"IT WAS ALL DRUNKEN FUN FOR YEARS AND THEN I HAD A PANIC ATTACK"
6.5 MIN READ
We all have our ways of dealing with stress – over-eating, over-working, binge-watching Netflix. For Rory, it was alcohol, but after more than 20 years of mind-numbing drinking – and the crippling hangovers that came with it – he went in search of an alternative way to quiet his mind.
After experimenting with a whole bunch of different techniques from marathon-running to creative writing, he eventually found Vedic meditation.
Here, Rory shares how finding his focus helped him move on from living in fragile states of semi-consciousness to being present, content, and in control.
The first time I got really wasted I was swigging wine from the bottle and necking neat gin. I got my first real buzz, and a glimpse into this carefree world where you could do what you liked and it didn't matter what anyone thought.
Then I vomited everywhere – all over the place in front of everyone. It took me weeks to live it down. I was 12. My friend's mum had to clear it up and she still can't believe we managed to sneak all that alcohol past her, nearly thirty years later.
After that I took every opportunity to explore altered states of consciousness. Drinking was an easy way to do it – booze is everywhere. I had something that made my worries go away, allowed me to connect more deeply with my friends and made me happier.
I'd get into trouble at school but people seemed to find it more amusing than anything. I was getting As for almost every subject so no one really minded. Then Mum died in an accident when I was 18. I took that pretty hard and drank every day for the next three years.
Alcohol's a great tool for escaping and suppressing your emotions, but not so great for coming to terms with grief. But I was 18 and it was perfectly acceptable to drink all the time. In my gap year I worked in a bar for six months and then spent three months partying in Ibiza. Then it was university. Drink wasn't just available, it was encouraged! You could get steaming drunk, smoke a pack of cigarettes, have a kebab and a get taxi home all for a tenner.
It was all drunken fun for years and then I had a panic attack. I was in a department store with my girlfriend and suddenly everything seemed overwhelming. I was struggling to breathe, sweating. There we were surrounded by mundane things like toasters and pyjamas and somehow I was threatened by it all. I had to get a taxi home and go lie down. But it seemed to go away, so I kept on going. I'd sometimes hold off until late at night but then worry I wouldn't be able to sleep and quickly drink a couple of beers to take the edge off.
The panic attack should have been a sign to slow down, but I didn't. I stopped drinking every day but my life for the next fifteen years still predominantly revolved around alcohol. After I graduated I ended up joining a band and touring the UK and Italy – my adolescent rockstar dreams come true.
When the band split up a few years later, I drifted into music journalism and club promotion. The whole time I was surrounded by other people who all drank as much as I did. But it came at a price. For me, it was in the form of monstrous, debilitating hangovers.
While drinking, you're able to move below your normal thought patterns, numb yourself and live more by your animal instincts – drinking, eating, looking for sex, fighting. But when the drink wears off, the thinking mind is back and it's the most negative version of yourself.
It compensates for you not thinking when you're drinking by overthinking when you're sober. I'd think about the shit I got up to while I was drunk but also about all this crazy stuff like how to swallow, where my tongue should sit in my mouth, what my teeth were supposed to feel like. I'd climb these towers of anxiety and feel like if I didn't keep thinking about my breathing it might stop or my heart might stop. Really crazy and unpleasant stuff.
By my mid-thirties, I'd come to the conclusion that the downsides of alcohol were outweighing the upsides and I started looking for alternatives. I got into running and did a couple of marathons. I did some creative writing courses and wrote a novel. I took a Neuro-Linguistic Programming course and learned how different ways of framing thoughts can change how you feel. I did several personality tests to try to figure out who I was, but I never felt at home in any of the pigeonholes they tried to fit me into.
I also read a lot of self-help books and eventually came across a couple that pointed towards mindfulness and meditation – The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. These opened me up to an awareness that most of what determines our happiness happens on the inside and there are techniques that can help you change your thinking.
I found a mindfulness meditation course and started meditating every day using three different techniques – mindful breathing, body scan, and loving kindness. I found them all quite strange but enjoyed experimenting with different states of consciousness.
I quickly started feeling benefits from meditation. I was more alert and more resilient when faced with setbacks, but there was still something missing from these practices because I kept searching. I eventually found Vedic meditation, which uses a mantra – a word with no meaning that you repeat silently in your head – rather than focusing on the breath as mindfulness does.
I found it easy to make a habit of Vedic. I'm able to stick to the twice-a-day recipe for success, and I actually look forward to it. I like that it uses the internal sound of the mantra as the anchor for awareness. It's reminiscent of a musical sound, which is much easier for me to associate with relaxation.
Vedic takes me on strange journeys through my inner consciousness. Sometimes there are dreamlike sequences, deep states of relaxation, or moments of reaching a void inside with no more thoughts. I usually finish meditating with a warm and fuzzy feeling in my head.
When I started meditation my sleep was the first thing to improve. Before, I had a tendency to lie awake for hours, but meditation helps me process the thoughts that used to keep me up at night so I can fall asleep much quicker.
I've become less reactive. While I've always been quite good at hiding it, there used to be certain things that would rile me up without fail – people in petty positions of authority (from electricity companies to airline representatives) being deliberately unhelpful. Since I started to meditate, these situations don't bother me as much.
I can also see opportunities now where before I would have seen threats or problems. One early example is when I found out the day before an interview that someone else was getting the job. Instead of throwing in the towel, I re-worked my pitch and ended up getting a new job created for me – one that had many benefits the original one didn't.
As humans, we like alcohol and drugs because they give us a holiday from our normal state of consciousness, but meditation does something similar in a more subtle – and sustainable – way.
Interviewed by Dee Behan
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