Staying Clean and Sober

I’ve been having a great couple of weeks, but last night I could tell that the good times were coming to an end. I could feel the beginnings of sadness creeping in, stealing my energy. I reminded myself that my mood and energy levels tend to come in cycles – good for a while, but eventually I’ll crash, likes waves on a shore.

(Note: This is one of those posts where I’m just gonna start typing and we’ll see what happens., i.e. it’s rambling and unstructured, but I hope it makes sense. I’m feeling lots of emotion and my rational brain feels half asleep still.)

But maybe it’s all just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe I’m doing voodoo on myself. Maybe when I think, “My happiness is coming to an end, I’m overdue a depressive slump,” – I’m actually telling my unconscious mind to make it happen, and so it does.

(Note 2: This tune perfectly captures my mood this morning. It’s Help Myself by HWLS.)

What happens when you change the story you narrate to yourself about your life? Well, I know from my own experiences and from those of many other people: your life can transform in the most remarkable of ways.

So, what would happen if I stopped telling myself to expect depression to hit soon because it’s overdue? And what alternative narrative would I put in its place?

I’m frustrated by my 12 Steps sponsor. He keeps badgering me to do the “suggested things”… attending meetings, daily phone calls with him, daily step-work, prayer and meditation, a daily mini-inventory…

I’ve been busy for the last couple of weeks doing DIY, cleaning and chores. For the most part, I’ve been loving it. It gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. Some of the tasks are things I’ve been meaning/wanting to do for a very long time, but somehow I just kept procrastinating.

It’s fair to say DIY has been my latest obsession. And addicts like me tend to be quite “all or nothing” people, meaning we find it hard to balance multiple responsibilities.

My sponsor insists it’s important that I phone him frequently and that I try to do at least a little step-work every day. But talking seems pointless when life has been going so well. And as for step-work, I prefer to do that in longer bursts where I force myself to sit down and concentrate on it for an extended period. Doing just 5 or 10 mins per day almost seems disrespectful.

Anyway, yesterday my frustration with my sponsor reached the point where I’d decided I’d had enough. Don’t worry, I’m not quitting the fellowship (again)… those fuckers are stuck with me for a while longer yet. But I am taking a break of a week or two from my sponsor.

I know he just wants the best for me, but it frustrates the hell out of me that he’s trying to apply a cookie cutter template to me: “Do, A, B and C or you risk relapsing on drugs and might even die.”

I really just want to say, “Fuck off, I know what I’m doing.”

I refuse to abdicate my intellectual prowess and succumb to dogma. I’m not a 12 Steps clone, I’m an individual. My personal history and current circumstances are pretty different from a junkie who used to shoot up heroin every day. My using was occasional and I could be abstinent for months at a time.

There are plenty of other differences between my life and the “generic addict” life as portrayed in 12 Steps literature. I do my best just to gloss over these differences. I try to “look for the similarities, not the differences”.

But I do still struggle with the 12 Steps “lump all addicts together” approach. Why does the 12 Steps insist on treating me exactly the same as every other addict? Why is there no scope for individuality, for customisation of one’s program of recovery?

Yes, I fucked my life up with drugs. But that doesn’t mean I need to submit myself wholeheartedly to a generic program and turn off my brain and ability to reason for myself.

Why can’t I take the bits and pieces of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) that I like, apply them to my life, and ignore the rest? That seems like the best approach.

I understand that for NA as an organisation to survive and thrive, it needs a certain amount of unity. If different people with different ideas are allowed to do their own thing, they risk splintering off into their own denomination. NA would risk becoming like Christian churches… 101 Dalmations (or 1 million and 1 denominations).

So… in NA, individuals are discouraged from doing their own reasoning and tailoring the generic program to suit their personality and their circumstances… and this is done for the sake of the survival of NA as a whole.

I suppose I can see the logic in that. But I’m (selfishly) putting my personal recovery as a higher priority than the survival of an organisation. Sure, I owe a debt of gratitude to 12 Steps, but my own recovery comes first.

Here’s what I know about successful organisations/companies… they adapt and evolve. They don’t stay the same. They constantly re-evaluate market conditions and develop their products and services accordingly.

Organisations which try too hard to stay the same, those ones tend to die. They become rigid fossils.

My fear is that NA is like that… too stuck in the past, too inflexible.

AND YET… I still feel I get enough benefit from NA that I can overlook all of its flaws and continue my membership. It’s just that there’s a lot I must turn a blind eye to.

Historically, I’ve always been a maverick. I’ve always wanted to do things my own way. I’ve attempted to influence and shape the organisations I’ve been a part of to fit with my own ethos, ethics and ideas of what’s right. Apparently this trait is quite common amongst addicts.

So: here’s my plan… I’m going to do NA my own way. But I’m not going to attempt to influence the shape or direction of the organisation. Not yet, anyway. There’s huge institutional inertia and scope for conflict if I try to change things.

I don’t want extra conflict in my life right now. I want to stay clean from drugs (in my own way), and rebuild my life into something meaningful.

That does mean I need a sponsor who can be flexible with me. I have a horrible suspicion my current sponsor doesn’t have the capability to be as flexible as I need him to be. I guess I need to have a chat with him face-to-face about this.

I had a horrible dream this morning…

[Warning: contains gory imagery which some people may find disturbing]

In my dream, I’d blacked out after a party involving copious quantities of drugs and alcohol. It was now morning and I was trying to piece my life back together,

I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t operate my phone properly. I desperately needed to talk with my wife, but I couldn’t work out how to get my phone to call her.

I’d relapsed… and not in a small way. I felt gutted that I’d ruined all my hard work in staying sober.

I’d been in charge of our 4 dogs while my wife was away. But I’d neglected them because I was too obsessed with getting wasted and partying. I’d let them out the house to roam the neighbourhood – anything could happen to them.

I found Seth, our second-oldest dog. He’s sweet, gentle, highly intelligent and avoids any kind of confrontation. I offered him a piece of ham, but he wouldn’t come towards me… I knew something was wrong.

Then I noticed that his eyes were rolling back. Something was very wrong. I got closer to his face and I noticed a large wound on his cheek – he’d been bitten by another dog. He looked like he was really suffering. I needed to get him to the vet immediately.

SHIT! How had I allowed this to happen? I desperately tried to get hold of my wife on my phone. I needed her to phone the vets and let them know we were on our way. But again, I couldn’t work out how to operate my phone properly – my mind was clouded by drugs and alcohol. Last night had been wild.

I spent a while wandering the streets, trying to work out how to get home. I was somewhere in London, lost. I accidentally got on the wrong train and became even more lost.

I managed to get hold of my wife on the phone. Apparently I’d been involved in some kind of public disorder last night and was being prosecuted and fined by the police. I couldn’t even remember where I’d been or what I’d done.

I saw Akira The Don (famous music producer / YouTuber) in my dream. He told me to get in touch with him, “about the thing”. I think he was talking about some music track we were working on together.

That’s about it. A horrible, stressful, depressing dream in which my life was falling apart.

Maybe the memory of that dream will help to keep me sober.

Maybe I should contact Akira the Don and see if he wants to collaborate with me in some way. I have zero music production skills, but… I don’t know his views on drink and drugs, but maybe it’s worth asking.

OK, rambling post over. What title shall I use? I know…

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.

A Circle of Monkeys

One of my favourite stories in the history of chemistry is about a man called August Kekulé.

Once upon a time, long ago, Kekulé was trying to determine the chemical structure of the organic molecule known as benzene. It had several strange properties.

One night, Kekulé had a dream which involved a circle of monkeys, each holding onto the next one’s tail.

On waking, he realised his dream explained the structure of benzene: a ring of carbon atoms with alternate single and double bonds.

At the time, Kekulé’s model of benzene was widely accepted as accurate. Skip forward to today and we now have a more accurate and refined model of the nature of the chemical bonds in benzene, but for a long time Kekulé’s model reined supreme.

What can we learn from this?

Inspiration can come from the strangest of places.

– Bollinger, R. 2019

We still don’t have an accurate idea of how the human brain works. As time marches on, our understanding of neuroscience improves, but there’s still huge amounts we don’t have a clue about.

Some of the stuff the human brain is capable of might seem strange or spooky. But just because we don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

Is it possible to extract any useful meaning from our dreams? The legendary psychologist Freud and his successor Jung certainly thought so. And I’ve demonstrated above that Kekulé was able to advance the science of chemistry thanks to a dream.

So if dreams can sometimes be useful, what about mental illness? You’ve probably heard some people say that creative geniuses often have a touch of madness about them.

What about drug-induced psychosis? Should we automatically dismiss the ideas and supposed insights of someone who has psychosis?

What does psychosis even mean? Well, all it really means is that the person experiencing psychosis has altered perceptions of reality, compared to most other people.

Altered. Not wrong. Certainly not useless.

Sure, some of the ravings of a madman might be useless nonsense. But some of it might just be genius.

Why would we arrogantly throw the baby away with the bath water? And yet this is a common mistake which even the cleverest of us are inclined to make.

Surely it makes more sense to take each idea on its own merit. If it’s patently absurd, and doesn’t withstand scientific scrutiny, then reject it. But if it looks like it might have a kernel of truth to it, why not examine it a bit more closely?

Perhaps the person with psychosis hasn’t expressed themselves using terms which make much sense to others. But if we attempted to interpret what they’re saying in the same way we might attempt to extract meaning from a dream, what might we learn?

Human brains seem to have an ability to think in pictures. And that ability seems to have been enhanced for me recently. It feels like I found a way to tap into my unconscious mind more deeply. I think of it as a little like dreaming while awake.

It’s now over a month since I last consumed any drugs. I feel back to my usual self (more or less). And I am utterly convinced that 95%+ of the insights I’ve documented in this blog are valid and useful.

Perhaps my work needs a little refining. Maybe some rewording would help scientific-leaning minds to find my ideas more palatable.

But my ideas and insights are certainly not useless. Only those with huge egos and blind arrogance would think so.