How much do you fancy a drink?

I’m teetotal. I used to drink as much as the next man or woman, but there was a problem. Well, two problems.

Firstly, I would drink to cope with stress. It was actually my only real coping mechanism against stress, which really isn’t healthy, mainly because I couldn’t cope with stress whilst sober, leading to me drinking more often.

Secondly, I didn’t know when to stop. The move from sober to tipsy to drunk to puking on a train was seamless to me and I didn’t notice until I was praying to the white, ceramic god.

I wasn’t an alcoholic and I didn’t have a drinking problem, but it was certainly heading that way. So I stopped.

Just like that.

Seven and a half years ago.

So, when this popped up on my Facebook timeline, I was a tad concerned.

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Let’s get one thing straight immediately; doing something harmless to yourself and others to raise money for as good a cause as Macmillan Cancer Support is a brilliant thing to do. If you want to do it then all power to you, it’s fantastic. I think the idea of the campaign is great and I genuinely wish anybody reading this who is taking part the best of luck with it.

However, it’s the language around it that concerns me. I heard a radio advert for it telling you to do “something amazing”. Is it? Really? No alcohol for 31 days is “amazing”? No water for 31 days is amazing. No food for 31 days is amazing. No alcohol for 31 days is self-denial and admirable, but hardly amazing.

Then there is the question on the Facebook post,

“Can you go sober for the whole of October?”

That suggests that there is room for debate over the answer, which is a worry.

Sure, if you say that you won’t go sober for the whole of October, or you don’t want to do it, that’s one thing. But, if you are asked whether you can do it or not and you answer no, or even if you need to seriously think about your answer, then you need to start asking yourself some other questions.

Like, can I really not stop drinking?

Why can I not stop?

How did I get to this stage?

Is this healthy, physically and mentally?

What do I need to turn this around?

The reason for that is simple. If you can’t go without a drink for just 31 days then you may well have a problem. You are relying on alcohol for some reason which makes the idea of stopping just too much for you.

I know too many people in that position. Too many who, when I say I don’t drink, answer with “Oh, I couldn’t do that!”, or are utterly shocked and disbelieving by it.

I’ve been there. I know that, when you are in that position, you need a reality check before problem drinking becomes a serious problem. A problem to you, your friends, your family and everything else in your life.

It sounds dramatic. It isn’t for me because I did and could just stop, because, in the end, I had to.

I’m asking you, though, can you stop drinking for the whole of October? If so, great, maybe do it and raise some money. If not, though, then look in a mirror and start asking yourself some questions.

Then find the answers.

How do you lose?

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How do you react to political defeat?

Do you accept the result with good grace? Do you congratulate the victors and ensure that you work as hard as you can to make your country better? Do you look at how well you have run your campaign, how close you came to victory and how you increased support for your cause dramatically in a short space of time with a degree of satisfaction? Do you look at how you can use your momentum to continue to win hearts and minds to your cause by reasoned arguments, building a stronger, more concrete case as you do so?

Or…

Do you attack those who you were unable to convince as “cowards”? Do you look for as many scapegoats as you can, boycotting businesses and services, labelling them as “traitors” and biased? Do you look at the worst elements of your political opponents and attach their actions to everyone you disagree with? Do you come up with wild, unfounded conspiracy theories about vote rigging and demand another go? Do you refuse to interact with those who didn’t vote or campaign with your point of view and risk the subsequent divisions holding your country back for years to come? Do you throw your toys out of the pram, risking the good work you’ve done to this point? Do you turn your back on solid,, reasoned argument and replace it with bitter recrimination?

Well? What’s it to be?

What if?

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The next step of my long journey to training for the Readership comes along on Tuesday as I travel to Edinburgh for a 3 hour psychological assessment.

A 3 hour psychological assessment!

I sometimes worry about whether I’m stable enough to keep writing this blog, so the idea of going through something like that is terrifying! What if they realise that I’m only calm and confident on the outside (sometimes) and that, on the inside, I’m a crumbling wreck who is ready for the knacker’s yard? What if they see me as the fraud I am and kick me out of the office within minutes, deeming me unsuitable to even leave the house again, let alone hold a form of Christian ministry? What if…?

The two most destructive words in the English language, if used like this.

What if?

What if it all goes wrong? What if I can’t do it? What if I’m the wrong person? What if nobody agrees?

What if? What if? What if?

But God has a way of turning those destructive words into words of promise, grace and hope.

What if you try?

What if it works?

What if you don’t do it and regret it forever?

What if you are better than you think?

What if you’re stronger than you think?

What if you trust in Me? What if you let Me guide you? What if you let My words and will permeate your mind and soul?

What if? The two most exciting words in the English language if spoken by He through all things are possible?

What if God’s will is for me to preach His word and He has made me into the right person for the job? What if all my doubts, weaknesses and insecurities will actually make me a better preacher and teacher? What if my depression and anxiety are as important to my calling as my way with words and my presentation skills?

What if?

There’s only one way to find out.

Imagine

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One week to go. The longest political campaign in history, the Scottish independence referendum, started a mere 47 years, 6 months and 17 days ago (give or take a day or so) and we finally go to the polls next Thursday.

I’m voting, but I’m not telling you how. There have been enough posts, articles, debates, leaflets, stalls and soap boxes doing just that to last for the lifetime of a giant tortoise. I’m not going to bemoan some of the backbiting, insults, division and misleading crap which has come from both sides either. We all know there’s been plenty of that and I hope we’re mature enough to get past that after 18th September.

This morning I was on the radio. The breakfast show on BBC Radio Solent were looking for people who used to live in Dorset (which I did for 11 years) who now live in Scotland to talk about the referendum and, by random chance, the presenter found me on Twitter and, next thing I knew, I was broadcasting county wide. 400 miles from home.

The last question I was asked was what it was like living in a place where the referendum was the main topic of conversation. That was an easy question to answer. There are plenty of people who are fed up with it, with the anger shown by some and the time it’s been going on for. However, everyone is talking about it. Everybody has a view, even if that view hasn’t yet led to them making a decision over how their vote is going to be cast. Everybody cares.

About politics!

People who I have never heard express a political opinion have been vocal, have researched, have tried to come to an informed choice, have discussed and debated, and, in some cases, have actively campaigned.

This is amazing. At a time when more people than ever are massively dissafected with politics, politicians and political systems, the man and woman in the street are actively engaging with an important political process. They are driving the agenda in the streets and via social media and over 85% of them are expected to turn up to vote.

Ordinary people feel genuinely empowered. Within 24 hours of a You Gov poll putting the Yes campaign in the lead for the first time the three main Westminster party leaders dropped everything to come up to Scotland to campaign. The people spoke and the political leaders acted. Politicians have been constantly reacting to genuine concerns of ordinary voters, for the first time I can remember.

We need to keep this going. The politicians keep saying that we have a unique opportunity,  and they’re right. Whatever the result we have a unique opportunity to take the political process away from career politicians and back into the hands of normal people.

A no vote will not kill this. If everyone who has been mobilised by this campaign continue to speak out, inform and discuss the important issues, if we continue to engage with our politicians and put real pressure on them, if we continue to play an active role in local and national politics then we will see a change. We will see politicians listen to people, not corporations. To the less wealthy. To us.

However, if there is a Yes vote then Scotland has the chance to create a new, fairer political system. One which can start to clear out the corruption and self-serving nature of Westminster and move towards a system which has the interests of all the people at heart. If we can do that then our friends in the rest of the UK can see the example and, hopefully, follow it. It can be the start of real hope, not the end of it.

As John Lennon said, you may say I’m a dreamer, but we can do this. It won’t be easy, it won’t be smooth and it definitely won’t be perfect. But, if we don’t just go back into our apathetic, ignorant haze and become really involved then we can make something better than we have right now.

We all care about something, we all want things to change. It’s up to us to do it.

I’m just trying to help!

I like to think that i have a fairly positive view of human nature. I think that everyone, deep down (some much deeper than others) have a desire to do good. I honestly feel that its our instinct to help people wherever possible.

This has recenlty demonstrated by the phenomenon whic is the ALS ice-bucket challenge. Now yes, pouring buckets of freezing cold water over yourself is crazy, and rather unpleasant. Yes, it appeals to the attention-seeking part of us. Yes, it moved away to a certain extent from raising money from ALS charities to money going out to hundreds of different of causes. However, it did raise millions of pounds/dollars/euros/yen and other currencies for some very good causes as well as raising awareness of ALS which, maybe, wasn’t what it should have been.

Sadly, that’s not enough for some. The Ice Bucket challenge has come under fire from some quarters. One criticism has been that it deflects attention away from other “more deserving” causes (it doesn’t, and I’m sure ALS suffered are pretty deserving!) and that it wastes water (true, but nature will recycle that water pretty quickly, and some have donated to Water Aid whilst doing it).

And that’s the thing. People try to do the right thing, but there are still those who just want to go on about how wrong it is, picking fault in their efforts and turning it round to be a bad thing rather than a genuine attempt to help people.

This came to mind today when I saw this posted by several people on social media. I can see where this is coming from, trying to correct some people’s view of depression, but…

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Great! People are openly talking about mental illness, trying to encourage those who may not yet have sought help for it to do so, yet they’re wrong for doing so. You can’t do right for doing wrong, it seems.

And that is what people are doing, encouraging people to recognise that they have a problem and to get help for it. Not once have I seen a “do not be like him” comment, although I’m willing to accept that some may have been posted, but that’s not the point. Depression is just like any other illness in that, sometimes, people don’t pick up on the signs of it and don’t get the help they need for it.

One comment I read suggested that telling people they need to get help places the responsibility on the sufferer and that this is counter-productive. So, it’s perfectly acceptable to have large campaigns showing us how to check for breast cancer or testicular cancer or how to spot the signs of diabetes, but when it comes to depression this is wrong? I’m sorry, but no. The reason that so many people have posted online to ask people to get help if they are struggling is because many of us have been there ourselves, not seeking help until somebody else has told us to do so.

We sometimes need a jolt to make us realise that something is wrong with us and we need to do something about it. We all need to take responsibility for our own health, wherever possible. We all need to seek help when we realise that we may need it.

So I’m not going to stop telling people to ask for help. I’m not going to say that you will beat depression if you do, recent events have shown that isn’t always the case, but I will say that you have a much better chance of beating it if you do. But I also ask that you realise that the intentions behind me doing this aren’t ill-thought out, they come from personal experience and are aimed at those not currently getting treatment.

We need to lay off of people trying to do good. If they’re going about things in the wrong way, at least recognise the intention before attempting to correct the action. We see enough bad in this world without discouraging the good.