What I was doing was staring into the nearly empty glass in my hand.
“Thinking,” was my reply.
“What about?” she asked.
“Nothing important. Can I have another pint?” I said, before finishing the remainder of the lager in my glass.
The barmaid brought the drink over and I paid with a gruff “Thanks.” She took my money and went to the till. I returned to my staring. I was alone. I felt alone.
The barmaid didn’t ask me the question again when she returned with my change. She just left it on the bar. My answer “Nothing important,” hadn’t been completely truthful. I knew what I was thinking about I just didn’t think she would understand or that she could help. The chaotic storm that blew constantly in my mind was not for the faint of heart and had I began to explain, I would have come apart at the seams. Almost as if it only became real if I vocalised it. Keeping it internal meant that I could continue to live a charade. A charade that only I believed. To any curious observer, it was apparent that my life was a complete fucking mess. That’s what the thoughts were about “How the fuck do I get out of this mess?” I couldn’t escape it. I drank until the questions in my mind stopped being asked. When the storm died down I could relax.
I remember the moment in the bar because it was the first time I had got to last orders and the questions were still there. The storm had not abated in my mind. The drinking didn’t switch it off anymore. The miracle cure turned out to be snake oil and the salespeople had long since departed with my money. I was fucked. My problems were queuing up and waiting for their turn to give me a good kick in. I was scared. I didn’t think I was strong enough. Or smart enough. Or good enough. All I could think was “How the fuck do I get out of this mess?”
This was approximately two months before I stopped drinking. It was the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning.
My solution? I increased the amount I drank. That was my solution. I had no other solutions. That had been my go-to for everything. It had worked fantastically well so far. But now, no matter how much I drank I couldn’t shake the problems. I kept trying though until my liver gave up.
Game over. Fess up. Come clean. No more running. No more hiding. I was devastated.
How did I get over it? I rolled my sleeves up and got a dustpan and brush. I started cleaning up the wreckage of the past a bit at a time. A scoop at a time. Sometimes a little. Sometimes none. Progress, not perfection. It seemed like trying to flatten the Himalayas at first but eventually, it got easier. Sometimes there was defeat. But I didn’t drink. Some heartache and I had to sit with it. Some disappointment but that’s life. Eventually, I had a clean street and the tools to keep it clean.
I would implore anyone contemplating quitting drinking to do so. I thought about it for years and my only regret has been; why didn,t I do it sooner?
Sobriety has been an absolute gift that I hold dearly. A badge of honour I am proud to wear. An accolade I have earned. It wasn’t/isn’t always easy but it is so worth it… well it has been for the last five years.
Just over a month ago, I crossed the half-decade without drinking alcohol. A remarkable achievement to many, a sensible one to me. An achievement none the less that has taught me a few things that I would like to share.
I have difficulty sharing experiences as I often try and think of what would benefit people trying to stop. And honestly, I can’t. The sober version of me is everything that drunk me hated; Happy, free, fit and healthy. All of which were previously points of scorn, thinly veiling envy. I was angry at life, myself and… everything. I blamed everything for my problems. Mostly because I didn’t like myself and didn’t know how to put it right. Sobriety was the start of the journey to put it right.
If you are considering quitting alcohol then I say give it a go it has been the catapult to a new life for me.
Here are five things I’ve learned along the way:
I am incredible – (And also very modest obviously) we all are. Incredible I mean. A statement I never thought I would say about myself. The other day I was sitting and I thought “You’re alright, Charlie.” I spent years calling myself all the negative names under the sun. Chastising and castigating myself over… everything. In sobriety I have achieved wonderful things that I never would have thought possible. Go easy on yourself. You are amazing. Give yourself a hug. you deserve it.
“We drink the poison our minds pour for us and wonder why we feel so sick.”
Sobriety isn’t the end – I thought it was the end of my life. How wrong was I? It was the beginning. Quitting drinking wasn’t the magic wand that fixed everything but it was the strength, clarity and calmness for me to fix what I could. Patience and perseverance are a must because it doesn’t happen over night but it does happen if you keep plugging away. Knock backs and setbacks will happen but keep going.
“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done”
Don’t worryso much – I have played out scenarios in my mind. Spent energy thinking how I will react to situations. Second guessing life. Especially about drinking or other people asking me about drinking. And all of it for nothing because those situations never arose. I wasted energy I could have used on something more worthwhile. Don’t worry too much. You will have the strength to deal with situations you thought impossible.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
Corrie Ten Boom
Life is a beautiful thing – Without the turgid thinking that alcohol induced anxiety brings, the world seems lighter. Brighter. Calmer. Birds sing. The wind blows in the trees. The sun shines and everything is cool. Then some bastard ruins it but hey that’s life. You’ve got the toolbox to let it wash over you… or swear a lot. The choice is now yours.
Life is beautiful but people are crazy.
Freedom – Alcohol stole freedom and the freedom of choice. It stole joy and happiness. Money. Relationships. Jobs. Some of which return if you want because now you have the freedom to choose who, where and what you do with your life. Dreams do come true. We are the lucky ones.
“We want ecstasy as a way of life, not a liver-poisoning alcoholiday from it.”
At the height of my hedonism, I weighed 18 stone 6 pounds (117kg). And being 5’ 10” (177cm) meant I had a BMI of 36, I was obese. I felt like a stegosaurus, lumbering through life, consuming everything in my path. My heaviest weight coincided with some of my lowest points mentally. On reflection, I ate and drank because of how I felt physically and mentally. Which in turn made me feel worse and added fuel to the fire.
One day I was shopping for some new jeans and when I couldn’t squeeze my gigantic arse into a pair of 40” waist trousers. I decided it was time to change.
I would love to say I lost the weight in ten weeks and it stayed off but it took a while. It took a lot of trial and error to find what worked. It also took a lot of perseverance and patience. Initially, I lost 3 stones in 9 months. I haven’t put that back on. I lost another three stone, over the next couple of years and have maintained that weight since. To coincide with the weight loss, my mental health has improved exponentially due to the other things I started doing to supplement my physical health. The saying “Healthy body, healthy mind,” isn’t a true reflection of reality. It isn’t as black and white as that. Or it wasn’t for me. Both my mental and physical health had to be worked at to improve. When the improvement happened then the practice needed to be continued to maintain both physical and mental health.
Over a ten year period I have overcome depression, obesity, alcoholism and quit smoking. Here are a few things that I have learned along the way. I hope that something here is of use to you.
I knew I needed to lose weight but thought I couldn’t exercise. Just getting out of bed was enough of an effort, but coupled with the diatribe that was rifling through my mind, exercising seemed unrealistic. I could barely walk due to the weight of excess around my waist and the world around my shoulders, made the gravity seem multiplied. I couldn’t do a press up or a sit up. Walking made me feel uncomfortable and I soon got out of breath. I felt worthless and hopeless. I realised that yoga was a simple exercise. I could do it indoors where I was guarded against shame. So I ordered a Detox and de-stress Yoga DVD I had no idea what kundalini yoga was at the time. I just liked the sound of detoxing and de-stressing. It was definitely what I needed.
When the DVD arrived, I attempted the hour-long session and was knackered before the end of the hour. It was far more active than I had anticipated but still a lot easier than running. The last ten minutes of the session was a guided meditation, which helped to calm my mind. Afterwards, I needed the toilet badly. All the bending and rolling had got my intestines moving and all the crap (excuse the pun) that had been building up over the years of inactivity began to move. I was also thirsty. I downed two litres of water. It was like I could now hear my bodies demands to be taken care of after all the years of abuse. I did the hour-long session again that week and then three times the week after. I carried on doing it three times a week. After a month, I still couldn’t do all the exercises but I just thought it was better to do something instead of doing nothing. After that month, I felt better about myself and life in general. I have to say it changed my life. Three hours a week changed my life for the better in so many ways.
Alongside yoga, my diet changed. I used to hoover up alcohol, sugar, salt and fat. Basically, anything that would make me feel different. But now, after a month of doing yoga, the happy chemicals began to trickle into my system and my weight slowly began to drop. I started having jacket potato, tuna and salad every lunch. I started drinking more water. I cut back on sweets. I started getting weighed once every couple of weeks and writing it down. I would stick the paper I had written my weight on, to my mirror as a reminder of the progress I was making. Eventually, I needed to increase my exercise so I bought a cheap exercise bike and started doing half an hour every couple of days as well as the yoga. I felt amazing and the pounds began to drop off. I never had aspirations to be muscle bound. I just wanted to be lighter because carrying around all that extra weight in the past had made living life such an effort. As I got lighter. I felt lighter. I still watch what I eat to this day. Every day I have porridge, banana and honey for breakfast. I eat plenty of fruit and veg. I still drink plenty of water. I don’t deny myself things but I don’t desire to eat junk food that often anymore. I feel good naturally now.
Eating is a habit. It can be a bad habit or a good habit. Bad habits can be replaced with good ones but it takes practice and perseverance.
The loss of weight and a basic level of fitness has allowed me to achieve things that I couldn’t have done at my heaviest. Walking the Inca trail, hiking the El Camino and climbing to the rainbow mountain are things that I wouldn’t have achieved had I not changed my lifestyle. It has been worth the effort. As now my preference is for healthy food automatically. Although, this can be undone by sugar. A small amount of sugar starts the cravings. A great documentary on the dangers of sugar is That Sugar Film, which should be mandatory viewing for everyone, especially parents.
I have mentioned water a couple of times and I believe it is a key component in the jigsaw of my recovery and well being. Years ago a hardened drinker said to me “The next best thing to a pint,” as he held up a glass of water. I never drank water in my drinking days. I drank lager at night, Iron Bru, coffee and Lucozade in the day to try to recover. I read something that said “The hunger and thirst signal is the same. People eat when they should have a drink of water.” It recommended drinking a glass of water before eating and if the sensation remains then have something to eat.
The kundalini yoga DVD ending with meditation opened my mind to its benefits. So I began to experiment with different forms of meditation and found some wonderful guided meditations on Fragrant heart meditation which helped with the anxiety and sleep issues I was having at the time.
When I want to AA I would get frustrated by the step 11 which states “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.” In my humble opinion, meditating is to create a greater connection with the self. Something I was yearning for after years of using alcohol to escape myself. Christian meditation is for a connection to God. I always saw prayer as externalisation and meditation as an internalisation. Also, I would hear in meetings people saying “I tried meditating and I can’t do it.” Like every new skill, it takes time and practice for it to develop. One second of meditation is better than no seconds of meditation. A great resource is Finding peace in a frantic world which is an eight-week mindfulness course and a great starting point. Along with How to meditate which taught me the basic principles of focusing on the breath and calming the chatter of the mind. What a relief it was to find a cure for the incessant noise in my mind now that I no longer had alcohol for that job. Meditation has been one of the greatest tools in my toolbox. It has allowed me to let go of problems. Control my emotions better. But most importantly it has enabled my mind to find moments of serenity even in the chaos of city living. A true gift.
When I remember to, I play the following guided meditations. I don’t believe the universe delivers things. But I do believe that taking action definitely gets results and these meditations help keep me focused:
Books, like most hobbies when I was drinking, went unfinished. I would start reading one and then lose interest. I would then start reading another and then repeat the process. With the clarity of sobriety, I became hungry for knowledge and intent on becoming the best version of myself. To achieve this I had to learn from others. I wanted to know how to be happy and also, how to let things slide as I used to get angry over the smallest slight. Three books that helped with this (alongside the meditation) were:
The art of happiness – a book written by a psychologist based on a series of interviews with the Dalai Llama.
Buddhism, plain and simple – a book that liberated me from the tyrannical thinking I used to impose on myself. (I do not consider myself a Buddhist but the philosophy is fantastic.)
“Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.” – Taken from The daily stoic. I needed action after years of standing in the pub talking about the things i was “Gonna” do with my life.
“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.”
“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks”
The saying goes; “If you want to happy for a few hours get drunk. A few years? Get married. For a lifetime? get a garden.” I miss having a garden. Moving to the city, a garden is a luxury I can’t afford. A window box just doesn’t fill the void. So, in lieu of having my own green space to relax and ruminate, I have to frequent the nearest nature spots. This is where I calm my mind and stay active. I started out walking small distances until eventually, I was walking sixteen miles at a time. It became so time-consuming that I had to upgrade to running but I still ensure that one day a week I take an afternoon stroll in nature. Sometimes with music. Sometimes without. Either way, it is free therapy. Both physical and mental.
Due to the time that walking was taking and the fact that I had stopped smoking, I began running (and using nicotine gum. I’ve been stopped a year.) Initially, I couldn’t run a mile without stopping, as I would cough out the shit that 23 years of smoking had left in my lungs. I used to walk for a bit and then carry on running whilst thinking you owe it to your lungs to be clean. You did this to them.
I carried on running and after a while, I could run two miles and then four and then 10k. Like all the things I have written about here. Running takes time, patience and perseverance. Most quick-fix solutions are just that. Quick fix but not long lasting. Replacing old habits takes repetition of the new, healthier ways until they become a habit.
Because I am always running or writing or planning or something, I forget to take the time to relax. When I say rest I mean doing nothing. I have to remember to put my feet up and just do nothing sometimes to allow my body and mind to recover. Prevention is better than a cure. Putting to much stress on myself only ends up with me getting sick and not being able to function as well as I could. Rest is as important as the other things to develop a balanced lifestyle.
I am not monastic. My mind and body aren’t perfect. Yet the fact the sound of the birds singing brings a smile to my face reminds me that I am so far from the chaos when I started on this journey. My mental and physical health are no longer a concern because it has become second nature to do what’s best for both. I have put in the effort and with that comes reward.
What would you do if you had more money and more time? Spend time with your kids? Improve your golf swing? Travel the world? Do that qualification you’ve always wanted to do? Buy that car you always wanted? Treat your kids? Your spouse?
Well you can. If there is two things that stopping drinking gave me it is more time and more money. With the added benefits of improved sleep, clearer thinking and improved health. Best of all it’s free.
I didn’t want to quit. I loved drinking. So much so that a therapist went as far as saying that I had a love affair with alcohol. I had been telling myself and anyone that would listen, that my drinking was “Fine” and I was in control. The thought of quitting drinking made me want to drink. My whole life revolved around drinking. Any activity that didn’t involved drinking was dismissed as being boring and a waste of time.
At the age of twenty-nine, I had a warning about my liver from a doctor. She told me that I had been given an opportunity to do something but I continued to delude myself that the downturn in health was normal and a by-product of lifestyle. I even wore it as a badge of honour.
The second warning from my doctor about my liver came three years later and scared the shit out of me. I had spent the night in hospital because of an enlarged liver. I was in agony. Even the copious amounts of whiskey I had consumed did nothing to alleviate the pain. The doctor told me I HAD to cut out alcohol for two weeks.
The following day, my car broke down which left me stranded at the side of the motorway. I just felt like life was sending me a message; This is how it’s going to be for ever. I didn’t want that. I couldn’t take that shit any more. I was mentally and physically beat. I was skint. I was directionless, miserable and lonely.
I had wanted to do so much with my life when I was younger but my dreams had been washed away progressively over the years. Until I was left as nothing more than a mess chained to a bar, drinking out of necessity. While clinging desperately to the belief that I was still having fun. But the fear of dying outweighed the fear of not drinking so I was given an escape from the prison of addiction if I chose to take it. It wasn’t quite rock bottom but it was close. More importantly, it was enough to make me stop. I’m glad I didn’t keep searching for the bottom. I’ve heard some terrible stories from the people who kept searching. It’s not pretty. Stop before you have no other choice.
After the chaos of early sobriety had tempered, I began to question what I was going to do with this abundance of time. I had to do something because I was bored shitless. Without drinking I had nothing going on. I began to worry that I would drink again because boredom was a trigger for me to drink. I had to find something to do. And then I saw this video:
I’d never thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I just accepted a routine of working and drinking. The people around me seemed to be doing the same thing, so I accepted it as a way of life. Now I had a quandary; the life I accepted as the normal way of life was killing me and making me depressed. I needed a new way of life. I needed something to keep me sober. A goal. And when asked the question “What do you desire?” my answer was always, “To travel.” I’ve been plagued throughout my life with the thought; there has to be more than life than this. So I sought to find out if there was.
I did not want to have a life of regrets and missed opportunities just because I didn’t have the courage to pursue my dreams. I was scared of failing but I wasn’t scared of trying, so I made a plan. The first plan was to walk the El Camino De Santiago. Each time I wanted a drink I reminded myself why I wasn’t drinking. It is hard because recovery takes time to see results. Alcohol gives effects quickly. It is easy to see why people relapse because recovery seems like an exercise in futility at times. You have to stick to the new path you have chosen. Whatever it may be. Trust that it will work out but accept that it might not. Just keep heading towards the goal one step at a time.
I fought off the boredom by not only planning goals but also by doing other things I’d always dreamed of doing. I learned guitar and piano. Educated myself about finances asI needed to pay back debt and had been crap with money previously. I read books. Exercised. Meditated. Met friends. Went to AA. I did anything that I wanted really but it was all heading towards walking the El Camino de Santiago.
El Camino De Santiago– September 2016
It took me two years to get into a position to walk the El Camino. I just kept plugging away and not drinking. Eventually, I made it. I was financially, physically and mentally in a position to do it. It had seemed impossible at times but now I was booking flights.
I was forever changed by the experience but also by the fact I had actually achieved something I had set out to do. In my drinking days I never did anything. I dismissed things as boring when in reality I was scared. Scared of living yet envious of people who were getting on with it. Now I felt like I was in control for the first time in years.
When I got home I made a plan to see all the places I’d dreamed of and pinned it next to my desk. Everyday I was reminded why I wasn’t drinking or wasting money.
Having the list really helped focus my attention. I have used a similar technique to lose weight in the past and that also got results.
I had spent the first two years of sobriety clearing debt, working on myself and relationships, all with a view of reaching my goals. The seeds you sow become the fruit you pick.
Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.
Six months after making the list, I visited the first place. Before stopping drinking, I had been on holiday a handful of times. They were a continuation of my drinking lifestyle dressed up as a holiday. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time but it was a different type of experience. Now I wanted to not only be there but FEEL what those places were like. To experience something new and come away hopefully changed for the better.
Cambodia– March 2017
Cambodia was my first taste of backpacking. Arriving in a country with no agenda. I was there for three weeks because I had to go back to work. The friends I went with were lucky enough to continue on to Vietnam. Each place I’ve visited has altered my perception of the world we live in and the people who call it home. What I took from Cambodia was the startling fact that a lot more people seem happy with what they have and they have not very much. Large parts of the Western world are miserable with an abundance. It was eye opening and played a huge role in being more grateful for the simpler things in my own life.
Many places have filled me with emotion over the last few years. Usually, as I compare my life now to the drinking days. Walking to Angkor Wat at dawn, with tears in my eyes was one such occurrence. It wasn’t as easy as just jumping on an aeroplane, flying around the world and visiting the place. A huge amount of effort had gone into making it happen. The tears were of joy. At the beauty of the world. At the achievement. The tears were of happiness. I was present, grateful and proud. I had earned it. I deserved it. We all do.
In the lowest parts of my life, I often dreamed of maxing out my debt and running away. In the fantasy, I would rent a beach hut and read books, free of worry. On Koh Rong Samloem, in Cambodia, I was lucky enough to rent a beach hut. I had plenty of time to think, as I sat in a hammock sipping an iced coffee contemplating how far I had come since those dark days.
India & Nepal – September 2017
If serenity was a place on Earth Lumbini would be it. After the short tour of Lumbini (The supposed birthplace of Buddha), it felt like I had undertaken 8 hours meditation. I felt light and free. At peace and calm. A wonderful experience.
In Varanasi, the controlled riot of colour and religious worship that took place on the banks of the Ganges was a privilege to witness, as we floated along the river at sunset.
USA– September 2018
A road trip across America, the thing of movies. With good company, great tunes and mind blowing, life affirming scenery it was everything I hoped for.
The highlight for me was when approaching the Grand Teton national park. Surrounded by glorious views, I was overcome with emotion as the words “There’s still time to change the road you’re on…” from Stairway to heaven rang out of the speakers. I couldn’t help thinking of that feeling I had four years earlier, sitting on the side of the motorway, broken and lonely. No amount of time sober will stop me remembering what I went through to visit the places I am so fortunate to see now. The sacrifice for me isn’t stopping drinking. The sacrifice is giving up on my dreams to drink. I cannot let that happen.
Peru– December 2018
Machu Picchu had been my computer desktop picture for years. It still is except it is now a photo I took :). Standing at the sun gate looking over Machu Picchu as the clouds cleared to reveal the glorious Incan citadel, like a gift from Pachamama, will remain long in the memory.
The Inca trail gave a welcome, three-day break from technology and the opportunity to connect. Not only with each other and nature but with the self. A reconnect. An alignment. I came back to the city at peace until eventually, the frantic lifestyle began to steal my serenity and I dropped back into the old routine. Thankfully, that routine doesn’t involve drinking because I wouldn’t have been here if I’d continued.
When I stopped drinking I expected it to be boring. A mundane existence. That would mean Missing out on all the fun. But in reality, it has been the most liberating and eye-opening thing I have done. I realised that alcohol lied to me. It made me believe that standing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night due to the fear of missing out, was fun. When I look back with the clarity I have now it stopped being fun years before I stopped drinking. In fact, the drinking began to steal fun towards the end.
Sobriety isn’t the end. It is the beginning…
If I can do it, anyone can. It just takes patience and perseverance. It doesn’t have to be travelling. It can be whatever you want it to be. That is the beauty of sobriety; freedom. Freedom to choose to do something or do nothing. To see the world. To learn. To grow. Or sit with your family free of the anxiety and just enjoy their company. Whatever it is, just pick a goal. Write it down and make it your focal point. As you wrestle back control of your life, you will be surprised at what you are capable of doing.
A year of sobriety had whisked past. I was firmly entrenched into a routine; swimming, sauna, hiking in nature on the weekends, meditating, chipping away at debt, meeting friends and reading. I’d been promoted at work. Which was a surprise because it was the first interview I’d done sober and I was convinced it had gone terribly, due to my nervousness. My nervousness had been for nothing as it turned out I was the only applicant but had interviewed quite well none the less.
I hadn’t only made progress in my career. My physical fitness improved, thanks to the walking, swimming and improved diet. My mental health improved thanks to meditation and reading. I just felt better.
I would love to say everything was fixed after that year and that life was like living in a happy, glowing cartoon but it was not the case. That doesn’t mean it was bad because it wasn’t. Compared to the drinking life it was heaven. It’s just that the wreckage of the past was taking time to clear and I was being forced to learn to be patient. The progress was reassuring though. Seeing my debts coming down and being more manageable meant a vast improvement in my anxiety and I was sleeping better. I reminded myself often that it had taken sixteen years of recklessness to get to this point. It wasn’t going to be fixed over night.
One evening, I was with some friends when they began discussing going away on holiday. This put me on edge somewhat because I hadn’t been on holiday sober and every trip we’d been on together in the past, were excuses to drink without reproach, poorly disguised as holidays. The places being thrown around were in a similar vein as the times previous; cheap flights, all inclusive, warm weather & not too far away. I’d stopped drinking to see the world but was very reluctant to go on holiday and sit in a free bar. I was quite comfortable visiting pubs by this point but that was a test I wasn’t willing to take. I kindly declined and said in a sarcastic way, “I would rather go to Rome on my own. I can’t risk everything.”
“Rome?” said my friend.
“Yeah, Rome. I’ve wanted to go for years,” I said.
“So have I. I wanted to go with my missus butmeant wasn’t interested,” said my friend.
That was it. From standing my ground and putting my sobriety first, it enabled us to compromise. I could go somewhere that I had longed to go and visit for a long time and my friend could still have a drink if he wished. Then, another friend said he would come along but “Only if we have a road trip,” and who doesn’t love a road trip? So it was set. My first sober holiday would be a twenty-two-hour road trip to Rome.
The first year of sobriety had been tricky at times but this trip was what I had got sober for; to see the world, taste other cultures and experience life without the glazey, hazey vision of alcohol. My goal was coming to fruition and honestly, I couldn’t wait.
Road trip to Rome
I threw some clothes into a rucksack a couple of days before we were due to leave and began planning how to see the places I’d wanted to go for a long time; Vatican, Colosseum, Roman forum & Sistine Chapel. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. Even when we were in the van making our way there, I still couldn’t believe we were going. As we hastily headed through France, the temperature began to rise, which was a problem as the van had no air conditioning but the sweat did nothing to wash away the excitement. Plenty of iced coffees gave a welcomed cooling and a much-needed caffeine boost as we made as much headway as we could before we were too tired to continue. We safely cut through the Alps along the winding roads that are made dangerous not by the winding but, by the distracting beautiful scenery that surrounds. I soaked up every detail as it passed us by as we headed towards Turin, where we decided to stop.
Waking in the morning, to the sight of the Alps was an experience. Almost as if I’d expected to wake in my own bed again. Hungover. Having spent the previous night in the bar drinking and talking in great detail about what I would like to do with my life. But it wasn’t so. I was actually here. Humbled by the majesty of the mountains and happy to be alive.
We made our way the last eight or so hours of the journey and finally arrived in Rome in the late afternoon. We had picked the place to stay before we set off and had chosen to stay at Camping Village RomaQ (https://humancompany.com/it/strutture/villaggi-camping-in-town/roma-camping-in-town) due to its price and location. It was perfect for what we wanted and after we checked in, found our bungalow, took a much-needed shower and hastily made our way to the restaurant. We raised a glass and discussed how we would spend the next two days in Rome. I was disappointed we couldn’t have more time but my friends had family commitments that they had to honour, so it was the best they could manage. It was decided on the first day, we would visit the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. The second day, we would visit the Vatican and the Vatican museum. Over both days, we would see anything else we had time to see. We sat in the restaurant late into the night talking about the journey here and how good it was to be in Rome. As I sat, sipping my cool sprite in the warm Italian evening it dawned on me that this only happened because I had stopped drinking. The thought pushed my smile a little wider.
I was woken by the cold in the middle of the night. The room was so cold that I had to get a sleeping bag to supplement my duvet. I could see my breath it was that cold and thought the air conditioning was broken, so I turned it off.
I was shaken awake in the morning by one of my friends, who asked me if I’d turned the air conditioning off in the night.
“Yeah, it was freezing in here,” I said.
“I was trying to keep my beers cool and there’s no fridge in here. You shouldn’t have turned it off. They’re warm now,” he said.
“So it’s okay for me to freeze to death, as long as you can have a cool beer?” I said.
Alcohol was still trying to kill me.
Rome was like walking around a huge museum. History dripped off every building and the Italian culture was clear to see. It was a wonderful experience, heightened by the sight of the Colosseum. It was easy to see why people come from far and wide to visit. As its dominant size, iconic design and spectacular engineering gave a delightful taste of the brilliance of the Romans.
I’d seen photos of the Colosseum before but it was nothing like standing inside and imagining what it must have been like when it was in use. The sounds, smells, nerves, fear and excitement all battling for supremacy as the brutal spectacle unfolded.
Inside the Roman Forum, I stood in the scorching Italian Sun in awe of the wonders that laid before us. Like so much of Rome, the huge columns/buildings were intricately carved to make them grandiose. With each new sight, my yearning for exploration grew a little more and I was becoming hungry for knowledge.
The following day, we made our way to the Vatican in the scorching Roman summer. I wasn’t hugely concerned about visiting the Vatican but when in Rome. Saint Peters square was a beautiful sight but paled in magnificence compared to the sight of the Colosseum. When I walked through the door of the Vatican my breath was taken away.
I had never experienced a feeling like that before in my life. It wasn’t a religious feeling. More a feeling of pure wonderment. The place was one of pure beauty, of which a photo could never do justice. It really was that overwhelming. I stood for a moment, paused in time until my body demanded oxygen and I regained composure. We slowly made our way around and absorbed every detail before heading through into the Vatican Museum. The intricate detail on the stonework was mind-blowing in both its beauty and finesse. The statues were a combination of wonderful engineering and sublime art. It was an experience I didn’t want to end. This was the reason I gave up drinking and it was worth the sacrifice. Sobriety gives us not only freedom but also the freedom to choose how we spend it.
The tour ended in the Sistine Chapel. As I stood looking at the ceiling with sweat dripping off my face, shoulder to shoulder with other tourists, I felt an overwhelming urge to cry. Yes, it is a beautiful painting but it was more about how this moment had seemed so far away. So unrealistically achievable only a year or so before. But, one repayment, one day, one test at a time, I made it here. Even though I could have visited Rome when I still drank alcohol. I wouldn’t have been as present as I was at that moment, basking in the frescoes.
Afterwards, we made a slow walk back through Rome towards the accommodation. We had driven twenty-two-hours to get here and it had exceeded my expectations. The whole experience had cemented my belief that quitting drinking, to get a taste of life, had been the right choice. Everything about Rome was wonderful. The weather. The atmosphere. The pistachio ice-cream was especially wonderful.
We sat into the night talking about the large amount we had squeezed into two short days whilst enjoying one last delightful Italian meal. I was sad it was over, but it had been such a wonderful time. I was grateful to my friends for coming along and making it happen. They enjoyed a beer, as I enjoyed a sprite. Any thoughts of drinking were shot on sight. The counter thought to any thought of drinking was “If I still drank, I wouldn’t even be in Rome.” It became my mantra for survival.
At that moment I realised, for the first time in my life, I was in control.
I woke in the morning that we were due to go home and couldn’t help thinking that I didn’t want to go home yet. I had come all this way and Pompeii was just down the road, yet we wouldn’t have time to visit. Unlike my friends, I didn’t have to rush home to see my kids as I didn’t have any. I would still be off work for another week so I didn’t have to rush home for that. At that moment, I realised, for the first time in my life. I was in control. I could stay in Italy on my own and go to Pompeii. I never trusted myself to go anywhere alone other than the pub when I still drank because I never knew what would happen but now I felt that I could control myself and my actions.
“Are you ready to go home?” asked my friend.
“I’m not going to go home,” I said, causing him to laugh.
“Yeah, nice one, Charlie. If only ay?” said my friend.
“I’m not joking. I’m going to stay and go to Pompeii,” I said.
“Fair play to you,” said my friend.
I couldn’t believe it. It had been so easy to say and now it was a reality. Throughout my life, I had been dictated to by fear and this simple act had liberated me from much of it. I walked down to the reception and asked if I could book a single room for two more nights. There was one available and I paid the few euros required. That was that. My friends packed. We shook hands. Said goodbye and then they left. For the first time in my life, at the age of thirty-three, I was in a foreign country on my own and all I had was a rucksack. Was I nervous? Of course. I had spent my life in the pub shackled to the bar. Was I scared of drinking? Not really. I had been fine around my friends drinking. Was I excited? Absolutely. This is what I dreamed of a year ago when I stopped drinking. This is what I sacrificed so much for; moments like this, of freedom and adventure.
I went to my room and dropped my bag off. Pausing for a moment to let the reality of the situation set in. Was I really doing this? A year ago I was sat on the edge of a motorway a broken man. Now I was living out a dream. I smiled with gratitude before heading to the cafe for an espresso and a lucky strike. A combination I had affectionately termed “My Italian breakfast.” With the map laid on the table in front of me, I tried to pick a path. A route. A tick list of things to see but I decided to just head into Rome and embrace my freedom with a nondescript wander. A plan that was brought to a halt by the forty Celsius sunshine that was blazing down that day. I would walk for a bit and then find some shade for a bit. It did nothing to dampen my spirits as I located the train station and bought some tickets for the next day. One of the highlights of the day was the Vittorio Emanuele II monument that I initially thought was another work of genius by the Romans but later found it was more modern. Yet still a work of genius.
I got up early the next morning to catch the bus and metro to the train station (Termini). Initially, I was a little nervous about travelling around on my own but then I remembered that I had travelled around Britain for work on my own. I was drunk most of the time and had still managed to get around. So I reasoned that I would be okay now. The metro system in Rome was easy to understand and navigate, which was a big help. I found the train and found my seat. I set off to Pompeii and watched the world pass by as we made our way there. I changed trains at Naples, again with ease and we passed around the foreboding Mount Vesuvius which had been the cause of so much tragedy all those years ago in Pompeii and the surrounding areas.
Inside Pompeii, I was blown away by the level of engineering that the Romans had at their disposal. Underfloor heating was in some of the villas. As was internal terracotta pipework. There was a takeaway. A brothel. Two story houses. Lots of brightly coloured and ornate decorations. Thermal baths. I expected a small town but it was a city.
I spent many hours wandering around exploring, sitting, imagining and just taking in the atmosphere before I had to catch my train. I could have happily stayed for the same amount of time again.
On the train back to Rome from Naples, I had a cabin to myself and sat staring at the Italian countryside as it passed the window. On the horizon, the Sun began to set. As it did, it painted a magnificent, bright pink on the underbelly of the dark, ominous storm clouds lurking above it. It wasn’t long until the storm clouds that were thinly veiled in pink began to produce bolts of lightning that added to the already wondrous sight. I lifted my phone to the window to record the vibrant show of nature only to be met with a blank screen… the battery had died. I laid the phone back on the seat and returned to the beautiful view out of the window. As I watched the magnificent display of nature I was convinced that I had made the right decision to stop drinking. At that moment I felt contentment for the first time I can remember. It was the perfect end to the beginning of a new chapter of my life.
A few years ago a therapist told me that I was in love with drinking. So I did the only sensible thing and wrote alcohol a breakup poem.
Walking into the pub a free man and leaving on a leash Shackled by the lure of alcohols sweet release At first it seems loving and it seems fun In the end it’s like returning to a spouse who greets with a punch
An abusive relationship has it’s enjoyable times You love them so much that you deny their crimes See I loved alcohol like a wife It celebrated with me, commiserated with me and was always there to listen throughout my life
But the past is the past Yes we had a blast But my addiction has run its course Sorry Alcohol! It’s time for a divorce!
I’m moving on and cutting ties I’m strong enough to live without you at my side I no longer need you as a crutch to lean I’m stronger than I’ve ever been
I will always love you for what you helped me be
The parties, fun, festivals and camaraderie
But I now walk into another chapter of my life
I’ve turned the page!
Because even though I love you, alcohol
I can no longer tolerate your torturous cage
It was just another day like all the others. I was standing at the side of the road, forcing myself to smoke a cigarette, somewhere between drunk and hungover, waiting for a lift to work. I did this every morning and I felt like this every morning. Eventually, the car arrived and I got in, mumbled good morning and rested my head against the passenger side window. The music in the car was the same as it was every day, a compilation cd put together by the driver. He must have played the CD from the start when he got in the car because it was always at the same point every morning. This added another layer of repetition to my already repetitive existence, to the point I felt like every day was a replica of the day before; work, drink, sleep, repeat. I can’t remember the song that was playing when I got in the car every morning but I do remember that two songs after was by a band called Blind Melon and the song is called “Change.”
I’d never heard of Blind Melon before but had got to know the song to the point of mumbling along with the words. The final line of the song is “When life is hard you have to change,” and I don’t know why that day was different but I felt like he was speaking to me. Saying, if you stay afraid of change then every day will be like today, forever. It was like a huge sign on the road of life flashing a danger warning. It affected me. I guess that’s the power of music and the power of association. It was no coincidence that the lead singer was an addict.
I would love to say that I was changed that night and the following day I woke into a Disneyesque, luminescent world but it didn’t quite happen like that. In the back of my mind though was a sense of “You have got to change. When life is hard you have to change and life is pretty hard.” I was working in a job I hated to get the money to drink so I could forget about the job I hated. It was insanity. Eventually, I was made redundant and used the opportunity to change careers which lead to a career that was better suited, gave me more value and gave me more purpose. The knock on effect was that I wanted to be the best version of myself and realised that drinking was an obstacle to achieving that. I had to take a mental and physical kicking to realise it but better late than never. I look back on the hardest, darkest days as the greatest learning opportunity I have ever had.
Just that moment, that single moment of a guy who I resented for playing the same songs every day started something that has had profound implications. That was ten years ago. Yesterday I got confirmation that the company I work for will give me six months leave to go travelling and my landlord is going to hold my room rent free. I am eternally grateful beyond measure. This was only made possible by making serious changes. The first time I stopped drinking, in 2012, I did so for seven months and in all honesty, I just swapped alcohol for exercise. I used it to escape the problems that I didn’t want to face up to. The relapse that followed lasted two years and cost me everything. So when I HAD to stop drinking again due to liver problems, in 2014, I learned from that relapse and the song that “You have to change,” so I did. But it was soo hard. And took time. A lot of time but I got so much time in sobriety. Good time. Beautiful time. Sometimes uncertainty and despair but nothing like before. But I had to change. I had to Plant those feet like a boxer and take on those problems. One at a time. Bit by bit. It got easier. It got brighter. And eventually, I realised I was becoming the person I wanted to be. For the first time in years, I actually liked myself. Then I cried because I never thought it was possible. My head became peaceful like the late night and the stars aligned, as the unimaginable became reality.
All I did was; not pick up a drink and didn’t stop dreaming,
For the first six weeks of not drinking, I fought the cravings on my own. When I saw the way it was heading I HAD to reach out for help. The phone call I made to AA was the first time I spoke to someone who understood. They understood the cravings. They understood the need for escapism. Low self-esteem. Not fitting in. Everything. It was a great feeling to finally have another person who knew what I was going through and it seemed sensible to attend an AA meeting, although I was apprehensive.
After the meeting, people gave me their phone numbers and made me feel welcome. I was suspicious of their motives, to begin with. People I knew didn’t do nice things for no reason. They usually expected something in return. So I was guarded. Over the weeks, my suspicion lessened somewhat but I was still uncomfortable with a few things. Firstly, initially it had seemed like a nice place to go for a cup of tea and to share the shit circulating around my head but then it seemed like there was an ever-increasing pressure to do the 12 steps. Many of the steps contained the word “God” and I have to be honest it made me nervous. I started to get a cult vibe from the place and when I saw a couple of people carrying bibles it put me on edge. I voiced my concerns with people about the God thing and they would say “You can use anything as God.” Which made me feel like they weren’t listening. “I don’t believe in any God,” I would reply. “Make one up then,” and round we would go. I felt that outsourcing all of my problems to a deity of my own creation was just another way of escaping my problems and myself. Alcohol had done that for many years and now I wanted to know what I was about. I wanted control back and AA talked about how I had done a terrible job of being in control before. I also felt like there was too much emphasis on being powerless. I needed bigging up not dragging down. I still believe walking into a room and announcing to strangers “I am an alcoholic,” is the opposite of weak. It should be held up as an act of courage and built on from that point but this is difficult to navigate when alcoholism is seen as a disease. That’s not to say there aren’t positives to AA; it has helped millions of people through time, I met some great people at meetings and I am still friends with some today, it gives meaning to peoples lives were there was none before and altruism is good for the mind.
So, at that point in time I had an option; stay and become a paid-up member of AA or leave and chance it on my own. Chancing it would be suicide, I was told. I had spent my life being fearful, I didn’t need someone else using fear to control me.
Thanks to relapses in the past, I learned that boredom was the start and drinking was the end. I had to keep busy. I learned that I was escaping my self and my life. So I had to create a life and person I didn’t want to escape from anymore. This was scary shit to do. All the years of built-up problems in my head were rolling around like the storm on Jupiter consuming everything in its path and increasing in chaos. Each new rumination adding another layer of anxiety. My head was a dangerous place to go into. I was deep in debt. I needed to get control of my finances and again, this was scary shit. I had never been responsible with money before and now I had to try to pay off all my debt. I needed a reason for all this to happen. I had no family to do it for. I could do it for myself but last time that only worked for so long… this time I needed a goal.
On a shelf, in a dark corner of my mind, was a box labelled dreams. It was covered in dust and a bit tattered now after being forgotten for so long. I reached up and took the box down, cleared the dust and opened the lid. Inside, was a menagerie of beautiful locations in the world that I had longed to visit. Places of wonder and awe. Places of history and intrigue. Places that would challenge and inspire. I decided that this would be my goal. My line in the sand. All I needed to do was chip away at the weight of the past that was holding me back.
My financial situation was precarious and if I was going to travel the world I either needed to clear my debt or get a lot more debt. I felt like the debt was a trap. A cage. A part of the weight that was holding me back. I realised that a huge part of my monthly repayment were interest charges. So I looked around and found an interest free balance transfer (https://www.money.co.uk/credit-cards/0-purchases-credit-cards.htm). Initially, there was a cost to do so but then there were no interest charges (except on new purchases) so I even though I chose to pay less off a month I was actually paying more off the outstanding balance. It was reassuring to see the amount ACTUALLY coming down for a change. It started to look like progress after a few months. Next was a variety of loans that I had taken out to pay off the credit cards, vowing never to make the same mistake again. I applied for a loan to cover all these loans and extended the length of time to bring the monthly payments down. Although it would increase the interest, I needed to bring my monthly outgoings down.
The next thing I did was; stop buying everything I didn’t NEED. By which I mean if it was just something I wanted for the sake of wanting something, then I didn’t get it. I had to sacrifice my short term desires for my long term goals. This isn’t easy but like anything becomes easier with practice. This freed up some disposable income that I used to pay a bit more off the credit card debt.
One thing I found that took a hit was my social life. A large part of the culture revolves around drinking and being a non-drinker kinda makes you feel like the turd in the punch bowl. Spending time around drunk people though makes you realise that you have to be drunk to “Get it.” That’s because there is nothing to get. The feeling of missing out that used to draw me to the pub like a moth to light soon disappeared for me when I had a goal to aim for. Yet, without the social aspect of the pub/club scene or no AA, it was a little bit isolating. Even lonely. Initially, I bemoaned my isolation but then I realised it was only bad because I was moaning about it. I started doing things I had always wanted to do but used to say “I don’t have the time for” or “I’m too busy.” Just excuses I used so I could go drinking instead. Now, I read so much about meditation, travelling, finances, politics, economics, social science, psychology. I signed up for qualifications. I began learning guitar. I started swimming and going to the sauna. I meditated. I met friends for coffee. I went on dates. I went to gigs. I went to the cinema on my own and felt excitement for the first time in a long time. I discovered that without alcohol I could do, within reason, whatever I wanted. I felt free.
I wanted to do everything and I wanted to do it yesterday but it soon became apparent that tidying up the wreckage of the past was going to take time. So learned to slow down. AA had taught me to take one day at a time but I was taking one day, as one step, towards a goal.
I’ve found that the greatest apology is change and people soon notice when you are making a serious attempt to turn your life around. The level of support offered is phenomenal and a past I was shameful of became a point that I was now becoming proud to have escaped. As long as I was making progress with my relationships, my finances and my personal growth, I accepted that was enough. Some things take longer than others to fix so patience is a necessity.
“Because you have been down there, Neo. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.” – Trinity, The Matrix
It was the quote above that kept me going. Every time I wanted a drink. To deviate from the new road I had chosen. I reminded myself of those days; drunk, alone, lonely, scared, broken, desperate and lost. I didn’t want to go down that road. Not again. A bad day sober isn’t worth drinking on and losing everything. So I just kept plugging away one debt at a time; a financial debt. A debt to people. A debt to myself. I owed it to myself to stay sober.
The first year was hard and there were times it seemed like a stupid thing to be doing. That it was a complete waste of time and I should just give up and go back drinking. By by the end of the year, I had learned so much, paid off some of the debt and felt so good that it eventually became worth it. It just took time, patience and sacrifice. All three I’d given to alcohol. So why not give them to sobriety.
On the morning of June 1st 2014, I woke up with the worst hangover ever and I’d endured some devastating hangovers in my life. Sunglasses well into the nighttime kinda hangovers and this one was a two pair of shades, forty paracetamol kind of hangover. Finally, I open my eyes, noticing stickers on my chest and slowly the previous evening’s activities began to unfold in my mind; copious amounts of whiskey, pain, hospital, shame. I knew something had to change. I knew I was at the end and that I couldn’t carry on living like this but I had no idea where to begin. The thought of not drinking scared the shit of me. All my friends were drinkers. All the activities we did involved drinking. My whole life revolved around the pub or the consumption of alcohol. Without it, I would have nothing. I had no hobbies. No creative outlets. No spiritual path. No girlfriend. No nothing. Drinking was my everything. The previous evening in the hospital, the Doctor had told me to lay off the drink for two weeks or I could do some serious damage to my liver. This was the second warning that my liver had given me in three years and honestly, I was worried. I imagined the third warning would mean cirrhosis, liver disease or worse. I promised the doctor and myself that I wouldn’t drink alcohol for the two weeks as advised.
Later that day, I left my home town to drive the four-hour drive to where I worked. I still felt terrible and my passenger seat was stacked with bottles of Lucozade in the hope it would carry me through the journey. Three-quarters of the way into the journey, my car lost all power and began to freewheel along the motorway. Luckily, it had enough momentum to get me to the next lay-by. I stopped, sighed, took a large drink of some Lucozade and tried to start my car. Nothing. I called the rescue service and they advised me to wait away from the car. So that’s what I did. I sat on the crash barrier, took a cigarette out of my packet and as I smoking it, I began to question how much more I could take. How much more shit could I suffer in my life. The night before was a physical warning. I was financially fucked. My head was full of constant noise that the drinking cured but also caused. I honestly felt like the universe was sending me a huge neon message saying “IF YOU DON’T CHANGE, THIS IS HOW IT’S GOING TO BE”. I couldn’t take another day of this. I couldn’t suffer the embarrassment that I’d suffered the night before. Not again. I could not risk a third warning from my liver. I had to change. I had to try. I was at the end but I no idea where to begin. All I knew was that I was going to try and stop drinking for good. I had to. I was convinced the next warning on my liver would mean serious health problems and I had so much I wanted to do in life.
Eventually, the AA van arrived, the mechanic explained that the cam belt on my car had snapped and the engine was finished. Basically, the car was now a write-off. He towed me to the nearest service station and that’s where I sat in my car, with my head on the steering wheel, waiting for a tow truck to take me home. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be me. I drank because I hated my life and myself. I didn’t think I had the courage to approach these issues or how I could even begin to get a grip on the shit going on outside and inside my head. It was a close call which was in a worse state; my outer life or inner world. I was so deep in debt that my outgoings were on par with my income. I looked terrible. I had a job… just about. My car was now written off. My head was a dangerous neighbourhood I dare not enter unless I had the courage of drink in me. Every emotion I had pushed down was in there under pressure but not creating diamonds. My internal monologue was basically a constant barrage of negativity that had me believing I couldn’t achieve anything. I was potless, felt worthless and sitting in that car park, I felt hopeless. If I had enough energy I would have cried and if I wasn’t shot scared of the health implications I would have had a drink.
The next day at work was brutal. I still had a hangover and reality had started to creep back in. My financial situation took centre stage and hung around my neck like a lead life jacket. This caused me to be moody, irritable and generally not very nice to be around. Which apparently was normal. It’s just that I was “Too hungover to notice,” before. This carried on for the first week. And then the second. In those two weeks, I stayed away from the pub as I was gasping for a drink and sitting in the pub is where I went wrong the first time. I started going to the sauna because I was convinced it would help clean me out. I watched films, read, spoke to people who I’d known a long time, anything and everything to keep me busy because the slightest thing would make me want a drink. And everything reminded me of drinking; Look it’s nearly home time… pub time. Feeling stressed? Have a drink. Had a good day? Have a drink. Somebody pissed you off? Have a drink. Then there is the advertising constantly reminding me that I was missing out on great times and beautiful women. Thankfully the feeling I had sitting on the side of the road, lost and broken, was still pretty fresh in my mind. Like a friend of mine says, “When I drink it isn’t a Bacardi Breezer advert,” how right he is.
By staying busy I managed to do the two weeks that the Doctor recommended but I’d started to feel better so I opted to do another two weeks. In true addict style; if I feel this good after two weeks without a drink, imagine how good I’ll feel after four. So that’s what I did, another two weeks. I had a bit of a routine going by this point; swimming twice a week, practicing guitar, reading all the half-read books I’d started, talking with people I knew, I stayed away from pubs, meditated, when the urge to “Get out of my head,” basically escape my thoughts happened I just let it pass.
After four weeks, I got paid and to my surprise, I still had money left from the month before. That was enough of an incentive to keep going. I went to six weeks without a drink. My general outlook had improved. My sleep had improved. My life, in general, had improved. And then it hit me; I was bored shitless. I couldn’t carry on doing this, it was dull. I felt like I was waiting for something exciting to happen and then I realised it was never going to come. Boredom was always an excuse to drink for me so this was a bad time and I needed some advice. I phoned the alcoholics anonymous helpline out of desperation. I smoked five cigarettes, talked myself out of it and then convinced myself it was a good idea numerous times, before eventually making the call. A lady answered the phone and asked my name before telling me hers. She asked how she could help and I told her my situation; how I didn’t want to drink anymore but I was bored shitless, that I had loads of time but was now missing something as my life had been spent in the pub. She asked me if there was any alcohol in the house and I said “Yeah, there’s half a bottle of red wine, two bottles of white wine, four lagers, some gin and some vodka. Why?” she said, “Why do you know how much alcohol is in your house to the measure?” I can remember thinking that was a stupid question surely it’s normal to know how much alcohol in your house. I mean what’s the point in having alcohol in your house and not knowing about it?
“Do you stare at it?” she asked, which brought me away from my rumination.
“Sometimes when I am bored,” I said.
“I think you should go to a meeting,” she said.
I was actually offended at the suggestion. Me? Charlie J Lofus? Attending an AA meeting? Those things were for hobos, winos, meth drinkers and piss stinkers…
“It can’t be any worse than sitting in here staring at the wall but I must tell you that I am not an alcoholic. I am just a man who drank a bit too much,” I said.
I found a meeting in my local area and went along expecting to walk into a scene from the Hollywood version of Skidrow. To my utmost surprise, there was someone I had worked with previously at the meeting. He was about my age and certainly smashed my prejudices. I was greeted on the door and asked if it was my first time, what my name was and if I wanted a cup of tea. Everyone there was great and as they shared their stories I began to relate. I was asked if I wanted to share my story and with a wobble to my voice, I began to tell what had happened over the last few years. The people nodded along in agreement. Some had smiles as they recalled a day gone by. When I finished I couldn’t help but think “Oh fuck! I’m in the right place.” When it was time to leave, people offered their phone numbers and support. It was not only useful but reassuring that I wasn’t alone. That was five years ago and although I have had a fractured relationship with AA, at that moment, they helped me immeasurably.
The hallmark of my life was running. Not as in the fast movement. Unless it was last orders at the bar or the off licence was closing. I used alcohol to run mentally and when that became a problem, I would move. Usually I would change jobs but on many occasions I would up sticks and move towns. With a car full of possessions and head filled with bullshit promises of how it was all going to be different this time.
After seven months of not drinking, it hadn’t taken long for the old ways to return and once again my whole existence revolved around drinking. I would go to work purely on the basis to earn money to drink and when not working, I would be drinking. Most of my friends settled down and started families, while I was still slumped against a bar trying to figure out what was going wrong with my life. The answer to that question was masquerading as the solution the whole time. So now I was back to where I had been for most of my life and like all those other times I chose the same option I had done previously; time to move.
This was it, a fresh start, a new beginning, clean linen, this is where it all came true. The excitement I felt purely from the delusion that it was going to be different was what made moving all the time so appealing. The sense of wandering into the unknown like an explorer in search of a new life. So many possibilities, so much potential, new sights, new friends, new lovers it is the things that dreams are made of.
It wasn’t. In a new town with no friends I would wander to the pub and drink excessively in the belief that I would meet a new friend, or even more delusionary a beautiful partner by being in the pub. I would stand in an empty bar on a rainy Tuesday night convinced that I had to stay in there because I would soon meet the woman of my dreams. This brain washing by washing my brain with alcohol became expensive, even if I had scouted out the cheapest bar in town. The wages I had left after paying my bills would all be spent on drinking. When I had spent my wages, I would use a credit card. When the credit card was at it’s limit I would get a loan and pay the credit card off. Vowing never to do it again… until the next time. I knew it wasn’t sustainable but I couldn’t stop. The alcohol would block out reality which in turn made reality harder to face. It was a self fulfilling prophecy. This continued for two years. Over that time; I destroyed friendships, relationships, I was on the verge of bankruptcy, I was physically broken, mentally ruined and emotionally stunted. My days followed a similar path; work, drink, blackout, repeat. In the pub I would stand and talk about the wonderful, exotic places in the world I would love to visit. Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Nepal, plus many more. I could never make the connection between my drinking habits and my circumstance. I used to moan that I couldn’t visit those places because I was skint all the time. Any suggestion of stopping drinking was scoffed at. I was like a child clinging to his mums apron strings refusing to play with the other kids. But deep down I was miserable, isolated and lonely. Drinking was my only friend and felt like the only friend I needed. The people I drank with were associates who were there to normalise my behaviour. I felt like a prisoner. I wanted a change but I had no idea how to go about it. I begrudgingly accepted that this life of working and drinking was my only option. It was getting to the point that people were commenting that I was wearing the same clothes as I had been doing the previous day. This was due to the fact that I left work, got drunk, blacked out, woke up and drove back to work. At the end of the work day I would walk around the car park looking for my car. When I eventually quit drinking, I heard a story of a woman who crashed her car into the wall of her workplace on the way to work in the morning. She had been drinking the night before and lost her license and her job. I was lucky.
On May 31st 2014, I was watching a boxing match with some friends. I was drinking whiskey as that is what we used to drink when we all started going out together when we were younger. The irony isn’t lost on me that I was trying to act like I had done when we were all sixteen. After the fight had finished, they did the sensible thing and went home to their wives, girlfriends and children. I went out with mine; alcohol. With no one to distract me with chatter I was consuming whiskey at an unprecedented rate until it was time to go home. I can’t remember much of the night but I remember walking down the street after the club had closed and feeling a paralysing pain just below my right rib-cage. I had never felt pain like it before. It was so severe that it created a memory even in a state of black out. I slumped against a wall clutching my side and asked a group of people who were passing to get me a taxi, which they did thankfully and I made my way to hospital. I always had a rule that if something hurt then I would have a few pints and if it still hurt then it must be quite bad because alcohol is an anesthetic. So now I was worried.
In accident and emergency, I waited to be seen by a doctor clutching my side and rolling around the floor in agony. I genuinely thought something had ruptured. I prayed to Gods I didn’t believe in and made promises that I couldn’t keep, all out of desperation. After four painful embarrassing hours, I was seen by a Doctor and after a shit ton of tests I was told that I had an enlarged liver due to the amount of whiskey I had drank that night. He advised me to lay off alcohol for two weeks and it would return to it’s normal size. It was the second warning my liver had given me and I was only thirty two years old. I knew something had to change but I had no idea were to begin.