You’re Right Where You’re Supposed to Be

Alcoholics Anonymous and similar fellowships broadcast certain expressions and slogans as if they were verbal tics. One Day at a Time is the most famous, but there are dozens of others. At their worst, these slogans make AA seem cultish or brainless to an outsider. At their best, they appear in the mind of a struggling addict or alcoholic — whether in recovery or relapse — administering a miraculous dose of serenity.

Like many of the other slogans, You’re Right Where You’re Supposed to Be is deeply ambiguous. When invoked in the rooms of AA, it can seem to simply mean, “you are supposed to be here — in this room.” But usually it is called upon when someone has shared that they are ashamed or dissatisfied with their status or financial situation in comparison to “where they should be.”

Recovering Addict 1: I am going to be 37 and I don’t even have anything. No savings. No job. No brain cells left because I’ve been doing drugs for over 20 years.
Recovering Addict 2: You are right where you are supposed to be.

It seems like a joke sometimes. But then it leads to an interesting place. Supposed to. Supposed to. Supposed: this word is problematic. It has both the weight of fate and the unreliability of a guess.

  1. You are here because you are fated to be here
  2. You are here, exactly where it was guessed (or supposed) that you would be.

This second interpretation probably only occurs to etymologists and other word nerds like me. Most people think “supposed to” means either “fated to” or “required to.”

Whether or not you believe in fate, you can’t reverse time, so there is nothing you can do about where you are right now. You can only affect the future.

When to invoke the magic words

You have been working yourself into a frenzy thinking of the time you wasted, how people your age have succeeded and you haven’t, how you will never make up for the things you have missed, how you are supposed to be much further along…and you can’t do a thing about it.

It is only your belief or your comparison to other people that is making your think that you are in the wrong place. And then there is reality.

Reality is, you are right where you are. Anything else is a belief. Supposition is totally up to you. The slogan unwinds the story you were tangling yourself in. Suddenly, you can choose to believe that you are right where you are supposed to be. Whatever you choose to believe, it doesn’t change the facts. But how you feel isn’t based on facts.

Belief is something many people relegate to religion. They assume that they walk around making decisions based on facts. They have opinions and feelings, but beliefs are for more superstitious folks. I do it. You do it. We all think we know more than we do and believe less. If you don’t believe me, you should read a little more about cognitive biases, for example the confirmation bias or subjective validation. The fact is, we don’t live in a world of facts, but a world of beliefs.

Beliefs have more influence on our emotions than facts. Most of our beliefs are unconscious, but we can become conscious of them. Even better, we can choose new beliefs. The more we uncover our unconscious beliefs, the more power we have to shape our mood, our attitude, and our experience.

So, it is up to you. Are you right where you are supposed to be?

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The Game of Life (via The Nostalgeria)

I just remember you end up with a lot of babies.

The Game of Life When I think of the best board games of all time, Milton Bradley's The Game of Life comes to my mind first and perhaps most often. Forget the inane picture on the front of this 1992 edition (the closest to what I remember playing as a kid) because this game isn't all sunshine and Cosby sweaters.   Any family game where you can royally screw over others by simply flashing 'share the wealth' cards at opportune moments is probably going to end in fl … Read More

via The Nostalgeria

The Only Interesting thing in this post is the List About Costumes.

It’s been a while.

The exact measurement of a “while” – 11 days.

What has happened? A whole hell of a lot. Or should I say, a whole “helloween” of a lot.

Because Halloween happened. It was an amazing time and I didn’t think about drinking for more than a few seconds. There were two dance parties happening in my house, and I was a clown. I’ve been talking about what a great party it was to anyone who will listen.

Digression

Costumes are amazing things. When I think back to the first time I felt like I was my own person, with my own identity, it is tied up with what I wore (plaids and army boots). When I decided to go to my first college, it was because I liked the way people dressed. (This may sound shallow, but at that point in my life, it was as good a reason as any. I didn’t know what I wanted or even who I was, so how was I to decide which college would fit me best?).

I’m not ready to fully digress, so here are some ideas about costumes:

  • We grow into our costumes.
  • Costumes are how we identify with a group.
  • Costumes make us more aware of the image we present to the world.
  • Costumes say something about us.
  • Clowns aren’t always creepy.

Tiny Now and Harry Houdini (the kitten)

The Rest of the Week

Monday I decided to take the advice of Timothy Ferris, author of The 4-hour Workweek, and set an impossible goal.

I was going to write my business plan in one day.

It actually took me about 20 hours, which I spread over 3 days.

The business plan is for my writing coach/tutor business.

On Tuesday, I began to design a new blog! It will be called Dreaming Right, and it will be all about my favorite person’s encounters with self-help books, programs, and blogs.

There will be more on The 4-hour Workweek, as well as 12-step programs, concepts learned from Zen Habits, and maybe even a GTD post.

I am a slow typist and a CSS/HTML noob, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how to do simple things, like create nice looking navigation tabs. I am still working out the bugs.

Also on Tuesday: Obama.

I’m sure you’ve heard enough about the whole political scene, so I’ll just say: It’s nice to see Americans hugging each other, and crying with joy. The last time I remember seeing that, it was in black and white.

Speaking of black and white, here’s what I think of red and blue:

Let's not cling to our redness or blueness, but, instead, embrace the purple within. We are all Grimace.

On Friday, I went to our local film festival’s opening night and say a Buster Keaton film with live performers doing the musical score. The crowd was local and enthusiastic, and Buster Keaton was our hero.

And, I smoked my last two cigarettes.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday – I dealt with cigarette cravings.

It occurs to me why so many people have trouble quitting. They are faced with a choice: Smoke a cigarette or continue to feel CRAZY. The first two days, especially when I wasn’t busy, made me feel like I was possesed by a smoker. He was trapped in my body and calmly but persistently demanding satisfaction.

But I still haven’t smoked.

What to do when you’re FREAKING OUT.

I’m freaking out! It’s about my economic situation. I am broke.

To make matters worse, some idiotic decisions are coming back to haunt me. I have an awful habit of driving without insurance. A habit that caused me to accrue over $700 dollars in fines.

Luckily, I paid them off.

Unluckily, I got pulled over last week and found out my license was suspended and my tabs were expired. I had a court date yesterday, which I totally forgot about.

Now there is a warrant out for my arrest!

These tickets are probably going to end up costing me a thousand dollars.

I don’t have a job. I’m freaking out.

What now?

Well, the first thing I did was to call the court. They told me I could come in next Thursday and pay 50 bucks for an opportunity to explain why I missed the court date.

I’m still freaking out, but not as badly.

The problem is that the freak-out is self-justifying. It was triggered by my sudden realization that I spaced-out such an important thing, but it continues because it is finding tons of reasons in my sub-conscious to perpetuate itself, things floating around that feed it.

Here is what my freak-out is telling me:

  • You are lazy.
  • The economy is bad.
  • You are crippled by fear.
  • You are neglecting your responsibilities.
  • You are lazy. (This idea is particularly hardy freak-out food)

My gut is tied in a knot and I feel like crying. Actually, the knot is loosening a little bit. I am starting to feel better.

Why?

I have identified what my freak-out is feeding on. Looking closely at piece of freak-out food, I see that it may be either true and within my control, true and outside of my control, or simply not true.

Not true:

I am not lazy, I am prolific. I am not crippled by fear, I am bravely examining my fear.

Outside of my control:

There is nothing I can do about the economy.

True:

Perhaps I have been neglecting my responsibilites. I can do something about that.

So, after doing what I can about the trigger for my freak-out, I proceed to eradicate the three flavors of freak-out food.

Neutralizing False Fears

I’m just figuring this out myself, but these techniques seem to work on the things that simply aren’t true.

Looking at them – most fears that are obviously false will shrivel under the light of observation. “Look how much I have accomplished in the past month, how can I be lazy.”

Affirmations – “I am prolific and productive. I am brave.” These cheesy statements are often quite effective, even if they remind you of Stuart Smalley.

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!

Writing about them – write a list, persuasive essay, (or a blog post!) giving all the reasons why the fear is a false one. Writing has always given me clarity when I’ve been overwhelmed by emotion, although it doesn’t usually produce very good writing.

Accepting things that are out of your control

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. – Leo Buscaglia

One of the biggest things that we worry about that is completely out of our control is the past. I can not go back and make that court date, so, intellectually at least, I know I shouldn’t be worrying, much less freaking out about it. I find it helpful to remind myself:

I am not responsible for my past actions, only for the present consequences of those actions.

I am not responsible for the actions of others.

and, for good measure…

I did not break the economy.

Acceptance is also a key part of the serenity prayer, another great thing I learned from 12-step programs:

“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference…”

Doing something about legitimate fears

Break them down into parts – What are my responsibilities? They are creations of society and my own personal morality. I am responsible for keeping my word, keeping myself fed, paying taxes, and doing what is best for my well-being, which includes helping rather than harming the people I come into contact with. Which of these responsibilities am I neglecting right now? And what can I do about it?

Take action – The only real responsibility I have been neglecting is the promise to myself and my readers to post regularly on this blog. So, guess what? Here it is, a new post! Taking action feels great.

Oscar Rodgers put’s it simply:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “untitled“, posted with vodpod

And don’t over-analyze, you can never predict what course events will take, just do the next right thing and know that you are doing everything you can to vanquish your freak-out.

PS – 48 days with no booze!

Deciding to be the Decider: Much Ado About Decisions

No, it don't.

No, it don't.

My 30 day experiment is quite over – What do I do now?

In this post I’ll answer one small part of that question: What do I do about my drinking now?

Here are my options:

  • Lay down an ultimatum – I will never drink again.
  • Pros: Being the decider.
    Cons: Being like “the decider” – a man who’s lack of doubt led him to be the worst president ever. (Here is a great article by Bob Woodard about Dubya’s decision to start a war)

  • Do it one day at a time – In true 12 step fashion, I will declare, as often as necessary, that, just for today, I am not going to pick up a drink.
  • Pros: Making a bite-sized decision that is doable and not overwhelming.
    Cons: Having to make that decision every day, perhaps many times a day.

  • Do it one month at a time – Yea! The title of this blog will once again make sense!
  • Pros: Not having to make a decision for another month.
    Cons: Having to go through this hand-wringing shit again in 30 days.

  • Make an arbitrary compromise – I will drink only on holidays. I will drink only once a month. I will only have 2-3 drinks each time I drink.
  • Pros: The ability to drink while still feeling like I have made a healthy decision.
    Cons: The nagging feeling that I’ve copped out.

  • Drink tonight – Fuck restraint. Woohoo!
  • Pros: Sweet intoxication, a feeling of belonging
    Cons: Guilt and the possibility of an unproductive life with a tendency to downward spiraling and wreckage.

  • Don’t decide – If I don’t commit, I can’t fail!
  • Pros: It is really easy.
    Cons: Beer might decide for me.

When a decision is not a decision.

As I lay out the possibilities, I am reminded of a flash of insight that I had one day about decisions. Making a decision isn’t like making an incision. Unless it is a present moment type decision, like, “I am going to jump off this diving board,” or “I will have pepperoni with that,” you don’t just decide and forget about it – you keep making that decision until it is done. Each decision that doesn’t result in an immediate action, requires other decisions. Your earlier self is the one who said, “I am going to stop drinking for 30 days,” but the you that lives right now must decide whether it is going to honor the decision of the earlier you. That is a decision in itself. So, for every big decision there is the follow-up decision: “Do I honor my previous decision or not?” If you make a decision about your lifestyle, you have to decide again and again to follow through and make it happen.

So, even though I was prepared to choose none of the above, I am going to bite the bullet. My decision is…(Drumroll please)

I’m not going to drink today, and I am going to try and make that same decision every day.

Great.

I feel better.

What now? (rimshot)

That’s a Wrap…Psych!

It has been forty days (and forty nights).

When I started this blog I set a few goals for myself:

  1. document my experience staying sober not drinking for thirty days
  2. share with people who are struggling to find balance in their drug use
  3. maintain my resolve
  4. develop my blogging, writing, and ability to attract readers (read: web marketing, social networking)
  5. answer the questions, “Why drink?” and “Why not drink?”

I have to say, goals 1 through 4 were met with extreme to moderate success. As far as answering the Big Questions, I made progress, but realized that they are questions we all have to answer for ourselves.

I published 14 posts. Really, only 12 of them were within the 30-day timeframe, but that still makes an average of one post every two and a half days! I think the quality of the posts was fairly consistent and high. I eventually stopped adding the updates that were kind of like diary entries, because I felt that they weren’t very interesting. In a way, I didn’t really document my experience of the thirty days. Instead, I documented most of what I know and feel about addiction as it relates to my experience. I wasn’t documenting the present. Instead, I was compiling and presenting relevant information that I have gleaned during my past 32 years.

What I learned from 30 days of blogging.

  • I can produce at least one quality post every 3 days, if the conditions are right…
  • Good content = passion + rumination + good information. I have thought about the themes of this blog for over a decade, so the information was mostly in my head. Even so, I did a fair amount of research to add value to my posts. The rumination part is critical, because most of my “ah-ha” moments came while I was away from the computer.
  • Doing good things for yourself is good for others. I have always believed that it was ethical to work on my own well-being, but had little evidence that helping myself was really making the world a better place. During this experiment, several friends and acquaintances decided to experiment as well. Although only one of them succeeded, the others at least made attempts and perhaps became a little more aware of the limitations of a drinking habit.
  • All that I have read about creating well-being, all the “life-hacks”, tips, tricks, and affirmations – they all help. Doing something as an experiment, telling as many people as possible, documenting your progress, doing something for 30 days…these are all great pieces of advice that actually work. Thanks again to Zen Habits.
  • Being anonymous is hard. Being honest is hard. I ended up sharing this blog with my mom, step-dad, and friends, but I can’t use it in a portfolio, because of the pot stuff.
  • Inspiration doesn’t fit a regular schedule. In my next blog, I will spread my posts out. If I feel inspired to write two posts in one day, I will save the second post a few days before publishing it.
  • Finally, I learned a lot of technical lessons: the limitations of free blog sites like WordPress, how to embed various widgets, how to write concisely without losing my voice, how to create an RSS feed for my site…

Overall, I feel stunningly successful. The only downside is that I haven’t yet found a niche that will sustain my interest long enough to create a lasting blog. I have a few great ideas which I will talk about in my next post.

Thank You

I want to thank all of my friends who read my posts and gave me feed back. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The Art of Wallowing (plus, it’s been 32 days!)

There is a great scene from the 80s movie, Broadcast News, where Holly Hunter’s character, Jane, has what I like to think of as a scheduled breakdown. She is in her hotel room and has just agreed to meet her co-worker in the lobby in half an hour.

She hangs up -- takes the phone off the 
hook and lays it on the bed for a moment's 
solitude.  She sits stiffly, palms on top of
her legs.  It looks like someone with unusually 
good posture, waiting for something, and now 
we BEGIN TO SEE the first signs redden and 
she begins to cry.  Now she sobs -- then 
miraculously shakes it off and exits quickly to 
the bathroom.  This crying episode is clearly 
part of her morning routine.
Get the full screenplay here.

Over the years, I’ve come to accept that every couple of months or so, I have a similar breakdown. It lasts longer than Jane’s, and isn’t really scheduled…so I guess it isn’t that similar, except that it feeds the same need…the need to wallow.

My Recent Wallowfest

I spent the last 3 days neglecting nearly every one of my responsibilities.

Here’s how you do it:  Let everything drop, isolate, watch tv and order delivery. Play spider solitaire for five hours. Click the “Stumble!” button on your web browser until your eyes lose focus. Watch TV. Feel depressed.

Shutting down for a couple of days is a childish, “mom, I’m sick” type of thing to do, but there is something to be said for wallowing every once in a while. I don’t want to rationalize it, but I would like to make peace with it.

Why Wallowing Ain’t All Bad

The practice of wallowing does have its benefits. Here are a few lessons I learn and relearn during my time on the pity-pot:

  1. The world does not fall apart. Although some of my wallow fests have resulted in minor damage (missed assignments, appointments, or showers), most of the time nothing at all happens. Life goes on.
  2. I feel better eventually.  This too passes. No matter how much I cling to the nothingness of depression, it eventually ends. This is my own experience, not meant to be universal advice, particularly for people who have chemical or neurological reasons for being depressed.
  3. It is possible for me to enjoy something and hate myself at the same time. Wallowing has the same obsessive-compulsive quality that drug use has. Take the 15 episodes of Arrested Development that I watched during my most recent wallow. I enjoyed each episode, but I never quite silenced the inner voice that told me that I was wasting my life.
  4. Great advice is annoying. “Buck-up”…”take baby steps”…”let go and let God”…”this too shall pass…” I’m wallowing right now, please leave a message at the tone. No matter how well intentioned, advice on how to “fix” my attitude and get out of my rut annoys me. I have learned to nod and thank the advice giver, then go back to watching crap TV.
  5. Philosophy will not get me out of a rut. Big ideas tend to reveal big tragedies when I am wallowing. It’s all meaningless after all, what with us dying in the end and God being either dead or invisible. When I am wallowing, I am feeling, not thinking.
  6. Simple things will – I like to work from the bottom up. No matter how stuck I feel at the beginning of a wallow, I will come out of it at the end because I’m ready and because I start doing something simple like:
  • Waiting. See #2.
  • Cleaning. A clean room may not give my life meaning, but it will put me in a better mood.
  • Taking a shower. There is nothing more depressing than smelling your own ass.
  • Taking a walk. Although I will reject this piece of advice if someone offers it, getting out of the house can often lead to miracles.
  • Accomplishing a very small task. “The day wasn’t a total waste, I took the trash out!” This last wallow I made an origami picture frame and caught some ladybugs to eat the aphids off my girlfriend’s houseplant. I was a whirlwind of activity!
  • Making a plan. At some point, I decide that tomorrow I will reenter the land of the living. It helps to have a few tasks written down.

And oh yeah…I’m still not drinking and it is day 32!

Resting on My Laurels

Today is my 26th day without drinking. I haven’t felt inspired to write a great post, so I’ll serve up this essay I wrote several years ago. It is, perhaps, an answer to the question, “Why smoke cigarettes?”

Cigarette

The first fifteen minutes of my drive to campus wind past a field which is topped, for a second, by a glimpse of Budd Inlet and Cooper Point beyond. There is a horse lying down, a sign in front of a Lutheran church that says “Anger’s best solution is delay.” There are some goats that I noticed for the first time a couple days ago, there are two parks, a lonely Shell station with a convenience store that is stocked more like a general store, with bacon, nails, coffee beans, cans of soup, video rentals, copies of a locally authored book about geoducks…

I often have my first cigarette of the day on this drive—the nicotine creeps into the back of my neck, my stomach, my nervous system, my brain. Nicotine initially causes a rapid release of adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone. It also causes increased release of acetylcholine from my neurons, leading to heightened activity in cholinergic pathways throughout my brain. This in turn promotes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in my brain’s reward pathways. The nicotine also causes the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. My first cigarette stimulates receptors in my hypothalamus, hippocampus, thalamus, midbrain, and brain stem, as well as my cerebral cortex. Besides acetylcholine and dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin,vasopressin, growth hormone, and ACTH neurotransmitters are released by the nicotine’s actions.

Many smokers enjoy their initial cigarette more than any other, but I consistently feel sick after the second puff. My nausea is always accompanied immediately by an emotion like depression, but it comes on with more urgency, with the sharp edges of terror.

McCain's hero.

McCain's Hero.

Whatever tide of neurotransmitters and hormones washes through my system, it pushes me up against a familiar, yet mysterious shore. It is a low-lying place where I’ve lost shoes in the sucking mud. I stuck my kindergarten teddy bear under a bush there. I had accidentally carried it halfway to my first grade classroom, suddenly seized by the fact that I was way too old to have a teddy bear at school. When I returned, the stuffed animal was gone. When I visit this foggy place, I am still the shortest in my class. In the murky air, I pass an anguished earlier self and know I can’t help. I can’t stop him from asking that girl to marry him, from throwing dozens of pages of horrible poetry at her feet and crying on no sleep. “You don’t really love her,” I might yell at my earlier self, “You are on amphetamines, or in withdrawal from all that Codeine and Vicodin. You are just desperate for some meaning.” I can’t make him hear, no matter how urgently I whisper, “You are embarrassing yourself!”

When this sharp edge of self-pity, this familiar amorphous violence, hits me after the second drag of my first cigarette, when I am suddenly balanced precariously on this side of tears, it takes me a moment to realize that this happens every time. Every morning I smoke a cigarette. Every morning I am momentarily washed away, spun around, sucked up. Every morning this bad tide quickly recedes and I forget that I was drowning a second ago. The day comes crowding in, happily, and the moment is forgotten.

Today I know the terror passes, but I didn’t always. I haven’t always been able to visit the darkest spot on that gloomy shore. At one time, those desperate memories were inaccessible, even though they were fresh. From the flat uncomfortable place that the people in the recovery business call “post acute withdrawal syndrome,” I couldn’t quite believe that my paranoia had been so imaginative, that terror was a thing I had actually felt, sharply and recently.

There are thoughts I had in the days before I went into rehab that I still don’t want to write down, thoughts that I would imagine a schizophrenic might have: parasites, poisoned water, someone hiding in my house…everyone knows, they all know…One night I collapsed face down on my couch, every light in my house burning, my mind was still racing but I hadn’t eaten or slept in days, so my body collapsed. As clear
as if it was in the other room, a voice called my name, a voice I was sure belonged to someone playing a trick on me, maybe the neighbor across the street was hiding in the basement. I am sure, now, that I hallucinated this voice, but I was as sure, then, that the voice was real when I answered it: “What? Leave me alone.” All this was insane, but what strikes me as more insane, more pitiful, is the fact that I did not get up, I just remained face down on the couch, allowing the conspiracy of killers in my basement free reign.

In the rooms of NA and AA—that is what they are called, “the rooms”—you hear a lot of things over and over; the experience of the addict is universal and clichés proliferate: One day at a time. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. My best thinking got me here. Let go and let God. Most recovering addicts insist that they
never want to forget what brought them to the rooms, their “bottom,” their last high. This is the redemption that my first cigarette of the day brings me: the reminder of how bad it got. Addicts don’t know much about what feelings are. They have suppressed them for a long time, pressed them into the feeling of being high and the feeling of not being high. So, when Bernard, the drug counselor at my outpatient facility, a big black man who had a weird kind of non-greasy jerry curl haircut and fingernails that had some type of fungus on them, demanded of me how I felt about an experience, I was often at a loss. He helped me out by saying, “There ain’t but five,” pointing at piece of oak tag on which someone had written:
F ear
L oneliness
A nger
P ain
P leasure
S adness

There ain’t but five. In one way, the reduction of my emotional range to an acronym has been a good thing. It is a comfort to be able to grasp my feelings, write them down, safely label them and place them back on the shelf, certain that they will all make an appearance at one time or another, that no matter how they mess up my apartment and demand my attention, they are only here to visit. Nevertheless, my emotions are calling the shots, even when they linger in the background. I’m not sure, but I think that all my choices are dictated, in the end, by my desire to comfortably balance my emotions. I try to live so that sadness doesn’t dig too deep, so that loneliness doesn’t penetrate as sharply, so that pleasure doesn’t leave me washed up, writhing.

But there is more to a thing than its name. I cannot describe all the things that happen when I am on that morning drive by looking at an oak tag poster or researching the psychopharmacological effects of nicotine. That sudden drop, that shaky dark vision that the cigarette brings on is something more. It serves several functions. Its transience assures me of its transience. Its darkness shows me light. It is contrast.

I have a warm apartment, fifteen minutes from anywhere. I am looking out window at the water and the hazy silhouette of the Olympics. I have my neighbor’s beagle curled up on the couch. Spring is coming quickly. I will never run out of good books to read. I have a good stereo and my favorite radio station comes in clear. I am my parent’s prodigal son. I have goals. I am in college. I am incredibly happy and light. I will float away.

This is why I thank gravity. This is why I do not want to give up my daily moment of darkness, of heaviness. My moment of nostalgic terror is a glimpse at what my life is not, what it was, what it could be: contrast. When I smoke my morning cigarette, it is the beginning of my prayer of thanks, my ablution. My moment of terror is not just payment for my blessings, but reassurance that all things pass, and all things return.