No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 4 – Discovering Consequences

Actions have consequences.  They also have emotional consequences.  You know that, your children know that, everybody knows that – but I didn’t.

I’ve always possessed a certain swagger that’s helped me both personally and professionally.  It’s a trait that I always assumed was an inherent part of me, and was also one of the things I liked the most about myself.  Now sobriety has robbed me of this too, replacing swagger with fear.

I always relied on alcohol as a parachute.  If I ever tried something and failed, I didn’t have to actually feel the failure.  Embarrassment, frustration, shame – all gone, replaced by a relieving numbness.  There were no consequences; at least not substantial ones.  Sure, the plane’s gone down before, but I’ve never gone down with it – I’m somewhere else, gently floating down to earth.

Now that I’ve thrown the parachute away, I’m a lot more hesitant to fly.  If the plane goes down, now I’m screwed too.  Forget that, better keep the damn thing on the ground…

Let’s ditch the plane metaphor and talk about boats instead: I recently tried to take my wife and three year old out on a canoe ride.  My family vacations every year in Maine, and canoeing is one of our favorite activities.

My wife and daughter were sitting in the boat, ready to go.  I decided to show off a bit and sort of “skate” the canoe out to the lake.  With one foot in the boat, and the other on the lake bottom, I pushed off as hard as I could to give the canoe a bit of a boost; picture someone skateboarding a canoe (and try not to laugh at how stupid that is).

So obviously, this is a pretty dumb maneuver, and also one that is completely pointless since the boost you get takes you about 5 feet further than you would otherwise go.  But it’s a cool way to get in a canoe.  This is a great example of what I mean by swagger – Showy, confident, and often pointless.  But look at how cool I am.

But of course, this time I fucked it up – the boat capsized almost immediately, dumping my wife and 3 year old unceremoniously into the water.  My daughter was terrified.  My wife was pissed.

I now had to drag the half sunk canoe back to shore while trying to comfort my daughter who was sobbing hysterically.  Her fun boat ride was ruined… and now she’ll probably be too scared to get in the canoe again – at least on this trip.  My father-in-law and my wife’s cousin looked on with expressions hovering between amusement and vicarious embarrassment.

Four weeks ago, I would have excused myself, went up to the cottage, and drank a glass of whiskey.  I would have come back down to the beach, probably made a self-deprecating joke or two about how stupid that was, and life would go on.  The parachute would open, and I’d glide back down to the surface.  The swagger would live on.

Now, sober me has no fucking clue what to do.  I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and angry at myself.  My mind immediately turned to alcohol, and I felt the strongest urge to drink that I’ve felt in weeks.  This was supposed to be fun!  Now I fucked it all up!  I fucking suck!  I need a drink!

I assume a logical, healthy person who experienced this sort of set back would recognize it as just that – a minor set back.  I assume they’d process it in a matter of minutes, and would be on to the next thing.  My wife got over it in less than a minute.  Even my 3-year-old got over it in a couple minutes.  But me?  My response was to go inside, isolate myself, and sulk for over an hour.  Did I mention alcoholism has turned me into a child?

I suffered a trivial defeat and had to face the consequences.  I had to feel negative feelings; and over the past 10 years of alcoholism I’ve completely destroyed my ability to do that.

I’ve started to actually worry about what I’m doing.  You probably take that for granted, but the whole concept of worrying about anything is completely foreign to me.  I suppose this is anxiety – I’m not sure because I don’t think I’ve ever felt it before.

It once took me about 10 seconds to decide I wanted to move out of state when offered a job promotion – If I’d been asked to make the same decision now I don’t think I even could make a decision.  The anxiety would probably kill me.

How do people deal with this?  Do they?  Is this why so many people live such safe, boring lives?  Do they fear the emotional consequences of failure, and so avoid the possibility altogether?

Presumably healthy people have a way of working through this, but I have no idea what that is.  I guess on the surface a little bit of worrying is probably not a bad thing.  I mean, if it stops me from riding a canoe like a skateboard with my wife and 3-year-old in it it can’t be all bad.  But like almost everything else with sobriety so far, right now it just sucks.

On to week 5… Continue reading No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 4 – Discovering Consequences

Can’t Sleep? Science Has 4 Completely-Not-Made-Up Remedies For You!

Can’t sleep?  Mind running wild, holding your body hostage while you lay awake in your misery bed?  Don’t worry, Dr. Scientist Man has some advice to help you get that much needed rest; advice he has shared with me, your humble slob, lunatic, author.  Read on for more!

Dr. Scientist Man let me know this advice is perfectly applicable to you “normal” people, not just the certifiably insane those of us with especially beautiful minds.

adult-care-cure-433635
Trust me, I’m a doctor.  Kind of.

So without further ado (adoo?… uh-do?… you-do?… we-do?), here’s an exclusive sneak peak at this definitely-not-bullshit-written-at-3am-because-I-can’t-sleep research study!

(Full paper to be featured in North Korea Journal of Medicine pending peer review by expert team of 13-year-old internet trolls).

#1 Get Hammered

Yes, the classic.  Did you know science says alcohol is a central nervous system depressant?  What that means is that this shit will make you tired.  And it definitely won’t make you dance like an asshole at that party.  Or tell your great-aunt what you really think of her.  Also, Scientist Man let me know that drinking alcohol has absolutely no negative long term effects – a fact I can personally vouch for!  Did I hear miracle drug?

“Vodka’s the most efficient alcohol known to man.” – Professional alcoholic, insane person, author.

As a bonus, you can use the whole “depressant” line on that recently divorced woman at the bar who’s drowning the emotional scars inflicted on her by her douche-bag ex-husband and get punched in the face impress her with your intelligence.  Then tell her (this part is important), “Now you know.  And knowing is half the battle…”

GI JOEEEEEE!  Works like a charm.

(Dr. Scientist Man has informed me that he will be including GI Joe in his published research findings).

#2 Do Activities! 

Maybe you can’t sleep because you have too much pent up energy?  So why not burn some of that off!

Dr. Scientist Man has informed me that calories are just a unit of energy, and when you perform exercise that burns calories, you’re in fact burning energy!  Fascinating!

So extricate yourself from that human-sized burrito of sheets you’re currently entangled in and do some activities!  Yeah, it may be 2 am, but your neighbors won’t mind if you shoot some baskets for about an hour.  Then when you’re nice and sweaty, take off that comforter (you won’t need it now!), wipe up that sweat (liquid energy leaving the body – science!), throw it on the floor (someone will get that), fix that fitted sheet (one more corner and… god dammit!), and go to sleep!

Dr. Scientist Man BONUS TIP!

Combine tips #1 and #2 – do activities while hammered!

Dr. Scientist Man TOP SECRET EXCLUSIVE BONUS TIP!

Alcohol has calories, so you’ll need to limit that.  Remember science!  Calories = energy.  Vodka’s the most efficient alcohol known to man.  Cheap, low calorie, gets you drunk.  Did someone say miracle drug?

The worse the medicine tastes, the better it works – Science.

#3 Think About Something Boring

OK, you’re out of booze, and your basketball mysteriously went missing… is all lost?

Well, no, obviously.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have asked that question in a super-helpful-evidence-based advice article.  What do you think I am, a hack-fraud writer spewing falsehoods to boost his readership?

Dr. Scientist Man suggests that you focus your thoughts on something boring.  This will have a numbing effect on your mind, and eventually you will fall unconscious.

Not sure where to start?  Dr. Scientist man recommends focusing on work:

“For patients struggling to fall asleep who do not have access to booze or basketballs, I recommend focusing on the most boring thing you can to numb your brain into submission.  Statistically speaking, 99.999% of the general population finds their jobs to be the most unfulfilling, boring aspect of their lives.  For those new to this technique, thinking about their job is a safe go-to!”

Science has also demonstrated that statistically speaking, 95.7% of the time you’re actually at work, you’re thinking about anything but work (ironically, you’re probably thinking about sleeping).  By focusing on your job while laying in bed, you’ll also begin to see benefits at the work place!

3 am is also an ideal time to realize that, shit, no, I didn’t send that email I was supposed to.  And… actually, wait, I don’t think I told Susan about the electrical problem maintenance found with the copier… I think Tim mentioned something about “electrical burns.”  

This time of reflection helps you identify the things you needed need to do!  Scientist Man warns that potential side-effects include night-sweats (See tip 2 for instructions on dealing with night-sweat), increased heart-rate, an-elephant-is-standing-on-my-chest sensation, and an impending sense of doom.

#4 – Read a Blog Post

Dr. Scientist Man conducted an experiment wherein a representative group of 30 individuals selected from the comment section of the Info Wars Facebook page was given a simple task; the participants were given a laptop without internet access, and 5, 1000-word blog posts to read.  The blog posts were scientifically determined to be representative of the internet as a whole.  They were as follows:

  1. The 5 Things Your Cat Doesn’t Want You to Know.
  2. The 5 Things Your Cat Does Want You to Know.
  3. Donald Trump Did Something Reprehensible Today.
  4. The 49 Ways You Are Silently Destroying Your Children.
  5. You Are scuh an iodit and I htae evyerhintg aoubt you!!!1!

The participants were also denied access to their phones, or other electronic devices.

Out of 30 participants, 25 fell asleep within approximately 10 minutes of the start of the experiment.  The remaining 5 had to be removed from the experiment due to a physical altercation arising from an argument over former president Barrack Obama’s nation of birth.

While Dr. Scientist Man did not offer any definitive statements around the cause of the massive loss of consciousness observed, he did offer a tentative hypothesis:

“Well, to be honest, I think what we showed them was just mindless drivel.  The human mind, which is capable of going to great lengths to protect itself, simply shut down consciousness.  Further experimentation is required to validate my hypothesis.”

This sentence began exactly at the 1000th word of this blog post (a coincidence that caused the author to chuckle hysterically in an endless it’s-3am-and-my-brain-won’t-work-anymore stupor).  Statistically speaking, if you are still reading this, you are one of 17% of people whose minds are resistant to the numbing effects of meaningless internet drivel.  The rest of you are already asleep, having accomplished the mission of this article.

(The validity of this study has been called into question by some.  The 30 members of the control group, who were also selected from the comment section of the Info Wars Facebook page were disqualified from the experiment; members of law enforcement were called to the university after violence erupted when members learned Facebook had shut down the Info Wars page and banned Alex Jones from the social-media service).

If you’re still awake, and you’re still reading, then unfortunately science has nothing for you.  At this point you should just stay awake – and maybe warn Susan about that copier thing.

Dr. Scientist Man and I encourage you to click that Subscribe button over there to the left and follow LoudestMinds.com for more!  Or don’t.  It’s 3 am and I’m incapable of encouraging anybody to do anything right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 3 – Who Am I?

I once wrote that if you asked me to describe myself, the word Bipolar wouldn’t show up in the first 10 adjectives I used.

If you had asked me before I quit drinking I wouldn’t have used the word alcoholic either.

Now, I’m pretty sure it belongs in the top 3.

You may have heard the expression, you are what you eat (Hopefully that’s not true, because then I’ll have to start introducing myself as Reese’s Cup).  Well I’ve always thought it more accurate to say, you are what you do.

The English language seems to agree with me on this point.  Let’s say you’re an accountant.  If someone asks you what you do for a living, you don’t respond with “I do accounting.”  No, you are an accountant.

Even many family identities have their roots in what people did for work:  Smith, Carpenter, Cooper, Potter, Mason, Taylor, Miller, Baker, Spicer, Cook, Fisher, Shepherd, and on and on.  Incidentally, I’m glad this tradition has fallen away.  It’d be unseemly for my daughters to possess the not-so-proud surname of Drinker.

Sobriety has made me realize that I have no idea what I do, and therefore, I have no idea who I am.  For my entire adult life, drinking is what I did, and an alcoholic is who I was – even if I wasn’t willing to admit it.

I’d even find ways to incorporate drinking into non-drinking things.  I’m currently vacationing in Maine.  My wife’s family has a beautiful cottage on a secluded lake in a rural area of the state.  There are tons of activities available from canoeing, row boating, sailing, boccie ball, and mountain biking just to name a few.

So those all sound like healthy things to do… but a boat’s a great place to keep a six pack.  And a glass of whiskey is a really good counter balance to a smooth boccie ball roll.  And a can of beer is a great motivator to get you over that last hill on the bike.

Week three of sobriety has led me to a startling realization:

I don’t really like any of the things I thought I did.  I only like drinking.

It makes sense really.  Why did I use to get irritated doing fun things like going to a concert, or going to the state fair?  It’s because these things made drinking harder to do.

You might be irritated that it costs 10 dollars to get a crappy beer at the concert, but it really pisses me off.  How dare they?  That’s just ridiculous!  And then… I wish I had stayed home.

I bought a fancy cooler because it has what I refer to as a “smuggler’s pocket.”  It’s one of those coolers on wheels that has 15 pockets, and one extra special, extra hard to find one – perfect for sneaking beer through security checks.

10 bucks for a beer?  Ha!  I’m much smarter than that!

So now that I’m sober I’ve discovered a great emptiness where my “interests” used to be.  It’s terrifying – but if I may risk some optimism – it’s actually sort of exciting.  I might actually discover what I like doing.

And so I’ll conclude this week 3 sobriety update with my first positive update – This past weekend my wife, two daughters and I did something that I hate.  We went to the state fair.  I’ve always hated the crowds, and there’s only one goddamned beer tent!

Here’s the thing though – I LOVED IT!

My 3 year old frolicked through the pens of cows, sheep, pigs, horses – filled with the wonderment and joy of childhood.  But there I was with her, experiencing the same – filled with a joy of discovery I’ve been denying myself for an age.  As she experienced happiness, I felt it too – and I can’t remember the last time I really felt the experiences or emotions of another person.  I can’t remember the last time I was actually happy for someone, and the last time that happiness affected me.

I’ve written before about how sobriety has reduced me to the level of a child; how I lack even basic coping skills, and how my reactions to stress are not much more advanced than the reactions of my children.  But maybe I’ve been thinking about it wrong – maybe I’ve been elevated to the level of a child; capable of experiencing joy and discovery again.

So week three is in the books – maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t suck as much as I thought.

This is part 3 of a series.  The previous part can be found here.

On to week 4

 

 

The Artist in the Field – A Sonnet

If truth be told I don’t much care for art.

Perhaps not art, but artists I despise.

They’ll claim their work’s a calling of the heart,

But I can see the truth behind their lies.

Pretentious men whose minds will falsely claim,

to have some noble beauty that we lack.

They’ve no real use and yet they still earn fame,

While you and I must work and break our backs.

I am a man whose labor you’ll not note –

just one of many men who feed mankind.

Unlike your art, my art keeps life afloat,

But my reward’s not fame, just this sick mind.

But I’ve no will to make it through this harvest!

Kill me!  Resurrect me as an artist!

5 Things Your Loved One With Mental Illness Wants You To Know

You just learned that your friend, spouse, boyfriend, or whoever, is suffering from a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder.  Now what?

Maybe you don’t know how to talk to them – so you don’t.  Or you do… but it’s really awkward.  You have no idea how to address it; do you address it?  Will you hurt their feelings if you do?   Will you hurt their feelings if you don’t?

This article hopes to give you some advice on how to proceed by sharing with you the things I, as a person with a mental illness, would like my friends and loved ones to know.  If you’re suffering from mental illness and you like what I have to say here, share this.

Now please note, I am not a mental health professional.  I am a person who suffers from Bipolar II Disorder.  My insight comes from someone experiencing an illness, and my own personal interactions with that illness.  Everybody is different.  Every illness is different.  In short, your mileage may vary depending on the individual person and the circumstances of their individual illness.  Use judgement.

With that caveat aside, here are 5 things I want people to know about me after learning I have a mental illness:

#1 – I Have Boundaries

Believe it or not, not everybody is cool with talking about themselves.  Some people have a really hard time with it actually.

Mental illness is still very taboo.  Mental health stigma is a very real thing.  Many people are not comfortable admitting they even have a mental illness.  Hell, most people probably aren’t comfortable admitting it.

Please respect the fact that people may not want to talk about it.  Take me for instance; I don’t really want to talk about it right now – at least not in person.  I’ve spent a long time building a pretty serious wall to talking about my problems and it’s going to take some time to dismantle.  So if you try to surprise me with a heart to heart about my mental illness… well… it feels sort of like this:

Nope.

I’m just going to run as fast as I possibly can away from you.  And then I won’t want to talk to you at all.  Because I’m afraid you’re going to eat me.  See?  That hasn’t really accomplished anything, has it?

Now some people will want to talk about it.  And that’s great!  People should feel like they can talk about mental illness.  If I just told you that I was diagnosed with depression, then I’ve sort of opened the door to talk about it.  But if you just heard that I have depression, and you bring that up, I’m going to feel attacked, and I’m going to put my shields up.

Now you don’t necessarily want to totally ignore it either.  This might lead someone to believe you don’t care.  So what do you do then?

Try this:

“Hi so-and-so.  I love you, and I want you to know I’m here for you if you ever want to talk about things.”  Boom!  That was great.  You obviously care, but you also respect boundaries.  Good for you!

Now there is one very important caveat to all of this.  If you think someone is about to hurt themselves or others, or is otherwise in crisis – then you should talk to that person, or hell, call the police if you think something bad is going to happen imminently.  But it has to be pretty extreme.

And lastly, for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t go telling a bunch of people you heard so-and-so has a mental illness behind their back.  Whatever your intention is, it’s likely to be perceived by the person actually suffering as malicious and cruel, and you’re probably going to jeopardize the very existence of a relationship with that person.  This can be very traumatizing for the person suffering from mental illness, and can be detrimental to their treatment and recovery.

#2 – I’m Still Me

Ask me to describe myself and “Bipolar” does not make the top 10 list of adjectives.  I am not my mental illness.

This one is a little tricky, since you’ll often hear someone say I am depressed, or I am bipolar.  The language usage suggests that that person is that mental illness.  But really, they’re not.

And really, this is laughable on the face of it.  Think about it:

Someone has cancer.  Are they cancer?

You have the flu.  Are you the flu?

You have a rash.  Are you a rash?

No.  That all sounds ridiculous.  So yes, you’ll see me write things like I am bipolar but really, that’s just lazy English.

The point is, I’m still the same me I was before you knew I had a mental illness.  You just know a little bit more about me now.  But don’t worry, I’m still here!

Confused?  Don’t over think it.  Just look at this definitely-not-altered GIF, smile, and move on.

Feel better?

#3 – I’m Still Capable

A big reason why the mental health stigma is so real is that people fear that they’ll be perceived as less competent if it’s known they have a mental illness.  But if you’ve known someone to be competent and capable of sound decision making, then the knowledge that they have a mental illness shouldn’t change that.

I have bipolar 2 disorder.  I make decisions every day.  I have a family that I care for.  I take myself to work every day; in other words, I am completely capable of taking care of myself and living a normal life.

Do you want to know the biggest reason I don’t share my mental illness with people in my personal life?  I’m afraid I’ll lose my job – and if I don’t lose my job I’m afraid I’ll never be considered for another promotion again.  I’m afraid some jerk will think I have a defect that compromises my ability to make sound decisions.  This isn’t true, but I know a lot of people think that way.

Now I am not trying to trivialize mental illness in any way.  Many people do struggle with very real mental health issues that diminish their functionality in different ways, and these people do require help.

But if you’ve known so-and-so forever, they’ve always been highly capable, and they confide in you that they have major depressive disorder, I hope your opinion of that person does not diminish.  They’re still as intelligent as they were before.  Actually, there’s some evidence to suggest intelligent people are more at risk for mental illness.

My opinion of you wouldn’t be diminished if I learned you have cancer.  I’d want to help you in any way I could, and I hope that’s your reaction upon hearing a friend or loved one is suffering from a mental illness.

#4 – Help Helps

You may have just learned that someone you love has a mental illness.  You may be filled with an overwhelming desire to help, and that’s good!  But what do you do?  Do you smother them with kindness?  Or do you stay aloof and distant?  You’re just doing what the nice guy on the internet told you to, and respecting boundaries.

How about you listen to them, and ask what you can do to help?  If the answer is nothing, then do nothing.  If the answer is listen to them complain about their day, then do that.  If the answer is get a supersized order of fries from McDonald’s then…

The ketchup is dispensed from a fire hose.

Now sometimes you shouldn’t just wait around and wait for someone to ask for help.  Unfortunately, people who are suffering with depression often can’t see what will help them… even if it’s really obvious.  And sometimes someone will say they don’t need anything when really it’s obvious that they do.  This requires some judgement on your part, and has to be supported by your knowledge of, and relationship with that particular person.

So if there’s something really obvious that would help, like stepping on the gas when you’re being chased by a gigantic dinosaur, then go ahead and do that thing:

You don’t have to wait for an invite to hit the gas.

Just remember that a little bit of kindness can go a really long way with someone suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.

#5 – I Want You To Take Care of Yourself

So I’ve been talking about all the things you can do to help that person in your life who is suffering from a mental illness, but please don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

The person suffering wants you to be well too.  They don’t want to see you suffer, or even develop a mental illness of your own due to the stress of care giving.

Make time for yourself as well.  Make sure you set your own boundaries.  Don’t forget to help yourself too.  Don’t be a hero.

You’re no use to anybody if you get eaten.

So that’s all for now.  That should be enough to get you started at least.  There’s a lot more than just that which I’ll share in later articles, but my mania-brain has lost interest in writing, and suddenly I have an uncontrollable urge to watch Jurassic Park.

Follow for more!

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 1 – Sobriety Lets Me See Me… And It’s Ugly

I’ve been sober for one week today; I absolutely hate it.

Fair warning: this post is not going to be pleasant.  There will be no sage advice or words of encouragement.  This is not a story of triumph.  There is no inspiration to be found within – just the words of an alcoholic recently deprived of his relief… a man who recently killed his best friend.  Read on at your own risk.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this.  It’s like some monster is raging inside me and I have to get it out.  I don’t care how ugly it is, I don’t care how offensive, how embarrassing, how dishonorable, whatever other words you can throw at it, I just want it out.

For over ten years I’ve been making every excuse imaginable to deny that I’m an alcoholic.  I recently wrote a post for The Bipolar Writer Blog on that subject.  I don’t know exactly why, but I finally decided to do something about it; one week later I feel like I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Quitting alcohol has forced me to reflect on myself in a way I haven’t in a very long time.  I’ve very quickly discovered a great seething darkness within.  It’s as if I’ve kicked over a rock, and now I’m recoiling from the squirming mass of grotesquerie that was always lurking just underneath.

Alcoholism bestowed upon me wonderful adjectives – funny, outgoing, personable, friendly, powerful, ambitious, successful.  Now that that’s been stripped away, I’ve discovered my real adjectives – my monster:

Jealous:

I am a disgustingly jealous man.  Like most things, it started young.

I had a father for which nothing I did was ever good enough.  I never attempted a task that wasn’t criticized (often harshly), and I never uttered a sentence that wasn’t corrected.  At a very young age I learned to tread carefully lest I invoke the dissatisfaction of my father.  This seems a laughably trivial offense to an adult, but it is a crushing devastation to a child.

This seed of timidity continued to grow through childhood. I was afraid of failure and humiliation and as a consequence I did nothing, I accomplished nothing, and I was proud of nothing.

I hated who I was in middle school – a meek little kid who got picked on.  I hated who I was in high school even more. I was kind, smarter than most, and funny; but I was painfully introverted, and terrified of making mistakes.

I surrounded myself with friends who outperformed me in every aspect.  They had jobs, they did well in school, their parents got them cars, they vacationed in Europe, they had girlfriends, they starred in the high school shows, they were well liked – adored even.   I was a hanger-on; always in the wings, never on stage.

I was a good friend, at least on the surface; but I harbored a disgusting secret.  Inside me squirmed a disgusting emotion – jealousy.  I hated my friends, even as I loved them.

A moment from my childhood remains emblazoned in my mind.  I was home alone, lying on my parent’s bed.  It must have been early June; it was a beautiful, crisp, clear day – perfect except for the wind that ravaged the monstrous pine trees that framed our neighborhood.  I might have been 16.

I don’t recall what the trigger was, but I remember the reaction.  I remember when the jealousy that I always harbored within boiled over.  I broke down and cried as I have never cried before.  It was a transformative, shameful moment.  It was in that moment that despite a devout religious upbringing, I rejected God and formed a new religion dedicated to the worship and betterment of myself.  God had been silent my whole life so it was now time to take the universe into my own hands.

My mind crystallized into a single thought which has never since been broken – the first pillar of my new religion:

I must be better than them.  I will be.

A pathetic, selfish, mission statement that has helped guide my life’s actions ever since.

Pathetic

What other word do you use to describe someone who needs constant validation and flattery?  Pathetic.

I am very successful for my age.  I’m not yet 30, but I might be your boss.

Ask me what the keys to success are and I will tell you some bullshit version of how I’ve realized the american dream through a combination of hard work and intelligence.  Good old fashion bootstrapping!

In reality, I have an overwhelming, pathetic urge to please as many people as possible.  Couple that with my jealousy-fueled mission to be better than them and you get someone who chases success, a home, cars, a wife, the next big promotion, you name it, with absolute ruthlessness; my life depends on getting the next thing – on getting that validation.  Without it, this whole charade starts to crumble.  Without it, I’m just that stupid fucking kid who stood in the wings waiting for his life to happen, too afraid to make it happen.

I recall another moment from my teenage years. I couldn’t buy a date, which was cause for an increasing amount of frustration for my hormonal, teenage self.  Eventually my frustration boiled over.

I remember it was New Year’s Eve.  My parents were out at a party, and I had decided to stay home by myself.  I stole a bottle of Bacardi out of the liquor cabinet and got hammered.  I may have been 15.

I needed to escape, I needed like hell to get out of that fucking house, so I put on a coat and stumbled out into the freezing night.  I grabbed a 6-pack on the way out the door.

I proceeded to get progressively drunker, stumbling through my home town and screaming at nobody in particular.  The wind was ferocious that night but it couldn’t match my own ferocity – at least not at first.

I eventually threw up in the street as I was overcome by the booze.  I threw the remaining bottles of the 6 pack as hard as I could into the night, screaming in rage.  How dare nature oppose me?

At last I found myself depleted, and finally winter began to consume me.  I lay myself down in a snowbank to rest.  I probably would have died there had I not called the then-object-of-my-desire on my phone.  I have no recollection of the conversation that followed, but I was found, picked up by her parents, and returned safely home.

The episode was the subject of hot discussion among people who knew of it, but not of much concern.  On the contrary, it was an amusement – a worthy topic for jokes.  It was in the aftermath of this episode that the second pillar of my religion formed.

Nobody cares what you think.  Nobody cares how you feel.  People only care about themselves.

Perhaps my need for validation is a pathetic attempt to try to refute that.  Perhaps I’m hoping that if enough people think highly enough of me that they’ll care what I think; they’ll care how I feel.  But deep down I know that’s not true.

After this episode I was taken to therapy and (mis)diagnosed with and treated for depression for the first time.

Selfish

My selfishness is a frequent complaint of my wife’s, and I don’t blame her.  I can barely lift a hand to take care of myself, let alone my family.

My wife handles everything.  The bills, the babysitting, the planning, the mail, you name it.  I help with some chores, I keep the house clean, and I take care of our kids’ basic needs, but that’s it; I do the minimum.

I excuse this by pointing out that I make a ton of money at my job – therefore I deserve to be treated well.  This was accepted in the house I grew up in because my mother unfortunately didn’t have much of a choice.  She depended on my dad financially.  This is not acceptable in an age when my wife can do just fine on her own, and it never should have been acceptable in the first place.  It’s a pathetic excuse made by pathetic, fearful men.

I had an easy early childhood.  I was the younger brother, and I was babied.  My brother did the heavy lifting while I was left alone for the most part to watch the TV until my mom’s home-cooked meal hit the table.  This slowly changed as I got older, but for most of my childhood this was the case.

I grew up into an adult who is still waiting for mom to make dinner.  Did I mention I might be your boss?  That should make you feel better if you fucking hate your job; if you’ve made it this far at least you got something out of it.  Your boss might be as pathetic as the guy writing this post; cheer up!

This personality trait is the foundation for the next pillar in my religion:

I deserve better.

Selfish.

Cowardly

When you cut through it all – the bravado, the job, the family, the house, all of it… I am first and foremost a terrible coward.

There’s never been a problem I couldn’t run away from.  When the going gets tough, I get going – straight out the door.  Figuratively and also frequently literally.

Job too hard?  Get a new one.

College challenges you?  Transfer.

Don’t like the party?  Leave.

Don’t want to hang-out?  Make a bullshit excuse.

The last moment I’d like to reflect on is still fresh in my memory as it happened less than 24 hours ago.  My wife called me out on being a selfish prick.  I couldn’t take it, so I literally got in the car and just drove.  For hours.  I planned on going to Walmart and getting basic toiletries so I could stay the night somewhere until the situation just blew over.  Then I’d just reappear when it was convenient for me and pretend nothing happened.  When my wife challenged me I’d make it her fault.

This is cowardice at its worse.

Cowardice forms the last great pillar of my religion:

Never let them see you bleed, and always have an escape plan.

I guess lack of originality is another trait of mine since I stole that from The World Is Not Enough but I digress…

In Conclusion, Why I drink:

Finally, I understand why I drink.

Yesterday, I told my wife that she is the reason I drink.  That her expectations are unreasonable and that she pushes me over the edge.  That was a cruelty she does not deserve.

In reality I drink because I was a jealous, pathetic, selfish, coward of a kid who became a jealous, pathetic, selfish, coward of a man.  A man has more tools than a child though; When the reality of those weaknesses would creep up in the back of my head I had alcohol to smash them back into oblivion.

Alcohol keeps me safe from what I fear the most – my own weakness.  That kid that I hate so much.  I formed a religion to protect myself from myself; Drinking is the most necessary, sacred rite.

Without a doubt this week has driven me to my breaking point.  I’ve come face to face with the darkness within me and I feel powerless again – powerless like I did as a child.  Powerless like I did before my religion delivered me to salvation.

It’s also become clear this week that not only do I have bipolar disorder, but I am also a narcissist and an alcoholic.  Charming.

I honestly wish I could go back.  It was simpler when I could just get hammered.  I didn’t have to deal with this.  I loved me.  Now I hate me.

But now there’s no putting the monster back – it’s out.  And if I can’t hide it anymore, there’s only one option left.

I have to kill it.  No quarter.

On to week 2

 

Being Miserable is Easy

Maybe you’re stuck in a terrible job.  Maybe your relationship is toxic.  Maybe you just got dumped.  Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one.

Whatever the reason(s), your life sucks. 

Yep.

So why don’t you make it better?

Well, you may be suffering from a phenomenon known as learned helplessness.  What is that?

The TLDR version is this: when things have been crappy for a long time, or you’ve been unable to improve things, you just stop trying.

This is one of the soul-crushing forces that stops you from improving your life actually a fascinating topic, and there’s some good science on the matter.  If you’re interested, I’ll let you read a bit more about it on your own; as with a lot of things, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start.  Fair warning, it revolves around a totally-not-unethical experiment involving electrocuting dogs.  Weren’t the 60’s great?

Yes. Really.

Now yes, some things you can’t change, I’ll admit.  And no, I’m not trying to trivialize your very real problems.  No, you can’t bring people you love back from the dead, and no, you’re not suddenly going to cure your mental illness.  You may be going through things that I can’t even fathom, and I hope you get the help and relief you need.

What I am talking about is the stuff that you can do something about.  A lot of the time we’ve trained ourselves that there’s nothing we can do to make our lives better, when really there is.

Take this for example: You hate your job.  You’ve spent the last 10 years climbing up a career ladder that you’d much rather kick over and light on fire.  Now you’re stuck… or are you?

Could you find another job?  Could you go back to college?  Could you start a business with the skills you’ve learned?  Can you transfer positions within your company?  There’s probably something you can do.

The problem is that these things are really hard; isn’t it easier to not do those things?

And that brings us to the title of this post, which I acknowledge may be controversial:

Being miserable is easy.

Now bear with me for a minute…

It’s easy to look at all the crap in your life and say, “you know, things suck, but there’s really nothing I can do about it.”  And now, just like that, you’re done.  You’ve just passed off the responsibility you have to yourself to make things better, and now you can go sit back in your misery chair (probably eating taco bell and drinking a fifth of whiskey… not that I know about these things…)

It’s hard improving your life.  I mean, I’m overweight.  It makes me unhappy.  I’d love to lose weight.  But you know what?  I’d have to stop eating taco bell, and I’d have to start exercising more than not-at-all, and I don’t want to do that because it’s hard!  So I’m just going to sit in this chair and complain about being a fat person on the internet instead.

I’ve got a helpful illustration for this.  Once upon a time I was a chemist, and believe it or not there’s actually a useful analogy to be found in chemistry for what I’m talking about.  I’ll try to keep this light because I don’t remember anything from college because I was drunk the whole time I don’t want to bore you.

Let’s talk a little about chemical reactions and a little concept called activation energy. 

Here’s a basic illustration:

activation energy example
This will be on the exam.

 

So this may be intimidating if you have no exposure to science, but it’s actually quite easy if you take a minute to think about it.

In plain English, this just means if you take THING A + THING B and add the energy required, you’ll get THING C and release the amount of energy indicated.  The solid orange line shows the energy of the system during the course of the reaction.

To make your life easier, you can take THING A THING B + a catalyst and add a lesser amount of energy to get the same THING C and release the amount of energy indicated (The green dotted line indicates less energy is required for this reaction to occur).

OK, so now that nobody’s confused, let’s apply this to your life:

activation energy and you
Science!

At the start, is YOU NOW.  It takes a lot of effort just to get through your day.  If you don’t change anything, it’ll keep taking a lot of effort to get through your day.

But you can change; the downside is that for a short amount of time, it will take even more effort.  Maybe you’re going back to college, or maybe you’re sobering up.  Whatever the case, this is the hill you’ve got to get over.

Maybe you have a friend, maybe you have someone who can help you make that hill just a little bit smaller.  I hope you have this help, but if not, you’re not alone!  Just look at this page!  There are more people just like you and I!

There will come a point when you’re reaching maximum effort; you may be unsure you can go on.  But stick with it and…

BAM!

The reaction completes.  The transformation happens, and your life improves.  You breathe that gigantic sigh of relief, and now it takes less effort just to get through the day.

You made your life better.

But it took energy, it took effort, it was hard.  Being miserable is easy, being happy takes work!

But it’s worth it!