A new way of looking at anxiety

I hope that one day I can be truly free from anxiety, but until that day comes, I’m going to need to learn effective ways of dealing with it.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last couple of years. What keeps me going and what holds me back. I’ve learned that fear is the major obstacle keeping me from following through with my goals, my dreams.

Fear, like the devil, has many names, many guises. Anxiety is one of them. In fact, anxiety is the main manifestation of fear in my life.

It’s so maddeningly subtle and sinister that sometimes I don’t even see it for what it is until a long time has passed.

I think we all intuitively understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety, if we think about it.

Being anxious about walking alone through the woods at night is totally understandable and will even be of benefit if you run into the bogeyman, giving you faster reflexes and increased energy.

Being anxious of running into an acquaintance in the street because small talk stresses you out, however, that’s unhealthy. It’s unhealthy because it causes a spike in stress without good reason. You may have faster reflexes and increased energy temporarily as in the previous example, but dealing with increased stress wears the body out fast.

In my own experience, anxiety seems to be rooted in my childhood. I had a weird and stressful upbringing, although fortunately free from physical violence for the most part. All kinds of things stress me out unduly, and I’ve spent days of my life picking apart the reasons for it.

This retrospection has helped to some degree, in that it’s allowed me to understand why I feel the way I feel, but after all this time I’m still an anxious guy.

Apparently, understanding is not enough to overcome anxiety.

That’s why I’ve been directing my energy into the present, finding ways to deal with the feeling of anxiety itself, instead of trying to logically figure out why I’m feeling it. It seems to be helping, albeit quite slowly.

The thing is, during periods of intense anxiety, we tend to forget important things. Like if I decide that I want to become aware of my bodily sensations or something the next time I feel anxious, when the feeling actually arrives I won’t remember that decision. It’s infuriating, really.

Instead, what tends to happen is I direct myself to the nearest thing that can comfort me, be it sugar, porn, sex, weed, alcohol, or whatever. There are many ways of dampening, or even forgetting, anxiety. Some of them are relatively healthy. Exercise or meditation are good examples.

But unfortunately, the easiest ways of dealing with anxiety seem to also be the most harmful in the long run. Sugar, porn, booze, ganja, stronger drugs… These are all very effective, but they also carry with them great risk of bodily and mental harm and dependence.

I recently published a two part series on porn addiction, which happens to have been my poison of choice for the last decade.

The thing is, during bouts of anxiety or even depression, you crave whatever will relieve those horrible feelings as fast as possible. It’s very difficult to be disciplined and follow through on what you decided you were going to do next time you felt this way, when you actually do feel this way.

I live in the hope that with practice and determination, and clear conscious mindfulness, I will in the end be free of my compulsions and become the arbiter of my behavior. A life of freedom and grace.

Until that day arrives, I’m going to keep developing my consciousness and self compassion through meditation, mindfulness and journaling.

I wish you peace and much love.

The root of pornography addiction – Part 2

This post is part of a series. Check out part 1 and part 3.

Last week I wrote about the insidious yet widely ignored dangers of porn addiction.

This will be part 2, this time focusing on the more subtle aspects of what makes this such a difficult problem for so many people.

In my last entry, I wrote about how I felt I had discovered the root of my own addiction, namely my anxiety.

I’ve been trying to hold on to that epiphany, although like everything else it seems to be fleeting.

I think breaking down the problem into its smallest parts is very important. Like a weed, an addiction can be summed up as a root, a stem, and the fruit or flower.

Roots are hidden underground

The root will be an underlying difficulty or emotional ignorance, often unnoticed or at least very vaguely recognized.

In my case, it’s anxiety.

Especially anxiety concerning social issues, but also other kinds of anxiety, like anxiousness over health, safety or life trajectory.

Everybody deals with anxiety at one point in there lives or another, but fewer experience the hell of chronic anxiety.

Chronic anxiety is sinister. It will be the death of me, unless I find an effective way to manage it.

The stem grows out from the root

Addiction to pornography is, I believe, a very gradual process. At least in my case. It started out as curiosity, first and foremost.

It’s not until I started to use it as medication, albeit unconsciously, that the addiction started to escalate.

In the same way people dealing with chronic pain develop addiction to opiates, I, with my chronic anxiety, developed an addiction to the only sedative (maybe not a traditional sedative, but a sedative nonetheless) I had easy access to as an adolescent.

The stem is the activity itself, the action we take to diminish or hide the root. I could have become addicted to cigarettes or Xanax, but my poison happened to be porn.

It’s not really rocket science, is it? I mean, it’s sex, for crying out loud. The highest priority of all higher lifeforms, after food and shelter.

That’s one of the most cogent aspects that makes this addiction so insidious, because pornography taps into the most primal instincts humans possess, the drive for reproduction.

The weed

The weed blooms after the roots are strong and stable, i.e. the anxiety has become more of a constant state than an acute annoyance, and after the stem has grown high and hard enough, as when porn use escalates more intense and novel images and videos as well as longer time spent perusing it overall.

The plant itself is the result of a lot of time and energy directed in the wrong direction. The flower is the consequence of not pulling the disgusting weed out of the soil when you had the chance.

Consequences of pornography abuse are numerous, but I’ll outline the most salient of them: Social isolation, dopamine desensitization and, as a direct result of the first two, deep depression. Not to mention that as time goes by, porn tends to exacerbate, instead of curb, the anxiety it was used to overcome in the first place.

This is a vicious cycle, a desperate joke. Except it’s in no way funny.

I know I’m not the only one dealing with this. In fact, I believe this is the new crack epidemic, the new opium. The results have been devastating in my own life, and in the lives of many others I’ve spoken to or corresponded with.

I think it’s time to stop living in shame. It’s time to overcome this shit.

It’s time to take responsibility for what is happening, for how we’re feeling. Only by taking full responsibility will we gain full power to change it.

Much love.

 

The root of pornography addiction – Part 1

This post is part of a series. Check out part 2 and part 3.

In this post I want to delve deep into a terrifying topic: pornography addiction.

My history with pornography use does not paint a pretty picture. I would go so far as to say that it’s been an addiction. However, there are two reasons why I want to write about porn today.

The first reason is that I know how important honesty is, and there are countless times I’ve read blog posts that are written straight from the heart, as honest as can be, and those posts have changed the way I look at life.

So I want to help myself at the same time as I help others dealing with this same problem.

The second reason is that today I became conscious, for the first time, of the problem that’s been underlying my compulsive porn use for all these years: Anxiety.

I’ve often thought about anxiety in my own life and the lives of others, but I never really paid it much thought.

It was kind of a stiff-upper-lip kind of thing for me, where I would tell myself to ignore these feelings of anxiety, that they were unnatural, that others might judge me if I were to show them in public.

I finally realized how infested my life is with anxious thoughts and emotions. Many aspects of my life, especially the social aspects, have long been riddled with them. But where does pornography fit in?

Self medication. That’s it! Finally!

That’s why I’ve consistently gone back to porn, even after weeks of abstaining, when some kind of stressful or anxiety-provoking events happen in my life. It’s the way I’ve trained myself to respond to these disturbing emotions.

Just like Pavlov’s dogs salivate to the bell, feelings of anxiety will, without fail, induce almost simultaneous cravings for the oblivion of porn.

Or better yet, just like a crack addict in the first painful moments of withdrawal, with all the misery and suffering that ensues, who starts to crave her hit, knowing full well that it will only make things worse in the long run.

Because that’s what porn actually is, especially the high-speed-internet variety. It’s not a suppository, it’s not an intravenous drug, it’s an audio-visual drug.

And a powerful one at that: pornography addiction is very real and poses a similar threat to the individual as cocaine addiction.

Hypofrontality, leading to poor impulse control, and even a reduction in brain matter in certain areas. Not to mention the devastating social and economic consequences.

Sure, porn is a less expensive, legal, more socially acceptable kind of drug, but so are cigarettes and alcohol. It doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

That being said, I can’t speak for everyone. Maybe some people are more prone to abusing these things.

In fact, I find that pretty probable.

Just as the majority of people can enjoy a glass of wine or a beer every now and then without becoming raging alcoholics, maybe some people can jerk to porn every once in a while without developing addiction. Who’s to say.

However, there is a subtle but importance differences between internet porn and the substances I’ve been comparing them to: accessibility.

High-speed-internet is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. Which means that technically, porn is everywhere. It’s saturating every cell in your body as we speak.

Anybody with a smart phone, most people nowadays, can furtively slither into the nearest bathroom stall for their hit, many times a day, without arousing the notice of friends or family.

Compare that to seeing a friend sneak into the kitchen to nick a vodka bottle, or drink his fourth beer in broad daylight, or a sibling smelling like cigarette butts every time you meet them.

These things arouse worry in loved ones, as they should. It’s a slippery slope. Pornography addiction is particularly sinister because it can be tucked away and hidden so effectively.

I’ve wanted to quit porn for years. I’ve tried to quit for years. Many things have helped, but I never managed to overcome this addiction. I’ve often felt hopeless about this.

On the other hand, there have been multiple times where I’ve been clean for weeks, before falling back off the wagon.

I’ve trained myself to see the positive. Every second of abstinence, every time I manage to resist is a victory.

But I think I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. Just as western doctors tend to focus on the symptoms while ignoring the roots of illness, I’ve been directing all my attention to the symptom: porn addiction.

The root is obvious to me now: anxiety.

Feelings of anxiety are always a precursor for my cravings for porn. Without fail. When I’ve been at my happiest, calmest, most productive, the cravings are nowhere to be found.

Where attention goes, energy flows.

I need to stop focusing on what’s gone wrong, and instead focus on what needs to be right. I need to learn to respond to anxiety in a different manner. Mindfulness is crucial.

I’ll keep you updated on how my change in perspective works out.

Much love.

Check out the root of pornography addiction – part 2 and part 3.

The paradigm shift

My attention is wandering.

In recent months I feel like I’m living life as a new person.

So many things that used to be central to my life and paradigm seem to have shifted to the periphery, while other matters that hardly interested me in the past are now all I can think of.

Serious illness does that to you. When you experience a midnight of the soul, what was once important loses all meaning. Existence seems hopeless. In a way, you die. I know I did.

But when dawn finally breaks, and you get ready to embrace a whole new day, you may find that you’ve been reborn.

That’s what I feel like now. Like a part of my personality was killed off and some different aspect of me has been allowed to bloom.

This aspect has other plans than I visualized a few years back. This aspect has a more practical, clear-cut approach to things. With an emphasis on educating myself in matters that are directly applicable to my life, like psychology and nutrition, as well as more hands-on subjects like carpentry, machinery and electronics, I feel like a new man.

For years, I imagined myself working as an artist of some kind, be it musician, painter or illustrator. I see now that I looked down on “worldly” subjects, I put myself on a pedestal, and I disdained anything practical. I saw aesthetics, art and beauty as the height of human aspiration. All else was peripheral.

If I could reach back in time, grab my 20 year old self’s shoulders and shake some sense into him, I probably would. But then again, I know it would have been futile.

I think I may have been experiencing some kind of major, if gradual, paradigm shift for the last year or so. Especially after I started to see the light after my illness, when I managed to rekindle my hope for the future.

It’s not that I’m leaving art in my wake, it’s that I’m shedding my pretensions. I finally see now that my plans for becoming an artist, for becoming the best of the best, for influencing thousands and inspiring thousands more were for purely selfish reasons.

If those plans had been fulfilled, I know I would have been deeply unhappy.

The life it would allow me to lead may be marvelous, full of interesting people and great ideas, but the very fact that I did it for the idea, for the way others would regard me, would ruin it.

The life I envision now is a simple one, but infinitely more fulfilling to me. A life filled with nature, spirituality, and self-sufficiency. A life free of pretense, but full of love.

This fall I’m starting a course on carpentry, and I hope to be able to learn heaps of practical stuff. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, so I know I’ll have fun, which is important to me.

I’ll keep you updated on my shifting paradigm.

Much love.

Remind me to forget who I am

The fog has (mostly) lifted. The brain fog that is. I feel a lot better now.

I’m working as a ranger in a national park in the north of Iceland this summer, and I just spent five nights taking care of a campsite in the highlands.

No internet, hardly any mobile coverage at all for that matter.

Just me, some books, a few tired hikers and my thoughts. Not to mention spectacular nature.

I’ve been thinking of getting rid of my smart phone and getting a more basic mobile. Old school with buttons and all.

I feel like I’ve gotten stuck in the web, with the cloud constantly calling for my attention.

That’s a problem, because my attention is incredibly valuable to me, and more often than not whatever’s waiting for me online isn’t very important.

Getting some time off, detoxing if you will, from constant stimulation is essential to seeing the problem for what it is.

It’s like this: a fish doesn’t know it’s in water until it somehow strands on dry land. And then it will probably die, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

When I’m saturated in all kinds of online stimulation, watching videos, reading articles, receiving messages, day in day out every day, I start to forget that there’s more to life. And then I start getting anxious.

It’s weird how we forget things that seem so unforgettable. Like in the past when I’ve experienced glimpses of true reality, enlightenment or awakening, and I think “wow, my life is forever changed!”, it’s only partly true.

It’s true in the sense that having experienced that, I’ll probably make some changes, re-adjust my priorities and so on, but then at some point I’ll forget why I made those changes in the first place.

Then later on I’ll remember again or experience something even more profound. It’s a sort of cycle of forgetting and remembering.

Instead of fighting this, I’ve been working on acceptance. Accepting that this cycle may just be exactly what’s needed for realization, actualization. Life is expansion and contraction, up and down, inside and out. That’s what everything does, and maybe it’s not a problem at all.

Contraction allows expansion, so let it be.

Much love.