Back to White Knuckle Sobriety. The Duke Ellington Cure.

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane In A Sentimental Mood.

Moderate drinking finally proved too dangerous after five months successful harm reduction. So I’m back to white knuckle sobriety. (AA jargon for the no slogan, non-Zombie, no-crawl-to-the-cross method.) I never surrendered to their system although some of it once helped me through eight and half years abstinence.

It’s very risky for alcoholics to start drinking again but I managed five months very occasional, very moderate drinking – inspired by Smart Recovery and the abysmally low success rate of 12 step. Till two weeks ago.

I had a two beers maximum, with the occasional bottle of spirits. It never got out of hand because booze isn’t ketamine, what I really want. (It’s a year since I’ve had any dance club drugs, achieved by a failsafe method which will beat any addiction: poverty. And ketamine may be permanently unavailable now due to a crackdown in India. It’s too risky and expensive to import. Now that actually was a cure for depression, if a tad unpredictable.)

The final drink relapse came out of nowhere, on a whim, the sort of inexplicable snap decision I was supposed to be writing about last time. (How a relapse can kill heroin addicts, RIP Harris Wittels, a superb screenwriter and so much more. Which I either forgot about or realized there was nothing to say about a shadowy nemesis I will never understand.

An ABC impulse control strategy was recommended during my brief farcical entanglement with Rational Emotive Behaviorial Therapy. Yes, even the title contradicts itself. And why would you pay for anything invented by ‘Windy’ Dryden? (His actual name, the one he uses for professional purposes. I assumed it was a misprint and referred to him as Wendy Dryden during the first session.)
‘A’ was the impulse. You were meant to put something at ‘B’, (deep breaths? Soothing words?). This would prevent the impulse ‘A’ becoming uncontrolled anger at ‘C’. In those days ‘C’ arrived all too quickly. I might as well have had a magic spell to prevent lightning strikes. It was as much use as a water pistol against a flash fire. The rage kept on coming.

The slight improvement I’ve made recently may just be becoming more docile with age. Or I’m more conscious of mortality or failing health. Maybe I’m growing up, as I approach sixty? Fat chance. Whatever, somehow I managed five months of very careful occasional moderate drinking before I snapped.

I bought a bottle of rum and two bottles of 6.1% Bishops Finger – don’t like the taste or the name but it is the strongest good brew available locally. (They stopped the off licenses selling 10 % Viking death lager, which is harsh on us occasional headbangers who would like a significant consciousness alteration for a quid. Bloody do-gooders!)
Maybe this was the rare intoxication day you’re allowed in Smart Recovery? (As long as you keep counting the drinks and stay watchful as you return to moderate drinking.) Unfortunately I didn’t feel drunk or even remotely merry after a bottle of rum and two half litres of strong ale. Maybe it was over too long a time or I was on an upward bipolar energy surge but I didn’t feel a thing.
Money down the drain, for nothing, except a massive intake of useless calories, way too many brain cells torched and no exercise instead of the hundred press ups I’ve managed most days this year. Plus you age very quickly on such a regime. You look like your own ghost.

For once, miraculously, there were no psychotic internet posts – psychotic used correctly in the clinical sense, as recently insisted upon by the public school Bin Laden groupies at the Al Grauniad.

So, no death threats or ‘extremist’ ranting (ie anti-Marxist, counter Jihad). My armchair thug must be running out of testosterone. Perhaps he’s taking female hormones in preparation for gender reassignment. Maybe he’s taken up Buddhist meditation, like my hero Herbie Hancock. (Whose autobiography is highly recommended)
A mild trance did ease the pain of listening to England’s feeble cricket performance on Test Match Special (I know how to party…) but the only positive was the realization this was the abyss, ‘hitting bottom’, after which the only way is up.

Many abstinent months are needed before playing with fire again. Feeling very good two weeks in.

I read somewhere that Duke Ellington may have stopped drinking eventually upon realizing he was sober after the intake of what should have been a stupefying quantity of booze.
Enough is enough. This drug doesn’t work.

MAY 2018 More than three years sober now. Which buys a lot of green tea…



Kratom: herbal anti-depressant. Mood elevator. Energising painkiller.

‘Don’t call it a high! They’ll ban it!’ said more experienced Kratom users, many of whom need it to ease severe pain or to come off opiates. (Kratom is invaluable to recovering heroin addicts.) They need not worry as no one reads this blog. MI6 could post the UK’s most valuable secrets on here, instead of leaving their laptops in Vauxhall wine bars: the information would be perfectly safe. (LATER: Needless to say I was wrong, as so often, particularly when predicting anything.  Kratom was banned in the Spring of 2016, despite its proven medical benefits.)

This is a great shame as it’s far better than any SSRI anti-depressant I ever tried, with no side effects such as weight gain, loss of sex drive, suicidal thoughts etc, and it works immediately, well, after ten minutes or so. This magical, versatile substance chiefly mimics opiates, even down to occasional itchiness, although you won’t start stealing, begging or listening to the Velvet Underground. This is no placebo effect or new age BS, it really does kill pain and zaps depression. It energises and calms, depending on quantity. You feel more communicative. There is pleasure from mundane activity, even household chores. (‘Verily this is indeed a miracle’: various ex partners and housemates.) Tonight, as well as the usual warm pleasant mood, it was easy to add an extra ten press ups and stomach crunches to my usual sets of forty, then forty seconds extra to a two minute plank exercise – extra energy and pain killing right there. I even laughed at Have I Got News for You – which is now tired, lazy and stale – although much improved by the insouciant Martin Clunes. He is a card. Incidentally, I have the same birthday as Ian Hislop. He’s four years younger, has not spent most of his life drinking and drugging to excess, as far as we know, yet looks like a weary double-chinned gargoyle. I digress.

 More seriously Kratom has been a great help to my wife Ruth who has several longstanding conditions in addition to me being a massive pain in the rear. She has psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis on the soles of her feet, Oedema (swelling and water retention near the ankles), tendonopathy in the Achilles tendon. She can have agonizing pain while trying to walk, and doesn’t always have her prescription pain medication. For whatever reason the government would rather prescribe opiate based painkillers which are extremely addictive, often before people notice what is happening. 

Back to the good, safer stuff. Some people take a little Kratom powder washed down with juice, two to four grammes. I’m more of a vintage gas guzzler, running on heavy fuel. I gravitated to a large dose immediately, 15 grammes (the tea this makes is bracingly vile. Further proof it’s proper medicine.) Cutting down now. Ten grammes feels about the same, the trick is leaving enough free days inbetween doses.

It is of course much more sensible to get used to lower doses, which I eventually managed. 

It was foolish to hope for what I got from three day, no sleep ketamine binges or youthful overindulgence in booze, Afghan black and MDMA. Only an idiot would expect to get fully zonked from a medicinal herb (although I did on 30x strength Salvia Divinorum come to think of it, an especially gruesome near death experience.) but there is an upside to that mild disappointment: I’m not likely to get in too deep.

In any case, opiates were never my drug of choice – despite their fearsome reputation they don’t grab everyone. Fran Landesman, an enthusiastic lifetime drug user, was once injected against her will by Lenny Bruce, a Jehova’s Witness of heroin, a tireless, tiresome evangelist. She was not converted – having never liked downers, perhaps even less so after hours of vomiting on this occasion. Whereas her beloved marijuana was a lifelong companion, helping her create sublime poetry and lyrics.

Chaka Khan Chick Corea Spring Can Hang You The Most – inspired by TS Eliot’s April is the Cruellest Month.  music Tommy Wolf  lyrics Fran Landesman

Hunter S Thompson, not the most abstemious of men – whom I once saw almost comatose in a Hong Kong bar, reduced to a zombie drone of ‘Amyl nitrate. Amyl nitrate,’ – he had no time for heroin and the mushroom guru Terence McKenna thought cocaine was about much use as an espresso. Although you can remain unscathed or even uninterested in much more dangerous drugs you nevertheless have to use Kratom sparingly. Tolerance will develop. I’m not in a financial position to keep upping the dose but nor do I need to. What’s currently working: exercise, a little 5 htp, (a herbal serotonin booster), Stoic mindfulness, (‘there is depression’, not ‘I am depressed’. Thanks Ruby Wax. And if you think your parents could be difficult try hers.) My faithful SAD lamp blazes away by my desk. Cutting carbs helps: The Way of the Vain. Coming soon: my Jesus of Nazareth low carb diet book: ‘More fishes, fewer loaves.’

Careful moderation in alcohol and drugs is helped knowing there can be the occasional holiday with Kratom. It’s also good to have an anti-depression medication – without weight gain or diminishing sex drive – when all else fails. All of which beats white knuckle abstinence, Christian guilt and slogans – the boom and bust of 12 step. 

So this could be an actual cure for depression. With no side effects! (Unlike Big Pharma’s remedies.) Although I’m well used to false dawns, I’d like to raise a cautious cheer for this uplifting substance. Hell, let’s make it a full on Marine affirmation: Hoorah!


AA versus Harm Reduction. Seneca’s Sickest Burns. Marcus Aurelius’s Art of War. Rage Against…Pretty Much Everything.

Welcome to the only wellness and sanity blog that drives its readers stark raving mad. And I am, of course, the person least qualified to write it. My Native American name would be ‘Skin Too Thin’. Eclectic, Bi-Polar, no anger management, I’m the only artist to have split with themselves due to ‘musical differences’.

I should be over instant flare ups and pointless bickering. But would the Stoics have been so damn philosophical if they’d had internet feedback? Never mind Seneca’s Epistles we’d have Seneca’s Sickest Burns, Marcus Aurelius’s Art of War. Zeno’s On Landing the First Punch, Cicero’s Kill ’em all, Let Zeus sort ’em out.

I was informed that I’d be ‘in trouble’ if AA responded to my last blog. What? Some sheep are going to bleat at me? And why can’t they respond? Because alcoholics can’t be trusted with anything. Great. So you can’t criticise 12 Step, despite its very high failure rate, or its reliance on belittling recruits and herding the flock with with oft-repeated slogans – a mind control system also used by Chinese Communism and religious fundamentalists.

This came from a dear friend still enthusiastic about Erhard Seminars Training, EST. Which involved what is now termed abuse: breaking and rebuilding newbies, who were called turkeys, and a lot worse, for the first weekend. You got the enlightenment in the second weekend – and it wasn’t cheap. This programme is maybe quicker than a Zen monastery and perfectly acceptable if you’re submissive: I’m not. (Except, occasionally, during some therapeutic intimate procedures when I was far too ‘toppy’ for most orthodox dominant facilitators, summed up by Spencer Woodcock’s Fetish Times cartoon: ‘I might be your slave but you’re not going to be boss me about.’)

Shouldn’t I be indulging my critic in Socratic dialogue? No, this is a Thousand Year Reich of Rational Tyranny – No God, No Higher Power and we might even be unkind to earthbound deities, such as Alain De Botton. (Why did I once rudely and stupidly address the people’s philosopher as ‘baldy’? When I’ve had a shaven head since 92 myself? After enjoying many of his books? Must be my legion of demons. Some of whom are more persistent than a milk-seeking moggy. Sorry Mr De Botton and, again, Mr Terence Blacker. It is part of a mental disorder but still shouldn’t have happenned.)

Higher Power not needed Harm )

Boring but necessary disclaimer, in case I get attacked by another 12 Stepper – you can get a great deal of help from various programmes but they’re only as good as the people in them. They differ widely from place to place.
I could never quite avoid enthusiastic evangelicals but at least I never experienced Hollywood 12 step which involves microphones, applause, people joining just to meet important film people, and, across America in general, people who are there unwillingly as a legal sanction.

I dabbled in AA and NA over three decades, getting an occasional boost but doing most of it alone. I was never convinced, not for long. I was still shocked when a Doctor told me AA doesn’t work for everyone. How can he say that? Isn’t it the way. the truth, the light?
It can be.
But I can’t be hypnotised and I don’t take orders. Which is no doubt reprehensible if you like the hair shirt, or were raised Catholic.

What worked best was my wife asking me to stop: she was pregnant with our first child. I managed eight and a half years continual sobriety – apart from two beers to redirect a troublesome acid trip and one beer during an especially aggravating Christmas with the in laws. Just ONE beer? someone asked, clearly used to the pressures of Stressmas – although they may not have experienced, as I did, a sister in law running from the Christmas preparations into the snow, screaming for a divorce. She reappeared eight hours later to find that her husband’s present was a self help book entitled (rough translation from the German).’Openness in Marriage – One speaks: the other listens’. The ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ were a little strained. As we sat around the Christmas tree among discarded wrapping paper and the wreckage of that marriage my father in law held up a glass and said, entirely seriously, ‘So, despite it all, a totally successful Christmas’.

Was this ‘Fake it to make it’? one of the 12 Step slogans I was recently dismissing? Which can work. If you want them to. There is a lot of good in the 12 Step programme but the sheer volume of horror stories related on tell another story. People need to know the antidote to bad experiences and alternative recovery options.

My current abstinence is enabled by vanity – flatter stomach, not looking eight thousand years old – and the need to avoid the Grim Reaper. There’s also a fanatical penny-pinching delight in what drink no longer costs. This works better – for me – than pious homilies and holding hands with people with whom you have nothing in common. And I’d rather drink green tea with lashings of fat-busting lemon while watching Ray Donovan. You can keep stewed builders tea and a glum browse of 1930s tracts about taking a moral reinventory and the importance of ‘keeping regular’.

And after many years with ketamine and MDMA, alcohol just feels like an expensive lobotomy. On the very rare occasions I succumb to drink the hilarity and relaxation window is soon gone, leaving just dumb aggression – which could have serious legal consequences now I’m running out of Police cautions. Even words on the internet can now get you a custodial sentence.
Link shows possibly inflammatory cartoon of AA member doing research (unconscious drunk on floor) contrasted with Harms Reduction member researching at computer, jotting down information.
Perhaps harsh – let’s not forget ‘Whatever works’. If you’re happy submitting to the group, God or a higher power then get on your knees as recommended by some 12 Steppers. I’ve done it. The handful of meetings I attended helped the eight and a half years abstinence. But the hair shirt doesn’t suit me. I’m standing on my own two feet.

Health and strength to the people for whom it works but if you don’t want to be guilt-tripped by uptight slogan-junkies other options are available.
Whatever works.
You could even mix the different approaches. Might make a good cocktail…

Have you heard the Good News About Stoicism? Part 1


I like this book so much I have become a Jehova’s Witness of Stoicism. I want to spread the gospel of
managed expectations. Have you heard about the probable failure of positive thinking? Did you know you can embrace failure and insecurity? (Not that I have any choice.) Rejoice! We’re all going to die. Hallelulah! Most things are a bit rubbish.

Cue Marcus Aurelius, who wouldn’t bitch about stuff you can’t fix. ‘The cucumber is bitter? Put it down. There are brambles in the path? Step to one side. That is enough, without also asking: “How did those things come into the world at all.” (p42 The Antidote)

Wonderful as the words of Marcus Aurelius are I’d love to see how Stoic he was with his bickering family members. I suppose he just girded his loins and went and conquered somewhere. Anything to get out of the house. Be that as it may his Meditations have stood the test of time. Highly recommended, despite Bill Clinton liking them, as is this marvelous book.

I really needed The Antidote, having failed with several annoyingly optimistic self help systems. As a lifelong sceptic I’ve never been able to positively visualise a bright future. And that made me feel guilty. Why? Life often is cold and cruel. It’s a bleak, harsh universe. Which I didn’t create. It’s not my fault. For once. Fortunately some wiser, calmer people have coping strategies, many of which are listed in the contents of The Antidote. (Wish I’d thought of this when I was book reviewing. Cut to the Chase.) 1 On Trying Too Hard To Be Happy. 2 What Would Seneca Do? The Stoic Art of Confronting the Worst Case Scenario 3 The Storm Before the Calm 4 Goal Crazy When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work 5 Who’s There? How to Get Over Yourself. 6 The Safety Catch. The Hidden Benefits of Insecurity 7 The Museum of Failure, the case for embracing your errors, 8 Memento Mori, death as way of life.



I came of age when it was thought that more sex and drugs, in more diverse ways, with more people, might end all war. Just as machines would do all the work and religions would fade away.

While hedonist excess was an absorbing hobby, by the time you end up selling lewd therapy services to other obsessives, to pay for your drug addiction, but also to get more sex, it’s probably time to reboot.

Having said that addiction and debauchery were absorbing hobbies. There was fun, some reciprocated love, (and a great deal more disappointment.). After the second summer of love there was shared euphoria, trance and transcendence, everything the most legendary mystic could have wished for – out of body experiences, eternal bliss, time out of mind – copyright the superb Steely Dan, not that they minded ripping off Keith Jarrett (Gaucho) and Horace Silver (Song for My Father). And, Walter, I wouldn’t complain about how ugly ‘English chicks’ are if you have a face like an Alsatian’s shaved asshole. You’re welcome.

I digress. While seeking higher highs and plumbing greater depths, there were many near death experiences both psychic and actual, unity with ‘God’ and even on occasion with household objects. (Ketamine – the most rigorous alternative reality I ever encountered. Makes LSD look like a vicarage tea party.) There was also repeated homelessness, poverty, many broken relationships, divorce, misery and no cure for the lifelong depression which started it all in the first place.


What the hell has this to do with The Antidote. Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking? (Which I will return to another day, as it’s full of great anecdotes, interesting interviews and useful advice.) I suppose I’m trying to have a more interesting abyss story than ‘Power of the Now’ author Ekkehard Tolle – paging Doctor Freud, I just typed Ekkehard Toole – whose crisis, told herein, consisted of sitting on a bench. (And if a buffoon like Russell Brand likes your stuff how good can it be?) Think I have Abyss Bragging Rights, having spent decades in anomic hell, looking for something which didn’t exist.

Ahem, brief summary of recent Stoic gleanings; get over yourself, (‘yourself’ doesn’t exist anyway) and focus outwards. Altruism works better than greed. Fame and money are hard to get and fleeting AND THEY WON’T MAKE YOU HAPPY, at least not for long.


Which is more or less the message of this wise, lovely song, with which I’ll finish, ‘Make Someone Happy’ by two great masters Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck. I prefer the more sombre, less show business duo version with Bill Evans. Which will be somewhere on Spotify or Deezer but is well worth purchasing anyway. However, this rendition is available RIGHT NOW, all we have, as Ekkehard Tolle would say. Oliver Burkeman points out that if you’re asked ‘How are you now? you’ll probably answer ‘OK’. Depression can be wallowing in the past and anxiety is worrying about the future. I should stop yearning for the more elegant Tony Bennett and Bill Evans version and accept what I have. Which, as ever, is better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish.
Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck at the White House. 1962 now unavailable (June 2015)

what I originally wanted was this: Make Someone Happy Tony Bennett and Bill Evans npw rereleased in sumptuous boxed set, with some great unreleased tracks and alternate takes.

I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Not Even Saying It – Variations on a theme by John Cage with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Kerry Katona

‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it.’ John Cage

‘I have nothing to say and I can’t be arsed saying it.’ Mark Ramsden

I’ve always preferred tunes, grooves and interesting harmony – anything from Herbie Hancock through Debussy to the Beatles, (despite Paul McCartney’s recent tireless attempts to put you off him) but as a pretentious teenager I read John Cage. In contrast to his music you didn’t have to pretend to like John Cage’s writings – attractively presented morsels of music theorizing, poetry and Zen. He was funny, more often than not and the words looked good on the page – acrostics, plenty of soothing white space. He seemed a wild and crazy guy, winning four million Lira  on a TV quiz answering questions on mushrooms. Performing avant garde music on a mass market game show. What a card!

How different from the bum-numbing boredom of Stockhausen’s public persona. At music college I was fortunate to gig with Dr Graham Hearn, a brilliant jazz and classical pianist who was in a Stockhausen ensemble. He once remarked to the grand panjandrum that the sun had come out upon his appearance. Stockhausen replied, “the sun always comes out when I arrive”. Which was probably light-hearted but he did see himself as the primal force which enabled everything else. You’d better take yourself damn seriously if you want an Arts Festival to put on a piece for a string quartet in four different helicopters. I saw a video of this which consisted mostly of engine noise. Christ knows what the Council Tax payers of Birmingham would have thought but Stockhausen would only have been furious he never got to see his music, as he also intended, performed on four different planets. This is the pompous idiot who thought 9/11 was “the greatest work of art ever”. “What happened there spiritually, this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art. Otherwise it is nothing.”

Was I really reading a book of Stockhausen and Jonathan Cott interviews while working with a cabaret band underneath Blackpool Tower? Wearing that white suit, big collared shirt  and buttonhole flower combo later used by Prince’s saxophonist? On a gig where – aaaaargh! – David Van Day was also performing in Guys and Dolls with Bruce Forsyth’s daughter? Where the compere opened each day’s proceedings with the seminal Marrow Song. ‘Oh What A beauty I’ve Never seen one as big as that before.’? Check it out, Bruv.

Back in the arena of the cerebral, I once heard three pieces of John Cage played simultaneously at an all day festival in Islington. We sat on schoolroom chairs in an open space while a lot of musicians faffed about doing random stuff – which he categorised as ‘aleatoric’, generated by chance, as in I Ching coins – whatevs, dude. Which might as well have been written on the music manuscript: whatevs, dude. I was happy enough at the time, in the chin-stroking years. Before a day out required 24 hours of MDMA, Ketamine, group fetish debauchery, preferably involving the transgendered and/or bisexual, and a soundtrack of hard house or ambient lounge. This eventually became ‘let’s just stay in with the Ketamine’. You can’t have enough near death experiences…

Before all that, when I was still a drunken hippy, it was enough that John Cage turned up at the Almeida, Islington with one of his cracked Zen smiles – there was also a five minute video of him beaming beatifically. Worth a four hour trip across London there and back? Well, if I may paraphrase the Marrow Song, I’d never heard ‘owt as mad as that before. Equally, as Hanif Kureishi said of punk, ‘it was great music but you wouldn’t want to listen to any of it’.

This was supposed to be about why I find it hard to blog, now I’ve nothing to say, playing the sympathy card of fortyfive years of mental illness and addiction. Since I was a teenager I have had some combination of severe depression, high anxiety, paranoia, manic this, dissociative that, and a supporting cast of various syndromes and disorders, just far too sensitive, really. One Skin Too Thin would be my Native American name. I recently got 18 out of 20 on the psychopath test though as I can empathise and I can feel remorse, the two things which mean you’re not a psychopath. Can’t help feeling psychopathy may be over diagnosed because some people make a living out of trying to cure it.  Not with much success.

I stopped taking anti-depressants as I’d rather be thinner and more sexual even if it means never being able to focus. The pills helped ADHD and muted the weeps but fuck that let’s see those abs! (Synchronicity alert! Five minutes after writing these very words Kerry Katona has just informed us that she no longer takes medication for her ‘bipolar’. Her ‘My Depression Diary’, was shown at the witching hour, appropriately enough some might say. Strike that, she’s warm and sincere. Her programme will help people. Just don’t put Liz Jones or the Loose Women witches on at midnight.

Did Kerry really just say, in closing, ‘It’s been a long, long journey’?
(a Brit TV cliche for years now).
Yes, and as I still have nothing to say that will just have to do.

I have nothing to say and I have to get Kerry Katona to say it.

Except this: 12 Step never really cured me. Apparently you have to want to get better. Although it has prolonged and improved the quality of my life, certainly for the few people around me. Right now poverty and vanity are keeping me clean and sober. If a little too verbose. Like many clean and sober people I’m oversharing. Sorry. And thank you.

(Tea and biscuits time. The Christian 12 steppers may now wish to get on everyone else’s tits with their preaching. More shares, then hold hands, hug. Unison: ‘Keep Coming Back. It works, it works, it works’.)…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Stuff I can’t be bothered to Google.

1 Did John Cage’s lawyers sue Mike Batt for having silence on one of his albums. (Someone did.)

2 Why don’t the current crop of conceptualist composers get anywhere? Has all that media space been taken by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin? Because speculating on conceptual art will get you an ever quicker return than bombs or tobacco? Whereas avant-garde music is money straight down the drain.

PS Stimmung by Stockhausen is perfectly palatable. Vocal harmonics which sound rather lovely. He is still a massive bellend.