Following my fall from grace I knew the time had come to pick myself up. Stubborn as ever I wasn’t about to allow anyone else to help me so I set about doing it myself. I decided the only way was to get rid of everything and quit cold turkey. That night I binged, finishing everything I had. I woke up cloudy and wanting more, but it wasn’t there. I was angry, angry at myself for finishing everything, for there being nothing left. I was angry at myself all day until mid afternoon, the time I would usually make phone calls to arrange my supply when I was down to rationing. I was no longer angry, I felt temptation, but I didn’t succumb. I was determined to get through that first day. When I got home from work I went to the pub and got drunk – but I didn’t use. This pattern continued for several days, I had gone from using all day everyday to not touching it at all.
Despite drinking I had difficulty sleeping and when I did I’d have vivid nightmares, during my waking hours my mood would fluctuate and my personality didn’t know how to act. I couldn’t think, my mind was in this kind of wasteland where it couldn’t concentrate on anything, it was chaotic, simply a scattered mess. The voice inside my head was constantly saying “this will all go away if you just give in”. Before the week was out I was physically and mentally exhausted. I couldn’t continue acting out the pretence of my ‘normal’ life whilst internally dealing with the withdrawal symptoms. I realised I needed help.
I had to let it out and there was only one person I could really talk to. A person that I loved with all my heart and with whom I had been living just 3 months earlier, before having to move out for ‘non relationship’ reasons. I confessed everything, admitting to lying about how bad things really were despite my promises to the contrary, I turned my soul inside out and wept, asking her for forgiveness and asking for her help. I told her I needed her, that with her I would have the strength to get through this, that things would go back to normal. After I had said everything I needed to say, she told me to leave.
She said she couldn’t handle me any more and that she wanted out, that I had to find someone else. She said it quietly, passively, perhaps guiltily. Something resembling relief crept across her face and vanished as she put her head down. It felt as though a bullet had just passed painlessly through my temples, the emotion drained out out of me I felt absolutely nothing, simply aware I was still sitting there on the edge of her bed. There was nothing left to say. I stood up and left. That was the last time I saw her for over a year.
Getting in my car and driving away I rang my father and told him my relationship was over and that I wouldn’t be home for dinner. Telling someone made it real, I pulled over and broke down into tears. Not a straw but a falling piano had broken my will and I was high within an hour. I was to find out a week later that literally hours before I had gone to see her, another man had also left the house. To tie off this loose end, she got together with him, moved cities and then he cheated on her six months later. I’m not a vindictive person but I do have to try in order not to smile.
Despite my relapse and subsequent several month long set back the thought that I had to move on with my life remained. If anything it made it stronger. I looked at the list I had made of the things I wanted to do. ‘Travel Europe’ stood out in blazing lights. My mind was made up, I would do as many before me had done with varying levels of success and just run away. And why not, leaving everything behind while your sorting yourself out makes a lot of sense. It may not take the emotion away but you don’t have to live in the setting of your nightmare either.
With this goal in mind I started planning. I didn’t have a lot of money but I could play sport. Just three years earlier I had been touted by local media as the next big thing before I’d become just another player with potential who had lost his way. Sport was my ticket out of there. I decided to try to get a contract overseas, I knew local clubs paid amateur sportsmen to play for them and this became my way out.
Living a pipe dream of being a fully fledged professional in five years time, I slowly but surely stopped smoking over the next few months. I didn’t care how the cravings made me feel, I wasn’t giving up. It’s a mind set and one that anyone trying to kick any addiction needs. If you don’t seriously want to do it, you won’t. I made conscious, deliberate changes and started using my time productively, I knew I would never succeed if let myself sit around thinking. I set up ‘things to do’ when it got too much, I looked at pictures of where I wanted to go, I read autobiographies of successful people, I wrote poetry and letters to myself, I set up a punching bag in the garage.
The most effective thing I did, however, was to start swimming. I’d go everyday after work would would even stay an extra hour in the office to get to the pool at a quieter time. It worked for me, I was actually being active in the office and I was happy to eat later than usual as it took time away from the evening before going to bed. In the past I’d had problems sleeping without my little habit but the physical tiredness of swimming helped. I pushed myself to the limit constantly in the same way I’d pushed myself to get ‘higher’.
After I’d been going for a while and had worked out my favourite stroke and my own personal rhythm, I found myself able to swim more than just a few lengths without having to stop and gasp for breath. I found that I liked swimming lengths in a quiet pool with a lane to myself. I liked the peacefulness of having my head under water, the sense of weightlessness and the smooth, continuous mechanical motion it required. Most of all though, I liked the fact that the voice in my head had started encouraging me again. Speaking to me in a positive way that I hadn’t heard for a very long time. “Come on, one more length… just one more”. Some nights, as I started feeling physically stronger, I found myself saying “just one more” ten times before I finally stopped. I wanted to swim further, I wanted to swim for longer. I wanted the feeling of my muscles aching but still having the reserve energy to keep going. To feel the lactic acid building slowly, not rushing in. The feeling of having fit strong muscles. I have never had a robust build and I’ve never had “big muscles” but I did gain a lot of strength and I was getting back in shape.
Some time later I plateaued, reaching a stage where I could no longer improve in huge leaps and bounds. I knew there was more I could do. I quit smoking cigarettes and in a matter of months I got from not being able to swim more than a few lengths without stopping to swimming 1,500m non-stop every evening. I lapsed with the cigarettes a couple of times but it amazed me how just smoking one during the afternoon would mean I couldn’t swim my usual 1,500m and would have to do it in either 2x750m or 3x500m bursts. It upset me and I was deludingly positive at this point, determined that nothing was going to upset me. The only way to solve it was to not smoke cigarettes when I was swimming and that was everyday. Problem solved. I discovered that in order to quit I had to want the replacement more than I wanted what I was trying to give up. Another big point is that I did go into this weird mindset – nothing was going to bother me. I wasn’t going to get upset. I took myself away from the news, I didn’t read the papers, I didn’t get into arguments, I helped out around the house, I was overly nice to people, I made myself smile in the mirror – I knew this was working when one day I did this and realised how completely and utterly stupid I looked and burst out laughing. I think it was quite possibly the first time I’d ever truly and honestly laughed at myself.
Everything was going well but after about 6 months my enthusiasm waned. The extreme transformation had made me feel so much better physically but mentally I still wanted to get high. I started thinking to myself that I’ve come so far, just one night won’t hurt. Once again my mind turned on me but I was sick of it. I looked at it as a test, a trick to see how dumb I could be, a ploy to determine how far I’d really come and to give me a reality check that I still hadn’t ‘quit’ anything. I fought the feeling and it got hard again. Then, one day I found out that one of the partners at work, the one I passionately despised, swam 3,000m a day. Well, that was it. It took me two weeks to build up the courage to take it on. I’d never swum more than 2,000m but one random night at about 1,990m I said “this is it… I know you’re tired but just keep going… just do one more”. I swam 3,100m that night without stopping in front of two of my friends who very occasionally came with me and were sitting in the stands having long since got out of the pool.
This was a major turning point in my recovery. There was something else though too that must be mentioned, a someone who gave me a lot a strength. After a year of being single, I had found someone I liked. A girl who was nothing but positive and used to tell me how much she admired me for what I was doing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I opened myself up again to a ‘relationship’ when I knew I was leaving – she knew too by the way- I just wanted to be back in the game and hadn’t expected to find someone I truly liked. I wasn’t ready for love again and turned down any possibility of it continuing ‘long distance’. We are no longer in touch and I am sorry she was so hurt when I left to go to England but I will always be thankful to her for everything she did for me.
She had become a part of my life but I was still only focused on one goal: my sport. I was back and now I had a dream to chase. I said goodbye to all I knew, packed my bags and waved goodbye to my family at the airport. It was going to be a year long trip and had taken me 18 months to get ready. As I was on the plane and taking some time to allow the moment and everything leading up to it to sink in, I realised that I had done it. I had turned it all around. By no means was I ‘cured’, but I was positive, life was looking good again and I’ve never found myself in a place that dark since.
End of Part 1.
The next posts are going to be what happened afterwards. A lot of things happened in the following years. My whole philosophy on life has changed and this little three part story was just the beginning of it. I’ll be getting much more thoughtful going forward. Hopefully you’ll keep reading.