Performing CPR on the canary

Audio file can be downloaded here.


I have a problem with drinking.

It's not the problem I thought it was.

Here was the pattern that played out, time and again for me:

I would gradually start to drink more.  Instead of having two beers on Saturday, I'd have three.  Then four.  Then I'd have more.  I'd be present to it and start to berate myself for it.

Eventually I would get frustrated of what was happening, and say "goddammit, enough of this, it's a waste of time and money".  And I'd create a mechanism for control.

Those mechanisms can take any variety of forms.  Sometimes it would be no drinking for a month.  Sometimes I'd limit the amount I was allowed to drink in a week, or over the course of a month.

And then, over time, the whole cycle would repeat itself.

How strange.

"Am I an alcoholic?", I would wonder to myself.  It didn't "feel" that way, but I know many people that are alcoholic think the same thing.  "I don't have a problem" seems to be the mantra of people that have a problem.

[Tweet "'I don't have a problem' seems to be the mantra of people that have a problem."]

And yet, I never really struggled to stop when I made the decision. There was the challenge of reinventing myself in the moment, especially the first week, when I was so used to saying "Yes" to the being offered a drink, but beyond that, it was easy.

So what the heck was going on?

It took a powerful coach asking me a single powerful coaching question for me to begin to understand the root of all of this.

See, here's what's really happening:

  1. I start to get comfortable. I like being comfortable.  So do you.  I get to lay on the couch, I don't have to worry about my fear, I don't have to even be with my fear, and I can wile away my days playing video games and relaxing.  I'm not playing a big game, because a big game is scary.  I'm playing a small game that I can control and know how it's going to work out.  I've got everything within my purview and I'm feeling safe.  Life is good.
  2. I start to get bored, because, frankly, comfort is fucking boring.  After a while, I've done all the couching and videogaming and tv watching that I need.  I've got more energy, but I'm not doing anything to expend that energy.  It's now just sitting in me.
  3. hate being bored.  Being bored is painful.  It's painful because I know that I'm capable of more, but in the moment, it doesn't feel that way.  It shows up as a craving for stimulation.
  4. I seek out stimulation to self-medicate the boredom.  Drinking (alcohol), video games, drinking (coffee), starting fights on the internet, drinking (tea), getting stoned (back when that was something I did regularly), looking at porn, etc.
  5. I get frustrated at my stimulation seeking behaviour and seek to control it by imposing rules and harsh restrictions on myself

Notice that #5 there actually addresses the symptom of the problem, rather than the problem itself.  And, even more perfectly, it actually keeps the problem in place.  By addressing the particular form of stimulation I'm using at the time, I do nothing for the real problem, which is that I'm playing a game in life that is not worthy of who I am (It's not worthy of who you are either).  I'm still bored.  I haven't done anything about the root.

Guess what happens when I remove a particular form of stimulation from the equation?  I'll tell you: I just fill that need elsewhere. Have you ever decided to reduce your drinking, only to find yourself overeating?  Or maybe you make a diet plan and restrict what you start eating, only to find yourself smoking a lot more than usual.

It's worse yet.  Eventually, I get bored of that particular stimulant, because stimulation DOES NOT equate with generation, and boredom is the lack of generation, not stimulation. From here, the next evolution of the cycle is obvious — add something else into the mix.

This is the way I find myself up late, playing video games, watching a movie, with a full teapot and a beer in my hand.

What the hell am I doing?

Whatever it is, it's akin to trying to perform CPR on the canary in the coal mine.

See, miners used to take canaries into coal mines because they would die from exposure to carbon dioxide before the miners would.  This would give the miners enough time to put on respirators or escape from the mine before they too were overcome by the gasses.

The problem is only a problem when I relate to the canary dying as though it's supposed to be a bad thing.  The point of the canary in the coal mine wasn't to have a bird that was pleasing to look at while you worked.  It was to tell you "DUDE HOLY SHIT GET OUT OF THIS MINE SHAFT RIGHT FUCKING NOW!"

Likewise, my stimulation-seeking behaviour isn't there to make life palatable and exciting.  It's there to tell me "DUDE HOLY SHIT YOU NEED TO STOP FUCKING AROUND AND STEP YOUR GAME UP RIGHT NOW".

When I start playing a bigger, (inevitably) scarier game, I notice that I naturally stop seeking out stimulation.

What did you take from this?  What do you see for yourself?


There's a billion articles out there about increasing traffic to your website, and I get contacted once every month or so by an internet marketing company that wants to "help" me increase my traffic.  Many of those articles even suggest creating less content, and focusing on marketing your existing content.  I don't want to do any of that, because it bores me.  I believe it's possible to grow your audience without resorting to strategies and tricks.  I also believe that there's value in creating raw, authentic, vulnerable posts, and that, even though it flies in the face of "good business advice", it's actually something the world is hungry for.

I intend to either prove my point valid, or drive this plane straight into the ground being proven wrong.  You have the power to vote on which kind of content we put out into the world.  If you agree with my stand for creating content that is open and transparent, share it.  Share it with one person you think might be interested, share it on social media, or print it and give it to a family member (the one that's really into personal development).  Every time you share something like this, you are voting in favour of seeing more of this kind of content being produced.

If you disagree, then don't.  Don't share it.  Keep it to yourself and shake your head knowingly.  Both of these choices are fine.  Simply notice that whichever you choose, you are in fact voting.  My intention is simply to presence you to the choice you are making.  

Thanks for reading.