Sometimes I like to think about geek stuff, as my wife calls it. Flying from Lodi last night I was pondering the origins of the universe and quantum theory. I know just enough about those… More
From another project I’m working on called Reality Therapy:
Vaping is a thing.
It wasn’t long ago when I was told that vaping was considered a smoking cessation tool. Much of popular culture is still under the delusion that vaping is an almost innocuous habit that is instrumental in helping people quit cigarettes. Vaping is safe, right? What we’ve been learning in the last couple of months, much to our chagrin, is that vaping is much more insipid than society seems to understand or is at the very least, willing to admit. Let us lay a few thoughts on you.
We’ve been polling high schools and teachers and EA’s and social workers and the teens themselves, and in the Fraser Valley people are telling us EVERY week that as many as 70% of high schoolers in this area are vaping. Surely that can’t be true. That number, even if it is overly generous, is staggering. And it gets way way worse. The amounts of nicotine that teens and adults are ingesting has gone through the roof. Just today a teen told me that teens everywhere are now doing 30mg+ level. Only a year ago it seemed like the heaviest smokers were embarrassed to admit they were at 12. Teens regularly report numbers as high as 36 or even 50mg. A cigarette is equivalent to somewhere between 4 and 16mg. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that vaping has no end game (chain vaping) or that there are very real signs that vaping creates an oral fixation. Teens around here report vaping all day, every day. They stress if they cannot touch their vape.
But they are in class for 6 hours, you point out. That may be true, but our sources gleefully admit that they smoke WAY more than they used to, often at 5 or 7 times the nicotine levels. We know people who vape when they get up in the middle of the night to pee.
So we have been asking youth audiences: “a new kid comes to your high school having never vaped. How likely is she to pick up the habit?” (Coincidently, we often ask teen groups this question with regard to how long it takes a new nerd from Saskatchewan to be offered weed. You don’t want to know the answer). Everyone to whom we have thus far posited this question puts the percentage north of 60. If a majority of kids are vaping, what chance does the average immature teenager (who is neurologically wired for experimentation and social bonding) have?
It’s a cultural shift.
We have no idea the effect this will have on our health, although all signs point to bad. A recent NBC article pointed out that “Smoking e-cigarettes delivers cancer-causing chemicals that get into the body — and popular fruity flavors appear to be the worst, researchers reported Monday. They said teenagers who try vaping may be poisoning themselves with many of the same chemicals that make traditional cigarettes so deadly. Tests on teenagers show that those who smoke tobacco-based cigarettes as well have the highest levels of these chemicals in their bodies, but those who vape e-cigarettes also have higher levels of the cancer-causing chemicals than nonsmokers do, the team at the University of California, San Francisco, found. “The presence of harmful ingredients in e-cigarette vapor has been established; we can now say that these chemicals are found in the body of human adolescents who use these products,” they wrote in their report, published in the journal Pediatrics. (Such claims and positions are vehemently challenged by the vaping community, lending further credence to the argument that we still don’t really know how this is going to play out in the next few decades).
I thought vaping helped people quit smoking?
It tastes like strawberry. Nothing is more sexy than a bunch of poser teens trying to look cool while vaping cotton candy. It’s almost as if having a flavoured nicotine delivery system that tasted like watermelon was designed to appeal to young users. Hum. People are vaping on buses, the driver isn’t paid enough to care. High schoolers have even told us that kids are vaping in class, as soon as the teacher’s back is turned. No one is going to admit who the culprit was, and those ridiculous helicopter parents will mutilate any teacher who dares to mete out a group punishment. Geeks vape. Hockey players vape. Christian kids vape. Even athletes vape, though allegedly at slightly lower levels. Parents let their kids vape in their home, they simply don’t know how to respond to such a persistent addiction and a grouchy detoxing teen. Is it really worth the fight?
It might be, although there is so little factual information on vaping that it’s almost impossible to be sure. Did we say addiction? We meant two addictions. Smokers have not traditionally insisted that they get a dome rush (head rush) multiple times a day, but our clients regularly report that most trips to the smoke pit are capped off with this nicotine rush; that can’t be good. They’re smoking incessantly, at higher levels, until they get a buzz.
Have you heard of zeroing out? Just hold that smoke in until you can breathe and nothing comes out. There’s no way that could be bad for you, right? Did you know there are other things besides nicotine that you can vape? Don’t worry though, strawberries are good for you, right?
So what’s the deal with vaping and why aren’t we talking about it?
As with so many of the issues we will be arguing about in our upcoming podcast, it seems that as a culture we are blindly walking into a future for which we have so little real information. We are technological guinea pigs, we aren’t even close to understanding or even recognizing the potential damage from vaping 16 hours a day, and we haven’t a firm clue about the effects of drug legalization, giving a 9 year old a phone with unfettered access to porn, or even if Facebook and others are attempting to invade our privacy and fill our walls with video screens reminiscent of some freakish nightmare out of George Orwell’s 1984.
What is the effect of checking your text messages 400 times a day (yes thats a thing) on your brain? How will the legalization of marijuana affect an entire country? How many people, some of whom will have a proclivity towards addiction, will start to smoke pot now that it is legal? (Yes some people don’t do drugs because of the law). What is Dawn going to say when her teen tells her he wants to drink/smoke/vape/have sex? What does it feel like to be a marginalized person? Is technology messing with your mind? Is there really much difference between diagnosis and palm reading? Why do some men think women are crazy? Is addiction really a disease? Would you know if you’re a psychopath? What does it feel like to be high? Can anger be a drug? Should you be yourself if you’re an idiot?
Join us for our upcoming podcast series Reality Therapy as Dawn and Scott deep dive into the fascinating and fruit-filled world of vaping, sex, technology, mind palaces and youth addiction, brain science and strains of weed, cell phone addiction and weird people. Nothing is out of bounds and we guarantee you won’t hear anything like this, anywhere else. All that, and our infamous “Top 5 Things Parents Do Wrong”, coming this winter.
Dawn Taylor M.A. RCC
Scott Williams M.A. RCC
They made me watch CSI, Ginger Version. I don’t even know what the real name is but it’s the one with the redhead guy who tries so very hard to sound like the coach from Rocky. My youngest Matthew and I are forced to endure this for an hour and there has literally not been one line of dialogue that anyone would say in the real world.
At first we didn’t understand, how could it be so bad? Not one person used normal inflection or words that, when put together in a stringy thing called a sentence, would actually be spoken by a human who is not on a show about super cops who don’t know how to talk like normal people. It vaguely reminds me of when I did acid except the walls aren’t moving… yet.
I can see them speaking but nothing makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, a ferret could follow the dialogue. It’s just that the dialogue is so incredibly vapid, so devoid of reality and voiced by such poor actors who all believe they are on Die Hard, except it’s less realistic than those Christmas plays you have to endure when your kid is in grade five. No one can stop squinting and the dude who just said, “Have you considered the weather?” sounded like he was attempting to take a burrito dump. Not a single person had a spontaneous thought and the lighting is off and the dialogue feels like it was written by that weird kid who wore a cape to grade six and sat beside you in Socials. I keep looking around to see if people are laughing. My son Matt is laughing. So proud.
The real Shakespeare famously penned, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. These players couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper nutsack. Rock stars and wrestlers and models can become actors so you know there is real art involved. And don’t give me your “but there are some very talented actors”. So what. I know some incredibly talented welders who can fix my CR-V. Actors are massively overpaid to do a job that everyone wants because they get treated like royalty and get to buy islands and large phallic boats. It says a great deal about our culture that people line up in their thousands to catch a glimpse of these botox clowns, inbred royals, and idiots on CSI who make twenty times the money I ever will.
Honestly, models can do it. What the hell.
We have given our allegiance to actors playing gurus and trusted in Bill Cosby to be our television dad. Some of us honestly believe that the top 1% gives a rat’s ass about the struggles you are going through. They can’t remember, or never knew, what it was like to be an ordinary bloke. They live fictional lives.
A few of you know what it is like to take LSD (remember Purple Microdot?). I work in the addictions field while doing several other things during my week and in over 12 years of doing Intake I have never met an addict who identified Acid as their drug of choice. You can get seriously messed up for only a few dollars, but still it is rare to talk to anyone who thinks this is a good idea every day of the week. Hallucinogens allow you to step outside your own body and observe yourself from a very surreal and often screwed up perspective. This family of drug use has become increasingly popular, yet again, among predominantly younger adults who read somewhere on the Internet that you could eat mushrooms and become a philosopher. There is some interesting research with hallucinogens, especially in the psychological arena, but you rarely read that “Kierkegaard got totally wasted on shrooms and wrote Fear and Trembling”. Many of us solved the world’s problems on cocaine but couldn’t read the chicken scratch when we woke up later that same day. That is literally a true story. I was so sure.
And a bad trip on Acid will scar you forever.
Contrary to what the internet is telling you, you are probably not going to find the meaning of life if you do MDMA, although you might love everyone for a few hours. Smoking a blunt may temporarily take away the angst but this place is way too complicated for easily blazed answers to your problems.
The 21st Century is ridiculously complicated and fraught with information that is completely new in the history of primates. Coping skills which have worked for millennia are suddenly obsolete. Even as recently as the Dark Ages hundreds of years could pass for our ancestors with little discernable change. Most humans grew up, lived and died within a few kilometres, and went to bed when it got dark. There was no constant bombardment of new and confusing data unless you were being chased across the highlands by the bloody British. More than half a millenia separated Attila and Genghis but they still killed people from the back of a horse with relatively the same range of weapons. Just think how much the world has changed since World War Two, or even the early Sixties. You have had more world shaking cultural changes in your lifetime than people would have seen in hundreds, even thousands of years.
I haven’t even mentioned the Internet, perhaps the biggest game-changer since the Enlightenment. Sometimes I become so entangled in the sheer absurdity of our existence that it’s tempting to feel like I’m in a bad episode of CSI Miami. Nevermind, they’re all bad. My parents lived in homes where you had to throw coal into the fire every morning. My son, who still lives at home part-time, loses his mind if I turn off the router at 11 p.m. Our ancestors could beat the living crap out of us without breaking a sweat. 21st Century problems in a world moving so fast that no one has a clue what the answer is or how we are going to deal with our growing cultural addiction to stimulus and response and Instagram and sugar.
Few of us trust our local churches to provide solutions for life and you can’t trust the government anymore because they really are spying on you. The Catholic Church is in freefall. Google and Facebook are actually messing with your mind, and I’m not talking in some groovy metaphysical way. They are literally reprogramming your brain. Your phone is apparently tracking you even when Location Services is turned off. Institutions that we have trusted for generations have let us down and it feels like we are losing our handholds.
Our worlds are filled with information and most of that data is mindless drivel. Is coffee good for me or bad for me this month, I can’t remember. Is Pluto a planet again? Was that dude from Making of a Murderer guilty or not? Is gluten still the Antichrist? We can no longer trust our grade 11 math class to make sense of this augmented reality, and after what seemed like twenty years of enlightenment and walls falling and peace treaties, the world is suddenly scary again; full of regimes with small penises and very large guns. We’re in a pissing contest with our neighbouring country over milk. Seriously, milk. How do we make sense of it all?
How do you end an article like this? Oh ya, I remember now.
Any rockclimber can tell you that running up an indoor climbing wall has very little in common with climbing an actual mountain or rock face. In the real world there are few perfectly formed nubits to grab every 2.5 feet. Rock faces are often wet, smooth, filled with vegetation or bird crap. So much bird crap. There are often no obvious routes and the ones that appear straight and narrow consistently prove to be unclimbable. In the real world the handholds are far less exact, less climate-controlled, and less exhilaratingly obvious. It’s incredibly easy to lose your way in this world.
You need to be reading. I’m not screwing around anymore so listen because I’m not making this up as I go along and any counselor worth their bread will tell you that if you aren’t growing then you’re going backwards. For years I’ve told clients they need to read and study and take their emotional growth much more seriously, and the numbers of people who actually listen to this obvious advice is underwhelming and tragic. If you absolutely refuse to write then watch documentaries that are outside your comfort zone and subscribe to some mental health podcasts. Cooking shows and escapist novels don’t count unless you are actually going to make the friggen recipes. Oprah and Deepak and Tony Robbins are not really philosophers, in spite of their witting aphorisms, and can only take you so far. They are paid millions to peddle philosophic pablum and that’s fine, but it’s not really the same as studying your life. Don’t get me started on Oprah Winfrey.
We don’t have the luxury anymore of putting this stuff off until it’s too late. If you think you will just grow out of your anxiety or chronic depression or immaturity or naïveté you are literally the definition of that word. By the time people are adults we have a shitbarge of pain collecting in our subconscious and if you don’t do something about it, and I mean it, dammit, you are going to fall miles short of your potential. I’m talking about you Mr. Anger Problem. Deal with that stuff because you are ejaculating your attitude all over the rest of us and using anger to bully people. You passive-aggressives need to talk to someone who can hold you accountable for all that bullshit you are spreading. Just tell me what you want, for the love of god. I know you aren’t mad, you’re just disappointed that everyone seems to let you down but have you ever stopped to consider that being passive-aggressive is dysfunctional and everyone around you knows what you’re trying to do? Most of us can smell a PA a mile off and we talk about you behind your back. Use your words. Are you easily offended? The rest of us are on egg shells around you because we don’t know if or when you are going to pout and make a scene. Is that really how you want people to think of you?
If you are one of those people that constantly needs others to feel sorry for you, then I actually feel sorry for you. Grow the hell up. You have a hole in your heart that you are trying to stuff full with sad Facebook and IG posts that tell us you’re having a bad day (sad emoji) specifically so that we will all tell you that you’re awesome and we believe in you. Believe in yourself, you’re better than this. See someone and talk about your incessant need for approval because that crap is handcuffing your life.
Anger, passive-aggressive behaviour, taking offence, acting pathetic, they’re all about power and control. These dysfunctional handholds keep us immature and miserable. These are learned coping mechanisms that you developed when you were a kid or after an abusive relationship and they may have worked at one time but they are handholds that are holding you back. Wouldn’t you rather be happy?
We all need better handholds. If you spend your whole life trying to be pretty and petty you are going to end up dumb and bitter. Don’t be dumb. Spend 3 years working on your anxiety every day. Don’t lie down and give in. Get serious about your anger problem and get control of your emotions. Work on that crappy impulse control until you can win. Seriously. This stuff is very hard and the percentage of people who die happy is lower than we want to admit. You are worth it. Say it. I am worth it.
Stop trusting in other people to make you happy, Scott. Stop being decimated when our cultural icons turn out to be rapists. Everyone is going to let you down, that’s called life. Everyone is petty and selfish and a little bit broken so get over it. You’re right, people are stupid. Some people think the actors on CSI can act. Don’t be one of those people, pick up a book or listen to an audiobook or an intelligent podcast or documentary and learn a little psychology. Talk to someone about philosophy. Don’t be dumb.
I don’t care what you say, CSI sucks.
My wife is trying to explain to me the difference between face cream and body cream. You have got to be kidding me. I couldn’t tell the difference between face cream and bear fat if you got the actual bear to fat all over me. Apparently there is a hand cream as well. Come on people, our ancestors are pretending they don’t know us right now. People used to pour on whale blubber and now there is 453 kinds of hand cream, or face cream, how would I know the freaking difference?
I like that orange smelling stuff because I’m a complex contemporary man and it makes me smell yummy. I don’t know what body part I’m supposed to get the cream for, so I’m just going to ask for the orange stuff. It’s like that sexist joke about women who, when asked what kind of car it was, said it was yellow. People who know their oils are looking at me like car salesmen, shaking their head. I grew up in the 70’s, we had vaseline.
It’s my birthday today. By the time you read this it won’t be my birthday anymore so you don’t have to do the obligatory “Happy Birthday!!” (gag). There isn’t a cream on the market for what I have going on. Getting older may be easier for some but I’ve rarely been accused of being “some”. I’m more about fighting reality to the bitter end, pretending I’m still cool while rocking that pulled up white socks and sandal combination and eating at 3 pm. Sexy. I’ll be that weirdo in his 80’s asking my kids what clothes I should buy without realizing they are talking on behalf of 60 year olds. Time to take a loan out on some Birkenstocks.
Getting older sucks. On most days I’ll fling you as many platitudes as you can stomach about living your life to the full but tonight, not so much. I’m only asking that one of you takes me aside the first time I think wearing socks with sandals is cool and gives me the old 5-iron to the temple. And what is up with that pants pulled up to the nipples thing? I saw a guy in his 50’s with a mullet the other day, sporting a speedo. Middle-aged women wearing that blouse with the pirate ruffles and flower pattern, talking about yogurt and their crappy marriages while carrying that annoying water bottle because it’s 11 feet to the nearest hydration source.
Thankfully you aren’t forced to grow up. I disappointed some family members recently when I announced that I plan on not getting any more mature. I’ve peaked. You can imagine how supportive they were. I refuse to stop using sarcasm and bad jokes and comic books. I could care less about 90% of the tripe that middle-aged people talk about, and I won’t be watching NCIS anytime soon. Milkshakes and candy and chocolate (this is the part you quote after I die of Diabetes). Life is getting shorter all the time and I can’t believe how many people spend their precious moments endlessly complaining about pretty much everything. Counsellor Scott can listen to you all day, but if we’re friends and we’re out kayaking you better not spend the entire time complaining about your spouse or I’m going to start fantasizing about drowning you. Living your life as a bitter old citizen may be fine for some people but I’m not dead yet. I’d rather talk about philosophy and good beer and amazing stories. I want to jam and travel and experience.
I might even skydive again.
It is tempting as a therapist to talk about mental health stuff like it’s a science and we’re in a classroom. People want to hear what their counselor says, right? I have all kinds of relevant articles and YouTube videos we can watch in my office. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of files with enough advice in them to keep you busy for a few lifetimes.
The longer I do this the less I believe in good information helping people change their fundamental personality. If you haven’t had real depression I’m not entirely sure you understand what is truly going on. I wish I was not saying that you can’t really speak intelligently about this topic without practice but nobody is asking me to describe how it feels to have a baby. Cancer patients want to talk to cancer survivors who understand the hell that they and their family are experiencing. Addicts understand addiction on a different level than my wife who grew up as a pentecostal and still hasn’t really consumed alcohol on any level that could result in sloppy sex. You don’t need to be an addict to counsel an addict because counselors know a great deal about poor impulse control and craving for sex or acceptance or meth. Addiction is more about trauma than what your vehicle of choice is. People self-medicate with hundreds of things, not just drugs or booze or sex.
I rarely talk about this publicly on any meaningful level but I had a pretty decent run with depression. My world fell apart and I lacked the coping skills to pull myself out of it, and at least a bit of the reason that I still do this for a living is because of the lessons I learned in the valley of the shadow of death.
I was very depressed for a significant period of time. It became a way of life, the fog that defined my existence. People who know me from that time are not traditionally my friends at this stage of my life, and the few who stuck around don’t need a memory cue about that Scott Williams. It’s been enough time that I can disconnect from that sad little clown, and looking now from a bit of distance he was a pretty hurting unit. So ya, like many who have come before me I fell into a life of depression for a serious piece of my story and I still remember how crazy that bastard was. Depression can gut you. It can take away everything and everyone you love and make your life a crawling waste. There were times when I was so broken that I put myself at the risk of personal harm, and months of such emotional abandonment that I didn’t care if I lived or died and didn’t care that I didn’t care.
I have apologized to my boys countless times but I still carry the stain.
There are people who come to me believing they are depressed because they are deeply sad or grieving or crying every day before work. That may be a form of depression or dysthymia but people who have gone full freaktown deep-dive depression often describe it as feeling nothing at all, not caring or hoping or functionally coping. Meaninglessness and pain and hopelessness. It got dark and nasty for a bigger chunk of time than I can admit to myself and if it wasn’t for Celexa, a few good friends, and the responsibility to solo parent two hurting kids I may not have made it out sane. Days and months and minute after minute after damned minute of despair and depressed thoughts and music that makes you want to hurt kittens. Some of you out there know how slow time can go when every minute of the day is more disappointing than before but you really don’t give enough of a crap to feel anything beyond your own pathetic non-existence.
No one wants to hear it, btw. In the insanity of those days it was a testimony to how messed up I was that I honestly believed other people wanted to hear my litany of pain and woe. News flash 2001 Scott – people don’t want to hear it. If you are a pessimist who is prone to complain to your spouse or friends I need to tell you in love that no one wants to hear you constantly complain. I take that back, there are other complainers who love to talk about that garbage for hours but most of us are far too attention deficit to listen to you talk about your stupid stupid problems that you refuse to deal with year after year after year. We get it, some people need to complain in order to release that bad karma and that is a real thing and I get it. Still. Do yourself a favour and find another miserable friend, someone who shares your interests.
As a counselor, I can tell you that depression is one of the hardest mental health challenges to overcome without time and some decent help along the way. There is no quick fix for such a crippling and insidious illness, and people who tell you to just jog it off or read this or that book or blog (and you will be jim dandy!) are full of crap. It takes months of dedicated work before you even feel like doing anything beyond Netflix and licorice and how do you get motivated to tackle this monster when you can’t even get motivated enough to get motivated? There is nothing I can say to you today, if you are in the valley of the shadow of death, that will pull you out of that funk.
I’m not implying, however, that you should give up or stop reaching out. It all felt meaningless to me for a very long time but sitting on the couch watching daytime television was not the balm it was advertised to be. Moving forward in depression is exhausting but there eventually came a time when I actually didn’t have a bad day. First I would take a few minutes off from my feelings, then a few more. One day I didn’t self-indulge for an entire hour, then a morning, then eventually a day. There was no magic ticket or special medication that pulled me back from the precipice but only a series of little things and a couple of amazing kids and friends who never gave up on me. I started listening to audiobooks between tears, then comic books. I ate real food again and got out of bed before the crushing mind games could pull me under the covers. I went out, even though I hated every minute of it.
In those dark days, I was convinced that this was my forever. I look back and am thankful that I never jumped off that bridge. The only advice I give people who are battling with serious depression is – stay alive. Talk to someone who understands. And get out of bed.
As a clinician who works largely with addictions and the intersection of trauma and life, I get to be on the front-lines in a seemingly unending parade of adventure and experience. I picked up a heroin/fentanyl rig from our bathroom this afternoon. I walked around in the blue gloves offering prostate exams but for some reason there were no takers. Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my partner in crime, Dawn Taylor, consulting on one of the most complex cases you could imagine. That day began with an RCMP corporal at the homeless shelter, someone had procured a video projector, probably from the same inexhaustible storehouse where all those nice bikes come from.
Addiction is a complex and fascinating issue, if you can somehow remove the never-ending cacophony of tragedy and loss. It has taken me years of full-time employment to come to understand just a small part of this complicated thing, even with it so present in my own history. The information we all read in the media, in what we assume are serious articles written by addiction experts, is ofttimes laughable. This week I read again, for the 400th time, about the debate whether or not marijuana is addictive. I dare you to say it is, or it’s not, or have no opinion at all – it won’t matter, you’ll still be called an idiot. The misinformation and self-delusion from both sides of the McInformation Universe make it next to impossible for the average Normie to retain any level of informed dialogue. Is marijuana addictive?
So much of what passes for real information is the reality television version of reality. These same websites and professionals are often completely unfamiliar with the subculture they are lecturing. Just because you have a Ph.D. and get to charge thousands of dollars because you are the flavour of the month doesn’t necessarily guarantee you know what the hell you are talking about.
Being a stoner is to be a part of a community, of sorts. This subculture brings it’s own rules and mores and values which are impossible to truly understand from the outside, much like the priest who is giving marriage advice. I am not saying that addictions counsellors who have not been druggies have a lesser understanding and therefore are less effective. So much of what we do in the counselling room has little or nothing to do with your drug of choice. Impulse control, trauma, and mental health are all universal issues.
It doesn’t take an addict to help an addict but it does take one to understand how funny it is that we managed to convince you that the only reason we wanted medicinal marijuana was for the physical pain. I studied the outlet across the street from my addictions office for 6 months and you would be impressed by the number of Ford F-150’s that represent at 4:05 pm on a weekday, driven by two dudes straight off the construction site who jog across the street to the store. The last time I was in there the owner offered me a “pull” from her vape, but I’m guessing that was for the pain that she inherently recognized in my burdened soul because weed gives you wings. You can send me angry emails until the cows come home but it won’t change the fact that my job entails knowing how to separate the truth from bullshit. I have clients who use medical forms of cannabis and understand the difference between CBD and THC and aren’t really interested in being baked all day; and I’ve seen dozens of clients who show me their Medical Marijuana Card and we have a good laugh. It’s all going to be a mute point on October 17, except that now a whole bunch of us have decided to try it out, now that it’s legal. I polled several rooms in the past couple of months and that’s a real thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I barely care anymore, it’s just a reality in my world. This article is not about the evils or benefits of weed, so don’t go off on me. Dawn Taylor and I have an entire upcoming podcast on pot coming this winter that is guarenteed to upset a few of you, so hold on. (Yes we are launching a podcast this winter called “Reality Therapy” with the tagline “Welcome To The Argument”).
I set out to write an article about how difficult it is to leave the life, even when you want to quit and it’s clearly time to move on. As usual, I meandered a little. All this diatribe was leading to the realization that quitting the self-medication game is a lot harder than most people think, and all too often that addictive personality thing we’ve all heard about is more a learned behaviour than a genetic one. Your dad may have been an alcoholic, and that may be why you think you want a drink right now, but it’s also possible that when you were a preschooler you watched your father self-medicate his tragic life and that taught you a little something. Perhaps your parent was addicted to rageahol, and you figured out that it’s way easier to check out than hang in. There are literally hundreds, nay thousands of ways we have learned to cope with childhood trauma or a controlling parent or that uncle who liked to touch you. You were the fat kid, or your complexion was a mess, or you were too shy to be the popular kid in school.
Name your poison.
Years of continuous drug use will create neural pathways hardwired to thirst for “altered”. Most drug users have difficulty imagining a world where they could not be buzzed, the real world can be incredibly boring or painful or confusing. I’ve watched hundreds of clients wrestle with the reality that they will never really get that monkey off their backs because they’ve been doing this for so long that they’re probably going to have that little primate in the back of their mind for the rest of their life.
I haven’t used cocaine in 25 years but that doesn’t mean I would sit in a locked room with a line of coke, if I knew no one would ever find out. Besides that, I may not jones for blow, but there is always something vying for my attention, and not always something good. People self-medicate with booze or shoes, chocolate or masturbation or video games – the delivery system seems less and less important the longer I do this. I could tell you stories of people who’s lips were raw because they ate 4 bags of sunflower seeds a day in an effort to placate the persistent hunger for meth or crack or because their anxiety is raging and it’s the closest thing at hand. People are clean for 15 years than they “go back out”, god only knows why. It might have something to do with the fact that you quit your drug of choice but never moved beyond that need to feel good even if it might feel bad after you come down from that sugar rush. I don’t usually tell clients that happy little factoid on our first visit together.
And let’s be honest, it’s not just the “junkies” we’re talking about. You went to that doctor after you hurt yourself and 6 weeks later you had a very hard time when your prescription for Percocet ran out. Addiction is easy because drugs really are as good as people think they are… for a while. I’m sorry but your youth group has a hard time competing with the spiritual orgasm that Dexedrine can deliver. If I’m completely honest with myself I’d love to get buzzed, some days.
Addicts have the best of intentions when they quit using. You might be surprised at how honest and kind and sincere a person can become when they are in The Program. Many sufferers are able to clench down and sweat it out, but that whole piece about being a normie for the rest of my life was harder to accept on an emotional level than I could have ever imagined. The rest of your life completely sober doesn’t sound as sexy as being blitzed on shrooms with good friends this Friday night. The relentless normal is difficult for some people to handle, week after week, and it isn’t long before recovering addicts often feel the claws come out from their backpack of chimps (I know, chimps are not monkeys; I ran out of snappy monkey references).
I have been told, more times than I can remember, how much harder it was to leave the life than the drug. As the sarcastic quip goes, quitting is easy, people often do it several times a week. Staying sober when all that stuff you ignored when you were high comes back calling, and you have no way to self-medicate because that group said you had to be completely clean, now that’s not so easy. This sounds allot like the ending of Goodfellas but I can’t help it, it’s a powerful and persuasive subculture. As Henry Hill said in that movie after he was placed in Protective Custody:
“See, the hardest thing for me was leaving the life. I still love the life. And we were treated like movie stars with muscle. We had it all, just for the asking. Our wives, mothers, kids, everybody rode along. I had paper bags filled with jewelry stashed in the kitchen. I had a sugar bowl full of coke next to the bed…Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I’d bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I’d either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies. Didn’t matter. It didn’t mean anything. When I was broke I would go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”
Leaving the party to become a citizen often feels like it is going to suck. All you have to do is change your everything. It’s way easier to just give up and slowly succumb, in spite of that false narrative you keep telling yourself, the one where you don’t end up in my office.
For you. We talked about this.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I have seen darkness in people which defies comprehension. We’ve talked about this before. There is a time in many journeys when our lives completely break. Type “swerve” into my search bar to find out more. or “The Event”.
Most of us grew up believing our lives would somehow turn out just fine. The weight of the truth can be devastating, at first. We are shocked when the ugly truths sink in.
Not many people walk through my door because they want to. Reality has punched us in the face and it stings. Few of us imagined we would have a lifelong battle with anxiety or depression or the fact that your Uncle Tom was the tomcat people…
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I love you, you know that. I believe in Santa and life on other planets (likely), and that Bucky is the best superhero (they turned the nicest guy in the world into a killing machine who is best friends with the other nicest guy in the world. It writes itself).
I want to believe in fairytale endings and the fable that there really is justice in this life, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that aliens helped people, smart people, build stupid triangles. Sure some people who live in trailer courts where it’s very warm outside have been allegedly violated by curious martians, but that still doesn’t constitute a double-blind study, and these stories are often reported by people who believe the world is flat and vaccines give you autism. Sure the moon landing could have been faked (no it wasn’t). It’s entirely possible that the Illuminati is dictating the global agenda, except that it isn’t. Ok, I got a little distracted there. I know you don’t believe all those things but I was on a run.
There is, to our limited understanding, something profound about sentience. You can see it in your pet dog, in the playfulness of an otter, the intrigue of a dolphin. Life itself struggles to understand,. Thinking beings are curious. The very essence of intelligence is the need to know. I’ve watched Star Trek so I know that travellers among the stars would want to put on local outfits and bring their tricorders down for a good look. Aliens would seek interaction. Why would anything spend all that money, all that time to make first contact, and then be so easily satisfied with rednecks and bad television? I know I read comics so my opinions seem slightly less credible, but there isn’t a ton of rigorous debate among smart people, just those conspiracy freaks on the History Channel. Aliens probably do not walk among us.
And alas, my love, I could mention the sciency stuff. I’m sorry if you call it “geek time” but our lively little ball of blue is in the middle of nowhere, and there are a trillion stars in our galaxy. And there are trillions of galaxies. You are probably right about life on other planets but, and I don’t mean to sound condescending because I barely know what I’m talking about, the universe is ridiculously big; so big that it’s impossible for my little brain to even imagine.
Things are so far away. I hope like heck that there are sentient beings out there somewhere, but the length of time since the beginning of time has been finite, and it took our earth billions of years and a few thousand lucky accidents to produce a Big Mac. The thought that there are other beings looking through telescopes somewhere is a dream that I too want to believe. It seems entirely possible that of the thousands and perhaps millions of planets that could sustain life that there is at least one or two other cosmic accidents like us. Many scientists desperately want Einstein to be wrong about those weird equations like E=MC2, but we still haven’t broken the speed of light and so trips around the universe are nothing like in Firefly. And don’t even talk to me about quantum entanglement if you have a hard time buying the moon landing.
Our planet is 100,000 years away from our closest goldilocks neighbour, and you’re just getting started. It will, unfortunately, take you millions of years to reach anything of note after you pass that solitary planet. They would need faster then light speed travel (maybe that gets easier to imagine the faster science speeds up, you have me there). Yes there are scientists who postulate that Einstein’s theory of wormholes is how aliens travel to other groovy Star Trek galaxies, but their technology would have to be so utterly beyond our understanding and we still can’t even prove wormholes exist in any pragmatic sense.
Sadly there is little evidence that those hillbillies were anally probed by real aliens. But that’s not really what I’m writing about, it’s just fun to argue.
I admire your curiosity. There is something in all of us that wants to believe that there is something out there. When I look at the stars at night, the vastness and wonder of space can give me literal goose bumps. One of my great regrets is that I never bought an expensive telescope. I love the stars. Believe it or not I actually hosted an astronomy show with my good buddy Bill in Fort McMurray. Bill went on to adventure and fortune and I’m sitting on the couch at home wondering what I’ve done with my life.
Curiosity is the point of the story. The same curiosity that drives you to wonder at the pyramids and dream big dreams of ancient worlds is what I believe any sentient being would automatically possess. An evolutionary desire to make sense out of your world has to be a prerequisite for someone who can build a spaceship and drive carefully beyond the speed of light; at the very least know how to fly through a wormhole, which probably exists. Anything that is alive is confronted with a panoply of decisions that literally mean the difference between life and death. The universe is oblivious to the needs of an alien from the planet Zork, and the very act of existence is a struggle to survive. That skillset necessitates decision-making, which depends on the ability to discern choices. Creatures who develop the capacity for intuition are obviously much better suited for survival, and evolution has a way of sorting that out. Intuition is very close to curiosity.
I’m sorry but there is a chance you may be wrong about the pyramid thing. In spite of media culture the evidence really isn’t there, and there is a chance that that short dude with hair that sticks straight up on The History Channel is doing is for the fame because no real scientist in the world believes that crap. The weight of evidence isn’t even a close fight; the Flat Earth people seem to be taking over the world but that is only YouTube and the evidence is overwhelmingly in.
I love how you have such a good mind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to believe we have been visited. There is nothing wrong with faith in things we can’t prove in a laboratory. Mystery is essential to my life and I don’t believe in a world where all the evidence is really in. You are bright and are right about so many things I barely understand. As cliche as it may sound I want to honour your journey as we try to figure this out together.
But not this. Aliens didn’t build the pyramids. I love you.
I am a Canadian and for the most part, many of the stereotypes are true. Most of my friends say ‘eh’ and we do love hockey. I don’t watch it, many of us don’t. But put an ice rink in the middle of your block and someone will show up with beer to watch or play hockey. We will shine our headlights on the ice and let your stupid little sister play, although we had agreed that today was going to be a serious game.
As I said, I don’t watch hockey. I do not watch many sports outside the Olympics, and I watch The Olympics because I am a Canadian and that’s what we do. I love watching volleyball and pole vaulting, luge and Big Air, but nothing defines our nation like the game of hockey. Watching the Canada-USA game is a religious belief system here, and we have the best women’s hockey team in the world. Our men don’t do too poorly, either.
You can find a Maple Leafs fan anywhere, and they aren’t even any good. Sidney Crosby is a national hero. The 80’s Edmonton Oilers ruled the earth, and the highlights of the 1972 Canada-Russia Series still plays well on national television. My dad drove me into the city at 5:15 on a Saturday morning to play A-Team hockey when he literally had three jobs and three little kids. Canadian parents are used to sitting on cold benches, clad in team colours, with a thermos and box of oranges somewhere. Even those of us who put our kids in soccer and T-ball have driven to a rink to watch a relative or friend’s kid skate on the ice. I am Canadian. We made a beer commercial a cultural icon. Most of us say sorry more than we should. We define ourself but what we are (not American, socially conscious, more vain about our freedoms than we let on) and by what we are not (we are not American). We are Europe’s exotic and homespun little sister.
What some foreigners may not know, however, is that ice hockey was only part of the game. Street hockey is a revered Canadian pastime and most of us old-timers still have a street stick somewhere down in the basement. I played 2-on-2 on my boulevard for almost the entirety of my youth. Drive down any block on a warm summer afternoon in Canada and almost assuredly you will run into some kids pulling those iconic red hockey nets to the side of the road. We love hockey.
From the outside, hockey looks like a semi-violent and occasionally phallic warrior sport, but that’s only half the story. When you are floating on that fairytale surface with a puck on your stick, and you feel the blood pumping as you pass the defenceman, you can actually feel your comrade on the other side of the ice. Hockey is the ultimate team sport, where you are shamed if you do not pass the glory on to your teammate and trust that you are both completely in the moment together. It may not be Band of Brothers, but there is no denying the palpable intimacy of intention between the players on every hockey team.
It didn’t even matter if I was the one who scored. The glory of setting up a goal was considered a heroic act, applauded by the masses. Winning a hockey game is about talent and grit, but it is also about camaraderie and harmony and the depth of human connection. There are people all over Canada and beyond that I have scored a goal with, set-up a perfect spike with, done battle together on some field or pitch; and in many of those moments we shared connection that I don’t always get in traffic on a Friday night.
Hockey is volleyball on steroids. It may have something to do with how amazing the experience of skating really is. Hockey players glide, they fly, and the beauty of skating with a puck and a friend is not so distant from the sense of freedom that I have felt skydiving; it is poetic and sensual; it’s ice on your blades, hot cocoa on your breath, and stories of glory all the way home. It is bragging to your mom or dad while they rubbed your toes until you could feel them again. My dad used to take me for a frosted mug of A&W Root Beer on the way home after every home game. That’s Canada.
But again, this is only part of the story. Hockey is also about team. It is about ideals like sharing, and the belief that we could trust a brother or sister in a time of turmoil, while the enemy is in your end and time is running out. Hockey is our social religion, along with back bacon and John Candy and Michael J. Fox. Hockey is about heritage and hot chocolate and feeling like a real community; the deep cultural understanding that ‘we’ is always better than ‘me’. It is intimate and brave and built on the understanding that we will both believe in the same dream.
Can you believe the Americans beat us this year?
“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken…
Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…
Face your life
Leave no path untaken.”
― Neil Gaiman,
Most people aren’t really sure what they are getting themselves into, when they come talk with someone like me. What we do at that coffee shop, or while walking by the river, has little in common with what happens on television or Netflix. You are not Tony Soprano and I am not that horrible psychiatrist who sucked at counselling and committed ethical violations on an episodal level. You won’t spend the whole time complaining, and I am intrusive when it comes to the nitty gritty details. I get paid to act as a professional and you can go home and talk to your cat for hours about your medical problems or how much that person makes you mad at work. People want ideas and conversation and help, that’s why they make the appointment. Most counsellors are sedentary by nature and I am a screaming ball of ADHD and philosophy and other words that they offer at universities for those who don’t really want to earn much money or get their teeth cleaned on a regular basis.
Most of my clients have tried it their way, and life has a way of humbling the most stubborn of us every once in a while. I have written extensively about this topic and you can read about it here, here, here, or here. Moving forward in your life is usually more complicated in the real world, and we rarely get to live on Saturn or have a robot maid like on The Jetsons. Life is hard and they don’t post the rules on a website, and lets be honest, I usually did things the hard way because I’m naive and idealistic and not as self-aware as I thought at the time. For the love of god, don’t write your treatise in your 20’s. We shouldn’t have to review the reasons, this one is rock solid. I am startled at how dumb I was when I was 25. I’m not telling your story, I’m just speaking to those of us who have had to admit that we didn’t know what the crap we were talking about and some of those opinions we yelled so loudly, back when we knew everything, were utterly moronic.
At the risk of becoming a Hallmark Card, it really is true that most of us don’t live at our potential. I’m not talking about you.
I am working on another project or two with a few friends, and there is this feeling (and if you’ve had it you know what I’m talking about) at the beginning of a new adventure that is cocaine for me. The entire entertainment industry seems designed solely for the purpose of providing adventures which allow us to live lives in ways and places not connected to my grinding job or upset partner. We are neurologically wired for novelty. This has a profound impact on everything from our relationships to our addictions to our sexual satisfaction. I go to movies to be alive, but maybe it’s just me. When I am inside a great audiobook or an old fashioned paperback it triggers parts of my brain which include those yummy juices bouncing around in my neurons. Unlike many, I am blessed with primarily pleasant dreams, and I may be a child inside, but under countless moons I have been a secret agent or kung fu legend or somewhere warm drinking foofy drinks on a beach. I do this for a living and I know what living in a fantastical dream state suggests. The real world blows when it does.
Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…
Face your life
Leave no path untaken.
Here’s to you making that trip to Europe. A good one on those of ya who have decided to go back to school, or go on a road trip, or start to sculpture; just for the joy of getting your hands muddy. It is very easy to learn to play the bass… poorly. My wife just brought a 300 ton piano into our house, and her relentless pursuit of something that hard is inspiring (she doesn’t read my writing so I won’t get credit for that). In The Graveyard Book, Nobody Owens grew up in a graveyard, was adopted by ghosts, and mentored by a vampirish thing and a Hound Of God. With his life in danger, he was forced to spend the majority of his childhood playing with dead people, a witch, several nasty goblins, with only one friend who had a pulse and almost killed him, by accident of course. Those words, face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken, reminded Bod that his life was among the living, not the departed. It was his turn to have experiences and see oceans and taste coffee in faraway lands.
And how’s that working out for you?
That sounds so tiring, he said partly in jest. Life is ridiculously busy, and my freaking phone is becoming an addiction, and I dream of going to Kitts or a Balkan State or a castle in Scotland; but right now I’d settle for another hot day to float in my Canadian Tire pool. Everywhere I look, people complain about the pace of life in the 21st Century and the noise, noise, noise. It’s only 95 days until Christmas. See what I did there?
The good book says, without hope the people perish. Philosophers create theories to describe the meaning of life. Existential Psychoanalysis plays with creating meaning from meaning, or something nerdish like that. As Victor Frankl said, the person who has the why can bear almost any how. That sounds like a cheeseball meme until you find out the dude was in Auschwitz. Having a reason for staying alive another year is a powerful thing. Words like meaning and purpose, dreams, and hope, are powerful aphrodisiacs. Having that why makes this crappy how worth living.
…leave no path untaken.
I like socks. Strange socks. People who don’t know what to get me at Christmas usually land on the weirdest socks they can find at EA Games. So when I found out there was a socks company that donated a pair of socks for every pair purchased, it had my attention. But that’s not even the cool part.
I started listening to some different podcasts today. I downloaded an app and the next thing I knew I was listening to Ear Hustle. It’s a podcast written, produced, and starring longterm inmates at San Quentin Prison. Honourable mention is given to Pelican Bay Supermax. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m interested in a lot of things, and Maximum Security Prisons are on the list. I have attended several prisons in various roles, and the psychology of the experiences that humans are subjected to in places like Pelican Bay is staggering. As a Canadian it is a surreal experience to watch your first documentary about American prisons. Our maximum security prisons are no joke, but what happens in the deep south is beyond most idealistic Canadian’s imagination. I knew a salesman who was sent to Pelican Bay for a very long time, and I imagine there are few humans who have had to endure the level of intensity such an experience would invoke. I have swapped prison stories for years with persons who have real world experience, and have spent an inordinate amount of energy asking questions about the gritty detail. So yes, the first podcast I happened upon was Ear Hustle.
Here’s where the two stories connect. That sock company is called Bombas and they sponsor Ear Hustle. As an entrepreneur I can appreciate the subtle marketing potential of such an enterprise, but that pales in comparison to the good that one company can do if it tries. To date they have also donated 4,000,105 pairs of socks. No wait, 4,000,110. As Bombas points out, “Socks remain the #1 most requested clothing item at homeless shelters. So for every pair of Bombas you purchase, we donate a pair to someone in need. So far, you’ve made over four million small acts of human kindness possible. We can’t thank you enough.”
They aren’t quite weird enough for me, but that’s still very cool.
It really amazing what one company, or one person, can do when they decide to change the world. One of the best parts about my job is that I get to hear stories, thousands of stories, and many of them have a happy ending. I have known people who walked in the door so entirely messed up they were seemingly beyond the pale. They sat on the white couch or in my little office and fundamentally changed who they were, once they decided to step out. There are many ways to deal with your personal issues, and finding a greater purpose or learning about the meaning of your life may sound cliche, but few techniques can take you as far as a reason for living. Hundreds of people I have cared about have told me stories, tales of redemption and loss, staggering failures and unbelievable saves.
You might not think giving a pair of socks to some homeless dude is not your thing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than not giving out 4,000,000 pairs of socks to people who often have not felt the warmth of human kindness in some time. People and organizations that follow their hearts, and not just their wallets, genuinely feel better about their lives. Believing in something bigger than your worst moments is better than living a purely self-indulgent, puerile life that ends in meaninglessness, unless you’re a complete sheep (in which case you would not be reading this in the first place). This, unfortunately, compels me to remind you that no one wants to see another stupid picture of you on social media. We know what you look like, and it’s nothing like that doctored pic of you standing in a pose which is oddly reminiscent of what we imagine you would look like if there was something up your hiney. We’ve even talked about how mildly narcissistic that can become, so turn the camera around and show me a picture of nature, or culture, without your duck lips in the picture.
Liking a post on Facebook may give you warm fuzzies, but it’s the getting off your butt and living your life for something of value that will take you to the next level. Living in the moment is important, yes. So is mindfulness. So is having a reason to get up in the morning.
Get a life.
This story is not about how I feel politically about the growing homeless population in my local area. People who know me know that I never discuss local politics, and the only reason I look at anything in a political column is because of the craziness going on south of the border, and just over the land-bridge to Asia. What I’m about to say is controversial but I’m too inoculated to really care what trolls say in the comments section of blogs and articles. I won’t respond to your criticism unless it’s intelligent and not nasty, so let’s begin.
This is what really happens to that money you gave that poor guy who just needed to get enough money for a bus ticket to Chilliwack at the Mission 7-11 store. That dude has been trying to raise the money for a ticket for almost three years. That money went to buy methamphetamines. No, I am not saying that every homeless person is an addict, I’m not done yet. What I am clearly going to say is that in the part of the world where I live, every homeless person is afforded a minimal stipend, on a monthly basis, and there are at least three agencies feeding them. In the town I work in we will literally house everyone who really wants a place to live. Everyone. Canada is a socialized culture and agencies like the one I work at are given money from the local and provincial government to help people who want help. That last phrase was very important and we may return to it later.
Today I was getting propane for my BBQ and I had to drive around a man in his 30’s with a sign that read, “homeless, starving, need bus fair to Chilliwack”. It’s always Chilliwack. All three of those statements are subject to review. I am a raging liberal, and I get paid not to judge people and I can tell you right out, if you gave him money you should have looked 20 feet down the road. I came back ten minutes later and another guy was holding the sign. There were four of them, smoking on the side of the curb. This is their daily thing.
And now the kicker.
I know those guys… quite well. They are not headed to Chilliwack. They are not even homeless. They are all on disability. Giving that gentlemen 10 dollars is fine, noble even, you just need to know all the information. These are hurting people, but giving them money at two in the afternoon may not really help them better their lives. This issue is far more complex than mere charity. Persons on the edges of society have almost always come from a history of trauma, generations of dysfunction. It is a gigantic feat to imagine that they have had the same opportunities that the rest of us middle-class kids have had. Many of my friends at the camps have gruesome stories of abuse and neglect, anger and fear. They were not given a college fund. They did not get to be on the soccer team or go to bible camp or have a yearly family vacation. I’m not excusing the behaviours that piss you off so very much, but it’s important to understand the details on both sides of the equation.
The majority of our clients who are moving forward in their life, in spite of terrific challenges and often lacking the capacity to even understand normie culture, much less flourish, have been able to break free of the insane cultural and personal reality they have believed to be normal since childhood. This is, of course, a generalization. So is this – many of our most at-risk clients do not even understand cultural protocol. They don’t have proper ID. Many of them lack personal hygiene, sometimes because of a lack of opportunity and sometimes because a portion of our most vulnerable people have never learned how to fit in, or how to talk to authority, or how to walk through confrontation with grace. Giving that person 10 bucks is completely your call, I’ve done it myself. The difference is, some of us are still under the illusion that this will make a positive or substantive difference in their life. The best I can offer is that, for a majority of those (predominantly males for varied and sometimes tragic reasons) who hold cardboard signs at Safeway, you might provide them a temporary relief from their difficult lives. There are probably those who take that money and make good use of it, but they aren’t the people I know in my town and the town next door.
For ten dollars you can get enough meth to feel decent for six or ten hours.
Some of the homeless population are there by choice, but I don’t mean that in the way you might read it. There are people in the homeless camp that have housing. There are many people who have been offered services but cannot, or will not, conform to the parameters we as a society are sometimes forced to place on cultural participation. You cannot function in mayhem and there needs to be a measure of conformity and cooperation and some people are not down with that. There are others that are just so defeated, so checked out, that they are hard to reach. Mental illness is more common than you think, and without a good support network there is a likelihood that a percentage of those folks will also end up on the fringes of society. Many are in throws of addiction and people who have never had the monkey screaming in your ear have a difficult time understanding why they don’t just quit and get a job. When your life is hell, a little self-medication can often go a long way… at least for a few hours.
Some people are there by choice, but those choices are heavily influenced by ten or twenty generations of abuse and pain and misery. They are incapable of thinking like you and I think because their life experience is so vastly foreign we really don’t operate in the same realities.
I have friends who live in downtown Vancouver. I’m a small-town kind of guy. Driving in heavy traffic makes me feel feelings I really shouldn’t ever feel. It stretches my imagination to think like someone who lives in poverty off Main and Hastings in downtown Vancouver. Their day-to-day reality is profoundly different than mine. Living in downtown Hong Kong is beyond my understanding. If I have difficulty imagining a life in Hollywood how can I possibly begin to comprehend the reality for a person born and raised in abuse and poverty and broken dreams and screaming. This isn’t a liberal snowflake way of excusing unacceptable behaviour, or the naked guy outside Dairy Queen in Maple Ridge, or the fact that you’ve had all your bikes stolen. As a society we must have certain behavioural standards or it’s thunderdome. And some people are just assholes.
This isn’t about that.
Giving him ten bucks makes you feel better. I’m not saying you did it for selfish reasons, it just is what it is.
So let’s recap:
- giving money to a person, believing they are starving or just need to get enough money to get to Chilliwack may be commendable but may, just may, be a tinsy bit naive.
- The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
- The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
- There are no easy solutions.
- The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
- Ten bucks may not get you to Chilliwack but it might get you to Nirvana, albeit temporarily. This is not always a good thing.
So give the money or don’t. You will be providing temporary, though potentially harmful relief. Best case scenario, they will buy something to eat or a pack of smokes.
Who knows, maybe a few will even make it to Chilliwack.
Growing up, so many years ago, I loved the pounding beat and consuming rhythm of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. The intense drumbeat was stirring; the story behind the song even more so. What follows is my own flawed memory of how the story went:
One day, while playing with a friend beside a river, Phil’s childhood friend got in trouble and began to drown. The young Phil Collins was too small to rescue his drowning companion and begged a passerby to help. The adult simply laughed and walked away. His friend died.
Years later, while on tour with Genesis, Collins anonymously sent this individual tickets to his upcoming concert. As “In The Air Tonight” began to play, Collins belted out those now famous words:
Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, oh Lord
Well I remember, don’t worry. It was the first time, the last time, we ever met.
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight…”
Collins turned to the audience as the lights came up on one seat, one man, and yelled something like (accounts vary) “It was you, you S.O.B.!
Powerful stuff. Revenge.
So what, then, is the moral of this story?
The moral is that this story is not true. I told that story for over 20 years in front of thousands of people and it was complete crap. Fabricated nonsense.
The moral is that we love a great story, that we are prone to believe untruths when they are packaged in such a way as to draw us in. Disinformation. The moral is that it is very tempting to blindly accept anything you read for the sole reason that it is sending a message with which you want to agree. These fairytales are powerful because we all want to believe in words like destiny and fairness and happy–endings. The moral is that you are far more likely to believe something if you already agree with it; and the age of mass media is overwhelming our critical systems. The exploding cacophony of information eventually strips us of unbiased thought, and we were always friends with Eurasia. Big Brother is programming you. See, I just did it again.
Bringing the apocalyptic into my story creates a defining moment which just happens to be bullshit. Calling your opponent Hitler is a convenient way of labelling someone in such a way as to discredit further investigation. Easy labels diminish the truth. Things are rarely as absolute as in the land of stories, and the impact of such things as the rise of bionomics, media, and reductionism, is profoundly beyond what we can imagine. Let that sink in for a moment. Humanity gleefully embraces a future that it does not understand; has not reckoned with an impact we have yet to invent.
Reality cannot be contained in a YouTube video. Your primary belief systems warrant intense scrutiny. The world is filled with loud and profoundly ignorant voices, screaming for your attention.
Phil Collins confirmed it hadn’t happened. Like most of the polls and trends and arguments between the huddled masses, this was the creation of a storyteller whom no one took the time to investigate. One discredited study on autism and a child dies in the prairies because people believe stuff that seems right to them at the time. Some pseudo-scientist creates a Youtube video about the earth being flat and seemingly reasonable people start to think that the sun is 3000 miles above the earth, and the government is spreading mind-altering drugs using airplane contrails. The president of a neighbouring country was actually born in Kenya. Carrying a concealed weapon becomes a must if you want to avoid a terrorist attack. Those Syrian refugees, fleeing unimaginable persecution and a situation you literally know almost nothing about, are all terrorists. Jayden Smith knows the mysteries of the universe. Muslims cheered when the twin towers came down. Donald Trump is the messiah, or the Anti-Christ. The list of the ridiculous is seemingly endless.
This is by no means a confirmed fact, but it is apparent that many of us watch a single YouTube video or read an article and are willing to fundamentally change our belief systems or argue about a belief we know virtually nothing about. I cannot count the numbers of people who are convinced that something is true because they spent 20 minutes online or heard it from a “reliable” source. It is a sure bet that millions of people get their politics or religion or theories about life from a few solitary sources that agree with them anyway. That Zeitgeist movie seems to make sense. Those documentaries on the way they treat chickens, or that conspiracy about how the moon landing was faked, the FACT that the government is covering up contact with aliens, or the opinions of uneducated actors or musicians or some geek with iMovie, appear entirely believable. I have witnessed arguments at parties between individuals who clearly know very little about science or reality but are willing to virtually come to blows over a topic they watched on YouTube or read about in a forum of like-minded and biased idiots like themselves. Few of us take the requisite hours to actually perform real research. We are the media generation, subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous opinions and 5-minute ready to believe theories.
The objective truth is that it takes hundreds, even thousands of hours to understand concepts like philosophy, politics, or basic scientific principles. When Will Smith states publicly that he considers himself a physicist, he speaks in ignorance. The profound insights of actors and amateurs are usually neither profound nor insightful, in any real sense. Becoming an expert in any field requires years of directed study. You cannot become a martial arts practicioner by watching a series of videos and you certainly aren’t qualified to even speak about vaccines if you base your opinions on something you read in a chat room or online.
By now most of us have heard of the Dunning-Krueger Effect. To put it another way, we don’t know what we don’t know. We lack context. It is impossible to assess something you have never seen before. The first warriors on the receiving end of gun powder lacked the capacity to appreciate why they were about to die. American troops in World War Two were flummoxed by the Kamakazi. The thought of a volunteer willingly slamming their plane into an aircraft carrier seemed ludicrous in the extreme. We can only comprehend that which we already know, at least in passing. We cannot understand what we have never even imagined. As Heisenberg so eloquently mused, “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” There is the world as we understand it, the philosopher said, then there is the world as it really is.
We must be careful of our own thinking. When I was younger I knew everything, or so I thought. The older I get the less I seem to know. The essence of wisdom is not intelligence alone. We must experience in order to comprehend. We must, as Covey quipped, seek first to understand, and then to be understood. There must be humility, wonder, and hard work, before we can really know anything of value. Abandon your absolutist opinions and spend a hundred or a thousand hours learning about that thing before you make a fool of yourself in that chat room.
You’ll be glad you did.
In the early 2000’s Ricky Gervais was one of the first to harness the power of the podcast to reach millions of people. Together with one of my favourite deadpan comedians, Stephen Merchant, Gervais hired a location and a production geek and set to work. He and Merchant would host an off-the-cuff radioesque podcast made to seem like it was made up on the spot. Early in Season One Gervais began throwing a few bones to the tech working the show and Internet history was born.
Karl Pilkington seemed to have a normal and successful life. He was married and an Executive Producer at a legit media heavyweight, seemingly a position which would require a good deal of smarts and an exceptional talent for getting ahead in a cutthroat industry. It was apparent from the start, however, that Karl Pilkington was no ordinary media geek, he was comedy gold.
Merchant was actually the meaner of the two. He was fond of telling Pilkington that he was a subhuman ape, a moron or an idiot or one of those amazing British ghetto language terms, thrown out with practiced indifference. If you look up Karl on Wikipedia you will read:
Pilkington was born in Manchester in 1972. He worked as a journalist for the Sun for a period of time  and moved to London from Manchester to work with XFM as a producer, at one point unintentionally causing Gail Porter to leave the station in tears after only one show by criticizing her performance, which Pilkington maintains was an attempt to encourage her to improve. After several years he began work on The Ricky Gervais Show, broadcast on Saturday afternoons. Initially Pilkington was solely the programme’s producer. As Gervais and Merchant began to invite him to make the odd comment, Pilkington’s persona came to light and his popularity increased. Pilkington was eventually included as a main element of the broadcasts, with large amounts of airtime often given over to his thoughts on various subjects, or various childhood stories. In December 2005, Pilkington stood in for two BBC 6 Music shows for Nemone, and co-presented the shows with Russell Brand.
Pilkington was an internet phenomenon. The series was downloaded over 300,000,000 times. People composed music to Karl’s head, his various axioms for life, and his offbeat look at life among pretentious smart people who unrelentingly compared Pilkington’s head to various fruits and extremely round spheroids. I always find it amusing, when rereading his bio, that both Gervais and Merchant felt compelled to defend his persona as real. I read somewhere that Merchant was to have said that Pilkington had to be real because there was no way he would waste such good material on this “poxy” radio station or some such.
It is crucial to listen to the whole series beginning at Season One. The shows were free and this allowed the hosts not to give a crap. Both men are well educated private school boys who portray as hard-line antagonists who paraded their atheism and delight at their own observations, a detached and comedic spin to everything. It was brilliant.
Clearly friends, the shows were both a row and a tug at Pilkington’s seeming endless ignorance of common words or phrases, and an homage to his brilliance and fearless stupidity in the face of endless ridicule. By the end of the first season, 12 brief shows, the podcast was the biggest in the world and everyone loved Karl Pilkington.
Without a clear or present agenda, the men simply talked about Karl’s week, read his diary, listened to his epic blunders in “Monkey News”, and took part in a series of bizarre and often hilarious misadventures and incoherent games and stories and questions about life. Throughout the series Gervais and Merchant refused to admit that Karl Pilkington was a persona because the guy was just too weird to be normal by any definition. Hundreds of questions were asked of him and it became immediately apparent that the next thing out of his mouth was not what you were thinking.
The podcast was turned into a cartoon. Watching the animation it feels like a completely new experience, all over again. It reminds you a bit of the Flintstones, one of Gervais’s favorite analogies when making fun of Pilkington’s lack of understanding of history.
Season Five was different. The team had just come off a break, Gervais and Merchant were international stars and Karl Pilkington had a T-shirt with his round head on it and millions of people wanted to ask him questions. I remember tuning in to Season Five and finding that I had accidentally put on my Counsellor hat and things were pinging everywhere. This was a different Karl Pilkington. His head was still as big “as a fucking orange”, to quote Ricky Gervais.
At first it felt like I could understand him in a different way. The things he said had an air of bizarre legitimacy; and it occurred to my counsellor brain that he knew exactly what he was doing. The entire premise of the show was built around Pilkington’s ignorance and suddenly Karl appeared different, but not necessarily stupid. He had been, after all, a significant player in the entertainment engine. They talked about Karl’s wife like she was a real person and never lobbed a disparaging word in her direction. Karl knew all about Ricky’s house, had been there playing pool the night before. He knew Ricky’s girlfriend, they had spent time together. One begins to understand, as the show progresses, that the seemingly endless ego that is Ricky Gervais’s public persona clearly cares about this Idiot Abroad and it’s hard to imagine that Gervais would spend quality time with someone who appeared to drive him crazy when behind a microphone. There is a bit of a con going on, though you could argue this is a natural by-product of any chaotic show whose sole purpose appears to be making fun of a far lesser intellect.
I will never meet Ricky or Stephen or Karl so I cannot say with absolute certainty what is really going on. What is certain is that Karl Pilkington is more than a big bald head and a vision of reality skewed a little left of mental illness. One could even be offended on his behalf, if it weren’t so apparent that Pilkington is crafting euphemisms on an intentional level. It is easy to fall for the apparent and be swept away by his infectious personality and ludicrous charm. People love Karl Pilkington, he is charming without meaning to be and everyone loves an underdog. Merchant and Gervais are spectacular boors, and even before Season Five you can tell they are smiling as they talk. Merchant loves to feed Ricky’s ego and even Gervais is only screwing with your head some of the time. These people hang out.
In Season 5 it feels like Pilkington is winking while he speaks. Some of his offbeat ideas make actual sense. There is a little too much Hamlet in the ham. Far from witless, you begin to wonder if Pilkington has been playing you, all along.
I can imagine a world where Gervais or Merchant might actually be reading this and laughing their ass off because Karl really is a twot and apparently I am as well. (Un)Fortunately this blog is beyond obscure and there is little danger of that. If he really is that dense than I’m totally fine with that, assuming that I am not laughing at someone with serious mental health issues.
Karl, and you immediately feel like you can call him that, may be different, but not in a wholly bad way. Remembering, for the sake of argument, that this is merely a futile exercise because we are talking about a radio personality, one is left to wonder how brilliant he really is. Pilkington has a staggering openness, a childlike sense of wonder, and a serious wit. He understands how to roll a phrase and speaks profundity in such a way that you laugh at him while you go “hum”. When asked what is the most important thing to him he replied, “learning stuff”. Brilliant.
I have no doubt. The thing is, one never doubts Karl’s sincerity. Things may be more staged than they are made to appear but it is evident that Pilkington looks at the world in a profound and complex way, in spite of the obvious barbs in the other direction. Step out of your belief system and cultural context and really listen to what he is saying. He may understand reality but he does understand something about reality, and in a way which confounds. He is disgusted by old people trying to live forever, his is a pragmatic and supine viewpoint. He is baffled but some of the most basic concepts of reality but occasionally makes observations which are both incredible and beautiful.
Pilkington is an exile. He may live in London and have a wife and hold a job but he is only visiting this reality. Pilkington is a one-in-a-million, a seriously weird dude who is adored by the masses. Most marginal personalities don’t get to co-star in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In An Idiot Abroad this fool was paid to travel to 30 countries and his antics attracted audiences that numbered in the millions. One can only imagine how much filthy lucre was made by someone who appeared to hate travel and managed to be underwhelmed at the Great Wall of China. Pilkington is an internet meme.
But chances are, you aren’t.
*the apparent lack of a feel-good ending is due, at least in part, to the fact that this is part of a larger project.
I went to a boring conference, not so very long ago. The speaker, it progressively became clear, seemed like he was under the influence of something. A conference organizer was heard to say that they had to hire a driver, that Mr. Speaker seemed confused, didn’t know where he was, and seemed to ramble. There was a uncoordinated feeling of aggression, though he was simultaneously quiet, even passive-aggressive – if that was a look. He made a few completely unscientific claims which caused me to mutter an expletive loud enough to be heard two or three rows away. I am way too ADHD for most conferences in general, but this one was particularly memorable. Don’t get me started on the sad fact that most professional speakers in the mental health field simply don’t have the speaking chops to warrant being paid to do this professionally. We have settled for people who write books, or have gone to a special course, or who happen to be the flavour of the month at your local health authority. Most speakers kind of suck. Like I said, don’t get me started.
While it may be true that this speaker was altered in some way, that really wouldn’t surprise or even dismay me anymore. Drugs are almost legal and scores of very smart people become addicted to prescription medications or smoke weed more than they know that they should. The list of professionals who have been walked off the property is probably longer than most people would imagine. But alas, this still isn’t our story.
This speaker, inebriated or no, reminded me that when it comes to early childhood development it is the very first part of the story, from a few months before that child is born until 3 or even 4 or 5, that is the most important. Humans do an incredible amount of growing, especially in the brain, during this initial few years of life. They are defined, in a very literal sense, by the experiences and impressions that imprint them in these first few tender months and years.
Now listen to this part. This part is important.
Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that affection is one of the most important things you can give any child in the first three or four years of their life. We throw around words like “attachment theory” because the first people that love a baby will, in a very real sense, imprint a bazillion things through expressions of love and cuddling and affection and attention. The people that tell you not to spoil your baby are flat-out wrong. Spending time touching that kid, reading them books, giving them hugs, and playing hide-and-go-seek will do more for a young human than any diet or program or trendy stupid crap young parents will believe if they are granola enough. Study after study points out that if a child has at least one adult who will completely love them and help them feel safe than that kid is going to have a much better chance at a complete and happy life. Loving your nieces and nephews and grandkids and those 8 or 10 kids of my friends that I love like an uncle is an incredibly important thing, and the more time you spend with those young ones, especially in those first three or four years, the more they soak in that safety and unconditional love.
That crap sticks.
This is why my kids are so intoxicated with their young children. I must admit to some guilt as well. We are evolutionarily compelled to become fixated on our babies and take way too many pictures, and send me videos every damn day of you life. Sorry, I was projecting. We love our children because that kind of stuff is primal and no one really cares about those pictures of your kid in a raincoat anymore. Family is family; everyone else’s kids are cute for only 5 pictures, 6 tops. Early Childhood Development practitioners would tell you that it is critical that you spend significant time rolling around on the carpet and dancing to those stupid children’s songs sung by neutered hipsters. Watch Baby Jake videos. Embrace the Disney.
Please, spoil your kids and your relative’s kids and be that amazing person in the life of someone you know. Invite your nieces or grandkids or friends kids over for a sleepover and use flashlights. Make tents and do hand-spiders and kiss them over and over and chew on their toes. Read about Attachment Theory.
And don’t forget, some day that beauty is going to be a teenager and tell you off, and you’re going to remember how nice it felt when they were two.
Wisdom comes in many forms. Right now I’m watching The Passionate Eye, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, an excellent expose on an important chapter of American History. I do not, out of interest, spend much time thinking about American History; it bombards Canadian culture 24 hours a day. There is more to the world than one country, and my interests lie closer to Charlemagne or Marcus Aurelius than Lincoln or Kennedy. I love stories of ancient kingdoms and empire building, war and anthropology, Kierkegaard and long-gone cultures. American History is too recent and predictable for my tastes, though I’m not willing to have a Comments battle if you think U.S. history is the bomb.
Like many romantics, I am sucked in by stories of underdogs.
The Black Panthers have been wildly misinterpreted by those too close to the culture to reflect with any measure of detachment. They are often painted as some fascist paramilitary; hell-bent on getting even with the ‘honky pigs’ whom they believed took joy in imparting racist justice. As an integral part of American recent history, the Black Panthers were difficult to separate from the political mania of the 60’s. Racism and guns and Vietnam, assassinations and acid trips and movie stars sleeping with Mafia Dons. It was a decade that stood apart from much of American nationalism and precipitated a revolutionary movement led by African Americans whose grandparents had firsthand knowledge of slavery; and a racism so profound that it labeled an entire race as sub-human. Blacks were beaten and even raped, often for exercise or because of some perceived slight to white arrogance.
The Americans were not alone in this practice, one that now seems so vulgar and wrong. As with any study of history, however, the rule of thumb is that you must not judge historical events only through your liberal 21st Century morality. Fundamental to historical studies is the awareness that people who lived hundreds of years ago were very much like us, but they were also very different. You are a montage of your world. You grew up in a free country with enough food to eat, a television, and without having to worry about having the crap kicked out of you because of the color of your skin; in a culture which does not go out of its way to ruin your life.
People started letting their Afros grow. Imagine an entire people who felt bad about their heritage or skin color or the way they wore their hair, trying to dress more like those who belittled them because of their genetics or country of origin. The Black Panthers came across as arrogant and uppity. Ronald Reagan publicly stated that anyone who acted like these young, black upstarts was out of their mind. He wondered publicly why they couldn’t just use the regular channels, a rigged system which honored rich white males like Ronald Reagan, and literally everyone he ever hung out with.
It is a horrible thing to feel powerless and subject to the whims of the powerful. Anyone who has ever been in an abusive marriage or terrorized by a violent relative can relate, just a little, to the feelings of an African American in the middle sixties. Less educated, unable to pursue their piece of the American Dream, they finally decided that enough was enough. Exercising their Second Amendment rights, a part of the American milieu I will never fully understand, they began carrying rifles and standing in circles around police who were in the process of hassling or arresting their neighbors. What began in Oakland soon spread throughout the states, and eventually the Black Panthers opened an International Office in Europe.
I have not talked about the American election, at the beginning of 2017, though I have been sorely tempted. At one point I realized that I could contribute little to the conversation, although I should have written more about micro-expressions because… holy crap. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Love him or hate him, soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s election is clearly a metaphor for the fight against the status quo. It is not only Americans who feel the sting of elitism. When you are poor and rural, with very few options and a factory that is closing which has employed your clan for generations, you understand the staggering frustration of watching the rich get richer and the pretty people spend thousands on glittery crap when you can’t afford your truck payment. My father was poor and an orphan, and not everyone has that made-for-television story of catching breaks after working really hard. For millions of us, hard work does not automatically translate into media contracts. It wasn’t until Making of A Murderer that some people realized that even white people can feel the sting of prejudice. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be a Palestinian or a Syrian refugee right now.
The Black Panthers have slipped into the annals of Americana, with past members looked upon as folk heroes, or at very least a cool part of history. We no longer can recall the sting of these emotions, and most of us realize that J. Edger Hoover was bat-crap crazy. It was a different time.
There is a part of your story that I will never understand. I may get paid to talk with people about their problems and secrets, but we did not share the same history. In much the same way that we must look at history through a different lens, it is important that we remember everyone is on their own unique, and ofttimes lonely, journey. We all die alone. There is no possible way that I can understand what it is like to be treated like an animal just because of a pigment in my skin. You were right all along, I really do not know how you feel, how could I? You are wired up in a spectacular and bizarre way, too complex and sometimes, and you know what I’m talking about, living your own brand of crazy. There is no synergy strong enough to allow me to fully comprehend what you are going through. I can feel your pain but I cannot ever fully know it.
I don’t want you to tell me, “I know how you feel”. No you don’t. I’m not even always sure I know how I feel, and my brand of cray cray is fed by a thousand or a million facts and experiences and beliefs you know very little about. It sounds funny coming from me, but most people don’t really want a bunch of advice when they tell you how crappy their day is. I have had multiple clients tell me that my job is just to agree with them while they spew out a wellspring of pain or problems or confusion.
And besides, most people shouldn’t give out too much advice. First and foremost, advice is tainted by our experiences. I have spent an inordinate amount of time learning how to step outside the drama, and it is still hard. How can I truly know how to help you if I am trapped in the narrative? And while we are on this topic, I would encourage you to accept advice sparingly. Most people don’t really know what they are talking about when it comes to this complicated crap, and those who have a smattering of knowledge are often emotionally entangled in the show. This also applies to professionals as well. If your psychiatrist diagnosed you after a 20 minute interview than chances are they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. I cannot tell you how many people have carried a label or a diagnosis for decades that was spuriously flung at them by a condescending expert who didn’t have a clue what was really going on. If you were diagnosed as a kid or youth, that goes double. Dozens of people have confessed to me that they were pegged with a mental health issue as a teen, after having lied or exaggerated symptoms to get out of school, or make the old person shut up, or to impress a friend or parent. It takes months to understand what my clients are about, and even then I’m just going on biased information from an emotionally invested one-side of the story.
Chances are, I don’t know how you feel. Not really.
I was discussing sex with a colleague. I know, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Punctuation is important. Put your mind on pause, we were speaking in an entirely clinical-ish manner.
I have been a therapist for some time now. Without exaggerating, people in my field, with the requisite amount of full-time experience, have literally counseled thousands of strangers… and usually most of their friends. People know what I do for a living and sometimes, because my family and friends are all cheap bastards, they make me give them advice for free. Some of my buds, and you know who you are, casually refer to me as “Dr. Death” because I have a habit of showing up every time someone gets in an accident or a close relative passes away. If you are a counselor or a physiotherapist, a social worker or a kinesiologist or a medical professional, you totally know what I am talking about. Therapy is expensive and Scott is free to friends and relatives. Yay.
So back to the sex. I know I said that wrong.
People have secrets. There are stories from our past, and ofttimes our present, that we don’t talk about while watching hockey. Habits we have struggled to break, decisions made and regretted, dirty little secrets of which we are ashamed. If I have learned one thing in all my years as a counselor, it’s that quite a few people have things tucked away in the closet they would choose to forget. I get that.
I remember many days, many confessions. The point is, I have forgotten many more. Life goes on and at some point the only person carrying that baggage is probably you. As the comedian said, “You know who cares as much about your problems as you do? No one.”
Counseling, for reasons I understand and several I do not, actually works for many people. Even stripping away all the psychology and philosophy and relationship-building, there is something powerful, something cathartic, about telling someone else the truth, without worrying judgment or your partner finding out. Counselees regularly report feeling better, though I am often dumbfounded as to what I have actually done for that person. There is a power in the process, not just the result.
This is the obvious reason why change happens slowly, over extended periods of time. You cannot really change your attitude, much less your philosophy of life, in 8 sessions; the idea is usually ludicrous. It took you decades to get this way, and I’m not a televangelist or a medium. The process itself, that long and arduous journey of infinitesimal change, you can’t fake that. Wisdom takes time.
But I digress, as usual.
You have a dirty little secret, perhaps more than two. It may not be perverted or gross or abuse, but most of us carry a regret, or ten; something that has scarred us, a wound which has never completely healed.
People tell me stuff. Any illusions you may have about counselors knowing a whack of gossip is unequivocally correct. Unfortunately, the sheer volume and weight of thousands of horror stories bleeds any of the guilty pleasure out of knowing someone’s secrets. At some point in the journey, it became clinical. Therapists who can’t take the misery get a different job.
So when you told me that dirty little secret, chances are I didn’t flinch. As you have surmised by now, this isn’t bragging, it’s just math.
Where is this headed? Shame is a powerful thing. People carry embarrassment and that dirt, and we all have that story where we came clean with someone and they hurt us. It may sound pedantic but there is often that old voice in our head reminding us we are such a loser that no one could really accept or love us if they knew how messed up we really were. If they knew the things we’ve done or the places we’ve been…
I’m not a catholic but I get why people go to confession. People in my profession often surrogate as a secular priest for clients, that cathartic thing again. My friends who have done a 12-Step Program remember Step 5 – I’ve heard a few myself. Step 5 is my day job.
One more thing. I have heard stories that involve really sick crap that would blow most minds, and perhaps your masturbation problem or weird fantasy, or history of abuse, or… whatever, could benefit from an outside, possibly more objective, perspective. And that’s why I get paid the money. This is, in no way, an attempt to belittle issues you have struggled with for years; I hope you can see my heart in this. Many words with one singular purpose – maybe it’s time to demystify your dirty little secret and get a clean perspective from someone who won’t judge you or make light of your journey. Catharsis can be a powerful tool for healing.
It will only sting a little, I promise.
Amazing mindfulness music video
(thanks to Lori Abercrombie for the idea)
*if you like this stuff you should check out Neil Gaiman’s story about what to do if you find yourself inside a fairy tale. I have it in audio and am fond of using it to distract myself and others…
Robert Frost’s famous poem has been a reference point in my thinking and practice for decades. Considered by many to be a populist poem for the poser, it touched my life in Grade 11. For some reason, and I have no idea why, I almost liked poetry in high school. It wasn’t very cool for a guy who played competitive sports to spend too much time discussing poetry with girls when you could be kissing, so I pretended to think poetry was stupid. Something stuck.
My grade 11 English teacher seemed 100 years old. She was one of those old-school marms who wore her hair in a bun because she hated fun. We couldn’t stand her, but we were exposed to a ton of poetry, and I learned how to put a sentence together. Thank you, Miss Enns, wherever you are.
My roommate and closest friend at the time once, when asked to compose a ditty of his own, compiled the first lines of a few dozen poems in our textbook and named this epic “As Winter Fought”. He got an A. Glen is still a legend in Grade 11 English.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
I am a believer in the concept of The Journey. My life has been a series of adventures, some amazing, some boring, some hurtful. We all have our lists, our columns of successes and failures, and it seems to me that seemingly small decisions in my life have often had a profound effect, in ways I could never have imagined. One day you turn left instead of right, or you agree to do something, and your life becomes an Owen Wilson movie where you visit Paris and wonder how your life could have gone so sideways. I would have never imagined, when I was 20, that I would be the person I am today.
Here’s where I am headed. So many of us have been hurt, and hurt bad. My slice of the world may not be indicative of the whole pie, but I imagine a strong case could be made that most people find this time in history stressful. Significant numbers of us deal with one or more mental health challenges, or we’ve experienced trauma, or our self-esteem could use a tiny bit of tweaking. Working as a clinician you meet scores of people who have experienced things in their life which threaten to ruin them on the inside, if not the outside. Some of us continue to struggle with processing relational hurts. Divorce or breakup can almost certainly taint our souls. Losing a loved one, or watching what you have worked for, for so long, shrivel up and die, is enough to make people bitter… and that’s the point.
I was speaking with a colleague this morning when it occurred to me – the hardest time in my life is the thing which continues to define my philosophy of life and coping mechanisms, for good or ill. As cliché as I know this to be, the time life broke me has influenced my decisions and outlook far more than any class or conversation or trip. As cheesy as it is to admit, I am thankful for what I have learned in my darkest hours. There were lessons and experiences there which I could never otherwise know. Still, I wouldn’t wish some of those crazy nights on my second greatest enemy.
I hung out with my parents this summer. My dad and I shared a sailboat in Mexico, then a week in British Columbia with my mom and niece. When I get together with my dad we tend to talk about philosophy or history or life. He plans to finish his Bachelor’s Degree, part-time, by the time he is 87, a few years early. Floating in my Canadian Tire pool he pointed his finger at me and said, “Don’t forget, always have a plan. I have a 10 Year Plan. Always have goals.” That’s my old man.
Dylan metaphorically said it, “you can serve the devil or you can serve the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. Some people who come to my office, or meet me for a Dairy Queen Blizzard, have been through hell and back and they are wiser and stronger and more determined than ever. Others have not been able to sustain the relentless attack and they are still chasing bitterness, in spite of best intentions. This is not meant as a negative indictment, far from it. Moving beyond the biggest kick in the face of your life seems impossible for some people. I know that some kicks are also harder than others. You try to tell a parent who has lost a child that “things are going to be ok”. As I have stated on several occasions, you lose a kid and you get a free pass the rest of your life. You can swing gophers in a pillowcase, as Brent Butt says, I’m not sure I could survive some things.
There are people in my life who have chosen to keep fighting, and some of them have begun a journey of self-discovery. They begin to understand the meaning of their life. This is what gets me up in the morning. There are those, whether on purpose or through sheer luck, have come through tragedy and decided that they don’t want to end up like that. I have watched people wade through hellish madness or grief or anxiety on levels which would stagger the uninitiated, and yet somehow are able to dream about graduating from university at 87. We will not diminish this by pretending this is a Hallmark Card and your attitude determines your altitude, staying engaged in a world that has kicked you in the groin is very hard and requires a butt-load of work.
Few of us are going to radically redefine our attitude towards life and stop being pessimistic without taking significant time for you. As we have quipped before, I want to learn enough I want to change, not hurt enough I have to. My clients who move forward drink the Kool-Aid just enough to believe that things will change if they keep trying to give a damn. I can just hear several of my clients saying, “yes but I’ve tried that before, many times, and yet here I am”. I believe you. All I can say is that I have names of people who have a richer life now than during that time we dare not say out loud. At the end of the day that ridiculous greeting card may hold some truth after all, I do have a say in how I choose to look at life.
I had one other thought about this subject this morning: Why do some people tell me that the worst time of their lives has turned out to be the time when they grew the most? While there are certainly circumstances which I would not be qualified to judge, times when a life has become untenable, for many of us our greatest heartbreaks only almost killed us.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I pray I never become a bitter old man who spends all day talking about his medical problems.