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.

The Emotional Tank

Years ago I heard a talk about our four gauges. Let me explain.

The speaker spoke of the various internal gauges that he had noticed in his life. He had a spiritual gauge and as a religious person he felt that this tank was regularly filled. Think of a gas tank. When the gas runs out, the engine stops. He also noticed his mental gauge – as a scholar he kept that tank filled almost all the time. He was also a marathon runner and knew implicitly that his physical gauge was good. So he was in tip-top shape right?

Wrong.

What the speaker did not realize was that there was a fourth tank, an emotional tank. People who are caregivers, or young parents, or counselors, or that ilk are required to empathize with people, to care. You can jog all you want and it won’t fill your emotional gauge. It might be therapeutic but it probably isn’t enough. After a while people who constantly give out begin to “skim” emotionally. They still care in theory but becoming emotionally involved gets to be harder and harder. It is no wonder, then, that many caregivers have secret addictions, or masturbate more than most, or engage in risk-taking or risqué behaviours.

I have arguable the easiest job in the world. I get paid to sit and drink coffee all day and listen to people talk about their issues. When I first starting doing this I heard of counselors going on stress breaks – and laughed. I had just come from owning a restaurant and I knew what stress looked like, or so I thought. Coming to work was a break from my stress, not a contributor to it.

For a while.

After a few years I started to notice I didn’t care as much, didn’t work as hard, didn’t engage emotionally like I once did. I became easily irritated and struggled to emotionally engage with my family. I had no idea what was happening.

Then I remembered the emotional gauge.

Today I listen to audiobooks and do martial arts. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, hundreds and hundreds. On this computer alone I have 63 gigs of audiobooks and that isn’t even my biggest collection, which is on my removable hard drive at home. I listen to philosophy, brain candy, psychology, sci-fi, physics, pop novels, comedies, history etc. Right now I am listening to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a massive chronicle that I have now read almost three times. I use the word “read” figuratively. Last week I listened to Dune (it sucked) and before that Physics Of The Impossible (amazing). I cannot get in my car without an ear-bud attached, it is a full-blown addiction – and very therapeutic. Listening to books fills my emotional tank.

We all have an emotional tank, and when we are stressed or anxious or busy it gets depleted. By now most of us know we should practice self-care but most still cannot make it a daily or even weekly priority. Self-care takes time and we are too stressed or anxious or busy to take that time. It is a vicious circle that keeps us mentally and emotionally ill.

Self-care can smell an awful lot like selfishness, especially when you are trying to drink a daiquiri on the back deck when the kids are screaming for your attention. The tyranny of the urgent is forever clamouring for our attention and we have been taught that self-care is optional, or laziness, or self-indulgent.

This weekend when I get in my kayak it will feel selfish for a minute or two, until I put in my ear buds and return to The Battle Of Britain. When I get home I’ll try to convince my wife that I am practicing what I preach… and perhaps she’ll buy it.

Either way I get to go kayaking.

6 Ugly Truths You Need To Accept To Pull Yourself Out Of A Rut

Great Article via The Huffington Post:

They aren’t pretty, but they are the kind of wake-up calls that we need to give ourselves every once in while. Columnist Leigh Newman explains.

1. Love Is Not A Stative Verb

In elementary school, we were all taught about stative verbs. Perhaps you remember them? Statives are those verbs that describe a state of being or mental condition, such as “to feel” or “to be” or “to believe.” Love, for example, is classified as one. You feel it.

Now let’s look at a few situations that have me questioning how this grammar plays out in life outside the classroom. Example #1: My friend who keeps sending his mentally unstable mother $2,000 a month even though she is young enough to still work and racks up debt on credit cards that would make a gambling addict panic. Example #2: My 42-year-old girlfriend who keeps meeting the same 42-year-old man over and over and over at 1 a.m. at which point he shyly, drunkenly, adorably reveals that she is his soul mate, only to go back to his 27-year-old fiancée at 7 a.m.

These kinds of dynamics — and others like them — have recently persuaded me that love is not a condition or a state of mind. Love is not a stative verb at all. Love is a dynamic verb. Love is action. Love is dumping the 27-year-old fiancée. Love is refusing money from your son because he’s taken on two moonlighting jobs to support you and he can’t afford his rent, much less the black Lab he’s always wanted. Love is sprinting, struggling, splatting, crawling, kick-boxing, climbing, leaping into the thick of the battle for your own — and someone else’s — happiness.

2. To Learn Is To Watch… And Ask

Like many Americans, I am a teach-it-yourselfer. So is the rest of my family. When I wanted to learn how to play tennis, my dad dropped me off at the local high school with a racket and a tube of three green balls, and told me to hit the backboard “until I got the hang of my swing.” As an adult, when I need to screw on a ski rack or create a Google spreadsheet or cook an obscure Chinese green, I figure it out via trial and error. Why? I think I’ll understand the task more profoundly by teaching myself. A recent study at the University of Louisville however, found that figuring things out yourself takes longer — with far less accurate results — than observing and communicating with others in the know. Watching the experts — and asking them for their expertise — results in a faster, richer learning curve.

3. Pig Newtons Are So Fig Newtons

Fig Newtons

Be they disempowered toddlers or exhausted parents or fed-up coworkers or confused, random, mentally unstable strangers on the street, our fellow humans sometimes make up insanely stupid points — then fight fiercely in defense of them. Only Louis C.K. can make this funny. But he does have a point. People — and not just kids — will insist Fig Newtons are actually called Pig Newtons. They will claim Mississippi has seven s’s in it. They will swear the sun covers the moon during a lunar eclipse. Your job is not to argue or present the truth to them. You will not get anywhere and you will turn into the crazy person trying to argue your case. Your job is to go to the bathroom and laugh. Or write down your insanely correct points on a piece of a paper towel — and then flush them down the toilet.

4. When Overwhelmed, Cache And Drag

During the Gold Rush days, on the famed Chilkoot Pass between Canada and Alaska, each traveler was required by the Mounties to drag one full ton of “adequate” food and supplies up the 32 miles that led over the icy summits. Some of these travelers, by the way, were women wearing corsets and long, full skirts. And yet, they succeeded. How? By caching (read: storing) 950 pounds of their supplies by the side of the path, then dragging (read: dragging) a mere 50 pounds for a half a mile forward, then returning to the cache for another 50 pounds, and so on. When it all worked out, a person might walk 80 miles for every single mile they moved their provisions — which sounds discouraging. But in this way, they were able to move — literally — a mountain of food, pots, tools, water and everything else they needed to build a new life. I’m not suggesting that any of us pack up the contents of our house and drag them in 50-pound bundles through the streets. But sometimes, it can be helpful to put an idea or dream to the side for a while and then, in full defiance of our relentlessly go-forward-at-all-costs culture, to go backward and haul the crucial supplies necessary to make it come to fruition.

5. You Don’t Have To Go To The Gym To Work Out

At home, I have a set of free weights, two yoga mats, an elliptical trainer, three yoga videos and a nifty package called OM Yoga in a Box. I haven’t touched any of it in months. The workout that I do is pushing my 35-pound 4-year-old two miles each morning over to “Super Hero Camp” in the 90-degree heat. I exercise my arms and legs. I sweat off five pounds. The news that you don’t have to go to the gym to work out should be a wonderful truth instead of a hideous one. You can run up the stairs to your office. You can pick up your husband and put him down over and over. Right now, you could be running in place while reading this article. Amazing! Wonderful! But think about it: You don’t have to go to the gym to work out. That means you can work out anywhere and anytime — which means all those lovely lies about not being able to work off your stress and take care of yourself are now officially unutterable.

6. You Already Dreamed The Dream

I’m not sure who is going to invent a machine that will inventory everything that goes through our brains, and until this is actually invented, this last truth may have to be reclassified as a hunch.

But it does seem as if so many of us worry that we don’t know the one crucial thing that we should be doing in life, the thing that will fulfill us more than any other. Even if we were given all the time and resources in the world, we still wouldn’t know what to do.

This is ridiculous. From what I have seen in life, I don’t think we need to go looking for some new “mystery” dream. The most important ones we’ve already had. Sure, at a very young age the idea of being a sea captain or ballet dancer occurred to us. But at an older, wiser age, we thought, “I should own a bookstore!” or “I love jam so much I should make it” or “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a tour guide in Italy?” We just failed to tie our lives to it. We let it float off, where it eventually ran out of air, sank and got buried by 1,000 other more practical or less scary or far less specific dreams.

It feels a little horrible to confront the truth that you knew what you wanted to do (even for .04 seconds) and didn’t do it. Then again, understanding or maybe just believing that the dream exists and that we just have to root around for it — not invent it into being — does something amazing. It calms us down. It takes away all the side worries like, “Maybe I’m not creative enough to dream” or “Maybe I’m just one of those people who don’t dream.” Looking for it becomes like looking for a missing house key while still at home; there’s no need to panic. You just have to find what’s already there.

Drug Myths

excellent article from Cracked.com

Natural Drugs Aren’t As Bad For You!

The Myth:

This one you’ve heard from your hippie friends: “Don’t believe ‘The Man’ when he says all recreational drugs are bad for you! What I’m giving you are but plants and mushrooms that grow from Mother Earth herself! It’s far better to put something natural into your body than some chemical that came out of a factory!”

The Reality:

Let’s start with the obvious: A substance being “natural” means precisely squat in terms of its potential risks and benefits. For example, opium, which is squirted straight out of a poppy, is a highly addictive narcotic that can easily kill you dead if you overdo it. Check out this chart comparing all the drugs the popular kids are doing nowadays:

Drugs on the lower left are safer, while ones to the upper right are dangerous-er. Note that everyone’s favorite natural drug, marijuana, is just about on par with perhaps the very definition of a synthetic drug — LSD — in terms of lethality, while being higher up the dependence ladder. And hey, check out alcohol up there playing alongside cocaine and morphine and heroin like he thinks he’s one of the big kids or something. At the risk of causing you to fall into a PowerPoint-induced catatonic state, here’s another chart for you to take a gander at:

This one’s the result of a study led by neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt to rank drugs in terms of the harm they cause to their users and others. While the vegan-friendly mushroom is at the bottom of the list, it’s not so far behind Ecstasy and acid, both puked out of some laboratory beaker somewhere. Pot and tobacco are up there near the top mingling with Walter White’s favorite synthetic drug, and hey, look at that: Alcohol takes the very top spot. It probably seems like we’re bullying poor little booze at this point, but we contend that he’s asking for it.

So just because a drug is natural, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any safer — sometimes, it’s quite the opposite. We mentioned above that the poster child of synthetic drugs, LSD, can cause its users to go on psychotic rampages if they’re predisposed to them. Do you know which other drug can do that? If you guessed the poster child of all-natural drugs, marijuana, give yourself one (Acapulco) gold star.

Reflections From The Road (Part 2)

Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...Turn on the TV anytime and you can find amateurs and professionals with varying degrees of emotional snake oil sales gimmicks for helping you deal with the pressures in your life. Oprah has made billions pretending to be a psychologist and has launched the careers of myriads of self-help gurus. Arguably she has been an excellent proponent of self-care and has called attention to the plight of those struggling with mental health issues. I owe her a debt, I suppose. She and her bald friend, among others, have made going to a counselor fashionable. It is no longer taboo to see someone about your failing marriage or your personal problems. I fear, however, that the pendulum may swing too far now that obesity and anxiety, as well as depression and addictions, are now reasons to go on disability. While this may help some, many others will undoubtedly line up to exploit the opportunity to get ‘something for nothing’. Even more problematic is the reality that going on disability is often the worst thing some of these people can do. Every day at the addictions center where I work part-time I have to bite my tongue when another addict goes on disability in spite of the fact that their ailment is self-induced and some are looking, yet again, for a feel good solution to a difficult problem. Not working can be the absolute worst thing you can do in addiction recovery. We have known for generations that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.

Recently I read a great article  on Cracked.com  called, “You hate yourself because you don’t do anything”. It’s one thing to take time to address your problems. It’s another thing altogether when a recovering addict hasn’t worked in years and blanches when I suggest one of their problems may, just maybe, be that they have way too much time on their hands.

In counseling I often come across unemployed people who tell me they are too busy to do what I am suggesting they need to do to get better. I know this is politically incorrect but I often look them straight in the eye, screw up my most professional looking expression, and ask, “Are you unemployed busy or really busy?” Granted some people are doing many good things, but often those I run across will admit that they had to come to see me at ten and have to go to the Walk-In Clinic at three – they’re swamped. They have succumbed to a lifestyle that lacks productive routine and are not working towards re-engaging in society. We only have one life, one precious and finite life, to experience and contribute. Spending that life in poverty and boredom, when we had other options, is a tragedy that affects the generations to come. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a huge proponent for the plight of the poor and hurting. That is why I am so passionate when such a lifestyle is avoidable. Some people need to get off their ass and help themselves. No one cares about your problems as much as you do and this isn’t television – there is no knight in shining armor, no billionaire talk show host that is going to swoop down to rescue any of us.

I work in a Fibromyalgia/Pain Clinic and see hundreds of people every year who have been dealt the worst hands imaginable. I have patients who can barely move, let alone work. Every week I speak with the most amazing people who feel they have “lost their life” to terrible illnesses. Their courage to move forward, in spite of chronic pain, fatigue, and illness, is inspiring. Many have been abused by the medical system and offered horrible medical and psychological care. They would love to work again, run again, contribute again, but cannot. It is maddening how few of them are accepted for disability, and they are often subjected to the cruelest interrogation by insurance companies who belittle them and subject them to emotional and financial hardship. There is something wrong with a system that gives money to able-bodied twenty year-olds who are too lazy to work yet rejects someone who has legitimate and life-altering illness.

Personal growth is about movement. I am writing a book right now called, “How to Improve Your Life 52%”. Real change is about doing the little things. As I have said on many occasions, drastic change is rarely lasting. It is all about momentum, moving forward inch by inch, a little bit day-to-day. Maybe that means getting up at the same time every day. Perhaps that means listening to an audiobook on psychology or self-help. Some of us need to start down the road to reconciliation by making a phone call. You might need to put down that doughnut or only smoke ten cigarettes a day. The key is to get started – do something. Doing something little is always better than planning to do something big. Sometimes change starts by getting off the couch. You may not be able to do a hundred pushups but you can do one. Baby steps.

I think I will take my own advice and get up and stop writing…

What Do You Want?

I Can't Quit You BabyPeople often come to counseling hoping that the professional will basically condone what they have already been doing to deal with their problems. Eventually that counselor, if they don’t suck, will gently point out that perhaps, just maybe, the problem isn’t everyone in their screwed up family – the problem is how they are handling their thinking, coping, and life. This is usually a difficult thing to hear and process. Such a revelation may necessitate change in areas the client is not happy to address. They want to be different but they “cannot” change what they need to change. At some point they will turn to their counselor and actually ask for help doing “something they don’t want to do”.

I won’t teach you how to quit doing something you don’t want to stop doing. I have a hard enough time convincing patients to spoil themselves. Besides, people usually do what they want to do. So the question is, what do you want to do?

Here’s the secret – don’t change what you do, change what you want. How easy would it be to quit drinking if you earnestly believed that you hated alcohol and didn’t want it in your life anymore? The key isn’t to convince you to stop snorting cocaine. The key is to help you learn a different way to think about cocaine. A different perspective will change everything.

I have a client who wanted to stop using cocaine so one day he lined up a line of cocaine and then made a second line out of Drano, a horrible cleaner that was under the sink. The two lines looked almost identical and he asked himself, “Which line is worse for me to snort?”

The answer seemed obvious, the cocaine was obviously safer to snort than the toxic drain cleaner. This is the obvious answer and the obvious answer is completely wrong. Snorting the Drano will cause him to become sick and throw up. The experience will teach him never to have that experience ever again. Problem solved. Snorting the cocaine will lead to something that feels good but will take your house and your marriage. It is much much safer to snort the Drano.

You don’t need to do something that you do not want to do. You simply change the way you feel about the cocaine. You consider soberly how prone you are to remember only the good parts of a bad addiction. You allow yourself to believe that you could be happy without artificial stimulants. You begin to dream about life in Normieland. You start getting up in the morning. You get a job. You go to church, or yoga, or NA. You choose to stop entertaining your negative thoughts and force yourself to be positive until you believe it. You come back to life.

The principle applies for almost everything we are dealing with. Radically changing the way we think about life is the ONLY way to find wholeness as we learn to address our inaccurate thinking patterns, our dysfunctional coping skills, and our skewed outlook on life.

As we say around here all the time, “Change your mind and your butt will follow”.

Self-Medicating

Chocolates

I have radically changed the way I think about addictions.

I work part-time in addictions and see it’s effects literally dozens of times each week. It’s easy to believe that the problem is the addiction – if we can just help people stop drinking than their life will work itself out. Unfortunately this is not even remotely true and people who understand people are realizing that the addiction is simply another symptom of something much deeper.

When I was young and drugs came calling they were just another solution to the problem called “My Life”. Chocolate made me happy right now. So did cocaine and boobies and volleyball. Basketball sorted me out, so did pot. My only crime was that I grabbed too hard at one of my solutions to stress. Why couldn’t I have developed an addiction to body-building instead? Chocolate is nice, why couldn’t it have been to chocolate?

Dealing with your maladjusted life by stopping only one of the symptoms does not make sense. Somewhere along the line in many lives drugs became medication, not recreation. Cocaine helped you not have to think about your crumbling life. Drinking and sex helped you believe you were important. Being high kept you from thinking about your struggle to hope that things could change.

In counseling I encourage clients to look beyond their need for medication and address the actual disease they have been medicating. We need to learn to put our lives in perspective and change dysfunctional thinking patterns. Taking responsibility for your own heart and happiness truly is the best thing you can do to improve your life.

 

Shooting Their Wounded

Pastor Ted

I was intrigued by a friend’s Facebook recommendation so late last night found myself on a Documentary website watching a very personal biography on Ted Haggard, disgraced evangelical super pastor. Twenty minutes into the documentary I realized I was feeling sorry for the guy. Let me explain.

I have very little pity for self-made rich hypocrites. Like most of you I get a sick delight when I hear that Donald Trump or Conrad Black has gotten themselves into something dicey. I love listening to religious bigots like Mark Driscoll make an ass of themselves. So why do I feel sorry for Mr. Clean, Ted Haggard?

Haggard didn’t even say he was “100% heterosexual” but was held accountable for it anyway. He couldn’t find a regular job after he got canned and when he did start selling insurance door-to-door he still could not escape his notoriety. As part of his separation package he wasn’t even allowed to live in Colorado in the family home for over a year and a half. Christians lined up to lambast him. He had no savings and was actually becoming poor. Watching this man have the pride kicked out of him was actually sad to watch. Worse still was the complete and utter free fall his life spun into.

It’s no wonder he started another small church. He only has one skill set and not many people want to hire someone with a religious degree and nothing else on the resume except “mega church superstar”. Even Ted Haggard has to eat.

Don’t misunderstand me, Ted was responsible to live a life in keeping with his elevated viewpoints and standing. He was, after all, the mouthpiece of evangelicalism for many and had the ear of the president. He hid his lifestyle choice and paid the price. The question we need to ask is, however, why did he have to hide? I fully understand that he could not “come out” to his congregation without staggering financial and spiritual ramifications. I get that. What is disturbing is that Haggard had NO ONE he could be honest with, no one he could tell without being prematurely outed and shamed. There was no mechanism in place for him to be honest without some dire consequence. I love what someone has written under the Youtube of “The Trials Of Ted Haggard” –

The message of the documentary is also a concise indictment of the distinct lack of care for the “unrighteous” demonstrated by Ted’s brand of Christianity and should be broadcast in fundamentalist evangelical churches as a moral lesson their bible apparently fails to teach them.

The point I guess is not necessarily the failure of fundamentalist Christians to walk their walk…it is that the walk itself is fundamentally flawed – the literal acceptance of implausible and unnatural moral standards fill otherwise rational minds with a twisted legacy of ancient prejudice and conceit, the only consolation being the relativists dream of escaping such an “objective morality” via grace. The situation is ludicrous. Of course you require grace to be saved ( from something??) because if the standards you set for yourself were not broken everyone would be absolutely miserable, which also explains why they are so frequently broken.

To not put too fine a point on it the problem with Ted Haggard is not simply Ted Haggard. The system propagates the notions that pastors cannot, must not, be honest about their own fallibility. I have known hundreds of pastors and I can tell you straight up, they are a fallible lot. The pressure to be “everything to everyone” is overpowering and it is no wonder than that so many clergy have “secret sins” that they are afraid to be honest with anyone about.

I spent some time, recently, talking to a man who had been a volunteer youth pastor in a church and went on to be convicted of child molestation. We talked about his journey and it became immediately evident that this person felt that there was no one, not even me, that he could talk to about his heinous problem. He was so incredibly shamed by his own religious rigidity that he could not even admit to himself, let alone others, that he liked young males. There was no mechanism in place to help him battle his urges or make good decisions. His shame and his guilt, combined with his aberrant behaviour actually served to prolong his crimes. I spoke to one associate minister who told me that after telling his senior pastor he was struggling with his sexuality (and hadn’t done anything “wrong”) he was told to get out of the office while that senior pastor called the board to tell them. The associate was soon unemployed.

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

It’s just another job. Expecting your clergy to be any better than you is unrealistic and profoundly erroneous. The real tragedy with the Ted Haggard story, the Jimmy Swaggart story, Jim Bakker, etc is that we are still surprised at all. Throw millions of dollars at a guy who has little accountability and buckets of power and influence and then freak out when he makes poor decisions. It’s akin to being surprised with Justin Bieber does something stupid. He’s a dumb kid with millions of dollars and cars of “yes” men and women. Why are we shocked?

The only difference between Haggard and so many others is that he got caught.

Who can clergy be honest with? They have copious evidence to support the assumption that their parishioners believe they are more understanding than they in fact appear to be.

Leadership is lonely. Trying to live up to impossible standards while trying to make a difference must be tough. Doing all that with a good sense of self-esteem and balance seems almost impossible. As I have often heard, “it’s the easiest job in the world that will totally break your heart.”

Have fun with that.

Does It Really Matter What You’re Addicted To?

English: ChapStick lip balm Español: Bálsamo l...

It’s all about dopamine… and Chapstick.

The need to flee “ordinary” motivates many of us to indulge in the things that others will someday call our “addiction”. Professionals, including myself, have long delighted in shutting down those who believe they had an “addictive personality”. But what if there is more to this than I first supposed?

People working in the addictions field can give you copious examples of clients who were “poly” drug users, addicted to whatever was available. These same addicts would, while in recovery, be the first to sell out to the program, find Jesus, and plan to become an addictions counselor. People who are impulsive, struggle with impulse control, and prone to show a willingness to try anything for a good time are prime candidates for poly-drug use and “all-or-nothing” thinking. Whether it’s Chapstick or heroin, sunflower seeds or cocaine, exercise or meth, addictions all serve the same basic primary function – distraction. As I have heard countless addicts say, when asked what drug they are addicted to, “What you got?”.

Studies have shown that dopamine levels begin to rise long before someone actually snorts cocaine, for example. Just the thought of getting high on Friday is enough to alter the chemicals in our body today. This release of happy goodness serves to focus our energy on satiating our addiction while distracting us from looking at the situation more objectively. The mental build-up to our addiction warps our perception of reality and gives us tunnel-vision. This tunnel-vision is why addicts consistently choose their drug over their family. They truly believe that their family is their top priority but cannot, once the thought has become an intention, stop themselves from making a bad choice over and over again.

I have known people who get this same euphoric energy and satiation from shopping for shoes, or going to garage sales, or running on a treadmill. Addictions experts recognized this before the mainstream medical community and began recommending addictions deflection – moving unhealthy vices into less and less harmful activities through transference, not a “cold turkey” approach.

‘Life’ is usually the reason most people have problems with addiction and impulse control. Helping someone stop drinking, for example, is only a very small part of staying healthy. Learning to deal with their dysfunctional coping skills that have helped them survive their horrible lives, now that’s the real crux of the matter. The journey is not hopeless but it is fraught with work and frustration.

I know what it is like to feel bogged down by the pain of life and struggle to even care if things got better. I do not profess to understand what you are going through and have grown too tired to give you three simple steps to fixing your life.

All I can say is that it was worth it.

In spite of firmly believing that my life would never get better somehow I allowed myself to admit that I was afraid of things getting better. I forced myself to hope again.

I had no idea this article would end up like this…

 

I’m Going To Explode!

Stress

Panic attacks. Many of us have had one, or several. Somehow things stress us out so much that at some point we start to melt down. Little things become big things. Problems become impossibilities. Everything starts to overwhelm us. Some of you know what I am talking about.

Stress is like that too. The relentless and unbending pace, day after day after day. The problems with my parents, or my kids. The never-ending need to be doing something. The never-ending list of things to be done. The meaninglessness of it all.

It is truly shocking how many of us live our lives in a constant state of anxiety, pressure, and stress. Day after relentless day of problems and issues and things that absolutely must get done before I can fall into fretful sleep. It is no wonder, than, that so many of us live on the edge of constantly boiling over, constantly in danger of being overwhelmed. Constant anxiety can do that. So can ongoing anger, or depression, or grief.  Even ordinary “never going to change” stress and problems can potentially take you to the edge.

Remind you of anything? Ask anyone who’s had an orgasm (and I hope you are one of them) and they’ll tell you that at some point in the whole process you reach what I will call, for lack of a pretty term, the “point of no return”. After this point the house could burn down around you and you’ll still need “just a minute”. There is a vast store of energy just begging to be released. Momentum is building alongside a weakening will to resist and your capacity to hold off a crisis is sorely tested. The train is coming and there is nothing you can do about it.

Anger is also like that. It builds; becoming more intense and more animated, until things just start spilling over. Have you ever wondered why people often seem to make little sense when they are exploding? Maybe that’s because this release of emotion is closer to an orgasm than we care to admit. The build up, the release, the relief. You feel better in spite of the fact that everyone around you feels worse. Time for a cigarette.

The Real World

caboHome from the Pacific Ocean. The real world.

Sitting on the beach at Puerto Vallarta with my dad, watching the waves come in and out, fighting off local vendors and splashing in the waves, it’s easy to imagine life could always be like this. Those days in the sun are easy to embrace. Why can’t they last forever?

The real world is far less memorable. I don’t take two hundred pictures of my normal Monday to Friday. Weeks, even months, can come and pass without nothing of great significance happening. Get up, get dressed, go to work, come home, cook and clean, talk and watch tv, chores, hygiene, bed. Over and over and over again.

The real world is boring. I have mentioned before that one of the hidden issues with addiction recovery is that the real world is mundane. Addicts are used to spending most of their waking hours fantasizing about highs, planning and financing their addictions, getting and imbibing, coming down, burning out; not a boring day. Stopping drinking or drugs or whatever is only a small part of your battle. Dealing with a life-view and lifestyle is far more complicated and difficult. Learning to settle with what you have, where you are, and what you are doing is not natural. Television and movies tell us all the time that life should be a series of orgasms and car chases.

People who have little experience with drugs or addiction often ask me why people get high. The reason is, drugs are awesome. At first. People get high and drunk because it’s really fun. For a while. If there were no negative ramifications to chemicals many people would get high all the time. The temptations to escape from a boring reality is extremely tempting. When you are inebriated you don’t have to worry about the day-to-day hassles and problems that never seem to go away. And therein, lies the rub.

They don’t go away. Ask anyone who has come back to work after vacation. Nothing has resolved itself, there is usually no break. Often, after a day or two back in the real world it is almost hard to imagine you were ever on that beach in Cabo. Problems and pressures are a part of life and trying to escape from your persistent reality only prolongs the issues. Procrastination has no healthy payoff.

We love to pretend. Pretend we are not getting older, pretend that our relationship will magically fix itself, pretend that we will reach our goals in spite of doing nothing. We pretend that our addictions are not hurting us, our anger issues are no so bad, the way we treat our partner is not abusive. We pretend that we don’t need counseling or that our childhood trauma, if we ignore it long enough, will stop affecting our lives. We pretend that we are happy. We pretend that we are not afraid of death. We pretend that we can continue to ignore our problems, skim through life without passion, buy useless crap and consume, consume, consume and this will bring us lasting contentment and joy.

I don’t believe in magic. I don’t believe you can wave your magic wand and everything will be fine. I no longer believe that all you need is faith and your problems will cease to be your problems. The real world is messy. It will ask of us more than we want to give and take from us more than we want to let go. In counseling we often talk about cognitive distortions, those distorted ways of thinking that help us cope with a dysfunctional world. Unfortunately those same coping mechanisms keep us from moving forward. It is only when we embrace the chaos, wade through the quagmire, and refuse to become numb that we find wholeness. Getting healthy takes guts, and bandaids.

Welcome back to the real world.

 

Dr. Seuss And Harsh Reality

It’s only a children’s story. Or is it?

Cover of "Fracture [Blu-ray]"

I remember watching Fracture, an excellent movie with one of the greatest actors of our age, and Ryan Gosling. There is a profound place in the movie where Gosling sits beside the bed of the victim and reads to her, “Oh The Places You’ll Go” while she is in a coma. I remember thinking at the time, this is a very disturbing story. Sure it starts out innocuous enough, but soon becomes dark and foreboding.

Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’ t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

Harsh reality in a child’s book. Sometimes things are not going to go as you planned. Sometimes you will have hardship and pain. Sometimes…

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.

Depression. Slumps. Reality. The way is not always marked and it is easy be bogged down in the quagmire.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.

Some of us are in the waiting place right now. Waiting for something to change, for a situation to resolve itself. We are caught in circumstances which we cannot control and there seems to be no end in sight. It is hard to hope in such places, hard to believe that somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue. We are in the waiting place.

I’ve been in the waiting place. I’ve spent years there. You may know what I am talking about because you are there right now or are just coming out. Days and months wondering if there is ever going to be change, railing at God, prayers unanswered, dreams dashed. Time seems to stand still.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

In counseling we talk about the pit of depression. The longer you go through depression the deeper it can become. People usually come see me when they are at their worst, and recovery takes months, even years.

Yes I’ve sat in the waiting place and honestly believed that life would never get better. Eventually you get to a place, while waiting there, where you don’t even feel much anymore. Gone is the anger, even the tears. You have cried yourself out. You feel nothing. And that is a dangerous place.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

Cover of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"
Cover of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.

Healing is about micro-change, baby steps, and almost imperceptible movement. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. As I have alluded to many times, there are no magic pills, there is no “secret”. There is only perseverance and tenacity.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3 / 4 percent guaranteed.)

Winning is about showing up. The definition of success I ascribe to is “fall down seven times, get up eight”. That is the only way I was able to move forward. After all the crying, and the depression, the suicidal ideation and the self-medicating I realized that no one, no one at all, could fix me. I had to get up and walk.

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’ t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both you elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. there are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3 / 4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

The Criticism of Celebrity Rehab

Celebrity Rehab with Dr. DrewAre we still so naive that we assume television is actually like real life? Do people still believe shows like Celebrity RehabIntervention and Extreme Makeover, Home Edition have anything to do with reality? Is there really a Rembrandt hidden in that abandoned storage locker? Unfortunately the recent suicide of Celebrity Rehab star Mindy McCready has served to illustrate the problem with glib culture and our fascination with star-studded solutions to important issues.

The sad part of the story, that few seem to be talking about, is the unbelievable fact that some of the pseudo washed up stars undoubtedly believed that by going to a reality show to deal with chronic addiction issues they would receive quality help with their problems. Apparently they have been living in Glitterland for so long they think that it is possible to be authentic with cameras rolling and an audience. Imagine the shock on the faces of the winners of Extreme Makeover when they find out their taxes have gone up ten-fold and they can’t afford to pay the utilities on their new million dollar mansion. Reality’s a bitch. Cracked.com has an excellent expose on the reality behind the reality shows here.

Going to rehab, or treatment, or whatever you wish to label it, is a daunting enough thought without a television audience critiquing and criticizing. The work necessary to deal with and overcome a serious addiction takes years, not twelve episodes. Believing that a televised intervention or an hour with Dr. Drew will make any substantive difference is ridiculous. In the real world there is not a limo to take you to a treatment center after the family reduces you to tears and shows you the golden path to success. I have been involved with dozens, even hundreds, of family meetings with addicts and things simply do not go the way they do on television. There is much more yelling and far less contrition. Even if you could get a commitment for treatment there is often a six-week to two-month waiting list to get in. Even Detox can take a few weeks. Welcome to the real world. Adding in the cameras and the lights and the looming audience is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. How can anyone hope to heal with the cameras running? This does not even take into account the skewed life experiences of media celebrities who have little or no experience with real life and are ill-equipped to handle even the most mundane hardships.

Mindy McCready (album)

So why are we surprised then that five people, at last count, have died following a stint on Celebrity Rehab? Mindy McCready serves as a sad reminder that many of us are tempted to take short cuts and are not realistic about the true cost of dealing with our mental health. Real therapy is gut-wrenching and should not be on display for the general audience. I feel bad for Mindy and others who have been sold a lie, dressed up as a photo-op. Wholeness comes from confronting our demons, usually one at a time, and wrestling them into submission. There are no shortcuts to wholeness.

Maybe it was Dr. Drew himself who gave us the last, best word on the subject – “Mental health issues can be life threatening and need to be treated with the same intensity and resources as any other dangerous potentially life threatening medical condition. Treatment is effective. If someone you know is suffering please be sure he or she gets help and maintains treatment.”

What Are You Chasing?

Dog sunny Day AfternoonFred Craddock tells the story…

A man walks into the living room of a friend’s house and sees a large greyhound dog wrestling on the floor with his friend’s children. His friend had a habit of rescuing the greyhounds from the race tracks because they make great pets.

The dog and children were having a great time rolling around and playing on the floor with each other. The man looked down at that greyhound dog and said, “Dog, how come you’re not racing anymore?” And the dog said, “I’m certainly young enough to race.” The man responded, “So you’re young enough to race. Is it because you weren’t winning anymore?” The dog said, “Oh no. I was winning every race. I won every race up until the day I stopped racing.”

“Well then why aren’t you racing anymore dog?”

The dog replied, “Because one day I realized, that rabbit I was chasing wasn’t real.”

I’m sitting in my front room, taking some personal time, checking out the recommendation of a friend – watching “The Big C“. I try to find shows I can share with my wife, our tastes are very different. It’s the story of a woman who finds out she has cancer, terminal cancer, but can’t seem to tell anyone except her crotchety old neighbour. She realizes that she has spent her life playing it safe, chasing after middle-class furniture and watered-down dreams. It is a reminder of how easy it is to forget what is important, to settle for what is predictable.

Tony Campolo likes to talk a about a study in which fifty people who were in their late nineties were asked the question: “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?” Looking back on their life they concluded that, if they had a chance to live their lives over again, they would have spent more time reflecting, taken more risks, and done more things that would live on after they died.

No one mentioned they would have attended more meetings, spent more time doing taxes or had more arguments about paint samples. Few of us, if pressed, would admit that we grew up hoping that some day we could waste our lives on things that didn’t matter.

Wannabes and Fakers

Some time ago I read a little book called Posers, Fakers & Wannabes, by Brennan Manning & Jim Hancock. In the first little chapter was a story about a monk in his earlier years. He described an episode during a catholic ritual where, after hearing a reading of Psalms 51 by a superior, they would enter their cells and whip themselves with coiled telephone wire to rid themselves of their lust. He shares how he scourged himself in religious fervency and zeal leaving blood blisters on his back and buttocks. He recalls hearing a fellow penitent lashing himself rigorously in the cell next to him. The man was so zealous Brennan was sure the man was going to wound himself severely, so he stole a look into the man’s cell.

To Brennan’s horror and surprise, the man was sitting on his bed with a “bemused smile and a cigarette in his left hand. It was the wall he was whacking, not his own body, thwack, thwack, thwack…”

Recently I have been doing independent study, primarily for personal interest, on the power of cults and specifically Scientology. Reactions are swift and pointed today over Scientology’s commercial during the Super Bowl yesterday. Many are surprised that a religious group could afford, or would even be allowed to advertise on such a grandiose scale. Scientology has been much maligned of late, but remains a powerful force, especially in southern California. I have always been fascinated by people who would be willing to “drink the purple koolaid” for a cult leader or magnetic personality. I am fairly certain no one would kill themselves for me and that is probably a good thing. There is something in many of us which is drawn to supernatural solutions to our life issues and quest for meaning.

Listening to a video on YouTube recently about prominent Scientologists who have “blown” and quit (usually in the face of extreme persecution), I was stuck by one lady’s confession that after attaining OT3 she assumed that she would be about to use telekinesis and would no longer struggle with sickness or loneliness, pain or problems. Because of the strict rules of Scientology she was not allowed to talk to other OT3’s about her progress and, though she could not feel or practice any of these miraculous benefits, assumed the other practitioners could. This is reminiscent of some Christians I know who beat themselves up because, even though they had been practicing the spiritual disciplines for years, still weren’t seeing the miraculous results they assumed everyone else was. They incorrectly assumed that they were the only failure in the room.

There are no magic pills.

I have never met anyone who, after joining a church or seeing a guru or listening to Oprah never struggled again with life. Often people who join a church, for example, are led to believe that somehow they will not have the same struggles they once had. Later, sometimes much later, they realize that they still have issues and problems in life that they alone must deal with. Some of these people become very disillusioned, even exacerbating their distress.

Last week I spoke with a person who contended that counseling is only for people who do not have enough faith. I reminded her that she was a person of faith yet still battled physical pain, depression, a broken romantic relationship, and a wayward thought life. She was offended that I would be so blunt and told me, in so many words, that she was going to be “released” from all her problems at an upcoming spiritual retreat. I encouraged her to go and reminded her that I would still be around if things didn’t work out. She laughed at me and left the appointment.

I am not interested in demeaning spirituality, prayer, or the spiritual disciplines. I happen to believe that they things are very valuable and important. I am concerned, however, when people put expectations on their beliefs which even Jesus never promised (although L. Ron Hubbard may have). The most spiritual people I know have often endured unspeakable pain and trials. At least one of them was crucified for his belief. In fact, most of the spiritual giants I can recall were subjected to intense pain.

I have a picture in my office called Einstein And The Therapist. It reminds me that even the smartest among us, the most talented, even the most spiritual, needs a little help from time to time. It is my firm hope that you will find relief from your pain through prayer, meditation, or even Oprah. But if not, find a friend or a counselor who doesn’t suck.

You’re worth it.

You Just Got Hit

Bad day“They have a saying in boxing – everyone has a plan till they get hit… well guess what, you just got hit. Whether or not you get up is up to you.”  from The Ghost And The Darkness

I remember, years ago, hearing a minister talking about the worst day he ever had. I won’t go into details but suffice to say, it wasn’t much of a day. No one died, nothing bad happened. He was inconvenienced. I remember hearing him and thinking, “That’s the best you got?”

Some people get through lives relatively unscathed. I don’t know them personally but that’s the rumor. For the rest of us, however, life is a series of adventures and misadventures. I have a theory that almost everyone has experienced some form of trauma by the time they are forty. I can’t prove this but it seems to be true in the world I live. To quote the greatest family movie of all time, The Princess Bride, “Life is pain highness, anyone who says different is selling you something.”

We all get hit, from time to time. The older I get the more I notice how differently my life has turned out than I had anticipated. You can have all the plans in the world but they won’t help you if you get Fibromyalgia, or cancer, or are in a car accident. We are all just one bad moment from having our lives drastically changed. Twelve years ago I had my life all planned out, then I got hit. Some hits you never fully recover from. Perhaps that shouldn’t even be the goal. Trauma changes us. The trick may be to use situations we hate to change us in the right direction.

Life isn’t fair. Sometimes the rich do get richer and the pretty people do get all the breaks. Sometimes the jerks yand the liars do get ahead and there really seems to be no justice in the world. The Nortel legal battle in Canada, among others, demonstrates that the laws that apply to some, do not necessarily apply to the rich. The right set of high-priced lawyers changes everything.

Have you ever noticed that rich men usually have better hair? There is no justice.

It’s easy to get bitter.

But it doesn’t help one bit.

Have you ever noticed that the older people get the more they become a caricature of themselves? It is as if our personalities are water-soluble and as we age more and more of the water evaporates, leaving us with more “us”. As the capacity to exercise social restraint wears away you begin to see who that person really is. Old people seem to go one of two ways; either they become more gracious, more beautiful, or they get more bitter. So many bitter people.

I do not want to become bitter as I grow older. Already I can see the my tendency to become judgmental, or critical, or just grouchy. There have been people who have hurt me deeply and my natural inclination is to hold grudges and carry that pain forever. Perhaps I am not alone in this.

At the end of the day, like most things, it is about choice. Choice and a great deal of hard work. Left to our own devices many of us will gradually slip further and further towards negativity. Awareness is important. Hard work is much more important. Working on myself cannot, must not, be something I only do when I need to get something or someone. My life is not a thing to be fixed, it is a project to be nourished.

I know from personal experience how damaging it can be to live with bitterness and unforgiveness. I like to say it’s like taking poison and hoping your enemy will die. And it really is that harmful to us to live this way.
Joyce Meyer