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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.

Celebrating eight years without alcohol…

Today (1st June) it has been eight years since I last had a drink. Insane. They seem to be speeding up. The gaps in between are getting shorter. The highs and lows are still the same. Life still happens. Shit still goes wrong. I don’t want to go to work somedays. And somedays are bliss. I wouldn’t want it any other way unless I could do whatever I wanted, of course. 

I was in the pub the other day watching some football. For the American readers; I was in a bar the other day watching some soccer. And I bumped into a guy I last saw in AA about six months ago. I asked how he was doing. “Better than before.I have it under control.” was his reply. The sweat on his brow suggested that alcohol wasn’t the only thing he was using that day. And the words suggested he was also fuelled by delusion. “You look well,” he said back. And before I could measure my words I said “that’s because I don’t drink…” I wasn’t meant to be smug or glib. It was a statement of fact; I do not drink and put much of my health and well being down to that fact. We watched the football together. I was in no mood to 12 step him. It wasn’t the place. It was a shame he didn’t get it. Or see the benefits of quitting. I guess he just loved cocaine and alcohol more. 

I think that escapism through drugs and alcohol is a perfectly normal response to life. I also believe that depression is a natural response to unnatural life. The way we live as a culture came about so fast it is well beyond what we are evolved to do. We have artificial stresses that usurp the fear of any preditor we once had. It is fast and it is constant. Escape is a natural response to the chaos of life. But it is an unnatural way of dealing with it. It doesn’t ease or abate the chaos. Just blocks it out. The natural way is to remove unnessecary stresses. To identify the ones that are merely an illusion created by our inner need for discomfort. Demonised by our culture for being lucky enough to live within it. Coated in guilt. Constantly seeking validation and/or escape. 

But one thing I have learned in all these years is that people will judge you whatever you do. If you drink they will judge you. If you don’t drink they will judge you. If you are poor or comfortable. Dressed well or in rags. People will always judge you. So don’t try and live for the acceptance of others because it is impossible. The fear of ridicule was what made me hesitant to quit drinking. “But what will people think?” I used to ruminate on it. Fuck what they think. I didn’t quit for them, I quit for myself and the people around me who had to watch me make mistake after mistake. The misery and pain I created for us all was the reason why. And even when I feel down, and question the choice, it was still the best thing I ever did. I could change it. I could leave my house now and walk to the corner shop to buy some beers and change it. It’s that simple. So why don’t I? Because it isn’t worth it anymore. I have too much to lose and I am not only talking about possessions. I’m talking about inner peace, contentment and self-acceptance. The things I yearned for in my drinking days. I am not prepared to trade them in. Not today, maybe tomorrow but it’s unlikely.

It isn’t all blissful wonder. Quitting drinking didn’t make me divine. Nor did I find god. I have moments of loneliness and depression. Of negativity and FOMO. But they are fleeting in comparison. The other day, for example, I was down on myself. Bemoaning all the things I didn’t have. Thinking do I have to work for another 27 years? Fuck that!! I was searching for reasons to be unhappy, which is my way sometimes. I noticed my mood slipping and began to look at the things I did have. I met a friend the next day and went to the pub (where I saw the AA guy) and it was a good laugh. I went from being suicidal to being content. Just by reaching out and changing my focus. It’s a strange life. On the point of it not going well, I got sacked last year and I thought that it would have a greater impact on my career but I managed to find another job quite easily. The fear I had of the future was just the False, Evidence, Appearing, Real. Illusions making me uneasy about an outcome that may never occur. Those illusions used to be the reason I drank. I would create the fear than abate the fear. It was a perpetual cycle of misery. The way to change is to change.

To change takes a few things; patience, perseverance, positivity and optimism. I would not have been able to stop drinking if I hadn’t believed it would be worth it. I had to believe it would be better without it. If I believed it would be worse then I wouldn’t have bothered. But the state I was in it was impossible it could have been worse. It can seem like a shit choice sometimes, when it’s Friday night and the belief that everyone else is out, having the time of their life. But in reality, it isn’t quite like that. The insecurities are still with them. The self-doubt. The uncertainty for many people remains. Because alcohol pushes them away. For people without the escape, have to face the inner turmoil, process it and grow because of it. We are the lucky ones. Not only because of the pragmatic presence of sobriety but also because we don’t have to wake in shame. The slow return to reality after a heavy night of drinking. The slow drip-feed of information from the previous night was like a type of poison used in torture. The guilt and shame over behaviour that may or may not have happened. That was once a price I was prepared to pay to escape for a day or two. It is a price I hope I never have to pay ever again.

Read through some of my blogs to see the journey I have been on. I have gone further than I ever could with alcohol in my life. And much further than I thought I would without it.

Here’s to another day without a drink. Here’s to freedom. And here’s to serenity. Because peace is my new addiction and it is blissful.

Charlie

The mental gymnastics of an addict

cognitive dissonance

the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.

I was walking with a friend the other day who was relaying a story about a time he was at Glastonbury music festival. A friend of his, who was also at the festival, had been diagnosed with a mental health issue. He had been prescribed medication and was also being tested for epilepsy. He had vowed to stay away from class A narcotics. He would just drink alcohol (irony) but news spread through the festival that Michael Jackson had died. On hearing this news, the individual announced that it would only be right to commemorate the king of pop by buying a single glove and some MDMA. Now it sounds ridiculous but I spent my life looking for excuses looking for reasons to drink alcohol. I scoured the day looking for reasons to be upset. Much like the youth of today seem to scour the internet looking for reasons to be offended. The excuses I have used to get drunk are, in the light of day, crazy. Yet seemed perfectly justifiable at the time. I was celebrated George Bests’ birthday by drinking one of his favourite drinks, vodka and lemonade… George Best was an alcoholic who, after a liver transplant, still died due to his addiction. Celebrating an alcoholics’ birthday with a drink is like injecting heroin to remember Jim Morrison. It’s insane but to the individual perfectly reasonable. Especially in the pursuit of excuses to use. 

The mental gymnastics I have performed to justify my past use of alcohol is, quite frankly, impressive. But also exhausting. Spending hours fluctuating between “I won’t drink today” whilst looking for a reason to drink, is debilitating. Anything. Any minor thing I could find to cling to and ruminate on for hours in the pub. If something major happened it was a blessing. I could replay the event for days, boring anyone within earshot to tears with the same story. My excuse to use. A triviality to most but I was keeping it alive by stoking the inner embers in my soul. Just to stop the search for another reason to drink on. 

It’s hard to leave that life behind. In the start, it’s like standing on a sinking ship with one foot in the life raft. Too fearful to jump. It is what I knew. The pursuit of chaos to justify the escape from said chaos. It is a whirlpool of destruction. In itself is addictive. Drama is addictive. Alcohol is addictive. The two seem to go hand in hand. 

But by spending all day looking for reasons to be unhappy I was very rarely happy. It is what I thought I deserved. Self-loathing fuelled the pursuit of misery. Happiness came with caveats is what I thought. Happiness was reserved for a certain few. I was not one of the lucky ones. Alcohol fuels this belief. It isn’t sitting in a bar laughing with friends. It is sitting alone crying and wondering when it will ever stop. It never seemed like it would. Until I leapt.

It didn’t happen overnight. Just by removing alcohol the inner machinations didn’t disappear. AA calls it the “ism”. I call it temptation. The pursuit of excuses was hardwired. It was a system reboot I needed it was a rebuild. A bit at a time. One area of life at a time. First, get a grip on alcohol, cut it out and sweat it out. Next, start the inner work. Filling time with pursuits that I had always wanted. Reaching out. Meditating. Exercising. Rebuilding bridges. Eventually, I started to see/hear/notice the siren call of alcohol. “Play the tape forward,” is up there with the best advice I have been given:

“I am stressed at work, I think I will have a drink to help me calm down” 

Will you still be stressed tomorrow?

“Well yes, but I won’t for tonight!”

So is alcohol removing the problem or the symptom?

“Well it won’t take the stress away forever I would have to do something about that or drink every day… OH SHIT”

*Drop mic & take a bow*

Alcohol was the medicine for the problem. Yet, many of the problems I had searched out. Some were legit. Life is hard sometimes. But it doesn’t solve the problem. Just delays the pain. I self-medicated a mental health problem for more than a decade. After alcohol had stopped doing what it was supposed to do I was let to pick up the pieces. The problem remained. Magnified because I had been ignoring it for so long. I still don’t like dealing with life but I can do it better than I ever could whilst drinking. I still fuck up. I am still human but I am present. I have also stopped searching for reasons to be unhappy. I can get dragged into obsessive news watching. COVID and the war in Ukraine have been big wins for the news but big losses for people. And that obsessive behaviour fuels my anxiety. Now I realise that by not doing it I don’t need to search for an escape from the feeling it conjures up inside. 

I searched for chaos and then used alcohol to find peace. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for reasons to drink that I no longer needed to. It sounds so obvious. And so simple but it is difficult to see the right path to walk whilst amidst the chaos. Life is fast. Technology fuels our addiction to chaos. Social media fuels self-loathing and inferiority. We are bombarded with advertisements and temptation. People piss us off. Life doesn’t go our way. But it isn’t what happens to us it is how we react. I ran to the bar with every minor excuse I could find. I hid in the bottle to escape illusions. Once I dropped the search for excuses the reasons to escape diminished. Eventually, I realised I’d been fuelling my destruction.

Charlie

Turning 40… Sober…

I honestly didn’t think I would make 30 years old. I didn’t want to, or so I thought. I hated who I was. I hated everything about my life. I was going to drink myself to death. That is what I was going to do. Like the misunderstood, dark brooding characters I romanticised so much. Yet, at 29 years old I was diagnosed as a chronic alcoholic. It scared me. It scared me to death. The nihilist became afraid of annihilation. The skulking laisse-faire rebel without a clue became a child in an adult body reaching out for any assistance available. The gig was up. I had been exposed for the piss artist shyster I was. An ego built on the false promise of alcohol. A husk searching for acceptance by mirroring the behaviour of others. A charlatan. 

I turned 30 years old not drinking. I had replaced alcohol with an obsession for wellness. I pursued wellness to the point of exhaustion. I had no plan for a sober life. I just thought if I got a six-pack everything would be magically okay. I got in great shape physically but mentally I was unhinged. My yearning for escape hadn’t been dealt with it had been replaced. My obsessive nature around alcohol hadn’t been resolved, I just counts calories instead of ABV percentages. I hadn’t dealt with the underlying issue. I am scared, often. Of life, of my thoughts and other people. Alcohol took that away. It took away concerns. It took away the inner yammering. It made me feel normal so I could exist in social situations and appear like one of the crowd. Without that magical elixir, I was like a raw nerve exposed to the world. At the whim of the universe and its treachours plans. I clung to exercise as a child clings to its favourite blanket. I needed something to replace what I had lost. It was a terrible approach. Seven months of insanity, erm sobriety, was filled with activities trying to get t eh deadening euphoria of alcohol. Snowboarding, sky diving, constant exercise. But nothing was the drug I wanted. I knew my drug and I missed it so. I’d done well. Seven months is a long time without a drink. I deserve a drink to celebrate. I would control it this time. It would be different this time. the delusion was to me what the snake was to eve. What preceded was two years of destruction. More alcohol fewer results. I swapped drinks. I chased highs but the magic was waning. I was scared. What would I do with my escape? I increased the amount but more seemed to do less. I couldn’t escape and my body couldn’t handle it. I had to quit. Or I would die. So I did.

Today 16th March 2022 I turn 40 years old. I don’t consider myself 40. I didn’t start living until I quit drinking. I didn’t have a clue who I was until I started daring to ask the questions, I had avoided for so long. I lived for in the last 8 years since quitting drinking than I ever did in the 32 years that preceded it. That much is true. I still get to some dark places mentally and my stock response to stress is still a desire to run away from the feeling. Currently, my inner monologue is “sell up and move to the woods!” if any unfavourable feelings arise. Not a plan is it. Sounds like a nice idea but in reality, it would be a nightmare. I know nothing about survival. I take one day at a time. I feel guilty sometimes about the yearning to escape. About the dark thoughts of suicide that turn up like ghosts to test my resolve during hardship. I feel bad because they are part of who I am and I feel the guilt because I realise how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do. I sometimes think I don’t deserve it. I am blessed. 

I am no longer chasing a high. Happy to have my feet on the ground. And despite the odd wobble and threat of worsening mental health, it is usually okay. Quitting drinking taught me that you and I are far more incredible than we would dare to admit. The things I used to drink about are now just moments of the day. I have faced far worse situations since quitting drinking than when I was still drinking. And despite the odd yearning to move to the woods and become sasquatch or the fleeting ominous thought, I got through them. Often alone, more often with the support of others. The shared belief that life without alcohol isn’t possible is nothing more than a fabrication from the drawing board of some Maddison avenue advertising campaign. Want to relax? Have a drink! What to fit in? have a drink! What to be cool? Have a drink? Want to get ill? Have a drink! Want to lose a job? Have a drink. I got carried away but the notion that life is a soulless existence without alcohol is bollocks. Life is sometimes wonderful and sometimes not. But by removing the rollercoaster of highs and lows it is possible to find something that resembles contentment. Of peace. See, alcohol solves nothing. It gives pleasure which is the absence of pain but it doesn’t cure the pain. And life can be a real pain sometimes. 

I like the romantic idea of sitting on a porch with a whiskey ruminating on the great imponderables of life. But that isn’t how the story ends for me. It starts with a whiskey and ends up on the floor of a hospital writhing in pain pleading for a solution. It ends with my bank account empty. It ends with shame and guilt. Lost teeth and black eyes. Yet it never really ends.

If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be forty and not drinking alcohol I would have thought it was the end of the world. I would have thought it must be a sad life. But if I would have had a single taste of the contentment that came with quitting drinking and doing the necessary work, I would hope I would have quit then. Because I was always seeking acceptance, I just didn’t realise it was my own. 

Much love,

Charlie

Rebuilding…

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight!”

The shock. The disruption. The worry. The concern. The stress. The anxiety. All are present at the initial point of destruction. As life seems to fracture into dust and be swept away in the breeze. “What am I going to do?” “How am I going to go on?” “I won’t be able to do it!” “I’m not strong enough!” All reasonable responses. Yet often false. The best part about failure is proving yourself wrong. Being forced to adjust course through choppy waters makes us learn lessons. And also, to learn valuable lessons about ourselves. 

One thing I have learned through life is that I have inner strength greater than I could ever have imagined. And I know that is true of many others I have met along the way. See, it is difficult to progress forward whilst carrying around the weight of the past. Burdened by unprocessed hardship. Restricted by the narrative of someone else’s perception. It’s hard to see a clear path through the blurred eyes of a drunken haze. What do you want? Well, take the steps to see it through! Fear will keep you prisoner. Worry will consume your energy. Anxiety will paralyse. But all you have to do to rebuild is go one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. One minute without a drink. Then one hour. Then one day. Then one week. Then one month. It happens. But the same process can be applied to other avenues of life. Success, whatever that means to you, can be achieved through the same process. There will be blips and bumps. Knocks and setbacks. But the process of rebuilding allows for change. There is no requirement for rigidity. If one way doesn’t work then there is another. And another. There is no failure, there is only not finding the right way.

I was once master of destruction. Caused by a combination of my chaotic behaviour and my fear of achievement. It was easier to destroy than it was to fail. It’s often said that people who are used to pain, disappointment, misery etc in life will revert back to those patterns through familiarity. It made me understand why so many people relapse at around 90 days. Better the devil you know. But that level of knowledge is difficult to shake off when it has been the coping mechanism for so many years. I would wait for things to go wrong. And when they didn’t go wrong I would make them do so. Then I could exclaim “I knew that would happen. Everything always goes wrong in my life!!” Victim mentality nonsense. Things do go wrong. Sometimes quite badly. Times were I think I can’t start again, again. I’m too tired. But slowly the fire returns. Slowly the intensity to try again burns. All from a simple place; to prove the doubt wrong. I doubted myself for so long. Stopping drinking liberated me from that mindset. Purely because |I thought it would be shit and that I would be able to do it. Each achievement. Each milestone. Combined to make me realise that it was possible. So, then, what else was possible? You would be surprised how much of that crap you believe about yourself isn’t true.

Since quitting drinking I’ve learned music. I’ve travelled. I’ve got in shape. I’ve found and lost love. I’ve faced adversity. I also always wanted to try painting but was convinced I would be shit so never tried. Then I thought why does it matter if you’re shit? TRY. So I did. (The thumbnail is my first attempt). But it just shows how restricted I/we are by our own interpretation of ourselves. It doesn’t matter if we fail. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work the first time. It matters that we learn and go again. It matters that we realise the narratives we carry are often false. They are often the internalisation of an external influence. Contorted and twisted through our own psyches to become solidified as fact. Disprove them. Break them down and pack them away. Push the boundaries of the self and allow your soul to expand. To not try is the greatest failure of all.

Life is tough for some people. Some have it legitimately hard. Some have it hard by their own making. Carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders crying foul at every opportunity. Seeking misery to justify their outlook. I know. I used to be just like that. Crushed by illusionary problems I had adopted. Even the weather used to give me an excuse to moan. Dragging my feet through life. Sniffing out problems to adopt mike some kind of misery pig. Then I could retell them later at the bar as justifiable excuses for my drinking. Insanity. Life is short. Life is hard sometimes. The best I can do is the best I can do with what I have. Sometimes I get a break sometimes I get knocked back. That’s life. I stopped seeking happiness all the time because it was making me miserable. Sometimes the sun shines and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I can afford to help out others sometimes I can’t. Ebbs and flows like the tide. And since I’ve realised I am just a small part in this big thing called life, a weight has been lifted. I feel liberated. There will be trials along the way but I categorically know, that even when I doubt myself and hard times are on me, if I keep going forward it will be okay. That’s all I can do. Once I was left with a pile of rubble that was masquerading as life and slowly I cleaned it up and built something new. I was full of doubt and crippled by fear. Yet in spite of that, I worked out better than I imagined… even when it didn’t work out.

Keep going, you are more incredible than you could begin to realise,

Charlie.

Silence the inner critic…

Alcohol was a fast way to overcome problems. It was the circuit breaker that brought silence to a chattering mind. Like a solar eclipse to a tree full of birds who stop chittering away in the confusion of the sudden darkness. It worked wonderfully for years. Kept me alive in fact. Crazy notion, but I think without the escape alcohol offered I would have been consumed by my mental health issues much earlier in life. Alcohol kept it under wraps and allowed me to function. For that I am grateful. But in the end, it and I lost their way. And then the only option was to go separate ways. Moderation to me was like staying friends with an ex I was still in love with; harmful and unhealthy. 

The problems that alcohol masked hadn’t been cured they had been dormant. Some emotions came back with force. Others came back, the deeper I dived internally. I am far more anxious than I ever would have admitted. Alcohol gave me a bravado that enabled me to function as a different person. A person I thought I needed to be to navigate the world. Through my eyes, the world was a dangerous place and I needed to be on my guard at all times. Situations were analyzed and dissected to exhaustion. Outcomes were assessed and compartmentalised as possibilities. Most of which never came to fruition. A lot of energy was wasted. Alcohol cut through this and made socialising easier. Parked any feelings of inferiority and silenced those doubts. Without alcohol, they were waiting to claim what was rightfully theirs. 

It’s difficult to imagine a life without this powerful sedative. I would angst over a life without alcohol. How boring I would become! How unhappy I would be! How lonely and depressed I would be. When in all actuality I was all those things whilst I was drinking. I just drank more and more to ignore it. The inner critic would question my decision, “Is quitting really worth it?” It was easy for me. I’d started having serious health problems and to carry on drinking was to accept a fate of self-inflicted misery. I wanted to live. I just didn’t want the pain of life. It seemed impossible without alcohol. But slowly the illusion was exposed and life became available. I read books about mental health and practised meditation. The inner chatter lost its steam. I attempted things and achieved things beyond what I thought I would ever do. I battered the inner critic into submission. But that doesn’t mean it is defeated. I still have moments of feeling down, of self-doubt, of concern and anxiety. But they are an indication that something has slipped. That I have become complacent and began to take my inner world for granted. I don’t function easy. I have to work to maintain a level of wellbeing but over time it doesn’t need to be built, it just needs to be maintained. Like a garden. Let nature take its course and will flourish with growth but it may not be beautiful.

At my core I am transient. I have wanderlust. I have to force myself to sit still and recuperate. Knowing this I had to find a way of replacing alcohol that wasn’t dependent on a place. I had to find practices that could be done anywhere. They are simple; meditation, exercise, creativity and connection. That is it. All are practices. All need to be cultivated. 

Meditation – I never set out meditating to achieve enlightenment. I read it could help with anxiety and a chaotic mind. Which after quitting drinking was exactly what I needed. I tried many the one that helped most was Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Includes Free CD with Guided Meditations): Amazon.co.uk: Mark Williams, Penman, Dr Danny: 9780749953089: Books. It was a handhold through the process and gave practical methods that I would do on the tube/train home from a stressful day. 

Exercise – Walking. I love walking. There have been times when I have been so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature that I almost want to apologise for being human. Without nature and walking, I would be an anxious mess. Seeking the next “thing” to consume that would offer a slither of silence. Even when I lived in the city I sought out a local walking route that involved a park. I have to do it. I somethings thing was born 10,000 years too late.

Creativity – Something to keep the neurons firing in a healthy way. My nanna until the day before she died played countdown to keep her mind active. I have to abate to the needs of the right brain. Routine is healthy but not when it is born out of repetitiveness alone. It becomes autopilot. Something that is done with a disconnect from the moment reminds us that there are greater components to us all that are often ignored. As the beautiful saying goes, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow because we stop playing.” I love looking at the world with childlike awe. Allow yourself to be consumed by the beauty of a clear night sky and remember that many worries are not important in the grand scheme of it all. We are passing through. 

Connection – This is to nature, myself, friends and family. It could be volunteering. Something as simple as a phone call. Just to connect to share a moment. I’m introverted by nature. I can happily go a while without talking to other people. Teaching used to exhaust me. But I notice when I haven’t. I start getting too introspective. Which usually leads to that inner critic spewing negativity. Connection is important. 

Yesterday, a university friend who I haven’t seen for 10 years nearly said he was in town to watch the football. So I went along, watched the match, had a curry and went to a few pubs… and I didn’t drink (and my team won). It was great. I bumped into some other lads who used to drink in my local when I was an active alcoholic. They asked, “You stopped drinking didn’t you?” I said, “Yeah, nearly eight years now.” They shook my hand and said “well done.” That isn’t how I imagined it would end up. I said at the start of this blog, the inner critic had my future mapped out. It was bleak cold and lonely. There have been moments along the way of course but nothing that has had me wanting to run back to the misery I once had.

I wish you well,

Charlie.

Walking the weight off…

A gluttonous Christmas. A hedonistic holiday. The promise of peace through indulgence. Yet, the only things I gained were extra weight and discomfort. In the absence of alcohol, chocolate reigned supreme. That joy-full kick as the sugar turns to serotonin. The promise of happiness dissolves and administering another hit seems like the only option. I am an addict through and through.

But after Christmas, I was left feeling uncomfortable. I was feeling down and the question, is gluttony worth it? swirled around my head. No, probably not. This is why there is an obesity crisis because trying to break a habit is difficult. A friends father was telling me how he had cut out bread and fast food. Taken up walking and lost 5st (32 kg). By cutting back on shite food and walking 5 miles a day he dropped this weight. He was feeling fitter and healthier. Not bad going for someone in their sixties. It is never too late to make a lifestyle change. So with this in mind, I wondered if I could walk off my Christmas weight?

On new years day, I weighed 13st 2lbs (83.8kg). The weight I am comfortable at is 12st6lbs (80kg). So through a period of overindulgence for about a month, I managed to put on 8lbs. No wonder I felt rough. But that is all it took for months of a healthy diet to become worthless. One month of overindulgence. There is a feeling that comes from eating crap food. Of slowness and a lack of energy. Discomfort even. I wanted to get back to a feeling of wellness. Or as well as I could be. I decided that sugar was the main cause of this feeling. So I opted to cut sweets, biscuits and chocolate out of my diet. No fizzy drinks. Nothing with an abundance of sugar. I ate what I normally would eat; toast or porridge for breakfast, a lunch (usually the second half of a hello fresh meal I had the night before) and then dinner (either hello fresh or meat with roast potatoes and veg). I drank plenty of tea and water.

I’ve been relatively fit for a while. Since losing a lot of weight previously which I’ve written about here(https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/07/13/my-sobriety-health-and-well-being-toolbox/). So walking 5 – 10 miles is quite normal. But when I first started out I had to build up to it. People think walking 10 miles isn’t far but when you are five miles away from your door and you realise you have to walk back it can be quite daunting. So test yourself, to begin with. Small distances. Then build up, until it becomes normal.

The reason I cut out sugar, is to create a calorie deficit. Walking 5 miles can burn up to 500 calories depending on different factors such as weight. Burning 500 calories less than you eat a day will lose about 1lb in weight a week. But in a healthy balanced way. Crash diets work… for a short time. Many diet programs are designed for repeat business. A change in lifestyle that promotes a healthy balance is my choice. But a lot of people will say “I haven’t got time to go walking!!” but then spend three hours sitting on their arse watching crap on TV. It’s about choices. A walk will do far more for reducing stress and promoting wellbeing than watching the TV (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/how-walking-in-nature-can-help-wellbeing). Exercise is just a habit. Fighting through the inner voice that says “No stay here. I can go tomorrow!” Is part of the process. It is changing one bad habit for another healthy habit. The introduction of a walk into a weekly routine can make a big difference. But only with the right diet. Burning 300 calories by walking isn’t then an extra 300 calories that can be consumed. It isn’t credit.

I have to make time for walking. It keeps more than my weight in check. It keeps my mind in check. Whether listening to a podcast or walking with my own thoughts, it is my way of dealing with life. Even in the chaos of city life, I used to find a walking route through a park or near water. I had to. It is innate. It is something inside that demands that environment. I get overstimulated by chaos. Eventually, I get burned out. As a result, I look for ways to elevate my mood, usually bad food. But it is only a short term solution and the anxiety soon returns. Walking allows me to slow my life down and embrace the moment. The other day, the storm whipped up the waves and I sat and listened to them crashing down on the shore. Boredom for many. Therapy to me.

I spent years looking for happiness. I sought escape from myself through overindulgence and egoic pursuits but was often left wanting. I was frustrated by the promises of happiness only to return to my dis-ease. Running on the hedonic treadmill is a fruitless journey. Walking through the peace of nature is a reminder that most things are out of my control. The things I try and control often go wrong. Nature just happens. The waves just happen. Life just happens. If I remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other I will always move forwards, regardless of setbacks. 

Walking doesn’t just shift the excess baggage around the midriff. It allows a moment of peace to shift the excess baggage around the shoulders also. To compartmentalise the problems of the world and enjoy the moment. As the old saying goes “Healthy body, healthy mind!” Walking cultivates both simultaneously. 

By the end of the month, I had returned to my desired weight. I’d lost 6lbs (3kg). By cutting out shit food, having a healthy calorie deficit and walking a few times a week I lost all the Christmas weight. So walking the weight off is possible.

So try it. Who knows it might set you on a path you never had believed you could walk down.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie

“Why are you always smiling?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.  

So why quit drinking?

Why did you quit drinking?

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

Was that the only reason? A health issue?

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

Was it easy?

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

So it was worth it?

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

What did you do to stay sober?

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

How long did it take to recover?

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

So do you have cravings?

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

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

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

Did you do it alone?

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

So what do you do to maintain a balanced life?

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

When did you quit?

On the first of June 2014.

Charlie

The Pursuit of Happiness…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

Relinquishing control…

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

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

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

Charlie

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