Am I beautiful yet?

If you had that house… car… bottle… jar… Your lovers would look like movie stars!

Every two or three days, I see an article or blog post or forwarded inspirational quote about beauty. It’s usually something affirming like…

“You are beautiful, whether you know it or not.”

“We are all beautiful.”

“Everyone is beautiful to somebody.”

It’s cheerful stuff. It builds the self-esteem, makes people feel valued, and spreads joy and happiness across the internet.

It’s also bullshit…

I live in Hollywood where beautiful people seem to congregate like roaches in your first apartment… you can’t get rid of them!

But Hollywood isn’t the real world… it’s the one I live in but it’s not real! My neighbor across the hall is a Russian clothes designer named Boris. He’s beautiful in some “can’t figure out why” kind of beauty. Maybe he’s more exotic with his silver hair and leather pants that look like the seats from a ’78 VW Bug… the ones with the tiny little ventilation holes all over them. Anyone that wears leather pants in the summer in beautiful in their own right. There’s beauty is some forms of insanity…

But in reality … there’s more people that look like me… middle aged and average. So why do we use the word as a catch-all for any sort of positive attribute?

Nobody says, “Everybody has a pleasant laugh.” Nobody says, “Everyone is athletic to somebody.” Nobody says, “You are an amazing writer, whether you know it or not.” I keep waiting, but they never say it.

Beauty is the only trait that everyone gets free access to. Why?

Because we have created a culture that values beauty above all other innate traits…for women, at least. Men are generally valued by their success, which is seen as a result of talent and hard work, despite how much it depends on luck and knowing the right people. There’s a lot of ugly guys with beautiful women …. but it doesn’t work in reverse!

So long before I was born… society decided that everyone is beautiful… because if everyone is beautiful or everyone can be beautiful or everyone is beautiful to someone, it’s okay to base our entire civilization around a worldwide game of Hot or Not.

Think about it … can you remember surfing the web for “ugly porn”… no, I didn’t think so…. Pornography generates billions of dollars a year selling you a sexual experience with people that are, in terms of looks, permanently out of your league. My neighbor is a porn mega star … I know what I’m talking about on this one!

Listen to me … Let go of “beautiful”. Not everyone can be beautiful, just like not everyone can climb Everest or play saxophone or be a good kisser or tolerate reading my blog.

I know what you mean when you say “Everyone is beautiful.” You mean that everyone is valuable, everyone has worth, everyone has good qualities that make them interesting and important and someone to be loved. And if we could reclaim the word and make it mean that, I’d say keep at it.

I want to tell you something, whoever you are. I don’t know if you’re beautiful, funny, smart, friendly, musical, caring, diligent, athletic, or if you make a mean crème brûlée. But I know this:

You are valuable.

You are important.

You are interesting.

You are worth loving.

So forget about “beautiful”. It’s become an ugly word anyway. Just be you and I’ll be me!

This is my journey… this is my life!

Rob Cantrell

Stop wasting time with the wrong people…

I’ve been in college or stoned my entire adult life… that isn’t true. Most of the time I was both…. The stuff I remember is only useful on Jeopardy. Remember that Mormon guy a few years ago that kept winning week after week? I’m him but in a caffeinated Jewish way…

I remember hearing a factoid a while back that said that your income is destined to become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

At the time, that bothered me. Outside of my family, I was hanging out with some folks who weren’t exactly rolling in dough. So to me, this factoid said:

  1. Dude, you’re going to be poor

  2. Dude, if you want out, you’re going to have to ditch your friends and phony up to some rich people, which is lame

  3. Dude, if you do that, your new social circle probably won’t say “dude” at all

But it got worse.

Your weight is destined to become the average of the five people you’re around most. Your habits (smoking, drinking, etc.) will correlate with those folks. Your level of marital satisfaction, of outside friendship, of ability to sing every song ever written by Joni Mitchell? All are tied to some degree to those of your peers.

I knew I was in trouble

The thing is, I’m a chameleon. I have a strong internal compass, but I also pick up external, cosmetic things from people very quickly, which is probably why I’m pretty good at building rapport.

I’ll eat dinner with Canadians and pick up their vocal inflections. I’ll have an Italian roommate for a weekend retreat and develop a pasta habit.

So given that I had a lot of broke friends, what did that say about the forecast for my income?

The bad news about the factoid is that, from what I can tell, it seems to be totally true. If you only associate with, talk with, and think about interactions with losers, guess what you’re likely to become?

The familiar way of saying it is that If you lie down with dogs, you’re gonna get fleas.

3 Signs You’re Hanging With the Wrong Crowd

You start doing things you wouldn’t normally do: All of sudden you find yourself partaking in activities and associating with people, that just a few months earlier, would not be acceptable. Maybe you’re drinking too much, lying more, or stretching your integrity. Perhaps your job or grades are in jeopardy or you start to doubt your marriage in a way that you didn’t before. There are many ways that a friend can be a bad influence, long past the days of smoking cigarettes after homeroom.

You put your goals on hold: The goals that were once front and center, have now fallen to the backdrop of your life. You now find yourself spending a majority of your time on trivial, unproductive things… going to the bar, putting off important projects to go to a club, or constantly pushing back your priorities to grab dinner.

Your more stressed after hanging out: Friendship should be joyful and life-giving. People who use others to unload the crappy details of their lives, do not bring happiness and peace, they steal it. While sharing is an important part of friendship, you should never be made into a full-time counselor.

The good news

But the good news is that you don’t have to ditch your old buddies and suck up to Mr. and Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.

And the ultra good news is that you can aspire to associate with “successful” people instead of narrowing the focus to “rich” people. And a lot of successful people say “Dude,” like, ALL THE TIME.

I know how this looks

I know it looks like I’m saying you have to throw away people who have been in your life forever to ignore Cousin Duh, who you love even though has no current job, car, or front teeth.

I know it feels phony. I know many of you reading this are resisting the notion, thinking that you’ll be a stand-up person by staying in your current peer group and simply rising above their expectations.

In an ideal world, those of us who dig Albert Einstein would have a cup of coffee with him regularly and chat about our goals and desires. But Albert’s dead, so a real-life interaction would actually be somewhat uninspiring.

But this is the age of the internet, and there are plenty of accessible live peer candidates out there, just a few clicks away…. there really is more than Facebook and porn!

If you do this for awhile, a funny thing will happen. You’ll find that the five people you actually do interact with most often will be your five best peers, give or take.

And while you’ll still think Cousin Duh is awesome, you’ll likely find you’re less interested in hanging out with him 24/7, regardless of whether you can resist his hot chick stories and 500 TV channels.

What’s your role in my addiction?

“The alcoholic parent is not satisfied with his own childhood,” …. “He wants yours too!… When the father vanishes into alcohol, the son searches for a lost part of himself.” 

My mother is not a drinker… and has hated it everyday of her life. She explained to me as a young child the horrors of living with an alcoholic parent. She made a statement to me that I never forgot … she said… “What we experienced as children made my sister weak … but it made me tough!” Wow … what a sad outcome for children. What roles did they play to be awarded the honor of being “weak” or “tough”?

Sadly, my children were assigned roles as well… being raised by this alcoholic father was simply history repeating itself from one generation to the next. The damage done to my mother and my children as a result of addiction is painful and long lasting. When a parent misuses or abuses alcohol, it can have a profound effect on the whole family. Being a child in an alcoholic family means learning to relate to the world and the people in it in ways that are not necessarily healthy.

The alcoholic family model goes something like this ….

Little caretaker

The little caretaker role is often a carbon copy of the partner of the alcoholic. They take care of the alcoholic; getting drinks, cleaning up after the alcoholic and soothing over stressful situations and events. They are validated by approval for taking responsibility for the alcoholic and their Behavior. This little person often goes on to become a partner of an alcoholic or other dysfunctional person if they do not get treatment.

 Family hero

 The family hero role brings pride to the family by being successful at school or work. At home, the hero assumes the responsibilities that the enabling parent abdicates. By being overly involved in work or school, they can avoid dealing with the real problem at home and patterns of “workaholism” can develop. Although portraying the image of self-confidence and success, the hero may feel inadequate and experience the same stress-related symptoms as the enabler.

 Scapegoat

The scapegoat role diverts attention away from the chemically dependent person’s behavior by acting out their anger. Because other family members sublimate their anger, the scapegoat has no role model for healthy expression of this normal feeling. They become at high risk for self-destructive behaviors and may be hospitalized with a variety of traumatic injuries. Although all the children are genetically vulnerable to alcoholism, this child is often considered the highest risk because of their association with risk-taking activities and peers. Although tough and defiant, the scapegoat is also in pain.

 Lost child

 The lost child role withdraws from family and social activities to escape the problem. Family members feel that they do not need to worry about them because they are quiet and appear content. They leave the family without departing physically by being involved with television, video games, or reading. These children do not bring attention to themselves, but also do not learn to interact with peers. Many clinicians have noted that bulimia is common in chemically dependent families and feel this child is prone to satisfy their pain through eating.

 Family clown

The family clown role brings comic relief to the family. Often the youngest child, they try to get attention by being cute or funny. With family reinforcement, their behavior continues to be immature and they may have difficulty learning in school. The family clown often hides the pain with laughter and suffers with an inability to have long term relationships as an adult. 

Some of these roles may look more effective than others, but each has its own drawbacks and its own pain. From the perspective of your role, it may be hard for you to understand the pain of a brother or sister in another role. Even though their pain may not be obvious, all of these roles have potentially serious consequences.

 “The past is the past …  shouldn’t I just try to forget it and move on?”
Trying to forget the past without understanding how if affected you will usually not work and may lead to more problems. The best way to “move on” is to squarely face the past, its importance, and its meaning for you. Often this means understanding and forgiving your parents so that the healing process can begin. You can learn more about making peace with the past in several ways. Adult children of alcoholics have websites and organizations to help deal with life on life’s term.  No one has to do this alone. Learn from your past… don’t spend another day living it!

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

Is addiction only part of the problem?

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get sober and more money than I care to mention. I could always get clean… I just couldn’t stay that way. I came to believe that I would spend the rest of my life on the phone with a pharmacy trying to refill a prescription too early or at the CVS buying Merlot at 5:00 a.m…. it sucked! Why was I the only one that couldn’t get it? Why couldn’t I just be alive like everyone else? My God it was such a depressing way to live.

Maybe there was something more to my problem than just being a hopeless drug addict. Fortunately, someone finally diagnosed my problem. Yes, I am an alcoholic and drug addict…. but the problem goes much deeper than that. I also live with major depression and anxiety disorders. I’d never addressed either because I didn’t know how and I didn’t know they were destroying my life… Once I got help for the underlying source of my addictions, I could face what was happening to me.

I wasn’t a bad guy that needed to act better …. I was a sick guy that needed to get better. With the correct medications and counseling my life changed.

 If you struggle with drug or alcohol problems, there’s a strong chance that you may also be fighting depression, anxiety, mood swings or compulsive behavior. It’s not uncommon for people with mental health disorders to abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their moods or control their fears.

When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.

Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems, but there are treatments that can help. With proper treatment, support, and self-help strategies, you can overcome a dual diagnosis and reclaim your life.

In a dual diagnosis, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. To make the situation more complicated, the co-occurring disorders also affect each other and interact. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse as well. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.

Addiction is common in people with mental health problems. But although substance abuse and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are closely linked, one does not directly cause the other.

It can be difficult to diagnose a substance abuse problem and a co-occurring mental health disorder. It takes time to tease out what might be a mental disorder and what might be a drug or alcohol problem.

Complicating the issue is denial. Denial is common in substance abuse. It’s hard to admit how dependent you are on alcohol or drugs or how much they affect your life. Denial frequently occurs in mental disorders as well. The symptoms of depression or anxiety can be frightening, so you may ignore them and hope they go away. Or you may be ashamed or afraid of being viewed as weak if you admit the problem.

Why are co-occurring disorders so common among teenagers and adults with a history of alcoholism or drug abuse? This question may seem to have obvious answers, but the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse is actually very complicated. Anyone who has lived with unmanageable emotions, chronic depression or uncontrollable anxiety knows how tempting it is to numb these feelings somehow. Self-medicating with tranquilizers, booze, meth or painkillers might seem like the fastest, most effective way to get relief from mental illness.

The National Institute on Health estimates that up to 60 percent of Americans with a substance use disorder also suffer from mental illness. It also reports that as many as 10 million individuals in the US meet the criteria for at least one mental health disorder as well as a substance use disorder.

If you suspect that you or someone you love has a psychiatric disorder, a substance abuse problem or a combination of both, it’s important to get help. Co-occurring disorders can have severe consequences for the alcoholic and the family.

If you are like me getting clean won’t last because that’s only part of the problem. No one has to do this alone … there is a better life waiting on you!

This is my journey… this is my life!

Rob Cantrell

What if I fail?

Doctor, my eyes! Tell me what you see… I hear their cries… just say if it’s too late for me? Jackson Browne

I didn’t sleep last night and probably won’t tonight …

Tomorrow a new chapter in my life begins and I am consumed with self-doubt. I have the answers to everyone’s problems but suck at taking my own advice. Realizing this doesn’t lessen the anxiety and make me more determined to succeed. I feel like that guy I left in Florida …. nebulous and naked (emotionally)!

I begin counseling at a substance abuse center that is not on Skid Row… these are people that haven’t reached the depths of depravity some have… their “rock bottom” still has a six figure income attached to it! These are people like me that have enjoyed the privileges money can provide… such as cocaine and rehab.

What if I fail at this… what if I provide a view point so obscure that I damage them for life? What if they look right through me and realize I do not have any answers or that I can’t fix them… that I will never be able to provide them with individualized solutions to their “life problems”?

What if they stand up and walk out on me?

What if it all happens just as I fear?

What then?

Maybe I don’t need to have any answers… I can’t fix them. I can’t create a google “life map” that will get them from tomorrow to the grave without bumps or bruises. I can’t make anything go away that they’ve done! I can’t do shit!

The only thing I know with certainty is that I’ve got to suit up and show up and know when to shut up!

I can listen and I can share what my life was like… what happened and what it’s like now.

That’s all I’ve got to give.

I hope it’s enough…

This is my journey… this is my life!

Rob Cantrell

Don’t believe everything your mind tells you about a relapse!

OK …. you’ve relapsed … so what? You’re disappointed and a lot of other people are too. Believe me … you’re not the first to get off track. You’re still alive and you can put it behind you. The world has not ended and Santa will still be stopping by next December… Lighten up and get over yourself!

Why can’t I stop this? I will never be able to quit. Others have done it why can’t I?

I asked myself these questions over and over each time I attempted to get sober. I did everything humanly possible to succeed except the right things… my belief system needed changing… as well as a lot of everything else!

Would you like to know a startling fact…. Statistics show that for every 100 people that make a conscious decision to stop an addictive behavior … (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, over eating, gambling … etc.) only 3 will be successful in the long run. All 100 honestly intended to change but simply didn’t… Was recovery impossible to achieve or were they weak?

Here are 5 relapse myths that we need to dispel right away:

 1. Relapse is a single event.

Contrary to popular belief, relapse is a process not always a single event. During that process, there are often warning signs in the recovering person’s attitude and behavior.

A relapse begins long before a person actually returns to drinking. A recovering person will usually start thinking and behaving in the same way they did before, while in the grips of their addiction. They can experience a shift in attitude and decide that recovery just isn’t as important to them as it used to be, or they could start to deny they ever had a drinking problem at all.
Learn the signs of relapse and keep it at bay. Remember why you started this recovery journey in the first place and keep some affirmations handy for when the going gets tough.
Most importantly, when you need help, reach out and get it.

2. Relapse Means Failure

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Recovery is ongoing. If you or someone you know relapses, it is completely possible to get back on the path to recovery.
A relapse cannot destroy all of the hard work you’ve put into recovery thus far. Relapse is not the end of your sobriety journey.
The difficulty of restoring recovery will often depend on how far into the relapse you’ve gotten. If you catch a relapse early enough, you may be able to benefit from a quick turn around. But if you’re deep into a relapse before it’s discovered, you may need to enter or re-enter a treatment facility. No matter the depth of your relapse, you CAN restore your sobriety and get back on the right track.

3. People Who Relapse Just Aren’t Motivated Enough

Conquering addiction requires more than just motivation. Sustaining sobriety takes an enormous amount of willpower and willingness to adapt. But anybody can relapse. And the process can be triggered by things like strong emotions, difficult situations, or tempting environments. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 years into sobriety or 20 days in. Mistakes happen, relapses happen. It has less to do with motivation and more to do with how prepared you are for the worst-case scenario. Relapse is a real threat for everyone, that’s why recovery is a lifelong journey.

4. Someone Who Relapses Just Hasn’t Hit “Bottom” Yet

There is no prerequisite “bottom”. Thinking this way perpetuates the dangerous idea that some people are not yet worthy of treatment.

If you feel like you’re sick enough to seek treatment, then by-golly you’re sick enough to seek treatment!
You don’t owe any particular amount of pain and suffering before you’re worthy of recovery. A relapse is a relapse. Anyone can slip up.
The most important part of relapse is your response. Make sure there are people holding you externally accountable for your recovery. Find support in other people who are seeking sobriety. If you have built a good support structure, people will notice changes in your behavior or if you withdraw. If you’ve prepared them for all possibilities, they will be able to intervene and help you.

5. We Shouldn’t Talk About Relapse

Did I say wrong already? Because this is so crazy wrong!

You know that expression “the best offense is a good defense”? Well it rings true in the addiction world. To avoid relapse, you should know as much about it as possible.
Talking about relapse won’t make it come about anymore than talking about a new car will make one magically appear in your driveway. How will you noticed the warning signs if you don’t even know what they are? Talk about it and talk about it often. Tell the people in your life what a relapse might look like and get them in your corner. Help them help you.
Tune into your mental state and be conscious of your behavior so that you’re able to recognize the signs of relapse. If you start seeing those signs, ask for help, sooner rather than later.

I’m not here to condone relapse. I’m here to tell you recovery is possible no matter what kind of bumps you hit along the way.

Knowledge and honesty will be your best weapons in the fight for sobriety.

Understanding the truth about relapse is the first step to avoiding one.

This is my journey … this is my life!

Rob Cantrell

Things are never the same when you start over…

I’d seen her on several occasion walking from Hollywood Boulevard to our building. Even before we passed on the sidewalk I knew her… I had seen her my entire life living in the south. She has that kind of hair Pentecostal women had when I was a kid. It’s huge and red and did I mention huge? I’m not sure how a person can maneuver through life or even the subway with hair that big… but she does.

Everything about her says 1981. She has the big Nancy Reagan glasses and the business suits in loud colors. Everything she wears is old and worn and loud… but on her it seems to work. The first time I saw her I froze … it was like I was looking into the face of Divine … a drag queen that the character Ursula from The Little Mermaid was based… but as I’ve said with badly dyed red hair….

Our encounters have always taken place on the sidewalk with her ‘yelling” baby talk to Shmuli and Kooli from a block away. The dogs love this giant person and go nuts each time they meet. Who am I to judge style or affection? There is a connection and in a neighborhood where people look through you instead of at you … I wasn’t about to squelch it. So for a few fleeting minutes she carries on with the dogs not really talking with me … and then she’s gone. Always in the shoulder padded suits and worn high heel shoes… Dear God! She could have made a great drag queen.

I didn’t know her name until Thanksgiving Day when we met in the elevator. There is something about elevators that bring out a person’s authentic self. MJ and I were dressed like Elvis impersonators with giant wigs and sunglasses and she was dressed like always with hair bigger than ever. I explained we were the entertainment at a retirement home dinner and we all laughed. She was going to a healing service at an AGAPE church in North Hollywood run by actors. In her hand was the one thing all big haired women have… a Jell-O salad!

I do not care what the function might be… big haired women all have a spare Jell-O salad sitting around somewhere. It’s usually that green kind with chunks of pineapple and cottage cheese. Who gives a shit what’s in it!? It looks like someone congealed vomit… They all carry one like a big haired badge of courage… and they put it out in the middle of the table so everyone has to look at it. It’s like saying … “Hey, I really don’t care about you and here’s a Jell-O salad to prove it!” She had to be from the south…

Yesterday… we met on the sidewalk and actually talked. It was all the niceties you’d expect from someone you didn’t know but sorta knew… until she found out I was in addiction counseling… suddenly… it got real.

I found out a lot about her… I learned our lives were very similar. Her name is Nancy Jean from Beaumont, Texas and at 63 years old is living in an apartment with three other forgotten actors… all waiting for that big break. She was a regular on a show in the early 1980s that I remembered. She mentioned she had married an actor that was recognizable from a long running TV show and her life went to hell. She mentioned a home in Brentwood that was lost and an apartment in Koreatown where her marriage finally fell apart. She mentioned the physical abuse and desperation of living at the bottom. She said that was her wake up call… or as she put it her “come to Jesus” moment.

For the past 13 years, she has been working for a temporary staffing company and waiting for a call that may never come. She waits with three other aging hopefuls in a Hollywood two bedroom apartment where she’s safe and every one is sober. She’s happy with her life. She’s accepted life on life’s terms and found a God of her understanding. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? I know I am.

Now her big hair and loud suits made sense to me. It was part of a life she knew and lost and like the Jell-O salad… it’s all she has to hold onto. I think Shmuli and Kooli are pretty good judges of character. I approve.

This is my journey … this is my life.

Rob Cantrell