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.


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…

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.

An Uncomfortable Realisation

A few days ago, I wrote about how easily we can be influenced by the people around us, even if we don’t notice it.

And since then, I’ve had quite an uncomfortable realisation…

Back in mid-August and early September, when I was experiencing drug-induced psychosis… I think I was unconsciously accepting too much influence from Narcotics Anonymous.

In NA, there’s a lot of talk about God, Higher Power, spirituality etc. And looking back at my posts from that time, I had a lot of beliefs and experiences which I feel were related to these themes.

You see, now it’s 4 months later and I feel better than ever. I feel fully back to my normal self. And I struggle to relate to the “me” who had all those strange beliefs and experiences which I blogged about.

I feel like a lot of my beliefs about God and spirituality came from attending NA. At the time I thought it was helpful, but now I don’t think it was.

There Is No God

If I’m totally honest with myself, right now I don’t believe in God, even if I did 3 months ago.

I don’t even believe in a “Higher Power”.

What I do believe is that individuals have a far greater innate capacity for greatness than they believe.

In other words, many people, especially addicts, are way too hard on themselves and don’t believe in themselves. So they become stuck in self-limiting patterns of behaviour, which is tragic.

I also believe there’s a lot of power in fellowships like NA where people genuinely want the best for each other.

But we already have perfectly good ways of describing these things using non-spiritual language (like I have above), without needing to invoke God or a Higher Power.

It just feels like a horrible, disingenuous fudge to invoke God. Why can’t NA describe these things in ordinary language, as I’ve just done?

Waking From A Dream

I feel a bit like during my psychosis I was in some kind of waking dream… a lot of stuff was happening inside my brain that I wasn’t consciously aware of.

Sure, most of it was good, but it still makes me feel weird.

I feel a bit like I’ve suddenly realised I was indoctrinated into a cult back in mid-August. And I’ve slowly been returning to “normality” in the months since then.

I feel embarrassed and ashamed to admit that. An ex-friend called me stupid a few times for what I blogged about in August and September.

We don’t talk any more – the friendship is ruined. But he kinda had a point, even if his levels of empathy and kindness were less than that of a dead slug.

My ego hates me admitting that. Like most people, I don’t particularly enjoy admitting when I was wrong. But it’s especially galling considering our disagreement resulted in our friendship getting annihilated.

A Sense of Pity

When I hear other members of NA talking about God, a Higher Power, or otherwise repeating verbatim some snippet of NA dogma, part of me feels sorry for them.

I wonder how many other people are sleepwalking, unconsciously accepting influence from NA without fully realising it.

It sickens me when I hear people twisting their feelings and experiences to fit into the NA dogma. It’s not right.

And part of me is tempted to try to break the spell for them, to help explain things in a secular way which I feel might actually be beneficial for their recovery. But it’s not my place to (arrogantly?) intervene. Everyone is on their own path, and if people are happy with NA, I’m not going to ruin it for them.

But It’s Not All Bad…

I’m not trying to claim that NA is a nefarious and malevolent cult. Far from it.

NA genuinely wants to help people. And for the most part, it does a good job.

I’m certain that NA has saved the lives of many, many addicts when no other solution worked for them.

But that doesn’t make NA perfect. It doesn’t make the organisation immune to criticism. It doesn’t mean it can’t improve, if only it were open-minded enough to consider doing so.

And the longer it’s been since I feel I’ve regained my full cognitive capacity, the more that certain aspects of NA just leave a bad taste in my mouth.

There’s way too much dogma in NA. And if you dare question it too much, you either get lambasted by your peers or patronised… at least, that’s been my experience…

I’ve been called dismissive and arrogant for daring to question certain practices within NA.

No Need For Me To Go On

I was about to detail some of the other ways in which I don’t like NA’s practices. But I’ve already done that to a certain extent already. And I’m sure better writers than me have made similar criticisms of NA over the years.

The sad thing is that where dogma is entrenched, organisations find any kind of change incredibly difficult.

I feel sorry for NA and the people trying to keep it alive. The world has moved on, but it can’t keep up.

I think I’m done with NA. And I feel really sad about that.

Narcotics Anonymous really helped me when I needed help, suffering with psychosis and desperate to get my life back in order.

But in the space of just 4 short months, I think I’ve outgrown the organisation and its slightly weird practices.

Until today, I’ve been wanting to continue attending NA meetings, despite a growing sense of unease inside myself.

But to be honest, I wanted to think of NA as a kind of social club for practising self-development techniques. But that’s not really what NA’s about. And it’s not what the organisation would want for me either.

With sadness, I think I need to say goodbye to NA.

Though I hope to keep in touch with some of the people I made friends with there.

They mean well, but if they continue to spout dogma at me, there’s a non-zero chance I’ll tell them to fuck off. And no-one wants that.

Sorry this post might seem a bit depressing. But hey, it’s the honest truth of how I’m feeling.

Ironically, in the last few days I’ve been seeing loads of “spiritual numbers” – especially 444 and other repeating ones.

My rational brain knows this is likely just coincidence.

But also I’m taking some comfort from the feeling that even if leaving NA feels painful, in terms of my own personal growth, the numbers are confirming that it’s the right path for me.

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.