I’ve needed to jettison plenty more useless baggage since given up alcohol in 2006. I like to think of my life as a journey, and that getting rid of any bullshit just lightens my load. I’ve changed so much in the last few years – my beliefs have been given a radical overhaul, and I’ve developed a far simpler relationship with the universe. Despite all these changes, there are four pillars of my sober life that have remained constant including:
There is now a whole industry based around mindfulness training, but this is an incredibly simple ability that almost all humans will have already engaged in at one time or the other. Mindfulness occurs naturally when we are fully engaged in a task – it can also be trigged by something as simple as a sunset. There is nothing mysterious about it. All mindfulness means is being fully present in the moment without the usual mental chatter spoiling everything.
The reason it took me so long to fall free of addiction was that I trusted my thoughts. I’d no problem dismissing the nonsense in other people’s heads, but I didn’t apply the same skepticism to my own bullshit. I mistakenly believed I was my thoughts, so it seemed ridiculous to question them.
Mindfulness allowed me see how most of my internal chatter would often be like the ramblings of a demented imbecile, and it would be incredibly dangerous to just automatically believe everything said.
Being mindful meant that I could see through the thinking that supported my alcoholism. The big monster that had terrorized me for years turned out to be a figment of my imagination. Cravings were just like clouds passing through my brain, and they only became a problem when I latched onto them.
It took further pain after I broke free of alcohol, but it soon became obvious that all my worries were just figments of my imagination too – it was all just shit my brain likes to say.
I used to hate myself for being so self-obsessed, and it is only in the last year that I’ve come to understand that the hating myself and self-obsession are related. I’d always assumed my self-obsession was a type of narcissism, even though I could sometimes barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. It turns out my obsession with ‘me, me, me’ had nothing to do with self-love, I hated myself so much that I could barely give myself a moments peace.
If I’d treated other people as badly as I’ve treated myself, I’d be dead now or in jail. All of that constant criticism and belittling meant that I was my own worst enemy. I saw this inner-voice as a coach who wanted me to do better in life, but in reality it acted like a vicious bully who was only happy when I was suffering. I needed to shut that asshole up, and the way I did this was by developing self-compassion.
I’ve been using loving-kindness meditation as a tool for developing self-compassion, and the results have been spectacular. The most amazing thing is that by showing myself some compassion, I’ve become far less self-absorbed. I really care about other people now, and I’m less afraid about opening my heart.
Getting sober is always going to involve a leap of faith. It is a step into the unknown, and there are no guarantees. There have been so many times in this new life when it seemed certain that I was heading towards disaster, and it is only my trust in the universe that has kept me together.
I’m not claiming the universe is just waiting to shower me with goodies, but I have strong faith that the tide always comes back. If I keep pushing through the bad stuff, I’ll eventually find myself back in the light. I’ve seen this happen so many times now that this trust is well-earned.
I spent a brief period of my life homeless and begging on the streets of London. I’d had a bit of a breakdown due my alcohol-enthusiasm, and I lost everything. Despite my lowly state, I still felt able to look down upon everyone else. I used arrogance to protect my ego for years, and it kept me trapped in a world of bullshit suffering.
I needed to become humbled enough so I see through all the lies I’d been telling myself. I’ve needed to remain vigilant because as soon as I latch onto any beliefs or opinions as facts, I begin to return to that ego-governed world of suffering. I’ve developed the humility to live with uncertainty because thinking I have all the answers is way too painful.