Alcohol made my world small. I would fluctuate between work, the pub and home. It was like being a sprite in a video game. A character on Sims controlled by a sadist. Or a poor player trying to battle his way through a dungeon. Managing to overcome hurdles but never really advancing. Externally I aged but inside my mind, my thoughts got less. A blessing and a curse. Dictated by alcohol my outlook got narrower until it was my only focal point. The walls closed in. Isolated. Cold. A world of harshness and negativity. Bereft of warmth and love. A desolate wasteland where the future went to die. It was no wonder I was so depressed. Quitting drinking was like facing the end of game boss. Tackling the dungeon master. Unfortunately, there were no cheat codes. Just hints and tips from people who had bested it before. It was challenging but with some strategising, it became easier until, eventually, it was beaten. And the rewards were the keys to two worlds.
The two worlds I was given access to was the one we all live in and the one that resides inside. Alcohol had done a fantastic job of not only deadening me to the world outside it had also isolated me from myself. I was a stranger to myself. And I was afraid of that stranger but to progress, I had to understand him.
“It’s all too much and not enough at the same time!” said Jack Kerouac about love. The quote resonates with me, but not about love. It reflects my feelings about life when I needed to use alcohol. I was overwhelmed and empty. The world was large but pointless. When I looked at my future I saw a repetitive joyless existence but with options. I was lost in a plethora of empty choices. I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing forever. People who had held the same job for forty years perplexed me. In my youthful arrogance, I dismissed them as lacking adventure or imagination whilst yearning for the contentment they had.
The only joy I found, other than alcohol, was by newness. Not of things but of places and people. A fresh start. Clean linen. A blank canvas. Each town a new adventure. Until the emptiness of contentment crept up and caused a shiver down my spine. The cold reality of stability would set the wheels in motion. Yearning for that feeling again. That feeling of excitement. Ultimately this approach would leave me with fractured relationships and distant friends as they placed roots but I sought the next fix of feeling alive. Any bridges burned beyond repair. I would wander into the unknown comforted by my self-delusion.
I was always left wanting by life. Discontent to the point of escapism. Like Russel Brand put it “Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.” For me, alcohol was the solution to feeling both underwhelmed and overwhelmed by life simultaneously. It was also the solution to the internal problem of believing I was worthless yet not fulfilling my potential. Of wanting to live but being afraid of life. Alcohol just gave me a holiday from myself and from life. Often a much-needed break. It was an unsustainable approach.
I had to train myself to find joy. I had to look at why I was often discontent. I expected too much from life. I expected a constant adventure, constant stimulation and constant happiness. These expectations placed a huge burden not only on me but on the people I met and knew. This outlook would often leave me disappointed. Alcohol did what it said on the tin. It never let me down… until the end of course.
Quitting drinking seemed like throwing myself at the mercy of life and begging for it to go easy. I felt that without alcohol to protect me I would be left vulnerable to the things I was trying to avoid. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was timid at first. Unsure of my ability. Unsure of myself. I had denied myself for so long that without the limitations of alcohol I was weary to wander too far. Like an apprehensive animal being released into the wild. I would tentatively peer from the open door of my cage. I would take small steps until one day I realised it wasn’t a trap. I was actually free.
Quitting drinking was like a great book. The experience left me feeling richer, changed forever and changed for the better. I didn’t realise it until I reflected back on the journey. I was so focused during the process that I didn’t realise how it was changing me. In the first six months of quitting I just focused on quitting. Then I focused on tidying up the past. Which in turn cleared the path to the future. Along this journey, I tried new things. I had to. The old methods had led me to destruction so I had to be open-minded. I have sought methods such as meditation and yoga that I would have dismissed before but being desperate to be free left me open to suggestion. I tried some other suggestions like praying and church. It wasn’t for me but ultimately I was prepared to try. I became open-minded through desperation and as such was liberated from the mindset that was denying me the strength to be free. A combination of fear and foolishness were the chains that kept me from quitting for years. Fear of life without alcohol and the foolish belief that it would get better if I just kept ignoring problems. It only ever got worse. Thankfully, it got so bad I had to stop. Without it, I would never have attempted to walk the path of sobriety. Somehow, deep down, I knew that if I just kept trying new things, something would stick. That in the end, I would find the things that worked for me and thankfully I did. The world became available. My emotions became available. The warmth of the sun thawed my icy shell. In addiction, I was guarded and protected yet lonely and afraid. Intimidating yet timid. A man but a boy. Screaming for love yet screaming in silence. It was a terrible way to live. I much prefer the warmth of the light. How could I not? It is the greatest gift I ever received.
The metaphor of the dungeon at the start of this blog, a cold, desolate place of pain is just the visualisation of the emotion I was lacking; Love. Self-love. I think self-love has been confused and has been lost to narcissistic vanity. The saying to “find love you must love yourself,” seems to have been misunderstood. I’m not talking about being in love with myself but the ability to comprehend that I was worthy of love. I yearned for love but felt unworthy. I yearned for warmth but was scared of getting burned. All of the inferiority was turned inward and used to fuel my self-loathing. Which became the driving force of my alcohol consumption. A fission generator for my unquenchable thirst. I was in a state of perpetual self-hatred. It took time to feel worthy. To not try to cling to people. To realise that not everything and everyone was right for me. It was all learning. Without alcohol to shield me from my emotions I was like an open nerve.
My emotions were painful at first but with reflection became a lesson. With time I learned to work with them. I no longer needed to avoid them. The ability to introspect is a gift. The things I feared are now my greatest asset. The emotions I avoided are my guide for life. I am human again.
I was fearful. I didn’t believe that I could “do life,” without alcohol. How could I? I never knew any other way! But all I found was that initially it was hard but after the initial shock life opened up. I opened up. The world became my playground and my intuition became my guide.
The answer to my problems had been there all along. I had just looking in the wrong place.