How to be empathetic

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Empathy can sometimes be a hard one to get your head around. It’s easy to feel sympathy; to feel sorry for someone going through a tough time. You can show compassion by being kind and you can be there for a person when they need you, but there’s a little more to being empathetic.

When someone decides to change a lifestyle that hasn’t been benefiting them, it’s vital to be empathetic and help that person pursue their desire to change. You need to be someone who will not judge, who will really listen and who will try to understand them.

Empathy can be seen in two ways: as an emotional response to another person’s emotional state; or a cognitive understanding of another person’s sate of mind. An example given by Psychology Today explains that knowing how someone came to be homeless—the loss of a job, getting evicted from an apartment as a result of not being able to pay the rent, not having an address affecting an ability to find another job, etc.—can inform the sadness one experiences for the plight of the homeless person and can help motivate one to do something about it.

To be empathetic toward people with an addiction to a substance may be hard for some, as they may see the addiction as a choice and cannot understand how the person came to be that way and why they made the choices they did. The Addiction Center points out that on the other hand, substance use itself may cause people to struggle with empathy as the longer an addiction is fed, the harder it seems to mend relationships damaged by conflict, emotional abuse and a lack of compassion stemming from a lack of empathy.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while practising empathy:

Put your view to the side for a minute

It’s impossible to be empathetic when you’re judging a person’s situation based on your own values, opinions, morals or beliefs. So rather than evaluate the situation, understand it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to agree with the person, or even accept their actions or decisions. But for you to connect with someone – and that’s what it is all about: connection- you need to be able to put aside your criticism and not focus on how to ‘fix’ things.

For example, a mother might tell her work colleagues that she is going to stop drinking as she feels that it is getting out of her control. She asks for their support when it comes to Friday night after-work drinks. A judgemental thought may be to think of the mother badly for having issues with alcohol because she’s got young children to care for. This will not allow the colleague to feel empathy but instead analyse, criticise and perhaps even alienate her. This, in turn, would short-circuit the ability to create the trust needed for open communication and constructive change.

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Facilitate listening

Hearing is through the ears, but listening is through the mind.

Always try to find the truth in what someone is telling you. Being an ‘active’ listener means someone who is able to see the deeper meaning and ask open-ended questions to enable an honest conversation.

When you’re the speaker, it’s best to show–not tell–people to allow them to read into what you’re saying. Do this by giving context to what you’re talking about, telling stories and anecdotes or painting a picture for the listener.

Wear their shoes

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Empathy is all about resonating with what is going on in the subjective world of another. Allow yourself to really feel what others are feeling. You could ask yourself, “what would I do if I were that person in that situation?” Only from stepping into someone else’s position can you truly begin to understand where they may be coming from.

Get a little perspective

The issue may not seem important to you. But it could mean the world to them. Delving into shared human values is a way to communicate by breaking through the contexts and cultures of diverse groups of people.

For example, let’s look at the struggle to break a habit- whether that be alcohol, smoking, eating unhealthily, or even something that may not seem very serious. We have all wanted to break a habit at some point in our lives and can always relate to each other in our shared experiences. Another example may be losing a loved one. From a pet to a close family member, partner or friend, the shared human value of grieving is powerful and can also be used as a tool for connection and perspective.

It takes practice

Like anything in life that is hard yet worthwhile, it takes practice and it takes effort. Some people may even need to work harder than others to feel empathy, or it may come as a natural ability. You may not be great at it at the start, but as you learn to develop these skills and allow yourself to put down your shield and hold a trusted space for someone to open up, it’s vital for healing.

Have empathy for yourself

The most important thing is to be empathetic to yourself. Be kind to yourself first, as this allows and teaches you to be kind to others.

The Hello Sunday Morning reading list

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19 books to read about alcohol

A few weeks ago we asked members of the Hello Sunday Morning community to share with us any books that have inspired, empowered or informed them to change their relationship with alcohol. The response was incredible and wide-reaching. Because we believe it’s so important to acknowledge that individuals define their own relationships with alcohol, we’ve collated here the vast majority of recommendations we received. These traverse a wide range of tactics and ideologies, so we encourage you to read what sounds good to you.

So without further ado and in no particular order (except for the first one, which is our team’s go-to), here we give you the Hello Sunday Morning reading list to help you on your journey to change your relationship with alcohol.

The Biology of Desire

Marc Lewis, PHD, convincingly explores here the theory that addiction is not a disease. It’s a game-changer.

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From the blurb:

Through the vivid, true stories of five people who journeyed into and out of addiction, a renowned neuroscientist explains why the “disease model” of addiction is wrong and illuminates the path to recovery.

The psychiatric establishment and rehab industry in the Western world have branded addiction a brain disease, based on evidence that brains change with drug use. But in The Biology of Desire, cognitive neuroscientist and former addict Marc Lewis makes a convincing case that addiction is not a disease, and shows why the disease model has become an obstacle to healing.

Lewis reveals addiction as an unintended consequence of the brain doing what it’s supposed to do-seek pleasure and relief-in a world that’s not cooperating. Brains are designed to restructure themselves with normal learning and development, but this process is accelerated in addiction when highly attractive rewards are pursued repeatedly. Lewis shows why treatment based on the disease model so often fails, and how treatment can be retooled to achieve lasting recovery, given the realities of brain plasticity. Combining intimate human stories with clearly rendered scientific explanation, The Biology of Desire is enlightening and optimistic reading for anyone who has wrestled with addiction either personally or professionally.

High Sobriety

We’re unsurprising fans of this one: the chronicles of Jill Stark’s 12-month Hello Sunday Morning experience.

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From the blurb:

‘I’m the binge-drinking health reporter. During the week, I write about Australia’s booze-soaked culture. At the weekends, I write myself off.’Booze had dominated Jill Stark’s social life ever since she had her first sip of beer, at 13. She thought nothing could curb her love of big nights. And then came the hangover that changed everything. In the shadow of her 35th year, Jill made a decision: she would give up alcohol. But what would it mean to stop drinking in a world awash with booze?

Booze had dominated Jill Stark’s social life ever since she had her first sip of beer, at 13. She thought nothing could curb her love of big nights. And then came the hangover that changed everything. In the shadow of her 35th year, Jill made a decision: she would give up alcohol. But what would it mean to stop drinking in a world awash with booze?

This lively memoir charts Jill’s tumultuous year on the wagon, as she copes with the stress of the newsroom sober, tackles the dating scene on soda water, learns to watch the footy minus beer, and deals with censure from friends and colleagues, who tell her that a year without booze is ‘a year with no mates’.

In re-examining her habits, Jill also explores Australia’s love affair with alcohol, meeting alcopop-swigging teens who drink to fit in, beer-swilling blokes in a sporting culture backed by booze, and marketing bigwigs blamed for turning binge drinking into a way of life. And she tracks the history of this national obsession: from the idea that Australia’s new colonies were drowning in drink to the Anzac ethos that a beer builds mateship, and from the six o’clock swill that encouraged bingeing to the tangled weave of advertising, social pressure, and tradition that confronts drinkers today.Will Jill make it through the year without booze? And if she does, will she go back to her old habits, or has she called last drinks? This is a funny, moving, and insightful exploration of why we drink, how we got here, and what happens when we turn off the tap.

Will Jill make it through the year without booze? And if she does, will she go back to her old habits, or has she called last drinks? This is a funny, moving, and insightful exploration of why we drink, how we got here, and what happens when we turn off the tap.

SOBER – Son Of a Bitch Everything’s Real

Sober is a fictional story written by Pam R. about her experience with the program Alcoholics Anonymous and her struggles to rebuild her life.

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From the blurb:

Some people can drink socially, some people cannot. Lena Harod belongs to the latter group. An active alcoholic, Lena has reached a pivotal point in her drinking career. Racked with guilt, shame and self loathing she is driven to despair beyond comprehension. Lena’s story begins on an ill fated evening where her options look bleak. A chance meeting with a stranger sets her fate and her journey towards sobriety begins. As Lena slowly returns to the world of unaltered reality, she begins to see herself, other people and the wider world with a clarity she’s never experienced. SOBER is a fictional story of one woman’s experience with the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and her struggles to rebuild her life. It explores the trials and joys of finding a life without addiction with honesty and

SOBER is a fictional story of one woman’s experience with the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and her struggles to rebuild her life. It explores the trials and joys of finding a life without addiction with honesty and humor. Lena could be any of us and this illuminating story will show the reader, that with a little courage and help, it’s never too late for redemption and recovery.

Okay I Quit, Now What? Becoming a Reinvented Alcoholic 

Mark Tuschel doesn’t care if you drink or don’t drink, he simply declares how he made the changes he did. The book’s 12 chapters correspond to his method of change.

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From the blurb:

Quitting destructive drinking is the easy part – staying quit is the hard part.What do you do tonight, tomorrow, next weekend, when you go on vacation, for the rest of your life?

Okay, I quit. Now what? is filled with practical strategies and concepts to make the most out of living sober.

Many people expect too much out of life just because they quit drinking. This is an honest and raw view of life after liquor. Living sober can be the greatest thing you ever do – but you must be an active participant in your own Re-Invention to get the most out of sobriety.

This thought provoking book will get you thinking and planning your new sober lifestyle. Personal responsibility and pride are the foundation of the principles.

This is NOT a 12-step book or religious based. It is nontraditional and sometimes controversial. Adult language and situations are used in this book. NOT for the timid or bashful. It is written for those of us who want to control our destructive drinking and live a fully engaged, normal life.

Mark lives what he writes. He is a former drunk himself. He brings “real life” strategies to this book. Okay, I quit. Now what? is helpful to steppers and non-steppers alike.

“I have discovered that there is a very large subculture of non-steppers who want to succeed at sobriety, enjoy their life and be proud of accomplishing it on their own. Okay, I quit. Now what? is an alternative to traditional step systems. It is not religious based; it is personal responsibility based. Sobriety is an evolutionary process. Don’t just recover… Re-Invent yourself.”

This book has 12 chapters that will give you ideas on how to handle sobriety and make the most out of living sober. It is practical and real. The purpose is to get you thinking and get you involved in maintaining your sobriety. Take control of your sobriety and get the most out of your life. I believe this book will help you go in the right direction, or at least get YOU to think on your own.

Drunkard 

Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times who had a very public battle with the bottle. He openly describes his drinking habits, routines, obsessions and secret behaviours before and during his change.

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From the blurb:

An extraordinarily honest memoir about the life of a functioning alcoholic and the realities of recovery from a veteran columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times

Neil Steinberg loves his wife. He loves his two young sons. He loves his job and his ramshackle old farmhouse in the suburbs. But he also loves to drink, a passion that rolls merrily along for twenty-five years until one terrible night when his two worlds collide and shatter.

Drunkard is the story of one man’s fall down the rabbit hole of alcoholism, and his slow crawl back out. Sentenced to an outpatient rehab program, Steinberg discovers that twenty-eight days of therapy cannot reverse the toll decades of vigorous drinking take on one’s soul. In clear, distinctive, honest, and funny prose, Steinberg comes to grips with his actions, rebuilds his marriage, and reclaims his life.

Unlike outlandish tales of addiction’s extremes, Steinberg’s story is a regular person’s account of the stark-yet-common realities of a problem faced by millions around the world. Drunkard is an important addition to the pantheon of critically acclaimed, bestselling memoirs such as The Tender Bar, Drinking: A Love Story, and Smashed.

The Easy Way to Stop Drinking 

Allen Carr has a reputation for helping millions of people across the world control their drinking, eating and smoking habits. His method makes you think about the reasons behind your drinking.

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From the blurb:

Carr offers a startling new view of why we drink and how we can escape the addiction. Step by step, with devastating clarity and simplicity, he applies the Easyway™ method, dispelling all the illusions that surround the subject of drinking and that can make it almost impossible to imagine a life without alcohol. Only when we step away from all these supposed pleasures and understand how we are being duped to believe we are receiving real benefits can we begin to live our lives free from any desire or need for drinking.The Easyway™ method centers on removing the psychological need to drink—while the drinker is still drinking. Following the Easyway™:• You will not need willpower• You will not feel deprived• You will lose your fear of withdrawal pangs• You will enjoy social occasions more• You will be better equipped to handle stress.

The Easy Way to Stop Drinking is a landmark work that offers a simple and painless solution to anyone who wants to escape from dependency on alcohol without feeling deprived.

How To Tell Them You Don’t Drink 

Rachel Black provides some real-life experiences with practical tips on how to share the news of cutting back or going drink-free with your family and friends.

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From the blurb:

Giving up alcohol is hard enough without the additional anxiety of how to break the news to family and friends. What will they say? What will they ask? What will they think? Whether you choose to tell them the truth or make an excuse this guide provides examples of how you can make it easier and how to respond to the questions they will ask.

This book, like its predecessor ‘How to Party Sober’, is a little gem for those who choose to remain sober in a World soaked with alcohol and where drinking is the norm. Again, full of real life experience with many practical tips to guide you through tricky conversations. A must read.

The Sober Revolution-Calling Time on Wine O’Clock

Sarah Turner and Lucy Rocca look specifically at women and their relationships with alcohol, exploring the myths behind society’s acceptance of the habit.

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From the blurb:

Do you count down the minutes to wine o’clock on a daily basis? Is a bottle of Pinot Grigio your friend at the end of a long hard day? If you want to give up being controlled and defined by alcohol then now is the time to join The Sober Revolution…

Fed up of living in a fog of hangovers, lethargy and guilt from too much wine? Have you tried to cut down without success?

You are not alone. When it comes to alcohol, millions of people around the world find it hard to exercise moderation and become stuck in a vicious cycle of blame, guilt and using more alcohol as a way of coping.

The Sober Revolution looks at women and their relationships with alcohol, exploring the myths behind this socially acceptable yet often destructive habit. Rather than continuing the sad spiral into addiction it helps women regain control of their drinking and live happier, healthier lives.

Sarah Turner, cognitive behavioural therapist and addictions counsellor, and Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas.com, the popular social networking site for women who have successfully kicked the booze or would like to, give an insight into ways to find a route out of the world of wine.

The Sober Revolution will open your eyes to the dangers of social drinking and give you the tools you need to have a happy life without the wine. Read it now and call time on wine o’clock forever.

Glass Half Full

Lucy Rocca retells the story of her journey from devoted wine lover to becoming sober and truly happy for the first time in her adult life.

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From the blurb:

In April 2011, Lucy Rocca woke up in a hospital bed with no memory of how she had ended up there. After accepting that her drinking had spiralled out of control, she made the decision there and then to never touch alcohol again. However, the early days were a challenge, and Lucy began recording her journey in a blog as a way of helping herself move forward to a happy and sober future.

For someone who defined herself by her love of drinking for over twenty years, letting go of the booze crutch was initially a challenge, but over time, Lucy began to realise how much happier she was living alcohol-free. Glass Half Full is the story of her journey from hopelessly devoted wine fiend to sober and truly happy for the first time in her adult life.

This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol

Millions of people worry that drinking is affecting their health, yet are unwilling to seek change because of the misery and stigma associated with recovery.

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From the blurb:

Millions of people worry that drinking is affecting their health, yet are unwilling to seek change because of the misery and stigma associated with alcoholism and recovery. They fear drinking less will be boring, involving deprivation, difficulty and significant lifestyle changes.

This Naked Mind offers a new solution. Packed with surprising insight into the reasons we drink, it will open your eyes to the startling role of alcohol in our culture. Annie Grace brilliantly weaves psychological, neurological, cultural, social and industry factors with her extraordinarily candid journey resulting in a must read for anyone who drinks.

This book, without scare tactics, pain or rules, gives you freedom from alcohol. By addressing causes rather than symptoms it is a permanent solution rather than lifetime struggle. It removes the psychological dependence allowing you to easily drink less (or stop drinking). Annie’s clarity, humor and unique ability to blend original research with riveting storytelling ensures you will thoroughly enjoy the process.

In a world defined by ‘never enough’ Annie takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of alcohol and specifically the connection between alcohol and pleasure. She dispels the cultural myth that alcohol is a vital part of life and demonstrates how regaining control over alcohol is not only essential to personal happiness and fulfillment but also to ending the heartache experienced by millions as a result of secondhand drinking.

Finally, with perfect clarity, this book opens the door to the life you have been waiting for.

Wasted

Elspeth Muir explores a personal story of loss and grief and recognises a society that not only permits but encourages the damaging drinking habits of young Australians.

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From the blurb:

In 2009 Elspeth Muir’s youngest brother, Alexander, finished his last university exam and went out with some mates on the town. Later that night he wandered to the Story Bridge. He put his phone, wallet, T-shirt and thongs on the walkway, climbed over the railing, and jumped thirty metres into the Brisbane River below.

Three days passed before police divers pulled his body out of the water. When Alexander had drowned, his blood-alcohol reading was almost five times the legal limit for driving.

Why do some of us drink so much, and what happens when we do? Fewer young Australians are drinking heavily, but the rates of alcohol abuse and associated problems—from blackouts to sexual assaults and one-punch killings—are undiminished.

Intimate and beautifully told, Wasted illuminates the sorrows, and the joys, of drinking.

Drinking, A Love Story

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From the blurb:

Fifteen million Americans a year are plagued with alcoholism. Five million of them are women. Many of them, like Caroline Knapp, started in their early teens and began to use alcohol as “liquid armor,” a way to protect themselves against the difficult realities of life. In this extraordinarily candid and revealing memoir, Knapp offers important insights not only about alcoholism, but about life itself and how we learn to cope with it.

Mindful Recovery

Thomas Bien explores a spiritual path to beating addiction and guides you step by step through ten powerful “doorways” to mindful change.

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From the blurb:

In Mindful Recovery, you’ll discover a fresh and effective method for healing from addiction that can help you handle important challenges, from managing anxiety and resisting cravings to dealing with emotional and physical imbalance.

Drawing on both ancient spiritual wisdom and the authors’ extensive clinical psychological work with their patients over many years, Mindful Recovery shows you how to use the simple Buddhist practice of mindfulness to be aware of– and enjoy– life in the present moment without the need to enhance or avoid experience with addictive behaviors. Mindful Recovery guides you step by step through ten powerful “doorways” to mindful recovery, giving you specific strategies that can help you cultivate a sense of calm awareness and balance in your life.

Filled with personal stories of recovery, practical exercises, instructions for meditation, and more, Mindful Recovery accompanies you on a journey of exploration and healing that will help you find the strength and the tools to change, leading you to a fresh new experience of everyday living.

Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Control Alcohol

Alan Carr shows us that once we step away from all the imagined pleasures of alcohol and understand how we are duped into believing that we receive real benefits from it, we can lead our lives free from any desire or need for a drink.

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From the blurb:

Allen Carr established himself as the world’s greatest authority on helping people stop smoking and his internationally best-selling Easy Way to Stop Smoking has been published in over 40 languages and sold more than 10 million copies.

In his Easy Way to Control Alcohol Allen applies his revolutionary method to drinking. With startling insight into why we drink and clear, simple, step-by-step instructions, he shows you the way to escape from the “alcohol trap” in the time it takes to read this book.

His unique method removes the feeling of deprivation and works without using willpower. Allen dispels our illusions about alcohol, removes the psychological dependence and sets you free to enjoy life to the full.

Kick the Drink … Easily

Jason Vale argues that there is no such thing as an alcoholic and that we have been conditioned to accept alcohol as a “normal substance in today’s society,” despite the fact that it is the major cause of many of today’s social problems and a wide range of health issues.

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From the blurb:

There is no such thing as an alcoholic and there is no such disease as alcoholism! (as society understands it). Whether you agree with this statement or not, one thing is for sure, you will never see alcohol in the same light ever again after reading this book. Jason Vale takes an honest and hard hitting look at people’s conceptions of our most widely consumed drug. Jason’s major argument is there is no such thing as an ‘alcoholic’ and that we are conditioned to accept alcohol as a ‘normal’ substance in today’s society despite the fact that it is the major cause of many of today’s social problems and a wide range of health issues. This book is much more than a simple eye opener, it will: change the way you see alcohol forever; show you how to stop drinking; help you enjoy the process and enjoy your life so much more than you do now without having to drink alcohol. So open your mind and take a journey with Jason to explore the myths about the most used and accepted drug addiction in the world!

Mrs D is Going Without

Lotta Dann stopped drinking and secretly started a blog that charted the highs and lows of learning to live without alcohol.

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From the blurb:

Mrs. D is an alcoholic, albeit a very nice, respectable, articulate, and groomed alcoholic. This is an honest, upfront, relatable account of one suburban housewife’s journey from miserable wine-soaked boozer to self-respecting sober lady. This book is an inspirational tale of self-transformation, addiction, and domesticity. This book lays out the entirely unexpected solo journey Mrs. D took in the first year of her sobriety, and reveals the incredible online support that came through on her confessional blog, a blog intended to be a private online diary but which turned into something else quite remarkable.

In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts

Based on Gabor Maté’s two decades of experience as a medical doctor and his groundbreaking work with the severely addicted on Vancouver’s skid row, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts radically reenvisions this much misunderstood field by taking a holistic approach.

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From the blurb:

He would probably dispute it, but Gabor Maté is something of a compassion machine. Diligently treating the drug addicts of Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside with sympathy in his heart and legislative reform in mind can’t be easy. But Maté never judges. His book is a powerful call-to-arms, both for the decriminalization of drugs and for a more sympathetic and informed view of addiction. As Maté observes, “Those whom we dismiss as ‘junkies’ are not creatures from a different world, only men and women mired at the extreme end of a continuum on which, here or there, all of us might well locate ourselves.” In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts begins by introducing us to many of Dr. Maté’s most dire patients who steal, cheat, sell sex, and otherwise harm themselves for their next hit. Maté looks to the root causes of addiction, applying a clinical and psychological view to the physical manifestation and offering some enlightening answers for why people inflict such catastrophe on themselves.

Finally, he takes aim at the hugely ineffectual, largely U.S.-led War on Drugs (and its worldwide followers), challenging the wisdom of fighting drugs instead of aiding the addicts, and showing how controversial measures such as safe injection sites are measurably more successful at reducing drug-related crime and the spread of disease than anything most major governments have going. It’s not easy reading, but we ignore his arguments at our peril. When it comes to combating the drug trade and the ravages of addiction, society can use all the help it can get. –Kim Hughes

Alcohol Lied to Me

Craig Beck tried all the willpower-based attempts to stop drinking and failed. Slowly he discovered his truth about alcohol and one by one all the lies he had previously believed started to fall apart.

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From the blurb:

Craig Beck is a well-regarded family man with two children, a nice home and a successful media career. A director of several companies & at one time the trustee of a large children’s charity. Craig was a successful & functioning professional man in spite of a ‘2 bottles of wine a night’ drinking habit. For 20 years he struggled with problem drinking, all the time refusing to label himself an alcoholic because he didn’t believe he met the stereotypical image that the word portrayed.
He tried countless ways to cut down; attempting ‘dry months’, banning himself from drinking spirits, only drinking at the weekend & special occasions (and found that it is amazing how even the smallest of event can suddenly become ‘special’).
All these ‘will power’ based attempts to stop drinking failed (exactly as they were destined to do). Slowly he discovered the truth about alcohol addiction & one by one all the lies he had previously believed started to fall apart. For the first time he noticed that he genuinely didn’t want to drink anymore. In this book he will lead you though the same amazing process.
The Craig Beck method is unique…
 – No need to declare yourself an alcoholic.
 – A permanent cure, not a lifetime struggle.
 – No group meetings or expensive rehab.
 – No humiliation, no pain and 100% no ‘will power’ required.
 – Treats the source of the problem not the symptoms.

Under the Volcano

Malcolm Lowry’s novel tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcohol-dependent British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac, on the Day of the Dead, 2 November 1938.

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From the blurb:

Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul, has come to Quauhnahuac, Mexico. Here the consul’s debilitating malaise is drinking, and activity that has overshadowed his life. Under the Volcano is set during the most fateful day of the consul’s life–the Day of the Dead, 1938. His wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac to rescue him and their failing marriage, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relationship to the brink of collapse. Yvonne’s mission is to save the consul is further complicated by the presence of Hugh, the consul’s half-brother, and Jacques, a childhood friend. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.

Under the Volcano remains one of the most powerful and lyrical statements on the human condition and one man’s constant struggle against the elemental forces that threaten to destroy him.

How to plan the best Valentine’s date

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Whether your Valentine is your high school sweetheart or you met them on Tinder a few days earlier, here are some Valentine’s Day date ideas to spice up your love life.

The key to a great Valentine’s Day

Have no expectations. It’s usually appreciated when you have planned and put effort into creating the perfect date,  but spontaneity can also work wonders in the romantic world. Try not to become too attached to an idea or a reaction from your date, as sometimes things don’t always turn out as you have imagined.

There is no positive outcome from comparing. So what if you’re friend got flowers sent to her work, was picked up in a limousine and taken to an exclusive day spa followed by a candle lit dinner on top of a tower? Maybe that kind of extravagance doesn’t suit you or your date and something a little more low-key is just right.

Nerves are a good thing for a great date

Although people tend to drink before a date to calm their nerves when they meet a potential Mr. or Mrs. Right, not all dates need to involve drinks at a bar. A lot of the time being nervous means you’re excited!  Go with an open mind,  dress comfortably and just be you. Make the most of those butterflies in your belly: they don’t often stick around after the honeymoon phase.

Date Ideas ♥♥♥

Cook dinner together

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What’s more delicious and comforting than homemade pizzas? Nothing. Tie your hair up and get a little messy. Cooking is a great way to learn about people and it gives you an activity to do for those awkward lulls in conversation.

Try to include ingredients out of the list of aphrodisiac foods that are proven to spark romance, such as:

  • Chilli
  • Cherries
  • Chocolate
  • Figs
  • Oysters
  • Artichokes

Check out what’s on

Check out if there is anything interesting or new happening in your area, like a film festival or outdoor cinema, an art exhibition or a pop-up food truck.

Keep it simple

Find a scenic spot such as a headland, rooftop or beach. Pack a blanket and pick up some takeaway goodies like fresh prawns and ginger beer. Don’t forget a portable speaker to play smooth tunes in the background.

Our favourite love songs:

Moondance ♥ Van Morrison

Let’s Stay Together ♥ Al Green

Your Song ♥ Elton John

Just The Two Of Us ♥ Bill Withers

Let’s Get It On ♥ Marvin Gaye

Go on an adventure

Take a walk and explore the city, hike in the bush, swim in the ocean, find a waterfall, or search for a secret spot where you can be alone.

Try something new

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Sign up for a class like dancing, pottery or photography: you never know what may spike a shared passion.

See a gig

Share a taste in music? Head along to a live gig and let the music serenade your ears and the feeling of love satisfy your heart.

Drive somewhere

Road trip! There’s nothing like heading down the highway with the wind in your hair and a lover beside you. Head out of town for a day or night, park up somewhere beautiful and bring some delicious snacks.

Need to reignite an old spark?

Take this specific time of year to really appreciate your loved one and your relationship. Reflect together on the start of your love, or on memories that make you smile and make your heart feel full. Try something new if you have been doing the same thing together for a while; maybe it’s time to mix it up with an adventure or an outing to somewhere different. It’s remarkable what a little change can do.

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Personal reflections on freedom and alcohol

An open cage represents freedom and alcohol on Hello Sunday Morning

How context frames the things we rely on

It’s been three months now of my first ever prolonged alcohol-free experience, so I’ve decided to write down some thoughts about it. The following reflections are not from someone with a dependence, nor from a party animal or binge drinker. It is not a personal alcohol problem that has triggered this alcohol-free experience, but a simple medical treatment. You might think, “well, what’s the big deal then?” — but these three months without a drop of alcohol have made me question how we draw the line on what we call dependence.

Why is it a big deal?

Being a teenager — an average one, I believe — I was avid to break free from adult rules that decided what I could and couldn’t do. Being a not-yet-adult was so confining! Not being able to work and earn your own money, needing permission to go out with friends, not being allowed to drink or smoke (although, of course, most of us did these long before the legal age). Even though I had relatively liberal parents compared to my friends back then, those limitations were everywhere, and it bothered me that I couldn’t decide when I felt responsible enough to do or try certain things. I think a lot about freedom since those teenage times. I praise it, chase it, and even avoid some commitments. The ability to do what I please at any time and make my own decisions is precious to me.

Teenage-hood is arguably the most socially busy time of our lives, and that’s the time when we are finally allowed to drink. It is not a coincidence that social life goes so hand in hand with alcohol and tobacco, the two hugely advertised drugs that mark our breaking free from our repressed childhoods. No more allowing adults to make decisions for us on how to have fun! Besides, it’s from adults that we’d learned to associate alcohol with friends and fun.

The irony is that, although we become free to choose alcohol or cigarettes when we reach the age of independence (which most of us do, as with anything that has been denied to us previously), choosing drugs as social enablers actually leads many of us to the complete opposite of freedom.

“Anyone can see that a child is not free when he desires milk, nor the drunken man when he says things which he later regrets.” — Rudolf Steiner

I love Steiner’s quote as it illustrates very well how, when we are under the effects of alcohol, even at a moderately tipsy level, we lose control of our will. Free will is the capacity to act and decide independently, without influences. As you might guess, being so paranoid about my freedom, I have always been a bit uncomfortable about losing my free will. I believe that’s one of the reasons why I’ve never drunk too much alcohol. Being tipsy is already distressing for me, besides associating it with sickness, which I believe is one of the most terrible natural opponents of freedom.

Still, I’ve never had anything against alcohol itself. I do enjoy a fresh bitter ale at a sunny terrace, and lately, since living in Australia, I love a glass of Shiraz with a tasty local dinner. And I carry the pride of tequila in my veins as a good Mexican, so for over 11 years living abroad, I’ve been pouring my sweet roots to friends from different places around the world, teaching them how a good tequila shouldn’t be drunk as a shot, but rather slowly, tasting it!

A better understanding

For over nine months now, I’ve been listening, reading and following stories, news, and theories about drinking. Funnily enough, my four months of alcohol-free experience comes at a time when empathising with people who want to drink less is part of my daily life. I’ll give you a bit of background on this.

Less than a year ago, my boyfriend and I moved to Australia: the second-ranked of OECD countries on (pure) alcohol consumption per capita, as ranked by the World Health Organization in 2015. Quite a shocking fact when you’ve lived in Finland, thinking that no other country could beat them!

We lived for over a year in Vietnam in between Finland and Australia, where we were fascinated by always having a fridge full of beer at the office (it was an Australian company). The interesting part was not that we had those beers at work, but that it remained full! There was no need to refill with beer very often. Fridays came, when we had a small get-together at the office, and we foreigners were almost always the only ones with beers in our hands. This isn’t to say that Vietnamese wouldn’t ever drink, but local guys would rather play games, ride their scooters back home safely (or relatively safely), and avoid having their wives angry at them. The women, meanwhile, would take care of their figure by avoiding the calories from alcoholic drinks.

When we moved to Sydney, I was already looking forward to becoming a freelancer working on ethical projects. I didn’t want to work any longer for large enterprises where design was a mere tool to increase profit. I had long awaited the opportunity to use my skills for a cause to make this world a better place. Freedom and inspiration were going to be my drivers from now on. After about a month in beautiful Sydney I was dealing with my lack of leadership and contacts to turn my saving-the-world ideas into a living; then, serendipity hit me, and I joined the inspiring team of Hello Sunday Morning, a small charity with a mission to help people change their relationships with alcohol.

The thing that drove me to Hello Sunday Morning was the organisation’s mindset around alcohol and drug consumption. It conveyed a very positive view where openness, motivation, and support were the tools to help people free themselves from habit. The aim was to use state of the art psychology and technology to help people change their habits to healthier ones.

I’ve been learning a lot since becoming part of the team. Listening to my colleagues’ knowledge, plus interviewing very diverse people from our focus groups and reading about addiction, habits, and behaviour change has been renovating my view of alcohol in society.

I didn’t ever suspect that helping people rise above dependence would be my way to make this world a better place. I didn’t ever consider alcohol as something to worry or care much about. I would often avoid drunk people, even family or friends, and sometimes blamed them for not “controlling” themselves. I would ignorantly assume that people with addictions didn’t want nor appreciated help or concern. We tend to generalise, and I had been doing so for many years. When I was still of a young age, wondering about the reasoning behind those strange things adults did, I would see my dad now and then behave in an odd and embarrassing way after a meet up with his friends, and I would only feel pity, shame — and, a few times, even disgust. I had learned to relate alcohol to grumpy, annoying and careless behaviour. In a way, as Ellen J. Langer explains it in her book Mindfulness, I had a limited view of alcohol dependence during my youth and didn’t consider all the different reasons behind alcohol consumption, nor the possibilities to improve things. The truth is, all of us can do a lot to help people free themselves from dependence and habits, and even prevent it to a certain point. We can all do this with a bit of behaviour change.

From my early views about alcohol, you may assume I would reject it and avoid drinking myself, but that was not so. I was always free to choose what I would see as the non-stupid, non-annoying way, of course. But going out with friends to have fun is rarely an alcohol-free situation, and wherever there’s alcohol, especially when you’re young, there’s a good amount of social pressure to drink to a point where you start to lose that sense of free will.

I have indeed chosen stupidity many times. Once or twice as a teenager I drove a bit tipsy, noticing I had drunk more than I meant when my calculations for driving through a narrow space were not good enough (and later lying to a trustful parent who lent me the car). Luckily for me, a small car scratch was as far as it went. I have never drunk to the point that I lost memory of it, nor have I experienced those terrible hangovers one will often hear about from friends. But we don’t usually realise when freedom disappears. Freedom to enjoy a social life with or without alcohol, to decide whether drinking or not when under pressure, to choose when to have the last drink.

We usually understand alcohol dependence as the point when a person cannot stop drinking on a daily or almost daily basis. But on a normal outing with friends, a simple dinner with your partner, or a Christmas festivity, are we really free from depending on alcohol to feel like we fit in or have fun?

Because I currently don’t have the freedom to choose to have a drink, I realise how easy it is to enjoy life without falling to the pressure of having one. Perhaps I will appreciate that freedom of choice even more after I am allowed to drink again, and may understand better the reason behind choosing to have a beer or a glass of wine instead of water and lime. I will probably savour whatever I pick with more delight and decide based on taste and what makes me feel good.

Originally posted on Hello Sunday Morning’s Medium page by our wonderful Design Lead, Brenda.

How to keep up the good vibes

 

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It’s the start of a new year and generally people will be feeling pretty optimistic about the time ahead. Resolutions have been made, goals have been set and a plan of some sort has been established. Perhaps you’re feeling like you can take on the world!

Here are some tips on how to keep your good vibrations up while getting back into the swing of things.

How to stay optimistic throughout the year

Listen to music

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“Music, the combiner, nothing more spiritual, nothing more sensuous, a god, yet completely human, advances, prevails, holds highest place; supplying in certain wants and quarters what nothing else could supply.” Walt Whitman.

Plug that speaker in and let the magic happen. The power of music can do wonders on lifting moods and keeping us feeling good. Check out these 52 songs to cheer you up every time.

Listening to tunes that make you want to shake your hips or tap your feet has been found to lift your energy levels. When music sparks something in us or makes us want to bop our head, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that produces positive feelings. In fact, it has been proven by physiologists that playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity

Music can also be very therapeutic and has been used as a substitute for sleeping tablets, as a motivational device to ‘move’ out of low moods or depression, as a coping mechanism for various problems, and as a way we connect with others.

Top up your optimism by being spontaneous 

Marie Lethbridge, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at Mind Health Ltd, says that being spontaneous allows us to be mindful and totally immersed in the activity we’re engaging in, which has been linked to an increase in mental wellbeing and happiness:

“Often we behave in a rigid, planned and fixed way because of anxieties and worries we have … Instead of worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, acting instinctively allows us to engage fully in what we’re doing at the time, and focus our whole attention on this.”

But how do you become spontaneous? We have some ideas to add a little spice to your life by mixing it up:

  • Jump off the bus a few stops earlier and wander back home. Remember to stop and smell the flowers.
  • Leave a weekend day free to wake up and do whatever you feel like doing.
  • Be impulsive once in a while; it keeps things exciting.
  • Just say ‘yes’ and don’t over analyse.

Sustain optimism by getting outside

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It’s hard to feel stressed while lying in a fluffy patch of grass with a gentle breeze tingling your skin and the sun shining through gaps in the trees. Spending some quality time with nature can be beneficial for anyone who wants to increase their Outdoorphins or Vitamin G (green).

Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, has researched how being outdoors can even make us nicer. “In nature,” he says, “we feel more in touch with who we really are and what we want to do.”

And it makes you happier: a study from the University of Essex in the UK found that 30 minutes of walking in a green scene reduced depression in 71 per cent of participants.

To go about the new year walking on sunshine, you first have to get some!

Did you know that by looking directly into the early morning sunlight you increase your serotonin levels, a hormone associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused? The key here being “early morning” – please don’t look at the sun when it’s too bright.

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Without enough sunlight exposure, a person’s serotonin levels can dip low and cause a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that is triggered by changing seasons.

A little bit of sunlight and exposure to UV-B radiation in the sun’s rays is the best natural source of  Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health, including decreasing chances of osteoporosis, and assisting in healing skin conditions.

The daily top-up: get enough sleep 

We have all heard these before: “sleep tight”; “beauty sleep”; “well rested”.  And for good reason. There are many benefits to getting the perfect night’s sleep for your physical, mental and spiritual self. Not getting enough pillow time can lead to irritable moods and a gloomier outlook on life.

Research studies in healthy people have shown that even one night without sleep causes sleepiness, fatigue, irritability and lack of motivation. Sleep loss will make us feel more upset, angry and sad in response to unpleasant events and make us less able to enjoy and be happy about good things in our life. This increases feelings of negativity and negative reactions when something doesn’t go well or as planned.

Give your passions some love 

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There were probably many people who made a new year resolution to take up something they have always wanted to do. Passion drives you to push limits (limits which you often create for yourself) and it gives you the opportunity to inspire. Like signing up for karate classes or getting into yoga. We all have things that we love doing.

It’s easy to get caught up in work and responsibilities and not make time to do these things we love doing and after a while we can even forget that good feeling that comes over us when we’re pursuing our passion.

It’s important to find the time to fit the passion in to keep the pessimistic attitude out.

How to practise self care

Self Care Activities with Hello Sunday Morning

What is self care?

Simply put: self care is looking after yourself. But it is sometimes easier said than done. How do you know what constitutes looking after yourself? Do I eat a salad for my physical health, or a cupcake for my mental wellbeing? It is tricky.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,” said American author Audre Lorde. It’s true that sometimes self care can feel selfish or unnecessary. But there are a lot of health professionals who argue it is an important part of well being.

Self care is not the same thing as pampering yourself or a simple act of treating yourself. In fact, there exist academic journals specialising in the area of self care, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) even has resources relating to it, suggesting that self care is important for all aspects of our health. WHO point out that it is a broad concept but is important for people to establish and maintain health, as well as prevent and deal with illness. Some have split the idea of self care into ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ self care for your psychological and physiological well being.

But really it’s about listening to how you feel and introspecting about what it is that you need in that moment.

Why is self care important?

Self care keeps you healthy

On some level, self care is simply an act in taking good care of yourself. This means eating well, exercising, drinking enough water, practicing good hygiene and getting enough sleep (to name a few). Self care means that you remember to engage in these healthy activities even if you have an urgent deadline or are experiencing a stressful life event.

Self care prevents burnout

Sometimes life gets tough. Hey, life is tough. And our demanding lifestyles often lead us to push ourselves to our limits, hence, burnout. Not only does burnout feel awful, it is actually pretty bad for your health too. So self care is a good way to avoid getting to this point.

Self care reduces negative effects of stress

Stress does all sorts of terrible things to us. Amongst a whole host of other things it can cause weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, hormone issues, the whole lot. So it is particularly important to check off some self care when you are under stress.

Self care is part of the process

Self care is not a reward; it is part of the process. But when you’re busy caught in the mechanics of living, it can be difficult to avoid falling into the trap of believing the opposite. Eating a good meal is great. But it’s not a reward, it is part of the process. So is taking a shower. And going for a run. See, self care isn’t a one-time deal. The best way to practice it is to engage is small self care habits every day.  

So, self care is important. We’ve mentioned a few self care activities above but how exactly do you do it?

Self care activities

  • Eat well
  • Drink water
  • Go to see the doctor for regular checkups
  • Sleep well
  • Minimise stress in your life
  • Make time for fun
  • Schedule breaks when you work
  • Make time for the people you love
  • Take time in the day to meditate or take a few deep breaths
  • Feed your mind – go to an art gallery or read a good book, whatever suits your fancy
  • Check in with your emotions
  • Spend time journaling or writing down your thoughts
  • Help someone in need, this could be small like carrying someone’s bag or shouting a stranger’s coffee
  • Do something purely because it makes you happy
  • Unplug from technology for a while
  • Create something. Maybe art, or a film
  • Spend time on personal admin
  • Do some exercise! It could be something fun like Kayaking or a dance class
  • Know when and where to set boundaries. Sometimes you have to say no to a request
  • Celebrate your wins and accomplishments!
  • Express gratitude
  • Ask for help when you need it

It’s really up to you. You must first decide what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. It’s important! Say hello to self care!

How to love what you do

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The lull after the holiday season can be a tough time for some. Festivities have been celebrated and the rest of the year looms ahead, perhaps bringing with it the same old routine.

If you don’t feel motivated to embrace the new year with open arms, maybe it’s time to question what’s holding you back. Are you stuck in a job you hate? Are you climbing the corporate ladder to a level you think you should reach because of external or internal expectations? Are there things you have always wanted to do with your life but for some reason never have?

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Most surveys in the West reveal that at least half the workforce are unhappy in their jobs, and a cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. This shows that the majority are separating work from happiness.

Sigmund Freud says you need two things in life to be happy:

“Love and work are the corner stones to our humanness”

Freud isn’t the only one who believes that the ability to love and work is connected to a more meaningful and satisfying life.

Steve Jobs stood in front of the 2005 Stanford graduating class and said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

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There are countless self help books, videos, blogs and lectures by many philosophers and social scientists on this topic. So why is it still such popular and sought-after advice? Because living a meaningful life can involve risk and a sense of the unknown, which can be scary as hell. Making a living doing what you love can pose challenges like giving up your existing job and perhaps financial stability, and sacrificing things on the way to getting to where you really want to be.

Don’t settle for being unhappy

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The House of the Dead.

Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend, a site that inspires and prepares people to build careers they love has an insightful TED talk on how to find work you love.

He raises one of the most important points of finding a satisfying job and living a more fulfilling life: surrounding yourself with people who inspire you.

“If the people you’re surrounded by don’t like their work, that’s going to bring you down,” Dinsmore says. “It’ll limit your creativity and infect your ideas. If you surround yourself with people who are truly living differently, it changes your belief about what’s possible.”

Dinsmore’s advice on how to find fulfilling work, in a nutshell

  • Utilise your talents to the fullest potential
  • Don’t just do something because society says you should
  • Try things
  • Don’t listen to others
  • Don’t be a Jack of all trades, master of none; spend more time getting better at something as this will make what you do more fulfilling.

Show me the money

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Philosopher Roman Krznaric outlines the five keys to making a career meaningful:

  1. Earning money
  2. Achieving status
  3. Making a difference
  4. Following our passions, and
  5. Using our talents.

In other words, money alone is a poor motivator:

“The lack of any clear positive relationship between rising income and rising happiness has become one of the most powerful findings in the modern social sciences. Once our income reaches an amount that covers our basic needs, further increases add little, if anything, to our levels of life satisfaction,” says Roman Krznaric.

Find meaning

Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resilience, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.

The desire to find a job that gives our lives a sense of meaning and purpose and reflects our values, passions and personality is said to be a new age idea.

To quote, again, Roman Krznaric, “We have entered a new age of fulfilment, in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning.”

The East has been way ahead of us on this one. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that in some Hindu traditions essentially translates to “sacred duty.”

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The word dharma comes from the ancient religions of India and is found in Hindu and Jain teachings as well as Buddhist. Its original meaning is something like “natural law.” Its root word, dham, means “to uphold” or “to support.” In this broad sense, common to many religious traditions, dharma is that which upholds the natural order of the universe.

It’s bigger than you

Martin E. P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, claims that in a meaningful life, “you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.”

The pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human.