Always Staying Ahead of the Next Obsession is the New Normal in Recovery

Anybody else feel weird when a repairman is at the house, like you’re not sure just how much of the process you’re supposed to participate in or what proximity you’re supposed to maintain? I’ve got the guy in my mud room right now trying to figure out why my dryer won’t dry and am trying to work from the breakfast bar in my kitchen, but am not getting the regular stuff done, so I figured I’d write an entry to stay busy.

I’ve noticed my mind is trying to find something to glom onto in the last few months and it all seems to have to do with the computer or some kind of communication.

At the end of last year, it was blogging. I was justifying daily entries by saying I was getting more hits than ever and building up my base which could only help me eventually turn the porn addiction writing and educating into a money-making entity, but taking a step back, it was clear that I wasn’t reaching that many people and certainly not very many new people. The reality was, I liked seeing the little bar on the stats page go up and I liked the interaction with people and started to depend on it at much as interaction with people in real life, which I don’t think is healthy.

I’ve been winding down the amount of podcasts I’m doing, too. They are a free means to reach potential readers of my books or people who want to utilize my counseling/advising service, but every one hour podcast you hear probably involves three hours of actual time dedicated to it. I was trying to book 3-5 per week which was taking too much of my time. Thankfully, a couple of very smart people told me that I need to shoot for quality, not quantity. I recognized that I wasn’t really after the attention as I may have been 10 years ago, but just wanted to feel like I was always doing something to push the book. I’ve always confused working smarter with working harder. Balancing those two things is going to be a life-long struggle.

As these things have waned in my life, I found myself introduced to Reddit. First, I found a couple of porn addiction boards, some about addicts and some about partners. I liked being a voice in the conversation, but it was the same conversation over and over and over. Not long after, I was introduced to the “roast” page. I found it hilarious. I’m one of those people who love it when people roast me. I’ve always had a good sense of humor when it came to myself and believe I had a good sense of humor when it came to roasting others. It turns out, I have a gift from God for roasting people. I started to get people up-voting my roasts in the thousands and was told by a few that considering I’d only been on Reddit 10 weeks but had around 50K upvotes, they thought I could be among the fastest in the history of the site to reach a million. This is when I started to take it too seriously. I started finding the “system within the system” realizing that roasting females got more votes and roasting between noon and 4 p.m. EST was best and just overanalyzing the whole thing. I was stopping work mid-project to head over to see if there were new people who needed roasting. So I deactivated my account. It was creatively fun, but again started to show signs of becoming a bit of an obsession — and I didn’t even have a way to explain it away or rationalize it as doing something good.

I started a new diet today because I’ve been eating crap food at all hours and seem to find myself thinking about food more than in the past. My weight isn’t too bad compared to where it’s been in the past before I started a diet, but I’m a good 20-25 pounds more than I should be. My mind should not be a place where Chicken in a Biskit crackers or Cheetos take up any real estate. Hopefully my junk food cravings go away as I lose a few pounds. After all, bikini season is just around the corner.

I guess my point, as I spy the guy starting to reassemble the dryer, is that for recovering addicts like me who can easily turn something new into an obsession, vigilance and analyzing your patterns of behavior is a constant necessity. Yeah, it would be better if I didn’t sucked into something new and want to master it immediately, nor be able to explain why quite often why mastering it was a good thing. But those aren’t the cards I’m playing with and recognize your situation, tendencies, and limitations is a key part of being healthy I’m always learning.

Six Years After Starting Recovery, I Make One of My Biggest Advances Toward Normalcy

I did something I’m actually going to brag about, that I never would have thought I would have done in a million years, but it felt like such a step forward, I’ve been meaning to come here and write about it to show people just how far you move away from mistakes you made and how you don’t need to hide from who you are, no matter what has happened.

As many of you know, my uncle died about a week ago. He was one of those guys who was the glue in any group he was a part of, be it our family, his friends or his professional life. I won’t say the world revolved around him, but if his life was the show Seinfeld, he was the Jerry Seinfeld upon which everything was held together.

He was also an administrator in the school district I attended. Since I’m 43 and he died at 63, most of the teachers I had while he served are still alive and I knew many would attend his wake. I also know he was one of those guys who knew everybody and could theoretically foresee anybody walking through the doors of the funeral parlor, so when it came to his wake I was very nervous.

The people I have around me in life have pretty much all uniformly moved on from my arrest six years and the attention it drew. They’ve seen the new guy I’ve evolved into and life is pretty routine these days. For the first time since my arrest in early 2014, I was looking at seeing people I hadn’t seen since before that all went down.

I’ll be honest with everyone. I took an Ativan. It doesn’t escape me that 10 years ago, I would have had a couple drinks before going to something like this. I took a bunch of Ativan immediately after I was arrested and in the week leading up to going to jail. I also took it for about a month last year when I was going through debilitating anxiety attacks. I have been very cognizant to not take any more than I need. I took one about 30 minutes before leaving and haven’t needed another. I expressed hesitation to my wife, but as she said, “The medicine specifically exists to help you in a moment like this.”

At first I was sheepish. I saw my third-grade teacher, a cousin who had given me the cold shoulder for a while and a guy who was a freelancer at the magazine I owned. They were all friendly exchanges.

I don’t know why I chose them, but about an hour into things, my junior high school principal, who’s got to be 80, give or take (he was my mother’s 9th grade math teacher…and she’s 71) and his wife, who I worked with at the local newspaper for about five years before she retired approached me to express their condolences.

When they asked what I was up to, I explained that I ghostwrite books for people who are usually CEOs, working on self-help programs or simply want an autobiography. And then it hit me. I’m proud of my work with porn addiction. I’m not ashamed of it. It was nothing I set out to do, but it’s a problem and if my mission is to educate the world, I should let the world know what I’m doing.

“If you remember all that stuff that happened to me six years ago, I got my head on straight and now I write books about pornography addiction and try to help people and their families who are struggling with it,” I told them. “There was nothing for me when I wasn’t doing well, so I thought maybe I could make things better for other people. It’s a huge problem out there.”

They told me that they knew I did one book but were glad to hear I just released a second one. They said it seems like pornography is everywhere these days and they were proud of me. Then they each gave me a hug.

In my wildest dreams, since first meeting the man 31 years ago, I never thought that I’d hug my junior high school principal. I also don’t remember him being that short. I’ve grown.

Telling them what I do now was such a feeling of relief and moment of empowerment. I went on to tell probably four more people in the last two hours. I didn’t make it about me, I didn’t quote stats or do my podcast-style preaching. I just mentioned in matter-of-factly. The results were positive across the board.

Six years ago, when this all went down and it was headline news, I was scared to death. I barely left the house. If I went to a restaurant, it was 30 miles away. Over time, I’ve become comfortable being out in public locally and have been surprised just how few interactions I’ve had with people from my former life. I think that my uncle’s wake may have been a huge final step toward whatever level I end up at in being comfortable owning what I did and being open with what I do now, no matter who I’m talking to or where I am.

The last step is going to be the people who I work with. It never comes up, but most of them don’t know my real name. I intentionally hide it from them whenever possible, and when it has to be revealed for payment or tax purposes, I tell them I professionally just go by my first and middle name.

Anyway, my message is really just if you have something that you don’t think you can face, or something you feel shame an embarrassment about, try being open about it. Try with someone who you think will be safe. I mean, realistically, unless my mother dies very soon, I don’t think I’ll ever see my junior high school principal or his wife again. They were safe people, and it felt damn good. Damn good.

Do You Know How to Properly Say Sorry?

My daughter was in a pretty nasty car accident this morning. Thankfully, she’s fine. She was returning to our home on the Maine Turnpike when a tractor trailer truck likely didn’t realize she was trying to pass it (it’s a two-lane road) and nudged her to the left. She probably would have recovered had the weather not been freezing rain, coating the untreated road with a thin layer of ice.

Instead, she spun around and smacked into the center guardrail quite hard. My wife and I got the call about 5:20 a.m. and what would usually take 25 minutes to reach her took almost 90 because of other accidents diverting traffic on and off the turnpike. It was not a morning to be driving.

The Maine State Police officer who stayed with her that entire time was wonderful. Despite the fact they were the agency that arrested me back in early 2014, I have no ill will against any law enforcement personnel. We can certainly poke holes in the system, but the foot soldiers didn’t create it. Adapting another old saying is true: It’s better to have a cop and not need him than need a cop and not have him.

On the ride home, she was still slightly in shock and the adrenaline was still coursing through her veins. As she started to come down, she started apologizing. We tried to assure her that we knew it wasn’t her fault, we have insurance and we were just grateful that she wasn’t injured.

It got me thinking about apologies. She was apologizing for creating a difficult situation. Yes, it will be a pain in the ass dealing with adjusters, making decisions based on amount of damage and having to split two cars among three people. But, it wasn’t her fault. She was merely at the center of a storm she could not control. I think her reaction to apologize is a knee-jerk one that many of us have, even in situations that we were simply victims.

One of the things that was actually difficult to learn when I entered recovery was how to give a proper apology. I was taught the skills at one rehab, but don’t think it clicked until a year later when I was part of a monthly support group.

Most people confuse real apologies with an opportunity to explain how they are only “mostly” at fault, or how extenuating circumstances dictated their behavior:

“I hadn’t eaten in two days and I knew the sandwich in the fridge was yours, but I was starving.”

“I know most people call into work when they are sick, but I was sicker than I’ve ever been.”

“I was late picking you up because I got in a conversation with Tina, and you know how she can talk.”

These are three very minor examples because I just don’t want to get too heavy with this and lose the meaning. The reality is, most apologies are just excuses tinged with a tiny bit of responsibility attached. That’s not what apologies are supposed to be.

Here are a few things to think about when you’re ready to make a proper apology:

  • When you’re giving an apology, you are not to expect to be let off the hook for your behavior. In fact, you shouldn’t expect any reaction. They don’t owe you an “I forgive you” or “That’s OK.”
  • Apologies are not about making you feel better or releasing the guilt or shame you may have. Get this…they’re not about you at all other than admitting wrongdoing.
  • Ask yourself why you are apologizing. If the reason is anything other than to acknowledge that you recognize you did something to hurt the other person, you’re overdoing it.
  • A simple statement of regret is not inappropriate, but that should be the most you interject your thoughts into the situation. How you feel is not important, and frankly, it’s not what the other person is looking for or needs.
  • An apology should never make a request, especially to accept the apology. It also shouldn’t ask things like: “But you have to see my side of things…” or “I hope you can understand…” This is you trying exonerate yourself of 100% culpability.
  • Do not accompany the apology with a gift or something cutesy, like a card with a teddy bear holding a balloon. If you want to make reparations, do it at some point after the apology is given. Saying sorry and making things even are two different things for two different moments.
  • Consider writing your apology before giving it. If you have patterns of giving incorrect apologies, you may find it best to be able to review what you’re going to say. It may even make sense to send it to them in writing so you don’t go off script.

Let’s take that first example I gave above of an incorrect apology:

“I hadn’t eaten in two days and I knew the sandwich in the fridge was yours, but I was starving.”

There are three justifications for the wrong choice here. If you ever feel like you’re explaining your actions, you’re giving an improper apology.

Here are more wrong examples:

“Sorry. Despite being very hungry and knowing I shouldn’t, I took the food that was yours.”

Your hunger situation has nothing to do with a proper apology.

“Sorry. My mind was just thinking food and I was going to ask but I didn’t see you anywhere and thought I could make up for it later.”

Rationalizing a solution to make your behavior OK is not an apology, whether you bought a new sandwich or not.

“Sorry. The next time I have anything in the fridge, you can eat it. You don’t even have to ask.”

Encouraging the same behavior toward yourself does not cancel out your poor choice.

 

Here’s are a few examples of a proper apology:

“I took your sandwich without asking which is stealing. I’m sorry.”

“You were probably hungry because I stole your sandwich. I’m sorry.”

“I apologize for stealing your sandwich. It was the wrong thing to do.”

Usually, the proper apology is the shortest one. It doesn’t preface with situational exceptions nor ask if everything is OK at the conclusion. It is an act of contrition, an admittance of guilt and understanding of wrongdoing. And that’s all it should be.

Questioning the Changes in My Attitude Toward Healthy Sexuality

I’m anti-pornography, but I’m not militant about it. I understand that pornography has been around as long as man could draw on the wall of a cave, and getting into a battle you can’t win seems like a waste of time, energy and resources. There’s also the civil libertarian in me who doesn’t want to tell you how to live your life because I don’t want you to tell me how to live mine. But, yeah, I’m anti-pornography.

When you’re a heroin addict, a gambling addict, an alcoholic, a video game addict, a cocaine addict, etc., the goal is clear in recovery: Stop using or stop behaving that way. My goal was clear, too; stop using pornography. But, much like with food addicts still needing to eat, a further goal for a sex or porn addict is that they are supposed to develop healthy sexual habits and attitudes. Moving completely away from sexuality is known as being a sexual anorexic and that can be just as unhealthy as being an addict.

Without going into too much intimate detail, I feel like I’ve achieved much healthier sexual habits, but I’m wondering if my sexual attitudes, which were once “anything goes between two or more consenting adults” have swung too far in the other direction.

In researching several podcasts that I’m going to be on, I have spent a fair amount of time being exposed to the titles and icons of a lot of sex-based podcasts out there. Some pitch themselves as lurid (usually hosted by someone in the adult entertainment industry), others as health-based (usually hosted by someone with real credentials, or some sort of “sexual shaman”) and there’s a segment that just seems to treat it as matter-of-fact (usually a couple of friends just talking about sex.)

I’ve looked at the descriptions of some of these shows, because they seem like perfect places for someone like me to warn the masses about the potential dangers of pornography. I mean, I’ve got a pretty good story and I’ve got a ton of statistics on my side. I don’t see myself as a missionary, but you go where they need you – even if most reject you.

Further, I’ve been connecting with a lot of people on LinkedIn lately, mostly medical professionals. I have stumbled upon many people who fall into that “sexual shaman” category where they may have some degree they earned in the 1980s, but they’ve taken a New Age approach to sexuality. I tend to not connect with these people.

Frankly, what a lot of these podcasts and alternative sexual healers are pushing scares the hell out of me. I don’t think it would have 10 years ago. Back then I probably would have wished I had gone down their road of openness and experimentation. Today, though, I’m kind of repulsed.

I’m not sure that should be my reaction. If you and your partner (or partners) decide to embark on a journey that is far more kinky than anything I’d be comfortable with and it’s consensual, or you’re able to talk communicate about sexuality on a level with a frankness most people can’t muster, is there anything wrong with that?

I’ve never been a BDSM guy, but 10 years ago, I was a live and let live guy. If whips and chains do it for you, just have a safe word and don’t hurt anybody. Today, I tend to gravitate more toward a “they are deviants” point of view. Nothing changed with them. It changed with me.

I’ve been to red light districts in a few major international cities and I’ve stayed at a clothing optional resort in the Caribbean. Those places now seem gross and I really don’t want to judge the people buying or selling the sexuality, but I can’t help it.

Maybe I’m just getting more conservative with age. Maybe all of the fallout of my recovery has caused this shift. It could be I’m just a hypocrite and dismissed that extreme sexuality before because I was hoping to be a part of it. Something has caused a change in my attitude toward what “healthy sexuality” means.

Objectively, I still say if it’s between two or more consenting adults and you can keep it behind closed doors, I really shouldn’t have any input into your sexuality. I also respect the First Amendment enough that I’d stand next to these people and fight for their right to say whatever they want on their podcast. Nobody should ever dictate Free Speech.

Subjectively, none of it’s for me and I wonder if going that far in the other direction, unintentionally or not, is a good thing.

I’m Still Failing at Empathy

I feel like a rotten person for admitting this, but despite my best efforts there are still people who I feel incredibly awkward around: elderly people over 90, people with developmental disabilities, police officers and just about any kid except my own. There is nobody I feel more awkward around though than my mother when she’s crying.

It’s exceedingly rare that she cries. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen it is when she’s at funerals or mourning afterward. Unfortunately, she got some horrible news about my uncle, her younger brother, yesterday about his ongoing battle with cancer.

Despite a year where it looked like immunotherapy treatment was appearing to work, in the last two months the tumor on his liver has grown rapidly. They are going to try an aggressive form of chemotherapy, but the doctor said if he doesn’t respond well, it’s going to be time to have some palliative care discussions.

Without getting into too much history, my uncle is eight years younger than my mother. Their parents weren’t the warmest or most attentive people. She missed out on a lot of typical middle and high school activities because she was required to babysit him. This created a bond that has always seemed almost more like mother and son rather than brother and sister to some of us in the family. In a lot of ways, she was his first kid and they have been immensely close ever since.

When it comes to death and funerals, my involuntary reaction is to mentally and emotionally detach. I’ve probably been to 20 wakes/funerals in my life and I recall crying at one, for one of my best friends when he was 18 and I was 21. I can almost always go look at the body and feel nothing. When people say, “He looks peaceful” or “She’s not suffering now,” I get the urge to say, “He isn’t peaceful. He isn’t anything” or “Of course she’s not suffering, but she’s also not feeling good. She isn’t feeling anything.” This is why I sit toward the back and only speak when spoken to at those things.

Detachment happens when I feel incredibly awkward and/or can sense I’m about to feel incredibly sad. Funerals and wakes are an intersection of both emotions.

Detachment turns off my empathy. It turns off all of my emotions, but the appropriate one in most situations I find myself detaching is empathy.

I perfected the art of detaching as a young kid. I think it was from when my babysitter would put me in a dark room, and I didn’t know how long I’d be there. I learned to trick my mind into seeing two hours as 15 minutes, or more accurately, suspending the typical sensation of time elapsing in my head.

It’s not all bad. I can sit at the DMV, or any waiting room, for an hour and barely notice it. Detachment is what made driving 9,000 miles this past August seem like a breeze and when I was in jail in early 2016, detachment let the days bleed into one another until I somewhat lost all sense of normal time elapsing.

The problem with detachment, and it’s a problem I’ve been trying to address throughout my recovery, is that it’s lead to a lifelong lack of empathy. When I hear or see my mother crying, it’s easier – and more natural for me – to shut down than to process it.

I think detachment and lack of empathy go hand-in-hand. I also think that I have empathy deep down, but I know that when I start to let it out, it doesn’t stop. I’m not mean to really old people or developmentally disabled people. They just make me so, so sad. I don’t like watching movies designed to make me cry either. And, in my very grueling therapy appointments that came early in recovery, I had to learn to schedule them at the end of the day because I’d be an empathetic wreck thinking about all the people I hurt. I didn’t want that to happen early in the day because then it was a lost day.

Sympathy I can do. Empathy I still have trouble with. For those who don’t know the difference, I described it this way in rehab once and the counselor said they were going to adapt it because it’s the bluntest they’d ever heard:

Sympathy = That sucks for you
Empathy = Sucks to be you

It’s a subtle difference, but with empathy, you’re putting yourself in a person’s spot and understanding how they feel. It’s relating to another’s emotions. With sympathy, it’s a sterile recognition of what the person is going through.

I’m not an idiot. I can recognize my mother is very sad by the fact she was crying on the phone and will probably be experiencing more of that in the future as this ordeal with my uncle continues. But I also either can’t, or don’t want to relate. I know that I should. I know that’s the right thing to do, but despite my recovery going smoother than most people’s, this is still a giant hurdle. I love my mother and I love my uncle. I don’t know what to say to either of them that is both genuine and won’t leave me a complete mess. In the past, my way of handling it is to just not say much of anything or pretend like it’s not happening.

I know what the comments are likely going to say on this post because I’m telling myself the same things: Suck it up, you’ve got to be there for them. Sometimes life is uncomfortable and avoiding it doesn’t help anyone. What would you want your child to do in the same situation?

I get it, I really do. And to give myself a tiny bit of credit, I’m better at this kind of stuff than I was before recovery. Several people, including my mother, have made mention I’m an overall better human, but that’s easy on most days. The dark days ahead are going to be challenging.

I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me at the beginning of recovery that the toughest part was going to be emotionally connecting and allowing myself to feel empathy for others. Now, it seems obvious it was going to be the toughest part. Hopefully I can learn to better deal with it.