Of All The People In The World To Teach Me A Valuable Recovery Lesson…

I think there are many components to successful addiction recovery, and that’s why so many people fail. One that many people gloss over, despite the fact it’s preached in 12-step groups, is being available and of service to others. I believe both the kindness of fellow addicts, coupled with my efforts to educate about porn addiction have helped me immensely.

Addicts are selfish. We lie and we take, take, take. To become a selfless person who gives is a massive paradigm shift. This is one of the reasons I tell people that inpatient rehab is important and valuable. While it does keep you away from your drug or bad behavior, it also creates an environment where inner change can happen, and be practiced before returning to the real world.

Early in my recovery, shortly after I returned to freelance journalism, I had an encounter with a recovering alcoholic and drug addict that really stuck with me.

I wrote an article for a recovery website about the history of substance abuse in professional wrestling, tracing the arc of the hard-partying, painkiller-abusing 1970s and ’80s to the radically different modern day with frequent drug testing and much cleaner lifestyles.

One of the reasons I love being a writer is because it allows me access to people I otherwise would never get to talk with, and this was one such time. As a kid, I loved wrestling, but I wasn’t into the guys like Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage who yelled into the microphone. I preferred guys who could talk great smack without raising their voices like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Nick Bockwinkel and especially Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

Roberts has been a poster boy for recovery in wrestling. Among the hardest partiers, it’s amazing he’s still alive. Having essentially spent all of his money on drugs, he was living in squalor in Georgia until seven or eight years ago when fellow wrestler “Diamond” Dallas Page rescued him and put him on a lifestyle regimen that changed things. This journey can be traced in the film “The Resurrection of Jake The Snake” which is a fantastic documentary.

Roberts seemed like a perfect interview subject and while it took a little bit of effort, I was able to connect with him. I admitted to being a huge fan as a kid, as I always do when I interview anybody I admire. It just seems phony for me to pretend I didn’t know his vast body of work.

We talked his recovery for about 20 minutes, and I mentioned that I was very new to recovery. At the time, I was only about three months out of my first rehab and it would be another six before I went to the sex/porn rehab in Texas. I was just really focusing on alcohol at the time.

“You’re taking notes so you got yourself a pen and paper there, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Write down this number,” he told me, giving me a telephone number with a Georgia area code. “That’s my personal cell number. If you ever find yourself struggling. If you’re at the grocery store and you think you’re going to buy beer or if you’re at a bar and you’re having a bad day. Whenever you need to, just call me and we’ll work through it. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a really nice thing to do. Thank you.”

“We gotta stick together if we’re gonna beat this disease,” he said.

A few minutes later, we said our goodbyes.

I never called him. The few times I felt skittish, I was able to get through the moment on my own. Despite still feeling the occasional craving to this day, I’ve never come what I’d say is close to relapsing.

In truth, I would have felt incredibly weird calling him. I know a former wrestler means nothing to 99% of the population, but he had a big impact on me as a kid. His character was the loner who did what he needed to do to survive to the next day. And as it turned out, the real guy was a lot like me, too. Calling on him to help would have been like a football fan calling Joe Montana or a basketball fan calling Michael Jordan. How do you seek help from people you’ve put on pedestals for decades?

Roberts’ kindness and reaching out really touched me. It sticks with me to this day. Somebody who I view as a superstar, but knew the same challenges of recovery as I did, wanted me to know he was there for me if I stumbled. The “bad guy” who once threw a snake at Andre the Giant wanted to help me if I needed it.

Thankfully, I didn’t need the help, but he did teach me a valuable lesson that day.

Do Not Waste Your Time at a Therapist You Feel No Connection With

I just came back from my therapist’s office after our first meeting in nearly a month. We had to cancel an appointment from two weeks ago for whatever reason, and I think it’s been the longest gap between appointments we’ve had since I started seeing her in late March 2014.

She’s not the first therapist I’ve ever had, but she’s the best and I know that I would not have been able to process the boatload of mental health and experiential baggage I brought to the table following my arrest with just anybody else.

The first time I was seen in a formal therapy setting was in 1996, shortly after one of my best friends was killed by a drunk driver. The therapist let me ramble for a few weeks, wrote some stuff down, but after a month or so of grieving, I recognized this guy, at least 30 years my senior, was no help at all. I could have been talking to a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan and got the same feedback.

In 2000, I went back to therapy, with an overall feeling something was wrong. He diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, which was just the tip of the iceberg of diagnoses to come, but I connected with him in a weird way. He was always telling me about his problems, which were way worse than mine. I was 24 at the time and he was probably 15 years older. It seemed like he made many choices in life he wished he could backtrack on, but didn’t have the courage. I saw him for about a year, took about six months off, then saw him for another year. This was around the time I was put on medication for bipolar disorder.

I had another 6-week stint with a therapist around 2005. He mostly wanted to talk about football and I probably wasn’t completely into it either, complaining of general malaise, but unsure what the real issues were and not in a place to delve too deeply.

And while I mostly stayed on my meds, I went almost the next 10 years without seeing a therapist. I had determined that my problems where chemical, not emotional. While the second guy was some help, I told myself that I’d never received that “magic bullet” piece of advice that would turn my life completely around, so clearly therapists didn’t “get me” and it was a waste of time.

I was referred to my current therapist immediately after I was arrested by the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. I learned years later that I wasn’t supposed to end up with her, as I was referred to someone else in her office. As the owner of the practice, she seemed interested in the brief bit she heard of my story and took me on.

I only saw her twice before I went off to rehab for alcoholism. The last thing she said to me was “Do me a favor and give it a chance.” Those words stuck with me and I don’t know if I would have come to terms with being an alcoholic as quickly without that advice.

Early on, the work was intense. I’d see her either twice a week for an hour, or once for two hours. There are benefits and drawbacks to each set-up. We’d talk about things I learned at my two rehabs, go over my mental health history, and talk about how my experiences in life led me to where I was at the time. It was very tough work a lot of the time. I think she’s seen me cry more than anybody else in the last 35 years. Two years after first meeting her, when it was time to do my six months in jail, I was a healthier version of myself than I’d ever been, with her deserving a lot of the credit.

She testified in my favor at the sentencing and visited me in jail. I resumed a steady schedule of therapy upon release and although it was part of my probation conditions, it’s not like I would have stopped seeing her. Off probation now, I’m still not quitting.

As I’ve continued to move in healthier directions, writing books and trying to educate about porn addiction, she’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders and I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to keep going if she didn’t boost me up from time to time.

I read so much about people who are just not connecting with their therapist. I have to admit, I was not always 100% open and honest about everything with my former therapists, so some of the problem was likely me. With my current therapist, I can tell her anything, even things that are uncomfortable and shameful.

I wouldn’t have ever thought a woman who’s only three or four years older than me would be the one I clicked with, but she was the one. Her practice has expanded mightily to several offices over the last few years and despite transitioning most of her client load, she was gracious enough to continue seeing me. That meant a lot as I can’t imagine the time it would take to not only get up to speed with another therapist, but also be lucky enough to make that connection.

If you’re not connecting with your therapist, and you’ve given it four or five sessions, stop wasting your time. Just because they have some letters after their name does not mean they are instantly the perfect one for you. I needed someone who asked a lot of questions and who understands my strange sense of humor. I needed someone who shared a bit about her life, but didn’t make it about her. I didn’t want someone who ended every session with “homework.” I didn’t do my homework in high school, what makes you think I’m going to do it now?

She’s never given me the “magic bullet” piece of advice to change everything for the better. She helped me learn it doesn’t exist. While I don’t need the intense therapy I had early in recovery, it’s reassuring to know we can check-in every 2 or 3 weeks, even if it’s just for chit-chat. Hopefully that will continue for many years to come.

Find a therapist you connect with because it will make a world of difference. It did for me.

Progress and Evolution Always Win, Even When it Comes to Your Addiction

I was flipping through the news/political channels on the TV this morning and a rush of thoughts came to me, and of course because of who I am, I started overanalyzing them in terms of addiction.

As you may know, I stay away from the news as much as possible these days and my political leanings are dead center. I’d be a registered Libertarian if I ever decided to vote.

Conservatives really don’t want things to change, or at least want them to change at a much slower rate than they ever do. Liberals want things to change today, right now. It occurred to me that in the end, the liberals will always win not because they are correct in their beliefs, but simply because time marches on. Given enough time, slaves are freed, women get the vote and homosexuals are allowed to get married. It’s not even that the liberals win. It’s that progress wins because progress is just time measured by milestones.

In nature, it’s a similar game called evolution. The strong survive and the weak – even if they are monster lizards who roamed the Earth for millions of years – eventually disappear. And even those who in the strongest category die because everything living dies eventually. You can’t slow evolution, even if you’re one of the people who refuses to believe in it. Evolution doesn’t care.

Thinking about progress and evolution made me think of some of the people I met in rehab. While I went once for alcoholism and another for porn/sex addiction, I look at them as two completely different successful experiences. Many of the people I got to know had nothing close to that success record.

There was one guy who must have been about 22. He was handsome, a bit of a jock and a genuinely sweet guy. He was at rehab for the eighth time. The guy he was roommates with, who was very similar, except he wasn’t a sweet guy, was in rehab for his 10th time. Both just couldn’t kick their heroin addiction and both went because they were told repeatedly they’d get cut off financially if they didn’t attend.

Today, more than four years later, one of them seems to be thriving as an EMT. The other has been dead for two years. You can’t tell which one is which based on my description I bet. I wouldn’t have been able to tell who would be successful and who would succumb.

The guy who worked for the rehab and lived at the small motel-like property that I was stationed at in my first stint was probably in his late 20s. He went to rehab 14 times, but for some reason, that 15th time did the trick. Except for the first two times, all of them were ordered by a judge between his short stints in jail or on probation. When I checked up on him a year ago, he’s still sober and working at a ranch that focuses on recovery somewhere in the Dakotas or Montana.

I can run through a motley crew of characters – there’s the 50-year-old former Hells’ Angel and his 18-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant and couldn’t kick her heroin habit; he was hiding out in rehab from the law and wanted to get her straight before the baby was born, or the beautiful former major-market newscaster who relapsed three times in the two weeks I knew her before deciding rehab wasn’t for her – and unfortunately with most of these people I have no idea what happened.

These people are either healthy, dead, or much, much worse off if they happen to still be alive. Yes, most of them had drug-related issues, but I’ve followed up with some of my friends who had eating disorders, sex or gambling addictions and everybody seems to have similar stories.

My point is that there’s a shelf life for an addict. They’ve abused themselves for years and always get away with it. A life continuing to go down the toilet? Ironically, that’s called progress. They’ve tried to be conservative and keep things as they are with their use, but progress escalates things. Progress never lets things stay the same. If they’ve tried to quit immediately, it’s almost always a failure because they immediately demand too much from their mental or physical health in too short a time, almost like a liberal mindset.

Then there are those who are much worse off if they still happen to be alive. They’ll either eventually see the light and walk the long, grueling path to recovery. Those who don’t will die. That’s just evolution.

The message to me was that you keep going to rehab, or at least seeking help, until you get it right because the alternative shouldn’t be anybody’s alternative. If you aren’t one of those people who can stop on your own, get the professional help from people who know how to help and what speed. Recovery is like a dimmer switch, it can go brighter or darker, but it doesn’t just turn on or off. Professional help are the electricians who can try to help before you short circuit yourself to an early grave.

Progress and evolution – they are forces of nature. We have to work with, not against, them.

 

 

I’m finally trying to be a good person

I’ve worked on a lot of things about myself during my 5½ year journey of addiction recovery. Early on, it was mostly just about understanding how I got to be the way I did, while also working on becoming addiction-free. Eventually, once that stuff takes hold, you start to gain clarity on other life issues, understanding how they all connect and hopefully learn able to tweak them if necessary. Sure, it’s been half a decade, but I’ve recently made the decision to consciously become a nicer, more accommodating person.

Yeah, it sounds ridiculous and most of you good people probably don’t have to work at it, but for somebody who has focused on both his lack of empathy and one-upsmanship as a major part of recovery, being a “nice guy” has never come naturally. I need cognitive behavior therapy to change.

I remember as a kid when I watched pro wrestling, I found the villains so much more compelling, especially the ones who portrayed characters that honestly didn’t believe they were the bad guy. I was never able to put this phenomenon into words until I read a line in Chuck Klosterman’s book I Wear the Black Hat that described villains as people who “…knew the most, but cared the least.”

Fake Altruism

I never saw myself as a typical villain. I just recognized that I had a certain moral flexibility and lack of empathy that many around me didn’t have. I didn’t care if you liked me because there were always plenty of people who did and I worked in the media for 20 years, where people are constantly kissing your ass for coverage. It skews the need to actually be a good person.

Even worse, I think I had a lot of people convinced I was a good person. I think that’s really what the shunning of me post-arrest was mainly about. Yeah, I committed a disgusting, heinous crime, but I think people were pissed off this “good guy” actually turned out to not be so nice.

And it’s hard to say they were wrong about this discovery. I had the act of seeming to be altruistic nailed.

There was an annual dinner for the local abused woman’s shelter where they would get 10-12 well-known people in Maine to be celebrity waiters and waitresses. Along with serving people their food, throughout the event, the “celebrities” were asked to either display a talent (one of the anchors from the NBC affiliate played the flute, for example) or just come up with their own crazy, humorous plans to raise money.

I was asked back year after year because I made them the most money. I re-enacted the water drop scene from Flashdance for $200, wouldn’t stop singing Johnny Cash until enough money was raised and arm wrestled a bunch of women, with each of us putting up $25 and the loser paying the charity. I know that I was irritating to the organization running the thing, because like half the celebrities, I was drunk an hour into the dinner, but hey, money talks.

The event was held in May, a time when it starts getting sticky and humid in Maine. By that point, my hair was always long because I didn’t cut it in the winter. I usually got sick of it and just buzzed the whole thing down to about a half-inch. I always wanted to go completely bald but never had the guts.

The day of the event in 2013, I was having drinks with the mayor of my town. We both liked to drink a lot, he was also a repeat celebrity and we knew showing up half-in-the-bag made it easier to be the dancing monkeys the crowd wanted. We somehow started talking about our mutual love of pro wrestling. He and I hatched a plan.

To end the night, the mayor and I told the audience that we were going to have a beer drinking contest and they could wager with each other, but the loser had to give the money to charity. We also created another stipulation. If the audience could raise $500 in two minutes, we’d up the stakes and the loser would get their head shaved. When the two minutes was up, we’d raised over $700.

In the “contest” I just poured the beer all over my face with my mouth open and let it dribble down the sides. I emptied my can first, claiming victory while the mayor cried foul. I grabbed the clippers and plugged them in, getting ready to cut the mayor’s hair, but the emcee interjected, saying he thought what went down wasn’t fair, and the audience agreed. He said they should take a vote who gets their head shaved.

As I started to scream that wasn’t fair and act like a crybaby, the audience voted. I lost. The emcee and another waiter held me in a chair while my head was shaved. The audience went wild. I whined the whole time. The audience ate it up.

After the dinner as the hosts were thanking the mayor and I for making such a huge potential sacrifice for a good cause, the NBC anchor came over to us.

“I can’t believe the two of you came up with that bet,” she said.

He and I looked at each other and smiled.

“Wait…” she said, putting it together. “Was this….?”

“Danielle,” I said, “Do you think it was just a coincidence there were hair clippers here?”

“Pro Wrestling 101,” said the mayor.

“Oh my God,” she said. “You guys are evil.”

She said it with a laugh, but as I was driving home, my phone and Facebook feed were already blowing up with pictures and people from the community talking about it. I’d love to say it was a surprise, but it wasn’t. It was exactly the reaction I wanted and expected. People were talking.

I didn’t care if we raised any money for the abused women’s shelter. I just wanted to run a huge con on the audience – and not let them in on it. I wanted people to tell me how awesome and selfless I was for a good cause. It would be another con, because only I knew I was planning on shaving my head that weekend. I just figured out how to make a giant spectacle of it with me looking like the altruistic good guy when all was said and done.

It was how I operated for years. I made myself out to look like a genuinely caring, community-oriented guy. I was neither of those things.

Trying it For Real This Time

While I’ve been ostracized from my community to the point I’ll never be able to be an active participant again, there’s nothing that says I can’t be a decent guy.

On the recent month-long road trip I went on with my daughter, I was in a genuinely good, caring mood the entire time. I was done probation, which meant I could roam out of state as I wanted and I’d saved enough money over a long time so I didn’t have to pinch pennies.

My wife said our 20-year-old princess and I would butt heads, but we never did. I let her listen to the music she wanted and learned that she’d get tired of it after a couple hours, or she’d take a nap. Except for the rap, it actually wasn’t that bad.

I started letting people cut in front of me at highway construction sites when lanes would go from three-to-two-to-one, even those miscreants who ride to the front in the breakdown lane. I began making small talk with waitresses, front desk clerks and people around us when we’d be waiting in line for stuff. I started tipping 25% if the waiter or waitress did a really good job, leaving nice notes on the receipt. I held doors much longer than usual and helped an elderly lady down some stairs. When a customer berated a counter worker at a fast food place, I told the girl she was working hard, doing a good job, and the customer was wrong.

It turns out, it feels good to genuinely do things for the right reasons and not expect anything in return.

I found myself actually looking for opportunities to be nice on the trip and it’s carried over to real life. Much like the cognitive behavioral training (CBT) that I used to change my patterns, beliefs and other aspects of my life during early recovery, I’m using those skills now, searching for ways to not only do the right thing, but hopefully make someone else’s life better. I’m not talking about kidney donating levels, just little things like giving the toll booth attendant $5 to pay for me and the four people behind me.

Yeah, I know this stuff should come naturally, and does to most people, but thank god I’ve got my CBT training.

I see this second half of my life as a bit of a do-over for the mistakes and problems (some my fault, some not) of the first half. Now, it’s a nicer do-over.

 

 

Hello manic phase of my bipolar disorder, I remember you

For those people who don’t have bipolar disorder or simply aren’t familiar enough with it, there is a misconception that medication completely takes care of your highs and lows. It doesn’t. It can mask it for a while, but I’ve recognized I’m currently experiencing a manic phase.

The role of the medication is to not make the highs too high or the lows too low. What used to be a minor manic episode, like the one I’m going through now, is about as bad as it gets these days. While it may rank a 7 on my 1-to-10 scale now, it would have been a 2 or 3 back when my bipolar disorder went untreated. Earlier this year, I had my worst depressive/anxiety episode I’ve had in over a decade. It was an easy 10 by today’s standards, but would have been average when I was in my early 20s.

The one drawback I find to the medicine is that years ago, I could see the manic or depressive episode coming on. It was like a freight train at night in that there was no stopping it, but I could see it from a mile away. Now, I don’t realize if I’m up or down until I’m well into it.

There are a few things that indicate to me I’m in a manic cycle:

I’m writing/journaling/blogging at all hours of the day – There are weeks where I find it challenging to put up one post a week here. The past 10 days, I’m finding it challenging not to post twice every day. I started writing this around 7 a.m. and I never blog that early. The piece I posted last night about intimacy and jail was written in the early evening, and I never write for this blog that late.

The upside is that I think it’s healthier than a lot of things I could be doing. I’ve got a powder keg of thoughts and feelings going off in my head right now and the way I’ve learned to deal with them is to get them down on paper. Of course, me being me, I need an audience and this blog serves that beast.

Lack of sleep – I should qualify the word lack more by saying “Lack of a need.” Back in the day, during a manic phase, I could go 60 hours without sleeping, or I could go a week catching a daily three-hour nap. I’m not at those staggering levels anymore, but I can get by on five hours of sleep during a manic phase.

Fortunately, lack of sleep now means just watching a lot more TV, reading or playing games on my phone. Instead of drinking or looking at porn, it seems like you can find Everybody Loves Raymond or Two and a Half Men somewhere on television 24 hours a day. Who would have ever thought that Charlie Sheen would be my answer to not watching porn?

Trouble working – While it’s ironic that I can sit here and write my thoughts on a continual loop, when it comes to getting my actual freelance writing done, it’s like tredging through molasses. Lately, my main source of income has been ghostwriting professional or empowerment blogs for clients. Those usually run 500 to 700 words and take 90-to-120 minutes to write, depending on what kind of research is needed. Now it’s taking me 3-4 hours.

A lot of that is because I’m distracted. I can pound out 1,000 words for a blog in 15 minutes, but I can’t put three sentences together with my work without going and checking e-mail or reading news sites or playing with my dogs. I still mostly ignore politics and bad news, but during manic phases I suddenly seem to care about celebrity and science news.

Trying something new – I left social media the day I was arrested and haven’t been back. It wasn’t exactly my choice. I was banned from social media while out on bail and while on probation. That was more than five years. Then, a few days ago, I started a Facebook page for the porn addiction education component to my life. I figured with my new book on pre-order and coming out soon, it would be a good idea to utilize it for promotion purposes. I’m going to write more about this experience later today or tomorrow, but let’s just say it didn’t go well and the page is now gone.

I’ve also launched a LinkedIn page. Why? Good question. I’m not sure, but it can’t end as badly as the Facebook thing did. But I’m sure it can end badly. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. My hope is that I can play both the professional writer and porn addiction educator at the same time and connect with people who might want my services for both. I haven’t tried LinkedIn to this point. It may not be a good idea – and that’s the thought I have when I know I’m in a manic phase but try things anyway. Thankfully the things I try now (like rejoining social media, or learning to cook, or getting another dog without telling anyone) pale compared to the dumb shit I did when I drank or looked at porn and was riding a manic phase.

If this goes on for too many more days or gets worse, I’ll call the doctor, like I did when I was going through my depressive episode earlier this year and see if the meds need tweaking. The nice thing is that I can manage everything now because I’m vigilant about my mental health. The combination of addiction with my mental health issues was often too much to handle in the past. But now, I know it’s a cycle and that things will change. I also know that I won’t do the kind of damage to myself I did in the past when I was unmedicated, in active addiction, unwilling to talk to people about it and frankly, not doing anything about it.

Bipolar disorder can be a burden, but we’ve all got crosses to bear, so I’m not looking for any sympathy. I just want the non-affected folks out there to understand that kicking your addictions or being on a usually very effective cocktail of medications doesn’t make it go away.

 

 

How Many People Do I Know Who Have Overcome Porn Addiction Without Therapy? Zero.

Do you ever get so frustrated watching people figuratively bang their heads into a wall again and again that you’re not sure if you should bother pointing out that it doesn’t solve anything? I feel that way when I read message boards and forums from the “rebooting” and “NoFap” communities and their vast majority attitude toward therapy, or even refusing to call what they have an addiction. Maybe I’m the one banging his head.

(For those who sometimes ask, NoFap is short for No Fapping. “Fapping” has become a slang term for masturbation among the younger generation.)

As I’ve said before, if something works for you in recovery, stick with it. I appreciated the very early stages of 12-step groups, but beyond the foundation, my personality type let me know that I wasn’t going to thrive in that culture. Religion wasn’t the right route for me either and although I eat better and am more physically active than before, diet and exercise weren’t the secret. I like sitting around and eating Cheetos too much. But if any of this works for you, keep on going with it.

However, if none of it works for you, shouldn’t you try something else?

I don’t spend the time on Internet forums dedicated to overcoming pornography problems (too many won’t call them addictions) I once did, but I still feel reading their stories are interesting and informational. I’ve mostly stopped trying to tell them that based on everything they write, they meet the criteria for “addict” and that the addiction will only end when they get to the cause of it, which isn’t just a random joy for watching naked people go at it.

I see so many of these men writing about how weak they are, how they can’t stay away from porn or masturbation and how they feel completely lost…yet they aren’t addicts and are not going to seek help from a professional because it’s their problem to solve. Many of these men keep a “counter” as part of their signature that says how many days they’ve been sober. Most can’t get beyond 10 days without having to reset because their white-knuckle recovery method is failing them.

The pessimist in me says they don’t really want to stop, which is why they don’t seek real help. When I managed a call center, we sold a package of CDs and DVDs to parents who had defiant children. In a lot of cases, the parents didn’t want to spend the money, nor actually have to go through an 8-hour educational program to fix the problem. They just wanted to temper their guilt with the idea they looked into doing something.

If there’s one thing I learned from experience and from my time in rehab, group therapy and being around addicts, it’s that hiding an addiction is not difficult. Addicts are brilliant liars and manipulators. We even use the term “gaslight” to accuse others of what we’re doing to them.

Maybe these addicts see taking a short break and being “real” in an Internet forum as some brief form of relief. The only way that an addict can get better is to admit to themselves that they have a problem that rises to the definition of addiction and that they must traverse a series of options and obstacles to successfully battle that addiction.

Those options and obstacles are different for all of us and while I know someone will show up in the comments section saying they did it alone, with sheer willpower, I have never personally seen a true long-term addict recover without some form of therapy, usually intensive in the beginning of recovery.

Through therapy, we learn how we became addicted people. People sometimes doubt me when I say addiction started the first time I picked up a Penthouse magazine at 12 or the first time I got buzzed on champagne at 14. The reality is that the groundwork for addiction was laid even before then and I needed to learn about that time period.

Most addicts also have mental health issues and while medication does keep me at the same level of most of the humans, it was also important in therapy to learn how those mental health issues affected my decision-making and judgment throughout my life when I wasn’t medicated.

Once I understood these complex connections – which I never would have made without the ongoing help of professionals (I still see a therapist every 2-3 weeks) – recovering from the addictions became simpler. When you understand the problem, the symptoms are easier to address.

I’m a metaphor guy, so I look at it this way: If you’re hiking by yourself and you take a bad fall and break your leg, what are you going to do? Some people will stand up and try to walk out of there. They may take a few painful steps, but will likely fall down again. Then, they may try to fashion an amateur splint on their leg. They may get a few more steps on their next try, but they’re going to fall down again. Determined to get off the trail by themselves, they start crawling. Maybe they even get a little further than they did on their feet. People continue to walk by, many offering aid, but our hiker wants to save themselves on their own. What then?

Here are the options as I see them:

  • Continue to crawl, and die trying to get out of there
  • Open up your damn backpack, find your phone, call the rangers and get the help you need
  • Eventually, against the odds, miraculously crawl to the end of the trail, but have you really learned anything?

The “rebooting” and “NoFap” communities seem to believe that Nos. 1 and 3 are the answer. The “I got myself into this and I’ll get myself out of it” vibe is strong, be it out of shame, ego, stubbornness or some combination.

Recovery is the goal, not recovery the way one says it has to be. Believing things have to be a certain way is probably a big piece of what got them to this point in the first place.

Now excuse me while I go bang my head into the wall.

Discovering the concept of Imposter Syndrome

I don’t often share links to other blogs here, but I somehow found a blog a couple of weeks back called Coaching Skills International that has been a breath of fresh air. From what I can tell it’s produced by an online counseling college out of Canada. If I’m wrong, I hope they’ll correct me. I urge you to check it out and see the kind of advice and knowledge they offer.

This past weekend, they posted an article about imposter syndrome. They define it as:

“Impostor syndrome is a psychological condition where people are unable to believe in their successes. Thus, despite the evidence that points to the fact that they are skilled, capable and competent they write this off as temporary – or timing and good luck. Thus, they constantly struggle with feeling like a fraud.”

This absolutely describes the first 37 years of my life, especially the last few years before I lost almost everything and entered recovery. I always had this voice in the back of my head going back to my days as a child that said, “You can’t let them know who you really are. Nobody will approve of, nor like who you really are, so be somebody else.”

I have suspicions that this developed first from somehow getting the message from my environment that I wasn’t enough. I think there’s a fine line between correcting and teaching a small child the right way to do things and making them feel inferior and as if they don’t have the instinct to do things correctly the first time, leading them to constantly doubt themselves.

Most of those negative messages came from a babysitter I had while my parents worked prior to me entering school. I’ve already written about the abuse while I was there, so I’ll skip it, but I also think my imposter syndrome was borne out of a fear of my safety. I internally learned at an early age how to say and do what I needed to avoid her wrath (most of the time) and that involved putting on a show, not being my genuine self. It’s the survival skill I leaned upon too heavily as I grew up.

Finally, I think my imperfect mental health likely played a role in exacerbating my imposter syndrome. Anxiety pushes you to avoid negative things like conflict with others. Depression forces you to put on a happy face for the world. Mania attempts to convince you that you’re something special and the life of the party, despite knowing you’re faking it.

Example #1

I remember in late 2012 when, as the co-founder of a large film festival in Maine, we held a press conference to announce our plans. It was in the space adjacent to our office we also rented and turned into an art gallery.

We had purchased a couple of those large backdrops (called step-and-repeats) you see celebrities pose in front of on the red carpet that usually has small logos for the event and a sponsor. A friend from a local college brought over a very cool looking podium and sound system so there was one of those small microphones you see on awards show to speak into.

As a surprise, I arranged to have Les Stroud of the Survivorman television show come to the festival that year and teased the announcement. I also arranged to have him speak to us via Skype at the press conference. The whole visual set-up was very professional.

As a city councilor (a whole other imposter story), I was good friends with the mayor and he agreed to attend the press conference to speak about the economic impact to the city.

So, we sent invitations to a few VIPs, our sponsors and the media to come to the press conference to hear what we had to say – and they all did. When the emcee (the magazine’s managing editor) introduced me to make the surprise announcement of Survivorman, I came up to the podium and looked out. There were probably 40 invited guests, including four TV stations with cameras and two newspaper reporters there.

I was standing on a stage and they were all waiting to hear me. In that moment, a wave of thoughts sprouted: “How did I pull this all together? How is every media source within 50 miles here? How can none of them recognize that I’m a hustler, a liar and a fraud? I am putting on a totally fake press conference – except it’s not fake. Or is it? It’s for a real event. I shouldn’t be in this position. It should be reserved for talented people who know what they’re doing. This song and dance is going to result in sponsors giving me tens of thousands of dollars I don’t deserve. How do I make sure these people don’t see the REAL me?”

Example #2

In my high school senior yearbook, I won the “Most Opinionated” superlative. I knew what that meant. It was the “Biggest loudmouth asshole who we still somehow like award.”

Even then I felt like I was an imposter. I excelled at things I found simple, like history and creative writing, and figured out how to cheat my way through math and science. I don’t think I was part of any specific clique, finding it easy to bounce around because as a chameleon, I could adapt to whomever I was hanging out with. If I was with the jocks, I’d turn my brain off. If I was with the brains, I’d hide the fact I loved sports.

Fast-forward 19 years and I’m nearing my demise. About six months after Example #1 took place, I was asked if I would give the commencement address for the latest graduating class. It took less than two decades for the loudmouth asshole who had to sit silently at his graduation in 1994 to get the headlining spot for the Class of 2013. This was a new high-water mark in fooling the world.

By this point, I was well into the deepest part of my addictions. I knew I’d need to have a few drinks in me to give the speech, but knew in that condition I couldn’t work from notecards behind a podium on a stage. So, I started the speech with a lame comment and walked off the stage and gave the speech from the auditorium floor, pacing the entire time. I didn’t use notecards and just made some bullet points and wrote a few jokes. I’ve always had the ability to just wing it when public speaking.

After the speech, one person complimented me, saying: “I liked how you came down to talk to the kids and walked around. And the fact you memorized that speech! Very impressive!”

Was it impressive or was it a con? My mind at the time told me I was conning the world and the only way I got away with it was with the numbing effects of alcohol and porn. Otherwise, I might have slipped up and screamed, “I’m completely full of shit everybody! Stop enabling me!”

I tracked down that speech online when writing this. Ironically, in the first five or six minutes, there is a lot of subtext to what I’m saying which sounds to me like I’m wrestling with imposter syndrome. There are so many references to it if you know what to look for. You can also count the number of times I drunkenly stumble over my words. I guess most people never caught on.

But I have to confess, even today, I find that pajama pants joke pretty funny.

If you’d like to see me fake my way through giving an “inspirational” speech, but knowing what was really going on, check this out:

 

 

A post-script to this example is that while I was giving this speech, my daughter was one town away, winning her middle school talent show. She was a bit of a wallflower, not participating in many activities and I have so much regret not being there to see it. My injured mind told me it was easier to fake being a successful professional in front of 3,000 than being a good father, blended into a small audience.

It was years of rehab, therapy, research, introspection, writing and very intentionally making different behavioral decisions that helped me move away from imposter syndrome. If you’d like to learn some practical techniques for overcoming it, check out the article that inspired this post at: Imposter Syndrome I wrote several more thoughts in their comments I haven’t shared here.