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.

Sobriety Remains Intact, But Still The Dreams Come

Aside from people telling me what they see in the clouds beyond shapeless blobs, I find listening to them prattle on about their dreams to not only be annoying, but borderline painful. So you if you don’t want to read this, I get it, but I think it speaks to how addiction is always going to own a piece of my brain.

I was told by many addicts at my first rehab who were hooked on heroin that almost every night, they had dreams of using. Some of their dreams would stop before the needle went in, while others got the drugs in their system and then felt horrible guilt.

I’ve never had a pornography dream since I’ve entered recovery, and it took nearly a year for me to have a drinking dream, but recently, they’ve taken a weird turn.

For 3-4 years my drinking dreams have all followed along the same path. I’m usually at a bar or restaurant and there’s a pint of beer in front of me. Then, through the magic of the subconscious, the dream jumps forward in time and there’s an empty glass in front of me and I know I’ve drank it. I usually get somewhat upset at myself, but then I have the ability to tell myself it’s just a dream. I’ve had that ability since I’ve been a kid. I think it’s why I can’t recall ever having a nightmare. So, I wake up and I’m relieved I didn’t actually drink. The dreams probably only happen once a month at most.

In the last couple of weeks though, I’ve had two dreams and they’ve taken an interesting turn. Instead of that jump in time, I’m actually drinking the alcohol in the dream, except it’s always hard stuff, like a shot, not a beer. I think this may be because it only takes a second to down a shot where a beer takes longer.

The reason for drinking is always the same – there is none. I just have a momentary lapse, like I forgot I’m not supposed to drink. It’s totally an ignorance, not a craving, thing.

In the new dreams, I have a much stronger reaction after recognizing I’ve just tasted alcohol, too. I don’t have the ability to wake myself up because I’m convinced it’s real. I get very, very upset with myself and tell people around me about the old drinking dreams, but now it’s become a reality and how I’m a stupid idiot for letting it happen. The dream dissolves into whatever at that point, but I can’t wake myself up from it.

I’ve tried to figure out why the dreams have just changed. The only thing I can think of is that while I was on probation, drinking was illegal. Now I’m off, there is no actual punishment if I drink. But, I’ve been off probation like three months at this point. No idea why they just started and why I can’t get them to stop mid-dream. It’s got to mean something to my subconscious.

Anybody else with addiction issues ever have dreams like this?

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.

My Podcast Appearances Are Best When They Are Like Public Therapy Sessions

Since I have a new book coming out in a couple of months, now is the time for me to be booking and appearing on podcasts, since many of them tape up to two months in advance. Whether it’s because I already have one book on the shelves, or because I’ve been beating this porn addiction education drum for a couple of extra years, I’m being booked on overall higher quality shows that when I did the circuit after my first book came out.

Let me make it clear I don’t think any of these shows are bad. I think somebody who wants to express themselves through the medium is great, and allowing me to come on their show to talk about the issue, whether 34 or 3,400 people are listening, is going to be a step forward in normalizing the need to talk about pornography addiction. I appreciate every show I’ve been a part of and have only turned down two requests to appear because I could tell I’d be the butt of jokes, or porn addiction would be, and that doesn’t help anything.

I recorded a show four days ago on Friday afternoon, and a show earlier today, that were among the most grueling I’ve done because the hosts really knew their stuff, came prepared and had no problem challenging things I said. A great thing that came out of these podcasts is that I was asked questions I’ve never been asked, even by my therapist or any of the professionals I’ve worked with in the past.

Instead of focusing on my crime, which was the topic for most of the early podcasts, there’s now more philosophical questions about addiction origins and solutions to the problems we face. It’s less about my story and more bigger picture issues. Personal questions focus on my overall addiction, not just the crime.

The podcast taped on Friday was with Dr. Mark Goulston. He’s written what many consider the greatest book about listening in history. That one, and his other books, total nearly a half-million sales over the last 25 years. After our interview, he was jetting off to Russia to co-present a lecture with Daniel Kahneman who wrote “Thinking Fast and Slow” which won Kahneman a Pulitzer Prize and is among the greatest, yet most difficult, books I’ve ever read.

It was an honor to be on his show and his questioning, both in content and methodology, was unlike any interview I’ve had. Do you know when you’re in the presence of greatness? That’s how I felt here.

Dr. Goulston asked me a question I wrestled with all weekend that I’d never heard before. Once I was arrested, why did I almost instantly decide to turn things around and make the best in both the short- and long-term out of my situation when the vast majority of others run from similar situations or try to fly under the radar? Since there’s almost nobody else out there talking about this stuff like I am, what is different about me than the others?

I talked about how I am a “project person” who is at his best when he’s working on something and I simply decided that becoming mentally and emotionally healthy was the project. And once that project was mostly finished (it never is completely) I began the writing, website and interviews because education became my project.

I think this is part of it, but I’ve been turning this over in my head again and again. If they default position taken by 99% of the population in my situation is to shut their mouths, sit down and never raise their hand, why am I doing the opposite? Does that say more about something being wrong with me than them? Why am I the outlier?

The interview was full of questions like this and I really look forward to hearing the edited final result. When I was finished, I felt like I’d had a grueling, yet productive, therapy session. I’m hoping that comes through in the audio.

With the other show, I wasn’t interviewed by anybody famous, but it was a two-hour discussion that really went deep into what addiction is and how much the addict can be held responsible for the condition they end up in.

My opinion on this has changed over time, but it’s still a bit murky. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but it forced me to confront what role I consciously played in my downfall. How much can I claim is brain disease and how much can I say was poor decision making?

I had to interject a few times to say things like we need to create a safe space and not judge addicts, as I felt the host reflected certain ideas about addiction that are held in mainstream society, but many people are afraid to say. I didn’t take anything personally, and he forced me to really think about things, even if I believe he doesn’t have a great true handle on what the critical phase of addiction is like. As with Friday’s interview, I was exhausted when it was over.

I don’t necessarily have the right answer for any of these questions because it’s not like an objective math equation. There is no across-the-board correct answer that covers every alcoholic or porn addict, but these two podcasts made me recognize that I may not even have the answers yet for questions I’ve never considered.

It feels good to be challenged and process these questions further. I think that’s the only way we evolve and it doesn’t matter if it’s a clinical therapy setting on a podcast. Growth is the goal.

When these two appearances make their debut, I’ll not only link them here, but also on the main page and Interviews page on the website.

 

 

You Can’t Let A Loved One’s Addiction Become Your Obsession

I was fantastic at hiding my porn addiction. My wife knew that I looked at it on the computer “form time-to-time” and she never had an Amish approach to it. When it came to my drinking, though, that was not something that I was nearly as good at hiding.

In 2011 and 2012, when my drinking increased because I used it as a crutch for the increased stress in my life from my various professional pursuits, my wife became very concerned. Being the kind of person who believed he was invincible, I never saw drunk driving as a problem. It makes me sick to write this, but I believe between 2010 and when I was arrest in early 2014, I probably drove drunk twice a week at least, meaning well over 300 times.

“Josh, you know that if you’re caught driving drunk, you’re going to be on the front page of the newspaper,” she’d say, trying to find something that would get through to me. “You’ll lose advertisers for your magazine and people will ask you to leave the City Council.”

It was a well-reasoned attempt, but fell on deaf ears. I tried to rationalize my drinking to her. I was never the guy who could have one or two. It seemed like a waste of time and money if you’re doing that. If you’re drinking for the flavor, there are plenty of other non-alcoholic beverages that taste fine at half the price. I was the guy who drank either as a social lubricant to calm my imposter syndrome and anxiety in crowds, or I drank at home to simply dull all my nerve endings. But that took at least 5 drinks.

She started begging me to call her when I was out and had a few too many, which was every time I was out. When I wouldn’t do this, she started calling me when I was out. I learned fast not to ignore her call or it would just keep ringing. Most of the time, she let me drive myself home because I guess I put on a good enough act, but after coming home slurring a few too many times, her strategy changed again.

She just started coming to the professional and social events. I know that attending art gallery openings or fundraisers for various local causes were not her thing, but she wanted to make sure that there somebody sober to drive me home since I wouldn’t seek anybody out.

As my drinking (and porn use, and problems at work, and lack of self-care) increased, my relationship with my wife became fractured. I wasn’t helping around the house at all, except to provide money to keep things rolling. I rarely spent time with my kids if it wasn’t in concert with something that served me professionally.

She never officially sat me down and said this at the time, although it was quite obvious. At some point, to protect herself and make sure the kids had one functioning parent, she basically let me go. She stopped nagging me on the phone and going to events she hated just to make sure I got home OK. She knew that I was bringing her down with me and she made the decision to detach and watch out for herself and the kids. She has confirmed this to me in the years since I’ve entered recovery.

I think looking out for herself was one of the smartest moves she ever made. It allowed her to be the mother the kids needed and keep herself in a safe place. She had tried with me, and knew me well enough to recognize an intervention was not a good idea and I would have laughed her off had she suggested AA. She busted her ass for a long time to make sure I was safe, but at some point, she had to make sure she was safe.

__________________________________

Ten days after I was arrested – 10 days of dealing with the police, my lawyer, the media, CPS, my PCP, and a new therapist all while still trying to keep my shit together in front of my wife, kids and parents – I went off to rehab for the drinking in California.

I thought I’d be there for four weeks. It was 10. When I returned, I still had so, so far to go in my recovery, but I noticed things had started changing around the house. The kids were on schedules that they weren’t before. The house was in order and everybody seemed happier than I remembered. My wife even went to individual therapy for several months.

Eventually, I went back to rehab for sex/porn addiction after understanding that was just as much a problem as the drinking in my life, perhaps even more. When I returned from there seven weeks later, everybody at home seemed so healthy and my wife had begun the process that would result in her getting lap-band surgery and losing over 100 pounds.

After years of caring for me and the kids, she finally made the decision to care for herself. She got a new job and was happier than I ever recalled. Today, I think we’re all in the best place we’ve been. My daughter is thriving in college after two aborted attempts, my son is doing well as a high school junior and is uttering things like “Do you think I could get into an Ivy League school?” and my marriage is stronger than it ever has been.

My wife asks about my recovery, makes sure everything continues to be on track, and is always there for me to talk to her when it’s needed, but she also understands that she’s not my accountability buddy nor my keeper. She’s an active observer in my recovery, but doesn’t mistake it for anything but my journey. She had to do her weight loss journey alone, with my support from the sidelines, and my recovery is the same.

I’ve seen many ways partners, parents, friends, etc., handle a loved one’s addiction. You must remember that it’s not your problem to solve because it’s not your problem, not matter how much you try to make it out to be. You will never be the one who has the final say on fixing things or descending further into addiction, regardless of any ultimatums. Unfortunately, in recognizing they have no control, many people try to exert more control. Zero + Zero = Zero.

I’m not suggesting you don’t support the person, let them know you’re always there for them and check-up to make sure that they are taken care of, but you can’t do that at the expense of your own health. Had my wife not detached and if I hadn’t entered recovery, I can’t imagine where we’d be today. If still both alive and together, I can’t paint a healthy picture.

You need to be there for the addict, but more importantly, you need to be there for yourself.

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.