Everything is as it should be. My inner world is calm. There are no major issues to worry about. In fact, gratitude is abundant. Life really could be worse. Lots of bad things could happen. I’ll find one. Eviscerate it. And spread its unlikely potential across my brain. “Ahhhh” I will sigh, as the peace is disrupted. Negativity runs supreme. I am a pig; most happy in shit.
Most of my life has been spent using practices that allow peace to be cultivated internally; meditation, walking, reflection, spend time in nature, good diet. Once I have created a mind somewhat close to utopia I will destroy it. Then I will rebuild. Why? Numerous reasons. Boredom. Fear. So it is me that destroys it before some other bastard does. Most likely it is the belief that peace and happiness are fleeting. That they are good for others and not for me. If they do arrive then I must search for something to bring it to an end. It is a form of psychological self-harm. It is searching through the past for a negative memory to use as a weapon against myself. It is raking over the coals of regret to keep the heat fresh. It is pulling every shameful act and hanging it on display like some kind torturous art gallery. It is these weapons that I use to keep the scars fresh. But they are not scars on my arms or legs. They are in my mind. At times the anxiety caused can be so ferocious that it flays my brain. The pain makes me feel normal. It is what I know. It is my default setting. Years of sitting in a pub pouring alcohol and negativity into my system made certain the diminished self-belief. The same diminished self-belief I had started drinking hoping to increase.
Every day is a fight against myself. Not because I am fighting the addiction of alcoholism. The temptation to drink alcohol has long subsided. The temptation to smoke a cigarette now that’s a different story. But the real battle is for peace of mind. Trying to find a moment to saviour amongst the chaos of life is hard. Especially when my default setting is destruction. Just getting from place to place can be draining. The analogy that best describes it is that you are in a house. At the bottom of the garden, there is a shed that contains something you desperately need. There is a storm blowing and you must brave it to from the house to the shed. That is how most of my days feel. Like fighting through a storm. The Fluoxetine has calmed the storm but the behaviour still exists. Now, I can see it happening. Like a tendril of my mind that needs poison to survive is flailing around looking for some life-preserving negativity. The meds seemed to have restricted its supply of poison but it continues to search. Hopefully, it will die out.
This thinking creates a prison that begins to consume my mind. The parameters of my imagination are restricted by the energy needed to get through the day. The joy of the life I am trying to obtain is like the shed at the end of the garden. I am fighting to get there. Even if I let the anxiety pass it consumes me. It begins to spiral viciously until I cannot see where I am heading. Then I crash. But if I do find a bit of peace I destroy it. To return me to the state of chaos. Its almost as if peace and happiness are my allergies. Only in states of overwhelming positivity can I win the war. Things like travel and exercise push away the feelings but once those activities cease “normality” resumes. Worry returns. And anxiety ensues. It is a vicious cycle of self-destruction.
I will cling to something. Anything. As long as it offers comfort. In the baron wasteland of a negative mind, loneliness is certain. Anything that offers hope is welcome. No matter how destructive that help may end up becoming. With my desperation for salvation, the destruction of the hope is guaranteed. I will suffocate salvation. And consume affection. I will drain the joy from life in the pursuit of a high. Take running for an example. During the lockdown, running was a welcome break from the incessant Netflix binges. I started slowly and worked my way up to 10km. I was happy. I was enjoying it. Then came the obsession. 10km became 10 miles and then 12 miles. The demand for running continued after the lockdown ended. If I couldn’t run 10 miles after work then I was a failure. The drill sergeant barking orders in my head was demanding perfection. I had to give it up. If I can’t do something to perfect then I can’t do it at all. All or nothing. It has always been the way. Anything that I do enjoy initially, ultimately becomes unenjoyable.
Some in recovery would call it the “ism” in alcoholism. That the disease of alcohol is what creates an obsessional mind. To me, alcohol was the cure for my obsessional mind. The only cure for my obsessional mind is having something to obsess over. Without an obsession, I begin to flounder. Life becomes meaningless. I search for things to fill the void.
“A buddha is one who awakens from the illusion of samsara – That is, from the thought that there is something to get out of life. That tomorrow will bring it to you. That in the course of time, It will be alright. And therefore one is set pursuing time as if you were trying to quench your thirst by drinking saltwater.”
The emptiness that I feel in my soul is ceaseless. Like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using only a bucket. That’s how futile it feels. Nothing seems to fill the void. I have tried everything. Yet the empty feeling holds my soul with a firm hand. A restrictive clench that denies fulfilment. This feeling carries with it the belief of being a burden. That this unfillable feeling will be too draining for another. It is best to face it alone. To deny my innate desires is to save another. A reward for punishing myself. My sacrifice is worth it. A tortured soul; wanting love but unlovable. It is just another illusion. Another stick to beat myself. It is the last tool of torture in the dungeon of my psychological self-harm. It is the belief that there is no happy ending in my story.
I wish this was the attention-seeking meanderings of a troubled teenager. But it is the core belief of an adult man. Thankfully, I don’t believe the ending has been written yet. There is time to change the road your on…
This time of anxiety and depression has been painful. But from the pain has come introspection, growth and acceptance. That these parts of my psyche are here to stay and the tools I use to keep them under check are going to have to be a part of my life. Not just behind a pane of glass with the words “break in an emergency,” written on. When the shit hits the fan I’ll do an hour of meditation. When the going’s good I’ll do none. I am all or nothing. I have always been but somethings have to be done continuously. That is going to be hard to do.
What is most surprising is that for someone who values freedom, individuality and independence as much as I do. It has been difficult to accept my difference. It has been hard to acknowledge these dark parts of my soul. Simply because I saw it as weak. Anxiety to me is nervousness. Being nervous is being weak. That’s the way I saw it. And due to this tried to fight it. The inner conflict is exhausting. Especially when you are fighting for both sides. So the war is over. I am now trying to make peace with myself. I have an obsessional brain. A wonderful imagination that can turn peace into atom bombs. If not utilised it goes rogue. Boredom is the first step to destruction. An obsession is a distraction from the boredom. But eventually, it becomes destructive.
It is time to make peace. It is time to accept that my head is fucked. There are days when I feel like the world sped up and I’m going to fall off. I feel out of step and out of place. I can’t pretend anymore. It is time, to be honest. It is time to be myself. Shit, I might as well love who I am. Instead of hating who I’m pretending to be. Maybe genuine self-love will be the end to the psychological self-harm.
Twelve years ago, in the belly of the beast of depression, I refused medication. I thought it was cheating. Plus I was using a substantial amount of alcohol as medication. It didn’t work. In fact, the alcohol exacerbated the situation but what was I to know? I was a depressed alky. The talking therapy helped at the time. It gave me a bit of space to manoeuvre. It allowed me to find some peace and gain some clarity. I started a routine and that put me on the right path.
Fast forward 12 years and I’m sitting in a doctors room pleading for medication. The meditation, exercise, sobriety, healthy eating wellness program I had adopted had stopped working. A scary proposition. Last time the alcohol stopped working. This time the wellness stopped working. It was time to try something different…
This is day 30 of the fluoxetine dream.
Medication gets a bad rep in recovery circles. “It can’t be true sobriety!” Is what they say. I didn’t realise it was a fucking competition. That’s schoolyard bollocks; “I’ve got more god than you ner ner!” It’s that kind of attitude that stops people from trying the medication they may need. Would the same people dissuade others from Insulin? “You have diabetes? Well, it should be left untreated otherwise it’s not true sobriety!” Exactly. It’s nonsense. I mean Bill Wilson was tripping balls for a large part of his alleged sobriety. What’s good for the goose…
Anyway, I digress. So didn’t know what to expect when I started taking the meds. I know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to become a depersonalised zombie bereft of original thought. I wanted to cling to the small amount of creativity and individuality I had. Thankfully I didn’t become a zombie… brains… and did I cling to my creativity and individuality? You can judge that 🙂
What has happened over the last 30 days is a steady progression away from anxiety. Like a forcefield has been forming over my brain that deflects negativity. There have been a few strange moments. One night I couldn’t stop giggling. It was like being stoned. It was fun. I hadn’t laughed like that for a long time. It was a good release. I had a few suicidal thoughts. Although no more than normal. The increased stability has been noticeable. And due to my history of varying moods, I am waiting for the crash. I am prepared if it comes but hope it doesn’t.
15/10/20 (Day 25) was the first day of a noticeably elevated mood. Like mania without the craziness. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of mania; I would describe it as a virtual reality tornado. You get the thrill of a tornado but there isn’t actually one. It just seems like it. A constant barrage of ideas lights up my brain like a fireworks display on new years eve. This coupled with the feeling of invincibility is a recipe for disaster or action or both. An example of mania from my life would be the time I was housebound with depression for about six months. Then, one morning, I awoke feeling like a miracle had occurred during the night. I felt great. Better than great. I felt fanfuckingtastic. Naturally, I went on an all-day drinking session to celebrate. It was great fun. The future looked bright. Until the next day when the depression resumed. That’s what mania is to me. The fluoxetine is like coming up on drugs but never getting to the high. It is frustrating but better than anxiety.
16/10/20 I felt good but without the incessant thinking. Life just looked good. There was a bit of hope. There was a bit of colour in the world. The autumn colours didn’t look drab. They looked vibrant. It was nice. I was present. I wasn’t wracked with negative thoughts. I was present and happy. I had a good laugh with a friend. It was fun.
17/10/20 I went for a walk and the world looked real. It looked solid and alive. Sometimes when my brain is in hyperdrive it can appear to buzz. Almost like the leaves are vibrating and I can see it. But today it seems like I was on the cusp of that. Like I was skirting the edge of reality. The fall into mania was close but I just couldn’t breakthrough. It’s almost like coming up on psychedelics but never actually getting there. I keep waiting for the comedown but it hasn’t come yet. I am frustrated that I can’t breakthrough. There is so much to learn by removing the barrier to expectation. The ego is a block to enlightenment. The fluoxetine numbs the pain of my situation but doesn’t alter my awareness. It’s like I know what’s happening but just don’t care anymore. It’s not a bad feeling. It’s nice and warm. It’s almost the feeling I was searching for through alcohol but with more positivity. And less debilitating effects. Music seems to supercharge the feeling. I listened to Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd while walking down the street and had to stop myself from dancing. The chaotic guitar outro sent my brain swirling with it on a trippy journey. I must have looked a freak walking down the street with a giant smirk on my face. Thankfully, I didn’t care.
I still await the comedown. My life has been like the “Sound of music”; a dance through peaks. Exaggerating by my functional alcoholism. Chaos became my second addiction. And because of this, I am now programmed to believe that happiness comes at a cost. For every up there has to be a down. If there isn’t one. I’ll make one. I’ll destroy comfort in the pursuit of balance. But so far I seem to be surfing between the lows of depression and the highs of mania. It’s quite pleasant. Although a little frustrating having been used to cycling from one to the other for so long. I’ll see how it goes.
20/10/20 I have finished the full 30 days and the comedown never came. The elevated highs have levelled off but can be experienced through normal ways. Music kicks it up a gear, as it should. Movies I used to love are funny again. The world doesn’t seem as scary. The negative thoughts are scarce compared to the ferocious onslaught I was suffering a month ago. The self loathed and self-hatred has lessened. I am not skipping with joy but I have options now. I still feel lost. I just don’t care where I am heading so much. It isn’t numbness. It just feels like the anxiety door in my mind has been sealed off. The negative thoughts are visible through the glass window but their power has been taken.
This isn’t just down to fluoxetine. I have been meeting with people. Sharing my experience. Writing. Walking. Accepting. Meditating. I have replaced the morning suicidal thought with a compliment. I have looked over my life and found the moments of joy, pride, achievement, strength, integrity and I have accepted them. Before I was panning the river of gold for nuggets of shit just to feel bad. I was comparing my life to imaginary scenarios as a form of punishment. I would look at social media as if I was a psychic. I’d create an entire life from a slither of information. Their life would obviously be perfect compared to my shit existence. I would then use this stick of my own creation to batter myself into submission. Bloody and bruised I would cry out to the world in pain. Damning it for its unfairness… crazy right?! This path is bordered by thorns. There is enough suffering in the world without creating more. My days can get dark enough without added extra layers of misery. But this has been a great reminder that I have to take care of my mental health.
I have to practice what I preach and check in on myself more often. Even in the heady days of fun, exploration and adventure I still need to take a moment to reflect. Not on the screen of my mobile while creating tales of self-torture based on lies. But on the state of my mind. Without supervision, it can become delinquent and wander away from its duty. It is up to me to bring it back to the task. To focus it on the moment. And to remember that I am not as bad as I would like to believe. Life isn’t perfect but I’m not sure I would want it to be. But then again I am a chaos addict… the Fluoxetine won’t cure that but it has made life bearable. At least for now.
The NHS has been incredible in the past month. From phoning 111 and talking to the doctor in the walk-in centre it has been 30 days. In that time I have received medication, had an assessment and arranged my first counselling session. The NHS gets slagged off but it has saved my life plenty of times and helped me countless others. God bless.
Alcohol wasn’t the problem. It was the cure. It silenced the chaotic turbulence that presented itself as my thoughts. Like standing in an auditorium and everyone is shouting. It’s very difficult to pick up a single voice before it’s consumed in the noise. The ideas lead nowhere as one is killed by the next. Alcohol was the “SHUT THE FUCK UP” my brain needed. It brought silence to the audience and allowed peace to reign. If only for a short while. Its deadening effect became VERY appealing. I mean why wouldn’t it? If you lived in a noisy house wouldn’t you find a hobby to keep you out of there? Social anxiety wasn’t a thing in my vocabulary. I was just different. A mind on fire. Dousing it with lager quelled the flames for an evening. It made me feel “normal”!
In AA meetings I have heard people talk about the “washing machine” head. It’s discussed in a way that it is a by-product of drinking. That the obsession of alcohol gave birth to obsessional thinking. Alcohol was the cure for my obsessional thinking. It made me feel normal. I would be thinking about random shit long before drinking had entered my life. Someone once said to me “I am two pints behind normal!” What he meant was when he had two pints of lager he felt like a human being. It hit me like a crossbow bolt. I knew what he meant. Consuming alcohol allowed me to live in the moment.
Unfortunately, obsessional thinking has remained long after alcohol has left my life. The only cure I have found is setting goals. Hitting targets. Reaching for dreams. But that only gives temporary relief. I tried keeping it in the day like was recommended but I couldn’t help thinking where it was leading to? I mean if I am doing the same thing over and over then how am I progressing? Maybe progress isn’t the answer. Maybe the pursuit of happiness is what leaves me wanting all the time. I’ve got lost in the pursuit. Consumed by consumption. I lost the reasons why I was doing things. Misplaced meaningfulness in the meaningless. I got sidetracked… I forgot what I was doing it for. Without reason, I find it impossible to motivate. Work to earn to consume is so vacuous. I’m constantly left wanting. Empty. A bottomless void that can never be filled. Its darkness is expanding. Tainting the light. It begins to pull at my spirit. It wants my soul. It won’t take it. Not this time.
This isn’t “alcoholism”. It is depression. It has been with me forever. Following me around like a dark cloud. Tainting my light. Contorting positivity via mental gymnastics. Anxiety inducing twists and turns that M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of. It’s a fucking nuisance. At least at it’s worse it’s noticeable. In its mild form, it’s like someone messing with the contrast on the TV. The world loses a bit of its resonancy. The vibrancy is lost and it becomes dull. Lifeless. Joyless. The beauty is hard to find as my energy is redirected to getting through the day. Almost like the days with a hangover of old. The pain is similar; knotted stomach, sleepless nights, tired all day. Accept I don’t have the sweats that I had with a hangover. At least I had a cure for a hangover.
The weight is excruciating sometimes. It’s like someone turned the gravity up. I want to exercise but it seems like a big ask. I was running 10 miles about six weeks ago. Then poof. Even writing this feels like I am just moaning for the sake of it. That the words are just for attention and I’m just being a “fanny”. I want to snap out of it. I want to go for a run but I can’t. It’s frustrating. I eat well. Meditate. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. And still, it’s on me. Wrapping its dark tendrils around my nerves. Squeezing the air out of my lungs. Clinging to me like a needy partner. Demanding I don’t leave. Or if I do it is together, forever.
It wants me to believe that happiness is a lie. I was deluding myself that the world was vibrant and fun. Now, I see the world as it REALLY is. That’s what the feeling wants me to believe. To believe darkness is all there is. That negativity is the only option. That loneliness and lovelessness are guaranteed. No matter how far I travel. How much I meditate. No matter how many meds I take. All I am doing is delaying the inevitable. A sad, lonely death is my fate. But there is something I know. There is a realisation that throws that into question; if that is my guaranteed end then I may as well enjoy my time. Absolve myself of pressure. Remove the lead vest it feels like I have been wearing. Pursue love without fear because what do I have to lose? If life is meaningless then I can give any meaning I wish! If darkness is part of me then I should stop fighting and embrace it. Life isn’t perfect. Nor am I. That is the best I can ask for.
If only it was that easy to switch it off. If I could think myself out of it I would have done months ago. But I do know that it will get easier once I accept it. Which is difficult to do. The recurring thought is “I shouldn’t feel this way!” I’ve travelled the world. I’ve turned my life around yet depression still hangs like a dark cloud in a blue sky. It’s fucking annoying. Frustrating. Like having an evil twin who wants to mess my life up. Putting obstacles in my way for his own amusement. My pain is his pleasure. In reality, it is me doing that. A dastardly bastard depression is.
I had an evaluation the other day. They asked about suicide. I said I’d had thoughts but wouldn’t act on them. It turns out that suicidal thoughts are not normal. I’d accepted them as just a part of my psyche. Just a quirk of character. I thought waking every morning and imagining sliding a pistol up the back of my skull was normal. Turns out not. I was relieved when they said they would try to help me. It felt good. It didn’t cure it. Maybe it won’t but if it just gets a little vibrancy back in the world then it will be worth it. The simplistic beauty is what I miss most. Joylessness is just that.
If you are experiencing any of the things I have talked about then please don’t suffer in silence. I know it can be hard to reach out. It felt like a dent to my pride. An attack on my masculinity. If I can’t “do” life then I must be a fucking wimp? Not so. Reaching out and asking for help can be hard. It is worth the effort. Even just to find a bit of peace if your mind is chaos.
Thankfully, I ‘m not drinking. It just prolongs the agony. Plus I only ever lost fights while drunk.
Now, I can see the light. It will get easier. It will get better.
Sitting on a bench in quiet contemplation. Watching the people pass and the waves roll up the beach. The sound draws me back into the moment after my mind had begun to spin away into some chaotic scenario that will never happen. The thoughts hit my mind with the regularity of the waves. They can also be equally destructive.
The energy I have wasted thinking of situations that would never come to pass is unmeasurable. The anxiety that I have induced by thinking of the worse possible outcome is awe-inspiring. The anger and pain I have created from nothing just to feel something is upsetting. In an artificial world, emotions are the only reminder of reality. They are the direct route to feel alive. Unfortunately, the majority of my adult life was spent in misery. Through repetition, I came to believe that negative emotions were the only emotions I had. The pain of guilt, shame and remorse are seared into my soul. Tainted by my past I carry the weight of mistakes long forgotten. I am still making up for something that I can’t remember doing. I have long paid my debt. Yet I can’t let go. The past painted my future black so it’s time to dig out a brighter shade.
Life is a blank canvas with which we are free to paint a beautiful picture
It’s easy to cling to the shitty blanket that we mistake for security. A job, relationship, friend, addiction, they all seem to offer us something we think we lack. So through fear of an imaginary alternative, we refuse to let go. All the while we get worse. The only thing keeping us that situation is the belief that “things might just get better if I carry on!” So basically waiting for a miracle. It very rarely comes. The liberation from these situations is frightening but life-changing. It just takes work. The hard work is what gives the reward. Without it, there would be no accomplishment.
Dare to dream!
People are in different situations. Not everyone can pack up and fly around the world for six months to celebrate sobriety. But there are numerous things that people would love to do but their dreams get shelved in the pursuit of life. The hustle and bustle of families and work push the dreams to the edges of our minds. The book we wanted to write or the instrument we wanted to learn becomes a distant memory. A remnant of a time of naivety. Of hope and optimism.
Sobriety. Quitting drinking. Wellness. Whatever you want to call it is the return to that time. Drinking is like a relationship with a manipulative needy partner. You know they are going to want attention sooner or later. And you’ll feel guilty if you don’t give it to them. It’s tiring. You are on eggshells You hope it will eventually get better. Maybe even sort itself out… it never does.
The first thing I noticed when I quit drinking was the amount of time I had to fill. It was frightening. It was boring. But eventually, I started to tick off things I’d always wanted to do. It was crazy. To see achievement for the first time in my life. Each achievement giving me a little more belief. I had no self-esteem when I quit drinking but slowly it got higher. It took some believing. One year I was covered in vomit, drunk, slumped on my own doorstep. The next year I was in Italy on my own with money, sober and free. It was an incredible turnaround. It was made possible by an inner strength that I didn’t know existed. I still doubt it now but it’s there. We all have it. You may doubt it but you do. Try it and find out. You’ll be surprised at when you can achieve when you stop putting obstacles in your own path.
It was also made possible by supportive friends and family. To get the support you have to reach out. To reach out you have to admit you have a problem. A problem that you can’t deal with alone. There are plenty of people out there willing to help. We just have to let them know. Once we have identified the problem it is possible to find a solution.
I am/was the problem. Well, my thinking is the problem. Obsessive thinking. Overthinking. Over analysing. It’s debilitating. Alcohol made it go away but only for a short time. Eventually, it stopped working. When I quit drinking I realised I’d wasted my life fighting myself.
Imagining my life like a canvas, the first eighteen years are painted in the vivid colours of youth. Hope and optimism bound by a loving family. By the age of eighteen, the canvas is getting grey. From my early twenties to my early thirties it is mostly black. There are speckles of colour but ultimately they’re like a couple of stars in a vast night sky. When I quit drinking at age thirty-two it begins to change. As optimism and childlike hope returns. The world looks brighter. The freedom of sobriety allows adventure. The canvas is a collage of dreams. The essence of life is poured onto the page like paint. It is awash with icons and scenes. The simplest day becomes one to be savoured. The local park is a painting brought to life. The birds. The trees. Everything resonates with the beauty of simplicity. The vibrancy of existence speaks through the everyday occurrences. Life is happening right in front of me and I never saw it. My world was too awash with alcohol. I was transfixed by the next fix. Too anxious to engage in reality for fear of being found out. It was a bleak time masquerading as fun. Give me colour and life anytime.
It is there if you want it. The wonder of life in all its agonising glory is waiting to be seen. The hectic, busyness that masquerades as life hides, not only the true world but also our true selves. The only reflecting we do is on the screen of our mobile phones. No wonder we are so disconnected. Colour and vibrancy await. Life. Beauty. Love. Are all accessible once the soul is unbound by the limiting effects of the deadening drug that is alcohol.
The universe awaits but it has an eternity to do so. We alas, do not. So ultimately then the question is what are you waiting for? The stars are aligned and today is the first day of your liberation. Take a deep breath. Get the paints out. And start dreaming. The easel is about to get more vivid from now on.
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For a long time, I thought that being a recovering alcoholic was something to be ashamed of. More so, I was convinced that being a recovering alcoholic was an offence that could result in being dismissed from my job. This belief came from my time in the AA community. Where anonymity is the cornerstone of their recovery. But how can the stigma be removed around alcohol if we are too fearful to speak up about our pasts? Instead of being ushered into forums and cold church halls. Out of sight. To share our tales with other people shrouded in the veil of secrecy.
Maybe some like it. The secrecy. It adds much-needed inclusivity to a persons life who were lost. But is it beneficial? Isn’t fear bad? Isn’t fear the reason I nearly drank myself to death? Fear of being an outcast! Fear of change! Fear of loss! Yet fear is still holding me back!
If someone loses weight it is usually a good thing. If a heroin addict gives up the junk and gets her life on track it’s a good thing? Isn’t it? So then why are alcoholics any different? Why is it downplayed? Maybe because a too strong message of recovery is bad for business!? That’s a little cynical. I don’t know the real reason.
But what I do know is that there is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is the hardest and best thing I ever did. If anyone doubts that, then try it. The amount of people I see on Facebook who can’t get through Dry-January or StopTober without a drink is testament to the difficulty. But hey they haven’t got a problem…
So if you are trying to quit and finding it hard don’t fret. Go easy on yourself. Release the pressure of expectation of the future. Some of the thoughts I had in the early days was “How will I get through a wedding without drinking?” or “How will I have fun if I quit drinking?” All flannel. Complete and utter nonsense created by my own obsessive mind to justify the continuation of a destructive habit. How did I get through those things? At first, by going and leaving when I couldn’t take it anymore. Now? I stay even less because drunk people are boring. But I just got through it.
I never celebrated quitting drinking as an achievement. Maybe, once a year I would say “That’s another year done,” as I collected a chip. Eventually, I never saw the point. I wanted to live it everyday but it’s difficult when it is meant to be a secret. Quitting drinking is a wonderful achievement. Fuck what anyone else says.
I have had a problem recently regarding recognising successes. It is in my nature to downplay my achievements. To not get too big-headed. To not be proud. Or boast. But what that has translated to is not accepting my successes. I was ignoring the positives to find negatives. Just to make myself feel bad. Like panning for shit in a river of gold. Ignoring the glory and focusing on the misery. To break the cycle I attended an online positivity webinar. It was useful. What I took from it was that “I am not defined by my failures!” The past doesn’t always predict the future. The negative messages I told myself when I drank are no longer valid. I would look in the mirror after a night drinking and berate myself mentally. I deserved it. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, this mental berating has carried through. I now look in the mirror and see a man I am proud of. Yet, the inner message is the same as the past. But not for much longer. I am re-writing that.
Like many people out there I climbed out of the gutter and became something. I created something from nothing. If that isn’t worth a pat on the back then I don’t know what is. Not just for me. For everybody who did the same. Anyone who saw the road they were heading on was leading the wrong way and opted to change course. Anyone who learned the hard way. Anyone who pined for love lost to bad behaviour and made it their mission to correct it for the next person. These things take strength. Yes, STRENGTH. Not weakness. It takes character. It takes all the things I thougtht I lacked. But it is only possible to deny the evidence for so long. Eventually, even the inner critic has to stand up and give ovation. And why the fuck not? Just because we can’t have a drink doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our successes. No matter how minor they seem to you. They are incredible to another.
I wish to celebrate the journey. I own the mistakes and failures that were in abundance when I drank. I own the successes and achievements from sobriety. I am so proud of what I have done. I honestly never thought it was possible. Just quitting drinking I mean. I thought I was so far lost. I thought that life would be over after I quit. It has been the greatest time of my life. With sacrifice comes reward. Remove alcohol and you will be rewarded in many other ways.
Life is getting shorter all the time. It doesn’t need to be lived in fear, shame and guilt around alcohol. Most of the beliefs are superimposed anyway. Old tales that are still being told to torture ourselves. A habit. A ritual of mental self-abuse. The scars of physical self-harm are clear to see. The mental ones? Not so easily. I can tell you that you are beautiful. That you have potential and mean the world to someone. I can tell you but I know it counts for nothing if you don’t believe it. I lived a life beyond my wildest dreams and was still left wanting. I still didn’t believe that I should be happy.
Thankfully, this realisation has led me to what I believe to be the root cause of my problems. Invasive, obsessive thinking that is destructive to my happiness. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. Leading to low self-worth. Thoughts appear with the ferocity and destructiveness of a lightning bolt. Usually bringing with it the symptoms of an electric shock. Now I see the problem I can look for a solution.
Mental health issues and alcohol use have been long known about. As far back as Bill W. the founder of AA. Later in his life, he went on to study the effects of vitamins on the brain. Addicts usually have an underlying recurring issue such as anxiety and/or depression. Bill W himself sought to remedy this problem after the spiritual aspect of AA did nothing to ease his. He tried many approaches including LSD. He sought to find a solution to his problem of mental angst.
What is clear is that there isn’t a single approach to quitting drinking. Or more pertinent; a single approach to staying quit drinking. I am not advocating the use of LSD or vitamin B3. But what I am saying is there is no such thing as an alcoholic. Many stumble blindly into addiction. Some may have a genetic or environmental reason. There are many routes in. So there are many routes out. You just have to find from all the information out there which approach works best for you.
And when you do, be proud. Be confident in the knowledge that picking a path, sticking to it and being rewarded in itself is a reward. That overcoming destructive patterns of behaviour or thinking is a monumental achievement. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest to be proud.
In fact, turning their lives around seemed a greater climb for many people. So pat yourself on the back. You have earned it. Life ain’t easy.
I’ve searched high and low for solutions. Internal and external. Each works for a while. Then I return to the same feeling. Flat. Dead. Numb. I do not want to carry this cross anymore. Its weight is slowing me down. Normal things in normal life seem pointless. The joy of the simple has been taken away. My energy has been removed. This morning I spoke to a doctor about the situation. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to acknowledge that the work I had done over the years hadn’t worked. It left me scared. Scared that it was all for nothing. All the recovery. The meditation. The exercise. Travel. All pointless if I’m going to end up feeling the same… it was a warning sign.
I know where the feeling leads. It isn’t a good place. Ignoring the feeling of hopelessness costs lives. Nobody wants to be sat in a GP’s office spilling their guts to someone they hardly know. But it is a damn sight better than standing on a bridge hoping for a miracle. Life is fucking short. It shouldn’t be spent in misery. Yeah, we have to do shit we don’t like to survive. But there are numerous days between should be enjoyed. It’s difficult to do when the dark cloud descends. The world seems ominous. The future without help is scarier than reaching out. The ego will tell you to walk tall. To soldier on and prove the world wrong. There are no winners in a one-sided war.
Last week, I was working at home and burst into tears. It lasted a few hours. I didn’t know why? It had been building up over the weeks. Each day a little harder than the last. Body getting heavier. Mind getting foggy. I didn’t drink. I didn’t want to drink. There was alcohol in the house I was staying at. I looked at it and thought what fucking difference would that make? I wanted to not feel the way I did. But I knew escaping wouldn’t change a thing.
I booked the wrong train tickets. Then I got on the wrong bus, twice. Had a panic attack. Mind started barreling around. I felt lost. I was less than a mile from my house. It was scary as fuck. I’ve been in places around the world and felt fine. A mile from my house and I was freaking out. I felt embarrassed. I had no option but to admit defeat.
I went to the doctors. I told them what had happened. I got prescribed Prozac counselling and a blood test. The works. I have been against antidepressants forever. Now I am out of options so I will try. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. The same situation as when I used alcohol to escape. That eventually stopped working also.
Even after six and half years of not drinking I still am not immune. Mental health is a tricky bitch. Even with a clean-living life, it is possible to succumb. I didn’t want to reach out. I felt ashamed. I felt weak. I felt like less than a man. Even in the waiting room I still wanted to run. Didn’t want to acknowledge it. History has taught me that denial is a fool’s game. So I stayed. I spoke. I felt better when I had got it out in the open.
We all have to do things in life we don’t want to do sometimes. Sometimes it saves your life. I didn’t want to quit drinking. It saved my life. A result of quitting is that I’ve had to face myself. Look inside and acknowledge problems. But even with that introspection, it is still possible to ignore issues. That is a dangerous road to walk. Last time I started feeling depressed I bottled it up. Eventually, I became housebound and suicidal.
Quitting drinking might not have made me invincible. But it has made me aware enough to not have to get to that extreme again. It isn’t easy. It is far from being cured. Thankfully, I don’t have to suffer in silence.
Let me just start by saying that travel was only possible because I quit drinking. Sobriety is the entire cake. Travelling is the icing that gives it beautification. Travel is a reward for the sacrifice of not drinking. It is the prize for swimming against the tide in a culture washed way by alcohol. The experience of fulfilling my life long dream of travelling the world only cemented my belief that quitting drinking was the greatest decision I ever made. My financial, physical and mental recovery was only possible because I quit drinking. Simple as that. It was said to me as a kid, “you shouldn’t smoke it stunts your growth!” Well, alcohol stunted my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. Quitting set me free.
I implore you to dare. You may fail but which is worse? Failing or failing to try? If I had never tried I would still be wishing and berating myself for not trying. Remove the fear through action.
If the COVID scare has taught me anything it is; don’t put things off until tomorrow because one day, tomorrow won’t be an option.
As for the travel, it went so fast and was over before I knew it. I was left with a collection of photographs and memories that seemed to belong to someone else. Fleeeting moments in time that seem to belong to a movie I saw. I struggle to beleive they are mine. That it happened to me. Yet, I still smile when I recall one. I had some great times. I saw some beautiful places and met some wonderful people. Even as a nondrinker, I never felt left out. I never felt I was missing out. I felt like I had arrived at the place I never thought I would reach.
Some of the places I visited you can read about here –
But how has travel changed me? Barring the dopamine hits from Instagram likes and the pleasant memories did it have a profound effect on my life? Do I feel different in any way? Well yes.
On my return to the UK, I experienced a reverse culture shock. There had been a general election whilst I was away and the country seemed polarized. Fragmented by oppositional stances. Each side was pointing fingers at the other, calling them names, whilst claiming moral and intelligent superiority over the other. It still remains today; “if you are not on board with my beliefs then you are against them.” It is almost impossible to formulate an opinion without being labelled as an enemy to either side. What happened to discourse?
Whilst I was away, and let’s be honest I wasn’t on an expedition to unfound lands for years, but still, I had some real conversations with people from all over the planet. Some real, deep conversations, questioning of life and all it’s wonderful differences. My profound realisation was; just because I believe something doesn’t make it true. This was brought about by the conversations and realisations that there is a simple thread that runs through the majority of humanity; to live life in peace, provide for yourself and others, to love, to have fun, to laugh and share moments of bliss. These moments connect us in ways that are integral to the human experience. Without them is to be dehumanised. It is possible to substitute them for other items but they are impossible to replace.
Passing through countries allowed me to see these connections play out and how these simple human moments unite us all. From the belief and positivity in Sudan with the hope that democracy would bring real change. To the woman sitting on the side of the road in India sharing her rice with a stray cat. To then return to the western world with fewer smiles yet more “wealth,” was stark. Yes, we have more comfort and supposed security but at what cost? What is the price of these things? It seems like a trade-off and with every trade-off, there is a loss.
It is almost impossible to raise this discussion without being labelled as a Marxist or communist or any other term that has become synonymous with evil or foolish. I believe that these labels only exist to close down the discussion. How can progress be made if we are not prepared to ask difficult questions of ourselves and the environment we inhabit?
When I first came back, a friend shared his experience of travel and how it changed his world view. The images of the world he had seen didn’t align with the ones his friends saw in the newspapers they read. He was left with a conundrum; to spend his days arguing or just accept that opinions are different. His experience reminded me of Plato’s allegory of the cave. Not to say he was correct and the others were staring at the cave wall. It just seems like many people refuse to question. It is almost as if thinking is knocked out of us…
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I had a worrying thought after returning; what now? I never thought about what to do after my achieving my dreams because I assumed it would never happen. I had spent most of my life a drunk. The thought of achieving anything was always a pipedream. The “what now?” feeling was anxiety-inducingt. I sat with it. It occurred to me that there seems to be no real collective goal. No direction just the drudgery and acceptance of normality. No real betterment of culture, only the continuation of the same. Work, get debt, repeat. The fear of loss driving us towards more of the same in the hope of security. So I vowed to try to be positive in a word of negatives. Try to help others to achieve their dreams and hopefully inspire others to reach their potential. I can but try.
I came to realise that I need even less “stuff” than I previously believed. It isn’t part of me or an extension of me. I just buy “things” to make me feel like I am making progress. It’s almost as if I bought things to fill the boredom from not moving. Running on the treadmill of consumption was enough to fill the gap of adventure. That was until the dopamine of newness wore off and left me chasing the next thing. I know that I need to be more included in society but that doesn’t mean conforming to expectation. It means being myself. The acceptance of myself is the foundation to be accepted by others. Pretending to be others is the quickest way to hate yourself. Life is short.
To be real you gotta be yourself Not a poorly constructed version of someone else
I have realised that the world isn’t as ominous as I was led to believe. The preconditioning had left me expecting violence but I was surprised to be welcomed. This may be down to the fact I was a tourist or as someone pointed out in the states, it may be because I am white. Either way, I felt safe.
I was idealistic growing up. Being an alcoholic made my world darker. It made me believe that I shouldn’t trust anyone including myself. Sobriety opened me up to my own potential and the potential I saw around me. Sobriety returned me to a state of wonder. Travel heightened that wonder. Combined, I was left with a sense of optimistic naivety; if I can change then maybe others can? Maybe I am blinkered by the fact that I once gave up the thing I loved most, alcohol, and it changed my life for the better. I still believe that if a person can be convinced to walk into a market, pull the detonator on a suicide vest out of hatred then people can be convinced to act out of love, for the betterment of all.
Maybe clinging to old ideals isn’t a great way to live as history teaches us that pitching beliefs against one another leads to destruction, both inner and outer.
I have asked many people their beliefs on the nature of selfishness. Usually, the more selfish people believe that humans are innately selfish, which is partly true. Humans are innately altruistic also. Acts of altruism are shown to be beneficial to the human psyche. It’s as if we are hard-wired to work collaboratively whilst some are wired to benefit themselves. Could it be then that the current model is leaving people wanting because it doesn’t align with their innate desires?
“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”
It could be said that some of our pursuits are detrimental to ourselves as well as others. But for different reasons. For example, we have an economic system that promotes productivity but downplays the value of creativity. A recently discovered 44,000 yr old wall painting would suggest that creativity is as old as humans. Yet, creativity for the sake of feeding an inner desire is seen as a waste of time. It is called a pastime, an act to pass the time. To always be moving forward is progress. No matter if the forward step contains many negatives, they are just further problems to be overcome in the quest for progress. Why do we deny this aspect of the human experience? I saw plenty of beauty along the way, both natural and created. It reminded me behind all the fear and negativity there is wonder and peace.
I am not too foolish to believe there aren’t terrible acts committed every day. Neither amI too foolish to believe that it is part of normality for this to happen. But it is impossible to change anything if we/I do not question the status quo. It may be scary to question the reasoning behind things but it is the only way to gauge value. Many years ago, I questioned my status quo; work, drink, sleep, repeat. I found it was holding me back. I began to think is this the best version of myself? I knew it wasn’t. I knew there had to be another way.
I am one of the lucky ones. Not just because I was fortunate enough to have punished myself with alcohol to the point that I demanded liberation or that I could use this liberation to explore the my dreams. I am lucky because life could be a lot worse. I have a lot to be grateful for; food, shelter, water, freedom and support. These are things I have taken for granted. I will never be ungrateful for these things again. I am eternally grateful for the people who helped me along the way, who I met travelling and who motivated me to follow the dream.
It was a life changing experience. Just like sobriety.
Alcohol was my life. My love. My everything. Sad, on reflection. At the time it was my one-stop-shop for life.
I couldn’t imagine quitting. “What would be the point of life?” I would ask sincerely. It’s pathetic to look at now. Being an alcoholic for me was like running around a maze in a panic. All the while ignoring the giant sign that said “Exit”. Just because I was too scared to imagine leaving the maze.
“How am I going to do XYZ?” The thought of doing anything without a drink was frightening enough to make me want to drink. It seemed impossible. I mean life was pretty boring anyway. It was going to be ten times worse without a drink. What would be the point in working? I only worked to earn money to buy booze. If I didn’t need booze then I didn’t need a job? What would I do?
The answer? Anything and fucking EVERYTHING. I can do (within reason) anything.
I thought quitting drinking would be restrictive. It was liberating. I thought it would be boring. It has been exhilarating. I thought I would wither and die. I have only got stronger. I thought my life would have no meaning. But I have learned that I GIVE it meaning. Where I focus my attention is where I find meaning. I used to float through life hoping for divine intervention. I have learned that I can take action. I can pick and choose.
It isn’t always strawberries and cream. There are moments of darkness. Feelings of discontent and unhappiness. I’ve learned these will pass. They seem like they won’t but they do. And if not then I know I can reach out. More often than not the feeling of discontent is a message. Or my intuition spurring me on. My inner drive reminding me that life is fleeting and sitting idol, watching life pass is not good. This connection internally can be raw. Unpleasant even. As harsh realisations are felt. But the strength developed from quitting drinking allows them to wash over me. Thankfully they are few.
Trusting myself took time. Being in a foreign country alone was the first step. I realised that anything negative that could happen would not be a result of my behaviour. It was a good feeling. Over time this grew. I began to pick goals and aim for them. It was incredible. I thought that I would be trapped by quitting drinking. When I had been restricted by drinking. My life revolved around drinking. If I went anywhere there had to be drinking involved. If there wasn’t a bar then I would have to be allowed to take cans. If not I didn’t go. A can of lager was my emotional support item. It got me through life.
If alcohol was my meaning for life then I had no meaning. I lived a purposeless life. I worked. I drank. I slept. That was it. It was hell. I denied my potential. Stunted my growth. Why? FEAR. Of becoming who I wanted to be. Of being where I wanted to be. Of failing. It was bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. If I fail, I go again. But wiser. To progress, I have to try. To find direction I have to take action. Sitting around with my thumb up my arse, moaning about life, is no help to anyone. I have to pick a path and walk it. When I realise it’s not for me anymore I don’t just desert it. I try to make it work. If it doesn’t? That I pick a new path. A new hobby. A new route to growth. It isn’t for any other reason than to find out what I can do. To see what I am made of I have to be tested. To know what I like and what I am good at I have to try new things.
There is no shortcut to getting to contentment. Like getting healthy after a life of hedonism; it takes effort and perseverance. NO ONE can do it for you. It takes inner and outer work. Peeling back the layers of shit that have built over the years like on an old oven. Daring to question. Daring to winkle out those desires and dust off the dreams. To realise that the cage I inhabited was merely a perception. And one of my creation. It was a great awakening.
To be able to erect boundaries after being a doormat was welcome. No more being trampled by life. Taking shit and feeling resentment for not speaking my piece. That was the old me. Standing in the pub drinking while slagging off the person who I “should have” said something to. Now I walk tall. Proud. Of daring to make a change. Of daring to fail. It is this that gives life meaning. Not material possessions. Not to me. It is the realisation of the potential I have and the ability to tap into it. It is the potential to make decisions and be prepared to deal with the outcome; positive or negative. It is the knowledge that emotions will come and go. Hard times will pass. That no matter what there is no need to run back to the bottle. In the hope that life magically changes for the better. Only to wake up and realise that it is the same if not worse. To break the funk I had to break from the cycle. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Nothing changes if I am not prepared to change!
Life might seem worse without alcohol. Life might be boring. You might be lonely and isolated from your friends. You might find yourself sitting in on a Friday night reading a book with a cup of herbal tea, alone. Thinking what the fuck am I doing? Getting well is what I was doing. I did it because drinking alcohol was pure misery for me. Every time. I was constantly perplexed how it wasn’t fun anymore but I carried on because I refused to leave the maze.
The world exists outside. Life exists. Family. Friends. Connection. It is all there to give life some sort of meaning. To feel part of something. To feel something. Instead of that deadened state. In a dead-end life.
I used to think living for alcohol was meaning. Since I dared to try another way I have learned alcohol is a meaningless waste of life. That’s why I can never go back. There is so much more to life. And me. And you. Than alcohol allowed me to realise. The moments I drank to escape, I now look forward to. Brief moments of alone time and peace. Just enough time to ask if I am doing okay if I am happy where I am heading and if not find out why. It is in these moments I remember to get up and search out the meaning. If I never find it I can look back and realise the journey and the exploration, was the meaning. That each new day is another lesson. And like all lessons; to learn, I have to be present.
In March, I couldn’t breathe. A short walk across the park to the shop had me wheezing. It was worrying. I was reasonably fit at this point but had just been travelling for five months. Tasting all the wonders of the various places had led to me putting a stone on in weight. I’d tried to exercise as I travelled but it became less and less frequent. So on my return, I was “reasonably fit,” I could probably run a mile but I wouldn’t be breaking any records. I weighed 13st 6lbs. I’m 5′ 10″. Overweight according to the NHS BMI calculator.
The shortness of breath in March was accompanied by a constant cough. It felt like someone had me in a bearhug trying to squeeze the breath out of me. I was happy when the symptoms calmed after a couple of days. I was feeling better within the week. It started on a Saturday and 8 days later I decided to go for a run. It was a terrible idea. About a third of a mile in I began wheezing. Like a full-blown asthma attack. I had to stop. I was shocked. I walked a little, got my breathing under control and tried again. Another third of a mile and the same happened. So I did the same thing. I eventually made it to a mile. I was knackered though.
I gave it a couple of days and tried again. The same thing happened. It reminded me of when I first started running the year before. I’d just quit smoking after 23 years. My lungs were knackered. I would be huffing and puffing after a short distance. In my head, I would be berating myself for causing the pain to my lungs. I owed them. It was my responsibility to keep them clean. I used this to push me on.
I used the same approach this time. Telling myself I had to keep going. I rested when I needed to but I just kept going. If I did good I rewarded myself with something. A milkshake or a bacon sandwich. Something I could focus on to take my mind off my burning lungs and aching legs. It took me probably three weeks of trying before I made it to a mile. I was happy to have made it without stopping but wanted to go further. I then started walking another mile. Then I ran into the second mile until I couldn’t run anymore. Then I walked. I just kept doing this three/four times a week. Each time getting a little further.
I started getting aches in my shins and bought some new trainers. So important to have good footwear. My previous shoes were well worn and needed replacing. The aches lessened and I just kept running.
I didn’t have a particular diet. I ate protein bars as a substitute for chocolate. I have a sweet tooth and don’t like to deny myself things. I have learned that balance is important as it minimises craving. I used to deny myself things until a “cheat” day and then would overindulge. In turn, feeling bad. A little bit here and there seems to work better for me. Plus it motivates me to exercise.
My usual diet contains fruit and veg. I don’t eat fast food very often. It tastes artificial. I’ll have the odd Chinese if I fancy it but that’s very rare. I try to stay well and find that eating bad food is detrimental to that. When I was obese I was ill often. Or at least I felt ill often. So experience taught me to stay well as can be. The short term dopamine hit from sugar, fat and salt is massively offset by the downsides to being out of shape. Nothing tastes as good as feeling fit and well feels.
The days in-between running I would do press-ups and planking. No set amount just to fail. It was to rest my legs but still do something. Even if it was just five minutes worth. It was better than nothing.
My weight didn’t come down much from all the running but I started feeling more energetic. I also felt stronger and more confident. I was getting closer and closer to 5km. Until about six weeks after struggling to breathe I managed to get to 5km in a reasonable time.
I just kept persevering. I never listened to music when I ran. Just my thoughts and the wildlife in the parks. I found it calming. Therapy for the cost of a pair of trainers. Any grievances from that day I would run them off. Use the grumbling to motivate me further. Use the frustration to push me on. I enjoyed it. I began to look forward to running. In the beginning, it seemed like tying up my shoes and walking out the door took more energy than the run. But as the months went on I began to become addicted to it. Eventually, I was feeling fitter than I ever had. At 38 years old I felt the best I had felt in years.
It was a good escape during the lockdown to put on a pair of trainers and just run. To just go for half an hour or so and not worry. Just get away from technology and be present. In the moment. With the sound of my feet hitting the ground as company.
I just kept nudging myself further. I rested when I ached. Sometimes I didn’t make the distances I wanted but that’s life. I would try again next time. I kept at it until I comfortably made 10km. It was four months after I had been struggling to breathe in March. It felt good. Although I was dying by the end of the 6miles. I was happy to have made it.
There are obvious limitations that restrict people from doing what I have talked about here. The majority of people are restricted by their own beliefs or lack of motivation. That is why the quick fix health industry is a multi-billion pound industry. We want to look and feel good without the effort. Which is subjective. But I have been obese. I have hated myself. I am now comfortable in my own skin. I can say that wellness and exercise is the foundation of that feeling. I am not an athlete nor aspire to be. I am just a general guy using his own experience to promote wellness. As a result of the running during the lockdown, I went back to work in the best shape I have been in since I was a teenager. People noticed a change. Not only in my appearance but my general demeanour. I felt calm and confident. I felt comfortable. Just a little bit of exercise a few times a week had a massive impact on my general well being. I highly recommend it.
Start small. Don’t expect the world. Just take it a step at a time. And stop making excuses. I hear people all the time “Oh yeah the lockdown made me fat!” No, it didn’t being inactive and eating too much made you fat. The lockdown made some of us fit.
P.S. I lost 6lbs in weight. Which is still overweight according to BMI calculator. But I feel great 😀