Having very recently tried my hand at hosting video podcasts on the subject of The Sinclair Method, I thought that it would be good to try doing a conventional audio podcast interview and my friend Michael Dempsey of Recovery from Recovery fame kindly volunteered to be my very first interviewee!
Given that I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone and have a go at new things, having very recently tried my hand at hosting video podcasts (see HERE), I thought that it would be good to try doing a conventional audio podcast interview and my friend Michael Dempsey of Recovery from Recovery fame kindly volunteered to be my first guinea pig interviewee for this little experiment.
So – without further ado – here’s what we came up with:
I think it turned out alright. Sure, there’s nothing in the way of any real production values… no jingle or anything… but that’s to be expected; and yes, the sound quality leaves a little bit to be desired on my end, but as far as first goes go, it’s not half bad.
I look forward to doing more and would like to thank Mike for not just being a brilliant interviewee, but also (being an experienced podcaster himself) a really good mentor and – last but not least – for lending a hand to clean up the audio for me.
Many, many, many thanks to him for that.
As for the content of the interview itself: I think it’s really good. The last half of the interview, in particular, is really insightful and I got a lot of identification from Michael’s observations of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Also, during the course of the interview Mike has some really useful expert advice for anyone wanting to set up their own recovery blog.
…Okay, well that’s me done for one article and one interview. It’s been a blast.
Time for a bit of a breather and a bit of a pause for thought about how this blog is doing:
Overall, it’s not been a bad few months. I’ve picked up some extra followers (“hello!”) and it’s obvious that the site is now starting to show up in more search engine listings about The Sinclair Method as well as get a steady number of referrals from Facebook.
So what next?
Well, given the favourable response to some of the Q & A articles I’ve recently posted I’m seriously thinking about adopting a podcast format as it’s obvious that an audience really enjoys hearing people’s stories and really gets a lot out of hearing an actual dialogue… and I’ve gotta say that I’m quite inspired by the work of my friends Michael and Katie with their excellent respective podcasts and YouTube videos…
…So I think now would be a good time to experiment a bit more with things like YouTube and also perhaps doing some work to improve the actual look of the site with a new template perhaps – as, for one thing, even though the site looks quite decent on my Sony laptop it honestly leaves a bit to be desired when viewed on my Samsung S7 screen (where it looks a bit “crammed”)… so it might be worth seeing if I can find a webpage template that’s visually more cross-device friendly.
Anyway, besides that it’s all good. Everything’s ticking over quite nicely and I’ve got a couple of really exciting collaborations coming up that I can’t really currently talk about because I don’t want to give away any “spoilers”, but that will appear on here quite soon.
The only bit of anxiety that I have about experimenting with new stuff is just around the fact that whilst I’m arguably a confident enough writer I’m honestly like a chimpanzee trying to solve a Rubik’s cube when it comes to trying to figure out some of the tech stuff… it’s all “flying by the seat of one’s pants” with me, given my lack of technical know-how (hehe! – you know what? I think poor Mike is starting to despair of the number of “How-the-f*ck-do-I-do-this”themed e-mails he gets from me all the time! Haha!!! 😀 ).
Okay, well that’s this particular reverie over with for now, I think.
I have been nominated for The Liebster Award by fellow blogger, MagnumOpus. Thank you so much for nominating me, Magnum. It’s really flattering.
Magnum has a wonderful blog called – appropriately enough – MagnumOpus. It’s quite an endearing motivational blog, all about spreading positivity. To quote the About page, Magnum describes herself as: “An optimistic person who sees the bright side of every situation and every person”.
I have had some really nice interactions with some other bloggers on WordPress and there are some very talented people on this platform, so it’ll be a pleasure to put forward some nominations of my own.
Here are the rules for The Liebster Award:
Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you.
Answer the 11 questions asked.
Nominate no more than 11 other bloggers for the award.
Pose 11 questions for them.
(So do you see how it works? It’s essentially very similar to a chain e-mail, passed from blogger to blogger – the only real difference being that it’s actually quite a nice thing rather than an annoyance. Oh and by the way, it’s apparently okay for a blogger to be nominated by different people a number of times… there’s no rule against it)
Anyway, without further ado…
Questions from MagnumOpus:
1. What was your dream as a child and did you achieve it?
My ambition as a child was to be a great artist, to draw comic strips and to be famous for it. As for whether I achieved this… well, as for being a great artist, the answer to that is “I’m still working on it”… the answer to the second part is “yup, I first got published in Spit! comic back in the nineties” (see below for the concept design for one of the characters that I drew for that magazine)… and, lastly, as for the part about being famous – well, not really; even though there is a cult fanbase for those old comic books my name is not really well known… in fact, it’s only recently that fans of this stuff have been searching me out and saying “Are you the guy who drew this?”.
2. If you were given 3 wishes , what would you ask for?
I only have one wish: to be given a time machine… something which I’d use, firstly, in order to go back in time and stop my mum from being murdered and, secondly, which I’d use to go back in time to give my younger, stupider self a much-needed slap around the head.
Oh and if there was some way that I could engineer it, I’d like to make a life sentence in the UK actually mean life… not sure how I could use a time machine to do that, though.
3. What inspired you to start a blog?
I felt that I had a story to tell and, given my one man war against the tyranny of brevity (haha!), I thought that WordPress would be a good fit for my hyper-verbosity!
…And at the risk of sounding like a wannabe do-gooder, I also felt that some people could perhaps relate to some of the hardships I’ve endured during my life and could take some inspiration from some of the solutions that I’ve found – such as, for example, the story of how I recovered from alcoholism thanks to The Sinclair Method (see the podcast below – I’m the guy in the T-shirt on the right).
4. What is your biggest fear and what are you doing to overcome it?
Ooh! Good question. My reflexive response was to write “fear of failure”, but after a bit of thought I have to say that the thing which I fear most is being written off – that’s the thing that keeps me awake at night.
You see, here’s the thing about me… thanks to a combination of alcoholism and bipolar disorder that hijacked my life for the better part of two decades I managed to either miss out on or squander a lot of opportunities (on both a personal and professional level). And despite being as bright and as creative as I am, the fact of the matter is that what most employers want more than anything (more than even skill) is reliability – something which I just couldn’t give for many years and which would render me both unemployed and unemployable for a long time, unfortunately.
Now that I’m sober and that my mental health has drastically improved what I’m very much trying to do is to redeem and rebuild myself… though it’s not easy – I’ve left quite an unfortunate legacy thanks to my years in the wilderness (…oh and thanks to behaving like a horse’s ass).
So what am I doing about it? Well, I’m trying to set achievable goals and I’m trying to become the best possible version of myself – “creating some good karma”, in other words.
5. What is that 1 book that changed your life (you can also mention an incident if not a book)?
6. Who is your favourite blogger in the WordPress community?
I like the work of a number of bloggers and I follow a number of blogs in my WordPress Reader, but if I’m absolutely forced to single out one person it has to be my friend Michael Dempsey of Recovering from Recovery because I think that out of all of the addiction treatment themed blogs out there (and there’s a plethora of them) his is one of the most balanced.
Why? Well, because here is a character who is so inspiring because he is someone who has endured a devastating traumatic bereavement – the murder of his wife and daughter – but who courageously chooses light over darkness… there’s no self-pity and no brooding with Patrick Jane – he instead presents a defiant joie de vivre to the world…
…And I find this quite inspiring because I know that this is how my mum would want me to live my life.
8. Which Superhero would you like to get if you could have a superpower?
…Because I want Bruce Wayne’s superpower of being richer than anyone else! Haha!
Seriously though, what makes Bruce Wayne so special is that unlike other superheroes he doesn’t have any superpowers to fall back on and yet he’s still able to kick the ass of just about everyone in the DC Comics Universe thanks to his mastery of numerous physical and mental disciplines… and it’s this unstoppable, indomitable will that I admire so much – that IS his real superpower and something that distinguishes him from the likes of Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man) from the Marvel Universe (and another playboy billionaire), who – let’s face it – is a push-over without his suit of armour.
The same cannot be said for Bruce Wayne at all… a true renaissance man who, as well as having an IQ somewhere in the stratosphere and being the world’s greatest detective, is an expert in just about every form of combat in existence and can bench press 800 lbs.
Well, that’s all I have to say, really. I rest my case. The only other thing that I could possibly add is that Batman simplylooks cool – and there are millions of little kids on the planet who love dressing up as Batman who agree with me on that score.
9. Which pet do you like more, cat or dog? What is it about them that you like the most?
Oh I’m fond of both species and spend more time than I really should watching cute pet videos of both dogs and cats on Facebook.
But I would say that cats get the win just because their emotional colour-blindedness is so endearing. Haha.
Aaaw bless… they really are something else. And they remind me of children on the autistic spectrum in the curious way how they’ll give affection, but don’t know how to reciprocate it many a time. They’ll just look at you blankly.
They’re quite misunderstood, I think. Some people misinterpret the lack of reciprocation as coldness, but they just don’t get cats in my view.
10. If you could have a talk over a cup of coffee with any person dead or alive, who would that be and why?
Easy: I’d pick my mum. I don’t think that I really need to go into why…
11. If you could have a day celebrated on your birthday, what day would that be and why?
“Pariah’s Day” maybe? A day that celebrates the outcasts and the misfits. A day that celebrates eccentricity and individualism, in other words.
Why? Well, because I’ve always been someone who’s never quite fitted in… I’ve never had a “tribe”… but I don’t see this as a weakness at all. Quite the opposite – I see myself very much as a free-thinker, not constrained by consensus opinion on any topics and someone who thinks outside of the box.
My nominees are:
Beckie’s Mental Mess
Barbara from myaphorisms.com
Stephen from A Fractured Faith
…And my questions are:
Why did you start your blog?
Which person (alive or dead) has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
What is one fact about yourself that most people don’t know?
Have you met anybody famous and – if yes – what were they like?
What’s your “TV kryptonite”? Which TV programme would make you want to kick the TV screen in if you were forced to watch it?
What’s your favourite book?
Where do you stand on the “nature vs. nurture” debate when it comes things like addiction, mental illness and crime?
Name a pop song that you enjoy listening to but would feel really embarrassed to admit to liking to most people.
Should there be a “Blogger’s Code of Ethics” or do you believe in complete freedom of speech on the internet?
If you had a time machine what would be the first thing you would do with it? And why?
What would you like inscribed on your headstone after you’re dead?
“Did you order a taxi?”, said the voice on the other end of the line.
I groggily confirmed that I had indeed ordered a taxi the day before, shitting myself at the sudden realisation that I’d slept in.
“Well, we just buzzed your property and someone said that they hadn’t ordered a taxi”.
Then a pause.
“Okay, we’ll sort it; we’ll send another driver out”.
And that’s how this trip to London almost never began before it even started, dear reader.
10:30 a.m. (ish)
…And I’m standing in King’s Cross Square filming this on my Samsung phone:
Actually, upon walking around the sculpture, I don’t think it’s a cock at all… it has a nipple thing going on if anything.
Whatever. In any case, I’m pleased that I’ve got there okay after the three hour train ride and I text my friend the fellow blogger Michael Dempsey (of Recovering from Recovery fame).
I like London – so different to the goldfish bowl that is Hartlepool where everything and everyone seems to move so slooowly; now this is more my speed.
Amusingly, a chav accuses me of being a homeless person as he and his dickhead friends walk past.
Crikey, I knew that I was a bit unkempt that morning, but come on! Haha.
…As for the rest of the day, it’s a bit of a blur after I meet up with Michael. Tiredness started to set in quite badly by mid afternoon. But, as ever, it’s great to see Michael and catch up.
We have a walk around central London for a bit and the tour helps give me an idea of where I need to be for the special service commemorating victims of murder on Saturday.
A good day overall, despite the poor start.
Tomorrow/today I intend to get along to the National Portrait Gallery and visit an AA meeting – just because I’ve never attended a meeting in the capital and I have a feeling that it might be quite fun. Besides, it’s about time I claimed my chips.
Hey, why not?
The day closes with fish and chips and then coffee back at Mike’s place. Overall, it’s been a fun day spent in good company, but I am a little whacked. Time to retire.
And with that, I bid you adieu for now dear reader.
I’m honestly not sure how to construct this. I’ve never attempted an actual linear autobiography, as such. Not even when I was writing my old TSM blog Naltrexone Confidential.
Well, it’s not like I was attempting to give myself some sort of unwarranted mystique by being deliberately vague about my history… it’s just more that I didn’t want to bore any readers. Because I’m not that exciting a person, you see.
Oh sure, there’s been some eventful stuff in my timeline but it simply does not compare to (say for instance) Claudia Christian’s story in her memoir Babylon Confidential.
But enough of the jibber-jabber. Let’s be systematic.
I was born in Hartlepool in 1972 and was really quite different to a lot of other kids from a young age on account of the fact that I was unusually hyperactive (I’ve been a lifelong insomniac, in fact – my brain doesn’t just switch off like other people’s) and I had problems with my early speech development in which a stammer really set me back. This led to my being misdiagnosed as learning disabled and being put in a special educational needs school for a while.
Well, long enough for them to figure out that I didn’t have a learning disability.
This misstep would come to haunt me upon returning to a normal school because (kids being the bastards that they are) I was made to feel like the lowest, most radioactive form of humanity for having attended a “spacker school”.
As a means of escape I just threw myself into my hobbies and own boyhood obsessions which back then were drawing, building Airfix models, collecting comic books and watching horror movies. I was a morbid kid so I absolutely loved things like the horror movie double bills that used to show on BBC 2 back in the late 70s and early 80s – things like Zoltan: Hound of Dracula followed by George Romero’s The Crazies(pure bliss to my 9 year old self).
…What I suppose I’m coming to is this: even from a young age I liked my own company, had my own niche interests, liked making stuff with my hands and had little interest whatsoever in peer activities like soccer.
Just about the art and the model making… I really think that such an early exposure to art and crafts helped my young brain to develop in quite a good way. It would be a few years before things like home computers and games consoles would come along… so what happened is that at an early age I found a form of enlightenment just from being able to make stuff with my hands (something today’s kids perhaps don’t get because of such an early exposure to things like DVDs and games consoles for entertainment).
Some people would go on to say that I was gifted, but the word meant little to me. I assumed everyone could draw as well as me really; it’s just that they weren’t concentrating like I was, I reasoned at the time.
Right. So that was around the early 80s. Between 1983 to 1988 there was comprehensive school, there was puberty and there were stupid boyish crushes and, again, (because I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly) some level of bullying during this time.
This did toughen me up, though… and upon leaving school and going onto the local sixth form college followed by art college I found myself gravitating towards weight training (specifically powerlifting) when I was about 19 years of age.
But what really drove this? The legacy of being picked on in school?
Oh sure. I definitely needed a confidence booster after that.
Then there was also the fact that I was of that age where I was noticing girls a lot more and wanted to look a bit more buff for my modest (then*) 5 foot 9 inch frame.
(* I say “then” because I seem to have lost about half an inch in height due to age and things like compression on my spine, etc)
But the truth is that I also came to quite enjoy the training; particularly when I partnered up with a former professional powerlifter during the two years that I was in Wrexham studying towards my Illustration HND. Needless to say, the guy knew his stuff and with the help of his merciless pushing I got really quite strong and was able to throw around some quite respectable poundages in the gym within the space of about a year.
I never got into performance enhancers… though I’ve known plenty of people who have; not because I’ve always been in any way morally superior to everyone else, but just simply because I’ve never had the means to buy them and have never had anyone ever push them onto me.
My honest view on steroids? I don’t think they’re the evil that people make them out to be. Sure, some people perhaps rely on them a lot, but at the end of the day it’s their body and their choice. There’s honestly much more harmful drugs out there with much more of a destructful addictive potential – and yes – whilst I understand the arguments about how they “take away a level playing field in sports” and so on, the fact is that there’s no such thing as a level playing field, anyway… just because no matter how hard I train I know that I’ll never EVER be as physically strong as the Eddie Halls of this world simply because I do not possess his freakish biology… the man is just naturally inhumanly strong. And determined beyond belief.
So time for an honest conversation on this subject, I think. My feeling is that performance enhancing drugs should be allowed… but with the caveat of proper regulation and with the athletes in question disclosing everything they’re on and getting their health properly monitored. Of course, there’ll always be purists who’ll complain, but as an olive branch to satisfy such people there could be different “all natural events” held during the Olympics.
Okay, so this takes me up to about the early to mid nineties. I finished my HND, came back to Hartlepool (a decision which I would ultimately come back to look upon with regret) and wandered aimlessly for a while, trying to get work wherever I could find it.
I did end up getting into doing some freelance illustration work for a magazine called Spit! Comic which was one of many Viz clones that were over-saturating the news stands at the time. I did two comic strips for this magazine – Sefton Ward: Paranormal Detective and Nero Ramone: Porno Star turned Hitman.
Anyway, just to satisfy people’s curiosity, here’s a couple of scans of these old strips… please be warned that they are very much of a NSFW bent…
It really isn’t false modesty when I say that neither of them were very good. They had colourful concepts and some nice artwork in places, but the fact is that the stories I wrote were unforgivable puerile rubbish that just tried to get a cheap laugh from shock vulgar tactics.
I wasn’t the writer that I am now back then, you see. I was quite immature in many ways and my sense of humour was much cruder back then. I could have done with a co-writer, now that I think back on it… someone to help me better shape the dialogue and the stories.
What has recently come as a bit of a shock to me is the fact that this type of stuff and that whole wave of 90s adult humour comics is still very much talked about and even has its own cult fanbase. What’s funny is that when a cartoonist friend of mine recently showed me a Facebook group dedicated to celebrating and preserving this work my blood ran cold when he pointed to something and said ‘Was this one of yours, Gary?’.
Why? Well, because I literally felt as if I’d been caught with my dick in my hand having a wank… hey, no kidding.
As an older, more mature man that’s how mortified and suddenly quite vulnerable I felt upon being reminded of my own previous coprographic over-indulgences in Spit! Comic. What you have to remember, dear reader, is that the guy drawing those comics back then was very different to the one talking to you now – I was only twenty three years old. So I have some very mixed feelings on the subject matter in these things now, whereas I obviously lacked insight and restraint back then. Clearly, given that I even had my little brother saying stuff to me like ‘Don’t you think you’re overdoing it a bit with the bumming, Gary? All this buggery and bestiality in your comics is getting a bit repetitive’.
Anywaaaay! …Upon eventually deciding to have a chat with the guy running the Facebook group (a talented young writer/blogger called Ryan Davies) I must say that it was gratifying to discover someone with a genuine appreciation and fondness for these comics and it also allowed me to feel confident enough to reclaim a long disowned (but actually quite significant) part of my body of work and finally say: ‘Yup. That was me. I drew that.’
In addition to the Facebook group (entitled Two Headed Thingies), Ryan also writes a blog by the same name – please do check it out here: https://twoheadedthingies.blogspot.co.uk/
Great stuff. Thoroughly recommended.
It was interesting to discuss with Mr. Davies just how I would approach writing and drawing one of these comic strips now if I were to do a ‘redux’ of my old material. A good question indeed.
(‘No bumming’ would be the first thing that I would say, obviously. Haha.)
But seriously – I think I’d drop that whole gross-out thing entirely, which was very much a part of the humour of the 90s anyway (something upon which the Farrelly Brothers founded a career, let’s face it) and go much more in the direction of something that would have more pathos… where you would actually quite like and quite feel for the main character. Come to think of it, a character that might fit that mould quite well would be the dude with the dickie-bow tie in these concept sketches (see below) that I drew back in the mid 90s:
What was the concept for this character, you ask? Well, initially there wasn’t really one at all… I just came up with a cool title which came directly from a random mash-up of different words taken from multiple sources (i.e. the feature film The Ballad of Cable Hogue, the Depeche Mode song Strangelove and the Herbert West character from the Re-animator films) and what I did was to then ‘works backwards’ to try to draw a character that would fit the bizarre sounding title… sounds nuts, I know… but it’s not that strange a creative process when you remember that creatives at Hammer studios in the 60s used to just brainstorm a cool title and a cool poster image for a horror movie and then write a script purely to fit the title and the poster image they’d come up with. That’s how films such as Frankenstein Created Woman and Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde came about.
But I digress.
What I eventually came up with was a sort of meditation on loneliness and mental illness… a story about a really sweet, lovelorn middle-aged guy who starts to hear command hallucinations emanating from his underpants goading him into ‘manning-up’, taking more risks with his life and getting out there and trying to find a girlfriend (hehe… with predictably disastrous consequences, naturally).
What would have been a real gift for me when it came to illustrating this strip is that it would have been very quick to draw, given that much of it would feature a single character essentially talking to himself – so something that, in terms of tone, would not be that unlike the inspired Garfield Minus Garfield webcomic (see: http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/ ) in many ways.
Alas this never came about thanks to the combination of a few factors… these being the nasty drinking habit that I’d developed around this time… oh and the fact that the editor of Spit! fired me after stepping well over the line of decency one too many times! …Get this: my final comic strip for Spit! was in fact censored (yes, censored!) in order to not contravene the obscene publications act; which is pretty fucked up when you consider things… it indicates just how misguided and just how OTT my stuff was, given the extreme nature of some of the other stuff that they used to publish in that comic…
Haha! Talk about having a claim to notoriety!
But it’s sad, really – as I think that as I’ve got older and developed better taste I have of course become a better writer and have developed a better taste for pathos… for example, in terms of humour and quirky observations on the human condition the type of things that I’m drawn to now are movies like Lars and the Real Girl (2007) or The Beaver (2011), and I think that’s the type of sympathetic tone I would go for with any new comic strip.
About the drinking habit: it first developed as a result of the stress of working in my “bread and butter job” as an administration officer on the front line of a jobcentre in Middlesbrough. Back then there weren’t the security people that you have in jobcentres now and you really had to watch your step at times when you were dealing with some pretty desperate, unhappy people.
It’s nobody’s fault that I wasn’t really cut out for that job; it was just one of those things. What happened is that drink and bipolar disorder took over and I ended up on long-term sick, eventually getting finished from that position by my employer due to unreasonable length of absence. If you ask me, they did me a favour: they really did… and I hold no bitterness about it whatsoever.
But it wasn’t all bad. I would have some good spells where I’d be quite motivated and for a time be able to cease my drinking through sheer force of will (even being able to obtain a teaching certificate), but it was clear that I’d crossed an invisible line at some point; I’d gone from being a heavy drinker largely motivated through what was transient anxiety to someone who actively thought about and craved alcohol all of the time, despite my knowing how destructive it was to me.
I still remember that cold terror that I used to feel many mornings when I would wake up with the usual fuzzy recollection about some random outrage I’d perpetrated on Facebook or on some message board the night before.
Trust me on this: social media is not your friend when you’re a hyper-verbal drunk prone to memory blackouts.
Sheesh, even now I shudder – yes, shudder – at the memory of some of the things I used to come out with thanks to my own curious form of alcohol induced coprolalia. I lost a lot of friends because of my misuse of social media and also fell out with many members of my own family for a long time because of it, too.
So it’s no joke, really. If you’re actively addicted to a mind altering substance access to social media can be a very destructive thing and can put you in some very vulnerable spots.
Needless to say, the weight training completely fell by the wayside during this time. You can’t really train when you’re constantly strung out… and in true Red Dwarf style I woke up one morning to find that I was suddenly a fat bastard.
‘Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.’
– Rust Cohle, True Detective
…Some wise words there from the endlessly quotable Matthew McConaughey character from the first season of True Detective (God, I loved that show – and I thought that the second season was really good, too… despite the lukewarm response that it got from some critics).
It’s something that resonates with me because it occurs to me that throughout the course of my life I’ve acquired numerous different skills and learned from some very good teachers, but for whatever excuse never truly investing myself in the one thing permanently. I’ve instead only ever proved to be a very underproductive over-achiever at different things.
For example, I’ve had the art and the powerlifting and then the teaching (something which I turned out to be rather good at, much to my horror)… but things that would all fall by the wayside thanks to my possessive and monstrously over-demanding mistress, the booze. My relationship with the booze really was a form of battered wife complex or Stockholm Syndrome – something that I for a long time had a very conflicted attitude towards and would endlessly try to rationalise to myself, but my lightbulb moment – the moment when I made sense of it all – wouldn’t come until 2012 when I read The Cure for Alcoholism and learned about the alcohol deprivation effect (also known as the ADE).
But before I go into my now oft-repeated story of how I got in contact with Claudia Christian, how I eventually acquired a supply of naltrexone for myself and start showing you some TSM extinction graph porn, it’s worth pausing to consider another skill set that I acquired (quite by accident) along the way.
I’m referring, of course, to my internet super bitching powers. This dark, enchanted weapon (an Excalibur for a troll) that would be forged in the fiery crucible of the anti-AA forums where I would find a home for a few years after leaving Alcoholics Anonymous after a not-that-good experience with the fellowship.
‘One thing that I will say about my time on the Orange Papers Facebook forum… I got pretty damn good at constructing arguments – a skill which I honed even further when I got into blogging.’
I’m paraphrasing, but that was the essence of what I said to Mike Dempsey and Roy Eskapa one nice September evening in 2015 when we were sat chatting in Benihana, a swanky Japanese restaurant in central London.
‘Seriously: it’s like I’ve got to be a Krav Maga blackbelt in kicking ass on internet forums and can instantly see through and defeat any lame debate tactic employing fallacious logic’, I elaborated.
They both nodded, but I think that it was only Michael (a tall, bespectacled man in his early 50s with a wild mane of grey hair) who really fully grasped what I meant when I stated how this type of forum can be a real bootcamp when it comes to shaping yourself into a formidable keyboard gladiator. He’d served his own apprenticeship on the similarly popular Stinkin’ Thinkin’ forum before moving on to author his own blog, you see.
But let’s cut through the shit: is learning to be a troll a good thing? No, it is not… and no, I’m not particularly proud of some of the misguided antics that I admit that I got up to… oh like gleefully attacking and tearing to ribbons certain very pompous AA members on different forums… but my word, during the short time that I aligned myself with the “antis” I was really good at it; seriously, my wrath was boundless.
So it’s a little hard to reconcile when I look back on things now. My outlook on so much of this has changed and I can see very clearly that by giving in to my basest, most reactionary urges I aligned myself with the questionable wisdom and questionable agendas of some new false prophets… false prophets who, if they had their way, would bury every bit of research confirming the efficacy of The Sinclair Method in order to defend their own longheld (but manifestly mistaken) addiction theories.
As monstrous as it sounds it’s absolutely true… certain addiction theorists simply cannot tolerate being wrong or even entertain the idea that they may have been wrong when it comes to the causality of alcohol addiction and the best method to treat it… especially when that same person becomes something of a critical darling and TSM makes the thesis of their books something of a “moot point”.
Okay, back to my timeline and after straying onto some other subjects and for the purpose of saving time I’m going to pretty much (aside from a few minor edits) just copy what I wrote for my mega-entry Naltreone Confidential in Claudia’s upcoming book, Sinclair Method Journeys:
The War Within
A shitty month in a shitty year.
I’d had several supposed rock bottoms, but this one was pretty bad by any standard and I honestly didn’t know how many more relapses I had left in me.
I was drinking easily well over 100 British units of alcohol a week (put it this way: my living room and many other rooms that I had in the house that I rented at the time looked as if I was trying to build scale models of the Manhattan skyline using cans of Carlsberg Special Brew), I was monstrously overweight, had blood pressure often bordering on what would be classed as a hypertensive emergency and a cholesterol score through the roof.
Though this had been going on since the mid 90s, I do have to stop and compliment my liver on its regenerative capabilities; it had proven to be the most resilient of soldiers in this war that I’d declared upon it and its many other sibling organs… yes, it had been a formidable opponent, but (as a doctor indicated to me) was started to feel the strain of this tireless combat.
So yes, things were bad. I could feel that tick of the hands on the clock counting down to my demise, put it that way.
‘Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock…’
And I was just tired. So, so exhausted.
You see, here’s the thing about me: I was never just a weekend warrior or, for that matter, someone who only drank to satisfy some unaddressed emotional need.
No. The compulsion was on a very deep visceral level – in some ways it was almost like an opportunistic hacker had found a backdoor exploit deep in the very source code of my brain and installed a piece of vicious malware which then took my operating system hostage.
(That’s how I explain it in my native geek-tongue, anyway. Ha! my first language! …but another way of saying it is simply that I was a fucked-up alcoholic who had very little self control)
Just on the subject of willpower: when you’re as thoroughly addicted as I was, just leaving the home to go out shopping or summoning up the motivation to doing anything whatsoever that isn’t related to acquiring your drug of choice takes real willpower.
Well, because we all have only have so much willpower, even without an addiction. Furthermore, I had the added complication of bipolar disorder – something which I’d been diagnosed with in 1999 and which proved to be a real exacerbating factor because the magnified mood states of the disorder made it so that each time I tried to abstain from drinking alcohol I was constantly having to walk on eggshells around my own triggers.
Oh, like the tendency to be grumpy.
That used to be a massive trigger. The slightest little thing that annoyed or irritated me could reflexively cause this craving for booze to come swimming up from the depths of my mind like a vengeful kraken and consume everything in its path. It would be like all of my rational faculties would be taken hostage by pure raging HUNGER.
Of course, I knew that this was not normal and over the years had tried almost everything from acupuncture to Alcoholics Anonymous – but with little to no success in escaping from the trap I was in.
In fact, the longest period of unbroken sobriety I had in this period was just under 6 months and I can tell you that it was absolutely and utterly White Knuckle City – not nice.
So: my particular narrative was set to have a sad ending, it seems. I was to be nature’s equivalent of one of the red shirts from out of Star Trek (or at least that’s how it felt).
Though I certainly didn’t want to die and was begging for help from every nurse or doctor that I could pin down around this time, there was still this feeling of inevitably lurking in the periphery of my mind (the “tick, tock” thing again).
…Until I contacted the Hollywood actress (and, as it happens, the subject of one of my numerous teenage movie-buff crushes!) Claudia Christian, that is.
Little did I know it, but this set me on a path in which I was about to effectively rewrite my own narrative, but I was about to (to some extent) rewrite my own biology with what amounts to nano-surgery using a drug called naltrexone in order to chemically castrate my kraken by reverse-engineering the way that my endorphin receptors had come to respond to alcohol.
A new dawn – ‘The Rise of Sinclair’s Rottweiler’
The 2nd of April 2013, to be precise (some dates you never forget).
Fast-forwarding over three months after my first communication with Claudia via Facebook and following a noisy Easter bank holiday in the street that I was living in at the time, I come home one afternoon to find a delivery card in my hallway telling me that my package is available for me to pick up at a local post office.
Something that I’d been expecting – a shipment of naltrexone from India.
What had happened during this lengthy period between late December and the beginning of April is that – much to my surprise – Claudia had personally responded to my query about The Sinclair Method within the space of just a couple of hours.
Unbelievable, I know – but that’s Claudia for you. So generous with her time and so eager to help people suffering (as she herself once had) with alcoholism – or, to give it its fancy-schmancy politically correct term, “alcohol use disorder”.
She was terrific, in fact. And helped keep me sane (or as sane as I could possibly be at that time, given how badly I was still suffering) as I went through the seemingly tortuous process of acquiring this treatment – which I can tell you what most definitely not made easy for me; honestly, I was made to feel like Oliver Twist begging for his bowl of gruel just trying to get any medical professional in my vicinity to even deign to discuss my options with regards to how I could even go about privately acquiring a supply of naltrexone or nalmefene to start treatment.
To make matters harder, at that time nalmefene had yet to be approved for prescription in the UK and naltrexone was (and most scandalously still is) only available on private prescription, given that it is not officially licenced for use to treat alcohol addiction here in dear old Blighty.
I remember it all feeling like a complete and utter fucking headache at the time. Having so many doors slammed in my face and being spoken to with so much needless condescension frankly only added to the intense stress that I was feeling and – of course – just fed the blazing furnace of my addiction even further.
I might well have given up if not for Claudia giving me continual encouragement throughout all of this.
And thus, after fannying around with a private clinic in Glasgow (and even starting the process of getting my medical notes transferred to them for my GP practice), I was so sickened with the UK medical profession in general I’m sad to say, that I ultimately decided:
‘Screw this for a game of soldiers – I’m gonna “cut out the middle man” and just import the fucking stuff myself.’
So I did.
(And the rest, as they say, is history)
But do you know something? As it happens, something really positive would be forged out of this crucible of seething anger that I had been feeling – a blog called Naltrexone Confidential (or, to give it its correct URL at the time, naltrexoneconfidential.com).
As I recall, the name came to me quite early on. Like the best ideas, ‘Naltrexone Confidential’ just popped into my head without anything in the way of intense brainstorming. What’s neat about it is the way how it acts as both a tribute to Claudia (by way of a ‘tip of the hat’ to her memoir Babylon Confidential) and also the way how it evokes the type of name you’d give to a magazine, doesn’t it? (Obviously, the titular magazine from James Elroy’s L.A. Confidential and its magnificent film adaptation comes to mind).
Strangely enough, having an appreciation of that type of hard-boiled fiction (I was a huge fan of Jonathan Latimer’s Bill Crane detective stories when I was younger) helped shape the style of writing that I would adopt… no flowery, morbidly romanticized confessionals about ‘my struggle’ for me!
Nope. This was going to going to go for a more refreshing‘Just the facts, ma’am’ tone, but at the same time not without personality or occasional detours into colourful humour mixed in with the grit.
It says a lot about Claudia that she got behind this idea so early on and said ‘Go for it’ to me. It speaks volumes about her very real confidence in this treatment.
…Think about it: if this had gone pear-shaped and the treatment proved to be absolutely useless then things could be very, very different now indeed.
Why? Well, the site wouldn’t have lasted very long because – as I see it – who in their right mind would want to invest the time and money to continually keep up and running an everlasting memorial to their failed attempt? (not me, that’s for sure – I would have moved onto trying my luck with a different treatment method very quickly indeed).
So thanks to the fact that it did indeed work and that thanks to The Sinclair Method I was able to ween myself off the booze in a 13 week period (see the graph below) Naltrexone Confidential existed for a good while before I eventually elected to move onto other projects.
In fact, the site itself actually survived thanks to my handing over the reins to my friend and former co-editor Joanna Duyvenvoorde who – under her captaincy – is now doing sterling work with it and has given a few extra coats of paint and subsequently rechristened the ship I built as C3 Europe, now operating as a European sibling to the C3 Foundation’s main site.
True: it’s very different to what I originally built, mainly because Joanna has a different focus and different skillset to myself, but you perhaps still see some of my DNA in it if you look closely enough!
Putting the pieces of the jigsaw together – just what is The Sinclair Method and how does it work?
‘Nal + Alcohol = Cure’. That, when you distil it right down, is the formula for success with TSM; one pill taken one hour before your first drink of alcohol of the day – always.
A formula that Dr. Roy Eskapa repeats numerous times over and over in his book The Cure for Alcoholism.
Amusingly, such was the repetition during my first read through of the book that I recall thinking: ‘Jeeeezus wept, would you give it a rest? I GET IT’.
Not that that’s any slight on the book whatsoever (which is a great read, by the way)… no, as it happens, the good doctor had reason to be firm – repetition is a useful, often vital tool in learning and both he and Dr. David Sinclair (the American psychologist and addiction researcher from whom this treatment takes its name) had both been witness to numerous depressing attempts by others to deviate from Sinclair’s formula. Attempts to effectively ‘fit a square peg into a round hole’ by prescribing naltrexone alongside abstinence rather than with continued drinking.
You see, what is crucial to understand about The Sinclair Method is that it works through a mechanism of pharmacological extinction in order to selectively ‘delete’ an unwanted behaviour (in this case alcohol addiction) at a neurobiological level, but here’s the thing: the pill is no good for this purpose on its own.
Why? Because, with naltrexone or nalmefene in your system, your brain only goes into delete mode when you add alcohol to the equation one hour after swallowing the pill. It’s called ‘selective extinction’ for a reason, in other words.
YES. As nuts as it sounds, to ensure success you absolutely have to drink alcohol on the days that you take the pill (at least one hour after taking it, to be specific) in order to drink your way sober. Furthermore, you do not take the pill on days that you do not drink.
Completely counter-intuitive, I know – especially given the way that our culture has been conditioned to think that complete and utter abstinence was the only way to conquer alcohol addiction thanks to the popularisation of Alcoholics Anonymous
Upon first hearing about The Sinclair Method, I’ve gotta admit that my own Semmelweis reflex (ha!) was to discount all of this as a load of old horse shit, but upon further study it makes a lot of sense.
To tell you the truth, I was surprised by the amount of research on this and how far it goes back. The genesis of all of this goes right back to the late 1960s, in fact, when David Sinclair was tasked by the Finnish government to pull a rabbit out of a hat with regards to finding a solution for their country’s seemingly insurmountable alcohol addiction epidemic.
Just because I’ve already done a fair amount of exposition with this bit (so much so that I’m starting to feel more than a bit like the Michael York character from the Austin Powers films), I think now would be as good a time as any to pass you over to a citation taken from David Sinclair’s definitive statement about The Sinclair Method:
‘The brain has two primary mechanisms for changing its own wiring on the basis of experience. First, there is learning for strengthening behaviors that provide reinforcement. Second, there is extinction for removing behaviors that no longer produce reinforcement. The best known example involves Pavlov’s dogs that learned to salivate to the sound of a bell when the bell was followed by food, but then had the learned behavior extinguished when the food reinforcement was no longer given after the bell was rung.’
Yeah, that explains it well. Upon going through the process over the course of 13 weeks (see the graph below), I found that the sound of my own internal Pavlovian bell grew ever dimmer until I could no longer hear it.
What’s most surprising is that I frankly wasn’t that impressed upon my first drinking session with naltrexone. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but despite any dramatic anecdotes (ha! the four yorkshiremen and the “we lived in a hole in the middle of the road” thing from Monty Python comes to mind) you might read from any other TSMers on the forums, I myself felt no bolt of lightning.
Just a vague thought that I perceived my very first can of Carlsberg Special Brew to be “somehow less sugary tasting”, but after the first can I frankly stopped even noticing any difference.
Not that I’m trying to diminish anyone’s experience here, but I guess I was lucky because – as I say – I didn’t perceive of much of anything in the way of an immediate change. Not the first few nights. It was only as I persevered with keeping my logs that I could measurably see (as you can now by looking at that graph) the quite rapid decline of my consumption.
Okay, I think that about covers what happened up to 2013-2014 quite well.
The question is how am I doing these days?
All things considered, quite well I would say. Life isn’t perfect; I do have my ups and downs thanks to my mental health condition and some quite recent devastating trauma – but at least I’m sober.
Which is all I wanted, really. As for my art and my other interests, I still keep my hand in when I’m able.