The -est day of my life

Today marks exactly four years that a knock at my door changed my life forever. The Maine State Police were there to arrest me for my inappropriate online behavior. It was the scariest, saddest, worst, loneliest day of my life.

Exactly 1,461 days have passed since that day. If you would have told me on that day that four years later, I’d have a better relationship with my family, less stress and anxiety, a job that paid more for less work, rejuvenated mental health and be free of my pornography and alcohol addictions, I would have said, “Where do I sign?”

I couldn’t see it on that day. That day was the fiercest, muddiest, freakiest, emptiest day I’d known.

Yes, I lost everything I worked for professionally and it was my fault. Life ceased to exist as I knew it on that day. It took a little while to recognize it, but that was not a bad thing.

And that is why now, I look at March 20, 2014 as the clearest, luckiest, happiest, best, gladdest and most honest day of my life.

Facing Triggers Makes You Stronger

I hope this entry doesn’t trigger anyone, but I wanted to talk about triggers. So, it may be triggery. Prepare to be triggered. Is this a good enough trigger warning? Trigger.

I think it’s time in the mental health/addiction/abuse survivor communities that we talk a long, hard look at triggers and figure out – on an individual basis – what are actual debilitating triggers and what are excuses for us to not live our lives and face the challenges everyday life brings.

I was talking to a therapist recently, exchanging emails about my book, and they expressed something that I’ve often felt but never thought was safe to say: Some people use their mental illness, addiction or past abuse as a crutch and excuse to sit on the sidelines of life and “triggers” are the doctor’s note that excuses them from gym class. Sometimes, you actually can’t participate, but a lot of the time, you just don’t want to…it’s hard, it’s too much work, it makes you tired, you might not be good at, you don’t like it, people might laugh at you and you may just be lazy.

I was glad to hear this, because I agree. As somebody who is in recovery with a couple of addictions, was the victim of some childhood abuse and tries to keep a couple of diagnosed mental illness issues in check, I could easily throw myself on the floor and take a pass on living life. I know I could also easily create the kind of enablers who would let me.

I don’t want this article to come off as cold or unfeeling. I understand we’re all at different phases of our recovery, but it feels like the more I become part of a recovery community, the more I meet people who have never had an identity in life until they became “addiction/abuse/mental health survivor.” It wholly consumes them and it just doesn’t seem healthy. They use “triggers” as excuses, crutches and ways to draw attention to themselves.

Why not look at triggers as challenges to our recovery – good challenges. Recovery means nothing if we’re not overcoming something. Those drug addicts sitting in prison are not in recovery. They are just being denied their addiction, and not by choice. Triggers allow us to use the tools we develop in recovery. Isn’t that why we learned them in the first place?

My alcohol triggers

I don’t want somebody to put alcohol in front of me and I don’t want to be around drunk people. I have had both happen to me since I stopped drinking almost four years ago and it comes with a combination of jealousy, anger and irritation. I haven’t always been able to immediately remove myself from the situation. When this first happened several years ago, it was that I wanted to drink. Now, it’s more about not being around the assholes that people turn into when they are drunk, because it reminds me of the kind of asshole I was. It’s still triggering of strong emotions, but they have evolved…and I don’t have to run from them. I think it’s actually better to sit with them and figure out what they are about.

I try to avoid alcohol. I don’t have any need to go down that aisle at the grocery store, I won’t buy it for other people if asked and I don’t keep any in my home. I could avoid family gatherings, where drinking happens and I could never go to a restaurant again to keep away from alcohol. That would reduce trigger-causing situations. It would also mean I don’t spend Christmas with my family or enjoy quality food made for me that I don’t know how to make at home.

My porn triggers

I have Cinemax and HBO and whatever other cable channels are part of the massive introductory package for DirecTV. They show plenty of late night skin. I use the Internet for my job as a freelancer writer. Nobody knows more than me just how much porn can be found on the Internet. Almost every convenience store has Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines. In the past, I turned on HBO specifically for the dirty stuff and went online with porn as the only item on the agenda.

Yeah, if I happen to be up at midnight and I’m cruising through the preview guide and see something like “Lust Island” on one of the pay channels, it piques my curiosity. I know my favorite porn sites are only a couple keystrokes away at any given moment and when I see a porno magazine as I’m buying gas or coffee with a particularly intriguing cover behind the counter, I wonder what that woman looks like naked on the inside.

And then I just keep going. I don’t watch the movie, look at the websites or purchase the magazine. Is it hard? Not nearly as much as it was when I first started addressing my porn addiction, but there are still times where I have to actually tell myself “No. Walk away.”

I could get rid of the cable channels with one phone call. I could find a job that never means I need to be on the Internet again. I could only buy gas or coffee at places that don’t have pornographic magazines.

If I did that though, I’d miss out on a lot of good, non-pornographic movies and shows. I’d have to turn my back on a career I’ve spent over 20 years building and I’d have to drive further for gas and coffee. Why would I want to deny myself these things and make my life even more complicated? Because of triggers?

My abuse triggers

As somebody who suffered from various forms of abuse from a non-family caregiver when I was a kid and has had to deal with all kinds of repressed memories surfacing in the last few years, I get how hard it can be if you’re an abuse victim and don’t have addictions.

For 25 years, I could drive by this babysitter’s house without even thinking about the amount of time I spent in terror in that home. When these memories started to be unlocked, I couldn’t ignore her home when I drove by. The proximity to my parents’ house makes it almost impossible to avoid, although I could drive 2-3 miles out of my way and get to their house from another route.

I probably had a visceral reaction to her home for over a year. I would bet that’s 100 times at least. I could say the positive is that I didn’t drive 200-300 miles out of my way, which isn’t cheap when it comes to gas. I drove by that house earlier today. I saw it, said to myself “there it is” and kept on driving. She’s dead. She hadn’t lived there in 10 years before she died. But if I went a different way, it’s like she won.

Summing Up

I think for real recovery, we need to face our triggers more than we do. We allow them to act as anchors, as hurdles and as impediments to a better life. We’re scared of the emotions we’ll feel or the actions we’ll take facing them, but if you can get through, you’re going to be stronger on the other side.

I don’t think I’ll ever get myself in a situation where somebody is pouring booze down my throat, holding my eyelids open to look at porn, or forcing me to tour that home and tell the stories of my abuse. So as long as I learn to control my own actions, triggers are actually little exercises in making me stronger over the long-term.

If you’re incapable of facing your triggers, I’m sorry. It must be horrible. But for every trigger you honestly can’t handle, are there one or two that you can but choose not to deal with? I could let all of my triggers run my life and make my decisions for me, but I don’t. I choose to be the one in control now. Ask yourself if there’s more control in your life by facing your triggers head-on and defeating them. I think you know the answer.

Life Can’t Be Consumed By Work, Even if The Work Is A Good Cause

Sometimes you don’t plan on taking a week off. You just notice on a Sunday morning that your throat is a little scratchy and later that night you’re lying on the couch, writhing in pain with whatever hit the wife and son a few days earlier. Despite it not being a vacation, there is something to be said for Mother Nature stepping in and stopping you dead (or at least feeling nearly dead) in your tracks.

Aside from the obvious addiction to pornography this site is devoted to and my co-addiction with alcohol which also gets a lot of words on here, the third part of the unholy addiction triumvirate for me back in the day was work. I used it for the escape of stress alcohol gave me and the sense of control the porn provided.

I cannot undercut the role that work played in my eventual downfall in late 2013 and early 2014. If I didn’t want to deal with issues at home, I escaped to work. If I was feeling low, I’d do something at work to get praise from the public. When I didn’t have enough work at the magazine I operated, I started a film festival. I created a world where there was something “important” for me to always be working on.

While I spent plenty of time in rehab dealing with the porn and alcohol demons, I never went anywhere to deal with my work addiction. Once my life was steamrolled, the work disappeared. About six months after I was arrested, I started with a little freelance writing here and there, never more than a few hours a day. I did this for the next year until I went to jail.

When I got out, I didn’t feel like doing much work. I’d written the first draft of my book in jail and knew I wanted to edit it, but I didn’t start on that task for about three months, around the same time I returned to freelance writing and never worked more than six hours a day, usually not more than four. Thankfully, I have a couple of clients who demand quality over quantity, so I can make a livable wage and keep my hours low, something I knew that I’d have to watch because of my tendency in the past to get lost in work.

Very late last year, after I started this site, I found out when the book was coming out and I started working to identify marketing opportunities. I bookmarked a lot of podcast sites, media outlets and book reviewers who I knew I’d have to go back and track down later. This added a little bit to my workload, but nothing major.

Once the book came out in early January, though, I was starting to replace my regular work time with promotion for the book. I followed up on all of those leads and cultivated dozens, if not hundreds, more. I did the interviews and the guest blogs and sent copies off to reviewers and libraries.

After a couple weeks of this, I noticed a dip in my income, so I started pushing the freelancing back, but didn’t cut down on the book promotion. I noticed that most days, instead of being in front of my computer 4-6 hours, I was now in front of it closer to 8-10. I told myself that at some point, I’d be done with podcasts or have contacted all of the libraries, but I think that was a matter of justification.

Logically, I can look at the math of it. I can work for three hours for one client and make around $100. Or I can spend three hours and send out copies of my book to reviewers or libraries or participate in another interview. If any one of those things results in the sale of three books, well, I’m putting around $7 in my pocket.

It doesn’t have to be a matter of either/or, as I know I’m in the infancy of whatever the porn addiction awareness path I’m on is to become. But, it also can’t become an obsession. I do feel a strong calling toward it, but I also need to make sure the electricity stays on in the house and the kids are fed. But, me being me, I tried to take it all on from the middle of January up until about a week ago.

Floored with this horrible chest cold/pneumonia, I didn’t do any freelance work, nor did I do anything with the porn addiction side of things for about a week. I cancelled meetings and podcasts, opting to lay in bed and on the couch. When I sat up to try and even answer basic email, a coughing fit would hit and I’d be back in the horizontal position quickly.

While there was a little bit of withdrawal the first day or two, I have to admit that despite the physical pain, it was nice to only worry about the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right and how long of an afternoon nap I should schedule. My body needed a physical break to recuperate, but my mind needed a mental break as well.

I now see that I need to balance things a little better. I need to make sure enough money is coming through the door for what I need, and I know there is still plenty of time to work on the porn addiction piece of my life without overdoing it. People can wait 24 hours for an email to be answered 99% of the time. The addiction will still be here tomorrow.

As I look to next week, I do so with a renewed focus. I cannot get obsessed with my work, whether it’s completely self-centered money-making tasks or strictly altruistic-based opportunities. Life is about balance and thankfully I’ve been able to spend the last week recalibrating the scales.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – March Edition

So often in recovery, it feels like we’re not supposed to have bad days. The challenges the world throws at us are just opportunities for growth. Succumbing to negativity will only suck you back into your addiction. I think all of this is extreme and I think the best way to battle it is to just sometimes express what’s on your mind…so enjoy this atypical blog post.

  • As many of you know, I wrote a book you should buy six copies of – one for every room in the house, adjust upward or downward as needed. I’ve learned a lot of random stuff about releasing a book, like your friends who claim they’ll buy your book on Amazon don’t realize you can track sales, especially if they’re in a random part of the USA. Did that friend in Bozeman, Montana, say they’d buy a copy yet your best seller rank didn’t improve, and the little section of the sales map in Montana didn’t turn light blue? That friend is a liar. A dirty, illiterate liar.
  • Many libraries don’t actually want books. I’ve offered my book to around 250 libraries. I think 20 have accepted my offer at this point. Most simply don’t respond while a few do say no, offering cryptic messages like, “I don’t think that fits the mission of our collection.” What does that even mean? Your library has a pro-porn addiction mission? That’s not a library, that’s an adult book store!
  • Why do bloggers go to the Swimming Pool or whatever it’s called on Mondays through WordPress and like your comment, but never visit your site? Oh, I get it. It’s so I go look at theirs. So you want me to do what you won’t do for me? I’m on to you. We’re all onto you!
  • There are still a million little libraries in this world. While the Internet has hurt a lot, it’s amazing the amount of towns in New England with under 3,000 people that still have a library. Some are only open 8 hours a week, but it’s nice to see that they’re still there.
  • I totally get how high school teachers can teach the same stuff over and over all day long. I’ve been on a lot of podcasts and told my story many, many times. The story doesn’t change, and I’ve got the Cliff Notes version down to about 30 seconds. I apologize to those hosts who had to deal with me in the beginning when it was a five-minute ramble.
  • I sold fewer books in my immediate area than I was expecting. I don’t know if this is from a lack of media and people don’t know about it yet. I would have thought that at least around here, more people would want to know if they’re name was in the book. There are still many in my immediate vicinity who look down upon me. I would have thought they would have bought one just to badmouth it. I don’t know if this better.
  • Getting the riff to Sleepyhead by Passion Pit stuck in your head when you’re trying to write a blog entry is frustrating. Damn these kids and their music.
  • I still can’t figure out if it’s better to not get a return email about something or to get rejected. Be it a library I’m asking about my book, a podcast or radio show I’m trying to get on or any other first-time contact query, I feel a sting when I get an answer that says “No.” I feel insulted when I get no answer. And if you’re ever going to have a contact section of your website, writing “We get so much email we can’t respond to it all” just makes you sound like a self-important asshole. You may as well just say, “We’re going to rank how important you are. If you don’t hear from us, well, you know where you fall. Now be gone, peasant!”

Ahhhh…I feel better. It would not have been healthy to keep that all inside. Now I’m going to go back to the real work I’m avoiding.

 

Spoiler Alert: Relapse is NOT a Part of Recovery

I hope this doesn’t upset too many people, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Relapse is not a part of recovery. You’ll get professionals and others who care telling you it is, but that’s only so you don’t give up and get back up on that horse and keep going. Relapse is actually the opposite of recovery. Relapse is a break from recovery.

Once the relapse has started, I think people will tell you anything to get it to stop. I understand that. If the behavior doesn’t stop, it’s no longer a relapse. It’s called “using again” and I think we rationalize the relapse to the addict as a minor slip to get them back on the right path. At that point, I get it. But is there more we can do to not reach that point?

I wonder how many relapses would actually be preventable if “Progress Not Perfection” and “Relapse is a Part of Recovery” were not mantras I heard throughout rehabs, group therapies and 12-step groups.

While it’s technically illegal if you’re using a scheduled drug like heroin, relapse isn’t the kind of thing that you’ll be thrown in jail for in 99.9% of the cases. Yes, you may do something stupid while you’re in the midst of your addiction if it alters your behavior to the point you are violent, miss work or make other bad choices, but let’s be honest…except for the guilt of failing and resetting the clock, most people get through a relapse unscathed.

I was reading a well-written entry on a recovery forum I frequent earlier and a guy was talking about his relapse. He had certain phrases that struck me as:

  • Part of every addict’s journey to a new life is trial and error, aka relapse.
  • If you do find yourself using again; don’t give up, rather give yourself a pat on the back, you are just like everybody else that has successfully beat their addiction.
  • Realize that in order to relapse you must have been trying to stop, and that honestly is the biggest step in this battle.
  • Learn from each relapse…as long as you take something away from it then you are moving forward towards recovery.

This all just sounds like rationalization to me, and if you’ve ever met an addict, you’ve met someone who is not only a master manipulator and liar to those close to them, they’re able to convince themselves of anything.

Recovery is about not indulging in your addiction. It is not about indulging in your addiction only a few more times. Rationalizing that it’s OK because everybody does it and as long as you learn something from it was OK is dangerous.

One of my favorite concepts taught at my second rehab was the idea of the “prelapse.” It asserts that long before you actually indulge in your addiction, you’ve set the wheels in motion. As most addicts can tell you, there is a way of thinking and there is a way of behaving leading up to the relapse. It can be minutes, hours or days. In most cases, it’s all three.

I’m not talking about massive red flag triggers. Those should be easy enough to spot. I’m talking about things like having a bad day, seeing something that causes a certain change in thinking or slacking off from your usual recovery diligence. It’s just as important that recovering addicts understand the little, subtle things that lead them toward relapse than the massive things. We see the massive things coming a mile away.

There are rituals involved with addiction, prior to the substance or behavior actually happening that many addicts never recognize. I had to pour the Red Bull and Tequila a certain way. The conditions for looking at online porn had to be exactly as I wanted. I hadn’t started drinking or looking yet, but had I relapsed when I began preparing? In many ways, yes. I never recognized any of these routines until I entered treatment. Identifying them is a great way to stop dead in your tracks.

Knowing what’s going to happen before the relapse is the best tool for stopping it before it happens. You don’t just blink your eyes and suddenly you’re on a porn website, or sitting in your favorite chair with a tumbler of vodka, or standing at the roulette table or looking at an empty pint of ice cream you’ve devoured. There was a series of thoughts and actions that led you there.

Relapse sucks, but it doesn’t happen to everybody (it actually doesn’t happen with about 40% of people) and it doesn’t have to happen multiple times. Giving ourselves permission to slip up is the surest way of reintroducing addiction back to our lives. Stay vigilant.

 

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 have an invisible friend, too. And I know he helped. I’m just not sure it’s the same invisible friend. 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.