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.

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.]

Moving Forward

[WARNING: ramble-style post]

After declaring my journey was over yesterday, I’ve reconsidered.

There are a few different directions in which I’m thinking of moving forward with this blog and other creative projects.

CODENAME: Project Diary

I still want a place where I can talk about stuff from my own life in a pretty unfiltered way. Selfishly, it’s a kind of therapy for me, plus my experiences can sometimes be helpful for other people.

I’d want to cover mental health, depression, personal development, and the ongoing exploration of a meaningful life.

I also want somewhere where I can be fully open and honest about my recovery from addiction. Not everyone I’m close to know the full extent of my recent drug problems. And for that reason, this Diary Project would need to remain at least semi-anonymous.

CODENAME: Show Me Da Money

I’m also really keen to explore various ways in which to make money online. I’ve been trying my hand at matched betting recently and have been successful.

I also want to review various products and services, providing my honest reviews. I’ll include affiliate links so I can earn some commission.

Really, I’d like this money-making project to be totally separate from Project Diary. I want to be able to share my product reviews on Facebook without fear that my father-in-law will find out about my drug misadventures and hunt me down with a shotgun.

Another core design goal for me: I want to be different from all the existing 10-billion websites trying to sell people stuff.

Sure, I will stick closely to my guiding principles of Truth, Honesty and Humility. I will never sell trash to people just to make a fast buck.

But being an honest salesperson isn’t particularly a unique angle. I need some other way to differentiate myself. Some clever branding trick which helps me stand out. I’ll keep mulling this over.

CODENAME: Don’t Kill Yourself

I’d also like to do something around suicide prevention. An old friend of mine killed herself around a month ago. And I’ve already lost far too many people to suicide in my lifetime. I want to do something more to help, but I really don’t know what.

I feel impotent on this matter.

It’s such an important topic, and yet, if I’m honest, there are plenty of other things in my life which feel more important right now. I feel awful for being so selfish, but it’s the truth.

I have one good friend who I feel is very vulnerable at the moment. His moods have been swinging wildly in recently months. He’s come close to suicide several times. I’m helping him by using my Samaritans listening training to try to be there for him. Really, giving him my time, attention and empathy – it doesn’t feel to me like I’m doing very much, though I’m sure my friend is grateful for my help and understanding.

Maybe that’s enough? Just being there for people in my life? I don’t know.

I’ll keep mulling over this one.

CODENAME: No-one Likes My Music

I’m perhaps a little unusual in that I’m in my 40s and I’m still just as passionate about new music as I was in my 20s. There’s tonnes of dance music and electronica which are a vitally important part of my life.

Music literally keeps me sane and keeps me alive. I listen to Spotify for several hours every single day.

Ironically, virtually no-one else seems to like the same music as me, which makes me feel a bit sad.

I want to do something creative in which I celebrate the music that’s important to me… But without annoying my friends with different music tastes.

When I share music on Facebook, I’m lucky if I get a single “Like”. It’s demoralising… and I don’t want to annoy my friends with stuff they don’t care about.


I’ll keep thinking about these different creative endeavours and how I might best progress them.

Any and all suggestions welcome!


Getting the Most from 12-Step Programs

(Photo: Nic McPhee/Flickr)

I have mixed feelings about 12-Step programs like Narcotics Anonymous, which I’ve now been attending for 4 months.

There are plenty of good things about NA. But sadly, there are also several unsettling flaws which drag it down in my estimation.

There’s zero chance that I’m the first person to have recognised NA’s problems, which indicates to me that the organisation is stuck in the past. It struggles to adapt and change, limiting its ability to learn from its mistakes.

NA is stuck in ideology and dogma, seemingly unable to evolve and improve.

The real tragedy about this is that it unnecessarily limits the organisation’s ability to help people.

I wonder how many struggling addicts have been turned off by NA’s negatives, many of which I’ve wrestled with myself. How many of those desperate people relapsed and died as a result of NA’s failings?

A journalist’s conclusions

I enjoyed the following article, which contains many salient points about Narcotics Anonymous (click the link just below)

WHAT I’VE FINALLY CONCLUDED ABOUT 12-STEP PROGRAMS AFTER 25 YEARS WRITING ABOUT DRUGS AND ADDICTION


I don’t want to sound overly negative about NA, so here’s my attempt at a balanced representation of NA’s pros and cons:

What I like about NA

  1. It’s free (other than a small donation each meeting).
  2. I love the social support I receive from other addicts. There are some really lovely, kind, caring people at my local NA meeting. After 4 months of attending meetings, some of them are starting to feel like friends.
  3. For people who diligently follow a 12 Step program, it seems likely that their lives will improve in many different and sometimes unexpected ways.
  4. One vitally important NA catchphrase is, “Take what you like, leave the rest.” You’re not forced to think or believe in a certain way. There is some room for individual differences of opinion.
  5. There’s a lot of overlap between the 12 Steps and some ancient philosophies such as Stoicism and Buddhism. These philosophies are excellent paths to self-mastery and self-improvement. I’m a big fan of both, and for me, much of NA’s ideology fits quite neatly with my existing beliefs and understanding.

What I don’t like about NA

  1. Some members seems to insist that there is only one correct way to recover from addiction (the official NA way), leaving little room for nuance, individual differences or the complexity of life. I strongly resist such a puritanical and ideological approach. Blind faith in dogma is simply stupid – we should always be willing to question what we’re told.
  2. NA’s insistence on the existence of a “Higher Power” is redundant for the treatment of addiction. NA seems wilfully blind to the fact there are plenty of secular, effective, evidence-based drug treatment programs.
  3. NA lumps all attendees together and treats us as if we’re all the same: sick addicts who are fundamentally broken. Personally, I don’t find this approach helpful. NA literature is full of unhelpful narratives about the lives of addicts – I can’t relate to much of it and I have to force myself to ignore it. The organisation could avoid this problem if it was more inclusive and better recognised the large variations in the experiences of different people.
  4. In its very first step (Step 1), NA insists I admit I am powerless over my addiction. That’s a huge turn-off for me. I’m absolutely NOT powerless. (See the article I mentioned earlier for more on this.)
  5. NA insists that anonymity is essential and non-negotiable. But some people (like me) find it helpful to be open and honest about my drug problems. I believe that silence and stigma around mental illness and addiction just makes things worse.
    (NOTE: I don’t recklessly over-disclose, I’m careful about who I share with. And for this blog I keep my true identity hidden behind a pseudonym.)

How I reconcile all these problems

For me, it all comes back to that idea I mentioned earlier:

“Take what’s useful for you, ignore the rest”

And there are plenty of things I find beneficial about Narcotics Anonymous.

It would be churlish of me to throw the baby out with the bath water – to stop attending simply because there are certain aspects I don’t like.

Perhaps NA is simply a microcosm of society… everyone is different and if we want society to function well, we must be tolerant of each other’s differences…

… that’s unless you want to live in a totalitarian state like Communist China.

Misery Is Optional

Some days, the Just For Today email from Narcotics Anonymous really hits the nail on the head for me. Today is one of those days.

“I don’t have to be miserable unless I really want to be.  Today, I will trade in my misery for the benefits of recovery.”

– Extract from Just For Today email.

There’s a lot of crossover between the ideas of NA and those in other philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Stoicism. And this is a great example.

Look, I get it: it’s human nature to tell ourselves we are justified in our misery…

Perhaps a political party we despise has just been elected (as will happen for a large proportion of the UK electorate in the next few days). Perhaps our boss at work is treating us unfairly. Maybe we’re suffering from some kind of mental or physical illness.

But I like to remind myself of Victor Frankl and his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor survived the Nazi concentration camps. If anyone had good justification for feeling miserable, it would be him.

And yet – he took control of the way he reacted to his horrific circumstances. He didn’t let them get the better of him.

Can We Help Being Depressed?

I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to depression and suicide. I’ve been depressed on and off for most of my adult life and been close to suicide several times.

When I’m feeling really low, it feels like a kick in the teeth to be told that I should just decide to be happier. It feels ludicrous and absolutely impossible to even try. And I want to punch anyone who suggests it, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

But whilst in the depths of depression, I gradually came to accept an incredibly profound concept:

“Whilst I am not to blame for my depression, there are certain things I can do which can make things better for myself.”

Bollinger, R. 2019

Interestingly, Narcotics Anonymous says something similar about addiction.

Now, as I’ve alluded to above, if you’re currently depressed, often the last thing we want to hear is that we have a responsibility to try to get better. It’s much easier to throw our hands up in the air and say, “Hey, I have an illness. I can’t help it. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

That freedom from responsibility seems appealing, comforting almost – it allows us to take a break from caring. But it’s a silk-lined trap.

“When we recognise that there are ways we can help ourselves, and we’re not condemned to suffer indefinitely, that’s incredibly liberating.”

Bollinger, R. 2019

No Quick Fix

Now, I’m really not saying that a depressed or addicted person can just click their fingers and magically decide to be happy. It’s not that simple.

As any behavioural psychologist worth their salt will tell you: behaviour change is hard. And that’s because we have to build up healthy habits, which takes practice and time.

It takes incremental effort, every day, as we attempt to make our lives just a little better. Just one tiny step forward every day will result in us eventually finishing a marathon.

Actually, it’s even better than that: if you improve 1% every day, by the end of 1 year, you’ll be 37.7 times better than when you started. (I blogged about this idea here).

(Note: not 37.7% better, 37.7 times. That’s 3,770%!)

Your Turn

So, over to you…

What small things are you willing to do, today, which might help you feel less miserable, more fulfilled, happier with your lot in life?


Up or Down?

Today feels like another of those pivotal moments… depending on how I handle things in the next few hours, my life could take a turn for the worse…

…Or maybe I’ll be able to use my arsenal of mental health tools’n’techniques to dodge the knockout punch which life is aiming my way.

If today was happening just a year or two ago, I’d say there would be a good chance I’d be heading into another depressive episode.

Fortunately, I have an ever-increasing belief that I (probably) have the inner strength to handle this. I hope I’m right.


So, What’s Going On?

Let’s start with the facts: Physically I don’t feel great: tired & achey. Mentally I’m not so hot either… brain fog, lingering sadness.

My old friend’s suicide is affecting me a little… but to be fair I haven’t seen her in ten years, so I’m less distressed than if she’d been my closest friend and we’d been better at keeping in touch.

12 Steps

I’ve been pulling away from Narcotics Anonymous. I’m coming up against barriers inside my own mind which are making it hard for me to feel close to people within the fellowship. I’m losing the sense of community I felt previously. I’m also intentionally avoiding my sponsor because much of what he tells me I find unhelpful. I haven’t attended a meeting in at least a week – I’m questioning its value for me personally.

On the plus side, I don’t see myself quitting Narcotics Anonymous completely. I still can very much see the value in doing the “stepwork” from the NA Step Working Guide book. It forces you to carefully consider your relationship to the 12 Steps. It helps you become a better person. And yet I’ve been procrastinating getting stuck into it for weeks. I’m at the start of Step 2, but I keep finding way more interesting things to do around the house… mostly DIY, which at least has felt productive. Yeah, I suck at routines and discipline.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, there are lots of things I dislike about the 12 Steps. However, overall, I still feel it’s beneficial for me. So I’m going to keep going.

Anti-depressant Withdrawal

It’s a little over 3 weeks since I cold-turkeyed from Fluoxetine. This is precisely the timeframe where I might expect to feel the withdrawal effects on my moods and emotions.

I’m certainly feeling emotions more strongly now. The other day, I nearly cried while listening to some emotive music – that’s not happened to me for years.

Physical Effects

Recently, I’ve been really struggling to establish a good routine with diet, exercise and sleep. Again!

I know those 3 factors are very important for my mental health. When I consume too much sugar, don’t get enough exercise and keep staying up into the early hours of the morning, it’s an almost guaranteed recipe for worsening mental health.

Bad Dream

Last night I had a bad dream which repeated many elements of another disturbing dream I had recently.

I was in London and wanted to get home. “Home” in my dream was Hampshire, where I grew up. It’s westwards from London. But I got on the wrong train and accidentally headed North. I didn’t even realise I was on the wrong train until the train was outside London.

Once I realised, I got off at the next stop and planned how I would get back to Hampshire. It was going to take forever.

I would also need to walk through a place where I knew a lot of old acquaintances would be using drugs. It would be hard for me to resist.

This morning I’ve been trying to work out if the dream holds any significant meaning. What is it trying to tell me?

I find it alarming if my unconscious thinks that going North is/was a mistake. My wife and I moved North 9 years ago. Sure, we’ve had some difficulties, and it’s been tough for me being socially isolated (I’ve not made much effort to make new friends locally).

However, I can’t stress this enough: I have zero regrets about moving to Yorkshire. I love it here. My hometown holds a lot of painful memories for me and I have no inclination to return.

I’m 100% committed to my wife. My intention is that we’re going to be together until we die.

Moving North was very much NOT a mistake. So, what else could the dream mean?

Perhaps it simply means I’ve been heading in the wrong direction recently. Maybe I’ve been spending way too much time being obsessed with DIY when really it would be wiser to get stuck into NA meetings and stepwork.

Or perhaps the dream holds no meaning at all and I’m too eager to read something into it.

Maybe I should just “collapse the house of cards” – remove all sense of meaning and interpretation from these recent events. Maybe I need to get back to my “being mode” – experiencing life as it is, mindfully, without layering on so much meaning, which only exists inside my own head.

Taking Action

Practical steps I can start taking immediately to wrestle control of my life away from any impending depression:

  1. Remember that nothing holds any meaning unless I decide it does. That immediately reduces any emotional valency.
  2. Get busy. Do some DIY or something productive. Be mindful whilst doing this.
  3. Exercise, eat better today, get a good night’s sleep tonight.
  4. Listen to my favourite music.
  5. Be kind to myself.
  6. Reach out to my NA sponsor. I’ll chat with him at 3pm today.
  7. Get stuck in to working Step 2 this weekend.
  8. Cry if I really need to. Don’t bottle up emotion, but equally don’t wallow in it.
  9. Remind myself I’m on the right path, despite what the dream might suggest.
  10. I just felt this list should have 10 items and not 9. LOL.

When the World Doesn’t Measure Up to Our Expectations

There’s some truly excellent personal development advice in 12 Steps programs. I feel this advice applies to everyone, not just those in recovery from addiction.

The Very Best…

Here’s a great example of the very best advice in Narcotics Anonymous. As you read this quote, I’d encourage you to see the ways in which it applies to your own life:

“There are days when some of us wallow in self-pity. It’s easy to do. We may have expectations about how our lives should be, expectations that aren’t always met. Maybe we’ve tried unsuccessfully to control someone, or we think our circumstances should be different. Perhaps we’ve compared ourselves with others and found ourselves lacking. The more we try to make our life conform to our expectations, the more uncomfortable we feel. Self-pity can arise from living in our expectations instead of in the world as it actually is.

When the world doesn’t measure up to our expectations, it’s often our expectations that need adjusting, not the world. We can start by comparing our lives today with the way they used to be, developing gratitude for our current circumstances. We can extend this exercise in gratitude by counting the good things in our lives, becoming thankful that the world does not conform to our expectations but exceeds them. And if we further cultivate gratitude and acceptance, what we can expect in the future is more growth, more happiness, and more peace of mind.

We’ve been given much in our lives; improving ourselves has paid off. Acceptance of our lives, just for today, frees us from our self-pity.

Just for today: I will accept my life, gratefully, just as it is.”

Extract from a “Just For Today” email from Narcotics Anonymous. I’ve made some minor edits so this applies to non-addicts too.

Isn’t that quote simply amazing! Such good advice!

… And The Less Good

Unfortunately, there are some NA ideas I disagree strongly with. Here’s an example…

“Our recovery must come first. Job or no job, relationship or no relationship, we have to attend meetings, work the steps, call our sponsor, and be of service to God and others. These simple actions are what make it possible for us to have vacations, families, and bosses to worry about. Recovery is the foundation of our lives, making everything else possible.

Just for today: I will keep my priorities in order. Number One on the list is my recovery.

Extract from a “Just For Today” email from Narcotics Anonymous.

The above may be true for most addicts, but I don’t believe it’s true for me.

This is one of the things I dislike the most about NA – it tries to lump together all addicts without making sufficient room for diversity.

Attending meetings, working the 12 steps, calling my sponsor, being of service to others… I can see the value in each of these activities.

However, I see them as merely useful, not essential.

There are other factors which help people stay clean. The NA way isn’t the only way for people to lead meaningful, productive lives. And yet, it claims that it is, which I find a little unsettling.