God’s Confusing Role in My Recovery

I’m going to be totally up front here, and I really hope that I don’t unintentionally or ignorantly say something that offends, but I’ve got to say that since entering the world of blogging, I’m more confused than ever the role God plays in recovery and my life.

I was raised Catholic but left the church because of what I saw as a lot of hypocrisy. I found that too many people brought their politics into the church and twisted the Bible to fit their worldview. The “social justice and peace” group at church comprised of people I would never call fair nor kind. I was also discouraged by the number of people who carried an invisible moral superiority entitlement badge, yet were horrible people and by the number of people who refused to answer my questions, yet seemed like smart people outside of church.

I liked the ideas of Jesus, but felt like most people twisted what the meaning of what he said and what he did while on Earth to match their agenda. The Bible is open to interpretation and I don’t think they could see other angles than ones that already fed into their biases, stereotypes and superstitions. I think that someone with no ties to religion at all would look at the Bible and tell you that Jesus was the kind of liberal that is too liberal for most liberals. But that angle isn’t one that a lot of followers can accept.

So, I walked away. I even started calling myself an atheist for a decade or so. I actually called myself a “non-practicing atheist” because even most atheist people got on my nerves. Whether it’s an atheist, Christian, scientist, politician or my parents, I’ve never liked it when people tried to tell me they had the answers for me. Nobody has all the answers and I’ve always felt the best way you can try to have all the answers is to understand all sides of an issue. That’s not a position many in our society, regardless of socioeconomic or religious background, take. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle has fueled the fire of the need that every person is correct in their beliefs and everybody else is wrong.

It was while I was writing my book in jail (The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – seriously, I need some sales this week – go buy it) that I realized in looking back over the last 20 years that I’m actually one of the most faith-filled people I know. I not only believe things are going to turn out the way they should, I believe things are going to turn out for the best. When they don’t, I’m disappointed, but can move on pretty fast because disappointment usually makes sense down the road, even if I can’t see it now.

What I also realized when I was writing the book (again, it’s call The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – for some reason, Amazon is selling it for 6 cents off the cover price, act now!) is that I do believe in a higher power, but I’ve been calling it “The Universe” since I left the church. My higher power isn’t really an active, take-sides kind of ruler. Mine is just a stabilizing energy that makes sure things stay in order. There’s something maintaining the balance and providing me with what I need – or don’t need – in this world.

I don’t think the human mind is supposed to understand a lot of things and I think that forces us to take the dual tracks of science and religion. Both exist to codify our existence. I love quantum physics because I think it’s the closest marriage of science and religion, but again, feel like our mind doesn’t really have the capacity to comprehend ideas like eternity and infinity.

As I was writing the book (you know the title) I started to feel this calling to talk about my experience. This feeling came over me that now it was my turn to help others who were pornography addicts and perhaps even more importantly, to inform the world about pornography addiction. It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to look at the numbers and recognize it’s going to be a major health crisis in this country.

So, I started this blog about four months before my book (the title escapes me at the moment) was released and was so wonderfully surprised how many people responded positively. There were those who had either porn addiction, other forms of addiction or mental health issues in their lives, or lives of their loved ones who could relate, but there was also a lot of people who just wanted to learn. It was invigorating, and made me want to share my story even more.

But then I started hitting the strong religious types. I have no problem with them and try not to judge them, but will admit I do have a problem not judging people who I feel are judging me. Maybe it’s a PTSD thing back to being a kid in the church, but certain things make me feel like I’m having a physical reaction. I get really worked up at some basic stuff and I don’t know exactly where it’s coming from. I could give examples but don’t want to offend anybody because I have nothing against you or your beliefs. I’ve actually enjoyed getting to know most through this site and share many of your beliefs, I just take a different path to the same solution.

When the book (the title is…no, never mind) came out in January, I started doing a lot of promotion, which I continue with today. This process of telling my story again and again has been amazing and absolutely drives home the point that I want to help. I want to be a source of information and support. I want to bring the concept to people that anybody can be a porn addict and that the addiction can lead to some horrible places.

When I step back, I recognize that I sound like someone who is joining the ministry. I know what the devout Christian would say. God has chosen me to deliver this message and is using me as his vessel. He put me through these trials because I have a greater purpose than the life porn addiction took away from me. The real hardcores would throw a Bible verse or two my way to drive their point home, and that’s where I’d start to curl into the fetal position.

I’m now at a place where I’m putting together two presentations – ironically both title “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About.” A version of one of the presentations is geared toward a Christian audience. Despite their telepathic link with God, Christians have higher rates of porn use and porn addiction than secular types. Let’s not debate why today.

I want to stand in front of church groups and talk about this issue. It’s important. But I can’t quote Scripture and I can’t tell them if their invisible friend is going to help the kick their porn habits or not, and that scares me, because I think that’s what religious people want to hear. I’m a big believer in doing what you need to quit any addiction, but I don’t know why God chose you to have it nor do I know if he’ll help solve the problem. If you think he will, that’s important. Faith is huge in recovery.

When I was a kid, nobody at church ever abused me, yet my religious upbringing has somehow traumatized me. Blogging about porn addiction, and now trying to spread my message, is bringing up a lot of hard-to-explain feelings. I don’t know if it’s God. I don’t know if it’s religion. I don’t know if it’s people who practice. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I know it’s not just when I log-in. It’s bleeding into real life now.

I share what’s happening to me not to get any answers, be preached at or be given any kind of great advice, but just really to remind everyone that faith, belief and the role of God differs in many people’s lives. It doesn’t make any of us better or worse, chosen or cast away. Some of us feel like we have all of the answers and some of us know that we’ll never have any. Some absolutely need to believe in God to function and others don’t give it a second thought. It’s OK. It’s all OK.

Now go buy my stinkin’ book.

Mental Health Education, Not Gun Laws, Will Reduce Violence in Our Schools

Forgive me going off-topic, but this isn’t that far off-topic. Before you start screaming about gun control – and I certainly know why you’d want to today – it makes more sense to look at this in the sense of message vs. messenger. Guns are the messenger and the shooters are the message…and the message is that we need just as much energy, attention and resources devoted to mental health as we do gun control.

Years ago, before I went to jail, I was a firm believer is strict gun control laws. The math made sense. Less guns equals less gun violence, right? It’s a knee-jerk reaction when school shootings happen. You want to go after whoever did it. This was the rare case where the murderer didn’t kill himself. No murderer, you go after the murder weapon. It’s human nature. I did this for years.

Then I spent six months in jail. One of the rights I give up as somebody who has committed a felony is the right to bear arms. I’m OK with that as I’ve never owned a gun. I’m too clumsy, have no interest in hunting, and have a home security system my children can’t accidentally kill themselves with.

In jail, I got to meet a lot of criminals. If you’ve read my stuff before, you probably know I’m more of the figure-out-what-makes-you-tick vs. judge-you kind of guy. I found the people I lived with in jail absolutely fascinating because I’d not been around this socioeconomic group with any regularity in life. Talking to them changed my outlook on gun control.

Here’s the thing: Criminals know how to get guns. Many felons who aren’t supposed to have guns own several. By virtue of the fact that they have a proven track record of not following the law, it should come as no surprise to anybody that criminals don’t care about gun laws. If they want a gun, they’ll have a gun. There is no legislation about bump stocks, silencers, ammunition types, etc. that are going to stop them. I met too many inmates who don’t care about gun laws to believe that any legislation is going to keep them out of the hands of criminals.

Here’s the other thing I realized in jail: There is a huge amount of unchecked mental illness in this world. Most people I was locked up with were there for drug violations or domestic abuse. Those who were in for major drug violations were usually dealing to fund their habit, otherwise, they were caught for possession and from what I could tell, their use was medicinal, not recreational. Those who battered their girlfriend or wives did so because they didn’t have the tools to solve conflict in a non-violent manner.

Maybe I’ve been in therapy so long (over 20 years off and on now) that I have picked up a lot by osmosis, but unless they were intellectually deficient, there was almost always a mental health issue at play with the people I met in jail. When the medical cart came around in the evening, two-thirds of us took some kind of med and several of those who didn’t probably would have qualified.

I will never believe that somebody who is capable of killing almost 20 people in cold blood in such a public manner is not mentally ill. He should be locked up forever – mental illness doesn’t excuse crime in my opinion – but to suggest just because school shooters are able to carry out a plan shows that they are sane displays a lack of understanding of mental illness.

This country is still too conservative and puritanical when it comes to accepting mental illness. If you can’t put a Band-Aid on your boo-boo, it’s not a real boo-boo. Stop your crying and go be a man! Maybe that attitude is what got us to a place where you have to kill more than three or four kids in a school shooting for people to even notice anymore.

I’m not going to suggest for a moment I know what was going on in this Florida shooter’s life, but from the little I read today, it does sound like there were certainly warning signs, both in his outward behavior and threats he made. If we knew as much about mental health as we do about physical health, maybe something could have been done.

We’re going to make our greatest strides toward curbing gun violence – and not just in schools, but across the board – when we finally give mental health the attention it deserves. We’ll check sixth grade kids for scoliosis, but we won’t take five minutes to find out if they’re depressed. Something is wrong with this picture.

Tonight – I’m appearing on a call-in blog talk show…call up and say hello

Hey everyone,

Tonight at 9:15 EST (roughly 1 hour after I post this) I’ll be appearing live on the “Hope~Strength~Recovery Show” with Coach Carol Sheets. It’s the only the second live show I’ve done and I was just told there’s a call-in section.

It’d be so cool to hear from somebody on my site I’ve been talk to, be it a week or many months.

Join us at this link:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sexhelpwithcarolthecoach

Hope to see you there!

Protecting our children on the Internet has very little to do with being online

I’d love to be more optimistic about this topic, but we need to stop fooling ourselves. Protecting children from the dangers of the Internet is far more impossible than we want to admit and the best way to protect your kids has nothing to do with any of their apps or devices.

I recently read a blog by a very well-meaning person who had techniques to protect children using the “three most popular” social media apps. I truly believe this person had nothing but good intentions, but their “three most popular” social media apps list was probably outdated two years ago. It didn’t mention Snapchat and didn’t seem to recognize that most teens have abandoned Facebook at this point.

It was the kind of advice that does enough to assuage most parents’ concerns without having to think critically or learn too much. And I think it unintentionally does more to hurt than help.

The Kids Are Smarter Than Us

When it comes to technology, younger generations are always going to be ahead of older ones. I believe this comes from technology being so intertwined and synonymous with pop culture.

Facebook became popular a dozen years ago because younger people were using it. Facebook got lame a few years ago because older people started. The youth migrated to Instagram and Snapchat, which are now slowly being infiltrated like Facebook was. What are the next hot social media apps going to be? It’s going to be up to a younger generation to decide and it will be some time before they let us know.

Technology development moves too fast for anybody to keep up with it, much less an adult who has an otherwise full life with a job, a home and children to raise.

You can use filters, firewalls, and other barricades on the apps or sites you know your children are using, but what about the ones you don’t know about?

I have an 18-year-old daughter who has filled me on so much of what is out there today that parents don’t realize. Protect your kid all you want on Instagram. They know how to make an account-within-an-account. While they know how to do that, we barely understand what it even means. She can rattle off the names of a dozen new apps and more come out every day.

Believing that you will ever know more or be one step ahead of your children when it comes to the evolution of technology is a dangerous assumption to make.

The Kids Are Not as Smart as Us

We have the benefit of life experience. We’ve been knocked down, lied to, cheated on, betrayed, conned and hurt plenty of times. By virtue of time, those negative experiences have happened far less to younger people. Lessons we may have learned that make us leery of people are ones they haven’t recognized yet.

At some point, you got that first “Nigerian Prince wants to leave you money” e-mail. While you’ve probably had so many fake, scam emails in the years since that they don’t even register as real now, do you remember that first time? Even if you quickly dismissed it as having to be false, for just a second, didn’t you want to believe?

When I was engaging in the nefarious online behavior that eventually led to my arrest, I was able to convince very smart women to do things online they would otherwise never do in real life. They met what they thought was a nice-looking guy in his early 20s who was sweet. That was a video. Nobody noticed when it looped and I had short clips of him smiling, waving, making the peace symbol, etc. that I could insert when needed. While the woman was talking to a video on one side of the screen, I’d be taking information from our chat, figuring out who they were and learning more about them.

I learned patterns of behavior in the women I engaged with and predicting what they would say or do became easier. I learned how to manipulate women who never thought they could be manipulated. Most still hadn’t realized when we were done. This behavior was disgusting, wrong and I deserved the jail sentence I got for it. You can read my book or other articles on this site if you want to learn more about what happened.

But for every guy like me who gets caught and addresses the issues that brought them to that point, there are probably 100 more who never do. They’re still out there and if those guys can manipulate educated adults (likely on websites you’ve never heard of, but your kids probably have) what chance does the younger generation have? Wisdom only comes with age.

The Kids Live in the Real World

You may be able to lull yourself into the false sense of security that you’ve got your child’s internet activity locked down at home, but what can you really do when they leave the house? If you’ve banned it at home, how can you find that Snapchat account they opened at the sleepover at their friend’s house? How can you prevent them from sitting at the lunch table and using another child’s account on that kid’s phone?

Here’s the truth we don’t want to face: We have far less control over our children than we tell ourselves. We’re not with them 24/7 and can’t monitor all of their actions. You’re not the magical parent who can say “Don’t ever do this” and the child always listens. Sure, they’re not going to put their hand on a hot stove, but looking at Instagram photos seems far less dangerous in their eyes.

The Kids Are Looking for Guidance

Thankfully, kids are hardwired to seek solutions from sources that seem safe and protective. Kids want to learn and that curiosity should not be feared. Yes, they want to learn about social media, but they also want to learn how to be safe, even if they don’t express it.

And they’re going to learn from somewhere…

If you run your home like a dictatorship and believe your positional authority as the parent gives you total control over your child’s mind and spirit, you’re in for a rocky road. Teaching your child how to think is far more important than teaching them what to think. Giving them the skills to make good decisions is far better than telling them what the good decisions are.

My kids are far better adjusted than I ever was because I grew up in a house where silence and avoidance of unpleasant things was the norm. My wife deserves all the credit for our kids.

I ended up where I did in life because I was taught to avoid negative thoughts and feelings (which helped me become an alcoholic and porn addict) and that actions don’t always have consequences (which helped me end up in jail.)

Here’s the rough part: you actually have to be an active parent. You need to build bridges of trust and communication. You need to help develop your child’s critical thinking skills around right vs. wrong and cause & effect. You need to help them understand the choices they make produce certain outcomes and if they can predict those outcomes in advance, they can make better decisions.

Right now, we’re in a world of parents who know their children don’t possess those skills, so instead of being proactive and building them, we are being reactive and trying to manipulate their behavior to very mixed results. You can’t instill the experience of wisdom, but you can teach critical thinking skills early on.

I don’t have a step-by-step guide of how to raise your specific kid or how to know they have developed the mental tools they need. Again, active parenting will help you figure that out.

We’re going to make our greatest strides against the evils of the Internet when we pour far more energy into teaching our kids how to protect themselves from danger than trying to do it for them. That just leaves them curious and less inhibited when they finally get online.

 

 

Recovery began by dropping resentments

“I could never forgive/am still upset with X for doing Y.” I’m sure you have plenty of X’s and Y’s. I try not to anymore. One of the biggest pieces of my recovery has been learning to drop grudges and squash resentments before they start. Letting things go feels like releasing oxygen; refusing to feels like suffocation.

I remember it was only a few days into my first in-patient rehab when we were tasked to write a letter to someone we held a resentment against. At the end of the exercise, we put them through the shredder, so it wasn’t like it was going to ever be seen by them. It was more just about a cathartic release.

On the surface, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d heard. In the past, my way of dealing with resentment was to either stifle and move forward or angrily confront the person, usually just making things worse in the process. This exercise sounded like hippie, touchy-feely crap. Then I did it.

The first person I could think of was one of the people I co-owned a couple of companies with prior to being arrested. They, like most of my business partners, were once someone I considered a close friend, but had distanced themselves from me a few months earlier and I was still framing it like an abandonment.

Once I started writing, I focused on the small things this person did that irked me over the years. You know, the kind of stuff that gets under your skin in the moment and you look back and think “That wasn’t cool.”

It was little things, like saying they’d help with something I thought was major, but backing out at the last minute. In retrospect, it wasn’t major, they had a decent reason, and my Plan B was just fine. Or needing them to step out of their comfort zone to deal with somebody, but them not being able to overcome their anxiety. I have anxiety too, so I get it. I just wish they could have faced it.

It surprised me how good it felt to understand their side of things. When I stopped being the center of the universe, it’s easier to understand other people’s issues.

Then I moved onto the bigger things. This person had spoken ill of me to quite a few people. I don’t know why they didn’t think it wouldn’t get back to me. I realized just how much this person and I did that to others when we were on the same page. Should it be any great surprise they would do that me? Maybe it’s my journalism roots – or why I got into journalism in the first place – but I used to really enjoy gossiping and this person and I had earned PhDs in the science.

I was collapsing in on myself like a black hole, but they weren’t. Their behavior was boorish, just like mine was when I did the same thing, but they were still behaving naturally.

When it came to them “abandoning” me as I flamed out and crashed like a satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere (What’s with all the space references today?) that wound was still very fresh when I wrote the letter, but I was able to take a breath and recognize it was not abandonment. It was pulling away from a bad situation by someone who was looking out for themselves. People shut themselves off to others as a form of self-preservation. This is what they were doing. Through an objective lens, it honestly made sense.

I read the letter out loud to the group and put it through the shredder. Writing down that I forgave the person and then saying it out loud was powerful. That night, as I went to sleep, I noticed I felt a lot better. I thought about some of my other business partners and other people who had made it onto my list of resentments. Once I got that first person out of the way, it was so much easier to just let things go with everybody else.

Asking myself why I was holding onto things actually made me feel kind of dumb in a way. What did I think would change or come out of negative thoughts or energy? Nothing could change what happened in the past and I wasn’t looking for anything to really change in the future. Did I expect them to grovel at my feet begging forgiveness? Even if they did, I’d have been angry for them causing a scene to make me look like the bad guy. Those kinds of lasting bad feelings weren’t going to be mended, because they couldn’t, so why carry it with me?

Letting go isn’t saying they were right or wrong. It’s not saying I was right or wrong. It’s saying that the energy in taking a side isn’t worth the outcome, especially when the outcome is negative emotions. I don’t have to admit defeat because there is no winning side in resentment.

I talked with my wife every night while I was at that rehab on the telephone. She and I were in very similar places of resentment against many of the same people when I left. When she’d voice anger toward someone, I realized mine was either gone or had dissipated greatly. Somehow, I was learning to let things go.

Now, nearly four years after that happened, I look back at the angry person I was and feel bad for that guy. Sure, he may have been more successful on the surface, but he carried too much spite inside. I think my wife has released a lot of it, but I know there are still people who carry resentments for me and carry resentments against me that they’ll probably never let go of. I feel sad for both groups. It’s just not worth it.

Let your resentments go. You have nothing to gain by maintaining them.

Your Path to Addiction Recovery Doesn’t Need to be Everyone Else’s

I don’t know if it has to do with the general political divisiveness that has been growing in America over the last two decades or just a natural tendency to need to be proven correct, but I really hope this trend I’m seeing of “The only path to successful recovery is the one that I took” rhetoric doesn’t continue. It’s not going to help anybody.

I’m two months away from being able to say I’m alcohol and porn free for four years. By all accounts, I’ve had a successful recovery.

I don’t want addicts – and I don’t really think the substance or behavior matters for this discussion – to get clean the way I did. It involves police, jail, shaming in the media, embarrassing my family, spending tens of thousands of dollars, etc. I’m so grateful my recovery has taken root and I have a new, healthier life I never could have imagined, but one of the big reasons I wrote my book is so other people could learn from my story and figure out a different way.

The 12-Steps

I met some of the coolest people in my life at 12-step meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. The Tuesday Night men’s meeting at a small church I attended while I was staying in Palm Springs, California, probably did as much to make me feel like I could conquer this thing as anything else has. I am grateful I found it. These men found a program, and fellowship, that works for them. Nobody is castigated if they stumble and the dogma plays a back seat to the peer support.

On the flip side, I met some of the most closeminded people who walk this earth at 12-step meetings as well. I’ve seen people get yelled at for whispering something to the person next to them. I’ve seen people who fell off the wagon and stumbled into a meeting to sober up tossed out and I’ve heard people say the words “You are going to fail” to another in recovery because they are not hardcore in following the 12-step doctrine.

There are certain familiar passages in the AA Big Book that bother me a little bit, like the message, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program…”

Some in 12-step rooms take that to mean their program is the only way. It may have been the only way for them, but taking a look at the real world shows there are other paths.

The Religion Road

I rediscovered, or better yet, finally defined my spirituality in the recovery process. My self-labeling as an atheist was more about running from the church my parents raised me in than it was about turning my back on a higher power. They forced me to worship a concept I couldn’t get on board with called “God” so I just started believing in the power of “The Universe.”

As my buddy Kevin, who gave me the wake-up call to this fact just before SAA one day said, “Isn’t this really just a matter of semantics?”

In running over the events of my life, I recognized that I’m one of the most faith-filled people who exists. When you’re able to push things to the edge and take calculated risks – both good and bad – and believe you’re going to always end up OK because something is watching out for you…that’s faith.

I know that my faith and my belief in God (and I’m cool calling it God again) is different than other people. My God is a balancing force of energy in the universe that comes from a place of love. In other words, my God makes sure what is supposed to happen, does. When our free will goes awry, God puts its finger on the scale to even things out.

That concept is present in one form or another in most religions and I’m cool with however people want to interpret their spiritual beliefs. I have no problem with them being different than mine. Most people’s preferences toward music, interior design and politics are different than mine, so why shouldn’t their spirituality be? I actually think it’s our differences that make us stronger as a society than our commonalities.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who practice a religion, or have developed beliefs that shun other points of view. If you’re not on board with them, you’re going down the wrong path. I can even tolerate that narrow view, but what makes my heart ache is when their belief system is passive aggressively used to demean other people’s experiences and situations, especially with recovery.

I’m seeing this with a segment of the religious recovery community and it’s making me a little concerned. There is a TON of “religion = recovery” material out there. Some days it feels harder to find secular recovery stories and support than spiritual-based.

That’s OK, because I know many people lean on their religion for support in their recovery and it’s OK if somebody is particularly rigid with their religious doctrine. My fear becomes when their doctrine, often in the realm of “This is the only way to be” is transferred over to “This is the only way to recover.” I have actually seen some who have gone as far as to say without their specific religious doctrine, recovery is impossible.

What’s really important

That person, much like the militant one in the 12-step group, is confusing their recovery with everybody’s recovery. And I don’t mean to cast shade on 12-step groups or religion. There are people who have tried neither who also believe whatever method their recovery took is the only successful one that exists.

Recovery shouldn’t be looked at through those eyes. If one person got sober because of a 24/7 plant diet, yoga three times a day and reading nothing but nature poetry, fantastic. If another person got sober attending three 12-step meetings and a church service every day and only reads The Bible, fantastic.

Statistically, most people don’t get recovery right the first time. They also try a variety of methods. Take smoking cigarettes… you can chew gum, get the patch, try hypnosis, go cold turkey, move to vaping, use medicine, attempt to wean, listen to motivational tapes, and so on. The reason that there are so many ways to quit smoking is because they don’t all work for the same person.

I worry about the person who tries the 12-step meeting or follows the religious doctrine and fails at recovery. I’m not talking about falling down once and trying again. I’m talking about that method of recovery just not being the right fit. What happens when they are told – and believe – that their only way to recover doesn’t work for them? Why stop being an addict at that point?

Isn’t it better, and more important to that person’s survival, for them to try another method of recovery? Or is it that their failure with that method confirms what a fragile thing recovery actually is? Does it show that you were lucky – not guaranteed – to get it right with what worked for you? Is it confirmation that YOUR WAY is not THE WAY…it’s just ANOTHER WAY?

It’s fantastic that your way worked. My way worked, too. We’re both lucky, but what we need to do is encourage others to continue in recovery. Picking a different route to recovery does not mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean there isn’t value in your experiences and opinions. It just means that there is space in this world to reach the same place in many different ways, and nobody should be discouraged from finding THEIR WAY.