Rock Bottom, then up a bit

Towards the end of 2018, I hit rock bottom.
I lost my fancypants job at Mercedes, that I had so lovingly bragged about to friends and family back home.
This left me cast adrift in the city of Maastricht, tied to a house contract until the following summer with no way of paying for it. Virtually all of my friends in the city I knew from work, and with only a single exception they ruthlessly abandoned me. I don’t really blame them, but I thought at least a couple more people might ask if I was alright.
At first I retained some hope, that I could find a new job and continue my sordid little European adventure.
The truth of that wish was that I was just terrified of having to tell my mother I’d lost another job.
So for two months I sat around my flat, drinking and smoking. Rarely venturing outside for more than the five minute walk to the Albert Hein supermarket for supplies, usually junk food of some variety.
I awoke around 10am most days and stayed in bed until my phone battery died and forced me up. There was no other real reason to get out of bed. There was barely anything to live for.
Throughout all of this I smoked. Each evening after dinner I plonked myself down on my sofa, and fired up YouTube on my PS4. With junk food and cheap fizzy orange drink close to hand, I rolled, I smoked, I ate, and I watched.
Every few days I trudged the barely one hundred yards to the nearest coffeeshop, the subtly named Mary Jane, and bought a couple more baggies of sweet oblivion. I didn’t feel good when I smoked, but I didn’t feel as terrible as the rest of the time.
On it went, a cycle of misery and Netflix binges. Occasionally I went out, for drinks and smokes with a lovely Irish Mercedes pal, the only one who ever messaged to see if I was ok. Other times a sweet American girl would distract me for a blissful evening of revelry and stimulation, intellectually and otherwise. Once a week at most.
The rest of the time I was alone.
My housemates didn’t know, or didn’t care, or both. Sometimes I could hear them in the rooms below, talking about me. I didn’t speak any Dutch, but the walls were thin and I knew that ‘Engels’ meant English. Their laughter curled me into a ball. I sobbed and cursed them, then smiled politely or otherwise ignored them in the hallways.
As Christmas approached, and my pre-booked flight home to Devon loomed, I had achieved nothing. Through buying precious little other than food, booze and drugs, and ignoring my rent, I had survived financially. But it would soon run out.
I had to go home.
More than that, I had to change. You see, I’d been smoking more or less every night for the past four years.
I’d become a shell of myself.
When I started smoking regularly it was a crutch. I used it to sleep, as sleep has never come easily. Not alone anyway. And it did seem to help ease the panic attacks that wracked me through 2014-15,
But it so very quickly became a crutch. It slowly ratcheted up my anxiety.
Before all that long I was living a life with no long term goals. My anxiety was barely bearable, but I powered through each day knowing I could roll a joint or two at the end of it and have at least a couple of hours of relaxation.
I ignored the fact that soon I could hardly enjoy watching anything without it.
I ignored the fact that I could hardly seem to sleep without it, those rare nights I had to.
I ignored the fact that each day began in a sluggish haze, that my once sharp thoughts were dull and blunted.
I lost several jobs. Simple jobs, jobs that should have been beneath me. I was once the smart one of the family, the one who used to ace exams and get all A’s. To be twenty-six years old and be unable to hold down a simple office job… To have never held down any job for a full year…
I was pathetic.
I was a drug addict.
I knew it. And I hated myself for it.
So there I was, in an attic room in the Netherlands. No job and a rapidly dwindling bank balance.
Even so, I couldn’t stop smoking. It was the thing destroying me, yet it was still my primary source of comfort.
In that time, through frankly far too many tears, much self-flagellation and an almost overwhelming well of suicidal thoughts, I finally came to the only conclusion that mattered.
I had hit rock bottom.
The slightly galling thing is, that I know plenty of people who do smoke every single day, but who seem perfectly functional. There may even be people reading this who scoff or smirk, and say “is that really an addiction?”
Sure, it’s not like I was on crack or heroin. Thank fuck.
But it was enough to more or less annihilate my mental health and emotional stability. I came close once or twice to doing something profoundly, stupidly permanent about the situation.
Fortunately I had an adorable American girl with a wellspring of common sense and affection to keep me grounded. I was not utterly alone, and that counted for a great deal.
Anyway. I was at rock bottom. More than anything I desperately wanted to get better. To be better. To try and actually live up to the potential I had been told I had but had never followed through on.
I had to leave Maastricht.
That much should be obvious. Anyone with a problem with weed should not be living in a city with a dozen shops within walking distance. Not a sketchy stranger or friend-of-a-friend dealer. Shops with menus and selections. I was a kid in a candy shop, who quickly rotted his teeth to the gums.
Fortunately, Christmas was approaching. I still hadn’t told anyone back home what had happened, and quite frankly I was terrified of the prospect. However I knew I had to do it in person. If for no other reason that I knew I’d break down and cry, and that would be far easier to deal with if I could have a hug right after.
That final day I packed as much as I could into my bags. I prioritised, and once again bemoaned bringing two games consoles to the Netherlands with me. I had to leave a fair smattering of belongings, but nothing I couldn’t live without. The rest my wonderful American girl has sent after me.
That final night, with a grim sense of foreboding, I smoked every last scrap I had. Part of me knew the following day would be easier to deal with with less in my system, but the overriding part knew it was my last opportunity.
At 1am I finished my final joint and rolled into bed.
At 6am I crawled out, gathered my things, and like the proverbial thief in the night, fled the scene.
I didn’t tell my housemates I was leaving. They could go fuck themselves.
The train and plane ride was a nervy mess of reciting what I’d say to my mother, over and over again.
But when I finally did see her, she looked so damn happy at my arrival that I couldn’t break that. Through the drive home she nattered and grinned and I smiled sickly along. She commented on how much stuff I had brought (two bursting bags were a little obvious I thought), but we excused it as Christmas presents.
It wasn’t until and hour or two later, safely ensconced in our new flat, having been shown my new room, that she asked me with a smile, “are you happy?”
And I burst.
From there, everything got easier. Telling the family wasn’t easy, but with each telling and each outpouring of love and support, the stress of the secret fell away.
I told my best friend Liam everything. Within two days of my return I had an interview at his company. I came in and spoke to the boss before they shut up shop for Christmas.
By the weekend before Christmas I had a job lined up for January. I owe him a great deal.
As ever, Mum would provide a place to live and food, and whatever I needed to recover. To her I owe everything.
As of time of writing, it’s been a month and a half without smoking. Well, I’ve had a few ciggies on nights out, but that’s not what I mean. And to be perfectly honest I’ve probably been drinking a little too much. But these are minimal issues compared to what I left behind in Maastricht.
My head feels clear. I feel more emotionally stable than I ever have done before. I can fall asleep with minimal assistance, a minor miracle in it’s own right.
From barely listening to music I’ve been seeing bands every week, and playing my old open mic night. Reading as voraciously as the teenager who took an English Literature degree.
Talking with a confidence I didn’t know I had. The anxiety that was ratcheted up so far has dropped away to lows I hardly thought possible.
More than anything, I feel like me again. The me I left behind long ago. The me I always thought I could be, but never tried hard enough to be.
For the first time in far, far too long, I actually like myself.
It really is true, what they say about being at rock bottom. There’s nowhere to go but up.
P.S. For anyone (if there is anyone) who checks this site, or merely pays attention to timestamps, this should go some way to explaining the lack of posts over the last six months. Hopefully many more will follow, though probably few if any like this. Now my brain seems to be finding it’s way back to working properly, I want to write more poetry, experiment with short stories, blog regularly. That sort of thing. So here’s to the future.
Onwards and upwards.

A Cry

This is a cry for change
From one who’s eyes have gone square
From staring at spreadsheets
Mind begging for something strange

A respite from a monotony of right angles
Please give me a tangle
Of jungle vines and steaming streams
Why is it all that I can see
Is a over crowded car park
Vibrant hues of showy paint jobs
Covering grey steel
Over grey asphalt
Under grey skies

So much fucking grey.

But I know that way out there beyond
Is a globe of infinite colour
A sea of new treats for my eyes
Yet I’m stuck in this stagnant pond

There’s so much to explore
So much to adore
But how do you get to it when you’re dirt poor?

I spend endless hours gazing
With wide rectangular eyes
As my youtube heroes, household zeroes
Jet over and over into foreign skies

So many people have turned their lives
Into a flipbook of permanent adventure
And I’m so green it’s flowing from my pores
Overflowing
Puddling on the floor
Drowning in my own bitter envy
Inside I’m screaming
WHY ISN’T IT ME

 

Because I know it could be.

 

 

(2018. Written at my desk, at my third temp job in four months, on a particularly grim February morning.)

Changing Paths

I toiled along a valley road
Sinking lower into fog
Stinking mud pulled at my toes
Trapping me within the slog

To either side rose winding paths
Twisting, splitting, clawing free
Carpeted with seedlings growth
Promising mighty future trees

A peculiar train caught my eye
I wrenched my feet out of the sludge
And leaping forward, breathed goodbye
To the endless filthy trudge

But throwing my foot blindly down
In a first step of upward hope
A stone beneath grass overgrown
Sent me tumbling back down the slope

Sitting arse deep in the mud
That I had so briefly escaped
With heaving lungs, face flushed with blood
I did not pause to ponder my fate

Rising, I ignored the grime
Embedded deep as my grubby soul
And growing weary of the rhyme
I focused on my new found goal

Every path my hide a pitfall
Every one I’ve walked does
But one of them will lead to something better
One of them has to.

I took another step.

 

 

(2018)

#4 New Roots

It’s been a month and a half since I moved to Maastricht.

What a month. A hot, lethargic, sweaty, heart-rending, life-affirming few weeks.

This is, it seems, where I belong. In a medieval cobblestoned city, getting merry with folks from all over the world. It reminds me in so many ways of that glorious year in Prague. But then, that’s sort of what I was trying to recreate. So… success?

Maybe. Probably. I don’t know.

Part of coming here meant giving up an incredibly loving, if hideously unstable, relationship. A necessity, but one that still aches.

And suddenly being so far from family is not the best feeling, after being so close by  to them the past few years.

I guess that’s the main thing I ignored when I saddled up all my belongings and fled for the border. That it would, almost inevitably, be really fucking lonely for a while. Not that that’s anything to do with Maastricht. I’ve made some fantastic friends here so far. And spent an absurd amount of time in bars watching football. But they don’t really fill the hole I dug. There’s a fair bit of downtime in this hotel room, which feels like a luxuriously hipster prison cell. And I killed my cellmate.

Metaphorically speaking.

That should soon change though! As of time of writing I’ve put the deposit down on a place to live. It’s a huge attic room perched atop a student house, the kind of place that has that delightful veneer of grime that still doesn’t dampen the energy within. Not that I’ve actually met any of my 6 new (masters students, one and all) housemates, but judging purely by the amount of beer bottles in the garden, I think we’ll get along.

Hopefully I will be in there by the weekend. It had better be soon anyway, I’ve only got 9 days until the hotel gives me the boot.

Let’s see, we’ve covered housing, friends, my emotional state… what else…

The job! For any who are curious, or aren’t in the mood for overly emotional exposition, here’s how it’s gone so far.

Week 1-2: Mostly training in ‘classrooms’ learning about the company. Honestly that was one month ago and I can hardly remember a thing from it. It wasn’t a bad time, we got to know our colleagues and get used to the company. But MAN do they ease you in. Slower than naked genitals into a boiling bath.

That was a weird simile. I like it though, it’s staying in.

(I don’t edit. This is all stream-of-consciousness shit. I just go back and correct typo’s when people point them out.)

Weeks 3-4: More training, but gradually working our way onto computers and starting to figure out all the different system we needed to learn. Ultimately quite useless as the version of Compass (main system used at work) we got in training was aaaaaall fucked up.

I could describe exactly what was wrong with it, but you wouldn’t understand, I’d be bored, and ‘aaaaall fucked up’ is more dramatic. So there.

 

Weeks 4-5: (there was some overlap. this is hardly accurate timekeeping). Then we moved into the AMG room, a sunny little corner where 4 newbies would be sat with 1-2 trainers, gradually figuring out how to do the job. To be honest we could have skipped straight to this step. In a week and a half using the proper systems and making/taking calls from actual customers and suddenly I’m there. I can do the job. Quite well too. Sorted.

Which brings us up to last week, starting proper shifts. Easy. That’s the best word for it. Sure confusing shit pops up quite regularly, but most of the time the job is a doddle. Making what they pay me to do it slightly absurd. But there you.

 

I guess that’s everything then. Jobs going well, should move into a permanent address by the end of the week, keeping fit and having fun. For the most part

Toodles x

Free?

With a sickening squelch I pulled myself free

Letting the remains of that which had engulfed me

Fall heavily    and shatter

Into delicate fragments

Plinking and pattering

Like so many pills strewn across a worktop

I pushed forward

Hardening my heart

Ears straining to hear

The pieces being picked up and slotted back together

Eyes forward. Do not crack.

Do not waver. Don’t turn back.

Do.

Not.

Look.

Back.

 

So of course I do. Of fucking course I do. I have to.

I peer carefully over my shoulder.

And shatter.

 

#3 Maastricht, Mercedes, my god… (life update)

Hello!

It’s been a little while since I posted anything, but for frankly excellent reasons. My life has been flipped turned upside down in the past two weeks, and great changes are underfoot.

I shall endeavour to explain.

As anyone who is unfortunate enough to know me in real life might be aware, I’ve been at something of a loose end for the past year or so. Working a lot of temp jobs, drifting through life with all the energy and direction of a half-eaten jellyfish.

Until a couple of weeks ago. I had been applying for full time jobs for a while, trawling through job sites and sending out endless copies of my CV, with lukewarm responses. Some interviews, nothing coming of them. When up pops a rather interesting little role doing customer service for Mercedes. Seems they’re looking for native English speakers who are willing to relocate to their central customer service hub in the Netherlands.

So I give it a click and send off yet another CV, with my cut-and-paste cover letter. It’s worth a shot, right? Besides, I’d be happy to relocate. The best year of my life so far was when I found myself out in Prague after uni. To be living in a medieval city in central Europe once more…

But honestly, after applying for dozens of jobs and recieving so few responses, let alone interviews, I didn’t hold a great deal of hope. Job hunting is a hope-killer. You’ll find so few perfect sounding jobs, and you can be damn sure those will be the ones that come back with instant rejections. Best to just apply and wait.

Imagine my surprise then, when a mere two days later an email lands in my inbox, with hope shimmering all over it. They like my CV. They want to do a telephone interview. Which goes great. Then they send me a written task. It’s essentially creative writing, way to play to my strengths! They like that too.

All of a sudden I’m being offered an interview/assessment day out with them.

In Maastricht.  The Netherlands.

I fly to Amsterdam. Three trains and three hours later and I’m in Maastricht.

It’s like a weight I didn’t know was on me had suddenly been lifted. For the first time in three years I was back out doing what I loved most, wandering a strange city in Europe, soaking up fancy local beers and medieval architecture.

The assessment day was odd. There were meant to be three of us, but both of the other applicants failed to turn up. Apparently they never checked in the hotel. No warning given. Strange people.   As many group activities were planned, I was treated to a great deal of attention. Whether this worked to my advantage or not I don’t know. But I walk out of there after 6 hours punching the air and feeling like I’d nailed it.

Two days later, the offer came in. I accepted, obviously.

So now here we are. In three weeks I will completely uproot my life, moving out of my family home in Devon, England and settling down in Maastricht, The Netherlands.

It’s all still a bit surreal. Not a dream come true, because one month ago I wouldn’t have dared to dream things would work out so well. Yet here we are.

Now I’m preparing, which doesn’t require a massive amount of effort as Mercedes are sorting out all of the travel and accommodation for me, lovely people that they are. For the time being I’m going through all of my worldly possessions and trying to cut things down to the bare minimum.

Turns out I owned approximately 45 t-shirts. Isn’t that ridiculous? I’d had some since I was 17. Absurd. So now half are in a bag to go to charity. Next is books, a far more difficult challenge. I’m far too much of a hoarder for moving country, but I’ll manage.

 

There you have it. That’s what’s going on with me at the moment. But enough about me, how are you doing?

When I Was Seven

“There is great stupidity in this, or at least minimal imagination, which is more or less the same thing only morally worse.” -Stephen Fry, Moab is My Washpot

When I was seven they sent me away

Away from the country in which I played

Off to a place where my parents would pay

To give me an education

 

I got on the train, rattling and roaring

And perched myself next to a man who was snoring

And sat for two hours, long stiff and boring

Until we arrived at my school

 

Tucked away in a green and pleasant land

Closer to mountains than seaside or sand

Where every day was drawn up, closely planned

And they would teach me to study

 

When I told others they said it was cruel

To send a child to eat bread and gruel

A hundred miles away at a school

How could parents do such a thing?

 

I smiled politely, for they were dumb

To think it cruelty on the part of Mum

Even though I was still sucking my thumb

When really they hadn’t a clue

 

I retorted, “why ever should that be?

To private school went my mum, dad, bro, me,

So punishment would be school primary,

I would wonder what I’d done wrong”

 

But they shook their heads, and tutted at me

That I was damaged and I couldn’t see

Ever so sad is a private school boy

Defending a place that beat him

 

Well yes I was beaten, and rightly so

A terror I was, the whole school would know

Wherever I went trouble would follow

I could hardly complain my lot

 

Though I was naughty, though I was bad

And later my mind couldn’t overcome the sad

For my schooling I can be nothing but glad

To be given an education

 

 

 

 

A note:

Another from my University archives, written sometime in 2011, this is loosely based on some experiences relayed by the legendary Stephen Fry in his first autobiography, Moab is my Washpot. For the longest time I had the audiobook on my iPod, and would listen to it over and over whilst walking the dogs in the summer. Good times.