Think Addiction and Bipolar Disorder aren’t Connected? Think Again.

Quite often when I’m doing interviews, I’m asked about the connection between my bipolar disorder and my alcoholism and pornography addiction. I’ve always felt like there was some link between the two, but I finally did a little research to confirm it. As it turns out, there’s a huge link.

Bipolar disorder, which has made it onto the list of most self-diagnosed conditions (migraines continues to top that chart), actually only occurs in between 1.5 and 2.5 percent of the population according to one 2018 study. Another said that it was 4.4%, so I guess you have to believe the one you want.

I was diagnosed at age 26, although I can recognize episodes of mania and depression going back to my mid-teens, not-so-coincidentally when my addictions first began to surface. Ironically, the average age for onset of bipolar disorder is 25, but I know I had it long before that.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research yet on the likelihood of someone with behavioral addictions like sex/porn addiction, gambling addiction or video game addiction also suffering from bipolar disorder, but based on what we know with substance addictions, I think it’s safe to say there’s a link.

To the unaware, bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is essentially a psychiatric disorder characterized by unstable moods, depression or mixed manic and depressive episodes that are accompanied by drastic changes in sleep patterns and energy levels. Erratic, irrational decision-making can also be a sign of untreated bipolar disorder.

Back when I went untreated, manic was my norm. It was the bouts of depression that indicated to me something was wrong. I’m not going to give my entire history here, but if you’d like to see an article I wrote for my magazine way back in the day where I essentially confessed to the community I had bipolar disorder, click here. It’s a long read, but a good one.

I’m going to try not to turn this into an academic paper, so if you want sources for my statistics, just let me know and I’ll provide them, but I’d rather these be an easier read.

In the US population, roughly 15% of the population are tobacco smokers. Among those with bipolar disorder, anywhere from 60% to 80% either were or are currently tobacco smokers. I was among those in early 20s, but I quit a two-pack-a-week habit in my mid-20s. I took it up again shortly after I was arrested (ironically in rehab) in 2014 and kept it up for about 9 months before quitting again.

In the US, about 1-in-8 people, or 12.5% or the population can be classified as alcoholics. Among those who have bipolar disorder, it’s closer to 42% to 44%, depending on which study you use. I was firmly in this group as well.

As for drugs, someone with bipolar is 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than a person without. In fact, over half the people with bipolar disorder (56%) have a history of illegal drug use. One study I saw said that number could be as high as 70%. Although I experimented a little bit, I never embraced illegal drugs the way I did alcohol or pornography.

There is information out there that also links bipolar disorder to populations who report much higher than average anxiety, ADHD and eating disorders.

It’s important to note that it’s just not higher rates of addiction among people with bipolar disorder. You’ll find higher rates of homelessness, violence (both committed by and against), crime and suicide in this population.

There is no known cause for bipolar disorder, addiction, or co-occurrence. It’s just as important to highlight that addiction does not cause bipolar disorder and while the numbers clearly indicate those with bipolar disorder have a much, much higher likelihood of a co-occurring disorder, it is not guaranteed. Researchers believe a combination of factors, such as environment, genetics, biology, etc., are believed to play a role in both bipolar disorder and addiction. Reading between the lines, that seems code for, “We still have no idea.”

When I was at rehab, it felt like two-out-of-three people claimed they had bipolar disorder. I thought they were way overstating it, but as it turns out, maybe those numbers were right on the money.

I hope that the scientists who conduct the kinds of studies and surveys that I referenced above are studying behavioral addictions look to establish a connection between them and bipolar disorder as they’ve done with substance addictions. Anecdotally, based on the sex and porn addicts I’ve known, I think you’ll see very big numbers.

Pacing Myself Has Never Been My Strong Suit

Last spring, I was burnt out. I had just experienced a prolonged bout of anxiety, worse than any I ever had. It sent me away from this site for a while and through the first five months of the year, I posted on here as much as I did in an average week these days.

Behind the scenes, I was in a particular busy cycle with my freelance writing/ghostwriting career and I was putting the finishing touches on the first draft of the book that will be released on December 1. When it came to writing this blog however, I just wasn’t feeling it.

So, around Memorial Day, I made the decision to shut it down. I was done with the book, it was in the editor’s hands, I didn’t feel like telling my story for the 300th time on a podcast and I was out of ideas to write about, or simply didn’t want to put in the effort when it came to my website. I found somebody who would produce a few guest columns for me and I only posted one all summer, when I came off of probation in July. I went on vacation for the month of August and largely forgot that this site existed.

I had to play catch-up upon returning, so the first couple weeks of September were a little slow on here, but the book had progressed to a point where real progress was made and a release date was set. Having not told my story for around 4 months, I agreed to appear on a couple of podcasts and, rather unplanned, I started posting here every day. That may have had to do with a spike in the manic side of my bipolar, but either way, I was producing more content then ever.

Here we are, two months later and I’m not getting fatigued in the least. I recorded one podcast last night, already recorded one this morning (you can watch HERE, just fast-forward to 1:02 to get to my part) and I’m recording one tonight. I also have two to record tomorrow. I’m also creating a website post every day and doing a few other things to prepare for the release of the book.

Yeah, the freelance/ghostwriting thing is slow right now, and I’m not pursuing much new work, so that’s a drawback, but I’m not starving yet and my bills are getting paid. I’m just not saving money.

In my burnout last spring, I said that I could never put the energy into promoting a book, or simply continue to put the energy into spreading the message of porn addiction that I had in the first half of 2018. I didn’t want to go back to that marathon, but here I am and I’m pushing twice as hard. Granted, I feel like I’ve helped create a book that will do far more good and reach far more people than my memoir did, but I’m starting to recognize I should put some limitations on myself.

I think next week, I’m going to refrain from posting on Thanksgiving, and maybe the day before or after, and I won’t write something and schedule it in advance. I think that I’ll make sure not to do any podcasts for a few days before Christmas or a few days after. It’s dawning on me that I’ve never been great with balance. I find a project, I fall in love with it, and I work it hard. Stepping back and taking breaks is going to be a learning process, but it’s one I intend to succeed at so I can continue to do this work. Hopefully someday this will pay off monetarily, but it feels very purpose-driven either way. I just have to convince myself to maintain balance for that purpose.

The Horrible Truth of How I Ended Up Here

There’s been a lot of positive comments thrown in my direction lately, both here and on the podcasts I share my story. I know a bunch will come when my book comes out. I appreciate all of them and treat them not as fertilizer for my ego, but as an indicator that I’m doing the right thing now. I also realize they come from people who don’t actually know me in my everyday life, despite the fact I may share more here than anywhere else, and that helps keep things in perspective.

I’m going to share a story today that is honest, but may get your scorn instead of sympathy or admiration. I think that people forget just how I ended up here sometimes. It’s not a pleasant story, but it’s one that I have to retell myself every so often.

I shared a more graphic version of this in my first book. I’m going to tone it down quite a bit here and not talk about any specific incident in detail, but I thought it was time to come clean with my readers about what was going on in the weeks and months leading up to my arrest. Trigger warning, I guess. Scummy person warning, I’m sure of.

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After a 20+ year addiction to pornography, I made the fateful leap to the world of online chatrooms in mid-2013. My illness reached a critical point. Cross-addicted with alcohol, suffering the consequences of an ill-timed abandonment of my bipolar disorder medication, growing estranged from my family and watching my professional life begin to crumble, I let myself slide into a place of emotional, mental and physical disrepair unlike I’d experienced.

I told myself I was a victim of the world around me – a world conspiring on all fronts to take me down. As with so many other addictions, when what you’re doing isn’t meeting your self-soothing needs, you up the ante. I abandoned traditional online pornography sites for peer-to-peer webcam sites. This was when rock bottom started to get in sight.

These were not the traditional adult sites where one pays to talk to a stripper or “model.” The one I found was fairly simple: two random users connect via their webcams. If either doesn’t like what they see on their screen, they click “NEXT”.

Men outnumbered women 20-to-1. If you were going to get a woman to stop and talk to you, you’d better be handsome and have something fast to say, or in my case, type. I’ve never had a problem with a quick comment, but I wasn’t going to make the cut in the looks department. I looked as much the haggard late-30s failure as I felt.

Despite the site claiming to have over 40,000 people online at any given time, I noticed several of the same attractive men – the kind I bet women stopped for – popping up on my screen repeatedly. They were always in the same spot, wearing the same clothes, day-after-day. Something wasn’t right.

When the same buff guy bathed in orange light sitting against his couch appeared, I was able to get him to stop and tell me what was going on.

Whoever was actually on the other end of the computer explained I was watching a video. He couldn’t get women to stop to talk to him, so he found a video of a “hot dude” who appeared to be typing on his computer. He said women wouldn’t stop to talk to the real him, but he could probably get one out of five to stop now, and a quarter of those could be convinced to take their clothes off and/or perform a sexual act.

I found a video at a site containing these kinds of catfishing clips he directed me toward. A handsome guy in a white T-shirt and basketball shorts was laying on his bed, typing away. During the 14-minute video, he smiled, waved, made a peace symbol, laughed, pulled his shirt up to show his abs and took his shirt off completely. I isolated all of those moments into individual clips, including the main video, nine minutes of him typing into his laptop. I could play it on a loop for an hour without raising suspicion.

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I’m a project guy. I like to figure out how to get an idea off the ground, fine-tune it, and move on. My life at that point was more about being a fix-it guy, and I don’t play that role well. I was trying to save a business I’d long lost interest in. I was watching relationships with my family fall apart and had no idea how to salvage them. I was over-indulging in pornography and alcohol addictions I’d mostly been able to keep under control for two decades and it was taking a physical and mental toll. Instead of living a life where I was creating things, I was putting Band-Aids all over a balloon that was about to pop.

Then I found that website, learned how to manipulate a video and my warped, decaying mind found a new project. I’m a methodical worker. I experiment, analyze, experiment more, analyze again. I’d already cracked the hard part learning the technical end of being an online groomer. As somebody who interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in my years as a journalist, I had an above-average ability to read people and get them to talk. As a charismatic business owner, I had plenty of techniques to convince people to do what I needed. These are not good skills for a sick person with no sense of boundaries or consequences to possess.

I’d seen how the average guy on one of these sites operates. If they could get a woman to stop, within 30 seconds of talking to them, they’d tell the female to flash their breasts. I could never see how the low success rate of that strategy reaffirmed it as the go-to technique.

I think these are the guys who frequent strip clubs and don’t understand it’s a show. They believe all women are nymphomaniacs just waiting to be commanded to remove their clothes in everyday life. I wasn’t interested in stripper types, who put on a show for money or nymphos, who made things easy for the simpler guys.

I wanted to talk to average, everyday women (or at least as close as I could find on a peer-to-peer cam site) who would hit “NEXT” the moment a guy like that demanded nudity. I wanted to find a woman who believed she’d never do that kind of thing and then figure out the path to push her to get there.

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I still got the NEXT treatment from most women and of those who stopped, if they looked underage, couldn’t hold a conversation for more than three seconds, or immediately steered the conversation toward sex – an indicator that it was probably a video – I’d hit the NEXT button.

The women I wanted to manipulate were never going to comply with a direct request. Much like a sales call when I sold advertising at my magazine, I had to build rapport and trust before I could close. Treating these scenarios like business transactions and not viewing the females on the other end of the computer as people would have been a red flag for me at so many other points in my life. Short of a professional intervention, I don’t know what could have stopped my increasingly poor judgment. I just saw “right” and “wrong” as concepts others lived by, not me.

I claimed to be a struggling model, surviving only by working as a personal trainer. I said I didn’t like training buff guys because they intimidated me. I preferred average women because they were more “real.” Ironic, I guess. Instead of taking a scholarship for college, I wanted to see if I could be a model, which broke my parents’ hearts when I left high school since I graduated second in my class. I said I wasn’t making it as a model and was considering quitting and heading back home.

So, I’ve created a smart, good-looking guy who prefers average girls and is trying to follow his dream, but is getting discouraged…and hasn’t yet said a sexual word. For the kind of women in need of attention on a site like this, you couldn’t build a better guy. At least, I couldn’t.

I made a show of not wanting to share my personal information. Most of them had never encountered a guy who accused them of wanting too much personal information. Many of them would start blurting facts about themselves just to prove I could trust them. I felt so powerful, never appreciating how my sense of good judgment was disappearing more every day.

I could take whatever information they gave me and while we held a conversation on one part of my screen, I’d be figuring everything out I could about them on the other side. If I discovered a lot of photos on Instagram of them as a competitive show jumper, I would somehow introduce a reference to my sister loving horses. If there was a Facebook entry about the third anniversary of their grandmother’s death, I’d casually mention mine died a few weeks earlier, but I couldn’t go home for the funeral. Most people simply don’t realize how much information they share about themselves and how that can lead to a world of other information. How do you think psychics are able to be so accurate?

Inevitably, they’d ask about my modeling and want to see examples. I found a model on the Abercrombie & Fitch website with a passing resemblance. There was another on a lifeguard supplies site who could pass. All I had to do to find these was take a screen capture of the video I was using and drop it into Google Images. When a woman would ask, “Is that really you?” I’d talk about lighting and makeup and how I always look so much worse in real life. They’d uniformly tell me I was wrong.

Along the way, I’d gauge just how much my story was getting them to have feelings. If none were developing, I’d cut my losses and let them go. If I wasn’t successfully manipulating them, my diseased mind saw no reason to continue and I was on to the next, or if it was past 3 a.m. at the point, I’d call it a night. I needed to get my 2-3 hours of sleep before I faced the world that hated me, I told myself.

In November of 2013, a female who popped up on my screen that I told myself looked old enough turned out to be underage. As I did with all of the other women, I took a couple screen shots of her at the end of our session. They were trophies of my accomplishments, not used for sexual gratification, but used to convince myself I had some semblance of control in my life and could reach goals I set. It’s still hard for me understand how I could rationalize that night after night, but I guess there wasn’t a lot of rationalization going on then.

I was informed about her age when the police came knocking at my door in March 2014. They found my folder of “trophies” and were able to establish she was the only one underage. With the way I was thinking then, I probably got lucky, as much as it hurts to recognize that.

I’m at the six-year anniversary of talking to that girl. She’s in her early 20s somewhere now. I hope my transgression didn’t cause any lasting permanent damage. Nobody deserves to be taken advantage of that way, at any age.

My poor choices led me there. It was nobody’s fault except mine. My poor choices also led me here, to create this blog, give the interviews and write my books. Hopefully, at some point in the far future, the good I do in my life now will cosmically, karmically and in-actual-fact, outweigh the harm I did.

Recovery Included the Surprisingly Therapeutic Task of Simplifying My Life Story

I’ve been a professional writer since I was 17 years old, which means people have been paying me to put words down on paper that others presumably want to read for 26 years now. Oddly enough, it’s a couple of non-paying assignments that I think have helped me the most in recent years.

Despite a few need-to-survive, part-time jobs here and there, writing is all I’ve ever really done in my professional life, yet I know if I never got a cent again, writing would continue to be the cheapest and one of the most crucial parts of my recovery.

When I entered my first rehab for alcoholism in April 2014, one of the first assignments given to me was to write my autobiography to share with the group. Every newbie got this assignment. While telling our overall story, we were asked to focus in on the things that brought us to rehab. I ended up writing 56 pages. When Bob, my caseworker, heard about this, he said that I should not read mine, and just tell the story from memory.

I thought I was doing everyone a favor because most of my fellow residents wrote three or four pages. I wanted to show everybody writing was my strength and delight them with an epic tale of triumph and tragedy. Then, I couldn’t even read it.

Fast-forward a year or so and I’ve entered my second rehab for the porn addiction. Once again, they asked me as a newcomer to share my story. Remembering that I went overboard at the first place, I wrote 30 pages this time. I did get to read it in my daily small group session, but the feedback was still that it was too long. There were many important parts of the story, but they were buried within sections that were just long anecdotes, the group agreed.

After I got out of jail, one of my probation conditions was to participate in group therapy with men who also had sexual offenses. Unsurprisingly, I was told to write my life story. This time, I wrote about eight pages and nobody complained about the length. After three attempts over three years, I was finally able to highlight the important parts of the story. The point of the assignment clicked.

* * *

All three times, I was required to write my story by hand. Maybe that should have been a clue it didn’t need to be a novel. Writing by hand is a bit of an old trick, believed to force the writer to think about their words more carefully. I can type around 75 words per minute, but I know I can’t write that fast.

My story isn’t about funny or interesting events that happened at my jobs. It isn’t about trying to prove I’m a good father or husband. Nobody needs a rundown of places I’ve travelled or sidebars full of opinion. Most of my failures and triumphs have just been run-of-the-mill and had no serious long-term effects on my life.

No, my story is about a kid who was raised by decent parents who made the one mistake of picking the wrong babysitter. The time spent at that babysitter created maladaptive coping skills, which were only enhanced when I developed early addictions to pornography and alcohol. Despite putting together a fairly normal life, those addictions and poor coping skills remained. I was (finally) correctly diagnosed with mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, in my early 20s, but despite therapy and medication, I continued as a functional addict. That stopped in my mid-30s when negative conditions in my life caused a complete breakdown. Part of the breakdown involved an illegal act, but that was my opportunity to seek help. I’ve done well in recovery, never having relapsed, and now have coping skills and tools that were lacking for years. I’m relatively content now as I warn others of the harm of pornography addiction and make up for lost time with my family.

That’s it. That’s my life. Despite the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written, that’s what it comes down to and I think it’s important I can sum it up in 160 words. It allows me to focus on what’s really important. Yes, details count, but in this case brevity is therapeutic.

I know many of the people reading this have their own blogs, or do a lot of writing as part of their professional endeavors, but if you’ve never done it, I would urge all of you to write your life story in five or six pages and then write a single paragraph summarizing it. If you write long, edit it down when finished. Given those somewhat limiting parameters, it’s surprising what you can learn about yourself.

Gonna Be a Man in Motion…

Last night, I had dinner with the person who I would say was likely my closest friend between 2000 and 2003. I think the last time we sat across from each other was 2005. I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ll call him Joe to maintain his anonymity and because “Joe” is a short name to type. It wouldn’t make sense for a hypothetical name to be Bartholomew. Too long. Anyway, Joe knew me in the years before I was put on my bipolar meds, when hyper-creative, super-energetic manic was my norm.

I don’t think hierarchy-wise, Joe was my boss, but I first met him in early 2000 when I went to work for a small trade newspaper company. He was the editor and I was the staff writer for a monthly paper covering the northern New England high-tech sector. For the most part, it was just he and I putting the paper together.

Last night, I wasn’t the 24-year-old man-child who knew he was destined for huge things sitting across from Joe anymore. It was a 43-year-old guy who not only got kicked in the ass by life over the last decade, but recruited, lined-up and paid the ass-kickers overtime himself. Joe hadn’t seen me since before the magazine publisher and city councilor days. It also meant he hadn’t seen me since all my legal stuff connected to the addictions went down.

In a brief email he wrote while we were organizing the dinner, he said, “I don’t know many of the details, but I do believe we all make mistakes and get beyond them, so we don’t have to talk about any of that stuff if you don’t want to do that.”

It was a nice offer but the moment I sat across from him at the restaurant yesterday, I said, “OK, here’s the deal, I talk about this stuff all the time. Most of the time I talk about it for educational purposes because I’m writing about it or giving interviews. I almost never hear a question I haven’t already been asked. I don’t want you to feel bad for being curious, but I also have to say, if you got nabbed for what I did, I’d have SO MANY questions for you!”

He let out a nice long laugh, realizing if the situations were reversed, he would be willing to talk to me about it and would expect me to have questions.

For 45 minutes, we talked about the case and what happened. It was nice because I didn’t have to be 100% politically correct and choose my words ultra-carefully because despite our time apart, we still knew what the other guy meant without having to add lots of disclaimers or clarifying statements.

We were at a restaurant that – like every other one in Maine lately – is a brewpub that makes its own beer. Joe was super-apologetic to learn I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in my system since April 1, 2014, saying he would have suggested a different place. I told him what I tell everybody, “It’s my issue, not yours. Drink up.” Thankfully, I’m not tempted to drink in this kind of environment because it was never really my typical getting drunk scene in the 25 years I did that.

Perhaps understandably, I dominated the conversation, but like old friends do, we turned back a bit to remembering many of the people and times from when we were younger. Somewhere in the distance, behind the rumble of a faraway locomotive destined for the West, a jukebox played Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”

As I mentioned, Joe knew me even before I started being treated for bipolar disorder. That was the period of time in my life that I romanticized when I decided to pull myself off my meds in early 2013, which I believe was the removal of the keystone that led to my life toppling in the following months.

I would say 85% of the drinking I did in my life was medicinal and directly to feed the coping mechanism of the alcoholism. But 15% was still recreational. I experienced the kind of drinking that “normal” people do who don’t develop problems. This 15% took place in those first few years of the new millennium when Joe and I would hit the town often with a whole cadre of young people who were part of Portland, Maine’s burgeoning tech scene.

Joe and I recalled several stories from those days fondly. Would I want my kids to have roles in stories like those? Of course not, but I’m sure they will and won’t tell me. It was young adults finding themselves, making dumb mistakes, and having a good time learning in the process. I think it’s a place in time many young people find themselves. Despite having no money and not knowing where your life is going to head, you feel a freedom for the first time that you never have, and looking back, never will again. It’s the St. Elmo’s Fire life against The Big Chill life I’m living now; 1980s movie reference of the day award goes to me.

I said goodbye to Joe at the end of the night and we agreed to get together again soon. With the lack of actual friends in my life these days, I’m going to hold him to it. Mentally and emotionally, it was a great thing for me.

Driving home, I started to think about sharing those “war stories” from nearly two decades ago. In AA, and almost every mode of therapy I’ve been through, they advise against glamorizing stories from your drinking days. I think the fear is that if you romanticize what a good time it was, you may want to recapture it and think the only way you can is to hit the bottle. I also think that the recovery community believes hearing old stories that involve joy while engaging in alcohol lends one remember alcohol in a positive light.

I can’t change what happened 18 years ago, and I don’t know if I’d want to. I know that alcohol contributed to poor decision making that in the right light, creates a funny story. Sneaking around fishing docks at night with several people who are drunk, trying to be quiet because one person (not me) wanted to steal a lobster trap to make a coffee table is absolutely stupid and illegal. But if you were there in the moment and knew the people involved, it might elicit a smile, as it still does with me.

What I was left wondering on the ride home was if that kind of fond reminiscing is wrong. Should I be trying to put a negative spin on events every time I drank during those specific years? I was already well into alcoholism and drinking for the wrong reasons when I met Joe, but I think that if I was capable of “normal” drinking, those years were the window when it happened and Joe was one of the people it happened with.

Am I supposed to retroactively see those times with red flags and as warnings I didn’t admit, or despite the fact alcohol played a huge role in my demise 10-11 years later, is it OK, or dare I say even healthy to remember them fondly?

I curious what other people think. Please share your two cents.