Daffodils; a symbol of hope?

My attitude of excess continued into my alcohol-free life. Where, previously, I had wanted to be fucked up as much as possible I now wanted wellness as much as possible. I wanted spiritual enlightenment and a six-pack by the weekend… I’d quit drinking on a Thursday.

If it wasn’t happening yesterday then it wasn’t happening at all. I would get frustrated and bemoan my lack of progress. Until, one day, I thought if it took me ten years to get into this tragic mess of a life, it’s going to take me a while to get out of it. If addiction is progressive then so is wellness. I had to loosen my expectations of my quitting drinking. I’ll be honest I expected magic to begin with the cessation of alcohol consumption. I thought people would be so overcome with emotion when I told them that I had quit they would lose their minds like when people saw the Beatles. Or I would undergo some kind of Hollywood movie change replete with cheesy montage music. None of that was to be. People said “Well done,” some said “It won’t last,” and others said, “’bout time.” Is that it? I would think. Do they not realise what I am going to? I am going to not drink!!!  Then I realised that isn’t such a big deal for everyone. Just like the conversation I had with a woman I was trying to chat up and completely fucked it up because I couldn’t believe that she had gone her whole life without trying drugs and suggesting that we get some. I couldn’t believe people like her existed. I couldn’t believe people could have one drink. “What’s the point?” I would ask. “To be social,” was the usual reply. I didn’t understand. I only ever wanted to get fucked up. I never saw the point in one. I didn’t like the taste enough to have one. I needed another ten to take the taste of the first one away;

Allegedly people don’t want to just get out of their brain every night. Some are content with their lot in life. I never understood. I would often say “Yeah, it’s good now but imagine how much better it would be if you were drunk.” Some even went as far as saying “I don’t like getting drunk,” the philistines. How could they achieve the majesty that I had achieved if they didn’t stand at a bar spouting absolute bollocks while destroyed on cheap lager? Everyone knows that’s where all the worlds problems are solved.*

*Just in case you missed it I was being sarcastic.

When I was drunk, I would imagine myself to be some intellectual, yet mysterious figure who was tragic in a romantic sense. I was just tragic. I was no Bukowski character. I was just a drunk who was too scared to have a go at life. Too scared to fail. It’s easier to point fingers than it is to step up to bat. I won’t do that in sobriety. I won’t blame the advertisers or a disease. What’s done is done. The path is forward I won’t waste time looking for excuses when I could be looking for solutions. I have dug through the shit of the past so much that it is time to let turn to the fertilizer for a brighter future. I want to live as many years being content as I did discontent. I owe myself and the world that much.

Walking to the shop the other day I noticed the daffodils sprouting up. It made me smile at the audacity of the flower to shine so brightly when all around is still recovering from the winter. The daffodil stands as a symbol of optimism for the time to come. Of the warmth of summer and the rebirth of spring. If there is a symbol for sobriety then maybe the daffodil should be it. To me, quitting drinking was like leaving a harsh never-ending winter. The ceaseless cold had frozen me in time, trapped by my inevitable future. Yet through the frozen wasteland sprung life. Bright and colourful. Vibrant. Like the daffodil able to share hope with others. A beacon. A sign that it will be alright.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.

Robert Lewis Stevenson

If you’re reading this thinking “What the fuck is this idiot talking about flowers for? Doesn’t he know I am in a world of pain?” The thing is, I do. I was there. My world was dark and I was trapped by my thoughts. A daily dose of regrets and disappointments eased by “just a few” alcohol drinks. Until it was completely out of control. Then I was forced into action. From laddish alcoholic to philosophiser about flowers and I couldn’t happier about that. The world no longer resides on my shoulders. Under all the pressure of life, there was beauty being created like a diamond. I feel better for the experiences of the past. I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean it. It made me appreciate life in a way that wouldn’t be available to me otherwise. Almost like a sensitivity upgrade from standard to high definition. Clarity. Serenity. Beauty in the simplicity of the everyday mundane. Where I saught solutions to my boredom through escapism, I found them within each moment. Each patchwork of time stitched to the next. Each one offered the answers I had been searching for. The moments held the answers all I had to do was stop looking and start being present. When I stopped living on the shoulder of tomorrow or the coattails of the next drink, my focus was brought back to the present. Bringing with it peace. At first, a fleeting yet overwhelming sense of connectivity to life splashed with imposter syndrome became available. Then, slowly, the connectivity became less intense and I began to believe that I had earned some happiness. I had paid my dues in the misery stakes. And god damn I was having some happiness. I didn’t quit drinking to be miserable. FUCK THAT. I am one of the lucky ones. I escaped that life…

Between 40 to 60 percent of people who’ve been treated for addiction or alcoholism relapse within a year, according to a 2014 study in JAMA. While relapse is most common during the first year of recovery, people with years of sobriety can resume self-destructive drug use or drinking.

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2017-04-24/why-do-alcoholics-and-addicts-relapse-so-often

It is hard for some. It is a battle. But it is a battle that can be won by the ones seeking a brighter future. I was one of the tired and ragged who knew that another round with alcohol would finish me off. So I chose to tackle sobriety. Stuck between a rock and a hard place. The medicine that cured me so often was now a poison. Isolated and deserted. Locked outside the party, looking in. Lost. Yet when I slowly turned around I began to see the world outside the party and now I had the keys to the unimaginable. I can’t make you believe me. I can’t make you want to stop drinking. People told me for years I had a problem and I was convinced it was them that had the problem, with me. It wasn’t until the walls of the artificial reality began to collapse that I was exposed to the truth. And the shame. All I wanted to do was drink to escape the shame years of drinking had been hiding. With no crutch to lean on, I felt vulnerable. Thankfully, I have been stopped from falling over by the wonderful people who offer support.

To those people, many I will never meet. I am indebted beyond words.

Charlie

 “This is the beginning of forever, and ever,”

Quitting drinking; expanded my world, and my mind.

Alcohol made my world small. I would fluctuate between work, the pub and home. It was like being a sprite in a video game. A character on Sims controlled by a sadist. Or a poor player trying to battle his way through a dungeon. Managing to overcome hurdles but never really advancing. Externally I aged but inside my mind, my thoughts got less. A blessing and a curse. Dictated by alcohol my outlook got narrower until it was my only focal point. The walls closed in. Isolated. Cold. A world of harshness and negativity. Bereft of warmth and love. A desolate wasteland where the future went to die. It was no wonder I was so depressed. Quitting drinking was like facing the end of game boss. Tackling the dungeon master. Unfortunately, there were no cheat codes. Just hints and tips from people who had bested it before. It was challenging but with some strategising, it became easier until, eventually, it was beaten. And the rewards were the keys to two worlds.

The two worlds I was given access to was the one we all live in and the one that resides inside. Alcohol had done a fantastic job of not only deadening me to the world outside it had also isolated me from myself. I was a stranger to myself. And I was afraid of that stranger but to progress, I had to understand him.

“It’s all too much and not enough at the same time!” said Jack Kerouac about love. The quote resonates with me, but not about love. It reflects my feelings about life when I needed to use alcohol. I was overwhelmed and empty. The world was large but pointless. When I looked at my future I saw a repetitive joyless existence but with options. I was lost in a plethora of empty choices. I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing forever. People who had held the same job for forty years perplexed me. In my youthful arrogance, I dismissed them as lacking adventure or imagination whilst yearning for the contentment they had.

The only joy I found, other than alcohol, was by newness. Not of things but of places and people. A fresh start. Clean linen. A blank canvas. Each town a new adventure. Until the emptiness of contentment crept up and caused a shiver down my spine. The cold reality of stability would set the wheels in motion. Yearning for that feeling again. That feeling of excitement. Ultimately this approach would leave me with fractured relationships and distant friends as they placed roots but I sought the next fix of feeling alive. Any bridges burned beyond repair. I would wander into the unknown comforted by my self-delusion.

I was always left wanting by life. Discontent to the point of escapism. Like Russel Brand put it “Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.” For me, alcohol was the solution to feeling both underwhelmed and overwhelmed by life simultaneously. It was also the solution to the internal problem of believing I was worthless yet not fulfilling my potential. Of wanting to live but being afraid of life. Alcohol just gave me a holiday from myself and from life. Often a much-needed break. It was an unsustainable approach.

I had to train myself to find joy. I had to look at why I was often discontent. I expected too much from life. I expected a constant adventure, constant stimulation and constant happiness. These expectations placed a huge burden not only on me but on the people I met and knew. This outlook would often leave me disappointed. Alcohol did what it said on the tin. It never let me down… until the end of course.

Quitting drinking seemed like throwing myself at the mercy of life and begging for it to go easy. I felt that without alcohol to protect me I would be left vulnerable to the things I was trying to avoid. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was timid at first. Unsure of my ability. Unsure of myself. I had denied myself for so long that without the limitations of alcohol I was weary to wander too far. Like an apprehensive animal being released into the wild. I would tentatively peer from the open door of my cage. I would take small steps until one day I realised it wasn’t a trap. I was actually free.

Quitting drinking was like a great book. The experience left me feeling richer, changed forever and changed for the better. I didn’t realise it until I reflected back on the journey. I was so focused during the process that I didn’t realise how it was changing me. In the first six months of quitting I just focused on quitting. Then I focused on tidying up the past. Which in turn cleared the path to the future. Along this journey, I tried new things. I had to. The old methods had led me to destruction so I had to be open-minded. I have sought methods such as meditation and yoga that I would have dismissed before but being desperate to be free left me open to suggestion. I tried some other suggestions like praying and church. It wasn’t for me but ultimately I was prepared to try. I became open-minded through desperation and as such was liberated from the mindset that was denying me the strength to be free. A combination of fear and foolishness were the chains that kept me from quitting for years. Fear of life without alcohol and the foolish belief that it would get better if I just kept ignoring problems. It only ever got worse. Thankfully, it got so bad I had to stop. Without it, I would never have attempted to walk the path of sobriety. Somehow, deep down, I knew that if I just kept trying new things, something would stick. That in the end, I would find the things that worked for me and thankfully I did. The world became available. My emotions became available. The warmth of the sun thawed my icy shell. In addiction, I was guarded and protected yet lonely and afraid. Intimidating yet timid. A man but a boy. Screaming for love yet screaming in silence. It was a terrible way to live. I much prefer the warmth of the light. How could I not? It is the greatest gift I ever received.

The metaphor of the dungeon at the start of this blog, a cold, desolate place of pain is just the visualisation of the emotion I was lacking; Love. Self-love. I think self-love has been confused and has been lost to narcissistic vanity. The saying to “find love you must love yourself,” seems to have been misunderstood. I’m not talking about being in love with myself but the ability to comprehend that I was worthy of love. I yearned for love but felt unworthy. I yearned for warmth but was scared of getting burned. All of the inferiority was turned inward and used to fuel my self-loathing. Which became the driving force of my alcohol consumption. A fission generator for my unquenchable thirst. I was in a state of perpetual self-hatred. It took time to feel worthy. To not try to cling to people. To realise that not everything and everyone was right for me. It was all learning. Without alcohol to shield me from my emotions I was like an open nerve.
My emotions were painful at first but with reflection became a lesson. With time I learned to work with them. I no longer needed to avoid them. The ability to introspect is a gift. The things I feared are now my greatest asset. The emotions I avoided are my guide for life. I am human again.

I was fearful. I didn’t believe that I could “do life,” without alcohol. How could I? I never knew any other way! But all I found was that initially it was hard but after the initial shock life opened up. I opened up. The world became my playground and my intuition became my guide.

The answer to my problems had been there all along. I had just looking in the wrong place.

Charlie.

My problems with Alcoholics Anonymous

I want to start by saying that I am grateful for AA. I am grateful that it exists as a place. The idea that alcoholics should meet to share a message of positivity and life beyond alcohol has been fundamental in my sobriety. Unfortunately, the simplicity of connecting is lost in a lot of ideology, that I found off-putting at the start of my recovery and still find off-putting now. My main problem is that I find it hard to connect to others, even in the big city and AA offers a solution but it comes at a price. Is it worth it?

“The quickest way to relapse is to stop going to AA meetings.” is what I was told. Strange really that I have seen numerous people within the “rooms” relapse. These relapses are, of course, down to them just not “getting it!” Getting what? Who knows. I never got it. I never had a personal deity. Yet, I didn’t drink and have achieved things beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t get what there is to get. Maybe the spiritual awakening that each follower of the twelve-step program is promised as a reward. Although I often found it difficult to get any form of spirituality from meetings when they were merely a darkest day competition. I left many meetings feeling worse. I know wrong meetings right? Yeah, they all say that. Maybe the people who relapse accept that they are “powerless” and give up trying to quit. I was left feeling a bit put down the first time I attended a meeting.

After years of self-destructive behaviour fuelled by self-hatred and lack of self-worth, I went to AA to be told I was powerless and had an incurable disease. That did nothing to restore my self-respect. How could I overcome anything by surrendering? I was prepared to change but I was not prepared to turn my life over to a “God” of my understanding. I wanted control of my life after turning control over to alcohol. More importantly, I wanted control of my thoughts, as for a long time the focus was on drinking. The problems started when the AA steps asked me to accept I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. Then to turn my life over to a God of my understanding. Now here is the problem; I wasn’t in control of my life because I was powerless to alcohol. My life was being dictated by my addiction. At first I focused on not drinking.

After the urge to drink had left me, I decided to try something; manage my life sober!

It was tricky but fuck man I got a lot of things done and my self-esteem grew as I achieved goals. There was no divine intervention. Just a pencil and paper for my goals. And some determination to see them through.

I have been liberated from the ideology that made me believe a cessation of meetings would first result in me drinking and then in me dying from said drink. I had to stop attending AA meetings because I wanted to progress into the future. I wanted to go on an adventure that would mean AA wouldn’t be an option. I had to do it to achieve a dream of embracing the freedom afforded to me due to quitting drinking. The freedom that allowed me to look beyond the drink at the end of the day and create plans for a bright future. In AA meetings I relived my darkest days three times a week. Always looking backwards. Digging through the dirt of the past and never letting it settle to clear calm water. I couldn’t see how I could progress in those conditions. Constantly identifying as diseased. A disease that is waiting for me to slip up. A disease that is trying to get me to drink. A disease that conspiring against me. It’s a little bit paranoid.

If I’m honest the urge to drink left a long time ago. What lingers is the need for connectivity. I sometimes feel like being a nondrinker in Britain is much like being an atheist in Saudi Arabia; there isn’t much to do on a Friday. So due to this need to connect I would make my way to AA meetings. I have met some great people through AA but they are the ones who don’t preach the program. They also don’t want to drink either but they not talking about how their “HP (higher power) has a plan.” To make these friends came at a cost. I had to sit through meetings, picking at the scab, never letting it heal.

It is said that there is no cure for alcoholism. Surely not drinking is the cure. By not drinking I regained my power over alcohol. For me, after a certain amount of time, the cravings ceased and was replaced with temptation. Thankfully, by not drinking I had the choice to drink or not. Once, I chose to and couldn’t stop. Through my life, I have abused alcohol to escape and also rewarded myself with it. As such, I created a negative connection with alcohol. I can’t drink again. Just like if I start smoking again I’ll end up hooked again. It’s the same mechanism. I accept that and move on.

In sobriety, I have been surrounded by drink and drinkers. I’ve partied and had romantic meals. At no point did I think I needed to drink but I could have had a drink. I chose not to. And at no point did I think I need a meeting but the need to connect never goes away. Partying and sitting in the pub are just increasing the temptation.

So what did I do? Really simple; exercised, ate well and reflected on the positives in my life. I also meditated. Not to get closer to my “higher power” but to get closer to the thing I was most afraid of… my mind. No higher power. No praying. No daily calls to a sponsor. Just living life as a non-drinker. There has been no fire and brimstone. No “white-knuckling it.” The last six months have been the best six months of my life.

I get that people need to believe what they believe to stay sober. I understand that many people in the “rooms” had nothing and thanks to AA now have a life. But even that doesn’t make it so. The cracks started showing when I read the book “Mistakes were made but not by me,” which highlights the lies we tell ourselves to get through life. Not only that but how we contort the world to fit with our beliefs. I could see in AA meetings how people would dress up everyday occurrences as some sort of higher power message. Or how some perfectly explainable behaviour was met with the line “this alcoholic…” It’s not an alcoholic brain, it’s a human brain.

I am starting to believe that AA enables the continuation of the victim mentality ie “I am this way because I am an alcoholic!” or “I think this way because I’m an alcoholic!” Nonsense in my humble opinion. You are who you want to be. I stopped drinking because I didn’t want my future to be like my past. I am free. The day I chose to put down the bottle was the day I said no more. No more misery. No more fucking excuses. No more shirking responsibility and shifting the blame. It was time to take action. I am sure if I went to one of my local AA meetings there would be the same people moaning about the same shit they were moaning about six months ago. I get that life is hard. I understand but the nature of the meetings means the people in need have the floor. This leads to an almost group therapy feel where people spew their problems on one another in the hope for respite. I have left many meetings having not spoken a word as I felt what I would have said would have lightened the mood. I know “wrong meetings,” I get it.

AA helps some people but for me it made me feel inferior. Weak even. That I was incapable of controlling my own life, even though I had never tried to manage my life whilst sober. Now I was being told I had to outsource the management of it to a deity of my choosing… ” it doesn’t have to be a deity! It’s a spiritual program!” Again nonsense. It’s a religious program the steps don’t work without the word god.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God./Him”

Okay, so I can choose anything.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a lamp!”

I mean who the fuck turns the management of their life over to a lamp or any other inanimate object?

For the record I am not citing this as a reference.

I was called egotistical by an AA member because I wanted to claim the praise for turning my life around. Even though I always talked about the people who had helped me. The person then proceeded to talk about their “higher power,” having a plan for them. Like they had their very own personal Jesus. Then claimed to not “be special or different!” If believing that you have your very own God who looks out for you isn’t egotistical then I don’t know what is.

At its very core AA is a fear-based religious program. The fear is that to drink again is to die and to stop going to meetings is definitely going to lead to drinking. Fear dictated my life when I used to drink. Fear isn’t going to dictate my future. AA stopped me from drowning but I had to try life to learn to swim. I am grateful for that and I want to share my message to help other people who are struggling. Which is why I write these blogs but I’m not sure I can spend my time in an environment that makes me feel bad. I have heard people in meetings who require professional help. Who are desperate but surrounded by an army of armchair psychologists dismissing their problems as a symptom of that “alcoholic brain.” Quitting drinking isn’t an honorary doctorate!

My main problem with AA is its dominance in the world of recovery. I haven’t touched alcohol for six years. Out of those six years, I attended AA for about two years; three months at the start of my sobriety, after six weeks without drinking. And for eighteen months after I had walked the El Camino de Santiago. I had achieved my goal and needed something to do. With nowhere to go, I would sit in the pub with friends. I knew it was only a matter of time until I drank out of boredom. I had to find something to do. Somewhere with nondrinkers… AA was my only option. Although that may be changing as a recent court case allowed people to choose alternative practices because AA is a religious program. Hopefully, this encourages employers to allow other treatments and expands them in the market. In my area, there is a lack of alternatives and as such, I am left with a choice; to stop attending AA or attend. To stop attending would be the easy option but would result in me isolating myself. A desire to not only meet people but also, a desire to help others in need draws me back. Connectivity is important to maintaining my well-being as somebody in recovery and also as a human. There are many online forums to discuss sobriety (This being one of my favourites) which I think are a great tool but not a substitution for actual human connection.

Does labeling alcoholism as a disease shift the responsibility onto the addict?

I will have to voice my concerns in meetings like the other nonbelievers I have heard before. Very rarely I would hear the voices of the disenfranchised at meetings. The ones marked outcasts. The nonbelievers. Their words not critical, just honest. Their remarks would bring rolled eyes and tuts. Those rare voices are the voices that made me believe. They made me realise sobriety was possible without the need to find a god whilst I sat silently, hoping to “get it.” I always thought it showed strength to say “Hey, I don’t believe in this but there is nowhere else to go on a cold Friday night and I don’t want to drink!” without those voices there is nothing but a theist meeting all comparing imaginary friends and war stories. Neither is what I would call healthy nor encouraging for people looking to quit drinking. Maybe it’s time to say so. I mean, it is an honest program after all and I guess it will have to do until an alternative arrives. Or maybe the dissenting voices can open up the meetings to a broader audience.

Charlie.

“I’ve had enough. I have a problem and I want to change!”

It is the end.

Five months of travel has come to an end. I am typing this at the airport. I have just achieved my dream of travelling the world. It is a dream I have held since I was in my late teens. It only happened because one day I said “I’ve had enough. I have a problem and I want to change!”

I now ask myself the question “Now what? What do you do when you have achieved your wildest dreams?”

The adventure fades into the past and becomes a memory. A moment that may never have happened. The world seems a little darker and the future less titillating. I wander through duty-free trying to forget about the tears that are amassing behind my eyes. Each tear a memory. A celebration of an achievement that was never expected. I notice I am in the hard liquor aisle, by coincidence, I didn’t wander here like some sort of alcoholic homing pigeon. The bottles seem blank and lifeless. They no longer offer a solution to my current plight. I am at the lowest I have been for years but this isn’t depression. This is the comedown from the greatest time in my life. I want it back. I want those five months of travel back. I want them again. I want to relive each day again. I never said that whilst drinking. I drank to escape each day. I pause for a minute and look at the bottles. There is nothing here for me. There is no longing. No yearning. It’s like looking at a photo of an ex-girlfriend who I know reconciling with would only end in disaster. The solution resides inside me. I have to accept, regroup and go again. To where? I don’t know.

The tears won’t leave. My emotions are discombobulated. A mixture of joy, sadness and loneliness. Joy at being able to see it through and achieve what I never thought possible. Sadness at it being over. And loneliness from the people I met and left behind.

I don’t know what I am going to do. I am unsure for the first time in years because I no longer have a plan. I am not worried about the lack of direction. I am encouraged by the freedom I still have thanks to not drinking. The freedom to draft up another plan and set more goals.

I just never expected to be at this point.

My focus was first on quitting drinking and then on reaping the benefits of sobriety. I am at the end of that road. The dreams I drafted out on a scrap of paper and hung next to my desk as a reminder are now complete. I never expected to say that. Those words should belong to someone else, not me. Not the man who gave himself no chance. But they do and on reflection, it was easier than I thought it would be. At the time, the change seemed hard. The changes I wanted to make seemed like trying to turn the titanic the second before impact. That’s why I broke them down and gave no deadline. I didn’t want pressure I wanted to change and was prepared to wait for it to happen. I had the belief it would turn out okay and thankfully it did. A drinking problem is progressive and so is wellness. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience but with goals and determination, it will be fruitful.

My flight is boarding so I fight the tears and make my way home.

The UK is in the grip of winter. The cold seeps into my bones as reality seeps into my mind. I have no plan, no crosses to bear. I have given what was owed to the alcoholic me, a life beyond my wildest dreams. I achieved what I could never have done back then and feel proud to have done so. Yet, on my return, I feel a sense of emptiness like something is missing. I notice that I browse shopping websites for something to buy. Like an item will fill the void. Maybe it will for a short time but it seems like a series of short term fixes for a long time. It’s almost as if the adventure I found whilst travelling resonated with me. The unknown gave me contentment. Alcohol clearly filled the void. A void that I dare say is experienced by large amounts of the population. Who, like me, are left wanting by the consumption-based model we find ourselves in. A poor imitation of life. Constant searching for contentment in a culture that promotes discontentment. Food, sex, clothes, electronics, anything to itch the scratch, even for a short while. But there is no void. There is no perfect item to make us complete. We are already enough. It all resides within. There is beauty in everyone.

People will wrongly assume that my “hippie” outlook can be attributed to the travel but it is due to the work I did on myself in sobriety. The meditation, yoga and the books I read played a part. I had to release the shit that used to twist my brain into a knot. The world problems that I had adopted yet had no chance of changing. I was killing myself with worry. I had to learn to release them and pick my battles wisely. I had to stop and smell the roses every once in a while. Embrace the simple beauty in life and celebrate being alive. Not weighed down with pointless guilt and worry.

I know my purpose. I just have no idea how to make it happen, yet. I climbed off a barstool, paid back what I owed and achieved my dreams. It is time to pay it forward. To demonstrate the way. To help others achieve what they thought they never would. To help others find the strength to find the answers. How this takes place I am not sure yet. I will keep writing blogs in the hope that someone gets something from them but in the long run, I will need to be more involved. I want to do this because I once thought that the cyclic mundanity that was my life was life. I thought the self-loathing negativity was normality. I thought that it was my destiny to live like that. I sit here today knowing that nothing is further from the truth. The world I thought existed was a mirage. An illusion that I had created to keep me from trying. I lived two lies; the version of myself I showed the world and the world I thought I lived in. No wonder I was so messed up.

It took courage at the start. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” That step was saying “I’ve had enough. I have a problem and I want to change!” I had to say it. No one could say it for me. I had to say it. I had to believe it and I had to mean it. I spent years lying to myself and that had got me nowhere. It was time to get honest. First, with myself and then the world. Of course, it was scary but the fear was just a barrier I had created to stop me changing.

At first, I just stopped drinking. Nothing more. I just focused on not drinking. There was a temptation. A craving to escape. To scratch the itch but I knew where it would take me and I was tired of being in that place. I was then left with a void of time and loneliness. As I had consumed alcohol it had consumed my time and my emotions. Now I had time to fill. I believe if I didn’t fill that time then boredom would have crept in and then old habits would have come back. I had to get busy living. Sobriety is the time to achieve the things that were once unachievable. To be the person who you deserve to be. So dust off those dreams and bring them into the light. It is time to believe in yourself. It is time to reward yourself for making the change. Not be punished for the decision. It seemed like I was missing out on life at the start of my sobriety. My friends would be out drinking and having a “good time”. I would be at home drawing a comparison and questioning my decisions. But over time I began to see the rewards of not drinking; financially, physically and mentally. It was hard to not fall back into the old routine but that is why it is so important to replace the old habits with new healthier ones. I read books on confidence, self-help and personal growth. All things I would have laughed at previously but I wanted to change and I had to be prepared to change to make it happen. I don’t know why I believed that it would be better. I guess I just thought that being sober couldn’t be any worse. I had blamed everything and everyone for my problems. Everyone, accept me and everything, accept alcohol that is. So it was the only thing left to try. I’m glad I realised before it was too late.

Charlie

Feeling lost…

It has been two weeks since I ended my travels and those weeks have been filled with a sense of loss. I have finished what I set out to do and am now left with the question “Now what am I supposed to do?”

A friend recently said to me “now you’ve done everything you set out to do you might go backwards.” I can see how. The feeling I have now reminds me of the first few weeks of sobriety. Having vowed not to drink I would sit anxiously watching the TV whilst bemoaning that I was bored shitless. “No wonder I used to drink!” I would exclaim “Life is so fucking boring.” And do you know what? It is with that attitude. It’s easy to stare into the blackness of the night sky and miss the beauty of the stars if darkness is all you want to see but who does that benefit? Only the person who wishes to deny the light.

That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.

Charles Buckowski

That attitude of bemoaning life was really just me not wanting to do anything. It is easier to moan than it is to take action. That’s what was so good about alcohol. It removed the need for action. It is an amazing time killer. Without it, I was left with not only time but also my unfulfilled potential staring at me tapping its watch. I didn’t want to have to make decisions. It was all because I was scared of failure. That’s what I have learned I didn’t try because I was scared of not succeeding. How could I now if I would succeed without trying? I had to take the leap into the unknown and I found that the fear was a mirage. On the other side of fear were lessons and success.

“Choice is the basis of every part of your existence, but so is fear. The difference is, choice creates movement, where fear limits movement.”

Réné Gaudette

But at first, much like now, I saw an abyss of time to be filled. It was scary not knowing what to do. Thankfully I realised that I felt lost because I was looking at things the wrong way. Firstly, I was looking at what I didn’t have. I was looking at things with a sense of loss. I was not looking at the things I had. I was looking at the abundance of time as a negative. As something, I had to use up. When I should have been looking at the potentiality of that time. It took a few months until I realised that I needed something to do with my time otherwise I would have sat in the pub and drank again because when there was nothing to do that is what I had done for most of my life. I had to break that chain and change was the only way to do so. So I had to bite the bullet and make a list of thing I wanted to do. Who did I want to be? What did I want to learn? I jotted then down and made them my focal point. Sobriety was my gateway to achieving my dreams but it wasn’t a given. I had to maintain focus and not be deterred by temptation. It wasn’t easy but in the end, it was worth it.

Quitting drinking was also like losing a good friend. A friend who had been there for me when others went missing. Which is why it was so hard to quit. It would have been easy to wallow in the loss and focus on the good times that I had with alcohol. Eventually, slipping back down the rabbit hole and into despair. The only option was to stand up and take a chance. To have a go at setting an outline for my life after years of getting what was given. There is a saying in AA that says sobriety is “Life on life’s terms.” But if I don’t put one foot in front of the other I don’t get anywhere. Life will not push me forward. Time will pass and the seasons will change but without direction, I will not progress. All I had to do was stop bemoaning my feeling of being lost and give my life some direction. I just pointed and said “that way.”

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

Terence McKenna

All the years drinking was like being a rudderless ship being dragged along by the tides. All the while I was waiting to smash against the rocks. When it eventually happened I had a choice; rebuild and carry on as before or rebuild and add a rudder. Life’s so much easier when I know where I am heading.

So now the dreams have been fulfilled it is time to create some new ones.

What a gift being sober and free is.

Charlie.

The importance of exercise

It was Christmas time and there was no sound in the house
Nothing to hear, not even a mouse.
But wait!
What’s this?
I think I hear something
Yes, it sounds like someone munching
Ahh, of course, it’s Charlie eating and getting fat.
He’s using Christmas as an excuse to be a right lazy twat.

My exercise routine took a backseat over the festive period. I like to run a few times a week. Nothing major. No marathons. Just enough to keep me active. I found that it helps with my physical and mental health. It keeps me thinking and feeling right. Slowly over the past month, I was slipping into a sedentary lifestyle. I could feel it. Not just physically but mentally as well. I felt tired all the time. Like I had no energy. I mean how could I have no energy I was relaxing whilst watching the waves crash down on the beach? I should have been bouncing with energy.

Thankfully, I know the cure… get moving!

Years ago I would have thought that my low energy levels needed some more coffee or more sugar to lift them up but now I realise that I have to get moving. Energy creates energy. Sugar comes with a crash that requires more sugar to escape from. And over time addiction is formed. Don’t think it’s addictive? Try quitting. I did and experienced withdrawal symptoms. I now limit my sugar intake for this reason.

I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to lay in bed and then lay on the beach but I had to break the routine. So I got up and went for a run. It hurt. I was struggling and didn’t even make a mile before I stopped. I could have given myself a hard time for being lazy but what would that achieve? Making myself feel bad. I noted that my stamina had decreased over the month of inactivity but praised myself for getting off my arse. Even though it wasn’t a great run I felt better. Lighter. The cobwebs of inactivity had been dusted. I sat down for breakfast feeling like I’d earned it. I couldn’t help but think how quickly I had slipped into the sedentary lifestyle and how my energy levels had decreased. I was reminded of a sign I saw in the natural history museum;

When I was hugely overweight it was because I ate too much shite food and moved to little. I felt tired and sluggish all the time. My weight was the excuse not to exercise. Inactivity became my lifestyle. Gradually, as I started moving more, I started to feel better. Eating and exercise are just habits. They can be bad or good habits. Humans are creatures of habit. Changing habits can be hard but it can be done. A bit at a time.

I started running because, two years ago, I stopped smoking after twenty-three years. I hated running, to begin with. My lungs would burn as I coughed up all sorts of shit. I would be doubled over in a park coughing and wheezing whilst thinking, this is your own fault. It was my own fault. I chose to smoke and knacker my lungs. Just like I chose to eat shit and do nothing for a month over Christmas. But thankfully I put the work in previously so that now I can see the signs and take the correct action.

It doesn’t have to be a run. It can be a walk. Just SOMETHING to break the routine. To shake me out of the idle thinking.

“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.”

James Allen, As a man thinketh

In my experience, I have found that my physical and mental health is directly related to my own actions. I used to come up with all manner of bullshit excuses why I couldn’t exercise or eat healthy. In the end, I had to take responsibility for myself and found that when I did not only did my physical health improve, so did my mental health.

For example, if I had read what I have written here I would have said: “that’s fine for you but I can’t do that because of these reasons.” Or I would have thought that it was too hard. It hasn’t been as hard as it has rewarding. A small amount of exercise goes a long way. Our lymphatic system has no pump. The movement of our muscles pumps the lymphatic system. We have to move to remove toxins from our body. It is quite clear that for a number of reasons we are meant to move.

The hardest part is getting of my arse but a few steps go a long way.

Charlie

Life without alcohol?

Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird plays rhythmically. The iconic guitar solo drives forward these words as its invigorating style. I ponder about the energy of life. My energy for life. My lust for life. I mean where did it disappear for all those years. How did I get trapped in a cycle of destructive mundanity? Convinced that alcohol would save me. On reflection it is sad. Sad that it got to that point. Sad that I life beat me down so much that I accepted that fate. Sad that I was prepared to accept that nonexistence as my fate. Sad because I had no belief to escape that torrid existence. Sad because I was scared to test my mantel and fall into freedom. I was stuck.

Well, I say fuck that. One life. One opportunity to be the person I want to be. I say to hell with the shackles of expectation. I say I will walk tall and proud. The scares of the past are now part of my soul. Part of a spirit that never quit and eventually was rewarded. I tore up the script of my life and started writing new chapters as I went along. For over five years I haven’t had a drink now and my life is not the one I used to live. I am not the person that I used to be.

For me, removing alcohol was just the start. It gave clarity to my life. Kind of like removing a lunatic dictator from a country. The problems don’t disappear overnight it just paves the way for progress to happen. Progress takes hard work that appears daunting but is surprisingly rewarding and sometimes enjoyable. And to return to the metaphor; without a direction it is pointless. Well, it was for me. I had to ask myself the question of what would I do with the money and time I no longer waste on alcohol? Travel? Study? Learn music? Get healthy? I did everything that I wanted to do. I wrote lists of things I would like to achieve and then tried them.

For the first time in my life, I am without a goal. I have lived out my dreams. Dreams that once upon a time were so far away from being achievable that they weren’t dreams, they were impossibilities.

I was my own worst enemy back then. I was the obstacle to life. I had a problem for every solution and an encyclopedia of excuses. I was scared of failing and looking stupid. Well, I tried and won. I won my freedom from the soul-sapping habit that used to my dictate life. I have experienced people, places and things I never thought possible. I learned things and did things I thought out of my ability. All thanks to a simple belief;

MY LIFE WILL BE BETTER WITHOUT ALCOHOL!

I used to repeat it like a mantra until it was ingrained in my psyche. Advertising told me I would be better with alcohol. I told myself the opposite. I have constantly been proven right.

I encourage you to try. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

Charlie

Sobriety; achieve the impossible…

Imagine becoming the person that you drank to become but without the negative aspects of drinking. Imagine being that person. A person who you like being. With confidence and strength. Integrity and self-respect. Imagine setting a goal and achieving it. Imagine standing at the finish line and looking back and think holy shit I did it. Imagine a life untethered by addiction. Unbound by the servitude of use. Free to explore new avenues. A gateway to the soul. A connection to the self and the ability to connect with people with boundaries.

Picture the world as a playground, resplendent with opportunity and vibrancy. Not darkness and scarcity. No longer fighting the clock for time. The ability to be present for your loved ones. To be a useful family member. Imagine imagining and then achieving goals.

That is what I got from quitting drinking. It’s as simple as that. Yes, I have to do things I don’t enjoy. Yes, I have bills to pay. But I no longer trudge through life downbeat and downtrodden. I no longer feel the shame that used seep from my pores with the alcohol from the previous night. Together they clung to my skin like the adhesive that kept my mask of positivity in place. Yet inside I was dying.

What did I want more than death by alcoholism? LIFE. I wanted life. I wanted to live and explore and adventure and love and experience life. Life beyond the walls I had created for myself. The routines were so ingrained that I thought change was impossible. I couldn’t imagine living without drinking. Now I can’t imagine living with it.

It took time to get to this point;

PATIENCE is not a virtue I had. I wanted more sobriety like I wanted more alcohol. It didn’t work that way. I learned to wait. I learned to do the things I used alcohol to do. I learned to fail and I learned to learn.

RESPONSIBILITY was something I avoided in my drinking days. If there was a problem it definitely wasn’t my fault and my health was certainly not my fault. My health was negatively impacted by my alcohol consumption. My alcohol consumption was due to other peoples actions. Someone might have annoyed me or said something to me that had caused me to need a drink. Slowly, after quitting I came to realise that my health was my responsibility. When I took ownership of my well being it became more manageable. It’s almost as if the people who I had been blaming my problems on had no idea they were responsible for my well being. This victim mentality had to end. I could no longer spend my life expecting the world to conform to my expectations as this approach constantly left me disappointed. I had to take stock and work through my problems. I had to take ownership and face up to some hard facts. It was scary. It was hard work. But the pathway to liberation is full of hardships. The trails I overcame have been the building blocks for the person I am today. Those scars on my soul are a badge of honour. A reminder of the strength I never thought I possessed.

A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life.

James Allen

HABITS had to change. The old ones had to die. I am a creature of habits. We all are. We imagine ourselves to be free-thinking individuals with a penchant for spontaneity but in reality, we are dictated by our habits. Changing habits is hard enough but throw addiction into the mix and it is even trickier. So it is important to seek more fulfilling activities.

Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.

Horace Mann

When I realised I was responsible for my life I realised that I was also responsible for how I used my time. Sitting in the pub would lead me to drink again. I had to replace the old habits with new, healthier ones. But it didn’t happen overnight. I wrote a list of all the things I had wanted to do in life and picked the ones that were realistic. As I ticked them off I realised that my outlook had been holding me back because they were all realistic.

RELIEF is what I felt when I realised it was over. When the conflict that had been raging inside of my mind finally fell silent. It was one of the most liberating and joyous experiences of my life. I remember thinking oh I haven’t thought about drinking for a while. It was amazing. I never thought that I could live that way. I had achieved the impossible. Everything I have achieved after that point is a bonus.

A day of serenity seemed impossible. Now, it is the norm.

Charlie

To thine self be true – A Poem

I was sixteen years old when I first went out to a pub drinking. I can remember walking up to the door with my chest sticking out like a barrel-chested pigeon. Slowly praying to a God I didn’t believe existed, that the bouncer would let me in. He did. And as a result, I approached every pub in the same stupid fashion for years to come. 

When I walked into the door I was hit with a wall of noise. Chaotic chatter was interspersed with musical beats. The smell of smoke hanging heavy in the air. A toxic environment that made me feel alive. I had arrived in the world of adulthood. Proud to be a man. 

I did these things because my friends did these things. We did these things because we were told that’s what people our age did. We were told that it’s fun. We were told to view people who didn’t drink with suspicion because they weren’t to be trusted. I verbally attacked people who dared deviate from this way of life. I verbally attacked them because I dare not deviate. I was racked with fear. I would write stories and poems in my late teens in solitude. When I had finished I would tear them up and put them in the bin, ashamed of my internal desire to be creative. The words dancing on my fingertips demanding to be written yet I dared not pursue that avenue for fear of ridicule. 
I believed that alcohol would give me the strength to do so. The strength to be me. To be true to myself. 

It took me sixteen years of hard lessons from that moment of walking into the pub, excitedly embracing the world of alcohol, to realise that sobriety was the only pathway to my true self. 

TTSBT a poem

To thine self be true
Do you know how hard that is to do?
When the world expects you to conform
Not be yourself but just perform
A task. A role. An act. An Act.
It’s just an act.
Sell your soul for the latest commodity
That’s the reward for a spiritual lobotomy
Turn off your intuition
To that inner voice, you no longer listen
Just act
Just act
Don’t question 
Just act
Like a puppet in a play
Having doubts?
Have a drink. That takes them away
So we shop and work 
And work and shop
But the misery doesn’t stop
We follow the rhetoric that’s always been preached
That success breeds happiness once a level has been reached
So we shop for an identity
Browsing and browsing for an expression of individuality
We act
Oh we act
Like the person, we wish to be
Create the illusion we want the world to see
Fighting to maintain frame and not let the mask slip
Yet struggling to keep life in a firm grip
More money will give me my true self
Buy better image and impress the world with my wealth
Then maybe once the outer me is complete
The inner me will fit all snug and neat

We shouldn’t act
We shouldn’t act
We should just BE

Trying to be something you’re not will destroy your spirit!
It’ll cost you your role in life and your purpose within it
To thine self be true
Cos no matter how difficult it seems 
It is the right thing to do.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

Picture by ANAKBRUNEI – https://www.instagram.com/p/rJnMh5GwS2/

The world keeps turning after the room stops spinning

Almost as if applying the emergency brake. As if the driving examiner has slammed her clipboard onto the dashboard of life. Quitting drinking is a jolting change. A jarring experience for some of the lucky ones. The unlucky ones crash before the brakes work.

I expected the world to stop with me. I expected triumph and to lead my old friends into a new life. Unfortunately, just because I stopped doesn’t mean the world stopped too. It was hard at first. I mean realising the majority of people who I spent the majority of time with loved drinking more than they did me was no good for my already low self-esteem that was built on a false image. Most of them expected me to fail. Most of them I never speak to anymore. Worrying at first. Lonely sometimes but no transition is easy. Thankfully, the ones who valued our friendship more than drinking stook around. Sobriety just removed hardcore drinkers from my social landscape.

I expected instant rewards. I expected that by removing alcohol from my life it would all be okay. Strangely, I had thought that adding alcohol would make it alright at some time in my past. Removing alcohol didn’t make it alright but it did make it easier… after a while but it was jarring at first. The world washed over me. I could have drowned in the troubles I had been avoiding. Sobriety seemed like a really really bad idea. I mean at first, it was like I was stopping the medication that kept me sane. I had to baton down the hatches and ride out the initial storm of my own creation. It was just the chaos of my mind. I stayed away from the pub and places where people drank alcohol. The storm calmed and I realised that alcohol was the medicine that had been keeping me sick.

After any storm, it is time to rebuild whilst I mourned what I had lost. In the chaos I had lost alcohol, it was my best friend but also a terrible influence. We had spent a lot of time together but it was time to move on. It was a toxic relationship. One I couldn’t see how bad until I left.

There is no sobriety insurance. No one will go around and apologise on my behalf. I had to do it myself. I had to build a new life from the ruins of the old.

“Beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences.”

Matshona Dhliwayo

There is plenty of help available. There are survivors out there who came through what I came through and share their tale to help others out. Their message is clear “it isn’t easy but it is worth it!” I found them when I was ready and they can help but deep down it was me who had to want it to happen. All the support in the world wouldn’t have made me want to put the brakes on my old life and say “enough!” I had to want to change. I was sick to fucking death of being sick to death. I was so sick and tired that I was prepared to risk losing what I had under the belief that I could build something better. No more bullshit excuses.

One thing I have learned is that the world keeps turning regardless of what you do. Each spin is another day gone and it came to the simple choice; do I want to spend my life hiding and making excuses or do I want to take ownership of my life? Do I want to become someone I am proud of being or do I want to remain as the person I had grown to despise? In the end, I thought it had to be worth a try and it was.

There was no fanfare. No breaking news item stating that I had stopped drinking. The world carried on regardless. My “friends” carried on regardless. I had been drinking myself to death under the belief drinking was integral to my life and also the functioning of the world. I was wrong on both fronts. Nobody gave a fuck. I was free to rebuild.

“Positive Self Talk Isn’t Enough… If You Want To Overcome More Put In The Work.”

Wesam Fawzi

Quitting drinking isn’t a race. There isn’t really any training. Day to day living is training and fuck ups still happen but that’s life. People start to worry after so many months they haven’t achieved XYZ because they know someone who stopped drinking and did. People develop at different paces. Some people say “Never again” and then never drink again. Some it takes longer. Some never realise the potential they pissed away.

I found adding pressure to an already tricky experience did nothing but made me fail. My only criteria were not to drink at first and when I felt ready, I began tackling other problems. If it got too much I backed off and when I felt ready again, I tried again. A slow process but decades of running aren’t fixed in a weekend. Thankfully, time is no longer my enemy to be killed so I can finally get to the glass.

Charlie.