When I collapsed into six years of largely bedridden Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) between 21-27 (1988-1994), my peers fled from me (while most people in the second half displayed considerable empathy towards me). I gradually realized that fear of illness was not personal. Most people instinctively retreat from illness. It is probably an evolutionary adaptation. It might be why so few people wanted to show up to Hillary Clinton’s rallies.
After I rejoined the working world in 1994, I kept under-achieving. Another way of describing it would be hiding and biting. Just like wounded animals hide in case they get hurt again, so too I hid in my own ways, and when people tried to bring me into the sun, I bit them.
In my late 20s, I kinda sorta belonged in the same social circles as my friends, but into my 30s, as they married, advanced in their careers, and had children and mortgages, we increasingly went our separate ways. Sometimes I simply couldn’t afford to do the things my friends were doing. Circa 1997, I remember meeting this attractive woman in shul and she called me up and invited me to dinner with her friends and I had to say no because I couldn’t afford it.
People who move ahead with their lives don’t generally want to hang around with people who are hiders and biters. This social dynamic begins before kindergarten. Winners don’t want to hang out with losers. The more friends you make who are losers, the more you get sucked into losing. The more friends you make who are winners, the more you win. In school through college, I was in the middle of the social pecking order. As I started getting my act together in college, I began moving up (until I was felled by CFS).
When I began 12-step work in 2011, I talked a lot about my problems. A little later, I began talking about working on my problems and my character defects. When I moved into some serious recovery in 2016, I stopped talking about my problems, stopped thinking about my problems, and surrendered to the fact that I had these powerful compulsions that were keep me small and unhappy. Instead of worrying about my problems, I worked my various 12-step programs, turned my problems and character defects over to God, walked in the paths of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, and as I did so, my problems diminished and sometimes disappeared. Now I rarely worry about my problems. I just treat the friction of life as reminders to work my programs.
I find it hard to hang around people with untreated addictions. I’m willing to help but I have to keep such dangerous people at a distance or they will pull me down. Even under-earning and under-achieving can be an addiction and when I spot that type of thinking, I want to flee. Such people tend to be careless about time and money and their responsibilities. They’re dangerous and often disconnected from others, from themselves and from God.
I get a sense of a person’s recovery by how they carry themselves. When I first entered a 12-step program about money in May of 2015 (with about $50,000 in credit card debt and nothing saved for retirement), my therapist noticed an immediate change in the way I walked, talked and thought because I suddenly saw a very clear path ahead towards prosperity.
People who are sunk in their addictions are usually sunk in their bodies. Their defeat radiates and infects. Nothing we do fails to affect other people. Such folks are universally slumped and distorted by unnecessary tension patterns. They’re pulled down and in. By contrast, as they get recovery, they become increasingly buoyant.
I think I can tell how a person speaks to himself by the way he’s aligned. I remember there were years (1997 to 2008) when the most common thing I said to myself was, “I’m f***ed.” Accompanying that self-talk was a punitive tightening and pulling down and in on myself. Happy people, on the other hand, are up and out directed, both in their physiology and in their social lives. It is useless to tell the depressed to care about others. It is impossible. When we are happy, we naturally orient towards others and it is a joy to be of service. It makes us feel alive.