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…


ATTENTION! Dopamine Loops

As my self-awareness increases and my spiritual awakening unfolds, I’m noticing how often my behaviour is comprised of scripts.

They’re little loops of automatic learned behaviour, fueled and motivated by dopamine.

It’s only thanks to mindful awareness that I’m able to notice and interrupt these loops.

  • Checking Facebook. Before I know it, my brain has kinda drifted off and I’m typing “fa…” into my browser, eager for that little rush of excitement when I see I’ve got Likes or comments or an interesting new post shared by a friend.
  • Raiding the kitchen. This happens a lot late at night. I’m kinda tired, my hunger hormones are spiking. And before I know it, I’m eating way more calories than I need and I’m not even truly hungry!
  • Checking my WordPress stats. How many Likes has my latest post got? Are people saying nice things about me? Are there any new countries visiting my blog?

I’m a little ashamed of these automatic behaviours. As rational human beings, we like to feel we’re in control of our brains and our day-to-day lives.

But in reality, much of our behaviour is governed by habits. And it’s up to us to consciously remove unhelpful habits and replace them with better ones.

And that’s fucking hard when so much of modern technology, social media etc is explicitly designed to be addictive, continually interrupt our concentration and grab our attention.

Dopamine loops, they’re everywhere.

Breaking Out

At times I’m tempted to go to an extreme… no technology for 3 months! Quit all social media!

I mean, that’d certainly be an interesting experiment.

But I have a feeling that the sustainable solution is moderation. Something that, as an addict, I suck at.

Ah well, at least I’m aware of the problem and hopefully making steps in the right direction.

Dopamine loops are my brain’s attempt to engage in what’s pleasurable rather than what’s important.

It takes discipline to keep focused on the important stuff, especially if you’re at home (or self-employed) and don’t have a boss watching over your shoulder.

So it’s appropriate that I’m going to end this post here and go take my beautiful dogs for a walk in the countryside. And I’m gonna try to keep my damned phone in my pocket and pay attention to my surroundings!

Love’n’hugs x


OK, I've Remembered What I'm Doing

What a difference a good night’s sleep can make! While I rested during the night, my clever body was hard at work fighting this cold and getting me back to good health. I’m not quite 100%, but feeling way better.

My unconscious has been hard at work answering some of the questions I posed in yesterday’s blog post.

Conclusions

  • Just chill! I was feeling overwhelmed. So I just needed to relax, slow down and take a break. I chose to do one thing at a time and not get so stressed out.
  • I don’t need to worry about my goals for 2020. Or even next week. I’ll take life “Just for today” as Narcotics Anonymous suggest.
  • Sometimes even thinking about today feels like too much. In these instances, all I need to do is zoom in and focus on the present moment.
  • Being present, aware, mindful – that’s much more important than striving for some far-off goal.
  • My core values are: Truth, Courage, Love and Humility.
  • If I live in alignment with my values, I will feel proud of myself and will feel like my life is worth living. There’s no need for massive grand goals.
  • Money and “success” (however I choose to define it) will come as by-products of me doing work which truly helps others. This will take continual, persistent effort every day. It’s not always sexy or fun, but it’s worthwhile.
  • If in doubt, just be kind… both to myself and to others.

Ahhh, it feels good to have reconnected with my life’s mission!

Deep inhalation. Stretch overhead. Smile.

I’ve got this.

I’m already in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.

Who I am in the world day-by-day – that’s much more important than what I achieve.


Step 3

Traditional wording of Step 3:

“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

No, I don’t think so. It’s simply not gonna happen.

Here’s Russell Brand’s version:

“Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?”

Slightly better than the traditional version, but still problematic.

Ultimately, my recovery depends on me.

I need to learn and then implement the tools and techniques which will lead to my recovery.

Support from other people will indeed be helpful, but we don’t need to make ourselves feel small and pathetic.

“You’re more powerful than you think. Way more powerful.”

– Jordan Peterson

That’s not arrogance, it’s confidence. It’s self-empowerment.

We still need to be humble and willing to learn. But we don’t need to “turn our lives over to God.”


Here’s my version of Step 3:

“We are willing to accept external help to tackle the problems we’ve identified in our lives.”

Bollinger, R. (2020)

I’ve removed all the God stuff. I’ve removed any diminishing of an individual’s capabilities.

And I’ve retained the need for humility, open-mindedness and the willingness to accept outside help.

Much better.


A Strange Place

I’m in a bit of a strange place this morning. I’ve noticed several things which don’t feel quite right in the last couple of days. It’s enough to make me say, “Hold up, what’s going on here?”

I’m finally starting to feel a bit better after having the worst cold of my life. Sounds dramatic I know, but this one has been a stinker. And yet, now my health is improving, I feel kinda generally deflated, when I ought to be feeling pleased.

Things which usually feel enjoyable are starting to feel a bit “meh”.

The money-making website I’ve talked previously about wanting to set up, it now feels just kinda icky and unpleasant.

I seem to have lost touch with what exactly I’m doing with my life. I’ve been so busy focussing on the next task, ploughing on regardless. I’m definitely putting in lots of effort and (hopefully) moving forward, but is it in the right direction? It’s time to look up and take in my surroundings.

Due to selling various items on eBay and Facebook, the area around my computer desk is feeling cluttered. Usually it doesn’t bother me when things get a bit messy, but right now it feels overbearing. And why is it that the more I sell, the more stuff seems to accumulate?!

Two different companies gave me money yesterday. I’d been half expecting it in both cases, but it still should have been a pleasant surprise… but it left me feeling flat.

I’ve been getting strong urges to escape from the present moment, mainly by just staying in bed. Being ill doesn’t help.

My feelings of disgust towards any form of marketing or manipulative behaviour are at an all-time high. All my heroes are totally honest and authentic. They ruthlessly self-assess to see where they’re going wrong and they course correct. So when I encounter people being arrogant, or deceitful, or selfish, or manipulative, it’s triggering major feelings of disgust.

In the last few days, whenever I encounter people trying to make money as their top priority, it makes me feel a bit sick.

Or again, is this just a reflection of my own internal state? Am I feeling a bit disgusted with my own recent focus with making money? Is it me that has lost his way and needs to reflect on his real values and priorities? Quite possibly.

I want to try to understand where all this is coming from. Is it all just because I’m a bit tired and ill?

Is my disappointment really with myself – and I’m just projecting it outwards?

Where do I want my life to go? What are my goals and priorities? How am I doing in terms of my progress towards them in 2020?

Am I busy making lots of noise and mess and problems for other people, rather than actually making others’ lives better?


Right now, I don’t even know where to start to answer all those questions. So instead I’m gonna escape and play some videogames for a bit. And watch hilarious clips from classic movies like Team America: World Police.

Durka Durka.

(Yes, I’m an incredibly lucky man. Maybe I just need to stop whining and practice more gratitude).

Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Step 1 of the 12 Steps asks us to admit that we are powerless over our addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable.

Does anyone else balk at the way that’s phrased, or is it just me?

What I don’t understand is the strength and absoluteness of those statements.

Powerless? Unmanageable? Really?

Even Russell Brand’s version doesn’t quite sit right with me:

“Are you a bit fucked?”

Russell Brand’s version of Step 1

No Russell, I’m not a bit fucked. Thinking badly of myself is unhelpful.

There’s nothing wrong with me as a person. There’s merely something wrong with my thinking and my behaviour.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my actions.

This distinction is important.

So, for Step 1, why can’t we just say, “Do you have a problem?”

Sure, perhaps it’s the case for many addicts that drugs and alcohol are totally ruining their lives. They have no control at all, and very soon they’ll end up dead unless they change.

But that doesn’t apply to everyone, and it doesn’t apply to me.

Many of us have more subtle and nuanced problems. And our lives aren’t a complete disaster.

Powerlessness

I am not powerless over my addiction.

If I was, then I wouldn’t have made it to 5 months clean today.

Sure, that’s with the help of Narcotics Anonymous, but it’s still me that’s done most of the hard work.

There’s no God, no Higher Power. If you find belief in these things comforting (as I have at times), then that’s fine. But they’re not strictly necessary if you want to solve a problem in your life.

The reality is: there’s just me (plus the help and support I receive from my friends, family members and the 12 Steps fellowship).

Why do the 12 Steps seem to want to belittle and minimise an individual’s capacity for changing their own life? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

For me, what’s happened in reality is that I’ve learned a set of ideas and techniques which have helped me to overcome a particular problem in my life.

In what way does that show I’m powerless? If anything, it shows the opposite.

Unmanageability

And in the same way as I refuse to admit I’m powerless over my addiction, I also refuse to admit that my life had become unmanageable.

Sure, my drug misuse was causing me serious problems.

I’ve had quite a few trips to hospital as a result of my reckless drug abuse.

And even more seriously, I hid my problem from my wife, which put a severe strain on our marriage.

There’s a pretty good chance that without my wife’s selfless support and help, I might well be dead now, either through suicide or some kind of drug misadventure.

But to me, that still doesn’t mean my life had become unmanageable.

Again, it simply means that I had a problem, even if it was a pretty big one.

The truth is that many aspects of my life were ticking along just fine. I had a job. I was responsible enough to care for our dogs. There were lots of other good thing going on in my life.

Sure, some aspects of my life were out of control, but not all of it.

Pedantic

I know it might seem like I’m being pedantic here, but this stuff is really important.

Words have meaning. It’s important that we choose the best words to convey exactly what we mean.

Accuracy is important.

There’s only a certain amount of fudging or interpretation you can do before you have to admit, “Hang on a minute, the phrasing of these 12 Steps is simply not very accurate.”

Powerlessness and Overcoming Depression

If you’re stuck in a hole of depression and feel totally hopeless, then you probably do feel pretty powerless over your life.

But over the years, as I learned more about the disease of depression and how to achieve good mental health, I realised I needed to take personal responsibility for myself.

Sure, I had to start in very small ways and build up gradually, but the important thing I learned was:

“If I choose to do so, there are certain things I can do which will reduce the severity of my depression.”

– Bollinger, R. (2020)

That demonstrates that I am powerful, not that I’m powerless.

And it’s a similar thing with drugs, alcohol and other addictions.

I realised there are things I could learn and put into practice which would help me to solve my problems with drugs.

This is hugely empowering!

Contradiction

Step 1 also contradicts Step 2.

Firstly (in Step 1) we’re supposed to admit we’re powerless, but then in the very next breath (in Step 2) we’re told to have hope that things can improve… by taking action ourselves!

It just doesn’t add up.

Sinister

Why does NA tell people there’s nothing they can do (without a “Higher Power”) to help themselves?

It strikes me as a bit sinister that organisations like Narcotics Anonymous insist that addicts must diminish or eliminate their own agency (their ability to make beneficial choices for themselves).

To me, that looks like Narcotics Anonymous is trying to make addicts dependent on the organisation… “You are powerless, and you need us to survive.”

To me, that feels a bit like an authoritarian and manipulative boyfriend trying to remove the agency and willpower of his girlfriend so he can better control her and bend her to his will.

Ugh, it’s horrible.

The First 3 Steps

It makes me sad that Narcotics Anonymous is so resistant to challenging and evolving its own dogma.

With a little effort, they can develop more accurate and more helpful versions of the 12 Steps.

Here’s my own version of the first 3 Steps, which I humbly present to you:

  1. We recognised we had a particular problem in our lives which was causing us significant difficulties.
  2. We had hope that we might be able to learn how to overcome that problem.
  3. We were willing to ask for help to overcome the problem(s) we had identified.

It took me about 5 minutes of thought to come up with this today… Though I have been mulling over these issues for a while.

In my opinion, this re-working of the first 3 steps is a million times better than the current NA version.

The 12 Steps don’t have to be so extreme-sounding. We don’t need hyperbole and over-generalisation.

In my opinion, the way the first 3 Steps are worded can be a massive impediment to addicts getting the help they need. This makes me feel really sad. It’s so needless.

I myself rejected help from Narcotics Anonymous many times because of their dogmatic approach. It’s simply not necessary. It gets in the way of recovery.

I dread to think of the number of people who have died as a result of not being able to accept the first 3 Steps due to the unhelpful and inaccurate way they are worded.

When I re-word the first 3 Steps in the way I’ve done above, I feel like I can accept them wholeheartedly.

All of my resistance melts away. My gut feeling of “something’s not quite right here” disappears.

And then I can get on with the important business of actually tackling my problems instead of wasting time fighting against NA dogma.