Quitting alcohol made me human, not invincible!

I’ve searched high and low for solutions. Internal and external. Each works for a while. Then I return to the same feeling. Flat. Dead. Numb. I do not want to carry this cross anymore. Its weight is slowing me down. Normal things in normal life seem pointless. The joy of the simple has been taken away. My energy has been removed. This morning I spoke to a doctor about the situation. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to acknowledge that the work I had done over the years hadn’t worked. It left me scared. Scared that it was all for nothing. All the recovery. The meditation. The exercise. Travel. All pointless if I’m going to end up feeling the same… it was a warning sign.

I know where the feeling leads. It isn’t a good place. Ignoring the feeling of hopelessness costs lives. Nobody wants to be sat in a GP’s office spilling their guts to someone they hardly know. But it is a damn sight better than standing on a bridge hoping for a miracle. Life is fucking short. It shouldn’t be spent in misery. Yeah, we have to do shit we don’t like to survive. But there are numerous days between should be enjoyed. It’s difficult to do when the dark cloud descends. The world seems ominous. The future without help is scarier than reaching out. The ego will tell you to walk tall. To soldier on and prove the world wrong. There are no winners in a one-sided war.

Last week, I was working at home and burst into tears. It lasted a few hours. I didn’t know why? It had been building up over the weeks. Each day a little harder than the last. Body getting heavier. Mind getting foggy. I didn’t drink. I didn’t want to drink. There was alcohol in the house I was staying at. I looked at it and thought what fucking difference would that make? I wanted to not feel the way I did. But I knew escaping wouldn’t change a thing.

I booked the wrong train tickets. Then I got on the wrong bus, twice. Had a panic attack. Mind started barreling around. I felt lost. I was less than a mile from my house. It was scary as fuck. I’ve been in places around the world and felt fine. A mile from my house and I was freaking out. I felt embarrassed. I had no option but to admit defeat.

I went to the doctors. I told them what had happened. I got prescribed Prozac counselling and a blood test. The works. I have been against antidepressants forever. Now I am out of options so I will try. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. The same situation as when I used alcohol to escape. That eventually stopped working also.

Even after six and half years of not drinking I still am not immune. Mental health is a tricky bitch. Even with a clean-living life, it is possible to succumb. I didn’t want to reach out. I felt ashamed. I felt weak. I felt like less than a man. Even in the waiting room I still wanted to run. Didn’t want to acknowledge it. History has taught me that denial is a fool’s game. So I stayed. I spoke. I felt better when I had got it out in the open.

We all have to do things in life we don’t want to do sometimes. Sometimes it saves your life. I didn’t want to quit drinking. It saved my life. A result of quitting is that I’ve had to face myself. Look inside and acknowledge problems. But even with that introspection, it is still possible to ignore issues. That is a dangerous road to walk. Last time I started feeling depressed I bottled it up. Eventually, I became housebound and suicidal.

Quitting drinking might not have made me invincible. But it has made me aware enough to not have to get to that extreme again. It isn’t easy. It is far from being cured. Thankfully, I don’t have to suffer in silence.

Charlie

How travel changed me…

Let me just start by saying that travel was only possible because I quit drinking. Sobriety is the entire cake. Travelling is the icing that gives it beautification. Travel is a reward for the sacrifice of not drinking. It is the prize for swimming against the tide in a culture washed way by alcohol. The experience of fulfilling my life long dream of travelling the world only cemented my belief that quitting drinking was the greatest decision I ever made. My financial, physical and mental recovery was only possible because I quit drinking. Simple as that. It was said to me as a kid, “you shouldn’t smoke it stunts your growth!” Well, alcohol stunted my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. Quitting set me free.

I implore you to dare. You may fail but which is worse? Failing or failing to try? If I had never tried I would still be wishing and berating myself for not trying. Remove the fear through action. 

If the COVID scare has taught me anything it is; don’t put things off until tomorrow because one day, tomorrow won’t be an option.

As for the travel, it went so fast and was over before I knew it. I was left with a collection of photographs and memories that seemed to belong to someone else. Fleeeting moments in time that seem to belong to a movie I saw. I struggle to beleive they are mine. That it happened to me. Yet, I still smile when I recall one. I had some great times. I saw some beautiful places and met some wonderful people. Even as a nondrinker, I never felt left out. I never felt I was missing out. I felt like I had arrived at the place I never thought I would reach.

Some of the places I visited you can read about here –

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/10/04/stories-from-sobriety-leaving-las-vegas-sober/

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/10/12/finding-peace-in-playa-del-carmen/

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/11/08/magical-mexico/

https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/12/21/the-pyramids-are-amazing-its-a-shame-they-are-in-egypt/

But how has travel changed me? Barring the dopamine hits from Instagram likes and the pleasant memories did it have a profound effect on my life? Do I feel different in any way? Well yes.

On my return to the UK, I experienced a reverse culture shock. There had been a general election whilst I was away and the country seemed polarized. Fragmented by oppositional stances. Each side was pointing fingers at the other, calling them names, whilst claiming moral and intelligent superiority over the other. It still remains today; “if you are not on board with my beliefs then you are against them.” It is almost impossible to formulate an opinion without being labelled as an enemy to either side. What happened to discourse?

Whilst I was away, and let’s be honest I wasn’t on an expedition to unfound lands for years, but still, I had some real conversations with people from all over the planet. Some real, deep conversations, questioning of life and all it’s wonderful differences. My profound realisation was; just because I believe something doesn’t make it true. This was brought about by the conversations and realisations that there is a simple thread that runs through the majority of humanity; to live life in peace, provide for yourself and others, to love, to have fun, to laugh and share moments of bliss. These moments connect us in ways that are integral to the human experience. Without them is to be dehumanised. It is possible to substitute them for other items but they are impossible to replace.

Passing through countries allowed me to see these connections play out and how these simple human moments unite us all. From the belief and positivity in Sudan with the hope that democracy would bring real change. To the woman sitting on the side of the road in India sharing her rice with a stray cat. To then return to the western world with fewer smiles yet more “wealth,” was stark. Yes, we have more comfort and supposed security but at what cost? What is the price of these things? It seems like a trade-off and with every trade-off, there is a loss.

It is almost impossible to raise this discussion without being labelled as a Marxist or communist or any other term that has become synonymous with evil or foolish. I believe that these labels only exist to close down the discussion. How can progress be made if we are not prepared to ask difficult questions of ourselves and the environment we inhabit?

When I first came back, a friend shared his experience of travel and how it changed his world view. The images of the world he had seen didn’t align with the ones his friends saw in the newspapers they read. He was left with a conundrum; to spend his days arguing or just accept that opinions are different. His experience reminded me of Plato’s allegory of the cave. Not to say he was correct and the others were staring at the cave wall. It just seems like many people refuse to question. It is almost as if thinking is knocked out of us…

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

I had a worrying thought after returning; what now? I never thought about what to do after my achieving my dreams because I assumed it would never happen. I had spent most of my life a drunk. The thought of achieving anything was always a pipedream. The “what now?” feeling was anxiety-inducingt. I sat with it. It occurred to me that there seems to be no real collective goal. No direction just the drudgery and acceptance of normality. No real betterment of culture, only the continuation of the same. Work, get debt, repeat. The fear of loss driving us towards more of the same in the hope of security. So I vowed to try to be positive in a word of negatives. Try to help others to achieve their dreams and hopefully inspire others to reach their potential. I can but try.

I came to realise that I need even less “stuff” than I previously believed. It isn’t part of me or an extension of me. I just buy “things” to make me feel like I am making progress. It’s almost as if I bought things to fill the boredom from not moving. Running on the treadmill of consumption was enough to fill the gap of adventure. That was until the dopamine of newness wore off and left me chasing the next thing. I know that I need to be more included in society but that doesn’t mean conforming to expectation. It means being myself. The acceptance of myself is the foundation to be accepted by others. Pretending to be others is the quickest way to hate yourself. Life is short.

To be real you gotta be yourself
Not a poorly constructed version of someone else

Kate Tempest

I have realised that the world isn’t as ominous as I was led to believe. The preconditioning had left me expecting violence but I was surprised to be welcomed. This may be down to the fact I was a tourist or as someone pointed out in the states, it may be because I am white. Either way, I felt safe.

I was idealistic growing up. Being an alcoholic made my world darker. It made me believe that I shouldn’t trust anyone including myself. Sobriety opened me up to my own potential and the potential I saw around me. Sobriety returned me to a state of wonder. Travel heightened that wonder. Combined, I was left with a sense of optimistic naivety; if I can change then maybe others can? Maybe I am blinkered by the fact that I once gave up the thing I loved most, alcohol, and it changed my life for the better. I still believe that if a person can be convinced to walk into a market, pull the detonator on a suicide vest out of hatred then people can be convinced to act out of love, for the betterment of all.

Maybe clinging to old ideals isn’t a great way to live as history teaches us that pitching beliefs against one another leads to destruction, both inner and outer.

I have asked many people their beliefs on the nature of selfishness. Usually, the more selfish people believe that humans are innately selfish, which is partly true. Humans are innately altruistic also. Acts of altruism are shown to be beneficial to the human psyche. It’s as if we are hard-wired to work collaboratively whilst some are wired to benefit themselves. Could it be then that the current model is leaving people wanting because it doesn’t align with their innate desires?

“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”

Ramana Maharshi

It could be said that some of our pursuits are detrimental to ourselves as well as others. But for different reasons. For example, we have an economic system that promotes productivity but downplays the value of creativity. A recently discovered 44,000 yr old wall painting would suggest that creativity is as old as humans. Yet, creativity for the sake of feeding an inner desire is seen as a waste of time. It is called a pastime, an act to pass the time. To always be moving forward is progress. No matter if the forward step contains many negatives, they are just further problems to be overcome in the quest for progress. Why do we deny this aspect of the human experience? I saw plenty of beauty along the way, both natural and created. It reminded me behind all the fear and negativity there is wonder and peace.

I am not too foolish to believe there aren’t terrible acts committed every day. Neither am I too foolish to believe that it is part of normality for this to happen. But it is impossible to change anything if we/I do not question the status quo. It may be scary to question the reasoning behind things but it is the only way to gauge value. Many years ago, I questioned my status quo; work, drink, sleep, repeat. I found it was holding me back. I began to think is this the best version of myself? I knew it wasn’t. I knew there had to be another way.

I am one of the lucky ones. Not just because I was fortunate enough to have punished myself with alcohol to the point that I demanded liberation or that I could use this liberation to explore the my dreams. I am lucky because life could be a lot worse. I have a lot to be grateful for; food, shelter, water, freedom and support. These are things I have taken for granted. I will never be ungrateful for these things again. I am eternally grateful for the people who helped me along the way, who I met travelling and who motivated me to follow the dream.

It was a life changing experience. Just like sobriety.

Charlie.

Finding meaning after quitting drinking…

Alcohol was my life. My love. My everything. Sad, on reflection. At the time it was my one-stop-shop for life.

I couldn’t imagine quitting. “What would be the point of life?” I would ask sincerely. It’s pathetic to look at now. Being an alcoholic for me was like running around a maze in a panic. All the while ignoring the giant sign that said “Exit”. Just because I was too scared to imagine leaving the maze.

“How am I going to do XYZ?” The thought of doing anything without a drink was frightening enough to make me want to drink. It seemed impossible. I mean life was pretty boring anyway. It was going to be ten times worse without a drink. What would be the point in working? I only worked to earn money to buy booze. If I didn’t need booze then I didn’t need a job? What would I do?

The answer? Anything and fucking EVERYTHING. I can do (within reason) anything. 

I thought quitting drinking would be restrictive. It was liberating. I thought it would be boring. It has been exhilarating. I thought I would wither and die. I have only got stronger. I thought my life would have no meaning. But I have learned that I GIVE it meaning. Where I focus my attention is where I find meaning. I used to float through life hoping for divine intervention. I have learned that I can take action. I can pick and choose.

It isn’t always strawberries and cream. There are moments of darkness. Feelings of discontent and unhappiness. I’ve learned these will pass. They seem like they won’t but they do. And if not then I know I can reach out. More often than not the feeling of discontent is a message. Or my intuition spurring me on. My inner drive reminding me that life is fleeting and sitting idol, watching life pass is not good. This connection internally can be raw. Unpleasant even. As harsh realisations are felt. But the strength developed from quitting drinking allows them to wash over me. Thankfully they are few.

Trusting myself took time. Being in a foreign country alone was the first step. I realised that anything negative that could happen would not be a result of my behaviour. It was a good feeling. Over time this grew. I began to pick goals and aim for them. It was incredible. I thought that I would be trapped by quitting drinking. When I had been restricted by drinking. My life revolved around drinking. If I went anywhere there had to be drinking involved. If there wasn’t a bar then I would have to be allowed to take cans. If not I didn’t go. A can of lager was my emotional support item. It got me through life.

If alcohol was my meaning for life then I had no meaning. I lived a purposeless life. I worked. I drank. I slept. That was it. It was hell. I denied my potential. Stunted my growth. Why? FEAR. Of becoming who I wanted to be. Of being where I wanted to be. Of failing. It was bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. If I fail, I go again. But wiser. To progress, I have to try. To find direction I have to take action. Sitting around with my thumb up my arse, moaning about life, is no help to anyone. I have to pick a path and walk it. When I realise it’s not for me anymore I don’t just desert it. I try to make it work. If it doesn’t? That I pick a new path. A new hobby. A new route to growth. It isn’t for any other reason than to find out what I can do. To see what I am made of I have to be tested. To know what I like and what I am good at I have to try new things.

There is no shortcut to getting to contentment. Like getting healthy after a life of hedonism; it takes effort and perseverance. NO ONE can do it for you. It takes inner and outer work. Peeling back the layers of shit that have built over the years like on an old oven. Daring to question. Daring to winkle out those desires and dust off the dreams. To realise that the cage I inhabited was merely a perception. And one of my creation. It was a great awakening.

To be able to erect boundaries after being a doormat was welcome. No more being trampled by life. Taking shit and feeling resentment for not speaking my piece. That was the old me. Standing in the pub drinking while slagging off the person who I “should have” said something to. Now I walk tall. Proud. Of daring to make a change. Of daring to fail. It is this that gives life meaning. Not material possessions. Not to me. It is the realisation of the potential I have and the ability to tap into it. It is the potential to make decisions and be prepared to deal with the outcome; positive or negative. It is the knowledge that emotions will come and go. Hard times will pass. That no matter what there is no need to run back to the bottle. In the hope that life magically changes for the better. Only to wake up and realise that it is the same if not worse. To break the funk I had to break from the cycle. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Nothing changes if I am not prepared to change!

Life might seem worse without alcohol. Life might be boring. You might be lonely and isolated from your friends. You might find yourself sitting in on a Friday night reading a book with a cup of herbal tea, alone. Thinking what the fuck am I doing? Getting well is what I was doing. I did it because drinking alcohol was pure misery for me. Every time. I was constantly perplexed how it wasn’t fun anymore but I carried on because I refused to leave the maze.

The world exists outside. Life exists. Family. Friends. Connection. It is all there to give life some sort of meaning. To feel part of something. To feel something. Instead of that deadened state. In a dead-end life.

I used to think living for alcohol was meaning. Since I dared to try another way I have learned alcohol is a meaningless waste of life. That’s why I can never go back. There is so much more to life. And me. And you. Than alcohol allowed me to realise. The moments I drank to escape, I now look forward to. Brief moments of alone time and peace. Just enough time to ask if I am doing okay if I am happy where I am heading and if not find out why. It is in these moments I remember to get up and search out the meaning. If I never find it I can look back and realise the journey and the exploration, was the meaning. That each new day is another lesson. And like all lessons; to learn, I have to be present. 

Charlie.

From COVID to 10km

In March, I couldn’t breathe. A short walk across the park to the shop had me wheezing. It was worrying. I was reasonably fit at this point but had just been travelling for five months. Tasting all the wonders of the various places had led to me putting a stone on in weight. I’d tried to exercise as I travelled but it became less and less frequent. So on my return, I was “reasonably fit,” I could probably run a mile but I wouldn’t be breaking any records. I weighed 13st 6lbs. I’m 5′ 10″. Overweight according to the NHS BMI calculator.

The shortness of breath in March was accompanied by a constant cough. It felt like someone had me in a bearhug trying to squeeze the breath out of me. I was happy when the symptoms calmed after a couple of days. I was feeling better within the week. It started on a Saturday and 8 days later I decided to go for a run. It was a terrible idea. About a third of a mile in I began wheezing. Like a full-blown asthma attack. I had to stop. I was shocked. I walked a little, got my breathing under control and tried again. Another third of a mile and the same happened. So I did the same thing. I eventually made it to a mile. I was knackered though.

I gave it a couple of days and tried again. The same thing happened. It reminded me of when I first started running the year before. I’d just quit smoking after 23 years. My lungs were knackered. I would be huffing and puffing after a short distance. In my head, I would be berating myself for causing the pain to my lungs. I owed them. It was my responsibility to keep them clean. I used this to push me on.

I used the same approach this time. Telling myself I had to keep going. I rested when I needed to but I just kept going. If I did good I rewarded myself with something. A milkshake or a bacon sandwich. Something I could focus on to take my mind off my burning lungs and aching legs. It took me probably three weeks of trying before I made it to a mile. I was happy to have made it without stopping but wanted to go further. I then started walking another mile. Then I ran into the second mile until I couldn’t run anymore. Then I walked. I just kept doing this three/four times a week. Each time getting a little further.

I started getting aches in my shins and bought some new trainers. So important to have good footwear. My previous shoes were well worn and needed replacing. The aches lessened and I just kept running.

I didn’t have a particular diet. I ate protein bars as a substitute for chocolate. I have a sweet tooth and don’t like to deny myself things. I have learned that balance is important as it minimises craving. I used to deny myself things until a “cheat” day and then would overindulge. In turn, feeling bad. A little bit here and there seems to work better for me. Plus it motivates me to exercise.

My usual diet contains fruit and veg. I don’t eat fast food very often. It tastes artificial. I’ll have the odd Chinese if I fancy it but that’s very rare. I try to stay well and find that eating bad food is detrimental to that. When I was obese I was ill often. Or at least I felt ill often. So experience taught me to stay well as can be. The short term dopamine hit from sugar, fat and salt is massively offset by the downsides to being out of shape. Nothing tastes as good as feeling fit and well feels.

The days in-between running I would do press-ups and planking. No set amount just to fail. It was to rest my legs but still do something. Even if it was just five minutes worth. It was better than nothing.

My weight didn’t come down much from all the running but I started feeling more energetic. I also felt stronger and more confident. I was getting closer and closer to 5km. Until about six weeks after struggling to breathe I managed to get to 5km in a reasonable time.

I just kept persevering. I never listened to music when I ran. Just my thoughts and the wildlife in the parks. I found it calming. Therapy for the cost of a pair of trainers. Any grievances from that day I would run them off. Use the grumbling to motivate me further. Use the frustration to push me on. I enjoyed it. I began to look forward to running. In the beginning, it seemed like tying up my shoes and walking out the door took more energy than the run. But as the months went on I began to become addicted to it. Eventually, I was feeling fitter than I ever had. At 38 years old I felt the best I had felt in years.

It was a good escape during the lockdown to put on a pair of trainers and just run. To just go for half an hour or so and not worry. Just get away from technology and be present. In the moment. With the sound of my feet hitting the ground as company.

I just kept nudging myself further. I rested when I ached. Sometimes I didn’t make the distances I wanted but that’s life. I would try again next time. I kept at it until I comfortably made 10km. It was four months after I had been struggling to breathe in March. It felt good. Although I was dying by the end of the 6miles. I was happy to have made it.

There are obvious limitations that restrict people from doing what I have talked about here. The majority of people are restricted by their own beliefs or lack of motivation. That is why the quick fix health industry is a multi-billion pound industry. We want to look and feel good without the effort. Which is subjective. But I have been obese. I have hated myself. I am now comfortable in my own skin. I can say that wellness and exercise is the foundation of that feeling. I am not an athlete nor aspire to be. I am just a general guy using his own experience to promote wellness. As a result of the running during the lockdown, I went back to work in the best shape I have been in since I was a teenager. People noticed a change. Not only in my appearance but my general demeanour. I felt calm and confident. I felt comfortable. Just a little bit of exercise a few times a week had a massive impact on my general well being. I highly recommend it.

Start small. Don’t expect the world. Just take it a step at a time. And stop making excuses. I hear people all the time “Oh yeah the lockdown made me fat!” No, it didn’t being inactive and eating too much made you fat. The lockdown made some of us fit.

Charlie.

P.S. I lost 6lbs in weight. Which is still overweight according to BMI calculator. But I feel great 😀

Why I quit drinking…

I had to.

I mean I had a choice. I didn’t HAVE to. There wasn’t a disgruntled wife standing at the door, coat on, screaming startling accurate descriptions of a situation that I couldn’t understand as reality. There was no threat of not seeing my children. There were no prison cells. No real regrets. Only wasted potential. But no more than the average 30-year-old spending his days in a cubicle, earning money for an escape that will never come. There was a financial peril. But that was on the horizon. There were health issues. But that was if, buts and maybes.

I could have carried on if I wanted. And that’s just it; I didn’t want to anymore. It wasn’t as bad as some but it was bad enough. In all honesty, it was the life on the horizon that scared me. If I was scrooge from an alcoholic Christmas carol. And I was visited by three ghosts of alcoholic Christmas. My rock bottom was not a recap of my drunken past. It was the drunken days yet to come. It was bleak. Fuck man it looked bleak. More of the same. I couldn’t be doing with more of the same. I couldn’t handle another fucking pointless conversation dressed up as friendship just to not feel lonely for an evening. Alcohol gave the illusion of a life lived. It also made me forget about a life wasted. I had dreams. I had potential. I had so much to give but was held back by my own shit thinking. The negative, dismissive, failure, “aim for the middle” mindset. I was tired of trying to be less than I was because I was scared of being myself. I was tired of talking a good game and never playing. I was CONVINCED that deep down I could do something with myself. I was a rebel without a clue. I directionless ship in the waters of life waiting for a captain to take control. I got tired of waiting for that to happen. I was tired of waiting for a saviour.

I have asked myself the question “was my life shit because I drank or did I drink because my life was shit?” many times. I believe it was a combination. I was scared of trying. Scared of being different. I drowned the fear in alcohol and pretended to be a one-pound rockstar. Swagger n all. All bravado and bollocks. It was tiring keeping people at arm’s length through the fear of getting found out. It’s such a waste of energy trying to be someone else. Trying to put up an image. I can’t be arsed with that. Not no more.

Has my life improved much since I quit drinking? I don’t have the drunken days yet to come to worry about. There are no shadows on the horizon I have to avoid. I have seen things I once only dreamed of. The confidence I used to fake is now natural. At nearly 40 years old I am probably the fittest I have ever been. I have options; freedom and choice. My head can get a bit carried away with itself sometimes. But my general outlook is better than it was.

I do think that I am at a disadvantage to drinkers though. I have to be in reality 24/7 (except sleep of course). I can’t just get out of it. I can’t just escape to another place for a while. I can’t just switch it off for an evening. It’s not a hardship. It’s just fun to escape sometimes… I can’t do it sometimes though. It becomes all the time lol.

The other disadvantage is hanging around with other non-drinkers. Not wanting to spend my life in the pub means going to places to meet people. Usually AA. This is fraught with heaps of religious nonsense dressed up as some kind of spiritual journey. The problem is that the group adopt the thoughts of the group. Conversations about higher powers and the like drive me insane. Like I said earlier; I was like a captain-less ship waiting for someone to take control. I learned to take control of my life and responsibility for my actions. I grew up. I am not now giving it over to an imaginary figure. In AA I would be called an egotist for such thoughts. So be it.

The most startling realisation about life is that it is just okay. I don’t think that it is wonderful every minute of every day. It isn’t a Disney cartoon. Nor would I want it to be. Continuous happiness would also become normal eventually. Not to mention tiring to maintain. Life is more real than that. It is hours of monotony to earn money so I can pay bills and not starve to death. It is humdrum and cyclic. It is enough to drive people to drink but there are moments. Flashes of light in the darkness. Wonderful moments of simplicity. The stars in the night sky. Birds singing. Squirrels squirrelling. Dog’s happy to be outside. There are love and connection. There are friendship and kindship. Shared experiences. And internal contentment. There are peace and awe. Those are the magic moments. Those are the grandiose luxuries I sought in the guise of grandiose luxuries.

These moments make it worth it. I realised that blocking out life with alcohol blocks out the wonder of life. Alcohol is not selective blindness. It is complete blindness.

Life may not be perfect. Accepting its imperfections stopped me being disappointed. The same thing happening with the way I viewed myself.

Ultimately, quitting drinking is daring to be pricked by the thorns while getting the rose. It is taking the rough with the smooth. Because there has been both emotional and physical pain but they have passed. They have left their mark. I have grown from the experience. Alcohol would have turned those emotions into a stew and they would have simmered. Bubbling away. Day after day. Getting thicker and thicker. More would be added to the broth until the pan spilt over into an eruption of emotion. The process repeated. Physical pain would be drank away. Yet I would get hurt again while oblivious to the pain in a drunken state. And the process would be repeated.

There are numerous forms of escape in our culture but nothing offered the same level of checking out like alcohol. In my drinking days, I used to imagine my head was like an etch a sketch. In the morning I would give my head a shake and what had been drawn on the night before would vanish. Poof. Magic. Last night never happened I would think… until the repercussions.

Being engaged in life can be tiresome and tricky but by being clear-minded it is possible to observe. With this observation, it is easy to see the problems with alcohol in our towns and cities. Those people from street drinkers to office workers wanting an escape don’t see the simplistic wonder that is happening all around them. The escape they crave is the trap they yearn to escape. The simplistic wonder of life is worth far more than an evenings escapism. It may take time to see but it is there.

I quit drinking because I didn’t want the future I was going to end up with.

I stay a non-drinker because it was the right choice.

Charlie.

Sri Lanka. Part of my travels to celebrate five years of sobriety

One day at a time…

That’s what was said to me in the beginning, “Just take one day at a time.” It made sense. I mean the future was bleak. The past was broken. So taking each day as it comes made sense. The advice was a great gift. It allowed me to focus on the important things. The twenty-four hours in the day was the line in the sand. I would think that I just need to get through today without drinking. I did. It worked. It was so effective that I lost count of the amount of days I have gone without drinking.

I also lost the use of keeping it in the day. My anxious determination got the better of me. “Now what?” I would say. “Now drinking isn’t my issue. Now, what do I do?” The answer from people was often the same “just keep it in the day.” My reply “What? Forever?” It seemed like every day would be the same. Just another struggle against alcoholism. Another day of handing problems over to a higher power whilst decrying my human emotions. It seemed so… boring. I’ll be honest. Quitting drinking for quitting drinking sake was never enough. I needed a reason. I needed to find a goal and break it down. I needed to ask the question “I only have one day. What can I do today to push me towards that goal?” Not drinking was the foundation. Monetary stability was a big help. Health is the most important. So to keep my health I have not to drink. By not drinking I can work to save money. This way I am keeping it in the day but for a reason. I am working towards something. I have used this method to study. To pay off debt. To lose weight. I take the problem and break it down. Usually not drinking is the first thing. Not because of disease but because not drinking makes achieving my other goals easier. By not drinking it is easier to become the best version of myself. Life-fighting to hide an addiction is hard. Life with a hangover a hard. Life fighting disease can be hard. By focusing on the route I am present.

Drinking made me the worst version of myself. Plus I had to work twice as hard to get anywhere because I usually had a hangover.

Living life as a functioning alcoholic was like tying my own shoe laces together before running a race!

I had to adapt keeping it in the day to suit my own outlook and journey. I’m not just trying to repeat every day. I am seeing the day as an opportunity for progress. One step of twenty fours hours towards whatever it is I have in mind at that time. If I don’t manage it that day then I try again tomorrow. There is no failure. Only progress. There is ALWAYS something I can be doing.

I waste time. A lot of time. Doing nothing. Not even as entertaining as nothing. Scrolling through my phone takes up a huge amount of time. It’s as if somewhere on Instagram there is an answer to a question. I just have to keep searching until I find it. I am often left unfulfilled by this quest and am left with the resentment that I have been wasting time scrolling through products I don’t need. The resentment is offset though if I have done something that day. Writing, practising music or exercising. Whatever I see as getting towards that goal. As long as I’ve done that I feel better.

The “One day at a time” (ODAAT) approach was explained to me that there are twenty-four hours in the day. Each day is a battle against the disease of alcoholism. The object of the mission was to get through the day without drinking. That was it. I mean it is a bit of a shit mindset to approach every day with. A paranoid outlook that there is some ominous thing plotting your demise every day. It is almost the teachings of a religious fanatic who believes the Devil is trying to get you to the dark side. 

I couldn’t see life like this. There is opportunity everywhere. I just have to put the steps in place to make it happen.

It was of use in the early days. In the first few weeks when drinking is still the focus of the mind but not drinking is the intention. When alcohol adverts seem to spill out from every billboard and poster. Eventually, though this feeling fades. Addiction or temptation becomes lessened. We are left with time and not much confidence. Or I was at least. What was I to do? Sit in a stare at the walls until eventually my yearning for escapism became too overwhelming to ignore? Or try to do something? Dare to fail? Dare to grow?

Of course, it is scary venturing into the unknown but that’s how growth happens. It is easy to continue doing the same thing over and over but don’t be disappointed when the outcome is the same. It’s nice sitting in a boat at the shore but it’s a lot more fun in the open water. I had to take a chance. Life is overwhelming when looked at in its entirety. It looks unmanageable. Unfathomable. Daunting. It’s easy to want to escape its insanity. In fact, it’s actively encouraged to escape in our culture but it’s also possible to look at life differently. To break the perceived unachievable into smaller chunks and to chip away.

Take the past for example. I dragged the weight of my drinking life around with me. I thought it was my burden. The misery it caused to me was what I deserved for the misery I had caused others. BULLSHIT. I started to put it right the best I could. Fuck it was scary. Yes, I had some help. But boy was it liberating. Did it happen over a weekend? No! It took time. Breaking it down a bit at a time like kindling and burning it. Turning it to smoke. Lightening the load.

I am just a man passing through. Just wandering and wondering. Trying to share a tale of motivation and inspiration. Just hoping that people realise the shit we worry about today will likely be nothing in a year. Most of the problems that seem scary can be broken down into smaller parts. Manageable parts. It may not seem like progress but a large amount of small things equals a large thing. Small amounts of change over a long enough period result in change. Don’t focus on the outcome. Focus on how you can get there. How you can navigate the ship of life through the rocky waters? Eventually you will be through to the other side.

So in the morning, think what can I do today to get to where I want to be. What small thing would push me towards my goal? Not drinking is the foundation. But what can be built on that?

Eventually, one day at a time, who knows what you will end up achieving?

Charlie.

Photo by bex Callaghan from Pexels

We all die in the end…

Death scares the shit out of many people. Nihilists, on the other hand, think that life doesn’t matter, as we are pointlessly spiralling to the inevitable ceasing of existence. The last person alive will utter the words “Well, that was all a waste of time,” as humanity disappears. It could be true, I haven’t witnessed the end of time. What is certain is that I will cease to be. Eventually.

We each have two lives. The second begins When we realize we have only one.”

Confucius

For many years, I thought that I wouldn’t make it to thirty years old. I was convinced that I would have drunk myself to death in some kind of heroic martyrdom. Which would really have been the death of sad, lonely drunk. I nearly achieved it. My body started to fail. I drank because I was scared of living. In the end, I was scared of dying. There were places in the world I would still like to visit before either heaven or hell. It was a wise choice. I had a great time and saw some wonderful things. My only regret? That I didn’t do it sooner. I had wanted to do it for years. I was waiting for the “right” moment to arise. Or for the “right” person to travel with me. I waited, life passed me by. I got older. I got sober and sick of waiting, so I went. 

What I realised is that the “right” moment was the moment I went. Also, it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. It could have gone horribly wrong. It could have been miserable. There was only one way to find out. If I had put off travelling until 2020 it wouldn’t have been possible and who knows about next year. I would be back to waiting for the right moment again.

It’s comforting playing it safe, but there is a strangeness fighting for certainty in a life that is so uncertain. Fighting to have control over the ever-changing nature of reality seems like a huge amount of energy to waste. Fluidity and adaptability are key. A goal with a flexible approach is pressure releasing. Anxiety and stress can be limited without the pressure of self-imposed expectation and rigidity.

“I can point the ship but I can’t control what’s in the water. All I can do is act accordingly.”

I know of many people who make wonderful plans for retirement only to never make it or not be able to do it. They delay happiness for an illusionary future where everything is wonderful. Unfortunately, it never arrives. The can is always kicked down the road. Happiness is a shadow on the horizon that will one day be reached. But never is. They are waiting for life to take them by the hand. Just like I was.

I’m not suggesting that everyone can drop everything and follow their dreams. In some cases, it’s not possible. All I’m suggesting is that whilst I was waiting for that day to arrive life was passing me by. I was trapped by my own misery. A prisoner to my own negativity. In the end, I made a plan but started enjoying my day to day life as well. Instead of banking on a “happy day” to arrive. I started nudging myself towards a better life.

It’s easy to get drawn into the pessimism that is emanating from every news channel. Fear and hate being constantly driven into our psyche. Thus forcing us to cling to the safety of the pretend security. As a result, we become more risk-averse. I sold my dreams for alcohol. I couldn’t travel because I drank every night. I couldn’t imagine changing. I was stuck. I was miserable as fuck to boot. My only escape from the inner turmoil came in the fleeting moments of joy in the products and chemicals I consumed. I borrowed money to block out the misery. I borrowed happiness from the future. Eventually, I reached that future. I can assure you, it took it’s happiness back… with a hefty interest added.

What made me get the motivation to follow a dream? Firstly, quitting drinking liberated me from the dependence on alcohol and then introspection allowed for the re-establishing of a connection to my intuition.

I would visualise laying on my death bed and looking back over my life. What, as an old man, would I regret not doing in life? Travel. The answer was always the same. So I made it happen. I sacrificed and saved. I admitted that there would be no hand-holding and would have to go for it. It was to prove a point. Well many points really. As well as ticking off that box. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. That as a man approaching his forties, I am no longer the coward who made excuses and pointed fingers, ten years ago. It would also prove that the work I had done in sobriety had changed me and had been worth it.

“Did travelling make me happier in the long run? It was an amazing experience. When I am older, my dreams will have been achieved. My greatest memory will still be the decision to quit drinking.”

I spent a large part of my life in the pub or at work. I didn’t want that to be my final memory. I don’t want my life to be one long drunken stupor. I don’t want my dying memory to be one of a wasted life. Wasted potential and empty dreams. One long sorrowful scene of a lonely man dreaming empty dreams in an empty pub. That’s how it got in the end. I didn’t want it to be my future. I didn’t want that to be my life. I didn’t want to be the person that was always “going” to do something. Or nearly did something. I used to hear those tales in pubs over the years. Fragments of lived lives told in stories of partial heroics. “I nearly played for Chelsea,” “Should have seen me the other night, I nearly smacked this geeza,” “Yeah, I was gonna do that. Something came up, though.” It always does.  Don’t be a nearly ran. It is better to fail at trying than fail to try.

I would love to think reincarnation exists but I can’t take a chance that I’ll get it right in the next life.

I was lucky. I was jarred into action by life. It shook me from my automatic mode. Until this point, I had been a puppet blaming an imaginary puppeteer for his failings. I had to accept that I had control. Which was hard. I had spent my life making excuses. The phrase “I was drunk,” was my get out of jail card for any bad behaviour. Almost as if there were two versions of me and sober me wasn’t accountable for the actions of the drunk me. To get where I wanted to be emotionally, mentally and physically, I had to accept that I was responsible for my life. To become the drunk version of me, sober me had to drink. I had to own my actions. This meant failure was on my shoulders also. I hated the thought of failure. Not because of the internal implications but because of the external implications. “What would people think?” was a recurring stumbling block for my actions. Realising that failure was just a lesson to learn was the beginning. A “Who gives a fuck what people think?” mindset was the key to unlock my chains. The realisation that “One day, I will fucking die” got me up and running into destiny.

I used to use the mantra that “I could be dead tomorrow,” as the excuse for my drinking. I thought it made me some kind of cool nihilist with no real concerns. Really, it made me a coward because I was too scared to have a go. I would rather get drunk and talk shit with other cowards than take a chance. Eventually, I had to take a chance at sobriety because I couldn’t handle the lifestyle anymore. I couldn’t handle the nonsense and loneliness. I couldn’t manage the illusion anymore. It began to crush me.

Something had to change… ME.

It seems strange that I waited for change and it came in the way of near-complete destruction. This is the point I needed to be at before I realised that I could be happy. That in this short time between being born and not existing I can have moments of joy. I don’t have to treat myself like shit and feel bad. I carried around the past and tortured myself for no reason. Hitting rock bottom woke me from my slumber. I seized the opportunity to get right. Don’t wait for that bottom to come up and meet you. Don’t wait for life to make choices for you. One day you will fucking die. If you are lucky you will get to reflect on life. You will get to see the memories you made and the moments you cherished. Hopefully, that moment will be one of love and joy. Not anguish and regrets… life’s too short for that.

Charlie.

How quitting drinking improved my confidence…

With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.

Dalai Lama

  It’s ironic, don’t you think, that I used to use alcohol to gain confidence and as a result lost all my confidence. I couldn’t accomplish anything without alcohol. Or so I thought. People used to assume that I was confident because I was outgoing and could hold a conversation but really I was frantic on the inside. If I wanted to talk to the opposite sex then I needed a few drinks to make it happen. I would need so many drinks that I would say or do something stupid. Which would kill the mood. I would take it personally and my confidence would slip a little. The cycle would start again. 

My lack of confidence affected other parts of my life too. I was so uncomfortable with who I was that I felt like an imposter who would get found out at some point. I believed my lack of ability would be discovered. I lived waiting for a tap on the shoulder from some shadowy figure stating that the real worthless me had been discovered. My anxiety was for nothing though as it never came.

This lack of confidence was what held me back for a long time. I didn’t push myself because I thought I wasn’t capable of achieving anything. When I had to quit drinking I thought I would fail because that is what I always thought. My inner chatter was negative and derisive. I had to learn to get a handle on my thinking. One of the things that helped me out was an NLP book on confidence. I used mindfulness meditation to increase my self-awareness which enabled me to change the narrative that was circulating through my mind.

Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.

Venus Williams

Slowly, I started to test myself. I set goals, small things at first. I saw each day of sobriety as another accomplishment. I used that accomplishment as the bases of my self-belief. For example “if I can not drink then surely I can have a go at XYZ?” I mean quitting drinking had taken years but now I was doing it.

I changed my diet and started walking. I started to feel better about myself. This helped build my confidence a little further. I had held onto a negative self-image for a long time. The change in diet and exercise made me feel more comfortable in my skin.

I started to read more books on mental health, self-improvement and Buddhism. But I had to put the things into practice. I treated these as small goals. So I would meditate for 5 minutes. Or walk a certain distance. Or read so many pages of a book. If I didn’t do it then I would do it next time. As long as I tried next time. I didn’t give myself a hard time. I’d been doing that for years. I’m just a human. I stopped focusing on perfection and started focusing on progression.

I had to keep an eye on my posture, my inner monologue and I had to correct them until they became natural and I started to feel better on a regular basis. I started to take control of my life in a way that I never had before. Whilst I was drinking I was trying to cling to things. The harder I clung, the more I squeezed, the smaller the things I had to cling to would get. As my confidence grew I learned that things come and go. To go easy. To deal with things as and when they arose. It was a stark difference from the mad panic I lived with before. A good example is when I used to write when I was younger, I was ashamed. I thought it was a shit thing to do and people would take the piss out of me so I used to rip them up and put them in the bin. When I first wrote a blog about sobriety many years later, I was sure it would get ridiculed but I did it anyway because I thought I had something to say. I didn’t get ridiculed. Quite the opposite. The difference is that even in the face of potential criticism I still went ahead. I dared to do something. It might seem small but it was a big difference.

The same goes for quitting drinking. Doing the opposite of what people expect takes strength. That strength can be built upon to achieve other things. It just takes a bit of work. Also, the work has to be done to maintain sobriety. It takes a little bit of fight to not capitulate to outer pressure. It also takes a little bit of self-awareness to identify temptation.

Imagine, how you would like to think of yourself? How would you like to look at yourself? If you don’t think of yourself like that already then it is time to get to it. I am not talking about swaggering arrogant vacuous narcissism. I am talking about pragmatic self-worth measured against a real value that comes from proof via accomplishments.

Maybe there is a little bit of bullshit in the beginning; “fake it until you make it and all that,” but as long as it used to develop real self-belief it is fine. The problem is when the illusion becomes reality.

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

T. Harv Eker

As my confidence grew I became more comfortable leaning into my fears. I started risking failure in the pursuit of progression. To get where I wanted to be I had to take a chance. The week after my rock bottom I had an interview for a promotion I had been told to applied for by my manager. I was sweating profusely. I was convinced it had gone horribly. I got the job. I couldn’t believe it. I said that ” it was a gimme. The manager already knows me,” it was nothing to do with my knowledge or ability. I couldn’t believe that he would have faith in me because I didn’t have faith in myself. I had to change that. I had to work on my self-belief.

“You don’t make a person less anxious, you make them braver”

Jordan Peterson

I had been miserable for years due to being unable to pursue my dreams through fear. Overcoming fear takes courage. Courage comes from confidence. Confidence can be developed. I know this because somehow I managed to break the habit of a lifetime and pursue my dreams. If I can do it then so can anyone. It just takes small steps to overcome obstacles.

For example, when I was going on holiday to Cambodia, a friend phoned and said; “I heard there are a lot of pickpockets. What will I do if I lose my passport?”

I replied “Why are you worried about an outcome that may not happen? We will deal with any situation if and when they happen.”

It turned out that there was no need to worry. Nobody lost anything and we had a great time. There are some risks in everything. Anxiety makes the risks seem a lot greater than they are. The whole may seem daunting which is why I break things down into more manageable chunks. This is only possible due to the work I have done before. My mind still is more than capable of going off on a tangent. It is just that now I can notice it and bring it back to reality.

To maintain sobriety, I tell myself that all I have, mentally, physically and emotionally, is owed to quitting drinking. Thanks to that I put the work in and feel contentment. Self-hatred is just a can of beer away if I want it. Why would I? Why would I build a utopia in my head only to burn it down again? Self-sabotage is the behaviour that held me back. Confidence is the antithesis of that.

Charlie.

Did COVID kill the rat race?

Are the mind-numbing moments, in traffic, slowly watching life disappear a thing of the past? Are sweaty summer days, defying physics by sharing the same time and space with a complete stranger on public transport just a shiver-inducing memory? It is hopeful and quite possible!

Whilst travelling through Mexico, I met many people working from laptops. Digital nomads, they called themselves. I thought of them more like digital Del boys. Wheelers and dealers who were scraping by. Earning enough money to keep the adventure alive. The hustle was part of the adventure. Just getting enough to eat. Or so I thought. Some were very successful entrepreneurs who stayed in lavish locations whilst working. Benefiting from the relatively low cost of living and having a good time along the way. It’s easy to dismiss these people as irresponsible thrill-seekers. Youngsters who refuse to join reality like the rest of the drones packed onto trains. But the COVID pandemic has brought that into question.

The culture shift brought about by the pandemic has rejuvenated many people. The enforced working from home has made many question the value of their time. Thanks to not being crammed into train carriages or slowly going insane in traffic there has been an uptick in peoples mental health. The other benefit to the reduction in the commute is an increase of time. Which has allowed for closer connections with loved ones and family? It has also allowed for an increase in energy thanks to a reduction in the length of the day and stress. This has created healthier and happier people. I’m not saying that is the case for everyone but it is the case for many people. As a result of these benefits, the previous benefits of the working life have been brought into question. If not exposed for their dishonesty. Overpriced trains and overpriced meals were accepted as the norm. Negative emotions were part of the trade as they were to be offset with toys or treats to perk up the mood. Chemical correction Thus making the whole process worthwhile. But whilst working from home, many people, have begun to enjoy the simple things in life. Bicycle sales are up. Wildlife was in full song during the absence of traffic and was noticed by many for the first time. The slowing down of life allowed people to venture into parks and enjoy a walk with the family. The de-stressing benefits are abundant. The simplicity gave many people the peace they had been searching for. Not, the things we once strived for under the guise of finding contentment.

I have seen reports of the downside to home working. Including isolation and loneliness. This highlights a worrying culture. One that depends on work for the whole spectrum of human needs. Is this the best we can do? Isn’t it worrying that a place like London with a population of 9 million is one of the loneliest cities in the world? Has the indoctrination into the rat trap worked too well? Has the pursuit of materialistic perfection blinkered people from the simplistic pleasures in life. Has the awakening of the lockdown exposed this? It would appear so.

The office is nothing more than a creche for adults. Travelling from far and wide to sit under the watchful eye of the supervisor. Turn up on time or else! Wear your uniform or else! Don’t say anything inappropriate or else! What’s inappropriate? You’ll find out at the tribunal. Walking on eggshells and anxious as the axe swings overhead. The only joy comes in the toys that the job allows the credit to buy. We accept this as normal because we are told it is normal. Now the concept of travelling for hours to plaster on a bullshit eating grin seems a bit pointless. It seems so stupid now it can be done from the comfort of your own home. A safe distance away from that annoying prick in accounts. Or that moaning bastard who enviously squashes any optimism you may have found. It is the start of a technological revolution. The freedom for employees to have a genuine work-life balance.

I understand that not all jobs can be done remotely and not everyone wants to but at least we can have the option. It is on us to make it happen. I know it’s difficult for some people to fathom but there is certainly more to life than work.

I think a balance between the two would be good. Sometimes in the office and sometimes at home. It will cover all bases. Yet, I think of those digital nomads, sitting on a beach somewhere, using work to further their adventures. Using the money gained to ensure their freedom. Instead of being shackled by debt that we have taken to try to buy happiness. This leads many to resent the trap they are in.

If people feel happier then maybe they will need to consume less. If they are commuting less and consuming less then surely that is better for the environment. Terrible for the economy though. If that is the choice then it is on us to decide what future we want to leave for the next generations. Maybe there is the opportunity to compromise. Boris Johnsons pleads to return to normality is a plead to return to misery based consumption. Now is the perfect opportunity to strike a balance.

The shift is happening and the control freaks are getting edgy. Maybe overbearing management types will become the new Luddites. Trying to bring down the technology that will liberate the staff from their obnoxious presence. But the genie is out of the bottle and it may be impossible to get back in. Times change and maybe this time the changes will be made by the demand of the workforce.

It’s possible that countries no longer lower their corporation tax to entice business. Instead, they will lower their income tax rate to entice digital nomads. Cities would take a big hit. Except for the locals and the people seeking the corporate lifestyle others would have the world as their office. Globalisation starts to benefit the workers and not just the corporations who lobby governments for huge tax breaks. It’s idealistic of course. It is more likely that the surveillance software will be rolled out to keep the workers in check. Or maybe the work will move to cheaper shores and the employees of the western world will be left wanting. It has been coming for a long time. There aren’t enough resources in the world to ensure that every human can live with hedonistic abandon. Maybe the west has had its time. But maybe the liberation from the pursuit of the ideal thing will be the liberation we have been seeking.

The last significant upheaval in the UK was during the eighties when unemployment rose to 11.9% as the shift from manufacturing to the service sector took place. The impact of these decisions are now playing out as shops, cafes and restaurants suffer the impact of people not returning to the city centres. The knock-on effect will be a recession. Maybe if the governments hadn’t sold the entire country off to focus on a consumption model then there would still be items to sell and money available. Instead we need debt. And we need spending. Without debt there is no spending. The whole rat race is based on the pursuit of an illusion.

Who knows, maybe the change in working patterns will shift high streets back to local merchants. The out of town shopping complex that was designed to steal customers from the high streets will diminish. People will travel less, consume less and live more. Maybe we can finally strike a balance between comfort and sustainability.

Charlie.

Get rid of your debt!

In the UK in 1979 household debt was 37% of GDP. By 1990 it was 73%. Just before the COVID lockdown, it was 83%. It is quite apparent the economic systems that have been implemented by the governments over the years have emphasized public borrowing to increase public spending. This has resulted in an ever-decreasing interest rate to stimulate borrowing. The entire system is built on debt. This debt creates the illusion of affluence. We see a nice car and think “Oh they must have a lot of money!” When instead we should be thinking Oh they have a lot of debt! Most new cars on the road are bought with debt.

This borrowing culture has resulted in knock-on effects. Anxiety, depression, homelessness and suicide are linked to financial problems. Yet like an addict, the solution is more. More deregulation. More borrowing. More spending. More consumption. And like an addiction, it can only end terribly.

Many years ago, I was talking to a guy who was selling the Big Issue. I asked him how he’s got into that position. He said “I was married, had kids, a house and a job. I started gambling. I started losing. I started borrowing money to pay it back. Eventually, I couldn’t afford to pay it back!” It’s easy to think it only happened because of his addiction to gambling but people get into tricky situations financially for many reasons.

Much of my laissez-faire borrowing and spending was done under the pretence that nothing could go wrong. That I would always be in a position to get a job to pay it back. In 2008, there was an economic crash that resulted in me losing my job and not being able to find another job. The wolves at the door still demanded their pound of flesh. Sob stories don’t pay a debt, unfortunately. So I ended up borrowing more money to pay back the other money. I felt like a Dickensesque peasant going cap in hand begging for salvation. Thankfully, more debt was on hand to save me from the other debt.

“Every time you borrow money, you’re robbing your future self.”

Nathan W. Morris

Eventually, I found another job and got working. I paid back the people who had lent me money. I did this by borrowing money from a loan company. More debt. Yet, I continued to spend money I didn’t have on alcohol. I turned loans into lager and credit cards into vodka. The more money I borrowed, the greater my anxiety, the more I drank. It was a terrible time of avoidance. I understand that during difficult times it is hard to get by and a bit of borrowing is necessary. I understand that a lot of people are in wage debt. Meaning their wages don’t cover their outgoings. But our culture is one of “Why wait?”

“We must shift from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

1927

“I could be dead tomorrow?!” was the motto that drove me to destruction. Those words were the motivator for unnecessary levels of alcohol consumption. I wanted my last night on earth to be a party. If I was going to die the following day then why not go out celebrating. Fortunately, I didn’t die but I was left with a giant hangover from that lifestyle. Debt is comparable to a hangover because it is the cost of a good time. It is the downside to the pursuit of happiness through pleasure. The question that I never considered was “is it worth it?” Is the now worth the cost in the future? The cost of most things is simplified into monetary value. The numbers on the price tag and the need for instantaneous gratification outweigh future implications. Interwoven, access to cheap debt and the carpe diem mindset create a dangerous culture of escapism through consumption. Maybe my outlook is jaded. Maybe the self-flagellation I endured in the pursuit of happiness has left me cynical. I look upon contentment through consumption as I look upon contentment through alcohol use, impossible.

The weight of the world

The weight of the debt I carried into sobriety was a burden. A terrible reminder of many slips combining to make a giant mistake. I had to do something about it. In a society that judges economic standing on the external demonstration of affluence, I found it difficult to make the choice to breakaway. To throw down the shackles of expectations and say “I’m out,” takes strength. Thankfully, quitting drinking had given me the clarity to see through the veil of nonsense. I was killing myself. For what? I wasn’t having fun. I was depressed. I was on the verge of ruin. I lived in fear of losing my job because I would be bankrupt. I lived month to month. For what? For a few “treats?” Like a couple of pints at the end of the day. Or “congratulations you are good at staying in debt and paying us our interest so have more debt!” To buy things to present the illusion of affluence at the cost of my own mental wellbeing. Is it worth it?

I get it. Life is fucking hard sometimes and the little treats are what makes it bearable for a lot of people. I understand that but I have learned; the need to escape diminished when I focused on the simple. A tiny bit of research shows that the things I had been told would make me happy and the things scientifically proven to make me happy are completely different. How can this be? One has to be lying. Is it the research or the people who are trying to make money? I had been following the marketers for years I decided to try another way.

“You have nothing to lose but your chains”

When I quit drinking I had around £20,000 of credit card, overdraft and loan debt. The amount of interest paid on my credit card was astronomical. My debt was keeping me financially unstable which caused more anxiety and fear. It was also limiting my freedom.

The plan: I owed £4500 on a credit card and £15,000 on a loan.

To give you an indication of paying back that £4500 credit card debt:

Paying £70 a month off the credit card would mean that it would take me approximately sixteen years to pay off the debt and it would have cost nearly £9000 extra in interest.

Or another way of looking at the crippling effects of credit card debt; £2500 of credit card debt paying off the minimum repayment would take 25 years to pay off.

(There is a reason why financial education is so atrocious/non-existent in schools. The cynic in me thinks that schools don’t prepare you for life. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks if they teach the rules to the game they can’t cheat you while you are playing.)

I moved my credit card debt to a 36 month, interest-free credit card. There was an initial charge for moving it over, of about 3 % and one on purchases but no interest on the £4500 I moved over. I continued to pay £70 a month at first and a bit more where I could. I saw the debt coming down with every repayment instead of paying a huge amount of interest. Previously, when I was paying the £70 a month £50 was interest. Now I was starting to chip away at the total amount. It was good to make progress.

Next, I took out a £15,000 loan over five years. The interest rate was higher then than it is now. It was about 10% then. Now it is about 3%, it is a perfect time to start to climb out of debt. Many people think “Ohhh debt is cheap I’ll get more.” Which is fine if it is used wisely but I had turned my debt into alcohol and drank it all. I refinanced the loan after two years when the balance was lower and decreased the number of years to keep the repayments the same.

There is probably a better way to do it but that is what I did and it worked. I managed to have a bit of spare cash here and there as well.

Spending money is a habit

Every day, I would think “I have worked hard, I deserve a drink,” and would then fall into the trap of drinking excessively. When I first quit drinking I was seeking a dopamine hit. I used shopping, sugar and salt to replace the hit I got from alcohol. Slowly, I began to see the same behaviour that I had when using alcohol. I had just been using a reward system that had bestowed upon me. The same reward system that kept me drinking every night under the pretence “I’ve worked hard I deserve it.” I should buy shit because I’ve been good/worked hard/feel down, the approach is the same to them all. I had to rewire those habits by doing something different until the feeling to treat myself was no longer there. The same with spending money; I had to resist the urge to buy shit I didn’t need. To do this I asked myself the questions; do I need it or do I want it? Can I afford it?

It took me a year to start seeing real financial improvements. The clearing of debt for me was cathartic. Closure on a previous life. If you want to be free from debt then you have to retrain your spending habits. It doesn’t mean you have to live a monastic life just a restrained life!

Less is more.” It took me years to realise by getting less debt I would have more options. It also took me years to pay off the debt and liberate myself from the consequences of following a path to self-destruction disguised as liberation. I had chipped away at my debt, made sacrifices and stuck to the task. After five years, I was free of personal debt.

Quitting drinking, stopping borrowing money and stopping over-consuming allowed me to reverse the problems I had encountered. It also gave me the financial and mental freedom to choose a path of my own creation. To create a life that was more of a reflection of my inner desires. A life that allowed me to feed my spiritual, creative and physical pursuits instead of shutting them down.

You can have anything but you cannot have everything.

Jordan Peterson

Alcoholism and debt took my physical and mental freedom away. Sobriety and self control brought liberation. The days of anxiety have declined dramatically. Of course, there is a possibility that due to the current economic downturn I may lose my job but thankfully from taking the steps I did my outgoings are not what they were. I encourage anyone in a similar position to the one I was in to take the steps to liberate themselves also. I can’t tell you how to live, nor would I want to. All I can tell you is borrowing money to fix a problem today is at a much greater cost than finance tomorrow.

It is quite apparent that the lockdown in the UK has had an impact on people. Many see that the old way of living has had it’s day. Unneccasry discontent brought about by the need to escape the discontent now seems futile. I am not suggesting society regresses. Maybe more of a rebalance.

One thing I do know for sure is borrowing money to drink, smoke and shop to demonstrate my freedom was the biggest trap I ever fell into.

Charlie.

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