A series of miracles.
Before I start in on this section, I think it is very important to make a big distinction.
In order to get emotionally healthy, an individual must actually make a commitment to resolve their issues. More specifically, you can't simply suppress your anger and superficially believe that you have resolved your anger issues because sooner or later they will come back. You can't simply go to a therapist and listen to what they have to say and somehow magically absorb what they tell you without application, commitment, or work.
You must be willing to end your emotional misery- permanently. That is going to take some effort on your part. If you are unwilling to do that- the problem may not be serious enough for you or perhaps you actually enjoy some feeling of misery. Stuffing emotions, listening to therapists, or swilling alcohol cannot fix us long term. I know because I tried those things. So I think we must diagnose and actually resolve our issues with solutions that make sense to us. I cannot overstate the importance of this enough.
In the fall of 2007, this student was ready. I packed my Jeep and headed for New Orleans. My first room mate in New Orleans had been arranged by a mutual friend. He was a horrible drunk- just out of his 4th rehab and drinking. I could barely tolerate this guy. As I tried to stay sober that first month- this dude was drinking every morning, beating his dog, continually referring to his black co-workers as niggers (they beat the hell out of him one night and he got fired) and stealing from me. One night, he showed up with a deer's head that he had cut off a road killed carcass. I was in awe at the amount of turmoil and chaos this guy brought with him.
I'm not sure I have ever seen anyone more emotionally sick. Like something out of a Dickens novel, I think this dude was placed in my life at that very moment to show me how bad things could get. Within weeks, I had moved out and found a much nicer place a few blocks away.
I had been sober 33 days when I walked into my first AA meeting, Nov 12. I listened. I was astounded and awestruck by one thing. People actually told the truth about how self absorbed and sick they had become. In many cases, they went into great detail. I had never heard that blend of honesty and humility anywhere. People also talked about solutions to their emotional problems. I knew almost immediately that many of the solutions I needed were here.
The first of many miracles were about to take place.
Each morning, I would get up and walk to a coffee shop on Magazine St. to write. In the afternoon, I would walk on the levees, play golf, read, or play cards at Harrah's downtown. One day while playing cards, I struck up a conversation with a woman that I had never seen before. We had a lot in common. She told me she was reading a fascinating little book called "The Four Agreements." She said it was about smoke, mirrors, and light and that she had only read 20 pages. This is the only information she conveyed to me. I actually wrote the title down on a napkin.
Now I have to tell you that I have spent thousands upon thousands of hours at poker tables. I have never received a book review by a fellow poker player. For reasons unknown to me, the next morning I walked into a bookstore near the coffee shop and bought this book. I took it home later that day and read it. About 3-4 hours worth. It changed my life almost immediately. I didn't actually read this book- I absorbed it. I instantly recognized that I had broken agreement 2 all of my life. I took everything personally. I read that chapter over and over, until I finally realized that people do in fact- act on their own personal instincts. They are all acting out some script inside their heads and not only do I not know what that is- it is never personal. Often they do what they do, irrespective of who or what is around them.
That simple chapter changed my life forever. I quit taking things personally. To this day, I do not. I've had people ridicule me, nearly kill me, belittle and berate me, and very rarely have I responded to any of that madness in an angry way. I have made a couple of calculated verbal attacks to stop and prevent further maliciousness. I realize and accept that people must make others feel bad to make themselves feel better or superior. It is a spiritual sickness- part of the insanity of the planet and it is an illness that I had for 46 years.
By the spring of 2008, I had managed to string nearly 6 months of sobriety together and I was feeling better than I had ever felt- I was smelling flowers and salt air, paying attention to people, fully enjoying my life. I was still battling 2 or 3 day skirmishes with depression when one evening- a gal during a speaker meeting began talking about depression. What she said floored me.
She said that whenever she was depressed she found that she was missing the following things. Someone to love, something useful to do, or something to look forward to. Anytime she was feeling two, or perhaps all three of those things were occurring in her life simultaneously, she would find herself in a bout of depression.
I did not hear another thing she said. I instantly played back my own tapes. Was that true? Were those things missing in my life during times of depression? I have to say that her explanation was undeniably true for me. To this day, I can instantly recognize or more purposefully avoid small bouts of depression. When I feel the slide- I instantly schedule a vacation or something else to look forward to- which takes my mind off of me. Not thinking about me is another miracle.
I should also mention here that there are 100 shades of depression. Mine does not tend to be debilitating nor do I compare my episodes of depression to other, more serious cases. So I consider myself lucky. Others may be worse off.
Gratitude was another miracle. I had never been grateful for anything in my life. I practiced an "entitled" mentality. This mentality is so common in our culture that I often hear healthy, good looking, educated and wealthy people- whining about their lives like they are victims. When I hear or see this- I stay humble by remembering that I was once exactly the same way or worse. This is always a reminder to me- of how it was. Gratitude is a miracle for me. Whenever I feel any self pity- I call on my my new found sense of gratitude to extinguish it.
I did a lot of reading in 2007-2008.
I had a friend refer Tolle's, "A New Earth" to me. If the "Four Agreements" changed my life- "A New Earth" became grad school. Not only was I able to identify my false sense of self or ego- but I actually harnessed and diminished my ego somewhat. Trust me when I say- my giant ego needed a lot of diminishing. That was another miracle.
Somewhere near the 6 month mark, I began to compile a list of instructions that I carried out each day. There were 12 things on my particular list. I would meditate for 5 minutes and then go over my list. I did this every day- by doing this not only was I emotionally prepared for whatever came my way on any given day- but I could respond in such a way that I did not feel shame, or guilt, or anger. To this day, when someone fires a torpedo at me- I very often simply watch it cruise by. I do not launch counter offensives or even defend myself because confrontations always end the same way. With anger, shame, and guilt. I don't choose to live my life feeling anger, guilt, and shame.
I compare it to arguing with atheists. The outcome is determined long before the arguing begins.
So what I'm going to do is give you the list that I used and went over everyday (after I meditated for 5 minutes) for about a year.
1. I will not drink no matter what.
2. I will not take anything personally- nor will I intervene or offer opinions to other people. People are free to live and act as they choose. What they do is none of my business.
3. I will not act on my first impulse. It is almost always wrong.
4. I will keep my expectations of others at a minimum. People fail. That's what they do.
5. I've made mistakes. I will no longer beat myself up or feel guilty because of them.
6. I will practice unconditional acceptance. I'm not going to fight un-winnable battles.
7. I am grateful for the things I have- I refuse to feel pity for the things I don't have.
8. If I cannot accept people, I am free to remove them from my life without feeling guilty.
9. People make time for the things that are important to them. Never forget this.
10. Quit judging people including yourself. Good or bad. You don't know anything about anybody anyway.
11. My ego and fear (false self) are my biggest problems. Do you want to be happy or right?
12. You are responsible for all of the problems or happiness in your life. You are never a victim.
Each day I went over this list, sometimes I added things. I made an emotional commitment to change my life. I was committed and dedicated to resolving my issues. Yours may be different.
It took a long time, about two years, to fully assimilate this list into my life. I had setbacks and made mistakes. Every once in awhile I would lose my temper. So the system wasn't foolproof but I will say this- my life improved dramatically. The proof that this is working is in the marked change in the way others see you and respond to you. I think people are genuinely happy to see me now. That certainly wasn't the case in 2007.
Often but not always, I actually think and care about other people. That is a miracle.
Will I ever quit judging people? Of course not- however I am completely aware that this is an insane and destructive behavior. Fortunately, I have considerably diminished my propensity to judge others.
I had three really weird things happen to me. I realized I could no longer engage in my former profession of judging others as I was gaining tremendous tolerance and understanding. There would be no going back- I couldn't be happy doing that any longer. I was beginning to find a power greater than myself and my fear of death was diminishing.
I was also becoming spiritually calm. Some people call it being comfortable in your own skin.
I have one other piece to write. I am hoping to have that up next week.