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

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.

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!

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.

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)


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.