A Mutiny of Assholes
April 14, 1982
Seventy days lost at sea.
An epic story of survival.
The crew begs and moans pitifully, “We can’t go on. We need more water.” Barely recognizable, they lay on the decks burned beyond recognition, scarred and shriveled versions of their former selves. They suffer under soul-scorching sun for over seventy days at sea, shipwrecked and lost to the world. Fresh blisters bubble up between layers of earlier burns and abrasions that refuse to heal. Nothing, including skin, has a chance to dry out. Salt, literally rubbing into every wound in a never-ending cycle of soul-destroying wind and waves.
Meanwhile, the decaying rubber life raft taunts them with its written guarantee to stay afloat for forty days. Small comfort as they approach two months lost at sea, holding their raft together with improvised lashings and plugs of whatever can be scavenged to patch holes and tears. Keeping themselves afloat through constant use of the hand pump in a never-ending battle with the punctured, deflating tubes.
The captain has lost a full third of his body weight—hunger and thirst his constant companions. His tongue has swollen, pressing against the inside of his mouth, and making it painful to speak.
“No, we can’t have more water. We’ve used our ration for the day. We need to save our supplies, or we’ll never make it to landfall.”
“But we’ll never make it if we don’t get water. We can’t last much longer like this, we’re dying,” replies the crew. Indeed, already assumed dead by authorities, no one is searching for them. No one is expecting them to survive being lost at sea for this length of time. They are on their own, abandoned, as the argument rages on.
“We’ve done all we can. Let us have the water.”
“No, we need to save it until we really need it.”
“But we can’t go on without it.”
Like the surrounding ocean, the argument stretches on with no end in sight. The captain wants to agree with the crew, give in, and greedily consume the rest of the water in one last hurrah. Surely that’s better than this agonizing “drip feed,” the measly ration that never comes close to satisfying their aching thirst. But he knows their only chance of rescue is to make the water last. To stay afloat long enough for their decaying life raft to drift its way into the busy shipping lanes they have been limping towards over the previous two months.
How many times has it come down to this? Survival depending on who wins the battle of words. Will it be the captain as he reasons and resists in equal measure, rallying the voices of dissent with stories of hope? Stories of passing ships or landfall if they can make it just another day, perhaps tomorrow, always tomorrow.
Or will it be the crew? The long-suffering crew, the voices of despair and disappointment. Each day bringing fresh disasters both large and small. Another hole in the raft, another battle with sharks, another ship that sails right past without noticing them. Will their voices win out? Will they abandon the effort, giving in to the ever-present anxiety and depression that lurks in the shadowy depths below? Everything rides on this simple choice. A choice that must be remade constantly, as each new challenge throws fresh salt in their wounds. It would be so easy to give up, to lie down, to sleep, and forget. To stop fighting this battle and let the waves roll over them.
* * *
The captain who inspired this story is Steven Callahan*. A whale or giant shark sank Steve’s boat during a solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1982. But wait a minute, a solo crossing? Didn’t I just describe the ongoing battle between Captain Steve and his crew? Yes. The events that inspired the story above happened - with one exception. Steven Callahan was alone when his boat sank, spending the next seventy-six days fighting for his survival in a small, slowly disintegrating rubber life raft. He had arguments with the crew. Just not a real, physical crew. The arguments in his daily fight for survival were all in his head, between the voice he referred to as the captain and other parts of himself that he identified as the long-suffering crew.
The voices he referred to as the crew wanted to give up, surrender to fate, and slip away from all the pain and suffering. To drink all the water and eat all the food. Meanwhile, the captain was the voice within that refused to forget about tomorrow, believing from deep within his soul that victory was possible, that his family was waiting for him, that he could make it. If he stuck to his plan and focused on his goals, tomorrow would be better. And if not, then maybe the next day, or the next. This part of him that focused on hope, not fear, was determined to see him through his challenges.
It is a battle we've all faced. The challenge of choosing hope over fear. Action over distraction. The challenge of moving beyond guilt that binds us to the past and anxiety that torments us with an unknown future. Like Captain Steve, the real battles of our lives are the ones that scratch and claw their way up from within. These are the real enemies, the disowned aspects of the self, the voices of bad habits and disabling beliefs, our fears and our regrets.
The ultimate truth—one each of us must face—is that nobody “out there” can fix our lives for us. Nobody can save us from ourselves. Only we can face the inner battles that rage daily between the inner assholes in our heads. The demons that are forever circling just below the surface like sharks beneath the captain’s raft, ready to grab and pull us under. The voices that start out small but would swallow us whole if we were to let them.
Can we beat these inner voices of anxiety, fear, and regret that pop up like an insane, never-ending game of whack-a-mole? The voices of lost arguments, insults still felt, and regrets that still hurt. Of parents that bruised, bullies that tormented. Voices that wouldn’t die, taking up residence in our heads as if tattooed on our brains.
Can we do better than let the perverse comfort of well-worn patterns justify our habits of avoidance as we stream the latest Netflix series? Are we able to stop numbing ourselves through our addiction to food, social media, and online shopping? Addictions to stories that others construct for us, but we end up living. Sure, they may not be working for us anymore, but we do them so well it’s hard to give them up.
Our challenge is no different from that faced by Captain Steve. For Captain Steve’s ultimate challenge, the one that would determine his success and his very survival is also ours. It is the challenge of overcoming our negative voices and the dark passengers within. The challenge of living our unled life, the life we carry within us as a possibility. The life that is constantly at risk of falling prey to the sharks of the mind and circling voices telling us we are not enough. Not deserving of happiness, of love, or freedom from fear. Voices reminding us of our limitations, our shortcomings. Either we tackle these voices or succumb to them. This is our choice. Captain Steve’s epic story of survival reminds us that success over these voices is possible. It is possible to choose which voices we nurture, and which voices we listen to.
This book is a guide to overcoming the inner voices that drag us down. In Part 1, we’ll come to understand our inner voices, using the latest evidence-based research as a guide. In Part 2, we’ll develop a range of practical tools and approaches for living a life free of the tyranny of the inner asshole. Some ideas are simple and can be implemented straight away. Some take practice. And others are significant interventions that require considerable thought and planning. All can help. Most require some effort and practice, while some are almost too simple to believe.
And any one of the ideas, tools, and strategies can be the one that changes everything.