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.

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.”

Empty Space

My wife and I had an argument. It took me some time to realize that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I know I’m a man and that is typically how we define normal, but his was different. I mean, I understood the words, even in proper order, but I couldn’t understand why she was so into this thing. Looking back, Scott was incredibly confused but didn’t know it because, work with me here, I was confused. Continue reading “Empty Space”

Inner Monologue

I have voices inside my head. Not the kind where you take medications, the other one. The voice we all have, the whisper telling you to go pee right now. That constant inner conversation rattling around inside every head. Well, not all the time, I’m a guy.

There was a time in my life when my inner monologue was much more insane. Anyone who has ever gone off the deep end can tell you, things can get very scary inside that dysfunctional brain of yours. The constant feeling of tension , the weird thoughts, the nattering stressful boredom sometimes makes you nuts. Sorry to get technical there. You may become so engrossed in the internal soap opera it’s virtually impossible to remain objective. Scary thing is, it’s all so… rational.

Only it isn’t.

Did I say it was a monologue? Maybe it is more accurate to describe the experience as a wave mixed with an emotional rush; broken words and feelings all tumbling towards the unknown. I pitched this idea to one of my editors, Lori, and here’s how she responded:

I’m thinking about the movie Constantine. Cynical chain-smoking John Constantine, the weird androgynous Gabriel ~ and how Constantine went down to hell to find that girl who’d committed suicide at the psych ward. That place of monologue or trauma is a lot like hell. Constantine was loosely based on a comic called HellBlazer. I think once we know that ‘place’ we can never unknow it. Kind of like how once we become awake, we can never become asleep again. But knowing it, I think this makes it so we understand the depth of its agony. I think that’s maybe why you counsel and I feel like I need to ‘go there’ with people. I’m drawing some possibly unconnected analogy to the movie, but it makes me feel better about it all. Hell blazers.

That’s why she’s one of my editors.

The quote says it this way, “If there wasn’t a hell we would invent one”.

Here’s Lori again.

I think it’s almost reductionist to call it trauma or cognitive distortion or monologue. It’s a ‘place’. A virtual rendering of hell. In some way if I can look at it as a place, I can leave it as well as revisit it. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality.

Immanuel Kant spoke of dueling alternate realities. There is the world as I perceive it, and the world as it really is. They are different. Right now you may be worrying about something completely irrational. You may even know it’s cray cray but continue to worry, nonetheless. What if that worst-case scenario thingy happened? We all are young enough to believe in the worst. Very bad things can happen to very good people. Maybe that person really doesn’t like you.

There’s the rub, as they say. A lifetime of experiences, often bad ones, disappointment and heartache and pain and unrequited love and low-fat products which went to your hips have convinced most of us that we need to micromanage our internal head space and believe the madness pouring through our defences and threatening to invite us to start cutting or drinking or checking out, one more time. Lori was absolutely right – there are times when we need to be reminded that this is a fantasy and you need to wake up.

She stole my ending. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality. I aspire to be that person, when I am able. Chances are this is something you could also get behind. We all need someone who can take our hand when we lose our way. Thanks Steve.

Perhaps there was a time when people could bear this load alone. I am fascinated by the strength and the sheer badassness of those who served this country in war, often many years ago. The man who could survive the soaked hell-traps in the trenches of The Great War. People long dead who simply would not lie down in front of oppression and hate. Frightened teenagers who cried “We shall overcome, someday”. Children crawling through the jungles in the name of a cause they neither understood nor cared anything about. Countless women in history who were raped and decided to continue living. I am not that person.

I desperately want to be that person.

When you are crazy it doesn’t hurt to have someone in your life who is further along the journey or is in possession of knowledge they need to teach you. I have those people in my life and this is the primary reason I am so passionate about learning. Some of us need to figure this out and if it isn’t me than it sure as hell better be you.

This is going to hurt but you should probably do it anyway. Give someone permission to call you on your crap. Take the time or pay the money or scam a priest if you need to, but just do it. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have walked through the doors I haunt. We have six counselors working today and they are all very busy. It’s trendy to have a shrink so come on, you hipster.

There are periods in our life when we no longer possess enough information to make an informed choice about something very pressing and stressful. It is at these times when some of your friends come to see me, just to punch something that doesn’t punch back. I may as well be air-freshener (and if you know me you have probably heard me refer to myself as exactly that), you just need a place to unpack a lot of poop.

Lose long enough and it becomes impossible to think clearly; when your reality is someone’s definition of purgatory. Most of us just roll with the punches and pray that our Lottery Ticket will hit big.

That may be living but that is not a life.

Talk to someone. Those who are humble enough to be taught will usually find their way.

Lori: I read a good thing, I think it was on Psychology Today. They asked people about their fondest childhood memories, and invariably they were stories about screw ups. The listeners would smile knowingly and they’d all have a good laugh and share war stories afterwards. But people really valued others who would point out where they went off.

In retrospect of course.

Change The World

“The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs,” he said. “If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”
Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State

Edward Snowden changed the world, and like most revolutionaries, the machine is trying to kill him. Believe what you want about Mr. Ed, his revelation was a game-changer. I’m on holidays (because we sometimes call it that in Canada) and right now I’m looking at the lake and watching Terminal F. This is a documentary about the events around the events of Snowden’s recent life. As far as documentaries go, it’s less biased than the mainstream, and less sympathetic than my virtual friends who live in the world of anonymity would appreciate. I study subjects like cultural engineering and the other side of the web and cybersecurity for the same reason I look at most things – everything is so incredibly interesting.

One day nerds will look back on 2013 and have conferences about how the world changed that spring. They will talk about the world of 9/11 and the cultural precursors to what went on; the decline of the nuclear family, the end of religion as a cultural force, the wars and the unrest and Anonymous and the growth and power of the virtual insurgency. After literally the entire history of humanity a fifteen-year-old kid from Nairobi suddenly has a voice and a forum and potentially a gun, if she learns how to use Bitcoin. And everytime she turns on her computer or texts a friend that information is recorded by people who may not have her best interests and freedoms at heart. What are you willing to give up to live in a safe world? Are you willing to give up your freedom? These are very important and complex questions.

No one knows how this is going to shake out, but several intelligent people are fairly adamant that Snowden may have just stopped 1984. It’s entirely possible that a 29-year-old computer geek singlehandedly changed the course of human history and stopped A Brave New World. It’s every cheesy youth dystopian movie you watched in 2014. Phrases like “surveillance state” started popping up on YouTube and on Frontline. The journalists who broke the story did not work for The National Enquirer, they worked at The Guardian, a real voice that wins Pulitzers.

Edward Snowden may just be the most valuable person in the world.

Snowden smells more like a brilliant Gavrilo Princip than a rich politician. He is normal, not beautiful, maybe even an idealist. Like Gavrilo he may have changed the course of human history forever, this time with a few SD cards instead of a gun or sword or bow. Many of us are convinced that there were some very disturbing things going on in cyberspace, and I’m not talking about buying cocaine at Silk Road. We are finding out that people were watching, developing programs and advertising and spyware and it was beginning to look like those conspiracy freaks weren’t as off as we all assumed they were. With Stephen Hawking now prophesying the invasion of our robot overlords, things just got freaking weird. Terminator weird.

Not everyone thinks Edward Snowden is a messiah, however. Many people who wear blue suits and red ties believe he has put us all at risk. It is a scary world, and anyone who has ever stumbled on the Deep Web can attest that there are evil and vindictive people out there, and many of them have a platform. The internet is a potential nightmare and someone needs to stand up for what has been right for so very long. You won’t be a raging liberal after someone rapes your wife in the name of some cause they joined online. Stop screwing around. Spooks in Washington and Ottawa and redneck politicians want this man dead because he has shown all their cards to the bad people and that is bad enough; but now the Proles are waking up. It’s all bizarre and apocalyptic and even the American government freely admits that Snowden’s documents were completely legit. Strange.

Edward Snowden was subcontracted to the NSA, arguably one of the most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence networks in the world. Such agencies have, probably by their own admission, arisen as a necessary evil to combat very dark forces that will, not in theory, hurt people you love for money or power or a radical cause. This does not seem debatable and has been going on since life was mould. One little nerd brought the surveillance state and many gigantic companies to their knees and changed the world forever, for good or evil, depending on which couch you are sitting in. If you are not up to speed on this issue you owe it to yourself to become educated. This is very important stuff.

This young man is now hiding in Russia, which plays beautifully into the political narrative wherein ES has put American interests at risk and he’s working for the enemy, on purpose or not. Regardless of who is right his name will be in history books, hundreds of years from now. How weird is it if you feel just a little bit jealous?

We all want to be significant and that is not a bad thing. In counseling we talk about this all the time, the systematic devastation and crushing anonymity of this culture and it’s toll on every one of us. Many spend their entire lives looking for something that sticks out, only to die with a yearning sense of almost. I will probably never have the opportunity to engage a planet and chances are you may not either. So now to find out what is left.

We are tempted to lie to ourselves and thereby diminish our hopes; with internal conversations about how unrealistic our champagne wishes were anyway. Every time I give up a dream or lose a little more hope for a meaningful life a little piece of my idealism dies.

I know so many bitter older people. I get that. Gone are the pretty parties and the unquenchable adrenaline. Welcome prostate exams and vaginal dryness. Watching your life slip away while still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up really sucks. How many times have you wished for another kick at the can because next time you would somehow know all the lessons it has taken us a lifetime to accumulate? The truth is you will not get another kick at any can and I don’t know about you but I do not want to look back at my life and realize I wasted my one chance.

Call it a rationalization if you want but it is important to realize that you do not have to make the cover of Rolling Stone to live a life that matters. You may never be in a history book but you could write your story any time you wish. While you may never be rich and famous, you could invest in a broken life and bring hope to dozens of people if you wanted to. We all choose to succumb to hopelessness, and if you decide you don’t want to be around that is entirely your choice. If you don’t want to step out on the ice quite yet it’s not too late to turn the ship around. Bitterness is a choice. Choosing to be critical of everyone who doesn’t ascribe to your very particular criteria is a choice. Pettiness and negativity and continually talking about your damn sore elbow that no one really cares about is a choice. Fixating on your problems for fifty years is entirely a choice. The desire to one day wake up with a smile and a new dream is also a choice. So is getting up one more time when you struggle to find meaning right now. So is saying no to our raging self-indulgence.

I’m looking around the table and it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to realize that people tend to end up in one of two camps; the old and beautiful and the old and bitchy. There are a million reasons to end up a smoldering hot pocket but at the end of the day no one is going to give a crap why you are still angry about that guy who ruined you fifty years ago. Please don’t think I am diminishing the incessant grind of stress and hurt and disappointment. What I am suggesting is that it is up to me how this plays out.

I will never be Edward Snowden because every one of us is dealt a different hand and mine doesn’t look like it’s going to end up with a Gucci watch. Ed may wind up in a prison cell, this world loves to crucify its prophets. I for one am grateful that he had the courage to do what was right, and the cojones to pull it off. Many people disagree with me and I for one am glad that you have the freedom to tell me off all you want. I have the freedom to not give a damn.

At the end of the day I desperately do not want to become a petty and whiny old man who spends his life complaining about how the kids of today aren’t like when I was a kid. Someone put me out of my misery first. Please. This life is screaming by, and we are all going to be dust before too long; so for the love of God don’t give up.

 

Someday’s Coming

Someday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check Up From The Neck Up

I’m going on vacation today. Right now that seems so far away, in the distant haze of a much later today; but by the time you read this I will be zen.

My wife keeps booking me appointments at the dentist. Like, every year. When I was single I could go forever without going to the dentist but of course I would never admit that in a forum such as this. Apparently people go to the doctor, for no apparent reason, just to check in or check up or whatever it’s called. I go to the doctor when I need something fixed, gouged, or medicated. I happen to break allot so why would I go again just to have him take my blood pressure? They don’t even give out candy at my age. My wife seems to think this will keep me alive longer so I asked her, “what makes you think I want to live longer?” So controlling. Continue reading “Check Up From The Neck Up”

Hammer, Meet Nail.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer,
to treat everything as if it were a nail.
Abraham Maslow

Every week I get to hang out with Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police and feel moderately badass by proxy. It is a strange feeling, when I visit a crime scene, as it dawns on me that I am the only person in the group without body armour and a Glock. Police have an arsenal of weapons, not all of which are deadly. My colleague is a female member who has never had to pull her firearm. She may carry a lethal weapon but she is a master at diffusion, distraction, and de-escalation. Not all members are as adroit as my friend, however.

If your only option is a gun, there is a temptation to pull your weapon and wave it around at a group of teenagers at a pool party. You may have all sorts of issues with tasers but I still prefer taking a few volts to a bullet in the center mass, but that’s just me. The fact that the officer has other tools in her arsenal can KitKat_logo.svgkeep me alive. Give me a baton to the head every time. I do, however, prefer a KitKat.

Though it is usually not referred to in such mechanical terms, counselors quite frequently talk about the hammer. If your ‘go to’ is heroin and your children are destroying your will to live, chances are you will eventually meander your way back to a dealer, in spite of best intentions. If all you have left is anger and yelling, then that’s the hammer you are going to employ when someone pisses you off. I know people who can cry at the drop of a hat, ensuring they never have to honestly address their dysfunction. Those who take offence, persons who run and hide, many who lie or control or freeze. For several reasons too convoluted to discuss here, much of society has a very limited toolbox; and for some of us, there is only a hammer.

I do not want to be your nail.

There are those who struggle with significant anger issues and love to swing their hammer around (I know, it works on two levels but we are pretending to be adults, so get your mind out of the gutter you perv). We all have that one relative who is overly quick to take offence. The chronically bitter, or negative, or just plain bitchy. A few of us find any reason to play the victim.  If all you have is a hammer, as Maslow and others have stated, eventually everything begins to look like a nail. People use anger because it works. Whining works. Controlling can also work, if only for a time. It is shocking how often some people complain. Bitterness will paint your entire worldview. So can chronic depression, or trauma, or a boring and meaningless existence. Time for drastic change. It’s all or nothing. Delete your Facebook page, join the gym and take too many classes. Hammer away. Sure it may be the wrong direction but damn it, we’ll just drive faster. Don’t take crap from anyone. Punch that loser out. Go ahead, make my day.

Hammers are rarely subtle. Even the perceived criticism, fault, or indiscretion is an opportunity to swing away. When one has the most limited of resources (tools) than it is almost certain they will default to what they already know.

One has but to interact with a teenager to validate this hypothesis. When I was in my late teens I knew everything; my world was incredibly finite. Ignorance is its own reward; you get a world you understand and can control. Self-awareness invites a universe infested with chaos, impossible to contain. I did not know what I did not know, so I believed I knew. Now I know.

Teenagers tend to believe they can diagnose the world’s woes solely based on their limited and vastly overrated understanding of the meaning of life. This is just one reason why many teenagers are as stupid as lawn darts. Yes I said that, but you have felt the same way and let’s not pretend a fifteen-year-old is just an adult with pants that will not stay up. It is an unfortunate factoid that we tend to abuse our bodies and minds so completely during a time in our life when we have only a partially connected frontal lobe. Teenagers are brain-damaged in the most literal sense of the word.

Adolescence is also a time of increasing independence and self-determination; the same self-determination which led genius over there to drink rubbing alcohol this past weekend because it said the word “alcohol” on the white part of the label (don’t ask), and no one was going to tell him he couldn’t drink something that could kill him.

But I digress.

It is not just your pimply sixteen-year-old who likes to hammer out his problems. Men often do this in relationships as well. My wife wanted to tell me a story about her messed up day. She asked me for input. I made the mistake, yet again, of believing she actually wanted my brilliant solutions to her problem. I do this for a living and I make that rookie mistake day after day. Hammer, meet nail. Problem solved. You’ll be fine, as long as you pay attention and do exactly what I tell you. Women love it when I say that.

There is something deep inside me that enjoys being in control. I am tempted to believe my own narrative, the one where I convince myself about my need to be right.

Moving forward can mean having to learn new tools, new ways of acting and even reacting. Perhaps there is also a piece in there about letting go of a bit of the intensity that I manufacture to keep my world sane. Like many of us I am endeavouring to let go of tools which have been in my box for years; words like insecurity and grief and immaturity and my need to fit in. From here on it is critical that we develop tools which work, not just ‘used to work’. Anger and grief may have defined your existence but they don’t have to become a terminal illness.

One more thing. Hammers usually find a nail to hit. If I think the world is a horrible place I will probably be proven correct. There are no end to the reasons why I should be bitter, or angry, or depressed. Now is the time when I need to adjust my default mechanisms, my biases, in order to move forward. Anger often works but you may need to redefine what you mean by the word “works”. It may help you win that argument even if you have to destroy someone’s character to do so. Changing my automatic thoughts has proven to be an incredibly difficult challenge. Learning to think differently is ultimately the most powerful, albeit difficult, personal achievement on my radar.

 

Here’s Your Mulligan

I stumbled into a porn recently. I am keenly aware, at this very second, of how that must sound so please allow me to explain. I was out for coffee with a friend and we decided to sit in the courtyard by a Waves Coffee. Above the courtyard were residences with balconies. On the balcony directly above us is where you are supposed to now engage your imagination. It is remarkable, the acoustics of a suburban courtyard. Loud, even. My friend is much younger than I. Much much. It felt like a nuclear explosion, “Oh look at that cool cloud formation”. Followed next by, “Wow, that cloud formation looks like a carpet coming towards us!”. Followed by screaming, things breaking, wind… silence.

At first nothing registers. Then, slowly at first but increasing in awareness, it begins to dawn on you what it is you are actually listening to. This is followed closely by growing recognition and an icky feeling you cannot quite yet identify. There it comes.

Just like a bad porno itself, our eyes meet, my friend and I, and we both have a seriously messed up expression on our faces. Screams. Things breaking. Wind. But no silence.

There are times in life for which you cannot really plan. I have seen things in the past month, bizarre things. I love my job. As random as that might sound, my life is a series of small adventures broken up by days of boredom and groceries and driving. It is precisely those ‘moments’ which give my life purpose, depth, meaning. So much of my existence is wasted trying to get out of doing things only to realize that it is those precise things I am avoiding which bring richness to the monotony. I may be going out on a limb here but I’ve probably watched enough television to ensure that I’ve milked all the wisdom it deems to spew on me. People text all the bloody time and I text them back. My Facebook is an imagination feeder but it’s still noise, noise, noise. Phone, computer, TV, radio, texting, communicating, noise.

It is time to get in your kayak, and I’ll get in mine. Screw Melanoma, get a tan. Have you ever stuck your entire face in watermelon and if not, when? Last weekend my wife and I got out-of-town because sometimes we forget what it’s like to be friends amongst the noise. I will consider it a personal failure if I don’t get into the water before the end of June. Stop being so old and jump in a puddle before you become a grouchy old fart. No one cares about your medical problems, or mine for that matter. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere may be a figment of my imagination but I can buy a lollipop and it’s sunny out, so two out of three ain’t bad.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes you have to say “screw it” to your own mental health issues and crap life. There are days when you have paid enough, suffered enough, confessed enough, and it’s time to go out for a beer with a friend on a patio. I know life sometimes blows and I promise to spend more than sufficient time feeling miserable; but right now it’s sunny out and I’m going to give you a Mulligan. I don’t golf  but I know what the word means. Golfing may be great in theory, but there is enough frustration in my life without screaming bloody murder at a small white ball. I don’t like walking and they won’t let me go off-road with the carts so I quit golfing but I’m keeping the Mulligan.

Everybody deserves a do over, a day off, and a nap. Your problems are going to be waiting for you after you get out of the boat so you needn’t worry, you won’t miss anything. One of the principles that we teach clients in counseling does an excellent job of training my brain to move on, if only for a moment. I will teach it to you now and save you $90, or $275 if you think you need a medical person to confirm what your clinical counselor told you a couple of years ago. Like most counseling techniques this one is cheesy and only works for some people; though for more people than you would think if only we practiced this stuff enough to make anything work in the first place. Just saying.

One of the fundamental counseling tools clinicians teach is a variation on what I will call STOPP Therapy. STOPP Therapy is nothing more than learning how to stop yourself from having an emotional spike such as a panic attack, anxiety, or anger. STOPP Therapy is surprisingly efficacious, in spite of sounding stupid when you practice it. Learning to say “no” to my impulses may come very close to being the meaning of life, if not the primary way to rock at it. Just like listening to an accidental porno (I have probably never written those words before), learning to control my emotions is an insanely gradual process. Wisdom is the meshing of knowledge and experience, you simply cannot grow up without giving yourself time to grow up. This may not be the 10,000 hour rule but I can tell you from experience I was pretty dumb 20 years ago and aging may take many things but it leaves you with experience. And experience, when used correctly, becomes wisdom.

You aren’t alone when you discovered that, after all those years away, you did better in college than you thought you would. Unbeknownst to you, there was still an accumulation of time and learning and experience. Granted, many of us have squandered a bit of that time but what the hell, you’re here now so let’s get going.

Once I know a little more about STOPP Therapy it’s time to move happily on to our project for today, your “screw it” moment.

There was a time when, not so long ago as I would wish, I was very broken. I have written of this before and I’m not feeling self-indulgent so let’s roll along, shall we? In that time of my life it felt impossible to move forward, and even taking a few minutes off from my grief seemed unrealistic. After many many bad days I started to practice what I preached and gave myself permission to take 10 minutes off, then 20, 30, and eventually I went an entire day without crying because I forgot I was in pain. Just 10 minutes off. I would set my clock or microwave or phone. Bliss would last approximately 7 seconds then the nightmare would come knocking and I had to learn to say “no” to myself for 10 stinking minutes. Then 20. With time it got easier but not until I had failed first.

For some of us it is a struggle to control the chaos for 10 minutes or even 10 seconds. We have work to do. For others it’s the constant demands on our time from things we spawned or married or divorced or share life with. We all feel sorry for ourselves and sometimes feeling sorry for yourself is a very healthy thing. Other times not so much. One day I realized that no one really cared about my problems as much as I did; and most people went on their merry way and got a Blizzard, in spite of my life falling apart. Just the way it is. As Kant famously pointed out, there is the way I perceive the world and the way the world really is. For many of us that could include the cold hard understanding that there is a way we want the world to be, and then there is something called reality. The real world does not care if I am the hardest working person I know. It does not care if I burn out.

So one last time, please accept this Mulligan. You’ve definitely earned it. You have permission to take an hour off and go shopping or for coffee or perhaps something stronger. Play Catch with your friends or swing high at the park. I just realized that works on two levels. You may think you don’t have time for self-care but you are profoundly wrong. I’m sorry if that comes off as arrogant but on a philosophical level you can probably admit I’m right.

Screw it, I’m going kayaking. Somebody please tell my wife I was right.

Welcome My Little Goldfish

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

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

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

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

My in-laws had a “party line”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wolf At The End Of My Lane

I had a wolf. Well, not really; I should back up. There was a huge grey wolf at the end of my drive.

I would see him, I assume it’s a him, every few months. He would suddenly appear in the culvert, at the end of my lane, as I drove by. One day I stopped. One day I got out. The big grey wolf at the end of my lane.

I have never shared this tale before, and I’m not entirely sure why not. Perhaps it is because such a claim is impossible to verify and reeks of hyperbole. It may not have even really been the same wolf. But I know what I remember, and since no money is changing hands and I will never be famous, let me tell you a true story.

Before coming to the Left Coast of Canada I lived in the north, Fort McMurray Alberta, to be precise. It’s a weird place where welders make $150,000 a year and everyone wishes they were somewhere else. I lived on a ranch.

It appears that 25 minutes from the downtown of a northern city is too far for most commuters so we lived on 85 acres, in a beautiful cedar home with 22 feet floor-to-ceiling windows. We paid a little less than the cost of an apartment in town.

People in Fort McMurray buy toys, but I’m not talking about the dirty thought you just had. Snowmobiles and boats for a lake that is only tolerable for six weeks in the summer. Big trucks and expensive trips to the West Edmonton Mall and debt that staggers the imagination. My old town. The thing about toys are, they take up space. I had a ranch and someone needed a place for four horses. I had a barn and a friend wanted a dry place for three snowmobiles, including the keys. Someone else needed a home for a motorcycle, then a minibike, then a tractor, then more and more things with motors. Not bad for the price of a condo.

In the winter I would come home most days and take out one of the snowmobiles for a run, just so it would not rust. I am very considerate that way. I forgot to mention that I lived off a lake, but not near the beach. By January you could drive a Semi on any lake in northern Alberta and have a trucker hoedown with little fear. I loved to surf the powder on the lake at the end of a day listening to people’s problems. I was practicing mindfulness, or at least that’s what I told my wife.

One afternoon after work, as the sun was already beginning to set, I nearly drove into a pack of wolves running across the lake. Though we came from different directions we seemed to be aiming for the same destination. As I neared the pack there was my wolf, staring at me as he ran, not a care in the world. Maybe it was the shock of seeing that very wolf, or maybe it was the meds, but I didn’t drive away that afternoon. Almost naturally I came alongside this group of predators and on that day they let me run with the pack. I slowed, and we ran, and it was… glorious.

Into every life a little karma must fall and on that day someone was looking out for me. I was given a gift and a casual nod and, in spite of the artificial cacophony of the machine, permission to play. I felt something that day – something old. The wolf at the end of the lane knew me. To run with wolves, that is something out of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander.

I wish I could still run.

It appears my body is breaking down. Years of sports and abuse and frozen pizzas have left their tan lines; and all the colon cleansers in the world can’t stop the march of time. It’s the game everyone gets to lose.

Some of you have been pretty all your life. This was never a cross I was called to bear. People who are good-looking may seem to be getting a better deal on everything because chances are they do. As a general rule pretty people get preferential treatment and tall people make more money; there is science to verify this. Some of you still haven’t yet paid for a drink in a bar but hold on, your time is coming. You are getting uglier. Ya, me too.

As a Canadian I feel compelled to wrap that comment up in a beautiful bow and deliver it to you in a passive-aggressive little pile of bullshit, but I will leave that sentence alone (I deleted the line with “uglier” three times because at heart I really just want you to like me). We are all aging, at varying rates. Television shows seem more and more to feature children who barely shave and yet have somehow had time to learn eight languages, get a black belt in Karate, and a doctorate in neuropsych.

Anyone who reads this drivel knows that I frequently write about philosophy, along with the regular psychology menu. I am currently on the slowtrack to a doctorate in my own particular weird blend of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Existentialism. I was fortunate that in my undergraduate degree I met people like Dave and Dan who delighted in daily jettisoning my preconceptions about virtually everything. They were my educational mentors and I am in their debt. I was given permission to think, and this has had a profound and ofttimes negative impact on my life to this day.

Few of us get healthy by accident. There is simply too much going on in the Twenty-first Century for most of us to stay emotionally well and positive in outlook. The promised future, replete with free-time and pastel jumpsuits, never materialized and most of my friends are stressed out of their minds and one Koolaid spill from taking out the village. Everyone has mental health issues and if you don’t just wait a week.

I have mentioned this before but I find it hard to even listen to a client who isn’t learning. I’ll put that more gently. I cannot think of one client who is really rocking this mental health thing who is not either a student or a reader or a serious life-learner. Last week I spoke at a martial art and ranted, “if you don’t read, you don’t lead”. That may sound narrow-minded or condescending but consider for a moment the world we find ourselves in. We no longer have the luxury of being ignorant about a host of things we never gave a crap about before the internet and media age. For thousands of years people had no idea what was happening and seemed to survive quite swimmingly. Our lives are a bombardment of manic media sources, Facebook and texting and Google and Xbox and our friends informing us that they arrived safely at the Red Lobster on 38th Street like I should give a damn. Our world is complex and dysfunctional and we were not given the tools to understand the how, let alone the why. I honestly have no idea why people who are not learning don’t lose their mind. Some days I wonder if I am too stupid and I do this for a living.

I could be wrong but I know what works for me. I have convinced myself that I want to be smart and I fell back in love with learning, and so have my Jedi friends who put me to shame. My life was once filled with music and noise and traffic. Today I was listening to “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief” on the drive to work. I drove slower than usual because I was on the part where they talk about the Sea Org and I have a sick fascination with cults. I had coffee with a friend this week and as she left she put on her earbuds. She was listening to “The Wisdom of Psychopaths“. I can virtually guarantee you that she is growing and moving forward.

Those who embrace the experience, rock the experience.

Few of us realize, that first month of counseling, that becoming a wise person requires tens of years of work, not weeks. In time the discipline no longer feels like drudgery and you begin to surf a little more consistently. In time this stuff changes your entire world and everyone around you if you let it.

My Anger, Myself

Living with someone who is always angry can be one of the most difficult relationship entanglements one could endure. Few problems in this life have as immediate and devastating an impact as anger. If rage is your thing you are probably hell to live with. Just saying.

As pedestrian as it may sound, I often compare anger to an orgasm. There is a point of no return and the house can burn down, you are going to finish. I have witnessed angry persons spewing hate while screaming with astonishingly high degrees of emotion and intentionality. Most angry people feel better after they have “gotten it out”. They have just ejaculated their negative energy and mental health problems on everyone around them and it’s time for a nap. I have written about this before, and graphic this may be, but I’ve known many angry people. Anger is often violent and it’s far easier for the object of wrath to check out than try to match that energy. Some people are much too emotionally invested in obviously trivial matters. You get insanely pissed about tomatoes and I’m not committed enough to vegetables to ruin our relationship over root veg, but apparently you are. Yes I know it’s technically a fruit but as David Mitchell says, don’t get me started. If you put it in a fruit salad it’s a fruit. Next thing you know someone is going to tell me that cucumbers are a fruit. Maddening, but I just remembered that I don’t care about that kind of thing anymore. Mostly.

It is very difficult for me to exaggerate how important it is to deal with unrealistic anger. If you are a person who is easily angered and would admit, after a few shots of tequila, that you might have an “anger issue”, than as a therapist I want to encourage you not to beat yourself up or give up hope. Rage is an extremely palpable emotion that slams you with all manner of intense brain chemicals. 01_BERAGE_2298426aAnger is intoxicating, orgasmic. There is an instant and physical reward for such emotions and as an added bonus you get to feel like a real badass. Angry people win arguments and get what they want, at least right now. Cut me off in traffic and I’ll follow you home and wave a chainsaw at your children, or something like that.

There are a few people I would like to talk with about their anger but they are scary when they get mad. We owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest and recognize that life really really really isn’t fair and it’s not my job to go Punisher on that moron who didn’t wait at the 4-way stop.

If you are living life with someone who is angry, the bad news is there is very little you can do about it. You can never love enough or give enough or sacrifice enough to fix that cancer in someone else. Chances are, living with someone with this issue has changed how you cope or even who you are becoming. The angry person is always willing to take the argument beyond where you are comfortable.  The only recourse that gives lasting results is fixing myself first, until that person can no longer drive me crazy or they die from an aneurysm they so justly deserve.

This always sounds like bad news when we first hear it. We want that other person to change, they are the problem. There is no way you can cope with them as they are. They literally have to win every argument. They are willing to hurt me in places where people who love us should never wander. It is impossible to cope with what is going on around me right now… I hear the words almost every day.

You might be right. There is no way you will ever be able to cope until you do it on purpose. I’ve counselled hundreds of couples and I know the smell of abuse when I hear it. Fear is a powerful emotion as well. For some reason where there is anger, there is usually fear not far behind. Why else would she stay with him or he with her after what that person has done? Fear. Anger is a very useful tool if you wish to control. Violence has always worked, for a while. That’s what that outburst was, when you consider the options. Angry people seem violent, in spite of their constant protestations to the contrary. Screaming is violent control-seeking and is never ok unless you are yelling at a puck or a racist.

I have recorded couples fighting and most are clearly shocked when they watch themselves give in to anger and blow their load on someone else. It happens almost every time; they will turn in their chair and ask their partner, “Am I really like that?”

“Do you really think of me as a violent person?” Pretty much, but none of us are going to tell you, it’s just not worth the fight. See how that works there?

Spouses of angry people are often passive-agressive, or struggle with anxiety or depression or cutting or fatalism. They are often the sweetest among us, those who find their fulfillment in giving everything to a man or a woman that they believed charming and passionate. Passion is a wonderful thing when they are amorous, it’s another thing altogether when they get mad. Violent people tend to be attracted to nice people who will take it and tell their friends, “He just had a really stressful week” for the four-hundredth time.

If you know that you struggle with anger in an unhealthy way, it’s completely appropriate to talk to someone. Tell your partner and family that you acknowledge you have an issue and wish to do something about it. Don’t shut this down; don’t miss out on the good stuff because you can’t free yourself from this impulse-control issue. I do not seek to make light of this problem, quite the contrary. We all need help, from time to time. Anger is nothing more or less than one of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms many of us learn in childhood, or in our first marriage, in order to help us cope with a crazy and dangerous world. We have done the best we knew how but it is important to keep morphing. The more I learn the more light I am given. This is a critical psychological principle which most people will never understand. We must not stay ignorant, or broken, or miserable. Yes I acknowledge that there are times when such thinking not only seems foolish, it feels dangerous. It is in those times, when I was convinced that the situation was hopeless, that I learned the most. I was stronger than I imagined.

If you are living with someone who is angry, you are not alone. Many of us are seeking to understand the sheer magnitude of our addiction to coping mechanisms which have not worked in years. I need to stop trying to change my partner and learn to invest more diligently in my own reality and the need to unlearn my past.

I hate that I can only change myself, but I no longer live in Narnia.

You Suck

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

So I was sitting in the tub this past week (cue disturbing visual image) and reading an article about “fun with semi-colons”. I’m not really a tub guy but I had a busted wing and it was either that or stink. If I had a dime for every time I’ve started an article with the line, “so I was sitting in the tub”. I have become a nerd who reads psychology and philosophy and Mental Floss. I can live with that.

My wife walked in the bathroom and upon hearing what I was reading, sardonically announced, “I have never been less attracted to you.” If I had a dime for every time…

Making fun of myself is easy. I have plenty of ammunition. I’m an expert at self-abasing, most of us are. I was birthed in Canada, where false humility is a national preoccupation. Growing up we all believed that self-promotion was sin, and bragging was something you only did if you were an American (it’s not you, it’s us) or hung out with people who had really good hair. In grade ten I had an afro so had little reason to brag. Ok, I was prone to self-promotion and I secretly miss the Fro.

It is common, although often incorrect, to assume that people are arrogant when they brag about themselves. This seems to have little foundation in any real psychology once you exclude the narcissists and the psycho/sociopaths and your Uncle Bert. For the rest of us, isn’t it true that (I got that line from a lawyer who kept putting words in my mouth during a trial I was called to testify as a counsellor at)… Isn’t it true that for most of us we tend to brag because we are actually insecure and generally feel bad about ourselves? I can sense, somewhere deep inside me, that when I lean towards self-promotion I am usually trying to convince myself and others that I am not the secondhand turd that some people believe me to be. I’m just saying, for me.

Insecure people brag. Secure people rarely feel the need. To be candid, the more I learn to accept myself the less my detractors matter. It is a testimony to this problem that at this point in the article I feel obligated to include the detraction, “I don’t mean that in an arrogant way”.

There is a measure of psychological sense to the religious confessional. When clients are trapped in the cycle of emotional self-abuse I often ask them, “Do you feel you have done enough penance yet?” There is something in most of us that is prone to continue the self-blame cycle forever. When will the day come when I have punished myself enough? Shame is a powerful and pervasive sickness that can trap a person and convince them that they do not deserve a rich life. At some point in the journey it is time to say enough is enough, forgive ourselves one day at a time, and scratch a little happiness out of life.

“Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.”    Ram Dass

This is not a self-help piece that ends with a parade and hot chocolate, although I highly recommend both with a splash of irish cream. In the real world, it is up to me alone to learn how to move beyond my own insecurities and learn to become comfortable with who I am right at this particular time. I will never be “good enough” until I learn to settle for good enough. Many of us can agree that we are sick and tired of feeling bad about ourselves.

Bragging can be a very healing and affirming thing, when done with someone who is safe and gets it. I have a few friends who really encourage me to feel good about myself. You know who you are and thank you. There is a time and a place for everything, apparently, and when was the last time you really bragged about something that matters to you? We need to be cheerleaders for our friends. In a world that constantly reminds us how we do not measure up we all need someone who is wise enough to give us a chance to crow. Everyday and in every way we are given the message that we do not measure up, we’re too ugly, too fat, or too old, or too whatever. And always not enough – not enough education or maturity, not enough love or health or understanding from a world that appears to take delight when you wipe out and they can get it on tape.

So go ahead, brag a little. You’re pretty awesome.

Some People Are Finished Products

I like to tell people who I come from a family of hillbillies. It’s not true but I to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. What is true is that I come from generations of humble peasants, usually of the military persuasion. We didn’t lead in war, we probably dug latrines. There was no family money to inherit. My kin were never afraid to pick a fight or yell at their spouses.

I was raised that you won’t just die for your family, you would kill for your family (and I’m a pacifist). I remember hearing a preacher tell that story about the bus driver whose breaks were out, and there were only two options. One road would drive over your son, the other a group of strangers. Apparently ditching it was not an option, which makes me wonder as to the veracity of the tale but what can you do. He sacrificed his son and that was what God was supposed to be like if he was in the transportation industry.

This is undoubtedly an urban legend if for no other reason than that most parents would kill the strangers.

I would mow down a city before I would sacrifice my child. I’m not admitting I’m a psychopath, I’m just saying your chances, in a strictly mathematical sense, are not good. There are three toddlers in my family that I would storm the gates of hell to protect. I have a few close friends who are my family by choice. Friends will help you move, good friends will help you move a body, or so the joke goes. Chances are a few of you know how I feel. Loyalty and familial love are not character traits for which one must ordinarily apologize.

We all have a mental list of the people for whom we would storm the castle. My friends, and by friends I do not mean the mass of acquaintances with whom I have a peripheral relationship, are those who have been tried by fire but refuse to walk away. Friends are those few I love and will protect, if I am able. Friends and family give my life meaning, even if more than a few of them are absolutely bat-crap crazy.

My tribe, because I live in what I like to call the real world, come in three categories: those who enrich my life, those who are neutral, and those lovelies who are emotional succubus, the vampires who take away my will to live. I love them, but a few of them could use Cipralex with a tequila chaser. Three kinds of friends; three types of people when you pause to think about it.

I am endeavouring to become keenly aware when I begin to weigh down the hearts of those I care about the most. It is much easier to live a life of self-absorbed pedantry so I may continue to take selflies and be easily offended. No one really gives a damn about my medical problems, if I have to bring it up. If you talk for twenty minutes and do not say one thing that makes someone smile, unless you are in crisis you may just be a negative person. There is no right way to tell someone they are a negative person so few people recognize this particular character trait. Other people know but usually no one is talking. I am becoming aware of my own propensity to complain and it is something I may have to address in myself.

We all have times in our lives when we desperately need to get help carrying that burden. I am here for you and you have been there for me. There was a time in my life when if it wasn’t for a few people like Susan and Steve and a handful of others, I might have taken my own life (I cannot put any more names for fear of missing someone). Persons slept on my couch for a couple of weeks at a time. People fed me and looked out for me. When everyone else walked out a few of you walked in. You know who you are, really. I would never disparage reaching out. That is literally my day job. This article is not about that.

I have spent several months conducting an informal survey of people in my life that are finished products. without their knowledge questions have been asked and unknown interviews given. I have little fear of offending them here because they would have no impetus to read my blog about psychological and emotional health. They don’t talk about philosophy, they argue about it. They don’t grow.

By labelling someone a finished product (I can freely admit I could be wrong) I mean that, for whatever reason, there are those individuals in my world who have decided that they are not going to change anymore. They believe the exact same things they have seemingly always believed and they are done. Some immerse themselves in popular culture and drop-kick their brains out the window. Others become consumed by their children or fashion or menial politics or sports and stay dumb. I can’t help you with dumb, it’s often terminal.

I can’t help you with dumb, it’s often terminal

Finished products are difficult to live with. Many wives or husbands sit in my office and admit that even if we come up with a jim-dandy plan of attack for their marriage their spouse will never seriously engage in the process. This is the session in counselling when I begin to subliminally prepare you for the eventual death of your relationship, even if you do stay together. Few relationships can survive when one partner is trying to become wise while the other is in love with their boat or  shoes or hobby or daytime television. I do not need my spouse to be my intellectual equal but I do need that person to still try at life. Nothing is harder to watch than a partner who has given up or thinks learning is dumb. I can put up with almost anything if I know you’re trying.

One further thing. I don’t want to be sick forever. My mental illnesses should probably not be an inheritance to my children. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, quite the opposite. The good news is that if nothing else, the more we know the faster we grow. I just said something cheesy. I’m deadly serious about this topic because people who are reading, unceasingly engaging in meaningful activities, diligent about moving forward, these individuals always get better faster and move into wisdom. That has to be worth it. I still want to be a Jedi.

Happy birthday Albert Einstein, may we never give up the quest for a grand and unified theory.

You Feel Me?

My friend Lori the art nerd, that’s her legal name, has to critique another student’s play. I would stink at that. As a psychology geek I would be all like, “but there’s too much criticism in the world already and I have no idea what kind of hell this person has gone through. How old is she, 30? That means she’s a senior student. Good for her! But wait a minute. A senior student, what went wrong? Why is she back at school now. Some bastard broke her heart! Good for her! How can I criticize Cheryl, she’s a hero!”

You probably don’t really need someone like me to remind you of your problems. You know your problems. You didn’t just pay me to tell you what is obvious to you, did you? You have a bead on your problems, what is missing are solutions.

Or am I wrong?

Granted, someone like me gets paid to help you look through another lens. Trust me on this one, you want that. I tell people who are going through something like grief or depression, addiction or anxiety, that they should think of themselves as insane. You heard me. Screen Shot 2012-09-18 at 12.19.55 PMWe simply need to put some heavy limits on our application of the word. When you are depressed you cannot think rationally because your frontal cortex is getting slammed by three greasy hippies on cocaine driving a Vega (I especially like the mini wagon with fake wood) spraying warm tapioca from your primal and basically cray cray brain. I like to impress readers with my technical know-how.

When things were bad in my hemisphere I am completely certain that I was absolutely and coldly nuts, much of the time. I was so entirely broken that it framed every decision in my life. Some of you know of what I speak. So yes, I was a little insane, thank you very much. Probably a great deal more than a little. You would never want someone in that mindset to walk your pet, let alone make decisions of any import. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have remortgaged the house twice because I “didn’t give a damn”. You feel me?

(What does that mean, anyway, “you feel me?”. I would, frankly, prefer that very few people actually “feel me” so I guess I should say, “please stay appropriately behind the yellow line and I’ll greet you with a firm hand shake”)

It’s easy to wear our failures like a hairshirt. If you want a list of my shortcomings just ask me. Either I figured it out or it was driven into me a few hundred thousand times. Pointing out your obvious flaw may make you think I’m Kreskin, but chances are it will simply reinforce how useless you already feel. Thanks for that, best friend! I know I have problems, I made them.

relaxing-on-beachHey listen. You’re coping the best you know how, right now. Most of us live our whole lives never living up to our own expectations, much less everybody else’s. Sometimes you need to be a little easier on yourself. You are on a journey and you are making this up as you go along. Few of us figure this out at the same rate. Life is profoundly more complex than the poster promised. I am virtually a full-time student and I am keenly aware how stupid I was only a few years ago. Will I say that again in five years?

Wisdom takes time, unfortunately. No one gets a free pass and that means no one. My goal is to figure this out in my current decade and it is taking far longer than any of us imagined. We can only do the best we can with the light we have right now. That’s as good as it can get, short of a scholarship to Cambridge. What is important is to play the hand given me well and eat as much candy as I can. If you need a kick in the butt feel free with my compliments, but don’t forget to eat some kitkatKitKat ice cream and listen to a comedy. I just watched Trevor Noah: African-American on Netflix and finally learned how to correctly pronounce Zebra (it sounds like Debra).

I can be hard on myself tomorrow.

Selfish Lovers

*warning – Adult Content*

I talk with clients about sex all the time. It’s a cool job. You cannot live in my world very long without someone telling you the juicy bits. People who wonder if I can keep a secret assume I hear an average amount of gossip, and they would be wrong. I get paid to listen to your secrets. I gave up finding happiness through selling you out a long time ago.

It’s usually uncomfortable to tell me your story, at first. We have been conditioned to feel ashamed of our private functions, if not a little embarrassed. When it comes to sex, it is easy to feel like you are dirty, or kinky, or just different. This week, slightly tongue-in-cheek, news agencies released the stats on average penis length (5.17 inches). Reports called attention to the stigma around even having such conversations. It may sound disgusting but every boy has measured. Someone should have said it. We are products of repression.

It won’t as too much of a surprise to you that, looking out from my chair, there are a lot of problems in the bedroom. I hear the lists everyday, and it can be fun to be a fly on the wall of my office. You would be surprised how many couples, for example, don’t feel sexually compatible. That is a heavy thing to admit to a stranger. Lots of couples have issues with technique and I get paid to research that kind of stuff. Many people have plumbing problems, use your dirty imagination. Lubrication and miscommunication and a lack of vacations add to the discomfort. Couples often have a great deal of difficulty telling each other that this “doesn’t feel nice” because there is usually so much “water-under-the-bridge” and feelings are easily wounded.

Here’s one for free. No one taught me how to satisfy a woman except my occasional exposure to pornography. Talk about what you like, it can be a huge turn-on. I love learning.

Selfishness is largely a Math issue. When I critically analyze my Giddy-Up time, what percentage of my efforts go into helping my partner feel loved? Then subtract my selfishness. Disregard anything that is potentially selfish but mutually enjoyable. The Math works the other way as well. Do you feel loved? Safe? Living with selfishness can be a prison sentence. It can become difficult to remain emotionally healthy while living life with someone consumed with their personal satisfaction.

Now add the intriguing little tidbit that some of us find our sense of self-worth through helping other people. Those people attract selfishness and narcissism like catnip. I’m not saying it’s your fault, just the reverse. This does not negate the fact that predators seek out the vulnerable and if you live to serve others they are going to use that to use you. The spouses of narcissists, psycho or sociopaths, of the raging and the ragingly selfish, are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It says something of a society when selflessness becomes a liability.

Selfishness can be a much larger issue than just a problem with Mattress Polka. Many of us know the sting of life with a selfish and miserable spouse, or the narcissist, or the Drama Queen or King. It always seems to be about them, and not just in the bedroom. Some narcissists are great lovers, but for all the wrong reasons. Use your imagination. Living with someone who is self-absorbed is maddening.

g5MPb2BFlEC468oFxKvOWQGYFlZmJKvPED33WBpqoB5a7kF4OVMUSjzQywJzbY6bI wish I could tell you there is a fairytale ending, but I would be lying. Convincing someone to live more unselfishly, someone who has spent their entire life developing a value system with only their photo in the room, is an affront to their reality. The only solution that works begins and ends with me. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to change you but it won’t work. I hate that but the article isn’t over yet.

There is a mighty hope that we tend to forget in the drama.We can become more and more whole. As Victor viktor-frankl-quote-those-who-have-a-why-to-live-can-bear-with-almost-2Frankl and others have illustrated far better than I, no one can take away your ability to grow. That is very deep once you get yourself around it. Even in the most abusive of scenarios (and I’ve heard at least as many stories as you), some people learn to hope in spite of it all. I have to believe that anyone can learn, one minuscule step at a time. I have known that soul-crushing despair and wish for death but somehow, over years and years, things have changed. No, it wasn’t worth it, but life has a way of changing my paradigm whether I feel like it or not.

Then the day arrives when we talk about your dysfunction. We need to learn about next time. As the man said, if I keeping doing things the same way I can expect the same results. Most of us believe we learn from our mistakes. Most of us are wrong. It’s shocking, isn’t it, that both your current guy and your ex both like the History Channel? Huh. You’ve come from the bottom but it may happen again. Some of that hurt didn’t just float away. We have all learned entirely screwed up coping mechanisms, unless your parents were perfect, as mine are (Hi Dad). I have long whined that we graduate into adulthood with little or no emotional skills. I didn’t understand my feelings, much less my history, my dysfunction, and my unresolved issues. We were just big and dumb kids, more firmly convinced than ever of our own moral and intellectual certitude.

But that’s another article. I want to conclude by encouraging all of us, myself included, to keep looking after our mental health, and not just with gluten and working out. I work in an industry where everyday people spend thousands of dollars fighting off the end; but who give little or no thought to the only thing that really matters, my inside. And not just your bowel problems. We are all getting uglier, deal with it. But don’t forget to work on the stuff that will define and dictate the rest of your existence.

You may not prevent decay, but we all need to fight Stupid.

The Golden Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If nothing else, it won’t be boring.

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

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

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

The Triceratops

I was given a small piece of a backbone recently by a new friend. The backbone of a Triceratops. Wicked. You can see the marrow, or so I choose to think. It looks like a bone, a 68 million-year-old bone. For an amateur history enthusiast, this is very cool. I am becoming more of a geek all the time.

History is something I care very much about. It has been, along with a few other diversions, one of the passions of my adult life. I endeavour to read history almost every day. One of the reasons I love this so much is because it teaches me lessons that others have had to learn the hard way. The other reason is because I fancy myself a bit of a storyteller and I can mine history forever. There are literally millions of great stories I have not heard yet. Billions. Many are lost to antiquity and most, the vast majority, were never remembered in the first place. Life is story.

When Brian Williams got incinerated by the media recently for embellishing on his war correspondence I understood what he was doing. I try to never let the absolute truth ruin a great story. I still tell a few stories I know are not true, simply because they are amazing. I will often even start with, “This story is not true.” I don’t care, I’m interested in hearing a story, this isn’t church. Williams is guilty of losing himself in his own story. He forgot that he was supposed to report on the action, not be the action. He has told that story so many times he probably could convince himself that it’s probably half-true. I’ve done that. Once, while on a whitewater canoe trip with The No Tan-line Annual (NTLA) crew, my canoeing partner Don Hand caught a huge lake trout on a lake called Trout Lake. I told that story so many times I started to believe I was the one who caught the fish. I still prefer to tell it my way.

Stories have enriched my life in ways I cannot begin to fathom. By now anyone who reads this rag knows that I am a strong proponent of audiobooks. I have gone on record, many times, alleging that audiobooks may have saved my life. Every day, many times a day, I lose myself in a story. I have a tiny hint of ADHD in my psyche and audiobooks keep me placid and awake. They keep my mind from going places that it should never go. When I used to cry every day audiobooks gave me a break from the grief. See, I can’t stop preaching about audiobooks.

Where were we? Oh right, the Triceratops. Looking at that horn connects me with something far bigger than myself. That’s why I collect old books and newspapers and coins. Touching those French Francs from the 18th Century gives me a deep sense of connectedness with the bigger story. Yesterday, while on Lori’s blog, I looked at a picture of Napoleon’s gloves. That makes him alive to me, somehow.

I have a deep connection with my own story as well. Even with my memory I can feel a connection with my past. I can enter again into 15-year-old Scott. I can remember how it felt to paddle into that secret bird sanctuary on the Clearwater River. If I think hard enough I can develop a sense of mindfulness with my younger me and see how he felt and what he believed. Sitting here, I can connect with Scott on stage at the Clarke Theatre in 1999. He was ridiculously naive and immature but I can also see his heart and I know the truth. Try that on yourself, sometime soon. Get in that chair or that bed and spend 15 minutes intentionally going back. Remember how she felt that day, you know the one. I did this mindfulness exercise just before I started this article and it is powerful once you figure it out. Try it six times before you give it up. I learn new things about myself every time I wander.

There is a profound wisdom to be found in your own story if you allow yourself to look at it in a more objective fashion. The more you can develop a third-person relationship with your past, the more you can learn. As I recently wrote about, it’s again about radical acceptance. Radical acceptance of the truth about my personal journey. I desperately want to whitewash my own immaturity but that takes away, profoundly, from the story. As Kant said, you have two worlds. There is the world as you wish it to be and the world as it really is. It’s like a bad remake of The Matrix and it’s true. My failure to cope often defines the story. My ability to accept my own part in the dysfunction is crucial if you want to learn the truth. You were there too. Don’t worry, I’m not blame-shifting. It really may not have been your fault but we aren’t talking about blame. I have learned to deal with life in certain ways and some of these are dysfunctional. It may have been as a result of abuse or just because that’s the way things turned out with your particular strange porridge of DNA and family weirdos. The story is, after all, about me.

As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember (learn from) the past are condemned to repeat it”.

 

How Do I Let Go?

I am asked this question all the time. How do I leave? How do I stand up for myself? How do I lower my expectations of this person? How do learn to be happy in the mess that is my life right now? How do I let go of the grief or the expectations or the unrealistic dreams? How do I forgive? How do I move on?

It’s a question as old as time. Letting go is something that I only learned through pain, and it wasn’t worth it. How do you let go of hopes and loves and connection? How do you let go of a dream?

No one wants to hear that it takes years and tears. We want to believe there is something we can do which will move the process forward, when we haven’t even accepted the real situation. In counselling we call this, magical thinking. We all believe in magical thinking, every once in a while. We want to believe if we rub our lucky rock we will win the lottery. Some of us believe the universe is punishing us, for some reason. If you wish upon a star your dream comes true. If I just want it hard enough… well then maybe I can pretend I don’t have anxiety anymore, or depression, or trauma. Maybe Oprah has a guest celebrity that will fix you. Magical thinking is when you believe that if you think hard enough you can move that coin with your mind. Or change your life with a gimmick. We all want change and we want it yesterday.
In counselling this kind of stuff takes a long time. The process you can probably guess – I begin to work through my own insecurities and the sick reasons I can’t move forward, including letting go of my need to stay stuck, my need for approval, my fear of the pain. We talk about lowering expectations and about assessing our relationships in the harsh light of objectivity. Once we understand the “why”, the “how” usually works itself out. It’s about acceptance and time and grief. Like most things, attitude changes everything. Once I change what I want, it’s easier to stop coping mechanisms I no longer need or desire. And that’s the key, though a very hard one to actually learn. How do I learn to change what I want (if I don’t want to)?
self-confidenceWhen you are in a situation that isn’t working I often recommend starting with the DBT concept of “Radical Acceptance“. I learn to see my situation for what it really is, no bullshit, no excuses, no insecurities, no lies or illusions or fake expectations. I usually need help from my counsellor/friend for that. It’s hard to be objective from the inside.
I pitched this article to my friend Lori, a fellow blogger and friend in the real world. We had been talking about sideways solutions, as I call them. Sideways Solutions are all about looking at things differently, through a new lens. I’m speaking at a gig next month about this very thing. I call the talk, “Going Rogue”. Simply put, I have long been fascinated by The Trickster in folklore and have endeavoured to incorporate that outside-the-box thinking in life. Apple, the most financially valuable commodity on earth, sold billions with the moniker, “Think Different”. I believe in going at things sideways. Creativity usually takes me where logic fails to go. Lori reminded me of this earlier today.
Letting go rarely involves telling your story again and again. It’s difficult, when our lives are ruined, not to fixate on the problems. Stress is consuming, so is debt or relational problems or chronic pain. When you are low there is a temptation to employ those Cognitive Distortions we talk about so very much. We are focused on the problem, overwhelmed. We make decisions based on emotion. We become trapped in a verbal and emotional feedback loop. We say the word “but” more than we probably should. We pretend everything is going to magically work out.
There are times when moving beyond is really about moving beyond. We need to focus on something, anything, rather than our grief or anger or pain or disappointment. We become outward focussed again. We begin to spend less time replaying the tapes. This last part is very important because there comes a point in the journey when you need to write new stories. I know you cannot let go of that thing, I couldn’t either. Ask anyone who knows me, they can tell you. Been there, done that, spilled hot sauce on the t-shirt. I wore my brokenness like a badge of honour. I was determined to go down with the ship.
Sideways solutions don’t feel natural. It’s normal to lay on the couch and feel hopeless. It’s completely normal, when you are depressed or grieving or (insert personal hell here), to lack motivation and get winded walking to the fridge. Many counsellors will tell you that in order to get “better” you will need discipline. I have a difficult time with this when I’m happy, let alone depressed. That’s why, when clients describe how stuck they feel or alone or hopeless I often talk about going to college. My pop is 76 and in university. The aforementioned Lori has become an art historian, and a bard, and a bunch of other things that she discovered at university. I like to talk about Europe, and philosophy, and science, and history. You might feel a great deal better from studying neurochemistry than you ever would taking an SSRI. Sideways solutions. I couldn’t stop crying once – so I started to listen to audiobooks. You should see my collection. That may not float your boat but it saved my life more than any counselling ever did. Some people garden. Shirley makes amazing quilts. Some of my other friends have become soul coaches or knitters or experts in the hippie arts.
As we say in the business, “too much head time is bad time”. If you cannot turn off those voices in your head maybe you need to go about it sideways.