Silence the inner critic…

Alcohol was a fast way to overcome problems. It was the circuit breaker that brought silence to a chattering mind. Like a solar eclipse to a tree full of birds who stop chittering away in the confusion of the sudden darkness. It worked wonderfully for years. Kept me alive in fact. Crazy notion, but I think without the escape alcohol offered I would have been consumed by my mental health issues much earlier in life. Alcohol kept it under wraps and allowed me to function. For that I am grateful. But in the end, it and I lost their way. And then the only option was to go separate ways. Moderation to me was like staying friends with an ex I was still in love with; harmful and unhealthy. 

The problems that alcohol masked hadn’t been cured they had been dormant. Some emotions came back with force. Others came back, the deeper I dived internally. I am far more anxious than I ever would have admitted. Alcohol gave me a bravado that enabled me to function as a different person. A person I thought I needed to be to navigate the world. Through my eyes, the world was a dangerous place and I needed to be on my guard at all times. Situations were analyzed and dissected to exhaustion. Outcomes were assessed and compartmentalised as possibilities. Most of which never came to fruition. A lot of energy was wasted. Alcohol cut through this and made socialising easier. Parked any feelings of inferiority and silenced those doubts. Without alcohol, they were waiting to claim what was rightfully theirs. 

It’s difficult to imagine a life without this powerful sedative. I would angst over a life without alcohol. How boring I would become! How unhappy I would be! How lonely and depressed I would be. When in all actuality I was all those things whilst I was drinking. I just drank more and more to ignore it. The inner critic would question my decision, “Is quitting really worth it?” It was easy for me. I’d started having serious health problems and to carry on drinking was to accept a fate of self-inflicted misery. I wanted to live. I just didn’t want the pain of life. It seemed impossible without alcohol. But slowly the illusion was exposed and life became available. I read books about mental health and practised meditation. The inner chatter lost its steam. I attempted things and achieved things beyond what I thought I would ever do. I battered the inner critic into submission. But that doesn’t mean it is defeated. I still have moments of feeling down, of self-doubt, of concern and anxiety. But they are an indication that something has slipped. That I have become complacent and began to take my inner world for granted. I don’t function easy. I have to work to maintain a level of wellbeing but over time it doesn’t need to be built, it just needs to be maintained. Like a garden. Let nature take its course and will flourish with growth but it may not be beautiful.

At my core I am transient. I have wanderlust. I have to force myself to sit still and recuperate. Knowing this I had to find a way of replacing alcohol that wasn’t dependent on a place. I had to find practices that could be done anywhere. They are simple; meditation, exercise, creativity and connection. That is it. All are practices. All need to be cultivated. 

Meditation – I never set out meditating to achieve enlightenment. I read it could help with anxiety and a chaotic mind. Which after quitting drinking was exactly what I needed. I tried many the one that helped most was Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Includes Free CD with Guided Meditations): Amazon.co.uk: Mark Williams, Penman, Dr Danny: 9780749953089: Books. It was a handhold through the process and gave practical methods that I would do on the tube/train home from a stressful day. 

Exercise – Walking. I love walking. There have been times when I have been so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature that I almost want to apologise for being human. Without nature and walking, I would be an anxious mess. Seeking the next “thing” to consume that would offer a slither of silence. Even when I lived in the city I sought out a local walking route that involved a park. I have to do it. I somethings thing was born 10,000 years too late.

Creativity – Something to keep the neurons firing in a healthy way. My nanna until the day before she died played countdown to keep her mind active. I have to abate to the needs of the right brain. Routine is healthy but not when it is born out of repetitiveness alone. It becomes autopilot. Something that is done with a disconnect from the moment reminds us that there are greater components to us all that are often ignored. As the beautiful saying goes, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow because we stop playing.” I love looking at the world with childlike awe. Allow yourself to be consumed by the beauty of a clear night sky and remember that many worries are not important in the grand scheme of it all. We are passing through. 

Connection – This is to nature, myself, friends and family. It could be volunteering. Something as simple as a phone call. Just to connect to share a moment. I’m introverted by nature. I can happily go a while without talking to other people. Teaching used to exhaust me. But I notice when I haven’t. I start getting too introspective. Which usually leads to that inner critic spewing negativity. Connection is important. 

Yesterday, a university friend who I haven’t seen for 10 years nearly said he was in town to watch the football. So I went along, watched the match, had a curry and went to a few pubs… and I didn’t drink (and my team won). It was great. I bumped into some other lads who used to drink in my local when I was an active alcoholic. They asked, “You stopped drinking didn’t you?” I said, “Yeah, nearly eight years now.” They shook my hand and said “well done.” That isn’t how I imagined it would end up. I said at the start of this blog, the inner critic had my future mapped out. It was bleak cold and lonely. There have been moments along the way of course but nothing that has had me wanting to run back to the misery I once had.

I wish you well,

Charlie.

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