Before you start reading it’s probably a good idea that you recap on Part One (here).
If you’ve already done that (and you have a cup of tea or coffee ready to go) then let me continue…
(note – bits highlighted in red are things I feel are important. In this ongoing little series they’re the lessons I think I’ve learned along the way.)
In early February 2016 I was just beginning to lift my head above water. I felt like I’d been drowning for the longest time and (by then sober for around two short weeks) I was also trying to deal with the mountains of stuff left behind when my mother died.
It was frankly more than enough to drive a man to drink.
Everywhere I turned there were hidden things squirrelled away. As well as piles of soap, detergent and hundreds of drawings or paintings in the most unexpected of places I was also discovering other, more disturbing things.
There were orderly manuals for how to interact with people (written by her many years before she became ill) and hair in little bags (collected for decades both from her and her children) that were chronologically labelled as DNA samples for testing.
Occasionally I also found more valuable items such as photos, correspondence, bills, stamps or money which meant that I couldn’t just throw it all in a skip. I had to wade through every single box and bag of it.
The process was both upsetting and unsettling, I was looking inside the chaotic mind of a woman that I had never understood. As well as as being a task that was mentally difficult to deal with it was a physical challenge too.
I wasn’t a fit man and it was wearing me out just looking at the scale of the problem in her bungalow.
Everything was in disarray – and as I was trying to withdraw from alcohol I realised that I’d probably chosen one of the most stressful times of my life to do it.
I didn’t feel like I was getting better.
I felt as far from ‘better’ as it was possible to be in fact – and it seemed that absolutely everything was wrong with my life. It was completely out of balance and even when faced with the death of a parent I was preoccupied with trying to understand the cause of a deep emotional numbness that had been with me as long as I could remember.
For many years I hadn’t even been able to ask why I felt it – because I couldn’t vocalise what it was. Frustratingly, even when I finally managed to put it into words I found that I was still no closer to an answer.
The question that I couldn’t resolve was ‘what do I love?‘
Sure – I could say that people fitted into this category – because I genuinely loved my friends and family – but I didn’t mean the love that came from a relationship.
No matter how many times I asked myself this there was no response. There was just a blank space – a placeholder for where the answer should be. An empty podium with no medal winner.
Then one day I accepted the truth and it was horrible. I felt like screaming because deep down I had always known the answer. It was way worse than not knowing what I loved because I hadn’t faced up to the bleak reality of what this really said about me.
I loved nothing. I had a passion for nothing. I existed to do nothing. My total contribution to the world if I had died immediately would have been nothing.
What I’d begun to recognise is that I was nothing more than a consumer. I had voraciously consumed everything around me for my entire adult life.
Throughout it I’d had an endless appetite for food, alcohol, cigarettes, ‘stronger substances’, video games, box sets, music, DVD’s, magazines, books, trash television – the list went on and on.
I spent my spare money on ‘things’ because I ‘loved’ the ‘things’ that I bought. I thought the ‘things’ gave me pleasure.
I didn’t really love them though, and they certainly didn’t make me truly happy. Buying a huge television and a games console with the latest game and a Blu-ray made me ‘feel’ for moments – and then I once again became just as empty as my wallet.
Films and television were providing my emotions for me – serving them up endlessly to be consumed. Conveniently I could also turn them on and off at will. If I wanted to feel happy I watched something funny. If I was angry I played a violent video game. If I wanted to numb myself I got drunk.
I managed everything with external inputs and nothing came from inside.
Living like I had for so long, being anaesthetised to the reality of what it meant to be part of the world around me made me question whether I could love anything anymore.
I’d been hiding how I felt about this and and other things about myself for so long that I felt like I was about to burst. Back then It seemed that for my entire time on earth I’d been trying to pretend that everything was ok when really it was as far from OK as it’s possible to be.
In public I was controlled, ordered, dependable and a known quantity. I was a reliable and safe pair of hands in the workplace where I was a team leader and tried to be outgoing, cheerful and gregarious as soon as I walked through the door.
In my personal life I made sure that I supported my friends and family whenever I could and wanted them to feel that if they needed me they knew they could call at any time of day or night.
I almost never asked for help though. Not because I thought they wouldn’t give it – because they would have, but because if I did then it meant not only that I was admitting I couldn’t cope – but because doing so would force me to deal with the causes – and that I was never ready to do.
So I did two things.
One was a bad idea, and the other was one of the best decisions of my life.
Firstly I handed in my notice at work. This was the bad idea. Being unemployed whilst also a recovering alcoholic dealing with a bereavement and suddenly faced with endless free time on my hands wouldn’t have helped.
Secondly came the good idea – and after handing in my notice I wrote my first ever blog post (link).
Despite what people might think I didn’t start doing this in public because I wanted attention. The exact opposite is true actually – because most of the time I really dislike the focus being on me.
I did it because if I started airing my dirty laundry in a public forum then everyone knew. I didn’t have to painstakingly tell each and every person my darkest secrets and I didn’t have to sugar coat or change what I was saying depending on who would see it.
A post was a post. If people didn’t like it then they didn’t have to read it. If they didn’t like me then au revoir.
There were plenty more fish in the sea.
It also meant that it was now harder to change my mind. If I said I was going to do something in public then I also felt that I either had to follow through with it or come up with a very good reason why I couldn’t.
It didn’t really matter whether people liked me or my blog though – because I wasn’t writing it for them. I was writing it for me – and what I’d started doing was engaging in on my own very public private therapy.
I decided very quickly upon some ground rules.
Above all else I wanted to be sure that my blog would do no harm. I wouldn’t talk about anyone else unless they explicitly agreed and I wouldn’t use photos of anyone but myself with the same criteria.
It was primarily about fixing myself – and learning to live life.
I would also cunningly hide my true name by adding a ‘Y’ at the end of it (for the first time I can reveal that my real name is actually Dave) and when I talked as Davey I wouldn’t talk to myself or to a person – but to ‘the internet’ – because the internet wouldn’t stare back at me disapprovingly.
Its job was simply to listen – regardless of what I had to say – and mine was to talk to it with absolute and unflinching honesty.
The first post was the hardest – not because I couldn’t write down how I felt – but because I knew the next thing that I had to do was send a link to it to absolutely everyone that I knew or worked with – including my family.
I had to ‘out’ myself and step outside of my own personal closet.
In it I admitted that I wasn’t coping. I admitted that I was a drinker. I told everyone about my health problems. I told them I had to discover what it was that I loved – but above all else I was truly honest and open for the first time.
Then thing that I really didn’t expect happened.
Firstly – no-one (not one single person) told me I was a total loser or a waste of space. Instead they actually applauded my fragility and my attempt to be open about what I was going through
Secondly – almost immediately (literally within minutes) the human traffic started come toward me in torrents. People I thought I’d known for years started telling me their deepest and darkest secrets. They began to open up (sometimes for the first time too) about their family issues, their own alcoholism, their cancers, their struggles with Autism, their unhappiness, their loneliness, their abusive relationships…
The list went on and on.
All of a sudden, standing naked in front of everyone for the very first time and expecting my honesty to be the defining moment of my life I was faced with a stark realisation.
Everyone else was broken too.
It wasn’t just me.
As I continued to write this became a theme. Without realising the power of what I’d enabled by clicking ‘post’ on that very first entry in my blog I’d started an honest two way conversation between myself and unlimited numbers of people which is still going on.
Plus – through it I found both a focus and an unexpected paradox.
I eventually realised that the very tool I’d employed to answer my question (writing) was something that I absolutely loved doing.
I now understand that the unexplainable feeling that had made me want to scream was an understanding deep down that I wasn’t giving anything back to the world. I was just taking from it all the time – and because of that I had begun to feel that I was a parasite.
With writing came honesty and through honesty I discovered that I could not only help myself but others too.
At this point though I still had a long way to go – and in many ways I was still in denial. Although I’d stopped drinking I still thought that this alone was the answer and that everything would just naturally fall into place.
Back then I still didn’t really understand why I’d drank so much – just that I’d stopped and didn’t plan to start again.
I was still 35 stone, still slowly dying and I hadn’t accepted what the problem would truly take to fix.
Join me next time to find out what I mean…