How travel changed me…

Let me just start by saying that travel was only possible because I quit drinking. Sobriety is the entire cake. Travelling is the icing that gives it beautification. Travel is a reward for the sacrifice of not drinking. It is the prize for swimming against the tide in a culture washed way by alcohol. The experience of fulfilling my life long dream of travelling the world only cemented my belief that quitting drinking was the greatest decision I ever made. My financial, physical and mental recovery was only possible because I quit drinking. Simple as that. It was said to me as a kid, “you shouldn’t smoke it stunts your growth!” Well, alcohol stunted my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. Quitting set me free.

I implore you to dare. You may fail but which is worse? Failing or failing to try? If I had never tried I would still be wishing and berating myself for not trying. Remove the fear through action. 

If the COVID scare has taught me anything it is; don’t put things off until tomorrow because one day, tomorrow won’t be an option.

As for the travel, it went so fast and was over before I knew it. I was left with a collection of photographs and memories that seemed to belong to someone else. Fleeeting moments in time that seem to belong to a movie I saw. I struggle to beleive they are mine. That it happened to me. Yet, I still smile when I recall one. I had some great times. I saw some beautiful places and met some wonderful people. Even as a nondrinker, I never felt left out. I never felt I was missing out. I felt like I had arrived at the place I never thought I would reach.

Some of the places I visited you can read about here –

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/10/04/stories-from-sobriety-leaving-las-vegas-sober/

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/10/12/finding-peace-in-playa-del-carmen/

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/11/08/magical-mexico/

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/12/21/the-pyramids-are-amazing-its-a-shame-they-are-in-egypt/

But how has travel changed me? Barring the dopamine hits from Instagram likes and the pleasant memories did it have a profound effect on my life? Do I feel different in any way? Well yes.

On my return to the UK, I experienced a reverse culture shock. There had been a general election whilst I was away and the country seemed polarized. Fragmented by oppositional stances. Each side was pointing fingers at the other, calling them names, whilst claiming moral and intelligent superiority over the other. It still remains today; “if you are not on board with my beliefs then you are against them.” It is almost impossible to formulate an opinion without being labelled as an enemy to either side. What happened to discourse?

Whilst I was away, and let’s be honest I wasn’t on an expedition to unfound lands for years, but still, I had some real conversations with people from all over the planet. Some real, deep conversations, questioning of life and all it’s wonderful differences. My profound realisation was; just because I believe something doesn’t make it true. This was brought about by the conversations and realisations that there is a simple thread that runs through the majority of humanity; to live life in peace, provide for yourself and others, to love, to have fun, to laugh and share moments of bliss. These moments connect us in ways that are integral to the human experience. Without them is to be dehumanised. It is possible to substitute them for other items but they are impossible to replace.

Passing through countries allowed me to see these connections play out and how these simple human moments unite us all. From the belief and positivity in Sudan with the hope that democracy would bring real change. To the woman sitting on the side of the road in India sharing her rice with a stray cat. To then return to the western world with fewer smiles yet more “wealth,” was stark. Yes, we have more comfort and supposed security but at what cost? What is the price of these things? It seems like a trade-off and with every trade-off, there is a loss.

It is almost impossible to raise this discussion without being labelled as a Marxist or communist or any other term that has become synonymous with evil or foolish. I believe that these labels only exist to close down the discussion. How can progress be made if we are not prepared to ask difficult questions of ourselves and the environment we inhabit?

When I first came back, a friend shared his experience of travel and how it changed his world view. The images of the world he had seen didn’t align with the ones his friends saw in the newspapers they read. He was left with a conundrum; to spend his days arguing or just accept that opinions are different. His experience reminded me of Plato’s allegory of the cave. Not to say he was correct and the others were staring at the cave wall. It just seems like many people refuse to question. It is almost as if thinking is knocked out of us…

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

I had a worrying thought after returning; what now? I never thought about what to do after my achieving my dreams because I assumed it would never happen. I had spent most of my life a drunk. The thought of achieving anything was always a pipedream. The “what now?” feeling was anxiety-inducingt. I sat with it. It occurred to me that there seems to be no real collective goal. No direction just the drudgery and acceptance of normality. No real betterment of culture, only the continuation of the same. Work, get debt, repeat. The fear of loss driving us towards more of the same in the hope of security. So I vowed to try to be positive in a word of negatives. Try to help others to achieve their dreams and hopefully inspire others to reach their potential. I can but try.

I came to realise that I need even less “stuff” than I previously believed. It isn’t part of me or an extension of me. I just buy “things” to make me feel like I am making progress. It’s almost as if I bought things to fill the boredom from not moving. Running on the treadmill of consumption was enough to fill the gap of adventure. That was until the dopamine of newness wore off and left me chasing the next thing. I know that I need to be more included in society but that doesn’t mean conforming to expectation. It means being myself. The acceptance of myself is the foundation to be accepted by others. Pretending to be others is the quickest way to hate yourself. Life is short.

To be real you gotta be yourself
Not a poorly constructed version of someone else

Kate Tempest

I have realised that the world isn’t as ominous as I was led to believe. The preconditioning had left me expecting violence but I was surprised to be welcomed. This may be down to the fact I was a tourist or as someone pointed out in the states, it may be because I am white. Either way, I felt safe.

I was idealistic growing up. Being an alcoholic made my world darker. It made me believe that I shouldn’t trust anyone including myself. Sobriety opened me up to my own potential and the potential I saw around me. Sobriety returned me to a state of wonder. Travel heightened that wonder. Combined, I was left with a sense of optimistic naivety; if I can change then maybe others can? Maybe I am blinkered by the fact that I once gave up the thing I loved most, alcohol, and it changed my life for the better. I still believe that if a person can be convinced to walk into a market, pull the detonator on a suicide vest out of hatred then people can be convinced to act out of love, for the betterment of all.

Maybe clinging to old ideals isn’t a great way to live as history teaches us that pitching beliefs against one another leads to destruction, both inner and outer.

I have asked many people their beliefs on the nature of selfishness. Usually, the more selfish people believe that humans are innately selfish, which is partly true. Humans are innately altruistic also. Acts of altruism are shown to be beneficial to the human psyche. It’s as if we are hard-wired to work collaboratively whilst some are wired to benefit themselves. Could it be then that the current model is leaving people wanting because it doesn’t align with their innate desires?

“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”

Ramana Maharshi

It could be said that some of our pursuits are detrimental to ourselves as well as others. But for different reasons. For example, we have an economic system that promotes productivity but downplays the value of creativity. A recently discovered 44,000 yr old wall painting would suggest that creativity is as old as humans. Yet, creativity for the sake of feeding an inner desire is seen as a waste of time. It is called a pastime, an act to pass the time. To always be moving forward is progress. No matter if the forward step contains many negatives, they are just further problems to be overcome in the quest for progress. Why do we deny this aspect of the human experience? I saw plenty of beauty along the way, both natural and created. It reminded me behind all the fear and negativity there is wonder and peace.

I am not too foolish to believe there aren’t terrible acts committed every day. Neither am I too foolish to believe that it is part of normality for this to happen. But it is impossible to change anything if we/I do not question the status quo. It may be scary to question the reasoning behind things but it is the only way to gauge value. Many years ago, I questioned my status quo; work, drink, sleep, repeat. I found it was holding me back. I began to think is this the best version of myself? I knew it wasn’t. I knew there had to be another way.

I am one of the lucky ones. Not just because I was fortunate enough to have punished myself with alcohol to the point that I demanded liberation or that I could use this liberation to explore the my dreams. I am lucky because life could be a lot worse. I have a lot to be grateful for; food, shelter, water, freedom and support. These are things I have taken for granted. I will never be ungrateful for these things again. I am eternally grateful for the people who helped me along the way, who I met travelling and who motivated me to follow the dream.

It was a life changing experience. Just like sobriety.

Charlie.

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