Enough Is More Than Enough

Freighter - Great Lakes

Thanksgiving means different things to different groups, all protestations notwithstanding.

For Native Americans it is a reminder that simple acts of generosity can result in the loss of a homeland.

For turkeys it is an opportunity to sacrifice in service to the nation, a sacrifice made freely because among turkeys it is well understood that pleasing humanity is the ultimate responsibility, indeed, the highest calling, for all animals.

Among alcoholics, Thanksgiving is known as the official start of Drinking Season, which does not conclude until the very last play of the Super Bowl.

No matter which disorder, illness, condition, syndrome, or demon nips at your heels, Thanksgiving has much to offer. Take gluttony as an example, flagship of the Thanksgiving neurosis armada. Thanksgiving unapologetically celebrates the American desire to have too much of everything now until it is gone.

It is frequently observed by people who make this observation frequently that one of the great human questions is how to define “enough”. This is especially true when it comes to mental health.

No one can tell us whether we have enough because we get to decide what “enough” means to us. This profoundly empowering concept appears to be lost on the entire American nation of “sane” people since, almost without exception, they seem to never have enough of anything they want. They lead lives of perpetual grasping, like Tantalus; fulfillment is always out of reach.

Americans sitting at the Thanksgiving table resemble the early pioneers who, bristling with a sense of manifest destiny, struck out for parts unknown buoyed by a supreme self-confidence and belief that they were entitled to capture, kill, eat, or at least decorate, anything they found. This atmosphere of Roman indulgence, bordering on an hysterical appetite gratification, is with us even today.

Lost is the notion that Thanksgiving is intended as welcome respite from our endless ego-driven campaigns when we may count our blessings with appropriate humility and gratitude and consider what we might do to deserve them.

And so my fellow Whackadoomians, my fellow residents of Cookoopantsatopolis, we must look upon these tormented individuals and remember that for some of us it is easier to be grateful, for some of us the bar is lower, for some of us the priorities are closer to the ground; for some of us life is both more complex and simpler.

As you know, I usually use this column to give the appearance of making personal observations without actually doing so. However, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is to say, giving, I will tell you one thing that makes me feel grateful.

I am grateful I was not born in the Middle Ages when people with bipolar disorder were routinely burned at the stake because it was thought they were possessed by Satan.

In the cold church basements with their obligatory coffee machines, battered folding chairs, and nicotine stained posters, we are told to concentrate on what we have, not what we don’t have.

I do not know what “enough” means to you, that is for you to define. Maybe it is just that you are doing a little bit better fighting your battles than you did last year. On this Thanksgiving, I hope that you can look at life and say, today I have enough, and I am grateful for what I have.

Ride It Like You Find It To The End Of The Line

train station abandoned

There’s a certain kind of desolation one can only experience by being stranded in a train station at three a.m. An opulent, silent gloom covers every surface like a thin film of invisible grit. The odd, incidental sound, heel scrape, cough, rides a hollow echo and affects grandeur. Night crawlers are all that remains of humanity, pimps, pickpockets and pushers. The trains are done arriving until morning; even the newsstand is closed. You crave sleep almost as much as you fear it, unwilling to slack off vigilance for even an instant.

It is a form of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability that seems almost charming in comparison to what I’m after here, romantic and quaint. Because I am talking about a station beyond where the tracks end. It does not appear on any timetable or tourist map. You don’t buy a ticket; it’s purchased for you, in Bedlam, or on shooting expeditions.

Amidst the rusting tracks and weeds is a station for those who would go as far as they possibly can, at all cost. Where life is not that good and death is not that bad. Where escape masquerades as fun, oblivion passes itself off as insight, and no monster is more horrifying than a mirror. Where feeling good and feeling nothing are identical twins. A million different paths go to just one destination, and it is always the same.

No one intends to visit this place, it doesn’t lead anywhere else, there are no connecting trains. It’s an unintended, accidental journey, with an innocent start. A battered yellow school bus winding down the Khyber Pass, leaving the cool, dry mountain air for the humid plains of Pakistan. Bags unpacked in yet another miserable hotel; this time it’s Peshawar. Walking choked streets, blazing color, riotous noise. Ascending the smooth woozy, wooden staircase after spotting the identifying cobra painted on the door.

Bald, black midget sporting huge, hoop earring. Money changing hands. Long pipe, black tar, teasing it against the candle flame then smearing it to go, thick taste, almost instantaneous delivery, midget laughing hard at me, I am laughing too, I think, street noise like a blessed magic symphony of blurring swirling every nothingness.

A million different paths lead to just one destination, and it is always the same.

Critical Condition

Dying Gladiator Resents Critics

If a debilitating mental illness like manic depression, schizophrenia, or republicanism has stolen your ability to make rational decisions – you’ve gone through a confidence crushing emotional sea change.

For many of us, it can be months, even years, before we regain the ability to observe, analyze, and evaluate the never-ending stream of input with clarity, agility, and unwavering authority.

Today’s recovering lunatic must contend with what I shall refer to as moral and emotional relativism and the insufferable twaddle known as political correctness. Anti-intellectualism is the height of fashion; claiming truth affords one as much credibility as being able to prove it. Sparing hurt feelings now takes precedence over honesty.

Fuzzy-headed social engineers would have us believe that everything is awesome, there are no losers, and all it takes to fulfill one’s wants and desires is the ability to visualize and wish with a level of naïve sincerity most frequently encountered in the puzzled expressions of unsuccessful prize fighters struggling through the final days of regrettable careers.

Faculties at last back where they belong, shoulders squared, you will gaze upon the rotting remains of what was once, at best, a mediocre culture and wonder – is this bullshit or is it me? At that precise moment, the extent of your recovery will be determined by your ability to say – this is bullshit – with confidence.

Like a muscle gone weak from neglect, the courage required to repudiate social stupidity must be rebuilt. To help you do so, I have prepared a diverse assortment of questions that call for snap judgments. Remember to trust your visceral responses. Good luck!

QUESTIONS

1. The meek shall inherit the earth. True_ False_

2. Quentin Tarantino once had an original idea. True_ False_

3. Everything happens for a reason. True_ False_

4. Harmony and joy will return to this troubled world of ours only after Garrison Keillor has been pecked to death by a duck. True_ False_

5. You are unique. True_ False_

6. Sacha Baron Cohen is funnier than syphilis. True_ False_

7. All men are created equal. True_ False_

8. In hell, all elevator Muzak is by Pink Martini. True_ False_

9. Creationism should be taught in high school science classes as a legitimate alternative to evolution. True_ False_

10. In Narcotics Anonymous, describing The Grateful Dead as – “a hideous shambles of talentless wing-nuts I can no longer endure” – is considered a pivotal breakthrough moment in recovery. True_ False_

ANSWER KEY

1. Sadly, this is not true, except to the extent that they will be buried in the earth.

2. False. No evidence supports this, although there is a remote possibility that he had one and kept it to himself.

3. True – frequently a bad reason.

4. True.

5. True. You are indeed unique; it’s one of the few qualities you share with everyone else.

6. True. Sacha Baron Cohen is a tiny bit funnier than syphilis.

7. False. Nobody believes this.

8. True. While no one has returned from hell to validate this, the force of logical deduction seems irrefutable.

9. True. In addition, Bozomism (clown worship) should be preached in all churches as a legitimate alternative to Christianity.

10. True. There is no record anywhere of a person listening to the Grateful Dead while sober.

Time Loves A Hero, But Crowds Like A Fall

angry mob

If you’ve ever gotten divorced you know that, as soon as it happens your married friends start avoiding you as if the inability to maintain a relationship is some sort of bizarre, highly contagious skin condition. The fate of those fighting serious mental health issues, including addiction, is far worse.

The road leading out of Bedlam seems endlessly challenging but we trudge it all the same, then, at the finish line, in place of that brass band we expect there is an angry mob. It seems beastly unkind, especially after the hard work, but before you start nursing a grudge (“No amount of nursing will ever make a grudge healthy.” Taz Mopula) understand a few things about who and what you’ve become and why the new you is bringing out the very worst this wretched refuse has to offer.

The day you went skidding off the road and right into downtown Cuckoopantsatopolis was the day you reminded every straight arrow of your acquaintance that none of us is ever truly safe. Sanity itself, that sine qua non for the bourgeois, mediocre, pointless life ostensibly guaranteed by the Constitution, is as vulnerable as a Fabergé egg. Nobody wants to be reminded of that, and yet you do.

“But wait,” you say, in that adorably naïve tone of voice you apply to questions that illustrate your innocence, “do I not also teach, i.e. show, that by facing down these unholy perils one can evolve spiritually and grow stronger, actually emerging as a better, more morally grounded person in the process?”

Yes, yes you do, Sparky, and this is precisely why that mob is roughly as happy to see you as they were to see Frankenstein.

They say in the rooms that a pickle can never return to its previous incarnation as a cucumber. While you may be a reformed devil transformed into an angel, one thing is certain, you will never again be just another Bozo on the bus in the eyes of outsiders; the tired, the poor, the slow, the dim. Fellow insiders know better, they know that all of us are merely Bozos on the bus, but that is another story.

Your very existence says to these apple pie bakers and flag wavers, “My experience is larger than yours, I know terrible truths you dare not admit. Though horribly handicapped I have emerged morally grounded, fearless, strong, and (most upsetting of all) happy.” Trust me, they will never forgive you for that.

You have become a teacher, a leader, whether you care to admit it or not. As ever, peace of mind lies in embracing the inevitable, my advice is – learn how to lead by example, make your life a poem, a prayer.

Look around you; we desperately need leaders. Today we have none, instead we have celebrities who only lead by being cautionary tales, they show us what not to do.

How To Tell A Genius From An Imbecile

twins

If you’ve ever known any truly stupid people you’ve undoubtedly noticed that there’s something quite disarming and adorable about them.

The genuinely slow don’t really want or expect much from life; avoiding the spotlight’s glare in favor of simple, repetitive activities which, while certain to bore the likes of us to tears, provide them with endless hours of meaningless, idiotic entertainment. Indeed, the stupid in our midst almost never cause real trouble unless they are prompted to do so by unscrupulous, manipulative smarties.

As a group, dolts, dummies, and dimbulbs are quick to acknowledge their limitations and freely admit that they have much to be humble about. They are comfortable soliciting help and guidance, which, ironically, demonstrates a highly accurate sense of self and an endearing degree of humility.

The same cannot be of the highly intelligent who live surrounded by funhouse mirrors exquisitely designed to deny them the sweet comfort – and wisdom – of humility.

Smarty pants are always surprised, and impressed, by their own intelligence and consequently hold it in higher and higher esteem until, at last, they assume themselves to be the final authority in all things and therefore in no need of education of any sort. At this point they delight in making themselves feel larger still by reminding the stupid of how stupid they actually are, and the stupid, being stupid, and agreeable, play along. Thus is the cycle of arrogance and ignorance stoked like a furnace.

Unfortunately, any individual who asserts that he is omniscient, has irrefutably demonstrated idiocy, and therefore cannot be said to be brilliant. 

More to the point, increasing intelligence and wisdom leads irrevocably to increased humility and admission of ignorance until the only possible proof of true brilliance and wisdom would be utter humility which would posit the significance of what one does not know and the insignificance of what one does know. 

This would mean that only the brilliant man would know and admit how stupid he is, while the man convinced of his own brilliance would not yet be wise enough to be stupid.

Occupy Inner Space

enter sign

Terrified and utterly defeated I crawled into talk therapy in 1986 and walked away 17 years later. I learned that analysis is like “exploring inner space” – in the same sense that Lewis & Clark fearlessly plunged into an unknown world. A journey like that is almost certain to be filled with loss, sadness, monsters, bloody struggle, pain, death, revelation, rebirth and joy. Mine was no exception.

“Why raise the bridge when you can lower your expectations of the river?” Taz Mopula

The prolonged excavation that therapy is prompted emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. I’m happy to report it also prompted an almost unnerving creative Renaissance which included, but was not limited to, one memoir, two novels, dozens of poems, hundreds of cartoons and Taz Mopulisms, as well as reviews, essays, and blogadelia.

“If you need mania to be creative, then maybe creativity isn’t for you.” Taz Mopula

Through academic study and introspection I have come to understand that the human heart and soul have not changed since the earliest recorded time; we are making the same mistakes we’ve always made, the only difference is that now we make them in shabby Chinese clothes. More than ever I believe that for things to improve we must look inside – not to outer space but to inner space – as the final frontier.

“History repeats itself with tedious insistence; mankind seems determined to perfect its imperfections.” Taz Mopula

Just as we are always surprised to find our keys in “the last place we look” – we continue to be surprised by the idea Walt Kelly coined in his comic strip, Pogo – we have met the enemy and he am us. Looking inside for the culprit continues to be the last idea we’ll ever have.

“Be nice to your enemies; you just might be one of them.” Taz Mopula

To paraphrase Yeats, “Wine comes in at the lip, love comes in at the eye, and wisdom arrives at the business end of a Louisville Slugger.”

“If you are going to tell me the truth, at least have the decency to buy me dinner first.” Taz Mopula

I may not know much, but I have learned a few things over the years of battling manic depression and substance abuse. With a naiveté one would consider touching were one to encounter it in a developmentally challenged child, I have sought to share what I’ve learned. No need to elaborate on how this has worked out for me other than to observe that social ostracism and walking into a buzz saw are not as dissimilar as one might imagine. But this too is a lesson; this too does not matter.

“Looking for self-worth in someone else’s eyes is like trying to breathe with someone else’s lungs.” Taz Mopula

Truth And How It Got To Be That Way

spelunker in giant cave - light

The truth is we are born into a world of pain and devote most of our brief existence to satisfying base needs. Over time we are damaged, diminished, and ultimately destroyed. Instead of coexisting peacefully with the earth and each other our best energies are consumed by hatred, fear, violence, greed, and self-destruction.

The real tragedy of political correctness is that it has given lying a bad name.” Taz Mopula

We abhor truth and love lies. Lies are the air we breathe, the earth we tread upon, the foundations of our buildings. Most are so deeply ingrained we no longer even think of them as lies, indeed, we no longer think at all. Politicians, priests, and corporate representatives spoon-feed lies to the masses because people want to be lied to; lies win elections, build cathedrals, and sell soap.

“You can’t fool all of the people all of the time; but why would you even try when they’re so eager to do the job for you?” Taz Mopula

This is human nature, and I am not so foolish as to attempt a modification of that. However, I will frame it in a context of recovery, because, for the likes of us, recognizing and facing truth can be a matter of life or death.

“There are two kinds of people, those who believe there are only two kinds of people and those who dislike oversimplification.” Taz Mopula

Lunatics, wing nuts, and whackos – like me – are incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy. We don’t want to live in an abandoned funhouse full of wavy mirrors misrepresenting reality; we just can’t help it. Dipsomaniacs, drug addicts, and adrenaline junkies – like me – are capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, but we steadfastly refuse to try. No one hates truth quite as passionately as we do, and when it comes to lying, well; we are the masters.

“Pretending not to know the obvious is exhausting.” Taz Mopula

Mental health involves a long, arduous process that begins by identifying the truth about yourself. This is followed by a hard look at where you are, where you would like to be, and what it will take to get there. Brutal, often painful, honesty is an absolute requisite for this journey. For many of us, living a life of constant self-examination and ruthless honesty is rather like learning a new language. But, we tend to be determined, sometimes obsessive, people and what was once anathema can become a familiar, valued way of life. The benefits of rigorous honesty are everywhere, so we grow to love it.

“Don’t forget to wash up after losing your grip on reality; hand sanitizer is strongly advised.” Taz Mopula

Then, we get a horrible surprise. Mental illness and addiction have already marginalized us, we have always lived on the outskirts of town. But our newfound commitment to honesty and truth has put us in a ghetto on the outskirts of the outskirts of town. Remember, you have changed but the world has not. You have benefited from merciless self-evaluation and willingness to address your faults, but the world has not. Your modus operandi has changed, but take it from me, truth is just as unpopular on the outside as it has ever been.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, I do love you; I just don’t love you enough to lie to you.” Taz Mopula

Enjoy the quiet satisfaction and peace of mind it affords you, but, as ever, your ticker tape parade has been canceled.

Until You Have Had Nothing You Have Not Had It All

badlands

It was the great Taz Mopula who observed, “You just haven’t lived until you’ve had nothing at all.” This counter-intuitive proclamation is quite possibly enigmatic to many, but for those of us who’ve wandered the uneven cobblestones of Rue Whassamattavous, the meaning is only too familiar.

Madness – and the madness of addiction – will continue to pick your pocket as long as you let them. If you’re stubborn – (and so many of us are, preferring to do things our way rather than the easy way, much less the way that results in minimum damage to ourselves and others) – then it is likely you will proceed in your folly until there is nothing left at all. The question is – how high does the pain level have to get before you are willing to ask for help?

Mania and addiction have both pillaged my life like marauding Visigoths. It is astounding how quickly the fruits of one’s labors can be destroyed, if one is truly unhinged. I have closed my eyes on a bourgeois Shangri-La only to open them and discover a desolate, tortured landscape…no home, job, family, property, money…zero, the null set, a goose egg.

Absolute zero is terrifying, of course, but it is also exquisitely beautiful – because what you lack in life’s comforts you have gained in vision and truth. Your existence has become binary, you consciously make the choice that nearly everybody else makes unconsciously every day – shall I live or end it? Bear in mind that 1 out of every 5 bipolar adults attempts suicide, and succeeds.

If you are fortunate enough to find even a scrap of resolve, you get up off the canvas and wait for the stars and chirping birds to stop circling your head. Then you get back into the game, no matter how damaged and humbled you may be.

Mania completely wiped me out three different times – after a while, even the end of the world isn’t the end of the world anymore. One proceeds. As Churchill – whose battles with depression are legendary – reminded his countrymen when the very existence of Britannia was questionable, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

The name of the game is resilience.

If Mental Illnesses Had To Recruit

Autism Rocks

I am proud of all the brave individuals who help stamp out stigma by going public with the details of their mental health challenges. However, lately I’ve been tormented by the strangest hypothetical scenario. What would happen to the most popular mental illnesses if everyone simply shed their embarrassment and shame, opting out of quiet suffering in favor of actively seeking out qualified help at the first sign of trouble?

The potential impact on emotional damage resulting from mental illness would be incalculable, leaving behind a small army of unemployed bartenders, phlebotomists, drug dealers, psychiatrists, bookies, self-help gurus, pharmacists, escorts, acupuncturists, and life coaches. One man’s meat, as the old saying quite possibly goes, is another man’s foul; and in the land of unintended consequences no good deed to a model home goes unpunished.

In the interests of clarity, I digress. It may surprise me to tell you that the military was not always voluntary, indeed, young men were arbitrarily entered into a draft and called upon to serve whatever global mischief the government was indulging in at the time. Those who refused were given three options, jail, Canadian citizenship, or conversion to Quakerism – (sometimes known by the more formal handle – Society Of Friends). Faced with such horrific alternatives, even the most weak-kneed raw recruit begged for immediate transfer to Paris Island.

Back then the military did not need to advertise the way it does now. With the arrival of an all-volunteer army came a brand new form of advertising. In a mad scramble for America’s youth, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the really creepy military branch we’re not supposed to know about – whoops – outdid each other with ludicrous and disingenuous promises of advanced degrees, travel to exotic vacation spots, all night poker games, and retirement packages so lavish they would bring a blush to the cheeks of even the most avaricious and bloodthirsty Fortune 500 CEO.

And so, he said, arriving at last at his point, I wondered what it would be like if mental illnesses became so unpopular they had to advertise. Then I imagined ad campaigns with headlines like these:

Bipolar Disorder: See How The Other Half – Of You – Lives

Odds Are You’ll Fall In Love With Compulsive Gambling

People Can’t Stop Talking About Tourette’s Syndrome

Discover Narcissism – You’ll Find It’s Everything I Thought It Would Be!

Depression! Expect The Worst And You’re Never Disappointed

Come to think of it, might be nice to see these hideous monsters go begging for a change.

When You Meet Your Demon, Please Be Gentle

Barbie Anti-Christ

The summer of 1969 found me in McGrath, Alaska, which is only a little further from the moon than it is from Woodstock, New York. I was working for the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) as an EFF (Emergency Fire Fighter), being dropped by helicopters into the middle of active forest fires throughout the state. Specifically, I was on a back-burning crew, traipsing through dry forests with a flamethrower, fighting oncoming forest fires by depriving them of their fuel. I am glad to report this is the closest I’ve ever come to war.

McGrath, at the time, was little more than a Government airstrip, some BLM barracks, and a handful of small buildings connected by wooden sidewalks. The pride of McGrath was a log cabin that served passably as a bar in an area where, with no women to be found, blue-collar men could drink to their satisfaction. A massive moose head, antlers adorned with tinsel, dominated the bar area and the opposing wall featured a full-sized stuffed grizzly bear forbiddingly poised next to the jukebox.

One evening, in-between assignments, I was passing time with Jake, a fellow EFF. We had money, time, and absolutely no responsibilities – consequently, the phrase about idle hands being the devil’s workshop came alive until at last we were drunk; not inebriated, tipsy, three sheets to the wind – not even tight as a boiled owl – just good old fashioned, funky monkey drunk.

Jake excused himself to use The Little Firefighters Room and I was left with the moose who, looking even more glassy-eyed than I did, stared at me with the gloomy insistence so frequently observed among the beheaded. Long minutes later I heard riotous laughter to my right and saw Jake emerging from the bathroom. He lunged and lurched back and threw himself down on his stool, clutching his right hand which was bleeding profusely

“What happened?” I asked.
“I was washing my hands and I stared at the face looking back at me and it was just so fucking ugly I had to punch it.” He laughed enthusiastically until tears began to form.

The bartender looked on wordlessly. I walked Jake back to the barracks and dressed his wounds.