Three years sober

Anniversaries. They’re funny things.

They can be a cause for celebration, a reason for reflection, moments of triumph – or reminders of sadness.

Some are all of the above and today is definitely one of those days because it’s now (somewhat amazingly) three whole years since I drank any alcohol.

For some this might have always been their day to day reality and it may not mean much, but for me it’s everything.

My alcohol abuse is not something that gets a lot of airtime in my blog – and that’s because while it was always a problem to varying degrees in my life (from the age of 16 to my early 40’s) when I finally decided to end my relationship with it once and for all I always knew deep down that it had ceased to hold any power over me.

I don’t know why – but in many respects I’ve always been quite a binary person and as such I’ve tended to be able to do this kind of thing at various points in my life.

All‘ it takes is for me to start hating who I am or what I do to myself enough to just say ‘that’s it – I’m done.’

That’s been no small moment when it finally arrives though because when these watershed changes in mindset have occurred I’ve barely been able stand my own reflection in a mirror.

Consequently I remember every instance like this in my life – of which there have been four significant ones.

Each of them could have resulted in an untimely death if I hadn’t changed course, so they tend to stick in my mind.

Alcohol was the last but one thing to go.

The final one was (and in many ways still is) my relationship with food and my comfort eating.

Unlike booze though food will always be there.

I can’t just quit that like other substances – but I don’t think I’d have been able to address my eating disorder to the level I have if one by one I hadn’t removed those other crutches from my life.

I needed alcohol to be gone before I ended up on Slimming World’s doorstep.

However unlike food I’d never felt that I was physically dependent on alcohol.

I never shook without it or had any kind of withdrawal period – and I have no idea why – because when I stopped I was easily consuming three bottles strong of wine per night.

To put it in perspective that’s around 10.5 units a day.

If you add that up over a typical week then I was ingesting 220.5 units of alcohol.

According to the NHS health advice you should drink a lot less if you don’t want to not only damage your liver but avoid other health conditions too (link).

They say ‘men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.’

This means that per year I was consuming 11,466 units vs the recommended level of 728.

Oddly though I only ever felt emotionally tied to it rather than being physically addicted.

When I first gave up drinking I referred to my habit as ‘alcohol dependency’ for this very reason – and still don’t really like to think of myself as an alcoholic.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that the terminology I used probably mattered less than I originally thought it did though.

Honestly (although it still makes me feel rather uncomfortable) I’m ok these days with saying I was an alcoholic – because whether I was physically or mentally dependant on its effects is completely immaterial.

Booze didn’t care in the least.

No matter how I viewed my relationship with it or how I categorised its presence alcohol was still actively ruining my health.

I definitely prefer the life that I now have without it around.

In a similar way to my hope that by continually demonstrating what’s possible with regard to healthy eating and exercise I hope that my sobriety does the same.

I know many readers struggle with alcohol and its effects because they’ve reached out to me personally to talk about it over the years.

Some have fared better than others when trying to address their relationship with it and I know only too well that perceived failures in this area can sometimes make things (at least temporarily) worse.

However – as with weight loss there is another way – and as long as there remains breath in you body there exists the capacity for change.

It’s three years without alcohol and I’m still proudly counting each and ever day that I’ve been sober.

While I do I’m busy living a life filled with love and vitality and I know that whatever happens that little counter will just continue to go up and up.

Davey

999 days sober

I’ve only got ten hours to go before one of the more significant milestones of my adult life arrives.

At midnight I’ll officially have been stone cold sober for 1000 days.

It’s something of a personal triumph that I’m very proud of – but in many ways it also represents something of a bittersweet victory.

Whilst I can’t deny that every aspect of my life has changed for the better since I gave up drinking and lost lots of weight I’m also still plagued by endless regrets.

I know that I could have been a better person for many years and for whatever reason I chose not to be – and that hurts.

The self-recrimination that comes with swathes of largely wasted time are legion, and sometimes I find it very difficult to turn off.

Today is one of those days.

Despite knowing that what I’m writing about represents a massive victory (and that it demonstrates conclusively to anyone caring to pay attention that profound change after lifelong failure is possible) I’m still sad.

I wish it hadn’t taken so long to overcome the pain that I buried and held close to me. I wish I’d been more present in people’s lives when instead I withdrew.

I wish a lot of things – but I can’t change any of it.

I know though that this sense of loss is something of a paradox – because part of the reason I managed to do what I’ve did is because I hated what I’d become so much.

I had to get to my lowest point before I could begin to rebuild.

I’d gotten to the stage where things had to change. If they didn’t then I’d either have continued to kill myself slowly or eventually taken a more active role in the event.

So – today is a victory.

It’s a win in the ‘rest of my life’ column and that’s something worth holding onto.

Maybe it’s also a win for other people reading this who are trapped in their own personal repeating cycles of self abuse – because if I can go from a 35 stone man drinking three bottles of wine a night that couldn’t walk to the end of his street to who I am now then they can too.

It’s all possible.

It’s not easy though – and sometimes every single day is a battle – but it’s right there for the taking if you want it enough.

You can’t change what’s already in the past – but you can fight for a better future.

If you do then there’s real, tangible hope at the end of what may be a long and difficult road.

You just have to take the first step internet – and then take another and another until gradually you become the person that you always wanted to be.

Davey

Finding my way

This week I’ve been trying to keep my head down, stay focused and power through. I’ve needed to get my mind back in the game after my frankly epic gain on the scales last Saturday, and I don’t want to give any time to distractions that could potentially get me down or derail me.

I’ve seen a lot of the park this week too – sometimes in rather wonderful light…

I have good reason to be out and about a lot. I’m trying to steer clear of the scales currently.

Overall I definitely feel a little trimmer and lighter. From Monday onward I’ve also felt like a corner has been turned.

The psychology of weight loss is something that’s never far from my mind – and I’m always surprised at how easy it is to suddenly shift from a mindset where everything seems possible to one where each insignificant bump in the road appears to be an insurmountable obstacle.

I was discussing with a fellow slimmer during the week how (ridiculously) I’d begun to convince myself that I’d somehow lost the ability to lose weight altogether – and that my body (and maybe my mind) just wasn’t capable of it any more.

Oddly I’d concluded that this (totally illogical) thought process was unique to my brain – but it turned out she’d been thinking the exact same thing.

This frustrated me – because I should have known this.

I hate having to learn the same lessons twice.

When I first started writing about my weight loss experiences I felt completely broken and didn’t believe for one minute that anyone else would be quite as damaged as me. For years because of this I’d internalised almost everything that hurt and tried to hide my private shame about drinking and eating.

Then I began to share it via this blog and I realised that almost everyone that commented on my posts had similar kinds of issues.

They all varied slightly – but fundamentally I was struck by how flawed all of us were. It suddenly seemed to be the norm of the human condition rather than the exception.

This made me feel instantly closer to everyone and at the same time infinity less alone.

Suddenly our shared weaknesses made sense.

I began to notice that the same things that I’d been treating as unique personal burdens were present almost everywhere I looked and in everyone I met.

Almost overnight the weight of the problems I’d carried alone had diminished – and the the more I shared the lighter I became – both physically and emotionally.

Somewhere along the line however (probably because of my openness and honesty in this blog) I began to hear more and more of the ‘I word’.

Inspirational. (link)

I still don’t like it very much.

It’s really nice to know that I help people but honestly I don’t ever really feel like much of an inspiration. I just feel that I struggle as much as the next person (If not more thanks to my willingness to over analyse everything to within an inch of it’s life until I completely understand it).

I think I’ve realised though that this particular side effect of my success has been having a rather subtle and corrosive impact on me over time.

The more people looked to me for advice and guidance and used this word, the more (subconsciously) I came to feel that it was no longer OK to fail.

In contrast – when I was losing weight early on I was always learning.

I was continually trying to find ways to keep myself motivated and accomplish (what at one time I considered) the impossible.

If I screwed up then it didn’t matter because I was just one of many on the same path – and I just picked myself up, used it as fuel for the fire and carried on.

Then, in under two years I actually managed to accomplish the impossible.

Metaphorically speaking I found myself blinking in the sunlight as the clouds cleared. When everything came into focus I was standing on the top of a mountain that I’d been climbing all my life.

At the time in group I just cried.

I didn’t know what to do with that.

How do you process getting your life back – or grasp the enormity of the realisation that you’ve moved from what you considered to be a pathetic failure to a surprise success?

Mind bogglingly I ended up in the press, on the radio, was Slimming World’s third Greatest Loser of 2018 and even more unbelievably then became their Man of the Year.

At this point the avalanche of friend requests and queries about how I’d managed to do what I’d done on social media started. In the background pressure (that I heaped upon myself) started to build, and without realising it I’d started convincing myself that it was now my job to always portray an image of someone that had ‘cracked it’.

I was no longer allowed to fail.

(Author thinks for a moment)

It’s just hit me that the following has been slowly cementing in my subconscious thought processes since February.

    I must not fail.
    I must be in target every week.
    I can’t disappoint anyone.
    I can’t show weakness.

The list goes on – but you get the picture.

It’s stupid.

It’s really stupid.

I’m bound to fail here and there. I’m flipping human.

When it comes down to it life is complicated, and it brings with it emotional and sometimes physical pressures.

We all deal with them differently – and whilst I’m waaaaaaay better than I ever used to be I’m still not perfect.

(Sigh)

Ok.

Full disclosure time.

I stared fantasising about drinking alcohol about three weeks ago.

I really considered it on the way home one day.

It would have been so easy to disappear into one of the many pubs I pass on the way home.

No one would have even known. I could have hidden it and never told a soul.

But I’d have known.

Instead I took the brakes off for a while and ate myself silly.

Now the moment has passed and I’m STILL SOBER.

That is a MASSIVE VICTORY.

Yet all I saw was failure because I put weight on.

The reality is I put on half a stone and remained sober.

After almost 25 years of drinking – the last few (almost certainly) as a borderline if not full blown alcoholic I’ve now been without booze for 961 days.

It used to be highly unlikely that I’d last that amount of minutes in a day without having a drink.

My next major milestone in January is three years sober.

Holy crap.

When you look at it like that it puts things into perspective.

A week or two on the scales a few pounds shy of an arbitrary target weight vs sobriety.

A life full of lucidity vs one of anaesthetised oblivion.

I’m not perfect and neither should I strive to be because it doesn’t exist.

We all just do the best we can.

Tomorrow I’m going in to group and I’m probably going to be a little lighter but still out of target.

In the meantime I can do this on my walk to work and arrive without breaking a sweat.

I can smash four miles in an hour.

I’m in control of the vast majority of my life and that’s enough.

It’s ok to fall and it’s ok to pick myself up, dust myself off and carry on.

I’m just trying to find my way like everyone else.

Davey

Perspective and new shoes

Something that I still find rather surprising in WordPress is when I get lots of ‘single hits’.

Occasionally I’ll pick up a new subscriber who appears to have a lot of time on their hands (I do rather love these guys and gals) and for a week or two they almost single handedly account for the lion’s share of traffic hitting my site.

Typically I can spot this kind of new reader because my older blogs get sequential hits one by one. If I refresh my stats (although I can’t see who is doing this just in case you wondered) I know that someone is wading through my history in date order and following my journey as it unfolded.

It often makes me realise that the mind is a funny thing – because you can occasionally be lulled into thinking that life has always been the way it is at any one given moment in time.

It’s kind of like being in the dead of winter, standing in the snow and finding it impossible to imagine how it would feel if the sun was shining and you were wearing shorts and a tee shirt.

I’ve written so many posts now (584!) that I’m honestly forgetting what some of them contain.

This is a little unsettling because at the time I constructed these, each one was read, re-read and then read again MANY times before publication as I tinkered with the thoughts and wording.

Many remain delightfully imperfect (surprisingly I like that) and often I find punctuation or spelling errors that I’ve missed – but on the whole I thought that I knew each and every one of them.

They’re all little bits of me after all.

Each post contains the unvarnished truth of that particular moment (albeit in a literary container designed to be easily consumed) and in many ways when I pressed ‘publish’ it felt like I was watching little children wander out into the world and wondering if they’d be ok without me.

Not so long ago someone read ‘one to twenty’ (link) and when I saw this pop up on my phone I followed the link to look at the post.

I remembered the title – but not what it related to – and as I read the content it took me back to a time that I felt broken.

Back then I was struggling with almost everything in life and I still hadn’t mustered up the strength to tackle my weight.

I had been sober for just over a month and a ‘taste’ for alcohol was still in the back of my mind.

I was seeking help for what I now freely admit to myself was alcoholism and although not quite at my lowest I wasn’t that far off.

The power of writing moments like this down is very much like noting all of your body measurements when you embark upon a diet – because no matter how hard you try not to you’re almost certain to occasionally fail.

The question at the point of crisis then becomes (if you don’t say ‘screw it’ and press the self destruct button) ‘how do I recapture my drive and pull things back around?’

My blog (and old posts like this) fill just such a gap – because just like the days where you achieve inch loss instead of weight loss and thank your lucky stars you had the presence of mind to get that tape measure out when you really didn’t want to it allows me to step back in time and to stand in the shoes of someone I don’t know any more.

The gift of continued perspective just keeps giving – and I’ve learned that such insight is precious.

if I could give any advice when it comes to achieving anything in life it’s this:

You need to cultivate these nuggets wherever you can – because as uncomfortable as the truth of your past (or present) is it’s still the truth and you NEED to face it.

So – if you’re reading this and wanting to make a change to anything that you don’t like about yourself take time out to retain a snapshot of who you are now.

Even if it emotionally hurts to take a selfie, to measure your bingo wings, to check how fast you can walk a mile, to know how fast your heart beats when you climb up your stairs or how long you can stand before things begin to hurt JUST DO IT.

It’s often the difference between success and failure further down the line.

You might feel strong now – but we’re only as successful as our worst day – and when your back is against the wall you need to find some ammo in your almost empty clip.

I’ve realised that amongst many other things that I’ve changed about my life and outlook over the last few years it’s this that’s become a pivotal element of what I hope will be lifelong success.

In my case I’m everywhere now.

I’m my own top hit in Google and I can’t escape myself.

I’m plastered all over social media (despite my natural reticence in this area) and that’s a good thing.

Instead of feeling exposed and vulnerable like I expected to when I started I now feel the absolute opposite. My failures and struggles not only help other people but they help me too.

I can look back now with pride instead of regret because of this – and that’s something that’s infinitely more precious than wealth, status or material possessions.

Well – almost

I bought some new Clarkes shoes yesterday and they’re flipping awesome.

As I type I’m in the middle of a continued and prolonged footgasm.

They’re soooooo comfortable!!!

Granted I doubt they’ll win me the title of ‘trendiest guy in the universe’ but holy crap do they make me feel happy!!!

Here’s to perspective and new shoes internet.

May they both last forever!

Davey

Alive

Although I’ve been in a positive place this week I’ve also been quite reflective as well.

I’ve found myself (unexpectedly) considering ‘what it all means’ and what my place in the world is – and I’ve also been considering how feelings regarding bereavement change over time.

When my mother passed away a couple of years ago I really didn’t want a funeral. She’d been objectionable enough in life to leave me with a rather blunt and bullish approach to what I should do with her body after death.

I’m quite matter of fact about some things and not overly sentimental where perhaps I should be.

At the time I didn’t want a funeral. I really didn’t see the point.  As far as I was concerned the person I knew (who had been almost universally horrible to me for many years) was dead and gone. Wasting money on a coffin and service seemed like something society expected rather than an event I needed.

It was a racket and I didn’t want to get involved.

The decision wasn’t mine alone though – and it was this fact that led me to modify my original stance and lean toward a more accommodating solution.

The truth of it is that whether you realise it or not when someone dies you’re grieving.

That may sound obvious to many – but I don’t think to me at the time it was – because the emotions that I felt were not the ones I’d typically associate with grief or a sense of loss.

I know now that grief is a very flexible concept. For me (regarding my mother) it had no form that I could quantifiably define – and instead of being the stereotypical sadness that I expected was associated with the loss of a significant other (particularly a parent) it was far more complex.

Grief in my case turned out to be a mixture of many emotions I’d have never normally have linked with death. In no particular order these included:

  • Relief
  • Happiness
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Guilt

The funeral we eventually agreed upon was a cremation. It was to be a simple affair with a eulogy read by an non-denominational speaker and a coffin that disappeared after a few songs and empty words into the embrace of a furnace.

At least that’s how I saw it in my mind before I was part of it.

Sitting there I was struck that we were all in the same place remembering the same person for the different reasons. Most of the feelings in the room I suspect were quite negative – but mixed amongst them were also tears – and unexpectedly some of them were my own.

Once the day had passed I didn’t dwell on it too much (at least I don’t think I did) and instead busied myself with other mountains that I had to climb. I had been (up until two days before her death) a highly functioning alcoholic and I was around 35 stone. Real personal change was needed if the next funeral wasn’t going to be my own.

I focused all of my attention on ‘moving on’ and ‘getting better’.

This was worth it – because I definitely achieved what I set out to do. I smashed my goals and successfully turned my life around.

I’m still sober after almost two and a half years) and I’m over twenty stone lighter

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However, while this has been undeniably beneficial from a health perspective maybe it came with a cost in other respects – because now I’ve achieved my target I’ve been left thinking (not all the time – but in more reflective periods) ‘what does it all mean and who am I now?’

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like this at such a time – because with any kind of radical life change it’s impossible to not consider who you’ve become in relation to the world around you.

How do I fit in with the people and conventions that surround me now?

Things were one way for so long that they defined me as a person.

For all the insights that I can tangibly and quantifiably say I have gained into myself over the last two and a half years there are still certain areas of my life that are frightening when I consider them and because of that I’ve avoided dealing with them.

To a greater or lesser extent I tend to bypass them completely and maybe because of that from time to time rather more acute feelings surface.

That there are definitely elements of me that I consciously or subconsciously put on hold so that I could focus on what I needed to do.

Through necessity I placed them in hibernation whilst I marshalled other more useful aspects of myself and brought them to the forefront.

Maybe now then it’s natural for thoughts regarding love and loss to come back into my mind – because it’s no longer clouded with an obsessive need to lose weight. This week therefore I find myself (both in my dreams and waking thoughts) back at a graveside – faced yet again with the loss of a parent – and quite out of the blue I feel sad.

The complexity of grief is such that I don’t feel this way because I miss her (that’s probably never something that will come to pass) but because it took so much pain and so much heartache over so much time for so much good to happen in my life.

I’m drawn back to her funeral and I think that I now realise its purpose.

It’s a day that can never be undone. It’s a moment that will never fade and it served as a full stop. It was the ultimate punctuation mark that life provides to enable a carriage return and a new paragraph.

Without it I think I would be a poorer person because I’d be left with a gap where an end point should be and I now know how crucial it was to make sure it took place.

A funeral may not offer closure at that moment in time. It may not even do it in the medium term – but feelings are funny things and many of our emotions are complex tapestries woven from years of ever changing memories.

Now, in the warm light of a sunny morning a couple of years later I feel blessed that I attended that day and happy that I congregated with others to remember her.

It doesn’t matter any more how we felt about each other in life – and it doesn’t matter how anyone else there felt about her either.

It was an end point and it had to occur so that the healing could begin and people could start to move on. The truth of it is that we are all linear beings and we define ourselves based on the passage of time and events along the way to the inevitable.

If we choose to hide from or ignore them it doesn’t mean to say that the feelings associated with the event go away – it just means that you don’t deal with them.

So, yes I’ve felt a bit sad this week – and yes I’m sorry that things ended the way that they did – but that’s a good thing because this signposts growth and moving on. It means that my mind is busy spring cleaning itself and continually re-formatting what it needs to be for the tasks ahead.

It means I’m alive internet.

Davey

Victory for sobriety

It’s funny how your mind decides to lie to you from time to time.

Mine is currently telling me half truths and outright fallacies surrounding daytime drinking in the sunshine – and serving up half baked romantic memories about how nice it used to be.

It’s at times like this that I have to metaphorically give myself a slap and remember what things really used to be like – because when you feel both fit and healthy it’s easy to forget the reality of it all.

It’s once again an absolutely smashing day in the UK and I’m sitting outside a pub with a coffee at midday. I’m wearing a cool pair of shorts, a short sleeved shirt, and I’m enjoying the sunshine.

This is more than enough to make me happy these days – but even though it’s been almost two and a half years since I stopped drinking there are fleeting moments when I genuinely miss it.

However – it took a lot of time and effort to become the person who today walked two miles into town for a coffee instead of a beer and it never hurts to be reminded of that.

I’ve been following a relatively new blogger’s posts lately (link) which – although far removed from the way I feel these days about drinking – have actually been really cathartic to read and served to remind me that my current state of mind didn’t happen by accident.

This blogger is coping very admirably with what (for the moment) is a very new phase of life – and that’s being completely alcohol free.

For the most part I’m thankfully past all of the mental noise associated with being locked into needing this particular drug to manage everything about my life – but very occasionally I’m drawn back to thinking about it being part of my day to day exstence.

There are lots of people sitting in the sun with cold beers nearby and the warm air is filled with an easy going lunchtime chatter. Lots of smartly dressed people with ID badges have nipped out for a break from the heat of their offices to indulge in a quick glass of wine and a plate of chips.

One could be forgiven for looking at them as the sole reality of drinking – and for many people it is. Their relationship with alcohol is casual, probably well managed and its consumption infrequent.

Others interspersed amongst them are in considerably more relaxed attire – and seem to be easing into what will probably be a lengthy day of drinking.

These people too are probably handling their relationship with alcohol quite well and for the most part they look fit and happy. They’re almost certainly just enjoying a day off work like I am – but you never have to look far to find someone for who that’s not the case.

Nearby there are other examples of what can become the reality of life for far too many people who can’t find the strength to say no any more.

If you’re not inclined to pay attention to the impact of alcohol on those sitting on street corners asking for spare change very nearby then it’s hard to miss the thousand yard stares and poignantly lonely expressions of men and women sitting deeper inside the pub in total silence.

They look tired, on the wrong side of too many hangovers to count and are probably here regardless of whether the sun is out or it’s pouring with rain.

I sometimes wonder if others see the same things that an ex drinker does in the people around him because I can’t help but look for the signs I used to see when I looked at my own face in the mirror.

Mostly it’s the eyes and hair I pay attention to. Both seem to show the most telling indications that things aren’t well inside or out.

One yellows and becomes progressively more bloodshot whilst the other just becomes more unkempt and begins to silently document the mood of someone who has begun to care less and less about themselves.

Thankfully my particular moment of fleeting weakness has passed.

Whilst I wasn’t anywhere near to choosing a pint over an Americano it’s always good for me to write my way through the impact of potential life choices and not ignore the reality of what they can mean.

Although I’ve come a very long way in the last two years I would be foolish to not remember occasionally that I’ve climbed out from under various rocks in the past and shown a rather unnerving capacity for eventually crawling right back under them.

Whilst I feel like the self destructive side of me is very much under control these days I’m also of the opinion that it’s that way because (unlike before) I choose not to forget the past and instead regularly confront it.

Sometimes I could probably be accused of torturing myself needlessly – but honestly if re-living the painful parts of it every so often means that I don’t repeat the same pointless mistakes over and over again then I’ll continue to do it whenever I feel the need.

When I leave my coffee mug on the table internet I do so walking in a straight line, in control of my senses and have a clear head.

I put yet another tick against yet another day that’s yet another victory for sobriety and progress.

Davey

The truth

It’s a nice morning for a walk – and at least temporarily there is a blue sky to be found if you look upwards.

If you keep your eyes focused in this direction things seem very pleasant – however if you adjust your gaze downward then things on the ground aren’t quite so rosy.

I wasn’t thinking about this subject when I woke up and I certainly wasn’t when I set out for a walk – but at the moment I can’t help but remember the days when every morning held the promise of a hangover.

These days I rarely talk about my past drinking habits because they seem so far away – and maybe because I’m also lucky enough to really not miss either the taste of alcohol or the sensation of being drunk.

I do occasionally miss the ability to shut my mind off however – but the difference is that I now recognise that it was this aspect of my habit that caused me so many problems.

There are others that aren’t so fortunate however – and the private hell they appear to be trapped in is all too apparent when you walk around the bottom of town in Leamington Spa.

Here the pubs open early – and while the nearby shops are still closed some of the people inside these establishments are enjoying the first (maybe even the second or third) pint of the day.

Although for many years I never spent any time in pubs and didn’t usually drink during the day (except maybe sometimes at the weekend) a drinker is a drinker. We can spot one another – and as I pass people smoking on the doorstep of Weatherpoons I immediately recognise the haggard and yellow eyed look of a hangover in their faces.

It typically greeted me every morning when I looked in the mirror – although if I’m honest after many years of heavy drinking I’d ceased to recognise it as such. It was just my face.

I’m mercifully free of this self destructive cycle now and I’m ridiculously thankful that the events of a very dark period of my life eventually resulted in positive change.

They didn’t initially though. In fact they had the opposite effect.

I used to regularly consume 3-4 litres of 5% abv cider every other night – or two bottles of 13% abv wine but when I hit bad times this worsened dramatically.

By the time I stopped I was easily drinking around 5 litres of cider (if I could tolerate the physical volume) or 3+ bottles of wine every single night.

I feel no shame about it any more. It’s in the past – but at the time I felt the need to hide the extent of my habit from everyone.

I took bottles to the recycling centre regularly or dropped flattened cardboard wine boxes off at the nearby collection bins near my local shops. I also squished up all of my empty plastic cider bottles so that they were teeny tiny in my refuse bags.

As I type I find that I remember particularly strongly the smell of stale alcohol as it escaped from the from the plastic cider bottles when I flattened them.

Oddly I came to rather like this smell. It wasn’t pleasant – but it was part of my daily life and it represented a release, comfort, emotional numbness, pain relief, the ability to sleep – and the blessed relief of forgetting (even if just for a moment) the reality of how miserable my existence had become.

I don’t type all this because I’m dwelling – or feeling at all down.

Quite the opposite is true actually.

Honestly I feel a sense of relief and freedom – and that enhances the happy mood that I’m already in.

I’m in control of my destiny once again instead of being controlled by my addictions.

(Author pauses. Looks out of the window of the coffee shop he’s in and takes a sharp intake of breath)

I suppose when it comes down to it that’s really what it was.

An addiction.

I don’t like to admit that about myself. Instead my internal narrative is about a man who was ‘alcohol dependant‘ and for the longest time I’ve only felt comfortable with this self applied label.

I chose to identify with ‘alcohol dependant’ because it enabled me to step away from the reality of what someone drinking to the extent that I did truly was.

That person was an alcoholic – and I guess if I’m absolutely truthful with myself that’s what I was.

Although it hadn’t completely ruined my life or stopped me working it was only a matter of time until it did and when I recognised that fact I finally found it within myself to take action.

There’s no point denying it to myself any more. 774 days ago I was an alcoholic and that was my reality.

I’m not punishing myself with this statement. I’m releasing myself.

There’s nothing to hide from any more. It’s the past and it’s gone. The reality now is very different.

You may one day find me a repentant member of coffeeholics anonymous – but not today internet. I’m on my second large Americano and I very much doubt it will be my last.

This is as drunk as I get. Life is enough now. The sky is still blue outside and I’m clear headed and happy.

I’m also fit and healthy, grateful that I have a second chance and that I stopped with enough time left to begin my life again.

I write this not just because it’s part of my process of coming to terms with my past but because it’s true – and in truth there’s power.

Within it lies the capability to provide understanding to anyone reading and associating with this or similar behaviour that it’s not too late.

In fact it’s never too late – no matter how desperate things may seem. Even if there’s not much time left you can make what remains a better place to be – and live life free from things that control you.

Today is entirely what you want it to be.

Bend it to your will internet. You can do it if you want to.

Davey

Not my usual kind of post…

I can easily be accused of over thinking things at the best of times. Whilst this manifests itself as a benefit when it comes to writing it sometimes comes at a cost to myself, because I often have to get quite low before I come back up again.

There are days like today where I awake with a mind that’s filled with a crippling lack of self worth.

It doesn’t matter that I know logically that this is just a passing moment in time because deep down today I feel overwhelmed by fears and insecurities that have followed me around for years.

As much as I always hope they’re gone – and that they’ve been replaced by positivity or wiped away with my new lease of life they’re not really.

I’m always crestfallen when I find them still hidden in the background and I’m reminded again that my mother really did a number on me.

She left me with so much numbness in the place in my heart where there should be familial love and warmth that sometimes (on days like today) it feels like there’s a physical lump in my mind.

I try whenever I consciously think about her to will love into my heart and re-format everything about her memory.

I don’t want to feel anger or bitterness towards her because it’s unresolvable and it just diminishes me. I can’t open a door and ask her why she treated me like a possession or made me feel so worthless.

I’ll never be able to make her understand how hard it’s been to clamber out from under the weight of guilt that I feel for not missing her and instead feeling relief that she’s no longer alive.

I can’t get her to put her arms around me and hug me like she meant it any more in death than I could in life – and today – at this moment I just feel sad and angry.

I don’t feel any sadness that she’s been dead for two years now – I just feel angry that I was cheated out of the nurturing support that I should have had in life. I feel resentment that I turned to all manner of bad habits to expunge the pain that she directly or indirectly caused and I feel cheated out of the life that I deserved.

I see other people grieving when they lose a parent and although I understand loss (I’ve experienced the pain of someone that’s close to me dying) I can’t relate to what it must feel like to lose someone that shaped your childhood and youth into a positive and productive life.

I can only understand the final, guilty relief associated with a burden that’s been too heavy for too long being lifted from my shoulders.

Maybe I’ll never get over feeling like I don’t measure up to my own expectations or that I’m not good enough.

I hope not.

I hope that one day the memory of her voice (that seems indelibly burned into my brain) as she called me ‘sick, wicked and evil’ and the familiar look of disgust in her eyes will finally be forgotten.

I hope that one day in darker moments I won’t look back and think that she was right and that there’s something wrong with me.

Again – logically I know this is nonsense. She said these things whilst simultaneously telling me that she was being bitten by fleas irradiated by the Chernobyl disaster – which is not the product of a mind on an even keel.

All of this makes rational sense to me – but on an emotional level there are days like today when all I feel is crippling pain inside and when I could (if I chose to) obliterate myself in any number of ways.

I could eat to excess. I have a fridge full of food.

I could drink myself to oblivion. There’s a shop full of cider just over the road.

I could pick up a pouch of tobacco and roll myself a cigarette and keep smoking until all of the wonderfully scented 25g of Golden Virgina was gone along with my health.

Today it’s hard not to do all three – but I refuse.

I refuse not because I don’t want to – but because I do.

I’m thankfully also very very stubborn and I will not under any circumstances be diminished any more by her either in life or death.

Her power to make me less of a man than I should be is something that she’s no longer able to wield and whilst her memory may make me occasionally weak I’ve come further than she ever expected or told me I could.

Furthermore I did it all despite her.

For the time being I’m going to allow myself the luxury of not trying to think fondly of her. I’m also going to try and focus on my continuing gradual weight loss and the newspaper cutting that a kind member of my slimming world group brought in today to show everyone.

There are things to be thankful for – and the kindness of others makes feeling like I do at this exact moment bearable.

I have good friends and that’s a comfort.

Today though I’m just going to open the floodgates and let it all go before getting on with life.

She may have been troubled, she may have been mentally ill. She may have had a hard life and had good reason to have problems. There may be mitigating circumstances that surrounded her childhood that can explain or give cause for her behaviour.

I don’t care though today.

Today I’m remembering her the way she was in life.

She was bitter, resentful, hateful, unforgiving, deceitful, abusive and I should have no reason to feel guilt for not missing her.

Davey.

Snowdon epilogue

There are lots of after effects when you do something negative in life – and over the years I’ve carried around more than my fair share of regret about lots of things I’ve done – or (more often) not done.

Right up until the day she died my mother was trapped inside memories of her past, and consumed by bitterness about people she believed had somehow slighted her or opportunities that she felt had been denied. 

I always viewed her as someone very different to myself – as unlike me she regretted nothing and everything bad that had happened in her life was simply someone else’s fault – until one day, when the universe held a mirror up to my face and I unexpectedly saw a reflection of her looking back at me.

I realise once again as I type that 18 months after she died I’m still coming to terms with what her passing means to me and the ways that she affected me both in life and death. 

Although I blamed no one but myself just like her I’d become trapped by inaction and my own addictions. She smoked – whereas I ate and drank. 

However I had instead become stuck in the present rather than the past. I lived my life a day at a time with no promise of a different future and little hope for change.

Today (I write this on Monday 24th in the early afternoon) I feel invigorated by the after effects of cumulatively positive choices. I’m crackling with energy and a sense of personal renewal. 

Although my muscles ache from my activities over the last few days I barely notice the pain at the moment because I’m looking at a brighter horizon than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

One of the things that I never mentioned in my Snowdon posts was the different emotional tones of the ascent and descent. On the way up we were surrounded by energetic and predominantly youthful climbers who (mostly) were powering up the slopes and leaving us in their dust. 

There were also lots of ‘hello’s’ with people and little chats about which way was the best route to make swift progress.

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On the way down we saw group after group walking with purpose, wearing bright tee shirts proclaiming that they were climbing the mountain because of the loss of a loved one – or for a charity. We overheard snapshots of tale after tale as we passed people during our descent – but almost all were along the lines of ‘if you feel tired then think of (…) he would have loved the view and been so happy today’.

I walked by one woman on her way up as she was describing the tumour in a loved one’s head and how it was growing uncontrollably. One of her companions put a hand briefly on her shoulder as I passed.

Another child shortly after, holding her mom’s hand clambered by me enthusiastically rattling a small pink plastic bucket full of change with a picture of someone sellotaped to the side.

One man was making his way slowly up in silence on crutches.

They were all walking to remember lost loved ones, those still fighting to stay alive or trying to make sense of tragedy by doing something good that might prevent it happening again in the future.

When I got to the bottom of the mountain at the time I could only think about how much my muscles hurt – and the day after I was just overwhelmingly happy about having finally climbed Snowdon after a year of saying I would.

Now I’m home and reflecting on my time away I can’t help but notice how alive I feel – and how precious life is. It’s meant to be lived and I intend to take advantage of it every day that I can until I die.

I think that I partially feel this way so acutely because in many respects I feel like I’ve had my own near death experience.

I don’t mean to be over dramatic or attention grabbing. I’ve not stepped out of the path of a speeding train or fallen from a great height and survived – but when I break my past down those examples are kind of what’s happened to me – but in slow motion.

Not so long ago I was hastening my death – and without realising it I was doing it by becoming just like the last person in the world that I wanted to be compared to.

Then it hits me. 

Just like the little child with the pink bucket I was walking up that mountain because of a loss. Although I didn’t realise it at the time every step was taken in my mother’s memory because the moment of change that made it possible came to me when I was looking into her eyes. 

She never meant to give it – but it was her final parting gift to me. 

I’m not sure why that transformative spark arrived when it did. I’m not even sure that if I was faced with the same circumstances again on a different day that I’d have come to the same conclusion. I don’t know how to fix anyone else and generally I don’t always know how to fix myself – but I’m glad that a random selection of electrical impulses and memories collided in my brain at just the right moment and conspired to give me my life back.

The only thing that I know for sure about myself these days as everything about me changes physically and mentally is that I want to continue to be better.

Today someone contacted me privately and showed me their half a stone slimming world certificate. ‘I just wanted to show you this…’ they said ‘… I finally did it!’

It made me smile from ear to ear. That person had found their own moment in time to move forward and taken the crucial first few steps to begin. 

A week ago another person messaged me to say they’d made a significant change in their life that would dramatically improve their health. On and off we’d been talking about this for some time and a few days ago they found the strength and courage to be who they wanted to be in life – and to cast off their self imposed burdens.

I realise now that I’ve heard a lot of stories like this over the last year and a half – and the greatest gift I’ve received from sharing my progress (or occasional lack of it) hasn’t just been the generous (and often humbling) personal support that people have given me – but the energising and empowering shared tales of personal battles with their own demons.

Each and every single one of us is free to be the absolute best versions of ourselves that it’s possible to be. All it takes is one little moment where enough is enough and you decide to do something different. 

So internet – I can’t tell you how to spark change because I don’t know – but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you can climb your own personal mountain.

Whatever it is.

However long it takes you to get there.

Regardless of how you feel now.

Life can be better than you can possibly imagine if you want it to be.

Davey

Falling pianos

Something that I (shamefully) used to say to close friends and relatives was that I fully expected to die in the very near future, and that I was resigned to never reaching a pensionable age.

The odds related to my weight seemed to support my often bleak approach to life and I was in retrospect doing everything humanly possible to ensure that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As surely as if I’d hopped into my bath with a toaster I was killing myself – but ironically I could no longer fit in it – with or without electrical appliances because I’d instead chosen the slower ‘death by eating and alcohol abuse’ approach.

To my eternal shame I remember saying all this to someone with cancer and instantly thinking to myself how perverse my attitude to life had become. I was throwing good health away on a whim whilst someone close to me was fighting to stay alive.

Even then I failed to change. 

That came later.

In the meantime I actively avoided going to see my doctor (if at all possible) and buried my head in the sand about multiple developing health issues. However, despite my glib attitude to what I then thought was an inevitable future (that I ‘knew‘ would happen with absolute certainty) I was as much in denial as it’s possible for a man to be about the reality of how my end would probably come.

I may not have died like John Candy did (at his reportedly heaviest weight of 325lbs he was around ten stone lighter than me when I started Slimming World at 485lbs) which was quickly, of a heart attack, in his sleep at around the same age as me.

I’d be just as likely to suffer for a long time with ever decreasing mobility, joint pain, sleep apnoea, insomnia, incontinence, diabetic fogginess, wrecked knees, oedemas swelling my legs, deteriorating eyesight from retinopathy etc etc. The list goes on and on, and it still upsets me to think about it. I experienced all of the above to some extent by the time I had reached nearly 35 stone.

Despite being a really happy person now I’m often still pulled back to the past by unexpected feelings or events. In these moments I feel intense anger about what I used to do to myself – or at the very least have a burning sense of wasted opportunity and regrets over a life not fully lived.

I ruminate on this a lot when I’m twalking with friends. It’s good to explore these feeling and (in doing so) to somehow purge them. I started writing firstly because I wanted a record of who I was but also to excise the pain that I felt both emotionally and physically as I pored it out onto the page.

I still use this blog primarily as a diary and it’s partly why I’m so honest despite regularly having the opposite impulse. I started writing this post a few days ago but couldn’t bring myself to publish it. I don’t aways want to tell people about my more introspective moments – but if I lie then I feel that I betray only myself. The memories that my posts contain continually get used as fuel to push me forward. Once they’re out there in public I can’t deny or ignore them, and have to follow through on my convictions.

However – although I’m doing well emotionally these days it’s physically where I came from still bothers me. One of the things that’s always in the back of my mind is what might be lying in wait for me underneath my skin.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of awful things to my body and there’s always the possibility that my past smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, crappy diet or even my genetics are still going to me cause problems in later life. I know that to an extent I can’t control this. I can only try to be a better man from now on.

The thing is – I don’t just want to live a longer life – I want to live a fitter and more active one – and I’m determined to keep getting better in every respect that I can.

There is a part of me however that thinks that if the universe had a sense of humour similar to my own it will probably drop a piano on me the same day that I reach my target weight just to prove that I got away with nothing and that everything has a consequence

I live in hope though.

My health is very good lately – and unlike my ‘previous life’ I recently promised myself that I would go to the doctor for a check up if anything seemed untoward now that I’m on the right track.

Currently something seems a little off and has been for about a month.

I keep getting what seems to be (according to my online research) postural hypotension – which is a really light headed feeling and dizziness when standing up from being seated or bending down.

This is currently annoying more than anything else and usually passes quickly – but a couple of times I’ve had to hold onto something to stop myself from falling backwards. Amongst my immediate peer group it seems that I’m not alone in experiencing this – and from what they’ve said most people I know have this from time to time.

However part of my brain (a paranoid and worrisome bit tucked away in the dark at the back) is wondering if this is nature calling time on my energetic fun and telling me that there’s something that I’ve not managed to fix with my new lifestyle.

When I had my blood pressure checked in January 2014 it was 140/77. I didn’t think much of it at the time (my doctor said simply that it was a ‘little high’) but looking it up I know now that this is stage one hypertension (high blood pressure) and that if left unchecked it has some pretty serious implications.

During the pre-testing before my last diabetic review in March 2017 it had dropped to 124/70 – (which is a really good range to be in) but yesterday when I went to the doctor to discuss this phenomenon I appeared to be on the slightly lower end of normal at 110/70.

This in itself is not cause for concern and it also isn’t necessarily the reason for what’s happening – so I have to have a supplementary blood test booked in a couple of weeks (there’s a waiting list as usual).

My friend asked me as we walked around Brandon Woods (talking about this unpublished post) yesterday ‘Do you normally suffer with low blood pressure?’

I had no answer. It’s impossible for me to say.

My body is (currently) always changing and I no longer have any idea of what ‘normal’ feels like. Everything is always new to me and I’m learning day by day as I get fitter and smaller what it does when it’s no longer encumbered by excess fat and expending all it’s energy on retaining equilibrium.

Do I ‘naturally’ have a pre-disposition to this?

Who knows? I certainly don’t.

On the plus side my blood work is going to be a full one to check my kidney function (problems here can apparently lead to these symptoms) my cholesterol and my glucose levels (HbA1c).

From what I read on the NHS Choices website slightly lower blood pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – and I have quite a long way to go before it’s actually considered low:

‘As a general guide, low blood pressure is a reading below 90/60. If you have low blood pressure according to this guide, you don’t need to worry. Naturally low blood pressure rarely causes symptoms or needs treatment. Having low blood pressure is considered healthy because it protects you from the risks and diseases of high blood pressure.’

So – I’m probably worrying about nothing – and I went to the doctor just to be sure I was fit and healthy – but I as I explore here why it’s on my mind so much I realise that my underlying fear that something might be amiss is because I now love life. 

I have moved from not caring at all about dying (and in some respects wanting it to happen just to end the cycle that I was trapped in) to clinging onto my newfound vitality as tightly as I can so that I can experience everything that I missed when I didn’t have it.

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Each moment has become incredibly precious.

If anything internet it’s a good thing being reminded of mortality and the fact that you’re not superhuman. It ensures that there’s always a reason to keep trying – even if your less energetic inner voice would prefer to sit on the sofa.

On that note I need to go to bed…

Davey

99% are really really good

There are few better places to reflect on things than a graveyard.

I started writing this post in the middle of an early morning walk, sitting in the shade of a nearby church with my flask of coffee and thinking about why I felt so down yesterday.

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Just in case my current setting may appear to be a reflection of my state of mind – I’m not feeling morbid or down.

It’s quite the opposite actually. I awoke this morning (after spending the majority of yesterday experiencing anger or upset about one thing or another) feeling quite refreshed. As I write I can’t help but ponder upon what factors (in the 10-11 hours that have passed since then) have conspired to produce in me such a profoundly different state of mind.

I’ve slept really well – which helped a lot – but I think that yesterday the big thing that allowed me to recover was that I allowed myself to feel a lot of negative emotion rather than brushing it aside and just trying to be happy.

Before I went to bed last night I’d (possibly self indulgently) experienced anger, sadness, loneliness, felt lost, frustrated, tearful and finally just numb. At the culmination of this orgy of negative feelings I fell asleep fully expecting more of the same the following day.

You know what though?

It never materialised.

I wrote a while back (link) about a book that someone had lent me (Living like you mean it – Ronald J Frederick) which talked about the valuable power of feeing pain and sadness rather than burying it – and that doing so enabled a much much faster return to equilibrium. Ever since I found this particular insight it’s been slowly cementing itself as one of my life mantras and so far it’s proven very useful.

While speaking to a friend last night I casually commented that 18 months or so ago the thoughts and feelings I was then experiencing would have produced a very different reaction in me.

For one thing I’d have gotten drunk.

Very drunk indeed.

I didn’t acknowledge it back then but I drank the way I did (which was regularly and to excess) to avoid feeling lots of things in life. I’d done it for so long that truthfully I no longer understood or even cared to notice the causal relationship between my emotional highs or lows and my tendency to reach for alcohol.

My focus has been on food and losing weight almost exclusively since last April – but honestly this morning I’m setting that obsession temporarily aside to just say thanks for the fact that I stopped drinking on the 26th of January 2016 and it’s now been 522 days since I last self medicated with alcohol.

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This is a horrible way of describing what I used to do. When I have the courage to phrase it in this way it makes me feel somehow diminished by what I still perceive was the manifestation of ‘weakness’ in my character.

Sadly however that’s the reality of it.

It was part of my life in a way that it never should have been. I eventually came to use it not to socialise, but instead to change my moods and day to day outlook on situations. I employed it for all the wrong reasons – and because of this honestly I can’t imagine ever going back to including it in my life.

Feeling pain and dealing with it is so much harder than covering it up though.

Today however (because yesterday I did just that) instead of experiencing the underlying regret of another night I can’t remember very well and the dull, familiar thick headed sensation of a hangover (which was so familiar to me back then that I no longer recognised it as such) I’m clean, sober, dealing with whatever feelings may land on my emotional doorstep and moving on with life.

My graveyard setting is not by design. I didn’t come here wth a moody need to be around the dead. I just chose to sit for a moment in the middle of my journey because it’s shady, quite peaceful and there was a lot of really lovely birdsong all around it.

However – as I write I can’t help but read the headstones as I pause between paragraphs.

Directly in front of me is one commemorating a man who lived from 1918 to 2014. His headstone simply reads ‘remembered with a smile‘.

It has some ivy in a small pot with little sparrrows either side of it that slightly obscures the engraving. It was this that caught my eye as my mind tried to fill in the blanks in the words before me. Once I’d followed the text I noticed a small jar with some very bold white sunglasses in it.

Their inclusion and the motto above them speaks volumes about how this man touched other people’s lives. As I contemplate the existence of a person I can only imagine I find myself momentarily consumed with thoughts about the kind of life that needs to be lived in order to cause a 96 year old man to be remembered with white sunglasses.

Was he blind? Did he like holidays in the sun? Maybe he did Elvis impressions?

Whatever he did it made people smile.

I can’t help feeling as I take a photo of the glasses that I’d like to be remembered the same way as him.

Then, as I turn to go back to my seat, I notice another headstone further down the row. This one details a much shorter life – lived between 1972 and 2016. Jarringly I realise that this is someone who died at an age almost exactly the same as my own.

This person (reads the motto) was ‘courageous‘ – and instantly I connect this in my mind with a drawn out end full of pain. People that die ‘courageously’ have suffered rather than passed away quietly. The use of this word (maybe rather selfishly) makes me think that this could have been my headstone not too long ago if I’d carried on eating and drinking to forget my problems.

Yet here I am 522 days later on a different path.

I look up from my phone to see that a man is now standing at the grave. He’s tidied the dead flowers away from it and is watering the ones that remain from a small can. Once this is done he stands quietly at the foot of the mound in silent contemplation. His hands are now both in the pockets of his dark blue jacket and his greying head is bowed as he looks, with his back to me, at the headstone.

I can’t see emotion – but there’s a sense of dignified loss surrounding him. He also watered the flowers and tidied the graves either side – and I find myself wanting to put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

I don’t though. It’s a private moment – and not for me to intrude.

After a while he leaves.

My train of thought as I watch him make his way through the headstones is disrupted. My phone has vibrated. I’ve received a text and am suddenly jolted back into the moment. My brother is in town earlier than I expected him to be and wants to know if I feel like meeting for a coffee earlier than we’d originally planned.

I smile, and reply that I’ll make my way to where he is as soon as I can.

In doing so I get up and move onwards, with the gift of a future and health that others don’t have. As I walk through the nearby field to the road ahead the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and I can feel its warmth on my arms – which are covered in suncream to make sure I don’t burn.

Yesterday (and for a few days before) I was out of sorts – but now I know that those moments are useful sometimes – because after them comes a sense of perspective.

I appreciated feeling well slept and rested this morning – and I relished the prospect of doing some exercise, without a hangover – and without the added burden of all the weight I’ve lost.

Occasionally I have bad days internet – but today I am reminded that 99% of them are really really good.

Davey

Watch it

I wasn’t planning to post today as nothing much happened. Sunday has been chilled and mostly for cooking, washing up and the occasional video game. It’s been a day of relaxation.

This would likely have been the only paragraph in my blog if I hadn’t been pointed toward something on television by a friend from work.

‘Are u watching BBC2 now?’ The text said.

‘No.’ I replied ‘Why?’

‘Watch it’ came the quick reply. ‘It will be interesting’.

My colleague has been incredibly supportive of everything I’ve done over the last few months, and over the years has proved time and again that he thinks about my well being as much I as I think of his.

I stopped what I was doing and turned on the TV. The programme in question turned out to be a BBC2 Louis Theroux documentary called ‘Drinking to oblivion’.

(apologies if you’re outside the UK – I doubt the link will work)

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From a personal perspective it’s a pretty disturbing documentary to watch, and I know for most people the title alone will turn them away. However – If (like me) you have used alcohol (or any kind of drug) to manage your moods before it became something that was more than just a passing phase and if (like I did) you want to change this aspect of yourself I would urge you to watch it.

Even if you don’t feel the way I did or do what I did I would suggest its worth a look. I think we all need to understand that labels applied to people in such crisis are incredibly reductive. There is so much more to each and every one of them than just ‘addicts’, and they are as nuanced as any of us.

That’s one of the good things about a Louis Theroux programme. He almost always manages (although maybe not quite with Jimmy Saville) to humanise the very people that we wouldn’t normally consider as ‘like us’.

Sure, the individuals in the programme may appear as warped versions of what we would consider normal when they’re drunk, but the segments when they are sober, and in recovery show just how much like us these people are, and what they CAN be. NOT what they currently are.

By the end of tomorrow it will be three months since I last had anything to drink.

On the outside my life hasn’t massively changed. I still go to work, I still sleep, eat, breathe, and want a dog but on the inside I feel immensely different.

Before I stopped I felt that oblivion was preferable to feeling – that there was no other way but to bury uncomfortable thoughts and moods under layers of food and alcohol.

I have my good days and my bad days, but when I look back I realise that the good ones started to equal the bad shortly after I stopped pouring wine into my glass.

Then they slowly began to overtake the bad ones when I sought help and started looking at the underlying issues.

They now vastly outnumber the bad ones and are a conquering force.

Even the ‘bad’ ones aren’t what they used to be, thanks to some of the insights I’ve had from the program I attended and the people I met.

I do sometimes fear a return to old thinking though, and although I do feel strong now I hope that if I ever forget who I was and what I was doing to myself back then that people will gently remind me and not stop doing so until I listen.

Anyway – I’m doing well and I’m happy. Very importantly I go to bed tonight knowing that people care about me, which is a warmer feeling than any duvet can provide.

Love and abstinence internet, I hope you like the documentary.

Davey

Not one single person

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I’ve decided to have a ‘me’ day on Friday and booked it off this afternoon.

The last few weeks have been rewarding but long and I really wanted to just stop, take stock and have a coffee with someone disconnected from everything I’m doing.

So I phoned a mate, made arrangements to do not much in particular together – and thats my plan for the day.

But not before I’ve had an epic lie in and continued my embarrassingly deep romantic entanglement with my duck feather pillow.

She’s puuurdy. Quack.

After those important unbreakable commitments I have Saturday and Sunday to fill with fruitful pursuits and if it ever stops torrentially raining I will mow my lawns. I keep putting them off and its beginning to annoy me.

After that (or before if the weather is inclement) I will sort out my dining room. I vaguely remember there being a table in there but all I can see is laundry and files of correspondence at the moment.

Once these tasks are completed I will have achieved a sense of peace where I live, which is very important to me at the moment.

To look around and not be pissed off with things everywhere that you haven’t done or procrastinated about is a very good thing, and every time I make things look nice I feel I’m climbing out of the pit I started digging in earnest about nine months ago.

Today was a good day in group as well – and I had a sense that there were some butterflies unfolding their new wings this morning.

Just like things are different with myself I’ve noticed marked changes in the people who I’ve been working through my issues with. Some looked very different in terms of body language today than they did on day one. When I pointed this out to one of them they smiled from ear to ear and I couldn’t help but do the same.

Unlike the first day we now all know each other by name, and greet each other cordially in the morning outside where people smoke and drink coffee before the group starts.

We also reference things that other people in the room have said regularly and nod to each other knowingly when someone says something that resonates with the collective mind.

I genuinely hope that I keep in touch with these people. Sure we’re not perfect, and we all have lots of hang ups and challenges in life – but we came together because we want to be better than we are.

I also think that we have genuinely begun to care what happens to each other, in a surprisingly short space of time.

I wouldn’t have said this three weeks ago but I’m going to be rather sad when the final day comes. There are only four sessions left, and I feel already that there has been a lot of positive change and reflection.

I started angry, scared and tearful (all within the first two days) and now I get up looking forward to the discussions, and jokingly moaning about filling in another personality questionnaire. People laugh and smile at each other in the group, and there is a pervading sense that although they are still fragile there is a weight that’s lifting, and that’s because it’s now being carried together.

The group leader who presents the relapse prevention segments each week is continually at pains to state that its FACT that people who stay in a groups, and stay in support stay clean longer and relapse less.

If I can help just one of them with that then I think it’s the least I can do after they’ve shared their experiences with me so freely.

I want them all to be well so much it currently occupies all my thoughts.

One of the odd things that I realised yesterday evening was that a particular exercise showed how I have changed since I started (and continued) writing this blog and posting it on my Facebook feed so that anyone who knew me could read it.

A piece of paper was handed out with a drawing of an iceberg on it. Above the water was the small, innocent tip. But under the surface, lurking in the dark and threatening depths hid the rest of it – which was much much larger.

It was capable of sinking the Titanic and its destructive power was immense.

The task at hand was to write in the smaller bit at the top all the obvious things people could see about us, and then in the below section all the things no-one knew that we hid from everyone.

Two months ago the section under water would have been filled, but now I was stumped. I really struggled to put things in there.

Two months ago I hadn’t outed myself as a drinker and told everyone how many units I was consuming a week. I hadn’t admitted how I struggled with all aspects of life. I hadn’t talked openly about the shame and anger surrounding my mother, or the dual feelings of grief and relief that were left behind when she passed away. I hadn’t posted my actual weight online in all its embarrassing glory for EVERYONE to see. I hadn’t admitted to my difficulties with physical movement related to this or my self confidence problems. I’d told almost no-one how I worry about wherever I go because of the seating and how currently I struggle standing for long periods of time.

Now it’s all out there for anyone to read and comment upon. The iceberg is upside down.

I gave all of the power away. I put it in the hands of the world and dared them to use it against me.

And you know what?

Not one person has.

Not. One. Single. Person.

So today if I had to categorise my mood it’s one of optimism for the future. People are inherently good and I am one of them. I have a plan of sorts laid out for myself in the coming months, and I have promised myself that I will execute on it.

I won’t beat myself up if I stumble and I’ll try to remember I will have bad days along with the good. I will reach out to people for a hand if I falter, and I will take theirs if they reach out to me.

I am evidence of evolution. I am man beginning to walk upright.

Davey

Marbles and budgets

How would you describe your mind?

For what amounts to little more than a collection of protein and electrical impulses we all give them very emotive descriptions depending on how we’re feeling.​

If he’s tired or ill my father often refers to his mind as being full of ‘mental chewing gum’. Similarly he imagines it packed with cotton wool if he’s struggling to grasp something. Mine in contrast is often ‘fried’, ‘mashed’, ‘messed up’ or any number of other monosyllabic analogies I use when I’m having a bad day.

‘I’m losing my marbles’ is one most of us have used in periods of high stress, anger or even depression. The term conveys a sense that the little glass balls representing our consciousness are slipping through our fingers or becoming mixed up.

Today however the metaphorical marbles were very real ones. Their use during self-build was thought provoking and I think worthy of sharing.

In the past during work related training courses I’ve heard the term stress budget. I’ve never really liked it as it conjures up a financial institution or corporate workplace. It feels too specific to the daily grind and less connected with real life.

The idea behind it is that we all have an budget or upper limit to how much stress we can manage and the more we add events like weddings and funerals or moving home the more we use up our budget. The theory went as far as assigning a ‘cost’ to events – which personally I disagreed with in most cases.

However the point was that if you spend too much then you end up in debt and therefore trouble.

The analogy works, but I still never got on board with it primarily because of the terminology.

Today however we looked at ‘should’s and could’s’. The principle was the same – but in this case seemed appropriate to anyone.

Should’ in this context was used as an attacking word. This is one that we often use against ourselves. It has a tendency to have built in elements of self-recrimination, and is a great way of beating ourselves up for perceived failure. Other people can give us ‘should’s’ as well, but in my case they mostly come from within.

Common ‘should’s’ I use are:

I should lose weight, I should be more active, I should get out more, I should be a better person, I should be able to do things other people do etc etc etc.

The list goes on and on. If I don’t accomplish things I feel I should do then I become convinced I’m a failure.

I’m less likely however to use ‘could’s’. These are evidence of more positive thought, concerned with possibilities rather than obligation and guilt.

Things I don’t readily say to myself (which are less damaging) are:

I could lose weight, I could be more active, I could get out more, I could be a better person, I could do things that other people do…..

While the first instantly makes me feel hemmed in with tasks the latter doesn’t. I don’t feel the same about could – and think that’s because it’s very nearly ‘CAN’.

The visual representation of this came as we were all given a box of marbles and sat in a circle around a table with a bowl of water in the middle. As we went clockwise around the group we shared our ‘should’s’ with eachother.

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For each ‘should’ we dropped one or a handful of marbles into a bowl of water, depending on how big the problem was. The bowl was ¾ full already, but with each marble of personal baggage we dumped into the water the surface rose closer to the top and eventually it overflowed onto the plastic tray underneath.

It’s an effective way to demonstrate what happens if we continually overload ourselves with guilt and pressure and I really like it. This is not just because of the obvious consequence of putting too much pressure on ourselves and burying whats REALLY important at the bottom of the bowl, but because of the impact it has on others.

Initially when I looked at the stress budget and the could’s and should’s I considered them both in a very much ‘me centric’ way, but as I looked at the bowl full of marbles and water overflowing everywhere I realised just how much shit gets poured down on the people around us when we don’t handle this aspect of our lives very well.

I’m pretty sure I’ve done this to my brother and other people in the past.

I’m not an angry person normally, but I have withdrawn myself regularly from contact with people I care about when I overload, and inevitably become depressed.

It’s my version of rage. If I don’t have anything good to say then I often say nothing at all and turn it all inward. I’ve got better at not doing this – but I can still hibernate (and did aaaaaaaallllllll day long on Monday).

I’m sure my friends and family need me as much as I need them – and doing this simply does not help. I’m resolving from this point on to fill my head with as many ‘could’s’ as I can.

In other news I looked in the mirror today and not only did I look smaller but my eyes are pearly white.

I realised that I looked different because I didn’t have hangover eyeballs and that was a nice thing to be surprised by.

Normally I dislike the face that looks back from mirrors – but at the moment I’m beginning to change my mind. Maybe it does have a future after all and won’t go before its time.

Davey

Kylie and peas

Kylie

The radio is playing. Kylie Minogue is doing her level best to cheer me up, but despite my thoughts about her perky bottom and the sound of her chirpy voice it’s not working.

I’m sitting in my car on a street full of dowdy looking industrial units and I’m 20 minutes early for my clinic group appointment. I needed to be sure I could get a parking space.

I called ahead late last week and made sure they had seating that I wouldn’t be turning into match sticks or be uncomfortable in. They agreed to lay out a variety of chairs in advance so I didn’t have to ask in front of everyone and be embarrassed.

Thats at least one less thing to stress about.

I don’t want to go in too early though because at the moment I feel like I’m not in the mood for small talk and if I get out of my car that’s almost inevitable. I hope this changes in the meeting because currently all I feel is a knot in my stomach and an unwillingness to speak to any stranger of any kind about anything, let alone my innermost feelings.

I’m aware that I’m nervous, but oddly when I check my pulse on my watch (wow – Apple Watch finally has a use!) it’s surprisingly going down, so my symptoms must be entirely psychological.

I shaved my head this morning so I look neat and civilised and I’m continually checking the vanity mirror in the sun visor to make sure I haven’t missed anything. I’m sure that if I have it will be noticed by someone. I feel very self conscious and I’m a ball of stress.

F&&k it. I’m going in.

(Interlude)

(Elevator Music)

I’m sitting at home now and I’ve bought a packet of fresh garden peas, some expensive ready to eat prawns, and a bag of roasted mixed nuts. They weren’t just any peas, prawns and nuts. They were M&S peas, prawns and nuts.

Their peas in particular are lovely.

summer-peas

I’m eating them because I can’t drink alcohol, and I want a treat. Normally I would drink to treat myself and I don’t do that any more. I would like it if the peas made me feel drunk, but they don’t. They’re just peas.

The session was not what I expected – ameteurish in many ways, but led by people who were themselves in recovery. They were raw, unvarnished and said what they thought.

The people in the group were for the most part normal and polite members of society. All seemed willing to share and willing to listen. For just under three hours we looked at a variety of ways to explain the psychology that we were all to a greater or lesser effect controlled by at some point in our lives.

I won’t write about the people in this room because I wouldn’t want them to write about me, but I’m struck by how intelligent and self aware most of them were.

Just like me they seemed to understand what they did, and to an extent why.

Just like me they had difficult family relationships, mostly it seemed with parents.

Just like me they had been hiding from something with whatever addiction they battled with.

Just like me some were also overweight, and reminded me of myself.

In some of the role-play, initially annoying because of its amateur, almost ‘too obvious’ moral behind the story outcomes I began to see echoes of myself and others who had touched my life.

I saw my willingness to help other people whenever I can and how useful it can be in deflecting those who wanted to help me instead. I saw the duality of my mother who played both victim and aggressor over and over until I was paralysed with guilt. I saw myself in the role of victim when I started my self destructive cycle of drinking to deaden her impact. I saw my friends from decades ago and how we enabled each other for years to smoke and drink to excess, take drugs and hide from our lives – safe in the knowledge that we weren’t doing anything wrong because we were all doing it, and reinforcing the same behaviour in each other.

I was reminded painfully of the death of my friend years ago, which was probably related.

I saw a lot today, and the paradox is it made me want to drink, so I’m eating peas. Lovely ****ing peas. They’re nice – but they DON’T hit the spot.

It’s because I’m angry. I’m angry and I don’t want to feel like this. I want to pick up my ****ing peas and throw them at the wall.

But I don’t – because its stupid, and its pointless, and it will only hurt more in the long run if I don’t learn to deal with these moments. The pain will never go away unless I face it head on.

This doesn’t come naturally. It feels alien.

So – I’m going to spend the rest of the day tidying, in the hope my anger subsides. I’m going to bring order to my house and make it look nice so I can relax and try some of the damn stupid breathing exercises they showed us where I think of balloons expanding and contracting in my tummy.

Hopefully by then I will have stopped wanting to smash everything around me and get obliterated.

These peas are nice though. Glad I didn’t throw them at the wall.

Davey

One to Twenty

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‘How do you feel on a scale of one to twenty?’ I was asked this morning in my D&A clinic interview.

‘Zero is suicidal, 20 is deliriously happy’ my Welsh case worker prompted, wobbling her biro back and forth between her fingers.

She was wearing a chunky scarf and her pen was missing its lid. I couldn’t see one anywhere on her desk.

Initially I couldn’t answer the question. My mind instead had focused on the provided scale. Twenty was a range I’d not previously come across. Obviously one to five was insufficient to describe the highs and lows someone might experience when dealing with a dependency. One to ten clearly didn’t provide the granularity needed either and I’m betting one to fifteen wasn’t even in the running.

No-one likes an odd number.

So what was I? Well I definitely wasn’t suicidal, and thanks to an epic amount of good quality sleep last night (12 hours!) I was in a fairly good mood – but I still wasn’t DELERIOUSLY happy…

I was pretty sure however that I was above the midpoint, but how far? Five? Less? More? Seven?

Too much thinking. Go with room for improvement, but not self-pitying.

‘Fifteen’ I said, tempted to follow it with ‘final answer. I don’t want to phone a friend or take 50/50’.

She ticked the box and moved to the next question.

Where was the lid of her pen? I couldn’t see it in her hand.

‘How about family and friends support? One to twenty. One being no support at all and twenty being full support from everyone.’

I don’t feel unloved by friends and family and I’m pretty sure that anyone I consider a close friend would drop anything to help me if I needed it. But Twenty? That would just be grandstanding. I couldn’t say twenty without a backflip dismount from the chair and full marks from all of the watching Olympic judges.

‘Eighteen’ I said. ‘Twenty is too much – nothing in life is perfect.’

The reality is though that I do honestly feel like I have a 20 on my hands. My immediate family would probably walk blindfolded backwards into fire for me, and I them. My friends are the same. As much as I’m sure they know I’d be there for them in a heartbeat I’ve never felt that they would do anything less for me.

This thought was actually a highpoint of my interview, and the realisation that I had something where I scored full marks was very encouraging. I may be cash poor but I’m definitely relationship rich.

It’s this kind of re-framed perspective, often found when I least expect it, that has turned some low periods in the last few weeks into moments of inspiration.

Re-framed perspective however wasn’t done with me yet.

I left the meeting and was ushered into the waiting room with some informative leaflets and a tentative booking on a four week ‘Self Build’ program. My case worker went to check her event diary to schedule our next meeting.

Seated in the waiting room was a lady, or a man. I couldn’t tell which due to a big woolly hat and all-encompassing baggy clothing (I’m going with woman). She was sitting with her legs crossed and one foot on the coffee table in front.

Unlike me she was extremely thin, and her legs were wrapped around each other like coiled wire. She was fidgeting and rapidly tapping the table with her other, free swinging foot.

‘For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake…For f&&ks sake…’ she said, in time with the taps.

I intently studied my leaflet, not willing to make eye contact.

A couple sat down opposite her, the man much older than the woman he was with, who was concentrating intently on her iPhone.

‘For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake… For f&&ks sake…’ the thin lady continued.

‘It’ll be ok,’ the man said to the tapping lady, clearly understanding she was in need of something, or maybe having met her before. They’ll see you in a minute. They’re pretty quick’

‘F&&kin ‘ell… F&&kin ‘ell… F&&kin ‘ell…’ she said, now more agitated, with the leg tapping faster, and then quickly got up to look through the toughened glass window of the reception before swiftly sitting back down.

‘I’m not waitin for him. I’m F&&kin waitin for someone else.’ she said to no-one in particular.

She continued to fidget and looked expectantly at the locked door leading to the staff area.

The older man was then called into his meeting and as he walked away said to his young companion ‘Don’t go. Wait here. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave.’

The self locking door to the interview rooms closed behind him, leaving the three of us together. The young woman looked up from her iPhone and said out loud to nobody in particular. ‘Where am I going to go? I don’t have anywhere to go. I’ve got nothing.’

She looked forward for a moment in silence, with no response from the room, then returned to her phone as the other lady began to tap nervously again, this time quietly.

My case worker returned to the now silent surroundings, and handed me her card. I told her I’d get back to her about my enrolment on the program that we had discussed after I’d run it by my manager at work. I shook her hand cordially and smiled before leaving, noting her pen still had no lid.

I surmised that this was just how she rolled. Lidless.

It was raining when I opened the reception door. As I quickened my pace to the car I noticed an open can of beer placed delicately up against the wall. Presumably it was waiting for the return of its owner so that it could continue to soothe them and block out whatever they were running from.

I unlocked my car, got inside and sat for a moment watching the rain hammer down on the windscreen.

I have a fifteen AND an eighteen (secretly a twenty). I’m pretty sure the strong lager’s owner would rate themselves lower. I have no idea what the lady with the iPhone would pick, but I am guessing it wouldn’t be high.

The environment I’m making myself visit is uncomfortable to be in and if I’m honest a little worrying, but necessary. It’s also a stark reminder of what really happens if you lose family, lose friends, lose sight of who you are, and loose hope.

Twenty is a pretty wonderful number.

I like it a lot.

Davey