Sobriety; The greatest investment I ever made…

My expectations in early sobriety were that my life was over. That I would don my retirement slippers, buy a pipe and rock myself to a slow death reminiscing about the “Glory days” of old. It wasn’t much of a proposition if I’m honest but it seemed a damn sight more promising than the road I was heading own; my anxiety was rampant, my debt was out of control, my life was chaos and I was exhausted by all the plate spinning. The worse my life got the more I drank and the worse my life got. In hindsight, it was blatant cause and affect. At the time I was oblivious.   

Sobriety was boring in the beginning. Mostly due to the fact that I had nothing to do other than drink. Without a drink, I had nothing to do. I sat twiddling my thumbs until one day I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to do something.  

Nothing changes if nothing changes!

One minute at a time. One foot in front of the other. I slowly made progress until I was so far from drinking and the rocking chair that moments began to happen that I couldn’t comprehend. Wonderful experiences that reached deep into my soul and reminded me of what it was to be alive. Meeting people who are blown away by the story of how it all turned around and that I crawled from the pit of despair and now was sharing a mind-shattering moment with them. Their respect and genuine awe for the effort it must have taken is a lifetime away from the response that I expected in those early days. I expected people to not really be interested. I expected to be shunned by women for not drinking. I saw sobriety as the mark of the beast. The one who will be banished from society. Impossible to be cool and accepted. Always to be viewed as different.

My experience has been completely different from this. Most recently I met a young woman, who, many years ago, I would have considered impossible to attract. The alcohol I consumed, consumed my self-confidence and I resorted to skulking the corners of the pubs I frequented. Living in the shadows like an operatic antihero viewing the normal people with intrigue and suspicion.

Yet now I fear not for I own my sobriety. I wear it as a badge of honour. It is a hero’s journey that I struggled through to become the person I am today. Somewhere between confident and arrogant. Sure of my ability and aware of my weaknesses. Proud to be human again after years of zombification including the emotions that come with it. I share my tale like a Greek epic. Casting myself in the lead role. Relishing the spotlight after all those years in the darkness.

I was on a tour around America with a group, Marni was one of them. Some years younger than myself, beautiful and cool. I’d dismissed my attraction due to the age difference but when some competition arrived I realised that to not act would be foolish. The potentialities came to life in my head, both positives and the negatives. In the drinking days, the negatives always, and I mean always, won. But not this time. The potential to hook up with such a beautiful woman would demonstrate a level of personal growth that I never expected to happen. “What the fuck am I going to do?” was a prominent thought. “A few wines” had been the dutch courage but now I was left wanting. No alcohol to fall on I had to attempt to step up to the plate, sober. I mean I had done it previously but not with someone I considered this beautiful. After we had talked for a while the topic of my not drinking came up. In times before, I would shirk the question and make up some excuse but I decided to be honest. “That shows incredible strength,” was not a response I was expecting but it was the one I got. Over the course of the night, we grew closer and Marni said “You baffle me. How do you deal with things?” It turns out that keeping my side of the street clean translates to being decisive and assertive. Things I could never have considered myself many years ago when life pushed me around and I got what life was giving not what I wanted. It was an eye-opening experience. The time we spent together was fleeting and life dictates that our paths will diverge but Marni will be added to the list of “thank you’s” I say in the quieter moments when I am purveying some scenery or life experience that is only possible due to my sobriety. I say thank you to the people who helped me along the way, who reached down when I had fallen, who stepped forward when I asked for help and who knew the heat from the flames of hell also. Marni will start a new list; the list of people who helped me grow on a personal level. For she made me realise that not everyone is as judgemental about people in recovery as I thought. Also, she made me see there is life in this old alky yet and that I am still on the path to becoming the best version of myself. Many more journeys await. Many more life lessons will be learned.

Every day now I venture forward into a life that I could never have expected to have. I cannot believe that this is where I am. I was smashed to pieces years ago. So much so that drawing parallels between that life and this one still brings tears of disbelief. I cannot express any more gratitude because my vocabulary doesn’t allow it but I implore anyone who is teetering on the decision to take a shot at a dream, who believes alcohol, drugs or any addiction is the barrier, to give up the addiction and pursue that dream. I stand as a testament, that with perseverance and a tad of tenacity, life can become a surreal adventure into the realms of fantasy. The universe now opens doors and ushers me through. I am prepared for most things and no longer avoid emotional pain. It is a recurring theme in life but it is a lesson that I had/have to learn. Some about other people. Some about myself. All valuable.  

Sobriety has been the cheapest investment I ever made and the returns are out of this world. I encourage you to get in early.


Charlie

There’s still time to change the road you’re on…

There’s still time to change the road your on. That was the line from the iconic Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven,” that accompanied the delectable sight of the Grand Teton Mountain range as we toured through the USA. It had so much meaning because I may have been 3000 miles from home but, emotionally, I was a million miles away from the person I used to be. The sight of those mountains surrounding us was enough to bring me to tears because for years I only saw negativity and toxicity. When I drank alcohol my mind was a cocktail of anger and isolation causing me to be blinkered to the beauty that surrounded me on a daily basis. I consumed anything to fill a void in my soul, yet the things I consumed caused the void. I was dehumanised. The light inside me was diminished.  

The drinking road was a ring road. A NASCAR track, that I went around expecting something different but that change never came…

Until I chose to change the road I was on.

The sober road is one of freedom. Of Beauty. Of simplistic wonder that can make me question the very essence of reality. As I no longer seek to destroy myself I no longer seek out the toxicity in life. I now seek positivity and beauty. Adventure and wonder. I am free and life is short. Too short to live in a state of misery, like I had done for many years whilst drinking. Many of those days I recalled as we approached those mountains. I remembered the numerous times during my drinking days that I had been down and out. Broken and blacked out. Sobbing tears to myself in a pit of hopelessness. Desperate but clueless of how to make it stop.

Thankfully life intervened and I had the chance to change roads.

I know where the drinking road took me. I’m not so sure where the sober road takes me. I think that’s half the fun. 

Charlie

Flying sober

A sight that used to fill me with joy now fills me with dread; the drink trolley. It is heavily laden and barrelling down the aisle towards me like the boulder from Indiana Jones, it has the capacity to do as much damage. Almost as if bound by a Newtonian law, my brain sets off with equal force to the trolley as it begins to imagine the potential moments; “What will I say?” “What will he say?” “What will everyone think?” It feels as though the pressure in the cabin is raising but it isn’t. This pressure only exists inside my head. Year’s of adverts and social expectations have created a story in my subconscious that now throws up a plethora of negatives. All designed to make me believe a drink will be the solution.

Thankfully, I have learned to acknowledge the thoughts and accept that they do not reflect reality.

For years my mind would go into overdrive. I had imaginary conversations with people that never took place. I had arguments with people I hadn’t met in places I hadn’t been. I wasted vast amounts of energy trying to plan for every eventuality, most never happened. So thanks to a lot of meditation I learned to observe my thoughts. These resources have been invaluable weapons in my armoury:

https://www.fragrantheart.com/cms/free-audio-meditations

http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/

https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Life-Other-Dangerous-Situations-ebook/dp/B00F8LP88U

https://youtu.be/Z7oYJZg9nOA

And by getting to know myself I learned to differentiate between thoughts and reality. Most importantly I learned to deal with situations as and when they arise. I can only do my best but practice definitely helps as it leads to the confidence to trust myself. It’s almost like playing it backwards, bringing the thoughts back to the moment and taking a breath.

So the trolley is rolling closer and I can read the labels on the bottles. Each label tells me a story where I end up in rack and ruin, sick and shamed. My subconscious wants my heart beating and my brow sweaty to justify that drink.

“Drink sir?” Ask the flight attendant.

“Orange juice please” I reply.

There is no follow up question. No inquisition. No one around me gives me a stare or mouths the word “loser”. People don’t care. I return to reading my book and await the next difficult moment. Which won’t be long as I see a woman carrying two bottles of wine asking people if they would like a refill. The cycle repeats. But when she passes I am left with peace. Those minor battles, which happen very rarely, are the price for a life of freedom and serenity.

Advertisements tell me of solutions to problems I never even knew I had. It is imperative that I remember there is no void, I am enough and alcohol to a problem is like petrol to a fire.

Charlie

The Clarity of Sobriety

The hazy hangover

When I drank alcohol, I stumbled through life trying to survive. All I saw was the route to where I needed to get to. Anything outside of this was extra brain energy that I couldn’t spare. I was running on empty, always. The hangovers hung heavy, this, coupled with the shame that I felt kept my gaze firmly on the ground. The thought of making eye contact with another human being caused fear to run through me. The thought that this could lead to a conversation caused full-blown panic. So I shuffled through life, avoiding eye contact and missing out on the things around me. Life buzzed by and time flew past, I was oblivious to any of this happening.

  1. Wake up
  2. Survive
  3. Go back to bed Drink
  4. Pass out

Every morning, was a rushed panic to get out of bed and get out of the house because I always needed a few more minutes sleep. As if “a few more minutes” would change the state of my hangover. I accepted this as part of life. It happened so often that I perceived it to be “Normal.” It was quite obvious it wasn’t normal when people would talk about how they went to the gym before work or got up and walked their dog or ate breakfast. That panicked start set my day up for more panic, all of it inside my head. I was functioning like I was constantly late for something. I was five minutes behind myself, like a shadow. The swirling uncertainty of the previous night’s actions would fight the plan for the day for supremacy. I could have walked passed a goat juggling sheep and I’m not sure I would have noticed. The swirling chatter in my mind consuming what little energy I had. I was so obsessed by the destination that the journey became time to fill not part of the experience. Everything was just on time or late.

I think back at those days of negative thinking and heavy drinking. And I have to admit I’m quite proud of myself. Not for the drinking but the capacity to soldier on through all that nonsense. How I managed to pay bills and hold a job down while my brain was spinning wildly out of control is beyond me. To anyone doing that I salute you but I also know something now. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is now the complete opposite.

The clarity of sobriety

Before I quit drinking I missed out on so many of the intricacies of everyday life. I didn’t even see the subtle nuances that make life alive. I was so wrapped up in surviving the day and battling the shit that constantly swung through my mind like a negativity wrecking ball, that I didn’t have time for life. I was constantly putting out fires. I would put one out and another would ignite elsewhere. It was a war that seemed like it was destined to rage for eternity. This anxiety made me feel disconnected from life and also myself. I wasn’t in control of my own thoughts and as a result, would be bombarded with a variety of things I didn’t want to recall.

If you imagine that your senses are the antenna and the mind is the tv that displays the image. Being drunk was like handing over the remote control to someone else. Someone who couldn’t decide what to watch, so they are constantly flicking through the channels. Quitting drinking was regaining control of what I saw, how I pictured the world and ultimately how I lived my life. The remote control is firmly in my hand. The colours on the picture have been turned up and the contrast adjusted.

No longer do I approach the day with the heavy head and shameful gaze. It is shoulders back head up and ready to take on the day. Confident and proud. I know what I did last night and if I act like a dick then I can correct it as and when required. The world is bright and beautiful, almost as if the old black and white tv has been upgraded to 4k. I can now see the vibrancy and wonder just walking across the park in the morning. My inner child no longer draws with charcoal they have a palette to interpret the world.

This was only possible because I changed the way I looked out. The world hasn’t changed, I have. I had to because I was missing out on so much. I was searching for beauty, peace and contentment through consumption; alcohol, food, clothes, sex, drugs, tv. I was constantly left wanting by these things. Any pleasure I found was fleeting and I had to consume more to try and cling to that feeling. I realised that contentment resided within me all the time. Those things stopped me finding the peace and beauty that I was searching for.

I am certainly not monastic but liberation from the illusion of happiness through consumption has been a great gift. No longer am I at the bek and call of the next advert. I now see life playing out daily. Many miss it as their heads are hung heavy, staring into mobile phones whilst gathering resentments for someone else’s illusionary lifestyle. Liberate yourself from the servitude of alcohol and then see the world in all its splendour.

I sometimes think that heavy drinking wast like being kept in a basement as a prisoner with minimal exposure to the outside world. Quitting drinking is the escape and the opportunity to see the world in all its glorious mind-blowing simplistic wonder. Being able to witness the colours of the world change as nature packs itself away for the winter is a joy. The vibrant greens turn to yellow and brown warnings of things to come. It is a glorious life and I am grateful to be able to see it.

I am five minutes ahead of myself now. This slowing of pace gives me time to absorb the experience of life as I go about my day. I am no longer fighting the chaos that dwelled within or rushing through to try to catch myself. I do miss the chaos now and then. It was a huge part of my psyche for such a long time that sometimes I get bored with serenity but then I remember the pain that came with trying to calm my chaotic mind. The only thing that managed to keep it quiet was alcohol and when I remember that, I realise that serenity is a gift.

Charlie

Around the world in 180 days…

09/09/19

Today I haven’t had a drink for 1927 days. Tomorrow I embark on 180 days of travelling. If you had told me 1928 days ago that this is where I would have ended up I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t expect this. Shit, I didn’t even expect to stop drinking. I’d wanted to but the thought of not drinking scared me. Thankfully, life intervened.

1928 days ago was the 31st of May 2014. It was a Saturday night and Carl “The Cobra” Froch was fighting “Saint” George Groves in a boxing match at Wembley Stadium. I wasn’t at the fight. I was in a pub with some friends. It was a great night, a good fight, we had a laugh and then, as they have a tendency to do, the pub closed. This meant no more alcohol for my friends. They did the sensible thing and went home. As per usual, my thirst was unquenched. After calling them boring, I wandered into the local town centre, on my own, to find a table to prop up in a dark corner of a dark club. I knew the place. They knew me. I had been there many times before; searching for a solution, hoping for a revelation. At 3 am on 1st June 2014, I got that revelation. Walking home after the club closed, I was brought to a halt by severe pain in my lower right abdomen. I was doubled up in pain. I have to admit I was scared. Alcohol had been my medicine for a long time. If I felt any pain I would have a couple or six pints of lager and if the pain didn’t go away? Then I would see a doctor. The pain was a reason to drink not an excuse to. So being in pain and being drunk was a cause to be concerned.

With a belly full of ale and agony, I jumped into a taxi and went to the hospital convinced I had seriously damaged… something.

“Enlarged liver,” said the doctor.

“What’s the cure?” I asked, nervously.

“No alcohol for two weeks,” said the doctor.

Thank Christ; I thought, as the premonitions of dialysis drifted from my imagination.

This was the second warning I’d had from my liver. I’d been told to stop drinking a few years earlier by a doctor after a blood test. I tried to stop, lasted seven months without a drink, got bored, relapsed and here I was in the hospital, the circle complete. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where drinking takes you. It definitely isn’t the land of happiness that was advertised. I think a false advertising claim is in order…

At first, it was a nightmare to not drink. My whole life revolved around drinking. Everything was an excuse to drink; boredom, excitement, misery, rejection, acceptance, the day ended with the letter “Y” the list was literally endless. I wish I had the same excuses to exercise.

After quitting drinking I had nothing. I just started to fill my time. It was tricky but I didn’t want another warning from my liver so I stuck to what the doctor had suggested.

After the two weeks, I felt a bit better so I kept going. I kept filling my time and trying new things. I had no confidence, to begin with, but as I achieved little things my confidence began to grow. I planned trips to places I had only dreamed of and then they became achievements. I stood in those places in awe at the beauty of the world and proud of myself for sticking to the sober path. The clarity of sobriety allowed me to take in the experience and hold it dearly inside. From the life-changing journey of the El Camino de Santiago to the bustling streets of New York, the serenity of Lumbini, the breathtaking Vatican in Rome or the questions I was left with after the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. The magic of each place left its mark on me and enlivened my soul after many years of it being dulled by alcohol. My mind expanded by the potential of humanity as I stared at the wonderful monuments that had been created. I felt plugged into life and I finally knew what it was to be alive.

Not drinking allowed me to plan, save money and go. It has enabled me to connect with people, embrace new cultures and take in new experiences. I have new freedom financially and mentally that 1927 days ago I couldn’t have dreamed of possessing.

That pain I felt 1927 days ago was enough of a reason to stop drinking but I never would have guessed that this is where sobriety would take me. Just like, I never would have guessed that’s where drinking would take me when I started out on that journey.

I chose to stop drinking because I was scared but I was also tired. Tired of feeling like every day was a war. Each morning was like a preparation for a battle to just survive work and get back to the pub or a vow to not drink that day only to be chastising my weakness later, drink in hand. I felt like I was just treading water to stay afloat but praying for change. I like to think the liver pain was the answer to my prayers. It wasn’t seriously damaged but it was enough for me to see the reality of my situation; I was a prisoner to my addiction and it would kill me if I carried on.

Sobriety gave me the tools to create an escape plan. Slowly it came together.

In the beginning, I just did what I needed to do to get through. I smoked a shit ton of cigarettes, ate crap food, spent time alone when I could, socialised when I needed to, walked in nature, meditated, practised yoga, read books, watched films, went to AA, anything but drank alcohol or took drugs. It took a while to take shape and I’m not professing to have the solution but it worked for me and I eventually realised that an alcohol-free life was the path I was sticking to.

I’d never had a plan for life before then, I was convinced I would have drunk myself to death by the age of thirty. I got close but wimped out and wanted a taste of life. Now I needed a plan. So I made one, a loose one and ticked things off as I went. I added things I had wanted to do for years like learning the piano, learning the guitar, writing, losing weight, quitting smoking, trips abroad and eventually travelling the world. It took a lot of days to get to the last one. 1927 days to be exact. I didn’t stop drinking and say “in 1927 days I will travel the world,” it’s just that each day, week and year added something new. Each tick next to a goal pushed me along the road. Kind of like a piece in a board game and each attempt at a goal was a roll of the dice. Not everything went my way but I just kept trying. If I wanted to curl up and cry, I did and then I got up and carried on.

Everything along the way, positive and negative, has been a lesson.

After a decade of believing I was incomplete, sobriety helped me realise that there was no hole inside that needed filling. I was complete. It was just an insatiable appetite for alcohol that kept me believing I was missing something.

When I drank I was the caterpillar, consuming everything and getting fat. In early sobriety, I was in the cocoon, growing and changing. Now, it is time to take flight and experience a future I never expected.

I have six months off work and will be travelling to places I have dreamed of visiting; The Grand Canyon, Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, Petra, Sri Lanka and India. People keep asking me what I am going to do after that and I can’t even begin to imagine what I will feel like. At thirty-seven years old, I am in the best shape mentally and physically I have been in for two decades so I might just keep travelling. Or maybe after 180 days I will have had a belly full of travelling and will want to come back home for some stability.

I can direct the ship but I cannot control what’s waiting in the sea.”

The fact that I don’t know how the experience will impact me shows how much more open to life I am than when I drank. I no longer make assumptions or expectations on things that are out of my control. When I drank, I was cold and closed off. I would have worried about the potentialities and then probably decided it was a bad idea. Now, I am liberated and go with an open heart and mind.

I couldn’t have done this on my own. I don’t mean the trip; I mean the journey of sobriety. I tried to go it alone the first time I quit and that didn’t end up too well. This time I reached out for help in the early days and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for everyone who has helped me along the way; Alcoholics anonymous, people I’ve met, people who read my blogs and give feedback, fellow travellers, work, work colleagues, friends and family. They all have played a part in making the journey possible. I couldn’t have done it on my own and as a proud individual that has been a life-saving realisation. Strength is good but being too proud for help is foolish. So don’t suffer in silence.

I hope this helps you to realise that even a regular guy can achieve his dream WITH perseverance, patience, a plan and WITHOUT alcohol. So if I can do it, you definitely can because you’re awesome. You might not know it yet but hopefully one day you will realise. I didn’t think I had anything to offer for years. I didn’t think I could achieve anything or that I didn’t deserve anything. Sobriety taught me otherwise.

Someone in an AA meeting once said to me “Quit drinking and you can have a life beyond your wildest dreams.” I was in my early days of recovery and thought, who’s this lunatic? I guess I owe that lunatic an apology because he was right. Now, I become that lunatic because I am here to tell you the same message “QUIT DRINKING AND YOU CAN HAVE A LIFE BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS,” it doesn’t have to be travelling it can be something, anything, that is dear to you. It can be the flickering ember of a dream, nearly extinguished by alcohol that can be reignited by sobriety. Or an aspiration to do something that you convinced yourself over time you could never do.

You will be surprised by your own ability as you grow into the butterfly and take flight.

One day, you will be saying to people, “I didn’t think I could do it either but look where I am now,” and you will hope that they get to the place you are. Then, maybe, like me, you’ll realise how far you’ve come. That the day you chose to stop drinking alcohol turned out to be the best decision you ever made and that every day since then has been a step along the path toward your dreams.

Charlie.

Leave it to me as I find a way to be

Consider me a satellite forever orbiting

I know all the rules but the rules did not know me
Guaranteed.

Eddie Vedder, Guaranteed, Into the Wild (Soundtrack)

Pursuing happiness through consumption. Finding contentment in sobriety.

When I drank I was often physically sick. I have been so sick from drinking that I have rolled up the mat from around the bottom of the toilet and used it as a pillow because I didn’t want to be too far away from the bathroom. I would wake up feeling a sinking feeling of shame and stagger off to bed to try to sleep off the hangover. I would lay in bed sweating and moaning like a fevered child for most of the day until I could muster the energy to wander back to the pub or the shop. That was a lot of Sundays.

By the end of my drinking I was mentally and physically sick. Almost like I had been taken over by something else. It’s maybe no coincidence that the word alcohol comes from the Arabic word for ghoul which also means to seize:

“The word “Alcohol” is Arabic; from the root word (Al-Ghawl/Ghul) “Ghawl” or “Ghul” which translates to Ghoul, Hobgoblin, Bogey(man), Ogre (man eating giant), and Alcohol. The Qur’an–verse 37:47 uses the Arabic form “Al-Ghawl” referring to the intoxication associated with alcohol when in wine. The root word “Ghawla” translates as ‘foolish’ or ‘ignorant’. Referencing a Ghoul, this is known as an evil spirit and further translates ‘to seize’. The term Bogey(man) is sometimes used as a personification of the Devil. Along with the root word that refers to a spirit or demon, Europeans later adapted the word (likely in the 17th century) and eventually it also came to be used in science circles as a technical term for the Ethanol it also is.

Given the root of the word and its description/nature as being that of a “Demon who seizes and destroys”, many Christians abstain from Alcohol, noting that Jesus drove out demons.”

In fact most religious texts talk about the dangers of alcohol and/or overindulgence. My personal favourite is the Buddhist belief that “Alcohol consumption is inconsistent with a Buddhist’s quest to understand and develop the mind. Buddhists believe that by practicing meditation, wisdom and morality, every individual has the innate ability to experience true happiness.”

Ironically, I drank to be happy yet more often than not found myself in the bathroom and then in complete misery. I was sick yet I believed alcohol to be the medicine for my sickness; a perverted mistruth. A situation similar to having an illness that makes you thirsty only to find the cause of the thirst is in the tainted water you are drinking. For years I tried drinking different forms of the poison. I would walk in my local pub and the barman would say “What do you want today?” I had no “Usual,” because I was searching for the magic elixir. The one that was different from all the rest. THEY ARE ALL THE FUCKING SAME. People who drink a bottle of wine a night yet look down at people with a can of extra strong lager are hypocrites. Simple as that.

It took me years of punishing research to figure that out. Years of blacking out and misery just to realise there was no elixir. This came as a huge disappointed.

How was I to get well now I no longer had my medicine? Well, it was a shocking revelation to realise that my medicine was the source of my illness. Like one of those stories were a parent has been putting crushed tablets in their kids’ food to keep them ill. That’s how I felt about alcohol; it was supposed to help but it was killing me. I had been sober two years when I read This Naked Mind. It confirmed what I believed; that alcohol kept me sick.

Why is a chemical that does so much damage advertised so much? Maybe because we are the sickly children in the example I gave. I mean Johnson and Johnson just got fined $572 million for fuelling the opium crisis. Our health isn’t the main concern for corporations. The alcohol crisis has been accepted as part of our culture:

“One in 10 people in a hospital bed in the UK are alcohol-dependent and one in five are doing themselves harm by their drinking, according to research that quantifies for the first time the massive burden to the NHS of Britain’s drinking culture.

Hospitals are struggling to cope with the numbers of people whose heavy drinking habits land them in A&E or mental health units, but while the NHS estimates that the cost of treatment runs to £3.5bn a year, the figures for the numbers of patients affected have been largely anecdotal.” – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/04/staggering-cost-nhs-alcohol-abuse-report

What I have found in sobriety is that happy people a free people. Most care not about what they once thought they needed. Their outer world aligns more with the light that burns so brightly inside but had been extinguished with alcohol. This is because many have to turn inward and face their demons. That’s the path I found myself walking when I gave up alcohol. I had no other choice. Once the ghoul had been beaten back, my true self returned and finding contentment came easier. It was as if my soul was trapped in a glass case and sobriety was the hammer that set it free.

Sobriety isn’t the destination for me it is the part of the process that pushes me forward and forces me to grow as an individual. It is a process of finding and maintaining what works to keep me well. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule that covers everyone but a connection to the self first that becomes a deeper connection elsewhere is definitely a benefit.

As alcohol leaves a trail of destruction, being AF leaves a trail of serenity. If you want it to that is.

The recovery process for me was one of getting well from being mentally and physically sick.  Like recovering from an illness or sickness, it took time. There was no rush.

If I had just left Hospital due to knee surgery running a marathon wouldn’t be best advised. Slowly, I would take small steps until my strength improved. I’d start with small challenges until there was confidence that it would carry me through. I see the recovery from alcohol abuse as completely the same. Both body and mind had to be repaired. As they did my eyes began to open to a world of beauty and opportunity. I realised that happiness is just a concept, an illusion, a carrot on a stick to keep me chasing. What I found in sobriety were acceptance and contentment. No longer did I have the crushing lows that are the price of happiness.

The contentment I was seeking was within me all along. It just got hijacked and my direction forcibly changed. I was steered away from my contentment and set on the treadmill known as the pursuit of happiness. A ceaseless pursuit equivalent to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

When I see statistics about drug misuse and alcohol misuse it makes me feel bad. Not only does it remind me of the misery that I dwelled within for years. It makes me feel bad for those people struggling to climb out of the quicksand. The one that seems to pull you back in the more you seem to struggle. Well know this, you are beautiful both inside and out. There is no void that you need to fill. You are enough. That voice telling you that you won’t make it is the manifestation of a long past moment. I know because it told me the same thing and it wasn’t true. I persevered and found contentment, which is far more valuable then happiness.

To know your strength you must test your strength.

Surprise yourself.

Charlie

Quitting drinking; Pros and Cons.

Quitting drinking can seem daunting at first. Going against the grain often is. But it has a large number of benefits. It comes down to the personal choice of whether the pros outweigh the cons.

*Tip* If you want to quit drinking but are finding it hard then try writing out the pros and cons. I have used this approach in many areas to get a better understanding of a situation. Also, to minimise kneejerk reactions.

I have reviewed this list and amended it as the years have gone on. After six years since I last had a drink the positives still vastly outnumber the negatives.

I’ll start with the con’s so that the blog ends on a high and hopefully fills you with some encouragement and positivity.

The con’s (I honestly struggled to get to three con’s.)

1) Losing friends – When I first quit drinking people still contacted me to see if was coming along to the old places I used to haunt. Eventually, I stopped going and they stopped calling. I stopped going because standing in a bar full of drunk people, sober, is the antithesis of fun. On reflection, I got drunk so much because I think you have to be drunk to have a good time with drunk people. I realised over time that the people I viewed as friends weren’t actually friends at all. There was no deep connection. We just used each other to fend off loneliness and to normalise my drinking habits. There can be times of isolation. The question is whether those moments are bad enough to offset the destruction of drinking?

2) Explaining why – All the time. Everywhere. No matter what country. “You don’t drink? Why?” Let’s get it straight, alcohol is a lot of fun for a lot of people. Poison or not, people love getting drunk. It is the backbone of entire countries and the heart of many communities. It is the glue that holds things together. Many cultures are built on the fluidity of alcohol. It is the reward for the mundanity of routine. So to profess that you don’t do it must mean you are ill, religious, a health nut or worse… an alcoholic. I don’t get as annoyed by the question anymore.

There is an innate fear of isolation within humans. Isolation means starvation, loneliness and death. And that fear of isolation is exploited to ensure people don’t go against social expectation. Ironic really that a substance with potential to destroy is portrayed as the substance that builds.

3) Dealing with life – This was only a con initially. The thought of having to contend with work, life, debt, expectation and personal pressure was the weight that kept my lips pressed to a bottle. In the end, drinking took it’s toll and was no longer available as the temporary fix that I had been permanently using it as. The tsunami was on the horizon and I braced for impact. Rebuilding and repairing after all the years of destructive behaviour was difficult at first. But much like learning a new skill, it was trial and error, falling, failing but plenty of getting back up. And plenty of hope.

Pro’s

1) Weight loss – Initially, I didn’t notice much change as I was eating so many sweets but when that subsided I started to see a change. After years of poisoning my body, I now saw it as a thing to be cared for and I was its carer. I changed the sweets to fruit and veg, quit smoking, started exercising and now I am in the best shape I have been in for twenty years.

2) Better sleep – Waking in the morning and being refreshed is a great feeling. I used to see sleep as the thing I did between the pub closing and work starting. Now I realise it is an integral part of maintaining a healthy life.

3) No hangovers – No more waking from an unrefreshing slumber to a banging head and remorse. I used to be religious when I woke with a hangover. I would start the day with a prayer “Please God, don’t let me have done anything to fucking stupid last night.” Now I start my day with meditation to set me up in a positive mood.

4) Finances – I was terrible with money when I drank. “Carpe Diem. There ain’t no pockets in a burial shroud. You can’t take it with you,” were my mottos. I was spending the banks’ money to escape the fact I was skint. I brutal cycle. Quitting drinking has allowed me to identify the difference between “Wants & Needs.” Am I buying something because of an advert? To fill a void in my life? To make me feel better? Or is it something I need? This learning of financial responsibility has removed the fear of financial insecurity and the need to drink to escape that fear.

5) Confidence – Alcohol stole what little confidence I had and kept me in a constant state of self-doubt. I never tried anything and anger at my own passivity would manifest internally. My internal world was a toxic bile-filled environment that I escaped through drinking. When I quit alcohol, I had to try new things to fill my time. Each achievement gave me another level of confidence. Until eventually I was happy to be me. A position that I could never have thought possible.

6) Meeting other sober people – I remember walking into my first AA meeting and expecting to see a room full of stereotypical tramps. It was a huge surprise to witness people who looked “Normal” after speaking to them it was obvious that they weren’t normal and that is exactly what I needed. I needed people who owned their shit and made no excuses about it. I needed people who could admit their failings and work on themselves. I needed that because I needed to become human again.

7) Clarity – I ran on autopilot for the entirety of my adult life. I had relationships I don’t really remember. I spoke to people who knew me yet I couldn’t recall. I was present physically but mentally I was checked out. When I first quit, I knew why I drank. I drank because my mind was like an unsupervised circus. All the acts were trying to perform at the same time which left it in chaos. I used meditation, counselling, AA and a change of lifestyle to try to generate some calm. Over time, continuing meditation, healthy eating and talking about things, I became the ringmaster. The urge to escape from my own thoughts didn’t become a thing anymore.

8) Connectivity – When I drank I was a stone golem. I was isolated from the world by a constant veil of inebriation that gave life the look of being viewed through a frosted window. My inner world was tainted by this obscured view of life.

Quitting drinking brought clarity and a whole new world became available. An awakening to reality I didn’t know existed and a world full of beauty, abundance and opportunity. The dark clouds that followed me around dissipated, the weight around my shoulders lifted and life became an adventure. The relationships I had with people became deeper as I presented a true version of myself to them and shared experiences brought life lessons. I now experience life and don’t try to hide from it. I accept good and bad things will happen in life, all I can control is my part in it and how I react. I accept myself and the world for its imperfections and understand that is part of the tapestry that makes it so wonderful.

9) Freedom – All of these things combined are the recipe to freedom. Freedom from a lifestyle that was unfulfilling and detrimental to my human experience. I am free from the poison of drinking and the toxic thinking that comes with it. I can point my ship in the direction of my pleasing and understand I cannot control what is in the water. The knowledge that I can’t control everything used to fill me with fear and now it liberates me from the expectation that I have to. I am free to experience life as intended and hopefully share a positive message along the way to help people to their own realisation of the beauty that lies both inside and outside of us all.

If that isn’t enough of a reason to quit then I don’t know what is lol

Have a great day,

Charlie.

P.S. If you can think of any more then that would be great

smile

Stories from Sobriety – Bangkok and the number 11:11

I had spent the first two years of my sobriety, focusing on staying sober, paying off debt and getting ready to walk the El Camino de Santiago. After I had accomplished this, I felt lost. Like I was drifting through life with no purpose. This wasn’t helped by the fact it was November in the UK which means it was cold and dark or at least heading that way. This added another layer of drudgery to the post-holiday blues that were kicking in. I didn’t have anything to do and I didn’t want to sit at home. As a result, I was spending more and time in the pub, not drinking alcohol but socialising. That was until one night I started to look at the champagne selection with the thought “One champagne won’t hurt,” it scared me. It scared me into action. I needed something else to aim for. It also scared me enough to return to AA after an eighteen-month absence.

AA gave me somewhere to go other than meeting friends in the pub and I made some new friends there. I got a sponsor and started working the steps. This was all good and well but I still had a thought of what am I doing it for? Who am I staying sober for? I see sobriety as a tool to be used and the freedom to be enjoyed. Without that it loses it’s purpose.

Then one night, my friend Simon who was living in Auckland phoned and said he was moving back to the UK via South East Asia. He would be there in three months for a few months with no fixed agenda. I asked him if I could meet up somewhere and travel around Cambodia. He said it would be good to catch up and he would be happy with the company. We agreed to meet in Bangkok for a few days before travelling to Siem Reap. I couldn’t believe how easy it all was to make plans and book flights. In my drinking days I would have wished him well but then moaned at how lucky everyone was compared to me. But now in sobriety, the stage was set for me to visit one of the places I had spent many years pouring over whilst pissing my life away in a bar; Angkor Wat.

I told my AA sponsor that I would be going backpacking around Cambodia in three months and he said we needed to get through the steps. I was willing to give it a try and had done a lot of work on myself over the last two years which made it easier. The fact my sponsor was understanding helped a lot as well.

I still struggled with the God thing. Just like I had the first time I had tried AA two years before but this time to navigate the problem, I used the universe as my higher power. I had been listening to a lot of Law of attraction guided meditations at the time so it seemed to fit.

I was talking the trip up so much that another friend, Chloe, said she would like to go. I said that wouldn’t be a problem but when she tried to book her flights were fully booked. So we arranged to meet at Bangkok airport. I was amazed by how quickly it all came together. I started to feel better now I had something to focus on. Or maybe it was attending AA again that helped. In the AA meetings, I would share my message of positivity and freedom and afterwards people would say that I gave them hope. It was a good feeling. It made all the years of bullshit misery worth it. It shows the depths we sink to in addiction but that we can pull ourselves out over time.

About a month before we were due to go I started noticing the numbers 11:11 for no reason. Or a variation of 1111. Like when I cleaned my phone and it did 111.1mb.

I was a little freaked out and sought comfort in my AA sponsor who told me it meant I was on the right path. I felt like I was on the right path as well. My head was clear, I felt good and I was about to embark on a journey to a place I had dreamed of. So I embraced it and whenever I noticed the numbers, I smiled.

About a week before my flight, I was packing my bag and was overcome with emotion. I felt so grateful for the opportunity to take that trip. I don’t know who I was grateful to but for the first time in my life I got into a prayer position and said: “Thank you.” It was a nice feeling to not be bogged down with negativity as I had for more than a decade in my drinking days. When I would feel like the odds were stacked against me and that I was fighting the world. Pink cloud or not, it felt great that things were going in my favour and I was starting to tick my dreams off the list.

Bangkok

I was nervous about flying to Bangkok, as it was the first time I had flown a long distance alone. Any anxiety about the situation dissipated when I rationalised what was in my control and what wasn’t. I got talking to a young couple in front of me in the queue who were moving to one of the Thai Islands to live and work. I’ll have to admit I was pretty envious having spent most of my life working in shit jobs that I hated. Fair play to them for taking a chance.

After the rig moral of immigration, I collected my bags and went to wait for Chloe. Her flight would be arriving about an hour after mine so I bought a coffee and went outside for a cigarette. This is when it hit me; the heat. It was so humid that after smoking a third of a roll up cigarette, the glue on the rizla began to come unstuck and I couldn’t smoke it. I stubbed it out and went back into the air-conditioned airport to wait for Chloe. And to buy some proper cigarettes.

After Chloe arrived we found a taxi and made our way to the hotel, Tara place which was just near Khaosan Road. I was in my element in the taxi, looking at the scenary as we made our way there with the enthusiasm of a dog in a car. I’m always fascinated by the way everything is the same but also so different. The colours, sounds and smells of the place. The customs and traditions. It all combines to make the experience.

We checked in, dumped our bags and Chloe said she was going to get some sleep, “because of the jet lag.” I’d had a decent sleep on the plane thanks to having three seats to myself. So I opted to explore.

Outside the hotel, I found a tuk-tuk driver and asked him to take me to the place I’d found on the AA meeting finder. He explained that the place wasn’t a tuk-tuk journey away, it was a boat ride across the river away. So I chose to wander around aimlessly instead. I ate some street food that was delicious but probably not the animal that was advertised. I drank so many iced coffees that I felt like I’d been taking amphetamines and then on the way back to the hotel, I tried the Siam massage that was outside the hotel. Oh my. I didn’t expect much put the little Thai lady kicked the shit out of me. Afterwards, I felt great. If not a little like I’d been mugged.

I went for another iced coffee to stave off the caffeine comedown and as I sat watching the world go by, Chloe called. She was well-rested and wanted to take a look around the city. I was more than happy to explore further.

As we were walking along, we were stopped by a Thai man offering advice on places to visit and also, advised us to visit them by Tuk Tuk. Which just happened to be standing by. On reflection, it was a stupid thing to do but he seemed so genuine. He had his act down to a tee. We jumped into a nearby Tuk Tuk who told us to pay him at the end and then took us to visit some sights. We stopped at the Wat Ratchanatdaram and had a look around inside. When he left the Tuk Tuk driver had vanished. So we took a slow walk back towards the hotel. I found out later that the Tuk-Tuk drivers over charge the tourists when they are far away from where they got picked up.

Later, Simon arrived and met us for a coffee. He had a girl with him who I vaguely recognised from somewhere. It turned out they had lived in a house share when I had visited him years ago. She worked as a barmaid and I had been in the pub, very drunk as usual. Her name was Jessica and like Simon was moving back to the UK. Except she had been living in Australia. She was the sort of woman I’d wanted to meet for years. Attractive, cool and fond of travelling. I was in awe as she and Simon shared stories of their travels. How their faces flashes with excitement and they become alive as they relived their favourite destinations. They were talking about places I had longed to visit and now thanks to sobriety I could. It was fantastic to watch.

We made our way down Koahsan Road where the party was in full swing. Young backpackers letting loose and having fun. I felt a tinge of envy as I walked. I had a flashback to me spending too many days propping up a bar dreaming, moaning, hating and not living. Thankfully I’d made it in the end.

We found a place a little out of the way from the revellers and ordered some drinks. I fired questions at Simon and Jessica about their travels; Where was the best place you’ve been? Where do you want to go? Where wouldn’t you go? They were more than happy to answer.

This was the type of evening I had got sober for; free, with like-minded people and on an adventure. After many years of deadening myself with alcohol, I finally felt alive.

Simon mentioned that there was a food night market nearby that would be worth checking out. So we got a taxi and headed there. It was just outside the MBK shopping centre and there was some free Thai boxing taking place over the road. So we loaded up on snacks and fresh fruit and went to watch the boxing. Returning to the market for further refreshments as required.

I continued to barrage Jessica and Simon with questions about travelling with half an eye on the boxing. It was a great evening.

The following day Chloe wasn’t feeling great so Simon, Jessica and I visited the Grand Palace in the morning. We weren’t allowed inside whilst wearing shorts. We had to buy some trousers to cover our bare legs. Many of the trousers were brightly coloured but perfectly acceptable. I couldn’t help but think how the knees or lower legs were anymore offensive than the psychedelic trousers I had to were.

Even though it was morning, it was still hot and heaving with tourists (Me being one) which made some of the places claustrophobic as we shuffled through the rooms. It was still a wonderful place to visit but I made my way with haste as the sweat began pouring off my face. I was trapped in one room by a large group of Chinese tourists. I wanted to start picking people up to move them out of the way to get out but remembered a breathing technique that helped. I lit a cigarette as soon as I got outside.

Afterwards, we made our way across town to Wat Arun Ratchawararam (Temple of Dawn) and had a look around. I would have liked to see it at dawn when the scorching heat wasn’t making it unbearable. After a whistle-stop tour, we sought refuge in a cafe and indulged in some ice cream smoothies. The boat ride back was a welcome treat as the cool breeze helped alleviate the heat.

That night, we were sitting in a bar on Khaosan road having a few drinks, chatting and listening to the band that was playing. I had a strange sensation like I had been taking hallucinogenics but I hadn’t. I could feel the music in the air. Not just the bass but all of it. Like I was surrounded by the music. Almost as if I could see the notes dancing across the room on a wave. It was a great feeling. Maybe it was just because I was present.

Simon took his phone out of his pocket and I noticed the time on it was 11:11. I began to laugh and said “If I’m not sick of seeing that time.”

“What time is it?” said Jessica

“Eleven Eleven,” I said

“Why? What do you know about eleven eleven?” said Jessica

“Just that it means you are on the right path or something,” I said.

Jessica lifted her leg onto the table to show me a tattoo of a sundial that showed the time eleven eleven. I was blown away. I was convinced that she was the one. I was transfixed. The law of attraction meditation I had been practising had paid off.

Simon interrupted my thinking by stating that we had to visit the Patpong night market. So we finished up and made our way there. I was infatuated with Jessica. I was convinced that the universe had answered me.

We slid through the Patpong market and dipped into some girlie bar. There were girls everywhere but I couldn’t stop talking to Jessica. I wanted to know everything about her. We had one drink and left. Back through the market we dodged the salesmen with their menus of titillation and bundled into a club up the street, where we continued chatting. Only stopping to get another drink. It was so natural. So easy. No awkward pauses. The conversation just poured out like the music that was entertaining the revellers around us. Simon and Chloe interrupted to say they were heading to a club. I said I wasn’t interested and Jessica said she didn’t want to go to a club either. So, we said our goodbyes to Simon and Chloe, found another bar and continued to talk. We talked about spirituality, life and the universe. I couldn’t tell you what was going on around me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. After a few drinks, we made our way back to the hotel.

In the morning, I kissed Jessica goodbye after trying to convince her to come to Cambodia with us. She already had a flight booked for that morning and plans she couldn’t get out of. It would have been nice for her to come along but we made plans to meet up in the UK.

I hadn’t met someone like this for a long time and it was the perfect start to the holiday.

Sobriety had definitely been the right choice.

Charlie

Alcohol or Life?

I was lucky. Quitting drinking was easy for me. It was easy because I was convinced I would die if I carried on. Alcohol took me to the hospital, the pit of despair and to isolation.

When people used to ask me why I drank so much I would answer “I might be dead tomorrow. Carpe Diem. Drink today for tomorrow we die,” or some other misquoted bollocks to justify my position. It’s ironic because when I actually thought that alcohol would kill me I started to think: Do I want my last memory to be one of me drinking? Or no memory at all because I blacked out! Do I want to look back over my life and see a mass of time wasted on drink? The answer was a resounding NO. Of course, I didn’t want that. Who does? I hear it all the time “I don’t drink as you did!” “I can handle it.” “I haven’t lost a job, relationship, my driving license, kids or health to alcohol!” There is only one answer to that: YET! 

When I started drinking at sixteen, I didn’t set out to lose relationships because of alcohol. But I did. I didn’t want to lose jobs because of alcohol! But I did. I didn’t plan to end up with liver problems in my early thirties! But I did. I’ve heard about people losing everything. None of them started drinking because that’s what they wanted to happen. Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

So you see why it was easy. I had a choice; Sacrifice my life for alcohol or sacrifice my alcohol for life. It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

I chose to sacrifice alcohol for life and at first, it felt like a mistake. I felt like I was GIVING UP on something. But by giving up something I was gaining something. That’s how it works, life. You can have anything but you can’t have everything. If I had two livers I may have carried on drinking but I didn’t so there you go. 

I didn’t see the benefits of quitting at first. I slept like shit. Sweated constantly. My mind was a chaotic barrage of nonsense. I felt like I was getting nothing in return for my valiant efforts. I thought that if I carried on drinking, I would be on the waiting list for a new liver in no time at all. It might not have happened. I didn’t want to find out. So, I had no choice but to carry on without alcohol. 

I had to find out what worked instead of alcohol. What could I do to live life like a drinker without drinking? I had to find out what helped me relax. I had to learn how to deal with emotions. I had to learn how to let shit slide. I had to learn how to live life.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

C.S.Lewis

It was daunting. Yet, on reflection, it has been a wonderful journey so far. With ups and downs and many lessons. Some fun. Some not so. The knowledge that I can deal with shit without running for a bottle like a child running to a parent is a great feeling. It is the closest I will feel to being an adult… whatever that means. But it is a testament to the growth that can happen when alcohol is removed from the equation. I was emotionally stunted when I stopped drinking. Every problem was an excuse to drink and most problems were illusions. I would stand in a pub stewing in anger over some innocuous situation that I had turned into a problem. Blaming the focal point of my misguided anger for my drinking.  

It took time but eventually, I became myself. Or the person I was meant to be. Because now when I look back on my life it won’t be a procession of empty memories. It will be a collection of memories. Memories of the opportunities I seized and places I visited. People I loved; some lost. It will be the knowledge that I sacrificed a life awash with alcohol and regret and achieved my dreams. 

The five biggest regrets

So imagine you are sitting on a porch and you are much older. You are reflecting on your life and how it played out. Imagine your life five days before you quit drinking. Would you want that day to carry on everyday until you are sitting on that porch reflecting? Is that how you would want to spend your days? I know I wouldn’t because my last days of drinking were out of control and I was desperate to quit, I just didn’t know how to.

But like I said at the start I was lucky because my body started to fail and I was left with a choice; Alcohol or Life. The thing is we all have that choice but some don’t know it… yet. 

Charlie

10 ways the El Camino de Santiago is like sobriety…

As a challenge, a friend and I decided to walk the El Camino De Santiago in September 2016. We walked the pilgrimage from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in southern France to Finisterre, on the North West Coast of Spain. A total of 600 miles over a period of 30 days. I was just over two years sober when we went and having it as a goal helped me maintain my sobriety. Here is what I experienced:

1) Carrying around to much baggage will only cause you problems.

It was said to me in recovery; “Imagine bad experiences are like stones. As you progress through life you pick them up and put them in your backpack. Eventually, it gets too heavy and you have stop to get rid of the shit that doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s hard to part with somethings but you’ve got to lighten the load. A light rucksack makes progress much easier.” And it is true. All the work I put into removing the sharp edged, heavy stones of the past, helped make my journey through recovery easier.

Four days before starting the El Camino, I was sitting in a sauna in the lotus position, focusing on my breath and relaxing. I was interrupted by the words “Excuse me,” knowing full well there was only one other person in the sauna. I opened my eyes and turned to face the man. “Are you meditating?” he asked. I explained that I was just relaxing but do practice meditation on occasion. What ensued was a deep conversation about life, religion and spirituality. During the conversation, other people entered the sauna, yet we continued to put the world to rights. The man asked my take on religion and spirituality. To which I explained that I was taking a pilgrimage but not for religious reasons but to hopefully get a better understanding of… anything. “The El Camino?” said another voice in the sauna. “Yes, do you know it?” I replied. “Yes, I have walked it many times,” said the man in a thick Spanish accent. “What is it like?” I asked. He explained the wonder he felt making the journey and the experiences he’d had. How he longed to make the journey again but finances were tight. He explained the mistakes he’d made in his first Camino and how he’d taken too much weight with him. He then explained that all I needed to take for the full thirty days was:

  • 3 x T-Shirts
  • 3 x Underwear
  • 3 x Socks
  • 2 x shorts
  • 1 x raincoat
  • 1 x flip flops
  • 1 x first aid kit
  • 1 x toiletries
  • 1 x charger
  • 1 x camara/phone
  • 1 x sun hat
  • 1 x snood
  • 1 x hiking boots

When I weighed my bag it was 6kg. The Spanish dude was right; it is better to walk with a light rucksack. So get rid of what you don’t need to carry around.

2) Sometimes the road was long and I asked myself the question “Why the fuck am I doing this?”

The first day was an uphill struggle. It tested my mental and physical strength. It seemed impossible at first. I wanted to quit and go back but I just kept going. Eventually, I made it and when my head touched the pillow that night, I did it with pride. I had heard the first day was the hardest and I had made it. Some people make it with ease but many struggle. I was happy to have made it through the difficult first day. I just kept telling myself it would be worth it in the end.

3) At times it became unbearable and my only option was to keep going forward

After the uphill struggle of the first day, it seemed like it would be plain sailing from then on. But I was in pain and wanted to quit. The heat was on and other people were asking for help. Quitting wasn’t an option as I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I had to keep going. Some days I thought I would quit but made it, usually down to the people around me. In the beginning I was happy to make it through another day.

4) There is always someone willing to help if you’re not too proud to accept it.

You meet plenty like minded people on the same journey as you are. They will notice you are struggling and offer help. Or if you need to, you can reach out for help. There are plenty of people willing to help. In sobriety many people have offered me sound advice and help, which I am eternally grateful for. In the drinking days, I saw getting help as weakness. Which I now understand as bollocks. We all need a helping hand sometimes.

The guy in the picture saw my friend limping and offered help. I asked if wanted a cup of coffee for his troubles. He declined and said “On the Camino, we are all family.” What a guy!

5) Rest is important

I began to listen to my body’s needs and gave it what it needed to keep me going. I drank plenty of water, ate well and slept well when possible. I became more in tune with my body and realised that caring for it is important. After the punishment I had given it, it was time to take care of it.

6) I had to reward myself

Walking the El Camino and sobriety are both remarkable achievements. I had to remind myself of that often. Some days were punishing and as an incentive I had to have a carrot on a stick approach. Well, more of a cake on a stick approach. So much of my internal dialogue was “When I get to *whatever milestone* I will have a cake.” I didn’t expect anything of myself and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It is a long journey…

7) As I progressed, I grew stronger

One day at a time, it got easier. As my body and mind adjusted and I overcame new challenges, I became stronger, more confident and more healthy. The worry that the sight of a uphill climb gave me began to slip away and I began to relish the challenge.

8) I felt connected to something greater than myself.

All the extra time spent exercising, meditating and being in nature calmed my mind. It also made me feel part of something wondrous. I was happy to be alive, with a renewed spiritual connection. The people I meant along the journey were like no one I had met before. It was exhilarating to see another side to life. One that I never knew existed.

Along the way I got talking to an Irishman called Frank. He explained that he came to walk a section of the Camino each year for a holiday. When I asked him why, he said “The world has gone mad for things. It is obsessed with things. Here is humanity. Here is the human touch.” The same could be said about the many people I’ve met in recovery.

9) I see the world differently now

A world that was once shrouded in darkness came alive as I began to see differently. It was like the colour and contrast had been adjusted giving it a vibrant and lively look that resonated with beauty. Each new scenery was like a freshly painted picture just for us. Each new sunrise a different colour from the last. The world was alive and for the first time in years, I was happy to be part of its glorious wonder.

10) Reaching my goal wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning of another journey.

One step at a time, I reached the milestone and when I achieved it, I realised it wasn’t the end. It was all a learning curve to help me on my next journey.

It had taken me a huge amount of effort to clear the wreckage of the past and get to the start of the El Camino. Then through the searing heat and pain I’d finally made it to Finisterre, the end of the road. I sat on the rocks at the lighthouse, looking out to sea as the tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t believe that I had actually achieved it. A few years earlier it had seemed impossible. As my life, my body and my mind were in complete turmoil. Now, I felt like the future was mine. Now, I felt free and it was all thanks to sobriety.

Get yourself a Pilgrim passport https://www.csj.org.uk/prepare/get-your-credencial/ and hit the trail.

Buen Camino,

Charlie.

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