I Opened Another Can of Worms with my Survey

I worked in media/journalism/publishing full time starting at the age of 17 and for 20 years had a wide audience reading whatever I wrote or enjoying products I created when I became a publisher. Even when I wrote something controversial, there was rarely a “kill the messenger” vibe unless I made a mistake.

I believe, especially later on, since I had a certain amount of influence through the media, people put up with me more than they would for somebody who had my personality and didn’t have tens of thousands of readers behind it. You’ll put up with somebody being an asshole, and you won’t talk bad about that asshole if that asshole is willing to write a three-page article in his magazine about you. It’s thousands of dollars in free advertising, so why not just deal with it?

The products I created and worked on, especially in the last decade of that life I had, were mostly non-confrontational and non-controversial. They say you can’t make everybody happy, but locally, people really loved the magazine, especially those who didn’t know me personally.

The first time that I dealt with a situation where you can’t make everybody happy, no matter who you are, was when I was elected to the local city council. It was a mostly miserable experience and I did not like being the one moderate among three liberals and three conservatives. It meant I was the tie-breaking vote. On the surface, that seemed to play to my control, power and ego issues, but it quickly got to me on a personal level. I wasn’t attacked much for my decisions, but I really grappled with my decisions hurting some people while helping others. Do you give the $1,000 grant to the abused women’s group or to the meals for seniors group — especially when both plead their case to you? It’s a no-win.

The magazine ended with my life imploding as my addictions went very public and having to recalibrate almost all of my life, both internally and externally. I had to get over the people not liking me thing quickly, because of the circumstances around my outing. I actually think it helped me grow as a person a lot. My natural tendency to try and get people to like my work, especially strangers, had to die for me to move forward as a person. Today, I really hope people like my books, this site and the other things I do, but if they don’t, I feel no stress over it.

Late last week, I launched a survey/poll looking for feedback about a TED Talk I’ll be giving later this year on the topic of porn addiction. I’m trying to figure out a baseline for the people listening and how to best present the speech. I posted it on this site, LinkedIn and a few Reddit forums. I figured now, four or five days later, I’d have 50 or 60 responses. Before I go to bed tonight, I think the number is going to hit 700 responses.

Between the sections of the survey that allow people to give open-ended answers or the ability to give feedback through LinkedIn and Reddit, I have probably had 150-200 comments/suggestions/criticisms/ compliments/insults/attacks/thanks/etc. as well.

Of course I appreciate the people wishing luck, wanting to see the talk online when it’s published and thanking me for doing it, there’s a lot of people who want to argue about the validity of pornography addiction, criticize the methodology of the survey, or attack me as a person.

I do appreciate some of the professional criticism as it allows me to consider things I didn’t, and perhaps should have, in creating the survey. It also allows me to defend why I made certain decisions with questions or options for answers. I’m the first to admit that no poll/survey is ever going to be an unbiased reflection of what it is purporting to be. The government can’t even get the census right, how am I going to do it with tough questions? I don’t know how pollsters determine what the margin of error is in what they do, but in most of my responses, there are clear first and second place finishers that haven’t changed since 30 people responded. But, even with the professional criticism, there’s often a tone of “I’m better than you” coming from doctors or professors who I am well aware know more about statistics and polls than I ever will. It’s somewhat off-putting and I have a feeling it may be close to the air of intellectual superiority I gave off back in the day (and I’m sure still slip into now and then.)

The haters are the haters. If they have a Reddit profile and you go digging, you’ll find one of three things: 1) They spend most of their time looking at pornography, 2) They are incels who hate women or 3) Have a lifestyle of sexual openness (swinging, BDSM, etc) that they have jumped to the conclusion I am trying to eradicate. There’s not much I can do about these people. Some are perfectly healthy, some are basket cases, but their sexual health or decisions are really not what I’m concerned with, but they can’t see beyond their world to recognize that.

No, the ones who are sticking with me are the addicts and the spouses of addicts, or the others who share their stories of how porn has negatively effected their life one way or another. Yeah, I’ve heard most of these stories before, but there are some new ones that really pull at the heartstrings, and I don’t think I’ve ever read so many in such a short period of time. Many have asked for help, have given email addresses so we can talk privately and I can tell have been hugely ignored. The idea of someone willing to talk about pornography is a big deal to them.

A lot of these people make suggestions about what I should talk about — as I asked them to do. But, like the Pussycat Dolls once sang about, you need to be careful for what you ask for because you just might get it. And yes, I know that quote is originally from an Edgar Allen Poe story.

I have 15 minutes to give this speech. I could have 15 hours and I’m not going to be able to tell the stories of these people, or hit upon points that they think are important to the presentation. I’m going to disappoint them by pointing out A, B, and C, but not talking about X, Y, or Z. I fear they’re going to believe their opinion and sharing did not matter to me if I’m not able to cater to them, but it’s super clear that most of the feedback I’m getting with not be catered to or come close.

I don’t like knowing that people will feel, at best, disappointed and at worst, betrayed. Yeah, a college professor can tear me a new one because I didn’t include “None of the Above” as an option of Question 2, but it’s the mother at the end of her rope because her 17-year-old daughter won’t stop looking at porn, refusing to get a job or have friends, that stick with me. It’s the 75-year-old guy who is still looking for a solution to his problem before “my time runs out” that I’ve been thinking about over the weekend, not the angry 20-something trying to tell me I’m worthless because “porn is healthy.”

Thank God I have some time to process all of this before I have to fully start committing.

And of course, if you want to take the survey and haven’t yet, you can find it here: https://forms.gle/7FKFLv47maVamHzJ9

‘I Would Definitely Recommend It’

I’m absolutely thrilled today to read the first professional review of my book, “Porn and the Pandemic: How Three Months in 2020 Changed Everything” and even more thrilled that it is not only a rave, but that the reviewer, Ashley L. Peterson, understood what I was going for with my presentation of the material.

Check out her review here: https://mentalhealthathome.org/2020/07/08/book-review-porn-and-the-pandemic/

And if you want to pick up the book at a special debut price of $14.95, you can visit the Amazon page HERE

If you are a book reviewer with a following and have interest in reviewing this book, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Sorry Parents, You Can’t Porn-Proof Your Kids in 2020

My parents raised me to think that one sip of beer would lead me, minutes later, to the destitute life of a wino, laying in the gutter, hiccupping while holding a bottle like an alcoholic cat out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I was also told smoking cigarettes was gross and would give me almost immediate lung cancer. Marijuana would kill me. Pornography would turn me into a Peeping Tom pervert before the day was done and gambling was something only done by degenerate mobsters. Needless to say, I tried them all.

Once I recognized that one of their dire warnings was little more than hyperbole, I recognized all of their dire warnings were BS. It took me a while to become an alcoholic and I was always “functional.” Cigarettes and marijuana were used for years, and I quit both on my own. I still will occasionally visit a casino, but don’t think I’ve ever lost more than $50 in an evening. Losing more isn’t fun. And even with pornography, I never found myself hiding in anyone’s bushes or drilling holes in the wall of the girl’s locker room.

The message I got from my parents was ultimately, “None of this stuff is as bad as we said it was.” I know it’s not the message they want to send.

I appreciate all of the parents out there who want to stem the flow of pornography into their children’s lives. Whether it’s putting parental controls on the cable box, filtering programs on their computers or content blockers on their cell phones, their heart is in the right place – just like my parents’ hearts were.

My mother would lose it if HBO was on and a breast or a bare buttock came across the screen when I was a kid. We immediately had to change the channel, even if it was only something like the movie version of Romeo and Juliet from 1968 which they played all the time when I was a kid and had about two seconds of nudity. I could watch a show with all the swearing or violence I wanted, but the moment there was more skin than you could see at the beach, that show was over for me.

I don’t remember if she had any justification for it. I think it was mostly along the lines of, “Change the channel because I said so, I don’t want you seeing that kind of stuff.” For an inquisitive little kid like me, “Why don’t you want me to see that stuff?” is the question that swims in my head, but was smart enough not to ask. Her overreaction was curious. Clearly she didn’t want me to see any of that stuff.

But, around 11, my cousin showed me my first hardcore pornography magazines. At 13, a friend I met in middle school would invite me over to his dad’s house on weekends where the Playboy Channel was part of the cable package. At 14, I found a video store that would rent me porn.

What did all of these things have in common? My mom wasn’t aware of any of it. She still hasn’t read my first book, so I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t know about any of it.

She couldn’t porn-proof me and nothing has changed in 35 years. You can’t porn-proof your kids. You can remove every device in your home where the image of genitals could ever appear and all you’ve done is take care of one home in your neighborhood. Unless you’re living in a Little House on the Prairie world, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. A drop is better than nothing? Are you trying to convince me or you? I believe porn blockers are more for parents to give themselves peace of mind they are protecting their children more than anything else.

The average age a boy sees hardcore pornography these days is between 8 and 10. The average age a child gets a cell phone is 11. Let’s say that you buck the trend and your son doesn’t see porn between 8 and 10 and at 11, you gift him with one of those specialty phones like Gabb Wireless that keeps things like the Internet and photo texts off their device. Do you think every child your son interacts with has parents doing the same thing with their child?

My friend’s dad had no idea we were watching the Playmate of the Year Video Calendar for 1989 late at night on the TV in the basement. I’ve got to imagine they’re still making the same kind of content. And that doesn’t even begin to address the world of desktop, laptop and tablet computers. I have a feeling that before “Brush Your Teeth” to the end the night, the three words a teenage boy remembers most are “Clear Browser History.”

You can’t porn-proof your child and I’m not sure you should even try. What you need to do is talk to them about pornography. In a very age-appropriate manner, you need to tell them when they’re young that, like cigarettes or alcohol, pornography is something for adults and they aren’t to touch it. If they find any, or stumble upon it on their phone or computer, you won’t be mad at them and if a friend shows them, you just want to know about it. As they get older, you can get into more nuances of “that’s not depicting love or what sex is really like” and even a little older, especially for boys, you can talk about things like Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction.

I understand you love your kids and I understand you want to protect them, but shielding them instead of preparing them is not the best tactic, I am proof of that.

Discovering the concept of Imposter Syndrome

I don’t often share links to other blogs here, but I somehow found a blog a couple of weeks back called Coaching Skills International that has been a breath of fresh air. From what I can tell it’s produced by an online counseling college out of Canada. If I’m wrong, I hope they’ll correct me. I urge you to check it out and see the kind of advice and knowledge they offer.

This past weekend, they posted an article about imposter syndrome. They define it as:

“Impostor syndrome is a psychological condition where people are unable to believe in their successes. Thus, despite the evidence that points to the fact that they are skilled, capable and competent they write this off as temporary – or timing and good luck. Thus, they constantly struggle with feeling like a fraud.”

This absolutely describes the first 37 years of my life, especially the last few years before I lost almost everything and entered recovery. I always had this voice in the back of my head going back to my days as a child that said, “You can’t let them know who you really are. Nobody will approve of, nor like who you really are, so be somebody else.”

I have suspicions that this developed first from somehow getting the message from my environment that I wasn’t enough. I think there’s a fine line between correcting and teaching a small child the right way to do things and making them feel inferior and as if they don’t have the instinct to do things correctly the first time, leading them to constantly doubt themselves.

Most of those negative messages came from a babysitter I had while my parents worked prior to me entering school. I’ve already written about the abuse while I was there, so I’ll skip it, but I also think my imposter syndrome was borne out of a fear of my safety. I internally learned at an early age how to say and do what I needed to avoid her wrath (most of the time) and that involved putting on a show, not being my genuine self. It’s the survival skill I leaned upon too heavily as I grew up.

Finally, I think my imperfect mental health likely played a role in exacerbating my imposter syndrome. Anxiety pushes you to avoid negative things like conflict with others. Depression forces you to put on a happy face for the world. Mania attempts to convince you that you’re something special and the life of the party, despite knowing you’re faking it.

Example #1

I remember in late 2012 when, as the co-founder of a large film festival in Maine, we held a press conference to announce our plans. It was in the space adjacent to our office we also rented and turned into an art gallery.

We had purchased a couple of those large backdrops (called step-and-repeats) you see celebrities pose in front of on the red carpet that usually has small logos for the event and a sponsor. A friend from a local college brought over a very cool looking podium and sound system so there was one of those small microphones you see on awards show to speak into.

As a surprise, I arranged to have Les Stroud of the Survivorman television show come to the festival that year and teased the announcement. I also arranged to have him speak to us via Skype at the press conference. The whole visual set-up was very professional.

As a city councilor (a whole other imposter story), I was good friends with the mayor and he agreed to attend the press conference to speak about the economic impact to the city.

So, we sent invitations to a few VIPs, our sponsors and the media to come to the press conference to hear what we had to say – and they all did. When the emcee (the magazine’s managing editor) introduced me to make the surprise announcement of Survivorman, I came up to the podium and looked out. There were probably 40 invited guests, including four TV stations with cameras and two newspaper reporters there.

I was standing on a stage and they were all waiting to hear me. In that moment, a wave of thoughts sprouted: “How did I pull this all together? How is every media source within 50 miles here? How can none of them recognize that I’m a hustler, a liar and a fraud? I am putting on a totally fake press conference – except it’s not fake. Or is it? It’s for a real event. I shouldn’t be in this position. It should be reserved for talented people who know what they’re doing. This song and dance is going to result in sponsors giving me tens of thousands of dollars I don’t deserve. How do I make sure these people don’t see the REAL me?”

Example #2

In my high school senior yearbook, I won the “Most Opinionated” superlative. I knew what that meant. It was the “Biggest loudmouth asshole who we still somehow like award.”

Even then I felt like I was an imposter. I excelled at things I found simple, like history and creative writing, and figured out how to cheat my way through math and science. I don’t think I was part of any specific clique, finding it easy to bounce around because as a chameleon, I could adapt to whomever I was hanging out with. If I was with the jocks, I’d turn my brain off. If I was with the brains, I’d hide the fact I loved sports.

Fast-forward 19 years and I’m nearing my demise. About six months after Example #1 took place, I was asked if I would give the commencement address for the latest graduating class. It took less than two decades for the loudmouth asshole who had to sit silently at his graduation in 1994 to get the headlining spot for the Class of 2013. This was a new high-water mark in fooling the world.

By this point, I was well into the deepest part of my addictions. I knew I’d need to have a few drinks in me to give the speech, but knew in that condition I couldn’t work from notecards behind a podium on a stage. So, I started the speech with a lame comment and walked off the stage and gave the speech from the auditorium floor, pacing the entire time. I didn’t use notecards and just made some bullet points and wrote a few jokes. I’ve always had the ability to just wing it when public speaking.

After the speech, one person complimented me, saying: “I liked how you came down to talk to the kids and walked around. And the fact you memorized that speech! Very impressive!”

Was it impressive or was it a con? My mind at the time told me I was conning the world and the only way I got away with it was with the numbing effects of alcohol and porn. Otherwise, I might have slipped up and screamed, “I’m completely full of shit everybody! Stop enabling me!”

I tracked down that speech online when writing this. Ironically, in the first five or six minutes, there is a lot of subtext to what I’m saying which sounds to me like I’m wrestling with imposter syndrome. There are so many references to it if you know what to look for. You can also count the number of times I drunkenly stumble over my words. I guess most people never caught on.

But I have to confess, even today, I find that pajama pants joke pretty funny.

If you’d like to see me fake my way through giving an “inspirational” speech, but knowing what was really going on, check this out:

 

 

A post-script to this example is that while I was giving this speech, my daughter was one town away, winning her middle school talent show. She was a bit of a wallflower, not participating in many activities and I have so much regret not being there to see it. My injured mind told me it was easier to fake being a successful professional in front of 3,000 than being a good father, blended into a small audience.

It was years of rehab, therapy, research, introspection, writing and very intentionally making different behavioral decisions that helped me move away from imposter syndrome. If you’d like to learn some practical techniques for overcoming it, check out the article that inspired this post at: Imposter Syndrome I wrote several more thoughts in their comments I haven’t shared here.

 

My Pornography Addiction was About Power and Control, Not Sex

I probably should have recognized this early in my recovery, but I’ve come to realize that my addiction to pornography was just an extension of who I was at the time: Somebody struggling greatly with a lack of power and control to the point I’d fool myself into believing I had both by almost any means necessary.

I recognize that this comes from the faulty survival skills I developed as a child when I was being babysat everyday by a woman who was mentally unstable. Looking back, I can now recognize the severe obsessive-compulsive disorder she had, along with a handful of other issues that led to an environment of multiple forms of abuse and one where I didn’t feel safe.

My outlook on life then, as it was for most of the next 30 years, was to simply survive to the next day. It didn’t matter how you got there, as long as you made it until tomorrow. Along the way, I developed a variety of coping and escape mechanisms. I’ve only recently realized that they were my ways of maintaining control.

I have been diagnosed with a detachment disorder. I think that developed, along with a lack of empathy, because it was easier to not care about things. Instead of being hurt, if I didn’t have any vested interest in most things or people, it wouldn’t have an effect on me when bad things happened. Detaching was control and control equaled power.

For several years in my late teens and early 20s, I had a daily marijuana habit. I can now see it was my way of taking control of my mind, emotions and thoughts. Yes, it was a dulling of the senses, but it was my choice. For the hours of the day I couldn’t control my natural reaction to things, there were those hours that I could check out – on my terms – with the marijuana.

The two constants for so long were alcohol and pornography. I think the alcohol was like a more socially acceptable form of marijuana at the time. Alcohol was my way of taking control and deadening my nerve endings temporarily so I didn’t have to feel.

When it comes to the pornography addiction, I believe that was more akin to the rest of the way I lived my life. I owned a business so nobody could boss me around. I was on the City Council because I wanted to decide what happened in my town. No matter the political or social issue, I’d be on Facebook advocating for my side and talking down to those who disagreed. I tried to create a world where I was in complete control, but the only person I fooled into thinking that was true was myself.

Pornography wasn’t about naked people doing sexy things so I could relieve myself. It was about controlling the people on the page of the magazine, in the videos, or the film clips on my computer screen. If they weren’t doing exactly what I wanted, I could just skip to the next picture or clip and eventually I’d find someone doing what I wanted. Since I couldn’t really control people in my real life (despite trying) I was able to use porn as surrogate.

When that stopped being enough, I made the transition to chat rooms. A lot of the time, things never even got sexual. I simply enjoyed steering the conversations and getting women to admit things they probably wouldn’t otherwise. If I couldn’t get the woman to acquiesce to my sexual requests, I’d get her to try on clothes, or rearrange furniture in her room…whatever I could do to gain power in my mind. Power equaled control.

I haven’t had much in the way of triggers or cravings with pornography in a long time and I was asking myself exactly what that was the other day. I was wondering if I reached a point of being “recovered” as you can read about in my most recent blog. I think that the relative ease that I am having being away from both porn and alcohol has to do with the fact that I don’t feel the need for power and control the way I once did.

I think my ordeal of getting arrested, going through the court system, spending six months in jail and being on probation for the past three years – not to mention the radical changes in my lifestyle and daily routines – have put me in a place where I know that there is just so much control I can exert over my life, and a lot of it is just out of my hands and none of my concern.

Truth is, I don’t care who the President is. I know they’re making decisions that may or may not affect my life, but whether I like it or not, I have no control, regardless of what I used to write in Facebook diatribes. My opinion about a border wall means nothing, so why fool myself into thinking it does? That’s a waste of energy I can use on healthier things. I can’t control who my daughter dates now that she is a legal adult and trying to force my will on her probably will do more harm than good. If my wife doesn’t cook me dinner, it’s up to me to get it for myself. I can’t control the people and happenings around me, especially when they don’t go the way I wish.

Those people who were depicted in the pornography I consumed were there because they were either making money or because they had deep-seeded issues…probably both. But they were not there with the sole intention of being used by me. That was a fantasy I concocted in my head.

Ironically, now that I’ve admitted my lack of control and power, I feel more in control and powerful than ever because it’s grounded in reality, not fantasy. And with reality, I don’t need the escape hatch of addiction to fool myself.