The Philosophy of Ever After

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle worked out there were four aspects of human nature that we should all follow in order to flourish in life.

These were, in no particular order;

1. Caring for our bodies by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest

2. Finding Emotional Balance by avoiding things that make us unhappy and doing more of the things that make us feel good

3. Humans thrive in groups so we should live and socialise with others to develop our individual happiness

4. Learn, create and express ourselves

Now, it’s hardly rocket science is it? And nearly 2,500 years ago when Aristotle was alive and kicking he said as much himself. The four aspects he mentions are accessible by the many not the few. We can achieve this wherever we live in the World and regardless of how rich we are (to a degree).

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that when we look for self improvement, whether that be recovering from addiction like me or maybe somebody who has just come out of a long term relationship we could do a lot worse than to look at the philosophical teachings of an Ancient Greek with a curly beard.

I write regularly about mental health and even without alcohol in my life I still have periods of struggle. It’s no surprise that when I’m regularly exercising, getting food quality sleep and eating nutritiously I feel better mentally. I think when I first stopped drinking I naively thought it would be a significant enough change alone to make me feel so much better day to day. Sure, as the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months you feel and look less bloated. Your sleep improves and you have more energy in your day. Your thinking becomes less cloudy and your anxiety levels reduce – but if you continue to eat poorly and avoid exercise you’ll struggle to shift that feeling of fatigue and before you know it you’ll be substituting your once unhealthy consumption of alcohol with food equivalents. I certainly saw my appetite increase in the months after I got sober and developed a sweet tooth (which I’d never had before) – your body misses the sugars alcohol gives it.

Aristotle talks about emotional balance too. I think this is very true. Think about it simplistically for a moment. You are invited on a work night out. You don’t really socialise with your work colleagues and you aren’t a big drinker plus the function is in the City Centre on a Saturday night. You get anxious about it all week leading up to the event. You are only going because you feel obliged to go.

Now imagine how you feel if you politely decline the night out – you aren’t the only person who can’t make it. You choose to order in some food and have a night in watching a film with a friend. After all, you work hard all week so it’s a treat to chill out with your favourite food and a film you’ve been wanting to see for ages!

Whilst Aristotle isn’t saying avoid things for the rest of your life (being out of our comfort zone can be good for resilience and confidence) we shouldn’t over analyse all of our day to day life events. Most of the time the other people involved won’t care half as much as you are catastrophising and worrying about it. I’ve noticed that with me not drinking. I thought I would stand out on nights out and people would be quizzing me about not consuming alcohol but it very rarely gets mentioned – and even then I get the standard response of “Good for you, wish I had your strength”.

Humans are social animals. We have been for thousands of years. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own company or not like living alone. Aristotle doesn’t mean that. But look at it from another angle. Would you be happy without engaging with another human being all day? Every day? No contact through social media, texting, on the telephone or face to face? Control how often you socialise but make sure you do. The chemicals in your body will thank you for it.

Ever get that warm feeling when you finish a book? The enjoyment you get from successfully finishing a crossword or answering a question correctly on TV’s University Challenge? Aristotle encourages us to explore, create and learn new things. On our terms. I ran my first Trail Race last year and started Yoga classes. I began to read more often. All of those things make me feel happy.

I’ll certainly continue to bear in mind Aristotle’s four aspects of human nature as I move forward. It’s certainly one of the easier parts of Philosophy to remember!

And so I’ll leave you with one last piece of Philosophical Thinking for today whilst I’m in this type of head space. I think it is so ‘me’…

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” – Aristotle

The Local

Day 240: I’ve spoken to many people over the telephone / Skype in my role as a Mental Health First Aider for the company I work for. In the last week alone I’ve answered the call to two people. Talking and listening to anything and everything about mental health comes naturally to me these days and a lot of that will come back to the struggles I’ve experienced myself but also the road to recovery I’ve been on. I reluctantly stepped back from the role earlier this year when I was mentally unwell but it’s been another step forward being able to support work colleagues with their own struggles.

I’m enjoying a pretty positive spell on a personal front with my anxiety under control and both my family and work life comfortable. I’ve returned from a family holiday for the first time without a bout of depression and I suspect the fact it was my first family holiday sober is not a coincidence. My mind isn’t racing as much and I’m appreciating the fact I can sometimes lie down, go for a walk / run or read a book without the voices in my head telling me what needs doing, what I should be focusing on and why I can’t do this or that.

I went to my local village pub for the first time since February 2020 a few evenings back. I was a regular there before the pandemic and alongside my mate had ran the Quiz Night every week since 2013. Obviously pubs were not high on my agenda when restrictions eased and I continued to recover from my drinking and mental illness but I did have a growing anxiety about the first time I’d pop in the longer my absence grew.

‘Every emotion hitting you at once’
Painting by George Martin

My association with the village pub in particular is one of drinking heavily (often with work the next day!) and on occasions, doing something daft as a result. This pub was the setting of a fight between me and my brother in 2014 where we ended up falling through the fire escape as we grappled. It was also the place I spent many ‘lock ins’ much to the annoyance of my wife. My ability to go in and have one pint and leave was left at the door. I’d never just have one. I remember one Sunday in 2016/17 my football team were playing and the match was live on TV. I went up the pub at midday knowing fine well I had plans to go to a local fairground with my wife and 1 year old daughter later that day. In the 2 hours I was up there watching the match I drank two bottles of red wine to my self and then drank another half bottle of wine when I stumbled back home. I don’t remember much from the fairground visit but my wife advised I was out of it. My body was there but my head wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a pub that I’ve celebrated birthdays in, family gatherings such as both my daughter’s Christian blessings and also my Grandad’s wake. It’s a local pub I’ve facilitated nearly 250 Quiz Nights in including many memorable Christmas Quizzes. I’ve watched big Boxing matches like Joshua v Klitschko and memorable England football matches in World Cups and European Championships. One year me, my wife and friends celebrating New Year in that pub and on another afternoon me and two friends decided to drink a pint of every draught they had on tap from left to right along the bar. I’m pretty certain it was around 13 pints ranging from lager to cider to stout to ale.

The reality though, is that this central part of my old life is not going to be part of my new life. I doubt I’d return to facilitate regular quizzes because a big part of Pub Quizzes is the fact everybody is having a drink and I’m not massively comfortable with that still. I’ll no longer be popping in for a pint or three when walking back from the park with my daughters (the promise of a bag of crisps always got them on board) and I certainly have no plans to fight my brother in there again!

I’m pleased I went on Tuesday night with two of my close friends. The pub was quiet and it was nice to see the landlord again, have a chat and show my face. There were a few regulars in who I know but haven’t seen for well over a year so that was nice. I drank Coca Cola and nothing was said about my recent struggles or sobriety. I suspect most people in the pub will know about it to an extent. The landlord certainly does. It’s another milestone reached and another anxiety I’ve managed to put to bed.

As for the immediate future. I’ll continue to do all of the things I’m currently doing that seem to be working for me. Writing, reading, walking, running and yoga. The not drinking alcohol part doesn’t even feel like an effort anymore!

Long may it continue.