Featured

A guide to #wellness

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

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

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

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

How I began…

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

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

Quitting drinking

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

Diet

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

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

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

Water

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

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

Meditation

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

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

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

Law of attraction meditation

Law of attraction – 30-day challenge

Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking

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

John Muir

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

Benefits of walking in nature

Running

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

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

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

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

Rest

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

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

QUIT MAKING EXCUSES! START MAKING CHANGES!

A life beyond your wildest dreams

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

Thanks for stopping by,

Charlie.

“Why are you always smiling?”

I just made the short walk from my front door to the bustling seafront. Welcomed by a bright blue sky and the open expanse of the horizon it was impossible to not take a large inhale of the fresh, clean air. Walking along the raised path next to the beach I could feel the warmth of the winter sun beaming vitamin D into my face. A smile was only natural. 

I had been walking a short while when I saw someone I had seen a couple of times whilst making this now regular journey. I nodded. They nodded and asked “Still smiling then? Why are you always smiling?” I thought for a second. Is it a false front? Is it the only thing I have left? Is it genuine? Finally, I answered. “The sun is out. Things could be a lot worse!” A genuine response. “Plus I am outside.” The man answered, “There are a lot of miserable people here!” I didn’t agree. No matter the weather in this beaten old British seaside town, there are always people walking and many are friendly. “If you want to see misery, catch a morning tube in London!”  

It’s been about six months since I left the city. Since I have stopped all antidepressants. My anxiety is near nil. My depression has lifted but I still have the odd dark thought. The crushing busyness of the city was too much for me. I feel defeatist saying that. I wanted to “succeed”. I wanted to fight against the odds and “win”. I didn’t… by a conventional standard. When I moved there I was a broken alcoholic. Functional, just about. With horrendous health. And worse finances. In the eight years I was there I got sober within a year. Paid off my debt within two. Travelled the world within six years. I could have stayed in the city after losing my job. Just to prove a point. I felt I’d proved enough. I saved and bought a house in a quiet town. Near a quiet beach. The silence is a welcome hug. I have become much more centred and calm. I still have moments of comparison. Moments were I think about the could have been. In each, the situation is ideal. It isn’t a reality. It is a “perfect” partner. In a “perfect” life. There is little joy in comparison. There is even less joy in comparison to the illusion of perfection. It only serves to punish. It is a form of psychological self-harm. 

For the first time in a long time, I have no goal. No great aspiration. It would be easy to get lost in life. To worry about what might or might not happen. But now I feel like a ship anchored in a calm sea. I was once a ship at the mercy of the storm that constantly raged in my chaotic mind. This has taken a long time. It has been a journey that often seemed like a waste of time. A spiritual journey I embarked on purely due to lack of options and desperation. I began meditating to try and get a grip. To get a hold of something solid that would give me hope. It took time. Practising gratitude came from a lack of financial ability to pursue the next fix. Walking came about due to not having the money to join a gym and needing to escape the house. Simple steps that have been found more than pursued. I sought answers everywhere in life. In alcohol mainly. Yet was often left with more questions. It was the simple things that have saved me. Friends I have made along the way. Journeys I have shared. Moments of divine beauty that would have been missed if I was still chattering for the next drink. 

“I shouldn’t really be smiling,” I said as we walked along. “I have lost my job and my Gran died recently. But there will be another job and my gran is no longer fighting for life.” The man told me about his experience when his mother passed. It had been a long and torrid demise under the cruelty of dementia. I was thankful that my nanna was relatively quick. “You gotta be tough to be old,” is what she used to say. I will miss talking to her. She was smart. I am happy she now is at peace.  

The man went one way and I another. A fleeting interaction. A simple gesture. Made possible by the simple steps of recovery. Of being present and in the moment. It may not be every day I feel that peace. As I return to work I am sure they will want a slice of my calm. It always seems to be the way. Whenever I have had moments of peace before, people have tried to destroy it. Envy? I don’t know but it is an unnatural world where somebody smiling is viewed with suspicion. As a culture, if we aren’t collapsing under the weight of an invisible cross we are not doing our bit. Fuck that. Life is too short. I used to think I was a martyr. As a teacher, the stress and anxiety were justifiable because I was doing it for the students. Then I realised if I wasn’t doing it someone else would be. I wasn’t special or different. I just wanted to feel that way and it was killing me. When I return to teaching, it will be on renewed terms. I’m not getting burnt out to hit quotas.  

I’ve made peace with the fact I won’t climb the slippery slope of career success. I’ve made peace with a lot of things. I guess that is “Why I am always smiling”.

Keep smiling, don’t let the bastards drag you down,  

Charlie.  

So why quit drinking?

Why did you quit drinking?

To be honest the choice didn’t feel like a choice. I was in such pain with an enlarged liver that I didn’t want to go through it again. The doctor said it was caused by drinking. So take away the cause and the effect such follow.

Was that the only reason? A health issue?

I was scared of the future implications. One of the times my anxiety has been of benefit. I saw a future of dialysis. Of missed opportunities. Of unfulfilled dreams. Of pain. And disappointment. I didn’t want to be the architect of that future. Spewing bile at a world when I was the one to blame. But it wasn’t just my health that was failing. I was miserable. I was financially broken. I was a mess. I was lost. Quitting drinking saved my life.

Was it easy?

Of course not. I imagine it’s like losing a lifelong partner. A close frieend or confidante. It’s always there promising help and support. To live without it takes strength. But most of us have the strength to do so. We just fear the repercussions of doing the unexpected.

So it was worth it?

I’ve written thousands of words on my appreciation for giving up alcohol. It was the turning point in my life. It liberated me from a cycle of destruction. It gave me the breathing space to put my life back together and find a path of spirituality and peace. I’ve been the healthiest I’ve ever been since quitting drinking.

What did you do to stay sober?

In the beginning, I just hung on. It’s like a storm. It will blow over but it is frightening at the time. The storm was the tail end of the previous life drifting away. The people associated with that life stopped calling when I stopped drinking. The chaos associated with it slowly died down. I missed the chaos initially. I feared becoming bored and lonely. But slowly time filled up with the things I enjoyed doing. I rediscovered my affinity with nature. My passion for travel and knowledge. It was almost like alcohol had been suppressing my true self. Keeping me suppressed and depressed. Life without alcohol got easier until became the norm. People started congratulating me. It was crazy. I was expecting to be an outcast but I made some great friends. It was nothing like I feared it would be.

How long did it take to recover?

I will never drink again. The mechanism for addiction is still there. Lying dormant. I have it with other foods as well, mostly sugar. Like over Christmas I allowed myself to indulge in chocolate. Big mistake. Seemed like a good idea but then felt hideous for weeks. I can’t allow that to happen with alcohol. The implications are not worth the risk of the occasional drink.

So do you have cravings?

Not anymore. But I did for a long time. A couple of years. The initial physical need lasted a few months. But the stock response of reaching for a drink during hardship lasted a couple of years. If there was a particularly stressful event then it would be like that demon on my shoulder whispering “Have a drink! You know it will take it away!” Which is true but only until tomorrow. Now, alcohol is just like any other drug I don’t indulge in.

How long did it take to put your life back on course?

Years. A bit at a time. Quitting drinking was like waking up and realising I was tied to a heavy boulder. I was restricted by the implications of my decisions; debt, health issues and mental health problems. I didn’t do anything for the first few months. I didn’t try to change anything until I felt I could. I just focused on not drinking. Or tried not to focus on alcohol more like. After a few months, the urge subsided. I started walking and eating better. I put my big boy pants on and looked at my financial situation. Or lack thereof. I refinanced some of the ridiculous credit card charges I had been paying. It was a slow walk back from chaos. Eventually, I started feeling moments of peace. I started looking forward to things that didn’t involve drinking. I started losing weight and saving money. I started to feel free. It was a better feeling than alcohol ever gave me.

Did you do it alone?

I’m not sure I could have. I have been blessed to have supportive friends and family. They listened and encouraged. They motivated me to follow my dreams and stick to the path. I attended AA in the early days but couldn’t get on with it. I have been back since and made some good friends through AA. But the issue lays with me not them. The thing with groups is that to be accepted into the group, an individual has to adopt the beliefs of the group. I don’t believe everything they say. And find the religious aspect tiring. I do believe in something greater than myself. But I don’t believe that it got me sober. My friends and I did that.

So what do you do to maintain a balanced life?

I must have been a dog in a previous life. If I can get out for a walk and have something to eat I am quite content. Sounds boring. Years ago I would have called it boring. If drinking me met me know he would have hated me. I am everything now that I wanted then; calm, confident and content. In the old days, I was still looking for the thing. The next thing that was going to solve all my problems. I was convinced that it was out there… somewhere. I just had to keep looking and I would find it. I never did. And I looked all over. Quitting drinking forced me into a life more congruent with my inner desires. Not the things I thought I should be doing as the person I thought I should be. But the things that resonated with my genuine wants and needs. At the core, I am a very simple man. If I can have food and shelter I am happy. If I can talk to friends I am happy. If I can enjoy the countryside or the beach I am happy. For a long time, I thought that wasn’t okay. That I shouldn’t be that man.The whole pursuit of material perfection dissipated into the illusion it is. I do maintain a spiritual practice. I meditate, far too intermittently. I think far too much. But the level of contentment I have now started when I had to quit drinking. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that choice. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I’d chosen to carry on drinking.

When did you quit?

On the first of June 2014.

Charlie

The Pursuit of Happiness…

Not the movie. I hated that movie. Well, it was a nice story but attached to the title “The pursuit of Happyness” it left me with the feeling that to become happy I must become “successful” by societies terms. There are only so many places at the “top”. There will always be people needed to do the work others don’t want to do for themselves. Until the robots take over… I digress.

I’ve battled with the notion of success for as long as I have sought out happiness. The two for a long time were synonymous. Success would lead to happiness. Ask people what they want in life a large proportion will say “to be happy,” in an almost programmed fashion. “What would make you happy?” is usually answered by “lots of money. Success.” Now, I have never been “rich” but I have been poor and I’ve been comfortable enough not to have to work for a while. When I was poor, I was unemployed, wracking up debt and depressed. But when I got a job. The first thing I wanted to do was get rid of my debt. It had hung around me like a weight while I was treading water. It was stifling. But what has this got to do with happiness? Well the majority of us don’t become rich. But large swathes of the population live as if they have. If “success” is the key to happiness then debt is the antithesis.

One in two adults with debts has a mental health problem. One in four people with a mental health problem is also in debt. Debt can cause – and be caused by – mental health problems. It’s tempting to just not think about it – it can be uncomfortable and can make you feel guilty, depressed – or even hopeless.

https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/debt-and-mental-health#:~:text=One%20in%20two%20adults%20with%20debts%20has%20a,you%20feel%20guilty%2C%20depressed%20%E2%80%93%20or%20even%20hopeless.

I chased external fulfilment to the point of addiction. The shackles of my self made prison stopped me from picking MY path to success. I’d worked, earned, spent, lived and yet I was far from merry. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. Pursuing someone else’s dreams. To the point that I had to increase my consumption and hasten my pursuit. Maybe I was unhappy because I didn’t have enough? Maybe more was the answer? What an idiot I was. To honestly believe that more of the thing that was making me unhappy would magically make me happy. But I was too lost in the chaos to even question my behaviour. I was doing the things I thought I should be doing. I was envious often. I questioned. Overthought. Yet, still lived. It just wasn’t my life I was living.

Success; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc…

I moved towns and cities. Always looking for elusive happiness. Was it in people, places and things? I got promoted but felt nothing. I bought things and the temporary feeling of success slowly ebbed away into nothingness. What actually was I looking for? I mean what the fuck does happiness even feel like? Is it the intensity of an orgasm? The rush of a drug? The buzz of adrenaline from skydiving? Watching your kid take their first steps? Or is it knowing that I can get water with relative ease and I know I won’t starve today? Is it comfort in my own skin? Appreciation for the life I’ve lived and the beautiful people I have been fortunate to know? It is all of those things and much more. But the temporary feelings will bring temporary happiness. The permanent (Or as permanent as can be in a temporary life) bring a lower level of happiness for longer periods. I pursued happiness through pleasure. The time I wasn’t doing the thing that made me happy? I was miserable! I was thinking about doing something to get a kick. When the town I lived in offered no more hedonism I moved to the city. More, of course, is the solution!!

Yet, I was unhappy. I was chasing this illusion and killing myself in the process. My ego solidified the belief that the pursuit would be worth it in the end. I wonder if that is what the hamster thinks while it is running on its wheel? Much like the hamster, I was getting nowhere. I mean I was getting paid and I was working towards something but I still felt empty. I drank myself to oblivion. Hit rock bottom and was forced to take stock. I felt like I’d lost at life. Felt like a loser who couldn’t handle his shit. It’s demoralising. Losing at a game I didn’t want to play, I shouldn’t have cared. But I did. Hitting rock bottom is the exact opposite of success. It is the lowest. It is also the greatest opportunity for change. I don’t know the answer but I know the questions “Is there another way? Who does my life serve?” If fifteen years of chaotic blackout drinking isn’t making me anything more than fat, broke and depressed then maybe it is time for a change. But change is hard. Many of us can’t change because we are so deep into the life we have that it would take a huge effort to get out.

I had to ask myself those questions “Is there another way?” Well, there has to be! This way isn’t working out. “Who does my life serve?” Well, I was a teacher and loved helping the students. But ultimately I was an alcoholic mess. I was fighting to stay sane and could barely afford to live due to the amount of debt I’d wracked up over the years. I could still teach and did. The things around that had to change. I was serving my credit card company, the loan company and the brewery. I was borrowing money to escape the fact I was unhappy. I was an idiot. But I had been doing the thing I thought would make me happy. I consumed.

The force of hitting rock bottom cracked my ego. Allowed a view of alternative reality through the calcification of certainty. It was uncertainty. Frightening. Intimidating. But I had nothing to lose. I’d been at war with myself for too long. Trying to suppress emotion and thoughts with alcohol. I was stuck in a loop. Wandering through life. Lost. Discontent. As the old adage says “fall down seven times get up eight.” I no longer had the energy to haul myself back into my old life. It didn’t appeal. I wanted something different. I wanted to be comfortable in the uncomfortableness of uncertainty. I found it in simple things. The things in life that had passed me by for years. It’s the simple things, there’s nothing greater. A glorious sunset when nature displays its unrivalled artistry. The dogs on the beach, momentary free and exuding joy. I had searched for something and found nothing. But found everything in nothing. I had got lost in the pursuit. Consumed by the illusion.

Reality exists in front of my face. I was just too distracted to see it. Consumed in my chaotic inner chatter. Anxious. Stressed. Unhappy. Exhausted. For what ends? In sobriety, I got the chance to take stock. To map a plan out that, I was sure would leave me fulfilled.

I eventually achieved my dream. The inner fire that burned with the yearning for exploration was realised. And on my return? NOTHING. I had memories. But there was no great awakening. I was disappointed. I expected achieving my dreams to answer all my problems. It didn’t, I had a breakdown. It took me months to put the pieces together. It took introspection to come to the realisation that my dreams were the carrot that kept me on the treadmill. I realised that I didn’t need to achieve them to be happy. There was no void. No missing piece. It was there all along. Within the moment. It had passed me by while I was focusing on the next goal. I am grateful for the opportunity to have done it. And that gratitude extends to many corners of my life. For the past only exists in my memories and over time they will become contorted. They will no longer be a reflection of reality but merely a comforting illusion.

I feel fortunate to have taken many avenues in life. Tried numerous things. Different jobs and roles. Never become a creation of my label. Currently, I am pursuing a “spiritual” path. I hate that phrase but can’t think of one more succinct. Maybe a “human” path. Pursuing things that the consumption model missed out on; contentment and inner peace. Strangely it seems to be the things that come at no cost that yield a greater return. Nature, friendship, love, connection and meditation. Of course, I have to pay my bills and live. But I am no longer dictated to due to my addiction to consumption. It is liberation.

Like I said “I don’t know the answer but I know the question; “is there another way?”” I found one. I had to. I was forced to by the outcome of my hedonism. On reflection, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much energy keeping the plates spinning. I should have let them fall years before I lost control. But back then I couldn’t even imagine there could be another way.

Charlie.

Relinquishing control…

“If you have to control it, it is out of control already!” A great quote once said to me regarding alcohol. This was after a reasonably successful stint of monitoring my intake with extreme effort. Who was I trying to prove a point to? Myself? The world? The doubters and critics of my lifestyle? The very notion that I had to try and prove I didn’t have a drinking problem was evidence enough that I did. “I can go a week without drinking”, I would proudly exclaim like it was a giant achievement. But it was, to me. I was hooked. I was and am a drunk. I accept that. The effort of trying to prove a point to myself and an audience that really wasn’t watching became a waste of energy. I was fighting a fight against a shadow. The opponent was me. There was never going to be a winner.

Relinquishing control is hard. Control is what keeps me on the straight and narrow. It is the thing that keeps me in check. By controlling my focus I can achieve things that were once out of reach. Yet, control also strangles the soul out of life. It exacerbates my anxiety. If left unchecked my natural ego-driven pursuit of control wants me to have a hand in matters beyond my influence. Recently, I found myself trying to map out all the probable outcomes of my future. Endless avenues of possibility each one was looked at in intricate detail and the outcomes judged. It was a conscious decision to do this. But it was a conscious decision to stop doing the activities that limit this kind of thinking. I have spoken numerous times about the simple things in life that keep me in check; meditation, exercise, a balanced diet without too much control, interaction and self-reflection. Sounds simple? It takes practice. There isn’t a day where I no longer need to do those things. Even the Dalai Lama still meditates. But you know the weather has been bad so I haven’t been running and walking as much as I need to. It’s nearly Christmas so I can eat an obscene amount of chocolate. My mood begins to sink. Meditation is too much of a chore now I feel down. Oh, I feel depressed? Exercise less. Eat more chocolate. Mood sinks lower. The cycle of despair. So the option is there; continue down the path of trying to lift my mood by doing the things that are making me sad or slowly, nudge myself back towards the other path. The only control I have in life is my thinking. The actions I take in life are a result of that thinking. The thought becomes behaviour. Now as an addict I naturally choose the easy option. Scratch that, as a human. Sitting on my arse watching TV, eating handfuls of chocolate is brilliant. I love doing it. Especially when it is pissing it down with rain outside. The heating whacked up. Warm cosy. Great. I love it. But it isn’t sustainable. Not for me. Because the things I need to do, to keep me well are contrary to that.

I have to make a conscious decision to change. With me, the change starts with a thought. Deep in my mind I know I can’t sit on my arse forever. I know it isn’t healthy. But the part of my brain that knows that it isn’t good for me, isn’t the same part as the one that demands a quick fix of sugar, fat, salt or escapism. I started with a morning meditation. More of a reflection. A question “How are you today?” And you know what. The majority of the time I was alright. That single moment set me up better than falling out of bed and trudging through life. Next, I got back to walking. Just getting out. Looking at the world. I went for a good walk with a good friend of mine and the weather wasn’t great but it was much needed. Just being away from my phone and technology for a day was a good reminder that pressing refresh on my emails is not going to make a change. Amongst these slight nudges back towards the behaviours of contentment I realised that I had slipped. I had let my thoughts become wild. Anxiety. Chaotic rumination. Years ago I would have tried to escape or ignore it. But it is too tiring now. I sat with it. I looked at where it came from. I was trying to make certainty out of uncertainty. I was trying to map out my life. I had to accept that there are things out of my control. I had to relinquish that control to the future. I had to hope for a good outcome but accept that it may not be. All I can do is the simple things that keep me running at a good level of life. That’s all I can do. It sounds so easy yet it is so difficult. It takes practice. I will fall off the path again in the future because I am not perfect. But I know I have the tools to get back to where I need to be.  

Charlie

What “Should” I be doing?

For the past year, I have been involved in some voluntary work. It’s a befriending service. Designed to help the most isolated in society to feel more connected. I would like to profess some kind of saintly reason for signing up but in every act of selflessness there lays some selfishness.

The lockdown was a trying time for many. Some more than others. And as a result of this, my mood took a turn for the worse. Previous experience has taught me that to alleviate my mood I have to take action. Altruism is my path out of depression. Helping others just has this magically effect of pulling me back from the edge. Plus, it benefits another. In my eyes, that’s a win-win situation.
By chance, the individual I was matched with was a recovering alcoholic. He has mental health problems beyond anything I have had to deal with. And I’ll be honest it made me feel grateful for the demons I have to fight. Some are battling the devil himself. Each day is a war. Each tiny accomplishment takes massive energy. It put things into perspective. It has made me realise what some folks have to go through just to get through the day. The medication. The anxiety. The depression. All of it combined. It isn’t a wonder why he drank so much. It helped. Until of course it didn’t. Just like taking morphine for a broken leg. It may remove the pain. But it doesn’t fix the problem.

It’s made me realise that no matter how much support is offered. How much encouragement. Our minds are so powerful that we see reality the way it wants. Pain and suffering, sometimes where there is none.

There are recurring themes in our discussions; self-inflicted pain, unnecessary pressure, expectation, guilt, shame and alcohol. Many of the points come from an internal pressure that I/he imagines comes from outside. An inner narrator that demands perfection and is disappointed with anything less. Unrealistic expectations and the feeling of hopelessness that comes with it. But there is none. It is him. It is me. The feelings are just that. There is nobody telling me I “should” have run further. Or that he “should” have gone for a walk. It kept coming up, this word “should.” So one day I asked, “Why should you?” There was a long pause… “Because I wrote it on my list of things to do!” Sounds obvious but I’ll admit I’ve done it. Made targets and then gave myself a hard time for not meeting them. So I asked him ” So you set the targets? And you give yourself a hard time for not achieving them?” “Yes!” Why don’t you lower the expectations you place on yourself?

Like many addicts, myself included, he has an all or nothing attitude. If everything isn’t done, then it is the same as nothing being done. If there is nothing to be proud of then there is nothing at all. I tried to explain, numerous times, that getting out of bed is an achievement some days. In the belly of depression. When the grey veil is on and my energy has been sapped, getting up and washing the pots is an achievement. On the days I’m good, I do what I can. On the days I’m bad I do what I can. I don’t compare the two. A sick man will be envious of a healthy man.

Talking to him made me notice that many of the traits he carries I have carried too. The thinking patterns. The unrealistic expectations. The self-inflicted mental punishment for things I “should” have done. Numerous days drunk, mulling over the life I “should” be living. But it is just an illusion. An inner narrative that can be changed. It isn’t easy but it can be done. And it won’t solve all my problems but it will help. I still have days of nothingness. Of uncertainty. A lack of motivation. Some days I force myself to exercise. Some would say ” hey that’s the symptoms of depression. Get some meds!” I think it’s just winter. But another month and the days get a little longer. It might get cold but the days get brighter. Also, I’ve slipped off my meditation practice. All the things I recommend to my befriender I have forgotten to do myself. The things that, time and time again, get me out of that hole. The simple actions of checking in, meditating, taking a walk, sharing with others. Simple human traits that have been lost in the pursuit of external fulfilment… But that inner pressure. That “SHOULD” tells makes me feel there is more. More trips. Social media displays images of happiness. Maybe if I did that I would be happy… Maybe. It’s strange. I sometimes feel guilty for feeling happy. Just walking along the beachfront. A coffee and a smile. I think there “should” be more. That happiness can’t be that simple.
It’s been humbling volunteering. It made me realise how difficult it is for friends and families of people with addiction and mental health issues. Trying to make them feel love for the individual when there is nothing but self-hatred. Completely unjustified self-hatred. Trying to point out the inner and outer beauty. Trying to point out that not everyone in the world is living a perfect life. That there are options. There are choices. That doing something, no matter how small is something. Some days it is a huge achievement. But it is difficult to make somebody believe, who only sees themself as a failure. The gratitude I have for the people who supported me through the dark times of my life has grown exponentially. I never realised how difficult it must have been. And is for the people out there, trying to shine the light in the darkness of others. It is a ceaseless endeavour but I am so happy the people helped me along the way.

I’m going to take my own advice from now on and drop the “should” from my narrative. It creates unnecessary pressure. Unless of cause, it’s valid. But judging what is and what isn’t? Now, that’s the difficult part.

Charlie

Another day in paradise…

Yesterday was a beautiful day. A cool breeze like a rousing slap that forces engagement within the moment. The sun magnified the vibrant colours of autumn. I don’t think anyone has a greater palette to select from than nature. And if they do, no one uses it as well. It’s so simple yet so elegant. So available yet often ignored. How did I miss the divine beauty of life for so long? I was elsewhere. Lost in the chaos of the unnecessary. Swimming in a glass. Searching for something lost that was never really missing. I refused to see. Almost like attending an art gallery at night and refusing to turn the lights on. Only to then voice my displeasure at the exhibition. 

I only saw the negatives. My world was created by my perception of what I saw. And my perception was skewed. Years of depression made me see the negatives alone. I never conquered it back then. Depression I mean. I just learned that it wasn’t what people wanted to hear. They didn’t want to hear about the negatives in life. They didn’t want to wonder about the injustices in the world. They wanted to get drunk and get laid. It was easy for them. It was mapped out for them. I always felt different. Tainted. An outsider, desperate to be accepted. Which fuelled the uncertainty. I wanted to be honest but couldn’t be honest with myself. I wanted to talk about what I thought but no one seemed to think the same. A scary choice. Isolation or suppression. Suppress my own personality and be accepted for who I am not. Or be isolated for who I am?

Now let me be clear, this choice wasn’t given to me. That was the black and white thinking that fuelled most of my decisions. All or nothing. Simple. Not helpful in most situations but that’s the way it was. 

I chose the suppression route. Alcohol is wonderful for that. Want to forget something have a drink. Want to become a convoluted cocktail of false and real personalities? Have a drink. Want to slowly forget what it was all about? Who you are? Have a drink. Slowly the reason to drink was lost. Acceptance was secondary. I cared for nothing and no one other than alcohol. I have thought about this for years. Battled the belief that this view of alcohol was implanted by too many AA meetings. But unfortunately, it is true. In the end, I was a functioning alcoholic. I saw nothing. I held onto a job and juggled finances badly. My life was in tatters. Yet I was still seeking the same answers to different questions. I was no longer that teenager. Scared of not fitting in. I was a grown man. Lost in a world of misery. The mental health struggles had become battles. Ones I was losing all too often. 

I saw no beauty in Autumn back then. I just knew I had to sit inside to drink instead of outside. I knew the SAD would be here soon because I never went outside and got vitamin D. It was bleak. It was lonely. It was all because I couldn’t be honest.

The truth will set you free.

I was so used to being disappointed by myself that I had come to expect the worse. All the time. I expected everything to go wrong. Do you know how that impacts your life? Expecting the world to fall down, time and time again? It’s almost disappointing when it didn’t. Because when things go well I couldn’t say “I know it was going to go badly. Everything goes fucking wrong in the end!” Woe is me. No wonder I ended up drinking on my own in the end. I must have been a barrel of laughs. 

This mindset wasn’t alcohol alone. It was the underlying feelings that I used alcohol to suppress. Somewhere my view of the world got skewed. Somewhere I got lost. But do you want to know the truth? I used to fuck things up on purpose because it was what I thought I deserved. If things were going well I would fuck them up on purpose! Why? Because I had become so used to the misery that I thought I didn’t deserve happiness. I was so used to the darkness that I would rush to adjust the curtains if any light was getting in. 

“Hello, darkness my old friend!”

Alas, it wasn’t always to be that way. I thought it would be. I had accepted it as the norm. I accepted the same tired path. Day after day. Drinking to escape but begging for change. It came of course in the most painful of ways. A rock bottom. Physical, mental, financial, social breakdown. I was almost happy. But for different reasons than now. A choice; escape or remain. In a perverse way, sobriety seemed like the worse option. Almost like punishing myself by taking away the one thing I enjoyed. Or the one thing I had in life. But deep down I knew I had to change. 

I don’t recall the first time I saw the beauty in the people around me. I don’t recall the first time I smiled at the birdsong. I do recall the first time I cried from happiness. It was sitting at the end of the El Camino de Santiago. I was so proud. Almost disappointed that things had gone right. That I had achieved something. Something I’d set out to do. I saw it through to the end and didn’t fuck it up on purpose. That’s when I knew the mental health, drinking, drugs, whatever is lying. Mike Tyson once said, “my mind is not my friend!” If I don’t do the things I have to do then I will eat shit food. Get lazy. And start slipping down the road of self-loathing. Life is almost a biblical tale. There is temptation everywhere. And if left unregulated it will destroy me. I have to keep myself in check. I have to remember what I think is best for me isn’t always. I have to take stock. I have to remain as well as I can be; both mental and physical. By doing the things that keep me that way.

Do you know the reward for keeping myself in check? For keeping my demons in their seats? I get to walk through a tired old town in the north of England and see nothing but the simple beauty in the world around me. I sought that feeling in everything. And found it in simplicity by doing simple things that were readily available to me; meditation, gratitude, self-reflection, acceptance, therapy, exercise, good diet, removing harsh judgements of myself, removing comparisons to others, stopped reflecting on the past as if it can be changed “If I would have done this…” or “If I hadn’t have done that…”, control of worrying, I accepted that not every day will be good and not every day will be bad, questioned the narratives I had of myself, learned to erect boundaries, learned to take responsibility.

I went searching for paradise but was too blind to see I was already there.

Charlie.

4 million minutes

Each one without a drink. Not one sip of alcohol. 4 million minutes of life that I never thought I would have. Moments that I thought would have been lost to the darkness of a drunken stupor. 4 million lots of sixty seconds that were mine for the first time since my teens. I wasted a lot of those minutes. But the time you enjoy wasting is wasted time. I travelled. I loved. I remembered. I got down. I got up. I struggled. But kept going a minute at a time.

I wished some of those minutes away. I prayed never to relive some. I thought that some would never pass. And I wanted some to never end. I felt fear and anxiety. And I felt love and security. I felt wronged. And I felt wanted. I felt lucky to experience those minutes for what they were. Without judgment. I could condemn myself for not achieving more with that time. I COULD have learned an instrument. I COULD have helped more people. I COULD have earned more money. I COULD have. I COULD have. I COULD have. I did what I did at the time. I did what was right at that moment. Over four million minutes that’s a lot of decisions. I can’t expect perfection. And only a crazy person makes a decision knowing it is the wrong one. There are wrong outcomes but not wrong decisions. I tried my best. That’s all I could do. A minute at a time.

Four million minutes being stuck with me. The person I hated most. In my head. The place I hated most. No more drunken escapism to give me a break from babysitting my neurosis. The first 250,000 minutes were tough. Getting to know someone that you have known a long time but don’t really know. Kinda like a neighbour that you have lived next to for twenty years. One day, you’re trapped in a lift with them and forced to interact. Initially, it’s disjointed. And there’s panic. Then, it turns out you have everything in common. Holy shit. I wish we had talked in depth sooner. Just like that. That’s how it was. There were moments of worry and anguish but the first 250,000 minutes was good practice for the rest. Who knew there was such a good friend so close? I had been looking everywhere for that fulfilment.

I slept a lot of minutes away. I mean REALLY slept as well. Not fall drunkenly onto a bed and then get up a few hours later. I mean refreshed. I used to think sleep was a waste of time. Now I realise it is vital. And nothing promotes sleep like quitting drinking.

I’ve spent a lot of those hours outside. Walking, hiking, jogging. Sometimes with friends. Sometimes alone. Those are precious minutes to me. The most time I spent outside before quitting drinking was sitting in the beer garden. Those minutes walking or hiking is therapy. A reminder that in the big scheme of things I’m just a tiny cog in the machinery of life. That if left unchecked my ego will try to take over the machine. Which leads to all kinds of problems. Stay humble.

Four million minutes of life. Of struggle and strife. Of travel and adventure. Of lessons and fulfilment. Of more questions than answers. It’s been a quest to find a replacement to fill the minutes that alcohol consumed before it. It’s been a trek to find the serenity that alcohol promised but didn’t deliver. It’s been an awakening to the fact that everything I sought, I already had. And everything I wanted to be, I already was. It is minutes of acceptance. Of rewriting old messages. And removing old labels. It is minutes of dreams becoming reality. And changing perceptions, holistically. It is nothing like I thought it would be.

I expected to watch those minutes tick away. In Gods waiting room, watching the clock tick past. The chattering of voices going to the pub in the distance. A reminder of the only joy I once had in this vapid thing called life. Taken away by the bastard sobriety. That’s the picture I saw. That was the message I received. That every minute from quitting drinking will be boring as fuck. “No alcohol, no life!” Initially, that was the case. Eventually, I realised it was a choice. I am free to spend these minutes staring at the clock thinking about the life I no longer have or want but am too fearful to leave behind. Or I can try something new. Learn something new. Make goals. Use these minutes more productively. Or learn to love those minutes for what they are. And that is the essence of quitting any addiction. It is the return to the choice to use the time how you wish. It is a return to autonomy. To responsibility. Which was the thing I feared most. I didn’t want to have to take ownership of the clusterfuck I was as a person. I didn’t want the shambolic charade that masqueraded as a life. I wanted to drink and blame drinking for my problems.

Four million minutes is a long time to have to put shit right. The rest of my life is longer. An apology only takes a minute. Although some can take a lifetime. Quitting drinking is a lifetime apology to myself.

The first few thousand minutes wasn’t me picking up my life. Or making plans. It was me laying on the sofa sweating. I wasn’t fixing my life but my body was starting to fix itself. Then slowly I began to spend a couple of minutes picking up the pieces. Planning. Taking ownership of my problems and trying to find solutions. Minutes delving into things I didn’t want to. But had to. It seemed daunting but only took a few minutes to overcome.

A lot can happen in a minute. Lives change in a minute. And the minute I decided to have a go at quitting drinking? That was the best decision I ever made. It took one minute to make but gave me millions back in return.

Charlie.

As the dust settles…

The chaos of life stares up the dust. It clouds the rooms and blinds us to the bigger picture. Consumed within the moment. The air becomes restricted. Suffocating. This is life. It is busy. It is tough. But a lot of the chaos is unnecessary. Busyness in place of progress. Busyness to be doing something. Busyness to distract. Escapism for the sake of avoiding reality. Drugs, alcohol, sex, anything to heighten the escape. To add to the chaos. And then to block it out.

But step outside of that tornado for a short while and the dust begins to settle. A fine layer on the ground that we can leave our mark. The air becomes breathable. Life becomes manageable. The tornado still spins. Tearing through lives with no regard but we have a choice. To engage or not. To dare to seek other ways to connect. To face life without the constant need to escape. The dust settles. There is calm. It is addictive. The chattering falls to a hum. The clouds of dust kicked up by the furore cease to block out the light. There is a world beyond chaos. And there is a world inside of us. Each yearning to be heard and adored. Each wants to be loved and cherished. Both were lost in the chaos.
That day doesn’t come easy. Fighting to get out of a storm takes strength. Especially when the world we know and the people we know dwell within it. But by finding peace on the outside, we can offer a haven to others. Offer a hand and offer a taste of what life outside of the madness can be like. We can reassure that eventually, the dust will settle and like a snowy winters day, there will be calm.

It doesn’t seem possible from the inside. The forces seem unbeatable. The pressure to remain is too great. But there is lead in those boots. We have to dare to walk. To venture into the unknown. Away from the destruction. There is another way. And it might not be the first attempt that frees us but it is impossible to escape without trying. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure with losing your enthusiasm.” That is life. Smaller storms may kick up on the periphery. But they are dust devils by comparison. And they don’t have the might to destroy like the chaos we once knew. That blinding energy-sapping existence is an unnecessary fight for survival. There is another way. Who knew?

Who knew? Years of fighting and struggling. Inner and outer chaos. Seeking peace in all the wrong places. Fighting noise with noise and problems with problems. What outcome did we expect? It was only going to end one way. But it is hard to see beyond the next escape when consumed in the madness. The swirling strangling madness in the pursuit of… something. Convinced that there is nothing outside of this storm. That the moments of calm are to be savoured because the madness is what we deserve. Anxiety, uncertainty, insecurity, depression, misery, self-hatred, guilt and shame are the emotions we deserve. But, alas, they are not. Step outside and take a breath. When the dust settles feel the warmth of the sun. See the joy within the moment. It is beautiful and it is you. The version of you that never got the chance to exist whilst trying to cling to the image that was on display to the world. This is you. There is a chance to be at peace. Just to breathe in that quiet contemplation before the madness of another pursuit takes over. Another goal. Another dream. A self-selected storm that is worth fighting through. Because it is a test we want to pass. One we made for ourselves. Those are the moments of growth. But it is only possible by first removing the chaos that hinders.

Maybe the quiet contentment is enough. Maybe the chaos of the past is enough for a lifetime. The time is to hang up the lead boots and enjoy the moment. It is a choice that comes for the first time in a long time. Choices were there once were none. Enough silence to ask pertinent questions. Enough clarity to pick a path and walk it with sincere contentment. With genuine love that will transcend life. That is the beauty of fulfilment. That is the gift of being present. That is the joy of daring to see if there was another way of living outside the chaos of addiction. Who knew it could be so beautiful. Who knew it would be so quiet that it could overwhelm. The silence can deafen. The yearning for the madness can arise. It seems like the only escape is to go back. But there is always somebody wanting to experience the beauty you have cultivated. Not as frequently as someone seeking something to cling to within the chaos.

Who knew? It never seemed likely once upon a time. In the chaos of my own mind and life. An anxious storm tearing to pieces from within? And with no control externally. There never seemed a solution. There seemed no contentment. But it was there. Just a few steps away. I just couldn’t see it until I stepped away from alcohol and let the dust settle.

Charlie

Prisoner to the past…

My problem with AA meetings is that many are almost reminiscing sessions. Like the guy at the end over the bar who never got over that one woman. His friends tried everything to help him move on but he refused. Instead of living life, he is spending his time reliving the glory days again and again. Closed off to other opportunities. A prisoner to his past.

But what defines us, not only as drinkers but as people? Does a job define you? Am I a teacher even though I am not being paid to be one? Or am I potential? To be whatever I am capable of being? Am I labels of the past or the blank canvas of tomorrow? I think we can be whichever we choose. I met a woman called Becky, a few years ago who told me the story of her family. Her mother had an accident in her early thirties that left her paralysed from the neck down. The father had to shoulder a lot of responsibility raising their 3 children. The older children helped where they could. I thought that was impressive. Becky went on to explain that her dad had retrained as a doctor before the accident which helped a lot with his wife. The father had retrained as a doctor at FORTY years old from being an electrician. It got me thinking that the labels we wear are written in pencil. We can erase them and change them any time we wish. And we should if they are not the ones we wish to wear.

It is nice to reminisce about good times but to constantly dig up the sludge at the bottom of calm water for no other purpose than to disturb it seems like a form of self-punishment. To relive the opportunity that was missed results in missing many more. The path lays out in front of us. Not behind.

I drank a lot of alcohol and often. I made mistakes. I made terrible financial decisions. I destroyed my health. I could sit and wallow on these wrongs. I could let them define my future. Or I could learn from them. Vow not to make the same mistakes again. And that is what I did.
I made peace where I could. I repaid my debt. I worked on my health. And it worked out better than I could have imagined. Those lessons in life that at the time had been painful were the greatest lessons I ever received. I had to have it that way. I am a thick-skulled fool sometimes who ignores the warning signs and blunders through. Thankfully I learned to listen. I got tired of getting hurt by my own hand. I was tired of being leashed to a life of pain. Those chains that tied me were with locks to which I had the keys. I just didn’t want to wander into the unknown. A chain offers some security even if it is detrimental.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

People still tell me how I was. Remind me of those dark days. “Do you remember when you did….?” is often the question. “I don’t remember!” That is my reply. It is genuine. I made peace with those days. Alcohol defined me when I drank. It will not continue to define me now. Those days are gone. Times and people change. Each period of life is a chapter in a greater story. A story of pain and regrowth. Of heartache and love. Of desperation and fulfilment. And ultimately of depression and contentment. The pain of the past doesn’t have to be the template for tomorrow. Pain is going to happen in life but carrying forever is a form of punishment. Why suffer twice?

I quit drinking because my liver was screaming out for the time to fix itself. The constant alcohol intake was killing it and as a result me. I had a choice of course. I didn’t have to quit. I could have soldiered on all the way to the bottom of my early grave. I was scared of not living. I got scared of not doing the things I had always wanted to do. I saw a future on dialysis and restricted living. All brought about not by an unfortunate illness but by my own hand. It seemed such a waste of life. Such a waste of potential. I couldn’t face that future.

When I was 29 years old my liver gamma was 50% higher than the recommended highest level. I was told it was a warning. I quit drinking for a bit but then slipped back into the abyss. An enlarged liver made me quit the second, and final time. A life of necessary treatment became an increasing reality. Yet, five years after quitting drinking I had a health check and my liver function was normal. From destruction to restoration. All I had to do was allow it to happen. But much like my liver, my life has recovered. Who would have thought that the physical and mental pain I felt for such a long time would lift? I used to be convinced that the life I lived then, in the drinking days, would be the template for a life to come. That was enough of a thought to add weight to my depression. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Small changes today lead to bigger outcomes in the future. The seeds we plant today grow into the flowers of tomorrow. If we don’t plant seeds, weeds take over. Knotting and binding us to the same old thinking patterns that keep us trapped in a life we no longer want. The stories that others tell us about ourselves don’t have to be our narrative. That drunken fool who embarrassed themselves and others only exist in the minds of those who wish to keep the pain alive. The memories of mishaps and mistakes get worsened over time. Bits get added and changed. Our memories contort the original event to harshen the punishment years later. Make peace with the past and look to the future. Tomorrow isn’t here yet.

It was surprising how many people saw my behaviour differently from how I saw it. My version of events was created by a mind intent on misery. When I tried to make peace with the people who I had wronged, they saw it differently. Wrote it off as drunken hijinks or had forgotten it completely. I was the one carrying the cross through the streets daily. The tales I told myself was keeping me, prisoner, to a thinking pattern that served no purpose. By quitting drinking I not only repaired my body but also my thinking patterns.

I thought I would be a prisoner to a life of destructive drinking. Of guilt and shame. Of watching life happening through a pub window. But instead, I am on the other side of the glass. Life isn’t written yet. Change is always an option. Break the routine of destructive drinking and break the chains that keep us locked in a life of misery.

Charlie

Sober and grateful…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

%d bloggers like this: