‘Who hasn’t sometimes wanted to change their life and start over?’
Skinful: A Memoir of Addiction by Robyn Flemming was published with Lantern Publishing January 4th 2022 and is described as a memoir based around the questions we ask at life’s turning points: Who am I? What life do I want to live?.
When Robyn Flemming left Australia in 2010 to wander the world as a nomadic freelance editor, it wasn’t the first time she had shed an old skin for a new one.
Now nearing 60, she packed her laptop, clothes for different climates, a favourite pair of orange knickers and a well-used corkscrew. Was her decision to risk everything yet again an act of faith or of folly?
For two decades, she had known she was in trouble with alcohol and that a day of reckoning would come. As a permanent traveller, would she find the courage to change herself and not just her situation?
Please do read on for further information on the book and also an extract, courtesy of Robyn Flemming.
[ About the Book ]
SKINFUL is a brave and provocative memoir about turning one’s life around and making a new path to a different future. Robyn Flemming chose to live an alcohol-free life after failing for four decades to drink normally’. But Robyn isn’t – and has never been – someone who might be considered ‘normal’.
When she left Australia to wander the world as a nomad, Robyn was single, a self-employed freelance editor and nearing sixty. It wasn’t the first time she had shed an old skin for a new one in the hope of changing who she was on the inside. Was her decision to risk everything yet again an act of faith or of folly? Was she running from the truth about her dependence on alcohol, or running towards a solution? In this captivating recovery and travel memoir, Robyn finds the courage to change not only her surroundings but herself.
Finally, she can be at home in her own skin as well as in the world.
SKINFUL is about the questions we ask at life’s turning points: Who am I? What life do I want to live? It sends a strong message of hope: it is never too late to make a new path to a different future.
Purchase Link ~ Skinful
[ Extract ]
In writing my recovery story, I learnt a lot about myself, and about the relationship that researchers have found to exist between adverse or traumatic childhood experiences and susceptibility to addiction. In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr Gabor Maté, an expert on addiction, trauma and childhood development, writes: ‘Trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside of you, as a result of what happened to you.’ And: ‘Addictions … are emotional anesthetics [that] ease psychological discomfort … A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors.’
At one end of the spectrum of childhood adversity or trauma is abuse so horrendous, it’s traumatic even to imagine it, let alone experience it. At the other end are the physical, psychological, and emotional bumps and scrapes that everyone experiences, and that make us resilient and equip us to live in the real world. I got off lightly, except for repeated incidences of harsh physical discipline by my father that caused me to feel fear, pain and resentment; and a one-off incident, involving an unknown person, that I could endure only by numbing all my feelings. Around those negative experiences was a general sense, from a very young age, that I was on my own in some essential way. I experienced insufficient attachment and nurturing from my parents, not through neglect or design, but because they were young, overburdened and stressed. My mother and father had themselves experienced adversity and been insufficiently nurtured as children. So, in addition to specific negative experiences, I lacked certain important positive experiences as a child.
The place where I might have felt more nurtured than I did became a void, which raised two basic questions: Who was I? and Was I loved? That empty space sought to be filled by something. I tried to soothe myself with food, sex, cigarettes, recreational drugs, shopping, exercise, alcohol, but the answers to these questions always proved elusive.
Along with using substances and behaviours to try to fill that empty space, I turned to them to numb feelings that were too uncomfortable to experience unfiltered. So, I emerged from childhood with two classic preconditions for addictive behaviours: a void that I sought to fill, and emotional pain that I sought to numb.
I also, of course, had many positive experiences as a child. Nevertheless, I learnt early to be my own primary carer, but inexperienced and damaged as I was, I wasn’t always the best person to care for me. Not knowing who I was meant to be, I felt insecure around being seen, which made it difficult to be intimate in later relationships.
My addictive substance of choice became alcohol, specifically white wine. Wine is legal, socially sanctioned and readily available. I could be seen to drink a glass of wine and yet have my addiction to it remain mostly invisible. I was under the radar, the way many ‘grey area drinkers’ are. ‘Grey area drinking’ is now understood to be excessive drinking that’s been normalised by our society.
After more than forty years of drinking, the last two decades of which I spent trying to manage my growing dependence, I finally admitted defeat. The personal cost of the momentary relief alcohol provided was too great. I was no longer prepared to trade my dignity, self-respect, peace of mind, happiness, and physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing for a bottomless bottle of white wine.
How, then, was I to break my addiction?
First, I had to fully and finally accept that I had tried and failed to drink in a way that didn’t cause me harm. Once I reached that state of acceptance, I could begin to reprogram myself. I turned initially to the recovery community, which helped me to break long-established habits and routines around drinking and provided opportunities to develop relationships with people who knew how I felt and had found a way to change their lives for the better. I took what worked for me and left the rest.
Connection with and attachment to others who understood why I had used alcohol the way I did inspired me to find other ways to meet my unmet emotional needs. I slowly became used to feeling and acknowledging whatever emotions came up, and I broke big things down into tiny manageable bits, just as I did when running a marathon or hiking at altitude or over a long distance. Slowly, I became more confident that I could handle whatever might happen between when I awoke in the morning and when I lay down to sleep at night. My senses sharpened and I experienced sights and sounds and smells more acutely. As my confidence grew, the gatekeeper that since childhood had protected the inner me from the unpredictable, sometimes hostile world around me was able to relax its vigilance. I was finally starting to change on the inside. I have lived an alcohol-free life since 29 August 2011. In order not to drink, I have had to find ways to nourish and nurture, instead of harming, my body, mind and spirit. I believe that we must each find our own path to a place of self-acceptance from where we can choose the life we want to live. I can (mostly) live comfortably with myself now and be fully present in my relationships.
[ Talking points ]
● Grey area drinking: A grey area drinker is someone on the spectrum between drinking socially
and severely abusing alcohol.
● Addiction: SKINFUL touches on how childhood experiences can lead to addiction to a range of
substances and behaviours in later life in an attempt to fill a void or to numb emotional pain.
● Armchair travel: Robyn’s intrepid adventures will have you on the edge of your seat, wondering
what challenges she will face and who she will befriend next.
● Adventure travel: Robyn ran five marathons and 48 half marathons and completed long-distance
treks in two dozen countries. She had emergency surgeries in three developing countries.
● Reinvention: Robyn shows that age is no barrier to reimagining your life.
● Life’s big questions: SKINFUL is about the questions we ask at life’s turning points: Who am I?
What life do I want to live?
[ Bio ]
Robyn Flemming is the author of SKINFUL: A Memoir of Addiction (Lantern Publishing, 2022) and a freelance editor and writer. She quit smoking at 50, became a global nomad at 57, and got sober at 58. She has run five marathons and 48 half marathons in more than 20 countries. A keen long-distance walker, she has crossed England on foot, circumnavigated Mt Blanc, trudged through knee-deep mud along New Guinea’s Kokoda Trail, and trekked to within coo-ee of Everest Base Camp before slipping and breaking her wrist. She travelled the world as a nomad for a decade before COVID took her back to Australia. She has resumed her peripatetic lifestyle in 2022 on the cusp of turning 70.