Instead of a bucket list …

… I felt moved to write a “fuck it” list. If you don’t like the word “fuck”, don’t read on, because it’s central to everything that follows.

I was trying to have fun by writing a bucket list at the end of a day’s hard work. I found an old list that had stalled at 43 items. Item 23 was: “Stay up all night in LA”. What?!? Item 24 was “Elope to LA”. Whaaat?!? I had clearly gone onto autopilot by then, and I think those were just someone else’s dreams that had stuck to me like burrs to a sweater. Not being clear about what my own expectations and dreams are has been a problem for me my entire life.

After nearly half a century on this planet, I am getting tired of meeting others’ expectations, and of having expectations that come from external sources. I read through the 43 items, thinking: “Do I really want that? Why?” This was partially because many of the items would require inordinate amounts of time and energy. I started questioning the reason for or source of the desires, and the reaction to some of them became: “Fuck that!”

My bucket list had leaked and run dry. My fuck it list flowed. It turned out to be a combination of things I am angry about and external, irrelevant pressures that I don’t want to feel any more. An emotional reluctance to write “fuck” before things I love cast what I truly care about into deep relief. The things that are not on the fuck it list are the ones that motivate me, that I want to pour my energy into. They include my children, my  their pets, reading, and writing.

I also realized that I can now compile a list of places I want to travel to before I die and certain things I would really be sure to do if I knew my death was imminent. I probably have fewer years left than I have already lived. Even if I have more, there can’t be much guarantee of high levels of strength or energy during the latter ones, realistically speaking. I don’t want to be negative, but the human body just isn’t built to last, and no amount of wishful thinking can make it so. Nevertheless, I realize that I would like to live as long as possible with health that is as good as possible – otherwise, what’s the point? This means that I can also compile a list of actions that I need to take to promote that outcome as best I can. And fuck everything else!

My fuck it list

  1. Fuck getting rich
  2. Fuck getting thin
  3. Fuck getting married. (I have been married – gave the best years of my life, and self-pitying crap like that)
  4. Fuck the best years of my life
  5. Fuck self-pitying crap
  6. Fuck starting over
  7. Fuck meeting Mr Right
  8. Fuck romantic relationships
  9. Fuck Team Me
  10. Fuck decluttering
  11. Fuck winning awards
  12. Fuck getting hired onto a fixed-term international civil service post
  13. Fuck working out
  14. Fuck health checks
  15. Fuck doctors
  16. Fuck being the best
  17. Fuck being top of the list
  18. Fuck being perfect
  19. Fuck being first rate
  20. Fuck setting boundaries
  21. Fuck my family of origin
  22. Fuck being right
  23. Fuck being vindicated
  24. Fuck morning routines
  25. Fuck fame
  26. Fuck fortune
  27. Fuck eyebrow threading
  28. Fuck makeovers
  29. Fuck diplomacy
  30. Fuck career success
  31. Fuck adulting
  32. Fuck pregnancy
  33. Fuck delusions of immortality
  34. Fuck praise
  35. Fuck acclamation
  36. Fuck investments
  37. Fuck driving
  38. Fuck cars
  39. Fuck doing wonderful things
  40. Fuck wonderful things happening
  41. Fuck the past
  42. Fuck the future
  43. Fuck the rat race
  44. Fuck sexism
  45. Fuck all -isms
  46. Fuck struggle
  47. Fuck resignation
  48. Fuck politics
  49. Fuck responsibility
  50. Fuck fertility
  51. Fuck my genes
  52. Fuck employment
  53. Fuck the authorities
  54. Fuck authority
  55. Fuck criticism
  56. Fuck dealing with criticism perfectly
  57. Fuck all the pressure
  58. Fuck disappointment
  59. Fuck frustration
  60. Fuck if only
  61. Fuck what if you could do it all again
  62. Fuck misdiagnoses
  63. Fuck people who don’t listen
  64. Fuck people who talk shite
  65. Fuck grades
  66. Fuck morality
  67. Fuck never feeling good enough
  68. Fuck blind trust
  69. Fuck faith except in myself
  70. Fuck goals
  71. Fuck rude people
  72. Fuck being found sexually attractive
  73. Fuck hooking up
  74. Fuck spending money
  75. Fuck mistakes
  76. Fuck apologies
  77. Fuck guilt
  78. Fuck your opinion
  79. Fuck what you tell me I can and can’t do
  80. Fuck your assessment
  81. Fuck tough love
  82. Fuck what works for you
  83. Fuck control
  84. Fuck customer loyalty cards
  85. Fuck understanding
  86. Fuck being agreeable
  87. Fuck “don’t disagree”
  88. Fuck “don’t have needs”
  89. Fuck “don’t say no”
  90. Fuck approval
  91. Fuck disapproval
  92. Fuck narcissists
  93. Fuck uninvited guests
  94. Fuck putting myself last
  95. Fuck fear, obligation, and guilt
  96. Fuck shame
  97. Fuck family system therapy
  98. Fuck people who won’t leave me alone
  99. Fuck old flames
  100. Fuck arguments
  101. Fuck chuggers
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Al-Anon is a Granfalloon

granfalloons

A granfalloon is a false karass, that is a group of people who imagine or are manipulated to believe that they share a connection based on some circumstance of little or no real significance. [1] The common ground shared by Al-Anon members appears meaningful at first. They are all friends or family members of someone with a drinking problem, which is surely something specific and measurable. However, that connection is not as significant as it seems, firstly because of the tendency in Al-Anon, just like in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to make generalizations about alcoholics and their families, some reasonable, but others over-simplified and unfounded.

The book How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics opens with a diverse set of stories. [2] It is then argued that many of those with alcoholics in their lives are affected by “violence, financial and legal problems, insults and excuses, unreliable and irresponsible behaviour”. I would agree that some, probably most of these, do often accompany problem drinking – but they can also be present without it. It is then mentioned that the drinking may not be apparent, or even that it dates back to a former generation so that the family have learned ways of thinking and behaving through some sort of hereditary exposure to alcoholism.

During my involvement with the program, I heard and read so much along these lines. This is a typical passage from How Al-Anon Works p.6:

“Even if we have no idea whether or not anyone around us has had a drinking problem, we can see the effects of alcoholism in our own lives if we know what to look for. We who have been affected by someone else’s drinking find ourselves inexplicably haunted by insecurity, fear, guilt, obsession with others, or an overwhelming need to control every person and situation we encounter. And although our loved ones appear to be the ones with the problems, we secretly blame ourselves, feeling that somehow we are the cause of the trouble, or that we should have been able to overcome it with love, prayer, hard work, intelligence or perseverance.”

It is easy to hear a passage like that and think: “Wow, that’s me! How did they know?” However, I suspect that the Forer effect may be at work here. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary : “The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people.”[3] Forer was a psychologist who took a personality description from an astrology column in a newspaper (with phrases like “You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet tend to be critical of yourself”, it reads a lot like Twelve Step literature). He gave a group of subjects a personality test to complete, and then gave them all the same description, with no reference to their sun signs or to the personality test. On average, they rated the description as very accurate – a result which has been replicated many times. It seems that some generalities apply to most people while some specific personality traits described will apply to some people by chance.

Consequently the generalizations made in the literature and during shares at meetings about the personalities and life experiences of the friends and families of alcoholics have a pseudoscientifc basis.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granfalloon

[2] How Al-Anon Works for Friends and Families of Alcoholics, AL-ANON FAMILY GROUP HEADQUARTERS INC., 1995.

[3] http://skepdic.com/forer.html

 

 

The Gift of Resentment

Sometimes Al-Anon members organize workshops, which are longer than meetings and have a special focus. The gravitational pull towards the Big Book  seems particularly apparent at these. So it was that I recently read about a workshop devoted to something called the Awakenings process whose “rationale is extrapolated from the Big Book”and the exercise was to write a list of resentments and causes. The object appeared to be to analyze these to come up with ways of defining myself as selfish, self-seeking, dishonest and afraid.

So this is the program suggestion for how to deal with hurt or trauma from the past. Many people who attend Al-Anon have been hurt by alcoholic significant others or abused by parents. In the wider social context also, one might have been the victim of prejudiced attitudes such as those conditioned by misogyny, racism or homophobia. “The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong” intones Bill Wilson in the Big Book. Well, yeah? The program suggestions always veer in the general direction of finding abuse victims to be in the wrong for being so self-centered as to imagine that there might be room for improvement in human behaviors and systems.

An essentially similar view is put across in the context of one of the alternatives, or complements to 12-step programs, SMART recovery. There’s a lot of sensible material in their sections for friends and family members of alcoholics*, though I notice the cognitive behavioral therapy party line in such passages as:

The obstacles to forgiving others are exactly the same as the causes of anger. You either think they did what MUST NOT be done to a star like you, or they didn’t do what MUST be done for a star like you. In any case, they are worms. They well DESERVE whatever harm can be sent their way. By applying these same ideas to yourself, you’ll be unable to forgive even you.

In saying this, I do not intend to condone even the smallest harm that people have done to each other, not to mention the major atrocities History clearly shows that humans are fully capable of hurting each other in brutal and cruel ways. You may deplore these acts. You may do everything you can to prevent them. But, no matter how inhumane you rate harmful acts done by humans, they are hardly inhuman. As history clearly shows, humans can act very, very badly. Therefore, you have no sensible reason to believe that humans MUST not act badly toward you. This same point holds true for the universe in general. The badness of any event does not serve as proof that it MUST not happen. Clearly, the universe is capable of doing whatever it, in fact, does. The universe is not out of whack because you get harmed. (by Hank Robb on the SMART website)

This is all very logical but parts of it put me in mind of a shortcoming of cognitive behavioral therapy, on which SMART is based – the emotions and the pain are minimized. There’s even a Wilsonian whiff of deprecation in phrases such as “a star like you”. Some of us have already spent a lifetime having even the merest hint of the audacity to consider ourselves “stars” who might deserve to be treated better beaten out of us, emotionally, verbally and/or physically.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating narcissism. I certainly would not favor brooding on bitterness or grudges. I am rather proposing honoring feelings of hurt, and the messages that they bring.

Perhaps if a past hurt keeps insisting on rising to the surface of my mind, I should pay attention to what that might be trying to tell me. I recently had an experience where a lot of painful memories from about 20 years ago kept coming up. They relate to situations which are long since resolved and absolutely past amend, so why couldn’t I forget? Something fell into place for me when I read this article, which is about Monica Lewinsky. She has good reason to be triggered by reminders of events nearly 20 years ago, because she was so traumatized.

It occurred to me that I was having a hard time forgetting certain things because I had been traumatized by workplace bullying. At the time, I hadn’t even heard of workplace bullying, and lacked any insight that could give me an accurate view of the situation. It didn’t occur to younger me that others’ behaviors were maybe wrong and should not be happening. Blaming myself for the way others treated me was one of the few tools I had. So in decrying myself as selfish and self-centered because of those past hurts, I’d be regressing to a less-developed version of myself … one who put up with a lot of abuse without complaining.

I realized that my recent flurry of memories had been triggered because a loved one was currently experiencing bullying. I was able to define that situation for what it was, and to advocate for my loved one so that they stopped being hurt. While it is unfortunately impossible for me to time travel back and stand up for myself better in the past, my painful memories help me to identify and deal more constructively with bullying situations in the present. And in this way, my past self gives my present self the gift of resentment.

So the gift of resentment is akin to the gift of fear. That’s the title of a book by Gavin de Becker,  which is about the survival-based information inherent in feelings of fear. De Becker points out that we automatically notice all the details we need to determine whether we are in danger. So far from being “classed with stealing” (per the Big Book), fear is all about self-preservation. I was rather socialized to disregard my instincts, but I’m getting into new habits now.

Currently, my old traumatic memories are coming up much less. Maybe that is because I heeded their message and dealt with a bullying situation in the present, which helped to lay some ghosts to rest? Because my younger self could not even name the situation for what it was, I guess there was some unfinished business. Victims do not need to chastise themselves for being self-seeking and self-centered. Bullying and abuse need to be acknowledged for what they are, and stopped.

 

*Unlike the Big Book in which it seems one word in ten is “spirit” or “spiritual”, this is entirely secular, thank goodness.