Dirty words…

A little while back I said I might come back to talk about Shame…

A dirty word indeed!

At the time I meant the film, which I will probably return to later.  But for the moment I seem to find myself thinking about Shame and Recovery…so I am likely to find myself wanting to write a few blogs on this subject.

Shame, I believe, is one of those things at the heart of most addictions and other forms of  emotional illness.  There are many writers who have explored this subject extensively and, through their own courage, helped shed some light on my own experience of Shame.  John Bradshaw.  Patrick Carr.  Brene Brown.  Ernie Kurtz.

In early recovery I learnt to differentiate between Guilt and Shame.  Guilt, I learnt, was a feeling of remorse for what I had done (or not done).  Shame however was a feeling of disgust or fear at what I felt I was, or sometimes what I wasn’t.

It’s incredibly difficult to handle feelings of guilt.  But the solution is ultimately simple.  However hard, we can confront the situation and do something about it…apologise, make amends, forgive ourselves, act differently…

In my experience Shame is a much more difficult problem to tackle.  The feeling of being fundamentally flawed…defective…takes time and determined courage to overcome.  There is no simple solution, no quick fix.  I truly believe though that the most important first step is to talk about it.

Shame doesn’t like being exposed.  It prefers the dark, it prefers secrecy.  It is incredibly difficult to talk about our own shame.  It is even difficult to hear another person talk about theirs.  We rush to reassure them, cheer them up, give them an answer.  Anything but sit and listen…

So there’s the warning…for the next few posts I am likely to be talking about Shame.  If anyone wants to join me for the ride, you’re welcome.  Sit down, strap in and bring a torch πŸ™‚

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I am Responsible

Boy that’s the truth.  I am, I can be responsible for the words that come out of my mouth, and for the things that I do.  I can suit up, show up and try to put a smile on my face.

The problem being when I feeeeeeel so Goddamn responsible for everything  else too….the things you say, how you feel, what you think of me, the choices you make, the mistakes you’re obviously-gonna-make-if-I-don’t-tell-you-one-more-thing-I-just-need-to-tell-you-about-cos-I-am-such-a-helpful-guy….

Oh boy.  Some smart Alec put me in the chair tonight and didn’t think to ask me “has your head been firmly wedged in your behind all day”?  Which obviously it has been πŸ™‚ The meeting was a little chaotic…funny how everything always happens to be chaotic when my mind is busy.  I have this tremendous effect on the world around me πŸ™‚  Everyone who shared got a little too complicated and little old me felt responsible for every word that came out of every mouth.  I didn’t know the format of this meeting and nearly forgot the 7th tradition which of course is the end of the world.  We start with a guided meditation which (gulp) I hadn’t picked and it’s weird today and not one I would of picked and every single pair of eyes is looking at me afterwards thinking “What is this shit?” πŸ™‚  Oh boy oh boy.  I can’t even tell them “It wasn’t me!  I didn’t pick it!  It’s not my fault!” but I practice a little acceptance and smile and look serene.

My good friend used to tell me over and over again “It’s none of my business what other people think of me” and that was a revelation.  Not in the “I don’t care about you, I’ll do what I like” kind of way.  But in the “I need to stop caring what you think of me” kind of way.  Or more correctly, I need to stop caring what I think you think of me.

Thank heavens for the gift of laughter.  The ability to laugh at myself.  The ability to sometimes (just sometimes) know that the world I’m seeing is just a product of the funky glasses I decided to put on that day.  Perception is not reality.  It’s just pretty damn convincing sometimes.

Everyone else said it was a great meeting.  They were lying of course, to spare my feelings.  I know this.  But that’s OK πŸ˜‰

Let’s hope normal service resumes tomorrow.  We apologise for any perceptual disturbance caused by this small pocket of extreme self-centredness and Grandiosity πŸ™‚

Surrender…

…is a gentle action.  The busy busy voice of the ego shouts “gotta do this”, “gotta do that”, “what are we going to do about this”, “are we going to let them get away with that”, “I’m so sick and tired of this…”

The Still Small Voice of surrender whispers “Enough now”.  “Time to put that down”.

It takes a different kind of strength to stop fighting.  The voice of fear always makes surrender sound like a dirty word…the language of weakness, of inaction.  But surrender is not an action that comes without any kind of effort or courage.  It requires resolve.  Quiet, determined resolve.  And that, my friends, is the energy that truly has the power to change the world.  Not from the outside in, but from the inside out.

Who knew? πŸ™‚

Trampling the Spirit…

I’m a great film fan.  I’ll watch anything once, but my favourite films tend to drag me back for more than a few viewings.

I’ve had Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” on my shelf for some time now and finally got around to watching it this week.  I have a personal connection with the film so was curious to see what it was about.  I also liked McQueen’s earlier film “Shame” about Sex Addiction and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone in recovery.  There’s more than a little of the ’12 Step’ about it and I suspect McQueen or someone in his team had some personal experience to draw on.

Anyway…”12 Years”…to be honest not so compelling a film for me but I was drawn to one scene in particular. A white overseer finds himself reduced to working the cotton fields alongside the slave workers he used to manage…Here’s what he has to say about the reasons why he finds himself there:

” I became a little too dependent on the whiskey, a little too undependable on the job. Now before you say I’m just a sorry drunkard, let me state my case. As reliable employment as overseeing is, it is no easy chore on the spirit. I say, no man of conscious can take the lash to another human day in, day out without shredding at his own self. Takes him to a place where he either makes excuses within his mind to be unaffected, or he finds some way to trample his guilty sensations. So, I trampled. With frequency.”

 

  As we often say, “I identify” πŸ™‚ I too have trampled, and I too have made excuses.  Of course, my experience of booze is that it only ever gave me more things to trample down.

Our man has a little more to say about the excuses he made to himself…the idea that just enough trampling would buy him a peaceful way out of his dilemna:

 “I gave in to tales of wealth and prosperity. But such profitable outcomes are reserved for plantation masters. It’s the lot of the rest of us to serve. Now, all I want is to earn a decent wage and get myself home.”

 

Like I say not a great film for me overall, but an interesting nugget hidden inside.  I might come back some time and have more to say about my reaction to “Shame” which also starred the superb Michael Fassbender.  If you haven’t already, look it up πŸ™‚

Why we stay angry…

Ooh…been a little while since I jolted myself into writing on here but a few things this week have prompted me.

I’ve been in a good space for 3 months now.  I mean a very good space.  I was involved in some work that I loved, and that brought me plenty of compliments. Fortune and applause were being thrown my way, which always makes life a little more tolerable πŸ™‚

I’ve taken a little dip in the last week though.  Not a huge one but a dip none the less.  Experience tells me to dig in…this too shall pass.  Yeah yeah yeah…easy to say but true none the less.

What surprised me was what came with it.  A few persistent and belligerent thoughts I haven’t had for some time.  The nagging ones that you can’t seem to drop, no matter how much you’d like to. Like anger, at someone I haven’t even seen for a few years, and towards whom I had thought I had mostly resolved my feelings.

Hmmm.  Hello again, old friend πŸ™‚

This was someone I grew very close to.  A long term relationship.  I didn’t like how it ended, which of course is perfectly natural.  I don’t like endings.  But the salient point is that it ended.  That person was probably doing their best, as was I, but somewhere in the middle it wasn’t good enough.

So there I was a few evenings ago lying in bed, alone, feeling alone and…replaying the tape as we like to say.  I won’t go in to too much detail as the detail doesn’t matter, just to say I was angry again at the things they had done, and the things they hadn’t.  It passed, as it often does.  Now the anger is mostly gone and what’s left is “what lies beneath”…Sadness,  loneliness,  a yearning for what might have been.

In those few hours though when I was looking for comfort, I stumbled across something in a book that seemed to fit.  Something about the reasons why we stay angry.

One of these reasons, the book reminded me, is because anger provides a perverse way of staying connected to someone we are no longer physically connected to.  Someone we don’t want to let go of.

Love and anger are two equally powerful, and often overwhelming, emotions.  Falling in love is scary, it comes sometimes with a kind of out of control feeling.  The early throes of love are quite compelling…because something about that feeling of being overwhelmed with emotion is exciting, however uncomfortable it feels.  The other person becomes a kind of fantasy…I might know little about them, but I delight in filling in the blanks…ascribing them good qualities and bad…imagining our first fight, first make-up, imagine growing old together, imagine breaking up in a week and all the heart break that will entail. Obsessing, having your thoughts consumed with another…uncomfortable, yes.  Attractive? Hell,  yes.  If it came in a pellet, I would be the happiest lab rat in the world.

I can see the parallel.  Hating someone, feeling injured by them, rehashing all of that…alone or to anyone who will still listen…It isn’t really as much fun as being in love, but it comes close.

The secret for me, in emotional recovery, has been to take a look at these things and be honest, with myself, about what I am up to.  Admit that I am having fun. Admit that I am having a whale of a time making a fantasy figure of hate out of someone who was only ever another human being, who when all is said and done I failed to stay connected to. Admit however that staying in this moment is not in my best interests.  Admit that I miss them.  Admit that the moment is gone, and it can’t be recreated.

So it’s time to admit…Lisa, wherever you may be…I miss you.  Part of me wants to stay connected, in any way I can.  But something else inside me knows it’s time to let go.

Take care, pretty girl πŸ™‚

Comfortable In Your Own Skin

There’s a popular phrase in Recovery Circles that most Alcoholics and most Introverts can probably identify with: being “Comfortable in your own skin”. It’s a good thing, something to be aimed for in life. It can also sound like a curse or an accusation to the shy, the awkward, the ashamed and the afflicted.

lizard-shedding-skin-wallpaper-1

What I knew for sure when I walked into my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous is that I wasn’t. Hell, I didn’t even feel comfortable in most of the clothes I owned, let alone my own skin and as much as I fought the idea, and rationalised, and justified, and blamed, and judged I knew this was part of the problem. You see, I’ll tell you a secret…someone like me – warped and flawed as I secretly was – well I would never be able to be comfortable in my own skin. Mine wasn’t a very comfortable skin to be stuck in.

I walked in wearing my best suit, with a fake smile plastered on and I tried to hide in the back…but something hit home that night. I started to get some hope. Only a slither though. At this point in my life, I had genuinely come to believe that I couldn’t smile; there was something wrong with my face. I really didn’t like happy people, they made me suspicious. Attractive people were not on my Christmas list either. Popular people I just plain looked down on…small talk and gossip, the necessities of casual friendship, were for stupid people. They were dishonest. Pretending to like people you had just met was pretty dishonest too. I had the world sussed out, and I was a man content in my own misery – though you wouldn’t have known it to look at my face.

All of this was an extreme version of me. I had been worn down by years of drinking and it made me cynical. Years of isolating myself, being ashamed of who I thought I was and what I couldn’t remember that I had done. Years of self-defeat and self-destruction. Even so, there was part of me that had always felt this way.

When I first started attending house parties and gatherings at the age of 14 or 15, there was something exciting about them, or at least at the idea of being at them. I was definitely shy, but had a good handful of masks I had developed to cover this up. I believe today in those early times, alcohol treated my Shyness. It took the edge off the nerves and allowed me to sit at the corner of the room without wanting to run out. I could even look calm, relaxed and at ease on the surface at least.

I also believe drinking suited the Introvert in me – and I do believe there is a difference between shyness (anxiety) and introversion (personality). You see, I was perfectly happy watching all the goings on from the corner of the room. Every now and then I would strike up an interesting conversation, but I didn’t want to get up and dance, talk to the girls or act raucous. Besides the nerves, party conversations and goings on tired me…truly drained me. I was always waiting for an opportunity to delve into a more intense one-to-one conversation, that was where I got my energy from and oftentimes I would have to wait until 2 or 3 in the morning when everyone else was coming down and the energy in the room matched my own. Meanwhile, my senses were working overtime just watching the comings and goings and being connected to it all in my own way. I was perfectly happy watching but – and this is the crux – I didn’t think I was supposed to be happy watching. Drinking gave me something to do. It kept me busy. A glass at the mouth was a great way to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. I couldn’t dance because I had a drink. You couldn’t judge me for sitting around doing nothing, because I was Drinking…and man, that was the kind of person I was!

I know now I developed a whole set of unuseful defences around the same time…judgements, opinions, ideas about who I was, who other people were and so on. Or at least they became unuseful later on in life as I held on to them. The same old guys who were always hovering around the same old girls – they were idiots, they were pests. Girls respected a guy who gave them space and respect, and the ones that didn’t – well they were no better than they deserved. Loud talk and gossip were immature and irritating. Intelligent people had some reserve and spoke when they needed to. Real men didn’t dance, but they could hold their drink.

All of these things, when I look at them in the cold light of day, were defences. I told them to myself because I didn’t think I could be something that I thought I was supposed to be. There’s a phrase in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that tells us we need to “Let go of Old Ideas” and situations like this have been fertile ground in my own recovery…learning how these deep-seated beliefs and ideas I have about myself,other people and the world around me took hold and continue to affect me today.

But I want to go back to a phrase in that last paragraph; I didn’t think I could be something that I thought I was supposed to be. That’s the same feeling I had when I walked into that first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in March 2009. It’s a feeling that haunted me even sometime into my recovery. It’s why I said that the phrase ‘comfortable in your own skin’ can sound like an accusation to the awkward and the uncomfortable. If you truly believe a person ‘like you’ can never be comfortable, it’s going to be mighty irritating to hear other people talk about just how damn comfortable they feel. That’s where those defences, and those justifications kick in. I know this, for I have truly been there. The thing I would most like to go back and tell my 15 year old self is that there was absolutely no need for those defences. I am not terminally unique. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with me. There have been many quirks and kinks to iron out, but I am not the fundamentally flawed person I often thought myself to be. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

Shame. That is essentially what it is and I believe that shame is at the core of many addictions and unhelpful behavioural patterns. The belief:
1) That we are essentially lacking or defective in some way
2) That we ought to be some way other than how we are

I had these beliefs when I was younger and they helped to give addiction a running headstart for me. The psychological need was already there, alcohol was just one of the many crutches I leaned on to try and get me to where I thought I should be.

Things are different today. Despite my early cynicism, I know what it means to say I am comfortable in my own skin…despite the occasional bout of anxiety or shyness. I can smile, and I laugh often…sometimes even at myself. I’m connected to the world around me and I am happy with my place in it. I don’t believe I’m the worse thing in the world. It’s true, I think that such an exaggerated sense of defectiveness is the product of an inflated Ego. Low Self Esteem and massive ego, the allegorical “King Baby”, or the “piece of shit at the centre of the universe”.

Gently unpicking these beliefs has been a slow but useful process for me. On the other hand I have become much more comfortable with those parts of myself which are just my basic nature. I am an Introvert. Small talk is tiring, intense conversation is the Manna I live for. I am comfortable speaking to a crowd, or one-to-one, but groups of 3 or 4 leave me floundering. I internalise things. I think a lot, and am often accused of ‘over-thinking’. I need more time alone than most people to recharge my energy, but when I come back to the world I can be a vibrant part of it.

I am comfortable with all of that today. I am comfortable in my own skin. The really odd part is, the more comfortable I get in my own skin, the more I like the look of yours. Not that I would want to live in it, but it suits you. You are exactly how you are supposed to be, as am I. I even like Extroverts these days. They’re not bad people…you just need to take them in small doses πŸ™‚