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‘Don’t walk behind me I will not lead,
Don’t walk in front of me I will not follow,
Just walk beside me and be my friend.’
Torrential rain battered my emaciated body as I lay slumped on the rat infested railway embankment. Emotionally bankrupt, bereft of meaning, homeless and penniless, I’d resigned myself to a liquid last supper. Catching a glimpse of myself in a broken mirror revealed the extent of my deterioration. The twenty-five year old former fun-loving entertainer had been replaced by a decrepit old man: eyes sunken, yellow complexion, jittery and unkempt. Death seemed imminent: almost welcoming.
Images of my beloved family flooded my beleaguered mind, intensifying the disabling guilt that dogged me on a daily basis. They couldn’t bear it any longer; they asked me to leave the family home to avoid the pain of watching me slowly committing suicide.
I reached for the bottle of Vodka beside me and hoped the amnesic effects would kick in quickly. I needed to obliterate all traces of reality and retreat into oblivion. I took a swig. My body suddenly arched and went into spasm. I sank into a dark abyss.
On coming to, my head felt like home to a swarm of bees. Dazed and confused, I attempted to re-orient myself. The stench of sweat and urine filled my nostrils – the after-effects of yet another fit. As tears rolled down my cheeks and dissolved into the driving rain, I longed for the return of the happy-go-lucky lad who vanished as my drinking escalated, but all that I could see was the decrepit old man. How had this nightmare started?
I was born at the beginning of the sixties in Liverpool. My parents, Stanley and Brenda, held several jobs to keep the roof over our heads and put food on the table. My sister, Barbara, came along two and a half years later. We were a very close unit.
Childhood was quite normal for the inner city; a mixture of fun and fear – close knit communities; gangs hanging around on street corners; children playing in the streets; and neighbours in and out of each other’s houses: sharing, caring and sometimes squabbling!
I became streetwise at a very early age. My clown persona carried me through the nuances of childhood and adolescence. Having the ability to make people laugh proved a valuable asset, enabling me to integrate well with my peers and deflect the wrath of the bullies.
During my formative years my love for animals kept me occupied. The family home was a menagerie: birds, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, fish, tortoises, terrapins and frogs occupied many of the rooms. I had aspirations to become a vet back then; but alas, my dreams were dashed when I realised I couldn’t stand the sight of animals in pain!
Aged eight, the second love of my life emerged – music. I became entranced by my dad’s guitar. I’d strum the strings and listen with intrigue and fascination. Unlike many children, my interest in the guitar was not a short-term fad. Over the next few years, I practiced relentlessly and became an accomplished guitarist.
On reaching my teenage years, a school friend and I formed a duo. Within a year we were performing at social clubs and community centres. I’ll never forget our first gig. The venue was a small social club in close proximity to our house. For some unknown reason Robbie and I decided to change into our stage outfits at home and walk to the club. Adorned in pink shirts, black bow ties and violet trousers, we marched past our friends who were playing football on the street corner – I still cringe when I recall the jeers and ridicule we were subjected to! Still, the gig was a great success and proved to be the start of a magical era.
Music became my passion. Within a couple of years, the duo expanded into a five piece band. Rather than advertise for musicians, Robbie and I decided to invite our friends to join us – none of whom were musicians or vocalists! I took on the arduous task of learning all the instruments: drums, bass guitar, and keyboard. I’d then relay my knowledge to the other band members. It wasn’t unusual for me to be up until three or four in the morning, learning the various parts. Mum would be yelling down the stairs, ‘Paul, do you know what time it is? You’ve got school in the morning!’, but I was oblivious, totally immersed in the magic of my mind.
The band was very successful. We travelled the country performing gigs at clubs, private functions and festivals. The lads bonded like brothers – often fought like them too! I’d arrived – or so I thought – earning money pursuing my passion and travelling with friends to exciting places. Not to mention the attention we received from the girls! I was living my dream.
Around this time I was introduced to alcohol. I guess it was bravado at first. At fifteen I felt grown up when I drank. However, bravado soon became secondary to the liberating feeling alcohol instilled within me. As soon as I drank, my inhibitions dissolved and an unexplainable edge was put on life. My worries, anxiety and self-doubt gave way to a wonderful sense of liberation and invincibility. Consequently, the seductive effects started to get a strangle-hold very quickly.
Within a couple of years my commitment to the band began to wane in favour of drinking. My irate friends were frequently left awaiting my arrival at rehearsals, whilst I knocked back pints of lager with vodka chasers in the local pub.
During one of these bouts I met a trainee nurse who moonlighted as a barmaid to earn some extra cash. We started dating and after a year planned to get engaged. Trying to inject some stability back into my life, I renewed my commitment to the band and mended my relationships with the lads.
The band travelled down to Birmingham for an audition with an agent who booked acts to work abroad. The audition went very well; we secured a three month contract to perform at the American Army bases in Germany. Around the same time, we also secured a recording contract with a small label here in the North West of England. Our future looked extremely promising.
As the date for the German tour approached, however, I felt torn apart. I wanted to perform at the army bases and spend time with the lads, but I didn’t want to leave my girlfriend. After much deliberation and heartache, I pulled out. Sadly, a few months later, the group disbanded and the tour and recording never materialized.
The absence of music in my life began to take its toll. A cavernous void opened up and I became miserable and restless. The novelty of my relationship had worn off and my interest was beginning to wane. Life seemed meaningless. Needing an escape route, I turned back to alcohol. Within a very short period I became prone to unpredictable and irrational behaviour and my girlfriend left.
I managed to secure a low-paid job in a garage, driving and cleaning cars. Although I curtailed my drinking during the week, I binge-drank at the weekends. Black-outs and brawls ensued, and I was locked up on numerous of occasions. Doctor Jekyll was quickly turning into Mister Hide.
I dreaded the mornings after. I’d wake up full of paranoia and remorse, shaking, sweating, and vomiting, waiting for someone to tell me what I’d done the night before. The border between reality and fiction became vague. I often couldn’t distinguish between the things I’d done and the things I’d imagined I’d done. I’d jump out of my skin every time the phone or door bell rang. My nerves were shot.
Aged eighteen, I lost my driving license for drink-driving and my job in the garage went. Thinking a geographical move would sort me out, I secured a job as a Bluecoat in a holiday camp and moved down south. Working from 7.30am to 1am the following morning could be draining, but the social arena I worked in meant alcohol was freely available.
Drinking was no longer a luxury: it was a necessity. My day started with vomiting, sweating and shaking, accompanied by severe paranoia – what had I done the night before? Did I insult anyone? Did I embarrass myself? I had absolutely no recollection. Struggling to hold a bottle in my trembling hands, I’d take a large swig of vodka – then another – and another. The first few gulps would inevitably come back up, so I’d make sure there was a bowl at hand. When the retching and shaking calmed to a point where I could walk to the bathroom without feeling faint, I’d take the bottle to the shower. A few more gulps of Vodka whilst the hot water poured over me and I started to stabilize. My paranoia would subside as alcohol began to work its magic and life became an adventure again. On went my blue-coat and a smiling face and off I went to entertain the campers.
The summer season ended and life became a barren wasteland again: totally meaningless. The void inside became greater than ever, and I drank faster than ever to try and fill it. The following few years saw me deteriorate very quickly: three drink-driving charges, suspended jail sentences, probation, rehabs and numerous admissions to hospitals.
The latter drink-driving offence was serious: drink-driving whilst on a drink-driving ban. Prison seemed imminent. Arriving at court, topped up with alcohol, I thoroughly expected to go to prison. However, Legal Aid provided me with a very talented barrister who pleaded I would lose my career if I was imprisoned (I was due to take an entertainment manager’s post that summer). Consequently, my sentence was suspended. On leaving the court I headed for the nearest off-license, stuck half a bottle of vodka in my pocket, and headed for the nearest pub. The truth is I was already imprisoned.
By this time my family were distraught. Witnessing the sadness and despair in their eyes crippled me. To relieve the guilt I drank and drank and drank. I’d sneak bottles of spirits into my bedroom and hide them in readiness to drink throughout the night. Oblivion was now my only goal. But even sleep had ceased to bring respite. I’d shout, scream and sweat in a drunken stupor as the contents of my disturbed psyche expressed itself as horrific nightmares.
The onset of hallucinations saw gargoyle-like faces appearing at my bedroom window. Terrified, I’d flee into my parents’ room to get help. They quickly realized what was happening and tried to reason with me, but their attempts were to no avail. The hallucinations were so vivid I was convinced they were real.
During one particularly bad experience, I ran into my sister’s bedroom and ordered her to make her way to my parents’ room as quickly as possible. ‘Why?’ she enquired, startled.
‘I’ve just seen two gunmen going into our bathroom.’ I replied.
More frightened of me than the two illusory gunmen, she headed for my parents’ bedroom.
Another night I hallucinated thieves breaking into my dad’s van which was parked outside our house. I rushed to call the police, only to be cut off by my mother.
‘They’re gonna get away with the van!’ I ranted.
After numerous attempts to reason with me, she backed off and I called the police. When they arrived, our road was desolate; not a soul in sight. My mum had a quiet word with the puzzled officers and they turned to leave. As they returned to their car, I hallucinated heads popping out of the neighbours paths and shrieked at them to arrest these people, but they left in the knowing that these criminals existed only in the domain of my screwed up psyche.
Things continued to deteriorate drastically. Unable to determine reality from the alcohol fuelled delusions of my warped mind, I became terrified. I pleaded with my doctor to get me help. To this day I owe him my life. He had me admitted to hospital and rehabs on numerous occasions. Although I would often sign myself out and return to drinking, his faith never waned.
On hitting rock bottom, I’d go to any lengths to be admitted into hospital – it was the only place I felt safe. I’d take lethal cocktails of alcohol and painkillers and then tell someone. Although this destructive behaviour was a cry for help, not a serious attempt to kill myself, I almost ended my life on two occasions. On one occasion, after being rushed to hospital and having my stomach pumped, I was lying in bed fatigued and paranoid when an emergency team came hurtling in and inserted numerous drips into various parts of my body. They promptly informed me that a toxic level of painkillers and alcohol remained in my bloodstream. My life was saved only by the swift response and expertise of these people.
But did I learn from the experience? Was it enough for me to quit drinking? No – I was to repeat this procedure time and time again. I’d go to any lengths to obtain drink: beg, steal, or borrow. The first possessions I parted with were my guitar, microphone and other musical equipment. To walk past the local second-hand shop and see them for sale was heart-breaking, but drink was a necessity I couldn’t live without.
After selling all my possessions, I reverted to theft and deceit. My father was a milkman at the time and used to collect a large sum of money on a Friday night. Although he and my mother selflessly cared for me throughout my withdrawals, tending to my every need as I convulsed and vomited – and, although I loved them dearly – one Saturday morning I stole the whole contents of my father’s cash bag and fled. When I eventually emerged from that bender, the guilt was unbearable: I hated myself with a vengeance.
Finally, I reached bottom. My emaciated body gave the appearance of an old man, though I was still only in my twenties. When I ran out of alcohol, I’d revert to drinking surgical spirits, methylated spirits, after shave, and even squirting body deodorants into my mouth hoping they’d bring some relief.
…And so I ended up on that railway embankment, homeless, penniless, and totally exhausted; several rats scurrying past seeking shelter from the driving rain; the faces of my beloved family appearing vividly in my mind. Surely this was the end of the road?
As darkness eclipsed any flicker of hope I had left, something extraordinary happened. Emerging from the depths of my psyche, a loving voice whispered the words ‘you weren’t born to live this way.’
Was it another hallucination? Was I schizophrenic? Had I lost it completely? No – none of these explanations rang true. If I suffered from any of these conditions, I wouldn’t have had the faculty of reason to challenge them – and I did.
That experience proved to be the start of an enlightening and fulfilling journey. Rocky, admittedly, as relapse followed sobriety in cycles – but so worthwhile. Although I stumbled and fell, I no longer viewed relapse as failure; it became a feedback system from which I learned.
The wise inner voice remained my companion throughout. If you don’t get the results you want, preserve the learning, refine your techniques and try again, it whispered to me – and I adhered to the advice. This voice I came to know as the archetypal alchemist: my inner friend, mentor and genius. There’s one lying dormant inside you right now. Call on him/her now; be guided from the wilderness and transform enslavement into enlightenment.
Documenting these events from my life has been a surreal experience; like a bad dream from which I’ve now awoken. Today, it’s a totally different story. I don’t think about drink, whatsoever. I don’t fear it, avoid it, or have a healthy respect for it – quite honestly, it’s insignificant. What an amazing turn-around considering my history.
Alcoholism is a mind-set, the answer to which is a radical shift in consciousness. Through adherence to the philosophy outlined in this book, I achieved this shift. Today, my mind is a creative kingdom that gives rise to feelings I could never attain through the bottle: ecstasy, euphoria – literally, heaven! Now I’m free, liberated and master of my own destiny, every day is an adventure providing the opportunity to embrace the infinite possibilities that life has to offer.
The loser that once spent his days on rat-infested railway embankments has given way to a therapist, author and inspirational speaker! Since quitting alcohol, I have travelled the world on various quests for knowledge, attained a degree in psychology, trained in many different facets of therapy, and spoke to large audiences about my experiences. Can you believe it? That homeless, pathetic, down-and-out now teaches psychology and holds seminars and workshops throughout the country: people actually pay to hear what he has to say! From having no bus-fare or bed to sleep in at night, he now stays in some of the most luxurious hotels in the world and drives a brand new Mercedes Benz!
Seriously, transforming the mental and emotional debris that gave rise to my destructive tendencies has become my wealth. Through the process, I realised my ultimate purpose in life – to evolve my understanding of the mind and spirit and relay my findings to others. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there isn’t anything that lies beyond the realms of possibility: I can achieve anything I want in life. To date, I have penned a novel – Spirit of Adventure: Signposts from the Sacred Singularity – and you are currently reading my second book. In the future I have plans to write a musical and various plays, write and record music, and continue to travel the world on my quest for knowledge. What an absolute joy it is to be alive! My sustained happiness and fulfilment stems from the knowing that I am a limitless, inexorable bundle of potential, capable of achieving anything I choose to focus on – and guess what? So are you!
As for the family, well, our bond has grown in a beautiful way. The pain and sorrow that once was, has been supplanted by laughter and joy. My parents and sister are my best friends today. Past experience served only to bring us much closer together.
Then, of course, there’s my extended family – a wealth of close and intimate friends with whom I intend to walk hand-in-hand for the remainder of life’s journey. I’d like to extend that invitation to you, my friends. I am a privileged guy, someone who found a way out of the denizens of despair to a life beyond his wildest dreams. I’d like you to come and join me on the journey from Alcoholic to Alchemist and realize your dreams too: it’s a wonderful adventure.
Namaste, my friends,