Apr 30 2014

Paul Williams



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Clarity, Emotions, Hanging In There, The Right Stuff




A few days ago I posted a Waylon Jennings quote that I love. “I may be crazy, but it keeps me from going insane.” It started me thinking about the difference between crazy and insane.

I have a pretty good working knowledge of both conditions.  I’ve done some crazy ass things in my life.  Have I experienced insanity? When I got sober I was told that a “power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.” The implication being that my drinking and using had led to a kind of temporary insanity. I believed the experts, followed their suggestions and it worked. I think.

Much of my hard earned wisdom comes from surviving crazy.  It’s the school of hard knocks. The Doctorate of dumb. Except for my training at UCLA in Alcohol & drug counseling, my formal studies ended with a high school diploma. Life and all its challenges, liberally seasoned by some pretty impressive missteps, has been a relentless but effective teacher.

Is crazy essential to wisdom?  Does a sunburn make us value sunblock? I’m convinced it does. No one’s going to compare me to Plato but I think I’m right.

One of the affirmations Tracy and I created for our book is “I will learn from my mistakes and not defend them.”

There have been some doozies. Trust me, you don’t want to know.  Okay, maybe you do but don’t hold your breath.

Many of the crazier things I did were of course attention seeking. But was the acting out actually answering an unconscious calling or need? We alcoholics describe our drinking as self-medicating.  I think my occasional shocking behavior on the tube or my participation in dangerous sports was misguided corrections for low self worth.  I’m here world.  Please, please notice me.

High-speed sports and free fall were things I came to enjoy but something very different actually brought me to the sports.  They were all activities that made me feel special when I was in fact different.  Ego driven for sure, but also a response to the pain of feeling less than.

I joined a skydiving club in Albuquerque when I was 20. Barely 5 feet tall, my pals used to say, “It’s because you’re little. You’re trying to prove something.”  I told them to go … well, never mind what I said then. Years later a gifted and very expensive therapist told me the same thing.

The question I’m asking is “Do the crazy things we do, even the ones that damn near kill us, in some cases serve to keep us sane.

Self worth, real self worth, is built on right action not stunts. Most alcoholics will tell you that booze worked until it quit working.  That they may have killed themselves if they hadn’t found the relief of a drink.  Eventually the booze quit working and became a profound liability.

I am in no way recommending alcohol as a problem solving choice. If you’re an addict it is a potentially fatal companion. For me to drink again would be insane. Don’t do as I did, do as I say. I may not be a good example but at least I’m a strong warning.

I’m sure of one thing.  A true spiritual awakening offers a strong sense of being cared for.  Safe at last, safe at last, I survived the crazies and I’m safe at last.

These days I recommend a healthy dose of sensible caution. I’m both caring and careful.

I’m grateful to have survived some crazy days and nights.  If they allowed me to feel good enough about myself to roll on towards the life I have today, they were a gift and they served their purpose in guiding me eventually to the path of gratitude and trust.


Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust is now available.

  • Michael Gullickson

    I think most of us who write, paint, sculpt, or invent could safely be called crazy. Without crazy, willing to challenge and change the status quo nothing would get done. When Ugluk (a distant cousin) invented fire all of his neighbors said Why? What possible use can we have for this? Your as dumb as Eysor who’s drawing on the walls. Why? What for? So embrace crazy. If crazy gives me one poem, one affirmation, one privilege of seeing and sharing beauty, then bring crazy on. I’ll be forever grateful…

    • Paul Williams

      I need to drop Uglak a thank you note. This winter would have been brutal without heat. I wish you manageable doses of crazy if it works for you. Hope you’re feeling better every day.

  • Rose Poirier

    I bungee jump, zip line, roller skate and ride horses… It makes me feel alive and relieve stress, especially riding horses. It also prevents me from wallowing in self-pity and relieves the pain and boredom of a daily life. People’s pontifical, judgemental and condescending statements are more a reflection of who they are, rather than who you are. I think the crazy and/or insane things you did earlier in your life helped shape the inspirational person you are today so yes, I do believe crazy is essential to wisdom.

    • Paul Williams

      Love reading your response. I’m not sure it’s essential to wisdom but it seems to be the road most of us walk on our way to the land of survival and sensibility. Thanks for being here Rose. Love reading your thoughts.

  • Daphné Battaglia

    Your blog make me think about this quote : “one person’s craziness is another person’s reality”, by the very talented Tim Burton. It’s very interesting to think about the definiton of craziness : from what/how do it start ? To me, something called crazy is something we are not not accustomed to (most of the time). It depends of our culture, our education, our tastes, our personnality, our influences, our passions…

    That’s a very fascinating subject, because craziness is in a close relationship with the subjective part of the human mind. An new experiment can sometimes be called ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ because of its novelty… But we can’t guess the result if we don’t try ! As you said, we learn from our mistakes. And sometimes they aren’t mistakes at all !
    Same for Arts : people who dared trying new things changed the mentality, the perception of the world… Craziness is an interesting new overture in the human spirit. And yes, sometimes we do crazy things to prove us something and/or to test our limits. Because we need it at some time of our life… This builds us.
    Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s always a pleasure to read your blog ! I’m totally passionate about this subject, but if I start thinking a little more deeply about it my comment would be endless ! Plus, English is not my native language… That’s often more difficult to think about something (and to talk about it) in another language !

    One more thing : when I read “Safe at last, safe at last, I survived the crazies and I’m safe at last” the first thing that comes to my mind is “Life at last, salutations from the other side…” : was this intentional ? Or maybe I’m just a little bit TOO obsessed by Phantom…

    Have a great day, Paul.



    • Paul Williams

      ” Craziness is an interesting new overture in the human spirit.” is a wonderful thought. In any language. Don’t sell yourself short Daphne. You’re use of english is quite elegant.
      The “Safe at Last” is a call back to “Free at Last” .. meaning no disrespect. Dr. King’s speech may well be as important as any speech given in Americas history.
      But, I love that it took you back to Phantom. Blessings!

  • Paul Williams

    You know you’re getting it right when you’re trudging with the likes of Wes H. He’s one of my closest and wisest friends. YOu’ll find his blogs here from time to time. Congrats on the Dos X’s and I hope we can all break bread together some day.

  • Bryan Castner

    I had a recovery group member ask me recently, “if you had your life to do over again, would you change anything?” This particular individual knew enough about my personal history that the question had some teeth. I didn’t know how to answer him at that moment, so I think I gave him a flippant answer like buying more land and fewer cars (which wouldn’t have been a bad idea).

    But it didn’t take too much pondering to conclude that I would not change anything. How could I? Then I wouldn’t be me. You can’t ask green to turn to blue if it could – green only knows green. Everything I’ve done in my life, including, and maybe especially, all the substance abuse and associated dangers, have brought me to this very moment – as I sit here typing a post to Paul and Tracey’s blog. Still alive (wow, that has a nice ring to it). I never would have guessed I would be doing this, but then I never would have guessed most things that have happened in my life.

    I am so blessed to still be on the planet. Like you, Paul, I sought thrills of all kinds, among them motorcycles and airplanes. And I chose to use all sorts of substances, which made just living my life far more dangerous than fast machines. Looking back, I’m not sure that a good portion of the thrill wasn’t about the attention. Maybe it had to do with the “being special” you talk about.

    So all of that craziness is now in my portfolio, along with a few positive achievements I’ve had the good fortune of accomplishing on this journey. It’s my reference source. Through no fault of my own I didn’t die young, which leaves me in a mostly peaceful place and gives me the ability to offer support to others from time to time. The craziness was inherent in my becoming who I am.

    Would I recommend crazy behavior as a way of supercharging a young life? Certainly not. Nor do I ever recommend relapses to folks in recovery – but if it does happen, I encourage them to learn as much as possible from the experience.

    In a way, we can only speak for ourselves.

    Blessing to you, Paul.

    • Paul Williams

      We have so much in common Bryan. Yes, recovery and a history of the crazies, but you have a perspective and a clarity that makes your gratitude an intelligent choice. We all have that “just back from the wars” rush of thankfulness in early sobriety I suppose. But, I’m always impressed as I see it become a firm decision based on the wisdom of life lived on lives terms. We grow up sometimes and do the right thing and actually are able to explain it once in a while. Miracles. Really glad you’re here.

      • Bryan Castner

        Thank you for the kind and encouraging words, Paul. I am so fortunate to have found Gratitude and Trust, and I am honored to be a part of these important discussions – so much fun on a good day and so very helpful on days that don’t make the Top Ten. Gracias, mi amigo.

    • Robin Madsen

      Amen, Bryan – this sounds like a summary of my life!

      • Bryan Castner

        It’s amazing what similarities we all find when we scratch the surface of others’ lives. Thank you, Robin!

  • Steppie Royes

    There’s a funny but truthful card going around that states how great it was not growing up with social media because we didn’t have the opportunity to post our crazy moments.

    I’ve always considered “crazy” as actions that stand out from the ordinary without the cause of accident or injury. It was also a nice way to call something stupid. Insane for me is having the urge to hurt oneself or others OR not fully being in the reality of this world. I have known crazy people. I have known insane people. But I think the average person has experienced both.

    It’s the crazy moments in life that, for better or worse, create the person that one is to become. Having to visit the realms of insanity to seek self worth brings forth dangerous mistakes, some that are not fixable. The people who return from it, have a degree in life that can stand up next to any doctor or lawyer.
    And the beauty of being able to teach others from your mistakes is one of the highest vocations I know.

    Stand tall, Paul. You survived insanity and can handle crazy. Great blog!

    • Paul Williams

      In the musical “Happy Days” I wrote some lines for Fonzie’s “I am” song that may apply. The first song he sings that tells us who he is.
      “I was a child of the streets. The school of hard knocks was my only school. Tough slice of life on my plate. But, I’m master of my fate. I’ve got a black belt in cool!”

      We all want to be cool and many of us make a real mess of things when we try. But, we live and learn. Thanks Steppie.

  • Laurie Batog

    Beautifully said! Damn, you sure do have a way with words…..
    This is my fave part:
    “I’m sure of one thing. A true spiritual awakening offers a strong sense of being cared for. Safe at last, safe at last, I survived the crazies and I’m safe at last.” AMEN!
    Although my views on who/what/where that spiritual source comes from has changed in ten years, I invariably believe that without some kind of positive connection to “goodness & light”, MY crazy would be all up in everybody’s face and have me feeling lower than low. My connection to “source” makes me feel that I am never truly alone, no matter what old tapes may play in my head.
    Thanks to you & Tracey for this wonderful blog. I may not read every day, or even comment all the time, but I do catch up and get great comfort, inspiration and advice from you both and the people who add their 2 cents.
    Peace & love, music man~