Guest Post: Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

Note from Josh: This week, I welcome my fellow Maine resident, Jane Ives to the site to share some wonderful pieces she’s written. I think that regardless of where you are in your addiction, or if you’re not addicted and just starting to learn, Jane provides some incredibly valuable information and resources here.

“How could this have happened?” agonized a retired pastor and his wife, devastated by their adult son’s confession that he had become addicted to pornography. Growing up in a Christian home does not guarantee immunity to the sexual poison permeating our society. Pornography generates billions of dollars worldwide in revenues from magazines, videos, strip clubs, escort services, telephone sex, pay-per-view cable channels, and websites.1 Pornography accounts for 12% of websites, 25% of search engine requests, and 72 million visitors a month worldwide. Some of these visitors, quickly bored or repulsed by what they see, move on. At least 5% of these visitors, however, are already addicted, and another 10% will likely become addicted to the instant and anonymous gratification of online chatrooms and videos.2 These facts challenge us to address a problem that undoubtedly affects persons in our churches and in our communities. First, however, we need to understand how pornography can ensnare and corrupt.

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2004, defines pornography as “sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of arousal” and also labels as pornographic any sexually explicit material depicting children.3 Unlike art that elicits awe and respect by celebrating the beauty of human bodies and erotic love, pornography portrays men and women as sex objects, titillates, creates unrealistic expectations, deadens the ability to experience real intimacy, and may encourage potentially dangerous attitudes and behaviors.4

Research shows that viewing pornography can cause physiological changes in the brain that may influence behavior and relationships. Pornography, especially when viewed in a high state of arousal, creates an imprint of the experience that impels the viewer to come back for more of the stimulant effect. Over time, persons viewing pornography may become desensitized, requiring more explicit and more deviant materials to get the same effect. Research documents a high correlation between frequent use of pornography and sexual abuse and violence. Children and youth have confessed to acting out what they have seen, and sexual offenders often report a history of viewing pornography5. In Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Patrick Carnes notes that persons who become addicted to pornography may easily escalate to voyeurism, self-exposure, adultery, prostitution, sexual harassment, and assault.6 Carnes describes an “Addiction Cycle” that begins with obsessive thinking about sex, followed by unique rituals or routines leading up to and enhancing the excitement of compulsive sexual activity. Once in this cycle, addicts cannot control or stop themselves; afterward they may seek release from their shame and guilt by obsessive sexual thinking, starting the cycle all over again.7

Addicts may rationalize that their compulsions have no adverse effect on their marriages, families, or work. Their secret lives, however, often cause them to withdraw, neglecting their families, work, and other responsibilities. Feeling unworthy of genuine love, they may turn to illicit sex more frequently to ease their increasing isolation. Once addicts realize that their lives are out of control, skilled therapists and caring communities – Twelve Steps programs in particular – can help them examine their behavior, break out of their isolation, and reclaim a sense of personal worth. Because secrecy deepens the bond of any addiction, talking about it with trusted advisors is often the first step toward healing.8

What can the church do?

  • Affirm sexuality as a God-given gift that can enrich our lives and relationships.
  • Teach reverence for the human body and respect for the feelings and needs of others.
  • Make clear that anyone may be vulnerable to pornography’s addictive lure.
  • Note that Jesus’ warning about committing adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28) addresses the deliberate choice to welcome and entertain tempting thoughts and fantasies, which may occasionally present themselves to anyone.
  • Equip parents and teachers to help children process their likely exposure to pornography, whether accidental or deliberate.
  • Provide information through teaching, programs, and print material to help people understand and face up to this problem.
  • Research locally available trained counselors and groups for referral of addicts and families seeking assistance.
  • Speak out against public displays of pornography and against media that qualifies as “soft porn” and glorifies risky behavior.
  • Express concern for the actors and models exploited in pornographic videos and materials, recognizing that some of them may be victims of sexual trafficking.
  • Encourage parents to monitor their children’s internet and cell phone use, noting the dangers of visiting chatrooms, sexting, responding to strangers on line, and posting personal information.
  • Counsel parents and other adults to view media programming with children and youth, calmly discussing the underlying messages to which they are exposed by asking reflective questions. (“What would you do in that situation?” “What might happen next?”)
  • Welcome and include recovering addicts, holding them accountable to their healing programs and establishing behavioral covenants to protect others, especially children and youth.

We cannot afford to ignore the devastating consequences of pornography and sexual addictions, nor can we safely assume that members of our congregations or of our families are not – or will not – be affected. Sound education, prevention, and recovery support ministries can help keep individuals, families, and communities healthy and safe.

Sources:
1 William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009), p. 20
2 Michael Castleman, “6 Ways Porn Can Hurt Your Sex Life,” www.aarp.org
3 The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, “Pornography and Sexual Violence,” p. 166
4 Rev. Cynthia Abrams, “Sex and the Church: Pornography and Sexual Addiction,” www.gbcs.org
5 GCSRW, “Prevention of the Use of Pornography in the Church,” www.gcsrw.org
6 Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001), p. 37-38
7 Ibid., p. 19-23
8 Ibid., p. 4-7

 

Resources for Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

Reading List

Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession?, by Jennifer Schneider, M.D., Ph.D. and Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT (Hazelden Information Education, 2001). The authors explore pornography use and other sexual behaviors on the internet, using case studies to illustrate how such practices may become addictive and how to seek healing from sexual compulsions.

Every Heart Restored: A Wife’s Guide to Healing in the Wake of a Husband’s Sexual Sin, by Fred and Brenda Stoeker, with Mike Yorkey (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2010). This book offers guidance for wives whose husbands are addicted to pornography and sex and who are struggling for sexual purity.

Lonely All the Time: Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming Sex Addiction, for Addicts and Codependents, by Ralph Earle, Ph.D., Gregory Crow, and Kevin Osborn (NY, NY; Pocket Books, 1998). This easy-to-read book explores sex addiction and co-addiction in family systems, describing causes, symptoms, and a comprehensive approach to recovery.

Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps, by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D.(Harper Perennial, 1992). The author explores the wisdom inherent in Twelve Step and other models of recovery, suggesting ways to adapt them to a variety of experiences and beliefs. She also explores societal roots of addiction and dependency and ways to address them.

Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001). The author describes sexual addiction as a “pathological relationship” that becomes more important than anything else. As tolerance increases, sex addicts, like alcoholics, need the “mood-altering experience” just to feel normal; then they may quickly escalate from pornography addiction to more dangerous behaviors, often with devastating consequences. Dr. Carnes offers hope and advice for recovery, recommending Twelve Step groups and similar strategies in particular.

Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, by Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D. (Provo, Utah: Growthclimate Inc., 2005). The author explains how pornography affects the mind of the user and becomes addictive. He outlines steps for rewiring the mind and breaking free.

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, by William M. Struthers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. The author, a Christian neuroscientist and researcher, explores various aspects of pornography’s effects on sexual behavior and intimacy. He describes the healing process as sanctification, making daily decisions to see the image of God in each person, appreciate women without “consuming” them, and move “beyond objectification to real relationship, presence and intimacy” (p. 189). He lists helpful books and websites at the back of the book.

Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power, by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D. (NY, NY: Ticknor & Fields, 1989). The author explores the cultural conditioning that tells us “sex is love, sex is power, and sex makes us important” (p. 10) and its impact on women in particular. She discusses the link between spirituality and sexuality, providing guidance for healing from addictions to sex and romance, as well as sexual codependency.

Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal, by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means (Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press, 2009). The authors share research, personal experiences, and case studies that portray partners of sex addicts as post-traumatic stress victims, rather than co-dependents. This book offers practical wisdom for such partners and for those who want to help them heal.

Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age, by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT (NY, NY: Alyson Publications, 2006). The authors discuss how to identify and address pornography addiction. They also offer helpful suggestions to parents concerned about their children’s exposure to pornography and sexual content on the internet.

Organizations and Websites

Cornerstone Intimacy and Healthy Sexuality: Creating Hope and Healing for Families Dealing with Sexual Integrity Issues (Atlanta, GA), http://www.cornerstoneprofessional.net. Visit this website to learn about therapy (intensives and ongoing support), training, and conferences; sign up for an e-newsletter; and read reviews of recommended books. For more information, call 770-457- 3028.

Internet Behavior Consulting Company (IBC), http://www.internetbehavior.com. Visit this website for research reports, training events, an e-newsletter, and an Internet Sex Screening Test.

Parents Television Council, 707 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 2075, Los Angeles, CA, 90017, http://www.parentstv.org. This nonprofit research and education organization lobbies for enforcement of broadcast decency standards and publishes a newsletter to inform parents of negative and harmful media messages, as well as family-friendly programming.

Porn Harms, a project of Morality in Media, 1100 G Street NW #1030, Washington, DC 20005, 202-393-7245, http://www.pornharms.com. The website offers expert commentary on the negative effects of pornography, including a blog, webinars, and a Facebook link.

Setting Captives Free, http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com, offers an online free, anonymous 60- day Bible-based program titled “Way of Purity,” as well as resources for recovery from other addictions.

Sexaholics Anonymous, http://www.sa.org describes its Thirteen Step program and White Book, provides links for locating meetings and therapists throughout the nation and the world, announces upcoming events, and offers brochures for download and purchase.

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), http://www.sash.net. This website provides a Sexual Addiction Screening Test, an e-newsletter, conference announcements, and other resources.

 

Jane P. Ives, Marriage and Family Ministries Consultant (8/30/15) 10 Quaker Lane, Portland, ME 04103, 207-210-7876, Janepives@gmail.com Copyright United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org -Used by Permission

For more articles like this, please visit www.marriagelovepower.net

The Third Addiction was Workaholism and I Must Never Forget It

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but in early recovery, I talked a lot about my workaholism with therapists and in different processing groups I was a part of, but somewhere along the way the porn addiction education/advocacy took over and it has largely remained a silent part of my story.

While I was a moderately well-known guy in Maine’s largest high school, I don’t know if I’d cross the line into the word “popular” and like most of my life, don’t think the word “well-liked” would have been applied by many. I was never able to hide my Machiavellian tendencies, but didn’t care. Unlike many who were experiencing their glory years before my eyes, I saw high school as little more than a legal requirement for whatever was next.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.50.25 AMThat changed the day between my junior and senior years of high school when, at 17, I walked into the local newspaper office as an employee for the first time. Unlike working at the baseball card store at the mall or the Burger King on the Maine Turnpike, I didn’t detest going into work. I actually loved it. I started at the bottom rung as a sports clerk and within two years I was handling the beats of writers on the city side when they were on vacation or when the position was vacant. It was somewhat understood they weren’t going to hire a 19-year-old multi-time college dropout for a full-time position.

They walked back that stance when I was 20 and the industry moved to 100% desktop publishing. The software used at the time, QuarkXPress, was not hard for me to pick up, but for those people who had worked decades pasting up columns in the old-school way papers were made, the transition was rough. I was hired full-time to design pages at night while still keeping the technically part-time with full-time hours gig of writing during the day.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.51.37 AMI felt important in the newsroom. I wasn’t among people who made poor decisions and now had to make burgers for Canadian tourists on the turnpike. I also didn’t have to deal with 9-year-old boys who wanted to tell me I was wrong about a baseball card that was made 30 years before they were born. These people didn’t see age and it was empowering. I was expected to deliver as good as the person sitting next to be who had been there 20 years and had a college degree.

Thankfully, I rose to the occasion and tried to work as many hours as possible. I took to design like I took to writing and felt completely in control of my life when I was part of the team putting together the Lewiston Sun Journal. There was no porn addict within those walls. Despite approaching legal drinking age, I didn’t have a beer before my shift, which I can’t say about every shift at Burger King. It’s one of the few jobs I’ve ever had when the boss announced someone could go home early, I’d shoot my hand in the air like Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter.

As the years went by and I grew my resume and climbed up the editing ranks to a point I rarely wrote anymore and was learning the administrative side of things, I always loved the news/publishing industries. Forget no two days being the same. No two hours were the same. I met amazing, sometimes famous people. I experienced things I could have only dreamed about as a kid, I saw government work from the inside and made decisions to help shape how the public received its news. It always felt like I was doing something that mattered.

I launched my magazine in 2009, 16 years after I’d entered the journalism business, despite only being 33 at the time. I had literally spent half my life working at newspaper and magazines and finally had my own.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.52.56 AMI won’t go through the highlights or lowlights of the next four years, but for everything my professional life had provided prior, it was now exponential. I had responsibility like never before, but I loved devoting my life to the professional cause. Over the five years the business existed, we launched another magazine and a film festival. Work became just about the only thing that I defined myself on, which was a shame, because I had the world’s greatest wife and two terrific kids that I didn’t spend enough time with. If they wanted to do something with me, it was usually tagging along to one of my professional commitments.

When things took their real turn for the worse and I full-on began to neglect my mental health, it felt like work betrayed me more than anything. When the magazine was collapsing under its own weight and my lack of business skill, it felt like my world was imploding. Instead of medicating properly with my bipolar medication, I abandoned that and used alcohol and porn to soothe the wounds. Yeah, that sounds stupid in retrospect to me, too.

I think I talked so much about work in early recovery because I was still very fresh from losing my professional life. I knew no matter the outcome of any legal matters, my time creating a product for a local audience was over. One of the first “a-ha!” moments of recovery was recognizing that the only place I ever felt I had control, work, had in fact been an illusion for quite some time. I was a flight attendant on a plane plunging to the ground giving passengers comforting glances while they looked back at me saying, “You genuinely don’t recognize we’re going down, do you?”

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.54.41 AMOne of the biggest moments in early recovery was when a friend, a former Hells Angel member who had been kicked out for illegal activity and was essentially hiding from the law at rehab while his pregnant girlfriend half his age tried to kick heroin, brought up the fact I wasn’t the successful businessperson I portrayed myself to be.

It was a bit of a kick in the groin hearing it, but he was right. Had things not turned out the way they did, I would have driven that magazine straight into the ground within about six months. That’s not success and that’s not control. I had both of those for a while, but began lying to myself when they had disappeared.

In the moment, my workaholism probably did more to hurt my family than either of my addictions. I think when it comes to family, one of the most important things is simply showing up and being there. I rarely did this and missed some key moments.

I do have to add that part of my ongoing recovery has been not torching everything to the ground that was connected to my magazine. We did a lot of good work and shared many important stories. We gave awareness to good causes and worked hard to make our community a better place. None of that should be tainted by the horrible way it all ended, although I’m sure for many, it is. Despite that, I’ve shared a few of my favorite covers with you as I don’t think anybody has seen this magazine I often write about.

These days, I don’t define myself on my work, whether it’s the mindless ghostwriting I do for corporate clients or the pornography addiction education route. But I don’t define myself based on the family now either. I try not to define myself at all beyond a man constantly searching for balance.

Assuming this is the last thing I write before Christmas, I wish those who celebrate a Merry Christmas. If you’re in the midst of Hanukkah, enjoy that. Or Kwanza. Or whatever you’re into. Don’t let differences between people define us. There’s enough of that going in the world.

Ladies, Do Not Forget: You Can’t Be Afraid to Force His Hand to Make Him Face His Porn Addiction

Note: I wrote a version of this on a Reddit post the other day, but thought it deserved repeating here.

I may not highlight this enough, but pornography addiction is absolutely insidious. It will destroy some relationships and lives, but being almost six years sober and having met and known so many porn addicts and their partners at this point, I can also tell you that if he is willing to do the work, you have a decent chance of turning things around. And yes, there are many relationships that survive and get even better. I was lucky enough to be in one of these.

Unfortunately for you, the partner, you’re dealing with an addiction that affects those around the addict worse than a lot of substances and behaviors. A husband with a gambling addiction may send you into bankruptcy, but you won’t be debating your worth as a woman. A boyfriend who plays video games 20 hours per day is probably irritating, but at least you know he isn’t masturbating to those games.

Success getting through porn addiction with a partner is hard work, but if I can do, anybody can. Those of you who have partners that self-admitted their addiction or who didn’t disagree when confronted are certainly in a better position than those who have partners that are denying it 100%, but even if he doesn’t want to face it, it doesn’t mean you are helpless and it doesn’t mean you have to leave immediately.

I learned in my two trips to inpatient rehab that it doesn’t matter what the behavior or substance — if there’s no incentive to change, there’s not going to be change. If your partner thinks he can continue to look at porn without any real consequences other than you occasionally nagging, why would he change? He’s gotten by on gaslighting, manipulating, lying and deceiving for this long… in his mind history proves he’ll get away with it again.

At this point, you should be getting yourself into therapy. Whether you are just mildly bothered or have a horrible case of betrayal trauma, it’s time to start working on processing your feelings and having somebody to discuss these things with who has experience. Taking care of yourself needs to be your new No. 1 priority…no matter what happens moving forward.

Before you make any grand pronouncements to your partner, figure out what you want out of not only the relationship moving forward, but also your life. You must decide what you can live with and what you cannot and how those goals can be achieved. A professional can certainly help you with this. The bottom line question is: Are you willing to continue on with this life, with his addiction likely only getting worse? If the answer is yes, buckle up. It’s going to be rough.

If the answer is no, you need to establish what are non-negotiable things that you want. Do you need him to change to a flip phone and put browser filters on his computer? Do you need him to start to see a therapist and attend 12-step meetings at a group like Sex Addicts Anonymous? Do you want him to go to rehab or join you at marriage counseling? Do you need his big box of porn destroyed or weekly trips with the guys to the strip club to end?

Now, ask yourself if it really is non-negotiable. What are you willing to do if he doesn’t comply? Are you willing escalate things and put your entire relationship on the line? If you’re going to provide him with these boundaries and ultimatums, you’re going to need to have consequences. They can start small, like you won’t accompany him to the weekly trip to grandma’s house or he’ll need to do his own laundry (if he doesn’t.) Consequences can escalate to things like you don’t want him to go to church with you or you won’t sleep in the same bed, but you need to be prepared to bring things up to the point of asking him to leave or being willing to leave yourself.

Next, is the second-most difficult part…you have to convey your wishes. Don’t beat around the bush. If you need to put it in writing to get through it, do so. There can be no miscommunication with this. He needs to know what you expect and what will happen if he cannot comply.

It doesn’t matter what you request: YOU HAVE 100% THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES. You are an equal partner in the relationship and have complete control over your life. By that token, he has complete control of his life and will only change if he wants. Here’s the thing though…once a guy is willing to admit to himself he has the addiction (whether it involves prodding or not) he generally recognizes that you are far more important than the porn. Even the addict who is trying but repeatedly fails generally understands what his priorities should be. It’s the rare one who will never admit to the problem. They exist, though.

I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in your situation because everyone has a different story, but I would urge you take a step back with every decision you make and simply be sure it’s what you want to do because sending mixed messages does not help an addict. And if what you think he did was disgusting and you don’t approve…he knows it. If you create a judgmental atmosphere, it’s not going to help recovery. He needs to feel safe to open up to you, and making him feel as bad as you feel — while it may feel right in the heat of the moment — will hurt long-term success.

Now the most difficult part. If he doesn’t comply with your ultimatums and boundaries, you MUST go through with the consequences. It is a MUST. Otherwise, this is just another message he will twist in his head that you are not to be taken seriously.

I could ramble on. After all, I wrote a book, but I just want the women who read this to know that you are better than having to live in a horrible situation. That situation can change in many instances.

In those it can’t, you are not cast to a lifetime of misery. If you can say that you tried, there is no shame in walking away. Heck, there’s not even shame in deciding you can’t try and walking away if you feel that’s the best option for your self-care. Remember, this is about you and YOU HAVE 100% THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES. No matter what happens, you can be a strong person.

You Don’t Have to Be An Angry, Resentful Person Just Because Everyone Else Is

I don’t think this entry needs a trigger warning in the traditional sense, but perhaps a “take offense” warning is necessary. I’m not attacking or critiquing any specific individual with this entry, although if you take offense, maybe you should stop for a second and figure out why.

One of the biggest parts of my recovery journey is the conscious attempt to be a better human being. I actively work on skills like empathy, inclusiveness and compassion. While I still certainly have a long way to go before I’m the person I’d like to become, I feel that while my life is swinging in one direction, the attitude of the population in general is swinging the other way.

It could be the 24-hour news cycle, more social media than we know what to do with or some other factor, but people seem to have no problem putting their lack of compassion and empathy on full display. Instead, those traits have been replaced with resentment and anger.

I’m not going to get into politics, religion, science, patriotism, parenting or any of the other areas that seem to set people off. I’m far less interested in the specifics of peoples’ opinions than I am in the way that many people present those opinions these days.

I think there are reasons that people become addicts, but there are only excuses why they don’t seek help, especially after learning why they have the problem. I also believe there are reasons that people turn into who they are with the belief system that they have, but only excuses why that belief system allows them to present themselves as boorish oafs.

I’ve been trying to figure out the cause of what feels like this massive pendulum swing in the attitudes of our society. I know it can’t just be the fact that I’m actively trying to become a better person. I’ve come up with a few theories:

The world is moving too fast. While older generations always make the argument their experience and wisdom trumps youth and inexperience, our older generations have seen exponentially more change than those before them. I think this is also filtering down into middle-aged generations. Technology moves at such speed that it seems like only 17-year-olds can keep up with it because the rest of us don’t have the extra time to learn. With all of the new media we have, getting glimpses into the past is easier than ever. I’m sure because of television and the Internet, I understand the culture of 1955 far more than the people of 1955 understood the culture of 1895. I believe this causes a bit of romanticism of the past, forgetting the negative and remembering only positive. The feeling you’re being left behind doesn’t feel good.

People are smarter than you. This has always been the case, but with the Internet and 500 TV channels, we’re constantly exposed to people who are more intelligent, deeper thinkers and understand things many of us could never grasp. I think we also are aware that most smart people recognize their intelligence and far too many of us make the leap that they therefore believe they are better than us when that has never been established. There is deep resentment in this world toward people who act like they are better than someone else, but we seem to be at a point where we invent the idea that others believe they are better without them doing anything to suggest it.

There’s more diversity than ever. I’m sure there have been studies done and I’ve just never had enough incentive to look them up, but I’d like to know when it comes to fear of people who are different how much is nurture and how much is nature. Somewhere, there is somebody out there who has 100% the opposite views as you when it comes to politics, culture, entertainment, etc. They are the bizzaro, anti-you. And guess what? They’re not a crazy psychopath either. It’s not just diverse ideas, it’s also basic demographics. Communities are not as homogenous as they once were. Different languages are being spoken, even in small towns and people who don’t look like previous generations now live there. This is scary to many people.

The recognition you were wrong. I think at one time or another we’ve all recognized we were incorrect about something and instead of correcting course, we doubled-down, despite being wrong. I believe this also extends to those around you who you discover were wrong. Many people directly get their beliefs from their parents and others they knew when they were young, but how many of those beliefs ever get questioned? Something isn’t OK just because mommy or daddy acted like it was. Your friends may all think one way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the correct thing. When recognition that those around you made poor decisions, it’s often hard to stand up to them and blaze your own path.

Simply because you can’t relate to someone does not make them a bad person. Moreover, simply because you can’t relate to them does not mean that you have to present an argument why they are not a good person.

A changing world does not mean it is changing for the worse. Yes, new things – including attitudes and societal norms – take adjusting, but that does not mean they are bad. Despite what people who eschew change believe, most change is designed to make the world a better, inclusive place. Yes, it takes getting used to new ideas, concepts and technology. Changing who you are does not mean you are any less or more of a person before and after that change.

I think most people today are of a mindset of looking for what makes them different than the next guy, and whatever that difference is, it becomes the weakness of the other person, ripe for attack. This is also true with thoughts. The general rules seem to be that if two people think differently, one must be wrong, and it’s always the other guy. In most cases, neither – or both – are wrong.

We live in a world full of angry, sad, resentful, non-compassionate, close-minded people. Standing behind the fact you have the God-given or governmental-given right to be that way doesn’t make it OK. Feeling emboldened by like-minded people to share your negativity doesn’t make it OK.

There is someone, probably more than just one, who is reading this feeling attacked. I’ve shared no actual specific opinions here. I’ve isolated no specific group or type of person. If you’re feeling attacked, I hope you’ll take a few minutes and figure out why.

 

Recovery Wouldn’t Have Been the Same Without My Dogs

We’re having our first measurable snowfall of the year and as I look out of the windows of the office that doubles as my bedroom, I can see our three dogs playing outside, reminding me of how I used to play with my brother or other neighborhood kids on a snow day when we were little.

We always had cats growing up. I liked cats because they fit my general detached, non-empathetic mindset. They, too, also seemed to have the bipolar disorder I had not been diagnosed with yet, either running around causing havoc at full speed or taking long naps wherever they could find a flat surface.

My family had one dog that we got when I was about five and I think lived 12 years. The dog and I never bonded. It needed too much attention and too much care. It demanded things yet didn’t follow commands 100% of the time. In essence, I had no control over the dog and that made me uncomfortable, so I never got close to it.

It was probably two or three years after getting married before my wife brought up getting a dog, but I shut that down quickly, and did every time it was brought up afterward.

It took almost 10 years for her to wear me down. It was in the early years of running the magazine, so everything was going well, and I was usually in a good mood. Our daughter was 12 or 13 and my wife thought it would be a great Christmas gift for her. I relented and my wife stood in line for nearly 7 hours at the shelter one cold early December morning for a chance at one of the retriever/lab mix puppies that were going up for adoption. Her face day home is the lead photo on this entry.

In the late morning, the Saturday before Christmas, she came home with Finley, who is now eight years old. I never remembered the puppy from my youth, so this was really a chance to have one for the first time. I was up at all hours, so Finley would stick next to me while everyone was awake and slept with my wife and I most nights. My daughter revealed herself to not be willing to care for a dog, so it fell on my wife and I. Living near my office, I’d come home at lunch to let the dog out.

It would be hard to say that Finley and I deeply bonded, but we certainly had a decent thing going. I laughed at any suggestion of a second dog and life took such a crazy turn not long after that any talk of new pets stopped as I went through my legal ordeal.

Fast-forward about three-to-four years. I’m several years deep into recovery and doing a very good job turning my life around. I’ve been out of jail for eight or nine months, and building a decent little ghostwriting and freelance writing business from home. However, with both kids in school and Finley now mostly just a fan of laying in my bed, I was lonely.

One weekend my wife made an off-hand comment about a post she read on Facebook that the local shelter was taking in 40 puppies from down south after some kind of disaster. I don’t know why, but I knew at that moment I was going to get another dog. About a week later, after everyone had gone to work and school, I went to shelter, waited in line about two hours and eventually took the puppy that ran at me from the holding pen. I was probably 20th in line to pick and I have no idea how this one slipped through the cracks.

I took her home, after swinging by wife’s office. She was upset I got a new dog without telling her…for about 15 seconds. My wife and daughter named her Scout and while we were told she was a Shepard mix, three years later, it’s clear she’s mainly a begel mixed with a couple other things. I thought I was getting a big dog, but she’s half the size of Finley.

Thankfully, she and Finley got along immediately, and she helped Finley lose a much needed 10-15 pounds with the playing they did. I couldn’t believe I was a two-dog household.

I’ve never bonded to anything except my kids and wife as much as this little dog. She’s slept next to me since day one and is the most loving dog I’ve ever seen in my life. I never thought it was possible to love an animal, but I love this one. I like our three cats and I like Finley, but I finally understand that bond with an animal, and no, she doesn’t always do what I say and she’s the first one up in the morning, usually around 4:45, which means I’m up to care for her (and by default the other dogs).

In the summer of 2018, my daughter – who was leaving for college just months later – somehow convinced my wife she was ready to take care of a dog and was willing to spend money to get one. I think this shows just how much recovery mellowed me because I didn’t fight it too hard. I was concerned about being the one to be at home trying to work with three dogs, but didn’t sweat it.

On a late June day, we went to a breeder about an hour away and my daughter dropped $1,000 on a purebred German Shepard. She named him Arlo and he was the naughtiest puppy to the point that it took me a long time to like him, but now, as he approaches his second birthday and is a huge beast, we get along very well. He sleeps at my feet in the bed and Scout is tucked into my neck and head. Finley loves this, because it gives her the entire couch in the living room.

I was never a dog guy, but I have to say, having these dogs during my recovery has been terrific. No, they don’t always listen. No, I don’t always have control. The feeding duties fall to me and I spend way too much money on grooming and vets throughout the year.

Scout broke her leg around the time we got Arlo and the surgery was over $1,500. I just handed them my credit card without thought. My wife and daughter both told me that I never would have done that five or six years earlier. I also never would have been the guy whose phone was 75% pictures of his dogs.

The dogs don’t know what I do for a living, or what I used to do. They don’t know about my legal ordeal or how big my bank account is or isn’t. They don’t care. They just need me to be there for them and that’s a healthy thing for me now.