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.”

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.


The Crazy Brain of a Drug Addict

My brain went to some strange places as I lay in bed last night.

It took over two hours for me to get to sleep… my mind raced thanks to a combination of strong coffee and fasting.

I thought mainly about my drug of choice (DXM) and how much I loved it. That drug filled me with joy, enhanced my appreciation of music and conjured up enjoyable hallucinations. Best of all, it made my life feel worth living.

I fantasised about being able to “use successfully” in the future. In other words, in moderation and without any damaging consequences.

Before I knew it, last night I was making plans for when I’d next take DXM. The main complication: I’d have to convince my wife to agree to me taking drugs.

Here’s a quick recap on some of my low points with drugs:

  • A few years ago, my wife and I separated temporarily, partly due to me hiding my drug problem.
  • The comedown from multi-day drug binges has brought me close to suicide several times.
  • I’ve been hospitalised due to drug misadventures 3 or 4 times.
  • After the last time I took DXM in mid-August, I was diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis which lasted for several weeks.
  • A few years ago, after one particularly heavy multi-day drug binge, my cognitive functioning was significantly impaired for several weeks. I could barely hold conversations. Even playing videogames felt too overwhelming. We weren’t sure if the damaging effects would be permanent – luckily they weren’t. My wife and mother in law slowly nursed me back to health.
  • My drug use has directly led to the destruction of several close friendships. Most of them still refuse to talk to me.
  • Oh and my mum was an alcoholic. She was in denial right up until she died… in her 50s, way too young. I don’t particularly want to follow in her footsteps.

After all that trouble, you’d be forgiven for finding it difficult to understand why I still wanted to take drugs.

People in a 12 Steps fellowship might say that my disease wants me dead. A more scientific explanation might be that in certain situations, I exhibit poor judgement and decision-making abilities… an inability to correctly weigh up pros and cons.

Last night, I realised my wife was unlikely to agree to me taking DXM again.

“That’s OK,” I thought to myself, “Just don’t tell her. In fact, you can buy some DXM tomorrow morning and get wasted. She’ll never know.”

For a few moments, that seemed like a truly brilliant idea.

And then, reality hit. What the fuck was I thinking?

Suddenly, it made perfect sense why some people anthropomorphise the disease of addiction. What sane person would possibly think this way? It must be the result of a demon, some conscious supernatural entity disguised in the shape of a disease.

Several months ago, inspired by Dr Jordan Peterson, I decided I wanted to “tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.” I could see the virtue in being as honest and truthful as possible.

I have committed to my wife that I will always tell her the truth. I won’t hide things from her, especially anything related to drugs.

Last night, I “played the tape forward” in my mind. What would happen if I got wasted on DXM?

Well, I’d tell my wife afterwards. She’d be extremely disappointed. I’d ruin the trust I’ve been working hard to rebuild. There’s a good chance she’d leave me and kick me out of our house.

My marriage: ruined.

My self-respect: in tatters.

Worth it? Well, you might find this hard to believe, but last night my brain was still trying to convince me that taking DXM again would be worth these costs.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Until this point, I’d been feeling giddy with excitement and anticipation at the thought of getting wasted again. Now, that feeling faded and was replaced with a deep sadness.

I get it now. Finally.

For a few brief moments, I’d been willing to put drugs ahead of my health and my marriage. Thankfully sanity prevailed.

I was reminded of the stages of grief, one of which is “bargaining”. I’d been trying to negotiate with myself to allow me to keep on taking drugs. But that new sense of sadness… that was “acceptance”.

I can’t take drugs again. Ever.

Even if I occasionally get the urge, my wife won’t agree to it. And I’m simply not going to betray her trust again.

I’m a cat who used up his nine lives many years ago. I don’t quite know how I’m still here. I have so many good things in my life, which I’m not sure I deserve after how I’ve behaved in the past.

Many other people in my situation would be divorced, homeless or even dead.

I’m fucking lucky.

Maybe this is what 12 Steps fellowships mean by “surrender” and “powerlessness”. I can’t take drugs any more. I accept that.

I’m guessing that every now and then I may need reminding of that fact. That’s why I have a sponsor. And it’s a good job I’ve committed myself to being honest too.

So, this has been a narrow escape, again. But at least I feel proud that I’ve made the right choice.

Today marks exactly 90 Days of me being clean from drugs. What a day!

F-You, 12 Steps

I both love and hate the 12 Steps.

After quitting the fellowship yesterday (“for good, this time!”), I went to another meeting tonight (again). And it was great, I loved it.

But there’s so much of the dogma and culture which I fucking hate. There are certain things I simply will not subscribe to, certain things I cannot bring myself to say.

I’m not going to mould myself into a starry-eyed 12 Step believer. I can’t fool myself into doing that.

But here’s what I love:

12 Steps is a community of (fucking crazy) people with a common problem, coming together to support and help each other.

And THAT is fucking golden. I just need to find ways of dealing with the rest of the 12 Steps annoying bollocks.

[Note: forgive my swearing, I’ve been fasting today and recently had a strong coffee. It’s having approximately triple the usual effect.]

Things I HATE About the 12 Steps

No, I will not admit I was powerless over my addiction. Tomorrow I won’t have used for 90 days – how the fuck is that powerless?

There is no God or Higher Power. It’s all me, baby. Call me arrogant or conceited, I don’t give a fuck. I got myself to this point, not God.

No, I’m not going to “surrender” or “have faith”. That’s an abdication of my intellectual capabilities. I can and will figure this stuff out, for myself. I will find my own idiosyncratic take on the 12 Steps which works for me. I don’t need to swallow someone else’s generic version, no matter how well-intended.

Most of the “stepwork” involved in the 12 Steps strikes me as mere busy-work. It’s something for addicts to aim towards which will give them a feeling of purpose in their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of value to be extracted from doing the 12 Steps – it makes you into a better person. But it’s not the only way to get a feeling of meaning and purpose in one’s life. And it frustrates the fuck out of me that 12 Steps acts like some kind of religion or cult in this regard.

No, my disease doesn’t talk to me and it doesn’t want me dead. Diseases don’t have personalities.

I don’t even think it’s scientifically accurate to consider addiction as a disease (like 12 Steps insists). I’m certainly not broken. I’m just someone with a drug problem which got out of control. I can and will learn how to get it under control.

I don’t even think I’m an addict. Yes, I’ve done some fucked up shit that’s related to drugs. But I can also go months at a time without using. And most of the time when I used, I fucking loved it – it made my life better. That puts me a fair distance away from the heroin junkies who used every day, against their will, and didn’t even fucking like it.

Anyway, I kinda feel like I’m running out of steam now. The caffeine is wearing off.

There are plenty of other things I dislike about the 12 Steps. But for now, I’m prepared to simply ignore them.

I get a lot out of the social aspects of 12 Steps. It’s helping me to become a better person.

I just don’t need to swallow everything 12 Steps proclaims.

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.

The Divinity Within

Quite a lot of us have problems with self-esteem. If you have problems with addiction or depression, then this is very likely.

A few years ago, a friend said something which really stuck with me. She said, “The human body is so amazing, I want to do everything I can to keep mine fit and healthy.”

I could tell she had a kind of reverence or awe for the miracle of being alive. I wished I felt the same about myself and my own body.

Having depression and low self-esteem, I often had quite a poor impression of myself – and that extended to my body image, health & fitness etc.

Since then, I’ve had an ambition to reach the same stage as my friend – I wanted to love and respect myself and my body so much that it felt like my duty and privilege to keep myself healthy, both physically and mentally.

Jordan Peterson says:

“Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping”

Rule 2 – 12 Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson

When I first heard that rule, it made me sit up and pay attention. I am totally on board with it at an intellectual level. But to make lasting changes, we need to deeply know and experience things at an emotional level, not just intellectually.

I couldn’t quite find a way to bridge that gap for myself. I knew it made sense for me to look after myself, both physically and mentally, but I struggled to feel it emotionally.

That was until the last week or so, when I started thinking of God as a divine spark within myself.

Now, I can feel that small piece of God-like potential within myself. And it’s changed my beliefs and the way I behave.

I am carrying a small piece of God within me. I can feel it in my chest. It’s the potential for me to become the very best version of myself.

This has profound consequences…

No matter what I think of myself right now, even if I struggle to believe I am “good enough” or worth looking after…

I have God inside me. And that divine spark deserves, maybe even demands that I treat it with proper respect.

Even if the body and mind I currently possess aren’t that great, they have a kind of infinite potential within them. That potential is Holy. It is sacred. And it would be morally wrong for me to not look after it properly.

This feeling, it’s providing me with motivation to exercise, to eat better, to meditate. These are all goals I’ve had for a long time, but have struggled to be consistent with.

My hope is that this feeling of reverence for my own potential – that will be enough for me to make big changes to my physical and mental health. I want to lose weight (fat). I want to get stronger.

I want to be more resilient, both physically and mentally. I want less anxiety, depression and addiction.

I know I’m not going to be perfect. I’m still going to slip up. But now I’ve got another powerful weapon in my arsenal of tools to improve my life.

Fingers crossed.

That’s A Sign! (No, That’s Psychosis)

I’ve written before about my obsession with the numbers 444 and 11 during the peak of my drug-induced psychosis. But I don’t think I’ve told many people about another strange occurrence which happened at about the same time.

My work colleague was describing to me a picture which her 4 year old daughter had drawn. The picture featured three people: my colleague, myself and another colleague. In my mind, the 3 stick figures were arranged in a triangle.

Instantly, I knew – this was a sign. There was some special significance in this drawing. It was telling me (or us) something important… we just had to decipher the correct meaning.

That was over two months ago. I’m pretty sure any last traces of psychosis have left me now… which is a shame because there were so many benefits!

For a while my colleague joked that “the [alien] mothership is talking to you!”

I still haven’t worked out what that picture means. For a while I thought it was predicting the order in which me and my two colleagues were going to leave the company. But we’re all still there, happily employed.

And so, with some sadness I’ve had to accept… there was probably zero special meaning or significance in my colleague’s drawing.

Instead, the rational scientific explanation is that psychosis had ramped up my brain’s inherent pattern-spotting ability to the point where it was seeing patterns and significance where there were none. It was magical thinking.

Of course, I remain open-minded. Every now and then I’ll be sure to think back to that picture and see if any new events have transpired which explain its significance. I may well do that for the rest of my life.

My real life is pretty boring now. On my low days I often experience suicidal ideation. The peak of my psychosis wasn’t like that – life felt exciting and new and motivating. I was uncovering mysteries (real or imagined) continuously.

I suspect that a psychological phenomenon known as “motivated reasoning” was a factor in my psychosis. In other words, we believe certain things because we want them to be true. I was believing in fantasy because I was desperate to escape reality… and the after-effects of a pretty hardcore drug trip made it easier to make that leap.

In a couple of weeks I’ll hit 90 days clean. Right now I feel more sad about that than happy. If I stay clean for the rest of my life, I’ll never get to experience those feelings again. I’ll never explore alternate universes inside my own mind… except when dreaming.

It’s no wonder I can quite happily stay in bed 12 hours per day at the moment.

It’s also no wonder that some people choose to believe in God, despite a lack of hard evidence. Their faith gives them hope and keeps them alive. There’s tremendous power in that.