Addiction, Anxiety and not being Tom Cruise

I never really know where the title of a piece of writing is going to come from until I've actually written it and it would definitely not have been the one I eventually chose. It's a great example of not always having to start at the beginning, but just to get started. I also don't know where it's going to go, so it was interesting to write about something that is still quite tough but may help other people who are struggling in any way. It's also nice to get another 1300+ words down on 'paper' for my writing challenge. "Make the private world public" as Ginsberg says, so here goes...

It’s 6am and I’m sat listening to Acid House music on Youtube, what seems like another person reminiscing of a time I can barely remember, just flashes of that young kid, high on LSD or Ecstasy in the late 80’s and early 90’s, dancing his precious heart out and going to warehouses and fields, not a care in the world.

It was mention of the club song “We call it Acieed” on a writing retreat last week that must have led to me dreaming about those heady times in London – a decade of clubbing, drinking and drugs which ultimately led to feelings of paranoia and being talked down from a roof after believing suicide was the best way to end one of those nights.

Looking back now, my then girlfriend did an amazing job convincing me I had so much to live for, despite feeling that I had nothing at all. It was partly the social anxiety, combined with a heady cocktail of drink, drugs and a bad night in a club where it all took hold – too many beers, one bad pill from the several I had taken, several million bad thoughts, white lines of turbulence rocketing through my nostrils. Just one more step off the edge for the silence to come in and those inner, negative voices to stop. What IF though…what if I survived and was paralysed, what if I landed on someone, what if my soul lived in purgatory for all eternity – yeah, thanks for that one catholic church!

I remember staring into the guttering of that roof, the dirty clumps of leaves thick and bunched up – I remember feeling like those leaves, stuck, useless, stopping the flow and just plain ugly to look at. The tears and cries of my girl as I edged closer to oblivion caused me to look back at her and see that fear, that terror and that pain etched on her face – the realisation of what I was about to do took hold, would everyone feel like that when I was gone or would a few just mourn briefly, shed a couple of tears and then move on with their life – as if my life was just a bad movie where the popcorn was more memorable than the show? She saved my life that day, for which I am forever grateful although there was another attempt a few years later when sober, when life seemed almost too real and too much to bear, hopeless and lost. Thankfully, she was there too that day, comforting and reassuring.

That ​day on the roof was when I stopped taking pills and started smoking pot, which would continue for another decade. What can I say, I was a slow-learner back then! Smoking pot seemed less ‘risky’ and took me to that place of calm, of numbness, of avoidance and of being able to not let so much get to me. Of course, the paranoia was still there, the anxiety, the pain, the struggle, but another joint soon put an end to that, then another, another…smoking them like a chain-smoker, when I woke up, on the walk to work, on the roof at work, when I got home I would sink into a cloud of smoke and just watch movies, listen to music or go out clubbing, high as the proverbial kite.

I remember those days, well, some of them anyway – surrounded by friends of a similar ilk. If I was not smoking I was drinking, anything to hide the fear of being myself, the anxiety always hanging like the smoke in the kitchen of the rental flat I almost burnt down after leaving the spaghetti on and passing out, awakening to a scene from a disaster movie, the place filled with smoke – I had to move out of that place.

​I took on a new persona, Vince, the semi-professional pool hustler inspired by the character of the same name from Tom Cruise’s film, The Color of Money, even going so far as having the movie poster on my bedroom wall. I played pool every other night, fell in love with a beautiful girl, Sara-Lynn, whose ​body I can still feel close to me to this day, her beautiful, cat-like eyes I staring back at me when she woke, until I cooked her Spaghetti Carbonara – shit, how could I forget she was a vegetarian, ham is not a vegetable Dave! Once again Spaghetti turned against me, what had I ever done to it?

More thoughtless, stoned days. Broken like me, she wondered why the name on my underground travel pass said Dave, instead of Vince. “Oh, Vince is my middle name”. I tried to convince here that I preferred to use that when I’m playing pool as there were 3 other regular Daves that played regularly. I also liked to pretend I was that character from that movie - cool, fast-playing, good-looking, popular with girls – well, 3 out of 4 wasn’t bad I guess! I'm definitely more Paul Newman nowadays!

I actually assumed that persona, believing that I was on my way to split-personality disorder – it probably saved my life when that pub, filled with character was replaced by an O’Neills – I don’t think I ever really got over that ​pub of escapism changing into one of those characterless chains. That great circle of friends lost, most younger than me, but where I could just be myself, or rather imagine myself as Vince, pool cue in hand, rave music on the jukebox, stoned or drunk on JD and coke, dancing around that table sinking ball after ball – leaving opponents trailing in my wake. Vince still appears briefly during moments when I want to hide, which is fine, I laugh at myself, put the pool cue back in the case and step back into the essence of myself.

Addiction is a disease, dis ease – it took me away from myself, that scared, young, bullied and creative boy. Unable to be myself, I took on a different character, one that suited whichever situation or group of people I found myself in the company of. It was exhausting, the social anxiety and paranoia kicked in through the fog sometimes and I’d have to take time off work, sick, unable to even leave my flat for days, playing video games for days in an endless cycle of “Skin Up” from anyone who happened to be around at the time.

When I eventually quit the drug addictions, almost 20 years ago now, I had to face myself, the rawness of myself. I had regression hypnotherapy and counselling which brought me back from the abyss – I know of several friends who were not so lucky and some of whom are now gone. I have feelings of guilt that I could not have saved them, but then, I was not the therapist I am now but the recovering addict, barely able to help myself during cycles of recovery, relapse, recovery, relapse – thank you to Eminem for capturing that struggle with such rawness in his later albums of the same names.

Substance abuse and anxiety disorders are closely related. People with an anxiety disorder may begin using drugs and/or alcohol to manage their anxiety symptoms and use these as coping mechanisms. People who are substance abusers for other reasons, may develop an anxiety disorder, and then have both issues to deal with. So, it’s vitally important to understand whether the underlying problem is addiction and substance abuse or an anxiety disorder that led to those behaviours, which it was in my case.

Getting away from London was a huge help in my recovery, not that there was anything wrong with London or that I am blaming it in anyway. However, sometimes a change of scene and a renewed focus is what is needed when on the road back from the abyss. I’m now very fortunate to be able to empathise and relate to clients struggling with severe social or generalised anxiety and qualified as a hypnotherapist and health & lifestyle coach to encourage and support others back to the essence of themselves and to live a healthier and happier life, free from stress and anxiety.

Meditation and Mindfulness changed my life, combined with physical exercise like Qi Gong, Yoga, Pilates, Cycling have all helped. Good nutrition, moderation, fasting and simply being in nature are also really beneficial to both physical and mental well-being.

Some articles that might help if you are struggling with anxiety -:

You can also get in touch with AnxietyUK that I work closely with as an approved therapist.

​Please also feel free to reach out and book an appointment for a FREE 30-minute Health & Lifestyle consultation or a hypnotherapy session, if you would like support with your own mental health and wellbeing.