Life as a high-functioning alcoholic | Young Minimalist http://www.youngminimalist.uk/young-functioning-alcoholic/

Life as a high-functioning young alcoholic

Happiness is often seen as a place you arrive. Many of us search for it, without really knowing where to look. At a young age, I found that alcohol allowed me to feel the friendships I was dearly missing. I spent nearly every night of my undergraduate degree (plus the 1.5 years before) drunk. Every morning, a loud alarm, shower and a coffee were the only way I could feel awake. Despite this, I graduated with a 1st Class degree and produced and toured a documentary film around London during this time.

My drinking, however, was not evidence of a thriving social life or bouts of success. It was a confirmation of the loneliness I suffered from and the longing I had for intimate relationships with others. I know I’m not the only young person to suffer from loneliness. It makes me wonder how many of us turn to the bottle?

The first drink…

Do you remember the first party you went to where there was alcohol? I was 15, going to school friend’s party. She had moved to a different school – an all girls school – there were loads of new people to meet, especially of a different sex. The sexual curiosity of that age meant that we quickly moved to play ‘spin the bottle’. This night I experienced my first kiss, that same girl became my first girlfriend (which didn’t last once we sobered up). And the more I think about it now, this very night may have structured my whole basis for sexual relations & relationship building.

Most parties I went to afterwards increasingly evolved around alcohol & sexual encounters. My friend’s 16th, where someone proudly received their first blowjob. A 17th where someone threw up and blew their chance of getting with that guy they wanted. 18th parties where sex was apparently everywhere – along with drugs and cigarettes – including one where there was someone walking around with a tray of condoms. Every year there seemed to be a new addition to the toolbox of ‘fun’.

Apart from that fateful first kiss, I never ‘got with’ anyone at parties. I was that kid who wondered around trying to figure out what on earth was going on. Asking myself, “Why do I seem to just float?”; “Why am I even here?” As the evenings went on, I would grab another beer and then wonder around to find someone to talk to. Some conversations would last for a while, keeping me away from the isolation that seemed to be looming. But some conversations would be cut short by my partner, and I would be cast back into a world of confusion and self-pity. It seemed people just didn’t want to talk to or be with me; and it was during these times that I began to diminish my self-worth.

Free hugs!

I think it was at this young age when I first found the soothing cuddle of alcohol. Having ‘one more’ allowed me to feel comfortable, like I belonged. I used a bottle, and not long later a cigarette, as a barrier between the world and me. It felt safe. I thought I fitted in. This narrative was something I reiterated as I grew older. Little did I know that 5 years down the line I would have a drinking problem and wake up most mornings with a fuzzy head.

Culture clash

I grew up in a first generation immigrant family, well my mother was half-English but she had grown up in Turkey. So neither of my parents really understood British culture. I had been taught the strict and respectful manner of Turkish culture, which was different to the mannerisms and attitudes of my contemporaries. The cultural capital – social knowledge one has: in style of speech, dress, intellect, education (in & out of school) – that I had was a mishmash of two cultures that didn’t really fit, and I experienced this incompatibility through the awkwardness I felt with my friends at school.

Despite this, I was able to move through all the groups (maybe apart from the football one – I didn’t really like football) but that still only gave me a skin-deep sense of friendship. I felt most at home with the misfits, those of us that didn’t quite call ourselves that name (or any name) but certainly weren’t the ‘cool kids’. We weren’t the geeks either, however, perhaps we didn’t have a name, we were just sort of there. Wherever we were, it was there I was able to be myself and relax, yet it was a yearning to not be there that made me ache to be ‘cool’. I was not satisfied by the amazing friends I had in this group and wanted to ‘upgrade’.

Looking into the black of my eye

Towards the end of my bachelor degree, I started panicking about what I was going to do once it finished. After being asked “what do you want to be when you’re older?” all my life and still not having an answer, I felt stuck. How have I got to this stage of my life and do not know what I want to do? Is there something wrong with me? Panic and anxiety set in. Slowly, but very surely, a void began to emerge from within, as a subtle but definite sadness grew.

I had begun to ask myself questions around this time. Not extrinsic questions about jobs or positions or directions, but intrinsic queries. I started asking what I valued: about myself, about the world, my moral values, my ethical values; if I was really enjoying what I was doing? What did I regret doing in the last few months? Could I have said “no” to some of those things? Once I was able to shift my answers from analytical to honest, I realised that I’d been focusing on the wrong things.

Take 5

Meditation had a massive impact on enhancing the ability to analyse my self and my thoughts. I used the app called Headspace to get me started – and still use it daily. The increased awareness of my thoughts, and to watch negative conceptions from a distance, is indispensable to self-discovery. Practising mindfulness allows us to see ourselves in the present, rather than looking into the future or reminiscing on the past.

As the Headspace co-founder, Andy Puddicombe says: the present is so underrated, and yet we spend so little time in it. Studies show having a distracted mind is a direct cause of unhappiness, and in his TED talk, Andy cites that we spend nearly half of our time distracted. That means we might be spending nearly half of our lives potentially unhappy. There’s something deeply worrying about that. Meditation really allowed me to focus on now; to understand what I enjoy; to realise what I don’t enjoy. It doesn’t happen quickly, but taking the time to train your mind is invaluable.

Where I was…

No-one knew I had a drinking problem; I was always on top of everything I needed to do, was always at university & I had spent two years successfully producing a film. There was no doctor or medical professional who told me about it. None of my friends thought it – or at least not that I know of – and I had no major health issues. High-functioning alcoholism is problematic because as it is incredibly hard to detect.

Alcohol has been such a big part of my identity for the last 6-8 years: I worked in craft beer, I had done courses in wine tasting & spent time grape picking to fund a trip, even the film I produced was about the independent brewing industry in London. My knowledge of self was intimately intertwined with drinking and its culture. My social network had been built on the people I met in the London Beer scene: bars & their regulars, breweries & their critics.

I worked in pubs; and if you’ve ever worked in a bar, you’ll surely know the compulsive drinking that comes with the job. Alongside this, the band I was in had a massive culture around drinking and smoking, and after an awesome rehearsal & visit to the pub, I would head over to my local that was open till 3 am and drunkenly sip & smoke. I was adamant that this was my life, that I couldn’t change it, and that if I did I would disappear into nothingness. But most of all, I loved it.

Admitting I’m a young alcoholic

It was after over a year of self-analysis and self-development that I could finally see that I was, in fact, alcohol dependent. This was a truly petrifying moment. All of a sudden my entire reality came crashing. I no longer belonged anywhere. I was looking at my self, naked in the middle of nowhere. Nothing to describe who I was. No past or future. Now there was only the present. A blank canvas. This was the chance I had to answer the questions I had been asking over the past year and (re-)build my self.

The morning I woke up to this thought, in a hostel, was January 1st, 2017. It was the best hangover I ever had – well, at least the most productive. Once the initial headache wore off, and I had my (cold) shower I could see. It was like those mornings (or afternoons) you wake up after a heavy night and say, “I’m never going to drink again” – except this time I meant it.

Dry-January was a perfect chance to test the water. I breezed through, only having one glass of prosecco at my sister’s wedding (which I consciously decided to have). February, I started with all the energy of the previous month, tripping over one night when out with 4 friends and an awkward 2-for-1 deal. I didn’t punish myself for it though, I could see my weakness and have worked on strengthening it. The next time I was out with friends I abstained; the time after only had a half; recognising the urges that were building inside me each sip at a time).

Movin’ on up

I am still working on it. It is incredibly difficult to be 24 and not drink. Our whole society dictates that we do. Everyone I know wants to ‘get drunk’. It is terrible being the person who is ‘no fun’ because they don’t drink. You feel ousted by groups and as if you don’t belong (again). The challenge of not drinking is not only a physical one but overwhelmingly a psychological one. The psychological challenge is two-fold. Both fighting the urges to have a drink and, whilst mentally weak, trying not to be affected by the stigma and ‘otherness’ it brings you.

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you don’t have to fight it alone. Reach out to your loved ones. But if, like me, you can’t do that, reach out to me (hello[at]youngminimalist.uk). I’d be happy to listen and offer my support.

Stay strong.

Becoming a minimalist | Young Minimalist http://www.youngminimalist.uk/becoming-a-minimalist/

Becoming a Minimalist

Minimalism is a way of life, it is a philosophy based around value. Minimalist living is mostly concerned with decluttering our lives of tangible objects. Inherently in becoming a minimalist, we relieve ourselves of many of the possessions we own and create a simpler framework for our lives. This will happen naturally when we start to question what we truly value. If you haven’t read my brief exploration of the philosophy of minimalism read it here; an understanding of this will be useful.

Minimalism isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. No one person has the right method or framework, and don’t let anyone tell you they have. But there are many common themes that arise from those that have adopted a simpler way of life. I will go through them here and hopefully you’ll be able to see that the transition to simplicity is a possibility for everyone.

How we consume

We tend not to question what it is we are consuming. In fact, we don’t even realise we are consuming things half the time. Most of our day is spent absorbing some thing or another. We wake up and put the kettle on waiting for that burst of caffeine to wake us up, ignoring the fact that we’ve already started consuming electricity: turning on the lights, the kettle and the heating that automatically comes on. Throughout the day we ignore so many of the little components that make up what we consume: the packaging on our lunch, the tea leaves in our tea bags, the chair we sit on at work. All of these things are material objects that we unconsciously ignore. Yet all of these have an impact, on our lives and the planet.

A fulfilled life is something many people strive for, and happiness is something, I believe, everyone wants to experience. Being truly happy and fulfilled can only happen when we satisfy all our needs. Yet I am convinced that many of us do not actually know what our needs are. For many years I thought I knew my needs. I urged my parents to give me more pocket money so I could buy more things: first it was sweets, then the latest sportswear, after getting a job and my first guitar I constantly bought gadgets to make me a ‘better’ player, then purchasing tech. The constant want for bigger, better, faster was dragging me through my life. The acquisition of one item leads to the desire for another. This framing of my needs developed at a very early age, and habitual satisfaction is a difficult addiction to break.

Developing self-awareness

I order to break our habits we have to be aware of them. This is a really difficult task if you do not know where to begin. Mindfulness is a great tool. It was a phase of anxiety during university that turned me on to mindfulness. I downloaded (the awesome) Headspace app and for 2 months used the free initial 10 days, ‘Take 10’, to guide me through meditation. Planting the seed of mindfulness, and nurturing it carefully, is a crucial element in becoming more aware of your self and improving your life (O’Brien, T. 2015). Over time mindfulness shifts your focus away from external factors and towards internal. It is this intrinsic internal forces that bring us our greatest joy (Lee, M. & Ahn, C. 2016).

Self-growth is a massive area of concern these days, with bookstore shelves filled with self-help books. As a society, we are becoming aware of the importance of inner growth. Mindfulness cultivates the perfect safe space for this inner growth to be cultivated. In one of the earliest surveys on voluntary simplicity, Duane Elgin (2010 [1981]) found that mindfulness and inner growth were highly common themes for those who had chosen a simpler way of life.

Becoming more mindful of what you value will build the foundations for designing a simpler way of life.Click To Tweet
Find your values

Once you are aware of your self. Spend some time to find what it is you value. Write them down. This could be playing sport every week, working towards high grades, calling a friend once a week, going out, reading the news, playing music, drawing, watching films. Alternatively, your values may be focused slightly differently: stop wasting money, eat healthier, read more, exercise more, develop myself, build great relationships…

What ever they are, once you define them you can work towards them.

Manage your space

The spaces we live in affect us massively, and our minds and our home have a very close link. The messier our mind, generally the messier our homes. Alternatively, the messier our home is, the harder it is to be calm and focussed when at home. This intimate connection is down to the fact that the material objects affect us. If you’ve read other minimalism blogs (create a blog list), you will have come across this idea: the objects we own take up our time. We have to clean them, tidy them, think about them, use them, fix them and think about them. That is a lot of ‘doing’ for one item. Take a moment to think about all the items you have. How much time could you save?

Keeping your space clear and clean is fundamental to creating a space where you can relax and enjoy yourself. Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of tidying, has written extensively on the subject of tidying and space management, highlighting the benefits for us. The KonMari method is not for everyone, but her ideas carry a lot of value.

Turn down from 11

Most of us run on 11 – especially if you live in a city. Our phones are ringing, emails coming through, Twitter, Facebook, advertising, coffee, lunch, shopping, drinks, dinner, TV, gym. We cram in as much as we can. Generally from a misconception of necessity. We need to do all these things, otherwise we won’t be happy! Turning down from 11 involves a few steps, some of these take effort and time, but, in the long run, they save us heaps of it.

Unsubscribe from mailing lists!

If you’re like me, you’re probably signed up to loads of mailing lists: my phone company, university, student union, all the stuff I signed up to in freshers week, discount websites, charitable causes, social media notifications… take some time to figure out which ones you want to keep and unsubscribe from the rest! The easiest way I found of doing this was to do it as I got emails coming through. There are other ways, and take some time to plan how you are going to get through this. Once you’re done, create a system to ensure you get your inbox clear every day, this way it’ll never accumulate again.

Turn off notifications

This is a crucial one. Do you really need your Twitter notifications on? Or Facebook notifications? Instagram? LinkedIn? Snapchat, Pinterest, your News apps, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Uni apps, email, Evernote, WhatsApp? Or would it just be simpler to check when you want to check? (Maybe keep your phone & texts on for emergencies, but otherwise… what do you really need?)

Don’t overcommit

I’m a people pleaser. Well, I was a people pleaser. Saying yes to everything and cramming my schedule full of things to do. Unsurprisingly, you can see how that took up a lot of my time. Shàà Wasmund (2015) discusses at length that saying ‘No’ to those things you don’t really want to do will create heaps of time. Here you can come back to the idea of value. When confronted with whether to do something or not, ask yourself, “Will this add value to my life?”. Then listen to your answer.

Stop multi-tasking

It’s not more efficient. You do not get more things done in the day. Having the TV on doesn’t help you concentrate.

Multi-tasking does distract you. It is proven to decrease your ability to focus. You produce lower quality work.

De-clutter

This is where Marie Kondo’s ideas really come in handy. The essence of de-cluttering – in effect the essence of minimalism – is to remove excess. Which method you chose is entirely up to you. The Minimalists came up with the Packing Party: placing everything into boxes – that means everything – and over the next 21-days only unpacking that which you need to use. Then everything else goes, Donate, Sell, Throw.The

The KonMari Method is gentler, with it asking you to look at every item and ask if you value it. Moving through your stuff by category, rather than location: first clothes, then tech, then uni stuff, miscellaneous… If you’re at uni, you’ve probably only got one room, but the idea still holds: organise by category. Then decide what to do with the stuff that no longer has value.

Buy Less

De-cluttering is not a reason to buy more to fill in the space you’ve created. By deciding what it is we value and cutting the excess, we should find that we already have everything that we need. There is no need to them fill the space we’ve cleared with more stuff. With mindful practices, you should start becoming aware of when you feel the urges to buy something, take a step back and ask that same question, “will this add value to my life?” Then listen to the answer.

 

Minimalism is about looking inwards

To start to live a simpler, minimalist lifestyle we must first start by looking in. Only once we have discovered who we are and what we value can we begin to act on the external factors around us. For the younger ones of us, this is particularly hard as we are still cultivating an image of ourselves. This, however, is not a hindrance, as you do not have to struggle to change habits that have had many years to settle in. The younger we can start critically observing ourselves, the deeper we can go with it. The best part is that learning more about your self will push you to work towards your own goals, not those of others; creating a life full of wealth.

 

Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich – Duane Elgin

 


Elgin, D. (2010 [1981]) Voluntary Simplicity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers

Lee, M. & Ahn, C. (2016) ‘Anti-Consumption, Materialism, and Consumer Well-Being’. The Journal of Consumer Affairs. Spring. pp. 18-47

O’Brien, T. (2015) Inner Story: Understand Your Mind. Change Your World. Ideational

Wasmund, S. (2015) Do Less Get More. London: Penguin RandomHouse UK