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A guide to #wellness

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

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

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

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

How I began…

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

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

Quitting drinking

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

Diet

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

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

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

Water

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

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

Meditation

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

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

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

Law of attraction meditation

Law of attraction – 30-day challenge

Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking

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

John Muir

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

Benefits of walking in nature

Running

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

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

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

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

Rest

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

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

QUIT MAKING EXCUSES! START MAKING CHANGES!

A life beyond your wildest dreams

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

Thanks for stopping by,

Charlie.

A “Pink cloud” in sobriety…

Pink clouding, or pink cloud syndrome, describes a stage of early addiction recovery that involves feelings of euphoria and elation. When you’re in this phase, you feel confident and excited about recovery.

Pink Cloud: The Euphoria of Fresh Sobriety (healthline.com)

I remember clearly the first time it happened. I’d quit drinking for a couple of years, but I was, as known in recovery parlance, “white-knuckling it.” I had returned to AA after finding myself yet again in a cul de sac. The 12 steps helped bring me out. My sponsor helped immensely. It was after about three months of this return that I felt a pink cloud moment.

It was about ten to eight on a Tuesday morning. I had just stepped off the tube train and as my foot hit the platform it was like a vacuum before an explosion. Everything seemed to go quiet. Life seemed to pause as I carried on forward. I felt like I was in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. For the first time in my life, my mind and body felt aligned. I felt present. In the moment. Within a matter of seconds, it was gone. And the hustle and bustle returned around almost as if it had chased the serenity away. But it was enough. It was an indicator that I was on the right path.

The addict in me wanted more of that feeling. I wanted permanent peace. I wanted an end to my chaotic thinking. It was what I had sought in alcohol and now I had experienced it in sobriety. I was blown away by the fact it could even happen. I’d spent more than a decade drinking copious amounts of alcohol, trying to get that feeling I’d experienced the first time I was drunk. Yet, here it was on an average Tuesday morning. And it hadn’t cost a penny. Not only that but I’d felt it on the way to work. Which most often than not is not my favourite part of the day.

I couldn’t wait to share at the next AA meeting. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about this moment of divine connection. So I did. With bold optimism and glee, I shared the story. I didn’t know what to expect from the other members of the group. Maybe I wanted some advice on how to prolong the feeling? How to tap into it at will? Or how I could use it? What I got was “don’t worry it will pass.” I wasn’t worried about the feeling. But was now worried about it not returning.

Addiction for me was prolonged periods of bleakness. Of low highs and deep lows. This feeling of elation was a revelation. It made me want to be soberer. I wanted enlightenment. I wanted divinity. I was hooked on sobriety.

It felt like a reward for the hard work. A welcome gift from recovery. One that I could get out and use at will. Alas, it was not to be. I would keep having these moments of bliss intermittently. They would come and go almost randomly. I never experienced any crashing lows like bipolar disorder. Just a return to normality. Each time they came I wanted more. I wanted to prolong the experience and learn from it. But I never could conjure it at will. There have been times that create something close. Walking the Inca trail is one that came closest. An intense feeling of connectedness and silence. Surrounded by beauty and nature. Free from the concrete jungle and the distraction of technology. It made me feel like I did that morning stepping off the tube. Ensconced within the moment. Engulfed in the here and now. Nowhere to be but where I was. I was connected to something greater than myself. What that is? I don’t know. What I do know is that on my return to London, I wanted to cling to the feeling. But by doing so I suffocated it. Slowly it disappeared and the stress of the city seeped back into my soul.

What I learned from this is to stop looking for it. It is a feeling after all. It exists in moments all the time. It is there. Just today walking to the shop, I cut through the park. Just being in nature reminded me of that feeling. That sense of being present. It was calming. It was comforting. If I accept its temporary nature I understand that it will return. The feeling began to wane as soon as I walked back into the busy street. It was like a jarring edit in a video. Designed to get the viewers attention. That it did. But I know in those brief moments, the feeling of serenity exists. The peace I sought in alcohol is ever-present. When I stop looking and start seeing, then I can notice it. The stress and anxiety that fuels the addictive behaviour is part of the addictive behaviour. The feelings are created for the reasons to escape to exist. It is a destructive cycle that gives little but takes a lot, especially peace of mind.

The members of that AA meeting were right, “it will pass!” But it will also return in moments. Brief flashes of beauty remind me why I chose the path I walk. Because away from the madness of seeking answers is where the answers lay. The years of questions asked in a state of tearful drunken confusion have been answered in the quietest moments of acceptance. The peace I sought arrives often enough to remind me it is still there and not to worry.

So if you experience a pink cloud moment. Embrace it. See it as a sign that you are healing not healed. That it isn’t over but the universe/God/each other/whoever is sending a sign that it might not be perfect but it will be better than it has been for a long time.

Charlie.

Photo by Mariajose Vernet from Pexels

Is living in the city worth it?

Before the lockdown, most of my time was spent planning the next escape, putting the plan into action or transitioning between the two.

First, it was escaping addiction. The stranglehold of alcoholism had begun to suffocate me. Next, was escaping the debt that felt like a ball and chain holding me back. Finally, freedom from restrictive behaviours put me in a position to escape the rat race for a short while and travel. The lockdown exposed that without the ability to escape, I was miserable. The only thing that made me happy was escaping the life that I used to do the things that made me happy. The pursuit of happiness through the external is a thankless task. A cyclic pursuit that never relinquishes. The lockdown laid bare the need for escape. It magnified the NOW and forced me to take stock. I didn’t like what I saw, the rat race had become a rat trap.

For years, I had accepted the grind as part of a bigger idea. And my happiness was a worthy sacrifice to this progress. The lockdown was a yellow flag to the rat race. It made me slow down. It gave me enough space to ask some pertinent questions about life. Was it what I wanted? To bustle through the city to pay an inflated mortgage or extortionate rent? Was there enough to keep me in the grind? Or would a move to a quieter area be more beneficial?

I’d moved to London nearly eight years ago to complete my PGCE. The intention was then to move on and travel whilst teaching. Unfortunately, the move to London coincided with my peak alcoholism. The debt I accrued from funding the alcohol-fuelled life, was a bind that restricted my options. I was lucky enough to land a job that would help me pay off the debt and eventually travel. But now that is finished, the question “What do I want to do next?” has reared its head. Do I want city life? The peace in the lockdown was a taster for a life I would prefer. The chaos has lost its appeal. The birds singing and the silence was a welcome reminder that beyond this materialistic life is reality. Beyond the chaos is the peace I seek in the things I buy. The lockdown shook me and made me question the pursuit of the fake. It was the first time, in a long time that I felt alone. Isolated. Surrounded by things but devoid of meaning.

In total , 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty five million people.

During the easing of the lockdown, I travelled to my home town. Standing on the platform of the train station I had been to numerous times, I reflected on the first time I left town to pursue something. When I was eighteen I left the area to move 400 miles for an engineering apprenticeship. I wondered if that young man would be happy to see me now? Would he be proud of the adventure and the sobriety? I am sure he would be happy to be comfortable in his own skin. What was that young man looking for? What was it that drove him onwards? Twenty-one years later, the burning ambition has dwindled and the outer chaos he sought to reflect the inner chaos he felt is no longer welcome. It must be my age. As I approach forty, peace is preferable.

London gave me what I needed. It sorted me out and sent me to my dreams but now a future of quiet reflection is desirable. It isn’t achievable there. The rents and house prices are too high. The chaos is too persistent. I was happy to share a house when I was saving to travel but now it has lost its appeal. I would like a garden, no matter how small but it is a luxury I cannot afford.

The lockdown exposed my real human needs; love, connection and social inclusion. I don’t feel a sense of society amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. I just feel like another drone marching to work, dreaming of change but deluded by a preconception of success. I am at a fork in the road. One leads to change and one is the continuation of the same. The status quo is comforting. The uncertain future spikes my anxiety but a continuation of the same spikes my depression. It is a quandary.

I returned from travelling on the 9th February 2020. The lockdown started in the UK on the 23rd of March 2020. From six months of freedom to isolation. The enforced reflection highlighted that I lived for escape. That the trips out of the city were the things that kept me in the city. It seems illogical. To continue doing something I don’t enjoy, to live in a place I don’t enjoy under the hope that a couple of weeks a year away will be enough to offset it now seems like a form of self-punishment. I can’t unknow that.

With no escape through travel available during the lockdown, I instead fell into the consumption trap. Thankfully, not alcohol and drugs. I tried to find happiness through hoarding. Or as it’s more commonly known “retail therapy.” It only offered temporary relief. The new soon became old. The highs returned to lows. The answer? Do it again! Buy something else!! The question “Why?” brings no relief as there isn’t a reason. It is an addiction. It is Escaping reality through external stimuli. I have been doing that my whole life it would seem. And unhappy in the process! I have been running on the hedonic treadmill and complaining about being tired of it! The only logical solution is to step off. But there is an underlying fear. A pang of guilt even for not wanting to participate in that lifestyle. It makes me feel ungrateful for not indulging in all that life has to offer. Even though I have tried and usually ended up feeling worse for it. It really is no wonder I get depressed! I sometimes do wish I didn’t ask so many questions about life. I imagine it would be easier if I just did what I was told and got on with it. Instead of pondering the alternatives… although Socrates did say “an unexamined life is not worth living…” see what I mean?

What I have learned from the lockdown is that genuine connection is key. And to find a genuine connection I have to be genuine. I have to ask the question, is this me? Is this the life I want? The answer is NO. It is making me unhappy. I got dragged along by ideals. By a preconception that eventually life would get better if I just kept doing the same thing. The lockdown exposed this lie. Made me realise that there is far more to life than chaos and artificial stimuli. True connection and nature are where I feel at peace. It is time to pursue that path. It is time to change and create a life that aligns with my ideals.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie

Feeling lost…

For the last couple of months, I have felt lost. A sense of trying to find something amongst the chaos of uncertainty. My mind has been buffeted by possibilities yet I end up chasing threads that lead nowhere. Paralysis by analysis. I have struggled to write. Creativity has been pushed aside by anxiety. There are many factors in my life at the moment that are out of my control. Situations that I want to conclude but seem to continue to torment. Today, amongst this chaos I felt a fleeting moment of peace. For the first time in those chaotic months, I felt at rest.

It is a mixture of factors that led to this feeling. For the past few months, I have been using the skills I have learned to keep me going; meditation, exercise, communication and introspection. But eventually, the toolbox was empty. I had to return to the doctor and ask for help. I was reticent to take medication again after working so hard to get myself off them but I felt I had no choice. The physical symptoms were greater this time than last. Muscle aches, shaking, upset stomach and headaches were all present. I felt like I was doing things despite myself. Exercising took twice the energy it had done previously. I knew the direction I was heading if I didn’t do something. A return to fluoxetine was what was recommended. It helped last time. Hopefully, it would work this time. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough. An increase in suicide adulation but no desire to commit the act. An upset stomach. Stomach pain. It wasn’t unbearable but was enough to make me question whether it was worth it. But after two weeks, the side effects began to lessen. The intrusive thinking became less frequent. There were fleeting feelings of peace. It was a nice feeling.

The clarity it gave allowed me to take some time to reflect. To genuinely introspect without the unwelcome presence of intrusive thoughts. This morning, I took a slow walk along the seafront. The calm was like a vacuum. The silence was almost deafening after months of being barraged with thoughts. It took some adjusting.

I ordered a coffee and found a bench. I sat and looked out to sea. Embracing the quiet I began to wonder where it had gone wrong. Were had the anxiety crept back in? How had it consumed my thinking again? I was reminded of the power of now. I remembered that future outcomes are not yet decided. That there is only the moment I am in. That from the lessons of my past I can deal with eventualities as, and when, they arise. Ruminating on them solves nothing. It just causes pain. Remembering to bring back to the moment can get lost in the chaos of rumination. The nonstop possibilities crush hope and consume the freedom of thought. The fluoxetine has given me the space to put the tools back into operation. I sipped my coffee and let warm spring sun combined with the chilly spring wind, bring me back to the present. This moment is all there is. Enjoy it. Embrace it. The smiling faces of the people passing reminded me that there is hope. That amongst the chaos there are the simple things that bring joy. Those simple things exist in the here and now.

The feeling of being lost was a reflection of the chaotic thinking. I was trying to solve overthinking by thinking. The nonstop questioning is debilitating. I had to remember to bring it back to the moment. To pull my attention from the future and place it directly in front of me. It was the first time a genuine smile had crossed my face for a while. Amongst the anxiety there is peace. It has taken medication to give me the space to implement the practices I’ve learned but by doing so I have managed to fashion out a slither of contentment.

Surprising what a spring sun and a British seaside can do for your wellbeing!!

I stood up and walked back along the seafront. The spring sun felt warmer. The colours looked vibrant. There was a sense of optimism amongst the uncertainty. It was a feeling that no matter what happens there are options. That the pressure I feel is more perception than reality. The seafront felt calm even bristling with families. It’s surprising how much difference a short walk and a couple of minutes of introspection can make. Just a change of scenery and a moment of peace can draw me from the rumination. I can quite easily get drawn into laying in bed, watching endless TV shows, all the while wondering why I feel down. The rumination leads to guilt which only serves to fuel the self-loathing. A short walk breaks that cycle. It is a great reminder of how little I need to feel better. A half-hour walk on a sunny spring morning can do wonders for my well being. I’m lucky to be in a place that offers relative peace. It’s not so easy to find whilst in the city. A queue of aeroplanes and the hum of traffic discombobulate my senses. Magnified by the peace available in the lockdown the slow return to “normality” reminds me that the chaos is no longer welcome. The chaos of the city, once appealing, now only serves to amplify my anxiety. I once used the chaos to escape, now I want to escape the chaos.

There were fleeting moments, during the lockdown, last year where I felt a genuine connection to the world around me. The quiet reminded me that behind the bustle there is reality. Nature offered the peace I had long been seeking and had often found whilst travelling quieter places. That connection I felt is consumed by the sounds of life. The first time I noticed it was after walking the Inca trail. A few days of being free from technology and in the moment meant that I returned to London in a state of bliss. The feeling slowly slipped away. The peace evaporated into the screeching of tube train wheels on tracks. I sought to return to that feeling but have realised that I am looking in the wrong place. The question that rears its head is which is more important? The city life or my mental health? It’s an easy answer. Peace is preferable.

Passing the bustling beer gardens would once upon a time brought a pang of envy for a life I no longer lived. The years of sobriety have changed my perception of the “fun” of drinking; one isn’t enough but neither is enough. But when consumed in patterns of thinking that are destructive, I can imagine everyone is having a great time and I am the only one wallowing in self pity. In those moments, sobriety can seem like a punishment. When really it was the thing that enabled a life of exploration both inner and outer.

As I return home after my short walk, I realise that for the first time in a few months I feel at peace. No matter how fleeting this feeling is, it is a reminder that by doing the things that keep me well and reaching out when needed, it is possible to get some clarity.

Charlie.

Image – A Chaotic Mind by ReginaldJean

Making goals achievable…

Many of the experiences I have been fortunate to have in life, were once pipedreams. They were the hollow words uttered over many a drunken evening. They weren’t going to be achieved. They were to be the carrot that kept me running on the treadmill of destructive routine. Always dreaming, rarely achieving. This was ultimately down to the fact that my life was directed by external forces. Others expectations. Societal expectations. I was doing what I thought I should be doing but was miserable in the process. Alcohol took the edge off. Until it became destructive. An escape from that destructive life needed a plan. Life needed direction. The recurring thought that one day I would die and would look back on a life wasted was the motivation for me to change.

If time and money was no object, what would you do?

Obviously, time and money are important. But they are tools that we can learn to use in our favour. Most of my time and money went on alcohol. Quitting drinking freed up those resources. It was a great sacrifice but did I want to continue down a road I was miserable on? Or did I want to TRY to change it?

That hypothetical scenario of lying on my death bed was useful. I would imagine what I would have been proud to have achieved. What memories would I love to have for company in those final moments? The answer was always the same; TRAVEL. I wanted to take those dreams and turn them into reality. I had been controlled by addiction for most of my life and the freedom of sobriety was a gift to be used. I started by breaking down life into more manageable sections. I wasn’t happy with my fitness. I was unhealthy and that needed to change. I would write my weight on a piece of paper and stick it to my mirror. A reminder of why I was eating healthy. Just a nudge to keep me on the path. I didn’t set a specific weight or timescale other than getting healthy. I didn’t follow any particular diet other than eating a balanced diet. It worked. There was no timeline just a destination. I wanted to embed healthy behaviours into my lifestyle. Not a quick fix, crash diet that would result in a yoyo of my weight. I was retraining myself.

Tip: Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable ones.

I had to retrain my spending habits. If I wanted to achieve the goal of travelling then I had to cut down on all the little things I bought to try to elevate my mood weekly. The frivolous spending would offer a momentary escape but would hinder my long-term plan. Again, I wrote a list of income and outgoings. I looked at what was important and what wasn’t. There are apps available that do it now but I used a pen and paper. A huge part of my expenditure was servicing debt. Again, I made a plan. I focused on clearing the debt. I didn’t set a date. I just wanted my finances to be healthier. The interest repayments on the loans and credit cards were depriving me of things. So I changed my credit cards to one interest-free card. I refinanced the loans onto a more affordable repayment plan. On reflection, I could have paid a large part of the loan with a credit card and then shifted it to an interest-free card. But I just did what I could at the time. Taking action felt good. It was like finding a rubber ring whilst I was drowning. It was good to see the accounts come down. It was nice to no longer stand at the cash machine with my fingers crossed hoping for ten pounds to come out. When felt the urge to buy something I didn’t particularly need I had to ask myself the question “Do I want it? Or do I need it?” If it was something I just “wanted” I would sleep on it. If I still wanted it a few days later I would make it into a treat. But often the urge to consume would dissipate. It was retraining my brain from the instant gratification of alcoholism to delaying for a greater reward.

It comes down to what I wanted. Did I want to try and keep pace with the illusionary “Joneses” or did I want to achieve what I had dreamt of? Did I want to ignore the Atman or tap into it? The fire inside had been suppressed by alcohol for years. But it was burning in sobriety. I had lived passively for years. Wishing for change. Hoping to be saved by someone or something. Yet it never came. To achieve I had to take responsibility, pick a path and be prepared for failure.

Slowly, it came together. The debt began to become manageable. I was obsessed with clearing the debt. I wanted to pay it back because I wanted to acknowledge that I hadn’t written it off. I wanted it as a marker of change. A symbol of the unachievable becoming achievable.

Tip: It may not happen overnight but don’t despair. Progress, not perfection.

As it became apparent that travel would be an option I started to make lists of place I would like to visit. The Camino de Santiago was first on the list. I started training for it. Again, I started slowly. A couple of miles. Then add a few more. Repeat. Until eventually I was walking 20 miles every Saturday and Sunday. Of course, I had doubts about what I was doing. I would walk past pubs and beer gardens bustling with people, crackling with laughter and wonder if I was doing the right thing. Was I wasting my time walking while everyone was having a great time? I had to remember the last time I had walked down the road of alcohol. How it had destroyed me. Now, it was time for a new challenge. But there were times I felt like I was wasting my time.

Tip; Doubts are normal. Especially when heading in a new direction.

Any doubts vanished when I walked the Camino. No amount of afternoons in beer gardens would replace the life-changing experience of that walk. It was sublime. The sacrifice was worth it. It set the precedent for the future of my travel. “The sacrificing of short term gratification for the achieving of long term goals.” I had searched for fulfilment in alcohol and found it when achieving long term goals. By breaking those goals down into smaller goals they became more achievable. The unrealistic becomes realistic this way. It is a case of finding a “Why?” and sticking to it. “Why, do I want to get healthier/pay of debt/travel the world?” Much is possible when we realise “why?” we are doing it. The obstacles that got in my way often were constructs of my fear. I restricted my life because I was convinced I would fail. But by breaking down the dream of “travelling the world,” into sections such as money, health and time. I could focus on those individual parts one at a time.

Tip; Failure isn’t the end. It is the lesson that that avenue is closed but others are open.

I have been lucky to have a job that allowed me to have the time off to do the things I have done. The question is would I have quit my job to achieve my dreams? I think so. Job security is important but it can come at a great cost to many people. It’s a trade-off. People trade their dreams for a secure wage. It is possible to save enough to cover your bills and take time off. It is possible to fashion a few hours to do a hobby. Like all the things I have talked about here. It just takes time to implement change. If we looked at how we use our time I think many of us would be surprised by the amount we waste.

As people across the UK followed official health advice to stay home during April 2020, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending six hours and 25 minutes each day on average – or nearly 45 hours a week – watching TV and online video content [1] – a rise of almost a third (31%) on last year.

Lockdown leads to surge in TV screen time and streaming – Ofcom

How we spend our time is a habit. Humans are creatures of habit. There are productive habits and non-productive. Spending six hours a day staring at a screen can be productive or not. It depends on what it is for? Is it to waste time or learn a new skill? It is up to us. I had to FORCE myself to meditate. It wasn’t natural but to keep my mind reasonably calm it is a must. So I HAVE to set aside time to do it. Eventually, it became easier. The same as setting aside a bit of time for a hobby or to read. Or whatever little thing today can get us closer to that goal. It takes time. It takes perseverance. It may seem like there is no progress but eventually, you will stand in the place you thought was impossible and think “Holy shit, I actually did it!”

I have always had a desired outcome but the route to it has been flexible. Life throws up all manner of things that get in the way or opportunities that may hasten the process. So be flexible in the journey but have a clear destination in mind.

Charlie

Are you looking for inspiration…

Are you looking for some inspiration? Are you trying to find a slither of light amongst the darkness? Well my friend Kaz who writes the wonderful blog Home | A Brindian in London (wixsite.com), asked me to share my story with him. I talk about my journey through mental health and reaching out for help, whilst fighting my pride in the process. My eventual addiction to alcohol and the journey of sobriety. And finally, how I turned it around and fulfilled my life long dream of travelling the world.

There is hope. There is another way. The future doesn’t have to be a repeat of the past.

So have a watch or a listen and maybe you might hear the message you have been looking for.

AUDIO ONLY

Don’t forget to share. Especially, if you think someone would benefit from the message.

Also, the resources I used to help make the changes are available here. Also, the story of my journey is available here

Thanks for stopping by,

Embracing the uncertainty of sobriety…

Towards the end of my drinking, the thought of the future chilled me to my core. Imagining another five years, living the way I was, made me want to cry. Another year, the same as the previous year, made me want to drink. Alcohol stopped the thinking but caused the negativity. It was a cycle of destruction. I couldn’t take the punishing effects of alcohol but didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t want to stop. Getting sober seemed worse.

A life without alcohol seemed dull. Lifeless. A bleak, boring reality with no escape. What I didn’t realise was that I could create a life that no longer needed escape. That peace was available without alcohol. That by removing the thing I obsessed about, I could calm the obsessing. I didn’t know this until I HAD to venture into the unknown. It was, do or die. 

Sometimes a leap of faith is what is needed to get us out of a situation. A jolt out of routine and a fall into the unknown can be the difference between life and death.

“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.”

Terrance Mckenna

A future without alcohol can be hard to accept. It can be daunting. The illusion of becoming a pariah can be fearful enough to stop change. A lonely, sober Saturday night is enough to make people want to drink. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Sobriety can feel like an illusionary life. The positives can be hard to accept. Especially after a life of things going wrong. Time passes at such a pace that moments begin to blur into one long scene. But eventually, I had to accept that it has turned out far better than I could have imagined. The unknown contained far more positives than negatives. I just couldn’t even begin to imagine them.

The fear of loneliness was removed by the support that was available right from the start. Phone numbers. People reaching out and pulling me from the murky waters of addiction. I thought it was a journey that I would have to walk alone. A struggle against the odds. A fight that would make me or break me. On the contrary, the journey has been one of connection, growth, learning, love and understanding. Realisation and awakening. Of course, there have been hardships but they have lost the impetus that they would have had under the magnifying power of alcohol. 

I thought alcohol was what kept me alive and saved me from the chaos inside my head. I was a functioning alcoholic. I didn’t function despite the alcohol. I believed I functioned because of it. But alcohol wasn’t saving me. Alcohol was what sinking me. Sobriety saved me. The journey into the unknown was thrust upon me. Yes, it was scary. But slowly the panic subsided. I begin to enjoy life. The ominousness of the future gave way to potential. Soon, there were signs of hope. There were green shoots where there had once been a barren wasteland. The odd “pink cloud,” connected me to a feeling I had sought in addiction; PEACE. Yes, there were still problems. Without alcohol, it was easier to find a solution. And to the other problems, I had no control over? I could just remove myself from the equation. And still do.

The worry of the things that could go wrong had previously stopped me from pursuing the things that could go right. A recurring life of shame, guilt, remorse and self-loathing tainted the path into the future. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The only way to break the chain is to make a change. A continuation of the behaviour that led to feelings of guilt and shame will lead to a continuation of those feelings. To REMOVE the outcome we have to remove the cause. 

If drinking leads to the same place often. If it is a place of misery then it is time to stop getting on the crazy train to misery town. The alternative, a life without alcohol, can seem daunting. Frightening even. But I can assure you it gets easier. Don’t expect miracles. Expect change. And you might just receive miracles. I have been fortunate to find peace in sobriety. My drinking life memories are foggy and broken. The memories from sobriety are vibrant and alive. A reward for the sacrifice of choosing to jump into the unknown.

The only unknowns in my drinking days were which negative situation would be the cause of my shame the following day. I was drinking alcohol but walking in treacle. Stuck. Trapped by an obsession and restricted by the thinking that accompanied it. It doesn’t have to be that way. It takes work. Quitting is not the end. It is the beginning. It is the freedom to choose what you see. But it takes action. Dreams only become reality by taking the steps to make it so. Alcohol is a huge problem. But quitting alone isn’t the solution. It takes steps to clear up the wreckage of the past. It can seem daunting but, often, perception has been warped by the past. 

There have been occurrences along the way that I couldn’t even begin to have comprehended back then. Things such as accepting happiness and being deserving. The cycles of destruction made it hard to accept the construction of contentment. In the early days of sobriety, I would often destroy my positive thinking through a combination of habit and fear. I was scared that it was a mistake to feel okay. I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. I was convinced that it was a lie and my old life would be revealed. It never materialised in the way it had been before. If you would have asked me during my drinking days when the last time I cried because I was happy, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. This morning I was walking through the park. I could hear the birds and feel the breeze. The sun was shining and with a smile, I thought “You done good, lad.” It was a simple beauty that made me want to cry. I never thought I could view myself in this way. From the negative destructive cycles of low self-worth to inner contentment, that is not what I expected from this journey. A feeling of simple joy was unimaginable to the lonely alky twitching with anxious desperation all those years ago.

Who knows what the future brings. All I know is that if I don’t drink then it will be far better then if I do. Cyclic escapism of alcohol is a large price to pay for temporary relief. Sobriety is a small price to pay for the reward of peace.

Peace in its self was elusive back then. Now it is available through the practices that I have learned over the last six and a half years; meditation, time in nature, reaching out to friends, exercise, personal growth, facing my inner demons. It seemed daunting back then. It seemed impossible. A life without alcohol contained too many unknowns. What I have realised is that most of them didn’t come true. And far more positive ones have occurred. Not just materialistic things but things I couldn’t comprehend. An inner peace. Feeling at ease with myself. A sense of achievement and accomplishment. I have circumnavigated the obstacle that stopped me from achieving my goals; myself.

I was a victim back then. I was waiting for life to fall into my lap. I was often disappointed that it never materialised which only served to feed the mindset that I was being punished somehow. Night after night. Week after week. Angry at the hand life had dealt me. 

When I stopped the childish attitude of entitlement I began to receive things I needed. When I admitted my part in my demise there were people on hand to help. If it wasn’t for the people who supported me, I would still be at the bar fighting the same battle I had for years before. Fearful of change. Hoping for a miracle. Not realising that all I had to do to find it was put down the drink. Retire my pathetic pride and ego. And dare to leap into the unknown. Thankfully I did. 

I quit drinking to stop from dying early. What I got was a chance to live a life beyond my wildest dreams. I can guarantee that the unknowns are just that and they aren’t all negative. I know where the road I used to walk daily would take me. It is the path to misery. The road less travelled takes me places I couldn’t begin to imagine. To experiences, I couldn’t even dream. And to realisations that have freed me from the bondage of obsession. 

Much love,

Charlie

Alcohol is not your friend…

A few months ago, a student was explaining to me the methods used by the local gangs to recruit kids. They would select the pariahs. The misfits. The outcasts. And offer them salvation in the guise of connection. Invite them out as a group and make them feel included. Eventually, there will be a price. Eventually, it would all end in pain. It sounded so familiar.

Acceptance is high on the list of things people want when they are younger. The yearning to fit in is so great that the fear of being pushed back outside makes some do unthinkable things. It may start out small. A bit of stupidity here and there. Then maybe a fight. Then maybe a serious violent crime. Then prison. Or death. I’ve heard numerous stories in the rooms of AA that follow a similar path; Shy, anxious teenager who never really fit in. Finds alcohol. Feels normal. Finally fits in.

Much like the gangs, advertisers groom us with false promises. Illusions of inclusion and dissolving of life’s issues. Much like the gang life, it is hard to get out once your in.

Alcohol pretends to be your friend. Pretends to have your interests and wellbeing at heart. It is always there for you; helping with your problems and it’s there for the big celebrations. It’s one of the family. A night out wouldn’t be the same without it. If fact, often, if alcohol isn’t there, many others won’t bother coming. That’s how popular it is. But behind the façade is an insidious ulterior motive. A nefarious plot to take away your dignity a bit at a time. A slow, systematic breakdown of your soul. When complete, you are to be replaced with an avatar of what alcohol wants you to be. It is done by offering a false promise; of connection and the sense of being part of something that was desperately needed. Alcohol presents the answers to the life questions we yearned for but could never find in the chaos of reality. It offers the reassurance that steadies the inner child and brings peace to a mind battered by the storms of uncertainty. But all it is doing is distracting us to gain prominence. Those problems don’t vanish. They are just going to reappear tomorrow.

The first few months of my sobriety mostly consisted of anger and grief. I was angry because I felt betrayed by alcohol. I was convinced it was saving me. I was convinced it was the answer to my problems. I was convinced I didn’t need anyone as long as I had alcohol. When my body began to fail and the evidence pointed squarely at my drinking, I couldn’t believe the deceit. Like a good friend who has really been sleeping with my partner behind my back. Or a gang that promises the world but then exposes the requirements for membership. To leave would push me back into isolation. Hence the grief. Quitting drinking was like losing a friend. From being a young teenager it had supported me through many difficult times. I’m not sure I would have made it through if I didn’t have a drink at the time. It did support me. It did help me through. It was the rock I clung to when life was stormy. BUT it left me broken. It left me emotionally stunted. It left me financially ruined. It left on a hospital floor riving around in agony. It was no friend of mine. It just exposed my vulnerabilities and temporarily filled the cracks. It pumped my ego and disappeared when it burst.

I recalled recently, I was in a pub many years ago and a woman introduced me to her friends as ” the coolest teacher she knew.” I assumed it was due to my drinking activities. So deluded was I by the influence of alcohol that it had consumed my identity. I was cool because I drank a lot. It is a self-fulling prophecy. If alcohol could speak, at that moment it would have uttered “I told you I would make you fit in. I told you I gave you a connection. I told you, you need me.” I would have believed it. I did believe it. I needed to believe it because without alcohol there was nothing. So powerful was it’s influence that a life without it was inconceivable. No matter what anybody said about my drinking, I defended alcohol with the ferocity of a protective parent. I was blind. I wasn’t in denial. Because I honestly thought it was what made me what I was. I romanticised alcohol. I imagined it made me interesting and cool. I thought together we were blazing a path through life. Venturing into the newfound territory. When in fact I was walking well-trodden paths. I was consumed by an obsession that I had mistaken for kindship and love. Accepting it was a lie was difficult to take.

The first warning from my liver was taken with a modicum of seriousness. Only enough to make me stop drinking for seven months. But I slowly gravitated back, as the delusions of change grew into affirmations of difference. “It will be different this time! It won’t let me down again… surely!” When it did, I was done. “Fool me once shame on you…” I was distraught. No one wants to believe that their friend is out to destroy them. Especially, a friend that has been in your life for as long as alcohol has been. But after blaming everything for my failings, there were only two things that had been present throughout it all; myself and alcohol. I could change myself but not while being under the influence of alcohol. I wasn’t in control then. I was doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I was in a place in life I didn’t want to be. I had to admit that alcohol wasn’t my friend. My life has only got better since I realised that it doesn’t have my interests at heart.

Since quitting drinking, the lies that I believed during my drinking days have drifted away. Sobriety forced me to step up to the plate and be accountable. More often than not I have been alright. I don’t need alcohol like I once thought I did. Thankfully, I have genuine friends. Ones who don’t create doubt, they create belief. They are the true connection that alcohol promised but never delivered. They wouldn’t ever ask me to do something that questions my moral code, just to be accepted. A real friend never would.

Charlie.

Taking action & getting sober

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I was a “lad“. Well, a wannabe lad who was really a nerd. I would dismiss anything that laid outside of the narrative of my created image. This approach cut me off from so much of life. The bravado I believed I needed to protect me, isolated me from the connection I actually needed. This made me needy because I thought that someone would save me. Any indication of affection was misconstrued as salvation. Yet, any questions asked regarding my behaviour were perceived as an attack and shut down. It was a confusing time; wanting a saviour but chasing away any help. Closed off and isolated.

I eventually learned that nobody could walk the path for me. I had to be vulnerable but I also had to be accountable. Waiting for change had got me nothing but more misery. It was time to take action.

One of the central facets of addiction is the unwillingness to take responsibility. Without exercising the all-important watershed of self-responsibility, breaking the compulsive cycle that leads to addictive behaviour is all but impossible.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/201006/addiction-self-responsibility-and-the-importance-choice

I could have written a book on bullshit excuses I used to justify my behaviour whilst drunk. I used to call alcohol my “get out of jail free card.” The power in those three words “I was drunk,” gave me immunity. So I thought. I was convinced that if I just kept drinking it would work out well in the end. I mean why did I have to change I would be saved right? That’s how life works? Someone steps in and does it all for you?

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the people who tried to help were batted away with bullshit. I wouldn’t change because I was scared of change. I would say “I can’t stop drinking…” what I meant was “I won’t stop drinking…” I used to say “I can’t lose weight…” what I meant was “I can’t be arsed to lose weight…” Why? Because change is scary and it can be very fucking hard to do.

But that shouldn’t deter you from trying because it is incredibly rewarding!

I had to learn that I had been looking for an external solution to an inner problem. Alcohol, food and anything else that could change my mood were to blame for my failings. I never considered that I was the mechanism that enabled their administration. Throughout my drinking life I had been spewing vitriol at a world I believed had failed me. Drunkenly, I would shout obscenities at the night sky. The silence from the ether only served to antagonise me further. Alcohol combined with my victim mentality created a perfect storm within. Anger and frustration from fear of failure slowly eroded my self-belief. I was systematically hollowed out and abandoned. Alcohol was a grifter that I let into my life. Yet, even after noticing the danger, I continued to fuel the devastatingly toxic relationship out of fear of change.

A rock bottom exposed me to the error of my ways. Not the first rock bottom but so far the last one. “Just because life slaps you across the face doesn’t mean you won’t chance it again.” Rock bottoms are talked about like they are some divine moment of clarity. What isn’t mentioned is that A LOT of people have many before the message gets through. Myself included.

In the early days of my sobriety, AA asked me to adopt a higher power and “hand my problems over.” I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to outsource my problems anymore. I had been pointing the finger, blaming others and hoping someone else would solve my problems for years. All the while refusing to take action. I used to sit in bars thinking it’ll probably work out in the end… MY LIFE ONLY EVER GOT WORSE. Sorry for the caps but some people don’t get the message that; waiting for change, whilst doing the thing you want to change, doesn’t result in change. I’m sure you would have a few things to say if your house was on fire and the fire-brigade stood and watched it burn down saying “it might go out on its own!”

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-26

Even being as open-minded as I could, I still struggled with the AA program and sought other means of going inward. I had been waiting for an external saviour for years so maybe it was time to look elsewhere.

I began meditating thanks to a Kundalini yoga DVD I had used to lose weight. It worked on the weight and also, opened my mind to new pursuits. I thought that maybe meditation would help to get a grip on my thinking. I had been battling depression throughout my life but just didn’t know it. I had assumed that the low level of drudgery was a part of life that we all endured. The reward for this drudgery was alcohol. Yet, deep down I hoped there had to be more to life. I was scared of being different. Yet yearning to release the fire of inquisitive exploration that burned within. I wanted to get to know who I was and meditation has been a key component in that.

I started to practice and over time, began to see parts of my psyche I had forgotten. I had some experiences that made me realise that I was on the wrong road. I changed careers as a result. I found fulfilment in what I was doing for the first time in my life.

I have used different meditation practices from focusing on breathingmindfulness and transcendental. In the AA steps it talks about meditation but it is referring to Christian meditation to bring people closer to God. The difference can be seen here;

Work out your own salvationDo not depend on others.”

Buddha

I didn’t want to get closer to God. I wanted to know what I wanted and who I was. I’d been living a lie for so long I’d forgotten the truth. The character had consumed the actor. Thankfully, meditation made me centred for the first time. Coupled with the clarity of not drinking I was able to find a stable footing.

Being present allowed me to experience life in its simplistic wonder. To connect to moments I missed when my head was careering from one imaginary catastrophe to the next. Imagining one terrible scenario after another.

The life I have experienced since has been more simplistic but more beautiful. I have had some great connections to life and other people. The spirituality/connection I have felt is merely an understanding that I am a small part of a large universe but I still have a part to play. A deep realisation that my actions impact other people and nature. But I need those things to be able to enjoy life. The greatest of these feelings is always whilst walking. Either long distances or in nature. It reminds me to be grateful for my body and also, not to take nature for granted. It’s easy to be distracted by technology and miss the beauty that surrounds me. Walking and being present are the basis of my recovery. If I enjoy the simple things then all the other things are a luxury. It’s almost as if I had become so detached from nature that my life had grown to be unnatural.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

Buddha

I spent years sitting on a barstool waiting for divine intervention to turn my life around and it never came. I had to stop believing in saviours and take action for myself. Thankfully, others came to the same conclusion. They walk beside me on the path of sobriety but they can not walk it for me.

Don’t wait for change. Make it happen!

Charlie.

Lessons from depression…

In 2008, I suffered a debilitating dark depression that kept me, prisoner, for most of the year. Being a working-class man, depression wasn’t something I knew about. The thought of reaching out was debilitating. The illusionary image of strength was the enemy of my recovery. It restricted me from reaching out sooner. It kept me in a dark place for longer than was needed. Last year (2020), I began to descend down the same road. It was a slow return to bleak negativity and eventual hopelessness. The mornings seemed darker. My body felt heavier. Depression is insidious. It is sneaky. It is tiring. And pretending to be strong is not the answer. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Let alone reach out for help. I wanted to be the one who had beaten depression all those years ago. I wanted to be the one with all the answers. Who had walked through hell and had the burns to prove it. It wasn’t to be. Thankfully the misery of the first bout of depression was enough to seek help much sooner this time. The lesson from the first bout was; I don’t have to fight it alone. 

For most of my life, I felt out of step with everyone. Imagine a silent disco. On the headset, there are two channels. On channel one there is clubland classics pumping out baselines with the ferocity of a Mike Tyson uppercut. On channel two there is The Smiths greatest hits. Morrisey’s melancholy meanderings light a connection in my depressed soul. I feel like the only one in the room listening to The Smiths. Everyone else is having a great time. Partying. Loving the moment. While I am gently swaying contemplating my own existence.

I’m not alone in feeling this way. Many others feel disconnected and lost also. Cut off from others and themselves. Trying desperately to fill the void with something. Hoping that one day it will be filled with something outside. Not being comfortable to expose their true selves, many adopt a persona. A barrier to protect them from being exposed. The artificial attracts like. Connections are merely trivial distractions from the self. Another solution to the emptiness.

The social fabric is tearing as it’s material is cheapened. Life gets devalued. Connections become trivialised. Mental health increases as isolation and loneliness take hold. Clinging to trends in the hope of acceptance. Trying to keep up with the ever-changing world. It’s overwhelming and exhausting. It is this feeling that draws us towards escapism. Fantasist ideals tantalise our tastebuds. They tease us to believe that the next thing will be the key to our illusionary prison cells. The result is that our day to day life suffers. Our minds are on tomorrow. Not now. We become focused on the things we lack and not the things we have. Escape from this makes perfect sense. TV, sex, food, alcohol, drugs, anything that gives temporary relief from the emotional pain is sought. 

Alcohol appealed to me because it gave me freedom from an anxious mind. Placed me firmly back within the moment and silenced the dream machine. Eventually, escapism is all I knew. I had forgotten how to live. Alcohol became my life. Yet, after quitting alcohol, the behaviours still remained. I still sought to escape from myself just by other means. I was blinded by broken promises of happiness dressed as manikins. The illusion of technological vicariousness swallowed my integrity. An artificial audience has begun to dictate my direction. I got lost in the delusion. Clouded by bullshit. Dragged along by nothingness hoping to reach something. Searching for reality in the artificial. 

Basically, I have reverted back to addictive behaviour without using alcohol. I had been searching for completeness. Browsing the shelves for my missing piece. No wonder I was fucking miserable. Like a hamster on a wheel dreaming of escape. I had been going around and around. Each new item I bought was the thing to liberate me. Yet, happiness wasn’t included. Everything new becomes old eventually. Consumption is fleeting. Life isn’t dispensable. It is to be savoured. Devoured. Explored. Tested. Tried. Bent and prodded. By searching externally I only found the same answers. External stimuli are temporary. Eventually, the feeling will be replaced. Like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Contentment is a fixed bucket. I had to find the road to contentment.

Perception makes a huge difference. Most mornings I would wake up and imagine sliding a pistol against the base of my skull. Suicide or face the day. That was my choice for a long time. I would say “One more day,” And then I would get out of bed. I mean, it isn’t a great way to start the day. Contemplating suicide. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It was just the way it was. A continuation of the guilt soaked mornings of addiction. When each thought would either be where am I? Or “shit! I’m still alive!” I have replaced suicidal morning meanderings with a morning complement. A much nicer start to the day. I have started being nice to myself, mentally. Saying you are good enough. It seemed like bullshit when I started but eventually, it made a difference. I’m just trying to find the level. Repetition is the mother of skill.

It has been a good lesson. An enforced reflection. A slap across the face. I have learned that obsession is putting all eggs in one basket. Addiction is a single escape. Imagine, there is a percentage of escape we need from the rat race to stop us from going insane. Addiction is 100% of that escape. The answer is to diversify our addictions. Spread them out to eliminate the obsession. Learning an instrument 25%. Exercise 25%. Spending time with friends or loved ones 25%. Reading 25%. Just examples but you get the idea. I know it isn’t as easy as choosing not to be an alcoholic/addict/user but it is integral to mental well being. 

Even after all these years, I can still obsess over people, products or travel. In fact, obsessing has been useful to achieve goals. Unfortunately, when the goal is accomplished, I am left floundering around for something else to obsess over. If I peg all my happiness on a single outcome, what happens if it doesn’t deliver? A single goal is a dangerous destination. After completion, it is a lonely place. It is good to have balance. To spread the love. To share the growth. To pass on your message. Altruism is great for happiness. It stops us from collapsing into selfishness. It also increases our awareness and mood. 

When I begin to obsess over a goal everything else falls by the wayside. Travel was a massive obsession. It has all the positives of alcohol; confidence, laughter, relaxation, dopamine, banter, connection and experience. But without the destruction of the self. In fact, travel expands the soul instead of destroying it. Because of these characteristics, I find travel addictive. Dopamine is constantly pumped into my brain by excitement and wonder. It is a beautiful feeling. Returning home is the hangover. Crashing through the floor into a dark cellar of despair. Especially, when I have pushed everything away to get to the finish line. Each time I have to rebuild the bridges to the people who saw the real side of my obsessional behaviour. It’s similar to a manic episode. It is similar to a drunken episode. It consumes my thinking and I stop doing the simple things that keep me well.

The depression last year started after achieving my dreams. All I had ever wanted to do was travel. I wanted to KNOW what the Inca trail felt like. I wanted to experience it. The fire in my soul was ferocious. Alcohol cooled it but never extinguished it. I had naively assumed that achieving my dreams would lead to fulfilment. But I was mistaken. The aeroplane wheels barely touched down at Heathrow airport, on my return, before the thought “Is that it? Now what?” entered my mind. I was lost. Without a goal, I felt I had nothing to aim for. I had stopped doing the simple things. I wrongly believed that travel and achieving dreams would answer all my problems. I heard Tyson Fury talking about how deflated he felt after winning the world title. I understand the emotion. I thought that achievement would fill the void.

I know it sounds ungrateful. I know how lucky I am to have done what I have done. I am not saying that I didn’t have a great time. Neither am I suggesting there is no benefit it having goals. Setting goals can lead to contentment. What I am saying is that the thing I dreamed about doing for twenty years didn’t make me content. What does make me content are the simple things that I can take for granted. It is those things that are the basis of my contentment. I was almost disappointed to realise that there wasn’t some magical thing in the world to complete me. Meditation, reflection, creativity, connection, gratitude, love and self- care. Those things are what I need to stay well. Not doing/acknowledging them is the same as digging up the foundations of my house. Once the undermining begins then the negativity creeps in and then the whole house comes falling down.

I recently heard of a young man taking his own life. None of his close friends or family knew of how he was feeling. Reaching out may not have solved his problems but it may have. IF YOU EVER FEEL THIS WAY THEN PLEASE TELL SOMEONE. Reaching out can seem pointless when amid despair. But it changed my life. You don’t have to go it alone. The world needs you. It may not seem like it but you are loved.

Charlie.

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/

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The Power of positivity…

The mind is everything. What you think you become.

Buddha

In 1954, Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than four minutes. It was deemed to be impossible. The specialists at the time said that to achieve such a feat was “beyond human capability”. Despite this, Roger Bannister trained and attempted it. How did he achieve the impossible? Hard work and a belief that it could be done. When all around saw impossibility, Bannister saw an opportunity. He opted to test how true the narratives of the time were. He pushed the boundaries of belief and conquered the impossible.

The narrative of impossibility stands as the guardian to the gateway for many of our dreams. Things in life that appear impossible, remain that way because we believe they are. The narrative dictates our self-worth. Steals progress. We become paralysed by the knowledge that to attempt, is to fail. Inaction is the outcome. But look around. Take a look at the people who have achieved what you want. It is possible.

Many stood in the wreckage of a life destroyed by the effects of addiction. Each thought how the fuck do I put this together again? How do I live a life without a drug? How do I even function? This is impossible!!! But how many are there sharing their story? How many thought it was impossible but still gave it a go, only to succeed? Millions of people. Some found it impossible. Or should I say they let the narrative win? Many others stayed the course. Despite the odds being stacked against them. Each positive change was another piece of coal that kept their belief burning. It is imperative to have faith that things will work out. How do you get it?

Years of guilt and shame. Years of not being able to control your behaviour are enough to destroy self-worth. But it can be rebuilt. It can be restored. Repeat “I can do this!” Scream it. Exercise and repeat it until you believe it. Want to lose weight? The same “I can do this.” YOUR PAST FAILURES DON’T DICTATE YOUR FUTURE! You have the capabilities to do it! You just don’t know it. They got lost. The path to success got clouded by the narrative that was adopted. The one that says it’s impossible. The negative thinking patterns that limit our progress are changeable. The belief that the future will end up the way it always has creates anxiety. The ominous outcome that is predicted by the negative narrative is debilitating. Fuck that narrative. Take control.

That negative narrative will kill you. It will leave you broken and trapped. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things that can be done to change the narrative:

  • List all the things you have that you are grateful for. Not superficial things. Genuine things that resonate with your soul. Love and connection. Something that feeds life. Things like food and water are often taken for granted but they are vitally important.
  • This is hard but necessary; what do you like about yourself? Not superficial. Something that defines you. That gives you a connection to life. Write them down. If you can’t find something then it is time to accept that those parts of yourself do exist. It is time to shine the light on them once again. “There is nothing to like about me!” that is the narrative, not the truth.
  • Set small goals. For example, to lose a small amount of weight. Or to pay off a small amount of debt. Then repeat this process. It is small steps that build to larger change. But also by achieving things, no matter how small, it builds confidence.
  • Celebrate your achievements. You deserve it.
  • Tell yourself you are good enough. You are capable. You are beautiful. Repeat it until you can say with conviction.
  • Take action to improve the things you wish to improve. Setting goals is important. But without the action they may just remain as goals. Instead of becoming achievements.

“Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build up the body in vigour and grace. The body is a delicate and plastic instrument, which responds readily to the thoughts by which it is impressed, and habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad, upon it.”

James Allen, As a man thinketh (1903)

In 1903 the book “As a man thinketh” by James Allen was released. Over the years the ideas have been reshaped and relabelled. In 1957, Earl Nightingale released the strangest secret. Which reignited the ideas. In modern times, terms like the law of attraction and The Secret have been reignited the belief in the power of positive thinking. The message remains the same. If we plant the seed of positivity, it will alleviate the anxiety created by the fear of failure. The mindset that something is achievable is the start of it becoming achieved. But the thought is just the precursor for the action. Thinking that something will happen, then sitting and waiting is not the way. Belief is the fuel for success. It is the thing that gets us up to go again. It is the crack of light in the darkest days that make us realise that there is a way out. But we have to put that faith in motion. “Faith without works is dead!”

Many people ask “what do I want out of life?” Which to me is a vague question. Life is made up of many parts. It is complex. The reason many people get lost in this question is that it is a huge task to try to figure out. Life can be broken down into smaller components; health, relationships, finances, knowledge, personal goals. Each one can be reviewed. They can be measured by our metric and evaluated where we are on that path. Is it okay or does it need improvement? For me, many improved with the removal of alcohol but others needed to be cultivated. By breaking them down they become manageable and more realistic. This process removes the ambiguity of the whole and enables growth through smaller steps. Positive thinking is the belief that we can achieve those goals.

In the misery of addiction, the only goals I had were 1) not get sacked for drinking 2) drink. That was it. That wasn’t my life. That was the life afforded to me by an addiction to alcohol. Sobriety became the first goal I set. “To try and stay sober!” that was the start. How? By not drinking! But it seemed impossible at the start. Unrealistic. Unachievable. Yet, I just kept going. Eventually, it became natural. I found the simple things that worked for me; exercise, connection, creativity, meditation reflection. When the gloss of alcohol disappeared it left behind the mind it had created. One of negativity and poison. Of defeatest low self-worth. That narrative is the one that destroyed me. Drove me to the gutter and kept me there. That mindset wouldn’t enable growth. It had to change. I read psychology, philosophy, self-help. I watched numerous videos on promoting self-belief. Eventually, I stood in the footsteps made by my beliefs. I walked in the shoes of the person I believed I could become. Yes, it took time. But my god it was worth it.

I believe it is available to us all. That we all have gifts and talents that are restricted by the limiting chain of self-doubt. But with a little encouragement and rewiring through changing our beliefs then we can achieve what was once impossible.

“Just because they say it’s impossible doesn’t mean you can’t do it!”

Roger Bannister

Some of the darkest times in my life have led me to great achievements. Once, amid alcoholic ruin, I imagined being on a beach far away. The sun was just rising and I was happy. It was a far cry from the situation I found myself in. Years later, I was lucky enough to rent a beach hut in Cambodia. The sun was just rising. The sky was illuminated. I walked down the steps of the hut onto the beach. At that moment I recalled the visualisation from the years before. I was standing where I had imagined myself being. It had come to fruition. It had been nothing more than a comforting dream but eventually became reality. The seed had been planted. Sobriety freed me to take the action needed to make it a reality.

So try it. Listen to that inner chatter and hear what message you are repeating about yourself. Is it negative or is it positive? Is it one of love and gratitude? Or one of scorn and fear? You can change it. You can become the beautiful soul that resides within. I know you’ve got what it takes. Do you?

“If you realized just how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”

Destiny awaits,

Charlie.

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Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

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