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.


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 bĂ©chamel 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!

Why I’m Quitting Anti-Depressants

Given that I’ve had a rough time in the last week with depression, it probably seems strange for me to quit taking my anti-depressant medication. Let me explain…

[NOTE: It can be dangerous to suddenly stop taking any medication. There can be unpredictable and serious side-effects. Always consult your doctor before changing your medication.]

For several years now (on and off), I’ve been taking an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) called Fluoxetine. It’s also known by the brand name, Prozac.

Helpful

I feel that Fluoxetine has really helped me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I may well have killed myself without it. It’s reduced some of the symptoms of depression.

I think of Fluoxetine as giving me a kind of force field against strong emotions. I’m often quite a sensitive person – little things can produce large emotional reactions in me. I put this down to difficulties in childhood stemming from having an alcoholic mother.

Fluoxetine basically makes everyday life easier. In essence, little things bother me less.

There are plenty of times where it can be really helpful to experience less emotion. Some people find it helps them deal with a stressful work environment, for example.

Dealing with life

However, I’m often left with a nagging feeling that Fluoxetine prevents me from experiencing the full spectrum of life. Positive emotions are numbed as well as negative ones.

With 12 Steps fellowships, there’s a focus on “life on life’s terms”. One of the reasons addicts might use drugs is a desire to escape reality… and I can definitely relate to that. I’ve realised that my SSRI medication is cushioning me from being able to deal with life on life’s terms.

I want to build my mental and emotional resilience and toughness. I believe I have the tools and support systems in place to do that now, so I don’t need to depend on SSRIs.

I’m much better at using mindfulness to counter unhelpful thoughts. And I’ve got more of a social support system, thanks to the 12 Steps fellowship.

I’m very familiar with CBT and REBT, which are both great tools for tackling depression.

I also know that if I maintain my physical health through the golden triangle of a good sleep routine, healthy food and exercise, that makes a huge difference to my mental health.

Less effective

Another reason for stopping Fluoxetine is that it often becomes less effective over several months and years, meaning patients need to increase their dose in order to obtain the same benefit. Our bodies are quite clever at achieving homeostasis – in other words, adjusting to changes we make. Sometimes this includes our long-term medications.

Until a few weeks ago, I was on the maximum possible dose for Fluoxetine in the UK. So, if my depression worsened, there was no way for me to increase my dose again.

But I know from past experience that if I have a few months off Fluoxetine, my brain seems to “reset”. That means if I get badly depressed again, I can start Fluoxetine on the minimum possible dose.

Not my first time

Generally speaking, it’s advised to “wean off” SSRIs, in other words: reduce the dose very gradually. This minimises any unpleasant withdrawal effects. Cold-turkeying like I’m doing can be quite risky.

However, I have cold-turkeyed Fluoxetine twice before, meaning I know what to expect. Fortunately it has one of the longest half-lives of any anti-depressant, meaning it takes weeks to fully leave your body. This means that even if you stop taking it suddenly, your body and brain still have a relatively long time to adjust.

Other anti-depressant medications have much shorter half-lives, meaning that withdrawal effects can be much more severe and potentially dangerous.

I’ve stopped taking Fluoxetine several times in the last few years, usually for the same reasons. But I’m fully prepared to start taking it again if I get seriously depressed.

There’s no point in being medication-free if I can’t handle day-to-day life, or if I constantly want to kill myself.

Withdrawal Effects

One slightly weird withdrawal effect I get is “brain zaps”. These are hard to describe unless you’ve had them yourself, but it feels like a very quick, mild electric shock. I wonder if this has something to do with varying levels of neurotransmitters in the brain as it adjusts. It’s not painful and it’s not entirely unpleasant… just a bit weird.

Another withdrawal effect is that I’ll experience emotions more strongly. That means I’m more likely to randomly burst into tears for no apparent reason. That’s fairly likely to happen at least once in the next few weeks.

This happened once before to me – during an interview! I think my tears were a big part of the reason why I didn’t get the position. Crying made me seem emotionally unstable, which was a big issue for this particular role.

So be warned if you’re thinking of reducing your own anti-depressant meds! Make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for!


Hopefully this explains all the ins and outs of why I’ve stopped taking Fluoxetine. Again, I have no problems restarting it again at some point in the future (in consultation with my doctor), if it seems like depression is getting the better of me and my other tools aren’t sufficient.

However I’m cautiously optimistic that now I’ll be able to stop taking anti-depressants permanently. Wish me luck!