I was driving home from a meeting the other day and I had one of those lightbulb moments. I’m in the middle of that hellish limbo right now where I’m waiting to hear if I’m going to be hired to do a job that I’d be perfect for….I’ve had two interviews that went well, but I am reticent to believe that it will actually come through. So I’ve been a little restless and agitated….that’s what I was focused on before my lightbulb moment. Financially we’re in the clear for the forseeable future, but this unemployment thing does not sit well with me. And not having some booze to fall back on is the undiscovered country for me.
Have I fallen into a deep depression during all of this? No, not really. The meds help, I’m sure. Between Wellbutrin, Neurontin and the miracle drug of sleep aids….Trazodone, I’m pretty even keel. But I’ve pretty much always been that way……my car explodes and my heart rate remains the same…..if the Publisher’s Clearinghouse van pulled into my driveway my heart rate would remain the same. I’m damn near comatose in my ability to control my emotions. BUT if a pot lid falls off the counter and starts spinning around and around and around on its edges, making that racket as it sloowws down and finally collapses……something like that sets me into a homicidal rage. And if you are on the phone with me and you’re chewing on food…..I’ll clip your fucking spine with garden shears so that you have to eat through a tube from then on. Bottom line, it’s all about control and anxiety over what you can’t control, and that is one of the main fossil fuels for depression. So this was going through my mind as I was driving along…..what was it about me that allowed me to keep total composure in the worst of times, and at the same time have no visible reaction when something fantastic just happened to me? A voice in my head went “well maybe it’s because you’re just not used to good things happening for you”. And most of the time that would kick off the melancholy piano music and emotional slow burn that would allow me to suck down a couple bottles of wine or just hole up in front of the tv for hours on end. But not this time. THIS time another voice followed up on that thought with “oh buuuullllsshhhhiiit!”.
I don’t have to get into details here, but despite all of the trials of this year, I generally have GREAT shit happening to me on a regular basis. Big things, little things, and it’s not because I’m some gem of a human, it’s probably just because whatever God is at work up there knows I’m a giant pussy, so he has to throw me constant softballs to keep me going. So where does all the negative self-talk that fuels depression come from? In short, I believe much of it can be attributed to ego. As a disclaimer I’ll say that depression can be a very serious, and sometimes fatal, phenomenon. And there is always room for a professional to come in and counsel, prescribe meds, etc. But at its core, it is an ego trip. By that I mean it is something that allows you to shut down and escape all responsibility. Like a giant, dysfunctional safety blanket. Its effect is a lot like alcoholism, so it makes sense that the two go hand in hand. The more inside yourself you get, the more you shut down, the more looming the big picture becomes, the more detached you become and responsibilities you escape from……the more it is all about YOU. Whether you’re the manic and egomaniacal frat rat alpha male who wears too much Ed Hardy and uses too much hair product, or the depressed and bookish mole person who weeps to Morrissey and sits in bars alone making a silent scene with a feverishly scribbled little poetry notepad, you are the center of the universe. You’re as big a cliche as I became, and as big a cliche as every annoying mini-van driving soccer mom. And I don’t mean that to sound like “get your shit together, whiner!”…on some level we DO have power much of it, but there are usually enough factors out of our control that require some sort of intervention…..be it professional therapy, group therapy, etc.
It’s just an easy trap to fall into. The pity party cliche. I think part of it is the need to regress back to childhood, when you weren’t responsible for anything, and that is not totally unnatural. We just tend to take it to an extreme. My ex was someone who I grew to hate because she would willingly fall further down the rabbit hole before she’d reach out for help and get some kind of a grip on her manic depression. Things had to be burning down around her before she’d take the smallest step towards change. Control issues, denial…..you name it, they all play a part in that weird meltdown alchemy. For me it was the booze and riding the highs and lows good chemistry could provide for me, AND that was my own thing that I wouldn’t get help for until things started to burn down. Now, I’m not giving the ex a pass here just because I see parallels in our behaviors, I’ll be happy if I never see or hear from her again. Booze driven depression helps you flex the ego and control muscles….as long as I did my job well enough and my wife never saw me completely wrecked, I was in enough control to give myself a pass.
At my core I can be a pretty judgmental prick. Forgive me for stating something so painfully obvious. It’s something I have always struggled with because I don’t want to be one of those bitter, angry people who live in a plate glass McMansion and hurl boulders at anyone and everyone in order to deny their own shortcomings or failures. I guess everyone does it to some extent, but addicts are like autistic savants with it. Self absorption begats judgmentalism….I could be just as big a dickhead as the evangelicals I hate. Fundamentalist freaks are way more obvious about it, but most people survive on their need to tell OTHER people what THEY should be doing. Perverted theology creates a make-believe system of rules and regulations that allow followers to point the finger and never understand why everyone thinks they are an asshole (and to believe that anyone thinking they are an asshole must mean they are right in their judgment, because the truth is SUPPOSED to hurt people). Also, there are the anti-smoking zealots who hold the bad science surrounding secondhand smoke like a little treasure next to their heart, because now they can tell EVERYONE what to do in restaurants and bars….not because they give two shits about the health of the patrons or employees, but because they finally found a way to put legislation around their little pet peeve. A million examples……people with enough expendable income to make a religion out of being “green” or “organics-only”, me with my giant brain and wild life experiences that make me more knowledgeable and in-tune than everyone else. We use religion, bad politics and biased ethics to PROVE why our way of thinking is right, we surround ourselves with likeminded individuals to bolster our fucked up worldview, and when the rest of the world refuses to kneel down and come around to our way of thinking…..we use another handy little tool, the bastard child of the psychological beasts, ego and control…….we use guilt.
Ah, guilt. God knows I’ve railed about that one both drunk and sober, to an annoying extreme. Guilt is a fantastic motivator. If you can’t win them with love, scare them with the fear of hell and their own failures. From the time we are born, disappointed mothers, angry gods, disapproving teachers and surly employers program us to respond in Skinnerian fashion to that tiny little cattle prod. Yes, we have to learn the basic differences between right and wrong in our daily dealings with others, but guilt is some shit that can get out of hand quickly.
The only new thought on guilt I can share here is something that came to me last week during an AA meeting (a different one than the meeting that brought up the ego rant….I go to a lot of meetings). Yes, there I was surrounded by a group of likeminded people who are convinced beyond all doubt that they have the answer……but I realized there is one big difference. Okay, a couple of big differences. First of all, there is real diversity in an AA meeting. By real, I mean it’s not that fabricated bullshit that is the bread and butter for liberal, drum-thumping academics and highly paid corporate consultants. Like I have always said, if you want to live the lofty ideal of “diversity”, then go make fucking friends down at the DMV or tax office. THAT is diversity. And honestly, the closest I’ve come to witnessing real diversity outside of those two hellholes is in the AA halls. Religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, income level, you name it, you find it in AA. And everyone gets along (for the most part), because what brought us there is how incredibly fucked up we were. The second big difference is that guilt is never used as a motivator to get people to change. Sure, there is plenty of shit we all feel guilty about from our past, as I’ve mentioned before we aren’t there to excuse ourselves from past behavior. However, guilt is does not promote real learning or real growth. And the thing I’ve found the most comfort in, is the very thing that makes every fundamentalist completely write off AA as pure “secular humanism”. There is no control in place, there is no set leader, there aren’t any paid positions, and most of all……while we all have to believe in and rely upon a higher power, there is no set RULE on who “God” is for everyone. Oooooooooohhh, spooooooky……..putting your eternal soul in jeopardy by aspiring to be the best and most reliable person you can be without acknowledging you are doing it to escape hell! I can’t even count the number of sermons, including full-costume illustrated sermons, I’ve sat through that were based SOLELY UPON the premise that “there will be a lot of ‘good’ people burning in hell”. Sure, I have a Christian worldview and believe in the simplicity of the New Testament’s message, but that kind of guilt is bullshit. And more importantly, it does NOT work. Case and point, I can tell you that I’ve experienced something completely new for the first time in my life…..being honest and thinking about others just because it is the right thing to do. There were points during my ministry days when I lived as an absolute hypocrite, drinking on the weekends, going to clubs, you name it……and it was my failure as a Christian and the guilt that came along with it that made me keep doing it. There are many who would say I’d never really let Jesus into my heart and gave my life over to him, but to them my response is…..your methodology for people to get there is completely flawed because it has nothing to do with personal experience or growth, it’s all about the show, the works people have to perform, and getting socialized enough in that mindset to “belong” to the group. The driver is guilt and the gatekeeper is a guy who gets PAID to keep the numbers of customers increasing from Sunday to Sunday.
Now, without the guilt based on a flawed interpretation of the Bible, I am able to feel closer to God, closer to people, way more open to change, growth, servicework for others, and the ability to share my experience without beating anyone over the head. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of assholes in AA who DO preach and beat people over the head (this blog is what I use for THAT), and meetings that don’t encourage new people to attend so that the old timers have it to themselves, but there is a certain bliss for me in being a newbie. I’m in no way ashamed of this phase of my life. I don’t wear a damn AA shirt or have a bumper sticker, but if someone asks me why I’m not drinking or has questions about the program or a friend/relative who may or may not have a drinking problem, I’m happy to talk about my experience in a very low-key and real way. And while I’d like for everyone who is experiencing the hell of addiction to get into the program, I’m not out to recruit or convince them. More specifically, I’m not going to goad or guilt them, which is pretty much what they are expecting or already used to. It’s up to the individual to decide whether or not they have a problem, and the only requirement to be an AA member is a desire to stop drinking. That’s it. No complicated theology, tithes, grandiose expectations, etc. The farthest I’ll go is to ask questions like “Can you have just one or two drinks socially and then stop for the night?”, “Do you prefer to drink alone?”, “Have you ever tried to stop drinking, or changed brands/liquors as a way to cut back, and failed?”, “Do you drink for the effect you feel when you are drunk?”……stuff like that, all completely valid things that EVERY alcoholic, if honest, would probably answer “no, yes, yes, yes” to, depending on where they are on the downward spiral. And from there, all you do is go to meetings, get a sponsor (and your sponsor isn’t there to tell you who your god should be or to induct you into the secrets of AA), begin to understand and work the steps, and if you do that…..correcting the failures and shortcomings that have been fed by guilt and shame up to this point will just work themselves out as a natural progression of the program.
So that’s about it for now. I found out Friday that I was a shoe-in for the job I had interviewed for, but they had to give it to the person they originally offered it to who protested when their background check came back with a problem. The good news is they loved me, so when something else opens up there in the near future, it’s probably mine. Now normally, hearing some shit like that on a Friday would mean I could tear it up all weekend, but instead I went to meetings, made chicken and noodles, went to the Farmer’s market, took the dog to the park, started a Six Feet Under marathon with my wife, ate at an incredible Thai buffet, went on a long nature hike, and of course…..HBO and Tool Academy on Sunday night. I think everyone can agree that while I sound like a boring old man now, it is a hell of a lot better weekend than it would have been before. I do apologize that I will no longer be able to entertain you with posts like “Best. Saturday. Ever.”. I encouraged my sponsor to read that post before reading the one I did a couple of weeks ago. Great contrast!
10 responses to “Depression Is An Ego Trip…”
So can’t say i read your whole post. Just too long for this time of night…. and most certainly not criticizing any lack of brevity as is one of my inabilities for sure…. as I am about to demonstrate.
But what I did read is intriguing.
Lets keep it to your header… depression is an ego trip.
I too have discovered that there is tremendous amount of inability to forget “me” woven into my depression. In fact, the further I progress in dealing with my self-centredness, the less depression I feel.
There are many threads of “me-ness” that I have discovered in the fabric of my depression. The biggest contributor has been self-pity. Holy crap. This one is the most insidious and tangled in my experience.
Then of course as you point out, there is ego. To me this is an expectation of self… usually motivated by fear and experessed in some manner of overcompensating behaviour or attititude.
I remember wanting so bad for people to think this or that of me that I would act mightier than thou to everyone around me and put on an ego the size of a small country. Then the let down of unfulfilled expectation of this ego would leave me in the deepest of depression.
Yet it was me and nobody else who set me up for failure.
Ok…. one more reflection on your post…. the alienating behaviour of some AA old-timers.
Man… if there is one contradiction that I just find painful, it is the fact that a program of inclusion and open-mindedness can be so populated by so many territorial, narrow-minded people.
Yet not exclusive to AA. So many other organizations that seek to be compassionate and helpful to one’s fellow man end up becoming insular cocoons for its members.
This includes religious groups, unions, charities, government agencies, schools, and medical communities.
Does this not speak to the perpetual corruptibility and fundamental self-serving nature of man? That even in our sincere endeavors to be kind, compassionate, and giving, we can creat organizations that eventually end up practicing the exact opposite?
Where organizations of givers morph into exclusvive clubs of takers?
I for one have changed my AA affiliations lately. I seek out simple meetings with simple formats. I have limited the number of large podium meetings I have attended. These in my experience allow a forum for ranters to rant and egos to be stoked. Had enough of it. This is not what I read about in how the fellowship was formed.
Not saying wrong for everyone…. just not for me at this stage.
Hey Chaz, thanks for a great reply. The recovery thing is pretty new and a complete shift of focus for my blog, so it’s good to know someone familiar w/AA stopped by.
When it comes to the “me” thing, I laugh when I look back on the first meetings I attended and how I wasn’t paying attention to anyone….I was just waiting to share MY story. As time has gone by, I depend more and more on what others have to say because it’s usually EXACTLY what I’ve been feeling at some point, with different details specific to the person. And there are at least two times during any given meeting when someone mentions “getting outside of myself” in order to deal with cravings, calm down, help others, etc……an elementary concept, but an alien planet for the recovering addict.
As far as exclusivity and old-timers, I’m really thankful I haven’t had to deal with that. There are some eccentrics, as there would be in any group of people, but there is just a great, inclusive vibe. I haven’t been to enough groups to compare, but maybe the fact that our meetings are generally 20+ in attendance keeps the private club mentality at bay. During my inpatient, outpatient and now my aftercare groups through my hospital, I was always surprised to hear how many folks in recovery were so reticent to attend meetings….because they had heard about old-timers shunning people, had some crazy hatred of the “basket passing” for money, or couldn’t come to terms with ever accepting a higher power. Not sure how to address the dollar or higher power phobias, but I wish some of the pious old-timers could sit in on some of the hospital groups and hear how many people were soured to AA before ever attending a meeting……I mean, I know I’m new to the scene, but isn’t there a step TWELVE with a focus on being there for other alcoholics?
Anyway, nice to be sober with a supportive group and sponsor to back me up. Thanks again for stopping by!
i couldn’t agree more with your ego/depression relationship theory. it is such a fucking relief to finally “get outside” of my own world (ego). i have been depression-free for about six months and have never been more pleased to experience the world without the micro-filter that was my ego.
Yeah, I’ve dealt with depression off and on since the mid-90’s, and for me it has just been one symptom of the bigger problem. One major contributor, and I think people tend to gloss over this in the hope of finding something more interesting at the root of it, is poor sleep. Quality rest has been one MASSIVE boost in the past few months. I have to credit the miracle drug of all miracle drugs…..Trazodone, for that. Non-addictive, non-narcotic, and within fifteen minutes you are into REM sleep. It’s just an old anti-depressant that nobody outside the recovery community hears much about, because it doesn’t have the commercial backing of drugs like Ambien (which is highly addictive w/narcotic effects). I guess when the drug companies can’t sell it for five or six bucks per pill, they don’t really care if anyone knows about it.
Anyway, here’s to good sleep!
Great to hear about gaining ground over depression!
I tell ya…. it haunted me through most of my life. I can remember even as a kid feeling this deep blue heaviness set in.
I am sure there are many contributing factors so each of our depressed states and that the combination of factors varies for each of us.
For me, meds did little to nothing. This does not mean that meds are ineffective…. they are just not part of my formula so far.
The big things for me were learning to re-order my thinking. First by using practicing the 12 steps. Then I started some “cognitive behaviour therapy”. Wow… what a difference!
The book, “Feeling Good”, by Dr. David Burns is the cornerstone of CBT. I hate pop-psychology and in fact, I thought I hated psychiatrists. But, it was finally a psychiatrist who himself was in 12 step recovery who suggested CBT to me.
When I finally discovered that my habitual thought patterns contributed so much to my depression and anxiety, and that I could actually re-train my thinking and expose the lies of what my own thought patterns were teaching me, it was like prison doors opening.
When the prison is your own head, that freedom is amazing.
CBT has been around for decades and is basically just good common sense. Not spooky or wierd. And does not offer to be the total solution to anyone. But can make a big difference in conjunction with meds or whatever else we need.
Imagine…. our own thought lying to us and leaving us in pain? Wow eh?
Life is so much better today. And I agree too…. proper sleep is essential. I think we are kidding ourselves if we try to function on half a tank of physical and emotional energy.
CBT…..that gives me flashbacks to grad school, which put me off of reading altogether for a while. It really does sound more complicated that it is, and I find that most of the “cliche” sayings we hear in meetings, from counselors, etc. like “stinkin’ thinkin'” stem from it. Anger, religious angst and the need for controlling or changing others are constant themes for me which require the re-ordering of thought that you mention. We talked about the Daily Reflection in our 8am meeting yesterday, which was basically “if someone makes us angry, we are in the wrong also”. Insanely difficult to grasp in its simplicity, but good medicine…….”stop and count to ten” is a priceless technique in my experience. So much of my thinking is completely knee-jerk, and it takes practice to back up and not let the easy emotions take control…….especially when I search WordPress for AA blogs and the first one I discover is a religious fundamentalist scripturally “proving” what a bad program it is and how Bill W. chose the AA symbol for its pagan roots…….too easy to get worked up about things way out of my control, so as Frank Costanza would say….”SERENITY NOW!”.
Zee…. ahhh…. you tripped accross “My Word Like Fire” and his narrow-minded hate-on for AA!!!!
I have stopped arguing with him. Even the Bible that he professes advises that if we engage a foolish argument, we immediately become foolish ourselves. I wrote a post that speaks to my experience of arguing such intellectuals, theorists, and theologians who study writing and ideas but never seem to step into life as it exists…. http://yuppieaddict.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/thinkers-think-talkers-talk-provers-prove/
There appears to be a culture of narrow-minded people who have this elaborate consipiracy theory about AA. I believe it gives them a sense of self-importance. That they are the self-appointed crusaders against it.
Yet I believe in the same God they do and I feel the exact opposite. I believe that God gave us the 12 steps as a selfless gift. He does not even require accurate recognition for the steps to work effectively in our lives.
You make a great point about how easily we take the the reactionary emotional root. For me, I have consistently found that my propensity to do this was always what made things worse. And the reactionary feelings that spoke to me at those pivotal moments got it wrong 99.9% of the time. Dr. Burns calls it the Fortune Teller error. Where based on an immediate thought or feeling (reactionary), we draw an immediate conclusion about what is about to unfold. And it is usually some fatalistic catastorophe that our thoughts and feelings has just forecast. But if we look back… the forecast was almost always wrong!
What a way to live! We get so messed up in our thinking patterns that we are still habitually believing the worst predictors and forecaster on the planet. Meaning our reactionary thoughts and feelings.
Would we buy stocks from a stock broker who got his market forecasts wrong 99% of the time? Or would we listen to a weatherman whose weather predictions were wrong 99% of the time? No. But we listen to these well-rehearsed self-deceptive reactionary thoughts and feelings.
This is what I discovered about myself over the past few years and CBT was very helpful in formalizing some of what I had discovered.
That guy is a loon. Seriously. That particular mindset was my worldview until my mid-20’s…AA was pure secular humanism that replaced the God of the Bible with whomever/whatever you wanted your God to be…which was in complete opposition to the flawed works-based theology fundamentalists use to heap punishment on sinners instead of living the basic principles of the New Testament (love your neighbor as yourself, etc.). I have enough formal theological schoolin’ to be dangerous to myself…so I can’t read the narrow minded insanity without getting too wound up. You are never, ever going to change a narrow mind, they have way too much invested in it….pride has become their God. I think the inclusive spirit of AA scares them too much…nobody can be in “control”, and there aren’t any easy, quippy answers to life’s biggest questions that one might find in the cafeteria-Christian methodology of picking what you want out of the Bible to prove your point and discarding the rest. Fundamentalism is anything but inclusive, “personal growth” can only happen when you follow a specific scriptural recipe, and when your entire worldview is invested in such a narrow and faulty theology, you have no choice but to fight, lash out and defend it against the non-believers…..which is, again, the antithesis of what the New Testament teaches.
I think of the phrase “attraction rather than promotion” in the AA Traditions, and I believe THAT is one of the essential elements that makes the program so successful. If you live the lifestyle, strive to always improve yourself, and connect with a higher power, people wonder what it is you’ve discovered, and they are attracted to it. In my opinion, THAT is the basic framework of the New Testament that people gloss over….then they don’t live it, they don’t attract others, and are put in a position to be solely reactionary and defensive. But of course, since I didn’t put JESUS in bold capitals in place of “higher power”…..then I’m just another “everything is everything” Universalist Unitarian who will get what they deserve on judgment day…..and on it goes.
I did enjoy the post you linked to….reminded me of a basic belief I’ve written about a few times. When you are so wrapped up in the thoughts, theology and ideas, and you hide among people who think exactly like you do…..you never have to think of the opposition as human….be they homosexual, liberal, recovering addict, etc. So that makes it easier to throw stones and build up the pride and ego instead of compassion and understanding.
Man, I have GOT to get the next post up on my blog….great to have your help in waking up my brain today…..
Yo Jerry…. I connect with your discoveries.
Is it not interesting and rather telling that the only people that Jesus rigorously opposed were the narrow-minded religious leaders of the day… and the self-righteous?
Funny…. I was just thinking this morning the exact words, “pride is their God” in pondering through the standpoints of many insular Christians I know.
Defensiveness is born out of fear in my experience. Perhaps fear that says “if what you say does not fit into what I believe then one of us must be wrong and its not going to be me. I am too comfortable and scared to question what I believe in the slightest so instead, I will lash out at you and prove you wrong…. if not by sound reasoning, by accusation”. (or something like that).
Yet was that the way of Jesus? Not that I have ever read. Jesus worked by “attraction rather than promotion”, which is a far cry from many of today’s “Ministries” with their advertising budgets, TV shows, and “Resource Tables”.
If anything, Jesus asked people to keep it to themselves yet he was so sought out, so ‘attractive’ that he had to launch a boat out on a lake to preach to the crowd on the shore. And my understanding of the Sermon on the Mount was made because he had to climb the side of a hill to address everyone who was seeking him out.
Does anyone seek out the narrow-minded, self-righteous people like our aforementioned blogger? Not that I can see. I dont notice a lot of comments on his blogs…. other than the times when people jump in and debate.
Last time I debated him there was some 30+ arguments from all over jump in. Like a feeding frenzy. I was accused of “AA is your God” by one of his narrow-minded blog-buddies. This person of course has never met me and knows nothing of me other than that I attend AA.
Anyway…. will check your next post.
Oh I hear ya….and I have to remind myself that the worst examples of fanatical religious folks comprise a tiny minority of all believers. Just like everything else, it’s the squeaky wheels that get to you, and I do so loooove taking the bait and arguing with a brick wall…..it’s like a comfy old blanket in front of the fireplace on a chilly night. In my experience, the self-serving theology is a caustic combo of “the God of the Old Testament” and cutting and pasting from any epistle where Paul was good and pissed. When I was in Bible college I had a conversation with a family member about grace….it took me 20+ years in church and a trip to college to ever actually hear it spoken of….so what I had to say to them was something along the lines of “why can’t we talk about grace to people instead of hell?”. The response was “look at how Jesus treated the pharisees…..”…and they were totally serious in their belief that modern non-believers were equivalent to the pharisees Jesus knocked heads with. So you can’t baby them, they have to turn or burn. My mind just reels at how they couldn’t see that THEY were the pharisee……ah the righteousness that comes with dysfunctional group-think.
And as far as AA being your God….do people think that AA and Christianity are mutually exclusive? I don’t get where the knee-jerk reaction comes from….even the freakiest fundamentalist doesn’t live in a church-only vacuum. They work, watch TV, read, play sports, etc……. which of those things could someone point at and say is THEIR God? The “higher power” thing just freaks them out, it’s not black and white and requires a lot of thought and growth that can be both painful and pleasant. Your viewpoint and relationship with God can change over time……and with the pharisees there is no room for questioning. Personally, I think that all of the questioning and doubt is essential to faith….it takes zero effort to exist in a static, immovable bubble.
Anyway, definitely some great dialogue. Got my Suzie Homemaker hat on and the wife will be home for dinner soon….