploring all this mindfulness stuff if I hadn’t thought to do it.

What else am I if I’m not my thoughts?


from
Mrs D is Going Within: How a frantic, sugar-binging, internet-addicted, recovering-alcoholic housewife found her Zen

by Lotta Dann

get it at Amazon.com

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