The Dangers of Self-Reflection

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

” The unexamined life is not worth living “

Socrates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hedonic Treadmill Definition (investopedia.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHS Weight Loss Plan – Apps on Google Play

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

Don’t forget to follow 🙂

A “Pink cloud” in sobriety…

Pink clouding, or pink cloud syndrome, describes a stage of early addiction recovery that involves feelings of euphoria and elation. When you’re in this phase, you feel confident and excited about recovery.

Pink Cloud: The Euphoria of Fresh Sobriety (healthline.com)

I remember clearly the first time it happened. I’d quit drinking for a couple of years, but I was, as known in recovery parlance, “white-knuckling it.” I had returned to AA after finding myself yet again in a cul de sac. The 12 steps helped bring me out. My sponsor helped immensely. It was after about three months of this return that I felt a pink cloud moment.

It was about ten to eight on a Tuesday morning. I had just stepped off the tube train and as my foot hit the platform it was like a vacuum before an explosion. Everything seemed to go quiet. Life seemed to pause as I carried on forward. I felt like I was in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. For the first time in my life, my mind and body felt aligned. I felt present. In the moment. Within a matter of seconds, it was gone. And the hustle and bustle returned around almost as if it had chased the serenity away. But it was enough. It was an indicator that I was on the right path.

The addict in me wanted more of that feeling. I wanted permanent peace. I wanted an end to my chaotic thinking. It was what I had sought in alcohol and now I had experienced it in sobriety. I was blown away by the fact it could even happen. I’d spent more than a decade drinking copious amounts of alcohol, trying to get that feeling I’d experienced the first time I was drunk. Yet, here it was on an average Tuesday morning. And it hadn’t cost a penny. Not only that but I’d felt it on the way to work. Which most often than not is not my favourite part of the day.

I couldn’t wait to share at the next AA meeting. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about this moment of divine connection. So I did. With bold optimism and glee, I shared the story. I didn’t know what to expect from the other members of the group. Maybe I wanted some advice on how to prolong the feeling? How to tap into it at will? Or how I could use it? What I got was “don’t worry it will pass.” I wasn’t worried about the feeling. But was now worried about it not returning.

Addiction for me was prolonged periods of bleakness. Of low highs and deep lows. This feeling of elation was a revelation. It made me want to be soberer. I wanted enlightenment. I wanted divinity. I was hooked on sobriety.

It felt like a reward for the hard work. A welcome gift from recovery. One that I could get out and use at will. Alas, it was not to be. I would keep having these moments of bliss intermittently. They would come and go almost randomly. I never experienced any crashing lows like bipolar disorder. Just a return to normality. Each time they came I wanted more. I wanted to prolong the experience and learn from it. But I never could conjure it at will. There have been times that create something close. Walking the Inca trail is one that came closest. An intense feeling of connectedness and silence. Surrounded by beauty and nature. Free from the concrete jungle and the distraction of technology. It made me feel like I did that morning stepping off the tube. Ensconced within the moment. Engulfed in the here and now. Nowhere to be but where I was. I was connected to something greater than myself. What that is? I don’t know. What I do know is that on my return to London, I wanted to cling to the feeling. But by doing so I suffocated it. Slowly it disappeared and the stress of the city seeped back into my soul.

What I learned from this is to stop looking for it. It is a feeling after all. It exists in moments all the time. It is there. Just today walking to the shop, I cut through the park. Just being in nature reminded me of that feeling. That sense of being present. It was calming. It was comforting. If I accept its temporary nature I understand that it will return. The feeling began to wane as soon as I walked back into the busy street. It was like a jarring edit in a video. Designed to get the viewers attention. That it did. But I know in those brief moments, the feeling of serenity exists. The peace I sought in alcohol is ever-present. When I stop looking and start seeing, then I can notice it. The stress and anxiety that fuels the addictive behaviour is part of the addictive behaviour. The feelings are created for the reasons to escape to exist. It is a destructive cycle that gives little but takes a lot, especially peace of mind.

The members of that AA meeting were right, “it will pass!” But it will also return in moments. Brief flashes of beauty remind me why I chose the path I walk. Because away from the madness of seeking answers is where the answers lay. The years of questions asked in a state of tearful drunken confusion have been answered in the quietest moments of acceptance. The peace I sought arrives often enough to remind me it is still there and not to worry.

So if you experience a pink cloud moment. Embrace it. See it as a sign that you are healing not healed. That it isn’t over but the universe/God/each other/whoever is sending a sign that it might not be perfect but it will be better than it has been for a long time.

Charlie.

Photo by Mariajose Vernet from Pexels

Is living in the city worth it?

Before the lockdown, most of my time was spent planning the next escape, putting the plan into action or transitioning between the two.

First, it was escaping addiction. The stranglehold of alcoholism had begun to suffocate me. Next, was escaping the debt that felt like a ball and chain holding me back. Finally, freedom from restrictive behaviours put me in a position to escape the rat race for a short while and travel. The lockdown exposed that without the ability to escape, I was miserable. The only thing that made me happy was escaping the life that I used to do the things that made me happy. The pursuit of happiness through the external is a thankless task. A cyclic pursuit that never relinquishes. The lockdown laid bare the need for escape. It magnified the NOW and forced me to take stock. I didn’t like what I saw, the rat race had become a rat trap.

For years, I had accepted the grind as part of a bigger idea. And my happiness was a worthy sacrifice to this progress. The lockdown was a yellow flag to the rat race. It made me slow down. It gave me enough space to ask some pertinent questions about life. Was it what I wanted? To bustle through the city to pay an inflated mortgage or extortionate rent? Was there enough to keep me in the grind? Or would a move to a quieter area be more beneficial?

I’d moved to London nearly eight years ago to complete my PGCE. The intention was then to move on and travel whilst teaching. Unfortunately, the move to London coincided with my peak alcoholism. The debt I accrued from funding the alcohol-fuelled life, was a bind that restricted my options. I was lucky enough to land a job that would help me pay off the debt and eventually travel. But now that is finished, the question “What do I want to do next?” has reared its head. Do I want city life? The peace in the lockdown was a taster for a life I would prefer. The chaos has lost its appeal. The birds singing and the silence was a welcome reminder that beyond this materialistic life is reality. Beyond the chaos is the peace I seek in the things I buy. The lockdown shook me and made me question the pursuit of the fake. It was the first time, in a long time that I felt alone. Isolated. Surrounded by things but devoid of meaning.

In total , 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty five million people.

During the easing of the lockdown, I travelled to my home town. Standing on the platform of the train station I had been to numerous times, I reflected on the first time I left town to pursue something. When I was eighteen I left the area to move 400 miles for an engineering apprenticeship. I wondered if that young man would be happy to see me now? Would he be proud of the adventure and the sobriety? I am sure he would be happy to be comfortable in his own skin. What was that young man looking for? What was it that drove him onwards? Twenty-one years later, the burning ambition has dwindled and the outer chaos he sought to reflect the inner chaos he felt is no longer welcome. It must be my age. As I approach forty, peace is preferable.

London gave me what I needed. It sorted me out and sent me to my dreams but now a future of quiet reflection is desirable. It isn’t achievable there. The rents and house prices are too high. The chaos is too persistent. I was happy to share a house when I was saving to travel but now it has lost its appeal. I would like a garden, no matter how small but it is a luxury I cannot afford.

The lockdown exposed my real human needs; love, connection and social inclusion. I don’t feel a sense of society amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. I just feel like another drone marching to work, dreaming of change but deluded by a preconception of success. I am at a fork in the road. One leads to change and one is the continuation of the same. The status quo is comforting. The uncertain future spikes my anxiety but a continuation of the same spikes my depression. It is a quandary.

I returned from travelling on the 9th February 2020. The lockdown started in the UK on the 23rd of March 2020. From six months of freedom to isolation. The enforced reflection highlighted that I lived for escape. That the trips out of the city were the things that kept me in the city. It seems illogical. To continue doing something I don’t enjoy, to live in a place I don’t enjoy under the hope that a couple of weeks a year away will be enough to offset it now seems like a form of self-punishment. I can’t unknow that.

With no escape through travel available during the lockdown, I instead fell into the consumption trap. Thankfully, not alcohol and drugs. I tried to find happiness through hoarding. Or as it’s more commonly known “retail therapy.” It only offered temporary relief. The new soon became old. The highs returned to lows. The answer? Do it again! Buy something else!! The question “Why?” brings no relief as there isn’t a reason. It is an addiction. It is Escaping reality through external stimuli. I have been doing that my whole life it would seem. And unhappy in the process! I have been running on the hedonic treadmill and complaining about being tired of it! The only logical solution is to step off. But there is an underlying fear. A pang of guilt even for not wanting to participate in that lifestyle. It makes me feel ungrateful for not indulging in all that life has to offer. Even though I have tried and usually ended up feeling worse for it. It really is no wonder I get depressed! I sometimes do wish I didn’t ask so many questions about life. I imagine it would be easier if I just did what I was told and got on with it. Instead of pondering the alternatives… although Socrates did say “an unexamined life is not worth living…” see what I mean?

What I have learned from the lockdown is that genuine connection is key. And to find a genuine connection I have to be genuine. I have to ask the question, is this me? Is this the life I want? The answer is NO. It is making me unhappy. I got dragged along by ideals. By a preconception that eventually life would get better if I just kept doing the same thing. The lockdown exposed this lie. Made me realise that there is far more to life than chaos and artificial stimuli. True connection and nature are where I feel at peace. It is time to pursue that path. It is time to change and create a life that aligns with my ideals.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie

Feeling lost…

For the last couple of months, I have felt lost. A sense of trying to find something amongst the chaos of uncertainty. My mind has been buffeted by possibilities yet I end up chasing threads that lead nowhere. Paralysis by analysis. I have struggled to write. Creativity has been pushed aside by anxiety. There are many factors in my life at the moment that are out of my control. Situations that I want to conclude but seem to continue to torment. Today, amongst this chaos I felt a fleeting moment of peace. For the first time in those chaotic months, I felt at rest.

It is a mixture of factors that led to this feeling. For the past few months, I have been using the skills I have learned to keep me going; meditation, exercise, communication and introspection. But eventually, the toolbox was empty. I had to return to the doctor and ask for help. I was reticent to take medication again after working so hard to get myself off them but I felt I had no choice. The physical symptoms were greater this time than last. Muscle aches, shaking, upset stomach and headaches were all present. I felt like I was doing things despite myself. Exercising took twice the energy it had done previously. I knew the direction I was heading if I didn’t do something. A return to fluoxetine was what was recommended. It helped last time. Hopefully, it would work this time. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough. An increase in suicide adulation but no desire to commit the act. An upset stomach. Stomach pain. It wasn’t unbearable but was enough to make me question whether it was worth it. But after two weeks, the side effects began to lessen. The intrusive thinking became less frequent. There were fleeting feelings of peace. It was a nice feeling.

The clarity it gave allowed me to take some time to reflect. To genuinely introspect without the unwelcome presence of intrusive thoughts. This morning, I took a slow walk along the seafront. The calm was like a vacuum. The silence was almost deafening after months of being barraged with thoughts. It took some adjusting.

I ordered a coffee and found a bench. I sat and looked out to sea. Embracing the quiet I began to wonder where it had gone wrong. Were had the anxiety crept back in? How had it consumed my thinking again? I was reminded of the power of now. I remembered that future outcomes are not yet decided. That there is only the moment I am in. That from the lessons of my past I can deal with eventualities as, and when, they arise. Ruminating on them solves nothing. It just causes pain. Remembering to bring back to the moment can get lost in the chaos of rumination. The nonstop possibilities crush hope and consume the freedom of thought. The fluoxetine has given me the space to put the tools back into operation. I sipped my coffee and let warm spring sun combined with the chilly spring wind, bring me back to the present. This moment is all there is. Enjoy it. Embrace it. The smiling faces of the people passing reminded me that there is hope. That amongst the chaos there are the simple things that bring joy. Those simple things exist in the here and now.

The feeling of being lost was a reflection of the chaotic thinking. I was trying to solve overthinking by thinking. The nonstop questioning is debilitating. I had to remember to bring it back to the moment. To pull my attention from the future and place it directly in front of me. It was the first time a genuine smile had crossed my face for a while. Amongst the anxiety there is peace. It has taken medication to give me the space to implement the practices I’ve learned but by doing so I have managed to fashion out a slither of contentment.

Surprising what a spring sun and a British seaside can do for your wellbeing!!

I stood up and walked back along the seafront. The spring sun felt warmer. The colours looked vibrant. There was a sense of optimism amongst the uncertainty. It was a feeling that no matter what happens there are options. That the pressure I feel is more perception than reality. The seafront felt calm even bristling with families. It’s surprising how much difference a short walk and a couple of minutes of introspection can make. Just a change of scenery and a moment of peace can draw me from the rumination. I can quite easily get drawn into laying in bed, watching endless TV shows, all the while wondering why I feel down. The rumination leads to guilt which only serves to fuel the self-loathing. A short walk breaks that cycle. It is a great reminder of how little I need to feel better. A half-hour walk on a sunny spring morning can do wonders for my well being. I’m lucky to be in a place that offers relative peace. It’s not so easy to find whilst in the city. A queue of aeroplanes and the hum of traffic discombobulate my senses. Magnified by the peace available in the lockdown the slow return to “normality” reminds me that the chaos is no longer welcome. The chaos of the city, once appealing, now only serves to amplify my anxiety. I once used the chaos to escape, now I want to escape the chaos.

There were fleeting moments, during the lockdown, last year where I felt a genuine connection to the world around me. The quiet reminded me that behind the bustle there is reality. Nature offered the peace I had long been seeking and had often found whilst travelling quieter places. That connection I felt is consumed by the sounds of life. The first time I noticed it was after walking the Inca trail. A few days of being free from technology and in the moment meant that I returned to London in a state of bliss. The feeling slowly slipped away. The peace evaporated into the screeching of tube train wheels on tracks. I sought to return to that feeling but have realised that I am looking in the wrong place. The question that rears its head is which is more important? The city life or my mental health? It’s an easy answer. Peace is preferable.

Passing the bustling beer gardens would once upon a time brought a pang of envy for a life I no longer lived. The years of sobriety have changed my perception of the “fun” of drinking; one isn’t enough but neither is enough. But when consumed in patterns of thinking that are destructive, I can imagine everyone is having a great time and I am the only one wallowing in self pity. In those moments, sobriety can seem like a punishment. When really it was the thing that enabled a life of exploration both inner and outer.

As I return home after my short walk, I realise that for the first time in a few months I feel at peace. No matter how fleeting this feeling is, it is a reminder that by doing the things that keep me well and reaching out when needed, it is possible to get some clarity.

Charlie.

Image – A Chaotic Mind by ReginaldJean

Making goals achievable…

Many of the experiences I have been fortunate to have in life, were once pipedreams. They were the hollow words uttered over many a drunken evening. They weren’t going to be achieved. They were to be the carrot that kept me running on the treadmill of destructive routine. Always dreaming, rarely achieving. This was ultimately down to the fact that my life was directed by external forces. Others expectations. Societal expectations. I was doing what I thought I should be doing but was miserable in the process. Alcohol took the edge off. Until it became destructive. An escape from that destructive life needed a plan. Life needed direction. The recurring thought that one day I would die and would look back on a life wasted was the motivation for me to change.

If time and money was no object, what would you do?

Obviously, time and money are important. But they are tools that we can learn to use in our favour. Most of my time and money went on alcohol. Quitting drinking freed up those resources. It was a great sacrifice but did I want to continue down a road I was miserable on? Or did I want to TRY to change it?

That hypothetical scenario of lying on my death bed was useful. I would imagine what I would have been proud to have achieved. What memories would I love to have for company in those final moments? The answer was always the same; TRAVEL. I wanted to take those dreams and turn them into reality. I had been controlled by addiction for most of my life and the freedom of sobriety was a gift to be used. I started by breaking down life into more manageable sections. I wasn’t happy with my fitness. I was unhealthy and that needed to change. I would write my weight on a piece of paper and stick it to my mirror. A reminder of why I was eating healthy. Just a nudge to keep me on the path. I didn’t set a specific weight or timescale other than getting healthy. I didn’t follow any particular diet other than eating a balanced diet. It worked. There was no timeline just a destination. I wanted to embed healthy behaviours into my lifestyle. Not a quick fix, crash diet that would result in a yoyo of my weight. I was retraining myself.

Tip: Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable ones.

I had to retrain my spending habits. If I wanted to achieve the goal of travelling then I had to cut down on all the little things I bought to try to elevate my mood weekly. The frivolous spending would offer a momentary escape but would hinder my long-term plan. Again, I wrote a list of income and outgoings. I looked at what was important and what wasn’t. There are apps available that do it now but I used a pen and paper. A huge part of my expenditure was servicing debt. Again, I made a plan. I focused on clearing the debt. I didn’t set a date. I just wanted my finances to be healthier. The interest repayments on the loans and credit cards were depriving me of things. So I changed my credit cards to one interest-free card. I refinanced the loans onto a more affordable repayment plan. On reflection, I could have paid a large part of the loan with a credit card and then shifted it to an interest-free card. But I just did what I could at the time. Taking action felt good. It was like finding a rubber ring whilst I was drowning. It was good to see the accounts come down. It was nice to no longer stand at the cash machine with my fingers crossed hoping for ten pounds to come out. When felt the urge to buy something I didn’t particularly need I had to ask myself the question “Do I want it? Or do I need it?” If it was something I just “wanted” I would sleep on it. If I still wanted it a few days later I would make it into a treat. But often the urge to consume would dissipate. It was retraining my brain from the instant gratification of alcoholism to delaying for a greater reward.

It comes down to what I wanted. Did I want to try and keep pace with the illusionary “Joneses” or did I want to achieve what I had dreamt of? Did I want to ignore the Atman or tap into it? The fire inside had been suppressed by alcohol for years. But it was burning in sobriety. I had lived passively for years. Wishing for change. Hoping to be saved by someone or something. Yet it never came. To achieve I had to take responsibility, pick a path and be prepared for failure.

Slowly, it came together. The debt began to become manageable. I was obsessed with clearing the debt. I wanted to pay it back because I wanted to acknowledge that I hadn’t written it off. I wanted it as a marker of change. A symbol of the unachievable becoming achievable.

Tip: It may not happen overnight but don’t despair. Progress, not perfection.

As it became apparent that travel would be an option I started to make lists of place I would like to visit. The Camino de Santiago was first on the list. I started training for it. Again, I started slowly. A couple of miles. Then add a few more. Repeat. Until eventually I was walking 20 miles every Saturday and Sunday. Of course, I had doubts about what I was doing. I would walk past pubs and beer gardens bustling with people, crackling with laughter and wonder if I was doing the right thing. Was I wasting my time walking while everyone was having a great time? I had to remember the last time I had walked down the road of alcohol. How it had destroyed me. Now, it was time for a new challenge. But there were times I felt like I was wasting my time.

Tip; Doubts are normal. Especially when heading in a new direction.

Any doubts vanished when I walked the Camino. No amount of afternoons in beer gardens would replace the life-changing experience of that walk. It was sublime. The sacrifice was worth it. It set the precedent for the future of my travel. “The sacrificing of short term gratification for the achieving of long term goals.” I had searched for fulfilment in alcohol and found it when achieving long term goals. By breaking those goals down into smaller goals they became more achievable. The unrealistic becomes realistic this way. It is a case of finding a “Why?” and sticking to it. “Why, do I want to get healthier/pay of debt/travel the world?” Much is possible when we realise “why?” we are doing it. The obstacles that got in my way often were constructs of my fear. I restricted my life because I was convinced I would fail. But by breaking down the dream of “travelling the world,” into sections such as money, health and time. I could focus on those individual parts one at a time.

Tip; Failure isn’t the end. It is the lesson that that avenue is closed but others are open.

I have been lucky to have a job that allowed me to have the time off to do the things I have done. The question is would I have quit my job to achieve my dreams? I think so. Job security is important but it can come at a great cost to many people. It’s a trade-off. People trade their dreams for a secure wage. It is possible to save enough to cover your bills and take time off. It is possible to fashion a few hours to do a hobby. Like all the things I have talked about here. It just takes time to implement change. If we looked at how we use our time I think many of us would be surprised by the amount we waste.

As people across the UK followed official health advice to stay home during April 2020, they kept themselves informed and entertained by spending six hours and 25 minutes each day on average – or nearly 45 hours a week – watching TV and online video content [1] – a rise of almost a third (31%) on last year.

Lockdown leads to surge in TV screen time and streaming – Ofcom

How we spend our time is a habit. Humans are creatures of habit. There are productive habits and non-productive. Spending six hours a day staring at a screen can be productive or not. It depends on what it is for? Is it to waste time or learn a new skill? It is up to us. I had to FORCE myself to meditate. It wasn’t natural but to keep my mind reasonably calm it is a must. So I HAVE to set aside time to do it. Eventually, it became easier. The same as setting aside a bit of time for a hobby or to read. Or whatever little thing today can get us closer to that goal. It takes time. It takes perseverance. It may seem like there is no progress but eventually, you will stand in the place you thought was impossible and think “Holy shit, I actually did it!”

I have always had a desired outcome but the route to it has been flexible. Life throws up all manner of things that get in the way or opportunities that may hasten the process. So be flexible in the journey but have a clear destination in mind.

Charlie

Are you looking for inspiration…

Are you looking for some inspiration? Are you trying to find a slither of light amongst the darkness? Well my friend Kaz who writes the wonderful blog Home | A Brindian in London (wixsite.com), asked me to share my story with him. I talk about my journey through mental health and reaching out for help, whilst fighting my pride in the process. My eventual addiction to alcohol and the journey of sobriety. And finally, how I turned it around and fulfilled my life long dream of travelling the world.

There is hope. There is another way. The future doesn’t have to be a repeat of the past.

So have a watch or a listen and maybe you might hear the message you have been looking for.

AUDIO ONLY

Don’t forget to share. Especially, if you think someone would benefit from the message.

Also, the resources I used to help make the changes are available here. Also, the story of my journey is available here

Thanks for stopping by,

Embracing the uncertainty of sobriety…

Towards the end of my drinking, the thought of the future chilled me to my core. Imagining another five years, living the way I was, made me want to cry. Another year, the same as the previous year, made me want to drink. Alcohol stopped the thinking but caused the negativity. It was a cycle of destruction. I couldn’t take the punishing effects of alcohol but didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t want to stop. Getting sober seemed worse.

A life without alcohol seemed dull. Lifeless. A bleak, boring reality with no escape. What I didn’t realise was that I could create a life that no longer needed escape. That peace was available without alcohol. That by removing the thing I obsessed about, I could calm the obsessing. I didn’t know this until I HAD to venture into the unknown. It was, do or die. 

Sometimes a leap of faith is what is needed to get us out of a situation. A jolt out of routine and a fall into the unknown can be the difference between life and death.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

Terrance Mckenna

A future without alcohol can be hard to accept. It can be daunting. The illusion of becoming a pariah can be fearful enough to stop change. A lonely, sober Saturday night is enough to make people want to drink. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Sobriety can feel like an illusionary life. The positives can be hard to accept. Especially after a life of things going wrong. Time passes at such a pace that moments begin to blur into one long scene. But eventually, I had to accept that it has turned out far better than I could have imagined. The unknown contained far more positives than negatives. I just couldn’t even begin to imagine them.

The fear of loneliness was removed by the support that was available right from the start. Phone numbers. People reaching out and pulling me from the murky waters of addiction. I thought it was a journey that I would have to walk alone. A struggle against the odds. A fight that would make me or break me. On the contrary, the journey has been one of connection, growth, learning, love and understanding. Realisation and awakening. Of course, there have been hardships but they have lost the impetus that they would have had under the magnifying power of alcohol. 

I thought alcohol was what kept me alive and saved me from the chaos inside my head. I was a functioning alcoholic. I didn’t function despite the alcohol. I believed I functioned because of it. But alcohol wasn’t saving me. Alcohol was what sinking me. Sobriety saved me. The journey into the unknown was thrust upon me. Yes, it was scary. But slowly the panic subsided. I begin to enjoy life. The ominousness of the future gave way to potential. Soon, there were signs of hope. There were green shoots where there had once been a barren wasteland. The odd “pink cloud,” connected me to a feeling I had sought in addiction; PEACE. Yes, there were still problems. Without alcohol, it was easier to find a solution. And to the other problems, I had no control over? I could just remove myself from the equation. And still do.

The worry of the things that could go wrong had previously stopped me from pursuing the things that could go right. A recurring life of shame, guilt, remorse and self-loathing tainted the path into the future. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The only way to break the chain is to make a change. A continuation of the behaviour that led to feelings of guilt and shame will lead to a continuation of those feelings. To REMOVE the outcome we have to remove the cause. 

If drinking leads to the same place often. If it is a place of misery then it is time to stop getting on the crazy train to misery town. The alternative, a life without alcohol, can seem daunting. Frightening even. But I can assure you it gets easier. Don’t expect miracles. Expect change. And you might just receive miracles. I have been fortunate to find peace in sobriety. My drinking life memories are foggy and broken. The memories from sobriety are vibrant and alive. A reward for the sacrifice of choosing to jump into the unknown.

The only unknowns in my drinking days were which negative situation would be the cause of my shame the following day. I was drinking alcohol but walking in treacle. Stuck. Trapped by an obsession and restricted by the thinking that accompanied it. It doesn’t have to be that way. It takes work. Quitting is not the end. It is the beginning. It is the freedom to choose what you see. But it takes action. Dreams only become reality by taking the steps to make it so. Alcohol is a huge problem. But quitting alone isn’t the solution. It takes steps to clear up the wreckage of the past. It can seem daunting but, often, perception has been warped by the past. 

There have been occurrences along the way that I couldn’t even begin to have comprehended back then. Things such as accepting happiness and being deserving. The cycles of destruction made it hard to accept the construction of contentment. In the early days of sobriety, I would often destroy my positive thinking through a combination of habit and fear. I was scared that it was a mistake to feel okay. I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. I was convinced that it was a lie and my old life would be revealed. It never materialised in the way it had been before. If you would have asked me during my drinking days when the last time I cried because I was happy, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. This morning I was walking through the park. I could hear the birds and feel the breeze. The sun was shining and with a smile, I thought “You done good, lad.” It was a simple beauty that made me want to cry. I never thought I could view myself in this way. From the negative destructive cycles of low self-worth to inner contentment, that is not what I expected from this journey. A feeling of simple joy was unimaginable to the lonely alky twitching with anxious desperation all those years ago.

Who knows what the future brings. All I know is that if I don’t drink then it will be far better then if I do. Cyclic escapism of alcohol is a large price to pay for temporary relief. Sobriety is a small price to pay for the reward of peace.

Peace in its self was elusive back then. Now it is available through the practices that I have learned over the last six and a half years; meditation, time in nature, reaching out to friends, exercise, personal growth, facing my inner demons. It seemed daunting back then. It seemed impossible. A life without alcohol contained too many unknowns. What I have realised is that most of them didn’t come true. And far more positive ones have occurred. Not just materialistic things but things I couldn’t comprehend. An inner peace. Feeling at ease with myself. A sense of achievement and accomplishment. I have circumnavigated the obstacle that stopped me from achieving my goals; myself.

I was a victim back then. I was waiting for life to fall into my lap. I was often disappointed that it never materialised which only served to feed the mindset that I was being punished somehow. Night after night. Week after week. Angry at the hand life had dealt me. 

When I stopped the childish attitude of entitlement I began to receive things I needed. When I admitted my part in my demise there were people on hand to help. If it wasn’t for the people who supported me, I would still be at the bar fighting the same battle I had for years before. Fearful of change. Hoping for a miracle. Not realising that all I had to do to find it was put down the drink. Retire my pathetic pride and ego. And dare to leap into the unknown. Thankfully I did. 

I quit drinking to stop from dying early. What I got was a chance to live a life beyond my wildest dreams. I can guarantee that the unknowns are just that and they aren’t all negative. I know where the road I used to walk daily would take me. It is the path to misery. The road less travelled takes me places I couldn’t begin to imagine. To experiences, I couldn’t even dream. And to realisations that have freed me from the bondage of obsession. 

Much love,

Charlie

Alcohol is not your friend…

A few months ago, a student was explaining to me the methods used by the local gangs to recruit kids. They would select the pariahs. The misfits. The outcasts. And offer them salvation in the guise of connection. Invite them out as a group and make them feel included. Eventually, there will be a price. Eventually, it would all end in pain. It sounded so familiar.

Acceptance is high on the list of things people want when they are younger. The yearning to fit in is so great that the fear of being pushed back outside makes some do unthinkable things. It may start out small. A bit of stupidity here and there. Then maybe a fight. Then maybe a serious violent crime. Then prison. Or death. I’ve heard numerous stories in the rooms of AA that follow a similar path; Shy, anxious teenager who never really fit in. Finds alcohol. Feels normal. Finally fits in.

Much like the gangs, advertisers groom us with false promises. Illusions of inclusion and dissolving of life’s issues. Much like the gang life, it is hard to get out once your in.

Alcohol pretends to be your friend. Pretends to have your interests and wellbeing at heart. It is always there for you; helping with your problems and it’s there for the big celebrations. It’s one of the family. A night out wouldn’t be the same without it. If fact, often, if alcohol isn’t there, many others won’t bother coming. That’s how popular it is. But behind the façade is an insidious ulterior motive. A nefarious plot to take away your dignity a bit at a time. A slow, systematic breakdown of your soul. When complete, you are to be replaced with an avatar of what alcohol wants you to be. It is done by offering a false promise; of connection and the sense of being part of something that was desperately needed. Alcohol presents the answers to the life questions we yearned for but could never find in the chaos of reality. It offers the reassurance that steadies the inner child and brings peace to a mind battered by the storms of uncertainty. But all it is doing is distracting us to gain prominence. Those problems don’t vanish. They are just going to reappear tomorrow.

The first few months of my sobriety mostly consisted of anger and grief. I was angry because I felt betrayed by alcohol. I was convinced it was saving me. I was convinced it was the answer to my problems. I was convinced I didn’t need anyone as long as I had alcohol. When my body began to fail and the evidence pointed squarely at my drinking, I couldn’t believe the deceit. Like a good friend who has really been sleeping with my partner behind my back. Or a gang that promises the world but then exposes the requirements for membership. To leave would push me back into isolation. Hence the grief. Quitting drinking was like losing a friend. From being a young teenager it had supported me through many difficult times. I’m not sure I would have made it through if I didn’t have a drink at the time. It did support me. It did help me through. It was the rock I clung to when life was stormy. BUT it left me broken. It left me emotionally stunted. It left me financially ruined. It left on a hospital floor riving around in agony. It was no friend of mine. It just exposed my vulnerabilities and temporarily filled the cracks. It pumped my ego and disappeared when it burst.

I recalled recently, I was in a pub many years ago and a woman introduced me to her friends as ” the coolest teacher she knew.” I assumed it was due to my drinking activities. So deluded was I by the influence of alcohol that it had consumed my identity. I was cool because I drank a lot. It is a self-fulling prophecy. If alcohol could speak, at that moment it would have uttered “I told you I would make you fit in. I told you I gave you a connection. I told you, you need me.” I would have believed it. I did believe it. I needed to believe it because without alcohol there was nothing. So powerful was it’s influence that a life without it was inconceivable. No matter what anybody said about my drinking, I defended alcohol with the ferocity of a protective parent. I was blind. I wasn’t in denial. Because I honestly thought it was what made me what I was. I romanticised alcohol. I imagined it made me interesting and cool. I thought together we were blazing a path through life. Venturing into the newfound territory. When in fact I was walking well-trodden paths. I was consumed by an obsession that I had mistaken for kindship and love. Accepting it was a lie was difficult to take.

The first warning from my liver was taken with a modicum of seriousness. Only enough to make me stop drinking for seven months. But I slowly gravitated back, as the delusions of change grew into affirmations of difference. “It will be different this time! It won’t let me down again… surely!” When it did, I was done. “Fool me once shame on you…” I was distraught. No one wants to believe that their friend is out to destroy them. Especially, a friend that has been in your life for as long as alcohol has been. But after blaming everything for my failings, there were only two things that had been present throughout it all; myself and alcohol. I could change myself but not while being under the influence of alcohol. I wasn’t in control then. I was doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I was in a place in life I didn’t want to be. I had to admit that alcohol wasn’t my friend. My life has only got better since I realised that it doesn’t have my interests at heart.

Since quitting drinking, the lies that I believed during my drinking days have drifted away. Sobriety forced me to step up to the plate and be accountable. More often than not I have been alright. I don’t need alcohol like I once thought I did. Thankfully, I have genuine friends. Ones who don’t create doubt, they create belief. They are the true connection that alcohol promised but never delivered. They wouldn’t ever ask me to do something that questions my moral code, just to be accepted. A real friend never would.

Charlie.

Taking action & getting sober

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I was a “lad“. Well, a wannabe lad who was really a nerd. I would dismiss anything that laid outside of the narrative of my created image. This approach cut me off from so much of life. The bravado I believed I needed to protect me, isolated me from the connection I actually needed. This made me needy because I thought that someone would save me. Any indication of affection was misconstrued as salvation. Yet, any questions asked regarding my behaviour were perceived as an attack and shut down. It was a confusing time; wanting a saviour but chasing away any help. Closed off and isolated.

I eventually learned that nobody could walk the path for me. I had to be vulnerable but I also had to be accountable. Waiting for change had got me nothing but more misery. It was time to take action.

One of the central facets of addiction is the unwillingness to take responsibility. Without exercising the all-important watershed of self-responsibility, breaking the compulsive cycle that leads to addictive behaviour is all but impossible.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/201006/addiction-self-responsibility-and-the-importance-choice

I could have written a book on bullshit excuses I used to justify my behaviour whilst drunk. I used to call alcohol my “get out of jail free card.” The power in those three words “I was drunk,” gave me immunity. So I thought. I was convinced that if I just kept drinking it would work out well in the end. I mean why did I have to change I would be saved right? That’s how life works? Someone steps in and does it all for you?

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the people who tried to help were batted away with bullshit. I wouldn’t change because I was scared of change. I would say “I can’t stop drinking…” what I meant was “I won’t stop drinking…” I used to say “I can’t lose weight…” what I meant was “I can’t be arsed to lose weight…” Why? Because change is scary and it can be very fucking hard to do.

But that shouldn’t deter you from trying because it is incredibly rewarding!

I had to learn that I had been looking for an external solution to an inner problem. Alcohol, food and anything else that could change my mood were to blame for my failings. I never considered that I was the mechanism that enabled their administration. Throughout my drinking life I had been spewing vitriol at a world I believed had failed me. Drunkenly, I would shout obscenities at the night sky. The silence from the ether only served to antagonise me further. Alcohol combined with my victim mentality created a perfect storm within. Anger and frustration from fear of failure slowly eroded my self-belief. I was systematically hollowed out and abandoned. Alcohol was a grifter that I let into my life. Yet, even after noticing the danger, I continued to fuel the devastatingly toxic relationship out of fear of change.

A rock bottom exposed me to the error of my ways. Not the first rock bottom but so far the last one. “Just because life slaps you across the face doesn’t mean you won’t chance it again.” Rock bottoms are talked about like they are some divine moment of clarity. What isn’t mentioned is that A LOT of people have many before the message gets through. Myself included.

In the early days of my sobriety, AA asked me to adopt a higher power and “hand my problems over.” I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to outsource my problems anymore. I had been pointing the finger, blaming others and hoping someone else would solve my problems for years. All the while refusing to take action. I used to sit in bars thinking it’ll probably work out in the end… MY LIFE ONLY EVER GOT WORSE. Sorry for the caps but some people don’t get the message that; waiting for change, whilst doing the thing you want to change, doesn’t result in change. I’m sure you would have a few things to say if your house was on fire and the fire-brigade stood and watched it burn down saying “it might go out on its own!”

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-26

Even being as open-minded as I could, I still struggled with the AA program and sought other means of going inward. I had been waiting for an external saviour for years so maybe it was time to look elsewhere.

I began meditating thanks to a Kundalini yoga DVD I had used to lose weight. It worked on the weight and also, opened my mind to new pursuits. I thought that maybe meditation would help to get a grip on my thinking. I had been battling depression throughout my life but just didn’t know it. I had assumed that the low level of drudgery was a part of life that we all endured. The reward for this drudgery was alcohol. Yet, deep down I hoped there had to be more to life. I was scared of being different. Yet yearning to release the fire of inquisitive exploration that burned within. I wanted to get to know who I was and meditation has been a key component in that.

I started to practice and over time, began to see parts of my psyche I had forgotten. I had some experiences that made me realise that I was on the wrong road. I changed careers as a result. I found fulfilment in what I was doing for the first time in my life.

I have used different meditation practices from focusing on breathingmindfulness and transcendental. In the AA steps it talks about meditation but it is referring to Christian meditation to bring people closer to God. The difference can be seen here;

Work out your own salvationDo not depend on others.”

Buddha

I didn’t want to get closer to God. I wanted to know what I wanted and who I was. I’d been living a lie for so long I’d forgotten the truth. The character had consumed the actor. Thankfully, meditation made me centred for the first time. Coupled with the clarity of not drinking I was able to find a stable footing.

Being present allowed me to experience life in its simplistic wonder. To connect to moments I missed when my head was careering from one imaginary catastrophe to the next. Imagining one terrible scenario after another.

The life I have experienced since has been more simplistic but more beautiful. I have had some great connections to life and other people. The spirituality/connection I have felt is merely an understanding that I am a small part of a large universe but I still have a part to play. A deep realisation that my actions impact other people and nature. But I need those things to be able to enjoy life. The greatest of these feelings is always whilst walking. Either long distances or in nature. It reminds me to be grateful for my body and also, not to take nature for granted. It’s easy to be distracted by technology and miss the beauty that surrounds me. Walking and being present are the basis of my recovery. If I enjoy the simple things then all the other things are a luxury. It’s almost as if I had become so detached from nature that my life had grown to be unnatural.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

Buddha

I spent years sitting on a barstool waiting for divine intervention to turn my life around and it never came. I had to stop believing in saviours and take action for myself. Thankfully, others came to the same conclusion. They walk beside me on the path of sobriety but they can not walk it for me.

Don’t wait for change. Make it happen!

Charlie.

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