Monday, September 14, 2020

Mental Health Author Interviews - #7 - SM (Shy) Holland


Tell me your name and a little bit about you.

My name is S.M.Holland (My friends call me Shy), I am an expat living in Indonesia with my husband and two daughters.

Did you always have a passion for writing?

When I was in Jr. high, I knew I wanted to write. I used to write short love stories for my friend and leave them in her locker. However, it wasn’t until I was twenty-eight that I gave myself permission to dive in head first and I began to write for myself.


What was the catalyst for your first book? Have you or will you write more books in the future?

The catalyst for my first book was an attempt to process some trauma that had happened. I started writing about the same time that I started seeking help. It was a way for me to dump out all of my emotions into one place, and it grew from there. I have currently written four books in my Get in My Head series, and there are plans for several more before I complete the series. Outside of the series, there are many ideas brewing.


Give me a brief description of your book.

The Get in My Head series portrays teens who struggle with mental illness, and how it affects them and those around them. Each book is different, because each teen has a different disorder and family dynamic. The stories are intertwined, all in the same town, and the same high school, etc. A lot of the background characters, along with the main characters make appearances or have different roles in each book. The purpose is to show that you never know what someone is going through.


Who would you say your book would resonate the most with? Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?

My books resonate with people who are struggling with mental illness and need someone to relate to. On the flipside, it is also an opportunity for those who do not struggle with their mental health to learn, become more aware and have more empathy for those who do.


Where can it be purchased?

My books can be purchased online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Soon they will be making their way into book and motor stores upon reqest.


Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you deal with that?

Yes, I am currently fighting writers block, but I think a lot of writers and artists are at the moment, considering the state of our world.

For me, when it comes to writer’s block, sometimes I have to go with the flow and not fight it, and find a different artistic outlet until the words start flowing again.


Did you find telling your story cathartic?

It was very cathartic. I didn’t know it was possible to let so much go and forgive so many people just by writing a few books.


What was the publication process like for you? What, if anything, would you change in that process?

Publishing was pretty straightforward for me, as I had a lot of help and coaching from other authors. But it was expensive. I chose to Indie-publish this specific series to retain full control over the content. It took a lot longer than I thought it would as well. I took the time to interview people who deal with mental illness on an every day basis. I also used sensitivity readers among my beta readers to check for accuracy. Following beta readers, all my manuscripts went through a professional editor. My very first manuscript took almost fifteen drafts! Maybe that was overkill-but maybe it really needed it.

If I had to change anything about my process, it would be to let go of my manuscripts sooner. I struggled a lot with self-confidence and anxiety in the beginning.


Do you have any advice for someone attempting to get their story published?

Make sure you do your research on whatever topic you are writing. It is very important, and readers can tell when you’re winging it. Also, do not be afraid to let other people read it in the beginning stages before you seek out an editor or agent. Another set of eyes on your manuscript is essential.


Do you personally experience any mental health issues? How has this impacted your mental health? I struggle with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder, CPTSD, and OCD tendencies. It has impacted my mental health in a big way. At one point I was not functional enough to leave my house. Medication and therapy have saved my life and helped me overcome a lot of struggles. I am now able to lead a more stable and hopeful life.


What are your goals for the future?

I would love to keep writing. Currently my focus is in YA with a focus on mental health. I would love to explore other publishing routes in the future as well. But for now, I am content on continuing to write the Get in My Head series until it is finished.


What are your social media links?


Twitter: @shy_holland

Instagram: shy_holland



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Mental Health Author Interviews - #6 - Blake Cohen


Tell me your name and a little bit about you.

Hi! I’m Blake Cohen. I live in Fort Lauderdale, FL with my wife and have worked in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Field for the last 7 years. I am also in recovery myself from a substance use disorder since 2012.


Did you always have a passion for writing?


Actually, no. It was something that I discovered I enjoyed doing once an employer I had about 5 years ago asked me to start writing some blogs for the organization’s website. Once, I did start writing, though, I realized how much fun it could be and how much it helped me organize my thoughts. I’ve come to realize that everyone out there has a need to be creative but often doesn’t realize it, and if they do, they don’t realize what type of creativity suits them best. Writing happened to be the creative outlet that I stumbled on thanks to my old employer and it has done wonders for my self-esteem and mental health.

What was the catalyst for your first book? Have you or will you write more books in the future?


There are really two answers to this question. For as long as I’ve worked in the substance abuse and mental health field, I have noticed that there was a lack of understanding from family members of loved ones that struggle with these invisible illnesses yet at the same time, there is a lack of understanding on the part of the person struggling as to what it’s like to love someone that is struggling with a substance use disorder or mental health diagnosis. That is what inspired me to write my book. I wanted to offer a tool to both sides that could potentially increase a sense of understanding and help offer a new perspective to the reader that may improve the relationships they have with their loved ones.

The second reason is a little bit more cheesy. I’m a big believer in goal setting and visualization so I wrote a series of goals I had on index cards and placed them on my desk for me to look at every day. Well, the first one (that stared me in the face for 3 years) was “Become a best-selling author”. I realized I cannot do that if I don’t actually write a book and when I found myself in a transition period with my work, I decided to channel the anxiety created by making a professional shift into achieving this goal. Proud to say I accomplished it shortly after releasing my book!


Give me a brief description of your book.


My book is titled “I Love You, More: Short Stories of Addiction, Recovery, and Loss from the Family’s Perspective”. The general idea of the book is that people learn through emotion so rather than providing a detailed, clinical explanation as to why substance use disorders have such a great effect on the family system, I decided to make the point via short stories. There are three fictional stories in this book, each with very different endings, that offer a sense of perspective as to what it’s like to spend a day in shoes of a person with a substance use disorder and/or their family members. The book is meant to be very easy to read and touches on all of the different emotions involved in substance use disorders. At the end of the book, there is a motivational message to the addicted, to the families, a series of discussion questions that pertain to each story in the book, and a very special message from my own father. The ultimate goal of I Love You, More is start a conversation about a topic that is often ignored or misunderstood.

Who would you say your book with resonate the most with? Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?


I would say the book resonates most with anyone that has been affected by a substance use disorder in one way or another. When the book was written, I had the family member that feels alone in mind. The mother, father, husband, and/or wife that feels isolated by their loved one’s usage and feels like no one understand what they’re going through. I wanted them to know that their story is not unique in the best way possible, so they can understand that other people have gone through what they’re going through and made it to the other side.


Where can it be purchased?


It can be purchased on Amazon in paperback, kindle, and audiobook formats. It is also available on Barnes and Noble’s website.


Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you deal with that?


Oh man, Yes! The stories in my book are fictional stories and, although they resemble real-life scenarios, I found myself doing a delicate dance of trying to keep the stories brief and easy-to-read while still expressing the raw emotion and heartbreak that families often experience when dealing with this mental illness. It was tough to do and I often found myself frozen in thought trying to accomplish that feat.

Interestingly enough, I’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback but the main complaint I’ve gotten about the book was that it’s too short or not “raw enough” to be discussing addiction even though the stories do, in fact, get pretty dark at times. That just speaks to the pain those families must have gone through when dealing with their loved one’s disease. Really sad if you think about it. My heart goes out to them.


Did you find telling your story cathartic?


The book doesn’t feature much of my story besides a little bit of “qualifying” in the introduction. With that being said, it is always cathartic for me to be creative. It felt good to write, create, and share my creation with the world. Whether people ended up liking the book or not mattered very little to me. It just felt good to work hard on something and see it all the way through. The positive reviews and best-seller status were just bonuses!


What was the publication process like for you? What, if anything, would you change in that process?


My book is self-published which is very common these days. With programs like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, it is very easy to put your work out there without having to go through the very difficult, time consuming and, potentially, expensive process of finding a traditional publisher. I’d recommend it to anyone. I did hire someone to help me with the self-publishing process and editing, though. I thought with it being my first time that it might be smart to have an expert guide me through that part.


Do you have any advice for someone attempting to get their story published?


I’d recommend hiring an expert to help guide you through the self-publishing process. It is fairly easy to do alone but there are some catastrophic mistakes in the listing process you can make that will ensure no one ever finds your book so have a pro help!


Do you personally experience any mental health issues? How has this impacted your mental health?


As I mentioned above, I am in recovery from a substance use disorder since 2012. It’s something that is on my mind everyday but is no longer hard to manage. Today I am very proud of my past because it made me who I am and gave me a sense of perspective on life that I don’t think I would have found otherwise. My addiction actually led me to finding my true self. Getting sober was the best decision I’ve ever made for my personal and professional lives. Writing a book only helped me gain even more confidence in my identity and brought me a new sense of joy in accomplishment.


What are your goals for the future?


Well, I recently started a new company that offers interventions and family recovery coaching, so I have been focusing on that a lot recently! I do want to write a follow up to I Love You, More and possibly create a series out of it. Who knows what the future holds?! If there is one thing that my recovery journey has taught me is that I am capable of much more than I ever anticipated. It’s exciting to think of what could be next on this wild ride!


What are your social media links?


Instagram: @BlakeEvanC
















Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Mental Health Author Interviews - #5 - Felicity Douglas

Tell me your name and a little bit about you. 

I’m Felicity Douglas, a biochemist by training who left the lab behind in 2014 after a breakdown. Looking back, it really was nature’s way of saying “no more”. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. At the time though, I saw it as further evidence I was a failure. And now, I see it in a more positive light. It was a timely wake-up call that my approach to life, which was all work all the time, was unhealthy.

I live in a beautiful part of highland Scotland and share my garden with a varied assortment of wildlife, including red squirrels and a pheasant called Captain-P. I frequently wild-bathe in cold mountain streams and lochs, and I relax by building things out of LEGO, and plasticine. I’m a slow runner, and a slightly faster indoor-rower. I have a fondness for straight lines, even numbers and I collect cardboard boxes as well as spanners.


Did you always have a passion for writing?


Yes and no. I’m dyslexic which made my school years challenging but at the same time I often had an urge to write. I’m a recovering perfectionist and have learnt not to get frustrated when I can’t see words or when I mix them up. I now accept mistakes will happen, and that’s okay. I’m not on this planet to be perfect. That just sucks the joy out of life, and it made me ill.


What was the catalyst for your first book? Have you or will you write more books in the future?


This is my first book, written by way of cap-stoning my journey of healing and recovery from unresolved childhood trauma. It came at the end of two years of therapy; I felt I needed to purge everything out and onto the pages of a book. It is also intended to be a reminder to myself of just how far I have travelled in my journey, but probably more importantly, it will keep me accountable. It will remind me to be helpful not harmful, to be kind and compassionate, and to accept for the most part, people are doing the best they can.

I hope to continue writing. I have a side interest in menopause, having undergone a surgical menopause at the age of 41, which was the trigger for my mental breakdown in 2014. So, maybe I will write something on the mental health implications of surgical menopause as we tend not to hear so much about those, but they can be debilitating.


Give me a brief description of your book.

‘A Tale of Two Dogs and a Bear’ charts two years of therapy to help me process sexual abuse I’d experienced as a young girl. Before 2018, I had dealt with it by trying to ignore it. That was neither a sensible nor sustainable approach. The book explores how animals in a variety of guises can aid recovery. I was fortunate to work with a wonderful therapist and her incredible canine companion, a caramel-coloured cockapoo with the sweetest temperament. Over the course of two years, I transitioned from “I am a worthless human” to “I am a woman, I am enough, and I matter to me”.


Who would you say your book with resonate the most with? Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?


Anyone who has experienced depression, suicidal ideation, trauma, and sexual abuse in particular. Maybe survivors and warriors will recognise themselves in the book, and decide to seek help, or at the very least feel validated and know they are not alone. I have found my voice through writing, maybe others will too.

I had a wide audience in mind when writing. Trauma survivors, those living with cPSTD, depression, anxiety and/or suicidal ideation. Anyone on the autistic spectrum, but girls and women in particular. Lastly, maybe student therapists and counsellors might be interested in learning more about how trauma-plus-autism can play out in the therapeutic setting, as well as the powerful healing bonds that can be created between client and canine ‘therapets’.


Where can it be purchased?


‘A Tale of Two Dogs and a Bear’ is due to be published in the autumn of 2020 and will be available via a range of online retailers as well as from


Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you deal with that?


Thankfully I never have, possibly because I’m not having to think about plots and characters as would be the case with fiction. I have total admiration and respect for writers of fiction, I wouldn’t even know where to start!

I tend to have the opposite issue to writer’s block, in that I cannot get the words written quickly enough. I’m at my sharpest very early in the morning and typically write between 3am-7am. Those are golden hours when my thought processes haven’t been coloured by news events and/or other mundane occurrences that serve as unwelcome distractions to the writing process.


Did you find telling your story cathartic?


Totally, yes. Cathartic, liberating and empowering. I was demonstrating that I may have been hurt as a child, but it doesn’t need to define my entire life. Something good can come out of my struggles. I’m determined to thrive and to embrace the years to come.


What was the publication process like for you? What, if anything, would you change in that process?


I found it relatively straightforward. I decided to self-publish thus avoiding any potential censorship issues over the content of my book, whilst also reducing the overall time required to publish. If it sells only a handful of copies, but helps those who have purchased it, then it will have been worth writing. My main sticking point was the cover design, at one point I found the potential choice and options overwhelming. I can struggle with making decisions. Eventually I went for a simple and clean design.


Do you have any advice for someone attempting to get their story published?


Just go for it. There will never be a right time, your manuscript will never be utterly and totally perfect, and it doesn’t have to be.


Do you personally experience any mental health issues? How has this impacted your mental health?


I navigate depression and anxiety, both of which are managed with medication. Thank goodness for modern pharmaceuticals. It has taken quite a while though to get to this point and to find a pleasant cocktail of antidepressants that allow me to function, to sleep well, and to be creative.

Being on the autistic spectrum (late-diagnosed at 46) brings with it a variety of challenges. Part of my autism means I can hyper-focus for long periods of time. This works in my favour when writing, although sometimes knowing when to stop can be an issue. I have a hard time with the concept of pacing and moderation.


What are your goals for the future?


My goals are double pronged. First and foremost, my goal is to stay well, to maintain good mental health, without which it would be difficult to work on the other strand, which is to help others in some capacity. Whether that’s as an advocate, ally or mentor, or some other role, remains to be seen. I would like to somehow support young girls on the autistic spectrum, to show them they can find their place in the world. Being a member of the neuro-diverse tribe has many positives. I also aim to continue writing and talking about my lived experience of depression, anxiety, cPTSD, trauma recovery, and of course, life on the spectrum.

I realise how fortunate I was to be in a position to access talking therapy. I quite literally owe my life to therapy, and I would like to help ensure those who need to access therapy, are able to do so. I worry that society is struggling to support and nurture those vulnerable souls most in need of assistance. By donating all profit from the sale of ‘A Tale of Two Dogs and a Bear’ to mental health charities, my hope is that some good will come out of the unfortunate set of circumstances that defined my childhood and early adult years.


What are your social media links?


I can be found on Twitter: @FelicityDougie

Friday, August 14, 2020

Mental Health Author Interviews - #4 - Featuring Tyler Wittkofsky


My name is Tyler Wittkofsky. I was born and raised in Leland, North Carolina, mere minutes from Historic Wilmington and Southport. I graduated from South Brunswick High School and went on to receive my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.


Did you always have a passion for writing?

Growing up, my grandmother was a high school English teacher, assistant principal, principal, and later my elementary school principal. She encouraged my creative writing style from a very early age and helped me to grow into the writer I am today.


What was the catalyst for your first book? Have you or will you write more books in the future?

I was going through a terrible mental breakdown. When I finally felt like I could come up to breathe, I realized I wanted to do my part to make sure others didn’t feel the way I did. I wanted to give someone hope. I’m working on two books right now, one is based on my grandma and her story of being the first female principal in a rural county. The other is a romance series based on my fiancĂ©e and mines relationship. I’m also writing as Minotauros for the “Legends of the Veil” blog, a supernatural multi- author blog that follows some really cool legends as we create new journeys for them. It’s really fun because the stories really coincide with one another, so it makes you connect to each character and want to follow each one of their blogs.


Give me a brief description of your book.

(Not) Alone is the story of Henry Hovishky, a recent college graduate who is exploring life one step at a time. Already in his young career, he is the winner of multiple awards and recognitions. He is soon to be married to the girl of his dreams. His best friends are more than friends, they’re family. His family supports him and raises him up. And yet, he can’t help but to feel alone. How can someone who seemingly has everything be so alone? Everything seems to be great in his life on the outside, but this story shows the truth of Henry’s life. He struggles with depression, anger issues, severe anxiety, and bipolar disorder. With so many successes in his life, he still fights an uphill battle every day.


Coffee, Alcohol, and Heartbreak is my debut poetry collection. Spanning a four year period, I wrote these poems in my darkest of times as an escape from reality. From happiness to darkness, these poems range the emotional spectrum connecting those with their inner self.


Who would you say your book with resonate the most with? Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?

I wanted to reach two people: Those suffering with mental illness and the loved ones of those suffering with mental illness. I wanted to give those suffering hope that it was going to be okay, they just had to look at the people around them and open up to them. For their loved ones, I wanted to show them how my loved ones helped me along my journey.

Where can it be purchased?

(Not) Alone


Coffee, Alcohol, and Heartbreak: A Poetry Collection


Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you deal with that?

Recently I hit a terrible wall and lost all creative juices. I decided to go out and write something outside of my normal genre, which is where I picked up the character of the Minotauros. It helped me to write for fun and to expand my writing skills.


Did you find telling your story cathartic?

It was hard to relive some of those moments, but I knew the end result would be beautiful and that was what mattered.


What was the publication process like for you? What, if anything, would you change in that process?

I self-published through Amazon. It was quite a bit of work doing the editing, cover art, creating blurbs, formatting, etc. but I wanted to go this route to have most control over my story so I could give the best prices and promotions to readers.


Do you have any advice for someone attempting to get their story published?

I self-published first but do have dreams of querying one day for my other stories. If you want more control, self-publish. Also, if you query, don’t get discouraged when you get a ‘no’, that just means ‘next opportunity’.


Do you personally experience any mental health issues? How has this impacted your mental health?

I suffer from Bipolar 1, depression, and anxiety. I’ve been able to overcome them and continually push to show the world that I am more than my diagnosis.


What are your goals for the future?

Honestly, my goal is to reach as many people as possible with my stories. To me, it isn’t about the money or fame, but about helping those in need.


What are your social media links?

Thank you!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Road to Recovery - by Victoria Camp

What is Love, Forgive, Grow?

I have spent a long time thinking about what are the most important elements in life, not just recovery but in life to help us thrive in whatever area of life we choose to be in.
Love is the underpinning element to almost everything of joy, happiness, success and long lasting contentment as far as I can tell. If we treat people, but most importantly ourselves with love, then good things often follow.
Forgiving is probably the hardest element for me personally, given my high ambition and drive, any deviation or short coming I view as critical and failure. If however, I look at my actions and behaviours through the lens of love then I am able to forgive myself. Forgiving others is often the easy part, genuinely reconciling yourself to incorporate the elements of yourself, (and others) that are desirable and the not so much is a winning step towards great relationships and health.
Growing is a fundamental value in my life, not just learning but growing. Constantly seeking the best version of myself and adapting to ever changing environments and situations. It might be learning a new skill. It might be challenging and changing a behaviour or habit. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to improve myself and realised, partly as a result of lock down but also the help and support of some special bonds I formed, that I need to expand my horizons. And that I do not need permission to do this. If you are growing, from a place of love, whilst you may not always grow in the ways you expected you will enjoy the journey and learn to appreciate the small steps in life. We celebrate a baby first steps, celebrate your achievements in that context and feel blessed.

Why only 3 steps?

Well this is a revised guide for high functioning alcoholics. High functioning brings with it a certain set of complications, and dare I say it, status. The 12 AA steps are incredible, as is the group. I have made use of their materials and groups during my recovery but I thought there might also be another way. High functioning alcoholics are achievers, usually, they have status and accomplishments and succeed. They are usually the last to get help, and are socially capable of hiding the issue for a number of years. High functioning alcoholics have drives which may be different to others, their goals will be different, their expectations of recovery different and their method of recovery will be different. By way of example when I told my friends and family that I wanted to become sober the most common response was: “But you don’t have a problem”. This means much of the usual recovery road is redundant, but that does not mean it should be ignored. I have revised the 12 steps into 3, because, well you are high functioning after all, and because I believe your recovery like you, is capable of more in less. So 3 steps – you might want to break those down into micro-steps, because each one will have different levels and elements depending on your circumstances. I will explain each in more detail but they  might resonate for you and they might not. Take what you like and ditch the rest, tell me what you liked, tell me what didn’t work – maybe together we can come up with the new definite source of help for HFA’s the world over.
I am not an expert on anything except myself and my experiences and I hope you can learn from my experiences. More than anything, I hope that 1 person out there reads this as says “this is me”, and as a result begins to take the HUGE momentous step of trying to work towareds a healthier happier version of themselves. If you are that one person please tell me, if I can help just one person begin their journey I will be overwhelmed with joy and gratitute. No pressure.

Step 1: You have the ability and strength to control this addiction. But not alone.

Ah – the first step, the first step of any journey is always the hardest. Putting your gym kit on, lurching out of bed, day 1 of a diet, the first few weeks with a baby, in an interview, new job, new car. New anything. This will be a new set of experiences from you and I want you to start from a position of strength and power. In that regard I believe this differs from the 12 AA steps.
I believe you DO have the power and strength to control your addiction. As a HFA I don’t doubt that you have already overcome great feats in your life, achieved things others thought not possible, scaled heights you never dreamed of in work, sport, music, family. You might have a huge family, a high power career, be a specialist, or you might just excel at being you but what is unique about you is your ability to function to a “normal” level whilst also coping with an addiction which is slowly and surely taking you over. You are diminished, you may not feel it right not because the bills might be paid, promotions might be coming in, acclaim etc but you are diminished. You know this too. You know, or you suspect, that without the alcohol you could be capable of more. Actually for some of you that fear – the fear that without it you might be capable but NOT achieve may actually be part of the reason for your continuing.
Maybe it’s prudent here to talk about how you know you have a problem; because you know. If you have lied, been secretive, ignored concerns, hidden evidence or have altered your life to allow continued drinking in any way you have a problem.
So here’s what we know; you are capable, you have a problem. Think about how you solve other problems in your life – what do you normally do? My guess is you seek help. High functioning people are capable of working in teams because you cannot function at this level in society without being a team player and professionally I suspect you have no issues with admitting where your sphere of excellent starts and finishes. You cannot fix this problem or you would have done so now. It’s possible you have developed coping mechanisms – so these might look like “I don’t drink Mon-Thurs”, or “Dry January” – you might even hear yourself saying I can go without it for a week so I don’t have a problem. Unpack though – if the only reason you can go without is because you know it’s time limited you have an issue. Right now think about never consuming an alcoholic drink again in your life? Going out for dinner and drinking water or juice, avoiding bars, coming home from work and having a cup of tea…..experience that life and now imagine experiencing it forever. How are you feeling? Confident? Scared witless? Like you want to show me you can do it? Some of those emotions are helpful – but if you feel confident then do it, you don’t need this help.
So you are capable, you have a problem, you cannot fix it yourself….SEEK help. It doesn’t really matter where this help comes from but the help needs to be focussed on two things; sobriety and the causes of the addiction. You cannot long term fix one without also addressed the second.
If you have money get a therapist, join AA, speak to your GP, find a sympathetic experienced family member or friend to sponsor. Admit that you cannot do this alone and know that admission is the strongest and best decision you may make in relation to your sobriety. The NHS, if in the UK, is an incredible organisation that can help you on your journey – however, you might find the help more suited to LFA than your needs which is why you might need to supplement this help with your own. You don’t need to make a song and dance out of this, or any of it actually, you might journey through your recovery in a very bumpy way which is fine. As my Dad says it’s about eating the elephant a bit at a time. Take one bite.

Step 2: Evaluate, reflect and seek to redress imbalance in unhealthy elements in every relationship. Focus first on yourself.

I feel REALLY strongly about this step. It might be the best and worst step. It's also the one where I think I most diverge from the AA steps, but like the others, take the bits you like and ignore the rest. This is you recovery and your journey and much like the reasons you arrived here are unique, so is your path through so remember it’s important to just keep going one day at a time. Most of these steps can be done simultaneously and some will be repeated so don’t think of this like a tick list, more like a pattern of growth that you might need to revisit every few years or months.

If you are doing the 12 steps, following the AA programme, that’s amazing. WELL DONE. If it’s working for you keep at it, what I will say is knowing that in every town in every corner of the world there is a group of people you can go to who will listen, not judge and try to support you is quite something. Use it if you need it.

As a high functioning alcoholic it’s likely your stories will be quite different from others, because you are quite different. You will have significant relationships you have been maintaining, you may be quite emotionally intelligent and able to function socially with varying levels of success all whilst hiding your addiction. To a certain extent you have made your drinking part of who you are, but it no doubt comes with a whole barrel of shame and guilt and remorse. So the idea of my 3 steps, and this one in particular, is to remove the negative emotions but to learn how to incorporate your drinking self into a positive image of yourself. You cannot carry on drinking, I am not saying that, what I am saying is that I do not believe it is healthy to completely divorce yourself from your drinking life because you need to learn to accept and love even that part of your self.

AA appears to me to continue the spiral of shame by making your drinking something you need to apologise for, to make reparations and to take a moral inventory of yourself. It also draws a huge black line between drinking and not drinking - which you will need as an addict but only in relation to your drinking.

If you are going to embark upon a significant journey of change and challenge, I do not believe you need to be "broken down" to be built up. Instead I believe you need to be built up with even more love to have everything you need to succeed. Just like a child learning a new skill there are significant bodies of evidence to show now that beating them into it won’t work – instead using nurture, love and support will get the job done.

Evaluation Time

So, how do we do this, first we evaluate with a sober mind the state of our relationship with our most useful ally – you. There are a million ways you can do this, I need not point you in any one direction, but a guiding principle of this evaluation and reflection period must be to constantly love yourself and your actions. Even the awful ones okay. Believe me I am fully aware of how hard this is going to be to do, but what we need to do here is both a removal and an attachment.
·         We need to remove blame, shame and guilt from your drinking behaviour and self.
·         We need to attach love, forgiveness and growth to your journey now.

If you want to do a Myers Briggs to see who you think you are, or keep a journal whatever works, but be truthful and kind. You must do this exercise with love in your heart for yourself. If you have a counsellor they can help, and you will need to revisit this step time and time again during your recovery.

I wrote lists, I still do, I had a rainbow colour notepad and I allocated colours to things I feel good about, things I feel sad about, and things I hoped for – I had a rule that I had to write something in each category every time. I could not just fill up the yellow section, (sad) it had to be balanced.

You also need to start investing in yourself – maybe you’ve stagnated a little, but you need to replace your drinking time and behaviour with something for you that makes you feel positive about yourself. Again, I don’t need to point you to things – bath, gym, cooking, reading, Netflix whatever. But you need to start balancing the scales of behaviours and interactions you have with yourself so that you begin to be reminded of what an outstanding individual you are.

It will be necessary to think about some of your actions and behaviours, and to provide some context to them. You will also need to start on the journey of discover about how you got here – this might take months or years to uncover but if you do not do this critical work you will never resolve those underlying issues and be able to fully function as part of society. You will need help for this – counselling is expensive I know but it might just save your mental health. The NHS does offer it, you can try that, or you can find a good friend, priest, anyone actually who wants to do the work with you.


You have completed evaluating your drinking life, you have a sense of the good the bad and the ugly, now you need to frame those in terms of perhaps 3 categories:

o   Ditch it – this person or action or behaviour is not relevant.
o   Fix it – this niggles, and I would like to try and work out how to have this settle in my mind.
o   Leave it – I cannot deal with this right now.

The tricky part here is that even if you can categorise, it’s not going to be up to you in the end.  This is going to be tough because you are going to have to make some decisions right now which will either help or hinder your progress and then, unfortunately, not have any control in the final outcomes.

Right now – sod everyone else okay. Right now continue to exist in your relationships in whatever state you can, if you want to tell people you can but here is one of the biggest issues with high functioning drinking that I have found, and still find today. When I tell people here are some responses I might get:
·         What, you have a drinking problem. I don’t think so, we all like a drink.
·         Okay, great, but I have this XXXX going on and it’s more important than your latest issue.
·         Right, well keep me out of that, sounds messy.
·         Shall we go for a drink to discuss it? (I’m not joking, I literally had this about 5 times).

So yes you need to work with these people, if they are going to stay with you, but right now focus on the one in the mirror in the morning. If your recovery is anything like mine you will have about 100% more energy, better sleep and begin to remember things about you that you didn’t even know you’d forgotten. I’m quite witty, but I had been in such a haze between drunk and hungover that I quite forgot all about it. I could follow along at work, remember names again, complete cross words. My first 3 months of sobriety were like no other in my life – the potential I felt was immense and overwhelming. If you can, enjoy it.

Work out the areas of your life that you enjoy and can invest in, and those which you do not think are bringing you anything positive. Whilst you may need to make some tweaks to your existence eg avoiding nights out, for now you don’t need to make any huge changes. The method I am proposing here is about learning to exist in your life, as you were, just without the drink. It is not about carving out a whole new experience and life because the one you had might have been just fine.

I remember the strongest feelings I had during this time where when people who did support me told me they thought I had changed so much. I felt so angry at that because in my mind I hadn’t changed, I had emerged. I was the same me I was at 18, at 23, but I had since been covered in a layer of Chablis, Rioja and Vodka, she was still under there and I was just letting her out now. I didn’t think I was changing, I suppose that’s why it’s recovery although as a friend told me recently resurgence is a better word – I was finally becoming the adult version of myself which I could learn to love.

So now is the time to decide and cement in who you want to be and how you want to exist in the world post drink and believe me that can be ANYTHING you want it too – no rules. But use love and forgiveness here, you need to forgive yourself for not always making the best mistakes. Forgive yourself for the one night stands, for the broken friendships, for letting yourself down. It’s okay. It’s okay that all of things happened, you didn’t mean for them too, you have been really unwell and now have the energy to try and get yourself well. I love you. You deserve love.


I recoil at the idea of having to apologise for your behaviour whilst drinking, given we now know that those with an addiction are suffering from a mental illness or instability. We don’t ask depressed people to go around apologising when they feel more able, or those with Bipolar to write a bloody list of everyone they might have been rude too. SOD that I say. I have not deliberately apologised to anyone as a result of things I said or did when I was drinking. And I certainly would not have done it as part of my recovery.
If we continue down this path – if we reinforce the message that you have something to make up for, or be sorry for, we reinforce the message that your drinking self is someone separate and distinct from yourself. It may be painful to read this but you are one and the same, drunk or sober. Yes you will have said things, yes you will have done things, and in truth some of those might have happened without the drink. But you have been unwell, you have been suffering from an unresolved issue within your mental well being which has led you to this place. You did not design to become an alcoholic, you have been led here through no real fault of your own and are now taking an immense steps to try and get well. So, you apologise to your girlfriends about that time you ….whatever….and they don’t care, or worse, they hold on to the anger and hurt they feel. What then for you.

My approach goes something more like this – review your evaluation and reflections steps.
1.       Are there people with whom you think relationships have suffered – people who’s trust you might have abused, or kindness you might have taken advantage of at certain moments? 
2.       Is it important that these people remain in your life?
3.       Do you know that no matter what the outcome of any conversations with them your recovery will continue apace?

If you get a full house of yesses then start some conversations, not apologies. It might go something like this:

I may not have always been the best friend, wife, colleague over the past few years. I am working through the causes of this, including limiting my alcohol intake. I am keenly aware there have been times I have hurt or upset you whilst being under the influence of alcohol, and our relationship has suffered as a result. Know I am sorry for the part I played in those instances and that my focus right now is on supporting myself through this immense period of change I am undergoing. I really hope our friendship survives as I believe we can achieve a balanced respectful relationship when I am fully sober and well again.

If they do not want to be part of that journey with you that’s fine, you cannot force people, nor can your apologising guilt them into it. You are already a high functioning highly intelligent and socially confident person. You don’t need others approval, forgiveness or gratitude to feel good about yourself and if you continue to hold on to the thought that you do, your recovery will be wholly hampered by those around you.

I realise this is like I’ve said don’t apologise and then apologise but I think it’s the emphasis with which this apology happens and the way in which you approach this element of your recovery. You are not coming cap in hand to people apologising for some bad awful thing you did, you are acknowledging you were not in the best place and that affected your behaviour and you would like to make amends for any wrong doing. It’s really important to hold this in your mind, going to people and apologising and seeking their forgiveness puts the journey of your recovery in their hands and it is not. It is in your hands and yours alone. Even if family cut you off, even if people you went to school with, grew up with and have made lives with cannot move on from your behaviour, or worse, who want you carry on being the down trodden misbehaving element of the group, YOU MUST move on.

I’ve lost count of the people I offended or upset when I was drinking, I made amends with those who meant something to me and who wanted to be on the journey with me. The rest I forgot.

It’s not that the AA has it wrong, you do need to make amends, but first you need to do this from a solid foundation of love and understanding of your addiction and your journey. Your addiction is not something to be ashamed of, sorry for, or apologetic about it is, much like the colour of your hair or the foods you like to eat – PART OF WHO YOU ARE.

Step 3

Every hour of every day is a battle and you will succeed with love, support and mercy.
This is the ultimate challenge to which you will rise.

Are you a bit competitive? I’m guessing most recently less so because you’ve not been at your best, but I’m guessing you do like to be right, and you do like to win. How can I know this – well because you are a high functioning alcoholic which means 2 very specific things; you excel at drinking, and you excel(ed) at life as well. You cannot be a high functioning alcoholic living on the streets. You cannot be a high functioning alcoholic if you just binge drink at the weekends.

You have been living two lives; your public life and your own personal life. I don’t know if you are drinking in between patients or classes, or at home alone at 10am on a Saturday morning. Only you can know how far down the line you have come but rest assured there is still a long way you could go. My counsellor sent me to an AA meeting during my recovery; honestly it was horrendous. I was not like those people. I still had my house, my family, my life. I didn’t move from Chablis to crack. I could hold down a job and mortgage payments and I could mend myself without a group of strangers. But what I did find there was a certain fear and also comfort. I knew that even with our differences when we walked through that door into that meeting we were all the same; we all had our struggles and were trying to get through. I also knew I could NEVER get to that point. Most of the people in the room had hit rock bottom. Have you?

I suppose my rock bottom might be urinating on myself various times on the commuter train home, or in public places, as towards the end of my drinking I could no longer control my bladder. It might be waking up in beds all across the city and not having a clue where I am or whether or not I’d even had sex the night before. I put myself back on the pill during my mid-20s even though I was not in a relationship but to avoid the worry. It might be lying to my family about my situation so regularly that I began to believe they didn’t know anything about me because the picture of myself I was painting them was so far from the truth. It might be going to at least 5 different shops to buy my drink on the way home so no 1 shop knew the truth. But equally it was none of these – I didn’t hit a point at which things had become so bad I knew something had to change. My friends didn’t stage an intervention, no-one had stopped speaking to me, I hadn’t disgraced myself at a wedding ….And so in attending that AA meeting I knew I had something to be afraid of, because it wasn’t too many steps from me to them and I was not going to let that happen to me.

I sensed I was out of control, and at the time I was beginning a new relationship, which brought with it a step-child. And I feared I could not parent him to the best of my ability as a result of my addiction, at this point I realised that it was just that, an addiction. They would come for the weekend and leave Sunday morning, I would time their departure with the opening of the store around the corner so I could walk them out the house, pretend I was going to get some bread, wave goodbye and load up on wine and fags, be back at home within 10 minutes breathing that long sigh of relief that finally we were alone – my addiction and me. So I had to change something because frankly that wasn’t sustainable.

My GP was amazing, she was the first one to support and challenge me – she bet me I couldn’t go 2 weeks without drinking and told me if I couldn’t she would refer me to the NHS led addiction programme and, (her words) “You don’t want me to make that referral”. So high functioner persona kicked into action – we are good in a pinch, what did I need – a break, support and a plan. I took a break to the seaside alone. I love the sea. I sought external counselling support as I knew I could not wait for the NHS and I devised a plan. I would see how long I could go without drinking.

On my own.

I lasted a week.

I drank on a Sunday night before seeing the GP again, but at least this time I could tell her I had a plan, counselling was due to start that week and I sensed I had a journey in front of me but I was ready for the challenge. I like to prove people wrong you see. I like to defy the odds and show people that I can do things they don’t think I could even be remotely capable of, so not only was I going to fix myself, I was going to do it to the very best of my high-functioning ability.

I had support – I had a new partner, a great manager at work who knew something was going on, (not what) but enough to support, and I had an excellent therapist. I remember those first few sessions as a blur of tears, shame but also such empowerment. Gradually we began to work through what had led me to her door – my life story which I will recount in other blogs but it includes very similar stories; grief, loneliness, isolation and desperation. It became clear during my sessions that this was going to be the making of me, that I was going to learn things about myself that only someone who has glimpsed their rock bottom and clawed their way back up can. It also became clear that I was going to have to begin dealing with emotions. I cried straight for about 3 months – at everything, good stuff, bad stuff, happy stuff, quick stuff, funny stuff, literally anything I just cried. Because I hadn’t for so long. In my stagnated state I had not processed any emotions for many years and now I was making up for lost time.

During counselling we focussed on processing these emotions in real time which involved understanding who I was as a person and how I interacted with the world. If you had not picked it up already I am fiercely independent, highly intelligent and ambitious and full of desire to make the world a better place for the people in it. My hashtag is progress because that’s what I value – progress. And I loved the progress I made. I don’t really remember by first anniversary, or my second, I started celebrating them around 4 or 5 years in because by that point it really began to feel like a battle – before then it was like a honeymoon period with myself. I felt like I was 19 again- fresh out of college, life in front of me and nothing to get in my way.

The battle starts though the day you stop drinking because it will always be there and it will never go away. Every time you have something to celebrate, someone invites you to dinner, round their house, you feel sad, you get a promotion, you get engaged, you get invited for an interview, a friend has something amazing happen to them, a hen party, a Sunday roast, wine at Mass, New Years Eve, your birthday, a sunny day in a beer garden, Christmas party, you move house, you have a great day at work, a bad day at work, a fight, a break up, a make-up, a baby, a new car. Our whole society and how you will have been living it before revolves around drinking. Only now you see it in a way you never saw it before. More on that in another post.

Every single one of these is a battle and every single one will test you and every single time you WILL rise to the challenge and you will win. Because that feeling, that potential, that high functioning part of you will be dialed up so high right now NOTHING will pull you down because you will not want to give up this newfound confidence and ability. Having put in the hard work to learn not only who you are but who you can be why oh why would you want to trade that in for a drink.

The battles will come at you when you least expect it – most recently my husband and I left our son with my Dad for his first sleepover. It was the first time we had left him since his birth around 2.5 years before – I was beside myself in the car when we left, crying my eyes out (I’m not the most maternal so this was a surprise)and totally and utterly overwhelmed with emotions – all of them at once. And do you know what I wanted to do – at 7 years sober, I wanted to down a massive glass of wine. Not just one but about 10. I wanted to drown out those emotions because I had no idea how to process them and they were new – this was a new battle. I told my husband where I was at – he asked me to talk it through, so we did, we talked and as always the strength of my emotions subsided. I remember my counsellor once telling me no matter how huge your emotions feel they will never actually over take you, like a wave they will crest and then hit the beach. It’s an image which I’ve found very useful in my life. By the time we arrived at our hotel I was a little worn out, but I had managed an entirely new set of emotions successfully and not had a drink. Another small victory. And in this way the months and the years will pass – lots of small victories along the way which you must celebrate and which when added all together will show you winning the war. I ate another piece of the elephant that day, and he got smaller and I got stronger and more confident in my ability to operate in the world without anything standing in my way of being entirely myself.

Mental Health Author Interviews - #7 - SM (Shy) Holland

  Tell me your name and a little bit about you. My name is S.M.Holland (My friends call me Shy), I am an expat living in Indonesia with my...