God’s Confusing Role in My Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go buy my stinkin’ book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kids Are Smarter Than Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kids Are Not as Smart as Us

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

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

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

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

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

The Kids Live in the Real World

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

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

The Kids Are Looking for Guidance

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

And they’re going to learn from somewhere…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Salvation is Great

I didn’t read much news yesterday, so I didn’t learn of the death of Dolores O’Riordan, who was the lead singer of The Cranberries, one of my favorite bands of the mid-1990s, until today. My favorite song of theirs was always Salvation. It was a fast, almost punk song that seemed inspired by The Ramones in execution. Like most music in my life, I moved on and this was one song I kind of forgot about. Radio still plays Linger and Zombie, but much of the rest of The Cranberries catalog is ignored. A few years back, just as I was starting with recovery, I somehow rediscovered the song. Twenty years later it was amazing how it was more pertinent than ever. While heroin wasn’t my addiction, this was the most direct song about addiction I’ve heard and I still listen to it when I need a little boost of energy and affirmation.

How We Judge Guilt of Alleged Hollywood Predators Hits Close to Home

Back when I was just starting as a reporter at a newspaper in 1994 or 1995, I fielded a telephone call from somebody who was claiming that their neighbor was doing all kinds of ridiculous stuff to their property. It was a great story, they told it well and I thought it would make for great copy in the next day’s newspaper.

My editor looked at me like I was wasting his time before 10 words got out of my mouth. He asked, “Have they filed a complaint with the police?” I didn’t know, so called the person back. They said they hadn’t. I asked if they were going to. He said that he hoped a story in the newspaper would be enough to shame the guy into behaving. He didn’t really want to get the police involved. I told my editor and he said we wouldn’t be pursuing it. Until the caller was going to document his claim through official channels, we wouldn’t be reporting about it.

Twenty-two years later, apparently Twitter is now an official channel.

I’m having a deep reaction to the ongoing news cycle of sexually inappropriate behavior in Hollywood, Washington and elsewhere, but I guess as someone who was very well-known in his little corner of the world when a similar thing happened to me – coupled with the pings of PTSD I get when talking about it – it would be more surprising if I wasn’t having a reaction.

First things first: Anybody who has criminally violated anybody else sexually should be held accountable in a court of law for their actions, as I was. It shouldn’t matter if it was 25 days or 25 years ago. Statutes of limitations are ridiculous in these cases. How is it that if a perpetrator does something wrong and then outlasts a clock, they get away with it?

I am grateful for the intervention of law enforcement officials which led to my intense introduction to recovery and the journey I continue on today, nearly four years later. I hope that the famous and powerful men who have committed these crimes are able to seriously devote themselves to understanding why they made the choices they did and how to refrain from making them in the future.

I did most of what I was accused of (which you can read about in plenty of other blog entries) and never denied it to police. While I did plead not guilty at first, it was a procedural move made at the advice of my lawyer that 99.9% of defendants make to hopefully end up with a more favorable outcome.

One of the things that I’m feeling watching these stories come out is the sense of helplessness for some of these men who perhaps did not break the law, but made horrible choices, not recognizing the consequences and who will now be paying for it for the rest of their lives. I feel even more helpless for the men who have been accused of either inappropriate or criminal behavior, but perhaps didn’t do it at all.

Take for instance, the case of Charlie Sheen. A friend of Corey Haim, who has been dead nearly a decade, claims that Haim told him that when Haim was a young teen on the set of the 1980s movie Lukas, a much-older Charlie Sheen had sex with Haim. Sheen denied these charges and even Haim’s mother said she knows it wasn’t true.

Ignoring Sheen’s reputation as a womanizer for the last two decades, there appears to be nothing to this case other than a friend of someone who has been dead for years making an unprovable claim. Even Corey Feldman, who is championing a movie to expose pedophiles in Hollywood and was Haim’s best friend, said that he had nothing to support the story.

But can you ignore Sheen’s reputation over the last 20 years? Isn’t that the part that makes the claim seems plausible? If this was a different actor with no womanizing reputation, would you have a harder time accepting it on its surface?

If the assumption is that any person can write anything on Twitter and it is 100% true, we no longer have a need for a criminal justice system. The same goes for any report in the media, whether it’s a liberal or conservative outlet. Reading Twitter reaction or comment sections on various websites shows that this wave of stories is little more than just another tool by which to bash the opposition.

Following my arrest, before I ever made a court appearance, before any evidence ever went to a grand jury or a judge, my case was tried in the court of public opinion. The public didn’t, and still doesn’t know what actually went down and what I did or didn’t do, but for a significant segment of people, those facts were insignificant details. If I had actually been wrongly accused, I don’t think things would have been all that different.

At some point in the near future, this cycle of news stories will slow down. Hopefully workplace culture will change for the better. People behaving criminally sexual need to be brought to justice more often. People like Louis CK – who seemingly didn’t do anything criminal – but based on his position of power made highly inappropriate choices, will hopefully get the message this kind of thing won’t be tolerated any more.

Whether it’s a fiercely conservative, older southern white guy running for office or it’s an openly gay, liberal Asian actor from the most famous science fiction show of all-time (Roy Moore and George Takai, respectively), when we are given a denial, it should then be up to the legal system to prove guilt. In the court of public opinion, I’ve seen people crucifying and vigorously defending both men. The “truth” has little to do with the facts (since all we really have is hearsay) and more to do with what each stands for philosophically.

What will last longer than this news cycle is what continues to happen: We keep moving in a direction where ideas like burden of proof and presumption of innocence being cornerstones of our society and system continue to erode. We are quickly becoming a world where all you have to do is point a finger to take somebody down, justifiably or not, and that’s not a good thing.

Until Politicians Understand Addiction, They’ll Never Solve The Problem

More than ever before, I cringe when I hear a politician talk about addiction. Sure, there are plenty serving who are probably hiding addictions to alcohol, gambling, sex or whatever, but these are often the same politicians who rally against help the loudest. I’m not going to get on my soapbox about this hypocrisy today, however.

I cringe because, as I wrote in the most recent blog, if you have not experienced addiction, there is no way to truly understand how it feels inside. At best, the non-addict can see the pain of it in the addicted and witness the fallout of addiction-related decision making. Addiction is a problem, but it’s unlike any other problem out there.

We are now facing an opioid epidemic like never before. Politicians think they can solve the problem, or at least want to tackle it, but they don’t understand the problem to begin with.

There is a logical solution any economist could give you. It’s been proven going after drug dealers doesn’t work. If you want to end the sale of opiates or any other illegal substance, you simply lock-up everyone who has been nabbed using them. The drug user is the customer. If there are no customers, the industry ceases to exist and the dealers have to look elsewhere to make their money. Every industry that has died has seen its customers go away. Why wouldn’t that work here?

The problem to this solution is that plenty of people won’t get arrested and of those who do, they’ll get released someday. If you have an addiction, even if it has strayed into illegal territory, as long as you haven’t harmed another, you shouldn’t be doing a second of jail time. I was not in this category. I deserved what I got because I hurt people with my crime.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert because while I’m an alcoholic, I have never had an issue with drugs beyond a lot of pot smoking in my early 20s, prior to be properly medicated for bipolar disorder. But, I spent a combined 5 months at inpatient rehabilitation facilities and 6 months in jail living side-by-side with drug addicts.

Addicts have a lot in common. Science suggests that regardless of the addiction, the same basic chemical process happens in the brain. Granted, certain addictions won’t cause the additional physical risk of using drugs, but that undying, incontrollable urge to use drugs is something that any addict can relate to and understand.

Addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem. I can’t remember what book I read it in at this point, but it said something like less than 10% of those suffering with addiction don’t have some kind of mental health issue and/or major trauma in their past. These may both go undiagnosed and unrecognized in the user for years, but they’re present. My understanding of my mental health issues came more than a decade before I was able to admit to and address the trauma that happened in my life as a child.

People without addiction seem to think that if you treat the symptom, the problem will go away. You’d think with almost 40 years of clearly failed drug policy in the United States, they’d go a different route, but the things that all addicts need are the not the things that get votes.

We can stereotype and guess at what our politicians’ stances on mental health and/or addressing trauma are, but do you actually know their positions? Do they know their positions? Does anybody know what’s really being done and how success is being measured? I’m among the 99.999% who can say no, I don’t.

You can deal with a sick tree by poking at its leaves. If the illness is in the roots, all you’re doing is landscaping. If all you’re doing to deal with an addict, drug or otherwise, is trying to get them to stop taking whatever substance or engaging in whatever behavior is your perceived issue with them, all you’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, infected wound. It needs to be treated at the source.

I’m not going to get into a giant philosophical partisan political debate because it doesn’t actually solve anything. There are a couple of organizations in this world that have the resources — the money, the brain power, the infrastructure — to solve the great problems that face mankind, but they don’t. The United States government is one of them. A war on drugs, or any addiction, may get votes, but will never work. If we’re going to get to a new level of understanding and solutions with addiction, it needs to be viewed as a humanitarian effort.