The Real World

caboHome from the Pacific Ocean. The real world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back to the real world.


Why Intentions Don’t Matter That Much

English: A ' mask.I love it when people tell me they are going to make positive changes in their lives. It’s amazing when someone comes to an important epiphany and decides to do something radical. The only problem is, in spite of the great intentions and hope for the future it doesn’t usually really mean much.

You know what the old maxim says…

It’s not that intentions are bad, quite the contrary. Having good intentions is foundational when discussing how to change your future, set goals, make progress, or do anything of worth. The problem comes when we begin to think that planning to do something is actually accomplishing anything.

I once had a friend with a huge day-timer. You could not have any conversation of length with this individual without him opening that big black book and explaining how many things he was planning on doing. He was a master planner. The fact that he never did anything but plan, however, soon led me to understand that he was substituting his many plans for actually accomplishing anything.

One of my favorite B movies is V for Vendetta. Who cannot love a guy in a Guy Fawkes mask using only the letter V to start virtually every word. It has that post-apocalyptic feel of a Fahrenheit 451 or Nineteen Eighty-Four, but with more knives and rhyming. In the movie, for the 98% of the population who have not seen it and never will, V goes about paying back those individuals who have used him for human experimentation and who are generally very nasty people who run a despotic world. At one point he shows up at an old acquaintances house who was involved in the Nazi-esque experiments and proceed to accuse her, with many words that start with the letter V, of the grossest crimes. She, in her own defense, explains to him that she really meant to do the right thing. Her intentions were otherwise and she had hoped that things would turn out differently. V responds in iconic fashion (and without any words that start with the letter V), “I have not come for what you hoped to do. I came for what you have done”.

I have not come for what you hoped to do. I came for what you have done. Powerful words.

In counseling we sometimes say it this way, “don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk”. It’s a cliché but like many time-worn maxims it contains an element of truth. If intentions do not translate into action they are worse than useless. They can, in fact, be detrimental.

I am reminded this early morning that I have only one life. I do not want to look back and wish I had done all the things I had intended. As Antonio Banderas prayed in the movie 13th Warrior:

Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things.
This was not among them.
But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well.
For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought;
all we ought to have said, and have not said;
all we ought to have done, and have not done;
I pray thee God for forgiveness.

i stole this from somewhere…

Here are some positive steps to take in solving problems.

1. Realize you have a problem. To not do this is delusion.

2. What you complain about the most is your problem. It is yours to solve. No one else can do it for you. Others can help, but the final decision rests with you.

3. Stop talking your problem. Talk the solution. Talking about your problems all the time is to pile misery upon misery.

4. Make a list of those problems causing the most trouble.

5. Prioritize the list, A, B, C and so forth. DO NOT list blue Mondays, rainy days and heavy traffic. Those are not problems. That is called living life. You couldn’t change them anyway.

6. Deal with A and leave the remainder of the list alone. When A is solved B becomes A and so forth. Move through the list with determination. Remember that living life will always be mixed with difficulty. Change what you can change. Others will take care of what you cannot change. That is their assignment, not yours.

7. Make a list of your blessings. Think this one through. What you take for granted is many times a blessing. Any day above ground is a GREAT day. Be thankful for where you are. Your problems are only permanent if you choose to make them so.

Ask your self this question. Has what you have been complaining about all the time changed? If not, you are burning excess energy and going nowhere. It is like spinning your tires on ice. You go nowhere until you get some traction. Some problems are not yours to solve. Some problems you will not solve alone. You will need help. Do not be afraid to ask for it. Stop trying to change what you cannot change.

A man hits his thumb with a hammer while driving a nail into a piece of wood. He screams with pain, but only until the pain stops. Constant complainers keep hitting their thumbs with the hammer, continuing the pain. They want someone to notice that they are in pain. As long as you continue to treat your past with negative reactions, the pain will never go away. No one notices a complainer who changes nothing.

The next time you find yourself facing the wrong direction and getting your feathers ruffled, turn around and face the music. It might not be what you want to hear at first but as you deal with it, it soon will become ‘music to your ears’.