Losing a parent at a young age can leave us with challenging emotions, and anger is a common one. If we aren’t given the space to process, we can form dangerous habits that grow over time. How can we start to break away from this and reconnect with buried emotions? In this week’s podcast, Luke shares with us his own experience of loss, the anger and emotional shutdown that followed, and how he used therapy and mindfulness to overcome addiction and become the architect of the future he knew he deserved.
Who is Luke Worsfold?
Luke is a therapist – or as he calls it, an Emotional Bank Manager. He runs a company called Lisa Inside Addiction, which helps people affected by addiction to discover healthier ways to manage their emotions. He do this through a podcast where I interviews world renowned experts on addiction and people directly affected by it. He also provides therapy in London and Southend, as well as a number of programs to help his clients break through the glass ceilings of their mental health.
Grief and anger
My mom drank and used drugs, it was modelled from early age. I’d see her drunk a lot, I sometimes had to carry her home from the park, stuff like that. I didn’t necessarily comprehend as an eight year old, what this thing was or why she was falling over. I didn’t know what alcohol was, I didn’t know what a line of coke was. She passed away when I was 10, a result of drinking and using drugs. That was painful, I didn’t know what to do as a ten year old. I ripped out anything that connected my head to my heart, I shut down, there was just nothing there. I didn’t understand how to process it. I guess one emotion remained, and that was anger. I was around my three brothers and my dad at the time. We were allowed to express anger and fight, it was okay to throw things at each other or punch each other up. But if I cried or showed emotion, then they would say to me ‘stop crying’. They’d beat me up. I love my Dad dearly, he’s amazing. But he isn’t very emotional. He was awesome. He was a consistent person, he gone with things and was very matter of fact and just got on with stuff. That had its negative in the sense that it made it difficult to have that emotional outlet. As time went on, I didn’t really show my emotions. I wasn’t aware of what was happening. As I started school, I moved into a world where there was drink and drugs around with my two older brothers hanging around. I didn’t really understand what emotions were. The only emotion I did have to hand was anger, but I could never out-anger people. My brothers were older, so they’d just beat me up more. As time went on, I just drank and used drugs from that early age, smoking my first joint having my first WKD, which is bonkers when you think about it. That was like the first drink and the first joint. I got bullied through school, and my emotions didn’t get any easier. So I just kept drinking and using drugs, and that continued on into later life.
Braving that first therapy session
It all built up over time. I beat myself up over many different things and internalised it all. I wasn’t allowed to show it outwardly. When everything came to a head, I was sitting on a park bench using drugs. I spoke to one of my friends and he said, ‘Luke, you’re a crack addict’. Him saying that pierced all my denial. I realised I was just like my mom, an addict, the same as her. I realised in that moment that her life was not an example, her death was a lesson, and things needs to get sorted out. But I didn’t know how to deal with these emotions, I didn’t understand. I would have told you I didn’t have emotions. I used to say to my business partner, ‘if you wanted a friend get a dog, I don’t do emotions, they don’t even exist’. Luke and emotions don’t go in the same sentence. To go to therapy in the first place, I actually changed the name of therapy to my ’emotional bank manager’, I thought that name was easier. We have a physical bank account and emotional bank account. In going to therapy I’m going to go and manage my emotional bank account the same way I manage my financial bank account. Walking into that first therapy session, I thought I would die from bringing back all that pain. I didn’t know what was going to happen, I felt as though I would spontaneously combust or melt. But I guess I just was ready, it was my rock bottom. I walked into that first session and spoke about my whole story, my premature birth, my upbringing. I spewed out as much as I could in an hour. The weeks turned into months, and I untangle that mess of my emotions, and things just got a bit easier. I started to learn to sit with my emotions, and be with them, even if I didn’t like them. Ultimately I realised that a thought does not equal an action or decision. Just because I had emotions doesn’t mean I have to change the way I respond. Doesn’t mean I have to drink or use drugs. And the world didn’t stop spinning. But that first therapy session was really challenging.
I wanted to become authentic, I didn’t really think about giving up drink or drugs. I knew they weren’t good, but I didn’t have another solution. I just want to go to therapy. I even said to my therapist, ‘you’re crazy, I’ll never stop smoking weed’. I didn’t believe I would give up using drugs. But I worked on my emotions. I had clean time, and then I relapsed again, then had more clean time. And the more I got used to my emotions, I built a certainty that I could process them without anger. I learned that I don’t need to drink and use drugs to change the way I feel, because I’m actually learning to self soothe my emotional experience. I was just never taught that as a kid.
The importance of role models
Having role models and people above me has always been important. When I was younger, my dad and my brothers modelled a way that didn’t work. They weren’t processing their emotions, they weren’t handling things. We were just fighting and that was not a solution. That wasn’t sustainable and neither was using drugs. Those two options were out, so I had to discover what was behind door number three. That’s what I learned from mentors, and from YouTube. We’re connected now, we can read loads of books around personal development. I watch loads of things on YouTube, motivational speeches and videos from certain mentors, and I listen to podcasts. We have so many valuable things at our disposal. I didn’t understand what people were saying emotionally at that time, but I definitely understood intellectually. I had a belief that this is possible, it is possible to feel these emotions. I understood that it is always a work in progress, we are never fixed, and the masculine does tend to want to fix things. I just knew what I was doing didn’t work. I had that belief from sitting on that park bench that if I wasn’t going to just die an addict like my mom, then I was going to become my best self, I was going to do what it takes. I had to lean into that uncertainty and build my own frame of reference. I had to take what I knew intellectually from all these mentors, and move that into an internal emotional experience, and start to learn those lessons in therapy.
Understanding your mind and taking control
A habit is formed of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Generally speaking, if we feel some kind of distress, that can be the cue. The routine would be drinking or using drugs, having some kind of unhealthy self soothing, and the reward would be feeling less distressed. That is the result of a trigger. To change that habit, we need to change the routine. When we think about our triggers, it takes mindfulness.I just drunk and used drugs, that was the process. I wasn’t aware of what happened, I didn’t see the things around me. If you drive to the shop and notice all the blue cars, you would say, ‘look, there were seven blue cars’. If I then asked you how many red cars were there, you’d say, ‘I don’t know, I was only focusing on the blue cars’. That part of the brain that controls our focus is the Reticular Activating System. By using that part of the brain and understanding the cue, routine, and reward, we can then start to change those habits. Coming back to that sense of a trigger, that automatic habit, I wasn’t aware of my reticular activating system and how it was filtering and focusing on the wrong information. I learned to do that with therapy, journaling, and meditating. Meditating really helps. Just sitting for 10 minutes a day, being aware of our thoughts, and being aware of our mind and what’s coming up. We can start to realise that these are some of the 60,000 thoughts we have a day. I can watch these, I don’t have to jump on these trains of thought I can get off them. By being aware of that, and bringing our attention and choosing where to focus our reticular activating system, we can then start to spot the triggers. That’s something I used a lot is that mindfulness, which came from the meditation. When I was going through the day, and I got a bad call from a client, and I then drank alcohol or used a drug, I would recognise what was happening. I never would have connected the dots without that mindfulness. Then I could notice the habit and change the routine.
Anger and low self worth
I used to have so much internal anger, and I punished myself a lot. I was very much a people pleaser. I never set any boundaries, especially with clients. When I worked on websites, I just let people do things, I wouldn’t chase people about paying invoices. I let all of those emotions bottled up inside me, never communicated, and allowed myself to be walked all over. I drank and using drugs because I never had any sort of self worth, it really hurt. I was mindlessly going through that routine of beating myself up. Mindfulness can be hard when you first ask clients to be aware. They have so many realisations, they start to see that loads of things are a trigger. And that’s just what I went through, because I wasn’t really aware of what was happening. I was just going through the motions.
We have the reasonable mind, which is called rational task focused, which probably says ‘it doesn’t make sense to drink’. Then we have the emotional mind which is hot, mood dependent, and emotionally focused. That’s generally where we drink from. Then we have the wise mind, which weighs up the value of reason and emotion and tries to balance the two together. Oftentimes, we are in our emotional mind unconsciously. I was always in the emotion mind so I would just drink and use drugs. I teach clients to take a step back, think about where you are coming from, is the emotional mind? Then start to question it. ‘Is it a fact that the world is over because you lost a client? And because the world is over, do you now have to have a drink? Or is that just a feeling, and does that feeling equal an actual decision?’. We have 60,000 thoughts that come and go. You don’t have to act on a thought. Understanding that in the context of drinking can be really powerful. The knowledge that we can observe our thoughts without getting attached to every single one is really important in unhooking from some of those triggers, and allow things to come and go. Rather than changing the way we feel, we can learn to self soothe our emotions instead.
Tuning into your senses
That programming can be very overwhelming. It’s easy for me to sit on my high horse here and say ‘just let the though go by’. But our thoughts can be so powerful. I understand that, because I’ve had those thoughts, too. One way we can start to quiet the mind is by using the five senses. Being aware of what’s around us. What can you observe about the nature around you? I always find that interesting myself. When I look at a tree, I see the beauty of it. Sometimes when we look ourselves, we can be very judgmental. That’s not helpful. But we are nature, the same as the tree. Being aware of those things and grounding ourselves can be helpful. Think about taste. When our mind is running at 100 miles an hour, we can come back to those senses of hearing, or listening to some soothing music. Are we smelling nice candles or the foods around us? Are you smelling what the sun smells like on the grass? Being aware of those senses can ground our mind, help us take a step back and proceed more mindfully. We don’t have to act on the trigger. We can take a few moments.
The best way to change your habits change the routine. Let’s imagine there is still that same cue that results in wanting to drink. We can change the routine but take a similar route. Exercise is amazing. Having those natural endorphins, going for a run or going to the gym or running up and down the stairs, going for a walk. Maybe you can write out what you’re feeling, describing your experience on paper can be good. A non-alcoholic drink is another good one. Talking to people and connecting, explaining things can be helpful. Even just the distraction of being in your mind being present when you’re making a cup of coffee and focusing on that activity and having that sense of being aware rather than just going through the motions can help ground you and turn down the volume of those thoughts.
If you can manage your emotions whether it’s anger or sadness or whatever, and you can deal with everything that’s going on in life, then I don’t see a problem in being able to have a drink every now and then, but only if you’re not doing that as a result of your distress. If I have a really awful shift at work and I pick up a drink, that is not good. If I’m feeling angry at work, then I journal, I make time for myself, I do all those healthy habits. Maybe one day I might have a drink a wedding. That’s a completely different context. I think it’s important to bear that in mind, it’s about taking care of yourself emotionally, is that self love there, is that that care there? We can’t be going to those drink and drugs for the wrong reasons. Remember to love yourself and keep all those healthy things in place.
Looking to the future
I love the journey of always growing and always peeling back the layers of the onion. I really just fell in love with the journey of moving forward. I’m always working on myself. Things aren’t perfect. On a daily basis, I aspire to continue to learn to manage my emotions, manage my thoughts, and stick with my meditation. I’ve been enjoying riding my bike in lockdown, that’s been a big outlet for me to be able to go outside. In terms of my own personal growth, I think relationships are always important to me. When you have two people who have different backgrounds, different history, different relationships, different inner children, having those two people cohabit and love each other requires perpetual growth, you’re always growing in relationships. The same goes for my relationship with my family. I’m continuing in therapy even now. I really enjoy it. I think I’m always going to be working on myself. And there’s always things I’m working on. I feel that makes me a good therapist, as I try to always stay in the trenches and keep going through those fearful places. It’s scary to peel back the layers, it’s scary to go into therapy. Not knowing what you’re going to find is scary. It’s scary to stop drinking. A lot of people say ‘what will life be like? I don’t really want to stop drinking, how will I go through life without a drink?’. If I keep doing the work on myself I will always be reminded to sort have that frame of reference for my clients and what they’re going though. I really enjoy that process of keeping moving.