Opinion

It takes a lot of hard work to realise how stupid hard work is

Celebrating eight years of sobriety, Sam Delaney reflects on how giving up drink and drugs brought everything into focus

Image for Sam Delaney column of a scrambled brain

Image: Shutterstock

In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate eight years of being clean and sober. It’s been a good run, hopefully one that will continue for many, many more years until the day I die. Giving up drink and drugs felt like a big sacrifice at first but, quite quickly, I realised it was the opposite. Sobriety introduced a bunch of brilliant new stuff. Energy, curiosity, fitness, focus, a reinvigorated imagination, a deeper appreciation of the love and beauty that surrounds us and – perhaps best of all – deep, peaceful, sumptuous rest. 

Being pissed, high or hungover all the time created a chaotic and stressful life. I was always running late, feeling sick, embarrassed, anxious, paranoid and unable to relax or feel fulfilled without some sort of stimulant inside of me. It was a very narrow life in which I found pretty much everything boring apart from booze and drugs. Ugh.

Once sobriety helped me learn to draw pleasure from real life, I was so much more comfortable with myself. I lost the sense that I was missing out on stuff, or not having enough fun. I learned to be happy. I found peace. I became able to sit and do nothing much without being consumed by feelings of anxiety, boredom or self-loathing. I was, at last, comfortable with the person I was.

Peace and sobriety was all I craved. But for many years I lived in a world where peace was impossible to find: society seemed to bombard me with goals to chase, ambitions to set, aspirations to fulfil. Career, money, love, family, home, health… every aspect of life was contaminated by a culture that made things feel like a brutal gladiatorial contest. Feelings of failure haunted me. Drink and drugs provided an escape.

Through sobriety I eventually managed to get some sensible perspective on life. But the ugly world of hyper-intense ambition still exists – and seems to be getting worse. The podcast charts are increasingly dominated by batshit shows presented by American Psycho-type narcissists preaching ‘high performance culture,’ encouraging people to adopt ‘world-class’ habits and ‘optimise protocols’ in every last aspect of their lives.

This sort of thinking is rooted in a fundamentally right-wing worldview: the idea that everyone can succeed if they are just willing to work hard enough. It ignores all context: the myriad socioeconomic, racial and other cultural obstacles to success, and works on an assumption that we all share one aim in life which is to be the absolute best at everything. This is the warped thinking of uptight psychopaths, not happy, content, relaxed people.

Most people want to learn to be comfortable with whatever life throws at them. They understand that it’s impossible to incubate themselves completely from the universe occasionally dumping a bucket of shit on their head. They just want to be composed enough to casually wipe themselves down whenever it happens.

These high performance nerds – almost all male and universally humourless – are terrified of the buckets of shit. They don’t think they’d be able to handle it. So they run relentlessly towards insane, exhausting goals that they think will make them safe. Getting up at 4am. Writing a list of barmy ambitions while they blend a green juice. Meditating in an ice bath. Replying to 400 emails before lunch.

For fuck’s sake, slow down. It’s a form of turbo-Thatcherism that even Thatcher herself would have probably deemed a bit much. I call it ‘cocaine thinking’: a state of mind that means you are constantly hyped up, never quite satisfied and always fretting about where the next little hit is going to come from. 

Ridding myself of that mindset via sobriety was one of the most difficult but positive things I ever did. It takes a lot of hard work to realise just how stupid hard work really is.

Read more from Sam Delaney here

Sort Your Head Out book cover

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Constable £18.99)You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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