Why I quit drinking…

I had to.

I mean I had a choice. I didn’t HAVE to. There wasn’t a disgruntled wife standing at the door, coat on, screaming startling accurate descriptions of a situation that I couldn’t understand as reality. There was no threat of not seeing my children. There were no prison cells. No real regrets. Only wasted potential. But no more than the average 30-year-old spending his days in a cubicle, earning money for an escape that will never come. There was a financial peril. But that was on the horizon. There were health issues. But that was if, buts and maybes.

I could have carried on if I wanted. And that’s just it; I didn’t want to anymore. It wasn’t as bad as some but it was bad enough. In all honesty, it was the life on the horizon that scared me. If I was scrooge from an alcoholic Christmas carol. And I was visited by three ghosts of alcoholic Christmas. My rock bottom was not a recap of my drunken past. It was the drunken days yet to come. It was bleak. Fuck man it looked bleak. More of the same. I couldn’t be doing with more of the same. I couldn’t handle another fucking pointless conversation dressed up as friendship just to not feel lonely for an evening. Alcohol gave the illusion of a life lived. It also made me forget about a life wasted. I had dreams. I had potential. I had so much to give but was held back by my own shit thinking. The negative, dismissive, failure, “aim for the middle” mindset. I was tired of trying to be less than I was because I was scared of being myself. I was tired of talking a good game and never playing. I was CONVINCED that deep down I could do something with myself. I was a rebel without a clue. I directionless ship in the waters of life waiting for a captain to take control. I got tired of waiting for that to happen. I was tired of waiting for a saviour.

I have asked myself the question “was my life shit because I drank or did I drink because my life was shit?” many times. I believe it was a combination. I was scared of trying. Scared of being different. I drowned the fear in alcohol and pretended to be a one-pound rockstar. Swagger n all. All bravado and bollocks. It was tiring keeping people at arm’s length through the fear of getting found out. It’s such a waste of energy trying to be someone else. Trying to put up an image. I can’t be arsed with that. Not no more.

Has my life improved much since I quit drinking? I don’t have the drunken days yet to come to worry about. There are no shadows on the horizon I have to avoid. I have seen things I once only dreamed of. The confidence I used to fake is now natural. At nearly 40 years old I am probably the fittest I have ever been. I have options; freedom and choice. My head can get a bit carried away with itself sometimes. But my general outlook is better than it was.

I do think that I am at a disadvantage to drinkers though. I have to be in reality 24/7 (except sleep of course). I can’t just get out of it. I can’t just escape to another place for a while. I can’t just switch it off for an evening. It’s not a hardship. It’s just fun to escape sometimes… I can’t do it sometimes though. It becomes all the time lol.

The other disadvantage is hanging around with other non-drinkers. Not wanting to spend my life in the pub means going to places to meet people. Usually AA. This is fraught with heaps of religious nonsense dressed up as some kind of spiritual journey. The problem is that the group adopt the thoughts of the group. Conversations about higher powers and the like drive me insane. Like I said earlier; I was like a captain-less ship waiting for someone to take control. I learned to take control of my life and responsibility for my actions. I grew up. I am not now giving it over to an imaginary figure. In AA I would be called an egotist for such thoughts. So be it.

The most startling realisation about life is that it is just okay. I don’t think that it is wonderful every minute of every day. It isn’t a Disney cartoon. Nor would I want it to be. Continuous happiness would also become normal eventually. Not to mention tiring to maintain. Life is more real than that. It is hours of monotony to earn money so I can pay bills and not starve to death. It is humdrum and cyclic. It is enough to drive people to drink but there are moments. Flashes of light in the darkness. Wonderful moments of simplicity. The stars in the night sky. Birds singing. Squirrels squirrelling. Dog’s happy to be outside. There are love and connection. There are friendship and kindship. Shared experiences. And internal contentment. There are peace and awe. Those are the magic moments. Those are the grandiose luxuries I sought in the guise of grandiose luxuries.

These moments make it worth it. I realised that blocking out life with alcohol blocks out the wonder of life. Alcohol is not selective blindness. It is complete blindness.

Life may not be perfect. Accepting its imperfections stopped me being disappointed. The same thing happening with the way I viewed myself.

Ultimately, quitting drinking is daring to be pricked by the thorns while getting the rose. It is taking the rough with the smooth. Because there has been both emotional and physical pain but they have passed. They have left their mark. I have grown from the experience. Alcohol would have turned those emotions into a stew and they would have simmered. Bubbling away. Day after day. Getting thicker and thicker. More would be added to the broth until the pan spilt over into an eruption of emotion. The process repeated. Physical pain would be drank away. Yet I would get hurt again while oblivious to the pain in a drunken state. And the process would be repeated.

There are numerous forms of escape in our culture but nothing offered the same level of checking out like alcohol. In my drinking days, I used to imagine my head was like an etch a sketch. In the morning I would give my head a shake and what had been drawn on the night before would vanish. Poof. Magic. Last night never happened I would think… until the repercussions.

Being engaged in life can be tiresome and tricky but by being clear-minded it is possible to observe. With this observation, it is easy to see the problems with alcohol in our towns and cities. Those people from street drinkers to office workers wanting an escape don’t see the simplistic wonder that is happening all around them. The escape they crave is the trap they yearn to escape. The simplistic wonder of life is worth far more than an evenings escapism. It may take time to see but it is there.

I quit drinking because I didn’t want the future I was going to end up with.

I stay a non-drinker because it was the right choice.

Charlie.

Sri Lanka. Part of my travels to celebrate five years of sobriety

One day at a time…

That’s what was said to me in the beginning, “Just take one day at a time.” It made sense. I mean the future was bleak. The past was broken. So taking each day as it comes made sense. The advice was a great gift. It allowed me to focus on the important things. The twenty-four hours in the day was the line in the sand. I would think that I just need to get through today without drinking. I did. It worked. It was so effective that I lost count of the amount of days I have gone without drinking.

I also lost the use of keeping it in the day. My anxious determination got the better of me. “Now what?” I would say. “Now drinking isn’t my issue. Now, what do I do?” The answer from people was often the same “just keep it in the day.” My reply “What? Forever?” It seemed like every day would be the same. Just another struggle against alcoholism. Another day of handing problems over to a higher power whilst decrying my human emotions. It seemed so… boring. I’ll be honest. Quitting drinking for quitting drinking sake was never enough. I needed a reason. I needed to find a goal and break it down. I needed to ask the question “I only have one day. What can I do today to push me towards that goal?” Not drinking was the foundation. Monetary stability was a big help. Health is the most important. So to keep my health I have not to drink. By not drinking I can work to save money. This way I am keeping it in the day but for a reason. I am working towards something. I have used this method to study. To pay off debt. To lose weight. I take the problem and break it down. Usually not drinking is the first thing. Not because of disease but because not drinking makes achieving my other goals easier. By not drinking it is easier to become the best version of myself. Life-fighting to hide an addiction is hard. Life with a hangover a hard. Life fighting disease can be hard. By focusing on the route I am present.

Drinking made me the worst version of myself. Plus I had to work twice as hard to get anywhere because I usually had a hangover.

Living life as a functioning alcoholic was like tying my own shoe laces together before running a race!

I had to adapt keeping it in the day to suit my own outlook and journey. I’m not just trying to repeat every day. I am seeing the day as an opportunity for progress. One step of twenty fours hours towards whatever it is I have in mind at that time. If I don’t manage it that day then I try again tomorrow. There is no failure. Only progress. There is ALWAYS something I can be doing.

I waste time. A lot of time. Doing nothing. Not even as entertaining as nothing. Scrolling through my phone takes up a huge amount of time. It’s as if somewhere on Instagram there is an answer to a question. I just have to keep searching until I find it. I am often left unfulfilled by this quest and am left with the resentment that I have been wasting time scrolling through products I don’t need. The resentment is offset though if I have done something that day. Writing, practising music or exercising. Whatever I see as getting towards that goal. As long as I’ve done that I feel better.

The “One day at a time” (ODAAT) approach was explained to me that there are twenty-four hours in the day. Each day is a battle against the disease of alcoholism. The object of the mission was to get through the day without drinking. That was it. I mean it is a bit of a shit mindset to approach every day with. A paranoid outlook that there is some ominous thing plotting your demise every day. It is almost the teachings of a religious fanatic who believes the Devil is trying to get you to the dark side. 

I couldn’t see life like this. There is opportunity everywhere. I just have to put the steps in place to make it happen.

It was of use in the early days. In the first few weeks when drinking is still the focus of the mind but not drinking is the intention. When alcohol adverts seem to spill out from every billboard and poster. Eventually, though this feeling fades. Addiction or temptation becomes lessened. We are left with time and not much confidence. Or I was at least. What was I to do? Sit in a stare at the walls until eventually my yearning for escapism became too overwhelming to ignore? Or try to do something? Dare to fail? Dare to grow?

Of course, it is scary venturing into the unknown but that’s how growth happens. It is easy to continue doing the same thing over and over but don’t be disappointed when the outcome is the same. It’s nice sitting in a boat at the shore but it’s a lot more fun in the open water. I had to take a chance. Life is overwhelming when looked at in its entirety. It looks unmanageable. Unfathomable. Daunting. It’s easy to want to escape its insanity. In fact, it’s actively encouraged to escape in our culture but it’s also possible to look at life differently. To break the perceived unachievable into smaller chunks and to chip away.

Take the past for example. I dragged the weight of my drinking life around with me. I thought it was my burden. The misery it caused to me was what I deserved for the misery I had caused others. BULLSHIT. I started to put it right the best I could. Fuck it was scary. Yes, I had some help. But boy was it liberating. Did it happen over a weekend? No! It took time. Breaking it down a bit at a time like kindling and burning it. Turning it to smoke. Lightening the load.

I am just a man passing through. Just wandering and wondering. Trying to share a tale of motivation and inspiration. Just hoping that people realise the shit we worry about today will likely be nothing in a year. Most of the problems that seem scary can be broken down into smaller parts. Manageable parts. It may not seem like progress but a large amount of small things equals a large thing. Small amounts of change over a long enough period result in change. Don’t focus on the outcome. Focus on how you can get there. How you can navigate the ship of life through the rocky waters? Eventually you will be through to the other side.

So in the morning, think what can I do today to get to where I want to be. What small thing would push me towards my goal? Not drinking is the foundation. But what can be built on that?

Eventually, one day at a time, who knows what you will end up achieving?

Charlie.

Photo by bex Callaghan from Pexels

We all die in the end…

Death scares the shit out of many people. Nihilists, on the other hand, think that life doesn’t matter, as we are pointlessly spiralling to the inevitable ceasing of existence. The last person alive will utter the words “Well, that was all a waste of time,” as humanity disappears. It could be true, I haven’t witnessed the end of time. What is certain is that I will cease to be. Eventually.

We each have two lives. The second begins When we realize we have only one.”

Confucius

For many years, I thought that I wouldn’t make it to thirty years old. I was convinced that I would have drunk myself to death in some kind of heroic martyrdom. Which would really have been the death of sad, lonely drunk. I nearly achieved it. My body started to fail. I drank because I was scared of living. In the end, I was scared of dying. There were places in the world I would still like to visit before either heaven or hell. It was a wise choice. I had a great time and saw some wonderful things. My only regret? That I didn’t do it sooner. I had wanted to do it for years. I was waiting for the “right” moment to arise. Or for the “right” person to travel with me. I waited, life passed me by. I got older. I got sober and sick of waiting, so I went. 

What I realised is that the “right” moment was the moment I went. Also, it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. It could have gone horribly wrong. It could have been miserable. There was only one way to find out. If I had put off travelling until 2020 it wouldn’t have been possible and who knows about next year. I would be back to waiting for the right moment again.

It’s comforting playing it safe, but there is a strangeness fighting for certainty in a life that is so uncertain. Fighting to have control over the ever-changing nature of reality seems like a huge amount of energy to waste. Fluidity and adaptability are key. A goal with a flexible approach is pressure releasing. Anxiety and stress can be limited without the pressure of self-imposed expectation and rigidity.

“I can point the ship but I can’t control what’s in the water. All I can do is act accordingly.”

I know of many people who make wonderful plans for retirement only to never make it or not be able to do it. They delay happiness for an illusionary future where everything is wonderful. Unfortunately, it never arrives. The can is always kicked down the road. Happiness is a shadow on the horizon that will one day be reached. But never is. They are waiting for life to take them by the hand. Just like I was.

I’m not suggesting that everyone can drop everything and follow their dreams. In some cases, it’s not possible. All I’m suggesting is that whilst I was waiting for that day to arrive life was passing me by. I was trapped by my own misery. A prisoner to my own negativity. In the end, I made a plan but started enjoying my day to day life as well. Instead of banking on a “happy day” to arrive. I started nudging myself towards a better life.

It’s easy to get drawn into the pessimism that is emanating from every news channel. Fear and hate being constantly driven into our psyche. Thus forcing us to cling to the safety of the pretend security. As a result, we become more risk-averse. I sold my dreams for alcohol. I couldn’t travel because I drank every night. I couldn’t imagine changing. I was stuck. I was miserable as fuck to boot. My only escape from the inner turmoil came in the fleeting moments of joy in the products and chemicals I consumed. I borrowed money to block out the misery. I borrowed happiness from the future. Eventually, I reached that future. I can assure you, it took it’s happiness back… with a hefty interest added.

What made me get the motivation to follow a dream? Firstly, quitting drinking liberated me from the dependence on alcohol and then introspection allowed for the re-establishing of a connection to my intuition.

I would visualise laying on my death bed and looking back over my life. What, as an old man, would I regret not doing in life? Travel. The answer was always the same. So I made it happen. I sacrificed and saved. I admitted that there would be no hand-holding and would have to go for it. It was to prove a point. Well many points really. As well as ticking off that box. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. That as a man approaching his forties, I am no longer the coward who made excuses and pointed fingers, ten years ago. It would also prove that the work I had done in sobriety had changed me and had been worth it.

“Did travelling make me happier in the long run? It was an amazing experience. When I am older, my dreams will have been achieved. My greatest memory will still be the decision to quit drinking.”

I spent a large part of my life in the pub or at work. I didn’t want that to be my final memory. I don’t want my life to be one long drunken stupor. I don’t want my dying memory to be one of a wasted life. Wasted potential and empty dreams. One long sorrowful scene of a lonely man dreaming empty dreams in an empty pub. That’s how it got in the end. I didn’t want it to be my future. I didn’t want that to be my life. I didn’t want to be the person that was always “going” to do something. Or nearly did something. I used to hear those tales in pubs over the years. Fragments of lived lives told in stories of partial heroics. “I nearly played for Chelsea,” “Should have seen me the other night, I nearly smacked this geeza,” “Yeah, I was gonna do that. Something came up, though.” It always does.  Don’t be a nearly ran. It is better to fail at trying than fail to try.

I would love to think reincarnation exists but I can’t take a chance that I’ll get it right in the next life.

I was lucky. I was jarred into action by life. It shook me from my automatic mode. Until this point, I had been a puppet blaming an imaginary puppeteer for his failings. I had to accept that I had control. Which was hard. I had spent my life making excuses. The phrase “I was drunk,” was my get out of jail card for any bad behaviour. Almost as if there were two versions of me and sober me wasn’t accountable for the actions of the drunk me. To get where I wanted to be emotionally, mentally and physically, I had to accept that I was responsible for my life. To become the drunk version of me, sober me had to drink. I had to own my actions. This meant failure was on my shoulders also. I hated the thought of failure. Not because of the internal implications but because of the external implications. “What would people think?” was a recurring stumbling block for my actions. Realising that failure was just a lesson to learn was the beginning. A “Who gives a fuck what people think?” mindset was the key to unlock my chains. The realisation that “One day, I will fucking die” got me up and running into destiny.

I used to use the mantra that “I could be dead tomorrow,” as the excuse for my drinking. I thought it made me some kind of cool nihilist with no real concerns. Really, it made me a coward because I was too scared to have a go. I would rather get drunk and talk shit with other cowards than take a chance. Eventually, I had to take a chance at sobriety because I couldn’t handle the lifestyle anymore. I couldn’t handle the nonsense and loneliness. I couldn’t manage the illusion anymore. It began to crush me.

Something had to change… ME.

It seems strange that I waited for change and it came in the way of near-complete destruction. This is the point I needed to be at before I realised that I could be happy. That in this short time between being born and not existing I can have moments of joy. I don’t have to treat myself like shit and feel bad. I carried around the past and tortured myself for no reason. Hitting rock bottom woke me from my slumber. I seized the opportunity to get right. Don’t wait for that bottom to come up and meet you. Don’t wait for life to make choices for you. One day you will fucking die. If you are lucky you will get to reflect on life. You will get to see the memories you made and the moments you cherished. Hopefully, that moment will be one of love and joy. Not anguish and regrets… life’s too short for that.

Charlie.

How quitting drinking improved my confidence…

With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.

Dalai Lama

  It’s ironic, don’t you think, that I used to use alcohol to gain confidence and as a result lost all my confidence. I couldn’t accomplish anything without alcohol. Or so I thought. People used to assume that I was confident because I was outgoing and could hold a conversation but really I was frantic on the inside. If I wanted to talk to the opposite sex then I needed a few drinks to make it happen. I would need so many drinks that I would say or do something stupid. Which would kill the mood. I would take it personally and my confidence would slip a little. The cycle would start again. 

My lack of confidence affected other parts of my life too. I was so uncomfortable with who I was that I felt like an imposter who would get found out at some point. I believed my lack of ability would be discovered. I lived waiting for a tap on the shoulder from some shadowy figure stating that the real worthless me had been discovered. My anxiety was for nothing though as it never came.

This lack of confidence was what held me back for a long time. I didn’t push myself because I thought I wasn’t capable of achieving anything. When I had to quit drinking I thought I would fail because that is what I always thought. My inner chatter was negative and derisive. I had to learn to get a handle on my thinking. One of the things that helped me out was an NLP book on confidence. I used mindfulness meditation to increase my self-awareness which enabled me to change the narrative that was circulating through my mind.

Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.

Venus Williams

Slowly, I started to test myself. I set goals, small things at first. I saw each day of sobriety as another accomplishment. I used that accomplishment as the bases of my self-belief. For example “if I can not drink then surely I can have a go at XYZ?” I mean quitting drinking had taken years but now I was doing it.

I changed my diet and started walking. I started to feel better about myself. This helped build my confidence a little further. I had held onto a negative self-image for a long time. The change in diet and exercise made me feel more comfortable in my skin.

I started to read more books on mental health, self-improvement and Buddhism. But I had to put the things into practice. I treated these as small goals. So I would meditate for 5 minutes. Or walk a certain distance. Or read so many pages of a book. If I didn’t do it then I would do it next time. As long as I tried next time. I didn’t give myself a hard time. I’d been doing that for years. I’m just a human. I stopped focusing on perfection and started focusing on progression.

I had to keep an eye on my posture, my inner monologue and I had to correct them until they became natural and I started to feel better on a regular basis. I started to take control of my life in a way that I never had before. Whilst I was drinking I was trying to cling to things. The harder I clung, the more I squeezed, the smaller the things I had to cling to would get. As my confidence grew I learned that things come and go. To go easy. To deal with things as and when they arose. It was a stark difference from the mad panic I lived with before. A good example is when I used to write when I was younger, I was ashamed. I thought it was a shit thing to do and people would take the piss out of me so I used to rip them up and put them in the bin. When I first wrote a blog about sobriety many years later, I was sure it would get ridiculed but I did it anyway because I thought I had something to say. I didn’t get ridiculed. Quite the opposite. The difference is that even in the face of potential criticism I still went ahead. I dared to do something. It might seem small but it was a big difference.

The same goes for quitting drinking. Doing the opposite of what people expect takes strength. That strength can be built upon to achieve other things. It just takes a bit of work. Also, the work has to be done to maintain sobriety. It takes a little bit of fight to not capitulate to outer pressure. It also takes a little bit of self-awareness to identify temptation.

Imagine, how you would like to think of yourself? How would you like to look at yourself? If you don’t think of yourself like that already then it is time to get to it. I am not talking about swaggering arrogant vacuous narcissism. I am talking about pragmatic self-worth measured against a real value that comes from proof via accomplishments.

Maybe there is a little bit of bullshit in the beginning; “fake it until you make it and all that,” but as long as it used to develop real self-belief it is fine. The problem is when the illusion becomes reality.

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

T. Harv Eker

As my confidence grew I became more comfortable leaning into my fears. I started risking failure in the pursuit of progression. To get where I wanted to be I had to take a chance. The week after my rock bottom I had an interview for a promotion I had been told to applied for by my manager. I was sweating profusely. I was convinced it had gone horribly. I got the job. I couldn’t believe it. I said that ” it was a gimme. The manager already knows me,” it was nothing to do with my knowledge or ability. I couldn’t believe that he would have faith in me because I didn’t have faith in myself. I had to change that. I had to work on my self-belief.

“You don’t make a person less anxious, you make them braver”

Jordan Peterson

I had been miserable for years due to being unable to pursue my dreams through fear. Overcoming fear takes courage. Courage comes from confidence. Confidence can be developed. I know this because somehow I managed to break the habit of a lifetime and pursue my dreams. If I can do it then so can anyone. It just takes small steps to overcome obstacles.

For example, when I was going on holiday to Cambodia, a friend phoned and said; “I heard there are a lot of pickpockets. What will I do if I lose my passport?”

I replied “Why are you worried about an outcome that may not happen? We will deal with any situation if and when they happen.”

It turned out that there was no need to worry. Nobody lost anything and we had a great time. There are some risks in everything. Anxiety makes the risks seem a lot greater than they are. The whole may seem daunting which is why I break things down into more manageable chunks. This is only possible due to the work I have done before. My mind still is more than capable of going off on a tangent. It is just that now I can notice it and bring it back to reality.

To maintain sobriety, I tell myself that all I have, mentally, physically and emotionally, is owed to quitting drinking. Thanks to that I put the work in and feel contentment. Self-hatred is just a can of beer away if I want it. Why would I? Why would I build a utopia in my head only to burn it down again? Self-sabotage is the behaviour that held me back. Confidence is the antithesis of that.

Charlie.

Did COVID kill the rat race?

Are the mind-numbing moments, in traffic, slowly watching life disappear a thing of the past? Are sweaty summer days, defying physics by sharing the same time and space with a complete stranger on public transport just a shiver-inducing memory? It is hopeful and quite possible!

Whilst travelling through Mexico, I met many people working from laptops. Digital nomads, they called themselves. I thought of them more like digital Del boys. Wheelers and dealers who were scraping by. Earning enough money to keep the adventure alive. The hustle was part of the adventure. Just getting enough to eat. Or so I thought. Some were very successful entrepreneurs who stayed in lavish locations whilst working. Benefiting from the relatively low cost of living and having a good time along the way. It’s easy to dismiss these people as irresponsible thrill-seekers. Youngsters who refuse to join reality like the rest of the drones packed onto trains. But the COVID pandemic has brought that into question.

The culture shift brought about by the pandemic has rejuvenated many people. The enforced working from home has made many question the value of their time. Thanks to not being crammed into train carriages or slowly going insane in traffic there has been an uptick in peoples mental health. The other benefit to the reduction in the commute is an increase of time. Which has allowed for closer connections with loved ones and family? It has also allowed for an increase in energy thanks to a reduction in the length of the day and stress. This has created healthier and happier people. I’m not saying that is the case for everyone but it is the case for many people. As a result of these benefits, the previous benefits of the working life have been brought into question. If not exposed for their dishonesty. Overpriced trains and overpriced meals were accepted as the norm. Negative emotions were part of the trade as they were to be offset with toys or treats to perk up the mood. Chemical correction Thus making the whole process worthwhile. But whilst working from home, many people, have begun to enjoy the simple things in life. Bicycle sales are up. Wildlife was in full song during the absence of traffic and was noticed by many for the first time. The slowing down of life allowed people to venture into parks and enjoy a walk with the family. The de-stressing benefits are abundant. The simplicity gave many people the peace they had been searching for. Not, the things we once strived for under the guise of finding contentment.

I have seen reports of the downside to home working. Including isolation and loneliness. This highlights a worrying culture. One that depends on work for the whole spectrum of human needs. Is this the best we can do? Isn’t it worrying that a place like London with a population of 9 million is one of the loneliest cities in the world? Has the indoctrination into the rat trap worked too well? Has the pursuit of materialistic perfection blinkered people from the simplistic pleasures in life. Has the awakening of the lockdown exposed this? It would appear so.

The office is nothing more than a creche for adults. Travelling from far and wide to sit under the watchful eye of the supervisor. Turn up on time or else! Wear your uniform or else! Don’t say anything inappropriate or else! What’s inappropriate? You’ll find out at the tribunal. Walking on eggshells and anxious as the axe swings overhead. The only joy comes in the toys that the job allows the credit to buy. We accept this as normal because we are told it is normal. Now the concept of travelling for hours to plaster on a bullshit eating grin seems a bit pointless. It seems so stupid now it can be done from the comfort of your own home. A safe distance away from that annoying prick in accounts. Or that moaning bastard who enviously squashes any optimism you may have found. It is the start of a technological revolution. The freedom for employees to have a genuine work-life balance.

I understand that not all jobs can be done remotely and not everyone wants to but at least we can have the option. It is on us to make it happen. I know it’s difficult for some people to fathom but there is certainly more to life than work.

I think a balance between the two would be good. Sometimes in the office and sometimes at home. It will cover all bases. Yet, I think of those digital nomads, sitting on a beach somewhere, using work to further their adventures. Using the money gained to ensure their freedom. Instead of being shackled by debt that we have taken to try to buy happiness. This leads many to resent the trap they are in.

If people feel happier then maybe they will need to consume less. If they are commuting less and consuming less then surely that is better for the environment. Terrible for the economy though. If that is the choice then it is on us to decide what future we want to leave for the next generations. Maybe there is the opportunity to compromise. Boris Johnsons pleads to return to normality is a plead to return to misery based consumption. Now is the perfect opportunity to strike a balance.

The shift is happening and the control freaks are getting edgy. Maybe overbearing management types will become the new Luddites. Trying to bring down the technology that will liberate the staff from their obnoxious presence. But the genie is out of the bottle and it may be impossible to get back in. Times change and maybe this time the changes will be made by the demand of the workforce.

It’s possible that countries no longer lower their corporation tax to entice business. Instead, they will lower their income tax rate to entice digital nomads. Cities would take a big hit. Except for the locals and the people seeking the corporate lifestyle others would have the world as their office. Globalisation starts to benefit the workers and not just the corporations who lobby governments for huge tax breaks. It’s idealistic of course. It is more likely that the surveillance software will be rolled out to keep the workers in check. Or maybe the work will move to cheaper shores and the employees of the western world will be left wanting. It has been coming for a long time. There aren’t enough resources in the world to ensure that every human can live with hedonistic abandon. Maybe the west has had its time. But maybe the liberation from the pursuit of the ideal thing will be the liberation we have been seeking.

The last significant upheaval in the UK was during the eighties when unemployment rose to 11.9% as the shift from manufacturing to the service sector took place. The impact of these decisions are now playing out as shops, cafes and restaurants suffer the impact of people not returning to the city centres. The knock-on effect will be a recession. Maybe if the governments hadn’t sold the entire country off to focus on a consumption model then there would still be items to sell and money available. Instead we need debt. And we need spending. Without debt there is no spending. The whole rat race is based on the pursuit of an illusion.

Who knows, maybe the change in working patterns will shift high streets back to local merchants. The out of town shopping complex that was designed to steal customers from the high streets will diminish. People will travel less, consume less and live more. Maybe we can finally strike a balance between comfort and sustainability.

Charlie.

Get rid of your debt!

In the UK in 1979 household debt was 37% of GDP. By 1990 it was 73%. Just before the COVID lockdown, it was 83%. It is quite apparent the economic systems that have been implemented by the governments over the years have emphasized public borrowing to increase public spending. This has resulted in an ever-decreasing interest rate to stimulate borrowing. The entire system is built on debt. This debt creates the illusion of affluence. We see a nice car and think “Oh they must have a lot of money!” When instead we should be thinking Oh they have a lot of debt! Most new cars on the road are bought with debt.

This borrowing culture has resulted in knock-on effects. Anxiety, depression, homelessness and suicide are linked to financial problems. Yet like an addict, the solution is more. More deregulation. More borrowing. More spending. More consumption. And like an addiction, it can only end terribly.

Many years ago, I was talking to a guy who was selling the Big Issue. I asked him how he’s got into that position. He said “I was married, had kids, a house and a job. I started gambling. I started losing. I started borrowing money to pay it back. Eventually, I couldn’t afford to pay it back!” It’s easy to think it only happened because of his addiction to gambling but people get into tricky situations financially for many reasons.

Much of my laissez-faire borrowing and spending was done under the pretence that nothing could go wrong. That I would always be in a position to get a job to pay it back. In 2008, there was an economic crash that resulted in me losing my job and not being able to find another job. The wolves at the door still demanded their pound of flesh. Sob stories don’t pay a debt, unfortunately. So I ended up borrowing more money to pay back the other money. I felt like a Dickensesque peasant going cap in hand begging for salvation. Thankfully, more debt was on hand to save me from the other debt.

“Every time you borrow money, you’re robbing your future self.”

Nathan W. Morris

Eventually, I found another job and got working. I paid back the people who had lent me money. I did this by borrowing money from a loan company. More debt. Yet, I continued to spend money I didn’t have on alcohol. I turned loans into lager and credit cards into vodka. The more money I borrowed, the greater my anxiety, the more I drank. It was a terrible time of avoidance. I understand that during difficult times it is hard to get by and a bit of borrowing is necessary. I understand that a lot of people are in wage debt. Meaning their wages don’t cover their outgoings. But our culture is one of “Why wait?”

“We must shift from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

1927

“I could be dead tomorrow?!” was the motto that drove me to destruction. Those words were the motivator for unnecessary levels of alcohol consumption. I wanted my last night on earth to be a party. If I was going to die the following day then why not go out celebrating. Fortunately, I didn’t die but I was left with a giant hangover from that lifestyle. Debt is comparable to a hangover because it is the cost of a good time. It is the downside to the pursuit of happiness through pleasure. The question that I never considered was “is it worth it?” Is the now worth the cost in the future? The cost of most things is simplified into monetary value. The numbers on the price tag and the need for instantaneous gratification outweigh future implications. Interwoven, access to cheap debt and the carpe diem mindset create a dangerous culture of escapism through consumption. Maybe my outlook is jaded. Maybe the self-flagellation I endured in the pursuit of happiness has left me cynical. I look upon contentment through consumption as I look upon contentment through alcohol use, impossible.

The weight of the world

The weight of the debt I carried into sobriety was a burden. A terrible reminder of many slips combining to make a giant mistake. I had to do something about it. In a society that judges economic standing on the external demonstration of affluence, I found it difficult to make the choice to breakaway. To throw down the shackles of expectations and say “I’m out,” takes strength. Thankfully, quitting drinking had given me the clarity to see through the veil of nonsense. I was killing myself. For what? I wasn’t having fun. I was depressed. I was on the verge of ruin. I lived in fear of losing my job because I would be bankrupt. I lived month to month. For what? For a few “treats?” Like a couple of pints at the end of the day. Or “congratulations you are good at staying in debt and paying us our interest so have more debt!” To buy things to present the illusion of affluence at the cost of my own mental wellbeing. Is it worth it?

I get it. Life is fucking hard sometimes and the little treats are what makes it bearable for a lot of people. I understand that but I have learned; the need to escape diminished when I focused on the simple. A tiny bit of research shows that the things I had been told would make me happy and the things scientifically proven to make me happy are completely different. How can this be? One has to be lying. Is it the research or the people who are trying to make money? I had been following the marketers for years I decided to try another way.

“You have nothing to lose but your chains”

When I quit drinking I had around £20,000 of credit card, overdraft and loan debt. The amount of interest paid on my credit card was astronomical. My debt was keeping me financially unstable which caused more anxiety and fear. It was also limiting my freedom.

The plan: I owed £4500 on a credit card and £15,000 on a loan.

To give you an indication of paying back that £4500 credit card debt:

Paying £70 a month off the credit card would mean that it would take me approximately sixteen years to pay off the debt and it would have cost nearly £9000 extra in interest.

Or another way of looking at the crippling effects of credit card debt; £2500 of credit card debt paying off the minimum repayment would take 25 years to pay off.

(There is a reason why financial education is so atrocious/non-existent in schools. The cynic in me thinks that schools don’t prepare you for life. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks if they teach the rules to the game they can’t cheat you while you are playing.)

I moved my credit card debt to a 36 month, interest-free credit card. There was an initial charge for moving it over, of about 3 % and one on purchases but no interest on the £4500 I moved over. I continued to pay £70 a month at first and a bit more where I could. I saw the debt coming down with every repayment instead of paying a huge amount of interest. Previously, when I was paying the £70 a month £50 was interest. Now I was starting to chip away at the total amount. It was good to make progress.

Next, I took out a £15,000 loan over five years. The interest rate was higher then than it is now. It was about 10% then. Now it is about 3%, it is a perfect time to start to climb out of debt. Many people think “Ohhh debt is cheap I’ll get more.” Which is fine if it is used wisely but I had turned my debt into alcohol and drank it all. I refinanced the loan after two years when the balance was lower and decreased the number of years to keep the repayments the same.

There is probably a better way to do it but that is what I did and it worked. I managed to have a bit of spare cash here and there as well.

Spending money is a habit

Every day, I would think “I have worked hard, I deserve a drink,” and would then fall into the trap of drinking excessively. When I first quit drinking I was seeking a dopamine hit. I used shopping, sugar and salt to replace the hit I got from alcohol. Slowly, I began to see the same behaviour that I had when using alcohol. I had just been using a reward system that had bestowed upon me. The same reward system that kept me drinking every night under the pretence “I’ve worked hard I deserve it.” I should buy shit because I’ve been good/worked hard/feel down, the approach is the same to them all. I had to rewire those habits by doing something different until the feeling to treat myself was no longer there. The same with spending money; I had to resist the urge to buy shit I didn’t need. To do this I asked myself the questions; do I need it or do I want it? Can I afford it?

It took me a year to start seeing real financial improvements. The clearing of debt for me was cathartic. Closure on a previous life. If you want to be free from debt then you have to retrain your spending habits. It doesn’t mean you have to live a monastic life just a restrained life!

Less is more.” It took me years to realise by getting less debt I would have more options. It also took me years to pay off the debt and liberate myself from the consequences of following a path to self-destruction disguised as liberation. I had chipped away at my debt, made sacrifices and stuck to the task. After five years, I was free of personal debt.

Quitting drinking, stopping borrowing money and stopping over-consuming allowed me to reverse the problems I had encountered. It also gave me the financial and mental freedom to choose a path of my own creation. To create a life that was more of a reflection of my inner desires. A life that allowed me to feed my spiritual, creative and physical pursuits instead of shutting them down.

You can have anything but you cannot have everything.

Jordan Peterson

Alcoholism and debt took my physical and mental freedom away. Sobriety and self control brought liberation. The days of anxiety have declined dramatically. Of course, there is a possibility that due to the current economic downturn I may lose my job but thankfully from taking the steps I did my outgoings are not what they were. I encourage anyone in a similar position to the one I was in to take the steps to liberate themselves also. I can’t tell you how to live, nor would I want to. All I can tell you is borrowing money to fix a problem today is at a much greater cost than finance tomorrow.

It is quite apparent that the lockdown in the UK has had an impact on people. Many see that the old way of living has had it’s day. Unneccasry discontent brought about by the need to escape the discontent now seems futile. I am not suggesting society regresses. Maybe more of a rebalance.

One thing I do know for sure is borrowing money to drink, smoke and shop to demonstrate my freedom was the biggest trap I ever fell into.

Charlie.

The externalisation of happiness.

It’s been said often. It’s been thought infinitely more often; “It will be the next thing that saves me.“It’ll be the next adventure where I achieve realisation and become enlightened.” “It will be the next lover that brings a deep connection as we wander into the sunset silhouette of eternal bliss.” “Those clothes would complete me.” “That car would definitely say sexy bastard and definitely not say “desperate old twat.””

It will always be the next thing that brings happiness. After each new thing? It will be the next new thing. And when it fails to fulfil it isn’t the processes fault. It will is the item, person, adventure that just isn’t quite right.

I spent most of my life looking for happiness at the bottom of a glass. I consumed alcohol under the pretence that the next pint would give me the feeling I was seeking. In the end, I was sick from seeking happiness. I was mentally and physically broken from overindulgence. I was miserable. I had been miss-sold a route to happiness and I had no customer service to voice my concerns to. All I knew was that more was the cure. The end result was always going to be an addiction. Is the pursuit of happiness through consumption destined for the same outcome?

After 9/11, George Bush urged people to “go shopping.” As did many leaders after the COVID lockdown. I get it. I understand that we need debt and consumption to keep the economy going but where is it leading? My pursuit of happiness led me to the misery that required escapism that led to misery. I am not saying that will be the case for everyone but what I am saying is what is the fucking point? Hyper competitive people playing an illusionary game of who owns the best car against people they don’t know. All the while the threat of layoffs is keeping them awake at night. Is this the best we can do?

An ever increasing amount of people are now using chemical means to redress the imbalance. Using prescription medication to fend off the unhappiness that many are experiencing. It isn’t surprising. Look at the diets we have adopted. Look at the places we have built for ourselves. We have turned the natural habitat into an environment unfit for the people it was built for. Are sick people better consumers? Is it possible that we create discontent people to sell them the illusion of contentment? No advert ever tells the truth “buy this. You might be happy for a day or two!”

Much like an addict is borrowing happiness from their future. Over-consumption is borrowing happiness from the lives of future generations.

We are children in grown bodies. Seeking toys to entertain us while we avoid the harsh realities of life. It was once said that Americans have no second act in their lives. I think that goes for many in the western world. We avoid emotional pain and as such learn no lessons. There are few heroes journeys. As a result, there are too few lessons learned. Self-entitlement is plentiful whilst gratitude is rare.

So what is the answer?

Moderation is the only way. Developing children to be stable and comfortable with who they are. That life is not TV and the “good guy” doesn’t always win. Failure is a possibility but shouldn’t be feared. To generate the belief that contentment comes from within and luxuries are nice but they shouldn’t be sought just to try and fill a void. Taking responsibility for our actions instead of looking for blame. Teaching healthy eating and balance to remove obsessional dietary habits on both ends of the spectrum. Teaching financial acumen to get a better understanding of spending and debt. Creating solidarity to push towards a common goal for the betterment of all. Not just the individual desire for the accumulation of assets. Wouldn’t it be preferable to create an environment that isn’t toxic and creates toxic people?

The stark realisation that life is pulling us along has happened during the lock-down. People seem to have found the importance in their family. The unnecessary stress of pursuing someones else goal seems to have lost its appeal. Hours in traffic and on trains masquerading as success seems to be exposed as a waste of time. The trading of mental and physical health for a larger TV seems to have lost its shine. The government begs for people to continue to consume but is there another way? Has the lockdown been the jolt that shakes the many from their automatic thinking? The falling silent of the tills has allowed reality to be heard amongst the usually inaudible wildlife. An addict hits rock bottom, the bump wakes them to the stupidity of the destructive repetition of addiction. The cul-de-sac of consumption has been exposed by the lockdown. The dead-end of repetition. The sacrifice of deep meaning for the pursuit of the trivial. It is shallow. It is empty. It has no meaning other than escapism.

Why did this come about? Surely, humans haven’t always been this way. Or have I hugely misunderstood the concept of the hunter-gatherers? I always assumed they were wandering looking for sustenance. I never considered that they wandered the planet looking to fill a void that they had internally. Maybe that is why religion was created to make people feel whole. As a result, people sought connection externally. Praying to an outside God in the hope of help. People have forgone religion but it has left the void. It also left the externalisation of happiness. The pursuit of contentment in the next thing. Hijacked and monetised, this inferiority has become the driving force in the British economy.

Conformity is ensured through the use of fear to ensure obedience. Not necessarily the fear of physical attack but the fear of being excluded from the group. The fear of admitting fear is the chain that kept me from progressing. Take quitting drinking as an example. One of the first hurdles is the perpetual label of “boring” that comes from breaking away from expectation. It’s almost as if the labels are used as the sheepdog to get any strays back to the flock. Pushing through this barrier is vital to ensure progress. 

Most groups use the same approach. Take the people who claim to be awakened. They are just suckling from a different tit of the same beast. Seeking inclusion and speaking out against the beast. But still identified by the products that are consumed. Image defines the person and the group. The assumption that it is normal because the people surrounding them are doing the same creates a false reality.

Normality is flexible and purely down to perspective. The people who I surrounded myself with normalised my alcohol addiction. Their behaviour matched mine. It was comforting to know I was not alone but it certainly wasn’t fucking normal. Looking outwards for validation is a dangerous habit without moments of reflection. Introspection is a requirement to maintain balance. It is strange how we suppress our intuition in the quest for validation. Almost as if we trust others more than ourselves.

The group keeps us safe. Fear keeps us in groups. Connection brings happiness. The eventual suppression of the self implodes. The devastation results in over-consumption. The group doesn’t give strength it takes it. Without the evolution of emotion through the realisation of reality, we will always remain in a state of regression.

Without critical thought and discourse, there will never be the realisation of the potential of the individual or the group. Progress is made by asking difficult questions of ourselves and our life. Stephen Hawkings once said “philosophy is dead,” yet the western world needs to ask difficult questions now more than ever. The problem with asking? Sometimes we don’t like the answer but that is reality.

Without the capacity to accept, there will always be conflict. The greatest realisation of my life was that “just because I believe something it doesn’t make it true!” My ego will work magic to create the world in my image but that doesn’t make it a reality. Disappointment arises when my external world and expectations collide and don’t align. The only option is to accept that not everything is as I thought. This includes the belief that happiness is a place that resides externally.

Charlie.

Image by Sachu Sanjayan from Pixabay 

Three tips for finding contentment…

I know, it’s a bad title. It suggests that contentment is out there somewhere. Passively waiting to be discovered like the deluded dreams of the wannabe next throwaway popstar. And like throwaway celebrities, my pursuit of contentment was steeped in a throwaway mindset. As the dopamine subsided from the last hit of chemical correction I would be searching for the next source of escape dressed up as momentary stability. The irony is that I was seeking calm amongst the chaos. My “Work hard play hard” mantra should have carried the caveat and “frightened of contentment.” I was often disappointed and less often elated. My mindset was one of a self-induced bipolar disorder. Peaks and troughs. In the hopes of finding level ground. It wasn’t sustainable. I had to find another way.

Ask people what they want and many will say “to be happy.” Ask them how they become happy and they would likely name something that would make them happy; car, more money, perfect spouse, etc etc. I was looking in the wrong place and was often disappointed to not have found the right answer. I sought happiness through escapism and external stimuli. It only worked for so long. Eventually, I had to put the work in.

Since quitting drinking, the anxiety has abated. The chaos has diminished. Stability has been discovered. Thanks to this level ground, I have had time to reflect on the reasons why. Why did I live like that? I was running. From life and myself. From the feeling of inferiority and the fear that attempting to prove it wrong would only serve to confirm it. My only solution was creating a barrier between my problems in the hope they would disappear. This chemical correction was a short cut to momentary escape.

Why did I feel like that? Many reasons I guess. Weight problems when I was younger. Being painfully shy. Feeling inferior. A broken interpretation of what it was to be a man. Avoiding emotions. I was all mixed up. It took a lot of effort trying to be someone I wasn’t. Alcohol just made it easy for an evening, week, month, year.

That was the biggest fear when I quit drinking; facing all that shit. Dealing with all the bollocks I had created yet dared not deal with. The warped perception of myself that I’d carried for years needed to be addressed. I had to, with the help of others, try to find some calm. I had sought external escape for most of my life. I had to try another way.

Last September I was lucky enough to travel to the places I had dreamed about. It was a reward for five years of sobriety. A trip of a lifetime made possible by the greatest decision of my life. I saved and sacrificed to make it happen. It was worth every ounce of the effort. I came back in February, amongst the early murmurs of the pandemic. It wasn’t so bad then but was starting to take hold in Northern Italy. By March it was a different story, the panic was setting in and countries began going into lockdown. I returned to work on the 2nd March and by 16th March I was working from home. Why am I saying this? Well, I have realised that those two situations back to back are starkly different. One was dream-like freedom. Great places. Great food. Great people. And the other I was imprisoned, like everyone else, in my home. These two situations should have had a different impact on my mental well being but barring a little bump I have been reasonably content. How can this be?

In both instances, I had a moment of despair that subsided. I couple of moments of “what the fuck is going on?” that lessened. Overall I was comfortable. I was happy in my own skin whether I was in Jordan or Lockdown. On the beach or on my bed. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a big deal that is. That I spent most of my adult life HATING myself. Disgusted with who I was. If I was in alone then I had to drink to stop the thinking. I could not imagine being in my own company without a chemical umpire.

Just before I went travelling, someone in AA said to me they would “love to travel but couldn’t be too far away from the program.” That to me sounded like co-dependence. Why would anyone want to give up an addiction, gain freedom and then willfully hand that freedom over to another? I always wanted independence. Freedom. Clarity. I wanted to be comfortable in any setting whilst not drinking. I didn’t want to relive the misery and be chained to the past. It didn’t and doesn’t define my future. In order to maintain sobriety, I had to find things that would allow that to happen. I created an Adhoc program of sobriety that wasn’t location dependant. I wanted freedom but had to accept that there were things I needed to do to stay sane. I’ll be honest drinking isn’t on my agenda and hasn’t been for years. The thinking patterns that lead me to the mental state to want to escape are very real. I can keep them under control by doing the following things;

I have to be aware of my inner world. Through the rough and smooth. I have to feel the feelings and let life take its course. Whilst travelling and in lockdown, I felt isolated and lonely, so I picked up the phone. I reached out to people and had a chat. I also have to be aware of the inner chatter and make sure I am not giving myself an unnecessarily hard time. I can compare sometimes. I can flick through social media and make sweeping judgements that everybody is infinitely happier than me. This, in turn, makes me feel inferior and then sad. I have to remind myself that reality is a lot different than the pursuit of “likes”!

I have to treat myself as if I was caring for another. Especially, another who I love. When I had no self-esteem I didn’t care what I did to myself. I didn’t care what I ate. I didn’t care what I drank. I just cared about not caring. When I quit drinking I slowly began to care about myself. I began to look at my body as an important thing. I began to realise, what I ate impacts on how I feel. Especially if I have an unstable relationship with food that results in guilt trips. So I thought about how would I treat a pet. How would I care for a dog? I would give it love and affection. I would feed it. I would give it a treat. I would play with it. I would take it for walks to give it exercise. So if I would do those things for a dog, why the fuck wouldn’t I do those things for myself? For years, I treated myself worse than I would treat a dog. I at least deserved to be treated as well as a dog. So I began to give myself love. I am worthy of that. I began being nice to myself.

I used to neglect myself physically and mentally. No wonder I was cowering from life. Have you ever seen a dog that gets shouted at all the time? That’s what I was doing to myself psychologically. I slowly learned to be nice to myself. I took myself for a walk and rewarded good behaviour. I stopped pissing against lamposts though. Over time I began to feel good about myself.

I have to remember things have been and could be, a lot worse. No matter where I am in life I know that there are people far worse off than I am. There are hundreds of millions of people without food, water and electricity in the world. There are children in wars and terrible situations that I dare not think about. I can try to help as much as I can but I cannot change the world. I know that I am very very lucky to not be one of those people. As such, I practice gratitude everywhere I go. Whilst travelling I thanked the people who helped me in recovery and my parents who motivated me when I was younger. I was grateful for the option to do what I did. I appreciated it isn’t a possibility for everyone. When I came back, I was unhappy to have stopped travelling but that soon turned to gratitude as the pandemic unfolded. I was lucky to have a job, a roof over my head, running water and access to food. It is easy sometimes to forget about how hard life is for people. It is easy to take things for granted and as a result, create a mindset of self-entitlement but it is a miserable existence. To sit and expect life to serve up my dreams is a bad idea. I know. I did it for long enough.

Without the people who stood by me when I was struggling, I wouldn’t have made it. Without the people who walked the path of sobriety before me and shared their stories, I wouldn’t have hope. Without the open-minded view of life that I adopted from my parents, I wouldn’t have attempted the things such as meditation, yoga and self-reflection that have allowed me to get to this point. I am eternally grateful.

All the things I learned that keep me on the straight and narrow I can take anywhere. I just need space to exercise. Time to reflect. Access to balanced food. Whilst I was travelling I went for a run in most cities I visited. Not far. Just enough to keep me balanced. I didn’t give myself a hard time for eating things but I limited the amount of bad food I ate. Just because of the crashing from the sugar makes me feel lethargic. I spent time just watching the world go by and realised that life got lost in the chaos when I was drinking. What I was looking for was with me all the time. Contentment resides in my realisation that nothing can fill the void I create internally. Even if something does fill the void it may be fleeting. The self-care and love I sought for years can be artificially induced but it cannot be replaced. In the chaotic pursuit of peace, it is easy to lose everything. In the pursuit of “sobriety” (whatever that is), it is easy to create unnecessary pressure. In life and sobriety, simplicity has been key for me.

Two thousand years ago, Epicurus theorised that happiness is built on three things; “Friendship, Freedom and Self-Sufficiency.” The three things I have listed are not a million miles away from that. They are “connection, gratitude and self-care.” I need a connection to myself and others. I have to stay grounded by remembering that life could be a lot worse. Finally, I have to treat myself with love, both mentally and physically. I have to treat myself as well as I would a pet. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Charlie.

Mental health and reaching out.

*Disclaimer- This is my personal experience it is in no way intended to diminish anyone else’s struggle*

Alcohol was my medicine. A belly full of lager made everything disappear… until the morning. I never learned to deal with life. I opted for an escape over reality. I pointed fingers and avoided responsibility. All the while problems were amassing in my subconscious. Like an enemy lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to attack.

That opportunity came when I lost my job. I was 28 years old and it was the moment that started the snowball rolling down the hill. As it rolled it collected my previous problems and gathered momentum. The very real proposition of bankruptcy and becoming homeless, combined with the emotions I had avoided for a long time, created a devastating situation. It became unbearable. I drank more until I couldn’t afford to any more. Then I sat in darkness, begging for a solution.

Eventually, I was left with the option to end it all or reach out. I thought reaching out for help was weak. I thought I was less of a man for having emotional problems. The thought of seeking help made suicide more appealing.

I felt like a weak man. I was supposed to be strong but was now falling apart. I was embarrassed. It took a huge amount of energy to reach out and take the steps to try to turn it around but I can not put a value on that decision.

I’d worked in the oil industry for a long time. I’d earned good money but fallen into a rut of working and drinking. I had no plans. My dreams had been shelved. I was working to buy alcohol and to pay for my living expenses. It had been like that for a few years. Work, drink, sleep, repeat. I thought that the low-level depression was just a part of life and alcohol was the reward for putting up with it. I thought that this deal would continue indefinitely. The alcohol suppressing my desires and inadequacies.

Then I got the letter saying I was going to lose my job. It was 2009 and the financial crash had wiped 10% of the value of the house I’d bought the year before. The job market was bleak as companies boarded up to protect themselves from the oncoming shitstorm. But I thought it would be alright. I was reasonably skilled so finding another job shouldn’t have been a problem.

Eventually, my money whittled away. I started living off my credit cards to cover my bills. When they reached their limit I went to the banks to ask for loans or credit increases. I felt like a character in a Dickens novel begging for help. They all turned me away. I reached out to friends and family for help. Thankfully, they were forthcoming with support. I wasn’t losing my house but I was accumulating debt. I began to feel like a failure. I was applying for jobs below my skill set and often heard nothing back. It was demoralising. My self-esteem had been propped up by alcohol for years and this life stress test exposed my fragility and shattered me.

As my money disappeared so to did my access to alcohol. I would gather money from my spare change pot and buy a bottle of cider. Just to feel “okay” for an evening. The days I didn’t drink I was plagued by two main thoughts; I feel terrible and I should be ashamed of feeling terrible. I berated myself for feeling bad. I would spend my days in bed in a darkened room wishing for a solution. Momentary breaks would come when I would scamper to the local off licence to get what I could. The problems would be beaten back but only until the next morning.

The light at the end of the tunnel got darker as I lost any hope of ever getting out. The worrying time was during the Christmas period. I was surrounded by friends and family yet felt completely alone. I felt like they wouldn’t understand. Or would laugh at me. These were my closest people and I still couldn’t talk to them. There is nothing worse than feeling alone in the company of the ones I love.

This continued for ten months by which time I was done. I had nothing left and would spend my days in bed. I felt like my only options were to seek help or commit suicide. The thought of getting help filled me with dread. I saw reaching out as weakness. I couldn’t imagine opening up to anyone. It would be unmanly. I felt like admitting weakness made me weak. I thought that if I asked for support I was a failure at life. I thought that it was women who needed help with things like this, not men. I couldn’t be a man if I was going to speak to someone about my problems. That’s not what men do. I would rather die. Killed by my own pride.

I contemplated how I was going to do it. How would I end it? Pills, hanging, drowning. I thought about it for weeks. The thought of reaching out for help only cemented the decision to end it.

I can remember having a thought that was uncharacteristic of the time. It was “what about the people you know?” The people throughout my life that had helped me. It would all be for nothing if I just gave in without trying the alternative. If I couldn’t do it for myself then I could at least do it for them. I didn’t believe that I deserved help but people had helped me throughout my life so they must have believed in me. If only just a little.

I didn’t want to reach out. Thinking about it petrified me. I smoked a lot of cigarettes and put the phone down numerous times. Eventually, I phoned the doctors and made an appointment.

When it was time for my appointment, I had to force myself to leave the house. I felt emasculated. Like a failure. My feet were blocks of concrete that I dragged towards the doctors. A diatribe swirled around my head. Faceless voices calling me shameful labels. The tears poured down my face. I stopped and turned back many times before forcing myself to continue. I don’t recall seeing anyone along the way as my gaze was pointing firmly at the floor. I looked and felt like a condemned man.

At the doctors, I had to fight to keep it together. In my head, I was thinking that I was a failure and I didn’t deserve help. I was weak for needed help. I gave my name to the receptionist and took a seat. The words I wanted to say were already primed in my throat. I just wanted to blurt it out there in the waiting room. I wanted to scream “PLEASE MAKE ME FEEL BETTER!”

Finally, my name was called. I entered the doctors’ room and before I took a seat the tears came. “I need help!” I blurted out before he could ask his questions. “With what?” he asked handing me a tissue. “I have spent the last year in bed. All I think about is killing myself!” I said through the sobs. It felt great to tell someone how I felt. It was like the pressure had been relieved. I almost felt stupid for keeping it in for so long. The doctor offered anti-depressants which I declined and said that I would like to speak with someone. It was arranged that I would meet with a therapist named Stuart. When I left the doctors I was so grateful for the fact that I had gone. It had seemed like a monumental task at the start of the day but afterwards, my only regret was that I hadn’t done it sooner. The finger-pointing and name-calling I had imagined never materialised. Everybody needs help sometimes.

It was a month until I saw the therapist and in that time I had tried to stay busier. I was still worried about money and my head was still chaotic but I was optimistic that talking to someone would help. I tried to keep busy instead of laying in bed all day like before. I tried not to give myself a hard time. On the darker days, it was like being trapped in a dark well with a disembodied voice that would spew negativity constantly. The words would cut me down and make me feel inferior. Until I could focus on nothing else and I would lay in bed hoping it for it to stop. Thankfully, those days had lessened after reaching out for help.

I tried to help myself. I ate better and moved more. I was so out of shape by this point that it made moving uncomfortable. Walking down the street I would think people were laughing at me. I had no self-confidence left. I would stare at the floor as I walked conscious about everything.

On the first session with the therapist, I was surprised by his appearance. All I had known prior to the meeting was that his name was Stuart. I had a mental image of a therapist as a tweed coat wearing professor but this guy was built like a rugby player. It turned out he had been a rugby player but had suffered a bad injury that had thrown his life into turmoil. He had received a lot of help to get over the incident and decided to pay it forward and to help others. So he studied to become a therapist.

He didn’t say much. I spoke the whole time I was there. I poured it all out. I left everything in that room. Everything apart from my problem with drinking. I never mentioned how much I drank. Even at my lowest point, I was still lying about that but I was honest about everything else. There had been a couple of deaths in the family within a close period of time and I hadn’t processed them. I didn’t have the emotional ability. I just pushed them down, stuck my chest out and walked on. Foolish. There were things that I had carried around for years. Things like rejection or regrets that had seemed major when they happened but were minor when I was older. My finances were a major concern and getting a job was still difficult but he encouraged me to do some voluntary work to get out and to meet people. It was great getting it all off my chest. When the time was up I thanked Stuart.

Outside, I lit a cigarette and had a little chuckle to myself. All that shit I had carried around for no reason had been weighing me down. I felt lighter and even slightly optimistic.

It was a month until the next session with Stuart and in that time I had vowed to get out of the house more. I’d started doing some light exercise. I wanted to try and do something useful so I visited the volunteer centre in my local town. There were so many options. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I just wanted to help. There was a position as a teaching assistant available not far from my house. It was as many hours a week as I wanted to give and it was a short walk away. I said I would pay them a visit.

When I sat down with the manager she asked if I needed help or wanted to help. I was heavy and unkempt. Even with the recent spike in positivity, I was still down but on the way up. I said that I would like to help if I could, wherever possible. We talked about what they offered and how I could help. I agreed that I would help people with their English and maths. It was low-level stuff but would lead the students to get to their GCSE. I was happy to be part of their journey.

The following month, I want to my second appointment with Stuart. I felt different this time. I felt positive about things for a change. The first meeting had cleared a lot of the shit out of the way and allowed me some moments of clarity. Within twenty minutes I was leaving. He asked me what I had done in the previous month because it was clear I had improved. I said “I just realised that a lot of the problems I had were in my head. I couldn’t see a way out because there were so many things going on. It was like a snowball on a hill at first it’s easy to stop but over time it grows and becomes dangerous. Thanks to you I realised that I have to deal with things or else they become bigger problems later.” He wished me well and said, “The pieces will just fall into place now!”

All this happened ten years ago. Reaching out for help allowed me to recover. Like when I quit drinking, I had to take action and put the work in to change the situation. I had to face fears and deal with things I previously didn’t want to. I learned that it isn’t as scary as I thought.

Over the years I paid my debt off, lost weight and found moments of inner peace I never thought possible. It didn’t happen overnight but it was worth the wait.

Charlie.

If you are struggling then reach out. It may not solve all you problems but it may help find the way:

Suicide Prevention

If you know anyone who may be helped by this blog then, please share.

Thanks for reading.

Seven things I also recovered from thanks to quitting drinking.

My names Charlie and I’m an alcoholic…

It’s just a word, alcoholic, but the history and imagery give it weight. Even in this world of gender fluidity and obesity normalisation, the word alcoholic is still synonymous with defective.

The threat of being a pariah in a world awash with alcohol stopped me from seeking help. I thought I was too good for that label. It was beneath me. For I was, and can still be, a judgmental bastard sometimes. I assumed that the imagery of the word was the word itself. An alcoholic was a bum in alleyway with a brown bag of mentholated spirits. Rotten teeth. No name but in the image they all deserve to be there. No one ends up like that who doesn’t deserve it? I guess the lie I had to tell myself. I walked a fine line trying not to be labelled an “alky.”

Even after twelve weeks of alcohol counselling that I’d attended on doctors orders, I was relieved to hear the counsellor say that I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was a “problem” drinker. It was like the golden ticket in Charlie and the chocolate factory. I was free to taste what the Wonka brewery had to offer. I would stand, swaying and drunk, defending my label of “problem drinker” against accusations of being an alcoholic. I wore it like a badge of honour. Like it meant everything was okay. Everything was not okay. Far from it. Eventually, I accepted that I was an alcoholic.

To me, the term alcoholic means a person who can’t stop drinking once they start. That’s all. A recovering alcoholic is someone who figured this out! 

I  have thought long and hard about how I got to be an alcoholic. Was I born an alcoholic? Or was I created over a period of misuse? Probably a combination of both. I never put a cross on a calendar and said: “that is the day I became an alcoholic!” I just noticed that my life started going wrong and then my health followed. My health followed because I had to drink more to block out the fact my life was going wrong. My life then… you get the idea. It ended badly put it that way.

What I do know is that I was a sensitive soul and alcohol gave me an escape. It just fitted the bill. It was almost the piece that I thought I lacked to make me whole. It was a shortcut to completion while simultaneously denying me the knock backs in life that I needed to grow. Instead of adjusting and learning, I stagnated and became maladjusted. Emotionally stunted and frustrated. I took that into adulthood.

My friend recently said on a podcast “if you are drinking to change the way you feel then maybe have a look at your drinking,” I wish I’d heard that sooner. I wish I’d learned to face adversity and take the rough with the smooth. I learned the hard way. I had to be broken to change my life. I am so grateful for the journey of addiction and recovery. Both have been hard lessons but I have a history of learning the hard way. Or as it should be known the “unnecessary way!”

“It takes a wise man to learn from his mistakes. It takes an even wiser man to learn from others.”

Recovery meant taking a chance at a life without the warm security of escapism. It meant risking being labelled an alcoholic. It meant sacrifice. It meant walking down roads I had avoided and asking questions I had avoided asking. It meant sacrificing my love of alcohol for a chance at happiness.

The sacrifice of alcohol has given me many benefits. The most important ones are behavioural and emotional characteristics that have happened thanks to living life without escaping. These lessons have allowed me to build on the aspects of my life that I had ignored.

I’m not just recovering from alcohol addiction. I’m also recovering from:

1) Self-seeking behaviour. An end to those manipulative lies and games I used to play, badly, to try and get my way. Or to get a drink. Scheming, befriending, associating with people I didn’t particularly like just to hide in plain sight or get my way. 

2) Guilt and shame. Guilt for the behaviour listed above and shame because I couldn’t stop. I was guilty and shameful of my weakness. Not only around alcohol but my inner knowledge that I was using alcohol to escape life. It made me feel like a coward. Which then made me want to drink more. A vicious death spin.

3) Low self-esteem. Tied to guilt and shame but also just from not dealing with things. Assuming, falsely, that the future will always end up like the past because I didn’t deserve anything… at all. My inner monologue was one of disdain aimed at myself. My outer world was built on lies, lies and damned lies. I realised that I am a small part of a big picture. As a result, I no longer have to carry the weight of the world around on my back. I no longer sit ruminating on the plight of the planet. I can make minor changes and offer help to who wants it. I don’t have to feel inferior for not solving the world’s problems.

4) Fear. God damn the fear. Recovery didn’t turn me into a fearless warrior but it did make me realise that a lot of the fears I had were unreasonable. The biggest one being a fear of failure. I walked the circumference of my comfort bubble staring out at the unknown. Desperate for adventure. Fearful of failure. Each obstacle I overcame in recovery gave me a little more confidence to try new things. To hell with the failure. Until I was brave enough to venture into the unknown. I have danced in paradise. I have ventured places outside and in, I would not have dared to venture before.

5) Trying to be who I thought I should be. I spent so much fucking energy when I was younger trying to count the beats that others were walking to so that I could fall into line. I knew I walked to a different drumbeat but I didn’t want to. I have learned to embrace the beauty in my difference and embrace the quirkiness of my individuality and use it to my strength. I realise that peoples opinions are their opinions and are not necessarily true. “You can’t please all the people all the time,” so trying to be everybody’s version me was a waste of time.

6) Weakness. I used to believe that reaching out for help and admitting defeat was a sign of weakness. Strange then that I have grown since the day I admitted defeat. The obstacles and the setbacks in sobriety have made me stronger. I have learned the lessons and felt the pain that I tried to avoid by using alcohol. 

7) Self hatred. From staring out behind a poorly fitted mask I would decry the problems of others and the world. For every solution, I had a problem. I would say anything to deflect the attention away from myself. The misdirection would have made magicians proud. I would jibe, judge and mock. I would use anything to be left alone. A hard shell protecting a beating heart. I did it because I didn’t feel worthy of love. I never saw beauty. I only saw darkness. My poisoned brain made me see a poisoned world. Recovery made me appreciate the simplistic beauty in a world of madness. I began to see warmth and compassion. The distrust of people who were trying to help me melted away. I was like an abused dog fearful of a repeat. Slowly, I learned to accept help. Slowly, I accepted love. Slowly, I gave love. Slowly, I recovered from a life of avoiding life.

Charlie.

Positivitree by @snigg1

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