Living one day at a time…

2372 days, one day at a time. That’s how long it’s been since I last drank alcohol. The time has passed quickly. The initial panic of the early days of sobriety is a distant memory. Those lonely days of uncertainty. And second-guessing every decision. The fog slowly clearing to reveal a world that I lived in but was never present in. I had been floating through life on a wave of alcohol. I would like to suggest that I was surfing this wave but I doubt anybody quits drinking because things are going well. It was the wave ending that made me hit the land with a bump. A foggy head and unsteady legs. No longer driven forward by the power of alcohol. It was up to me to start taking steps.

Quitting drinking was so scary that I wanted to drink to escape the fear. But where had that got me? Nowhere! That’s what I’d been doing my whole life; Freewheeling. My life wasn’t unmanageable it was unmanaged. I had to start taking responsibility. That’s the scary part. Being accountable for my behaviour. No more “I was drunk!” get out of jail free card. My problems needed sorting. But looking at them as a whole was anxiety-inducing. I didn’t know where to start. So I did what was suggested to me at the time; “One day at a time.” So I just tried to not drink one day at a time. In fact, it was more like five minutes at a time at the start. Then it became an hour, a couple of hours and then a day at a time. It was HARD. I was a functioning alcoholic and was scared that without alcohol I wouldn’t function. I didn’t in the beginning. I just got through the best I could.

It got easier. Eventually, I could make plans for the future. But I still just got through a day at a time. Anxiety would rare it’s ugly head every now and then. The unwritten future would send me into a spin. That’s where mindfulness has been a blessing. Remembering to bring it back to the moment. To the day. Like the Buddha said “The mind is everything. What you think you become.” Today is the time to create the future. But the future would control me. Bringing it back to the day reminded me to put the steps in place for a better future.

This didn’t mean there were no hardships. It just meant that when they arose I dealt with them at the time. I had an emotionally abusive relationship that I should have left earlier but denied my intuition. But I learned from it and moved on. Most importantly it was a test and I didn’t drink to get through. There has been love, loss and confusion. It just occurred by keeping it in the day. I didn’t need to seek it out. It came as part of the journey of life. The peace that I have felt by being present is attractive to people. Like a flower to butterflies. It is nice to not have to worry about the future. To sit at peace in a park and watch the moment unfold is a gift. It is a joy to cut out a path of serenity when chaos is all around. It is all available within the moment if we just stop looking for it.

There have been other tests along the road. Anxiety and depression have been lessened but can still make an appearance. Their power is diminished by the decisiveness of doing what needs to be done at that moment. When they do get overwhelming I can fall back on the help available, the friends available and the tools I have learned from the journey thus far. The simpler I keep it the easier it becomes. Life is hard enough without the added pressure from the chaotic thinking that can plague my life. Or if I begin to engage in the chaos of others. It’s hard to keep it in the moment sometimes when the world around is highly strung. But I HAVE to remind myself; it is me who suffers when I start to get dragged along by the madness. First, my peace suffers. Then, I do; emotionally and physically.

Being sober is a tool. It is the key to the jail cell but it still needs to put into use. Each day is the opportunity to plant a seed to help you out in the future. Each day is a step towards a goal. Whether personal growth or accomplishment. It is up to you. It is yours to use as you see fit. Some travel, some learn, many develop a sense of love and connection severely lacking. It is an incredible journey to take. Not always easy but a lot easier than drunken escapism. Which is not “living” but avoiding. It is the opposite of being present.

I have been unbelievably lucky on my journey. I travelled far and wide. Met people who are the foundation of my recovery. I have a sense of peace that is addictive. Recently I have begun to feel an overwhelming sense of love and connection to myself and the world. It was been an incredible 2372 days but really there has only ever been one day. The one I was living at the time. It is that day where the work is done. That is where the action is put in place. That is where I learn, love, connect and grow. There is no tomorrow. It is always today. It is hard not to engage in the thinking of tomorrow. But the worry is what brings uncertainty.

When I drank I lived on the coat tales of the next drink. Never present. Either reliving the night before with a sense of trepidation over some unknown action. Or fighting the obsession of alcohol. I was only ever at peace when alcohol calmed my chaotic mind. But the calm is available without the alcohol. Joy is abundant without alcohol. True love for the self and others. A deep connection to the world. It is all available right in front of us if we just stop searching and start observing.

My recent dip in mood has abated. But it reinforced the importance of enjoying the moment. It was a harsh reminder that the future cannot be planned, built and lived all at once. It unfolds like the petals of a flower. The beauty is revealed slowly. Forcing life destroys it.

Inner peace is like a beautiful rare bird that has landed in our garden. But instead of appreciating its presence, we wonder how we can make it come back. After it’s gone we didn’t get to enjoy it’s wonder.

All I can do is be patient and observe. On the tube to work the other morning I was overwhelmed with a feeling of unconditional love. A warm feeling in my chest slowly spread throughout me. Thankfully, I was wearing a face mask because it hid a huge smile on my face. I was present. I was happy. Most importantly I was sober. I can’t fix everything today but I can take the steps to make the next today a little easier.

Much love,

Charlie.

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Alcohol addiction and controlled drinking…

“If you are trying to control something, it is already out of control!”

I have maybe shown my cards too early with the above quote but the concept of controlled drinking fascinates me.

I tried everything to control my drinking; Changing drinks quite often. Drinking spirits only. Not drinking spirits. Only drinking spirits when I had no room for beer. Getting stoned before I went to the pub. Drinking before I went to the pub. Not drinking before I went to the pub. Drinking at home. Not drinking at home. Whatever I thought would stop me drinking to excess I tried it. Everything except not drinking of course. The thought of not drinking was too radical. Too incomprehensible to even imagine. So I continued to fight on. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. Trying to control the uncontrollable.

I have a love-hate relationship with AA but credit where credit is due. It was them who taught me “the first drink does the damage!” If I don’t have the first I can’t have the tenth. If I don’t have the first I don’t have to worry about controlling my drinking. Simple… now. Wasn’t so simple for a long time. A long time of regret, guilt and shame. Of blackouts and lost time. Of fighting myself and losing each round. Waking up time after time, dumbfounded and downtrodden. Wondering how the fuck it had happened again. What magic was at play? How did it keep happening? “I got talking!” that’s what I would say. Or “I was having a good time!” Just excuses.

If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right- about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him. Heaven knows, we have tried hard enough and long enough to drink like other people!

For me, moderation isn’t possible. I tried. Numerous times. It took HARD lessons and rock bottoms to drive it into my thick skull that it wasn’t possible. I remember relapsing on the belief that I had addiction beaten. That I was back in control. I wasn’t. That relapse lasted two years and nearly killed me. But you’re not me are you. You are not an alcoholic fool. You are strong. You don’t have a problem. But then why are you here reading this?

If you’re curious passer-by then welcome. If you’re starting to question why you can’t stop drinking once you start then I am talking to you. STOP before it is too late. It is scary. It is hard. But if you are waiting for drinking to fix the problem of drinking, you are in for a rough time. Some people get to the rock bottom and start drilling deeper. If it is becoming a problem STOP. It only gets worse. More of a bad thing doesn’t make a situation better. It makes it worse. If you start drinking to only have a couple but then wake the next day with a blank memory like an alien abductee then STOP DRINKING. If it happens often then definitely STOP DRINKING. Ask yourself this question “Do I still want to be making the same mistakes in five years? One year? One month?” If the answer is no then there is only one option QUIT.

It took me years to learn this lesson. I blamed everything and everyone before accepting reality. I am a reasonably well-educated man. I couldn’t fall foul of such a thing. Could I? OH YES I COULD. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t pick victims based on social standing. But it quickly relegates. It will strip you of everything, whilst you are distracted, trying to figure out what the fuck keeps happening. Why do you keep getting into these states? Pouring another drink to ponder the problem over. Meanwhile, your life is burning down. Where does all my money go? Why is my loved one angry all the time? Why are my kids scared of me? Why do people no longer want to drink with me? Fuck em all I’ll drink on my own!!

You might not be there yet. And you are strong-willed so you won’t end up getting there. I thought the same once. I hope you don’t. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I would prefer a stable future for you much more than I would prefer to say “I told you so!”

If it is a struggle to control your drinking. If it is a problem then the question becomes “How bad does the problem have to become?” What do you have to lose before making a change? Your driving licence? Your partner? Your job? Your house? Your kids? Your life? All those are possible if you have them to lose. All those happen more often than is talked about. This cloak and dagger approach coupled with the stigma of having a drinking problem makes it difficult to quit. Plus, not being able to control your drinking habit is seen as a failing. A weakness of character. It becomes shameful. So people start to hide the fact. They suffer in silence. Eventually the need to suppress the feeling increases as does the amount of alcohol needed to do so. It begins to spiral downwards. Rock bottom is ready and braced for impact. We, unfortunately, don’t see it coming.

The rock bottom is a wake-up call for the fortunate. The unfortunate carry on believing it to not be real. Or too painful to face. Either way, it is ignored until the slap across the face has more power and can’t be ignored.

Maybe moderation is possible. I used to open a packet of sweets and have to eat the lot. Now I can leave them. Maybe some people could moderate their alcohol consumption. In all honesty, I am too scared to find out if I can. The loss is far greater than the reward. Experience tells me to drink again is to get back into an unnecessary fight. To try to convince myself that I am “strong enough” to beat it. Fuck that. Life’s too short and I’ve already had enough of a beating to go again. That is evidence enough that abstinence is the right choice for me.

Hopefully, you don’t keep punching yourself in the face for too long before you figure out why your nose is bleeding.

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to follow and share 🙂

Charlie.

A letter to myself in depression

*Depression is a horrible situation to be in. The writing below is what I said to myself. It is no way meant to undermine anyone’s struggle with mental health. It was just what I needed to hear to get me over the last hurdle towards recovering. I sought out help, talked to people about it and got meds. That was enough to get me moving. If reaching out hasn’t helped you, then you have my sympathy. Depression is a terrible place to be stuck. I wish you well on your journey and hope you find what you need.*

Charlie,

The past has been washed in darkness. Any moments of joy have been pushed out of sight. Any moments of love have been shaded from the light. The moments of connection have evaporated into the ether from which they came. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that the past was all bad. The thought that it was is a fabrication. It isn’t a mirror. It is a product of the illness. It is a false reality it wants you to believe is true. To make you think the future will be just as bleak. That to keep walking is pointless. That what you are fighting is a losing battle. That suicide is not an easy option but the only option. But you know it is a lie.

You didn’t walk through the hell of addiction to give up on yourself. You didn’t face your demons to gain freedom only to throw it away. You didn’t reach out to friends, relatives, therapists and a god you don’t believe in just to say “Fuck it!” You didn’t attend the counselling and try the meds, just to give up. Get the thought out of your head. Life is fucking tough. It is a lot tougher for a lot of people. I know saying that doesn’t help but it is the truth. I know that you have gratitude for your life but still, the shadow haunts you. The fact that you got this far carrying the darkness is incredible. Living in your head for a day is tiring. You are doing impeccably. I know you won’t believe me. You never do. But it is true. I also know that the fluffy approach won’t work on its own. You appreciate the help but you need an old fashion boot up the arse. You have to take action. You are going to have to stand up and stop wallowing. Life is short as fuck. Do you want to spend it lying in bed trying to cure your thinking with thinking? Or do you want to try and change it? If you think there is no point then you are free. If there is no point then make a point. If you think it’s bad then talk to people who do have it bad. Help out. Altruism saved you last time. There are people out there who could use your help. They need your help. And you need theirs. You are not lost. You can pick any road you want.

You are in hell. But now’s the time to start walking back. You have so much to offer. I know you don’t believe it but it is needed. Don’t waste it.

Tomorrow, you make a change. You change a bit of your diet or your routine. You do something to break the cycle. To disrupt the rut you’re cutting by plodding around waiting to be saved. No saviour is coming. There are people to help but they can’t fix it. They can’t chase the clouds away. You have to keep pushing forward. You always will. This motherfucker ain’t going anywhere. It’s with you. It’s always been with you. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO DEFINE YOU. Shit man, you thought you were going to die on a barstool. LOOK WHAT YOU DID. You had the strength to change it. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, lying in bed, feeling like your being hollowed out, is agony. In emotional and physical pain. Crying in the fetal position wishing for anything to take the feeling away. I know it isn’t pleasant. I know talking about it takes the power out of it but doesn’t clear it completely away. Escapism works. But it is only temporary. You have a constant black cloud in every blue sky. So what. Stop running. FIGHT. You may fall. You may fail. But that’s what it’s all about. Fall down seven times get up eight. I can hear it already “but what if I can’t get up anymore?” Fuck that voice. That isn’t you. You will get up. You do each time. It’s time to help others up. That’s what these hardships are for. To understand. To say “I understand.” Good job you always liked learning the hard way. Acceptance is key here. You suffer or help the suffering. The lesson is to share your experience. It is imperative.

There is no magic here. Acceptance. Coping mechanisms. Doing the things that keep you well. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be bliss some will be tough. Take the rough with the smooth. Stop expecting perfection. That way, you won’t be disappointed when you don’t reach the unreachable. It just is what it is. It isn’t bad. It isn’t great. It just is.

Remember, YOU ARE ENOUGH. There is no missing piece. There is no one to complete you. No product that will give fulfilment. They are complements to your life. But they can’t complete you. You have the answer. Repeat, I am enough. Repeat it until you believe it. Stop comparing yourself to illusions. Pegging perfection as the norm and then measuring your life against it is the death of contentment. It is the quicksand that pulls you back into the darkness. It is a dungeon of your own making. It might feel like you keep getting knocked down but it doesn’t mean you’re out! “Fall down seven. Get up eight.” Getting up each time gets harder. Each time you say “I can’t do this anymore.” Then, there is a fleeting moment of positivity. A flash of colour back in the world. A moment where it is okay for a minute. Before the darkness consumes the light again. That’s why you keep doing it. That’s why you keep going. It’s hard to see beyond the grey veil during depression. But you know it can get better. You know because you have felt it. Yeah, depression comes back and sweeps your feet. But you get up and go again. You know you can because you have. Don’t worry about the future.

Stop fighting yourself mentally. Accept your position. And Fight your way back as one whole. With the darkness and the light. One day at a time. Keep it within the moment. Get through each second as it arises. When the future begins to torture you with events that may never happen, pause and take a breath. Remember that thoughts are not reality. If you could predict the future you wouldn’t be typing this. You would have predicted the EuroMillions numbers and now living life as a millionaire. Or maybe it is the ability to only predict negative outcomes. And then when the negative doesn’t happen you destroy happiness to justify the delusion. WHY? Why are you punishing yourself? You’re alright you know. You are enough. You are good enough. You have done incredibly well to get here. Pat yourself with positivity. Don’t beat yourself with negativity. It isn’t helpful.

Meditate. Watch your thoughts. Acknowledge the spiteful inner monologue. It doesn’t have your best interests. Depression isn’t your friend. It is making an enemy of yourself. It doesn’t have to be accepted. You are not perfect. Or ever will be. But that is okay. You are enough just as you are. You might not believe it today. But you will repeat it until you do. It is the least you deserve.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going,” to move forward you have to stand up and push on. It is hard. It is heavy. But that is how you get stronger. Remember depression is part of the hero’s journey. It doesn’t have to determine the journey. The walk through hell burns the lessons into your psyche. This is time to grow again. It is a metamorphosis. Now is time to fight your way out of the cocoon.

Accept. Keep going. Keep talking. Keep fighting forward.

Charlie.

Mental health helplines

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The tree with the toxic leaf…

The increasingly bare branches of a tree demonstrate that it is preparing for change. The leaves have served their purpose. They got the tree through the summer. Allowed it to get ready for the difficult winter. The tree will flourish again next year. With new leaves. The process goes around and around. Shedding. Growing. Blossoming. Repeat.

Many things in our lives will cease to serve a purpose. Unlike the tree, we don’t shed them. We hold onto the dying leaves. Fearful that there will be none to replace them. We think we will be left as a baron tree but it isn’t true.

The dying leaves poison us. Yet still, we cling to them, wondering why we are feeling ill. The toxicity begins to consume. It isn’t until we are out of options, do we decide to shed the toxic leaves. Habits, relationships and thinking patterns can all be toxic but it is what we know. Or think it is what we deserve.

Alcohol was my poison leaf. Without it, I believed I would have nothing. I would be alone. A poison leaf is better than a baron branch. That was the story I told myself. Without it, I would cease to be.

It wasn’t until I released the toxic leaf that the others began to grow. It took time. I thought there would never be the green shoots of hope. But with time and patience, they began to flourish. New, functional leaves. Ones that gave energy instead of sapping it. Ones that gave beauty instead of contorting it. Eventually, flowers began to blossom. I remembered who I was meant to be. All along my fear of being a baron tree was stopping me from becoming the beautiful tree I was destined to be.

Drop the leaves if they are no longer helpful. If they are poisoning you, why keep them around? The thought that something poisonous is better than nothing? It isn’t true. The destructive nature is sapping your strength. Killing you from the inside outwards like termites. But you have strength. The test is what makes you stronger. Just like how the wind strengthens the roots of a tree.

The old leaves drop to the ground and become the compost for the future. From the old, grows the new. Brighter. Fresher. Cleaner. Beautiful. An integral part of the forest. With the ability to help others to grow also.

To grow, we must let go.

Charlie.

The Well – A Poem

It’s cold, dark, damp and bleak,

I want to climb but I’m far too weak,

Plus, there’s a voice telling me I have no chance

So I sit alone in this unforgiving circumstance.

So I sat in the misery for three months maybe four,

The disembodied voice castigating me evermore,

Slowly in the darkness of the well I began to see

That the dismebodied voice was just a part of me

The cold, dark place is located in my head

A place to store problems

I should have acknowledged them instead

So for months I’ve been abusing myself psychologically

I’ve managed to smash my self confidence catagorically

Luckily, my friends and family helped me through

And never believe you’re alone, there is always someone to talk to

Yeah, going to get help fucking hurt my pride

But weakness isn’t seeking help

Weakness is choosing to stay and hide

Vic Chesnutt said “I flirted with you all my life,”

And when my heart fluttered at the sight of a switchblade knife

It was time to get some help. Fuck my pride.

What’s the value of pride when the only alternative is suicide?

I said my piece and got the meds

Hope it calms the storm that blows in my head

And loosens the negative chains that hold me in this hell

Maybe then, I can escape the well…

Charlie

The impact of destructive thinking…

Everything is as it should be. My inner world is calm. There are no major issues to worry about. In fact, gratitude is abundant. Life really could be worse. Lots of bad things could happen. I’ll find one. Eviscerate it. And spread its unlikely potential across my brain. “Ahhhh” I will sigh, as the peace is disrupted. Negativity runs supreme. I am a pig; most happy in shit.

Most of my life has been spent using practices that allow peace to be cultivated internally; meditation, walking, reflection, spend time in nature, good diet. Once I have created a mind somewhat close to utopia I will destroy it. Then I will rebuild. Why? Numerous reasons. Boredom. Fear. So it is me that destroys it before some other bastard does. Most likely it is the belief that peace and happiness are fleeting. That they are good for others and not for me. If they do arrive then I must search for something to bring it to an end. It is a form of psychological self-harm. It is searching through the past for a negative memory to use as a weapon against myself. It is raking over the coals of regret to keep the heat fresh. It is pulling every shameful act and hanging it on display like some kind torturous art gallery. It is these weapons that I use to keep the scars fresh. But they are not scars on my arms or legs. They are in my mind. At times the anxiety caused can be so ferocious that it flays my brain. The pain makes me feel normal. It is what I know. It is my default setting. Years of sitting in a pub pouring alcohol and negativity into my system made certain the diminished self-belief. The same diminished self-belief I had started drinking hoping to increase.

Every day is a fight against myself. Not because I am fighting the addiction of alcoholism. The temptation to drink alcohol has long subsided. The temptation to smoke a cigarette now that’s a different story. But the real battle is for peace of mind. Trying to find a moment to saviour amongst the chaos of life is hard. Especially when my default setting is destruction. Just getting from place to place can be draining. The analogy that best describes it is that you are in a house. At the bottom of the garden, there is a shed that contains something you desperately need. There is a storm blowing and you must brave it to from the house to the shed. That is how most of my days feel. Like fighting through a storm. The Fluoxetine has calmed the storm but the behaviour still exists. Now, I can see it happening. Like a tendril of my mind that needs poison to survive is flailing around looking for some life-preserving negativity. The meds seemed to have restricted its supply of poison but it continues to search. Hopefully, it will die out.

This thinking creates a prison that begins to consume my mind. The parameters of my imagination are restricted by the energy needed to get through the day. The joy of the life I am trying to obtain is like the shed at the end of the garden. I am fighting to get there. Even if I let the anxiety pass it consumes me. It begins to spiral viciously until I cannot see where I am heading. Then I crash. But if I do find a bit of peace I destroy it. To return me to the state of chaos. Its almost as if peace and happiness are my allergies. Only in states of overwhelming positivity can I win the war. Things like travel and exercise push away the feelings but once those activities cease “normality” resumes. Worry returns. And anxiety ensues. It is a vicious cycle of self-destruction.

I will cling to something. Anything. As long as it offers comfort. In the baron wasteland of a negative mind, loneliness is certain. Anything that offers hope is welcome. No matter how destructive that help may end up becoming. With my desperation for salvation, the destruction of the hope is guaranteed. I will suffocate salvation. And consume affection. I will drain the joy from life in the pursuit of a high. Take running for an example. During the lockdown, running was a welcome break from the incessant Netflix binges. I started slowly and worked my way up to 10km. I was happy. I was enjoying it. Then came the obsession. 10km became 10 miles and then 12 miles. The demand for running continued after the lockdown ended. If I couldn’t run 10 miles after work then I was a failure. The drill sergeant barking orders in my head was demanding perfection. I had to give it up. If I can’t do something to perfect then I can’t do it at all. All or nothing. It has always been the way. Anything that I do enjoy initially, ultimately becomes unenjoyable.

Some in recovery would call it the “ism” in alcoholism. That the disease of alcohol is what creates an obsessional mind. To me, alcohol was the cure for my obsessional mind. The only cure for my obsessional mind is having something to obsess over. Without an obsession, I begin to flounder. Life becomes meaningless. I search for things to fill the void.

“A buddha is one who awakens from the illusion of samsara – That is, from the thought that there is something to get out of life. That tomorrow will bring it to you. That in the course of time, It will be alright. And therefore one is set pursuing time as if you were trying to quench your thirst by drinking saltwater.”

Alan Watts

The emptiness that I feel in my soul is ceaseless. Like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using only a bucket. That’s how futile it feels. Nothing seems to fill the void. I have tried everything. Yet the empty feeling holds my soul with a firm hand. A restrictive clench that denies fulfilment. This feeling carries with it the belief of being a burden. That this unfillable feeling will be too draining for another. It is best to face it alone. To deny my innate desires is to save another. A reward for punishing myself. My sacrifice is worth it. A tortured soul; wanting love but unlovable. It is just another illusion. Another stick to beat myself. It is the last tool of torture in the dungeon of my psychological self-harm. It is the belief that there is no happy ending in my story.

I wish this was the attention-seeking meanderings of a troubled teenager. But it is the core belief of an adult man. Thankfully, I don’t believe the ending has been written yet. There is time to change the road your on…

This time of anxiety and depression has been painful. But from the pain has come introspection, growth and acceptance. That these parts of my psyche are here to stay and the tools I use to keep them under check are going to have to be a part of my life. Not just behind a pane of glass with the words “break in an emergency,” written on. When the shit hits the fan I’ll do an hour of meditation. When the going’s good I’ll do none. I am all or nothing. I have always been but somethings have to be done continuously. That is going to be hard to do.

What is most surprising is that for someone who values freedom, individuality and independence as much as I do. It has been difficult to accept my difference. It has been hard to acknowledge these dark parts of my soul. Simply because I saw it as weak. Anxiety to me is nervousness. Being nervous is being weak. That’s the way I saw it. And due to this tried to fight it. The inner conflict is exhausting. Especially when you are fighting for both sides. So the war is over. I am now trying to make peace with myself. I have an obsessional brain. A wonderful imagination that can turn peace into atom bombs. If not utilised it goes rogue. Boredom is the first step to destruction. An obsession is a distraction from the boredom. But eventually, it becomes destructive. 

It is time to make peace. It is time to accept that my head is fucked. There are days when I feel like the world sped up and I’m going to fall off. I feel out of step and out of place. I can’t pretend anymore. It is time, to be honest. It is time to be myself. Shit, I might as well love who I am. Instead of hating who I’m pretending to be. Maybe genuine self-love will be the end to the psychological self-harm.

There is only one way to find out. 

Much love,

Charlie.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

The Fluoxetine Dream…

Twelve years ago, in the belly of the beast of depression, I refused medication. I thought it was cheating. Plus I was using a substantial amount of alcohol as medication. It didn’t work. In fact, the alcohol exacerbated the situation but what was I to know? I was a depressed alky. The talking therapy helped at the time. It gave me a bit of space to manoeuvre. It allowed me to find some peace and gain some clarity. I started a routine and that put me on the right path.

Fast forward 12 years and I’m sitting in a doctors room pleading for medication. The meditation, exercise, sobriety, healthy eating wellness program I had adopted had stopped working. A scary proposition. Last time the alcohol stopped working. This time the wellness stopped working. It was time to try something different…

This is day 30 of the fluoxetine dream.

Medication gets a bad rep in recovery circles. “It can’t be true sobriety!” Is what they say. I didn’t realise it was a fucking competition. That’s schoolyard bollocks; “I’ve got more god than you ner ner!” It’s that kind of attitude that stops people from trying the medication they may need. Would the same people dissuade others from Insulin? “You have diabetes? Well, it should be left untreated otherwise it’s not true sobriety!” Exactly. It’s nonsense. I mean Bill Wilson was tripping balls for a large part of his alleged sobriety. What’s good for the goose…

Anyway, I digress. So didn’t know what to expect when I started taking the meds. I know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to become a depersonalised zombie bereft of original thought. I wanted to cling to the small amount of creativity and individuality I had. Thankfully I didn’t become a zombie… brains… and did I cling to my creativity and individuality? You can judge that 🙂

What has happened over the last 30 days is a steady progression away from anxiety. Like a forcefield has been forming over my brain that deflects negativity. There have been a few strange moments. One night I couldn’t stop giggling. It was like being stoned. It was fun. I hadn’t laughed like that for a long time. It was a good release. I had a few suicidal thoughts. Although no more than normal. The increased stability has been noticeable. And due to my history of varying moods, I am waiting for the crash. I am prepared if it comes but hope it doesn’t.

15/10/20 (Day 25) was the first day of a noticeably elevated mood. Like mania without the craziness. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of mania; I would describe it as a virtual reality tornado. You get the thrill of a tornado but there isn’t actually one. It just seems like it. A constant barrage of ideas lights up my brain like a fireworks display on new years eve. This coupled with the feeling of invincibility is a recipe for disaster or action or both. An example of mania from my life would be the time I was housebound with depression for about six months. Then, one morning, I awoke feeling like a miracle had occurred during the night. I felt great. Better than great. I felt fanfuckingtastic. Naturally, I went on an all-day drinking session to celebrate. It was great fun. The future looked bright. Until the next day when the depression resumed. That’s what mania is to me. The fluoxetine is like coming up on drugs but never getting to the high. It is frustrating but better than anxiety.

16/10/20 I felt good but without the incessant thinking. Life just looked good. There was a bit of hope. There was a bit of colour in the world. The autumn colours didn’t look drab. They looked vibrant. It was nice. I was present. I wasn’t wracked with negative thoughts. I was present and happy. I had a good laugh with a friend. It was fun.

17/10/20 I went for a walk and the world looked real. It looked solid and alive. Sometimes when my brain is in hyperdrive it can appear to buzz. Almost like the leaves are vibrating and I can see it. But today it seems like I was on the cusp of that. Like I was skirting the edge of reality. The fall into mania was close but I just couldn’t breakthrough. It’s almost like coming up on psychedelics but never actually getting there. I keep waiting for the comedown but it hasn’t come yet. I am frustrated that I can’t breakthrough. There is so much to learn by removing the barrier to expectation. The ego is a block to enlightenment. The fluoxetine numbs the pain of my situation but doesn’t alter my awareness. It’s like I know what’s happening but just don’t care anymore. It’s not a bad feeling. It’s nice and warm. It’s almost the feeling I was searching for through alcohol but with more positivity. And less debilitating effects. Music seems to supercharge the feeling. I listened to Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd while walking down the street and had to stop myself from dancing. The chaotic guitar outro sent my brain swirling with it on a trippy journey. I must have looked a freak walking down the street with a giant smirk on my face. Thankfully, I didn’t care.

I still await the comedown. My life has been like the “Sound of music”; a dance through peaks. Exaggerating by my functional alcoholism. Chaos became my second addiction. And because of this, I am now programmed to believe that happiness comes at a cost. For every up there has to be a down. If there isn’t one. I’ll make one. I’ll destroy comfort in the pursuit of balance. But so far I seem to be surfing between the lows of depression and the highs of mania. It’s quite pleasant. Although a little frustrating having been used to cycling from one to the other for so long. I’ll see how it goes.

20/10/20 I have finished the full 30 days and the comedown never came. The elevated highs have levelled off but can be experienced through normal ways. Music kicks it up a gear, as it should. Movies I used to love are funny again. The world doesn’t seem as scary. The negative thoughts are scarce compared to the ferocious onslaught I was suffering a month ago. The self loathed and self-hatred has lessened. I am not skipping with joy but I have options now. I still feel lost. I just don’t care where I am heading so much. It isn’t numbness. It just feels like the anxiety door in my mind has been sealed off. The negative thoughts are visible through the glass window but their power has been taken.

This isn’t just down to fluoxetine. I have been meeting with people. Sharing my experience. Writing. Walking. Accepting. Meditating. I have replaced the morning suicidal thought with a compliment. I have looked over my life and found the moments of joy, pride, achievement, strength, integrity and I have accepted them. Before I was panning the river of gold for nuggets of shit just to feel bad. I was comparing my life to imaginary scenarios as a form of punishment. I would look at social media as if I was a psychic. I’d create an entire life from a slither of information. Their life would obviously be perfect compared to my shit existence. I would then use this stick of my own creation to batter myself into submission. Bloody and bruised I would cry out to the world in pain. Damning it for its unfairness… crazy right?! This path is bordered by thorns. There is enough suffering in the world without creating more. My days can get dark enough without added extra layers of misery. But this has been a great reminder that I have to take care of my mental health.

I have to practice what I preach and check in on myself more often. Even in the heady days of fun, exploration and adventure I still need to take a moment to reflect. Not on the screen of my mobile while creating tales of self-torture based on lies. But on the state of my mind. Without supervision, it can become delinquent and wander away from its duty. It is up to me to bring it back to the task. To focus it on the moment. And to remember that I am not as bad as I would like to believe. Life isn’t perfect but I’m not sure I would want it to be. But then again I am a chaos addict… the Fluoxetine won’t cure that but it has made life bearable. At least for now.

Charlie.

The NHS has been incredible in the past month. From phoning 111 and talking to the doctor in the walk-in centre it has been 30 days. In that time I have received medication, had an assessment and arranged my first counselling session. The NHS gets slagged off but it has saved my life plenty of times and helped me countless others. God bless.

A chaotic mind…

Alcohol wasn’t the problem. It was the cure. It silenced the chaotic turbulence that presented itself as my thoughts. Like standing in an auditorium and everyone is shouting. It’s very difficult to pick up a single voice before it’s consumed in the noise. The ideas lead nowhere as one is killed by the next. Alcohol was the “SHUT THE FUCK UP” my brain needed. It brought silence to the audience and allowed peace to reign. If only for a short while. Its deadening effect became VERY appealing. I mean why wouldn’t it? If you lived in a noisy house wouldn’t you find a hobby to keep you out of there? Social anxiety wasn’t a thing in my vocabulary. I was just different. A mind on fire. Dousing it with lager quelled the flames for an evening. It made me feel “normal”!

In AA meetings I have heard people talk about the “washing machine” head. It’s discussed in a way that it is a by-product of drinking. That the obsession of alcohol gave birth to obsessional thinking. Alcohol was the cure for my obsessional thinking. It made me feel normal. I would be thinking about random shit long before drinking had entered my life. Someone once said to me “I am two pints behind normal!” What he meant was when he had two pints of lager he felt like a human being. It hit me like a crossbow bolt. I knew what he meant. Consuming alcohol allowed me to live in the moment.

Unfortunately, obsessional thinking has remained long after alcohol has left my life. The only cure I have found is setting goals. Hitting targets. Reaching for dreams. But that only gives temporary relief. I tried keeping it in the day like was recommended but I couldn’t help thinking where it was leading to? I mean if I am doing the same thing over and over then how am I progressing? Maybe progress isn’t the answer. Maybe the pursuit of happiness is what leaves me wanting all the time. I’ve got lost in the pursuit. Consumed by consumption. I lost the reasons why I was doing things. Misplaced meaningfulness in the meaningless. I got sidetracked… I forgot what I was doing it for. Without reason, I find it impossible to motivate. Work to earn to consume is so vacuous. I’m constantly left wanting. Empty. A bottomless void that can never be filled. Its darkness is expanding. Tainting the light. It begins to pull at my spirit. It wants my soul. It won’t take it. Not this time.

This isn’t “alcoholism”. It is depression. It has been with me forever. Following me around like a dark cloud. Tainting my light. Contorting positivity via mental gymnastics. Anxiety inducing twists and turns that M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of. It’s a fucking nuisance. At least at it’s worse it’s noticeable. In its mild form, it’s like someone messing with the contrast on the TV. The world loses a bit of its resonancy. The vibrancy is lost and it becomes dull. Lifeless. Joyless. The beauty is hard to find as my energy is redirected to getting through the day. Almost like the days with a hangover of old. The pain is similar; knotted stomach, sleepless nights, tired all day. Accept I don’t have the sweats that I had with a hangover. At least I had a cure for a hangover.

The weight is excruciating sometimes. It’s like someone turned the gravity up. I want to exercise but it seems like a big ask. I was running 10 miles about six weeks ago. Then poof. Even writing this feels like I am just moaning for the sake of it. That the words are just for attention and I’m just being a “fanny”. I want to snap out of it. I want to go for a run but I can’t. It’s frustrating. I eat well. Meditate. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. And still, it’s on me. Wrapping its dark tendrils around my nerves. Squeezing the air out of my lungs. Clinging to me like a needy partner. Demanding I don’t leave. Or if I do it is together, forever.

It wants me to believe that happiness is a lie. I was deluding myself that the world was vibrant and fun. Now, I see the world as it REALLY is. That’s what the feeling wants me to believe. To believe darkness is all there is. That negativity is the only option. That loneliness and lovelessness are guaranteed. No matter how far I travel. How much I meditate. No matter how many meds I take. All I am doing is delaying the inevitable. A sad, lonely death is my fate. But there is something I know. There is a realisation that throws that into question; if that is my guaranteed end then I may as well enjoy my time. Absolve myself of pressure. Remove the lead vest it feels like I have been wearing. Pursue love without fear because what do I have to lose? If life is meaningless then I can give any meaning I wish! If darkness is part of me then I should stop fighting and embrace it. Life isn’t perfect. Nor am I. That is the best I can ask for.

If only it was that easy to switch it off. If I could think myself out of it I would have done months ago. But I do know that it will get easier once I accept it. Which is difficult to do. The recurring thought is “I shouldn’t feel this way!” I’ve travelled the world. I’ve turned my life around yet depression still hangs like a dark cloud in a blue sky. It’s fucking annoying. Frustrating. Like having an evil twin who wants to mess my life up. Putting obstacles in my way for his own amusement. My pain is his pleasure. In reality, it is me doing that. A dastardly bastard depression is.

I had an evaluation the other day. They asked about suicide. I said I’d had thoughts but wouldn’t act on them. It turns out that suicidal thoughts are not normal. I’d accepted them as just a part of my psyche. Just a quirk of character. I thought waking every morning and imagining sliding a pistol up the back of my skull was normal. Turns out not. I was relieved when they said they would try to help me. It felt good. It didn’t cure it. Maybe it won’t but if it just gets a little vibrancy back in the world then it will be worth it. The simplistic beauty is what I miss most. Joylessness is just that.

If you are experiencing any of the things I have talked about then please don’t suffer in silence. I know it can be hard to reach out. It felt like a dent to my pride. An attack on my masculinity. If I can’t “do” life then I must be a fucking wimp? Not so. Reaching out and asking for help can be hard. It is worth the effort. Even just to find a bit of peace if your mind is chaos.

Thankfully, I ‘m not drinking. It just prolongs the agony. Plus I only ever lost fights while drunk.

Now, I can see the light. It will get easier. It will get better.

Charlie.

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.therapyroute.com/article/helplines-suicide-hotlines-and-crisis-lines-from-around-the-world

P.S. Feel free to share 🙂

Picture – https://www.deviantart.com/reginaldjean/art/A-Chaotic-Mind-445392188

Life is a blank canvas…

Sitting on a bench in quiet contemplation. Watching the people pass and the waves roll up the beach. The sound draws me back into the moment after my mind had begun to spin away into some chaotic scenario that will never happen. The thoughts hit my mind with the regularity of the waves. They can also be equally destructive.

The energy I have wasted thinking of situations that would never come to pass is unmeasurable. The anxiety that I have induced by thinking of the worse possible outcome is awe-inspiring. The anger and pain I have created from nothing just to feel something is upsetting. In an artificial world, emotions are the only reminder of reality. They are the direct route to feel alive. Unfortunately, the majority of my adult life was spent in misery. Through repetition, I came to believe that negative emotions were the only emotions I had. The pain of guilt, shame and remorse are seared into my soul. Tainted by my past I carry the weight of mistakes long forgotten. I am still making up for something that I can’t remember doing. I have long paid my debt. Yet I can’t let go. The past painted my future black so it’s time to dig out a brighter shade.

Life is a blank canvas with which we are free to paint a beautiful picture

It’s easy to cling to the shitty blanket that we mistake for security. A job, relationship, friend, addiction, they all seem to offer us something we think we lack. So through fear of an imaginary alternative, we refuse to let go. All the while we get worse. The only thing keeping us that situation is the belief that “things might just get better if I carry on!” So basically waiting for a miracle. It very rarely comes. The liberation from these situations is frightening but life-changing. It just takes work. The hard work is what gives the reward. Without it, there would be no accomplishment.

Dare to dream!

People are in different situations. Not everyone can pack up and fly around the world for six months to celebrate sobriety. But there are numerous things that people would love to do but their dreams get shelved in the pursuit of life. The hustle and bustle of families and work push the dreams to the edges of our minds. The book we wanted to write or the instrument we wanted to learn becomes a distant memory. A remnant of a time of naivety. Of hope and optimism.

Sobriety. Quitting drinking. Wellness. Whatever you want to call it is the return to that time. Drinking is like a relationship with a manipulative needy partner. You know they are going to want attention sooner or later. And you’ll feel guilty if you don’t give it to them. It’s tiring. You are on eggshells You hope it will eventually get better. Maybe even sort itself out… it never does.

The first thing I noticed when I quit drinking was the amount of time I had to fill. It was frightening. It was boring. But eventually, I started to tick off things I’d always wanted to do. It was crazy. To see achievement for the first time in my life. Each achievement giving me a little more belief. I had no self-esteem when I quit drinking but slowly it got higher. It took some believing. One year I was covered in vomit, drunk, slumped on my own doorstep. The next year I was in Italy on my own with money, sober and free. It was an incredible turnaround. It was made possible by an inner strength that I didn’t know existed. I still doubt it now but it’s there. We all have it. You may doubt it but you do. Try it and find out. You’ll be surprised at when you can achieve when you stop putting obstacles in your own path.

It was also made possible by supportive friends and family. To get the support you have to reach out. To reach out you have to admit you have a problem. A problem that you can’t deal with alone. There are plenty of people out there willing to help. We just have to let them know. Once we have identified the problem it is possible to find a solution. 

I am/was the problem. Well, my thinking is the problem. Obsessive thinking. Overthinking. Over analysing. It’s debilitating. Alcohol made it go away but only for a short time. Eventually, it stopped working. When I quit drinking I realised I’d wasted my life fighting myself.

Imagining my life like a canvas, the first eighteen years are painted in the vivid colours of youth. Hope and optimism bound by a loving family. By the age of eighteen, the canvas is getting grey. From my early twenties to my early thirties it is mostly black. There are speckles of colour but ultimately they’re like a couple of stars in a vast night sky. When I quit drinking at age thirty-two it begins to change. As optimism and childlike hope returns. The world looks brighter. The freedom of sobriety allows adventure. The canvas is a collage of dreams. The essence of life is poured onto the page like paint. It is awash with icons and scenes. The simplest day becomes one to be savoured. The local park is a painting brought to life. The birds. The trees. Everything resonates with the beauty of simplicity. The vibrancy of existence speaks through the everyday occurrences. Life is happening right in front of me and I never saw it. My world was too awash with alcohol. I was transfixed by the next fix. Too anxious to engage in reality for fear of being found out. It was a bleak time masquerading as fun. Give me colour and life anytime.

It is there if you want it. The wonder of life in all its agonising glory is waiting to be seen. The hectic, busyness that masquerades as life hides, not only the true world but also our true selves. The only reflecting we do is on the screen of our mobile phones. No wonder we are so disconnected. Colour and vibrancy await. Life. Beauty. Love. Are all accessible once the soul is unbound by the limiting effects of the deadening drug that is alcohol.

The universe awaits but it has an eternity to do so. We alas, do not. So ultimately then the question is what are you waiting for? The stars are aligned and today is the first day of your liberation. Take a deep breath. Get the paints out. And start dreaming. The easel is about to get more vivid from now on.

Charlie.

More blogs are available here:- my blog. And feel free to share 🙂

Fighting the stigma of quitting drinking…

For a long time, I thought that being a recovering alcoholic was something to be ashamed of. More so, I was convinced that being a recovering alcoholic was an offence that could result in being dismissed from my job. This belief came from my time in the AA community. Where anonymity is the cornerstone of their recovery. But how can the stigma be removed around alcohol if we are too fearful to speak up about our pasts? Instead of being ushered into forums and cold church halls. Out of sight. To share our tales with other people shrouded in the veil of secrecy.

Maybe some like it. The secrecy. It adds much-needed inclusivity to a persons life who were lost. But is it beneficial? Isn’t fear bad? Isn’t fear the reason I nearly drank myself to death? Fear of being an outcast! Fear of change! Fear of loss! Yet fear is still holding me back!

If someone loses weight it is usually a good thing. If a heroin addict gives up the junk and gets her life on track it’s a good thing? Isn’t it? So then why are alcoholics any different? Why is it downplayed? Maybe because a too strong message of recovery is bad for business!? That’s a little cynical. I don’t know the real reason.

But what I do know is that there is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is the hardest and best thing I ever did. If anyone doubts that, then try it. The amount of people I see on Facebook who can’t get through Dry-January or StopTober without a drink is testament to the difficulty. But hey they haven’t got a problem…

So if you are trying to quit and finding it hard don’t fret. Go easy on yourself. Release the pressure of expectation of the future. Some of the thoughts I had in the early days was “How will I get through a wedding without drinking?” or “How will I have fun if I quit drinking?” All flannel. Complete and utter nonsense created by my own obsessive mind to justify the continuation of a destructive habit. How did I get through those things? At first, by going and leaving when I couldn’t take it anymore. Now? I stay even less because drunk people are boring. But I just got through it. 

I never celebrated quitting drinking as an achievement. Maybe, once a year I would say “That’s another year done,” as I collected a chip. Eventually, I never saw the point. I wanted to live it everyday but it’s difficult when it is meant to be a secret. Quitting drinking is a wonderful achievement. Fuck what anyone else says.

I have had a problem recently regarding recognising successes. It is in my nature to downplay my achievements. To not get too big-headed. To not be proud. Or boast. But what that has translated to is not accepting my successes. I was ignoring the positives to find negatives. Just to make myself feel bad. Like panning for shit in a river of gold. Ignoring the glory and focusing on the misery. To break the cycle I attended an online positivity webinar. It was useful. What I took from it was that “I am not defined by my failures!” The past doesn’t always predict the future. The negative messages I told myself when I drank are no longer valid. I would look in the mirror after a night drinking and berate myself mentally. I deserved it. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, this mental berating has carried through. I now look in the mirror and see a man I am proud of. Yet, the inner message is the same as the past. But not for much longer. I am re-writing that.

Like many people out there I climbed out of the gutter and became something. I created something from nothing. If that isn’t worth a pat on the back then I don’t know what is. Not just for me. For everybody who did the same. Anyone who saw the road they were heading on was leading the wrong way and opted to change course. Anyone who learned the hard way. Anyone who pined for love lost to bad behaviour and made it their mission to correct it for the next person. These things take strength. Yes, STRENGTH. Not weakness. It takes character. It takes all the things I thougtht I lacked. But it is only possible to deny the evidence for so long. Eventually, even the inner critic has to stand up and give ovation. And why the fuck not? Just because we can’t have a drink doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our successes. No matter how minor they seem to you. They are incredible to another.

I wish to celebrate the journey. I own the mistakes and failures that were in abundance when I drank. I own the successes and achievements from sobriety. I am so proud of what I have done. I honestly never thought it was possible. Just quitting drinking I mean. I thought I was so far lost. I thought that life would be over after I quit. It has been the greatest time of my life. With sacrifice comes reward. Remove alcohol and you will be rewarded in many other ways.

Life is getting shorter all the time. It doesn’t need to be lived in fear, shame and guilt around alcohol. Most of the beliefs are superimposed anyway. Old tales that are still being told to torture ourselves. A habit. A ritual of mental self-abuse. The scars of physical self-harm are clear to see. The mental ones? Not so easily. I can tell you that you are beautiful. That you have potential and mean the world to someone. I can tell you but I know it counts for nothing if you don’t believe it. I lived a life beyond my wildest dreams and was still left wanting. I still didn’t believe that I should be happy.

Thankfully, this realisation has led me to what I believe to be the root cause of my problems. Invasive, obsessive thinking that is destructive to my happiness. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. Leading to low self-worth. Thoughts appear with the ferocity and destructiveness of a lightning bolt. Usually bringing with it the symptoms of an electric shock. Now I see the problem I can look for a solution.

Mental health issues and alcohol use have been long known about. As far back as Bill W. the founder of AA. Later in his life, he went on to study the effects of vitamins on the brain. Addicts usually have an underlying recurring issue such as anxiety and/or depression. Bill W himself sought to remedy this problem after the spiritual aspect of AA did nothing to ease his. He tried many approaches including LSD. He sought to find a solution to his problem of mental angst.

What is clear is that there isn’t a single approach to quitting drinking. Or more pertinent; a single approach to staying quit drinking. I am not advocating the use of LSD or vitamin B3. But what I am saying is there is no such thing as an alcoholic. Many stumble blindly into addiction. Some may have a genetic or environmental reason. There are many routes in. So there are many routes out. You just have to find from all the information out there which approach works best for you.

And when you do, be proud. Be confident in the knowledge that picking a path, sticking to it and being rewarded in itself is a reward. That overcoming destructive patterns of behaviour or thinking is a monumental achievement. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest to be proud.

In fact, turning their lives around seemed a greater climb for many people. So pat yourself on the back. You have earned it. Life ain’t easy.

Charlie.

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