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)


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!


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).