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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.

Worriers Anonymous

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

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

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

“HI CHARLIE!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Que Sera, Sera

Charlie

Seven years of sobriety…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

How much is enough?

Or more specifically, how much stuff is enough? Is the answer less stuff and more gratitude? We are conditioned to always want more. To keep searching for that elusive missing piece. And then we find it but still feel empty? Then what? What is the answer? MORE. Keep running the race. Keep chasing shadows. Pursuing the contentment that has been promised by the marketers. Always searching, never finding. But if enough is never enough, then where does it end? Will we ever achieve a level of fulfilment if we cannot take stock? Or will life be one long pursuit? One long struggle to achieve “something” but using the wrong avenue to achieve it?

The pressure to identify through items starts at an early age. A colleague was recently ruminating over which mobile phone to buy their six-year-old daughter. “An iPhone may give her the wrong perception of life but if her friends have Apple then she may be bullied if I get her Android.” was the thinking. A crazy notion that children of that age already have brand loyalty. The same mechanisms existed when I was a teenager but not at six. I recall getting some stick over a pair of Hi-tech trainers. My friends were wearing Nikes. Unbeknown to me at that time, their parent had bought them out of the catalogue and was paying them off on the weekly. The mechanisms of debt for acceptance had already been embedded. The borrowing of money to appear rich is pure insanity. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “debt exposes a man to confinement, and a species of slavery to his creditors.” But the fear of ostracization without the products fuels the consumption that keeps us trapped. But who are we really fooling? And is there any benefit in doing so? Ultimately how much is enough?

Greed is a little more than enough

Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut

We have been conned. Whilst walking down the street we see a new car driving along. Our initial response is “Well they must be doing alright for themselves.” This may be true but in 2019 “91% of new cars were on finance.” There is nothing wrong with wanting nice things but in the UK large numbers of people are experiencing financial stress. What do people believe would help them alleviate this stress? MORE. If they just earned more then they would be okay. RUBBISH. Maybe for some on low wages. Children are expensive and rents can be high after all. But the issue for a large number of people isn’t needing more. It is spending less. Are we really so insecure that we are killing ourselves for acceptance? I know it’s not that easy just to cut back. I am a recovering alcoholic after all. I understand the machinations of excess. I also understand that it never made me happy beyond the immediate moment. It was fleeting. Alcohol, like so many things, promises more than it delivers. And the promise of positive outcomes, ie happiness/pleasure is enough to get our juices flowing; “The anticipation is better than the pleasure. Researchers have found that the nucleus accumbens respond much more to the prospect of reward than to the reward itself. Further, it is all the same to the nuclei accumbens, which respond nearly identically to the prospect of food, sex, social contact, cocaine, or financial gain.” We are our own enemy. We believe the false promises and ignore the evidence that it isn’t working.

We believe that more money will solve our current problem but the change of jobs or last pay rise didn’t seem to change anything. If we don’t learn to “cut our cloth to suit” we will always be chasing the elusive more. But what if the answer is less? What if we take stock of our lot and look at where we sit on the ladder. Earlier, I mentioned a colleague deliberating over a very first world problem. When put against the fact the 16% of the world’s population don’t have electricity. 785 million people don’t have clean water. Yet, embedded in an early age we have an arrogance that all our whims should be met. And does it make us happy? Nope. Enough never seems to be enough.

How much destruction is worth progress? How many dead ends do we have to run down before realising that the path to happiness doesn’t lay there? The needs of humans are simple.

There have been positives to the pursuit of more. Health, hygiene, medical, technological advancements but does the pursuit of an ever-growing economy translate to increased happiness. Just because the pursuit of progress works in one area of life does it mean that it automatically works in another? Infinite growth and consumption are not possible on a planet with finite resources. But we are too far down the track to turn back. “More” is the answer to escape the problems it is creating. By escaping we are becoming detached from our roots. The technology we use daily is astounding. Yet pales against a true night sky. The infinite laid bare daring to be questioned. A sunset that flutters even the hardest of hearts. The simplicity of a cool breeze reminds our fragile ego that we are but a small part of the greater. It’s hard to accept. That amongst the progress there is only escape. We are running from the fear that without the identity of the external, the infinite would consume us. The expanse is overwhelming. But to realise the beauty of it all we have to pause. Take a breath and look around. Take in the machinations that are beyond our control. They are large. In the security we desperately cling to there is chaos. Everchanging. Relentless. But there is contentment and appreciation.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated,” said Confucius. Is it fear that does this? Or perception? That with nothing we are nothing. That to exist we have to own. To have value we have to demonstrate that value through bought identity. We as consumers drive the market. We can create any world we want to live in. Most of life as we know it is a creation of our own making. We create the games then become snared by them. What is the ideal human experience? A recurring theme I’ve seen in the few places I’ve been lucky enough to visit is community. A connection and purpose with value. Most liked to laugh and feel secure. Not only in their environment but also within themselves. Society. Collaboration. Working towards a greater goal that benefits others and the self. In the west, we have been fragmented. Turned into competitors. Divided and conquered. Fragmented yet looking for a missing piece. The piece is all around. We just look in the wrong places.

Is it happiness we are seeking or is it the escape from unhappiness?

If we take the time to think why are we doing the things we do. Are we working a lot of hours in a job we hate to buy things to make us happy? Are we in a situation that we cannot change and feel resentful about it? Instead of comparing our situation with others. Which in itself is a form of self-harm. We should be looking at the things we have that we enjoy. Embracing the time we have. Identifying the things we can improve if need be and working towards them. Instead of trying to be happy. Or trying to buy happiness. We should try to be; present, reflective, grateful, understanding, comfortable with ourselves. Improving the way we look at our world and ourselves can go a long way to calm the pursuit of happiness through material means.

Take travel, for example, it was a fire that burned within me. I HAD to see the places I’d dreamt of. And when I had, the urge was no longer there. I understand that travel can be addictive but at what point does it become another THING? When the experiences are lost in the numbers of places visited? When the reason for doing something or visiting somewhere has been replaced by a lack of knowing what else to do? Some people genuinely love that lifestyle. Some people genuinely love shopping. Kudos. But how many of us are doing the things we do because we lack an alternative? How many already have enough but are lost in the pursuit of “something” that they can’t see they have already? How much debt, obesity and environmental destruction do we have to have before we finally admit that enough is actually enough? Maybe then we can accept that things have to change? Maybe then it will be too late.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie

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Sobriety, The Gift of Peace…

In the crazy days of alcohol abuse, life was dramatic. It was chaotic. It was shambolic. Things were significantly worse than they are now. That’s why I had to drink. To battle on through the shitstorm that was raging daily. People, places and things only served to test my resilience. Alcohol was the prop that held me up against the hurricane of life. It brought peace to the war that raged all around. It brought respite from the uphill battle I was facing. Alcohol brought peace to the chaos in the beginning. 

Seeing the negatives in life was the fuel for my denial. The perception of chaos was to escape the fear of facing reality. Alcohol was to escape the fabricated reality. To remove the need to escape, I had to face the reality and understand why I was trying to escape. The only way this was possible was with a clear head. Alcohol had to go.

Life hasn’t changed much since I quit. It is still the same as it was. People, places and things test my patience. Sometimes they get the better of me. That’s life. Sometimes things arise that are unexpected. Life doesn’t always go to plan. No matter how meticulous that plan may seem. It can be difficult relinquishing control and accepting that it may not go the way I want. But accepting that I can only do my bit, instead of trying to control reality is the quickest way to peace. What will be, will be.

Ten years ago, that would not have been my approach. Shit, I used to make mountains out of molehills. Make monsters from mice. Paint the world as an enemy and me as a victim. It was difficult to be victorious whilst playing the victim. It is equally difficult to relinquish control of my thoughts. Recently, I vowed to meditate for 100 days to see if it made a difference. The first 50 days has made a noticeable change. The compartmentalisation of my thoughts is incredible. The ability to observe and acknowledge the punishing potential of thoughts is a gift. It has been so profound that during this period of stress, I have managed to find moments of peace. 

For thirty minutes of meditation a day, I have managed to maintain a sense of clarity. Most of us would say we don’t have time to meditate

As per eMarketer, the average US adult spends 3 hours and 43 minutes on their mobile devices. That’s roughly 50 days a year. 3. And the average screen time in the UK stands at 3 hours 23 minutes per day as per CodeComputerLove.

Screen Time Statistics 2020: Your Smartphone Is Hurting You (elitecontentmarketer.com)

I made time to meditate because I was coming off the back of a bout of depression. I thought meditation may help and thankfully it has. It didn’t cure but it has helped find some balance. It has been beyond my expectation. I am at day 50 and feel relatively calm a lot of the time. My mind in those drinking days was a ceaseless storm. Now it is like a crisp spring morning with a cool breeze that reminds me I am alive. There are moments of elevated anxiety but ultimately it is manageable. 

The biggest benefit I have noticed from the meditation is the ability to reign my thoughts back to the moment. Previously, my thinking would go walkabout. Before, my mind was like a dog in a park, off its lead, having a wonderful time, ignoring the repeated shouts of its owner. Now, it is a dog on a retractable lead. It can go so far and then I can pull it back. If I start to envisage the future. Or notice a train of thought that serves no other purpose than to cause unnecessary pain. I can pull it back to the moment. It is a gift. All it takes is a little time and practice.

Meditation is the medication I sought in alcohol. It is the access to peace I sought in alcohol but without the negative consequences. Much like alcohol, I have to be a repeat user to get the benefits but it is a practice I am happy to partake in. So, far I haven’t withdrawn £100 at 1am to carry on meditating. I often did that whilst drinking.

The practice has allowed me to notice temptation trying for my attention. Sitting silently, it is possible to feel the yearning to check Facebook. Watch TV. Anything that would take me out of the moment. It is strong sometimes. Like a child pulling at my sleeve demanding to be entertained. Thankfully, it is now possible to let it pass. I am not perfect. Temptation often gets the better of me. I don’t give myself a hard time. I just meditate again the next day. 🙂

It is clear that the chaos I felt in my life as an alcoholic was just the externalisation of the inner chaos. Alcohol was the white flag of surrender to the war that raged inside. Slowly throughout the day, the alcohol would wear off. The inner chatter would increase. As if the volume was at a 1 when I woke up but then, hourly, it would go up a level. By the afternoon, the noise inside was unbearable. My only option was to drink again until the noise went quiet. The cycle repeats. The chaos continues. The fight appears to be won. The morning brings reality. In the early days of drinking the noise was anxiety. In the latter days, it was an addiction demanding to be fed. Neither was healthy. 

Breaking that cycle has been the gift of sobriety. Peace has been the prize. My life has been far more chaotic without alcohol. But positively. No more fighting incessant noise daily. Instead, the chaos has come in the form of options. Of opportunities. And experiences. From having a linear path from work to alcohol, life has branched out like the tree of life. Shit still happens. Most things are out of my control. So I do the best I can when I can. Worrying about what I can’t change is a waste of energy and a stealer of time. If I spend my time thinking about how beautiful the roses will be whilst planting them, I miss the joy in the act of gardening. If I peg my happiness on the future, I miss the possibilities that will arise at the moment. 

Charlie.

The Dangers of Self-Reflection

Someone once said to me “The problem is you have started asking questions you shouldn’t have started asking. You have opened Pandora’s box!” I didn’t understand at the time. I would often wonder about the intricacies of life and the direction I was taking. Was I enjoying the things I did or was I doing them because of subconscious motivations? It is a rabbit hole. If you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, it is difficult to unsee it. If you ask a question and don’t like the answer it can’t be unasked. The danger of self-reflection is finding something that you don’t like. Imagine finding out that your life wasn’t yours. Or the things you did was for acceptance not for joy. What if the labels you bought was due to a lack of self worth. Self-reflection is dangerous to the ego but liberating for the soul.

” The unexamined life is not worth living “

Socrates

Living on the edge of a nervous breakdown had become the norm. Energy drinks fuelled the chaos. Kept on the edge of life. Prolonging the anxiety and embracing it as normality. Busyness masquerading as productivity. Reality became exposed through the examined life. The questioning of our intentions exposes the motivations. Are they our drivers? Are the paths we pursue our own or the ones imposed on us?

I’d spent years focusing on travelling the world. The lesson I learned was that I didn’t need to travel to be happy. I learned that I had everything I needed to be happy. I had to travel to learn that I didn’t need to. This realisation was hard to take. The realisation that my life long dream had been a waste of time sent me into a depression. The time I had spent pursuing the dream had been for nothing. Or so I thought. Slowly I began to realise that I was lucky not only to have the experience. But I was also lucky to learn this lesson. Instead of pursuing happiness like some kind of elusive entity hiding in a mystical object or experience that just had to be found, I realised it was with me all along. It is with us all. This type of realisation is devastating to an economy that relies on the hedonic treadmill for sustenance. Without the cyclic pursuits of escape through consumption, the tills stop ringing. Debt decreases. Ironically happiness increases. It is almost as if anxious and unhappy citizens make good customers.

I am not talking about abandoning modern life and living in fields or mud huts. I am talking about asking the question “why?” Why do we do the things that we do? Who do we do them for? And do they serve us? I have pursued many paths in my life so far. I’ve been gluttonous to the point of addiction. I have been frugal to the point of destitution both forced and by choice. Always searching but never finding. It was until I started to look inwards that I could really find what I was looking for. The inner light guides if we are prepared to let it shine the way. I realised my needs are quite simple. Much like Epicurus suggested; food, shelter, friends, family and time for reflection.

I remember something written by Erich Fromm about the anxiety-inducing properties of the question “What next?” After all the external requirements have been acquired, a place to live, partner, kids/or not, food, and job, “what next?” The reason it induces anxiety is that our culture doesn’t have an answer. So we set about getting a promotion, a newer car or a bigger house. Then find ourselves faced with the same question. To me, this just demonstrates that the answer doesn’t lay externally. Contentment isn’t found in temporary things or things that can be taken away. It only can come from gratitude and appreciation. Only then will enough be enough. The pursuit of incremental dopamine hits to prolong the illusion of happiness will decrease. Contentment by its very definition isn’t fleeting. It is a deep realisation that everything is in alignment. And that everything is okay just as it is.

Self-reflection is dangerous because it may expose the path we have been walking down as one we don’t desire to be on. That the hamster wheel of consumption no longer serves. That the people who look unfavourably on your decision to retire from the illusionary competition are only doing what they believe to be the right thing. We are encouraged to promote the status quo after all. I have been taken aback by the question “why are you so happy?” many times. I’m not talking about bouncing around annoying happy. Just content. Just accepting that situation is where I was and accepting it was the best choice. Free of worry. No other reason than being present.

The hedonic treadmill – In psychology, a hedonic set point is the general baseline level of happiness a person experiences over their lifetime, despite any temporary changes in the level from positive or negative life events. The theory argues that although events and environmental factors can affect happiness in the short term, people will naturally adapt back to their hedonic set point in the long term.

Hedonic Treadmill Definition (investopedia.com)

It has been argued that after a “life changing event” there is a return to a “base level” of happiness. Winning the lottery would be amazing… for a while. But after ticking off the bucket list, then what? A return to the base level of happiness. So would winning the lottery guarantee happiness? Or is it to raise the base level? If so then how?

By aligning our life with our inner morals. By connecting with others who hold the same values. By finding purpose within those values. Basically, by becoming a human being again. Cultivating connection and social bonds that stand the test of time. Instead of clinging to anyone who offers an alternative to being alone. This way it is possible to find real people. But to do so we have to be real ourselves. Not changing with the breeze hoping for acceptance by similarity. Be genuine. By introspecting it is possible to see who we are. To connect with who we are. To be comfortable with who we are. Then it is possible to find like-minded others.

One 2020 study showed that regularly practicing gratitude can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. An older study from 2003 noted that gratitude was linked to improved mood.

The Benefits of Gratitude and How to Get Started (healthline.com)

Searching for the next fix. Slobbering over the next escape. Running the treadmill of consumption. It is easy to lose focus on the things we have. The last material good that was the motivator soon becomes old. The shiny newness fades and is replaced with the blinding light of the next product that offers fulfilment. Rinse and repeat. By taking stock of what we have. How lucky we are. And how bad things could really be. Liberates us from the illusionary competition with the “Jones’s.” Gratitude is proven to lessen anxiety and depression. It redresses the mindset that all in our own lives is bad whilst everyone else is living the high life. Exacerbated of course by social media and the attempts to prove a point to people you don’t know. I am not suggesting that gratitude cures mental health problems but as a practice, it can help to raise the base level of contentment. If we spend our lives looking at how “successful” everyone else is whilst we flounder, of course, it is going to makes us feel inferior. It may also motivate us to want to become like those. But does it result in happiness? Or is its promise of happiness the carrot attached to the stick that keeps us running on that treadmill?

Individuals’ with an understanding of their innate desires or lack thereof are dangerous. Not to each other but to the expectation bestowed upon them. The realisation that taking on debt for the purchase of an item under the expectation of an increase in happiness will most likely result in the happiness finishing long before the debt does. It is an addiction. And like all addictions, it needs feeding often. Unfortunately, many addictions aren’t broken until it has consumed the addicts’ life to the point of destitution. It is only with no other options but to tackle the problem is the problem faced. A rock bottom. It isn’t a guaranteed wake up call. Many will increase the mechanisms of escape to hide from the problem.

Ironically, the opposite of addiction is connection. It is the connections made in recovery that has liberated me from my previous life. The fake competition only serves to separate and destroy the connection. There is power in connection. There is movement in collectives. But without an understanding of our moral compass, it is difficult to find out where we belong. My desire is to help. My inner light burns brightest at the service of others. I have tried the materialistic pursuit but was often left wanting. I used to feel guilty. Or think I lacked ambition. Just because I didn’t desire hierarchical dominance. It took years of questioning to finally accept my path. I fought against myself for years. Forcing myself to do things I didn’t want to do. Just in the hope that the things I could buy with the money I earned would bring the happiness I sought. I was often disappointed. I had fun. But it ultimately felt directionless. I will never be rich. But I may be happy. That very notion is difficult to accept. Especially as the last forty years of my life have emphasized the connection of material commodities in the place of real connection to life and the self.

As Shakespeare wrote “To thine own self be true!” How is this possible if we dare not ask who we are?

Charlie.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle…

My weight crept up on me. Until one day my clothes stopped fitting properly. I didn’t really notice until it became an issue. The same with mental health. If I stop doing the things that keep me balanced and well, then slowly I begin to descend downwards. My thinking gets a little derailed. Eventually, it can become frantic. That’s when I realise I’ve forgotten the little things that keep me well. Maintenance is as important as the hard work of reaching a target. It’s easier to maintain than it is to start all over again.

The things that keep me sane are simple; walking in nature, talking to people, eating well, sleeping well, reading and playing an instrument… Prozac. They are all interlinked. I never slept well when I drank alcohol. I just fell onto my bed and slipped into the darkness of night. I would wake unrefreshed and hungover. It was the norm. It took a while after quitting before I had a good nights sleep. I woke one morning with energy. I couldn’t believe it. For years I’d fallen out of bed and fought the unearthly gravity of my hangover to get my work clothes on. But for the first time, I understood the importance of sleep. That sets me up for the day. 

Even the smallest exercise can be hard when there is no energy. When the world seems dark and life seems hopeless. It can seem like a waste of time. Pointless. But the small steps are what lead to the long journeys. Slight changes make a huge difference. I’ve laid in bed in a low mood, staring at the mess all around, whilst thinking I really should do something about that. I’m so lazy. It just fuels the fire. Inaction breeds a low mood. Something as small as getting up and making the bed has a big effect. Slowly tidying up. Washing the pots. Doing the laundry. It may seem small but at times can feel like gargantuan tasks. By overcoming them it gives a small spike of achievement. The same as going a day without eating crap food. Or setting a target for losing 1lb in weight. Do it 14 times and you lose a stone in weight. The small changes lead to those milestones. But it is the maintaining of those activities that breeds contentment. By not only using those small goals to hit the life goals we can use them to maintain our weight and mental health.

I’ve seen people lose huge amounts of weight in a short time. Which is commendable. I have also seen many of those people put the weight back on. Why? Because they didn’t embed the behaviours to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If people are offering you a quick fix then they will sell you it twice. That’s why it’s important to take small steps. Instead of increasing the pressure by adding expectation in a short amount of time, it is important to nudge ourselves incrementally into healthy patterns over a longer period.

When I lost most of my weight, I was still a functioning alcoholic. I’m not saying that is a wise diet choice. It was a hindrance. I would eat healthily, exercise and then go to the pub and drink ten pints. It took a long time to lose weight and get healthy. It was still possible even in that situation but drinking copious amounts of alcohol would be the first thing I would stop if I was going to lose weight. I would cut down if I could. If I couldn’t I would stop altogether. I’d reward myself in other ways. After I quit drinking, I rewarded myself with a takeaway. Eventually, it didn’t feel like a reward. To be honest feeling good is a reward on its own. Slowly, I naturally favoured fruit and veg. I would drink water instead of drinking soft drinks. I used to think the soft drinks gave me energy. When I started to get healthy I had the energy to burn, naturally. I still enjoy the odd cake or chocolate bat but it is just in balance. I learned years ago by denying myself anything, it would just result in binge eating. So I stave that off by enjoying a protein bar instead of a Mars bar. If I fancy a Mars bar I will have one but not every day. Because it certainly doesn’t help me “Work, rest and play!”

It’s easy to check your weight, step on some scales or look in the mirror naked. That will give you an indication of where you are. But mental health isn’t so easy to check. This is why people usually seek help when the shit hits the fan and it all gets too much. The trick is to check in on ourselves often. Take stock of the inner weather system. It takes courage to approach ourselves. Many people would rather be distracted in bad company than left in their own. It is imperative to listen to the inner dialogue. It is those thoughts that control our decisions. So we must dare to venture to the inner place that often we seek to avoid. The key to this is through meditation. If there is something traumatic then professional help is a must. Or if there is constant chaos or low mood, then a visit to the doctor is advisable. Peace can be obtained. I have explained to people that the moments of inner tranquillity they have experienced in fleeting moments, is possible more often. It just takes a bit of work. A good start is here: Free meditations from Mindfulness – Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World | Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World

It’s difficult, to begin with. The mind can wander away. That’s fine. It takes practice. But it is the key to observing the distracting call of temptation. It is the start to mastering the inner chatter that stops us from pursuing the goals.

One trick I found useful in the early days when my life was a mess, was writing lists of goals. I would stick the lists to my bedroom mirror. This way, I was often reminded of the path I was on. It allowed me to remind myself why I couldn’t spend money frivolously. I would need that money later on to achieve something I had written down. I use the same method for losing weight. I would write a weight goal and then get weighed at the end of every week. If it stagnated then I wouldn’t give myself a hard time. I would just look at what I’d been doing. Had I been slipping? I would check it and keep going. It wasn’t an expectation to lose x amount in x amount of time. It was just to lose x amount of weight.

Maintaining healthy living isn’t as easy as cutting something out for a couple of weeks. It is an incremental change. It is changing the course of your life by slowly changing harmful behaviours. We are creatures of routine. All we have to do is change the pattern of the behaviour that dictates our routines. If it is too difficult to moderate the use of something then it may be a problem and seeking help would be advisable. For example, if you intend to only have a couple of alcoholic drinks but end up drunk more often than not. Then it may be a sign of something more sinister. But that doesn’t mean the spontaneity of life has to be eradicated. It is just about accountability for our own lives and what we consume.

There is an abundance of calorie counting apps and fitness trackers available now. By cutting down on 500 calories a day it is possible to lose 1lb a week. The trouble is people want to lose 10lb in two weeks so they are ready for the next holiday. It doesn’t have to miserable, dieting. It should be rewarding. It should reap positive returns. Not feel like a punishment or deprivation.

‎NHS Weight Loss Plan on the App Store (apple.com)

NHS Weight Loss Plan – Apps on Google Play

Start the NHS weight loss plan – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Lifesum – Diet Plan, Macro Calculator & Food Diary – Apps on Google Play

‎Lifesum – Diet & Food Diary on the App Store (apple.com)

I’ve seen people on diets save up all their “sins” and binge drink on the weekend and then have a kebab. Then only to be perplexed by the fact it doesn’t work. Little changes reinforce the behaviours that are needed for the maintenance of a healthy life. And that’s what I am talking about here; a healthy balanced life. I have been on either end of the spectrum. I have been obsessed with losing weight and purely gluttonous. Neither made me happy. I am not talking about unrealistic expectations or setting false ideals for people. I am just advocating a healthy lifestyle for the people who can achieve it. And by embedding those behaviours it is possible to enjoy things in life without any negative feelings attached. “Everything in moderation… including moderation.”

If you are looking for some tips or a bit of motivation, I have written about my health journey here; A guide to #wellness

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

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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

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