Monday, 21 June 2010

Staying Sober in Thailand

I came to Thailand almost a decade ago as a drunk on his last legs. I arrived at Don Muang airport from a job in Saudi Arabia with no idea as to where my life was going next. I had moved to Saudi in the hope that the illegality of alcohol would help me turn my life around; I could not have been more wrong about this. In fact I found that the illegal grog meant that my physical and mental health was dropping towards new lows. I felt miserable and decided that if I was going to drink myself to death it wasn’t going to be in the middle of a bloody desert. I left Riyadh with a vague idea about drinking my way around the world, but after a few days in Bangkok I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere else.

I found work as an ESL teacher and for the next few years lived the dream; or so I tried to tell anyone that would listen. In the beginning it all seemed so exotic and different and like many before me I developed what the more cynical ex-pat likes to refer to as ‘Thai fever’. After a couple of years though the novelty of Thailand had worn off and I was there because I’d nowhere better to go. During a sober few weeks I met the woman who is now my wife; the only real good thing to come from those years. We eventually moved to her home in Phitsanulok where I took up residence as the village drunk. I was living in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet but it made little difference to me. I just drank and drank and provided gossip for the neighbors. Near the end of my drinking I began to dislike all those things that had once attracted me to Thailand; I felt trapped with no options.

It was around that time that I found the Thai temple Thamkrabok. It was here that I managed to get sober and I’ve stayed that way ever since. The fact that I was off the booze meant that I could once again appreciate my surroundings; it also meant that I could begin building a proper life here. The idea of a sober life among the Thais would have once seemed impossible; after all there is just so much temptation. I was completely wrong about this though; I’ve found that it is all a matter of perception. The truth is that Thailand is a great place to stay sober – at least for me anyway.

These last four years have contained so many joys; the greatest one being the birth of my son. I have managed to do things that once would have seemed impossible. I learnt to drive and bought a brand new car; something that most people take for granted but seems like a miracle to me. I found a job that I love and managed to get a book published; really the stuff of dreams. There have also been many other joys along the way. I only quit the booze to stop the pain yet I’ve got so much more.

During my recent visit back to Ireland I was asked why I stayed in Thailand. Was I afraid that I’d drink if I left? The reason I remain in Thailand is that I’m settled and if something isn’t broken why try and fix it. It was tough building a life here and the idea of starting again somewhere else just doesn’t appeal. I no longer view Thailand as quite the wondrous location that I once did but it really is a good place to live; so is Ireland. I have it good here most of the time. Recently I’ve started cycling around my local area and sometimes it really hits me that I live in such a beautiful part of the world.

Paul Garrigan, author of Dead Drunk: Saving myself from alcoholism in a Thai Monastery

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