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.