Pessimists, Optimists, Realists – Are they right? Are they wrong?

PESSIMISM IV

Most people, in general, have attitudes that fit into the category of “pessimist”, “optimist” or “realist”. Some might consider themselves “idealists” or “opportunists”, but as a whole almost all fall into one of the other three categories and display the attributes of one or more of these three in their lives,  sometimes all three. In reality, there may be some merit to all three of these, but none are right (or wrong), just in and of themselves.

Here are very generalized, extreme, metaphorical examples of how pessimists, optimists and realists might view a blind date:

THE PESSIMIST“I just know they’re going to be a dumpster fire or they’re going to hate me. If by some bizarre fluke we both like each other and get married, it’s going to end in divorce and, as usual, my heart will get broken, so why bother going on this date in the first place?” In this example, they would find it difficult to envision love or being loved because they are always living the worst possible future in advance before it even happens. The pessimist prefers to swim in the murky pond of assuming the worst because that way they’re either going to be right or pleasantly surprised. But is it wrong for anyone to prepare themselves for the possibility of bad things so they’re not taken by surprise if they happen?

THE OPTIMIST“It’s going to be love at first sight. We’re going to get married, have 2.5 children, live in a farm house in the country, surrounded by flowers with a white picket fence, and a dog, maybe a cat and a horse too, where nothing bad will ever happen, and we’ll live happily together ever after” In this example they would jump into love head first, but if it went south, they may be unable to cope with it, and crumble like a cracker, because they never took into consideration the possibility that things wouldn’t workout in the Hallmark Channel manner they thought it would. They would be completely unprepared for anything bad happening. But what’s wrong with making positive assumptions and having a bright outlook on the future?

THE REALIST“There’s at best a 50/50 chance we’ll find each other mutually attractive. If we do develop a relationship and get married, there’s less than a 50 percent statistical probability of that marriage surviving. Therefore I should proceed with very guarded optimism in this statistically unlikely and illogical pursuit of love.” In this example, they are so wrapped up in the actual consideration of the exact likelihood of success that they can’t really enjoy the present. Plus they can end up with such a surgical precision approach to everything where things like love can become just a surface feeling without much depth. But doesn’t it make perfect sense to look at things with a realistic view of the possible outcome before pursuing it?

In all three of these examples, everything is being played way forward with little consideration for the reality of the present. By themselves, each of these miss the mark, because only an extreme future is considered, under specific all-or-nothing anticipation, while the present, with all it may have to offer, is overlooked. But if positive elements of each of these are cherry picked and combined, they can provide a healthy view.

THE PREPAREDIST

DCIM100GOPRO

“Preparedist” is a word I made up but it accurately describes my approach to life. I blend positive elements from pessimism, optimism and realism with a healthy set of ideals while I look for new opportunities for growth, even in the face of difficulties. I’m a Preparedist. I’m married, so my ‘blind date’ days are luckily in the rear view mirror. Instead I’ll use my cat as an example, for lack of a better one.

BB

His name is B.B. – he’s 8 years old with probably no more than another 8 years at best. When I got him as a kitten, his entire body fit in the palm of my hand. Today he’s a 14 pound bruiser who kicks my ass when I rough house with him (and I have the scars to prove it). He is my pal and was my only friend, at my lowest point of despair, when I was abandoned by everyone who knew me, because of addiction. Now I could lament the fact that he’ll only be around for maybe another 8 years. Or I could just pretend like he’ll live forever. I could also precisely determine exactly how long he is likely to be around and always count the days. But instead, I just have a deep appreciation for him being with me today, and I think how fortunate and grateful I am that I may still have another 8 years with him, especially vis a vis how it would be without him. I also have plans to maybe get another kitten (or two) when he is no longer with me, which will give me new opportunities to form a brand new love for brand new friends. I have a plan of action in the event of bad things, I’m anticipating only good things in the future, and I’m fully enjoying a happy present, deeply rooted in reality. A Preparedist.

We don’t ever want to be overly prepared or prophets of doom about things we have no control over. Nor do we want to be cloud heads floating along, oblivious and unprepared for the possibility of anything bad ever happening. Full attention should always be given to the present and enjoying the moment, in gratitude for where we are and what we have right now, totally engaged in reality. When we’re prepared for and have a plan to deal with the worst, but always positively anticipating and hoping for the best, while fully enjoying and appreciating the present, and on the lookout for new possibilities, we are living life to the fullest and best, all while protecting our well being, as Preparedists.

preparedist

A Relapse Carol

GHOST OF RELAPSE VI

The AODA groups I speak to are overflowing right now. The relapse assassin seems to be working overtime, picking off recovering alcoholics and addicts, who were overwhelmed by temptation or trauma, shame or blame, guilt or jilt. My doorway was certainly not passed over by the dark angel of relapse during my past recovery. I found that I needed persistent vigilance on my part – I needed ongoing, meaningful mental exercise, so I didn’t became complacent, plump, slow and easy prey for the relapse wolf. I regularly utilize the features of rewind, pause and fast forward in my recovery and allow the three relapse ghosts of past, present and future to walk me through the “carol” of my recovery.

THE GHOST OF RELAPSE PAST

One of the first monsters to conquer in recovery is to stop forever living in the past or reliving the past. It’s counterproductive and self-destructive to be constantly agonizing over past mistakes, failures, bad choices, etc. Those were all just part of our life story that shaped us into becoming who we are today and they don’t really need reliving. However, when it comes to general recovery and especially temptation to use, it can be beneficial use the ‘rewind feature’, and remember back to how we became alcoholics and/or drug addicts in the first place – when physical/mental addiction and the overwhelming desire to escape reality buried our desire to live in it. We can also remember holding that crushing weight of despair as we sunk to our rock bottom. If we had sobriety and caved in to that last relapse, we can remember how we felt ashamed, frustrated and disappointed with ourselves. But all these journeys backward are of good use only if we glimpse at the past and never stare at it because where we are going is way more important than where we’ve been.

Driving vehicle through Grand Teton National Park

THE GHOST OF RELAPSE PRESENT

When faced with a current temptation to use, we can use the ‘pause feature’ to have an “attitude of gratitude” and be grateful for exactly where we are and how we feel today vis a vis swimming in that sea of shame, guilt, frustration and despair of  yesterday’s addiction.  We can think about how we do matter and are needed by the people in our lives where we are right now, not where we could be or should be if we would have done this or didn’t do that.

LIFE II

We can consider that whatever bad things might be currently happening in our lives, they don’t compare to that rock bottom of our past. We can use the past to give us appreciation for the present, to appreciate ourselves for how much we have been through, and are still standing.

STILL STANDING

THE GHOST OF RELAPSE YET TO COME

Working recovery isn’t all about just constantly thinking about how to avoid using or  perpetually thinking about how to suppress the desire to use, because both just keep the mind revolving around using and are different eggs from the same chicken. It also isn’t about just working recovery while we give the rest of life our partial attention. But when faced with a “trigger”, we can use the ‘fast forward feature’ and play a relapse forward, because we all know from experience exactly how that would play out – we know that if we relapse, it is absolutely guaranteed to make whatever problems there may be today 10 times worse tomorrow. As long as we’re still alive, it’s always possible to dig a deeper rock bottom than the last one, which is what a relapse would likely do.

TODAY

BLESS US ADDICTS EVERYONE

Our sense of identity, self-worth and self-esteem is not tethered by some umbilical chord to our alcoholism/drug addiction or our recovery from it. We are recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, but that’s not what defines us and that’s not all we are.

WE ARE NOT ALCOHOLICS

We deserve and are entitled to the same self-respect that everybody else out there has. The past is what made our present, and what we do with our present is what determines our future. But we want to avoid wallowing in the pit of the past or living the future in anticipation before it even happens, which is just disappointment under construction. A healthy connection to the past while keeping ourselves always in the present moment, gives a sense of balance and overall well being going forward into our bright futures, filled with kindness and compassion and it keeps empathy pulling our train through the world of recovery.

EMPATHY

Addiction Recovery – Beware of Jellyfish

WISE FRIEND III

I used to think that there was two ways of doing anything – my way and the wrong way. When I was a kid, if an adult told me how to put something together, I wanted to ignore them and do it my way – and when it broke, I threw a fit because that stupid thing was junk. Nothing much changed as an adult – when I ignored the assembly instructions, did it my way, and it didn’t work out – well that thing was crap, the company sucked, the store sucked and I wanted my money back. If I fixed something my way and it didn’t fit together, I forced that sonofabitch in there and if it broke, well that piece of shit must’ve needed replacement anyway. Before we had GPS Navigation, I never followed a map to find out how to get there. Screw that. I knew the best way to get there and if I got lost, it was because those roads were all messed up, and the urban planner who designed them was an idiot and should be shot.

FINGER

When it came to my alcoholism and addiction, I wasn’t about to listen when someone told me my using was out of control. They didn’t even know. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know what I’d been through, or go what I was going through, so who were they to tell me how to live?! When my life first started to unravel because of my addiction, and I was forced into treatment, I went through the motions, said what the people who were trying to help me wanted to hear, did what they wanted me to do, just to get me out of my family’s spotlight, so I could get back to my ‘normal’ life. When my ‘normal’ life actually did explode into pieces and I really admitted I had a problem and wanted help, I went into recovery again with a better attitude. Or so I thought.

PINK CLOUD II

After a few months of sobriety, I was feeling great about EVERYTHING! Things had never, ever been better! I was working a program & ‘getting honest’, sobriety had helped me get my life together, the obsession to use had been lifted and life was GREAT! I had some sobriety time under my belt but I was tired of listening to these blowhards that had multiple years of sobriety telling me what to do – I had MY WAY of doing things and I was going to SAVE ALL THE ADDICTS! But after awhile, life threw some new hardships in my path and I was caught off guard because I was high on recovery, not paying attention, and stopped listening to the people with experience. Fortunately, I remembered what these experienced people had told me to do when bad things happened, and avoided relapse. I also remembered how they told me to always be prepared for and be on guard against bad things happening in the future. I went back to doing things their way, not mine.

Imagine being on vacation on a tropical beach, where you’re so caught up in the beauty of the scenery, that you don’t see the signs that say “beware of jellyfish”. The wise locals even tell you to be careful walking on the beaches because of the jellyfish, but you’re so high on the moment that you really don’t listen. You’re so mesmerized by the beauty of the ocean, the palm trees, the sun and the sky that you don’t even look down to see what you’re walking on. So you end up stepping on a jellyfish, sick for the rest of your vacation, become depressed, and end up relapsing. Which all could have been avoided if you would have been paying attention and listened to the experienced people.

We want to enjoy our journey and all the beautiful things around us, but we want to always be sure we’re on the right path, what we’re waking on, and to be prepared to deal with bad encounters that are going to happen at some point, so we’re not caught by surprise, and end up lost and in danger. It’s also always good to have a plan to utilize when we’re faced with these bad encounters. We want to live in the moment and enjoy life, not always worrying about bad things that might happen. But it’s still always best to avoid being so caught up in looking at the scenery that we don’t look down and side step the hazards from life in our path, or see other potential ‘triggers’ that might head our way. Most importantly, for us to listen to the right ,experienced people who have already been where we’re going, and who can tell us the best path to take to avoid the jellyfish of life.

JELLYFISH

All Right Then

CRITICISM IV

I hated it when someone disagreed with something I did or said, and I felt resentful when they criticized me. But I exploded into orbit when someone actually disagreed with and criticized MY OPINION, usually hosing that person down with a golden shower of sarcasm. But if they backed it up with logic, facts, figures and a better argument? Well then I felt compelled to respond by providing that person with my speculation on the past and/or present sexual activities of their mother.

CRITICISM MOM SLUT

As children, when we were publicly criticized by a parent, teacher or other adult, we felt humiliated, defeated and shunned from the herd. We wanted to either lash out, or escape to a place where we were safe and free. So a neural pathway, or ‘mind road’ was paved as a negative response to criticism. As adults, we are our own worst critic. We’re usually engulfed in a fog of self-criticism, and when other people criticize us, our minds automatically jump onto that old mind road from childhood and we get that familiar feeling of hurt, humiliation, resentment or anger. So we either defensively respond in fight mode or we want to run and escape in flight mode.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

When someone disagrees with us or criticizes us, we can consider the criticism, learn and grow from it, or leave it alone if we determine it’s just a differing opinion from ours, particularly opinions on politics, religious views or addiction recovery. We can consider that every person is a singular blend of inherited genes, inherent personality traits, childhood experiences and adulthood encounters that are unique to them. We can accept that this gives them very specific values, points of view and things that are important to them and different from what’s important to us.

CRITICISM II

But when we get into recovery, we’re faced with owning our mistakes that have blown up in our face and exploded our lives into pieces. This part of recovery is difficult because we’ve already spent the last few years putting ourselves down, criticizing ourselves for our mistakes and our addiction, or blaming others for it. It’s important to separate the events that were catalysts for our addiction into two categories – (1) those events where we were truly a victim and (2) those events where we could have made better choices. More important is to sidestep the mind road that compels us to negatively respond to criticism, whether it be from someone else, or from ourselves, and/or to run and escape with our drug of choice. Progress is impossible if we’re stuck on the road where we defensively respond to criticism, put ourselves down in defeat for our mistakes, or run. But the growth begins when we actually start to change and approve of ourselves.

CRITICISM

Whatever we do in life, there is probably always going to be someone who wants to disagree with it and/or criticize it. The only way to avoid criticism is to never do anything, say anything or be anything. Criticism is often just someone else’s opinion that we don’t agree with. A true sign of inner peace is simply allowing people to disagree with us, even criticize our opinion, not react to it, and let it float by like scenery on a train. In the end, freedom isn’t being able to do whatever we want – freedom is the absence of ego, resentments and guilt. If people disagree with us, which they are certain to do, it just means that we’re in action, noticed and relevant.

CRITICSM IX

Us Black Sheep

BLACK SHEEP IV

We desperately struggled for self-esteem as kids. It seemed nobody listened to us or took us seriously. We felt like we were considered a disappointment because we didn’t live up to someone else’s expectations, with their constant negative comparison of us to others. Some of us were the “runt of the litter” and brushed aside in favor of siblings who seemed to do everything right, while we seemed to do everything wrong. We often reacted by acting out, in desperation of someone paying attention to us, even if it was negative attention. We started to become the “black sheep” of the family.

BLACK SHEEP V

The low self-esteem we had as children, coupled with a black sheep stigma, became a recipe for disaster as adults. Many of us ended up in relationships with people who continued to keep us down, because that’s what we were accustomed to as children. Our feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and failure grew, picking up baggage of shame heaped on us by others and by life, which started to over-inflate a balloon of sadness and isolation. We found relief with alcohol or drugs, which we were drawn to like sad moths to a black light. Inevitably our substance abuse blossomed into full blown addiction, which just seemed to fulfill the destiny we felt that we were given as children. The crushing weight of addiction got added to the black sheep stigma stamp from childhood and soul-sucking people and events of our adult lives. When our self-esteem sunk to some low critical mass of isolation and despair, we collapsed, crushed under an oppressive blanket of failure and fault. And the balloon of our life exploded.

Death of Pilatre de Rozier, 15 June 1785.

Euphoria from alcohol/drugs is magical instantaneous relief, and the creation of addiction to it goes from 0 to 100 mph overnight. But becoming non-addicted often feels like a slow, physically and mentally excruciating and draining exercise. It takes courage, resolve and strength to overcome it, much greater than normal people possess. A fuel of propulsion for recovery and self-esteem comes from the realization of how strong and courageous we are as recovering alcoholics and addicts. Retracing our steps back into childhood gives knowledge and understanding of what happened, and why we became what we became. All of this provides the necessary armor and ammunition to win the great battles between what we know and what we might feel. Every battle we win gives us increasing strength of character, which strengthens hope and creates or recreates the self-esteem we lost, or never had.

ENDURANCE

Every single person who goes into recovery from substance abuse, gains and maintains sobriety, is truly deserving of self-respect and high self-esteem. To carry a heavy weight from childhood, through the storms of adulthood, swim with it across an ocean of despair from addiction, and stand up on the other side is a miraculous achievement, worthy of high praise and self-love. As far as being the black sheep – consider that every single person out there is a black sheep who went astray – the ones who appear white are those who are good at pretending to appear white, and are content with their life of illusion.

BLACK SHEEP VIII

But as black sheep in recovery, we are the real deal, admitting our mistakes and working to correct them. We have genuine sympathetic and empathetic hearts that truly care about other people. So when we show our true shades of white, it’s authentic and something that’s unique to all of us “black sheep”.

ALCOHOLICS BECOME BETTER II

I Am My Friend

ACCUSED

“You are such an ugly pig – you’re fat, you disgust me and nobody wants you” – how many people would stay with a spouse or partner who said that to them from sunrise to sunset? How about a best friend who said to you, when you’re feeling down, “Nobody likes you and everybody talks shit about you behind your back” – would you keep that friend? What about a boss who always said to you, from the time you started in the morning until you went home, “You are an idiot – you never do anything right!” – would that motivate you to do better? Maybe some of us actually have people like this in our lives. But unless someone is a glutton for punishment, not many people would want to be around anyone who constantly puts them down, humiliates and insults them in every way like this. Yet that’s how many people, particularly those in recovery, tend to treat themselves. It’s always this constant, judgmental voice, always accusing and forever criticizing. We would NEVER treat someone we loved the way we treat ourselves. We would NEVER be that insulting or demanding.

FULL METAL JACKET

When I first got into recovery, my self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect were at zero. I was carrying around 100 pounds of shame on one shoulder, 100 pounds of guilt on the other and another 100 pounds of blame on my back. I would engage in humiliating self-deprecation immediately followed by self-pity and despair. I started in recovery with learning to treat myself in a positive and uplifting way with any situation in life that arose. To encourage myself the way a loving parent would talk to a child who is sad. To counsel and support myself the way I would a best friend who is feeling down and struggling. Doing all this with reactions to my thoughts that were positive and interactive instead of just feeling sorry for myself. This really worked. It started to change my attitude towards myself, and life in general, and rapidly created positive growth.

Beautiful teenager girl worried and a boy comforting her

There is enough pressure and demands put on us by other people, we don’t need to turn around and kick our own ass, especially when we’re down. Life can be enough of a bitch as it is, we don’t need to be a bitch to ourselves. We DO NOT deserve that. It’s easy to learn to be a comfort and a friend to ourselves, because that friend is always going to be with us. We need to be our own best friend – we DO deserve that!

YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND

Future Forward

FUTURE

We had dreams, hopes and visions of our future, what we were going to be, and how the novel or our life would be written. Somewhere we got entangled in the past, our efforts in the present became devoted to untying that knot, and suddenly our vision of the future blurred. The novel of our life seemed to get stuck on the same page.

Let’s say we were in the east and knew that the answer to all our dreams were thousands of miles to the west, but the only way to get there was to walk. It seemed unfair that some people got to drive or fly into their future on an easy ride, but our lot in life was to walk. Somewhere along the line, we ended up in a long tunnel that stretched for miles. We kept trudging along for years. After awhile we looked back, but felt like we were as far away from the end of the tunnel as we were from the beginning. We ended up walking in circles in the middle of the tunnel, making the same mistakes over and over, and screaming with despair.

TUNNEL III

Finally, with help, we decided to turn around and press on, sometimes even crawling. Eventually we made it out of the tunnel, but as we looked towards our destination, we saw it was still a long ways off. The journey out of the tunnel left us feeling exhausted. We still wanted to get to our western destination, but now 10 years had gotten behind us. We continued walking, but we encountered distractions of life as we went along. When we allowed those things to affect us negatively, we found that we would either be walking backward, walking sideways, or walking perpendicular away from our path. In all cases, we ended up spending all this time and energy just to get back to the point where we were when we encountered those distractions and let them negatively affect us in the first place. We found that it was important to always keep pressing on and moving forward at all times, even when distractions came up. After awhile, we looked back and saw that we had walked for thousands of miles, realized just how far we had come, and how many distractions we had fought through to get where we were at.

BEEN THRU ALOT

We became proud of ourselves and got energy to keep moving on. We also realized that we kept getting stronger each time we moved forward through these distractions. As we got stronger, we were able to walk faster, eventually run, and our destination was getting closer and closer. But we also came to understand that there was tremendous enjoyment in the journey itself. We could still keep moving towards our goal, but we could enjoy and embrace the people, places and things we used to call distractions as we kept pressing on, because the events of our lives were only distractions if we allowed them to affect us negatively. If we embraced them with a positive attitude of gratitude, these weren’t distractions, but fuel for the journey and a source of enjoyment in the journey itself. Wherever we were in life, we were needed by someone then and there.

LIFE II

The more we satisfied those needs, the closer we got to where we wanted to be. Because in the end, happiness didn’t just lie in reaching the goal, but also in the journey itself. It never matters at all how old we are or at what point in life we’re at. We can still achieve what we originally set out to do, if our hopes and dreams were realistic. It’s never to late to chase them. The future we wanted is still there waiting for us and getting closer if we’re walking the straight line and embracing life as we go.