Imposter syndrome

What is imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a pattern of thinking where people doubt their own success and ability, despite evidence to the contrary. They feel that any success is down to luck. People with imposter syndrome will feel that they don’t deserve their success and will downplay it for fear of being found to actually be the fraud they believe themselves to be (1, 2)

History of Imposter syndrome and how it works

Rather than being a condition, imposter syndrome was a phrase used by Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 paper (2).

Imposter syndrome can be broken down into 6 parts (3)

Imposter cycle

This is a four-part cycle that is repeated constantly. The imposter is given a task which will be measured, anxiety and doubt over the result leads to over-preparation (more work than needed to make sure they don’t fail) or procrastination (avoiding the task until the last minute). These actions distract from the anxiety. Once the task has been measured the result is discounted as the result of over-preparation or luck after procrastination (4)

The need to be special or the best

Those with imposter syndrome feel the need to be the best and when confronted with people of equal or more ability, conclude that they are, in fact, inadequate.

Superwoman/Superman aspects

Like the need to be the best, the person with imposter syndrome will set their expectations impossibly high and expect everything in all aspects of their lives and work to run flawlessly. When expectations are not met they become overwhelmed and blames themselves again for being a failure.

Fear of failure

But unfortunately, failing is one of the imposters biggest fears – leading to over-preparation or procrastination.

Denial of competence and discounting praise

The person with impostor syndrome will dismiss positive feedback and actively try to discredit any praise

Fear and guilt about success

Imposter syndrome leads the person to feel guilt about their success, feel different from those around them, and feel anxious about any subsequent tasks.

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The effects of imposter syndrome

As anyone who has suffered from anxiety can attest, anxiety can be completely debilitating. The imposter cycle and the need to constantly meet high expectations, while not enjoying the fruits of your results, leads to stress, anxiety, shame, low self-worth and depression (2)

Who it affects

Although initially thought to affect women the most, research has been undertaken which states that men and women are both affected equally (2). It affects people who have some measure of success in their lives (5). It affects people with low self-esteem, who have had a critical or unstable upbringing and those who feel out of place.

It has affected many famous people as their quotes show us.

Albert Einstein:

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”

Agatha Christie:

“I don’t know whether every author feels it, but I think quite a lot do — that I am pretending to be something I am not, because, even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”

Maya Angelou:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ” 

How this relates to alcohol

I’ll tell you why I am writing about this in a minute, but I read a very interesting article, which can be found here, that discussed why imposter syndrome is prevalent in adult children of alcoholics. The insecurity, low self-esteem, critical upbringing and self-doubt all take root within whatever that adult is trying to achieve (6). Often these adult children have their own alcohol problems.

And it is easy to see why. The characteristics of people suffering from imposter syndrome are very similar to the characteristics of people suffering from an alcohol problem. Especially if looking at functioning or high functioning alcohol problems. These people will be the achievers, putting pressure on themselves and then, when they can’t take the anxiety, pressure, feelings of failure, inability to meet their own expectations, they suppress those feeling with alcohol.

The same for parents; expecting to run the gauntlet of parenthood and work, unsupported while comparing themselves constantly to the social media perfect images of other people managing beautifully. See my post Why do people drink for more on this.

Recovery websites talk about how imposter syndrome can lead people to relapse because they feel that their sober selves are imposters.

Why am I writing about imposter syndrome?

I fought so hard for 12 years to get sober, and always feared that if I succeeded, I would be miserable, frustrated and craving every day.  When I quit smoking, at 30 years old, it just happened. I got my first really bad chest infection and something in my brain said ‘that’s enough of that’ and I stopped. But I always put that down to the fact that I only really smoked when I drank so I wasn’t ‘properly’ addicted. I worried that wanting to drink every day mean that I wouldn’t be able to live a craving free life. When I finally quit, on 29th April 2018, the same thing happened. Don’t get me wrong I had vile moments, but the further I went along my sober path, the less power these moments and craving had over me. Now I am basically completely craving free.

When I realised this was the case, and I had already started this blog – at 14 months sober – I began to panic. Maybe I hadn’t really had a problem at all! Maybe I didn’t have the right to talk to people who were suffering now, because I wasn’t suffering anymore! I felt like a fake and a fraud!!

I talked to My Love about it, downplaying my worries and saying I knew I was being ridiculous. I knew my past, the alcohol fuelled actions, the rollercoaster emotions, the tears, the anxiety, the shame, the fear, the loss of control.

Nevertheless, there was a niggling doubt constantly that I was going to be found to be an imposter and somehow all my past suffering hadn’t really happened. And then BAM! Not 3 months into my blog, a comment from a reader arrived saying I had never had a problem and I had to get over myself and spend time with my family rather than blogging about not having a problem.

I was expecting negative comments, no one is mad enough to go into the world of social media and blogging without expecting some nasty trolling, but this first comment hit me in the solar plexus of my deepest concern!

How imposter syndrome has affected my life

I have been affected by imposter syndrome my whole life. Not going for jobs I didn’t think I was good enough for despite high qualifications, having a degree and two masters and still not feeling clever enough, not pursing a PhD despite a 95% grade on my master’s dissertation, never writing in case no-one wanted to read it, never singing in case I wasn’t the best and struggling with friendships because I was sure they would see through me and realise I am nothing.

Yet I could not believe that I was going to be challenged for succeeding and overcoming the biggest obstacle I had ever faced!!! I had my own worries about my success and my own survivor’s guilt that I was now OK, but some many people aren’t. The reason many people speak out about their problems is to help other people to get to where they are, not to be pulled down and told they are a fraud!! 

I was terrified about starting this blog as it played into all my fears about people, being found out, exposing myself and not being good enough. I worried that if I got horrible comments they would feed my negative self-beliefs so much that they would send me back into the clutches of alcohol. But I did it anyway because I knew that if it helped just one person to learn to love themselves enough to stop drinking and to look for happiness, then it was enough.

I realise that many of my posts have a rosy glow but that is because I am so damn grateful for the life I now have. When I used to read articles about how life could be better, they fired my motivation to quit drinking. My next post, as requested by my beloved sister is called Furious Sober Yoga Mummy and acknowledges all the shitty stuff that comes with the good stuff!!

How I am dealing with imposter syndrome

I do not know how to deal with imposter syndrome yet, but like everything in my blog, it’s a healing journey that I am on. I have always managed my imposter syndrome by powering through it. I am trying now to overcome it with the help of everything I have learned on my journey to sobriety.

I have to say that once I got over the shock and worry of my negative comment it inspired me to keep going. I thought about everything I had been through, all the crap and all the achievements on my journey to sobriety and I am bloody proud of myself. It has been a hell of a journey, but I managed it and this is one thing I am not going to let my imposter self take away from me.

I think overcoming imposter syndrome has a lot to do with awareness of your inner voice. If you can take control of that voice and those thoughts, the imposter syndrome will eventually have less power over you. See my post Change your thoughts to change you life for more on this.

It’s also helps to reach out. When I got the negative comment I reached out to my Instagram followers and their love and support was amazing. Helped me to see that my story was valid and helpful.

This is a fantastic blog post that I read about overcoming imposter syndrome so have a read if you want more.

21 ways to overcome imposter syndrome

I have always loved the following two quotes which have scared and inspired me in equal measure in the mad, unstable world that we live in. I will share them with you before I go.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russell

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” Yeats

Let’s start loving ourselves enough to give the world more of the best and wise people it deserves.

Sign up for my free course below to learn how to love yourself.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome
  3. https://www.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521/pdf.
  4. https://road2resolutions.com/how-to-break-the-impostor-syndrome-cycle-of-social-anxiety-over-preparation-and-procrastination/
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/19/fraud-impostor-syndrome-confidence-self-esteem
  6. https://www.promises.com/blog/does-the-imposter-syndrome-plague-adult-children-of-alcoholics/

Greenman Festival – Sober!

A week before the festival I was all up for selling my tickets online and saying sod it, I’m not going.

Since becoming sober, my anxiety has been so much better. I don’t feel the twisting of my insides and the accompanying black cloud that tells me – this is who you are, and you’ll never escape from anxiety and blackness. I was on such an emotional roller coaster when I drank that every little thing was a cause for anxiety and then an excuse to drink.

When I stopped drinking, I also stopped putting myself in situations I didn’t want to be in. I thoroughly used ‘could’ instead of ‘should’ and questioned everything I was doing. Socially, if it made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it, then usually I didn’t. I was fiercely protective of my newfound sobriety and I was not going to let anything shake that.

So why did I feel my anxiety rearing its head before the festival? It was something I really, really wanted to do, but also something I had never done before, so I only had hearsay on what to expect. One of the things you hear most about are the portaloos – was I really going to spend a week taking the – newly potty trained – Baby to disgusting, stinky, blocked loos? Then the weather forecast, rain all week! I am not good with cold and wet unless I know I have a nice warm shower to get to. I am especially not good at being responsible for 3 cold and wet small people. Where would I dry the clothes? What were the showers like? Where would I dry the towels? How could I pack enough clothes for rain every day? What if their raincoats and wellies didn’t dry for the next day?

I had packed up and gone home a week into a two-week caravan holiday in Wales two years before, due to my anxiety, and felt completely crap about it. Did I want to do that to myself again?

My head went into overdrive and panic mode. I didn’t want my panic to tip me over the edge into drinking again, especially as I had heard festivals were basically giant piss ups with music.

My Love said we could sell the tickets if I wanted to, but on the flip side I did not want alcohol to define me. Could I really say to myself that I was never going to go to a festival just ‘in case’ I wanted to drink? Surely, at 15 months sober, without cravings I would be OK?

So, we packed up the car on the Monday morning and headed to beautiful, rainy Wales.

If you haven’t been to Wales, I recommend it, it is quite literally beautiful. At times you are clearly in the UK, at other times you could be in the Mediterranean. The emerald hills roll down to crystal clear rivers or turquoise sea waters. I have to be grateful for the rain, as without it, the verdant nature of Wales would not be as it is.

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We were camped in a huge site in the middle of the Brecon Beacons. On arrival, thinking we were early, we were surprised by the number of cars. We came on settler’s passes, meaning we camped Monday to Monday, rather than just for the festival. But it seemed like every parking space and every pitch site was already full! Little did we know then that 25,000 people would be attending this festival – I had thought about 5,000!!

We picked the first reasonable looking pitch I came to, albeit on a massive incline! As luck would have it, we had a clear view of both the mountains and the main stage. In the evenings, when it was dark, I loved looking up at the odd houses dotted across the mountainside, with their lights brightly glowing against the dark and the car lights making their way up the mountain. It felt insanely cosy. I am sure that those houses don’t have open fires, AGA cookers, the smell of baking bread and simmering stews but it was lovely to imagine.

View of the main stage from our tent

It rained on and off during the first day but was mostly warm. I kicked everyone out while I got organised inside – needing control somewhere! By the evening we realised that the boys tent had a leak and wasn’t habitable. I moved them into the big tent for the night – no sleep for My Love and I sharing an airbed with an overactive, head kicking toddler – but hey, at least the boys were dry! Next day we made it to Abergavenny where they had an Argos. We bought a cheapy new tent and a cheapy pushchair. I was amazed by the set up of regular festival goers with children. They have pull along trolleys decked out with bedding, lights and waterproof covers! I loved them! But The Baby would have to have a pushchair this time, and even that, pushed through inches of thick mud, was a God send for later nights!

I realised, after setting up, that I was doing OK. We were on the main path into the campsite, so we saw everyone coming in and out. Lots of people were walking around with cans of various alcoholic drinks, even first thing in the morning, but it wasn’t making me want to drink. Bizarrely, I did have a cigarette craving – I haven’t smoked in 7 years – but thankfully that passed pretty quickly!  The atmosphere on the settler’s camps was relaxed, friendly and family orientated. Down at the settler’s evening shenanigans, there was a tent with a bar and a stage, and a tent next to it with teas, coffees and cakes. Each was equally full at all hours of the day and night. I was impressed by programme, which had a whole page saying, we know more and more people are choosing not to drink alcohol so here is a page of alcohol-free drinks we are serving. This boded well for the actual festival!

When the festival started, on Thursday, it was a beautiful sunny day with no rain forecast, so we took that day to explore. I was feeling pretty proud of myself by this stage for not freaking out, not panicking and not wanting to drink. I had a little system going. Give children breakfast then find coffee stall. I find buying myself a coffee in the morning is a self-care treat that immediately relaxes me. We discovered early on that unless you want to queue for hours to have a cold shower that morning showers are a no go. We therefore set off early each day, came back in the late afternoon for quick and warm showers, ate supper, and headed out again for the evening. Obviously, I got the boys to wash their hands with soap in the morning as the portaloos really are revolting! Better than I imagined but OMG the smell!! Didn’t help that The Baby thought the flushing lever was the best toy at the whole festival – ugh! But even that, which would have had me freaking big time in my drinking days, was not so bad.

Funnily enough, with me not freaking out all the time, I realised that My Love is not the completely calm person I always thought he was. He was constantly worried about the logistics, the tent, the tarpaulins to keep stuff dry and spider free. I realised how much we both do but in totally different ways. I manage the activities, the clothes, the cleaning and the fun, he manages the car, the tents, the cooking and the maintenance.  Both essential! Although I would have liked to gel better while we were away, it was lovely that my freaking out had not taken over, and I had been able to give some of his concerns the attention they deserved.

Having had the few days extra build up, realising that I was actually having fun, when the rain – light and first, torrential later, and constant all day – came on Friday, I was ready and feeling strong. We were properly kitted up and warm.  We ate food in the rain, listened to music in the rain, did science experiments in the rain, danced in the rain and charged our phones in the rain! In front of the main stage were four small hills all leading on from one and other. The Bear and The Baby had the most fun rolling down those wet muddy hills – repeatedly! At one stage, The Bear accidentally pushed The Baby into a stream so water overflowed his wellies and socks. I scooped The Baby up, took him back to the tent and changed him into dry clothes before heading back out. I realised, my panic and anxiety is all my own doing. The children don’t care if they are wet and muddy, they are having a lovely time! As long as I catch it before they all get cold then everyone is happy. My worry is creating issues that aren’t really there. However at 6 hours, the rain was getting through all of our waterproof clothes and I called it a day. Everyone had a shower, changed into dry clothes, and we set the inside of the tent up with chairs, games and books – no need for music, that was coming loud and strong from the festival site!

The Baby wet, muddy and loving it!

I was seriously proud of myself. Had it rained like that for the whole time, I may have freaked out, but luckily, things never seem as long lasting or dramatic as you convince yourself they are.

Saturday was wonderful. Sunny, warm and teeming with people and activity. We set out ready to get a full day in. The little folk area was fantastic for small people. We did family yoga together first thing, then heard a lot of activity from across the way so went to investigate. It was a charity called the Flying Seagull Project who do amazing work bringing fun and laughter to children in pretty crappy situations.  Their energy and enthusiasm was unceasing. Parents had to join in with the children, firstly singing and dancing to the Greatest Showman and then joining in with playground games. 50 parents and children all playing Bull Dog, What’s the time Mr Wolf and the Big Dipper was amazing to see. I laughed so hard and so much, it felt wonderful. It made me aware of how little we properly laugh in day to day life. If playing playground games with my children made me laugh so much, why is it so much harder to do day to day? I don’t have the answer and I am still reflecting on this!

Laughing with the Flying Seagulls Project

Throughout the day, I laughed more and more. I laughed at the man in a kilt and bomber jacket making children and adults play musical chairs; I laughed at the guys in insane costumes playing a music quiz where you had to sing and dance the answers; I laughed with the couple singing songs for children about protecting animals; I laughed at the incredible science experiments they were putting on which made things I had found difficult to understand at school seem so easy! 

I was laughing and having so much fun without alcohol. It made me wonder if all those who were drinking during these activities, realised that the activities themselves were hilarious or if they believed, as I used to, that they needed to alcohol to enjoy it.

I was constantly drawn to the beauty of my surroundings but at one point, when the boys were playing in a bubble shop that had a constant stream of bubbles coming out of it, I was staggered by the magic that something as simple as bubbles could create. It was twilight, the air was full of bubbles that glowed pink and purple as they floated off, some popping to release little puffs of smoke and hundreds of children laughing and playing underneath. It filled me with wonder.

I can only imagine this is what is meant by mindfulness. I was so aware of everything that was happening: my feelings, my reactions and my surroundings.

The magic of bubbles at twilight

I did not manage to do or see everything I wanted to see or do. Often it was too expensive, there was simply too much to see or we were just too tired. On Saturday night, all completely exhausted at 11.30pm, we headed back to the tent to sleep. Once in bed DJ Four Tet started up on the main stage. The music was celestial and hypnotic, the beats pulsed through the floor of my tent, all I wanted to do was jump out of bed and run to the main stage to dance. The children were asleep so I couldn’t but I did have a little boogie in my tent, imagining that I’ll dance there with the boys one day! I had almost forgotten that music could overtake you in that way.    

Even though we didn’t do everything, we saw music, science, dancing, circus acts, fire shows and comedy. Pretty wonderful!

There were obviously downsides, I am not so unrealistic as to say it was all perfect. I found My Love and I bickering more than we ever usually do. The Baby was an absolute monkey – loving the freedom but screaming when he didn’t get complete freedom! The Bot was a totally ungracious nearly teenager and had a strop every time he couldn’t get what he wanted. The loos were grim and it was an absolute mud bath but the upsides far outweighed the downsides. I’ll give it to the Bear, he was fab!

I truly believe that I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did if I had been drinking. I might have laughed and danced but I would also have cried and panicked. I would have been in my head the whole time and I wouldn’t remember the wonder and magic of it all, or the feeling of experiencing it with the people I love. When I came home, I felt a weight descend on me again. Funny because I thought that I had made the home and the life I wanted. I will spend some time trying to work out what’s going on there. Maybe the festival is escapism, or maybe there are parts of the festival that I could bring home to lessen some of the weight. I’m not sure yet.

So if you are wondering if sober you can manage a festival or just a holiday, please don’t let drinking or not drinking ruin your enjoyment of what is really on offer. There were as many people not drinking at the festival as drinking so you will not be alone. Times are changing and it is easier too not drink now than it has ever been.

So just one last word before I sign off for today. If you have never been to a festival – GO! (and bring soap!)

FUN WITHOUT ALCOHOL

Although quitting drinking is never easy; I drank for 22 years and actively tried to quit for 12 of them, I think it is made much harder by the illusion, perpetuated by our society, that you cannot have fun without it.

Alcohol is so normalised within our society that all fun events seem to include it. What do we do for celebrations, nights out, dates, summer evenings, summer days, Christmases, birthdays and holidays? We drink! Even a child’s birthday party – bring on the gin and prosecco. 

This does not even begin to mention when we drink for things that are not fun – loss, pain and commiseration. Society tells us that alcohol is pretty much the answer to everything.

It certainly does have a lot to answer for.

SOCIAL ANXIETY

I convinced myself that it was the alcohol that made the situation fun and not the situation itself. There are definitely times when alcohol made the situation feel manageable, for example, parties that I didn’t want to be at with people that I didn’t want to talk to: but why on earth was I putting myself in these situations in the first place? 

I drank at university to deal with social anxiety and because it’s what everyone was doing for fun. But I was kidding myself that I was having fun. I didn’t have many friends, probably alienated them with my drinking, I was lonely, shy, anxious and by the end suffering from depression. I probably could have had more friends and a real social life and been happier, if I hadn’t drunk so much and then spent days hungover, ashamed, guilty and too anxious to go out again.

I knew that my drinking was a problem, so after uni, I ‘controlled’ my drinking for 12 years.

THE ILLUSION

Drinking for fun was an illusion. I’d lived in cultures that don’t drink and I have friends around the world that don’t drink. They absolutely have fun, celebrate and enjoy life without alcohol. So yes, I knew it was possible. But I worried that I’d made this impossible for myself. Whenever I managed to quit for a while, every evening was spent craving alcohol and feeling miserable. Three pregnancies equated to about 3 years of feeling miserable and deprived. Even though I desperately wanted to quit, I literally couldn’t cope with the idea that I would feel like that every day for the rest of my life. That would not be fun at all. That would mean I would never have fun again. Better keep drinking then!

Yet the longer it went on, the less fun I was having drinking. Examples of this were Birthdays and Christmases. Since childhood, I have loved family Birthdays and Christmases. The problem became that, as soon as the day got going so did the drinking. The nice fuzzy feeling lasted for approximately one glass, maybe two, of prosecco and then wore off. Then my anxiety kicked in and my worry about the day, the children, the noise and the mess. So I drank to try to recapture the nice fuzzy feeling, which is impossible, and then did not enjoy the rest of the day because it all became a hazy blur which I would end early because I felt tired, upset, anxious and ashamed. 

So there I was stuck – no fun drinking, no fun not drinking.

SELF-SABOTAGE

I first rediscovered fun without alcohol when I went dancing. I had recovered from a breakdown about 6 months before and had started to try to heal my life. Very bravely, raging social anxiety present, I went by myself to a dance class. I discovered the pure, unadulterated joy in dancing. I felt like a child again and I was on a cloud for the whole time. I didn’t drink while doing it because I felt so happy. Then I let my negative inner voice and my anxiety in and eventually started drinking again. The thing is that vigorous exercise, which dancing is, and alcohol do not really go together. So in typical style, I self-sabotaged and gave up the dancing rather than the drinking.

I am not going to go into habit-changing here, as this post would be far too long! But let me say that working consistently to change your habits is the key to getting rid of those cravings.

LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL

I quit drinking for good on 29th April 2018. I had completed a miserable Dry January in 2018 and started drinking again afterwards. Then I began habit changing. Since I quit I have been basically craving free and have never been happier, less anxious and had more fun.

These are the things that I now find so much fun without alcohol.

Exercise:

The word exercise can put so many people off but please, believe me, there is some kind of movement for everyone out there that they can enjoy. For me, it’s dancing, yoga, cycling, walking and short high-intensity circuits, all of which I can do at or from home. Exercise gives amazing and long-lasting feelings of wellness.

Nature:

They say nature heals and it is so true. Get out of your house and into nature as often as you can. I love the warm sun on my face, the sound of the ocean, the breeze in the trees, the glistening of frozen grass, the sound of rain and the crunch of snowfall. I walk across a big field to get my bus to work at 5.45 am. I never thought that would be a time I could enjoy but now I feel my heart lifting at its beauty and silence.

Taking me time:

Often people, especially mothers, do not feel they have a right to me time. Me time is so important for your health, mental and physical, and for your healing. Drinking coffee in a bookshop, surrounded by books, while reading a book is my idea of heaven! If I can’t get to a bookshop, a bath will do!

Evenings:

Booze free evenings have been a revelation. In winter they are warm and cosy, with tea, good food, family and probably a few too many sweet treats. In summer it’s eating alfresco, outdoor cinema and sunset walks. I missed so many evenings because of drinking.

Celebrations:

Whatever you loved as a child you will probably still love as an adult. So birthdays, Christmas, Easter – try them as booze-free events. I was so surprised and delighted to have these celebrations back the way I wanted them to be. Just make sure you are doing them with people you want to be with and with lots of good food! 

My message in all this is please do not keep drinking because you’re worried you’ll be constantly craving and miserable if you quit. Once you start changing your habits, the cravings will go and there is a world of fun and happiness waiting for you.

Change your thoughts to change your life

Deepak Chopra quotes

“Simply with a change of mind you can change your life.”

“Our future is created from choices we make every minute.”

Seriously, my thoughts have created my life?

Since my forays into the land of self-help began, at 24 years old, everything alluded to the fact that the power to change your life is within your thoughts. I cannot tell you how many times I have been completely inspired by this and how many times I have been so angry about it. My anger always came when I was in a low place and couldn’t seem to find a way out of my situation. I felt like this message was telling me that I had deliberately put myself in my bad situation and that everything that was going wrong was my fault.  

This is a very negative and destructive headspace to be in. What I need to make clear, so that you do not make the same mistakes I did, is that there is no blame or judgement. Our situation and our lives are a result of our thoughts, our actions and our behaviours but that does not mean that we are to blame.

Mostly our thoughts are unconscious. They are a product of what we were told as children and then they change according to how we are treated growing up and according to events in our lives. We are usually totally unaware of what our thoughts are telling us day in day out. How can we then be to blame for thoughts created as a child? How can we be to blame for something we are unaware of?

An example of this that always struck me is abusive relationships. A victim of domestic abuse is in no way to blame for being in an abusive relationship. However, their thoughts going into the relationship probably told them that they didn’t deserve any better and when they were in the relationship their thoughts may have said that they were unworthy and deserved the life they had. The more we head down the cycle of negative thoughts, the harder it is to see that it is our thoughts are perpetuating the situation and changing our thoughts may feel impossible. 

What I am trying to say with this is please do not just ignore any upcoming advice because the idea has evoked a powerful emotional reaction. I had these reactions so many times, but the fact is I came back to the idea again and again, because ultimately, it is true. Changing your thoughts is the only thing that will change your life.

Mindfulness

I am assuming that most people reading this will not have escaped from the mindfulness craze that has taken over in the last few years. Although I had a huge amount of self-help knowledge and experience, I didn’t really get mindfulness until I took a mindfulness course to help me manage my post-natal depression after The Baby.  

Mindfulness is actually really simple. It is just becoming aware of what is happening. Aware of what is around you, aware of how your body feels, aware of your emotions and aware of your thoughts.

Meditation

Becoming aware of what is going on can be incredibly difficult in this high-octane world that we live in. There is very little space for quiet time, pondering, thinking or just being.  How are we supposed to know what we think if we can’t even find the time to think about our thoughts?

Starting a meditation practice gives us the space to do these things. Meditation does not have to be anything special. You do not need gongs, bells and incense. All you need is some quiet and a little space.

Watch this very short video, by a Buddhist monk, which My Love recommended as it showed him how simple meditation is.

How to train your monkey mind

I think it is brilliantly simple! Initially, by concentrating on your breath, you are just teaching your brain to be calm, giving it some space. Once you have practiced and feel more confident in your meditation, you can choose to give some thoughts more attention. This is the point where you can start to become aware of your subconscious thoughts. Crucially though, becoming aware of your thoughts doesn’t mean engaging with them. If you feel that your thoughts starting to spiral, come back to concentrating on your breath until your mind settles again.

There are so many meditation videos of all types and lengths on You Tube so just have a play and see what suits you. If you want a starting point, I find the Honest Guys really good.

When you become more comfortable with meditation, it can also be done while moving. Yoga and Tai Chi are the most common examples of this, but there is no reason why the movement shouldn’t be simpler, like walking in nature or swimming. Anything that gives you quiet and space.

For yoga videos, I found the 30 day Yoga with Adriene practices an amazing starting point.

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Thoughts

So, now that we are aware of our thoughts, what thoughts have arisen?

It is so common to find thoughts that say:

  • I am not good/clever/strong/brave enough
  • I am a failure or always failing
  • I can’t do this
  • I am not enough
  • I am alone, nobody cares about me
  • Nobody likes me
  • It’s impossible/hopeless  
  • It’s my fault

You will probably find that your negative thoughts far outweigh your positive ones. It is estimated that we have between 2-3,000 thoughts an hour. Now imagine someone telling you ‘you are no good’ 2-3,000 times an hour. Then imagine that they have been telling yourself this most of your life. You are going to believe that aren’t you? This amount of negative energy is inevitably going to have a profound effect on actions, behaviours and choices which will massively impact the path of your life.  

How to change your thoughts

Once we have become aware of these thoughts – what to do about them?

We literally have to change our thoughts. Contradict them, say ‘NO!’ to them, tell your thoughts they are wrong. Then actively tell yourself something good. Initially this may feel really weird, but as with everything, with practice it becomes more natural.

It might help to write down the thoughts that were most prominent when meditating, and then write a counter to these thoughts.

As I have talked about so often, we are changing a habit (see How to stop alcohol cravings). These thoughts are just a habit. Trying to change all your thoughts at once is quite unlikely, so just pick a few thoughts and concentrate on those ones until your counter argument feels more natural, then pick a new thought habit to change.

For example, if your thoughts say ‘I am not good enough’ you say no! And change your thought to ‘I am confident and capable, I am enough’ or ‘I am loving and caring, I am enough’ or simply, ‘I am amazing!’ You get the idea.

Some people find positive affirmations really good. A positive affirmation is just a positive statement about you and your life, such as ‘My life is full and happy’. Like a habit, saying these affirmations repeatedly, trains the brain to start thinking that affirmation. Thoughts, as we have seen, turn into actions and behaviours, these actions and behaviours change what you are doing to make these thoughts a reality. It’s a bit ‘fake it until you make it’, but it works!

Just a quick word of warning though. If your life is feeling pretty shit, and you are seriously down, saying ‘My life is full and happy’ is probably going to evoke feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, sadness and ultimately you will stop saying it  pretty quickly because it feels so far from the truth that it must be nonsense. So like all my advice, baby steps. Don’t say ‘My life is full and happy’ if it really really isn’t right now. Maybe pick one thing that you are grateful for. Once thing that made you smile, even slightly, or one person who loves you and say that ‘I am grateful for….’ Or ‘I have love in my life’ (I will write much more on gratitude soon). Slowly these small thoughts will improve your thoughts and mood and bring you to a place where you can move onto the bigger affirmations.

Learning to love and forgive yourself

Most important to your thought changing is kindness. You have to train yourself to be super doper kind to yourself.

No judgement, no blame.

One of the things I hear most often from people trying to change their lives, such as quitting drinking, (and believe me, I was no different), is ‘I have failed again’. Failure is a judgement, and you are also blaming yourself. Neither of these thoughts will help you. Things are as they are. If you have had a drink when you didn’t want to, then there is nothing that beating yourself up about it is going to do about that now; you can’t take it back or change it. The only thing beating yourself up might do is prevent you from starting again, and it is only by starting again and accumulating of baby steps that we finally reach our goal.

As I often say, it’s easier to say this than to practice it, especially if you have had a self-critical thought pattern for a long time. But as with everything, it takes awareness of your thoughts and consistent practice at changing them.

I have created a free course, sign up is below, which will send you a daily email with actions to take to change your thoughts and improve your sense of self-worth.

How changing your thoughts will change your relationship with alcohol  

By changing out thoughts, we become aware of what is going on in us. This awareness allows us to work out our triggers, the reasons that we drink and what we really want from life.

Changing your thoughts allows you to change our behaviours and introduce those new habits which can replace your alcohol habit (see How to stop alcohol cravings for more on this.)

It also allows us to start finding out who we really are. In not being critical we can start to actually like ourselves. Once you learn to love yourself, anything is possible. Most importantly, if you love yourself you will take time to nurture yourself and become the person you want to be.

Lessons I learnt from my thoughts

I learnt by doing this that my inner voice was hugely critical. I had no belief in myself, I was afraid of people and I needed to prove my life’s validity constantly. Every time I made a good or brave decision, my thoughts led me to sabotage it (see How I used alcohol to escape). I most definitely, looking back, created the life I have. Although I fought with this idea for so long – because I was full of anger, judgement and blame – it kept coming back until I realised I had to let go of dwelling on my past and trying to control my future, and simply be aware of my thoughts in the now. Being aware of the now will heal the past and change your future. Let go and trust. (See How to build a life you do not want to escape from for more on this).

Book recommendations for changing your thoughts

These books have been amazing for helping me to change my thoughts – so have a read if that sounds good.

For healing

For trusting

For changing

For happiness

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Awareness gives you the ability to consciously choose your thoughts and subsequently your actions and behaviours, and as a result your life.

How to build a life you do not want to escape from

I know that this is a mad thing to say, but in a way I have always felt a little bit lucky to have been through everything I have been through. Don’t get me wrong, it was completely awful at the time, yet when I came out the other end, I realised how much I had learnt and how that knowledge could help me to be a little closer to the person I wanted to be. It has helped me to build the life I do not want to escape from.

When I was trying to quit drinking I would say to my husband that not drinking was the last big battle I needed to fight. I had overcome depression, stopped smoking, survived a breakdown, been through divorce and started to heal my life. I was so frustrated that after everything I had overcome I still couldn’t beat alcohol.

My previous posts have covered a lot of ground on why this was the case:

My last post, How I used alcohol to escape, looked at what I was trying to escape from.

The fact is that most of us, at some point, feel the need to escape from something. A mid-life crisis is a well-known example of this. People get on, living the life they ‘should’ live, having the babies, the jobs, the houses, earning the money, working all hours for children and then to save for retirement. It can be so easy to slip into this cycle, never really questioning whether it is what you want and whether you are happy. Then as children grow up and middle age comes, people become aware of their age and mortality, aware of the dreams they may not have fulfilled, the limitations that have been on their lives. If you’ve never questioned it before, I imagine it can come as a huge shock – leading to all the desperate attempts to regain youth and opportunity.

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I think my problem was that I was aware of all of this far too early!! My family used to like debating, and a common topic of debate was death, the apocalypse, politics, religion and wars. I was far too young to understand that all of this stuff is what has occurred throughout history, I interpreted it as meaning it was all happening tomorrow. So I always felt a pressure to do everything NOW.

I now have a massive issue with quotes like ‘live life as if there is no tomorrow’, ‘live life to the full’ and ‘carpe diem’.

Because while they might inspire people who are cruising through life, I was never cruising. I was striving, fighting, trying to fit everything into every day, trying to achieve everything as quickly as I could. As I discussed previously, these grand plans were often unrealistic within the time frame I wanted, leading to frustration and disappointment. I then drank to deal with those feelings, to dream that I could achieve everything I wanted to quickly, to hide from the fact that I might die tomorrow not having achieved or seized the day! The more I became embedded in life, work and children the more I felt that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to with each day, so the harder I fought, the more frustrated I became and the more I wanted to drink to escape.

If you have a propensity towards cruising, the take those quotes on board, but if you are like me, step away from them quickly!

Ultimately, I was terrified of dying not having lived. All those dreams as a young person: the charity jobs, the travelling, the adventures, the excitement and glamour seemed further and further away, so I fought harder.  

My favourite Dalai Lama quote, when he was asked what surprised him most about humanity, was this: “Man! Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

This quote applies to cruisers and fighters alike. We get so bogged down in doing what we ‘should’ do that we forget ourselves. No one is a machine. We expect so much from ourselves; working, being a good parent, being fit and healthy, managing a household and being good friends. I have talked about how difficult this it can be, especially in our current society, where people try to juggle it all with less family and less community for support.

What we forget in all of this is that we have the right to look after ourselves. We deserve to live a life that we want to live.

However, neither cruising nor fighting is going to get you that life.

Firstly, many of us do not believe that we have the right to look after ourselves or put to our needs as a priority. We struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and a lack of self-worth and validity. This is such a huge and important topic that I am going to talk about it in my next post, where I will talk you through changing your thoughts to improve your sense of self-worth. As we looked at in my last post, this lack of self-worth will often lead us to sabotage the steps we do take, so we need to stop this cycle in order to move towards the life we want.

For now, back to why you need to stop fighting your way through life.

I found that by fighting to achieve the life I wanted, I ended up micromanaging every tiny aspect of my life. There was no ‘going with the flow’ or ‘see where life takes you’. Every second of my time was planned in the fear that life wouldn’t progress if I didn’t make it.

I remember my sister telling me about the states of consciousness which are To me, By Me, Through me and As me. Later, I will write about them in depth because they are amazing and very relevant to your journey. But basically it is as follow:

  • To me – life happens to you
  • By Me – I make life happen
  • Through me – you let go on control and work with life
  • As me – A deeper state of consciousness and understanding of the universe – peace, freedom, enlightenment 

I was most definitely in the BY ME category. I was going to make sure life happened and that I was in control and didn’t miss anything.

An example was that I used to plan the after school time precisely. There’s a lot to do in that time so I thought if I planned food time, homework time, family time, bath time, bed time, story time, get stuff ready for next day time and My Love and I time, then I would have the evenings I wanted to have. But it doesn’t work like that and so I would get frustrated when the plan wasn’t followed, anxious because I felt out of control, snappy at the boys and My Love and then resentful because after all my hard work planning, I still didn’t have the lovely family evening I wanted.

As this shows, micromanaging your life doesn’t actually work. Although I got A LOT done, I was never really happy doing it. I felt satisfied when I had ticked something off my to-do list, but had I actually enjoyed the process and was my to-do list any shorter than it previously had been? Most of the time, no. Anything I actually wanted to do was usually shoved to the side because, as any parent knows, your to do list rarely has anything but ‘jobs’ on it.

When I used to get the odd bit of spare time, once The Bot and The Bear were at school, before The Baby arrived, I would fill that gap with studying or yoga classes or planning the future. Anything I did with that time had to be part of a future plan otherwise I would be wasting the precious free time I had. I couldn’t do a yoga class for the joy of yoga, I had to do it as part of a plan to become a yoga teacher. I still don’t know if this was to validate my time, because I felt I had to justify my right to time to myself, or whether it was frantically grabbing at any opportunity for the future in case it disappeared.

Micromanaging my life left me frustrated, dissatisfied, entrenched in my rut and no further towards the life I wanted to live. 

No wonder I thought I wanted that temporary release of alcohol and the fuzzing of reality just to allow myself to lose control for a moment.

Things started to change after I read Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success. It’s a tiny book and can be read in an hour, but the power of his words hit me like a tsunami! I will write a post later going into more depth about this book because it is SO POWERFUL! A lot of what he says resonates with other amazing books like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and You can Heal your life, by Louise Hay.

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He says that our present is a result of our conscious or unconscious thoughts. Everything in our lives now is happening because we wanted it to happen. Now DON’T FREAK OUT! Bear with me, and Deepak! I was so pissed off with this thought but I had heard it before. The idea that I had created my own unhappiness when I had fought and planned so hard not to get the happy life I wanted was frankly insulting. Yet he is completely right. I had not trusted in life, I was convinced I was going to be hit by a bus tomorrow, convinced there was no greater power and that I had to create the life I wanted. My thought pattern had created the life I was now living.

However, wonderfully, we can change those patterns and change the course of our lives. We can change our thoughts to create the life we want (much more on this next post). We have to consciously change negative thought cycles. My thoughts were telling me that I had no value and that I needed to justify my life. Just being me and enjoying life was not enough. Whereas, Deepak Chopra says that by doing this I was ‘stopping the flow of energy’.

So the theory goes that the energy of the universe is all around. We have to let go of control and let the universe step in to do the work (this is the THROUGH ME part of the states of consciousness).

While consciously changing our thoughts, we have to create quiet time for our minds to set our intentions for the future. These are the ‘what I want my life to look like’ thoughts. Our minds need to be still as, to paraphrase was he says, if we drop a pebble in a quiet pond you can see the effect of the ripples, but if you drop it in a stormy ocean, the universe won’t notice a thing! Once we have set our intention, we have to let go of trying to control how we get there (the planning part) and trust in the universe to control how we get there.

This frees up your time and mind to focus on the baby steps you need to take to activate change in your life. These baby steps, as I have talked about before, are the foundations to getting the life you want. Big dramatic goals lead to failure and frustration, so entrust those goals to the universe and work on you in the now.

Having just watched the new Men in Black film, I heard a quote that I used to know well but had forgotten, by Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu –

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’ 

Try to search inside yourself for what you are unhappy with or afraid of, or what negative thoughts are holding you back. Pick one thing at a time to change. Focus on taking steps towards changing that thing. The more you practice changing your thoughts, your habits and your behaviours, the easier it becomes to tackle more than one thing at once. 

My formula goes:

Small & Realistic steps = Sustainable = Big changes = Dream fulfilment  

I know it’s a silly analogy, but I was watching The Baby trying to get undressed the other day and it struck me how true my formula is for everything in life. He desperately wanted his bath, he loves water and the sooner he is in it the happier he is. His goal was that bath. But he was so desperate to get into the bath that he was trying to pull everything off at once. He was getting into a tangle, falling over and crying with frustration. Eventually I said ‘Stop!!’ Take one thing off at a time. He looked at me, took each item of clothing off individually and quickly got into the bath. ONE SMALL THING AT A TIME!! Brilliant!!  

One of the most amazing parts of my formula is that by taking these steps, you also learn to love your present. Loving your present does not, as I thought it did, mean denying your dreams. It just means entrusting those dreams to the universe and working on your present. Being happy in the present is like exponential growth. The happier you are in the present and the more you trust in the universe, the more amazing your life will become – probably different and better than the one you expected!  

You are building a life you DO NOT WANT TO ESCAPE FROM!         

Please do not think that this all airy fairy rosy nonsense that is far from reality. I am not saying this happens without a little effort (this is why you can’t be a cruiser either!) and I am not saying that you will not have days when you think it is all rubbish and you want to jack it all in – my sister has requested a ‘furious sober yoga mummy’ posts which will be forthcoming! I have had stretches of time where I’m feeling OK so my naughty brain slips back into habit mode and starts planning – queue worry, frustration and dissatisfaction. Then I eventually realise what’s happening, and bring myself back round to letting go of control again. 

Whether this is before you stop drinking or finding the life you want after you stop drinking, just remember that like anything, it’s being conscious and aware of what is happening in your mind that allows you to make the small changes you need to build the life you do not want to escape from.