What did I learn from relapsing?

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

Henry Ford

“Above is a picture of me, just before some friends and I go skydiving. I am 30 years old and have quit drinking for five months. I have managed to turn around my finances. I am in the best physical shape of my life. I feel great and the smug look on my face is one of a man who believes he has life beat. I have managed to conquer the demons that have plagued me for as long as I can remember. I am ticking things off my bucket list with the ferocity of manic teacher marking work. I am free from the chains of alcohol. I celebrate life on a daily basis. I exercise and meditate. I have equilibrium in spades and believe I am on a spiritual quest. I border on arrogance as I have crawled from hell with horns of the conquered beast. I have the scars to match the trophy.

Skydiving was a trip. Like cocaine laced Redbull. Adrenaline courses through my veins as we celebrate. God, it’s good to be alive. Who knew that sobriety wouldn’t be as boring as I thought. Life is pulling me forward into the unknown of uncertainty as my potential becomes unravelled from the negative thinking that kept it boxed. I have to make up for the lost time. I owe myself a life of freedom. I owe it to the lost soul I once was and I vow to repay myself.

Two months later…

I have run out of things to keep me entertained. I have achieved all of my goals. I am now left with a gaping hole that needs to fill. I need excitement to replace the euphoric highs on a daily basis that drinking gave. The instantaneous dopamine from alcohol is a hard thing to kick. But I don’t want to end up back in the mess I was in before. But I have control now. My life is in order now. I am not the same person I have grown over the past seven months. I just needed a break from alcohol. That’s all. I’ll just have one. That won’t hurt…

I did it. Last night I had two beers and left the pub. I knew I could do it. I had two bottles of Becks watching my mates band and then left the pub when they had finished playing. It may be Wednesday and I have work tomorrow but that never stopped me overindulging before. I knew it would be different this time. I’ve changed. I can’t wait for Friday night to have a few beers with the lads. I’ve missed having a laugh with them so much.

Ergh. It was heavy-duty last night. It was Friday though so thats okay. Drank waaaay too much but we were celebrating me back on the beer. Laying on the sofa eating crisps and watching the TV today. Can’t move. Think I’ll lay off it this weekend… My mates just phoned to say he is watching football in the pub later. A pint might help sort me out actually. Think I’ll pop down for one.

What the fuck happened last night? I feel like death. Thank fuck it’s Sunday. No idea what happened last night. Ended up in some club on my own drinking spirits. The rest is a blur. I’ll head to the shop in a couple of hours to get supplies. I am definitely not drinking today.

I woke up fresh for a Monday morning and got to work on time. I spent yesterday on the sofa but I didn’t have a drink. I won’t today either. Let my liver recover. “

Two years later…

1st June 2014. The pain I felt last night was incredible. I thought I had been stabbed walking home from the night club. I sent my friend a selfie (above) in the morning, he asked how I was doing. A night in accident and emergancy with an enlarged liver is how I am doing. ECG, blood tests, guilt, shame and defeat. I feel like shit. I can’t keep doing this.

I had done so much in the seven months of sobriety. Achieved so much. Now in tatters, after two years back in the toxic embrace of alcohol. I remember those two beers a couple of years ago and believing I had it licked but slowly Friday and Saturday became Thursday, Friday, Saturday and so forth. Until I was drinking six days a week. Wrapped in the comfort of the blanket that if I didn’t drink on a Monday then I didn’t have a problem. I’m drowning in debt. People are commenting on my health. How much is it going to take for me to stop? The doctor said to lay off it for a while and it will go back to normal. I will do that but this is the second warning about my liver in two years. The prospect of a third scares the shit of me!

I thought I was in control. Why the fuck did I start drinking again? My arrogance and lack of internal work lead me back down the rabbit hole. Without distractions, boredom crept back into my life and I slowly justified drinking to myself. What I never did in those seven months was learn about the reasons why I drank. I used exercise to get in great physical shape but that never translated to great mental shape. All the meditation I was doing was to try to control my thoughts and trying to suppress the things that alcohol had suppressed.

Those two bottles of Becks have lead me through two years of chaos that cost me everything. My physical, financial and mental health have collapsed. I may have been fooling myself that I had escaped hell the victor but I never checked my ankle to see the hand trying to pull me back. And back I went…

This time I will not make the same mistake. This time I will not have one. If I have one I end up sick. Sick of myself and of life. Sick of being financially fucked. Sick of feeling weak and sick of feeling sick. This time I will do the work. I will face the problems I avoided. I will embrace what it takes to be free. I can no longer lie to myself. I can’t cry anymore tears of frustration at the lack of an escape. This is the moment that I have to step up to be free. I have to accept that I cannot drink. I have to accept that I cannot drink. It’s hard to accept. What am I going to do? What the fuck am I going to do? I am scared! I cannot go back to drinking. Not now. It is depreiving me of life.

Okay, right then. A plan!? I can’t do it! YES, I CAN! Right, a plan; DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL! That’s all I can think about at the minute. I will do that for now.

Two months sober…

Still going. Sleeping like a baby. Had some spare money thanks to not drinking and managed to refinance some debt. Reading a lot. Been attending AA. Not a believer but it gets me out of the house on a Friday night. It’s nice to meet people in a similar position. A few moments of salivating over the prospect of getting off my face pissed but I rode then out and they passed. Deep concerns over the future of my life. Like, what am I going to do now? How am I going to meet people? All I know is drinking. I will cross those bridges when I come to them.

Six months sober…

Still going strong. Lost a bit of weight because I’ve changed my diet and started walking. Been promoted at work. Got a grip of my debt. Still a long way from paying it off but it’s manageable now. Been meditating a lot more. Properly. Not trying to trick myself. I’ve started trying to make peace with myself. And I’ve been reading a lot. Learning new things. I had an abundance of time when I first quit. Now, there’s not enough. Getting more confident. Get lonely sometimes. All my friends here are drinkers. Need to find some new ones and connect better with the ones who stuck around. Not attending AA but still reaching out to people.

A year sober…

It has been tricky but still going. Went to Italy with some friends. My first sober holiday and stayed sober the whole time. I just reminded myself that if I drink I won’t be able to go to any cool places because I won’t have the finances or the will. Alcohol stole them last time. I chose to stay in Italy on my own for a couple of days when my friends left. Scary but exhilarating. Finally, I trust myself to be responsible. I am excited. Life is a crazy trip.

Eighteen months sober…

It’s the new normal now. I still get the temptation to drink but it isn’t an impulse like before. I just acknowledge that it exists but vow that it isn’t for me. The prospect of drinking hangs around like the prospect of armageddon. I know from last time that to drink is to end the life I have now. I am starting to get on an even keel. My interest in the prospects of my life now is what keep me going. The realisation of potential and the excitement of exploration are too tantalising to throw away. I have vowed to walk the El Camino de Santiago. A pilgrimage through Spain that I first heard about during my seven-month stint of sobriety. It was made unachievable by life with alcohol but now it seems like something I could accomplish. I feel mentally and physically strong.

Two years sober…

Through all the ups and downs of life. Through six hundred miles and the hills of Spain. I made it to the end. It seemed so far away a couple of years ago. The journey was impossible. From day one of sobriety from day one of the Camino and beyond, I always felt like the odds were against me. Now, the tables have turned. I will never forget the lesson I learned from that relapse; I cannot drink. Simple. Well, I can if I want nothing but misery. If I want freedom and achievement then sobriety is the path to that life. As I sit with my back against the 0km marker at the end I realise that I am free. That I am not the piece of shit I thought I was. I didn’t need to walk across Spain to realise it. Every day of sobriety is testament to strength I never thought I had.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

Bob Marley

Six years sober…

I never have forgotten the memory of that relapse. I have never forgotten that I can trade in my happiness for misery at any time. I never forgot the people who helped. I will never take my sobriety for granted. I feel like I was given another chance at life. I will not hand it back so freely this time. I was so close to never escaping all those years ago. I was dragged back into the madness by my own mind. I learned that I had to do the work. I had to face the demons and thankfully, I didn’t have to do it alone. It’s borderline masochism to say that I am grateful for the pain. Because without it, I would never have learned the truth; today is all I have and today I vow not to drink.

Every failure is a gift. Every pain is an opportunity.

Maxime Lagacé

Buen Camino


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