Paul Garrigan – Manager of the Hope Mindfulness Program & Addiction Nurse
Paul is originally from Ireland but has lived in Thailand since 2002. He is a registered nurse with a Higher National Diploma in Nursing Studies from St Bartholomew’s training Hospital in London and a nursing degree from Dublin City University and is a member of the International Nurses Society on Addictions. Paul is also a qualified teacher with a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
In 2006, Paul managed to escape an 18-year addiction to alcohol using an approach primarily involving meditation and the development of mindfulness in daily life. He now manages the mindfulness program at Hope.
Back Where I Started
One of the mindfulness practices I teach clients at Hope Rehab is qigong. It struck me recently during our Saturday evening class how in some ways my life has come full-circle. When I was fourteen years old, I used to lead a martial arts class (Lau Gar Kung-Fu) for younger kids (pee wees) that was also on Saturday evenings – the funny thing is we used to do almost the same qigong routine I teach now at Hope.
My life began to go seriously off the rails during that same period when I was teaching qigong to other kids. My home situation had become unbearable as my parent’s marriage went into meltdown. I became obsessed with practicing martial arts. I had also started doing meditation due to my growing interest in Buddhism/Taoism, and this provided a temporary reprieve from the dreadful atmosphere at home.
One night, while babysitting my sisters, I decided to raid our alcohol cabinet. It turned out vodka provided a quicker fix than meditation for my inner turmoil – or so it seemed at the time. I had far more natural talent for being a drunk than being Bruce Lee. I went from the top class in my school to the bottom one, and one year later, I got expelled completely for stealing altar wine.
The Rehab Years
I entered my first rehab program at 20 in an attempt to get a girlfriend to come back to me. I didn’t really think I had a problem other than falling in love with a girl who was way too uptight. I did stay sober for about nine months, and I began meditating again. My stint at recovery couldn’t last though because my idea of a good life was one where I didn’t have to deal with life.
Things got worse for me and four years later I ended up homeless on the streets of London. I was in such a hopeless mental state – I wanted to die, but I didn’t have the energy to commit suicide. I ended up in a treatment program (ARP London) for 12 months, and I managed to remain sober for two years.
“Things got worse for me and four years later I ended up homeless on the streets of London”
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