Sobriety: Expectations vs Reality

What would you do if you had more money and more time? Spend time with your kids? Improve your golf swing? Travel the world? Do that qualification you’ve always wanted to do? Buy that car you always wanted? Treat your kids? Your spouse?

Well you can. If there is two things that stopping drinking gave me it is more time and more money. With the added benefits of improved sleep, clearer thinking and improved health. Best of all it’s free.

I didn’t want to quit. I loved drinking. So much so that a therapist went as far as saying that I had a love affair with alcohol. I had been telling myself and anyone that would listen, that my drinking was “Fine” and I was in control. The thought of quitting drinking made me want to drink. My whole life revolved around drinking. Any activity that didn’t involved drinking was dismissed as being boring and a waste of time.

At the age of twenty-nine, I had a warning about my liver from a doctor. She told me that I had been given an opportunity to do something but I continued to delude myself that the downturn in health was normal and a by-product of lifestyle. I even wore it as a badge of honour.

The second warning from my doctor about my liver came three years later and scared the shit out of me. I had spent the night in hospital because of an enlarged liver. I was in agony. Even the copious amounts of whiskey I had consumed did nothing to alleviate the pain. The doctor told me I HAD to cut out alcohol for two weeks.

The following day, my car broke down which left me stranded at the side of the motorway. I just felt like life was sending me a message; This is how it’s going to be for ever. I didn’t want that. I couldn’t take that shit any more. I was mentally and physically beat. I was skint. I was directionless, miserable and lonely.

I had wanted to do so much with my life when I was younger but my dreams had been washed away progressively over the years. Until I was left as nothing more than a mess chained to a bar, drinking out of necessity. While clinging desperately to the belief that I was still having fun. But the fear of dying outweighed the fear of not drinking so I was given an escape from the prison of addiction if I chose to take it. It wasn’t quite rock bottom but it was close. More importantly, it was enough to make me stop. I’m glad I didn’t keep searching for the bottom. I’ve heard some terrible stories from the people who kept searching. It’s not pretty. Stop before you have no other choice.

The morning after the night before. Taken on 1st June 2014, the last morning I woke up feeling terrible because of alcohol.

After the chaos of early sobriety had tempered, I began to question what I was going to do with this abundance of time. I had to do something because I was bored shitless. Without drinking I had nothing going on. I began to worry that I would drink again because boredom was a trigger for me to drink. I had to find something to do. And then I saw this video:

I’d never thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I just accepted a routine of working and drinking. The people around me seemed to be doing the same thing, so I accepted it as a way of life. Now I had a quandary; the life I accepted as the normal way of life was killing me and making me depressed. I needed a new way of life. I needed something to keep me sober. A goal. And when asked the question “What do you desire?” my answer was always, “To travel.” I’ve been plagued throughout my life with the thought; there has to be more than life than this. So I sought to find out if there was.

An Australian palliative nurse compiled what she believed to be the top five regrets that were voiced by her end of life patients

I did not want to have a life of regrets and missed opportunities just because I didn’t have the courage to pursue my dreams. I was scared of failing but I wasn’t scared of trying, so I made a plan. The first plan was to walk the El Camino De Santiago. Each time I wanted a drink I reminded myself why I wasn’t drinking. It is hard because recovery takes time to see results. Alcohol gives effects quickly. It is easy to see why people relapse because recovery seems like an exercise in futility at times. You have to stick to the new path you have chosen. Whatever it may be. Trust that it will work out but accept that it might not. Just keep heading towards the goal one step at a time.

I saw this graffiti as I walked in Spain. It reminded me of my drinking days. How every day, week & year would be a copy of the one before.

I fought off the boredom by not only planning goals but also by doing other things I’d always dreamed of doing. I learned guitar and piano. Educated myself about finances as I needed to pay back debt and had been crap with money previously. I read books. Exercised. Meditated. Met friends. Went to AA. I did anything that I wanted really but it was all heading towards walking the El Camino de Santiago.

El Camino De Santiago – September 2016

It took me two years to get into a position to walk the El Camino. I just kept plugging away and not drinking. Eventually, I made it. I was financially, physically and mentally in a position to do it. It had seemed impossible at times but now I was booking flights.

I was forever changed by the experience but also by the fact I had actually achieved something I had set out to do. In my drinking days I never did anything. I dismissed things as boring when in reality I was scared. Scared of living yet envious of people who were getting on with it. Now I felt like I was in control for the first time in years.

When I got home I made a plan to see all the places I’d dreamed of and pinned it next to my desk. Everyday I was reminded why I wasn’t drinking or wasting money.

The Aston Martin is there to remind me I have a choice in life. I can buy things to try and buy happiness or I can listen to my core and taste it for real.

Having the list really helped focus my attention. I have used a similar technique to lose weight in the past and that also got results.

I had spent the first two years of sobriety clearing debt, working on myself and relationships, all with a view of reaching my goals. The seeds you sow become the fruit you pick.

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Six months after making the list, I visited the first place. Before stopping drinking, I had been on holiday a handful of times. They were a continuation of my drinking lifestyle dressed up as a holiday. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time but it was a different type of experience. Now I wanted to not only be there but FEEL what those places were like. To experience something new and come away hopefully changed for the better.

Cambodia – March 2017

Cambodia was my first taste of backpacking. Arriving in a country with no agenda. I was there for three weeks because I had to go back to work. The friends I went with were lucky enough to continue on to Vietnam. Each place I’ve visited has altered my perception of the world we live in and the people who call it home. What I took from Cambodia was the startling fact that a lot more people seem happy with what they have and they have not very much. Large parts of the Western world are miserable with an abundance. It was eye opening and played a huge role in being more grateful for the simpler things in my own life.

Many places have filled me with emotion over the last few years. Usually, as I compare my life now to the drinking days. Walking to Angkor Wat at dawn, with tears in my eyes was one such occurrence. It wasn’t as easy as just jumping on an aeroplane, flying around the world and visiting the place. A huge amount of effort had gone into making it happen. The tears were of joy. At the beauty of the world. At the achievement. The tears were of happiness. I was present, grateful and proud. I had earned it. I deserved it. We all do.

In the lowest parts of my life, I often dreamed of maxing out my debt and running away. In the fantasy, I would rent a beach hut and read books, free of worry. On Koh Rong Samloem, in Cambodia, I was lucky enough to rent a beach hut. I had plenty of time to think, as I sat in a hammock sipping an iced coffee contemplating how far I had come since those dark days.

India & NepalSeptember 2017

If serenity was a place on Earth Lumbini would be it. After the short tour of Lumbini (The supposed birthplace of Buddha), it felt like I had undertaken 8 hours meditation. I felt light and free. At peace and calm. A wonderful experience.

In Varanasi, the controlled riot of colour and religious worship that took place on the banks of the Ganges was a privilege to witness, as we floated along the river at sunset.

USA – September 2018

A road trip across America, the thing of movies. With good company, great tunes and mind blowing, life affirming scenery it was everything I hoped for.

The highlight for me was when approaching the Grand Teton national park. Surrounded by glorious views, I was overcome with emotion as the words “There’s still time to change the road you’re on…” from Stairway to heaven rang out of the speakers. I couldn’t help thinking of that feeling I had four years earlier, sitting on the side of the motorway, broken and lonely. No amount of time sober will stop me remembering what I went through to visit the places I am so fortunate to see now. The sacrifice for me isn’t stopping drinking. The sacrifice is giving up on my dreams to drink. I cannot let that happen.

Peru – December 2018

Machu Picchu had been my computer desktop picture for years. It still is except it is now a photo I took :). Standing at the sun gate looking over Machu Picchu as the clouds cleared to reveal the glorious Incan citadel, like a gift from Pachamama, will remain long in the memory.

The Inca trail gave a welcome, three-day break from technology and the opportunity to connect. Not only with each other and nature but with the self. A reconnect. An alignment. I came back to the city at peace until eventually, the frantic lifestyle began to steal my serenity and I dropped back into the old routine. Thankfully, that routine doesn’t involve drinking because I wouldn’t have been here if I’d continued.

When I stopped drinking I expected it to be boring. A mundane existence. That would mean Missing out on all the fun. But in reality, it has been the most liberating and eye-opening thing I have done. I realised that alcohol lied to me. It made me believe that standing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night due to the fear of missing out, was fun. When I look back with the clarity I have now it stopped being fun years before I stopped drinking. In fact, the drinking began to steal fun towards the end.

Sobriety isn’t the end. It is the beginning…

If I can do it, anyone can. It just takes patience and perseverance. It doesn’t have to be travelling. It can be whatever you want it to be. That is the beauty of sobriety; freedom. Freedom to choose to do something or do nothing. To see the world. To learn. To grow. Or sit with your family free of the anxiety and just enjoy their company. Whatever it is, just pick a goal. Write it down and make it your focal point. As you wrestle back control of your life, you will be surprised at what you are capable of doing.

Thanks for stopping by,

Charlie

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