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A guide to #wellness

At the height of my hedonism, I weighed 18 stone 6 pounds (117kg). And being 5’ 10” (177cm) meant I had a BMI of 36. I was obese. I felt like a stegosaurus, lumbering through life, consuming everything in its path. My heaviest weight coincided with some of my lowest points mentally. On reflection, I ate and drank because of how I felt physically and mentally. Which in turn made me feel worse and added fuel to the fire.

One day I was shopping for some new jeans and when I couldn’t squeeze my gigantic arse into a pair of 40” waist trousers. I decided it was time to change.

I would love to say I lost the weight in ten weeks and it stayed off but it took dedication. It was trial and error to find what worked. It also took a lot of perseverance and patience. Initially, I lost 3 stones in 9 months. I haven’t put that back on. I lost another three stone, over the next couple of years and have maintained that weight since. To coincide with the weight loss, my mental health has improved exponentially due to the things I started doing to supplement my physical health. The saying “Healthy body, healthy mind,” isn’t a true reflection of reality. It isn’t as black and white as that. Or it wasn’t for me. Both my mental and physical health had to be worked at to improve.

Over a ten year period, I have overcome depression, obesity, alcoholism and quit smoking. Here are a few things that I have learned along the way. I hope that something here is of use to you.

How I began…

I knew I needed to lose weight but had no idea where to start. Just getting out of bed was enough of an effort, but coupled with the diatribe that was rifling through my mind, exercising seemed unrealistic. I could barely walk due to the weight of excess around my waist and the world around my shoulders. I couldn’t do a press up or a sit up. Walking made me feel uncomfortable and I soon got out of breath. I felt worthless and hopeless. I realised that yoga was a simple exercise. I could do it indoors where I was guarded against the eyes of others. So I ordered a Detox and de-stress Yoga DVD I had no idea what kundalini yoga was at the time. I just liked the sound of detoxing and de-stressing. It was definitely what I needed.

When the DVD arrived, I attempted the hour-long session and was knackered before the end of the hour. It was far more active than I had anticipated but still a lot easier than running. The last ten minutes of the session was a guided meditation, which helped to calm my mind. Afterwards, I needed the toilet badly. All the bending and rolling had got my intestines moving and all the crap (excuse the pun) that had been building up over the years of inactivity began to move. I was also thirsty. I downed two litres of water. It was like I could now hear my bodies demands to be taken care of after all the years of abuse. I did the hour-long session again that week and then three times the week after. I carried on doing it three times a week. After a month, I still couldn’t do all the exercises but I just thought it was better to do something instead of doing nothing. I felt better about myself and life in general. I have to say it changed my life. Three hours a week changed my life for the better in so many ways.

Quitting drinking

Removing alcohol from my life was the platform that all the following changes are built upon. Trying to implement changes whilst still drinking to access was difficult. I realised that for every step forward, alcohol dragged me back two. I was fighting a losing battle. By removing alcohol and replacing it with positive behaviours, I was able to maintain my sobriety whilst cultivating positive changes.

Diet

Alongside yoga, my diet changed. I used to hoover up alcohol, sugar, salt and fat. Basically, anything that would make me feel different. But now, after a month of doing yoga, the happy chemicals began to trickle into my system and my weight slowly began to drop. I started having jacket potato, tuna and salad every lunch. I started drinking more water. I cut back on sweets. I started getting weighed once every couple of weeks and writing it down. I would stick the paper I had written my weight on, to my mirror as a reminder of the progress I was making. Eventually, I needed to increase my exercise so I bought a cheap exercise bike and started doing half an hour every couple of days as well as the yoga. I felt amazing and the pounds began to drop off. I never had aspirations to be muscle-bound. I just wanted to be lighter because carrying around all that extra weight in the past had made living life such an effort. As I got lighter, I felt lighter. I still watch what I eat to this day. Every day I have porridge, banana and honey for breakfast. I eat plenty of fruit and veg. I still drink plenty of water. I don’t deny myself things but I don’t desire to eat junk food that often anymore. I have found that denying myself things just creates a desire. For example, if I deny myself sweets and use willpower to stop eating them eventually I will give in to temptation. I will gorge myself on them until I then feel guilty. I have realised that by allowing a little of everything I remove the unhealthy relationship with food. This can be obsessional eating habits on both ends of the spectrum.

Eating is a habit. It can be a bad habit or a good habit. Bad habits can be replaced with good ones but it takes practice and perseverance.

The loss of weight and a basic level of fitness has allowed me to achieve things that I couldn’t have done at my heaviest. Walking the Inca trail, hiking the El Camino and climbing the rainbow mountain are things that I wouldn’t have achieved had I not changed my lifestyle. It has been worth the effort. As of now, my preference is for healthy food automatically. Although, this can be undone by sugar. A small amount of sugar starts the cravings. A great documentary on the dangers of sugar is That Sugar Film, which should be mandatory viewing for everyone, especially parents.

Water

I have mentioned water a couple of times and I believe it is a key component in the jigsaw of my recovery and well being. Years ago a hardened drinker said to me “The next best thing to a pint,” as he held up a glass of water. I never drank water in my drinking days. I drank lager at night, Iron Bru, coffee and Lucozade in the day to try to recover. I read something that said “The hunger and thirst signal is the same. People eat when they should have a drink of water.” It recommended drinking a glass of water before eating and if the sensation remains then have something to eat.

If you need reminding of the benefits of drinking water https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-water

Meditation

The kundalini yoga DVD ending with meditation opened my mind to its benefits. So I began to experiment with different forms of meditation and found some wonderful guided meditations on Fragrant heart meditation which helped with the anxiety and sleep issues I was having at the time.

In my humble opinion, meditating is to create a greater connection with the self. Something I was yearning for after years of using alcohol to escape myself. Like every new skill, it takes time and practice for it to develop. One second of meditation is better than no seconds of meditation. A great resource is Finding peace in a frantic world which is an eight-week mindfulness course and a great starting point. Along with How to meditate which taught me the basic principles of focusing on the breath and calming the chatter of the mind. What a relief it was to find a cure for the incessant noise in my mind. Meditation has been one of the greatest tools in my toolbox. It has allowed me to let go of problems. Control my emotions better. But most importantly it has enabled my mind to find moments of serenity even in the chaos of city living. A true gift.

When I remember to, I play the following guided meditations. I don’t believe the universe delivers things. But I do believe that taking action definitely gets results and these meditations help keep me focused:

Law of attraction meditation

Law of attraction – 30-day challenge

Reading

Books, like most hobbies when I was drinking, went unfinished. I would start reading one and then lose interest. I would then start reading another and then repeat the process. With the clarity of sobriety, I became hungry for knowledge and intent on becoming the best version of myself. To achieve this I had to learn from others. I wanted to know how to be happy and also, how to let things slide as I used to get angry over the smallest slight. Three books that helped with this (alongside the meditation) were:

The art of happiness – a book written by a psychologist based on a series of interviews with the Dalai Llama.

Buddhism, plain and simple – a book that liberated me from the tyrannical thinking I used to impose on myself. (I do not consider myself a Buddhist but the philosophy is fantastic.)

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations – The “last good emperor of the Roman empires” thoughts on stoicism.

“Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.” – Taken from The daily stoic. I needed action after years of standing in the pub talking about the things I was “Gonna” do with my life.

Escape from Freedom – Erich Fromm – This quote states why this book resonated with me so much:

“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of an unlived life.”

Walking

“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks”

John Muir

The saying goes; “If you want to happy for a few hours, get drunk. A few years? Get married. For a lifetime? get a garden.” I miss having a garden. Moving to the city, a garden is a luxury I can’t afford. A window box just doesn’t fill the void. So, instead of having my own green space to relax and ruminate, I have to frequent the nearest nature spots. This is where I calm my mind and stay active. I started out walking small distances until eventually, I was walking sixteen miles at a time. It became so time-consuming that I had to upgrade to running but I still ensure that one day a week I take an afternoon stroll in nature. Sometimes with music. Sometimes without. Either way, it is free therapy. Both physical and mental. All the walking led to me walking the El Camino de Santiago. A luxury of change. It was a privilege afforded by the gift of wellness.

Benefits of walking in nature

Running

Due to the time that walking was taking and the fact that I had stopped smoking, I began running (and using nicotine gum. I’ve been stopped two years.) Initially, I couldn’t run a mile without wheezing. I would cough out the shit that 23 years of smoking had left in my lungs. I used to walk for a bit and then carry on running whilst thinking you owe it to your lungs to be clean. You did this to them.

I carried on running and after a while, I could run two miles and then four and then 10k. Like all the things I have written about here. Running takes time, patience and perseverance. Most quick-fix solutions are just that. Quick fix but not long-lasting. Replacing old habits takes repetition of the new, healthier ways until they become a habit.

I learned quickly that running in bad running shoes is a bad idea. I got shin splints and was in agony often. I stopped being a tightwad and bought some good running shoes. I noticed the difference instantly. The pain in my shins disappeared. So if I have some advice it is getting some good shoes.

If you’re starting then don’t expect too much too early. Like many things in life, perseverance is important. A little is better than nothing. Just keep going. Keep reminding yourself why you are doing it.

Rest

Because I am always running or writing or planning or something, I forget to take the time to relax. When I say rest I mean doing nothing. I have to remember to put my feet up. Doing nothing, give my body and mind time to recover. Prevention is better than a cure. Putting too much stress on myself only ends up with me getting sick and not being able to function. Rest is as important as the other things to develop a balanced lifestyle. It is important to accept that rest is a vital part of the process. The little voice of guilt used to drive me on but would only hinder me.

I have made a lot of changes. I can make a comparison between being healthy and unhealthy. I was miserable when I was unhealthy. I used food and alcohol to make me feel better. This would make me more unhealthy. A little bit of exercise and good living goes a long way. It’s hard in the beginning but it soon becomes natural to live well.

QUIT MAKING EXCUSES! START MAKING CHANGES!

A life beyond your wildest dreams

As a result of the changes listed, I have been freed to pursue dreams. Goals in life that were once impossible became achievable. I sense of self I desired in others cultivated inside. My self-worth increased. My sense of inner love grew. The feelings of contentment and peace I chased in escapism came available. Those incremental changes became a new person with a new outlook. The time I spent drinking became the time I spent developing. Like all investments, I was a gamble. It was worth the risk. You are worth the investment also. You are only a series of small changes away from becoming the person you deserve to be.

Thanks for stopping by,

Charlie.

Sober and grateful…

For a long time, I tried to be something I wasn’t. Tried far too hard to be liked and accepted. Acted roles in a life I didn’t like to try and find something or someone who understood. But as I changed like the wind I was often left wanting. That exacerbated my misery. Cemented my belief that I was unlikeable and unloveable. I was a mixed-up individual who knew how to be what the people in his presence wanted but didn’t know what I wanted. It was the making of an addict.  

Alcohol was my friend. It understood. It gave answers that I sought. It was my everything. I don’t care for the label but I am an alcoholic. I love drinking. I fucking love not being present. I love not having to think about life. I love not taking responsibility for my actions and love pushing boundaries and using alcohol as an excuse. Yet, in spite of this love, I don’t go back. I have turned my back on that love and found another, inner love that brings peace instead of the destruction that once was. I know alcohol is out there. I know where to find it. But I don’t go looking. For that love isn’t healthy. It is toxic. Just like the substance.  

For all that try hard behaviour that fuelled my addiction, I was left lonely. Since quitting drinking I stopped trying so hard to please others. I accepted a lot of things. I took responsibility for myself (begrudgingly). I became an adult (whatever the fuck that means). I expected boredom. I expected misery. Yet found quiet contentment. I often ask if quiet contentment is enough. Should I not be pursuing happiness like in the old days. Looking for that elusive missing piece that will make it all complete? The guilt seeks in when I am enjoying a quiet moment. It tells me I am not doing enough with my life. That it is wasted. That wasting time watching TV is time spent learning an instrument or pushing myself further. It is just the remnants of the insecure egotist that had delusions of grandeur. But when it subsided and I accept my place in the world. I begin to realise that since quitting drinking I have been INCREDIBLY lucky. The acceptance I yearned for in my people-pleasing has been replaced with genuine friends. People who I can talk to for hours about the nature of reality of the solar system or religion. It achieves nothing but to me it is fun. I was once ashamed of my inquisitiveness. I didn’t want to be me. I wanted to be everybody else. They are taken and it is a gift to be at peace with yourself. You should be.  

Things disrupt that peace of course. And it seems to be a blindside that sweeps in at the least desirable moment. Yesterday, on the tail end of a couple of really good days I got invited to a meeting to be told the outcome of my disciplinary. It isn’t for another week. I was stewing. My mind raced in a thousand directions to gather all the negative outcomes possible. It’s as if my mind returns negative possibilities with the efficiency of a well-trained retriever. That would have been reason to drink years ago. That chaotic mess that happens in my head would have resulted in a blackout. I instead picked up the phone and spoke to people. The genuine people that I am guilty of taking for granted sometimes. That listened about my worries and then we talked like normal. We laughed and philosophised. Took the piss out of each other. Basically, I did all the things I would have done if I’d had a drink. The difference is the fear, anxiety and uncertainty would still be there in the morning. Whereas this morning I am sitting and writing this. It is quiet. I have a phone call soon to discuss reducing my anti-depressants. And in spite of what could be, today is okay. That’s all I can ask for. If I bring it back to the moment and remove the dis-ease around uncertainty then I can accept that things could be a lot worse. I am lucky. To have found me and then to have found genuine supportive people who believed in me. It is an absolute honour.  

Alcohol didn’t give a fuck about me. It wasn’t a real friend. It had no connection to me at all. I was a prisoner of my addiction. I had Stockholm syndrome. Now I see clearly. The minor blips in the road that catastrophise into epic drama were just excuses to drink. Like the shy guy at work who makes any excuse to go and see the receptionist, he has a crush on. I too made any excuse to visit my crush. But it was a love story with a tragic end. I have to remember that. 

I have said it hundreds of times; the joy of not drinking for me is peace. Not outer but inner. A subsiding of the inner chaos that forced me to drink. A toxic dangerous cycle. But by stepping back it is clear that it was all an illusion. A combination of two factors fear and cowardice. I was too fearful of what people would think if I quit and I was too much of a coward to walk the path of life without alcohol to hold my hand. The short version is that life got easier to handle without alcohol and the people who didn’t care about me really didn’t care anyway. It reminds me of a story from a national park. The rangers had been doing everything to stop forest fires. They thought that it protected nature. But then they realised that things don’t grow until all the shit is burned off the top and used to fertilise the future. Without getting rid of all the shit that stops us growing we will never feel the healing warm glow of the sun. 

Charlie.

Feeling the feelings…

The emotional stunting effects of alcohol are a quick escape. An emergency exit from life. But switching off the hardships doesn’t make them disappear. They are still there waiting to be felt. The more they are blocked out the greater they become. The intertwining of alcohol and problems is inevitable. Until the fear of quitting would mean facing the deluge of repressed emotions. Initially, it felt like the waves of emotions would wash me back to the bottle and leave me to drown. But the fear was a pretence. A facade. There was no tidal wave. There were feelings. Some unpleasant and difficult. But it is learning to ride those waves that make quitting drinking possible.

There is suffering in life. Some are worse than others. Some perceptions contort our suffering. Some fight through the pain where others would quit. Escapism through alcohol or any other means presents a false reality. Of more suffering that needs more alcohol to escape. The cycle builds. Or simple things become huge problems to justify the escape. Suffering, dissatisfaction and pain still happen in life. Without alcohol to fall back on life can seem daunting. But over time resilience builds.
At thirty-two years old I was emotionally a child. My emotional intelligence had been stunted by years of refusing to acknowledge reality. It is emotions that make me human. Without emotions, I am just a husk. Without the ability to perceive reality in its rawest form I am denying myself the beauty of life. It is the wonder of the here and now that breeds happiness. It is the processing of inner pain that makes recovery easier. Life is difficult sometimes. But by acknowledging the hardships and low times as a necessary part of the process the whole process of life comes into full view.

I had to put a lot of work in to overcome the barriers that had been constructed over the years. It took years of chipping away at the wall that separated me from my emotions for it to finally fall. I remember a therapist suggested a technique. He said “imagine you are a baby. You have just been born and the nurse has passed you to your mother. How do you feel?” I tried it on the train on the way home. It was a quiet carriage. Just the rhythmic thud of the wheels on the track for company. I closed my eyes and tried what he had suggested. Initially, I didn’t feel anything but I kept trying. Eventually, I got a feeling of warmth. An inner warmth. Like a good whiskey. The wall came tumbling down. My experiences and emotions began to connect like magnets. Drawn to each other. I was no longer just a witness to events I had experienced. I could FEEL them. It was overwhelming. It was the beginning of becoming human again.

I was in an AA meeting recently and someone explained the pain they experienced at the passing of a family member. How they didn’t want to feel what they were feeling. How they wished to escape the feeling. The yearning for the deadening sensation of alcohol. But in the long term how they knew the short term pain would pass. Escapism would result in further troubles down the road. Pain isn’t nice. Especially inner pain. Emotional pain. The type that returns the morning after a night of drinking, with its friend’s shame and guilt along for the ride. The twisting of years of avoidance, pulling at the mind and gut. The only way is to accept and deal with it the best you can. That is life. That is sobriety. Being able to deal with things when they arise. And understanding when the weight is too heavy to carry alone. Sharing the burden with people who understand. That is what it all comes down to for me. I suffered in silence for years. A twisted knot of anxiety and fear. Ashamed for not getting help. Even more ashamed to ask for help. Deadening was my choice, it was the wrong choice. The fleeting feeling of escape brought about by the initial emotional block of alcohol was always exposed as a trick. Soon reality was waiting.

In sobriety, I have found a level of contentment that I would have never expected to have found. It wasn’t what I set out to do. I set out to get my life into some sort of order after the destruction of addiction had asset-stripped me. I found a level but I also found a quiet bliss. A joyful serenity in the peaceful moments of life. The ability to just reflect on decisions and experiences. No longer does the past batter me with shame. It has gone. I have made peace with it. It is now the closed chapter in the story of my life. It is the learning stage of the hero’s journey. Without it, I wouldn’t have made it here. Without the trials and tribulations, I wouldn’t have learned my strength. Without the depression and loneliness, I would never have come to appreciate contentment. Without daring to feel the feelings of life I would never have become attuned to the moment. And at this moment I am okay. Life can change like the wind and when it does I’ll adjust. That is all I can do. I’ve learned that controlling the flow of life is impossible. All I can do is adjust my perception.

Watching or reading too much news is bad for me. A bombardment of negativity creates a false perception of a world full of hatred. It exacerbates my anxiety. I accept that bad things happen daily. All I can do is try to tip the balance in the favour of love. All I can do is the next best thing. All I can do is embrace what life offers and try to deal with it the best I can. This approach was very new to me. Alcohol was my excuse for not engaging in life. Sobriety forced me to engage in my emotions and the here and now. Neither was easy. Feelings aren’t something I was accustomed to as a working-class man. “Push feelings down and carry on” was the advice given. But it can only go on like that for so long. And unpacking the bag of negativity I had filled through my life was difficult. But it was the first step on the path to liberation. It was trial and error. Learning what works and what doesn’t. It was reading and reflecting. Learning who I am and who I thought I SHOULD be. It has been a revelation. I am not who I thought I should be. Where I sought chaos and noise, I now seek peace. Give me the waves hitting a beach or the birds singing over a noisy bar any day. I turn down visits to the bar now. I don’t find them fun. I think I only went because of the alcohol anyway. Remove that and the appeal vanishes.

I see my life in chapters. Hardship, lessons, growth, contentment. From it all, I would only change a couple of things; I would have quit drinking sooner and I would have followed the guiding inner light instead of following the lights of others. I spent too much time trying to be them, the people who I wanted to be like. But as I can’t go back I am grateful for the lessons.

Today has been a good day; nothing bad happened and I didn’t have a drink. Those minor victories are more important than I ever imagined.

Charlie.

My drinking isn’t THAT bad…

My drinking days weren’t a string of arrests. There wasn’t broken bones. There weren’t many fights. There wasn’t much blood. There were laughs. There was connection. There was chatting into the light of the morning. There was sitting in the dawn drinking cooking brandy from the bottle because everything else had been drunk. There wasn’t the type of stories that would make an AA meeting hall of shame. But there was a lot of misery.

There was internal chaos which I tried to silence with the deadening effects of alcohol. There was persistent darkness that followed me around. Behind the laughs, there was the real me trying to escape myself. There was disconnect. There was a prevalent fear of the following day. Of reality returning and being transported back to the person I hated for no real reason other than it was easier to hate than love myself. There was a reluctance to feel emotions. A fear, of putting my adult pants on and dealing with life. Alcohol was an escape. From everything. It was the divide between fantasy and reality. It was the wedge that kept me safe from myself. It was the promise of romanticised joy of beautiful melancholy. Unfortunately, the melancholy wasn’t beautiful. It was as aggressive as cancer and equally as destructive. Yet it is what I knew and what I thought I deserved.

Sitting in my garden, alone in a drunken haze blowing smoke signals to a starry night. Hoping for answers but getting no reply. Trying to plot an escape. Trying to figure it all out. I could never decode the flickering stars. If they offered hope it passed me by. That’s where my drinking days ended. Alone. Even in company. I always felt alone.

I never liked too much company. I couldn’t be the person a group of people wanted. I was a chameleon. Shifting personas to suit the company. A bad actor in a terrible film. Too scared to engage with me. What I would confuse in those quiet moments staring at the stars was that at that moment I was genuine. Yet I believed it was the alcohol who made me that way.

Ironic, that I spent my moments in quiet reflection wondering how to find peace. Wishing away the moment in the hope of finding a solution to the chaos. Using the mirror to ask questions, not to see reality. It is difficult to see clearly with blurred vision.

In the end, it all became too much. But even my rock bottom was a normal day to others. An accumulation of mishaps. A signal from the universe too clear for me to ignore; “if you keep drinking life will keep getting worse.” Stranded on the side of the motorway, my car had just broken down. I was alone. I felt the most alone I ever had. I lit a cigarette. That instance was the straw that broke the camels back. It was the slap from life that roused me from my drunken slumbering. The message was clear. Stop drinking.

Others have thicker skulls than me. Some have greater resilience to pain and can carry on drinking until death is staring them in the face. Others, through fear, see sobriety as a prison sentence. There is something that keeps us engaged in that destructive life. Maybe addicts are naive optimists. Believing that it will all come good in the end if we just drink or use a little bit more. It’s the same thing that makes us watch a bad movie in the hope it gets better. It’s only when the credits roll we wished we had trusted our instincts. Unfortunately, the time the credits roll on an addicts life it is very rarely with a happy ending.

I was always searching for something. Trying to fill a void that existed within. Alcohol did the job for an evening. Took away that twisted knot of fear and anguish. Lightened the imagined burden on my shoulders. It gave me a sneak peek at a life of contentment. But it was always short-lived. The rock bottom made me question my actions. Made me seek out other ways to fill that void. Healthier ways of living replaced the old ways of destruction. Learning and discovery replaced ignorance and escape. But in the end, I learned there is no void to fill. There is no missing piece. It is just an illusion. A trick to make me drink one more drink. Or buy one more item. It is the feeling that without those things there will be no progress. For years I convinced myself that if I didn’t go to the pub I would miss out on some fantastic event. That the one night I didn’t go would be the thing I had been hoping to find. It never happened with or without me there. It was a fantasy fuelled by insecurity. It kept me chasing a dream that wasn’t mine. I was blind to the fact I was going backwards but assumed I was going forward. I didn’t realise until I felt the cold hard floor of reality.

There were uncomfortable truths I had to accept. I cannot moderate alcohol. I don’t believe in the disease model but I do believe I am an addict. One drink will start it again. I know this because I have tried. I don’t do it because I don’t want to end up on that cold stony ground again. Why? Because it took a huge amount of effort to get out once. I don’t want to have to do it again. I don’t want to relinquish control of my life to alcohol. I did once and it ended badly. Do I miss drinking? Sometimes. Is the pining to drink greater than the fear of hit rock bottom again? Not today or the previous seven years.

The point is how bad does it have to get? How much pain do you have to go through before you realise it’s enough? Admitting to having a problem isn’t weakness! It is strength! It is taking action and taking responsibility. I am grateful I’d had enough when I did. Listening to the war stories of other addicts makes me realise how bad it can get. It reminds me that it COULD still get that bad. All I would have to do is drink. Alcohol is the red button that launches the nuke. I may not have utopia but it is a damn sight better than the apocalyptic wasteland, pressing that button would bring about.

Self-destruction is easy. For years, I searched for a tranquil environment in my mind. I would meditate and read spiritual books. Only to go searching for problems. Only to drink again. Even in sobriety, I can fall into the trap of criticising my life as being less than. Forgetting the misery that once was and damning my life for it not being “perfect”. Whatever the fuck that means. I had to learn to accept my weaknesses and my failings. Once I accepted that less than perfection was okay, then I stopped damning my failure at obtaining it. I accepted that the ideals I was sold and adopting as fact were not to be. Alcohol was not the answer. It was not my saviour. It didn’t solve problems. It created them. It took more than it gave. It will again if I let it.

Charlie.

The good ship sobriety…

Hello, it’s been a while. I haven’t written anything for months.

I’ve been swept along by the insanity of life. It all seemed to happen at once. Not a manageable trickle but a deluge. The chaos of closing my house sale, moving in and decorating. Coupled with uncertainty at work. Buffeted by the tides. The storm has calmed yet the horizon is dark with a promise of a foreboding future. I should be worried. I should be concerned that I will fall overboard and into the murkiness of the drink. But I am not. The good ship Sobriety is strong. I wish it didn’t need to be tested to demonstrate its seaworthiness. It comes through, time and time again. For that, I am grateful.

It’s the difficult times that cement my decision to quit drinking. It is the times that would have had me dashing in a panic, screaming foul at a starless night sky, in drunken revelry. Claiming to be damned by some invisible force. It is those times when the benefits of not drinking appear like a fortunate piece of driftwood to a drowning man. Who would have thought that uncertainty would create certainty? An uncertain future creates resilience that the best possible outcome can only be achieved with a clear mind. A clear mind can only be achieved without alcohol or drugs. I may overindulge in other vices, I am not immune. Too much caffeine and too much sugar. But they are not destroying me as alcohol did.

Chapters close in life and things move on. Some people move on with me. Either in person or in memory. Positive or negative. But I know that the best years of my life thus far have been at the service of others. The sober version of me did more positive in the world than I could have ever imagined possible. For that I am proud. And being proud of myself wasn’t something I experienced much, if at all, whilst drinking.
The greatest realisation amongst all this chaos is the relative peace I can find. Getting caught off guard by the silence no longer brings the need to escape it like it once did. The inner chatter no longer berates and demands like it once did. Outer peace now brings a smile. It once only brought fear. Contentment, I think it’s called. It came when I stopped searching.

I don’t know where this journey ends. I don’t know what the future holds. It could bring destruction to my reputation and career. It could not. All I know is that even if I need to batten down the hatches, the good ship sobriety will make it through the worse of storms. But I must ensure that it is maintained properly.

If I look after it, it looks after me. Those small things that work for me are all it takes to keep the mast high and ship sailing. There are storms. There are fearful moments but so far I have come through them. The choppy waters are a reminder to enjoy the stillness and calm of life while it is there.

For a long time, I felt like I was waiting. Waiting for change. Waiting for a saviour. Waiting for it to all go wrong. Just living on tenterhooks. Too concerned about the next catastrophe to enjoy the sunshine. On reflection, most of those worries never came true. I spent vast amounts of time living beyond the moment. Living in fear. In angst. But they never came to pass. The things that did arise were unsighted. Often things I wouldn’t have thought about. Yet still, I managed to come through them. That is an incredible testament to the life and character changing potential of quitting drinking and taking the helm. Dearing to venture into waters that the tales I told myself stopped me from exploring. The world I have seen and the life I have been fortunate to live thus far brings a smile to my face in the moments of silence. No longer are my thoughts of worry and regret. Of shame and guilt. They are of a sense of daring and sometimes winning and sometimes losing. That is life.
It’s crazy to even write that I am sure the future will be alright. Whatever happens, I will be able to make it work. That’s because I have done so for the last seven years since I quit drinking. Trial and error. As long as I didn’t drink.

I have found my weaknesses and my strengths. I have admitted defeat and accepted mental health issues. I’ve learned to accept I can’t go it alone and need to reach out for help once in a while. I’ve learned that not all people are as villainous and treacherous as I once thought. Some are though. I’ve learned that good friends are hard to come by. And the ones who encouraged me to pursue my potential. Who created belief, when all I had was doubt. It is those people to who I owe it all. I often thought I was going it alone. That I was battling the elements and trying to navigate the perilous waters of life without a crew. But it is when the storms hit and I am struggling. This is when I see who has my interests at heart. Tough times are great lessons.

I have been fortunate to learn through my recent hard times, not only who my friends are, but also how much of an impact I have had on other people. More positively than negatively thankfully. The feedback I received recently let me see how the hardships of my life have been useful to others. The dark times when I felt damned to a life of punishment have become lessons of hope for others. The long crawl back from the rock bottom of debt, drunkenness and destruction was not for nothing. To realise that there is meaning in all the years of torment make it a little easier to accept. Students I gave life advice to, who, years later, remember it fondly and have incorporated it into their life is all I set out to achieve. I couldn’t have done it whilst drinking. I was a reckless selfish prick with a single ambition during my drinking days. To be of value to others I must not drink. To gain value in myself I have to not drink. To reach my goals and dreams I must not drink. To get what I deserve I must not drink. To steer this ship through the stormy waters of life I must not drink. Not because I can escape danger but because I have more chance of dealing with it if I am clear-headed.

I use the ship and water analogy because I was once smashed against the rocks. Now I am standing at the bow pointing fearlessly at the horizon. Excited about the future. No longer fearful of the dangers of the next wave.

Charlie

Do I miss alcohol in sobriety?

Every romanticised moment of envy that occurs in my comparison creating imagination, contains alcohol. Each visualisation of how my life should be at that moment is an idyllic drinking scenario. Everyone within that fantasy, known or unknown, is having the most wonderful moment. All of it centred around alcohol like our solar system to the sun. I don’t envy the people in these fleeting moments of punishing comparison. I envy the situation. I envy their ability to regulate alcohol. To use it to facilitate their lives and just forget about the shit of living for an evening. To act unrestricted. To be completely honest. To love and laugh… It’s all complete bollocks. These alcohol advertisements run through my brain trying to tempt me with an illusion. In these perfect bar scenes, there is no depression. No aggression. Blood and tears. Vomit. Mistakes. Pain. It is only bliss. Alcohol inspired utopia. Which by its very own nature is impossible.

The difference between now and the time before I quit drinking is that I know where drinking leads me; devastation. The Euros 2020 (soccer) is currently playing. There was no greater reason to get drunk than a major sporting tournament. Recently, during an important match, I was drinking a cup of tea. Inside me, there was a lingering slither of societal conditioning from the drunken days of old; “What the fuck you doing drinking tea? You should be out, on it!” Then the tape starts playing. The idealised temptation movie starts trying to test my sobriety. I’ve seen it too many times to believe it but it is a warning. It is a reminder that even after all these years without alcohol the potential is still there. That little inquisitive voice still murmurs that it would be okay to “just have one.” My own experience has taught me otherwise. That’s not how it ends up for me. The only idyllic moments that existed in my drinking days happened in the hours leading up to me drinking. It all went downhill from the first one. Yet, I fell for the bullshit every time “It’ll be different this time!” It very rarely, if ever, was.

One of the major concerns when I first quit drinking was “how am I going to do anything without alcohol?” It’s a toxic relationship. Just like a controlling partner, addiction made me believe that I wouldn’t survive alone. That life would be too overwhelming without it to lean on. And you know what? For a while, it seemed true. In the early days when all the acquaintances mistaken for friends cut me out like a leper. The doubts begin to circle, “Is this worth it?”, “Is drinking really that bad?”, “If this is life without alcohol then it is going to be miserable!” But it is just fear of change manifesting as the chains to a previous life. The only way to escape is to stay the course. Thankfully, in recent times, not drinking alcohol has become more accepted. With a large range of non-alcoholic beverages being created to cater for the increasing market. Maybe it was my own insecurities when I was younger but not drinking was seen as suspicious. People who didn’t drink were seen to be hiding something or boring. They must be guarded stiffs, too insecure to be honest. Or too fearful to be out of control. But if anyone wants honesty then spend an hour in a recovery meeting. There you will hear real, stripped back, raw as an open nerve honesty. Not the carefully manicured honesty of a socially constructed image. But alcohol isn’t really about fun. It’s about acceptance.

Drinking is often more for the benefit of everyone else’s comfort than it is for your own.

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Trust Someone Who Doesn’t Drink (elitedaily.com)

It’s a cultural custom. And thankfully customs change over time. They are not set in stone. If they are beneficial they stick around. If they are detrimental to the culture in which they exist then they change. Alcohol has its uses but who are they beneficial to? When I drank alcohol because everyone else did, I got what everyone else got. I didn’t do many of the things I wanted to do because I was scared of being different. My own insecurities kept me ill in more ways than one. I would dream about the things I wanted to do but would wash the dreams away with alcohol because I wasn’t strong enough to pursue them. Coincidently when I stopped doing the things I thought I should be doing and started doing the things I wanted to be doing, I achieved more than I ever thought possible. There is more to life than acceptance. The more I tried to be accepted the less connected to myself I became. People spend hours trying to be accepted whilst simultaneously not accepting themselves. But unhappiness isn’t the only cost of this social tradition. The cost of alcohol on the (British) National Health Service is approximately £3.5 billion a year. Which is £1 billion more than smoking costs.

I started this blog talking about the temptation that can creep in every now and then. My addiction testing my resilience. I have heard other addicts say “I wanted a drink the other day. I feel so bad!” Personally, if I can feel the pull of temptation then I am still aware. It is the day that I don’t feel it that scares me. That could be the day that one isn’t a bad idea then it all goes to shit. And I have thought about it. I have thought would I trade one year of consequence-free drinking for all the experiences I have had in sobriety? Not a chance. Do I miss alcohol? No. I miss an idealised version of alcohol. I miss the perfect night out that never happened. I miss the bars that were full of a good time in my head but empty in reality. I wanted the promise that alcohol made to be fulfilled but it will never be. I resent the fact that the innocuous innocence with which alcohol is portrayed allowed it to seep into my life? Yet, I don’t resent the fact it happened. Nor do I resent the fact I am an alcoholic. Because thanks to those lessons I can live a life of contentment. Maybe with the odd sprinkle of FOMO but it’s a lot less harmful than the life I once led.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

If you are struggling with alcohol problems then reach out for hep. There are people out there who know what you are going through and know how to get through it.

Poor Diet and Mental Health…

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Over the years, I have experienced varying extremes of diets due to mental health issues. On one side was gluttony. Anything that changed my state of mind in a small amount must work better if I had MORE. More takeaways. More alcohol. More sweets. More salt. More fat. The outcome from this approach? I got more unhealthy and more miserable. On the other end of the spectrum is the complete obsession with diet. Counting calories. Skipping meals. Exessive exercise. Neither situation is desirable. Both lead to further mental health issues. Eventually, I learned what worked for me and found a balance.

My diet didn’t change because I became happier. I became happier because I changed my diet. I took the medication I was prescribed and started exercising (I talk about that here). All of those things combined have helped immensely in the last few months. But the lessons over my life around food have played a large part in my recovery. Here a few of the things that I have learned and hopefully if you are struggling it may help.

Firstly sugar. If you haven’t seen the documentary “That Sugar Movie“, I strongly suggest you do. Especially if you have children. It is a clear expose of the dangers of an unregulated sugar diet. And sugar is everywhere. Take Granola. Often seen as a healthy alternative to commercial breakfast cereal, Granola contains around 24g of Sugar per 122g. Now, what does that mean? Well, the recommended daily amount of sugar for women is 25g?! So the total amount is nearly consumed by one cup of Granola. Why does it matter? Excess sugar turns to fat. And sugar affects mental health as well.

A high-sugar diet impacts both physical and mental health. Sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia. Sugar is also at the root of chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body and also has been implicated in depression.

4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health | Psychology Today

Take a can of Coke for example. One 12 ounce can contains 39g of sugar. One can. That is nearly twice what is recommended. But sugar is often seen as a safe energy boost. A banana is a safe energy boost. Processed sugar is far from it. Switching to sugar-free seems like a safe option? Not quite. Artificial sweeteners trigger the hunger response which can lead to overeating. Which in turn can lead to guilt and remorse. And let’s just be clear here, I am not shaming peoples shapes. What I am promoting is a healthy lifestyle that benefits individuals both physically and mentally. A diet based on artificial stimulants such as caffeine and sugar leads to a peaks and troughs mental cycle. Highs and lows. The highs are when we function or are productive. The lows are seen as a negative and demand rectification through further stimulants. An addictive cycle is created. But in a hyperactive, fast-paced lifestyle the highs and lows are seen as normal. Stress is a part of the rat race. Life is stressful sometimes. But surprisingly sugar intake is linked to stress“How can your blood sugar cause stress? When we experience regular stress, our adrenal glands make more of a stress hormone called cortisol. Along with managing stress, this hormone also manages your blood sugar. Whenever your blood sugar level changes too fast, your adrenal glands release cortisol to pull it back up again. Unstable blood sugar can make you feel the same as you would feel when an event makes you angry, frustrated or frightened.” Anxious basically.

Now, cortisol realised into the bloodstream to counter the increase in sugar. When this happens a craving for sugar starts to counter the loss of energy. If more sugar is consumed then the cycle repeats. A negative pattern is created with dangerous effects.

After the pressure or danger has passed, your cortisol level should calm down. Your heart, blood pressure, and other body systems will get back to normal. But what if you’re under constant stress and the alarm button stays on? It can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also lead to a number of health problems, including anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, problems with digestion, trouble sleeping and weight gain.

Cortisol: What It Does & How To Regulate Cortisol Levels (webmd.com)

Sugar is portrayed as innocuous in our culture but the diabetes statistics suggest otherwise. Sugar is related to being overweight. Being overweight leads to diabetes. Like alcohol, sugar needs to be treated as harmful. Moderation is vital for balance. Maybe sugar will eventually become the new tobacco. By which I mean once they have rinsed all the tax possible from it, they will then profess to how dangerous it is. And then increase the tax some more after people are addicted.

Most of the blogs on my page are about being an alcoholic or being a recovering alcoholic. My life vastly improved when I quit drinking. I only quit alcohol because I couldn’t moderate. I used alcohol to mask my underlying mental health issues; anxiety and depression. Quitting didn’t cure them but it did make them more manageable. In fact, it made my whole life more manageable. There are of course ups and downs in life. Alcohol enabled me to ignore my problems and as a result, my life got worse. I then needed more alcohol… an addictive cycle.

For someone experiencing anxiety, a drink might help them feel more at ease, but this feeling is short-lived. The so-called ‘relaxed’ feeling somebody may say they experience after having a drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in the brain. But these effects wear off fast. Relying on alcohol to mask anxiety could also lead to a greater reliance on it to relax. A likely side-effect of this is the increased risk of building up a tolerance to alcohol. Over time you will need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. And, in the medium to longer term, this pattern often leads to alcohol dependence.

Mental Health: Effects of Alcohol on the Brain | Drinkaware

If a friend who was experiencing depression asked how to reduce the symptoms. I would suggest they limit their alcohol intake. The short-term benefits of alcohol are vastly outweighed by the potential future negatives. Overindulgence in alcohol can be fun until the next day. Guilt, shame and remorse for overspending or behaviour that is out of character only exacerbate mental health issues. Added into this is the fact that alcohol directly affects brain chemistry and can lead to depression it should be treated with caution. Especially, in individuals with mental health issues.

Once I quit drinking I needed to find a treat in something. Alcohol was replaced by fast food. The Friday night takeaway meal became my indulgence. I would vary each week; Chinese, Indian, kebab, pizza. Each one would be seen as a treat. But after eating each I would feel worse than before. A treat doesn’t make you feel worse, does it? If I’m going to treat myself, then it should make me feel better? I mean if it makes me feel worse then it isn’t a treat. The initial hit of sugar, salt and fat would be vastly outweighed by the lethargy that would weigh me down. I soon realised it wasn’t a treat at all. It was an often expensive depressant. I had swapped one depressant for another.

The old adage “you are what you eat,” has an element of truth. Research has shown the link between what we eat and our mental health. This isn’t based on the external changes but the internal changes. The altering of brain chemistry (Is fast food making us depressed? – BBC Future). Maybe a change of diet will lead to a change of mood? It did for me. But it all sounds a little soulless, doesn’t it? A life without alcohol, sugar and fast food. It’s borderline monastic to live without these things! I would challenge this assumption. I would suggest that happiness has been conflated with pleasure. Without pleasure, there is no happiness. To be happy we must consume. But it is a deeply floored idea. For every up, there is a down. The highs lead to lows. The constant careering from peaks to troughs leads to anxiety and depression. By looking at what we consume we may be able to understand the way we feel.

Initially, a future without overconsumption of these things did seem bleak to me. It seemed pointless and empty. That’s when I realised it was a choice; try to change or accept the unhappiness. So I learned to moderate. I couldn’t moderate alcohol, I had to quit for good. The others I have learned to have in moderation. In all honesty, I prefer cooking something like tacos instead of ordering fast food. And paired with an exercising regime I feel better than I have for a long time. Who would have known that a healthy balance brings far more happiness than artificial stimulation?

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

I used to be 18st 6lbs. And at 5’10”, I was massively overweight. The weight loss journey is documented here A guide to #wellness – Barstool to the Beach (fromthebarstooltothebeach.com)

Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to follow and share 🙂

Exercise and Mental Health…

The last year has been overwhelming for many people. There is a growing mental health epidemic. Young and old are experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness and despair at high levels. I have been negatively affected over the last year. Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts plagued a large part of my life. It was hard to keep going. Getting out of bed took a monumental effort. I have missed lots of work due to these mental health problems. But, I have managed to walk back from the edge a couple of times. For the last couple of weeks, I have started to feel a sense of calm and balance. The loneliness has made way to self-love. The anxiety has evaporated into acceptance of uncertainty. Depression has eased into positivity. Suicidal thoughts have no place in my head anymore. This may change in the future. I am happy to accept the moment. I have got to a level of inner strength that will see me through. I don’t think for a second I have “cured” my mental health issues. I don’t think I ever will. But I am content despite them. The question is how? How did I turn it around?

Last year was tough. Some really dark periods resulted in me having a nervous breakdown. It was scary. I was lonely. My mind was chaotic. I was sure I would drown. I thought I was too weak to fight it. I went to the doctors and got some medication. I’d fought against using medication when I’d experienced depression previously. But this time I was at a loose end. The meds helped. They trimmed the peaks off the mania and slowed the crashing lows. The chaotic thinking eased. The world became more welcoming. That was in September 2020. By December I had started to ween myself of the meds. Reducing the 20mg Fluoxetine a day dose to every two days. And then three days. Until finally, I stopped taking it altogether. I had no adverse side effects. I thought I was in the clear. I thought the breakdown was over; life had other plans. Two events, one work-related and the other an ongoing wait to finalise the purchase of a house, slowly began to ramp up the stress. I thought I would lose everything. And once again, I began to slip into uncontrollable thinking. I fought for a couple of months. I tried everything; meditation, talking to others, walking. But nothing seemed to help. Soon my toolbox was empty. My waking thoughts were plagued with worry. My sleeping pattern reversed. My nutrition was non existent. The lack of food meant a lack of energy. Bed became my safe haven. I would wake and think what’s the point in trying? So back to the doctors I went.

I asked the doctor to put me back on 20mg of Fluoxetine. He was hesitant to. I explained that I just needed them to control the chaotic thinking. Hopefully, the clarity of thought would allow me to get back on my feet. He agreed but explained that once life had calmed down I should look to come off them. I agreed. This was in April 2021. So back on the meds, I went. One 20mg fluoxetine a day. Nothing really happened for a while. Initially, my sleep pattern became even more irregular. My short term memory got worse but not life-changing. Slowly, I began to come back to life. I tried to get going a couple of weeks after started the meds again. My energy levels were still low. I just kept trying to stay positive. It is extremely difficult to when there is a bombardment of negativity swirling through my mind. Any glimmer of hope was soon consumed by the torrent of anxiety. Eventually, it calmed down. I would wake in the morning expecting the carnival of chaos to start but it didn’t. I would wait but it never happened. For months I had been waking to instant negativity but after 60 days of fluoxetine, it subsided. I began the day with some positive affirmations. Saying “what will be will be.” “I can only do what I can do.” And “the only things I can change are my outlook and my diet.” The days got brighter. I would have porridge and banana for breakfast. Then I would take my meds. Along with the fluoxetine, I would take cod liver oil with added vitamin D. I read that omega 3 and vitamin D help improve the effectiveness of antidepressants. It had to be worth a shot.

My sleeping pattern was still a bit erratic. I started to get more energy as my appetite improved. Then, one day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a run. I started small. A lap of the park. After a couple of days, I tried a mile. When I could do a mile comfortably. I started walking another mile. And then running as far into the second mile as I could. I had no plan to compete or anything. It just seemed like the right thing to do. The medication gave me the foundation to build upon. It gave me the clarity to make the right decisions. The negativity was replaced with self-support. If I couldn’t jog as far as I wanted one day, I didn’t chastise myself. I just put it down to a bad day. I started sleeping better. Instead of waking up at 11am and then slagging myself for wasting my day, I started waking at 7am. I’d have a coffee, banana and a pint of water. I’d wait for an hour. Do some stretches and then go for a run. Rain or shine. The 1 mile became 2 and then 3. I’d come back have my meds and have some tinned mackerel and poached egg on toast. It sounds so trivial but it was huge. The routine made a difference. I started looking forward to running. I started feeling happy. Then I pulled my hamstring.

I accepted that it was part of life. I rested for a week, iced it and compressed it. I was grateful it wasn’t torn. Again I started slow. Less than a mile and then built up to make sure it was okay. I just kept doing that every morning. I have been off work so I have had time to do this. When my situation changes, I will have to fit exercise around my work schedule. This routine has enabled me to find some balance. Exercise in the morning makes me feel like I have already won. It can’t go downhill from there because I’ve already achieved something. My diet became more healthy. More lean meat and fish. More veg. Lots more water. I lost weight and felt sharp. It is incredible how things can change. Also, how the simple things have an impact on my wellbeing.

Left – Total distance and total time Centre – Average mile Right- Date

To be clear I ran a lot last year during the lockdown. But as depression slowly robbed me of my energy the frequency of my runs declined. Until eventually they stopped altogether last October. So when I restarted this year I hadn’t run for nearly six months. I weighed 13st 6lbs. And I am 39 years old with love handles. But I endeavoured to persevere. I just thought that something is better than nothing. Any movement is better than wallowing in self-pity.

Running enabled me to push through the mental blocks that had kept me trapped in my own head. Every distance I went further than I thought I was a minor victory. I got up to 6 miles and vowed to run 10km a day for 10 days. Why? I have no idea really. I am conscious of manic episodes but this isn’t one. Maybe it’s to see how far I’d come. To show that my mental and physical toughness has rebounded from the doldrums of depression. I’m glad to say it has. Today is Thursday 24th June and so far I have run at least 6 miles for 10 days. I will get to 10 days of 10 kms but that won’t be until Saturday. I feel great. I will have to rest one day to protect my legs. If you see below I didn’t run on the 20th of June but I went for an 8-mile walk with a friend instead.

Left – Total distance and total time Centre – Average mile Right- Date

I wouldn’t advise trying to run that many days if you don’t run at all. But I would advise starting slowly if you can. If you can’t run then start another form of exercise that’s applicable. It has really helped me get back to a place of balance. Accompanied with a balanced diet, good sleep and plenty of water it really is the recipe for a balanced life. I don’t feel like I’m running from something. I feel like I’m running for something. That something is mental and physical health. Going to the edge and being out of options in life has taught me the importance of wellness.

If you are in the doldrums then there is a way back. Today I ran over a road bridge that had a rail line underneath. Last year I stood and wondered if it would be fair on the train driver if I jumped off. I was in the pit of despair. Seven months later, I felt stronger than ever as I passed over. I’ve tried everything in my life to find balance. It is the simple things that work for me. The things that people told me to do years ago but I couldn’t believe them because they were cheap and simple. How could something so simple be effective? Well, it is!

Now, I eat well, keep persevering and exploring new places whilst out running. I reward my hard work with treats. Because I’m worth it and so are you.

Charlie.

Staying Sober…

I haven’t drunk alcohol for many years. I used to drink a lot. Too much in fact. Too much for my body to take. To me, it was like I was getting one over the world. Like the kid smoking behind the bike shed who thinks he’s is a rebel. I wanted to rebel. Against what? I never knew, I was always too drunk to find a cause. In the end not drinking became my cause. I put that first and then everything started to fall into place behind it. I know why I stopped, I had to. I couldn’t take it anymore. Years before I had sought help for depression when I was left with two choices; death or help. Reaching out for help was the smartest thing I ever did. Drinking backed me into a similar corner; death or sobriety. I hated pretty much everything and everyone by that point but I still wanted to live. Fuck knows where the optimism was hiding but it was keeping me going. I decided to quit. The second greatest decision I ever made.

So what has kept me going? I don’t have a program per se. I don’t have a god or higher power, beyond life in all its glory. I don’t have a daily routine. I have sat in cold halls on winter nights in AA meetings trying to find something to get me through. I have meditated and exercised. I’ve travelled far and wide. I walked pilgrimages and read books. I’ve listened to music that gave me the strength to just get through. I cleaned my workshop from top to bottom when my mum was having brain surgery and I wasn’t sure she would pull through. I’ve phoned people when I have needed to. I try to give as much of my sobriety away as possible. It doesn’t disappear by sharing it. It only gets stronger. I have realised, that like any animal, I will do whatever it takes to keep going. And without sobriety or being alcohol-free, I will have nothing. To drink is to die. As long as I remember the pain and suffering I had to go through to get to today I will never let it slip away. I will do whatever is needed whenever it is needed to get through. I do not care what people think. If the people who know me would rather me drink to be fun than to be sober and live, they do not have my back. They are not interested in supporting me. They are either afraid of me holding a mirror to their lie or I am supporting the platform that makes them feel better about themselves. I will not die for social acceptance. I say no to expectation and yes to life. Even in its current muted form.

I had to find a system that worked for me. I had to find what I liked and built an ad hoc plan. Which has a current success rate of 100% for as long as I haven’t drunk. The first time I quit I was 29 years old. My liver was screaming for a break. I lasted seven months until I succumbed to boredom and listened to the tales of deception that I weaved for myself. “It’ll be different this time,” so says the alky at the top of a slippery slope. A speedy return to the days of old was the reward for that bit of delusion. As if by magic alcohol returned and my money and integrity vanished. On reflection what I hadn’t done was fill the void with anything meaningful. I was just bucketing water out of the Titanic. I didn’t have the tools to keep a mental note of the weather in my head. I didn’t see the storm clouds on the horizon.

Now, I know. If I’m getting uneasy or wound up, I go for a walk. Or a run. Plus, I need a creative outlet. I have to eat well, sleep well and generally treat myself as someone I like. Which means I buy myself treats. I use the same reward system that I used for alcohol; I have done XY today, so I can have some chocolate. It keeps me moving. It keeps me balanced. That’s important. Balance. I used to crash through moods like a rocket returning to earth. Adulation would be replaced by despair within an evening. Mania and depression were just part of life I thought. I thought wild swings were normality and the only people who had balance were flatlining. I still have moments of wild thinking thankfully I became my own horse whisperer and soon the metaphorical back legs stop kicking with some steady rationalisations.

I like to think about time as a token to be spent. There are a lot of them. Some people have more than others and yes I have made some questionable purchases but now I have options. I have a wide range of activities to choose from. Why, then, would I choose to spend my time miserable, full of guilt and self-hatred? Why would I opt for that life? Because that is the life alcohol brought me and will bring me back. To drink is to turn my world black and white. The vibrancy and colour would diminish as my focus points to one thing only. I have a weakness for alcohol but if I don’t drink I maintain my strength. It’s simple; I don’t drink. I was devastated when I quit. I watched my world collapse and could do nothing. I was on my knees. I was beaten. I will never let it do that to me again. I choose peace and serenity. Creativity. Laughter and love. Fuck the chaos. This middle-aged hippie is happy to be free. Not only from alcohol but the lifestyle that goes with it. Do I miss it? Sometimes, of course. But not in a desperate desire way. More in a poignant recollection that I might have for an ex-partner who I would have liked things to have worked out differently. But I know it was the right thing to do and there’s definitely no going back.

I don’t think there is a single answer. AA works for some. This naked mind has helped many. Some handle going cold turkey. There is no magic bullet. There is just freedom to find out what works for you. To use the time that alcohol took and focus it on something that is fulfilling. Quitting drinking is the opportunity to build a healthy body and healthy mind. It is a journey. Sometimes difficult. Sometimes wonderful. It is what you make it. Without replacing the negative thinking patterns and negative behaviours with positive ones there will always be the romanticised allure of alcohol. But if it caused destruction once. The chances are it will do it again. Life is too short to spend it wondering what sobriety would be like. And we have too much potential to waste it trapped in destructive habits by our fears.

Charlie.

Worriers Anonymous

Worry is a chain of thoughts and images, negatively affect-laden and relatively uncontrollable.

I’ve cracked it. I have solved the problem. The previous worry that led me down the rabbit hole of despair has been dismissed. The pressure has been released. A moment of calm descends upon me. It feels nice. It feels natural. I bet it won’t last. I bet something goes wrong. I bet the antidepressants affect my creativity. They’ll kill off my outlet and force me to become a zombie. OH FUCK. I am a worrier. I’m addicted to worrying.

“My names Charlie and I’m a worryAholic!”

“HI CHARLIE!”

It’s ceaseless. It’s like having a little kid living in my head. Constantly needling me for information. I find peace… “It won’t last forever,” If things are going well, I prepare for the bad. The invasive, pervasive voice that I so proudly claimed to have conquered is centre stage. Singing and dancing his songs of woe. I’ve tried everything; meditation, yoga, exercise, vitamins, diet changes and city changes. Christ, I’ve even tried country changes. But there it is. Every fucking time. Waiting to make me feel inferior.

I only noticed its effect because when I look in the mirror I see a man I admire. A man who has done well by his own standards. Who one day decided to make a change and did. I am proud of that. But it counts for nothing to my inner critic. It is almost like being in unrequited love with myself. Nothing is ever good enough. If it is it will eventually go wrong. 

“Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere.”

“What next?” was the message from within as the wheels touched down on the aeroplane having fulfilled a dream. I should have been riding high at achieving what I once thought unachievable. Even a life beyond my wildest dreams wasn’t enough. The judgemental disembodied tormentor demanded more. It is a toxic relationship with myself that saps all my energy. The future looms large and demands answers to questions that may never be asked. Anxiety is inevitable.

No angel and devil are sitting on my shoulder fighting for dominance. There is no negative voice in my head. I recently saw a Russell Brand video on negative thinking. (It appears that the Youtube algorithm gives me what I need when I need it.) In the video, Russell talks about even after all the work he’s done he still has moments of negative thinking. This came as a relief to me. But what struck a chord most was when he said: “I have personified the voices of the past!” It was like a jarring slap of realisation. I have created my tormentor for no other reason than believing it is what I deserve. Well, I don’t! Nor do you! So put the stick away and stop beating yourself up. Your imagination is a tool for liberation, not oppression. Yet the drill sergeant in my head is demanding more. Yes, it can be useful. Like when I am exercising and pushing myself. But I am not a record-breaking athlete. I am a thirty-nine-year-old teacher. I should motivate myself accordingly; getting my marking done. Not racing Usain Bolt.

I’ve heard people say “It’s like there are two of me; a positive and a negative. Each says its own thing!” What these people are failing to notice is that there is only one of them; the observer. They are watching the scenario play out. They are a spectator to there own decisions. The winning thought will be the one that aligns most with the observers’ personal experiences and expectations. Believe you should be spoken to like shit and you will. Many accept from themselves that they wouldn’t accept from others. It is just conditioning. We are just trying to get through life. Unfortunately, we pick up bad habits along the way. Some of the habits are an attempt to cancel out others. Coping mechanisms. But the pressure slowly builds underneath. It’s not possible to hide from myself forever. It’s tiring. Life is too short. 

I believe the inner chatter that recently turned my world a dark shade was the same negativity that made me drink. I wanted to escape myself. I wanted to silence the worrier and transcend the inner trainer that demanded more. Where it came from? Who knows. But now I can see it. Now I can identify as the observer and not the thoughts themselves. The worry has lifted somewhat… until next time.

I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to find meaning. After returning from travelling I felt a sense of accomplishment tinged with loss. I saw no real point anymore. I had done everything I had wanted to do. Now what? I got lost in the search for meaning. Trying to find something. Anything. Just to focus on. Eventually, I got overwhelmed.

The one positive to the inner trainer is that it got me out of bed when I only wanted to avoid the world. I took a walk along the seafront and sat on a bench. As I sat looking out to sea, it dawned on me. This is all there is. Just this moment. Just this snapshot in time. I don’t have to walk the Inca trail or fly to Cancun. It’s here all the time. I just have to choose to see it. To accept it. To stop looking and it will come. It can be difficult to catch a breath when it feels like I’m drowning in life but all it takes sometimes is a step back. Just a moment to realise that the pressure is internal. That the weight on the shoulders is imaginary. That the whip that threatens punishment is in my hand. And that I don’t deserve that treatment from anyone. Especially myself.

Sometimes I need to remember that I’m a worryAholic. That my thoughts are not reality. And that everything could be a lot worse. I also need to remember that when my minds go off on a tangent, I can bring it back to the moment. Hopefully, over time, I can retrain my brain. I can kill off the drill sergeant and maintain serenity. The only way is through. Escapism and avoidance just cause more problems.

I need to remember that I still had anxiety when I drank alcohol. It’s just that it was focused on alcohol. I normalised my thinking to justify my behaviour. The only way to “relax” was through alcohol. That is not solving the problem. It is compounding it.

There is no other way than through. Avoidance and escape won’t help. Even after several years without a drink, I am still learning and growing. It wasn’t until I realised I was lost that I knew I had to ask for directions. I learned the methods that can mitigate the worry. Things like exercise, meditation, eating well and reaching out when needed. I also learned that there isn’t a cure to my mental gymnastics but keeping it on a level gets easier. There are days where my mind can go on a tangent. I can get trapped in stories that cause me a distress. I forget that my emotions are effected by my perception and ruin my own day. I have to put the action in place to stop that getting too severe.

A lot of life is out of my control. All I have is the moment. Whatever will be, will be. There is no point in worrying about it. Worrying solves nothing. I’ll just do my best for today. I’ll not worry about tomorrow… easier said than done.

Que Sera, Sera

Charlie

Seven years of sobriety…

Wow. Just wow. I couldn’t imagine seven days without a drink at one point. Now, one day at a time, I have made it to seven years. Has it been easy? Of course not. Has it been constant highs and euphoria? Nope. Has it been worth it? Absolutely.

I had no idea what to expect when I first got sober. I just didn’t want to drink anymore. In fact, I didn’t want that life anymore. I was broken. Completely and utterly smashed to bits. Yet, cyclic destruction was all I knew. What I didn’t know is that it was the cause of all the problems. My days would follow a similar path; wake up feeling rough, not really knowing how it had happened, vow not to drink, slowly recover throughout the day, vow to have a drink but only one, repeat. One drink starts the problem. If I don’t have one, I can’t have two, or three, etc. I didn’t know this until it was too late.

Thankfully, the rock bottom was enough of a bump to rattle me out of the cycle of destruction. It was enough pain to make me want to change. I just had no idea how to change. The first year, was trial and error. Insanity and desperation interspersed with moments of peace. Fleeting moments of happiness were a reminder that sobriety was the right thing to do. And they were enough to offset the trepidation of walking an alien path. It was a strange time. But I just kept going, one day at a time. Trusting the belief that things might not get better but at the very least, quitting drinking would stop things from getting worse.

The tools I learned in those early days have been the mainstay of my sobriety. Through trial and error, I learned what worked for me and allowed me to disregard the things that didn’t. Some things work for some and not for others. I can only advise you to find what works for you. As long as it isn’t drinking. That never worked. Ultimately, it is swapping negative vices for positive ones. The small things that kept me sober in the early days are the same things that work now; eating well, reaching out, exercise, meditating and learning. When I am feeling well those can slip. They take a back seat and my mood slowly slides into negativity. It doesn’t take long to realise why. The times I keep up the practices of staying well are the times I am rewarded. I have to practice to be well. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Even after all these years, I have to maintain the bridges to healthy living. By building a stable foundation it is possible to expand my life in areas that weren’t possible during my drinking days.

Alcohol consumed my wages and my soul. I was left with nothing but dreams and despair. Slowly rebuilding my mind, body and soul after quitting alcohol, seemed like I was bucketing water from a sinking ship. I never seemed to be progressing. I wanted miraculous changes overnight. I doubted they would ever happen. I expected a flash of light awakening and to be profoundly changed in some way but it didn’t happen like that. After seven years of sobriety, I can proudly look back at the things I have achieved and say that the miracle did happen. The change took time. The experiences took sacrifice. But I was rewarded far beyond what I ever could imagine. Moments of inner peace were a worrying trend when I first quit. I was so used to shame, guilt and chaotic thinking that I thought it was a mistake. But slowly they become more frequent. Until a chaotic mind was the signifier that something was wrong. It was a complete change. With this clarity, it was finally possible to try and point my life in the direction I would like to head. TRAVEL was always high on my list. Sobriety gave me back a LOT of time. But I was still in mountains of debt. Travel takes money. So I started to pay it off. It was liberating. Freedom from addiction and debt was the liberation I needed.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve met great people along the way. Even in the drunken chaos I still managed to hold down a job. That helped clear the debt. But I had to sacrifice trivial things to do it. I had to cut down on frivolous spending and miss opportunities. I always looked at it as travel was delayed happiness. The reward of doing it was worth the wait and the sacrifice of short term gratification. I can confirm, it was worth it. By doing this I have been lucky enough to visit; USA, Mexico, Peru, Belize, Guatemala, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, Turkey and Germany. I have walked the El Camino de Santiago from France and Portugal. It has been an incredible journey. It is all thanks to sobriety.

It hasn’t always been exotic locations and blissful serenity. In the early days, I would sit at home on a Friday and Saturday night, imagining that everyone else in the world was having a great time. I would feel left out and isolated. Slowly, it faded and I found other things to do, with other people. There have been times when quitting drinking feels like quitting life and in the UK it could be deemed as such. But there are other things to do. It just takes time to find them. It is also important to remind myself why I quit. Was alcohol really giving me the joyous sexy freedom that was advertised or was it misery, self-hatred and debt? If you are unsure, it was the latter.

There have been difficult times that I wanted to escape. My mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour when I was three years sober. During her twelve-hour surgery I didn’t want to feel the fear I felt that she might not make it. Every ounce of me wanted a drink to take the pain away. But thankfully I knew that it would only delay the pain. I remembered all the pain that alcohol had caused. Thankfully, she was okay and I made it through without a drink. Each hill I overcame in sobriety prepared me for the next. Whether it is overcoming break-ups or a breakdown. Each served as a lesson for being better prepared if it happens again.

Last year I suffered a breakdown. By not drowning my sorrows in alcohol the turnaround time for an uptick in mood was vastly hastened. Swimming in a bottle of whiskey only serves to hasten the end of life and slow down the escape to freedom. Alcohol never brought me freedom for any sustained period. Just delaying and magnifying the pain. Facing problems seems hard. I can categorically state that delaying them is FAR worse. Sobriety gives the strength to face the present. To engage in life in ways I never thought possible. It isn’t always easy but it is easier than it was. Life still happens. Struggles still happen. Bad things still happen. But they just seem to be a little more manageable with the clarity of sobriety.

I can’t tell you what to do with your life. All I can say is that one day I stood at a fork in the road. One was continuing down the same path. The one of guilt and shame. The one of misery and destruction. That road was to continue drinking alcohol. The other was to quit. I couldn’t moderate, I had tried. The road to sobriety was unknown. It appeared boring. I mean what do you do if you don’t drink? The answer? ANYTHING. The road less travelled is rewarded with some of the most divine experiences I have ever had. If I did not quit drinking I would not have done the things I have done. It is that simple. It isn’t easy. But it has been worth it.

So after all these years what is the reason I keep going? Because amongst the travel and breakdowns. The peaks and troughs of life. There lays the base layer of my happiness. The longer I go without drinking the more balanced that becomes. I used to think that a constant level meant flatlining. That without chaos and drama there was only boredom. What I found was contentment. I found the moments of bliss I’d searched for by consuming alcohol. Even on the dullest of days, there can be a wry smile at enjoying the simplicity. Life isn’t perfect. Nor would I want it to be. But it is a lot more manageable than it once was. It isn’t all butterflies and rainbows but it definitely isn’t the guilt, shame and chaos that it once was. I’ll take manageable contentment over chaotic misery. It really isn’t as boring as I once thought it would be. The clear-headed mornings and the feeling of wellbeing is irreplaceable. Life without alcohol isn’t easy but it is a challenge worth taking.

Charlie.

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