Written By Liz Shortall, one of Creacon’s wonderful guests.
We have all learned during the last two years that we need each other. I’m launching The Mindful Playground blog to further connect with you, the reader, and to share some of the most important things I’ve learned since I had my last drink and cigarette 9 years ago today, such as:
The opposite of addiction is connection.
We can only connect with others to the extent we are connected to ourselves.
Same, same but different
Addiction is an isolating and lonely place where we can disconnect from ourselves. It can manifest differently for everyone who experiences it, but the feelings are usually the same. As they say in Thailand ‘Same, same but different.’ I can only share my experience, if you or someone you care about, are currently, or ever have been in addiction you may identify.
Below is a scene from my novel The Lotus and the Tiger, fiction based on true events. It portrays Lucy, the main character, at her rock bottom when she is isolated and alone because of her addiction.
‘I looked for my keys everywhere. I was scared and unsure what I was going to do. The front door and back door were locked so I knew my keys had to be inside the house. I tried all the usual spots: in my handbag, my jacket, the kitchen counter and the hall table. I looked under my bed in case I had left them somewhere obscure because I had been so drunk.
Bending down caused me to gag. I had to run into the bathroom and vomit. It was all liquid, all alcohol. I kept vomiting until it hurt and all that was left was bile.
This happened countless times after drinking from the age of twenty. It is hard to replay it in my mind. It makes me anxious to remember how often I was physically sick from too much alcohol. I battered my liver, stomach and God knows what else.
I gave up the search for the keys and lay on the couch watching mind-numbing television, trying not to vomit. I had to do deep breathing not to have a panic attack because I was also locked into my house. The rest of that day was a blur of fear and vomiting.
That evening I was tidying my bedroom and spotted my angel tarot cards on my bedside table. I cringed at myself, thinking, Right, so you did your angel cards last night totally locked. I lifted the lid of the box up to tidy them back away and there were my keys. I truly believe the angels hid them from me because I was meant to live.
I lay on the bed, crying. I could not control how much I drank or what I might do to myself when I did. I was scared of myself. This was something new to fear. I quickly turned off my phone. I was unable to face reminders of the demons that came out to play during my blackouts.
I went down to the kitchen and sat at the table with a cup of tea. That comforted me always. I spotted the plant Charlie gave me on the window ledge. It was dead; it had been since before I went to America. I brought it with me regardless. I was not willing to part with the beautiful pink plant pot.
I listened to the rain pelting down onto the skylight. As I had sobered up every drop was amplified in my raw state. I thought back to the many rainy nights last winter, Charlie had been with me. I wished he was upstairs now.
My heart broke at the thought of him alone in his house maybe listening to the rain too. I did not enjoy the thought of him having company either. As tears fell off my chin, I knew I had to find a distraction to get through the alcohol-induced anxiety. There was no way I was going to sit around panicking or crying.
I grabbed an umbrella and went down to rent a DVD. That helped to distract me enough through the hours of being on the edge with anxiety. Hangovers were defined by first the edgy feeling, secondly followed by a low mood. Thirdly by that non-existent little shadow ‘mouse’ I used to think I saw out of the corner of my eye.
I had to go into the supermarket to get out some cash from the ATM. I kept my gaze down and prayed I would not see anyone I knew. Hangovers made me extremely self-conscious and almost paranoid.
It was as if I overdrew on exuberance and false confidence while drinking. The next day I had little, or nothing left. I was in the minus. The interest to be paid was all my self-worth and self-esteem. I would have to build it up again for the millionth time.’ From The Lotus and the Tiger (2021) by Lizzy Shortall
Are we happy or just less sad?
Escapism: when times are tough many of us go outside of ourselves to escape discomfort through distraction or addiction. We seek out something or someone to make us feel better. Even believing that two half people might make a whole. I have been there and done that.
We can put down the old ways, do the work on ourselves and feel better. Alternatively we can do the same thing, expecting different results, which is Einstein’s definition of madness.
If we are trying to escape our feelings without exploration, processing, and understanding through alcohol, food, work, business, productivity (often to control our perception of ourselves or what others think-that’s another blog), cigarettes, drugs or any of the addictions offered or easily available on a platter any time or any place then how can we know ourselves.
These days I like to think rather than escapism I am switching off from distractions and commitments to reconnect with myself. I recently went on an ‘Overnight Escape’ to the wonderful Wellness Centre at Creacon Wellness Retreat in Wexford (yes I still like that word escape) where you can have the space to rest and nourish your soul in many ways. My priority was an uninterrupted night’s sleep and to ground myself, rather than leave my senses. I got so much more than my eight hours sleep.
‘If one of us hurt we all hurt to some extent.’ –Marcela Giavris
While at Creacon Wellness Retreat I heard a wonderfully wise woman and healer who runs retreats there called Marcela Giavris say ‘We are all like cells in one giant body, if one of us hurts, we all hurt to some extent.’
This made a lot of sense to me. We all hurt when we see what is happening in the world right now. Buddha illustrated this very point with two bundles of reeds. When two bundles lean on each other they both stand tall together. Remove one then the other falls.
When we are aware of this we know the opposite is true too, when one person succeeds we all succeed. Coming out of restrictions and living within smaller circles for some time now, if we remember we are all connected this can give way to cooperation and a consciousness that is inclusive of everyone.
Initially I was drawn to mindfulness and meditation over a decade ago because it helped me with anxiety. I learned how to stay in the moment which meant I was not regretting the past or fearing the future.
Over time mindfulness has been the gift that keeps on giving because it has helped me to become aware of myself, who I am and how I am. I can tune into myself and see how people, places and things impact me and I them. The more I know and accept myself, the more I can know and accept others.
I recently was a beautiful retreat day learning more about how we can manage our stress and anxiety. I was reminded that it is not what happens, but how we respond to and perceive it, that influences how we feel and in turn our stress levels.
Mindful breathing and body scans can really support us to connect to ourselves and manage our stress. I am teaching these techniques to primary school children currently. It is a privilege and I wish I had these tools when I was that age.
‘If it makes you happy do it, if it doesn’t don’t.’ Brendan O’ Callaghan
Good vibes: on the same retreat during a Swedish Hot Stone Massage, some golden reminders were imparted to me. (It sounds like all I do is go to retreats and meditate. I work and have small children too and this is where I have to work hardest to apply all these nuggets I have learned!)
Anyway, we all know a good vibe when we experience it and we recognise a bad vibe when we encounter it. Everyone is doing their thing; we can choose to engage or not. We can allow any energy that does not serve us be outside of ourselves. Take a breath, raise your own vibration, and make like Elsa. Follow your path, do what is right for you. We can either learn from or forget it. That is up to us.
We choose many times a day what to focus our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energy. It’s good to be aware what are we choosing, and does it serve to make us the happiest we can be? Thinking about the past can make us feel depressed and looking to the future causes many people anxiety. Peace is found in the present moment. We know we deserve it, so let’s choose wisely where our attention is placed. Gratitude is a wonderful gift.
We can connect with ourselves today
As much as I would love to live within a wonderful wellness retreat centre (with my husband and children), I don’t! I have a fairly full schedule and I like it that way, it seems a lot of us do.
So how do we connect with ourselves? For everyone it can be different. I’ll share what it looks like for me and you may discover a new or forgotten way.
Mindfulness: This is paying attention on purpose in the moment, without judgement. Essentially being in the here and now and accepting whatever is happening within us without judgement. Being kind to ourselves, which in turns helps us to be kinder to others.
Meditation: The formal practice of mindfulness. This is when we seek to watch our thoughts come and go, like they are clouds in the sky. It is not the absence of all thought. This is not possible. However with practice we will notice longer gaps between thoughts and also become aware of thought patterns and the impact they have on our emotions and bodies. There are lovely guided meditations and body scans for adults, teenagers and children on my website. www.themindfulplayground.com
Nature: For me nature is a wonderful place to ground myself in greenery or blow off steam or cobwebs by the sea. Mindfulness and mediation also strengthen our connection with nature. This is good for us on every level.
Journaling: If my mind is racing and full of stuff that needs to be processed I can spill it on a page and chuck it on the fire. It is also a good way to get rid of a resentment too.
Switching off from all distraction: I love to put my phone on DO NOT DISTURB most of the time. (Sorry to my friends if you are reading this.) Then when I feel like it I can check my phone. I have digital detox times too. Usually I try twenty four hours, once in a while, and I last anywhere from two to twenty but this is about progress and not perfection. I am disconnecting to connect with myself. Therefore I can be more present with my loved ones or for those I am working with.
Quiet time: Just being quiet for a minute or more…it’s such a relief to just zip up sometimes and day dream.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
Somewhere between the Tibetan bowls, crystal bowls, more meditation, and a fascinating conversation, with another wise woman on retreat, I was reminded of some truths.
It not just ok to look after yourself and let your light shine, it’s important to do it. Many people are stuck in dark places, if we are lucky to be in the light we must let it shine and show them it is possible and share how we managed it.
Follow your dreams, the purpose of life is a life of purpose. Working towards your own goals makes you feel good and happy. We are in control of our own lives.
‘Happiness is the way.’ Wayne Dyer
Happiness is a feeling, a choice and a state of mind. We cannot get to happiness by searching for it or through material possessions. It is possible to be happy now, rather than waiting until everything is as we wish it to be. I believe it is possible to recover from anything and to move on with our lives. I know this to be true and as mentioned above I have written about my own experiences of trauma, grief and addiction in my novel. I have also written about how there are ways to get bigger than the pain. To expand the good. Seek out support, talk to someone, find and practice coping tools such as mindfulness, gratitude and self-belief they all work. My wish for you is to Go live, have fun and laugh! Be happy when you can! That is what we are here for! Lizzy x