Category Archives: The Story So Far

The Story So Far – Chapter 18 – Numb Again

CHAPTER 18 – NUMB AGAIN

Just when you think you are back on your feet and moving forward again, there is always something else just waiting around the corner.

You could say it was no exaggeration that I struggled with the death of my Nan, from the moment I found out, right up until the funeral I was struggling with the whole thing, most of it stemming from that deep resentment for my own actions over the previous years.

Then just as I thought I was back in the groove, walking each day and moving forward once again, the peace was broken once more by yet another phone call.

At 4.30pm, Saturday 27th April 2013, everything came crashing down yet again.  This time my Dad rang to say that his Mum had died earlier in the morning.  So once again that numb feeling returned, after the phone call ended I sat there in tears once more.

That early heartbreak held for a day or two, but it wasn’t really the same as last time.  Mainly because even though I loved my Nan, I wasn’t as close to her as I was my other Nan, whereas I spent so much time in my childhood with my first Nan,  I hadn’t spent quite as much time with this Nan.  My Dad’s family were from Blidworth, near Mansfield, although it’s not that far from us, less than twenty miles, neither of my parents could drive when I was younger, so to get there we had to take a rather unreliable bus service.  My parents would put my sister and I on the bus in Newark and my Nan would meets us at the other end.  We would spend the day with her and then she would put us back on the bus at night and my parents would meet us at the bus station. I wouldn’t dream of doing that with my kids now, but back then it was just one of those things that happened.  What was more interesting was that we didn’t have a telephone until I was about eight, my parents weren’t that well schooled either, they could barely spell and not the letter writing sort of people, so I’m not sure to this day how they managed to arrange things, because everything seemed to go to plan, there was always someone there to meet us on time.

My sister would go and spend weeks in the summer holidays with my Nan in Blidworth, but I never did.  So that closeness I felt for my Nan on my Mum’s side was far more than I felt for my other Nan.

But nevertheless, that shock that she had died still hit hard over those first few days, but even though once again the funeral was to be a couple of weeks away, I managed to deal with the grief better this time around.  Maybe it was because I had actually seen my Nan few years before, my Mum and Dad took me to see her in hospital in Mansfield when she had been ill at one point and not really expected to pull through.  I remember seeing her and not really liking what I saw, it wasn’t the Nan I remember, somehow she wasn’t there, she remembered me and even called me stranger, but other than that she seemed to be in a world of her own, nothing like the memories I had of her.

This visit came at a time when I was struggling with the alcohol, it was just before Christmas 2010 and I was deep into my problems by then.  I guess because I had actually seen her during this time, I didn’t have the same deep routed remorse that I had had for my other Nan, so it seemed easier to deal with this time around.

It wasn’t until the day of the funeral until I really broke down.  I went with my Mum and Dad to meet everyone at my Aunt’s house in Rainworth, the funeral procession would start from there.  I was okay whilst I was stood there talking with my Uncle and cousins, but as soon as I saw the hearse pull up, I began to struggle, I remember one of my younger cousins breaking down in tears in front of me and then from that point, I broke down too and descended back into that feeling of wanting to deal with this alone and in my own way.

I sat with my family during the service, but once again stood alone at the burial just like the last time.  Once again I felt like I had to do this all alone, that was until my Aunt came over and wrapped her arms around me, we cried together for a while and as soon as she released me, it felt like it was all going to be okay.

I sat quietly through the wake, I was sociable, but not overly talkative.  Whereas last time I had started to come around and start to open up and let things go a bit, this time it seemed like it was all a delayed reaction.  I remember sitting there writing a poem to both of my Nan’s on my phone, which I then posted on my Blog.  When I got home later I took the unprecedented step of posting my poem on Facebook, I thought that my cousins and family would appreciate it too, I don’t usually share anything on Facebook these days, but this time I thought it would be fine and it was, my cousins soon liked the post.

That day I had actually written two poems, I wrote one in the early hours of the morning to my Nan and then this one in the afternoon, both were quite personal, but I still shared them.

Always And Forever

Do we ever say the words
That reside deep within our soul

We hold them for a special moment
That never really comes
A time, a place
That’s perfect in our dreams
Yet we let those moments pass
Opportunity lost
And words are left unsaid
Now death has come between us
Can you hear these words I write
Can you see them
Can you feel them
Can you look within my heart
And take these words
Hold these feelings
Of this love I’ve held inside
That I’ve never before said
And know that I mean them now
With all I am
Like always
And forever

 

My Goodbyes

My goodbyes
Now they’re all said
As I stood there
In my silence
Tears leaving tracks
Gradually falling
Into space

I’ve said goodbye now
To both of you
My treasured Nans
I’ll hold my memories
Close to my heart
Forever carrying
The love you both gave

Goodbye to you both
My ladies of strength

At the funeral there was a couple of friends of my Nan that I didn’t really know, one of them was called Steven, I didn’t know him, but my Nan often spoke of him as a friend from her Church, but the other guy I didn’t know at all, my Dad did, but I don’t actually remember who he said he was.  Towards end of the wake they got up to leave, but this guy came over towards me, as he approached he said to me he felt like he had to come over and say something, at that point he put his hand on my shoulder and then suddenly stopped speaking, he took his hand away and all he said was “your gonna be okay!”

To this day I’m not sure what he felt when he put his hand on my shoulder or what it was he was actually going to say.  Knowing that he was a friend of my Nan’s from Church, I hope he felt the Hand of God on my shoulder too, I’m sure he felt it, he never said, but I like to think that that was what happened.

When I got home later that day another odd thing happened.  Years before my kids had brought me a key ring of Barney Gumble from the Simpsons, it was one of him in his typical drunk state with a pint of bear in his hand.  As I closed the gate and turned to lock it, it fell off my keyring.  I never noticed that it was close to falling off before, but it chose this day to fall off for good.  I took it as a sign that the fight against any cravings for alcohol was finally over, when this image fell away, it took away any stigma I had attached to myself about being an alcoholic.

Things really didn’t improve for me that evening either, I still felt really low and it continued into the next day too.  Thankfully it was a Wednesday evening and I set off for Connect Group at Paul and Sarah’s house.  I was distinctly quiet when I got there, still trapped within my own mind, I didn’t really interact with anyone, which isn’t like me at Connect Group, we all get on so well.  But as the night went along, this group of people seemed to have a way of just bringing me around, by the time I left their house that night, I was back to what could be considered somewhere near normal, even Sarah the next week commented on how during the evening I completely changed, how I came out of my shell as the evening went along.

Once again with all of that out of the way I managed to get myself back on track, get out walking most mornings and moving forward again.  It had been a strange couple of months, in the space of less than two months I had lost my two remaining Grand Parents, although sandwiched in between were those great days of my first anniversary of being sober, it was all a bit of a rollercoaster ride to say the least.

SLEEP AND DREAMS by CHARLIE HALL
Close your eyes, it’s time to sleep
The day is done and it’s the time to breathe and dream
I pray that bands of angels fill your room
And the songs of God would come, consume you

Rest your head on hallelujahs
Rest your head on all God is
Rest your head, the day is done
And now it’s time to sleep

And put your mind on things above
And let your heart be filled with faith and hope, and love
I pray that bands of angels fill your room
And the songs of God would come, consume you

Rest your head on hallelujahs
Rest your head on all God is
Rest your head, the day is done
And now it’s time to sleep

Rest your head on hallelujahs
Rest your head on all God is
Rest your head, the day is done
And now it’s time to sleep

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
May the God of dreams come and fill your sleep
And may the God of dreams come and fill your sleep

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
May the God of hope come and fill your soul
May the God of hope come and fill your soul

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
May the peace of Christ come and fill your life
May the peace of Christ come and fill your life

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
If you’re yearning, if you’re thirsty
Child, come

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs

Rest your heads on hallelujahs
On hallelujahs
Rest your heads on hallelujahs

The Story So Far – Chapter 17 – One Year On

CHAPTER 17 – ONE YEAR ON

With my Nan’s funeral out of the way, a sense of normally returned to my life once again.  All of the darkness that came about with the remorse for my actions had been lifted by my family at the funeral.  So as March 2013 came to a close I was able to focus on the first anniversary of being sober.

Somehow that date of 29th March 2012 doesn’t seem to be a random date to just quit drinking, that day seems to have some significance, I’m not sure why, but the anniversaries or significant milestones always seem to fall on days of significance too.  The first anniversary happened to fall on Good Friday, I’m sure it didn’t just happen to fall on that date, if it did I am thankful that it fell on that day, because it made it all the more memorable.

To be able to not only celebrate my freedom from addiction on that day, but to combine it with the day where we remember Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross for us all.  It was the first time that I really felt I understood what Easter was all about and to experience it on a day that was such an important milestone in my life was an added bonus.

The weekend after James held a celebration at his house, inviting a number of people from Church who had been so supportive of me over the previous year.  We had a great night, catching up and chatting about the previous year, it was a great way to celebrate and not a drop of alcohol in sight.

The previous twelve months had gone by so fast and so much had happened.  The only low points up until then had really came about with the death of my Nan.  There were times in those couple of weeks where I was at a real low and if I’m completely honest the thought of drinking again did cross my mind, but thankfully I was strong enough to avoid any temptation.  I knew that not drinking was the only way I could survive and get through it.

In reality the only serious threat to my sobriety in the previous twelve months had come during those few weeks were the pain of the withdrawals were at their greatest.  I knew then that my body was struggling to adapt without the alcohol that it had become accustomed to, I knew then I could end all of that pain with a drink, but through prayer and reaching out to friends, I found a way through it.  Now those friends were coming together to celebrate with me, twelve months on there were so many people I owed a word of thanks to and they were there that night with me.

After the low start to March, it ended in such a great way, celebrating the strength I had found in God to get through.  I had made through a year, I was grateful for that, because I knew in my heart, without that God intervention I would not have made it through the year, I was convinced that I would have suffered serious health problems or  even worse, took my own life.  But now I was celebrating life, celebrating all the amazing things that God had done in my life in just twelve short months.

By this time I was beginning to truly appreciate all of the points in my life before I got sober, in the those dark times when I was drinking to hide from my problems, where I could now really see God’s hand on my life.  I obviously didn’t know it at that time, I couldn’t see it or hear it, but now I could appreciate it all.  Even before I started to struggle I had stumbled across Christian music and found an interest in it.  I didn’t know why, I didn’t really understand what it was saying into my life, but I sang along, not knowing why I was really listening to something I didn’t really believe in, but now I began to understand that this was just one of the stepping stones that God was putting in my path so I could find him.

Then came the people I would meet, over the years before my recovery I met so many people that in time would become such a support when I needed them.  Before that they were just faces and names, people I liked, but never really thought I would have anything really in common with or would even really want to spend time with.  But when it came down to it and I needed a support network, they were there in place already.

When I wobbled at the death of my Nan, they were all there once again, helping my through it all the way once again.

I guess there were so many stepping stones that God put before me when I was a lost alcoholic, I found myself desperate and stranded on the far side of the river, separated from the life that God meant for me and the only way over was to take a step on each of the stones laid across for me.  Except when you then get close to the other side there’s one more step, but you can’t see it, you just have to believe it’s there, a deep breath and a step out in faith.  I reached that step the night I prayed, to make it across to freedom I had to step out and trust in God, I did that night I first prayed, I stepped out and found my footing even though I couldn’t see the step below, then when I found that sobriety I finally made it to the other side and found the Father’s arms.

As March 2013 ended and April began, I was back in the spring of things, I was back out walking again and focused again.  As the month went along everything seemed to be falling back into place after early March’s slip, but then it happened again, the numbness returned.

THANK YOU by JAKE HAMILTON & KIM WALKER-SMITH
Thank you for the summer
And thank you for the rain
And thank you for the pleasure
Thank you for the pain

Thank you for the flowers
That bloom in early may
And thank you for the winter
That washes fall away

I want to say thank you
Thank you for it all

Thank you for the deserts
Thank you for the trees
Thank you for the failures
And for the victories

Thank you for the pruning
That gives me room to grow
Thank you for the seasons
Where I learn to reap and sow

So come, let us worship
Let us release a joyful sound
Let us enter his presence
Let us all bow down

The Story So Far – Chapter 16 – Numb

CHAPTER 16 – NUMB

By the time March 2013 came around I was doing really well, I was well clear of any urges to drink, I was out walking every morning and getting my life back into some sort of order.  I had taken the last few days of February off work, I had a little bit of drawing work to do for the Architect’s, but I also intended to help out at Church on Friday 1st March in preparation for the Raise Conference the next day.

On the Friday I got up early as usual and set off for a walk, I remember shortly before 7am being sat at the side of the lake and watching the sunrise over the water, in a spot I had found to be very peaceful.  Then my phone rang, it was my Mum’s mobile number, this was odd as she never rang at that time of the day as she worked early morning’s, so something had to be wrong.

It was, she didn’t sound right on the phone, then she told me my Nan had died during the night.  I guess at first I didn’t really respond to the news, I wasn’t sure how to, she started crying on the phone, I had never seen or heard my Mum cry before, she’s not that sort of person, my Dad’s more emotional, but my Mum’s not that way, I didn’t know what to say, the phone call didn’t last long, there was not much more to say at that time.

I felt quite calm, but the peace of the moment was shattered, so I stood up and turned to walk home, by that time it had hit me, I rang Victoria as I began to walk home and instantly began to cry as I told her.

Overnight Eve my daughter had been sick and couldn’t go to school, Victoria was working in the morning so I had agreed before going out to walk to look after her.  When I got home I was a bit of mess, I just sat crying, Victoria asked if I was still okay to have Eve, if not she would rearrange things, I said it would be okay, I would look after her.  I decided that I actually needed to get out the house, so I was going to nip into town and then set off to Church to help set up.

It actually helped having Eve there with me in those hours that morning, I picked up a few things form town, got her something to keep her occupied and we both set off to Church.

As long as I was busy I was fine, as long as I put my mind to something I was calm, when I stopped and actually had time to think, I would just break out into tears.  I had not had to deal with a death of a family member, not since I was eight and my Granddad died, I really didn’t know how to deal with it, I guess nobody ever does, we all cope in different ways and there’s very little that can be said to people right in the middle of the grief.

I stayed at Church as long as possible, it was keeping my mind busy and free from dealing with the pain.  When I got home later that evening I just sat there blankly staring.  I remember Victoria coming into the room, the Inland Revenue were calling regarding my outstanding tax bill, I took the phone but couldn’t deal with it, I politely told the woman on the end of the phone what was going on and thankfully as I quietly broke into tears again, she kindly agreed to call back in a few weeks.

The next day I was on duty with the A.V. Team at the conference, I was on video camera all day, which was fine, it kept my mind busy and throughout the morning I was walking around with a camera on my shoulder getting footage as the event took place, it was tiring work, the camera feels quite heavy after a while, but it was keeping my mind off the grief that was really still waiting to hit me.

We broke at lunch and I remember going outside and speaking with Ally from my Connect Group, I felt okay at that point, I couldn’t eat anything, but I felt fine.  Then I went back inside and it hit me, I remember walking into the A.V. booth and crouching down, holding my knees to my chest and just crying, there was so much going on around me, nobody heard, but it was all beginning to catch up with me again.

It was a guy call Dale who found me, I didn’t know Dale that well, we had met a few times over the previous weeks and I got to know him a little more on the Thursday night when we were setting up the lighting for the event, he didn’t know what was going on at the time and jokingly patted me on the head, until he realised I was crying and in a bit of mess, I don’t think he knew where to put himself at the moment, the next thing I know James came in and sat beside me, Dale had obviously fetched him or someone had anyway.  James had that amazing way of calming me down, I had been there for me in the toughest parts of my recovery in the months before and he was the one clearing up the mess that was me once again.

It did the job though, I calmed down enough to clean myself up and get back to my duties.  Dale took over the roaming camera duties for the afternoon, I took over the static camera, which was a little easier, that was until another member of the team joined us later on and I was allowed to stand down.  I was so tired and worn out, I guess by this time both physically and emotionally.

After the conference I didn’t have the energy to stay and help clear up and get the Church turned around for Sunday’s normal service, I normally would have done, but the other guys made it clear that I had done more than enough over the weekend, especially considering the situation.  I walked home, slowly, I never walk slowly, but on that day it was all I had.  I cried a lot more when I got home that night, I also noted in my journal that my temper was getting the better of me, maybe that was the tiredness or even the onset of guilt which would hit me over the next week or so.

The next day I was a real mess, I tried walking in the morning, but it felt like I was just dragging myself along, I think I got as far as the lake and turned back.  Whilst at home I was in a real state, the temper that had risen the night before had taken over, I was on a real short fuse and clashed with Victoria because of it, I guess I was being completely unreasonable, regardless of what was going on there was no need for me to act like that, to take my anger out on everyone else.

I went to Church early that morning, I wasn’t on team, but I knew that it was better to be around people who could help me.  I broke down so many times during the morning and spoke with so many people.  The good thing about speaking with all these people and speaking out about the situation, is that eventually the truth starts to come out and the source of all this anger was routed deep in remorse I held for my actions over the previous few years, the anger was aimed at myself.

My parents were both working parents, they left school with no qualifications, yet neither had been out of work for more than a few weeks.  So as a child I spent as much time with my Nan as my parents.  I would go to her house for dinner instead of school dinners, I was a fussy eater when I was younger and refused to eat school dinners, so my Nan cooked for me everyday.  I would then go there afterschool as my parents worked until early evening.  My sister and I, together with my four cousins would spend every school holiday at my Nan’s, we took over her little one bedroomed bungalow, we ran her riot, but although she may have complained to our parents, she would have us every time.  Despite being as old or older than some of the other pensioners in the neighbourhood she would go shopping for them, cut their lawns for them, she would do anything for anyone, she was always happy when she was doing something for someone, though she didn’t like people doing things for her, she preferred to just get on with it and stay busy.

I guess that’s why she lived until she was 95, she stayed busy and even when she was well into her late eighties my Mum and her sisters tried to slow her down, but she would have it.  Victoria used to tell me that she would see her in town shopping, she would tell her not to tell my Mum, as she wouldn’t like it.

She used to come over to our house every Sunday and help cook Sunday dinner, even when I was in my mid twenties and still living with my parents, she would go into my bedroom on a Sunday afternoon, whilst I was out at karate and clean it, I couldn’t stop her, there was no stopping her doing anything.

I was her youngest Grandchild and in a way her favourite, again even until the day myself and Victoria moved out of my parents house, she would bring my crisps and cans of Cherry Coke every Sunday, she had done it for years and there was as I say no stopping her.

A few years earlier though she had had knee replacement, it was at that point that my Mum and her sisters insisted that she move into a home, as looking after her bungalow would be too much now.  But this was around the time when I was beginning to struggle.  My Mum would often ask me to go and see her in the home, but I kept making excuses, I always said I was busy.  But to be honest, at the time I was only working a day or so every now and then, maybe a week here or there, in reality I had plenty of time to go visit, I just couldn’t do it.  To this day I can’t really explain why, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to see her and I was her favourite Grandchild, all my cousins went regularly and my sister, but I never went.  I just made my excuses and went back to my life in the shadows, with my alcohol and my self pity.

So now my Nan had gone and I hadn’t seen her in so many years.  When I began to get sober I still made excuses, I didn’t want my Nan to see me how I was, I wanted her to see me at my best, to remember me that way, plus I wanted her to see me with Victoria by my side, not on my own, I didn’t want her to see how badly I had failed.

But now it was too late, she was gone.  All of a sudden this remorse, this self pity was materializing itself as anger.  But the more I discussed it with my friends and supporters at Church, the more I came to terms with it.  They made me see that my Nan wouldn’t want to see me this way, she wouldn’t blame me, she loved me.

Later that day I made it to karate, where I saw my Mum and Dad for the first time since I had received that phone call.  They seemed to be doing pretty well, but in truth I was still struggling and there was still an amount of anger bubbling under the skin.  I managed to get through it and teach the class, again as long as my mine was occupied I was fine.

Over the next week I picked up a bit, I got out walking each morning and felt a lot better about the whole situation,  I was tired, very tired and began getting a few headaches, but I was doing a lot better than the previous weekend.

But by the end of the week I started to suffer from panic attacks, which slowly got worse, until on the Saturday afternoon I had a real bad one.  I’ve never suffered from these before, I don’t know where they came from or why, but they were worrying, the worst one was that Saturday afternoon and after that they seemed to go as quickly as they started.

The Sunday morning though, everything came crashing down once again.  I got out walking and made it to the lake, I sat there just looking out over the water, then I began to think about walking out into the centre of the lake.  Just taking all I had with me, wade out into the middle of the lake and just disappear under the water.  I was convinced that nobody would notice if I just disappeared, nobody would be bothered by it.

I knew I had to leave that place and quick.  It was Mother’s Day again and for the second Mother’s Day in a row I was threatening to kill myself, why was this happening again, why did I feel this way?

I went home and did what I always did after my previous suicide tendencies, I went in the bath.  I remember lying there convincing myself that I couldn’t go into Church that day, there was no way I could let them see me this way, they had all worked so hard to help me, that me being this way was just letting them all down, I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.

But then I heard this voice in my head clearly telling me…

IF CHURCH IS THE ONE PLACE YOU DON’T WANT TO BE,
THEN THAT IS THE ONE PLACE YOU NEED TO BE.

That morning I dragged myself to Church, I was supposed to be on A.V. Team, covering lights, so I had to be there early.  I slowly walked to Church, fighting the urge every time I came to a point where I had to turn a corner, not to just keep walking by, somehow I made it to Church.

On the way in I met with Paul and Jo Tilley, immediately I think Paul could see there was something wrong.  He calming asked if I was okay, I not sure I really wanted to discuss what had gone off that morning with anyone, but eventually I told him what had happened.  He told me that after Church I was to go back with Jo and himself for dinner, I declined, it was Mother’s Day and didn’t want to intrude on their family dinner, but he wouldn’t have it, he insisted and I wasn’t allowed to say no.

I stood in the team meeting before all the teams split to begin their setup, Dominic my team leader that day could see that I was in no state to fulfil my duties and thankfully excused me, which was a bit of relief.  I spoke with a few other people that morning, in particular James and Gareth, but I didn’t tell anyone else what had happened at the lake, I didn’t feel like reliving that one all morning.

My headache had go worst that morning, I struggled through the service, if I closed my eyes, I drifted off to sleep, if I kept them open my head felt like it was going to burst open, I was struggling, for the first time in almost a year I was on the edge.

I went back with Paul and Jo, for lunch with their family, it seemed to make all the difference, whilst I was there the headache disappeared and the gloom seemed to lift, by the time I left later that afternoon I was beginning to feel normal once again.  I went home and slept the rest of the afternoon, which I think I really needed.  Later that night I posted on my blog what had happened earlier that day, I posted about the moments at the lake and how low I felt at the moment, once again the more I shared the problem, the more it seemed to be lifted from my shoulders.

Come Tuesday it was finally time for the funeral, I so wished it had been sooner, I really wanted it to be out of the way, to say my goodbyes and get some closure.  I made my own way to the funeral, I walked alone, refusing lifts from other members of the family.  During the service and the burial I stood alone, I didn’t want to grieve with anybody else, I wanted to grieve in my own way on my own, I guess I’m still very much prone to do things alone and in my own way.

I didn’t really speak with anyone until my Aunty came over to me at the wake, I know she could see I was struggling in my own way, she hugged me and quietly told me just to remember all the good times I had with my Nan and it would all be okay, from that point onwards I came around a bit.

The funeral really did bring closure, the pain of the last few weeks days was finally gone, as the wake went along I became more social again and even started to laugh as myself and my cousins recounted all the stories of our childhood and how we ran our Nan to despair.  It made me see things in a different way and as I say put all that remorse and self hatred aside.

I spent a few hours with a few friends from Church later that evening, discussing my feelings over the last two weeks, it helped to put it all behind me and begin to move on again.

As a tribute to my Nan I put together a lyric video to the song Mama by the band Flyleaf, which I posted on my blog.  A few months later I got a message on my blog from Lori Mosley, the Mum of Lacey Sturm, Flyleaf’s lead singer, she had found my video and blog, she congratulated me on my journey and told me how Lacey had asked her to sing with her on the song and how proud she was of her daughter too, she can be heard in the final part of the song, which she wrote and sang. It may have been a random message, but seeing as Flyleaf had been one of those bands that I listened to as a none Christian and they had become a band I got a lot of inspiration from in the early days of my recovery, it became a great motivation to receive such a great message of encouragement, especially at that time I received that message I was really beginning to struggle again.

With that all behind me and as March moved on it would soon be time to celebrate the first anniversary of some of the most memorable moments of my life.

MAMA by FLYLEAF (ft Lori Mosley)
What makes you happy
What makes you smile
And when you smile please
Is it for real

I know you’re not one
One to pretend
Even when I was a child

You grow up too fast
And have to be brave
Braver than most strong men
That I’ve ever seen

Sing your song mama
Sing it out loud
I wanna hear your voice
It’s lovely sound

Little girl
You can come out now
The danger’s all gone
You can come out

All that you’ve held
Was too much to hold
So let it all go now
And you will become gold

Sing your song mama
Sing it out loud
I wanna hear your voice
It’s lovely sound

Sing your song mama
Sing it out loud
Dance freely singing
You’re beautiful now

Laughter and tears
Gracing your face
The music of your strength
Held up this place

Your daddy’s right here now
You can let go
He’s holding it all now
And healing your soul

Sing your song mama
Sing it out loud
I wanna hear your voice
It’s lovely sound

Sing your song mama
Sing it out loud
Dance freely singing
You’re beautiful know

There’s something
I’m trying to tell you and
I’ve tried to tell you before and
Each time that I profess it
It just leaves me wanting more and

I think you are beautiful
And I’m proud of you
What I’m trying to say is
I love you
I love you

The Story So Far – Chapter 15 – Connecting

CHAPTER 15 – CONNECTING

Come January I joined my first Connect Group at Church, I had been approached about joining one many times over the previous nine months, I hadn’t previously felt that ready to join groups or anything like that.  Maybe it was my shy nature, me the guy how can stand lonely in a crowded room, I’m not someone who can just go up to somebody I don’t know and start a conversation, that is well outside of my comfort zone.  The only time I am comfortable in this situation is when I’m in a karate suit and I can approach someone with confidence that comes from seniority, I could walk up to someone I didn’t know and offer them advice on what they were doing or start a conversation, but once more, when the suit came off that persona came off with it and I became the quiet awkward guy once more.

Maybe I was worried previously that I would be out of place in a group of people that had been Christians for so much longer than myself, maybe it was just that little bit of insecurity or fear of looking like I didn’t really know anything.  But by the time the New Year came around I felt it was at least time to give it a try, not that I knew that much more than before, but the timing felt right now.

To be fair I didn’t really know what a Connect Group did or what was expected.   I remembered Victoria used to attend one a few years back, but she never really explained what they did at these things and to be fair I never really asked.

I was placed in a group where I knew less than half of them and of those I I did know I didn’t know that well.  I had met and briefly chatted with some of them over the previous months, but I didn’t really know them and I guess they didn’t really know me either.  A couple had been present at the Unleash weekend a few months earlier where I shared my testimony, but other than that I felt a little awkward, even more so as I was really about the only one who was not part of a couple, other than a couple of younger teenagers that is.

But the thing was that once I got there, none of that mattered, not at all, I couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.  It was an interesting first meeting, which focused on just getting to know each other.  It was different and fun, they all turned out to be a great bunch of people.  That first meeting was on Wednesday 16th January 2013, initially we met every other Wednesday, then eventually every week.  But I have enjoyed them so much over the last few years, that to the point of writing this I have never missed a meeting.

If I previously felt that I wouldn’t really fit in or Connect at one of these meetings, that sort of went out of the window in the first few weeks.  I had no problem sharing my story or my feelings on the subjects we were discussing, on some occasions I felt like it was only me who had anything to say and other times I was content to just sit back and listen to the discussions.  In those times if I felt I didn’t really know that much about the topic of conversation, then I was more than happy to sit back and quietly listen and learn.

My Connect group has been so good for me over the last two years, as I say I have never missed a meeting.  There have been times when I have been shaken badly by what had been going on in my life, but that never stopped me from attending, I may have sat there quietly on those nights or on one occasion crying through pretty much all of the meeting, but I knew that that was the best place for me to be, the only place for me to be.

The group may have changed quite a bit over the last two years, but the nucleus of those that were there at that first meeting are still there and we still support each other and look out for each other.

I remember coming home after that very first meeting and writing this poem as soon as I got in…

Connecting

A small gathering
Of us only twelve
All sat closely together
Each knowing only a few

My shyness is rising
I fight to keep it in
Time now to open up
A moment to be me

Introductions are made
New friendships are born
Relaxed I am now open
It’s OK to be just me

We trade tiny moments
Sharing snippets of our past
Creating tiny pictures
Of who we have become

Our goodbyes are spoken
Each heads home to rest
Seven days will slowly pass
Until we gather once again

RIGHT BESIDE YOU by BUILDING 429
I’ve seen it and felt it
Hopelessness with no lifeline
The wicked are feeding on
Innocence and our decline

You and I we are the same
Torn apart by different things
All our faith is barely alive
But we’re going to make it through the night
I want you to know

When the world is on your back
And you think that you will never last
When you’re lonely and you are confused
I’ll be right beside you
When the walls are closing in
And you think you’d rather sink than swim
When you think there’s nothing left for you to lose
I’ll be right beside you
I’ll be with you

We are precious
More than priceless is our worth
Loved by the Father
Heaven’s children here on earth
You and I we are the same
Lifted up above the pain
By it’s wounds we have been healed
And by our love it is revealed
I want you to know (I need you to know)

When the world is on your back
And you think that you will never last
When you’re lonely and you are confused
I’ll be right beside you
When the walls are closing in
And you think you’d rather sink than swim
When there’s nothing left for you to lose
I’ll be right beside you

Hold on, don’t you let go of me
I’ll be here through it all
Hold on, when you’re ready to fall
I will carry you
I will never leave you
I will lift you if you fall

When the world is on your back
And you think that you will never last
When you’re lonely and you are confused
I’ll be right beside you
When the walls are closing in
And you think you’d rather sink than swim
When there’s nothing left for you to lose
I’ll be right beside you
I’ll be with you
I’ll be right beside you

The Story So Far – Chapter 14 – The First Christmas

CHAPTER 14 – THE FIRST CHRISTMAS

As December approached and discussions at work turned to Christmas parties and how much alcohol our customers would give us all as tips.  I kept myself distant from any discussions, normally our Customers bring in either boxes of cans or give an amount of money as a donation, which is then used at the Christmas party.  The arrangements were made for a meal at an Indian Restaurant and then the obligatory pub crawl around town afterwards, I agreed to whatever arrangements, but made it clear I would not go on the pub crawl, which they accepted.

I wasn’t looking forward to the meal itself, I went and I joined in as best I could, but I felt uncomfortable all night.  Everyone knew the situation apart from the partner of one my colleges.  Obviously everyone else had a beer or a glass of wine, then there’s me with a coke and water, then you get that rather obvious question of why am I not drinking!   I have to say that I didn’t feel like explaining myself, not that I need to or not that I’m afraid to say I’m an alcoholic, but just at that moment in time, when I already felt uncomfortable, I really didn’t want to go through it, after a couple of rather awkward answers to her questions, her partner had a quiet work in her ear, she then left it, she looked rather embarrassed as she sat there.  Don’t get me wrong she was a generally nice person, ordinarily the none drinking would probably be the designated driver, asking those questions would have been fairly appropriate, but my reasons where deeper than that, maybe any other night or anywhere else I would not have had a problem answering them, but on this night I wasn’t in a comfortable place and this made it no better.

I made it through the meal and then left them all and walked home alone.  Thankfully I don’t live far from town and at the speed I walk, it only took about fifteen minutes, I still got home in time to watch Match of the Day with my son.

Although it was rather an uncomfortable evening, by the time I got home I was actually pretty pleased with myself.  I saw this as a big test of my sobriety, a big test of my will power.  The year before I had joined in and followed them all uncomfortably around town drinking along with them, although not enjoying it, I never liked pub crawls after all, I drank pints until I felt full and then went on to glasses of rum, the only spirit that I ever liked.  That time I got home a little worse for wear and had the hangover the next morning.  The funny thing was I could sit at home and drink more, much more and not feel anything the next day, I always had that kind of fuzziness, that permanent hangover I guess, but it was only when I went out like this that I got what most people would consider a hangover.

So I knew that getting through the night and once again walking home alone, getting through even being extremely uncomfortable, but still not being tempted by the drink was a victory.  It’s strange that although being apprehensive beforehand and uncomfortable throughout, I do not remember ever being tempted by a drink, all around me were drinking, but I knew I couldn’t, I knew I didn’t want to, I was enjoying this sober life, everything was going well and to give in now, would be to let down the Father who had given me the strength to overcome situations like this.

There were a number of other things bothering me about Christmas, usually Christmas is a time of drinking more than ever, usually I would have more alcohol in the house than normal.  I also had a tradition of going into town and buying a bottle or two of sparkling wine to go with Christmas dinner, normally my everyday bottles of wine were fairly cheap, the more I could get for the less money the better, but for Christmas dinner I would normally treat myself, something a little more expensive, not that expensive, I didn’t have that much money, but a little treat to myself, being as I would be the only one that would drink it.

Also I would get an amount of alcohol as Christmas presents too.  If people didn’t know what to buy me, they would usually resort to a few bottles or can of beer, a bottle of wine or a bottle of rum.  It was a safe bet that I would get alcohol at Christmas, plus there would usually be a box of Chocolate Liquors.  Most people I knew had probably heard by then that I had quit drinking, but in all honesty probably did not know the reason why, they didn’t know how it had taken over my life, my thoughts, my actions, my everything.  I had been fairly open and honest about it over the previous nine months, but it’s not something that you are really going to broadcast to the whole world.

Yes I started a blog, I put it on there, but I had been careful as to which circles I put that content out to, I posted on Twitter, but not Facebook.  I came to realise that most of the people I knew on Facebook broadcast every part of their life, striving only for comments and sympathy or used it as a political soapbox to force their views on others or ridicule others.  Although I wasn’t ashamed of my story and my problem, I was careful to avoid what I deemed to be a negative place.

I had lived in such negativity, that I was keen to cut out anything that I deemed negative, that even included beginning to distance myself from those around me that had a negative outlook.

So when it came to Christmas Day, I was surprised and somewhat relieved when all I got was the obligatory shower gel, socks and deodorant!  Okay not the most exciting of presents, but I was actually pretty pleased with the haul as I didn’t have to face my biggest enemy.

Even that fear of chocolate liquors was all in vain.  I researched them on the internet in the run up to Christmas, but still couldn’t make my mind up as to whether they actually contained any alcohol or not, I guess some did and other’s didn’t, but regardless I had made my mind up that I wouldn’t touch them, even if they didn’t.  Out of principle and peace of mind, it was easier to just refuse them, than to just never be sure, in the end though, all this was unnecessary as I didn’t get any anyway!

Getting through Christmas Day itself was a bit of a victory too.  I was dreading being alone, I could have gone to my Mum and Dad’s for dinner, but chose not to, my Mum means well, but she can’t half pester and question you to the point you really want to snap!  In the end Victoria’s Mum asked if I wanted to join them for lunch, I agreed and after Church I set off there.  It went okay, it was good to see Victoria’s brothers again, we always got on well, also it was good to spend at least part of Christmas day with the kids.  Mid afternoon they all went to Victoria’s Nan’s and I went home.  I have to be honest and say I cried a little when I got home, the silence of the place seemed more intense with it being Christmas Day, but I soon fell asleep and slept it all off.  They came home earlier than usual and I spent the evening with the kids, which made for a good day in the end, far better than I was actually expected, I really didn’t want to face my first Christmas Day without the kids or without alcohol for that matter.  But apart from a few tears in the afternoon, I got through it.

By Christmas my blog had really began to take off.  I was really enjoying writing all the posts and exploring the blogs of other recovering addicts and followers of Christ.  I was gaining regular followers and receiving some pretty amazing comments, commending my fight for sobriety and my testimony.  I had even begun to branch out, to included photography, mainly of all the amazing sunrises I encountered during my morning walks, but interestingly I started writing poetry.

It came from ideas and thoughts that I had whilst walking, in time I just decided to start writing them down.  When I look back now a lot of that earlier experimentation with poetry I now really dislike, many I never really connected with, I was just trying something new, I went with it, but never felt comfortable posting some of it.  The only ones I seemed to find comfortable posting were the ones that were primarily between me and God, eventually my poetry became all faith based.

I found that in the low times, when I was struggling, I would just put it all down in a poem, like a written prayer.  Then I would get a feeling for what God was saying to me in response and I would write that down, into a poem too, like a conversation between the two of us, but all in poems.

I still write that way, I often write in prayer and answer, sometimes separate poems, sometimes the conversation runs through a single poem, a verse of prayer, then a verse of God’s response and so on.  Over time in my lowest moments, I would find myself awake in the middle of the night, writing it all down in a poem, then I would put it straight on to my blog and post it, in a strange way it lifted much of the pain, somehow in doing that I found a peace, I let go of the problem, it’s a formula that works for me now.

As the New Year came around I was doing really well, I was still walking every morning, whatever the weather, in fact my best ever walk took place on a dark morning in a snow storm in the middle of January.  There was no one else to be seen, the street’s were deserted, but the old the cycle track was alive.  My footsteps weren’t the first ones in the snow that morning, they may have been the first human steps along the path, but the hundreds of rabbits and hares scampering around me, seemed to be enjoying the snow.   Also for the one and only time, on my walks down the track, I caught sight of a couple of foxes running freely along the track in front of me, they didn’t seem to bothered by me, as they ran along ahead, but I had never seen them before and alas I’ve never seen them since.

The cycle track takes me by a small lake, it’s an old gravel pit that was flooded some years ago, the track passes it and I walk by it every morning on the way to work, but if I time it right the lake really catches the sunrise.  I often found I would sit there as the sun rose, reading the bible and taking pictures of the scene before me.  It didn’t matter how cold it was, I would sit there in the early hours of the morning, maybe the odd dog walker would pass by, some of whom I became friends with, but mainly just me, the birds on the lake, the sunrise and God, it was an amazing way to start the day.

I found when I was walking in the morning, the days were always so much better, that time with God set me up for the day.  The odd days when I didn’t get out walking, then for some reason my days just didn’t have that same balance, things just didn’t seem as good and I knew why, so the next morning I would do everything I could to get back out again.

MERRY CHRISTMAS HERE’S TO MANY MORE by RELIENT K
I made it through the year and I did not even collapse
Gotta say “Thank God for that.”
I’m torn between what keeps me whole and what tears me in half
I’ll fall apart or stay in tact

With tired eyes I stumble back to bed
I need to realize my sorry life’s not hanging by a thread
At least not yet

So look at me now
it’s finally Christmas and I’m home
Head indoors, to get out of this weather
And I don’t know how
But the closest friends I’ve ever known are all inside
Siging together
Singing merry Christmas, here’s to many more

It always hurt to be all by myself this time of year
A cold and lonely Chirstmas Eve
And living out my days alone
Well that had been my deepest fear
But You promised You won’t leave

I look towards the east and see a star
Jesus Christ, has blessed my life to know just who You are
You are my hope

So look at me now
It’s finally Christmas and I’m home
Head indoors, to get out of this weather
And I don’t know how
But the closest friends I’ve ever known are all inside
Singing together
Singing merry Christmas, here’s to many more

Deck the halls with mistletoe
May all your heavy burdens go
Up the chimney in a cloud of smoke
The fire’s burning bright
Strike up the band and play the tune
‘Cause Christmas will be here and soon
You’ll hear oursong in every room
This merry Christmas night

Singing merry Christmas, here’s to many more

fa la la la
fa la la la

Singing together
Singing merry Christmas, here’s to many more

The Story So Far – Chapter 13 – The Return To The Mat

CHAPTER 13 – THE RETURN TO THE MAT

Come November 2012 and it was time to brush of the dust and go back into competition.  The disappointment of the Nationals back in July was behind me, but not forgotten.  This time around it was a competition organised by our association which invited the other national associations of the UK and Ireland, essentially the same competitors as the last time, but with a handful of competitors from the other nations, but for me it was time prove I still had it and I guess after the last competition the pressure was on the others and not me anymore.

By the time of the competition I had lost even more weight and was down to 10st, my lowest weight for almost twenty years.  When I got to the venue there were a number of people who didn’t actually recognise me, I had known them years, but they had to do a double take before they realised who I was, it was a response I actually enjoyed and found pretty funny.

I was actually feeling quite confident, but in a very different way to the last time.  I guess the last time I was way over confident, I felt that I couldn’t fail, the title was mine this time around, there was no way I could lose.  This time around I was confident, not just that I could do better than before, but this time I felt that I just go out there and compete without any pressure, pressure that mainly I was putting on myself, I was confident, but with that what will be will be attitude, it took the pressure off me.

I felt far more relaxed when competing this time, I always feel nervous, even after a thirty year competition career, I get nervous, before approaching the area I am nervous, very nervous, but once I walk on I switch modes, put everything around me out of my head, bow and walk on, I put all those nerves aside, the downside of that is that sometimes I become pretty tense, which can make the movements slower and a little less fluid that they need to be, also I have a tendency to rush, especially if I just lose that little bit of focus and let a little bit of what is happening around me distract me.  But this time around I was able to manage this so much better than ever before, for the first time I felt I had lost that tenseness which sometimes creeps in.

The preliminary rounds went really well, there were no little slips, no rushing, things were maybe a little tense, but not as bad I had been in the past.  In fairness the National squad competitors are generally seeded in the draw and miss each other until the latter rounds or the semi finals, as a former squad member and champion, I am afforded that privilege and get seeded along with the current squad members and previous finalists, so the early rounds were straight forward enough.  They should have been last time around, but that over confidence played its part and well, what happened, happened.

I remember feeling quite emotional when I reached the semi finals, the last eight were split into two semi finals of four, each competitor was to perform their choice of kata and the top two from each section would go through to the final later.  Although I wasn’t entirely pleased with me performance, I made it through to the final after winning my section.

After that I had to find a quiet place, I was feeling so overcome with emotion I had to go somewhere quiet, I left the hall and found a quiet corridor away from everyone, there I had a few tears.  I’ve reached so many finals over the years and won my fair share of them, but I’ve never shed a tear like this, not in this way, maybe it was just a reaction to disappointment of last time, I’m not entirely sure, but I shed a few tears and thanked God for what He had done in my life up to that point, six months before I was on the edg of life, now I was overcoming so many things, I was thankfully for every one.

The final later went well, I was once again not entirely pleased with my performance, it wasn’t my worst, but could have been better, but in hindsight now it was probably better than my performances over the last few years, but there was room for improvement.  I finished second in the final, losing to an old rival, Ken had won the National’s earlier in the year, we have been competing against each other over the last twelve years, we seemed to take it in turns to beat each other, one year I would beat him, then next he would beat me, this time around it was his turn and that was fine.

2011-2012

2011-2012

Though slightly disappointed with my kata in the final, I wasn’t actually disappointed to finish second, not after the last time, in truth I was just happy to be back competing and to still be competitive.

Over the previous years karate had been the only thing that kept me going, it was the only thing, other than alcohol, that I had an appetite for, it was the only thing I would stay sober for, it was the only place that I actually felt normal, felt alive.

When I met with Gareth I described my karate suit as my Superman suit, I was like Clark Kent, without the suit on I was weak, yet when I put the suit on I became someone else, someone who showed strength, leadership and life.  But in reality over the last couple of years that was all a lie, a big lie.  There was such a difference in my personality in and out of the suit, I couldn’t let anyone really know what was going on, especially not those who saw me as a leader and inspiration, I had an image to keep up and I did it the best I could.  Before karate I never drank, sometimes at the weekend I would have one pint with a meal, but that would be a few hours before training, seeing as just one pint would make me sleepy, then I tried to avoid it anyway.

When the suit came off, I almost ran to the pub, I would have waited all day, weeknight’s when I taught it would be gone 10pm before I hit the pub, so the quicker I got there the better.  As my drinking got worse, the opening hours went from closing time at 11pm to closing at 12pm, so instead of getting just two pints in that time, I was not able to get four in.  Eventually I wouldn’t leave the pub until about 1am, walk home and then start on whatever I had in the house, before I fell asleep.

Finally though it seems that the two sides of my personality where coming together, there was still a bit of difference in the two sides of me, I was still more comfortable in my surroundings in my karate gi, where as in real life I was far more shy and reserved, but the distance between the two was far less, not that I was diminishing in the suit, but I was becoming a stronger person without the comfort of my karate suit.

RISE ABOVE by FIREFLIGHT
Too much time we let pass by
Broken dreams and idle lives
Waiting on the way it ought to be
Pushing forward, falling back
Counting scars and losing track
Afraid to crash we never spread our wings
And with every chance we take we find a reason
To give up on the hope that we all need

Maybe today we all will rise
Maybe today we all will rise
Above the mistakes that we’ve made
Sometimes we’ve got to face the fall
Before we rise above it all

Can’t give up on second tries
Leave the pride that blinds our eyes
No one taught us how to say goodbye
Now’s the time for broken hearts
Embrace today a brand new start
Leave the past and let love lead the way
And with every chance we take we find a reason
To give up on the hope that we all need

Maybe today we all will rise
Maybe today we all will rise
Above the mistakes that we’ve made
Sometimes we’ve got to face the fall
Before we rise above it all

If we just lived like we mean it
If we loved even when we don’t feel it
We would suffer for a reason
And see there is more to who we are

Maybe today we all will rise
Maybe today we all will rise

Maybe today we all will rise
Maybe today we all will rise
Above the mistakes that we’ve made
Sometimes we’ve got to face the fall
Before we rise above it all
Rise above it all
Rise above it all

The Story So Far – Chapter 12 – What Just Happened?

CHAPTER 12 – WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

Sometime during September 2012 I came across a fan website for the band Tenth Avenue North and came across a story I had read before, the story that had inspired my actions back on the 18th March 2012, when I gave up the penknife that had tortured me in my lowest moments.

The story was about a girl in America that had suffered from self harm, but after listening to one of Tenth Avenue North’s songs was inspired to fight back.  She had stopped cutting herself and at festival had approached the lead singer of the band, she handed him a razor blade, on the wrapper was the number of days since she had last used it.  I had seen this story on the band’s Facebook page a year or so before and remembered being moved by the story then.  On that day when the demons where trying to destroy me, I thought of that story when I had seemingly defeated them, that story inspired me to give away that blade, I didn’t need it anymore after that day, because I wasn’t going to let those demons try to destroy me anymore.

From that website I found my way onto this girl’s blog and was amazed by the way she shared her story and used it to help inspire others, I was intrigued by how she shared all the good times and the bad.  Over the next week or so I began to feel that I could do something like that, the idea interested me, but I didn’t know where to start.  After a week I looked at a couple of blogging websites and researched how to get going, but I did nothing about it.

Then I went as far as planning what I was intending to write in my head as I walked, all that walking was brilliant thinking time, I came up with a number of ideas, but again I did nothing with them.  A week or so later I actually started typing some of those ideas into my computer, I prepared a number of different potential posts, then I left them, I had this fear of sharing something so intimate.  I had shared my story in the quiet one on ones with people, I had stood on stage in a moment of spontaneity, a moment that was really nothing like my normal self, back on the day I was baptised, but suddenly a fear of exposing feelings I wanted to remain buried rose to the surface, so I left them as they were.

Then early on the morning of Saturday 6th October 2012, I was walking my normal route before work, as usual I had my iPod on as I walked.  As I returned home, a song came on that I had only recently purchased, I remember hearing it when I brought it and liking it, but I hadn’t heard it since, but all of a sudden, it had me in tears.

I still to this day cannot explain why these lyrics reduced me to tears….

Whatever the cost
Whether it works out or not
Whatever the cost
Whether it works out or not
I’ll follow you with my heart

But I knew that I was being asked to step out of my fear, I knew I was holding onto something out of fear, but now whatever the cost to my own self consciousness I felt I was being told to stop holding on, to let go and share my story, let God use it for the help of others.  The tears that morning came with that same feeling inside that I had back on that baptism day, the freezing feeling inside, when I got that I knew I had to listen, the Father was speaking and I was to step outside of myself and share my experiences of Him.

So later that day after work and karate, I registered for a site on the blogging site WordPress and started The Bottom of A Bottle, I wrote a post called the Precipice, after the song that had awoke my spirit that morning and pushed me to stop hiding and share my story.  Over the coming weeks I began sharing the articles that I had already prepared, together with planning and writing about my other experiences and feelings that had brought me to where I was at that point in my life.

I had really not written anything since I was back at school, apart from the odd letter at my various jobs, but never something where I had to be so open and write in a way that made my complex thoughts easy to identify with.  I had started journaling back in March and actually when I read back some of those pages I had written back then, I was actually surprised by what had been written and not necessarily the content, but the way and the style in which I had written it, I didn’t believe I was capable of writing in that way.  Back in school I had written stories for English classes, but never really enjoyed it, I wrote them out of necessity rather than enjoying or connecting with what I was writing, all of a sudden I was doing both, I was thoroughly enjoying writing for the first time in my life.

The blog took a while to take off and gather followers, over the coming weeks it started slowly, but steadily grew and continues to grow.  As time went by I began trying new things to, even beginning to write and appreciate poetry.

Then one Saturday morning later in October, I remember being out walking before work and as I walked I began running through a scenario in my mind, a conversation I was having with someone, I don’t know how it started or what I was thinking of before, but this scene starting playing out in my mind as I walked.

I began picturing a scene where I was in Church and started having a conversation with one of the teenage girls, in the course of the conversation she proceeded to confide in me that she had been struggling with self harm and been cutting herself.  Then following on from the initial conversation I had managed to convince her to stop and hand over her razor blade to me at a later date.

I didn’t really know what this had to do with me, I knew who the girl was that I was having the conversation with, but I would never have suspected that this might be happening to her or how I could help in this situation, I put it down to a rather weird daydream and left it at that.

Then the next Saturday morning, the same thing happened again, while walking I began imagining having a similar conversation, in the exact same position in our Church, but with a different teenage girl this time around.  Once again I knew the girl, but once more couldn’t get my head round that this maybe happening to them, once more I put it down to another weird daydream and that was that.

But this happened one more time the next week, as before at the same point of my walk, always on a Saturday morning, always taking place in the same part of Church and always a similar conversation and outcome, but each time a different girl.  What it all meant, I didn’t know and if I’m honest I didn’t question it, it made me a little conscious of the situation in Church each Sunday, but in the end I put it to the back of my mind as a silly reoccurring daydream, in a mind that was playing tricks on me.

At the end of October I signed up to go away on a weekend retreat with some of the other guys from our Church Campuses, a week or so before I got a message from James asking if I minded taking part in an interview to discuss my testimony, which would take place before the other guys, of course I agreed.  It took place as part of the first session of the weekend and I really enjoyed every part of it.  I got to talk about things that I maybe hadn’t discussed in other situations, I didn’t fear speaking in front of all these people, there were about seventy guys there, many I knew, but also many from the other campuses that I had never met, but over the course of the two days I got to know so many and found each and every one of them to be so supportive and encouraging.  I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and in sharing my story I felt a kind of freedom that I hadn’t felt before, being able to release a few things that I had been holding in, even being in such an intimate setting was such a help, I left that place feeling so encouraged by everything.  I remember in the last meeting of the weekend, Justin one of our Pastors, encouraging us to go away from there and ask God what it was we could do for Him, to ask Him to use us to build His kingdom, I remember that night when I was at home making that prayer, asking God to use me for His purposes.

The next morning at Church, something happened though which shook me, big time.  After a very encouraging service, the leader of our A.V. Team asked me to join them, which I immediately agreed to, I remember feeling really pleased and excited to be asked.  I then set about helping put the chairs away after the service.

I found myself in a particular part of the Church which I had seen in my weird daydreams, that I had been experiencing over the previous few weeks and then it happened, not that I realised what was happening at the time.

I was approached by a young girl, a girl I had known since she was young, I was a friend of her parents, although they didn’t actually attend Church, but I had been a family friend for a long time.  We started a conversation, I knew her parents had recently split and that she had been struggling with the changes, as many young kids do when families split.  But during the conversation she began to tell me how she had been self harming, how when she was really low she would cut herself.  At this point I didn’t really think about what I had been seeing in my mind over the previous month, but I approached the conversation calmly and tried to be as helpful as I could.  We talked for a while, I tried to make some suggestions that I thought may help, including telling her of the story of the girl who handed over her razorblade after hearing a song by Tenth Avenue North, I told her which song and suggested maybe she should check it out.

I remember walking home really upset, primarily because I had known this girl for so long, I knew what was happening in the family and I knew there were problems there, problems common to any family breakup, but although I had tried to help, I felt a little helpless, I didn’t know what to do.

But it wasn’t until I went for my walk the next morning when the reality of the situation actually hit me, that this had been what I been experiencing, this conversation, almost exactly like what I had been seeing, in the exact same place in Church, this girl I hadn’t seen in my visions, each time it had been a different girl, but never this one, the only thing I wasn’t prepared for was how close I was to the situation, but everything else I had seen in my mind, not just once, it wasn’t a case of Déjà vu as they call it, it was more than that and it was freaking me out.

I had so many mixed emotions that I didn’t know what to do, I had two big issues which were really getting to me, firstly what could I do with this situation to help the girl and her family understand each other and put an end to her self-harm, then secondly why had I seen all this, what were all these vision I had been having about, why were they so vivid and why were they so accurate, more importantly why me!

I cried and I prayed as I walked, I asked  for some kind of prompting as to what was going on and what it was I could do about it, I was in a state of shock as to what had happened, I was basically freaked out.

When I got home, I went to Victoria, I explained what had happened and said I didn’t know what to do about it.  She said I had a duty to report it to one of the Child Protection Officers for the Church, as she was minor and the conversation had taken place on Church property, she told me who they were.  I had actually been attending a course at Church with one of the ladies that Victoria mentioned, so I asked for her number and said I would call her later that evening.

The course I had been attending with Sarah had recently covered the fruits of the spirit, I didn’t at that point have a clue what was going on, why I was seeing what I had seen and how all this had come together in the way that it had, as I said I was well and truly freaked out by it all!

That night I explained everything to Sarah, she was immensely calming, about both the situation with the girl and the visions that I had been happening.  I came to understand that I had been prepared for that moment, prepared for that discussion, I had been chosen to help, I may not have felt ready for that, but what did that matter, if the Lord felt I was, then who was I to argue!

Over the coming weeks I tried to be as supportive to the girl as possible, mediate a little between her and the family, trying to help both sides understand the other’s feelings.  I then sat in Church and watched as this young girl was baptised a few weeks later.

Then on the last evening of the course I had been attending at Church, this girl showed up, she asked for a quiet word and the proceeded to hand me a small tin.  Contained within the tin were all the implements that she had used to cut herself, I knew what it was as soon as she handed it to me, I didn’t need to ask, I didn’t need to look inside to know what was in there, I knew from that very moment that everything now that had been within my visions had now come to pass, I finally knew exactly what I had been needed to do and that I had achieved it.  I informed Sarah after the class what had happened, but she already knew, the girl had told her all about it too.

The way that whole situation came about is still one of mystery to me, even though I understand it, I am still amazed by the way God worked within that situation, how it all came to pass.  At the time I was seeing these conversations, always pretty much the same, always on a Saturday, always at roughly the same place in my walk, then for it all to play out in reality, for it all come together and the outcome to match the vision, it was just amazing, I really felt the power of God and the Holy Spirit in my life at that time, I had never understood these powers ever before.

Although we had been discussing the gifts of the spirit, in the course with Nick and Sarah, right in the middle of me having these visions, I never attributed them to the Holy Spirit, just my crazy mind running away with itself, as it is prone to do, I have a weird and wonderful imagination at times, I can be a daydreamer, I just put it down to that, never for a moment thinking it had anything to do with God or what I was being called to do.  It wasn’t until I spoke with Sarah, the night after it all started to come together, that she made me see that it wasn’t just coincidence or my mind or my imagination, it was a calling, a gift, the Holy Spirit working through me.

That morning of the actual conversation, would I have remained that calm and composed, had I not seen it all before, definitely not, I would never have known what to say or do.  But even going way back beyond these visions, the way the story about the Girl with the razorblade kept coming back to me, the way it wound itself into my story, to help me and then to help others, I began to understand that all of this was for a purpose, I may not have know it at the time, but it wasn’t by chance I had come across this story or remembered it in my lowest spot and stumbled across it just a matter of days before I started seeing all of this, none of it was coincidence, but by design, the Lord’s design, His plan.

YOU ARE MORE by TENTH AVENUE NORTH
There’s a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she’s wandered
And the shame she can’t hide

She says, “How did I get here?
I’m not who I once was.
And I’m crippled by the fear
That I’ve fallen too far to love”

But don’t you know who you are,
What’s been done for you?
Yeah don’t you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

Well she tries to believe it
That she’s been given new life
But she can’t shake the feeling
That it’s not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she’s rehearsed all the lines
And so she’ll try to do better
But then she’s too weak to try

But don’t you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

‘Cause this is not about what you’ve done,
But what’s been done for you.
This is not about where you’ve been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

You’ve been remade
You’ve been remade.
You’ve been remade.
You’ve been remade.

The Story So Far – Chapter 11 – The Greatest Day

CHAPTER 11 – THE GREATEST DAY

The next morning though it was time to go back to Church, it was Baptism Sunday, I was looking forward to it, not that I was getting baptised, but because I had never been to one and I wanted to see what it was all about.  At that point I still didn’t really understand much about being baptised, I had been informed that this was coming up, but as I still didn’t feel I was ready, coupled with the fact I was busy with karate things, not only the National Championships the day before, but the Sunday afterwards was our club grading, as I was busy preparing for that too, I decided to wait until next time, to watch this time and then when I had more time, I would find out more about what it means and make a decision about it later.

But just as the day before hadn’t really gone to plan, then neither did this day.  I got ready for Church and as I walked towards the back door I glanced at the sky outside, it didn’t look all that good, it distinctly looked like it could rain.  The walk to Church from my house was just over twenty minutes, it’s a nice walk, it has to be, seeing as I don’t drive, but there was a good chance I would get wet.  I didn’t fancy taking a coat because it looked quite warm too, so I checked the weather forecast and it said there was a definite chance of rain.  I stopped for a second, checked out the window one more time and then suddenly I thought…

I sharn’t bother with a coat, I’m not bothered if I get wet today.

I thought that it was quite a strange choice to make, but I went with it, I walked to Church and it didn’t rain after all.

Something felt different that day, by the time I walked into Church, I was definitely feeling the spring in my step, I felt good, I felt encouraged and expectant.

After three months in Church I was now enjoying the worship, I had been singing along with all the songs and beginning to get more comfortable with it, a far cry from the those early weeks when I stood watching everyone else, wondering not so much why they were doing what they were doing, but why I wasn’t doing it too, would I even let go enough to worship like everyone else was.  Maybe I still wasn’t moving around as much as some of the others, but I was certainly getting into it more than ever.

After worship Gareth took to the stage to welcome everyone and that’s when something happened, something that really changed everything.

He started by stating that he had never done this before, but really felt the Lord saying that someone in this place was going to make the decision to get baptised today.  They don’t normally give people the option to make that spur of the moment decision, but today he felt he had to, he added that they hadn’t prepared for it, but stated if someone wished to make that choice, they would find spare clothes and extra towels from somewhere, he didn’t know where, but they would sort it out.

It was at that point that I just sat in my seat, frozen!  It was like time stood still, only I was there in that room now, but everything inside my chest had frozen, my heart, my lungs were just frozen, for a moment I couldn’t breathe.

I sat there still frozen and suddenly my mind sprung into action, it was telling me that He was talking to me, not Gareth, he may have said the words, but He was talking to me now, God was telling me I was ready, maybe I didn’t think I was, but God thought I was.

Gareth finished his welcome and the service moved into connect time where people meet and greet each other.  But I sat for a moment in my seat as everyone moved around me, inside was this internal struggle, are you doing this or not?  I was running through all this in my head, I knew He meant me, but I’m not usually that impulsive, I plan things like this that take me out of my comfort zone, I didn’t have a clue what this entailed, I understood what a baptism was, but didn’t really understand what it meant to me and if I was ready for this step yet.  But I was repeatedly being told to make that decision, it was my time.

So I suddenly stood up and scanned the room for where Gareth was, I spotted him and walked over to where he was.  I ignored everyone I walked past, if I stopped to speak with them I may miss this moment, if I didn’t do this now, I probably would sit back down in my seat and stay there and miss the chance.

I walked up to Gareth, he was talking to someone, I put my hand on his shoulder, he turned to look at me and I simply said…  “Okay where do I get the spare clothes from?”  He instantly realised what I was saying, a warm smile came across his face.  We spoke for a moment, he said he would sort things out and I was just to join in at the end of the service when the baptism took place.  I went and sat back down, grinning to myself, I still couldn’t actually believe what I had just agreed to, I’m not impulsive, I don’t like going outside my comfort zone, I didn’t know what was going on and I was fighting the apprehension and excitement.

When the service resumed Gareth took to the stage and introduced the three people who had actually decided to be baptised, who had actually prepared for it and were ready, he called all three to the stage to share their testimony.  He didn’t mention me, when I spoke to him later he said he was just going to introduce me at the actual baptism part later, but I wasn’t sure what to do, should I go up there, he hadn’t said my name, he hadn’t mentioned me, I guess they were still sorting things out for me, but I sat there wondering if I should join them on the stage or not, was I supposed to or not, obviously I wasn’t expected to.

So in another act of complete impulsiveness I jogged up to the stage, obviously taking Gareth by surprise and joined the other three people.  I stood there as one by one they were handed the microphone and they nervously told their story.  They had all prepared what they were to say, two of them had pieces of paper with notes on, but with their heads down they stuttered over their words, while I stood there waiting.

For some reason I couldn’t wait to get my hand on that microphone, I wanted to talk.  Normally you would never get me on a stage, let alone put a microphone in my hand and expect me to talk, no way, that’s just not me, it’s not in my nature, it’s not who I am, but for some reason I was really eager, what was happening here was something else, it just wasn’t me and to this day I still can’t believe I actually did all of this.

When the other’s had finished, Gareth introduced me and I took the microphone and told my story.  It was the first time I had spoken about it all in this way, normally it had been a discussion with one of two other people, an intimate conversation, a conversation where I could see the face of those I was talking to and gauge their reaction to what I was telling them, but now I was looking out over a couple of hundred faces, many I didn’t know and they didn’t know me, but I was going to tell them all about how I had failed, all my sins, my addiction, if they didn’t know about it by now, they were soon going to.

I found myself getting more passionate the more I spoke, I’m not sure how long I actually spoke for, all I know that it is was probably more than any of the others.  Afterwards I felt a little sorry for the other three, it was their day, they had planned it, but I gate crashed the party and took all the attention, I didn’t mean any of it that way, not at all, I hadn’t planned any of this, I wasn’t really in control here, I wasn’t acting anything like I normally would.

After that I took my seat and listened to the rest of the service, waiting with that feeling of apprehension and excitement.   All I had come with was what I was wearing, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I had nothing else with me.  A friend who sat near me insisted that he go and fetch me some clothes, I said I would be fine as I was, but he wouldn’t hear no and set off to fetch me some things.

After the service there were a couple more worship songs, one of them we had sang a number of times over the few months I had been in Church, as I sang along though it made me cry, not in a bad way, not in a pain or hurt kind of way, but in a way where you suddenly realise how God has just touched your life, when we sang the words to the Lincoln Brewster song I Belong To You, particularly the lines….

“You caught my soul
When I was struggling to breathe”

I suddenly realised how he had placed has hand on my life this morning, I thought back to earlier in the morning when I froze and for those few moments I couldn’t breathe, how at that point I knew in my heart that He was speaking to me, He wanted me.  It didn’t matter whether I felt ready for the next step, what mattered was the He was telling me I was ready and He was letting me know.

By the time the actual Baptisms started, I still didn’t have anything to change into afterwards, by now the nerves had taken over the excitement, but I was still looking forward to it.  I didn’t really know what I was to expect, I had never actually spoken to anyone about being baptised, I hadn’t heard anybody else’s experiences, how they felt in the pool or how it changed their lives, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what was going to happen or how I was supposed to feel when I came out of the water.

I have to say I didn’t climb down the steps into the pool gracefully like the others, I jumped in, got into position and then let it all happen.  The rush, the excitement was amazing, when I came out I was buzzing, I’m still not sure how I was supposed to feel, but I was on top of the world at that point.

When I walked away from the pool, I was handed a towel and then from somewhere a bag of clothes, they weren’t from my friend who had gone to fetch some things, he still hadn’t got back yet, but Gareth made good on his promise, from somewhere the Church had provided.

The only problem was, although there were clothes, obviously there was no spare underwear, I had to put the dry trousers over my wet underwear, but obviously in time the water soaked through the trousers and it looked like I had wet myself, but who cares about that, none of that mattered!

After that I met so many new people I had never spoken to before, so many people came up to me and wished me well, so many said how proud they were of my courage to stand up there and be so honest.  I couldn’t stop smiling all day, also I couldn’t stop laughing at myself, I still couldn’t believe that I had done any of what had happened that day, I still can’t.  But God works in ways we aren’t really meant to understand.

James wasn’t at the service that day, he was at our other campus in Wellingborough, later in the day I sent him a text, to let him know what had happened earlier and to say thank you for all the help he had given me, but he already knew!  I had not actually been introduced to James’s wife Gemma, but from what I understand as soon as she realised that I had made the unexpected choice to be baptised, she sent James a text in the middle of the service to let him know.  It may seem a simple thing to do, but I was blown away by it.  She knew what it would have meant to James to have been there, knowing how much support he had given me, even though we didn’t know each other, she did this for him and for me.  Later that night I sent her a message of thanks, she said she knew how much it would mean to James and how much he thought of me, that she just had to let him know.  To this day I am still blown away by that simple act of kindness.

In a way life after that day became so much easier.  The drinking was no longer a problem, I had complete control over that now, I hadn’t had an urge to drink for some time, there had been a few since that dark night when I was in a world of pain and alone, but over the next few months I really began to grow spiritually, even if I was still shrinking physically.  I was still working hard and losing weight, but in a moment of loneliness at home I found a new way to exercise and to actually spend more time with God.

I was at home alone one weekend, the kids and Victoria had gone out to a family birthday.  So I planned in the afternoon to take a walk down the old railway track near our house, which had been turned into a cycle track, it’s about four miles long and at steady pace takes about three hours to walk.  The weather was pretty good and I really enjoyed the walk.

When I got home they were all still out and would be all night, so I made some tea and sat down to watch the Olympics on TV.  But I became restless and a little lonely.  So as I had enjoyed my walk so much earlier that day, I decided I would go out again.  I grabbed my iPod and walked, I had no real goal of where I was going, no destination, I just walked around town, I just carried on walking.  I walked for a few hours then came home.  When I came home I found that I had actually had some amazing thinking time, all the problems I left the house with had vanished in the few hours I had been out, everything that was heavy on my mind, I guess the loneliness I was feeling being in the house alone had all gone, I had committed it to God and He had lifted it from my shoulders.

A few weeks later Victoria and Eve went to kids camp for the week and because I was working Ben went to stop at his Gran’s, once more I found myself alone in the house, feeling a little sorry for myself, so each night I found I would go out walking, again I didn’t know where I was going, I just did laps of the town, I walked for two to three hours, probably around eight to ten miles, it didn’t matter, I had a playlist of worship music that I was listening to and all my problems were eroded away with every step that I took.  As I say I found a new way of dealing with things, keeping fit, losing weight and more importantly spending time with God.

Eventually I ditched my normal morning exercise program that I would do before going out to work, I would get up early, get dressed and go walk for an hour or so, I upped the pace a little over the weeks and eventually I found I could walk for long periods at close to five miles an hour.  At the weekends I would walk for over thirteen and half miles in around three hours, even on a Sunday before going to Church.  One morning when I was off work I decided to see how far I could actually walk, so I did my usual thirteen and half mile lap twice, completing over twenty seven miles without stopping.  Because I knew that what I had just walked was over the marathon distance, when I got home I checked on the times people had ran the London Marathon that year, indeed over five thousand people actually “ran” that distance in a slower time than I had just walked it!

Eventually I got my weight down to ten stone, but to be fair I looked a little thin, so I settled on my average weight to be 10 stone 4lbs, I was happy at that.

I BELONG TO YOU by LINCOLN BREWSTER
You light my way everyday
You help me see what I can be
I cry to You, my Spirit song
Come use my life for You alone

You caught my soul
When I was struggling to breathe
You made me whole
And now Your majesty I see
I belong to You, yes I belong to You

I hear Your voice, it leads me on
Into Your arms where I belong
I cry to You, my Spirit song
Come use my life for You alone

You caught my soul
When I was struggling to breathe
You made me whole
And now Your majesty I see
I belong to You, yes I belong to You

I know You’re everything
You’re all I’ll ever need
I know You’re everything to me

I know You’re everything
You’re all I’ll ever need
I know You’re everything to me

I know You’re everything
You’re all I’ll ever need
I know You’re everything to me

You caught my soul
When I was struggling to breathe
You made me whole
And now Your majesty I see
I belong to You, yes I belong to You
I belong to You, yes I belong to You

The Story So Far – Chapter 10 – Withdrawals

CHAPTER 10 – WITHDRAWALS

The only downer of that Easter Sunday 8th April 2012 was the onset of the headaches.  I thought in terms of the drinking everything was going so well, I understood that coming off alcohol dependency there were the withdrawals to deal with.  I thought they would hit almost immediately, I had researched alcoholism and found that it wasn’t always the case, in some cases there were none and in other they can emerge weeks later.  The body becomes so dependent on alcohol, that in some cases the body can go into shutdown if alcohol consumption is stopped, in extreme cases even leading to death, but in almost all cases there were withdrawal symptoms.  So now the headaches began to appear.

I’m not one to suffer from headaches or migraines, if I did get them they were quite mild and usually a couple of paracetamol and they were gone.  At work I had been taking in packs of bottled water, I was drinking plenty of fluids, but that didn’t stop them, paracetamol didn’t help either, I just kept getting headaches and I couldn’t get rid of them.

Over the coming weeks the headaches got worse and worse, more frequent and more painful.  Slowly though the pain spread, firstly into my back, then to my kidney’s and slowly around the body.  As April moved on I seemed to record each night in my journal how bad the pain was getting, how I was beginning to lose my mind because of it, the pain was getting to me and I was beginning to fall apart.

The worst day can on Sunday 22nd April, I remember sitting in Church, in constant pain, I could hardly move because it hurt so much to move, but I couldn’t sit still either because it hurt to keep still, I couldn’t fight it anymore.  Many people came by and prayed with me, prayed for my pain to go away and I just sat there fighting the tears, that was until I spoke with Gareth and at that point I couldn’t hold them in anymore.  By this time I was struggling, really struggling.

The next night it had been a long day at work, with a combination of paracetamol and ibruprofen I somehow got through the day.  When I got home I found myself lying on the settee in the dark, alone.  The pain was breaking through way beyond all the painkillers I had taken, they had taken the edge off all day, but not really taken the pain away, now it seemed even worse and I felt so alone, really so alone.

At this point I knew that my body was screaming for alcohol, my mind was telling me all I had to do was to give in and take a drink and it would all go away.  I don’t remember where the rest of the family were, they were all in the house, but just in separate rooms, I was laid alone, in the dark, in a world of pain.

I didn’t want to drink, but I knew this would all go away if I did, I was fighting it, but I was not doing very well.  But as the evening went on I had this feeling that I wasn’t to do this alone, I prayed and once again I felt I was being told not to do this on my own.  I didn’t really know who to reach out to though, so I grabbed my phone and sent a text to James, simply saying how I was struggling and I needed help.

Instantly as soon as I pressed send the struggle ended, a peace fell and the pain began to slowly subside, it didn’t go away, but it became manageable, the urge to treat the beast with what it was craving for was over, the gloom lifted.  James was in a meeting when I sent the text, but he responded as soon as he could asking how I was doing and if he could help, I replied by telling him how much just sending the text had already helped me so much and I was feeling much better, I was still in pain, but I had it under control.  I was so thankful for James in those hard weeks, he would text me so often, asking how I was and being so supportive, I always felt so encouraged when I got a text from him.

The next morning I was back at the Doctors for more tests.  I told him about the pain I was in, he attributed it to the withdrawals and prescribed me Co-codamol for the pain.  I understood that this painkiller was an opiate derivative and that these too could be highly addictive, I didn’t want to replace one addiction by treating it with another, I guess I was slightly surprised to be given these, but I guess that most painkillers can be addictive.  I decided that I would only take these when I really needed them, I wasn’t going to rely on them, only when the pain was unmanageable.  But actually by the time I was prescribed these I had suffered the worst of the pain, it was actually getting a little easier each day.  I had a prescription for thirty tablets, but in the end I only took about a dozen, the rest sat in my cupboard until I ditched them.

Over the next couple of weeks all the pain had gone.  By mid May I was feeling pretty good, all the pain was gone, I was happy and I was well.  After weeks of various blood tests and blood pressure checks at the Doctor’s, my blood pressure had returned back to normal levels and my liver results were back to normal too.  My early tests had come back with anomalies, the Doctor expected this given what I had told him about my drinking, but had pointed out that the liver also has the remarkable ability to repair itself.  I was lucky I guess, I hadn’t quite gone past the point of no return, I had stopped in time and everything now seemed to be coming together.  The news about my liver results was really encouraging, after weeks of pain and wondering whether this was all worth it, suddenly I knew I was on the right track.

With all the pain gone, I decided it was time to get fit.  Over the last few years I had put on a lot of weight, when I was training regularly I was usually just over 11 stone, when I stopped drinking I was around 13 stone, I wanted to get back down below that 11 stone mark, even go as far as 10 stone, which I believed possible.  So I started watching what I ate and exercising every morning, the weight began to fall off.

I had set a goal of being 11½ stone by July when the National Championship came around.  In the last few years, despite my weight and the drinking I had still managed to perform pretty well, I had won the Senior Men’s Kata back in 2010 and came second in 2011, but now I believed I could do so much better this year.  I actually got my weight down to 11 stone by the day of the championships, I went there with so much expectation, if they couldn’t beat me unfit, then how could I be beaten now, I was in the best shape I had been in for over 15 years, what could go wrong?

Well it did, in my first round match I lost, I lost to someone I should never have lost to, but I did, I slipped slightly, but that didn’t matter in the scheme of things, I had lost, when I saw the flags go in my opponents favour, I was gutted, I was destroyed, so much disappointment, even anger, it wasn’t my opponents fault, he pulled out his best and won, in fact I’m not sure he could believe the result either, I bowed to the referee, walked back to the edge of the area, turned to shake my opponent’s hand and walked away.

Then it happened, I realised that despite all my hopes for winning, I realised that it wasn’t supposed to be, the truth was it was better that way, winning now would be too easy, it would seem like everything was fixed, when in reality it was only just the beginning, there was more work to do, I was far from fixed just yet.

I stopped walking, stood by the area and closed my eyes, I lifted my head and said to God…

“Ok, I’m with you God, I’m not there yet,
I’ve still got work to do, it’s not my time,
it’s not part of your plan, I am with you,
I will trust you to show me when the time is right”

Immediately any disappointment faded, deep down it was still there, but it was okay, there would be another day, it was just not today.  I remember writing in my journal that night and quite clearly writing….

I AM A WORK IN PROGRESS, BUT I HAVE TO WORK IN ORDER TO PROGRESS!

It had been a long day and I didn’t get back home until the early hours of the morning, but even through the disappointment the day had been a good one.  I had met up with many old friends, some of whom I had met up with last at a training session in April, it was right in the middle of my withdrawals and I couldn’t train because of the pain.  That day back in April all my old squad coaches found out my secret and what a mess I had become, now they got to see how I was overcoming it all.

DEAR X (YOU DON’T OWN ME) by DISCIPLE
Dear pain, oh, it’s been a long time
Remember when you were holding me tight
I would stay awake with you all night

Dear shame, I was safe in your arms
You were there when it all fell apart
I would get so lost in your beautiful lies

I let you go but you’re still chasing

Go ahead, you’re never going to take me
You can bend, but you’re never going to break me
I was yours, I’m not yours anymore
You don’t own me

Dear hate, I know you’re not far
You would wait at the door of my heart
I was amazed at the passion in your cries

Dear anger, you made me so high
You were faithful to show up on time
Such a flame that was burning in your eyes

I let you go, but you’re still chasing

Go ahead, you’re never going to take me
You can bend, but you’re never going to break me
I was yours, I’m not yours anymore
You don’t own me

Go ahead, put a target on my forehead
You can fire, but you’ve got no bullet
I was yours, I’m not yours anymore
You don’t own me

You tempted me to look back
But everything that we had together was a lie

Go ahead, you’re never going to take me
You can bend, but you’re never going to break me
I was yours, I’m not yours anymore
You don’t own me

Go ahead, put a target on my forehead
You can fire, but you’ve got no bullet
I was yours, I’m not yours anymore
You don’t own me

Go ahead, put a target on my forehead
You can fire, but you’ve got no bullet
I was yours, I’m not yours anymore
You don’t own me

The Story So Far – Chapter 9 – A New Home

CHAPTER 9 – A NEW HOME

So the next morning I got up and I got ready to go to Church, I had made the decision that now I had stopped drinking, it was time to make the next step and that was to walk into Church and see what it held for me.  This would be a ground breaking step for me, me the man who his whole life had avoided the place, every time I had been in Church it had been because I had no other option, I couldn’t avoid it, I had in essence been made to go, I never wanted to be there and I would never had been there had it been left to me.  But this morning I was making that bold step to walk into Church because I wanted to and I had chose to.

I was ready now, I had broke free of the chains of addiction, it was still a fight, still a battle and I needed help to keep going.  I felt I had shed most of the dirt that I was carrying from the old me.  I wasn’t really sure what Church was going to do for me, I had in all honesty quite enjoyed it last time I was there, but now I was actually nervous, even frightened of going, but I knew I had to, I knew it was where I needed to be.  I had spoken with Victoria the day before, let her know where I was with things and told her I was going to go to Church, I would be doing this for me and no other reason, it could easily have looked like I was trying to just impress her, but this was most definitely for me now, everything else would have to wait, there would be a time to deal with our relationship, but that was in the far distant future and even now three years on it remains that way still.  But now I was ready to experience God in a different way.  I knew he was answering my prayers, I began to sense that the music was no coincidence and I had even downloaded a bible app to my phone and had started to read from it, so this was the obvious next step.

I sent a text to Alex to let him know I was coming, I left it as late as possible to get there, I got there about ten minutes or so before the service started, I spoke to Alex on the way in and then went to find a seat.  I chose the seat furthest away from the stage, on the back row and last seat on the outside, the furthest away from everything was where I wanted to be, I didn’t really want people bothering me, so I went as far away from the crowds as possible.

I think there were a few odd looks form people as I walked in, I think a few people possibly recognised me, but weren’t sure who I was, surely it couldn’t be me in Church, surely he would never come to Church on his own, but I kept myself to myself, I spoke only to Victoria and Alex on the way in, that was the way I wanted it.

I stood when everyone else stood for worship, I just stood there as the band played, I read the lyrics from the screen over the stage, I looked around at what everyone else was doing, yet I stood the still, alone, hands stuffed deep into his pockets, I didn’t feel part of this, I didn’t feel comfortable, I was well and truly outside my comfort zone now, so I just kept looking around, watching, seeing what each and everyone was doing.

Gareth wasn’t there that week, he was at our other campus, instead preaching was his father, Pastor Ken.  I sat there listening to Ken, he has such a calm way of speaking, such a welcoming way, I sat there quietly listening.  The series they were running at the time focused on the miracles of Jesus from the Bible, I sat and listened, then Ken began to discuss the only verse of the Bible that Gareth had mentioned that night he came around, he didn’t just mention it, his whole preach was built around it in detail.  I can’t remember how many times I cried during his preach, I knew the relevance of what he was saying had to my life, he backed up exactly what Gareth had been saying and I knew I had to listen, I knew I had to take this in and put it into action in my life.  At some point during the preach something happened to me that at the time I couldn’t explain, I couldn’t work out what it was, I’ve had it many times since, I know what it means now, but on that day I wasn’t sure what it meant.  As I sat there I felt my heart freeze inside, as I say at the time I didn’t know what it meant, these days I get that feeling when I know I really have to listen and respond to what is being said, it’s a prompting from the Lord, but back then I didn’t know this.

During the time before the preach started, an older couple, John and Eve, had come and sat with me, we chatted and I explained why I was there.  It was at that point where I had to make a choice, keep hiding or be honest and be free.  I told them why, I told them about being an alcoholic and I was here to find a new way, a new life.  They were very welcoming, very supportive and very kind.  I’m sure that when I cried during the service that John had seen this, but he never mentioned it.

This put to bed one of my greatest fears about coming to Church, that I would not be accepted because of everything I had done, that as a sinner I would not be welcomed, I know it’s a prejudice that the media probably portray of the Church, these over the top born again Christians casting out sinners, but I couldn’t be further from the truth, no one I met that first day or spoke to about why I was there showed any sign of none acceptance, they offered their help in any way they could.

I spoke with a few people after the service, I can’t remember who, but I was not really in a mood for hanging around, so I made for the exit, on the way out I passed a guy call James.  I had met James just once, he sat in my front room the previous year, on the day of my daughter’s dedication, I had liked James from that meeting, I remember commenting to Victoria afterwards that he was the sort of guy I could really be friends with.  James remembered me, even after that first meeting, he asked how I was and why I was here, so I began to tell him, not the abbreviated version of few words that I had told everyone else earlier in the day, this time a pretty comprehensive version, naturally I broke down into tears a few times during the telling, but he was so kind, so friendly.  He gave me his mobile number and took mine, he told me to keep in touch and contact him if I needed help.  Over the next few months I got texts each week from James, asking how I was doing, chatting about football and other things we had in common, from that day we became good friends.

But there was something that definitely happened that day in Church, I may not of understood that feeling, but I knew I was in the right place, it was like I knew I was at home, I maybe felt a little uncomfortable at some of the aspects of being in Church, but it really felt like I had found where I needed to be.  All those old prejudices about Church had been blown away, they didn’t matter anymore, because God had led me here and I felt at home here already, I was definitely coming back next week.

On Monday morning as I was walking to work a song came on my iPod, I was already feeling really encouraged from the day before, but as this song began to play I recognised it from somewhere.  I know I had heard it before on my iPod, probably a number of times, but I recognised it from somewhere else, then it dawned on me, I realised that this song they actually sang in Church the day before, it was one of the worship songs the bang played, I just felt it was another reminder, another message that I had found the place I needed to be.

The next week went by without any significant incident, I went to work, I worked on those small daily changes, I taught karate and still I went to the pub after wards, but I never drank, just the lime and soda, it would become my drink of choice in the pub.  I remember that first Tuesday after I quit drinking, walking into the pub and up to the bar, I was considered a local and all the staff knew what I drank, so when I got the bar one of the barmen had already started to pull my usual pint of cider, I stopped him straight away, told him my new drink of choice and that was that, it happened that way over the next few weeks, until everyone behind the bar came to know that lime and soda was my new usual and it was staying that way.

The next Sunday was Easter Sunday, I went to Church once again, this time there was no fear or apprehension, no inner struggle as to whether this was the right thing to do or not, I knew it was and off I went.

When I walked in, many people began to recognise me now, a few had realised I was there last week and came to talk, I began to explain to some of these people the situation, they were shocked they knew nothing of what was going on, but they offered me all the support I could want if I needed it.

I took the very same seat as the week before, this seat I would take every week over the next few months, it became my seat, everyone would come to know where I sat, people tried over the coming months to get me to move forward or sit with them, but I refused, I always returned to this seat.

As I sat there Gareth’s wife came past, she walked by, did a double take and then she realised who I was.  I had met Leanne just the once before, once again when she sat with me in my room on the day of my daughter’s dedication, she immediately came over for a chat.  Obviously she knew the situation and that I had met with Gareth, how much of the story she knew I didn’t know, but I wasn’t bothered any way, I distinctly remember her saying how good it was to see me smiling, her smile and her words made me feel further at home.

A few moments later Gareth came by, he seemed so pleased to see me, he didn’t realise that I had been there the week before, but was so glad I was there now.  We spoke for a minute or two, he then promised to catch up with me over a coffee after the service.

Again during the worship I stood there motionless, hands in my pockets, only my head and my eyes moved as the scanned the room trying to take everything in once more.  Just like the previous Sunday John and Eve came and sat with me, we chatted for a while, it was really quite comforting that they came to sit with me again.

I really enjoyed Gareth’s preach, he discussed miracles as it was the current series, but he went on to talk about how many Christians feel that miracle in their life, that life changing moment, but never follow it up.  He explained that we are all running a miracle marathon, the miracle is just the start, we have to keep running the marathon.  I remember writing in my journal that night this I was at the start of my miracle marathon, I had felt that miracle moment in my life, it had changed me, but I was in for the marathon, I was there until the end.

At the end of the preach Gareth asked for everyone to close their eyes and he started to pray, he asked for those who were new to Church, but felt ready to accept Jesus into their lives to raise their hand and he would pray for them, I knew by this time that I was ready and I raised my hand, I had accepted a life with Jesus.

I chatted with a number of people that day, including catching up with both Alex and James, I enjoyed speaking with every one of them.  I also spoke with a number of people I didn’t know too and each one seemed so nice, I continued my honesty approach and everyone was really supportive, the more I spoke with people, the more I appreciated that I was in the right place.

Over the coming Sunday’s I met some great people, all of which became really good friends and so supportive, never any condemnation, only encouragement and compassion, especially if I broke down into tears as I spoke with them.  For the next two weeks I raised my arm in response, somehow I felt like I was quite doing things right, I knew I was in the right place, I knew it felt like home, I but I didn’t feel like a Christian yet, so I raised my hand a few times.  On the third time I met Jeremy, we talked for a while as I explained what was going on in my life and what had brought me to Church, I distinctly remember Jeremy saying never to worry about what I had been through, because one day someone would walk into this Church, struggling with exactly the same thing, but my story, my testimony would be there to help them, it could make the difference in their lives.  From that point I was convinced I was in the right place, I didn’t need to raise my hand after that, something just clicked after meeting Jeremy and I was definitely home and Jesus was definitely with me.

GUIDE YOU HOME by REMEDY DRIVE
Has your love run dry?
A flower under the desert sky
Withered before your eyes

Have your flood walls failed?
Built so high still the storm prevailed
The water rises to your soul

If you’re a ship and you’re lost in the ocean
I’ll be the wind in your sails give you motion
I will guide you home

If you’re too far out that you can’t see the shoreline
I’ll be the light house shining in the night time
I will guide you home

Is your compass wrong?
Misplaced trust for far too long
Off track and you can’t get back

Did you lose your calm?
You’re not sure where but you know it’s gone
It’s a sad, sad song playing in your soul

If you’re a ship and you’re lost in the ocean
I’ll be the wind in your sails give you motion
I will guide you home

If you’re too far out that you can’t see the shoreline
I’ll be the light house shining in the night time
I will guide you home, I will guide you home

When the night is long
When the storm is strong
I will guide you
I will guide you home

When the night is long
When the storm is strong
I will guide you
I will guide you home

If you’re a ship and you’re lost in the ocean
I’ll be the wind in your sails give you motion
I will guide you home

If you’re too far out that you can’t see the shoreline
I’ll be the light house shining in the night time
I will guide you home

When the night is long
When the storm is strong
I will guide you
I will guide you home

When the night is long
When the storm is strong
I will guide you
I will guide you home