Goals and the Addict
There is no type of person more goal oriented in the world than the addict. The only goal is to use drugs and/or alcohol. Steps along this way involve acquiring the product or acquiring the means with which to acquire the product. Achieving this goal supersedes friends, family, relationships, jobs, and even physical safety. It’s not that the addict cannot achieve goals; it’s that the addict only knows how to achieve one goal repeatedly.
Make Specific Goals
Determine exactly what you want. Not just “money,” but how much? Not just “buying a home,” but what size and where? Not just “a new job,” but what qualities do you want in a job? Unless you know what you’re looking for, you won’t know it when you see it.
Figure Out Which Goals Should Come First
Would one goal help achieve another? I knew that getting a university degree would help me get a job that would help me achieve financial stability, which would help me get the health care I needed. If you can’t figure out the order in the manner of utility, which goals are the quickest to accomplish? Knocking out a few of them quickly will give you momentum to go after your others.
Organize Each Goal into a Series of Steps Break a goal down into as many steps as possible. If you’re forgetful, get a stack of index cards and write a step on each one. This way, you only have to look at one step at a time. You won’t be daunted by the complete list of tasks. Also, you get to add in cards when the surprise steps hit you. Carry the card of the step you’re working on with you. I added my school cards in with a bunch of other errands and laundry cards. Now I keep a calendar of events through the coming year. But you don’t need to start there; planning out your day is a good way to start.
Reevaluate Your Goals
Once you accomplish one goal, you should take a look at your others. What you will find is that achieving goals in your life will open doors for you that you didn’t know existed. You may find out about entirely new professions you didn’t know about beforehand, or change your ideas about what you want to do with your life. It’s okay to change direction; it’s only dangerous not to have a direction at all.
Set the Bar Low When You Can
Especially for material goals, a low, attainable goal is best. It’s a lot better to start small and have the end be in sight. If it’s too high, you may need to break it down into smaller goals. Do you really want a Ferrari, or will a reliable Toyota do the trick? Do you really want a house or will a really nice apartment suit your needs? When you’re specific and realistic about your goals, the path to them materializes in front of you.
My first financial goal was to get rid of my outstanding debt. I wasn’t thinking about retiring or living the lush life. I wanted to make more money so I could pay back what I owed. After my debt problem was solved, I tried to think of how much money I wanted.
I want to be a millionaire, was my first thought. But why? What I really wanted was to be able to retire at some point and live off my earnings. Being a millionaire was way too abstract an idea for me to accomplish. I’m fine with working until I’m sixty-five, but I’m quitting that day and retiring with what I have.
Then I saw that I didn’t have to make a lot of money quickly, but I needed a better job that would help me attain these goals. I didn’t have to make the money in two years. I still had thirty years from the time I set the goal. So I knew that in a job I would need to make enough to save at least 10 percent per year in a 401(k) or an IRA.
At the beginning of 2007, I wasn’t close to these goals. I was working in a job I liked that didn’t pay me much more than I needed to get by. I kept my head up and looked for other work. If I couldn’t find a better job, I’d find an additional one.
Two jobs came my way. One was a well-paying freelance job that lasted for two weeks, and the other was a
minimum-wage job working at a comedy club. Between the two of these extra jobs, I managed to save $4,000. It wasn’t much, but it was better than I had done since the ’90s. My confidence and self-worth increased, and out of nowhere, I got a job interview and nailed it. I dumped that money into an IRA.
How much control we have over our financial future is debatable. I can control how much I save and put away. I can’t control what the economy will be like in 2034, when I plan to retire; what if I do have a million dollars and that’s how much my monthly rent is? Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus the day before and think I should’ve blown all the money. I can control what portion I save, but how much it will be worth when I retrieve it is not in my control.
Finding Your Inner A-Team
In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.
—From the show’s opening
The A-Team was one of the best “And They Solve Crimes, Too” shows on television in the ’80s. There were any number of these programs on then, within all kinds of parameters. A Guy Has a Super-Intelligent Car That Talks, A Trucker Has
a Pet Monkey, A Guy Leads a Team of Stuntmen, and all of them solve crimes. But creator Stephen J. Cannell hit some sociological genius with The A-Team.
Every plot in the series was full of holes, but the lessons learned were solid. The team, supposedly in hiding, drove around in a very distinctive customized van. Murdock routinely escaped from various institutions but was never so insane as to jeopardize a mission. And, most unbelievably, for the thousands of rounds they fired, they never hit a single person. But what we have to learn from them will help us socialize with the Normies.
Interacting with the Normies is a difficult part of sobriety. If we didn’t learn how to deal with them the first time, you learn to deal with them now.
Normies, at first viewing, seem like strange creatures. They leave beers unfinished. They open a bottle of scotch, have a drink, and don’t drink from the same bottle again for months. They can keep a stash of wine in the cellar. They don’t drink if they’re about to drive or operate heavy machinery. They take the prescribed dosage on the side of the bottle instead of the whole bottle at once. Weird, huh? But wait, it gets weirder and weirder.
Normies socialize sober. They go out on dates, to dinner parties, celebrate holidays without ever taking a drink or smoking pot. Many of them don’t drink unless they’re at a wedding, and they only go to weddings they’re invited to. I know, it sounds like an urban legend, like the story about the old lady who tried to dry off her poodle in the microwave, but it’s totally true.
Hannibal is the planner of the team. He’s a master of disguise, rarely spotted by his enemies whilst walking among them.
If you’re a Hannibal, your life is orderly. You know where everything is. You don’t lose important items. You make appointments and keep them, never showing up late. You can’t stand indecisiveness on a group level. Your polar opposite is Murdock.
As an Addict. You were the one who kept the scale and weighed everything out perfectly. When it was time for a beer run, you designated what would be purchased and collected the money from everyone. You rarely ran dry. You were an overachieving alcoholic, showing up first to work, often in a managerial position, and leaving last.
As a Recovering Addict. You’re going to be happiest with service work. You need to run meetings, have sponsees, and be a part of organizational activities. It irritates you when you see meetings being run in an inefficient manner. Step work makes sense to you, but you like to break each step down into twelve more steps, and add other steps that were left out.
Pros. Hannibal’s organizational skills are of good use. Paperwork, forms, and responsibility come naturally to the Hannibal. Less likely to relapse if kept busy. Confident, assertive, and enthusiastic.
Cons. You have a hard time taking direction. Asking for help is your biggest problem. You think your way is best, and it’s hard for you to conceive otherwise. Idleness is unbearable. Stubborn.
B.A. is the muscle of the outfit. When it’s time to duke it out, this is the man who’s called on. He’s also the driver and mechanic. However, B.A. has a debilitating fear of flying.
If you’re a B.A., people are intimidated by you. You usually get your way, without an argument. Earlier in life, you were likely tormented by a parent, sibling, or neighborhood bully, but once you surpassed that, no one would dare cross you. Your polar opposite is Face.
As an Addict. No one dared burn you in a drug deal, although some of them were afraid you were a cop. You were a bouncer or doorman, and broke up many more fights than you’ve ever been in. You’ve made bongs out of everything but other bongs. Some of those bongs had mechanical parts.
As a Recovering Addict. It’s hard for you to find a sponsor who will be straight with you. You need to be pushed, but many people are afraid of your demeanor. When you find your right sponsor, your progress will be rapid. You have a hard time in job interviews, mostly because you scare the person interviewing you.
Pros. When there’s something you want, you go directly after it. There’s no hesitation or pussyfooting around. Your goals, once realized, are targeted and achieved.
Cons. Fear, ironically enough. While few things will scare a B.A. ,what does scare you completely dominates you in the situation. Your strength is thus rendered helpless. Has trouble with intimacy. Refuses to back down in situations even when it would greatly benefit you to do so.
Murdock was the pilot of the bunch. On the show, he served as comic relief as the Hilarious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Guy. Aren’t shell-shocked vets hilarious?
Murdock is the prankster, the artist, the performer, and the jester. Everyone loves having you in the group. Your polar opposite is Hannibal.
As an Addict. You did copious amounts of drugs that were given to you by those who loved having you around. You were the “fun” drunk. You likely had a nickname that people shouted when you entered the bar. Though you angered many people who were the brunt of your pranks, you escaped without a scratch.
As a Recovering Addict. Chaos still rules. You have poor organizational skills, are late often, and lose important items. A creative outlet is
imperative for your sobriety, but you may have a hard time acquiring the necessary items, bookings, or gallery space in which to showcase your talents. People think the stories of your bottom moments are hilarious.
Pros. There’s always room for Murdock. Social groups accept you quickly. You have enormous amounts of creative and artistic talent. People love to hear you talk in meetings.
Cons. Are rarely taken seriously as a person with wants and needs. As a heterosexual man, women often want you around but just as a friend. It’s hard for you to find a job, even though your friends love having you around.
Face is the charmer. He was the one who talked the A-team in and out of any situation. No matter the situation, how high security it was, Face always found his way through locked doors and restricted access areas.
You can talk anyone out of anything, and you always get your way in the end. You get jobs based on the strength of your interview, whether or not you said you were qualified. Your polar opposite is B.A.
As an Addict. You were never arrested. Stopped by the police, yes, but always managed not to go downtown. Dealers fronted you drugs, even when they didn’t want to; somehow you convinced them.
As a Recovering Addict. When told what to do by a sponsor, you may not be able to resist bargaining for something else. You’ll be able to reenter society, as people treat you as a hero for kicking your addictions.
Pros. Despite your checkered past, people trust Face when you asks for responsibility, loans, or gifts. You’re the first one to get a second chance.
Cons. Acquiring positions in life and material items, Face is never satisfied. You can’t enjoy them; you only enjoy talking people into giving them up. There are never enough toys or joys for Face. Finding emotional value in life is difficult. You may find yourself in a position in which you do not have the skills to succeed and must further talk your way out of a situation.
Yo, dude, all this is great, but how the hell am I supposed to use this knowledge?
You see, you’re supposed to have aspects of all four of these characters to be a complete person. Without your Hannibal, you’ll never be able to get things done. Without your B.A., you’ll be walked on by others and not be able to improvise in difficult situations. Without your Murdock, you’ll never be able to live in the moment and truly enjoy life. Without your Face, you’ll have trouble getting people to trust you.
Figure out which area is weak, and make that team member exercise. Start small.
If your Hannibal is weak, make paying your bills and being on time your priority. Clean your room; it needs it. Even if it’s cleaner than it was when you were a junkie, it’s not clean
enough. Just because there are no trash cans filled with puke doesn’t mean it’s clean.
If your Murdock is weak, take up a creative endeavor. Play an instrument or start a journal. Be patient. You don’t have to make it public; you don’t need to go so far as to do a poetry reading or sign up for open mike night with all the Dylan wannabes. There’s a real danger of thinking, “Because It Happened to Me, It’s Interesting.” Many artists fall into this trap, and write boring memoirs and screenplays. If your B.A. is weak, you need to work on your physical body. Whether it’s yoga, martial arts, or weightlifting, you’ll get more in touch with your physical assertiveness. It’s very common to gain a lot of weight in sobriety. This weight gain, especially after years of drug-induced skinniness, can lead to an inferior self-image. Getting in shape will positively affect how you see yourself, and thus, how the world around you sees you. If your Face is weak, be more social. Make a new friend. Reunite with an old one. As an addict, there was so much socialization done around drugs and alcohol, it’ll be good for you to relearn how to talk about normal things. Be patient. Some of your friends will rattle on incessantly about how brilliant their kid is even if he can’t use a toilet, or about how expensive owning a house can be. Remember the stoner who, every single time he got high, talked about a particularly good bag of pot he bought ten years before?
Achieving Your Goals the Lee Marvin Way
Point Blank is one of my favorite Lee Marvin movies. It’s hard to choose between his role as the biker in The Wild One or in the weird midwestern mafia flick Prime Cut or any of his other fine films. But one that sticks out to me is Point Blank.
In this film, Lee Marvin is after $93,000 that was his share of some unspecified heist. What stood out for me was his use of a step method to get his money back. He calmly yet violently moved from one step to the next in the quest to retrieve the money owed him.
We have two main lessons to learn from this: Be specific in your goal making, and be ardent with each step. Marvin doesn’t look to get any more than a specific amount. He’s not interested in getting $100,000, he wants what’s coming to him. His resolve goes no further than what he needs to do for that part of his journey.
When I got sober, I wanted my life to improve. That’s a very vague goal to have, so nonspecific that I may not notice or achieve satisfaction when it does happen. Think of your goals as a location where you want to be. Would you get in a car without knowing where you were going? Well, maybe. If you’re reading this book, you likely have. But it didn’t turn out well, did it? Would you try to drive to Boston from California by heading vaguely east without looking it up in an atlas or on a map? That’s not a good idea, either. So I had to figure out exactly what I wanted for myself.
Getting sober is going to give you a lot of time that you used to spend staring at the TV in the bar. You have time to get most things in life done that you want to do. But first, you need to figure out what those things are.
I knew I needed more money. I was making around $10 an hour. That’s not enough to live well on in San Francisco.I lived in substandard housing, in one of the tiniest apartments that I had ever lived in. My health was iffy at best, and I needed a better medical plan. Money won’t buy you happiness, but poverty will make you want to kill yourself.
So how much did I want? The last time in my life that I had enough money to cover all my personal expenses I was making $40K per year. Unfortunately, instead of spending that at the dentist and putting money away in an IRA,I spent more than $15,000 that year on bars, cab rides, and Vegas trips; the rest of it, I wasted. The point is, $40K a year became my goal.
No one would give me that kind of money in the job market at the time. Those days were past. I needed to get some new skills or qualifications in order to get the job I wanted. I needed either more training or more education.
What would Lee Marvin do? When he needed his $93,000, he had nothing but one address of one person who was slightly involved in the old caper. He went from there, step by step, to figure out what he needed to do.
One of the job requirements I couldn’t fulfill was a BA from a university. I had dropped out of college my senior year, many years before, with the idea that I would go back, but I never did. I either had time or money but never both. If people wanted to buy bad excuses and shitty reasons, I could’ve started a superstore. There was always something keeping me from going back, and most of it came down to that when I got off work, I wanted to drink all night. The most embarrassing part of this is that I had dropped out my senior year. I had less than a year to go.
Every other option I explored would take more than a year to complete. Various apprenticeships and training
programs took longer than a year. The quickest action I could take to improving my job outlook was finishing school.
San Francisco State was the school that would graduate me the quickest. I had a lot of resentments about my previous time there, and with various faculty members from my department who were still there. I had to get over these problems. I had been carrying around grudges from ten-year-old incidents, and they were hindering me from achieving my goals. Drunk Me would’ve not gone back because of those resentments, but this was Sober Me who was trying to get into school.
Getting back in was a mess. On the university website, there were forms for new students and transfer students, but none for drunk students who dropped out in 1992 and wanted to go back twelve years later. I knew they would want transcripts from the previous schools, records I didn’t have, but I couldn’t let anything stop me.
I decided I would take getting back into school one day at a time, just as they say to take sobriety when you’re a newcomer to recovery. I didn’t have to get back into school with one click of an Internet button; I would be able to get in over a period of days, months, or years, whatever it took, but I resolved to do something for this quest every day.
My daily tasks ranged from short phone calls to long forms. Every day, I had a number to call to get a transcript, to set up an appointment with a guidance counselor, or to go down to San Francisco State in person to stand in a line for an hour. Since I had started school in the ’80s, my records had not been kept on computers; they were kept on what was called microfiche, the high-tech version of microfilm. I was lucky that the people at all three of my schools were able to find them. I pictured them in some warehouse, akin to the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where my college files were
located right next to the ark of the covenant. Usually I spent five to fifteen minutes a day working on my plan.
One day, I was in. I received an email confirmation that said I had successfully reentered SF State. I was so excited, I forgot for a minute that I was only in, and I hadn’t yet taken any of the classes. Getting in was only the beginning.
I looked online at the graduation requirements and saw that the program had radically changed since I’d been away. I had no idea which classes to take. Again, I felt like giving up,but I rallied up my inner Lee Marvin and set to the task of figuring out which classes to take.
I had only started on the journey. Once I figured out what I had to take, I had to go to the classes. Once I was in the classes, I had to do all the work and show up to all the lectures. Once I was done with the classes, I had to take the remaining classes. I soon saw it was a long process that would take me two years to work my way through.
There were sacrifices that were made. I couldn’t be in plays, which I had come to enjoy but which required a lot of rehearsal time. I had to cut my work hours to go to the classes that met at the most inconvenient times. I lived in the smallest room I’d ever lived in so I could afford to cut my work hours and still be able to eat.
There was one English lit class I had to take that freaked me out when I saw the syllabus. There was twice as much reading on there than I had thought there would be. There were also lots of critical essays to turn in. Writing papers for lit courses is no joke. There’s no room for bullshitting the way through. It’s definitely one of those fields in which one has to know the subject matter to pass. I didn’t see any way that I could do that much work. But I realized, in this class as well as in life, that I only had to do the work that is required of me
each week, not all of it at once. One day at a time. Take it in steps.
That’s when it really hit me what this step thing is all about. 12 Step is not some kind of random ritual to put us through; it helps us build life skills that get us through each day. It’s not only about quitting drugs and drinking, it’s about living without them, really living our lives without escapes and crutches and false security mechanisms.
Eventually, I was done. I received a diploma in the mail, with the automated signature of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had done at the age of thirty-five what many twenty-two-year-old shad done. Graduating with a BA from a state school would be a step down for a lot of people I knew, but for me it was huge.
Maybe you don’t know what goals you want to accomplish. You may have spent the recent parts of your life simply getting by day to day and working around your addiction. Take the obsession to use away, and there’s a big hole to fill in its place. The best place to start is with a simple question: What makes you happy?
Aside from drug, alcohol, and sexual experiences, what were the last times that you were happy? Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? If you can find
a pattern in all of these moments, you may find there’s something you truly enjoy.
I’m not saying that you have to do what makes you happy for a living. Maybe the opposite; many people find that a fun atmosphere is ruined by having to work in it. My favorite jobs were minimum wage jobs; if I had to do something I loved for a career, I’d probably work in a used bookstore or in a movie theater. Those jobs won’t service me through old age.
But you should find something that makes you happy, even as a hobby or a side interest. You’ll need an activity that you enjoy, whether it’s sports, video games, or playing music. It may have been a while since this one thing wasn’t getting high, but it will be in your memory somewhere.
Your goals should include these activities in your life. It’s not wise only to work, with no personal reward. You only get one life, and you should enjoy it. But rather than morally and physically destructive activities, now you need to find constructive and spiritually rewarding ways to occupy your time.
Taking Good Care of Your Hustle Monkey
Doctors and medical professionals will tell you that underneath your skin you are full of bones, blood, and vital organs. While this may or may not be true, there are other important items of interest inside you. You are full of monkeys.
You’re likely familiar with the Gambling Monkey, Liquor Monkey, Drug Monkey, and Hump Monkey. These monkeys are the little imps that get you into trouble when you’re trying
to behave yourself. Like when you try to make it a day without incident, and soon enough, you’re down at the bar, betting on the game, drinking whiskey, and after last call, you’re going home with someone you just met and doing lines with them. It’s the monkeys that do it to you. While you’re likely in at least one 12-Step group to deal with these monkeys, there’s one monkey that you need to cage maybe more than the others: the Hustle Monkey.
The Hustle Monkey is the most insidious of all your inner primates. It’s the one most people don’t know about, yet it’s the one who is most responsible for your relapses, unless,o f course, you have the rare Relapse Monkey. If you have a Relapse Monkey, you’ll need to be in an inpatient program or the heiress to a hotel magnate. But most of us need to watch out for Hustle Monkey.
Hustle Monkey likes the act of acquiring our vices, more so than our respective vice monkeys like their vices. Hustle Monkey is the one who gets you to hit the liquor store at one minute before close. Hustle Monkey likes stealing and selling CDs for dope money. Hustle Monkey likes to buy a whole ounce of weed with the idea that you’ll sell enough to get three-eighths for free. Hustle Monkey is the most morally debilitating of all of them. It likes to steal, scam, and otherwise procure the vices and their tools.
What Does a Good Hustle Monkey Do?
Every successful self-made person has a Hustle Monkey. It’s not just limited to those with addictions. The problem is, in addicts it’s learned to use its hustle powers for mischief rather than productivity. Don’t blame it, though; after all, it’s just a monkey. What does it know?
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, started the brand with a mail-order record business in 1970.Thirty-seven years later, he’s starting the first orbital space travel passenger airline. Branson’s Hustle Monkey is the size of King Kong.
The Hustle Monkey need not be that big. Smaller monkeys have inspired people with different dreams to do taxidermy at home, open bait shops, and get MFAs. But it’s not how big your Hustle Monkey is, it’s how you get your Hustle Monkey to work for you.
Nothing worth having in life comes easy. If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking of something like heroin or a stripper’s phone number. But if you apply those same principles to other more positive ideas, you can retrain your Hustle Monkey to work for you.
Think of everything other people have that looks like a pain in the ass to get: houses, jobs, monogamous spouses. People have to work for those things. It’s the way our American culture works: the only incentive for breaking your back and depleting your psyche every day is so you can have the necessities of life. Some people think you should be given everything you need to live. We call them socialists. If America’s founders thought this way, they would’ve said somewhere that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If this was important to them, they would’ve written it down somewhere, in pen . . . . Oh wait, they did. But this isn’t about politics, it’s about you. You, too, can have all these things.
Think of what you went through to score dope with no money, to shoot up with no rig and only a plastic spoon in sight, and to get out of the house while wearing the ankle monitor. To normal people, this would seem like a world of trouble. They wouldn’t know the first thing about any of this. To us, it seems like the normal ins and outs of everyday life. What I’m trying to get across to you is this idea: What is one man’s short con is another man’s thesis paper.
Think of some simple scam, like Brick In A Box. First, you have to find an empty box that used to contain something like a camcorder that you could resell; how many times have you looked to only find boxes for Pop-Tarts and tampons? Then, you have to find a brick, of course, never around when you need one. Then you have to find some mark who’s dumb enough to buy it without looking inside. Sure, it works, but it takes up a lot of time and trouble, all for $20. You likely would’ve made more than that working for minimum wage. But that fact never stopped you. You had that incentive of scoring dope at the end of it all, but it’s the Hustle Monkey inside you that kept you in the moment of one step to the next in the face of being dope sick.
These are the same qualities your Hustle Monkey can use to get you through the more legitimate areas of your life. If you can have this same approach to hunting for one job after another, and interviewing fearlessly, you will get the job you want. If you hunt for the right fixer-upper, and are willing to restore it to livable conditions, you will get the house you want. If you can focus on making your partner happy, in the face of temptation and live selflessly, you can maintain a monogamous relationship.
And no, you’re not getting a new monkey. You’re keeping the same old one. You’re still an alcoholic, a drug addict,
or whatever the case may be. Retraining the Hustle Monkey takes overt effort, and a strength of will that makes your obsessive cravings for drugs look like a weekend hobby. But first things first. You need to come up with some goals for yourself. Before you send the Hustle Monkey to work, you need to find out what you want from life.