If you’ve set foot on the Gram recently, you may well have stumbled across Sam. Sam, under the guise of “Unaddicted”, presents a fresh and honest take on getting and being sober.
His blog is testimony to this.
After a bit of “you’re Northern, so are we” banter it seemed only fitting to sit down with Sam and chew the fat.
So here’s the result – hope you like it. And hey, if you do you can read more from him here on the WRX… enjoy.
Sam, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…(what you’ve been doing/ are doing/ going to be doing)
Hi world! Wow, this is a big question with many ways to answer so I’ll try my best to condense it into a paragraph for fear of boring people. I’ve recently come home (both physically and metaphorically) after a long trip away. This started with a cliché travelling adventure to Australia and South East Asia. It many ways this trip helped me to figure out what I needed in life; adventure, creativity and nature to name a few things. However, it also supplied the time for a seed, that had been planted years before, to really grow – addiction. I taught in Europe for a good while and after seven years, I’m home. Still teaching. I’m also blogging and coaching and hoping to grow this into something that can help as many people as possible. I love it!
So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking/ drugging/ addiction story”… care to elaborate?
Where to begin? Okay, stealing measures of spirits from mine and my mates’ parents spirit cupboard during early secondary school seems like the ‘beginnings’ of my addiction story. It was normal, alcohol was this thing that we all gravitated towards. ‘The sacred nectar’ that society sows into our subconscious from birth. I then became a classic British drinker, namely, drinking to get smashed. It’s mad how we never stop to question these things, but I don’t think I ever really had a relationship with alcohol that didn’t involve going a little too far. This was normal for me. I was an anxious kid and OCD had played a large role in my younger years. Perhaps alcohol anesthetised this, perhaps it didn’t. I never questioned it. I do remember on many occasions reflecting on the fact that drinking often didn’t make me feel good. I would be the first out the club eating a burger wishing to go home. But it was what we did. I was caught up in the buzz of heading to town – not knowing what madness might ensue.
Fast forward a few years to university and my life is drinking. There’s no distinction. I just about managed to hand everything in but I didn’t do great.
Fast forward a few more and I’m in Australia after a difficult break up. My mate had bolted (a long, long story) and left me alone on a trip we were meant to be doing together.
I didn’t know what to do. I was anxious and confused so I drank and partied. Everyone was doing it. I didn’t even realise that I was developing a real problem.
There are so many parts missing from this story but ultimately I end up in Poland completely torn apart by addiction. I was always very good at looking like I had it together but behind the scenes I was falling apart.
What was your drinking/ using/ addiction like at the point you decided to quit?
Painful. I wrote in one of my blog posts that my soul hurt and this is definitely an apt description. I was painfully aware of what I was doing to myself. I had always been a very spiritual person and meditation, yoga and self-reflection had long been very important in my life, so I was shining a light on this part of me when I felt strong enough. At the same time, I was deep in denial and supressing a lot emotionally with alcohol. I think it’s the push pull of these two realities that is one of the reasons addiction screws us up so much. The lies are punishing. The reality hurts.
… and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?
Honestly, this comes in two parts. Firstly, Looking into my bloodshot eyes one Saturday morning in the mirror and knowing it had to stop. This had happened many times before but it was different this time. I guess this is when all parts of me got in line and stopped telling different narratives. Secondly, returning to drinking after 19 months away. Needless to say, I stopped. For good. This ‘slip’ was part of my journey. It helped me to realise without a doubt that for me and my life, I had moved beyond alcohol. I didn’t have room for it anymore.
Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so? This question seems especially topical, at least to me having just read Holly’s book and half way through Laura’s…[Ed]
This could be an essay and I’ve gone into detail about this on my blog but I’ll try and answer succinctly here. Before I do, I just want to say that if something helps you to get free then that’s great and I respect that one hundred percent. There are as many ways to freedom as there are people, that’s what makes this space so exciting. I try to be a principled eclectic, that is, testing loads of things out and keeping what works for me. Personally, I don’t often use words like alcoholic and recovery as I feel they limit me. Semantics matter and it’s sticky. I’ll give one example. There was a time (I’d say about a year after I first quit) where I really felt like I was ‘recovering’. Even though I knew I didn’t want or need alcohol, I still avoided things, went home early and felt emotionally shattered by being around drinkers. However, with every passing social event, and coffee date and chat, I healed. I’m still healing, but the wound is far less deep. And I now know I won’t drink. So I feel ‘recovered’. It wouldn’t matter if a million people told me I was doomed to fail because I’ve never been to a meeting. I KNOW this is my path. The idea I would perpetually be in recovery and therefore not recovered doesn’t work for me. When does recovery become recovered after all? Isn’t that the point? I know this might annoy or even make some people angry but it’s my truth. Take it or leave it. We all have to work together, whatever our path. Ultimately for me, I understand the scar stays but the pain subsides. You aren’t supposed to forget. It changes us and I’m glad it did. For all the pain, it forced me into a way of being I would never have known.
So, you stopped/ changed your lifestyle (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?
I read. I struggled. I stayed in. I went out. I thought I had it cracked. I thought I’d never crack it. It was easy. It was impossibly difficult. It was thrilling, energising and emotionally shattering, all at once. It can be painful this evolving malarkey. But mostly, I found it was people’s words I connected with. I found my community in blogs and books because I didn’t know where else to look. A large ‘aha’ moment came from reading Holly’s words on her ‘Hip Sobriety’ blog – now ‘Tempest’. I’m sure many of us have felt it, but when you read someone’s writing and it’s like they’ve written it for you, with a direct line to your soul, it’s pretty moving. I read everything she’d ever written in about 3 days. I no longer felt alone. ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace and its predecessors in Alan Carr and Jason Vale also really helped me. I found I needed to be reading inspiration every day. No excuses. I also found routine in the gym, in yoga, in mediation, in sleep, in good food, in being honest with people and I held on tight. After six months, the ride had less flips. It’s so strange having such highs and lows as your emotions come back online but I knew it was a reminder of all I had buried for the past decade. In the beginning, you will need distractions and treats. Allow it. Remember, not drinking is the top priority. You can deal with your ‘too much cake guilt’ (or crisps in my case) later. You’re better off a few pounds heavier and one addiction lighter.
Not drinking alcohol (for example) can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?
At the beginning, I became socially hyper-vigilant and didn’t even realise. I was convinced that others would be bothered by my not drinking and that there was a beacon of light on my activities for the night. I felt like I would forever be making excuses for my not drinking. I kept accidentally apologising for my actions with my words, and on reflection I accidentally emitted the idea that I wasn’t firm in my decision. This led to occasions where people pushed, not because they’re dicks but because they are also addicted to alcohol and consciously or subconsciously want to prove you’re not free. Despite all this, I was free, I knew I didn’t need it to have fun. Had I known all this, and spoken to someone at the time, I’m sure I could have noticed how my behaviours were not helping, but I didn’t. Slowly but surely, I started to have a night here and there that I enjoyed. Then it became common, then it became the norm. Then I stopped apologising for who I am. Then I started telling people ‘I just don’t drink’. I was incredibly lucky to have a number of very good friends who, although not sure at first, supported me the whole way. A number of them have stopped or seriously reduced their drinking too. I can’t take all the credit for their decisions but I know my example helped.
Note* You will meet dicks. They are not worth your time. Second note* I’ve started writing loads. I can’t help it. Sorry David.
Were you successful from day one? Any relapses (etc)? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?
Nope. Before the 19 month stint I speak about above, I stopped for a month (on a number of occasions), a 3 month period, a four month period and many others. At that point, the aim was to correct a broken relationship. I wasn’t thinking about quitting. To be honest, when I decided to stop for good, I still told myself ‘I’ll do six months’. I knew it was for good but it was too much to swallow at the time. I needed months under my belt (and the corresponding benefits) before I could make the leap. This is an odd trick but it worked for me. I guess this answers how I dealt with it emotionally – in a way that worked for me. In that 19 months, I got promoted at work and started to enjoy my job. Completed a nails MA level teaching course (smashed it), when to India and completed my Yoga teacher training and healed. However, there was still one last thread to break. The ‘It’s been two years, I must have learnt my lesson by now’ thread – or it could be called ‘the excuse’. So, stupidly, I drank again. Needless to say, the next four months were the perfect reminder of how amazing life without alcohol had been. I woke up one morning after eating lots of cheese and a large bag of Galaxy Minstrels (I’m a 5 year strong vegan). I know this might seem like a small thing but combined with the hangover, the anxiety, and the desire to get smashed all day to forget it, this forced me once again to face the fact that nothing had changed. Breaking my veganism to eat a block of Saint Agur blue cheese was like drunk Sam was sending the real Sam a message that it really had to stop this time. So I stopped. For good. That was nearly 500 days ago. I have it this time. I know I do. All those ‘failures’ are woven into my success.
You’ve been sober/ clean for (time…) are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking/ using has afforded? What are they? (Feel free to elaborate as much as you want… really!!)
Maybe I’ll be cheeky for this one and link a blog post on my site … it’s a list of 64 amazing things that have happened since I stopped.
Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?
Get a community. Don’t just assume ‘I’ve got it this time’ or ‘I’m loaded with willpower’. This is a huge topic but it’s about so much more than that. I struggled at times because my network and community was with words, not people I could talk to. Reach out and find people who you connect with. It’s inner strength you’re going for. That’s much more powerful than will power and community will give you that.
Sleep. If you need help, head to a sleep doctor but don’t just reach for pills as they don’t provide real sleep. I’ve been working on a new section to my site which provides help and advice in this area. Check out the ‘Inspiration’ tab at unaddicted.co.uk. It should be active soon. Good sleep really is one of the key things you can do to aid your healing.
Don’t just stop drinking. It’s not enough; unless you want to spend years white knuckling through. Invest in your new life and freedom and get to grips with the core problems that screwed you up in the first place. Whatever it takes; therapy, coaching, running – do it. You will have to change something, you can’t just remove alcohol from the picture. ‘Quit like a Woman’ by the aforementioned Holly Whitaker has some amazing suggestions for building this new life (and yes, even if you’re a man).
Prioritise self-care. We can feel as if it’s selfish to make sure we’re home in bed early on our best friend’s birthday but ultimately if you want to be there for them for years to come, you have to do this. Stopping drinking has to be your number one priority and looking after yourself is key to this. You put others first by putting your healing first and that will mean upsetting a few people (and maybe losing friendships) along the way. However, it will strengthen those relationships that are meant to be and others will fall away. Much like cultivating and nurturing the leaves on a plant in a beautiful garden.
OK… (drum roll)… let’s talk about creativity – in particular your photography and your website… Could you tell us about how you approach your photography/ hobbies?
Okay another great (but huge) question. I’ll tackle photography first. I REALLY don’t consider myself a photographer to any real degree. I can spot a nice angle (sometimes) and something cool or pretty looking, but not much more. I have very limited knowledge of ‘real’ photography, it’s just me and my trusty smartphone. I rarely use filters, so this is a nice thing but then sometimes I do. Essentially, I enjoy taking photos but with a real camera in my hand and I’m a little lost (not totally but almost). Perhaps I’m an untapped talent, haha.
The website is a joy and I would love to have more time to invest in it. I hope this time will come before too long! I started the site as a blog first and foremost for me. Writing is therapy and it’s really helped me with accountability, community and creativity. There is a distinct ‘before I started writing’ and ‘after I started writing’ vibe to my process and healing from alcohol addiction. Every time I receive a message from someone who connects with my words, I feel grateful that I may have helped someone even a little as I know how this can feel, especially if you’re alone. I have some plans for the sight and I’m working on an ‘inspiration’ section which should be up before too long. My approach to writing is pretty organic. I just riff on a topic I feel connected too and then spend ages writing and rewriting until it feels good.
Other than that, I head to the gym, mediate daily, love yoga, read like a nutter and can often be found drinking coffee. Sleep is very important to me. I saw a t-shirt the other day that said, ‘I Just Want to Drink Coffee, Create Stuff, and Sleep’; this is very me. Actually, I’m gonna go and buy it.
You seem to have an affinity with the natural environment – Could you shed some light on this for us? Like, how does taking images of (and being in) nature make you feel… does this feeling work for your sobriety in any way?
I might sound a bit hippie with this one but, we are nature after all. I feel like it’s the missing link in many people’s lives. Someone told me they’ve started to prescribe ‘a walk in the forest’ as an anti-depressant in Scandinavia. If this is true, it makes perfect sense to me. Next chance you get, walk through some long grass barefoot and see how you feel – it certainly won’t be worse. Without fail, I spend some time in nature every week. My partner and I, despite loving living in a city, live on the outskirts so we can wander to the park in minutes. We go a little mad if we have to go to town when it’s busy. It’s stressful. Nature rocks.
What makes you “tick” as a photographer/ person?
Hmm, if you’d asked me this 5 years ago my answer would have been very different. More and more, it’s creativity, self-development and moving more and more into the present moment. Essentially, I aim to make meaning (not happiness) in my life. The happiness then comes of its own accord. I spent a long time chasing happiness and I ended up a mess. As Mark Manson says, you’ll always have problems – you’re a human – the question is how high quality are they? I choose ‘problems’ or ‘challenges’ (semantics again) I enjoy grafting to solve. Adversity is underrated – walking through the fire is how we grow. I can’t tell you how scared I was to publish my first blog, but I now see it as one of the best decisions of my life. I wouldn’t be connecting with you here if I hadn’t.
Are you conscious that other people may follow you (on Instagram) because of your images and website branding? Are you doing what you do purely for you? Or is there an element of “sharing” your work with others? What would you hope your work “does” for others?
First and foremost, the blog is for me. It acts as a celebration of my journey and a record of the changes I have made – it’s easy to forget how far we have come. It’s been a large part of my healing process. I first started Instagram as a way to connect with people and see if they connected with my story. As I said before, reading other’s words was how I found my way through at the beginning, so I hoped my words would find their way to a few people who needed to hear them. I’m also aware that without social media, it’s difficult to get the word out. I had previously deleted Facebook and Instagram as I could see it wasn’t good for me, so this was a big decision. It was the drive to want to share my story that helped me to take the plunge again. Then it was meeting a lovely community that kept me going.
I like things to look nice and enjoy the act of creating inspirational quotes and pictures for Instagram. For this reason, I don’t mind putting the time in. I’ve never really let my creative juices flow before so it’s really lovely to feel in flow sometimes. On the other hand, I know the emotional feelings that can become problematic for me e.g. hoping for a certain amount of likes. For this reason, I’m very mindful of my use. It’s not easy though. It would be deeply ironic to develop a social media addiction under the name ‘unaddicted’.
Cool… okay, great, so… what’s next for Sam?
I feel like I’m standing on the edge of something and it’s exciting, but I’m enjoying the journey as I don’t know where it’s all going. For a long time, I have understood that ‘this is it’, ‘the journey is the destination’ but piece by piece, I’m beginning to embody this. This is bringing contentment as a side product of my actions, which is lovely. I’m loving all the projects I have, they are filling me up, not draining me (another novel idea). I’m training to be a life coach, continually developing my teaching and growing the website (slowly). I hope to address the balance of a few things soon so I can dedicate more time to coaching and the website and look forward to collaborations (if they keep coming). I’ve realised over the past year that it’s really important to take control of your life. I always dreamt, but I never asked the question. I always spoke but I never wrote it down for fear of what others may think. At the moment, I’m empowering myself to make decisions and being courageous enough to follow through. I am only capable of this because I stopped drinking, continue to heal and realise deeply that there really is nothing else to do other than create, so why wait? Oh, and drink coffee (mostly decaf) and sleep.
If you’ve got this far, you rock. I barely made it. Genuinely though, what a lovely bunch of questions – thank you David.
Sam is currently building his online blog ‘unaddicted.co.uk’ as a way to help anyone who may be struggling with their relationship to alcohol (in any form). Having spent years under the spell of alcohol, he understands the feeling of helplessness that can come from addiction. Thankfully, a series of life circumstances, the words of others and seemingly disconnected events conspired to finally set him free. This inspired him to put his words on paper in the hope that he may help a few people along the way.
After returning to the UK after 8 years living abroad, he is continuing his career as a teacher and coach. The idea that his story and outlook could help even a few to realise that leaving alcohol behind is a cool and subversive choice is one of his main drives and he’s working hard to try and make a small difference with his writing.