If you have decided to pick up this document, read it online or even downloaded it onto your computer then thanks. Some people are put off when they see certain topics or lots of words splurged on a page. If you live in Scotland then the contents of this article may be of interest to you. My name is Darren and I am a 29 year old alcoholic in early recovery.
I’ve always had an interest in current affairs but my life has always been far too chaotic to engage for any meaningful period of time. It won’t be long, touch wood, that I will be one whole year away from a drink and even though every day has to be taken on its own merits I must say I do spend some of my time day dreaming about what that day will feel like. It would mark my decision to finally deal with my problem and accept I had to have a wholesale shift in my thinking. Not only that; it would prove that anything is possible.
What this society expects of me economically has taken a bit of a back seat in my life recently. In a country where profit is the hall mark of worth this causes me some deep shame. Not to say I have ever been one of Scotland’s most productive people, far from it. For the sake of my life I have had to address an issue that I’d been putting off for quite some time. The manner in which I was living had stopped working and the signs were everywhere. Coming to the decision to fundamentally alter every aspect of my existence was painful. It would spell a disorientating upheaval in which my entire identity would be called into question. Self doubt would precede every thought and fear would come before any action. Now, having summoned the strength to face the truth, my primary goal is not about creating wealth nor is it about comfort , security or familiarity. I have spent more than a decade of my life actively avoiding the facts of life and despite some memorable times the vast majority of this escapade could be characterised in two words: Absolute Hell. For trying to duck the truth I have paid a heavy price.
I often muse about alcoholism. At this point there is little choice for me as an amateur writer. The idea of having one drink and going home like a normal person preoccupies my conscious mind whether I’m awake or dead to the world and when I’m not pondering one drink I’m quite often dreaming of oblivion. I am truly obsessed. Sometimes it feels like a terribly feeble way to live. The dream of sobriety took its time to distil but after closer scrutiny began to make more and more sense. I had tried valiantly to stop drinking a couple of times over the past few years and eventually relapsed, each bout both decreasing in duration but packing a more damaging punch. Luckily one day on a still morning in January 2013, debating whether it was time for my second bottle of Buckfast, I turned down the music for the first time in months and listened to my conscience. Amazingly, at that moment my fear was taken from me leaving only the physical excruciation to deal with and this lightened the load let me tell you! I didn’t know if I could sober up nor did this lack of foresight influence my decision. It was about the principle that I should aspire to live well no matter what and try and use my stability, in time, as a means of contributing to the lives of others, in particular the lives of those I had come to depend on throughout my chaotic life.
To ‘live well’ is a common aspiration although it has become increasingly subjective in recent times because of the phenomenon of the material world. For me the most accurate barometer for measuring the quality of your life is how honest you are with yourself, or at least how honest you try to be, to the extent that it is in your control. To live well implies material comfort and convenient access to plentiful resources but, there is a deeper level to your well being also that is about facing life’s challenges with integrity and hope and dealing with the dark days in a faithful and upright manner. Happiness becomes redefined as acceptance as opposed to comfort. You begin to comprehend life at a visceral level and accept that pain cannot be avoided. Life begins to feel more real. The hole in your soul fills over time. You are now living in the real world.
Shit I’ve done it again haven’t I? My intention to write about Scottish independence has been insidiously hijacked by my obsession with drinking or not drinking. Will I won’t I? Yes or No? Perhaps in this context it could actually be quite fitting, because the fact is I cannot meaningfully address the issue of Scotland becoming an independent country without first discussing my own addiction.
The first step in dealing with an addiction is to accept your life is no longer manageable and hasn’t been manageable for quite some time. Essentially, you must admit to your inner most self that your entire life now revolves around a lie. The lie that somehow you will be able to control and enjoy your vice. This lie comes in many forms and from many angles. It is a pervasive thing and until you bring it to the surface and see it for what it is. It will get you over a barrel every time. The lie is wittier than you are and also extremely patient. It will wait for its moment for weeks or even years and when it strikes you may find yourself completely at its mercy. The smartest thing about this lie is how it plays the role of an old friend.
This old friend plays rescuer to your perceived ills all the while undermining you and everything you do in a cunning and underhand way. Any attempt to assert yourself over it is met with aggression and smoke screens in order to once again incapacitate you and prevent you from standing on your own two feet. It will entice you with false ideas about status and prestige. In hard times it will claim to have bailed you out of a hot spot despite its implicit hand in your descent into difficulty. The world can feel an awfully lonely and dangerous place sometimes and you get by with a little help from your old friend, regardless of the cost or the other friends you may lose along the way. Only once you see through this cunning façade do you stand any real chance of breaking away from its damaging influence. Until you do, it will commit all kinds of atrocities in your name and leave you holding the bag every time.
Once the lie has been exposed you have a real fight on your hands. Your new perspective has to be maintained daily by your ongoing pursuit of the truth. The lie doesn’t like the light you see and it will quickly change form as soon as your back is turned. The battle now moves into another dangerous realm. You, as a person, have always defined yourself in relation to your addiction and the struggles you went through. Without this entity at the very centre of your life, a puzzling question begins to emerge: Who are you?
Be aware that the lie is waiting around every corner. Once it senses the doubt it takes on a new form and appeals to whichever fear it sees as giving it more sway in your thinking. I often found myself at the mercy of anxiety about taking responsibility for my own future. So many times I attempted to re-negotiate terms with my drinking just so that I could rely on it when I needed it. Each and every time I would once again become a slave to my master and wake up filled with regret that I’d bottled it – again! I’d analyse the situation, or at least think I was, and try a new approach, like changing who I drank with, changing the drink, only drinking at weekends etc. Negotiations were a tokenistic exercise in futility. My addiction could never view me on equal terms and so I always found myself being subtly dictated to. It would make the odd concession here or there to appease me, luring me into a false sense of security, but never attempted to address my most fundamental concerns. It’s only goal was to dominate me. Simple.
Every time I turned to it for help I ended up in more of a mess. Before I knew it I was selling my stuff off to pay the mounting debts incurred from binges. Cutting back on things I really needed to maintain a steady liquid diet. The people I was claiming to be responsible for were rarely given a second thought as my loyalty to them took second place to the necessity to service the costs of my addiction. It was always a demoralising experience. I recall one particular morning where I found myself sitting on a toilet shaking, attempting to move my bowels, whilst at the same time taking alcohol into my system. Thinking about that even now fills me with sadness. I simply could not see a way out of it. I was completely powerless and using against my own will first thing in the morning despite the fact my body was physically rejecting the chemicals it also craved. Moments like these are required to make you desperate enough to change. Every single incident of immoral behaviour replays in your mind with such cringe-worthy clarity that sometimes the only thing for it seems to be another drink. Suffering becomes a daily occurrence until you’ve finally had enough and you cry out to the sky for some strength to see you through the delirium.
So you’ve made considerable progress. You have admitted there is a problem and started unpacking it, giving you a tiny vantage point on this terrible lie that’s out to get you. You’ve gotten past the first hurdle and now you are beginning to arm yourself with facts to inform your next move. The problem is the facts don’t read very well. The facts state that there are no guarantees and this alarms you because you are accustomed to a false, albeit appealing, sense of impunity where your responsibility is concerned. Drink has been dealing with a lot of life on your behalf. Now you need to step up to the plate but what’s the point in going to all that trouble only to end up in a worse scenario? This represents a cross roads. Up until this point you have been trying to think your way out of addiction. The difficulty here is that all evidence points to a subtle insanity pervading your whole thought process. Its like trying to put out a building that’s on fire and deciding to work your way up from the bottom floor. Your thinking is whacked and has been proven faulty Now you must take action. Its during this time you seek advice from others who have experienced you dilemma and traversed it with success. They will suggest that you take certain steps. Thinking does not change behaviour, action does.
Your old friend, the lie, knocks on your door. It only wants a moment of your time. It hands you a piece of paper. Written on it are decades of relapse statistics. It asks you to think seriously about going your own way because the odds are you will fail. How do you respond?
If I had allowed statistical data to inform my decision to get sober then I would probably be dead. So many times I went back out on the lash because I had no faith in myself to recover from my malady. My addiction always presented a very strong case for me to continue drinking and using. My choices were only ever viewed through the prism of the addiction thus eliminating all other viable possibilities from my perspective. I’d debate with myself over the pros and cons in such a narrow fashion that resolution was nigh impossible. The vice controlled the parameters of my free thought leaving me panicked at my limited and risky options.
In order to move forward I had to develop a faith that I could get well. Faith in essence, is nothing more than belief in action. You have the thought, you believe in making a change, you take the action and when you see a result your faith is emboldened. It’s not rocket science. All decisions are based on faith whether it be faith in a God or simply just a faith in patterns. You make a choice because you believe in a certain outcome. The outcome itself is a bi-product of the faith you placed in it. If things don’t go according to plan you live by your convictions and address the problem further. The addiction will try to thwart you at every turn. Without you as a host it has no meaningful purpose. The data concerning addiction recovery hardly filled me with optimism. My own family history was enough to accept my inevitable slow, undignified demise. Listing the sheer carnage addiction has wrought on my genetic ancestry is simply too morbid an undertaking. With all due respect, to people like me, Irvine Welsh is a flowery, tabloid cartoonist.
I made the decision to try and sober up because I had become aware of a truth I could not hide from any more and this thrust upon me a monumental decision. The staus quo was a comfortable illusion. In order to participate in it I had to turn a blind eye to my own moral disintegration. I had become an aggressive, secretive, hypocritical bully backed up by nothing more than some dutch courage from a bottle. It was only a matter of time before someone called my bluff. How long could I go on casting up past victories or flaunting my perceived force before the cracks began to appear? I became a back seat driver on the road to ruin. A community that once held me in high regard now viewed me as nuisance. Not long until they responded to my taunts with some action of their own. And when they did I cast them in the role of the villain so that I could sleep a little easier at night. In hindsight my justifications were utterly ridiculous but my addiction was always there to spur me on. Who was I kidding though? It was all a fabrication taking place in my mind.
Holding my nerve became the next challenge. Up until now I had relied on a stiff drink to quiet my mind. All of my meaningful relationships were now fractured through years of false promises and various forms of abuse. I woke up sober to find my loving partner had left me and by now she had taken comfort in the arms of another lover. How was I going to cope with this? Here comes the lie. This time it masquerades as a confidante. ”You have hit a major hurdle so early on that it seems sensible to abandon ship and revert to your old ways. How dare she? This is proof that you were right to suspect her of foul play. Her claims that she was forced to leave you because of your drinking are completely baseless. She acted out of self interest and presented you with a lie. Your drinking wasn’t the problem it was her emotional infidelity – you got drunk to ease the pain of her growing distant from you and closer to him!”
Nice try. I’m not buying it. Life is full of missteps and hurdles. I can’t concern myself so much with the actions of others. My prime focus is my own behaviour. It is almost certain that had I not been drunk, her eyes would never have wondered. This girl had literally already been to hell and back with me twice and so it is no great surprise that she didn’t fancy a third trip into the dark, chaotic recesses of alcoholism. I am hurt. In fact I am heartbroken. But I do not blame her. I love her. I refuse to lift a drink.” The old friend tries a different tact that has often been successful in the past. The ‘poor me’ approach. ”Ok, well how about the fact you wrecked the relationship? Doesn’t that make you sad? Think of the confusion she was in because of your drinking? You drove her to leave because you promised you’d stop and you didn’t. This is all your fault. You are a terrible person and she has run off with another man because she dreads and loathes the very core of you in equal measure. But I can make you feel better!” No chance. Not today. I see what you are trying to do and I’m not going to fall for it. What if she comes home and realises she has made a mistake?Our relationship has never existed outwith the context of me trying to stop drinking. Either way, I must accept each and every outcome sober. I cannot live my life reacting to every crisis by seeking oblivion. Under no circumstances can I ever think it will be safe to have a drink…no matter what. I will not be a party to your fabricated retribution narrative nor will I partake in any self-pity skewing my judgement. Leave me alone.
By refusing to be entertained by the fear of a set back I am rewarded for keeping faith. Within days I feel a strong sense that I am attempting to face life in an honest way and that I can handle a bump in the road should it appear. When I choose to blame others, including my addiction, for my turmoil or misfortune, then I only hurt myself. If my life goes wrong I need to be able to look in the mirror and face that fact with no hesitation. Otherwise I am no more than a subject in the dominion of fear and resentment. The external decreases in importance. My comfort is not the sole motivation of my efforts. I am resolved to stand on my own two feet regardless of the consequences and if I must suffer fear, disappointment and even danger along the way then so be it. Freedom comes at a price and I am willing to finally put my money where my mouth is.
How much more evidence do I need to illustrate the fact that the old way DOES NOT WORK! Am I so mentally impaired that I would prefer a life of servitude and exploitation just to keep me from a little stress and strain now and then? Am I so deluded that I would sleep better at night knowing my addiction would fight all of my unjust battles for me and somehow think that this made me safer? My addiction is a dangerous menace that corrupts everything it touches. Its prime function is to preserve and expand its influence and it will follow me to the gates of death to perform this twisted duty. It makes me angry to think how deeply I have been manipulated over the years. I actually used to entertain the notion that I could never live without this malign force on my periphery pushing my buttons. Early recovery will be hard, but nothing of worth comes easy in this life.
And so nearly 4 months into recovery I began to look inward once more. This time though I was trying to find the truth. I had leaned so heavily on my addiction because I could not autonomously manage the apparatus of my own life. In order to maintain my well being and thus preserve my independence from drinking it now seemed of paramount importance to address the root of the problem. Namely, me.
The chemical dependency was not to blame for my trouble. The problem was actually my personality. My thoughts and attitudes about myself and my environment were never based in reality, they were based on irrational fear. Since my inception there has been conflict going on both inside and around me. This has shaped my sense of who I am in relation to the world. There was always an external threat of violence to which I became strangely well adjusted. Every decision I made would be based on a negative assumption about myself and also the people around me. Its no surprise I am ravaged by inner conflict, prejudice and low self esteem. These things prime me to develop addictive behaviour. My addiction always got its hooks in me when I was overwhelmed with emotion. Joy, despair, elation, desolation. My skewed view of life robbed me of an ability to see things as they were and so I was constantly thrown into emotional disarray. I could never rationally respond to anything, over reaction was my only capability. This would then set in motion more turmoil as other people reacted to my reaction, and once again there I am on the top deck of a bus drinking. I was paranoid and expressed my defensive nature by attacking first, without a thought for the consequences.
My history was chaotic and has thus shaped me similarly. This is offset by some of my more admirable qualities of fairness, community spirit and attempts at good humour. Some people have even said I’m a great thinker and maybe even a little radical sometimes and when it comes to romance I am often hopeless. Yet the fact remains, these less than pretty attributes of mine need to be addressed if I wish to change how I react to life. My old tool kit is not compatible with the new furniture. This is about learning how to live in a mature and responsible fashion. Its about being excruciatingly honest with myself about what is really going on in my heart and mind. When I get to the core of why I had to drink, I find my addiction was driven by a need to feel safe, secure and in control. The very attributes of life I wished to attain were obliterated by the very methods I used to pursue them. Believing the lie had got me stuck in a cycle of anxiety and relapse. Drinking gave me the courage to express myself independently in some ways, but it was always short lived and ended in more grief.
Life is transient so I had better make sure I’m in it for the long haul because short term fixes and half measures only led me astray before. This is about aspiration too not just the material gains I can accumulate. Without the old friend whispering in my ear all the time I can start picking myself apart with a clear head and get to the bottom of my motives in life. More honest motives will surely yield greater returns in the long run? I was feeling positive about recovery – then came Mother’s Day.
I was alone in my house. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. The phone rang. It was my sister. She sounded upset and disorientated. My heart began to beat out of my chest as I intuitively sensed something was very wrong.. After a few moments I began to realise this might be the last conversation I would ever have with her. She was calling me to say goodbye. I tried frantically to find out where she was or what she had done but she wasn’t for telling. I felt I had no choice but to say goodbye to her, just in case she never made it – thus making myself complicit in her suicide. She hung up the phone leaving me paralysed with shock, on my own and out of reach of everything but a drink.
The phone rings. It’s the old friend. I look at the name on the call and decide not to pick up yet. There has to be another way to deal with this. Within an hour I was at the family home, remaining uncharacteristically calm to the surprise of my family. By now the sky is filled with the sound of police helicopters while neighbours search the surrounding area frantically. She was nowhere to be found. The hours passed and the sun set. Snow began to fall. I had to start preparing myself for the worst possible scenario that could ever occur: My little sister’s needless death. The old friend screamed in my ear all day and nobody would have judged me for hearing him out, but something happened that day that I cannot describe. Forces unknown to me stopped me from caving into fear. All my faith seemed to pay a dividend at that critical point and I was thankfully sober when we were informed by Police that she had been found in the river, alive.
I’m not trying to get too ethereal here. I’m simply stating the sequence of events and the role that faith played in keeping me sober. Not blind faith but faith in the new emerging evidence that I could, in fact, deal with life on life’s terms without having to turn to my old friend when I’m in a crisis.
Most people in Scotland probably like the idea of independence. They must. If you follow the arguments for remaining part of the Union to their rational conclusion then you will see that its not Independence people are against. They are against the possibility of independence not working out. Understandably some feel it will be too much of a financial inconvenience or risk to truly manage their own affairs. Its all about money. This is the true measure of our democracy.
The major flaw in its design is that it can only work if everyone participates. Democracy is more of a promise than a real thing. Its an aspiration we instinctively follow because human beings seem innately averse to forms of oppression. However, this can now be bought off at a fair price and increasing apathy among the population means more and more power in transferred to a small, wealthy group who simply cannot comprehend a life without privilege. People have had it so easy they now place the material world and security therein, above all other things, including freedom. Its akin to paying council tax on your prison cell. Dependent is an understatement where this society is concerned. Both extremes on the political spectrum both agree on the most fundamental principle: the idea that a small element of the populous should manage society on behalf of those who administer it. We were supposed to evolve but it seems we have deferred till next term.
The argument the ‘No’ campaign are pushing is inherently negative. It is about subtly saying to you that you would be better of remaining part of a dying empire, of which you were a subject for hundreds of years. Your place in the world is something you need to be aware of. You are very small and your people don’t seem capable enough to organise a game of football safely never mind be in control of their own destiny. Don’t worry, your old friend will be here to cushion the blow.
Let’s take a quick look at our old friend shall we. A real look for a change. Let’s try and wrestle this debate from the narrow confines of the main political players. The United Kingdom is an aggressive rouge state that operates out-with international laws, launching illegal wars on other countries or undermining their democratic processes to control energy resources behind a smoke screen of freedom and security. Make no mistake about that. If you think otherwise you are truly deluded and probably have a lot invested in this illusion, thus making it hard for you to accept the reality. The United Kingdom is also complicit in the war crimes carried out by the United States of America and our foreign policy is dictated by their national interests as opposed to our own. We are so numb to the scourge of war that these arguments now seem cliché which is an abhorrent manipulation of truth. At home against its own citizens The United Kingdom sees it fit to launch a media war on the poor and vulnerable by peddling venomous myths through a corrupt middle class corporate media where facts do not require verification to be broadcast as truth. The second prong of the attack comes in the form of deep cuts to public services pitched to you as ‘austerity’. There is nothing ‘austere’ about a country that spends billions a year on instruments of war and a growing surveillance state to keep tabs on a restless population Our economy is in the dire state its in because wealthy people gambled with your money safe in the knowledge that they were not exposed to any risk and they were encouraged to do this by the political establishment. The way you are being treated is both crass, cynical and quite frankly tasteless.
You are being fucked over in the worst possible way because you have elected people who cannot empathise with your situation. They view you unintentionally as a lower life form intellectually and you can’t even see it. It is a moral travesty that Members of Parliament would receive a pay rise while everyone else has their salary frozen. The benefits bill is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions in corporate tax avoidance. Trade unions are being phased out while corporate lobbyists over run the grounds of Whitehall! What will it take for people to realise that the United Kingdom is a complete and utter blemish on the face of humanity. The United Kingdom is a drunken landlord using threats and intimidation to achieve its goals. Many of the conflicts here in Scotland are as a direct result of the UK’s imperial ambitions. I’m fed up holding the bag for this deceptive, duplicitous so-called friend.
All of the policies I have discussed above were opposed overwhelmingly by the Scottish people. We are living in a system we fundamentally disagree with. This is not a Union it is an economic occupation.
If you advocate a ‘No’ vote based simply on the principle that we might fail – you think like a junky!
Do not get too distracted by the arguments over data for it distracts you from the question you are really being asked. This is about a basic principle: Do we believe in ourselves enough to take control of our lives or do we accept that being ruled from another capital city is in our best interests? That is it. Nothing more.
The terms of the debate are based around the SNP’s policy on independence. I commend them for bringing the issue to the fore. The problem now is that we are not getting the full story about what options will be available. Take the membership of NATO for example. In an independent Scotland forces will emerge that will take a stand on this issue. When they do, you will be free to vote for such a party. The SNP’s policy is not an accurate projection of the whole range of possibilities. I see a ‘Yes’ vote as a means to an end. The first day of independence would only be the beginning. Look at history. Countries do not just disappear off the face of the Earth for deciding to express themselves independently. Scotland will endure the difficulties and learn from its experience fairness and freedom should go hand in hand. The United Kingdom cannot seriously claim to be an arbiter of either of these basic principles.
I believe our relationship with the United Kingdom is not too dissimilar to that of an addict and their drug. We are looking for any excuse we can to avoid making the hard decision. Eventually we will pay the price for this because that is the truth of life. Our so called prosperity is baseless and does not bear scrutiny.
Under no circumstances can I entertain the notion that I can safely use alcohol. It will corrupt me within weeks and lay waste to everything I have set out to achieve.
Before I got sober the odds were stacked against me. But I did it. My sense of identity went into flux, but I stayed the course. The woman I loved left and indulged her curiosities with another man, I resolved to see my part in this as opposed to blaming her or anyone else. I suffered from loneliness as friends grew distant and revealed themselves to be drinking buddies, so it was time to make new friends with a lasting bond. And when the world seemed to cave in beneath my feet and the person I love more than anything was fading into the night, I told that old friend exactly where to go. How did I do this? I did it because I have chosen to live my life along lines of principle. I have opted to view life as a pursuit of truth as opposed to a pursuit of power or material wealth. My life might always be humble and of little note, but I’ll rest easy knowing it was lived with honesty and integrity underpinning it. Even if I relapse, I will always find my way onto the righteous path.
All available evidence and assumption pointed to me failing. I suppose failing was just not that scary a prospect for me given everything I had already endured. There is more to life than comfort and a guarantee of security. If I had listened to the opinions of others or the tales of my old friend, then God only knows what would have become of me. I would be a sad, servile sight following the poor example of other unfortunates.
I am now 8 months without a drink. My sister is doing well and has just moved into her first flat with her two year old son. My partner and I decided to give our relationship another try and things have never been better, or more real. If this all changes tomorrow does that mean I shouldn’t have tried at all? I made the choice to reject all decisions based on fear and my life today is about maintaining the healthy frame of mind required to keep facing life’s challenges. Even this early into recovery I can see the tree of faith bearing all kinds of colourful fruit.
Originally published on The Venus Envy.