Your Addiction Is Not the Problem

Some people drink or experiment with drugs and never get addicted. Some people get addicted almost immediately. What separates the two?

The first group gets high for fun, socially. The second group gets high for fun at first, but they quickly discover that getting high has a side benefit – it kills their pain. They start getting high more and more often, to escape pain. It works, too.

Get high or drunk and forget your problems, lose your inhibitions, kill your pain. How awesome is that? What could possibly go wrong?

We know what goes wrong, right? More and more time spent chemically altered and more and more of your chemical of choice in bigger and bigger doses. Hello, addiction, my old friend. Now you’re an addict and the cure becomes the problem. Next stop, rehab.

You go through rehab and you kick. Yay, you! No, seriously, yay, you. You’re clean and sober and your family and friends are proud of you and it’s all good. Right? Well, no, not exactly. The original issue, the pain, comes roaring out of hibernation and takes a big chunk out of your ass. Now what?

Your family and friends have all relaxed because you’re not using anymore. You’re expected to just be fine and dandy, thanks. The Problem has been solved. You have beaten The Problem. You should be happy, sane, calm and productive. Yet, you aren’t.

Believe it or not, this is when the hardest and most critical work is just beginning. If you don’t do the work to deal with the original pain, sooner or later you’ll go back to the only way you know how to deal with it. Can you say “relapse”? I knew you could.

To stay sober, you need to fix your issues and heal your pain. Don’t try this at home, kids; put your issues in the hands of a professional. If you could fix it yourself, you would have already. If friends or family or fellow addicts could fix it for you, they would have already. An objective, dispassionate person trained in the workings of the psyche is required.

Think this doesn’t apply to you? Think you can, or should, handle it yourself? Insist that friends, family, and/or former addicts can help you fix it on your own? Have an aversion to therapy? Enjoy your stay in Relapseville.

Your Soul’s Purpose is Not a Secret, Pt. II

The infamous middle-aged crisis is perhaps our realization that time is running out and if we ever want to be happy on our own terms, radical change is in order. Having a possibly vague intuition that this cannot be all there is, we seek that missing something that will allow us to feel we leave this life having accomplished something of meaning and value. Next stop, soul’s purpose seminar. All of the tools available to help you discover your purpose are admirable in their intent and often in their execution. They are, however, quite probably unnecessary.

What saddens me is that the answer you seek is right there with you all the time. Like that poor, sad man waiting on his roof, many of us wait for the Universe to put a billboard on Sunsent Bld. Telling us what we are meant to do. Yes, I know that you’ve heard time and again that the answers are within you. I also know that you believe you can’t find them. You spend hours and days writing in your journal, agonizing over uncovering the Great and Divine Undertaking that is surely your life’s mission. Maybe your purpose is a great and divine undertaking. Maybe you are here to discover a cure for cancer, or a way to end war, famine, or television commercials. It may also be true that the little nudge inside is something you ignore because what it tells you doesn’t seem big enough, noble enough, important enough, to devote your life to.

Not everyone is here to cure cancer. Some of us are here to create beautiful art that lifts the spirits of cancer patients. Some of us are here to write and deliver jokes that give cancer patients a much-needed laugh. Some of us are here to design beautiful clothing that makes cancer patients feel better while wearing it. All of this things are big enough, noble enough and important enough. Whatever you are here to do matters, because you are the only one who can do it in your unique way and without you, it would not exist.

The deceptively simple secret to discovering your purpose is this: what you want to do is what you’re meant to do. What you want to do is the voice of God speaking to you. Do you think God is bullshitting you? Do you think a benevolent Universe would create in you a desire to do something that’s crap? Do you think your unique and innate talents, viewpoint and voice are to be devalued because you believe the things that come naturally and easily to you must also be natural and easy for everyone? Do you think your Great and Divine Undertaking must be difficult and unpleasant to count? Damn those Puritans, anyway.

A greatly wise friend of mine once told me that the purpose of life is to enjoy it. It sounds trivial and flippant, but on further examination, not so much. I hear people say that work is not supposed to be fun. Contributing to the world is serious stuff. If it isn’t hard, exhausting and disagreeable, it can’t possibly be worthy. Is that when you do your best work? When you are tired and miserable? Do your most noteworthy accomplishments come about because you, or someone else, forced you to painfully squeeze it out? Or are those the only times you think you must have done something important, because otherwise it would not have been such a torturous experience?

My father has had a long and fruitful love affair with the ocean, particularly as experienced from a sailboat. This love had led him to many places and adventures he might not otherwise have known. He was an extra, as a rower, in the movie Amistad. He was on the winning team in a rowing competition in Russia. He’s in the Coast Guard. He has come close to death at least once that I know of, in a storm that so terrified my brother, John, that John feels queasy just being in the town offshore from which the ordeal took place. I think that some of these adventures led my father to both a respect for nature and a deeper appreciation of being alive, including an enhanced ability to savor the moment. Sailing is something people do for fun and relaxation, and so may be devalued as frivolous by some. Yet the benefits of participating in something he loves are neither frivolous nor of little value. I expect the same can be said for any of us, with any of the things we love.

There are stories of people who turned their greatest supposed defects into their greatest triumphs. I’ll use the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey as a well-known example. Oprah loves to talk to people and she has an abundance of empathy. In the newscaster world, tearing up whilst reporting the news is not considered advantageous. Damn, girl, just say what happened. Don’t be crying over other people’s pain, or trying to hug victims of tragedies or shit like that! This is the news, not a gathering of your dearest friends.

Criticized for, heaven forbid, feeling something and sympathizing with other peoples’ pain, Oprah took her show on the road, so to speak, and became the Empress of the Universe she is today with her fabulous empathy. Her curiosity about others, empathy, warmth and love of exploring our inner lives aren’t character faults. They were the right thing in the wrong place. Put in the right place, not only has she turned them into shining virtues, not only has she made herself one of the most wealthy and influential persons on the planet, but she has also helped countless people in many ways. If she had listened to her critics early on, she might have ended up just another talking head or disappeared from the public eye altogether. (Yes, I am a huge fan of Oprah’s. Don’t like it? Too bad.)

The point I am long-windedly trying to make is, you are uniquely yourself for a reason. Whether you believe it’s because God made you that way, it’s in your genes or you are the product of your environment, you are the only you there is. Your talents, perspective, abilities, interests and dreams are not random crap. They are tools to be used in the service of your specific and joyful purpose. What you love is what you were made for.

Your Soul’s Purpose is Not a Secret, Pt. l

There was once a man of great faith who found himself at the mercy of a disastrous flood (which is not related to, nor intended to be a comment on, recent events). As he climbed onto his roof, he was not concerned, so secure was he in the knowledge that God would save him.

As he waited for divine rescue, his neighbors came by in a little canoe and said to him, “Get in the canoe. There is room for you and we’ll take you to dry land with us.” The man replied, “No, thanks. You go on ahead and save yourselves. I’ll wait here for God to save me.”

Some time later, a rescue crew came by in a motor boat. They said, “Get in the boat. There is room for you and we’ll take you to dry land with us.” The man replied, “No, thanks. You go on ahead and rescue others. I’ll wait here, because God will save me.”

Some considerable time later, a helicopter flew by overhead. Seeing the stranded man, they threw down a rope ladder and said, “Climb the ladder and get in the helicopter. There is room for you and we’ll take you to dry land with us.” The man replied, “No, thanks. You go on ahead and rescue others. I’ll wait here, because God will save me.”

Much to the man’s surprise, he died. He ascended into Heaven where, once inside the pearly gates, he sought out God with a question. “Heavenly Father”, he said, “I waited and waited for you. Why didn’t you save me?” God answered, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

An entire industry has grown up around helping you find your life’s purpose, your soul’s intention. There are books, seminars and websites devoted to this noble aim. You’re advised to remember what you loved as a child, write in your journal and meditate. There are clues in your astrological chart, (which I can help you with!), answers in Tarot cards, messages from animals and prayers for guidance. Dood, the entire Universe is conspiring to help you find and live a meaningful life.

I could go on for hours about why this is such a difficult process. Our mainstream culture does not, or has not, supported what may be derisively referred to as “navel gazing.” If introspection isn’t valued, neither are activities and pursuits that don’t avail themselves of a clear and certain profit margin.

Children who are creative are encouraged to pursue more practical endeavors. Kids who may prefer to spend their time doing scientific experiments in the basement may be told to go play outside. Television is rife with images of a limited version of success as measured by such things as big houses and expensive cars. Music and art programs are the first to be cut from school budgets. If a video game exists in which the aim is to create a meaningful life for your character, please let me know because I haven’t seen it.

Your parents meant well when they told you that music or art would not provide you with adequate financial support. They drank the cool aid which led them to believe that success means a house in the suburbs and 2.4 kids. (I think I knew some of those .4 kids growing up.) They wanted you to have what they thought you needed and were trying to protect you from a life as a, literally, starving artist. In school, the kids with the best grades or, oddly, the best athletes, were admired and applauded. All of these thing conspire to bury your own dreams, which regrettably leads to lives of the quiet desperation kind.

Perhaps you did dream of being a stockbroker or real estate mogul. Maybe you spent your childhood play time doing surgery on Barbie and Ken. It’s possible you were a budding politician even in preschool. You could be one of the lucky ones who aspired to life as a pro ball player. I find it odd that sports are so encouraged because, if only a handful of people become rock stars, it is also true that there are a finite number of pro ball teams. Perhaps it has something to do with police and football being the modern substitutes for knights and jousting. If you were instead a tiny poet or ballet dancer, it is less likely that you were encouraged to pursue a career as such.

And so we arrive at adulthood, make the big bucks, drive a fancy car and vacation annually at Necker Island. (If you vacation at Necker Island, call me. I desperately want to be your new BFF.) Most of these supposed trappings of success are what, if I can paraphrase, Henry David Thoreau referred to as booby prizes for living a miserable life. (Yes, I said “booby.” Get over it. What are you, 12?)

To be continued…

Dear Stupid Criminals, Pt. II

Continuing my tips for stupid criminals from yesterday.

  1. When you dispose of the rest of the matching towels or the drop cloth or whatever, don’t throw them away in your own trashcan. Nor your neighbor’s trashcan. Nor your mother’s, boyfriend’s, employer’s, cousin’s, or anyone or anywhere that can be linked to you. Fast food trash cans would be a good place. They have massive amounts of trash and plenty of people in and out all day, so the likelihood that the stuff you’re ditching will be found or traced to you are minimal.
  2. Let’s talk about weapons. Don’t use your own gun. Especially if it’s registered, and in your name. If you use a gun and you’re careful to wipe your prints off of it, don’t be lame and leave your prints on the bullets. If you use a knife, don’t wash it off and put it back in your cutlery drawer. Besides being gross, blood will be found and they will know it’s not from steak.
  3. Weapon disposal is our next topic. We’ve already covered not keeping any weapon you use. How do you get rid of it, though? As quickly as possible, that’s how. The only excuse to leave a weapon at the scene if it’s registered in the name of someone you greatly dislike. Otherwise, you could leave behind fingerprints, microscopic droplets or blood, sweat or saliva, (DNA testing has put a crimp in the criminal business). So, weapon needs to be removed from the scene. Not by much, though, and this is the important part. Don’t keep it in your car, take it home with you, or leave it at the house of anyone you know. Take it with you, but you also don’t want to be caught with it on you. That would be bad. Ditch it. Quickly. Where matters, though. No nearby trashcans or bushes.
  4. Seen The Departed? If not…spoiler alert! Read no further. Go rent it right now, because it’s awesome. If you did see it, the end, when Mark Wahlberg‘s character shoots Matt Damon‘s character, there is much to learn from that scene. You’ll notice that Wahlberg is wearing not only gloves, (finger print protection), but also little booties (not tracking anything into or out of Damon’s apartment), both disposable. What you may not have noticed is that he’s also wearing a nylon track suit. Know why? Because nylon doesn’t shed threads or fibers. He should have been wearing a shower cap or something similar, too, to avoid leaving hairs. I don’t remember, though, if he was ever inside that apartment earlier in the film. If so, hair may not have been a big issue. Still. I vote for covering the hair. He does put on a knit cap on his way out, but I think that’s more to avoid any witness identification later. Or maybe, seeing as he is a cop, he would go to the scene after the murder was reported. He could always say he dropped any hairs then.
  5. My final tip for dumb criminals is this: don’t do it. Whether you’re dumb or not, you’re not going to have a better life as the result of criminal activities. You won’t be happier, healthier, or better off in any way. Odds are, sooner or later, and probably sooner, your life is going to get a hell of a lot worse. And continue to suck for years to come.

Dear Stupid Criminals

Dear Stupid Criminals,

I almost feel sorry for you. Y’all get caught because you make stupid mistakes. Don’t you watch Law & Order, CSI, or Criminal Minds? Bones? Judge Judy? Anything?

Since I almost feel sorry for you and I’m not going to tell you anything you couldn’t learn yourself by watching reruns, here is my d’uh list for those who want to actually get away with it.

  1. If you get a big chunk of money from any kind of crime-ish thing you’ve done, do NOT deposit it in your bank account. Geezus. If you become a suspect for anything, or you die or any government agency decides to take a close look at you, the IRS for instance, they are going to see a large and unusual deposit and want to know what that’s about. Seriously, man, what are you thinking? Deposit your normal deposits and keep the cash out to use. It’s not like you took a check, right? So hold on to the cash.
  2. If you have to drive in the commission of your crime, try not to use your own car. If you must, make sure you have a car that no one will notice. Sure, it would be cool to use your ill-gotten gains to buy a Hummer or a Viper or whatever, but if you drive that around, people will see it and remember having seen it. You really ought to drive a Honda or Toyota or something that is common enough that it isn’t memorable. No flashy colors,either, or bumper stickers or any other unusual doodads.
  3. If you are going to rent a car instead, don’t rent it in your own name, ya idiot. How many people have been caught because the police traced the car and discovered who had rented it. In their own stupid names! If you’re going to rent a car to commit a crime, you probably aren’t above stealing an I.D., a credit card, getting a fake I.D., or taking other measures to avoid using your real name and address.
  4. If you need supplies, say, electrical tape, rope, things like that, don’t buy them at the local hardware store. Drive a couple of towns over and buy them there. Pay cash. Bonus tip – while shopping, cover any visible tattoos, wear a hat, don’t wear anything memorable, and whatever you do, don’t make a scene or do anything to draw attention to yourself. And throw away the fucking receipt! Not in your own trash can.
  5. It’s best not to use tools or supplies from your own house. If you must, throw away the rest of the trash bags, remainder of the ball of twine, or whatever. They can’t match it to what they find at your house if they don’t find anything at your house,
    To be continued…

Dark Nights of the Soul, Epiphanies and Stress, The End

In my case, I had quite a few symptoms that, confirmed by a physician, were caused by stress. Once I decided not to let the ickies kill me, I developed a combination of techniques I use to relieve my stress. When I begin to feel stressed, I stop whatever I’m doing and consciously relax any muscles I’ve been tightening. I then take a few deep breaths, focusing on relaxing mind and body. Usually that’s enough to slay the stress monster, but not always.

If that’s not enough, I ask myself a question. “Do you have everything you need, right now, in and for this moment?” The answer is almost always yes. If my car were broken down on the side of the road, those more spiritually evolved than I am might still say yes, but I would say no. Then I would remind myself that my stress is not going to make the auto club get here any faster, nor would it cause my car to mysteriously fix itself. All it would do is impact my mental and physical health in negative ways.

Stress can be a good thing if you are actually in an immediate fight or flight situation. If someone is pointing a gun at you, deep breaths are not a workable strategy! Thankfully, most of us in this part of the world are rarely in such dire circumstances. If you are, your body will respond accordingly. If not, I’ve realized that stopping the stress monster from killing you, until you can improve the situation, is the best and healthiest response.

Dark Nights of the Soul, Epiphanies and Stress, Part II

I had an epiphany, a revelation, a sudden, intuitive understanding of the essence of the thing. Wait, stress, my stress, is actually physically harming me and might even shorten my life! I went from knowing that on an intellectual level to fully understanding, grokking, it with all of my, heart, mind and spirit.

I asked myself if my stress was making the situation better. No, of course not. Was it improving my performance in any aspect of my life? No, just the opposite. Was it causing those icky people or situations to go away? Regrettably, no. Was it harming me physically and possibly even shortening my life? Yes!

If anyone had told me a couple of weeks ago I could just decide not to stress, I would have thought they were nuts. I’ve read that idea in many places, along with suggestions that yoga, meditation, movement and/or mindfulness would lower stress and improve physical and mental health and functioning. I resisted all of that, insisting that I didn’t need to adjust to the intolerable, instead the intolerable needed to knock that shit off right now!

I can, am and will change these situations and relationships that have been stressing me, but I’ve changed my mind completely about what to do in the mean time. I have decided that I refuse to let bad situations, unreasonable people or unavoidable ickiness to harm me anymore. I’ll tell you what stress actually does to you, then I’ll share what I do now to stop the stress monster in its tracks.

Chronic stress leaves your body in a perpetual flight or fight state. Adrenaline and cortisol flood your system, causing your heart to beat faster, increase your blood pressure and mess with your digestive system, including nausea and loss of appetite. Imagine your body, thinking it’s in imminent danger, saying, “What?? We’re in a life-threatening situation and you want to eat???”

Your muscles tense, which in chronic stress, can cause tension headaches, aches and pains and possibly, according to some theories, induce fibromyalgia. (Which I have!) Chronic stress can also weaken your immune system, contribute to, if not outright cause, abnormal heartbeat, blood clots, heart attack, and/or heart failure. Some researchers say chronic stress either causes, contributes to, or worsens 60-90% of illnesses.

It won’t come as a surprise that chronic stress also causes, contributes to or worsens psychological issues such as mood swings, irritability, depression, and anxiety. Maladaptive attempts to deal with stress include using drugs, alcohol, food or any other compulsive behavior. You feel like shit physically and mentally, and you behave in ways you’d really rather not. A lot of these things, both physical or behavioral, can be fatal.

More obvious effects of stress include teeth grinding, neck, back or shoulder pain, decreased sex drive, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, insomnia, nightmares, confusion, lack of organization, memory problems, indecisiveness, clumsiness, withdrawal and fatigue. It seems as though even if stress doesn’t kill you, it may make you wish you were dead.

Important point: Any or all of these symptoms can also be cause by actual illness, disease or other health conditions. You must see a doctor first, before you decide your symptoms are caused by stress. I am not a medical professional, so do not rely on my listing of symptoms to diagnose yourself or anyone else.

To be continued…