The Art of Being Alone

It is ironic that in order to learn to be alone, I thought I had to first learn to be with people. This involved meeting them. A prospect equally as scary as not meeting them. I was stuck.

This social anxiety was my inheritance. My Mom, a single parent, bequeathed other things to my other siblings, but I got a lifelong crippling fear of asking for what I wanted from people. Things like communication, companionship, and sex. Of course the root was fear of being rejected and being alone. This involved a fair amount of mind reading and predicting the future. My conclusions were never tested so I was never to discover just how inaccurate they were.

Until one day after Barb Will swept in and out of my life, and consequently I was suffering the devastation from a scorched earth narcissist, the end of an engagement, the end of my music community that came and went with her, my primary friendships that sided with her due to her smear campaign, I found myself with lots of time on my hands. And a book called Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns. He became my doctor to heal my lifelong anxiety and pain.

It wasn’t until much later that I read Getting Rid of Crazy, by Dr. Tara Palmatier, that I learned to recognize the Barb Wills in my life, the personalities that prey on lonely men who have yet to develop the assertive skills to ask clearly for communication, companionship, and sex.

Dr. Burns, a cognitive therapist, one of the first in the medical community to adopt the work of Dr. Albert Ellis, ( suggested through his book that I first spend 6 months alone.

Huh? Is this guy nuts? Impossible! Yadda Yadda Yadda.

I really didn’t have an option as it turned out, I was alone anyway, so I entered his programme of what turned out to be, self care, self nurturing.

Then the light turned on. After six months of making myself nice meals (would you invite your best friend over, feed him a hot dog and call him a loser?) buying myself flowers, and examining my self defeating thoughts, I began to see the consequences of my inheritance and what to do about it. Being my own best friend became a reality instead of a cliche.

Talk to strangers and ask for what you want, yes, but feed yourself good food and good thoughts first. Dispute anything you tell yourself where the consequence is depression, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, hurt, guilt, and rage.

Sadness, annoyance, concern, regret, and disappointment when something shitty happens is motivating, however, because something shitty happened so you should feel shitty, and want to do something about it, especially acceptance. Shltty things happen to nice people and nice things happen to shitty people, accept, accept, accept.

Fair enough.

What good did I make of my horror of an upbringing? I learned that I could work hard. It is the only way to get anything. Wow


The guilty conscience of the survivor (apologies to George Toles) or How to Take the Major Sting out of Loss.

My father died when I was two, a coal miner, of lung cancer or black lung as it is still known today. My mother was from Newfoundland and was subjected to its national sport, sexual abuse, at an early age.

Consequently she had the responsibility of raising 4 small kids and not the slightest idea of empathy, somehow being both a narcissist as well as a professional victim.

So I raised myself in the library, my fathers were Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, a scientist and an engineer, both devout atheists.

But we were on welfare in the 50’s and 60’s in a very conservative city, Calgary, Alberta, subjected to soon to be internalized public scorn, for ‘living off’ others.

Mom never got off the couch; she sat there smoking in her menstrual aroma, until it killed her at age 60, agoraphobic to the end, terrorized by everything. Her narcissism and the emotional incesting of her kids was dutifully passed on, and adopted, to the next generation and the next, seemingly endlessly.

How did it miss me, how did I get empathy? I sought sanctuary in the library from the emotional abuse of my parent, the physical abuse of my brother, a particularly nasty piece of work, and the perennial abandoment of my sister (Lucy pulling the football away just as Charlie Brown kicks it comes to mind).

I learned from books like Black Beauty and my personal hero, Huckleberry Finn. Asimov and Heinlein were no slouches at caring for their fellow man either, they showed me how to do it, by osmosis, I suppose. Asimov wrote over 100 medical textbooks if memory serves, was a doctor and cancer researcher along with his wife, and revolutionized science fiction for relaxation.

So. Fast forward some 40 years later and I am the type of person that is sought out by predators of the narcissist variety. That is, unassertive and caring. The perfect target.

I was glomed onto by a woman who had 95% chance of getting the disease Huntingtons, a horrible brain disease, progressive and terminal. She did all the usual narcissist things over our 10 year relationship, including manipulation by F.O.G.: fear, obligation and guilt. The sex was good to start with but withholding it is a helluva time tested manipulation.

So as frustration became overwhelming and I started to demand, finally, a healthy relationship, she did stage 2 and 3 of the narcissist relationship, overvalued, undervalued, dumped.

Just then my oldest brother died of brain cancer and my best friend of skin cancer.

So. I bet you are telling yourself you can’t stand it. This was from Dwayne Johnston the emergency family therapist I was referred to at the hospital. I had been crying for six months. Turns out tears are tears of frustration, generally. Who knew. Well, Dwayne knew, it was his business to know. So I didn’t have to ask how he knew I was just glad he did.

Finally, after a ‘journey’ of faith healers aka religious psychiatrists and clergy here I met someone who wasn’t babbling inanities about ‘my purpose’ and the purpose of loss.

“When you are telling yourself you can’t stand it, you are calling yourself a loser, the major sting of loss. Evidence shows you have been standing it not only in this relationship but in all your family relationships all your life. Someone had to be functional to make it work and that someone was you. High tolerance of frustration is success in any endeavor. Besides when you say you can’t stand something it means you are going to die from it. Are you dead? Hmmm?”

Now I was laughing. No I’m not dead. Well quit telling yourself things that aren’t true that make you feel shitty. Shitty equals guilty, depressed, anxious, embarrassed, and ashamed. When you see, based on evidence, that the names you are calling yourself aren’t true, those shitty consequences disappear.

Then he gave me a website to learn to be my own therapist, and now I’m giving it to you.

Mining for Gold

Very anxious in early waking hours.

Thinking about where I will live.

The single men’s hostel comes to mind and then panic.

Reminds of last time I was in transition.

I was taught that as soon as soon as I started to assess my resources I began to feel better.

He helped, Dwayne Johnston the family therapist, he laughed at my fear of living in the single mens hostel. He pointed out that I have a lot going for me.

This is still true.

Every time I get involved with someone who uses me then dumps me, ( currently it’s my sister a serial dumpster) because I ask for what I want, I then get anxious from agreeing with them.

That is how I end up looking at myself.. negatively…and creating my anxiety. Consequence of self downing.

It is simply not accurate..

My home is in storage waiting for me.

I am healing.

I have an income waiting for me.

I don’t have an instant answer to the short term.

Nowhere is it written that I should.

I can stand this frustration.

Because I am standing it.

I have more options than the hostel.

It is taking time to heal and find a better place to live.

Why is that so terrible.

It’s not.

Deal with it as best I can,

Then ignore it and focus on a more satisfying future.


REBT Self-Help Form


What is the situation that you are upset about?
Answer: I had a stroke I’ve had people pack up my house into safe storage. That part happened today. Gave my car back last week. All that off my plate.

What are the unhealthy negative emotions that you are experiencing?
Answer: Hurt guilt shame embarrassment

What self-defeating behaviors would you like to change?
Answer: Withdrawing

What demand are you making about the situation?
Answer: Life must be convenient I must ‘do well’ or I’m inadequate and worthless.
Dispute: Why must life be convenient? Who says I can’t stand it. Why must I ‘do well? What is do well? How am I inadequate and worthless?
Rational Belief: No where is it written that life must be convenient. In fact I am discovering strength. Inadequate and worthless are just labels. They don’t describe me. I’m better able to do certain things or not. Asking for help is not a crime.

In what way are you awfulizing about the situation?
Answer: This feels awful

What are you saying to yourself about the situation that indicates low frustration tolerance?
Answer: I can’t stand this

What beliefs show that you are rating people instead of rating their actions?
Answer: I’m a waste of space.

How are you overgeneralizing about the situation?
Answer: I’ll never get better and my life Wil get worse.
Dispute: Any evidence?
Rational Belief: None.the opposite is true.

What are your new healthy negative emotions?
Answer: Sadness concern disappointment

What are your new self-helping behaviors?
Answer: Asking for help. Asking for what I want. Exercising. Tackling unpleasant tasks without delay

Warning: This form should not be considered a substitute for individualized treatment with a mental health professional. If you are seeing a counselor or a therapist, it is recommended that you print this page and discuss your responses with him or her.
Designed by Will Ross © 2006

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Pairs of Opposites are really the same Thing

Yesterday my stuff went into storage. I went into hospital with a stroke two months ago. It’s going to be awhile before I can get a place and operate it and pay for it.

What is crucial is how I look at it.

Self defeating or self helping.

The facts are, this isn’t awful or terrible. Awful or terrible means I will die from this. This is a hassle. I have to do workouts every day to recover. I work out every day anyway, I like it.

I live at the hospital because this is the best place to recover. I have no choice about that but I have choice in how I look at it. Some people at the hospital will never think, speak or eat again after a stroke. I only have to walk and use my righr arm and hand again. They say this will happen, it is happening.

My cat has a good home. Is it awful that I gave up my cat or is it good that even sick with a stroke I found him a good home? The truth is I miss my cat and I’m glad I don’t have the responsibilities. I miss my car and my household and I’m relieved to be free of the responsibilities.

So it comes in pairs.

I’m experiencing recovery from a stroke. I feel sad that it happened and determined to get better.

Sitting here having coffee and writing. Is it so terrible?

I, as an artist, got re-validated (in reality I’m always a professional artist with formal qualifications) by professional colleagues and it came along with this stroke. Funny how that happens.

I had felt estranged from the art community due to some smear campaigns by narcissists, ex’s and alcoholics mostly but I saw them as having influence in my professional community. The cognitive distortion is that a smear campaign spreads like wildfire. The truth is that people have free will and the power of choice, they make up their own minds. Anyway, I thought my career was over but I continued to make work and exhibit on the net. I was convinced that everyone hated me now. When I had my stroke I asked for help from a community aid program for professional artists, thinking they would find ways to disqualify me. I was convinced of it in fact. When they immediately called a jury to assess my work and my c.v., then immediately gave me the grant, it went a long way to heal a very major part of my life.

Likewise an internet friend, Cliff Eyland, a prof teaching art at U of Manitoba, heard of my plight and bought a piece of my art in support of me.

So having a stroke wiped out my old pain about career and community and I kickstarted  my new life. Healing as I go.

Funny how that happens.

Grow your happiness in your own garden.

The title is a post by one of my fans, a Phd. psychologist who writes on narcissist survival. Well that would be me, a survivor.

The devastation one feels after the extreme seduction and protestations of love for evermore turn out to be lies, when their boredom sets in and you are dumped for a ‘new adventure’, includes self downing for either not seeing it coming or for believing them, you are truly not of worth.

I recently said to my sister, a serial dumper, your brother is an internationally recognized professional Canadian artist, and you have never asked about or seen his work. She said,”So?” She simply didn’t get it and demanding she should is the well travelled path to the dark side. Better to just walk away. Fire your family is sometimes self helping and life affirming.

OK my garden my happiness. What does that look like?

Basically I’m making some long term plans. They include applying for funding to Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

My plans also include walking again. Shaking hands. Making love, in relationship.

Travel? We’ll see. I’ve been on the road for a decade.

I’m starting to look beyond the 4 walls of a hospital.

This is good.FB_IMG_1492365589495