For the past handful of years I’ve found the festive period tough. The magic of childhood festive memories fades for many of us as we juggle the juxtaposition with the stuff of adulting under austerity. Other more personal factors may stoke our emotions. For me, it seems that since my pops passed away in October 2014 I’ve felt a more pronounced loneliness, sense of insecurity and aching existential anx, which alcohol amplifies, especially at Christmas time. Becoming an orphan strips skins of security away, removes the safety net of those you can turn to unconditionally, who will love you without rejection or abandonment and support you no matter how wayward, subversive or self-destructive your stupor. It’s not necessarily a prominent thing banging at the forefront of the minds door, instead more subtle sat at the back solemnly staring at you, constantly. Trying to drown that flame with booze is like trying to put out a clipper flicker with antiperspirant spray. The only times I’ve ever felt truly suicidal has been during the last half decade of Decembers.
This year, however, despite the above, being single and sober I was determined to do it different whilst maintaining my awareness of what matters most to me. Christmas can be a stressful time for many for various reasons. A time where excess consumption is relentlessly advertised placing strain on our wallets, the planet, each other and ourselves. It’s is a time when naturally we might be inclined to hibernate and go inward, engaging with whatever insights winter introspection and reflection bring whilst shining a light on that load with jovial festivities, food sharing rituals around fires and the tightening of tribal ties that our continued survival depends upon. Corporate capitalism and it’s advertising engine go in to hyperdrive to manipulate our desires and encourage us to splash out beyond our means on things which we not only don’t need but oft leave us feeling ill, empty and depleted.
The shivering invisible homeless spectate pissed off shoppers cuss their carrier bags, hoping a sliver of copper or silver might cross their cold purple palm. Child sweatshop slaves who sleep in the factories they fate work overtime to fill the countless shelves. Envision all the shops in all the cities in all the countries of this ever increasingly plundered planet turning over stock, Black Friday style to maxed out credit card holders not ever really knowing the true costs of how they shop. A season of goodwill, a time to think of those less fortunate, an opportunity to do things differently, engage with alternatives that help others rather than harrow. It was a chance to redefine what it means to have a happy, fulfilling, merry & meaningful Christmas. It provided opportunity to reconnect with myself, with my community, with nature and my sense of purpose so that the fulfilment felt from doing so soothed the painful void I’d usually fill with sugary sherry & fake Bailey’s coffee’s.
On Saturday December 1st myself and my THRIVE friends organised and attended the annual THRIVE Festive Fair? which is an alternative market to raise money for an excellent local homeless charity, the Padley Group, with ethical, independent stall holders, talented live performers, food and a warm community atmosphere with everyone kindly pulling together to raise £500 for some of those that needed it the most. My friend and ex-partner Jen kindly brought me a book I’d left when we lived together called ‘Our Word is Our Weapon’ by Subcommandante Marcos, spokesperson for the Zapatista’s who from the depths of the Lacandon Jungle, Chiapas, staged a historically significant uprising against the Mexican state and neo-liberal corporate capitalism on January 1st 1994. Their theory and practise, poetry and processes inspired a whole wave of global justice movements all over the globe and are still referred to as one of the most significant examples of revolutionary praxis and autonomous, horizontal governance of the 20th and 21st century. Their demands of dignity, justice, true democracy and freedom, whilst building a world where many worlds fit, emphasising diversity and prefigurative grass roots, directly democratic structures where everyone’s voices are heard epitomise the essence of connected inclusive communities we so desperately need. I’d forgotten what year it was yet would find myself pondering the relevance of Zapatismo to radical recovery a little later in the month.
A week on, myself and house mate Matt had a …pr@xis?.. PROBIOTICS stall at Compassionate Derby, which is another excellent annual ethical market held at St Peters Church in the city centre raising money for Brinsley Animal Rescue. I performed some political spoken word, alongside my man Ranty Grant who did the same, which is something I’m still getting used to sober. I enjoyed it and regardless of the quality of my performance or extent to which my words resonated with others, I believed in what I was saying and expression of what we believe is inherently healing. It was another great day only made possible by the hard work, time and energy of everyone working together to make a difference.
For the monthly THRIVE Nutrition event on the 17th, which is usually facilitated by Lucy Kay, our friend Dena Smiles kindly offered to knock up a super nutritious and tasty feast for the peeps using local produce from our brother Brendan McDowell’s allotment as well as the highest quality biodynamic produce from Trinity Farm. The food we eat connects us directly to the earth beneath our feet and is such a simple yet nourishing way to spend time together and connecting as a community. Dena requested the £125 generously donated went to support Safe & Sound who work with victims of child abuse. Dena also very generously offered to do dinner on the 4th Monday of every month as a part of the THRIVE events schedule to be released in April 2019. So many people pulling together.
Myself and Dena had spoken about doing something to help others on Christmas day as neither of us had plans to spend it with family and wanted to do something that would allow others who might otherwise be alone to be nourished and part of their communities. She kindly offered to cook again and so myself and Matt offered to help out. We opened up Boyer Street Community Room at about midday and got to it. Dena had prepared an exquisite vegan wellington with organic veg, stuffing and trimmings. Lucy popped by to drop off a tasty Christmas Cake and our friend Maya made an amazing avocado, coconut and cacao chocolate dessert which was the bomb. Our friend Scott also came to help out and at about 3.30 my dear friend Dave arrived. He gave me a book called Companera’s which is a selection of Zapatista women’s stories. Women had and continue to be at the forefront of the Zapatista struggle for autonomy and freedom. I gave him a grateful hug and we headed in to help ourselves. Around 20 people attended in total, some of whom would’ve otherwise been alone and enjoyed a magnificent meal together with music, conversation and expressions of great appreciation to Dena and each other for sharing our company together. It was a beautiful way to spend Christmas day.
Throughout the month I was also trying to maintain the healthy habits that I’d been building up throughout October and November and didn’t want to slip into the swing of doing things bad for my body and mind just because it was culturally expected and encouraged. As a result of the last couple of months in recovery I’d never felt better, was starting to feel high on life, really energetic and experiencing a level of confidence and contentment that I’d forgotten was possible. Rather than spending the little money I had on toxic tings that would be bad for me I decided to treat myself in the true sense of the word. I bought some cheap barefoot running shoes, more holistic health books, went to Qigong in Ashbourne taught by my friend Lindsay Trevarthen, arranged a cinema trip to see ‘Sorry to Bother You!’ at Quad with my squad, which was excellent, paid for a mindfulness meditation and life coach training course as well as an online Qigong tutorial taught by Lee Holden. It felt a little gratuitous and self-indulgent but in the best possible way as I was actually prioritising my own health and wellbeing which is something I have very rarely done.
This didn’t stop me going out and socialising though so had a few exciting nights out as well as some quality encounters with close friends. There were some legends lined up at the Hairy Dog, first up General Levy at SUB:Lemonal which my mate Chris kindly hooked up, followed by the Foreign Beggars who fucked the place up proper. The next day my man Bee Tone put on a fresh mash up of Hip Hop, Grime & R & B at new venue LIMES which was followed a week later by quality working class Burton band Thee Deadtime Philharmonics who were excellent. The option also arose to go check out the rambunctious rabble rousers Seas of Mirth who I love dearly at the Maze in Nottingham on New Years Eve, but I wasn’t certain what my first sober NYE in over 20 years needed to look like.
A significant highlight of the month and year generally was getting to visit Emma Cronin from Wild Pickle in Stoke to lend a hand with some fermenting whilst learning shit loads from her about holistic health and a fuck tonne more about various related phenomena. We had an exquisite day making alchemic magic happen in the kitchen on the farm, enjoying the best organic broth bubbling whilst speaking inspired. Her home library made me giddy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an impressive collection of microbiome related reading material. It was also a pleasure to philosophise with her awesome daughter Molly before bidding farewell and enjoying the train ride home.
As a part of my sobriety protocol I’ve been researching as much as I can about radical recovery & holistic health and throughout December really enjoyed finding inspiration and empowerment from what I learnt. I read Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert, Addictions from an Attachment Perspective edited by Richard Gill, The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani, Opening Up By Writing It Down by Pennebaker & Smythe, Thrivability by Jean Russell (Thank you Pippa Nayer) and watched the cutting edge docuseries about the human microbiome called Interconnected by Pedram Shojai, which my dear friend Gav bought me as well as an exquisite notebook and pen for my poetry.
New Years Eve day rolled round and I found myself seeking decadent solice with a book and a cup of creamy coffee in the Cosy Club. Pondering how I’d bid farewell to what had been one of the most profound years I’d experienced for better and worse I decided to stay home alone, write, reflect and rest ready to put my best foot forward the following day. As I walked home a sacred space sprang to mind, the river by which I’d wept, shook, glugged Rose and watched currents carry debris away throughout distressing days I sought to escape. I dismissed the notion and bounded homeward.
It’s New Years Eve though, as if I’m going to stay at home? Auto-pilot party addict purchased Seas of Mirth tickets and brushed off his glad rags and bowling shoes before catching a breath. It would be a great challenge too, first sober NYE out the city til late having it large with the booze crew. Bring it on. I’d arranged to meet friends in Notts but for one reason or another they no-showed. I couldn’t contact them via phone and even though I had tickets to the venue I deep down didn’t want to go. I sat people-watching on Upper parliament street feeling reflective, thinking about the Zapatista’s. When was their legendary insurrection that would blast revolutionary ripples across the globe, again? It dawned on me. Exactly 25 years to the day, to the hour!!!
The Zapatista communities were rooted in deep intimate connections with each other, their land, their history and with the world around them. They would talk about ‘Zapatismo’ as the politics of listening, asserting that ‘By asking, we walk!’ celebrating human respect, dignity, respectful dialogue and consensus decision-making as ends worth pursuing in themselves as well as the means they’d use in order to achieve liberation. To ask questions, to listen, to value and celebrate diversity, to create a society based on equality, freedom, dignity, with such deep nourishing connections where the people decided how they would live provides a profound example of what’s possible. Collectively, in some regions, the people had democratically decided by consensus to not prohibit alcohol into the Zapatista communities due to the damage it caused people’s lives as well as the revolution they were creating. That decision wasn’t imposed upon them by anyone, that’s a decision that they collectively made and consented to.
It was 11.30pm and I was sat contently gazing out the Red Arrow window anticipating the rivers soothing wind whispers awaiting my return. I scrambled down the muddy bank to the serene spot, enclaved away yet still in the city centre sirens serenade. I sat happy, tucking in to reflections from the past 12 months which kept me satiated til 2am: Traumatic toxicity, lives being lost, hearts and minds broke amidst the tragedy of it all. Mistakes made by many, too late to erase, regret, shame and sorrow for who I became, never again. Never again. My one true love, the revolution, emancipation, liberation, our lives, mine, yours and all of ours, I’d lost sight of. Never again.
The 2am glow of my phone showed Sandra asking my whereabouts. She’d done with her crew and so came to meet me by the river gardens. We shared a cigarette on the bench talking about how to quit, catching up on our respective evenings, laughing before hitting up the spoils of the city centre for a celebratory Coca-Cola, who have a way of showing up whenever the holidays come, before both got a taxi to our homes. It was a blessed way to end the eve and I also felt so empowered and grateful to had spent NYE alone. Reflecting on the year past to help guide and inform the year ahead, to reconnect with what matters most, to try and understand the who’s, how’s, when’s, what’s and why’s of our lives whilst letting go, picking up and preparing to proceed seemed needed, from the personal to the political, the inside-out, from the bottom to the left and up. Onwards.
If you would like to sponsor me on my year of sobriety to help raise money for Active Cancer Therapy Support then please feel free to visit my Go Fund Me page at the link below. Love, thanks and solidarity to everyone showing their kind support. x