Someday’s Coming

Someday.

I remember a moment captured in time. I was making breakfast at my restaurant, The Bad Dog Grill, and I realized I hated my life. It was 7:30 am and I wanted a beer. If I cut my hand one more time, maybe I can go home today. I just knew I would never get out of that kitchen. Then one day I was.

I have spoken with people in prison, or doing time in a bad relationship, who have been convinced I was wrong. This hell is never going to end. I will never meet someone who loves me. I will never want to live again. I can never move on from this. Then you do, though rarely like on television. We sincerely need to have a conversation some time about what recovery really looks like. God never sent me a thunderbolt and one day I didn’t wake up fixed. It’s gradual and tedious and most of us have no flipping clue what “better” really should look like.

Many of us grow up believing that we are supposed to move beyond, not just move on. Somehow we are supposed to forgive that monster or forget about that loss or magically get normal. Those are wonderful motivational posters but in the real world we usually become scarred by life and I’m not just talking about table saws and missing fingers. Life beats the hell out of many of us and it is going to take a religious event or a Canadian Tire pool full of good tequila for things to feel spanky. It is tempting to pine for the innocence or the waistline or the eyebrows of our youth but, and I hate being the one to tell people this, that ship has sailed, been attacked by Somali pirates and sunk by the North Korean military. You are never going to be who you once were and when you think about it, that may be a very good thing. I know you used to be able to run for miles and jump over fences and turn everyone’s eye but chances are you were way way dumber. Do you really want to be 18 and perky again? Willing to give up all that experience and drink the Koolaid?

When I was younger I was convinced I knew the score, and I was an idiot. Sorry to get all technical on you there. I could not give up what I know now for who I was then. That is difficult to write but it rings true for me.

Someday. Someday things will be different than they are today. Before the steam engine you could be attacked by the Huns in one millenia than the Mongols in another and the tactics would be similar because both armies used horses and bows and arrows. The world was defined for centuries by a single warrior, usually on a mount. The players may have changed but the world hadn’t. Time barely moved. The vast majority of the planet never travelled beyond their district. There was no Wifi. When the Mongols used gunpowder against the Hungarians no one even understood what that sound was, and why is there a hole in me? Generations passed with little noticeable difference.

This is not that time. I cannot promise you much, but it does appear self-evident that this culture is addicted to unstoppable momentum. A woman in a bad marriage is far more apt to leave than she was four hundred years ago. Heck, forty years ago.

It may not get good but it probably won’t stay the same. Fewer of us are willing to put up with monotonous misery anymore. There is no possible way soldiers would sit in trenches today, like they did in World War One, unless there was an Xbox and free Facebook. Two months of sitting in water and rats and dysentery and I don’t know about you but I’d probably go over the hill and let them shoot me, just out of boredom and from the constant itching. I hate itching. It may be possible that we are not the strongest generation that ever lived. Those old 90-year-olds killed people and it still would not serve to piss too many of them off, especially on a cruise when they race their walkers and gave me the evil eye. My grandfather left his family for over four years to drive a gas truck to the Front. Did he even have air conditioning? The times, they are a’changing.

Someday’s coming, for all of us. To quote Mr. Smith, “that is the sound of inevitability”. Your depression may not be terminal and that kid may talk to you again, someday. Someday you will know things that you don’t right now and your situation will change just enough that you will look at life differently. What often looks like “things finally going your way” may have at least something to do with how much you change, and that is the best news I can tell you. Sure you are going through hell, but if you are keeping your head just above the waves you are undoubtedly learning important lessons that you would never understand without going through this Armageddon. You are reading a blog by a therapist, so you are probably wise enough to know you aren’t wise enough yet to handle the whole enchilada. Me too. I desperately hope I am not a finished product.

Overcoming your stuff has more to do with just getting in the ring, than it has to do with winning every round. I can’t tell you how many times I fail at almost everything, and my job is to keep getting up in the morning and giving a damn. That’s me, it may not be you. For people with ADHD just keeping your act together is often hard enough without all the gushy little rewards. The empaths suffer so very much, just being alive. Being the strong one sucks. The person who carries the weight of the world is often crushed. Most of us would self-medicate if we could get away with it, Scot(t)-free. We haven’t even discussed one of my favorite themes – the real world is often boring and relentless and stressful. Stir in a few mental health issues, and a loss or two, and you may be tempted to just give up.

Don’t do it. Someday’s coming. It may be years or it could be today (probably not) but change happens whether we like it or not. This is the one constant in the Twenty-first Century. If you are awake you may have noticed the global village is experiencing the most profound cultural revolution since the Enlightenment. The internet, combined with catastrophic cultural changes, has transformed the world forever. There is no way to put the rabbit back in the hat.

I am not going to launch into a diatribe on how we are all headed to hell in a handbasket. There is plenty of time for that. Lately I’ve wondered if there is not a pot of gold in this electronic GMO rainbow. I can remember, even in my lifetime, when you had to go to a library if you wanted to read about anything. The world was slower and if you are depressed or dealing with impossible situations, slow never feels good.

Hold on. Someday’s still coming. I just wish, sometimes, it would hurry the hell up.

All kids need is a little help, a little hope and someone who believes in them.  
Magic Johnson

Welcome My Little Goldfish

Many were surprised when Microsoft, the people who brought you the digital world you live in, announced this week that they have conducted extensive studies and to virtually no one’s surprise who has been paying attention; we now have a poorer attention span than a goldfish.

The 54-page study sought to understand what impact technology and today’s digital lives are having on attention spans. The researchers collected data from surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18. They played games and interacted online to help scientists determine the impact of smartphones and other digital media on everyday life. Participants’ brain activity was recorded and behaviour was filmed while they interacted with different social media platforms across .

By now you should be at least a little suspicious of media surveys but this particular study has a ring of truth to it. Many of us in the psychology game have been noticing something of this ilk for years. Society in general has become addicted to instant and now. I consider the Tap option on my credit card one of the greatest inventions since the wheel. This week a small vendor made me sign an actual Visa bill and I was almost offended. How quaint. Recently, while at an automated teller the person next to me complained that the little machine that gives you money was taking too long. This reminded me of the brilliant sketch by Louis C.K. called Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy. If you haven’t seen it, it will become a classic. I’m old enough to remember when the first debit card came out. You put your card in and apparently a monkey or one of the staff that no one liked pushed cash out of a window for you. At least that’s what I remember thinking the first time I tried this new technology.

LOUIS C.K.: Yea, because everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy. Like, in my lifetime the changes in the world have been incredible. When I was a kid we had a rotary phone. We had a phone that you had to stand next to, and you had to dial it. Do you know how primitive – you’re making sparks – in a phone. And you actually would hate people with zeros in their numbers because it was more – you’d be like “uh this guy has two zeros in his number, screw that guy, why would I want to-uh!” And then if they called and you weren’t home the phone would just ring lonely by itself. And then if you wanted money you had to go in the bank, when it was open for like three hours.

My in-laws had a “party line”.

It is impossible to foretell the devastating impact technology will have on the future. The global village has changed everything from how often I have to talk to people I thought I ditched twenty years ago to the exacerbation of cultural morality and the decline of religion in the western hemisphere. The internet has literally transformed the world forever. We take for granted technology that would have been considered witchcraft only a few generations ago. Again Louis hits it on the head.

LOUIS C.K.: Well yea ‘cause now we live in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care, because this is what people are like now – they’ve got their phone and they’re like “uh! It won’t…” Give it a second! Give – it’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space!? [laughs]

I was on an airplane and there was high-speed internet on the airplane – that’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go “open up your laptop, you can go on the internet.” And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips – it’s amaz – I’m in an airplane!” And then it breaks down, and they apologize the internet’s not working. The guy next to me goes “phff – this is bulls%$^!” Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed ten seconds ago.

Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they tell you your story and it’s like a horror story – they act like their flight was like a cattle car in the forties in Germany – that’s how bad they make it sound. They’re like “it was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes we had to sit there.” Oh really what happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight you non-contributing zero?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “oh my God! Wow!” You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!

But it (the seat) doesn’t go back a lot. And it’s not really –

The impact of everything from texting to Facebook to your new Smart TV has yet to be determined. Society must grapple with the psychological, spiritual, and socioeconomic impact of such a monumental swerve in the history of civilization that some day historians will look at the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Nihilism and impact of Two World Wars and then the textbook will open to a chapter on what the world looked like when you were alive. It is impossible to exaggerate how different the world has become from even your grandparents time. It has been an amazing time to be alive.

Unfortunately they will not only write about all the wonderful things you could do with your smart phone. Psychologists will better understand the incredible impact that carrying around a personal computer while texting 150 times a day will have on your neural pathways. Have you not noticed that the world around you seems to have become more frantic? I don’t remember feeling the need to speak with all my friends every day when I was younger. I am uncertain as to what benefit my cell phone and laptop have brought to my life. Here’s what the article said about the conclusions they found:

The team measured their attention levels and activities to view how attention varied by screen, task, content type and structure. The findings revealed human attention span has fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.

The decrease was seen across all age groups and genders in the study. Those in the age group of 18 to 34 had a 31% high sustained attention span compared to those age 55 and over at 35%. Meanwhile, males (33%) had a better attention span than females (31%).

Call me a Luddite but there appears to be a correlation between the increasing invasion of technology into our lives and the overwhelming stress that pounds in many of our brains. I tease many of my female clients that it must be scary to have a brain like theirs. Always going, always spinning and thinking, processing and worrying. Many, many of my clients complain that they do not know how to shut their brains down.

I am convinced that learning to wrestle back control of one’s impulses and attention span may well be one of the most important and arduous psychological disciplines that no one is teaching. Most of us are convinced that our brain is out of control and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Most of us are wrong.

Any counselor worth their paycheck can teach you how to stop that runaway train from going off the rails. There are skills, very cheesy skills, that you can practice until the demons are at bay. I’ve been using one method for six years and it works about 40% of the time. By learning one methodology I have been able to decrease my problem 40%. That is a staggering success. I learned it on the internet, in spite of the fact that I am in school and working as a professional counselor full-time. Professionals who tell you that there is nothing you can do about your mental health issue are tools.

Apparently I’m An X-Men

I’m like Wolverine except without the muscles, the talent, the looks and the pokey knuckles. And only in a tonsils way (that’s obviously a real word). Oh, and I can not be killed.

I don’t believe in Karma or fate but I’m not actually stupid enough to announce to both my readers (you see what I did there) and the Interweb that I cannot really be killed. I may not believe in Karma but I don’t want to piss her off, even if I know superstition is dumb. As the philosopher Homer (Simpson) once cried, “Jesus Allah Buddha save me!” Just covering my bases.

Here’s where I’m headed: Many years ago I had my tonsils out. Fast forward a decade or two and I had my tonsils out, again. There are medical records to confirm this but this isn’t rage journalism so I don’t have to provide transcripts. It is true; and very weird. I am almost certain I have tonsils right now.

The few readers who visit here may not have noticed, but I didn’t write for a few weeks. I do this when writing begins to bore me (this is, after all, my hobby) from time to time, so there is nothing remarkable in such a break. On this occasion, however, I had a martial arts fight with my table saw, obviously believing that my black belt skills would stack well against a 20-year-old piece of crap I purchased at Canadian Tire. I was wrong. The table saw really only has one good move, but it is a doozy. I’m almost certain ‘doozy’ is a word. We sparred briefly and I lost, in a fairly substantial way. I give the table saw’s performance ‘one and a half thumbs up’. I am also, as a super awesome side bonus, now intimately familiar with how tendons are supposed to work. I won the Silver Medal for the match.

My thumb appears to be, at least in part, growing back. I haven’t attempted this with any major organs or parts but based on my extensive and definitive research thus far – I should be able to cut anything off and it should rejuvenate. I am not a scientist but I’ve been 100% spot-on thus far. I have not tested this hypothesis but my wife told me the insurance company would have paid me substantial money had I not been such a pansy and done a decent and thorough job. No one likes a half-assed effort. After getting off the phone with my office manager Annette actually said, “Slam some Oxy’s, I’m warming up the table saw!”

So here at home I sit, watching daytime television and practicing my superpower. Why couldn’t I get invisibility? If this doesn’t happen faster I may need to find a radioactive spider. I hate waiting. I consider the ‘tap’ option for paying with my credit card perhaps one of the greatest inventions, ever. I am literally too lazy to put in my pin number. I am not, therefore, amazing at waiting.

One of the recurring themes on this website is clearly my fixation with the misconceptions people have when it comes to personal change and growth. Automated Tellers now take too long. There is a good chance that this is not your only internet window open right now. Three people have texted me in the past three minutes and I’m old and have few friends, or so I once thought. We seem to be on our phones all the time.

There is evidence to suggest that our growing dependence on instant technology is fundamentally changing us on a neurological level. This makes a certain degree of sense if you are a geek like me and think about it behaviourally. I have already changed the channel on my television three times while writing this article (although to be fair I am typing with one hand while attempting to soak the other in saline and daytime television is of the devil). Everyone now knows that we are undoubtedly, at least in part, a product of our history and culture. It is not necessary to exaggerate or even debate this issue, it is an established fact.

The vast array of bombarding technologies and choices are influencing you right now. I do not remember having to compulsively text everyone while engaging in Facebook and Google chats, email and internet searches all day, every day. Texting has emerged as a significant behavioural issue, if not a neurochemical one. Millions literally put their lives at risk so that they may chat about meaningless drivel LOL, LMAO. I never used to talk with so many people, every stinking day. I am vastly more social than I have ever been… or am I? We want it now,  We want it faster, better, more instant, more, more. I want to be able to get ahold of you all the time and be offended if you do not respond to my text for more than ten minutes. In a recent study people admitted they would rather lose their wallet than their phone. That’s bizarre considering how little actual phoning most of us really do. (I kind of lied, the study was done way back in 2009, which is significant when you consider how hard my phone sucked back then)

telephone-gonflable-geant_2.jpgTechnological bionomics needs to be something with which philosophers seriously contend; as we continue to integrate technology into our hard wiring. There are, without a doubt, ramifications for a humanity that carries around a personal computer which screams at them constantly through text messaging and the various other social networking tools. (I was tempted to list actual a few popular ones including emailing, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; but I knew I would read this article again in five years and exclaim, “Facebook? Did we really still use Facebook way back then? What is emailing?”)

So ya, I may be an X-Man, albeit a minor warrior in the fight against Magneto. I just get hurt easily and take 6 weeks to heal, so I should probably let the chick with white hair go first. At the end of the day it may serve me well to unplug myself just a little bit more; in keeping with pretty much everyone’s New Years Resolution to get outside more, or exercise more, or pretty much do anything that earns me a sun tan. As they say (not exactly), it’s easy to talk the talk, but get the heck outside and walk the walk.

The Golden Ticket

There is a huge reward for all the work, I just can’t explain it to you yet. I lied all those times, there is a Golden Ticket, you just can’t have it. The Golden Ticket is curiosity. The reward is wisdom. This is an example of something called Philosophical Psychoanalysis.

For many of us, coming to the place in our life when we again embrace wonder is difficult and arduous. It usually comes from pain and loss, though not exclusively. It may happen in a person’s second-half of life and often after a divorce or death or mental health tremor. For one of my closest friends it just became, out of a lifetime of anxiety and self-medicating and living on the emotional fringe. Many of us end up there, feeling misunderstood or lonely or like a freak. I often ask clients at the beginning of this period of rediscovery, “Do you remember fun?” Look around you – few of us seem to be Jedi’s.

We talked for five years. We are still talking, but it’s different now. I don’t have as much to teach her as I once did. She is as motivated, more motivated, than I am. We talk about books and art and history, philosophy and psychology and politics. The subjects are as varied as the universe. Oh ya, we often talk about the universe as well.

If you come see me professionally I will ask you if you read. You cannot remain my client if you do not read. I’m sorry but I don’t have the time. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean to be condescending. The simple truth is, it’s too hard to do this without continuous input; and if you aren’t filling the tank on a regular basis you are screwed. It may not be books but it should be a source that is teaching you. That glass of wine after work may help you wind down but won’t take you where you want to go. Good tequila, on the other hand… (thanks Kim!).

I gave her A Brief History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. She read about cognitive behavioural therapy and The Wisdom of Psychopaths. Paul Ekman. The Tipping Point and Heretics and Heroes. The Hunger Games. Buddha’s Brain. She learned how to place a deadly serious psychological game from the mockingjay (Real Or Not Real?). Michio Kaku. The Renaissance. Augustus and Genghis Khan. The list was endless.

“Getting better” may be more about wisdom  than anything else. The Twelve Step people are very correct – the wisdom to know the difference. Understanding the meaning and context for my life is probably the best and surest route to emotional wholeness. Don’t take this wrong, it is as Art Williams says, I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it is going to be worth it.

She doesn’t have as much time to be depressed anymore. She has, in her fifties, four university classes to get unrealistic marks in. Her little-o-bit of self-diagnosed OCD means that every morning the Byzantine Empire comes pounding in, not her anxiety and regular panic attacks. It is all about wisdom. It is all about curiosity.

Here’s a little secret to happiness – learning is a drug. Many of us are, however, only recreational users and merrily go about our lives, most days frantically absorbed in our petty existence. I mean no disrespect, I’m a professional at petty.

Einstein-talent-curiosityWe were talking and she suggested that I make up a Required Reading List. It would be the strangest list imaginable – physics, neuropsychology, science fiction (don’t get me started on Ursula K. Le Guin), obscure movies like The Razor’s Edge (Bill Murray version) and obscure books like The Myth of Certainty. Hundreds and hundreds of books. and graphic novels, movies, comedians and philosophers.

Then one day she wasn’t depressed anymore. That was years ago now. She’s going to be an art historian. The Golden Ticket is the narcotic effect of such momentum, this wonderful gift called curiosity. The more I learn, the more I thirst. The larger my understanding becomes the more I comprehend how ridiculously little I know. I am baffled by the certainty of zealots; I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I still see “through a glass darkly”. In my meagre experience I’ve found that learning about the big stuff, the thoughts that bring healing or hope or meaning, these occupations birth a feeling of awe deep within me. Wonder intoxicates. Times in seclusion become precious and thinking about your upcoming art trips to Berlin and Italy make you smile. She is not wealthy but she is passionately curious.  This week she discovered, really understood, the history of Constantinople. She’s writing a philosophical play for one of her classes. That need to spin her neurological wheels is slowly becoming an asset. Perhaps some of this is about making peace with the person who is Scott or Liz or Steve or (insert name here) and not running from who I am. It’s also a bit about timing. It’s hard to be smart with three or four rugrats incessantly baying for your attention. You people have a harder job, though perhaps more dire.

If nothing else, it won’t be boring.

She gave me a few books this week from a series called Mrs. Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. It’s a wonderful tome for “young readers” so I could understand it. The tale is a mix of the X-Men for kids and fairy-tale magic. The moral of the story (for me, thus far) is to embrace your pain and turn it into a weapon. We want to run from our personal truths even though we know this will not work. Wholeness comes with something I have been preaching lately called radical acceptance. As I stop fighting my story and begin to look for grooves in which to surf, the demons from my past become a part of a powerful narrative. I relearned that today from a child’s book.

I have thousands of audiobooks and I’m not exaggerating, as some of my patient clients can attest. What started out as a distraction eventually became a passion, and it isn’t hard to read anymore. The problem is what to read, in a world of a million choices and limited time. This month I’m promoting Brain Pickings, a wonderful and profoundly insightful act of love from one smart individual.

And pick up Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, it’s a great read at any age.

Happy Wednesday

I know it’s not Wednesday, unless you are actually reading this on a Wednesday. In which case, happy Wednesday!

I have a different story about Wednesdays.

I talk to a fair amount of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or World of Warcraft, or porn, or masturbation, or shoes (and you know who you are), or Real Housewives of Vancouver. For most people in my line of work the actual addiction itself is almost secondary for much of our discussion. What the recent literature is saying is that what is really important is that weird stuff happening on a neurological and emotional level way way deep.

It is a fairly good bet that the reason you said yes to that rail or joint or seventh glass of wine on Saturday night had much less to do with your lack of willpower than you might think. Perhaps the cards were far more stacked against you than you ever imagined. So let’s talk about Wednesday.

You have been trying to skip a weekend for months. We talked about the problem and it’s becoming more and more about bingeing. Time to “take a weekend off” to prove to yourself that you are not a drug addict or alcoholic or whatever personally destructive name tag you want to wear.

There is a huge elephant in the room that no one wants to really talk about. The binge probably actually started on about Wednesday. Maybe it was on Wednesday that the thought first entered your mind. You know how it went. All you said to yourself was, “O crap, the weekend is coming!”. That was all. Harmless, right? Wrong.

I have heard several clinicians and university nerds talk about this. Apparently there is much more going on just under the surface than most of us realize. What if thinking about using actually gave me a little hit of happy goodness? Turns out it probably does.

Most of us have heard of adrenaline or dopamine or serotonin. Here’s a story. Yes that seems very random. Have you ever seen that cheesy commercial “This Is Your Brain On Drugs”? You know, the one that makes you want to eat eggs. Cocaine addicts, lots of cocaine addicts, have reported to me that commercials like that actually make their mouths water, and not for eggs.

Why do you think that is? If you’ve ever had an extended encounter with cocaine you will know there is a very specific and pronounced taste to that white powder. Users will often rub it on their gums to numb the surface of their skin, just for kicks. You taste every line, every puff. It is a very sensory experience. Ten years later a person who was once addicted to cocaine finds her mouth-watering during a story about a weekend binge. A wedding celebration has brought back some bad thinking about drinking. Apparently when Johnny started fixating on the weekend some of the good stuff was released in his brain and an association is made. More thoughts can equal more goodies and by the time John gets in his car on Friday night to drive to his dealer’s house he’s pretty much toast. Many addicts report that during the ride over they often berate themselves for being weak, yet again. Many promise themselves they will never do this again, or at least get help. At this point it’s just a game you play every time you disappoint yourself. This is familiar territory. You keep your foot on the gas pedal because you are, in a very real sense, already high.

The science on addiction is changing. Clinicians and front-line workers are incredibly open to new information and are much more willing to speak about dangerous subjects than we once were. Addiction humbles people. The carnage of broken lives that my colleagues in the addictions field and I have witnessed changes a person. I respect the drug more than I used to.

Today my colleague  Dawn and I spoke with some amazing parents who were absolutely frightened by the prospect of their teenager’s exposure to drugs in their local high school. They should be. At the end of the day there was a real sense that those parents needed to become better informed. Information really can be powerful. Knowing that I am vulnerable earlier cannot but help me when I find myself hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT). Knowing I am vulnerable can literally be half or more of the battle.

Timing

There is a great deal of philosophy in psychology. I don’t profess to be an expert at either but it feels like I am finally starting to wake up. I have come to believe that some changes are about timing, about distance, about learning. I watch clients go through this process all the time; and hopefully some of this yummy goodness has rubbed off on me along the way. I don’t do this job for the money, just ask my wife.

I get paid to be a full-time student of life. I can research to my heart’s content, as long as some of my paperwork is done. I watch the drama, the comedies and the tragedies, unfold before my eyes. Some of you know what I am talking about. I absolutely love my job. Back to our story. I have been learning recently about the events in our lives that change us. Books have been written about what I call “the event”. I have an article 80% done by that very name; I just can’t seem to end the story. Now it will probably end up being called “The Event (Redux)”. Briefly put, there are some events which are so catastrophic in their ramifications that they rip the fabric of our lives forever. These “events” have a permanent effect on our lives, our hearts, and our attitudes. They are game-changers. More later.

Our part of the story has to do with timing. As someone says somewhere, “timing is everything”. I was speaking with a friend lately about this very thing. We talked about our “events” and the ways in which life has turned out differently then we imagined. Not everyone has one, I’m sure. This isn’t something you would need to feel regret over. It’s not like a tattoo of your 14-year-old girlfriend. Some people’s lives probably go by quite swimmingly, I simply do not know too many of these. I think I know a few. This is a good thing. “Events” are rarely, in my experience, good things. I know a few people who know a few people who won the lottery, but I never will. I guess that could be a game-changer I would like to embrace. Won’t happen in the real world though.

I’ve written about this briefly in the past. I don’t want to talk about ‘the event’ right now. I want to talk about another ‘mini-event’. One day things started to change. It took years and rivers of tears and pain and pain and pain. We aren’t fooling around here. People who know what it feels like to be clinically insane. People who actually believed suicide was the best option. Lives that have been broken. You know, the big stuff. Let’s move on. Things began to change. Since that time I have come to understand that the journey back into some light was more about accumulation than about one-time events. The road back was way, way longer for most of us than we believed we could bear. It seems impossible not to be profoundly affected by the knockout punches. I often hear people say, “There are lessons I’ve learned in this process that I would never have learned otherwise. Still, it wasn’t worth it.” That seems like a reasonable assessment to me.

I have known many people who have chosen to define their lives in terms of ‘the event’. This is not the time for speaking about the potential for dysfunction here, let’s look at this from a different lens. There are those people who see these events as such deal-breakers that a very real part of them died or was altered on that day. Life is before the incident (BI) and after the incident (AI). There would be a me that thought his life was one thing (BI), only to find out it became something altogether different (AI). If you don’t think people can change… you’ll see (AI). Don’t get me wrong, not all people change for the better. These things scar you, is all (AI).

As Santayana reminds us, don’t forget the things you learned there. It may not have been worth it, but that doesn’t mean it cannot transform your life. Busy people forget to read psychology, or counseling stuff, or philosophy. We get so profoundly caught up in our crazy lives that we tend to repeat cycles without learning anything of profundity while we were in the Freak Show. Some of us remember promises that we made ourselves when we were broken; promises we made to God or our spouse or our future. I get paid to remind you of that crap. I personally recommend to my clients that they take a few months every year, for the rest of their lives, and come back for a visit for a month or three. I may get paid to research, but most of us don’t. I mean that in the most empathetic terms I can conjure. Life is nuts here too. I talk about this stuff every day and I forget. A few months a year to keep things on track cannot be a bad idea. Just think about it.

I want to dedicate this article to a bunch of you I work with who inspire me not to give up. Your capacity to triumph in suffering humbles me. I have no idea if I could endure what you are going through, I only know my story. Timing is everything. One day you’ll walk in the room and I, or someone like me, will look at you and ask if anything has changed. You look marginally better. There will probably not be any “ah ha!” moment wherein you suddenly realize your problem and phone Joel Osteen. I truly hope there is, but I never had one. Somehow, in spite of the agony, you were able to build just enough momentum, get the right meds, start eating differently and get off the couch. And it really sucks, but I couldn’t fake myself healthy.

I told someone this week, “This may not be bullet-proof but it seems like, for many people, you just have to ride that ‘wave from hell’ for a while before it starts to cool down”. I could be wrong, I often am, but shooting from the hip I would say that I have not been able to do much for many of my clients for a seriously long time… at first. Either I’m really bad at this or something is trending. Maybe a little of both. In my little office I could feel heart-broken if I thought too often about how long it really takes for qualitative and quantitative change to happen in a life. We don’t talk to clients about this very much but sometimes my job is more about the process than the results on a weekly basis. A few of you have spent years in counseling and groups before there was significant change, and then it wasn’t all good change either. Sometimes I feel like an emotional air freshener until some of the intensity wears down. There goes my buzz…

I have some friends I’d like to introduce some day, even though they are all so very shy. They are mostly women, with a few males scattered in the mix, who could tell you their story. A few have done so already on this site. They make my job super cool. I first met some of them many years ago and they are warriors, every one of these crazy, courageous people. Some have significant mental health issues, huge personal stuff, and usually a lot of grief somewhere. There were so many issues we basically threw darts and waded in. You think I helped you, but you did 99% of the work and I had a great time hanging out with you and getting paid. These friends are the reason I can write so confidently – I watch people who overcame insurmountable odds and refused to quit and somehow, after a very long time, there was a bit of hope. And let me tell you, in the beginning – they would be the last people in the world to tell you they could do have survived and moved on… I might have just had an “ah ha” moment.

You rock.
I have a very cool job.

check out this related article – The Speedo

71% (Or… Beating the Mental Health Odds)

In my ongoing quest to possess the world’s largest private collection of audiobooks, I am reading/listening to an amazing book called Rock Breaks Scissors.

The book is a meandering collection of scientific beauties that most of us have never heard about. How to use science to win the lottery, or at cards, or when betting on tennis, football, baseball, and especially soccer. This book is part of a genre of popular science books written to beguile the amateur. I read as many as I can get my hands on. I have names if you want in.

So let’s learn something new about soccer.

In this little known study scientists studied soccer penalty kicks between the years 1994 and 2010 during the FIFA World Cup. What they found was incredible. Scientists have studied professional soccer goalies and found that when their team is trailing they will choose to jump to their right side 71% of the time. That is a huge statistic for a game built on seconds and millimetres. It only takes 1/5 of a second for a kicker to put a ball in the net and it is statistically impossible for a goalie to know which way the kicker will kick. Or is it?

If you knew which way the goalie would jump, seven out of ten times you were faced with a penalty kick while your team had the advantage, this would be statistically important information to have. Science tells us (and here’s where they start to suck you in to their cult) that because of millennia of conditioning and probable biological predisposition, humans will look to the right when confronted with a precarious situation requiring their attention. You look to the right first when you enter unfamiliar room, for example. Test yourself if you can somehow not prejudice the experiment because now you know what is supposed to happen.

All this is to say that knowing this information may win you games. If your team plays forty games and has, say, 40 penalty kicks a year, occasionally you would be facing a goalkeeper who is wondering which corner you will pick. This may not be a frequent occurrence but consider also that in most soccer leagues there is the occasional infamous “shoot-out” where you can have up to ten penalty kicks in a single match. Knowing this information could mean three or four goals. And in soccer, 3 or 4 goals is everything.

Knowing the statistical likelihood of anything will vastly increase your ability to make good decisions. Suppose I were to tell you that 80% of people with depression got better after one year of good counselling (this is a theoretical question only). Most people who suffer with depression would surely put in this time, right? After all, 80% is a very high number and you have at least a decent shot at transforming your life.

I’m not so sure.

I have seen hundreds and hundreds of people who were only months away from radical transformation, but were simply unwilling or believed they were unable to do what needed to be done. Most mental health issues, for example, can be much better managed with a modicum of effort. Most people still do not put in the time.

Therein lies the nugget of hope. Good things come to those who don’t give up. I have had a front-row seat to many hundreds of changed lives. To a person every one of them undoubtedly told me at some point that things would never change. I have listened to them describe in great detail the impossibilities they were forced to endure. Every one wanted to give up, sometimes every day. Most though I was lying when I said that they could be whole. They were the ones who didn’t quit.

I have known more than a few people who have spent time in prison. Talking with them while they were doing time was often very difficult. I could not convince them that one day they would be free. While you are in the trenches all you can imagine is the war. It is only looking back that they believed things could change.

There was a time I believed I would always be broken. I instinctively knew I would always carry that backpack of pain. It defined me. It absorbed me. I would never be well. I could not understand how other people could go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. I cried every hour of every day. Every hour of every bloody day. Usually much much more.

Then one day I didn’t anymore. One day I had a good day. One day I didn’t feel sorry for myself. It started with a few minutes, then a few more. Little by little. Digging yourself out of depression, or anxiety, or trauma can be unimaginably hard. Some of us can barely get out of bed. People who struggle with mental health or addictions, past traumas or abuse must spend hours and years doing and thinking things that are uncomfortable, difficult to endure, and incredibly demanding of us emotionally and relationally. It is far easier to self-medicate, check out, or get bitter.

Like many of us I still bear the scars of that time. Other scars too.

Misconceptions About Addiction

Canada’s poster-boy is in the news again. Rob Ford “graduated” from a treatment center and is back on center-stage, larger than life (literally). Like most people fresh out of rehab he is full of quick clichés, intended to cast blame and potentially excuse his past behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly hopeful that this will help him sort out his life but the inconvenient truth is that such efforts rarely produce lasting change without ongoing counseling and accountability. Ford claims that he will see a professional “for the rest of my life” but based on past behaviours this seems unlikely. I am not seeking to be fatalistic, I just happen to have worked at an amazing Addictions Services Centre for years and have watched a few thousand people work through their own addiction issues.

Quitting addiction is tough. It can literally rewire your brain chemistry while damaging your frontal cortex of the brain:
“Fortunately, the brain also has a built-in override system, the frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that makes a person moral, humane, social and altruistic – in a word, civilized. But the frontal cortex needs regular nurturing. If it’s long-silenced because of abused circuitry, if a person becomes a devotee of the pleasure-pathway, then the civilizing circuits decay.” (from the above article)

You can begin to see the problems. One of the greatest misconceptions about addiction is that anyone can just stop, once and for all. Another is that by quitting your drug of choice you have solved the problem. I remember vividly meeting a pharmacist who was dipping into the opiates at work and mandated to get help. He came to me and proudly announced that he was “no longer addicted”. I asked him why his lips were so puffy. It looked like a Botox appointment gone wrong. He admitted that he had taken to chewing sunflower seeds when he felt cravings. He was eating approximately 5 bags of spits a day. You can see this all the time. One person stops using heroin and instead smokes cannabis from morning til night. Technically they have stopped using, well you can see where I am going with this. Others engage in high-risk behaviours, or masturbate 8 times/day, or play World of Warcraft incessantly. While these are good harm-reduction strategies they do not address the problem.

Stopping addiction is difficult. We are tempted to address the symptom (the drug or habit) while ignoring the root causes. Most people initially begin overusing substances because they are self-medicating their life. Six months into recovery they wonder why they are still craving. It may be that they are craving their medicine. We have taken away the one medication that seemed to work and replaced it with… nothing.

Another misconception that people often have is that certain substances or activities, marijuana for example, are not “addictive”. This is a woeful misunderstanding of the deeper dynamics of addiction. Addiction is not really about alcohol or drugs. You can be addicted to shoes, or porn, or The Real Housewives of Vancouver, if that floats your boat. Addiction is primarily about what happens on a chemical and neurological level. Some people are addicted to dopamine, not drugs. Anything can be addictive because it’s not about the thing, it’s about the response on a chemical level. Certain drugs are, however, “more addictive” than others. Many people report that the very first time they used cocaine they couldn’t get enough. Anyone who has ever struggled with cocaine addiction can tell you that they were addicted to “more”. For some of us there is never enough cocaine. Those same people may feel bloated after two pints of beer and have no difficulty stopping. Put a line of coke in front of them, conversely, and watch them drool.

This is the problem with complete abstinence-based programs. They cherry-pick which chemicals are “bad” while allowing adherents to drink 40 cups of coffee a day and smoke 3 packs of smokes. They do not understand the devious and subtle nature of addiction. Most clinicians agree that substituting one drug for another is an effective harm-reduction strategy. That is why it is important to address ones addictive tendency, not just the crack problem. Addicts often cycle in and out of addictions – Tylenol 1’s or 3’s, Methadone, sleep aids, orgasms, overdoing it at the gym or church, etc. They are taught to deal with the drug, but not their broken life and propensity to make poor choices, again and again. That is why addiction groups strongly advise against romantic engagements for the first year of recovery. Addicts like substituting one addiction for another. Certain addictions are socially acceptable, though still very harmful.

There is also a pervading idea in the world of recovery that addiction must always be attached to abstinence… forever. I can still remember an 18 year old I spoke with who had just been to a recovery event and learned that, in spite of his addiction to pills and his disdain for overdrinking, he must abstain from alcohol for the rest of his life. For the rest of his life. He had no issues with alcohol at all but he was despondent that because of an issue with Oxycontin he would now be condemned to teetotalling the rest of his days. The thought was overwhelming. We talked.

While it may seem that I am disagreeing with myself at some junction I would like to point out the meta-narrative once again. Addiction is about excess in areas we cannot seem to control and which do something to us on a neurological and chemical level to ruin our lives or cause us to act in ways we are not proud of. There is no substantive proof that an adolescent who struggles with opiates will have difficulty with drinking. Some will yell that it is all the same, as I have seemed to indicate. It is, and it isn’t. Many who struggle seems to become addicted to everything. Others do not. I can give dozens of examples of people who are alcoholics who can take prescription medication with no ill effects. Many people who have difficulty with prescription abuse have absolutely no desire to drink to excess. While it is tempting to paint everyone with the same brush, this simply does not hold up in the real world.

Another misconception about addiction is about methodology. AA groups believe in what is called “the disease model”. Rob Ford was obviously at a program that was 12-step based. This philosophy believes that addiction is a terminal disease and there is no escape from it’s clutches. It is important to note that not all addiction research supports this belief (I can just imagine how many emails I am going to get accusing me of slamming AA). I love Alcoholics Anonymous and believe that it can be an effective model for sobriety. Unlike AA fanatics, however, I do not believe that this is the only road to Mecca. I believe is pragmatism – whatever works for you. Methodologies are not sacred but some are better than others.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction on any level get help. I cannot express enough how profoundly destructive this life can be. Addiction may, in fact, be the 21st Century plague. Recovery takes an incredible amount of humility, accountability, and hope. Talk to someone. Finding out the real story behind this important struggle may just save a life. Love someone enough to be honest, even if that someone is you.

Things can change. I wish Mr. Ford all the best.

 

 

Waiting for Change

Waiting-chorus-string-quartet-pianoAnd waiting.

I remember hearing the song, “Waiting On The World To Change” and thinking, that’s not going to happen anytime soon! Things tend to get worse before they get better, or so the maxim goes. What I have found is that things get ridiculously old before they change. Most of us spend day after day, month after month, even year after year desperately praying for change, until things slowly move. And we’re talking slowly. I don’t have any recollection of when I got out of my all-pervading, soul-stealing, life-draining, ‘who gives a crap about anyone or anything’ depression. There was no “ah ha!” moment, no prayer meeting that turned the corner, no epiphany, no medication, no counselling appointment that finally turned the tide. No conversation seemed to help at the time, though later it was obvious looking back that small change was beginning.

I remember, when I was grieving, going to see a really terrible religious counsellor. I went religious because I could get it cheaper. Mistake. Some religious counsellors are undoubtedly fabulous, but they never met this guy. I should have saved the money and bought a milkshake. NOTHING he said helped. But then again, nothing anyone could say at that point made much of a difference. He was extra pathetic inasmuch as he couldn’t keep confidences and literally ratted me out, exacerbating the situation exponentially. Long story short… he sucked. Sadly, many counsellors do. They go into this occupation to save the world and somehow fix their own dysfunction. They are rarely successful. By way of example, hundreds of addicts I have worked with, and we’re talking hundreds, are convinced six weeks into sobriety that they want to be a drug and alcohol counsellor, or work with youth. People love love love theoretically working with youth… until they work with one and realize that adults actually listen, most youth in counselling have no longer than five minutes of attention span (thank you every adolescent male for the stimulating conversation), and adults won’t attempt to give you a wedgie during your coffee time or fart out loud and blame you at Starbucks. These are, of course, only theoretical examples and I’m not really upset with that little puke who blamed me at the coffee shop I frequent almost daily by yelling and holding his nose, pointing and gagging. Completely theoretical.

Anyway… what were we talking about? Oh right, depression. Happy times.

Coming out the other side of depression seems to take forever. By the time someone lands in my office to actually deal with such things they usually are so far gone it can take months just to talk them into getting up in the morning. I never start by asking a depressed person to do much of anything. The key problem with depression, as I oft recite, is the lack of motivation. The number one thing you need to get out of depression is… motivation. So how do you get motivated to get motivated? Certainly not by going to a doctor who prescribes an hour or walking, journaling, or going out socially on dates. Such goals are laughable, in the beginning. Unfortunately doctors are left to diagnose and prescribe such maladies on a daily basis, while having little understanding of psychology or mental health in general. It simply isn’t really covered all that much in medical school. But again I digress.

I cannot point to a day when I felt better because there wasn’t one. Coming back from the living dead took years of reading and crying and praying and talking and talking and talking… and not a little bit of drinking, much to my chagrin. I don’t recommend taking a depressant for depression. It’s similar to smoking pot for your anxiety – short-term gain, long-term pain. Doctors recommend that too!

It is the same with trauma, anxiety, and much of the mental health spectrum. There is no fad diet or cleansing that really can make you whole again; no magic pill or medication that will solve your problems. Some of us desperately need to be medicated, but with an understanding that medication alone is rarely sufficient. What really needs to happen is time. Time to move beyond the raw beginning. Time to let all that good stuff you are learning congeal and begin to take effect. Healing takes time. Real healing always does.

I tell this to patients all the time. Even with the best counsellor change rarely happens overnight. I find, and this is not even remotely scientific, that my clients usually take about three months of intense therapy before stuff starts to vibrate. Six months to a couple of years to deal with trauma, or anxiety, or serious depression. Sorry to say but a combination of co-morbidities could require longer than that. Some of us know this, though it’s counselling suicide to speak of it out loud. “Short term interventions” that we were all teethed on in college are only relatively short, when compared with how long it takes to not get better. Consider then, if you will, that most extended health plans cover 5 or 6 counselling sessions. So why aren’t you better yet?

Depression is not necessarily a terminal illness. Neither is anxiety or trauma. What is true, is that they are not easy to overcome. It took me years, and I still bear the scars even today.

Waiting.

 

 

Innocence

howbigisyourbraveI like doing groups. Usually, at the beginning, I dread losing another night of my week for something that resembles work. I wonder why I volunteered again. Here we go… again.

But something happens after a few weeks. People begin to open up. The group starts to jelly. Friendships are born and confidences given. One by one the participants let us into their pain, their dysfunction, and their beauty. I begin to count the weeks differently – now I’m counting down the days until the group is over. I’m not sure what will happen, this time. What if we decide it shouldn’t end?

One of the groups I created, that I do from time to time, it called “Welcome to Normie Land”. I hold it at the Addictions Centre where I spend some of my week, usually for a room full of people who are living in transitional housing, trying to swim their way back to what they once lost. They are good people, wounded people. I walk well with this part of the population, having spent most of my adult life working with the poor, the oppressed, the addicted. The lowly. They are my people now, for better or worse. But back to the story…

She had been coming to groups where I work for over a year, a long time to be in transition. She had a hungry mind and loved to talk about neurochemistry, among other things. I loved hanging out with her.

In one part particular group, while we were talking about relationships, she began talking about her new romantic interest. With eyes twinkling she sheepishly admitted that she was struggling with dating ‘clean and sober’. She was embarrassed. Without her “buffer” she had depended on for so many years to deaden the emotions she was suddenly shy, emotional, even “girly” around one particular cute guy at church. She went on and on about how mortified she had been after letting her emotions get the best of her whenever he was around. She told the group that she felt like a loser. As she continued speaking I couldn’t help it, I blurted out, “That’s so amazing. That’s absolutely wonderful!”

What I had realized, what nearly everyone in the room except for this person knew, was how amazingly alive she sounded. She was falling in love, living in a storybook, most likely for the first time in her life. What years of abuse and pain had taken, time had begun to restore. A return to innocence.

That’s what can happen, if you want it bad enough and the stars manage to align. One of the greatest perks in my job is the front row seat I get when people discover who they really are. Every once in a while someone wakes up, having hurt enough and striven enough, won and lost and gotten up again. After what seems like years and years, change comes to those who don’t quit. Actually, those who have probably quit a hundred times and still are in the fight. Over a matter of weeks I watch things radically change, from the way you dress to what you now believe. You have done what you said you would never do, you have moved on. It was impossible those many days ago, unimaginable. You laughed when I suggested that things could be different. I remember but it’s ok, everyone seems to in the beginning.

And that’s the good news at the end of the fairy tale, or is it at the beginning? I was always a firm believer that good things happened to other people. Then I grew up a little. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get better, but I did. Much slower than I thought, but it did. People who are reborn know that when your parts go back together again they fit differently, somehow. You are changed and you know it. Happiness means something different now than it once did. You have finally said goodbye to your emotional youth, though not without a fight.

But it’s not really a fairytale, is it? I hope. Normal people who don’t look good under florescent lights can relate to this story. Even the almost happy ending. Don’t give up, it always seems impossible at the beginning. Even if that beginning is the sixtieth beginning. And while we’re talking about it I give you permission to let go of some of the shame and guilt. Seriously, haven’t you done enough penance? Sure you screwed it up, welcome to the real world. I keep screwing it up and I get paid to know this stuff. Time after time clients complain that they constantly fail. They have broken self-esteem. Some people even stop coming to see me because they are so embarrassed that they screwed up again. Please, don’t think like that. It doesn’t matter if you fell down again. Don’t listen to the critics, especially if you are one of them. When people come to me and sheepishly confess that they are abysmal losers all I ask is, “So what lessons have you learned?”. No guilt, no shaming. I might be an idiot but even I know that you have beaten yourself up enough.

I learned that I was usually more vulnerable that I wanted to admit. I realized that my issue was a lot stronger than I wanted to believe and I needed to respect my opponent. I finally learned that each and every one of my failures taught me something about myself that I needed to know. And one day, that last day, I walked away. I don’t why it was that time but I must have been ready. And many, many of us can testify that they finally healed.

Wireless Weekends

I am wired. And unless you have recently emerged from your bomb shelter, chances are you are as well. Cell phone. Check. Laptop. Check. IPad, IPod, another laptop, desktop, work desktop, Wii, Xbox, Roku, really crappy laptop, satellite radio. Check and check. TV’s and technologies everywhere I look. Check. It’s time for a break. I commented to a friend today that I am not sure cell phones and the internet have really added much to my life. As a therapist I see a frightening array of what I have started calling our cultural ADHD behaviours, behaviours that didn’t seem as prevalent even a few years ago. My youngest son used to read, and paint, and create. Now he would play his Xbox 16 hours a day if we let him. If I make him stop he looks around like a wounded and confused zombie. He has lost his ability to entertain himself. If it’s not the Xbox it’s the laptop or a smart phone. He doesn’t seem to understand that they are the same damn thing. The television now seems innocuous for some reason. I have found myself saying to him, “why don’t you watch some TV?” It seems like it was only a few years ago that I was telling him not to watch the boob tube; now it’s the healthy sounding alternative. What happened? I can tap my credit card now because it takes too long to put in a password. I am frustrated if the internet is slow (remember dial-up?). The automated teller takes forever. Cultural ADHD… I was in Hawaii recently for only a few hours when people were Facebooking me asking for pictures. I’M ON VACATION! People get upset if I don’t immediately return their text, email or Facebook message. I have come to loathe FaceTime. Surfing the web has become work. People can get in touch with me 24 hours a day, no matter where I am. It’s time to go kayaking. This summer I’m calling it “wireless weekends”. I am going to turn off the two cell phones I have, stay off Facebook – heck I’m going to stay off the computer all together. No texting, no surfing, no electronics… except a bit of television because I’m not Amish. It’s beyond time for a change. Years ago, when I went on vacation or left for a conference everyone understood I would be out of touch for a while. No one texted me an hour later to find out if I arrived safely or had any friggen pictures yet. Time for a blast into the past. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite. I love technology, love it. I used to be a I.T. guy. I own a complete sound system for my band. I have five or six computers, but enough is enough. Time for a break. Ever considered how you and yours are affected by technology? I have no solid data on this but it seems, in my little part of the world, that we are becoming less and less able to sit still. I cannot remember the last time my sixteen year old sat out in the sunshine without some electronic device. People have stopped reading books. Clients appear more and more frantic, more stressed, more impatient, and less happy. I sometimes wonder if the growth in technology has really made our world a better place. My world has become a more frantic place filled with text messages and phone calls and Facebook updates. Maybe I am an Luddite. Tomorrow I will say goodbye to my MacBook Pro and hello to my kayak. See you again on Monday.

Forgive and Forget?

Probably not.

Many of us have talked to someone about our painful past. Most likely you have heard the advice, “you can forgive (with help) but you probably will never forget’. This is generally good advice and is given when people ask, “how am I supposed to forget what he/she has done?” In cases of violence against persons, hurt, or abuse, unfortunately forgetting is rarely an option. Even years of intense counselling cannot erase some memories. Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling something.

But what about forgiving? We have all been taught in church or school or by a guardian that we need to forgive those who have harmed us. There are a plethora of stories of individuals who have chosen to forgive the person who has murdered a family member, or done egregious harm. Let me make this perfectly clear so there is no misunderstanding of where I am headed with this. In my experience this is the EXCEPTION, not the rule. Most of us in similar situations spend our entire lives seeking to work through such pain. There is counseling and prayer and screaming and tears and more counseling. We are taught to move forward, and many of us do. It takes time and tears and work to loosen the grip such experiences have had on our lives.

Most of us have been taught that moving forward is primarily a matter of forgiveness. This is not always good advice. Telling a patient that he or she must eventually forgive their rapist, for example, is overwhelming and inconceivable at the beginning of the journey. It may be possible for some to eventually forgive after working through much of the pain, but is this the only option?

Let me suggest a third option (as opposed to bitterness or forgiveness). Many of us will never be able to fully forgive those who have injured us. Common wisdom dictates, therefore, that we will never “truly be able to move forward.” As a result, even with counseling or prayer or whatever floats your boat, we remain in bondage to that trauma for the rest of our lives. This often has catastrophic ramifications. Untreated trauma can lead to all manner of mental health issues from depression to hoarding to constantly painting our front room, to being unable to commit to a healthy relationship, or have an orgasm, or cope with catastrophic shame and pain. “Trauma trumps all” as the saying goes and leaving it untreated is often a prescription for a haunted life.

So what is the answer?

Over the years I have worked through hurtful memories with hundreds, even thousands of people. We are taught in school that tools such as Exposure Therapy help clients to deal with such issues. Clients are often encouraged to tell their stories over and over again until they can do so without the emotional discharge. There is some wisdom in this, in spite of the fact that Exposure Therapy no longer enjoys the popularity it once did. What is good about such methodologies is that contained within is a nugget of dynamic truth.

Here’s what I often tell clients. Sometimes moving forward is more about boredom than forgiveness. Let me put this another way – Let’s deal with you story until it bores you (figuratively speaking). Let’s work through your stuff until you learn enough, hurt enough, think and feel enough, that the tragic parts of your story lose their power… until one day you realize that you want to talk about something else.

And therein, as the bard said, lies the rub. There is real power in teaching your heart to listen more to your head. Most of us are a raging bundle of hormones and emotion and tend to make decisions and have opinions based on how it “feels”. Therapy will help you gain perspective. The real message of counselling is, “change your mind and your ass will follow”. You are hurt. It often becomes virtually impossible to see beyond the pain. I often tell clients, “when you are really hurting it can feel like you are insane. You think and do things that are born out of that pain and it is almost impossible to be objective. You may not understand, in such times, what is the best for you. You may not care. Movement involves wrestling with the demons until you are able to loosen the emotional hold such memories can have on you. Until your story becomes less interesting to you. Until you are able to push ahead without being ambushed by the pain. It still hurts, but you are on the move.”

How Long Can This Take?

It’s very sad. I have watched it happen for years but it continues to haunt me, just a little bit. She quit. She had been coming for just over two months and she was frustrated. The change that she was promised has not happened and probably never will. Something inside of her suspected this would happen but she thought she owed it to herself to at least give counseling “a shot”. Two and a half months.

So close.

I’m very weird. When I want to unwind I love to strap on my ear buds and listen to cosmology or physics or history. Atoms fascinate me. So does the universe. Like most of us who endured Physics in high school I learned that Physics is boring; and the only people who became physicists were the kind of people who would never have to worry about things like having a girlfriend or being popular. Physics was cylinders and math and radiuses..es. Bill Bryson was the guy who introduced me to this alternate reality. There was a book I once read about a journalist who was on an airplane flight and he realized that he didn’t know why the airplane was in the air, didn’t know anything about geography or science or the stars so wrote a book about a bunch of cool things I had never really taken the time to appreciate. I can’t remember the name of that book but if anyone has read it, let me know.

It was Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” that really rocked my world. I have read it cover to cover four times and will probably destroy it when I eventually read it again and again. Bryson helped me imagine 10,000 billion billion stars. He wrote about how on the very smallest level, far tinier than atoms, the basis of life is music. I am naturally a storyteller and this book has provided hours of fodder. It has helped me understand how precarious and unlikely life is, while showing me that there could possibly be a million worlds that could support intelligent life, though probably nothing like us for many reasons that I have learned from books like this. I met people like Michio Kaku and actually read Hawking. I am listening to “The Magic Of Reality” by Richard Dawkins but he is bitter and is killing my fascination with the magic of reality so I may listen to the original BBC radio dramas of Sherlock Holmes next to cleanse my palate.

So what do trilobites and neutrons and anxiety have to do with each other? I almost forgot… quitting.

I never took that second Physics class that Bryson talks about, the one that introduced you to real physics – the universe, the atom, the amazing. I was stuck with the volume of a cylinder and boredom and the pledge to never read physics again the rest of my life, so help me God. So close.

Apparently the next year you were introduced to the meaning of life, the beginnings of the universe and the mysteries of existence, so all-in-all I probably didn’t miss much.

I have mentioned in other articles here, here, and here that most people do not really change, especially if they are dealing with anxiety or trauma, because change is very hard and takes a long time. We have been sold the lies that promise to transform us with little or no effort. We are in love with shortcuts and our brain in neurochemically wired from an amygdala level on up for novelty. Many of us have also helped evolution along through our excessive use of drugs or alcohol, maybe our parents drank a bit when we were in the womb, perhaps we have inherited the douche bag gene, etc. Whatever the situation you can bet your 1984 Klondike Days Commemorative Coin Collection that you won’t be over your mental health issues in two months… or six months… or probably a year or two. It just takes however long it takes. There is no epiphany day for most of us. After three months of intense introspection (literally a few weeks after she quit) most people begin to notice something happening, though they are hard-pressed to describe it or even understand what “it” is.

We meet and something about you is different. Maybe you decided to go for a walk this week after ten years of depression and guilt because your psychiatrist, who never took the time to meet you, told you that you needed to walk for an hour, every day. What an idiot. Don’t even get me started…

Don’t quit. You only have one shot at this and contrary to what I really, really really want I probably won’t find a time machine so that I can go back to high school with all I know now and rule! Being free of those demons that haunt us is something that must be earned, and comes at a terrible price for some. All I can say is, I know personally that it is worth any price. I’m not there yet, but to paraphrase Martin, I can see the mountain top.

Some of you know what i mean.

Experimenting With Deductive Reasoning

I watch a lot of Sherlock Holmes. No one is as good as Basil Rathbone, no matter what you might think. I can see him clearly in my mind’s eye, which is amazing when you consider I cannot imagine the faces of some of my relatives. Cumberbatch may be second, his latest take outstanding and entirely believable (as long as you don’t mention the utterly ridiculous plot twists in the last episode. An assassin? Seriously? Moriarty?). Watson’s wife notwithstanding (although I love her as an actor and it’s cool that they are married in real life), I have endeavored to incorporate Sherlock’s love of deductive reasoning more and more into my life (Don’t even get me started on Iron Man’s version with the dude from the movie about Stalingrad).

Years ago watching Lie To Me led to a fascination with John Gottman’s techniques, even enrolling in the online version of his facial recognition course and reading his magnum opus (dry). The power of television.

Back to my experiment with deductive reasoning. I work part-time at an addictions center (www.alouetteaddictions.org) and on any given day you can find a needle or sterile water container, maybe a rubber tie or a cooker, in our very parking lot. I have mentioned this to other colleagues who have, without exception, been surprised because they have never noticed anything amiss. This is interesting inasmuch as there are often several of these discards within feet of their cars. Several.

One day I had a banana on the way to work. When I got to my regular parking spot I found myself in a quandary. It was icky and I didn’t feel like carrying it to the front door, unlocking the door, doing the stairs and hallway, unlocking my door, etc. I am, by nature, a lazy person.

Fully intending on grabbing it later I slid the banana under the driver’s seat car door and under the car. I would simply grab it once I sat in the car at the end of the day. My car (1985 300zx) is a very low riding vehicle and it would be as simple as reaching my long arms under the car. I forgot.

About a week later I noticed a dark brown old banana peel that looked as if it had been there for six months. And it dawned on me.

Recently I have gotten into the habit of eating a banana for breakfast on the way to work almost every day. Every morning I am faced with a dilemma. Then I thought of Sherlock. He loves to say, “you look John, but you do not see”.

How long would it take, at a rate of a banana a day, for people to notice that the parking lot was filling up with bananas? They don’t tend to notice a tiny syringe but surely, within a few days, someone would mention in my hearing that there is a preponderance of bananas where no bananas should be. A week at most?

It’s March 18 today. It seemed only appropriate to begin the experiment at the beginning of the month. I can look out of my window and clearly see…. 11 bananas. The others are out there, they have become a more integrated part of the landscape and are not as easily detectable from the second floor.

18 bananas.

I promised myself, back on day two, that I would shovel up every single banana. The task now seems a little daunting. Within a few days I will have over 20 bananas to scrape up and it is going to be noticeable. People will want to ask me why I am shoveling up 38  bananas won’t they?

Look but don’t see.

(UPDATE: I just asked a co-worker, shrugging as I pondered, “Have you noticed that banana peel in the parking lot?”
“What banana peel?”)

From time to time my clients hook up with new partners. Never do this if you are seeing a counselor. Ever. We will make you miserable. I often tell clients that counseling, if it is really working, totally sucks. Counseling rips open your life and exposes stuff that you have tried to keep away from for decades. The very coping skills that have worked for you all your life are the very things we will take from you. You are not in my office for a good time and I spend a lot of money on Kleenex. It is one thing to look at your inner life – your emotions and motives and hurts and private junk – it’s another thing altogether to really see what is going on.

So why would I pick on you for dating someone? Most of us who have a history of making poor relational decisions will continue to make poor decisions until someone stops us. We do not naturally understand our dysfunction and are prone to make the same mistakes, time after time after time. Unfortunately there is no roadmap for life and no one taught us how to understand this stuff. I am finally, at my old age, figuring a few things out… someday. We may learn eventually and we call this “experience”. My job is to help you have less experience.

20140318_160239Tomorrow will be banana number 19. It’s actually already here, sitting beside me as I write. We are down to a few bananas at home and I did not want to have to go to the grocery store after work so that I could continue my precious experiment tomorrow. I am counting on the fact that everyone else in our household likes bananas and Annette will go get more before I have to get my lazy butt off the couch. I try to be an equal partner, but this is science and I need to preserve my strength for the investigation.

From a Presentation I Gave To A Bunch of Middle-class White Business People About Drugs Last Week

When I was a kid my dad took me fishing on Primrose Lake. Primrose Lake is a private military lake that is used for target practice and inaccessible to the general public (If you look on a map of the Cold Lake area in Alberta there is this big dotted line called the “Air Weapons Reserve”. There was an urban legend that if you could fish that lake and didn’t mind being aimed at by F-18’s, that the fishing was out of this world. My dad pulled a few strings and before I knew it we were fishing between bombardments. It was incredible. the fish practically jumped in the boat. It took 20 minutes for three of us to catch our limit of big, big fish. The cleaning took far longer than the catching.

We filled our freezer with fish that summer. Summer also brought holiday time and before long we were off to the family camping trip, thoughts of Primrose Lake far behind us. What we didn’t know was that, just before we left, someone had accidentally pulled the plug on our huge freezer.

Fast forward two weeks later…

We got home, tired and travel-worn and the first thing we noticed when we walked in the house was that it reeked of bad fish. Why, we wondered, was that odor so pronounced? It didn’t take us long to find our way downstairs and finally open the now completely defrosted freezerfull to the brim with brine and water and dead smelly fish. What to do?

It was tempting to just close that lid and walk away. We could have dressed up that freezer; even painted it a new color, but that wouldn’t have changed what was inside it. We could have hired a psychotherapist to talk to the fridge; maybe a minister could have come by and cast a demon out of the thing. It would not have mattered. Dress up that thing any way you want and the fact remains that it still is a freezer full of rotting fish. Unless you deal with what is going on inside you are not going to make any difference at all.

That’s a lot like our issue with drug and alcohol abuse in this area. It’s tempting to make excuses for the problem and blame someone else but at the end of the day the fact remains that it is still our mess-o-fish. It’s not the school’s fault, or the RCMP, or even the fault of the addict alone. At the end of the day we can blame whoever we want, it’s still our problem.

As a middle-class person who is trying my best to protect my kids from the horrors of addiction it’s really tempting to want to shut that lid and believe we don’t have a problem… but we do. We have a huge problem, an epidemic.

This isn’t a few of us smoking a doobie in 1985, kids in our middle schools are regularly offered meth-amphetamine (you can get high for a whole day for ten bucks), alcohol, oral sex, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, cigarettes, pot, Ritalin, pornography, cough medicine (Dextromethorphan), and prescription drugs. And a lot of those kids are getting their stash from their parents. Tons of teens smoke weed with their parents. Virtually all prescription drug abuse among children (Oxycontin, Percocet, T3’s, Emtec, T1’s, cough syrup, Benzos, sleeping medications, muscle relaxers, etc.) is directly connected to the family medicine cabinet.

The British Columbia (Canada) Adolescent Health Survey (2009) – 24% of adolescents reported using cannabis 20 or more days in the past month. 20 or more days! That’s shocking, isn’t it? Among students who use marijuana most reported that they started smoking cannabis at 13 years of age… 13.

Same with cigarettes (35% at 13) although 9% reported (those who had the courage to report), that they had their first cigarette when they were 9!

26% report having oral sex before the age of 15.

We regularly see parents who tell us their 12-year-old (or younger) has been offered or engaged in drug use, alcohol, high-risk behaviors and oral sex. Most of my female clients who have a history of sexual abuse tell me that they were 12 or 13 when they started dating men in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. It’s twisted and scary and statutory rape.

Kids today have crazy access to all kinds of stuff they aren’t emotionally prepared to handle – and with the immanent legalization of cannabis that access could potentially go through the roof.

Throwing these kids into jail doesn’t work and you can only scare the hell out of them and ground them for so long until they figure out we don’t have much power as parents anyway.

That’s the bad news.

So what can we do?

We have tried to force people to be good and that worked fantastic in 1920 (if you don’t mention Prohibition). We can’t force people to obey anymore, just ask the Catholic Church, but we can teach people to make better choices.

And that’s where places like this organization, and drug forums, and parenting groups, and mentor programs and better information and organizations like Alouette Addictions come into play.

If we have any hope of keeping drugs from becoming a plague it’s going to have to happen in the Elementary Schools. And we have absolutely no one working in the Elementary Schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. We have Drug and Alcohol Counselors in every high school in the area but that’s too late. We spend most of our time cleaning up messes. By high school kids have been offered drugs dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. My 16-year-old told me this week they smoke weed at the high school smoke pit.

As you can probably imagine, it’s weird working at a counseling service for addictions. Let’s start with the fact that most people who walk up the stairs are breaking the law and are, by definition, a “felon”. Those who aren’t are usually seriously hurting and frustrated and scared out of their minds that they or someone they love, and often that’s a kid of 14 or 15, is going to kill themselves or end up homeless and a “junkie”. People who were active clients at Alouette have died. Sometimes people overdose in the bathroom. That’s kinda scary for the soccer mom who is waiting to talk to you in the waiting room.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to get jaded. It’s easy think that it’s an unwinnable thing.

I had a conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago and I said, in a kind of condescending way, “You have no idea what’s going on out there. Everyone is smoking pot. Every kid is probably going to use drugs at some time.”

 Here’s the thing – I was wrong. I really hate to lose an argument but it dawned on me, “that’s not right”. There are thousands of kids out there who, though they may try drugs, won’t go down that road.

And the reason they won’t is because they know that drugs and alcohol abuse is a stupid way to waste your life.

And where did they learn that? They learned that from someone who knew what they were talking about.

We call that Prevention.

Prevention is teaching parents, educators, and citizens the real truth about addiction. Ever try to argue with a teenager about the evils of smoking pot? How did that work out for you?

You know why?

That’s because they are educated. They may be educated with the wrong information but they are educated. The Internet has told them that pot is all natural (which it isn’t) and that drug use is cool and mind expanding and harmless. Their stupid friends are telling them fictitious statistics and facts that they learned from some other stupid friend or a stoner parent.

Prevention is about knowledge and science and facts, not stories made up by people who want to justify their own addictions.

Prevention is also about educating kids. Getting to them while they are still open to teaching and guidance.

I have had parents say to me, “well isn’t that wrong, shouldn’t we try not to manipulate our kids and let them decide for themselves”.

I try to put on my professional face and act all unbiased but what I really want to say is, “That’s Nuts!”. Everyone is trying to influence your kids.

  • The Internet is telling them what to believe.
  • The music is telling them,
  • Miley Cyrus and Charlie Sheen are telling them,
  • Their immature friends are telling them what to believe.
  • TV is telling them what to believe.
  • Their hormones are telling them what to believe.
  • Their immaturity and selfishness and childishness is telling what to believe.

Prevention is about helping kids learn the facts, get the whole story, so that when you’re not there and someone is embarrassing them in front of their friends and telling them to use drugs – your little voice is in the back of their head telling them that they are amazing and they don’t need to do this. That’s prevention.

Prevention is about helping kids know where to turn and who they can talk to.

Prevention is about teaching parents not to freak out and helping them understand that sometimes you have to parent in a different way, sometimes in a way that seems almost wrong, if you want to help your kids.

Prevention is about giving kids a choice.

I wish I could tell you that we are doing a stellar job at Alouette teaching every elementary school kid about making good choices but that would be a lie.

Get help because there are options. Contact a good Drug and Alcohol Counselor. Don’t necessarily trust your doctor, many know next to nothing about addiction and that was one of the reasons medical clinics hire me part-time. Doctors are often brilliant but probably grew up in a world of middle to upper class, a couple of decades ago, and have their own often skewed or uninformed opinions. Talk to a person who understands addictions. Even if they haven’t struggled with one themselves a good addictions counselor will understand neurochemistry, the Limbic system and Amygdala, impulse control issues and addiction as larger counseling issues regardless of it’s expression.

People who are middle age often have a hard time understanding the scope of the issue, the sheer impact and influence that drugs have in modern high schools, even middle schools. In many places it’s a plague, not just a problem. My 16-year-old told me this week he gets offered drugs a dozen times everyday. Imagine the fortitude required to say no, day after day after day. I didn’t have those skills, I may not have the perseverance even now.

We are going to need new solutions, not old guilt trips and groundings and yelling.

the voice within me

I have a second voice, deep inside, that I listen to. I’m not dissociative, not paranoid or delusional, but he’s still there.

He tells me things are going to be alright. He invites me to play.

Do you remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoon when Bugs had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other? The cartoon centered around the epic battle of two voices, each wishing to be heard.

You’ve seen movies where the star has an evil side, a dark voiced alter ego that is always ready to tell you what he wants you to know.

There is a voice in my ear, a friend deep inside.

Anyone who has had an addiction can tell you about that voice, that stranger, that friend.

Miss a meal, and he shows up. Stop smoking. Quit the Percocets. Stop playing with yourself.  Delete your video game. Stop letting yourself get angry.

Feel him?

When people find I work part-time in the addictions field, people who haven’t struggled with a public addiction, they ask me, “Why doesn’t he/she just quit?” They have never felt the pull of that addictive voice. It’s palpable. It’s consuming. It has a personality. It is alive.

I have worked very hard to recognize that voice inside my head. He speaks to me, more often than I would like to admit; telling me to get high, or take a shortcut, or do something cheap and immediate. He sounds a lot like me, but he’s quieter, and sleezier, and looks like a cross between Rumpulstilskin and that dude who played Satan on Constantine. He dresses better than me, has better hair, and is evil.

I have personified that part of my personality because it helps me to call upon religious and cinematic symbols to put a face and a feeling on that part of myself I am not proud of. I know what it is like to stop using drugs and have that bastard tell me all day long that there is a simple solution to my pain and the sweat and the tears. I know the sound of his voice like I know my own.

Chances are you have a voice inside of you as well. We all have that part of us which wants to take the easy route, eat all the candy, see naked bodies, and do whatever feels right at the time. I’m coming to realize that learning how to recognize this old friend is perhaps the meaning of life.

We are friends, my little Scott and I. We have been together for far too long to just go our separate ways. Besides, I still need him. He tells me to leap when I want to crawl. He’s the one who got me to skydive all those times. He reminds me to still be alive, in a world of deadness. I still need him, though I am learning to understand what he says. He still scares me, but he no longer always wins.

 

The Myth of Feeling Good

26/52 : Drogues - Drugs

I’ve confessed before on this website that I work part-time at a drug and alcohol counseling service on the west coast. Over the years there I have learned a few things, and nothing more important than this – many of us choose to spend our lives chasing a feeling of “good” or “better”. We are convinced that there must be something more to life We have been taught that if we could just change our situation, or take a certain pill, or find someone to love us, then we will feel magically feel “good”.

It’s a trap.

Real life has very little to do with feeling good. There are obviously other, much more important things than feeling something that is fleeting and ultimately deceptive. If you don’t believe me just ask anyone who has struggled with addiction.

Quitting drugs and alcohol is relatively easy, seen in perspective. There is the initial detoxification, usually 5-6 days of discomfort and sick. Depending on any number of factors you may experience sweating, restless-leg syndrome, diarrhea, upset stomach, itchiness, and usually insomnia. Five or six very, very long days that seem to go on forever, then they end. This is traditionally followed by a period of general wellbeing, unless you are coming off of opiates. These little babies have an added bonus – you may have a week or more of absolute exhaustion. What the opiates giveth the opiates taketh away…

Quitting a destructive habit is relatively doable. Unfortunately this is, contrary to some 12-step nazis you may know, only a small part of the issue. The real battle is your life, the other 95% of addiction that is often not mentioned. Your life is your problem, not the meth (take that in context).

After the initial bad stuff addicts often experience a period of months wherein things go much better – they are excited about new possibilities and feelings, they actually have feelings that they allow themselves to enjoy. Food starts tasting better, activities that were once arduous become enjoyable again. You begin to believe that things can change, can really change. This period is rarely long-lasting and usually sets up a person in recovery for a fall.

That’s the thing about addiction. If there is an evil, it is addiction. It’s that old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the good angel and the evil angel speaking into your ear. Drugs are amazing, that’s why people do them. For a while. Ever after you remember the good times and it’s convenient to forget that this is the same voice that took your joy, your relationships, and stole your soul. That’s the thing about evil, if it sounded like evil we wouldn’t be tempted. In the movies the best Satan is the one that is cool, not creepy. Did you see Constantine? Sexy, french, white Armani suit. Very “satan-y”. Evil doesn’t look like that guy in the alley wearing the trench coat. Evil feels right at the time – it tells us what we want to hear, it speaks only good things into that void that is desperately looking for happy. It’s like… dating!

As the good book says, there is a wide road, a way that seems right at the time, but the end is destruction. That voice that has been breathing on you is wrong. It’s the voice that tells you that you have been ripped off by life. It’s the same voice that tells you that if you can find someone else to love you, then you will be happy. It’s the noise telling you that the real world is boring (which it is) and you need to feel better, or feel something, or just feel different. Many of us spend our entire life chasing the dragon, trying to feel something different, something better, something “good”. It is, after all, a wide road.

We’ve been raised on Coke commercials and beer ads telling us that life is about spiking volleyballs, being young and thin, and partying in Jamaica. It’s very intoxicating, this quest for feeling good. It often reflects a deep sense of dis-ease with our lives and a pervading sense that life isn’t turning out the way we imagined when we were young and dumb. There has been far more disappointment and hurt than was advertised. This is often coupled with some intrinsic understanding of our own mortality, of missed opportunities, and of a life that seems to be steaming forward faster and faster. Add the hurt of others, the pain of failed relationships, the boredom of the routine, the lack of money to live the rock star dream, and the horrific struggles with self-worth that most of us battle all our lives and you have a potent cocktail that is screaming out for something more. Some of us drink or take Percocets. Others of us do a variety of more socially acceptable forms of self-abuse and soul crushing.

Here’s one more interesting fact about addiction. The very thing that you are looking for with addiction is the very thing that gets taken away from you. Ask a opiate user and most will admit to you that they started abusing their meds because they felt a sense of energy or a ‘warm hug’ that opioids initially provide. You can get an enormous amount of work done high on meth or Oxys, or even some strands of pot. You are amazed by the general feeling of “good” you have been missing for so long out in Normieland. Everything about the up-front experience with drugs is awesome – more happy, more energy, a great sense of focus, being stoned. Months later when you can not get out of bed because you are exhausted after sleeping twelve hours you still wonder if taking another pill or whatever will give you back the happy it has so subtly taken away from you. One of the single hardest things to do with an addict in counseling is help them enjoy things that were once fun but no longer hold any thrill. Their whole life has become deadened. What the drug giveth…

The thing is, the real world doesn’t make you happy, so get over it. My job may be amazing but it can still suck if I decide it will. I have an amazing family that I can choose to abuse or ignore if I want. I have been able to experience more than many people in this life and I can easily decide to live a life of bitterness or regret or jealousy or fear. Life in the real world involves lowering your expectations – sorry but it’s true. It’s only once we change our mind that our life truly begins to change. Anyone can quit smoking, given enough help. Not wanting to smoke is a different kettle of fish, as they say. People who constantly battle with weight, or smoking, or pretty much any issue in this arena understand implicitly that “just stopping” doesn’t really work. You may white-knuckle yourself out of eating that Whopper but nothing has changed. It’s no surprise, then, that counselors will tell you “change your mind and your butt will follow” (ok, not all counselors but ones that sound exactly like me). Changing what you do rarely is enough.

Changing how you think about what you do is everything.

Many years ago someone told me to “Imagine that I was setting up two lines to snort. One line would be cocaine, my drug of choice. The other line is Drano”. Now the someone asked me, “Which one is worse for you?” Well, the answer was obvious, wasn’t it? Of course the Drano is worse for you, it’s a horrific poison. The cocaine, on the other hand, makes you high (which is good) and then doesn’t kill you (which is also good). The choice is obvious.

“Wrong!” he said.

“If you snort the Drano you are only going to snort the Drano one time. In fact, you may not even snort much of this Drano. The experience is going to be intense, real, and relatively short. You will learn some valuable lessons about Drano. You will be able, after little prodding, to convince yourself that you will never snort Drano again.”

Obviously you see my point.

There is a way that seems right…

It’s one thing to live, it’s another thing altogether to have a life. Spending your whole life looking for something outside yourself to give your life meaning is an invitation to heartache. Many of us are learning that no one else is going to take responsibility for making me whole and I have only one short life to figure out how to be happy.

I can blame the world for my life but in the end no one but me loses.

I wish I could say I have learned all these lessons. I can’t even say I came up with all this rant. What I have learned, however, is that I need to keep thinking about this stuff until something rubs off on me. I am constantly tempted to do what is cheap and feels good at the expense of something better. The more I learn about myself and my demons the more I change, and that has to be a good thing. Learning to sign a peace treaty with my insecurity and poor self-image can’t help but make a difference in my life.

It’s easy to pontificate like this to a bunch of strangers. It’s another thing altogether to have to live this stuff out in front of people who I can hurt.

Rewiring Your Brain

A new study reported by the Huffington Post, among others, is reporting that cocaine begins rewiring the brain even after a single usage. This is old news to those of us who deal with addictions or have ever taken a class on neurochemistry. Drug and Alcohol Counselors have known for years that the opiates, though seemingly innocuous when taken at prescription strength (T3’s, Percocets, Emtec, Morphine, Oxys, Heroine, etc) have a profound and physical effect on a neurological level. Unfortunately for many of us, so does porn. Actually on some level any response mechanism, coping techniques, cognitive distortion or belief has not only a physical but also a neurochemical effect on your brain. There are fantastic and crackpot websites a plenty to explain this all over the internet. Some are informative, some are… less informative.

It’s important to understand that the brain is not a static device, set in stone as they say. It is actually possible to change the way the brain spits out those little chemicals and where those little dudes land. If you don’t believe me just start or stop a habit. Creating a habit is nothing more, on a chemical level, than rewiring where your dudes land. You can change the way you act, the way you think, what you believe, who you are. This is powerful information if you know how to manipulate it. You are not a victim of your circumstances, at least on a neurological level. You can convince yourself of virtually anything, given enough time and effort. It’s a fascinating study that has pragmatic consequences. If you don’t believe me google neuroplasticity, or synapses, or dendrites, axons or neurons and you’ll soon have a ton of new material to throw around at parties to impress your friends.

Psychology has come a long way since we liked to  drill people’s heads, and information is power. Once you realize that quitting smoking, or stopping catastophizing, dealing with your poor self-esteem, or stopping using cocaine is a matter of rewiring your brain it is possible to hope that change can come.

You can do it. It’s a scientific fact.