Unfucking Myself

There’s lots of wisdom in 12 Steps programs.

Not only do they help people recover from addiction, but they also unlock the hidden potential within us to become the best version of ourselves.

(No, that isn’t hyperbole. I really mean it.)

Unfortunately, the 12 Steps are often expressed in ways which some people (including me) find problematic.

That’s why I’m grateful to Russell Brand. In his book Recovery, he explains the 12 Steps in his own words. I get on much better with Russell’s explanations.

Russell’s version of Step 3 says:

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

This comes after admitting we’re fucked and we need some help.

I love Russell’s phrasing, his invented word “unfuck” puts a smile on my face when considering what’s often a deadly serious subject.

A Need for Support

I haven’t been to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting for several weeks. I have mixed feelings about this. As I’ve written before, there’s parts of NA I really like and parts I really dislike.

My recovery is going pretty well, on my own. I’m 3 days away from 5 months clean. The urge to take drugs is almost totally absent.

Strictly speaking, I’m not on my own in recovery. I have the guidance of Russell and the 12 Steps with me. And I have my very own Mental Buddy who is my partner-in-crime on our mutual journey towards better mental health.

But what I really miss is the hugs, the feeling of camaraderie, of mutual support. People who genuinely seem to give a shit about me getting my life back together, whilst trying to do the same for themselves.

It’s also a really nice feeling when someone tells me that they’ve found something I’ve shared useful.

If I could keep all those good bits of NA and get rid of the shit I find unhelpful, that would make me very happy. I might even start going back to meetings.

Today in particular, I could do with some external support.

Discipline

Bad-ass Jocko Willink says, “Discipline equals Freedom”. And he’s right.

I’ve been getting much better at how I organise my time. I try to do the most important jobs first, leaving the fun distractions for later.

This makes me feel proud of myself.

But it’s also like a game of whack-a-mole.

Just as I feel I’m getting one aspect of my life under control, something else seems to get worse.

Right now, I’m struggling with staying up too late at night. This leads to serious overeating.

I know from previous experience that it only takes a few nights of poor sleep for my mental health to fall apart. And the overeating just makes it worse.

Today I feel pretty rotten, physically.

And the impulsive, undisciplined, pleasure-seeking part of me that’s associated with my addiction – it’s desperate to find an escape.

It feels like a nest of snakes in my chest, trying to take over.

It wants me to abandon all of my displine, my To Do lists, and just sack everything off.

“Just have a duvet day”

The seductive voice of the devil on my shoulder

Kindness

I need to stop and take a breath.

I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m not trying to be the ultimate embodiment of discipline and organisation.

I’m actually doing really well. Every day I’m making small progress in the right direction.

I really AM getting my life back together, even if some days are harder than others.

I won’t let a rough day make me abandon everything I’ve worked for. I’m not going to run away, hiding in a hole of self-pity and trying to escape the world.

I’ll stick to my plan. Two steps forward, one step back.

I’ll choose some easier goals for today. One or two useful and important things.

And I’ll remember to breathe and be kind to myself.


P.S. I’m still seeing repeating numbers (like 11:11 on the clock) all the time at the moment.

(Well, not all the time. That would mean I’m living in a house of broken clocks… Clocks that happened to all break at exactly the same time. Now that would be freaky!)

I know it’s probably just coincidence, but it feels like way more than that. It seems to be happening more often than I can reasonably attribute to dumb luck.

I’m choosing to believe that the numbers mean I’m on the right path. They are affirming my spiritual awakening, every day.

That seems like a pretty harmless belief. Even if it’s just placebo, I imagine it can be quite helpful.

I'm Sorry

It’s human nature to criticise others for their mistakes and failures. It’s much harder to stop and take a long hard look in the mirror.

It takes courage and humility (i.e. balls) to admit when you were wrong.

I made a cock up this afternoon. I spoke harshly to someone close to me. I said several things I really should not have.

Immediately I knew I shouldn’t have done it. I’d let myself get carried away with my emotions.

Now I’m off my antidepressants, I’m often getting surges of emotion, particularly anger and irritation. These surges seem to come from nowhere. And I’m still trying to adjust to them, whilst also trying not to say or do anything too stupid.

I’m not trying to make excuses (OK, maybe I am a little bit). I still shouldn’t have said what I said today.

The temptation is to protect our egos: to think of all the reasons we were justified in behaving the way we did. But we need to move beyond this.

I gave myself a couple of hours to calm down and reflect, then I swallowed my pride. I phoned the person I’d wronged and I apologised.

(Aren’t I just the perfect human being?!)

Steps 4 to 9

The process I’ve described above is actually a huge part of the 12 Steps. Though if you ask me, they needlessly over-complicate it.

Really, it’s as simple as this:

  1. Think about a situation that’s bothering you.
  2. Notice who you’re feeling resentful towards.
  3. Choose to let go of that resentment.
  4. Work out what part you played in the situation. Where were you wrong? What mistakes did you make? What fears and false beliefs underlie the way you behaved?
  5. Apologise and make amends, as long as doing so won’t make things worse.

Doing the above isn’t particularly comfortable. But it helps me feel proud of myself. It helps me feel like I’m taking responsibility for my life.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if each of us decided, on our own and without any coercion, to look in the mirror and apologise for our mistakes.


Are Antidepressants Worth Taking?

Since being diagnosed with clinical depression a few years ago, I’ve been on and off (mostly on) the anti-depressant Fluoxetine.

I’ve taken varying doses between the minimum and, most recently, the maximum.

What beneficial effects did Fluoxetine have for me? What were its side-effects?

Rather than writing about how anti-depressants are supposed to work, in this post I’ll share my subjective experiences, which may be typical, or they may be anomalous.

[Nerdy science warning: Care should be taken before drawing conclusions from a sample size of one with no experimental controls in place.]

Fluoxetine seems to take the edge off the more difficult aspects of life. And by “difficult” I really mean “intensely emotional.”

I experienced less emotion while on the medication. This felt a bit like having a force field, enabling me to more easily endure uncomfortable situations (whether they occurred in the external world, or purely in my internal world of thoughts and feelings).

Fortunately my emotions weren’t numbed completely. I think that would have felt unpleasant for me, though I can understand why someone who’s been through a lot of trauma might want to numb everything and feel nothing.

Often it’s really beneficial to have a force field which prevents you feeling so much emotion. For example, in stressful work environments, it’s easier to keep your cool.

Dull

Along with dulled emotions, I believe my thinking wasn’t as sharp. It’s hard to quantify exactly how dulled my cognition seemed to be. At a rough guess, maybe 10%?

I’m finding it easier to get out of bed now I’m off the antidepressants. And the morning’s mental grogginess fades faster. I concede this is partly because I’m simply enjoying life more, so I have more willingness to engage with the morning rather than trying to hide from it.

Sometimes life is fucking brutal. Our loved ones will die one day, many of them before we die ourselves. That kind of loss can cause immense suffering and pain.

Dr Jordan Peterson rather bleakly proclaims, “Life is tragedy tainted by malevolence.” I have some sympathy with that outlook.

So it’s no wonder people turn to antidepressants to get some temporary relief from the bleakest parts of life.

Was my life ready that bad?

I wasn’t taking Fluoxetine short-term. I’ve been on it for years. So what unbearable trauma happened to me? Why was my life so bad that I didn’t want to live any more?

In short, I simply didn’t like life. I wanted to escape from it. I spent large chunks of my time wishing I wasn’t around.

At the time, my understanding was that if life’s making you depressed, then it’s perfectly natural to take anti-depressants so you can cope with it.

I liked my Fluoxetine-powered force field. I didn’t want to give it up. It didn’t miraculously make me happier, but at least it reduced the intensity of negative emotions.

And that’s the key point: I had decided I didn’t want to deal with everyday life any more. I constantly wanted to escape, through anti-depressants, through videogames and eventually by taking drugs.

And that lead me to addiction and Narcotics Anonymous.

It might seem strange, but I’m incredibly grateful I hit that low point.

Because it was there, as my life teetered on the edge of total destruction, that I learned the last little secret to curing myself of depression.


The root problem wasn’t that I was depressed. My core problem was that I couldn’t cope with everyday life.

And the solution wasn’t to mask or escape from reality (via games, drugs etc). The solution was to learn how to accept life on life’s terms.


I needed to stop running away. I needed to take responsibility for my life.

It’s thanks to Dr Jordan Peterson and to Narcotics Anonymous that I’ve made these astonishing realisations.

It’s taken me literally years to get to this point. Change is often really hard.


It’s been almost 8 weeks since I cold-turkeyed Fluoxetine. I don’t recommend that anyone else does this – it can be very risky to suddenly stop taking antidepressants, in some cases fatal.

Two months ago I couldn’t fully articulate why I wanted to stop taking my medication. But I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me personally.

It’s only now that all of this is becoming increasingly clear to me, almost 5 months clean from drugs and 2 months free from anti-depressants.

Ultimately, I needed to learn how to cope with everyday life again.

I needed to start taking responsibility for myself. And I needed to learn a better way to relate to so-called “negative” emotions.

Without Jordan Peterson and NA, I expect I’d still be on anti-depressants… possibly for the rest of my life.

So, it’s difficult for me to understate how grateful I am to both NA and Dr Peterson (via his YouTube videos).

Who knows where I’d be without their help.


[Caveat: depression is a complex disease. It has many different causes and seems to affect different people in different ways. In this post I talk only about my own experiences. I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I am not recommending what I did for anyone else.]

What Makes a Day Into a Good (or Bad) Day?

Can we divide emotions into good and bad? The app Moodscope uses this approach. I used to think this way myself…

But now that idea seems unhelpful.

I used to think my day was bad if I experienced a lot of sadness, or despair during those 24 hours.

Here’s what I now think instead…

Emotions are just emotions. They’re neither good nor bad. They’re just a natural part of life.

Same thing with thoughts. Neither good nor bad. Neither true nor untrue… unless I decide they are.

Nowadays, the quality of my day isn’t dictated by the emotions I’ve experienced.

My day isn’t even bad just because bad events have happened.

My day is good if I have acted in ways which make me feel proud of myself.

But even if I made mistakes, did I learn from them? Did I make amends for the things I did wrong? If so, then it’s not a bad day.

Maybe this change in perspective is partly why I seem to have had a pretty solid 7 weeks of good days according to the Pixels app.

There were certainly days where I felt intensely angry, others where I felt deeply sad. And yet, I still classed them as good days.

As a result, I seem to be enjoying life more. I’m not running away from “bad” feelings. I’m not obsessing over depressing thoughts.

Emotions no longer have such power to ruin (or make) my day.

I’m facing life on life’s terms. I’m not wanting to escape as much (via drugs, videogames, TV or Facebook).

Even just the thought of me committing suicide seems preposterous. But it wasn’t long ago when I fantasised about dying almost every day.

I now have so much to live for.

Partly this is thanks to changing the way I relate to my thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness has been a big help here.

Another big help has been living in alignment with my core values. So don’t underestimate them, they’re not some kind of luxury. They’re at the core of our everyday experience.

And if you have no idea what your values are, check out my mate Tim Brownson’s book, The Clarity Method.


Tune of the Day – Petrichor by Tek Genesis

Before I even share this tune, I know that a maximum of 3 other sentient beings in the Universe will like it. So why am I bothering to write about it?

I guess it’s a note to myself. The note says, “On this day, 3rd January 2020, I loved this tune more than any other. And that deserves celebration, even if it’s solitary.”

It’s more Flume-like than Flume’s own music.

The rising tones make me happy. I imagine the track as a whole is a representation of our brain’s inner workings… Competing sub-units of processing, loudly clamouring to be noticed. They overlap and interfere with each other. And yet, all of them are part of a greater whole. When combined, the mechanical noises transform into something life-like and beautiful.

Oversharing

I’ve now set my previous post from today to private – only I can view it.

As much as I wish I could just be totally open and honest on this blog, the reality is: I can’t.

My actions have consequences, ripples on a pond. And it’s not fair for me to just do a brain dump to the Internet and then expect everything to be fine.

My propensity for openness is not fair on my wife, our families or our friends. It adds emotional strain which no-one asked for.

I can’t vent my spleen and expect everyone it touches to react like some kind of perfect counsellor. That’s unfair and unrealistic.

The harsh reality is that my openness is selfish. And this isn’t the only way in which I’m selfish. It’s something I need to work on. Russell Brand says selfishness is at the core of addiction, I have no reason to doubt him.

I promised my wife I’d always be open and honest with her. I still think that’s a very wise decision. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea to share all my thoughts and experiences more widely.

So, from now on, I’ll be more careful about what I share on this blog.

Anything that’s highly emotional or personal, I’ll share that on a new blog where I’ll have 100% anonymity. That way, I can speak completely freely, with no reservations. And hopefully my writing will benefit strangers, without harming those close to me.

It should be win/win for all concerned.

Sorry for the distress and concern caused by my previous post.