The earliest phases of recovery are characterized by denial; you try to distance yourself from the mental illness that has wreaked havoc in your life. Gradually you acknowledge the catastrophic messes you’ve made and claim ownership, your signature is unmistakable. The guilt you experience is not altogether unhealthy as it provides the foundation for action, your determination to not repeat these steps. However, guilt is best consumed in small doses, too much at once can be toxic and counter-productive.
Courage increases as you see the hurt and damage within exposed, perhaps for the first time. The mirror you have finally faced tells an unflattering story, all roads lead back to you, unintentional behavior has blazed a trail of self-destruction and abuse…people and property show the cost of being associated with you. At this point, shame – that most counter-productive of all emotions – arrives with a custom-fitted iron maiden. The self-loathing begins; you fully understand the source, and consequences – of your illness. You are ashamed of being you.
Right here is where you will lose whatever mojo you once had; cool, swagger, confidence will all abandon you.
You will see how the illness is hard-wired into your system – body and soul – and come to understand it not as a flaw but a fact. Work like a demon, shine the light on your miner’s helmet, and you will get to know yourself like never before. Then, forgive yourself – really forgive yourself – and the shame does not have chance. Hide nothing from yourself or anyone else and your beloved attributes will return; cool, swagger and confidence. But now it is different, now you no longer wear them like suits of armor – now they emanate from within.
Eliminate shame and you are free from the curse of caring about the opinion of others.
“Guilt is when you feel bad about something you did while shame is when you feel bad about something are.” Taz Mopula
I have been a promotion writer for 30+ years. Essentially, writing promotion involves making true statements in such a way that readers are encouraged to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say our vinyl siding virtually never needs painting – that translates to – our siding needs painting.
This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible – so long as these hired guns do not intentionally misrepresent the truth.
However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme. Rigorous, even brutal, honesty was my modus operandi, I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about serious matters like mental illness, evil, and alcoholism I quickly realized there was no room for preaching or persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.
Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.
I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in your pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.
Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry and lit, (and in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything.
Tell the truth, as you understand it, with clarity, precision and elegance – and make it entertaining. Don’t tell the readers anything; show them.
I have learned never to confuse facts and information with knowledge, much less wisdom. In “the information age” there is an endless waterfall of data, but who is there to teach us how we can make sense of it? Mere information is almost valueless and the glut of information we have today is actually an impediment to healthy living. As ever, balance is the key – and you will never achieve balance in the absence of wisdom.
You can get education from others but wisdom, sadly, must come from within. In general, the important lessons of life arrive on the business end of a 2×4. So, for starters, don’t think there are short cuts; the best way to learn is to live. You must have the experiences yourself for them to mean anything.
I think of the process sequentially, so, for want of a better name, let’s call it the Taz Mopula Hierarchy of Self-Actualization – TMHSA – and have a look.
1. Know Yourself. – Few people attack this step and most of the ones that do, fail. It requires curiosity, relentless determination, and brutal honesty.
2. Forgive Yourself. – Only after thoroughly understanding yourself, the good and the bad, is it truly possible to forgive yourself for character flaws and harm done.
3. Love Yourself. – Do not confuse this with narcissism; it is all about unqualified acceptance, humility, and gratitude. The universe loves you, why disagree?
4. Enjoy Yourself. – You can easily spot people that have made it this far, they have absolutely no envy, they can’t think of anyone else they would rather be.
5. Allow Others To Enjoy You Enjoying Being Yourself. – This is the ultimate, it involves you allowing others to enjoy the real you, even if it means suffering their admiration.
The wisdom here is that you will enjoy life, you will have healthy priorities, and you will have purpose. In a situation like this, doing triage on the deluge of useless information clamoring for your attention will be child’s play.
When I was in the throes of mania I imagined myself a world-class genius artiste who – if not rich and famous at the time – would certainly be both at any moment. When I had drifted deep into the dark quagmire of depression I imagined that I was neither rich nor famous – and blindingly incompetent in navigating life.
In both cases of course the truth was far less interesting; I was merely a worker among workers, another Bozo on the bus, trying to make sense of an insane world like all the other citizens – and having a bit of a rough patch.
As a young person I had been misled about wealth and fame; and learned at last that neither one is particularly desirable. Importantly, both stand in the way of happiness, contrary to popular opinion. Having “enough” money is essential; having more than enough is a recipe for disaster. Fame is different, even a little bit of fame can be deadly – at the very least it is a distraction from the important things of life.
As a bipolar nitwit I believed that the happiness I lacked could be found outside, elsewhere; in the approval of others, admiration, success, wealth, etc. In my naiveté it never dawned on me that the creative geniuses I admired – like Van Gogh, Coltrane, Beckett – to select three examples at random – were not particularly happy people. Importantly, I had the relationship between art and success backwards – I was looking at the success, not the art.
As my great friend HG said of my bipolar memoir; “The true success is that you survived the events described and that you wrote about them – everything that happens from now on is extra.”
This so called “culture” of ours is obsessed with celebrity, as if being known were an end in itself. But it isn’t, at least not a worthwhile end. One should find what one is meant to do and then do it as well as humanly possible. If you find your audience, and they give you money, we may say huzzah. But the moment you start straying from the knitting and make celebrity your goal, there is virtually no chance at all you will contribute anything worthwhile to a society in need of all kinds of help.
Today I am happy to let my books, poetry, cartoons etc. do the talking for me. I would be delighted to see them earning money and gaining approbation. I did not create them to be shy, hiding from the spotlight. They are old enough to hold jobs, they have much to offer – and they enjoy attention. I will stand aside, like a father, and continue to regard the camera as a succubus.