I was sixteen years old when I first went out to a pub drinking. I can remember walking up to the door with my chest sticking out like a barrel-chested pigeon. Slowly praying to a God I didn’t believe existed, that the bouncer would let me in. He did. And as a result, I approached every pub in the same stupid fashion for years to come.
When I walked into the door I was hit with a wall of noise. Chaotic chatter was interspersed with musical beats. The smell of smoke hanging heavy in the air. A toxic environment that made me feel alive. I had arrived in the world of adulthood. Proud to be a man.
I did these things because my friends did these things. We did these things because we were told that’s what people our age did. We were told that it’s fun. We were told to view people who didn’t drink with suspicion because they weren’t to be trusted. I verbally attacked people who dared deviate from this way of life. I verbally attacked them because I dare not deviate. I was racked with fear. I would write stories and poems in my late teens in solitude. When I had finished I would tear them up and put them in the bin, ashamed of my internal desire to be creative. The words dancing on my fingertips demanding to be written yet I dared not pursue that avenue for fear of ridicule. I believed that alcohol would give me the strength to do so. The strength to be me. To be true to myself.
It took me sixteen years of hard lessons from that moment of walking into the pub, excitedly embracing the world of alcohol, to realise that sobriety was the only pathway to my true self.
TTSBT a poem
To thine self be true Do you know how hard that is to do? When the world expects you to conform Not be yourself but just perform A task. A role. An act. An Act. It’s just an act. Sell your soul for the latest commodity That’s the reward for a spiritual lobotomy Turn off your intuition To that inner voice, you no longer listen Just act Just act Don’t question Just act Like a puppet in a play Having doubts? Have a drink. That takes them away So we shop and work And work and shop But the misery doesn’t stop We follow the rhetoric that’s always been preached That success breeds happiness once a level has been reached So we shop for an identity Browsing and browsing for an expression of individuality We act Oh we act Like the person, we wish to be Create the illusion we want the world to see Fighting to maintain frame and not let the mask slip Yet struggling to keep life in a firm grip More money will give me my true self Buy better image and impress the world with my wealth Then maybe once the outer me is complete The inner me will fit all snug and neat
We shouldn’t act We shouldn’t act We should just BE
Trying to be something you’re not will destroy your spirit! It’ll cost you your role in life and your purpose within it To thine self be true Cos no matter how difficult it seems It is the right thing to do.
Almost as if applying the emergency brake. As if the driving examiner has slammed her clipboard onto the dashboard of life. Quitting drinking is a jolting change. A jarring experience for some of the lucky ones. The unlucky ones crash before the brakes work.
I expected the world to stop with me. I expected triumph and to lead my old friends into a new life. Unfortunately, just because I stopped doesn’t mean the world stopped too. It was hard at first. I mean realising the majority of people who I spent the majority of time with loved drinking more than they did me was no good for my already low self-esteem. Most of them expected me to fail. Most of them I never speak to anymore. Worrying at first. Lonely sometimes but no transition is easy. Thankfully, the ones who valued our friendship more than drinking stook around. Sobriety just removed hardcore drinkers from my social landscape.
I expected instant rewards. I expected that by removing alcohol from my life it would all be okay. Strangely, I had thought that adding alcohol would make it alright at some time in my past. Removing alcohol didn’t make it alright but it did make it easier… after a while.
The world washed over me. I could have drowned in the troubles I had been avoiding. Sobriety seemed like a really really bad idea. I mean at first, it was like I was stopping the medication that kept me sane. I had to baton down the hatches and ride out the initial storm of my own creation. It was just the chaos of my mind. I stayed away from the pub and places where people drank alcohol. The storm calmed and I realised that alcohol was the medicine that had been keeping me sick.
After any storm, it is time to rebuild whilst I mourned what I had lost. In the chaos I had lost alcohol, it was my best friend but also a terrible influence. We had spent a lot of time together but it was time to move on. It was a toxic relationship. One I couldn’t see how bad until I left.
There is no sobriety insurance. No one will go around and apologise on my behalf. I had to do it myself. I had to build a new life from the ruins of the old.
“Beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences.”
There is plenty of help available. There are survivors out there who came through what I came through and share their tale to help others out. Their message is clear “it isn’t easy but it is worth it!” I found them when I was ready and they can help but deep down it was me who had to want it to happen. All the support in the world wouldn’t have made me want to put the brakes on my old life and say “enough!” I had to want to change. I was sick to fucking death of being sick to death. I was so sick and tired that I was prepared to risk losing what I had. Purely on the belief that I could build something better. No more bullshit excuses.
One thing I have learned is that the world keeps turning regardless of what you do. Each spin is another day gone and it came to the simple choice; do I want to spend my life hiding and making excuses or do I want to take ownership of my life? Do I want to become someone I am proud of being or do I want to remain as the person I had grown to despise? In the end, I thought it had to be worth a try and it was.
There was no fanfare. No breaking news item stating that I had stopped drinking. The world carried on regardless. My “friends” carried on regardless. I had been drinking myself to death under the belief drinking was integral to my life and also the functioning of the world. I was wrong on both fronts. Nobody gave a fuck. I was free to rebuild.
“Positive Self Talk Isn’t Enough… If You Want To Overcome More Put In The Work.”
Quitting drinking isn’t a race. There isn’t really any training. Day to day living is training and fuck ups still happen but that’s life. People start to worry after so many months they haven’t achieved XYZ because they know someone who stopped drinking and did. People develop at different paces. Some people say “Never again” and then never drink again. Some it takes longer. Some never realise the potential they pissed away.
I found adding pressure to an already tricky experience did nothing but made me fail. My only criteria was not to drink at first and when I felt ready, I began tackling other problems. If it got too much I backed off and when I felt ready, I tried again. A slow process but decades of running aren’t fixed in a weekend. Thankfully, time is no longer my enemy. I no longer rush through life to get to an alcoholic drink. I saunter through life and take in what I had been missing.
The world might be turning but I’m no longer clinging on.
With the end of six months travelling approaching and my return to work slow tapping on the window of my future like a huge Monday morning, I begin to ask, was it worth it? A resounding ABSOLUTELY!
People said I was lucky to be able to take six months off from life to fulfil the dreams of a once useless drunk. I never doubted that I was lucky but I also lived like a hermit for nearly a year to make it happen. I stayed in and saved every penny. I sold my car so I didn’t have to pay for the tax and insurance. I bought NOTHING other than bare essentials. I felt indebted to myself for all the years of slumping against a bar dreaming of seeing the things I’d always longed to see. Sobriety gave me the freedom to do so and to waste that freedom would have been an affront to myself. If it was not for sobriety I WOULD NOT HAVE TRAVELLED THE WORLD. It’s as clear as that. Sobriety gave me the tools to save money. The self-belief to pursue the goal and the strength to see it through. I owe it all to stopping drinking.
Thanks to sticking to the simple path of choosing to try life over trying alcohol. I have fulfilled my lifelong ambition of visiting some of the wonders of the world. I experienced beautiful people and cultures, I have found a level of self-belief that I didn’t think I had. It has been an incredible six months that has far exceeded my expectations.
It is taking a bit to sink in. That the man who thought nothing of himself could climb off the barstool and turn those drunken dreams into a reality. But it is the same person just with the alcohol removed and a bit of work done on myself.
Fuck, it was scary at the start. Sobriety seems like a long road of nothingness. A bland future that will end in a withering death caused by boredom. How wrong was I? It has been an incredible, difficult, scary journey but much like climbing a mountain the rewards come much later.
Of course, there were times where I thought this is a waste of time. But deep down I didn’t want to be like the people I drank with. I didn’t want to be the men who frequented the pubs and normalised my drinking. Who told me tales of all the things they “nearly” did and all the things they were “gonna” do. They would tell tales of lives they never lived as their dreams would remain on a shelf. Some had genuine reasons for not pursuing what they wanted. Many, like myself, hid behind a glass and used the illusionary fun of heavy drinking as the preferred life activity. Cowards.
If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.
I could never have imagined in those early days that behind the drunken veil was a life of vibrancy and opportunity. It wasn’t a million miles away. I collected myself on the way and made my way into a future that had been written off as fantasy. And, now, due to seeing the simple wonders life has to offer I cannot go back to the dark days of drinking. The fullness of life offers too much that the positives of drinking are FAR outweighed by the negatives; hangovers, regret, remorse, weight gain, financial impact, health impact. For what? A few hours of escapism and illusionary fun? Standing in a bar repeating the same tired conversations? Fuck that! I’ve seen life. I’ve seen what it has to offer and that isn’t it. Give me peace any day. Give me serenity. Give me good health and good finances. Give me not having to avoid people because I might have offended them or I have built up a world of lies. That’s where I end up. I know. I tried.
Initially, I was upset that I couldn’t drink. I thought I was missing out. Then I created a mindset and life that I wouldn’t want to trade for all the alcohol in the world. Slowly, one goal at a time I managed to get some self-respect. That alone is worth more than a night of drinking. The ending of the never-ending torrent of torment that used to barrel frantically around my head with barbed words intent on cutting my self-respect down is a gift I can never trade.
I am not perfect and sometimes get impatient. I sometimes lose my temper and say things I regret but these occurrences are not on a nightly basis like they once were. Those fleeting moments are a reminder of the damage that can be done if I lose too much control of myself. How I can slide back to the start so easily. There is a fragile beauty to sobriety. It gives so much strength but it can so easily be broken. I guess that is why I see it as something to be protected. I need sobriety for my strength but I need to protect it. And by protecting it I am rewarded with the ability to turn the dreams of the drunk me into my sober reality.
My current life is quite transient, yet I still try to treat people well. I don’t have to. Many I will never see again and their opinions hold no sway over my future. Despite this, I still try to leave a positive impression on people. For years I tried to be what people wanted. I tried to imagine how they would want me to be. This approach led to failure. Mostly down to the fact I was disingenuous. So why would I now try to leave a positive impression? I think it is because there are enough pricks in the world. Nice people should be treated nicely. Their giving nature should be reciprocated not taken advantage. There is an ever-increasing amount of selfish, childish, narcissists that to live a life-giving to give, cultivates an environment that I like to dwell within.
I live for myself and answer to nobody.
To follow your own path does not mean that you have to be a heartless dick. Nor does it mean that you have to be a selfish arsehole. To live by your own moral codes shows strength. It just happens that I want to leave people better than when I found them. I went through a decade of shit to get here. I took from life and gave very little back. I believed that is what I should do. I had a self-entitled hedonistic attitude and it left me isolated. I was cut off from life because, I believe, to be connected I have to give. When I approach life now, I think what can I give to this situation? Not what can I take? I will try to leave people better than when I found them.
It’s nice to be nice!
To give. To be nice. Doesn’t mean to be a doormat. Nor does it mean to give with the view of receiving. Our culture seems to send a mixed message that it is nice to be nice but it is also weak… except when heroic. We are breeding narcissism and self-entitled adult babies whos toys come flying out of the pram when their unrealistic expectations are not met by reality.
I overheard a man complaining that he couldn’t connect to facebook…. we were in the Sahara desert!
I know I was one of those whiny babies whose life was shit because of the world. Then I chose to grow the fuck up and take control of my life. I realised that you get what you give from life. Sitting around expecting reality to be served up like the dross on TV is the road to disappointment. To own your shit and say “Hey, I fucked up but it wasn’t my intention, I am only human and I’ll try to sort it out,” makes life run a lot more smoothly than “It’s not my fault!!”
When your inner world and outer world align it is an amazing feeling. The need to impress diminishes and the yearning for acceptance evaporates. People are drawn to your energy when positivity and direction exudes. Think about it. Who would you want to spend time with? A whiny cry baby moaning about how everyone is better off and how their life is shit or a person who says “Yes, let us try that and if it doesn’t work out at least we tried.” Adventure is titillating and courage exciting.
In my drinking days, I couldn’t find the ideal partner because I didn’t know what I was looking for and would cling to anyone who showed me the slightest attention like I was lost at sea. I would try to be who I thought they wanted me to be. It was exhausting and would often fail.
I had to think about what I wanted in a partner and in life. After I thought about it I realised that I am happy with my current situation and a long term partner isn’t on my agenda. I can then approach situations with this knowledge. I can be open and honest. It removes a lot of pressure and stress. I have cultivated a drama-free zone and a serene mind. To start playing games and being duplicitous would be detrimental to this. I don’t need it. Plus it doesn’t fit with my ethos of trying to be positive.
Fundamentally without a religious belief to offer salvation, I am left with the humanistic belief; that we are all we have. But more importantly, we are all we need. People who show love, regardless of their personal beliefs, receive love. We should stop rewarding and promoting selfish attitudes purely because it reinforces the structures that we have in place. Regardless of the labels that we attach to our economic or political models, they all reward a certain type of behaviour. This will only change when, we the people, decide that enough is enough. That in this blip in the infinite we call life it would be preferable to live in a place of contentment.
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.
Let’s accept that there are differences in life and that’s what makes it interesting but also let’s accept there are similarities. One thing I have noticed whilst travelling the world is that most people, although carved by their culture, are driven by their human nature. There are of course exceptions to the rule but on a whole, most people want to feel part of something, have food, feel connected and not suffer. Let’s focus on that. Let’s switch off the news and go speak to our neighbours. Maybe fly to another country and experience the similarities for real.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Maybe it will take more than that. Maybe when space flight is available to all them we will realise that there are no lines on the earth. That it is just a blue dot in space that we call home. That we a fortunate enough to be here experiencing life and all the parts that come with it. Until it is available to all the closest we have to experience the overview effect is space buzz.
I think my shift towards a life of positivity and reciprocation instead of consumption was out of desperation. When I was pursuing happiness through consumption I was always unhappy. Happiness was elusive and just the next “thing” away. Then I realised it was a futile endeavour designed to keep me pursuing. That’s when I began to look for other, healthy, means of finding contentment. That’s when I realised that all I have is here and now. And the people that exist in the here and now with me. I am content on my own but the right people compliment that contentment and heighten the human experience. It should be our duty to isolate the negative behaviour that is rewarded and turn attention to the type of behaviour that we would like to shape our world with.
The days leading up to new years eve were an annual tradition of mentally running through the seismic changes that I would be undertaking in the following year. From sobriety to relationships I would plan them all out. I would be convinced that the changes would happen just by thinking they would. That making the list would be enough to conjure the fairy of sorting shit lives out. It never did and I never enacted those changes. I would profess that new years eve would be the last blow out of the year and hit the drink hard. “One last hoorah,” I would profess “for tomorrow I will be reborn!”
I would enter the New year as I would continue it; in a state of drunken stupor and lying to myself. When I would eventually wake I would be too hungover to do anything. The compromise that I would negotiate with myself would be dry January. It is a start I would think. If I can abstain for a month then obviously I don’t have a problem and those changes I thought about won’t need to be enacted! A genius plan. The pressure to prove to myself that I didn’t have a problem meant that I ALWAYS completed dry January. I just rolled into February a month behind quota on my intake and upped my consumption to compensate. And the cycle would continue.
On reflection, I was trapped in a routine. A soul-sucking cycle of addiction that I couldn’t see the harm of and as such saw no reason to need to escape. There was so much I wanted to do but much like the new years’ resolutions, they could be done later. All the while life passing me by. Unbeknown to me I was the hamster running on its wheel hoping to escape its cage. Then one day life and my body had other plans I was offered a way out of the cage. That’s how I saw it, my rock bottom, I saw it as an opportunity to rebuild. I had nothing to lose now, only my life, but there was much I wanted to see and do. I felt like the universe, god, life, luck, chance, whatever you want to call it was pointing to a door marked exit. I took it but I had to build the stairs to the floor I wanted to be at. Rock bottoms come in many shapes and sizes. Some people need more of good kicking until the message gets through. I was lucky. I only had a liver that was temporarily knackered and twenty grand in debt. I have seen people come back from much worse. People who thought they were done and dusted. People who thought they would never see their kids again. People who fell to their knees and prayed to a God they didn’t believe purely because they had no other option. No matter how low, how hard you crash down or how much you think you won’t be able to turn it around. You can. Or be smart and don’t wait. I should have started those changes I dreamt about on the run-up to new years eve. I shouldn’t have waited until I was desperate. I was lucky and it took a lot of work. A lot of work that could have been avoided if I’d just have pursued my goals instead of putting them off.
Sitting on the beach in Sri Lanka, I think about those days. About how I would lie to others and myself. Promise after promise broken. It was always going to be tomorrow and it was always someone else’s fault. Mostly, about how each new year was going to be the one, the catalyst for change but never was. Each New Years eve just like the last. Like a terrible sequel to a movie; the venue would change but the story would remain the same.
But what about this years resolution?
As I sit listening to the waves I contemplate what will be this New Years change. What do I want? I guess the answer is more of the same. Imagine that? I struggled for a long time to accept that it was my life that I enjoyed so much. I had serious imposter syndrome because life had been so shit for so long. Now I just want to continue what I have started and keep practising the simple steps that make it possible.
I find it still strange that I had faith that it would work out. I was convinced that sobriety had to be better.
Other than the health and the debt, why did I decide to give change ago? The answer is simple; because trying to turn it around couldn’t be any worse than I felt on a daily basis. Dripping in shame and feeling like my life belonged to someone else. Lead by an impulse, that I lost a daily battle to, made me feel weak. The rock bottom freed me from any fear of failure and allowed me to test a strength I didn’t believe I had. I never expected to succeed. I never expected to get this far. I never expected to do this. I never expected to be sharing this message in the hope that it would encourage someone to try. I never planned that. I just planned not to drink and then began to pursue goals that were healthy. Slowly, I created healthy routines and patterns. Negative routines are the death of life. Positive routines are the start of it.
Sitting on the back seat of a bus, somewhere in Sri Lanka, waiting for the rest of the passengers to return from the off-license and it made me think what has kept me sober all this time?
It is Christmas time which promotes excessive drinking to either celebrate one’s life or block it out, it is part of the seasonal festivities. Christmas was a gift to me as an active alcoholic. I could pass off excess as a celebration and get lost in the crowds for a few weeks. In January, the crowds went back to living and I would carry on, alone.
It would be easy to focus on the two weeks of inclusivity at Christmas and pretend that was a reflection of life. It would be easy to fall into the dream and let the romanticised memory sweep me off my feet but it cannot. The memory of me drunk, crying, being lonely and lost still hangs in my mind. It is the reminder of the potential outcome for any urges to test my resolve with controlled drinking. I can’t I tried.
A healthy fear keeps me sober. Irrational fear kept me prisoner for a long time. Irrational fears that would hold me back and stop me from quitting drinking; “What will people say?”, “What will people think?” “How will I do XYZ?” All nonsense.
The fear I now have around alcohol is very real but very rational.
I have worked so hard to get to where I am and I no longer see the benefits of alcohol. Before, I NEEDED it. Now I don’t need it. I actually think that the negatives outway the positives. The only positive I can think of is that it would make me feel included in social settings with heavy drinkers. Social drinkers don’t give a fuck what I am drinking.
Would I throw away everything I have worked for to gain the respect of people whose respect I no longer need? Of course not.
Even in the direst of situations, a little voice somewhere in the recesses of my mind suggests that a drink would smooth it over but I know that to be false. It is just escapism. I learned that suffering is part of life and learning to accept that is a gift. Avoiding suffering is desirable but also detrimental.
“A man who conquers himself is greater than one who conquers a thousand men in battle”
There is a saying that goes “You won’t find the answers to your problems in the bottom of a glass!” I did. My problem was in the glass.
When I stopped drinking many of my problems vanished and many more become manageable. Some were daunting but sobriety gave me the strength I never knew I had and the rest is history. I have had some of the best times in life in sobriety. It is the greatest gift I ever gave myself and something so beautiful cannot be given away frivolously.
At the back of the bus, I wait patiently. I am not missing out. I have a life beyond my wildest dreams and it is simply because I accept that I have no self-control. I don’t trust myself with alcohol but that doesn’t matter because I love the person I am without it.
This is my fifth sober Christmas. They get easier.
After just over a month of having my perception of central America and Mexico blown to smithereens, it was time to move on. I boarded the flight from Cancun to Cairo with a heavy heart but a good amount of excitement. The pyramids of Giza had been on my list of things to see for a long time and now I was on my way.
The flight with Turkish airlines was much better than expected, with plenty of room and good food it was a nice flight. The trip through customs was a breeze and then I braced myself for the shysters at the airport. They are at every airport I have been to. It’s to be expected. I take the hit and forget about it. This time was no different and they were primed and ready with the catcalls. I negotiated a price that was still overpriced but not enough to make me feel too cheated.
My initial reaction was that my taxi driver was insane but so was everyone else on the road. I couldn’t figure out if the horn was attached to the brake pedal or the accelerator pedal as it was constantly blaring to zero effect. There was a lot of rubbish lying around. Maybe it was a poor area? I thought at first but as we progressed it seemed to be everywhere. I reserved my judgement until later. Never judge a book by its cover and all that.
I had prebooked my hotel online and when I checked in the guy on reception asked me twice how I would like to pay for my room. Even though the first time he had accepted that I had already paid. An oversight I thought. I had a shower and then went to find something to eat.
I hadn’t noticed the air pollution during the taxi ride but walking down the street was almost impossible due to the number of cars on the road. The smog hung over the city like an imposing Villian watching and waiting. I didn’t realise it at first but it would make for a great metaphor. The oppression was stark in contrast to the lively optimism that I had seen in Mexico. Almost as if a smile was an affront the mood seemed low. With the pollution gripping my throat and stinging my eyes I headed into a restaurant.
The owner was very welcoming and sat me down, took my order and I watched the world go by. First, he brought over a starter I didn’t order and a bottle of water “Very kind,” I foolishly thought and tucked in without consideration. The food was very nice and when my main course came it was wonderful. So much so that I thought that over the next few days I would use the restaurant again. That was until the bill came and items beyond the salad and water had been added. It was $2 or so and I couldn’t be arsed to argue so I paid and left. Now, that proprietor might have made a couple of dollars extra but he lost my business. I put it down to a dodgy owner but over the next few weeks, I found most interactions to be similar. To the point that getting a good deal meant that the person was ripping me off a bit less than another person was trying to rip me off.
I tried not to let it bug me and sought out places that were less underhanded. I stopped in Costa for a coffee. I abhor using places like that but thought it a safe bet… that was until the guy on the till tried to short change me. In the end, I found a few places in the downtown area that could be trusted; La Poire cafe, Eish + Malh, Koshary el Tahrir and La Chesa.
I’ve heard people say “That is the culture. You have to adhere to their customs when in their country!” If it is cultural to try and rip people off then it is a terrible culture. Simple as that. I have travelled around. I expect to be exploited but not constantly.
The following day, I braved the smog and took a walk to the Cairo museum. It is a shame about the air quality because there are some beautiful buildings around Cairo but walking around is unbearable for long periods due to the noise of constantly blaring horns and the life-shortening pollution. Even the random smell of incense that sometimes appears isn’t enough as that is also consumed by the noxious fumes.
The museum was a welcome break from the insanity of the streets. A huge array of artefacts from ancient Egypt displayed from the old kingdom to the new kingdom. The peace to stand and appreciate the beauty for as long as I wanted was also a delight.
On the walk back I couldn’t help but notice the litter lying around everywhere yet the people were well turned out. With nice clothes and haircuts. It’s almost as if the pride of self isn’t transferred to the pride of place.
As I was walking and pondering the litter an Egyptian man fired up a conversation with me and told me he was an artist. He asked if I would like to see his work. “Why not,” I said, I had nothing else on. He described the revolution and pointed out some of the places where it had happened as we walked along. We eventually arrived at what was quite clearly a papyrus shop. He tried to hand me some and said “it is a gift. Egyptian hospitality!” Thankfully I had been done with this trick before in Italy. I refused to take the item and left. Maybe it was genuine hospitality but I was starting to lose patience with the duplicity masquerading as pleasantries.
The following day I took a uber to the Pyramids. I was excited I have to admit. I was even more excited, when, through the smog, I saw the pyramids. This excitement was soon replaced with concern as the car was pulled over and the driver had a very heated argument with some men trying to get him to drop me off in their “ticket office.” I thanked him and tipped him for not stitching me up. There are some good eggs out there.
With my ticket in my hand, I walked into the Giza complex and stood in awe at the Pyramid in front of me. Within seconds I was offered a scarf. Within minutes, I had been offered 5 camel rides and 10 scarfs. I guy tried to hand me a “Free” scarf under the guise of it being Egyptian hospitality…
It is the entrance I thought. It is probably where they hang out. Nope. It is one giant cash grab. It also turns out that “No, thank you” in english is “Keep asking me over and over again,” in Egyptian. Who would have guessed. In the end I put my headphones in and just ignored them being polite had no effect.
I thought “Maybe it’s just the Pyramids,” but no. Alexandria and Luxor were the same if not worse. There it spilt out beyond the sights and walking down the street was like being a beautiful woman on a building site constantly being shouted and harassed. Camel rides, felucca rides, horse and carts, market, constantly. Every day a route had to be planned like a scene from the walking dead. “We are here and we’ve got to get down the street for a coffee. How do we avoid the horse and cart salesman?” I was terrible at avoiding them. In Luxor, I was offered 20 house and cart rides in a one-mile walk.
I have spoken to some women who visited Egypt and most said they felt uncomfortable. Many felt unsafe. All of them said they would not advise their friends not to visit. Especially as a solo female traveller.
The counter-argument I have read many times is that due to the economic downturn in Egypt people have become desperate. I have to say this is no justification. There are many desperate people in the world and they don’t treat tourists like shit. This is cultural. I spoke to a person who visited Egypt before the tourist decline and they said the harassment was the same if not worse. To treat your customers like shit during an economic downturn makes no sense.
The other thing I have heard is “You should do your research before you go!” I am glad I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have gone.
Beyond the annoyance, I always felt safe. I met people who were cycling from Cairo to Cape Town and the Egyptian police were giving them an escort to ensure their safety. The support was never in question and I felt very welcome. I just left feeling like I was a walking ATM.
I don’t expect preferential treatment in places because I am a tourist. Nor because I a British or white. I just want the opportunity to experience places without being offered a camel ride every second. Ironically, Egypt was the only country so far where I didn’t buy any souvenirs.
The oppression I felt in Cairo lessened somewhat as I headed south but it was still there lingering. Many people I spoke to looked over both shoulders before saying anything even slightly critical. Reading reports about people disappearing and critical journalists getting arrested it is easy to see why. The situation there was made more apparent as we crossed over into a Sudan, a country that seems worse off economically yet I saw more people smiling and laughing in three hours than I had in the previous four weeks.
Despite my annoyance, I found the ancient ruins we visited to be beyond my expectations. Especially the valley of the kings which demonstrated the artistic ability of the Egyptians. A side which I had previously not known about.
And despite the constant badgering of the felucca salesmen, I found Aswan to be a nice place to watch the world go by. (From the inside a cafe!)
I would love to see the places again but much like the restaurant owner who lost my business, I doubt I will ever return. Which is the first time I have ever said that about a country. It is also a shame that the incessant salesmen ruin it for everyone. One afternoon, I was drinking coffee and talking about football with the waiter. The language barrier created a few problems but there was a general understanding. As I left the lad stopped me and showed me his phone. Translated into English were the words “You are our light,” I thanked him and said, “No you are.” Hopefully, his light is a sign of things to come.
“You’re travelling to find yourself aren’t you?” she said with certainty.
“That’s such cliché bullshit,” I said
“So why are you travelling?”
I didn’t get into the whole conversation about the journey I had undertaken to get this point. How I had crawled from the brink to liberate myself and was now celebrating my freedom from addiction. If I had been honest I would have said: “I found myself many years ago whilst working on an oil refinery.” Not the usual place for a profound and life-changing experience. Well, not a positive one anyway.
The “finding myself” experience came about because I had been given an easy job to do. It involved turning bearings to stop them from getting flat spots. The whole process would take about an hour each day. The other seven hours were mine. I had a cabin that I could sit in and very few people would come and go. So I would sleep and read the paper. Eventually, this got tiresome. I would pace up and down. It was kind of like being in prison.
At the time I had started to practice yoga and part of the DVD I had been following involved ten minutes of meditation at the end. That spiked my interest in meditation so I read what I could and had started to practice a simple breathing exercise. Focusing on the breath but not forcing the breath. Watching it come in and go out. So after I finished reading the newspaper one day, I decided to try some meditation. My ear defenders blocked out the sounds around me and for a few minutes, I focused on my breath. It was tricky at first as thoughts came to pull my attention away from my breath but over the next few weeks, I managed to acknowledge the thought and return to my breath. I started to feel a lot calmer and my mind began to slow down.
One day I had an experience that I was travelling down a road. I had no idea where the road was heading or who was in control. I manoeuvred to the side of the road and decided to proceed at my own pace. It was a strange experience but I knew what it meant. I had been unhappy in my job for a long time and felt that I was just doing it for the money. Which is a lucky position compared to some people but I felt I had no purpose. No direction. That all I was doing was working to consume, mostly alcohol and mostly to forget about work. It was a vicious, directionless existence but I needed the job for the money.
When the contract for the job finished I vowed to change careers and I did. Strangely I had the same experience whilst meditating after I had changed careers. Except, this time I got back onto the road, now in control. Still not sure of the destination but comforted by the knowledge that I could change direction anytime I wanted. It was a profound experience. One that had a knock-on effect that freed me to pursue new goals.
“Man is made or unmade by himself. In the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”
James Allen, As a man thinketh
I try to meditate as often as possible but I do let it slip when I’m feeling well. Then usually I start to see the signs that I need to calm my mind; irritability, anxiousness, overthinking. I usually take a moment to calm my mind and it usually makes me feel better. My mental health is much like my physical health; with maintenance it is manageable. Little bits here and there instead of letting it collapse and then having to work hard to bring it back.
I do check in mentally. I ask myself how it is going. Hows the whether up there? I learned it from mindfulness; finding peace in a frantic world. It has been a great addition to my toolbox. To check in every now and then. To have a deep connection to parts of my mind that I once avoided is a great privilege. More often than not the weather in my mind is good and I am content. I find it amusing that as a content person I am a bad consumer. A terrible customer. A salesman asked me in the street the other day “What are you looking for?” and my honest answer was “I have everything I need.” For that I am lucky and grateful.
I’m not saying that you can’t find yourself travelling. It just wasn’t my story. I had to find myself first and the courage to travel came along with that. I HAD to find these things because the inquisitiveness that burned in my soul was ceaseless. The only thing that calmed that yearning to explore was alcohol. When I quit drinking my wanderlust returned in force. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have the freedom to pursue that desire and allow my outer world and my inner world align, even for a short time.
For me finding myself started that day on that refinery. I just needed to take the action to become that person. Because even though I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it was locked and I had to work to get it open. That’s how I see personal development. That’s how I see my potential. Locked away. Supressed. Yet yearning to be explored.
“Not to know one’s true identity is to be a mad, disensouled thing – a golem.”
Those fateful words “I’ve been here a couple of weeks now and I’m ready to go home! I’m bored!” I just don’t understand it. I am very rarely bored. Especially when travelling. I know people are different but even in countries, I didn’t particularly like I was rarely bored. The only time I find myself bored is when I spend hours staring at a mobile phone, scrolling endlessly, as if Instagram has the answer.
I noticed my mood changing as I increased my use of technology. I was less engaged in life and started to feel lonely. So as an experiment I left my mobile in the hotel and went for a coffee. I was a bit edgy at first but then accepted my situation. With nothing to do other than people watch, I sat and watched the world pass by. I felt far more connected. I felt awestruck. I was blown away by the simplistic beauty of life. Just people passing by in varying states of mood. Some young lovers holding hands like the other will make a run for it if they let go. A couple having a full-on domestic in the street, my Spanish not good enough to translate but neither looks happy. A young woman talking to herself until she sees me and stops, embarrassed. It’s a great reminder that life is happening now. Right now. In front of us. Not in some distant land. Life is not the images served up by social media. They only serve to create the illusion that everyone is doing better than you. A photograph is a snapshot in time. An easily faked snapshot in time. A fake smile presents a false reality.
I recently posted a photo of a beautiful beach in Cancun. The photo tells the story of an idyllic existence. One of carefree wonder. It doesn’t tell the story of the four days of thunderstorms that happened after the photo. Nor does it tell the story of the thousands of mosquito bites. It is easy to fake existence on social media. Hence the divide between the perceived happiness and the actual happiness that has been documented recently. People living to an illusionary audience at all times. Our “followers” have become an omnipotent deity that lives in our heads. Every photo, every status, every tag, all ran through the filter of what will people think? Another thing to be worried about in a simple world resplendent with worry.
Since turning my phone off I have written thousands of words. I am not completely free of technology as I am using this tablet to write on but I feel freer. I feel present and I feel happier. Without the constant bombardment of negativity that is served up by the news and social media, it is easy to see why. I think I will incorporate it into my life, a day without technology. Just to connect to the world in a more healthy way than the illusionary connection that technology serves up. Spending my time staring at a phone makes me feel like I am never really were I am. I am somewhere else. Living someone else’s life. Or feeling bad for some terrible incident that has happened somewhere.
When I engage in life and the people in it I rarely feel bored. I feel alive. I have to avoid boredom. Boredom led me down some dark roads in the past as I sought ways to escape the boredom. I thought that the cure for boredom was stimulation. What I have found in sobriety is that boredom is cured by connection. To life. To myself. To another. To the world around me. I think that is why technology leaves me wanting. I find it to be a poor imitation of life.
I have also noticed that one of the things I miss is peace. Being constantly on the move, consuming activities and experiences, leaves me yearning for time to reflect. I need that time to digest and process what has been going on. Otherwise, I become overwhelmed. My mind becomes backlogged with information waiting to be filed. There is always something to do.
Maybe it is my fear of boredom that won’t allow the feeling into my life. Boredom was the precursor to drinking. In lieu of actual life, I would fill my time with drinking. It filled the emptiness and created the illusion of doing something. Also, the effects of alcohol switched off my brain and silenced the inner critic. So it was useful on many levels.
That’s why now when I feel bored I know it is time to do something… productive, creative or useful. Something that helps maintain my sobriety. I still remember the early days of sobriety, sitting in my house, my life now empty of the social aspect of drinking, climbing the walls. I was fighting the urge to drink constantly. On reflection, it was because I was sitting at home twiddling my thumbs waiting for life to happen. That’s where AA was useful, it got me out of my house and got me connected with the world. There is an abundance of things to do in the world, to say “I’m bored” is to say “I am too lazy to pursue a meaningful activity!”
The modern world is resplendent with distraction yet we remain bored. That could be because the electronic devices that are the main source of entertainment are a poor substitute for actual engagement in life. These devices that are meant to connect leave me feeling empty. I would much rather sit in a coffee shop or walk in the park and watch the world go by.
Being present in life seems to be the cure for me. When I am engaged in my thinking and in my environment I find it difficult to be bored. And when I am in a new place it is nearly impossible.
“What are you running from?” A question I was asked often when I stated that I intended to travel for a period of time. “Nothing, I’m running to. Not from.” Would be my retort but it would fall on deaf ears. Dismissed as an excuse. I would be labelled as immature for refusing to accept responsibility. I would then be given a list of things I “should” be doing. There are no shoulds there are options. A mortgage, kids, marriage, career, are AN option. Not THE option.
To call travelling escapism is to generalise a lifestyle embraced for many reasons.
I hear the same stories from people of varying ages. That they are not bold adventurers throwing down the shackles of expectation but children. Peter Pan syndrome; refusing to grow up. Just a phase that will pass. Once it has blown out like a storm, they/we/I will return to the fold. Happy in a career and comforted by the memories of a juvenile jaunt.
So far, it appears that it is a generalisation to say that everyone is running from problems. I would dare say that it is nothing but a slur used by some people who believe a huge house, a car on credit and an expensive phone is the purpose of life. Maybe it is a slur used by some who are too weak to pursue their own dreams that they use it to diminish the achievements of those that do. I meet people of varying ages and most understand what they are leaving behind. Many have tried the “Normal” way of life and were left wanting or realised that it was an endless cycle that was ultimately unfulfilling. Some felt like a hamster running on a wheel in the belief that it would free them from the cage. They stopped lying to themselves and started to pursue something that aligned more with their innate desires.
There are some clichés of course “I want to find myself,” is the most popular. An interesting proposition as you are yourself and always have yourself with you. It is more likely that people who question the suitability of the “normal” lifestyle that is bestowed upon them are often marginalised. It is not themselves that they seek but people like them. People who make them feel accepted and less isolated. Confirmation that their belief that there is more to life is correct.
Personally, I commend the young people who have the courage to try and pursue their dreams. The young entrepreneurs who aren’t interested in millions but are interested in experiences. They seek a passive income to ensure their survival. It’s almost as if there are two worlds running concurrently; one that is filled with stress and busyness. The other of liberation and freedom. Maybe the hippie movement never died it just went underground after big business turned it into tied dyed T-shirts and beads. The ethos still exists in the transient nature of the hostels that I frequent. People brought together for a temporary time. United by their freedom and connected by their passion for adventure. Unlikely friends sharing a common goal and sharing tales. Like cowboys around the campfire sharing tales and horror stories. It is a culture. A culture that reflects a truer image of the human experience. One of compassion and collectivism. The marginalised become the group. The strong become united. Maybe with more organisation, Herbert Marcuse’s theory could come to fruition. Many of the people I meet are intelligent. They understand what they are sacrificing and where they heading. They are not the people portrayed by the media. They are varied, yet the wanderlust connects them.
“The real home of man is not his house but the road. Life itself is a travel that has to be done by foot.”
Bruce Chatwin, What am I doing here?
Who we are and where we are heading is a question that scares many. It could be argued that a large part of our life is either trying to escape this thought or make sense of this thought. The expectations that many believe to be normal, house, car, family, job, is not normal for all. In fact, it is detrimental to many. The inner light slowly dims as conformity consumes the individuality. Who we are and where we are heading is a decision we make when we have the courage to make it. My life was on a road I did not like. I drank because I wanted to escape it and also because I hated the fact I didn’t have the courage to change it. I was waiting for the change to happen. Praying for a miracle that would come and save me but it never came. I realised eventually that I had to step up to the plate and become the change. Force the change. It was scary. That’s why anyone who attempts to pursue a goal, change their life for the better or makes positive steps in that direction is impossible to be a failure. Because to try and fail is not to fail. To try and fail is to learn that you have to try again. Not to try is to fail. To spend your days escaping life through overconsumption whilst dreaming of a brighter future is to fail. To never realise that the cyclic lifestyle that we adhere to is not progression but stagnation. Many people know what they want. Many people know who they want to be. Yet they are fearful of doing it, being it or living it.
The question is that where does that courage come from? Is it innate? Or can it be learned? Well in my experience it can be learned. It can be learned by setting goals and either failing or succeeding. Both are equally important. I started out by setting small goals and either failing at completing them or completing them. When I completed one I would be inquisitive to know what I could do next so I would set more. This method enabled me to progress.
Many people I meet in my normal life would love to do new adventurous things but do not want to lose the security of their current situation. Yet they are unhappy. This unhappiness causes them to pursue methods to escape the unhappiness; shopping, food, drink, drugs, sex, gambling. This then creates guilt which only worsens the situation. It is a vicious cycle. I know not everyone can walk out on their lives and pursue a dream but there are many that do and are chastised for it. Courage should be promoted not criticized. The easiest way to stop someone doing something is to discredit them and criticize their desires to devalue them.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
John Krakauer, Into the Wild
To the people who identify as being a resident of earth, a member of the human race, a person whose purpose it is to evolve grow and make humanity a better place. I salute you. The world needs difference. The world needs individuals. Yes, it needs stuff. Yes, it needs production. Yes, it needs food and services. But humanity needs art, music and alternative opinions. The people who are happy in offices are not to be slurred. Nor are the people pursuing goals that don’t align with that vision.