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Monday, January 30, 2006

I Gave Up Cannabis

Today's answer comes from Linda.

A Problem:

This new year I gave up cannabis. I had a pretty heavyweight habit which grew over a period of 16 years into a 2g a day addiction. My partner and I want to have a baby and had heard that cannabis can effect sperm motility. Also recently I would have coughing fits when smoking my bong. The combination of these two points is what has motivated me to quit. But the truth is I love cannabis and don't want to give it up. I have suffered from reactive depression in the past, often brought on by anxiety. I believe that cannabis has been really helpful as a stress management tool. I have been going through the usual symptoms of withdrawal, sweats at night, short and fitful sleep, overtiredness, clammy hands and feet, being easily wound up by nothing much at all, loss of appetite. These are hard enough to deal with. But I'm also worried that if I stop smoking cannabis, I will start worrying and stressing. I know this could well end up being a self fulfilling prophesy. My freinds all give me rational advice in support. But when I'm feeling like this I don't care about the rationale of giving up which I am all too familier with. I just want to feel relaxed and comfortable. I want a space in my day when I can unwind and switch off like I could with cannabis. I could so easily pick up the phone and go get another oz of the smelly stuff. I don't really know what my question is but I am finding this all sooo hard.

[There is more on this problem here, where the correspondent has added some up to date info]

An Answer:

It seems as though there’s a lot going on in your headspace!

I’m sorry to hear that you’re still experiencing uncomfortable moods, but it is early days in your journey - consider how long you were using. But given your struggles, well done for the abstinence which you’ve said is your goal, and for being positive enough to notice that the withdrawals have improved.

The issues you’ve described, i.e. past and present anxiety/anger stuff makes me wonder if there’s something going on at a deeper level. I don’t want to get too Freudian on you because we’ve all got our deeper level stuff. However, if you addressed this I think it could make a difference in your life.

After a period of abstinence from a heavy habit of any substance, it is normal for prior feelings and states to return. I wonder though, what’s at the heart of your feelings? Gaining some insight into this and exploring ways to manage your current thinking, feelings and behaviour could be very helpful. Maybe you always had tendencies towards anxiety and short-temperedness throughout childhood, or maybe they were reactive feelings. Either way, if you weren’t supported in managing them it’s understandable that you eventually looked for ways to suppress them (with cannabis in this case). Also, lack of understanding from significant others might have led you to the view you’ve expressed here of wishing to be different, i.e. ‘laid back’. I’d gently suggest that it’s important to accept yourself, as you are, the whole package. Imperfections (as you see them) and all!

Your mention of self-fulfilling prophecy shows insight. Indeed if you look forward to a life of worry and misery it is much more likely to be what you get. If on the other hand, you choose to think you will get better and your life will improve then there’s a really good chance it will. Put another way - you don’t say how you’ve achieved your period of abstinence but I’d suggest you notice what works and do more of that. It’s important to view your goals with positive self-talk i.e. don’t say, ‘I’m giving up cannabis.’ Say ‘Instead of using cannabis, I will….’ It’s important that you do something instead, or you may feel a void or sense of loss.

There are techniques you could use for anger/stress management. They won’t necessarily offer the fast fix you get from cannabis but with practice they will work and be long lasting. The bottom line is: If you can reduce your feelings of anger and anxiety, or manage them better, or both - you may not want cannabis.

I’m not qualified to comment on cannabis’ effects on sperm motility, but as I’m sure you know, there’s plenty of info on the net if you want to do your own research and become better informed.

I’ve also got these suggestions:

1 It’s worth being on that waiting list for counselling. Some brilliant counselling work can happen six months down the line, when you feel like you’re in a good space and don’t need it!
2 Browse the self-help section of your local bookshop, where you’ll find amongst the rubbish, lots of good books on relaxation. Also hypnotherapy CDs on anxiety and stress management.
3 Try auricular acupuncture to help with anxiety.
4 Try meditation, if you are a novice start with 10-15 minute sessions. Again there are some good resources, which may help with this.

Good luck, you’ve taken on a tough challenge and I sense you have the strength to cope and don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for your successes!

By Linda.

(Linda works as a 'drug and alcohol practitioner' for people who have problems with various forms of addiction)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I Broke His Heart

Today's answer comes from Linda.

A Problem:

I was with someone for nearly a decade. I don't doubt that I was deeply in love with him, though the last few years were more like living in stasis as flatmates. I left him recently, and it broke his heart.
I am having two problems.
firstly, I'm finding it hard to deal with the guilt of it all. I did love him, I tried to do all the right things, but I still left him in the lurch. I can't understand quite why, even now. There are just so many things that were just fine. But I still ran off.

Secondly, even though I was in love with my partner, I spent an awful lot of the time with huge crushes on other men. I don't just mean "ooh he's tasty", I mean serious crying at night, and desperately throwing myself at other men. Luckily, none of them ever threw back, until right at the end. These crushes lasted for months on end, and in one case, about two and a half years, a situation that was only relieved when the crushee left the country.
Is this normal? Will I keep doing it? It scares me. Was it a sign that things were wrong all along?
I'm now with someone I (again) love very much but I'm terrified of this happening again.
sorry for rambling, I hope you can help, or at least offer your wordly wisdom.

An Answer:

Your dilemma has really touched me, because I think you're being awfully hard on yourself. You're very critical and expressing guilt, yet you've maintained a ten year relationship (not easy) during which you tried your best to make things work. You then had the courage to walk away, which is very hard when you still love someone, and know it will hurt you both. But isn't that braver and fairer in the long term?

I'm wondering if your 'crushes' on other people in the later years were indeed (as you have suggested) a sign that there were problems in the relationship.  Sometimes we hope things will resolve themselves wihout us having to act, and sometimes we
try to sabotage them indirectly.  Were you perhaps doing that?

We humans are allowed to make mistakes, but it seems you are reflecting rather harshly on yours. As to whether this will happen again, there's no 'Mystic Meg' method of divining this. Thank God, because it means we can be agents of our own destinies. I can only suggest that you try to accept what you feel are your past mistakes, show yourself more kindness and let the past go.  Where's the evidence that this will happen again? It's a completely different relationship, and will have a different dynamic. 

If you are unhappy with recurring patterns in your behaviour, you might want to seek counselling. But sometimes 'repetition is the staple of life'. That is we sometimes repeat mistakes as if to practice, before changing. We learn something new each time, whilst developing and growing.

Finally, beware self-fulfilling prophecies. Worry about a relationship going wrong can lead to anxiety, and then behaviour which causes just that to happen. Have some faith in yourself and your partner, keep the relationship in the 'here and now' and enjoy the wonderful experience as it's happening.

Good luck.

By Linda.

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How Do You Let Folks Know You Are Out There?

Today's answer comes from Clare.

A Problem:

Many Blessings to you!

I am almost 40, African American and new to the world of blogging. I like to do a little writing from time to time, and I like also to take pictures and edit them, so at the suggestion of a good friend, I put together a blogspace.

But I am trying to get a feel for how it all works.

I've had my site since last October, and sometimes it feels worth the upkeep and sometimes it doesn't. Not that it is something that I have to do, but there are so many abandoned blogs out there and I'd kind of like to keep mine current.

I've been posting a combination of poems and pictures , quotes, inspirationals, and commentaries...and sometimes I get feedback, and sometimes I don't.

I really enjoy it at times, but I guess I'm just not sure whether or not it's worth the effort I put into it some days. What is the purpose of blogging? Maybe I thought it would be more interactive. I don't get a whole lot of comments, but I enjoy the exchanges when they happen.

Anyway...I'm not sure what my question is directly...perhaps it has more to do with asking general advice/suggestions on blogging. If you want to bring people in how do you go about it?

One thing I do is go blog surfing from time to time, to see who/what else is out there. If I find a blog that I enjoy, I add it do my favorites and visit as often as I like. Other than that, how else do you let folks know you are out there? It's a little lonely out there. [smile]I appreciate any insight you have to share.


An Answer:

It's a funny old thing, blogging. I don't think I'm alone in finding a tension between (a) doing it purely to please myself, but (b) wanting to reach a wider audience.

The problem, of course, is that "wider" is never enough. You find yourself getting an increase in visitors, but still you want more. Personally I find it very useful to switch OFF any facility which displays visitor numbers. You just end up obsessing about it, and wondering endlessly about the silent ones (always the majority) who arrive and leave without saying a word.

It also seems difficult to identify what will encourage people to leave comments. Some blogs seem to get tons of them on every single post, some hardly any. It may just be a function of visitor numbers - the more you have, the more likely some will be chatty - and they're always the minority. Or maybe some blog styles are more informal and therefore less intimidating. I honestly haven't a clue. It all seems rather random.

As to what the point of it all is, it depends who you are. Some want an outlet for thoughts and feelings that would otherwise be bottled up. Some want to reach out and touch people, get a reaction, be validated in some way. Some just feel a drive to write, to use words, to express themselves. For most it's probably a complicated mix of many motivations.

I've had a look at your blog, and it's great. You're a good writer. I like what you do with words. Obviously this is a good start - a quality product in the first place.

But here are some other tips which should help you to make new blogging friends. As for how many, that's in the hands of the Gods. But follow these suggestions and you should definitely see some difference:

(1) Visit other people's blogs, find the ones you genuinely like, and leave thoughtful appreciative comments. For heaven's sake don't carpet-bomb people with generic messages like "Hi, I love your blog, come and see mine." It looks (and probably is) insincere.

(2) Link to the blogs you like, from your blog. People have ways of finding out who is linking to them. They like it. They might come and see what you're saying about them. But again, be genuine.

(3) Email people you like. But accept that a lot of people get zillions of emails, or are email-shy. They might not email you back. Don't be offended.

(4) Follow links from the blogs you like. Chances are you'll find other great bloggers with similar interests to you. Really the best thing you can be aiming for is NOT to be big and successful and popular, but to be making contact with people you have stuff in common with. These are the ones who will bring your blog to life. The internet is a fabulous place for making new amicable acquaintances.

I'm sure other people will come up with loads more suggestions.

Just remember: It's only the internet. It's only a blog. It's not real life. But it's great if you like having imaginary friends.

Clare's blog is Boob Pencil.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm 25 and Still Single

Today's answer comes from Mike.

A Problem:

I'm starting to think there is something really wrong with me. I'm 25 and still single. I don't mean single now, I mean I have always been single. I don't seem to attract many guys and the ones I do are losers, stoners, non English speakers and old men. The really old kind, the kind who could be my dad. Ewww. As the years pass by my standards slowly drop but I don't think they'll ever get that low. What am I doing wrong?

An Answer:

Dear lovely lonely lady,

In order to get to the bottom of what - if indeed anything - you are "doing wrong", we would have to have a longer conversation than this medium will allow. So let me fire off some theories based on past experience/observation, and let's hope that some of what I say might be relevant to your own particular situation.

My biggest hunch is that you might be over-thinking your situation, and that this state of mind might be putting off would-be suitors.

Are you trying too hard? Because if you are, then I have to say - and forgive the harshness of tone here - that "desperate" is NOT a good look. People can spot it a mile off, you know. It's one of life's more unfair rules - because, if all you think you are doing is clearly signalling your availability, then why should that put people off? Availability is good, surely?

However, the trouble with this strategy is that people can see it for what it is: a strategy. This might lead them into feeling manipulated, or boxed into a corner. Because if you come on too strong, too quickly, you are effectively short-cutting all the little stages that people go through when they're deciding whether they are attracted to each other.

I saw this happen very recently. A friend of mine was approached at work by an extremely attractive woman - a real "catch" - whom he had only just met. In physical terms, she couldn't have been more perfect for him. And yet, this woman blew it completely - by acting "foxy" in an all too obviously staged way, and by asking him to spend the weekend with her in another city, after less than five minutes of conversation. The trouble was: she hadn't attempted to get to know him as a person before leaping in for the kill. This made my friend feel that, essentially, he could have been anyone, and that this woman's supposed attraction to him was entirely arbitrary. His response was to avoid her at all times after their initial meeting.

The other problem with the "blatantly signalling availabilty" approach is that, unfortunately, you WILL attract the losers, the chancers, the people much less attractive than you are... in other words, the desperate crowd. They've sensed a window of opportunity, and are wagering that you might just settle for anyone... even (shudder!) them.

My remedy? Tone your approach down a little. Give the guys some breathing space. Don't signal your underlying agenda. Indeed, try to put all of your expectations on ice. Just take things slowly, and incrementally. Chat to them. Find out about them. Allow them to feel relaxed in your company. For if you can demonstrate that you are at ease with yourself, comfortable within your own skin, confident but not arrogant, open but not wide open, then men will find that VERY attractive.

But there's another danger: that of "playing hard to get". Yes, it's good to hold certain things back - to increase your mystique, your allure, and to hook the guy's interest so that he wants to find out more about you. However, "playing" at anything is a fatal move. Most men HATE it when women attempt to play these kinds of games with them. Men are, by and large, pretty straightforward types... and because of this, they can view "feminine wiles" as baffling at best, terrifying at worst. So, once again, the best strategy is to have NO strategy.

Alternatively, let's look at the opposite possibility. Maybe you aren't trying hard ENOUGH? Is your shyness and lack of self-confidence being misread as aloofness? Are you giving would-be suitors the impression that you're somehow positioning yourself as "above" them? Or are you the girl hiding in the corner, staring at the floor, body language completely closed?

If any of this is true, then you need to build up your confidence levels. Again, I'd start by ditching that "I don't want to be single" agenda. It sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me on this. Focus instead on having a good time with your friends in social situations. Keep your attention on the crowd that you're with, fully immersed in their company, and making an active contribution. This way, the un-selfconscious ease and enjoyment of life which you display will reveal you at your most attractive. As you toss your head back and laugh at your best friend's funny story, someone on the other side of the room may well be clocking you, and thinking: she looks like a fun person to be around. Keep practising this, and people will start to come forward.

In my time, I've been the guy with "desperate" tattooed on his forehead, and I've also been the nervous wallflower hiding in the corner. Ironically, it was only when I decided to abandon my quest for The Perfect Partner completely, that he turned up - at a particularly inconvenient stage in my life, it has to be said. With my agenda freshly torn up, and no games left to play, all I could do was respond naturally and instinctively to the situation as it really was, not as I might previously have projected it to be. Nearly twenty-one years later, we're still together. My longest relationship before that was about three months. Go figure!

So, believe me, anything can happen - if you only let it. The very best of luck to you.

Mike's blog is Troubled Diva.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I Think I Might Have Killed My Dad's Cat

Today's answer comes from Clare.

A Problem:

i think i might have killed my dads cat. about 5 years ago he went on holiday and asked me to look after his cats. one of them, known as gin, was ill and had to be given tablets. one day i returnd from work to find her spread eagle in fron of the patio door, foaming at the mouth and her heart beating very rapidly.. i rang the vet who said bring her in asap, but in my haste i banged her head on the door to the cat box and when we got to the vets she was dead. i feel really guilty about it.. i rang my dad to tell him the bad news and apparently it totally ruined his holiday and he went to his room and cried all day. should i tell him what really happened? or keep quiet.

An Answer:

I'm no vet, so I don't know the cause of your dad's cat's death. But you say she was ill, she was on tablets, and was clearly already in dire straits by the time you reached her.

So it surely seems likely that the illness killed her rather than a light bang on the head, doesn't it? I'm struggling to imagine a way you could administer a fatal blow to a cat by putting it in a pet carrier, and believe me I've had plenty of cat-incarceration experience.

But let's suppose for a minute that you did kill the cat. It was an accident, and it was several years ago. You didn't mean any harm, and your dad already knew the cat was ill. He has been through the grieving process now, and there isn't any point re-opening an old wound for the sake of something that maybe, possibly, probably-didn't happen.

Give yourself a hug and forget about it, you daft thing. You are officially pardoned.

Clare's blog is Boob Pencil.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Problems

(use the comments box)

I Lost My Mum

Today's answer comes from Zinnia.

The Problem:

I have been having the hardest time lately. I lost my mum to brain cancer this last September, and I have been struggling to deal with this hole in my life. I walk around, and I look at other people, and it makes me angry that they have mums and I don't anymore, through no fault of my own. Christmas was a really family holiday for us, and now it's going to be crap without her. My brothers want to try and do the holidays the way she did, in her honor, but honestly, I just want to crawl in a hole and come out after Easter. Is this normal?

The Answer:

I am so sorry to hear of your mum's death. The loss of such a close relative does indeed leave a hole in your life. And, yes, bereavement can be particularly hard to bear during traditional family times such as the holidays.

The question 'is this normal?' has a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is 'yes, it's entirely normal for you to feel the way you feel'. The long answer is that anything can be normal in grief. The response of your brothers is every bit as normal as your response. The problem is that their response is different from yours, which can be hard for all of you to handle. But it's important to remember that whatever you feel is normal, valid and worthy of respect.

Different people respond differently to bereavement. Some lose their appetites, others can't stop eating. Some can't get to sleep at night, others find it hard to wake up in the morning. Some can't bear to be alone, others shun company. Some feel sad, some numb, some angry. And responses may change over time. All of these responses, and many others, are normal.

It can be hard to talk about a bereavement with others who are also affected by it. You know what your brothers want; do they know what you want? Can you figure out a middle ground between you? If you find it hard to talk about this with them, is there a good friend who could help you to think through your options? It's important for each of you to be able to grieve the way you feel like grieving. This may require compromise on all sides – which is not always easy at the best of times, and often very difficult at the worst of times.

So be gentle with yourself, and with those around you. Encourage them to be gentle with you. You're all in it for the long haul, because grief has no sell-by date. The loss of someone as fundamental to your life as your mum can affect you for many years to come, particularly at emotive times like Christmas and Easter.

If life seems too difficult at any point in this process, I would recommend bereavement counselling. I'm not an advocate of running to counsellors and therapists at every opportunity, but I do think they have a useful role to play in certain situations. And I can tell you, from personal experience, that a trained bereavement counsellor can offer a great deal of help and support.

But it may be that you can find your own way through. And there is a way for you. I don't know what it is, and neither do you, but take one step at a time and you will find out. Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote these wise words: 'The dark today leads into light tomorrow; there is no endless joy… and yet no endless sorrow.' Life is a blend of both. May you soon rediscover your joy.

Zinnia's blog is Real E Fun, where she writes of her experiences as (among other things) a humanist funeral celebrant.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sparks and Mutual Desire: Heartbreak?

Today's answer is posted by Clare.

The Problem:

I have recently met a truly wonderful woman, who has had a deep and profound effect on my life. Which is wonderful. And the feeling(s) seem to be mutual. However she is the mother of two children and also with a partner. I feel like I'm on the edge of a cliff, I have really fallen for this woman although we don't really know each other that well (lots of sparks and mutual desire), her relationship with her partner seems to be going downhill/stagnent. and much though I want to have a meaningful and hopefully long term relationship with her, I don't want to cause any damage to the kids or cause yet more heartbreak with her and her partner.

She really has had a very deep effect on me and it seems that we would be great together. Everyone in the realtionship knows whats going on so it seems we are all either going to be grown up about it or there's going to be some kind of stand off or breakdown or summit. i don't know, I just feel like an emotional blackmailist because I've fallen in love with someone I may never be able to be with. and I really want her.

Highly confused. and never in this situation before.

The Answer:

When I first read this I thought "Hmmm, this is a difficult one." But then I read it again and realised, it's not. Not from my perspective, anyway. It's very easy to give advice on what you should do. What will be hard will be acting on it. I'm willing to bet that you won't follow my advice, but you did ask, so here goes.

Funnily enough, I'm currently reading a book on a related subject. I was in one of those gorgeous pubs that have sofas and bookcases (heaven!) the other day, and one spine in particular screamed out to me: "The Jewish Guide to Adultery." How could I not pick it up with a name like that? Particularly when the author has such a delicious name as Schmuley Boteach. I'm really hoping his surname is pronounced "Buttock". I stole the book and brought it home with me. Don't worry, I'll post it back when I'm done.

Anyway, Mr Boteach (a Rabbi, no less) says that adultery is a normal human impulse, that monogamy is unnatural and that the only way to make marriage work is to convince yourself your spouse is in fact your illicit lover. I think he has a point.

And my point is that there is something inherently attractive about the non-spouse lover, even when it is not technically frowned upon, i.e. in the case of the open relationship. There's also something incredibly beguiling about having somebody in a committed partnership risk everything by taking you into their bed.

You say "[I] have really fallen for this woman although we don't really know each other that well"... exactly. It's exciting, getting to know someone new. It sets your pulse racing. It's the one thing you have that her partner will never have: Novelty. BUT this is a short-term thing. The first flush of a relationship is always a good bit. Not to be sneezed at when there are no other constraints, but when you are in the position of breaking up a long-term thing... DANGER, WILL ROBINSON.

She will feel guilty. You will feel guilty. Her ex-partner, no matter how amicable and sensible on the surface, will feel deep pain and resentment, as will the children. There will be massive pressure on your relationship to succeed, to validate the upheaval it has caused. But the passion will fade, because it always does. And what will you be left with? Picking up the pieces of a family that is not your own. Forever being the bad guy.

My advice is to wait. If this is the Real Deal, if it really is so important that it's worth contributing to the pain of others, then it is also worth waiting for. Let her sort her life out. If she is going to leave her partner, let her do it independent of her feelings for you. And let her do it BEFORE embarking on something new with you. Give her, and everybody else, some breathing space.

My guess would be that if you were to put this aside, get on with your life, wait until she was genuinely free, you might find your (and her) feelings were not quite so strong.

My other guess is that you will never find out, because you will not follow this advice. Because there are times when our animal urges are so strong, our common-sense heads fly laughing out the window. But do let me know. And I hope you manage to work something out, for everybody's sake.

Clare's blog is Boob Pencil.

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