What Do I Do with the People Inside My Head?

Part I of Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us

Image from Routledge

It’s not uncommon to feel that there is more than just you inside your head. There seems to be a board of directors, at best, or a squabbling family, a mutinous crew, or a polarized congress up there, at worse. You may feel that someone sort of takes over, at inconvenient times. You hear a voice, maybe not the auditory kind, but a disparaging and derogatory point of view that makes you feel like crap. At the very least, you’re often divided, unable to make an important decision and follow through.

Looking through the literature on this kind of thing, I find the phenomena given quite a range of names.[1] Here, I will call them subpersonalities because that’s what my guide on the subject John Rowan in Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us (1990) called them. It’s my intention to go through his book and devote a series towards what he can tell us about it. I’m doing this in preparation of my own book, Meeting the Voices in My Head: Searching for An Inner Adult, which I’m writing and hope to complete soon.

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Help is Closer Than You Think

Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, part 4

Image by athree23

It is a whole lot easier to get substances that will addict you than it is to get into treatment for addiction. In many localities, there are drug dealers at every corner, but to get to a clinic, you have to take two buses. Intake coordinators will make you wait in a room with old magazines and ask you million questions; but bartenders will serve you right away and leave you alone if you don’t want to talk. Insurance companies will seek to deny you coverage, but you can buy as many packs of cigarettes as you want on your credit card. You can get narcotics from every doctor, but it’s tough to find one who prescribes Suboxone (AKA: Buprenorphine), a medication that can assist you in getting off narcotics. There’s even an act of Congress that limits your access.

Suffice it to say that it’s a lot easier to get substances that will addict you, than it is to get into treatment.

However, that’s not the same as saying that help is far away.

Practically every church basement hosts an Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. If your town is large enough, there will be one every day of the week. They don’t cost anything, but they will pass the hat to buy coffee. There are no forms, no appointments, no one to call for pre-approval, no side effects. You don’t have to take time off from your job. You don’t have to give them your whole name. You don’t have to speak. You don’t even have to stop using. You just have to have the desire to stop. They can’t make it any easier than that.

But it’s still not easy to go to AA or NA. I’ve found there are two big barriers that get in the way.

The first is that you will have to deal with people. There will be people there who are either not serious enough about recovery or too serious. There will be people there to pick up women and women there to get picked up. There will be judgmental ones and understanding ones. If you speak, they will answer you with simplistic slogans and facile quips. Some will smell. Many will smoke. They all will remind you of the worst moment of your life and forbid you from forgetting it.

They are much the same as the people you will find in a bar or a drug house. The people who meet in the church basement are little different than the ones who meet upstairs, in the church, although they don’t dress up and are less sanctimonious.

The second barrier that people have to attending AA or NA is the insistence those organizations have in using a higher power. The Higher Power is mentioned everywhere. You can’t even get past the second step without them bringing it up.

Step One is, We admitted we were powerless over [fill in the blank] – that our lives had become unmanageable.

The bars and drug houses are filled with people who admit they are powerless over their addictions. They may forget sometimes, but they know it. Having this knowledge is not enough. Hitting bottom is not enough. There has to be some hope.The hope is supposed to come in the form of Step Two.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

It’s that second step that stops many people. They have too much baggage associated with the Higher Power.

Religious institutions have, over the centuries, done a pretty good job of marginalizing the very people that populate most self help meetings. For that matter, addicts have done a pretty good job at doing the things that piss church people off. Furthermore, the idea of God, for many addicts, never matured. Their idea of God is often a child’s idea of God, like with the beard and thunderbolts, smiting people from up in Heaven, and all that; or the adolescent idea of God, concerned about what group you belong in, who’s in and who’s out. There are all kinds of problems and hangups that hold people up in the second step.

If you have trouble with the Higher Power, let me introduce you to something you may be able to wrap your head around.

Every addict knows he or she is divided into two parts. There is the addicted part that sets you up, talks you into using, chooses associates from among those who use, chases away those who don’t, scores the dope, shoots the needle, heaps the guilt, and refuses the help.

Then there’s the other part. The part that wants to stop, that refuses to use, sometimes, that makes healthy connections, apologizes for the hundredth time to family, hates the dope, loathes the needle, knows he can do better than guilt, and looks for help.

Most addicts think the first part, the addicted part, is more real. They identify with the first part. That’s the self, they say. But the second part, the healthy part, is real, too; although it may be, as yet, unrealized. There are two parts to you, although you might only know the first.

Which of the two parts would be the higher?

The healthy part. I thought so. There’s your Higher Power.

If you cannot connect with the idea of the Higher Power many people have, or with your old idea of the Higher Power, connect with the healthy side of yourself as your Higher Power. Get to know it, listen to it, confess to it, rely on it, let it guide you.

Help is closer than you thought.

Drugs Turn You Into an Addict, Then You Turn Everything Into a Drug

Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, part 3

Image from Wikimedia

If you are addicted, even if you stop using the substance that changed you, you will look for other things (other substances, sex, shopping, relationships, rage, work, gambling, exercising, making deals, etc) to gratify you in the same way. This is called switching addictions. It’s a way of avoiding the real issue that underlies addiction: the belief that you are not enough.

The underlying illness is playing whack-a-mole by extinguishing one problem behavior, only to transfer it to another. We see this frequently with addicts who will use one drug till they get in trouble with it, and then switch to a different drug. Instead of scoring heroin on the street and using dirty needles, they get their narcotics from a doctor. You’ll think that’s an improvement, until you start to abuse those pills, too; or can’t get to the doctor.

Particularly common is the way cocaine addicts, when they are clean from cocaine, will turn to rage. Rage, you see, is the perfect substitute for cocaine, because they feel so much alike. Cocaine is nothing more than powdered rage. But you don’t need to go to a bad neighborhood to score some rage. You just need to dip into your stash of resentments. Rage will cause as many problems as cocaine, so it’s hardly an improvement.

A lot of addicts will turn to a self administered marijuana maintenance program, figuring that, just by smoking some herb, they will quell the urge to use other drugs. Whether marijuana is or is not a benign substance is irrelevant here. When an addict gets a hold of it, he will use it problematically.

Years ago, I used to work with many people who had been locked up in a state psychiatric hospital for years, maybe decades, where they couldn’t get the usual kinds of drugs of abuse. About 20% of them had what we call psychogenic polydipsia. They were addicted to water. They had a dry mouth, caused by their medications, and discovered that, if they drank enough water, which was always around, they could get high. Yes, it’s possible, but you’ve got to drink a whole lot and it will ruin your kidneys.

You see, you can turn anything, any substance, any action, any person, into a drug if you know how. All you have to do is relate to it as a thing that will change your mood, not as something in and of itself. All you have to do is become dependent on it, so that you do not have to stand on your own two feet.

Addiction is Not Satisfied With Just Screwing You Up

Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, part 2

Photo from PxHere

Once addiction has got a good hold on you, it doesn’t stop there; it looks for others it can infect with madness. In you, it has established a home base from which it can make forays into others, as if its whole purpose is to spread evil, corruption, and despair.

Addiction is not satisfied with just screwing you up. It wants to cause disrespect for law, populate prisons, murder thousands, destroy neighborhoods, corrupt nations, and fund terrorists. It also wants to drive your wife, husband, partner, father, mother, sister, and brother crazy. It especially wants to get to your children because then it can get started on a whole new generation.

Addiction can be so tricky that, as it spreads, it changes form. It’s a shapeshifter. The particular addiction you’re prone to: alcoholism, drug use, gambling, sex, eating, rage, whatever; once it leaves you, lights on another and infects them in a manner peculiar to them. Everyone has their thing, the particular way the wheels come off. Some get attached to substances or behaviors as you did. Others fall prey to depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Most simply loose themselves. They get so wrapped up in dealing with your shit, that they forget their own. They fail to take care of themselves because they’re trying to save you from addiction. When they fail to take care of themselves, things simply break down in the same way your car will break down if you never changed the oil. If you have people in your life who still love you despite what the addiction has done, you’re lucky. Do them a favor by battling the addiction before it gets to them. Warn them that trouble is coming and band together for your mutual defense.

If you’ve gotten treatment for addiction, gone to rehab, seen a counselor, attended AA, been on Suboxone, or whatever, you have probably gotten ten times more help than the people who deal with you. As inaccessible as treatment is, it’s worse for your loved ones, yet they are subject to the same madness you are.

If you have benefited from treatment and are far down the road of an authentic recovery, you may well be ahead of them. Some of the most psychologically sophisticated, insightful, and mature people I know are in recovery from addiction. Addiction takes you to a dark place where you confront your demons. You may think you have defeated those demons, but they have only migrated over to your partner, who is now more vulnerable, from which they can take another shot at you.

Soft Drugs Are More Addicting Than Hard Drugs

Image from Pexels

Most people divide substances into two categories: the hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth, and the soft drugs like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and prescribed narcotics. Hard drugs are all illegal in the US, they are sold exclusively by underworld organizations, they are associated with the down and out, are socially unacceptable for most people, quickly lead to poor health, problems in the job, broken homes, and criminal activity as people will lie, cheat, and steal to get their next fix. Any dosage of a hard drug can get you high, whereas most soft drugs can be used without intoxication.

All this is true, but it is a mistake to assume that hard drugs are more addicting.

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Needed: Peer Reviewers

I’m in the final stage of writing, Meeting the Voices in My Head and Searching for an Inner Adult. The book examines the nature of the inner psychological world. I’m looking for peer reviewers who can read it on a pdf format within 3 months and answer a few questions I have about plot, characters, and concept. This will help me shape it to its final form.

To qualify to be a peer reviewer, you must be reasonably aware of what goes on in your mind.

If you are interested, please reply with this contact form.



Why You Don’t Take Care of Yourself

Woman on her knees cleaning by August Allebé

You care for yourself. You care whether you live or die. You want to prosper, thrive, and flourish. You have sympathy for your point of view. You defend yourself from those who would malign you. You are your own main guy, without whom, you’d be sunk. You may not be the center of the universe, but you’re the center of your own universe.

But do you take care of yourself? By that I mean, do you perform the maintenance, keep up with the upkeep, and make the choices it takes to function at a high level? If your body was a car, would you regularly change the oil, rotate the tires, and drive slowly over bumps? If your mind was a computer, would you update the program, defrag the system, and clear it of malware and bugs? If you’re like most of us, you probably don’t. You probably run your mind and body into the ground, as if it were a rental and you’d rather have a different model, anyway.

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Photo by PxHere

I lot of people mistake venting for therapy. They think that if they can say what’s on their mind, they’ll feel better and get that problem off their chest. They will, up to a point. If you have something you’re trying to figure out, or something you need to be honest about, then vent away. But, if you have already vented, and need to do so again and again, and nothing changes, then venting is not working. It may be making everything worse. You need to know the point of maximum venting effectiveness, beyond which there are diminishing, then reversing returns, and how to stop after you’ve crossed it.

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Burdens and the Peddlers That Traffic in Them

Image by Wayne S. Grazio

If the inside of my own head is any indication, we all carry psychological burdens. If that’s not bad enough, we try to trade one burden for another and end up carrying them both.

I got one of my burdens when I was about eight years old, riding the school bus. No one would sit with me. I was lonely, but I hoped no one noticed I was alone, because then they really wouldn’t want to be with me. No one likes an unpopular kid. It’s memory of a single moment of feeling sorry for myself. I’ve carried it around ever since.

At that moment, I experienced an abyss of loneliness, brokenness, meaninglessness, hopelessness, powerlessness, futility, emptiness, shame, and despair. Loneliness is very consequential for a kid. Young children left alone can soon be dead children. Kids know this and take loneliness seriously. By the time I attended school, being left alone was not a death sentence, but being accepted by peers was certainly imperative. It made the difference between a good day and a bad one.

It could have been the only time in my entire childhood no one sat with me. Other times kids were friendly, I was included, and people listened to what I had to say. I was not lonely in the bosom of family, in a safe and vibrant community, a citizen of one of the most consequential nations on earth, belonging to a race that enjoys widespread privilege. I had no good reason to conclude on the basis of that single memory that I was unlikable and friendless, but I did anyway. That’s the nature of a burden. Sometimes there’s a good reason a psychological burden will impose itself on you, but there doesn’t need to be.

That wasn’t the only time I fell into the Abyss. There was a time some kids teased me, another time I was forgotten, when I didn’t make the Little League team one year and, another year, when I did make it but let everyone down by striking out. Any kid can point to dozens of similar instances; they don’t have to mean anything.

It’s not the incident that creates a burden. It’s your rejection of it. I couldn’t look at being left alone without seeing the Abyss. I called my feeling ugly and rejected it. Now, I carry it because I crippled it. I’ve been trying to get rid of it all my life, but it keeps coming back. Every time I go out to lunch and sit alone, it climbs on my back. There’s no shaking anything that’s been touched by the Abyss.

Peddlers in my psyche come along, bearing their own burdens and offer to take my Burden if I take theirs. I agree, take their burden, but they walk away without taking mine. One brings books. If I take that peddler’s burden, I must have a book whenever I sit anywhere by myself. The book will make it look like I don’t even want anyone to sit with me, but I do. I’ve read lots of good books because of it, but the Burden is still there. Plus, I have to schlep a book.

Another peddler carries a shell. I take his shell and crawl into it, acting introverted when I’m someplace new or with someone I don’t know how to act around. I fade into the woodwork and hope no one notices me. It’s a burden to have to act that way but is still doesn’t do any good. I secretly want someone to join me in my shell.

Sometimes I take on the burden of organizing groups and play the host. For instance, I have a group of therapists that meets once a month to discuss difficult cases. I also organize a pickup tennis group. In both cases, I’ve taken the initiative to bring people together. The therapist group, so I have other therapists to consult with; and the tennis group, so I can play. Do I still have the original burden? You betcha, I’m left to wonder if anyone would invite me if I didn’t do the organizing.

It makes no sense to me why I’m an introvert one minute, and the next minute I’m the host. Sometimes in my head, I’m debating between being an introvert and an extrovert at the same time. Perhaps that means I’m not truly an introvert or an extrovert. They’re both strategies I employ at different times. When I’m torn between the two, that’s me deciding between two peddlers. One is selling introversion, and the other, playing the host.

Another peddler says if I take on the burden of being a therapist, I can give him the burden of the bus. Instead of feeling sorry for sitting alone, he tells me to look around for others who are sitting alone and has me sit with them. I tell myself that I’m helping them, when in fact I’m helping myself. It doesn’t work, though. Everyone’s burden is their own.

Clients are always coming to me to share their burdens. They talk about experiences they had like mine on the bus, or worse. I feel bad for them. Sometimes I’m still troubled after they leave, but it’s ridiculous to claim I’m taking their burdens. They still must live their lives. It’s not like I can live for them.

Do I feel less lonely because I’m a therapist? My calendar is full, but nobody makes an appointment to see how I feel.

Sometimes I’m burdened with needing to check Facebook, Twitter, and the sale of my books. I’ve also been tempted to go on Instagram and TikTok. You might have a part of you that does that. The folks at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok hope so. Taking on a social media burden offers to relieve me of the burden I got when no one would sit with me on the bus because I can point to the number of friends I have and all the likes and re-tweets they give me. It doesn’t help, though. I can always find someone on social media who has more friends, likes, and re-tweets.

I’ve tried being a loner. One day, I went to the movies by myself and started to feel self-conscious that no one had gone with me. That convinced me to go to the movies alone every day in defiance of that feeling. I even ended up seeing films I didn’t want to see. I’ve also gone hiking alone in the wilderness and traveled by myself in a foreign country, all to show myself I can do it. The burden of the bus still shows up even when I have dared it to come.

I could glom on to anyone who would have me or not be able to get rid of me. I’ve met people who’ve tried to do this. It doesn’t do them any good. For one thing, it’s inevitable that, despite their efforts they’ll still have to endure some brief moments alone. For another, there’s nothing that makes people want to get rid of you faster than when you try to make yourself adhesive.

I could take up the burden of having sex with everyone I can find. I could become an alcoholic or a drug addict to forget the burden of feeling lonely. I could become rich and famous, run for office, and have multitudes vote for me, but I have a sneaky feeling my burden will still be there. In truth, it doesn’t matter how many books I’ve read, how many events I plan, how many friends or clients I have, how much I stay in my shell or act like I don’t care, how much sex I have, alcohol I drink, drugs I consume, or notoriety I possess; I’ll still have my burden. I’ll take on new burdens but will never be rid of my own. Even when I’m an old, old man, doddering around in my nursing home, and have forgotten everything else, I’ll still have the burden I got on the bus to torment me. From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to be alone in a nursing home, but very easy to feel lonely.

I’ve come to accept my burden, most of the time, and it has become less burdensome. I’ve even come to cherish it, as I cherish other memorabilia from my childhood. I’ve also got a collection of old drawings and a story I wrote during that time. They’re all embarrassingly inept and childish. My conclusion that no one liked me because no one sat with me is just as inept and childish. I keep the old drawings and a story to remind me that I haven’t always been as I am now, as evidence of change. My burden serves the same function.

My clients have their burdens and accept many bad deals that result in taking up new burdens. Some of these are truly rotten arrangements. One will offer suicide as a solution. It offers to take your burden if you accept the burden of death. If you have a burden, I hope this article can help you recognize it, as well as the things you do to try to get rid of it.

As my burden becomes less burdensome, I have less reason to accept the bad deals that promise to relieve me. Nonetheless, I’m glad I became a bookworm and a therapist, even if it doesn’t make my burden go away. Sometimes, I’ll be reserved, or I’ll host. I won’t stop using social media and enjoying solitude. I’ll keep my attachments and enjoy sex. It’s one thing to have all that in your life, just as long as they don’t become a burden to me. I have burdens enough of my own.

It’s Not How Much You Use, It’s What Happens When You Use

Some Things You Might Not Know About Addiction

Image from Wikimedia

Grandma doesn’t drink much. She only has a glass of champagne every New Year’s Eve. But, boy, oh, boy, you should see what happens then.

Last New Year’s she danced on the kitchen table, fell, and broke her hip. The year before, she stripped off all her clothes in front of her children and her grandchildren, who had permission to stay up late that one night. It was not a pretty sight. Champagne seems to have that effect on her. The year before that, she broke her arm. I don’t know about before that, but there are whispers that she made out with her husband’s best friend one New Year’s while under the influence, but you never know.

Grandma has a drinking problem.

Yes, that’s right; she has a drinking problem, even if she only drinks once a year. Officially, her diagnosis would be alcohol use disorder, on the mild side, if she sought help. Simply defined, a mild alcohol use disorder is continued drinking despite problems. These could be social problems, health problems, legal ones, problems at work, whatever. For her, they are health and social problems. No one is taking her to court and she isn’t getting fired, but she is humiliated and things keep getting broken. She may have endangered her marriage. She has problems that wouldn’t have been there if she didn’t drink. She’s going to have to decide what to do about it.

She might stop drinking; turn down that glass of champagne. The New Year will come whether she drinks it or not. If she had stopped years ago, she wouldn’t have had all these problems; but she didn’t. She didn’t stop because she just couldn’t get her head around the fact that alcohol problems have little to do with the amount or frequency of alcohol use. They have everything to do with problems.

Let’s just say that one year she says, I’m not going to drink next year. I don’t know if I’m going to break my hip again, but every year something happens and it’s just not worth it. Next year, I’m going to be sober.

Let’s say she says that, but, the next new year, she drinks again. She wasn’t going to, but someone poured her a glass of champagne and it was there, so she drank it. Now she has a new problem. She lost control. She only drinks once a year, but she still loses control.

So, you see, you don’t have to be a skid row bum, sitting on the sidewalk, drinking out of a paper bag, wasted most of the time, to have problems with alcohol. You just need to have problems with alcohol to have problems with alcohol. You need to have problems and continue to drink anyway, even if it’s only once a year.

The guy drinking on the sidewalk most likely has a more severe alcohol use disorder. Grandma has it mild, but I say Grandma’s it’s still pretty serious. Serious as a broken hip.

To get to the point of an addiction like the guy on the sidewalk has, it’s necessary to use large amounts with some frequency. Addicted people usually experience increased tolerance for the substance; they need to use more and more to achieve the desired effect, or they need to go to stronger and stronger forms of the drug. The guy on the sidewalk does not drink Wild Irish Rose because he likes the taste. He drinks it for its high alcohol content.

When people use large amounts of a substance, they get a hangover. When you have a hangover, you basically feel the opposite of the way you felt when you had that buzz. If the substance made you feel calm, you are jittery; if you are social, you can’t stand people and noise; if you are happy, then you are miserable. Your body is trying to get back into balance. It’s compensating to your having consumed so much and is trying to tell you something. 

Once you get a hangover, you have two choices: a) You can stop using the substance and let your body, over time, heal itself, or b) You can use some more and avoid the handover by drinking some more. Have some of the hair of the dog that bit you, as they say. Many people elect option b. Keep it up and eventually you may start to experience alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal is more serious than a common hangover, but it’s caused by the same thing. The body is reacting to large amounts of booze. Many people who have severe withdrawal, must continue to drink or they will die from not drinking, unless they get some professional help.

In Grandma’s case, she doesn’t use enough alcohol to develop tolerance or withdrawal, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a problem with alcohol.

Oh, and the same thing goes with other substances: cocaine, heroin, marijuana, tobacco, whatever. The frequency and the amount is not the problem. The problem is the problem.