Many of the experiences I have been fortunate to have in life, were once pipedreams. They were the hollow words uttered over many a drunken evening. They weren’t going to be achieved. They were to be the carrot that kept me running on the treadmill of destructive routine. Always dreaming, rarely achieving. This was ultimately down to the fact that my life was directed by external forces. Others expectations. Societal expectations. I was doing what I thought I should be doing but was miserable in the process. Alcohol took the edge off. Until it became destructive. An escape from that destructive life needed a plan. Life needed direction. The recurring thought that one day I would die and would look back on a life wasted was the motivation for me to change.
If time and money was no object, what would you do?
Obviously, time and money are important. But they are tools that we can learn to use in our favour. Most of my time and money went on alcohol. Quitting drinking freed up those resources. It was a great sacrifice but did I want to continue down a road I was miserable on? Or did I want to TRY to change it?
That hypothetical scenario of lying on my death bed was useful. I would imagine what I would have been proud to have achieved. What memories would I love to have for company in those final moments? The answer was always the same; TRAVEL. I wanted to take those dreams and turn them into reality. I had been controlled by addiction for most of my life and the freedom of sobriety was a gift to be used. I started by breaking down life into more manageable sections. I wasn’t happy with my fitness. I was unhealthy and that needed to change. I would write my weight on a piece of paper and stick it to my mirror. A reminder of why I was eating healthy. Just a nudge to keep me on the path. I didn’t set a specific weight or timescale other than getting healthy. I didn’t follow any particular diet other than eating a balanced diet. It worked. There was no timeline just a destination. I wanted to embed healthy behaviours into my lifestyle. Not a quick fix, crash diet that would result in a yoyo of my weight. I was retraining myself.
Tip: Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable ones.
I had to retrain my spending habits. If I wanted to achieve the goal of travelling then I had to cut down on all the little things I bought to try to elevate my mood weekly. The frivolous spending would offer a momentary escape but would hinder my long-term plan. Again, I wrote a list of income and outgoings. I looked at what was important and what wasn’t. There are apps available that do it now but I used a pen and paper. A huge part of my expenditure was servicing debt. Again, I made a plan. I focused on clearing the debt. I didn’t set a date. I just wanted my finances to be healthier. The interest repayments on the loans and credit cards were depriving me of things. So I changed my credit cards to one interest-free card. I refinanced the loans onto a more affordable repayment plan. On reflection, I could have paid a large part of the loan with a credit card and then shifted it to an interest-free card. But I just did what I could at the time. Taking action felt good. It was like finding a rubber ring whilst I was drowning. It was good to see the accounts come down. It was nice to no longer stand at the cash machine with my fingers crossed hoping for ten pounds to come out. When felt the urge to buy something I didn’t particularly need I had to ask myself the question “Do I want it? Or do I need it?” If it was something I just “wanted” I would sleep on it. If I still wanted it a few days later I would make it into a treat. But often the urge to consume would dissipate. It was retraining my brain from the instant gratification of alcoholism to delaying for a greater reward.
It comes down to what I wanted. Did I want to try and keep pace with the illusionary “Joneses” or did I want to achieve what I had dreamt of? Did I want to ignore the Atman or tap into it? The fire inside had been suppressed by alcohol for years. But it was burning in sobriety. I had lived passively for years. Wishing for change. Hoping to be saved by someone or something. Yet it never came. To achieve I had to take responsibility, pick a path and be prepared for failure.
Slowly, it came together. The debt began to become manageable. I was obsessed with clearing the debt. I wanted to pay it back because I wanted to acknowledge that I hadn’t written it off. I wanted it as a marker of change. A symbol of the unachievable becoming achievable.
Tip: It may not happen overnight but don’t despair. Progress, not perfection.
As it became apparent that travel would be an option I started to make lists of place I would like to visit. The Camino de Santiago was first on the list. I started training for it. Again, I started slowly. A couple of miles. Then add a few more. Repeat. Until eventually I was walking 20 miles every Saturday and Sunday. Of course, I had doubts about what I was doing. I would walk past pubs and beer gardens bustling with people, crackling with laughter and wonder if I was doing the right thing. Was I wasting my time walking while everyone was having a great time? I had to remember the last time I had walked down the road of alcohol. How it had destroyed me. Now, it was time for a new challenge. But there were times I felt like I was wasting my time.
Tip; Doubts are normal. Especially when heading in a new direction.
Any doubts vanished when I walked the Camino. No amount of afternoons in beer gardens would replace the life-changing experience of that walk. It was sublime. The sacrifice was worth it. It set the precedent for the future of my travel. “The sacrificing of short term gratification for the achieving of long term goals.” I had searched for fulfilment in alcohol and found it when achieving long term goals. By breaking those goals down into smaller goals they became more achievable. The unrealistic becomes realistic this way. It is a case of finding a “Why?” and sticking to it. “Why, do I want to get healthier/pay of debt/travel the world?” Much is possible when we realise “why?” we are doing it. The obstacles that got in my way often were constructs of my fear. I restricted my life because I was convinced I would fail. But by breaking down the dream of “travelling the world,” into sections such as money, health and time. I could focus on those individual parts one at a time.
Tip; Failure isn’t the end. It is the lesson that that avenue is closed but others are open.
I have been lucky to have a job that allowed me to have the time off to do the things I have done. The question is would I have quit my job to achieve my dreams? I think so. Job security is important but it can come at a great cost to many people. It’s a trade-off. People trade their dreams for a secure wage. It is possible to save enough to cover your bills and take time off. It is possible to fashion a few hours to do a hobby. Like all the things I have talked about here. It just takes time to implement change. If we looked at how we use our time I think many of us would be surprised by the amount we waste.
As people across the UK followed official health advice to stay home during April 2020, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending six hours and 25 minutes each day on average – or nearly 45 hours a week – watching TV and online video content  – a rise of almost a third (31%) on last year.Lockdown leads to surge in TV screen time and streaming – Ofcom
How we spend our time is a habit. Humans are creatures of habit. There are productive habits and non-productive. Spending six hours a day staring at a screen can be productive or not. It depends on what it is for? Is it to waste time or learn a new skill? It is up to us. I had to FORCE myself to meditate. It wasn’t natural but to keep my mind reasonably calm it is a must. So I HAVE to set aside time to do it. Eventually, it became easier. The same as setting aside a bit of time for a hobby or to read. Or whatever little thing today can get us closer to that goal. It takes time. It takes perseverance. It may seem like there is no progress but eventually, you will stand in the place you thought was impossible and think “Holy shit, I actually did it!”
I have always had a desired outcome but the route to it has been flexible. Life throws up all manner of things that get in the way or opportunities that may hasten the process. So be flexible in the journey but have a clear destination in mind.