It’s just a word, alcoholic, but the history and imagery give it weight. Even in this world of gender fluidity and obesity normalisation, the word alcoholic is still synonymous with defective.
The threat of being a pariah in a world awash with alcohol stopped me from seeking help. I thought I was too good for that label. It was beneath me. For I was, and can still be, a judgmental bastard sometimes. I assumed that the imagery of the word was the word itself. An alcoholic was a bum in alleyway with a brown bag of mentholated spirits. Rotten teeth. No name but in the image they all deserve to be there. No one ends up like that who doesn’t deserve it? I guess the lie I had to tell myself. I walked a fine line trying not to be labelled an “alky.”
Even after twelve weeks of alcohol counselling that I’d attended on doctors orders, I was relieved to hear the counsellor say that I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was a “problem” drinker. It was like the golden ticket in Charlie and the chocolate factory. I was free to taste what the Wonka brewery had to offer. I would stand, swaying and drunk, defending my label of “problem drinker” against accusations of being an alcoholic. I wore it like a badge of honour. Like it meant everything was okay. Everything was not okay. Far from it. Eventually, I accepted that I was an alcoholic.
To me, the term alcoholic means a person who can’t stop drinking once they start. That’s all. A recovering alcoholic is someone who figured this out!
I have thought long and hard about how I got to be an alcoholic. Was I born an alcoholic? Or was I created over a period of misuse? Probably a combination of both. I never put a cross on a calendar and said: “that is the day I became an alcoholic!” I just noticed that my life started going wrong and then my health followed. My health followed because I had to drink more to block out the fact my life was going wrong. My life then… you get the idea. It ended badly put it that way.
What I do know is that I was a sensitive soul and alcohol gave me an escape. It just fitted the bill. It was almost the piece that I thought I lacked to make me whole. It was a shortcut to completion while simultaneously denying me the knock backs in life that I needed to grow. Instead of adjusting and learning, I stagnated and became maladjusted. Emotionally stunted and frustrated. I took that into adulthood.
My friend recently said on a podcast “if you are drinking to change the way you feel then maybe have a look at your drinking,” I wish I’d heard that sooner. I wish I’d learned to face adversity and take the rough with the smooth. I learned the hard way. I had to be broken to change my life. I am so grateful for the journey of addiction and recovery. Both have been hard lessons but I have a history of learning the hard way. Or as it should be known the “unnecessary way!”
“It takes a wise man to learn from his mistakes. It takes an even wiser man to learn from others.”
Recovery meant taking a chance at a life without the warm security of escapism. It meant risking being labelled an alcoholic. It meant sacrifice. It meant walking down roads I had avoided and asking questions I had avoided asking. It meant sacrificing my love of alcohol for a chance at happiness.
The sacrifice of alcohol has given me many benefits. The most important ones are behavioural and emotional characteristics that have happened thanks to living life without escaping. These lessons have allowed me to build on the aspects of my life that I had ignored.
I’m not just recovering from alcohol addiction. I’m also recovering from:
1) Self-seeking behaviour. An end to those manipulative lies and games I used to play, badly, to try and get my way. Or to get a drink. Scheming, befriending, associating with people I didn’t particularly like just to hide in plain sight or get my way.
2) Guilt and shame. Guilt for the behaviour listed above and shame because I couldn’t stop. I was guilty and shameful of my weakness. Not only around alcohol but my inner knowledge that I was using alcohol to escape life. It made me feel like a coward. Which then made me want to drink more. A vicious death spin.
3) Low self-esteem. Tied to guilt and shame but also just from not dealing with things. Assuming, falsely, that the future will always end up like the past because I didn’t deserve anything… at all. My inner monologue was one of disdain aimed at myself. My outer world was built on lies, lies and damned lies. I realised that I am a small part of a big picture. As a result, I no longer have to carry the weight of the world around on my back. I no longer sit ruminating on the plight of the planet. I can make minor changes and offer help to who wants it. I don’t have to feel inferior for not solving the world’s problems.
4) Fear. God damn the fear. Recovery didn’t turn me into a fearless warrior but it did make me realise that a lot of the fears I had were unreasonable. The biggest one being a fear of failure. I walked the circumference of my comfort bubble staring out at the unknown. Desperate for adventure. Fearful of failure. Each obstacle I overcame in recovery gave me a little more confidence to try new things. To hell with the failure. Until I was brave enough to venture into the unknown. I have danced in paradise. I have ventured places outside and in, I would not have dared to venture before.
5) Trying to be who I thought I should be. I spent so much fucking energy when I was younger trying to count the beats that others were walking to so that I could fall into line. I knew I walked to a different drumbeat but I didn’t want to. I have learned to embrace the beauty in my difference and embrace the quirkiness of my individuality and use it to my strength. I realise that peoples opinions are their opinions and are not necessarily true. “You can’t please all the people all the time,” so trying to be everybody’s version me was a waste of time.
6) Weakness. I used to believe that reaching out for help and admitting defeat was a sign of weakness. Strange then that I have grown since the day I admitted defeat. The obstacles and the setbacks in sobriety have made me stronger. I have learned the lessons and felt the pain that I tried to avoid by using alcohol.
7) Self hatred. From staring out behind a poorly fitted mask I would decry the problems of others and the world. For every solution, I had a problem. I would say anything to deflect the attention away from myself. The misdirection would have made magicians proud. I would jibe, judge and mock. I would use anything to be left alone. A hard shell protecting a beating heart. I did it because I didn’t feel worthy of love. I never saw beauty. I only saw darkness. My poisoned brain made me see a poisoned world. Recovery made me appreciate the simplistic beauty in a world of madness. I began to see warmth and compassion. The distrust of people who were trying to help me melted away. I was like an abused dog fearful of a repeat. Slowly, I learned to accept help. Slowly, I accepted love. Slowly, I gave love. Slowly, I recovered from a life of avoiding life.
I remember being perched on a barstool, grasping a desperate pint, trapped by the belief that my situation would continue indefinately. I assumed that tomorrow would be a carbon copy of today. There were no blue skys in my future. There was no hope. I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. That by quitting drinking and making simple changes I have managed to redirect my life.
When I look at a photo of me in the drinking days cut next to one of me now I can’t help but think you crazy bastard, you cheated fate.
Usually, a tear and a smile appear together. A tear for the past and a smile for the future. How different the future looks now compared to the dark days of old.
In these six years of sobriety I have been intrigued to learn about recovery and also, how I ended up in this situation. How did I become addicted to alcohol? And more importantly how did I manage to change it?
“Alcoholism is a disease of mind, body and spirit,” is what AA told me. The recovery from which is dependent on following the twelve steps to salvation. The result is a spiritual awakening and daily freedom from the disease of alcoholism. “Follow the steps and they will lead you to freedom,” it seemed simple enough but I had questions. What if the steps don’t work? What if I cannot find a higher power? Am I damned to be consumed by the poison I consume? Some of them went unanswered and I was left with two problems 1) If this isn’t for me where do I go? and 2) Why do I have to question everything? I must have been ridiculously annoying as a kid but that’s a different story.
AA promotes a road to recovery that relies on a spiritual model. It is said that “there is no cure for alcoholism only a daily reprieve.” Eventually, those days stack up to become weeks, months and years but it is still one day at a time. Which, on the face of it, isn’t terrible advice. A lot of my anxiety was caused by projecting into the future. Images of situations that may never occur haunted me as reality but keeping my thinking in the day is a good remedy to this fantastical fear. The downside to this is the endless battle. I just wanted to become a non drinker. So I sought out other advice and books. Some other “quit lit” states that alcohol is addictive to all and should be avoided. Addicts are just a victim of the drug. Overuse, over a period of time, causes the user to become dependent. A healthy fear of alcohol can’t be a bad thing. Especially in a world built on alcohol.
A bit of digging about on the link between genetics and alcoholism leads to the conclusion that it is in fact, a combination of factors, genetics and environment. For example, if a potential addict is born but raised in a household with a restrictive healthy fear over alcohol. The potential addict is thus aware of the dangers of alcohol and is fully aware of their actions. Or a non-potential addict is born, drinks heavily in their youth but suffers no ill effects beyond the usual ill effects but as she ages, grows out of the behaviour. The drinking may return in bouts but addiction isn’t a problem.
In other words, there will be no single “gene for alcoholism” but rather variations in many different genes that together, interacting with the environment, place some people at significantly higher risk for the disease.
These analyses have identified several traits, or phenotypes, that appear to be genetically determined, such as the presence of alcohol dependence, the level of response to alcohol, the presence of coexisting depression, or the maximum number of drinks a person consumes per occasion.
It appears that the belief that addiction as a transferable disease is based on religious beliefs; “Alcoholism runs in families. It was alluded to in the Bible, Aristotle and Plutarch remarked about it, and doctors and preachers of the 19th century were unanimous: alcoholism ran in families and was inherited,” and as a result, the main recovery model has grown to fit this. A recovery of spirit, mental and physical attributes which in turn will lead to a daily reprieve from alcohol.
There is nothing wrong with believing this. As John Lennon once sang “whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right…” but what comes with this type of recovery is a constant fear of relapse. A constant battle with an invisible enemy who is hell-bent on taking us down at the first opportunity. Our addiction is a predator looking for a moment of weakness so it can feast on our misery. Or is it? Is it not enough to come to the realisation that by having one drink it is then possible to have many. By CHOOSING to not have one, the power is taken from the alcohol. The temptation may still circulate as it does with the many products in the advertisements that plague our lives but we have a choice to imbibe or not. That choice to drink or not didn’t exist before the realisation that our behaviour later can be prophesied by our actions earlier. By accepting the responsibility of imbibing I am then empowered. To drink is to give everything away. I am not being cheated by a disease I am being a fool to myself.
Write this sentence and stick it to somewhere you will see it. Keep repeating it. Paint it on the side of your house if you need to. Just get it in there. IF I DON’T DRINK ONE! THEN I CAN’T GET DRUNK! Simple.
The damage starts when the pin comes out the hand grenade the devastation happens where you direct it. DON’T PULL THE PIN OUT?!
I became an addict because I loved drinking and was raised in a world were drinking was a way to be accepted. I, unfortunately, had a disposition that meant I was prepared to forgo the accepted norms to drink alcohol. That is what I believe. I don’t blame anyone or anything. I now own my past and take full responsibility for my actions. I just sort of sleepwalked into a nightmare situation and had to fight my way out.
The reason I like this balanced view is because I don’t want to be weighed down by the label of being diseased nor do I want to find myself preaching the evils of alcohol. I can offer help if people want it but I am not going to convert drinkers into non-drinkers. I had some great times drinking but eventually, my friends slowed down and I didn’t. The fact that both nature and nurture combined to make me an addict explains a lot. It also, allows me to choose my actions around drinking. I have a choice today whether I drink or not.
After the realisation that I was addicted to alcohol I had to change my life.
First, I accepted that I couldn’t drink anymore. Tricky to do with the cognitive dissonance being so strong. I had to admit what I had been trying to hide for years. I have a problem and I need help.
This is where things got scary. Especially as a man who found it hard to open up. Expressing genuine feelings required a vulnerability which, in a world of that I perceived to be full of wolves, left me feeling open to attack. To lay bare the soul is to risk being consumed. I thought it was a dog eat dog world and showing weakness meant that you got eaten. This is the reason I needed to be smashed to pieces physically and mentally before I sought the help I desperately needed. With nothing left to lose there was nothing to lose by taking a chance to reach out for help. An honest, heartfelt realisation that drinking is not the answer was the beginning of my recovery. This was cemented by the fact quitting wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. Like my friend said “drinking wasn’t a problem until I wanted to quit and realised I couldn’t,” for me that was when the real drinking had started. I increased the amount to block out the reality that I was in trouble. Perverse I know but how else do you cope when your only coping mechanism is the problem? There was no option but to cut it out of my life completely.
People have supported me through the journey into sobriety but no one could do it for me. As the old saying goes; “You can lead a horse to water but the horse can still run to the off licence and buy a bottle of whiskey!” I had to want it. I had to realise that running back will never get me forward. It looked scary, the road into the unknown. The suppressed memories stood waiting to torment me. To remind me how much of a bastard I had been. Every minor infraction was brought into clear view and the court was in session all inside my head. It was bollocks. It was just nonsense created by my mind to try to stop me doing something different. It was the fear of the unknown and fear of failure trying to keep me from escaping. I had to talk it through with friends, relatives and therapists. I had to build bridges. I had to take responsibility and OWN MY SHIT for the first time in my life. I had to stop making excuses and start making plans. I had to stand up and say “I fucked up but I want to put it right!” This began to pack my unnecessary ego into a box to be stored away. It was the start of lightening the burden that I had carried around. The walk into recovery is easier with a lighter backpack. The walk into freedom is only possible by removing the burden of the past.
Pray and meditate. Eat well and exercise. Take stock of your thoughts. It’s easier to clean up the past with company, so reach out. Then repeat this process. Simple.
One day, stepping off the train on the way to work I had a feeling that I hadn’t had before. It made me uneasy. It was contentment. Even on my way to work, I felt that everything was okay. I wasn’t used to being okay. I couldn’t handle it and the feeling lifted as soon as I acknowledged that it had made me uncomfortable. I had chased away the feeling of contentment but knew I wanted more of it. It was a feeling of peace. Serenity. Of being present. Of being aware of who and where I was. For the first time in my life, I felt connected. I had to accept that it is OKAY TO FEEL OKAY. I spent my life worrying about shit that probably wouldn’t, and often didn’t, ever happen. Most of my energy was wasted on things that were just projections into the future. I couldn’t differentiate between thoughts and reality. I lived in flight or fight. Anxious and constantly braced for the impact of the imaginary future. Learning to be OKAY took time. Fleeting moments were embraced and not chased away until eventually, they became longer. I am not suggesting that I live in a state of bliss but my head is a nicer place than it used to be.
Alongside this, I learned to recognise when I am not okay. I don’t give myself a hard time about not being at my best. I just look at how I’m doing with the simple things that give me balance; am I eating well? Am I exercising? Am I reaching out? The last time I felt low it was because I was isolating myself and that began to manifest as loneliness. I reached out and spoke to some friends and family. Thankfully, it lifted. I noticed the signs and thanks to the journey of sobriety was aware enough to realise what the problem was.
I have benefited from AA, this naked mind and other books. None was the solution for me but all offered something to help me along the way. Maybe through arrogance, I believed I knew what works best for me or maybe I knew what wouldn’t work. Either way, I had to create a bespoke “program” that keeps me in balance. I keep it as simple as possible; DON’T DRINK. All the other things, such as; peace of mind, connections, good health and fulfilling hobbies are luxuries that are built on the foundation of not drinking. Being alcohol-free removed my chains. It also removed the padlock from the clock. I am no longer watching time, willing it to pass so that I can dash to the pub or off-license under the pretence that I’ll just have one.
If I drink then I lose it all. I tried moderation and I didn’t have the will power to sustain it. I don’t see the value in constantly monitoring my alcohol consumption. It seems like such a waste of time. Plus, if I have to consciously “try to control something then maybe it is already out of control?” I can’t waste my time juggling chaos for the amusement of others.
“Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.”
Things like AA get a bad reputation but I have made some great friends through AA. Thankfully, I didn’t need to cling to people like I used to do. The increase in self-esteem I received from quitting drinking meant, I could allow people into my life who accepted my approach to recovery and I theirs. The fanatical big book thumpers can go and preach elsewhere. I don’t want anymore irrational fear. I’ve had a belly full. It’s now time for peace and positivity. The fear of an invisible enemy is detrimental to this peace.
The big fear when quitting was losing friends and being isolated. I have to admit that there was a bit of that. But it comes back to being prepared to take a chance. To reach out and venture into the unknown. People were waiting for me, I just didn’t know it. Supportive, loving people who need to help others to help themselves. The people who get meaning from life by supporting others. Of course, there are some fanatics in recovery. There are fanatics everywhere. But I have never experienced more accepting and caring people than I have in recovery circles.
I was dubious about the intentions of people in recovery rooms and forums at first. I used to think why does this guy want to help me? What is he after? What sort of weirdo helps people without an agenda? Me, now! Recovery has opened up a new world to me. Although I don’t believe the AA program it is a useful organisation. I was in Siem Reap in Cambodia and found an AA meeting on the top floor of a hotel. I went and met some great people who were backpacking. You never have to be lonely in recovery. It is like a secret society. I have shared on recovery forums whilst being in hostels and hotels all over the world and been helped by people all over the world. Connection has been the cornerstone of my recovery. Even if I don’t adopt a particular program. Each persons journey can help me learn about myself. That’s why I have to be open minded.
I go back to AA every now and then. I have to share my story. Even though I don’t believe a higher power has saved me I know a connection with people has. When a guy I have only met a handful of times phones me up just to check how I am doing it is hard not to be bowled over by the care that develops from a shared hardship. Brothers and sisters in arms, sticking together to get through life. United by the well being of each other. It’s nice to be part of something that can spread a bit of light in someones dark world. The pain that gets thrown up by life lost it’s sting when I realised I didn’t have to deal with it alone. Watching people grow and develop is a beautiful thing to be a part of. Realising that my shit times can help someone have good times is a gift.
The way I view myself now compared with six years ago is completely different. Disdain has made way for appreciation. Shame and guilt have been replaced with respect. Hatred has been replaced with love. I smile a lot more and that alone is worth it :).
To keep it, I keep it simple,
Eat well and exercise. Even just a walk.
Try to help others.
Check my mental health and try to treat myself as I would treat another.
If I’m struggling I reach out. Even though it takes a lot of effort to do so sometimes but I know it helps.
Gratitude; focus on what I have and not what I haven’t.
For years, I sought validation externally and was left hollow and wanting. I felt separated from myself and others to the point of loneliness. The thing I have realised is that by internalising my concerns and gaining validation from looking in, I have made a connection to something that I was lacking. By adjusting the direction I was heading I have been rewarded with a life that is exponentially more enjoyable than drinking ever made it.
I could be wrong about it but I don’t think there is a one size fits all way to recovery but the things I know work for me I have listed here. Give them a try but remember there is no quick fix. Contentment doesn’t arrive as soon as alcohol departs but I can assure you it is worth the wait. As eventually, the weight of the past slips into the ether.
One day you’ll dance around and feel joy. Guilt will try to push the joy away but then you realise that you have done nothing to be guilty of. It is just a joy for life and you’re not used to it. It is the realisation that everything is okay and that’s okay and so are you. The reality is now what was once unimaginable. A decision to quit drinking has been the catalyst for change. The fate of old is like a terrible nightmare. Or an old memory of a place that never you never wish to revisit.
Imagine sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. The car is speeding towards a wall. There is a bomb under the brake peddle. The knowledge that you are facing imminent death forces you to make a call to the partner you had an argument with earlier. You apologise and explain your situation. Your partner explains that you should pull the handbrake. Of course. It seems so obvious after the fact but the anxiety was clouding your judgement.
The wall is continuing drinking. The brake is the fear of stopping. The phone call is the reluctance with which we reach out. It is only then that things become clear. It is only when admitting hardship is it possible to get help but you still have to act.
Imagining a life without alcohol made me not want to quit. My perception was twisted but I wasn’t to know. A sober future was a bleak thought. A life of beigeness. No more good stories. No more good times. No more friends. No more life. This, combined with the ever-increasing knowledge that alcohol wasn’t working anymore caused me to drink more. My only escape from this chaotic thinking was the cause of the chaotic thinking, alcohol. The poison was my antidote. Eventually, something had to give. Thankfully, it was my liver and it wasn’t too bad.
I was trapped in using alcohol by my desire to escape the world. I had never learned to deal with life. Alcohol had been my escape for a long time. In the end, I drank 6 days a week. Never Monday. If I could go one day without drinking then I didn’t have a problem. That was the line. That was what I told myself.
I rarely drank at home. Only in pubs. Alkies drank alone. I wasn’t an alky. I drank in the pub. I believed that. Even though I was a mess. My life was a mess and had been for a while. I was skint. To steal a line from a friend “I was living a champagne lifestyle on lemonade wages!” I was physically, mentally and emotionally sick. I would leave work, vow to have “one drink” and then wake up the next day with no knowledge of what had happened. In the end, I didn’t want to know what had happened. I used to wake up, delete my messages from my phone and then go about my day. I was living a duel life. A version of me worked for the other version to feed his addiction. I had two groups of friends. I never went on work events because I didn’t want people to see me drinking. I was spinning plates and it was becoming unmanageable. Yet I dared not press the brake pedal or admit I needed help until I was heading towards that wall at full speed.
That was when it all became too much. I couldn’t handle it anymore. My body couldn’t handle it anymore. I couldn’t handle the shame and guilt. I couldn’t handle the diatribe that had become my inner monologue. The ghost of my potential and the spirit of my unfulfilled life haunted me with spite. My only option was to surrender. I tore a strip from my shirt and fashioned a white flag. I had to admit defeat. I had to fall at the mercy of forgiveness and admit I was weak. I had to eat humble pie, as my projected image collapsed to match the scared boy it was hiding. My pride was decimated and I stood alone in a world I had never experienced. I was scared and lonely.
It was the greatest day of my life.
Perverse, I know. To say the whole fucking thing collapsing was the best day of my life seems strange but it is true. It was the 1st of June 2014 and since that day I haven’t had a drink. It was tricky at first but not as tricky as I thought it was going to be. The first couple of weeks were hell as I all I could think about was drinking. But I just reminded myself where I would end up, back in the shame and guilt that had hounded me for years. If I drank I would end up back there. To have a fighting chance at life I had to go it sober. I was sick of getting kicked down by my own insecurities and fear.
I just had to try because if I didn’t change I would look back on my life as a drunken old man propping up a bar, the thought of not having the courage to at least attempt to quit would cause a tear to roll down my cheek and cause me to drink more to mask the pain and the shame. I knew I would end up like that because that is how I felt in the end. A husk of a man who had let himself down, time and time again. I would only get worse as I got older if I lived to get older of course.
It had to be worth the effort to try and quit. It had to be worth it to not become that lonely old man with nothing but unfulfilled promises as memories.
Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you’ve ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.
The first few weekends, it was like everyone on the planet was out having the best time and the best sex with the greatest people on the planet.I, on the other hand, was reading books and doing anything I possibly could to not drink. In the words of John Lennon “whatever gets you through the night,” and I would do anything to just get to the end of the day. If my head hit the pillow without me drinking I was happy… albeit hugely jealous of the people I assumed was having the time of their lives. (On reflection most people were doing the same thing they had always done but my brain was in advertising mode)
That was it for weeks. Just get through the day without drinking and doing anything to do so. I ate crap food, did some exercise, played the three chords on my guitar that I know, watched films, visited people, I even went for a cup of tea at my elderly neighbours. Anything, just to take my mind off drinking. Eventually, it got easier.
Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway
After a few weeks of getting through I started to feel better. People started to comment that I didn’t look as grey in the face or seem so angry as I used to. I started to want to treat my body better. I wanted to treat my self better. I wanted to get to know who I was after years of avoiding myself. Slowly, I started to meditate. I started AA to get some company and get out of the house. Basically, I started to rebuild.
I couldn’t get on with AA. The religious aspect turned me away but I wanted to learn about things. So I read self-help books. I fed my body and mind with good stuff after years of feeding them poison.
This process took time. Expecting a baby to run is the road to disappointment. That’s the way I saw it. That I was learning to live life afresh. My pride and ego had been destroyed. The perception I had of myself and the world had been removed. I was convinced for years that I couldn’t live life without alcohol. Now I was doing it. I was not only doing it but I was growing into my own skin. Alcohol had been the chain that had been holding me back from reaching my potential. I began to feel free. Slowly, I became self-aware.
I cried a lot when my emotions came back. I cried for the bad and the good. I cried at the simple beauty of life. I cried over lost love and missed chances. I cried for the person without strength that I thought I was. I cried through fear. I cried because I could cry and I felt better afterwards. Slowly, I found balance.
I refinanced my debt and began to pay for my freedom. I wanted it gone. It hung around me like a lead weight. Alcohol had held me back and now the debt was doing the same. Slowly, it became manageable.
The chaos that had been my inner and outer worlds for years, slowly, began to die down. I found fleeting moments of peace. Connection to life after years of escape came in moments of calm. Almost like someone had accidentally pressed pause on life for a fleeting second before normality resumed as they realised their mistake. Eventually, I learned to navigate life as a sober person and I wanted to know what this new me was capable of.
I was like a caterpillar going into a cocoon and then emerging as a butterfly.
I remember the first time I went on a sober holiday. I stayed in Italy on my own. It was the first time that I had trusted myself to be in a foreign country knowing that I wouldn’t get blackout drunk. I knew for the first time that I was in control. I knew that if I still drank alcohol I wouldn’t have made it. If I still drank alcohol I would still be sitting in a bar talking about the things I was “gonna” do with my life. The unfulfilled promises would be piling up. Sobriety began turning them into reality.
On that sober holiday, I knew that I was free. I can hand my freedom over if I want to. All I have to do is have a drink. That is my choice. I can take back all the shame and guilt if I want. It is only a drink away.
Quitting alcohol hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine. I’ve been through some tough times. But even during the hardest days sober when the little voice whispers “have a drink! It will help you forget,” I know that it is only delaying the pain until the morning. I know that the darkest day sober isn’t enough to make me want to go back to the darkness of drinking. I know that because on the 1st June 2020 it will be six years since I attempted a task I once believed to be impossible, living sober.
Since that day, six years ago, the people I’ve met, the help I’ve received, the places I’ve been and the connection to life I’ve experienced has far exceeded my expectations. I often regretted drinking. I have never regretted quitting… well maybe in the early days when I was full of envy at the imaginary people having an illusionary good time.
Thankfully, I chose reality.
One day you will look back and have to admit you are stronger than you thought.
The new normal. It’s all over the news. The world beyond COVID. It’s referred to as the new normal. The same phrase could be used for the world beyond alcohol. Normality is subjective to the observer. For years my version of normal was self-loathing and fear doused in alcohol. I was looking for an answer to a question which I didn’t know had been asking. It was frightening the prospect of the “New Normal.” Venturing into the unknown was a scary thought, after years of clinging to any semblance of stability no matter how unstable it was.
There was nothing in the beginning. I had nothing. I had no feelings beyond fear. Just darkness. The future didn’t exist and the past was a blur of self-hatred, the weight of which was pulling me back. Impossible was the only thought. I looked at sobriety like a high wall that I wouldn’t climb. I said wouldn’t instead of couldn’t because if a Lion was heading towards me and that giant wall was the only way out I would have a good go at climbing it. Alcohol is the lion. The thought of returning to drinking made me have a go at climbing out. Surprisingly I had more strength then I expected. Even more surprisingly the wall wasn’t as high as I first thought. I had been a heap on the ground when I first looked up. Standing up and taking stock gave me a fresh perspective.
But what’s the point? Life will be shit without drinking?! Maybe. Or maybe I can have a good go at making a life that isn’t boring. I can stop pointing fingers and waiting for a saviour. Stop standing at the bar and looking at the door every time it opens believing it to be the solution to my problems. Instead, I can pull my fucking socks up and have a go at something beyond what I have been doing for the first time in my life. Or I can die, alone, slumped on a barstool calling the world a bastard for not gifting me a life I WANTED. Do you know why most people don’t quit? Because it takes strength. So if you are two days in give yourself a pat in the back. Look in the mirror and give yourself a few positive words. The same if your one day in or ten years.
Breaking a habit is hard. Especially in the face of expectation and social pressure. So ignore the naysayers and plan for a post lockdown life of freedom and love. Of compassion and empathy. Or whatever you want to be or do. Being alcohol-free is not only freedom from alcohol but also, the lifestyle and thinking that goes with it. It is a break from routine. My housemate stopped drinking not due to a problem but because he didn’t want to drink in the house. He has gone 52 days and walked 8 miles today. The last time he went this long without a drink is 50 years ago and as a result, has become healthier.
The unthinkable becomes thinkable. The unachievable becomes unachievable. The self-loathing becomes self-love. Realisation happens and the weakness departs to strength.
Strength doesn’t mean being a bastard. Strength is admitting defeat when you are beaten and seeking a solution not limping onward trying to fool yourself and the world. It is a vulnerability that allows connection with the understanding that rejection isn’t personal. It is the ability to seek and find the inward peace that comes with self-realisation. Is life to be spent at the behest of others conforming to the will of the many while poisoning yourself under the guise of fun? I say fuck that. Give me serenity. Give me peace. Give me clean air and compassion. Give me a connection to people, places and things beyond my understanding. Give me open eyes, an open mind and the opportunities that come with them. Give me pain because it reminds me I am still alive. But not too much pain eh?
I have to write these things. The words build up inside me demanding to be read. I get frustrated that I can’t show everyone the road I’ve/we’ve endured to get a day of serenity after years of misery. Maybe we need rock bottoms. Janis Joplin once sang “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose” maybe that’s it. Maybe when it gets so bad that the need for recovery outweighs the social expectations that we are truly free. Without repercussions, the life we call normal is acceptable no matter how much unnecessary pain we endure. When did we, as a society, accept that misery is the accepted norm as long as we are pursuing happiness amongst it? Sobriety has flipped that for me. The good days outweigh the bad 9 to 1. In the old days, it was 99% bad especially towards the end. It wasn’t all bad in the early days as there were few repercussions and without repercussions from our drinking, there is no need to face reality. With only minor blips on the road of life, it continues to paint an image of sustainable normality. Unfortunately, for many, myself included the repercussions all came together. Drinking had been holding back the tide. I wish I would have had the courage to face reality a little sooner than I did. But you can’t change the past… only the future!
Yesterday, I woke up feeling peace. I lit an incense stick, cleaned my window and watched the world go by. It was a beautiful start to the day and then I got on with work. That single moment is why I don’t drink. I used to wake up in strange places with strange thoughts. I stank of shame, drink and sweat. I’m happy that isn’t my normal anymore.
Let the new normal be one of growth, clarity and connection. It is in your power to make it happen. You just don’t realise it… yet.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
“Above is a picture of me, just before some friends and I go skydiving. I am 30 years old and have quit drinking for five months. I have managed to turn around my finances. I am in the best physical shape of my life. I feel great and the smug look on my face is one of a man who believes he has life beat. I have managed to conquer the demons that have plagued me for as long as I can remember. I am ticking things off my bucket list with the ferocity of manic teacher marking work. I am free from the chains of alcohol. I celebrate life on a daily basis. I exercise and meditate. I have equilibrium in spades and believe I am on a spiritual quest. I border on arrogance as I have crawled from hell with horns of the conquered beast. I have the scars to match the trophy.
Skydiving was a trip. Like cocaine laced Redbull. Adrenaline courses through my veins as we celebrate. God, it’s good to be alive. Who knew that sobriety wouldn’t be as boring as I thought. Life is pulling me forward into the unknown of uncertainty as my potential becomes unravelled from the negative thinking that kept it boxed. I have to make up for the lost time. I owe myself a life of freedom. I owe it to the lost soul I once was and I vow to repay myself.
Two months later…
I have run out of things to keep me entertained. I have achieved all of my goals. I am now left with a gaping hole that needs to fill. I need excitement to replace the euphoric highs on a daily basis that drinking gave. The instantaneous dopamine from alcohol is a hard thing to kick. But I don’t want to end up back in the mess I was in before. But I have control now. My life is in order now. I am not the same person I have grown over the past seven months. I just needed a break from alcohol. That’s all. I’ll just have one. That won’t hurt…
I did it. Last night I had two beers and left the pub. I knew I could do it. I had two bottles of Becks watching my mates band and then left the pub when they had finished playing. It may be Wednesday and I have work tomorrow but that never stopped me overindulging before. I knew it would be different this time. I’ve changed. I can’t wait for Friday night to have a few beers with the lads. I’ve missed having a laugh with them so much.
Ergh. It was heavy-duty last night. It was Friday though so thats okay. Drank waaaay too much but we were celebrating me back on the beer. Laying on the sofa eating crisps and watching the TV today. Can’t move. Think I’ll lay off it this weekend… My mates just phoned to say he is watching football in the pub later. A pint might help sort me out actually. Think I’ll pop down for one.
What the fuck happened last night? I feel like death. Thank fuck it’s Sunday. No idea what happened last night. Ended up in some club on my own drinking spirits. The rest is a blur. I’ll head to the shop in a couple of hours to get supplies. I am definitely not drinking today.
I woke up fresh for a Monday morning and got to work on time. I spent yesterday on the sofa but I didn’t have a drink. I won’t today either. Let my liver recover. “
Two years later…
1st June 2014. The pain I felt last night was incredible. I thought I had been stabbed walking home from the night club. I sent my friend a selfie (above) in the morning, he asked how I was doing. A night in accident and emergancy with an enlarged liver is how I am doing. ECG, blood tests, guilt, shame and defeat. I feel like shit. I can’t keep doing this.
I had done so much in the seven months of sobriety. Achieved so much. Now in tatters, after two years back in the toxic embrace of alcohol. I remember those two beers a couple of years ago and believing I had it licked but slowly Friday and Saturday became Thursday, Friday, Saturday and so forth. Until I was drinking six days a week. Wrapped in the comfort of the blanket that if I didn’t drink on a Monday then I didn’t have a problem. I’m drowning in debt. People are commenting on my health. How much is it going to take for me to stop? The doctor said to lay off it for a while and it will go back to normal. I will do that but this is the second warning about my liver in two years. The prospect of a third scares the shit of me!
I thought I was in control. Why the fuck did I start drinking again? My arrogance and lack of internal work lead me back down the rabbit hole. Without distractions, boredom crept back into my life and I slowly justified drinking to myself. What I never did in those seven months was learn about the reasons why I drank. I used exercise to get in great physical shape but that never translated to great mental shape. All the meditation I was doing was to try to control my thoughts and trying to suppress the things that alcohol had suppressed.
Those two bottles of Becks have lead me through two years of chaos that cost me everything. My physical, financial and mental health have collapsed. I may have been fooling myself that I had escaped hell the victor but I never checked my ankle to see the hand trying to pull me back. And back I went…
This time I will not make the same mistake. This time I will not have one. If I have one I end up sick. Sick of myself and of life. Sick of being financially fucked. Sick of feeling weak and sick of feeling sick. This time I will do the work. I will face the problems I avoided. I will embrace what it takes to be free. I can no longer lie to myself. I can’t cry anymore tears of frustration at the lack of an escape. This is the moment that I have to step up to be free. I have to accept that I cannot drink. I have to accept that I cannot drink. It’s hard to accept. What am I going to do? What the fuck am I going to do? I am scared! I cannot go back to drinking. Not now. It is depreiving me of life.
Okay, right then. A plan!? I can’t do it! YES, I CAN! Right, a plan; DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL! That’s all I can think about at the minute. I will do that for now.
Two months sober…
Still going. Sleeping like a baby. Had some spare money thanks to not drinking and managed to refinance some debt. Reading a lot. Been attending AA. Not a believer but it gets me out of the house on a Friday night. It’s nice to meet people in a similar position. A few moments of salivating over the prospect of getting off my face pissed but I rode then out and they passed. Deep concerns over the future of my life. Like, what am I going to do now? How am I going to meet people? All I know is drinking. I will cross those bridges when I come to them.
Six months sober…
Still going strong. Lost a bit of weight because I’ve changed my diet and started walking. Been promoted at work. Got a grip of my debt. Still a long way from paying it off but it’s manageable now. Been meditating a lot more. Properly. Not trying to trick myself. I’ve started trying to make peace with myself. And I’ve been reading a lot. Learning new things. I had an abundance of time when I first quit. Now, there’s not enough. Getting more confident. Get lonely sometimes. All my friends here are drinkers. Need to find some new ones and connect better with the ones who stuck around. Not attending AA but still reaching out to people.
A year sober…
It has been tricky but still going. Went to Italy with some friends. My first sober holiday and stayed sober the whole time. I just reminded myself that if I drink I won’t be able to go to any cool places because I won’t have the finances or the will. Alcohol stole them last time. I chose to stay in Italy on my own for a couple of days when my friends left. Scary but exhilarating. Finally, I trust myself to be responsible. I am excited. Life is a crazy trip.
Eighteen months sober…
It’s the new normal now. I still get the temptation to drink but it isn’t an impulse like before. I just acknowledge that it exists but vow that it isn’t for me. The prospect of drinking hangs around like the prospect of armageddon. I know from last time that to drink is to end the life I have now. I am starting to get on an even keel. My interest in the prospects of my life now is what keep me going. The realisation of potential and the excitement of exploration are too tantalising to throw away. I have vowed to walk the El Camino de Santiago. A pilgrimage through Spain that I first heard about during my seven-month stint of sobriety. It was made unachievable by life with alcohol but now it seems like something I could accomplish. I feel mentally and physically strong.
Two years sober…
Through all the ups and downs of life. Through six hundred miles and the hills of Spain. I made it to the end. It seemed so far away a couple of years ago. The journey was impossible. From day one of sobriety from day one of the Camino and beyond, I always felt like the odds were against me. Now, the tables have turned. I will never forget the lesson I learned from that relapse; I cannot drink. Simple. Well, I can if I want nothing but misery. If I want freedom and achievement then sobriety is the path to that life. As I sit with my back against the 0km marker at the end I realise that I am free. That I am not the piece of shit I thought I was. I didn’t need to walk across Spain to realise it. Every day of sobriety is testament to strength I never thought I had.
You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.
Six years sober…
I never have forgotten the memory of that relapse. I have never forgotten that I can trade in my happiness for misery at any time. I never forgot the people who helped. I will never take my sobriety for granted. I feel like I was given another chance at life. I will not hand it back so freely this time. I was so close to never escaping all those years ago. I was dragged back into the madness by my own mind. I learned that I had to do the work. I had to face the demons and thankfully, I didn’t have to do it alone. It’s borderline masochism to say that I am grateful for the pain. Because without it, I would never have learned the truth; today is all I have and today I vow not to drink.
Every failure is a gift. Every pain is an opportunity.
My mind can slip into negativity. The futility of life is often dissected in my thoughts. The awareness of the human condition and mortality can leave me with a burning desire to achieve… something. This bleakness of outlook is almost annual. It comes along like a possession. My thinking turns dark and I am left with nothing but to ponder the purpose of life. Like a giant clock hanging in my mind demonstrating the passing of opportunity. I cry sometimes. I despair at my own misgivings. I pull apart my frailties and laugh at my own strengths. I become my worst enemy and then it vanishes. It’s almost like a remnant of a previous life. The hangover of years of addiction that teases me for a couple of days before I find my sanctuary in sobriety and am restored.
This time it was much worse than normal. The isolation made it more intense.
Usually, it happens during the winter and the realisation that winter will pass brings me around. It only lasts a few days but each time I am fearful of returning to a state of full-on depression. It has been more than ten years since I was turned into a statue of myself by a savage onslaught of depression. And thankfully, the help I received at the time has kept me on a, nearly, even keel but the cloud, albeit small, still hangs in the bluest of skies. A dark reminder of the worst year of my life.
September 2008, I had lost my job due to the economic downturn and couldn’t afford to pay my bills let alone afford to drink alcohol. For years, I had been using alcohol to self medicate life. Without the medicine, reality began to take hold and coupled with the bleakness of my future, my mental health began to rapidly decline. It was an incredibly difficult time but also, an invaluable learning resource. I can see the warning signs that the things are taking a turn for the worst. I can put the things into place that can bring me around. I still fear that one day those things may not work but so far they have helped. Exercise, talking to people, meditation, gratitude, writing and trying to eat well (a bit of chocolate. It is easter, after all, lol) have been the keys to turning it around.
I think the dip last week was due to feeling trapped. After travelling the world I feel like I have walked into a prison. My freedom has been snatched away and I am an innocent man. But in the long run, it is for peoples protection. It doesn’t stop the black dog pulling at me though. It circles looking for a weakness. The realisation that no matter what I do, where I see or who am with is enough to push this feeling away for good. I always seem to end up back in the darkness. My main concern is one day, not this time, I will no longer have the will to fight. That is what scares me.
In the darker moments of the thinking, the realisation that isolation is only a matter of thought is great support. The knowledge that there are people out there not only willing to listen but to unite and support each other is what I now believe to be the crux of humanity. I had to throw out a metaphorical hand to people I know, in the hope that we can share an interaction. That my concern for them will alleviate the concern for myself. That through connectivity albeit digitally I can escape isolation for a second. BUT as I browsed through my contacts I struggle to find a name who I can be truly honest with. Who I can share my concerns about my wavering mental health with. As I scroll through the names they all lose their meaning. The trivialities that united us seem insignificant against the need for true connectivity.
Thankfully, there are one or two people I am lucky to have that I can reach out to. I don’t like to burden them with my current plight but I have to to stay safe. The greatest gift beyond these people is the gift that the work through sobriety has given me; honesty. I have the ability now to be open. But even after therapy, sobriety, 12 step programs it still takes me a lot of effort to reach out to people. From feeling low to making the call was probably a week. I tried to struggle on. After a week I knew I needed a helping hand.
I phoned one of the people I could trust and we chatted. The question arose “Are you okay?” I have a choice I can lie or I can be honest. I was honest. I said “Not really…” I told them about my feelings and how I couldn’t reach out to people because they either didn’t respond or I lacked that level of connection and how it made the isolation all the more real. We talked about it and it changed my day. It changed my outlook. In the old days, I would have bottled it up and poured a bottle on it. It would have festered and rotted me from the inside out. I have to be honest to be safe.
What I have realised is; good people let alone good friends are hard to come by. But they do exist. I have to be there for them when they need and I am fine with that. But this lockdown has reminded me that without people who understand it is easy to get lost. To make connections I had to be vulnerable and honest. Without honesty, there is no connection with myself or others. Thus there is no sobriety. Delusion and denial are opposite sides of the same coin. The greatest example is the words “I’ll just have one…”
There were some fits and starts in the beginning. Incidents of emotional vomiting on my behalf. Overloading people with information that they didn’t want to hear or didn’t have an interest of. I persevered and learned to control the outburst. And with baby steps came great rewards. I stopped scaring people away.
So to all the people in similar positions or in positions of loneliness or isolation, I would like to say you are not alone. The world is resplendent with good people willing to help and listen if you want it. Don’t be deterred and don’t give up. Sometimes it is hard to see the light when the world is dark but it is there you just have to keep looking. If I could come around and give you a hug I would, as I would also like a hug but unfortunately I cannot. So this is the best I can do.
There are many things I am grateful for, many of which I take for granted like electricity, clean running water and access to food but there is one thing I don’t take for granted my sobriety. At no point do I even consider alcohol a solution to my dip(s) in my mental health? If anything I hold alcohol responsible for my lack of ability to deal with problems previously. And knowing that not dealing with things nearly cost me my life all those years ago then I will never see the cause of many of my problems previously as the solution to my problems currently. I would rather have a couple of dark days in the winter and 360 days of freedom than 365 days of running from myself.
I wrote this both selfishly and selflessly. I needed to get out what was on my mind and to process what had happened. I hope by doing so that it may help someone. If not then sorry for wasting your time lol. But either way, I just want to thank you for taking the time to read what I’ve written and I wish you well wherever you are and whatever you are doing.
Walking through my desolated local town centre reminded me of venturing around the deserted ruins of an ancient culture. The branded stores that people identified with lay silent much like the places of worship of a defunct religion. In this quiet, it begins to dawn on me that society, or more specifically, shops, hold a mirror up to us. They reinforce our own beliefs by selling us our own image to then buy our allegiance. The places, like Apple, who have become part of our identity gains its power from the feet that march to its beat. The people who like to be seen as Apple people. They want to be individual and not seen as less than the image of android. These false dichotomies that people spent what is now clearly seen as priceless breath arguing seem futile. The value of things, not only monetary but personal values, have shifted as survival takes precedence.
Hopefully, with this lack of reflection from the brands that prop up our delusions, it will allow the true nature of ourselves to be exposed. Placed in the worn shoes of someone who has the dangers of life hanging them every day, maybe will spur us to change. The new car or clothes that we deferred the payments on will now be a burden and not a boasting point. The guts of a failed system are exposed. Living on the pay of a future version of ourselves has been shown to be stupid. Even a squirrel saves for the winter. But on a greater scale, humanity is living on the payday of our children and their children as the current generation shoulder the mistakes of the last hundred years. The mistakes we make will play out in our children’s lives. The bailout of the broken system that ushered millions into debt will be paid back, maybe, when our children are adults.
Likean addict, society has hit its rock bottom.
The lies we tell ourselves have been found out. The toxicity of our consumption lifestyle has been evaporated by clean air. The pursuit of the ideal image has been put on hold as our insecurities can’t be bought away. Like all rock bottoms there are options; to continue or to admit that it is over. Overconsumption is having a devastating effect on not only ourselves but our environment. That our selfish pursuits that are played up as successes are actually isolating us from reality. Much like the addict, our only solution has been to consume more in the hope of pushing away our problems. Without consumption as escapism, we are left to dry out as unhappiness manifests as our daily desires go unfulfilled.
How can happiness exist if we cannot consume? Maybe the fresh air will bring a fresh perspective. My daily dose of exercise around my local park shows families connecting not only to each other but nature. People seem friendlier as the false chaos due to the mistaking of busyness as progress dissipates. Maybe I am idealistic and it will all return back to the way it was before but it would be the waste of a wonderful opportunity to make a change. To say “no more,” and realign ourselves with a common goal, the betterment of life for all. By pursuing our individualistic goals or demanding that our internal wants are met we have lost sight of the bigger picture; we have become the burden of the next generation. We are saying fuck you to the future as our demands today are met. So much for “the best things come to those that wait!” We are led by our desires and our desires are created for us. The freedom we think we have is exposed as nothing more than the freedom to fill our desires. Desires that are unquenchable and thus leaves us never free. Our self esteem is tampered with and brought into question to create an inner void that can be filled by a thing. The need for newness soon returns as our desires are artificially manipulated and we salivate like the Pavlovian dogs we are. The adverts are merely a ringing bell to remind us it is time to consume.
The simplicity of the lockdown leaving many people feeling “bored” but it is not boredom they are experiencing. It is a withdrawal symptom from the overstimulation, they are chaos addicts. I noticed it when I first came back from travelling, that chaos or busyness seems to be used as a form of escapism. Constant stimulation through illusionary importance or entertainment is used to beat back the delusion, the voice, the knawing feeling that reality is losing touch with reality. And that we have to continue to prop it up because our identities are defined by the very delusion itself. The current silence has dropped the mirror. The delusion is exposed. The people in suits who demanded respect are shown to be useless. The people at the base of the pyramid who have grown to be disrespected have been highlighted as the saviours. It is time to grasp reality and hold it close before the machine loses focus on the virus and starts up again on its quest to reinforce the delusion. It will be after this that we will see the damage as mass unemployment stalls the borrowing of money which then stagnates consumption. Who could have imagined that building a system entirely on debt could have gone wrong?
It’s strange that amongst this pandemic there is such peace. The movies always showed such things to be chaotic, maybe that will come, but for now, there is a strange quiet. The usual hum of the motorway is silenced for the first time since I can remember. The birds seem to sing extra loud, maybe they are bolder now they are disturbed less or the silence has given them a stage from which to perform. Either way, it adds to the realisation that behind the human machine that is society, there lays another place, a natural place, that we have not only forgotten about but taken for granted. And like all things, if they are taken for granted they usually disappear and become a point of romanticised reflection.
The other thing that we have taken for granted is our collectivism. The service of the people we take for granted has been shown in a new light. It is time to reaffirm our allegiance to one another and throw of the illusionary competition that the last forty years has sold us to sell us more stuff. The path to the future is not beset, as we can decide what world we would like to leave behind. Maybe that is the common goal the western world has been lacking; to imagine the earth as a gift to our children. Would we like to be remembered as childish and selfish overconsumers or mature responsible people who understand the value of balance? Is it not foolish to believe that there is always going to be more available and that infinite desires can be fed by the resources of a finite planet. Surely, I can’t be the only person who has begun to question the benefits of what we used to call normality?
My attitude of excess continued into my alcohol-free life. Where, previously, I had wanted to be fucked up as much as possible I now wanted wellness as much as possible. I wanted spiritual enlightenment and a six-pack by the weekend… I’d quit drinking on a Thursday.
If it wasn’t happening yesterday then it wasn’t happening at all. I would get frustrated and bemoan my lack of progress. Until, one day, I thought if it took me ten years to get into this tragic mess of a life, it’s going to take me a while to get out of it. If addiction is progressive then so is wellness. I had to loosen my expectations of my quitting drinking. I’ll be honest I expected magic to begin with the cessation of alcohol consumption. I thought people would be so overcome with emotion when I told them that I had quit they would lose their minds like when people saw the Beatles. Or I would undergo some kind of Hollywood movie change replete with cheesy montage music. None of that was to be. People said “Well done,” some said “It won’t last,” and others said, “’bout time.” Is that it? I would think. Do they not realise what I am going to? I am going to not drink!!! Then I realised that isn’t such a big deal for everyone. Just like the conversation I had with a woman I was trying to chat up and completely fucked it up because I couldn’t believe that she had gone her whole life without trying drugs and suggesting that we get some. I couldn’t believe people like her existed. I couldn’t believe people could have one drink. “What’s the point?” I would ask. “To be social,” was the usual reply. I didn’t understand. I only ever wanted to get fucked up. I never saw the point in one. I didn’t like the taste enough to have one. I needed another ten to take the taste of the first one away;
Allegedly people don’t want to just get out of their brain every night. Some are content with their lot in life. I never understood. I would often say “Yeah, it’s good now but imagine how much better it would be if you were drunk.” Some even went as far as saying “I don’t like getting drunk,” the philistines. How could they achieve the majesty that I had achieved if they didn’t stand at a bar spouting absolute bollocks while destroyed on cheap lager? Everyone knows that’s where all the worlds problems are solved.*
*Just in case you missed it I was being sarcastic.
When I was drunk, I would imagine myself to be some intellectual, yet mysterious figure who was tragic in a romantic sense. I was just tragic. I was no Bukowski character. I was just a drunk who was too scared to have a go at life. Too scared to fail. It’s easier to point fingers than it is to step up to bat. I won’t do that in sobriety. I won’t blame the advertisers or a disease. What’s done is done. The path is forward I won’t waste time looking for excuses when I could be looking for solutions. I have dug through the shit of the past so much that it is time to let turn to the fertilizer for a brighter future. I want to live as many years being content as I did discontent. I owe myself and the world that much.
Walking to the shop the other day I noticed the daffodils sprouting up. It made me smile at the audacity of the flower to shine so brightly when all around is still recovering from the winter. The daffodil stands as a symbol of optimism for the time to come. Of the warmth of summer and the rebirth of spring. If there is a symbol for sobriety then maybe the daffodil should be it. To me, quitting drinking was like leaving a harsh never-ending winter. The ceaseless cold had frozen me in time, trapped by my inevitable future. Yet through the frozen wasteland sprung life. Bright and colourful. Vibrant. Like the daffodil able to share hope with others. A beacon. A sign that it will be alright.
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.
Robert Lewis Stevenson
If you’re reading this thinking “What the fuck is this idiot talking about flowers for? Doesn’t he know I am in a world of pain?” The thing is, I do. I was there. My world was dark and I was trapped by my thoughts. A daily dose of regrets and disappointments eased by “just a few” alcohol drinks. Until it was completely out of control. Then I was forced into action. From laddish alcoholic to philosophiser about flowers and I couldn’t happier about that. The world no longer resides on my shoulders. Under all the pressure of life, there was beauty being created like a diamond. I feel better for the experiences of the past. I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean it. It made me appreciate life in a way that wouldn’t be available to me otherwise. Almost like a sensitivity upgrade from standard to high definition. Clarity. Serenity. Beauty in the simplicity of the everyday mundane. Where I saught solutions to my boredom through escapism, I found them within each moment. Each patchwork of time stitched to the next. Each one offered the answers I had been searching for. The moments held the answers all I had to do was stop looking and start being present. When I stopped living on the shoulder of tomorrow or the coattails of the next drink, my focus was brought back to the present. Bringing with it peace. At first, a fleeting yet overwhelming sense of connectivity to life splashed with imposter syndrome became available. Then, slowly, the connectivity became less intense and I began to believe that I had earned some happiness. I had paid my dues in the misery stakes. And god damn I was having some happiness. I didn’t quit drinking to be miserable. FUCK THAT. I am one of the lucky ones. I escaped that life…
Between 40 to 60 percent of people who’ve been treated for addiction or alcoholism relapse within a year, according to a 2014 study in JAMA. While relapse is most common during the first year of recovery, people with years of sobriety can resume self-destructive drug use or drinking.
It is hard for some. It is a battle. But it is a battle that can be won by the ones seeking a brighter future. I was one of the tired and ragged who knew that another round with alcohol would finish me off. So I chose to tackle sobriety. Stuck between a rock and a hard place. The medicine that cured me so often was now a poison. Isolated and deserted. Locked outside the party, looking in. Lost. Yet when I slowly turned around I began to see the world outside the party and now I had the keys to the unimaginable. I can’t make you believe me. I can’t make you want to stop drinking. People told me for years I had a problem and I was convinced it was them that had the problem, with me. It wasn’t until the walls of the artificial reality began to collapse that I was exposed to the truth. And the shame. All I wanted to do was drink to escape the shame years of drinking had been hiding. With no crutch to lean on, I felt vulnerable. Thankfully, I have been stopped from falling over by the wonderful people who offer support.
To those people, many I will never meet. I am indebted beyond words.
Alcohol made my world small. I would fluctuate between work, the pub and home. It was like being a sprite in a video game. A character on Sims controlled by a sadist. Or a poor player trying to battle his way through a dungeon. Managing to overcome hurdles but never really advancing. Externally I aged but inside my mind, my thoughts got less. A blessing and a curse. Dictated by alcohol my outlook got narrower until it was my only focal point. The walls closed in. Isolated. Cold. A world of harshness and negativity. Bereft of warmth and love. A desolate wasteland where the future went to die. It was no wonder I was so depressed. Quitting drinking was like facing the end of game boss. Tackling the dungeon master. Unfortunately, there were no cheat codes. Just hints and tips from people who had bested it before. It was challenging but with some strategising, it became easier until, eventually, it was beaten. And the rewards were the keys to two worlds.
The two worlds I was given access to was the one we all live in and the one that resides inside. Alcohol had done a fantastic job of not only deadening me to the world outside it had also isolated me from myself. I was a stranger to myself. And I was afraid of that stranger but to progress, I had to understand him.
“It’s all too much and not enough at the same time!” said Jack Kerouac about love. The quote resonates with me, but not about love. It reflects my feelings about life when I needed to use alcohol. I was overwhelmed and empty. The world was large but pointless. When I looked at my future I saw a repetitive joyless existence but with options. I was lost in a plethora of empty choices. I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing forever. People who had held the same job for forty years perplexed me. In my youthful arrogance, I dismissed them as lacking adventure or imagination whilst yearning for the contentment they had.
The only joy I found, other than alcohol, was by newness. Not of things but of places and people. A fresh start. Clean linen. A blank canvas. Each town a new adventure. Until the emptiness of contentment crept up and caused a shiver down my spine. The cold reality of stability would set the wheels in motion. Yearning for that feeling again. That feeling of excitement. Ultimately this approach would leave me with fractured relationships and distant friends as they placed roots but I sought the next fix of feeling alive. Any bridges burned beyond repair. I would wander into the unknown comforted by my self-delusion.
I was always left wanting by life. Discontent to the point of escapism. Like Russel Brand put it “Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.” For me, alcohol was the solution to feeling both underwhelmed and overwhelmed by life simultaneously. It was also the solution to the internal problem of believing I was worthless yet not fulfilling my potential. Of wanting to live but being afraid of life. Alcohol just gave me a holiday from myself and from life. Often a much-needed break. It was an unsustainable approach.
I had to train myself to find joy. I had to look at why I was often discontent. I expected too much from life. I expected a constant adventure, constant stimulation and constant happiness. These expectations placed a huge burden not only on me but on the people I met and knew. This outlook would often leave me disappointed. Alcohol did what it said on the tin. It never let me down… until the end of course.
Quitting drinking seemed like throwing myself at the mercy of life and begging for it to go easy. I felt that without alcohol to protect me I would be left vulnerable to the things I was trying to avoid. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was timid at first. Unsure of my ability. Unsure of myself. I had denied myself for so long that without the limitations of alcohol I was weary to wander too far. Like an apprehensive animal being released into the wild. I would tentatively peer from the open door of my cage. I would take small steps until one day I realised it wasn’t a trap. I was actually free.
Quitting drinking was like a great book. The experience left me feeling richer, changed forever and changed for the better. I didn’t realise it until I reflected back on the journey. I was so focused during the process that I didn’t realise how it was changing me. In the first six months of quitting I just focused on quitting. Then I focused on tidying up the past. Which in turn cleared the path to the future. Along this journey, I tried new things. I had to. The old methods had led me to destruction so I had to be open-minded. I have sought methods such as meditation and yoga that I would have dismissed before but being desperate to be free left me open to suggestion. I tried some other suggestions like praying and church. It wasn’t for me but ultimately I was prepared to try. I became open-minded through desperation and as such was liberated from the mindset that was denying me the strength to be free. A combination of fear and foolishness were the chains that kept me from quitting for years. Fear of life without alcohol and the foolish belief that it would get better if I just kept ignoring problems. It only ever got worse. Thankfully, it got so bad I had to stop. Without it, I would never have attempted to walk the path of sobriety. Somehow, deep down, I knew that if I just kept trying new things, something would stick. That in the end, I would find the things that worked for me and thankfully I did. The world became available. My emotions became available. The warmth of the sun thawed my icy shell. In addiction, I was guarded and protected yet lonely and afraid. Intimidating yet timid. A man but a boy. Screaming for love yet screaming in silence. It was a terrible way to live. I much prefer the warmth of the light. How could I not? It is the greatest gift I ever received.
The metaphor of the dungeon at the start of this blog, a cold, desolate place of pain is just the visualisation of the emotion I was lacking; Love. Self-love. I think self-love has been confused and has been lost to narcissistic vanity. The saying to “find love you must love yourself,” seems to have been misunderstood. I’m not talking about being in love with myself but the ability to comprehend that I was worthy of love. I yearned for love but felt unworthy. I yearned for warmth but was scared of getting burned. All of the inferiority was turned inward and used to fuel my self-loathing. Which became the driving force of my alcohol consumption. A fission generator for my unquenchable thirst. I was in a state of perpetual self-hatred. It took time to feel worthy. To not try to cling to people. To realise that not everything and everyone was right for me. It was all learning. Without alcohol to shield me from my emotions I was like an open nerve. My emotions were painful at first but with reflection became a lesson. With time I learned to work with them. I no longer needed to avoid them. The ability to introspect is a gift. The things I feared are now my greatest asset. The emotions I avoided are my guide for life. I am human again.
I was fearful. I didn’t believe that I could “do life,” without alcohol. How could I? I never knew any other way! But all I found was that initially it was hard but after the initial shock life opened up. I opened up. The world became my playground and my intuition became my guide.
The answer to my problems had been there all along. I had just looking in the wrong place.
I want to start by saying that I am grateful for AA. I am grateful that it exists as a place. The idea that alcoholics should meet to share a message of positivity and life beyond alcohol has been fundamental in my sobriety. Unfortunately, the simplicity of connecting is lost in a lot of ideology, that I found off-putting at the start of my recovery and still find off-putting now. My main problem is that I find it hard to connect to others, even in the big city and AA offers a solution but it comes at a price. Is it worth it?
“The quickest way to relapse is to stop going to AA meetings.” is what I was told. Strange really that I have seen numerous people within the “rooms” relapse. These relapses are, of course, down to them just not “getting it!” Getting what? Who knows. I never got it. I never had a personal deity. Yet, I didn’t drink and have achieved things beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t get what there is to get. Maybe the spiritual awakening that each follower of the twelve-step program is promised as a reward. Although I often found it difficult to get any form of spirituality from meetings when they were merely a darkest day competition. I left many meetings feeling worse. I know wrong meetings right? Yeah, they all say that. Maybe the people who relapse accept that they are “powerless” and give up trying to quit. I was left feeling a bit put down the first time I attended a meeting.
After years of self-destructive behaviour fuelled by self-hatred and lack of self-worth, I went to AA to be told I was powerless and had an incurable disease. That did nothing to restore my self-respect. How could I overcome anything by surrendering? I was prepared to change but I was not prepared to turn my life over to a “God” of my understanding. I wanted control of my life after turning control over to alcohol. More importantly, I wanted control of my thoughts, as for a long time the focus was on drinking. The problems started when the AA steps asked me to accept I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. Then to turn my life over to a God of my understanding. Now here is the problem; I wasn’t in control of my life because I was powerless to alcohol. My life was being dictated by my addiction. At first I focused on not drinking.
After the urge to drink had left me, I decided to try something; manage my life sober!
It was tricky but fuck man I got a lot of things done and my self-esteem grew as I achieved goals. There was no divine intervention. Just a pencil and paper for my goals. And some determination to see them through.
I have been liberated from the ideology that made me believe a cessation of meetings would first result in me drinking and then in me dying from said drink. I had to stop attending AA meetings because I wanted to progress into the future. I wanted to go on an adventure that would mean AA wouldn’t be an option. I had to do it to achieve a dream of embracing the freedom afforded to me due to quitting drinking. The freedom that allowed me to look beyond the drink at the end of the day and create plans for a bright future. In AA meetings I relived my darkest days three times a week. Always looking backwards. Digging through the dirt of the past and never letting it settle to clear calm water. I couldn’t see how I could progress in those conditions. Constantly identifying as diseased. A disease that is waiting for me to slip up. A disease that is trying to get me to drink. A disease that conspiring against me. It’s a little bit paranoid.
If I’m honest the urge to drink left a long time ago. What lingers is the need for connectivity. I sometimes feel like being a nondrinker in Britain is much like being an atheist in Saudi Arabia; there isn’t much to do on a Friday. So due to this need to connect I would make my way to AA meetings. I have met some great people through AA but they are the ones who don’t preach the program. They also don’t want to drink either but they not talking about how their “HP (higher power) has a plan.” To make these friends came at a cost. I had to sit through meetings, picking at the scab, never letting it heal.
It is said that there is no cure for alcoholism. Surely not drinking is the cure. By not drinking I regained my power over alcohol. For me, after a certain amount of time, the cravings ceased and was replaced with temptation. Thankfully, by not drinking I had the choice to drink or not. Once, I chose to and couldn’t stop. Through my life, I have abused alcohol to escape and also rewarded myself with it. As such, I created a negative connection with alcohol. I can’t drink again. Just like if I start smoking again I’ll end up hooked again. It’s the same mechanism. I accept that and move on.
In sobriety, I have been surrounded by drink and drinkers. I’ve partied and had romantic meals. At no point did I think I needed to drink but I could have had a drink. I chose not to. And at no point did I think I need a meeting but the need to connect never goes away. Partying and sitting in the pub are just increasing the temptation.
So what did I do? Really simple; exercised, ate well and reflected on the positives in my life. I also meditated. Not to get closer to my “higher power” but to get closer to the thing I was most afraid of… my mind. No higher power. No praying. No daily calls to a sponsor. Just living life as a non-drinker. There has been no fire and brimstone. No “white-knuckling it.” The last six months have been the best six months of my life.
I get that people need to believe what they believe to stay sober. I understand that many people in the “rooms” had nothing and thanks to AA now have a life. But even that doesn’t make it so. The cracks started showing when I read the book “Mistakes were made but not by me,” which highlights the lies we tell ourselves to get through life. Not only that but how we contort the world to fit with our beliefs. I could see in AA meetings how people would dress up everyday occurrences as some sort of higher power message. Or how some perfectly explainable behaviour was met with the line “this alcoholic…” It’s not an alcoholic brain, it’s a human brain.
I am starting to believe that AA enables the continuation of the victim mentality ie “I am this way because I am an alcoholic!” or “I think this way because I’m an alcoholic!” Nonsense in my humble opinion. You are who you want to be. I stopped drinking because I didn’t want my future to be like my past. I am free. The day I chose to put down the bottle was the day I said no more. No more misery. No more fucking excuses. No more shirking responsibility and shifting the blame. It was time to take action. I am sure if I went to one of my local AA meetings there would be the same people moaning about the same shit they were moaning about six months ago. I get that life is hard. I understand but the nature of the meetings means the people in need have the floor. This leads to an almost group therapy feel where people spew their problems on one another in the hope for respite. I have left many meetings having not spoken a word as I felt what I would have said would have lightened the mood. I know “wrong meetings,” I get it.
AA helps some people but for me it made me feel inferior. Weak even. That I was incapable of controlling my own life, even though I had never tried to manage my life whilst sober. Now I was being told I had to outsource the management of it to a deity of my choosing… ” it doesn’t have to be a deity! It’s a spiritual program!” Again nonsense. It’s a religious program the steps don’t work without the word god.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God./Him”
Okay, so I can choose anything.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a lamp!”
I mean who the fuck turns the management of their life over to a lamp or any other inanimate object?
I was called egotistical by an AA member because I wanted to claim the praise for turning my life around. Even though I always talked about the people who had helped me. The person then proceeded to talk about their “higher power,” having a plan for them. Like they had their very own personal Jesus. Then claimed to not “be special or different!” If believing that you have your very own God who looks out for you isn’t egotistical then I don’t know what is.
At its very core AA is a fear-based religious program. The fear is that to drink again is to die and to stop going to meetings is definitely going to lead to drinking. Fear dictated my life when I used to drink. Fear isn’t going to dictate my future. AA stopped me from drowning but I had to try life to learn to swim. I am grateful for that and I want to share my message to help other people who are struggling. Which is why I write these blogs but I’m not sure I can spend my time in an environment that makes me feel bad. I have heard people in meetings who require professional help. Who are desperate but surrounded by an army of armchair psychologists dismissing their problems as a symptom of that “alcoholic brain.” Quitting drinking isn’t an honorary doctorate!
My main problem with AA is its dominance in the world of recovery. I haven’t touched alcohol for six years. Out of those six years, I attended AA for about two years; three months at the start of my sobriety, after six weeks without drinking. And for eighteen months after I had walked the El Camino de Santiago. I had achieved my goal and needed something to do. With nowhere to go, I would sit in the pub with friends. I knew it was only a matter of time until I drank out of boredom. I had to find something to do. Somewhere with nondrinkers… AA was my only option. Although that may be changing as a recent court case allowed people to choose alternative practices because AA is a religious program. Hopefully, this encourages employers to allow other treatments and expands them in the market. In my area, there is a lack of alternatives and as such, I am left with a choice; to stop attending AA or attend. To stop attending would be the easy option but would result in me isolating myself. A desire to not only meet people but also, a desire to help others in need draws me back. Connectivity is important to maintaining my well-being as somebody in recovery and also as a human. There are many online forums to discuss sobriety (This being one of my favourites) which I think are a great tool but not a substitution for actual human connection.
I will have to voice my concerns in meetings like the other nonbelievers I have heard before. Very rarely I would hear the voices of the disenfranchised at meetings. The ones marked outcasts. The nonbelievers. Their words not critical, just honest. Their remarks would bring rolled eyes and tuts. Those rare voices are the voices that made me believe. They made me realise sobriety was possible without the need to find a god whilst I sat silently, hoping to “get it.” I always thought it showed strength to say “Hey, I don’t believe in this but there is nowhere else to go on a cold Friday night and I don’t want to drink!” without those voices there is nothing but a theist meeting all comparing imaginary friends and war stories. Neither is what I would call healthy nor encouraging for people looking to quit drinking. Maybe it’s time to say so. I mean, it is an honest program after all and I guess it will have to do until an alternative arrives. Or maybe the dissenting voices can open up the meetings to a broader audience.