Stories from Sobriety – Bangkok and the number 11:11

I had spent the first two years of my sobriety, focusing on staying sober, paying off debt and getting ready to walk the El Camino de Santiago. After I had accomplished this, I felt lost. Like I was drifting through life with no purpose. This wasn’t helped by the fact it was November in the UK which means it was cold and dark or at least heading that way. This added another layer of drudgery to the post-holiday blues that were kicking in. I didn’t have anything to do and I didn’t want to sit at home. As a result, I was spending more and time in the pub, not drinking alcohol but socialising. That was until one night I started to look at the champagne selection with the thought “One champagne won’t hurt,” it scared me. It scared me into action. I needed something else to aim for. It also scared me enough to return to AA after an eighteen-month absence.

AA gave me somewhere to go other than meeting friends in the pub and I made some new friends there. I got a sponsor and started working the steps. This was all good and well but I still had a thought of what am I doing it for? Who am I staying sober for? I see sobriety as a tool to be used and the freedom to be enjoyed. Without that it loses it’s purpose.

Then one night, my friend Simon who was living in Auckland phoned and said he was moving back to the UK via South East Asia. He would be there in three months for a few months with no fixed agenda. I asked him if I could meet up somewhere and travel around Cambodia. He said it would be good to catch up and he would be happy with the company. We agreed to meet in Bangkok for a few days before travelling to Siem Reap. I couldn’t believe how easy it all was to make plans and book flights. In my drinking days I would have wished him well but then moaned at how lucky everyone was compared to me. But now in sobriety, the stage was set for me to visit one of the places I had spent many years pouring over whilst pissing my life away in a bar; Angkor Wat.

I told my AA sponsor that I would be going backpacking around Cambodia in three months and he said we needed to get through the steps. I was willing to give it a try and had done a lot of work on myself over the last two years which made it easier. The fact my sponsor was understanding helped a lot as well.

I still struggled with the God thing. Just like I had the first time I had tried AA two years before but this time to navigate the problem, I used the universe as my higher power. I had been listening to a lot of Law of attraction guided meditations at the time so it seemed to fit.

I was talking the trip up so much that another friend, Chloe, said she would like to go. I said that wouldn’t be a problem but when she tried to book her flights were fully booked. So we arranged to meet at Bangkok airport. I was amazed by how quickly it all came together. I started to feel better now I had something to focus on. Or maybe it was attending AA again that helped. In the AA meetings, I would share my message of positivity and freedom and afterwards people would say that I gave them hope. It was a good feeling. It made all the years of bullshit misery worth it. It shows the depths we sink to in addiction but that we can pull ourselves out over time.

About a month before we were due to go I started noticing the numbers 11:11 for no reason. Or a variation of 1111. Like when I cleaned my phone and it did 111.1mb.

I was a little freaked out and sought comfort in my AA sponsor who told me it meant I was on the right path. I felt like I was on the right path as well. My head was clear, I felt good and I was about to embark on a journey to a place I had dreamed of. So I embraced it and whenever I noticed the numbers, I smiled.

About a week before my flight, I was packing my bag and was overcome with emotion. I felt so grateful for the opportunity to take that trip. I don’t know who I was grateful to but for the first time in my life I got into a prayer position and said: “Thank you.” It was a nice feeling to not be bogged down with negativity as I had for more than a decade in my drinking days. When I would feel like the odds were stacked against me and that I was fighting the world. Pink cloud or not, it felt great that things were going in my favour and I was starting to tick my dreams off the list.

Bangkok

I was nervous about flying to Bangkok, as it was the first time I had flown a long distance alone. Any anxiety about the situation dissipated when I rationalised what was in my control and what wasn’t. I got talking to a young couple in front of me in the queue who were moving to one of the Thai Islands to live and work. I’ll have to admit I was pretty envious having spent most of my life working in shit jobs that I hated. Fair play to them for taking a chance.

After the rig moral of immigration, I collected my bags and went to wait for Chloe. Her flight would be arriving about an hour after mine so I bought a coffee and went outside for a cigarette. This is when it hit me; the heat. It was so humid that after smoking a third of a roll up cigarette, the glue on the rizla began to come unstuck and I couldn’t smoke it. I stubbed it out and went back into the air-conditioned airport to wait for Chloe. And to buy some proper cigarettes.

After Chloe arrived we found a taxi and made our way to the hotel, Tara place which was just near Khaosan Road. I was in my element in the taxi, looking at the scenary as we made our way there with the enthusiasm of a dog in a car. I’m always fascinated by the way everything is the same but also so different. The colours, sounds and smells of the place. The customs and traditions. It all combines to make the experience.

We checked in, dumped our bags and Chloe said she was going to get some sleep, “because of the jet lag.” I’d had a decent sleep on the plane thanks to having three seats to myself. So I opted to explore.

Outside the hotel, I found a tuk-tuk driver and asked him to take me to the place I’d found on the AA meeting finder. He explained that the place wasn’t a tuk-tuk journey away, it was a boat ride across the river away. So I chose to wander around aimlessly instead. I ate some street food that was delicious but probably not the animal that was advertised. I drank so many iced coffees that I felt like I’d been taking amphetamines and then on the way back to the hotel, I tried the Siam massage that was outside the hotel. Oh my. I didn’t expect much put the little Thai lady kicked the shit out of me. Afterwards, I felt great. If not a little like I’d been mugged.

I went for another iced coffee to stave off the caffeine comedown and as I sat watching the world go by, Chloe called. She was well-rested and wanted to take a look around the city. I was more than happy to explore further.

As we were walking along, we were stopped by a Thai man offering advice on places to visit and also, advised us to visit them by Tuk Tuk. Which just happened to be standing by. On reflection, it was a stupid thing to do but he seemed so genuine. He had his act down to a tee. We jumped into a nearby Tuk Tuk who told us to pay him at the end and then took us to visit some sights. We stopped at the Wat Ratchanatdaram and had a look around inside. When he left the Tuk Tuk driver had vanished. So we took a slow walk back towards the hotel. I found out later that the Tuk-Tuk drivers over charge the tourists when they are far away from where they got picked up.

Later, Simon arrived and met us for a coffee. He had a girl with him who I vaguely recognised from somewhere. It turned out they had lived in a house share when I had visited him years ago. She worked as a barmaid and I had been in the pub, very drunk as usual. Her name was Jessica and like Simon was moving back to the UK. Except she had been living in Australia. She was the sort of woman I’d wanted to meet for years. Attractive, cool and fond of travelling. I was in awe as she and Simon shared stories of their travels. How their faces flashes with excitement and they become alive as they relived their favourite destinations. They were talking about places I had longed to visit and now thanks to sobriety I could. It was fantastic to watch.

We made our way down Koahsan Road where the party was in full swing. Young backpackers letting loose and having fun. I felt a tinge of envy as I walked. I had a flashback to me spending too many days propping up a bar dreaming, moaning, hating and not living. Thankfully I’d made it in the end.

We found a place a little out of the way from the revellers and ordered some drinks. I fired questions at Simon and Jessica about their travels; Where was the best place you’ve been? Where do you want to go? Where wouldn’t you go? They were more than happy to answer.

This was the type of evening I had got sober for; free, with like-minded people and on an adventure. After many years of deadening myself with alcohol, I finally felt alive.

Simon mentioned that there was a food night market nearby that would be worth checking out. So we got a taxi and headed there. It was just outside the MBK shopping centre and there was some free Thai boxing taking place over the road. So we loaded up on snacks and fresh fruit and went to watch the boxing. Returning to the market for further refreshments as required.

I continued to barrage Jessica and Simon with questions about travelling with half an eye on the boxing. It was a great evening.

The following day Chloe wasn’t feeling great so Simon, Jessica and I visited the Grand Palace in the morning. We weren’t allowed inside whilst wearing shorts. We had to buy some trousers to cover our bare legs. Many of the trousers were brightly coloured but perfectly acceptable. I couldn’t help but think how the knees or lower legs were anymore offensive than the psychedelic trousers I had to were.

Even though it was morning, it was still hot and heaving with tourists (Me being one) which made some of the places claustrophobic as we shuffled through the rooms. It was still a wonderful place to visit but I made my way with haste as the sweat began pouring off my face. I was trapped in one room by a large group of Chinese tourists. I wanted to start picking people up to move them out of the way to get out but remembered a breathing technique that helped. I lit a cigarette as soon as I got outside.

Afterwards, we made our way across town to Wat Arun Ratchawararam (Temple of Dawn) and had a look around. I would have liked to see it at dawn when the scorching heat wasn’t making it unbearable. After a whistle-stop tour, we sought refuge in a cafe and indulged in some ice cream smoothies. The boat ride back was a welcome treat as the cool breeze helped alleviate the heat.

That night, we were sitting in a bar on Khaosan road having a few drinks, chatting and listening to the band that was playing. I had a strange sensation like I had been taking hallucinogenics but I hadn’t. I could feel the music in the air. Not just the bass but all of it. Like I was surrounded by the music. Almost as if I could see the notes dancing across the room on a wave. It was a great feeling. Maybe it was just because I was present.

Simon took his phone out of his pocket and I noticed the time on it was 11:11. I began to laugh and said “If I’m not sick of seeing that time.”

“What time is it?” said Jessica

“Eleven Eleven,” I said

“Why? What do you know about eleven eleven?” said Jessica

“Just that it means you are on the right path or something,” I said.

Jessica lifted her leg onto the table to show me a tattoo of a sundial that showed the time eleven eleven. I was blown away. I was convinced that she was the one. I was transfixed. The law of attraction meditation I had been practising had paid off.

Simon interrupted my thinking by stating that we had to visit the Patpong night market. So we finished up and made our way there. I was infatuated with Jessica. I was convinced that the universe had answered me.

We slid through the Patpong market and dipped into some girlie bar. There were girls everywhere but I couldn’t stop talking to Jessica. I wanted to know everything about her. We had one drink and left. Back through the market we dodged the salesmen with their menus of titillation and bundled into a club up the street, where we continued chatting. Only stopping to get another drink. It was so natural. So easy. No awkward pauses. The conversation just poured out like the music that was entertaining the revellers around us. Simon and Chloe interrupted to say they were heading to a club. I said I wasn’t interested and Jessica said she didn’t want to go to a club either. So, we said our goodbyes to Simon and Chloe, found another bar and continued to talk. We talked about spirituality, life and the universe. I couldn’t tell you what was going on around me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. After a few drinks, we made our way back to the hotel.

In the morning, I kissed Jessica goodbye after trying to convince her to come to Cambodia with us. She already had a flight booked for that morning and plans she couldn’t get out of. It would have been nice for her to come along but we made plans to meet up in the UK.

I hadn’t met someone like this for a long time and it was the perfect start to the holiday.

Sobriety had definitely been the right choice.

Charlie

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