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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.

Another day in paradise…

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

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

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

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

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

The truth will set you free.

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

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

“Hello, darkness my old friend!”

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

4 million minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

As the dust settles…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie

Prisoner to the past…

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

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

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

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

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

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie

Sober and grateful…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

Feeling the feelings…

The emotional stunting effects of alcohol are a quick escape. An emergency exit from life. But switching off the hardships doesn’t make them disappear. They are still there waiting to be felt. The more they are blocked out the greater they become. The intertwining of alcohol and problems is inevitable. Until the fear of quitting would mean facing the deluge of repressed emotions. Initially, it felt like the waves of emotions would wash me back to the bottle and leave me to drown. But the fear was a pretence. A facade. There was no tidal wave. There were feelings. Some unpleasant and difficult. But it is learning to ride those waves that make quitting drinking possible.

There is suffering in life. Some are worse than others. Some perceptions contort our suffering. Some fight through the pain where others would quit. Escapism through alcohol or any other means presents a false reality. Of more suffering that needs more alcohol to escape. The cycle builds. Or simple things become huge problems to justify the escape. Suffering, dissatisfaction and pain still happen in life. Without alcohol to fall back on life can seem daunting. But over time resilience builds.
At thirty-two years old I was emotionally a child. My emotional intelligence had been stunted by years of refusing to acknowledge reality. It is emotions that make me human. Without emotions, I am just a husk. Without the ability to perceive reality in its rawest form I am denying myself the beauty of life. It is the wonder of the here and now that breeds happiness. It is the processing of inner pain that makes recovery easier. Life is difficult sometimes. But by acknowledging the hardships and low times as a necessary part of the process the whole process of life comes into full view.

I had to put a lot of work in to overcome the barriers that had been constructed over the years. It took years of chipping away at the wall that separated me from my emotions for it to finally fall. I remember a therapist suggested a technique. He said “imagine you are a baby. You have just been born and the nurse has passed you to your mother. How do you feel?” I tried it on the train on the way home. It was a quiet carriage. Just the rhythmic thud of the wheels on the track for company. I closed my eyes and tried what he had suggested. Initially, I didn’t feel anything but I kept trying. Eventually, I got a feeling of warmth. An inner warmth. Like a good whiskey. The wall came tumbling down. My experiences and emotions began to connect like magnets. Drawn to each other. I was no longer just a witness to events I had experienced. I could FEEL them. It was overwhelming. It was the beginning of becoming human again.

I was in an AA meeting recently and someone explained the pain they experienced at the passing of a family member. How they didn’t want to feel what they were feeling. How they wished to escape the feeling. The yearning for the deadening sensation of alcohol. But in the long term how they knew the short term pain would pass. Escapism would result in further troubles down the road. Pain isn’t nice. Especially inner pain. Emotional pain. The type that returns the morning after a night of drinking, with its friend’s shame and guilt along for the ride. The twisting of years of avoidance, pulling at the mind and gut. The only way is to accept and deal with it the best you can. That is life. That is sobriety. Being able to deal with things when they arise. And understanding when the weight is too heavy to carry alone. Sharing the burden with people who understand. That is what it all comes down to for me. I suffered in silence for years. A twisted knot of anxiety and fear. Ashamed for not getting help. Even more ashamed to ask for help. Deadening was my choice, it was the wrong choice. The fleeting feeling of escape brought about by the initial emotional block of alcohol was always exposed as a trick. Soon reality was waiting.

In sobriety, I have found a level of contentment that I would have never expected to have found. It wasn’t what I set out to do. I set out to get my life into some sort of order after the destruction of addiction had asset-stripped me. I found a level but I also found a quiet bliss. A joyful serenity in the peaceful moments of life. The ability to just reflect on decisions and experiences. No longer does the past batter me with shame. It has gone. I have made peace with it. It is now the closed chapter in the story of my life. It is the learning stage of the hero’s journey. Without it, I wouldn’t have made it here. Without the trials and tribulations, I wouldn’t have learned my strength. Without the depression and loneliness, I would never have come to appreciate contentment. Without daring to feel the feelings of life I would never have become attuned to the moment. And at this moment I am okay. Life can change like the wind and when it does I’ll adjust. That is all I can do. I’ve learned that controlling the flow of life is impossible. All I can do is adjust my perception.

Watching or reading too much news is bad for me. A bombardment of negativity creates a false perception of a world full of hatred. It exacerbates my anxiety. I accept that bad things happen daily. All I can do is try to tip the balance in the favour of love. All I can do is the next best thing. All I can do is embrace what life offers and try to deal with it the best I can. This approach was very new to me. Alcohol was my excuse for not engaging in life. Sobriety forced me to engage in my emotions and the here and now. Neither was easy. Feelings aren’t something I was accustomed to as a working-class man. “Push feelings down and carry on” was the advice given. But it can only go on like that for so long. And unpacking the bag of negativity I had filled through my life was difficult. But it was the first step on the path to liberation. It was trial and error. Learning what works and what doesn’t. It was reading and reflecting. Learning who I am and who I thought I SHOULD be. It has been a revelation. I am not who I thought I should be. Where I sought chaos and noise, I now seek peace. Give me the waves hitting a beach or the birds singing over a noisy bar any day. I turn down visits to the bar now. I don’t find them fun. I think I only went because of the alcohol anyway. Remove that and the appeal vanishes.

I see my life in chapters. Hardship, lessons, growth, contentment. From it all, I would only change a couple of things; I would have quit drinking sooner and I would have followed the guiding inner light instead of following the lights of others. I spent too much time trying to be them, the people who I wanted to be like. But as I can’t go back I am grateful for the lessons.

Today has been a good day; nothing bad happened and I didn’t have a drink. Those minor victories are more important than I ever imagined.

Charlie.

My drinking isn’t THAT bad…

My drinking days weren’t a string of arrests. There wasn’t broken bones. There weren’t many fights. There wasn’t much blood. There were laughs. There was connection. There was chatting into the light of the morning. There was sitting in the dawn drinking cooking brandy from the bottle because everything else had been drunk. There wasn’t the type of stories that would make an AA meeting hall of shame. But there was a lot of misery.

There was internal chaos which I tried to silence with the deadening effects of alcohol. There was persistent darkness that followed me around. Behind the laughs, there was the real me trying to escape myself. There was disconnect. There was a prevalent fear of the following day. Of reality returning and being transported back to the person I hated for no real reason other than it was easier to hate than love myself. There was a reluctance to feel emotions. A fear, of putting my adult pants on and dealing with life. Alcohol was an escape. From everything. It was the divide between fantasy and reality. It was the wedge that kept me safe from myself. It was the promise of romanticised joy of beautiful melancholy. Unfortunately, the melancholy wasn’t beautiful. It was as aggressive as cancer and equally as destructive. Yet it is what I knew and what I thought I deserved.

Sitting in my garden, alone in a drunken haze blowing smoke signals to a starry night. Hoping for answers but getting no reply. Trying to plot an escape. Trying to figure it all out. I could never decode the flickering stars. If they offered hope it passed me by. That’s where my drinking days ended. Alone. Even in company. I always felt alone.

I never liked too much company. I couldn’t be the person a group of people wanted. I was a chameleon. Shifting personas to suit the company. A bad actor in a terrible film. Too scared to engage with me. What I would confuse in those quiet moments staring at the stars was that at that moment I was genuine. Yet I believed it was the alcohol who made me that way.

Ironic, that I spent my moments in quiet reflection wondering how to find peace. Wishing away the moment in the hope of finding a solution to the chaos. Using the mirror to ask questions, not to see reality. It is difficult to see clearly with blurred vision.

In the end, it all became too much. But even my rock bottom was a normal day to others. An accumulation of mishaps. A signal from the universe too clear for me to ignore; “if you keep drinking life will keep getting worse.” Stranded on the side of the motorway, my car had just broken down. I was alone. I felt the most alone I ever had. I lit a cigarette. That instance was the straw that broke the camels back. It was the slap from life that roused me from my drunken slumbering. The message was clear. Stop drinking.

Others have thicker skulls than me. Some have greater resilience to pain and can carry on drinking until death is staring them in the face. Others, through fear, see sobriety as a prison sentence. There is something that keeps us engaged in that destructive life. Maybe addicts are naive optimists. Believing that it will all come good in the end if we just drink or use a little bit more. It’s the same thing that makes us watch a bad movie in the hope it gets better. It’s only when the credits roll we wished we had trusted our instincts. Unfortunately, the time the credits roll on an addicts life it is very rarely with a happy ending.

I was always searching for something. Trying to fill a void that existed within. Alcohol did the job for an evening. Took away that twisted knot of fear and anguish. Lightened the imagined burden on my shoulders. It gave me a sneak peek at a life of contentment. But it was always short-lived. The rock bottom made me question my actions. Made me seek out other ways to fill that void. Healthier ways of living replaced the old ways of destruction. Learning and discovery replaced ignorance and escape. But in the end, I learned there is no void to fill. There is no missing piece. It is just an illusion. A trick to make me drink one more drink. Or buy one more item. It is the feeling that without those things there will be no progress. For years I convinced myself that if I didn’t go to the pub I would miss out on some fantastic event. That the one night I didn’t go would be the thing I had been hoping to find. It never happened with or without me there. It was a fantasy fuelled by insecurity. It kept me chasing a dream that wasn’t mine. I was blind to the fact I was going backwards but assumed I was going forward. I didn’t realise until I felt the cold hard floor of reality.

There were uncomfortable truths I had to accept. I cannot moderate alcohol. I don’t believe in the disease model but I do believe I am an addict. One drink will start it again. I know this because I have tried. I don’t do it because I don’t want to end up on that cold stony ground again. Why? Because it took a huge amount of effort to get out once. I don’t want to have to do it again. I don’t want to relinquish control of my life to alcohol. I did once and it ended badly. Do I miss drinking? Sometimes. Is the pining to drink greater than the fear of hit rock bottom again? Not today or the previous seven years.

The point is how bad does it have to get? How much pain do you have to go through before you realise it’s enough? Admitting to having a problem isn’t weakness! It is strength! It is taking action and taking responsibility. I am grateful I’d had enough when I did. Listening to the war stories of other addicts makes me realise how bad it can get. It reminds me that it COULD still get that bad. All I would have to do is drink. Alcohol is the red button that launches the nuke. I may not have utopia but it is a damn sight better than the apocalyptic wasteland, pressing that button would bring about.

Self-destruction is easy. For years, I searched for a tranquil environment in my mind. I would meditate and read spiritual books. Only to go searching for problems. Only to drink again. Even in sobriety, I can fall into the trap of criticising my life as being less than. Forgetting the misery that once was and damning my life for it not being “perfect”. Whatever the fuck that means. I had to learn to accept my weaknesses and my failings. Once I accepted that less than perfection was okay, then I stopped damning my failure at obtaining it. I accepted that the ideals I was sold and adopting as fact were not to be. Alcohol was not the answer. It was not my saviour. It didn’t solve problems. It created them. It took more than it gave. It will again if I let it.

Charlie.

The good ship sobriety…

Hello, it’s been a while. I haven’t written anything for months.

I’ve been swept along by the insanity of life. It all seemed to happen at once. Not a manageable trickle but a deluge. The chaos of closing my house sale, moving in and decorating. Coupled with uncertainty at work. Buffeted by the tides. The storm has calmed yet the horizon is dark with a promise of a foreboding future. I should be worried. I should be concerned that I will fall overboard and into the murkiness of the drink. But I am not. The good ship Sobriety is strong. I wish it didn’t need to be tested to demonstrate its seaworthiness. It comes through, time and time again. For that, I am grateful.

It’s the difficult times that cement my decision to quit drinking. It is the times that would have had me dashing in a panic, screaming foul at a starless night sky, in drunken revelry. Claiming to be damned by some invisible force. It is those times when the benefits of not drinking appear like a fortunate piece of driftwood to a drowning man. Who would have thought that uncertainty would create certainty? An uncertain future creates resilience that the best possible outcome can only be achieved with a clear mind. A clear mind can only be achieved without alcohol or drugs. I may overindulge in other vices, I am not immune. Too much caffeine and too much sugar. But they are not destroying me as alcohol did.

Chapters close in life and things move on. Some people move on with me. Either in person or in memory. Positive or negative. But I know that the best years of my life thus far have been at the service of others. The sober version of me did more positive in the world than I could have ever imagined possible. For that I am proud. And being proud of myself wasn’t something I experienced much, if at all, whilst drinking.
The greatest realisation amongst all this chaos is the relative peace I can find. Getting caught off guard by the silence no longer brings the need to escape it like it once did. The inner chatter no longer berates and demands like it once did. Outer peace now brings a smile. It once only brought fear. Contentment, I think it’s called. It came when I stopped searching.

I don’t know where this journey ends. I don’t know what the future holds. It could bring destruction to my reputation and career. It could not. All I know is that even if I need to batten down the hatches, the good ship sobriety will make it through the worse of storms. But I must ensure that it is maintained properly.

If I look after it, it looks after me. Those small things that work for me are all it takes to keep the mast high and ship sailing. There are storms. There are fearful moments but so far I have come through them. The choppy waters are a reminder to enjoy the stillness and calm of life while it is there.

For a long time, I felt like I was waiting. Waiting for change. Waiting for a saviour. Waiting for it to all go wrong. Just living on tenterhooks. Too concerned about the next catastrophe to enjoy the sunshine. On reflection, most of those worries never came true. I spent vast amounts of time living beyond the moment. Living in fear. In angst. But they never came to pass. The things that did arise were unsighted. Often things I wouldn’t have thought about. Yet still, I managed to come through them. That is an incredible testament to the life and character changing potential of quitting drinking and taking the helm. Dearing to venture into waters that the tales I told myself stopped me from exploring. The world I have seen and the life I have been fortunate to live thus far brings a smile to my face in the moments of silence. No longer are my thoughts of worry and regret. Of shame and guilt. They are of a sense of daring and sometimes winning and sometimes losing. That is life.
It’s crazy to even write that I am sure the future will be alright. Whatever happens, I will be able to make it work. That’s because I have done so for the last seven years since I quit drinking. Trial and error. As long as I didn’t drink.

I have found my weaknesses and my strengths. I have admitted defeat and accepted mental health issues. I’ve learned to accept I can’t go it alone and need to reach out for help once in a while. I’ve learned that not all people are as villainous and treacherous as I once thought. Some are though. I’ve learned that good friends are hard to come by. And the ones who encouraged me to pursue my potential. Who created belief, when all I had was doubt. It is those people to who I owe it all. I often thought I was going it alone. That I was battling the elements and trying to navigate the perilous waters of life without a crew. But it is when the storms hit and I am struggling. This is when I see who has my interests at heart. Tough times are great lessons.

I have been fortunate to learn through my recent hard times, not only who my friends are, but also how much of an impact I have had on other people. More positively than negatively thankfully. The feedback I received recently let me see how the hardships of my life have been useful to others. The dark times when I felt damned to a life of punishment have become lessons of hope for others. The long crawl back from the rock bottom of debt, drunkenness and destruction was not for nothing. To realise that there is meaning in all the years of torment make it a little easier to accept. Students I gave life advice to, who, years later, remember it fondly and have incorporated it into their life is all I set out to achieve. I couldn’t have done it whilst drinking. I was a reckless selfish prick with a single ambition during my drinking days. To be of value to others I must not drink. To gain value in myself I have to not drink. To reach my goals and dreams I must not drink. To get what I deserve I must not drink. To steer this ship through the stormy waters of life I must not drink. Not because I can escape danger but because I have more chance of dealing with it if I am clear-headed.

I use the ship and water analogy because I was once smashed against the rocks. Now I am standing at the bow pointing fearlessly at the horizon. Excited about the future. No longer fearful of the dangers of the next wave.

Charlie

Do I miss alcohol in sobriety?

Every romanticised moment of envy that occurs in my comparison creating imagination, contains alcohol. Each visualisation of how my life should be at that moment is an idyllic drinking scenario. Everyone within that fantasy, known or unknown, is having the most wonderful moment. All of it centred around alcohol like our solar system to the sun. I don’t envy the people in these fleeting moments of punishing comparison. I envy the situation. I envy their ability to regulate alcohol. To use it to facilitate their lives and just forget about the shit of living for an evening. To act unrestricted. To be completely honest. To love and laugh… It’s all complete bollocks. These alcohol advertisements run through my brain trying to tempt me with an illusion. In these perfect bar scenes, there is no depression. No aggression. Blood and tears. Vomit. Mistakes. Pain. It is only bliss. Alcohol inspired utopia. Which by its very own nature is impossible.

The difference between now and the time before I quit drinking is that I know where drinking leads me; devastation. The Euros 2020 (soccer) is currently playing. There was no greater reason to get drunk than a major sporting tournament. Recently, during an important match, I was drinking a cup of tea. Inside me, there was a lingering slither of societal conditioning from the drunken days of old; “What the fuck you doing drinking tea? You should be out, on it!” Then the tape starts playing. The idealised temptation movie starts trying to test my sobriety. I’ve seen it too many times to believe it but it is a warning. It is a reminder that even after all these years without alcohol the potential is still there. That little inquisitive voice still murmurs that it would be okay to “just have one.” My own experience has taught me otherwise. That’s not how it ends up for me. The only idyllic moments that existed in my drinking days happened in the hours leading up to me drinking. It all went downhill from the first one. Yet, I fell for the bullshit every time “It’ll be different this time!” It very rarely, if ever, was.

One of the major concerns when I first quit drinking was “how am I going to do anything without alcohol?” It’s a toxic relationship. Just like a controlling partner, addiction made me believe that I wouldn’t survive alone. That life would be too overwhelming without it to lean on. And you know what? For a while, it seemed true. In the early days when all the acquaintances mistaken for friends cut me out like a leper. The doubts begin to circle, “Is this worth it?”, “Is drinking really that bad?”, “If this is life without alcohol then it is going to be miserable!” But it is just fear of change manifesting as the chains to a previous life. The only way to escape is to stay the course. Thankfully, in recent times, not drinking alcohol has become more accepted. With a large range of non-alcoholic beverages being created to cater for the increasing market. Maybe it was my own insecurities when I was younger but not drinking was seen as suspicious. People who didn’t drink were seen to be hiding something or boring. They must be guarded stiffs, too insecure to be honest. Or too fearful to be out of control. But if anyone wants honesty then spend an hour in a recovery meeting. There you will hear real, stripped back, raw as an open nerve honesty. Not the carefully manicured honesty of a socially constructed image. But alcohol isn’t really about fun. It’s about acceptance.

Drinking is often more for the benefit of everyone else’s comfort than it is for your own.

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Trust Someone Who Doesn’t Drink (elitedaily.com)

It’s a cultural custom. And thankfully customs change over time. They are not set in stone. If they are beneficial they stick around. If they are detrimental to the culture in which they exist then they change. Alcohol has its uses but who are they beneficial to? When I drank alcohol because everyone else did, I got what everyone else got. I didn’t do many of the things I wanted to do because I was scared of being different. My own insecurities kept me ill in more ways than one. I would dream about the things I wanted to do but would wash the dreams away with alcohol because I wasn’t strong enough to pursue them. Coincidently when I stopped doing the things I thought I should be doing and started doing the things I wanted to be doing, I achieved more than I ever thought possible. There is more to life than acceptance. The more I tried to be accepted the less connected to myself I became. People spend hours trying to be accepted whilst simultaneously not accepting themselves. But unhappiness isn’t the only cost of this social tradition. The cost of alcohol on the (British) National Health Service is approximately £3.5 billion a year. Which is £1 billion more than smoking costs.

I started this blog talking about the temptation that can creep in every now and then. My addiction testing my resilience. I have heard other addicts say “I wanted a drink the other day. I feel so bad!” Personally, if I can feel the pull of temptation then I am still aware. It is the day that I don’t feel it that scares me. That could be the day that one isn’t a bad idea then it all goes to shit. And I have thought about it. I have thought would I trade one year of consequence-free drinking for all the experiences I have had in sobriety? Not a chance. Do I miss alcohol? No. I miss an idealised version of alcohol. I miss the perfect night out that never happened. I miss the bars that were full of a good time in my head but empty in reality. I wanted the promise that alcohol made to be fulfilled but it will never be. I resent the fact that the innocuous innocence with which alcohol is portrayed allowed it to seep into my life? Yet, I don’t resent the fact it happened. Nor do I resent the fact I am an alcoholic. Because thanks to those lessons I can live a life of contentment. Maybe with the odd sprinkle of FOMO but it’s a lot less harmful than the life I once led.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

If you are struggling with alcohol problems then reach out for hep. There are people out there who know what you are going through and know how to get through it.

Poor Diet and Mental Health…

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Over the years, I have experienced varying extremes of diets due to mental health issues. On one side was gluttony. Anything that changed my state of mind in a small amount must work better if I had MORE. More takeaways. More alcohol. More sweets. More salt. More fat. The outcome from this approach? I got more unhealthy and more miserable. On the other end of the spectrum is the complete obsession with diet. Counting calories. Skipping meals. Exessive exercise. Neither situation is desirable. Both lead to further mental health issues. Eventually, I learned what worked for me and found a balance.

My diet didn’t change because I became happier. I became happier because I changed my diet. I took the medication I was prescribed and started exercising (I talk about that here). All of those things combined have helped immensely in the last few months. But the lessons over my life around food have played a large part in my recovery. Here a few of the things that I have learned and hopefully if you are struggling it may help.

Firstly sugar. If you haven’t seen the documentary “That Sugar Movie“, I strongly suggest you do. Especially if you have children. It is a clear expose of the dangers of an unregulated sugar diet. And sugar is everywhere. Take Granola. Often seen as a healthy alternative to commercial breakfast cereal, Granola contains around 24g of Sugar per 122g. Now, what does that mean? Well, the recommended daily amount of sugar for women is 25g?! So the total amount is nearly consumed by one cup of Granola. Why does it matter? Excess sugar turns to fat. And sugar affects mental health as well.

A high-sugar diet impacts both physical and mental health. Sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia. Sugar is also at the root of chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body and also has been implicated in depression.

4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health | Psychology Today

Take a can of Coke for example. One 12 ounce can contains 39g of sugar. One can. That is nearly twice what is recommended. But sugar is often seen as a safe energy boost. A banana is a safe energy boost. Processed sugar is far from it. Switching to sugar-free seems like a safe option? Not quite. Artificial sweeteners trigger the hunger response which can lead to overeating. Which in turn can lead to guilt and remorse. And let’s just be clear here, I am not shaming peoples shapes. What I am promoting is a healthy lifestyle that benefits individuals both physically and mentally. A diet based on artificial stimulants such as caffeine and sugar leads to a peaks and troughs mental cycle. Highs and lows. The highs are when we function or are productive. The lows are seen as a negative and demand rectification through further stimulants. An addictive cycle is created. But in a hyperactive, fast-paced lifestyle the highs and lows are seen as normal. Stress is a part of the rat race. Life is stressful sometimes. But surprisingly sugar intake is linked to stress“How can your blood sugar cause stress? When we experience regular stress, our adrenal glands make more of a stress hormone called cortisol. Along with managing stress, this hormone also manages your blood sugar. Whenever your blood sugar level changes too fast, your adrenal glands release cortisol to pull it back up again. Unstable blood sugar can make you feel the same as you would feel when an event makes you angry, frustrated or frightened.” Anxious basically.

Now, cortisol realised into the bloodstream to counter the increase in sugar. When this happens a craving for sugar starts to counter the loss of energy. If more sugar is consumed then the cycle repeats. A negative pattern is created with dangerous effects.

After the pressure or danger has passed, your cortisol level should calm down. Your heart, blood pressure, and other body systems will get back to normal. But what if you’re under constant stress and the alarm button stays on? It can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also lead to a number of health problems, including anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, problems with digestion, trouble sleeping and weight gain.

Cortisol: What It Does & How To Regulate Cortisol Levels (webmd.com)

Sugar is portrayed as innocuous in our culture but the diabetes statistics suggest otherwise. Sugar is related to being overweight. Being overweight leads to diabetes. Like alcohol, sugar needs to be treated as harmful. Moderation is vital for balance. Maybe sugar will eventually become the new tobacco. By which I mean once they have rinsed all the tax possible from it, they will then profess to how dangerous it is. And then increase the tax some more after people are addicted.

Most of the blogs on my page are about being an alcoholic or being a recovering alcoholic. My life vastly improved when I quit drinking. I only quit alcohol because I couldn’t moderate. I used alcohol to mask my underlying mental health issues; anxiety and depression. Quitting didn’t cure them but it did make them more manageable. In fact, it made my whole life more manageable. There are of course ups and downs in life. Alcohol enabled me to ignore my problems and as a result, my life got worse. I then needed more alcohol… an addictive cycle.

For someone experiencing anxiety, a drink might help them feel more at ease, but this feeling is short-lived. The so-called ‘relaxed’ feeling somebody may say they experience after having a drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in the brain. But these effects wear off fast. Relying on alcohol to mask anxiety could also lead to a greater reliance on it to relax. A likely side-effect of this is the increased risk of building up a tolerance to alcohol. Over time you will need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. And, in the medium to longer term, this pattern often leads to alcohol dependence.

Mental Health: Effects of Alcohol on the Brain | Drinkaware

If a friend who was experiencing depression asked how to reduce the symptoms. I would suggest they limit their alcohol intake. The short-term benefits of alcohol are vastly outweighed by the potential future negatives. Overindulgence in alcohol can be fun until the next day. Guilt, shame and remorse for overspending or behaviour that is out of character only exacerbate mental health issues. Added into this is the fact that alcohol directly affects brain chemistry and can lead to depression it should be treated with caution. Especially, in individuals with mental health issues.

Once I quit drinking I needed to find a treat in something. Alcohol was replaced by fast food. The Friday night takeaway meal became my indulgence. I would vary each week; Chinese, Indian, kebab, pizza. Each one would be seen as a treat. But after eating each I would feel worse than before. A treat doesn’t make you feel worse, does it? If I’m going to treat myself, then it should make me feel better? I mean if it makes me feel worse then it isn’t a treat. The initial hit of sugar, salt and fat would be vastly outweighed by the lethargy that would weigh me down. I soon realised it wasn’t a treat at all. It was an often expensive depressant. I had swapped one depressant for another.

The old adage “you are what you eat,” has an element of truth. Research has shown the link between what we eat and our mental health. This isn’t based on the external changes but the internal changes. The altering of brain chemistry (Is fast food making us depressed? – BBC Future). Maybe a change of diet will lead to a change of mood? It did for me. But it all sounds a little soulless, doesn’t it? A life without alcohol, sugar and fast food. It’s borderline monastic to live without these things! I would challenge this assumption. I would suggest that happiness has been conflated with pleasure. Without pleasure, there is no happiness. To be happy we must consume. But it is a deeply floored idea. For every up, there is a down. The highs lead to lows. The constant careering from peaks to troughs leads to anxiety and depression. By looking at what we consume we may be able to understand the way we feel.

Initially, a future without overconsumption of these things did seem bleak to me. It seemed pointless and empty. That’s when I realised it was a choice; try to change or accept the unhappiness. So I learned to moderate. I couldn’t moderate alcohol, I had to quit for good. The others I have learned to have in moderation. In all honesty, I prefer cooking something like tacos instead of ordering fast food. And paired with an exercising regime I feel better than I have for a long time. Who would have known that a healthy balance brings far more happiness than artificial stimulation?

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

I used to be 18st 6lbs. And at 5’10”, I was massively overweight. The weight loss journey is documented here A guide to #wellness – Barstool to the Beach (fromthebarstooltothebeach.com)

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