Learning to let things go…Week 1 of ‘The Retreat’

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It’s 1pm, I’ve just finished work for the day. It’s a new project, a new client, and I’m just finding my feet; but that’s me done for today. I’m sat at my desk, the August afternoon sunshine is bright and deliciously warm through the window. Outside, children are playing, a lawnmower sounds in a nearby garden. Clouds – a combination of fluffy white meringues and darker, more ominous grey forms, both threatening rain – drift past. Washing hangs on the line, blowing gently in the same breeze that rocks the plum tree and causes a few thirsty leaves from the oak across the way to drift gently, silently to earth.

I am calm, I am quietly planning the rest of my day. This in itself has come as something of a daily surprise, as usually at 1pm I am mentally exhausted, unable to keep my eyes open and desperate for a nanna-nap.

It’s so difficult to try and explain how different this past week has been – a week without the lure of either social media or alcohol – and how much I feel as though seven short days have started to change me. I’m not known for being particularly superstitious but I will confess that I am frightened to death that too much early crowing may, indeed, throw the proverbial spanner in the works; so, for the time being, I will share what I have learned so far.

Learning to breathe

As ridiculous as it may sound, I have learned to breathe. You might indeed consider this a quite ludicrous statement and, a couple of weeks ago, I would have been inclined to agree. However, daily meditation, and a daily session of at-home-yoga with the amazing Adriene on YouTube have taught me not just how to breathe properly, but how badly I breathed before. Why? Anxiety. Major causes of anxiety: social media (friends bickering, the dramas, the bitching, the one-upmanship, the upshitting, Brexit, more Brexit, trolls, Brexit, ignorant numpties, Brexit), wine, not enough sleep. Reasons for not enough sleep: social media, wine.

Never, ever underestimate the power of breathing properly. It’s incredible. Also, yoga with Adriene. That’s incredible too. I am learning to love downward dog and plank, honest.

I really like sleep.

I mean, REALLY like sleep. No more the 2am winehound dragging out the last few sips of wine whilst scrawling through the various dramas on social media, I have been tucked up in my bed by 11pm with a book. I have (mostly) slept brilliantly and been up and raring to go early rather than dragging my sorry arse out of bed at the last possible opportunity. I even got up at daft o’clock on a Saturday morning to go on an eighteen mile stroll with a pal, and I wasn’t crying for a sleep come midday. In fact, I had an amazing time and I cannot wait to go again.

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Saturday 9am, Loch Ard. It’s been a while since I saw 9am anywhere on a Saturday

My dreams, I should add here, have been mental. Who needs alcohol when you can control meteor showers using the power of your mind, have blazing arguments with everyone you know, dismantle an escalator, give birth to twins on a Ryanair flight, divorce a man you never married, deal drugs to Prince William and set fire to a china shop? Note: Any amateur psychologists might want to stay quiet about any dream analysis they are thinking of conducting, thanks-all-the-same.

Evenings and weekends are much longer without wine and/or social media

Genius, huh? It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you’re not involving yourself in someone else’s drama, arguing with trolls, verifying someone else’s well-intentioned ‘facts’ or getting upset about politics. It’s even better without wine because you can:

a) watch things on TV and actually remember them, therefore possibly even learning something.

b) not worry about spilling anything on pyjamas / laptop / duvet / floor

c) eat chocolate / gooey desserts without guilt because you’ve saved valuable calories you’d have wasted on wine.

d) Be able to get up early the following morning with a spring in your step and no mascara on your chin ready to have another fantastic (and amazingly long) day doing all the things*

*you may also end up clearing out kitchen cupboards, de-filthing children’s bedrooms, pruning roses and ironing. You have been warned.

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Tea. Is fab.

I’ve not been unhappy in a week

I know, right? Oh, there have undoubtedly been minor frustrations, arguments, headaches, grouchiness (hi there, week-early period!) and the odd wobble of nerves; but nothing at all like I have become used to over the years and considered quite normal. This, of course, is probably a combination of things – giving up social media and alcohol has meant that I’ve been sleeping much better, doing more interesting things, drinking a lot more water, eating more healthily and doing a lot more exercise – including yoga – and I think the cumulative effects of these have led to me massively reducing my stress-load and being able to handle life’s little wobbles a lot more calmly and effectively.

My relationship with alcohol definitely needed to change

I’m going to say it here, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s taken far too long for me to come to this (some might say startlingly obvious) conclusion:

You might not consider yourself as having a ‘drink problem’. Like me, you probably don’t need to drink every night, or drink vast quantities, or drink at odd times of the day or to ‘settle your nerves’. You might not (you probably won’t) have the shakes, the black-outs, red face. You won’t be clutching a paper bag in the park or eyeing up the cooking sherry.  Forget the old cliches – the cliched image of the drink-addled jakey sitting in a park is what the drinks industry, and their various hangers-on (advertisers, marketers, PR bods etc) want you to think of as someone with a ‘problem’.

It’s not about what you drink, or how much you drink. It’s about how that drink makes you feel, whether you feel artificially happier, bolder, stronger with it; whether you feel unhappy, angry, guilty or anxious during or after it (not to be confused with a raging hangover). It’s whether it is stealing your joy.

Here’s one for the women (not exclusively, but certainly predominantly). Take a look at social media. How many times do you read ‘HURRAH FOR GIN!’ or ‘IT’S WINE O’CLOCK!’ or ‘PROSECCO TIME!!!!!!’. It’s normal to drink. It’s normal to blame / thank your day by having a drink. Bad day – wine. Good day – wine. Naughty kids? Commiserate with gin. Good kids? Celebrate with gin. How many people do you know post almost constantly about being spangled/shit-faced or joke that they need a drink? How many people seem happy to promote a particular type of alcohol with their personality as though it is the most vital part their personality? Why do we do this? Do we realise what effect we might inadvertently be having on someone who might be desperately looking to cut down or stop drinking as we advertise the glory of being at one with the bottle of joy, as we glamorise it into something luxurious we deserve? Can you imagine if the same glamour, the same coolness, was still applied to having a cigarette? “Ooooh, it’s Berkley Menthol Time!!!!!, time to indulge in increasing my chances of developing cancer, what a crazy kid I am!”

Anyway, that’s an aside. That’s just something to think about when you’re next scrolling through social media. That’s why I have chosen to take a few weeks away from social media. What I actually want to say is this:

If you do actually worry about how much you drink, you’ve got a problem with alcohol. Problems can be fixed.

That’s what I have started to learn this week. I stood at a crossroads with an off-licence in one direction and the hills in the other.

This week, at least, I chose the hills. And, my god, they were glorious.

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Preparing to Retreat – Day 2 – I Create

This morning I worked. It’s a really enjoyable project that is unfortunately coming to an end, but today was pretty hard going, my head wasn’t in the best place for it. It’s because I’m worried about tomorrow and I felt that every time I spoke, you could hear the sigh hovering in my voice.

Alongside giving up social media for thirty days, I am also giving up alcohol. In my head, it’s all part of the same rut and my idea is that I need to shake up my evenings completely in order to push myself out of this hole I’m in. The problem is, I am a creature of habit, and it is going to take me a while to set up a new, healthier, happier routine for myself.

After work, I started making a few plans for rut-busting. I do so love a plan.

I have a few things (treats) coming in the post, like lovely new pyjamas and I spent a fair bit of outlay in ingredients to make my own organic, chemical-free bath and hair products. I will have the great outdoors on my doorstep as my chapel and my playground – my eldest has promised me use of his hammock so I can swing about in the woods. I have a few spots in mind perfect for meditating, I have a stack of books to be read, and some delicious, healthy recipes to cook. I have crochet and embroidery projects to work on, and too many drawers and boxes of arts and crafts materials to think about.

In addition, I felt it would be beneficial to have an emergency self-care kit for those moments where I just need to distract myself for a few moments, maybe an hour, to kill off a craving for a social media / glass of wine / social media AND a glass of wine.

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My kit contains:

Herbal tea bags – not shown.  I have plenty of these in the cupboard, but I am always drawn to them in the supermarket, and I am very interested in making my own from the herbs I have in the garden.

Yoga mat – Sometimes it takes me ages to drag myself to the mat. I often cannot complete a full session, there are many moves that are far too hard for my currently tight and unsupple muscles, but what I can do I greatly enjoy. I love Adriene Mishler’s yoga channel on YouTube, she has an infectious personality that never fails to cheer me up and she explains things so well I tend to be so blissed out I do most of the sessions with my eyes closed. She has also taught me that it is absolutely fine if I can’t get into runner’s lunge, or heel-to-floor in downward dog. I can do what I can do, and that is perfect for me. Next time, what I can do might be different. It’s no failure to not make every move picture perfect, it’s a success that I’ve brought myself to my mat and used this time for myself – and the feeling following a really lovely, deep stretch is absolute bliss!

My tablet – I’m hopeless typing on this because my fingers and hands are too small for the type-pad, so I only use the tablet for the aforementioned YouTube yoga sessions (and some Pilates sessions), my Spotify playlists (I have some gorgeous calming music saved to a playlist) and catching up with BBC Radio 4 (particularly The Archers or a really good drama).

Felt-tip pens and colouring books – I am a sucker for a colouring book, it is so calming and I love playing with colours and different combinations. I find it really helpful for when I’m planning colour schemes for crochet blankets. Colouring allows me to turn my brain off and just concentrate on being neat, creating patterns and having a good think about things. I have solved most of the world’s problems whilst colouring in an intricate mandala.

Logic puzzle book – You can stick your crosswords, I don’t have the patience for those. Wordsearches are boring. Give me a decent mug of coffee and a logic puzzle and I’m a happy girl. They remind me of laying on Cornish beaches with my family, laying listening to the sound of waves and the dull beach chatter of our fellow tourists. Remember those days where we weren’t all gazing at our screens constantly?

Epsom salts and essential oils and the compulsory scented candles – because bathtime is vital time. The bathroom is the only room in the house with a lock, for a start! I have a little stash of ingredients for making all manner of pampering lovelies so I can feel gorgeous on the outside, even if I’m feeling like a social-media deprived wreck on the inside.

Breathe Magazine – I love this magazine. I love the fact they are advert free, and they write interesting and thought-provoking articles on creativity, mindfulness, living simply and improving your mental health and wellbeing. They do this without the slightly cheesy and patronising ‘cheerleader’ approach you get from a lot of the American media who monopolise this genre, who seem to be more about product placement and expensive treatments and retreats far out of the budget of the majority of people.

Books – Books are unbelievably important to me. I don’t read terribly fast, as anyone who follows me on GoodReads can testify, because I believe good books should be savoured.( It also shows how busy I am doing other things that an hour a week to dedicate to reading is a marvellous treat!). I absolutely love nature writing; I have been hooked since reading John Lister-Kaye’s seminal ‘Song of the Rolling Earth’ a few years ago. I’ve been really lucky this year and read some absolutely wonderful books already, and I have vowed to do far more reading this month. I’m even moving outside my comfort zone and reading a book that fits more into the fantasy genre, which I usually bypass – Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Under Heaven’, and I’ll be interested to see if I am someone who might be converted! The Little Book of Buddhism is a perfect tiny read for carrying around and reading on the bus, on the loo, in the bath for when you need a quick hit of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama himself.

Crochet – I’m finishing off something to enter into the village Horticultural Show. I say ‘finishing off’ but I think it is actually finishing me off, I find that I am re-doing the same few rows over and over and not working out my mistake until attempt six; then forgetting what the solution was by the next time the same row repeats again; but it is a piece that I am doing for pure pleasure (and my goodness, the colours are beautiful!) and I shall cherish it, because my next few projects are all commission pieces.

 

So, here we are. Heading for midnight. It’s all very nerve-wracking, but I am also feeling like quite the intrepid explorer. Who would have thought, back in the days of internet chat rooms and forums, that we would be seeking advice on how to shut off from social media? I never thought I would become ‘that type’ of person. Never thought my life would pass me by while I got upset by other people’s dramas and I got angry with trolls I don’t know and would never in a million years invite into my house, but have let into my head. Is the old pre-Facebook/Twitter world still out there? Am I seeking something that cannot be returned to?

Today’s yoga mantra was ‘I create’.

I create a new routine for myself, or several routines if that suits me better.

I create a space for thinking for myself, for forming my own opinions.

I create a home where my children do not see me staring constantly at my phone whilst telling them not to stare at their laptops, under the pretence that my internet use is somehow more valid and useful than theirs.

I create a new today. I won’t worry about creating tomorrow until tomorrow.