When the Sharp Reality of Regret for Your Actions Starts Setting In

For the longest of times, decades really, I lived by the philosophy that it was better to go ahead and live life the way I wanted and to apologize to people if I crossed any lines than it was to ask permission about crossing those lines in the first place.

I don’t know exactly where subscribing to this way of thinking came from. My parents, both elementary school teachers, were not “rock the boat” kind of people. My friends were usually not in line with that philosophy either.

My guess is that it has to do with the manic side of my bipolar disorder. I wasn’t put on medication until my mid-20s, and there were times I pulled myself off of it in the last 15 years, including the year or so leading up to my arrest. I think it could also do with the development of a warped set of survival skills as a small child. I can thank an abusive babysitter for that.

I’ve been struggling a little bit lately with depression. It’s the second time this year I’m dealing with it. Surprisingly, I haven’t had a lot of depression to deal with over the last five years. My therapist believes that I was probably in more of a manic state during the 22 months I was waiting for sentencing, 6 months I was in jail and several months after my release as I began to see how my life played out. She suggests my mind was occupied with anxiety and manic energy, shielding me from the reality of what I was going through.

Now that I’ve made my way to the other side of the legal process, she says my body’s defense mechanisms are probably going back to the way they were before I went off the deep end with the porn and alcohol. I’m back to normal, but normal includes bouts of depression.

When I’ve gone through these cycles of depression in the past, I know they end in one of four ways: I basically sleep it off and let it pass, something extraordinary happens to shock me out of it, I figure out what is at the root of the depression or I up my medication. These cycles typically can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months.

I went the medicinal fix root earlier this year, but would prefer to avoid it this time. I’ve been sleeping a lot extra this last month or so – about 9 hours per day vs. my usual 6 – and it’s showing a few signs of working, and the extraordinary option is out of my hands.

That leaves me with figuring out the root problem, and I think I made a big stride last night as I was lying in bed, fighting off tears of which I couldn’t identify the source.

Then it dawned on me: I have been letting regret smother me and I don’t have the tools to fight it off.

That earlier philosophy I mentioned is the root of my problems. I clung onto it during the worst of my addiction, when business partners were leaving, as I was becoming increasingly estranged from my family and while my world was crumbling. I stopped taking the bipolar meds, hoping to tap into the manic side of things during this time and continued to play by my rules, which included treating women like shit in chat rooms on the computer late at night.

I don’t think most people understand manipulating women to my will on the computer – often ending in them taking off their clothes – had very little to do with sex. Yes, it’s a sex crime, but it was an activity I engaged in to assert power. If I wanted porn, I knew how the internet worked. I wanted to control these women.

I don’t remember if I ever thought it was wrong at the time. My mindset was a mess at the time. I just needed that fix of power and control and I was going to get it anyway possible. If it occurred to me that it was despicable behavior, I certainly didn’t stop. I was going to do what I wanted to manipulate these women and I wasn’t going to ask if it was OK.

Then, the police knocked at my door. It turned out that one of those women I treated so poorly was a teenager. There was no saying sorry to get out of this situation.

Now, nearly five years since I was arrested and six or seven years since I was thinking straight regularly, I’m finally starting to understand the real wreckage I caused. I’m not going to run through a list of damages because frankly, it’s too long, involves too many people and it’s mighty painful.

My actions forever changed the course of my, and my family’s life. Someday, I will have grandchildren who discover what happened. Someday, I will want to move from my home and have to adhere to any residency restrictions a town may have in place for sex offenders. Someday, I may want a loan from a bank, but because I’m a former felon, it will be denied. Someday, I may want to get a job outside of my house and will have to cling to the hope they don’t perform a background check. Someday, I’ll want to travel out of the U.S., but dozens of countries won’t let me in. Someday, I’ll be a frail, elderly man who needs somebody to help him get to the police station four times a year to check-in as part of a restriction for a crime he committed decades earlier.

The philosophy I lived by led me to one place, a locked closet of regret and right now, I don’t have the key.

I’m not asking for pity or to be seen as the victim here. I did horrible things and deserved to pay a price. This is what I have coming to me. I thought that mentally, life would be easier the further I got away from it, but the regret just grows deeper.

Also, I’m not just starting to live with the regret. That started on the day I was arrested. What I’m living with now is the knowledge the regret will never go away.

Regret is knowing you did the wrong thing, knowing there is nothing you can do about it, and living with the fallout. It’s a fallout I’m coming to terms with more and more every day and it’s a painful process.

I lived my life without regret – and it’s the most regrettable thing I’ve done.

 

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Good Friends Closer

I know I’m writing a bunch lately. Whatever the opposite of writer’s block is, I have it, and you’re the victim. One of the things that my 15-year-old son doesn’t seem at all interested in doing in life is creating or maintaining close friendships with other people. I guess it’s OK, but as somebody 27 years his elder, I worry that he’s going to come to regret it, especially if he finds himself with his back against the wall like I did when my pornography addiction was revealed in a very public way.

For those of you who follow this blog, forgive the next few sentences. You’ve read them too many times, but I’ve got to bring the newbies up to speed.

I was a prominent member of my community six years ago. I was the editor/publisher of a popular regional lifestyle magazine, was co-founder of a film festival that was finally getting national recognition and I’d just finished a term as a City Councilor where I lived.

I also had bipolar disorder, alcoholism and a porn addiction. Through a series of bad choices, I ended up engaging with a teenage girl online, convincing her to perform sexual acts on-screen. This is obviously illegal, I was arrested some months later in early 2014 and within an hour of my arrest it was the top story in Maine media and remained so for a few days. I ended up serving six months in jail for it in early 2016. I’ve been in recovery since April 1, 2014 with no relapses.

I was never the guy who formed deep bonds with people going back to my youth. I didn’t have a large group of friends. I had a large group of acquaintances in school. I had four or five good friends, but nobody rose to the “best friend” status.

I did a year of college in Rhode Island, made some friends, but never stayed in touch with them. Same thing happened at several work places I’ve had. I can be very, very close to you in November, but if you’re laid off in December, there’s a good chance we get together once in January and then never talk again. And for clarity’s sake, liking a photo of a “friend” on Facebook doesn’t count as friendship.

When I was running myself into the ground with the many full-time jobs (not to mention being a husband and father) six years ago, I thought I had more friends than I did. Since I had a big hand in the local media and the local government, I didn’t recognize exactly how many pretended they liked me much more than they ever did just to get my ear.

When I was arrested, about six people from that world of hundreds dropped messages to me on Facebook. When details – many that were incorrect – were in the media, even a few of those dropped by the wayside.

By the time sentencing rolled around in the first couple weeks of January 2016, I was left with two friends. Two. One had been around since 7th grade. The other was the ex-husband of a co-worker I met back in 2000 or 2001. Neither really had anything to do with the fast-paced life I created. They were around well before that time.

These two guys are not high-maintenance. We can go six days, six weeks or six months in between talking. It’s not a lot of effort to stay friends with them. It’s probably a big reason it worked.

I’ve reached out to a handful of other people who I thought I was closer with than most, but have received unanimous silence. When I see somebody in public who I know, I don’t go up to them out of courtesy and say hello. I allow them to come to me. Why create an awkward situation? I think people have said hello to me twice in 4½ years.

I understand there are a lot of things at play here. I was accused of a heinous crime, convicted on lesser charges and most people don’t know the actual details. I am probably more of a bogeyman in their eyes than is factually correct. If I am now just my crime, who wants to be friends with that crime?

I also understand many were never my friends. I do understand how friendships come and go while few stand the test of time. I thought that I had at least a half-dozen others out there that would last through everything.

I believe most people locally don’t actually despise me because of the crime. I think they despise the fact I presented myself as one thing while behind closed doors I was something else. I think there’s a level of betrayal there. If I were truly a monster incapable of change, I don’t think I would have sold any copies of my book or have been invited on so many radio shows and podcasts for interviews.

I have sold around 50 copies of my book locally. I was actually thinking I’d sell more, if for no reason other than people wanting to see if their name was in there. Honestly, I thought I’d sell a few hundred here. Thankfully, the higher-than-expected sales elsewhere made up for it and I’m still further ahead than expected.

I’ve not heard a review from anyone local other than my family. I wonder how many of my former “friends” have even read it.

The flip side of this is the idea that this is just part of my punishment. I shouldn’t be given a moment of pity over losing any friends I had and it’s all part of the package that comes with doing something as heinous as I did. I hope people recognize how much of the punishment and consequences of a crime don’t come from the legal system, but from society in general.

In the end though, I know it comes down to the fact I just wasn’t the kind of person who valued friendship for a lot of my life. I was content to let people go and I think because I gave off that vibe, others were content to let me go. I’m sure for many, I’m now just a guy they used to know.

I doubt my son is going to do anything as stupid as I did, but I worry that if he does, he’s going to have as little a support system outside of our family as I wound up having. I wouldn’t be this far along if it weren’t for my two friends, but I also wonder if I had four or five friends if I’d be even better off today. It’s one of those questions there is no answer for.

Cultivate friendships and nurture them. You’re going to be thankful they are there when you need them.

 

 

Bipolar Disorder + Alcoholism & Porn Addiction = Recipe for Disaster

I feel like I often gloss over the role that bipolar disorder played in my life as I contended with my addictions. I know being the guy who’s open about his porn addiction is what makes me more unique than most addicts in the public’s eyes, but I often feel like I’m leaving out a big factor in my story when I don’t explain the nuances of bipolar disorder.

I believe that all addiction stems from three areas: Your DNA, your environment/upbringing and your own faulty choices. I think most of us who are addicts have different percentages of each that make up our individual formulas, but few addicts – be it alcohol, porn, food, drugs, etc. – have told me it wasn’t some combination of the three.

I’m not going to go into long definitions or scientific explanations of bipolar disorder or even a “greatest hits” of my experiences. If you’d like to read a story I wrote for the magazine I once owned, you can find it HERE. It’s a long read, but it will get into my entire personal story. Ironically, it was also written in January 2013, just before my addictions got to the critical point that eventually took me down.

Many people who have to deal with bipolar disorder express similar side effects, with one of the most common being the desire to pull yourself off of your medication. It’s a hard thing to explain. I think it’s a combination of remembering through the lens of nostalgia what the mania felt like and reaching a conclusion that the medication did its trick and now you’re better.

I know one of the only reasons I was able to maneuver myself into a position as a publisher of a magazine at 34 was because of the hard work I did at 18 or 22 or 25. My willingness to get fully engulfed at whatever job in journalism or publishing I had at the time opened doors that led me to this high-ranking position 15-20 years earlier than most.

That hard work was fueled by the manic side of the bipolar disorder. I recall after quitting college (the first time) that there were many days I worked at the local daily newspaper office writing stories between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., then I’d have a break for an hour and come back at 5 p.m. to design pages until 1 a.m. I’d go home, fall asleep around 4 a.m., wake up at 7:30 a.m. and repeat the process without an ounce of fatigue.

For those of you who are addicts, but not manic, I think you may understand mania best in terms of your addiction. Take that great dopamine hit your addiction gave you and halve it. Then, replace the other half with the rush caffeine gives you after a couple strong cups of coffee.

I recall this as a never-ending supply of positive energy, but I know I’m romanticizing it. It was that way most of the time, but about 20% of the time, it was the opposite. It was crippling depression. It was like wearing a wet fur coat on a stiflingly hot day. It was about forcing myself to stay awake and do my job because I needed money to live, despite the fact I didn’t want to on most days. When I was flying high, I told myself the depressive episodes were the trade-off.

I know there is some controversy over the medications used to treat bipolar disorder and how and why they exactly work, not to mention the long-term side effects. The most effective drug I was on, nefazodone (marketed as Serzone in the US), was pulled when it was found to destroy a lot of users’ livers. The drugs worked for me. Once banned, it took a while to find the right cocktail and we still need to change things up every 3-4 years, but they worked.

In early 2013, the magazine started showing signs of weakness. We had been operating for four years at that point and while costs rose, revenue stalled, then slowly decreased. I think this was half my fault and half market conditions I couldn’t adapt to…maybe that means it’s all my fault.

I don’t remember the moment I decided to stop taking my meds. I don’t know if it was like a light switch, or if I realized I’d forgot for a few days and happened to be feeling good that day and drew a correlation. Somehow, the idea that if I stopped taking my meds I would increase the likelihood of saving the business seemed to make sense.

When I talk about taking responsibility for what I did, I think it starts here. While I couldn’t control many of my thoughts and actions while in the deepest throes of addiction, in deciding that avoiding medicating was a good move, I made the decision to live with the consequences. I just didn’t have the consequences I was hoping for. I think it’s like driving my car off a cliff. It’s not my fault gravity will pull it down and the impact will likely kill me…that’s just nature. It’s my fault for driving off the cliff in the first place.

I believe the bipolar diagnosis may have hid the addictions because it gave my sometimes erratic behavior a plausible explanation. I could be flat-out drunk, do something stupid, but explain it away as a bipolar episode…and everyone else bought it. Crazy behavior in Amsterdam or Japan had to do with the bipolar was the story I told people for years…and they agreed. I did for a long time, too.

I almost always end these articles by telling people to seek help for their addictions if they need it, but I also want to urge anybody who feels off a lot, or feels like their highs and lows are a little more pronounced than most people appear to be to please get yourself checked out. It’s a curse that has been just as important, just as debilitating and just as much in need of constant attention as my addictions.

This is Not How I Thought It Would Feel

Most of you are probably sick to death of me mentioning my book, but I wanted to comment on the conflicting feelings, both emotional and physical, its release is causing me. On a completely objective level, as someone fascinated by human behavior, it’s been interesting to experience. On a personal level, it’s a roller coaster I can’t say I’m enjoying.

For those who are new to my story, my book, The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About: How I Let My Pornography Addiction Hurt People and Destroy Relationships was released January 10. Buy a copy for every day of the week!

So, I’ve been told 95% of the books produced today are self-published. It’s great that this is possible as it gets so much more knowledge and experience into the world. It also keeps the book alive in the age of the Internet. But, there are many writers, editors and executives in the publishing industry who believe self-publishing comes with a certain stigma. This stigma is why I looked for 4 months before I found a publisher who would tell my story the way I wanted. I could have self-published much earlier.

Of the 5% of books that are actually published, only about 10% of those ever see a shelf in a bookstore. Unfortunately, the book store – like encyclopedias, travel agents, newspapers and stationery stores – are dying in our increasingly digital world. This means only about 1 out of 200 books ever sees a shelf in any bookstore.

Today, I found out my book is going to be in at least one store. By the end of the week, I’ll likely have more. It’s surreal…and utterly nauseating.

Yesterday, I finally received my author’s copies of the books. I won’t explain why there was a mix-up, but there are people who ordered the book on Amazon who got it before I ever had an actual copy of my book. Now, I sit here, with several copies next to me. The thing that I poured 18 months of my life into is here…and it’s real. It’s not just on a screen. I’m vulnerable in a way I’ve never known. The closest feeling is when you wake up from that dream where you’re naked walking around high school.

Over the last 10 days, I’ve been doing a lot of media for the book, much of which hasn’t yet been released, and that’s going to continue for a while. It feels like there are two people being interviewed. There’s the guy who has the story in the book about his descent to rock bottom and implosion of his life with porn addiction being the central theme and then there’s the guy who can rattle off statistics and provide factual information and resources about the addiction. That first guy wants to vomit when people are asking hard questions about what he went through. The second guy is cool, calm and collected.

There’s also the proximity to where I’m doing interviews. Yesterday morning, I did a call-in interview with a radio show in Napa Valley, California. I think that’s roughly 3,000 miles away. When it was over, I moved on with my day. When my hometown newspaper did a short article and the largest TV news station in Maine did a story, my stomach was in knots, especially immediately before the stories were released. Thankfully, I was happy with the way both turned out.

I follow the Amazon Best Seller Rank listings like it’s the stock market. Am I up? Am I down. One hour I’m listed worldwide at 73,492 and the next it’s 240,314. Oh, no! I’m dropping. Then the next hour it’s up to 111,845…we’re gaining again! Then there are all the sub-categories. For the last week, I’ve consistently been the third best-selling new sexual recovery book. That’s a very specific audience…but can I officially say it’s a “best seller”?

I don’t know how to regulate my feelings, be it emotional or physical, with this. I have a feeling my bipolar meds are like, “Dude, chill…we can only work so hard.”

I know I don’t have an international best-seller on my hands. I’ll be lucky to sell a couple thousand. It’s a taboo topic with a limited audience. I know in a year I’ll probably be shopping my next book around to publishers and not thinking a lot about this one.

For now though, it’s an awesome experience…and makes me want to puke.