After ‘Growing Up’ You Then ‘Get Older’

My uncle died last night. He was 63, which is quite young to die in our family and he’s the first of my parents’ generation to go on either side. He battled cancer off and on for five years and after a rough couple of months and real rough last week, he’s moved on to whatever is next, if anything.

I’m not going to tell a lot of stories about him, because while cathartic, you didn’t know him and that’s what wakes are for. His death, though, is just kind of reminding me of the entire aging process, getting older, things changing and sometimes it’s only in moments like this that you find the time to reflect.

My uncle had a great beard. It was full and thick, but he kept it well trimmed unlike how a lot of men prefer the scraggly look. In the winter, I usually grow a beard, shave once because it gets too long, regrow it and lose it for good in the spring. With the latest incarnation of my beard, I’ve noticed there is gray sneaking into it.

Yes, I have friends younger than me with heads full of gray hair, but based on that spot on the top of my head and the V shape that starts to subtly form in the front, I always thought that I’d be bald and not gray. Most people with reddish hair usually don’t go gray. I’m not sure if I like gray hair better than being bald. I guess it’s just part of aging.

On February 8, I’ll turn 44. Do I think that’s old? Not really, although I certainly used to. I also used to think college students looked a lot older than they do and people who were 65 or 70 were ancient. A lot changes about your perception as you move into middle age. The idea that statistics suggest I’m now well past the halfway point in my life (76 is average as of last year for a male in the US) kind of blows my mind. I feel like I only finally pulled my stuff together in the last few years and really would like to reset things to my late 20s.

I haven’t started watching a new TV show in years. Since radio is so dull and formatted these days, I have no idea where people are getting their new music. Tik Tok and Snapchat seem pointless to me and I don’t think I’ll ever have a Twitter or Instagram.  I’ve mostly stopped using streaming services and I’m completely content to watch two hours of Everybody Loves Raymond at night and play games on my phone. I could fight to stay connected to youth culture, or even mainstream culture, but why?

I’m not going to say that older people are irrelevant, but when it comes to pop culture and entertainment trends we really are. Take for instance TV ratings. On Friday, January 24, 2020 the most watched TV shows were Hawaii 5-0, Magnum PI and Blue Bloods on CBS – and they were all repeats. Between 4.9 million and 5.3 million tuned in to watch those shows. Yet despite nearly doubling the closest competition, ABC’s family sitcoms and 20/20, the network that made the most money was Fox, showing WWE Friday Night Smackdown.

Why was the network that came in third in overall viewers the one that profited the most? Because more people in the 18-49 age group watched wrestling than watched the other shows. A 30-year-old watching wrestling is a more attractive viewer than three 60-year-olds. They historically have higher disposable income than the older viewer and are not set in their purchasing ways like people twice their age are loyal to brands.

I understand it. When I go to a place like Applebee’s or Olive Garden, I get the same thing I’ve been ordering the last 7-10 years. It’s more important to me to know I’ll like something than try something new. Clearly my personal taste with TV is the same, even if I’m still technically a target viewer for a few more years.

For the first time ever, I’ve made some phone calls involving a family member’s death, helping to coordinate things. I’ve been more involved in planning and have been let in on other’s plans, including stuff like DNR orders, wills, last wishes, etc., than ever before. In some ways it makes me feel like a grown-up, but in other ways it makes me feel a burden of responsibility that is fresh. I have no time for silly new phone apps if I have to step-up and be the mature one, or at least that’s kind of how it feels.

Over the next few days, leading up to his wake, I’ll have to practice my fake nodding and ability to hear things like, “He’s in a better place” or “He looks peaceful” without throwing up all over whatever shirt I buy at TJ Maxx for the event. A great thing of working at home is you only need a lot of pajamas, but the side effect is when you have to be in public, your wardrobe dwindles over the years.

I guess placating others in an environment that makes my skin crawl, around people who make stuff up instead of saying, “I have no idea what to say. This sucks” is all part of growing up. Maybe at nearly 44, it’s time.

Highlighting the Personal Development Areas that Need Attention in the New Year

I never used to make New Year’s Resolutions. I was too much of an edgy individual who wasn’t going to kowtow to pack mentality. That was before I recognized that certain types of conformity are important and are actually the glue that holds a society together.

The always worthy of a read Coaching Skills International posted another great, simple piece on Jan. 1 that was titled Tips for Getting More Out of Life. While I think I’ve developed the ability to accept and/or follow Tips 1-6, it’s those last four I need work on. So, I decided that these will be things to work on in the immediate future. Since I resolved this on Jan. 1, technically it’s a New Year’s Resolution…I’m such a commoner.

These four tips were:

Schedule margin into your life – as something unexpected will often change your plans.

I love the irony of the timing of this bit of advice. This morning, only hours after reading this last night, my wife’s car was dead. So, I gave it a jump this morning and she made it work barely, but it sounds like there’s something well beyond a battery happening. Now, I’ve got to get it towed to a garage to be looked at and who knows the cost of fixing it. In less than one week, we’ve gone from a three-car household to a one-car household.

This would have really set me off in the past with anxiety, but I’ve made some strides in this area. I know in a few weeks things will likely be back to normal, but in the interim, the four of us all have such tightly packed lives I have no idea how it’s going to work with one vehicle. I’m now running through ideas of how to handle this. I really should run through other “when the shit hits the fan” solutions in my life before they occur. What happens if the hot water heater or furnace die today? What happens if my wife loses her job? What happens if my parents die or one of the kids gets sick? You can never predict the unexpected, but you can be better prepared than I am.

QTIP: Quit Taking It Personally.

Do you know the one word you’ll never read on a box of Q-Tips? Ears. You’re actually not supposed to stick them in there and the company will never tell you it’s OK. I can’t think of another product where 99.9% of people using them are doing it for a purpose the company won’t acknowledge…but I digress.

This is another work in progress. I’m much better at this than I was five or six years ago, but I’m not as far along as I wish. Just when I think I have this one nailed, I get bombarded with a bunch of negativity and shaking it off isn’t as easy as I tell myself it is in simpler times.

I think it’s not just attacks. I think it’s not being heard, or at least not having my opinions considered that feels so bad to me. As a journalist, I’m trained to hear all side of things, even if I disagree, and to do so with logic and measured emotion. There are a lot of people who will just trash you and not listen to reason. I guess I take not extending the same courteous to me as the personal disrespect part.

Define what’s necessary; say no to the rest.

You would think that somebody like me has a really easy time saying no to people, but it’s always been a problem. Despite being seen as a bad guy by many people, I hate being seen as the bad guy. It’s ironic. I’ve always, at least in my mind, tried to keep conflict to a minimum with others. I know the way I used to carry myself and conduct my business rubbed many people the wrong way, but I never set out to upset them.

Saying no is difficult for me. It led to too many good causes getting free advertising in my magazine, sometimes subpar movies getting into the film festival I helped produce and spending taxpayers money on a lot of social issues as a city councilor. I don’t like saying no to my kids, wife or parents. I don’t like being the negative guy. Saying no and stepping away is a challenge I face in 2020.

Take a deep breath and wait before responding. Don’t react, and say something you’ll regret.

I’m much better at this than I used to be, willing to say something deeply biting if I felt the situation called for it. Now, I can usually shrug things off one or two times, but if someone keeps poking the bear, I’m really, really, really good at saying hurtful things. Like, if there was a game show where you won prizes saying things that cut people deep, I would have been the James Holzhauer of it in 2004.

I think this goes back to not caring what people say. I’m improving and think that I consciously try to diffuse situations and/or walk away, but if the other party isn’t interested in letting things go, they can goad me into not letting them go. Then I say something truly horrible that surprises even myself.

Maybe by the end of the year I can get it to the point where I don’t react after 2 or 3 times but put it to 4 or 5. I mean, after four time of telling someone to back off it seems fair to go Hulk mode on them.

 

 

There’s a Reason Even the Best Still Have Coaches…They Work

Technically, I’m a life coach. I took a basic course online about 18 months ago to learn certain techniques of talking to people and helping them reach certain conclusions on their own. I did this to help me as I launched PornAddictCounseling.org which was my first attempt to make a few dollars off of my experience and knowledge of pornography addiction.

I’ve probably worked with 16-18 people at this point, half-and-half between addicts and partners. It’s evolved kind of into a service where I’ll generally listen, provide some basic feedback, but answer a lot of questions and nudge them toward professional therapy. I’m sure my life coaching skills have paid off somehow, but I’ve never tried to be anyone’s life coach.

I realized why after a great telephone call I had the other day with an actual life coach I met through LinkedIn. His name is Joseph F. Price and I cannot recommend him highly enough. I felt completely in focus after our 90-minute call.

If you’d like to learn more about Joseph or engage his services, click HERE.

I wrote a post earlier in the week about stepping back from this blog a bit over the next several weeks to recharge batteries, but Joseph really helped me see that while a recharge of batteries is an absolutely important thing, it’s also important to have a tangible list of goals I’d like to pursue in the new year.

There are days that writing these blogs is tough, and tiring, and I don’t look forward to it. God bless the Guest Post on those days. There are also days where I look at my schedule and see a podcast interview coming up in a few hours and the last thing I’m feeling is the desire to tell my story to a new audience for the 20th time that month.

He helped me ask myself a few important questions about what I get out of the frequent posts on the website or the non-stop grind of podcast interviews and I realized as much as I like helping people, it gives me that low-hanging fruit fix of instant feedback. I write a blog post, I know between 5 and 15 people will have a comment within a couple of hours. I record a podcast and I’ve got instant feedback from the host. I think that I’ve mistaken interacting with anybody in any situation for interacting with the optimal audience in the right situation.

In other words, work smarter, not harder.

I don’t really get to market PornAddictCounseling.org and have never really defined what it is or how I should be positioning it because I’m busy with the other stuff. I don’t look for bigger radio/TV/podcast opportunities because I’m too distracted chasing quantity over quality. I know I need more speaking gigs, but who has time to cultivate that?

I mistakenly value being on five podcasts with 100 listeners each for being on one podcast with 500 listeners. I have been posting daily to this site when, let’s be honest, nobody is going to disappear if I only post three times per week. There is so much I could be doing with the extra time that a reduced podcast and posting schedule would provide that may actually lead to me helping more people, and God forbid, supporting myself.

I always knew this stuff, but having Joseph guide me to saying it out loud and recognizing it to be true was of key importance. He also shared a few models for life-balancing and a few anecdotes to help me understand certain points he was trying to make. In a lot of ways, he seemed like a therapist who didn’t get too hung up on the mental health side of things and focused more on the practical application of living life.

New Year’s Resolution time is coming up. If you’re struggling in any areas, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out and asking for help, even if it’s just help verbalizing what you already know to be true. I may technically be a life coach, but Joseph is the real deal.

It Was Harder Growing Up With Religion Than Recovering Without It

When a new book comes out, I generally get a lot of messages and while it’s happening again, I’ve had several this week that had deeply religious connotations and I don’t know if they don’t read the site or I haven’t explained it well in a long time, but I figure since it’s Sunday, it would be a great day to get into the whole spirituality/religion thing with you.

I apologize up front as I know this is going to be all over the place, long and I’m sure unintentionally offensive to some.

I was raised by a devout Catholic father and a hugely, hugely devout Catholic mother. They were raised by largely absentee, alcoholic parents. Their faith was something they pursued as they both went to parochial school. They didn’t meet until college, but I think the fact their religious upbringing was so similar helped things.

As I told someone the other day, words like “God,” “sin,” “Bible” etc. are a little bit triggering for me and I think I know why. I have started to draw a lot of parallels to my need for control that was borne out of the environment where my abuse took case. Let me stress I was not abused in the church, but being in a place where I felt completely helpless and lost was not good for my mental health.

I was the inquisitive little kid who had questions at Sunday School or for my mother. The answer was usually the same, “Don’t ask questions” or “It’s God’s Law.” That’s not an environment for somebody like me, who already had power and control issues, was going to thrive.

The rare answers I got didn’t make any sense and attending church was a miserable experience, only second to Sunday school. I would say that other kids around me were having a better time, but based on the exodus from the Catholic Church in America, they just weren’t marketing it to kids in the ’80s very well. They did not communicate what God was supposed to be in a way that we understood. Like chemistry or physics in high school, eventually one gives up trying to understand.

Back then, you went through Confirmation at 15 or 16 and I made a deal with my parents that I’d agree to be confirmed, but at that point, I was going to stop going to Church. They did their job getting me that far, but I was done. I think they recognized I wasn’t joking. I didn’t hate their faith, but I didn’t have it.

My Higher Power, The Afterlife and Mom Gets Mad

Keep in mind that while I attempt to be respectful of people’s religious beliefs, I think the biggest thing missing from the religious (not necessarily spiritual) is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn’t subscribe to the exact same doctrine that they do. I mean, you only have to look at history’s great wars; almost all have a religious angle to them. One of the reasons that 12 Step Groups were not my ultimate answer was (aside from the fact that they don’t really mean “higher power of your choosing” because they end every meeting with a Christian prayer) there is no room to talk about what not having a higher power means.

I have never felt powerless over alcohol or porn because despite my lowest points, I was the only who actually had the power. I just chose not to use it. Today, I have a concept of a higher power that I simply call “the universe” and it doesn’t really have a set of rules, dogma or doctrine you have to follow. It doesn’t care if you get a midnight abortion or if gay people marry. It isn’t about raising a dime, nor about any particular book. I don’t pray to it, nor does it threaten to smite me when I don’t. My concept of it is vague, but I don’t need to have all the details. It’s a balancing energy in the universe and that’s all I really need to know. I have a Higher Power and that’s that. It just doesn’t have a name tag or handbook.

People get awkward fast when I tell them that I don’t really care if there’s an afterlife. I don’t think there is, there has never been a single piece of proof there is, and while it’s a pleasant story, I believe that you get your years on Earth and then you’re done. And I’m far more OK with that than the people who hear me say it, because they can’t believe I’d have such a view. It’s fine because it doesn’t have to be your belief, and vice versa.

This is clearly turning into a ramble, but here’s a quick story for you. As I mentioned, I was raised Catholic by two very devout, wonderful people. I was baptized, did the first communion and confirmation all in the same church. Saw many of my relatives married and memorialized there as well, and midnight mass on Christmas was a regular stop for me even long after I left my parents’ home. There was a purge here of Catholic churches in Maine about 10-12 years ago. The numbers of parishoners had dropped so dramatically, the diocese said they couldn’t afford to keep the churches open. My family’s church ended up on this list of closures, like 5 of the 7 churches in our town. With our particular church, the reason given was that it was too expensive to heat the church between September and May. It’s a valid argument. The place was huge and old members were dying off like 8-to-1 against bringing in new members and tithing just wasn’t what it used to be.

My mom asked me to come on that last day and being a sometimes sentimental, nostalgic person, I said OK. I didn’t enjoy the thousands of hours I spent there, but knowing it would be my last hour was a little sad. When the service was over – ironically to a packed house like they hadn’t seen in years – there was an organization in the back that was collecting money to try and overturn one of Maine’s gay rights laws. It didn’t bother me because it’s an issue that’s been decided and the right side won. When we got to the car, my mother let loose on the Church, I think for the first time in her life and I wouldn’t have believed it unless I was there. I’ll spare the long diatribe, but she thankfully saw the complete hypocrisy and overall wrongness of a Church that couldn’t stay open because of lack of funds collecting funds for a group that wants to discriminate. I pointed out how well the UU church was doing in town in terms of both attendance and funding. They, of course, were gay-friendly. Since that day, my mother still goes to church elsewhere, but it’s with far, far less devotion than she did in the past. She’ll even skip Sundays if the mood strikes her. She’s finally come around to what I recognized a long time ago – you need neither a book, nor a building to have a relationship with a Higher Power.

In losing a giant chunk of my mom, the church lost one of its staunchest advocates.

Religion is Not The Only Road to Recovery

I promise I’m about to wrap this up.

I think that there are really three main branches to pornography recovery. Maybe it’s true of all addiction, but since I’m immersed in this culture, it’s what I see. Those three branches are religion, will-power, and science. People can absolutely dabble in more than one, but I find a lot of people who are into things like NoFap (will-power) refuse to see a real therapist and many religious people think you can pray away a medical condition. Obviously, I’m a big believer in the science side of things because that is my experience and it was successful.

Nonetheless, if you go to the WordPress reader and type in “Pornography Addiction” or “Pornography Recovery” you’re going to probably find 75% of the entries have some reference to The Bible. Beyond the whole shaming thing that religious people are so good at doing to others which is an entirely other issue, the overall theme of these entries is that one must follow a religious path to addiction recovery, just like you have to follow their religious path to the afterlife.

It’s just not true. I mean, I can point to plenty of people it worked for, but I can point to plenty of people, myself included, who are happy and healthy without a word of Scripture read in recovery.

I’m OK if you want to use God as a tool for pushing recovery as long as you’re not shaming the addict, but it can’t be the only tool used and it can’t be preached that without God, recovery is impossible. That’s plainly wrong and frankly, a dangerous thing to say for two reasons: a) You wouldn’t encourage a person with cancer or severe hemorrhaging to only pray…you’d get them real medical treatment; b) Somebody believing your attitude may be stopped from recovery if the religious route doesn’t work for them. Is it better they go your way and fail or go their own way and succeed?

I’m sure many of those who actually got this far were offended along the way, and I apologize if my words were ever poorly chosen. There were a few places I debated writing certain things, but went for it anyway. I know that my personal issues with the church and religion are just that – my personal issues – and I know they carry over into my writing, but in a space where I try to be honest to a fault, even when it rankles some feathers, I thought it was time to explain myself.

I don’t know if there was any theme here but I guess sometimes these blogs are just for ranting and working things out.

 

 

Guest Post: What Makes a Temptation Tempting?

By Hugh Houston

What makes a temptation tempting?  I’ve mulled this over in my head over the past twelve years.  Why am I not tempted to smoke a cigarette or to drink a beer?  I see those things and I don’t give them a second thought.  Some people struggle for years to give up these habits.  The difference lies in the desire.  I am only tempted by the things I desire.  I believe we create, or at least we permit our own temptations.

If this is the case, then the key to victory in this battle against sin and temptation is to attack our desires.  It is essential to work at changing or controlling our desires.  Today I can’t tell you I’m no longer tempted in the area of lust, but the degree to which I am tempted has diminished dramatically.  God created us as beings with many capacities.  Change is not easy, as you already know from your own experience.  How many people sign up at a gym in January with a determination to get in shape, but by March have already lost their drive?

The Bible tells us that God always provides a way out when we are tempted to sin:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13

Change is possible.  This is not an impossible task.  Sin comes along and offers what looks enticing.  And like a fish looking at the worm in the water, we can’t see the hook that lies underneath.  Through prayer and by focusing on what we know to be true and right, over time we will see the worm and think about the hook and all of the pain it will bring.  By intentionally focusing our thoughts on good things, our desire for what is wrong will diminish and no longer run rampant, dominating our minds.  One of the greatest blessings I’ve gained now that I’ve found this new freedom is to have a clear head, with clean thoughts.

In 1988, Iron Eyes Cody told this old Indian legend in Guideposts magazine. (published in Wisdom Well Said, 2009 Levine Mesa Press):

Many years ago, Indian youth went away in solitude to prepare for manhood. He hiked into a beautiful valley. There he fasted. But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow. I will test myself against that mountain, he thought. He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke.

“I am about to die,” said the snake. “It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”

“No,” said the youth. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me.”

“Not so,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you.”

The youth resisted awhile, but this was a very persuasive snake. At last, the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg.

“But you promised…” cried the youth.

“You knew what I was when you picked me up.” said the snake as it slithered away.

It is up to me to recognize my own weaknesses and know where the danger lies.  Temptations begin inside of my own heart.  It is essential for me to look honestly inside of my soul and admit that I am only tempted when the desire to sin dwells within me.  This means it is essential for me to develop a strategy to replace these desires for harmful activities, with a desire to seek the Lord.  This transformation in my thought process will not happen in one day or in one week or even in one month.  But modifying my thoughts is the only way to develop a new life, a life worth living.

John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Temptations cannot be toyed with.  The hook is always there to destroy us.  But with God’s help, over time, it is possible to kill these desires that lead to sin.  The Bible gives us this ray of hope in the book of James:

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:7

If your thoughts are bad tenants, evict them before they destroy the house.  Kicking them out and keeping them out is a full-time job, especially in the beginning.  Yet as time goes on and you acquire new habits, you will find this whole process gets much easier.

Matthew Henry wrote:

“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

The best way to avoid the hook is to find our satisfaction and pleasure in Jesus.  Then the hook of lust will have no power to lure us away from the Lord.  Counterfeit joy is no match for the true joy which only the Lord can offer.

This blog originally appeared on Jesus Is The Best

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 8.47.18 PMAbout Hugh Houston: I chose to write using a pen name in order to share my most intimate thoughts while maintaining my privacy. My wife and I have been missionaries for most of our adult lives. We have four adult children. This is my story and I pray that it will help you with your story. May we all find the freedom from sin that Jesus offers us and walk in the light day by day. You can find my book “JESUS IS BETTER THAN PORN: How I Confessed my Addiction to My Wife and Found a New Life” on Amazon.