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.

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