Rock Bottom Is Overrated

I can’t count the number of times in the last few months I’ve heard someone, well-meaning, say you’ve got to hit “rock bottom” before you can get better. I’m not sure if it’s an official AA term, but that’s where I first remember hearing it used of sinking to the lowest point in your life, so low there’s no place to go but up.

Since then, I’ve heard it in all kinds of therapy and self-help settings. People I’ve known who suffer from depression have wondered when they were going to hit rock bottom and start to feel better. People I’ve known struggling with spiritual emptiness have wondered where their “spiritual rock bottom” lies, where God will finally find them in their outer darkness or Jesus will work some magical redemption. People I’ve known who live daily with misgivings from their past, nursing the wounds of many wrongs, some of them misfortunes of happenstance, some inflicted by family, old lovers and even friends, yet others self-inflicted, have wondered aloud in my presence whether “experiencing them fully” until they reach the rock bottom of this woundedness is the way to finally move beyond their pain.

But the problem with needing to hit rock bottom is that you never really know where rock bottom is until you’ve been there and can look back at it. Some people never get there. They never get to the point where they feel that things are as bad as they can get and continue to waste away in their addiction or suffering. Or they die before they realize how bad it is.

So let’s do away with romantic notions and be clear. Dying is rock bottom. It doesn’t get any worse after that. But at that point the need for therapy and recovery no longer applies, and rock-bottom is not a viable strategy for getting better.

A little book by Henri Nouwen called The Wounded Healer is often misused in service of this notion. Nouwen wrote, in a nutshell, that the person who has experienced a wound and recovered from it is uniquely qualified to help others who suffer from similar wounds. Nouwen’s hopeful advice is that suffering can be redeemed by using painful experiences to help others.

What Nouwen does not say, however, is that you should seek out suffering, or that you should want to increase your suffering or prolong it in order to become a better healer. Nouwen was not a masochist. The idea that you should intentionally go deeper into suffering or exacerbate your condition would have been abhorrent to Nouwen, though his book has often been misinterpreted in that way – mostly, I should add, by people who haven’t actually read it but extrapolate their interpretation from the title.

The idea of rock bottom makes a great story. “I was at rock bottom, but look at me now!” It’s the American, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps dream in therapeutic clothing. But the myth defies the facts. For every fantastic story of the self-described loser who rose from the depths of addiction on skid row to become a millionaire – or fill in whatever other marker of success you like – there are millions of ordinary folk. Thousands of them hit rock bottom and die every day. Thousands more suffer through endless days of depression and anxiety and trouble waiting to arrive at a mythical, magical rock-bottom moment that always eludes them.

Those ordinary folk among us must find another way to heal before being destroyed by rock bottom. Here’s my un-mythic, un-magical counter-proposal to the rock bottom story:

Less suffering is better than more suffering.

Most people don’t need an intervention. And when you’re suffering, you don’t need more drama. Save the drama for novels and movies. Most of us are better off with less real-life drama. Most of us are not mythic. We’re not Aladdins, “diamonds in the rough”. We’re not Hollywood stars waiting to be born out of the crucible of adversity. And if you watch Entertainment Tonight on any given evening, you’ll know that those who are Hollywood stars tend to carry their adversity with them into their stardom. Fame and millions don’t save them from their bad marriages and addictions.

Less suffering is better than more suffering. Less wallowing in your pain and resentments is better than more wallowing. Less dwelling on the past is better than more dwelling. Less abusing of substances is better than more abusing. Less abuse in a marriage is better than more abuse.

I’ve had thoughtful people object to this. I’ve had people tell me that “The unexamined life is not worth living,” therefore I must plumb the depths of my pain to the fullest extent and experience the total depravity of my soul to it’s outer limit.

This is bullshit.

Your pain is not your Everest to climb. Mount Everest is a physical reality. “The depths of your pain” is a mental, metaphysical construct. That’s not to say it isn’t really painful. But in the case of emotional pain, the suffering comes from the meaning you attribute to it. In the case of psychological pain, it is reconstructed and reinforced again every time you visit it.

Less negative drama is better than more negative drama. Less despair is better than more despair. Less anxiety is better than more anxiety.

Some people need the help of antidepressants or other medication in order to lessen their pain. I’m all for that. There is nothing wrong with taking medication to correct chemical imbalances in the brain and body that cause you to return over and over to your darkest thoughts. Medicine can lessen the pain and anxiety, one day at a time, and help you not to rush over and over again to climb your mental Mount Everests. If you’ve been prescribed medicine, take it. There’s no shame in using something helpful. It won’t alleviate your real-world problems, but it will help lessen the burden of a mind racing out of control.

Others object that any addiction, any abuse, any suffering is too much. It’s all or nothing. The only way to be better is to be completely free of pain, completely abstinent, to go cold turkey. The only way to find relief is to cut off all contact with old acquaintances and start from scratch.

This, too, is bullshit.

The perfect is the enemy of the possible, an excuse for avoiding taking any action at all. Perfection, like rock-bottom, is for novels and the movies. Less bad is better than more bad. Call it the Ockham’s razor approach to therapy. The simplest explanation, the simplest solution, the small thing you can do right now to get your mind out of the darkness, is probably the right thing.

Less radical intervention is better than more radical intervention. The least intrusive method generates the least resistance to acceptance and the greatest likelihood of sticking with it.

When someone is near death, say from a massive heart attack, radical surgery is needed. When someone is close to rock bottom already, standing on a bridge ready to jump, a full-on intervention may be the only way to save her from herself. But open heart surgery and full-on interventions are not things anyone should attempt at home.

For headache, take aspirin. Because, while aspirin may not cure your headache, less headache is better than more headache. For scraped knees, use Neosporin and a bandaid. They won’t cure your scraped knee, but less scraped-knee pain is better than more scraped-knee pain. Almost nobody says when they scrape their knee, “I must experience the full extent of knee pain in order to be more fully human.”

Not all problems and wounds are merely scraped knees, of course. All of us, I suspect, have been dealt deeper wounds than that. Childhood and marital abuse, divorce, job losses, deaths of loved ones, betrayals of friends – all these cuts go deep and their pain is real. They often require the help and expertise of real doctors and real medications. And fortunate are those who have access to those remedies. If you do, you should take advantage of them.

But what I am saying is that it makes no sense to add to the real pain more self-inflicted pain in the name of reaching some false sense of fulfillment or nobility. And there is no sense in waiting forever for a miracle cure when there are small things you can do to make things a little better now. Martyrdom is overrated. Leave martyrdom for the martyrs.

To experience suffering is part of living on the planet. It is real. It is unavoidable. Sometimes suffering is necessary to achieve a greater objective. But even then, less suffering is better than more suffering. And rock bottom is a place much better to read about than to experience. Less suffering is better than more suffering.

So what do you do?

Exactly what to do in your case today depends on what small thing is at hand. No one day is going to bring perfection, so do whatever small thing you can do and complete. Then you can say to yourself, “I did something.”

If you have medicine, take your medicine. If you have the chance to meet a friend for coffee instead of staying home mulling over how awfully your ex treated you, go have coffee. If you can bring yourself to drain the last two beers in the sink instead of drinking them, drain them. If you can play Parcheesi with your 11-year old instead of stalking that person who hurt you on Facebook, play Parcheesi. Sure, you might think about your ex later, or you might go out and get more beer in a few hours. Maybe you are addicted. But less raging and less drinking is better than more raging and more drinking. And maybe there’s an AA meeting you will go to tonight that you wouldn’t have gone to if you hadn’t drained those last two beers in the sink. Maybe after Parcheesi you’ll feel great and want to make love later on instead of sulking. One small step leads to the next small step. It’s time, even a few short hours, with your friend or your kid or sober that you didn’t have before.

Don’t wait for rock bottom. And certainly don’t try to get there. And don’t wait for perfection either. Do the small things you can do, one at a time. The important thing is to do something, any small thing. The point is not to make the suffering go away all at once, but to engage in something that makes the suffering just a little less, something that is actually in your power to do right now.

What are you waiting for? Go do it. Start.

Slider Addiction Recovery

Duran Duran's John Taylor
Duran Duran’s John Taylor

Back in the big 80s, we thought it was cool to have Duran Duran hair.

In hindsight, that’s an obvious mistake.

Then again, De gustibus non est disputandum.

More recently people thought it was cool to have sliders on their websites.

It’s the same kind of mistake. The only reason to have a slider on your website is that you think it looks cool and you’re not taking fashion advice from sane people who know better.

I confess that by now I’ve done more than a few sites with sliders. For that I can only beg forgiveness.

I’m doing what I can to make amends. As sites come up for review, I’m removing sliders wherever I can.

It’s a little like being in addiction recovery. You have to figure out what could possibly take the place of that jolt you got from the smoke or booze. What could possibly replace that monkey on your home page? What could fill the gaping space left empty by that former abusive lover?

There are plenty of better options. The ManageWP blog has some fine advice on slider replacements. Start there. Google “slider alternatives.” You’ll find lots more.

There is life after sliders, I promise. Just like there were still good haircuts after December 31, 1989.

Spam, Round 2

Here’s another spammer-scammer that came this morning from fahad at clickingz dot org:

Dear Caspar Green
How are you? I am Fahad Hassen, a php developer from Clearwater
working with website security. I am writing to ask whether you 
are aware that your domain configuration has serious security 
issues which lets anyone use your email address without your 
authorization?
Just to prove this to you, I can send an email to you from 
"your email address itself". Do you want me to send an email 
to you from your mailbox itself, so you can see the problem?
I found your website while researching the websites using the 
wp-e-commerce plugin, as part of a security research to 
strengthen the plugin's security. I also found that your 
website's wordpress files are not protected, which means by 
right clicking and checking the source code of the website, 
almost anybody can figure out the framework you are using 
(wordpress), its version, the themes and plugins you are 
using etc. A competitor or anybody interested in your site 
can easily duplicate your site since the whole structure of 
your site is exposed. Further, since wordpress is very prone
to hacking and hackers target the open URLs of the system 
such as wp-admin and wp-login and other common files, your 
site is always under the risk of attack. To overcome this, 
you will need to takeaway all the traces of a standard 
wordpress site, so no attacks/hacking will work on your site. 
For anybody viewing the "source", all they will see is nice 
and clean HTML and no traces of wordpress.
I am sure you understand the concerns I have raised, and I can 
fix these for you for a very modest fee if you wish. 
Please let me know.
Thank You and Regards,
Fahad Hassen
Senior PHP Developer
+1 727 474 1044
Clickingz Security Research Lab, Clearwater FL. 33760

So I go to clickingz.org to see what this Fahad’s site looks like. Here it is:

Screenshot of clickingz dot org

Nice!

I don’t guess I’ll actually send this back, but for anyone else whose thinking of taking him up on his offer, I offer the following response:

Dear Mr Hassen:

Thanks for your offer to fix the security issues on my site. Your own site looks real good, by the way, and I particularly like the way you have all the directories on your server root exposed. Free tip for you – if you’re using an Apache server, you can just add a line to the .htaccess file in your root directory that says:  Options -Indexes and that’ll take care of your security issue. It’s a simple one-liner and for a security expert, like yourself, it really would be good to make sure you have this basic measure in place on your own site.

I’m also particularly interested in your offer to harden the security of my exposed wp-e-commerce plugin, since it isn’t installed on my site. And yes, I’m aware that my site exposes that I’m using WordPress. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it just a couple weeks ago that you may be interested in. WordPress is a fairly secure platform. Of course, like any software, it has it’s problems. If you’ve found a specific security issue, however, I’d love to know, and you really should submit a ticket to the folks at WordPress so we can all sleep better at night, knowing it’ll be taken care of in the next patch.

As for your ability to send email that appears to come from my own account, I am aware that it’s pretty easy to spoof an email’s “From:” header. In fact, I’ve spoofed this email’s header so it will appear to come from fahad at clickingz dot org. Can you please tell me more specifically, how you intend to prevent anyone from sending mail using “my email address itself?” Will you also spoof my IP, or will you be bouncing it off a few proxies? I’d just like to know before I commit any money, though I’m sure your fees are, as you say, very modest.

Thanks again for your kind offer. I’ll look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Sincerely,

Caspar

Bloat Is Easy. Clean Is Harder (and maybe worth it).

For the last week or so, I’ve been checking out WordPress starter themes. By starter, I mean starter. As in, down to bare bones. The starters I’ve been working with are Toolbox and Underscores.

Both of these starter themes come from people at Automattic (the WordPress parent organization), so they both provide a solid foundation for theme build-outs. The major difference between them is that Toolbox assumes you’re going to build a child theme on top of it. Underscores, however, is right up front about saying, “Don’t build a child theme on this.”

Even Starter Themes Have Some Bloat

By far, the most surprising thing about both these starters is how much they give you to start with. They both come with quite a few functions already defined, and a surprising amount of CSS. You’d never suspect it, given the spartan look of them out of the box.

It’s an eye-opener to see what the Automattic theme folks consider essential to include. Theme support for post types and backgrounds, head links and body classes for various feed types, CSS for screen readers, right-to-left language support. It’s all there.

WordPress Has Even More Bloat

As I was working on these, though, what began to bother me was the amount of extra stuff WordPress itself inserts into each page. Stuff that might or might not be useful, depending on what the site is about. Once you start adding plug-ins, things really start to expand rapidly. It’s like the big bang happening in your browser.

I started finding myself slightly obsessed with figuring out where all this stuff was coming from and seeing if I could get rid of it. If you firebug this page, you’ll see a huge load of crap in the <head> section of the HTML. Take a look at all this:

<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8"/>
    <link rel="pingback" href="http://icaspar.net/xmlrpc.php"/>
    <title>iCaspar</title>
    <meta name="author" content="Caspar"/>
    <meta name="description" content="Caspar Green. Thoughts on technology, theology, faith and church in the 21st century."/>
    <meta name="keywords" content="Caspar,Caspar Green,theology,technology,faith,church"/>
    <link rel="shortcut icon" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/favicon.ico"/>
    <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="iCaspar » Feed" href="http://icaspar.net/feed/"/>
    <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="iCaspar » Comments Feed" href="http://icaspar.net/comments/feed/"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="admin-bar-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-includes/css/admin-bar.min.css?ver=3.7.1" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="wordpress-popular-posts-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/plugins/wordpress-popular-posts/style/wpp.css?ver=2.3.7" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="jetpack-widgets-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/widgets/widgets.css?ver=20121003" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="suffusion-theme-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/themes/suffusion/style.css?ver=4.4.7" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="suffusion-theme-skin-1-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/themes/suffusion/skins/minima/skin.css?ver=4.4.7" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="suffusion-child-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/themes/iCaspar/style.css?ver=4.4.7" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="suffusion-rounded-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/themes/suffusion/rounded-corners.css?ver=4.4.7" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="suffusion-generated-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/uploads/suffusion/custom-styles.css?ver=4.4.7" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="suffusion-included-1-css" href="http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Varela+Round|Lusitana:400,700" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" id="sharedaddy-css" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/sharedaddy/sharing.css?ver=2.5" type="text/css" media="all"/>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="http://icaspar.net/wp-includes/js/jquery/jquery.js?ver=1.10.2"/>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="http://icaspar.net/wp-includes/js/jquery/jquery-migrate.min.js?ver=1.2.1"/>
    <script type="text/javascript">
    <script type="text/javascript" src="http://icaspar.net/wp-content/themes/suffusion/scripts/suffusion.js?ver=4.4.7"/>
    <link rel="EditURI" type="application/rsd+xml" title="RSD" href="http://icaspar.net/xmlrpc.php?rsd"/>
    <link rel="wlwmanifest" type="application/wlwmanifest+xml" href="http://icaspar.net/wp-includes/wlwmanifest.xml"/>
    <link rel="shortlink" href="http://wp.me/1KGkX"/>
    <meta property="og:type" content="blog"/>
    <meta property="og:title" content="iCaspar"/>
    <meta property="og:description" content="To Code Is Divine"/>
    <meta property="og:url" content="http://icaspar.net/"/>
    <meta property="og:site_name" content="iCaspar"/>
    <meta name="twitter:site" content="@jetpack"/>
    <style type="text/css" media="print">
    <style type="text/css" media="screen">
    <style type="text/css">
    <style type="text/css">
    <script type="text/javascript">
    <style type="text/css"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" id="gravatar-card-css" href="http://s.gravatar.com/css/hovercard.css?ver=2013Novaa"/>
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" id="gravatar-card-services-css" href="http://s.gravatar.com/css/services.css?ver=2013Novaa"/>
</head>

After a while tinkering around, starting from underscore and with the help of Darren Miller’s ThemeWrangler class, I got the installation on my development server down to just this:

<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <meta content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1" name="viewport">
    <title>iCaspar Web Development | Custom Web Development</title>
    <link id="rule-them-all-css" media="all" type="text/css" href="http://townfool.dev/assets/css/thering.css?ver=3.7.1" rel="stylesheet">
    <link id="right-sidebar-layout-css" media="all" type="text/css" href="http://townfool.dev/assets/css/rightsidebar.css ver=3.7.1" rel="stylesheet">
    <style id="custom-background-css" type="text/css">
</head>

To be fair, in a real-life installation, you’re probably going to need a few more things going on. And I’m also not showing you a few scripts that I moved into the footer on the development site (which is where most of the scripts really should go).

I’m not saying that all this stuff isn’t useful. If you want social media connections and you believe in OpenGraph as a SEO essential, you’ll need to bring some of them back in. If you want easy access to feeds of various sorts, you probably need to tell browsers where to find them. It’s just that a lot of it is there whether it’s actually being used for anything or not, and it gets loaded with every page. And, if you’re not careful which plug-ins you’ve installed, it can get plenty worse. I’ve seen sites that have jQuery getting loaded 4 or 5 times, all different versions.

For most people, it probably doesn’t make a bit of difference. Very few people see it, and even fewer care. Shoot, it doesn’t even make enough difference for me to clean it up on this site.

The point is if you’re going to bother starting from scratch, less is more, and it’s better to add judiciously than to just toss everything in willy-nilly. And, for the average person, if you’re still reading this, the moral of the story is: be careful what you plug in.