Aliens May Not Exist

We live in an amazing time. Within your lifetime we may no longer be dependent upon fossil fuels. By 2040 we’ll be driving electric cars or something even more magnificent. Tankers and cruise ships with futuristic batteries and entrepreneurs farming the plastics in the ocean for profit. Someday, in the not too distant future, they will know how to move your consciousness into something permanent and that generation will get to live forever. The capacity for humans to grow beyond biological dependence will afford opportunities for knowledge that confound the imagination. If we can survive the 2100’s there is a decent possibility that we will possess the technology to populate our galaxy. We’re planning to send people to Mars, right now. Global warming may kill us all but if it doesn’t, it appears that we are only at the beginning of what humankind may be capable.

It is entirely possible, though not popular to admit, that we are entirely alone in the universe. Scientists postulate that it takes just over 3 billion years to develop sentient life, and the universe is far older than that. Why is it so quiet out there? With 70 sextillion suns in the universe we should be swimming in Klingons by now. In a universe that is over 13 billion years old there has been ample opportunity for distant planets in distant galaxies to develop to the level where they can send out a message that we should be able to hear. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the recent technological advances in fields like astronomy are staggering. Science can now look at the beginning of the universe. Think about that for a moment.

And the news just gets worse. While most of us would like to believe in a Star Trek Federation, some very smart people have realized that enough time has passed that any civilization which may have developed in the distant past on other planets may be dead by now, if they existed at all. At the other end of the spectrum is the notion that life did exist, but it’s done by now. As hard as it is to imagine, there are solar systems much older than ours and countless fruitful planets could have invented gingsu knives literally billions of years ago. Billions. Logically we must assume that all games must end, and even a successful planet that started even a few hundred thousand years before ours would potentially, based on what we know about how stupid thinking beings can be, have blown themselves to that alien lizard hell a thousand times over. We’re not even mentioning the hundreds and thousands of happy accidents that randomly kept the idea of evolutionary growth alive in spite of seemingly impossible odds.

Imagine the technology we will possess in 100,000 years. You can’t. Think how far we have come since the Renaissance. We are alien gods to the people of the 14th Century; one look at your iPhone and good teeth would be enough to have you burned at the stake for most of our recent history. It is entirely apparent that we are only at the very beginning of human potential, we’re still the hillbilly predecessors in the eventual story of the growth of our species.

In over 13 billion years, it has been postulated, life should have evolved to the level where someone out there could hear or see us – somewhere among those hundred billion stars (and that’s just this insignificant galaxy). Any civilization that has even a few tens of thousands of years head-start could be smart enough to develop technology beyond our imagination. We may not survive the next hundred years if we can’t get those damn corporations and governments to take their heads out of their asses, can you imagine the opportunities for self-destruction we will have in the next couple hundred thousands of years? Can you envisage the potential for self-destruction we will experience in the next five hundred thousand years?

So tell me again, why can’t we find any signs of life out there?

I’m not even mentioning the apocalyptic fears around how such an advanced society would feel about a new upstart in their neighbourhood. Don’t even go there. If this twitches your geek muscles just google Fermi Paradox.

We seem, all over again, to be on the edge of incredible technological advancement. People who are alive right now could have grandchildren from Mars. We still have no idea how the Big Bang works or whether or not dark matter and dark energy even exists. How are photons in two places at one time? Are there really 11 dimensions of existence? How does something start out of nothing? Did Michael Jackson really not see that he looked super creepy and weird? So many unanswered mysteries still await us. Constraints such as the limitations of travel based on the speed of light, or our current understandings of Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, may someday seem quaint and archaic, products of a pre-enlightened understanding of reality and science.

So it may not be that monumental of a stretch to say that we probably don’t yet have all the answers. While it is tempting to believe that we are the absolute pinnacle of human evolution, it may be worth remembering that every generation before us absolutely believed they understood how the world worked and what mattered in life. Priests and prophets and generations of ignorants were convinced that what they believed was the undeniable truth. They were certain.

Just for fun, let’s rip apart the notion of Atheism. One could argue that the belief that there is no possibility for anything beyond one’s limited understanding of reality (and meaning of life) is in and of itself limiting, predicated upon the fragile notion that we are even remotely capable of understanding the depth of the human experience at this early stage of creative evolution. Atheism is predicated on certainty and certainty could be, and don’t hurt me here, a little naive at this juncture.

Putting aside the limiting definition that “this is all there is or can ever be” allows me to leave room for wonder. Perhaps there is something out there beyond my understanding and some day another Einstein will help us understand life on an entirely different plain. Words like faith and fairytale definitions of eternity become possibilities, not because there is any rational proof right now, but based on the fact that we have not yet learned everything there is to learn. Certainty based on our current understanding of physics and reality may just be a touch premature.

And who knows, there might even be aliens.

Grabbing The Wrong Handholds

They made me watch CSI, Ginger Version. I don’t even know what the real name is but it’s the one with the redhead guy who tries so very hard to sound like the coach from Rocky. My youngest Matthew and I are forced to endure this for an hour and there has literally not been one line of dialogue that anyone would say in the real world.

At first we didn’t understand, how could it be so bad? Not one person used normal inflection or words that, when put together in a stringy thing called a sentence, would actually be spoken by a human who is not on a show about super cops who don’t know how to talk like normal people. It vaguely reminds me of when I did acid except the walls aren’t moving… yet.

I can see them speaking but nothing makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, a ferret could follow the dialogue. It’s just that the dialogue is so incredibly vapid, so devoid of reality and voiced by such poor actors who all believe they are on Die Hard, except it’s less realistic than those Christmas plays you have to endure when your kid is in grade five. No one can stop squinting and the dude who just said, “Have you considered the weather?” sounded like he was attempting to take a burrito dump. Not a single person had a spontaneous thought and the lighting is off and the dialogue feels like it was written by that weird kid who wore a cape to grade six and sat beside you in Socials. I keep looking around to see if people are laughing. My son Matt is laughing. So proud.

The real Shakespeare famously penned, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. These players couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper nutsack. Rock stars and wrestlers and models can become actors so you know there is real art involved. And don’t give me your “but there are some very talented actors”. So what. I know some incredibly talented welders who can fix my CR-V. Actors are massively overpaid to do a job that everyone wants because they get treated like royalty and get to buy islands and large phallic boats. It says a great deal about our culture that people line up in their thousands to catch a glimpse of these botox clowns, inbred royals, and idiots on CSI who make twenty times the money I ever will.

Honestly, models can do it. What the hell.

We have given our allegiance to actors playing gurus and trusted in Bill Cosby to be our television dad. Some of us honestly believe that the top 1% gives a rat’s ass about the struggles you are going through. They can’t remember, or never knew, what it was like to be an ordinary bloke. They live fictional lives.

A few of you know what it is like to take LSD (remember Purple Microdot?). I work in the addictions field while doing several other things during my week and in over 12 years of doing Intake I have never met an addict who identified Acid as their drug of choice. You can get seriously messed up for only a few dollars, but still it is rare to talk to anyone who thinks this is a good idea every day of the week. Hallucinogens allow you to step outside your own body and observe yourself from a very surreal and often screwed up perspective. This family of drug use has become increasingly popular, yet again, among predominantly younger adults who read somewhere on the Internet that you could eat mushrooms and become a philosopher. There is some interesting research with hallucinogens, especially in the psychological arena, but you rarely read that “Kierkegaard got totally wasted on shrooms and wrote Fear and Trembling”. Many of us solved the world’s problems on cocaine but couldn’t read the chicken scratch when we woke up later that same day. That is literally a true story. I was so sure.

And a bad trip on Acid will scar you forever.

Contrary to what the internet is telling you, you are probably not going to find the meaning of life if you do MDMA, although you might love everyone for a few hours. Smoking a blunt may temporarily take away the angst but this place is way too complicated for easily blazed answers to your problems.

The 21st Century is ridiculously complicated and fraught with information that is completely new in the history of primates. Coping skills which have worked for millennia are suddenly obsolete. Even as recently as the Dark Ages hundreds of years could pass for our ancestors with little discernable change. Most humans grew up, lived and died within a few kilometres, and went to bed when it got dark. There was no constant bombardment of new and confusing data unless you were being chased across the highlands by the bloody British. More than half a millenia separated Attila and Genghis but they still killed people from the back of a horse with relatively the same range of weapons. Just think how much the world has changed since World War Two, or even the early Sixties. You have had more world shaking cultural changes in your lifetime than people would have seen in hundreds, even thousands of years.

I haven’t even mentioned the Internet, perhaps the biggest game-changer since the Enlightenment. Sometimes I become so entangled in the sheer absurdity of our existence that it’s tempting to feel like I’m in a bad episode of CSI Miami. Nevermind, they’re all bad. My parents lived in homes where you had to throw coal into the fire every morning. My son, who still lives at home part-time, loses his mind if I turn off the router at 11 p.m. Our ancestors could beat the living crap out of us without breaking a sweat. 21st Century problems in a world moving so fast that no one has a clue what the answer is or how we are going to deal with our growing cultural addiction to stimulus and response and Instagram and sugar.

Few of us trust our local churches to provide solutions for life and you can’t trust the government anymore because they really are spying on you. The Catholic Church is in freefall. Google and Facebook are actually messing with your mind, and I’m not talking in some groovy metaphysical way. They are literally reprogramming your brain. Your phone is apparently tracking you even when Location Services is turned off. Institutions that we have trusted for generations have let us down and it feels like we are losing our handholds.

Our worlds are filled with information and most of that data is mindless drivel. Is coffee good for me or bad for me this month, I can’t remember. Is Pluto a planet again? Was that dude from Making of a Murderer guilty or not? Is gluten still the Antichrist? We can no longer trust our grade 11 math class to make sense of this augmented reality, and after what seemed like twenty years of enlightenment and walls falling and peace treaties, the world is suddenly scary again; full of regimes with small penises and very large guns. We’re in a pissing contest with our neighbouring country over milk. Seriously, milk. How do we make sense of it all?

How do you end an article like this? Oh ya, I remember now.

Handholds.

Any rockclimber can tell you that running up an indoor climbing wall has very little in common with climbing an actual mountain or rock face. In the real world there are few perfectly formed nubits to grab every 2.5 feet. Rock faces are often wet, smooth, filled with vegetation or bird crap. So much bird crap. There are often no obvious routes and the ones that appear straight and narrow consistently prove to be unclimbable. In the real world the handholds are far less exact, less climate-controlled, and less exhilaratingly obvious. It’s incredibly easy to lose your way in this world.

You need to be reading. I’m not screwing around anymore so listen because I’m not making this up as I go along and any counselor worth their bread will tell you that if you aren’t growing then you’re going backwards. For years I’ve told clients they need to read and study and take their emotional growth much more seriously, and the numbers of people who actually listen to this obvious advice is underwhelming and tragic. If you absolutely refuse to write then watch documentaries that are outside your comfort zone and subscribe to some mental health podcasts. Cooking shows and escapist novels don’t count unless you are actually going to make the friggen recipes. Oprah and Deepak and Tony Robbins are not really philosophers, in spite of their witting aphorisms, and can only take you so far. They are paid millions to peddle philosophic pablum and that’s fine, but it’s not really the same as studying your life. Don’t get me started on Oprah Winfrey.

We don’t have the luxury anymore of putting this stuff off until it’s too late. If you think you will just grow out of your anxiety or chronic depression or immaturity or naïveté you are literally the definition of that word. By the time people are adults we have a shitbarge of pain collecting in our subconscious and if you don’t do something about it, and I mean it, dammit, you are going to fall miles short of your potential. I’m talking about you Mr. Anger Problem. Deal with that stuff because you are ejaculating your attitude all over the rest of us and using anger to bully people. You passive-aggressives need to talk to someone who can hold you accountable for all that bullshit you are spreading. Just tell me what you want, for the love of god. I know you aren’t mad, you’re just disappointed that everyone seems to let you down but have you ever stopped to consider that being passive-aggressive is dysfunctional and everyone around you knows what you’re trying to do? Most of us can smell a PA a mile off and we talk about you behind your back. Use your words. Are you easily offended? The rest of us are on egg shells around you because we don’t know if or when you are going to pout and make a scene. Is that really how you want people to think of you?

If you are one of those people that constantly needs others to feel sorry for you, then I actually feel sorry for you. Grow the hell up. You have a hole in your heart that you are trying to stuff full with sad Facebook and IG posts that tell us you’re having a bad day (sad emoji) specifically so that we will all tell you that you’re awesome and we believe in you. Believe in yourself, you’re better than this. See someone and talk about your incessant need for approval because that crap is handcuffing your life.

Anger, passive-aggressive behaviour, taking offence, acting pathetic, they’re all about power and control. These dysfunctional handholds keep us immature and miserable. These are learned coping mechanisms that you developed when you were a kid or after an abusive relationship and they may have worked at one time but they are handholds that are holding you back. Wouldn’t you rather be happy?

We all need better handholds. If you spend your whole life trying to be pretty and petty you are going to end up dumb and bitter. Don’t be dumb. Spend 3 years working on your anxiety every day. Don’t lie down and give in. Get serious about your anger problem and get control of your emotions. Work on that crappy impulse control until you can win. Seriously. This stuff is very hard and the percentage of people who die happy is lower than we want to admit. You are worth it. Say it. I am worth it.

Stop trusting in other people to make you happy, Scott. Stop being decimated when our cultural icons turn out to be rapists. Everyone is going to let you down, that’s called life. Everyone is petty and selfish and a little bit broken so get over it. You’re right, people are stupid. Some people think the actors on CSI can act. Don’t be one of those people, pick up a book or listen to an audiobook or an intelligent podcast or documentary and learn a little psychology. Talk to someone about philosophy. Don’t be dumb.

I don’t care what you say, CSI sucks.

 

My Depression

It is tempting as a therapist to talk about mental health stuff like it’s a science and we’re in a classroom. People want to hear what their counselor says, right? I have all kinds of relevant articles and YouTube videos we can watch in my office. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of files with enough advice in them to keep you busy for a few lifetimes.

The longer I do this the less I believe in good information helping people change their fundamental personality. If you haven’t had real depression I’m not entirely sure you understand what is truly going on. I wish I was not saying that you can’t really speak intelligently about this topic without practice but nobody is asking me to describe how it feels to have a baby. Cancer patients want to talk to cancer survivors who understand the hell that they and their family are experiencing. Addicts understand addiction on a different level than my wife who grew up as a pentecostal and still hasn’t really consumed alcohol on any level that could result in sloppy sex. You don’t need to be an addict to counsel an addict because counselors know a great deal about poor impulse control and craving for sex or acceptance or meth. Addiction is more about trauma than what your vehicle of choice is. People self-medicate with hundreds of things, not just drugs or booze or sex.

I rarely talk about this publicly on any meaningful level but I had a pretty decent run with depression. My world fell apart and I lacked the coping skills to pull myself out of it, and at least a bit of the reason that I still do this for a living is because of the lessons I learned in the valley of the shadow of death.

I was very depressed for a significant period of time. It became a way of life, the fog that defined my existence. People who know me from that time are not traditionally my friends at this stage of my life, and the few who stuck around don’t need a memory cue about that Scott Williams. It’s been enough time that I can disconnect from that sad little clown, and looking now from a bit of distance he was a pretty hurting unit. So ya, like many who have come before me I fell into a life of depression for a serious piece of my story and I still remember how crazy that bastard was. Depression can gut you. It can take away everything and everyone you love and make your life a crawling waste. There were times when I was so broken that I put myself at the risk of personal harm, and months of such emotional abandonment that I didn’t care if I lived or died and didn’t care that I didn’t care.

I have apologized to my boys countless times but I still carry the stain.

There are people who come to me believing they are depressed because they are deeply sad or grieving or crying every day before work. That may be a form of depression or dysthymia but people who have gone full freaktown deep-dive depression often describe it as feeling nothing at all, not caring or hoping or functionally coping. Meaninglessness and pain and hopelessness. It got dark and nasty for a bigger chunk of time than I can admit to myself and if it wasn’t for Celexa, a few good friends, and the responsibility to solo parent two hurting kids I may not have made it out sane. Days and months and minute after minute after damned minute of despair and depressed thoughts and music that makes you want to hurt kittens. Some of you out there know how slow time can go when every minute of the day is more disappointing than before but you really don’t give enough of a crap to feel anything beyond your own pathetic non-existence.

No one wants to hear it, btw. In the insanity of those days it was a testimony to how messed up I was that I honestly believed other people wanted to hear my litany of pain and woe. News flash 2001 Scott – people don’t want to hear it. If you are a pessimist who is prone to complain to your spouse or friends I need to tell you in love that no one wants to hear you constantly complain. I take that back, there are other complainers who love to talk about that garbage for hours but most of us are far too attention deficit to listen to you talk about your stupid stupid problems that you refuse to deal with year after year after year. We get it, some people need to complain in order to release that bad karma and that is a real thing and I get it. Still. Do yourself a favour and find another miserable friend, someone who shares your interests.

As a counselor, I can tell you that depression is one of the hardest mental health challenges to overcome without time and some decent help along the way. There is no quick fix for such a crippling and insidious illness, and people who tell you to just jog it off or read this or that book or blog (and you will be jim dandy!) are full of crap. It takes months of dedicated work before you even feel like doing anything beyond Netflix and licorice and how do you get motivated to tackle this monster when you can’t even get motivated enough to get motivated? There is nothing I can say to you today, if you are in the valley of the shadow of death, that will pull you out of that funk.

I’m not implying, however, that you should give up or stop reaching out. It all felt meaningless to me for a very long time but sitting on the couch watching daytime television was not the balm it was advertised to be. Moving forward in depression is exhausting but there eventually came a time when I actually didn’t have a bad day. First I would take a few minutes off from my feelings, then a few more. One day I didn’t self-indulge for an entire hour, then a morning, then eventually a day. There was no magic ticket or special medication that pulled me back from the precipice but only a series of little things and a couple of amazing kids and friends who never gave up on me. I started listening to audiobooks between tears, then comic books. I ate real food again and got out of bed before the crushing mind games could pull me under the covers. I went out, even though I hated every minute of it.

In those dark days, I was convinced that this was my forever. I look back and am thankful that I never jumped off that bridge. The only advice I give people who are battling with serious depression is – stay alive. Talk to someone who understands. And get out of bed.

The Part Of Addiction No One Is Talking About

As a clinician who works largely with addictions and the intersection of trauma and life, I get to be on the front-lines in a seemingly unending parade of adventure and experience. I picked up a heroin/fentanyl rig from our bathroom this afternoon. I walked around in the blue gloves offering prostate exams but for some reason there were no takers. Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my partner in crime, Dawn Taylor, consulting on one of the most complex cases you could imagine. That day began with an RCMP corporal at the homeless shelter, someone had procured a video projector, probably from the same inexhaustible storehouse where all those nice bikes come from.

Addiction is a complex and fascinating issue, if you can somehow remove the never-ending cacophony of tragedy and loss. It has taken me years of full-time employment to come to understand just a small part of this complicated thing, even with it so present in my own history. The information we all read in the media, in what we assume are serious articles written by addiction experts, is ofttimes laughable. This week I read again, for the 400th time, about the debate whether or not marijuana is addictive. I dare you to say it is, or it’s not, or have no opinion at all – it won’t matter, you’ll still be called an idiot. The misinformation and self-delusion from both sides of the McInformation Universe make it next to impossible for the average Normie to retain any level of informed dialogue. Is marijuana addictive?

Please…

So much of what passes for real information is the reality television version of reality. These same websites and professionals are often completely unfamiliar with the subculture they are lecturing. Just because you have a Ph.D. and get to charge thousands of dollars because you are the flavour of the month doesn’t necessarily guarantee you know what the hell you are talking about.

Being a stoner is to be a part of a community, of sorts. This subculture brings it’s own rules and mores and values which are impossible to truly understand from the outside, much like the priest who is giving marriage advice. I am not saying that addictions counsellors who have not been druggies have a lesser understanding and therefore are less effective. So much of what we do in the counselling room has little or nothing to do with your drug of choice. Impulse control, trauma, and mental health are all universal issues.

It doesn’t take an addict to help an addict but it does take one to understand how funny it is that we managed to convince you that the only reason we wanted medicinal marijuana was for the physical pain. I studied the outlet across the street from my addictions office for 6 months and you would be impressed by the number of Ford F-150’s that represent at 4:05 pm on a weekday, driven by two dudes straight off the construction site who jog across the street to the store. The last time I was in there the owner offered me a “pull” from her vape, but I’m guessing that was for the pain that she inherently recognized in my burdened soul because weed gives you wings. You can send me angry emails until the cows come home but it won’t change the fact that my job entails knowing how to separate the truth from bullshit. I have clients who use medical forms of cannabis and understand the difference between CBD and THC and aren’t really interested in being baked all day; and I’ve seen dozens of clients who show me their Medical Marijuana Card and we have a good laugh. It’s all going to be a mute point on October 17, except that now a whole bunch of us have decided to try it out, now that it’s legal. I polled several rooms in the past couple of months and that’s a real thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I barely care anymore, it’s just a reality in my world. This article is not about the evils or benefits of weed, so don’t go off on me. Dawn Taylor and I have an entire upcoming podcast on pot coming this winter that is guarenteed to upset a few of you, so hold on. (Yes we are launching a podcast this winter called “Reality Therapy” with the tagline “Welcome To The Argument”).

I set out to write an article about how difficult it is to leave the life, even when you want to quit and it’s clearly time to move on. As usual, I meandered a little. All this diatribe was leading to the realization that quitting the self-medication game is a lot harder than most people think, and all too often that addictive personality thing we’ve all heard about is more a learned behaviour than a genetic one. Your dad may have been an alcoholic, and that may be why you think you want a drink right now, but it’s also possible that when you were a preschooler you watched your father self-medicate his tragic life and that taught you a little something. Perhaps your parent was addicted to rageahol, and you figured out that it’s way easier to check out than hang in. There are literally hundreds, nay thousands of ways we have learned to cope with childhood trauma or a controlling parent or that uncle who liked to touch you. You were the fat kid, or your complexion was a mess, or you were too shy to be the popular kid in school.

Name your poison.

Years of continuous drug use will create neural pathways hardwired to thirst for “altered”. Most drug users have difficulty imagining a world where they could not be buzzed, the real world can be incredibly boring or painful or confusing. I’ve watched hundreds of clients wrestle with the reality that they will never really get that monkey off their backs because they’ve been doing this for so long that they’re probably going to have that little primate in the back of their mind for the rest of their life.

caffeineI haven’t used cocaine in 25 years but that doesn’t mean I would sit in a locked room with a line of coke, if I knew no one would ever find out. Besides that, I may not jones for blow, but there is always something vying for my attention, and not always something good. People self-medicate with booze or shoes, chocolate or masturbation or video games – the delivery system seems less and less important the longer I do this. I could tell you stories of people who’s lips were raw because they ate 4 bags of sunflower seeds a day in an effort to placate the persistent hunger for meth or crack or because their anxiety is raging and it’s the closest thing at hand. People are clean for 15 years than they “go back out”, god only knows why. It might have something to do with the fact that  you quit your drug of choice but never moved beyond that need to feel good even if it might feel bad after you come down from that sugar rush. I don’t usually tell clients that happy little factoid on our first visit together.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just the “junkies” we’re talking about. You went to that doctor after you hurt yourself and 6 weeks later you had a very hard time when your prescription for Percocet ran out. Addiction is easy because drugs really are as good as people think they are… for a while. I’m sorry but your youth group has a hard time competing with the spiritual orgasm that Dexedrine can deliver. If I’m completely honest with myself I’d love to get buzzed, some days.

Addicts have the best of intentions when they quit using. You might be surprised at how honest and kind and sincere a person can become when they are in The Program. Many sufferers are able to clench down and sweat it out, but that whole piece about being a normie for the rest of my life was harder to accept on an emotional level than I could have ever imagined. The rest of your life completely sober doesn’t sound as sexy as being blitzed on shrooms with good friends this Friday night. The relentless normal is difficult for some people to handle, week after week, and it isn’t long before recovering addicts often feel the claws come out from their backpack of chimps (I know, chimps are not monkeys; I ran out of snappy monkey references).

I have been told, more times than I can remember, how much harder it was to leave the life than the drug. As the sarcastic quip goes, quitting is easy, people often do it several times a week. Staying sober when all that stuff you ignored when you were high comes back calling, and you have no way to self-medicate because that group said you had to be completely clean, now that’s not so easy. This sounds allot like the ending of Goodfellas but I can’t help it, it’s a powerful and persuasive subculture. As Henry Hill said in that movie after he was placed in Protective Custody:

“See, the hardest thing for me was leaving the life. I still love the life. And we were treated like movie stars with muscle. We had it all, just for the asking. Our wives, mothers, kids, everybody rode along. I had paper bags filled with jewelry stashed in the kitchen. I had a sugar bowl full of coke next to the bed…Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I’d bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I’d either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies. Didn’t matter. It didn’t mean anything. When I was broke I would go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”
Henry Hill

Leaving the party to become a citizen often feels like it is going to suck. All you have to do is change your everything. It’s way easier to just give up and slowly succumb, in spite of that false narrative you keep telling yourself, the one where you don’t end up in my office.

Dating After You Break-up: Why No One Ever Listens

This conversation is a part of my world, almost every week. People who are breaking up often wander into my office, and inevitably it comes down to the conversation that no one who is freshly single really wants to investigate too thoroughly, with someone as brutally honest as yours truly. When you are in my clutches I do not filter. Ever. Any of you who have worked with me are welcome to share your stories in the comments section.

Some counsellors will ask you “and how does that make you feel”. Every class in Master’s level psychology assumes the role of a counsellor to be that of empathetic and boring mirror, paid to help you realize you already know the answer deep inside your precious heart. I don’t do that. I’m getting older and I’m sick and tired of pretending I’m normal so clients either like the process of they see someone else. This sounds like the height of arrogance but I’m wearing my counsellor hat as I write this and some of you know what I mean. I’m not filtering for my ego as I write this.

It works for some people. People do not pay me to play with my gloves on, and it was never my wheelhouse to begin with. Those who continue to let me buy them coffee are a particular bunch. I am not for everyone. That comes off as self-glorifying but I mean this, and those of you who know me know what is coming next, I mean this in a purely “Counsellor Scott” kind of way. Normal dude Scott would not usually invade your space so fully, I am even shy in some social settings. Counsellor Scott can be a dick. Counsellor Scott, when working with teens, is just plain weird.

There are times in life when it is important to have someone who isn’t afraid to pull off the bandaid of your subjective reality, someone who won’t judge you. Practitioners in my field are all about that liberal mushy crap. When people tell their psychologist, “here’s something you haven’t heard before” they really don’t know what society’s secular priests hear on a daily basis. We are paid to hear your worst nightmare.

As usual, I just went on a tangent. Back to our original conversation. Let me set this up for you.

You come to my office, and you’ve been separated for 2-5 months. You’ve met someone, and nothing has happened, but you are definitely getting ready to rumble. In every single one of these conversations people, hundreds of people, eventually get around to the question we’ve all been waiting for – Is it too early for me to date?

I’ll save you a ton of words and tell you that the end of this paragraph is going to end with the words “damn straight”. With few exceptions, it is too early. There are exceptions (to literally repeat what I just said but in a way that tells you I’m about the say the exact opposite) but that only reinforces the truth. Ending a relationship that has been your whole world for 10 or 25 years has profound emotional consequences, though those consequences differ wildly depending on if you are the leave-r or the leave-e. That’s an entire article on its own. Any of my colleagues can tell you that people are far less objective in those first months, and yes, years than they believe at the time. Damn straight.

When my life fell apart I was categorically insane. Leaving a relationship messes with your mind, and your body. Moving in with someone, or throwing your heart at Mr. Fabulous No-faults, is typically a faulty decision, and I believe I have the data to back that up. Simply put, time heals and you are almost always more deluded about yourself when you are in crisis than you want to believe. Don’t do it.

This article is not called Great Advice That All My Clients Follow. The simple truth is that in all my years doing this gig I can probably count on half a hand the people who have followed that choice little piece of advice. Chime in here clinicians, we have seen thousands of patients who have been psychologically traumatized by the death of a dream dive into the heady world of romance and infatuation because, and this is the real story, nothing temporarily heals a broken heart like someone who wants to touch you in fun places and tells you that you are one in a million. Isn’t that the best thing in life?

There are dozens of reasons I could give you, but it almost never matters. Vulnerable people are just that, vulnerable. They are prone to impulsivity, eager to fill those holes in their hearts, indescribably susceptible to unhealthy relationships and emotions in a barren wasteland that has been their lives.

Here’s another hurtful tidbit. Sick attracts sick. Do you really want to attract someone who is as vulnerable, as recently broken, as emotionally dysfunctional, as you are? Healthy people are far less likely to date a deeply troubled and needy trauma victim than you might think. Take what is likely the most important decision of your life then rip your heart apart and mess with your feelings and cognition and grief and a hundred other painful words. Now go ahead and make the most weighted decision you will ever need to make. Don’t forget to mix in a bunch of broken relationships and hurt feelings and angry relatives. Add the incredible stress and poop storm that every break-up brings, those added bonuses called lawyers and fights about money and selling your house and kissing off half your friend. Recipe for a fruit salad.

When you look at this from the outside it’s a no-brainer.

But it doesn’t really matter, you won’t listen anyway. It’s not your fault, blame your neurochemistry. Those tortured neurons that you depleted for months and years are starving for some love, and you deserve to think of your own needs for once. How many of us have spent years without real intimacy and can barely imagine being in lust again. Bring on the dopamine.

You really do deserve to think of your own needs for once, and the best way you can do that is to spend that time with yourself, sans another person upon whom to focus your substantial energy. There are lessons that I learned single which are not available to those who move from relationship to relationship. I can just hear some of you saying right now, “I’ve always been in a relationship. I can’t be alone”. Deal with it. This is the route back to emotional wholeness. Spending time alone will teach you lessons you simply cannot learn when you are emotionally attached to someone you are attracted to. This is not really my opinion, it’s common knowledge that we all agree to in theory but have difficulty employing when we are horny.

You are better than that. As Milne said, you are stronger than you know. You deserve the time it takes to remember what it was like to be autonomous. You do not need to be defined or dictated to by something outside yourself. As I have often said, as cheesy as it is, don’t date until you don’t need to. Refuse to fill that hole in your heart with the emotional succubus that is rebound love. Realize that your amygdala is firing like a cheesy western and ask someone who isn’t afraid of you to be brutally honest; and hear them out without interrupting. Don’t inflict the mess that is your life on to another hurting individual or, god forbid, a healthy person who doesn’t deserve your dysfunction. Simply put, you will be attracted to different traits when you are unhealthy than you will be when you know who you are and what you want out of life.

Take a year. There I said it. Give yourself the time you need to become a better you. This is an amazing opportunity to redefine your life, and taking on the baggage of another person is not what you really need right now. I don’t care if this person is special, do you have any idea how many times I have heard that garbage? How can you know what you want when you don’t even know who you are? And if you are into dating guys you need to know that you have a big and obvious energy right now that is going to attract the wrong kind of action. I’m sort of a guy and I can tell you, we’ll became anything you want us to be if there is a chance we can wake up in bed with you someday. Men on the make are pigs and nothing says open for business like an emotionally needy potential friend. I care about how you feel. Really. Your last partner didn’t really talk about their feelings? Well let me tell you, I could listen to you talk all night. People tell me I’m almost too sensitive, I just really want to connect with you on an emotional level. You buying this?

Enough ranting, I don’t really mean it that way. We all know what that loneliness feels like, even when you are with someone else. Who doesn’t want to ravish someone again, or be ravished? There are few things in life that compare to that wonderful time when you first fall in infatuation and call it love, and before you realize how much of a moron that person really is. Romance is intoxicating, bring it on.

You are more amazing than you know. Most of us are. We are prone to self-criticism and overly hard on ourselves, and making you feel like crap isn’t my schtick. At the end of the day you really are worth getting to know. Have some fun. Go on some dates if you must but don’t give your heart away. Make more time for friends and kids and eggnog lattes and go do something crazy. Buy a kayak or go skydiving or visit Romania, and spend your dopamine on things that will build your self confidence and heal your soul. Spend the time, you deserve it.

 

 

 

 

Leave No Path Untaken

“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken…

Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…

Face your life
Its pain,
Its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Most people aren’t really sure what they are getting themselves into, when they come talk with someone like me. What we do at that coffee shop, or while walking by the river, has little in common with what happens on television or Netflix. You are not Tony Soprano and I am not that horrible psychiatrist who sucked at counselling and committed ethical violations on an episodal level. You won’t spend the whole time complaining, and I am intrusive when it comes to the nitty gritty details. I get paid to act as a professional and you can go home and talk to your cat for hours about your medical problems or how much that person makes you mad at work. People want ideas and conversation and help, that’s why they make the appointment. Most counsellors are sedentary by nature and I am a screaming ball of ADHD and philosophy and other words that they offer at universities for those who don’t really want to earn much money or get their teeth cleaned on a regular basis.

Most of my clients have tried it their way, and life has a way of humbling the most stubborn of us every once in a while. I have written extensively about this topic and you can read about it here, here, here, or here. Moving forward in your life is usually more complicated in the real world, and we rarely get to live on Saturn or have a robot maid like on The Jetsons. Life is hard and they don’t post the rules on a website, and lets be honest, I usually did things the hard way because I’m naive and idealistic and not as self-aware as I thought at the time. For the love of god, don’t write your treatise in your 20’s. We shouldn’t have to review the reasons, this one is rock solid. I am startled at how dumb I was when I was 25. I’m not telling your story, I’m just speaking to those of us who have had to admit that we didn’t know what the crap we were talking about and some of those opinions we yelled so loudly, back when we knew everything, were utterly moronic.

At the risk of becoming a Hallmark Card, it really is true that most of us don’t live at our potential. I’m not talking about you.

I am working on another project or two with a few friends, and there is this feeling (and if you’ve had it you know what I’m talking about) at the beginning of a new adventure that is cocaine for me. The entire entertainment industry seems designed solely for the purpose of providing adventures which allow us to live lives in ways and places not connected to my grinding job or upset partner. We are neurologically wired for novelty. This has a profound impact on everything from our relationships to our addictions to our sexual satisfaction. I go to movies to be alive, but maybe it’s just me. When I am inside a great audiobook or an old fashioned paperback it triggers parts of my brain which include those yummy juices bouncing around in my neurons. Unlike many, I am blessed with primarily pleasant dreams, and I may be a child inside, but under countless moons I have been a secret agent or kung fu legend or somewhere warm drinking foofy drinks on a beach. I do this for a living and I know what living in a fantastical dream state suggests. The real world blows when it does.

Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…

Face your life
Its pain,
Its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.

Here’s to you making that trip to Europe. A good one on those of ya who have decided to go back to school, or go on a road trip, or start to sculpture; just for the joy of getting your hands muddy. It is very easy to learn to play the bass… poorly. My wife just brought a 300 ton piano into our house, and her relentless pursuit of something that hard is inspiring (she doesn’t read my writing so I won’t get credit for that). In The Graveyard Book, Nobody Owens grew up in a graveyard, was adopted by ghosts, and mentored by a vampirish thing and a Hound Of God. With his life in danger, he was forced to spend the majority of his childhood playing with dead people, a witch, several nasty goblins, with only one friend who had a pulse and almost killed him, by accident of course. Those words, face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken, reminded Bod that his life was among the living, not the departed. It was his turn to have experiences and see oceans and taste coffee in faraway lands.

And how’s that working out for you?

That sounds so tiring, he said partly in jest. Life is ridiculously busy, and my freaking phone is becoming an addiction, and I dream of going to Kitts or a Balkan State or a castle in Scotland; but right now I’d settle for another hot day to float in my Canadian Tire pool. Everywhere I look, people complain about the pace of life in the 21st Century and the noise, noise, noise. It’s only 95 days until Christmas. See what I did there?

The good book says, without hope the people perish. Philosophers create theories to describe the meaning of life. Existential Psychoanalysis plays with creating meaning from meaning, or something nerdish like that. As Victor Frankl said, the person who has the why can bear almost any how. That sounds like a cheeseball meme until you find out the dude was in Auschwitz. Having a reason for staying alive another year is a powerful thing. Words like meaning and purpose, dreams, and hope, are powerful aphrodisiacs. Having that why makes this crappy how worth living.

…leave no path untaken.

What Really Happens To That 10 Bucks You Gave That Homeless Dude At McDonalds.

This story is not about how I feel politically about the growing homeless population in my local area. People who know me know that I never discuss local politics, and the only reason I look at anything in a political column is because of the craziness going on south of the border, and just over the land-bridge to Asia. What I’m about to say is controversial but I’m too inoculated to really care what trolls say in the comments section of blogs and articles. I won’t respond to your criticism unless it’s intelligent and not nasty, so let’s begin.

This is what really happens to that money you gave that poor guy who just needed to get enough money for a bus ticket to Chilliwack at the Mission 7-11 store. That dude has been trying to raise the money for a ticket for almost three years. That money went to buy methamphetamines. No, I am not saying that every homeless person is an addict, I’m not done yet. What I am clearly going to say is that in the part of the world where I live, every homeless person is afforded a minimal stipend, on a monthly basis, and there are at least three agencies feeding them. In the town I work in we will literally house everyone who really wants a place to live. Everyone. Canada is a socialized culture and agencies like the one I work at are given money from the local and provincial government to help people who want help. That last phrase was very important and we may return to it later.

Today I was getting propane for my BBQ and I had to drive around a man in his 30’s with a sign that read, “homeless, starving, need bus fair to Chilliwack”. It’s always Chilliwack. All three of those statements are subject to review. I am a raging liberal, and I get paid not to judge people and I can tell you right out, if you gave him money you should have looked 20 feet down the road. I came back ten minutes later and another guy was holding the sign. There were four of them, smoking on the side of the curb. This is their daily thing.

And now the kicker.

I know those guys… quite well. They are not headed to Chilliwack. They are not even homeless. They are all on disability. Giving that gentlemen 10 dollars is fine, noble even, you just need to know all the information. These are hurting people, but giving them money at two in the afternoon may not really help them better their lives. This issue is far more complex than mere charity. Persons on the edges of society have almost always come from a history of trauma, generations of dysfunction. It is a gigantic feat to imagine that they have had the same opportunities that the rest of us middle-class kids have had. Many of my friends at the camps have gruesome stories of abuse and neglect, anger and fear. They were not given a college fund. They did not get to be on the soccer team or go to bible camp or have a yearly family vacation. I’m not excusing the behaviours that piss you off so very much, but it’s important to understand the details on both sides of the equation.

The majority of our clients who are moving forward in their life, in spite of terrific challenges and often lacking the capacity to even understand normie culture, much less flourish, have been able to break free of the insane cultural and personal reality they have believed to be normal since childhood.  This is, of course, a generalization. So is this – many of our most at-risk clients do not even understand cultural protocol. They don’t have proper ID. Many of them lack personal hygiene, sometimes because of a lack of opportunity and sometimes because a portion of our most vulnerable people have never learned how to fit in, or how to talk to authority, or how to walk through confrontation with grace. Giving that person 10 bucks is completely your call, I’ve done it myself. The difference is, some of us are still under the illusion that this will make a positive or substantive difference in their life. The best I can offer is that, for a majority of those (predominantly males for varied and sometimes tragic reasons) who hold cardboard signs at Safeway, you might provide them a temporary relief from their difficult lives. There are probably those who take that money and make good use of it, but they aren’t the people I know in my town and the town next door.

For ten dollars you can get enough meth to feel decent for six or ten hours.

Some of the homeless population are there by choice, but I don’t mean that in the way you might read it. There are people in the homeless camp that have housing. There are many people who have been offered services but cannot, or will not, conform to the parameters we as a society are sometimes forced to place on cultural participation. You cannot function in mayhem and there needs to be a measure of conformity and cooperation and some people are not down with that. There are others that are just so defeated, so checked out, that they are hard to reach. Mental illness is more common than you think, and without a good support network there is a likelihood that a percentage of those folks will also end up on the fringes of society. Many are in throws of addiction and people who have never had the monkey screaming in your ear have a difficult time understanding why they don’t just quit and get a job. When your life is hell, a little self-medication can often go a long way… at least for a few hours.

Some people are there by choice, but those choices are heavily influenced by ten or twenty generations of abuse and pain and misery. They are incapable of thinking like you and I think because their life experience is so vastly foreign we really don’t operate in the same realities.

I have friends who live in downtown Vancouver. I’m a small-town kind of guy. Driving in heavy traffic makes me feel feelings I really shouldn’t ever feel. It stretches my imagination to think like someone who lives in poverty off Main and Hastings in downtown Vancouver. Their day-to-day reality is profoundly different than mine. Living in downtown Hong Kong is beyond my understanding. If I have difficulty imagining a life in Hollywood how can I possibly begin to comprehend the reality for a person born and raised in abuse and poverty and broken dreams and screaming. This isn’t a liberal snowflake way of excusing unacceptable behaviour, or the naked guy outside Dairy Queen in Maple Ridge, or the fact that you’ve had all your bikes stolen. As a society we must have certain behavioural standards or it’s thunderdome. And some people are just assholes.

This isn’t about that.

Giving him ten bucks makes you feel better. I’m not saying you did it for selfish reasons, it just is what it is.

So let’s recap:

  1. giving money to a person, believing they are starving or just need to get enough money to get to Chilliwack may be commendable but may, just may, be a tinsy bit naive.
  2. The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
  3. The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
  4. There are no easy solutions.
  5. The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
  6. Ten bucks may not get you to Chilliwack but it might get you to Nirvana, albeit temporarily. This is not always a good thing.

So give the money or don’t. You will be providing temporary, though potentially harmful relief. Best case scenario, they will buy something to eat or a pack of smokes.

Who knows, maybe a few will even make it to Chilliwack.

Phil Collins And Why You Can’t Know What You Don’t Know

Growing up, so many years ago, I loved the pounding beat and consuming rhythm of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. The intense drumbeat was stirring; the story behind the song even more so. What follows is my own flawed memory of how the story went:

One day, while playing with a friend beside a river, Phil’s childhood friend got in trouble and began to drown. The young Phil Collins was too small to rescue his drowning companion and begged a passerby to help. The adult simply laughed and walked away. His friend died.

Years later, while on tour with Genesis, Collins anonymously sent this individual tickets to his upcoming concert. As “In The Air Tonight” began to play, Collins belted out those now famous words:

Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies

And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
Well I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, oh Lord

Well I remember, don’t worry. It was the first time, the last time, we ever met.
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight…”

Collins turned to the audience as the lights came up on one seat, one man, and yelled something like (accounts vary) “It was you, you S.O.B.! 

Powerful stuff. Revenge.

So what, then, is the moral of this story?

The moral is that this story is not true. I told that story for over 20 years in front of thousands of people and it was complete crap. Fabricated nonsense.

The moral is that we love a great story, that we are prone to believe untruths when they are packaged in such a way as to draw us in. Disinformation. The moral is that it is very tempting to blindly accept anything you read for the sole reason that it is sending a message with which you want to agree. These fairytales are powerful because we all want to believe in words like destiny and fairness and happyendings. The moral is that you are far more likely to believe something if you already agree with it; and the age of mass media is overwhelming our critical systems. The exploding cacophony of information eventually strips us of unbiased thought, and we were always friends with Eurasia. Big Brother is programming you. See, I just did it again.

Bringing the apocalyptic into my story creates a defining moment which just happens to be bullshit. Calling your opponent Hitler is a convenient way of labelling someone in such a way as to discredit further investigation. Easy labels diminish the truth. Things are rarely as absolute as in the land of stories, and the impact of such things as the rise of bionomics, media, and reductionism, is profoundly beyond what we can imagine. Let that sink in for a moment. Humanity gleefully embraces a future that it does not understand; has not reckoned with an impact we have yet to invent.

Reality cannot be contained in a YouTube video. Your primary belief systems warrant intense scrutiny. The world is filled with loud and profoundly ignorant voices, screaming for your attention.

Phil Collins confirmed it hadn’t happened. Like most of the polls and trends and arguments between the huddled masses, this was the creation of a storyteller whom no one took the time to investigate. One discredited study on autism and a child dies in the prairies because people believe stuff that seems right to them at the time. Some pseudo-scientist creates a Youtube video about the earth being flat and seemingly reasonable people start to think that the sun is 3000 miles above the earth, and the government is spreading mind-altering drugs using airplane contrails. The president of a neighbouring country was actually born in Kenya. Carrying a concealed weapon becomes a must if you want to avoid a terrorist attack. Those Syrian refugees, fleeing unimaginable persecution and a situation you literally know almost nothing about, are all terrorists. Jayden Smith knows the mysteries of the universe. Muslims cheered when the twin towers came down. Donald Trump is the messiah, or the Anti-Christ. The list of the ridiculous is seemingly endless.

This is by no means a confirmed fact, but it is apparent that many of us watch a single YouTube video or read an article and are willing to fundamentally change our belief systems or argue about a belief we know virtually nothing about. I cannot count the numbers of people who are convinced that something is true because they spent 20 minutes online or heard it from a “reliable” source. It is a sure bet that millions of people get their politics or religion or theories about life from a few solitary sources that agree with them anyway. That Zeitgeist movie seems to make sense. Those documentaries on the way they treat chickens, or that conspiracy about how the moon landing was faked, the FACT that the government is covering up contact with aliens, or the opinions of uneducated actors or musicians or some geek with iMovie, appear entirely believable. I have witnessed arguments at parties between individuals who clearly know very little about science or reality but are willing to virtually come to blows over a topic they watched on YouTube or read about in a forum of like-minded and biased idiots like themselves. Few of us take the requisite hours to actually perform real research. We are the media generation, subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous opinions and 5-minute ready to believe theories.

The objective truth is that it takes hundreds, even thousands of hours to understand concepts like philosophy, politics, or basic scientific principles. When Will Smith states publicly that he considers himself a physicist, he speaks in ignorance. The profound insights of actors and amateurs are usually neither profound nor insightful, in any real sense. Becoming an expert in any field requires years of directed study. You cannot become a martial arts practicioner by watching a series of videos and you certainly aren’t qualified to even speak about vaccines if you base your opinions on something you read in a chat room or online.

By now most of us have heard of the Dunning-Krueger Effect. To put it another way, we don’t know what we don’t know. We lack context. It is impossible to assess something you have never seen before. The first warriors on the receiving end of gun powder lacked the capacity to appreciate why they were about to die. American troops in World War Two were flummoxed by the Kamakazi. The thought of a volunteer willingly slamming their plane into an aircraft carrier seemed ludicrous in the extreme. We can only comprehend that which we already know, at least in passing. We cannot understand what we have never even imagined. As Heisenberg so eloquently mused, “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” There is the world as we understand it, the philosopher said, then there is the world as it really is.

We must be careful of our own thinking. When I was younger I knew everything, or so I thought. The older I get the less I seem to know. The essence of wisdom is not intelligence alone. We must experience in order to comprehend. We must, as Covey quipped, seek first to understand, and then to be understood. There must be humility, wonder, and hard work, before we can really know anything of value. Abandon your absolutist opinions and spend a hundred or a thousand hours learning about that thing before you make a fool of yourself in that chat room.

You’ll be glad you did.

Your Dirty Secrets

I was discussing sex with a colleague. I know, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Punctuation is important. Put your mind on pause, we were speaking in an entirely clinical-ish manner.

I have been a therapist for some time now. Without exaggerating, people in my field, with the requisite amount of full-time experience, have literally counseled thousands of strangers… and usually most of their friends. People know what I do for a living and sometimes, because my family and friends are all cheap bastards, they make me give them advice for free. Some of my buds, and you know who you are, casually refer to me as “Dr. Death” because I have a habit of showing up every time someone gets in an accident or a close relative passes away. If you are a counselor or a physiotherapist, a social worker or a kinesiologist or a medical professional, you totally know what I am talking about. Therapy is expensive and Scott is free to friends and relatives. Yay.

So back to the sex. I know I said that wrong.

People have secrets. There are stories from our past, and ofttimes our present, that we don’t talk about while watching hockey. Habits we have struggled to break, decisions made and regretted, dirty little secrets of which we are ashamed. If I have learned one thing in all my years as a counselor, it’s that quite a few people have things tucked away in the closet they would choose to forget. I get that.

I remember many days, many confessions. The point is, I have forgotten many more. Life goes on and at some point the only person carrying that baggage is probably you. As the comedian said, “You know who cares as much about your problems as you do? No one.”

Counseling, for reasons I understand and several I do not, actually works for many people. Even stripping away all the psychology and philosophy and relationship-building, there is something powerful, something cathartic, about telling someone else the truth, without worrying judgment or your partner finding out. Counselees regularly report feeling better, though I am often dumbfounded as to what I have actually done for that person. There is a power in the process, not just the result.

This is the obvious reason why change happens slowly, over extended periods of time. You cannot really change your attitude, much less your philosophy of life, in 8 sessions; the idea is usually ludicrous. It took you decades to get this way, and I’m not a televangelist or a medium. The process itself, that long and arduous journey of infinitesimal change, you can’t fake that. Wisdom takes time.

But I digress, as usual.

You have a dirty little secret, perhaps more than two. It may not be perverted or gross or abuse, but most of us carry a regret, or ten; something that has scarred us, a wound which has never completely healed.

People tell me stuff. Any illusions you may have about counselors knowing a whack of gossip is unequivocally correct. Unfortunately, the sheer volume and weight of thousands of horror stories bleeds any of the guilty pleasure out of knowing someone’s secrets. At some point in the journey, it became clinical. Therapists who can’t take the misery get a different job.

So when you told me that dirty little secret, chances are I didn’t flinch. As you have surmised by now, this isn’t bragging, it’s just math.

Where is this headed? Shame is a powerful thing. People carry embarrassment and that dirt, and we all have that story where we came clean with someone and they hurt us. It may sound pedantic but there is often that old voice in our head reminding us we are such a loser that no one could really accept or love us if they knew how messed up we really were. If they knew the things we’ve done or the places we’ve been…

I’m not a catholic but I get why people go to confession. People in my profession often surrogate as a secular priest for clients, that cathartic thing again. My friends who have done a 12-Step Program remember Step 5 – I’ve heard a few myself. Step 5 is my day job.

One more thing. I have heard stories that involve really sick crap that would blow most minds, and perhaps your masturbation problem or weird fantasy, or history of abuse, or… whatever, could benefit from an outside, possibly more objective, perspective. And that’s why I get paid the money. This is, in no way, an attempt to belittle issues you have struggled with for years; I hope you can see my heart in this. Many words with one singular purpose – maybe it’s time to demystify your dirty little secret and get a clean perspective from someone who won’t judge you or make light of your journey. Catharsis can be a powerful tool for healing.

It will only sting a little, I promise.

Learn Like Sherlock

The BBC breakout hit Sherlock is perhaps one of the most famous television series in the world. A relative unknown, Benedict Cumberbatch has become a worldwide sociopathic genius heart-throb. One of the attractions of the show is the filming and presentation. When you watch Sherlock you are transported into his mind, you see what he is thinking; it’s very fascinating. He has an incredible brain, an eidetic memory, and he’s super weird.

Sherlock uses a technique he is famous for called a mind palace or a memory palace. The Mind Palace is a place where genius’s store memories so they can recall anything with library-like precision. At the end of the last series, it was literally mind palace vs. mind palace as two super geniuses tried to outsmart each other. This memory technique allows the user to remember seemingly endless lists or events or details which escape the rest of us.

I can teach you how to have a mind palace in 30 minutes of soft labor. True story.

We are into our ninth month of Mental Wellness Curriculum and we continue to do this because the leaders of this thing are a bunch of dreamers and idealists who really think that we can make a difference in people’s lives by using martial arts to build better people. Wiser people. We started this year talking about the most famous month of curriculum we ever put out called, “Becoming A Lifelong Learner”. We invited people to learn along with us and together we would try to find meaning for our lives and learn how to live a healthier, more whole, futures. Over the months we have shared stories and talked about important things. This month we want to get very practical. This month we want to help with some tools that work, tools you can use.

So this week we invite you to learn how to learn better. One very practical way you can improve your life drastically is by remembering more stuff. Our counseling team can tell you that learning how to become a better thinker, a smarter and more interested person, really changes your forever.

Here’s the easy way. Darren Brown is a world-famous illusionist who made a guest appearance on Sherlock in the episode where Sherlock jumps off the roof (spoiler alert). He has a three-part podcast/book with only three chapters called Tricks Of The Mind. In this minibook he teaches you, in 30-minute segments, how to understand magic, memory, and hypnosis. The book is brilliant. In thirty minutes you will know how hypnosis and illusion works, why people are gullible and prone to believe in unusual things, the basics of magic and a few cool tricks, and last but not least – how to build your own Memory Palace.

I have a Mind Palace. It is literally my house in Mission. I have recreated my house in my mind and Darren Brown taught me how to put things around my place so my brain can remember them. My mailbox is my first trigger. In my mind I open my mailbox and there is a bunch of vegetables inside. I must remember to pick up vegetables when I get to Safeway. Next, I open the door and that triggers another little silly picture in my brain involving a door knob and a slab of meat. Don’t even go there. Sherlock’s Memory Palace is a cheesy way to learn how to remember 35 things on your grocery list or where you put your car keys. People who can remember more will learn faster, retain more of the important stuff, and that skill leaks over into their lives every day.

So learn how to have your own Memory Palace. There are plenty of places online willing to teach you in about twenty minutes. I also use the Link System as a party favorite with friends, or when I want to remember six or seven things real fast. Learning how to learn faster is an incredibly important skill for everyone.

One Bite At A Time

How do you swallow an elephant? One bite at a time.
Old Fable

This week I spoke with one of you about eating elephants. It seems more and more apparent, at least in my small part of the village, that at some point in any journey worth taking you are going to feel overwhelmed. The 20th Century has redefined the art of being busy. Remember when you thought you had no time in the 20th Century? Amateurs. The onset of the biggest culture shift since the Reformation is redefining who you are and what pounds into your head, 14 or 16 hours a day. The noise, noise, noise; the Grinch was right. Text messaging and Facebook and your constant web companions are literally rewiring you on a neurological level, and few of us have wondered to what degree the virtual world could transform world culture and what effect that will have on your brain and your psyche and your family in generations to come. I told someone today that the single worst mistake I made in my parenting was buying my youngest an Xbox. He used to play outside. He owns a bike. A good snowboarder. Too bad so many of our kids would prefer to stay at home and molt into the furniture if we let them.

Last week my son, my dad, and I took an eco-tour via sailboat to the Marietas Islands  Bird Sanctuary with Pegaso Charters, the coolest dudes you will ever meet. We spent an entire day on a classic sailboat and it was absolute nirvana. It will change your life. Eight-and-a-half hours of warm ocean swells, weird and cool facts about the local ecosystem, snorkeling and lounging at a private park beach; way out in the ocean. I wanted to go again the next day. I love to sail. For six hours I stood, back against the thinnest of insulated cables, dancing with the ocean. At first it is difficult to find your sea legs, though this passes quickly. For a time you hold on to the cabling and feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme. Later you begin to let go and move with the music.

Two people spent much of the day texting. What is happening to us?

Sailing is a very holy experience for me. Years ago my friend Julie had a sailboat in her family and we got to steer the 34 footer across the Vancouver Bay area. This was different. We were headed somewhere, a point in the horizon aboard a vessel with dimensions similar to Ragnar’s and Leif’s Viking galleys, 500 years before Columbus hired a better publicist. It is almost immediately apparent, aboard that beautiful sailboat, how sailors and fisherpersons and Vikings wrote about becoming one with the ocean. My daughter-in-laws family is filled with tugboat captains, they know what I mean. Swaying with the ocean for hours at a time is a deeply religious experience if you choose to pay attention. My geek friends know what I am talking about. Thinking about philosophy or being one with the great vastness of the ocean is very zen when you are catching the wind in those lily-white sails.

But I digress.

Life is very complicated if you look at it, all at once. If you are negotiating a tough present or future, if you struggle to feel like you give a damn, if you wonder if you will die alone, this world  can sometimes be too much to bear. Remember when we were talking about how overwhelming you life was? The only way to deal with that noise is to begin at the beginning. Days aboard sailboats are few and far between, and it is very easy to fall out of sync with the ocean. Problems seem enormous when we are tired out and fond of losing, when we feel like losers or when the situation is going on and on and on and there is no relief in sight.

One bite at a time. Parents ask me everyday how they can get through to that child who is lost, or consistently high, or struggling with body issues, or depression, or anxiety. When your baby is doing cocaine you want an action plan. It’s tempting to storm into that room and put that kid on an episode of Intervention, but that isn’t the real world and it isn’t going to work unless your kid is Amish. It’s time to listen to your counselor.

You need to sleep and eat something made of fruit. This may not be sexy but when lives fall apart people lose 24 pounds and go bat-crap crazy. I remember nights of absolute insanity, like really made-for-tv weird kind of stuff. You are going to be no good to anyone if you are freaking crazy. I know you need to tell me the story, one more time, again and again. I get that you want the world to change in one day and your spouse to know you have really really changed for good, but I’m not the one who is barking at the moon. Becoming a Jedi is about consistency, not climaxes. People who figure themselves out have spent thousands of hours living the program, one day at a time, one argument or heartache or anxious experience at a time. Everyone wants a golden ticket but complex psychological change takes years.

Start by taking better care of yourself. You are definitely worth it. Learn the tools you will need to cope with your spinning thoughts. Practice what you preach. Watch Midnight in Paris or The Razor’s Edge (1984) or the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I know it’s cheesy but that’s kind of the point. If what you are doing is not taking you there, than all a guy like me can tell you is to switch game plans. You have been programmed by our chemistry and our family and those stupid 80’s sitcoms like Three’s Company. Literally the entire planet is trying to convince you of something, and chances are your childhood didn’t prepare you for the crushing relentlessness of real life. If the horse is dead get off of it, don’t try to ride faster, or however that cliché goes. Counselor types constantly harp on self-care for a reason, and that reason is usually that  you aren’t doing it enough.

Most of us experience times when we really have no idea what to do. You cannot force that kid to stop smoking weed but you may be able to get them to talk to someone about their anxiety or why they need to self-medicate their crappy lives. A decent counselor can provide you with a few dozen strategies that you will inherently already know, but cannot think of, when your life is screaming in your ear. The journey to wholeness is a series of little life hacks and the discipline to keep working on this crap long after it stops being fun. STOPP Therapy and Neil Gaiman horror poems and obscure foreign movies. Dozens and dozens of cheesy tools that sound like they were created by a seven-year-old. Thousands of conversations and failed attempts and tiny victories.

A Letter To A Friend

I have spent some time thinking about you lately. I know, that sounds so creepy.

You told me that you have lost some faith in the process and life is not working out for you, right now. I can hear you talking and sometimes there are silences because I am absorbing the weight of your despair. You carry a very heavy burden, and have been for a while. This has been a long drought.

At this point in the journey counseling rarely helps in any tangible way. I think a person gets beaten up for so long that, like in any prize fight, eventually you are so punch-drunk that it’s impossible to stand up straight; and it seems like you will never stand tall again. I get that. Counseling is hard enough to believe in when things are going your way.

There is a cardinal rule in counseling that, as a therapist, you never make it about you. Good counselors don’t abscond with the pain and diminish the journey of those who are suffering. But this is a letter and I’m not charging you for this session. So I will be ever so brief when I contend that I know a little about what it feels like to be suicidal, and I’m familiar with years of gut-wrenching pain. In a very unfortunate way, many of us can relate to this living death, and this is a club that no one wants to join. Welcome to our team, we suck.

There are lessons in life that you only learn in hell. As cliché as this may sound, it is oft repeated because it also happens to be very true for oh so many of us. You are visiting the living death, and I can only imagine how soul crushing that must be. In your particular case, there was no life-killing death or disease, just the relentless grind of the ordinary, and the profanity of a world that kills our dreams. Someone hurt you very bad, all those years ago, and some kinds of scars don’t go away without mountains of therapy. Those of us who have been neglected, or bore physical or mental “deformities”, those who were bullied or beaten or raped, that stuff is very real and it will wreck your life if you don’t take this very seriously. But enough preaching.

Don’t give up. Nothing I can say to you is going to help right now, but there is one thing I do know for sure. If you stick this out you are going to be wiser. This is meaning of life stuff. You believe that this life is going to go on forever and that’s normal. Virtually no one really understands where the journey is going to end when it has been months and years of failure and broken promises.

Sometimes, when I listen to the stories all day long, I get caught up in the hopelessness. There have been times in our sessions when your frustration and hurt washes over me, and I get just a glimpse of what it must feel like to live in your reality. I have literally watched hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have been punched in the throat and are convinced that their problems are terminal, and are tempted to give up. Hell, many of us give up all the time.

I have known others in this journey who have spent years, and I mean years, struggling to cope with a reality they never dreamed possible. Lives of loss and loneliness and the fear that their lives don’t matter and they will die, forgotten.

Don’t give up. Someday is coming, it’s just probably going to take years longer than you have been promised or believe. Longer than anyone imagines. I told something this morning that it could take years to move beyond some mental health challenges. Keep reading and thinking and arguing with me, I can take it. I do this job because I firmly believe it is possible to create a different future, and I watched my father systematically do so as I was growing up. The people in my family believe that the future is not set because my orphaned parent fought against all odds and fixed his shitty reality. Some lessons only come with time and sometimes it isn’t time, quite yet. Most of us don’t have an inspirational orphan story to keep us going when we have only known failure all our lives. How can you embrace a future you believe only exists in movies and for other people.

Reminds me of that quote, “passing on what you didn’t learn”.

Dealing With Your Stuff

Let’s be honest, dealing with that stuff from your past isn’t easy. Truer words are rarely spoken. Like you, I have heard hundreds of experts groan on about how their system or mindset or new book on sale at Amazon (mention this program for a 10% discount) will “transform your life in 8 weeks”. Real mental health clinicians usually take those claims with a grain of salt. Anyone in my field can give you a formula for success and it won’t take 8 weeks.Knowing the right answers has very little to do with being serious about being different. The tools you need to address you issues are relatively simple to learn (in theory) and very difficult to master. If you have a major issue with anxiety or depression or abuse or any number of mental challenges, it is going to take work and time. Oh ya, real change takes time, and usually lots of it. But with the right tools, and a dedication to do whatever it takes, you can begin to experience significant change in just a few months.

One of the reasons change takes time is because of this principle in psychology: Real change begins with changing your mind, not your activities or emotions. Most people want to change their situation or their location or their income or any number of outside things. As the therapist says, “change your mind and your butt will follow”. It’s rarely the other way around. There may be little you can do to change those people and problems in your life which constantly try to push you down, and knowing that is very important. We have all tried to fix others and eventually we come to realize that at the end of the day, we can only work on ourselves.

As your online friend I would like to challenge you to deal with your thoughts, show you how to practice taking back control of your impulses, and help you learn to address your dysfunctional coping skills and cognitive distortions. More on that later.

Hurting people can move forward. This reminds us of another truth about change: You either hurt enough you have to or learn enough you want to. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn enough to change, just one time? I hate learning every lesson the hard way. You may need to drag your emotions and garbage and racing thoughts, kicking and screaming, back into your control. You will have to fight your own dysfunctional thinking and learn to get control of your mind, battle your obsessions, say no to your desires, and question your own beliefs. This is a great deal of work and pain but the reward is sanity, hope, and a shot at a happy life. As the saying goes, we’re not telling you it’s going to be easy, we’re telling you it will be worth it.

Don’t be discouraged. These things take time but, before very long, you will begin to see positive results. You only have one precious life and wouldn’t it be amazing if you could learn contentment and wisdom?

There are no shortcuts, contrary to what many people are selling. You can begin today to make your life different. Some people are finished products and have decided to settle for a broken life. Don’t be like those people. To do so is to succumb to bitterness and misery, if not now then soon. So begin right now. Begin small.

Many people work on their mental health like they diet. Every now and then they shake themselves awake and decide to read a book or see someone. These are both very good things but, like most diets, this is a lifestyle change, not a passing fad. As we said months ago, the goal is to become a lifelong learner. It’s not about one book or one documentary or one more crazy article on the internet about bacon or the ozone or why you should drink 8 glasses of water a day. The journey to mental wellness requires humility and the understanding that there are things I still need to learn, this is not just about great intentions.

Talk to someone. Listen to an audiobook or sit in the sun and pretend to read something good for you. Go back to school. Take on online course. Watch a documentary. Learn enough about your own issues that you gradually change, one experience at a time.

One of the coolest parts about being a counselor is the opportunity to walk alongside people from that first frustrated, hopeless, impossible day; and watch them gradually begin to morph. It may be virtually impossible to see your own change, you live with that mess every day. I get to sit on the outside and watch the genesis take place.

Then one day you walk into my office or table at a coffee shop and it becomes apparent something is different. Neither of us can point to a time or a day when things got this way, it seems to have happened by accident. Most real change, in my experience, doesn’t come from an epiphany or conversion experience. For the rest of us, there is only slogging forward and hoping for the best. And on that day, you suddenly realize something a few of us have noticed for months – you are changed, somehow.

 

 

 

Making Peace With Me

I remember, as a young child, being told, “quit bragging!”. Adults told me, told you, not to brag, because bragging about yourself was very, very, wrong. Be humble, I was taught. People who talk about themselves are egomaniacs. We tell our kids they are amazing, but don’t really want it to go to their head.
Psychology is cool. If you take the time to learn about people you begin to understand that it’s possible to like yourself without turning into a jerk. The science on this is fairly straightforward, insecure people brag too much. People who have made peace with themselves and have a decent self-image tend to be humble, and for one very obvious reason: the more you learn about life, the more you understand how much you still do not know. Most of us struggle with crippling self-esteem issues and if we do not deal with this lack of self-confidence, this stuff isn’t going away. As your Mental Wellness Team we would like to remind you that you are pretty darn amazing and there is plenty to like, if you allow yourself.
Liking yourself does not automatically make you arrogant or insecure. People who accept who they are do not need the approval of others, and are usually not fixated on jumping through hoops to be loved. Self-confidence is a very good thing, when it comes out of a healthy state of mind and body. Appreciating your skills and personality, even loving yourself, is a very good thing. It’s time for someone to say it – it’s important to like who you are.
It’s time to make peace with you. Many of us are keenly aware that we will probably never be perfect; the challenge is to be good with that.
Here’s another little gem from psychology – The opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem; the opposite of poor self-esteem is self-acceptance. Learning to like and appreciate who you are is perhaps the meaning of life, or at least the beginning of wisdom. What an amazing family this would be if we could learn to like ourselves, in spite of our long list of failures or shortcomings. Healthy people realize that it is important to also have a list of their pure awesomeness.
There is no magic formula for good self-esteem. There is no way you can suddenly think you are amazing when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are. Healing begins by putting away the microscope and the unrealistic expectations. You don’t need to pretend you are something you can never be. You can stop looking at the blemishes and begin to focus on your potential. Making peace with your shortcomings has nothing to do with thinking you are beautiful or perfect or brilliant, and everything to do with putting down your weapons of self-destruction and refusing to fixate on what is missing. Like many things on this journey called life, this is about changing how you think, not how you look.
So go ahead, crow!
*thanks to Marie Pudlas for her photo

 

Mindfulness Exercises: And Now For Your Virtual Vacation

My good friend Lori is a great writer and has started taking virtual vacations. This is a great mindfulness exercise for anyone who needs a break from the rain or the snow or the office. Ever wanted to go to England but don’t have the time or money? Just sit back and let Lori be your tour guide.

For years I have introduced clients to Neil Gaiman’s five-minute and twenty-three second walk through fantasy land called, “Instructions”. A Buddhist may encourage you to listen to a rock grow. Some people go tanning. Many of us have a go-to song for when we are feeling low or pouty. I’ve recently reconnected with my 12-year-old self who likes doing “Dot To Dots”. Some of us go fishing or take a nap or watch that channel with video cameras at places on the planet where people are having way more fun than you are right now. The vehicle doesn’t really matter, it’s the journey and the destination which counts. Continue reading “Mindfulness Exercises: And Now For Your Virtual Vacation”

My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.

My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”

Go To Sleep

I have three grandchildren. Young kids marrying young kids, marrying young kids. Now that they have spawned, I regularly tell my children they are redundant, sperm donors who no longer serve any other familial purpose. I am a counselor so I’m used to being honest with people for money.

Isaac is two-years-old and a force of nature. He is the one in the beer hat, although we would never do that and I get one first. Isaac and I are joined at the hip and he is definitely my little man. Continue reading “Go To Sleep”

Why We Care More About Paris

The world feels like a terrifying place. People are dying in Paris while at a middle class concert. What if we are next?

Catastrophizing is normal, when we hear stories like this. Suddenly the world feels a little less safe. People in Mission, British Columbia are talking about not attending concerts in Vancouver because ISIS might attack. The world has changed.

The funny thing is, Canada is generally safer than it ever has been. Crime, thanks to DNA and technology and changing societal norms, is actually down in many areas. So why are we so afraid? Continue reading “Why We Care More About Paris”