Tuesday 24 June 2008

Inside a Cider Bottle

June 18th, 2008 marked the ten year anniversary of my realisation that I could not drink, ever again. On June 18th, 1998, my many battles with alcohol ended. If I had not stopped drinking, my battle was going to end anyway. I was that close to drinking myself to death. A long, painful drawn out suicide. Instead I chose to battle my addiction and finally win the war. Five weeks alone in hospital gave me time to reflect. I came to the realisation that if I was going to survive a self-inflicted ordeal, that I would leave hospital a free man.
I wasn't very original using alcohol as form of replacement for something missing in my life. My life was falling apart. Mentally and physically, I was a sad, pitiful example of someone who had almost given up on life and the wonders living could offer. My behaviour was bizarre and often bordered on incoherent. Physically, I was a severely jaundiced, bloated, 'yellow balloon'. Yet up until that day they stretchered me out my house, I didn't really care. 'Go ahead and die. You have no friends, your family here in England has left you for the sake of their own wellbeing. Drink yourself to death, nobody will even notice, you'll just be another pathetic statistic.' Such dark thoughts were relentless. To have survived that hell from ten years ago has given me the incentive to use my second chance to the fullest.
When I become aware that my mental health was deteriorating; I attempted to numb the panic it caused by consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Ofcourse, the horrible irony is that my drinking compounded my mental health issues. Not very clever, I know, but I was a desperate man in desperate circumstances.
Let me describe to you a typical day, ten years ago. After drinking myself into oblivion from the night before, I would wake up from a very poor, disturbed sleep, with a sense of panic. I need a drink, it is early morning and the off-license is closed. I wonder if I can last another hour? I stagger over to the off-license, still partially drunk from the night before. I purchase a two litre bottle of cider and take my 'salvation' back to my house. I have consumed the entire bottle within in minutes. I feel sick, I pass out for two hours, only to wake up knowing I must have more cider. So back to the off-license to purchase yet another two litre bottle of cheap, nasty cider. The pattern continues, I consume the cider just as quickly as the previous. I am in a constant state of 'topping-up'. I needed alcohol, this shadow of a man was physically and psychologically trapped and controlled by his master. I was a slave to drink. For the next three weeks, right up until that moment I was whisked away in ambulance, all I did was drink cider. No food, just cider.
Five weeks in hospital gave me the opportunity to get control back. I was determined to conquer my master. I wanted to live and I mean really live. So when I walked out of the hospital, I knew that I had broken the shackles that alcohol had placed on me. I knew I would make it, because the key element was that I was sincere in my conviction. The sense of relief I had goes beyond words.
I have been asked why I write such blogs. It reinforces my belief that I can choose to live in a positive environment. I write blogs as a form of personal therapy. I spend a lot of time on my own and think of my blog as a form of communication with the world. I sincerely hope that there will be people who read my blogs who get a bit of comfort from them. You see, I firmly believe that we all have the power within to challenge adversity. We can all demonstrate that negatives can be turned into positives.
Ten years ago, I was trapped. Ten years on, I am still not well but I am so much better. It has been a slow journey, sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating. Ten years ago, I was stuck inside a cider bottle. Yet I crawled out and saw the world with a clear vision. I looked out from the top of the bottle and knew I had the right to live.

Thursday 19 June 2008

Maple Syrup On My Oatcakes?

Oh Canada, land of moose and maple syrup. Home of the grizzly bear, the ocean playground of the mighty orca, and ofcourse, a natural habitat of the beaver. I shall now conveniently end this paragraph, avoiding the temptation of an innuendo.

For three weeks I lived in my other world. Vancouver is not the city I remember from when I lived there. It is now a sprawling, cosmopolitan, hectic city. The rapidly changing skyline, which has dramatically altered since my last visit in 2005, is nothing short of unbelievable. With the upcoming 2010 winter olympics, the construction business is booming. The face of Vancouver is changing beyond recognition. The remaining buildings from my childhood, that stood so tall and proud, are now dwarfed by the massive towers that overshadow them. This might be interpreted as progress, I'm not so sure.

Immersed in the buzz of the hectic life of Vancouver, I realised I needed to focus away from my own anxiety and take time to appreciate the simple yet beautiful pleasures Vancouver has to offer. It was late spring and the cherry blossoms were in their full glory. Tree lined avenues proudly displaying glorious pink blossoms. Pink blossoms that gently cascaded onto the ground. Vancouver was covered by a carpet of what could be described as 'pink snow'. What an awesome sight and welcome relief from my own bizarre form of panic. Amazing how concentrating on the beauty of the blossoms helped me in my own quest for a moment of inner peace.

I fondly recall the times I shared with friends and family. I drew great inspiration from my friends. The determined resilience of Heather and Wayne in such challenging circumstances was a provocative reminder that I too had the inner strength to continue to challenge my own negative speculation. For the wisdom and the kindness they displayed to me has renewed my own determination to attempt to be a positive influence to others. My trip to Canada was a powerful experience.
There were some amusing and some surreal situations. Watching the Champions League Final, live at 11:30 in the morning at my good friend Leon's house, seemed most surreal. It just didn't seem right to be watching football at that time. Being a Chelsea fan, the outcome was very frustrating, but somehow didn't seem as bad as if I been watching it in England. Then there was the time at Heather and Wayne's. I decided to check out the television stations. All those channels and nothing worth watching. Then I found one channel that was super boring. For ages I stared at the screen thinking that this tedious channel looked vaguely familiar. Then I realised that it was not an actual channel. In fact, it was the picture from the camera that was set up in the entrance to the building they lived in. Doh! Ofcourse I also spent a considerable amount of time with my friends saying 'eh'. We all had a good laugh about the fact that Canadians say 'eh' quite a lot. So what eh?

Three remarkable weeks came to an end. It was time to go to Vancouver airport and take the 'big bird' back to Manchester. So all packed up, my Stepdad and my Mother took me from White Rock to the airport. I was quite concerned that my baggage allowance was over the acceptable weight. So knowing that my hand luggage was underweight I did a bit of juggling. I put a very large jar of peanut butter into hand luggage. So saying goodbye to family, I headed through Customs. Upon putting my hand luggage through the screening device, I knew there was a concern. "Sir, we have a problem with an object in your hand luggage." Said the Customs Officer. Upon opening my hand luggage he discovered the offending item. That friggin' peanut butter was a banned substance for carry-on luggage. So a rather embarrassed Customs Officer confiscated the dreaded peanut butter. Then he looked at my contac lens solution but decided that I could keep it. Gee thanks.

Safely through Customs, we finally boarded the plane and took off to Manchester. It was a very good flight back and I felt more relaxed. What was really cool was that on the monitor each passenger had was a channel that showed the view the pilot saw out of the cockpit and the view below the plane. I thought that was very exciting. Watching constant twilight through the cockpit window and the occasional glimpse of land below was most fascinating.

The hours past by, all nine of them. We had left Vancouver at 3:30 P.M. on Saturday, May 24th (Vancouver time), we arrived at 8:30 A.M. Sunday, May 25th (British Summer Time). Where the hell had the weekend gone? Safely through British Customs (minus the peanut butter), I met up with my good friend Philip, who transported me back to Leek. Time to return to my other world.

I got back to my house in Leek. For three weeks, my son Tristan, had been looking after the place. What would I be coming back to? Well there was no 'den of iniquity' (oh well..never mind). Actually, the house was very neat, but the garden..well that was something that needed some serious attention. So, despite being extremely jet-lagged, I found myself out in the garden, frantically trying to sort it out. I got great satisfaction in being out in my garden. Despite the 'jungle' before me, I knew that soon my 'oasis' would soon be back to its wonderful glory.

Going back inside my house, I realised that the grocery supply was low. So in a very surreal state of mind, I wandered down to Morrisons to get some supplies. Just a few hours back in England and I was off grocery shopping. Checking out the tomato sauce, I looked up and saw a familiar face. It was my former spouse. A lady I had not seen in months. A lady I had stopped talking to because of a situation regarding our son. Yet we both sensed something was different.

The conversation was most pleasant, bordering on amicable. She realised that I had just got back from Vancouver. She said lets just enjoy the rather surreal situation we are in. I thought that was a very nice thing to say. Then I thought: 'let's make this surreal situation even more surreal.' I showed her a picture on my camera phone. Whilst in Canada I had taken a photograph of our old house. This was the house where are dreams began and our dreams ended. This was a most poignant moment and I wonder if this was some kind of healing lesson for us both. She drove me back to my house, we laughed and the anger I had towards her melted away. A thought provoking start to my return to England.

So I had left Canada where I had gotten used to people saying: 'How's it goin' eh?' Now I was back in North Staffordshire, where people have been known to say: 'Are you alright duck?' (what a 'fowl' expression). For the first two years of living in North Staffordshire, I had a sore neck. 'Are you alright..duck!?' 'Duck'? To this day I'm on the lookout for low-flying objects.

Now back in England, I look forward to the future. Knowing that I have friends in both countries fills me with comfort. I have learnt much about myself over the last few weeks, perhaps it is okay to 'impose' myself on society. Being the 'hermit on holiday' was rather ironic. I hope that proving that I can challenge my anxiety, my social phobia, will be source of comfort to those of you who have similar concerns. Now then, being totally confused, I wonder if it is okay to put maple syrup on my oatcakes?

Sunday 8 June 2008

Destination Hope.

Greetings everyone. My dear friend Heather, someone who I had not seen in fifteen years, kindly allowed me to use the following e-mail as an introduction to this blog. I dedicate this blog to Heather and her strong, positive family.

"Hello My Dear!!
You have our permission to do all that you ask. Wayne’s accident happened on September 16th, 2oo6 approximately 3:30 in the afternoon. His prognosis at the beginning was quite good and the doctor told him to expect a 95% recovery. Due to the bungling of several so called professionals and the fact that he nearly died 4 times ( one time close enough to have the minister come to his bedside twice), his body had to try to heal itself from illness which took away from his recovery. His spinal cord injury although it was not severed was serious enough to cause what is called an incomplete quadriplegia which means that he has feeling some places and not others. His main injury seems to be due to swelling and the damage it can cause. Sort of like a brain injury being made worse due to not getting enough oxygen for a long time. We are very hopeful of a good recovery which means he will walk again but with assistance. At this point the worst damage has been to his sense of self. He no longer feels like a contributing member of society and is floundering to find an anchor. I try to help him but my words are a bit like not seeing the forest for the trees. I am too close. He actually came home to stay on January 25th, 2008. A very long time indeed and we are still adjusting to what is supposed to be life. We only now are really starting to enjoy some very sweet moments together. I can send some photos of before’s if you like. Stages from the beginning to now. He really has come a very long way and he ( very sweetly) attributes a great deal of that me) I thank God I have the positive attitude that I do, it really has got me through this. Anyway, I can send more info. Just ask away.
How are you now? I am so very proud of you Gary. Doing what you did with the issues you are trying to deal with was tantamount to a miracle. I respect you deeply for your courage and I expect that you will continue to grow and blossom. I bet you were real happy to get back to your garden though. Where did you put the chimes?
Well. I’ll talk to you soon. Let me know if you want more info and I’ll send it along. Love you dear!!!

In the face of adversity, that is when you discover just who your true friends are. When Wayne's life changed under such traumatic circumstances, how many 'friends' came to visit him as he lay in his hospital bed? Sadly there were too few. The reality is that some of his visitors felt too awkward. I say, see beyond what happened, focus on Wayne's eyes, see his humanity.
This is a story about courage, resilience, perserverance and the power of love. When I went back to Canada, it was not so much a holiday, no, it was so much more than that. I sought positive inspiration in my own personal journey towards mental health wellbeing. The inspiration I embraced from this brave family is immeasurable.
Seldom have I witnessed such positive determination in a situation that could have torn this family apart. Heather and Wayne know that we have choices. They knew that to allow the circumstances to overwhelm them, was a sign that negativity would be given permission to win. Through the sheer strength of Heather, this permission would never be an option. I know that Heather's love for Wayne during these times of challenging stress, have motivated him to improve his quality of life.
This family unit remains undaunted. With the support of Heather's daughter Margo and her fiancee Brennan, I have seen a family that has found the inner strength to be there for each other. This inner strength will see them through such troubling times. The positive outlook they have displayed is a lesson for those of us who may have contemplated giving up. No matter what the world throws at us, we can discover the power within ourselves to not let negative forces dominate us. We can distance ourselves from a negative environment.
On May 11th, it was Mother's Day in Canada. It also marked the 10th anniversary of my best friend Rob's life coming to an end. Margo is Rob's daughter and I know Mother's Day was a poignant reminder of her dearly loved Father's passing away. Margo was only seventeen when her Dad was taken away from her. I know how devastated she was and from so far away in England, I sent my heartfelt sympathy. Margo, you are a lovely lady and it has been my honour to see you again after fifteen years. Your Father would be so proud of you and the decent spirit of him lives on.
On June 8th, 2008, Margo gave birth. My warmest congratulations to Margo and proud Father Brennan. I know you will make a wonderful family, the love you have for each other will be a powerful influence on your child. Welcome to the world Gabriel, may our legacy to you and your generation, be that we make this planet a greener, more peaceful place.
So to Heather I say. Thank you for being such a positive inspiration to me.To you Wayne, please remember that you have so much support from your determined family. Please draw strength from knowing that nobody can ever remove your dignity. I hope you can now take comfort in knowing you have a friend in me. I am here for you buddy. To Margo and Brennan, thank you for your kindness, your good natured spirit made my trip back to Canada all the more enjoyable.
I listen to the wind chimes that Heather and Wayne so kindly gave me. As I listen to the music of the chimes that now floats into my living room from my beautiful garden, I think of this strong, positive family. The wind chimes are an inspiring reminder of just how grateful I am.
There is a town in British Columbia named 'Hope'. I have fond memories of that town. Heather and Wayne have indicated to me that they would like to live in Hope. As far as I'm concerned, they already live there.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

How's It Goin' Eh?

A lot of folks seem to be under the impression that Canadians say 'eh' a lot eh. I suppose that could have some credibility if you spell out the word 'Canada'. It would go like this: C 'eh' N 'eh' D 'eh' Well how about that eh!
So there I was in Vancouver. First thing to remember was that traffic proceeds on the right side of the road. Always a good idea to be wary of the way vehicles travel when you decide to cross the road. So focused with that thought I ventured out for a stroll. Safety first is the key to any trek out.
Walking along the sidewalk I tripped on the curb (kerb), slipped on a diaper, fell into the parking lot, spilt my potato chips into a puddle of gasoline, bumped into a tire (tyre) and nearly broke my cell phone. Ofcourse the preceding sentence was a load of garbage, that didn't really happen, but it does illustrate some of the differences in the way the English language is used in North America.
When it comes to differences, the difference in me from the last time I visited Vancouver was immense. When I last journeyed there, in October 2005, I was a shattered man, mentally and physically. My overwhelming illness was plainly and painfully obvious. Years of negative situations had almost destoyed the last remnants of my sanity.
That trip in October 2005 was the catalyst in my own personal road to some semblance of recovery. I so desperately wanted to get better for my family, my friends from the past, and for the sake of my own mental health wellbeing. That trip was the turning point in my life. Realising that I had a choice, I chose to seek positive alternatives. Why should I let a negative environment dictate my life? I went back to England determined to distance myself from factors that had undermined my right to happiness.
During the next two and a half years, I made a commitment to become active, to pursue positive possibilities. I challenged my anxiety and got involved with people and Organisations that revealed a great power, the remarkable power of empathy. Finally, after many years of personal torment, I embraced positive options. I met people who genuinely cared, I like to think that I demonstated my own sincere kindness in return. At long last, I was a part of something special.
May 2008, I returned to Vancouver revitalised. Yes I still had great anxiety, yet I knew that inner resolve would master unrealistic sensations of panic. The first big challenge was to have the courage and order something at McDonald's. (Some might say ordering and eating food at McDonald's takes courage anyway). In 2005, I was too scared to go in and order. Some irrational fear prevented me from having the 'audacity' to 'bother' the staff. This time, I found the courage to go in and place and order. "That comes to $6.92, have a good day." Said the dude behind the counter. Wow, I did it, a triumph in confronting my bizarre anxiety issues.
Now I was ready to face my next anxiety test. I was ready to go on public transport in Vancouver. This involved getting familiarised with a method quite different from what I was used to in Stoke. In Vancouver, you are required to put a transit card into a machine. I panicked over the thought of putting the card in the wrong way. If I did that, would the people on the bus laugh at me? Would the driver kick me off the bus for being such an idiot? Well I did put the bloody card in the wrong way, luckily the driver just smiled and indicated the correct method. Phew! No public humiliation and I used what works best for me. I had a good laugh with the driver. "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a bus virgin!" The lady driver responded: "There you go." This exchange of pleasantries was significant, last time in Vancouver, I was too scared to joke about.
Somehow I knew that this adventure in Canada was going to be thought provoking, highly emotional and of tremendous benefit to my ongoing progress towards an even better life. As the trip unfolded the experiences were even more profound than I would ever had dreamed. In my next blog, I shall tell a story of great human courage and resilience in the face of adversity.
So you might now have the impression that Canadians say 'eh' a lot eh? Well, what can I say eh? Oh yeah...how's it goin' eh?