Being of Service

Now that I seem to have my own shit in order (mostly anyway, and one day at a time!), my mind is increasingly turning to how I can be of service to others.

Today I re-listened to Step 12 in Russell Brand’s audiobook, Recovery. It’s all about being of service to others, especially suffering addicts.

It made me think to myself, “There’s quite a lot I don’t like about the way my local Narcotics Anonymous group is run. But those meetings also seem to be the most obvious way in which I can help other addicts.”

And then, with perfect timing (some might say ‘synchronicity’), I read today’s Just for Today email from NA.


Unity and Uniformity

Unity is not uniformity. Unity springs from the fact that we have unity of purpose—to recover, and to help others stay clean. Even so, we often find that while we strive to fulfill the same purpose, our means and methods may be radically different.

We can’t impose our ideas of unity on others or confuse unity with uniformity. In fact, a big attraction of the NA program is the absence of uniformity. Unity springs from our common purpose, not from standards imposed on the group by a few well-meaning members. A group that has the unity which springs from the loving hearts of its members allows each addict to carry the message in his or her own unique way.

In our dealings with each other in NA, we sometimes disagree rather vocally. We must remember that the details of how we get things done isn’t always important, so long as we keep our focus on the group’s primary purpose. We can watch members who vehemently disagree over trivial things pull together when a newcomer reaches out for help. Someone was there for us when we got to the rooms of NA. Now it is our turn to be there for others. We need unity to help show the newcomer that this way of life works.

Just for today: I will strive to be a part of unity. I know that unity does not equal uniformity.


Sounds like I need to swallow my pride, put my reservations to one side, and get back to the place that helped me when I needed it most.

There are people who can benefit from me giving back.

I’m ready to come back, Narcotics Anonymous.

My Mate Brian

Back in mid-September, I had a major falling out with an old friend of mine. I wrote some pretty negative stuff about him in blog posts and in messages to his girlfriend. We haven’t spoken since.

Today I’ve done Step 9 of the 12 Steps – apologising and making amends to those we have harmed.

I’ve sent a private message to Brian (not his real name) where I offered sincere apologies and an attempt to make amends.

There’s a fair chance Brian will ignore my message and continue to cut me out of his life. He’d be well within his rights to do that, perhaps I deserve it. It doesn’t really matter for the purposes of Step 9.

But as I’d bad-mouthed him in blog posts, I thought that one part of my amends might be to write some nice things about him. So here we are.


Dear Brian,

Thank you for being my friend for over 20 years. You make me laugh more than anybody I know. You introduced me to a group of friends I still keep in regular contact with now. Many of the very best times of my life have been shared with you. We share many common interests. I respect your intelligence and I admire your gentlemanly nature.

I’m not expecting any particular outcome from writing this, I suppose I’m doing it more for myself than for you. But I hope you read and appreciate this anyway.

Maybe we’ll never talk again, I don’t know. Regardless, thanks just for being you and for the friendship we’ve shared.

Rock.


Regarding Step 9 as a whole, here’s a post I made on a forum for recovering addicts:

“I did my Step 9 amends today. It was like getting on my knees and scrubbing a filthy oven, things got worse before they got better. But now my oven (my soul) is sparkling clean. My Higher Power must be Mr Muscle! For extra symbolism I had a full-on male cleansing and grooming session to get myself physically sparkling clean too. Feels good man.”

– Bollinger, R. (2020)


My Theory about God and Spirituality

As a teen I was an evangelical Christian for a couple of years.

Then when I couldn’t find evidence for God’s existence, I became an atheist for most of my adult life.

Then in August 2019, I hit crisis point. After consuming enough mind-bending drugs to kill an elephant, I started attending Narcotics Anonymous.

And that’s when my atheism gave way to lots of spiritual and religious ideas for several weeks & months.

And weirdly, I didn’t seem to make the connection between the two: between attending NA (which is very spiritual) and my own new-found spiritual ideas.

Until a few weeks ago. Then, I made an uncomfortable realisation… I realised NA had been having quite a major influence on my ideas about God and a Higher Power.

Disturbed somewhat, I went back to my former rational, scientific, atheistic beliefs. Mostly.

So What Is God? Why Do We Need Religion?

Here’s my theory.

We have at least 2 parts to our minds: the conscious and the unconscious.

It seems to me like the conscious mind is quite tightly attuned to rational, logical thought.

And the unconscious mind is more closely associated with emotions and feelings.

Note: I may be conflating concepts here. But at the very least, we have two sets of dichotomies:

  1. Conscious vs unconscious mind
  2. Intellect & reason vs feelings & emotions

In our conscious mind, we can clearly hear our own internal voice. We think mostly in a linear fashion, using language.

Our unconscious mind seems to think much more in pictures.

You know how they say, “A picture tells a thousand words”? Well, that’s the way I imagine the unconscious mind works.

Whereas the conscious mind is pretty good at being exact, precise, accurate… the unconscious mind tends to be more approximate.

The unconscious mind tries to sum up vast amounts of information into a picture, or a series of pictures.

This is what happens when we’re dreaming. We get mental images which are strongly associated with certain emotions.

They don’t necessarily make much sense to the conscious mind, but it’s a mistake to dismiss them as meaningless.

Look at the work of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Both psychologists felt that dreams were deeply significant in terms of the unconscious mind, hidden motivations etc.

Jung in particular developed the idea of psychological archetypes… we can think of them as figures and stories which are so common to the human experience that we recognise them instantly and universally across all human cultures.

There’s the Hero, the old Crone, the Devil… you get the idea.

They’re visual and emotional constructs which we can instantly understand.

My Theory

I don’t think our rational mind needs a God. He seems superfluous and there’s little to no evidence for His existence.

But religion and spirituality appeal deeply to our unconscious mind, to the part of us which thinks in pictures, emotions and archetypes.

The part of us which dreams. The part of us which comes up with all of our creative ideas.

The part of us that’s responsible for our strongest motivations and desires.

And this is the key thing…

Human beings are not 100% rational.

“If you’re a scientist or a mathematician, it’s tempting to think of the world purely in terms of logic and reason. But that’s like standing on an iceberg and declaring there’s nothing worthwhile under the water. We all know that what’s above the water is just 10% of the story.”

Bollinger, R. (2020)

If you know anything about marketing, advertising or even behavioural economics, you’ll know for sure that humans are not rational beings.

It’s emotions (not logic) that governs our lives. It’s emotions which motivate and compel us into action, not rational argument.

And I’m starting to believe that God and spirituality are a helpful ingredient for our unconscious mind.

A belief in God can help us to feel emotionally safe, protected.

It can help motivate us to engage in behaviours we’ve identified as “Good”.

Maybe you’re someone who feels they don’t need God to feel in control of their lives. You’re stood on your 10% of the iceberg, peering below the water with mistrust.

As far as you’re concerned, your life is going well and there’s no need to delve below the surface of your mind.

And that’s fine. Really.

I think each of us needs to decide for ourselves what God is, what we believe (if anything).

The important thing is that we don’t try to force our beliefs on others. And we don’t sneer at others’ beliefs simply because we can’t understand them.

God In My Own Life

I’m starting to come around to believing in God and spirituality again.

Not in the sense that I think there’s a literal man with a beard sat in the clouds…

… But in the sense that there’s a bit of God inside me, inside all of us, that calls us forward to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. It calls us to be Good people.

The God inside me interfaces with my unconscious mind. It protects and guides me on the right path.

God reduces my fears and my anxieties. It helps the emotional/non-verbal part of my brain to deal with life.

And I think I’d be an idiot to ignore that.

Sure, maybe I don’t strictly “need” God in my life, but why turn my nose up at something which feels so beneficial? Where’s the logic in that?


Cradled by the Hand of God

[This post ventures into a bit of creative thinking. Bear with me.]

In today’s video (Day 7), Russell Brand described Steps 6 and 7 like this:

“If Step Six is about becoming ready and standing on the precipice of a new life, Step Seven is about jumping.”

I really like the visual metaphor, so I thought I’d expand on it…

However, there’s a risk people might interpret this as some kind of suicidal leap – an attempt to end your life.

But it’s actually much more about faith.

I imagine Step 7 to be like falling backwards off a cliff edge, knowing that the hand of God will be there to catch you.

You’re not actually in any danger. You’ve simply allowed yourself to have faith that your life is going to be different moving forward.

Less stress. Less fretting. Less selfishness.

It’s about allowing ourselves to embark on a journey of becoming a better person, the person we were meant to be.

It’s about recognising that we don’t need to have all the answers right now. We just need faith that in trying to be Good people, the answers we need will be revealed to us at the right moment.

Yeah, I can do that.

When I’m faced with a difficult intellectual problem, I don’t stay focussed on it constantly, filling myself with anxiety and stress.

It’s much better to hand over responsibility for solving the problem to my unconscious mind.

After a good night’s sleep, the answer’s much more likely to pop into my conscious mind.

Conscious “me” didn’t achieve this. It was my unconscious.

Dare I call it my “higher self”? Or is that something different?

Would it really be going too far to suggest that God might just be our own unconscious mind, our Higher Self, working on behalf of our conscious self?


Walking to a cliff edge and then falling backwards, cradled in God’s hand.

What a lovely metaphor for Steps 6 and 7.

What visual metaphors might be suitable for the previous steps?

  • Step 1: Visiting a priest in the confession box, admitting we have a problem.
  • Step 2: Being in a black room with no escape, but choosing to raise our eyes to the horizon anyway. We’re looking for a distant fire, for hope we might escape.
  • Step 3: Holding out your hand, and having it held by someone who wants the best for you. Being willing to accept help.
  • Step 4: Like Scrooge visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Revisiting your life’s past troubles, but this time being able to see inside your own heart.
  • Step 5: Giving someone else your open heart, and listening intently to the wisdom they have to offer.
  • Step 6: A fork in the road. The well-trodden path which made us miserable, or a new path filled with mystery but also hope. The new path takes us to that cliff edge Russell mentioned.
  • Step 7: Falling backwards off the cliff, knowing the Hand of God will catch us and maybe even help us to grow wings.

This Shouldn't Be Happening

Again, I find myself in a strange place today. My mood and energy levels are very low. Motivation and drive have driven off and gone.

I’m feeling deeply sad. There’s probably a touch of self-pity in there too, but right now it’s hard to separate that out from the “legitimate” sadness.

I quit my job yesterday. I’ve been wanting to do it for weeks, but Russell Brand gave me the little nudge I needed.

He says that when we’re free from self-pity, we no longer allow ourselves to be in jobs where we’re undervalued.

I’ve always felt undervalued at work. Not by my colleagues, but by the boss of the company. It’s abundantly clear in so many ways that he doesn’t care about people, he only cares about squeezing out as much profit as possible.

A few years ago he became noticeably angry when I had the audacity to ask that he corrected my wages to account for the missing holiday pay he owed me.

I realised he resented having to pay me anything at all. If there was a legal way he could get away with paying me less than the minimum wage, he would have pursued it.

I have to watch myself here, because I don’t want to get consumed with bitterness and resentment towards him. After all, it’s commonplace, perhaps even socially acceptable that the purpose of a business is to maximise profits and the employees ought to just feel grateful they have a job at all.

But when you accept minimum wage, when you’re made to explicitly feel like an easily replaceable cog in a cold profit-driven machine, it can undermine your sense of self-esteem.

If I’m allowing myself to be mistreated and paid the least amount that’s legally possible, what does that say about what I’m worth as a human being?

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was being told by an overzealous manager, “You should be working, not talking” – as if any sign of fun or enjoyment in the workplace must be squashed under the cold hard heel of efficiency.

Anyway, I’m gonna shut up about work now, because I’ve quit and it’s over.

I know my own value. And it’s more than 8 miserable pounds per hour working for a guy who neither respects nor cares about me.


I wrote an angrily-worded blog post about NA yesterday, before deleting it. Long story cut short, a sponsor at NA mistreated a friend of mine. It reminded me of when my own sponsor withdrew his support because he didn’t like the way I was managing my recovery.

Now I’ve calmed down, I’ve remembered that every organisation has some idiots (thanks for reminding me, Tim!). Not only that, but NA is staffed by non-professional volunteers with very little (if any) training.

They’re doing their best, but it should be no surprise when they make mistakes or do things a professional counsellor would never dream of doing.

Suffice to say, I still love the 12 Steps, as flawed as they and their followers may be.

Maybe I just need to learn to be more tolerant and forgiving.


Other stuff in no particular order

I’m really grateful to Gordon, a US reader of this blog, for reaching out to me today. I’m at a real low point and his message brought a smile to my face. Yes, the world can be a shitty place, but there’s a lot of love and beauty and kindness out there too.


I’m grateful also to my Mental Buddy. This week is going to be testing for me, for a variety of reasons. And she’s agreed to help me get through it. Thank you, MB.


And you, Shaun (or should I say ‘Natalie’, or ‘Mel B’?!). Mate, you crack me up. You’re even more crazy than I am. And I love it. Beneath that craziness is a really kind and thoughtful man, someone with a lot of love and loyalty to give. You rock, thank you.

Actually, I’m grateful to everyone who has reached out to me with empathy, understanding, warmth and humour. Thank you.


Today is Day 7 of Russell Brand’s free 12 Day Recovery course. It’s really beautiful.

And this is the point where I finally get around to explaining what I meant by the title of this post, “This shouldn’t be happening”

If you’ve been reading my posts since mid-August, you’ll have seen me change my views about a range of things, especially God and spirituality.

Most recently, I’ve veered back to an atheistic, rational approach. I’ve been telling myself there’s no God and it’s stupid to think otherwise.

I’ve been fighting against all the God stuff in the 12 Steps.

But yesterday and today, as Russell’s videos have covered Steps 6 and 7, I’ve felt a softening in my heart.

The atheist approach to life is so bloody bare and cold and austere. There’s no comfort in it. Sure, it appeals to the intellect, but where’s it’s heart?

By contrast, the spiritual approach is full of love and joy… human emotion.

Lots of people put their intellect above their feelings. I think this is a mistake.

Humans have both intellect (logic) and heart (feelings). We need both of them in equal measure.

If you lean towards one more than another, then you’re missing out!

And so, I find myself opening up to the spiritual aspects of Steps 6 and 7 when I hear Russell talk about them.

They’re full of beauty, joy, surrender, hope… concepts which a purely intellectual mind will struggle to grasp.

So it’s my intellect which is saying, “This shouldn’t be happening.”

I’m a smart guy, by most measures. Clever people don’t believe in God, or spirituality, do they?

Aren’t rational thinkers meant to put their faith into the scientific method? Logic? Reason? Evidence?

Where’s the room for spirituality if you subscribe to a purely scientific approach?

I can’t answer that question, but right now, I’m feeling I need both.

As much as part of me hates the God / Higher Power stuff in NA, another part of me realises that I actually need it.

When I consider secular drug treatment programmes, it feels like something’s missing, no matter how evidence-based they may be.

Humans aren’t pure logic machines. We have hearts. Maybe some of us have become disconnected from our hearts… maybe through childhood trauma, or through an education system which sneers at emotions and regards them as inferior.

Anyway, I’ll shut up now.

My heart is cold, heavy, broken. But there’s also a glimmer of joy, of hope in there too.

I know I’ll be OK.

I know I’m not going to turn to drugs to get me through this low patch. I know I won’t allow the self-pity in my heart to turn into suicidal depression.

I’m past all that.

This is a new me… A “me” that can sense there’s some kind of Higher Power out there, helping me, giving me hope, even if I can’t explain it using logic and reason.

I understand what Russell means when he says, “The world has nothing left to give you. Now your life needs to become one of service to others.”

Maybe I needed to reach this low, as broken and withdrawn as it makes me feel, so that I can begin to rebuild again…

… I’m going to rebuild myself into a life of service, rather than one that grasps after the world, selfishly looking for short-term pleasure.


Here’s the link to the sign-up page for Russell Brand’s free 12 day course. You’ve only got 5 days left before it’ll no longer be free!


Sadness

It sits in my chest like a damp lump of concrete.

Sadness.

I’m not happy. There are several things in my life that I wish weren’t the way they are.

The urge to escape is strong.

I have a feeling today is going to consist of bathing in videogames and music, the creative salves to my inner wound.

Am I getting depressed again? Or is this just a fleeting emotion?

If I sit with it, will it make things better, or will the feeling amplify? Is there a problem I need to solve?

Mindfulness tells me to just allow feelings, without resisting or grasping after them.

But I don’t want my whole day to be flavoured with this sadness. Like Fate pouring salt into the well from which I must drink.

I remind myself I wanted this. I’ve dropped my Prozac force field so I could feel again. No-one promised me I’d *like* all of the emotions. Sadness is just part of the deal.

So I acknowledge the heavy pain, the lump in my chest. It’ll go eventually.

I just have to not do anything stupid in the meantime.

Returning to the Fold

I haven’t been to a 12 Steps meeting in weeks. I’m a wayward sheep, determined to forge his own path. But I do want to return to the fold, I’m just not quite sure how to do it without causing myself and others more problems.

Based on some of my rants and criticisms of Narcotics Anonymous, you’d be forgiven for thinking I hated the lot o’ them.

That’s really not true though. I really like a lot of 12 Steps ideas. Today I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Russell Brand’s “Recovery”. Specifically, I’ve listened to steps 9 to 12.

I really like these steps and I absolutely love the way Russell describes them. He’s my literary hero. I wish I could write prose as beautiful and engaging as his.

Several times today I’ve exclaimed, “YES!” out loud in response to a beautifully formulated sentence from Russell – each and every word carefully chosen to fulfill an important role… and it’s hard to imagine any other word being better.

Yesterday I did my own version of Steps 4 and 5 with my “Mental Buddy”. She’s awesome.

I got a lot out of the process. I recognised several patterns in my own behaviour. I identified certain underlying fears and limiting beliefs. It was a really useful exercise.

What I’m trying to get at is that I absolutely LOVE the 12 Steps and the liberating effect they’re having in my own life. But my path through the steps has been littered with stumbling blocks.

One guy at a meeting said to me, “The only barriers are in your own mind.”

I almost told him to fuck off. The 12 Steps are not perfect, there’s plenty of room for their improvement. And to deny this is… is… well it’s just fucking wrong.

At every meeting, if you’re unfortunate to sit in a seat with an A4 laminated sheet on it, you’re expected to read aloud the dogma it contains at the appropriate juncture in the meeting.

But several times I’ve found myself thinking, “But I don’t believe that! Why am I forced to say this aloud, against my own beliefs? I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

So I have a choice: read this shit aloud and pretend I believe in it, or obstinately refuse to take part and make myself seem like a total prick.

Or maybe I could pretend I’ve lost my voice and pass the sheet onto the next person. Though that’s not exactly a sustainable solution!

And then there’s the problem which someone in a Facebook group succintly described as, “Too many people in meetings who are more focussed on their illness rather than their recovery.”

I can really relate to that. It pisses me off. And then I feel pissed off with myself for being so selfish.

All of us are on our own path. I can’t expect everyone at every meeting to submit to my will and fulfill my selfish and petty needs.

So then I start to think, “OK, so how should I be of service to other people at meetings, rather than focussing on my own selfish needs?”

And this then brings me into conflict with the other big personalities in the meetings… the veterans who seem so in love with the traditions and the dogma.

Because, truth be told, I would run Narcotics Anonymous meetings very differently.

I’d focus on meaningful, practical recovery, not on self-flagellation or starry-eyed wonder for the programme.

Sure, I’d allow room for personal narrative, but to that I’d add a chance for the group to reflect, an opportunity to analyse and extract out the underlying lessons from the experiences of others.

In other words, I’d make explicit the moral of the stories which people tell, rather than leaving their discovery open to chance.

But I foresee that as soon as I start to shape my local Narcotics Anonymous meeting to better achieve the goals I have in mind, that will bring me into conflict with others who have more traditional ideas. And to be honest, I just can’t be fucked with conflict.

My wife has suggested that I start my own Meet Up groups for people in recovery like me. A kind of self-help, personal development, addiction/recovery support group.

I think that’s a bloody good idea. But I’m shit at being consistent. I would need a team with me. Maybe my Mental Buddy would be interested. She’s already running a support group for people with certain issues. Maybe she’d help me start up another…

So that’s where I am right now with all this…

I love the 12 Steps programme (despite the flaws I’ve moaned about at length in this blog). But I struggle with the way it’s implemented at my local meeting.

Where do I go from here? Well, watch this space…