Addiction to Stories Causes Suffering at Thamkrabok Temple

Yesterday I went back to Thamkrabok Temple to give a talk about my experiences in recovery. It turned out to be an enjoyable day, and I got to meet some really nice people. I had the opportunity to speak about myself for a full 50 minutes without any interruptions – for somebody as self obsessed as me, this is pure gold. My talk seemed to go down well; nobody offered me a world speaking tour, but they didn’t boo me off the stage either – so I’ll call that a win.

Perfect Example of My Addiction to Stories

My talk was scheduled for after the lunch break. Everyone else went off to enjoy the free food provided by the monks, but I decided to stay behind in the hall and just relax. I’d already eaten a large breakfast, and I just fancied some time alone before the talk. My decision to stay there felt reasonable enough initially, but then all these stories began to form in my mind. I could imagine the other participants talking about what I was up to or thinking bad things about me. Maybe they would see me as unsociable or possibly even a weirdo for staying alone during the break? Perhaps they would think that I’d gone from alcohol addiction to some type of eating disorder? Then the most horrible idea of all entered my head, maybe the other participants suspected that I was up there going through their bags and stealing their stuff!

Instead of enjoying this chance to be alone before the talk I actually began to feel uptight and anxious, but then the ridiculousness of what I was thinking hit me. There is no way for me to know what these other people are thinking, and it was doubtful that any of them were wasting much of their lunch wondering about what I was up to – I am a complete stranger to most of them. I actually burst out laughing at the silliness of these made-up stories, but I could also see the seriousness of what had just happened. These nonsense ideas have been the bane of my life, and they are the cause of my suffering. It was my stories that led me willingly into the life of a habitual drunk and kept me there. I have been addicted to these stories, and it is this that has been responsible for all the shit in my life.

I managed to nip these nonsense stories in the bud within a few minutes – it sort of felt like catching a naughty child (my thoughts) up to mischief. This is something that I’ve become much better at recently and long may it continue. I managed to relax and enjoy the lunch break, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about not going with the others. I had no urge to justify myself or reassure the other participants that I hadn’t stolen their stuff while they were away. Nobody seemed in the least bit bothered by my absence at lunch, and I doubt if many of them noticed. All those stories were buds of pain that only ever existed inside of my head. As Radiohead once sang:

You do it to yourself, you do and that’s what really hurts.
Is that you do it to yourself. Just you and no one else

The Stories That Can Destroy My Life

This addiction to stories seems to be a human trait. It is not so much that these stories are bad, but that we become so convinced by them. I’ve found that the anecdote to this addiction is letting go of the idea that I can trust these stories. This doesn’t mean that I’m trying to act like some type of spiritual person which is just another type of story. It means that I become humble and vulnerable enough to admit that I don’t really know shit about anything. It means understanding that it is these beliefs that come between me and what is really there.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is my doubts and not my beliefs that lead me from suffering. The beliefs are just stories about how I think things are or how they should be, but they are always going to do a poor job of describing something that is so mysterious and beyond words. It does seem to be necessary for me to use these stories to help me navigate through life, but the problem starts when I forget that they are just stories. I now accept that most of my thoughts (maybe all of my thoughts) are just made up stories, but this is OK so long as I know this. It is when I swallow these stories, hook, line, and sinker, that the shit starts.

Yesterday I could have gone to Thamkrabok with this story in my head about me being the returning hero – something I’ve been guilty of before. Then when the people failed to fit in with my story, by not making what I considered to be the appropriate amount of fuss over me, I would have felt miserable and betrayed. My silly story about how things should be would have ruined the day as it put me on a collision course of reality. I went to Thamkrabok yesterday with few expectations, and it turned out to be far more enjoyable as a result.

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6 thoughts on “Addiction to Stories Causes Suffering at Thamkrabok Temple

  1. Hi Paul, I like how describe all your irrational thoughts that went through you before your starting your presentation. Were you nervous? I would be anyway. I am very curious to konw what you said and how you think it was received in Thamkrabok Temple.

    1. Hi I-nomad, I don’t tend to get nervous before giving a talk. Maybe it’s because I’m talking about myself, so I can’t really get it wrong. There was a film crew there, so I’m hoping that I’ll be getting a copy of my talk to share.

  2. Hi Paul. Another very insightful post. Thank you for sharing this with us. I’m glad you illustrated your experience so vividly and explicitly. I got a good sense of exactly the sort of thought process you are referring to, since I routinely sink into the same types of negative, paranoid thinking patterns on a regular basis. I am actually most vulnerable to these thoughts at night while lying awake, my head spinning. You are so right how our choices about thought patterns can really dictate our moods and – ultimately – our well-being (By the way I finally had a chance to listen to your “I do not need to do anything” podcast today after having commented there a few days ago – again, great stuff!).

    I’m glad to hear that you were able to effectively “respond” to these negative stories so quickly. I have read before in cognitive behavioral types of self-help books that it is really a learned skill to be able to respond to negative thinking quickly and adequately. It does seem to me that so many of us who struggle with depression or anxiety regularly let our pessimistic imaginations run rampant to the point where it is exhausting and eventually – debilitating, as you have noted before. I think dealing with negative stories we generate is going to always be a constant battle, but hopefully, we get better and better at dealing with it.

    I wanted to share two things that I have been relying on recently that have helped me quite a bit in terms of increasing my resiliency. The first is simply to “believe” in more positivity. Like they say, when you start thinking positively, then positive things will happen. I try and start the day off now thinking “today will be a good day” as opposed to having such a negative and gloomy attitude towards my work environment, colleagues, boss, clients, etc. The change in my mood has been significantly much more positive, almost surprisingly so, since adopting this practice. It sounds sort of gimmicky, but I am finding it to be very helpful.

    Secondly, and related, I’ve also recently tried to tap into an old resource of mine – my sense of humor – in my interactions with people throughout the day. It’s amazing when I think back at how when I was younger I was actually pretty good at making people laugh, yet during my dark periods of drinking and depression I really let my sense of humor dissipate. By rekindling my sense of humor, I’ve found I can deploy that “skill” in a way that can really make me feel better emotionally. If I can make people laugh and smile, it really helps in my daily interactions, boosts my confidence socially, and makes me feel like maybe I have made someone else’s day better too.

    Anyway, those are two things that I have added to my toolbox that I have found to be pretty helpful recently. Also, I would love to view your talk if its something you are comfortable sharing! Thanks again and take care!

    1. Hi Tan, I don’t believe that dealing with these negative stories has to be constant battle. I’m convinced that it is possible for us to just become a person who doesn’t fall so easily for this bullshit. It is unreasonable to expect us to be able to keep monitoring our thought processes indefinitely – we may be able to do it in the short term, but it just seems like the wrong path to me. It is like when I quit drinking. I had the choice of being an “alcoholic in recovery” or just giving up that whole story. I decided on the latter because being an “alcoholic in recovery” is too much hard work.

      I’m still in the process of unwrapping my new discoveries about life, so I’m not yet able to explain things as clearly as I want to. I now feel that it is always the stories that cause us to suffer. It is tricky because we tend to fall into new stories while trying to escape the stories that are messing up our life. It really is like an addict moving from one addictive substance to the next. So if I begin to believe that it is my negative thinking that is causing me pain, I can get caught up in this new story about how I have to strive to overcome this negative thinking. The real problem is not the negative thinking because this is just another story. I need to get to the root of the problem by seeing clearly that it is all just bullshit – none of my stories can be trusted. I’m not suggesting losing touch with reality, but just lightening up on myself and not taking everything so damn seriously. I said in that last post that I now find it much easier to spot these stories before they take over my thinking, but this is not something that I’ve been trying to do. It just happens naturally because of my new relationship with reality.

      I agree with you fully about the importance of a sense of humour. This is vital. It is the fact that I take things so seriously that causes me to become caught up in these nonsense stories.

      I really appreciate your comments Tan because you seem to have a knack of saying things that get me to really think.

      BTW – I think they did make a video of the talk, and I’ll link to it as soon as it becomes available.

  3. Paul, thanks for the kind words. I find your thoughts and material to be very thought provoking and, as I’ve noted, of definite value to me in my own journey and struggles. Your recent posts in particular have been very eye-opening to me and definitely quite positive in terms of reinforcing some new approaches and thinking patterns in my life. In fact, I am hoping that I am turning the corner after being in somewhat of a rut for the past several months.

    There is such a huge recovery / self-help community (or communities) out there, and the internet has helped people connect with one another across this wide spectrum of experience. Unfortunately for me, most of the interactions that occur online in this area tend to be somewhat superficial or fleeting (e.g. posts on internet forums), possibly because that personal connection is absent when anonymity is involved.

    I very much appreciate the depth with which you engage your blog and podcast followers regularly, and of course it helps that you are up-front about who you are and your experiences and life, a good writer, and so on. I also seem to be in somewhat of the same “track” as you are in terms of your recovery timeline, so I’m very much appreciating and enjoying being able to follow your experiences and thoughts. Actually I need to catch up as I’m perennially a week or so behind your blog and podcast updates!

    1. Hi Tan, I’m glad to hear that you are about to turn a corner. I think that the benefits of getting out of a rut make up for the suffering involved with being caught up in one.

      It means a great deal to me to hear from people who read my posts Tan, and it does feel like a conversation. It is helping me to unravel my thoughts.

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