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. 

Self Destruction

Yesterday I wrote about an experience that I had some ten years ago that changed my life. There is, however, something I would like to clarify from that post before going on to write about how I managed to find myself in that situation in the first place.

I don’t believe that I was ever ‘clinically depressed’. I was just in a very very dark place. Depression is an illness and in my analysis of my own situation this doesn’t apply to me as I was someone who was suffering from an addiction and in a very very negative state of mind. There are people out there who have been through, and are going through, things that are so much worse than I ever did and, without belittling my own experience, I am somewhat ashamed to think of how I felt and reacted to a situation that was completely and utterly of my own creation. 
I don’t know how to categorise what I was going through. I never sought out a counsellor, I never truly confided my dark feelings to a friend and when I did open up to my girlfriend of 3 years about it, about the twisted nightmare that was going on in my head and how I had progressed to waking up nearly every morning in tears, literally waking up crying, she told me she couldn’t handle it and that I should leave. I had a bad habit of hurting myself as the pressure built up too much, a broken hand and foot from punching and kicking inanimate objects that were much stronger than me is evidence of that. That’s what it was, I’m not a psychologist, you can put your own label on it – personally I don’t like labels. The only constructive thing I did in that period was write.
Right, that quantified and out of the way I can continue on with how I got into that state. To paint you a picture, I was employed in a professional workplace in a position that held responsibility but that I could manage easily. Following an operation I had recently moved back into my family home with my loving parents, was continuing to play sport at quite a high level and studying relatively heavy material by correspondence. I had a circle of friends (some good, some bad) and to anyone looking at me from the outside, things were going pretty damn well and writing this only makes me feel all the more pathetic for the situation I let myself fall into..

Anyway, deep breath, moving right along. I started smoking weed as a cheap alternative to alcohol when I first moved out of home. At first, I didn’t smoke a lot and only with friends. After a couple of ‘sessions’ I discovered that I liked it. It killed the boredom. Everything in my life was pretty much perfect; I was supporting myself financially, balancing work, study and friends, living with the girl I loved, decent car, great future prospects and perhaps in retrospect this was the catalyst to my crash and in some twisted psychological turn, I wanted to sabotage it all, I don’t know. All I know is that I fell in love with being stoned. I loved the way it made me think, I loved the way it made me analyse what was going on, I felt as though I could turn myself off and just think. I could slow the world down. It was like I had found a new friend inside my head and I really liked him.

Needless to say, I started smoking more and more. As my tolerance grew, I found I could be smashed in public places and people couldn’t notice the difference. For anyone concerned about how many drugs they are taking, this is not a good stage to reach. It means that you have no reason not to take the drug all day everyday which is the path I took. Slowly, my mental state went from being stoned one or two evenings a week to getting stoned everyday, then to practically every moment of every day. It became the norm and I felt strange whenever I was straight. I would smoke as soon as I woke up, at lunchtime and then all evening until I went to bed.

Everything slowly started going downhill. The problem was that it took some time for this to happen and it happened subtly. I had deluded myself that I could carry on the life I had before without any negative effects. I started failing my course. I stagnated at work, just doing my job instead of excelling at it, and told the wrong person at work I could get weed for them who then told my boss (luckily he was very good about it), my performances on the sporting field went through a period of bad form to barely being able to play at all, my girlfriend left me, I basically cut out any meaningful contact with my parents because I never wanted to interact with them whilst I was stoned, which was all the time. My friends were good but 90% of them didn’t live in the same town any more. Side note, friends who stick by you through thick and thin are real friends, treasure them and never take them for granted.

As everything I had built started to crumble around me and the excuses I gave myself for my behaviour started to lose any credibility, I decided that I wanted out. I knew it was weed which was causing these problems and I knew that to change everything I had to stop smoking it. I decided I would stop, tomorrow. Or the next day. Eventually I got around to actually trying. I would go one or two days without but then sober up to reality without pot. I couldn’t handle the cravings. I started again. I tried a million different things, cutting back, not smoking during the morning or not at lunch. But I hated it. I hated the feeling of being straight, it was almost as though life was easier for me stoned. I tried to quit weed for more than a year, each time failing miserably, and I continued to watch my life fall apart. I thought to myself that I had nothing worth sobering up for any more. The person who had thought he could do anything if he actually applied himself to it was gone, replaced by someone who had just joined the ‘real world’ and hated everything he had found it to be – more on that in later posts.

Once when I got really close to quitting, I remember forcing myself to smoke. A battle raged in my head with one voice challenging me to smoke, telling me everything I loved about it and the other telling me what a fucking idiot I was. Apologies for the language but in truth what I used to tell myself was a continuous tirade of abuse which was far worse than what I just wrote. I remember just staring at a packed weed pipe for half an hour whilst the good and evil of my mind battled it out. Eventually I would crack and binge then burst into tears at my own weak-minded failure. How fucking hard could it be. “Quitting is easy…” I used to tell myself,”… just stop doing it!”. Yeah, good one.

I carried this frustration around with me. I felt defeated by no one other than myself. When your own mind beats you after giving it everything you’ve got, after making meticulous and inspired changes, after reading and re-reading inspirational things you’ve written to yourself and repeating mantras to try to get the determination required and you continue to fail, it adds up. My best friend who stuck by me through all this didn’t touch weed and as wonderful as he was, he just couldn’t understand. I couldn’t tell my parents as it would have hurt them too much to know their son was an addict, I couldn’t seek professional help because they would send me to a clinic and then everyone would know I had a problem. To some extent I think I never told anyone because I felt that to do so would mean I would have to quit on their terms and not my own. In retrospect the person who thought he could do anything wasn’t ready to ‘give up’, which was stupid and stubborn. Pride has a good and bad side as there is nothing wrong with asking for help. I’d tell anyone in my situation to find someone who knows what’s it’s like and to work through it.

Chess piece - Black king, Staunton design

I’ll conclude by using a chess analogy. For three to four years I’d been playing a losing chess game and I’d lost all my pieces one by one until my king was the only piece remaining on my side of the board. I spent a long time just moving him helplessly and pointlessly from square to square, waiting for the inevitable. Part one of this story is the day my king was taken. The day my world was to come crashing down. Looking back on it now, it seems like a dream. To some extent it was, because I awoke from that dream and realised that none of what was holding me back was real. As I continued to think about it in the ensuing days, months, and years, I realised I could take my chess analogy further, the situation in which I’d found myself was just one of many games that would form part of my life. I now know that I can start another game whenever I want, however  I want. Whether I want to quit drugs, change a job, move to a different country, whatever. Conceding your king in a single game isn’t the same as dying, it is simply the end of a sequence of moves in a game that lasts as long as you want or allow it to.

That’s it. That’s how I got in that state and I apologise for not being a better writer to make that more concise. The next post is going to be positive. The other side describing what I did to pick up all my chess pieces, patiently put them back on the board and then summon the courage to invite life to another game.

A Life Changing Moment

In my very late teens and very early twenties I found myself having gradually fallen into a very deStop Signpressive mindset. My reflective diagnosis of this state was that it had been caused by my inability to stop smoking marijuana in copious quantities and to stop throwing my life away. A life which had been happy and successful a mere 12-24 months before. On a completely random day, this period of my life came to a climax with a split second decision I made. It was a dare that had arisen from my subconscious. Drive through that stop sign. There was no way to see if cars were approaching from either direction. My inner voice started challenging me, encouraging me to put my life in the hands of fate, to relinquish control, to accept my own mortality. I did it. Fifty metres from the intersection I put my foot down and drove straight through it.

Ten years on and not only do I consider that single action to be far and away the most shameful and selfish thing I have ever done, but I feel horrified whenever I think about the potential danger into which I placed the innocent driver and occupants of the other car. As it turned out there was not a single car coming from either direction. For that I am eternally grateful.

After stopping the car immediately afterwards and going through the guilty aspects of what it would have done to my family, friends and the other people involved, I turned to reflect on exactly what on earth this meant for me. I had survived. I could just as easily have been dead. If I were dead this wouldn’t be happening right now. I continued to go forward in time. I wouldn’t eat dinner this evening, I would never again see the people I knew who loved me, I would never do all the things that I had wanted to do. It was then that I actually started to make some progress.

I thought about all the things I would have never experienced that I wanted to. I wanted to travel overseas. I wanted to fall in love. I wanted to have a family. All of a sudden I wanted to do everything from trying new foods to skydiving. I had freed myself. For a brief moment I no longer felt the despair of thinking how I was going to make all of this happen, I just concentrated on the fact that now I could. The ties of my normal day to day life could be severed, because if I had died at that moment, none of that would have happened anyway. Life would have gone on without me. I finally understood what it meant to be alive. I saw past the imaginary boundaries we allow society to place around us. I finally understood that I could do whatever the hell I wanted to with my life and that there is no right or wrong way to live.

I gave up smoking marijuana shortly afterwards. I have never blamed the drug, only ever myself. I have also never forgotten that moment and resolved that I was going to live a life that was worth living. Over the next 12 months I pulled myself out of it. I replaced getting high with getting fit. I set small manageable goals and worked towards them. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was hell, nightmares, hiding my withdrawal symptoms from my parents who were ignorant of drugs and had no idea how dark my world had become, cravings that led me to collapsing in the garage after punching boxing bags until I literally didn’t have the strength to stand. But I did it. I got through it. One day at a time. I did it alone and of that I am damn proud.

That single event changed my life. It changed the way I thought and how I live my life. What is most odd is that is was through smoking marijuana that I began to see myself from a third person perspective. To paraphrase Bob Marley, marijuana had introduced me to myself. It was then that I saw the vanity, the arrogance, the ignorance, and the uselessness of how I was leading my previous ‘happy and successful’ life. Initially it depressed me, but through that I have created a mind full of thought, a mind that craves the stimulus of education, a soul that craves culture and language, a heart that whilst scarred has the ability to love with all of itself.

I started to live my life with my new philosophy, my new outlook and over the past ten years I have been trying to refine it ever closer to my own personal meaning of life. I don’t imagine I’ll ever finish this work, but it’s a work in progress and it’s truly one where the journey will be better than the destination. This blog is a collection of the thoughts that were born from this moment and how I’ve tried to apply them to my life in order to continue my self appointed purpose of being the best human being I can be and the never ending, challenging choices that life places in my way. It is not easy being moral and good in this world, but isn’t that challenge part of what it’s all about?

First Thoughts

First and foremost thank you for coming to my page.

The posts on here will simply be thoughts that have consumed me recently and that, hopefully, you will enjoy reading and get something out of. Whether you agree or disagree I would love to hear your comments and will endeavour to reply as soon as possible.

Please know that I do not consider myself to be politically aligned to the left or right, to be affiliated to any religion or to be anything except neutral in all aspects of life. I am what I am, I think what I think and I try to be as impartial as I can.

I do not believe I am the final authority of anything and love hearing other peoples thoughts, whether you think I’m an idiot, a genius or whatever else can come between. It can only ever help me to broaden my own views by knowing yours.

With that, happy reading and thank you once again.