Step One

Today I “read out my Step one”, to use 12 Steps parlance. It’s a big milestone for addicts.

In everyday language, that means I spent three hours at my sponsor’s house, reading out my answers to questions from Step one in a book called the NA Step Working Guide.

I like Russell Brand’s version of Step one – we admitted we’re a bit fucked and need some help. That certainly applies to me.

I’ve written my answers gradually over the last two months. There was a lot of procrastination and maybe a touch of fear. I’d been a bit worried I’d get into an intellectual debate with my sponsor, which was the last thing I wanted. I’m comfortable with my beliefs and don’t want someone to try to fill my head with dogma or unsolicited advice.

Thankfully that didn’t happen. We shared our own experiences and opinions very honestly. And today has actually been really enjoyable. I’m glad I did it. I get on well with my sponsor and I’m grateful to him for giving his time to help me so freely.

And so now it’s on to Step two…

But fortunately I think I’ve done most of the hard work for that already, especially around my personal concept of God / Higher Power.

Bring it on!

I’m Obsessed with DIY!

I’ve been quiet for a few days and regular readers may be wondering if everything’s OK.

Yes, it is, absolutely… I’ve just been obsessed with various DIY and home maintenance tasks recently! (I know, I need to get a life, right?!)

I’ve been getting huge enjoyment from sanding, filling, painting, varnishing and general tidying.

One of the mini-projects I’ve been working on is my home PC, AKA…

The Bollinger BattleStation™

Below the desk is still a work in progress – there’s some more cable tidying required. But overall I’m really proud of this so far. It used to be much messier!

I’ve been doing quite a few other projects too, but I’m not going to share any details or pictures here… my wife is away for the week and I want it to be a nice surprise for her when she gets back.

Send me into orbit

I’ve even bought myself a “random orbital sander”. I had no idea what one of those was until a few days ago.

Basically it sands things in a round pattern (hence “orbital”) – and much faster than by hand. It’s my new favourite tool – I’ve been sanding everything in sight.

(Note to self: You really are a sad, lonely man.)


A New Look!

Today I’ve given my blog a makeover, heavily inspired by my friend Vee and her excellent blog Millenial Life Crisis. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

My blog is now cleaner, less cluttered, easier on the eye and, dare I say it, a little prettier?

Vee also prompted me to totally rewrite my About page, so it’s no longer snooze-inducing.

Vee is a Communications and PR Specialist from Canada. She’s been giving me advice on improving my blog and developing a marketing strategy. She’s smart and really knows her stuff. She’s a great writer too, so check out her blog.


The New Way I Deal with Sadness

Now I’m off my anti-depressant medication and following a 12 Steps program to recover from addiction, I’m starting to experience stronger and more frequent emotions.

Argh! Big, scary emotions! Like sadness… the dreaded precursor to depression!

Fortunately, thanks to mindfulness, I have a new way of relating to feelings of sadness which make it much easier to deal with.

My Old Thinking

“I feel sad” ->
“There must be a reason why I feel sad” ->
My clever brain tries to find the reason(s) why I’m sad ->
“Found it! I feel sad because X and Y” ->
My clever brain makes mountains out of molehills. ->
Ever deeper spirals of sadness ensue. Sometimes anger. ->
Tears and depression
. Boo hoo.

My New Thinking

“Hmmm, I’ve noticed there’s a feeling of sadness here. Interesting.” ->
“I’ll just allow the feeling of sadness to be here, without avoiding it.” ->
My clever brain gets on with something else. ->
Some time elapses. ->
“Oh, I don’t feel sad any more. Nice.”


Self Will vs God’s Will

At my 12 Steps meeting last night, we each shared our thoughts about Step 3.

Step 3 of the 12 Steps states:

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

It was really interesting to hear other people’s interpretations of what this step means.

For a lot of people, the use of the word “God” is problematic. I agree – for me it’s a significant intellectual hurdle.

As I progress on my 12 Steps journey, I’m constantly trying to walk a fine line of incorporating 12 Steps ideas into my set of beliefs, but without selling out or fooling myself into accepting ideas which, in my heart, I know I can’t accept.

Here are a couple of interpretations of Step 3 which I liked (I’m paraphrasing):

  1. It’s about learning to do the right thing, as opposed to indulging our impulses.
  2. It’s about learning to think of others, being self-less, rather than always thinking about ourselves and our own interests.

Both of those interpretations remind me of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s Rule 7:

Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

In other words, do the right thing, rather than merely what’s fun, easy, interesting, or in your own self-interest.

That reminds me, I wrote a post about “doing the right thing” a few weeks ago.

12 Steps Without God

In previous blog posts, I’ve explored different ideas about what God might be (according to my own personal understanding).

Most recently I settled on a definition of God that’s something like this:

“God is something like the combination of 2 things:
1) The divine spark which resides in each of us – our potential for greatness;
2) The power of the community of people at 12 Steps meetings.

Bollinger, R. (2019)

… Buuuuut… I have to admit, in the last week I’ve really been losing faith.

I’m now finding it hard to believe in any kind of God at all, even one as loosely and generously defined as above.

It’s not God that got me where I am today, it’s me.

Does that make me arrogant? Does that make me full of self-will? These questions genuinely trouble me.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think I’ve got everything figured out. Not by a long shot. Every single day I learn something new in my 12 Steps journey.

I’m trying hard to always be open-minded and humble. I want to always be ready to admit I may have been wrong about something. I want to learn from everyone I talk to.

But that doesn’t mean I have to believe in any form of God, does it? He just seems superfluous.

I believe in me… my ability to learn and change and grow.

I really hope that doesn’t make me arrogant. Personally, I find it empowering.

It reminds me that I’m not a useless, broken, unworthy soul. It reminds me that I am capable of greatness… if I put in the hard work.


Healthy Naughty Food: Chicken Parmo

Making Healthy Versions of Your Favourite Takeaway Foods

In a slight departure from this blog’s usual topics, I thought I’d bring you a cheeky recipe.

I’ve just finished a 72-hour fast. This is the meal with which I chose to break my fast…

My Healthy Chicken Parmo

My healthy chicken parmo

The Parmo’s History

Before we get into those all-important macro-nutrient details (see below), here’s a bit of history on my favourite takeaway food…

A typical takeaway chicken parmo

“The parmo, or Teesside Parmesan,[1] is a dish originating in MiddlesbroughTeesside, and a popular item of take-away food in North East England. It consists of a breaded cutlet of chicken or pork topped with a white béchamel sauce and cheese, usually cheddar cheese. The name of the dish is a reference to the Italian dish parmigiana, and its variants such as chicken parmigiana, which are made with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The parmo ranked 20th in Britain’s Top 20 Favourite Takeaways”

Wikipedia page for Parmo

The Healthy Conversion

Traditional parmos use deep-fried chicken in breadcrumbs. I just used a plain chicken breast cooked in the oven – much healthier.

Takeaways will absolutely smother their parmos with bechamel sauce and cheese. It’s often a bit excessive, but it tastes amazing. For my healthy parmo, I eschewed the bechamel, opting for peri peri chilli sauce instead. I used a modest 50g (ish) of cheddar cheese on top. I thought about adding some mayo, but it’s not really necessary.

Takeaways often provide a choice of additional toppings on their parmos, a bit like on a pizza. For my healthy parmo, I added a few slices of salami milano and spicy chorizo. They’re hard to see in the photo because they’re buried under the cheese!

Parmos commonly come with a tonne of chips, maybe a little salad if you’re lucky. I added cherry tomatoes (hidden!), grated carrot and rocket leaves. Yum!

Macronutrients

As promised, here are those crucial macro details for my healthy parmo.

Protein: lots
Carbs: not much
Fat: a bit

Total calories: I’m guessing 400-600 kcal.

I don’t count calories. My aim on this diet is to use my hunger as a guide. When I’m on a low carb diet, I tend to feel less hungry anyway.


What do you think? Are you tempted to try a parmo?


3 Day Fast – The Results

As I write this, it’s coming up to lunchtime on the final day of my first ever 3-day fast.

That’s right, that means eating nothing for 72 hours.

I’ve tried to fast for 3 days once before, but I cheated with the odd snack on the 2nd day and I think I gave up altogether on the 3rd day, so it didn’t really count.

This time, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind… I’m going to make it.

But Why???

What kind of idiot doesn’t eat for 3 days?!

It’s not some kind of crazy weight loss attempt (although I do expect I’ll have lost about 2lbs of fat in 3 days… and even more water).

I do want to lose weight, but that’s not the main reason I’m fasting…

Recently I’ve been hovering at just under 100kg (15.75 stone) and a little under 30% body fat. For a 6ft male in his 40s, this makes me borderline obese. That’s something I really want to avoid, it just feels like a line I never want to cross.

But the main reason for this fast is to improve my depression.

In the past I’ve found that a ketogenic diet is fantastic for my mental health. By fasting for 3 days, it’s a great way to kickstart my body into ketosis, in other words making my body burn its existing fat stores.

Health Benefits of Ketosis

There seems to be good scientific evidence that, for some people, chronic inflammation in the body can be a contributor to serious conditions such as depression.

Excess sugar consumption can cause inflammation, probably through prolonged periods of high amounts of insulin in the blood as the body attempts to deal with the sugar overload.

I track my moods daily – I’ve certainly found that the day after a heavy sugar binge (at least 2 tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream), my mood and energy levels really suffer. It’s almost like an alcohol hangover.

And by contrast, I’ve found that after several weeks on a low carb diet (such as Whole30), my depression, mood and energy levels are much better the best they’ve been in years.

My thinking is sharper, I feel happier, and I have more energy.

In fact there are a whole raft of physical and mental health benefits from fasting and/or low carb diets.

And you don’t even have to do it for 3 whole days – intermittent fasting is a big thing now. It’s not just a fad, lots of people have even been able to permanently reverse diabetes by changing to a low-carb or ketogenic diet, and doing some kind of regular fasting.

A Low Carb Diet

After I’ve completed this fast tonight, I’m going low carb… not quite classified as a ketogenic diet, but not far off. I’ll be aiming for fewer than 10% of my total calories to come from carbs.

My diet will consist mostly of whole, minimally processed proteins and fats, with some fruits and vegetables. That means a lot of meat. Yummy!

Dealing with Hunger

Predictably, one the most difficult part of fasting for 3 days is hunger. But it’s really not that bad. Most people simply aren’t used to going several hours without food, so it feels uncomfortable.

Hunger comes and goes in waves and I’ve found it pretty easy to ignore. I remind myself that I’ve made a choice not to eat for 72 hours. And I have the mental strength and resilience not to give in.

Drinking black coffee helps to suppress hunger. Plus, I just try to keep myself busy and not think about food.

Other Considerations

Keeping hydrated is obviously important, so I’ve been having lots of black coffee, water and herbal teas.

I’ve also been supplementing certain micro-nutrients. While fasting it’s really important to get enough of the following four in particular:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Without these supplements, people who are fasting can feel pretty awful, a set of symptoms known as “keto flu”.

So Excited!

I feel so proud of myself for achieving my first ever 3 day fast. I know I still have around 8 hours to go, but at this point I’m so close that there’s zero chance of me quitting now.

Also, tonight I’ll pick up my 12 Steps keyring for being clean from drugs for 90 days.

It’s shaping up to be a really good day!

At around 9pm tonight, I’ll be able to eat again. Whilst it’s tempting to celebrate with a massive takeaway… I really fancy a chicken parmo (fried chicken with tonnes of cheese melted on top). But it’s recommended to start with just a handful or two of almonds to ease any digestive discomfort.

I’ll probably compromise… some almonds on the way home from tonight’s 12 Steps meeting, then a homemade (i.e. low carb) parmo, with fresh chicken and salad.

Yummy!