Dialetical Behavior Therapy fun with Pink Floyd

I never talk much about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), but it is the modality that probably best help me learn how to face what I don’t want to acknowledge, deal with injustice I can’t fix and ultimately learn the practice of radical acceptance. I only had a half-dozen sessions learning the technique at inpatient rehab and will admit that I only read half the workbook and barely filled anything in, but I learn by doing.

If you want to learn everything about it, I urge you to go read THIS article. It gives the basic outline, but I’ll tell you what it did for me. In moments of heightened emotion, good or bad, it gave me skills to bring myself down and not go off the deep end for a prolonged period of time.

It taught me how to pause, look introspectively, and let my mind be present in the moment, wherever that took me.

I drank alcohol and I used pornography as coping tools to handle the rest of my day. Now, DBT is not only a great coping tool for the rest of my day, but helps me to center myself in the closest way I’ll ever get to meditating.

But enough about me babbling how it helps me keep my shit together, let’s try an exercise…

 

This is going to take about 7-8 minutes. If you don’t have the time, don’t start. If you do have the time, I promise you that you’ll be in a different mindset by the end of it. Come back and try later if you can’t do this now.

 

I want you to play the following Pink Floyd song, High Hopes. It was off  of their final studio album, 1994’s The Division Bell.

When the music starts, close your eyes and begin to listen to the lyrics. Try figuring out what the song is about. If you feel like a fool closing your eyes, you can just read the lyrics as I’ve included them. Again, start by trying to figure out what the song is about.

When your mind starts to wonder, let it. Let it go wherever it’s going to take you. Don’t fight it, don’t manipulate it, don’t avoid where your thoughts take you.

By the time the guitar solo kicks in at the end of the song, almost exactly the 5-minute mark, I want you to go to the comments section and write what you were thinking about at that moment. Where did 5 minutes of your thoughts take you? It’s not about deciphering the meaning of the song. It doesn’t matter what somebody commented before or after, or if you’re the first. After 5 minutes, what were you thinking about? Stop writing when the song finishes, at exactly the 7-minute mark. I’ll do this as well, after at least one person shares their thoughts.

 

Here are the lyrics if you prefer to read them instead of closing your eyes:

High Hopes by Pink Floyd

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

Along the Long Road and on down the Causeway
Do they still meet there by the Cut

There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before time took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The nights of wonder

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide

At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter

The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
Forever and ever

 

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.

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.

 

 

Yes, Recovery Does Get Easier

While porn addiction isn’t exactly a happy topic, I feel like I sometimes tend to be about doom-and-gloom, often specifically looking for negative statistics to show what a problem the addiction is, and will become in our society.

I rarely talk about what it’s like for me today, nearly five years into recovery. For those wondering the big question “Does it ever get easier?” I’m here to tell you that yes, it does, but you have to find the way to make it easier.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about cognitive behavioral therapy. If you have a behavior, even one that reaches an addictive level, I urge you to seek out a therapist who specializes in CBT.

When I was at both of my rehabs, there were the naysayers and people who didn’t want to be there. I remember one time, there was an especially mouth drug addict. He was young and it was clear his parents forced him to be there or he’d get cut off. There are always a few those at every rehab.

“You’re just here to brainwash us!” he once blurted out to a clinician who was running one of our group activities.

He stopped, walked over to the guy, looked him straight in the eye and said one of the most truthful things I’ve ever heard.

“If you’re not here to get your brain washed, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t you think you all need a little bit of brainwashing?” he asked the addict.

A few days later, the anti-brainwasher was kicked out for hooking up with one of the young women he shared his drug of choice with at the facility. It’s funny how it’s never the sex or porn addicts that hook up at these places.

In a nutshell, CBT is self-brainwashing.

The other idea this clinician introduced me to was the concept of the “pre-lapse.” His contention was that once you’re at the stage of relapse, you’re going to engage in your addiction, but if you can nip it in the bud in advance, you’ll never reach relapse stage. There are a series of almost ritualistic thoughts and behaviors most addicts, regardless of the specific addiction, go through prior to using. Once that chain of events begins, it’s hard to derail it.

I learned how to derail the pre-lapse with cognitive behavioral therapy. I used it to tackle both my alcohol and porn problems and although muscle memory has made coping with the addictions easier, I still have CBT in back pocket.

As long as I live and I see an ad for beer on television, I’m going to have the Pavlovian response of thinking it looks tasty. That’s because the first beer or two is tasty. It’s when I feel this way that I pause and remind myself that I’ve never stopped at one or two and can’t stop at one or two, so I can’t have any. That works now. When the pull was harder years ago, I’d start thinking about all of the horrible things I’d done or said when I was drunk and how I never wanted to go down that route again. Eventually, maybe the commercials won’t trigger any response.

With porn, if I see a beautiful woman on TV or in the movies, I’ll sometimes have the immediate thought, “I wonder if she’s done a nude scene.” In years past, that would lead me to one of those celebrity porn websites. Today though, I’m able to pause and ask myself, “What does it matter if she’s done a nude scene? What will I see that I’ve never seen before?” I find that when I boil porn down to its essence, naked people being objectified, I want nothing to do with it.

And whether it’s alcohol or porn, I’m able to look back at the last six years: First, my worst year of addiction, then getting in legal trouble, attending two rehabs and hundreds of hours of therapy, a six-month jail sentence, hurting so many people close to me, almost bankrupting myself all leading to what is today a very isolated, often lonely life. My choices with alcohol and porn led me here and having spent time with addicts, I know I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Reflecting back on these last six years is a quick trick to put any porn or alcohol triggers to rest.

Yes, it’s easier now going into Year 5 of recovery than it was Year 3 and certainly Year 1. For those of you who are in the early stages, don’t fret. Just stick with it. You have control over your actions, even if you need someone to teach you how. Seek out a CBT therapist and make the recovery journey a successful one.

The Day I Truly Entered Recovery from Pornography Addiction Was…

…the day I stopped waiting for other people’s advice or tricks to be the magic bullet solution. I’m now just over 4.5 years sober from porn. I would have told you then that M/O (masturbation/orgasm) was also an issue, but once the porn went away the M/O reduced by 98%. I was a porn addict.

I was in therapy for years long before I ever admitted to my porn addiction, trying to deal with my anxiety and feelings of always being out of place in the world. While it did come to light that I was bipolar, and that was important to contain, I just kept waiting for the piece of advice or the pill that would make my life fall into place and I’d become like all of the other people.

Through my 20+ years of porn addiction and alcoholism, there were certainly times where I was very weak and I know that I certainly did some damage to my pleasure centers by nuking my brain with dopamine, oxytocin and all of those others happy chemicals.

I am grateful for my therapist. She is an amazing guide through my psyche and has helped me connect so many threads that I finally understand the web of who I am, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but she couldn’t have done it without me…and for too long I was waiting for that.

I didn’t know about NoFap or online boards where most guys try to white-knuckle it, or theories like the whole Red Pill thing back when I was in early therapy. I think there are holes to all of those modalities, but if they work for you — actually work — then I think they’re fine because it’s YOU who is making them work.

I sat in a few months worth of Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings mostly listening to men complain about their sexless lives and realized that the only way you’re going to change is if you truly become committed to change.

My therapy moved in a bit of a cognitive behavioral direction and that started to make all the difference. How often do you ask yourself, “Why am I about to do this?” “What is motivating me here?” “Why am I having these feelings?” At one point in my recovery, I was probably doing this 25 times a day. Now, there is a level of muscle memory that has sunk in. Triggers are hardly a bother, for both porn and alcohol.

I’m proof that anybody can beat this thing, but I’m also proof that this isn’t like a broken leg where it just heals on its own, and it’s not like an illness that antibiotics will take care of. It’s not a mental condition that a few pills will contain and nobody is holding back the secret that will make you better.

It’s on you. You need to make the commitment to change. It’s not a desire, it’s not a hope. It’s a commitment. You get your ass up everyday to go to work. You visit your family on holidays. You pay your taxes. You know how to handle commitment. You just have to decide this is worth it and once you take control — well, the hard work has only just started — but at least you’ve taken that legit first step.

Note: I posted this on a message board about porn addiction, but thought it would also fit with what I do on this site. I need to remind people that while they may not end up a pornography addiction expert, they can all end up in recovery.