THE FALSE JOY OF ADDICTION

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I did not fully understand my addictive tendencies until I found myself on a hospital gurney with nurses bustling around me and the medical monitor blaring warning sounds like a fire alarm.

I stared at the ceiling and asked myself, How did I get here? Like most people, I ignored the warning signs. I was too busy with the intoxicating feeling of false joy from my addiction.

A false joy to me is in outcomes that fill me with euphoria that I want more — bigger and better of the same thing. A false joy is where I dropped everything else in my life: my writing, hiking, reading, even my relationships to go after that feeling. A false joy urges me on. I tell myself: Just five more minutes or just one more game and then hours later I feel the exhaustion that physically shuts me down.

The stock market fed my addiction, the New York Stock exchange where thousands of stocks trade. Making $600 my first trade hooked me. The false joy I felt from making easy money gave me a rush I’d never experienced before in my mundane life.

I decided I needed to learn more,4 about stocks, so I scoured books about the market, the trade strategies, and the memoirs of those that hit it big. I told myself I needed to watch and experience the market more. So, I awoke at 4 a.m. when the market opened and traded in the pre-market and during the day and then the aftermarket. I traded 10-15 stocks a day in search of that now elusive easy money that gave me a rush of false joy.

All those green and red lights twinkling up from the screen enticing me to play the game. The rush of dollars into my account made me want more. Unfortunately, what goes up eventually comes down. My accounts were no different.

Well, fast forward five years, and my account is down $15,000. I awoke before dawn one morning and felt something wasn’t right in my chest. I went to the hospital and found my heart racing at 150 beats per minute, my blood pressure extremely high.

I made promises to myself that I would change. I would turn my back on this false joy. The doctors pumped me with medicine; my heart rate and blood pressure came down. They released me with an assortment of multi-colored pills to swallow daily. The medications keep my heart in check.

“The false joy I felt from making easy money gave me a rush I’ve never experienced before in my mundane life.”

I stopped playing the market for a few days. Then, I wondered how my Boeing stock was doing and regretted that I didn’t buy American Airlines. Other stocks kept calling me back. So, I’d peek at it and then closed the screen. Nothing happened. My heart was okay. Then a few days later I opened my account screen, again, looking at the blinking red and green lights. I made one trade — nothing happened, my ticker still worked.

A week later, I checked the stock market. I stayed on for a couple of hours and that’s when it happened. I could feel my chest pounding. I sensed something was wrong. I quickly got off the computer, but the damage had been done. I took my blood pressure. It had shot up way passed my normal rate as did my pulse. I took myself for a walk in the forty-degree predawn air. I did some chores. Drank lots of water. Eventually, the blood pressure came back down.

I asked myself, “When will I learn I am addicted to gambling in the stock market?

Well, I’ve been clean now for a few weeks.

My urges to glimpse at the market have subsided. Occasionally, my mind says take a peak, but I haven’t so far, and I’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.

What I learned from my experience.

I took time to think back about my actions both pro and con in hopes to avoid future mistakes and learning how to recognize my addictive behavior. This is what I learned:

I learned to distance myself from the stock market and activities, objects, and even people where my mind says, “Oh, just a little longer.”

I deleted my access to the market. I restarted my journal. I wrote stories, letters, and blogs. I hiked the hills and marveled at nature. I walked into my neighborhood and stopped to talk with neighbors. I read many books. I spent more time with family and friends. My wife and I go out to eat more with people we connected with. We babysit our grandchildren three days a week.

I learned to recognize my addiction signs: avoidance of activities that I enjoy doing; emotions that rise and fall acutely; urgency in my behavior toward an activity, person, place or thing and when I’m more tied to the getting that next rush than living my normal daily — which is actually a pretty good life.

I learned false joy comes with a price tag. The cost is my health, wealth, friendships and everything else that brings me true joy.

I learned that expectations of some end result, like making money, winning something, getting something, or reaching for something is not true joy. Once I felt the rush I wanted more and bigger rushes and expected that same level of “high” again and again.

I learned that genuine joy comes from the journey and not the result.

Urges are like ocean waves that build inside me, but then the wave passes over me and subsides.

I learned that the simplest actions can provide distractions from my struggle. Sometimes when I concentrate on these everyday moments, whatever I am doing at that moment, and give myself fully to it, whether I’m creating through words or listening to a friend, there is great joy in these moments — true joy.

I learned that my addictions begin with urges, pulling me toward the addictive behavior.

I learned urges are like ocean waves that build inside me but then the wave passes over me and subsides.

I learned I have actions I can take to fight the urges until they pass: I can engage in conversation: call it what it is, “an urge” and tell myself I know it will pass like a wave; I can do meditation/breath; I can redirect the urge to positive activities (walking, art, writing, a game, etc); I can change rooms/settings (new studies show that changing my place, going through a portal such as a door alters your mind’s focus).

I learned addictions come in many forms besides drugs, alcohol, gambling. I never knew I could even get addicted to a person, place or thing. I knew I could become addicted to a video game, but I never knew I could get addicted to a sport like pickleball where I tell myself, just one more game.

I learned that true joy is found in the process and not tied to an outcome that can be a false joy. My true joy soars when engaged in my talents, abilities or passions and the outcome is just a secondary benefit.

“Desire and ignorance are the root of all suffering.”

The Buddha

I learned that when I fixate outcomes or end results, I miss the opportunity to experience true joy.

I learned that true joy has no time limits. In Robert Pirsig‘s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he mentions the clock. Time constraints are the killjoy any interest. If there is no time element involved in an activity, then the activity can become play. If there is a time constraint, then the activity may become work.

I learned that sometimes it takes hitting “rock bottom” where the pain of the world far exceeds the false joy felt from the addiction before I make better choices. Lying in that hospital bed was my “rock bottom.” I am grateful for the second chance at enjoying this bountiful life.

That’s where I can pull myself back to the things that bring me the genuine joy of life.

Peace, Joy, Love

Perceived Joy Vs Actual Joy

The 23-foot sailboat where my imagination knew no bounds.

Not long ago I found a boat for sale. It was a sailboat of 23 feet that its current owner abandoned in a boat storage yard. The manager of the yard said I could have it for what the owner owed for the storage rent, which was only a few hundred dollars.

I’ve always imagined the joy of owning a sailboat, sailing the open seas, feeling the sun and breeze, and smelling the salt air; all the joy my imagination my mind could perceive.

The picture above does not offer a good image of her capabilities. This boat was in good shape; it had all the equipment needed to ply the local waters; and was ready to go.

I climbed in the cockpit, grabbed the varnished wood tiller and imagined sailing her in the open water. What joy I imagined I would feel if I bought this boat!

I drove out to look at her weekly for the next few weeks. I climbed aboard and just imagined the joy of owning it. It’s comfortable seating; it’s efficient cabin for sleeping; it’s ability to take me places I couldn’t go to otherwise.

I knew boats took time and money but what stopped me from buying the boat was what one blogger wrote: “Everyone is in love with the idea of owning a boat, but the reality is boats are a lot of work.”

He’s right I was in love with the idea of owning a boat. I decided not to buy.

His words hit home with me, and I thought about the reasons I wanted the boat. I did imagine it would bring me joy but that experience lasts only for so long before I get bored. The boat needed some work, and I weighed my time constraints with traveling an hour to the boat yard, sanding and painting the boat then driving an hour home. Did I really have that kind of commitment?

My imagination of what I thought the joy of sailing would bring, would be but a small percentage of the responsibility, work and money the boat required.

I sensed my interest in sailing would wane quickly and the boat would be like most in the storage yard, left gathering dirt and dust.

This experience led me to reflect on imaginary joy versus an actual joy.

I thought about other times in my life, times have I imagined or perceived potential joy?

Before most decision, I ran the pros and cons of a futuristic experience and judged the degree of joy or happiness it would bring me: Going to a party, taking a certain vacation; buying a certain car; writing this blog, going to the gym . . . anything and everything I might judged my level of joy.

The truth is I didn’t really know if I would feel joyful with these experiences and many others until I’m actually engaged in the activity, object or people and have some actual proof of how I felt.

This helped me develop fresh realizations about my life.

  1. I don’t know what joy I have in the foreseeable future until I experience it.
  2. I must try different activities, meet different people, eat different foods, and be open to new experiences without judgement as to whether or not they will bring me joy.
  3. I must move out of my comfort zone.

To help me along these three paths, I sensed the need to alter my perspective in these six areas.

Listen with an open — but objective –mind.

This sounds easy but the society, friends and family around me bombard me with their own judgements of what brings joy. Most of it meant to tug at my emotions, insecurities, or judgements and sway me to a decision of their recommendations.

Occasionally, what other people say altered my decision. Take movies or Netflix shows, someone might highly recommend a show, a book, a restaurant, etc. I will decide to choose their recommendation with the anticipation of the joy it will bring only to find I did not like it.

When I was younger, I was more easily swayed to other’s opinions. Sometimes in life altering ways. For example, when I started college, my aunt cornered me one Christmas to encourage me to get a degree in business. “You’ll make good money,” she’d say. “That business degree will open many doors to jobs for you.”

“It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you.”                                                                        Joseph Campbell

My aunt was a smart successful woman. I imagined that’s what I wanted. I perceived a great joy from attaining that goal: get a business degree.

I earned a degree in Business, Finance option and found I hate working in the field.

What I realized now is I needed to actually experience the career in some way to see if I like it, I mean really like it.

I read on Facebook and forums people asking what they should do for a living. I witnessed a variety of answers. I asked myself, “How did a person make sense from the myriad of choices.

The only way I know now to help with choices is to experience them.

The only real joy comes from the real experience.

Listen to Intuition

I leaned on my intuitive notions probably more than I should. Intuition is that feeling one gets with little or know knowledge to make a decision. Science shows that intuition works best when a person has some experience in the subject he or she intuits.

Instincts have lead me true in cases where I have experience with a person, place or thing, but in situations where I am new with not so much experience I could not depend on it.

However, I do have years of experience knowing myself. I listened to my intuition of my needs on many occasions. For instance, this blog was a result of my intuition. Something told me I should write a blog about Joy, not once but many times.

The this blog fills me joy. When I finished a day’s work, my “well” is full, and I can be more for my family and friends. I did not think writing this blog would bring me this much joy. I had to experience it first before I knew.

Learn from the past experiences.

I have a host of life experiences and reflecting back on them helps to separated my imagined joyful experiences versus real joyful experiences. A tool called the seven-story exercise helps individuals learn from their past, almost forgotten experiences, what brought them joy.

This method used by career and life coach professionals encourages their clients to search their memories — good memories — write them out and look for similarities of what made them joy.

I have written my seven stories and synthesized out what experiences were enjoyable. I have incorporated them into my current lifestyle.

To go back to the sailboat I wrote about in the opening, I look back at my experience with sailboats. When I am honest with myself, I realize I found the refinishing a boat brought some joy, but the actual sailing I found boring: Tack this way, travel that direction, while the first 30 minutes felt joyful the remaining time I fought tedium. Another reason not to buy the boat.

Block judgment of a person, place, or thing.

I will stop making judgements and come to an experience with an open mind. I don’t know if joy will be part of the experience until I move toward it with an open mind.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, encourages people go on dates by themselves. She calls them “artist’s dates.” The goal is to experience something out of the ordinary day’s activities.

Though Julia Cameron’s bestseller leans toward creativity,
most people can benefit from a reading.

Choose something different. At this time of my life, I choose Artist’s dates that involve activities I’ve never tried because. I am retired and I want to try new recreational activities.

If I was young and seeking career ideas, I would go on these artist’s dates only I would call them “career dates.” I would call up someone in a career that interests me ask for an interview; ask to experience the job. I would make a different career date weekly. I’ve done this later in life and it saved me much time and money figuring out what does not bring me joy.

To me, the key to any truly joyful experience is not just feeling good or telling myself, “Yeah, I can do this.”

No, it feels euphoric to the point where my confidence soars and I want to give back to other people. I become more passionate, more generous, and above anything else I feel like I can make a difference in the world. That’s the feeling of absolute joy to me.

I stopped asking others to make a decision for me and instead summoned the courage to go find out for myself. I found it much more rewarding in the long run.

Build concentration in the moment.

How much attention I bring to the activity can have a strong effect on my level of joy. Some philosophers posit all joy is found in the here and now.

To practice focus on this moment is said to induce more joy.

“The real secret to life is to be completely engaged in the here and now.”

Alan Watts, philosopher

Instead of looking into the future, past memory or present judgement to find joy and happiness, maybe — just maybe — all joy is right now, right in front of me . . . if only I focus into it. This takes concentration and builds concentration.

Writing this blog builds my concentration. I focus on its creation. Creativity, is my gift to the world and in concentrating on it, putting focus into it, I feel so much joy in that moment.

That joy would not have come about had I let my mind wander.

Experience everything.

Life is about experiences, some large and sublime other tiny and fleeting. I will work to come out of my comfort zone and experience the unknown without judgement whether or not each will bring me joy.

I will work to observe more of the people, places, and things around me I take for granted.

I will work to concentrate and finish that which I started so I appreciate the full experience.

The sailboat experience is gone, but there are so many more opportunities awaiting.

Peace, Love, Joy!

Who to Sacrifice to feel Joy?

The author Ursula LaGuinn wrote a short story titled The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. In it there is this town called Omelas where everyone feels joy all the time, people are happy, prosperous, and loved, but that euphoria the townspeople came at a price.

To feel joy in the town of Omelas the people must allow for one young child to be in misery and pain. The child is locked up in a room in a basement that’s no larger than a broom closet. The child is scared, maltreated, and alone forever. The child wails in pain, hides in fear, and starved for kindness.

It’s part of the deal for the town to prosper. This child must never feel joy. Everyone in the town knows about the child, but no one does anything to make the child’s life better. The townspeople make excuses. Making the child’s life better means making the townspeople’s life worse.

When the town’s youngsters reach their teenage years, they are encouraged to visit the child to learn the town’s “reason for happiness and prosperity,” but when they are shown the child in the closet and learn this child must live in pain, suffering, and starvation forever, their first reaction is anger or sadness. but given their well being, many come to accept the situation as necessary, but some empathetic souls question the community’s action or inaction. They must choose to go on living prosperously in the town accepting this atrocity or walk away from this nirvana forever.

LaGuinn’s, story feels strangely allegorical in these pandemic times. Should I accept that many more people should die from covid 19 in order to restart the economy so they can feel more joy, contentment, and well being? Or, do I do my best to follow the guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus and STAY AT HOME and suffer the sacrifices necessary so that more people can live?

Personally, I can only control my choices. I am responsible for my own actions to help not spread the virus. So, I promise myself to do these three things:

  1. I will follow the guidelines recommended by my doctors and elected leaders: to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash my hands and stay at home whenever possible.
  2. I will not give in to peer pressure by those who try and make me feel bad for following the guidelines. Instead I will use my integrity and “doing the right thing,” follow the guidelines.
  3. I will ask people to wear a mask in my present. I will stay my distance even as they get closer. A number of people have the mask with them. They just don’t put it on.

I see no joy in another’s death for the sake of my well being. Talking with individuals that caused another’s death either by accident or on purpose, I notice high stress; I see remorse and depression, even after ten years the incident.

Joy comes in the simple act of giving and caring for others. We see this around the Holidays.

I will adapt; I will persevere; and I will survive and do so by caring for the mortals around me.

In story LaGuinn’s story, not everyone accepts the situation of the little boy. Occasionally, adults go back and revisit the child and when they walk away they choose to keep walking away from the town. “They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.”

I choose to walk away — six feet away from people, wearing a mask, or I can just stay at home.

Peace, Joy, Love