Before anything else, if you've ever been a fan of my art, please consider grabbing a really affordable t-shirt from my new Amazon Merch business. 8 designs so far (and more coming on the regular) priced between $14 and $18. A bunch of color options. All sizes available, and all fits available (Men, Women, and Children). If they're not your style, please consider recommending them to someone you know whose style they match up with. If you do buy, please leave a review - your support can help me get the ball rolling doing something I really love:
And now for the main event...
Hopefully this post isn't too over-share-y for your tastes in terms of both length and content, but there's a lot to write about and I need to get caught up before the list gets even longer.
One thing I've always valued is "vulnerability" in communication because it leads to real, honest, human connection (which provides me deep sentiments of fulfillment). More and more I'm trying to merge the principle of vulnerability into my "online persona," in-essence making less of a gap between what I "present" as myself to the public and what I am privately.
TOPIC 1: 12-STEPS
Over the last year I've been lead to take a dive into a "rigorously honest" look at myself. I had gotten into a lot of bad habits and even what some would term "addictions" that were adversely affecting my life. Most of all, I had gotten into a habit of keeping a lot of secrets and living with a level of dishonesty that had slowly driven a wedge between how I envisioned my "ideal self" and what my actions actually were. As a consequence of decades living like this, I damaged a lot of relationships that I value deeply.
It's been a pretty grueling process to start down this road. My weaknesses have been on heavy display.
Luckily, I was introduced to an Alcoholics-Anonymous-style 12-step program that has been a really positive influence. I've found the practicality of the program extremely effective in helping me break out of damaging patterns of thought and in processing past trauma.
I went to a therapist regularly for a few months, but ultimately felt that she was telling me the same things in every session. As I began reading more psychology-related literature I found that I could learn and implement a lot of strategies that she was giving me (and many others that she didn't know about) through my own self-directed efforts. As I attended 12-step meetings, I felt that the "group" helped fill my need for sympathetic human connection. Also, the authenticity of hearing from and sharing with people experiencing similar struggles to myself felt very healing.
Another unique thing about 12-step programs is the last step, which is about serving others in need and sharing what you've learned. This step has been really helpful for me.
Overall, the 12 steps are a "program of action" and go way beyond just the "talking" of therapy. Although I know verbalizing chaotic/misunderstood/traumatic/un-escape-able thoughts and emotions is an important part of healing, I feel that it is just one piece of a wholistic approach to trauma recovery. No shade thrown on those who find value in therapy, but it ended up balancing out to a net "not worth it" for me when compared with the many low-cost or free alternatives.
Working the 12 steps has helped me reach a point where, for the first time since around middle school (20 + years), I am living with NO secrets. This is an incredibly liberating feeling.
Which brings me to the first group of books I've read recently in this vein:
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: This is like the "Bible" of AA and lays out the history of Bill W. and Dr. Bob (AA's founders), the program they developed to help addicts recover, and contains a ton of first-person stories told by addicts that found recovery by working the steps. I feel that its content is inspired and have had many tearful moments recognizing my own story in its pages. There's also a 1989 made-for-tv movie I enjoyed with James Woods and James Garner about the history of AA! My Name is Bill W. (Available on Amazon Prime)
How Al Anon Works: This is a companion book for the AA "Big Book," written for loved-ones and friends affected by people struggling with the disease of addiction. I also found a lot of hope, understanding, and healing in its pages because so much of my family, I now realize, has suffered from the effects of addiction, abuse, and other trauma - usually without ever really addressing it or dealing with it - which has caused them, unfortunately, to pass it on.
The Body Keeps The Score: This is a psychology book about healing from trauma. It has been immensely informative about the science of what happens to body, brain, and mind as a result of trauma. It also lays out a lot of really effective ways to approach healing from trauma from drugs, to psychotherapy, to martial arts, mindfulness/meditation, rapid eye movement (EMDR therapy which is TOTALLY CRAZY but works), Internal Family Systems therapy (IFR, which uses a unique "society of the mind" approach), yoga, and more.
It has a lot of insights into how the brain stores memories and how trauma affects brain and body function. If you want to be blown away check out this study that's mentioned in the book: Adverse Childhood Experiences Study Warning though, there are a LOT of really rough stories about trauma in this book, but this book is SO GOOD, a trillion thumbs up and recommendations.
Finally, I binge-listened to a 12-step podcast by some guys who run a meeting down in So. Cal. When I heard they were paying for web hosting and that the person who made their website wasn't updating it anymore, I decided, since I'm now a web-developer by trade, to show my thanks for their content by making them a website with a backend that they can add episodes to whenever they want: https://thenextsteppodcast.com/ [ I'm also hosting it for free :-) ]
TOPIC 2: OTHER READING
I still get an abnormal amount of time during my commute to listen to audiobooks. Add that to my penchant for reading in-general and you end up with the following since my last update:
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
A human born on Mars goes to Earth and helps earthlings reach a higher level of existence by his unique understanding of both races. I was really into this book (recommended by a co-worker) at first when the main character was a humble, open-to-learning yet stunningly-insightful influence that astounded everyone he interacted with. Then, he "leveled up" and started having his own agenda (which was obviously the author's opinion on politics, religion, and social moors of the time veiled as this "enlightened" Martian-human). Still, there was some good food for thought in there. I especially liked learning more about the Martian word "grok" which has worked its way into our IRL pop-culture (especially computer-science circles), and I really like the mantra of the martian-human's "religion" - "Thou art God."
This is an "Audible original" recommended by a co-worker about an unsung engineer "hero" of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission. Basically, he advocated for the very unpopular, at the time, approach to landing on the moon using "Lunar Orbit Rendezvous" in place of physically landing an entire ship on the moon. The most interesting part to me was that the protagonist is not clearly a "hero." He has a lot of hubris and pride and sought, in my opinion, an undue amount of recognition (especially compared with the 3 astronauts who landed on the moon that refused to have their names put on the commemorative mission arm patch). But you can see how alluring having your name go down in history associated with "promoting the plan that got us to the moon for the first time" would be.
Where the Crawdads Sing:
This is a fictional work about a "swamp girl" who is traumatized in various ways at a young age and ends up having to raise herself in a North Carolina marsh. It is a pretty poignant and touching look into trauma survivorship, self-reliance, and especially loneliness. It reminded me a lot of "Fried Green Tomatoes" in that it mixes a personal narrative with a murder-mystery in a pretty compelling way that jumps around between different time-frames. I enjoyed it quite a bit and related to the arc of the character and her experiences in a lot of ways. I guess Reese Witherspoon put this on her "must read" list or something and made it skyrocket in popularity.
This was recommended by a family member. It's a biography of John F. Kennedy "written" by Bill O'Reilly. It's pretty sensational in the writing style, but I've been wanting to brush up on my history since it's currently one of my weaker "Jeopardy!" categories. I put "written" in quotes up there because the book has another man's name credited as co-author with Bill O'Reilly and, to me, it's obvious THAT guy wrote the book. How do I know? Because I listened to the audio book, as read by Bill O'Reilly and, hilariously, there are quite a few instances where he mispronounces or CAN'T pronounce words from the book.
The Myth of Romantic Love: Michael Novak
This is a small collection of marriage, family, and political essays by a Catholic intellectual and political writer. What's most interesting about this book is how I found it. Basically, I read a religious essay "Why the Church is as True as the Gospel" which quoted one of Novak's essays. I searched and searched trying to find the source of the quotation because I really liked it and wanted to read it in-context. Eventually I was lead to an article in a magazine from 1976. The full text was nowhere to be found online. Finally I found this out-of-print book that has the full essay from a private seller on Amazon. I ordered it and it was SO WORTH IT! Tons of good hipster stuff that no one else has easy access to... GOLD MINE!
TOPIC 3: ONGOING READING
Le Ton Beau De Marot (Hofstaedter) - I've put this on the back burner, but want to get back into it. It's pretty big and full of poetry, so it takes some savoring to really appreciate.
Fear and Trembling (Kirkegaard) - I'm about 1/4 of the way through this and it is so DENSE with philosophical depth that I have to take it in small chunks. I've had a few pretty emotional moments reading it.
Infinite Powers (Strogatz) - This was recommended by a good friend and I've only read the intro so far, but it is REALLY exciting! I've often advocated for the inclusion of a "Conceptual Calculus" class in high schools (like we have "Conceptual Physics") - And this book is IT! It takes the beauties and wonders of Calculus and makes it easily accessible and digestible for the layman. I am SO STOKED to keep going in it.
TOPIC 4: UPCOMING READING
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up
Educated: A Memoir
TOPIC 5 is available via hyperlink since NG only lets me post 10 pics per post... CLICK HERE
TOPIC 6: WRITING
I have some thoughts ruminating about "Compassionate Boundaries" that ties into the stuff I've been studying in psychology, learning about myself and others through my personal experiences in recovery, and some religious reading I've been doing.
I want to write my pondering out in essay format. This post is already ridiculously long, so I guess I'll save that for later (also, I need to flesh out my ideas more). This idea originally grew out of wanting to write about "Loneliness in the Book of Mormon."
BONUS: I listened to a podcast recently that injected a few fresh ideas about the nature of reality into my mind... I've been thinking about it a lot: THE CASE AGAINST REALITY
I sincerely (no wax at all) hope all is well with you and would love to see a comment if you've made it this far!
P.S. I'm learning this simple Tom Petty song on guitar: