Today I haven’t had a drink for 1927 days. Tomorrow I embark on 180 days of travelling. If you had told me 1928 days ago that this is where I would have ended up I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t expect this. Shit, I didn’t even expect to stop drinking. I’d wanted to but the thought of not drinking scared me. Thankfully, life intervened.
1928 days ago was the 31st of May 2014. It was a Saturday night and Carl “The Cobra” Froch was fighting “Saint” George Groves in a boxing match at Wembley Stadium. I wasn’t at the fight. I was in a pub with some friends. It was a great night, a good fight, we had a laugh and then, as they have a tendency to do, the pub closed. This meant no more alcohol for my friends. They did the sensible thing and went home. As per usual, my thirst was unquenched. After calling them boring, I wandered into the local town centre, on my own, to find a table to prop up in a dark corner of a dark club. I knew the place. They knew me. I had been there many times before; searching for a solution, hoping for a revelation. At 3 am on 1st June 2014, I got that revelation. Walking home after the club closed, I was brought to a halt by severe pain in my lower right abdomen. I was doubled up in pain. I have to admit I was scared. Alcohol had been my medicine for a long time. If I felt any pain I would have a couple or six pints of lager and if the pain didn’t go away? Then I would see a doctor. The pain was a reason to drink not an excuse to. So being in pain and being drunk was a cause to be concerned.
With a belly full of ale and agony, I jumped into a taxi and went to the hospital convinced I had seriously damaged… something.
“Enlarged liver,” said the doctor.
“What’s the cure?” I asked, nervously.
“No alcohol for two weeks,” said the doctor.
Thank Christ; I thought, as the premonitions of dialysis drifted from my imagination.
This was the second warning I’d had from my liver. I’d been told to stop drinking a few years earlier by a doctor after a blood test. I tried to stop, lasted seven months without a drink, got bored, relapsed and here I was in the hospital, the circle complete. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where drinking takes you. It definitely isn’t the land of happiness that was advertised. I think a false advertising claim is in order…
At first, it was a nightmare to not drink. My whole life revolved around drinking. Everything was an excuse to drink; boredom, excitement, misery, rejection, acceptance, the day ended with the letter “Y” the list was literally endless. I wish I had the same excuses to exercise.
After quitting drinking I had nothing. I just started to fill my time. It was tricky but I didn’t want another warning from my liver so I stuck to what the doctor had suggested.
After the two weeks, I felt a bit better so I kept going. I kept filling my time and trying new things. I had no confidence, to begin with, but as I achieved little things my confidence began to grow. I planned trips to places I had only dreamed of and then they became achievements. I stood in those places in awe at the beauty of the world and proud of myself for sticking to the sober path. The clarity of sobriety allowed me to take in the experience and hold it dearly inside. From the life-changing journey of the El Camino de Santiago to the bustling streets of New York, the serenity of Lumbini, the breathtaking Vatican in Rome or the questions I was left with after the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. The magic of each place left its mark on me and enlivened my soul after many years of it being dulled by alcohol. My mind expanded by the potential of humanity as I stared at the wonderful monuments that had been created. I felt plugged into life and I finally knew what it was to be alive.
Not drinking allowed me to plan, save money and go. It has enabled me to connect with people, embrace new cultures and take in new experiences. I have new freedom financially and mentally that 1927 days ago I couldn’t have dreamed of possessing.
That pain I felt 1927 days ago was enough of a reason to stop drinking but I never would have guessed that this is where sobriety would take me. Just like, I never would have guessed that’s where drinking would take me when I started out on that journey.
I chose to stop drinking because I was scared but I was also tired. Tired of feeling like every day was a war. Each morning was like a preparation for a battle to just survive work and get back to the pub or a vow to not drink that day only to be chastising my weakness later, drink in hand. I felt like I was just treading water to stay afloat but praying for change. I like to think the liver pain was the answer to my prayers. It wasn’t seriously damaged but it was enough for me to see the reality of my situation; I was a prisoner to my addiction and it would kill me if I carried on.
Sobriety gave me the tools to create an escape plan. Slowly it came together.
In the beginning, I just did what I needed to do to get through. I smoked a shit ton of cigarettes, ate crap food, spent time alone when I could, socialised when I needed to, walked in nature, meditated, practised yoga, read books, watched films, went to AA, anything but drank alcohol or took drugs. It took a while to take shape and I’m not professing to have the solution but it worked for me and I eventually realised that an alcohol-free life was the path I was sticking to.
I’d never had a plan for life before then, I was convinced I would have drunk myself to death by the age of thirty. I got close but wimped out and wanted a taste of life. Now I needed a plan. So I made one, a loose one and ticked things off as I went. I added things I had wanted to do for years like learning the piano, learning the guitar, writing, losing weight, quitting smoking, trips abroad and eventually travelling the world. It took a lot of days to get to the last one. 1927 days to be exact. I didn’t stop drinking and say “in 1927 days I will travel the world,” it’s just that each day, week and year added something new. Each tick next to a goal pushed me along the road. Kind of like a piece in a board game and each attempt at a goal was a roll of the dice. Not everything went my way but I just kept trying. If I wanted to curl up and cry, I did and then I got up and carried on.
Everything along the way, positive and negative, has been a lesson.
After a decade of believing I was incomplete, sobriety helped me realise that there was no hole inside that needed filling. I was complete. It was just an insatiable appetite for alcohol that kept me believing I was missing something.
When I drank I was the caterpillar, consuming everything and getting fat. In early sobriety, I was in the cocoon, growing and changing. Now, it is time to take flight and experience a future I never expected.
I have six months off work and will be travelling to places I have dreamed of visiting; The Grand Canyon, Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, Petra, Sri Lanka and India. People keep asking me what I am going to do after that and I can’t even begin to imagine what I will feel like. At thirty-seven years old, I am in the best shape mentally and physically I have been in for two decades so I might just keep travelling. Or maybe after 180 days I will have had a belly full of travelling and will want to come back home for some stability.
“I can direct the ship but I cannot control what’s waiting in the sea.”
The fact that I don’t know how the experience will impact me shows how much more open to life I am than when I drank. I no longer make assumptions or expectations on things that are out of my control. When I drank, I was cold and closed off. I would have worried about the potentialities and then probably decided it was a bad idea. Now, I am liberated and go with an open heart and mind.
I couldn’t have done this on my own. I don’t mean the trip; I mean the journey of sobriety. I tried to go it alone the first time I quit and that didn’t end up too well. This time I reached out for help in the early days and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for everyone who has helped me along the way; Alcoholics anonymous, people I’ve met, people who read my blogs and give feedback, fellow travellers, work, work colleagues, friends and family. They all have played a part in making the journey possible. I couldn’t have done it on my own and as a proud individual that has been a life-saving realisation. Strength is good but being too proud for help is foolish. So don’t suffer in silence.
I hope this helps you to realise that even a regular guy can achieve his dream WITH perseverance, patience, a plan and WITHOUT alcohol. So if I can do it, you definitely can because you’re awesome. You might not know it yet but hopefully one day you will realise. I didn’t think I had anything to offer for years. I didn’t think I could achieve anything or that I didn’t deserve anything. Sobriety taught me otherwise.
Someone in an AA meeting once said to me “Quit drinking and you can have a life beyond your wildest dreams.” I was in my early days of recovery and thought, who’s this lunatic? I guess I owe that lunatic an apology because he was right. Now, I become that lunatic because I am here to tell you the same message “QUIT DRINKING AND YOU CAN HAVE A LIFE BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS,” it doesn’t have to be travelling it can be something, anything, that is dear to you. It can be the flickering ember of a dream, nearly extinguished by alcohol that can be reignited by sobriety. Or an aspiration to do something that you convinced yourself over time you could never do.
You will be surprised by your own ability as you grow into the butterfly and take flight.
One day, you will be saying to people, “I didn’t think I could do it either but look where I am now,” and you will hope that they get to the place you are. Then, maybe, like me, you’ll realise how far you’ve come. That the day you chose to stop drinking alcohol turned out to be the best decision you ever made and that every day since then has been a step along the path toward your dreams.
“Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite forever orbiting
I know all the rules but the rules did not know me
Eddie Vedder, Guaranteed, Into the Wild (Soundtrack)