Getting the Message Out

It’s been a long time since my last post, and that’s part of the story.  The everyday pressures of a normal life: work, study, family, health, etc. can lead me to the inappropriate conclusion that I don’t have the time to do the things that are beneficial to my health and sobriety.  Recently, I have struggled with my physical health, leading to reduced income and the associated financial stress, whilst trying to find a job in the mental health care or AOD sector.  During this period, I have been studying and continuing my volunteer roles. Consequently, I have not been exercising or journaling – two of the things that I find so helpful – and my mental health has suffered, leading me to do even less of the things that help!  Thankfully, I have now completed the first semester of 2018, so hopefully I can pick myself up and get back into my exercise and writing.

Recently, despite other issues, I have been fortunate to have been given a few opportunities to get the message out regarding the importance of consumer engagement in the recovery process.  Two of these came when I was asked to speak to management staff at the new University of Canberra Hospital, which is a rehabilitation facility on the UC Campus.  The mental health facility is a breath of fresh air.  Comprising 20 beds, split into pods of 4, each with it’s own kitchen, lounge and patio area, the space is more akin to a shared home rather than a hospital.  Hopefully, this should facilitate recovery.  There is also space for family members to stay in one of the pods, a first for Canberra I believe.  Residents will have access to gyms and shared outdoor areas, with opportunities for growing vegetables and other plants.  The ethos of the unit is to focus on the holistic health and recovery.  Whilst we are still woefully short of beds for mental health patients, this is a step in the right direction.

On Friday 8 June, I will be co-delivering a presentation to the Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (NADA) Exploring Therapeutic Interventions Conference in Sydney.  The presentation will discuss the work of the Community Advisory Group of Directions Health Services (an AOD service provider).  The CAG comprises current and former clients, carers and staff and is a forum for reviewing services and possible initiatives.  It’s a great opportunity to both repay Directions for the help they have provided and to Pay It Forward to help the people that are still suffering.

on Tuesday 12 June I will be part of a panel discussion on mental health immediately following a performance of Diary of a Madman at the Street Theatre.

This should prove to be an interesting evening of great theatre and hopefully stimulating conversation.  It’s been a few years since I last went to see live theatre (Yes, Minister at the Canberra Theatre in 2012 I think), so I’m looking forward to it.  I grew up around theatre and my first job was at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, so it should be good.




To the top of Australia – hiking in Mt Kosciuszko National Park

Before university restarted,  I took three days off from the paper round and drove down to Thredbo for a few days serious hiking in Mt Kosciuszko National Park.  My goal was to climb to the highest point in Australia, the peak of Mt Kosciuszko.  I checked out the trails and discovered that I could catch a ski lift from Thredbo village to Eagles Nest, and then have a “moderate” intensity, 13km round trip walk to the peak, or I could attempt to climb from the village.  This hike was described as “strenuous”, it basically runs parallel to the ski runs.  On further reading, the description in the guides was based on the descent – there was no description of the ascent!


After getting up at 1:30am and completing my paper round, I prepare for my trip.  The drive down to Thredbo takes me through one of my favourite places, Jindabyne.  If I could afford to take the risk, I wouldn’t mind setting up in Jindabyne.  Better buy that lotto ticket!


I take a walk around the visitor centre and pick up a better copy of the trails map and a guidebook to the trails.  Some of the exhibits of life during the building of the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme are fascinating and well worth a look.  I was a bit grossed out by one of the exhibits though:


I’m hoping this wasn’t inflicted on me when I was a bairn!

Not only is Mt Kosciuszko named after a Pole but there is another famous Polish explorer recognised in the Snowys.



I finish the drive to Thredbo and check into my room, which has a great view of the challenge awaiting me.


And no, I wasn’t referring to the pool.


Ah, luxury – no early morning alarms and I can sleep in.  Well, I manage to sleep until nearly 7am, which is devine decadence on a weekday!  I have a light breakfast then head out to find the Merritts Nature Trail that will take me up to Eagles Nest.  This first stage is steep  and characterised by numerous steps, some of which have very large risers!  Fortunately there is also plenty of shade, as the temperature is rising.

I cross several running streams, taking time to enjoy the sound of running water, which I always find relaxing.  These moments also give me a chance to catch my breath and get my heart rate down to at least an aerobic zone.


I push on up the climb, encountering just three other people between Thredbo village and Eagles Nest, which suits me just fine.  About 3/4 of the way up, I get a view of my interim target.  Doesn’t look far, but it was a hard slog with many rest stops to get there.


Eventually, about 3 hours after leaving the village I reach Eagles Nest.  From here the peak is about 6.5km away on a well defined and formed track.  The crowds get significantly larger as the walk is suitable for all ages with decent mobility.


The peak is visible over the final few kilometres as the track takes you around and passed Rawsons Pass where there are much welcome toilets, and then up to the peak.  At 2228m above sea level, I’m now at the top of Australia.


It was extremely windy up there and as the ski lift closes at 4:30, I needed to get back to Eagles Nest before then if I was to avoid hiking back down to the village.  By now I was tired and I didn’t fancy attempting some of those steps going downhill – a momentary loss of concentration could easily result in a tumble and badly twist ankle or knee.

The return was pretty easy, the path is formed by metal grating over most of the length, so I was able to maintain a good pace.  I still managed to enjoy the views and the isolation, or to quote Buzz Aldrin’s description of the moon, magnificent desolation.



As I approach Eagles Nest, I am confronted by signs advertising the bistro, which is located at the terminus to the ski lift.  These signs promise ice cold beers and ice cream that us sturdy walkers have earned.  The beer is a definite no-no and I saw no sign of ice cream whilst there, but I did enjoy a nice cold lemonade before getting the ski lift back to the village.

On riding the ski lift, I realised that it is possible to take your bike on the lift and then ride the tracks down from Eagles Nest to Thredbo – next time I’m bringing my mountain bike as those tracks look awesome!

According to my Garmin, I hiked a total of 21km today, in about 6 hours with a net climb of approximately 900m.


I am pleasantly surprised to find that I can move this morning!  After breakfast and a bit of souvenir shopping, I hit the Thredbo River trail towards Dead Horse Gap.  No major climbs for me today, I hope!

The trail takes me through parts of the village and then alongside the golf course.  I find what has to be the bedt named chalet in the village, surely only party animals stay here!


As I head out of the village, the trail starts to follow the Thredbo River, becoming undulating in places.  There are a few short sections of steps and climbing, but my legs feel strong and if the school kids on their field trip can manage it, then so can I!  Apart from the kids and a few other small groups of people, my preference for solitude is met and I am able to relax and enjoy the countryside.



After completing the hike, I head into the village for a coffee and a slice of cake – I’ve burnt the calories, I’ve earned it 🙂   About 18km today, in a nice and easy 4 hours.


I head back to my room to flop and read.  Mentally I try to prepare myself for the weeks ahead.  The second year of my Psychology and Sport & Exercise Science degrees starts next week and I have classes, tutorials or labs every day.  But before I even get to class, I will be up at 1:30am each morning to do my paper round.  On top of that, my committee work is about to recommence.  Between all of that, I will need to find the time and energy to train for the Sri Chimnoy 100km (actually 105 this year, but no extension to the 18 hour cur off limit) run later this year, and all the other things like cooking, shopping and sleeping!  It’s probably a good thing that I’m reading this little gem right now.


As I enjoy my book, I can hear sounds of nightlife in the village for the first time since my arrival.  There is live music coming from the pub and I am tempted to investigate, but decide not to risk it.  Instead, I snuggle under the doona, put Veruca Salt on my phone and continue with my book.


I’m tempted to stay and do another walk, but I’m also acutely aware that I’ve not been to a meeting for over a week and so I check out and hit the road.  A quick stop in Jindabyne to get a coffee and then on up to Canberra and the serenity of a meeting in Lyons.

As with most holidays, this one was way too short.  I only really started to unwind on Thursday and I was on the way home Friday.  Next time I will probably stay in a place where I can prepare my own food, as being off-season the options for eating in the village were limited.  I will also bring my bike next time, although I will have to hire a full face helmet, as normal bike helmets are not permitted on the trails.

And so, let the madness begin!


Lions and Foo Fighters – a tale of two visits to the ANZ Stadium

In late June 2013, my alcoholism was reaching it’s nadir fuelled by job insecurity and personal relationship issues.  Or more accurately, they were two of the excuses I made to justify my drinking.  If I am honest, I would have been drinking heavily even if things were going great because at that time I had, for want of a better term, completely lost my soul.  I had lost my work ethic and my contribution to family life was purely financial; I was never there emotionally, and if I was there physically I was usually so far gone that I might just as well been absent.  Earlier in the year we had bought a house but before I had paid the first mortgage instalment, my employer announced that they were in financial difficulties and were looking to reduce their wages costs.  I was the highest earner in an office with sluggish business; my position was in serious doubt.  Eventually I was made redundant and re-employed with a 40% pay cut and a demotion of two grades.

It was against this backdrop that I traveled up to Sydney to watch the final test of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2013.  The test series was nicely balanced at one a piece and a great game was promised.  Unfortunately after drinking solidly from about 6am, my day became one of recurring blackouts, occasional clarity and general stupidity!  I have virtually no recollection of the first half, but as friends wisely limited my access to alcohol during the game, I do remember that the Lions put in a storming performance in the second half to win the test and hence the series, by 2 tests to 1.


The next morning, I was booked on the train back to Canberra and headed to Central at about 10, with the intention of doing some shopping on George Street first.  Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I got as far as the Palace Hotel, an old haunt, and decided to have one drink.  Unfortunately, one is too many and 100 is never enough, and the inevitable happened- I stayed and continued drinking.  As the departure time for my train approached, I was settling in.  I then had a brainwave: I would fly back to Canberra!  The flight is only about 30 minutes, compared to over 4 hours on the train.  I could stay in the bar a while longer, hop on a train to the airport, get the next flight and still be home on time and nobody would be any the wiser.  Genius!

Of course, that is not what happened.  I arrived at Sydney Airport at about 2pm and went to get my ticket.  First set back; the next flight wasn’t until 6pm.  This was a Sunday, not a week day with flights every hour.  So, I did the obvious and went to the bar.  Second set back; I missed the flight!  I had to go out and buy a second ticket and that flight was another 2 hours wait.  I eventually got home after 10pm, about 5 hours later than planned.  Well, the best laid plans of mice and men….

A few months later everything came to a head and I entered the detox unit at the Canberra Hospital on 17 October 2013 and I haven’t had a drink since.

In January 2018 I returned to the ANZ Stadium, this time to see the Foo Fighters.  Booking my ticket only a week before the concert, I was unable to get a seat in an alcohol free zone, so I was a bit anxious about how I would feel, especially in the lead up to the show.  I’ve found that once the main event has started, I’m focussed on that and I’m not too  bothered by what is happening around me.

I stayed in a ‘safe’ hotel, i.e. one that doesn’t have minibars in the rooms, which was a short walk from Central Station.  Arriving early at the stadium, I was feeling the anxiety build whilst queuing for a T-shirt.  Once inside the stadium, I found my seat and then got some food, ensuring that I had plenty of water available.  The first support act, The Preatures played a short but impressive set.  I wasn’t so impressed by Weezer though.


I was feeling quite comfortable as there were a few families near me and not many people seemed to be drinking.  That did change just as the Foo Fighters took to the stage and all seats around me filled up.  The show was great, it was wonderful to be able to remember it the next day, and now as I write this.  Whilst not the visual spectacle presented by Muse, I enjoyed it more as they avoided obscure tracks unlike Muse.  By the end though, I was very tired and beginning to get a bit uncomfortable with the way the couple in front of me were getting through 4 scooners every 20 minutes or so (like I would have done) so I decided to beat the rush for the train back to Central.  I was able to listen to the encore tracks as I made the short walk to Olympic Park Station anyway.


It was good for me to lay the ghost of that Lions weekend to rest, and I have some great memories of the show.  One enduring memory is that of the display of ‘torches’ in the crowd whilst the band played Hero.

Trainspotting: Self-sabotage in Auld Reekie


1985 was shaping up to be a great year for me.  I was 23 years old and finally seemed to be getting my drinking under control through my athletics and my increasing interest in taking my education to another level.  Early in the year, I had a conversation with someone who worked for the Leicestershire Education Department that was destined to change my life completely.  Following a road race relay, I had to run two legs as my team only had 2 members instead of 3, we were relaxing in the Leicestershire County Council Staff Social Club and I was informed that, although I had been working for 6 years, I would still be entitled to a full grant to study at university.  Back in 1985 there were no student loans, the fees were paid in full and you got a decent grant to cover basic living costs. On spec, I applied to several universities and to my surprise I was given an unconditional offer to study civil engineering at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

In April, I ran the London Marathon in 2 hours 43 mins, a time that remains a personal best and is the only time that I have not walked at any stage in a full-marathon.  

London 1985

One enduring memory of that day is that after finishing, I travelled back to my home in Leicester, turned on the TV only to see live coverage of people who were still running! The next day I travelled up to Edinburgh to meet members of the civil engineering faculty and tour the university.  I liked what I saw and accepted the offer without any further consideration.

In late spring I was awarded the most improved athlete of the year by my club, Leicester Coritanians. 


Things looked good, Band Aid was rocking the world and I had a great two weeks in Porec, in the former Yugoslavia.  On return from that holiday, I returned home and opened my mail to learn I had won a trip to Brussels to watch the athletics at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels!

It was with great excitement that I left my job of a little over 6 years and travelled up to Edinburgh in the first week of October.  Things started well; I was coping with my studies, well most of them, calculus was tough.  I joined the university Cross Country Club and was soon posting good times in the local cross country league.  Soon there was talk about me becoming the first runner from Heriot Watt to be selected to represent Scottish Universities in the annual three-way international cross country meet to be held in Edinburgh in late Autumn.

As easily as I had settled into my studies and cross country, I had also settled into the Edinburgh drinking scene!  Very early on I had learned that, unlike England in those days, the pubs did not close during the afternoon – beer drinkers heaven!  And so I discovered the delights of Rose Street, in particular the Rose Street Brewery, The Last Drop, Deacon Brodies, Greyfriars Bobby and many more.


Photo from

The day before the trial, classes finished at 12:30 and after lunch I headed into the city to get some text books.  About 4pm I remembered that one of my class mates, Alan, had said that a friend of his was coming up from Stoke and would be arriving at Waverley Station about now.  I thought that it would be nice to have a beer and welcome him to Auld Reekie before heading home and preparing for the big race.  Yeah, right!  Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was a burgeoning alcoholic and one drink is never enough.  The drinks flowed and the hours passed and we finally got back to the halls of residence at about 3:30 Saturday morning, with the trial now less than 11 hours away.  Not only had I blown my chances in the trial – I managed to get around the course, but only just – but I then proceeded to blow my chances with the most beautiful Denise.  Denise lived in the same block as Alan and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to wake her up at 3:30. The sight of three very drunk Sasanachs making complete fools of themselves was not going to help my cause, and from then on I was too embarrassed to even talk to her again until the third year of my degree, when she was in the same halls as me and in her final year.  By that time my mum was dying of cancer and I was a complete mess, barely managing to get through the academic year, yet alone making a success of any form of relationship.

Many years later and with the benefit of over four year’s sobriety, I can recognise that blowing my chances in the trial and with Denise were forms of self-sabotage, something that I would excel at in the coming years, as my life was driven by constant fear.  In the case of the trial it was a fear of success that held me back.  I knew that I would qualify if I ran to the best of my ability and current form, but then what?  I would have to maintain that level of performance or even better it.  May be, I subconsciously thought, it would be better to fail now, whilst the expectations were lower, rather than later when more people would depend on me to perform well.  In the case of Denise, it was my complete fear of rejection and inability to approach someone I liked that led my undoing. Even though Denise’s friends encouraged me to talk to her, even after the debacle in her corridor, I could not bring myself to do so. I’m still hopeless at reading the opposite sex, and in all of my longer-term relationships, it was the lady that made the first move.  At least that way I don’t have to judge whether she is interested or not!

Nowadays I am able to recognise when fear is beginning to control my decision making and take appropriate steps to address it so that I can continue to challenge my limits.  It is hard work, and at times I feel like I am in a constant battle with my depression and anxiety, but generally that fight is worth it.  I hope that I will continue to grow during 2018.

The Bridge

In my mid-teens I was a bit of a drifter with no clear idea of what I wanted to do later in life. It was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be a professional sportsman or rockstar, being devoid of talent in both spheres and without the good looks of a Robert Plant or Marc Bolan that might have mitigated for a complete lack of musical ability.  I was interested in writing and history, so considered journalism and I enjoyed science, but struggled at higher maths, so I was not going to be the astronomer that I had dreamt of whilst at junior school.

My lack of direction was exacerbated by having recently discovered by new best friend – alcohol!  Things got so bad that, in my final school report before sitting my GCSE/CSE exams, the majority of my teachers reported that I had no chance of attending further education, when just a few years previously I was assessed as a shoe-in for university.

During this period, I would ride the bus into Leicester city centre and I became aware of some construction works along the Melton Road in Belgrave.


Over the next few weeks a bridge began to take shape and I remember thinking

“This looks interesting. What’s this about?”


And so began a thirty plus year relationship with civil engineering.  I mustered down and proved my teachers wrong and was admitted to Sixth Form to study A Level maths and engineering science.  Unfortunately, my burgeoning alcoholism was becoming dominant and I chose to drop out after one year, and signed on as a Trainee Civil Engineering Technician with Leicester City Council.  During this period I received an excellent schooling in civil engineering and obtained a Higher Certificate in Civil Engineering via day release.  I soon realised that I had more ambition than I thought and so in September 1985 I left a well-paid job and returned to full-time education. I studied Civil Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, gaining a Beer Drinkers First (Upper Second Class Honours degree) and then earned a Master’s Degree in Foundation Engineering from Birmingham University.

I loved my job, I loved being part of something that left a lasting legacy and, that I could see later and say “I was part of the team that designed and built that!”.  As my career progressed it took me all over the UK and then Hong Kong and China and finally Australia.  I had everything I wanted; a house, a family, a very well-paid job.  Or did I?

As my career progressed, so did my alcoholism, depression and anxiety.  A progressive illness is how many people describe alcoholism, and not only was it progressing, but so was my disillusionment with engineering.  Long hours, a lack of consideration for the welfare of staff in order to maximise profit and a nagging feeling that I was not where I wanted to be.  Throw a failing relationship into the pot and my alcoholism became dominant and my work ethics evaporated.  On the outside, things looked great, but on the inside I was dying – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  My engineering speciality is geotechnics; I design foundations.  I know that if you build on saturated sand in an earthquake zone, you take your foundations deep to bedrock, because when the earthquake strikes, the saturated sand liquifies and down comes your building! My life was that house with shallow footings on saturated sand and my earthquake inevitably struck in late September 2013.

I spiralled completely out of control until finally surrendering and entering detox on 17 October 2013. Whilst in detox the idea of attending a residential rebab facility was planted and I was accepted into the Arcadia House Therapeutic Community.  The only problem – I had to wait until early January 2014 for the next intake.  I white knuckled it and attended as many support groups as I could during the period, remaining dry, but not emotionally sober – in fact I was as mad as a cut snake during that period!  During my eight weeks in Arcadia House I lost my job on medical grounds, something that horrified me at the time, but now I realise it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  More importantly, during my time at Arcadia House, I was given the gift of the beginnings of an emotional sobriety.

As I left Arcadia, I reconnected with the internet and frantically searched for information about my beloved Leicester City.  As I did this, a story in the Leicester Mercury caught my eye.  After 36 years, the Melton Road Flyover was to be demolished.

imageThe bridge that was being built as the initial seeds of my career path were being planted; as the early warning signs of my alcoholism were beginning to display themselves; that had been in service across the same time span as my career and my addiction, was now to be demolished at the same time that my life was about to take a new direction.  It was the end of an era, in more ways than one.  Now that has to be a message from a higher power.

imageNearly four years on and I’m still taking a new direction.  I’m studying for a double degree in Psychology and Sports & Exercise Science and I’m an active mental health advocate amongst other things, none of them related to civil engineering.  Four years ago that would have been unthinkable, but once again I love the work I do and relish the challenges ahead.  My depression and anxiety can still can hinder me, but I don’t allow them to define me or stop me.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step

This week has finally seen me overcome my inertia and get back into the gym!  It’s a far cry from completing 100km over the rugged terrain surrounding the Bush Capital, but it’s a start; and as Laozi said in the Tao Te Ching “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Training so far this week has comprised four sessions, each including an hour on the treadmill and some weights or core strengthening work.  I am attempting to be guided by science and evidence based recommendations rather than my usual instinct of gunning it!  This involves going slow to get faster more efficiently.  As discussed by Rich Roll in Finding Ultra, Christopher McDougall in Natural Born Heroes, and Dr Philip Maffetone in The Maffetone Method, amongst others, I am focussing my efforts within Zone 2.  This involves keeping my heart rate between 98 and 115bpm.  The fat burn heart rate range is approximately 60-70% of 220 – your age.  Keeping my heart rate this low is extremely difficult, and feels like I am hardly exercising!  However, the EVIDENCE shows that if I keep with the programme I will eventually be able to go faster, without increasing my heart rate significantly.  This will mean that I will be exercising more efficiently and reducing the development of lactate in my blood.  By utilising my bodies fat stores I will also recuce my bodies dependence of blood sugars for energy, which can be depleted quickly and lead to fatigue.

I will persevere wih this programme as I have over 11 months to prepare and lay down the base mileage, which, all else being equal, will allow me to achieve my goal of completing the 100km in under 18 hours.

Mindful Walking and Muse

On Thursday I finished my paper round duties for the year, which means that for the next few weeks I won’t have to get up at 2:00am!  On Friday I drove up to Sydney for a short break.  I went to see Sydney FC play Melbourne City on the Friday, and then on Saturday morning I went for a three hour walk around the wetlands adjacent to Sydney Olympic Park.


The weather was fine and sunny, and it was great to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.  I turned off my music and walked without distraction, taking time to listen to nature, to notice the scents from the flora and nearby water, to notice the breeze on my skin, and to feel the connection of my feet on the ground.  In other words, I was walking mindfully.  Usually when I walk I do so at speed, with no attention or appreciation given to my surroundings.  This experience was far more relaxing and spiritual.



Later on Saturday, I went to see Muse at the Qudos Bank Arena.  The show was good, but I wouldn’t call it great.  When they played the old favourites, the arena was bouncing, but unlike Kasabian earlier in the year, they did not seem to have the whole crowd up and dancing in the aisles.  There were periods during some of the more experimental stuff, when I even began to feel a bit bored!  Having said that, the show was spectactular and the good far exceeded the bad.


Also, as I get more comfortable attending events such as Muse and the football, I can relax and enjoy them more.  When I went to see the Jezabels in October 2016, I was very anxious and arrived at the venue as late as possible to avoid any temptation to drink.  On Saturday, I was able to queue up at the bar and order a bottle of water without any axiety.   The $5 that cost was a bit much, but I didn’t let it create a resentment, which it most certainly would have done a little over four years ago.



On Sunday I drove back to Canberra refreshed and ready to start my training tha I hope, no intend, will deliver a sub 18-hour 100km next November.