The Enemy Within

The Olympic Flame goes out more than Fionnuala and I. It’s the joy of having three hatchlings which are a constant strain on our time and finances. Even when we do have an opportunity we are normally incapable of doing much more than slumping on the sofa and getting caught up on our favourite TV shows. Of late, it’s been ‘The Enemy Within,’ which I keep referring to as ‘The Enemy At The Gates.’ Some days, I barely know my own name.

Jennifer Carpenter stars in it. She played Dexter’s sister in er…..Dexter. For those who haven’t watched it, she plays a disgraced CIA operative imprisoned for treason who a FBI team use to track down an international terrorist mastermind. You never quite know what side her character, Erica Shepard, is on. On the surface she appears to be one of the good guys, but there is a darkness lurking beneath which occasionally surfaces.

We all have that darkness lurking within us. The part that isn’t for public consumption, that we hide from prying eyes. None of us are perfect and those who protest they are, are deluded or liars. There is a grimy past, an unsavoury secret, something which we will do everything in our power to prevent from emerging into the light of day. It’s a battle which wages unseen from the watching world. The demons within, they claw and scream for release.

Erica Shepard uses her demons to get inside the heads of her enemies. She is a chameleon, manipulating friend and foe alike to achieve her ends. She can think like a terrorist, enabling her to remain one step ahead of all around her. Overcoming and taming your demons equips you to see the warning signs, when the next wave of attacks are launched. For life is all about being attacked. It’s how we handle these is how we dictate the quality of that life.

I’m looking forward to tonight. We are only going to a friends house for a takeaway. Fionnuala may even have a cheeky glass of wine or two, as I shall be driving. Not the most exciting of evenings you might think but it’s a big deal to sofa surfers like us. Our days of being party animals are long behind us. I imagine we will still be tucked up in bed, well before midnight. There was a time when we considered that unthinkable.

I know my enemy. He eyes me every day from the corner of his cage as I pass him by. He is patient, cunning and ruthless. Waiting for the slightest chink of weakness to break free of his chains and throw my life into disarray again. I must forever be on my guard, alert to his tricks and traps. I can never afford to rest on my laurels. He licks his wounds and I eye my scars. Reminders of what he is capable of.

He hates normality, the status quo drives him to distraction. My strategy is to bore him to death. Day after day, month after month, year after year. Like tonight. Chinese food, six pack of Diet Coke. Early to bed and a 10K run in the morning. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep right on moving along. This is how it is, these days. And, oh, how he hates it. The drama, the people, the lifeblood he feeds on, all no longer there.

I keep him under lock and key. I keep the key on a chain around my neck. He wants it more than anything, for it is his only means of escape. He cannot have it. For I possess the tactics and tools to keep him at arm’s length for as long as I desire. I’m no Erica Shepard. Glamorous and ruthless. But, like her, I know how to play the game. Play the game and win. Keeping the enemy at bay. Until the end of my days.

Man Vomits Casually Outside Bar

Catchy title, huh? But there I was, hurrying through the city centre to catch my train home when I beheld this wondrous sight. A very respectable looking middle aged man, standing outside a bar smoking a cigarette and checking his phone messages. Nothing to see here, folks. Perfectly normal. Next thing, however, he casually leans over and vomits before taking a leisurely drag of his cigarette and returning his attention once more to the phone screen.

It was a genuine double take moment, like you see in the cartoons. Initially I thought he had spilled his drink but nope, there was no pint glass, and it was the contents of his stomach that was forming a puddle on the pavement as opposed to any beverage he might have been holding. I’ll spare you the gory details but, upon closer inspection, I’m fairly confident I could have hazarded a guess as to what he had for lunch.

Nobody else was paying much attention to this startling spectacle. I mean, what else, would you be getting up to on a grey Tuesday afternoon in Belfast other than being violently ill outside a local hostelry? This is a city where the bars are always busy and an increasingly noticeable percentage of the population stumble about in broad daylight under the influence of something or other. Beer, spirits, drugs, illicit or prescription. Whatever.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, Stephen? Too right for, ten years ago, this could well have been me. Except I usually made it to the bathroom on time. Usually. Have I ever been sick outside a pub? Yup. But at least I looked suitable sheepish about it and made a reasonable attempt to conceal myself down a side entry before I performed the dastardly deed. Plus, I was never a smoker.

If I was still a betting man, I’d wager top dollar that Casual Vomit Man is back in the bar now, having cleared his nausea and returned to the fray. It’s a well known trick of the drinking trade. Empty stomach means more capacity for further alcohol intake. It’s like starting all over again. Twice the fun at zero expense. Except for the poor soul expected to clean up the mess outside.

I sincerely hope he gets home in one piece, without any further mishaps. Who knows, he may well wake up in the morning feeling as fresh as daisy, with no recollection of the incident. I’m afraid I won’t though. I’m a writer and I’m always greedily scanning the horizon for material. Casual Vomit Man is already immortalised in the blog, maybe he will turn up in a future book. It’s classic Kirkwood Scott territory.

Our streets aren’t paved with gold anymore. They’re paved with vomit and blood, decorated by broken bottles and discarded needles. We are all culpable, none of us can turn our backs on a society we have contributed towards, be it consciously or unconsciously. This is now and this is us. Man vomits casually outside a bar. Teenage addict begs for loose change around the next corner.

Nobody looks twice.

Nobody thinks once.

What Is Your Worst Habit?

Yesterday I wrote about my ongoing querying of literary agents and how researching their backgrounds prior to submitting your manuscript to them, is the acceptable face of online stalking. It was a tongue in cheek piece, as most of my writing is, but there was a serious message wrapped up inside the frivolity. That being, the obsessive behaviour which fuels the mind of a stalker.

I have OCD and an obsessive personality. I have no filter, no brake, no off switch. I can easily become fixated with activities and even people. This is exacerbated by a complete lack of self awareness when it comes to this particular character trait. I am unaware of my behaviour, in fact I rationalise that it is completely normal and those raising the alarm to me are the killjoys and bores.

This obsessive streak can be explained away as having a stubborn streak or being ultra single minded and determined. Which, in themselves, are admirable characteristics. You need these to run marathons. You need them to carve out a reasonably successful career in my chosen fiend. You need them to slave away at your novel for over a year until it is finally complete.

It’s a double sided coin, however. It’s not so admirable when you become obsessed with running, or paragliding, or base jumping. These activities are designed to be a release from the daily grind, as opposed to becoming the grind itself. They become destructive and counter productive when they drag you away from your core values and the people and pursuits who truly matter.

We become ensnared by these pastimes, they become our raison d’etre. They possess and consume us. They same can be said of online activity. I admit I spend far too much time online, trying to build the blog and related social media platforms. I know it is a necessary evil to pursue my writing dream, but I often need Fionnuala to remind me that I also have a wife and three kids who supersede all my other responsibilities.

This weakness has led me down all sorts of nasty rabbit holes in the past. I cultivated unhealthy online habits which damaged both myself and those I love. I became secretive and distant. Thankfully my current online incarnation is founded upon transparency and accountability. This affords me a safety net should I ever feel the urge to slip back into old habits. I’m learning to police myself again and, in doing so, trust myself again.

Any habit is hard to shake. I bite my nails, drink too much Diet Coke and the list goes on. I’ll never be a hand model but I do recycle all my empty cans and bottles. There are worse habits to have, I glibly inform people whenever I am challenged on these. And, indeed there are. But it’s a warning to always be on my guard. Old habits die hard. They are always lurking, waiting to pounce. The demon that is OCD is never far away.

I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. I’m a boring, middle aged husband and father. I don’t attract a second glance on my daily commute to and from work. None of us do. We are normal. Oh, but if only they knew. If only they knew the dormant madness that lies within. Just waiting for it’s opportunity to be unleashed and wreak havoc on our carefully constructed worlds. If only….

What are your bad habits?

Does madness lurk within you?

Are You Alone? Then Read This

I joined Twitter a couple of months ago to promote my (currently) non existent writing career. I used to be a bit of a whizz on Twitter back in the day. I held court on it and waxed lyrical to my army of adoring followers. My dry, yet achingly witty and intelligent, tweets won me adoration and acclaim. Usually typed when I was several sheets to the wine courtesy of my old friend, Mr. Budweiser.

But that was then, and this is now. Now I stand awkwardly in the corner of the room with my Diet Coke as all around me fellow authors, who all appear to know one another, tweet nonsense about their current work in progress and whether or not their protagonist should be written in the 1st or 3rd person. It’s a dog eat dog and me, me, me social platform. Heavens above, some of them even post selfies, an unwritten no no on WordPress.

I’ll persevere as that is where all the literary agents and publishing houses hang out. But it’s just somewhere I go to ply my trade, a 9-5 environment I’m obliged to visit on a regular basis. It’s not my home, it’s not the place I retreat to at the end of a long, tiring day. A place where I tear off the mask, slip into something more comfortable and abandon the airs and graces of social etiquette.

For that place is WordPress. It is my home and you are my people. A place where I am accepted for who I am, not who I want to be. Yes, I can be witty and intelligent if the mood takes me but I can also be honest, brutally honest if need be. Where I can bare all, safe in the knowledge I will be supported and valued. WordPress is my safe place, and you are my people. It will always be my online home.

Which brings me to the point of this rambling post. It’s great that people can be themselves on here, but it also means I see a lot of pain. I see desperation, anger, guilt, rejection, hopelessness and sorrow. I see people on the edge, one step away from toppling over the precipice and falling into a chasm of nothingness from which there is no return. But most of all, I see raw, unfiltered loneliness.

Loneliness is a silent killer. You can be in the middle of a crowded room, smiling and nodding in all the right places, but inside there is nothing but a hollow shell. Your phone rarely rings, beeps or vibrates. You have nobody to talk to, to sob and scream at. You are an island of isolation, adrift on a sea of sorrow. So you cling to the only piece of flotsam within sight, you cling to it for your very life depends on it.

You cling to WordPress. For it is the only community where you feel a semblance of self worth and acceptance. My message to you today is that you are not alone, for we are many. We need to reach out, engage and care for each other. Visit other people’s blogs, check up on the quiet ones, read between the lines and scan the skyline for rescue flares and warning beacons. They need us just as we need them.

I post every day on WordPress. I am here. Use me. Talk to me. For I’ve been there. Where you are now, as you read these words. Or talk to someone else if you think I’m the most annoying blogger on the planet. It doesn’t have to be open forum. Send an e-mail. Reach out, for there are strong hands, able and willing to pull you from the pit. Yes, you are lonely. But you need never be alone again.

Are you alone, desperate, frightened? Then reach out?

Or do you want to help others? Then reblog this post or write your own.

Let’s slay those demons.

I Have An Obsessive Personality

I have an obsessive personality.

Regular readers will know this anyway. It’s an aspect of my OCD which I have struggled with for the majority of my adult life. I don’t do things by half. When I develop a new interest or passion I must push it to the nth degree, to the point where everything else takes a back seat. When I am in this zone, my moral compass spins horribly out of control and I lose all sense of perspective.

I used to be obsessed with work, although this was often driven by a fear of failure. I would work ridiculous hours and was forever spending my weekends immersed in it, when I should have been focusing on my family. In my warped mind, this wasn’t a problem as I was doing it for them. The next promotion or pay rise. Putting bread on the table, bringing the bacon home. In reality, it was all about my ego.

When my father died, It was alcohol. I was a weekend drinker, but before long the weekends began on Thursday evening and ended on Monday morning. When our finances were tight, I always made sure there was enough for a case of beer. I drank to forget. To forget about my father’s death, to dull the intrusive thoughts and compulsive urges, to block out the mess I was making of my life.

Alcohol fuelled the Twitter years. I became obsessed with building up a legion of followers although I tweeted largely nonsense. It made me feel wanted, valued, relevant. I didn’t realise though that is was further estranging me from my loved ones, from the people who mattered. I was in the room with them, but I might as well have been a thousand miles away. I was an empty shell.

When I stopped drinking, running took over. My weekends would be spent away from my family again, at races all over the country. I became obsessed with personal bests, medals and beating the people I trained with. While my body was healthier than it had ever been, my mind was sinking further into the more. Image and appearance were everything. I was shallow and selfish.

I still run, but nowhere near the levels I used to. I now race 2-3 times a year when it used to be 2-3 times a month. I enjoy running but largely train alone now. I prefer it that way. Before I used to feel under intense pressure, both from myself and other people I ran with. I don’t want to go back to that way of living. When I run now I reap the mental as well as the physical benefits.

Passion. Drive. Ambition. Determination. These are all words which most of us would agree are positive. But there is a line and, when you cross it, you enter a whole new world. The world of the obsessive. We suck the joy out of everything like a ravenous lion sucks marrow from a bone. Except our demons feed on anxiety, fear and doubt. We lose all sense of who we are and who we want to be. It is the darkest of realms.

I don’t want to go back there, and I don’t think I will. But I must never rest on my laurels. You can’t be cured of OCD. It’s like someone saying they used to be an addict, but they’re not anymore. It is always there lurking, watching, like a dormant volcano waiting for its opportunity to unleash death upon the unsuspecting countryside. It stalks its prey, waiting to pounce and rip you apart.

Have you an obsessive personality?

Have you ever crossed the line?

How is your mental health today?

A Sneak Peek For You All

A little book update for you all this morning. For it is morning in not so sunny Northern Ireland. Regular readers will know that I forwarded the 6th draft of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square’ to my editor, Laura, before Christmas. She had the audacity to take a break over the festive period (shocking, I know) but is now fully back in harness and furiously polishing the very rough manuscript that I have spent the last year toiling over.

In the meantime I haven’t been resting on my laurels. I’ve drafted a query letter for prospective literary agents in addition to a two page book synopsis. I’m quite chuffed with how well the synopsis reads but how tough is it to summarise a book into two pages. Sheesh! I’ve also ventured back into the murky world of Twitter to research/stalk prospective agents who I believe are a good fit for Kirkwood.

After looking at in excess of 500, I’ve drawn up a shortlist who I will be submitting my query letter, synopsis and sample pages to, once Laura has worked her magic. Then it’s a case of wait and see. I’m hoping an agent will pick up on it, but if not I will consider self-publishing if there is no interest. It’s a highly competitive market and there is no shame in venturing down the latter route.

So….what is ‘Skelly’s Square’ all about? I thought I’d tantalise your taste buds a little. So here’s a snippet of the synopsis:

Many books have been written about the Battle of Waterloo. Some painstakingly researched by learned historians, others penned by those who were there and survived the horrors to tell the tale. Yet, despite the millions of words, there still remains an element of mystery as to what happened amidst the mud and the smoke. There are grey areas. Some stories have never been told. This is one such story. The story of a company of men, who fought and died as one, but whose valour and courage never saw the light of day. This is the story of ‘Skelly’s Square,’ the ‘Forgotten Regiment.’ For they have returned.

Modern day Belfast, Northern Ireland. Meet Kirkwood Scott. He’s having a bad day, no make that life. He’s stuck in a dead end job, his girlfriend has just dumped him and his family have emigrated to the other side of the world. Then there are the routines, the endless routines which haunt his every waking thought. Kirkwood has OCD, a mental disorder triggered in him as a young boy following the brutal murder of his father. A murder Kirkwood feels responsible for.

Responsibility brings consequences. Ever since that day, Kirkwood has paid the price via a series of tortuous routines, ‘The 49,’ which he must perform. Failure to do can lead to all sorts of bad stuff happening. Planes crash, tower blocks collapse. And it’s all his fault. Why? Because Skelly says so. Kirkwood believes it to be nothing more than an imaginary voice, created as a child when he innocently played with his toy soldiers. But we know better, don’t we? Skelly has returned to wreak his revenge on an ungrateful world which turned its back on him.

Kirkwood is resigned to a life of quiet torment until he meets a mysterious young homeless woman, Meredith Starc. Meredith has her own problems. Traumatised by the suicide of her best friend, Emily O’Hara, indifferent parents, and callous school bullies she flees her privileged upbringing to the streets of Belfast where she survives on her wits, only interested in where the next bottle of wine is coming from. Then there’s the graffiti where Emily appears to be communicating to her from beyond the grave. Not to mention the blood drenched dreams where she is pursued by a figure very familiar to Kirkwood.

Kirkwood and Meredith join forces, slowly gaining each other’s trust and discovering that beneath the gritty reality of Belfast’s streets, a brutal battle rages between supernatural forces of good and evil, with the future of the planet at stake. Guided by a kindly tramp, Cornelius Dobson, who is not all he seems and a wheelchair bound teenager, Harley Davison, they realise they hold the key to saving mankind from a new Dark Age. But can they survive long enough to figure it out, as Skelly unleashes his army of ghost soldiers on an unsuspecting city to hunt them down?

The above is only a snippet of the story and the KSC universe. But I’d be grateful for any feedback. Feel free to comment below.

Homeless Jesus

Soooooo…..

I was out for my lunchtime run today, when I was literally stopped in my tracks by a new addition to the Belfast landscape. Outside a homeless centre I regularly run past, was a statue. At first glance, it appears fairly unremarkable. It’s a bronze sculpture of a man lying beneath a blanket on a park bench. What caught my eye, however, was the name of the sculpture – ‘Homeless Jesus.’

Behind the statue was a inscribed description of the piece. It was created by a Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schmalz, and depicts Jesus as a homeless person. His face and hands are obscured by the blanket, but the crucifixion wounds on his feet reveal his true identity. The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the words Jesus gave to his followers in Matthew 25:45.

‘As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.’

Over the last couple of years I have built tentative relationships with a number of rough sleepers who I regularly pass in my travels around the city centre. I’ve blogged about them in the past and one of the main characters in the book I’m currently writing is homeless. I try to help these folk the best I can, by conversing with them, helping them where I can financially, and basically treating them as human beings.

I could do so much better though. When it’s been near the end of the month and the bank account is running low, I’ve been known to actively avoid my homeless friends as I cannot afford to buy them a cup of tea. Even though very few of them ask for money and often I have to force it upon them. They are proud young men and women and are loathe to be regarded as wasters and scroungers.

The statue stopped me dead today for it pricked my conscience. I once attended a suicide in the homeless centre outside where it is now located. A tragic end to a young life, but sadly no longer a rarity amongst our urban homeless communities. The underbelly of our society which we are quick to hurry past on our way to the office, or chuck a few coins in their direction and smugly feel we have met our social and moral obligations for the day.

I can do so much more. I call myself a Christian and like to view myself as a decent person. Yet, what would Jesus make of the behaviour I’ve described in the paragraphs above? Talking the talk and walking the walk, but only when it suits me. Even if I can’t give them the coins in my pocket, I can still afford them my time and prayers. I’m not perfect and I never will be. But I can do better. Much better. Can you?

What do you make of ‘Homeless Jesus’?

Do you do enough for the homeless people in your town or city?

Where Is The God Of My Father?

Where is the God of my Father

Who rescued the lame and the blind?

Where is the God of my Father

Who poured healing oil on my mind?

Kill the will

Take the pill

Numb the thrill

Make me still.

Synaptic relapse

Serotonin collapse

Raging impasse

Stifling morass.

So taste the drill

Run the mill

Surgeons skill

Make me still.

Where is the God of my Father

Now that I’m naked and numb?

Where is the God of my Father

Alone on a slab, splayed and shunned?

I Am Sic

I am sic

Nervous tic

Binge and purge

This endless urge.

Odd

Erroneous

Out of place

Unworthy of the human race.

Worthy of comment

Worthless, I vomit

Bird in a cage

From the rope I will plummet.

Dead to his Word

Alive to their world

Baptised in blood

Yet drowned in the flood.

No peace here, just pieces

Faceless diseases

Endless attacks

This war never ceases

For I am sick

And I am sic

Liar, fool,

And lunatic.

I don’t write much poetry but I woke with the phrase ‘I am sic’ in my head this morning. Sic, as in the adverb placed after a quoted word to highlight that it is grammatically incorrect but is quoted in its original format. The poem hopes to describe how I felt in my lowest OCD days. It does not represent how I feel today, but I hope it may speak out to others and offer assurance that recovery is possible.

I regard this as one of the most important posts I have published in some time. It felt as if the words were placed within, as opposed to created by, me. They are from me, and not of me. So, I don’t ask this often but if the poem resonates with you could you reblog and share this message within your own community. That would mean a lot to me. For we are all a little bit sic and in need of correction.

‘I Am Sic’ was partially inspired by the song ‘I’m So Sick’ by Flyleaf. Its vocalist and writer, Lacey Sturm, is featured in today’s accompanying image.

What Are You Hungry For?

Saturday was the start of the new rugby season, so Fionnuala and I hugged the touchline, to watch Adam play for his college against one of the big Belfast schools. Unfortunately they lost, but didn’t go down without a fight. Adam had a great game and scored his team’s only try. I thought he was our best player but then I’m his father so that’s to be expected. Afterwards, therefore, I was relieved to hear his coach agree with my assertion.

He informed me that, given his performance, Adam was being moved up to the first team for next weekend’s match. We were delighted to hear this as it has been his target all summer and he has worked hard towards attaining it. He will now be playing against boys up to two years older than him, at a much higher level. It’s a steep learning curve but one that he needs to take in order to fulfil the potential within him.

The coach also told me that he did not want Adam progressing too quickly into the first team as he wanted to ‘keep him hungry.’ If he reached his target too easily then that could impact upon his motivation and determination for the rest of the year. Adam has talent and a strong work ethic but to be the best that he possibly can requires more than that; it requires a desire or drive that cannot be taught.

Whenever I’m training for marathons, which is most of the time, I’m permanently hungry. I think about eating all day long. I don’t view myself as greedy, rather I need to eat a lot to replace the calories I burn up on training runs. This allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want. Which means ALL the ice cream. I dread the day I have to stop running as I will probably put on three stone in a week.

We normally associate the word with the physical discomfort experienced through a lack of food. But the wider definition fits better with the etymological roots of the word. Hunger derives from the Old English word ‘hungor’, meaning desire. It goes beyond growling stomachs and yo-yo diets. When we hunger after something, we desire it, we yearn for it, we crave it.

Hunger, within this context, is a double edged sword. While we identify the physical experience of hunger with negative emotions, it is construed as a positive attribute for a young rugby player like Adam, striving to progress in his given sport. To aspire to better yourself, to improve reflects a healthy mindset. We need targets in life, or at least I know I do. For otherwise, we stagnate and become bored.

Flip the coin again, however, and we can hunger after unhealthy desires. Desires that lead us down the wrong path. An unhealthy appetite, if allowed to run unchecked, can result in more than indigestion. It can bring destruction and ruin to your life and the lives of those you love the most. Collateral damage is still damage. Be hungry, but hunger after those things which are going to supplement your life, not suffocate it.

What are your thoughts on hunger and desire after reading this post?

I Told You So….

Don’t you hate it when people say that? They always look unspeakably smug and the urge to scream in their faces is almost irresistible. We don’t like being told we are wrong, even more so admitting that we were. Pride is a bitter pill to swallow, even when it has been sugar coated and gift wrapped in the most palatable of packages. We gag, we choke, we resist the urge to swallow. Being told we are wrong is just wrong.

A few months back I had a horrific experience at the dentists which involved insufficient anaesthetic, followed by a world of white hot pain. The butcher….I mean dental surgeon eventually took pity on me and called it a day. She made another appointment for me, stating that my only options were root canal surgery or having the tooth removed. Neither appealed particularly to me at the time.

I told her I’d think about it and then come back with a decision. She said that was fine but sooner, rather than later, because the cavity was deep and was only going to get deeper. She ominously warned that the pain would be on a whole new level unless swift action was taken. I nodded in agreement, before fleeing the surgery, vowing never to darken its door again.

For three months all was well. Bar the odd niggle, there was no pain. I mean, what did she know about teeth? I laughed in the face of the countless certificates on the wall and numerous letters after her name. For I was doing just fine, living in a toothache free world. Granted, I dared not drink or eat on that side of my mouth but ’twas a small price to pay for escaping a return to her chamber of unspeakable horrors.

Until this week that was. The pain has returned, subtle at first but increasing by the day, spreading from the tooth, along my jawline and into my neck. Ibuprofen has become my best friend and I am perfecting a new technique of running with my mouth closed and breathing through my nose, in order to avoid cold air hitting the offending area. It’s quite the sight, I can assure you.

I know that I’m only delaying the inevitable. The day is fast approaching when I will have to skulk back to the surgery, with my tail tucked between my legs. I am already imagining the disappointed expression on my dentists face as I explain, between sobs, that she was right all along, the pain is too much and I need ALL THE DRUGS! She will tut, smile wanly and reply “Mr Black. I was afraid this would happen. I don’t want to say I told you so but….”

I will rise above this verbal barb, and respond in a mature, adult manner. By falling to my knees, grabbing her pristine scrubs and screaming “JUST GET IT OUT OF MY MOUTHHHHHH!!!” I’ve thought about it for a while and regard this as the only reasonable course of action. I’m sure dental surgeons see this sort of behaviour all the time. She won’t even bat an eyelid and remember, doctor-patient confidentiality is an unbreakable bond of trust.

Expect further tooth updates to follow. Let’s face it, it beats me droning on about marathons and writing novels. But whatever I post in the future don’t reply “I told you so.” For those are even more painful than the little enamel elf currently tap dancing along my back right molar. I wish he would go back to Tooth FairyLand or wherever he normally hangs out. I don’t even need a pound coin under my pillow. Just go!

Care to share your favourite ‘I told you so’ moments?

What’s the worst toothache memory?

Waking Up Hungover When I Haven’t Been Drinking

Last night, after dinner, Adam and I went to the park to work on his rugby skills. The new season is less than three weeks away and he is pushing for a place in the first team this season where he would be playing against boys two years older than him. I say boys but these guys are huge. Adam has been working hard in our garage which he has turned into a gym to prepare for this step up to the next level.

You can be strong, fast and super fit but it means little if you can’t catch and pass the ball. So last night was all about ball handling. We performed a series of drills which he performed with ease before I sent up a series of high kicks for him to catch. These varied in terms of height and difficulty but, once again, they posed little problems for my talented son. He caught every ball with ease.

I actually think he was becoming a little bored by the end of it as I concluded the session by sending up probably the easiest kick of the evening. I could even catch that I mused as I watched the ball arc through the sky and then descend to where he awaited it, perfectly positioned as ever. It was an absolute dolly, and 99 times out of a 100 he would have caught it with his eyes closed.

Except this time he didn’t. At the last second he took his eye off the ball and it squirmed through his fingers before falling to the ground. ‘What happened there?’ I asked in astonishment. ‘Sorry it was so easy I just assumed I had it so took my eye off the ball.’ I sent up a few more testing kicks to end the session which he caught with ease. Just that one mishap. Because he took his eye off the ball.

This morning I woke up with a hungover. Which is odd because I gave up drinking alcohol more than five years ago. I felt nauseous, my throat was dry and I was gripped by fear and doubt. It took me several minutes to convince myself that I hadn’t been drinking the night before. I could even taste the stale alcohol on my breath, the smell of it filled my nostrils. I call these experiences, phantom hangovers.

Thankfully they are few and far between. I have no interest in returning to my drinking past. I am never tempted to succumb, it just isn’t an issue for me. Yet, just like Adam last night, I can never afford to take my eye off the ball. For, to quote the old adage, to ASSUME makes an ASS out of both YOU and ME. When it comes to patterns of addictive behaviour there is no such thing as an easy day.

This doesn’t just relate to my drinking. It applies to a lot of other destructive ‘bad habits’ from my past that I have worked hard at overcoming. I know that I can have 364 good days but they will mean nothing if I mess up on day 365. I need to be open, accountable and transparent. My integrity is non-negotiable just as my time on this planet has a limited shelf life. I cannot afford to stumble again, I have too much ground to cover yet.

Never underestimate your demons. They are master strategists and play the long game, lying dormant in the shadows; waiting for the slightest slip on your part whereupon they will slip between your defences and catch you napping. Always be on your guard for your enemies prowl around you like hungry lions, waiting to pounce and devour you. Never take your eye off the ball.

What strategies do you apply to your life in order to keep your eye on the ball?

Do you know where your demons are today?

Hands Up If You’re Tired?

Hands up who’s tired?

I imagine quite a few of you now are staring at your screens feeling a little awkward that you have a hand in the air at the request of some random guy from Northern Ireland. But don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to simultaneously pat your head and rub your tummy for that would be just plain weird. Plus you might drop your phone or laptop and I’m not sure the insurance would cover the circumstances.

Tiredness is everywhere and everybody is tired. Fionnuala and I are constantly telling each other we are tired. There is always something to do and not enough time to do it. The list of tasks and demands stretches far over the horizon into the days and weeks ahead. Who needs ebola or the zombie apocalypse when we have tiredness. It is highly infectious and has reached epidemic proportions.

It’s Monday morning and I don’t want to get up. I feel more tired now than when I left work on Friday. I don’t want to get out of bed and run. I don’t want to put on my work clothes and get the train to work. I just want to go back to sleep and start the weekend all over again. And I’m certain that many of you experience those exact same emotions every time the alarm goes off and Monday morning comes around again.

We are a community of tired people. It is the strand that connects us all, the common denominator in our eclectic and varied lives. It is the great leveller which brings us all, whatever our backgrounds and beliefs, together. We are Team Tired. We are tired of being tired but there is no pill or potion to cure this condition. So we soldier on and do our best because, well, that’s what we do right?

Oh you can put your arm back down by the way. I’ll be finished in a few paragraphs.

When the battery on a car runs flat it needs a jump start, a spark to reignite it’s engine and bring it back to life. We are the same. It can be an unexpected phone call or message from a friend to say they are thinking of you; an encouraging word from a colleague; or an unsolicited blog from half way across the world that you stumble across on your lunch break. Whatever it is or wherever it comes from, we need it all the same.

We are not defined by our tiredness just like we are not defined by our colour or creed. The spark we so desperately desire is just beyond the veil, tantalisingly out of our reach. All it requires is a few steps and you are there. Energy is life. Without it we may as well wave the white flag of surrender. Give in to the exhaustion and fatigue. Lie down, close our eyes and wait for the inevitable coup de grace.

I choose not to lie down. So I’m going to throw back the covers and crawl out of bed. I’m going to go to work, I’m going to force myself to run at lunchtime, endure a three hour afternoon meeting and then come home to a million and one questions from our irrepressible 11 year old daughter. I’m going to go through the motions but I’m going to do it with emotion. Knowing that victory lies on the other side.

Tiredness doesn’t have to be a life sentence. You just have to find a purpose, your reason to keep going. Put one step in front of the other. I know you can do it no matter how exhausted you might feel as you read these words. Rise above it. The world awaits you and you were born to walk this path. It is a long and hard path at times but the rewards await you. Just around the next corner.

How tired are you today?

How do you combat tiredness?

Make Every Blog Count

The deeper I immerse myself in the book I am currently writing the more concerned I become about the quality of my blogging. I worry that I’ll only be able to make so many trips to the literary well before it runs dry and I am left bereft of ideas and words to pour out onto WordPress. I want my writing to be relevant and fresh. I don’t want to be simply going through the motions. I call it sleep blogging.

We all have gears. I know that from my running and work. It is oh so easy to hit cruise control and drift along in your comfort zone. You are loathe to put the pedal to the medal as with that come inherent risks and dangers. Why confront and challenge when you can conform and collude. Breaking through and pushing on is painful. It hurts and takes a toll. You pay a price in order to progress.

Writers must have a purpose when they set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. There must be a reason for the activity, a message that they want to impart. Writing without purpose leads to lazy language as we drift from sentence to sentence, meandering from one paragraph to the next. It is padding, filling the empty expanses of the page or screen with the creative equivalent of white noise. Night of the Literary Undead.

Not all my blogs hit a nerve or strike a chord. Some result in healthy discussions which can last for months while others slip relatively unnoticed beneath the radar. The goal of the blogger is to find that bullseye, that common thread which brings people together and gets them talking. In order to promote debate a blogger must be passionate about their subject matter. If you blog solely for likes, follows or, dare I say it, financial gain then you are less likely to succeed.

This blog is on a mission. A mission which I view as eminently possible and will not involve me swinging from a treacherous precipice a la Tom Cruise while flicking the camera a cheesy grin. I am no hero but I am here. Every day. Seeking to encourage and motivate others to be the best possible version of themselves that they can be. Offering a helping hand to pull them out of the pit and back into solid ground.

I hope that this vision and these values come across in my writing. Otherwise I might as well retire my typing thumb and pull down the shutters on fracturedfaithblog. I encourage you to do the same. Every time you sit down to draft a post ask yourself why are you doing it, what message are you hoping to put out there. Really think. Because your words matter. They cannot afford to be wasted. We need to hear them.

Blog from the heart. Shoot that flare up into the night sky for it needs to be seen as opposed to spluttering like a damp squib, neglected and soon forgotten. Blogging is a privilege, we must never forget that. For others throughout the world to be able to express themselves freely is but a dream. Your words today can bring solace and healing to the battered and bleeding online tribe gathered around you.

I hope today hasn’t been too heavy for anyone. That wasn’t my intention but I woke up with these words on my heart and needed to share them. I’ll post something silly next time to restore the equilibrium. I look forward to hearing your comments on this post. I love this community and I love your words. You each have a message. One that matters. Make every blog count.

How do you seek to make your blogs relevant and impactive?

What are your thoughts on sleep blogging?

I ‘Forgot’ To Take My Meds

Last week I ran out of the medication which I take for OCD. 20mg of Escitaloprem has kept me on an even keel these last six years or so. One of them a day and Stephen is content. They prevent the slavering, starving wolf that is OCD from clawing at my front door and blowing down the house of cards which constitute my always fragile mental health. I rely on these pills. They are literally my first port of call every morning, washed down with a slug of Diet Coke.

This was utterly inexcusable on my part of course. I knew well in advance that supplies were running low yet did nothing about it. Why? I don’t know. Ask me a question on sport. For I knew the consequences if I came off my medication for any length of time. The tiredness, tetchiness and tension would descend upon me like three little prescription pigs, the precursors for Mr. Wolf’s grand entrance a short time later.

I’ve done this before. I know the score and it’s a bloated, lopsided one. When it comes to going toe to toe with the big bad OCD it’s a horrendous mismatch. I rarely see beyond the second round before I’m on the ropes, being pounded and pummelled to within an inch of my life. The referee has no option but to step in to spare me from any further punishment and I slump to my knees, battered and beaten. Same old story, same old stupid Stephen.

It can’t be laziness. Ordering a repeat prescription requires a one minute phone call followed by a two minute drive to the local pharmacy in order to collect it. It also doesn’t cost me anything. So it must be arrogance, thinking that this time I’ve tamed the beast, that I’m capable of throwing aside my consistent companion and striding off into the serotonin saturated sunset, a glorious new creation no longer reliant on mass manufactured medication to keep me on the straight and narrow.

I never cease to be amazed by my own powers of self delusion. Within three days of going ‘cold turkey’ I was a twitchy, neurotic mess. It started with a dull headache above my left eyebrow which gradually descended before taking up residence behind the corresponding eyeball where it proceeded to intensify until I felt like I was being stabbed in the iris with a knitting needle. I became more irascible and intolerant. The reasonably sane front that I presented to the world on a daily basis was no more.

I was about to blow a la Vesuvius….

It all came to a head last Thursday when I had two massive arguments at work when normally I would have bitten my tongue and walked away. Middle management meltdowns in the middle of an open planned office are not a good look, career wise. They left me feeling professionally embarrassed and clutching at straws to explain my bizarre behaviour. It was akin to an out of body experience. I was hovering above, powerless to intervene and switch off the torrent of paranoid nonsense that the lunatic below was spouting. Who is that madman? Does anybody know him? Oh hang on….it’s me.

I came home that evening with my tail between my legs and sheepishly explained the events of the day to Fionnuala. She suggested (insisted) that I reorder my prescription ASAP then collected it herself after I had, once more, forgotten to do so. So here I am, back on the meds. The headache has already eased and I’m ready to face the world again with the help of my little 20mg friends. Just one a day and I’m okay. That’s just the way it has to be.

I wonder. Am I that reliant on them? Or is it, and I pardon the pun, ‘all in my head?’ Do they actually. correct the chemical imbalance in my brain to such a degree that I cannot function without them. Or are they nothing more than an emotional aide memoire to convince me that I’m one of the ‘normal’ people when most days I feel anything but; I have thoughts that only fellow OCD sufferers could even begin to understand. Incessant images that only the relief of routine can remedy.

Until they start again that is. Circles of chaos which rise and fall as they rattle round my cranium that a runaway rollercoaster. The thoughts are never fall away, they prowl around the edges of the comforting campfire biding their time. Waiting for the slightest opportunity to pounce and drag down into the darkness of the abyss. I never want to reside their again. So I take the pill. Be it Escitaloprem or M&M’s. I take it.

385 Yards To Go

I wrote the other day about the comparisons between marathon running and writing a novel. Both are wars of attrition and many drop by the wayside, battered and beaten. Both culminate in glory and accolades but the path to the finish line is strewn with the collateral damage of the occupation; for every war has its casualties. Sacrifice and discipline are paramount. Without them you will fail, then fall and the dream will remain just that; discarded and shrivelled away.

I described where I am currently with my novel as like being at the 26 mile point of a marathon. The point where you feel you have created your personal Everest only to realise that you still have another .2 miles to go. Or 385 yards to be exact but, hey, who’s counting? Well I am to be honest. Every torrid step of the way. For after almost four hours of constant running you feel every stride and obsess over every step. It is one nearer the glory or the ignominy of stopping. Whichever comes first.

I’ve attempted to describe the agony and beauty of that moment but sometimes a picture speaks the volumes that my muted meanderings can never accomplish. Which is why I’ve dug out this photo. It’s me in the finishing straight at this year’s Belfast Marathon. No smiling, no soaking up the atmosphere and acknowledging the crowds. Just a world of pain as I contemplate nothing but the finish line, just ahead of me.

I could have posted photos of me smiling with my medal to describe the marathon experience but I feel this one captures its essence so much more accurately. It’s not pretty but it is real. Much like my writing style. I’ll post an equally unflattering image of my writing experience later today but, until then, never give up. Knuckle down and buckle up. For the finish line is within touching distance. Only 385 yards to go.

How close are you to your finish line?

Is the pain worth it?

Welcome to Mulberry Square

Just thought I’d share some images of Bank Street, off Belfast City Centre, I took yesterday. This is my inspiration for the fictional location of Mulberry Square which is the backdrop for several of the key scenes in the novel I am currently working on – tentatively titled ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Part One – Skelly’s Square.’ I walk through this part of the city most days on my way to and from work.

It is a vibrant, thriving part of the city full of colour and laughter. It is steeped in history and includes an eclectic range of businesses and buildings – chapels next to bookmakers, traditional Irish pubs next to modern wine bars; fish and chip shops beside gourmet restaurants. It has a little bit of everything, including a darker side that features heavily in the novel.

Such locations continue to inspire me on this insane writing journey I have embarked upon. As do the people who inhabit them. I only hope my writing can do justice to the beautiful, brutal Belfast that is my second home. I’ll blog again later. A ‘flash fiction’ writing challenge for you all no less but, for now, apologies for the dodgy photography. Let’s hope the writing that follows isn’t quite so dodgy.

What parts of your local town or city inspire you to write?

Where is your ‘second home’?

What do you think ‘goes down’ in Mulberry Square?

Why Do Good Blogs Go Bad?

Have you ever poured your heart and soul into a blog only for it to sink without trace amidst the plethora of competing posts that flood your timeline? It’s disheartening isn’t it? You stare at your pride and joy and try to process how 99% of your followers haven’t the slightest interest in this latest literary gem. Then the voice in your head pipes up – ‘Well if they won’t read a 500 word blog then what makes you think they will want to read that 120,000 word book you have been droning on about for the last six months?’

It’s little surprise then that many bloggers raise the white flag and go AWOL. Fellow writers who you corresponded with every day suddenly vanish without explanation and you think ‘I wonder what happened to so and so?’ Blogging can be a brutal business. Don’t expect to become an internet success overnight. Building a base of followers is time consuming, tiring work. That’s right, I used the ‘w’ word. Work? Isn’t this supposed to be fun, a release and relief from the daily grind where we can freely express ourselves in a manner we are reluctant to do in the real world?

This battle rages every day in my head. When I lived on Twitter and Instagram I was obsessed with likes, retweets and followers. I wasn’t one of the beautiful people who were guaranteed 2000 likes simply for posting a selfie of themselves pouting at the camera before a night on the tiles. I didn’t have the looks but I did possess a certain sarcastic wit and, dare I say it, charm that ensured people read my offerings. It worked and the followers er….followed.

When I dipped my toe into the WordPress waters last year I adopted a different philosophy. Fionnuala and I spoke long and hard about the purpose of the blog and agreed it was created in order to be a beacon of hope to others floundering with their faith and a raft of other problems that assail our daily lives and buzz around our skulls like irksome wasps, waiting to sting us in the eye if we dare question their presence. We wanted to offer hope where there was none and light the way ahead for weary walkers on the road less traveled.

That is still why I write. Yes it is pleasing and reassuring to have people post compliments about the blog. Yes it is encouraging to watch the follower base rise steadily day after day. But that is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. The meat and potatoes is the central message I have alluded to above which I attempt to hammer home every time I write. There is hope amidst the brokenness. There is a way out of the mire. No pit is too deep and no problem too insurmountable. Believe and become the person you were created to be.

My message remains the same every morning. There are some brilliant bloggers out there. People who don’t realise how good they are. They inspire me on a daily basis to pick up my metaphorical pen and keep plugging away at our craft. Not all posts will hit the nail on the head or catch the mood of your readers. Some will sink without trace while others will bob back to the surface again and reassure you that maybe you aren’t the worst wordsmith since time immemorial.

Don’t give up. Keep persevering and writing. If you show up every day then the positives will eventually outweigh the negatives. If you want to become an overnight internet sensation or ‘Instafamous’ then stick to other social media platforms. WordPress won’t make you a millionaire overnight but it will immerse you in an environment with like minded individuals who care about their craft. Interact with them, get to know them. They are your peers, your audience, your critical but compassionate eye.

They are the reason I show up here every day. I practice my writing every day on the blog and then transfer what I have honed and developed into the world I am creating in my novel. The blog is my training ground. Every day I swing wildly with my eyes clenched shut and hope for the best. Most times I miss and strike out. But once in a while there is that sweetest of connections and I watch in awe as the ball sails out of the park.

I just hope the coach is watching on those occasions.

What makes a good blog?

What are your experiences of the highs and lows of blogging?

What bloggers do you want to encourage today?

What Do You Wish You Had Written About Today?

People often compliment me on my honest writing style. They ask me how do I do it as they could never be that open and upfront about their lives. They use words like ‘refreshing’ which I like as honesty is a refreshing attribute in today’s world. I’m not talking about liars here but, rather, people who don’t speak the truth as it might damage the persona they portray to the world. They would rather hide behind a facade than be that rarest of creatures…..their true selves.

I’ve already written at length about this epidemic of evasiveness in previous posts. It is insidious and permeates all aspects of life. We simply refuse to be honest as to who we are. We flinch from the truth as it’s ugliness scares us. But ugliness, much like beauty, is only skin deep. Cut away the scar tissue and expose the miracle within. The real you. With a voice begging be heard, with words and songs and images bursting to be released into this arid wasteland we inhabit.

I fled to WordPress a year ago to practice talking the truth. I had been suffocated by the real world, too ashamed to explore the many flaws and failings I had kept bottled up for way too long. A gangrenous genie that, when released, threatened to turn my fairytale ‘perfect’ life into a living nightmare. Yet, it had to breathe, it had to be. I had no church or friends to turn to so, encouraged by Fionnuala, I turned to blogging. It saved my life as I knew it then.

It was a revelation, a revolution within my soul which had the old Stephen reaching for the white flag while simultaneously throwing the towel into the ring. I write prodigiously and truthfully. I wielded words and practice every day until they surged from my keyboard at will. I needed to write. I had so much to say and the clock keeps ticking. I constantly feel as if I am running out of time. Words can be weapons of mass destruction. They are more valuable than precious stones, than the very air we breathe.

Words are life. They strip away the veneer, the plastic and the false. They are white hot, they cleanse and purge like no other potion or pill known to man. Then why do we shy away from them? Increasingly on WordPress I see fellow bloggers testify that they are unable to write about what they want to. Some are worried about what others might think, some believe they are not eloquent enough to accurately express themselves, others say it would be too painful a process.

More painful than keeping the words unspoken or unwritten? Meandering along a river of regret until they become stuck in the shallows never to be emerge again. So we fall into the same old trap. We say what we think others want to hear, we dilute our diction and side step the stories that are our legacy and our right to tell. They fester and ferment within us, dripping poison into our veins and clogging our arteries, blocking the hopes and dreams that will never see the light of day.

What have you written about today? What are you thinking of writing today? Reflect upon it. Is it really what you want to say, what you need to say? Or is there something else, curled in a ball, buried deep within, that craves to be unfurled like a battlefield banner. A banner which announces to your enemies and antagonists that enough is enough and you are making a stand. Look up and read the words on that banner as it flaps and flutters in the breeze.

Commit those words to memory. For that is your anthem and they are your story. Share them and feel that cloak of secrecy and shame slip from your shoulders. They are words forged in the depths of your being, unspeakably strong. They cannot be broken for they were written with the ink of your blood and your tears. They are your rebirth from the banality and boredom of what you once were. You are whole again. Now tell your story and live to tell many more.

Do you want to write about certain subjects and experiences but hold back? Why?

Is your writing as honest as you would like it to be?

What has this post inspired you to write about?

The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Part One – Skelly’s Square (An Update)

The second edit is complete, weighing in at a whopping 113K words. Since then I’ve done very little on it partly due to other commitments and partly because, well, the writing well was fairly empty. I had a very productive 3-4 weeks where I rattled through the draft tweaking and amending it to my hearts content. Then when I got to the end I just needed to put it away and mull over what the next phase was going to be.

That phase started last night when I began a more detailed plot synopsis. I’m hoping that it will allow me to get a better overview of the book as a whole and identify the no doubt many inconsistencies and gaps that require urgent attention. I’ve already decided to drop my original introduction and completely rewrite it from an entirely different perspective. I’m hoping that this will land a more impactive punch and lure the reader into the bizarre life and world of Kirkwood Scott.

It was a big deal for me disclosing the book’s title the other week. I was humbled by the interest fellow bloggers showed in it and the constructive feedback I received. This was a nerve wracking but necessary process. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and don’t have the thickest of skins so realise I need to toughen up in this regard. When the plot synopsis is complete I hope to dive straight into the third chapter which will be largely a matter of connecting all the various dots I have created to date.

After that I will be letting go of my precious project and releasing it to a carefully selected band of beta readers and critique partners. The latter group will be 2-3 fellow writers. I hope we will be able to grow and learn from each other during this important phase. I’m also leaning towards the self publishing route but again it’s very early days. The blog will remain my bread and butter and I’m hoping that from within it will come my core readership base.

So what do you need to do now? Well, nothing really. Just keep being you. Thank you as ever for your endless support and patience. I drone on about this book every week but not one of you yet has told me to shut up. For that I will always be grateful. This blog has grown beyond our wildest dreams and has restored my faith in humanity and the entire online experience. Kirkwood Scott would never have been born if it hadn’t been for you lot.

Thank You

This is not intended as a self indulgent or ‘look at me’ post. But we reached 6000 followers yesterday on the blog and wanted to say thank you to everyone who has contributed towards us reaching this milestone. Fionnuala and I are very grateful for the continued support, encouragement and love that you send our way on a daily basis. We just hope that we make half of the impact upon you all as you continue to do upon our lives. Thank you.

Book Title Reveal – Part 2

Earlier today I shared the title of the book I have been working on since last August. I’ve almost completed the second draft of it. It’s weighing in at a whopping 120K words at present. I also said I would share some of the Belfast locations which have inspired me and which feature in the story. This post focuses on the Grand Opera House on Great Victoria Street. It’s quite an impressive building isn’t it?

I walk past it every morning on my way from the train station to my office and the covered entrance to it often provides shelter for homeless people who are normally emerging from their sleeping bags as I pass. I’ve come to befriend a few of them this last year and we are now on first name terms. I have been amazed by their dignity, humility and politeness on every occasion I talk to them.

These conversations gave me the idea of a troubled office worker who meets and befriends a young, homeless woman. One of their first tentative, nervous conversations takes place outside the Opera House and that meeting throws them together in an unlikely alliance against a series of natural and supernatural foes who most definitely do not have their best interests at heart.

I’ll post the next location later this evening. Until then thanks for your continued support for The Kirkwood Scott Khronicles.

Book Title Reveal – Part 1

Good Morning. It’s the hottest day of the year so far in Northern Ireland with temperatures pushing 30 degrees celsius. How our pasty bodies are going to cope I have no idea but I thought I’d make the most of the beautiful weather to showcase some of the city scenes that have inspired me for the novel I’m writing at present. It’s an urban fantasy largely set in Belfast that I’ve been working on since last August.

I’ve decided that I can’t keep calling it the ‘novel’ or the ‘book’ any longer. It’s starting to drive me insane so goodness only knows what it is doing to you all. So…..drumroll please….I can exclusively reveal that the books (for I hope the story will cover several) will run under the banner of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Khronicles’. Gasp. I know. Stay tuned to the blog for further details as the day progresses and the opportunity to be a beta reader (guinea pig).

To kick off I thought I’d share some street art that I discovered in an alleyway off the city centre some months ago. This art gave me the idea for one of the book’s central characters and this particular piece of art and the alley where I found it are the backdrop for two of the pivotal chapters in the book. She has a name of course but I’ll keep that under wraps for now. Or maybe you can come up with a better one for her? I’m open to suggestion.

What would you name ‘graffiti girl’?

What do you think of the Kirkwood Scott Khronicles’ as a book title?

All constructive feedback welcome?

Lunchtime In Belfast

So it’s Monday lunchtime and I’m sitting outside the office in the square basking in the warm sunshine. They are predicting a heatwave this week and word has it that Thursday could be the hottest day on record in Northern Ireland. Like ever! All around me office workers are sitting eating their lunches while tourists amble in and out of the imposing St. Anne’s Cathedral just across the street.

I’ve spent the morning within the arctic confines of our open plan office researching the role of the British Army when first deployed in 1969 at the start of the Northern Ireland troubles. It was a brutal period marked by senseless sectarian murders, street riots, explosions and hijackings. It was a time of confusion and carnage. Belfast was the Beirut of Western Europe. The British Government referred to it as an internal security situation.

Who were they trying to kid, it was a war. I grew up in that world although I lived in a relatively quiet rural area and my parents did everything in their power to shelter me from the reality of what was going on in Belfast and other hot spots. Even then I was tainted by the hatred and violence that flooded into our living room every night on the television news. It was everywhere, you could not escape it.

I’m so glad our country is at peace now. Our children will not grow up in that environment. Belfast is a modern, cosmopolitan city now with a thriving tourist industry. Security barriers and bombed out buildings have been replaced by trendy bars and restaurants. You can freely stroll around the city without fear of being caught in the crossfire of a terrorist attack. Another innocent victim. Collateral damage. Today’s headlines, tomorrow’s fish and chip papers.

Belfast is a better place. I sit back and stare upwards at the clear blue skies. When I look back down three rough sleepers pass me by. One of them has no legs and is propelling himself along on a wooden skateboard that looks like it was built in the 1950’s. The last time I saw a disabled person use such a mode of transport was when I visited Eastern Africa several years ago. I had never seen such poverty and thought I never would again.

Yet here it is in 2018 on my own doorstep. I look away in dismay to see half a dozen young people at the other side of the square clearly involved in a drug deal. In broad daylight as the tour coaches pull up outside the cathedral and the camera toting hordes disembark. All in the square outside my comfortable office. All in front of my comfortable life. The same square where two teenage girls brawled viciously the other week, fuelled by copious amounts of cheap cider.

The same square where a young man was viciously raped on his way home from a nearby club. Beneath the shiny veneer this city still stinks. You only have to dig a little and it’s there, the nasty underbelly. How civilised are we really? When we can live in a world that is still overflowing with greed and violence; with poverty and despair. It would be unimaginable if it were not for the fact that it is happening right in front of us.

I want to contribute, I want to make a difference, I want to make this wretched world a better place. I see progress and I see potential. But some days you set eyes on sights that bring all your dreams and plans crashing to the ground. Some days you just want to turn your back on it all as you can’t stomach it anymore. Today was one of those days. And all it took was a lunch break in the dazzling sunshine.

The Secret Of My Excess

When it comes to weaknesses, ice cream has to feature fairly high on my list. My favourite is Maude’s Pooh Bear honeycomb flavour. Plonk a large bowl of that good stuff down in front of me and I’m one happy camper. I could eat it until the cows come home and probably keep going until they have to head out to the fields the next morning again. Brain freeze frightens me not. It requires a brain to freeze for a start.

The down side about downing industrial vats of icy heaven is it’s high calorific content. I reckon if I didn’t exercise the local Fire Service would be required at some point to winch me from the sofa and out of the house through a Stephen sized hole. I’m not greedy but I do have a big appetite. My addictive nature doesn’t help either. Me and the word ‘moderation’ are not on first name terms. I am creature of excess.

I was watching Man v Food tonight where the presenter tried, and heroically failed, to eat a restaurant’s signature ice cream dish which was roughly the size of a small barn. I remarked to Fionnuala that I would have given the challenge a serious rattle. That’s how much I love ice cream. Ploughing through buckets of the stuff would be my idea of bliss. Even if it meant me ending up in the emergency room having my stomach pumped.

Thank goodness I discovered running then. I am pretty much in permanent marathon training this year which means my ice cream fetish can be fuelled with only minimal pangs of guilt. I consume a lot of calories but I also burn off a lot of them. On average a marathon will burn off 3500 of those bad boys. And, believe me, that’s a lot of honeycomb ice cream. Which is a great comforter for aching limbs and blistered feet.

I’ve been known to think of nothing else but ice cream from the 20 mile point onwards in a marathon. It makes the pain worthwhile. The old Stephen would have wanted nothing but an ice cold pint of beer at the finish line. The new me heads straight to the freezer in search of frozen dairy products. The endless miles lead to endless smiles at that point. It’s a temptation that I’m happy to succumb to. It’s harmless and I’ve worked hard for it.

The running and the ice cream balance each other out. The key word in that last sentence is balance. For many years I had no concept of the word. I lived a selfish life where all the cards had to be stacked in my favour. I gorged myself on alcohol, junk food and social media. There were no restraints, no curbs, no brakes applied. It was all or nothing. I wanted it all and pushed and pushed until I was left with nothing.

All of us have weaknesses. We are all flawed, imperfect creations. Some of us have Achilles heels whereas for others this vulnerability occupies their entire body. When it comes to addictive behaviour it is vital that we have checks and balances in place to control our baser instincts. We cannot afford to allow our runaway trains to hurtle uncontrollably down the mountain side. It will only end in carnage.

So I’ll continue my love affair with honeycomb ice cream. But I’ll also keep pounding the roads in order to offset the extra calories. We all deserve a treat or two but it’s important we temper our permitted excesses with discipline, transparency and accountability. Failure to do so can only lead to tears and recrimination. Excess kills success. Control your cravings. Before they control you.

What is your Achilles Heel?

Do you struggle with excess and temptation?

Isn’t It Time You Moved On?

I wasn’t really in the mood to work on the book last night. It had been a long day and I was tired. I forced myself, however, to open my laptop and start editing. The chapter in question was one of the first I had written, some six months ago. I knew it would need a bit of renovation as I feel my writing has improved since I started this journey. The early chapters, I find, require more scrutiny with regards continuity, structure and plot development.

As I read it my heart sank. The words just didn’t flow. The plot was full of holes and as for the quality of the writing? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t one of my finest literary sessions. I began to despair as I read over one particularly clunky segment. How on earth was I going to turn this pigs ear into a silk purse? Surgical intervention was urgently required in order prevent my literary aspirations from flatlining beyond resuscitation.

Then it hit me. Or rather I hit it. The delete button that was. Rather than spend hours attempting to save the poorly paragraph I just pulled the plug. I removed it in its entirety and started writing afresh, but this time from the stronger position that six months additional writing afforded me. This meant I had a much clearer idea of who my characters were and where the story was going. The result was a much improved passage which I knew fitted into the overall story arc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that in real life? Hit the delete button on the less glorious parts of our lives? The seasons we would rather forget about, which leave us squirming with embarrassment? The cruel words spoken that we cannot take back. The selfish actions that we cannot undo. The memories that we would much rather see discarded on the cutting room floor as opposed to playing on an endless loop inside our heads.

Unfortunately we can’t. Or even if we could, should we? Those bloopers and own goals might not make our personal highlights reel but they have contributed towards who we are today. I have realised that becoming a good writer involves a lot of bad writing. Believe me I know for I’ve churned out some shocking stuff that will never see the light of day. But I’ve learnt from it and improved as a result. Any worthwhile process requires a little pain.

We can’t rewrite our pasts but we also shouldn’t beat ourselves up over them. Stuff happened. Stuff that we need to deal with and move on from. If we are continually looking over our shoulders at what is behind us we are more likely to stumble and fall over what lies ahead. Learn from your past, yes, but use the negative as a positive, and then let those sleeping dogs lie. Some bridges are meant to be burnt. Applying a scorched earth policy to the past has its merits.

I seriously need to practice what I preach with regards this topic for I am a master of wallowing in self pity, navel gazing and doom mongering. So this post is written for myself as much as for anyone else. The ghosts of the past will haunt your present and poison your future if you allow them to. It’s time to pack away those toxic toys for you were born for better than that. You were born to live and to thrive. That time is today so cast those chains aside and choose to do so.

Freedom comes at a price. You have paid it. Cut the cord and unshackle those chains. How can you remain a prisoner to your past when you hold the key to the cell door in your hand. You are your own self imposed jailer. Isn’t it about time you handed in your resignation letter and chose a new career path? One more fitting of your many talents. It’s your time. It’s time to move on. All you have to do is take that first step.

Do you dwell too much on your past?

How do you propose to move on?

What Are You Afraid To Blog About Today?

Whenever I scan my WordPress timeline I see a lot of courage. I see broken people talking honestly about their experiences. I see them being open about their flaws and weaknesses. I see a community supporting and encouraging one another through the healing process, one faltering step at at time. I see second, third and forty fifth chances being grasped and held onto for dear life. I see hope, grace and love.

I don’t see much egotism or honesty. There are very few shameless selfies and desperate appeals for likes or followers. I see no trolls or online bullies other than fellow bloggers sharing their past experiences of them. I see no drama but I see trauma. The trauma of life which has caused us to flee to this platform, pulling down the drawbridge behind us. We are besieged but we are together. We are strong.

It is unique and humbling to realise that through mutual brokenness we can unite, heal and rise stronger than ever before. These are the themes I am weaving throughout the book I am working on where a group of outcasts are drawn together to save a world that has turned its back on them. On their own they are nothing but united they become an entirely different proposition.

If you are staring at a blank screen today, wondering what to write about I want to encourage you to start typing. Write from the heart. Speak the truth, loud and clear. Exorcise the demons of shame and pain which are holding you back from who you were created to be. We want to hear your story and celebrate your achievements. In order to do that though you must overcome the fears that continue to drag you down.

Fear is a weed, a toxin, an alien lifeform that poisons our thoughts and actions. It restricts and it contorts. It is a master of disguise and it thrives upon its lies. Whispering them in your ear and your dreams day after day, night after night. It is an occupying force, an aggressor which will consume and subsume you to its treacherous will. It fights dirty. It will kick and scratch and bite. It knows no limits nor depths.

Fear cannot kill you but it can stop you from living. It can stifle and stymie potential and ambition, preventing you from becoming the person you were created to be. But do you want to know a secret? Fear has a weakness, an Achilles heel, that when exposed and exploited will bring it crashing to its knees. That weakness is YOU. Which is why it hates you so much and devotes so much energy towards destroying you.

You can conquer fear, overcome it and send it scurrying back to where it first crawled from. Fear is a bully. It hates to be confronted and exposed for the despicable coward it truly is. Stop running from it. Turn and face it. Raise your sword and strike it down dead in its tracks. Your sword is your story, your weapon the words within you that fear so wants you not to write. Your salvation is staring you in the face every time you stare in the mirror.

You are the superhero you’ve been waiting for all this time. We are a tribe that fear cannot breach. Today I encourage you to embrace the freedom that is fearlessness. Throw off the shackles and stride out of your cell. Live your life and not a life sentence. Expose your fears for what they are. Write about them. For you are not alone anymore. Fear can be conquered. The resistance starts today.

What are you afraid to write about?

Are you brave enough to write about your fears today?

How Was Your Life Before WordPress?

I used to be a closed book. I would bottle emotions up inside me and share nothing with nobody. I prided myself on keeping a stiff upper lip. When I lost my father to prostate cancer I cried just the once, at his bedside during those last eerie moments before he slipped away from us. After that, nothing. I had a funeral to organise. A family to console. And alcohol to drink.

This routine continued for years. I lived in the shadows; secrets and half truths were my constant companions. I hid from the truth for it was a mirror that I did not wish to stare into, a reflection of the man I was becoming, the man I had become. And it was not a pretty sight. I did not like this person and did not want to confront the demons he was battling. So I did what all cowards do when confronted with the truth. I ran away.

A caged beast is an angry beast. Anger is unpredictable, it lashes out where it pleases. It is indiscriminate, there is no rhyme or reason to it. I was very angry. But I hid. I refused the help which was being offered to me and turned my back on those who loved and cared for me. I retreated into a world where I constructed false versions of myself, layers upon layers of deceit and negativity. Nobody knew me for I did not know myself anymore.

I lived online. Twitter, Instagram, whatever. Everything is rosy in those gardens. Roses have thorns though and these thorns drew blood. The wounds I inflicted on myself and others cut deep, leaving scars that remain to this day. Signposts to a past I never intend to return to. I devoured myself, a keyboard cannibal who cared more about likes and retweets than I did about my own flesh and blood. I was a living, breathing, walking crime scene. A detached witness to my own prolonged murder.

I wrote back then. 160 characters of meaningless nonsense at a time. Portraying a life I was not leading. Craving attention in order to fill the aching void within me while neglecting those who needed my love the most. The words meant nothing, there was no substance or passion underpinning them. They were empty words from an empty shell of a man. Distress flares from the sinking ship of my soul which was slipping beneath the black, unforgiving waves with all hands lost.

Then stuff happened. My deluded bubble burst and all around me life crashed in. A necessary pain which purged and cleansed me. I was both branded and scourged clean. The truth revealed itself with a clarity I had never experienced before. I was lucid and thinking straight whereas before I had been deluded and wandering in an impenetrable mental fog. I never thought I would write again online. I had nothing to say. Life had broken me and squeezed me dry of any creative juices I might have once had.

That was before WordPress. An online community when the selfie did not reign; where prose and poetry meant more than pouts and preening. Where damaged souls like myself congregated to heal and lick their wounds; some self inflicted but not all. I write on here most days now. It is my release, my therapy. The words flow where before there was nothing but arid ash. I speak the truth now for myself and for others without a voice.

That’s where I am today. I am a writer. I blog. I’m writing a novel. All thanks to the gentle promptings of a loving wife who believed in me and believed in my talent. Who encouraged me to start this blog some thirteen months ago. Life before WordPress seems a distant memory now. How I managed without writing I’ll never know. But I know this much. It saved me then and it’s saving me now.

How was your life before WordPress?

What difference has blogging made in your life?

The Familiar

I woke before five this morning. It has been a long, hard week of on call duties so you would have thought the weekend would be a time to relax and unwind; to catch up on those lost hours of sleep. Not a bit of it. So here I am writing this post before I get up shortly to take Adam to rugby training. An hour to myself before the chaos of another full weekend cranks into gear and whisks us away.

I am wide awake yet so weary that I can barely keep my eyes open to type these words. It has been a warm night so the fan in our room provides a comforting aural background. It hums like the engine of an aeroplane. I can close my eyes and imagine that I am 40,000 feet in the air on my way to faraway lands on breath taking adventures. Yet when I open them I haven’t moved an inch and am surrounded by familiar sights.

The familiar is my foundation, my bedrock, my cornerstone. It anchors and steadies me. Without it I would be swept away on currents of naivety and insecurity. Some regard the familiar as frustrating and stifling but it is my lifeblood. My familiar keeps me rooted to the truth. This stability feeds my ability without which I would wither into a ball of self pity and apathy. The tree of life never moved so why should I?

This is the golden hour when my head is clear and the words flow effortlessly. The arrows I draw from my quiver fly straight and true, striking their targets with unfailing accuracy. Words are my weapons just like silence is my enemy. When I write I aim to shock and awe the darkness which previously mocked and gnawed at my self belief. When you allow the light to enter your life you can never truly be alone again.

The gentle humming of the fan offers a calmness that allows me to flex my creative joints. It is a benign noise unlike the killer bee swarms of intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions which used to reverberate around my mind morning, noon and night. The familiar is my ally. The thoughts remain but then so do I. Intact and secure. For now? For ever? I cannot say but the familiar is a strong, impenetrable door which keeps the creatures of the night at bay. They snarl and they prowl outside, sniffing and scratching. But they cannot enter.

I am tired but I am sober and alert. Five years plus since I jerked awake to cruel hangovers and crueller memories of the night before and the damage done. I awaken now and look forward with hope and anticipation as opposed to over my shoulder with fear and trepidation. The familiar is crisp and clear and comforting. It is my now and it allows me to reflect upon the wreckage of my past from a safe distance. Those demons have taught me well. I have the scars to prove it.

The familiar is life and there is nothing dull or boring about that. It is ripe with opportunity. It saddens me that it took years of stumbling around in the dark to reach where I am today. Have I left it too late? How I wish I had those wasted years back. But without that waste I would be unable to taste the dazzling potential that lies just out of reach. The familiar is my bridge to what would have been impossible back then. The familiar is a weaver of dreams.

The familiar allows me each day to sift through the gilt and shame of the past to uncover nuggets of wisdom and knowledge. My past was a battleground but I emerged from it victorious and intact. I had to endure the horrors of war in order to enjoy the peace of the familiar. It was my reward and I cling to it every day with pride and faith. It will carry me forward to where I need to be. I need the familiar like an addict needs the needle.

I will get up soon. This hour has been well spent. I hope you think so too and awaken in your own bed surrounded by those you love. They say the truth will set you free but you can only recognise the former and appreciate the latter if you have first been exposed to the lies and served time as their prisoner. The familiar is the key that will unlock your cell door. It is your golden ticket. It is your next breath. Seize it. Cherish it. Protect it. It is you.

How do you spend the first hour of your day?

Have you discovered the power of the familiar?

Where are you at today on your journey?

On Call 24/7/365

I go on on call this morning for the next seven days. On a meh scale of 1-10 this scores a 47.757 in my book but unfortunately it’s part of the job and, to be fair, I do get paid well for it. That doesn’t make it any less of a pain, however. Extra pressure, phone calls in the dead of night, tricky decisions to make and always the fear of making a mistake and falling foul of they who must be obeyed on the top floor.

I’ve been performing on call duties for almost 18 years now and like to think that I’ve always done so to a high standard. I am professional, efficient and effective. I make best use of the resources I have and manage in them in a way that ensures a quality end product. Basically I do the best I can with what I have. And what I don’t know I have the gumption to hold my hands up, admit it, and source an expert opinion from someone who does.

That won’t stop me counting the hours until next Friday morning though. Back in the not so good old days the end of an on call week would have been celebrated with copious amounts of alcohol after a week of work enforced abstinence. Nowadays I just breathe a sigh of relief and crack open a tin of Diet Coke. Being on call sucks. But it’s only one week in seven so I just have to grin and bear it.

As a husband and father I need to be permanently on call for my family. Fionnuala sets the gold standard where this is concerned. She always puts the kids and me before herself and has made many sacrifices for us. Without her our lives would be even more chaotic than they already are. She regularly drops everything for other people and never expects anything in return.

My default setting is a selfish one. I spent many years putting my own needs before those of others. It was all about Stephen and it inevitably ended badly for everyone concerned. I learnt some hard but important lessons. Today I try to be more like my wife. Little things. Like this morning I went to the shop and put diesel in the car as I knew Fionnuala was driving into Belfast later. I did this without being asked to do so. Every long journey begins with a small step.

I am trying to apply these small steps to all areas of my life. Putting others first. My family, my friends, work colleagues. Even total strangers I encounter on my daily commute to and from work. Some days I fare better than others but at least I recognise it is an area I need to address. Being consciously selfish is an improvement on being unconsciously selfish. I’m striving to improve and evolve into a better person.

This is a lifetime process. When it comes to selflessness you need to be on call 24/7/365. 366 if it’s a leap year. You won’t get paid for it; in fact some of the time you don’t even get a thank you. But that’s not why I do it. I do it because I want to help other people – those I like and those I’m maybe not so keen on. It doesn’t really matter. Where I can help, I will. If that person accepts my offer, then great; if not, well not so great, but at least I tried.

The same applies to this blog. Fionnuala and I want to help YOU. We have been through a lot together and hope others can benefit from us sharing our experiences. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. This blog is 24/7/365 or as close as we can get to it. If you are struggling with one of the issues I write about then all you have to do is reach out and we are there for you. There won’t even be a charge.

Do you work on call? What’s it like for you?

On a meh scale of 1-10 how is your day going?

Don’t Press That Button

There is a scene in The Simpsons where Homer finds himself facing a big red button with a large ‘Do Not Touch’ sign above it. You can see his tiny brain wrestling with temptation before he finally cracks and presses the button. Predictably enough, all hell breaks loose. DOH! Homer once again proves himself to be the bungling buffoon that we all love to laugh at. Because none of us would ever do anything so stupid, right?

Er….wrong. I can only speak for myself but I have lost count of the number of times I have faced the same button and succumbed. I know what I am doing is wrong and I know that it will all end in tears. Yet, I do it anyway. And guess what? All hell breaks loose. A decision that takes less than a second to make can lead to a lifetime of repercussions. The ripple effect of your actions can also spill over in the lives of countless others. People we love and care for.

So then why do we do it? What causes the Homer gene to kick in and allow logical, rational thought to fly out the window? When the chips are down why is our integrity and moral fibre nowhere to be seen? There is a saying – the grass is greener on the other side. We are never content with what we have, we always want more. And we are arrogant enough to believe that we can attain it without having to pay a price. A heavy price.

Take King David, a man after God’s own heart. That’s quite the title to live up to – one would imagine that he would be beyond reproach, as pure as the driven snow. He had everything; wealth, fame, more camels than you could shake a stick at. But it wasn’t enough. He became bored and lazy. Rather than leading his men in battle he preferred to lounge about his palace, partying the night away and then rising late the next day.

That’s when he saw Bathsheba. The rest, as they say, is history. His weakness and lack of control led to the death of his son. He paid the heaviest of prices. The Bible is riddled with such weak characters. Men who made bad decisions which ended up backfiring horribly. All because they weren’t satisfied with what they had. They always wanted more – more money, more women, more land. More, More, More. Well, sometimes less is more.

Fionnuala has a favourite saying – if the grass looks greener on the other side then you need to get watering your own side. They are wise words. Focus on what you have around you. You are on that side of the river for a reason. It is where you belong. Over reach and you will either drown in the crossing or realise when you get there that all is not what it seems. All that glitters is not gold. Paths of gold turn out to be the paths of the dead. From where there is no return.

We all have a self-destruct button, an Achilles heel, a chink in our armour. The trick is to be aware of it and put in place processes and people that allow you to overcome the urge to press the button when it is at its strongest. For urges pass. Temptation is not a permanent state of mind. And if you can tough it out you will emerge unscathed on the other side. Do it once and the next time it will be easier. Exposure leads to resilience and resilience culminates in victory.

I did it and so can you. Get watering. Look around. Be grateful for what you have. The other side is a mirage, a lie. Remember these words the next time you are tempted to eat, drink, snort, cheat, lie, whatever. Tell the button to butt out. Say don’t as opposed to doh. Look closely and you will see the other side for what it truly is. A graveyard of weeds. Just waiting to choke the life out of you.

Have you pressed the button before? How did that work out for you?

Are you tempted by the button today? What are you going to do about it?

Morior Invictus

The paths of the dead

Are where we must tread

To vanquish the demons

Who reign in our head

Death itches and twitches

Denying us riches

Our God given right

Morior Invictus

Yet I fear it not

For X marks the spot

New treasures revealed

And an end to the rot.

It Isn’t In Our Blood

Help me

It feels like the walls are caving in

No medicine is strong enough

Someone help me

Feel like I’m crawling in my skin

Sometimes I feel like giving up

But I just can’t

It isn’t in my blood.

Not the words of Stephen Black, average blogger and wannabe author. No, they were written by Shawn Mendes, multi million selling singer/songwriter and teenage heartthrob. Although to be fair we do look very alike. How do I know this you ask? Because Mr. Mendes has stolen the heart of our eldest daughter, Hannah. And his music has been a constant auditory backdrop at Chez Black for the last three months or so. As in incessant. Think Guantanamo Bay interrogation techniques incessant.

We have been exposed to the entire Mendes experience in recent weeks. There has been tension as he has drip fed new songs online to his adoring army who, I am reliably informed, are known as the Mendes Army. In my day you went to a ‘record store’ (ask your parents) and purchased the cassette tape (ask your grandparents) of your favourite artiste on its release date. Money was exchanged. You interacted with another human being. Strange times, I know.

Two weeks ago his world tour dates were released. He was coming to Dublin! Hannah almost passed out. But that was nothing compared to last week when Fionnuala purchased tickets for Hannah and herself to the concert. I think you could have heard Hannah’s screams of delight in Dublin, if not Canada itself, the home of young Mendes. Well, there goes my overtime for last month. But at least I have a very happy daughter.

Despite my best efforts ‘In My Blood’ has wormed its way into my brain like one of those wriggling alien lifeforms always does in science fiction movies. I have found myself involuntarily humming it. Feet have been tapped and rumours of dad rapping to it are not entirely unfounded. I only knew the words to the chorus though and, whenever it came round, would burst into song much to the embarrassment of my mortified teenage daughter.

At dinner the other evening the topic of Mr. Mendes came up. It eventually does in any conversation with Hannah. She was asked what ‘In My Blood’ was about to which she very eloquently explained that it was about Shawn’s own mental health battles with loneliness and anxiety. I was intrigued so googled the lyrics which are partially listed above. I was slightly shocked and more than pleasantly surprised. It was if the song was written about me.

On the surface Shawn Mendes is a hugely successful, talented, confident young man with the world at his feet. Money is no object, he’s on the A list of every party and he could have any girl he wanted. Except our Hannah’s, he’s too old for her! Yet even someone like him can be struck down by the demons of the mind. It is further evidence that nobody is immune to mental health issues in society today. It is reaching epidemic proportions.

It is encouraging that role models like Mendes can come out and discuss their struggles in the media. That takes courage. I will no longer look upon him as just another pretty boy pop star adorning the bedroom walls of my daughter. And I feel slightly less bad now about the dent our bank account has taken over those ticket prices. I’m already undergoing counselling in advance of when she hits his tour merchandising stall in Dublin next April with my debit card.

If you are struggling with your mental health then today is the day to do something about it. Talk to someone about it. It is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Get the help you need in order to live the life you were born to live. Do not allow it to rule your life for you are not defined by it. You can get better because you are better than it. Speak up and break free. Don’t be a slave to it.

It isn’t in your blood….

Please feel free to share any comments or thoughts you have on this post. It’s good to talk.

How To UnSubscribe From A Toxic Relationship

I am notoriously bad at keeping on top of my e-mails. Yesterday I checked my personal account and discovered, to my horror, that I had over 3000 unopened e-mails. Of these I would estimate that 2985 of them were junk that, if I never ever read, I would still die a happy man. My account still looked a giant mess, however. So I decided to have a clear out for fear that buried deep within those 2985 is the one from an international publisher offering me a six figure advance for my as yet unfinished novel.

Because stuff like that happens, right?

As I began to wade through the electronic debris I realised that I was subscribed to numerous mailing accounts who regularly bombard me with communications that frankly I have little or no interest in. I must have been interested at some stage of my life, otherwise I would never have subscribed to them. Although I have no recollection of subscribing to a lot of them. Perhaps I was drunk at the time? Had my account been hacked? Companies selling my e-mail address to other companies?

In order to unsubscribe from these you have to open the e-mail, scroll down to the very bottom of it and hunt around for the minuscule ‘unsubscribe’ link which you then click. You then have to complete a questionnaire explaining to the company why you no longer wish to avail of their service before they graciously announce that your request will be processed within the next 7-10 days.

In the interim I will no doubt continue to receive more garbage from them. Just in case I have a Road To Damascus moment and decide to resubscribe again because life has proven unbearable without them. The entire procedure left me exhausted and a tad dejected. I felt as if I had let the team down. I could see the disappointment and disapproval etched on their faces. I had been made to feel guilty by an anonymous, automated mailing account.

You can only imagine then the problems I’ve had in recent years ‘unsubscribing’ from a number of relationships which I realised had become toxic and unhealthy for me. These were tortuous, complicated extractions where all manner of tactics were deployed in order to shackle and oppress me. Bullying, guilt and emotional blackmail were all utilised and I admit I fell hook, line and sinker for them on numerous occasions. Breaking free took a momentous effort.

These relationships were poisoning my perception and knocking my moral compass out of the ball park. They were incredibly bad for me yet I hung onto them for grim life. I was miserable and unhappy but it took me a long time to realise that they were the primary reason I felt so. I only realised this when I finally cut the cord. The scales dropped from my eyes and I saw the damage and pain that these relationships had been causing myself and the people who truly cared for me.

If you find yourself in a toxic relationship and what I have written strikes a chord then my simple message to you is this – GET OUT! It can be a relationship with of a person; it can be a relationship with food, pornography, alcohol, drugs, anything. Make the cut. Make it quick and make it clean. Because it is a one way relationship of take and no give. The other party is sucking your soul dry. You do not have to justify your self worth and value through them or it. You are better than that.

It won’t be easy. Dragging yourself from quicksand never is. But if you look around you will see others willing to reach out and pull you free. They might be people you have known your entire life. They could be complete strangers. But they are there and they are waiting. The rest is up to you. Either sink back into in the sands of narcissistic abuse and scramble back into the life you were born to live. Choose well. Choose wisely.

Have you escaped a toxic relationship? Or are you currently ensnared in one? We would love if you could share your thoughts and experiences with our online community. Just comment below and get involved.

I’m So Close My Brain Hurts

These last few days I’ve been diligently chipping away at the final chapters of my novel. I finished the ‘big finale’ chapter yesterday and now I’m penning the fallout from that. This includes the impact that recent revelations have had on my central characters in addition to tying up bothersome loose ends plot wise and setting the scene for the next book in the series. For this is just the beginning of a long journey for our heroes.

I’m taking tomorrow off work to finish it. Aspiring authors never seem to have enough annual leave! I hope that this will leave me with a first draft. It will have a creaky plot and even creakier grammar and punctuation but it is what it is – a first draft of a first novel that began last summer when a seed of an idea took root in my head and refused to budge. I started writing it in earnest last November and, 120K words later, here we are.

Where do I go from here? I’m not quite sure but I know I cannot afford to rest on my laurels. There is serious writing and editing ahead, along with a ton of supplementary reading and research to flesh out the back stories of several of the characters. There will be second edits, third edits, twenty seventh edits. Baring my soul to feedback and hopefully constructive criticism. Making decisions as to whether I go down the publishing or self-publishing path. Wondering if it will ever, ever see the light of day.

Whatever happens I will keep you lot updated whether you want me to or not! I’m bursting to tell you more but I’ve been advised to play my cards close to my chest at this stage regarding plot and character details. All I can hope is that my writing style and the themes I am passionate about will resonate with you and tempt you into wanting to dip into the weird and hopefully wonderful world of my skewed imagination.

That is all – Stephen 👍🏻

Is your brain hurting today?

What are you expecting from my first novel?

Why Do You Write?

Why do I bother?

Why do I write?

Why do I struggle with words every night?

To convince all the wronged

The despised and forlorn

That they’re not alone and can survive the scorn.

So I’m penning a story

Of hope and redemption

I’m screaming it loud so I’ll get your attention.

You click and you like and you comment and follow

But have you considered why you feel so hollow?

So empty inside, so frayed at the seams.

Consumed by dark nightmares which once were bright dreams.

Your plight has been sanctioned

Left bitter and vanquished

And try as you might you’re all out of lost chances.

Friendships, romances all of them dead

You made this mess so best lie in your bed.

Your soul is in tatters

You’ve lost all that matters.

Dragged down rabbit holes, you’re the maddest of hatters.

But I’ve been where you are

I will show you my scars

I was dead in the gutter

But could still taste the stars.

Stripped bare but He cared

He reached down to me there

Grace cloaked my disgrace

From the whispers and stares.

So that’s why I write

I’ve recovered my sight

Scales fallen from eyes

To reveal truth and might.

Better times lie ahead

For the damned and the dead

Turn your back to the lies and embrace truth instead.

Why do you write?

I’m Writing A Book….Still

It’s been a quiet week on the novel writing front due to weddings, marathons and life in general. As ever this has raised my anxiety levels but I realise there are only so many hours in the day and I need to sleep at some point. I’m currently working on the final climactic chapters of the first draft which are largely action based and which draw all the main characters for the first time to the one location.

The word count is hovering at just over 100K and I reckon another 20K should do it. I just have to cram in a satisfying conclusion for Book 1 plus enough loose ends to tease the reader into Book 2. This is no easy task let me tell you. I have major decisions to make as I know not all of my main characters are going to see Book 2. Creating and maintaining tension whilst simultaneously remaining credible and ensuring consistency and continuity is a serious feat of mental juggling.

It’s sad putting so much effort into developing characters when you suddenly realise you have reached the end of the road with them. Such sacrifices, however, are necessary for the overall plot and structure. This is dark YA fantasy literature so everyone cannot happily sail off into the sunset much as I might like them to. The main characters are continually walking the paths of the dead and, inevitably, some will not make it to the other side.

Following the first draft the serious editing process begins. My fear is that I discover chapters I wrote some months ago are utterly rubbish and have to start all over again. I’m almost afraid to dip into them again. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and am my own worst critic. I know, as an author, that constructive feedback is essential in order to develop and improve but the scared little boy inside of me is still terrified to take that step. Hopefully it will come with time and experience.

I also have a stack of research work to complete in respect of developing the back stories of several of the main characters. This will involve books on mental health, military history and a plethora of other topics. I warn you now. My characters are an eclectic bunch thrown together by circumstance from all corners of the globe and history onto the streets of modern day Belfast. There will be carnage and lots of it.

I’m currently preparing a review of a book by a well established, published author who contacted me after she read my blog and thought we had similar writing styles. I hope to post that in the next week or so but if any other published or unpublished writers would like me to review their work then please get in touch. I’m also checking out a site where unpublished writers can connect and share feedback and ideas.

As far as the blog itself, Fionnuala posted sneakily yesterday after we passed 5000 followers. I wanted to pass this milestone quietly but, as ever, she had different ideas. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who sent me such kind and thoughtful messages. I’m just me and very undeserving of them but thank you anyway. They have bolstered my confidence and motivated me to forge on with my writing and running.

As for future plans. Well you can expect posts on topics as diverse as the noble art of boiling an egg to the considerably less noble art of catfishing; more of my unique take on famous biblical stories; and news of my next marathon project which I hope to tackle during the summer months. Plus all of the usual crazy nonsense that incorporates our million mile an hour lives. Thank you again for your continued support.

Are you a published or unpublished author? Where are you at on your journey?

Would you read a dark fantasy adventure set in modern day Belfast with spiritual and historical themes as detailed above?

All feedback is much appreciated. Please post your comments below.

The Vultures Are Circling

Life can seem pretty perfect at times. Everything is trundling along just as it should be and we are enveloped in the comforting glow of permanent sunshine. We are in love and loved. We are healthy and bursting with positivity for the future. We have big plans and bigger dreams. Our family form a protective circle around us. Nobody is missing. Everything is as it should be.

Our friends are genuine, loyal and ever present. They are there for us, just as we are for them. They are selfless and attentive, responding to our needs and concerns as we do theirs. They are relationships based on trust and equality. There is no Judas in the room, no silent assassin the shadows waiting to lunge forward and slide a dagger of deceit between our ribs. Piercing organs, tasting death.

We are physically and mentally strong. We fear nothing. The demons within us are silent for they have been conquered and vanquished. Where once they were sovereign and many they are now scattered and few. They skulk in the shadows of our psyche, licking their wounds and dreaming of times when they wreaked havoc and rampaged through our consciousness, hellbent on destroying everything we held sacred.

We are confident and comfortable as we stand on the ramparts and look out across the plain. We see no dangers on the horizon, no dust clouds to indicate an approaching enemy. Our defences are high and strong. We raise our faces to the blue skies above and let the sun caress our skin. Yes, life is perfect. For we have made it that way through our blood, sweat and tears. We have built this sanctuary with our own hands. We deserve no less.

But suddenly something catches our attention high above. The tiniest of specks. Just the one…no wait…two….three. Silently circling our citadel of calm. Circling. Waiting. For the inevitable storm is coming. It could arrive in the dead of night when the phone rings unexpectedly. Or it may be more subtle and innocuous. An innocent text message, a conversation, a glance. That is when they will swoop from above.

When they do it will be sudden and brutal. They will take no prisoners and they will show no mercy. Their goal is a simple one – your complete and utter destruction. They will butcher everything and everyone you once held precious until the streets are awash with blood and the cries of the desperate are silenced. Then they will turn and laugh in your face. For you knew nothing after all. You are broken and beaten, your fortress lying in ruins around you.

Rain or shine, they are always there. Our hovering harbingers. Their eyes miss nothing, they are ever vigilant. Their patience is immeasurable. Waiting, always waiting. For the slightest chink in your armour, the tiniest gap in your defences. And when that first breach is made they will flood through with an unprecedented fury, slaying all those foolish enough to stand in their path.

So use these days wisely. When all around you seems serene never let your guard down. Never become complacent, never relax. For that is all they require. One lapse, one slip, one moment of madness. Then you will look to the skies above and watch helplessly as your carefully constructed world implodes around you. Their joy is your devastation. The vultures are coming….

How are your defences today? Do they require bolstering?

Are you aware of vultures circling above in your life?

I’m Broken. Are You?

I’m broken.

There I’ve said it. I’m in bits. And you know what. I’ve never felt so good. Why you may ask? Have you finally lost the plot, Stephen, and floated off to the land of fairies and pixie dust? Possibly but let me explain. Then if you still think I’ve lost my senses I’ll quite happily wait for the men in white coats to come and cart me off the nearest secure facility. Deal? Great. Then I’ll proceed.

For many years I thought I was the Big ‘I am’. I knew best and anyone who thought otherwise was a clueless fool who didn’t deserve my attention. I knew best when it came to my work/life balance. I knew best when it came to my mental health. I knew best when it came to my alcohol consumption. I knew best when it came to my addictive and inappropriate behaviour. I knew best.

Then one day I realised that I didn’t, that in fact I knew nothing. I knew nothing about the needs of my loved ones. I knew nothing of the hurt I had caused them. I knew nothing of the long term damage I was causing myself and others. I knew nothing of the depths I had sank to in my endless pursuit of the next high, the next thrill, the next rush. Anything to fill the ragged, gaping hole inside of me that, try as I might, I could not breach.

Realising that you are in fact clueless as to how you have been leading your life is a sobering thought. Some refer to it as the end of the road, others rock bottom. Either way, most regard it as a dark place from which there is no return. Where you lie shattered and twisted, beyond redemption. Brokenness is seen as the end, a failure that irrevocably defines you. It is the end. I disagree. I view brokenness as the beginning.

The best thing about hitting rock bottom is that you can’t go any lower. Impact is preferable to continued free fall. It is liberating as it instigates a change that you must accept. Brokenness makes us face the reality of who we are. We can no longer hide in a world of fantasy and lies. We have no option but to take a long, hard look at ourselves in the cold light of day. We might not like what we see but it is the truth. And the truth is the key that will set us free.

When you are broken you are forced to choose a path. You can lie there in a mangled heap at the bottom of your pit of pity or you can rebuild. Brokenness offers hope, a new start and a new way. Less than two years ago I lay broken. Mentally and spiritually. I chose to rebuild. I started to glue the pieces back together again. A slow, painful process for all concerned but a process all the same.

The glue can be whatever you need it to be. For me it was my family and fractured faith. They were my therapy. They led me to this blog where I chose to bare my soul on a regular basis. A risk I know but one I was prepared to take, one I needed to take. A safe place where I could lick my wounds and breathe again. A place where I discovered a community of equally broken souls. Trying to find their way back to the light.

There is beauty in our brokenness. The cracks expose our old, toxic selves and allow the bitter bile of our past lives to seep away, drop by drop. Brokenness purges and cleanses us. It allows the light to flood in and reveal who we really are. And if we choose not to flinch and look away we can see our real selves waiting to be reborn and rise from the mess that was. Ready to start again. Broken yet yearning to be whole again.

I was broken but I strive to be whole again. This blog is part of that journey. It will be a year old in a couple of weeks and is just one of the steps on the ladder I have climbed to emerge from the dark abyss where I once lay bruised and bleeding. If you are lying in that same abyss today facing a similar fate know this – it is an opportunity to rebuild. You can go no lower. Seize that first rung and start to haul yourself back to the life you were born to live.

Brokenness is a gift. Take it. Unwrap it. Use it. Today.

I’m broken. Are you?

If Love Is A Mist….

If love is a mist

Then I must persist

For cords of affliction

And wisps of addiction

Are flogging my faith on a rack of derision.

The demons are screaming

Stop me from believing

Oozing lies, succubi

Leave me battered and bleeding.

Their hunger is fed

On the paths of the dead

As my starved, broken soul craves the wine and the bread

Cutting ties, crushing lives

We can all sympathise

But the blame lies with me

Wrapped in guilt, when once free

Destruction their function

Impaled at this junction

Slicing my soul without fear or compunction.

Yet I will resist

I’ll repent and desist

And walk through the mist

Towards fresh joy and bliss.

For this kingdom of sighs

Will give way to new life

And I will be vanquished

A thorn in their side.

Embracing Anxiety

Today is the day of my last long run before the Belfast Marathon in just over two weeks time. I’ve worked out my route and hydration strategy; I’ve decided what gear I’m going to wear; the weather is dry and mild. Now it is just a matter of going out and doing it. I know I’m capable of it as I’ve completed such distances many times before. Yet as I type these words I feel nervous and worried.

Why? I have no idea. It’s just me. I am a natural born worrier. If I didn’t have something to worry about then I would be worried. The only way to overcome the anxiety is to confront the problem and dive headlong into it. I know that once I get a few miles into the run I will be fine. All feelings of self doubt will disappear and my confidence will soar. I will actually start to enjoy the experience and wonder why I got so worked up in the first place.

It is the same with every aspect of my life be it family or work matters. Before every important event or meeting my worry levels rise to a crescendo before melting away the minute said event or meeting commence. You would think that decades of experience would teach me that worrying was counterproductive and pointless but every time the old routine kicks in and my own personal Groundhog Day is repeated.

Our bodies and minds are constantly battling chains and shackles that delight in tying us up in knots and denying us from becoming the people that we were created to be. We are at A but we are destined to be at Z. How do we get there? By overcoming the hurdles and barriers that ourselves and others place in our paths to deny us our destinies. It can be a person, an event or situation, an illness or addiction.

Whatever it is, it is strong and relentless. And if you allow it to it will suffocate your dreams and snuff out your potential. It will win if you allow it to. Somehow, and from somewhere, you have to find the courage and conviction to overcome it. You need to stand tall, look it in the eye and tell it NO! No, you won’t let it win. No, you are not going to give up this time. And no, the cycle of submission is not going to be repeated.

I won’t sugarcoat it for you. It will not be easy. After 21 miles today my body will be tired and aching. But the feeling of achievement and satisfaction will far outweigh any temporary physical or mental discomfort. The worry and anxiety will have been left far behind on the road along with the negative thoughts and doubts. You will have broken free. And breaking free is a form of rebirth. You have become a stronger, braver version of you.

If you are reading this today and experiencing the doubt and fears I have described I would encourage you to lace up your metaphorical running shoes and run straight at that problem or situation that is weighing so heavily upon you. We can’t run away from our problems but we can run towards them and through them. Eventually you will emerge on the other side. Where you are meant to be. Battered and bruised possibly. But alive. And free.

Change is painful. Change is frightening. But in order to improve we need to embrace it. In order to become better people we need to become better at dealing with change. Anxiety and worry magnify the fear of change to the extent where we cower away from it. Today is the day to stop cowering. Face it. Embrace it. I’m away for my run and I’ll see you on the other side. Who’s with me?

Are you shackled by worry and anxiety? How do you deal with it?

What aspects of your life would you like to change?

Binge

Sometimes a word settles in my mind and refuses to budge. I suppose that’s the joy of writing. We get obsessed with words. They are our tools, the vehicles or medium through which we communicate our thoughts to the outside world. It’s my birthday at the end of the month (please no need for presents) and if you asked me what I truly needed at the moment (as opposed to wanted) then I’d probably plump for a thesaurus.

Rock & Roll I most certainly am not….

Todays word? Well the clue is in the title. Well the clue is the title. It’s binge. So I googled it as I don’t have a thesaurus….yet; and discovered that it originates from a 19th Century English practice where wooden vessels were immersed or soaked in water in order to allow the wood to swell and seal up any cracks so as to prevent leaking. Mind. Blown. It was a positive, practical activity in order to stop boats sinking when launched.

Of course all good things come to an end and the word soon became slang for excessive drinking; people would literally immerse or soak themselves in alcohol. And today the term has been expanded to include any excessive activity. We binge. Be it alcohol, drugs, food, Netflix or whatever. It is when we consume something or someone to excess. The positive, practical meaning of the word has largely disappeared. It has been replaced by more negative connotations.

I have binged throughout my adult life. I am impulsive and display obsessive, compulsive traits that verge on addictive. I do not know the meaning of the word ‘moderation’. With me it is a million miles per hour or not at all. I have binged on food, alcohol, social media and people. My foot was permanently on the accelerator and before I knew it, too late, I had caused another car wreck. I need and I want but I rarely think. Think of the damage I am causing myself and others through the act of binging.

When we binge the object of our excess becomes an idol. It becomes an all consuming sun that blinds us from reality and obscures us from the people and activities around us that really matter. We have no internal alarm system that tells us to slow down or stop. We fly too close to the sun and, like Icarus in the famous fable, our wings are burnt and we plummet to our doom. We are destroyed by that which we loved. Our act of love towards the idol becomes an act of hatred towards ourselves.

The people that used to matter no longer seem to matter. We binged. Our wings singed. And we fell. To our hell. Our idols made us idle. To the truth. We become disoriented and end up lost and confused. To binge is to run in an ever decreasing circle. A maddening maze from which there is no escape. It is as infuriating as it is illogical. When you binge it is like running a race wearing blinkers. You are oblivious to your external environment and can focus on nothing but the object of your desires. The object of your destruction.

I’m not quite sure how the original positive meaning of the word ‘binge’ was contorted into the largely negative associations it has now. Why can’t we binge on the good stuff? Family, friends, exercise, art, literature? Why can’t we binge on loyalty, love and life? I guess we can and do except we use different words to describe those actions and emotions. The difference as I see it is a loss of control. When we binge we lose control. And loss of control will invariably end in heartache and despair.

It’s time to take control again and bin our binging proclivities. I still am vulnerable to binging tendencies but the good days now far outweigh the bad. If you are currently in a binging cycle I want you to know that it can be broken and you can emerge on the other side. You might not be unscathed but you will be alive. Freedom is a possibility. I can’t wave a magic wand and make it all disappear but I can offer hope. There is always hope. Cling to it. You are better than the binge.

Do you binge? Or have you in the past? Our community would love to hear your stories. We are non judgmental and supportive. Please comment below if you would like to get involved.

Alternatively if you would feel more comfortable communicating in private we can be contacted via the blog’ ‘contact’ tab.

Swallow Your Pride. Swallow The Pill.

I have felt my mood spiralling steadily downwards throughout the week. This has trickled into my writing which has been largely negative and downbeat. I don’t apologise for this as I have always said I would write honestly on this blog. Those who choose to read it see the good, the bad and the frequently ugly. Warts and all. I spent too long living a lie on social media so this latest incarnation is, if nothing else, a truthful one.

The reason for this? Quite simple really. I never bothered to order my repeat prescription for Escitaloprem which I take on a daily basis to combat OCD, Anxiety and Depression. It’s one little, white pill a day but they make all the difference to my mood and outlook on life. Without them I start to feel irritable, edgy and miserable within a few days. Negative thinking takes over and the familiar voice in my head starts to whisper those familiar words.

You’re useless. You’re a failure. You’re a laughing stock. You’re hopeless. You’re a terrible husband, father and son. You are an utter nobody. You are a sad, little man going through yet another mid life crisis. You can’t write and you will never make a second career from it. You have no friends and there is a very good reason for that. They all saw through you, saw you for the fool you were. Nobody wants anything to do with you. You are nothing.

I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift. When I’m at home with Fionnuala and the kids I feel safe and loved. But the moment I step out of the front door it sets in. This overwhelming fear. I compare myself to others and every time fall painfully short. Former friends snub me. Others would cross the road if they saw me. Messages are not returned and phone calls are not picked up. Outside of my family I am lonely and unwanted. This came to a head last Saturday when I ran a half marathon along with 3500 other people and didn’t speak to another person the entire time I was there.

I avoided people I used to run with. I hid in my car before the race and left the moment I crossed the finishing line instead of hanging around to mingle and chat like everybody else. It is a dark cloud, a black dog and it envelops everything in its path. This continued into my working week. I have been largely disinterested and demotivated, plodding through the motions. I have to get up and go to work for my family. Today I forced myself to pick up the phone and re-order the prescription. I will get it tomorrow and know I will be back on an even keel by the weekend.

It annoys me that despite my wonderful wife and children I still need that pill. Despite holding down an important and respected job I still need that pill. Despite my running and writing which are incredible stress busters I still need that pill. Despite all the many positives I have going for me I have still found it difficult to look in the mirror this week. I still feel an outsider, a loser, a nobody. All because I chose not to swallow a little, white pill. The crutch that I fear I will have to lean upon for the rest of my days.

I’m a husband and I struggle with my mental health. Im a father and I struggle with my mental health. I’m a son and I struggle with my mental health. I’m a blogger and I struggle with my mental health. I’m a marathon runner and I struggle with my mental health. I’m an aspiring author and I struggle with my mental health. I’m a Christian and I struggle with my mental health. I’m a well paid manager and I struggle with my mental health. I struggle when I don’t take the pill.

I need to swallow my pride and swallow the pill. It restores me to who I want to be. The pill and nothing else. Not work, not church, not anything. The pill. We need to accept sometimes that we are powerless to depression and need to accept all the help we can get. If you’re in a similar situation tonight I would implore you to swallow your pride and swallow the pill. If it’s what you need to function and face the world. Don’t be an idiot like me. Order you prescription. Collect your prescription. Take your prescription. Please.

Please feel free to share your own experiences of prescription medication below. This blog was written to support and encourage within our community.

For It Was Written Long Before You

I wear my heart upon my sleeve. Pick at the stitches, watch it bleed. I thought it contained all my needs. Yet I was wrong, so wrong and now. I watch the scarlet droplets one by one. Communion wine upon my tongue. The acrid fumes they fill my lungs. And I am done.

I’m done with all the hollow words. I’m done with following the herd. The vacuous nothingness I yearned. The chances spurned, the bridges burned. Scorched earth and ashes fill my urn. Fresh lashes tear my skin and burn. Hard lessons learned.

I spurned fresh opportunities galore. So I could gorge myself on more. The score was settled long ago. But on I forged, ablaze with sin. Oblivious to the deafening din. Of voices old and voices new. Imploring me to start afresh. To step out of my stinking mess.

I wore my heart upon my sleeve. You watched me grieve in silence though. I started high yet finished low. The perfect storm, I can’t conform. I am the eye, the sickening still. Imploring you to heed my will. You watched me from that bloody hill.

I was a sick man, not a slick man. A blinded patient with no patience. Demented by fermented juices, hanging over, dry and useless. Dreaming of those silken nooses. Choking on my wordless mucus. Intervention, not attention saved me; days too dark to mention.

The light it came, I sought it not. I’m standing at a desolate plot. You can be proud of me again. I kicked my habits to the flames. They burn and squirm and beg for mercy. Silently I take their curses. Turn my eyes to ancient verses. Holy words from empty churches.

I tear my heart from off my sleeve. I empty it of fear and greed. And fill it with these words of glory. Dripping from that Cross so gory. Wisdom etched in ancient stories. For it was written long before you. Words of love sent to restore you.

My Big Fat Irish Black Toenail

Half Marathons are great fun. You pay the organisers £27 for the privilege of running for nearly two hours whereupon you end up a big, aching, sweaty mess. At the end you queue ten minutes with hundreds of other aching, sweaty messes for a banana, chocolate bar and bottle of orange juice. I’m off chocolate at the minute so I took that home for Fionnuala. You also get an (admittedly) pretty cool medal and T-Shirt. That fits like a Small even though I ordered a Large.

I woke up the following morning to discover that I had obtained another race memento. A black toenail. The big toe on my left foot to be precise. Don’t worry. I’m not going to post a photo of said toe as I fear that would be a bridge too far for many of you. Suffice to say it’s not a pretty sight. Just one of the many perks of being a decidedly average distance runner. Along with blisters, stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. Don’t know what the last one is? Google it. Or look it up in the dictionary under ‘Agony’.

It’s not painful but strangely fascinating in a hypnotic kind of way. It has a mesmeric quality that enthrals and repulses in equal measure. I reckon I could have snagged a role as an extra in ‘The Greatest Showman’ along with Wolverine, Troy Bolton and that lady with the beard. Apart from the fact that I can’t sing. Or act. Trifling details I know but anyway. Had I sustained this injury around Halloween I reckon I would have been a massive hit with the local trick and treating community. Yup, I would have been pulling them in from miles around. Roll up! Roll up! See the man with the blackest toenail in Ireland. Vomit inducing guaranteed or your money back.

Bruises are par for the course when it comes to running, or any physical activity. We pick them up as we traipse through life and wear them like an external purple badge of honour before they go that horrible yellowy-green colour and then fade away. Some are bigger than others, some last longer than others but even the most gruesome one should eventually disappear. They are a temporary phenomenon and if we are just patient enough the body will do what it does best – heal itself.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said for bruised hearts and souls. We accumulate them just as easily as we travel through life. They aren’t as visible though and we hide them away rather than admit we are hurting and in need of help. We hope they will fade away in time and some do. But others are so deep that we carry them around for life, damaged and broken, unable to cope with what has happened and unwilling to reach out for aid. These invisible bruises are uglier than any busted toenail and the ripples of repercussion emanating from them can echo through lives and generations.

Every day I read about fellow bloggers who are nursing these invisible bruises. WordPress is the one safe place where they can reveal their wounds to the world. Many choose anonymity as they are still too raw and painful to publicise. We are all damaged goods. Damaged by others. Damaged by ourselves. Damaged by the random awfulness of life. Addiction, Depression, Anxiety, Physical Disability and Illness, Bereavement, the list is endless. Suicidal thoughts and images of self harm. They haunt my timeline and scar my thoughts. They impact me deeply.

Fionnuala and I want to remind you that you are not alone. We started this blog in order to reach out and help others. We are all broken but we are not beyond repair. Healing is possible. If you feel the need the talk then please do – we have a private e-mail which you can access via the ‘contact’ or ‘prayer request’ tabs on the blog site. Please use it. Some of my posts have been quite negative of late. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I want you to see my bruises as I know no other way to write. So I rant and I rave but it’s only because I care.

I’m going to post a poem later *collective groan* titled ‘Bruises’ but until then know that you are not alone. Not as long as this blog exists.

What Is Your Worst Habit?

Fionnuala often affectionately tells me (at least I hope it is affectionate. Can you be affectionate and annoyed at the same time?) that if there is an awkward way to do something then I will find it. Take Lent for example. My sincere intention to refrain from biscuits, chocolate and crisps lasted all of…oh….let me see now….around 4 minutes. I displayed all the willpower of an anaemic gnat before I went snuffling off to the cupboard in search of sugary sustenance.

My ‘problem’ reached new heights (or depths depending on your perspective) over Easter itself when I devoured anything remotely unhealthy within arms reach. My eating Everest was a huge (as in HUGE) Cadbury’s chocolate Fruit & Nut egg which Fionnuala bought me as otherwise I would probably have sulked when the kids got their eggs. Or stolen them. So it’s my wife’s fault really. She forced me to cram every last chunk of it into my greedy gullet. I’m the innocent party in all of this don’t you see? Don’t you??

A chocolate egg. With raisins in it! And nuts!! What evil genius created this delicious delight. I was powerless in its grasp. Fast forward to the following morning and I woke up with a momentous food hangover. I felt nauseous, sluggish and very, very guilty. I’m a binge eater and with my running I can largely get away with it. I don’t put on much weight and if I do I tend to lose it fairly quickly again. Yet that morning I felt rubbish and resolved I was going to eat healthily between now and the marathon in just over a months time.

That’s right. I’m giving up chocolate…..after Lent!

It’s back to front thinking of the highest order but that’s the beauty of life. You can make a decision to change at any time and contrary to popular belief it doesn’t just have to be on 1st January. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad habits down the years. I’ve successfully knocked some on the head while others have proven more difficult to shake off. I would include a chronic Diet Coke problem, nail biting (just fingers, not toes) and binge eating in the latter category. Fionnuala has also mentioned my talking and breathing at times but I’m pretty certain this was in the heat of the moment and she didn’t really mean it.

I am proud that these bad habits are relatively minor in the greater scheme of things and that the bigger demons I have slain have far outweighed them in terms of significance. I also contend that my good habits now outnumber the not so good ones. It’s all part of the process of trying to become a better human being as you battle through life. You mess up, you learn from it and you resolve to do better the next time. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. The day you stop doing that is the day you might as well throw them towel in.

So I have a challenge for you all. I’m off all the aforementioned junk food until 7th May. I want YOU to join me. What bad habit are you willing to kick into touch for the next month and possibly beyond? Comment below and we can create an online accountability network. If it is a sensitive or private issue then feel free to send an e-mail. You are greater than your worst habit. Give it up rather than simply giving up. You will be shocked and surprised with the levels of willpower and discipline you can dredge up.

What is your worst habit?

What habit are you prepared to give up for the next month and possibly beyond?

Isn’t It Time You Stepped Out Of Your Tomb?

We all get buried alive at some point in our lives. It can be of our own doing or we may have been the unwitting victims of other people or circumstances beyond our control. Either way we come to our senses covered in dust and fumbling around in the darkness for some way out. The air is stifling and we can feel the panic rising in our throats. Our natural inclination is to scream. But who would hear us if we did?

You see that’s one of the annoying things about tombs. You don’t get many people hanging around them apart from the occasional loved one paying their respects. Or possibly a rogue gravedigger or gardener squeezing in a bit of overtime before the Easter break. Normally though tombs are pretty deserted places. Just you and your thoughts. So there’s no point really in screaming. Looks like you are going to have to figure your own way out of this predicament.

Which brings me to Awkward Issue Number Two. Tombs are kind of designed so as occupants have no problem getting into them but when it comes to leaving again, well that’s a whole different ball game. Once you’re in there nobody really expects you to have a change of heart and leave again. There are no fire exits, no secret compartments and no skylights. It’s one way traffic so sit back and make yourself comfortable. You’re not going anywhere in a hurry. That big, old boulder isn’t going to budge an inch no matter how hard you huff and puff at it.

Hmmmm. This isn’t going so well is it? Looks like we’re well and truly stumped here. If only we had Jesus to exert some of that supernatural power of his and roll away that pesky boulder as if it was a tiny pebble. Oh hang on a minute, we can. Or if Jesus isn’t your thing why don’t you hang your hat on whatever your understanding of a ‘Higher Power’ is. It can be Brahman or Buddha or any other spiritual life force you choose but choose quick cos you’re not getting out of here on your own.

It’s time to realise you’ve messed up and you don’t know how to make things better. Once you’ve handed that over it’s half the battle. You’re buried alive under tonnes of guilt, shame, lies, sin, whatever. It can be an addiction, a toxic relationship, a mental health or eating disorder, anything. But whatever it is you are six feet under and the rest. You’re running out of air and there’s no sign of the cavalry coming over the horizon. You are sunk without a trace.

Now nice and slowly. Hand it over.

Pray. Scream. Throw some stuff around if it makes you feel better. Hey, you can even curse if you want. This isn’t church and I won’t be telling. But when you’re done I can guarantee that you’ll feel better. For you’ve taken that first step. Accepting that your situation is out of control and that you need help. Acknowledging that things can be better and you want to keep walking in that direction. Having faith that whatever it is you have chosen to cling to will somehow get you back to a life worth living.

What’s that? A slight rumble at first but slowly it increases in volume. Dust starts to cascade from the ceiling, the ground beneath your feet begins to shake. Thin shafts of light permeate the gloom as the supposedly immovable object rotates ever so slowly away to reveal daylight outside. Fresh air seeps into your starved lungs and you rub your eyes in disbelief. Can this be real? You’re free? Or at least starting out on the road to freedom. Armed with faith, hope and the love of others who have been through what you are going through and survived to tell the tale.

Three steps and you’re there. Accepting the problem is out of your control. Handing it over to a power higher than yourself. And then accepting the help of wiser, experienced people who have walked the same road. My hope today for you is that if you are reading this, entombed and lost that you realise that all is not lost. All tombs can be breached and no stone is too heavy not to be rolled away. Light will always extinguish darkness and love and faith will always overcome anguish and despair. Just believe and step out into the garden.

Are you in a tomb? Have you extricated yourself from one in the past? Please share you experiences below.

Scraps

Meet Charlie the Border Terrier. He’s the sixth member of the Black Clan. I thought he deserved a post written about him because 1. I’ve written about everyone else and didn’t want him feeling left out. Dogs have feelings too y’know and 2. He can’t write for himself like the others can. Dogs can’t write y’know. Or at least none of the dogs I hang about with.

So what can I tell you about Charlie. Well. He’s six years old and we’ve had him since he was a puppy. He is the world’s friendliest dog. He is also the world’s most untrainable dog and believe me we have tried. In the end we just gave up. He’s either too stupid or too intelligent to obey even the most basic of commands. I’ve always given him the benefit of the doubt and plumped for the latter. Although there are days I have my doubts.

Charlie loves sleeping, barking, eating and having his belly scratched. In no particular order. He hates baths, cats and being told to get off the sofa. He is in love with Fergie, the little white Shih Tzu who lives next door. And she is in love with him. They are the Romeo and Juliet of the canine world. But alas their love will never be consummated. For their nasty human owners do not want to be ankle deep in Border/Shih Tzu puppies anytime soon. Shame on us.

Every morning I pour Charlie fresh water and set a bowl of dog food in front of him. Expensive, nutritious dog food, no cheap nonsense for our Charles. And every morning he looks at me with an expression that says ‘What you expect me to eat this muck? before sulking off to his cage for the remainder of the morning. Eventually he will reluctantly eat it if there is nothing else on offer all the while shooting me daggers and muttering under his breath about canine rights. We are cruel, unreasonable human beings and he lets us know this in no uncertain terms.

There is a pecking order in our house and I know where I stand in it. Somewhere roughly between Charlie and the front door. As in ‘Well if you don’t like it, then there’s the front door.’ Charlie has me wrapped around his little finger, I mean paw, and every night when we sit down for dinner positions himself beneath me where he bombards me with his most long suffering, hang dog expressions. Mug that I am I always cave in and end up feeding him scraps from my plate. He will happily gorge himself on these while his bowl of dog food sits untouched in the corner of the kitchen.

We can all be a bit like Charlie. Begging for scraps from a table while our perfectly acceptable meal lies discarded and untouched. Why we do have this insatiable need to crave more and not just be content with what we have? For it is more than enough if we would only open our eyes and inhale the truth. Scraps cannot fill us. They just leave us hungry for more, never satisfied, never full. Hunger leads to bad choices and poor judgement. It is a path that can only lead downwards.

Scraps are unhealthy and unedifying. You are better than that. Look in the mirror and see the person you are. You were created to sit at a table with those that love you and respect you. To dine on love, compassion and respect. Not scurry around on the floor barely existing on the occasional morsel thrown your way. One more like on social media, one more empty compliment, one more night out with people who have little time for you when sober. Is that really what you want? Really?

The people who matter are right before your eyes. Every day. They hang around because they see something in you that you cannot see for yourself. That you are special. That you are enough for them. They accept you for who you are. You do not need to change for them, you can drop the exhausting charade. All they ask is that you sit with them, spend time with them and believe. Believe in what they believe. That you are a good person, that you are complete and that, by acknowledging and accepting this, you complete them as well. They are your grass and it shines a brilliant green. You need never cross to the other side again.

Have you a pet? Who wears the trousers in that relationship?

What are your experiences of feeding on scraps?

Achilles Heel

Achilles heel. Scabbed. Won’t heal. Pick at it. Secrets revealed. Itching. Twisting. Tired of bitching. Peel it off and start again. Take the pain but what remains? Scarlet blood flows free and proud. Love and grace replace disgrace. Grit your teeth to save your face. Love again to run your race.

Achilles heel. Tensed and taut. Athletes crouch and pistols pop. Off they hurtle down the track. Forward. Onwards. Don’t look back. Sinews straining. Years of training. And for what? A crowning glory? Crowds are roaring. But if it snaps a different story.

Achilles heel. Ancient tales. Heroes turning in their graves. Arrows piercing exposed skin. Unsheathed swords sliding within. Scraping bone and piercing organs. Writhing hydras. Towering gorgons. Monsters unleashed. Ravenous beasts. Havoc wreaked. An end to peace.

Achilles heel. Guard it well. For heels are gateways to a hell of such dimensions that it will melt away all your pretensions. And leave you bony, broken, baffled. All hope snaffled. Life’s a raffle and you have lost. What’s the cost? Pay the ferryman and come across.

Achilles heel. Doesn’t matter if you run or walk, limp or crawl. He’ll welcome you all. With open arms and boundless charm. No need for pyrotechnics or alarm. But once you’re in the doors are locked. The clocks are stopped. The lights go out. You learn your plight. Eternal night.

Achilles heel. Painfully real. We all have two and here’s the deal. Slice open one you’ve still a chance. To get away, still save the day. But lose the second and you’re down. A helpless mess upon the ground. Vultures circle high above. Hyenas feast upon your blood. All for what for you gained naught.

Achilles heel. So now you’re dead. Scavengers fed and long since fled. And what of you? A pile of bones, stripped of your pride and left alone. No wifi here or mobile phones. But never fear. You won’t be bored. For we have so much to explore. New depths of pain you’ll not ignore.

Achilles heel. And here it ends. The train wreck just around the bend. You knew it all yet you knew nothing. The years of lies, deceit and plotting. It brought you here where you’ll remain. Eternal pain, forever stained. Alone and shackled in your chains. And there is only you to blame.

Who Are Your Favourite Bloggers?

I’m always delighted and slightly surprised when someone compliments me on my writing. It’s that inbuilt inferiority complex that I have dragged around behind me for most of my life. A nasty case of you’re-not-good-enough-itis. For many years I was so disenchanted with myself that I hid behind different characters that I created in order to gain attention and cover up the many glaring flaws that I perceived as having.

It took me to the brink in more ways than one. I almost lost everything. But over the last year or so I have come to the conclusion that maybe I’m not such a bad person after all. Maybe there is hope for me and a purpose for my life. And that is why the majority of my writing focuses on my faith, family and fitness. For they are the three constants in my life that I have clung on to when the rest of my world has been crumbling apart. Likewise they have been the foundations on which I have started to rebuild.

This blog has been part of the rebuilding process. The more I have written and revealed myself to the blogging community the more you have supported and encouraged me. It has been refreshing and invigorating to discover a social media platform where people put others first and talk openly and honestly about their lives and struggles. Where vanity and ego play second fiddle to compassion and selflessness. If only Facebook, Instagram et al could follow that example.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. Personally I’ll take the thousand words any day of the week. The rampant selfie culture holds no interest for me anymore. Beauty fades, prose and poetry do not. They are timeless and irreversible. New words lead to new worlds. Worlds overflowing with possibilities and opportunities. Words bring people together and create caring communities where before there was separation and isolation.

WordPress typifies this bringing together of like minded souls. So the purpose of this post today is to further promote and spread our community. If you would like to I would encourage you to either reblog or post a link to your favourite blog or blogs below. This will create a list of new sites for people to check out and follow. It is about putting others before ourselves and encouraging fellow bloggers to write and read more.

Why Are We Ashamed Of Our Mental Health?

I have had full blown man flu (aka a slight cold) this week and have made a point of ensuring that the entire world has known about it. Bar putting a two page advert in the local newspaper I have done everything humanly possible to squeeze the last drop of sympathy from my cynical family and largely unsympathetic work colleagues. And now I’m shouting it from the rooftops on WordPress – I HAVEN’T BEEN WELL!!!

You see if us men don’t let you ladies know when we are ill then you largely ignore us. Well maybe that’s a tad unfair. You don’t totally ignore us. Not if you include such loving observations as ‘Oh man up’, ‘Grow a pair’ and ‘You think that’s bad. Try childbirth’. These are just a selection of the loving comments that I have received down the years from my adoring wife. Other more creative and colourful offerings are, alas, largely unprintable.

This time around I’ve learnt my lesson. I’ve sucked it up, grown a pair and soldiered on despite my croaky throat and phlegmy chest. I’ve trudged into work, trudged around work and then trudged back out of work again. I’ve went to meetings, driven hatchlings to and from school, washed the occasional dish and emptied the occasional bin. It has been an exhausting and heroic effort on my part. Thankfully I’m not the type to brag about such exploits and I merely mention it in passing. As I said. Just in passing….

However….

If you were to have asked me this week how I was I would have considered it ‘open season’ and proceeded to enthral (bore) you with my recent medical history. It’s the least you would have deserved for enquiring. No stone would have been left unturned and you would have walked off with an intimate knowledge of my week of coughs, sneezes and other unmentionable noises. We love to talk about our aches and pains don’t we? If it wasn’t for them then a lot of us would have nothing to discuss.

I’m no different from the next hypochondriac. Within ten minutes of walking into work the other morning feeling lousy the entire office knew about it and were taking draconian preventative steps to avoid infection; that time I hurt my foot running last summer I was blogging about it within hours; yet since being diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) a number of years ago how many people have I informed? You could probably count them on the fingers of one hand.

The reason? Well I’m embarrassed. I worry that I will be judged, that people will look upon me differently and think less of me. I know, this is crazy thinking. A person with a recognised mental illness has as much right to discuss it openly and without fear than a person who has stubbed their toe or sprained their wrist. Yet we don’t. We skirt around the issues, we conceal the truth and we bury our heads in the sands hoping it will all just go away. Alternatively we come onto WordPress and converse about it within a safe, caring environment.

It should be easy but it isn’t. Try explaining your OCD to the average person on the street. It’s like trying to explain quantum physics to a caveman. No, I’m not a ‘clean freak’. Fionnuala often wishes I was. No I’m not constantly in the shower or washing my hands. For some people that is OCD. For me it is not. For me it is dark, repulsive thoughts that relentlessly assault my senses and literally batter me to my knees. The only means of obtaining temporary relief is to perform intricate, exhausting mental routines. Until the next thought arrives. And then the one after that.

Thanks to medication and talking to Fionnuala I am largely on top of it now. The bad days are less often. But it’s still there, lurking in the recesses of my mind, waiting to pounce if afforded the slightest encouragement or opportunity. It never has a day off. Given half a chance it will break you beyond repair. That’s why we need to be as vocal about our mental health as we are about our physical well being. We need to talk about it and not brush it under the carpet. We need to seek help rather than suffer in silence.

I follow a lot of bloggers who do just that. They are true advocates and are getting the message out there that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of; they are letting others know that they are not alone. They are a community and together we are strong. They are educating and combating ignorance and misinformation. They are the true heroes and have inspired me to write more about my own battles. If you would like to learn more about OCD then can I recommend the following books in no particular order of preference:

‘Because We Are Bad’ – Lily Bailey

‘Mad Girl’ – Bryony Gordon

‘Pure O’ – Rose Bretecher

What is your knowledge of OCD?

Are you vocal about your mental health?

How has WordPress helped you in finding others like yourself?

I Wonder

I wonder. If there was a rapture would I be taken or left forsaken, alone on my throne in a world of broken bones and bleeding souls. Tortured by thoughts of what if and maybe. Come back and save me. My loved ones gone in an angelic throng while I wriggle and squirm, a pitiful worm.

I wonder. If there was a rapture who would God capture. That nice couple next door or the man down the road. Would churches be emptied or would they be full of embarrassed Christians and blustering pastors. Stripped to the bone by their all seeing master.

I wonder. If there was a rapture would we even notice who was gone for they’d be so few. One in a thousand or possibly two. We’ll list them as missing and contact the police. We’ll worry and cry and we’ll pray with our priest. Then we’ll quietly move on hand in hand with the beast.

I wonder. If there was a rapture who would we blame. For blaming and shaming is part of the game which we’ve played all our lives. We’ve schemed and we’ve skived, we’ve cheated and lied. We’ve bleated and nurtured this will to survive. To kill all that’s good in us, let darkness thrive.

I wonder. If there was a rapture would there be a panic. A manic breakdown of societal norms. Or would shoulders be shrugged and the experts wheeled out. To fill our dead minds with theories and doubts. It’s the Russians, the Chinese, some alien disease. God forbid that the truth would bring us to our knees.

I wonder. If there was a rapture would anything change. Would we rant, spit and scream, so incensed and inflamed. Then after a while just dust ourselves down, return to our phones with a shrug and a frown. For God’s overrated and Satan’s a riot. If there’s wifi in Hell I might as well try it.

I wonder a lot. These unwelcome thoughts. That I have to get out before my brain clots. This dirge is a purge of a tangled up mind. I’m writing it blind but I urge you to think. If the heavens swung open and angels descended. Would you still remain when the trumpets relented?

For All Demons Bleed….

It’s all about me. I’m selfish you see. So vain and conceited, it’s all about me. I fight the urge, this endless dirge, the need to purge myself of me. My needs. They feed my brain. They inflict pain. I smother others with my greed. It sows the seeds which grow the roots which, when afoot, choke and constrict. Restrict the man I want to be. Beautifully and wonderfully formed. Yet I conform to shallow sins, the endless din of voices fuelled by evil whims.

Yes, it’s all about me. For I’m selfish you see. You want an example? I’m so glad you asked. For I’ll put down my glass and trample the dreams of my loved ones aghast. I just want the best but it ends up a mess as the baby obsessions emerge from their nest. They’re as blessed as I’m cursed, they wish only the worst, driven forward by demons for actions rehearsed a million, a billion, a trillion of times. I’ll tell you I’m fine, I’m feeling sublime, yet inside their fingers are gouging my mind.

For it’s all about me. I’m selfish you see. The world keeps revolving round my gravity. I’m clever and witty and everyone’s friend. I’ll bend to your blend at the drop of a hat. I crave the attention and, oh did I mention, I run and I blog and I’m writing a book. So have a good look, gather round young and old. Click follow and swallow the lies that you’re sold. A slippery slope, a dope on a rope, I hope beyond hope that the demons are choked. By a force beyond words. A force beyond me. A life giving spirit, at last I’m set free.

It was all about me. I was selfish you see. But little by little I’m trying to change. They had me deranged but I’m prying away. They bite and they pull but I’m stronger each day. I’ve escaped from the filth and the guilt and the silt of my past which has clogged up my laughs and sliced through my life like a knife through warm butter. From gutter to author. I’m better than this and I’m better than you. I’ll run and I’ll write and I’ll love and I’ll smile. For with every mile you’re a mile down the road. That odious toad that I must offload, the demons they’re screaming as I grow more bold.

Now it’s all about them. I’ve discarded my past like the rags that they were. So dirty and soiled, they were drenched in the oil of earthly transgressions and shallow desires. Now I stack the dry bonfire and strike up a match. To raze to the ground those demonic clowns who clung to my soul like a leech fat and round. So bloated and soaked in the filth that they found. Now I’m watching them burn and then turning and walking away. To start a new day, a new week a new life. With the people that matter, free from relentless chatter.

Yes it’s all about us. That’s the thrust of these words. And I trust you see through them, the prose and the verse. To the truth of a man who was saved from disgrace. By a grace with no depths and a love with no bounds. I was lost, now I’m found. And I hope you see hope in the words that I write. That they open your eyes and offer fresh sight, a glimmer of light. To vanquish the darkness that’s raging inside. You’re better than that and you will succeed. For all demons bleed when faced with the truth. Your power over them is about to take root.

All Fogs Are Temporary

My plans are in ruins!

Now I’m not one to exaggerate but I had planned to go on my long run this morning only to awaken to a blanket of fog outside. A real pea souper even though that description never rang true with me as wouldn’t pea soup be green? And I’ve never seen green fog even in that Stephen King movie about the fog. Or was that mist? Can you get green mist? And what’s the difference between mist and fog anyway?Aaaaarrrrghhh! My brain hurts!

So here I am blogging instead of running. The weather man says it should clear later in the morning but that’s no good to me as there is lots of other stuff going on today. Plus the longer I wait the less likely I am to go out and run. I always get very nervous before a long run as self doubt and negativity creep in. My next target is the Belfast Marathon on 7th May so I have plenty of time but try telling that to the grouchy gremlins who reside within my head. They are already rubbing their hands with glee at the sight of fog and telling me my training schedule is in tatters now and I’m doomed to fail.

Fog has only a temporary grip on reality.

I know this fog will clear like all fog clears. It is a transient phenomenon. And when it clears everything will be exactly as it was before. The houses in our street will not have moved. Dinosaurs will not be roaming the earth. The Washington Redskins will still suck. Nothing will have changed. And I will go out for my run and all will be well. I might have to curtail the distance I planned to run but it can be made up another time. I will not lose four years of fitness and confidence in the space of four hours. The world will keep turning and Stephen will keep running. Fact.

The same applies to the mental fogs that sometimes descend upon us. When the fog closes in we feel disoriented and confused. We lose our bearings and panic sets in. We don’t know where we are and we don’t know where we are going. We become afraid as who knows what monsters lurk out there in the shadows. The fear of the unknown is magnified as our mind starts to play tricks upon us. Depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and self loathing set in. Our defences crumble as the armies of despair and paranoia overwhelm us. We turn on ourselves. And our fog filled minds can be our most bitter enemy as it knows every weakness to play upon and every button to push. We succumb to it.

Fog conceals the truth.

It plays tricks. It is a liar. It distorts and twists. It may seem impenetrable but the truth is that the light is still there. And the fog in our heads has only temporary power over it. The light and the truth are constant. They are set in stone. The sun and the moon will always be there when the fog lifts. Clear skies will return to show you that nothing has changed. Mental illness is not who you are. You are who you are. And that will never change. Your soul will continue to shine brightly just as the stars will continue to shine at night. No fog can steal that from you.

How do I know this? Because I too have stood in the fog unable to see past my own hand. I have fallen to my knees and given up all hope of ever finding a way out. But I did. And when I did emerge I discovered that nothing had changed. My loved ones still loved me. I was still the same me. The mental fog I had struggled with had merely distorted my vision and muddied the waters. It had polluted my perception of who I was and what I stood for. It had created an altered state where I could not flourish and thrive. A state where subjective, pessimistic thinking reigned and hopelessness took root.

And if I can do it then so can you as well. The sun will always burn away the fog. It’s rays of faith, hope and love will break through and will light the way for you. It can set you back on the right path, the road to recovery and well being. The light will always emerge victorious over the darkness. The fog will always dissipate and no matter what you addiction or obsession it is temporary. All chains can be broken. Freedom is a choice. All you have to do is believe and make that choice. Make the right decision. Today. Now. Walk out of the fog and welcome to the rest of your life.

Have you experienced the fog? Are you currently there? Or have you overcome it? We would be interested in hearing your thoughts. Please comment below.

Lacey Sturm – Mercy Tree

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrgl9z3grKU&feature=share

Fionnuala and Hannah are the musical maestros in the family but I thought I would crash the party and post a song by one of my favourite singers and authors, Lacey Sturm. She was formerly the lead vocalist of a band called Flyleaf who some of you may have heard of. Her words and music have had a huge impact on my faith journey. This is one of her more mainstream songs (she’s usually more grunge rock). Hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think.

You Are A Warrior

Adam and I went to the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast last night to watch Ulster Rugby play the Southern Kings in a Guinness Pro 14 match. We had a great night; Ulster won 59-10 and we got complimentary burgers from my brother-in-law who is in charge of the catering and hospitality at the stadium. It made the frozen toes and long walk back to the car afterwards worthwhile. Note to self – wear thicker socks next time you got to a rugby match in February!

It is the start of a big rugby weekend. The Six Nations Championship has started and Ireland play Italy later today in Dublin. That, however, is not the main event for the Black family. Adam has been selected to play for his school’s senior team today for the first time. He will be playing against boys three years older than him but the coaches recognise his talent and potential and are throwing him in at the deep end. They have confidence in him and believe he has the ability to cope with this step up in class.

Fionnuala and I will be nervously cheering him on from the touchline. Win, lose or draw we are very proud of him as we are of all our kids. Adam has the skill and work ethic to develop into a top rugby player and hopefully play professionally one day. My dream is to watch him play one day at the Kingspan for Ulster Rugby. And even if he doesn’t watching him play has brought us closer together this last year. It has become our thing. I’m passionate about his rugby. I know I get a bit carried away at times but he has been blessed with a gift and I want him to run with it as far as he possibly can.

It is a dream at the minute but dreams can become reality if you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and work at them. They are reality waiting to happen. You just have to reach out and take what is rightfully yours. It might not happen overnight but it will do eventually if you just keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward. Fear and doubt will do their best to scupper your ambitions but they have to be ignored and kicked to the kerb. You are better than that. Of that I am certain.

Do you have a dream that remains unfulfilled? Have you given up after a lifetime of having been knocked down and pushed back? I encourage you to dust yourself down, take a deep breath and stand tall again. You are better than the demons who oppose you. They are more frightened of you than you are of them. That is why they fight so viciously. Because they see the light within you and it terrifies them. They see what you do not see. They see the real you and in that they see their ultimate demise.

You are a warrior standing on the battlefield of your own destiny. You wear the armour of a good and righteous person. Your enemies stand amassed before you and you have a choice. Do you cower before them and allow your life to meander aimlessly and without purpose? Or do you fill your lungs with air and roar a battle cry of defiance? Do you charge towards them in the knowledge that you are better than them? You can conquer depression, addiction, guilt and worthlessness? You are a hero. You are my hero and you will stand victorious over all you survey. I know you can do it. Do you?

What enemies are you facing on the battlefield today?

How do you propose to conquer them?

What Are You Going To Stop Doing Today?

Stop it.

There is something you are doing today that you should not be doing. I don’t know what it is and I don’t particularly want to. The point is you do and you know that it is wrong. Wrong to yourself and wrong to others. Damaging and destructive. You know you need to stop and that thought nags away at you constantly. Well that’s good for that’s your conscience talking. If you care enough to know it’s wrong then you can find the strength to stop doing it.

Think of all the times you have tried to stop before and failed. How did you feel when you relapsed into your old ways? Beaten, despairing, self loathing. Not a great way to live is it? Now imagine a world without that ‘thing’. Imagine the freedom, knowing that it no longer had a grip on you. Write a list if you need to outlining how you currently feel and how you would feel if you stopped. I wager that the pros far outweigh the cons. Which is why you need to stop in order to kickstart your life again.

You are better than this. You know that deep down. It needs you more than you need it. You were created for better but life has just temporarily derailed you. It’s time to dust yourself down and get back on track. It’s time to cross over to the other side. I know you can do it. Why? Because I did. I stopped and it turned my life around. And if useless old me can stop then so can you. What’s more I’m by your side and you can be accountable to me. For as long as you need me. Here’s what we are going to do.

Small bites. Commit to stopping for 24 hours. Don’t look beyond that. But for those 24 hours give it everything you’ve got. You will be tempted but that’s ok, that’s normal. The key is that you don’t give in to that temptation. Fill the void in your day that the ‘thing’ consumes with something else. Anything else. Stay busy and push on through. I am here if you need to talk. I will be thinking of you and praying for you. Just get through that first 24 hours. Then we can think about the next 24.

Will you join me in stopping today?

What Are Your Three Best Qualities?

I make a point of reading as many other blogs as I can when I can. Sometimes I comment, other times I only have time to hit the like button but I do value the work of my fellow bloggers. There is a sense of community here that I have never experienced on other social media platforms before. People seem to genuinely care about others as opposed to seeking the spotlight themselves. WordPress is a selfless as opposed to a selfie zone.

A lot of people who write on this platform are struggling with a myriad of demons. There is an honesty and vulnerability expressed here that is refreshing compared to the fakeness of other platforms. It is raw and it is painful but it is real. Reality can be a tough pill to swallow but it is only when we recognise our weaknesses and accept our fears that true healing can begin. The best medicine is often the most bitter tasting.

The nature of this process, however, is that people are often very hard on themselves. Sometimes unfairly so. You are all wonderful people who deserve peace, love and happiness. Fionnuala and I are often deeply saddened by some of the stories we read. The negativity is often heartbreaking. Today I want to flip the coin. Life is about love. We were placed on this planet to love others. But before we can do that we must learn to love ourselves. That can be hard and I know I am my own worst critic.

So today I want you to comment below, listing your three best qualities. When you have written them down take a moment to reflect on them and think back to times when you have displayed them for the benefit of yourself and others. When you are in that good place, realise how special you are and how needed you are on this broken world we live in today. Look in the mirror and realise you are amazing. Do it now.

I insist….

What are your three best qualities? Comment below.

Ode To OCD #1

You let me binge

And now I’m singed

Unhinged.

Swinging from the gallows that I constructed for

You.

As you look on

The idle god of all you survey.

You smile

As I decay

Dismayed and flayed.

Splayed in my grave

Of rotating routine.

I’m Writing A Book….I Think

Some of you may know that I am currently working on my first novel. It’s fiction and is largely set in the city of Belfast but that’s all you’re getting out of me! I’m actually very reluctant to talk about it and I’ve deliberated all day about writing this post. But as I get asked about it occasionally I thought I would provide a little update. It’s as much for myself as for anyone else if I’m honest as I need you guys to hold me accountable and keep me honest.

After an initial flurry of words and ideas (40,000 words blasted out during a week off work) progress has slowed down considerably due to a variety of reasons. Fionnuala and I have little enough time as it is due to the pressures and demands of everyday life. Days merge into weeks and I realise that I’ve barely thought about the book let alone open up the laptop to write. Life is good but there is always a guilty sensation at the back of my head that I am allowing my lifelong dream to write a novel pass me by.

Anxiety often gnaws away at my ambition. Doubt and low self esteem are always waiting in the wings only too willing to throw a spanner in the works. It happens in all areas of my life and writing is no exception. The voice keeps telling me that I am delusional; that I lack the talent and discipline to write a novel. That it will never amount to anything. Because of that I have been almost glad to have excuses not to write. It is the elephant in my room.

The success of the blog has also caught me somewhat unawares. I’ve been amazed that people want to read my posts and even more amazed that they seem to enjoy them. I’ve committed to daily posts and, as such, have taken my eye of the ball when it comes to the book. If I could compare myself to an ostrich sticking its head in a sandbank then the blog is the sandbank. I’ve tried to convince myself that I need to establish myself as a writer first, via blogging, before I turn my thoughts to completing and seeking to publish a novel. But who am I kidding, it’s just another excuse.

It’s time though to forge on again. Yes I could be writing unpublishable garbage but there’s only way to find out. This novel is a nagging, niggling weight on my mind. It’s fluid and always changing and I just need to get it out of me and onto the screen of my laptop. I’m worried that it will be terrible but I’m more worried that I will never finish it. Something I know I will always regret. I want to do this. I need to do this. I will do this.

So from today I’m recommitting to the book. 500 words a day or more ideally. I’ve found that I’m not a storyboarder. I need to be involved in the physical act of writing for the ideas and concepts to flow. I need to vomit the words out and then worry about structure and format later. My drafts will be rougher than rough but that’s how I seem to operate. The fine tuning and sandblasting will follow that. If that means skipping a blog post in order to maintain my word count then so be it. I’m sure you can all cope without me for a day or so and Fionnuala, Hannah and Rebecca are more than able blogging deputies.

Thank you all for your unerring support these last few months. This blog has changed my life beyond words and you have been part of that. The book will be the next stage of the journey. Whatever happens I can lie on my deathbed and say the following. I married a wonderful woman, was blessed with three kids, ran at least seven marathons and wrote a book. Four childhood dreams which became reality. Not bad for a weirdo geek boy.

Thank you WordPress.

I Hear Voices In My Head

I hear voices in my head. They wish me dead. I thought they’d fled. They’d bled me dry and left the scene; my life in tatters but never matter. You knew the score and we abhor the peace you crave. We’ll hunt you to the grave and never stop until you drop this holier than thou charade. We know you seek the shade of sin, that urge within, that surge to purge the better man. Yes that’s our plan. We’ll drive you onwards, downwards to our special place where there depraved you’ll see the folly of your honest ways.

I hear voices in my head. Some days little more than the quietest of whispers, dormant but deadly. Just watching, waiting for the moment when they can pounce and scream, my darkest dreams alive and well. A personal hell. A broken shell. Oh well. They outwit me, outthink me, outflank me. I’d raise the white flag but they’d toss it aside, an unstoppable tide of niggles and nudges which they sit astride. They circle my brain, a runaway train which hurtles off tracks worn down by the strain. I reckon the wreckage will haunt me for days. Just round the next bend, I brace for defeat that familiar old friend.

I hear voices in my head. They say do this, say that and more. I am so bored, a whore to every fickle feint they lob my way. A ten tonne weight sits on my chest. It’s for the best if I succumb and let them have their fun. Too numb and terrified of thoughts which ought to mean naught but instead rot and scoff. They laugh at me, a broken puppet held aloft on strings of O and C and D. The fabled three. They dance with glee as once again I hop and prance to their obsessive dance. It never ends, just changes day by day to my dismay. The voices reign and I’m to blame for all this pain. My punishment for all the lives I’ve wrecked, an endless debt I’ll pay each day until I’m spent and bent. They’ll not relent.

I hear voices in my head. There is no substance to their abuse. They have no faces, shape or form. Just shadows flickering to and from, one minute there the next they’re gone. My loaded gun, they’ll say whatever needs to be done. To plant the seed and watch the need wrap round my soul and squeeze the logic and the strength from me. I fight and fight with all my might. But they delight in that. The more I struggle the more hopeless my cause. Lost in an ocean of routine, I’m raw and exposed to their babbling dreams, adrift and exposed to their prompting unseen. Alone and broken, their malice unspoken.

I hear voices in my head. They must be fed, their stomachs never full until I’m cruelly plunged again into their plane of pain. My pit is drained. Obsessions lead to compulsion which to my revulsion I obey with dismay. It’s comply or die for if I deny the anxiety spirals and thickens. I’m sickened and nauseous, detached from reality and overwhelmed at the helm of my realm. My actions condemn me. Blessed and blissful the relief is but brief as another wave peaks. Then crashes down upon me sending me tumbling and fumbling onto the shore. My very core sore to their malignant caress. They couldn’t care less. Guess it’s all for the best.

I hear voices in my head. On good days I can keep them mute, there’s no dispute or need to crumble to their will. I take my pill, I know the drill. Some say I’m mentally ill. But I say I’m mentally skilled as rafts of routines require talents unseen. If only you knew the cumulative glue I apply every day to let sanity stay; while I count and remember all year to December. No rhyme or reason when it’s OCD season. Three letters but a million billion variations coming at you from every angle possible at a million billion trillion miles an hour. One thing I’ve learnt is that you cannot exaggerate mental disorder. It is everywhere at once, a blizzard of slithered suggestions and questions. Too many to mention, unspeakable tension demanding attention.

I hear voices in my head. They shift and dip, they lift and drift as unpredictable as a flimsy kite careering across a storm stained sky. It’s quicker than the human eye and mind; one minute hovering like a watchful hawk above its oblivious prey before swooping silently to sink its talons into your soft, plump brain. An endless loop, my senses droop. I’m in the room with you, our silence magnified by the screaming knowledge that there is so much to say, to explain. But I bite my tongue for where do I start? Confess and they’ll cart me away to a hospital bed. My reputation in shreds. It’s best left unsaid.

I heard voices in my head. Then one day I talked and you’ll never guess what, the OCD hordes so often ignored and but always deplored; well they backed away and just for a day my head was clear and blue sky called my name out loud and proud. I stretched my arms, now free at last, my wretched past a distant dream, a silent scream. Today the voices are muffled, my present untroubled by a past made of glass which I broke through at last. Now the future awaits and I stand at its gates. The voices are gone. I’m alone but I’m strong. The past is their prison, my future a prism.

New Blog Features

FracturedFaithBlog is a bit like an elegant swan. I cruise serenely above the surface taking all the plaudits while, below the waters, Fionnuala paddles furiously to keep us afloat. She does the majority of the unseen work necessary in order to keep the blog going. I just ramble on about stuff.

This week has been no exception. In addition to running a busy household she has redesigned the blog site interface to include ‘comments’ and ‘prayer’ tabs. We also now have our own domain which means the blog can expand in lots more interesting directions. And she has been upgrading our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Venturing into any of those areas would have me breaking out in a nasty rash.

We have set up a dedicated prayer team so if you have any specific prayer requests then please utilise the ‘prayer’ tab to communicate them to us. We will treat them with the ultimate respect and sensitivity. Your prayer will be anonymised before it is circulated to the prayer team. Likewise if there is something that you would like to discuss with either of us privately and in greater depth then please avail of the ‘comments’ tab. Sometimes it is difficult to have a meaningful conversation via timeline and there may be issues that you do not want to air publicly.

We are here to help. Don’t suffer in silence.

Repackage Your Heart

First World Problems have once more raised their ugly head at chez Black this last week or so. Having struggled through various sicknesses and other crises during the month of January we thought we were due a turn of fortunes. A reprieve from the trials and tribulations of modern life. But oh no for much, much worse was to befall us. The final nail in the coffin. The coup de grace to end all coup de graces. Whatever that means. It sounds a bit like cut the grass but I think I might be wrong on that one.

Yes the unthinkable happened. The village shop ran out of Diet Coke! Yes you read that right. The village shop ran out of Diet Coke. Well alright I’m exaggerating slightly when I say that. Blame it on my withdrawal symptoms. The shop didn’t exactly run out of Diet Coke, rather it ran out of the 1.75 litre twin packs (£2:50 = bargain) which I largely survive on in lieu of healthier drinks such as say lighter fluid or cod liver oil.

I drove to the next shop. They had none either. And then the next. Not a drop. I drove back home to break the sad news to Fionnuala. She took it reasonably well but I think she was just putting on a brave face for me. I’m pretty certain I saw her lower lip trembling at one point. As the Alpha Male and hunter/gatherer of the household I felt I was left with no option but to venture out again in search of sustenance. I returned to the scene of the original crime determined to use my finely tuned investigative skills to find an answer.

Alan the shopkeeper listened patiently to my impassioned pleas as I gesticulated frantically at the empty shelves where the elixir of life used to reside in plentiful supply. He nodded and smiled as the grown man in front of him whimpered and whined at the injustice of it all. He was empathetic and his active listening skills and positive body language were beyond reproach. I’m sure he has been on a ‘Challenging Customers’ course although I’m not sure there was a module on ‘Hysterical Aspartame Addicts’. If there had been he would have passed with flying colours no doubt.

‘Coca Cola have recalled the product’ he explained calmly when afforded the opportunity to respond to my tiresome tirade. ‘The packaging is being redesigned. It should be back in the shops soon enough.’ And with that he was off down the canned food aisle leaving me with a sliver of hope. We could tough this out. It wasn’t the end of the world. The United Nations would not be required to send a peace keeping force in and Donald Trump would not be tweeting about it in the morning.

We would survive and life would go on. I clutched at the lifeline that was 18 tins for £5 (even though Fionnuala complains it doesn’t taste the same) and trudged out of the shop; muttering about Coca Cola and their amateur marketing strategies. Redesigning the packaging indeed. What nonsense. The packaging wasn’t the reason I bought it in bulk. It was what was inside the bottle that mattered. That taste, that kick, the fizzy bubbles exploding on my fuzzy tongue. How vain and shallow these faceless marketing clowns were.

The second the above thought settled on my mind I was also bowled over by the hypocrisy of my thinking. For years I was obsessed with my appearance. At school I was the tubby, spotty kid. I was bullied and as for girls?! Well I don’t think I spoke to one until I was nineteen. Thankfully Fionnuala took pity on me and turned a walking, talking social pariah into an almost functioning member of the human race. Otherwise I’d still be a single Pringle failing abysmally to impress the opposite sex.

To combat this I have always sought to repackage my geeky, awkward inner psyche with all manner of disguises. Diets, gyms, tattoos (three and counting), personal trainers, Twitter wannabe z-lister, Instagram embarrassment, designer clothes, church youth leader, marathon running, terrible Taekwondo student, and now fledgling author and blogger. The list is endless. Everything aimed at covering up the fraud and failure I have always, rightly or wrongly, regarded myself as.

I was a chaotic chameleon for many years. Living a lie beneath various disguises and personas. But deep down I knew it was all a facade. You cannot repackage your heart. No matter how desperately we try we are still the same person beneath the various layers of deception we clothe ourselves in. I am still the same shy, insecure boy I was all those years ago. Clever with written words but a gibbering wreck when asked to socially interact in a room full of strangers.

I’m slowly learning to consistently be myself and live comfortably in my own skin. I want people to like me for who I am not who I think they want me to be. This has cost me a lot of friendships over the last year or so but it has also brought me closer to the people who matter. It has bolstered my flagging faith and brought me nearer to God. He knows me inside out and upside down; he created me and you like this for a reason, warts and all. We don’t need to be recalled from the shelves. No amount of redesigning ourselves can take away from who we really are.

We are spiritual beings. Our souls are ethereal and eternal. They are our very essence and when we break it down no amount of earthly transition can change that. We are who we are. There’s no need to change for anyone no matter how tempting that might be. Don’t repackage yourself for anyone or anything. For it is what’s inside that counts. Look beyond the packaged lies. Believe in who you are. You can never be taken off the shelves of life for that.

Have you repackaged your heart in the past?

How do you intend to live a life consistent with the real you?

Creeping Glory

For the seven of you out there who enjoy reading my running posts, I completed my online challenge yesterday to run 150 miles in the month of January. A day early no less but nobody likes a show off so I won’t brag about that. Oh hang on I just have. Anyways. It was an online challenge so all I have to do now is e-mail the organisers a screen shot from my Garmin app confirming the mileage and they will post me out a medal and compression top. To the victor the spoils. I had to pay £14.99 for this privilege (plus postage and packaging) but let’s not deflect from my glorious achievement here.

I’ll post a photo of them when they arrive. A photo minus me because I’m not a big fan of having my photograph taken. Plus those of a sensitive nature, with medical conditions, or eating might struggle with the sight of your truly in a compression top. It’s not a pretty sight let me assure you. I have battled low self esteem all my life and a desperate need for attention and acceptance. This, in turn, has gotten me into all sorts of trouble. I am a terrible judge of character and throughout my life have effortlessly fallen into the wrong company at the drop of a hat. In fact forget the hat, I’ll just do it anyway.

Running and writing used to be just two more tools I used to grasp the spotlight. It was all about me. The problem with being in the spotlight, though, is that you are exposed and blinded. Disoriented and unaware of what is going on around you. And in my case, inside of me. I was becoming a vain, selfish and thoroughly unlikeable person. Others could see it but not me. Or when I did during a rare moment of lucidity I didn’t care. I just shrugged my shoulders and carried on regardless. I was hopelessly hooked on the attention and forever chasing my next fix.

It was all about the next race or the next personal best. I joined a running club and had no shortage of running partners both at work and at home. I was Mr. Popularity or so I thought. My phone never stopped. My weekends were spent travelling around the country to race events instead of with Fionnuala and the kids. Then one day all that stopped. I run alone now. My phone can sit all day without anyone messaging me. And you know what? I’ve learnt to be okay with that. Because it’s no longer about me. It’s about others. It’s about YOU.

Running is now a means to an ends. I don’t run for the glory, I run because I need to. It cleanses and detoxifies me mentally. When I run I can dispose of all the negativity and unwanted junk rattling around my brain. I get most of my writing ideas when I run. Anxiety and dark, unwanted thoughts seep out of me along with the sweat from my pores. I used to use running to lose weight physically. Now I do it to unload excess mental and spiritual baggage. Running empties me and leaves me with a focus and clarity of vision which is laser sharp.

Running has taught me how to embrace and overcome pain. It has taught me patience. I prefer long distance running. My favourite race is the marathon. 26.2 miles is a daunting challenge but one thing I am not is a quitter. When I start a race or a challenge I will not stop until I have completed it. One of the few positive attributes of my obsessive nature. If I have to crawl to the finish line then I will. Defeat is simply not an option. I hate looking at myself in the mirror at the best of times but it would be doubly galling if i was looking at the face of a loser. I choose to overcome no matter what it takes.

So I will never stop. And I will never give up. And nor must you. No matter what. When I run I break every mile down into twenty sections. I run to the next bench, the next hedge, the next pothole in the road. I break a seemingly unassailable distance down into manageable bite sized chunks then count them off on my Garmin. Every 1/20th is a battle won and a step towards winning the war. I break it down in order to build myself up. I make the impossible possible. And so must YOU. I’ve written before about finding your grind. Become a pain sponge and suck it all up. Because, like me, YOU are not a quitter either.

Don’t look at the summit. Just focus on the next stretch, the next bend, the next step. Break it down and you will see the barriers fall and the milestones pass behind you. YOU are better than this. Never mind creeping death. Yours shall be a creeping glory. The enemy never feels threatened by an opponent who barely appears to be moving. He is oblivious to slow, almost imperceptible progress. His defences will fall and he will idle. And before he knows it YOU are past him and it’s game over. YOU are astride your Everest and the pain has been replaced by glory. The glory that is your story. Creeping Glory.

Take my hand and run with me ok? Together we will overcome.

What are your thoughts on this post. We would love to hear them. Please comment below and let’s get talking.

The Atheist Angel

Going waaaaay back some of you might remember a post I wrote called ‘Maggie’s Story’ (not her real name) about a young, homeless girl I befriended in Belfast last year. If not, you might want to check it out before reading on as it provides context for today’s post https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/maggies-story/

I hadn’t spoken to ‘Maggie’ in some weeks but wasn’t particularly concerned. As is the nature of life on the streets she lived an unpredictable and chaotic existence. Some weeks she would be everywhere I looked whereas at other times she would literally vanish into thin air. I would never ask her where she had been. That was none of my business. She told me what she wanted to tell me.

I was always relieved, however, to see her after such absences. Yesterday was no exception. I was walking across the city centre from the office to the train station. My normal route involves cutting through a shopping centre (mall) which brings you out onto the most eclectic of squares where modern cocktail bars and restaurants sit alongside centuries old chapels and more traditional watering holes.

The square itself is approached from all sides by a series of cobbled, twisted alleyways where you often find city street dwellers. And it was here that I discovered Maggie sitting shivering beneath a worryingly thin blanket. She was as pale as an anaemic ghost, entombed in her regulation street uniform of hoodie and tracksuit bottoms. She looked cold and miserable but her blue eyes were startlingly clear. I knew immediately that she wasn’t using. I can always tell by her eyes.

When she saw me, those eyes lit up and her face broke out into a smile. A smile which made my day. ‘Where have you been?’ she enquired, totally oblivious to the fact that I walked this route every day and she was the one who had been missing in action. We engaged in conversation for a few moments, the details of which are irrelevant to this post. Needless to say her January had been a tough one. But she was alive and clean for which I was grateful.

As I crouched beside her I became aware of a young woman kneeling beside me. It was her flaming, red hair that first caught my eye. She started to talk to ‘Maggie’, her face etched with concern and worry. She told us that she had only recently moved to Northern Ireland from the United States and had lived on the streets in Los Angeles as a teenager. She then did the most remarkable of things, removing her coat and handing it to ‘Maggie’. ‘You’re freezing and you need this more than me’ she explained.

I don’t know who was more shocked, ‘Maggie’ or myself but there then followed a bizarre reverse tug of war between the two girls. ‘Maggie’ is fiercely proud when lucid and very reluctant to accept charity. She will never say no to a hot cup of tea and I have also persuaded her, after much effort on my part, to allow me to buy her food and cigarettes. ‘But only the cheapest brand. You do enough for me as it is’ she would holler after me as I entered the shop.

In all the time I have known her, however, I have never once considered giving her an item of my clothing. I was instantly shamed and humbled by this staggering act of kindness. The American girl, let’s call her ‘Abby’, looked cold herself and I could almost count the goosebumps popping up on her pale arms as she struggled to get ‘Maggie’ to accept her coat. Belfast is hardly Sunset Boulevard in deepest January I reflected, cosy in my heavy coat, cap, scarf and gloves. Yet here she was offering up her coat to a complete stranger who she knew needed it more than her.

The tug of war continued and I assisted where I could in translating West Belfast slang with Southern California drawl as best I could. They were both speaking English but struggling to understand each other. In the end ‘Maggie’ triumphed (she normally does) although she allowed ‘Abby’ to buy a cup of tea for her. I thanked the American girl afterwards and we talked a little as I filled her in as to what I knew about ‘Maggie’.

She screamed ‘Young Christian’ in her language, actions and dare I say it appearance. She looked as if she had just walked off the set of a Bethel worship music video. I’m not sure how but our brief conversation led to her asking what place of worship I attended. ‘I’m kind of between churches’ I mumbled, a bit embarrassed to admit as much to such a paragon of virtue. ‘What about you?’ I replied, bracing myself for a Christian CV as long as your arm. No doubt the daughter of a pastor, worship leader aged ten and veteran of countless global missions and city soup kitchens.

‘Oh I’m an atheist’ she cheerfully replied before saying her farewells and veering off into a nearby cafe in search of ‘Maggie’s’ tea. I stood there, my jaw scraping off the ground, in stunned silence. Here was a non-Christian performing perhaps the most ‘Christian’ act I had ever witnessed. A modern day Good Samaritan. In the space of five minutes she had shown more love and compassion than I had seen many devoted church goers display in five years.

Christianity is just a word, a tag, a label. It means nothing really. It is actions that make the person, not memorising Bible verses or rolling up to church every Sunday. The word ‘Christian’ was nothing more than a nickname given to the first followers of Jesus by the Romans. It was intended as derogatory, mocking term. The early followers referred to themselves as ‘The Way’. The three year ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus paved the way for the early church to explode onto the global scene and bring the mightiest civilisation known to man to its knees within a few centuries.

Atheist, Agnostic, Christian at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They are nothing but labels. What defines us is love. Do we love those around us? Not just our family or friends but also those on the fringes of society? We need to radically rethink the ingrained stereotypes and prejudices which colour our view of the world. We need to stop judging others and shoving them into neat little compartments which tally with our outlook life. We need to value and include the ‘Maggie’s’ and ‘Abby’s’ of our lives. We need to love the homeless and the atheists (but we also need to love like the homeless and the atheists. Actually love as opposed to just talking about it.

Who are you going to love today?

The Past Is In Tatters

When I wonder I blunder. My dreams are ripped asunder and I’m dragged six feet under. Kicking and screaming, no longer dreaming. I was a dope to have hoped but now I am choked by the lies and the guilt and the shame. You see, I’m to blame. For the pain and the words flung at me today. The shrapnel of my past still torments me as it chafes and it grates underneath the old scar tissue. Remnants of my past exploding in my present.

Should I wilt beneath the guilt? Raise the white flag? Throw in the towel? Be defined and refined by emotions and oceans of glaring despair. I’m adrift and I’m sick of this shift in my thinking. It’s stinking so unblinking I face down my fears and I ignore the sneers. For I’m better than this. I will not allow this to happen. I will not become a casualty of my own doing. A living, walking, breathing suicide. My life does not end here. There is hope beneath the veneer. Death to death. I’ll reinvent.

Jesus arose from the depths of hell for a reason. He cast aside the shroud and the angels sang aloud ‘Hallelujah. Sin is no more.’ He settled my score. And yours and yours and yours as well. It is finished. Beyond diminished. Over and done. My disgrace obliterated by His face. His face. Beaten beyond recognition by Roman thugs not fit to kiss his feet. He took it all. For me. Broken, useless, abject me. I deserve nothing and yet here I am with everything. Yet still I wallow.

No more. It’s time to transcend the pain. I will not allow myself to become a casualty of unseen wars. I was everything that you had allowed me to become. Well, not today. Not now, not never. Like Moses and David, like Peter and Paul. I’ll not be choked by the gall of those days of deceit and despair. I was dazed by the glare of false idols who sidled alongside me. Promising me the world yet delivering nothing but fire and death. Well no more. I’ve been reborn and reformed. Transformed.

The fiercest enemy I ever fought was myself. He left me bereft. Your closest friend can become the deadliest of foes. I was that foe for I knew every chink, every weakness in my armour. I knew when to parry, when to counter and when to lunge. To plunge the blade deep and true, striking home and drawing blood. Sucking the hope from my very marrow. Watching the life ebb away as I looked down upon my own corpse and dropped the now redundant blade into a pool of my own bloody doing.

Well no more. I’ll rise from the depths which have swept me away like a shipwrecked wretch. I’ll stretch and reach and teach myself new ways. Better ways. I’ll pluck out the shrapnel and no longer grapple with screaming demons who without reason defile this new season. Intrusive thoughts can rot and burn for I have turned and now I spurn that way. I’ll learn a new way. A way that quashes the affliction of addiction. I’ll leer at fear and grope for the hope that the Cross offered up. The dirtiest and vilest of deaths. The backdrop to the most glorious of days.

So I’ll wonder no more. Wash away the filth and the blood of your past. Wash away the filth and the blood of Golgotha. The place of skulls. That most beautiful of graveyards. For my past was nailed to the wood as sure as his flesh and bones were. I’m walking down the hill away from the carnage of Cavalry. Never forgetting but never looking back. Striding forwards towards the city. A new creation fuelled by elation. You will not win, you cannot win. I will survive and I will thrive. My past is in tatters, it’s the present that matters.

I Want To Read Your Blog

A shorter blog today you will all be glad to hear. They say that in order to improve as a writer you should read, read and then read some more. So today I’m going to follow that advice. I want to read your posts. I want to find out more about you and, in doing so, learn from you. I’m putting my feet up and taking the day off.

So……

If you have any current or archived posts that you would like me to read and/or comment upon then let me know and I will. Have you had a good day? A rubbish day? Has one of our posts reminded you of something we wrote about once in the past? Do you need feedback? Advice? Prayers? Or just a little golden star to brighten up your timeline. If so, then comment below.

Yours

Lazy Stephen 🙂

I’m Messed Up And Proud. Who’s With Me?

Many moons ago Fionnuala and I got married. One morning shortly before the big day I woke up with a crick in my neck. I thought little of it, assuming I had slept in an awkward position. But it continued to ache and niggle in the coming days despite how much I stretched and manipulated it. I swallowed paracetamol but might as well have been taking M&M’s for all the good they did. Come our wedding day the crick was still there.

And so it was. Fionnuala married a pain in the neck….with a pain in the neck.

Have you ever cracked your neck? There are few more satisfying sensations in the known universe. Over the coming weeks and months I developed my neck cracking technique down to a fine art but to no avail. The pain persisted and months became years. I learned to cope with the pain. It was rarely agony, more annoying. It just became part of the ‘Being Stephen’ experience. OCD? Check. Binge drinking? Check. Always complaining about his sore neck but never doing anything about it? Yup that’s me.

On the grand scale of all things pain it was fairly low down the scale. It wasn’t chronic, debilitating or life changing. But it was my pain and therefore it was important to me. I lived with it, I knew it inside out and I bored anyone stupid enough to ask me about it to within an inch of their lives. You’ve heard of Becky with the good hair. I became Stephen with the sore neck. It defined me. Until it wasn’t there any more. One day it was gone just like that. Without any explanation. Those of you thinking it was all in my head are free to stop reading any time now.

Until this week. The pain is back. In exactly the same place. I’m popping and cracking like cray cray again. Fionnuala is delighted. I made that last sentence up. Go and see a doctor? Don’t be so ridiculous. What would I write about then. I have a sore neck and you are all just going to have to get used to that. Until it decides to go away again. Anybody with a sore neck feel free to enter into lengthy correspondence with me. For I get what you’re going through. We can set up an online support group. Perhaps get some counselling. For I know your pain.

I know your pain.

We hear that phrase a lot. It’s misleading of course. Everybody’s pain is individual and unique to them. I cannot fully understand your pain just like I cannot fully understand what it is like to be a pterodactyl. Although I’m fairly certain that would be a pretty cool experience swooping from cliff tops and all that. But anyway I digress. Back to the pain thang. I cannot fully relate to another person’s neck pain but I’m probably more qualified to do so than most. I don’t know what you are going through but I can empathise. Which is part of the reason this blog was started. I want to be your pain killer. Or at the very least your pain partner.

I’m a screw up, a walking disaster, a deeply flawed and feeble individual. I’ve spent most of my life making poor choices and inflicting pain on myself and others. But no more. This blog arose like a phoenix from the ashes of my messed up life. It was forged in my pain. I know that sounds a bit dramatic there but bear with me. I know what it’s like to mess up. Repeatedly. It has been largely self inflicted and I’ve learnt the hard way but I’m confident it was a reason. It was part of my apprenticeship, my on the job training. I was being prepared for this. I see that now. There was hope in my hopelessness.

The world needs more messed up people. People honest enough to stand up and be counted. People who are willing to expose their own inadequacies in order to help others in similar situations. People who don’t hide behind fake smiles and ‘I’m fine’ platitudes. I’m not fine but I’m fine with that. And I’m fine with helping others in any way that I can even if it’s just to let them know that they’re not alone. Pain can be restricting. Just watch me try to turn my head 45 degrees if you want proof of that. But it can also be liberating.

Pain can lead to freedom. It creates character, self awareness and fortitude. It opens doors to new experiences and new relationships. It strips back the layers of pride and selfishness and allows you to excavate your true personality. It allows you to discover who you are meant to be. It is revelatory and revolutionary. If it wasn’t for the pain of my past I wouldn’t be writing these words today. And you wouldn’t be reading them. We would never have known each other existed. And connecting with you is worth all the pain in the world.

I’m messed up and proud. Who’s with me?

We Dare You To Comment On This

I got asked the other day by a fellow blogger how AFracturedFaith had grown so much in such a comparatively short period of time. The blog was only launched in May 2017 and we have been heartened by its growth since. We don’t define success by the number of followers or likes we receive but it is a not unpleasant by product of the blog getting its message across. People seem to like what we do and for that we are very grateful.

We would love to see this growth continue into 2018. We want to grow bigger but also deeper. We want to connect with fellow bloggers in a meaningful, substantive way. We view you all as real people and not just numbers. You have real lives, real problems, real hopes and dreams. We want to help you achieve everything you were put on this planet to accomplish. We are all on a journey. Some of you are flying at present, others are limping along or at a complete standstill. Wherever you are we are with you.

We have ideas for developing and expanding the blog and its associated social media platforms. At present these are just ideas that Fionnuala and I are discussing but we hope that at least some of these will come to fruition as the year progresses. I want to grow as a writer and hope that one day it will provide an income that will, at the very least, allow me to scale down the 9-5 slog. It is a dream at present but dreams have a habit of becoming reality if properly nurtured. We cannot do this without your input, however. We need your prayers, well wishes, positive vibes whatever you want to call them. But we also need your feedback.

What do you like about the blog in respect of content and format? What would you like to read more about? Or what do you want me to stop droning on about? Am I too angry, silly, serious? Is there anything regarding the blog’s layout or structure that can be tweaked or improved upon? Do we engage enough with you? Would you like to collaborate with us on projects? Where else would you like to see our product? Would you like to engage in deeper, one to one discussions regarding thoughts and projects. Prayer or study groups? Hear more from other family members? Can we pray for you more, talk to you more, help you more?

A lot of questions there and normal blogging service will be resumed with the next post. But for now it’s over to you. The ball is in your court. Don’t hold back. Don’t be shy. If you have never commented before then please do now. I promise not to cry.

Please comment below. Thank you.

OCD And Me

You never fully conquer OCD. It is a wily and resourceful enemy. It will choose not to face you on the open battlefield where the massed ranks of your respective armies can clash in combat in an honourable fight to the death. OCD is not interested in such forms of conflict. It will not look you in the eye and engage you in this manner. Such finite battles mean little to it for it is focused on the long game. It fights a war of attrition, a guerilla war. A war without end.

You can bombard it with medication and therapy and it will simply vanish into the shadows like the last wisps of mist on a crisp summer morning. You can unleash your finest cavalry regiments to hunt it down but to no avail; it will be as futile as trying to sweep up leaves on a blustery autumnal morning. OCD is the Scarlet Pimpernel of mental illness. It can lie dormant for a seeming eternity lulling you into a false sense of security before swooping to strike when you least expect it. It has a calculated cunning.

OCD is a slim rapier blade as opposed to a broadsword. It does not hack and bludgeon you into submission yet it is just as deadly at its murderous craft. It probes and pokes at your defences, infinitely patient, waiting for the moment when it spies a chink in your armour. Then, and only then, will it will lunge forward forcing its blade beyond the gap in your armour and striking home. Piercing skin and muscle, driving deep inside; causing untold internal damage which is invisible to all but it’s victim. When it withdraws its blade again the damage is done and it stands back to admire its handiwork. It’s blade slick with your dark, sticky blood.

OCD is the skilled sniper who penetrates your present from a mile away with a single bullet to the head. OCD is the silent assassin who sneaks unseen into your bedroom at night to hammer a dagger through your heart while it covers your mouth with its other hand so no one can hear your dying scream. OCD is the enemy who plants the land mine unbeknownst to you on the path you are travelling. One moment all is well and you are striding ahead with purpose. The next you hear the eerie click a micro second before your life is blown sky high.

OCD is the shrapnel that remains with you many years after you believe the war is over. It is the wound that aches and chafes, a constant reminder of its potential and its presence. For days, weeks, months it is nothing more than a dull ache, a nagging inconvenience that you somehow manage to live with. You cope, you manage, you survive. There is nothing else to do. But when it rears its head like a dormant dragon and breathes fire you are blown away by its power and penetration. It sears you to the bone with its white hot malice.

OCD is not interested in occupation. It will retreat and allow you the higher ground. It is the master strategist and its patience is boundless. It’s armies never tire but will launch wave after wave of assaults on your ravaged defences. It will grind you down into the dirt, it will crush your spirit as it will crush your bones. It will never stop, it will never give up. It is immovable, irresistible, unstoppable. It thrives on the counter attack. It’s fury is unrivalled. And when it comes it takes no prisoners. For war is hell and it is the devil come to take you for its own.

OCD is not interested in truces or white flags. It sneers at diplomacy and tact. It engages in total war and will not be satisfied until it has razed your world to the ground. It desires your total destruction and nothing less. There will be no prisoners, no negotiations and no backing down. It is a fight to the death. Your death. Olive branches will be tossed into the flames of what once was to burn with everything else you once held dear. It is a brutal, uncompromising siege that will never be lifted until your world lies all around you, broken and in ruins.

It can not be beaten. At best it can be driven back beyond your borders. And even then you must never lower your guard because it will prowl your perimeters like a ravenous lion waiting, watching. All it takes is one seemingly innocuous thought to drift lazily over your towering walls and settle at your feet. It can be anything and it can be nothing. But in that split second you realise it is too late. You raise your shield and dive for cover but it is too late. For the thought has exploded into a million fragments which riddle you from head to toe with intrusive thoughts and the irrational, destructive cycle of compulsive carnage begins again. A merry go round of mayhem, your life on hold again.

Trapped beneath the ice, your screams unheard and frozen in time. OCD is all of this and more. I am OCD and OCD is me. I must never lower my defences. Never. And so I write and I pray and I hope. This foe is forever.

What is your knowledge of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Are you a sufferer or have you never heard of it before?

Please comment below and let us know your thoughts on this post?

Winter Is Coming

A couple of inches of snow fell across Northern Ireland yesterday evening. Despite having had in excess of 24 hours prior notice the country responded in time honoured fashion….by grinding to a standstill. The lightest sprinkling of the white stuff on our fair land and chaos reigns. In scenes reminiscent of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ the Black family battled home from school and work respectively.

The roads had not been gritted. Fionnuala ended up off the road on her way to pick me up from the train station. Thankfully a Good Samaritan stopped to help get her back on the road but when she phoned to let me know I told her to stay put due to the treacherous conditions. There then followed *cue stirring music* the heroic sight of yours truly battling through a blizzard to get to them.

I slipped and slid the mile to where they were stranded. I felt like Scott of the Antarctic although I more resembled Olaf from Frozen but I made it and was able to gingerly drive us back to the house. We then received a text from Adam that his school bus was stranded two miles from our village and not going anywhere. He had started walking home so I set off again to pick him up. As I headed out of the village I was greeted by the heartening sight of a car abandoned in a ditch. It had flattened a road sign in the process. Yikes!

I eventually located Adam trudging along the roadside along with around thirty other school kids. Meanwhile the road was gridlock with cars, vans and lorries. All we were missing was Godzilla in the background; or perhaps King Kong swatting at helicopters. I managed to collect Adan and a couple of his mates before somehow turning the car and crawling back home. It was with some relief that we closed the front door and settled down in our cosy living room to watch the snow continue to fall.

Any North Americans or Scandinavians reading this are probably shaking their heads in disbelief. Us Irish just cannot cope with snow. Every winter it happens and every winter we are caught out. We just don’t seem to have the organisation or infrastructure to handle any form of inclement weather. Planning and preparation? More like panic and prevarication? We go to pieces. Winter is coming. We know! We know!! But we continue to stick our heads in the sand (or snowdrift) and hope it will all go away and leave us alone.

We can’t cope when weather conditions slightly outside of the norm befall us. We cease to function. The wheels come off. We are left stranded high and dry because we are not prepared for such an eventuality. And the same applies to the storms of life we have to face. We cannot say when, where or what but we know they are inevitable at some juncture. They will hit and they will hit hard. Instead of being swept away or sucked up into the sky we can be a little more prepared. We can dig in and hang on for grim death. We might lose a few fingernails in the process but we will survive.

Look around. What are your coping mechanisms? Is it your family, your friends or your faith? Where are your snow shovels, the people who can dig you out of a hole when you most need it? We are not islands and we need support mechanisms. I know I need to practice what I preach as during 2017 I walked away from the church and a number of friendships which were harmful to me. I know I need to work on that and be in a better place for when the next life storm hits.

Today’s post is a call for action. A reminder to dig out your disaster or evacuation plan, dust it down and examine it in detail. Who are your ‘go to’ people? The people who will be there for you when the day from hell descends? The inner circle you can rely on when its ‘4th and inches’ and the game is on the line. Blizzards are confusing and disorientating phenomena. When they hit we need a safe place to retreat to, we need people who we can rely upon. They are our signposts, our landmarks and our way out of the crisis.

We need them. For winter is coming….

What is the worst snowstorm you have ever been in?

How do you cope when a life storm hits?

Who are your ‘4th and inches’ people?

2018 – The Year Of Death

I got a phrase in my head the other day. This happens from time to time. It’s hard to explain but it’s as if the phrase was not of me. I didn’t think it into existence, it came from elsewhere, as if someone or something else planted it in my mind. I’m not sure if it is a promise, a warning or just my admittedly overworked brain playing tricks on me. Whatever the reason the phrase was there and I had to deal with it. What was the phrase? Why, I’m so glad you asked.

It was this. 2018 is the Year Of Death.

On the face of it, not the most cheery or reassuring message. It’s hardly up there with ‘2018 is the Year of Winning the Lottery’ or ‘2018 is the Year of Manchester United Winning the Champions League.’ Was there going to be a death in the family? It was enough to send a serial worrier like me into a full blown panic. Yet I didn’t feel frightened by the message. Something told me that it had been sent to reassure and comfort me as opposed to dismay and alarm.

I began to see the flip side of the message and realised it was a message of hope and intention. It was a positive proclamation. Death should not be feared especially within this context. Death is just part of the journey. I have walked a long and winding road in recent years. I have been carrying a lot of baggage from my past which has weighed me down and distracted me at times. It has made the journey a longer and more cumbersome one than it needed to be.

I saw it as an old fashioned leather rucksack filled with stones. It’s straps were cutting into my shoulders and my back was aching from the weight of its contents. It was literally killing me. My past was playing havoc with my present and preventing me from reaching my future. The rucksack was overflowing with guilt, shame, embarrassment and a host of other negative emotions that needed flushed out of my system; a toxic stew that had to be purged from my contaminated soul.

This blog is part of that purging process. It has grown beyond our wildest dreams and we have big plans for it in the year ahead. It has reignited my love of writing and I have received amazing feedback and support which has spurred me on. I want to write, I need to write and I hope I’m reasonably good at it. The written word is my weapon against the past. I will use it to slay my demons. I will use it to cut the rucksack free from my weary shoulders and let it fall by the wayside.

With it no longer holding me back I can stride on with fresh vigour and purpose towards my destiny. So I say death to the past. Death to guilt and shame. Death to regret and remorse. Death to addictive behaviour. Death to obsessive, intrusive thinking. Death to fear and worry. Death to negativity. Death to jealousy and hate. Death to the self. Death to relationships and friendships which drag you down. Death to lies. Death to anything which prevents you from becoming the person you were born to be. Death to Death.

You were born to live. You were born to make an impact, to make a difference. You are a pebble thrown into a vast, still lake. The ripples you create spread out across its surface from shore to shore. You are an agent of change. You are an electrical current surging through the grid of creation. You are unstoppable. You are irresistible. You light up your environment like a firework on the 4th of July. You are precious and unique. You are loved. You are love.

2018 holds no fear for me for it is the Year of Death. I embrace it.

What are you ‘Death to’ in 2018?

I’m Hangry

I am permanently hungry. I wake up hungry, I go to work hungry, I come home hungry, I go to bed hungry. I am the Hunger Games. Although I haven’t had to resort to using a bow & arrow or killing any teenagers. Yet. Catniss Everdeen watch out. If it comes down to it I will fight you to the death if it involves a sausage sandwich or multi pack of Double Decker chocolate bars.

This, of course, is as a result of my marathon training. Big mileage equates to big appetite. As I’m burning a lot of calories during the course of the week I need to replace them at more regular intervals. And by regular I mean all the time. In many ways I resemble a hobbit in my love of around nineteen meals a day. Although I’m considerably taller with slightly less hairy feet. Plus I’ve a soft spot for orcs.

I read somewhere that during a marathon training programme some runners actually put on weight, such are the constant hunger pangs that envelop them. I can relate to that. Thankfully I haven’t piled on the pounds but I can see how that can happen. I’ve witnessed fellow runners gorge themselves after long runs. It was akin to a zombie feeding frenzy. I can’t comment on their table manners because these guys didn’t even wait for the food to be placed on a table. Truly nasty.

I don’t like being hungry. Of course I have no concept of what real hunger is and don’t wish to devalue that but bear with me. When I am hungry I become tetchy and irritable. Or, as Fionnuala might suggest, more tetchy and irritable than normal. There is a word for this that has entered the English vocabulary in recent years. It’s right up there with ‘selfie’ and ‘Brexit’. That word is…. hangry.

Hungry + Angry = Hangry. Alternatively I have heard ‘rungry’ used but that’s just the 26.2 mile brigade trying to over complicate matters. Let’s stick with ‘hangry’ for now. When I need to eat nothing else matters bar the search for sustenance. I can’t focus on anything else until my stomach is full. And God help anyone who gets in my way. It becomes my Number One priority; everything else takes a back seat until my face is being fed. End of.

We all need to eat. Some of us have bigger appetites than others. My mother could live off a slice of toast and twenty four cups of tea a day. People like me need more. I’m fortunate in that I can pretty much eat what I want. Others, like Fionnuala, need to be more careful given her diabetes. Others again choose not to eat and to restrict their calorie intake. This can be voluntarily through a healthy diet plan or a result of an eating disorder which, sadly, seem to be increasingly prevalent in society today.

Hunger takes many forms. Some crave the control and power it brings. Others fear it as they never know where the next meal is coming from for them and their family. Hunger can be a dark, relentless foe. My own pangs pale into insignificance when compared against true, raw hunger where lives are on the line. Again I don’t mean to belittle a subject that still traumatises large swathes of our planet. We take so much for granted and that includes not having to worry about where our next mouthful is coming from.

Hunger can be a life or death matter. Or it can be a trivial gripe of a spoilt, middle aged Northern Irish runner. It affects all of us, however. Everybody gets hungry at some stage. And I’m not just talking about our stomachs here. We all have dreams, goals, ambitions. We all hunger after something. It can be a new physique, a new job or that ‘must have’ accessory. We want as oppose to need. We never seem to be satisfied with what we have. We hunger for more, more, more.

Hunger is a dangerous beast to tame. It can wreak havoc when that need relates to addictive patterns and destructive behaviours. Alcohol, drugs, sex, and power are but a few of the glittering gems we desire. We ache for them, the insatiable urge to fill the void within us. Yes, be hungry. Have dreams and hopes. But hunger after what is noble. Use you hunger to change your street, town or country. Hunger for love. Hunger for justice. Hunger for all that is good.

Make your hunger known.

What do you hunger for?

CSI: You

Crime scenes can be fascinating but grisly locations. My work occasionally involves me attending them and experiencing the other side of the cordon. I’ve even had to wear those silly forensic oversuits, masks and gloves on occasion. It wasn’t my best fashion moment let me tell you. I resembled a giant, white Teletubby. My Tinky Winky was decidedly un rinky dinky! Here’s a tip as well should you ever find yourself in one (well you never know). If you bend over make sure you are wearing an undergarment. They tend to rip quite easily. You’re very welcome.

Crime scenes are frenetic, highly pressurised environments. Scientists, photographers, mappers and scenes of crime officers buzz around carrying out their various duties. They have to be painstakingly meticulous. The tiniest oversight can result in crucial evidence being overlooked. A hair, a speck of blood, a fingerprint. Attention to detail is paramount. Clues can be concealed anywhere and only the most highly trained mind can identify and decipher them. I tend to find myself at the eye of this storm. I direct, advise and consult. But when it comes to the technical, scientific stuff I take a step back and leave it to the boffins and geeks. For I am neither. Cos I am the coolest of albino Teletubbies.

You might pore over a crime scene for hours and see nothing. A highly qualified specialist can spend just a few moments working the scene and report back with observations and findings which will leave you standing slack jawed in astonishment. Piecing together what happened at any scene is a team effort. It requires a cast of many. I cannot be expected to do it on my own. I don’t have the necessary knowledge, experience and skills. I rely on others to paint a picture for me. I delegate and I listen. Failure to do so can be career suicide.

When all the pieces of the jigsaw are presented to me I can then begin to slot them together. This is where my analytical and interpretive skills come to the fore. I provide a strategic overview like a general surveying a battlefield far below him. I’m nowhere near as important as a general but you get my drift. Jigsaws can be frustrating and time consuming. But there is no better feeling than fixing those last few pieces into place and the picture finally merging into focus. It makes all the hard work beforehand worthwhile.

Life can be a bit like working a crime scene. Baffling and bloody in equal measure. Attempt to decipher it alone and you will soon find yourself in hot water. You will quickly become swamped and end up hopelessly out of your depth. You need others around you, people who you can rely upon. Experts who will guide you through the pitfalls and lead you to the truth which is often staring you right in the face. You cannot rush life’s trials just like you cannot rush a crime scene. It takes time and it requires teamwork.

I spent a good chunk of my life trying to do it on my own. Attempting to unlock the riddle locked inside a conundrum wrapped inside an enigma that was me. I never got very far and invariably blundered past the subtle signposts and discreet directions set out along the path I travelled. I have been clueless to the clues and oblivious to the obvious. Unable to make any sense of the evidence spread out before my weary eyes. Blinded by my own selfish and sinful needs. Unable to see the wood for the trees. Bogged down in a quagmire of self pity and negativity. Going nowhere fast. When the answers were staring me right in the face all along. My faith and my family. They were my solution. They were the magnifying glass that this Sherlock Holmes needed.

Crime scenes cannot be held forever. Eventually the cordon will be taken down and the various agencies will pack up their bags and head home. The cleaning agencies will scrub the streets clean and it will be as if nothing ever happened. Nothing to see here folks. Move along now people. You only get one chance at at crime scene. Time is precious. You need to process it as a team before the opportunity is lost forever. They call it the golden hour. One chance, don’t mess it up. No pressure. Just like life really. You get one chance.

Your life is like a crime scene. It is a living, breathing, messy puzzle and you are the detective called to unravel its secrets and decode its mysteries. You only get one shot at it so tread carefully. Examine every inch of it and from every possible angle. In minute, fine grain detail. Every crime scene examination is a search for the truth. The truth you have been searching for your entire life. Your purpose. Your meaning. Your calling. The tiniest grain of information could unlock the door to worlds and universes that you never knew existed before. The key to your life.

But don’t do it alone. Use the resources available to you. Those who know you better than you know yourself. I can’t tell you who these people are. They are your tribe, your inner circle. Allow them underneath the cordon tape and into your confidence. Show them the beautiful mess that you are. Allow them to sift through the debris and help you piece together the jigsaw that reveals your purpose and destiny. Let them help you for you cannot do it alone. You must not do it alone. For before you know it the scene will be lost and the secret treasures of your being will be blown away into the night never to return. You will be unable to find the message in your mess.

Standing alone and confused on a dark, damp street. In an ill fitting Teletubby costume. Not knowing who you are nor why you are here. Now that would be a crime.

How are you getting on at working your crime scene?

Who are your tribe? Do you allow them under the cordon?

Is there a message hidden in your mess?

January 150 Mile Challenge Update

After three days on the sidelines due to illness I started running again yesterday. 8.1 miles yesterday and 7.2 miles today bring me up to 60 miles in total for the month so far. Which has me back on schedule to attain my target of 150 miles in January. Running to me is mentally beneficial as much as physical. It does wonders for my high stress levels and low self esteem. A running Stephen is certainly a happier Stephen.

I will post occasional running stories throughout the year. I don’t want to become a running bore (which I am prone to do) but running is part of me and part of my story. So it would feel odd if I didn’t write about it now and again. In a previous blogging existence I wrote about nothing else. But that blog was all about my ego and craving attention for all the wrong reasons. When I write about running now I do so in order to promote the benefits of healthy exercise to those struggling with addiction, depression or other mental health issues.

It costs nothing and it’s given me renewed life and freedom. Four years ago I weighed over 15 stone in weight and could barely run the length of myself. I’m now three stone lighter and ran my seventh marathon last November. I plan to run more this year. If I can do it then so can anyone. All you need is a little bit of ability and a whole lot of determination. Dreams can become reality. All you need to do is wake up and take that first step.

Keep running your race. Wherever it takes you,

The Ugly Truth

I used to lie all the time. In fact I became rather good at it. I lied to my wife. I lied to my kids. I lied to my mother and sister. I lied to my friends and work colleagues. I lied to anyone who I was engaged in conversation with for any length of time. I lied face to face. I lied on the phone. I lied via text message. I lied online. I liked to lie. I was a walking, talking lie-ability.

I even lied to myself. And I was such an accomplished liar that even I began to believe myself. I still continued to believe that I was a more or less honest, upstanding husband, father, son, brother and so on. Like any addict I was delusional. I thought I could stop lying at any time and return to the real world. Every lie, however, took me a step further away from where I needed to be. My lies accumulated and created a sticky, tangled web from which there was no escape.

Why do we lie? Why are some of us seemingly allergic to telling the truth. Well at the heart of it is self preservation. Lying is fundamentally a selfish act. The liar seeks to preserve their reputation and prevent others from seeing what lurks beneath the lies – the ugly, sinful truth. Why confront that when you can be mesmerised by beautiful, glittering lies. Lies are fluffy, soft and shiny. The truth, on the other hand, is all sharp edges and hard surfaces. Lies are beautiful. The truth is no oil painting.

The truth regarding me was not a pretty sight. And eventually it was exposed for all to marvel at it in its malignant magnificence. They say the truth will set you free but it didn’t feel like that every time it happened to me. And it always did. I wasn’t as good a liar as I thought I was for I was always found out. That moment when you realised you were exposed and cornered; when your blood turned to ice and your heart lurched into the pit of your stomach. There is no more sickening feeling.

It was then and only then that I saw the lies for that they really were. I saw the pain and distress I caused my loved ones. I saw that beneath the cocky, swaggering exterior I was nothing but a lilywhite coward. My legs turned to jelly and I struggled to breathe. I was overcome with nausea and self pity. I became nothing. Without my protective cloak of lies the cruel, ugly truth burned me to a crisp. It left me naked and bleeding, ashamed to look at myself in a mirror. I still struggle with that even to this day.

Learning to tell the truth again is hard work. When your default setting is to lie it takes a conscious act to do anything but that. The truth is clunky and cumbersome. It trips you up and slows you down. The truth is sitting in a huge traffic tailback as Liar Airlines zooms past overhead. Learning to tell the truth again is like learning to walk again; one painful, uncertain step at a time. It is so tempting to fall back into old habits and tell a little, white one just to oil the wheel the oils of life.

But one lie is never enough just like one drink is never enough for an alcoholic. Every landslide starts with one tiny stone rolling. And I must never be swallowed up again by an avalanche of my own creation. My lies are the smokescreen I create in order to hide sinful secrets. Secrets that have broken me time and time again. I cannot and will not allow that to happen again. I must fight the urge to lie and avoid the liars who have led me down dark paths before.

Every addict is an accomplished liar. Strip away the lies and you see the addiction for what it truly is. The truth to an addict is like kryptonite to Superman. It brings the strongest miscreant to their knees. It obliterates them and it is only then that they can start to rebuild. From scratch. The truth is a wrecking ball in the cosy life of a liar. It is radical and violent. There is nothing cuddly about it. Every avenging angel comes with fire and fury, not fluffy clouds and heavenly choirs.

I cling to the truth. It burns and cuts me. I slip and stumble but I cling on for dear life. An ugly truth for a battered, dirty soul.

Do you struggle with telling the truth?

How have lies impacted on your life?

Sick Of Being Sick

Chez Black has been struck with all kinds of sickness and illness over the last few weeks. Fionnuala has been particularly unfortunate and has been struggling with all sorts of ailments. Once she overcomes one bug another one has appeared over the horizon to blight her. It has been a very exhausting and debilitating period for her.

Hannah and Rebecca have both been off school this week with various sniffles and coughs. Hannah also had a nasty stomach bug after Christmas. Even our eldest, ‘IronMan’ Adam, came home from school today feeling under the weather. And as for yours truly? Well I’ve been manfully battling manflu these last three days. But I’m not one to complain right?

We’ve had to miss various trips and appointments. We haven’t been to church in over a month and have effectively quarantined ourselves off from the rest of civilisation bar essential journeys. We are well and truly sick of being sick. It seems that we have picked up every lurgy going. You name it, we have it. I know we have been hit by nothing really serious but it’s still been a frustrating start to 2018.

If only everything was so infectious. Why can’t I be struck down with excessive kindness, tolerance or generosity? Wouldn’t it be great if you woke up one morning and couldn’t stop smiling? Or caught a nasty dose of neighbourly love? Nope. These characteristics seem to come much harder to most of us. They are not an automatic action like sneezing or coughing. They require an actual effort on our part. An effort that is often lacking on the part of many.

Fionnuala and I watch the regional, national and international news but see nothing but hatred and bigotry. We turn on mainstream television and see traditional values and morals being relentlessly attacked by the ‘politically correct’ police. You are scared to open your mouth today for fear of offending someone. Our skins are becoming thinner as our hearts become harder.

The same applies to all aspects of society. People don’t seem to care any more about nobody but numero uno. Indifference and apathy are reaching epidemic proportions. If you dare to have an opinion contrary to the accepted norm you are ostracised and ridiculed. It’s a mad, mad world. Or rather it’s a sad, sad world.

I’m embarrassed by our elected representatives. I’m appalled by many of our so called celebrities. I’m disappointed by supposed role models. I’m let down by family and supposed friends. It’s little wonder we often as a family do not want to mix and mingle. Be it attending the workplace, church or social events. Everywhere we look we see shallowness and hypocrisy.

We will soldier on through this period of illness just as we will soldier on through life. We will love where we can and hold our heads high. We are proud of our home and our kids even though our throats are sore and our noses are blocked. We care and because we care we won’t give up. We remain optimistic even though the world doesn’t offer much in the way of optimism.

We are sick. But the world is sicker.

How Good Is Your Memory?

I have a great memory. I have a terrible memory. Confused? Let me explain. Ask me to name the Manchester United Premiership winning team of 1992-1993. No problem. Schmeichel, Irwin, Pallister…..Ok Ok you’re not interested, I get it. Back to the main message.

Ask me however what I did yesterday and I struggle. This drives Fionnuala nuts and rightly so. She will ask me to pick up some groceries on the way home. I’ll walk in the door empty handed. She will bring up a discussion we had the previous day. I will look at her blankly. She will remind me about an appointment that we have. I will have no recollection of this.

It drives me nuts as well. I don’t do it deliberately and I can’t understand why I’m like this. When it comes to my job I have an encyclopaedic memory. Dates, names, locations i’m like a walking computer spitting out the details. Ask me what I had for my dinner the previous evening, however, or the route I took for my last long run and I am in trouble.

Maybe it’s hereditary. I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s which really worries me but when I think about it logically I honestly don’t think that’s the reason. We lead hectic lives so maybe it’s just total information overload and my tiny brain can only retain so much. Is it because I use up so much of my time fighting off the intrusive OCD thoughts which threaten to swamp my consciousness? Who knows. It’s not as if I do it deliberately and it’s not as if I don’t care. It’s embarrassing and when I look in Fionnuala’s eyes after I’ve forgotten another mundane detail I see hurt and disappointment.

I don’t want to hurt and disappoint my wife. This hurts and disappoints me. I want to be reliable, trustworthy and bang on my A-game when it comes to my family commitments and responsibilities. So, in order tocounter my shocking memory lapses, I have started to religiously note everything down in a diary. If it ain’t written down then it ain’t happening. It’s always within arms reach. It is my go to new best friend.

I’ve realised I need to write stuff down in order to get it into my head. I need lists and schedules. It’s how my brain works. Without them it turns to mush. I’m already reaping the benefits and believe I have impressed Fionnuala of late with my recollection of a few upcoming events. She will never admit to this but I thought I should record it in the blog for the purposes of posterity anyway.

Isn’t memory a bewildering topic? I can’t remember what I did yesterday but can recall events from thirty years ago with laser accuracy. Down to the fine grain detail. And why is it that so often it’s the traumatic, distressing memories that we retain? Replaying them over and over like a broken cinematic reel. If only we could break the cycle and drain the memory banks of these poisonous thoughts.

I’ve been the victim of some of these thoughts but I’ve also been the originator. Either way they continue to haunt me. I can’t undo what happened and I can’t erase them from my memory. All I can do is focus on the here and now. Focus on working on my memory in order to support my wife and kids today. And by doing so ensure that their memories thirty years from now are happy ones.

We can’t tear down the bad memories but we can be the architects of better ones. Start building today. Even if you have to write it down.

What is your memory like? Do you rely on a diary?

How do you deal with toxic memories from the past?

Shatter The Silence

Silence is golden they say. In today’s hectic world it is almost impossible to escape the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life. With technological advances we are rarely totally alone nowadays. We crave anonymity and inaccessibility. We just want five minutes of peace and quiet. We need a break, a time out, a little ‘me time.’ The ‘must have’ holiday invariably involves a deserted beach with no internet.

Some people choose to drop out of society. They become hermits and recluses. They turn their backs on human interaction. There can be a plethora of reasons for this. Some say it is the only way they can sustain a meaningful relationship with God. The noise of the world creates too many barriers between them and their Creator. They argue that by turning their back on modern life they are discovering the true meaning of life.

Others are hounded into silence. They have given up. Life has knocked them to the canvas once too often and they cannot pick themselves up again. They have been abused, betrayed and hurt beyond repair. The pain of a lonely life is preferable to the horrors they have experienced. They retreat into their self made fortresses. They become ghosts, drifting through life like wraiths on the wind.

All of the above scenarios involve choice. Although all three originate from differing needs they all entail a decision being made in order to improve an individual’s set of circumstances. Be it for physical, mental, emotional or spiritual requirements the quest for silence is all-consuming. It may be for self preservation or self improvement but it is dictated by free will. We decide. We crave the silence. It is more precious than anything. It is the gold at the end of our rainbow.

What if we don’t have that choice however? What if the silence is forced upon us. I see so many relationships today that are empty shells containing nothing but silence. So many friendships derailed by miscommunication and misunderstanding. For some silence is a weapon in their armoury that they wield to devastating effect. It can cut deeper than the most refined steel, piercing dreams and shattering lives. Silence can be a killer.

The victims are left bewildered and broken. Their is no closure, no explanation for how things have turned out the way they have. Questions are unanswered, apologies are snubbed, olive branches are thrown into the fires of recrimination. They are left hanging in limbo, twisting in the wind, clutching at the noose which squeezes the last breath of hope from their screaming lungs.

Many say Hell is a place of eternal silence and darkness. I can think of nothing more horrific. Silence is golden they say. It can also be toxic, sickening and leave its victims broken and bleeding. A cold shoulder can burn as deeply as a white hot poker. It can brand people for life, scar them beyond recognition. There is much to be said for reconciliation and restoration. No relationship is beyond salvage if embraced with love and hope.

Swallow the bile and the pride. Find it in your heart to forgive. Expose yourself to the healing glow of forgiveness. It’s not easy but it can be done. Put down that stone you are about to throw. Look around and then look deep into your very being. Are you really any better? Taking the high moral ground means you only have farther to fall when the tables are turned and you find yourself in a similar situation.

For that time will come. As certain as night follows day. Shatter the silence. Let your voice be heard. It could save a life of today.

Have you been a victim of silence?

Have you used silence as a weapon before?

Can you forgive someone today and shatter the silence?

Excess All Areas – Part One

I am a creature of excess. When I get involved in an activity that I am passionate about I have to take it to the nth degree. If there is a nth post graduate qualification, or possibly a masters option, then sign me up. I always take it to the limit, to the extreme, to 100% and beyond. Is that even possible? To give over 100%. Answers on a postcard please. I am Mr. Excess All Areas.

In my days of copious alcohol consumption one drink was never enough. Social drinking has always baffled me. Having one beer was pointless as far as I was concerned. I drank to get drunk. Doesn’t everyone? No??! Well who knew. I didn’t even like the taste of it. It was an ends to a means; a way of getting from Point A to Point B as swiftly as possible. Point B was where it was at. I had no problems or worries there. The downside was that the following morning I awoke with a horrific hangover to find I was right back at Point A again. I binged. Then cringed….and winged.

Some years ago I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Order (OCD). This explained a lot. I was largely driven by it. At times I fled it but on other occasions it urged me onwards to new heights. Or depths depending on your perspective. When I run, my default setting is to run long distances. When I have the bit between my teeth at work, I clock up long hours. When I became a Christian in the early days I lived, ate and breathed it. I have an addictive personality. Which is why I avoid PlayStations, scratch cards, heroin and daytime soap operas like the plague.

When I took up a new activity or interest I had to become the best I possibly could at it. There were no half measures. I could never be a lukewarm participant. With me it was either freezing cold or scalding hot. And as we all know exposing yourself to extremes of temperature is a dangerous business. I bolstered what little talent I had in any given field with bucketloads of OCD fuelled determination and stubbornness. It was all or nothing. The secret of my success was excess. It is a fine line between passion and obsession. I still walk that tightrope every day.

I can, and have, become obsessed with just about anything. In order to ensure the integrity and impartiality of this post (he typed pretentiously) I asked Fionnuala to compile a list of 10 things I have become obsessed with down the years. Her initial response was ‘only 10?’ She’s a laugh a minute my wife. Anyway here is her list….

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (before I discovered Twitter and Instagram), alcohol, work, running, Diet Coke, Tomb Raider (the games and Jolie movies), football, calories, the Game of Thrones cast (primarily all things Stark) Katy Perry (not so keen on the new haircut) the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival (which is held in March but I started preparing for it the previous November), selfies (hangs head in shame), lying (hangs head even further in shame), being liked by others and being somebody who I am not. In the end I had to tell her to stop. She’s probably still typing.

I see a lot of similar people on WordPress. Their demons drive them to excess. They are damaged souls. Life has gouged great holes in them, gaping wounds. They seek to fill these voids with anything that will allow them to feel again. They are beyond numb for at least numbness is something. They are nothing. They need something, anything to cling onto. Excess is their oxygen. It is what propels them gasping and spluttering above the raging waters of depression and despair. It is life.

It can be anything. Drugs, alcohol, money, power, sex. It can be a person. It can be a possession. Anything. But it must be ramped up to excess. Excess is the common denominator that underpins every story I read. Addiction, Depression, OCD, Anxiety, Anorexia, Bulimia, the list go on. We crave escape, release, freedom. But the demons are clever. They seduce us with their soothing words. They promise the above but in reality they are urging us deeper into the mire of captivity. They lie. The shiny baubles they dangle so tantalisingly in front of us are worthless. It is all superficial. We need to look beyond the bright lights to find the truth.

They are masters of deceit. Yet we fall for it time and time again. One more glass, one more hit, one more purge and all our problems will be gone. Or at least eased. Anything to get away from our drab, dreary realities. There must be more to life than this. We see excess as the swipe card which will allow us access this magical kingdom, this nirvana which we have been so desperately seeking. It is only when we stand on the other side and the veil falls back that we realise we have been duped.

We crave the grave. Not literally (although tragically some are driven down that dark path) but we seek an end to who we have become. I am currently reading ‘How To Murder Your Life’ by Cat Marnell. If you ever read one story of recovery from addiction and mental illness read hers. Hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. Brutal, visceral honesty. Searing passion and written in such a frantic, beautiful style.

Sorry I’m obsessing again. Do you see a pattern developing here? But the title says it all. Excess is our weapon of choice. When we survey the crime scenes of our lives we will see it glistening in a pool of our own blood. We are murderers and the victims are our lives. We flee the scene but, despite what we think, we cannot flee ourselves. We wake up and are right back where we started. Excess is a prison not a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t open doors, it builds walls. Between yourself and your loved ones. Between who you are and who you have the potential to be.

It is a double edged sword. A sword that can be wielded for good or harm. My next post will focus on the latter and explore how we can use our excessive, obsessive natures to overcome our demons. We can turn the tables and slay them with their own weapons. And as they lie bleeding at our feet we can finally taste true freedom. A new world where we can live without fear and shame. Just believe. You are within touching distance.

Can you relate to this post?

What are your experiences and thoughts regarding excessive and obsessive behaviour?

Who Do You Trust?

Last year I made an unusual New Years Resolution. I decided to give up having friends. That’s right. I was going solo. All I needed were Fionnuala and the kids. The reason? Well largely it was forced upon me. I had self destructed in such spectacular fashion that some people no longer wanted anything to do with me. Others did but only if I adhered to a number of pre-conditions. After some consideration I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t. And others again I had to cut adrift myself as they simply were not good for me.

Within a relatively short period of time I went from having a reasonably busy social life to well….nothing. We left the church we had been actively involved in and are still struggling to find a new spiritual home. I cut off all my ties with various running groups I had been linked to. I left all formats of social media and deleted a swathe of contact numbers from my mobile phone. I don’t have a big family. I have one sister who I don’t see very often and I lost my father in 2010 to prostate cancer. Since then my mother has become something of a recluse and, although we talk every day on the phone, I maybe see her once every couple of months.

It was Fionnuala and the kids. I got up, went to work and came home. I run on my own. I go and watch my son play rugby but don’t really mix with all the other parents. I keep my head down wherever I go and usually wear a cap. People walk past as if I don’t exist and that’s just fine by me. I used to seek out the limelight whereas now I shun it. Plus I can no longer fall back on alcohol to combat my social awkwardness. I’m a weirdo, a geek, an oddball. As long as I have my Kindle Fire and Netflix then I’m as happy as a pig in you know what.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m anti-social. I’m shy and awkward but I would love to have friends. The written medium is my strongest communication format. I feel very at home when I am writing. Put me in a room full of strangers, however, and ask me to engage in small talk and I would crumple in an embarrassed heap. I’d be like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. ‘I’m mellllllttttiiiiiiinnngggggg!!!!’ Flying monkeys optional. They really freak me out by the way.

I want to have friends but I just can’t get my thang together on this front. I’m just me and not a lot of people get thar. I like hobbits and zombies and running 26.2 miles for ‘fun’. These icebreakers tend to be greeted by a lot of blank stares whenever I drop them into the conversation. I’ve been trying to explain my rationale regarding this situation for five paragraphs now but I guess the ever so eloquent Taylor Swift sums it up best.

I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….

The Social Media Wannabe Formerly Known as Stephen Black has inflicted and sustained considerable damage over the last few years. Thank God I’m now back on the straight and narrow. I have massive trust issues, however. I trust very few people. I’ll take that a step further. I don’t even trust myself most of the time. It can take years to establish trust but you can destroy it in a few seconds. Fionnuala dragged me very reluctantly back onto social media via this blog and I am slowly starting to find my feet again. I am learning to trust others and myself again. I hope others are learning to trust me as well.

It’s a constant battle though. I want to help people through this blog but I’m ever alert and wary. Am I coming across as too arrogant? Pretentious? Am I disclosing too much about myself? Too little? How do I come across? Am I doing enough? The questions keep coming. And it all boils down to one little word – trust. Trust rusts. It needs constant attention like one of those massive road bridges that are constantly being painted to combat corrosion. Once the painters get to the far end of the bridge they have to start all over because the near end has started to rust again.

I want to thank WordPress. For allowing me to be myself. For allowing me to lower my defences and display my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For allowing me to trust people again. For allowing others to trust me. For allowing me to learn to trust myself again.

I am everything you are allowing me to become. I trust this community, this tribe. I think I’ve finally found my people. Thank you.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Where do you stand on the issue of trust?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part Two

Due to unprecedented popular demand (well, three of you) I’ve decided to post a photo of my attempts to grow a beard. This was taken earlier today. It’s been twelve days now since my chin last saw a razor blade and what a journey it has been. I’ve pouted, I’ve preened and I’ve scratched but I can finally score this enterprise off my bucket list.

I’m back to work on Friday after the Christmas break so I’ve decided to bid farewell to the face furniture and return to the clean shaven look safe in the knowledge that I am a proper man’s man. No patchy spots and not a ginger hair to be seen. What’s not to like about that? As tomorrow is my final day of follicular freedom I might experiment. Perhaps with a goatee? Or by rocking the Mexican gringo look?

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Fionnuala and the kids who have had to endure this abomination over the last two weeks. Fionnuala has been wisely keeping me at arms length but I’ve saved us a small fortune in razor blades and shaving foam. If any of you hear distant screams later tonight, fear not. It will probably just be me hacking at my face while trying to avoid my jugular.

Yours in beardiness

Stephen

We Need You

I read a lot of blogs on here and try as much as I can to interact with, and encourage, you the good people of WordPress. Some posts are penned from places of hope and restoration by writers who have been through horrendous experiences but have emerged (battered yet triumphant) from the other side. Others are darker stories from people who are walking similar paths but are at different stages of their journeys. Their rawness and honesty is to be applauded as they stumble through the eye of the storm.

If AFracturedFaith has a mission statement it is to act as a beacon of light to those who are walking the same path as me but not quite as far along. I don’t see myself as a role model but if my words can help even one person then my work is done. Every day I read inspirational stories of courage and resilience. I see tales of tragedy and trauma. But through it all another theme emerges. I see talent amongst the trauma. Pain exposes potential. It unearths an energy and creativity that, otherwise, might never have seen the light of day.

It is akin to the myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Where there was once decay and destruction I can now see the first shoots of recovery emerging from the ruins. Your words are rising upwards and creating a latticework upon which you can construct new life. Not only for yourself but for the others who follow your blog. Every positive message is a step forward not just for you as an individual but also the wider recovery community. Your words move us; they turn us into a movement.

I see some of you question the value and validity of your posts. You wonder if anyone even reads them, what’s the point? My message to you is to keep writing and posting. Your words are both therapeutic and educational. They reveal as well as heal. They help others cut through chains of addictive behaviour and find a way through the mist of mental illness. They provide clarity and focus. Your mind may once have been in pieces but you now offer peace of mind. You are both a peacemaker and a pathfinder.

We need you. I need you. And I hope that some of you need me as well. I have spent too much of my life as a needy, attention seeking man. I now want to draw attention to your needs and your talent. Together we are strong and can change lives and worlds. Our former brokenness can lead to breakthrough in the lives of others. Our scars act as signposts for others travelling further down the road behind us. If we sow enough seeds some of them will fall on fertile ground and flourish. From tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow.

So keep sharing your story. The rough with the smooth. We want to hear your voice loud and clear. You are special as is your story. We can learn so much from you. There will be tears and there will be heartbreak. That is all part of the process. It is a necessary evil which will ultimately lead to a greater, sustainable good. You may feel worthless, useless and hopeless but you are not. You are not. Your perceived ‘lessness’ offers us more than you will ever realise. Don’t ever stop.

Where are you on your journey?

What does the blogging community mean to you?

Make Today Count

I was in the shop today when I was forced to do an actual Scooby-Doo double take. Yikes! Shaaaaaagy! There before my very eyes was an Easter Egg display. On 2nd January. I don’t think the shop in question had even taken down its Christmas decorations yet. I’ve eaten enough chocolate this last week to merit a serious intervention of Willy Wonka-esque proportions so walked on by without making a purchase. Besides we still have 485 boxes of Celebrations and Miniature Heroes to plough through.

The thing is though other people obviously were making purchases. Otherwise why would the shop have Easter Eggs out on sale? It’s a demand driven market. Need and supply. Santa has barely landed back at the North Pole and the Easter Bunny is already dusting down his basket. These seasonal workers have a time of it. I feel sorry for the Tooth Fairy. She never gets a day off. Where’s the justice in that? People are already planning for Easter. No time to hang about. It’s less than four months away!

I shouldn’t have been surprised really. We live in a world that operates at a million miles an hour these days if not faster. After Easter it will be the summer holidays, then Halloween, Thanksgiving and, before you know it, Christmas is just around the corner again. We are so taken up in our planning and preparations that we forget the here and now. Never satisfied with our present and always looking forward to the next big event. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries. It’s full speed ahead.

We are wishing our lives away when we should be living our lives today.

Instead of pining for these special days we need to recognise that every time we open our eyes and breathe is a special day. Every day has the same number of seconds, minutes and hours in it. Every day is an opportunity to love and be loved. Those big days down the road overshadow the big days we are living through every twenty four hours. By wishing our lives away we are devaluing ourselves and others. We are capable of so much more, there is so much more that we could and should be doing.

It is good that we look forward to, and celebrate, these special occasions. But life is so much more than that. It is about looking around as well as looking forward. Sorry to come across as the harbinger of doom but who is to say that you will even see Easter, Thanksgiving or next Christmas? None of us know when, or how, our circumstances might change. There but for the grace of God and all that. Who knows? We could all be speaking North Korean and have silly haircuts this time next year. Is North Korean even a language?

Let’s celebrate the ordinary days and make them extraordinary. You can make a difference today. Throw a pebble into your pool of influence and see where the ripples take you. Develop a presence in your present rather than sleepwalking to the next big day. Because when you get there it’s invariably an anti-climax anyway. And you find out the people you share these occasions with are virtual strangers as you have been ignoring them for the last six months anyway.

Don’t count the days. Make the days count. Starting today.

Have you seen your first Easter Egg yet?

How are you going to make today count?

Detox Day

Fionnuala suggested the other evening that I undertake an endurance challenge for January 2018. It involves running 150 miles during the month and logging them on my Garmin watch. At the end of the month I e-mail the challenge organisers a screen shot of my mileage and, in return, I get a medal and compression top. Not bad for £14. Plus, as ever, I will be running to raise funds for SHINE Charity, a cause very close to my heart.

I like challenges. No, let me rephrase that, I need challenges. Even in work I may moan about it at the time but I work well under pressure and to a deadline. A certain amount of pressure can be healthy. You need to be tested in order to examine your outer boundaries and then go beyond them. So I am grateful to Fionnuala for discovering this fresh challenge for me. She is always thinking of new ways of stretching me. Either that or this is her polite way of getting me out of the house more over the next four weeks.

I’m setting out on a ten mile run this morning as my first leg of the challenge. No time like the present right? The challenge is perfect training preparation for the marathons and half marathons I plan to run throughout the year. I used to experience a different type of alcohol related pain on New Years Day so it will be invigorating and liberating to start the year off in this fashion. I feel as if I will be on the front foot and ahead of the game.

I am also going to use the ‘me’ time alone on the road to think and pray. It is important that we all get this downtime whatever our belief systems. As ever I hope to leave a few of my demons out on the road and return home a more focused and decluttered individual. Running for me is like my writing. I use it to detoxify my soul and spirit, to unburden my heart of worries and fears. It is an act of cleansing and purification; a precious purging.

However you spend the first day of this new year I hope you find a little ‘me’ time to tend to your own mental and spiritual needs. I’ll see you on the road.

How did you spend the first day of 2018?

How do you intend to detoxify this year?

Unhappy New Year

I hate New Year! There I’ve said it.

No, hang on, hate is too strong a word. But I really don’t like it. For all sorts of reasons. The overpriced taxi fares, the fake bonhomie, the soul withering hangover the following morning. All these memories from my past cause me to break out into a cold sweat. This post, however, is about New Year much as I dislike it so I’m not going to focus on the past. Call it one of my New Year Resolutions ha!

Everywhere I look people are making resolutions. They’re going to eat less, exercise more, save the planet, yadda yadda yadda. I’m sure all these declarations are well intentioned and heartfelt at the time but, let’s face it, how many of them last beyond January 7th. By then most of us, myself included, have fallen off the wagon in spectacular fashion, and can only sit on our bruised backsides and egos, watching it roll on into 2018 without us.

This makes us more unhappy than when we started out. For in order to make a resolution you have to be unhappy or dissatisfied with some aspect of your current situation. You are resolving to make a change, to improve your circumstances, to move forward. Yet when the resolution invariably crashes and burns you find yourself more unhappy than when you started. You consider yourself as weak and a failure. Your resolve has dissolved and you haven’t evolved.

You’re back to square one. Make yourself comfortable and take in your surroundings as this is where we spend a good part of our lives. Maybe eat another mince pie while you reflect on what a useless human being you are. Except you’re not. It’s the New Year Resolutions which are useless. You build yourself up all December for this chance, this hope to turn your life around in 2018 only to fall flat on your face at the first hurdle. New Year Resolutions well and truly suck.

This propensity to fail sets us off on entirely the wrong mental footing. New Year and I’ve already flunked out. Just like last year and the year before. By striving to change and move forward we find ourselves ruminating on the imperfections of our past. Which kind of defeats the whole point of the exercise. You sit there with your head in your hands thinking you have to wait another twelve months before you can try again to get a foot on the bottom rung of whatever ladder you are hoping to scale. Right?

Wrong. Why wait a year or a month or a minute for that matter? If I ruled the world (a disturbing thought I know) I would do away with New Year. Who says you can only make resolutions on 1st January. Why not 2nd January, 3rd January or 18th October for that matter. Any day, hour or minute that you choose. Change is a constant process, a state of mind that should run through your veins 24/7/365 not just once a year. So what if you screw up on 2nd January. Dust yourself down and try the next day and the day after that.

Change requires determination. Old habits need broken and new ones formed. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Transformation is a life long process. Do not allow yourself to be defined or confined by your perceived failings on a set, pre-determined day of the year. Every defeat is actually a victory. You learn more about yourself, where you learn from what went wrong the time before and then tweak and tailor your tactics in order to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistake the next time you try. For there will be a next time.

And a next time, and a next time, until it sticks and you nail it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or New York, Paris or Belfast for that matter. They are living, breathing cities which continue to grow to this very second. They are works in progress, as are you. Beautiful creations with a plan and a purpose greater than the sum of all your broken resolutions put together. Make your life one of constant resolution.

For within every resolution lies the solution. To unlock the person you were born to be.

Unhappy New Year everyone! Happy New Rest of your Life!!

Have you a track record of broken resolutions?

What are your 2018 goals and targets?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part One

I don’t have a bucket list but if I ever compiled one I reckon that growing a beard would have been on it. I’ve never had a beard, stubble yes, but never a full one. I’ve always wondered what it would look and feel like. Would I resemble a mighty warrior from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones? Or a sad, middle aged man who should really know better.

Fionnuala hates all things face furniture and has always been strongly against the idea of me growing one; anything beyond a two day stubble and she looks at me disapprovingly. She thinks they are dirty but finally relented a week ago and said I could grow one over the Christmas holidays. So it was with much excitement that I banished my razor and shaving foam to the back of the bathroom cabinet. Operation Beardy McBeardyFace was go go go!

There was little to report over the first few days but, as we now reach the week mark, I have become fixated by my facial hair. I have been caught examining it in the mirror. This is bizarre as I normally hate looking at my own reflection and avoid doing so whenever I can. Yet the beard has an eerily hypnotic pull and keeps drawing me back. I find myself stroking it without realising that I am. I even shampooed it the other evening. If this were to continue beard oils and combing may enter the equation. I am like a child with a new plaything.

There are pros and cons to growing a beard. I considered working out how much I would save in toiletries over the course of a year but then decided this was a step in sadness too far. The same goes for the 3.475 days a year I now have to spend on other activities. Like staring in the mirror at myself. Or shopping for beard oils and other related products. The beard is saving me time and money. All I have to do is sit back and do nothing. What’s not to love about that?

The experiment has also reassured me that I do not possess a ginger gene. Being Irish this has always been a concern of mine. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against redheads. Belinda Carlisle was the first love of my life. I used to stalk Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones around Belfast city centre. And Ed Sheerin and Prince Harry have made it cool to be ginger again; no, this all comes from the darkest recesses of my school days when to be a ginger was akin to having social leprosy; you were a pariah, an outcast to be mercilessly mocked for all the days of your life. Duracell Head, Carrot Top, Ginger Ninja and so on and so forth.

I was tubby, shy and wore glasses but at least I wasn’t ginger. Or was I? Thankfully the beard has allayed any concerns I might have had. Not even a hint of copper. It has sprouted up reassuringly dark apart from a grey section around my chin which I think makes me look most distinguished. George Clooney eat your heart out. Why didn’t I think of this years ago. I could have been modelling for Armani. Not only does the beard turn me into a Holywood sensation but it also covers the many parts of my face that I am not so enamoured with. Everyone’s a winner.

Yes a week in and everything is going swimmingly. When I started writing this post I never envisaged it developing into a two parter. Yet it has. You see the beard is taking over. It has developed a life of its own. It is like an alien life form that has attached itself to my face and taken over my mind. And for all the advantages I have listed above there are as many, if not more, disadvantages. The beard is most definitely not beardier on the other side. Part Two will cover all that so try to contain yourselves.

And no before you ask I’m not posting a photo of my bearded self. Some of you may be of a nervous disposition and I don’t want to scare you.

Men – do you have a beard? What have been your experiences with facial hair?

Women – are you a fan of face furniture? Beards? Moustaches? Hipster goatees?

Stinking Thinking – Part Two

Follow me He said. So I did and it led me to them. I was hungry and needed fed, my starving soul craved sustenance like an addict craves the needle and the relief of release. I gorged on their manna but the more I think back, it wasn’t from heaven. This desire to please was like a disease. So I smiled and I nodded as they queried and prodded. I listened and learned but the sin it still burned. I yearned to be better and free and unfettered. Love me, like me, tolerate me, anything me. Mesmerised and traumatised. I stumbled on regardless, deaf to your screams as I destroyed our dreams.

Sober as a judge but as drunk as a skunk as I slithered and slid back down into the pit. And this time it’s worse so I curse the day I blamed the drink. No excuses this time, no rhyme or reason for this new season of shame and pain. I stand oblique to your clique and it reeks of the world not the word. Judge, jury and executioner. They strike the gavel as I unravel.

We’d travelled so far but I’m sliding back and there’s no slack as I scrabble, babble, fall back into the rabble. Hands digging in the rubble. A muddle of troubled thoughts and all for naught. The same old mistakes as still I rake over the ashes of my past. I’m second class and second best. Small groups for small thoughts. I talk the talk and walk the walk but my path is down, down, down. There is no crown where I go, just dirt and grime and endless time. Sleepwalking all the way to the grave. Going six feet under to be torn asunder.

I found God or rather he found me. And what a sorry acquisition I was. Preaching and teaching my way to Hell. Oh well. There goes the bell. Handshakes and smiles all round. Another sermon and yet I’m left squirming at the staggering hypocrisy of it all. Practice what you preach you leach. I grit my teeth and spit the grief in their faces, telling them exactly what they want to hear. And not a second over twenty minutes mind because that wouldn’t do as there are biscuits to eat. The sheep bleat and I beat my retreat to my fantasy world. My life is absurd as I vomit the Word. I gag on my sin, the demons within. They feed me, they need me unlike those on the outside. I see through the facade. I tear down the veil and behind it there is nothing.

Going through the motions. Drink the magic potion. For then everything will be well and this Hell where I dwell will dispel. Ain’t life swell? He’s a leader in making if it weren’t for the faking. My life is just fine so where do I sign? You want sweat, blood and tears? Here’s the sum of my fears. I want freedom yet I’m bleeding and everyone’s leaving. My blood turns to ice and I’m back where I started, my loved ones departed. The truth set me free but now I’m adrift and the rift I’ve created cannot be broached. I’m a roach needing squished. I wish.

Blinded by the lies that mesmerised, now watch me die. These soul ties I despise are the death of me. Please rescue me from myself. My muddy, befuddled soul has seen better days and all I want is a friend to lend me hope; but nope – they smile and nod as I scream in their faces, then scurry home to their 2.4. They want nothing more of me and my sordid world. Until next Sunday anyway. When normal service will be resumed. Big hugs and how they’ve missed us. Not as much as I missed you on the darkest of nights when I poured out the festering, rancid slops of my soul. Still waiting for that reply. Might wait till I die. Sure we’ll all meet in glory. Run along now. Don’t bore me.

So I lurch to the next church and it’s more of the same. It’s all a holy game.We want you, we need you. No time for your ranting cos we’re too busy planting. The biggest in Ireland we’ll be, you’ll see. So holy and pure yet they offer no cure. With their beards and their beanies, those skinny jeaned meanies. They’re safe in their huddle as I struggle to cope. I’m flat broke. Out of hope. Just you tithe and stay alive. That’s all we ask. For we are perfect and you are not.

If this is love then keep your drug. I read the seeds and want to sow but how can I grow when all I see is hypocrisy over cups of tea. The devil wears many masks. You find him in the most unlikely of places. He is a beautiful creation, whispering words of sedation that soothe me and move me. My eyes see their lies and I learn to despise those Sunday mornings. Mourning what could have been, what should have been. The funniest part is that you didn’t even notice. And even if you had would you have cared, wrapped up in your own world of point scoring your way to eternal glory. Tick that box and move on. Those happy, clappy Christians with their perfect lives and their perfect wives. They could be in for a big surprise. I stay at home and stare at my phone. Tapping my way to death.

Sanity Scissors

On Christmas Eve I said enough was enough and decided to get a haircut. I was starting to resemble a cross between Boris Johnson and Wurzel Gummidge (I suggest a quick Google search if you don’t know who either of them are). When I woke up in the mornings I looked like I had been electrocuted. Whenever I entered the office and took off my cap my colleagues shot me the strangest of looks. I’m not a pretty sight at the best of times first thing in the morning but this was a bridge too far.

As I settled into the barbers chair the young Polish barber asked me what I would like. ‘A number four all over please’ I confidently declared trying to avoid looking at my myself in the full length mirror. ‘Are you sure? That’s very short’ he dubiously replied before spending the next five minutes attempting to talk me out of it. But to no avail. The bit was well and truly between my teeth. It had to go. Hair today, gone tomorrow.

I now know what a sheep feels like when it is being sheared. Locks of dark hair tumbled past my shoulders on their way to the shop floor. It was raining hair, my hair! As I’d had to take my glasses off before he started I hadn’t a clue what my head looked like but at one point I was pretty convinced that I had a Mohican. Then it was gone as well. Thanks to a generous gene pool I will never go bald but this was the nearest comparable experience. When he had finished I put my glasses back on and marvelled at the transformation. I resembled a fuzzy pool ball.

When I got home the girls were fascinated. ‘It’s so soft Daddy’ they whispered in awe as I lowered my chrome dome for them to stroke my head stubble. Fionnuala observed it was a vast improvement and even Adam, who isn’t impressed by anything, looked marginally impressed. I was a new man. I felt revived, reinvigorated….anything really that you can put the letters ‘re’ in front of. It literally was a massive weight off my mind.

Wouldn’t it be great if a trip to the barbers could rid us of all the worries and concerns that rattle round our heads? If a snip here and a clip here could send them floating to the shop floor never to bother us again? We wouldn’t have a care in the world? Unfortunately I don’t know of a hairdresser who provides such a service. We are left with a head full of anxiety and stress which, if left untended, will grow and grow until it consumes us. It grows and grows until nothing else matters. It becomes us.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t become another victim or statistic. If you had a broken arm you would go the hospital right? There would be no shame in that. Well the same applies to a broken heart or mind. You can’t do it alone. Seek help. Talk to someone, be it a friend, your doctor or a counsellor. Suffering in silence is insufferable. You need to seek out voices in the real world in order to dispel the voices in your head for they will not stop on their own.

They want to destroy you. They will not go away. They will haunt you and taunt you until you lie shattered in a million pieces. Only then will their work be done. Don’t let that happen. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. It worked for me. I sought the help I needed for my OCD and life is so much better now. Not perfect but better. You can’t cure OCD but you can control it. I needed a brain barber to work their magic with the sanity scissors. The intrusive thoughts and overwhelming compulsions are less frequent now. I am in control now.

I’m not a big fan of New Year resolutions but if you do make one this year make one that will count and that you can keep. Get the help you need and become the person you were born to be. Get ahead by sorting out your head. You were only given one brain so look after it. We devote inordinate time to the rest of our bodies with visits to the gym and beauty salon. Let’s start to take care of our most vital organ. For without it, nothing else really matters.

What’s the most daring haircut you have ever got? Did you love it or live to regret it?

Is your mind weighed down today? What are you going to do about it?

I Haven’t Been Through Hell

You hear it all the time. On public transport, in your workplace, on the television news your social media timelines. You may even have uttered the immortal words yourself.

I’ve been through hell….

Hell. The Underworld. Hades. Sheol. Whatever people call it, for those who believe in it, it is a place of unimaginable, unremitting torment. But what is hell? Where is hell? There are various theories. Some view it as the traditional lake of fire populated by grinning ghouls with pitchforks. Others picture it as a lonely, desolate chasm of darkness where tortured souls suffer the ultimate horror of eternal separation from God. To these people it is an actual, physical location. It exists. Somewhere.

Whatever their interpretation, all these folk are agreed on one thing. It’s not the sort of place where you would want to spend your summer holidays. Or any holiday for that matter. It is a place of perpetual punishment and pain. A place of no return. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Or dollars or euros. There is no glowing ‘exit’ sign to guide you out the other side after your visit is complete. Hell is the end of the road. And it’s not a yellow brick one with a fairytale ending.

I’ve been through hell….

As a Christian I believe in an afterlife which contains a heaven and a hell. I haven’t quite got my head around what the latter looks like but I’m pretty certain I don’t want to end up there. Many people view Jesus as some loved up hippy who wandered around 1st Century Palestine waffling vaguely about peace and forgiveness. Yes he did talk about these topics but the one he talked about most was hell. He was pretty blunt on the subject as well. This was one pill that wasn’t sugar coated. Hell was real and hell was permanent. He came to warn us. Hell was….well….hell.

I’ve been through hell.

You don’t go through hell in the theological sense. You remain there. It’s a one way ticket. The big, red guy with the pitchfork kind of expects you to hang around. Permanently. Life can be hellish. Excruciatingly painful. But it’s not hell. Because life eventually ends. The curtain comes down and, whatever your circumstances, they end. No more need to worry about debt, despair or death itself. You don’t have that sense finality in hell. You don’t die in hell as you’re already dead when you get there. You don’t get the relief and release of death.

Real life is hellish. But it’s not hell.

Real life can be horrific. It’s crushing. Nothing I can write here can do justice to what you have been through or are presently experiencing. An individual’s pain is personal and unique. It is often indescribable. It is many things. But it’s not hell. Because hell is a place without hope. And as long as we have breath in our bodies, then we still have hope, no matter how tiny a scrap that is. Hope that we will overcome our private and public struggles. Hope that we will lurch out of the darkness and into the light.

I’m not devaluing anybody’s pain here. I see devastation and anguish on my timeline and in the real world every single day. Broken people surveying the debris of their broken lives. They deserve so much better, so much more. I want to tell you that there is more, and that that more is hope. No matter how dire your circumstances are there is a way out. There is a way through. All storms can be navigated. There is safe passage and harbour.

Your hellish state might be addiction. It could be alcohol, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs. It might be physical. Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis or any other number of debilitating and agonising illnesses. It might be mental. Depression, Anxiety, Anorexia, Bulimia or, my own personal bugbear, OCD. It can be financial, sexual or relationship based. It can be bereavement. It can be anything really, a billion and one different situations or experiences. Everyone’s ‘hell’ is unique to them.

There is a way out, a way through. If you have hope, you have a lifeline; one that you have to grab with all your strength and cling to with all your might. Hope is life itself. It is the oxygen that fills your lungs and allows you to scream your defiance. It is the blood that pumps through your veins and drives you onwards, forwards, upwards. It is the oil that lubricates our dreams and prayers.

Hope won’t get you through Hell. It will be too late then. But it will get you through everything else.

Do you believe in an actual Hell?

Do you feel hopeful or hopeless today?

Hell v Hellish? What are your thoughts on this post?

The Outsiders

I’ve felt an outsider for most of my life. At school I was bullied, mostly by fellow pupils but also some teachers, because I was chubby, quiet and shy. I was no good at sport, despite trying hard, which meant I was never part of the ‘in crowd.’ I didn’t go to our school formal and don’t think I spoke to a girl until I was eighteen. I had few friends and didn’t go out much. I was a loner; happy sitting in my room reading Stephen King novels and listening to heavy metal music.

My university years did not fare much better. These swayed between alcoholic excess in my first year to hermit like abstinence in my final one when I finally realised I needed to knuckle down and study in order to get a decent degree. It was during this final year that I began to exercise excessively and then secretly binge eat during all night study marathons. An unstable home life at the time also left me permanently anxious and worried. Looking back it was a deeply unhappy and lonely year of my life.

When I left university I gained a place on a post management graduate course where alcohol reared its ugly head again. I was now living in rented accommodation in Belfast. It was the social crutch that I leaned on heavily for the next twenty years or so. I secured a good job and worked my way up the corporate ladder. When I tell people what I do for a living now they look genuinely impressed. I met a wonderful woman who has stuck with me through thick and thin. I don’t deserve her but that doesn’t make me any less grateful for her.

We have three amazing kids and live in a lovely house in a quiet village. We are financially comfortable and on the face of it I epitomise what ‘fitting in’ to society should look like. Then why do I still feel such an outsider at times? Why am I still plagued by feelings of insecurity and low esteem? Why do I still periodically battle with OCD and the demons from my past? Why do I struggle to make friends and sabotage the few genuine friendships I have formed in my life? Why am I still so socially awkward? Why do I feel such a failure at times?

While people might look at it and think I’ve got it made, I still feel as if I am fighting a losing battle where time is not on my side. I desperately want to please people; the problem was that I always set out to please the wrong people, not the ones who mattered. I donned various personalities in order to curry favour but these all ended in disaster. I disliked myself so intensely that I would do whatever I could to be someone else. I still do at times but the purpose of this post is not to indulge in a pity party.

The purpose of this post is rather to celebrate where we have come as a family in 2017. It has been a long and often very rocky road. There have been slips and stumbles along the way. I am learning to live in my own skin. I am me. Glorious, imperfect, messed up, wonderful me. I am proud to be an outsider as I have finally realised that most of my problems in life have been when I have tried to be somebody I’m not in order to fit in.

I’m a square peg. I’ll never fit into that round hole. I’m learning not to look through the window and focus on what might have been but instead concentrate on what I have. On the outside. There is safety on the outside. There is safety in numbers. For we are many. This last year has taught me that in order to heal I need the clear, crisp air of the outside. I need to breathe in the truth and purge myself of the lies from the past. I need to take a step back in order to move forward.

Detoxification can be intoxicating on the outside. I want to be drunk on life. I want to run and write and love. I want to laugh more. People say I don’t laugh enough. Yes I’m a weirdo, an oddball and the most infuriating man in the world at times. But at least I am me, at least I can look at myself in the mirror and not have to avert my gaze in disgust.

And I have finally found my social media home with you – my fellow outsiders.

Viva la difference!

Do you feel like an outsider?

How have your efforts to fit in damaged others and yourself?

Spin Class Stories

I’m a runner. I like to run. Preferably in a straight line at around 8:30 minute mile pace. I don’t like sprinting or being pressurised into running faster than I have to. I like long, steady paced runs. My favourite distance is the marathon. I don’t particularly enjoy hills but put one in front of me and I will run up it. I will not stop. Call me determined or call me stupid but I will not stop. I’ve ran seven marathons and I hope to run more in 2018. It’s what I do.

When I decided to get fit and lose some weight three and a half years ago I dabbled with all sorts of other physical activities before I plumped for distance running. It was all part of the mid life crisis. My fourth that particular year. I took up Taekwondo and pranced around the village hall in a pair of oversized white pyjamas. I reckon I could have been a black belt by now if it wasn’t for my startling lack of hand/eye coordination and flexibility.

I had a go at weight training but was intimidated by all the muscle bound hulks at the gym. I have quite strong leg muscles from running but as for my upper body, forget about it. I looked like a jerk at the clean and jerk. My kettle bell technique was the talk of the place. For all the wrong reasons. My arm curls were toe curlingly embarrassing and my squats were sqawful. I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

Finally I tried spin class. I skulked at the back of the class and hoped that the instructor didn’t notice that I was pedalling at a lower resistance than the rest of the class. Everyone pumping furiously around me seemed so much leaner and younger. I was up and down out of the saddle but never seemed to be getting anywhere. Quite literally. Spin class depressed me. I didn’t like being shouted at and being told what to do. My heart wasn’t ‘spin’ it.

Spin class was like my grief. It hit me in waves but I never seemed to get anywhere with it. I worked harder and harder but there was never an inch of progress. All that pain for nothing. A day or a week or a month later and it would hit me anew as if for the first time. Grief is a thief. It slips up on you when you least expect it and brings your world to a jagged, juddering halt.

Spin class was like my drinking. Binge followed by hangover. Over and over again. Ad nauseum. I drank to forget but at some point forgot why I was drinking. It became a sickly cycle and the wheels had to come off eventually. They did so in spectacular fashion. Alcohol is no longer my favoured form of transport. Drinking and cycling are a definite no no. When I run my body and mind are cleansed. Alcohol poisoned me. I’m still detoxing I suppose. I always will be.

Spin class was like my OCD. An endless circle of obsessive, intrusive thoughts followed by baffling, heart breaking routines. It’s the most orderly of disorders. It will grind you into a pulp. As your routines become slicker so the thoughts become sicker. Always one step ahead of you. Pedalling furiously to keep up but never quite getting there. Hurtling through the fog not knowing what mental pothole lies just ahead waiting to throw you headlong over the handlebars.

Spin class was like my addiction to social media. Never learning. This time I would get it right. A new account, a new Stephen. A new creation doomed to slide into familiar patterns of behaviour. Ever so gradually until I was trapped again. Watching myself as if in a dream, an out of body experience. Wanting to stop but unable to. Always cracking, always relapsing. My soul spiralling downwards as my follower count spiralled upwards. A thousand likes as I despised myself.

Are you trapped in or on a cycle? Are you pedalling at breakneck speed but getting nowhere? Are you tired of the the same, endless, pointless routines? Take a health check. Are you physically, mentally, emotionally running on empty? Then step off the bike. Stop what you are doing and look around you. Breathe. Observe. Live. You are better than this. You deserve better.

Do it today. Now. Stop spinning. Start winning.

Is your life spinning out of control?

Are you trapped in an endless cycle?

What are you going to do about it?

Wake Up Dead

As I get older I find it harder to leap out of bed in the morning, full of the joys of spring. Or summer. Or autumn or winter for that matter. Especially winter. It’s cold and dark. And invariably wet. Why on earth would anyone throw back the duvet to embrace that? All I want to do is remain under the covers and hope that the world doesn’t notice my absence for the next 24 hours or so. I’m sure you could all cope.

Unfortunately I am expected to get up and do adult stuff. Like go to work. Communicate with other equally grumpy grown ups. Smile when I don’t particularly feel like smiling. There is so much to do. Kids to shout at, bills to pay. Elves to put on shelves or place in other equally ‘hilarious’ scenarios. Yes life is a veritable hoot I’m sure you will all agree.

Sooooooo. I crawl out of bed. Take a slug of Diet Coke. Wash. Shave (most days). Dress (every day). Eat toast. Get train to work. Arrive at work. Take many more slugs of Diet Coke. And so on and so forth. I commute to and from work on a train full of miserable looking people all trying their hardest not to look at each other. Noses stuck to their phones, glaring at the screens.

The other day I found myself on the train sitting beside two young woman who were facing each other across a table. One of them was reading a Bible and frenetically taking notes. She had a glint in her eye and was totally immersed in her studies. I had to admire her passion and energy. You don’t see many young people openly reading a Bible these days. Or anyone for that matter.

The other woman was lying slumped across the table with her head resting on her arms. She was out for the count. All I could make out was a mess of long hair. She must have had a heavy night I thought to myself. One (or ten) too many beverages I suspected. I was at my judgemental best and frowned at her. If only she could have been like the diligent, devoted girl sitting opposite her. Tut! Tut!

The train pulled in and passengers began to disembark. ‘Diligent Girl’ (for that’s what I had christened her) closed her Bible and began to pack away her notes. ‘Drunk Girl’ (boo hiss!) arose from her stupor and groggily looked around, uncertain as to her whereabouts. Belfast? Baltimore? Beirut? Who knew. She yawned and began to sleepily gather up her belongings.

It was then that the two girls started to talk. They obviously knew one another. Then I noticed that they were both wearing name badges indicating that they were members of a church organisation. Whatever your thoughts on their beliefs here were two young women who were about to venture out onto the mean streets of Belfast to do what they thought was the right thing to do. Sharing the love of God with others.

Yet I had already trialled and convicted one of them as being a useless waste of space. I felt guilty and shuffled off the train and onto the platform with the hundreds of other commuters. My fellow runners in this rat race we call life. All shuffling along, heads down and eyes fixed firmly on the ground. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

We are the Walking Dead. We wake up dead. We go about our daily routines dead. We go to sleep dead.

Those two young woman had a purpose, a passion, a mission. For all I knew ‘Drunk Girl’ could have been exhausted because she was up all night praying for someone in need or helping a broken person find their way through the night. Or maybe not. Whatever her tiredness it was not for me to judge her. If only I had an ounce of her faith and conviction. If only we all did what a better place the world would be to live in.

Why do we get out of bed in the morning? Beyond the mundane, dreary necessities of life why do we do it? Are you driven and passionate? Are you pursuing your dream, the reason you were placed on this planet? Or are you just aimlessly drifting along from one day to the next with no real goals or ambitions?

We are nearing a New Year and with it come the traditional resolutions that rarely last a week. Why wait that long? Why not start today. I’ve spent most of my life in zombie mode, going through the motions. From one self inflicted disaster to the next. Trying to fill the gaping hole in my soul with trifling distractions. I’ve achieved a lot. I have Fionnuala and the kids. But there is so much more to do, so much more to achieve. And the clock is ticking.

I cannot waste a second. I need to push on. Forwards. Alway forwards. I might not leap out of bed but I get up now with vision and focus. It makes it all worthwhile.

I wake up tired. But alive.

Do you wake up dead every morning? Are you shuffling through your day like a zombie?

Or have you a plan? A target? A dream worth getting up for?

Poker Face

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is a mental illness whereby distressing, intrusive thoughts enter my head and refuse to leave. These are known as obsessions. The only temporary reprieve is to perform a physical or mental routine, the compulsion, in an attempt to force the intrusive thought from my mind. It invariably returns, however, often stronger than before. The compulsive act reinforces the impulsive thought. It is an ever decreasing circle, a cycle of despair.

One of my earliest OCD memories as a young boy revolved around the fireplace in our family home. It was a coal fire and my mother kept a metal poker on the fireplace in order to rake the ashes. It was nothing. Just an insignificant piece of metal, an inanimate object which served little purpose other than as I have described above.

It was to become the centre of my universe.

I don’t know how or when it started. But unless the poker was in a certain position on the fireplace I would be overcome by wave upon wave of anxiety and worry. Like a boulder sitting on my chest. I was consumed by it. I could think of nothing else and would wait until the living room was empty before scurrying over to the fireplace and setting the poker in exactly the position I needed it to be in. This would alleviate my distress.

Until the next time.

I was embarrassed at having to do this so did everything in my power to ensure that nobody became aware of my fixation. Because it was insane right? But my mother had been watching and one day asked me why I was doing it. I was mortified and had no real answer. Why was I doing it? I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember the feelings of guilt and shame that followed.

I didn’t know what OCD was back then. I felt like I was a freak, a weirdo, an outsider. Something inside me was not right. I was broken and could not be fixed. My obsessions and the resulting compulsions dominated my life. They became my idols and I was brought to my knees time and time again at their altars. I was powerless to resist.

They made me the man I am today. The man I have been working so hard to change. This blog is part of that transformation. I am a work in progress but there has been progress. My OCD is largely under control now thanks to a combination of medication, education and a supportive and loving family. I still display OCD traits and have bad days but the good days outnumber them.

I have slain my idols.

Is your life being controlled by a false idol? It could be a toxic relationship, an addictive behaviour or a mental illness. It is the centre of your universe and try as you might you cannot kick it. To do so would cause your world to shatter into a million pieces. You are paralysed by fear, alone and confused. I see hundreds of posts a day about these false idols. Good people consumed by despair and depression.

You are not alone. I might not comment on your posts because sometimes I don’t know what to say. But I pray for you. There are thousands of us like you. Open your eyes. Be brave. Reach out and ask for help. Do not let your situation dictate the direction of your life. Grab the steering wheel now. Get off that road you are on. You can do this. If I can then so can you.

I believe in a God. You may or may not. But even if you do not share my beliefs do not allow false gods to ruin your life. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, people. They do not control your destiny. You do. Turn your back on their altars of anarchy. Walk away. I am walking with you. For we are many and this path is well travelled.

Walk away. I know you can.

Have you allowed false idols to enter your life?

How are you coping with this?

Uncommon Sense

You haven’t the sense you were born with!

This critique of my decision making and problem solving skills has dogged me throughout most of my adult life. I am told that I am intelligent and I hold down a reasonably important job where I (shock horror) manage other adults and ‘do the grown up stuff’ without blinking an eyelid. I can deliver presentations to large audiences, brief senior management and function effectively within a high pressure working environment.

Fionnuala says there are two Stephens. ‘Work Stephen’ who is confident, assertive and strong; and ‘Home Stephen’ who can barely change a light bulb and who dithers over whether he wants pizza or Chinese from the takeaway.

I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure….

I cannot make a decision to save myself. My self esteem is low so my default setting is to please people. I want to be liked. It’s different in the working environment. I am representing an organisation and making decisions on their behalf. It’s not personal and if people don’t like the decision then they can blame the organisation and not me.

It’s different outside of work. The buck stops with me. When I am asked a question I’m immediately second guessing what the person who asked the question wants me to say in response. My brain goes into overdrive. If I say pizza will they be annoyed because they really wanted Chinese food. Or vice versa? I hmmmm and I haaaaa and then end up saying ‘Oh I’ll have whatever you’re having’. This drives Fionnuala nuts. ‘I wish you would make a decision’ she sighs.

This people pleasing disposition has got me in all sorts of bother down the years. I can’t say no. I hate confrontation and disagreements. I will agree with someone’s opinion or point of view even when every molecule in my body is screaming that they are wrong. This has led me down many wrong paths and before I know it I’m up to my neck in a whole world of pain.

I have worked hard this year on many aspects of my personality. This includes making decisions based on what sits best with my conscience as opposed to what the other person wants to hear. It also involves saying ‘no’ when I want to say ‘no’ and veering clear of people and situations which I know are not healthy for me. This has drastically wiped out a large chunk of my social calendar but I view it as a small price to pay.

Fionnuala has asked me in recent weeks what I want for Christmas and as usual I wasn’t able to give her a straight answer. Until now.

All I want for Christmas is wisdom and discretion.

I don’t want common sense. I want more. I want uncommon sense. I want the wisdom of Solomon. I want my yes to mean yes and my no to mean know. I want to make healthy, well informed decisions which I know are right for me and my family. I want to walk along the paths I was born to walk along. I want that piece of my mind that has always reneged at this to know true peace of mind.

Is that too much to ask Santa?

Would you say you have common sense?

What bad decisions in your past have influenced your present?

Steps Lead To Shelter

Last night I woke up at 04:00 am and the following words hit me like a bolt between the eyes.

Steps lead to shelter….

We are all on a journey. And every journey requires forward motion. Change is daunting and many of us fear and avoid it. But it is necessary in order for us to evolve into who we are meant to be. We need to embrace new situations, relationships and experiences as opposed to recoiling from them.

Change involves transition. Transitions require decisions.

Are you at a crossroads in your life? Have you a significant decision to make that will change your life irrevocably? If you have it’s a frightening time. You may feel that you are exposed and vulnerable; that the next step may only take a second but could lead you into a life of regrets; that you are leaving your safe, comfortable existence behind and are entering a dangerous, new world.

My advice?

Take the step.

Be honest with yourself. The decision was taken days, months, years ago even. All that is required now is the actual transition. You need to turn that thought into a concrete action. Take the step. And then another one. And then another one. Don’t look back in anger the song goes. I say don’t look back at all. When you have made your decision stick by it.

Your comfort zone is a war zone. You might feel safe there but you are in fact engaged in a fight to the death. The death of your dreams and hopes. The death of your future. The death of who you were created to be. Suffocated by the smog of your present circumstances. The comfort zone is a dank, dark, cold environment.

I see little comfort in that.

The future might seem frightening but throw back the veil and you will see for the first time that it is in fact quite the opposite. It is a place of opportunity; of revelation and restoration. Where you are going is a place of construction. Where you are coming from is a place of obstruction and destruction.

What are you constructing? A new world. A world you deserve and are entitled to live in. It is your birthright; it is your inheritance. It is also a place of sanctuary. You have moved forward in order to find your retreat. You can build strong, thick walls behind which yourself and others can heal and flourish. It is a place of genuine comfort.

A storm is coming. You can see it on the horizon. It is hypnotic and you can’t take your eyes off it as it edges ever closer. It is time to move on. It is time to take that first, faltering step in the opposite direction. You may take it alone or you may take it with others. That is their decision but do not be tied by it for you have already made yours.

Take the step.

Steps lead to shelter.

Burn The Masks

Somebody said something today about me which I felt was unfair and uncalled for. I won’t go into the details and it wasn’t a massive issue but for an instance I was tempted to give said person a piece of my mind. But only a small piece as I don’t have much to go round in the first place. How dare they speak to me like that. It wasn’t funny and as for the hypocrisy. Well don’t get me started.

It reminded me of a saying that my father used to quote when he recalled such scenarios.

So I said nothing and left him….lying there.

I’ve never thrown a punch in my life but if ever I was tempted to wipe the smug look of someone’s face today was an opportunity. But I said nothing, made my excuses and walked off.

I left him….standing there.

Much of our lives are spent hiding our true feelings. For many it is a full time occupation. We wear so many masks that sometimes it’s hard to remember who the real us is. We have more faces than Big Ben! Sometimes, like today, it was necessary to conceal what I really thought and zip my mouth shut when I wanted to let rip. Masks can act as shields, protecting us from the many arrows fired at us during this journey called life.

But what about the masks we wear online? I got into whole heaps of trouble online in a former life creating a misleading persona. I played a role and lived a fantasy life, with my head stuck in the sand like an ostrich as to what was going on in the real world. I hid online as opposed to facing up to my responsibilities. I let a lot of people down, including myself.

When this blog launched I made a promise that I would be myself. I would be brutally honest in my posts. Warts and all. No airbrushing. No sugar coated pills. When I assess the blog six months in I realise I have covered a lot of dark topics. I appreciate that these will not have been everybody’s cup of tea but I have kept to my word.

You have seen the real Stephen. The Good, The Bad and The Frequently Ugly. I have written about my faith and my issues regarding the organised church and some of its practices. I have written about my OCD and years of binge drinking. I have bored you all silly about my marathon training. And I have written about my family who, I am ashamed to say, didn’t really exist when I was on Twitter and Instagram.

I am me. This blog is a mask free zone. I have found WordPress an encouraging and supportive community where I can express myself and feel safe. I can breathe and walk, or rather type, with my head held high. No shame and no regrets. Sober words from a scarred, but honest, heart. WordPress has been an essential part in my recovery and renaissance. I have you all to thank for that.

Let’s build a funeral pyre and burn the many masks we wear. Let’s be ourselves and blog in freedom and in truth. Let our words shine like a beacon through the online darkness.

Do we see the real you online?

How Is Your Writing Coming Along?

Yesterday lunchtime I had a walk around areas of Belfast city centre where scenes of my first novel are to be set. The plan was to capture details that have evaded my memory to date so that when I am writing I can refer to them there and then. Ideally I would like to write the relevant scene while sitting at the location but it was minus 4 yesterday. I’m a wannabe author but I’m not that crazy!

Progress has been slow of late. What with work and family life it is hard to find the quiet time necessary to write. I also don’t want to neglect my blogging which is at the heart of my writing. It is my meat and potatoes. The book is just the dessert. Honeycomb ice cream or strawberry cheesecake I hope.

I’ve written about 40,000 words but I literally vomited them out during a week off work about a month ago. It’s as if they had been lying on my stomach for years and I just had to get them out of my system. I purged myself. What have I learnt? That I can write, yes, but also that I need a structure to form my words around.

I’m therefore spending more time on outlining and storyboarding as opposed to just writing blindly. The latter has surprised me in that I’ve realised that I am at my most creative when in the actual act of writing. That is when the ideas come to me, when I am actually sitting at the keyboard. It has resulted in characters leading me off in totally different directions from what I had first anticipated.

It has also dragged me down a few dead ends, however. A happy medium needs to be struck between spontaneity and preparation. I need a solid foundation upon which to lay these creative bursts. This is slowly coming. I have been using a technique called ‘The Snowflake Method’ where you start with the premise for your novel in one sentence and gradually build it from there. A paragraph, a page, four pages and so on.

The above technique is teaching me discipline and patience. Writing a novel is hard work. Yes, you have your days when the words flow from you like water from a fountain. But at other times it involves monotony and frustration. Taking five steps back in order to move one step forwards. Chipping away at a block of stone in order to reveal the sculpture beneath.

I also haven’t decided on my favourite writing device. At times I favour sitting at my desk writing on the laptop but I also jot down ideas and notes on my I-Phone and Kindle Fire. I also have a notebook which I write in. With this ancient writing tool known as a pen. Some of you may have heard of this. If haven’t just google it.

So that’s my update. I’m getting there but slower than I first expected.

How is your writing coming along?

Decrease The Creases

We live near the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. It is home to a rich variety of wildlife including elegant geese who regularly fly over our house in a perfect arrowhead formation. It’s a wondrous sight but not quite as jaw dropping as the herd of pigs which flew over chez Black around lunchtime yesterday.

Okay. Okay. I made that last line up.

But there was an equally miraculous visage for Fionnuala and the kids to behold. Yours truly standing at the ironing board. As in actually ironing! With an iron!!

Fionnuala hasn’t been feeling that well this weekend and even I couldn’t avoid to see the mountain of ironing accumulating in the corner of our kitchen. Now my housekeeping skills leave a lot to be desired. I can burn water. But surely even I could manage a few shirts and school uniforms in order to take the pressure off my long suffering better half. Wee buns as we say in Northern Ireland.

Over the course of the next couple of hours I fine tuned my technique until a sizeable amount of freshly pressed clothes were folded up on the kitchen table. It was hard to imagine that they had previously been a crumpled heap in the wash basket. I must admit I felt quite pleased with my efforts. I can’t swim and I don’t own a bike so it will be the nearest I’ll ever come to being an Iron Man.

Sorry couldn’t resist….

How many of you feel like a crumpled shirt or pair of trousers? Dishevelled and unwanted. Covered in creases and wrinkles. The wrinkles can be literal, the result of unremitting pressure and stress. Wrinkles are bumps on the highways and byways of our lives. They need to be overcome and the iron creates the searing heat needed to eradicate them. A white hot heat that regenerates and purges. I needed a hot iron in order to remove the creases from the pile of clothes I tackled today.

Sometimes in order to remove the problems in our lives an external heat needs to be applied. It can be a concerned friend or a caring relative. We stumble around in a maze of mistakes and cannot see the bigger picture. We lose our perspective and become subjective. We require a blunt appraisal of our situation from an outside source. Warts and all. We might not like it but the best medicine never goes down easily.

We become blinded by bias and a friendly iron can be be a painful necessity in order to smooth out our predicament. Heat hurts but it also heals. It can lead to wide, flat plateaus of peace devoid of the cobbles of confusion and flagstones of fear. Why sidle on the sidewalk or ponder on the pavement when you can surge ahead on the straightest, narrowest road imaginable.

Chase your dreams on open highways. We all accumulate wrinkles and creases on our life journeys. Don’t allow them to force you down dark alleys that lead to dead ends and delay. Swallow your pride and share your problems with someone who you can be truly accountable to; allow them to bring the heat and drag you out of the trough you find yourself in.

You need never be alone. De-crease your problems and increase your hopes of a brighter future. Just reach out. We are here for you.

Are you an ironing geek? Or do you dread this chore?

Do you need help with a problem today?

Are there people out there who can iron out your creases?

What Do You Love Most About WordPress?

Fionnuala and the kids have been trying in recent weeks to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by adding me to the family’s Snapchat group. This appears to involve sending each other photos and/or videos of yourself with animal ears or speaking in squeaky voice. Or both! At the same time!!

It’s all a bit beyond me. Firstly the app couldn’t acknowledge my facial features when I tried to take a photograph. Now I realise I’m no Brad Pitt or George Clooney but at the same time this was a bit of a blow to my already fragile self-esteem as Fionnuala says I’m no Quasimodo either.

I’d never seem a photograph of him before today but I have to say the face rings a bell….

*tumbleweed drifts across screen*

Anyhoooooo….another app they’ve introduced me to is Bitmoji. You know the one where you can create a cartoon character of yourself which can then reflect your every mood. Say happy….

Or sad…..

Or I feel like rocking the Christmas elf look.

In hindsight I don’t think I have the legs for those tights….

That aside I’ve taken to Bitmoji like a duck to water. Fionnuala is already bitterly regretting showing me how it works as I now bombard her and other friends with Bitmoji images as opposed to texting them ‘words’ or, heaven forbid, having an actual conversation. With words, eye contact and adulting stuff like that.

Isn’t it amazing how lazy we have become at communicating with each other. Why bother expending all that energy expressing yourself when a 😊 or a 👍🏻 will suffice. We love creating layers and barriers in order to hide our true selves. Being honest and open is almost regarded as a sign of weakness in this day and age.

We have become an emoji culture.

We are in fact an emotionless culture.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all the same. So many people offering up entirely inaccurate and misleading caricatures of who they really are. We are the happy selfie generation while inside there is despair and selfishness. Nobody sees the real person anymore. They are buried beneath fake smiles and glazed eyes.

That’s what I love about you guys. The WordPress community. Realism. Warts and all. So real it cuts me to the bone at times. You wear your hearts on your sleeves every day. You inspire and motivate me. You tell stories of brokenness. You speak the truth even if it is a painful truth. You desire healing and growth. You want to move forward, to leave behind the zombie generation.

You want to help others but realise, before that, you have to help yourself.

We are the refugees of social media. The online outcasts. We have fled the coming storm and sought sanctuary within WordPress. It is our fortress, our stronghold. We have pulled up the drawbridge and now sit around the fire telling stories of struggle and recovery. We are a family, a community. We are one.

We don’t need selfies. We don’t pout or preen for the camera. We are what we are. Fragile, weak, yet real. Words are our weapons and tools. Together we are strong. There are multiple beliefs and faiths on the blogs I read here every day. But they are bound together by love, empathy and wisdom.

Physician heal thyself. But you are. One day at a time. One blog post at a time.

Why do you love most about WordPress?

Human Remains

As I walked through the city centre this morning I gingerly sidestep the discarded debris from the night before. The greasy pizza boxes frozen to the pavement and broken beer bottles glistening in the half light. Empty like the drunken revellers who had gorged upon them. Signs of lives that sparkled, then spluttered, across the Belfast horizon not ten hours ago. Grime scenes of pointless brawls and even more pointless declarations of undying love. The dying embers of the best or worst night of their lives.

The street cleaners are already hard at work, their trucks shattering the silence as they trundle by, removing all incriminating evidence that the night before ever existed. No more blemishes on the landscape. A return to the status quo, order restored. Setting the stage for the same tired melodramas to be played out later that evening; penning another tawdry chapter in the sorry storybook of their lives. New opportunities, high hopes, dazzling dreams. Waiting to be shattered.

Human remains. Washed down the drain.

The actors awake in their beds. Or possibly somebody else’s. Some recall every second of the previous night, for others it is a dim memory that evades their grasp long into the daylight hours. Some smile and others shudder as they replay the sordid scenes that unfold before their bloodshot, hungover eyes. Phones are checked, messages are cherished or hastily deleted. Some can’t wait til the next time, others swear never again. Alcohol enthrals them as it once enthralled me. But now I stand appalled. At who I once was.

Love affairs (and death affairs) blossomed here. Life long friendships were cemented or derailed. I see it all with jaded eyes as I’ve been there, done that, bought the ill fitting t-shirt. I stand on the outside now looking in. My nights of revelry are a distant memory. I avoid bars now. I recoil around the drunken revellers. I feel isolated, intimidated, afraid? I fear them but not as much as I fear myself. What I am capable of. The side of me I want to bury. I didn’t come through hell. I was hell. My victims are legion. Their lesions are my living testimony.

I had a choice. The high life or a real life. I chose the latter. I chose my wife and kids. I chose nine to five and staying alive. For one pint was never enough. I drank to get drunk. The quicker the better. Pint upon pint. Bad decision upon bad decision like stacked dominoes. I scarred the hearts of my loved ones like alcohol scars the liver of the lonely lush. It numbed me to the truth. It deafened the words of wisdom I needed to hear. Because who wants to hear when there’s another beer. She was my mistress. She was my mistake.

I turned my back on those human remains in order to remain human. I now see a life beyond the next weekend, the next party, the next crushing hangover. I run long and I think longer. I want my remains to outlive the street cleaners. I want my legacy to be generations of flesh and bone; fond memories; happy times. I want my existence to matter. No matter what. So I sacrifice to accumulate. A small price to pay given the rewards I see ahead. My faith is as blind as it is lucid.

I am a broken man, but a resurrected man. I wear my scars like battle honours. No longer reeling, rather feeling and healing. Liquid healing under a cascading waterfall of love, grace and hope. I heal so I can be real. I cling to the present like a new born child cling to it’s mothers breast. I am thirsty but not for beer. I desire to be restored by living water from fountains of knowledge and wisdom. This knowledge opens the door to worlds where dreams can become reality. Knowledge leads to truth. And truth leads to freedom.

No more human remains for me. No more. Yet I am human. And I remain.

What sights do you see when you take an early morning walk through your town or city?

What remains from your past are you struggling to scrub from your present life?

How are you dealing with healing?

Bad Head Day

Today was a Bad Hair Day. A very Bad Hair Day. I would post a photo but I don’t want to scare any of you good, good people. You all deserve better than that. I’m not sure if it was my now infamous cap, the windy conditions or that I’m in desperate need of a haircut but I resembled a 5′ 11′ Northern Irish troll when I finally reached the office this morning. Which is not a good look.

My arrival was greeted by a chorus of guffaws from my rarely sympathetic colleagues causing me to beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom to inspect the damage. I looked like I’d seen a ghost. It would have been a truly hair raising experience if it wasn’t for the fact that my hair was already raised. There followed a frenzied few minutes of wetting it down and trying to restore some semblance of sanity to my appearance. I looked like Albert Einstein after he stuck his finger in a power socket.

Makeover complete I returned to the office looking every inch the suave, sophisticated middle manager everyone knows and loves. Note to self – always keep a tube of hair gel in the office to avoid a repeat performance in the future. Or stop being so lazy and pay a visit to the barber’s to get it all whacked off. Hair today, gone tomorrow. I apologise. That was possibly the worst pun in the history of WordPress.

That’s the good thing about Bad Hair Days. They can easily be rectified, no matter how dire the reflection that greets you in the mirror. But what about those Bad Head Days? When no matter how hard you try and no matter what you do you can’t shift the smog of sadness which silently settles on your mind like volcanic ash. As it settles you become more unsettled. For you know what is about to follow.

Unsettled by depression and despair. Depression like a giant raven which sinks its talons into the meat of your mind and refuses to let go. It is relentless and seeps into every recess, polluting and contaminating your every waking thought and every restless dream. Dreams that make you scream. Screams that nobody hears because you are entombed in the solitary prison that is your consciousness.

Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Money. They offer only temporary release, a momentary relapse in the onslaught which rains down on you like meteor showers hitting the atmosphere of your soul. Souls full of holes which can never be mended. Irreparable damage to irreplaceable hopes and aspirations. You feel utterly alone and are utterly defeated. You fly the white flag of surrender against a backdrop of nightmarish proportions.

Bad Head Days have a habit of becoming Bad Head Weeks. Then months, then years and before you know it your life is slipping through your fingers and you are left staring at nothing. Why wash? Why eat? Why answer the phone? Why get out of bed? Why breathe another breath? Options decrease as the anguish increases. You are broken. And choking. Choking on the bitterness of empty promises and seductive lies.

Lies. Soul ties. Time flies and before you know it they are gone. The loved ones, the loyal ones, the people you felt would always be there to catch you when you fell. Fell into hell. You’re in freefall. But it’s not free. It has cost you everything you’ve ever held dear. Suicide is painless they say. Not for those you leave behind. They will die every day reliving the day of your death. There is no hope at the end of a rope. Hope is living. Even if living is little more than survival.

In order to thrive you first must survive. A minute at a time. A breath at at time. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat ad nauseum. Until you are sick. Until you vomit up the poison. Until you see that first chink of light on the horizon. That first hazy sunset which cuts through the smog and warms your frozen heart. Scream. Scream until your lungs burst. Scream until you are heard, until you get the help you need to visit tomorrow. And the tomorrow after that.

Are you having a Bad Head Day? Or know someone who is? Please don’t suffer in silence. Get help. Today. Now.

Raise your voice. Kill the noise.

❤️🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻

If The Cap Fits….

Last summer we holidayed as a family in County Kerry which is right down at the very bottom of the island of Ireland. And while there we did the whole tourist thang, battling through coach loads of American pensioners to visit various gift shops. These had all kinds of traditional ‘Oirish’ gifts including Star Wars themed t-shirts, Star Wars themed mugs and er…..Star Wars themed tea towels. Scenes for the latest Star Wars movie had been filmed in Kerry earlier that year.

My attention was drawn, however, to a 100% Irish cotton flat cap with optional, drop down ear flaps. Think Sherlock Holmes with dark hair and glasses and you have it. Despite the giggles and strange looks from my adoring wife and kids I was enamoured by it, thinking I cut quite the dashing figure. I swooped and the purchase was made. When we returned home I gave the cap one last, admiring glance before tucking it away in a drawer to await the colder weather.

Which promptly arrived about a week later. Summer time in Northern Ireland usually consists of a weekend in late June if you’re lucky. After that the winds pick up, the heavens open and the temperature plummets. Before I knew it my chilly ears demanded the return of the cap. Thankfully Mark Morrison was nowhere to be seen as I proudly donned it and ventured out to meet my adoring public.

Day 1 in the office produced the following devastating sartorial critiques. And I quote….

Are you wearing that for a bet?

You look like a sheep farmer.

Did your grandfather leave you that in his will?

That’s the most ridiculous piece of headwear I’ve ever seen.

And that’s just the printable comments. Jealousy is a terrible thing and it was obvious that my colleagues just couldn’t cope with my ground breaking head furniture. None of them could carry off this look I thought, rising above their petty jibes and ignoring their juvenile attempts at humour. The ear flaps helped on the latter score but, that aside, I rocked it like a hurricane. Me and my hat were the talking point of the office. Hats off to Stephen!

A notable feature of my life BC (Before Cap) was that my social awkwardness was seriously enhanced by being visible to the human eye. When I saw colleagues in the street I had to acknowledge them and there was always the fear of bumping into people I didn’t particularly want to meet. Not any longer. I walk unrecognised through the mean streets of Belfast. My own mother would walk past me when I’m wearing my cap. It’s like a cloak of invisibility. Except it’s a cap….and it’s not invisible.

I have worn many caps in my time. I tend to adapt my personality to fit in with a certain crowd. This stretches to my values, morals and ethics. I play a role. The problem is I’m a pretty rubbish actor and, before too long, the scenery comes crashing down around me. I didn’t like the real Stephen very much so was constantly endeavouring to reinvent myself and create exciting new personas; be they online from behind a keyboard or in the real world from behind a pint glass.

My various caps blinded me to the truth. Never mind a tissue of lies. I used up entire boxes of them. It got to the point that I became so wrapped up in my various personas I no longer grasped who I was. I was adrift and spiralling out of control. I was in freefall and it was only rock bottom that removed the cataracts of confusion from my eyes. The juddering impact also cleared my head. I looked in the mirror, really looked, for the first time in many years and saw the real me.

Not a pretty sight. Without my various pieces of headwear I was a bloodied and bruised mess. Stripped of my ego I lay exposed and broken. But I was real. And where there is reality there is recovery. Steps leading to a better place. A life without lies. Without secrets. Where I didn’t have to pretend any more. Where I could look my loved ones in the eyes and speak the truth. Warts and all.

I love my Kerry cap. I look like a clown in the office and I move like a ghost on the streets. But beneath it I am content. I am happy. I am me. No more Drunk Cap Stephen. No more OCD Cap Stephen. No more Liar Cap Stephen.

Just Stephen. In a silly cap….

Do you have a favourite piece of headwear?

Have you ever worn different ‘caps’ to fit in with others or avoid confronting the real you?

Words

What’s in a word?

All my life I’ve enjoyed playing with words. Juggling them, rearranging them, making them dance to my tune. I guess I’m a wordsmith. They have been with me in soaring to unimaginable heights and plummeting to indescribable depths. They have been my most loyal ally and my most bitter enemy.

What’s in a letter? 26 little squiggles make the world go round. Or at least the English speaking world. Oh look! Do you see what I did there. With one extra letter I’ve made word becomes world. Aren’t I clever? Words are like putty in my hands, I say jump and they say how high. Without words we are nothing. Our lives are fuelled by words. They shape our futures and cement our pasts.

Words can be weapons. They can hack, slice, pierce and gouge. Words can be swords. Look I did it again! Words can start wars and end lives. They can make good men do bad things. Words can unleash the most horrendous evil. It was words that fuelled the killing factories at Auschwitz and Belsen; it was words that sent tens of thousands of brave, young men over the top to their deaths at the Somme.

Words can break hearts and crush dreams. They can worm their way (three times! three times!) through the smallest gap and wreak havoc. They are permanent. You can’t take back a word. The tongue is the most dangerous part of the body. Actions speak louder than words? I’m not so sure about that. Words are just as capable of irrevocable damage. Words end lives.

The voice inside is just as dangerous as the voices around us. The voice that tells us we’re ugly, stupid, fat or just not good enough. The voice that drips words like poison into our muddled minds to be soaked up by our saturated souls. The voice that tells you to do something that you know is wrong over and over and over again. The voice that leads you to your grave. That seductive, hypnotic voice that drives you to distraction with its promises and lies.

The sweetest poisons are often the most deadly.

Withheld words can be just as devastating as spoken or written words. Silence is a weapon as well. The pain of silence deafens and disorientates. That question that goes unanswered, that cry for help that goes unnoticed. Phone calls that aren’t returned, text messages that are read but ignored. Cutting people out of lives cuts them to the bone. There is no pain like the pain of rejection. Loneliness is the slowest, cruellest of deaths.

Tomorrow I’m going to flip the coin and write about the beauty of words. They inspire and they motivate. Without words there can be no hope, no joy, no charity. Words are love. The Word is love. Your words today can heal. They can change lives. They can drive you onwards and upwards.

Your words are the greatest gift you can bequeath to the world. Choose them carefully.

Please feel free to let us know your thoughts on this post. We always appreciate your comments and feedback.

Why Do We Have Scars?

Why do we have scars?

I mean really? If God is this all powerful being why does he allow them to exist? To blemish and defile the pinnacle of his creative powers. Mankind.

Broken bones heal. Why don’t all wounds?

The answer? Bones heal but scars reveal.

They reveal where he have come from and remind us what it has taken to get where we are now. We are ashamed of our scars but we should be proud of them. We have earned them. They are battle honours that we fought long and hard for. Your story is told in your scars. Each one is a chapter of your life and each one adds to the person you are today.

You are your scars.

Yes God could wave a magic wand every time you bleed and most times he does. The wound heals and the new skin grows back leaving no sign of the injury. But not every time. No matter how skilful the surgeon or how intensive the therapy.

Stitches are a railroad to our souls, jagged paths that we need to walk in order to grow into who we are destined to become. Some say they are ugly but I say they are beautiful and lead us to greater understanding, knowledge and wisdom of ourselves and others . The wise cherish their scars. They have survived to tell the tale. The tale is in their scars.

We must forgive but in order to do so we must never forget. Weapons aim to dismember but scars allow us to remember. How can you forgive if you can’t remember? For forgiveness is not a one off quick fix. It is a journey, a life long work in process. We may have to forgive a person every day for the rest of our lives. Seven times seventy times and more, Jesus taught. Scars allow us to remember. Scars allow us to forgive.

You may feel broken, unworthy, soiled. But you are beautiful. They say beauty is only skin deep but beauty is in our DNA. It permeates every organ, every tissue, every cell. And there is breathtaking beauty in our scars. They are what make us unique. The unblemished are the incomplete. Our scars make us who we are. Our marks are magnificent.

Scars allow us to love and be loved. They should not be hidden. Scars shouldn’t scare. Instead they should inspire. Inspire and encourage. Scars are for the living and not the dead. Life flows from our scars like the clearest, purest water from a mountain spring. Scars are a tapestry leading to the very essence of who we are.

We are our scars. They complete us. They define us.

Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on this post.

The Devil Wears Grey

Are you one of those people who sees the world only in black and white? Or do you know someone like that? A person who knows right from wrong, has their life totally sorted and knows exactly where they are headed? Who is 100% happy with their life?

If you are one of those people then I doff my metaphorical hat to you.

For I’m nowhere near there. I live in a world of grey.

50,000 shades of grey. Without the kinky stuff you will be glad to hear 😂

We want to drink ice cold, clear water from Alpine streams. But the truth is, most of us splash around in a pretty muddy mire. Polluted by pride, guilt, self pity, loathing and a billion other contaminants that form like cataracts over our eyes and conceal the truth from us.

What is the truth? It’s who we truly are. It’s where we are meant to be heading in our lives. It’s that little voice inside of us screaming to heard above the vacuous words we spout every day that make us inwardly cringe and hates ourselves all the more. It is blindingly obvious yet we are so obviously blind to it. The truth will set you free. But we see the truth as confining, restrictive and conforming. We seek something else.

The blackness is all around us. It whispers in our ears. It comforts and seduces us. It tells us what we want to hear. It is a reassuring arm around the shoulder, that warm hug after a long day of rejection and failure. While the truth hurts, its lies soothe and console. And before you know it that blackness has taken up residency in your heart. It is your best friend. Yet it wants nothing more than your complete destruction.

We are all a work in progress. An unfinished masterpiece. We strive to be good people but find it so hard to expel the darkness from our lives. We live somewhere in between. Mix black and white and what do you get? Grey. Grey is indecision and confusion. It is ‘maybe’ and ‘I don’t know’ and ‘there’s always tomorrow.’ It is limbo and it is exactly where most of us are to some extent.

The Devil doesn’t wear Prada. He doesn’t have all the best tunes. They call him the Prince of Darkness but his favourite colour is grey. He knows he’s not going to turn you into the next Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler. His is a defensive war. He craves the status quo. He wants nothing more than nothingness. He wants you to drift through life in the most nondescript fashion possible. No plans, no decisions and no impact.

Seventy odd years on the planet without having even made the slightest dent. Then straight into his welcoming arms. He is a grey god. I turn my back on that. We fear and avoid the darkness but that’s not where he wants us. He wants us to exist in the murky half light of under achievement where all hope and ambition has been beaten out of us. He doesn’t want serial killers or corrupt politicians. That’s waaaaay to easy.

He wants mediocrity. He wants an army of sleepwalkers marching through the gloom to their drab destinies. He wants tired, lethargic hearts and minds. He wants to numb your very soul. He wants inaction and meh. He is the meh-vil and we are his target.

Let me tell you something. It might shock a few but here goes anyway. You’re never going to be perfect. You’re never going to live in the light on this world anyway. But you can acknowledge it and move towards it. Aspire to be perfect. It’s hard, frustrating work but perspiration leads to inspiration.

Step out of the grey. I know you can. I’m no Christian Grey (thankfully you shudder) but I also don’t want to be a grey Christian. And whatever your beliefs you don’t want to live a grey life. You are better than that. Step out of the murkiness and wear your real clothes with pride. You are technicolour today.

Do you live in the grey? How can you step out of it?

Why Do You Blog?

My social media profile used to be entirely self centred. All I was interested in was getting more likes, more followers and more retweets. I used to have almost 10,000 followers on Twitter. But that was never enough, I always wanted more.

I portrayed myself as the wittiest, cleverest person on the internet. I craved the spotlight like a sponge soaks up water. My online life became more important than my real life. I ignored the people who mattered as I was more interested in myself and my own ravenous ego. I was consumed by the self to the expense of my spiritual and mental health.

The wheels came off in spectacular fashion and, after that, I stayed off social media for a long time. I was ashamed of the person I had become. I was embarrassed by my online activities. I was a fraud, a liar and a joke. I never wanted to see another tweet or Instagram photo for as long as I lived. They epitomised everything I hated about myself. They were the blackest of mirrors reflecting a side of me I despised.

So why do I blog? Well…. Fionnuala encouraged me to come back as she felt I had a story to tell. And yes, it has been for partly selfish reasons. It has allowed me to write, to express my hopes and fears; to exercise my creative muscles; and to exorcise some demons from the past. Through the blog I have learnt more about myself and those I love. Blogging has become an important part of my life. But not the most important part.

This time round I have reflected on my past failings but moved the spotlight from myself onto others. My past online career thrived in the shadows but this blog is about shining a light that will cut through the darkness; to expose the demons and shine a path to restoration and healing. To offer a lifeline to others who are suffering and struggling in silence. Too damaged to reach out for help in the real world.

Too hurt. Too many confidences betrayed. Too many promises broken. Once bitten twice shy. I know, I’ve been there. But broken bones can mend. A fractured faith is still a faith. Belief can be restored and hope can grow back even on the most rocky, barren soil. Recovery is possible. Believe me I know.

I see such pain and loneliness online. I see people consumed by addiction, illness and abuse. They need to know they are not alone. They need to know that there is life and freedom on the other side. I’m here to guide them there in any small way I can. I don’t have qualifications but I do have experience. I want to help. I need to help.

So I blog. And I pray for people who don’t even know I read their cries for help. That’s why I’m here. A passion needs a purpose. This is mine online.

Why do you blog?

Are You Okay?

Two little words that mask a multitude of emotions and experiences.

Two little words that paper over bottomless chasms of hurt and disappointment.

Two little words that cement the thickest, highest walls of denial and regret.

Two little words.

I’m okay.

How many times have you answered a heartfelt, caring question with these words. The question of a relative, a friend or perhaps a complete stranger. Words that stumble out of your mouth. When inside all you want to do is scream and scream until your lungs collapse. Two little words. One huge lie.

I see so much pain on WordPress. I see broken people. People who are too scared or proud or whatever to speak the truth out loud. So they write it here. And it saddens me.

I’m broken as well. I’m not okay. But that is the first step. Admitting it to yourself. Facing up to the facade that you have constructed because that is what society expects of you.

Let me tell you. It’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to feel devastated and distraught be it through illness, addiction or bereavement. Or those million other demons that force us to our knees.

And why are you not okay? Because you are more than that. You are precious, unique and loved. You have a purpose and a plan. You are a message in a bottle. Adrift on a stormy sea for now but destined to settle one day on the beach of your destiny.

My name is Stephen and I’m not okay.

But I’m okay with that.

So let’s start again. How are you today?

Joy Through Suffering

I ran a marathon on Saturday. Regular readers may already be aware of this 😉

I completed a ridiculously hilly course in 3:54:55 coming in under my target time of 4 hours. I also raised in excess of £100 for SHINE Charity. And I finished 4th. Out of 40 runners. But still 4th!

I intended to post a race review but this is more a conversation review. At around the 3 mile mark in fell into the company of two fellow runners. We were all going at a similar pace and got talking. Or rather they got talking and I mostly listened. From the way they chatted I assumed they were old friends only to later discover that they had never met before that day.

One of them came from my home town of Omagh and worked with my cousin. Small world. The other was a psychiatric nurse which was also my father’s profession. Both, it quickly transpired, were recovering alcoholics and members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Except they weren’t very anonymous about it. In fact they were incredibly proud of this and totally open about their battles with alcohol and how the ’12 Steps’ had turned their lives around.

They both were passionate about both their sobriety and their running, stating that the latter very much contributed to the latter. One of them said running was the only time when he felt totally at peace. The other agreed, adding that he found a unique joy through the suffering of distance running. I could only listen on intently as they regaled each other with tales of their chaotic pasts and how they had fought back.

If I had to describe marathon running in two words then ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ are not the ones I would choose Most distance runners will, at some point, encounter ‘the wall’ in the latter stages of the race when their glycogen reserves run out and their bodies effectively begin to shut down. It is an indescribable feeling. The physical pain is only matched by the mental anguish. Loneliness is Mile 18 of a marathon when you have been running for three hours and realise you have still 8 miles to go.

<<<<<
is an old adage that the second half of a marathon only begins at Mile 20. That is when your mind and body rebel on you in equal measure. You want nothing more than to stop. Every rational part of you wants to give up, yet something irrational keeps the marathon runner going. They see beyond the pain of the wall. They see the glory of the finish line and neither hell nor high water is going to stop them from crossing it.

This was nothing to these men. They relished the pain. They sought and embraced the suffering. For it was nothing caused to the pain and suffering that addiction has wreaked upon their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Yet they had overcome the odds and fought through the horrors. They had conquered their demons. They both swore like troopers and were rough round the edges. They spoke of a Higher Power but I don't even know if they believed in God as I do.

For all that though they showed an appreciation of life and the spiritual world that put me to shame and made me believe that I was meant to be in their company and hear their stories. They provided me with inspiration during the perspiration. They were running the race of life for all it was worth. They knew true peace and joy. 26.2 miles was nothing to them. They had seen it all before and were making up for lost time.

By the end of the race I had lost contact with the two men, finishing ahead of them both. I had stronger legs and lungs than them. But they were streets ahead of me in terms of where their hearts and souls were. I hope one day to experience the peace and joy they talked about. They proved to me that there is hope no matter how dark your world becomes. The light will always overcome the darkness. Just like good will always vanquish evil.

Have you ever experienced joy through suffering?< strong>Do you believe in a Higher Power?

What Do You Dream About?

Did I tell you that I ran a marathon the other day? *collective sigh and eye rolling from my fellow bloggers*. Well the good news is that this post is not about the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon which I ran/endured on Saturday. Well it is a little bit but bear with me. It’s more about the aftermath. As in right now, this very minute.

If there are two things distance runners love after a race it’s food and sleep. We can’t get enough of them. As I write this, however, it is 4:17 am and I’ve been awake for almost two hours. As in wide eyed, bolt upright, five trillion thoughts whirling around my head awake. Ideas for dialogue in my novel are bursting into my consciousness like a meteor shower bursting through the earth’s atmosphere in one of those big budget Holywood blockbusters.

I’m also hungry. Very hungry. The only feeling outweighing that hunger at present is laziness. I’m too lazy to go downstairs to make something to eat. Note to self – we need an upstairs kitchen; or at the very least a bedside toaster. I promise not to leave crumbs in the bed, Fionnuala, if you buy me one for Christmas. Pinky swear. Or at least not on your side of the bed anyway.

If you’re still with me as we meander into paragraph four of this post then thank you. You deserve so much better but thank you anyway. The point I wanted to make is that before I woke up I was having a recurring dream. Fionnuala has the most vivid, lucid prophetic dreams. She sees stuff that is both freaky and amazing at the same time. I hope one day she will write more about her dreams.

I on the other hand dream nonsense. But amidst the nonsense are three recurring dreams which are as follows:

1 – I am sitting in an exam hall but my head is blank. I haven’t studied for the exam and a growing sense of anxiety and panic grips me as I stare at my blank paper and the clock on the wall as it clicks relentlessly on.

2 – I can’t see because I have a ridiculously long fringe down to the bridge of my nose. I freak out and feel claustrophobic. I walk into inanimate objects, fall over quite a bit and have yet to make it to a barber’s shop.

3 – This was the dream I was having before I woke up tonight. I am either hungover, drunk or thinking about drinking. In all three scenarios I feel incredibly guilty but that doesn’t stop me from drinking. These are the worst dreams.

I haven’t had an exam in over 20 years. I haven’t had a drink in over 4 years. And I haven’t had a haircut in er….about 4 weeks. Those of you hoping for deep or witty insights at this stage of the post are about to be bitterly disappointed but I’ll try anyway. Here goes…

Fionnuala dreams about the future whereas I dream about the past. She predicts future events (crazy but true believe me on this one) and has dreams about people and insights into their lives that, when imparted to them, offer hope and light. I dream about failure and inadequacy. And stupid haircuts.

I want to have her dreams but when God was dishing that gift out she was at the front of the queue and I was probably on my third pint of Budweiser. The same thing happened the day of the ‘brains and beauty’ queue. We all have gifts. I got words. Could have been better, could have been worse. But they flow from me every day now.

My dreams might be in the past but my daydreams are today. Now. I dreamt about running a marathon one day. Two days ago I ran my seventh *yawns*. I dreamt about having a semi successful blog that people read and enjoyed. It’s kind of happening now. I dreamt about writing a novel. Ditto. I dreamt about being a decent husband, father and human being. Work in progress but I’m getting there.

Dreams don’t have to remain dreams. You can make them your reality. It just requires a tonne of hard work and a sprinkling of talent. You are special and unique. Seize the day and squeeze every last drop out of it. Live the impossible. Follow your destiny. It’s within touching distance.

Sweet dreams. I’m off to make some toast.

Do you have recurring or prophetic dreams? Or can you interpret any of mine?!?!

What is your dream for 2018? How are you going to make it happen?

Occam’s Razor v Dr Google

I was awakened this morning with a stabbing pain in my belly button. Want to become a doom mongering hypochondriac? Then sign up for a marathon. With the big race little over a day away every little ache or pain now sends me into a spiral of despair and scrambling for the medical dictionary. Or Dr. Google.

The worst thing you can do is try and self diagnose yourself online. Within a few moments I was convinced that I had appendicitis and would be in surgery within the hour. I ignored the dozens of other possible answers and immediately plumped for the worst case scenario. Dr. Google takes that little seed of worry and turns it into a mighty oak tree.

Dr. Google also suggested indigestion and I had eaten something before going to bed last night. It was, based upon the available evidence, the most likely answer to my dilemma. Did I consider it even for a nano second? Of course I didn’t. If an ambulance had turned up at the door I would have happily hopped into it, told Fionnuala to pack a bag and hooked up to the nearest morphine drip.

In my job as a civilian oversight investigator we are taught to consider the available evidence and, based upon that, draw up a list of theories, or hypotheses, as to what might have happened in a given situation. We then test each theory against the evidence to ascertain which theory fits best. We discount the most unlikely theories until we are left with the one which fits best. Nine times out of ten this is the simplest theory.

So who shot JFK? Consider the available evidence and you can come up with the most outlandish conspiracy theories but the simplest answer is that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. *please don’t come back at me with alternative arguments I’m just using this as an example* This technique is known as Occam’s Razor, named after the English philosopher, William of Ockham, who invented it. The simplest theory is the most likely solution.

Turns out that when I got up and had something to eat the pain subsided. I write this from the comfort of my own home, not a hospital bed. It was more than likely a touch of indigestion. My self diagnosis was miles off target and it looks like I’m going to live to run another day.

Why do we always think the worst? Of ourselves and of others? I’m the biggest culprit when it comes to this. Always putting myself down and overcomplicating of situations. Life can be as simple or as awkward as we want it to be. Humans tend to muddy the waters at every possible opportunity. Why look up at a clear, blue sky when you can spend your days walking about under a cloud of worry or through a fog of confusion.

Jesus got Occam’s Razor. The religious rulers of his time had turned God’s law into a huge, tangled knot of burdensome laws and procedures. A veritable Gordian knot that only they could navigate. Jesus cut through this with the sword of truth. He cut it back to the bare bones and boiled it down to a few basic lessons. Love God. Love others. Tell the truth. Follow me.

The simplest answer is the most likely answer. Leading a simple, honest life is the most likely way to avoid self inflicted dramas and theatrics. Strip away the lies and sin and see the truth for what it really is. Stop talking and start walking. Along the path that you were always destined to walk. William of Ockham 1 Wikipedia 0?

What are your views on Occam’s Razor?

Do you consult with Dr. Google?

The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland

Back in the bad old days when I spent 97% of my life on Twitter I used to spend my daily commute tweeting about my fellow commuters. This series, imaginatively titled ‘Train Tweets’, used to cause my adoring (or so I thought) army of followers and myself no end of amusement as I by and large conducted character assassinations of complete strangers. It was cheap, nasty and attention seeking on my part.

I still make the same commute with the same people and while I no longer tweet about them I don’t really pay them any attention at all now. I’m sorry for what I tweeted about them before but as it was always anonymously and I used pseudonyms I’ve never felt the need to walk up to one of them and apologise. They would probably look at me as if I was a madman. I’ve figured out I spend approximately 7 hours of my week with these people and I’ve never spoken a word to any of them.

Despite feeling bad for my snide tweets I’ve never really moved on from viewing my fellow commuters as anything more than the one dimensional characters I created in my head for my own entertainment. When I look at them I still think of the imaginary back stories I created for them instead of seeing real human beings with lives and families of their own. People with fears, hopes and struggles who deserve a lot better from me than I have dished out to me over the years. I wonder what they see when they look at me every day on the train and feel ashamed.

Yesterday a man I have always known as ‘The Angriest Solicitor in Ireland’ was queuing to buy his train ticket. He is permanently attired in a business suit with his mobile phone permanently clamped to his ear talking loudly about legal matters that make little sense to me. He might as well be speaking Cantonese for all I can make out of it. His tone of voice is curt, cold and uncompromising and he always looks flustered, red faced and at odds with the world, as if spoiling for a fight. For this reason I tend to give him a wide berth.

Yesterday the woman in front of him in the queue wanted to pay for her ticket by debit card but was informed by the conductor that the relevant machine not working and they were taking cash payments only. She did not have any money on her and started to become agitated, thinking that she would not be able to get on the train. From behind her I heard a vaguely familiar voice offering to pay for her ticket. I looked up and saw that it was ‘The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland.’

In the end the conductor allowed the woman to get on the train and pay for the ticket at her final destination. But that didn’t take anything away from the fact that this man, who I had previously dismissed as grumpy and uncaring, had demonstrated a compassion and kindness that I had previously thought him incapable of; I had made up my mind about him, judged and stereotyped him based upon my own preconceptions and stereotypes. God knew the man’s heart whereas I most definitely had not. I had judged him when I had no right to, for he proved himself a better man than me on that occasion.

Never judge a book by its cover. Leave that to God. It made me think about all the other people I have judged inaccurately down the years. We know nothing of these people’s lives at the end of the day. Instead of deriding and ridiculing them we should pray for them or, Heaven forbid, try to find out a little more about them by engaging in conversation. Building real relationships and friendships. Instead of sniping and gossiping behind their backs. Every day is a learning day and yesterday was no exception.

Behind every caricature and facade is a real, living person. We don’t know their story or what is going on in their lives at any given moment. We need to show more understanding and give them the benefit of the doubt. So if you see that grumpy commuter, rude colleague or arrogant fellow student today bite your lip and don’t judge them. Smile at them, say hello to them, pray for them if you believe in prayer. For none of us are perfect and we all have off days.

Do you know a person who you have previously judged and stereotyped?

How are you going to treat them next time you see them?

Why Do You Get Out Of Bed In The Morning?

I couldn’t believe it this morning when the alarm went off. ‘Is that 6 o’clock?’ I asked Fionnuala in groggy disbelief. ‘Actually it’s 6:25’ she replied before leaping out of bed. We had slept in a little. Where had the night gone? It seemed only moments ago that I had placed my head on the pillow and settled down to sleep. Even worse we had gone to bed extra early last. I groaned inwardly and forced myself out of bed into the cold, dark day.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become less of an early riser. Some mornings both the flesh and the spirit are unwilling when it comes to rising and facing the daily grind. It was once written that the only certainties we face in life are death and taxes. They weren’t far wrong. The commute to the office is a drag, the working day itself a monotonous chore; each day blends into the next and creates the interminable soundtrack to our life. The working week never seems to end yet those precious weekends are gone in the blink of an eye.

Some days you just want to switch the alarm off, pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep. The term ‘rat race’ is misleading as at least a race promises an end to the race and a possible prize at the finish. The rat race promises nothing but bills and responsibilities. Which begs the question why do we bother? What motivates us every day to get up and face the outside world when all we want to do is turn our backs on it all and drop out of society?

Well the obvious response is that we have to get up. We need to get out of bed and, yes it’s those pesky bills and responsibilities again. In order to have a bed in the first place and, indeed, a roof over that bed we need to pay the man. That means dragging our sorry backsides into our offices, shops and other places of employment across the land. The same goes for school and college. Fail that exam or flunk that test and future employment prospects become bleaker by the day.

With bills come responsibilities. It is expected of us. Fionnuala and I holler at the kids every morning to get up and get ready for school. We are expected to turn up at work, college and school (or home school!). If we don’t then we are letting down others; our families, friends and colleagues. We cannot live with the shame of letting others down. So we shut up and show up. We play the game because others are relying on us to play the game; just like we are relying upon them to also play the game. The game is the most selfish and selfless of activities. We play it because we need to play it; we have little choice in order to survive.

We need to play it but we do we want to play it? We have discussed why we have to get out of bed but do we want to get out of bed? It is a subtle yet very important difference. And there, I believe, lies the key to life. Do you want to get up the morning? What makes the difference between falling out of bed and leaping out of bed? The answer lies in both our dreams and our beliefs.

That might seem a contradiction but our dreams are founded on our beliefs. If our dreams are a majestic palace, then our beliefs are its sturdy foundations. If our dreams are a majestic oak tree then our beliefs are the strong roots that tether it in place. Without our beliefs, our dreams will collapse and crumble to nothing. I dream of running a sub four marathon this coming Saturday; I dream of having a first novel published; I dream of seeing my kids achieve great things in their lives; I dream of a happy retirement with my wife and seeing a little more of the world.

I believe that God will provide all of the above if it is part of his plan for my life. And if they don’t happen then they obviously weren’t. But I believe that is because he has even better plans that I am unaware of at this moment in time. I believe that, through my dreams, I can contribute towards making the world a better place. By running I raise money for worthy causes, by writing I hope to inspire and motivate others, through my family I hope to teach our kids the proper way to live and set an example to others.

I believe in an afterlife and that this life is only a tiny part of my overall journey. There are better times ahead. Both tomorrow and in eternity. Therefore while I acted like a grumpy old man this morning and had to get out of bed I also wanted to get out of bed. Now for a massive Diet Coke fix and the long trudge to the office. Have a great Tuesday everyone!

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Coffee? Screaming kids? Multiple alarm clocks?

Why do you have to get out of bed?

Why do you want to get out of bed?

Phone Moan

I have the most temperamental of mobile (cell) phones when it comes to charging. It will only charge if I use Fionnuala’s charger (I go through phone chargers like Donald Trump goes through aides) and place it at a certain angle until the charging icon comes on. A millimetre to the left or a millimetre to the right and it will switch itself off. I need the steady hand of a surgeon and the unblinking eye of a fighter pilot to complete my task.

I’m on my phone a lot as I use it for my blogging so half of my life is spent either charging the phone or thinking about charging my phone. This is particularly tricky at work where we are not allowed phones in the office for security reasons. While I am hardly ever on my phone at work as I am a model employee the corridor outside often resembles an obstacle course of texting colleagues and charger leads. It’s a wonder there is ever any work done in the place.

I know I spend too much time on my phone as many of us do if we are honest with ourselves. If our most valuable possession is our phone then our phone charger can’t be too far behind. We see them as our lifeline to civilisation and without them we feel naked. It is as if we are missing a limb. When I commute to work in the mornings nobody on the train reads a physical newspaper anymore. They obtain their news fix from their phones or tablets. Do people even talk anymore? We are the walking dead, shuffling along oblivious to what is going on right before our very eyes.

If we only we were as disciplined at checking our physical, mental and spiritual charges? How many of us are running on empty in respect of these areas. Running around at a million miles per hour attempting to stick to unrealistic schedules. We eat the wrong foods, neglect to exercise and become weighed down with stress and the worries of the world. We compensate by worshipping at the altars of money, sex, alcohol, bad food and a thousand other false deities. We are running on empty and desperately try to fill the aching chasms in our lives with activities guaranteed to damage our hearts, minds and souls even further.

We need to take more care of recharging ourselves and spend less time recharging our electronic devices. Take time for yourself and the people around you who truly matter. If you are a Christian spend time praying and reading your Bible. If you’re not find something, anything, that will help you switch off from the ratrace that is life and switch on to your own well being and state of mind. For otherwise one day your battery will run flat and no charger on earth will be able to blow life into it again.

This blog post was brought to you by my I Phone 6 which is currently sitting at 94%.

How much time do you spend on your phone or tablet every day?

Do you spend enough time tending to your own charging needs?

The 1% Is A Liar

Yesterday was my last long run before the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon which I am running for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus) around Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, next Saturday. The run went well and now it just a matter of keeping things ticking over and continuing my disciplined taper until the big day itself. The nerves are well and truly starting to kick in now for a number of reasons.

Although this will be my 7th marathon in total, it’s my first in over 18 months, and a sliver of icy self doubt remains lodged in my brain. Hard as I’ve tried I have been unable to budge it despite knowing deep down that I am capable of this. The target for my comeback at 26.2 miles is sub four hours and my training programme has been tailored specifically around this time. Everything has went exactly to plan. Yet still the sliver remains, burrowing deeper and deeper into my consciousness no matter how hard I try to ignore and repel it.

Doubt is the most sly and subtle of enemies. When all you want to do is build a wall of fact and certainty it drifts through the slightest of cracks like cannon smoke on a battlefield. You can be 99% certain of something and doubt will lob that 1% into the equation like a cluster grenade, exploding to create havoc and ruin within your carefully constructed defences. My OCD is fuelled by doubt; the ‘what ifs’ and ‘but maybes’ having a field day no matter how many times I attempt to drive them away. They thrive on uncertainty and relish hesitation. They sow the deepest of roots, so hard to dig out and destroy.

I fear the 1%. It batters me from all sides like the fiercest of hurricanes. I see it wherever I glance. The same applies to my writing. The 1% tells me I’m not good enough, I’m too old, it’s all a pipe dream and my chance is long gone. The more research I conduct into finding a literary agent and publishing a novel the more complicated and unlikely it seems. Even if I do complete it, even if it is half decent, the market is brutally competitive and the chances of being noticed seem remote. The 1% raises its battleaxe and screams in my face ready to cleave my hopes and dreams in two.

It is daunting but I cling to the shaky belief that the 1% is a liar. It whispers and it screams but I have to turn my back and walk away. The lies are a blizzard of darkness; jumbled memories, words, faces and images. Their timing is impeccable, their intent wholly malicious. But I choose different numbers. I choose the 500 plus training miles I have ground out since the summer. I choose the 30,000 words I have written to date. I choose the millions of words of love and encouragement from Fionnuala and the kids.

Freewill is a gift and I choose to wield it like a sword against my Goliath. To slay the dragon wrapped around my ambition, relentlessly squeezing the oxygen from my lungs. I choose the sword of truth, it’s blade so sharp that not even the toughest of armour or scales can withstand it. I stand on the ramparts of my mind and I watch my enemies flee, my defences strong and intact. The past will not overcome me, it will not sweep me away like it once used to. Believe in your own abilities. Believe in your inner circle.

Believe in the 99%.

How big a part does doubt play in your life?

How do you battle it?

What is your dream?

Dried Blood

The other day I was walking through the city centre when I saw before me on the footpath what looked like dried blood. There was little mistaking the dark red colouring or the tell tale splatter pattern of the droplets as they had struck the ground marking the grisly path that some unfortunate soul had taken down the street before they abruptly ended in an empty doorway.

Now I’m no Dexter Morgan, thankfully, but the absence of flashing lights, wailing sirens and yellow tape across the road assured me that I had not stumbled upon a crime scene. I had heard nothing on the morning news about a crazed axeman running through the streets of Belfast. So I was fairly satisfied that there had been no loss of life. But something had happened; so my mind went into overdrive trying to conjure up a likely scenario.

Had it been as innocent as one of the hundreds of schoolboys who take this route to the nearby grammar school every morning developing a nose bleed? Or was it something more sinister? A bar brawl which had spilled out onto the street or an altercation where a knife had been produced? Piercing skin, biting deep, striking home. Since starting this blog I have become acutely aware of the number of homeless people who populate the streets of Belfast. Young, vulnerable people with little hope in their eyes. Had one of them been the victim?

Our streets are caked in blood and grime. Some of it is visible to the eye, but not all. The homelessness, the violence, the drugs, the prostitution. Just like our homes are caked in grime. The grime of our sinful lives. Broken homes, broken relationships, broken families, broken hearts. What you don’t agree? Because behind every veneer of domestic bliss is a less than idyllic reality. Addiction, jealousy, depression, unforgiveness. It is everywhere. On our TV screens, on our social media and in our fickle hearts.

I wonder if on a morning almost two thousand years ago did any travellers on their way to Jerusalem pass a spot by the roadside where they saw a pool of dried blood. They were unfamiliar with the city but were later told that there had been three crucifixions there the previous day. Two common criminals and some madman who claimed he was the Son of God. Well he had been shown up for the charlatan he was and had died on the cross like the rest of them. Good riddance to him too; the last thing they needed was some rabble rouser riling the Romans. There was only going to be one winner there.

Saying that, there had been some strange things happening since then. Weird goings on up at the temple apparently. Some of his wacky hangers on had been running about shouting that he had risen from the dead. Was walking about with holes in his hands where they had driven the nails in. What nonsense. The travellers paid little attention to the tall tales, completed their business and departed the city to head home. Probably two drunks brawling. Or possibly bandits had robbed a less fortunate traveller.

Next time you pass a spot of dried blood on the pavement (or sidewalk as you crazy Americans insist on calling it) spare a thought for the person who shed it and the circumstances that led to them spilling it there. If you are a Christian pray for them. And spare a thought for the blood that Jesus spilled all those years ago. We normally associate spilt blood with danger and harm, but not His, which was willingly given in order to protect and purify.

He gave His blood in order to rid our lives of the guilt, shame and sinful living patterns that plague our every waking step. When it comes to His blood you can be certain as to the reasons for it forming in a pool at the foot of the Cross. There is no need for head scratching or speculation. He did it for me and for you. The decision is ours. Do we accept the sacrifice and follow Him or step over the blood he shed and carry on with our journey through life?

When did you last encounter blood on the street?

Do you believe there was a man called Jesus? Or it is just a fairytale?

Fionnuala’s Faith

Today’s blog is a showcase for the true talent at afracturedfaithblog, my wife Fionnuala. Here are some of the faith inspired images that she has created. I think they are amazing but then I’m bias You can see a lot more of Fionnuala’s work on our Instagram account. Just click the relevant link on our blog site and have a wonderful Wednesday.

Stick To The Programme

Race Day is now only two weeks away and today was my last long run before the marathon itself. As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks my times have improved considerably over the last month to the extent that this morning I was running a minute per mile faster than my projected race pace. I am of course delighted with this and can only put it down to having finally overcome the virus which struck me down during the summer.

With two weeks to go I now enter the stage of my training plan known as the taper. This is where you reduce your mileage and focus on rest and recovery so that you reach the start line refreshed, healthy and injury free. All the hard work has been done and it is now just a matter of keeping your body and mind ticking over until the big day itself. And having run over 130 miles during the last three weeks I should be looking forward to this enforced scaling down of my training schedule.

Marathon runners, however, have a love/hate relationship with the taper. It is difficult to adjust to a regime of lower mileage when you have been pounding the roads for the better part of three months. The mind starts to play tricks on you. Will I lose my fitness? Am I putting on weight? Have I peaked too soon? All these thoughts have assaulted me during previous tapers and I no doubt will entertain them all over again in the coming days.

Part of me wishes the race was tomorrow but the logical part of my brain reminds me that I need this period of winding down in order to be fully wound up come race day. The taper is just as important as the 20 mile long run. At this stage of the journey I have come too far only to blow it all by overtraining and arriving at the start line tired and jaded. For the next two weeks less is more. I need to relax, have faith in the plan and be patient.

Unfortunately relaxation and patience are not two of my strongest characteristics. So I’ll fret and I’ll worry over the next two weeks. Which I know is ridiculous as I have been through this six times before and on each occasion the taper worked and I arrived at the start line in the best shape I could possibly be in. It all comes down to a lack of faith. In myself and in the training plan which has never let me down before and won’t let me down this time either if I would only stop stressing and wise up.

I’m a bit like that when it comes to my spiritual training plan. I know that God has a plan for my life but I become restless and frustrated when things don’t go as I feel they should be going. I get angry, sulk or feel sorry for myself as I watch my life meander along. I want everything yesterday rather than accept that God knows best and allow the plan to be revealed in His time and not my own. My lack of faith unsettles me. It is selfish and disobedient. I should know better.

God has never let me down before and has dragged me out of some almighty self inflicted messes along the way. So I just have to bite my lip and accept that He knows best no matter how much it pains me at times. Just like I need to bite my lip and accept this taper period for what it is; all part of a bigger plan designed to benefit me in the long run. My short sightedness needs to see beyond the here and now and appreciate the bigger picture. Be it 26.2 miles in a fortnight or the rest of my life as a follower of Jesus I just need to stick to the programme.

Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

Are you a patient person? Or do you struggle?

Are you good at sticking to plans?

Meet Mr Skelly 

I’m taking next week off work to write. As in work on the novel idea that has been rattling around my head these last few months. It has now got to the stage where I have to get the words out or I think my brain will explode. It is akin to mental birthing pains if that makes sense. It is time to stop talking and start writing. It could be literary gold dust or a big pile of steaming you know what. But it is time. 

I haven’t the first clue about writing a novel. I’ve read a lot about developing a structure, creating a design document and so on. But it’s got to the point now where I just have to write. I know in my head what the first few chapters will look like that and I have a fair idea of the overall story. I have fleshed out my main characters (all three of them – big exclusive there) in quite some detail and can see them in my head as clear as day. I just need now to bring them to life on the page.


I know the themes which will meander between the chapters, pages and words. I know the setting (Belfast – another exclusive) and I know the overall feel of the novel. Now I have to write. I reckon that by this time next week I will have a fair idea as to whether or not I can do this. I am excited but also nervous. It feels like the time I decided I wanted to run a marathon. The only way you can discover whether or not you are a marathoner is to run a marathon. The same applies to writing.

Who knows where this will lead? Can I make a living (or at least create a secondary income) through writing? Or will it just continue as an interest that I find both challenging and rewarding. Am I talented or just a deluded daydreamer? Only time will tell. But I know God has a plan for me and that somehow this is part of it. The growth of the blog is testament to that. He wants me to write and I need to write. That’s good enough for me.

Fionnuala is my driving force, my inspiration. She has encouraged me every step of the way and stuck by me as I have walked through many dark valleys. She has created a writing environment for me at home and it was her idea that led to this blog in the first place. The blog has been my testing ground. Without it having taken off in the way it has I doubt very much if I would be standing now on the cusp of this new adventure. The more I write, the more the words flow. I need to write in order to write. It is the least vicious of circles. 

The comments and feedback I have received from my fellow bloggers have also helped to seal the deal in my mind as well. It is such a loving, creative and supportive world to dip my literary toes into. They are not the prettiest of toes (especially after 20 mile training runs) but exposing them to fellow writers has been necessary in order to practice my craft and instil a self belief that has been lacking for many years. It is time write. It is time to live the impossible.

It is time to meet Mr. Skelly….

Have you written a novel? Do you ever plan to?

What advice can you offer a fledgling novelist?

Thank You

We passed 2000 followers at the weekend and I just wanted to thank everyone again for their support and encouragement. We never expected this when we started back in May. We hope our daily incursion into your lives is of benefit to you. Thank you again. 

A Racing Certainty

I was walking through the city centre yesterday on my way to the office when I saw an old man walk out of a bookmakers (betting office) in front of me. He was bent over, a bit unkempt looking and carrying a couple of shopping bags. He looked no different from any other Belfast pensioner who spent their day drifting round the pubs and bookies of the city.

I knew that particular bookies well from my gambling days. I had spent many a lunchtime in there studying the odds and watching the races. It is an entertainments business now with comfy seats, coffee machines and wide screen televisions. No longer are betting offices portrayed as dens of iniquity where the dregs of society gather to waste their ill gotten gains. Visiting a bookmakers now is on a par with going to the gym or the supermarket.

The new sparkling veneer, however, doesn’t hide the darker underbelly of the place. Men (for it is largely men) still fall prey to the bright lights and lure of the bookies, tempting them in to fritter away money that they can ill afford to lose. Whilst the buzz of a winner is hard to surpass, more commonly the experience is that of a losing bet and the gut wrenching awareness that your stake is gone forever; followed soon after by the overwhelming urge to ‘chase your losses’ and place another bet.


I have never met a poor bookmaker and the longer you spend in such an establishment the more likely it is that you will leave with less money than you entered with. You will lose and lose big. So I felt sorry for the old man as he shuffled down the street in front of me. From his modest attire he did not strike me as someone who could afford to lose what little money he probably had. He struck me as just another victim of the ravenous beast named addiction; down on his heels, down on his luck and probably down to his last few pennies.

Then something quite unexpected happened. The old man walked through the doors of the next building down the street; a church no less. I will never know why he crossed its threshold or how frequent a visitor he was. Was he praying for a sick friend or relative? Was he lonely and in need of a friendly face and and a comforting voice; or was he pleading for the Almighty God to whisper to him the winner of the 3:45 at Ascot?

What I did know was that this man had a faith. I did not know if it raged within him like a forest fire or was a flickering ember barely alight. But it was there. He believed. He believed that there was hope and that he had a future no matter how battered and bruised life had left him. I walked on with an added spring to my step, safe in the knowledge that God was at work in the life of this man. And confident that he was equally at work in mine.

Many men enter a bookmakers with everything (in financial terms at least) and leave with nothing; broken and adrift. They have gambled and they have lost. The same cannot be said of those who choose to follow Jesus. Instead they enter his House with nothing and leave with everything and more – eternal life. Why back a rank outsider when you can choose a racing certainty? Why gamble your soul away when the safest bet of your life is to give everything you have to Him?

Do you struggle with temptation?

What are you willing to gamble to secure happiness?

I’m Walking On The Air

The marathon is now only 18 days away and I had my final long run on Saturday. 21 miles on a dry, sunny and still morning. Ideal running conditions. I can handle rain but the wind is an enemy of the runner. It can wreak havoc with the best laid pacing plans. I set off in a hopeful frame of mind my intention, as ever, to remain under the 9:09 minute mile pace I need to average in order to run a sub 4 hour marathon.

The other week Fionnuala purchased me a brand new pair of Nike Air trainers to break in for the big day. I sadly had to retire my old pair at Nike which had served me well but were now on their last legs if you pardon the pun. They were literally falling apart and the soles were so worn down that it was akin to running on cardboard. They had to go so were consigned to the garage where they would live out their retirement along with the garden furniture and other odds and ends.

It is fair to say that the new Nike have been a revelation. I had a bad summer running wise due to illness and injury but was slowly building up my distance and times in preparation for the marathon. However I was nowhere near the levels I had run previously. With the arrival of the new trainers, however, I began to fly again. My times started to plummet. I felt fitter and faster. Coincidence or not, my confidence soared again and I put it all down to my new foot furniture.


The thick, cushioned soles made me feel as if I was running on air. Without the flying snowman and falsetto singing. I bounced along like an astronaut on the moon. It was like somebody had attached springs to the soles of my feet. I felt like Inspector Gadget. The 21 mile run went ridiculously well as a result. I finished with a 8:17 mile average, well within my target pace. Part of me wished the marathon was then as I truly believed I could have kept going and completed the distance well under my 4 hour target. 

All thanks to a new set of soles. Wouldn’t it be great if we could discard everything as easily as that. Unfortunately we only get one mind, one heart and one chance at life. And they can get battered and bruised beyond recognition. We can’t chuck them in the bin, though, and start over again. We have to make do with what we have and plod along often underachieving and missing out on the goals and targets we set ourselves along the way. Life has a nasty habit of chewing up dreams and spitting them out the other side.

Have I depressed you yet? Don’t worry the good news is that God does offer you a second chance. And a third chance and a seventeenth chance for that matter. He offers hope and a better life. All you have to do is reach out and accept the offer. He has an all singing, all dancing new set of running shoes for you. Just slip them on and you will feel like you never have before. Faster, stronger and ready to run the race of life like you never have before. Running forward into a future of Personal Bests.

We only get one shot at this race. So why turn down such an offer? Would Mo Farah line up for an Olympic final in a tatty old pair of running shoes when he could be sporting the finest that the boffins at Nike could offer? It’s a no brainer when you think of it that way. Which is kind of handy as many of us shuffle through life making decisions as if we don’t have one. A brain that is. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. I don’t like coffee but you get my drift.

I believe in the spiritual realms. I believe in angels and demons. Ghosts, ghouls, monsters call them what you like. And I believe in the Devil. He wants your soul and he will offer you all kinds of bright, shiny trinkets in order to attain it. We are incredibly naive and arrogant if we think we know everything there is to know about this universe. There is more than meets the eye. The eye deceives. Don’t be deceived by money, popularity or power. It’s a lie of the eye.

Why sell your soul to the Devil when Jesus is willing to upgrade the one you have. For free. And then you too can race towards the finish line instead of veering off track. For there lurk demons….

What is your favourite form of footwear?

Where is your soul at today?

Do you believe in angels and demons?

Riskbands

Have I told you that I’m running a marathon for SHINE Charity in just under three weeks time? Once or twice I suspect. Well last week the charity posted out my charity running vest for the big day. It’s a demure bright yellow which won’t win me any awards in the fashion stakes but will ensure that I’m visible from about a mile away for passing motorists. I will resemble a giant, fluorescent banana. I’ve had worse looks.

They also sent me out some sponsorship sheets and a charity wristband which I proudly slipped on. Wristbands may now be a fashion faux pas for all I know but I wear three. The aforementioned SHINE addition and one from my favourite singer/author Lacey Sturm saying ‘Living the Impossible’. I have kind of adopted this as my life slogan for if you had told me five years ago that I would be running marathons and writing a novel I would have snorted in derision.

The third one is a simple black band with a verse from the Bible embossed on it. 1 John 2:6 to be precise ‘Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.’ It kind of sums up how I am trying to live my life and the mindset I am attempting to adhere to. Our pastor talks a lot about the difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus. Anyone can make the decision to become a Christian. But attempting to live like he did day after day is a whole different ball game.

He also talks a lot about discipleship. It’s more than just turning up at church on a Sunday, mumbling along to a few worship songs and then shuffling off home again. It’s about how you live your life the rest of the week that matters. Displaying your faith on a consistent basis in a positive and loving manner. Being the light of the world, the city on a hill. Stepping out of your comfort zone armed with only a mustard seed of faith. Taking a risk.

In corporate management speak I am risk averse in such matters. Fionnuala calls me socially awkward which is probably the understatement of the year. Or any year for that matter. I am fairly hopeless around people I don’t know and not much better around those that I do. And I make no exception when it comes to my faith. I am much better writing about it than I am discussing it; which is one of the main reasons this blog was born. I had a story to tell but knew the written medium was the only way I could effectively express myself and do that story justice.

An example of this occurred last week. I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when a colleague asked me what was written on my wristbands. What a fantastic evangelical opportunity. But what did I do? Rather than openly and proudly talking about my faith I muttered something about the Lacey Sturm wristband being the title of a song I liked prior to quickly changing the subject. Epic fail!

I felt like Peter after he denied Jesus three times and the cockerel crowed. Talking about my faith in an open plan office in front of my colleagues was a risk I was not prepared to take. It was a bridge too far. I had turned my back on Jesus. I was willing to wear his name on his wrist but not declare it with my voice. I was left an embarrassed Christian as opposed to an unapologetic follower of Jesus. I had let him down and felt pretty rubbish.

The good news is that Jesus doesn’t turn his back on us even when we repeatedly turn our back on him. He’s got a thick skin that way. He is a bottomless ocean of patience and forgiveness, the ultimate grace generator. And when you stumble, or fall flat on your face like me, he’s there to reach out and help you back on your feet. To follow him. In your own time. But don’t leave it too late for you never know what’s round the next corner.

The next time I have an opportunity to demonstrate my faith I hope I don’t waver. I want to be a follower. I want to step out of the boat in faith. Christians wear wristbands. Followers wear riskbands. 

Do you wear a wristband? What does it stand for?

Are you a risk taker? Or risk averse?

I Believe In Unicorns 

Regular readers of the blog will have known that our youngest daughter, Rebecca, celebrated her 11th birthday a few days ago. The festivities have lasted the best part of a week culminating yesterday in a trip to the ‘Disney On Ice’ show in Belfast. There she was entertained by a flying Peter Pan, Ariel the Mermaid and Olaf the Snowman. And Fionnuala was horrified at paying £9 for a bucket of popcorn and a set of plastic Mickey Mouse ears. Let it go. Just let it go!

On Thursday night she had a pyjama/onesie party with her closest friends. And before anyone asks I don’t own a onesie and have no intention of ever owning one. What struck me at the party was the current unicorn craze amongst young girls. We have unicorn onesies, unicorn pillows, unicorn headphones. In fact anything you can think of. Unicorns are taking over the world. I had always thought it was going to be a zombie apocalypse that was going to end civilisation as we knew it. But I was wrong. It’s actually going to be unicorns.


I’m not sure if there were any unicorns on the Ark. But if there were then Noah’s journey on the waters would have undoubtedly been a much more enjoyable experience. Why? Because unicorns seem to bring joy and happiness wherever they appear. Just ask any little girl. Or perhaps the occasional boy. They are not just mythical flying horses with ice cream cones stuck to their foreheads. They symbolise hope and love and better times. They are a beacon of light in an otherwise bleak world. 

Nobody knows who came up with the idea of unicorns. Just like nobody knows exactly who came up with Father Christmas, The Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. But they all play a central role in the lives of our little ones. We tell them the stories, perform the traditions and answer their million and one questions on the subjects. They are at the heart of many of our most treasured family memories. Until that terrible day when it stops. When they stop believing. And then all we can do is relive the memories until, hopefully, a few grandchildren appear and we can do it all over again. 

We place such emphasis on these mythical creatures. They bring joy to our homes. Yet do we place the same emphasis on God? Do we place Jesus at the centre of our homes?Is he pushed aside at Easter and Christmas in favour of six foot rabbits and men with white beards and dodgy fashion sense? For let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Jesus there would be no Easter or Christmas. And while some see him also as a make believe figure in this increasingly secular world, it is a recognised historical fact that a man called Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago. Can’t say that about the Tooth Fairy can you?

The next hurdle is was he just that, a man, or was he more than that? Was he the son of God? The explosion of Christianity to topple the Roman Empire literally overnight would strongly suggest that there is more to it than meets the eye. But at the end of the day it all boils down to faith. Believing in the unseen; believing that there is more to life. Because we all desperately want to believe in that. Just like an expectant child charges down the stairs on Christmas morning. They believe they will be gifts behind that door. They believe it more than anything else.

Jesus came to earth and gave us the greatest gift of all; his life. He died for us and by giving up his life offered us eternal life. All he asks for in return is that we believe in him. We can learn a lot from children and Jesus encouraged his followers to display a child like belief. Because there is a better life. There is a future no matter how dark our present might appear. We just need to take His hand and dare to believe.

I’m not sure I believe in unicorns. But I believe in everything they stand for. Hope, love and joy. For those words are Jesus. And I believe in him.

John 14:1 – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’

Do you believe in Jesus?

How would you describe your relationship with him?

What mythical creature did you love as a child?

Back To Groundhog Day….In A Tardis

Hollywood sometimes is not the most creative of artistic environments (Fast and Furious 8 anyone?) and is no exception when it comes to the glut of ‘Groundhog Day’ type movies which flood our screens. We had never heard of the phenomenon in Northern Ireland until the release of the Bill Murray original in 1993, where a not very likeable TV weatherman becomes caught in a time loop where he has to relive the same day over and over again. 

The experience forces him to review his life and helps him evolve into a much kinder and more loving person. It was a box office success and has led to all sorts of spin offs and variations of a theme. I’ve seen Christmas, horror and teen ‘Groundhog Day’ inspired movies. All following the same basic premise. What if you could live yesterday all over again? What would you do differently? What would you change? Or would you just leave things as they were?


I’ve made a billion mistakes down the years and there are days when  I wish I could turn back time (minus the dodgy Cher wardrobe) and rewrite my past. Erase a lot of the bad decisions I have made and put things right. Live a better life, a perfect life. But then I think would that make me the person I am today, warts and all. Do I want to be a revisionist historian like in Stalinist Russia? Airbrushing my failings? Sugar coating the truth of who I was?

I stand here today before you scarred and flawed. But I earned those scars and I have them for a reason. My past has cost myself and others dearly. I wish it was not so but it is. I have walked a rocky road but my screw ups have helped shaped me into the person I am today. God allowed me to make the same mistakes over and over again to bring me to a point where I hit rock bottom and realised I could no longer do it on my own. I needed Him.

Our past shapes us and makes us who we are today. We go through it in order to learn from it and evolve. My past has allowed God to chip away at my faults and insecurities and reshape me. If it wasn’t for my past I wouldn’t be writing this today. In fact, this blog probably wouldn’t exist (hurrah you all cheer). Our past is our fuel. It powers us through the present and hopefully helps steer us to a better future where we can avoid the potholes on the road that we previously fell foul of.

So tempting as it sounds I’m not so sure I want to wake up and repeat 31 October 2017 all over again. Sure there are things I would change if I could. But if I did then would I be the man I am today, this very second. I learnt from yesterday. As I will learn from today. And tomorrow. I’m no Marty McFly or Dr. Who. Plus time travel sounds like awfully hard work. I think I’ll stay where I am for now.

If you could relive yesterday what would you change? Or would you let sleeping dogs lie?

What is your favourite Bill Murray movie? Scrooged? Ghostbusters? Lost In Translation?

You Decide 

I had a creative growth spurt over the weekend (if such a thing exists) which resulted in me coming up with numerous blog ideas. But little old indecisive me hasn’t a clue which one to write first. Which means that they are all currently languishing in the dank dungeon that is my drafts folder.

Sooooooo….I’m going to let you lot decide as to which one I publish first. Below is a brief synopsis of each one so as you can decide which you would like to read first. It will then be tomorrow’s post. Don’t all rush at once now….


1 – Long Hair, Don’t Care – the sorry saga of my doomed to fail efforts to grow my hair back in the day when I thought I was the next Kurt Cobain. Without the talent and the baggy sweater because my mother wouldn’t let me wear clothes like that.

2 – I’m Walking On The Air – did I tell you that I’m running a marathon in 26 days time? Well my new running shoes have arrived. Join me on my first training run in them as I pretend I’m the next Mo Farah. Then wake up and smell the coffee.

3 – Witches Road – a darker post regarding my thoughts on a murder that took place along a road that I regularly run. I share my thoughts and emotions on the scene itself and the parties involved. 

4 – Foetus – another cheery tale about crippling hangovers, some of the darker days of my life and the faith that dragged me kicking and screaming through them.

Please comment below with your choice and I’ll announce the winning post later today.

Thank you!

Swearing In French

I stopped swearing about four years. I can’t remember the exact date but I know that it literally happened overnight. Just like that I went from regularly dropping the ‘F Bomb’ and similar expletive hand grenades to nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was like someone had reprogrammed my brain. I like to think it was God but, whoever or whatever it was, I wasn’t complaining. It was a dirty habit and one I was glad to be rid of.

I literally could not get the words out. Whack my shin off a hard surface. No problem. I would grit my teeth, smile and give a cheery smile. Close down a Word document and forget to save four hours worth of work. Never worry. Life goes on and at least nobody died. I cringed in the presence of others who showered their conversations with cursing. It just felt so uncomfortable. No unnecessary. So wrong. It was part of my past; a past I had no intention of going back to.


I had many bad habits at the time and, in the greater scheme of things, swearing was probably near the lower end of the scale. But I was still proud of my achievement. I was not brought up in a house where cursing was allowed and, to this day, I have never sworn in front of my mother much as I have been tempted to at times. I became one of those annoying reformed alcoholic types. Frowning at those who swore in my company and chastising relatives and friends whose language did not meet my lofty standards. 

I was a massive hypocrite of course. Yes I had got to grips with what was coming out of my mouth. Unfortunately the same could not be said for what was going on inside my head. There were still plenty of impure thoughts rattling about which led to equally impure actions. I was akin to a footballer whose team had lost 12-1 but only wanted to talk about the goal he had scored and not the final score. Beneath my sparkling new exterior the creeping rot continued on its inexorable path.

Fast forward a few years and I feel I have finally come to grips with that rot. It is a daily struggle, and I have stumbled many times along the way. There are days I am still tempted. There are days I am ravaged by guilt and self pity but I get through them. My family inspire me. The support I get from the WordPress community is an incredible comfort. My faith, which ebbs and flows, is always there is some form or another. We are tentatively exploring a new church. I have plans. To run marathons and to write a book. There is hope and there is a future.

This blog has been a salvation; a means of expressing myself on social media in a positive and constructive format. But I can never become complacent. For disaster is only one poor decision away. It so easy to slip back to old ways. They can slip like wisps of smoke into your consciousness without you even realising it. An example?The other day I found myself in a stressful situation. Before I even knew it I swore….in French. ‘Merde’ I muttered under my breath. Nobody heard it and I chuckled at the silliness of my utterance. Swearing in French did not count I reasoned with the disapproving voice in my head.

Or did it? Momentary, insignificant lapse or the first step on a slippery slope back to where I started. Every landslide starts with a single rolling stone. That first sip of beer. That first click of a keyboard. That first text message. My French folly taught me an important lesson. I can never relax, never let down my defences. Every day is a battle and every day I must not let my standards lower. I can be proud of where I am and what I have achieved. But that must never become vanity and arrogance. The brink, the pit, the abyss. Call it what you will but I must never go back there.

Whatever the language….

Have you ‘F Bomb’ issues?

What are your worst habits?

How do you fare in the daily battle against temptation and bad habit?

Fuel 

Two nights ago I woke up at 2:45 a.m. And that was me wide awake. No matter how much I tossed and turned I could not get back to sleep. Why? I have no idea. There was nothing particular on my mind and everything I tried to return to the land of nod was doomed to failure. I read, I got up for a while, I even blogged (my blogs have sent many to sleep these last few months but it didn’t work on me) but all to no avail.


In the end I gave up and drove into work early. I was in the office for 07:00 a.m. My colleagues gave me strange looks as they drifted in but thankfully none of the usual hilarious quips that accompany such an early morning premonition; for example ‘Has she finally seen sense and kicked you out?’ or ‘Did someone wet the bed last night?’ Oh my aching sides….

The rest of the day passed in a drowsy fog. No amount of Diet Coke could shake it. I was The Walking Dead. By 09:30 I was ready for my lunch (thankfully not brains) and I struggled to focus on my computer screen and the words on it. A lunchtime run helped lift my slumber a little but by 3:30 p.m. I was ready for home. My working day had been a bit of a non event. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my Friday. I was tired, grouchy and wide open to any negative, intrusive thought that happened to drift across my consciousness.

When I hit the sack last night I don’t think I managed five pages of the book I am currently reading. I normally need a good twenty pages before drifting off. I must have been asleep by 10:30 p.m. I slept, largely uninterrupted, until 08:00 a.m. I woke up a new man. Fresher, more alert and feeling less sorry for myself. When Fionnuala, who was heading out for the day with the girls, asked me what I had planned I even mentioned the words ‘gardening’ and ‘cleaning’ in the one sentence. Unheard of!

I had caught up on my sleep. I need it just like I need water and food. Without it I struggle to function at the level required of me. Physically and mentally. Deprivation leads to disintegration. The same applies to my spiritual life. These last few weeks I haven’t been at church, haven’t been reading my Bible and haven’t been praying. I have struggled as a result. I have been less patient with people and more likely to get annoyed with them. I have been bearing grudges and unwilling to forgive. I have felt sorry for myself and resentful of others. I have set a poor example to those around me.

I want my writing to inspire and provoke thought. I want to offer hope to those without hope. I want to bring light into the lives of those who currently are surrounded by darkness. I want this blog to be the launch pad for my book. I have a story and I want to share it with others. But without God getting involved none of that is going to happen. Even the most expensive sports car isn’t going to move an inch without fuel in it. I need spiritual fuel just as much as I need sleep. I need it more so. Without it I grind to a halt.

Today is a new day. I will run. I will garden. I will clean. Fuelled by a proper sleep. But I’m also going to make a point of picking up my Bible and talking to God. For without that my soul dries up and the words cease to flow from my keyboard. I just ask that you take care of your own needs today. Physical, emotional and spiritual. Whatever your belief system do what you have to do in order to be properly fuelled to face the challenges of the day ahead.

None of us can do it on our own. You may feel utterly lost and alone as you reading this. Broken and worthless. Running on empty. Let me tell you that you are not. You just need the proper fuel to get going again and back into the race. You are special, unique and precious. We need you to be whole again. Don’t give up. Ever.

Are you running on empty today? I hope these words have been of some comfort to you. Please feel free to leave a comment.

For There Lurk Demons

Sometimes you hit a crossroads in life and I think I am there now. It has been an undulating and meandering route but I am there. So where do I go? The crossroads is barren and offers no clues as to the way ahead. There are no signposts or clues as to which road to take. There are no fellow travellers to consult with. All I know is that I cannot go back the way I came for there lurk demons.

I am weary and fearful that if I delay my decision much longer then it will be too late. The window of opportunity will be firmly and permanently shut in my face. The options open to me will disappear like wisps of smoke in a clear, blue sky. I look to the skies for inspiration but see only the gaunt vultures circling me under the watchful, unblinking eye of the searing sun.  They smell death. The death of my dreams.

I crave death. The death of my past. I want to cut free from the stifling chains of guilt and worthlessness. The voices that tell me I have failed. For they are seductive liars who flaunt their wares brazenly in front of my tearful eyes on a daily basis. I no longer believe the lies but they still sting like salt on a fresh wound. They circle me mockingly and show no respite. They seek to overwhelm me but I will not succumb to their falsehoods.


I look to God for guidance but he is silent. Is his silence a sign in itself? Is there a purpose behind his silence? Or is he screaming in my ears but I choose not to listen? Is my spiritual deafness self inflicted? The cruellest enemy is the one who knows you best. And I know myself very well. I know every chink in my threadbare armour. Every exposed area where the steel of the enemy can plunge deep through flesh and muscle until it strikes home, piercing my very soul.

I see myself lying at the crossroads as my essence drains out of me to be consumed by the dusty, thirsty road. My very being ebbs away as my eyes glaze over. There are no Good Samaritans on this road. Only the crossroads and a decision to be made. Is there a right decision? Is the wrong decision making no decision at all? I renounce the confusion in my head. The fog of the enemy has no place in my mind. I pray for clarity and truth. 

I look down as my right foot tentatively steps forward. Followed by another step. Then another. I am walking. Forwards. I know not where this path leads and I know not why I have chosen it. But a decision has been made. I leave the crossroads behind me and move on, leaving the vultures behind. The distant horizon offers only baffling anonymity. I see no end to my journey. I see no fireworks or marching bands. Only the road. But every step is another one away from my past.

For there lurk demons.

Hotdogs For Breakfast 

We have an important appointment to attend this morning. Which means an early start for all. Thankfully Fionnuala is as super organised as ever. As I write this she is making hot dogs for breakfast. What a woman!

I am a born worrier and when it comes to appointments I make no exceptions. What if it doesn’t go to plan? What if I say the wrong thing? What if the other person doesn’t like me? The list of ‘what if’ scenarios is endless and very few of them have a happy ending. 

Worry is the most pointless emotion. Yet so many of us fall back upon it as our default position whenever an important appointment is looming on the horizon. I don’t know about you but 9 times out of ten that appointment is never as bad as we imagine it is going to be. In fact it’s usually a whole lot better.


Jesus tells us not to worry and yet I still do, as opposed to handing it all over to him in prayer. This is something I know I need to work on; along with doubt and negativity. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make you perfect overnight. It’s not as if a magic wand is waved and all your problems disappear in a puff of smoke. In fact, if anything, they increase. 

But following and studying Jesus will make you a better person, little by little. Which in turn will make the world a better place if you apply yourself to leading a life adhering to the values he taught. It is rocky, less travelled road. But it does lead to your ultimate appointment. The one with the pearly gates and the fluffy clouds. 

If you have decided to follow Jesus and lived your life the best you could then you have nothing to fear or worry about at this appointment. For He will welcome you with open arms. You will be home and your worries will all be behind you.

I wonder if they serve hotdogs for breakfast in Heaven?

Revelation 21:4 – ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

Are you a worrier?

What appointments do you have today?

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Cloudy With A Chance of Grace 

I cannot remember the last day I went for a run when it didn’t rain. Ireland is renowned for its beautiful green countryside but I mean really? Could we have one day when I can go out for a run and not come back looking like a drowned rat? At this rate I will turn green myself. Or at the very least develop webbed feet. Which is not a good look for a middle aged man training for a marathon in just under five weeks. 

I keep telling myself that this will benefit me long term as come race day I have to be prepared to go out and perform, whatever the weather conditions. I doubt the race organisers would take kindly to me asking them to reschedule were the heavens to open. Wet weather does have its benefits. It cools you down but try telling that to the bespectacled man setting out to run 26.2 miles without windscreen wipers. How I haven’t ended up in a ditch yet I do not know. 

So when the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon comes around on 25 November I will have no excuses if I awaken to wet roads and grey skies. I will have to don my wet weather gear and dodge the puddles the best that I can. Failing that I will probably end up in the lough but I will give it my best shot anyway and will have no excuses.

Recently I have felt that it has been Fionnuala and I against the world. I won’t bore you with the details (as I’m seeking to be positive here) but it sometimes feels like once we overcome one obstacle there is another larger one in our path. It has been disheartening and frustrating. I pray about it but, at times, feel as distant from God as I have ever been. I ask him for wisdom and guidance but often feel as if we are fighting a losing battle.

I’ve lost a lot of friends this last year. This has been largely my own fault but I do feel let down all the same. I have trust issues and am struggling to make friends. Which is hugely hypocritical given the trusts I have betrayed in the past. I cling to God, Fionnuala and the kids as they are really I have. This initially deflated but then I realised that they are really all I need. All the more so as I so nearly lost them.

I am making a big effort to feel less sorry for myself in both my writing and thinking. Before I adopted this new approach a Taylor Swift song constantly resonated round my brain – I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me. Except I added an extra line – I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….especially myself. I’m trying to move past that now because, otherwise, I am no good to my family. And I will never open up again to the possibility of new friendships.

I used to walk through life with a permanent rain cloud over my head. I truly was Mr. Doom and Gloom. The pity party was permanently raging in my head. And, just has been the case with my recent training runs, I was regularly soaked to the bone in sadness. I try to think of it differently now. I am still getting soaked but this time it is by the grace of God. Who drenches me on a daily basis. He has given me a loving family, a home, a job and a healthy body and mind allowing me to write and run.

I have a lot to be grateful for. Thank you God for raining on my parade. The grass is always greener or His Side.

Psalm 72:6 – ‘May He come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.’

How was your day on a scale of 1-10?

Where are you today and what is the weather like?

Did God shower you with grace today?

Be A Zero

My OCD has flared up a bit this week and I think it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of OCD related books for the novel that I am supposedly researching. So I’ve decided to take a break from all that and am currently reading a fantasy novel about a post apocalyptic world where the remnants of society are governed by an all knowing, all seeing computer.

Your position within this world is determined by a wristband which gives you a digital reading of between 0-10 based upon your attitude and loyalty to the ruling regime. The more you adhere to the rules and regulations of the regime and ‘tow the line’ the higher your rating will be. In order to scale the social ladder you need to conform. Show the slightest sign of independent thinking or emotion not in accordance with accepted values and your rating will plummet.

Hence those with ’10’ ratings are viwed as almost god like; perfect and flawless in every respect. They are effectively automatons devoid of feelings; living a dull, zombie like existence in their ivory towers oblivious to the myriad of possibilities that life holds if they would only open their eyes and ears to what lies beyond. Theirs is a miserable existence yet they lack tbe self awareness to recognise this. Their perfection is an ugly one. Their success is their downfall.


The large majority of the population aspire to be a ’10’ and live a life of luxury. Their sole purpose in life is to improve their scores. A ‘7’ will do whatever it takes to become an ‘8’ even if it means eradicating every last trace of the personality they were born with. It is a bitter rat race. At the other end of the scene become a ‘3’ and you are referred for medication in order to correct your independent behaviour; a ‘2’ and you are institutionaled for ‘behavioural reprogramming’. Think lobotomies here. And if you drop to a ‘1’ you tend to disappear, never to be seen again.

It is a bleak picture of a future world where creativity and innovation are frowned upon. Emotions are abhorred and shows of affection are almost non existent. Free thinking is despised and harshly punished. Thank God we don’t live in a world like that right? Thank God we are free to be ourselves and don’t have to conform to such crushing peer pressure. Hmmmmm….

How many of you have buried your own opinions and thoughts in order to fit in? How many of you have said ‘yes’ when you wanted to say ‘no’ just so that you weren’t the odd one out? How many of you are currently unhappy living your life a certain way in order to please your family and friends? We become boxed in and trapped. In our relationships, in our schools and workplaces, even dare I say it in our churches. On the surface we smile and nod when deep inside all we want to do is scream and run as far away as we can.

Our lives become performances. We play a role and lock our real selves in darkened dungeons within our souls which never see the light. We use money, drugs, alcohol, power, exercise, sex, anything really in order to construct these false creations for the outside world to marvel at. While inside we slowly rot away. Anything to become a ’10’. Don’t believe me? Just scan down your social media feeds or look at all the ‘perfect’ people parading around your office, your school, your church. 

Jesus wasn’t interested in ’10’s. He came to earth to rip up the rule book. He realised that man made systems were irrevocably flawed. He sought to transform lives and encouraged people to think outside of the box and turn their backs on the rules and regulations which were suffocating them. He wanted people to step off the ‘hamster wheel’ of life, to show a little faith and follow him instead. People who were willing to walk away from the trappings of social status and give it all up for him.

I’ve spent the large majority of my life aspiring to conform and become a ’10’. This resulted in years of misery for myself and others. Since becoming a Christian I have been taught a few hard lessons. God has had to break me down in order to restore me. It has been a painful process removing layer and layer of arrogance and selfish behaviour. I’m a work in progress, still far from the finished article. But I’m slowly learning that true freedom is not being an earthly ’10’ but instead working in the opposite direction.

By killing your self and rejecting societal norms you can do this. Think of others first. Give don’t take. Learn to forgive. Love don’t loathe. Become selfless and not selfish. Here lies the key to becoming a better person and acquiring spiritual riches, real treasure. Money and power won’t get you there. Neither will looks or the number of followers you have on Instagram. It’s all a dirty lie. The truth is right before your eyes. All you have to do is walk away from your present life. Give it all to to God. The addiction, the temptation, the anger, the depression. Surrender it all to him as you’ll never do it on your own.

Let go of the greasy pole of success and freefall. Fall towards your destiny. One where you can start all over again. Free from guilt and anguish. Start again. Become a zero.

Romans 12:2 – ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

Where do you lie on the 10-0 scale?

Do you feel trapped in your current life? Are you living a lie? Performing a rule?

What do you need to do in order to break free?

The Wardrobe Malfunction 

As a barely functioning adult I rely heavily on my surrounding support network to drag me kicking and screaming through everyday life. And by support network I mean Fionnuala. She is the fuel powering the juggernaut that is Team Black. She is the power behind this (ahem) blogging empire.

Without her I shudder to think what shape we would go out to work and school each day. Packed lunches, clean clothes and knowing where we have mislaid keys, wallets, shoes etc all fall within her daily remit. In the whirlwind that is chez Black every morning she is the (mostly) calm eye of the storm. 

Take this morning for example. Adam stumbled down the stairs doing his best teenage boy ‘Walking Dead’ impersonation to mumble that he had no clean white shirts for school. Extracting dirty clothing from his room for washing is akin to getting people out of 1960’s East Germany. The only clean white shirt in the house was the one that I had just put on barely five minutes before his announcement.


All eyes fixed on me and I had little choice but to take off my crisp, white shirt and hand it over to him. I trooped back up the stairs and perused the contents of my wardrobe. I was left with the stark choice of pink or black shirts. As I had worn a pink shirt the previous day and didn’t want allegations raging round the office that I had worn the same shirt two days running I had little choice but to opt for the little black number.

I managed to find a matching black tie so all was well. True, it did look like I was going to a funeral but this seemed strangely appropriate given the avalanche of paperwork awaiting in my in tray. I braced myself for both this and the 236 times I would have to answer the ‘So who’s dead then?’ question from my  ‘hilarious’ colleagues.

Quicker than a Katy Perry wardrobe change I had transformed from white to black. From one extreme to the other. When you make the decision to become a Christian it’s as immediate a transformation, except the other way around. Beforehand our hearts are stained with sin. We can’t help it. There is no means of avoiding it given our default settings and the broken world we live in. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. 

We are dirty rags unfit to stand in the holy, pure presence of God. For no matter how hard we try we will never attain the standard required. Blame Adam and Eve for that one. God realised this which is why he sent Jesus to the Cross to atone for the mess us humans were making of things. He loved us that much he provided our get out clause. He took the ultimate hit for #TeamHumanity. So that today anyone who accepts him as their Lord and Saviour can discard their soiled, sinful past and stand unblemished as a new creation.

That’s not to say it won’t be a walk in the park after that. It is only the beginning of the journey. All sorts of pitfalls and temptations lie ahead. Many will stumble and some will be led astray. Jesus, however, will live within the believer through the Holy Spirit providing strength and guidance as required. He is truth, light and bottomless grace. We need him because, otherwise, we will never be rid of the ‘black shirt’.

John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

What has been your most embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?

Do you believe Jesus is the solution to your problems? Or are you uncertain? Reluctant? We would love to hear your comments? 

Thoughts And Prayers 

The news, as ever, has made pretty depressing viewing of late. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks and now the horrific events in Las Vegas. Some days I don’t want to step out of my front door. I just want to stay at home with Fionnuala and the kids close to me. Heartache and despair seem to be lurking behind every corner, waiting to sink their claws into your heart and tear you apart. 

At times like this I feel helpless. There seems little I can do to protect my loved ones from the world as it is today. I watch the news and hear the responses of world leaders to each breaking nightmare. A commonly used phrase is ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families’. I hear it so often that the words mean nothing to me. Trite. Glib. Empty. Another day. Another meaningless soundbite.

Or is it? We are surrounded by these devastating tragedies. They dominate our social media timelines and work conversations. They are everywhere we go, constantly reminding us of the broken, bleeding world we inhabit. They occupy our every waking moment. Our thoughts are full of sorrow, pity and, dare I say it, relief that it didn’t impact upon our cosy bubble of life. This time.

Thoughts are just that however. Thoughts. It requires an act of will to turn them into actions. Something tangible and concrete. I can think about writing a blog all day long but until I take action and actually start writing then that blog is going to be nothing more than a fanciful idea in my head. Without action thoughts are nothing. And given the scale of the horrors we face doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option anymore. 

Some might say the same about prayers. They are pointless and achieve nothing. What more is a prayer than a wistful wish to a God who, even if he does exist, appears indifferent and distant to the needs of a desperate world. A God who allows famine and fear to reign unabated. Who allows disease and death to break bodies and hearts. Who allows bad men to do bad things. 

Prayer to a Christian, however, is more than just a whimsical desire. It is a positive act that can make a difference, which can effect change. It can move mountains….and molehills. There is nothing too insignificant or too insurmountable which cannot be addressed by prayer. It is communication in its purest form. And I can vouch that it attains results. For our prayers are heard by a loving God who cares for each and every one of us. Prayer works.

If you are feeling helpless today as the world self destructs then I encourage you to stop thinking and start acting. Prayer is action. It is the concrete that God uses to construct miracles with. It is the glue that holds our crushed communities together. It is the fuel that drives us forward towards a better life; for ourselves and others. It is spiritual oxygen and it is sorely needed across our lands as the world threatens to be suffocated by enveloping evil.

Stop thinking. Start praying. Please.

Mark 11:24 – ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’

If anyone requires prayer today then please ask us. We would be happy to pray for you and your loved ones.

Be A Painkiller

I rarely get headaches but since my return on Friday from a work trip to England I have had a persistent one just above my right eyebrow. It niggled away at me for most of Saturday before flaring up again in church this morning. Was the sermon that bad? Well it wasn’t great to be honest but I doubt very much if it was the reason for my discomfort.

It was so bad that by the end of the service I had my eyes clenched shut and a pained expression on my face. To the casual observer it looked as if I was immersed in earnest prayer. Or constipated. Or both. On the journey home afterwards we stopped off at the supermarket to get some supplies and I consoled myself with two paracetamol and a giant honeycomb cookie. Fionnuala suggested my recent decision to cut back on my Diet Coke intake might be the cause. I felt like Renton in that ‘bucket scene’ in the first Trainspotting movie.

As the day has unfolded the pain has receded quite a bit but I can still feel it lurking just beneath the surface of my forehead, waiting to erupt again when I least expect it. It is an unwelcome guest and I wish it gone. I had always marked headache sufferers down as slightly theatrical attention seekers who were invariably struck down when asked to do something they didn’t want to do. I now realised that headaches were neither big nor clever. They sucked.

How many headaches have we caused down the years? How many tears have we created? How many hearts have we broken? It’s not so great being on the receiving end is it? For many years I was a constant headache for our family. A one man wrecking ball. Back when Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana and Billy Ray was singing about achy breaky hearts. Back then I was the sorry source of many such a heart. 


Every morning I wake up now and try to repair the damage that I have caused. It is a slow, arduous process. It only takes a second to say sorry but it takes a lot longer to prove to your loved ones that you mean it. Headaches are hard to shift. But not as hard as mending broken hearts and erasing painful memories. You can’t just pop a couple of painkillers and hey presto. Love is the ultimate painkiller. But true love isn’t flowers and chocolates. It is turning up day in, day out and being there for the people you care about.

It is doing the little things, the mundane and the routine, over and over and over again. To the point where trust is re-established. Where healing can begin. Where forgiveness can be allowed to wash away the hurt and the pain. Where fresh roots can be put down and new foundations laid. Our actions will never make our victims forget what we have done to them. But they will cause them to remember less often. 

I encourage you to be a painkiller today. Think of the one person you have been a headache to; it could have been yesterday or it could have been years ago; it could have been one act or it could have been decades of hurt. Then do something to ease that pain. Talk to them. Show them that you care. Love them through your actions. Create new memories with them and, in doing so, allow the old ones to fade away.

The world has enough headaches without us adding to them. Kill the pain today. Inside of yourself and inside of others. With love.

What is the worst headache you have ever had?

How are you going to be a painkiller today?

Needs 

It’s Monday morning. Or at least it is here in Northern Ireland. I’m about to get up. I’m not so sure about seizing the day but I’ll at least try to face it. I’m on call (boo) but all my sports teams won at the weekend (yay). Even the Redskins which proves there must be a God. It may be cold, dark and miserable out there but I have a lot to be thankful for. It promises to be a good week.

I felt pretty rough at church last night where the visiting speaker, Jason Vallotton from Bethel Church in Redding, California, spoke about needs and gifts. In hindsight I think I was dehydrated after yesterday’s half marathon. I drink waaaaaay too much Diet Coke and hardly any water. This meant I was feeling tired and had a headache by the time of the evening service. 

I needed water. When I arrived home later I drank some and immediately felt a bit better. It was that simple. We all have needs in life. They can be simple or they can be complex. And by needs I’m not talking about a new sports car or clothes wardrobe. I’m talking about real needs. Hydration of the soul. Failure to do so leaves us alone and miserable. For seeds of love and hope to take root and grow there we need spiritual sustenance.


The first step is to recognise our needs. We need to swallow our pride and humbly accept that we need help, that we cannot go it alone. Only then can we hope to develop and flourish as the people we were created to be. Failure to do so equates to failing at life. Turning our backs on our needs or thinking we can muddle through on our own is damaging to both ourselves and those who love us.

I see people every day in desperate need of spiritual sustenance. Yet when help is available they turn their backs on it, preferring instead to wallow in self pity, anger and unforgiveness. They allow the lying voice in their head to warp their thinking. They let down the drawbridge and allow the enemy inside. To do what he does best. Wreak havoc and destroy everything that is pure and good.

We all have giftings. Somewhere today there is a person with a need which is perfectly matched by your gifting. You are the missing piece in their jigsaw. But just as we need to open our eyes and realise our needs we must also identify and nurture our giftings. Be it baking, running or writing they can all be used to help others in need. As long as they are underpinned with love.

We need to love more. Love ourselves more by recognising our needs and reaching out for help. And loving others more by sharing our giftings with them. We need to use our earthly bodies to make an impact on this broken planet. When all around us the world is falling apart we need to dig in and start building. Before it is too late.

We need love. We are gifted to love. So love.

Romans 12:9 – ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.’

Are you ignoring your needs?

What are your giftings and how can you use them for good today?

The Silent Treatment 

When I drank I messed up. A lot. Two things would happen the following morning. I would wake up with a monstrous hangover and, after a few seconds regaining my bearings, be hit with waves of shame and guilt as memories of the previous night seeped back into my consciousness like a slick, black poison. 

Or I would wake up with no recollection as to what had happened beyond a certain point in the evening. Towards the end of my drinking career I was a blackout drunk. If anything this was worse than recalling what had happened the previous night. I would lie in bed sick with worry as to what had went on. A vague uneasiness gripped me as I frantically tried to recall the events of the night before. If anything, not knowing was worse than knowing. I felt utterly alone and adrift. Just me and ‘the fear’.

On those occasions I relied upon family and friends to fill in the gaps, to piece together the jigsaw of a fun night out that invariably ended in disaster. I heard hard truths. And was revisited by fragments of recollection which revealed my darker, sinful side. I was mortified and left broken by my appalling behaviour. I cursed alcohol. I cursed those I perceived to have led me down the wrong path. But most of all I cursed myself and the deplorable decisions I had made. I cursed my weakness and naivety. I hated myself with an unrivalled passion.

There was one thing worse, however, than the physical symptoms of the hangover and the guilt and self-loathing that accompanied it. This was knowing that I had hurt and let down loved ones. I died a little every time I looked in their faces and saw the anger and repulsion that I had generated in them. I shattered friendships and broke hearts with effortless ease. I destroyed relationships that had taken years to build in the space of a few alcohol sodden hours. 


I didn’t drink to forget. I forgot when I drank. I forgot all about my responsibilities. My moral compass spun out of control like a roulette wheel which always landed on the wrong number. I was a loud drunk. The life and soul of the party. Bolstered by a few drinks my ingrained shyness and social awkwardness would melt away. I wanted to talk to everyone, to be everyone’s friend. I was the big man, the I am. When I drank I was surrounded by noise, people and laughter. I thought they were laughing with me, the great bon viveur. I realise now that they were often laughing at me.

The following day there was a different type of noise. Raised voices. Recrimination. Angry words driven by hurt and neglect. There is no noise louder than that of the heart of a loved one breaking right before your eyes. There is no sight more devastating than your rock giving up on you. Taking a knife and cutting you loose onto a sea of torment and despair. Alone and adrift. With only the silence and your own bitter thoughts to keep you company.

I hated this silence. When loved ones stopped talking to me. When they had said everything there was to say. When they brought down the shutters on their own hearts to save themselves from further pain. This silent treatment could last for hours, days, months and beyond. Occasionally it was permanent. Friendships were damaged beyond repair. Relationships were ravaged to the point of no return. The silence was deafening. 

Thankfully the four most important people in my life who I hurt the most forgave me. Fionnuala and the kids stood by me. They will not forget the bad times nor should they. They are an important reminder of what I am capable of. They are a destination that I never want to return to. The silence from them was the most excruciating of all. I never want to go back to those dark, desperate days. The days when I stood on the brink and wondered was this the end. 

Sin loves to talk. She is never silent, always whispering seductively in your ear that this time it will be different, this time you will not be caught. Sin is enchanting and beautiful. But it is a beauty that will rot. Sin is a liar. Her words drip with honey. Poisoned honey that will pollute your soul and expose you to a long and painful demise. A demise that inevitably leads to eternal silence.

I write this today surrounded by love and grace again. I am never complacent and walk out to battle afresh every day now. I always have to be on my guard against temptation and the darkness. I make the conscious decision every day to choose life and freedom. I choose the noisy babble of living waters as opposed to the never ending silence of the abyss. I talk to my loved ones every day. I talk to God every day. And I listen every day when they talk to me. I never want to return to the days of the silent treatment.

My advice to you today if you are embroiled in silence with a loved one is this. Make amends. Whatever it takes. Swallow your pride. Forgive them. Give them the opportunity and means to forgive you. Knock that door. Make that call. Before it is too late. Replace the silence of resentment and bitterness with the soothing sounds of healing and restoration. Raise your voice above the lies and deceit. Grasp the truth with both hands.

Scream it from the rooftops.

1 Peter 5:8 – ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring line looking for someone to devour.’

Have you ever woken up with no recollection of the night before? You are not alone. Talk to me.

Have you ever been a ‘victim’ of the silent treatment? Or been the person broken by the actions of a loved one?

Are you willing to end the silence with a loved one today?

The Blood Results 

I have only recently returned to running having spent most of the summer struggling with injury and illness. The latter was caused by a mystery virus which manifested itself in a persistent dry cough, ear ache and severe fatigue. I could barely run a bath, let alone a half marathon, as a result of it and found the entire experience frustrating and demoralising. Thankfully it has finally resolved itself allowing me to train again and I’m gradually building up my distance as I prepare for the Belfast Half Marathon in two weeks time.

During one of my (many) visits to the doctor’s surgery blood samples were taken to determine if there were any underlying causes for my general malaise. I thought nothing of it and even forgot to contact the surgery when the results came back. It was only when a slightly concerned Fionnuala called me at work to say that the surgery wanted to contact me about the results that I took the plunge and picked up the phone.


It transpired that I had a folic acid deficiency and now have to take a supplement for four months in order to redress the imbalance which explained the tiredness I had been experiencing. I was slightly bemused by this as my only knowledge of folic acid was that it was taken by pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant in order to reduce the odds of their baby being born with certain disabilities.

Now the last time checked I was neither pregnant nor contemplating getting pregnant. The thoughts of morning sickness, swollen ankles and constant back pain did not appeal to me. And as for the ‘joy’ of childbirth itself. Errrrr….no thanks. Watching Fionnuala go through three pregnancies had scarred me for life. While admittedly she was a little ray of sunshine throughout each one (I am contractually obliged to say this) I think I’ll just leave the whole issue of baby production to the stronger sex.

Folic acid is a form of folate which is one of the B vitamins our body needs. The recommended dietary intake is 400 micrograms per day. A deficiency in folic acid can result in a type of anaemia where the body has a lower count of large red blood cells. Wikipedia told me all this so blame them if any of that is inaccurate. But as an old boss of mine once said never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

This caused the fatigue that I had been struggling with. Hopefully now that I am popping my supplement every morning this problem will not rear its head again. I already feel much stronger and my energy levels have returned to their previous levels. Fionnuala may argue that they were never were very high to start with when it came to domestic chores but let’s not go there shall we.

Looking back on my summer of sickness it amazed me that I had been stumbling around oblivious to what was causing me to feel so rough. There was a deficiency inside me which was invisible to both myself and the outside world. Thankfully as it was a physical ailment the wonders of medical science were able to identify and rectify the problem. I was healed and no long term damage resulted. 

How many of us are walking about today, however, oblivious to a spiritual deficiency inside of us? When I say oblivious that is not strictly true. We have an inkling that something is not quite right. We are uneasy, unsettled, disenfranchised. There is something missing but we know not what. The cause is invisible to us but the symptoms are plain for all to see. We are frustrated, angry, filled with negativity and disillusionment. These emotions can only lead to destructive behaviour.

The word ‘deficiency’ has its etymological roots in the Latin word ‘deficere’ meaning to revolt, desert or fail. This makes sense physically. When my folic acid levels fell (they had deserted or failed me) I felt ill. A supplement was prescribed to replace the scurrilous defectors. Likewise when we are spiritually bereft we often seek to ‘fill the gap’ with anything that can ensure a quick fix – food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, starvation, cutting; whatever it takes to numb the pain even if only for a few hours.

We all have our quick fixes. The one common feature that all the spiritually redundant share however is that none of them work for any length of time. We end up in a darker place than where we started. For some that path leads to madness and death. I was walking that path. I was doing a fantastic job at developing an alcohol dependency while simultaneously succumbing to OCD, social media addiction and all the dangers associated with that. I was sinking fast. 

I had been brought up to believe in God. I knew all my Bible stories and had a wary respect for him. But he was always on the fringes of my life and if I’m honest looked a bit grumpy for my liking. Jesus seemed like a cool guy but, again, my relationship with him was tenuous to say the least. It was only when I hit rock bottom and got dragged to church by a friend that I began to open my eyes and my mind. I accepted my many failings and realised I was powerless to get out of the mess I had gotten myself into. I know it sounds a cliche but I decided to hand it over to God. I had tried everything else and failed. What was there to lose?

The weird thing was that this time it worked. It made sense. The more I studied the Bible the more I got it. God was not grumpy, he was love. Christianity was not dull and conforming. It was exciting, edgy and revolutionary. I stopped drinking. Got to grips with the OCD demon. And after many doomed attempts kicked Twitter & Instagram. I’m far from perfect (just ask Fionnuala) but I feel I’ve got my life and family back. I enjoy my job and I love to run and write.

You don’t have to feel deficient. Just like when you are physically ill you visit a doctor when you’re spiritually deficient you visit Jesus. He’s open 24/7, 365. You don’t even need an appointment. He will never turn you away. For He is sufficient when you are deficient. He will heal you. What have you to lose?

Luke 5:31 – ‘Jesus answered them, ‘It not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’

Hands up who knew you could develop a folic acid deficiency?

Are there any areas of your life where you feel spiritually deficient?

Or have you story of how your faith brought healing and restoration?

The Not Unhappy Pills

Today is repeat prescription day. Hurrah! I will dutifully call into the village chemist to collect the little white pills which have become part of my daily routine these last four years. When all else has been in turmoil around me, they have been my constant. 20mg of Escitaloprem a day. One pill in the palm of my hand, pop it into mouth, slug of Diet Coke (naturally), swallow and we are done for another day. So easy. So simple. So necessary. 

This summer has been a regular pill party for me due to illness and injury. Various painkillers, two different antibiotics (neither of which worked), hay fever allergy medication (for my wonky ear), various multivitamins and last, but not least, a folic acid supplement to balance a deficiency picked up in my blood tests. Yes it has been a veritable riot. Pick me up and shake me. I would probably rattle like a child’s toy.

When I was first prescribed Escitaloprem for OCD and depression all those years ago I was a bit bemused. Yes I was relieved that the voice in my head had finally been identified. I realised I was normal in a completely not normal way. I was amazed that I was not alone. I was not evil. I was not insane. Instead I was ill. As ill as the thousands of other people who had been through, and were going through, what I had endured. I now had hope that I could live my life free from the twin demons who had reigned unopposed in my head for the best part of three decades.


I was more bemused that I found myself on anti-depressants. To me they had always been the preserve of ‘moody teenagers’, ‘hysterical women’ and men who wore black and walked unannounced into their former places of employment with a chip on one shoulder and an assault rifle slung over the other. I was having problems yes but I did not write bad poetry, listen to Leonard Cohen or wear baggy, threadbare sweaters and berets. By agreeing to take them was I not accepting defeat and confirming what I had accepted all along? That I was a failure. 

I was a middle aged man with a wife, three kids and a border terrier. I had a good job and was rising through the ranks. I enjoyed a few (dozen) drinks at the weekend but I worked hard all week so thought I deserved them. Any time I was feeling down, twelve tins of Stella Artois usually did the trick. The bills were always paid and on the face of it I was a model of middle class respectability. I was happy in an unhappy kind of way. Most of the time. Wasn’t that enough?

But when the depression descended slowly upon me like a mouldy, damp blanket it wreaked havoc. I drank, I tweeted and I drank some more. I sat on my throne, the Twirly Chair, oblivious to the carnage I was creating. I was snug and tight in the eye of the storm as Hurricane Stephen raged all around me, uprooting relationships and hurling them into the abyss. I lived a twilight existence, wandering aimlessly or so I thought. Because with each shuffling step I was another one nearer the brink where I would face my final destination.

As Road to Damascus experiences go mine was decidedly a low key and drab affair. No shining light, no moment of dazzling revelation. Instead it was a series of humiliating and debilitating episodes that culminated in me sitting in a doctor’s surgery being told that I was officially one of them. I was a failure. A hopeless husband, father and son. No friends and no real future bar work, taxes and death. I was even slightly disappointed I hadn’t been diagnosed Prozac as wasn’t it the must have accessory drug these days. I even sucked at being depressed.

So I took my happy pills. Except they didn’t make me happy. Overnight I didn’t become a little ray of sunshine. My world did not become one of unicorns and pixies. Give me orcs and zombies any day of the week. But slowly, ever so slowly, the cloud lifted to the point where I was only miserable if something happened which caused me to be miserable. So I woke up with a stinking cold and felt miserable. Or Manchester United got thumped by Chelsea and I felt miserable.

I stopped being miserable,however, when I had no reason to be miserable. The OCD did not go away either but there were positive signs there as well. I always visualised it as an ancient, 1930’s radio sitting in the study of some retired army major. With a volume knob that you had to physically get up and twiddle with instead of zap with a remote control from across the room. OCD FM was still on the airways but had been turned down to a barely discernible background hum; as opposed to the deafening symphony that used to dictate my every waking hour. 

They were the tiniest of pills. And the tiniest of steps. But all in the right direction, away from the brink, and back into the arms of my family. I began to feel safe and purposeful. There was a future and a world out there where I could make a difference. I discovered running and rediscovered my faith. Yes, I still had bad days and I still had relapses; I still messed up and I still had a few car crashes to walk away from. But it became one step backwards and two steps forward as opposed to the other way around.

I embraced normality. For it is there that you find the miraculous. Normality feeds the soul, it is there that you will find the hidden gems. Right before your eyes. My son crashing over the line to score in a cup final; my daughter singing until I thought her lungs would burst on stage in front of hundreds of people; my other daughter laughing at my silly jokes and wearing her Manchester United shirt with pride; my wife saying she loved me and me knowing that she truly meant it and that I loved her back just as much in return.

Normal is magical. And if it means taking a happy pill every day then so be it. I am no longer ashamed of being on antidepressants. And nor should you. They are not a crutch, rather they allow you to throw away the crutches of addiction and depression. They allow you to walk free and with your head held high. They are your badge of honour, evidence that you faced your demons and are now fighting back. You are a survivor and your life is precious. 

The battle will never be over. But at least I have a fighting chance now. I am proud that I am where I am today. Escitaloprem is a weapon in my armoury, a tool in my belt. One of many. Calling it a happy pill is misleading; rather it stops me from feeling unhappy. Which then allows my everyday life to fill the void with the natural happiness which I have craved all my life. And if I can do it then so can you. You can and you will.

Three cheers for the Not Unhappy Pill.

Proverbs 8:11 – ‘For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.’ (NKJV) 

Have you ever been on, are on you currently on, antidepressants? Do they make you feel happy, not unhappy or just plain numb?

Have you OCD? Depression? Anxiety? How do you visualise them?

What makes you happy?

The Forty Seven Year Old Foetus

Back in my days of drinking yore I used to keep a mental note of my Top 10 worst hangovers. As I got older my hangovers got worse. In the end this meant that if I drank on the Saturday evening it would be the following Thursday before I began to feel remotely human again. Despite headaches, nausea and general roughness, however, I was rarely physically sick and only then when I had mixed my drinks. When I did though the results were normally explosive (as in literally) and invariably merited a spot in the Top 10. 

One such occasion was when Fionnuala and I attended the wedding of a friend in the north-east of England. Having risen ridiculously early to catch a flight from Belfast to Newcastle we found ourselves with several hours to kill before the service. In my ultimate wisdom I decided to hit the hotel bar and downed several pints of strong lager before we caught a taxi to the wedding venue. Fionnuala knew what lay ahead but said nothing fearing I would start an argument and accuse her of being a party pooper.

Upon arrival complimentary glasses of sparkling wine were being handed out. As it would have been rude not  to avail of this hospitality I got stuck in meaning that even before the nuptials had been agreed I was well oiled. The situation deteriorated at the reception where several glasses of white wine over dinner combined with numerous more pints led to me cutting a sorry figure on the dancefloor later in the evening. In my drunken stupor I thought I was John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’. In reality I was more akin to him in ‘Pulp Fiction’. On my own. Without Uma Thurman.

The evening ended with me asleep in the corner as the party raged on around me. Fionnuala somehow carried me back to our hotel room where I awoke the next morning  with the mother of all hangovers. We had treated ourselves to room service and a full cooked breakfast with all the trimmings. All was well as I consumed this from a largely horizontal position. I began to feel decidedly queasy, however, as we sat in the hotel lobby waiting for our taxi to take us back to the airport. The ensuing thirty minute journey felt more  like thirty years as the contents of my stomach merrily performed cartwheels. This was only going to end one way.

To my eternal shame I made a dash for the toilets upon our arrival at the airport, barely making it into a cubicle before my breakfast from earlier and I became reacquainted again in devastating fashion. Afterwards I curled up in the foetal position on the cubicle floor mulling over the errors of my excesses from the night before whilst simultaneously breaking out into a clammy, cold sweat. This one, I concluded, was definitely Top 10 material.


Fast forward to last Christmas and I found myself in a similar position. This time, however, I was stone cold sober. I did not have intoxication to fall back upon as an excuse for my misdemeanours. And rather than face a tongue lashing from Fionnuala for another drunken debacle I was facing something much worse. Silence. From my wife and kids. A silence more terrifying than the most volcanic argument. Silence as I tearfully begged for another chance. Silence as I curled up in a ball on the floor of a friend who had reluctantly taken me in because otherwise I would have been out on the streets.

It is eight months later and, by the grace of God, I am back on the right path. I know, however, that I cannot rest on my laurels for a single second because, given my addictive personality and OCD, chaos lurks just around the corner. So I think about incidents like the two I have described above. Curled up in the foetal position. Crying out for the warmth and security of the womb; the sustenance of the umbilical cord; the reassuring thud of my mother’s heartbeat. And then I recall the horror of being ripped out of that environment as a result of my own disastrous choices.

There is nothing more effective in bringing you back from the brink of temptation than having a few ‘foetal position’ moments stored away in your mind for future reference if required. It is okay to be tempted. It happens to all of us. The problems start when we act upon emotions triggered by temptation. Because emotions lie. They are temporary and not grounded in the permanence of truth. The bedrock of right and wrong. It is our conscience that sets us apart from the animals, that defines who we are. The conscience cannot be defeated by emotions if we have the mechanisms in place to repel temptation when it comes calling.

The word ‘foetus’ relates to life and new beginning. It conjures up images of peace and love. Yet many of us, when we hit rock bottom in our lives, find ourselves curled up in the same position. Utterly exposed and alone. Stricken with pain and surrounded by heartbreak and devastation. There is nothing comforting about that. In order to move forward into the beauty of the light and remain there we must never forget the horrors of the past from whence we came. Because the former cannot exist without the latter.

It is our guardian, our wise counsel, our tap on the shoulder when we think that nobody else is looking. Scars heal but they never completely disappear for a reason. For there is beauty in scars. They remind us of the past and we will never make the future a better one unless we understand and learn from our past. Never forget those foetal moments for they are your friend. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 – ‘No temptation has overcome you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it’.

Have you ever found yourself in the foetal position? What was it like?

What mechanisms do you have in place to resist temptation?

Maggie’s Story

Every morning my commute to work involves a 15 minute walk from the train station, through Belfast city centre, to my office. En route I pass a lot of homeless people and I have been trying to build up relationships with them rather than just throwing a few coins their way, mumbling some throwaway words, and then hurrying away back to my own safe, comfortable life.

I found it a bit intimidating at first. What if they told me to go away (or more colourful words to that effect) regarding me as just another clueless do gooder who knew nothing of their real needs and situation. 

However, pretty much universally, my tentative, nervous approaches have been met with gratitude. Despite their often dishevelled appearance they could teach many of the well dressed commuters that rush past them a thing or two about manners and dignity.

One of tbem is called Maggie. She is a waif of a girl. She has told me she is twenty years old but looks about twelve. Most days you can see her around the city centre huddled in a doorway trying to keep warm. She is totally vulnerable and I shudder to think what experiences she has been through while living on the streets. Sometimes I see her in the company of much older men and my heart breaks for her.

Don’t get me wrong, she is no angel. There are times I speak to her and she can be distant and uncommunicative, rude even. She has issues with drugs and sometimes I find her glassy eyed and monosyllabic. I suspect she lies to me quite a lot but beneath it all is a lost soul with a good heart just waiting to be heard and helped. There but for the grace of God….

Most of the time, however, she is bright, energetic yet proud and humble. I have to force her to take money, food or cigarettes from me. ‘You do enough she says. You’re my mate. I don’t like taking stuff from you.’ When she is lucid she is witty, intelligent and polite. When she is lucid….

The one thing she can never get right is my name. It has become something of a running joke between the two of us. ‘What’s my name?’ I will ask. ‘Paul’ she will confidently reply before slapping her forehead with the palm of her hand upon realising her mistake. ‘I mean Stephen’ followed by profuse apologies.

I laugh now but I didn’t in the early days of our friendship. It annoyed ME. Here I was giving my time and money to someone who couldn’t even be bothered to remember MY name (never mind she couldn’t probably remember her own name when she was high). How ungrateful.

Then I realised one day that it wasn’t about me. It was about HER. Helping her, loving her and revealing the love of God through my actions. Once more I needed to crucify my former self; feeding her with love would simultaneously starve my ego.

Maggie doesn’t go to church. She doesn’t have a Bible. But from my conversations with her I know she has a faith. It is a brittle, fluctuating faith but it is still there, flickering like a candle in a drafty room. If I can in any way strengthen that weak flame in her then I am doing my job. The relationship between Maggie and me is only a conduit to a much more important relationship between Jesus and her.

So it doesn’t matter if she calls me Stephen, Seth or Serendipity. It’s irrelevant. What matters is that she remembers the name of Jesus. At the end of the day, his is the only name that matters.

In order to protect her identity Maggie is not her real name. But please include her in your prayers today. Pray for her protection, provision and salvation.

Please consider helping a homeless person today on your daily commute. A hot drink, a few coins or a friendly word could mean everything to them.

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