Selfish No Matter What

     See also: Why Alcoholics Hurt People & Why Addicts Can’t Stay Sober

     One of the many convenient delusions among addicts and alcoholics is that we somehow only hurt ourselves when we drink, so why doesn’t everybody just leave us alone? I personally don’t think alcoholics and drug addicts are really that stupid. I mean, yes we are definitely stupid, but not in that way.

     Drinking or using drugs is selfish in so many ways it hurts. Let’s just take it from the top…

     Drinking is literally selfish because we drink to make ourselves feel better. We drink for effect. That is selfish.

     Fine, but why are all of you people affected by my drinking? What if I’m just a nice, quiet drunk who hangs out in the house and plays solitaire over a fifth of vodka? The answer is because there are actually people out there who love us. Imagine that. Consider love. What is it? Why do we love others? Why do my parents love me? Why do I love my wife and son and dog? To be perfectly honest, I can’t pinpoint some exact reason why. It’s more of a feeling. I love someone because I care about them. I care about their well-being. Love is a feeling we have and we can’t simply turn it off. In fact, there’s not much we can do about it if we truly love someone.

     Therefore, every time an alcoholic drinks or a drug addict uses, we are hurting those who love us, even if they are never in the room. Why? Because anything we do to hurt ourselves hurts those who love us. Imagine for a second, your spouse or someone very close to you. Now, what if you came home one day to find them hammered and wallowing in a pit of despair? Or what if you came home one day to find them smoking crack and pimping themselves out for cash for more crack? Or what if you came home one day to find them cutting themselves with a razor blade? Yup, that’s right, it would break your heart. That’s why drinking is selfish. And by the way, that’s really the only reason anybody needs to stop… if reasons worked for addicts. Unfortunately they don’t.

     Lastly, some obstinate teenager or stubborn bastard might try to argue with me and say,

     “Okay, Charlie, what if there is no one in my life to hurt, huh? What if I live in a cave in the mountains and no one cares about me? Am I still hurting others then? Huh, Charlie? Answer that one, dumbass!”

     Gladly.

     First of all, you don’t live in a cave and there are people in your life, but let’s just use this ridiculous scenario for shits and giggles. Even if there is no one in the world who loves you or cares about you, drinking is still selfish and causes damage to others.

     Why? How? How could this possibly be?

     Because as a human being, I am responsible to act in a way that I would recommend for all others. By drinking or using drugs chronically, I am, in effect, saying that it’s okay to behave this way. What if everyone on earth was a raging alcoholic, a heroin addict, or a crackhead? What would our beautiful earth look like at that point? Exactly. We are responsible as human beings to do the right thing. We do damage whether we like it or not. We do damage whether we’re all alone doing nothing or whether we’re out in the world being an ass to everybody. If we have lost control, then every time we use, we hurt others.

     So, unfortunately for all of us knuckleheads, with all of our delusions, no matter how you slice it, using drugs is selfish.

God, please rid me of selfishness that I may better serve You and Others…

Whining and Complaining

     Normal people get up and go to work and don’t complain about it. They don’t need to remove the time-release coating from an OC 80, crush it up and sniff the entire thing in one line just to get in the shower. They also don’t need to get plastered to have a conversation with someone. They don’t need to whine and complain incessantly about everything. They don’t need to be so narcissistic as to presume that nobody else in the world suffers the way they do. So don’t even bother asking anything of an alcoholic or drug addict… or a narcissist for that matter. Their life is just way too tough to be giving to anybody else.

     Normal people have bad days too. Normal people wake up sometimes and feel depressed, or anxious, or angry, or sad, or even hopeless. It’s just that they don’t complain about it and drive to Happy Market in Dorchester to meet Pablo for a bag of dope. They just walk right through what they are feeling and do what needs to be done. They are adults. Drug addicts are children… with some additional issues. Why do I feel entitled to make myself comfortable every second of my life? For some reason, I thought that life was all about ME feeling good all of the time.

     Wait, you mean it isn’t? It’s about others too???

     I was such a baby when it came to life. The slightest discomfort would send me reeling, and a frantic search for comfort would ensue. Even if it meant I had to hurt people. Even if it meant I had to become a pathological liar. And most unfortunate, even if it meant I had to define what it means to be a selfish asshole. The sad truth is that we addicts can’t deal with any discomfort.

     Well, guess what?

     It’s okay to suffer a little bit. It’s especially okay to suffer and not complain about it. As grown adults, we have the responsibility to get up and work, take care of ourselves and our families, and be honest. We have the responsibility to do the right thing. It is the human responsibility. What we no longer have is the right to drink or use. We no longer have the right to whine about our feelings or broadcast them to the entire world (who really doesn’t give a shit anyway) in a fit of self-pity or despair. We no longer have the right to let our feelings of discomfort stop us from living life and living right.

God, please give me the wisdom and the willingness to be a better person, a responsible person…

Crossing Lines

     There is no, “I’m an alcoholic but not a drug addict.” There is no, “I have a problem with heroin but not cocaine.” Or the best is, “I’m addicted to everything (or nothing) except weed.” That one even tops, “Prescription drugs aren’t really drugs. I mean, it’s not like I’m some dirty, toothless crackhead rotting away under a bridge.”

     No, you’re not… not yet.

     If you think you’re different from the drug addict because all you do is chug wine every night and play solitaire, think again. There is no difference.

     If I am an addict, then I have an allergy to alcohol and drugs that crosses all lines. If I am an alcoholic, then I’m also a heroin addict, a cocaine addict, a benzodiazepine addict, and a pothead. Once you have the body of an addict, NOTHING is safe. Not even Tylenol PM. Why? Because any mood-altering substance will trigger the same physiological response. Any drug will trigger an allergic reaction, characterized by a physical craving for more and more and more. Craving is a physical event, not that urge you feel when you’re sober. We don’t crave things. We obsess over things.

     Sure addicts have their preferences. But when the booze dries up and your grandma has some Valium in her cabinet, it’s a done deal. Sure I don’t really care for benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, but if I (just by accident, of course) stumble across them in your medicine cabinet, don’t expect to see them next time you need one. I wasn’t really a cocaine guy, but if you put a pile of it in front of me, it’s goodbye to your cocaine, and then it’s suddenly sunrise and let’s call the dealer for some more even though my jaw could really use a break.

     Addiction is addiction. Alcoholics have the same broken body as crackheads do, though they might have an air about them in their respective AA meetings. One of the first local meetings I ever went to, the speaker preempted his ‘look at all the things that I did’ speech with something like, “By the way, this is AA – that’s Alcoholics Anonymous – not druggie anonymous or pot anonymous. If you’re in here ’cause you smoke pot, you’re no alcoholic, so get out! AA is for alcoholics only!”

     That guy may have killed some heroin addict who got up, left, and then overdosed in his car in the church parking lot. That dumbass speaker didn’t realize he’s distinguishing between the SAME illness, just different symptoms. You drink, I sniff OxyContin. You blow cocaine, I like Xanax. You eat Ritalin all day, I smoke weed all day. Same thing. By the way, I became an opiate addict, and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (and the program for alcoholics contained within) saved my life.

God, teach me and others that our allergy crosses all lines…

Self-Will

     Addicts and alcoholics don’t just have a drug and alcohol problem, they have a ‘living life’ problem. They run around propelled by self-will, which is absolutely hopeless. For me, navigating this world by self-will ensured that I was completely useless to those around me. I couldn’t get a job, keep a job, finish school, control my emotions, have healthy relationships, stay sober, not sink into a mind-blowing depression… and the shameful list goes on and on.

     This is why I took a 3rd Step and attempted to turn my will over to God. Sounds ridiculous, right? Fine, let’s look at it on a practical level. All this means is that I’m not going to rely on my fucked up mind to guide me through life anymore. Instead, I was going to pray and listen. I wasn’t going to ignore what I felt was the right thing to do. I was going to start listening to my gut, to my conscience. I had to. My attempts at planning life, trying to script what I should do, making life decisions, controlling things = sheer comedy. Doing things my own way = total disaster. When I do something my way, bad things happen. Cars are totalled. Jobs are totalled. Savings is totalled. Credit score is totalled. Girlfriends are totalled. Close friendships are lost. Respect of family is lost. Self-esteem and self-worth are lost. Hope, purpose, and will are all lost. Feelings overwhelm me. Darkness wraps itself around me and then I’m toast.

     Nice, huh?

     So right now I’m pretty much about to wrap this up. Therefore, all I need to think about and focus on is finishing this. Then I’ll publish it. Then I’ll probably have to walk around the house with my newborn son and sing to him to calm him down. Then the dog goes out for her late night pee. Then I brush my teeth and so forth. In early recovery, when I was in trouble and felt like I was going crazy, this is exactly what I did – just what was right in front of me. No need to think about the past or the future. Neither exist. I just need to put one foot in front of the other and do what’s next. Focusing on whatever simple activity is right in front of you is a great way to stay in the moment. For sure, I am happiest when I’m NOT thinking. An empty mind is true peace.

God, keep me out of my head today…

Neutral = Reverse

     Neutral is reverse for guys like me. I woke up this morning, forgot to take a moment to stop, be still, listen and pray, and instead just started rushing around. As years go by, I find myself getting up and without thinking or stopping, I go full speed ahead, diving into bills, work, this, that.

     Let me warn drug addicts NOT to do that.

     Don’t do what I do, at least not on those days. Why? Because guys like me naturally move backwards if we’re not moving forward. I naturally become sicker if I’m not actively working on myself. I can’t stop praying or meditating, I can’t stop thinking about others or helping others, I can’t stop emptying my mind of resentment or stop searching for other ways to heal and evolve… at least not without becoming spiritually sick again. I must grow. Hanging out is not an option. Floating is not an option. Neutral is not a gear addicts have in their transmission.

     To hide from what I need to do, I distract myself by using several coping methods. Exercise is probably the best and most effective distraction. Sure it’s healthy. Sure it’s good for me. It also alters my bio-chemistry by releasing endorphins that act on the dopaminergic reward system in my brain, thereby flushing my nervous system with natural pain relief. In English, exercising is like a mini drug, an anti-depressant. Should I stop exercising? No, but it’s still a distraction. Finding something to fix in my house is another wonderful distraction. I’ll wake up some days and decide to go scrape and paint my entire stairwell for no reason whatsoever. Hours and hours soar by without a single thought invading my mind. Pure peace. Cleaning and organizing are other decent distractions. TV and that movie theatre-style popcorn they sell now are some of the more unproductive distractions. And we quickly go down from there. Use your imagination. 
     What’s the point? Well, for one, these distractions are only necessary when I’m not okay, or when I’m not willing to do the real work on myself. It’s easier to just go exercise, or paint, or watch TV than it is to meditate, or write inventory, or go speak to a group of people about addiction and the Twelve Steps. Let me assure any addicts out there that the harder thing to do is without question the better thing. Easy is bad for alcoholics and junkies. Easy is what we do. Easy is like our personal code or creed. Easy is our religion. Just like selfish is. But hard is good for us. If I’m not challenging myself, it’s all over.
     That’s one reason why and how I got better. I’m such a stubborn bastard, that I made it a challenge. I wanted to prove to myself and to everybody else that I wasn’t a total loser and a complete fucking coward, so I put every ounce of energy and willingness that I had left in my mind, body and soul towards getting better. For the first several years of recovery, the only thing that went through my mind was how I can serve God. Then I remembered I also have a wife and family. And believe me, taking care of your family is probably the single best thing you can do with your life. The easy amends was the one to the clerk at Dunkin’ Donuts who I verbally abused because she charged me for an empty cup. But the living amends to my family that goes on and on everyday for the rest of my life. That’s the real work. Why? For one, I don’t wipe my hands after a quick ‘sorry’ and off I go. Nope. I owe it to them to become a better husband, son and brother every day until I die.

     It’s always good for addicts to remember that they really don’t deserve the people who stick it out with them. How lucky we truly are…

God, teach me to stop, listen, pray, and remember You before I start my day…  

Self-Seeking

     Self-seeking – to seek a self. Addicts and pathologically self-centered people in general devote most, if not all of their conscious lives towards self-seeking behavior. Put simply, we want to look a certain way. In fact, we need for other people to see us that way. We need you to see how cool we are, how tough we are, how confident we are, how beautiful we are, how popular we are, how artistic we are, how altruistic we are, how heroic we are, and the list goes on seemingly forever. When I became a phony, the only way for me to feed my self-esteem and ego was for others (or myself) to see me a certain way. Why? Because I’m NOT that way. If I was, I wouldn’t need to seek a self now, would I?

     Guess how bad it was? After sniffing heroin all day at work, I used to go to the gym late at night after work in a pathetic attempt to lift some weights and run on the treadmill. Then I’d sit in the steam shower to try getting my skin looking all red and vital. Even though I was completely emaciated with a nice jaundicy hue to my skin, I wanted to appear normal and healthy when I got home to my wife. In fact, I was so deranged that I would look at my sickly body in the gym mirror and think I was huge, and really good-looking of course… except for the gouges on my face that I so generously gave to myself from the dope itches. It was that important for me to try to fake out my wife. So I put a lot of effort into getting others to see me a certain way. How ridiculous is that?

     A month before my wedding I was writhing in bed in full blown Methadone withdrawal. I was freezing cold and wore multiple flannel shirts in the middle of the summer. Unable to eat, I tried swallowing protein shakes only to puke them back into the cup, then re-drink what was left, then puke, then re-drink again and again until the shake was finally gone. That’s as close to food as I got for about two weeks. But the point is that I only stopped doing Methadone because my wedding was a month away and I couldn’t bear for everyone to see me weak and emaciated. There is no way in hell I was going to look like a pathetic loser. I would fool them all. So I kicked the Methadone at home alone, went to the gym everyday, tanned on the beach, ran morning and night, smoked tons of pot and wrote songs on my guitar to serenade my wife and impress everybody at the wedding. As if I’m some highly successful, brilliant, artistic stud who was about to take over the world…

     The most embarrassing thing about this sort of nonsense? I used to go around thinking that everybody was looking at me, that everybody cared about what I said and what I did. In fact, this is a common problem with a) addicts and alcoholics b) narcissistic and borderline personalities, and c) teenagers. And the truth: Nobody cares. That was like a revelation to me. Nobody is looking at me. Nobody cares about what I’m doing. Nobody cares about what I’m saying. Newsflash: Other people don’t focus on me 24/7. They actually have their own lives to focus on.

God, show me when I am self-seeking, and rid this poison from me…

Depression, Real But Impermanent

     Okay, so depression is real… although I realize that it may be hard for people to understand how someone could literally be incapable of pulling themselves out of bed and functioning in the world. But you cannot fully understand something that you don’t have and that you haven’t experienced for yourself.

   
     When I was 18, the big D first hit me like a ton of bricks. It was palpable, alive. It encroached me like a storm cloud and wrapped itself around my body, smothering every inch of my inner experience until I was lost in darkness, crippled and paralyzed. It was heavy, and affected all senses. I couldn’t smell smells. Couldn’t taste tastes. Skin was numb. Labido gone. Interests gone. Pleasure gone. Life became nothing more than breathing, a constant state of agony, and the torture of my speeding, racy mind. All night my mind would race around. One thought, ten thoughts, hundreds and hundreds of thoughts just pounding away. And what if it never ends?

     The self-consciousness and insecurity was so bitter and so strong that it felt as if I’d never be able to function or enjoy anything again. I didn’t go anywhere because it was so unbearable for anyone to see me so weak and pathetic. Suicide was a possibility except that I was a total, utter coward. When I saw others having fun, engaging, talking, eating, listening to music, or any other normal activity – it was like being stabbed. I felt like I was missing out on a life that I could never get back. I was missing out on my one chance to enjoy life. 

     You’ll be glad to know that I no longer suffer from depression to any degree whatsoever. I have studied neuroscience and seen evidence of bio-chemical depression and there certainly appears to be significant brain changes in the severely depressed. But there’s a catch. My doctors told me there is no way out unless I’m medicated for life. They told me it will never go away and the only effective treatment for symptoms was medication. First of all, if I take medication to relieve my depression, as soon as I stop taking it, I’m right back where I started, but worse. What sort of solution is that? Plus, I’m stubborn and I want to heal from the root of my depression – the underlying spiritual illness. I want the depression and its causes to be expelled from me forever. I don’t want to be a zombie. I don’t want to lose every ounce of creative talent and inspiration that I have. I don’t want to put up a brick wall between me and God. 
     The good news is you can literally change your bio-chemistry without any medication whatsoever. 8 years ago I changed my brain and rid myself of fear, depression and addiction by, yup, praying, meditating, writing inventory, helping others and living by spiritual principles. Don’t worry, I make mistakes constantly. I’m still a dick sometimes. I freak out, get angry, act like a psycho behind the wheel, manage to hurt others, and screw up my mind on a regular basis. But I did enough work to conquer my clinical depression and to activate a line between me and God – like a telephone line that I can tap into anytime, anywhere. 
     None of my psychiatrists believe that I actually cured myself of depression and addiction without medication of any sort. They don’t know how to wrap their heads around how certain spiritual actions and certain spiritual realities can cause scientific changes. Dumbasses. Jk. 
God, teach me how to let go, to be where I am, to feel what I feel…

Meetings vs Steps

     One of the central tenets of AA is that no human power can give us choice back. But today you have slogans and cliches which profess that all you need is a Group ODrunks (G.O.D.) to keep you sober. Sorry, but if you’re a chronic alcoholic or addict, no meeting or group of people can keep you sober. Nobody in the world can. If that were true, no one in AA would be relapsing. The truth is that nothing human or man-made can keep us sober.

     Meetings never really helped me because even though I may identify with whatever loser was speaking at the podium, I never heard a real solution. Nobody ever told me what to actually do to get better, feel better, and become recovered so I don’t have to struggle 24/7 and end up going to 3 meetings a day for the rest of my life. Just keep comin’ [to meetings] isn’t gonna cut it. How about becoming free to go anywhere in the world and not worry about relapsing?
     If I’m borderline suicidal and still white knuckling it everyday after 20 years, then somebody please shoot me in the fucking head. You might as well just drink if the alternative is a life of constant struggle and utter misery.
     Now, if I had somehow found a meeting where I heard a recovered person speaking and I thought, ‘Yes, that person is all better. They are calm and centered and strong… I want what they have’, then I could ask them what they did to get better. And if they weren’t totally full of shit, they would meet up with me individually and take me line by line through the first 164 pages of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, breaking down the specific instructions on how to take Steps.
     The Steps are not just that numbered list you see on a poster hanging on the wall during an AA meeting. The Steps are a specific set of actions that, if done thoroughly and fearlessly, will elicit an entire psychic change within. In the beginning of AA meetings, a preamble is read and everybody thinks they are taking Steps or that they are doing the program. Actually, the ‘program’ doesn’t have much to do with war stories and sob stories, coffee and cookies, preambles and sobriety chips, being a treasurer and planning the bi-annual sober dance.
     So why wait to get better? Why go to your local meetings and take advice that might kill you – to just ‘sit down, shut up, keep comin’, and wait for the miracle to happen’?
     We don’t wait to recover.
     We get up off our asses and go get better. It’s never too early to start taking Steps and turn our will over to God, to write inventory and read it, to make amends and go help others. It’s never to early to grow up and find a purpose. It’s never too early to commit to a lifetime of spiritual growth. Waiting is the exact problem with alcoholics and drug addicts. Waiting might put you in the ground. If someone in AA tells you to wait to do something (like the guy who told me to wait to make amends because it was too early in my sobriety), run the other way as fast as you can. If I had listened to that guy, I’d probably be dead right now.
God, teach me the difference between white-knuckling it and doing some actual work…

What You Resist Will Persist

     “What you resist will persist.” – Native American Proverb.

     Beautiful statement, though I fully understand its difficulty with respect to implementation.

     The same goes for, “Just let go, man…”

     That one used to piss me off quite a bit. First of all, what exactly does that mean? Second, it’s great that I now know the secret to life and all, but how the F do I let go?

     Okay Charlie, go ahead, let go… let go of all your fear and depression… let go of that annoying asshole.

     Huh?

     Have you tried to just instantly let go of something? Yup, exactly. Miserable failure. That is why all self-help books say the exact same thing, so you only need to buy one of them, and you don’t even need to buy that one. Why? Because, sure they eloquently describe all the shit that’s wrong with us, but not one of them has ever changed me or made me feel better for any length of time.

    Self-help books are short on solutions. ‘Let go, brother…’ is not gonna cut it. Can someone please tell me exactly how to do that? What is the process of letting go? How do I get there? Sure, there may be a few remedies sprinkled throughout the self-help industry, but if never applied, they’re absolutely useless. Simply reading the book won’t change me. I used to lie in bed and read some sage’s insight about how I just need to stop resisting and all my problems will instantly vanish.

     Then I woke up the next morning.

     I woke up in the same state of hopeless dread as the day before, not to mention the renewed lack of motivation. Just knowing the answer is completely useless. The book won’t save us. Just like a religious belief won’t save us. Belief or knowledge alone without action is useless. Without consistent practice of said remedy day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year, there is no recovering or changing or getting better. So letting go is most certainly a process.

     But first, what is it?

     Letting go is when I no longer care what others think of me. I no longer need the approval of my family. I no longer need approval for what I do for work, what I’m thinking, what I believe, who I’m with, etc. I no longer need to prove who I am or what I believe. I no longer need to preach because I’m okay with myself.

     When someone needs to prove or preach something to others, the sad and rather unattractive truth is that they don’t entirely believe it themselves. But if we are okay, inside and out, we don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I don’t need approval, validation, credit or recognition. The day I let go was the day I stopped caring about what other people thought about what I was doing with my life. It was the day I stopped needing for my friends in recovery to see all the stuff I was doing to help others. I didn’t need to show off, or need a pat on the back, or need smoke to be blown up my ass.

     And this is true peace – when you no longer need something outside of yourself to be okay. Except for God, of course…

     But back to non-resistance. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi asserts that if you stop resisting everything, there are no problems. Why? Because other than the physical predicament of needing to feed, clothe and house oneself, just about all other wordly problems are self-created and are therefore an illusion of the mind. So Roshi suggests that we just let whatever comes, come and let whatever goes, go.

     You can see this in nature. Nature gets it! I used to observe the reeds below my parents’ house when I was high on weed (yes, potheads are addicts). When the wind blew against them, they didn’t stand up stubbornly and refuse to be blown over. They just moved in any way the wind chose to blow them. Same with the ocean when a wave meets a rock. The water simply moves around the rock to any space it can find. But it doesn’t complain or whine about having to move. It doesn’t fight against what is.

     In not trying to fight or control or change things, we find tremendous peace. We can relax. We’re okay.

 God, teach me how to let go… to let what comes, come and what goes, go…

Feelings, Fear & Insecurity

     One of wisest things I’ve ever heard: Don’t let your feelings stop you.

     I spent the first 28 years of my life crippled by fear. And the only way to conquer fear is to literally walk right into it… and then right through it. Do the very things we fear. If we fear public speaking, speak publicly. If we fear intimacy, be intimate. If we fear what we have done to someone in the past, find that person and make a direct amends to him or her.

     By the way, if you want to grow up in lightening speed, go make some amends. Coming out of a tough amends to someone, I was a different person than going in. To walk right into shame, to feel that sort of humility, to sweat through the ass of my pants from nervousness, to speak honestly about how I’ve wronged you… this will change anybody, unless of course, you are a sociopath and lack the capacity to be honest. In that case, there isn’t much hope. We all know these types, and usually it’s impossible for them to get better. But anyone who can be honest with themselves can change, heal, grow and recover.

     The moment I begin to avoid fear, avoid making an amends, avoid what I know will feel uncomfortable but is the right thing to do… that is the very moment I begin to suffer, become sicker, and sink back into a well of self-pity and cowardice.

     My feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity used to be so strong, they paralyzed me. I didn’t have the guts to face the world, to do what I needed to do. But the moment I begin to push myself and do what I need to do regardless of how shitty I feel, that’s when I start getting better. Do what you fear and that which you fear loses power. It becomes easier and easier. Now I run, not walk towards any opportunity to speak publicly if it might help or inspire people. I’ve actually come to enjoy it. The bigger the crowd, the better.

     Here is some magic. Have you ever had a nasty cold or something and then had to teach, speak, lead, or be of some service to others? What happens when you start giving of yourself? I had the flu last winter and I had to guest speak at a Twelve Step group late in the evening. The second I opened my mouth, the flu was gone… and gone it stayed until I was driving home. Magic.

God, please give me the courage and power to walk right into my fear…