I am up and out for a jog through the empty early morning streets. The peace is a welcome break from the constant bombardment of offers for massages, Cuban cigars and marijuana which happens during the day and night.
I do a lap and return for breakfast. It is only 8am and the October sun is already as warm as an English summers afternoon, a welcome return after days of thunderstorms. I decide that there is only one option in this place with this weather, the beach. I take a towel, sunscreen, a bottle of water and myself. I do not want to be concerned by my possessions laying on the beach while I am in the sea nor do I want distracting by my mobile phone. I want peace. I want to be present. I am not a holiday maker trying to escape a reality that will be knocking on the door in a couple of weeks but I want the feeling of freedom.
It is only a short walk to the beach where I find myself surrounded by hotels. All of which seem to have staked a claim of a proportion of the beach. This is not what I was looking for. A voice from a tannoy system shouts instructions of contrived fun to the people who clearly want to be left alone to drink and sunbathe. I cut across the beach and past a fisherman hauling in his nets under the watchful eye of the seagulls. The smell reminds me of my hometown. The fisherman wishes me well and I return the gesture. The sun is already punishing the beach. Scores of Mexicans brave the heat to earn some money raking the pungent seaweed that has a reputation on these beaches. The smell is of the sea and not unbearable. They will never be out of work in this job, as there is a constant supply of seaweed it would seem.
Within two minutes I am offered a massage. Within five minutes I am offered three. I continue to walk until I find a spot near Residences El Faro. I drop my meagre possessions in the shade of a palm tree and make my way into the water. The sea doesn’t have the postcard clear blue colour that Cancun has but it is warm. I lay back and let the saline sea take my weight. It is peaceful yet the chatter of two people in a language I don’t know is in increasing in volume. I look up to see a woman and what appears to be her teenage daughter looking tentatively at the water. Slowly and suspiciously they make their way into the water, they appear surprised like I was by the temperature. Peace resumes.
A scream shatters the moment, I look up to see the daughter dancing around in the water as she heads for the shore. Her mannerisms suggest that she thinks she has been bitten or stung. Her mother’s mannerisms suggest that she has been brushed by some seaweed. The moment is comical. The difference in concern and then the daughters further upset by the mother’s lack of concerns is amusing. I have no idea what is being said. I decide to venture further up the beach.
More offers for massages push me further up the beach. I only wanted some peace. I eventually reach the ferry terminal and consider turning back but opt to continue. Once I am on the other side of the terminal there appears to be very little. There is one guy renting out jetski’s and then there appears to be nothing. I continue onwards and there are very few people. The only noise is the waves crashing down onto the golden sand. I walk for a couple more minutes enjoying the moment and just as I am about to sit, I see the sea is blue further up the beach. I walk a little quickly for the weather as sweat pours from me but after ten minutes I am greeted with a beautiful scene. The sea is blue, the sand is golden and the people are few. I drop my things onto the sand and walk into the sea. Refreshed, I apply some suntan lotion and lay on the warm sand. My feet tickled every now and then by the waves. Almost to remind me not to fall asleep. I engage with my thoughts as I lay there, my pale skin withering under the Mexican sun. There are no thoughts. There is no draw to check my mobile phone. There is no urgency to be productive. I am present. I am content. The only thing on the agenda is to embrace this moment and cherish it, for they are rare. A moment were everything comes together. When the heat, beauty and peace outside reflect the world I try to hold inside.
I realise that my complexion will dictate the length of my stay. A factor out of my control. So I make my way back into the sea and clean the sand off before going back to the beach to cook my back. As I walk back to the beach from the sea, I notice people have arrived. Many are sitting alone and reading. They are sun-seekers seeking silence. I thank them for playing a part in this wonderful moment.
After a couple of hours, I have to admit defeat. I want to stay forever but my skin is already reddening. I gather my things and make a slow walk back to the hotel. I pass the parts that I dismissed earlier and notice the people still clambering for peace. If they would only walk twenty minutes up the beach they would be greeted with their own sanctuary. A place of connectivity to the soul and the sea. One of beauty. One of true peace.
It gets easier as I go along. The worries that used bounce frantically around my mind at night keeping me awake, no longer show up. I never thought I would be free from this. I never thought I would be free from the ominous depression that hung on me like a lead life jacket. The weight of my problems keeping me in bed for long periods of time. I thought it was the end. I thought there was no escape yet here I am today; liberated and content. What changed? One day I decided that to die trying to change it was better than to die not trying. I was left with two options, in the end, suicide or asking for help. The thought of asking for help made me feel weak, a failure as a man and an all-round worthless piece of shit. I was already so low that I was contemplating suicide but the thought of asking for help pushed me lower. There is the problem. The fact that we live in a time where everyone is equal and all that flannel yet the majority of suicide victims are men. I can understand why. Because even coming from an open and loving family were communication is encouraged I still couldn’t reach out when I needed to. I felt emasculated. Regardless of what people say a man needs purpose and strength. Even though I had the strength and all those things I felt like a failure as a man. To ask for help was to denounce my masculinity. But like I said: I had to try and turn it around. I don’t know why. I don’t know what made me pick the phone up and call the doctor. I do know that the journey to the doctor was like walking in concrete shoes, tears streaking my face like rain on a train window. I slowly made my way there my pride destroyed. I felt like a failure.
My name was called and I went in. I told him the score. I told him that I couldn’t carry on living like this. I was a mess. He offered medication but I declined I wanted to talk to someone about this. I wanted it gone. I was fucking sick of not living but tired of living. I was sick of life kicking sand in my face. I was put on this planet to do something, we all are. I didn’t want to spend it in bed crying and berating myself as I had done for the previous year. I wanted help or I wanted out. He arranged for me to speak to someone. That day changed my entire life. I went and spoke to the counsellor and felt so much better. It wasn’t an instantaneous fix but it got a LOT of shit off my chest. A lot of shit that I once believed held dominion over me lost its power in the air of that room. As soon as I left that is where the work started. The counsellor just cleared enough bullshit for me to start to compartmentalise things. I’d read a shit load of philosophy, psychology and Buddhism over the years when I was seeking a solution to the low-level angst that dulled most days. Thanks to this I knew that my thoughts were mine. The reason I had got into the position of being so depressed was because I hadn’t been dealing with shit. I had been pushing it down to be dealt with later, never to be seen again. When shit got real and I lost my job, all that shit came back, magnified and demanding to be dealt with. That is what I started to do. A bit at a time. A minute at a time. I started to meditate and learn the difference between thoughts and reality. As I would get anxious over future events, or to be more exact, the potential outcome of future events. I would always think about the worse possible outcome. This stopped me from trying things. The thought of failing kept me from living.
To push myself out of this pit of despair I got some voluntary work a few months after the session. I remember going there and the lady asking if I was there to help or there for help. That’s the state I was in. I used to walk down the street self-conscious about the way I was walking. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and felt like an alien. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. It didn’t matter how bad I felt I didn’t want to go back to laying in bed with negative thoughts swirling around my head, chastising and mocking me continually.
The counsellor said to me that “the pieces will fall into place,” and he’s right. That voluntary work leads me into a job in a care home and then into the teaching profession. I just kept going and growing from that point onward. Slowly. Sometimes a backwards step but always a lesson learned. It seemed impossible at the time. I seemed like a failure and a worthless piece of shit with no right to life. It just seemed that if I had nothing to lose then I might as well try.
Well, ten years later and I am sitting in Mexico City airport typing this in a cafe. I am on my way to Cancun, alone. I am now comfortable with who I am. I am trying not to cry at the thought of the journey I have made from that point to this. From despising who I was to being content in my own company. That how all the fucking nonsense I believed about being a failure stopped me getting help for so long, when really I should have reached out earlier. The experience freed me from the illusion of expectation. It allowed the person I thought I should be die and the person I truly was come to the fore. Being myself enabled my confidence to flourish as my inner world and outer world aligned for the first time in decades. I was free to be myself. The experience did result in a suicide but one of my ego not of my physical being. I was humbled by the experience and how people helped me. I write this to try to pay it forward and to encourage people, like me, who are to afraid to attempt to change, to at least try.
If you’ve been to the place I’m referring to. If you know the isolation that I felt. I want you to know you are not alone. That I to was once there and that I too didn’t believe it would ever get better but slowly it did. I implore you to try because like me you will astound yourself. I am now who I never ever thought I would be. It just started one day ten years ago and each day since has been a step towards today. A step towards contentment and an outlook on life that I never thought possible.
Sitting on top of the sun pyramid at Teotihuacan, I can see the sights I’d googled a thousand times before. Now, I was here. Like many things over the past few weeks, it didn’t seem real. Like a dream that I would awake from and be trapped back in that old life, the one of drunken misery. I take a deep breath and smell the air. The sun is radiant and warm against my skin. I walk over to the side of the Pyramid, in a quiet spot, to take it all in. Just like I did at the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, watching the sunset at the golden gate bridge and Yosemite, I say thank you.
Thank you For your support when I needed it For your direction when I was lost For your hand when I fell For your kind words, you didn’t know were kind I am eternally grateful. You reside in my thoughts always and dwell in my heart forever. Without you, I am no one. Without your support I have nothing. You made me realise my potential and helped me find my strength. I take this moment to wish you well.
I do this to ground myself. To stop my head claiming all the glory for the life I now have. It isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, it is aimed at many people collectively; Friends, family, lovers, acquaintances and anyone I’ve met along the way. I have to do this to remind myself where I came from and how quickly I can go back there if I take it for granted. Just like the people, my sobriety will disappear if I don’t continue to nurture my relationship with it.
As usual, the saying of thank you brings a tear to my eye as the realisation that I am sitting on top of the pyramid sinks in. Another deep breath to stop the tears. Why me? How did this happen? One day I was slumped against a bar drinking myself into ill health and financial ruin. And now I am liberated. The only answer I have is because I asked for it and I was prepared to do whatever it took to get to where I wanted to be. If that means taking a moment to thank the people who helped me, then so be it. If it means meditating. Being open and honest. If that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll do it because I don’t want to go back to that bar and that life. I don’t want to attach the chains I fought to be free from. I have come too far.
Drinking isn’t my issue anymore. That ship has long sailed. When I talk about sobriety I am referring to a mindset that I have cultivated over the past five years. A mind-set that is the polar opposite of the one that kept me prisoner in my own life. I now take action and pursue goals. I take responsibility and own my shit. I am down the line and decisive. I understand that failure is a possibility but it will hopefully teach me something. I take chances and follow dreams. Why? Because quitting drinking gave me the option to become who I was meant to be.
I climb down from the Pyramid taking in the sights around me. I am alone. Yet the people I say thanks to are with me. Their words and actions are embedded in my soul. I take them everywhere, I will never forget them. I spent years trying to fight the need for help. I would exclaim that I didn’t need help. Yet, behind a thin veil, I was falling apart. I cannot believe that person was me. I cannot believe that this is where I ended up and who I ended up becoming. As my feet touch the ground I look back up the Pyramid, the steps are steep and the fall treacherous.
I would never have seen the sights I saw if I wasn’t prepared to take a chance.
I join up with the people on the tour. They don’t know my story. They treat me like a normal person. We share tales of our travels and talk about future adventures. Our discussion is broken by the tour guide explaining that as a surprise we are going to a tequila and Mescal tasting afternoon. My mind races off like the fishing line in Jaws. I don’t strike. I know how this ends up. If I try to reel in the line, the fight then ensues; What will I say?, There will be questions, I will be made to feel different and so on. I know I can let the thought tire itself out; I will just say “No thank you!” is my deciding action. The thoughts and anxiety dissipate. I will deal with any further questions as and when they arise if they do at all because very really do people care. Years back I would have been sweating at the proposition of being in such a situation. Now it is such a regular occurrence that it is normal. Perfectly normal. It was always perfectly normal, it is my outlook that has changed not the world’s view of me. It helps that I know I can call on those people who are with me. If it gets on top then I can call them up and talk it out. I am in tune enough with my emotions to know myself… What a strange thought. I used alcohol to escape myself for more than a decade. I despised who I was and yet now I can comfortably travel the world alone. Confident and calm. Comfortable and proud.
It isn’t the sights that astound me it is myself. That I found something within I never believed I had until I tried.
I used to dismiss overcoming addiction as easy when people would praise me. I couldn’t handle it. I was still lacking the self-respect needed to accept that I had overcome a challenge. On reflection, it wasn’t easy. I went through pain, isolation and at times an utter fucking nightmare to get to where I am but when I drank life was like that every day anyway. The start of sobriety was hard because there was no escape. The sound got turned up and the emotions came crashing down but it didn’t take long to learn to surf. I have been sober over five years and I have been through some shit in that time. None of it made me feel anywhere near as bad as the average day when I was drinking. So yeah it was hard but no harder than I was used to.
I find it strange that I lived in a place mentally and emotionally of such darkness and despair. Yet, now I want to share positivity, love and support. I guess it can only be because those are the things that got me out of that place. Love and support set me on the path to recovery. It was the antidote I needed. The words of people who understood what it was like and who understood me. It made me feel human again. It made me feel accepted after years of feeling isolated from myself and the world. Without them, I would still be there, alone and isolated.
Two words fill me with dread; Party Bus. A party bus in Las Vegas in no less.
Part of the tour I had booked included a party bus and a nightclub entry. I have to be honest even after a few years of sobriety, the proposition made me uncomfortable but not for the same reasons it would have done years ago. This time I wasn’t uncomfortable with the inevitable carnage, it is Vegas after all. I was uncomfortable with the fact of being uncomfortable. With all the uncomfortable questions and the proposition of being excluded. To counteract this potential I had a couple of options; decline the invitation or go along maintain a sense of fun and not be a misery. I chose the latter.
Sobriety is a duty that I have to perform in order to lead the way for more people to step up.
With it being Vegas I overindulged in my drug of choice; caffeine. A few red bulls and a five-hour energy, wild I know and I was throwing shapes with the best of them. I know I shouldn’t have to perform but fuck them, the drinkers I mean. I want people to know that a good time can be had without imbibing alcohol. The contrived nature of the party bus made it feel forced but the club we went to after enabled a sense of space. I busted some moves and threw a giant smile when people moaned about paying $14 for a bottle of bud light. I felt like the representative for sober people and think I did them proud. Then the tables are turned “I don’t know how you do it without alcohol?” My answer; “Try it. It’s more fun than you think.”
Eventually, the caffeine wore off and I hit the wall but had done my bit to show that things are still possible in sobriety. I survived a night on the tiles in the city of sin and my sobriety stood firm. When I drank I had nothing but drinking. Now I have everything thanks to sobriety. Without it I have nothing. No social pressure, no sin city, nobody, can change that fact. To drink would meaning losing a bet I made against myself 5 years ago. I didn’t think I would make it. How wrong was I? Each day now I pause, just for a minute, as if I’ve only just realised what is happening. That my life and I have completely changed over the last five years, beyond the point of recognition. At thirty-seven years old, I wish I had done it sooner. I wish I realised that I had the strength to do it younger. I wish I didn’t wait until I was completely fucked before making the change. If you are older start today. If you are younger start today. Don’t wait for it to fall apart.
The following day, I was awake early and went for breakfast… with a huge sugar/caffeine comedown. So it wasn’t all plain sailing but it was close enough to a hangover that I would want to get. It is an interesting place Las Vegas, kinda like being at a music festival. With performers and music playing, people getting bang on it and losing more than just money. There was plenty to do other than drinking and gambling so my original fears were not really needed. Initially, I wasn’t looking forward to going to Vegas but even in sobriety, it turned out to be a fun experience. Although, I’m not sure I could have stayed more than the couple of nights that I did though. The rollercoasters were fun and just walking around was an experience.
I left with no stories of destruction but one story of strength. My pride intact and sobriety’s stock risen.
The message from this is that even in the epicentre of temptation, collapsing to expectation isn’t necessary. In fact, it is detrimental. I think of it like this; Is everything I have worked for in sobriety worth one cliché story about Vegas? In fact, is it worth one cliché story about the weekend? Is it worth one night on the piss because someone annoyed me that day? Of course, it isn’t. My sobriety is the energy that shines the light into all areas of my life. Without it, there is darkness and despair. I was there for too long to go back. So I don’t play about with sobriety. I don’t tempt fate or put myself into situations like this too often. A one-off is doable for me. A constant life of party buses would push me over the edge.
I had spent the night prior to Vegas in monument valley, underneath the stars. The wind whipping sand around me as I laid looking up at the fantastic scenery that was silhouetted against the unbridled beauty of the night sky. It’s a great metaphor for the transition that I feel I have undertaken. Vegas being the chaos, carnage and self-destruction and monument valley being the peace, serenity and connectivity that is available when I remove my self from the former.
Along with the serenity and calm, I have a sense of strength. I will not budge, some smart arse kept offering me a beer in Vegas but I just smirked and said: “ask me again tomorrow.” I wish I had thought of a better retort because he kept asking me. Maybe he thought I genuinely meant ask me again tomorrow. Thankfully, incidents like that are rear but I do sometimes feel that I am fighting convention by not drinking.
That sobriety is an act of revolution; throwing down the chains and saying “no more to a life of chaos.”
Life doesn’t have to be a cluster fuck of drama interspersed with fragments of contentment. My life previously was the equivalent of living with a pyromaniac who was always starting fires and I would rush around constantly putting them out. Sobriety means evicting the pyro and any other unnecessary shit from my life. I keep it simple and don’t get involved in anyone else’s battles, unless completely necessary. I try to handle situations as and when they arise, where possible. I walk with ease and my mind is at rest. I have come a long way from the anxious, unconfident, misfit that I spent many years unnecessarily living as.
I feel like a badge carrier for the sober movement. An ambassador for freedom and the potentiality of living without alcohol. That my failure is the failure of many. I don’t see it as extra pressure, I see it as a duty, as a reason to keep going and keep living. To show the people who are where I was that it is not only possible to quit drinking but that it is possible to venture into the imagination and bring it out as reality.
I want my message to be the hand that someone finds when they are drowning in the madness because if I can inspire just one person to make the change to get their life on track then the years of shit I waded through will have been worth it.
My expectations in early sobriety were that my life was over. That I would don my retirement slippers, buy a pipe and rock myself to a slow death reminiscing about the “Glory days” of old. It wasn’t much of a proposition if I’m honest but it seemed a damn sight more promising than the road I was heading own; my anxiety was rampant, my debt was out of control, my life was chaos and I was exhausted by all the plate spinning. The worse my life got the more I drank and the worse my life got. In hindsight, it was blatant cause and affect. At the time I was oblivious.
Sobriety was boring in the beginning. Mostly due to the fact that I had nothing to do other than drink. Without a drink, I had nothing to do. I sat twiddling my thumbs until one day I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to do something.
Nothing changes if nothing changes!
One minute at a time. One foot in front of the other. I slowly made progress until I was so far from drinking and the rocking chair that moments began to happen that I couldn’t comprehend. Wonderful experiences that reached deep into my soul and reminded me of what it was to be alive. Meeting people who are blown away by the story of how it all turned around and that I crawled from the pit of despair and now was sharing a mind-shattering moment with them. Their respect and genuine awe for the effort it must have taken is a lifetime away from the response that I expected in those early days. I expected people to not really be interested. I expected to be shunned by women for not drinking. I saw sobriety as the mark of the beast. The one who will be banished from society. Impossible to be cool and accepted. Always to be viewed as different.
My experience has been completely different from this. Most recently I met a young woman, who, many years ago, I would have considered impossible to attract. The alcohol I consumed, consumed my self-confidence and I resorted to skulking the corners of the pubs I frequented. Living in the shadows like an operatic antihero viewing the normal people with intrigue and suspicion.
Yet now I fear not for I own my sobriety. I wear it as a badge of honour. It is a hero’s journey that I struggled through to become the person I am today. Somewhere between confident and arrogant. Sure of my ability and aware of my weaknesses. Proud to be human again after years of zombification including the emotions that come with it. I share my tale like a Greek epic. Casting myself in the lead role. Relishing the spotlight after all those years in the darkness.
I was on a tour around America with a group, Marni was one of them. Some years younger than myself, beautiful and cool. I’d dismissed my attraction due to the age difference but when some competition arrived I realised that to not act would be foolish. The potentialities came to life in my head, both positives and the negatives. In the drinking days, the negatives always, and I mean always, won. But not this time. The potential to hook up with such a beautiful woman would demonstrate a level of personal growth that I never expected to happen. “What the fuck am I going to do?” was a prominent thought. “A few wines” had been the dutch courage but now I was left wanting. No alcohol to fall on I had to attempt to step up to the plate, sober. I mean I had done it previously but not with someone I considered this beautiful. After we had talked for a while the topic of my not drinking came up. In times before, I would shirk the question and make up some excuse but I decided to be honest. “That shows incredible strength,” was not a response I was expecting but it was the one I got. Over the course of the night, we grew closer and Marni said “You baffle me. How do you deal with things?” It turns out that keeping my side of the street clean translates to being decisive and assertive. Things I could never have considered myself many years ago when life pushed me around and I got what life was giving not what I wanted. It was an eye-opening experience. The time we spent together was fleeting and life dictates that our paths will diverge but Marni will be added to the list of “thank you’s” I say in the quieter moments when I am purveying some scenery or life experience that is only possible due to my sobriety. I say thank you to the people who helped me along the way, who reached down when I had fallen, who stepped forward when I asked for help and who knew the heat from the flames of hell also. Marni will start a new list; the list of people who helped me grow on a personal level. For she made me realise that not everyone is as judgemental about people in recovery as I thought. Also, she made me see there is life in this old alky yet and that I am still on the path to becoming the best version of myself. Many more journeys await. Many more life lessons will be learned.
Every day now I venture forward into a life that I could never have expected to have. I cannot believe that this is where I am. I was smashed to pieces years ago. So much so that drawing parallels between that life and this one still brings tears of disbelief. I cannot express any more gratitude because my vocabulary doesn’t allow it but I implore anyone who is teetering on the decision to take a shot at a dream, who believes alcohol, drugs or any addiction is the barrier, to give up the addiction and pursue that dream. I stand as a testament, that with perseverance and a tad of tenacity, life can become a surreal adventure into the realms of fantasy. The universe now opens doors and ushers me through. I am prepared for most things and no longer avoid emotional pain. It is a recurring theme in life but it is a lesson that I had/have to learn. Some about other people. Some about myself. All valuable.
Sobriety has been the cheapest investment I ever made and the returns are out of this world. I encourage you to get in early.
There’s still time to change the road your on. That was the line from the iconic Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven,” that accompanied the delectable sight of the Grand Teton Mountain range as we toured through the USA. It had so much meaning because I may have been 3000 miles from home but, emotionally, I was a million miles away from the person I used to be. The sight of those mountains surrounding us was enough to bring me to tears because for years I only saw negativity and toxicity. When I drank alcohol my mind was a cocktail of anger and isolation causing me to be blinkered to the beauty that surrounded me on a daily basis. I consumed anything to fill a void in my soul, yet the things I consumed caused the void. I was dehumanised. The light inside me was diminished.
The drinking road was a ring road. A NASCAR track, that I went around expecting something different but that change never came…
Until I chose to change the road I was on.
The sober road is one of freedom. Of Beauty. Of simplistic wonder that can make me question the very essence of reality. As I no longer seek to destroy myself I no longer seek out the toxicity in life. I now seek positivity and beauty. Adventure and wonder. I am free and life is short. Too short to live in a state of misery, like I had done for many years whilst drinking. Many of those days I recalled as we approached those mountains. I remembered the numerous times during my drinking days that I had been down and out. Broken and blacked out. Sobbing tears to myself in a pit of hopelessness. Desperate but clueless of how to make it stop.
Thankfully life intervened and I had the chance to change roads.
I know where the drinking road took me. I’m not so sure where the sober road takes me. I think that’s half the fun.
A sight that used to fill me with joy now fills me with dread; the drink trolley. It is heavily laden and barrelling down the aisle towards me like the boulder from Indiana Jones, it has the capacity to do as much damage. Almost as if bound by a Newtonian law, my brain sets off with equal force to the trolley as it begins to imagine the potential moments; “What will I say?” “What will he say?” “What will everyone think?” It feels as though the pressure in the cabin is raising but it isn’t. This pressure only exists inside my head. Year’s of adverts and social expectations have created a story in my subconscious that now throws up a plethora of negatives. All designed to make me believe a drink will be the solution.
Thankfully, I have learned to acknowledge the thoughts and accept that they do not reflect reality.
For years my mind would go into overdrive. I had imaginary conversations with people that never took place. I had arguments with people I hadn’t met in places I hadn’t been. I wasted vast amounts of energy trying to plan for every eventuality, most never happened. So thanks to a lot of meditation I learned to observe my thoughts. These resources have been invaluable weapons in my armoury:
And by getting to know myself I learned to differentiate between thoughts and reality. Most importantly I learned to deal with situations as and when they arise. I can only do my best but practice definitely helps as it leads to the confidence to trust myself. It’s almost like playing it backwards, bringing the thoughts back to the moment and taking a breath.
So the trolley is rolling closer and I can read the labels on the bottles. Each label tells me a story where I end up in rack and ruin, sick and shamed. My subconscious wants my heart beating and my brow sweaty to justify that drink.
“Drink sir?” Ask the flight attendant.
“Orange juice please” I reply.
There is no follow up question. No inquisition. No one around me gives me a stare or mouths the word “loser”. People don’t care. I return to reading my book and await the next difficult moment. Which won’t be long as I see a woman carrying two bottles of wine asking people if they would like a refill. The cycle repeats. But when she passes I am left with peace. Those minor battles, which happen very rarely, are the price for a life of freedom and serenity.
Advertisements tell me of solutions to problems I never even knew I had. It is imperative that I remember there is no void, I am enough and alcohol to a problem is like petrol to a fire.
When I drank alcohol, I stumbled through life trying to survive. All I saw was the route to where I needed to get to. Anything outside of this was extra brain energy that I couldn’t spare. I was running on empty, always. The hangovers hung heavy, this, coupled with the shame that I felt kept my gaze firmly on the ground. The thought of making eye contact with another human being caused fear to run through me. The thought that this could lead to a conversation caused full-blown panic. So I shuffled through life, avoiding eye contact and missing out on the things around me. Life buzzed by and time flew past, I was oblivious to any of this happening.
Go back to bedDrink
Every morning, was a rushed panic to get out of bed and get out of the house because I always needed a few more minutes sleep. As if “a few more minutes” would change the state of my hangover. I accepted this as part of life. It happened so often that I perceived it to be “Normal.” It was quite obvious it wasn’t normal when people would talk about how they went to the gym before work or got up and walked their dog or ate breakfast. That panicked start set my day up for more panic, all of it inside my head. I was functioning like I was constantly late for something. I was five minutes behind myself, like a shadow. The swirling uncertainty of the previous night’s actions would fight the plan for the day for supremacy. I could have walked passed a goat juggling sheep and I’m not sure I would have noticed. The swirling chatter in my mind consuming what little energy I had. I was so obsessed by the destination that the journey became time to fill not part of the experience. Everything was just on time or late.
I think back at those days of negative thinking and heavy drinking. And I have to admit I’m quite proud of myself. Not for the drinking but the capacity to soldier on through all that nonsense. How I managed to pay bills and hold a job down while my brain was spinning wildly out of control is beyond me. To anyone doing that I salute you but I also know something now. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is now the complete opposite.
Before I quit drinking I missed out on so many of the intricacies of everyday life. I didn’t even see the subtle nuances that make life alive. I was so wrapped up in surviving the day and battling the shit that constantly swung through my mind like a negativity wrecking ball, that I didn’t have time for life. I was constantly putting out fires. I would put one out and another would ignite elsewhere. It was a war that seemed like it was destined to rage for eternity. This anxiety made me feel disconnected from life and also myself. I wasn’t in control of my own thoughts and as a result, would be bombarded with a variety of things I didn’t want to recall.
If you imagine that your senses are the antenna and the mind is the tv that displays the image. Being drunk was like handing over the remote control to someone else. Someone who couldn’t decide what to watch, so they are constantly flicking through the channels. Quitting drinking was regaining control of what I saw, how I pictured the world and ultimately how I lived my life. The remote control is firmly in my hand. The colours on the picture have been turned up and the contrast adjusted.
No longer do I approach the day with the heavy head and shameful gaze. It is shoulders back head up and ready to take on the day. Confident and proud. I know what I did last night and if I act like a dick then I can correct it as and when required. The world is bright and beautiful, almost as if the old black and white tv has been upgraded to 4k. I can now see the vibrancy and wonder just walking across the park in the morning. My inner child no longer draws with charcoal they have a palette to interpret the world.
This was only possible because I changed the way I looked out. The world hasn’t changed, I have. I had to because I was missing out on so much. I was searching for beauty, peace and contentment through consumption; alcohol, food, clothes, sex, drugs, tv. I was constantly left wanting by these things. Any pleasure I found was fleeting and I had to consume more to try and cling to that feeling. I realised that contentment resided within me all the time. Those things stopped me finding the peace and beauty that I was searching for.
I am certainly not monastic but liberation from the illusion of happiness through consumption has been a great gift. No longer am I at the bek and call of the next advert. I now see life playing out daily. Many miss it as their heads are hung heavy, staring into mobile phones whilst gathering resentments for someone else’s illusionary lifestyle. Liberate yourself from the servitude of alcohol and then see the world in all its splendour.
I sometimes think that heavy drinking wast like being kept in a basement as a prisoner with minimal exposure to the outside world. Quitting drinking is the escape and the opportunity to see the world in all its glorious mind-blowing simplistic wonder. Being able to witness the colours of the world change as nature packs itself away for the winter is a joy. The vibrant greens turn to yellow and brown warnings of things to come. It is a glorious life and I am grateful to be able to see it.
I am five minutes ahead of myself now. This slowing of pace gives me time to absorb the experience of life as I go about my day. I am no longer fighting the chaos that dwelled within or rushing through to try to catch myself. I do miss the chaos now and then. It was a huge part of my psyche for such a long time that sometimes I get bored with serenity but then I remember the pain that came with trying to calm my chaotic mind. The only thing that managed to keep it quiet was alcohol and when I remember that, I realise that serenity is a gift.
Today I haven’t had a drink for 1927 days. Tomorrow I embark on 180 days of travelling. If you had told me 1928 days ago that this is where I would have ended up I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t expect this. Shit, I didn’t even expect to stop drinking. I’d wanted to but the thought of not drinking scared me. Thankfully, life intervened.
1928 days ago was the 31st of May 2014. It was a Saturday night and Carl “The Cobra” Froch was fighting “Saint” George Groves in a boxing match at Wembley Stadium. I wasn’t at the fight. I was in a pub with some friends. It was a great night, a good fight, we had a laugh and then, as they have a tendency to do, the pub closed. This meant no more alcohol for my friends. They did the sensible thing and went home. As per usual, my thirst was unquenched. After calling them boring, I wandered into the local town centre, on my own, to find a table to prop up in a dark corner of a dark club. I knew the place. They knew me. I had been there many times before; searching for a solution, hoping for a revelation. At 3 am on 1st June 2014, I got that revelation. Walking home after the club closed, I was brought to a halt by severe pain in my lower right abdomen. I was doubled up in pain. I have to admit I was scared. Alcohol had been my medicine for a long time. If I felt any pain I would have a couple or six pints of lager and if the pain didn’t go away? Then I would see a doctor. The pain was a reason to drink not an excuse to. So being in pain and being drunk was a cause to be concerned.
With a belly full of ale and agony, I jumped into a taxi and went to the hospital convinced I had seriously damaged… something.
“Enlarged liver,” said the doctor.
“What’s the cure?” I asked, nervously.
“No alcohol for two weeks,” said the doctor.
Thank Christ; I thought, as the premonitions of dialysis drifted from my imagination.
This was the second warning I’d had from my liver. I’d been told to stop drinking a few years earlier by a doctor after a blood test. I tried to stop, lasted seven months without a drink, got bored, relapsed and here I was in the hospital, the circle complete. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where drinking takes you. It definitely isn’t the land of happiness that was advertised. I think a false advertising claim is in order…
At first, it was a nightmare to not drink. My whole life revolved around drinking. Everything was an excuse to drink; boredom, excitement, misery, rejection, acceptance, the day ended with the letter “Y” the list was literally endless. I wish I had the same excuses to exercise.
After quitting drinking I had nothing. I just started to fill my time. It was tricky but I didn’t want another warning from my liver so I stuck to what the doctor had suggested.
After the two weeks, I felt a bit better so I kept going. I kept filling my time and trying new things. I had no confidence, to begin with, but as I achieved little things my confidence began to grow. I planned trips to places I had only dreamed of and then they became achievements. I stood in those places in awe at the beauty of the world and proud of myself for sticking to the sober path. The clarity of sobriety allowed me to take in the experience and hold it dearly inside. From the life-changing journey of the El Camino de Santiago to the bustling streets of New York, the serenity of Lumbini, the breathtaking Vatican in Rome or the questions I was left with after the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. The magic of each place left its mark on me and enlivened my soul after many years of it being dulled by alcohol. My mind expanded by the potential of humanity as I stared at the wonderful monuments that had been created. I felt plugged into life and I finally knew what it was to be alive.
Not drinking allowed me to plan, save money and go. It has enabled me to connect with people, embrace new cultures and take in new experiences. I have new freedom financially and mentally that 1927 days ago I couldn’t have dreamed of possessing.
That pain I felt 1927 days ago was enough of a reason to stop drinking but I never would have guessed that this is where sobriety would take me. Just like, I never would have guessed that’s where drinking would take me when I started out on that journey.
I chose to stop drinking because I was scared but I was also tired. Tired of feeling like every day was a war. Each morning was like a preparation for a battle to just survive work and get back to the pub or a vow to not drink that day only to be chastising my weakness later, drink in hand. I felt like I was just treading water to stay afloat but praying for change. I like to think the liver pain was the answer to my prayers. It wasn’t seriously damaged but it was enough for me to see the reality of my situation; I was a prisoner to my addiction and it would kill me if I carried on.
Sobriety gave me the tools to create an escape plan. Slowly it came together.
In the beginning, I just did what I needed to do to get through. I smoked a shit ton of cigarettes, ate crap food, spent time alone when I could, socialised when I needed to, walked in nature, meditated, practised yoga, read books, watched films, went to AA, anything but drank alcohol or took drugs. It took a while to take shape and I’m not professing to have the solution but it worked for me and I eventually realised that an alcohol-free life was the path I was sticking to.
I’d never had a plan for life before then, I was convinced I would have drunk myself to death by the age of thirty. I got close but wimped out and wanted a taste of life. Now I needed a plan. So I made one, a loose one and ticked things off as I went. I added things I had wanted to do for years like learning the piano, learning the guitar, writing, losing weight, quitting smoking, trips abroad and eventually travelling the world. It took a lot of days to get to the last one. 1927 days to be exact. I didn’t stop drinking and say “in 1927 days I will travel the world,” it’s just that each day, week and year added something new. Each tick next to a goal pushed me along the road. Kind of like a piece in a board game and each attempt at a goal was a roll of the dice. Not everything went my way but I just kept trying. If I wanted to curl up and cry, I did and then I got up and carried on.
Everything along the way, positive and negative, has been a lesson.
After a decade of believing I was incomplete, sobriety helped me realise that there was no hole inside that needed filling. I was complete. It was just an insatiable appetite for alcohol that kept me believing I was missing something.
When I drank I was the caterpillar, consuming everything and getting fat. In early sobriety, I was in the cocoon, growing and changing. Now, it is time to take flight and experience a future I never expected.
I have six months off work and will be travelling to places I have dreamed of visiting; The Grand Canyon, Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, Petra, Sri Lanka and India. People keep asking me what I am going to do after that and I can’t even begin to imagine what I will feel like. At thirty-seven years old, I am in the best shape mentally and physically I have been in for two decades so I might just keep travelling. Or maybe after 180 days I will have had a belly full of travelling and will want to come back home for some stability.
“I can direct the ship but I cannot control what’s waiting in the sea.”
The fact that I don’t know how the experience will impact me shows how much more open to life I am than when I drank. I no longer make assumptions or expectations on things that are out of my control. When I drank, I was cold and closed off. I would have worried about the potentialities and then probably decided it was a bad idea. Now, I am liberated and go with an open heart and mind.
I couldn’t have done this on my own. I don’t mean the trip; I mean the journey of sobriety. I tried to go it alone the first time I quit and that didn’t end up too well. This time I reached out for help in the early days and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for everyone who has helped me along the way; Alcoholics anonymous, people I’ve met, people who read my blogs and give feedback, fellow travellers, work, work colleagues, friends and family. They all have played a part in making the journey possible. I couldn’t have done it on my own and as a proud individual that has been a life-saving realisation. Strength is good but being too proud for help is foolish. So don’t suffer in silence.
I hope this helps you to realise that even a regular guy can achieve his dream WITH perseverance, patience, a plan and WITHOUT alcohol. So if I can do it, you definitely can because you’re awesome. You might not know it yet but hopefully one day you will realise. I didn’t think I had anything to offer for years. I didn’t think I could achieve anything or that I didn’t deserve anything. Sobriety taught me otherwise.
Someone in an AA meeting once said to me “Quit drinking and you can have a life beyond your wildest dreams.” I was in my early days of recovery and thought, who’s this lunatic? I guess I owe that lunatic an apology because he was right. Now, I become that lunatic because I am here to tell you the same message “QUIT DRINKING AND YOU CAN HAVE A LIFE BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS,” it doesn’t have to be travelling it can be something, anything, that is dear to you. It can be the flickering ember of a dream, nearly extinguished by alcohol that can be reignited by sobriety. Or an aspiration to do something that you convinced yourself over time you could never do.
You will be surprised by your own ability as you grow into the butterfly and take flight.
One day, you will be saying to people, “I didn’t think I could do it either but look where I am now,” and you will hope that they get to the place you are. Then, maybe, like me, you’ll realise how far you’ve come. That the day you chose to stop drinking alcohol turned out to be the best decision you ever made and that every day since then has been a step along the path toward your dreams.
“Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite forever orbiting
I know all the rules but the rules did not know me Guaranteed.“
Eddie Vedder, Guaranteed, Into the Wild (Soundtrack)
When I drank I was often physically sick. I have been so sick from drinking that I have rolled up the mat from around the bottom of the toilet and used it as a pillow because I didn’t want to be too far away from the bathroom. I would wake up feeling a sinking feeling of shame and stagger off to bed to try to sleep off the hangover. I would lay in bed sweating and moaning like a fevered child for most of the day until I could muster the energy to wander back to the pub or the shop. That was a lot of Sundays.
By the end of my drinking I was mentally and
physically sick. Almost like I had been taken over by something else. It’s maybe
no coincidence that the word alcohol comes from the Arabic word for ghoul which
also means to seize:
“The word “Alcohol” is Arabic; from the root word (Al-Ghawl/Ghul) “Ghawl” or “Ghul” which translates to Ghoul, Hobgoblin, Bogey(man), Ogre (man eating giant), and Alcohol. The Qur’an–verse 37:47 uses the Arabic form “Al-Ghawl” referring to the intoxication associated with alcohol when in wine. The root word “Ghawla” translates as ‘foolish’ or ‘ignorant’. Referencing a Ghoul, this is known as an evil spirit and further translates ‘to seize’. The term Bogey(man) is sometimes used as a personification of the Devil. Along with the root word that refers to a spirit or demon, Europeans later adapted the word (likely in the 17th century) and eventually it also came to be used in science circles as a technical term for the Ethanol it also is.
Given the root of the word and its description/nature as being that of a “Demon who seizes and destroys”, many Christians abstain from Alcohol, noting that Jesus drove out demons.”
In fact most religious texts talk about the dangers of alcohol and/or overindulgence. My personal favourite is the Buddhist belief that “Alcohol consumption is inconsistent with a Buddhist’s quest to understand and develop the mind. Buddhists believe that by practicing meditation, wisdom and morality, every individual has the innate ability to experience true happiness.”
Ironically, I drank to be happy yet more often than not found myself in the bathroom and then in complete misery. I was sick yet I believed alcohol to be the medicine for my sickness; a perverted mistruth. A situation similar to having an illness that makes you thirsty only to find the cause of the thirst is in the tainted water you are drinking. For years I tried drinking different forms of the poison. I would walk in my local pub and the barman would say “What do you want today?” I had no “Usual,” because I was searching for the magic elixir. The one that was different from all the rest. THEY ARE ALL THE FUCKING SAME. People who drink a bottle of wine a night yet look down at people with a can of extra strong lager are hypocrites. Simple as that.
It took me years of punishing research to figure that out. Years of blacking out and misery just to realise there was no elixir. This came as a huge disappointed.
How was I to get well now I no longer had my medicine? Well, it was a shocking revelation to realise that my medicine was the source of my illness. Like one of those stories were a parent has been putting crushed tablets in their kids’ food to keep them ill. That’s how I felt about alcohol; it was supposed to help but it was killing me. I had been sober two years when I read This Naked Mind. It confirmed what I believed; that alcohol kept me sick.
“One in 10 people in a
hospital bed in the UK are alcohol-dependent and one in five are doing
themselves harm by their drinking, according to research that quantifies for
the first time the massive burden to the NHS of
Britain’s drinking culture.
What I have found in sobriety is that happy people a free people. Most care not about what they once thought they needed. Their outer world aligns more with the light that burns so brightly inside but had been extinguished with alcohol. This is because many have to turn inward and face their demons. That’s the path I found myself walking when I gave up alcohol. I had no other choice. Once the ghoul had been beaten back, my true self returned and finding contentment came easier. It was as if my soul was trapped in a glass case and sobriety was the hammer that set it free.
Sobriety isn’t the destination for me it is the part of the process that pushes me forward and forces me to grow as an individual. It is a process of finding and maintaining what works to keep me well. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule that covers everyone but a connection to the self first that becomes a deeper connection elsewhere is definitely a benefit.
As alcohol leaves a trail of destruction, being AF leaves a trail of serenity. If you want it to that is.
The recovery process for me was one of getting well from being mentally and physically sick. Like recovering from an illness or sickness, it took time. There was no rush.
If I had just left Hospital due to knee surgery running a marathon wouldn’t be best advised. Slowly, I would take small steps until my strength improved. I’d start with small challenges until there was confidence that it would carry me through. I see the recovery from alcohol abuse as completely the same. Both body and mind had to be repaired. As they did my eyes began to open to a world of beauty and opportunity. I realised that happiness is just a concept, an illusion, a carrot on a stick to keep me chasing. What I found in sobriety were acceptance and contentment. No longer did I have the crushing lows that are the price of happiness.
The contentment I was seeking was within me all along. It just got hijacked and my direction forcibly changed. I was steered away from my contentment and set on the treadmill known as the pursuit of happiness. A ceaseless pursuit equivalent to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
When I see statistics about drug misuse and alcohol misuse it makes me feel bad. Not only does it remind me of the misery that I dwelled within for years. It makes me feel bad for those people struggling to climb out of the quicksand. The one that seems to pull you back in the more you seem to struggle. Well know this, you are beautiful both inside and out. There is no void that you need to fill. You are enough. That voice telling you that you won’t make it is the manifestation of a long past moment. I know because it told me the same thing and it wasn’t true. I persevered and found contentment, which is far more valuable then happiness.
To know your strength you must test your strength.