Pursuing happiness through consumption. Finding contentment in sobriety.

When I drank I was often physically sick. I have been so sick from drinking that I have rolled up the mat from around the bottom of the toilet and used it as a pillow because I didn’t want to be too far away from the bathroom. I would wake up feeling a sinking feeling of shame and stagger off to bed to try to sleep off the hangover. I would lay in bed sweating and moaning like a fevered child for most of the day until I could muster the energy to wander back to the pub or the shop. That was a lot of Sundays.

By the end of my drinking I was mentally and physically sick. Almost like I had been taken over by something else. It’s maybe no coincidence that the word alcohol comes from the Arabic word for ghoul which also means to seize:

“The word “Alcohol” is Arabic; from the root word (Al-Ghawl/Ghul) “Ghawl” or “Ghul” which translates to Ghoul, Hobgoblin, Bogey(man), Ogre (man eating giant), and Alcohol. The Qur’an–verse 37:47 uses the Arabic form “Al-Ghawl” referring to the intoxication associated with alcohol when in wine. The root word “Ghawla” translates as ‘foolish’ or ‘ignorant’. Referencing a Ghoul, this is known as an evil spirit and further translates ‘to seize’. The term Bogey(man) is sometimes used as a personification of the Devil. Along with the root word that refers to a spirit or demon, Europeans later adapted the word (likely in the 17th century) and eventually it also came to be used in science circles as a technical term for the Ethanol it also is.

Given the root of the word and its description/nature as being that of a “Demon who seizes and destroys”, many Christians abstain from Alcohol, noting that Jesus drove out demons.”

In fact most religious texts talk about the dangers of alcohol and/or overindulgence. My personal favourite is the Buddhist belief that “Alcohol consumption is inconsistent with a Buddhist’s quest to understand and develop the mind. Buddhists believe that by practicing meditation, wisdom and morality, every individual has the innate ability to experience true happiness.”

Ironically, I drank to be happy yet more often than not found myself in the bathroom and then in complete misery. I was sick yet I believed alcohol to be the medicine for my sickness; a perverted mistruth. A situation similar to having an illness that makes you thirsty only to find the cause of the thirst is in the tainted water you are drinking. For years I tried drinking different forms of the poison. I would walk in my local pub and the barman would say “What do you want today?” I had no “Usual,” because I was searching for the magic elixir. The one that was different from all the rest. THEY ARE ALL THE FUCKING SAME. People who drink a bottle of wine a night yet look down at people with a can of extra strong lager are hypocrites. Simple as that.

It took me years of punishing research to figure that out. Years of blacking out and misery just to realise there was no elixir. This came as a huge disappointed.

How was I to get well now I no longer had my medicine? Well, it was a shocking revelation to realise that my medicine was the source of my illness. Like one of those stories were a parent has been putting crushed tablets in their kids’ food to keep them ill. That’s how I felt about alcohol; it was supposed to help but it was killing me. I had been sober two years when I read This Naked Mind. It confirmed what I believed; that alcohol kept me sick.

Why is a chemical that does so much damage advertised so much? Maybe because we are the sickly children in the example I gave. I mean Johnson and Johnson just got fined $572 million for fuelling the opium crisis. Our health isn’t the main concern for corporations. The alcohol crisis has been accepted as part of our culture:

“One in 10 people in a hospital bed in the UK are alcohol-dependent and one in five are doing themselves harm by their drinking, according to research that quantifies for the first time the massive burden to the NHS of Britain’s drinking culture.

Hospitals are struggling to cope with the numbers of people whose heavy drinking habits land them in A&E or mental health units, but while the NHS estimates that the cost of treatment runs to £3.5bn a year, the figures for the numbers of patients affected have been largely anecdotal.” – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/04/staggering-cost-nhs-alcohol-abuse-report

What I have found in sobriety is that happy people a free people. Most care not about what they once thought they needed. Their outer world aligns more with the light that burns so brightly inside but had been extinguished with alcohol. This is because many have to turn inward and face their demons. That’s the path I found myself walking when I gave up alcohol. I had no other choice. Once the ghoul had been beaten back, my true self returned and finding contentment came easier. It was as if my soul was trapped in a glass case and sobriety was the hammer that set it free.

Sobriety isn’t the destination for me it is the part of the process that pushes me forward and forces me to grow as an individual. It is a process of finding and maintaining what works to keep me well. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule that covers everyone but a connection to the self first that becomes a deeper connection elsewhere is definitely a benefit.

As alcohol leaves a trail of destruction, being AF leaves a trail of serenity. If you want it to that is.

The recovery process for me was one of getting well from being mentally and physically sick.  Like recovering from an illness or sickness, it took time. There was no rush.

If I had just left Hospital due to knee surgery running a marathon wouldn’t be best advised. Slowly, I would take small steps until my strength improved. I’d start with small challenges until there was confidence that it would carry me through. I see the recovery from alcohol abuse as completely the same. Both body and mind had to be repaired. As they did my eyes began to open to a world of beauty and opportunity. I realised that happiness is just a concept, an illusion, a carrot on a stick to keep me chasing. What I found in sobriety were acceptance and contentment. No longer did I have the crushing lows that are the price of happiness.

The contentment I was seeking was within me all along. It just got hijacked and my direction forcibly changed. I was steered away from my contentment and set on the treadmill known as the pursuit of happiness. A ceaseless pursuit equivalent to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

When I see statistics about drug misuse and alcohol misuse it makes me feel bad. Not only does it remind me of the misery that I dwelled within for years. It makes me feel bad for those people struggling to climb out of the quicksand. The one that seems to pull you back in the more you seem to struggle. Well know this, you are beautiful both inside and out. There is no void that you need to fill. You are enough. That voice telling you that you won’t make it is the manifestation of a long past moment. I know because it told me the same thing and it wasn’t true. I persevered and found contentment, which is far more valuable then happiness.

To know your strength you must test your strength.

Surprise yourself.

Charlie

Quitting drinking; Pros and Cons

Let me start by saying that these are in my experience. Some of them are shared with people I have met and some of them aren’t. Not everybody has the same experience but I have never met one long term sober person who regretted doing so, that is a recurring theme.

I’ll start with the con’s so that the blog ends on a high and hopefully fills you with some encouragement and positivity.

The con’s (I honestly struggled to get to three con’s.)

1) Losing friends – When I first quit drinking people still contacted me to see if was coming along to the old places I used to haunt. Eventually, I stopped going and they stopped calling. I stopped going because standing in a bar full of drunk people, sober, is the antithesis of fun. On reflection, I got drunk so much because I think you have to be drunk to have a good time with drunk people. I realised over time that the people I viewed as friends weren’t actually friends at all. There was no deep connection. We just used each other to fend off loneliness.

2) Explaining why – All the time. Everywhere. No matter what country. “You don’t drink? Why?” Let’s get it straight. Alcohol is a lot of fun for a lot of people. Poison or not, people love getting drunk. It is the backbone of entire countries and the heart of many communities. It is the glue that holds things together and the reward for being a human. So to profess that you don’t do it must mean you are ill or religious or a health nut. I don’t get as annoyed by the question anymore. There is an innate fear of isolation within humans. Isolation means starvation, loneliness and death. And that fear of isolation is exploited to ensure people don’t go against social expectation. Ironic really that a substance that destroys is portrayed as the substance that builds.

3) Dealing with life – This was only a con initially. The thought of having to contend with work, life, debt, expectation and personal pressure was the weight that kept me pressed to a bottle. In the end, drinking took it’s toll and was no longer available as the temporary fix that I had been permanently using it as. The tsunami was on the horizon and I braced for impact. It was only perspective and I learned to surf before the wave hit so it was good. Much like learning a new skill it was trial and error, falling, failing but plenty of getting back up.

Pro’s

1) Weight loss – Initially, I didn’t notice much change as I was eating so many sweets but when that subsided I started to see a change. After years of poisoning my body, I now saw it as a thing to be cared for and I was its carer. I changed the sweets to fruit and veg, quit smoking, started exercising and now I am in the best shape I have been in for twenty years.

2) Better sleep – Waking and feeling refreshed is a great feeling. I used to see sleep as the thing I did between the pub closing and work starting. Now I realise it is an integral part of maintaining a healthy life.

3) No hangovers – Stirring from an unrefreshing slumber to a backing head and remorse. I used to be religious when I woke with a hangover. I would start the day with a prayer “Please God, don’t let me have done anything to fucking stupid last night.” Now I start my day with meditation to set me up in a positive free mood.

4) Finances – I was terrible with money when I drank. “Carpe Diem. There ain’t no pockets in a burial shroud. You can’t take it with you,” were my mottos. I was spending the banks’ money to escape the fact I was skint. I brutal cycle. Quitting drinking has allowed me to identify the difference between “Wants & Needs.” Am I buying something because of an advert? To fill a void in my life? To make me feel better? Or is it something I need? This learning of financial responsibility has removed the fear of financial insecurity and the need to drink to escape that fear.

5) Confidence – Alcohol stole what little confidence I had and kept me in a constant state of self-doubt. I never tried anything and my anger at my own passivity would manifest internally. My internal world was a toxic bile-filled environment that I escaped through drinking. Without alcohol, I had to try new things to fill my time. Each achievement gave me another level of confidence. Until eventually I was happy to be me. A position that I could never have thought possible.

6) Meeting other sober people – I remember walking into my first AA meeting and expecting to see a room full of stereotypical tramps. It was a huge surprise to witness people who looked “Normal” after speaking to them it was obvious that they weren’t normal and that is exactly what I needed. I needed people who owned their shit and made no excuses about it. I needed people who could admit their failings and work on themselves. I needed that because I needed to become human again.

7) Clarity – I ran on autopilot for the entirety of my adult life. I had relationships I don’t really remember. I spoke to people who knew me yet I couldn’t recall. I was present physically but mentally I was checked out. When I first quit, I knew why I drank. I drank because my mind was like an unsupervised circus. All the acts were trying to perform at the same time which left it in chaos. I used meditation, counselling, AA and a change of lifestyle to try to generate some calm. Over time, continuing meditation, healthy eating and talking about things, I became the ringmaster of that circus. The urge to escape from my own thoughts didn’t become a thing anymore.

8) Connectivity – When I drank I was a stone golem. I would be proud of the fact that I had an internal world that was separate from the one I presented. I was isolated from the world by a constant veil of inebriation that gave life the look of being viewed through a frosted window. My inner world was tainted by this obscured view of life. With the clarity of mind came, the clarity of perception and a whole new world became available. An awakening to reality I didn’t know existed and a world full of beauty, abundance and opportunity. The dark clouds that followed me around dissipated, the weight around my shoulders lifted and life became an adventure. The relationships I had with people became deeper as I presented a true version of myself to them and shared experiences brought life lessons. I now experience life and don’t try to hide from it. I accept good and bad things will happen in life, all I can control is my part in it and how I react. I accept myself and the world for its imperfections and understand that is part of the tapestry that makes it so wonderful.

9) Freedom – All of these things combined are the recipe to freedom. Freedom from a lifestyle that was unfulfilling and detrimental to my human experience. I am free from the poison of drinking and the toxic thinking that comes with it. I can point my ship of life in the direction of my pleasing and understand I cannot control what is in the water. The knowledge I couldn’t control everything used to fill me with fear and now it liberates me from the expectation that I have to. I am free to experience life as intended and hopefully share a positive message along the way to liberate people to their own realisation of the beauty that lies both inside and outside of us all.

If that isn’t enough of a reason to quit then I don’t know what is lol

Have a great day,

Charlie.

P.S. If you can think of any more then that would be great

smile

Stories from Sobriety – Bangkok and the number 11:11

I had spent the first two years of my sobriety, focusing on staying sober, paying off debt and getting ready to walk the El Camino de Santiago. After I had accomplished this, I felt lost. Like I was drifting through life with no purpose. This wasn’t helped by the fact it was November in the UK which means it was cold and dark or at least heading that way. This added another layer of drudgery to the post-holiday blues that were kicking in. I didn’t have anything to do and I didn’t want to sit at home. As a result, I was spending more and time in the pub, not drinking alcohol but socialising. That was until one night I started to look at the champagne selection with the thought “One champagne won’t hurt,” it scared me. It scared me into action. I needed something else to aim for. It also scared me enough to return to AA after an eighteen-month absence.

AA gave me somewhere to go other than meeting friends in the pub and I made some new friends there. I got a sponsor and started working the steps. This was all good and well but I still had a thought of what am I doing it for? Who am I staying sober for? I see sobriety as a tool to be used and the freedom to be enjoyed. Without that it loses it’s purpose.

Then one night, my friend Simon who was living in Auckland phoned and said he was moving back to the UK via South East Asia. He would be there in three months for a few months with no fixed agenda. I asked him if I could meet up somewhere and travel around Cambodia. He said it would be good to catch up and he would be happy with the company. We agreed to meet in Bangkok for a few days before travelling to Siem Reap. I couldn’t believe how easy it all was to make plans and book flights. In my drinking days I would have wished him well but then moaned at how lucky everyone was compared to me. But now in sobriety, the stage was set for me to visit one of the places I had spent many years pouring over whilst pissing my life away in a bar; Angkor Wat.

I told my AA sponsor that I would be going backpacking around Cambodia in three months and he said we needed to get through the steps. I was willing to give it a try and had done a lot of work on myself over the last two years which made it easier. The fact my sponsor was understanding helped a lot as well.

I still struggled with the God thing. Just like I had the first time I had tried AA two years before but this time to navigate the problem, I used the universe as my higher power. I had been listening to a lot of Law of attraction guided meditations at the time so it seemed to fit.

I was talking the trip up so much that another friend, Chloe, said she would like to go. I said that wouldn’t be a problem but when she tried to book her flights were fully booked. So we arranged to meet at Bangkok airport. I was amazed by how quickly it all came together. I started to feel better now I had something to focus on. Or maybe it was attending AA again that helped. In the AA meetings, I would share my message of positivity and freedom and afterwards people would say that I gave them hope. It was a good feeling. It made all the years of bullshit misery worth it. It shows the depths we sink to in addiction but that we can pull ourselves out over time.

About a month before we were due to go I started noticing the numbers 11:11 for no reason. Or a variation of 1111. Like when I cleaned my phone and it did 111.1mb.

I was a little freaked out and sought comfort in my AA sponsor who told me it meant I was on the right path. I felt like I was on the right path as well. My head was clear, I felt good and I was about to embark on a journey to a place I had dreamed of. So I embraced it and whenever I noticed the numbers, I smiled.

About a week before my flight, I was packing my bag and was overcome with emotion. I felt so grateful for the opportunity to take that trip. I don’t know who I was grateful to but for the first time in my life I got into a prayer position and said: “Thank you.” It was a nice feeling to not be bogged down with negativity as I had for more than a decade in my drinking days. When I would feel like the odds were stacked against me and that I was fighting the world. Pink cloud or not, it felt great that things were going in my favour and I was starting to tick my dreams off the list.

Bangkok

I was nervous about flying to Bangkok, as it was the first time I had flown a long distance alone. Any anxiety about the situation dissipated when I rationalised what was in my control and what wasn’t. I got talking to a young couple in front of me in the queue who were moving to one of the Thai Islands to live and work. I’ll have to admit I was pretty envious having spent most of my life working in shit jobs that I hated. Fair play to them for taking a chance.

After the rig moral of immigration, I collected my bags and went to wait for Chloe. Her flight would be arriving about an hour after mine so I bought a coffee and went outside for a cigarette. This is when it hit me; the heat. It was so humid that after smoking a third of a roll up cigarette, the glue on the rizla began to come unstuck and I couldn’t smoke it. I stubbed it out and went back into the air-conditioned airport to wait for Chloe. And to buy some proper cigarettes.

After Chloe arrived we found a taxi and made our way to the hotel, Tara place which was just near Khaosan Road. I was in my element in the taxi, looking at the scenary as we made our way there with the enthusiasm of a dog in a car. I’m always fascinated by the way everything is the same but also so different. The colours, sounds and smells of the place. The customs and traditions. It all combines to make the experience.

We checked in, dumped our bags and Chloe said she was going to get some sleep, “because of the jet lag.” I’d had a decent sleep on the plane thanks to having three seats to myself. So I opted to explore.

Outside the hotel, I found a tuk-tuk driver and asked him to take me to the place I’d found on the AA meeting finder. He explained that the place wasn’t a tuk-tuk journey away, it was a boat ride across the river away. So I chose to wander around aimlessly instead. I ate some street food that was delicious but probably not the animal that was advertised. I drank so many iced coffees that I felt like I’d been taking amphetamines and then on the way back to the hotel, I tried the Siam massage that was outside the hotel. Oh my. I didn’t expect much put the little Thai lady kicked the shit out of me. Afterwards, I felt great. If not a little like I’d been mugged.

I went for another iced coffee to stave off the caffeine comedown and as I sat watching the world go by, Chloe called. She was well-rested and wanted to take a look around the city. I was more than happy to explore further.

As we were walking along, we were stopped by a Thai man offering advice on places to visit and also, advised us to visit them by Tuk Tuk. Which just happened to be standing by. On reflection, it was a stupid thing to do but he seemed so genuine. He had his act down to a tee. We jumped into a nearby Tuk Tuk who told us to pay him at the end and then took us to visit some sights. We stopped at the Wat Ratchanatdaram and had a look around inside. When he left the Tuk Tuk driver had vanished. So we took a slow walk back towards the hotel. I found out later that the Tuk-Tuk drivers over charge the tourists when they are far away from where they got picked up.

Later, Simon arrived and met us for a coffee. He had a girl with him who I vaguely recognised from somewhere. It turned out they had lived in a house share when I had visited him years ago. She worked as a barmaid and I had been in the pub, very drunk as usual. Her name was Jessica and like Simon was moving back to the UK. Except she had been living in Australia. She was the sort of woman I’d wanted to meet for years. Attractive, cool and fond of travelling. I was in awe as she and Simon shared stories of their travels. How their faces flashes with excitement and they become alive as they relived their favourite destinations. They were talking about places I had longed to visit and now thanks to sobriety I could. It was fantastic to watch.

We made our way down Koahsan Road where the party was in full swing. Young backpackers letting loose and having fun. I felt a tinge of envy as I walked. I had a flashback to me spending too many days propping up a bar dreaming, moaning, hating and not living. Thankfully I’d made it in the end.

We found a place a little out of the way from the revellers and ordered some drinks. I fired questions at Simon and Jessica about their travels; Where was the best place you’ve been? Where do you want to go? Where wouldn’t you go? They were more than happy to answer.

This was the type of evening I had got sober for; free, with like-minded people and on an adventure. After many years of deadening myself with alcohol, I finally felt alive.

Simon mentioned that there was a food night market nearby that would be worth checking out. So we got a taxi and headed there. It was just outside the MBK shopping centre and there was some free Thai boxing taking place over the road. So we loaded up on snacks and fresh fruit and went to watch the boxing. Returning to the market for further refreshments as required.

I continued to barrage Jessica and Simon with questions about travelling with half an eye on the boxing. It was a great evening.

The following day Chloe wasn’t feeling great so Simon, Jessica and I visited the Grand Palace in the morning. We weren’t allowed inside whilst wearing shorts. We had to buy some trousers to cover our bare legs. Many of the trousers were brightly coloured but perfectly acceptable. I couldn’t help but think how the knees or lower legs were anymore offensive than the psychedelic trousers I had to were.

Even though it was morning, it was still hot and heaving with tourists (Me being one) which made some of the places claustrophobic as we shuffled through the rooms. It was still a wonderful place to visit but I made my way with haste as the sweat began pouring off my face. I was trapped in one room by a large group of Chinese tourists. I wanted to start picking people up to move them out of the way to get out but remembered a breathing technique that helped. I lit a cigarette as soon as I got outside.

Afterwards, we made our way across town to Wat Arun Ratchawararam (Temple of Dawn) and had a look around. I would have liked to see it at dawn when the scorching heat wasn’t making it unbearable. After a whistle-stop tour, we sought refuge in a cafe and indulged in some ice cream smoothies. The boat ride back was a welcome treat as the cool breeze helped alleviate the heat.

That night, we were sitting in a bar on Khaosan road having a few drinks, chatting and listening to the band that was playing. I had a strange sensation like I had been taking hallucinogenics but I hadn’t. I could feel the music in the air. Not just the bass but all of it. Like I was surrounded by the music. Almost as if I could see the notes dancing across the room on a wave. It was a great feeling. Maybe it was just because I was present.

Simon took his phone out of his pocket and I noticed the time on it was 11:11. I began to laugh and said “If I’m not sick of seeing that time.”

“What time is it?” said Jessica

“Eleven Eleven,” I said

“Why? What do you know about eleven eleven?” said Jessica

“Just that it means you are on the right path or something,” I said.

Jessica lifted her leg onto the table to show me a tattoo of a sundial that showed the time eleven eleven. I was blown away. I was convinced that she was the one. I was transfixed. The law of attraction meditation I had been practising had paid off.

Simon interrupted my thinking by stating that we had to visit the Patpong night market. So we finished up and made our way there. I was infatuated with Jessica. I was convinced that the universe had answered me.

We slid through the Patpong market and dipped into some girlie bar. There were girls everywhere but I couldn’t stop talking to Jessica. I wanted to know everything about her. We had one drink and left. Back through the market we dodged the salesmen with their menus of titillation and bundled into a club up the street, where we continued chatting. Only stopping to get another drink. It was so natural. So easy. No awkward pauses. The conversation just poured out like the music that was entertaining the revellers around us. Simon and Chloe interrupted to say they were heading to a club. I said I wasn’t interested and Jessica said she didn’t want to go to a club either. So, we said our goodbyes to Simon and Chloe, found another bar and continued to talk. We talked about spirituality, life and the universe. I couldn’t tell you what was going on around me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. After a few drinks, we made our way back to the hotel.

In the morning, I kissed Jessica goodbye after trying to convince her to come to Cambodia with us. She already had a flight booked for that morning and plans she couldn’t get out of. It would have been nice for her to come along but we made plans to meet up in the UK.

I hadn’t met someone like this for a long time and it was the perfect start to the holiday.

Sobriety had definitely been the right choice.

Charlie

Alcohol or Life?

I was lucky. Quitting drinking was easy for me. It was easy because I was convinced I would die if I carried on. That’s where it took me, drinking. It took me to the hospital, the pit of despair and to isolation. When people used to ask me why I drank so much I would answer “I might be dead tomorrow. Carpe Diem. Drink today for tomorrow we die,” or some other misquoted bollocks to justify my position. It’s ironic because when I actually thought that alcohol would kill me I started to think: Do I want my last memory to be one of me drinking? Or no memory at all because I blacked out! Do I want to look back over my life and see a mass of time wasted on drink? The answer was a resounding NO. Of course, I didn’t want that. Who does? I hear it all the time “I don’t drink like you did!” “I can handle it.” “I haven’t lost a job, relationship, my driving license, kids or health to alcohol!” There is only one answer to that: YET! 

When I started drinking at sixteen, I didn’t set out to lose relationships because of alcohol. But I did. I didn’t want to lose jobs because of alcohol! But I did. I didn’t plan to end up with liver problems in my early thirties! But I did. I’ve heard about people losing everything. None of them started drinking because that’s what they wanted to happen. Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

So you see why it was easy. I had a choice; Sacrifice my life for alcohol or sacrifice my alcohol for life. It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

I chose to sacrifice alcohol for life and at first, it felt like a mistake. I felt like I was GIVING UP on something. But by giving up something I was gaining something. That’s how it works, life. You can have anything but you can’t have everything. If I had two livers I may have carried on drinking but I didn’t so there you go. I didn’t see the benefits of quitting at first. I slept like shit. Sweated constantly. My mind was a chaotic barrage of nonsense. I have to be honest it didn’t feel like a great choice. I felt like I was getting nothing in return for my valiant efforts. I thought that if I carried on drinking, I would be on the waiting list for a new liver in no time at all. It might not have happened. I didn’t want to find out. So, I had no choice but to carry on without alcohol. 

I had to find out what worked instead of alcohol. What could I do to live life like a drinker without drinking? I had to find out what helped me relax. I had to learn how to deal with emotions. I had to learn how to let shit slide. I had to learn how to live life.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

C.S.Lewis

It was daunting. Yet, on reflection, it has been a wonderful journey so far. With ups and downs and many lessons. Some fun. Some not so. The knowledge that I can deal with shit without running for a bottle like a child running to a parent is a great feeling. It is the closest I will feel to being an adult… whatever that means. But it is a testament to the growth that can happen when alcohol is removed from the equation. I was emotionally stunted when I stopped drinking. Every problem was an excuse to drink and most problems were illusions. I would stand in a pub stewing in anger over some innocuous situation that I had turned into a problem. Blaming the focal point of my misguided anger for my drinking.  

It took time but eventually, I became myself. Or the person I was meant to be. Because now when I look back on my life it won’t be a procession of empty memories. It will be a collection of memories. Memories of the opportunities I seized and places I visited. People I loved; some lost. It will be the knowledge that I sacrificed a life awash with alcohol and regret and achieved my dreams. 

The five biggest regrets

So imagine you are sitting on a porch and you are much older. You are reflecting on your life and how it played out. Imagine your life five days before you quit drinking. Would you want that day to carry on everyday until you are sitting on that porch reflecting? Is that how you would want to spend your days? I know I wouldn’t because my last days of drinking were out of control and I was desperate to quit, I just didn’t know how to.

But like I said at the start I was lucky because my body started to fail and I was left with a choice; Alcohol or Life. The thing is we all have that choice but some don’t know it… yet. 

Charlie

10 ways the El Camino de Santiago is like sobriety…

As a challenge, a friend and I decided to walk the El Camino De Santiago in September 2016. We walked the pilgrimage from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in southern France to Finisterre, on the North West Coast of Spain. A total of 600 miles over a period of 30 days. I was just over two years sober when we went and having it as a goal helped me maintain my sobriety. Here is what I experienced:

1) Carrying around to much baggage will only cause you problems.

It was said to me in recovery; “Imagine bad experiences are like stones. As you progress through life you pick them up and put them in your backpack. Eventually, it gets too heavy and you have stop to get rid of the shit that doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s hard to part with somethings but you’ve got to lighten the load. A light rucksack makes progress much easier.” And it is true. All the work I put into removing the sharp edged, heavy stones of the past, helped make my journey through recovery easier.

Four days before starting the El Camino, I was sitting in a sauna in the lotus position, focusing on my breath and relaxing. I was interrupted by the words “Excuse me,” knowing full well there was only one other person in the sauna. I opened my eyes and turned to face the man. “Are you meditating?” he asked. I explained that I was just relaxing but do practice meditation on occasion. What ensued was a deep conversation about life, religion and spirituality. During the conversation, other people entered the sauna, yet we continued to put the world to rights. The man asked my take on religion and spirituality. To which I explained that I was taking a pilgrimage but not for religious reasons but to hopefully get a better understanding of… anything. “The El Camino?” said another voice in the sauna. “Yes, do you know it?” I replied. “Yes, I have walked it many times,” said the man in a thick Spanish accent. “What is it like?” I asked. He explained the wonder he felt making the journey and the experiences he’d had. How he longed to make the journey again but finances were tight. He explained the mistakes he’d made in his first Camino and how he’d taken too much weight with him. He then explained that all I needed to take for the full thirty days was:

  • 3 x T-Shirts
  • 3 x Underwear
  • 3 x Socks
  • 2 x shorts
  • 1 x raincoat
  • 1 x flip flops
  • 1 x first aid kit
  • 1 x toiletries
  • 1 x charger
  • 1 x camara/phone
  • 1 x sun hat
  • 1 x snood
  • 1 x hiking boots

When I weighed my bag it was 6kg. The Spanish dude was right; it is better to walk with a light rucksack. So get rid of what you don’t need to carry around.

2) Sometimes the road was long and I asked myself the question “Why the fuck am I doing this?”

The first day was an uphill struggle. It tested my mental and physical strength. It seemed impossible at first. I wanted to quit and go back but I just kept going. Eventually, I made it and when my head touched the pillow that night, I did it with pride. I had heard the first day was the hardest and I had made it. Some people make it with ease but many struggle. I was happy to have made it through the difficult first day. I just kept telling myself it would be worth it in the end.

3) At times it became unbearable and my only option was to keep going forward

After the uphill struggle of the first day, it seemed like it would be plain sailing from then on. But I was in pain and wanted to quit. The heat was on and other people were asking for help. Quitting wasn’t an option as I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I had to keep going. Some days I thought I would quit but made it, usually down to the people around me. In the beginning I was happy to make it through another day.

4) There is always someone willing to help if you’re not too proud to accept it.

You meet plenty like minded people on the same journey as you are. They will notice you are struggling and offer help. Or if you need to, you can reach out for help. There are plenty of people willing to help. In sobriety many people have offered me sound advice and help, which I am eternally grateful for. In the drinking days, I saw getting help as weakness. Which I now understand as bollocks. We all need a helping hand sometimes.

The guy in the picture saw my friend limping and offered help. I asked if wanted a cup of coffee for his troubles. He declined and said “On the Camino, we are all family.” What a guy!

5) Rest is important

I began to listen to my body’s needs and gave it what it needed to keep me going. I drank plenty of water, ate well and slept well when possible. I became more in tune with my body and realised that caring for it is important. After the punishment I had given it, it was time to take care of it.

6) I had to reward myself

Walking the El Camino and sobriety are both remarkable achievements. I had to remind myself of that often. Some days were punishing and as an incentive I had to have a carrot on a stick approach. Well, more of a cake on a stick approach. So much of my internal dialogue was “When I get to *whatever milestone* I will have a cake.” I didn’t expect anything of myself and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It is a long journey…

7) As I progressed, I grew stronger

One day at a time, it got easier. As my body and mind adjusted and I overcame new challenges, I became stronger, more confident and more healthy. The worry that the sight of a uphill climb gave me began to slip away and I began to relish the challenge.

8) I felt connected to something greater than myself.

All the extra time spent exercising, meditating and being in nature calmed my mind. It also made me feel part of something wondrous. I was happy to be alive, with a renewed spiritual connection. The people I meant along the journey were like no one I had met before. It was exhilarating to see another side to life. One that I never knew existed.

Along the way I got talking to an Irishman called Frank. He explained that he came to walk a section of the Camino each year for a holiday. When I asked him why, he said “The world has gone mad for things. It is obsessed with things. Here is humanity. Here is the human touch.” The same could be said about the many people I’ve met in recovery.

9) I see the world differently now

A world that was once shrouded in darkness came alive as I began to see differently. It was like the colour and contrast had been adjusted giving it a vibrant and lively look that resonated with beauty. Each new scenery was like a freshly painted picture just for us. Each new sunrise a different colour from the last. The world was alive and for the first time in years, I was happy to be part of its glorious wonder.

10) Reaching my goal wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning of another journey.

One step at a time, I reached the milestone and when I achieved it, I realised it wasn’t the end. It was all a learning curve to help me on my next journey.

It had taken me a huge amount of effort to clear the wreckage of the past and get to the start of the El Camino. Then through the searing heat and pain I’d finally made it to Finisterre, the end of the road. I sat on the rocks at the lighthouse, looking out to sea as the tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t believe that I had actually achieved it. A few years earlier it had seemed impossible. As my life, my body and my mind were in complete turmoil. Now, I felt like the future was mine. Now, I felt free and it was all thanks to sobriety.

Get yourself a Pilgrim passport https://www.csj.org.uk/prepare/get-your-credencial/ and hit the trail.

Buen Camino,

Charlie.

20 lessons learned on the journey back from Hell…

It didn’t happen overnight. It was a constant downward spiral over many years that lead me to the gates of Hell. One terrible mistake after another. One morally bankrupt decision masked by a lie too many. Each fuck up another step downwards. As the heat rose, I needed more liquid to cool me down. Eventually, there I was. Standing at the gate to hell with nowhere else to go. Initially, I didn’t realise where I was. And when I did, the journey back seemed impossible. So with a heavy heart, I placed my hand on the gate, opened it and reluctantly took a step towards my future. A future of torment and torture. It was the least I deserved I told myself as I made my way inside. Suddenly, I felt a hand fall on my shoulder, pulling me back. I don’t know who it was, my higher self, higher power, intuition, morality, subconscious. Call it what you want but I heard the words “One more chance, Charlie. Waste it and you’re on your own.” I told him I couldn’t make the journey back because I was too weak. “Even if you have to crawl you will make it. Just don’t drink again.” I have to be honest it wasn’t a great offer. I mean it had taken me a long time to get here surely it was going to take me a long time to get back. The path had been littered with hardships, heartache, troubles and woes that I couldn’t imagine facing sober. But, no matter how hard it could be, it had to better than the hell I was destined for.

Man, it was tricky at times. Falling and crawling sometimes to try and get back to the light. Crying and screaming because I didn’t think I could make it. Over time the heat got cooler. The obstacles appeared large from afar but it was just perspective. When they needed to be tackled, I managed it and learned something from each. There were people from the past there who I had to shamefully acknowledge. Behaviour from the past that made me hang my head with guilt. I apologised and fixed what I could as I made my way. I got bruised and my pride took a kicking but I just kept going. Sometimes crawling on my knees sometimes making great strides. It seemed to take a long time but it was never intended to be a race.

One day, the sky was blue, the air was clean and against the odds, I had made it. My knees were scarred and my pride dented but I had made the long journey back. Here is what I learned:

  • People will treat you how you let them treat you.
  • Toxic situations do not improve by magic. If nothing changes then nothing changes.
  • I lived a life based on stories that were now redundant. Stories of how I was told by people I no longer knew. I learned to create my own story.
  • Life is constant change. Yet, some people will fight change.
  • Going against the grain takes strength. Strength that is often tested to see if it is genuine. So go to the mirror and tell yourself you are a fucking lion.
  • People will try to knock you off your positivity perch due to their lack of fortitude. Staying positive is the only response.
  • Not everyone who stands at the gates of Hell wants to be saved.
  • All I can do is my best.
  • Expectations create disappointment.
  • Not everybody will be happy for me. Nor will they be as interested as I think they will be.
  • Intuition is invaluable.
  • Negative emotions will pass and are a great lesson. Although it doesn’t seem so at the time.
  • Freedom is enviable.
  • Being clear-minded, calm and composed doesn’t mean everyone else will be. In fact, it enrages some people.
  • I am only human and still get annoyed. But nowhere near as often as I used to. When I do get annoyed, it doesn’t ruin my entire week. I also have the ability to identify my part and apologise accordingly. The other party/ies may not.
  • Fear in many forms dominates the lives of many people. Even though most things aren’t as scary as they seem.
  • Not everything works out the way I want but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying.
  • Things seem a bigger deal to me sometimes than they do to other people.
  • Sometimes the journey gets hard and I have to rest, take in my surroundings and appreciate how far I’ve come. This is sometimes overwhelming.
  • The last journey I took to hell was a long one. I now have an express elevator… one drink! And no hardship is worth that torment. No quick fix is worth the long term damage.

I’ve come too far to go back there.

Charlie

Awakening – A Poem

Peering through the fabric of reality
Beyond normality disguising mass insanity
Like stepping off a treadmill that is in the dark
And wandering through a beautiful sun-drenched park

Therein lies the true-life mission
Through the mind and into the intuition
The constant negative affirmations with which we are bombarded
Leaves the ego off centre, anxious and always guarded

To transcend the ego is the only escape
And then the old ideals will dissipate
A new age can be dawned
From which a new society can be born

With love, compassion and gratitude
Not self-entitled, hedonistic childlike attitudes
Liberation from anxiety and depression
Removal of manipulative covert oppression

The worrying will finally cease
And amazingly the mind will be at peace
And as the consciousness begins to shift
The pressure of life begins to ease and lift

Consumerism offers an external solution to an internal problem
Liberation from the ego allows a relationship with the true self to blossom.
Enables the courage for you to be you
The realisation of your true value

The dark parts of our lives are treated like a wounded soul
And fixing that darkness is the ultimate goal
But the darkness is part of the human psyche
And the acceptance of our whole self is key

Because when we view the darkness as another part of us
We are complete and can embrace ourselves and one another with love
We accept that all humans are imperfect and we are not broken
We then peer through the veil of reality for we have awoken.

Charlie J Lofus

Picture by TanteTati (pixabay.com)

Dealing with emotions in sobriety

Towards the end of my drinking days, I would drink to blackout six days a week. I didn’t do seven because if I could go without alcohol one day a week then I didn’t have a problem. That was the reasoning. In the light of sobriety, the excuses I made were madness but my entire life was madness then. The chaos that consumed my every waking thought was tiring. This, coupled with terrible sleep, meant that I floated through life like a spirit. I believed that’s how people functioned. Everyone had their vices. Some gambled. Some did illegal drugs. Some used food. Some prescription medication. All just trying to escape life even for a second. Just to get a breather. To switch off reality and just find a bit of peace. But it never lasts. It’s like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan when an explosion goes off and the guy is in a state of confusion. Numbed to his surroundings. Unsure of where he is yet the war still rages around him.  

I accepted that as life. Convinced that it was meant to be that way; living in a state of unhappy numbness and seeking pleasure to alleviate my mood. I didn’t dare to attempt to change it. I just tried to escape through drink that’s how I ended up drinking six days a week. The war doesn’t stop, the fighting gets more intense and to block it out takes more alcohol. I just wanted to escape, myself and my life.


What I’ve learned in sobriety is that most of the wars that rage around me aren’t my wars. Most of the battles being fought aren’t for me. The chaos that follows people around like a needy child can be avoided but people don’t know. They, like I once did, believe that is how life is meant to be. It isn’t. The calmness I sought through mood-altering substances was available when I quit mood-altering substances. The problems I sought to escape from have been the GREATEST lessons of my sobriety. Perversely, the hardships have been necessary for me to learn. Imagine that! The things I tried to avoid were the things I needed to go through to develop.


My mother underwent brain surgery whilst I was in recovery. I wanted a drink soooo bad. It would have made the pain go away. It wouldn’t have got her out of the hospital. I made it through and thankfully so did she. I’ve experienced rejection, hardships, sacrifice and emotional turmoil in sobriety. All painful. All valuable. I wouldn’t be who I am without them. Life is hard. Very hard for some. Yet, the darkest days of sobriety are still brighter than most of the days when I was drinking.

Emotional pain isn’t preferable but it is a valuable lesson and shouldn’t be avoided. Once it has passed I have learned and grown from the experience. Avoiding emotional pain is only prolonging the agony. When I couldn’t afford to drink and suppress my problems anymore the demons came out in force to torment me. Escaping from problems is like escaping from prison; you’re always watching your back because you know someday they’ll catch up with you. So dealing with problems becomes the quickest way to peace.

Where I once saw chaos and drama as another means of dopamine. I now see it as a breach of my serenity. I began to identify the people who are “chaos creators,” and “Emotional vampires.” I would give them a wide berth. I learned to erect boundaries, were before I was trampled on. Life became simpler and more enjoyable. My mind went from toxic to tranquil. I began to feel alive, in tune and vibrant. I used to believe that living a peaceful life was tantamount to dying. That calm was boring and that chaos was life. Living a straight line doesn’t mean to flatline, it means the mind is at rest.  

Having spent most of my life fighting to stay afloat in a torrent of negative and toxic thinking, I struggled to come to terms with contentment. The clarity and peace that came with sobriety felt undeserved. I didn’t believe I deserved to be happy. Even when I had learned that I was the bastion of my mind, I still couldn’t come to terms with the light that now shone internally. I felt like a fraud and an imposter. Like I would get found out at any moment and it would all come crashing down. Unbelievably, the opposite happened. I got stronger, calmer and more content. It still arises from time to time but now I see them as a reminder of how far I have progressed. Even now, five years later as I walk into a new chapter of my life that I have consciously written, I cannot help but ask the question “Why me?” “Why did I manage to escape?” “How did I manage to break free?” The answers are clear, yet the questions still persist. I managed to escape because I didn’t pick up a drink. I didn’t pick up a drink because that is the fast lane back to the torrent of shit! I know because I tried. I tried because I didn’t think I could be happy without alcohol. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Even if happiness does take some getting used to.

So now when I question my happiness in sobriety and think “Do I really deserve this?” The answer is “Yes, we all do.”

Charlie  

The video that inspired this blog is worth a watch:    

5 lessons of Sobriety from hiking Hadrian’s Wall

Halfway between towns. In a field. Hiking up a hill in the driving rain and cold constant wind. I can’t help but think Why did I do this?
I had foolishly agreed to walk the length of Hadrian’s hall in northern England with some friends. At the point of regret, we had walked 44 miles over the two days before and were now 11 miles into the day that would end up being 26 miles and 347 flights of stairs. In total, we would end up walking 108 miles over 5 days.

All I could think was surely there will be somewhere to stop soon as I continued to march forward, my mood elevated momentarily by the delectable scenery being served up causing me to stop and admire in awe. Soon the wind began to force itself into my core, causing a shiver and driving me onwards in the hope of re-engaging my internal heating system. This continued for another ten miles or three hours in time. By which time I was tired, cold and hungry. There had been no shelter in that time. No rest bite. No option other than to keep going in the hope that something would change. And you know what? It did. Out of nowhere, there was a man selling coffee and hot chocolate. I couldn’t tell you how good that chocolate tasted but I do know that it was hot and that was more than enough. The hot chocolate man lent us a pair of gloves and asked us to drop them off at the next town. Which we dutifully did.

The rain and wind stopped. Completely. The last five miles of walking were glorious. So much so that by the time we reached the next town our clothes were dry. At the time there was no energy for reflection as it was spent on the gratitude for a warm shower but a couple of days have passed and I think that I learned a couple of things:

1) There are often beauty and positives to be found even in unforgiving situations.

2) We have a lot more resilience than we give ourselves credit for. Addicts I mean. We survived this long through a torrent of shit. We should use that strength to our benefit.

3) Asking for help is fine but sometimes we have to rely on our strength to keep going. Sometimes there is no shelter from the shit and nobody can help you out. Your only option is to keep going one step at a time, one mile at a time and before you know it you are through it.

4) Good company will make the journey seem a lot better even if you are digging deep.

5) Life can change so quickly. Like the weather. We never know what is around the corner no matter how much we wish we did. Sometimes the sun comes out when you least expect it. Just like it did at the end of that day.

I couldn’t have walked that distance when I drank alcohol. I would have dismissed it as a waste of time. When really I would have been fearful of failing. On the 1st of June 2019, I haven’t touched alcohol for five years. And like that 26-mile walk in the pissing down rain, with aches and pains, it has been difficult but on reflection, I have learned so much and achieved so much. Just one foot in front of the other. One mile at a time. Eventually, I made it and so can you.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie

Overcoming Boredom and Fear in Sobriety

I spent most of my nights in the pub. Duped by some ludicrous delusion. The promise of greater things lead me to the trap. Every night I would fall for it. The next day I would vow not to fall for it again. Yet with symptoms similar to amnesia I would stagger back, thinking this all feels familiar. Days blended into weeks and then into years. My life spiralled out of control. I said “Never again…” but it always happened again. The allure pulling me back. That intoxicating brew. Devastation masquerading as a solution.

Until one day, it all got too much. Betrayal. The beer siren had lied to me. Cheated me out of so much. Like a jilted lover I was hurt. My heart was broken. I had nothing left. Alcohol had taken it all.

Broken and battered like the survivor of a shipwreck. I wretched and vomited. I shivered and cried. Happy to be alive. Frustrated at having nothing. Lost and scared. I had washed up on a beach. The island of sobriety. My clothes were torn and tattered. My mind scattered and fragmented.

In the early days of sobriety, I went to work during the day and sat at home at night. Constantly thinking “I want a drink.” followed by “I can’t have a drink.” It wasn’t fun. It was hard.

After six weeks it stopped. Well, it calmed down and the new thought “I am bored,” plagued me. Boredom was a trigger for me to drink so this is when I reached out for help but I think it was a turning point. It was the point that allowed me to stay sober. To use the Island analogy; I could sit on the beach waiting to starve or I could take action to try and make life resemble something close to normality.

When I got bored, I got busy.

I started new hobbies. I am not a huge people person so I chose things that kept me engaged and challenged. I read a shit ton of books. I learned musical instruments. I wrote. I made plans. I dreamed. I travelled. I meditated. I exercised. I loved and I lived. Eventually, I forgot about those beer sirens.

It is often said that a day sober is a successful day. In the early days, it was because I couldn’t comprehend doing anything else. But eventually I needed to do something with my sobriety.

We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough.

Big Book of AA

Boredom is our bodies way of telling us that it needs stimulation. Like a rumbling tummy when we’re hungry. So listen to the boredom and start living, learning, loving, growing, reaching out, meditating and exercising.

Sobriety gave me the time to do all the things I wanted to do when I was younger but was too scared to do. It took time though. To overcome the boredom I had to try new things. In order to try new things I had to overcome the fear of failure that held me back.

Often said as “False Evidence Appearing Real,” fear was the warden in the prison of my misery for many years. So strong was the psychological manipulation of the fear, I believed I was worthless and every attempt to break free of this misery, would fail. Slowly fear crushed my spirit. Inebriation was my only escape. It remained this way for a long time.

For me, the fear worked in a way that would stop me from attempting… anything. I became so terrorised by the fear that at the mention of trying something new my brain would go into overdrive. It would produce all the possible negative outcomes. Everything that could go wrong. It would paint me a picture of how people would laugh when I failed. How I would feel embarrassed. So I would decline, politely and return to the bar, my prison. The warden’s arm around me and his poisonous words in my ear.

The first goal I set was don’t drink. This is when I began to realise that I was the creator of the fear. I began to feel cheated. Cheated out of years of life. Years that I hadn’t lived because of a fucking illusion. An illusion that I was worthless and would never succeed. I had spent nearly twenty years of my life believing a story that wasn’t true. I HAD to prove it wrong.

In early sobriety, the fear was in full force, whispering in my ear; “You’ll be alone,” “You’ll have no friends,” “You’ll do nothing,” “A pariah,” “People will laugh,” “What are you going to say when people ask you why you don’t drink?” “Just do what you always do and give in before you try.” But I had a point to prove. I wanted to see what I was made of. Fuck it. I’d failed at life by not trying. I literally had nothing to lose.

After a stretch of not drinking, I felt stronger. Initially, I didn’t believe that I could do it but I just kept going. I was so proud of myself. Then, when I felt strong enough, I started building an escape plan.

A step at a time. A week at a time. A year at a time. A bill at a time. Life became manageable and I became unmanageable to the fear. It lost its power over me.

I’ve since learned, there are two types of fear; rational and irrational. Rational fear is the belief that there is a tiger in the grass and it is going to eat you. If you are in an area where you have seen a tiger there before then this makes sense. If you are walking through Oxford Street then it doesn’t. It is irrational. The latter is what held me captive for so long.

In a few months, I am going to embark on a journey of a lifetime. It would not have been possible if I was still held captive by fear. I would have talked myself out of it but thankfully I no longer waste my time with “False Evidence Appearing Real.” I much prefer the Ian Brown acronyms from the song F.E.A.R; “Fantastic Expectations, Amazing Revelations,” & “Free Expression As Revolution,” because that’s what life has become; a revolution of free expression and amazing revelations. 

Don’t listen to fear. It’s a liar.  

Too scared – A poem

Too scared of freedom 
Too scared to be free from
All the chaos and drama that comes with drinking
The toxic, self-annihilating, masochistic thinking

Too scared to fail
Too scared to set sail
Tightly bound by ropes of the harbour
Yearning to cast off but leaving gets harder

Too scared to try
Too scared to ask why
Why not? Why not give it a shot.
Before we lose everything we’ve got.

Too scared to face the mess
Too scared to worry less
And venture into the fear
Only to find it was never truly there.

Too scared to leave the warmth of hell
Too scared to see what’s outside the cell
Don’t be scared of escaping
Because the universe is waiting

Thanks for reading,

Charlie