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Paul Garrigan – Registered Nurse Specialising in Addiction and Manager of the Mindfulness Program at Hope Rehab

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.

Mindfulness Coaching with Paul Garrigan

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”

Book Cover
Book Cover

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

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