Change

Change is never easy. For some of us it is traumatic and frightening. Most people are creatures of habit and want life to be static. The person that we are today was not constructed over night but over a life time. We get used to who we think we are and what we have. Our thoughts, words and actions are usually the product of established patterns. Many of us don’t realize it but we are actually predictable. People correctly anticipate our reactions once they get to know us. Yet at the same time we act as if we are dynamic and mysterious or spontaneous in some special way. Usually the opposite is true. We don’t like surprises and we don’t want to change unless we absolutely have to.

 

The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Despite our reticence to change the world changes around us. Sometimes it changes faster than we can keep up. The older I get the less familiar the world seems to be and the more set in my ways I become. Yet there is no denying it, the world constantly changes and we must change with it. Old ideas and beliefs must be questioned and possibly put aside and replaced with new ones.

The 12 Steps is a program of change. Sometimes it is like ripping a band-aid off an old wound. We don’t want to do it but we know we must and with courage and fortitude we do. It hurts but the pain and the immediate relief felt when it’s done is worth it. With every change we make in or lives we evolve. With small and incremental changes made over time the people around is start to notice a difference and then after some self reflection we notice it too. We have grown and become a better person. No change worth having was ever easy. Remember that.

 

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” – Plutarch

Drop the Rock

In the program they say we have to “drop the rock”. At first we are left wondering what this means. We inventory our faults and flaws and reveal to ourselves, to another and our Higher Power the full extent of the mess we have created. By bringing up what we would rather leave buried we come face to face with who we are and what we have done. Our true reflection stares back at us in the mirror. Illusions are dispelled; the fog has lifted from our eyes.

Knowing who we are gives us the opportunity to change. There can be no rectification of a problem if we don’t know what it is. In our case self honesty is the key to the change process. We can try to lie to other people but we find it is hard, lying to ourselves on the other hand becomes almost impossible when we know who we are. Once we have a “hit list” of changes that are needed to be made to support our recovery and demonstrate our new found principles we must find the courage and the strength to “drop the rock” that is holding us back.

 

Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on” – Eckhart Tolle

To “drop the rock” means to “Let Go” of our old habits, negative patterns of thoughts and self defeating attitudes. This means that if there is something about ourselves that we want to change, we simply stop doing it. Whatever the flaw we simply drop it from our lives. This can seem hard at times. For example if we are in the habit of getting angry every time we don’t get our way, it may take some time before we go some time without acting out that anger. I had the habit of quickly jumping to conclusions about people and always expecting the worst. My pessimism was holding me back from growing in recovery. By being able to identify the habit and resolving to stop it, I have become more mindful about my “instincts” and less likely to make up my mind before I have all the facts.  The trick is to simply decide to make the change and “act as if”. We can  “fake it till we make it”; often this is enough to eventually get there.

 

Reflect

We never reflect how pleasant it is to ask for nothing.” – Seneca

 

Self reflection is an important part of this process and the evening review helps us in assessing our conduct during the day. We can visualize out interactions with people and our thought patterns and behaviors. Did we allow emotions to cloud our judgement or influence our decisions and actions? How did we handle difficult situations? Did stress make us do or say things we regretted? Was the source of much of our frustration other people? Did they do or say things that upset us? Why? What was our part in all of this?

Every day is an opportunity to learn new lessons and the evening review is that time when we can convert those lessons in to experience and wisdom. If something did not work today and we made an idiot of ourselves or messed things up, that’s OK. The trick is to realize where we went wrong and figure out what to do about it. Where we identify change is required we consider where and how to make the necessary adjustments and resolve to try again.

We should always remember that life does not happen to us. Generally most things that we perceive as “bad” are in fact “indifferences”. We simply judge them as “bad” because they are least preferred. Knowing that it is our impression and not the thing, we could just as easily be indifferent about whatever vexes us. The important thing to consider is what resides within our control and what is outside out our control. There are also those things which are partially in our control to act upon and influence to some degree.

 

Change yourself

The change that we affect in our lives is predominately in the area that we have control. This includes our behaviors and conduct, our thoughts and reactions to emotions. The attitude that we bring to any situation and our own resolve. We are responsible for these things as they are within our control. This is where we can make our changes.

 

Change your thoughts, transform your life

Strangely enough we tend to invest more energy in trying to exert our control where it is limited. We lose our minds when people, places and things do not change and conform to our expectations. Consider that the President of the United States appears to wield an incredible amount of control and power. The reality is he is dependent on others.

Like the rest of us, the President does not always get his way and planned policies never see the light of day because they get voted down or his supporters drop support. For someone who is used to being in control of others all of the time and being able to effect rapid and sweeping changes with the snap of his fingers, being POTUS must be a very limiting and very frustrating job.

 

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

Slave not Master

The Sith were dedicated in forcing change not only on others but on natural and metaphysical laws. Forcing others to conform rather than adapting and changing to their environment was the Sith approach. The Jedi on the other hand had a code which they followed as a guiding principle and otherwise sought to change their selves first. They used logic and reasoning through negotiation and consensus to change others and influence an outcome.

The Jedi focused on what they were able to achieve rather than trying to force a solution that was inconsistent with their principles. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand felt that it was his duty to make the changes he believed were needed even if he had to use force. When others failed to conform to his plans he would grow resentful and resort to any means necessary.

 

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality” – Yoda

 

The Sith took advantage of Anakin’s desire to change the laws of nature. Darth Sidious realized that they could control Anakin by giving him the illusion of control. By becoming Darth Vader, Anakin became nothing but a servant. Worse he was demented and existed in an illusion of power believing that the fate of the Galaxy resided within his hands while doing little more than a pawn in his Master’s bidding.

Being alcoholic is like being a slave. We believe we have mastery over our own lives and control over others. We elevate ourselves to “big shots”. When reality bites and it always does we find don’t even have control over ourselves. We barely function as human beings. Alcohol is our Master. At this point we must first change ourselves before we can get control of our own lives back.

 

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

 

Rule of Fives

Five approaches to making changes in your life:

    1. Break it down: A major overhaul is done in small and incremental steps. Change takes time. By making small changes successfully you increase your confidence and minor failures and disappointments are less likely to unhinge you.
    2. Weigh it up: Some desired changes produce beneficial outcomes. Others are less beneficial. Decide whether the change you want is worth it the consequences. In the Army I one day decided to stop being the “reserved grey man” and changed my behaviour to “big mouthed trouble maker” in order to be assertive, not a smart move. Not all change is wise.
    3. Keep it Positive: Carries on from the last point. Being polite and courteous instead of arrogant and rude would be a positive change in almost every circumstance.
    4. Keep it Simple: Try not to complicate things or make it hard. Be very clear about the changes you want to make it your life. You may decide you need to a change of scenery and decide to move to the mountains to achieve a calm and passive mind. In reality you can achieve this almost anywhere.
    5. Practice and Protect: If you don’t use it you lose it. If we want to be more mindful we need to practice mindfulness. It is a skill that becomes a habit with time and practice. If we never apply the change that we seek we will never own it. Saying, I want to be more self aware and calm is fine but you have to start being it.

Codependency

Codependency is often described as a dysfunctional relationship that exists between two persons one or both of which may be in addiction such as alcoholism. The other person tolerates and facilitates that behaviour by remaining within the relationship despite the emotional, mental and even physical abuse that they suffer. Both participants in the relationship believe that they cannot live without the other. Both condemn themselves to a partnership that is built on anything but true love.

In reality Codependency is much more. A relationship that is held together out of fear or loss is a form of codependency. One person may lean on another person emotionally and be unable to validate themselves without the person. This is compounded if the other person also has emotional or psychological issues which compliment those of her partner.

Two damaged people bought together do not necessarily provide a solution or salvation. One of two things may happen; one of the individuals may grow emotionally and awaken to the fact that they are in an unhealthy codependent relationship that does not allow them to flourish. Otherwise the relationship may endure but simply out of a fear of being “alone”. The opportunity to find true love and to live a free and fulfilling life is compromised. This is not love but a form of bondage that ends in regret.

 

A Painful Truth

Some years ago I realized I am in a codependent relationship with my partner. I thought couples just had their disagreements and got over them. During my drinking these disagreements were fairly often but then I was very selfish and obstinate and only saw my side. Despite getting sober and working the steps I found I could not break this cycle of codependency. The relationship remains dysfunctional.

I found that despite the decades I spent being on my own I was now a virtual prisoner to my need to belong. I now find myself questioning the authenticity and honesty of the relationship but uncertain on  how to act. Is it fair to be in a relationship where deep within our own heart we know that whatever true affection and love existed has long been replaced with a mutual need for stability, security and familiarity? Is not being in the world alone more important than being in a true and nourishing relationship?

 

Emotional Maturity

There is nothing wrong with stability, security and familiarity. All of these are important in a healthy relationship. However a codependent relationship is categorized by an imbalance between two people. There are power struggles and each attempt to assert their control over the other. Disagreements occur and concessions are made by one side or another in order to maintain the peace. The result is resentment and anxiety. Open and honest communication breaks down. Couples become distant harboring private resentment for the failings they perceive in their partner. They blame each other for the unhappiness in their lives but they are unwilling to do anything. Despite all the ill feeling and pain both know that they cannot function alone. Freedom and happiness is traded in for stability, security and familiarity.

Emotional maturity was not a part of my sobriety in the beginning. I am still growing up. In other words I had not matured as an emotional person during my decades of alcoholism. I still had all the emotional maturity of a traumatized teenager and a lost young man trying to make sense of the world. Much to my surprise I realized not long ago that everything decent I had ever done was to get approval and love from others. To be accepted. Every spiteful or indecent act I had ever committed was to get back at them or others for perceived wrongs. This included getting drunk.

 

Child

Codependency in my case did not just happen later in life. I grew up with an alcoholic Father who himself had all the emotional maturity of a deprived child. Without another role model to learn from and no outside support becoming an accepting and active participant in the abuse was assured. A child will adapt quickly and learn to survive. As a child I begged my Father to be reasonable, sane and sober. I would put him to bed in the dead of night when he stumbled in to whatever doss house we lived in and pull off his boots. In the morning I woke him up and pressed him to go to work as he swore at me through a hangover. I hated him but he was still my Father and as such I needed him.

Natural emotions such as empathy and joy were dulled and replaced with fear, then anger and finally apathy. With apathy and time people start to identify with the negative influences in their lives and also begin to act them out. Emotional abuse, violence and cruelty become a part of who we are. I remember the cruelty I afflicted on my siblings as a child and on hapless victims in the school yard. I suffered at home and others had to suffer. Bullies beat me so I had to bully those that were weaker than me. The bullied often become the bullies. This still wears down on me heavily at times.

Growing up without a Mother and in the care of an abusive alcoholic Father had left me angry and vulnerable as a kid. We were thrown in to the State Care system as the Child Welfare people intervened. My sullen disposition attracted the wolves at school and being small in stature I was an easy target for bullying. I fought regularly and was in trouble often. I shoplifted and was smoking and drinking by age 11. The world looked like a hostile place to me and I was out in the cold. Desperate to find a place I could call home, I ran away and joined the Army as soon as I finished High School.

 

A Home

I took that anger in to the Army and they molded it and beat my vulnerability out of me. My weaknesses were removed and they built me up in to something useful. I cut all contact with my Father and never spoke to him again. The Army gave me a roof over my head, three meals a day, medical and dental, training and told me what I had to do and when to do it. It was simple and structured. For a long time I felt empowered and protected. I also felt like a bad ass. I was extremely fit, tanned and trained. Being part of something bigger than oneself does that. So does extra muscle mass and being trained in unarmed combat and Infantry skills. But it was shallow; there was a gaping hole there. I knew I didn’t belong in that world and rebelled. I found alcohol.

After an ignoble and unceremonious discharge from the Army a few years later I was back out on the street and completely alone. The Army had probably saved me from destitution and a hopeless future but I had barely matured in to an adult. I was dependent on the system to support me. I felt like an important part of me was torn away when I stepped outside the gates for the last time and the cord was cut. They had taught me to be a Soldier but not a functional and mature adult fit for normal life. I had entered barely 18 and at 23 I was on the street while many of my High School Friends were graduated from University and already in professional careers earning close to 6 figure salaries. I had no transferable qualifications other than in heavy drinking.

 

Barely Functional

Functioning and surviving in civilian life alone was an enormous challenge. People around me were phony and shallow. Their concerns and priorities were petty and made little sense. Employers seemed only to use and exploit young employees. The Jobs I took were mind numbing and low paid and I soon made enemies. There was no comradeship or mutual benefit. It was a dog eat dog world and I felt completely maladapted to it.

My anger and frustration would boil over and I quickly alienated and scared off people. Friends and acquaintances distanced themselves. I could not re-enter the Army, I had well and truly burned my bridges there. The answer was to move around a lot and get drunk as often as possible. I tried the Geographic solution and drowned it in alcohol. In order to eliminate any reliance on others and be completely independent I vanished overseas taking my problems with me as far as I could take them.

 

A Wife to the Grave

My relationship with booze took a new turn in civilian life. For a start I didn’t have to worry about trying to fit drinking around the Army. I learned I could arrange life to suit my drinking. As I did so I found myself becoming more dependent and less flexible with people, places and circumstances that got in the way of that relationship.

Alcohol is cunning and has a way of intruding in every aspect of life like a demented and obsessive lover. We know that the relationship is doing us harm but we remember the good times too. We cannot imagine being separated from alcohol. Our disease adopts a persona that is omnipresent and absolute in our lives. She is like a Succubus, a lover turned Demon who will not let us go. The relationship becomes entirely one sided. Alcohol will eventually take everything unless we break that hold first.

 

Emotional Sobriety

Recovery of course is breaking that dependence. The 12 Steps provided the pathway for me to do that. As my sobriety strengthened my personality began to change. Self honesty and humility allows us to review our actions in life and identify where we have been lacking. This provides the impetus to start maturing as a person. Emotional sobriety is the eventual outcome of practicing principles and working the steps.

Along the way we begin to review our relationships. Some of them present themselves as being dysfunctional or toxic and are ended. In my case my sobriety began to reveal dimensions and aspects of my relationship with my partner that I had never considered before. In our journey we take an honest view of our life and question where authenticity is lacking and where fear or resentment resides. We make amends for the harm we caused where we can.

Every major change in life comes with costs and benefits and recovery is no different. I began to realize that I had been in a relationship simply because I needed it when I was drinking and alone. The need to fulfill the need for a place to finally call home and to find someone was a way of addressing the void that had existed in me my entire life. It’s a trap many of us fall into, we think that others will complete us and we rely on them to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves. Once we get sober and sane the world becomes a different place and so do we. The illusions that we created for ourselves start to fall away and we see life in plain view.

Having emotional sobriety is realizing that only we can fill the void that resides within us with something deep and spiritual. We look at ourselves and realize we no longer need anyone. We may want them, but we no longer need them. It can come as a bit of a shock to realize that a long term relationship is built on the shifting sands of codependency. The sands are slipping away, being eroded with time. The trick of course is what to do about it. Do we let it go or start sand bagging?

 

Interdependency

I have a friend who is also sober and in a relationship that is interdependent, that is the opposite of codependent. I envy them. The couple compliment each other perfectly and neither is dependent on the other to be the person they want them to be. They support each other and understand each others needs. They are together because they want to be, not because they have to be or need to be. Both are free to express their own individual qualities in the way that best defines them.

The outcome is a trusting and mutually beneficial partnership built on mutual love and respect. Both are empowered, self sufficient and self determinant because the nature of their relationship encourages it. Communication is open and honest; laughter is a daily part of their lives. The relationship is vital like a breath of fresh ocean air.

 

Accept the things

I don’t have a definitive solution for my situation. My strategy is acceptance and to take the view “this too shall pass and better times shall come”. I keep my side of the street clean and live in accordance with my principles. Realizing that one’s relationship is in trouble is a good start but knowing is not doing. Being unable to do much about it without the willingness of the other person is a problem. Then things could always be much worse.  Things can seem bad and cause us pain but actually it is not the thing that does us harm but our reaction to it.

Being Jedi as well as being sober has taught me that we cannot force people to be one thing or another. They will decide for themselves and so should we for our own selves. We can try to improve situations through our own choices. If we are separated or divorced we can choose to be polite and civil to our estranged partner. There is no reason to answer one person’s bad behaviour or harsh words with more of the same. Promises should be kept and obligations met even if we would rather not comply. If someone lies to us we should not use it as an excuse to be dishonest in return. Children should never be used as a bargaining chip or held for ransom; they are innocent parties.

We may be stuck in a relationship that is dysfunctional and even terminal but we can still treat the other person with care, dignity and respect. Han Solo and Princess Leia set a good example. Married at the end of one war, separated decades later at the start of another. There was no animosity or blame between them. The fortunes of war and a shared love and concern for a very troubled son reunited them for a brief time. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in our relationships, we still have a choice to be a good person.

 

Things could still be worse

The State of the World

If you follow the news every day you are probably of the view that the world is in serious trouble. It seems that every day we are bombarded with more terrible news from around the world. Some of it affects us directly or we know people involved. News from further afield also touches us. We feel for the people that are caught up in a tragedy, their plight streamed to our computer or television. Their suffering becomes our suffering.

The world seems like a smaller place than it ever did. We are connected through the power of the internet and comprehensive news coverage. If something terrible happens in our town, city, state, country or on the other side of the planet we soon hear about it. Right now there are mass murders, genocide, environmental destruction, natural disasters and famine happening around the world in plain view. The world stands on the precipice of a nuclear disaster, war appears to be looming large as does an array of other global catastrophes. We feel helpless to do anything. Despite all of this, things could still be worse.

 

Reasonable to Good

Despite all the tragedy and calamity in the world we also get caught up in our own personal dramas. Our wants and needs still preoccupy our thoughts. Simple and day to day problems still arise. The car still breaks down, we have crappy days and nothing seems to go right. Except when it does, bad things usually happen to other people. Most of the time they happen to people we don’t know and believe it or not, the news does not cover every instance of bad news. Terrible things are happening right now that will never be reported, that we will never hear about.

That does not mean the world is falling apart around us. The chances of being assaulted, robbed or murdered remain low. Most of us will never be caught up in a natural disaster or a major accident such as a fatal car accident, train derailment or a plane crash. Hopefully, even less of us will be visited by war. Diseases such as cancer may happen but the odds might still be in our favor. Overall the outlook for a positive future seem reasonable to good. The world still has much beauty and peace.

 

Not the End

So why does it seem that things could not get any worse right now? Well they could. It’s simply a matter of perception. Things do not hurt us, only our perception and view of them does. I have heard people, myself included, declare “that’s it, it’s over, my life is finished!”. The reality is it’s not. We could lose our job, our house, our partner could abandon us, loved one’s could die but we are still here.

The sense of loss and grief that is felt does not mean that the world has ended or that we won’t see better days. The sun will rise again in the morning and the Earth will continue to turn on its axis. What assaults and bereaves us today will pass. It may seem hard to accept but it is true. Hurricanes and earth quakes destroy cities and wars upend entire countries, yet people still emerge and rebuild brick by brick. Soon enough children’s laughter can be heard and life goes on.

 

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Life Goes On

The power of perception and gratitude kept James Stockdale alive in a North Vietnamese prison and it kept Viktor Frankl’s hopes and dreams alive in Auschwitz. Both of these men knew things could be worse. They were still alive and they owned their minds. The power of choice over whether to allow themselves to give in was theirs alone.

There are times when fate hands people a cruel and heavy burden. I could not think anything worse than the loss of a child. Yet I know people who have suffered that tragedy and who have come out the other side of hell more appreciative of life and love. They are more grateful for the things that they still have and grateful the for time they were blessed to have spent with their loved one. Life does still go on.

Putting things in to perspective allows us to find our balance. We can grieve and process our loss in a mindful way while appreciating what has been taken away. Loss is a reminder that all things are impermanent and transitory. Gratitude reminds us to value what we have more than what we expect or want. By accepting that life could still be worse we are in a way acknowledging that and letting go of our attachments without devaluing their importance in our lives.

 

Grace of God

A decade ago I was diagnosed with a tumor that resided within my skull. Unlike a brain tumor it was a mass that was non-malignant and could be surgically removed before it did any damage to my brain. At first I thought I had a brain tumor and panicked until the Doctor reassured me that my prognosis was good as it had been found before it could interrupt the blood supply to my brain. So I asked “it could’ve been worse?”, the Doctor replied that indeed I could have had a stroke at any time and lost a great deal of function if not my life, so yes “it could have been far worse”. That experience taught me a lesson. It gave me a new lease on life and a grateful appreciation for everything in it. Unfortunately I forgot that I was alcoholic and soon started the spiral downwards.

Recovered Alcoholic often surprise people with their spontaneity, humor and positivity. Some of them have been through the wringer, they have estranged or lost friends and family members, ruined their careers and lost everything they ever owned and suffered terrible health problems. Yet here they are, laughing and joking and enjoying life to the full. Even bad news seems not to unsettle them. They accept what comes with equanimity and peace. They realize that the only reason they are sitting there is because of the “Grace of God”.

My personal descent in to a hell I call “rock bottom” put me in an emotional and spiritual place I thought could not possibly be worse. The reality was, I was lucky; I found a Higher Power and made my way out. With renewed faith I started to clean myself up and begin recovery by taking the steps. I admitted my powerlessness to act against a disease and I surrendered my problem over to a Higher Power. By surrendering my life to the Force I was able to start putting my life in to perspective and finding that I still had a lot to be grateful for. I realized that things could have been far worse. Compared to others I got off lightly; I still had a family, my job and my health.

 

Leia

Leia Organa is very much the symbol of strength, pride and steely determination in the Star Wars saga. Leia suffered loss in her roles as a Princess, Diplomat, Rebel Leader, Jedi, General and Mother. Her life had been full of personal tragedies and bitter betrayals. Besides the loss of her biological parents at birth she endured decades of hardship in peace and in war. Whether you read Canon or Legends they included the death of her son Anakin and the loss of her Ben Solo to the First Order. She married and separated from Han Solo and then in “The Force Awakens” learned that he had been brutally executed by their own child. Despite all of this Leia never buckled, she never gave in.

In real life Carrie Fisher also dealt with personal hardships and tragedies that most people were unaware of. From an early age she was thrust in to the lime light due to her high profile parents. Star Wars launched her career and earned her unimaginable fame. That global recognition came at a price. Still a teenager Carrie Fisher was in an affair with her co-star Harrison Ford. The relationship was one sided, he a distant lover and she a an impressionable young girl who was infatuated yet awkward about her feelings and embarrassed about her body. She fell in to addiction and depression and struggled with the pain and self loathing that it bought on. The separation of her parents and death of her Father also had a heavy toll on her.

Despite all of the hardship and tragedy Carrie Fisher never wallowed in self pity. Although she had low self esteem she also had the tenacity, strength and courage to overcome her demons and emerge as a confident writer and spokesperson for mental health. She became like General Organa, tough and frank yet approachable and funny. Carrie Fisher had a common touch which connected with ordinary people. She had been through the wringer and like many recovered Alcoholics had a ferocious love for life and a healthy sense of humor born of humble irreverence for one’s own flaws.

The shared beauty of Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa was the knowledge that life is tough and it will get you down. Life can pick you up and throw you down again and again but it can always be worse. How we get through it and come out the other end largely depends on us. We can give up and weep bitterly in the dark or we can stand up and keep going one day at a time, one step at a time.

Despite all the tragedy and evil in the world it is still a wonderful place. There is more good in people than bad.

Jedi trust their feelings or intuitions

Jedi are a ‘feeling people’ and believe in using and trusting their feelings and intuition. Jedi are intuitive and are in touch with the core of their being.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Who am I?

A decade or more ago I took a personality evaluation test called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). My Employer’s HR executive had decided it would be a good idea if everyone took the test and shared with everyone else their traits. The rationale was that people are different and they react differently to things. Their personality type will determine many of the traits we observe that either inspire or annoy us.

For supervisors like myself it was explained I had to map the personalities of my subordinates in order to manage them better. If I know my tools, the psychologist explained, I can use them more effectively. The results for supervisors would also be used to help determine advancement through the ranks of the company to higher level positions.

My results were disappointing and inconsistent with the companies profile for advancement to middle management and beyond. Based on my personality type I was to advance no further than frontline supervisor. I was stuck. This was disappointing but I also felt intuitively that it was for the best. I liked being in the field, interacting with people and getting my hands dirty. The sterile world of “brown nosing” and office politics was not for me. Besides, I figured that eventually my drinking would mess things up so why climb the lofty heights only to be unceremoniously thrown back down.

INFJ

What was my fatal flaw? The MBTI revealed my personality type to be INFJ. My chosen profession should have been an artist, poet, monk, philosopher, aid worker, teacher or child care worker. I was a bit shocked because I always thought I was a bit of a rough diamond he-man sort of guy. To be told I was more of a quiet “sharing and caring” kind of guy was not what I was expecting. I sought to hide the results. The lads at the pub and the guys in my Army Reserve unit must not know about this. I started to feel I didn’t know myself. I didn’t.

For years booze had obscured my true nature from myself. From the age of 18 I had tried hard to be someone else. My real personality had been eclipsed by a false persona that was not the real me. Alcohol had kept me in denial and now some psychologists test had just held up a mirror that showed me who I was beneath my fake exterior. It was a revelation but intuitively I knew I had been suppressing my true self for decades in order to be accepted. Alcoholics tend to do this and it causes an inner tension. We eventually face a psychic crisis as the real person we are catches up with us.

Introversion

The MBTI test revealed that a strong “I” meant introvert. This surprised everyone as I always played the extrovert but it was show. I never felt comfortable around people or crowds. The Psychologist revealed that “I”’s have a “party going on inside” but when forced in to social situations could would tire easily. She reassured me I was no social leper, we just don’t need others to draw energy from. We get it from ourselves. “E” suck energy out of others. It sort of made sense; I had to drink to feel comfortable in a crowd.

Intuition

For some reason “N” means “Intuition”. I didn’t know much about the word “Intuition” other than the racy video clip by the singer Jewel. I also thought intuition was something to do with stopping at three beers, something I was never good at so I thought my intuition must be poor. Apparently it was also off the scales. This fortunately was good, if I were a CEO, but not so good so far down the ladder. She had to interrupt me as I drifted off a bit and thought about Jewel. “Intuitors”, she told me tend to be dreamers.

Feeling

“F” was for feeling. F meant I tend to listen to my heart more than my head. If I feel something is not right I’m usually on the mark. The problem of course is that emotions can get away from strong “Feelers”. Otherwise she said “F”s are sensitive to other people and can be empathetic.  I wear my heart on a sleeve is what the shrink said and I protested in indignation. This was a problem for the company as my “F” was off the charts. Being an “F” meant I was liable to have principles that would extend beyond share holder value. I could turn in to a “whistle blower” or worse, a unionist. The blood drained from my face. I started to remember the trouble I had caused in the Army because of principle and wanting to defend others. “F” meant “Fail”.

Judging

My “J” was not as strong but still significant. “J” is for Judging. Not to be confused with the judgemental type. This was a redeeming feature as it indicated I am task orientated and plan work. Unfortunately I can get so focused on one task I forget others or miss information. It seemed to me I would now spend the rest of my career doing data entry. Why couldn’t I have been an ESTJ like Darth Vader? Those guys made it far in the company. The CEO was an ESTJ.

Be Yourself

The final report went to my boss sealing my career trajectory. I was sort of relieved but still hated myself for being an INFJ. Who should I blame? Parents, God, the English teacher who had told me to be a writer some day. I had often looked in the mirror and asked “Who am I?”, this test revealed my personality. I saw the result as a flaw not realizing it was actually a good thing. My real character flaws were obstinacy, belligerency, resentment, apathy, anger, dishonesty, self pity and selfishness all alcoholic tendencies. Not the real me.

I often wonder how the test would have gone if I had arrived at work drunk and fresh out of a Night Club. Before the morning blues and dry horrors had set in. I could have sat the test and got a completely different score. The Psychologist told me the test was very hard to fool. I have sat it several times and once got drunk and did it again trying for a different score. Every time INFJ.

These days I actually love that I am an INFJ. It makes perfect sense. The company and that job is long gone but I am still an INFJ and always will be. I know myself better than I did and to know thyself is a great thing. Whether a person can truly know themselves is a matter of opinion. We can be Jedi and go some way to trusting ourselves and being in tune with our feelings.  We can be ourselves without fear and with confidence. I will never again try to be anyone other than who I am. That’s a start.

The Advocat

I looked up INFJ today and found our archetype is the “Advocat” or the counsellor. We have a strong sense of morality and idealism as well as loyalty. Obi-Wan Kenobi was an INFJ as was Aragorn and Lady Galadriel of Lord of the Rings.  INFJ’s are dreamers who do. They are quiet achievers who try hard to make a positive impact on the world. They are altruistic and selfless people who fight tirelessly for what they believe is right. We are strong willed and decisive but soft spoken and caring. We are less than 1% of the world so we are truly special. Yes we have our weaknesses but then so does everyone else.

To my delight I found that Carrie Fisher, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela were all INFJ. I feel blessed to have that in common with these great people.

Accept who you are, be yourself. Embrace the authentic you even if you are an ESTJ like Darth Vader. MTFBWY.

https://www.personalityclub.com/blog/star-wars-personality-chart/

Growing Old

When 900 years old you reach, look as good, you will not.” – Yoda

Recently I turned half a century. The milestone was not marked by any celebration and I asked that family and friends treat it as any other day. My Stoic attitude to turning 50 was to take the time to contemplate my life up until that point. I wanted to appreciate where I currently am in my life and ponder the future.

The inescapable fact

It is hard to escape the fact that time is not on our side. No one will live to be as old as Yoda. Those that do not die young will see their parents grow frail and eventually lose their health. Children bury their parents and grieve their passing as is the nature of things.

Our children grow up and eventually leave the nest seeking to start their own journey through life.  If we manage to dodge the many ailments and illnesses that seem to beset the middle aged we too also eventually grow frail. Our strength and agility slowly start to leave us. Sight grows dimmer, conversations are harder to follow and loud noises bother us more.

We watch as the world around us becomes more and more unfamiliar and we notice how young new parents look with their small children. Once upon a time not long ago we were that age too and had the same glow and vibrancy of youth.

One by one that that we knew leave us and start to dim in our memory. Soon our time comes.

Looking Back

I am now fifty years old. It feels strange to say it. I am a product of the 60’s and was born at a time when youth was rebelling against authority. The Vietnam War was being fought and the counter culture was in full swing not only in the States but around the world. They called it the “Love Generation” among other things. Some may actually remember that era (pun intended) and recall that it doesn’t seem that long ago. Yet it probably seems like an eternity.

They say I am Generation X. The very mention of the term brings back a lot of nostalgia. Which in itself is weird. I remember getting drunk and stoned a lot through the 90’s. The music was a mix of House music and then Grunge. An entire decade seems to have been lost in some sort of haze of booze and drugs or the fog of hangovers and brief recovery.Trainspotting and Kurt Cobain inspired the times.

There are the faded and yellowed photos of forgotten friends and fellow travelers in some remote and distant parts of the world. Everyone looks so young and happy. We are holding up bottles of beer and nursing cigarettes. There are bongs laying about.

We are wearing cut off Jeans, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin T-shirts and Thai Dye. Everyone has long hair and some of the guys have beards. Most of us are skinny, tattooed and tanned. There’s the promise of a good night and maybe love with a stranger. Life is a care free adventure, for a time there is no need to worry about the future. Youth seemed to be the promise that would last forever.

Never Lasts

Nothing lasts for ever and everything must end. Our travels, careers, friendships and close relationships, our very lives are all finite and impermanent. The party also had to end. I just never caught on like most and didn’t start growing up.

Booze tends to hold back the clock a little. Soon enough we are the middle aged person trying to keep up with people half our age. They are where we were 20 years ago and here we are still in the same place.

Ripped Off

Getting sober is a little like Rip Van Winkle waking up from his drunken slumber. The first thing Rip did on waking was go to his local Tavern and order an Ale. Looking around the Bar he noticed that the clientele was different. Some of the older people stared at him curiously. There was a young man that looked vaguely familiar to him.

Soon enough he was approached and it became revealed that he had vanished 20 years before and was now a much older version of himself. Rip Van Winkle had slept for 20 years, the result of a ghostly practical joke. The old fellows were his Friends and the young man his grown son. He learned that his wife had passed on. A bit relieved, Rip had another drink.

Waking Up

When we get sober the world appears different. Like Rip Van Winkle we realize we have been in some sort of slumber for years. Others have been moving on with their lives and in many ways we have been moving forward too but a large part of us has been rooted in the same spot. Once we have freed ourselves from the compulsion to drink our old haunts and old way of life no longer appeal. The chains slip off.

Sometimes I pass a bar or a night club and feel an urge to go inside, to resurrect a part of me that is now dead. I see the young people partying and having a great time, the music is blaring and the laughter fills the air. I feel a sense of nostalgia for the past but it soon passes and I remember who I am and most importantly when I am.

Old is a State of Mind

I do not consider myself old. In many ways I am excited about the coming years. After five years of sobriety I have learned so much about myself and recovery. I have barely touched the surface. Like Rip Van Winkle I see a chance to make a fresh start with every day. Age need not hold me back.

Indeed I can proudly say that I am fitter and stronger now than I was at 25. People say I look younger too, which I’ll take. There’s still a spring of youth in my step. I hope I’m wiser. There is the advantage of experience on my side. Wisdom acquired from a life of mistakes to draw from.

The Future

We can accept that the years will wear on us and eventually the tide of time will take us with it. Like Yoda I can face my ultimate destination with equanimity. My only concern is to live what Epictetus called the “Good Life” and whether I do or not is largely entirely up to me.

No one can know what the next day will bring. The future is always a mystery. With some certainty we can say that the sun will set tonight and rise in the morning to another day. Each day brings another chance to get things right, to learn and to grow and to use what we have learned. We can continue to look forward with hope and draw on our Faith that your best days are yet to come.

Recently I saw an article about a man who reportedly lived to 256. This man had been taught by another man who he claimed had lived for 500 years. The man is now dead but his story was documented early last century. The very old man had a secret for living to such an age which he shared…I’ll share it…..Tomorrow.

Geographical Cure

Well, if there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.” – Luke Skywalker “Episode IV: A New Hope”

The Geographical Cure is the idea that enters in to our mind suggesting that the grass is always greener on the other side. We decide that if we were to change our location and find a place where we are meant to be we will find peace and happiness. All our problems will be resolved by moving to another town, city, state or country.

Psychologists have shown that the Geographical Cure works some of the time for some people but in most cases the benefit is temporary. The flip side of the Geographical Cure is the fact that when moving from one place to another we are moving. No matter where I go, there I will find me. So if I want real change in my life, moving to a Greek Island or French Provence might sound ideal but it is unlikely to change my mind or behaviors. Believe me I tried.

Gypsy Life

As a kid we moved around a lot. You could’ve called us Gypsies. I won’t list them here but before I completed the 7th Grade I had moved from one end of the country to the other and attended over 20 different schools. The adventure was only interrupted briefly by social services that placed me and my siblings in to State Care for a period of time. The reason for the constant moving was a parent who was alcoholic and was a strong believer in the Geographical Cure. If anyone proved that the Geographical Cure does not work, it was my Father.

Like Father I also moved around a lot mostly to get away from myself. Getting to somewhere new, becoming familiar with the people and the culture, making new friends was intoxicating at first. The problem of course was when I got to any of the numerous places I chose as “ideal” I soon ran in to myself. Then the real “intoxication” would begin and so would the dramas and the scandal that ensued.

It was then only a matter of time before I made my excuses and tried somewhere else. I’m probably the only person who ever tried to make Aliyah to Israel and got told “no longer welcome and don’t come back” by my exasperated hosts. Its a bad sign when an entire country doesn’t want you.

Book of Stamps

After many years of wandering the globe I did not have any major epiphanies, there were no resounding breakthroughs and I was alcoholic. Traveling and drinking tend to go hand in glove.

On return home I could boast an International bar crawl that had taken me to over 30 countries in 5 continents. I  even had a collection of glass coastere from Pubs around the world. There was no Geographical Cure for me, just a steady decline and then a plunge to “Rock Bottom”. I became recovered in the same town I had left 27 years earlier to join the Army and “see the world”.

I still get the urge for Geographical Cure. Perhaps in my sobriety I realize that despite the many stamps in tattered passports and the grainy photos of me getting plastered with unrecognizable people in exotic locations, I didn’t really get to see the world or experience life as it is meant to be. The travel bug remains. I wonder if I had the chance again would I do it differently or would I see the world through beer goggles once more.

At times when people and life pisses me off  I imagine a small cottage on a Greek Island or in the foot hills of the Pyrenees. Fishing, hiking, writing and reading and mostly being alone. Then I remember people will probably annoy me there too and life will still be difficult. Running away from our problems does not solve them, it often makes them worse.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 
— John Lennon

Home is where you make it

Moving town, city, state or country may or may not make us happier. It really depends on your definition of happiness. There are places I longed for and when I got there I was disappointed. Was it the place or me? A place does not care, it exists in spite of us. We stand there in the same body and look upon it with the same set of eyes. When we bring ourselves, happiness can be found on a paradise like Naboo or on a hell hole like Tatooine.  Happiness comes from within and so does change.

So when Luke Skywalker looked at the twin suns setting on Tatooine and dreamed of getting off world to join the Rebellion he was looking for a Geographical Cure.  Life as a moisture farmer on an outer rim planet that no one cares about can be pretty glum. Luke was like his father wanting adventure, travel and purpose. He was impatient and wanted to run away. The reality of life as a fugitive, rebel and Jedi soon caught up with him.

Forty years later we find Luke as an old man on the “Jedi idyllic” setting of Ahch-To, on a rock in the middle of a cold and wind swept oceanic planet. I wonder if Luke had found his Geographic Cure. I guess we will find out in “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”.

And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” – Confucius

Bigger Fish

There is always a bigger fish” – Qui-Gon Jinn “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”

In the scene in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, Qui-Gon Jinn and Ob-Wan Kenobi are pursued by an underwater creature. Jar Jar Binks, is in fits of terror while the Jedi seem unconcerned by the looming menace. They seem more annoyed at the bumbling Gungan  they are stuck with. As the reptilian carnivore closes in it is ambushed by some vast underwater behemoth that rises from the deep and swiftly devoured. Qui-Gon Jinn remarks nonchalantly “Well, there is always a bigger fish”. It’s a forgettable scene but it’s a memorable quote and is one I use often in applying my philosophy for life.

Fact 1: No matter how big and tough someone thinks he is there is always some one out there who will better him.

Never think for a moment that you are invincible and that if you hold the title for world champion someone is not going to come along one day and knock you off your pedestal and claim the crown. It need not be a title or the claim to being the best at anything, even becoming over confident can eventually lead to cocky self-assuredness, arrogance and finally complacency. This would be a fatal mistake. For someone in recovery they are all red flags which can ultimately lead to relapse. Humility as a virtue is vital to sustained recovery.

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – Saint Augustine

Fight Smart

The only wars that are truly won are those that were resolved before a shot was fired. I personally would not invite my addiction outside for a fight. I might win the first round but eventually pound for pound it will mop the floor with my face.  So I won’t dance with the Devil.

By fighting we leave ourselves open to being beaten, especially if we lead by the chin by being arrogant. Regardless of how recovered I think I am I know that the best way to win a fight is not to be there in the first place. I avoid situations that lead me in to trouble, I recognize the red flags as they appear and if required I have a tool bag of spiritual and mental skills I can use when needed. I fight smart.

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.” Marcus Aurelius

It is better to treat life like a wrestling match than a dance or in the case of an alcoholic, a bout of bare knuckle brawling. Trying to fight life through brute force only wears us out and half the time you are beating yourself. Fools think they can dance through life. Realists realize that life is more like wrestling. Life sweeps us up, knocks us down and tries to pin us. We manage to break the hold and flip things over getting the upper hand until the next time we are thrown off balance. The trick is to be prepared mentally and physically for the things that tip us over.

 

Fact 2: No matter how big or bad a problem seems to be it could always be worse.

The next time something annoys you or you are faced with a vexing problem ask yourself “could this be any worse”? The truth is of course it could be. Things can always be worse than they are. Take a moment to collect your thoughts. Look around you and notice the things that are going right in your life. Realize that the world is still there, society still functions, the sun will rise in the morning to another day. What ever is bothering you now will pass.

Sobriety does not give us immunity from pain but it does give us the opportunity to respond to the vicissitudes of life in a sane and appropriate manner.

Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” – Epictetus

Gratitude is a powerful force in your life and so is the ability to perceive and prepare for the “worst case scenario”. Negative visualization is one practice I use often to readjust my perception of “problems”. When I think about how bad some people have it I am reminded of how lucky I am. Things could always be worse.

Imagine the Worst

Negative visualization was used by the Stoics. Seneca reminds us that we should remember that our life can end at any moment and we should appreciate life to the full. Epictetus advises that when we kiss our children good night we should remember that it may be the last kiss. Children can be taken away. All things are transitory and impermanent and fate can change in an instant so we are reminded to savor every moment we spend with our loved ones.

Society compels us to live hedonistic lives, the book “The Secret” teaches us to use positive visualization to get the things we want, stating that the University will provide riches and opportunities if we simply claim them. Negative visualization teaches us to want what we have and appreciate more what we get.

The trouble with trying to get the Universe to give us things through positive visualization is we get really annoyed when it doesn’t fall out of the sky in to our lap. Worse it fosters a culture of entitlement and a ride on the hedonistic treadmill, we get what we want and then soon growing tired of it we want more and more.

Negative visualization teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our sobriety.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” – Unknown

Jonah and the Big Fish

Let’s use Jonah as an example in keeping with the giant fish theme. Jonah was sent on a mission by God which he didn’t want to accept because it was “too hard” or it didn’t agree with his plans. Too bad Jonah these things pick you. Displeased, God tossed Jonah about on an angry sea before the reluctant prophet was thrown over board by his terrified companions. Jonah was then swallowed by a behemoth and held for three days in the innards before being unceremoniously spewed up on the beach of ancient Israel for good measure. Then it’s a long walk to Nineveh where he has to deliver the news that the entire city is about to be destroyed by divine wrath which is certain to make him as popular as a bacon sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.

Things do turn out well though; Jonah gets his second wind and gets the population of Nineveh to repent sparing them from annihilation. Having done a great job he gets a whole chapter dedicated to him in the Bible and almost everyone has heard the story.

Jonah should have just had faith to being with and done what he was told in the first place and cut all the fuss, he should have gone straight to Nineveh. Instead of being a sour puss Jonah should have taken a leaf from the Athenians and used negative visualization to harden up for the worst case scenario and then worked for the best outcome. The flip side of course is that his reticence taught the rest of us an important lesson about accountability and duty.

 

Fact 3: The biggest and best that you think you can achieve might be wrong. You can always do better if you want. There is always “bigger fish to fry”.

We define our own “impossible”. If we say we can’t do something we are probably right, if we say we can we are probably right. Recovery has taught me that I can achieve more than I gave myself credit for. I never imagined I would be three months sober let alone 5 years. If I can do it so can anyone else.

The idiom does not only apply to recovery but in all other aspects of my life as well. Whether it is setting goals at work, in training or in my personal life I set the bar a little higher. I try to work in a zone of Eustress.

Good Stress, Bad Stress

Under stress is where we are not challenged. We are simply coasting along and usually accepting mediocre as good enough. If we put in average effort we are going to end up with average results but more usually none at all.

Half measures availed us nothing” – Big Book p59.

Distress is the opposite, we are at the limit of our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual capacity and sometimes beyond. Performance starts to fall apart and effort is non-sustainable. In early recovery I went in to hyper mode and over loaded myself. This of course led to distress and almost a relapse. “Easy does it” means to do it but do it easy, which of course means Eustress!

Eustress is the zone in between under-stress and distress. It is the zone of optimal performance where we are challenged but within our capacity and we can improve over time.

Set Goals

I work towards self improvement. In physical training for example the only way to make gains is to increase the load or the reps a little every time, introducing new exercises also helps, mixing it up. Sticking to the same routine will work for a while but soon you will simply plateau out and get bored and you won’t make gains.

When setting goals that push you, allow yourself to recover and then ratchet it up a bit more. If you plateau, back off a bit and then hit it again. Without rushing but with a slow and steady pace you will see improvement. New opportunities and bigger goals come in to view and the next thing you know you are doing things you thought were impossible a few weeks or months prior. Put the effort in and see the results. Nothing worthwhile is gained without hard work. Fortune does not fall out of the sky as promised in “The Secret”.

This formula works for training, learning a language, overcoming fears, dealing with anxiety and depression and almost anything else where the goal is gradual improvement over time. Always speak to a professional health advisor before starting a new program.

Oh and if you fish you will be very familiar that there is no such thing as “the biggest fish” only the “biggest catch of the day”. There is always tomorrow and if you hook Jar Jar Binks, throw him back in.

Science

If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are … a different game you should play.” Yoda, “Shatterpoint”

Science is based on proposition and the testing of a hypothesis. Experimentation is used to arrive at a statistically significant determination that a hypothesis is correct or incorrect. The best Scientists will try to reject a hypothesis and disprove a theory rather than default to a bias. They will try to prove themselves wrong no matter how important their theory is to them.

There are two types of Scientist in my experience. The first is those that undertake research to arrive at the truth. They want to understand the world as it is without the influence of any bias. Unbiased Scientists test their theories and accept when they are wrong.

The other type of Scientist will invest personal bias in their theories and adjust or interpret results accordingly to arrive at a conclusion. Such Scientists rarely welcome debate or criticism of their findings. You will find them in the halls of academia guarding their beliefs jealously and deriding any idea that challenges theirs. They are inflexible and they stymie the growth of scientific endeavor and the open exchange of ideas.

Truth of the Matter

No matter how you try to change it, the truth remains the truth. If you conduct an experiment and everything you do is correct but the outcome is the opposite of what is expected then that is the truth. The truth is not what you would make it. We have to accept the truth in order to recover.

The definition of insanity is to do something over and over again with the same outcome and expect something different. After trying an experiment a number of times in the same way with no change in conditions or parameters one should arrive at the same result. There may be some variation but when you do the math the result is still significant.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results“: Albert Einstein.

Despite a background in Science I was never good at exercising Scientific method in my own life. I would try the same things over and over and expect the same outcome only to be proved wrong again and again. Of course this flies in the face of logic but then who every said that logic applies when it comes to Alcohol.

Let me list some of the experiments I tried to drink normally:

  1. Stick to Light Beer only: Failed
  2. Drink only when eating: Failed
  3. Add water to wine: Failed
  4. Stop at three drinks: Failed
  5. Pace Drinking, have one, wait an hour and have another: Failed
  6. Not drink at all at a Party: Failed
  7. Empty the house of alcohol: Failed
  8. Exercise more often, start a health kick: Failed
  9. Swear off: Failed
  10. Seek help from a Psychologist: Failed
  11. Isolate myself from alcohol and everyone else: Failed
  12. Accept my alcoholism and Surrender my addiction: Worked

Whatever works

Only the last method worked. I tried it once but unlike the others there was no need to go back to the experimental design and manipulate parameters and variables. My hypothesis “an active program of recovery based on spiritual principles leads to sustained abstinence” worked. It still does.

Everything else I was doing before that? There was nothing wrong with any of it. Under certain conditions they will work in some cases. For me, they didn’t so I had to take a radical depart and think outside the realm of normal science. I had to reject my bias and accept that in my case only a spiritual solution could work. I tried it and much to my surprise and delight it did work.

Yoda summed it up very well. Everything you are doing in your life might seem right; there may be nothing wrong with it. But is it working for you? Does it serve? Will making one change, doing one thing differently make all the difference in the world? Perhaps we should consider a different solution instead of being stuck in our own paradigm and rejecting the alternatives.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – Herbert Spencer

Children

Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.” – Yoda “Episode 2: Attack of the Clones”.

Do you remember what it was like to be a child? That sense of wonder at discovering new things, the fascination and joy. Everything seemed bigger and brighter and your senses were alive soaking up every experience. As we grew up something happened; the veil came down. We started to lose our innocent sense of wonder, acceptance and trust. As we entered in to our teens the world started to lose its magic and color. We no longer cared for the same things in the same way as we did when we were little. The Ego expanded and we started to see ourselves as apart from everything.

Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardour, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shames, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.” – Aldous Huxley

Losing my Childhood

When I was a kid I would escape in to my own world. In that place lived Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. There was Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca.  Darth Vader was also there. Outside of my imagination there was all the misery of a childhood lost. The mind of a child is an amazing thing. Unlike adults they seem to be able to accept things more readily and handle life better.

For me the final death of my childhood was when I got drunk the first time and felt something within me expand. It was a feeling of power and independence. I could finally close the door on my childhood. It had been after all a miserable one. Here I was with my Army buddies in a bar, chest thumping and making bloody oaths. I was now a Man, at least in my own eyes. The veil slammed down and the fog drifted in.

Rip Van Winkle’s Sleep

Alcoholism is a twilight that exists between two phases in our life, the time before it and the time after it. During that time we are in a form of mental stasis. We do not seem to move forward in our emotional development. For me I stopped growing up in that seedy bar with my drunken and loud comrades by my side. Like Rip Van Winkle, I would only really wake up from my emotional and spiritual slumber 25 years later.

At that dark emotional and spiritual low point in our lives some of us call “Rock Bottom” I discovered something incredible. I found that the way out was to reclaim a child like sense of wonder and trust. Without even being aware of the 12 Steps I found my Higher Power in that place and felt within me the inner child stirred. It lifted me up and I came out of the pit renewed. The world looked…different. Everything was clean and fresh and new. I was seeing the world in a completely different way as if through the eyes of a child.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:2-4

Awaken the Inner Child

We adults must seem inflexible and obtuse to children at times. I can still hear my children imploring me to get dressed up as Pirate, Spider Man or a Fairy. They would be disappointed when I would refuse and delighted when I would drop my ridiculous sensibilities and play the part in their game. Those children are now teenagers and to them I am an old “Fart”now, barely worth a side ways glance. The veil came down for them some time ago. Kids these days grow fast or at least they seem to. Obviously I don’t get called upon to get “dressed up” any longer. They have grown and so have I.

Yet the inner child never dies. If you look within you will find it is still there. That sense of awe and wonder, a long forgotten innocence remains. There is forgiveness and boundless love that sweeps over you like a fresh morning breeze in the sun when you find your inner child. I think it is the inner divine or at least a facet of it. Seek it out often; try to remember what it was to be 7 years of age all over again. You will find joy and inner peace there.

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” – Albert Einstein

Photo Credit: United Press photographer Arthur Sasse in 1951

Adapt

Probably because I grew up in an age when entitlement was not in common usage and the euphemism “no free lunches” was the order of the day. I have never expected much of either in life. In many ways “The School of Hard Knocks” was a blessing. I knew how it felt to go to bed with an empty stomach as a child. To be ridiculed by other children in the playground for coming to school day in day out with the same set of clothes. For being different and odd. To have the shame of being known as the kid, with the “drunk” as a Father.

The daily resignation that Father will come home soon, drunk and angry. The sadness and loneliness of constantly have to pack up and move so much that in the end you no longer try to make friends because you will soon have to say goodbye. Fronting the family court. Physical and mental abuse by care givers. These things hardened me for life from an early age. I learned to adapt to life early on.

Being given no quarter and cut no slack was an accepted part of Life. Later there was the revolving door of relationships, jobs and “easy come, easy go” existence. Money one day, broke the next. Rejection soon leads to dejection and apathy. You grow few attachments and in time the only constant and only friend is booze. The rest you could care less as nothing and no one is reliable. Booze carries the only promise.

Maladaptation

Being an alcoholic was a defence mechanism and a cover, it was a maladaptation. On one had it provided the sense of social acceptance among peers, it made me friendlier, more likeable and funny, someone other than myself. On the other hand it gave me courage and allowed me to rebel against the order of things. To stand alone and thumb my nose at the world and they be damned. Alcohol hardened an already hard exterior. I expected no quarter and gave none either. Life didn’t offer much hope so the philosophy of “hope for anything, expect the worst” seemed pessimistic but it also seemed realistic.

There is nothing wrong with believing that “serenity is preceded by pessimism”. It just doesn’t need to come with “stinking thinking” attached. Expecting inevitable adversity does not need to be accompanied with a confrontational attitude to life or resentment to others. Anger never served me then and it doesn’t serve me now. Neither does hating life because it seems to hate me. Life doesn’t do these things to us.

Accept, Adapt, Overcome

Today I still anticipate that life is going to dish out some unpleasant turn of events that knock me off my feet. It was Marcus Aurelius that said “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.” To that end I live by that precept. I may not know when the next kick in the guts might come but I know it will and I’m prepared to meet it with acceptance and resolve.

How does one train for the unknowable? For me, I have had to dig back in to my childhood for the answer. There I found a kid who had simply accepted things as they were and adapted to his environment and learned to survive in the face of a hopeless situation. I expected little from others and from life and what I did receive I was grateful for and considered a bonus. Kids are good at that.

Assume an attitude of being easily pleased and you will find that life becomes more pleasurable. The glass half empty becomes the glass half full. Be flexible and agile enough to absorb change when it comes, as it inevitably will. Be fluid like water.

In the Army I often heard the adages “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome” and “Train Hard, Fight Easy” it was handy then and still serves in a different context now. The slogans “This too shall Pass”, “One Day at a Time” and “Keep it Simple ” also provide daily reminders of a different kind. We can anticipate and prepare for adversity and difficulties and know they will come along with everything else that life throws at us. They will also pass. We should be on guard be we can also enjoy life.