It’s no secret that COVID-19 has defined 2020. Given that no one alive today has ever gone through anything like this before, no one can be expected to navigate this situation from a place of experience. Working to maintain a semblance of normalcy has become the nationwide, full-time job. We’re all putting in overtime yet few, if any of us feel like we’re receiving the compensatory time and a half return. I don’t know about you but, putting in that much work to try to maintain yet still struggle or fall drastically short is both tiring and discouraging. With just getting-by being this hard, happiness and/or progress felt almost impossible.
At the start of COVID, my external life was pretty much in cruise control. I was making sufficient money, I had buddies that came over weekly for a card game, and I would go out to catch live shows (music) with friends whenever possible. I’d heard about COVID but because I don’t follow the news, because I value my sanity, I didn’t know how serious it was. On March 17th that all changed, I was laid off from my weekend gig and the town was to shut down by the weekend. Hang outs were adamantly discouraged so everyone stocked up on food and toilet paper and shut themselves in their homes with their families, partners, and roommates. As a recovering alcoholic that deals with depression and anxiety and lives alone, the loss of much needed income and vital social interactions (connection) felt like a weight too heavy to carry.
It didn’t take long for the uncertainty looming over each day and the endless amount of time to stew in my thoughts to send me into a deep depression. From that place I looked to cope in poor-choice company, things, and home improvement projects. Though the house stuff was definitely productive, playing Ben the toolman Taylor, Prime purchases, and women were nothing short of distraction activities (distractivies). They worked in the moment, kind of, but then it was right back to misery. It was when I remembered the concept of Agreement or Alignment that I could make a real attempt to reshape my COVID experience.
This is kinda where my nerd brain kicks in...enjoy the ride.
Agreement or Alignment (AoA) is this thing I came up with. I don’t know if you’d call it an idea, a theory, whatever, basically, I use it to help me manage how I think and feel about things. A perception processor, if you will. How it works for me, I know that everything I will ever experience I can only feel one of two ways about. Either I like it or I dislike it. Obviously the degrees vary but it all starts with like or dislike. Once I’ve put the situation in the appropriate category, applying AoA is simply changing the headings of those categories from “Like” and “Dislike” to “Agreement” and “Alignment” and then I have action steps.
Agreement is the easy part. If I like it, I have 3 options from there. 1) leave it as it is and it goes how it goes 2) do just enough to maintain it or 3)do the work to improve it. Personally, I waiver between 2 and 3, but I try to lean more towards 3. Now if I don’t like it, I change that category to Alignment and that’s exactly what my next step is, ALIGN. If I can't do anything to change the situation (ie COVID), the next best thing to do is use my energy to find out how I can work with the situation to benefit me.
“So I outsource the blame as though a source out there can fix it. Looking within to do the work is more effective than bitching.”- Me
My common response to things I dislike is to get angry, scared, or hurt. From there, I find the thing/person to blame and I put my energy and efforts into hating it/them and using that to justify inaction-inducing misery. Fun fact, changing how I look at a situation immediately offers me an entirely new batch of actionable options. Here’s how it works (shortened):
To wrap this up before it gets too long, the two things I hope to convey are that dislikeable stuff is inevitable and that wallowing in the misery-inducing objection to them is a choice. Maybe AoA isn’t going to be the method that works for you, but if reading this can steer your thinking more towards solution-seeking than disapproval evaluation, it’s a step in the right direction.
Sooooo, I quit drinking on December 10, 2015. On that day, I was headed to rehab (in lieu of prison) and headed towards intense probation from a DUI I’d gotten a few months prior. I had no relationship with my son (4yo) or my daughter (17yo) and I didn’t like myself at all. I had no money, no job, no home (of my own), no driver's license and no prospect of getting it back. I didn’t see how any of those things would ever change so up to that day, I chose avoidance by drinking myself to distraction. The misery was so pervasive that quitting was the last option I could attempt to stop increasing the pain and damage I was causing and living in. I just wanted to stop the pain and "be normal."
I went into recovery open-minded and willing to do whatever was going to be presented and required of me. Though I need things to make sense, when it came to tasks I didn’t understand or agree with, I did them anyway. The simple logic was that my best thinking and efforts had gotten me exactly where I was up that point. I had to do differently if I wanted to see different outcomes.
I quit drinking, found a “higher power” that made sense to me and leaned completely on that; it provided the confidence to combat the negativity associated with uncertainty. I meditated and prayed, I read everything I could get my hands on about self-awareness and growth and applied the things I learned to the best of my ability. I surrounded myself with people who were either chasing what I was chasing or people who were well past me in their growth process and mimicked their mentality and actions. I bought in, 100%, on the concept of doing differently to become and have differently. 'Be Different' became my Deeper Yes.
The Deeper Yes concept was something I read in The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly (it’s a must-read). It simply states: “In order to say no to anything, you have to have a Deeper Yes.” The Deeper Yes is what I value, it’s my why, my priority. It’s like when you're still incredibly tired when the alarm goes off but you have to go to work. You want to keep your job so you shun more sleep and get up and go to work. The desire to stay employed is the Deeper Yes.
My Deeper Yes is to have a better life on all facets, spiritually, mentally, physically (I still struggle there), and emotionally. Emotionally entails my relationship and feelings towards myself as well as all of my outside relationships. I didn’t want party homies anymore, I wanted growth partners. So when I was lonely, which happened often and could choose to hang out, I didn’t. I remembered my Deeper Yes and did things that contributed to my bigger picture. By denying the familiar solution and enduring the discomfort, I subtly started to change how I thought and functioned.
Think/Do different now and change happens over time.
Not one thing in my life of sobriety has happened quickly. Every good change that has happened, happened as a byproduct of an accumulation of changed behaviors and perspectives. 'Agreement or alignment' is my credo. I either agree with what's going on or I try to align with it, so it can be utilized for my good. What I realized was that a changed perspective allowed me to see how much more good there was in my life, no matter what was going on. The change in perspective was basically choosing to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. Like, appreciating the job I do have and bringing my best self to work every day rather than focusing on the job I don’t have and showing up to work with that resentment in my heart.
The more fully I embraced the discomfort of change, the more the discomfort morphed into mere unfamiliarity.
The beauty of unfamiliarity, as a person in recovery, is that most things familiar were bad to/for me. Unfamiliar is just another word for new...and who doesn’t love new stuff?!
December 10, 2015, I decided to quit drinking. I then started learning about ways to do things differently. While I had hopes for some particular outcomes, my only real goal was to do each day as best I could. Some days were harder than others but my support system was being repopulated with people, places, things that supported me through hardships rather around them. With my attention and efforts focused on making each day great, I had very little time or bandwidth to stew on what wasn’t happening; as a result, my life 3 years and 10 months later is vastly different.
I went from rehab to having a roommate to having my own place to soon a much bigger place. I am moving from the studio apartment where I’ve been living for the past 2 years to a much larger 2 bedroom home. This now provides a space for my son to have his own room. My son, who I didn’t even know 4 years ago, I now have a regular and constant relationship with. I’ve been a server for most of my adult life. Today I report to an office (I have a real live staple remover on my desk!) to a job that checks the essential boxes of passion and service, this means I am working in my purpose. After almost 20 years of driving without a license, I’ve done all the prerequisite things to be in the process of getting my license back. On October 11, I will have successfully completed 3 years of intense probation and my relationship with my daughter, who I barely knew, is now closer than I could’ve ever imagined (Side note: parenting a teenage/young adult daughter is really like having a best friend who thinks you’re rich...I’m practicing alignment and acceptance).
I make a very deliberate effort to not spend too much time reveling in the good stuff going on in my life. I definitely acknowledge them, but I believe that gratitude is an action and how best to honor those things is by helping others and continuing to grow and build on them. I didn’t work to gain any of those things specifically; it was every single minute of these last 3 years and 10 months of working on ME that allowed the possibility to gain those things...and those aren’t destinations, they’re simply progress markers.
My father once told me, “As much time as you spent fouling things up, you owe yourself at least that much time before you can have any real expectation for things to be different.”
It rarely takes that long to see improvement but, applying that line of thinking early on takes much of the pressure off of the “should’s.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, so neither will a new me, a new life, or a new lifestyle. My commitment to change, not commitment to gain, is why I am endlessly blessed in every single facet of my life today...and still, more will be revealed, in due time.
The Jumping Of Point
Don’t Be Veruca Salt
A Deeper Yes
Sooooo, how many times have you heard “you reap what you sow” or “karma’s a bitch”? I’ve typically heard or thought it when I get a bad result shortly after having done some foul shit. Fact is, we’re ALWAYS sowing and karma isn’t a bitch, karma just is and everything is a result of something.
I, like most, have been conditioned to seek comfort and pleasure, this is what happiness is right? We’re told to get a good job (comfort) so you can get a good partner (pleasure) or those get-rich-quick schemes (comfort) and TV ads like “Life’s short, Play hard” (pleasure). This conditioning permeates decision making to a point that the root purpose of all I’ve done was to create comfortable to manifest pleasure. I’m thinking, what’s wrong with wanting to be comfortable and happy?
“Happiness eludes all those who seek it for its own sake. True happiness is the byproduct of the journey” ~ Matthew Kelly
Ironically, having happiness as the goal, the “I’ll be happy when...” mentality, leaves me waaay more vulnerable to unhappiness. Because it is a destination, what it looks and feels like has now been defined. Because it’s been defined, anything not as I’ve shaped it isn’t happiness to me. So not only have I closed myself off to the infinite other forms happiness available; I have simultaneously opened myself up to suffering in infinite forms of discontentment.
My regular paying job is as a server (waiter). I make jack shit hourly and rely on the generosity of others to make a living. So why do I serve? I adore people. I love meeting, connecting, and sharing awesome experiences with new people. As a server, this opportunity is offered in abundance. Altruistically, I get countless opportunities to make someone's day. Selfishly, it makes me genuinely gut/soul/heart happy when I do. I’ve also been fortunate to receive uncharacteristically large sums of money for my time spent with them. Not to undersell my appreciation for the ol moolah (cause boy do I appreciate the money), but because the value is in the interaction, I get true happiness from (almost) every table I wait on, regardless of the money.
That little nugget about my work is a super small scale example of a purpose, thought, action, and result process that is applicable on an overall existence level. Why we do what we do will determine who and how we are as people and dictate what our lives become.
I mentioned in the beginning about reaping what we sow and that being said, I’ve been playing with this concept to maximize true happiness. Three things I know to be fact: 1) We are interdependent beings. Interdependent, meaning we need each other (angels and assholes alike) to have the fullest and happiest life. 2) Everything is a seed. Every thought, word and action is going to garnish a return. 3) What we put out is what we get, at it’s very root (intent). If I do good for the sake of doing good, good comes to me. If I do good for what doing good brings me, I still receive good but it is conditional, shallow, and temporal. The same stands true for the bad.
In everything I’ve ever glazed over or really studied on behavioral expectations on a spiritual or moral level, one thing that is across all teachings is don’t deliberately cause damage. You know, Golden Rule/”Thou shalt not”, really basic stuff. It’s like the universal demand to not intentionally and inevitably invite bad into your life.
On the flip side, we have the option to invite good in with one (also really basic) prerequisite, do/think/speak good into the world around us. The only time this proves difficult is when offering that good seems to inconvenience, take away, or deter from personal happiness. Earlier we talked about missing out on happiness on account of an unwillingness to open up to the other forms of it. Well, imagine standing at the foot of a giant double-pan balance scale (you know, like the one ‘Lady Justice’ holds). In one pan is my definition of happiness and in the other is everything else in existence. The scale would greatly favor everything else in existence leaving my definition of happiness high overhead and far out of reach and everything else right there and easily accessible. We’re not, nor ever will be, required to compromise goals. But what we are surrounded by is a world to give to and find joy in. If we condition ourselves to try to find and give joy in all that we encounter, no matter where we’re headed or end up happiness will be who we are rather than what we receive.
So to sum this bad boy up, my belief, to have the fullest and happiest time on this earth comes with One Requirement and One Request:
The Requirement: Do no harm.
The Request: Love more shit.
Thanks For Reading!
I have the privilege of encountering mean people on a semi-daily basis. Working in customer service (restaurants and retail) I get to experience every mood. I call this a privilege because I recognize this as yet another growth opportunity (A.F.G.O. we’ll talk about this soon). It’s (fairly) impossible to completely avoid resentments, hurt feelings, and anger as these are all natural reactions to offensive actions and words. The hope here is to get a better understanding as to why and how to let it go and use it for growth.
As a starter, I need to acknowledge that the only way I can be impacted by someone’s words or actions is if they touch on something I already feel some type of way about. Yes, good old fashioned assholes exist and don’t need a direct prompt from me to be a dick but the only thing that should get any extended attention is the why it’s affecting me.
The beneficial side of their nasty words, actions, and attitudes are that they prompt me to do some self-assessing and brainwork to address some areas in me that obviously need attention. Such things as deep as self-confidence/esteem and unresolved thoughts and feelings about past situations to simpler things like sympathy, empathy, and patience. Whatever it is, now I have the opportunity to acknowledge, address, and improve it...growth (which is the purpose of this whole thing).
Fact: Mean People Suck! Not the actual person, but their actions. Another fact: Mean people dislike something about themselves and/or their life way more than the people they are unkind to. When they encounter people experiencing authentic comfort or joy in the areas of their own loath it causes so much internal/emotional pain that it triggers actual physical discomfort...misery. I believe that miserable people are hurtful and mean because they’re in pain. Though I understand the theory, I don’t know that I believe that misery actually loves company. I don’t think they’re direct objective is to make someone else feel like them more than it is to just stop the light from shining directly in the eye of their own issues.
When things get too uncomfortable there are 2 options, lower my standards to make the misery the new normal or change whatever in me to make myself happy. Mean people opt to adapt to the misery which makes actual happiness much harder to come by. I think this goes without saying but, it’s pretty hard to be pleasant when you feel like shit.
With this understanding, I can be more patient because I can totally empathize with not feeling well and that impacting my behaviors and interactions. I can also sympathize because it would really suck to have to live having my go-to feelings being uncomfortable and aggravated.
Rather than foster and embellish the problem I will try to be a part of a solution. The easier action step is to kill’m with kindness, in spite of. The other is to actively see where I can help to change it. Life is hard enough as it is and I need patience and understanding as much as the next (hu)man so it’s almost obligatory that I give it...and I become a better person because of it.
Thanks For Reading.