Sobriety: Expectations vs Reality

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.

The morning after the night before. Taken on 1st June 2014, the last morning I woke up feeling terrible because of alcohol.

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.

An Australian palliative nurse compiled what she believed to be the top five regrets that were voiced by her end of life patients

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 saw this graffiti as I walked in Spain. It reminded me of my drinking days. How every day, week & year would be a copy of the one before.

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 as I 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.

The Aston Martin is there to remind me I have a choice in life. I can buy things to try and buy happiness or I can listen to my core and taste it for real.

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.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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 & NepalSeptember 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.

Thanks for stopping by,

Charlie

Stories from sobriety – A road trip to Rome

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.

Manifesting reality

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.

Thanks for stopping by,

Charlie.

A Break Up Poem… To Alcohol.

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.

Divorce

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

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

Image by KERBSTONE from Pixabay

This song saved my life…

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,

Charlie

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

What I learned in my first year sober

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.

Clearing debt

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.

Hobbies

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.

Patience

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.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

Quitting drinking and staying sober

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 opened 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.

If you’re struggling I suggest you give them a call. https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/contact

https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/need-help-with-a-drinking-problem

Thank you for reading,

Charlie.

Stop drinking before you HAVE to!

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.

Don’t make these mistakes when quitting alcohol…

Under the recommendation of my Doctor, I started to attend drinks counselling but in all honesty I was far too guarded to discuss any of the problems in my chaotic mind. I used to tell the counselor what I thought she wanted to hear, in an attempt to keep myself protected from the truth. I would to try and one up her intellectually and turn the session into a game. The aim of which was to get to the end of the session without actually talking about my drinking problems. Ultimately there was only one loser in this game. I was so ungrateful that this service had been offered at the time and naively assumed that just by attending and pretending, I would somehow magically be cured of all my problems.

I attended the sessions for twelve weeks and in that time stayed away from alcohol but became obsessive about exercise and food. I made no attempt to find the reasons why I drank as much as i did and did nothing to address the carnival constantly dancing through my mind. In the end I drank again. I should have told her how I felt. I should have told her about how I viewed myself as worthless, good for nothing and that alcohol was the only thing that brought light into my miserable existence. Maybe I thought she’d make me stop drinking for good if I told her the truth and I couldn’t lose the only enjoyable thing in my life… not for good anyway. I mean I’d play along for now but I wanted to prove my ex girlfriend had made a mistake.

So during the sessions I would talk about anything except my actual issues; the stars, exercise, food, loads of things but mostly I would talk about how good I felt. Which was partly true. This practice of aversion would come back to haunt me a few months later. I implore anyone in the same position to dig deep and be honest. Even after the twelve week counselling had finished I left with a sense of having cheated the system by not telling the truth. My dishonesty cost me in the long run when I eventually drank again four months after the counselling had finished.

One of the few things that did improve over the course of the twelve week counselling was my health. Not only due to stopping drinking and cutting out junk food but also down to my new obsession with exercise and healthy eating. It was quite clear that I had just swapped my obsession for drinking for an obsession with fitness. I was convinced that if I looked good then I would feel good. This was true for a short amount of time but eventually, once I got to a point that I thought I looked good then I got bored. With boredom comes drinking. Well it did for me. The voice of temptation constantly whispering into my ear. “You’re bored? Alcohol would make it more exciting.” “Just one.” It was never just one. I managed to fight the voice for seven months and in that time achieved so much:

Skydiving; What an experience skydiving is. The sensation of free falling offset by the serenity when the parachute combine to make a remarkable experience.

Passed my driving test and bought a car; At twenty nine years old I passed my driving test and bought a car. I had never needed a car before this point because I preferred getting the train everywhere so I could have a drink on the way.

Got a new job; Or should I say I started a career in a area that actually interested me.

Managed to pay of some debt; With the new job and not blasting my entire wages in the pub it seemed a lot easier to re-balance my finances and start to get on a more stable ground.

Started training for the El camino de santiago; A work college told me about a pilgrimage in Spain/France called the El Camino de Santiago which is a five hundred mile (769km) hike/walk from St Jean Pied De Port in southern france to Santiago de compestella in Galicia, North West Spain. I started looking into it and then I was convinced that is what I was going to do next.

Lost a lot of weight; When I was drinking I eat appallingly and paid the price as I was always ill. Either hungover or just feeling hungover. The swimming, yoga & meditation I started doing, combined with the change in diet made me feel great.

A guy I was now working with had brain surgery caused by a tumor that the Doctors were sure had formed do to stress. He was thirty-four years old and his life would now be completely different forever. It scared the shit out of me as I wasn’t much younger myself. I can remember thinking whats the point in not drinking? I might be dead soon! as he explained what he had gone through and how difficult it was to deal with. A week later I was watching a friends band on a nondescript Wednesday night. I’d had three cokes and thought if I keep drinking Coke then I won’t sleep and I’ve got work tomorrow. It seemed to make a lot of sense at the time that the only other option was to have a beer. I must admit that I was nervous when I ordered the bottle of beer but was convinced that it wouldn’t end up like last time. How could it? I was much wiser now. There was no alarm when I got the drink and there was no explosion of dopamine in my brain. I just sipped it and carried on watching the band. I finished the beer and ordered another. After that I went home. Easy I thought as I made my way home convinced I had it under control. I can’t recall leaving a pub after two drinks before I don’t know if that is because it had never happened or if it was just so long since it had happened but I know it never happened again. Once I started drinking I didn’t stop.

Two days after those first two drinks, I was back to drinking how I had done before. Recklessly. Almost as if my addiction had been dormant just waiting to seize control. Within weeks, People started to comment how I looked ill. They would also comment how I smelt of drink. I would make up some lie about a party the night before when really I had been home alone. Soon my financal situation would again become precarious as I was now drinking away my wages and I started borrowing money to feed my habit.

The dream of walking the El Camino de Santiago began to slip further away from reach. Every week of drinking made it more and more unachievable due to the damage to my body, my mental health now beginning to suffer as I shelved problems again and I could no longer afford the plane ticket to France. Within weeks, what had taken me months to achieve was destroyed.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

Quitting Drinking – A Diary

When I first stopped drinking I kept a journal of how I felt. My girlfriend had left because of my drinking. I went to the doctors to prove her wrong. The doctor gave me a blood test and told me I had a serious drink problem. I only wrote for the first 19 days but I would like to share it in case it is helpful. Everything below was written at the time.   

Day 1 – Got back from the dam (Amsterdam) in a state but knew it was time to change and become more responsible. Spent the day feeling sorry for myself, laid on the sofa eating crap food to try and cheer myself up. A usual occurrence. 

Day 2 – Rough nights sleep. Sweating, twitching, restless. Lethargic all day. Brain pre-occupied by the task at hand and the thought of becoming a boring old man. Better than becoming an alcoholic old man though I guess. Train journey home, no music, no reading. Just staring out of the window thinking. Long time since I’ve made a train journey without a beer . Evening in bed crying & trying to hold it together. For the first time I was aware of the little voice that said “Have a drink”. I refused. 

Day 3 – Got up early to phone the doctors. “Am I really going to do this? I’m fine” I tell myself, my defence mechanism has kicked in. Dr’s appointment – walking there holding back the tears of the realisation I may have been wasting my life. Doctor confirms I have been wasting my life. Held my head up high but was crashing down inside. Spent the rest of the day trying not to fall apart. Anxiously waiting the results of my blood test. It’ll be fine.

SIDE NOTE: You can’t run forever. Eventually you have to stop and that’s when it hits you. Deal with your problems as they happen don’t dismiss them or drown them in alcohol. 

Day 4 – A blur of awful realisation and remorse. Overwhelming urge to go to the pub but decided to take a walk into town to get out of the house. The pub is still calling my name like an evil temptress. Shall I go in for a coffee?! Looking at the people mosying around town I realise that I’m not missing much and venture home with a paper. Try to pre-occupy my mind as it’s waking from a chemically induced slumber and it’s hungry again. Exhaustion and anxiety get the better of me and I spend the day on the sofa rattling. 

Day 5 – My mother called round in the morning and helped me realise that drink had control over me. Also, how it’s influence on me changed my personality for the worse whilst drunk. I’ve tried to figure out why I drank like I did. Embarrassment? Depression? Social Anxiety? Just a chemical imbalance? No idea.The sinking feeling of loss, guilt, remorse, shame of love, life, friendships and careers lost to drink. My cocky blasé attitude showed a lack of interest when really I was dying inside but too scared to reach out for help. Get up, smile, take the piss out of people, die a little more inside. Why did I pass myself off as the joker? Life was passing me by. Call the doctors for my test results. She wants to see me. My anxiety hits the roof. Now it’s real. Now all the years of foolishness, juvenility and recklessness have made an impact. All I can think is “I’m fucked”. 

Day 6 – Doctors tomorrow. Spend the day pacing. 

Day 7 – Doctors first thing. The results weren’t as bad as I thought but the doctor wasn’t as impressed. I have to cut down and see a drink counsellor. My mind is calmed by the fact I don’t have cirrhosis of the liver. Liver gamma 96 recommended 48. I’ve had a warning. Spend the rest of the day reading, practicing guitar and waiting to see the counsellor. That’s only problem the amount of time to kill. Seems strange admitting I have a drink problem but also liberating and life changing. First Friday night in a long time without a beer. Went to bed early. 

Day 8 – Tried to keep busy today. Visited family and then went out for a birthday party. Had a panic attack in the taxi on the way there. Twitching, paranoia. When I got there I just had a coke and sat down. Any offer of beer I just refused and said I’m on medication. After to the party we went to another pub. I had a J20 and had a surprisingly good time. Realised that it is possible to socialise without alcohol. 

Day 9 – Last day of my holiday time. Relaxed and went to the pub, quickly got bored. Pubs alone and sober aren’t the most fun of places.   

Day 10 – First day back at work and people have been surprisingly supportive. They also say I should be proud of what I have done. Good day at work it took my mind off things a lot. Got home from work and felt terrible. Didn’t want to do anything other than sit on the sofa and wallow in self pity. Forced myself to visit my Nanna. It was a good decision. Just the walk there helped.  On the walk back I passed my regular pub. I imagined myself at the bar, alone, drinking and I looked unhappy. It made me feel good. 

Day 11 – Work again today. Good day. Went to watch football in the pub. Took £20 and only bought one pint of coke. 

Day 12 – Spent the day doing chores 

Day 13 – Work again. People are very forthcoming when you admit you have a problem. 

Day 14 – Work until 2 and then counselling. Was very helpful and makes me analyse my problems. Went to a football match and had a very good time plus a great laugh. Shame about the match. Went out after the game with some friends and felt uptight but after a while became relaxed. Felt at ease and could crack jokes. No paranoia, anxiety or anti social behaviour. Drank too much coke and couldn’t sleep.  

Day 15 – Whole day tired at work due to the lack of sleep. Went to a leaving party and people commented how much better I look already. No longer grey faced and miserable. Laid back and relaxed. 

Day 16 – Night shift at work tonight on my own. Worried about being on my own. 

Day 17 – Work wasn’t as bad as I expected. Slept a lot today but feel really happy. Starting to enjoy my own company and discover who I am. Enjoying relaxed time just watching TV, reading, playing guitar, experiencing freedom of choice. No longer seeing time as something that has to be maximised more as something to be enjoyed. Depression is lifting and I’m starting to feel more confident. Breaking a self destructive habit that has lasted 15 years is empowering. I exercised today for the first time in a long time. If I can carry on like today it is going to be a good future. 

Day 18 – Another good day today  No longer think “I wish I would have done this years ago” because now is the time. Negativity is drifting away to be replaced by light and positivity. I feel good. Time alone is enjoyable. Writing, reading, watching TV, all seem like better options than standing in a bar and drinking to misery. I can’t really face bars now. One question that keeps arising “Did I drink because I was depressed or depressed because I drank?” 

Day 19 – Every morning now seems like a seemless amount of time to be enjoyed. No longer have to rush through the day to get everything done in order to get to the pub. Went swimming today with a non drinking work colleague. Felt good to be out trying different things and starting to build a life. Have to find new things to do to otherwise I will end up sitting in the pub again. Spent the remainder of the day relaxing with a book, played some playstation, writing. From not enough time to an abundance of time to be enjoyed. Experiencing life without drink is a challenge but overcoming challenges is what makes us stronger. “Abstinence makes the mind grow stronger.”

Day 1725 – today
Found an old diary…

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

How it all began

“Just admit you have a drinking problem,” she said, with her hand holding the door open, primed like a sprinter on the starting block.

“Problem? What problem? I pay my bills, my mortgage, I’ve got a job, I’ve got a car. How can I have a problem?” I said.

“Because once you pay for those things every single penny goes on drinking. The fact you don’t see that as a problem… forget it I’m wasting my time trying to tell you that,” she said, stepping through the door and slamming so hard that it vibrated in its hinges along with her words reverberating around my head. Why does this keep happening? I thought to myself as I stood in the hallway perplexed. I shrugged my shoulders and went to the pub to have a couple of pints to mull it over.

This wasn’t the first time a relationship had ended like this and she wasn’t the first person to tell me I needed to quit drinking but for some reason, she made the biggest impact… although not in a nice way. “I’ll fucking show her she was wrong,” I said to myself after that evenings drinking session.

The day after this all too regular occurrence, I decided to phone my doctor and make an appointment. I was still hell-bent on proving the world wrong about my drinking habits. If I could just get proof from the doctor that everything was okay then at least they would let me enjoy my life in peace. I say “enjoy” but in all honesty, the enjoyment of drinking had ended many years ago and it was now the only thing left as all the other activities had been pushed aside but I digress.

Sitting in the doctors waiting room, my knee bouncing up and down, waiting to be called, convinced that I would soon have the letter of proof that would show the world it was overreacting to my drinking habits. How could I have a problem? Everyone I drink with, drinks the same amount as me? It’s normal, isn’t it? Relationships break down all the time? That’s what people do isn’t it? Work all day then drink their woes away at night?

“Charlie Lofus?” shouted the Doctor, snapping me out of my usual chaotic thinking.

“Here,” I said, standing and following her through to her office not so cock sure as when I arrived.

“So how can I help you?” said the Doctor, closing the door behind me and then taking her seat.

“Everybody keeps telling me I drink too much,” I said, fidgeting on my seat.

“How much do you drink?” said the Doctor.

“Twelve pints a day and then spirits on the weekend,” I said, playing it down.

“Is this true?” said the Doctor.

“Of course,” I said, as perspiration began to run down my face.

“I want you to have a blood test,” said the Doctor.

“Cool, shall I make an appointment on my way out?”

“No! You will have a blood test now, today. If you drink as much as you say you do then you may have damaged your liver. Wait outside and the nurse will call you,” said the Doctor.

“Okay,” is all I could manage to say as I stood and made my way out of the Doctors office, the sterile smell of the office adding to the lightheaded sensation to make me feel nauseous. I slumped into a chair in the waiting room and began to bite my finger nails. All the possible outcomes began to illuminate my mind like a firework show created to spell out liver conditions, as my confidence collapsed and the situation became very real.

I heard the words that sounded like Charlie Lofus. It was difficult to make them out as my mind was now awash with negativity but I stood and followed the nurse through corridors until I was told to sit. I did as instructed and rolled up my sleeve as she explained what was going to happen. The slight sting in my right arm as the needle slipped in, wasn’t enough to shake me from my thinking. Afterwards, I was told to call back next week for my results and also, to cut down on my alcohol consumption. I vowed to the nurse that I would… “Tomorrow” I vowed to myself. It had been a stressful day and the cigarette I was smoking outside was doing nothing to silence the chaos tearing through my mind like a tornado so I needed a drink.

I phoned the Doctors four days later. I made the call with a hangover. The Doctors advice had done nothing to curb my unquenchable thirst for alcohol and had done nothing to demonstrate that I had a problem.

“Hello, I’m calling for my blood test results. My name is Charlie Lofus,” I said to the receptionist over the phone.

“Yes Charlie the Doctor would like to talk to you about your results. Can you come in today?” said the receptionist.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, agreeing to the time she suggested that afternoon. Reality was banging so hard on the wall of deception I had created for myself that I for the first time in years I saw what I had done to myself and all I could think was; I’m fucked. How could this have happened? I only went to the Doctors to prove everybody wrong and now I had been called into the doctors to discuss, I was convinced, my imminent demise. No matter what I did, the word cirrhosis bounced around my mind from that point until I was speaking to the Doctor.

“Ninety six is twice what we consider healthy. Do you know what this means?” said the Doctor, holding a piece of paper.

“I can guess,” I said,

“I will tell you. At 29 years old your liver gamma is twice the maximum level Charlie. This is a clear warning from your body that the way you are living is not sustainable. I strongly suggest that you listen to it. If you can’t cut down then you have to stop drinking completely,” said the Doctor.

“I don’t see the point in cutting down. I never did. I only ever saw the point in getting hammered,” I said.

“We have a counselor here that could help?” said the Doctor.

“I can give it a try,” I said.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.