A “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” is causing a host of potentially fatal diseases, a leading expert says. In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, said that sleep deprivation affected “every aspect of our biology” and was widespread in modern society.
I don’t believe there is a more reasonable man alive than David Brooks. I’m often shocked watching the PBS NewHour when Shields and Brooks go at it because, come on, Brooks is a Republican and we all know what that has come to mean. But he truly is the embodiment of what being a Republican used to mean when Republican wasn’t synonymous with intolerance. In any case, I love his take on social media and shame. I fight with the concept all the time……
In 1987, Allan Bloom wrote a book called “The Closing of the American Mind.” The core argument was that American campuses were awash in moral relativism. Subjective personal values had replaced universal moral principles. Nothing was either right or wrong. Amid a wave of rampant nonjudgmentalism, life was flatter and emptier.
In today’s NYTimes Opinion section—glad it’s in the opinion section and not elsewhere because it seems an awfully oversimplified case. Wonder what Brene thinks?
Some writers can mask their characters’ inner worlds with plot, description, and dialogue. Some can tear off those masks and show us a startling reflection of our own inner worlds in those characters with a gently placed sentence at the end of the book. That’s what Strout does. She disguises the inner world for most of the book and then, BAM, you read a sentence and your own mask has been suddenly ripped from you. Not a bad way to write and to make a difference in a reader’s life.
This week’s Law: The Law of Creation
I have to admit that once we start adding more ‘laws’ than the first law, they all seem to meld, blend, and become a cohesive thing that at first glance seems to lose it’s individual pieces. After posting the first law last week, (reap what you sow, want happiness—be happy, whatever we put out there comes back at us), I really did try to think about it as I went about my daily life. One particular example comes to mind, however, in that it seemed to exemplify this law and helps clarify the first from the second law.
By Saturday, I’m pretty tired. I’ve dealt with 3 shifts of retail, working next to a bar, trying to get all the other work of the business done while adding constant foot traffic and possible sales opportunities. As an introvert, this is a mask I put on so that I can make the customer feel good about who we are, our brand, and their possible purchase. I can enjoy wearing the mask if my stress levels are being managed. I can sit in my chair, say, “Hi,” and go back to my computer. I can engage in a conversation. I can tell a story, ask questions. Or I can turn on the floodlight of energy that is “Spencer, Dial 10.” But when I’m tired, it’s hard.
As I was walking from my car to my long Saturday shift I specifically said out loud, “Today is going to be a good day. Today I’m going to be happy.” It was simple. Then I went to work and had the best shift I’ve ever had in the 3 summers at the gallery. And I didn’t even sell anything! But the energy pouring off the people who came into the shop was exactly the kind of energy I give when I am ‘on.’ Would that have happened had I not said that affirmation at the car? I don’t know. Would those same people have come in and offered me their energy? Possibly. But it was the joining of the two that made the experience. I had to participate in my own happiness, not just affirm it as a desire or hope for it because I pasted a fake smile on my face.
Law two talks about actively participating in the world around you. Participation is the act of Creation. Sometimes I get hung up with the notion of being “creative,” being an “ARTIST” (caps intended), living a creative life, etc. when in reality if I am actively participating in my life with positive intention, I am living creatively. I am living the Law of Creation.
How does this play out in recovery? I have to tell you, sometimes the process of recovery is depressing. The rooms are downright depressing. Joining a group of 50 people, half of whom are still talking about the same issues they were dealing with 3 years before (let alone 3 decades) without visible growth, all of whom define themselves as an addict first and foremost, can be depressing. Often when I have spoken/shared, I can feel an energy that I give off; it’s simply who I am. But as an introvert, I can only give so much before needing to be refilled either by myself or by others. I have discovered while exploring my creative world that there are few people out there who fill my coffers. And not because I am reclusive and an introvert. I, like many, need to rediscover who I am, and sometimes because I have focused so exclusively on SOBRIETY, I started to loose faith that the creative still existed. Sometime I need a break from the rooms in order to take a leap into myself as opposed to carefully treading one step at a time.
I am trying to honor my ‘self.’ “Be Yourself.” Novel. Creative. Unique. Passionate. Loving. I have to remember to look at what I am surrounding my ‘self’ with: If I’m not happy, perhaps I need new surroundings.
Thanks to Stevenaitchison.co.uk
2. The Law of Creation
- Life doesn’t just happen. It requires our participation.
- We are one with the Universe, both inside and out.
- Whatever surrounds us gives us clues to our inner state.
- Be yourself, and surround yourself with what you want to have in your life.
At times I found myself forgetting the narrator was gay and making choices to ensure he could live as a gay man man because I was focused on its historical/political/socioeconomic portrayal of the Middle East. I learned a lot and am once again a bit ashamed of our school systems because I knew nothing of the area. Also a bit embarrassed I hadn’t taken it upon myself to soak in the news of the last 3 decades in order to better understand everything from religious extremism to the Arab Spring. Then, just in writing this review, the videos of gay men being thrown off towers to their deaths popped into my head, and it all came together. It’s an important read, one I recommended my teacher partner take to his HS seniors.
It’s hard not to discover some great blogs out there; makes me wonder sometimes whether mine is redundant or necessary. Regardless, what my blog is doing is helping guide me into my next steps. Putting it Together, as the song goes. This might not last as long as I originally had planned but that will only be because my sights have become more and more focused on personal creative projects which, up until I gathered the confidence to start these websites, had suffered from lack of drive and confidence. I’ve been building those things up, and low and behold, everything else gets built up along with drive and confidence. Creative energy, esteem, hope, positive outlook. Why? Well, the LAWS OF KARMA! Doh!
I’ve always inherently believed in the Laws of Karma, believed in the synchronistic power of the universe and the energy that is ME. But life makes you forget, and before you know it, your are swirling down the drain into the unseen world of pipes, plumbing, and cesspools. So when I came across this great post reminding me there is actually a list of “laws” which I firmly believe hold true in my world, it was a relief. Like finding a plumber you can trust so you can put your faith in the seals, the welds, and know there will be no leakage if I use the system correctly and don’t overwhelm it. (did I take that imagery too far??)
So I’m going to post them one by one. Starting with:
Thanks to Stevenaitchison.co.uk
1. The Great Law
- “As you sow, so shall you reap.” This is also known as the “Law of Cause and Effect.”
- If what we want is happiness, peace, love, and friendship, then we should BE happy, peaceful, loving and a true friend.
- Whatever we put out in the Universe is what comes back to us.
I seriously don’t know how people do this blogging thing. It’s utterly overwhelming even for someone who considers himself technically savvy. But there’s a big difference between figuring out how to rewire a fuse box and trying to figure out how to manage all the various venues, outlets, and platforms of social media. I suppose the younger generations have the same leg up as those who graduated shortly after me and who learned HTML along with their normal spelling lessons. Oh, right, there were no spelling lessons because spell-check made that obsolete! I’m trying to figure this out, trying to set boundaries (No twitter, no Instagram) but perhaps my biases against the ‘see what I am doing right this instant’ mentality is unfair. I don’t know. All I do know is that this is incredibly time consuming. All consuming. Breathe, step away, doing something for myself first, then blog.
Knowing when to give up is a gift. DFW killed himself at 46, a creative genius haunted by mental illness and addiction. Hmm….I’m 47, haunted by my own issues, creative (I’ve never be called ‘genius’), years of meds and suicidal ideation. C was kind in thinking I would get something out of the read; unfortunately too much. I last 60 pages and realized it wouldn’t be healthy to go further. I skipped a couple hundred pages, read the last page of “how he did it,” then went to play the piano. Knowing when to give up a book is the gift. Knowing when to hold onto life is another.
Here’s what gets me upset: regardless of the program, therapy, rehabilitation program, or self-help book off the shelf at B&N, attempting to tame an addiction without a thorough investigation into one’s mental health by a professional (not a therapist, not a sponsor, not a general practitioner, but someone with the specific credentials to understand mental health “disorders” and the drugs that can possibly help), is like teaching braille to someone with complete hearing loss. It might open up a new world of sensory exploration for your fingers, offer an insight and language with which to communicate with a specific group of people who share a different physical problem than your own, but it does not address the bigger issue of not being able to hear. And lumping all mental health disorders into one massive category and allowing non-professionals to diagnose and prescribe, even via a casual personal story, is no less harmful than saying addiction to alcohol is the same as every other addiction whether it be sex, bath salts, binging/purging, meth, heroin, and on and on.
Too often, addiction is a symptom, not the problem, but in the hands of the wrong people, that claim can be turned on its head and used as some form of sick proof one is “in denial” or that their ego is fighting against the fact they are really just a ‘bozo on the bus’ and not being honest with themselves about their true condition, a condition through which adherence to a few simple steps can bring freedom, serenity, and joy.
Somewhere along the way, it became cool to be a part of a larger program of recovery; that’s great. Actors step forward and claim their seat. Writers do the same. Politicians even. But it seems that with this new esteem has come the bashing of psych-meds, medications that not only save lives but that treat the problem, not the symptom. I could run through the list of diagnoses I have been given by various professionals throughout my adult life, could tell story after story of how I fooled some professionals into giving me the exact diagnosis I wanted to hear at the time, and more tales of unsolicited advice from people who insisted they knew what I was going through because they, too, shared the label, “Addict.” Or they were a family member of an addict or a whole family of addicts. Often, these people are the ones out there shouting the loudest in a well-intentioned attempt to bring relief to others. Often their shouts just confuse the issue for those of us suffering from something other than our addictions.
Lithium. What does that word bring to mind? To me it’s looney-bins, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Francis Farmer (or rather Jessica Lang), and on and on. So unfair, so off-target, such a stereotype from an old generation of labeling. I don’t know a thing about Lithium outside of what I just read in the below article. Not a thing.
But I do know about Wellbutrin, Effexor, Zoloft, and Prozac. In the first three, up until last December, I held my hopes for some relief along with a heavy dose of therapy and 12-step. Why the first three and not Prozac? Because of magazine ads, commercials on TV, suggestions from friends, and stories in ‘the rooms.’ These were the newer, cooler, if you will, medications that could and would bring relief.
A week before the end of a 90-stay in my first rehab, 90 days after having tried to shoot an 8-ball of meth into my arms with a 4 year-old rusty veterinarian’s needle previously used on our cat, 11 weeks after telling one of my rehab counselors I wanted to die to which she replied, “Oh Spencer, leave the drama for the stage,” 5 days before leaving that rehab, my other counselor said, “You don’t need that Effexor. Just stop taking it.” Literally. I was advised to go cold turkey days before heading home. What happened after isn’t the point; the point is this person wasn’t qualified to discuss psych meds, a psych med that had been prescribed by a physicians assistant the previous year.
I stayed off that med and all others until 5 years later Wellbutrin and Zoloft were prescribed by that Harvard trained psychiatric nurse. They worked as well as they could while I secretly kept my truth: I was raiding the needle-exchange closet of all the used needles dropped off by the meth users in town, sometimes scraping the residue out of those needles and using the clean needles on the shelf above, but at other times, just filling the used needle up with water, shaking the left over crystals together with the client’s blood and shooting it into my veins. At work. Yes, I hit a major bottom, nearly killed myself by going septic, and eventually went away to the PRIDE institute. There, the doctor, a pediatrician, gave me her diagnosis and psychiatric recommendation. A pediatrician.
A few more years later, last fall, when I finally accepted I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself, I finally admitted to my therapist these fears (they had become not just ideations but a fear I would succeed), and I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. There was an initial diagnosis, multiple visits to ensure ‘bi-polar’ was not appropriate, and a thorough discussion of my med history and my current two meds (Wellbutrin and Zoloft). We eventually landed on my needing to stop Zoloft and to add Prozac. Prozac? Isn’t that so 80’s? Wasn’t that the catch-all drug of a generation of self diagnosed depressives? Wasn’t it a joke? I had to check my biases, my baggage, my history in order to hear what he was saying and to realize he was the one with the expertise who could possibly give me my life back.
He did. As did Prozac. You see, I’m on the obsessive compulsive spectrum which I never really knew. My binging, purging, love of sticking needles into my arm, self-mutilation, and addictions were as much a part of obsessive compulsion and they were in what I thought was an inability to stop (addiction.) Suddenly (weeks later), instead of a tiny unexpected thought creeping into my head creating a chorus that would scream, “DO IT (‘it’ being whatever desire was hitting me at the moment), I heard the initial voice and could stop other voices from joining it. Instead of crying on the way to get drugs, hating myself because I couldn’t stop, I could now see my thought process. Where before I had no control over where those thoughts went, now my thinking was under my own reigns. My obsession wasn’t in control That is a big difference in the mind of a depressed, self-destructive addict.
I write this because I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to seek professional help, to question the baggage of all those non-professionals offering help, and to make sure you cover all your bases. If you were recovering from a car crash, you wouldn’t just have your bones reset; your medical team (TEAM) would cover all the basis. Putting all our eggs in one basket only makes for a big helping of raw, scrabbled eggs.
After reading a startling honest and fresh blog entry by Leslie L. Smith this morning, (Why A.S.S. Is About So Much More Than Guilt), I was unwittingly startled into an acceptance I am in a period where the forces at work in my life are joining together to take me beyond the troubles of the last decade and to help me solve a major creative problem: what to do with about 30 short stories I wrote two winters ago. I used to facilitate a health enhancement course called the L.I.F.E. program (Learning Immune Function Enhancement) at the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod. It was a perfect fit: my background was not only in teaching, I was HIV+, with an AIDS diagnosis, and currently working in the Prevention and Education arm of the agency. One requirement of our MA grant was to provide some sort of health curriculum to agency clients. The only downside was that I never had the opportunity to actually take the course. I was relatively newly positive (about 5 years) and hadn’t had much opportunity to process with other HIV+ men.
You see, I’ve been saying I used HIV. That’s my survivor’s guilt. I’ve been saying that in a path of self-destructive behavior, I was ‘chasing’ HIV. And in a way, I was. This piece isn’t about that, so I’m going to stop right there. What this piece is about and what Leslie’s blog piece helped me see, is that all those stories are somehow based on my HIV. I have struggled trying to figure out where to take them, how to join them, how to tie them together so that I can move on to something else. Because I haven’t given my chance to step back from the story I have been telling for the past 10 years, that I used HIV, I’ve been anchored in one spot unable to unfurl my sails and let myself glide to a new destination. I have been stuck in my story, with my 30 short stories, unable to to move on. Reading this article helped see that I need to look at these past 10 years as a THEN, not a NOW. As soon as I read that today, it all came together. The outline, the order, the themes of a collection of short stories. I felt the anchor lift as I egged the boat forward over it, felt it give way, and I am now pulling for my life. Afloat, gliding, sailing on.
I’m always a bit skeptical of #1 bestsellers, new fiction at the top of all the lists. This one deserves everything–all the attention, awards, recognition. I’m in my busy season at work, trying to maintain consistency with my new websites (extracurricular activity), and I still finished this book in under a week. I went to take my necessary nap before heading into my long shift and I ended up reading the last 100 pages to the end. It’s magical. It’s stunning. It’s on the scale of “The Book Thief” good. Need I say more?
I normally don’t remember my dreams beyond the first few moments of waking. And I usually sleep like a rock (daily swimming/biking will do that.) But this week, almost every night, I have been not only waking and remembering my dreams, I have been able to carry them into the day, able to sequester the images, the feelings, the story, and able to return later in the hopes of wringing out meaning. At first there was a series of plane crashes; not the scary, “I’m gonna die” sort of thing but instead the kind which fosters a curiosity. They are the “Hmmm….ok, here’s how I’m going to survive this” sort of dream. In one, I’m forced to take a seat on the wing….literally laying down on the wing with my feet clipped into a ‘chip-clip’ contraption and my arms over my head hanging onto a handlebar of sorts. Next night, bigger, fierier sort of apocalyptic plane incident in which I simply managed my way through. Often I’ve been yelling at my family. On Tuesday after an evening having dinner with two couples (we don’t do dinner/have very few couple friends with whom we interact) I woke up screaming, ‘Why?’
I knew exactly why. I tried to calm myself after the scream, starting thinking about the dream, and quickly told myself that I’d probably not remember it, that if I turned on a light I would wake myself further and not be able to get back to sleep, that I needed sleep more than I needed to write down or remember the dream, that yes, the dream was really significant and held a piece of a puzzle I have been searching for for a very long time, that I was clearly just lazy because I wanted sleep over truth and insight, that I wanted to stay in my own vortex of avoiding the truth, avoiding hard work, of demeaning my existence, my gifts, my talents, that even if I did turn the light on and write out the dream it would surely not have the same significant in the morning that I was attributing to it while in bed, tears streaming down my face.
I realized in the hour long conversation with all of the voices in my head that I was at a tipping point. For years my baggage, my stuff, and my process kept me just under the surface of understanding and change. I have been as addicted to my story as I have been to my drugs of choice so much so that even subconsciously, I have not allowed my true self to break through even in my dreams. I have held it at bay, necessarily so, until this point in time where now I am allowing a deep voice to bubble up and force me a little further up to the surface, perhaps even breaking through into the air above.
My subconscious cried out, “Why?” The dilemma? In my dream, after an evening with new friends explaining to them how I wasn’t an artist but something less than, wasn’t an actor but something less than, wasn’t a musician but something less than, wasn’t a teacher but something less than, wasn’t a writer but something less than, I cried out, “Why?” in tears. Why am I still doing this to myself? Why am I still demeaning by natural talents whether they are top-notch, have-assed or new developments/talents/abilities? Why am I still defining myself as ‘less than’ when in reality, when I look at my gifts, my life, my experiences, my soul, I am clearly something more than ‘less than.’ I am more-than. I am what I define myself to be. Law of Karma. I am what I put out there.
I shared with my partner the next morning with unbridled excitement: “I clearly heard myself at dinner last night,” I said, “because my subconscious will no longer let me get away with it.” It felt wrong in the moment at the dinner table, and clearly in the middle of the night I realized I have had enough of the same behavior. All those voices in my head telling me that I should just try to go back to sleep? I ignored them, turned on the light, and wrote out my dream. It may not sound that significant to those of you who make a habit turning on a light to write or who use this tool, dream journaling, regularly. But for someone who has been listening to all these voices in my head for so long, who has been so comfortable going from “I’m going to change the world” to a “I want to die” on a regular schedule, giving myself permission to see a roadblock and to know it’s not real, to know I can overcome it, to accept the voices are just voices, that the true voice, a “Why” in the middle of the night, is my “barbaric yelp,” breaking my sleep cycle to write out a dream in the middle of the night was breaking a bigger cycle. A much bigger cycle.
I did it again the night after and last night again. New cycle. New voice. New neural pathways….re(dis)covery.
A Creative Recovery Journal: In Re(DIS)covery.
Exercise 1: Draw yourself climbing a mountain…..
From iheartintelligence.com, an amazing list which I shared with my loved one this morning. We’ll celebrate 10 years together next week, and this….even after all the struggles, therapies, meds, ups and downs of those years….has possibly given us a foundation of understanding we’ve been missing. There is a huge difference is how we process things. I kept saying to him this morning, “I get that you know our differences, but you will never understand what it’s like to have gone through….blah, blah, blah.” He was getting frustrated by that language. Of course he understands, he kept offering. Eventually it came down to making the distinction between understanding my history versus understand how my mind processes life. THAT, he will never understand, but this list given to him after our talk this morning, shed light in a whole new way. Powerful stuff.
We all have our stuff, our baggage, our beliefs, our insights, our history, our hopes and…..drum roll….our path. I’ve always known about my path, have always sought to find my secure footing on it, and have often strayed, lost faith my path ever existed, and subsequently succumbed to filling my life with distractions, often negative and dangerous ones, in the hope they would fool me into thinking I was happy and living a meaningful, purposeful life. Those distractions were, and continue to be, a part of my path, part of who I am. In those distractions, I have built identity, forged meaning. Both of those verbs, ‘build’ and ‘forge’ are creative actions.
Just like various treatments, medications, therapies, books, people, experiences that helped me bushwack a path to individuation, a path I am making very public, this is MY path. So when I write things with which you have issues, please understand that those issues are what make you and I different. I am not better or worse for those differences. You are not better or worse for those issues. If you feel a need to defend your beliefs because you think I am attacking those beliefs, I apologize. My path as a teacher, counselor and coach and through my recent creative online writing is to offer as many opportunities and perspectives around recovery (all recovery, not just addiction) as possible–these are the things that have built my identity. Forged my meaning. A creative process.
I have a graduate degree in teaching English, my partner is one of the most educated (Harvard/Oxford) people I know who has dedicated his life to teaching English, language. My first partner, a brilliant award winning poet, has dedicated his life to using language and to forging meaning. I understand the power of language, and it is something I will always hone in on. Language is life. Andrew Solomon, one of the most respected writers of our time, winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction for this 2001 book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, in the following TED Talk says everything I will spend the rest of my life trying to say and does so in 20 minutes. It is one of the most profoundly moving talks I have ever experienced. Language is life. It is wrought with personal, group, cultural, spiritual, positive and negative meanings. If we do not challenge language, challenge and then forge meaning, we will have no personal identity outside the realm of group consciousness and group identity. And that sometimes means challenging the lexicon of our belief systems.
Solomon ends with the concept I wrote on the back of my business card and stuck in my wallet after I watched the video the first time: “Forge Meaning, Build Identity.”
That’s all I am trying to do. If I can help someone out along their path via what I write or post, then that is great. But what I am offering is creative: some based on fact (as scientific as the fact that mixing blue and red will make purple), some based on creative preference (as in, singing more so than painting soothes my soul), some based on what works better for me (as in, I am a much better watercolorist than I am an oil painter.) I have chosen the word “creative” to use across my websites because while you may come across things that do not resonate with you (I don’t like that song, that painting, that poem, that rendering), I’m not looking for you to try to challenge my creative process or my recovery/re(DIS)covery process.
Facebook used to be a place of forging meaning and building identity for me. I realized recently that unless I learn to make Facebook work for me once again, FACEBOOK will be forging my meaning and building my identity. I must make the necessary changes to make sure I retain control, power of choice, and positivity. Thus I will only be posting my encompassart.com and inrediscovery.com posts on my Facebook page, ENCOMPASS ART, not my personal page. My personal page will be that, personal expression for my own joy. Yy other page will be for expressing myself creatively in the process I call Re(dis)covery. If you want to follow the stuff I’ve been posting, “like” my Encompass Art page. Otherwise, on this journey our paths might not cross as often has they have been recently.
Family and friends, do not get wrapped up in your own emotions regarding my websites. Just as if you were watching a movie or reading a book that is too disturbing, too close to home, too anything which makes you uncomfortable, change the channel or put the book down. Do not try to tell me my setting in this story should be here instead of there, my watercolors are over-worked and muddy, the song is too high for my vocal range, I’d sound better if I found someone to accompany me while singing, that shirt makes me look fat. You wouldn’t do that would you? Then use that same filter when it comes to making comments. I am not looking for sympathy, disagreement, judgement, constructive criticism, and on and on. This is a creative offering, not a discussion. If I want that, I’ll ask for it. Until then, respect my creative journey.