Ploppy the Rabbit’s Walnut Addiction



There was a young rabbit who became pregnant. She wanted to have her baby, but knew that if she raised him, his life would be in danger. She wanted him to have a good life, the life she never had or could. So she had her baby and he was a beautiful, white rabbit, but she left him by a tree for someone else to raise, so he would be safe.

A family of crows found the baby rabbit and took him in to raise him and to take care of him. They named him Ploppy. He was very little but began to grow. Ploppy wondered why he didn’t look like his family so one day he asked “Why don’t I look like any of you?” The mother crow replied “We are not your real family. We found you by a tree and took you in.” Ploppy asked “So then you aren’t my real mom and dad isn’t my real dad?” The mother crow nodded. It was crushing for Ploppy. He was very young and didn’t understand. “Why did my mom give me away? Where is she? Why didn’t she want me?” he asked. The mother crow replied “We don’t know. We don’t know anything about her. Now stop all these stupid questions” Ploppy sadly thought to himself “What does love really mean? My parents say they love me, but they say they love the tree house we live in too, so really I’m not loved any more than a house. And what if they gave me away the way my mother did?”


As Ploppy grew he had a vivid imagination. He did all of the crow things that the crows insisted that he do, but he really wanted to do rabbit things. He wanted to hop and run and play. But the crows demanded that he act like a crow in every way and severely disciplined him if he did not act like a crow. His father crow was always either ridiculing him, criticizing him or dismissing him, waiving him away with a brush of his wing. Every morning Ploppy’s father would whip him with a stick to start the day, for no reason. It was the only attention Ploppy got from his father so Ploppy started to look forward to the whippings. His mother crow would be happy one minute, angry the next, sad the minute after that and she was always critical of everything he did. He didn’t like any of the things that the crows did and he didn’t even like the crow food that he had to eat. The crows would never include him in their talks, but would just brush him off and tell him to go somewhere and do something while they were talking. But when they had parties, they would bring him out and make him do humiliating things like some funny pet, there for everyone’s amusement.

He would always get through the day by pretending that he was someone else, somewhere else or both. Or he would imagine what his real mother was like and where she was. He never had much chance to explore his imagination because he always had to do boring crow chores, go to boring crow events and only do the things that the crows wanted to do.

But he wanted to be a crow so badly. He was afraid if he didn’t become a crow, they would give him away like his mother did. He tried so hard to be a crow, but he never could because he was a rabbit. He was very frustrated, very sad and very ashamed that we wasn’t like the crows. Ploppy kept trying to fly like the crows did because he wanted to feel accepted by them but as hard as he tried to fly, he never could.


One day while the crows were eating, he was determined to fly, and he wanted to show the crows that he could fly. They would be so proud of him. So he got a huge running start, came running towards them, and jumped high up into the air, flapping his little paws all the way through the air. He jumped higher and farther than he ever had jumped in his life, but he didn’t fly and just plopped to the ground in front of them tumbling head over heels with a thud. The crows just laughed at him and went about their eating. Ploppy said defensively “Didn’t you see how far I jumped?! That was farther than I have ever jumped before! Farther than any of YOU could jump!!”

But the father crow just shook his head in disgust “You should not be wasting time on such foolishness. Jumping is just immaturity and silliness. You need to work hard and become a crow so you can be a success when you are older.” He puffed out his chest and snorted “Let me show you what I can do and what YOU should be able to do.” So the father crow took off into the air, flew in all kinds of loops and aerial acrobatics, came down to the ground proudly and said “That is what you  COULD do if you weren’t fooling around and applied yourself. By the time I was your age, I was flying on all kinds of duties for my family, like an adult, and earning my keep. Now go get back to work so that you can become a successful crow. I don’t want to raise an underachiever” he said dismissively and swatted Ploppy away with his wing. Ploppy was humiliated, ashamed and angry all at the same time.


Ploppy noticed that the crows liked to eat walnuts. It seemed to make them all happy. Whenever they ate walnuts, they seemed to laugh and relax. If they were in a bad mood, after they ate walnuts, they would become in a good mood. They would have parties all the time and everyone would be eating walnuts, laughing and having a good time. He just knew that walnuts = FUN! He wanted to eat walnuts too, but the crows told him that only adults could eat walnuts. He felt left out.


Ploppy went to school and there were lots of other animals to play with. There were cats and gophers and chipmunks. There were even some other rabbits, but none of them were white like he was. He felt different because he didn’t have his real family and also because he wasn’t the same color as everybody else. He wanted to be liked and accepted by everyone so he wouldn’t feel alone, but because he felt different that made him want to isolate himself even more. He still was always imagining that he was somewhere else or something else. He would get punished by the teachers because he was daydreaming and not doing his work. He would act out and do naughty things out of his frustration. The teachers would tell his parents. He would come home and they would yell at him and hit him more with the stick.

Ploppy was very unhappy. He was frustrated and ashamed of himself and he was sad and angry, all at the same time. He was a rabbit raised by crows and he was white so he wasn’t like anybody else. He hated feeling alone but yet because he felt different he wanted to isolate himself. Deep inside he also felt deserted and very afraid because his mother had given him away. He was sure that the crows were going to give him away too. “Why wouldn’t they?” he thought to himself. “I’m just a dumb, stupid, rotten little white rabbit.” The sorrow over all of his past failures of trying to be a crow and the feeling of isolation and abandonment continued to gnaw into him.


A couple of years passed by when Ploppy’s mother crow got sick and died. Now he felt even more alone because both of his mothers had left him. Ploppy’s father crow was sad, but he watched his father crow eat walnuts and they seemed to make him feel better. He always heard his friends talking about how they would steal walnuts from their parents and have all this fun. So he would sneak walnuts out of the house and go out with his friends, eat the walnuts and get into all kinds of trouble.


When Ploppy became an adult and was able to eat walnuts whenever he wanted to, he began to eat them every day. They made him feel good. They soothed all the pains of the past and took away the feelings of failure, shame, isolation and abandonment. He had fun when he ate walnuts. If he was having a bad day, he could make it ok and if he was having a good day, he could make it better. He didn’t feel alone when ate walnuts. He would go to wild walnut parties all the time and have a blast, just like the crows always did. When he was around others who were eating walnuts for fun too, he felt accepted and he could escape from the problems or boredom of life. And walnuts were EVERYWHERE. Everyone he knew was always talking about using walnuts all the time. But when he ate a lot of walnuts, he would feel terrible the next day. He would have horrible anxiety, feel guilty, and physically sick which made him want walnuts even more to make that all go away. After awhile he desperately wanted more walnuts, as if he would die if he didn’t get more.


As years went by, his walnut use became worse and worse. So did his shame and isolation from his past, and that shame and isolation tripled because of his walnut use. He knew he had a problem with walnuts and that he couldn’t, or really didn’t WANT to, stop eating them.  He still wanted to be a crow, but now he had so many failures that he felt like he could never be a crow. They were all he had but how long would it be before he was abandoned by them too? The only thing that made everything seem to go away was to keep eating walnuts.

He had fallen into a pit. He wanted to get out of that pit almost as much as he wanted to stay in it. Because there was comfort there, a sweet escape from all of the pain, shame and anxiety that he felt. But the more walnuts he ate, the more he was isolating himself from everyone else, making him feel even more alone. So he had to eat even more walnuts just to get through the day. He was always either using walnuts or thinking about using walnuts. This all became a vicious downward spiral. He felt like everyone had given up on him, but really he had just given up on himself. They had all just pushed him away but he had also pushed everyone away.

Unfortunately, he went on to eat walnuts even more. Several times, he ended up in an animal hospital from eating too many walnuts and one day he even almost died.  At the hospital, they just wheeled him into a hallway and he had to sit there on a table, drowning in anxiety and isolation and trembling with fear. Those that worked there just walked by and looked at him with a combination of pity and disgust. He never felt lower.


They told him to go get help from a wise owl they knew about so he did. He found the owl and told the owl his whole story from childhood on. After he finished his story, the owl said ” You aren’t just addicted to walnuts, you are addicted to ESCAPE. You’ve conditioned yourself to using walnuts to escape reality and escape your problems which is like pouring gasoline on yourself to escape a fire. You have become completely conditioned to always taking something to alter your mood and your reality. You will need help to do these things, you CANNOT do it alone.  After that, I want you to go and find out who you are. After that, come back and see me. Ploppy said he would do this.


So Ploppy got the help that he needed for his walnut use. He found that there were many others who had this problem and they got together all the time. It was a relief and a comfort to know that he was not alone. These others knew and understood what he was going through, without judging him, because they too were either going through it or had been through it. They all encouraged and supported each other because they all had the same problem with addiction. It was like a FAMILY!  He felt accepted and safe with them and they talked about walnut addiction all the time and helped him prevent relapse. The only time he didn’t feel bad about himself and his life was when he was when he was meeting with these new friends, talking about his walnut addiction and hearing them talk about their walnut addiction. He was dependent on these meetings but it was better than being addicted to walnuts.


But when he came back from his journey, Ploppy still felt empty, except for when he was meeting with his recovery friends. He didn’t like himself and he couldn’t see any new future. So he went back to see the owl. He told the owl all about his journey and about his walnut addiction recovery and his new friends. He told the owl how his new friends told him he was permanently diseased and that all his problems were basically his own making because of his own selfishness and self-centeredness. Ploppy told the owl how they told to him to go make amends to the people that caused him all his harm in his childhood.  He told the owl that they showed him that he’s full of defects and shortcomings and flaws.

Ploppy said to the owl “But now I just feel like nothing has changed. I stopped using walnuts but nothing has changed around me – it’s all just the same old problems and now I can’t even escape with walnuts. All I have is my new recovery friends and meetings, but now I hate myself more than ever. So why isn’t anything different now? They said ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’ but I’ve stopped using walnuts and not only has nothing changed, I feel worse about myself than ever before.  I still can’t fly. I still can’t be a crow. They all can fly and when they call, people stop take notice, watch and respect them. But nobody respects or listens to rabbits. I’m just a defective, diseased failure.

The owl replied “You went out on your journey and you found out WHAT you are. But I told you to go find out WHOOOOOO you are,” the owl hooted.  “First of all, I think there has been a misunderstanding. Yes, you must own your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions and the bad things you did when you were addicted to walnuts. However, your problems in life began with, and your walnut addiction started with, the trauma you suffered as a child and the bad things that happened to you in childhood. That trauma was what caused you to become selfish and self-centered in the first place, as a coping mechanism to deal with that. So that selfishness and self-centeredness, in combination with your other events from childhood, is what caused you to become drawn to walnut addiction. It is misleading, incorrect and unhealthy to blame yourself for everything and say that all your problems are your own fault. I do NOT mean make excuses for eating walnuts.  Making excuses for your past only means making excuses for your future. But understand and accept what you are, what got you to this point and stop judging and condemning yourself. You are not ‘diseased’. You have a mental disorder. You MUST forgive yourself and get yourself unstuck from this shame-based hook that you’ve stuck yourself on. That is a key to your recovery” said the owl.

He continued “Second of all, it is good to always be working on self-improvement. We can all always become better and we should always try to do that. However that does not mean everything about you that isn’t perfect is a ‘character defect, flaw or shortcoming’ and that if you don’t correct all these ‘defects’, you are a failure. All it means is that you are just seeking to improve on what is already very good to begin with. The only things that could be considered ‘defects, flaws and shortcomings’ are those behaviors that you were engaged in that contributed to your self-destructive addiction to walnuts and those should be corrected and changed.”

He added ” You mentioned wanting to be a crow. Why do you want to be a crow so much? Does anybody feel comforted by crows? Does anyone ever want to cuddle with a crow when they feel sad? But everyone looks at rabbits as comforting. Rabbits are warm and soft and make people feel better when they are having a bad day.  You, in particular, are a white rabbit, which are creative and imaginative, insightful, inspiring and convincing, decisive, determined and passionate. These are the personality traits of white rabbits that you were born with. You should be focusing your attention and working on increasing and improving these wonderful, positive aspects of your personality.  Some of the less positive aspects of personality traits of white rabbits is that they are also overly sensitive, extremely private, perfectionistic, always need to have a cause and can burn out easily. Nobody in the world is perfect and everybody has negative aspects of their personality. Those are just parts of your personality that you need to be aware of so you can adjust your behavior when you need to. But I would never refer to everything about you that isn’t perfect as a ‘defect or flaw’. That is just not a good, positive way for anybody to view themselves.” said the owl.  “Then there were all the childhood experiences you had and adult situations you’ve been in that you told me about. Those personality traits, combined with all of your individual experiences as a child and adult, make you WHO you are – a unique, one-of-a-kind individual. There has never been anyone like you and there never will be. It’s not possible. Everyone can say the same thing about themselves. Everyone is who they are now because of that same combination.” said the owl.

He went on “As for ‘making amends’ with people you have harmed. Have you forgiven yourself? Have you ‘made amends’ with yourself? You certainly harmed yourself during your walnut addiction didn’t you? Before you even think about making amends to anybody else, you should be forgiving yourself and making amends with yourself. Use the understanding of why you are who you are to forgive yourself and throw away any guilt and shame you have. Second, forgive anyone else who has harmed you, or at least accept who and what they are, even if they were a cause of your walnut abuse. Use that same understanding of yourself to understand those people who harmed you and throw away any resentments you have. You are not excusing any harm that’s been done to you or making excuses for any harm you’ve done – there is a difference between forgiveness and excuses. You are simply accepting and approving of yourself and just accepting of why others are who they are. Throwing away your guilt and resentments gives you freedom to be kind and compassionate to YOURSELF, but also to anyone else. Kindness and compassion come from wisdom but resentment and guilt just drains your brain and tears you apart.”

He finished ” Remember freedom is not being able to do whatever you want – freedom is the absence of ego, resentment or guilt. But there is a big difference between ego and pride. You can and should be proud of yourself that you have fought through all of the things you’ve been through and proud of what you’ve accomplished in your recovery from walnut addiction. But do not evaluate yourself or anyone else by comparing yourself to other people. Who they are is going to be completely different from who you are so it makes no sense to compare yourself to anyone else because you are uselessly comparing apples to oranges. For those same reasons, do not bother yourself in the least with what anybody else thinks of you. The only opinion of you that matters is YOUR opinion of you.” said the owl.

He added “You should not just be sitting around and only talking about past walnut use and current struggles with walnut use or even triumphs over walnut use. In the past all you did was think about and talking about using walnuts, but now all you’re doing is thinking about and talking about NOT using walnuts. But you’re still constantly thinking about and talking about walnuts. Life is NOT just what happens in between meetings with your friends and working on your recovery from walnut addiction. Of course if you are struggling you want to talk about it and get support from your friends. But live your life, enjoy it, forget about the walnuts and stop talking about them and thinking about them all the time! Why don’t you and your friends just talk about things like how wonderful life is and how pleasant in the present life is when things don’t just fly by in the fog of a buzz.”

The owl concluded “I want you to stop talking to yourself in a judgmental and critical way all the time. Instead I want you to always talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend who needs encouragement. Then here is a summary of things I want you to work on right away –

Number One – Do not worry about what other people think of you – the only opinion of you that matters is your opinion of you.

Number Two – Do not live in the past or keep reliving the past nor always be worrying about the future – always be present, here and now

Number Three – Don’t fear change – life would be boring without change

Number Four – Do not put yourself down and don’t always judge and criticize yourself – instead always encourage yourself

Number Five – Stop overthinking everything and don’t have all-or-nothing thinking. Simplify your thoughts and take things as they come”

Finally the owl said “As far as the statement ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’, a better way to say that might be ‘nothing changes if YOU don’t change.’ Nothing will be different if you just keep looking at it the same way.  You can’t just keep doing the same things over and over but expect different results. You’ve used walnuts for so long that you can’t even see all the things in life that are enjoyable – all the things that you can touch, taste, smell, see and hear. All you experience is all your life will ever be, so you want to experience as many good new people, places and things as you can. Live life and love life!”

With that the owl smiled and said “So my friend, accept and forgive your past, but don’t accept your future. It is NOT a given! You cannot change your past, but you can change your future. Learn to live and enjoy your life and everything there is to enjoy about life in the present, all about today. Use all of your understanding to seek out and help those who feel like you used to feel – frightened and alone and needing help.”


After his talk with the owl and what the owl taught him, Ploppy learned to celebrate each daily victory over walnut use by applauding himself and to keep pressing on. Endurance was developing his strength of character and character was strengthening his hope! He learned to only live for today, in the present. He decided that what happened yesterday was useless except to learn from and there was no point in worrying about tomorrow – he let tomorrow worry about itself. He prepared for tomorrow, but found that worrying about it did nothing. Ploppy planned for tomorrow and he still had hopes and dreams, but he was no longer devastated or filled with anxiety when something happened in life that changed those things.  He found that it was better to be willing to change his plans, his hopes and his dreams as things in life change and not to have all-or-nothing thinking anymore.

Ploppy now began to like himself. He felt better about himself than he ever had. He thought about what the owl said about how the crows may be respected, but they were not warm or insightful or comforting. But EVERYONE loves rabbits! And there were tons of rabbits out there, and a few white ones too so he didn’t have to feel  alone. But also that there was only ONE Ploppy. He started to be proud to be a white rabbit and proud of HIMSELF for fighting through all of the difficulties that he had fought through in his life.


Then Ploppy set out on a journey to find out about his real family and their story.  He discovered who his real mother and father were. He found out he had half sisters and got to meet them! They weren’t white like he was, but at least they were rabbits too! They told him all about their mother and their childhoods. He learned that his mother had come home one day with his sisters when they were very young and found that their father had died from walnut abuse. They told him how they had to move in with their grandfather who had a horrible addiction to walnuts and became violent and abusive when he ate them. They told him how his mother was sad and lonely and began to eat walnuts herself to cope with all of this and how she had a brief affair with his father and became pregnant with Ploppy. They told him how she didn’t want him raised in such a terrible place without a father, with an abusive walnut-addicted grandfather and how she went to huge lengths and great expense to find a perfect tree to leave him by so he would be raised by someone who would take better care of him. He found out that his real mother had not abandoned him at all, but that she was a WONDERFUL mother who loved him dearly and made a huge, painful sacrifice to give him up so that he would have a chance to live a different life.


With his new discovery of what a marvelous mother he had and the huge sacrifice she had made to help him, he thought about how the owl told him to help others who might be frightened, alone and needing help. So he began to help others who had addiction to walnuts or other things and who had past trauma that was hurting them on the inside. He discovered how good it feels to help other people. He remembered how cool it used to feel to jump when he was a little rabbit. But now he wasn’t just jumping, he was leaping. Even higher than crows could fly.

Copyright © 2018 by Chip Schaller
All rights reserved.

Fight, Flight, Drown


Imagine you are walking through the park on a sunny day and you come upon a friendly looking dog sitting there. As your mind fills with warm fuzzies, you reach down to pet the dog, but it bares it’s teeth and snaps at you. Your warmth and kindness is immediately replaced by fear and anger. Even resentment. But upon closer examination, you see that the dog’s foot is caught in one of those steel claw traps and is severely injured. You realize the dog is in pain and afraid. Suddenly, your own anger and resentment is replaced by sympathy and compassion for the dog and it’s situation. People may similarly act out irrationally from fear or pain when a situation creates a “fight or flight” response. But the people around them may be completely unaware of that person’s triggered internal plight.

When faced with a situation that makes us afraid, our minds have to make the decision to stand and confront, or to run to safety. This often creates a war within, because it’s not always clear which is the best path to take. Plus every person is a singular blend of inherited genes, born-with personality traits, and childhood experiences that are unique to each individual person, so each person is going to have their own special response to any given situation when they are confronted with fear or anxiety. There are all kinds of situations that can make a person afraid. It can be an obvious life-threatening fear, or it can be more simple and subtle things like social anxiety, for example. But when someone is afraid, they often act irrationally towards other people.


When someone is in pain, they are also not themselves. Someone who is pain may desire to avoid social situations and would just prefer to be in the comfort of their own homes and beds, if possible. It’s the same thing for mental pain, which can be equally, if not more, miserable. Mental pain can be caused by some traumatic event that just occurred in their life, or it can be caused by the trauma of events from childhood that are perpetually carried forward into adulthood. If a person was the victim of childhood abuse, for example, they may act irrationally to situations that arise in adulthood that mirror those events from childhood, because their minds are just following an old neural pathway (mind road) response to that situation. When someone is in a state of mental pain, they may not act rationally to people or situations that triggered that pain.


When confronted with fear or pain, it is not always as simple as just confronting that fear or pain. Because many people are not be able to confront things that cause them fear or pain, so they automatically desire to run to safety. Drugs and alcohol seem to provide a clear, simple solution because they take away the fear and the pain, and they do it very quickly. So it is a natural path to walk on for people unable or unwilling to fight or stand. If a person is afraid, in pain, or both, the drugs and alcohol mask those things and provide temporary relief, but the fear and pain are still there, and come back even stronger when the sedation wears off, requiring more sedation. When drugs and alcohol flow into someone who is already filled with anxiety and anguish, it will overflow and they will begin drowning in their addiction and despair.


I have complex post traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood abuse. As a result of that trauma, fight or flight slowly became a natural response to most situations I was confronted with, exacerbated by a general all-or-nothing mentality spawned by the abuse I suffered. Situations would often happen in adulthood that mimicked those events from childhood, even if it wasn’t apparent to me at the time. So when those adult events would happen, and a fight or flight response was triggered, my insides were in complete turmoil, fear, anxiety and misery, even though I appeared to be in control on the outside. I was able to put on this charade of having the ability to stand and deliver for years and actually had significant success in my career. But I gradually became heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for my true inner inability to stand and confront. I was losing the war going on in my head and began to drown in my addiction and in my own shame, guilt, blame, self-hatred and despair. I wanted help, but I was afraid to lose the drugs and alcohol that I felt were my only safety net. When I first entered therapy and recovery, the first thing a therapist said to me was “It’s alright to be that frightened little boy, but it’s ok you’re safe now”. Those words burst open the dam that was holding everything back in my head and allowed me to reach back to the helping hands that were being extended to me.


Let’s say there is a woman drowning in a lake. People are standing on a dock shouting at her to swim to safety, but she is unable to because she does not know how to swim. There is a coiled up rope sitting on the dock, but rather than throw the rope out to her, the people just yell at her, telling her that when she is ready to stop drowning and swim, she should swim over to the dock so they can hand her the rope and she can pull herself to safety. That’s the imagery when someone says about addicts “When they are ready, they will quit. If they’re not ready, they won’t. And if they die, they did it to themselves.”


A person who is in full blown addiction might be aware that they are drowning, but they feel trapped and their hijacked minds believe everyone has backed them into a corner. The thought of quitting makes them feel in danger, because they feel threatened with the loss of their only escape from the despair they’re carrying around in their heads, plus fear of withdrawal. Their minds are in fight or flight mode. An addict must be offered a lifeline, a rope, so they can pull themselves out, but they need to feel that there is safety at the other end of that rope, not just confrontation, demands and accusation, so they feel compelled to take hold. Addicts can never be “enabled” because that is like pushing the drowning addict’s head under the water. But people can educate themselves on the multitude of ways and solutions for helping an addict recover without “enabling” them. The addict needs to feel safe letting go of the drug of choice that they feel is their “life preserver” and take hold of something they believe will pull them to a safe space. If they’re offered help in a way that does not trigger a fight or flight response, they may be compelled to reach out, take hold of the rope and pull themselves out of the addictions that they are drowning in.





Necessary Narcissism?


Almost everybody knows someone who meets this definition of Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD). But many of us have past abuse, neglect and humiliation at the hands of someone with an NPD that left us with deep wounds. We then had to become our own cheerleaders, and developed a self-absorption to fill in what was missing or damaged and to counter feelings of unworthiness. Some of us also created a constant need for approval from others to prop up and maintain a fragile sense of self-worth, fractured by our past. We developed our own “necessary narcissism” as a coping mechanism. It also created a war within, because that necessary narcissism was in constant conflict with our natural tendency of empathy towards others.

For many of us, that road of self-absorption led to alcohol or drugs as an escape from this turmoil – to numb the pain and silence that internal voice that told us we’re not good enough. If we were fortunate enough to get on the road to recovery, we were required to engage in significant self-focus and again returned to that necessary narcissism to fix what was wrong. Then once we made repairs, we were feeling good about ourselves for the first time in our lives. It was an intoxicating feeling in and of itself, and it became a need, often dependent on a steady validation by others to keep this newfound self-esteem going, which then kept us in the prison of what other people think of us and stuck in the tar pit trap of that necessary narcissism.

But once we’ve traveled far enough down the road of recovery, we unhitch ourselves from what once was a necessary narcissism. Now we’re just content with the work in progress we are. We disconnect from that need for approval and validation. We compare ourselves only to who we were in the past, and not to others. We can just be ourselves without thinking we are better that anyone else. We hook ourselves up to a new train that heads down the tracks of pure empathy towards others, with contentment and deep appreciation for what we have in the moment, including ourselves.




Us Black Sheep


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.


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.


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.


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”.


I Am My Friend


“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.


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!


The War Within


When we were kids, we just wanted to be liked. We just wanted to be accepted. We needed to be included in the group. We felt the need for approval from others and developed a fear of being embarrassed and shunned from the herd. We had the desire to be noticed, but we still wanted to sit in the back of the room because we were afraid of being in the spotlight. We felt the need to be relevant, but we didn’t want to be called on, out of fear of humiliation. Some of us may have originally been made to feel inferior by a narcissistic parent or siblings, cruel teachers or classmates, or some other trauma. We still wanted to be accepted, but because of this trauma, we wanted to push everyone away so we couldn’t be harmed any more. The social anxiety caused by this was very real and was often paralyzing. Equally real was our scars and the toxic stew of internal battles inside our heads that went along with it.


These childhood struggles and social anxiety stayed with us in adulthood. “Cognitive Dissonance” is an internal conflict of beliefs of ideas. Or it can be called the ‘war within’. All of this struggling and chaos in our heads creates it’s own anxiety and adds to whatever other burden of anxiety we may have been saddled with. The greatest prison we put ourselves in is the fear of what other people think of us because we have that innate need to be accepted. The greatest battles we often face are between what we know and what we feel – between what is perceived and what is real. If we feel inferior from childhood or adulthood trauma, we start to believe we are inferior, and then we start to believe that other people think of us as inferior. That makes us want to push everyone away and isolate, but yet we still want to feel accepted and approved of. So we end up in constant conflict with ourselves. We get stuck in the indecision of fight or flight. Then when we feel we’re fighting a losing battle within our minds and elsewhere, we give in to despair and become self-destructive.


As a child, I was the only one I knew who didn’t have my real parents, since I was abandoned at birth and eventually adopted by a foster family. They had their own mountains of mental illnesses and split their time between physically and mentally abusing me or being dismissive. I didn’t see other kids treated by their parents the way I was, so I already felt different and inferior. I was always at war with myself, because I wanted to be approved of, but I was in constant fear of being further humiliated and/or abandoned. I found I could escape these conflicts and that reality through imagination (reverie) of being somewhere else, someone else or both. These conflicts in my head continued on into adulthood, so did that desire to escape. Once alcohol and drugs entered my life, I had a perfect vehicle for my mind to escape these conflicts and their anxiety. Eventually my self-destructive substance abuse completely destroyed my life. I asked for, and accepted help to obtain and maintain sobriety. However, the war within continued.

The conflict of wanting to isolate or run, but still be accepted, kept going until I sought therapy. I learned to understand what was driving the battles. I gained an understanding of myself, the childhood trauma that originally created these internal conflicts, and how that trauma drove so many of the bad decisions later in life. I learned how to change my mind by resolving these internal conflicts, one at a time, so my mind was in sync with itself instead of at war. I also gained an appreciation of myself for battling through these horrible wars in my head and still functioning in life. Most importantly, I actually learned to like myself, developed an admiration for my resolve and an approval of myself, which was the key. I then used that same knowledge to gain understanding of other people and realized most were also struggling with similar things, being driven by their inherited genes, personality traits they were born with and whatever the events of their childhoods created. Even the born beautiful people struggle with these issues. Everybody and their situations are different, so comparing myself to other people as a means of self-approval was wasting my time and energy. So with the understanding and realization that other people struggled with being liked and accepted as well, I no longer felt my survival depended on the validation of others, since they were just trying to survive as well.


One small step of understanding at a time, we can resolve these internal conflicts, learn to approve of ourselves, escape from that prison of other people’s opinion of us, and the need for their validation. If we approve of ourselves, we don’t need to obtain the approval of other people any more, nor do we need to escape. We can create a peace within our mind, instead of a war.


Forget The Past

Driving vehicle through Grand Teton National Park

Our past wants to always follow us around and rear it’s ugly head at the worst possible time. If we’re having an unusually bad day, we’ll get a call from a family member who caused (or causes) us trauma, making our bad day worse. We might be feeling particularly great on a certain day and someone will bring up something from our past that we’re ashamed of or feel guilty about, souring our mood. Or we might run into an ex, where just the sight of them brings back all the feelings of hurt, anger, sadness and despair we felt when the break up occurred, making us feel like we’re going through it all over again. Then we might run into an acquaintance from our alcoholism or drug addiction days, offering to reacquaint us with our drug(s) of choice. We try so desperately to move forward and beyond our past, but it seems to keep reappearing like an evil apparition, trying to re-accuse us of our perceived failures and drag us back into them. It makes us dream of moving to a place far away, where nobody knows us and we’ll be safe from our past. The problem is our mind stays with us wherever we go and we can’t run from that.

Whenever I’m having a miserable day, filled with stress, at the worst possible moment, I’ll get a call or text from a family member trying to obligate (guilt) me into being face-to-face with perpetrators of my childhood trauma. If I’m feeling on top of the world on another day, someone will bring up the bad things I did during my days of alcoholism and drug abuse, flooding my mind with feelings of shame and guilt. The timing of the past, climbing up into my face, appears to be impeccably bad, always trying to hold me down and keep me back.



One of the first things my therapist did to help me deal with the past, was to address each traumatic event from childhood or adulthood, as a separate and distinct thing, rather than looking at all these things as one giant 500 pound gorilla that I needed to defeat. She helped me address these individual traumas, process them, and compartmentalize them. She actually gave me glass jars where I would physically imagine putting traumatic memories or events into the jars, seal them up and put them on a shelf. I could still look at them, but they were sealed in a jar where they could never harm me. She also helped me give humorous character voices to the people from my past, or even to my own internal accusing voice, to remove their control and steer my mind onto new positive mind pathways in the present. The whole point was to take away the power of the past by learning to walking right by it, instead of letting it drag me back down to it. I never try to either avoid or confront my past. I simply acknowledge it and step around it if it’s in my face, brush it aside and thereby keeping myself in solid control of the present.


We never need to be tethered to our past like we’re connected to it by some barbed wire umbilical cord. The past is only useful to look at it for the purposes of learning from it, but never to stare at it. For instance, early in recovery if I was having a “trigger” moment where I felt like using, I would immediately take myself back to my final relapse with the feelings of overwhelming anxiety, shame, guilt, and physical misery of that moment. Then I would play the present forward, using the memory of the past, and what would happen if I were to give in to that trigger.

All of us in recovery put every ounce of ourselves into obtaining and maintaining sobriety. We never need to be ashamed of our alcoholism or addiction. We all know the hell that we went through to obtain our sobriety and what it takes to maintain it. Getting sober is something to be damn proud of and to wear as a badge of honor.


Why let our past be shackled to our ankles like an anvil and sucking the life out of the present? We never, ever need to allow people, places or things from the past to poison what we’re doing today. None of those things has any power over us, except what we give them. When people try to get us to relive the past that we’re trying to forget, we can remind them that we’re not that person anymore, and that this is the present and not the past. If they want to live in the jail cell of the past, wish them well, but tell them we won’t be joining them. If they love the past so much, they can keep it – we don’t want it back. We have the power to control our present by living in today and shape our bright future, none of which is dependent on our dark past, or the memories of it.




Forgive Yourself


Many of us had childhoods that were permanently stained from numerous events of humiliation or abuse at the hands of parents, siblings, classmates, or others. Adulthood brought more disintegration of our self-esteem because of toxic, abusive relationships or other events that forced us into viewing ourselves as failures. We became saddled with shame and ridden by blame. We felt unworthy and undeserving of anything good in life. We also became dependent on the validation and/or approval of other people to try and prop up our fragile, fractured self-worth.

We found sudden comfort and immediate relief in the arms of something we could drink, swallow, smoke or snort. It was magic. It made all the pain disappear, and provided us with momentary visions of self-worth and escape from the reality of our lives. The desire for relief and escape became habitual, which then morphed into full-blown addiction. Once that happened, the heavy weight of shame and guilt, that we were carrying around from our broken childhoods and adulthood, tripled and became back-breaking.

I was abandoned at birth and abused as a child, and those events permanently scarred me. When adulthood came, I was drawn to alcohol and drugs like a moth to a light. It made the hurt stop and made me feel better about myself, but also started a pattern of isolation. Within a short period of time, I became a full-blown alcoholic and drug addict, which continued for years. I kept isolating myself more, adding to my shame and guilt. Eventually my life crashed and burned because of alcoholism and addiction and I almost lost my life to both.

Once I got into recovery, I didn’t start growing until I learned to forgive myself, which was one of the first and most important keys. I never pitied myself, but I learned to forgive and be kind and compassionate to myself. I stopped judging and condemning myself – in short, I made amends with myself. I started talking to myself the way I would encourage a best friend who was feeling down. I began to accept what and who I was, and to understand what got me to where I was. Once I understood and accepted myself, I could begin to like myself.  Just starting to take care of myself, in the most basic ways, began a journey of self-love, which does not mean some kind of narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-worship. It was simply having enough self-respect to want to care about myself.


I never allowed myself to use excuses, because making excuses for the past was just making excuses for the future. I also didn’t play the blame game, because assigning blame just creates resentments that did nothing but eat me alive from the inside out, and did nothing to the people who I had resented in the past. But most importantly, I stopped blaming myself. I did not deserve that. What I did deserve was self-love and self-respect, just like everybody else. Without elaboration, because I never want to be disrespectful or insensitive to people who don’t share my beliefs, faith and spirituality has been a crucial piece to my recovery. There is an underlying thread that goes through avenues of faith, which is that that I am loved and I am forgiven. That allowed me to learn to love and forgive myself as well.

We cannot move forward and upward if we’re still carrying around the heavy baggage and life-sucking weight of shame and guilt. It’s hard to grow if we’ve put ourselves into life without parole in the prison of blaming and shaming ourselves and fear about what other people think of us. Why should we blame ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know before we learned it? Why worry about whether someone approves of us or not? We can be proud that we are growing and improving because the majority of the world will never be anything better than their inherited genes, inherent personality traits, childhood and adulthood experiences. But those of us in recovery rise above these things and become better people than we have ever been!


We did the best we were able to do, with the hand we were dealt, and with what we did not know at the time. Instead of reviewing our past with regret and shame, we can be proud of how much we’ve battled through and survived. All of us, who have fought through addiction to alcohol/drugs, deserve to have good things happen to us in our lives. We all deserve these good things because we are resolved resilient, courageous and we can respect and love ourselves for it.







Self Hatred


Trauma from abuse suffered at the hands of someone in our lives, either as a child or an adult, can create a dislike of ourselves and even self-hatred. For years we were put down and kept down, humiliated or worse. This creates a deep, negative rut that our minds get stuck in. “Why don’t people like me? Why would they? There’s not much to like. I really don’t like me either.” These obsessive thoughts can haunt us mercilessly. When there is no real evidence to support the perception that other people dislike us, we find ourselves doing things that we know are terribly wrong so there is something real to back up the imagined dislike. Or we just create perceptions, in our minds, of other people’s dislike of us to support our own dislike. So, in our minds, we feel that if other people dislike us the way we dislike ourselves, things feel in sync. Things like career successes, love from others and even just compliments make us want to push people away and isolate, because it creates an internal battle. It goes completely against the grain of the dislike of ourselves.

I was the great pretender, acting as if I had complete confidence. Nobody ever knew. But inside? Complete and utter turmoil. All of this created not only general anxiety, but intense social anxiety. Then along came alcohol and drugs. Suddenly, there was a magic euphoric escape from all this. But not just an escape. Alcohol/drugs either supplied false confidence, or if I was a drunken/drugged out fool, people would either love me as the life of the party, or they would dislike me as much as I disliked myself. So I had everything covered. The dislike of myself became a self-fulfilling prophecy as my life, of course, crashed and burned because of the alcoholism and drug abuse, as it is virtually guaranteed to do. When that happened, I was swimming in an ocean of self-hatred, disdain and complete isolation and devastation.

The happy ending to all this is that sobriety and therapy (in that order) finally allowed me to untwist that giant tangled knot of messed up neural pathways and get out of the prison of the mind ruts I was stuck in. I was able to learn the origins of the dislike of myself and what had created it (much of it from the trauma of being a foster child and abused physically and mentally throughout childhood by a narcissistic parent). I gained the power to examine these thoughts as they come in, easily and quickly brush them away like flies, or let them float past like scenery on a train. But every once in awhile, I can feel my thoughts slipping into those old mind ruts of self-dislike and worrying that other people dislike me. Those thoughts try to stick to me like a barnacle. But I immediately stop and pull my thoughts up onto the high ground of reality and win that battle between what I know and what I feel and between created perceptions and reality. Knowledge rocks! For any of you that can relate to any of this, I am absolutely nothing special – if I can do this, literally ANYBODY can and that’s the great news. But none of this would have happened without sobriety first.