Writing a Memoir, Making Big Decisions and Bonus Time With Author Brian Pennie

A man standing in a dark room, with Brian Pennie

“Will it make our boat go faster?” That’s a question Great Britain’s 2000 Olympic rowing team asked itself every day for months prior to winning gold in Australia.

As a writer, your boat might represent writing a memoir and publishing it, for others, it could mean landing a new client or launching a course. So when faced with a decision about what to do more or less of, frame it around the boat question.

This is an idea Irishman Brian Pennie speaks about regularly. The author of Bonus Time, Pennie is also a PhD student of neuroscience, lecturer and recovering heroin addict.

In this interview he explains:

  • How he overcame his heroin addiction
  • Why he decided to write a memoir about his painful personal story
  • How to make decisions faster
  • What his writing process looks like

And lots more.

I start by asking Brian how he overcame heroin and started writing a memoir.

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Bryan Collins: Brian, it’s great to talk to you today and great to talk to another Irishman as well. You’re actually living not too far from me, about an hour away. And I believe you are currently in the final stages of getting a book ready. But before we get into the book, maybe you could start by giving a bit of an introduction, who you are, and your story, and you how you got into writing and publishing the book Bonus Time.

Brian Pennie: Brilliant. Thanks, Bryan. It’s great. Well actually, I think we’re only 20 minutes away from each other. It’s very close. I’m in [Banchardstown 00:00:36]. But yeah. So where to start? It’s a long story, so I’ll give the summarized version of it. So, I spent 15 years of me adult life up until I was 35 years of age as a chronic heroin addict. For 15 years, I was a chronic heroin addict. And really a very functional addict for most of that part. And really, what I tried to tell people is a lot of people can’t really relate when I talk about myself as being a heroin addict. But I was a very functional heroin addict.

Brian Pennie: And what I used to tell people as well is that drugs were not my problem. I had a of childhood trauma in my life and operations when I was a kid, when I was a baby, and alcoholism in the family. And for me, growing up as a kid, it was just stress and anxiety. I would just always have this state of fear and agitation in my life. And I came from a pretty disadvantaged area, a very working class area, with a lot of drugs. And I started dabbling in drugs. And I found heroin at 16, 17 years of age. And it was like I found the solution to life. And I got caught up in it. Thought I was too clever to be a real addict. I got caught up in the whirlwind of self-deception and lived for 15 years as a heroin addict, much of that not believing I was a real addict. And then basically, me whole life fell apart the last few years of my addiction.

Brian Pennie: So, to cut a long story short, when I was 35 years of age, I was nearly dead. Let’s call a spade a spade. I was nearly dead. My body was giving up. And I stopped functioning. I lost every relationship in my life. I lost my job. I lost my health. I lost everything. So it was really time for me to sink or swim. And that was the first time in my life I actually sought professional help. When I couldn’t get into the detox facility or any detox facility, any that were available wouldn’t take me for insurance risks, and I would have been prone to seizures because I didn’t have the drugs in me system.

Brian Pennie: So I ended up doing detox at home. And I wound up having a seizure, a full-blown convulsive seizure. I bit mmye tongue, a bit split down the middle of my tongue, ended up in the hospital. And I’ll never forget, I had an awakening moment in the hospital where I thought I was brain damaged. It was like the world didn’t make sense anymore. Words didn’t make sense, concepts. I was looking at a fire extinguisher on the wall. It was a red fire extinguisher. To me that night, it wasn’t a red fire extinguisher. It was just like, I knew the word “red,” and I knew the word “fire extinguisher,” and they didn’t go together.

Brian Pennie: And I remember thinking, oh my god, you’re brain damaged. Game over. And I was waiting for this panic attack that used to haunt me all my life to come over me. Well, it never did. And I realized that that was a pivotal moment in my life where I just stopped fighting with my own mind. I surrendered to life, and I just stopped fighting. And a couple of weeks after that, I got into a detox facility, I got off drugs, and then I just had this perspective shift. My mind went very, very quiet. And I