There’s a light at the end of the tunnel…

I was painfully shy when I was younger to the point that it was debilitating. I always dreamed of performing on stage but the thought of actually doing it brought me to a standstill. My parents would encourage me to try but I would refuse. When I found alcohol, I believed it to be a magical elixir that would solve all my problems and turn me into Don Juan Bond. In reality, it just turned me into slavering mess and then an alcoholic. I was on that treadmill for many years. Running towards a goal but never getting there. I pissed away the entirety of my twenties. Praying for change the whole time. Waiting for some divine intervention to save me from my plight. All the while, taking no action to alter the course of my life. I became angry and frustrated. Resentful of the lack of help that was being offered.

I believed alcohol was my saviour, yet it was my kidnapper. I was smitten with Stockholm syndrome. I was too bitter and twisted to form any real relationships. Only the acquaintances that I kept around to normalise my behaviour. I was the personification of the poison I imbibed. It poured out of my pores and the toxic acidity spilt from my tongue every time I spoke. I was a self-loathing creature of despair. Many saw the potential that lay behind the toxic barrier but their concerns were dismissed. Their love and light were not welcome in my cold life.

I would say that I was a functioning alcoholic for ten years. I used alcohol to mask my depression. Even after all this time I still do not know if the depression was a by-product of the drinking or the drinking was a by-product of the depression. Either way, drinking was useful. In more ways than one. I was actually quite good at it. At the time it was the only thing I believed myself to be good at. My crippling shyness still existed underneath my blase faux rock star image. Inside I was a child yearning for a connection yet my outer persona stopped it from happening. I pushed people away and then regretted it. I couldn’t be honest with them. Shit, I couldn’t be honest with myself. I hurt them to protect myself but ultimately it only hurt me in the end. I ended up lonely and lost. Broken and damaged. Hurt and angry. Yet still chasing away help. Too proud to admit defeat. Too stupid to show weakness.

My body had other ideas. My liver stepped in and brought the whole fucking charade to a halt, twice. Change or die was the option in the end. I didn’t want to change. I had NOTHING to change for. NOTHING to live for really. I had no kids. No wife. No girlfriend. I worked to pay my bar bill and to keep a roof over my head. Like a real-life Charles Bukowski character I bumbled and mumbled my way through existence. Penniless, directionless and adrift.

The two warnings from my liver painted a vivid picture of the future. A bleak future of dialysis, cirrhosis and death. I didn’t want that future. I wanted a different future. With a happy ending. Maybe I’ve just watched too many movies but it had to be worth a shot.

Looking for positives wasn’t an option at first. My mind was still full of dark clouds. “Whatever you do just don’t fucking drink,” was my only thought for a lot of months. I reached out to AA when the boredom hit. It helped for a bit but I wanted to know who I was. So I vowed to spend time with myself. I learned a lot. I learned what I wanted to do. I learned what I liked. It was good. I made peace with the tormentor, the bastard who made me feel like shit for years; ME.

I learned that kids and a wife weren’t really what I wanted. So I stopped giving myself a hard time about not having them. I learned that I wanted to travel, to explore and grow. I wanted to set a goal and achieve it. I wanted to do this because when I should have travelled in my early twenties I was riddled with crippling shyness and self-doubt.

It would have been easy to bemoan the things I didn’t have. To be resentful at the lack of a supportive wife and loving children. Instead, I took stock of what I did have; freedom. A commodity many would wish for and in a perverse way; a gift from alcohol. In the words of Kris Kristofferson “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose,” and I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had lost so much self-respect that I no longer cared what people thought. So failure held no real threat anymore. I had moved towns so often my only real friends and family lived two hundred miles away. I was alone but I was free to start again.

Slowly, I rebuilt. Slowly, I took steps forward. Slowly, I began to see results. Eventually, I started to see that I was steering the ship, not alcohol. A scary thought to begin with. Each new hurdle, each new test, each achievement all went to create something new; self-belief. Real self-belief. Not arrogance masking a boy in a man’s body. Actual confidence and self-awareness.

When I used alcohol, I used my toxic tongue to hurt people emotionally. In sobriety, I’ve been hurt. I regret what I did. I have apologised were I could. I didn’t do it because I wanted to feel better. I did it because I didn’t understand what it felt like for someone else to make you feel bad. When I drank nobody could make me feel worse than I made myself feel.

Acting humble and climbing down from my fragile tower, changed my outlook. And hurt my pride but it needed to happen. I needed to purge my system not only of the poison I was drinking but the toxic, negative thinking.

Slowly, the clouds began to clear. It was a complete and utter transformation but it took time.

Why am I saying all this? I just wanted to share this as a reminder that people can recover. Not only recover from drinking but also negative thinking and turn it around. Even people who never believed in themselves for years. A LOT of years.

So please, don’t be THAT person. You are better than that. Be the person you want to be. That deep down you know you can be.

When alcohol loses its grip on the steering wheel. Take stock of what you’ve got; not what you haven’t. You can get the things you haven’t got and the things you TRULY want. Just point your life in that direction and go for it. It just takes time, patience and plan. Get to know you. You are fucking great. Don’t give yourself such a hard time. It only makes things worse. SLOWLY, it will happen. Just keep going. Keep trying and keep learning.

Who knows what you can achieve? I guess there is only one way to find out!

As for me? Now, five and a half years sober, I am two months into six months of travelling. So far it has exceeded my expectations. If ten years ago someone would have told me that at thirty-seven years old I would finally be in a position to do so I would have said “What drugs are you taking? Can I have some?” It has only been made possible by not drinking and the people I’ve met along the way. Not drinking alcohol allowed me to get an understanding of who I am and what I want. Even without travelling, my day to day thinking is just so much better now than it used to be. This is thanks to the beautiful people who share their stories and vulnerability with the world so that I am reminded where I came from. The positivity and support that pours from the words of people who once felt trapped and are now free. They know the heat of hell and lower a hand to wrench people free. I thank you all. You are a beautiful reminder of the light that can shine from us once we reconnect with our true selves.

And if you’re not there yet, keep going. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Not the light of a dimly lit bar that promises much but offers little. It is a genuine, positive and warming light that symbolises freedom. 

Charlie

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

How to cultivate a Positive Inner World!

It’s strange how things change. Years ago, I did anything to not have to be inside my head because it was a nasty place to be. Full of ruthless diatribes and words barbed for the sole purposes of hurting. It was a nasty neighbourhood that one day I chose to face. I didn’t think it was courageous. I didn’t think it was anything special. It was just something I had to do to get to where I wanted to be. My mindset was the obstacle to the life I wanted.

I couldn’t live the life I have now with the mindset I had then. Firstly, I didn’t believe that I was deserving of being happy. Secondly, I didn’t think I had the courage to pursue my dreams. Thirdly, I didn’t believe I was capable of making it happen. The journey of the last five years, through sobriety and now to here, has made me believe I have earned the right to be happy after years of misery. Also, I now know that I am capable of achieving things I never thought possible. And the path I walked has taught me that I am resilient.

I try not to be too proud but peoples reaction to my story is overwhelming. Their expression and congratulations is a surprise. Many profess that they wish they could do it. Or that they too wished they could stop drinking. Well if I have learned anything over the last few years it is that we are more capable than we give ourselves credit for. Sometimes it is easier to say “I won’t be able to do it,” because creating obstacles is easier than failing. The fear of failure stopped me trying for years. That was until I realised that I was the only obstacle. I was creating the blocks that were causing me so much misery. I was a captive to my own fear.

I wrestled control of my head back from fear. I began to listen to my inner chatter. The dialogue that was on a loop in my head. It was one of negativity and disdain. I started to speak more highly of myself, to myself. Not in an arrogant fashion. I just changed “You’re not good enough,” to “You are good enough.” Or I would say “I am enough.” These were monumental changes for me. I would look in the mirror and call myself all sorts of terrible names but thanks to changing my inner dialogue a bit at a time, my inner world became more positive. Until one day, I naturally thought “You’re doing okay, Charlie.” It was a turning point.

I then began to set myself little challenges. Little goals to test my mantle. Paying off debt. Not eating shit food for a certain amount of days. Saving money to visit a place. Reading books on self-improvement. Anything that I felt would progress me a little bit forward.

The three books above are three that I believe have offered the basis for the inner world that I have. I have read numerous books but these three allowed me to install a checkpoint between mental reaction and physical reaction. I can now intercept any unnecessary reaction by viewing it and asking why I am reacting that way. This is done automatically now. Before I was at the mercy of other peoples actions and my own emotions. (I’ve written about the other tools that helped here https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/07/13/my-sobriety-health-and-well-being-toolbox/)

It was slow progress and still today I can regress but it is only momentarily. To view myself as someone I now like after all those years of hatred is a gift. A gift I believe that is available to us all. We just have to wrestle control of our minds back from whoever has control. Many folks cling to previous experiences and allow the past to dictate their future. I would look at my previous record with women and allow it to dictate my future interactions. When another woman had left or passed me up I would shrug and say “Well it was bound to happen. It always does!” Now I meet women I would have thought out of my league a few years ago. Purely on the basis that I put the work in and created a place in my mind of calm and being centred.

I didn’t do it for that purpose, to meet women. I did it because I was sick to fucking death of feeling miserable. I was tired of living my life under a dark cloud. I was tired of thinking I was a piece of shit. It was like living with a parrot on my shoulder that constantly, and I mean constantly, spewed negativity about myself, the world and life.

Most of the shit I believed came from outside sources. Some of which I had carried through life believing it defined me. That doesn’t have to be the case. Many of the things, when reviewed through the eyes of an adult, were laughable but to a teenage me were devastating. I released them all. Harsh words from crushes that crushed me at the time and had defined my life. Bad breakups that I had repressed. Negative self-image. Negative self-worth. It was all there pushed deep down. Slowly, I turned it around and worked through it.

When I felt good in my mind I wanted to feel good everywhere. So my diet changed and the view of my body changed because I wanted it to be well. Before I didn’t care for myself or how I looked. Why would I? I mean I didn’t like me, so why would anyone else? After changing my mindset, I wanted to be fit. I loved my body and wanted to care for it. I wanted to stop poisoning it like I had done for all those years with alcohol and nicotine. So I changed my diet.

For me, it all is part of the same. If I eat shit food then I don’t feel great. I will reward hard work with a treat. If I go on a strenuous hike then I will eat something I wouldn’t normally; a cake, some ice cream or some chocolate. I try to avoid sugar the rest of the time, I found it alters my mood too much. It messes with the calm world I have cultivated and creates a dependence for energy. If I crave sugar I get it from fruit. I feel the addictive pull of sugar quite often, for example, I just made a coffee and thought “Have sugar in it” but thanks to cultivating that inner world, I am in control. It is a great feeling. It isn’t hard it just takes perseverance and the belief that it will be worth it in the end. It will be worth it in the end.

I remember the day I realised how I treated myself. I was looking in the mirror and thought “You look like shit!” That was the second time I had noticed my inner monologue. The first time was when it was calling for me to go to the pub for a drink.

The second time I felt like I had been blaming all the world for treating me like shit, when in fact it was myself. I vowed that day to stop treating myself in a way I wouldn’t accept from another person and I’m glad I did. I had been my own enemy for years and I’m now proud to have me as a friend.

Charlie

The fear of missing out

It’s Friday night and I’m in a hostel in Santa Monica. I am alone because everyone in the hostel has gone out drinking…

Rewind…

It is Friday night and I am in a hostel in Santa Monica. I am alone but not because everyone in the hostel is out drinking. I am laid in bed listening to music because tomorrow I start a tour and know my own company lacking be lacking. I even spoke to people who I could have gone out with. Even with this knowledge, there is still a tale being told by some relic of a hazy past, somewhere in my mind. It boldly explains how everyone in the whole building will be out tonight. Each will have the best night of their lives. This night will get better still as they walk into a pub and all meet the partner of their dreams. They will briefly chat before retiring back to their place to make soul connecting love forever bonded in bliss from that point onwards. For many years, that storyteller led me to the pub like the pide piper. Although when I got there I was surprised to find the pub was empty. I would stand in the empty bar and nearly get whiplash each time the pub door opened. It was never my ideal partner yet it never stopped me checking. It was almost as if I expected my saviour to walk into the pub, tap me on the shoulder and say “You don’t have to do this anymore. It’s going to be okay.”

So even after five years of sobriety and no longer falling for those tales, they still continue to dress up alcohol. If I listen I begin to believe that I am missing out. That I too will be granted with eternal bliss if I just venture out and have a “couple of drinks.” I am too wise now to fall for that schtick. I know that those people in the illusion aren’t wracked with self-doubt like many in reality. Many will fall out with good friends. Many will break down and cry over something not connected to the real reason they are crying. Some will find love. Some will be jolly and have great times that they will never remember. Some will be sick and many will regret it all tomorrow, though most will deem it a fair price to pay for a great night. Some will magically have a couple of drinks and stop there. Some will wish they could stop just for one day, just one fucking day without a drink to try and get a grip on reality because it all seems to be slipping away. They will cry tears of desperation and scream out of frustration. The alcohol stopped being fun years ago and the wolves howl loud, for the alcohol no longer defend their cries. That’s how the story ends for me.

The following morning I get up early and go for a run. The room smells like death and many of the people are passed out fully clothed on their beds. The stories I was being told the night before are now shown to be ridiculous. Thankfully I knew this before doing some research.

Self-righteousness isn’t a desirable trait but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Charlie. 12th September 2019.

Looking for answers in Tikal but finding more questions…

It was once said that “writing is easy. All you have to do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” Or something to that effect. I guess then that this is me searching for a vein. Searching for some beauty to pour onto paper. Or anything to express… something. The lack of routine, it pains me to say, is having an effect on my writing. I would write often when at home but now I am so pressed for time that I don’t make time to write. Yet I feel it inside yearning to let out. It is part of the routine that I have cultivated that keeps me on the straight and narrow. Writing, along with meditation, exercise and wellness, are the tools that allow me to travel. These things are my tools. Thankfully they are not location-dependent and I can practice one of, if not all of, them anywhere.

They are the brush that allows me to keep my side of the street clean. A compact, pocket-sized survival guide. Simple yet effective.

I am thankfull I have those tools. Yesterday, I believed that $70 had been stolen out of my rucksack in a hotel. I was annoyed but instead of flying off the handle I just took a moment. I took a moment to process the anger, some of which was aimed at myself for being naïve and leaving money in an insecure location. After a while, the waters inside had calmed and the ripples abated. I wanted to point fingers and fly off the handle but I figured it would do no good. Thankfully, I didn’t because when I checked my other bag it was in there. By the time I checked, I had already concluded that it was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. To find it again was a nice surprise and also a reminder that my emotions are still there. That I will still be tested when I am even having the time of my life. Also, that my emotions can get the better of me and that can ruin my day, week, vacation if I let it.

The things I am doing currently and the places I am visiting is hard to take in. I am seeing places that I only dreamed of. Places like Tikal, Guatemala. It’s almost like a movie set. It is so magical. The wildlife choruses around the site as I walk around, which adds another layer of wonder. The life that the builders of these mystical places had must have been horrific. Lifting and carrying enormous blocks on their backs in hot and humid conditions must have been unbearable. Their hard work isn’t lost on me as I take in the sights with awe. I try to get a feel for the place but the constant chatter of the people around me is a distraction. Can’t people be quiet for a second? Just a second to appreciate the magic that is available to us in that very moment. They stand on a temple in Guatemala yet talk about places far away from here. In the brief interludes of nonsense, silence fills the air. Bringing with it a sense of serenity and peace. Only for it to be lost on the words of someone. It remains me of the chaos that used to batter my mind like a tornado. The manic monkey running rampant, constantly taking me out of the moment and into another world. It doesn’t take much to calm it down but many people find it easier to blame the world than to shoulder the blame. Facing the inner demons is scary but like many things, the fear is just an illusion.

I climb down from the temple in search of a bit of peace. In the hope of feeling what it is to stand in this magical place. I spot a temple that has either collapsed or was unfinished. Nature has taken it over and regained its place. Much of life is the same; we are at war with nature for space. The earth isn’t ours it is just on loan from nature. Many places show that without us nature returns and restores life to areas that we had made lifeless. The ongoing battle reminds me of temptation. The world is constantly serving up offers to appease our hedonistic desires. Alcohol, nicotine, drugs, sex, food, shopping are only a fingertip away for many now. Without control of that manic monkey running wild, I am not in control. I am at the behest of those desires. The desires that dictated my life for so long. I would point the finger and blame life for my problems. I knew deep down that I was the fucking problem but I just didn’t have the courage to look inward. I was a coward. Then one day I decided to try. For that, I am very grateful. I give a lot of thanks to people but often forget to thank myself. This is through the fear of becoming arrogant. I worked hard to shake off the arrogance that filled my life. Back when I thought life owed me favour yet my inner world was one of a coward. I swaggered through life with a false front, a mask, hiding the child inside. I thank myself now for attempting to change, having the tenacity to see it through and to reap the reward. I am content and comfortable in my own skin. For that I am grateful.

I answer the same questions often regarding my past. “Why don’t you drink? Did you used to?” The story I tell is getting shorter. It isn’t my story anymore. It is slipping away. The past is a bolder residing somewhere. It is no longer holding me back. The Mayans carried huge stones on their backs for the entirety of their short lives. Mentally many of us do the same. Shoulder the burden of some previous interaction or experience and allow it to taint the pallette of our future. The thoughts of the experience and the experience are separated. The thoughts can be changed the experience cannot. It can be released. I cannot even begin to explain how I treated myself mentally. The words that I would use to describe myself to myself. I would not tolerate it from another person yet I tolerated it from myself for two decades nearly. It would be easy to sit and moan about how I used to talk to myself internally but why dwell? My life is in front of me now.

I have been blessed with a shit life, so said, Charles Bukowski. I tend to agree. The trails and tribulations. The tests and moments of despair were like a chisel to a block of marble. Each one another part of the complete product. At the time I would bemoan my misfortune and cry foul of life. I would consume more in the belief that it was the key to happiness. The same as banging my head against the wall and expecting it to cure my headache. More and more stuff. More and more displeasure. I didn’t see it at the time but it was a path I had to walk down. I had to try it to realise it wasn’t for me. I knew it deep down but I needed proof. It wasn’t until I proclaimed that enough was enough that contentment became accessible. The illusionary competition that is played out on a daily basis seemed redundant when I realised there is no winner. Ultimately we are here for a finite amount of time. Why spend it in a state of misery if you don’t have to?

When I first stopped drinking I thought I would be free but I realised that debt was keeping me from being free. It was a chain that stopped me being free. An anxiety-inducing one to boot. I would worry about paying my bills. Then I realised that I was a fool. A fool borrowing money to buy shit I didn’t need. Purely because I was too much of a coward to pursue the life I wanted.

Freedom is an interesting concept that has perplexed philosophers and thinkers throughout the ages. Currently, we are free to buy. Where once we were free to build. Freedom maybe existed before the creation of societies. I find the modern lifestyle of consumption detrimental to my human spirit. It is dehumanising. The idea of putting economics in front of human interests has to be dehumanising by its very nature. By design. People consume everything, “How many countries have you been to?” is a question I hear. Why? When did that become a competition as well? Why does no one ask “What have you learned? How has it changed you? Have the experiences you have had ignited your soul? Have they broken down your very being and made you question the very nature of existence?” Or is it just another list? Another thing to say?

All of what I used to think was important is unravelling. Football and politics were things I once held dear. Now I see them as another tactic to separate. Logging into facebook shows this clearly playing out.

Away from all of that, I am left with my core. My ability to connect with other human beings and share moments of great beauty and wonder. I am beginning to understand what it means to be present. In this moment, nearly everything in life is out of my control. All I can do is point myself in the direction I wish to travel and control is my reaction to circumstances that arise along the way. Things are as important as I chose to make them. I am liberated. I am alive. I am maybe the closest I will ever be to being free.

Charlie.

How travelling the world is changing my inner world

Moments occur one after another. Each one destroys the last and replaces it with something improved. My mind expanded and my soul branded. Not every moment is one of expected wonder. A simple bus ride, where I slip in my headphones. The opening chords of This Charming Man pour into my being. It feels like Johnny Marr is playing my soul. The music adds another layer of wonder to the world passing me by as the bus makes it’s way to Palenque. I feel this way because I practice gratitude. I try to love each moment. Fuck living in the moment. Love the moment and if I can’t then I create moments I can love. Life is short. Too short to spend it as a prisoner of my own negativity.

Palenque is a wonderful sight that poses many questions. There is a wonderful vibrancy in the air which was helped by the fact there were few tourists when I was there. The guide explained that when the farming season was over the rulers of the time needed to keep the people busy so they had them building. They used fear to keep them in line and busyness to keep them distracted. I thought it sounded like a similar formula that has been used throughout time. I asked how Palenque isn’t better known and he said that Chichen Itza was closer to Cancun so it receives more traffic. I have to admit that the complex of Palenque, considering only 5% is uncovered, was far superior to Chichen Itza. The location and the building combine to make it an eerie yet spectacular experience. The trees break the sunlight to create an environment straight from a fairy tale. Even the relentless heat can do nothing to deter my exploration.
Many of the places I have visited in Mexico so far raise the question not only did they build many of these places but what is our true potential. What are we capable of? What world are we capable of creating?

Maybe Herbert Marcuse, in One-dimensional man, was right about the counter-culture being the ones that will change the world. As more and more young people seek out experiences over materialism. Many have their eyes opened and feel a deeper connection to the people they meet than the people they know back home. Kindred spirits seeking a connection. A reality that isn’t artificial. Some have tried the normal way of life and have found it vacuous. A shallow existence that doesn’t cater to the greatest human experience. Life as a foie gras goose is not in everyone’s interest. Life is a varied and exciting existence for many. One of wonder and beauty. One of divine moments. Interwoven and always happening. If we choose to see them.

I never saw them until I took a step back and looked at life. Watched it happening. That’s when I began to see how insane the whole thing is. Normality included. An existence of clinging to a constant in a world of change is like kicking water uphill. Yet we claim it to be the best option and fear change. People on the tube dressed in colourless clothes with deadened expressions claiming to be victorious in life. We should be looking and laughing at the madness of it all. All the divisions that keep us from collaborating when looked at with impartiality are clearly laughable. Bread and circuses. Created to keep us fighting and producing. Just like those temple builders. I bet they gave themselves a pat on the back for a job well done and all.

“But we have to work!” of course but we could internalise the process of contentment and thus reduce the need for ever-increasing consumption. Defined by the labels, lost and unsure of who we are. The thoughts don’t align with reality. So instead of listening to ourselves we suppress the thoughts and try to shoehorn ourselves into lives that don’t suit. Moments can’t be appreciated because the nature of life is now escapism from the thought that something is amiss. That life is passing us by with ever-increasing pace just like the busyness we use to distract.

The question that I keep asking myself is “Am I just consuming experiences? Am I just escaping just like everyone else?”
For example, I was heading down a river in a speed boat. A beautiful European woman next to me. I was humbled by the magnitude of the mountains either side. Their size a reminder that I am but a tiny part of this huge world. A small piece that has the capacity to do great harm or great good, it is but a choice. At this moment, I get the thought that it is a dream. That the speed boat, the woman and the moment will one day be nothing more than a memory. Because eventually, I will have to return to reality. I am not living my life I am on parole from reality and one day I will return. I could have dwelled on this thought. I could have let it ruin my moment, my day, my travels but I didn’t. I accepted that it was a possibility but I know not what the future holds. The thought dissipated and I return to being humbled by the mountains.

My head can trip me up if I let it. I can be my own worst enemy or my own best friend. I can ruin my day or make it great. It is perception. It is a lot easier to do when the scenery is a constant barrage of beauty. The Gulf of Mexico offers a fantastic distraction from the long bus journeys. Pristine beaches, populated only by a variety of birds, presents an image straight out of a holiday brochure. People all around me on the bus stare into mobile phones. Their minds elsewhere. They are removed from the moment. Living someone else’s illusion.

If scenery is food for the eyes then nature is my favourite restaurant.

As now I don’t have an answer to why I am travelling. Originally, it was a gift to myself for reaching five years without a drink but I am getting so much more from it than seeing the sights. I know so far my confidence has grown. My Spanish has improved marginally. I have a love for Tacos that I didn’t have before. I have made friends with people from all over the world. I feel present and in love with life. But if I only feel that way whilst travelling then isn’t it just another, healthier form of escapism as drink or drugs? Time will tell but if it makes me feel this connected then the only option may be to keep travelling and become a digital nomad.

How do you walk back into reality after dancing in paradise?


Charlie

Finding peace in Playa Del Carmen

I am up and out for a jog through the empty early morning streets. The peace is a welcome break from the constant bombardment of offers for massages, Cuban cigars and marijuana which happens during the day and night.

I do a lap and return for breakfast. It is only 8am and the October sun is already as warm as an English summers afternoon, a welcome return after days of thunderstorms. I decide that there is only one option in this place with this weather, the beach. I take a towel, sunscreen, a bottle of water and myself. I do not want to be concerned by my possessions laying on the beach while I am in the sea nor do I want distracting by my mobile phone. I want peace. I want to be present. I am not a holiday maker trying to escape a reality that will be knocking on the door in a couple of weeks but I want the feeling of freedom.

It is only a short walk to the beach where I find myself surrounded by hotels. All of which seem to have staked a claim of a proportion of the beach. This is not what I was looking for. A voice from a tannoy system shouts instructions of contrived fun to the people who clearly want to be left alone to drink and sunbathe. I cut across the beach and past a fisherman hauling in his nets under the watchful eye of the seagulls. The smell reminds me of my hometown. The fisherman wishes me well and I return the gesture. The sun is already punishing the beach. Scores of Mexicans brave the heat to earn some money raking the pungent seaweed that has a reputation on these beaches. The smell is of the sea and not unbearable. They will never be out of work in this job, as there is a constant supply of seaweed it would seem.

Within two minutes I am offered a massage. Within five minutes I am offered three. I continue to walk until I find a spot near Residences El Faro. I drop my meagre possessions in the shade of a palm tree and make my way into the water. The sea doesn’t have the postcard clear blue colour that Cancun has but it is warm. I lay back and let the saline sea take my weight. It is peaceful yet the chatter of two people in a language I don’t know is in increasing in volume. I look up to see a woman and what appears to be her teenage daughter looking tentatively at the water. Slowly and suspiciously they make their way into the water, they appear surprised like I was by the temperature. Peace resumes.

A scream shatters the moment, I look up to see the daughter dancing around in the water as she heads for the shore. Her mannerisms suggest that she thinks she has been bitten or stung. Her mother’s mannerisms suggest that she has been brushed by some seaweed. The moment is comical. The difference in concern and then the daughters further upset by the mother’s lack of concerns is amusing. I have no idea what is being said. I decide to venture further up the beach.

More offers for massages push me further up the beach. I only wanted some peace. I eventually reach the ferry terminal and consider turning back but opt to continue. Once I am on the other side of the terminal there appears to be very little. There is one guy renting out jetski’s and then there appears to be nothing. I continue onwards and there are very few people. The only noise is the waves crashing down onto the golden sand. I walk for a couple more minutes enjoying the moment and just as I am about to sit, I see the sea is blue further up the beach. I walk a little quickly for the weather as sweat pours from me but after ten minutes I am greeted with a beautiful scene. The sea is blue, the sand is golden and the people are few. I drop my things onto the sand and walk into the sea.
Refreshed, I apply some suntan lotion and lay on the warm sand. My feet tickled every now and then by the waves. Almost to remind me not to fall asleep. I engage with my thoughts as I lay there, my pale skin withering under the Mexican sun. There are no thoughts. There is no draw to check my mobile phone. There is no urgency to be productive. I am present. I am content. The only thing on the agenda is to embrace this moment and cherish it, for they are rare. A moment were everything comes together. When the heat, beauty and peace outside reflect the world I try to hold inside.

I realise that my complexion will dictate the length of my stay. A factor out of my control. So I make my way back into the sea and clean the sand off before going back to the beach to cook my back. As I walk back to the beach from the sea, I notice people have arrived. Many are sitting alone and reading. They are sun-seekers seeking silence. I thank them for playing a part in this wonderful moment.

After a couple of hours, I have to admit defeat. I want to stay forever but my skin is already reddening. I gather my things and make a slow walk back to the hotel. I pass the parts that I dismissed earlier and notice the people still clambering for peace. If they would only walk twenty minutes up the beach they would be greeted with their own sanctuary. A place of connectivity to the soul and the sea. One of beauty. One of true peace.

I guess I am thankful that they didn’t.

Charlie

A decade after seeking help

It gets easier as I go along. The worries that used bounce frantically around my mind at night keeping me awake, no longer show up. I never thought I would be free from this. I never thought I would be free from the ominous depression that hung on me like a lead life jacket. The weight of my problems keeping me in bed for long periods of time. I thought it was the end. I thought there was no escape yet here I am today; liberated and content. What changed? One day I decided that to die trying to change it was better than to die not trying. I was left with two options, in the end, suicide or asking for help. The thought of asking for help made me feel weak, a failure as a man and an all-round worthless piece of shit. I was already so low that I was contemplating suicide but the thought of asking for help pushed me lower. There is the problem. The fact that we live in a time where everyone is equal and all that flannel yet the majority of suicide victims are men. I can understand why. Because even coming from an open and loving family were communication is encouraged I still couldn’t reach out when I needed to. I felt emasculated. Regardless of what people say a man needs purpose and strength. Even though I had the strength and all those things I felt like a failure as a man. To ask for help was to denounce my masculinity. But like I said: I had to try and turn it around. I don’t know why. I don’t know what made me pick the phone up and call the doctor. I do know that the journey to the doctor was like walking in concrete shoes, tears streaking my face like rain on a train window. I slowly made my way there my pride destroyed. I felt like a failure.

My name was called and I went in. I told him the score. I told him that I couldn’t carry on living like this. I was a mess. He offered medication but I declined I wanted to talk to someone about this. I wanted it gone. I was fucking sick of not living but tired of living. I was sick of life kicking sand in my face. I was put on this planet to do something, we all are. I didn’t want to spend it in bed crying and berating myself as I had done for the previous year. I wanted help or I wanted out. He arranged for me to speak to someone. That day changed my entire life.
I went and spoke to the counsellor and felt so much better. It wasn’t an instantaneous fix but it got a LOT of shit off my chest. A lot of shit that I once believed held dominion over me lost its power in the air of that room. As soon as I left that is where the work started. The counsellor just cleared enough bullshit for me to start to compartmentalise things. I’d read a shit load of philosophy, psychology and Buddhism over the years when I was seeking a solution to the low-level angst that dulled most days. Thanks to this I knew that my thoughts were mine. The reason I had got into the position of being so depressed was because I hadn’t been dealing with shit. I had been pushing it down to be dealt with later, never to be seen again. When shit got real and I lost my job, all that shit came back, magnified and demanding to be dealt with. That is what I started to do. A bit at a time. A minute at a time. I started to meditate and learn the difference between thoughts and reality. As I would get anxious over future events, or to be more exact, the potential outcome of future events. I would always think about the worse possible outcome. This stopped me from trying things. The thought of failing kept me from living.

To push myself out of this pit of despair I got some voluntary work a few months after the session. I remember going there and the lady asking if I was there to help or there for help. That’s the state I was in. I used to walk down the street self-conscious about the way I was walking. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and felt like an alien. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. It didn’t matter how bad I felt I didn’t want to go back to laying in bed with negative thoughts swirling around my head, chastising and mocking me continually.

The counsellor said to me that “the pieces will fall into place,” and he’s right. That voluntary work leads me into a job in a care home and then into the teaching profession. I just kept going and growing from that point onward. Slowly. Sometimes a backwards step but always a lesson learned. It seemed impossible at the time. I seemed like a failure and a worthless piece of shit with no right to life. It just seemed that if I had nothing to lose then I might as well try.

Well, ten years later and I am sitting in Mexico City airport typing this in a cafe. I am on my way to Cancun, alone. I am now comfortable with who I am. I am trying not to cry at the thought of the journey I have made from that point to this. From despising who I was to being content in my own company. That how all the fucking nonsense I believed about being a failure stopped me getting help for so long, when really I should have reached out earlier. The experience freed me from the illusion of expectation. It allowed the person I thought I should be die and the person I truly was come to the fore. Being myself enabled my confidence to flourish as my inner world and outer world aligned for the first time in decades. I was free to be myself. The experience did result in a suicide but one of my ego not of my physical being. I was humbled by the experience and how people helped me. I write this to try to pay it forward and to encourage people, like me, who are to afraid to attempt to change, to at least try.


If you’ve been to the place I’m referring to. If you know the isolation that I felt. I want you to know you are not alone. That I to was once there and that I too didn’t believe it would ever get better but slowly it did. I implore you to try because like me you will astound yourself. I am now who I never ever thought I would be. It just started one day ten years ago and each day since has been a step towards today. A step towards contentment and an outlook on life that I never thought possible.


Charlie.

An attitude of gratitude

Sitting on top of the sun pyramid at Teotihuacan, I can see the sights I’d googled a thousand times before. Now, I was here. Like many things over the past few weeks, it didn’t seem real. Like a dream that I would awake from and be trapped back in that old life, the one of drunken misery. I take a deep breath and smell the air. The sun is radiant and warm against my skin. I walk over to the side of the Pyramid, in a quiet spot, to take it all in. Just like I did at the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, watching the sunset at the golden gate bridge and Yosemite, I say thank you.

Thank you
For your support when I needed it
For your direction when I was lost
For your hand when I fell
For your kind words, you didn’t know were kind
I am eternally grateful. You reside in my thoughts always and dwell in my heart forever. Without you, I am no one. Without your support I have nothing. You made me realise my potential and helped me find my strength. I take this moment to wish you well.

I do this to ground myself. To stop my head claiming all the glory for the life I now have. It isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, it is aimed at many people collectively; Friends, family, lovers, acquaintances and anyone I’ve met along the way. I have to do this to remind myself where I came from and how quickly I can go back there if I take it for granted. Just like the people, my sobriety will disappear if I don’t continue to nurture my relationship with it.

As usual, the saying of thank you brings a tear to my eye as the realisation that I am sitting on top of the pyramid sinks in. Another deep breath to stop the tears. Why me? How did this happen? One day I was slumped against a bar drinking myself into ill health and financial ruin. And now I am liberated. The only answer I have is because I asked for it and I was prepared to do whatever it took to get to where I wanted to be. If that means taking a moment to thank the people who helped me, then so be it. If it means meditating. Being open and honest. If that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll do it because I don’t want to go back to that bar and that life. I don’t want to attach the chains I fought to be free from. I have come too far.

Drinking isn’t my issue anymore. That ship has long sailed. When I talk about sobriety I am referring to a mindset that I have cultivated over the past five years. A mind-set that is the polar opposite of the one that kept me prisoner in my own life. I now take action and pursue goals. I take responsibility and own my shit. I am down the line and decisive. I understand that failure is a possibility but it will hopefully teach me something. I take chances and follow dreams. Why? Because quitting drinking gave me the option to become who I was meant to be.

I climb down from the Pyramid taking in the sights around me. I am alone. Yet the people I say thanks to are with me. Their words and actions are embedded in my soul. I take them everywhere, I will never forget them. I spent years trying to fight the need for help. I would exclaim that I didn’t need help. Yet, behind a thin veil, I was falling apart. I cannot believe that person was me. I cannot believe that this is where I ended up and who I ended up becoming. As my feet touch the ground I look back up the Pyramid, the steps are steep and the fall treacherous.

I would never have seen the sights I saw if I wasn’t prepared to take a chance.

I join up with the people on the tour. They don’t know my story. They treat me like a normal person. We share tales of our travels and talk about future adventures. Our discussion is broken by the tour guide explaining that as a surprise we are going to a tequila and Mescal tasting afternoon. My mind races off like the fishing line in Jaws. I don’t strike. I know how this ends up. If I try to reel in the line, the fight then ensues; What will I say?, There will be questions, I will be made to feel different and so on. I know I can let the thought tire itself out; I will just say “No thank you!” is my deciding action. The thoughts and anxiety dissipate. I will deal with any further questions as and when they arise if they do at all because very really do people care. Years back I would have been sweating at the proposition of being in such a situation. Now it is such a regular occurrence that it is normal. Perfectly normal. It was always perfectly normal, it is my outlook that has changed not the world’s view of me. It helps that I know I can call on those people who are with me. If it gets on top then I can call them up and talk it out. I am in tune enough with my emotions to know myself… What a strange thought. I used alcohol to escape myself for more than a decade. I despised who I was and yet now I can comfortably travel the world alone. Confident and calm. Comfortable and proud.

It isn’t the sights that astound me it is myself. That I found something within I never believed I had until I tried.

I used to dismiss overcoming addiction as easy when people would praise me. I couldn’t handle it. I was still lacking the self-respect needed to accept that I had overcome a challenge. On reflection, it wasn’t easy. I went through pain, isolation and at times an utter fucking nightmare to get to where I am but when I drank life was like that every day anyway. The start of sobriety was hard because there was no escape. The sound got turned up and the emotions came crashing down but it didn’t take long to learn to surf. I have been sober over five years and I have been through some shit in that time. None of it made me feel anywhere near as bad as the average day when I was drinking. So yeah it was hard but no harder than I was used to. I find it strange that I lived in a place mentally and emotionally of such darkness and despair. Yet, now I want to share positivity, love and support. I guess it can only be because those are the things that got me out of that place. Love and support set me on the path to recovery. It was the antidote I needed. The words of people who understood what it was like and who understood me. It made me feel human again. It made me feel accepted after years of feeling isolated from myself and the world. Without them, I would still be there, alone and isolated.

That’s why is say thank you.

It is the least i can do,

Charlie.

Stories from sobriety; Leaving Las Vegas… Sober.

Two words fill me with dread; Party Bus. A party bus in Las Vegas in no less.  

Part of the tour I had booked included a party bus and a nightclub entry. I have to be honest even after a few years of sobriety, the proposition made me uncomfortable but not for the same reasons it would have done years ago. This time I wasn’t uncomfortable with the inevitable carnage, it is Vegas after all. I was uncomfortable with the fact of being uncomfortable. With all the uncomfortable questions and the proposition of being excluded. To counteract this potential I had a couple of options; decline the invitation or go along maintain a sense of fun and not be a misery. I chose the latter.

Sobriety is a duty that I have to perform in order to lead the way for more people to step up.

With it being Vegas I overindulged in my drug of choice; caffeine. A few red bulls and a five-hour energy, wild I know and I was throwing shapes with the best of them. I know I shouldn’t have to perform but fuck them, the drinkers I mean. I want people to know that a good time can be had without imbibing alcohol.   The contrived nature of the party bus made it feel forced but the club we went to after enabled a sense of space. I busted some moves and threw a giant smile when people moaned about paying $14 for a bottle of bud light. I felt like the representative for sober people and think I did them proud. Then the tables are turned “I don’t know how you do it without alcohol?” My answer; “Try it. It’s more fun than you think.”  

Eventually, the caffeine wore off and I hit the wall but had done my bit to show that things are still possible in sobriety. I survived a night on the tiles in the city of sin and my sobriety stood firm. When I drank I had nothing but drinking. Now I have everything thanks to sobriety. Without it I have nothing. No social pressure, no sin city, nobody, can change that fact. To drink would meaning losing a  bet I made against myself 5 years ago. I didn’t think I would make it. How wrong was I? Each day now I pause, just for a minute, as if I’ve only just realised what is happening. That my life and I have completely changed over the last five years, beyond the point of recognition. At thirty-seven years old, I wish I had done it sooner. I wish I realised that I had the strength to do it younger. I wish I didn’t wait until I was completely fucked before making the change. If you are older start today. If you are younger start today. Don’t wait for it to fall apart.  

The following day, I was awake early and went for breakfast… with a huge sugar/caffeine comedown. So it wasn’t all plain sailing but it was close enough to a hangover that I would want to get. It is an interesting place Las Vegas, kinda like being at a music festival. With performers and music playing, people getting bang on it and losing more than just money. There was plenty to do other than drinking and gambling so my original fears were not really needed. Initially, I wasn’t looking forward to going to Vegas but even in sobriety, it turned out to be a fun experience. Although, I’m not sure I could have stayed more than the couple of nights that I did though. The rollercoasters were fun and just walking around was an experience.

I left with no stories of destruction but one story of strength. My pride intact and sobriety’s stock risen.

The message from this is that even in the epicentre of temptation, collapsing to expectation isn’t necessary. In fact, it is detrimental. I think of it like this; Is everything I have worked for in sobriety worth one cliché story about Vegas? In fact, is it worth one cliché story about the weekend? Is it worth one night on the piss because someone annoyed me that day? Of course, it isn’t. My sobriety is the energy that shines the light into all areas of my life. Without it, there is darkness and despair. I was there for too long to go back. So I don’t play about with sobriety. I don’t tempt fate or put myself into situations like this too often. A one-off is doable for me. A constant life of party buses would push me over the edge.

I had spent the night prior to Vegas in monument valley, underneath the stars. The wind whipping sand around me as I laid looking up at the fantastic scenery that was silhouetted against the unbridled beauty of the night sky. It’s a great metaphor for the transition that I feel I have undertaken. Vegas being the chaos, carnage and self-destruction and monument valley being the peace, serenity and connectivity that is available when I remove my self from the former.  

Along with the serenity and calm, I have a sense of strength. I will not budge, some smart arse kept offering me a beer in Vegas but I just smirked and said: “ask me again tomorrow.” I wish I had thought of a better retort because he kept asking me. Maybe he thought I genuinely meant ask me again tomorrow. Thankfully, incidents like that are rear but I do sometimes feel that I am fighting convention by not drinking.

That sobriety is an act of revolution; throwing down the chains and saying “no more to a life of chaos.”

Life doesn’t have to be a cluster fuck of drama interspersed with fragments of contentment. My life previously was the equivalent of living with a pyromaniac who was always starting fires and I would rush around constantly putting them out. Sobriety means evicting the pyro and any other unnecessary shit from my life. I keep it simple and don’t get involved in anyone else’s battles, unless completely necessary. I try to handle situations as and when they arise, where possible. I walk with ease and my mind is at rest. I have come a long way from the anxious, unconfident, misfit that I spent many years unnecessarily living as.  

I feel like a badge carrier for the sober movement. An ambassador for freedom and the potentiality of living without alcohol. That my failure is the failure of many. I don’t see it as extra pressure, I see it as a duty, as a reason to keep going and keep living. To show the people who are where I was that it is not only possible to quit drinking but that it is possible to venture into the imagination and bring it out as reality.  

I want my message to be the hand that someone finds when they are drowning in the madness because if I can inspire just one person to make the change to get their life on track then the years of shit I waded through will have been worth it.

Charlie

Sobriety; The greatest investment I ever made…

My expectations in early sobriety were that my life was over. That I would don my retirement slippers, buy a pipe and rock myself to a slow death reminiscing about the “Glory days” of old. It wasn’t much of a proposition if I’m honest but it seemed a damn sight more promising than the road I was heading own; my anxiety was rampant, my debt was out of control, my life was chaos and I was exhausted by all the plate spinning. The worse my life got the more I drank and the worse my life got. In hindsight, it was blatant cause and affect. At the time I was oblivious.   

Sobriety was boring in the beginning. Mostly due to the fact that I had nothing to do other than drink. Without a drink, I had nothing to do. I sat twiddling my thumbs until one day I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to do something.  

Nothing changes if nothing changes!

One minute at a time. One foot in front of the other. I slowly made progress until I was so far from drinking and the rocking chair that moments began to happen that I couldn’t comprehend. Wonderful experiences that reached deep into my soul and reminded me of what it was to be alive. Meeting people who are blown away by the story of how it all turned around and that I crawled from the pit of despair and now was sharing a mind-shattering moment with them. Their respect and genuine awe for the effort it must have taken is a lifetime away from the response that I expected in those early days. I expected people to not really be interested. I expected to be shunned by women for not drinking. I saw sobriety as the mark of the beast. The one who will be banished from society. Impossible to be cool and accepted. Always to be viewed as different.

My experience has been completely different from this. Most recently I met a young woman, who, many years ago, I would have considered impossible to attract. The alcohol I consumed, consumed my self-confidence and I resorted to skulking the corners of the pubs I frequented. Living in the shadows like an operatic antihero viewing the normal people with intrigue and suspicion.

Yet now I fear not for I own my sobriety. I wear it as a badge of honour. It is a hero’s journey that I struggled through to become the person I am today. Somewhere between confident and arrogant. Sure of my ability and aware of my weaknesses. Proud to be human again after years of zombification including the emotions that come with it. I share my tale like a Greek epic. Casting myself in the lead role. Relishing the spotlight after all those years in the darkness.

I was on a tour around America with a group, Marni was one of them. Some years younger than myself, beautiful and cool. I’d dismissed my attraction due to the age difference but when some competition arrived I realised that to not act would be foolish. The potentialities came to life in my head, both positives and the negatives. In the drinking days, the negatives always, and I mean always, won. But not this time. The potential to hook up with such a beautiful woman would demonstrate a level of personal growth that I never expected to happen. “What the fuck am I going to do?” was a prominent thought. “A few wines” had been the dutch courage but now I was left wanting. No alcohol to fall on I had to attempt to step up to the plate, sober. I mean I had done it previously but not with someone I considered this beautiful. After we had talked for a while the topic of my not drinking came up. In times before, I would shirk the question and make up some excuse but I decided to be honest. “That shows incredible strength,” was not a response I was expecting but it was the one I got. Over the course of the night, we grew closer and Marni said “You baffle me. How do you deal with things?” It turns out that keeping my side of the street clean translates to being decisive and assertive. Things I could never have considered myself many years ago when life pushed me around and I got what life was giving not what I wanted. It was an eye-opening experience. The time we spent together was fleeting and life dictates that our paths will diverge but Marni will be added to the list of “thank you’s” I say in the quieter moments when I am purveying some scenery or life experience that is only possible due to my sobriety. I say thank you to the people who helped me along the way, who reached down when I had fallen, who stepped forward when I asked for help and who knew the heat from the flames of hell also. Marni will start a new list; the list of people who helped me grow on a personal level. For she made me realise that not everyone is as judgemental about people in recovery as I thought. Also, she made me see there is life in this old alky yet and that I am still on the path to becoming the best version of myself. Many more journeys await. Many more life lessons will be learned.

Every day now I venture forward into a life that I could never have expected to have. I cannot believe that this is where I am. I was smashed to pieces years ago. So much so that drawing parallels between that life and this one still brings tears of disbelief. I cannot express any more gratitude because my vocabulary doesn’t allow it but I implore anyone who is teetering on the decision to take a shot at a dream, who believes alcohol, drugs or any addiction is the barrier, to give up the addiction and pursue that dream. I stand as a testament, that with perseverance and a tad of tenacity, life can become a surreal adventure into the realms of fantasy. The universe now opens doors and ushers me through. I am prepared for most things and no longer avoid emotional pain. It is a recurring theme in life but it is a lesson that I had/have to learn. Some about other people. Some about myself. All valuable.  

Sobriety has been the cheapest investment I ever made and the returns are out of this world. I encourage you to get in early.


Charlie