Tag Archives: Psychology

Four Lessons on How to Write a Thirty Day Novel

IMG_0523I once tried to complete the thirty day novel challenge and failed. Nevertheless, through the experience of this failure I learned quite a bit. The thirty day novel challenge is a writing exercise where an author attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This requires the author to write an average of 1,667 words per day throughout this time period. In the abstract this sounds like a task that can be readily accomplished but like most long term projects requiring discipline and dedication there are forces that will work to undermine this process as it continues.

When I set out to write my 30 day novel I started out strong. For the first ten days my average word count per day remained above 1,667. After ten days the average word count dropped below that number but I figured I could make it up by writing more before the thirty days fully expired. However, as the days after Day 10 progressed I found it increasingly difficult to continue. There was a point where the story that it eventually became began to emerge from the crap that I had written. At that point I began to think about going back and editing what I had written to conform to the story as I saw it emerging. The conflict between this motivation and my motivation to continue with the word count per day all the way to day 30 became overwhelming. It was at this point that procrastination in comparison with this overwhelming feeling began to feel like a better option. Accordingly, the project petered out by day 20 or so. Eventually I did go back and rewrite the whole thing which is the finished product now available on Amazon.com. But this was well after the initial 30 days had expired without a 50,000 word finished product.

Even though I did not completely stick with the 30 day novel for the entire 30 days I did learn four important lessons that I think would be helpful for anyone attempting this challenge. These are lessons I would certainly employ if and when I take on this challenge a second time. I have not fully committed to trying the 30 day novel challenge a second time yet but it seems like something which has become more likely after writing this blog post.

4 Lessons

  1. The over arching lesson is to keep writing every day. All the other lessons flow from this one. I know an easy criticism to make of me is that I did not follow this lesson when I wrote my 30 day novel. This is true and I cannot argue the point. However, I learned this lesson after I failed. As such, I am not technically being hypocritical from a chronological standpoint. You must stick with the writing despite the forces working against you attempting to complete this challenge. These forces will undoubtedly differ both in nature and power for different people depending on their personalities. But it is crucial to recognize these forces and their motivations. Treat them as the foreign entities and adversaries that they are and then ignore them. The ability to continue on in this manner is a muscle to develop by exercising it. The more you do it the easier it will become.
  2. The second lesson is to allow yourself to write crap. If you keep up with your writing the quality ideas will eventually materialize. But before the quality ideas begin to emerge you will probably write a mountain of crap. Recognize this fact and be forgiving of yourself. Allow to crap to flow so that the quality can also flow. Accept that this is the process. Therefore, keep writing and do not worry if what you write is good or bad. If you do give into the worry you will stop writing and not complete the challenge. You are training another muscle here which is the ability to come up with something out of nothing. This is a skill just like anything else it is just that the something will be buried in a pile of crap initially. The more you do it, however, the better able you will become to generate the quality ideas.
  3. The third lesson is to trust the process. As you progress, you may begin to doubt your ability to complete the challenge with a finished project that is worth reading. Your original inclination might be to think that if nothing of quality comes out initially then it must be impossible. This is an illusion. This doubt is another adversary that will attempt to derail you. Like the other adversaries, ignore it and keep writing.
  4. The fourth and final lesson is to save all the editing, rewriting and thoughts about crafting an intelligible story arc for Day 31. A successful attempt means that you have finished the 30 day challenge. If you are lucky then you might also have the germ of a story that has poked its head out of the pile of crap. If not then at the very least you have exercised the muscles necessary to become a serious writer.

Always remember there are two complementary dynamics at play when attempting the 30 day novel challenge. The first dynamic is to recognize and ignore the adversaries that will attempt to derail you from completing the project. The second dynamic is to recognize that you are working to develop the psychological muscles that will eventually make you a serious writer. In this respect the 30 day novel challenge is a symbolic microcosm of the challenge of writing itself. Taken one step further, the 30 day novel challenge is a symbolic microcosm of the accomplishment anything worth accomplishing. Perhaps seeing the 30 day novel challenge in this light will serve as further motivation to complete the challenge. Moreover, perhaps completing the challenge will serve as a means of better appreciating this important fact.

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Why does my ego want other people to like me?

My ego pushes me to present a false image to the world so that other people will like me. This image is a version of me but it is not the real me. I try to make other people laugh so they will think I am funny. I try to talk about interesting subjects so they so that other people will think I am intelligent. I hide my flaws so other people will not judge me and abandon me. The motive behind these actions seems to presume that if the other people knew the real me they would not like me and they would not be forgiving.

The ego seems to have its own personality. Over the years I have observed the qualities of my ego. It is dishonest and unforgiving. It does not trust and is paranoid. It seeks self-aggrandizement. It seeks approval through self-deprecation and false modesty. It becomes angry when criticized and jealous when it sees other people succeeding. It is spiteful and critical. It ceaselessly judges other people and situations. It judges itself (myself) unmercifully.

The question arises, why does my ego need people to like me in the first place? Is it lonely? Does it fear being lonely? Does it think I need allies to protect me? Does it fear being attacked? Does it seek validation? Do it want me to be important? Does it fear being a nobody? Does it fear being labeled a failure? Does my ego want other people to like me to protect me because it assumes that other people will attack me under normal circumstances?

It seems like the ego is a protection device that has gone awry. It seems like the ego originally came into being to protect me. When I was a child other kids picked on me and adults shamed me. I created my ego to protect me from these forces or to mitigate the damage they caused but now that I am an adult those same forces do not exist in the same way. But my ego remains still performing its old function.

If I was alone in the world would I still have any of these fears? If I was alone in the world would I still have my ego? Does my ego exist because other people exist? Is it the separation between people where we cannot know each other’s minds that creates the ego? Do I need to create my own other person (i.e., my ego) so that I can anticipate what these other unpredictable people might do and thus protect myself?

So the challenge lies in dialing back my ego. I do not think it is possible to completely eradicate it. Being aware of its functions and behaviors seems to be the first step towards diminishing its power but awareness alone is not sufficient to happy. The next step is probably developing the ability to ignore or actively marginalize my ego. I must develop those qualities that are the opposite of the qualities the ego possesses. I will let you know when that happens.

 

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Shame and Internet Trolling

Check out my newly published eBook entitled Shame and Internet Trolling.

“Shame and Internet Trolling” is about my life journey through shame and how it led to me becoming an internet troll. The book is divided into three parts. In part one I discuss my life history up until I began trolling as it relates to my experience of shame. In part two I discuss my experience trolling, how it felt and the methods I employed. In part three I discuss the series of experiences that brought me out of shame and internet trolling.

 

SHAME AND INTERNET TROLLING 1562 x 2500 pixels

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Writer’s Block

There is a large gap of time between last May and this October where I did not make any blog posts. I spent a lot of that time working on a book that I intend to e-publish. The book is autobiographical and discusses the connections between shame and internet trolling. Much of the book is a synthesis of my previous blog posts. I have been in contact with a well-known blogger who has published several ebooks who has encouraged me to do this. So I finished the book a few months ago. The well-known blogger put me in touch with a guy who edits and markets ebooks. I got the book edited and since that time I have been trying to incorporate the edits he suggested. Once I finish that I can start the publishing and marketing stage. The only problem is that I cannot seem to finish the editing process.

I used to wake up every morning at 5:00am and work on the initial manuscript. Once I finished it and sent it to the editor I continued to wake up at that time and write other things. Now that I am close to actually publishing I cannot seem to finish it. I stopped waking up at 5:00am. It is now hard for me to find the time. When I do make the time I sit and stare at what I have written and hate it.

I am sure this is self sabotage. I know I have to work through it. The block is my demon trying to undermine my success but it does it indirectly and passive aggressively. It does not straight out tell me not to do it. It distracts me. It saps my energy. It makes everything else seem more interesting. I am too tired. I have too many other things to do.

Is the answer to plow through it? Is the answer to defeat the demon some other way and then be able to finish my project? I am in the middle of it so I cannot see it too clearly.

There is fear here too. I am afraid that once I publish the book people who are described in it unflatteringly will hate me for it. At the same time I fear no one will read it when I publish it. I hold these two antithetical possibilities in my mind at the same time. The demon, my shame ego, does not care about logic. It merely cares that I feel shame and remain stuck in my present situation.

The well-known blogger I spoke of told me to edit one more time, cut 30% and publish it. I think I have to start waking up at 5:00am again. It is the time of day when I am the most creative anyway. I have a marathon to run this Sunday. Part of me is saying to put this off until that is over. The same part of me (I am sure) is telling me that I am not ready for the marathon. Ha!

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Caring

On Saturday I watched Notre Dame get beaten by Florida State University. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game. Both teams were undefeated going into the game. Notre Dame was the underdog playing the strongest opponent this season. If Notre Dame won they would be in a position to win a national championship (something they have not achieved since 1988). Notre Dame was ahead for most of the game. In the last quarter Florida State pulled ahead. In the last-minute of the game Notre Dame scored a touch down but a flag was thrown. Some supposed foul was committed by a Notre Dame player nullifying the touchdown and denying Notre Dame a win. I was very disappointed.

Why?

I did not go to Notre Dame. I really have not actively followed football until recently. I can claim some connection to Notre Dame because my cousin and other extended family members went there for undergraduate school. I am also Roman Catholic. I like the story of Notre Dame and all its traditions and historically prestigious football program. There is a little bit of a sense (in my mind) that I am not as entitled to root for Notre Dame as someone who actually went there to school but I realize this is mostly about me and not about anyone else.

But also, it is fun to care about something even if it ultimately does not matter. This is a life concept. We will all be dead in 100 years. The universe is infinitely (for all intents and purposes) large. There is nothing I or anyone can do in their lifetimes that really matters objectively when I think about it. So why should mattering matter when it comes to caring about anything? Ultimately, I care about the things I choose to care about. I can certainly be tricked into caring about things that ultimately do not serve my interests but caring is still a choice.

So I choose to care about whether Notre Dame wins. It is fun. I also choose to care about my family because I love them. I choose to care about my country because it is where I am from and connects me to something larger than myself. I choose to care about my religion because it connects me to the infinite, unknowable universe. I also care about all these things because I have been conditioned to do so by the society I live in and was indoctrinated by. In a sense it is easier to care about them than to not care about them but I could choose to not care about them if I was willing to endure the feelings of guilt, disconnection and disloyalty.

I guess the point I am making is that the things I care about are the things I choose to care about. It is these choices that define my sense of self and for that reason alone do they matter. They matter to myself subjectively. They do not matter, however, because they matter in some objective sense of the word.

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Other People’s Eating Noises Annoy Me Under Certain Circumstances

I hate hearing other people’s eating noises at what I consider to be inappropriate times and places. I used to work with this older guy who sat in a cubicle across the aisle from me. Anytime he pulled out a cracker or a lozenge I quickly put on my head phones and blasted whatever I could in my ears so that I did not have to listen to him. To be caught off guard and actually hear him eat would trigger me so badly I would actually feel rage. Now I work from home and my desk is near the kitchen. Sometimes when I am booting up my computer in the morning my wife will walk into the kitchen and eat a granola bar. This also triggers  me in the same way I get triggered when I hear other people talking in movie theaters.

On the other hand, eating noises do not annoy me when I am sitting at the dinner table unless they are over the top slurping or extra loud chewing.

The common thread to all this is shame based judgment. The idea is that other people cannot control themselves and act responsibly in social situations. They are violating the social contract and degrading civilization. As such, I sit in judgment of them in the hopes that they will feel ashamed of themselves. The idea behind this is that since feeling ashamed is unpleasant, the person will associate feeling ashamed with the irresponsible behavior and then stop doing it. Shame based law enforcement is completely passive aggressive in its methods. At this point in my life I am well aware that this energy in me also existed in my parents and was passed down from them to me by the way they brought me up.

When I am triggered, my reaction is strong. Even if I am aware that I am being triggered it is hard not to act on being triggered. This makes me understand how my parents could not control their impulses when I annoyed them by acting in a way that seemed irresponsible or disrespectful. It was their uncontrolled impulses that instilled this urge in me to enforce shame based law enforcement on other people. I try to be vigilant about not passing this heritage on to my children. When they were younger I was unaware of this dynamic so I am sure that some of the energy was passed along. I can take comfort in the knowledge that what I have passed along to my children is much less than what was passed on to me.

There really is nothing wrong with a person eating at their desk or in a kitchen. They are not actively trying to violate me or disrespect my boundaries when they do this. It is my reaction to the situation that is problematic. I do not blame myself for this reaction because it was programmed into me by my upbringing. I cannot be held responsible for that, but I am responsible for being aware of it and making an effort not to pass it on to others.

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Fear of Societal Collapse

Throughout my life I have gone through periods where I have worried about societal collapse. Sometimes it would fill me with a such a feeling of dread that I found it difficult to go about my daily activities and carried this feeling around with me for weeks at a time.

Realistically, although unlikely, this sort of thing is not impossible. Societal collapsed happened in the 400s to the Western Roman Empire, so there is precedence for this. When I was younger I worried about nuclear war and swarms of killer bees. After the fall of the Soviet Union I worried about peak oil, an asteroid or commit hitting the earth, the super volcano in Yellowstone Park, the dollar collapsing and viral pandemics. All of these are possibilities and could destroy civilization as we know it causing untold death and misery to those who were fortunate enough to survive.

But I have to wonder, are these worries really an indication of something else? There have been many times that I worried that I would never be successful in life but then wondered why it mattered in the first place because the Earth could get hit by an asteroid and society would collapse and success would no longer be defined the same way under the new social order. I think this line of reasoning is more my shame ego undermining my motivation to succeed. There have been times when I felt this kind of anxiety and it turned out to be an indication that I did not feel safe in the normal functioning of my life. I know this because I expressed these anxieties to a therapist. He responded, “so you need safety?” When he said this I felt an uncontrollable wave of grief well up in me. Once I allowed myself to feel the grief in this safe un-judging environment my anxiety about societal collapse lifted. This pointed out to me that what I thought my fear was about was really a disguise.

Of course it does no good to worry about these things. They are completely outside of our control and that is why they are scary. They threaten to overturn all we cling to in life to make ourselves feel safe. But really this feeling of safety is an illusion as much as the fear is. There are no guarantees of safety in life. There are no guarantees of success. There are no guarantees of misfortune.

We cannot really avoid worrying from time to time. We can recognize this fear for what it is, however. We fear loosing these illusions that serve us by allowing us to function in the face of the intimidating, dangerous, enormity of reality. Thinking about this I really have to resign myself to the fact there is not much I can do to protect myself and must therefore try not to worry and live each day grateful for existence and the good things I experience therein. It is an adventure to live under such circumstances. That answer is not entirely satisfying but truth often is not satisfying. Why else would we cling to illusions?

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Forgiveness

People motivated by shame are not capable of truly forgiving other people even though they may outwardly appear to forgive wrongs committed against them.

I was taught to forgive because it is the Christian and moral thing to do. But forgiveness motivated by a sense obligation, that forgiveness is the right thing to do and withholding forgiveness would induce guilty feelings is not true forgiveness. It is shame.

In order to truly forgive I must first feel my anger for being wronged. When this happens I must also feel entitled to my anger. I must appreciate and acknowledge the wrong committed against me. If I do not do this any pretense at forgiveness is a farce.

If I am motivated by shame I will not allow myself to acknowledge the wrongs committed against me because I do not feel entitled to my anger. I will act like I forgive readily out of a false sense of morality. I will say I forgive because I want people to like me and think that I am moral and kind.

But when I do not allow myself to feel anger it stays inside and comes out in passive aggressive forms. When I do not allow myself to feel anger there is nothing to forgive really. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that if I do not feel my anger and feel entitled to it, I am not in a position to forgive. I have no standing.

Only when I properly feel my anger for being wronged am I in position to choose to forgive. It has to be a real choice and not one I feel obligated to make. If I forgive out a sense of obligation then I am not the one offering forgiveness. In that situation, whoever imposed the obligation upon me is the one responsible for forgiveness. But forgiveness is personal and cannot be given through proxy. So really, no forgiveness is given at all.

In Roman Catholicism, the sacrament of Reconciliation is performed by a priest acting in the name of God. This is forgiveness by proxy. I am tempted to say that because this is forgiveness by proxy it is therefore not authentic. But I believe something else is at work in this sacrament. Sometimes a feeling of shame is so intense that forgiveness for the sin requiring reconciliation is required. When a person seeks forgiveness of sins through Reconciliation I think he is really thinking of a way to forgive himself for whatever transgression he committed. The shame he has felt for the sins he committed is punishment enough. The anger he has vented on himself has been fully felt only there has been no release because it is directed towards himself. In this instance an outside entity may be required to release him.

Of course self-forgiveness is possible without the sacrament. Like all religious practices they are merely tools we use to relate with the grand, infinite, unknowable universe that exists both inside and outside ourselves.

 

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part V

Over the course of the next three years I worked almost every group meeting.  I was usually the first person to show up and I never missed a meeting unless it absolutely could not be avoided.  I possessed a strong inner motivation to be there because on some level I knew it was working for me.  Over time I began to see things about myself more clearly.

I saw that I grew up feeling deeply flawed and at my core I did not trust anyone.  I developed an isolated and easily wounded personality.  I compared myself to everyone else and found myself lacking.  If I witnessed anyone succeed I felt ashamed that I never succeeded.  If I did succeed, I down played my success as if there was a reason I could not fairly claim my success or else be branded a liar or a braggart.  If I failed I felt cruelly and unfairly judged by the world and bitterly angry under the surface.  If my anger surfaced I was made to feel ashamed for being weak and selfish.  In short, I realized that there was no way to win in the world in which I lived.

As I became more aware of this anger within me, I could see how it manifested itself in my life.  I found myself lashing out at former tormentors when I was alone.  Interestingly, when Scott tried to get me to display this anger in a therapy session around other people I found it very difficult to fully get in touch with it.

I also became aware that I self-sabotaged myself when I did something that I wanted to do.  At the time I had been trying to set aside time to write.   But every time sat down to write I became easily distracted or my mind would blank out.  I also became consumed by the potential reactions of other people who might read what I have written.  I then felt ashamed.  “What a stupid, self-indulgent, pathetic thing to write,” I would tell myself. All of this would cumulate and I would find myself not writing.

Scott and I did some “pillow work” on this subject.  He threw a pillow on the floor, pointed to it and said, “That pillow is you and you want to write.  Will you try to discourage the from writing?”

“Get your work done first then you can spend time on your hobbies,” I said to the pillow.

“But he wants to write,” said Scott addressing the force I impersonated, “why can’t he do that?”

“It is irresponsible to not get your work done first,” I answered as the force.

“Why are you smiling?” Scott asked.

I then noticed that I was smiling and felt amusement and shame at once.

“So you’re fucking with me?” said Scott.

“No,” I denied.

“Then why are you smiling?” asked Scott.

I said nothing.

“Who are you?” asked Scott.  “Who is this force you are impersonating”

I knew the force was my father but I was reluctant to say this.  It felt disloyal.  At the same time I could picture him making me feel irresponsible for doing what I wanted to do.  It surprised me that he experienced pleasure in doing this.  I did not want to believe that.

“Okay,” said Scott, “now you be yourself and let the pillow be your father.  What do you want to say to him?”

It feels very awkward but I summon the courage and say in an unemotional voice, “Dad, I think it’s really unfair what you did to me.  I don’t want to carry this burden of shame around.  I want to follow my passions and not constantly be derailed.”

“I hear what you are saying,” Scott said to me, “but it sounds more like reasoned discourse.  Where is the anger behind it?”

I understand what he said to me but it seemed like an impossibility to display the depths of my anger in front of him.  I think deep inside on a very basic level I do not fully trust that he would not shame me if I displayed my anger.  Or perhaps I will shame myself.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part III

The next therapist I saw was a psychologist I saw for several years while living in Philadelphia.  I went to see him because I was depressed, anxious and generally dissatisfied with life.  Initially my wife and I saw him as a couple’s therapist after friend of mine came to visit.

The three of us went out for drinks.  I remember my wife’s behavior really embarrassed me.  I had just been hired by Dechert and was earning more money than I ever had.  She kept congratulating me and it felt awkward in front of my friend.  I asked her to stop but she kept doing it.  Then we went to a restaurant called Cuba Libre.  There she was involved in some sort of scuffle where some guy picked her up and moved her away from the bar.  She complained to the manager who did nothing.  To me it felt like she was getting drunk and making a scene.  I tried to get her to change the subject but she would not stop talking about what had happened.  Finally I said if she talked about it one more time I was leaving.  She talked about it again and I got up and left.  I waited outside on the street.  She and my friend eventually came out and we took a cab back to our apartment.  She kept yelling at me saying I ruined the night.

The next night my friend was still there.  It felt like things were smoothed over but I wanted to joke with him the way we normally did.  My wife seemed unable to contribute.  It frustrated me.  I felt like I would always have her around so I would never be able to feel free and joke around with my friends. This thought made me feel depressed like I had given up a piece of myself that I could never retrieve.

This was the start of my wife having a problem with my friends.  I remember the psychologist asking me, “why can’t you just let your friend and your wife have that relationship,” meaning (now that I look back on it) why not allow the three of us to interact in the way we did without getting upset that it was not the way I wanted it to go.  It was a valid point but I would not get to that point until much later.

After a few sessions as a couple I continued seeing this psychologist by myself.  Once a week I would leave work at lunchtime and walk across town, past City Hall, to his office.  We talked about a lot of things.  Most of the time I would bring up a subject.  He would take notes and sometimes ask questions but his form of therapy was very client driven.  I cried once or twice.  We talked a lot about my relationship with my father.  We talked about my fascination with “A Christmas Carol,” whether the ghosts were outside entities or creations of Scrooge’s consciousness and about how I burst into tears every time I watched the scene where Fred welcomes Scrooge to dinner (but only when I watched it alone).  He pointed out that even though I was born after my father’s car accident in which my older sister died when she was a baby, that it must have had an impact on me.  That was an idea I had never considered before.  He described me as feeling a “lack of entitlement.”  He told me I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

He was definitely compassionate.  He told me I was an interesting case.  I think he liked me on a personal level.  But looking back on it I never really thought the therapy went anywhere.  I think I grew marginally under his care probably because his type of therapy was not well suited for my specific issues.

There were a few instances where he got my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants to me.  I was on Paxil for a while.  It seemed to work but had some sexual side effects that I did not like.  Specifically it was difficult to maintain and erection and to have an orgasm.  I was later on Lexapro, which was pretty similar.  He eventually prescribed me Wellbutrin under the influence of which I had a mental breakdown of sorts.  This happened at my parents’ house in Connecticut one weekend we came for a visit.  Both my sisters and my cousin were there. I remember being so angry with my wife (we were not getting along at the time).  I got up from the dinner table, got a beer in the kitchen and ran out on the golf course behind my parents’ house.  I chugged it in the middle of the fairway in the dark.  The rest of the night is hazy to me.  I remember my cousin consoling me in the driveway as they were leaving.  Then I went up to bed.  I stopped seeing the psychologist after that.

I wanted to get off Wellbutrin but I did not want to experience “mind zaps” I had heard about.  I looked up a psychiatrist in the phone book.  I called her and she was willing to see me.  I think her office was in an apartment building in Washington Square.  My concern was that I wanted to get off Wellbutrin because it was making me behave bizarrely but I wanted to do it in a medically supervised way to avoid the side effects I had read about regarding abruptly going off of anti-depressants.  I do not feel like I made a real connection with her and I only saw her for a few times.  I remember she asked me about my first memory and how abnormal it was that it did not involve either one of my parents.  I also remember another interaction where I told her that I was uncomfortable with my drinking.  Her response was, “well there are other things to drink besides alcohol.”  I suppose she was not that well acquainted with the mind of an alcoholic because I remember thinking that there certainly are other things to drink but none of them make me drunk.  That seemed like an important point looking back on it.  I did not express it to her at the time.

Anyway, she guided me through getting off of Wellbutrin.  Part of that involved not drinking for two weeks, which was difficult but I did it.  Once I got off of Wellbutrin I quickly got back on drinking.

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