It's easy for someone who blogs about wellbeing (especially one who's also a Reiki teacher) to fall into a trap. It's the trap that says I've made it—I've found inner peace, health, and everything in my life has fallen into place. But inauthenticity is like a siren: a sign that something's wrong, and a bloody obvious sign at that. So here's my confession.
Since I became an adult, able to choose what I do and when I do it, I've had an unhealthy relationship with what I put into my body. I've used substances as an escape, a way to hide from myself.
The most obvious thing I put into my body that has caused me trouble is alcohol. I tell myself that I need to relax, that I work myself too hard anyway, and that having a drink will help. While there is some truth to this, I've got a weakness, which I think runs in my family, that means I quickly get dependent on alcohol. It's not that I binge drink, just that I find myself wanting a drink (or two, or three) every day. This isn't necessarily a problem, except for the fact that a feeling builds up in my body—the feeling that things aren't really well for me. When I take a break from drinking, that feeling goes away.
Since I became a non-drinker on 20th July this year, I've felt clearer, healthier, and that I have more energy. The only times I've wanted a drink since then has been with friends who are drinking, but the desire quickly passes.
But I've been a bit like the monk who, following the Buddhist monastic rule of no food after mid-day, decides to take up soft drinks and cigarettes, which he enjoys each afternoon. (Yes, I really met a monk that did that. He lives in Koh Chang.) He hasn't broken any formal rule, but he has missed the spirit of the rule: refraining from ingesting certain things in order to focus on the interior life.
And what did I do to replace the alcohol? Just like him, cigarettes!
This gave me another escape. Tobacco isn't nearly as fun as alcohol, but it still changes your state of mind, so when you don't want to face how you truly feel, it's a quick and easy escape. On a par with alcohol, at least for me, is its negative health effects. The hot smoke would irritate my throat, and just one cigarette would make me feel different all day, a kind of messiness in my chest. It was also psychological: feeling that I had done one damaging thing to my body in the morning would make me feel less positive throughout the day; there would be a lingering negative feeling that accompanied the lingering physical effects.
I thought I'd just have the one pouch of tobacco and then stop, but I didn't even last that long. The rewards of smoking were just so small compared to the negative effects. And after smoking for a few weeks it became clear what I really wanted: the ability to live my life, to face my real emotions, without relying on drugs.
I smoked my last cigarette on 21st October. The next day I took a bus to the seaside, and then a ferry boat to the beautiful island of Koh Samet, where I am now. I've been staying on a secluded little beach with just a few other guests. Most of them (it's surprising how many) are drinking, or smoking, or both. The beach is about relaxing, right? So alcohol and tobacco should really help. That's the logic I always took with me on previous beach holidays, anyway. But this time, without either of those crutches, I've had to appreciate what's really going on. It's a different attitude, where I can no-longer hide away from how I really feel, because I don't have either of those buttons to press that can make me feel different.
The fact is, I've been feeling quite good (except this annoying cold I came down with yesterday). Seeing the other guests smoking and drinking has made me miss both a little, but really not much at all.
On previous beach holidays I always had the option to smoke or drink, if I felt like I wanted to change my state of mind. It was like a safety net: if I'm not enjoying myself enough, or I don't feel relaxed enough, I have an option. And being without that option means I have to experience things with more courage, because I know that even if I don't feel the way I want to, I'm going to stay with it.
This has transformed my experience. I've had clarity and mindfulness in a way I've not had in a really long time. And I've felt more centred in myself, and comfortable with who I am. In some ways it's been tough, but in the opposite way to cigarettes: cigarettes are easy, provide a pathetically small boost, and have lasting negative effects. Being free from these substances has required strength, and has provided significant improvement in my wellbeing, without any negative effects.
I used these drugs in the past because I didn't want to be the uber-disciplined, holier-than-thou guy who didn't know how to have fun. I wanted to be relaxed and free. Getting really drunk certainly makes you relaxed and free, but the cost for me was just too high. So now that I step out in life (back to work tomorrow!) without these crutches, please wish me well.