Self-help

Self-help

134. SILENT RESPONSE

I have a big mouth. Not so big as it used to be, not so fast to ignore an approach of kindness and appropriate response in favor of egotistical wit or perhaps, more precisely, sarcasm; but it’s still plenty big.

As a little boy I had almost zero filter. While this “skill” becomes more tolerated in those who are of advanced age, it does not carry the same acceptance when it’s voiced by youth. Saying what’s on your mind as a kid, without consideration for whom the audience may be, can result in fast-tracking a lot of enemies, and yes, I had a bunch. Having no siblings, my social skills were atrophied early on. I had a few close friends who tolerated my eccentricities, but they themselves were probably too busy with their own problems rather than point out or be bothered by mine. There were, however, plenty of critics of all ages, but their caustic opinions never swayed me to change. Negative feedback was offered in copious amounts, mostly followed by physical abuse. I got into frequent fist fights with classmates while various adults used me for a punching bag on occasion. This motivated me to become even more entrenched with my habits.

I carried this type of behavior well into adulthood, and because I DID become an adult (at least on the outside) my reactions towards life seemed to be more and more acceptable. As a result, I figured my approach may have been appropriate to begin with. Eventually I found out I was dead wrong. People had simply learned how to ignore what they had neither the time, energy, nor interest to oppose. It was many years before I realized how much I was being politely ignored. In any case my typical approach to communicating was so far off base it was outside the ballpark entirely. My roommate from many years ago had an insight that turned me around, and I’m grateful to this day for his honesty.

My presumption was this, if I’m approached by someone with an opinion, especially a passionate one, or even more so, if they are in a state of frustration and are looking for an audience for their difficulties, then they are obviously wanting some sort of judgement on the subjects being presented. Why else would they turn to me if not for my viewpoint? Alternative reasoning never occurred to me, my ego was too dominant, too hungry for attention and self-verification. I had no idea what they really wanted, but I knew what I wanted, attention, and this action was selfishness of the highest order. I’d take the dreams or nightmares of others and use them to prop up a belief I was being sought out for my “infinite wisdom”. I must admit, on occasion I STILL find myself falling into the well-worn ruts of my past, but I usually catch myself and do what I can to quickly correct my role.

What my roommate, my friend, explained to me was this, when people open their mouths (and hearts) they are wanting foremost to be heard; all they’re usually looking for someone to pay attention to them. If listening is a skill, then listening without thinking about what to say once they’re done is a master skill. High expertise is required to accomplish this, and I’m still terrible at it. The egotistical droning in my head all too often drowns out what the other person is saying. As a result I begin to ignore, or even worse, interrupt them in favor of expressing my opinions. As I said, I usually catch myself (not always) and at the very least ask them to repeat what they were saying while I make a concerted effort to focus on their narrative. One thing’s for sure, IF the other person wants my feedback, they’ll request it, otherwise my duty is to support or empathize with them silently. Acknowledgement of what’s being said need be nothing more than eye contact and facial expressions combined with genuinely paying attention. Whether or not a person is reacting to and absorbing someone else’s delivery is easily recognizable by the person who pitches it. I know when it happens to me. Whenever I’m attempting to communicate I can usually tell if I’m being ignored, even if the appearance of attentiveness is being presented. I’ll bet you can too.

I’m one of those dorks who occasionally hands out greeting cards to express myself. Sometimes it’s a thank you to a supervisor, other times it might be to convey empathy for another’s loss, and every once in a while, just to be a goof. In any event this is, of course, a form of silent communication as well. Not only that it’s a gesture rather than a declaration. Anyone who thinks silence doesn’t have the loudest voice, has never taken time to explore the possibilities.

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

132. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN RECOVERY

12 Step Jewelry Alcoholics Anonymous 925 Sterling Silver Men's AA Unity Ring with Turquoise

“Stick around and the miracle will happen.”

Well, the miracle happened…

These words were spoken early on from those who encouraged me, and I still hear them frequently when attending meetings. At the time I had no idea what the “miracle” was. All I wanted was to just not hurt anymore. That alone would have been, and eventually was, a blessing in and of itself. It was astonishing the amount of misery I put myself through, throwing up several times a day, every day. Seeing blood pour out of my mouth (and everything else that came out of me) was a ritual I got used to. I’d shattered the vessels in my face so many times I looked as if I had a permanent sunburn. I hadn’t had a real night’s sleep in years, choosing to pass out, day, after day, after countless, pointlessly lived days. Such is the insanity of self-destructiveness.

As my recovery finally began to move diligently forward, the hurricane of pain slowed and eventually subsided to the point where I began to function somewhat normally; yet this was STILL not the miracle. My sleep improved, and my horrific nightmares dwindled; and this was still NOT the miracle. I began to laugh, enjoying the smallest of what most would consider mundane moments while looking forward with enthusiasm to whatever tomorrow had to offer; this too was not the miracle. On a leap of faith I switched jobs. I went from working over a decade and a half of mostly graveyard shifts to the beginning of a career that still supports me. I moved into an apartment on my own without a net under me. I began to pay my bills on time. My refrigerator always had food. I got a decent vehicle. I met the woman I Love. The list is long, and continues to grow, but all these things do not define the miracle spoken of in the Big Book.

Although I had read it several times, the passage had escaped me, droning on frivolously in my mind while I went through the motions of repetition. I must say, once I zeroed in on it, the revelation was both astonishing and, in my case, accurate. In the fourth edition of the Big Book, in the chapter “Into Action” at the bottom of page 84 and on to the top of page 85 it says this –

“You will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, you will recoil from it as you would from a hot flame. You will react sanely and normally. You will find this has happened automatically. You will see that your new attitude toward liquor has been given you without any thought or effort on your part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. You are not fighting it, neither are you avoiding temptation. You feel as though you had been placed in a position of neutrality. You feel safe and protected. You have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for you.”

There was a time where I thought of alcohol every minute. Every minute; and I’m not kidding. When we choose to carry chains, we are never unaware of their presence, so the best we can do is justify their existence. Alcohol was my calling card. It was my foundation for blame as well as my attempt to escape. I spent so much of my life pointing and running, and then the day went by where I just stopped. I didn’t think “today I will stop”. The monster withered when I ceased to feed it. It quit tapping me on my shoulder every time I had a Pavlovian trigger. I quit looking for liquor stores on my way home. On the other hand when I saw a billboard or commercial advertising booze, I thought nothing of it. There was neither a feeling of superiority over thinking I had beaten my demons, nor a fear I might slip. As said in the text above, I was placed in a position of neutrality. Do I see it these days as something I’ve beaten? Nope. Instead I have a knowing that my path of progress, or recovery to be more specific, will continue to nourish tomorrow and starve yesterday.

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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

129. SILVER LININGS IN THE PANDEMIC STORM CLOUDS

I’m in Colorado. Per capita we are a huge hot-spot in the United States for the pandemic now sweeping through the world. All too soon I’m sure we will be on isolation protocols, it’s part of an inevitable domino effect, and I for one will be prepared, at least mentally. This is NOT the time for fear, I’ve done plenty of that in my past and it has no appeal, use, or leverage in my life anymore. I have skills in place learned and practiced through my program of recovery that deal with such threats very efficiently; namely the “Serenity Prayer” which is really just a re-affirmation we can only control ourselves. The way we choose to act and react is the ONLY power we can exercise discipline over. Outside circumstances are not only beyond our control, they are are, for the most part, unpredictable as well. 

My suggestion to others is this, sit down and write out everything you’ve been putting off, be it tedious, fun, or necessary, and create a schedule to start working towards what you want to purge, create, or improve upon. Lack of purpose is extremely efficient fertilizer for all kinds of unwanted outcomes. Trust me, I speak from experience. Keep an emphasis on scheduling. Write out what you are going to do, what time to get up, what you want to accomplish first, by noon, and by the end of what would be considered a “normal” work day. Stay at home parents will no doubt have the easiest time adjusting to how the world is shifting, but the rest of us will be left with giant gaps in our daily habit. 

Who hasn’t thought about getting back to long neglected hobbies and pastimes? Many have dusty crafts, unread books, half finished drawings and paintings (me, me me!), and partially written manuscripts and poetry. There are those with cars waiting to be worked on in their garages, work shops with plenty of supplies, and gardens to start soon. Boredom is fueled by an inability to do what we think we’ll enjoy while at the same time convincing ourselves what needs attention requires too much effort. I call B.S. on this attitude. Excuses hold us back more than any other thing on Earth, and I’m not beyond manufacturing all kinds of seemingly creative ones myself. Do it all the time, which makes me something of a hypocrite. In any case, I’m much better at following through on my duties, hobbies, and dreams than I used to be, so at least my track record is constantly improving. 

I’ll gladly share my intentions and hopefully my example will inspire others to follow a similar path. 

Productive things to do in my life –

  • Exercise daily every morning in place of work. (while watching recorded shows)
  • Clean the grill. (we use it three to four times a week)
  • Clean and organize the garage. (THIS should take a while)
  • Clean and organize my storage room in the basement. (this should take even MORE of a while)
  • Separate what I need to donate. (WAY WAY too much, kind of a clothes whore)
  • Do classes from The Great Courses, both new ones I want to buy and those I already own. (math skills, language skills, writing skills, science, Shakespeare, etc.)
  • Complete online classes offered by my work. (there’s a bunch, and it will endure my willingness to be committed to my job as well as educate me on necessary work place skills)
  • Download my giant audio library of self-help, self-improvement programs to my iPod. (this is time consuming but it pays off.)
  • Organize and clean my work van and tools. (not bad now, can always be better)

Fun things to do in my life –

  • Write on my blog. (there’s never a lack of inspiration, and sometimes what guides me, surprises me as well)
  • Work on my art, both painting and pen and ink. (several projects I’ve been neglecting for far too long)
  • Watch my collected movies and series. (Battlestar Galactica, Sons of Anarchy, Northern Exposure and a plethora of others, twelve hundred titles in all, so no lack of entertainment here)
  • Complete my book and send it off for publication. (THIS is a big one. Not completing this equals massive regret, something I refuse to cultivate)
  • Listen to music. (Pandora – nothing calms me like Steely Dan, Firefall, Neil Diamond, and Gordon Lightfoot)
  • Sit down and read. (I own several thousand books so no lack here either)

I plan to keep getting up at four a.m. every day just as I do now. 

  1. 4:00 – 4:30 – Shower
  2. 4:30 – 5:00 – Eat Breakfast
  3. 5:00 – 6:00 – Exercise 
  4. 6:00 – 8:00 – Pick something on my “to do” list. Doesn’t have to get done, just progressed.
  5. 8:00 – 11:00 – Education choice
  6. 11:00 – 12:00 – Lunch
  7. 12:00 – 2:00 – Write
  8. 2:00 – 4:00 – Work on my art

The rest of the day will be the same as it is now which includes time with my wife, dinner, and confidently giving a bunch of wrong answers to the night’s episode of Jeopardy! Chores like laundry can happen whenever because I can do other things while the machine does the work. I’m usually in bed by nine p.m. 

One of the biggest reasons I MUST do this is if I don’t, old habits will attempt to resurface, and I have a host of those which almost destroyed me. One of the recent ones is weight loss. I’ve dropped about a hundred pounds since March of last year, and I’m prone to eating all the wrong crap when I let fear and stress dominate my mind, so keeping focused on a daily pattern will help deter me from self-destructive tendencies.

I have no intention of telling others what to do, all I want is to share how I’m going to handle what’s coming for all of us. 

I wish you all the best. 

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

 

128. LET’S BE WEIRD

I knew something was different about me very early on. The first time I realized this around the age of six. There I was, sitting in bed, joyously scribbling away in my Tom and Jerry coloring book and singing loudly to myself when it crossed my mind I was quite happy with no one else around. I truly remember this moment. I liked being in the company of others just fine, but I didn’t miss them when they weren’t there. I’m almost fifty-six now with no brothers or sisters, but back then there was no way of knowing if siblings were going to be in my life or not, so expectations of a bigger family remained open. Either way it didn’t matter, I craved neither solitude nor companionship, whatever the moment offered was quite comfortable. I also knew this attitude was different than most.

My teachers thought I was a bundle of nerves with a big mouth. I was; still am as an adult, but at least now I have increased self-awareness with my tendencies as well as an ability to redirect my energies, though sometimes it’s a little past my initial expressiveness. I was also rude, but never consciously so. My exasperated mother could not get me to say “excuse me” correctly when I walked in front of, or accidentally got in the way of others. Instead, I had it backwards for years and gleefully said “excuse you” instead, which really did come across as me being bratty. I never meant to be impolite, but I’m sure it seemed that way to those who were in my presence. Most of this stemmed from being selfish and overbearing, a side-effect of being an only child. There’s no doubt this type of behavior in today’s environment would insist on some sort of diagnosis that would require lots of drugs and possibly even therapy. Thank God I was born when I was.  If I were to unknowingly meet my younger self these days I’m sure I would roll my eyes and shake my head.

My personal habits in my youth were almost always directed towards fantasy or science fiction. Reality was fun, no doubt, but the possibility of imagination becoming reality held much more intrigue. I was a Star Trek, Wild Wild West, and Lost in Space kid. My library was soon filled with similar themes as I grew older and began to voraciously read. L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, A.A. Milne, The Chronicles of Narnia, and everything written by Edgar Rice Burroughs filled many hours of mental journeys. My artwork reflected my tendencies (and still does) when a brush, pen, or pencil was above a blank page. My room, my toys, were also in line as well. Everything one could think and create with, construction sets, art supplies, and, of course, books were my go-to playthings. Yes, I had cars, GI Joe, and sports stuff, but they were fall-back activities. I did play softball almost every day on the playground, so physical pastimes were abundant, but my mind was always elsewhere.

As I grew older I shifted away from my nature. What once was a powerful connection to my spirit faded a little every day as I became more and more hedonistic. This is where I deliberately began to withdraw from my fantasies. I went from being inspired by inward motives, to choosing to be influenced by outward ones. The walls effectively went up, and my wings of imagination came crashing down. Here is where I effectively became “normal.” All too soon I had a vast library of excuses for abandoning my hopes and dreams, in essence I joined the “tribe” and began goose-steeping to the tedious drone the majority of the population mindlessly embraces.

What IS normal one might ask? Well, in my observation the behaviors most people share define what’s totally acceptable, not only because they (usually) remain unchallenged, but also because they serve an agenda that justifies excuses for avoiding taking action. This is a cancerous lifestyle because most of our oblivious thought processes are great examples of misery loving company; we cyclically feed on each others bad habits. Please don’t think I’m past this, I’m not. All too often I catch myself joining in the mob mentality, my ego steps in, and I start playing the game with practiced ease.

Normal is therefore –

  • Accusing circumstance for how you act and feel.
  • Being late most of the time; or at the very least being highly rushed.
  • Trying to be different or stand apart from the outside in.
  • Worrying about reputation.
  • Complaining.
  • Thinking it’s inevitable certain “things” must happen the older we get, weight gain is, ahem… a big example.
  • Money equals happiness.
  • Wondering why everyone is so much luckier than you.
  • Hating Mondays, traffic, getting out of bed, supervisors, and your ex. Basically HATING too much.
  • A sense of lack.
  • Constantly comparing ourselves to others.
  • Wanting all the rewards in life without actually working for them.
  • Being overly offended, which, by the way, is nothing more than a covert way of  judging others.
  • Holding grudges.
  • Consistently defending oneself.
  • Pointing out flaws in everything: which is a cowardly act of misdirection designed to keep others from treating you the way you treat them.

Are ALL these observations normal? No need to ask me for reassurance, just look around for yourself and notice the type of body language most present themselves with, listen to the tone and delivery of how people typically speak as well as the attitudes that drive the agendas of average people. Do their motives fit many if not all the examples given above? Sadly, yes. Most people have fallen under the influence of thinking life can be fixed from the outside in, therefore what’s wrong is “out there”. We’re convinced we can change how we act and feel by manipulating the world around us rather than simply changing how we react. “Normal” is a comfort zone because the behavior is acceptable. The more we step out of the comfort zone, OR the more we embrace imagination, possibility, and personal power, the more we’re labeled as weird, because in doing so we don’t fit the tribe mentality.

Let’s look at a reversed list and perhaps this will enlighten as to just how rare, or of course abnormal it sounds.

Weird is therefore –

  • Owning how you act and feel.
  • Never being late, always relaxed.
  • Doing what it takes to be different from the inside out.
  • Not caring about what others think.
  • Bring grateful.
  • Knowing that you can defy the idea of how people age, and prove it through examples.
  • Happiness equals money. (LOVE this one)
  • Feeling blessed no matter how bad things get.
  • Loving Mondays, getting up the moment the alarm goes off to enjoy the day, empathizing with your boss, and wishing the best for your ex. Basically LOVING  everything.
  • A sense of abundance.
  • Comparing who and what you are, with where you were.
  • Willing to put forth any effort to achieve what you want.
  • Not letting hardly anything bother you, which will cultivate empathy.
  • Easily forgiving.
  • Embracing accountability.
  • Looking for the beauty in everything, which prompts others to do the same in kind.

To me it seems that imagination and compassion complement each other, just as ignorance and animosity are obviously close relatives. If nothing else the first list describes someone who is thoroughly boring and predictable, while the second list supports the type of person who is interesting and spontaneous. It’s ALSO important to point out the first list embraces a posture of inaction and blame, while the second one typifies a lifestyle of action and responsibility.

When I abandoned old beliefs and habits and embraced new ones, I reignited long lost passions I’d convinced myself were forever lost. This was actually a side-effect to my recovery, and I did not expect it. I never thought I’d find fortitude just because I wanted to become different, or of course… WEIRD.

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

125. SEARCHING FOR INSPIRATION

The older I get the more I know what the highest personal achievements in life are, and surprisingly, in the end, we don’t seem to want anything material at all. We may think we do, especially in our youth, but what’s truly sought after are the feelings that come from what we’re convinced will trigger whatever state of euphoria we seek to manifest. Many (including myself) buy into false repackaged, cliched, and resold icons associated with happiness which usually revolve around power, money, and fame. When people find they cannot gain footing on this type of path, drugs inevitably become the number one go-to in pursuit of mood-altering experiences, and I can understand why; it’s easy, extremely available, and it works…sort of. I myself was a slave to the idea of alcohol induced tranquility just like millions of others. If you don’t believe this to be true, take a ten-minute drive through the nearest business district and count just how many places you pass by who sell liquor. Damn near every street corner is testimony to the immense popularity of booze. Illicit drugs are a bit more covert, but I’d wager almost no one on Earth is unaffected in their own family by their ubiquity and use. All too often this path becomes extraordinarily self-destructive; physically, yes, but more importantly, emotionally. When we force our state of mind to change from the outside in, we ignore spirit and embrace pure hedonism. We also forget how to express ourselves naturally, how to explore our passions and allow our sorrows. I know from experience when the spirit dies from lack of nourishment, so does the body.

Complete contentment, peace, ecstasy, excitement, harmony, and bliss are good examples of the type of heightened emotions everyone wishes they had instant access to. Unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with the opposites such as discouragement, conflict, depression, boredom, apathy, and misery, and believe it or not it’s here the secret of inspiration can actually be found. Stick with this article and by the end you’ll be, well… inspired. Trust me.

We are creatures of negativity for two very distinct reasons, but this isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. We have built into our limbic system the “fight or flight” response which is on the constant lookout for the safest path. There are those who confront this instinct by intentionally risking limb and lifestyle, either for excitement or to challenge tendencies, but it’s always there in one form or another. And this skill is extremely useful, no doubt about it. Our ancient ancestors knew enough to be afraid of danger and avoid unjustifiable risks. The second reason is a little weird. We approach most tasks and challenges with a mindset that says “how can I fix this?” OR “how can I improve this?” As a result we automatically look for lack, and when we do, we force our minds to notice and all too often manufacture flaws, even if they don’t exist to begin with. One thing’s for sure, very seldom do we walk through life carefree and totally accepting of the world around us. Those souls who do are almost nonexistent. This is why we identify with negative points of view so easily, it’s a covert  and highly practiced habit to begin with.

The least desirable emotional states I listed above are actually easier to understand and diagnose than their counterparts because of the way we’re wired. They aren’t simple, no illusions here, just more relatable, more common as it were. I’ve stated this many times on this blog, I’m no doctor nor am I a professional on any subject I bring up, all I try do is share how I’ve moved past those barriers in life so many of us seem to share. Most states of negativity I’ve found a way past, although I don’t practice what I preach as much as I should. My ego occasionally gets inflated, I look for excuses, and play the victim from time to time, there’s no doubt about it, BUT I do know how to get beyond these temporary setbacks

There’s a one-word response for neutralizing negativity. Those I’ve named above, discouragement, conflict, depression, boredom, apathy, and misery have a redundant thread.

  • Discouragement = giving up on taking action
  • Conflict = absence of seeking cooperative action
  • Depression = unwilling to take action
  • Boredom = no action at all
  • Apathy = not caring about taking action
  • Misery = not taking the correct action

Obviously the key word is… action. Action designed to avoid destructive tenancies is, by default, creative in nature, and all things creative hold the seeds of inspiration. If this is true, then it stands to reason creativity breeds inspiration. You see, most believe inspiration comes before creativity. Not true. If you want to be inspired all you need to do is choose to be consistently active in your own life. The activities don’t have to be all rainbows and unicorns, and most likely they’ll be annoying rather than comforting, though this isn’t always the case. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what the nature of your activities are as long as they’re intended to be part of a bigger (positive) picture. Think of life as setting up dominos, once they’re in place all that’s needed is a push on the first one. Yes, the preparations can be tedious and time consuming, but the payoff is easy to visualize. The satisfaction of seeing them make a predetermined pattern, to act in a perfectly synchronized, harmonious manner is pure gratification. The same logic can be applied to those goals and dreams we so often abandon because the road leading to our visions seems overwhelming and hopeless. Little steps and movements all too often lead to huge accomplishments, in fact I would say this is the only way one finds themselves seeing their dreams come true.

When I look back at the things I’m grateful for, the accomplishments I’ve followed through on, they all consisted of constant, small, sometimes almost imperceptible movements. Most were drudgerous, but in the end it has always been more than worth it. The price is not that high upon appreciating the worth of the finished product. Seeing one’s goals make the finish line IS inspirational, and THAT inspiration is what is needed to start all over again on a new, perhaps even more impressive task.

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

123. HOW DO YOU FEEL?

These days I wear my heart on my sleeve but it took a few decades to get there. Hiding my emotions from others or altering them to get a desired response is a useful and necessary skill, one I’m quite practiced at, however, I now realize attempting to ignore my passions or repress my reactions from myself is one of the most unhealthy choices I can pursue. For years my reflection stirred nothing but apathy. As a young man I never looked past my own eyes in the mirror, the thought never occurred. Curiosity for what I was past flesh and blood held almost no interest, and so I went about my days in a constant loop of mostly hedonistic pastimes.

I did read, draw, and write on rare occasions, but as time wore on my withdrawal from everything I used to love from a cerebral perspective eventually shrank into distant memory. My existence became extremely superficial. Television and movies ate up a large chunk of mindless time-wasting. Alcohol, of course, sped up the slowing down of my humanity. Projects and pursuits I used to get excited over lay in corners, boxes, and shelves, covered in dust, and fading from memory. All this served to dull my senses and separate me from anything resembling abstract thought. I had nothing to look forward to nor did I have any interest in creating anything anticipatory.

My vocabulary simplified to match my emotional range. Everything was fine or okay. I really had no ups and downs unless you count going from being relieved I didn’t die one day, to wanting to the next. Describing my life was detached from actually feeling it. I walked around for years totally numb, unable to connect inner interpretation to outer situations. My spirit was buried, unable to function. All I was was existence without substance, a shadow of reality.

Getting back to a place of authentic expression took a lot of work. When I first cut the rubber band binding my inner monologue, it burst forth with unexpected energy. This led to bipolar behavior for quite some time. My highs were extremely high, and my lows matched them. Like a ball bouncing from a great height, my passions finally found a somewhat normal rhythm and settled into manageable patterns. There are still deep end experiences these days, but they’re rare and pass quickly. I think the initial danger, when I finally embraced a dynamic lifestyle, was the temptation to align too much with becoming either intensely negative or overly optimistic. Either one of these roads could easily have been one step too far and I would have passed a point of no return. A bitter, hostile attitude towards life had a genuine appeal since it feeds the ego and mine was already well developed, but magnifying this aspect of my personality would have been suicidal. On the other hand, looking at life through “rose colored glasses” also presented alluring temptations. I could go about my business with no concerns about the future whatsoever; however, “blind faith” can be a dangerous journey, one that keeps my eyes looking skyward instead of forward. Luckily, I found a comfortable alternative to either of these two routes. Surprisingly, it’s NOT a middle road, but rather a different one.

I’ve often referred to myself as a “pro-optimist” which isn’t even a real word, but it really does describe how I move through my days. I’m usually highly optimistic as long as I’m actively investing in my ambitions. This path normally allows me to check and balance my emotional state. When I’m involved, blame is absent and responsibility is active. Yes, there’s no doubt most life’s “game” is comprised of random events, but when I have a hand in my own future it (usually) allows me to manipulate key elements, most importantly, my own attitude. As an example, I can be happy everything turned out well, OR I can be pleased I now know what not to do should similar situations arise. Granted, the aforementioned outcome is preferable, but either way my perceptions coupled with direct actions make for a recipe that cannot disappoint. If I look at things in this manner, there is no such thing as failure, and my emotional state has no choice but to align with satisfaction either way. Please note I cannot take this same approach if I am totally separated from an event, which is way I insist on participating in my own life.

Becoming desensitized to life went hand in hand with my subconscious choice to live in a strictly reactive fashion. Once I chose an active life, I had no alternative but to become emotionally adept. I wonder if the same is true for others who were just as lost as me? The title of this entry is not asking how the reader feels, it’s asking “how does one learn to feel?” I know how I did, and it’s one of the skills that keeps me enthusiastic about living.

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

122. SOBRIETY VS. RECOVERY

 

I’ve met people have who have twenty-plus years of sobriety… and not a day of recovery. I don’t want to come across as some sanctimonious finger-pointer, that’s not my intent. It’s just when listening to those who have a long history of nothing but abstinence, as opposed to one of growth and improvement; well, it shows. It shows in the amount of bitterness, regret, hostility, judgement, and most importantly, blame they project. Thankfully I realized quickly just who I wanted to align with. Yes, there were those I felt drawn to who displayed a caustic exterior, BUT they did so with a twinkle in their eye, and it was also presented as a challenge to those worthy of commitment to a program. True desperation equals the willingness to do anything, which in turn allows others to hold a mirror to my faults while my defenses are lowered. I wasn’t looking to purge the result of my problems, (drinking) I was determined to eliminate the cause of my problems. I was so sick of being sick, and I was willing to do anything to eradicate my ever-deepening spiral of self-destructiveness. I wanted more than anything to be around those whose lives had obviously improved, not the ones who were able to rid themselves of the object of addiction and nothing else. 

The definitions we assign the words we choose for our inner dialogue is massively influential, both positively and negatively, and of course both consciously and subconsciously. I’m a huge stickler for this, so much so that I still look up words quite frequently. The fifth commandment contains a good example of misinterpretation. It says rather simply, “Honor thy Mother and Father.” Most people translate this as “Love Mom and Dad.” This is NOT what it means. One of the definitions of “honor” is “to do better than” which makes sense from a spiritual perspective. We are duty bound to be better than our parents, and our children better than us. I Love my parents but I’m more obligated to become greater than they are, at least from a Christian perspective. This small example led to my insistence in using the proper language. I’m not nearly as good at it as I’d like to be and it shows most in my writing. I try, but, my skills in this arena are mediocre at best. I do pay for an editor for that which I plan to publish, but on this blog you’re going to get my best effort without professional critique. Writing does help me to refine my ever-lengthening list of words and this in turn helps with my speaking skills. 

I’m a firm believer we cannot manufacture happiness from the outside in. I’ve said this many times both on this blog and in person. That which brings us peace and contentment must resonate from our center. If our priority in life is to nurture core attributes, this will eventually magnify outer abundance. If our primary focus is to gain outer abundance this, will lead to atrophied inner qualities. Sobriety is essential to a healthy life, but if this is all one wants, one will eventually end up empty. It’s an action designed to work from the outside in. Abstinence is better than indulgence, that’s for sure, especially for those around the person who’s a train wreck to begin with. Recovery, on the other hand, is designed to promote growth, not just stop disease. Sobriety, in my experience, prunes the branches, and it helps. Recovery eventually heals the entire tree.

Make no mistake, sobriety comes first. It’s the most important step of all. If we equate addiction with another action, say vandalism, then alcohol (or any hedonistic practice) would be the sledgehammer and our motives would be the need or desire to vandalize. Sobriety is, therefore, the absence of the sledgehammer, which is a wonderful thing, especially for that which is being destroyed. What remains, is of course, the impulse to demolish. In this scenario I’m sure it’s easy to see how the need to drop the “weapon” comes first. If, however, this is ALL that’s done, another “weapon” will present itself to accommodate the motive to destroy. This is why it’s essential to address the reasons behind the “need to swing.”  It ALSO explains why those who drop their bludgeon must never pick it up again because doing so will trigger all the reasons to use it.  

Sobriety was and is my first step, it being the same action over and over, but recovery isn’t. It’s the evidence I’m improving and it’s a track record I intend on extending until I die. So, how long have I been sober? Twenty-four hours. How long have I been in recovery? Over twenty-four years. 

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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

 

 

120. ALMOST DEAD – PART TWO

ALMOST DEAD – PART ONE is, of course, the first part in case you’ve missed it.

If you’re wondering why I’m including this topic on my blog, the answer’s simple. Most of us have experienced some sort of overwhelming, life challenging stumbling block. Many have had much worse than I’ve ever experienced, no doubt, BUT I feel it’s important to point out how we can (eventually) use these detours as inspirations rather than excuses. Some people move and reshape the world from wheelchairs, and there are those who, by their own hand, have trouble getting off the couch long enough to accomplish even the most basic of needs. It’s a mindset, one I still struggle with more often than not. Some areas of my life are well ordered, while others I label as totally chaotic. My ego, my attitude, is what holds me back from progressing in a productive, positive manner. Remembering I have indeed moved beyond my worst periods of uncertainty helps to reestablish determination and allows me to tackle areas in need of attention. This next statement is from another post of mine, and it sums up my historical dynamic.

The beauty in the fabric of my life comes from all those events which have had a pleasant outcome; but the strength of it lies in those circumstances that have challenged me to be a better person. I’m therefore MORE thankful for the pain I’ve moved past than the pleasures I’ve experienced. I do not seek suffering as a means to improve myself, but there’s a wonderful comfort in knowing it’s capable of eventually providing increased gratitude.

And it does…

5. Viral Pneumonia –

I never knew one could “catch” pneumonia; figured it was just something that happened if the conditions were conspiring against you. Apparently I was wrong. Now, for some, viral pneumonia can be rather mild, not in this case however. I’d originally contracted symptoms almost a month before on a cruise and came to the conclusion I had a bad cold, really bad. I was hacking like crazy and it hurt like I needed to push razor blades out of my lungs. Looking back I’m shocked the airline that flew us back early didn’t reject our request before we even got on board. I spent a few hours facing away from everyone and trying as hard as possible to not cough into my hat. After returning home I still had a few days off before resuming  my job. During this time I saw my doctor and they concluded, inaccurately, it was just a cold. I even had a chest x-ray because of the added pain I was experiencing. They told me I’d pulled a muscle and to take it easy. I went back to my normal grind thinking life would get better and better, but my energy level was just gone. The more I worked, the more I depleted my resources because, unknown to me, my body was using every ounce it had to fight the infection in my lungs. Finally, one day, when I was working on a two inch copper drain line in the ceiling of an office building, I realized I’d had enough. I was coughing up blood and it felt as if someone had taken a home-run swing at my rib-cage with a telephone pole. My breath started getting shorter and shorter and by the time I made it home I could barely breathe. I don’t scare easily, the other incidents where I had one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave were nothing compared to this. I really thought I was going to die. If I’d been alone it wouldn’t have done me any good to call 911 as I could barely get out a whisper of a single syllable at a time. I had to write down what was wrong. My wife got me in the car and we sped off to the hospital where a real diagnosis was finally made of my condition. I spent two or three days (I don’t really recall) under close observation and was sent home with a bunch of antibiotics. I went back to work soon thereafter but It was another month before I felt normal. Since then I’ve had two more bouts of pneumonia but neither of those were as bad as that first time. It’s totally disabling, and I wouldn’t wish it on Satan himself.

6. MRSA –

MRSA stands for “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus” which obviously is (ewww…) a mouthful. I for one am glad it’s most commonly referred to by its acronym. It’s basically a strain of staph bacteria that’s become highly resistant to antibiotics. CA-MRSA (which specifies my exposure was outside a medical facility) is the strain I was lucky enough to make friends with. It started with a sore knee. There was no cut or break on my skin of any kind, which was weird. I didn’t think much of it at first, just figured I’d banged it on something a little too hard, but the swelling kept increasing with more and more pain accompanying it. Finally, after several days I reluctantly went to my physician. My wife went with me and was in the room for the initial exam. The doctor literally jumped back a little when he saw my leg and proceeded to very, very carefully touch it. The moment he did he said  “This is extremely hot, you need to go to the hospital, now!” He must have called ahead because they seemed to be expecting us and I was only in the emergency room for a few minutes. I spent at least three days bedridden, and to be honest, I really don’t remember much of the incident, but I DO remember a few things. I was on a constant flow of liquid antibiotics, I was also on morphine for the pain, and I recall a visit from the surgeon in charge of my case. He was standing at the foot of my bed looking at my knee which was swollen to the size of a football and said “We can’t risk draining it, it could spread like wildfire. We are going to monitor this extremely closely and if the infection moves into the joint itself (apparently it wasn’t yet, and I have no idea how they knew) your leg is coming off with in the hour.” I was in no position to argue, that’s for sure. Soon thereafter my condition improved and I went home. I did need follow up visits of course but all ended up fine, until…

A year and a half later it happened again, to my other knee. Same thing, no break in the skin or visible cut. Luckily my hospital stay this time was shorter and the case was somewhat less severe. I have both legs these days but my knees still hurt occasionally, although that’s probably more my age and job than anything… I hope.

7. Back Surgery with Complications –

On January 16, 2015 I had back surgery. Less than twenty-four hours before I wrote a post on this blog – 76. So close to giving up recalling the weeks leading up to where I found myself. The days to follow were a totally different story. I was eagerly looking forward to some sort of relief from my sleepless nights and 24/7 suffering, little did I know the worst was NOT behind me (yes, pun intended.) The operation went fine although it took almost twice as long as was originally intended, four and a half hours as opposed to an estimation of two and a half. I was told there was more “complications” than anticipated once they had a better look at my condition. No matter, it was done and I figured I could go home and at least sleep. This fantasy was short lived. Now, my memory of a five month period from the start of my injury to when I returned to work is almost a blank slate. I can recall certain incidents, but the timeline is a complete wash. My guess is my mind went into some sort of “wipe” mode, something I never thought could happen. These days I have to rely on my wife’s recollection of events to fill in almost every detail. I’d originally thought my second setback during this time happened right after regaining consciousness from my anesthesia, apparently not. I’d been home for only about twenty-four hours and was resting on our bed when I realized I had almost no energy, I wasn’t actually paralyzed, but I then again I couldn’t move in the slightest. My wife wasn’t home and the phone wasn’t anywhere near me, so I laid there, fading away. At some point, perhaps an hour after the episode began, she came home and I managed to explain my condition. Took me over half an hour to make it to the car, by far the hardest physical struggle of my life. Once I finally made it back to the emergency room I was diagnosed with  pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in my lungs) accompanied by pneumonia. The doctors told my wife if she hadn’t come home when she did I would have died. I recall the head physician telling me I went down to about 3%. He said it was extremely close but I was going to make it. I was another week on the hospital, nine days total. It’s amazing just how much mobility and even muscle strength can be lost by staying in bed for a week, and my heart breaks for those who go through such ordeals, often for much, much longer periods than me. The next few months saw a HUGE weight gain along with periods of boredom and depression. I went back to work in May of that year and while it was excruciating, it was also invigorating. Took a long time to feel normal again, but I did and here I am over four years later, ticking away just fine.

I’m convinced my recovery from alcoholism has given me added diligence to help me to step past everything that’s happened since I sobered up. It would be nice if my life ahead would be guaranteed clear sailing; BUT you know what’s even nicer? It’s knowing I can confront my almost inevitable upcoming setbacks with an attitude valor because I have LOTS of practice.

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

119. EYES OF WONDER

Most of my favorite memories were first time events, and I’ll bet the same is true for the majority of adults. These peak moments are anchor points to what we believe is the very best life has to offer, and for most, the older we get, the less we seem to experience these milestones. What was once exciting and anticipatory all too quickly becomes monotonous and ordinary. Childhood is crammed with examples of excitement, while grown-up life is more repetitious. I have nothing against a good solid routine because when it’s disciplined, it can bring great rewards. We pay bills, we go to work, we have food, we have chores and duties, and through these choices we generate comforts and other necessities that keep chaos and uncertainty tamed. On the other hand without spontaneity, or at the very least, something planned to look forward to, it becomes easy to let our eyes glaze over at the thought of another redundant day.

I’ve discussed before on other entries about how time passes differently the older we get, seeming to speed up as we age. As children, having essentially a blank slate ready and waiting to fill with experience and memories, we have no choice but to look forward to everything; it doesn’t matter if what’s expected is good or bad, all we do at this level is visualize the future which carries with it the illusion of slowing down our perception of time. Let’s face it, kids in second grade don’t sit around and discuss life in a retrospective manner. As we grow older and accumulate perspectives and narrative, the more we naturally look back, and this is usually helpful. When faced with one of life’s puzzles we reach back into the archives and extract information that hopefully will aid in properly reacting to or solving what needs attention. It’s an unconscious act for most, and we probably wouldn’t survive without this ability. On the other hand many DO reach back consciously and relive memories in the form of regret. If regret is the main choice of reaction when revisiting the past, we tend to do its equal when looking forward, which is worry. Both of these choices are useless and cancerous. I believe practicing this habit is the fuel that speeds up time because we’ve stopped practicing hope for what lies ahead and acceptance for our yesterdays. The more we want something, the longer it takes to arrive, the less we want something, the faster it’s upon us. Reminiscing and planning on the other hand, the polar opposites of regret and worry, can be a healthy and enjoyable pastime as long as the present remains the main focus of living. This is an abbreviated observation I’ve written about in years back, but revisiting this concept will help illustrate the upcoming point I intend to make.

I don’t know about you, but I miss the having the ability to conjure butterflies in anticipation of upcoming festivities. It was a good feeling, one that often surpassed the actual event. This is because my fantasy of what was to happen had limitless possibilities; I had no preconceptions to taint my optimism, These daydreams not only stimulated my imagination, they fueled visions of what I wanted even further into my future. There were also occasions where I was totally surprised at what I saw as an impulsive adventure. When my parents took me to the Denver zoo when I was nine, and they had kept their plans secret, well, that day is one of the standout moments in my childhood. The first time I stepped foot into a carnival I was probably seven or so, and THIS was like visiting another planet. The colors, smells, the barkers tempting passerby’s with their crap games and even crappier prizes, and the rides at night, spinning and twisting, dressed in neon, and sound-tracked with joyful screams from the riders was overwhelmingly intoxicating. Now when I’ve gone to those places I find myself disappointed, not just because I see past the superficialities of the environment, but because I’m aware I can never re-create the first-time impression from my youth. In actuality this attitude is a LIE, one I all too frequently convince myself of; almost without even being aware of it.

I don’t have children, but I imagine one of the most rewarding joys of parenthood is being there to witness incidents similar to our history as they encounter them for the first time. We cannot help but share in their enthusiasms because joy and bliss are not only extremely contagious, but highly sought after. I’m sure these experiences create an even more powerful bond between family members which is why we seek to manifest such events on a regular basis. I believe the same is possible for those without kids as long as they pursue an identical dynamic with relatives and friends. Admittedly the frequency may be significantly diminished, but for most opportunities are there nonetheless. If this seems like the only way to recapture life for the first time, it’s not. We needn’t be vicarious in going about it, and it’s not that hard to do.

There’s a way to re-boot the adolescent point-of-view, and that is by getting in touch with our “inner-child.” The attitudes of immaturity and irresponsibility are NOT what is meant to be expressed by aligning with this doctrine. There are many who DO think this is the way, and the results can be extraordinarily catastrophic. There are two books, somewhat dated now but still relevant nonetheless, called “The Peter Pan Syndrome” and “The Cinderella Complex” that delve into the idea and disastrous consequences of never wanting to grow up and take responsibility for our own lives. I have indeed read them myself, but admittedly it’s been some years ago. Most will be insulted by the first few pages and never have the courage and humility to actually self-evaluate. Such is the power and danger of letting the ego run our lives. What I’m eluding to here is embracing the idea of seeing the world as we first did, through eyes of wonder. The only thing that prevents us from doing so is our insistence in holding on to a single concept, and that concept is prejudice.

Prejudice is NOT a negative word, it simply means to “pre-judge” something. We all do it, and for the most part there’s nothing wrong with educated use. We know from experience what foods we can and cannot, or at the very least, should not eat, we know what impending weather may cause us to grab an umbrella for later in the day, we anticipate how someone may react if we unavoidably or accidentally upset them, and we express elevated politeness when approaching strangers. All these examples require a pre-judgement of some sort. We want to feel comfortable and assured in most situations. For most the practice goes unnoticed and therefore is usually subconscious. If we force ourselves to become aware of pre-judgments it becomes an easy (choose-able) exercise to pretend there’s no judgement of the situation whatsoever. Don’t believe me? I’m telling you it’s not all that difficult. When we find ourselves able to enter this state of mind we will have reconnected with our true “inner child.” In other words we can manipulate ourselves into having primordial experiences. Again, the key is to remove ALL judgement from what we encounter.

Here are some suggestive exercises –

  • Go to the mall, park, grocery store, anywhere there are a variety of people and just look. Don’t think. If you are struggling with stereotypes then at least focus on finding the most beautiful thing you can about everyone. I’m well aware this too is a judgement, BUT, it’s one we automatically maintain when in the mindset of innocence, which is where we want to be anyway. There’s no such thing as fat, thin, old, young, male, female, clean, messy, rich, poor, and on and on, JUST people.
  • The next time you’re driving, and someone is being what you might usually be label as rude, obnoxious, or thoughtless, entertain the idea this person might be trying to get to their parent, spouse, or child who is dying in the hospital. If this happened to me I guarantee I’d break a few traffic laws trying to get there as fast as possible and I’d bet you would too. I also know this is a judgement, however, if we swap a knee-jerk negative response for an empathetic one, we re-wire our minds to see and experience the world on a whole new level.
  • For most of us the music we grew up with has powerful connections to recreating feelings, events, and memories. A lot are pleasant, but some are downright annoying. The next time a song comes on you REALLY can’t stand, just listen. Pretend you’ve never heard it before. Focus on every part of it, the structure, words, rhythm, and message. Keep in mind the songs you hate are ALWAYS someone’s favorite. I pick music because it’s everywhere, in every culture, and it’s a fast artistic expression of how someone else views their life and world.

There is one more way to reconnect with a puerile sense of awe, even if we are determined to hold onto a judgmental attitude, and that is to actively “take chances.” Doing this on a regular basis will eventually override a lifetime of subjective programming. Taking chances is not as forbeboding as it sounds, and there’s plenty of existing evidence in everyone’s lives that can be used as leverage to push us out of our comfort zones. All anyone needs to do is look at their own track record. This next question may be one of the most important observations ever –

“How many times in your past is regret attached to actually having taken a chance?”

Even those chances we took that initially turned out as failures often became the foundations for unexpected rewards. Now ask the opposite, “How many times in your past is there regret attached to having avoided taking a chance?” Personally I have no regrets, I refuse to live in this frame of mind, however, there used to be a time where I overwhelmed with disappointment whenever I focused on my history, so I have common ground with the consequences of holding onto such a damaging perspective. I have another post that addresses this attitude with greater detail. 81. WORDS OF POWER – WHY NOT?. If you’re having trouble with coming up with ideas of just what exactly to take a chance on, simply sit down and write a list of your fears. You’ll have generated plenty of opportunities to put this experiment to the test in a matter of minutes.

The inner child awaits inside everyone. It craves a life without judgement. It is who we TRULY are, a being of Love, gratitude, and unending curiosity.

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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood

 

118. TWENTY-FOUR YEARS SOBER

Well, here I am, one year away from the quarter-century mark in my recovery. I must admit it doesn’t seem like it, but truthfully that’s a pretty good thing. Sometimes it feels like only a few months since I last drank. I still occasionally have dreams I’ve broken my sobriety, and while they are extraordinarily realistic as well as deeply frightening, I am nonetheless grateful for their continued presence. It keeps me reminded what I don’t want and sometimes that’s more valuable than knowing what I do want. I never think about alcohol in my daily life even though I’m besieged with ads, billboards, and commercials, not to mention a liquor store every two blocks whenever I get behind the wheel. None of these things sway my interest in the slightest. I was lucky in that I never really enjoyed the flavor of alcohol, I just chased the effects of it, so there’s no Pavlovian response to my five senses, thank God.

What breaks my heart the most is seeing others who are where I was and knowing I can’t really do anything to help them, although knowing this doesn’t stop me from (gently) trying. I understand how hopelessness feels, I empathize with what it’s like to want to live AND die at the same time. I wish I could hand over the experiences and knowledge I’ve accumulated to those who need it most, but in the end the best I can do is let others know I was once where they are now and try my best to be an example of someone who managed to find a way out. Looking back on the past two dozen years I’ve done a lot to get where I am now. At the beginning of my recovery I thought it would be an uphill battle, one with overwhelming challenges and unforeseen obstacles. Nothing of the future I had envisioned has come to pass. What I’d feared or wished for never happened. Disaster never struck and fortunes surpassed even my most hopeful of fantasies. Most of it’s been fun, surprising, and completely rewarding. Yes, there have been times of challenge, but my fortitude has easily outweighed every so-called setback. Nothing on my path has been a burden. It’s almost as if I exchanged ten years of my life in payment for what I consider to be a Utopian existence.

Every A.A. birthday I’ve had since I started this blog I’ve written a post to express my gratitude and to share my journey with others. The chances that this particular entry matches closely some of the other ones I have written wouldn’t surprise me. On occasion I go back to read and share other entries, but not the ones published on my birthdays, and I have a very specific reason for doing this. I want what I feel at this moment to be written down without self-bias. I don’t want to taint my connection with spirit. If it so happens to match what I said last year, well, does it really matter?

As a closing thought I will say this, my intuition, my insight, my inner voice tells me that something very, very big is on the horizon in my life, something good, something miraculous. We’ll see what I have to say next year.

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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood