Losing my Higher Power

In 12 Steps fellowships, we talk a lot about God (however we understand Him). Some people prefer to use the term ‘Higher Power’.

For some people, their ‘Higher Power’ is simply a way of talking about the many benefits that the fellowship brings.

A month ago, I felt I was constantly in touch with my Higher Power. But for the last 2-3 weeks, that feeling became more and more rare, until I started to wonder if I’d ever really felt anything at all or maybe I’d just made it all up.

The good news is that the feeling has fully come back today – I’m in touch with my Higher Power again.

If you’re a scientific thinker, it might seem daft to make decisions based on intangible feelings like being connected to a Higher Power. But if you’re a more intuitive or spiritual type, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

It’s just a kind of knowing. Scientific facts are one kind of knowing, but there are certain things we know just because we feel them.

And I promise you, this type of knowing happens even to the most scientific atheists out there, it’s just that they may not be consciously aware of it.


So, what happened while my faith was wobbling recently? A few things…

  • I believed I could keep myself away from drugs without any external help.
  • I felt I didn’t really need to be part of a 12 Steps fellowship any more.
  • I was resisting doing “step work” – I’m currently on Step 1 of the 12 Steps and there’s a comprehensive workbook I’m gradually making my way through. But it’s hard work and uncomfortable – I was wondering if I really needed to put myself through that discomfort.
  • I was getting a bit fed up with the dogma and some of the slightly weird aspects of the 12 Steps.

So, twice in the last few weeks, I messaged my sponsor to say I felt the 12 Steps were no longer for me and I was going to take care of myself instead.

But as soon as my thumbs had typed those messages, I had a sinking heart and a strong physical sensation that I had made the wrong decision.

I talked it over with my ever-patient and understanding wife. She pointed out that I was focussing heavily on a couple of minor things that I didn’t like about the 12 Steps, whilst ignoring all of its benefits.

In other words, I was throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I decided it would be much better if I could just accept or ignore the small bits which bothered me, and focus instead on all the parts of 12 Steps that I like and find beneficial.

Luckily, veterans at 12 Steps know how difficult it can be for newly clean addicts like me. Both times, my sponsor was understanding and welcomed me back with open arms. I’m really grateful to him.


In the last week, it’s become increasingly clear to me that drugs aren’t my real problem. They’re just a symptom of other underlying issues.

And guess what – those are the kind of issues that 12 Steps fellowships are experts at helping people to overcome.

I said to myself, “There’s this lovely organisation of wonderful people who really seem to understand a lot about addiction, what it’s like to be an addict, the thinking patterns, the self-destructive behaviours… and they want to help me… and it’s basically free too.

It would be mad not to be a part of 12 Steps!

And then I also realised… these addicts, over time some of them might actually grow to become my friends. Maybe even really close friends. With 12 Steps, I’ve got a wonderful method of socialising with people who truly want the best for me. That’s going to help my depression too. And I’ve been saying for years that I need more local friends.


But, at this point, my “Higher Power” was still a sticking point. I had so many doubts. What exactly is it? Why do I need it? What’s the best way for me personally to think about it so that I don’t feel I’m compromising myself?

I think I’m finding some answers now which I feel comfortable with. My Higher Power (God) could be any or all of the following:

  • A part of my unconscious mind which wants the best for me;
  • Fate or Destiny;
  • A way of describing the love, kindness and supportive environment at 12 Steps fellowships.

I realised – I feel intellectually comfortable with any of those definitions. I definitely don’t feel I’m trying to fool myself.


The more I thought about my Higher Power, the more I realised there are some really great benefits in believing in God, especially for addicts.

I’ve mentioned before that I now believe it’s worth holding a belief purely for its utilitarian value, even if part of us suspects it may not be objectively (scientifically) true.

For one thing, at 12 Steps fellowships, we’re encouraged to surrender our will to our Higher Power (however we understand Him/it). On the face of it, surrendering might seem strange. I’m a competent and (mostly) sensible man in my 40s, why do I need to surrender to anyone or anything? But then I realised… that’s just my ego talking. My ego wants to stay in control.

When we surrender to a Higher Power, we release our need to control the outcome of our efforts. Sure, we are still 100% responsible for putting the hard work in. But sometimes our best laid plans fall apart. When our plans go wrong, if we believe it’s the will of a Higher Power, it makes it much easier to avoid getting stressed or upset. This is hugely beneficial!

Another useful psychological function of surrendering: it makes us more humble, more willing to accept our own limitations, more willing to be open-minded and consider new ways of living or being which we’d previously dismissed.

Being humble is a really good thing. It means we accept we don’t have all the answers, making us more willing to learn and change.


So, there you go. I was a Doubting Thomas for a few weeks, but I feel I’m back in touch with God again. And it feels good… really good.

Lost

I’m struggling.

The last few mornings have felt like rescuing myself from quicksand… only to fall in again, defeated, at night. Depression is trying pretty hard to drag me down.

I hate admitting that. Does it make me look weak? Or maybe I appear to be attention-seeking?

It’s not nice knowing at least a small portion of your audience are actively waiting for you to fail. Even people you used to be close to.

Schadenfreude. “I told you he was worthless”.

But that’s just the devil on my shoulder, trying to get me to feel sorry for myself. And there will always be haters.

No-one is coming to rescue you.

That’s the cold, hard, truth. I have to rescue myself. I must face my dragons voluntarily.

Most people are too busy with their own lives to care. That’s the truth, too.

People like to appear to care – their ego wants to believe they are good people. But how many people consistently act in a way which shows they truly want the best for you? Not many. If you have one or two good friends, you are lucky.

Make friends with people who want the best for you.

Rule 3 – 12 Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson

I haven’t been to a 12 Steps meeting in over a week. I haven’t spoken to my sponsor in several days. Why am I so keen to spurn the amazing help being offered?

These people, these addicts, are just like me; they understand me. They have many of the same self-destructive thought patterns and behaviours as me.

So why do I keep telling myself that I don’t need my brothers and sisters in recovery? That I’m different to them?

Sure, the 12 Steps aren’t perfect, but neither are people. There’s plenty of things I’d change about the fellowship… it’s too dogmatic, it over-generalises, it lumps together all addicts into the same story, ignoring our individuality and idiosyncracies. It seems to prioritise emotion over reason.

But the 12 Steps are still the best way I’ve found for saving myself. It’d be stupid to ignore that. They’re offering kinship, when a part of me seems intent on destroying myself and many others have forsaken me (which is mainly my own fault).


When writing a blog or using any form of social media, it’s tempting to always put your best foot forward, pretend that everything is fine… to show the world only the positive aspects of ourselves.

Aren’t I such a good, wonderful, wholesome person.

But that isn’t real… and I’ve never been a fan of fakery. Give me an honest asshole over a flattering gentleman anytime.

I’ve had enough of people with big egos. Perhaps the worst are those who don’t even recognise they have an ego.

So that’s why I started today’s post by saying, “I’m struggling,” – it’s the truth.

I wish I had my life all together and could confidently solve society’s problems with a clever flourish from my keyboard.

But the reality is, most of us are up to our knees in various forms of quicksand, we just don’t like to admit it.

Rather than over-ambitiously aiming for utopia, I’ll try to remember that each day I just need to take one step forward. And then another. And eventually I’ll be able to look back and see that my life is a bit less shit than before.

Thank You for Calling Me Stupid

[Last updated 15/09/19: Minor updates for clarity & style]

This blog post is addressed to a now ex-friend (and his girlfriend).


You’ve called me stupid, repeatedly, for what I’ve posted on this blog.

What you really mean by “stupid” is that I don’t look at the world in the same narrow way as you. Don’t you see how arrogant that makes you?

I get it. You’re scared. You’re always so worried about the public’s perception of you. To you, the worst thing in the world would be to appear stupid. You’re terrified about saying the wrong thing. And you find it extremely difficult to admit to your mistakes or even just consider the possibility you might be wrong. You’ve been this way for as long as I’ve known you.

And so you cover up your insecurities by always trying to be the smartest guy in the room. A lot of the time you are, but sometimes you really aren’t.

I’ve now realised: all this time it was just you projecting your own fears onto me.

But also, I get the impression you’re actually faintly embarrassed to be associated with me.

Some support might be nice

Now that I think about it, you’ve rarely given much support to any of my creative endeavours. You always find a way to make me doubt myself, make me feel like I’m not doing (or being) good enough to meet your high standards.

You publicly reviewed my first book by saying I just got lucky by asking lots of women to sleep with me. WTF?!

No mate, I actually do have some charm and skill at flirting (at least when I’m feeling confident). Why is that so hard for you to believe? Perhaps you were just jealous that my love life at the time was much more exciting and varied than yours?

Why is it so hard for you to give me credit? Why do you always have to be better than me? Why do you have to keep putting me down, often in quite sly ways?

Gratitude

I’m actually really grateful to you for calling me stupid based on my writing over the last month or so. I feel it’s some of my best work yet – and several of my readers concur.

It’s both disappointing and amusing that someone of your intellect resorts to ad hominem attacks against me personally, rather than coming up with specific counter-arguments for the ideas I’ve asserted.

I don’t write for you as my target audience. I write mainly for myself, and I trust that my work will resonate with the right people. So far, that’s exactly what’s happened.

How I feel about you

I really don’t care any more about you or your haughty, condescending opinions.

You used to be someone I respected and admired. I looked up to you. Sadly, you rarely reciprocated. I don’t quite understand why.

You’re now “too busy” even to pay me the basic courtesy of listening to my point of view about my recent mental health issues. Instead, you choose to lecture me based on your own narrow-minded assumptions about me. What kind of a friend does that? And when did you become such an expert on mental illness anyway?

YOU should be the one clamouring to be friends with someone as cool, awesome and fearless as ME. Not vice versa.

Fearless

The very best thing about you calling me stupid is that you’ve helped me become even more fearless…

If I can handle one of my oldest and closest (ex-)friends sneering at my best work (not just once, but multiple times), then I can definitely handle any kind of criticism the general public might throw at me.

Thank you for making me stronger and more fearless.

(In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear, our friendship has been permanently and irrevocably prorogued).

9/11

Oh and thank you for wishing me good luck preventing 9/11. What you fail to realise is that it was you (and your girlfriend) who caused it! See my Twin Towers blog post for details.

9/11 truly was an inside job.

Epilogue

For a glimpse at a much better way for how the above events could have unfolded, check out my next post, Person First.


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Mental Echoes

Clearly my brain didn’t get the memo from yesterday – It’s Time to Move On!

I think all of us have had the experience of being tortured by our own minds. Some profoundly upsetting external event happens to us, and our mind keeps returning to it, like a dog chewing a bone. This is much more likely to happen the stronger our emotions were surrounding the event.

In psychological terms, it’s called rumination. And people with depression seem to be experts at it.

It’s all well and good me making blog posts advocating that people just accept external circumstances which are outside of their control… but actually making yourself do it when the shit hits the fan? That’s much harder.

My heart is still heavy from the Twin Towers double friendship loss. That’s OK. It’s OK to feel sad sometimes. I want to just accept that feeling, be gentle with myself, and it’ll pass in its own time.

What I definitely want to avoid is all the debating, arguing and reasoning which I’ve been doing in my own head. I already know what external action I’m going to take – nothing – so why does my logical brain find it so irresistible to obsessively problem solve issues which don’t need to be solved?!

What’s the point of developing killer counter-arguments, explanations and justifications in your head if you’re never going to use them? It’s such a waste of energy.

This morning I came dangerously close to hitting the nuclear button again, causing Mutually Assured Destruction. My anger and bitterness were getting out of control. Thankfully, I talked myself down. My friends who did this to me – they have no idea how much I could ruin their day… their week… their lives, if I wanted to. But equally, I know that they could retaliate and destroy many things in my life which I hold dear. It’s just not worth it.

Clearly, that road leads only to Hell.


And then, when the anger leaves, a cold emptiness fills its place. There’s a hollow void where my soul should be.

The friends who inflicted this mental torture on me (well OK, I did it mostly to myself) – I bet they’re not doing these mental somersaults, over and over again. I bet they’ve moved on already, and they don’t think about me or my suffering at all.

The seem to think they’re better than me. They don’t have time for me, I’m not important to them and their glamorous lives. They have better friends who they consistently prioritise over me. They don’t respect and admire me the way I respect and admire them.

Why would they want to associate with scum like me anyway, someone with multiple mental health issues who seems determined to fuck up his own life?

Why can’t they even treat me with some basic human dignity and kindness? Why won’t they even listen to me?

Perhaps they never really thought about me, had no empathy for me, didn’t really respect me or care about me anyway…

OK, STOP!

That’s my “helpless victim” script trying to start up again. I’m not going to let it.


The Stoics believed that much of human suffering stems from us insisting the world should be different to how it actually is. In reality, nothing is good or bad… it just is.

It’s just that us humans love to invent stories to tell ourselves about the world. It’s us that adds in the “good” and “bad”. And it’s all in our heads.

Today I’m going to focus on getting back to that place of mindfulness, the calm equanimity. Feelings and thoughts will come and go. I am just their witness.

And when I’m calm, with a clear head, I can return my focus back to what I know is important:

Choose the next meaningful activity and focus tightly on it, remembering to let go of everything that’s outside my control.

That’s the essence of my Tidy Your Room graphic v2. And it’s really quite epic.

When I return to what’s meaningful, I reconnect with my Higher Power. And it fills me with love.

Tidy Your Room