Dreams, Reddit, TwoXChromosomes, and The Tools of Recovery

Wow. I have to get up and write this down. Not only did I have a dream that I wanted to write down, but a whole slew of ideas came running after like a freight train, and I needed to take notes so I wouldn’t forget them all. This is going to be a long post.

Let’s start with the dream.

I was at a restaurant, seated at a circular table outside. At the table with me were four people I instinctively knew were coworkers, though I recognized none of them. Almost immediately someone gets up from the table to leave; it’s Aaron Paul. As soon as he stands up people at the tables around us notice, and an extremely beautiful woman calls out, “Oh my god!”

She rushes over to the table, gushing about she’s seen his work on TV and – more importantly – he saved her mother’s life. She was in the hospital with cancer, he visited the hospital, and soon after she was cured. But she’s walking towards me as she’s saying all of this, looking at me, and talking so loud and fast I don’t get a moment to speak.

She grabs my face, kisses my cheek, and as she walks off she continues to extol his virtues. Stunned, I look at Aaron. He grins at me and waves goodbye. He was glad to escape being the celebrity target for a brief moment. He wasn’t going to stop her.

Still stunned speechless, an attractive female coworker to my right starts talking about how nice that is, and how every guy ought to be as nice. I begin to say, “But I didn’t … that wasn’t me … that was him … I didn’t get to say …” and reading her face I see her brain processing that I wasn’t the one who did those nice things. I had no idea who this woman was – until this point in my dream I didn’t even know she was sitting there – but suddenly I realize it’s someone I’ve been attracted to.  I feel bad knowing that she thinks less of me now because I wasn’t the one who did those things, but also because I didn’t act fast enough to stop the lady.

Then I woke.

In my sleepy state I realized I’d had almost the exact same dream before. I wondered what it meant, and almost immediately I knew. My subconscious was afraid of what’ll happen when my girlfriend learns I’m not who she thinks I am (we’re still in the ‘honeymoon stage’).

I’ll explain these next few sentences in more detail in a moment, but let me say this to lay the groundwork: I thought, “Oh, okay. I have the tools for that,” and contentedly curled up my pillow to go back to sleep. Before drifting off again I thought, “Fear of being discovered as a fraud. I should write down the tools for that for the list of things I’d like to add to the app. Hmm. I could make a whole list of fears and write up something for each one.” Then I started thinking about what I’d write for this one.

Because of where my thought process went I already know I’m going to want to post this blog entry on www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes, so for those readers let me stop and explain what I mean by “the tools”. To make a long story short, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been in and out of counseling, group therapy, and/or and twelve-step meetings since I was 15 years old. I’m almost 40 now, so you could say I’ve had (on and off) 25 years of experience dealing with “the tools of recovery”, though I didn’t learn to call them that until about twelve years ago.

What are “the tools”? Well, there are more tools than I can list in one blog entry, and there are multiple kinds. There are books, and websites, journaling , and peer review … therapy sessions and twelve-step meetings are tools too. But the tools I’m referring to right now are a set of ideas, simple phrases. These phrases are like bookmarks. Each phrase reminds me of a different topic learned through hours of conversation and experience.

Some are phrases I’ve heard my whole life: Take Care of Yourself. Being a Bitch or an Asshole Isn’t Always a Bad Thing. Be Gentle With Yourself. It’s None of My Business What Other People Think of Me. When One Door Closes, Another One Opens.

Some of them I only learned through recovery: Move the Doorknob to the Inside. “No” Is A Complete Sentence. Never Let Anyone “Should” on You. Emotions Don’t Require Motions. I’m Not a Human Doing; I’m a Human Being.

Now, I’m not trying to sell anything (I’ll explain that in a minute), but four years ago I wrote a book listing 80+ of the tools I’ve learned, and a brief description of each. My idea was that being given a number of the tools up front could be really helpful to anyone getting into recovery because it could bring them up to speed faster. I also designed it like a quick-reference guide, with a See Also list at the bottom of each page. These were the tools I was thinking of when I said I had the tools to deal with my girlfriend eventually coming out of the ‘Honeymoon Phase’ of our relationship.

I’m not going to give a full breakdown of what each of these mean, but as an example here’s a list of tools that apply to that fear:

Perfectionism (my desire to avoid it), I Don’t Have to Be Superman (or Superwoman), I Own My Own Actions, Emotions Don’t Require Motions, To Thine Own Self Be True, People’s Behaviors Are a Reflection of Themselves, It’s None of My Business What Other People Think of Me, Letting Go of the Outcome, Break It Into Manageable Pieces, It’s Not a Task; It’s a Process.

There’s one more tool though, and this is the one I wanted to write about. I have to find a way to re-write this succinctly because it takes up two pages in my book and has context that could be lost here if I’m not careful.

In my book there’s a section where I talk about playing certain roles (The Victim, The Abuser, The Savior aka The Knight in Shining Armor), and how an extremely sexist article in Playboy Magazine ironically helped me learn to stand up for myself better. Specifically, the article is written to men to teach them that some women (I said some, not all) do want you to chase them, take the lead, and confidently (but not predatorily) create a situation where sex is possible and enjoyable.

Furthermore, because of the crazy expectations/gender roles in society, the article advises that yes, some women will then “blame” you for creating the situation in order to preserve their social purity (and their ego), and asks, “Is your ego so fragile that you can’t be a man and let her blame you for it?” Put another way, it could’ve said, “Are you not strong enough to let yourself be labeled an asshole?” I know many women will be furious about that, but bear with me.

Because of the things I’ve learned in my journey through recovery I was able to see a glint of value there, but it needed to be polished. I’d been learning to Take Care of Myself and that It’s None of My Business What Other People Think of Me, and this article made an interesting point about what had been a fragile ego. Is my ego so weak that I can’t let someone call me an asshole?

I know now that I am strong enough to let others talk trash about me – and that includes when I’m taking care of myself – and I can do that without taking advantage of others. Even more to the point: sometimes I may be labeled weak for not taking advantage of others. That article helped me understand my ego is strong enough to handle that too, and I’m glad because it’s important to be able to stand up and say, “I don’t care what you think” when I’m doing what I feel is right. It’s ironic to have that article to thank, but sometimes wisdom comes from taking something people look at every day and tweaking it just a bit.

This is the point where I thought of posting to www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes. I thought of how that tool has wisdom, if you can see past a source that would otherwise enrage you.  I thought of two threads I read the other day (wolf whistle and train conversation) where women were so annoyed with being the subject of attention that even polite discussions are suspected of being guilty until proven innocent. I wondered how many women could probably find some peace using “the tools”.

I thought, “When Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking on my door looking for a soul to save I’m annoyed, but I don’t blame them. There are some people out there who want to be saved, and they know that. Of course, if Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking on my door ten times a day I’d be annoyed too.” And then I thought of the flame war that statement would provoke.

I think the topic would turn to, “If not for the patriarchal society we wouldn’t have to deal with this” but I’m not so sure of that. I was a bartender at a lesbian nightclub for three years while I was in college and formed some very close, and great friendships with people in the LBGT community. I’ve also been friends with a few social workers, and heard plenty of horror stories. Honestly, I don’t think a matriarchal society would be healthier just by sheer virtue of being matriarchal.

That’s because the tools of recovery are lessons we don’t always learn in the families we grow up in. Not all women possess the emotional intelligence considered ‘feminine’; some men do. Not all men are abusive; some women are. Although most people (of either gender) learn their dysfunction from being abused themselves, some people find their dysfunction on their own (and some even enjoy their dysfunction). As such, I don’t believe wiping out abuse is something that can ever be done. The best we can do is learn the tools, use them to make our world better, and share them with others.

This is where I started thinking I definitely ought to write this all down and post it. Spark some discussion, maybe help a few people learn a few things. It’s also where I knew I’d have to address the potential of Reddit disliking this out of suspicion I might be trying to make money off it by selling books.

First let me tell you as soon as I started writing the book I decided it should be non-profit so I could give back to the recovery community that I learned all this stuff from. Second, I want to be up front that in the book’s introduction I mention starting as 50% non-profit (I’d give 50% of the profit to recovery groups), eventually raising that to 100%. Third, let me say that over the last 4 years I’ve spent almost $3,000 of my own money giving away books. I should’ve written the book to say 100% non-profit because I don’t think I’ll be turning a profit any time soon, if ever. And fourth, just to allay any fears you may have left, I have one last thing I can offer (and this part really makes me happy).

As I lay in bed thinking about all this stuff it occurred to me that I’ve not yet donated any copies to my local women’s shelter. Here’s what I’m thinking: I’ll donate 5 copies out of my own pocket. I make $1 off each ebook sale, and $4 off each paperback. If you want to purchase copies of the book, for each $10 profit made in the month of June I’ll donate an additional copy to our local women’s shelter.  If you want to pick up a copy it’s available at every retailer you can think of.  Links to Amazon, Lulu, and Smashwords can be found here.

Well, that’s it. If you managed to read this whole thing, congratulations. Honestly, I don’t do anything in the way of promoting this book so I’ll be shocked if anyone even reads this … but hopefully someday it’ll be useful to someone.

Oh, and PS – if you’re wondering about the app I mentioned above … in the back of the book is a very generic ‘troubleshooting guide’ to help people who need quick help with a specific topic. I’d like to create an app with a more detailed list of situations and which tools can be used for them. It’s a work in progress. Right now I’m still writing down situations, and when I get a good number of them I’ll start putting together the documents.

Signing off …

EDIT 07/11/2014: I wrote to the admins of TwoXChromosomes about whether I could post this in their forum, they declined.  I chose to move forward with my donation either way, which I did this week.  If you’re in the Pinellas County/Saint Petersburg/Clearwater area of Florida, please consider donating to Simply Hope Transitional Housing Halfway House.

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I’m Still Around

Time to post something here.  To get to the point … a few weeks ago my mother passed away.  I hadn’t posted anything a few weeks prior because I was busy with other projects, and then when she passed away I had to deal with that issue.  All my projects got put on hold, and things started stacking up on my to-do list.  And I’m taking next week off to do something special with my father for Father’s Day.

I’ve been struggling to find the motivation to get caught up on those projects, as well as take care of new things that have been added to my to-do list.  Things are progressing slowly, and I know I’ll get back up to speed eventually, but obviously with good reason this blog isn’t my highest priority at the moment.

The reason I wanted to come here and say something is because yesterday I was asked about A Guide To The Recovery Process and it reminded me there are probably individuals coming to this website looking for information.  One of the reasons I wanted to build a blog was not just to be a place for people to come hear what I have to say (I can’t be present 24/7), but to build a community where people can come and share with each other.  If you’re reading this, I encourage you to post comments here, or join us on Twitter or Facebook:

http://twitter.com/RecoveryToolBox
www.facebook.com/RecoveryBookPress

And with that, I’ll get back to what I was working on.  Hope to be back here soon.

If you go to meetings but aren’t willing to consider changing your beliefs …

Haven’t posted anything in a long time, been busy.  But I’ve seen this meme a number of times in the last few months and tonight on the way home from a meeting this popped into my head…

If you go to meetings but aren’t willing to consider changing your beliefs …

Please Read This

This will be a short entry, I don’t have a whole lot to say except that it’s rare for me to say, “Everyone should read this.”  But I’m saying it.  Everyone should read this.  Please share it, too:  I Was Adam Lanza

We’ve published a new book!

Or new book is titled Building Self Esteem, it’s available on Amazon in eBook and on Lulu in paperback.  The book reprints 36 of the tools from A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox along with materials from the workshop we hosted on that topic at the Wealth of Wellness retreat a few months ago (as well as Nancy’s Goal Setting workshop, both detailed here).  If you already have A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox and access to this blog obviously you don’t need the new book, but it does serve a purpose, which I’ll explain.

(Actually, before I explain that let me first say that if you do not have A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox and you DO have an Amazon Kindle you can borrow the book for FREE through Amazon.  So it’s a way to get about 30% of the material in A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox for free.  Check it out!)

My friend Marlene made a very good suggestion about two weeks ago.  We were talking about something completely different but she mentioned that one marketing “trick” is to have a small pamphlet you can give away free that lists the products you carry.  That got me thinking.  Another idea is to offer a similar (but smaller) product at a smaller price.

When I published A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox I chose to price the eBook version at $2.99 because of the way eBook retailers set up their fees and royalties.  That was the lowest price I could set and still get a decent return, but you can price eBooks as low as $.99 … I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put something together for that $.99 bracket.”

I had two ideas.  The first would be an eBook that contains only the very first tools I’d started learning when I came to recovery.  The second idea was to take the Self Esteem workshop Marlene and I had just done and turn it into a small book.  The tools I’d share with a newcomer would be about 75% of the book (!) whereas the Self Esteem workshop was around 30% of the book.  So that decision was pretty clear.  Hopefully the new book will reach people who stay in the $.99 section, and if they like what they find in Building Self Esteem maybe they’ll pick up A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox as well.

Another reason I was interested in this is that Amazon has a feature called KDP Select.  They ask publishers to only list the eBook on Amazon, and in return they give you additional promotion and allow Kindle owners to “borrow” your book for free.  Although it’s free to the customer Amazon will give me a little money every time someone borrows the book.  I wanted to experiment with this but I’d already listed A Guide to the Recovery Toolbox through Smashwords.  This new book allows me to experiment with KDP Select, and hopefully I’ll be able to share some good feedback on the program.

The Wealth of Wellness Retreat 2012

October and November have been so busy I’m just now getting to type up my notes from the retreat I went to from September 28th-30th. I had a great time and met a lot of new people, which is always good. Even though each retreat or workshop is different they’re all alike in one way: although there are often multiple parts of the retreat I enjoy there’s usually one experience that stands out. This time it was Nancy B.’s workshop on Saturday morning. The topic was Goal Setting. First I’ll share with you the process she took us through (and how I handled it), and then I’ll talk about the Self Esteem workshop Marlene S. and I had been invited to co-host.

Nancy put on a meditation CD for 10-15 minutes to help us relax and clear our minds. Once we were relaxed she asked us to start thinking about our goals. We were given paper and pencils and the following instructions, with time between each for writing:

  • Think of a substantial goal, something that will take 3-6 months. Write it down.
  • How can you break the goal into smaller steps to use as milestones? Write those down.
  • Think of one or more people you can ask to help you remain accountable. Write them down.
  • Spend some time imagining what my life will be like after I finish this goal. Visualize it! Then write that down.
  • How will I reward myself once the goals are accomplished? Visualize that, too. Then write it down.
  • Now make a commitment to ask those people you wrote down to hold you accountable. Do this within the next week. Share your goals with them, including the milestones, your timeline, and your reward.  Ask them to check with you weekly to see how you’re doing.

Even before the meditation CD was played I got my notepad out and started listing the goals I’d like to complete in the next 3 months:

  • Pass the next industry certification I need at work
  • Become a homeowner
  • Finish reading a book I’d put down a few months ago

Then I realized those were essentially work-related goals, things on my to-do list.  So I started thinking about improving relationships.  I thought about a woman I’d recently started dating. I wondered how her goals might align with mine, so I wrote down questions I wanted to ask her to give me a better picture.

After I got those out of my system I looked at my paper and the goals I’d listed: work goals, to-do-list goals, relationship goals. They were all external. I’d come to the retreat for me, so I asked myself, “What can I do to grow as a person? Is there an area of my life that I’m uncomfortable but I could see myself growing?” Over the years I’ve learned to trust my instincts. The first answer that comes to mind is the answer I need – and the one I’m ready for. I won’t share my goal because it’s personal, but I wrote it down.

Once the meditation CD was over we got the rest of the instructions. I realized my goal could be completed in 2-3 months so I expanded it. I added another phase to the initial goal that would push the final completion date to about 6-8 months. Next I broke it into smaller steps. I wound up with 5 steps, but the last one would probably take 4-6 months because I’d have to read a few books. I decided I’d have 5 major milestones, and then smaller milestones within that last step. (For the record, over the last two months I‘ve completed my first three milestones. I’m working on the fourth one now.)

Nancy’s workshop helped me visualize the next big step I wanted to take in my life, specifically in terms of my own growth. I was very happy about that. Later in the day something else nice happened too. I’d come to the retreat because my friend Marlene and I had been invited to host a workshop on Self Esteem, that was scheduled for the next morning. Saturday evening after dinner I started mentally preparing, going over the list of tools Marlene and I had put together for our workshop.

When Marlene and I were designing our workshop I’d pulled 20-30 of the tools from my book that I felt were helpful in building my Self-Esteem. We saw we could break them into two groups – the first were tools that helped me deal with conflicts with other people, the second group were tools that helped me learn to deal with my own self-defeating issues (fear, insecurity, feeling overwhelmed, etc). That Saturday night as I thought about these two lists of tools it occurred to me that Nancy’s workshop had only addressed half the equation. There were further questions that could be asked.

Asking me to write out my goals is a great thing, and necessary. Another thing that’s important to ask is, “What might be some of the obstacles I’ll face while achieving my goal?” By asking that question I can prepare myself to meet (and overcome) those challenges. That’s really helpful because it reduces anxiety. There’s always some level of anxiety when an obstacle arises, but when you know what to do there’s a great relief.

All the possible obstacles to the goals I’d written down earlier that day could be summarized into those two categories: internal and external – precisely what Marlene and I had put together for our Self Esteem workshop. That made perfect sense because that’s what gave me Self Esteem. As one of my favorite quotes says, “Happiness is not the absence of problems; but the ability to deal with them.” (Attributed to H. Jackson Brown Jr.) I felt I had the tools to handle my problems once I learned the 20-30 tools we were about to discuss in our workshop.

So I talked to Marlene about this and we decided all we had to do was change one question. In our original plan we were going to start our workshop by asking everyone, “Please take a few minutes to write down the things you think are obstacles to you having better Self Esteem.” Instead we chose to ask people, “Spend a minute thinking about the goals we wrote down in Nancy’s workshop yesterday. Then write down obstacles you may face when working towards those goals.” Everything fit and our workshop joined with Nancy’s like two bookends.

So as it turned out, we got to spend a good 2-3 hours talking in depth about how certain tools can help us overcome the obstacles we face every day. And we didn’t just get to talk about them in general terms – we also got to talk about how we could tailor them specifically to the goals we’d just written down. All in all, I had a great time!

You may be wondering what the 20-30 tools were that I pulled out of the book for this workshop. I’m going to be working with a friend who creates interactive Flash animations; over the next few months I’ll be creating a Troubleshooting Section on this site, and I’ll post them there. The animations will ask you questions, and based on your answers they’ll present you with a list of tools tailored just for you. Stay tuned!

Retreat at Dayspring!

This weekend I’ll be at the DaySpring Conference Center attending a recovery retreat.  It starts at 4:00 on Friday and goes until lunch on Sunday, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I went to a retreat hosted by the same group about eight years ago and got quite a bit out of it.  In fact a guided meditation there gave me an insight as to something I needed to work on, and it was a major project that covered the next 2-3 years of my life.

In addition to being there as an attendee I’ve also been asked to co-host one of the workshops.  The topic will be Building Self-Esteem, and my co-host will be Miss Marlene S.  I’ve known her through recovery for a few years but recently found out that she’s done quite a bit of work with groups, both through recovery-sponsored events like this as well as with organizations that aren’t  specifically about recovery (jail populations, social work, etc).  She approached me about doing something together a few months ago when someone introduced her to The Guide to the Recovery Toolbox and this will be our first time  working together.  I’m looking forward to it.

For those wondering, Nancy B. from the Thursday night meeting of Central Pinellas CoDA is hosting the event. The retreat brings together all kinds of recovery material (not just CoDA, so it’s not a “CoDA retreat”) – and this fits perfectly with Recovery Book Press. Our goal is to promote and share experience, strength, and hope to help people from all walks of life through their recovery process.

I’d planned to post something about this a few weeks ago but time’s slipped by on me … hate when that happens!