Paul Garrigan – Author and Mindfulness Coach
The most important thing to happen to me during my year of being in rehab was when a therapist asked me if I had ever considered the possibility that I spend too much time thinking about myself. I knew what she was saying was true, but I initially hated her for saying it. She encouraged me to do some voluntary work with people who had profound learning difficulties – it was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life (thinking more about others gave me a peace of mind I’d never experienced previously except in meditation), and it encouraged me to become a nurse.
I was a year into my nursing training when I decided to drink again. I made this choice because I felt left out of the whole university experience. I regretted this decision immediately – it took me ten years to stop again. I somehow managed to keep my drinking under control enough to qualify as a nurse two years later, but it made the experience of being a student far less satisfying.
In 2001, I began working at a Hospital in Saudi Arabia in another attempt to quit drinking. I thought the fact that alcohol was illegal there would keep my safe, but it turned out there was plenty of illicit booze available. Prior to going to Saudi, I had been told my liver was showing signs of damage (elevated LFTs), and I knew if I stayed there I wouldn’t survive. If I was going to die, I wanted to be somewhere a bit more cheery than Saudi, so after just nine months in Riyadh, I moved to Thailand.
Temple Hopping in Thailand
Over the years, I had continued to believe that meditation would somehow provide the solution I was looking for. I began turning up at Thai temples (often drunk) in search of the perfect teacher. In 2003, I enrolled in a 26 day retreat atWat Rampoeng in Chaing Mai, and this was a major turning point for me. As part of his retreat, I managed to complete what is called a ‘determination’ where I was able to meditate for over 72 hours without any sleep or breaks (except to eat and go to the toilet). I temporarily experienced the mental freedom I had always longed for – I did drink again after this retreat, but it was the beginning of the end.
In 2006, I entered Thamkrabok temple where I made a vow to quit alcohol forever (sajja). I felt completely beaten by this stage and desperate to regain the mental freedom I’d experienced at Wat Rampoeng. I only stayed at Thamkrabok for ten days, but by the end of the treatment I knew my problems with alcohol were over. I haven’t had a drink or even a craving for a drink since that time.
I have achieved a level of mental comfort beyond that once would have been unimaginable to me – I’m no longer seeking anything to fix my life. This achievement only became possible once I’d fully accepted that contentment is in inverse correlation to my level of self-obsession. My new life is based on practices that foster open-heartedness, and it is these practices that I now teach at Hope.
In 2007, I began blogging about my experiences with addiction and mindfulness. I managed to attract a community around my writing, and this has been incredibly satisfying. My book ‘Dead Drunk – Saving Myself from Alcoholism in a Thai Monastery’ was published in 2010.
It is thirty-two years on, but I’ve come full-circle to be back teaching qigong on Saturday evenings. Isn’t life wonderful? I don’t regret anything that has happened to me, but it is so good to be back on track.
Paul Garrigan – Author and Mindfulness Coach at Hope Rehab