Reflections on sobriety

For the past few years I've been on a journey to become sober.

It may come as a surprise if you know me; I have what most people would call my "shit together." I have a vibrant career, I pay my bills, I save money fervently, and have an incredible support network of beautiful friends. He mustn't have a problem.

By most accounts I don't have a problem. I've historically drank far less than most of my peers. I go to bed early most nights. I don't find myself saying "let's get one more" or "I could use another." I haven't kept alcohol in my home in years.

But I do have a problem. I have a problem with living this one precious life with anything less than my full attention. I have a problem with the idea that I might spend several hours one night in a state of malaise and stupor, engaged in conversations about nothing around a table doing nothing at all, only to wake up covered in my own sweat recovering for hours the next morning.

I have a problem with spending a single moment more of my life in that faded state. I have a problem with constricting my mind and poisoning my body and drowning my spirit all in the pursuit of muting the voice deep down within me that's screaming up and out for love and connection and touch and intimacy. That voice that's begging me to be more vulnerable. To show myself to others.

I have a problem with the idea that ingesting a poison is normal. That it's how we socialize. That it helps loosen us on dates. That it gives us courage. That it's fun to drink. It's not. It's fun to spend time with friends. Alcohol hitches itself to your fun experience and drags its feet along the ground screaming at you:






But it's not easier. Alcohol forges a path of hardship, confusion, emotional distress, poor physical health, abusive behavior, malaise, lethargy, and financial ruin. It was never fun.

The diminishing returns of seeking behavior

Have you ever noticed how, after accomplishing something you've sought to accomplish for a long time, you quickly find yourself feeling underwhelmed by the happiness you feel?

How, in spite of achieving what you set out to achieve, you find yourself still restless and longing for more?

I've been experiencing this recently. When I first moved back to Portland in October, I was fresh out of a relationship and feeling lonely. I thought that, if only I exercised my dating muscle a bit and started dating a few women, I'd feel a sense of gratification and completeness. I've now done that—some might say in excess—and yet the void I sought to fill remains. That's not to say we should stop dating—but we ought to ask ourselves our motives. Do we hope to fill the radio silence of our lives because it's uncomfortable, or are we striving to forge relationships that enhance our already blooming sense of community?

And then there's the dining table I found on Craigslist for a fifth of its retail price. I found chairs to match the next day! They're lovely and fit my apartment wonderfully. But I think my expectation ahead of their purchase were that, if I could just fill the void in my kitchen, I'd fill the void in my heart. Not so.

Have you ever left the house—not because you had to fulfill an obligation or a plan with a friend—but because you thought there might be something better waiting for you outside if only you looked hard enough? I've spent hours in cafes hoping for another interaction with a stranger, hoping for a connection. It's natural to hope for connection, but I'm not sure whether it's healthy be addicted to looking for it.

The truth is, whatever your circumstance right now, you're reading this article on a computer (or phone) and so you probably have everything you need. You have your own set of unique problems and you probably suffer a fair amount. I do, too. We may endure different suffering, but we have something beautiful in common: We can dramatically reduce our suffering not by seeking something outside of us, but by radically appreciating what is within ourselves.

Have a beautiful day.

You can relax now

I'm learning to relax.

Here in Portland, we have an abundance of cafes serving some of the best coffee in the country. As a single man living alone with disposable income and a computer-based career that goes wherever I want, I frequently find myself in cafes during the week to escape the monotony of my home offce. But I've realized, in the past few months, the novelty has worn off and it's become more a compulsive habit to leave the house to work than a premeditated occasional treat.

By the end of the traditional 9-5 workday, I'm an exhausted mess. I've spent a fair bit of time unnecessarily commuting between coffee shops and paying their rent getting grossly overcaffienated. And, simultaneously, I recognize that when I'm at cafes, allegedly to escape the lonely monotony of my apartment, I don't tend to engage with others on account of being immersed in my work.

I'm resigning to change this behavior, starting this week. I'm going to try not going to cafes to work anymore, at all. Working from coffee shops has been a part of my identity since I was in college. I wonder what miracles lie on the other side.

I'm learning to relax.

It all ends

I'm sitting working on my computer in a cafe. There's an old man, perhaps 75 years, sitting at an adjacent table. He wears a beige cardigan and dons a white beard on his otherwise bald head. His glasses are delicate and he leans an intricately carved cane against the table.

I spend so much time in cafes—hours per day—but rarely stop to think what will become or where I'll end up. I'm generally self-absorbed, wondering when I'll find a lover or a new career or a shimmer of elation in a sea of confusion. But, at the end of all of it, we're all alone. The man sitting alone at the cafe.

If only we realized sooner that all our attachments and confusion and jealousy and emotion and everything we experience every single day will one day inevitably and quietly ... end.

How our beliefs change our reality

You've probably heard of new age ideas like the Law of Attraction, books like Think and Grow Rich, and movies like The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know?. All of them share a common idea: That what we think inevitably becomes our reality.

We all know from experience that wishing an outcome into existence doesn't bring about the outcome. Who hasn't wished for more money, a new and lovely partner, or a more fit body? And who hasn't been disappointed when nature didn't deliver?

But I'd like to posit that although the Law of Attraction can be interpreted as new age hullabaloo, there is a grain of truth in the idea that is nearly as powerful if applied.

While our beliefs don't shape results directly, they do have a substantial effect on the action we take toward our desired results. If you believe you'll succeed, you're more likely to spend the time and energy required for success than if you believe you'll fail.

And at every step along our path toward our goal, we'll be confronted with bits of feedback which will further inform our belief. Progress strengthens our positive beliefs about our ability to succeed, which breeds more constructive action, which brings about more success.

So, will sitting around dreaming of a new lover who is yet to manifest bring them knocking on your apartment door? Probably not. But believing your dream can manifest means you're likely to hold yourself in higher regard, take the steps you need to get there, and ultimately find yourself in a scenario closer to where you want to be.

The meaning of life

I've been thinking carefully about the meaning of life.

It's a tried concept that there's some inherent meaning to our daily existence. At one end of the spectrum of the discussion there's religious piety. At the other, nihilism.

I've heard the meaning of life is to be happy. To help others. To exist peacefully. These are platitudes that offer no tangible behavior prescriptions.


You might say the meaning of life is to be happy. To act according to a set of virtues

As the climate changes

With historic wildfires raging across the American West and back-to-back historic hurricanes in the Atlantic, I'm left panicking at the prospect of facing once-in-a-lifetime weather events every year.

But I do realize that, despite the hellish reality we face, there are opportunities for adaptation.

Tactics for a happier digital life

I have some beef. Rage, even. For the past decade I've owned an iPhone and had access to the infinite power of the Internet in my pocket.

Do you remember 2006? It was a year when most people looked up when they walked, when asking for directions was normal, and when there wasn't a constant temptation to hide behind a constant flow of distraction.

Then the iPhone happened. And its imitators followed. Suddenly we became a culture immersed in handheld screens. I remember, in my rebellious youth, decrying television as a tool to dumb down an entire generation. And yet, somehow, we were sold on the smartphone as some sort of revolution.

And ... it has been. Tools like Google Maps and Uber fundamentally change the way we interact with the world. I carry a more powerful digital camera in my pocket than even existed 20 years ago. Technology is powerful augmentation for the real world.

But I have a confession: Until recently, my smartphone was more a source of escape from life than an enhancement of it. I'd use it to avoid life: browsing social media, reading toxic articles by people whose main interest is selling me something, or catching up on the latest outrage porn.

"But it's just entertainment!" "It's fun!" "You're being too serious!" Then why does it seem like most of my generation is chronically depressed or anxious? I posit that all this information is doing something sinister to our minds and bodies and that the science will say so soon enough. Could it be that we'll soon find scientific consensus that chronic Internet use is as harmful as chronic sugar consumption or smoking?

So... I decided to quit. I decided it was time to turn back the clock—back to when I remember feeling more contented and less stressed and more creative. The year was 2003.

Remember 2003? There were no smartphones. The Internet was gaining in popularity. Facebook hadn't quite launched. It was a simpler time. A time when you could leave the Internet back at your house and spend your time uninterrupted. Remember?

That's why I quit all social media. I communicate with my friends just fine via SMS, email, and phone calls.

That's why I sold my iPad. I don't need another black glass distraction machine in my life.

That's why I used iOS's Restrictions to disable Safari and the App Store on my phone. I don't want infinity at the touch of a screen in my pocket anymore.

Remember when you could leave the house without getting interrupted? That's why I also disabled all my notifications on my iPhone, except for phone calls. That means no text message notifications, either. Life's just better when you're fully engaged.

That's why I'm vowing to read paper books and magazines again. I want to feel the pages on my skin. I want to feel a sense of commitment to what I'm reading. I want to know infinity isn't a home button away. I want to feel safe.

Those are my tactics for a happier digital life.

The subtle art of staying at home

I have a penchant for whimsically leaving the house without cause.

Working remotely, I have the freedom to remain in the comfort of my home for as long as I like. For whatever reason, that's typically only a couple hours.

Today I'm setting the intention to occupy myself here, at home, for the duration of the day. I want to practice disciplining myself to remain in my office, for sake of improving both my productivity as well as my mindful awareness.

I was reading from the book Full Catastrophe Living over the weekend. There was a particular passage about examining the richness in every moment, no matter how mundane the moment might seem.

Of all disciplines subject to needless hurrying, computing is probably the worst. There's a tendency to attempt to complete every task in as little time as possible, without regard for the beauty of the moments during which we're acting.

I wonder whether this tendency of mine to move quickly is a fear that I'll be outmatched by one of my peers. That, if only I go faster, I can hope to retain my position among them.

Slow down. Take inventory of the task. Breathe. Enjoy the process.

Your own European safety net

I stumbled into viewing Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next last night. In the film, he visits several countries—mostly in Europe—and identifies social programs other countries have from which the United States could learn.

Among these programs were eight weeks of guaranteed vacation, increased equity between workers and managers as a result of requiring workers be on corporate boards, and government-subsidized university education.

This got me thinking: We tend to measure success in business here in the United States in terms of valuation and profit, pushing aside less tangible successes like worker satisfaction, their future security, and contribution to the public good.

As a small business owner, I too have fallen into the trap of measuring my business success in terms of gross revenue, instead of in the more meaningful terms of work/life balance, savings rate, and personal satisfaction.

Being part of America's dwindling affluent upper middle class, Moore's film has inspired me to think more about money in terms of the risk it mitigates instead of the numbers in a computer. That is, to recognize that the reason I earn a living is not for sake of making my bank account balance go up, but in order to ensure a prosperous present and future.

There may be little hope for the American middle class—specifically the working class who have in so many ways been left behind in our neolibertarian wasteland—but those among us fortunate enough to secure a generous income can, if we're clever, replicate the European social safety net for our families within the American system.

By taking full advantage of programs like the 401(k), IRA, and HSA, we can minimize our tax burden in order to create a personal pension plan that will, with any luck, keep us fed, clothed, housed, and prosperous into our golden years.

It is critical though, that we do so humbly and with gratitude. We ought to view our positions of financial privilege as opportunities to level the playing field—not to flaunt our affluence and status.

A recurring theme in Moore's film was the idea that countries with healthy social safety nets fought hard to maintain them. They weren't easily won without political interference; rather, they were won through difficult and strenuous organization.

I do hope the political tide turns in my lifetime and that someday the poorest of Americans won't need suffer the plights of homelessness and chronic illness. But in the meantime, those among us fortunate enough to bear the means to insure ourselves against future poverty should do so.

If each of us capable enough to buy the symbols of affluence instead chooses to buy the real thing, we will free ourselves enough to enact change for those who lack that capability.

Life ought to amount to more than eighty-odd years of accumulation of stuff. The structure of some societies seems to reflect that. We can, at best, mimic their ideas with our budgets.