I was painfully shy when I was younger to the point that it was debilitating. I always dreamed of performing on stage but the thought of actually doing it brought me to a standstill. My parents would encourage me to try but I would refuse. When I found alcohol, I believed it to be a magical elixir that would solve all my problems and turn me into Don Juan Bond. In reality, it just turned me into slavering mess and then an alcoholic. I was on that treadmill for many years. Running towards a goal but never getting there. I pissed away the entirety of my twenties. Praying for change the whole time. Waiting for some divine intervention to save me from my plight. All the while, taking no action to alter the course of my life. I became angry and frustrated. Resentful of the lack of help that was being offered.
I believed alcohol was my saviour, yet it was my kidnapper. I was smitten with Stockholm syndrome. I was too bitter and twisted to form any real relationships. Only the acquaintances that I kept around to normalise my behaviour. I was the personification of the poison I imbibed. It poured out of my pores and the toxic acidity spilt from my tongue every time I spoke. I was a self-loathing creature of despair. Many saw the potential that lay behind the toxic barrier but their concerns were dismissed. Their love and light were not welcome in my cold life.
I would say that I was a functioning alcoholic for ten years. I used alcohol to mask my depression. Even after all this time I still do not know if the depression was a by-product of the drinking or the drinking was a by-product of the depression. Either way, drinking was useful. In more ways than one. I was actually quite good at it. At the time it was the only thing I believed myself to be good at. My crippling shyness still existed underneath my blase faux rock star image. Inside I was a child yearning for a connection yet my outer persona stopped it from happening. I pushed people away and then regretted it. I couldn’t be honest with them. Shit, I couldn’t be honest with myself. I hurt them to protect myself but ultimately it only hurt me in the end. I ended up lonely and lost. Broken and damaged. Hurt and angry. Yet still chasing away help. Too proud to admit defeat. Too stupid to show weakness.
My body had other ideas. My liver stepped in and brought the whole fucking charade to a halt, twice. Change or die was the option in the end. I didn’t want to change. I had NOTHING to change for. NOTHING to live for really. I had no kids. No wife. No girlfriend. I worked to pay my bar bill and to keep a roof over my head. Like a real-life Charles Bukowski character I bumbled and mumbled my way through existence. Penniless, directionless and adrift.
The two warnings from my liver painted a vivid picture of the future. A bleak future of dialysis, cirrhosis and death. I didn’t want that future. I wanted a different future. With a happy ending. Maybe I’ve just watched too many movies but it had to be worth a shot.
Looking for positives wasn’t an option at first. My mind was still full of dark clouds. “Whatever you do just don’t fucking drink,” was my only thought for a lot of months. I reached out to AA when the boredom hit. It helped for a bit but I wanted to know who I was. So I vowed to spend time with myself. I learned a lot. I learned what I wanted to do. I learned what I liked. It was good. I made peace with the tormentor, the bastard who made me feel like shit for years; ME.
I learned that kids and a wife weren’t really what I wanted. So I stopped giving myself a hard time about not having them. I learned that I wanted to travel, to explore and grow. I wanted to set a goal and achieve it. I wanted to do this because when I should have travelled in my early twenties I was riddled with crippling shyness and self-doubt.
It would have been easy to bemoan the things I didn’t have. To be resentful at the lack of a supportive wife and loving children. Instead, I took stock of what I did have; freedom. A commodity many would wish for and in a perverse way; a gift from alcohol. In the words of Kris Kristofferson “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose,” and I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had lost so much self-respect that I no longer cared what people thought. So failure held no real threat anymore. I had moved towns so often my only real friends and family lived two hundred miles away. I was alone but I was free to start again.
Slowly, I rebuilt. Slowly, I took steps forward. Slowly, I began to see results. Eventually, I started to see that I was steering the ship, not alcohol. A scary thought to begin with. Each new hurdle, each new test, each achievement all went to create something new; self-belief. Real self-belief. Not arrogance masking a boy in a man’s body. Actual confidence and self-awareness.
When I used alcohol, I used my toxic tongue to hurt people emotionally. In sobriety, I’ve been hurt. I regret what I did. I have apologised were I could. I didn’t do it because I wanted to feel better. I did it because I didn’t understand what it felt like for someone else to make you feel bad. When I drank nobody could make me feel worse than I made myself feel.
Acting humble and climbing down from my fragile tower, changed my outlook. And hurt my pride but it needed to happen. I needed to purge my system not only of the poison I was drinking but the toxic, negative thinking.
Slowly, the clouds began to clear. It was a complete and utter transformation but it took time.
Why am I saying all this? I just wanted to share this as a reminder that people can recover. Not only recover from drinking but also negative thinking and turn it around. Even people who never believed in themselves for years. A LOT of years.
So please, don’t be THAT person. You are better than that. Be the person you want to be. That deep down you know you can be.
When alcohol loses its grip on the steering wheel. Take stock of what you’ve got; not what you haven’t. You can get the things you haven’t got and the things you TRULY want. Just point your life in that direction and go for it. It just takes time, patience and plan. Get to know you. You are fucking great. Don’t give yourself such a hard time. It only makes things worse. SLOWLY, it will happen. Just keep going. Keep trying and keep learning.
Who knows what you can achieve? I guess there is only one way to find out!
As for me? Now, five and a half years sober, I am two months into six months of travelling. So far it has exceeded my expectations. If ten years ago someone would have told me that at thirty-seven years old I would finally be in a position to do so I would have said “What drugs are you taking? Can I have some?” It has only been made possible by not drinking and the people I’ve met along the way. Not drinking alcohol allowed me to get an understanding of who I am and what I want. Even without travelling, my day to day thinking is just so much better now than it used to be. This is thanks to the beautiful people who share their stories and vulnerability with the world so that I am reminded where I came from. The positivity and support that pours from the words of people who once felt trapped and are now free. They know the heat of hell and lower a hand to wrench people free. I thank you all. You are a beautiful reminder of the light that can shine from us once we reconnect with our true selves.
And if you’re not there yet, keep going. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Not the light of a dimly lit bar that promises much but offers little. It is a genuine, positive and warming light that symbolises freedom.