Unlocking Connection

I had a mindblowing lightbulb moment yesterday. I think I’ve found the (light) switch that turns on my sense of connection to other people.

What Is Connection?

I absolutely love the feeling of connection with other people. It’s a really special thing.

Unfortunately, that feeling would come and go, seemingly for no real reason.

I’m now wondering – what’s the average percentage of time for people to feel connected to each other? I imagine there’s a full spectrum of experience…

Some (unfortunate) people feel isolated and alone most of the time – very rarely connected. And other (lucky) people will feel connected to others almost all the time.

I have intermittent depression and I’m a drug addict (God, it’s still a bit painful admitting that, but it’s important I’m honest).

When my mood is low, I often get a strong urge to isolate myself from others. And as my drug use became more problematic, I hid that part of myself away from others too. At times, I even shut myself away from my own wife!

I’m quite introverted to begin with. I really enjoy time on my own and I find social situations quite draining. Usually, a few hours in the company of others is my limit… and then I need to spend time on my own again to relax and recharge my batteries.

But I really come alive in 1:1 chats with people where we both listen intently and talk about issues which feel meaningful. In other words, not just everyday smalltalk.

For me, listening seems to be at the heart of connection. Actually, it’s more than just listening, let me try to expand…

For me, connection to others involves:

  • Listening carefully to what the other person is saying
  • Maintaining an attitude of empathy and kindness
  • Being non-judgemental
  • Wanting the best for the other person

Does that make sense? Do you get what I mean? Am I missing any important elements of connection?

The Cause of Disconnection

When I feel disconnected from others, my thoughts and attention are turned inward. I become concerned mainly with my own thoughts and feelings.

When I feel this way, other people often feel a little threatening… and that feeling is at the root of the social anxiety I often experience.

It’s fear… fear of others… fear that I’m going to be judged. Fear that I’m not good enough.

This fear and disconnection can become a vicious spiral…

I feel a little low / fearful… so I tend to build a psychological barrier against others… my thoughts and attention turn inwards… which only exacerbates the unpleasant feelings of depression and isolation.

I’d often crave a sense of connection with others, but felt unable to break through that barrier of fear and self-analysis.

The Cure

Yesterday, the focus at our 12 Steps meeting was love. In our fellowship, we have an unconditional positive regard for our fellow addicts. We want the best for them. We want to help them recover. And we listen carefully to each other as we share our stories. This is what I mean by “love”.

There’s a saying I’ve heard often at 12 Steps meetings but not quite fully understood…

“We only keep what we have by giving it away.”

I thought that phrase meant that if we want to stay clean and sober, it’s important to help other addicts. But the cynical part of me kinda dismissed this idea as merely a handy way to increase the membership of the 12 Steps fellowship and therefore keep the organisation alive.

But now I see this very differently. I think that quote is talking about love and connection.

Here’s what I realised…

“We only stay connected with others when we give away our love.”

Bollinger, R. (2019)

This is the cure for feeling isolated and disconnected! Rather than focussing inwards and waiting for a feeling of love and connection to magically appear, we have to create it ourselves!

When we feel a sense of love and compassion towards others, it is us that feels love.

If you want to feel love and connection with others, then you have to generate a feeling of love and connection towards someone else.

You have to give away the feeling of love to someone else, in order to keep it yourself.

This strikes me as gob-smackingly profound. It’s fucking amazing!

When I make myself feel love, empathy, compassion and warmth towards another person, suddenly my heart opens up.

Say goodbye to introverted introspection. Gone is the social anxiety. Gone is the fear of others.

Say hello to feeling connected and experiencing a deep sense of love.

“You cannot feel love and fear at the same time. So if you want to feel connected to others, make yourself feel love towards someone else. Your fear (social anxiety) and sense of isolation will evaporate.”

Bollinger, R. 2019

I’ve realised that I can no longer wait around passively for a feeling of love and connection to come over me. I have to make it happen by giving away my love to someone else.

This one realisation has the potential to massively change the way that I relate to other people.

For the 2-3 weeks when I experienced drug-induced psychosis, I had virtually zero social anxiety. I felt very connected to all aspects of myself, and almost as strongly connected to other people (when I paid them close attention).

Sadly that feeling faded as the psychosis worse off. And my social anxiety gradually returned.

But now, thanks to this realisation I’ve had about love and connection, I feel hopeful that I can banish that fear of others and my social anxiety.

I’ve found the key to unlocking a new mode of being which will bring so much more joy and love into my life.

I no longer need to feel afraid of others! I can connect with people at will!

Now that is pretty fucking awesome.

Where I am Today

So much has been changing for me recently. On certain matters it feels like I change my mind daily. But far from feeling uncertain or adrift, I’m feeling confident that I’m on the right path.

I thought it might be useful briefly to recap where I am today and some of my beliefs. These are subject to change and revision!

I’ve started reading about the work of psychologist Carl Jung – it’s fascinating. Many of his ideas seem to chime with intuitions or part-formed ideas I’ve been mulling over recently.

We each hold a divine spark within ourselves, in our unconscious mind. Some people can go their whole lives without realising it’s there. But others of us, myself included, keep getting hints and fleeting connections with our inner divinity.

This divine spark is potentially God-like. It’s like a physical embodiment of what we’re all capable of. It’s pointing the way to being the very best me.

Now, when I think of God, I’m referring to this God-like potential inside myself, this little slice of heaven.

One way (maybe the best way) we can get in touch with the God inside us is through meditation. When we’re still and pay attention… we can start to feel a deep inner peace. We “wake up” in a very real sense.

I now view meditation as an essential part of my spiritual journey.

In mid-August, I took a huge quantity of DXM. I refer to the following 2-3 weeks as a Spiritual Awakening. Chemically, something happened inside my brain which enabled me to become more closely in touch with my unconscious mind, including the spark of God or Higher Power within me.

My Spiritual Awakening isn’t just a singular moment in time. It’s an ongoing process. Every day, I’m waking up more. There’s also a tight correlation with another kind of waking up… every time I bring my conscious awareness back to the present moment (i.e. being mindful), that’s another form of waking up.

Through these two forms of waking, I’m getting closer to the real me and also the me that I’m capable of becoming – the best version of myself.

I’m now thinking that this true purpose of life… or at least the true purpose of my life. It’s to manifest the divine spark within me as much as possible in my everyday life. It’s to become Holy – the best version of me possible.

This won’t happen overnight. It’s a daily process, requiring continual effort.

I will make mistakes, I will forget things and need to re-learn them. I’m embracing a model of “two steps forward and one step back.” In other words, I’m being kind and patient with myself. I’m not going to quit just because things don’t seem to be working so well on a particular day.

I still have some reservations and reluctance regarding the official 12 Steps and the associated “stepwork”. I really dislike dogma – it’s necessary to be generic in order to deliver teachings in a way that’s suitable for the masses. But I am not the masses.

I’m determined to keep thinking critically and keep integrating the 12 Steps teachings in ways which resonate deeply with my other beliefs. I’m not just going to accept things on blind faith – that’s simply not who I am. I would be insulting my inner divinity by uncritically accepting everything I’m told.

I do have a “self”, but it’s not constant. In fact, in my case, it seems to change more frequently and more radically than most people’s. I don;t see that as a weakness, I see it as a strength.

I think of my sense of self as like an eddy in a stream. Over time, it may appear to hold a mostly consistent form, but it’s also ever-changing in many small ways.

Having a loose sense of self makes it easier for me to ignore my ego, which often just gets in the way of my spiritual development. It’s important for me to stay humble and open-minded, willing to re-evaluate my thinking at any point in time.

I don’t need to be right all the time. It’s far more important for me to be kind, both to myself and to others.

I want to embody the spiritual principles of Truth, Love, Courage and Humility in everything that I do. Again, I don’t expect to be perfect. I will make mistakes. But these mistakes are necessary and I’ll welcome them. Every “mistake” is an opportunity for learning.

I’m going to keep building the gap between stimulus and response in my own mind. I’ll do this through a daily meditation practice. This will have a huge effect on reducing any feelings of anxiety, depression or addiction. In essence, I’ll become free.

I’ll take personal responsibility for my life. I’ll pray for guidance on how best to do this. When I pray, I’m praying to the inner God-like potential that lives in my unconscious.

I’ll use the Serenity Prayer – this seems to embody the concept of personal responsibility.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer

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The Dogma of 12 Steps

I knew something needed to change…

For the last week, I’ve been wrestling with certain aspects of 12 Steps again.

I’ve tried “surrendering” to my Higher Power and to my program…

… but that’s simply not who I am. I’ve always been someone who questions everything.

Some people can simply accept things on faith, ignoring stuff they find problematic. I’m not like that.

But I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I didn’t want to quit 12 Steps altogether. If I could find ways to make it work for me intellectually, I wanted to keep going with it.

Well, the good news is that I’ve found ways past all my sticking points… For now!

I wasn’t comfortable with anthropomorphising my disease of addiction. “Your disease is trying to trick you,” just didn’t make sense any more. Now, I see it merely as a need to stay aware of unhelpful thinking patterns.

I was struggling with the concepts of God and Higher Power. But now I see that God is in all of us. We each hold a divine spark. We just need to get in touch with it and manifest it in the world to the best of our ability.

I’m not happy with the traditional 12 Steps. So I’ve been researching alternative, secular versions. And I think I can find a set which work for me. I may customise them to be uniquely right for me.

It’s really important to me that I stay intellectually consistent. If I feel like I’m fooling myself then 12 Steps isn’t going to work for me.

I’m also fed up with the dogmatic nature of the “step work” workbook. I want to tackle the 12 Steps in my own way, with no pressure to adhere to dogma.

I’m aware that I change my mind a lot. I’m not very consistent over time.

But at least I’m not burying my head in the sand to things I find problematic.

I’m being true to myself. I’m honouring the divine within me.

And it feels right.

Shiny New Things

OK, let’s hold our horses here. I need to take stock.

In the last few days, it would seem I’d gotten myself into “shiny new thing” mode with respect to meditation.

Lots of us experience this “grasping” – we’re looking for something exciting to change the way we feel, as some sort of escape from everyday reality.

I was looking to meditation to change or raise my state of consciousness. It seemed new and exciting, like visiting a foreign land… or taking drugs and exploring the interior of your own mind.

Yep, “shiny new thing” mode seems to be closely related to addiction. And for that reason, as an addict, I ought to be especially wary of it.

It’s ironic that I would (accidentally) use mindfulness as the object of addiction, given that if used correctly, mindfulness has potential to reduce exactly these kinds of addictive urges.

Many of us are familiar with this kind of grasping. It’s at the core of retail therapy and materialism… we get excited about a potential new purchase (often this pre-purchase stage is the best part of the whole process).

Then we buy the shiny new thing… and it makes us happy for a short time.

But very quickly it becomes “normal”. Our happiness returns to baseline levels.

And so we begin the hunt for the next shiny new thing, be it new clothes, a car, a new job, a pay rise, a fancier place to live, a new partner… you get the idea. The cycle repeats.

I’m slightly embarassed to admit that I engaged in some retail therapy last night. A few times recently, I’ve bought videogames thinking I would love them and would definitely play them and get my money’s worth out of them. But then quite often I’d buy the game and immediately lose interest in it.

Well I’m not doing that again! I’ve clearly fallen out of love with videogames.” I’d say to myself.

But then I’d do it again before too long.

Fortunately, I’ve received some wise advice from Meredith Hooke at ZenSmarts. She’s a certified meditation instructor. I’m honoured that she’s taken the time to help me.

“For my own spiritual practice, meditation and mindfulness help me remember to keep coming back to what’s real and not touch what isn’t real – by not touching the “I” thoughts. “I” thoughts yearn for something to change. And yet it is this yearning that creates the despair. Be aware of this thought disrupting you. It’s just a thought. Nothing is wrong, except for the thought telling you something is wrong. You’ll be much more accepting of what is if you didn’t try to change it. “

“Know this is a process. Our grasping (addictive) tendencies are very strong and take time to weed out. Just remember in every moment that you come back to the stillness inside you have woken up. The more you come back to the stillness the more you will trust it. I promise you – just keep coming back- no matter how many times you follow the grasping as soon as you realize you’re doing it – let it go and come back to the stillness inside – this is where you want to be. ❤️ “

Meredith Hooke, certified meditation and mindfulness instructor

Doesn’t Meredith just beam with kindness and compassion!

Thank you so much!

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Questions About Mindfulness

Calling all meditation teachers and spiritual gurus!

I’m realising the importance of mindfulness in becoming the person I want to be. It seems to be a core ingredient in evolving my consciousness to the next level.

[Richard Dawkins has left the chat] 😉

It also seems that mindfulness may just be a big part of the answer for massively reducing my suffering from depression and addiction issues.

I have quite a few questions… can you help answer them for me?

Is there a limit to how mindful you can be?

I used to think that I’d maybe use mindfulness just for 2-3 short moments per day. I imagined that I’d be feeling a bit stressed, anxious, depressed or otherwise lost in thought. And so I’d “check-in” with myself using mindfulness, which would help restore a sense of peace.

But now I’m wondering…

Is it possible to be mindful all the time?

I imagine people like Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama have gotten pretty close. And when people are on a week-long meditation retreat, I imagine the goal is to be mindful for as much time as possible.

Can we be mindful and think at the same time?

Or will I shift out of mindfulness whenever I’m concentrating on thought? Are thinking and mindfulness mutually exclusive?

Is there an ideal ratio of thinking to mindfulness for optimal peace?

I imagine it’s impossible to prevent ourselves from thinking all of the time. Thinking is really useful! And it’s difficult to get anything done if you can’t ever think.

Would it be realistic to aim to be mindful for 50% of one’s waking moments, and engaged in productive thought for the other 50%?

How can I get better at distinguishing between productive and unproductive thoughts?

My assumption is that worrying and ruminating (obsessing about the past) are completely unproductive.

However planning (in a positive mindset) is clearly productive.

And reviewing the past in order to find lessons – that’s clearly productive too.

What other types of thoughts are there? And are they productive or unproductive?

Is it a reasonable goal to minimise all unproductive thoughts?

And would I want my default mode to be mindful? Or should I attempt to shift unproductive thoughts into more productive ones?

I’d love to know your thoughts and opinions on these matters. Please “leave a reply” in the comments section below.

The Awakening of UNIT-01

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of my favourite anime shows. Since mid-August, I’ve been rewatching the original 26 episode TV series and the various follow-up movies.

The show would be awesome to me if it just featured bad-ass giant robots fighting evil monsters. But there’s so much more depth to it than that.

The show is dark and disturbing, but not just for the sake of it. It earnestly explores many deep aspects of psychology and philosophy. The characters have deep, believable, realistic motivations and weaknesses. It’s also peppered with Western religious iconography, though that’s mostly just to make the show seem exotic to a Japanese audience.

But that’s enough of me trying to justify why I’m such a giant anime “weaboo”…

Running out of Power

In my favourite episode, our hero Shinji is giving everything he’s got in order to defeat the latest angel (monster) threatening mankind. He’s screaming with battle fury as he pilots the giant robot UNIT-01. It looks like he’s about to win, when suddenly the robot stops moving.

UNIT-01 has run out of power. These giant robots only have batteries which last 5 minutes. After that, the robots freeze in place and deactivate, becoming totally vulnerable.

Shinji grasps desperately at the controls, but UNIT-01 won’t move. The wounded angel sees its chance and smashes UNIT-01 against a mountainside. It looks like it’s all over, surely the angel will destroy UNIT-01, killing Shinji inside…

That’s how I feel at the moment. I’ve run out of power. I can’t fight the disease of addiction any more. I want to give up.

I’m full of sadness, anger and resentment. I feel so alone. Fellow addicts at meetings say this all the time, but if you’re not an addict, then you really don’t get it. It’s such a relief for addicts to come to 12 Steps and hear other people describing the same thoughts, feelings and behaviour that you have too. It’s a rare feeling of connection.

Most “outsiders” don’t even bother trying to learn or understand the experience of an addict. It’s so taboo, so full of societal judgements. People carry around in their heads their own image of what a drug addict is… and they rarely stop to actually question if that’s accurate.

It’s really fucking hard being an addict, knowing that almost everyone you encounter pre-judges you in a negative light.

I’ve often said this, but I really wish people would just take the time to listen to me and understand my point of view. Maybe ask a few questions even. That’s partly what this blog is about. I want people to understand what it’s like to be an addict, to be someone like me.

When (most) people learn you’re an addict, they start treating you differently. You can see the difference in the way they look at you. It’s written all over their face. Suddenly you are utter scum, the worst of the worst kind of human filth. Morally, you are the epitome of a bad person.

Very few people make the effort to break through that stereotype and challenge their preconceptions. Very few people attempt to empathise with addicts and actually listen to their experiences.

I’ve been dangerously close to buying DXM yesterday and today. For now, I’ve diverted those urges onto Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I’m feeling so disconnected from the people around me that I’m even questioning whether 12 Steps is for me again. This is despite the fact that people at 12 Steps truly understand addiction better than anyone else.

Even GPs and the mental health crisis team – they don’t get it. If I’m honest, they’re mostly fucking useless and often do more harm than good. I saw a psychiatrist for the first time last week. Even a highly qualified mental health professional like her left me wondering if she actually has a clue what she’s talking about – she gave me some pretty flawed advice.

I just want to give up and become unconscious. I’ve run out of power. I can’t fight the evil angels any more. I’m done.


But then, something amazing happens… UNIT-01 awakens.

Even without power, UNIT-01 reactivates and starts to fight back against the angel. It’s moving of its own accord, Shinji is not in control.

It’s clear that UNIT-01 is vastly more powerful than before. It has become bestial, like a werewolf with unimaginable strength. The sync ratio between UNIT-01 and its pilot Shinji has hit an unprecedented 400%.

The robot shrugs off the angel’s powerful attacks, UNIT-01 cannot be harmed now. And then UNIT-01 proceeds to utterly annihilate its enemy in the most brutal fashion, ripping it apart and eating its insides.

In My Life

That’s what I hope will happen to me. I’m currently trapped in the cockpit and I’ve run out of energy. There’s nothing I can do, I’m totally vulnerable to attack.

I’m going to surrender my will, like I mentioned in the blog post from the other day. I’m going to stop fighting. I’m just going to relax and trust that everything will be OK.

With luck, my Higher Power will reactivate and save the day for me, just like UNIT-01 did for Shinji.

Let’s hope so.

The awakened UNIT-01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion

A New Suit

Let me tell you about a dream I had last night…

It had been a rough night. I’d been out partying with my friends. Things had gotten a little wild – I felt hungover, the expensive suit I’d bought not long ago was damaged and torn. I didn’t feel good about the state I was in, my head was foggy and I felt thoroughly sorry for myself.

I was at the suit shop, eager to see if my suit could be repaired or replaced. I eyed the gaggle of slick salesmen warily. I didn’t trust salesmen. I felt they could sense my emotional vulnerability and would use it to manipulate me.

They didn’t.

They genuinely helped me. They wanted what was best for me. They weren’t interested in fleecing me for money. They were only concerned with making me look as good as possible, without costing me an arm and a leg.

As the salesmen attended to my needs, they told me funny stories. They were tapping into my emotional state. They were helping me to feel better. They started to feel like friends. They were fixing me on the inside as well as the outside.

I looked in the mirror as I tried on new clothes. I looked a million times better than before. I felt better too.

The clothes they’d suggested for me weren’t particularly conventional, they certainly weren’t what I would have chosen for myself. But I had to admit, I did look stylish. It was a crushed black velvet suit! But the salesmen knew what outfit would work for me. And thanks to the funny and honest anecdotes they’d shared, I felt much better in myself too.

It was almost too much for me, I was on the verge of tears. I was so grateful to these guys for the help they’d offered. They completely turned me around. They obviously weren’t doing their jobs for money – they were doing it because they loved helping people.

As I left the shop, I realised I had something like ice skates on the bottoms of my shoes. This meant I could travel very fast… and I did. As I accelerated through the shopping mall, it started to feel like I was driving a rally car at breakneck speeds. Even when there were bumps in the road, my ice skates kept me secure and perfectly safe. I was travelling faster than I’d ever managed before.

When interpreting dreams, it’s important not to over-interpret. The part of myself that was dreaming – it was trying to communicate with me as clearly as it could, just in pictures.

Here’s what I make of the dream…

The wild night represents me taking drugs, with things often getting out of control. My ripped suit represents my severely damaged life and battered self-esteem.

The suit shop is the 12 Steps fellowship. At first I was suspicious and sceptical of the people there. But I soon realised they just wanted to help me. They weren’t trying to con or manipulate me.

The salesmen shared their heartfelt stories… and it changed me at a deep level emotionally. This was at the same time as the salesmen were finding a better life (suit) for me to try on.

For most of my adult life, I’ve had dreams where I can fly. I absolutely love these dreams. To me, they represented freedom from the everyday life most other people took part in. While others had to walk around, I could effortlessly fly.

But quite often with flying, I could see where I wanted to go, but I just couldn’t get there. Often I’d be looking at the top of buildings I wanted to fly over, but something was preventing me from gaining enough height to get over them. It was like I was stuck, moving very slowly in mid-air. No matter how much willpower I applied, I was stuck.

Now, in this dream, I had ice skates. These represented being grounded. For once, rather than trying to escape normal life (by flying), I could become even more connected to it.

Not only that, but the ice skates allowed me to travel at incredible speeds through life, in perfect safety, even when there were bumps in the road which would throw other people into the air.

I was no longer stuck, I could move forward… and quickly. I couldn’t see very far ahead, but I was able to just trust that everything was going to be OK. I no longer needed to rely on my own willpower to force myself to move. It just happened naturally, thanks to the ice skates the salesmen had given me.

Maybe the ice skates are the 12 Steps (known as “stepwork”). They are what are going to keep me grounded and safe whilst also accelerating my progress through life.

P.S. I don’t recommend ice skating whilst wearing a business suit.

P.P.S. Want a cool soundtrack to me ice skating through a shopping mall whilst wearing a suit? Hear you go.