My Biggest Announcement: I’m Giving A TEDx Talk!

While I did let the cat out of the bag a little early on Friday afternoon on my LinkedIn page (which is why you should all follow me there, too — and don’t worry, you can’t follow me anywhere else because I’m not anywhere else), it is finally time to announce what I’ve been hinting at for a while on here.

I have been chosen as one of 8 people out of around 100 applicants to make a presentation at TEDxHartford in December! I’m finally giving a TED Talk!

I’m guessing you all know what TED Talks are, and when it comes to motivational/educational/ideas-based presentations, there is no other organization in the world with as much legitimacy and cache as TED. If you don’t know what a TED Talk is, just YouTube it.

When I make presentations in the past, be it at a library, church or civic group luncheon, I am usually specifically asked not to film, even in the most benign circumstances. We can discuss the pathology of someone not wanting to be seen in a room hearing a speech about pornography addiction and what fears that causes them, but it forces me to have scant little proof — aside from the medium of podcasts — that I’m a good speaker and can address and audience. Up until now, the best piece of film I had was when I gave the commencement address at my former high school in 2013. It doesn’t quite translate. Hopefully, having an actual 15-minute on-stage presentation will show those who may be interested in booking me for presentations that I can actually deliver.

If you’re near Hartford, I’m told tickets for a socially distanced event at either the Marriot or Hilton in downtown Hartford, Conn., will go on sale in the near future. If you can’t make it (and it’s 3.5 hours from where I live) it will be streamed live and the video will be put online a few days after. I will give you all that information when I get it.

A review of my book from Vincent Ehindero

There was the porn. Then the pandemic came, and it became the Porn Pandemic. And Pornography is the addiction nobody will talk about. But fortunately, there are few amazing people like Joshua Shea, who not only want to talk about it, but also want to tackle the issue from the roots and enlighten the present […]

Porn and The Pandemic – A book review. — Vincent Ehindero

20 Years Later, My Question is Answered

In February 2000, I left the world of daily newspaper after about six years, recognizing that the most I could ever hope for where I had been working was to be a staff writer. I began there the summer before my senior year of high school, but despite the fact I could go drinking with management, I knew they were never going to see me as anything other than a teenage kid who was a decent writer and had a good work ethic.

I found a job less than a mile from where I lived in downtown Portland, Maine, for a trade publication company that had just spun its feature-heavy magazine into a monthly newspaper to cover the hard news of the burgeoning tech sector in Northern New England. I got to cover the end of the dot-com boom and its bust. Looking back, people were throwing around terms like “angel investors,” “The New Economy” and “comprehensive high-tech solutions” without knowing what they were really talking about or how things would turn out. Many of those people were ahead of their time, but that was exactly their fatal flaw: they were too far ahead of the curve. I don’t think until 10 years later, when everybody was getting comfortable with social media, could most of those ideas worked. The theory of “If you build it, they will come” was flawed. People had no idea what they were supposed to arrive at, so they didn’t come. John Q. Public needed to get comfortable with the Internet and find a daily use for it before he could buy into more complex concepts, like streaming video. There were plenty of companies that should have been Netflix years before Netflix…they just weren’t at the right place at the right time.

Anyway, enough of a history lesson. I got the job as staff writer for their newspaper, which was essentially a four-person operation on the content creation side of things. There was the editor, John; a freelance writer who did a ton of work I never met, Patty; and a designer who worked for the owner’s marketing company business, Steve. When it became clear Steve had no idea what he was doing when it came to newspaper design, which was one of my skills, I was promoted to Assistant Editor, or Associate Editor, or something like that. Titles have never meant too much to me.

Essentially, it was just John and I in close quarters, tucked into one section of this very hip looking building the owner had that must have been worth millions. He was a lawyer, but also made a killing in real estate, has owned some restaurants, a marketing/PR firm, the publishing company and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out 100 other things. He pretty much left us alone as long as the sales guys turned a profit selling ads. Nobody bothered us and we were both good workers who knew what had to be done and to get it done, in a high-quality fashion, on deadline. We also knew how to work the angles with super-long lunches, covering for each other taking paid days off and understanding when happy hour was needed. That job really became a lifestyle and John was one of my closest friends for about five years.

He moved on from the company when the tech bust was so bad that it was impossible to keep the publication afloat. I had moved on to become editor of two of their other publications. Less than a year after he left, I moved out of Portland, got married and was starting a family. We drifted apart and probably exchanged emails four or five times in the last 15 years. I intentionally avoided him, like so many people, when I was publicly outed as a pornography addict and went into hiding for a long time.

I actually wrote about reconnect with John for the first time about seven months ago HERE. For some reason I called him Joe, but if you want deeper background, it’s there for you.

We got together for the first time since restaurants reopened this past weekend. I told him about my new book and he told me about trying to re-establish himself as a freelance writer. One of the things he reminded me of was a conversation that we had 20 years earlier that he said he’d had with a handful of people since where I asked aloud what the Internet was going to do to the next generation when it came to their standards of acceptable, normal sexuality. Keep in mind, in 2000, high speed Internet wasn’t everywhere yet, and if you needed to use the Internet, you went to an Internet cafe. It wasn’t like everywhere had wifi, because nobody had wifi yet.

Still, as somebody who was making the transition from more traditional mediums of pornography like magazines and videos to the computer, I recognized that this new ease of access for pornography was unlike anything I’d ever had growing up. You know how your grandfather walked to school uphill both ways in three feet of snow? Well I literally would ride my bike in the middle of a snowstorm as a 14-year-old to the video store that would rent porn to me. Would having had the kind of access to porn kids now have made me less of an addict, more, or the same? I’ll never be able to know that answer with 100% certainty, but based on the myriad of statistics, the question I posed to John 20 years ago has been answered: When you provided complete ease of access to something that society largely considers taboo, two things happen:

  1. More people than ever will access pornography with many developing problems in numbers that didn’t happen before that ease-of-access was available and,
  2. While it still will maintain a certain air of a taboo, attitudes toward pornography are far more liberal and far less stigmatizing than before.

I’ve talked a lot of about #1 on here and in my books, but I just scratched the surface of #2 and I think it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss. When societal norms change, for right or wrong, it’s really hard to go back. Just ask anybody who is a conservative and prefers “the good old days.” The reality of the world is, progress always wins the war, even when it may lose a battle now and then. But progress is not a objective concept and one person’s positive progress is another’s negative.

I feel like I explain OnlyFans to anybody I talk to about pornography who is over the age of 30, and there is no need to tell anybody about it who is under 30…they all know. Youth culture is always ahead of the rest of us, and now that’s true for pornography.

After this long discussion with John, I came home to find my 21-year-old daughter was spending the night because of electricity issues at her boyfriend’s house. We have a pretty wide open relationship and so I asked her how much she knew about OnlyFans. She laughed, like I’d just landed here in my time machine.

She has three friends, two of whom I remember from her high school days, now in the make-amateur-porn-in-your-spare-time-for-money game. Thankfully, my run-in with the law has made her (a very pretty young woman) adverse to trying anything like that — see, good things can come out of bad situations.

However, I like to think of myself as on top of things and she explained it more in-depth to me than I’ve ever been able to learn through any Internet research before, and this is just based on talking to a few of her friends, including those who dabbled and decided it wasn’t for them. But of those friends doing well, they’re making anywhere from $750 to $3,500 per month, depending on how much work they want to put into it.

She said one girl is very classy and shows next to nothing you wouldn’t see on the beach (she’s the one making good money) and the girl who does the dirtiest stuff makes the least. The psychology behind all of that is fascinating, but for a different time.

With the discussion John and I had, I mentioned how I had heard through my kids about a couple different “scandals” at their high school over the last six or seven years of guys and girls trading nude pictures of each other and then those pictures falling into the wrong hands…and then falling into everybody’s hands.

We talked about when he was in high school in the late 80s, or I was in high school in the mid-90s, simply having a picture of one of the pretty girls in a bikini would have been a big deal, but now, because of Instagram, every damn girl and guy in class can be seen half naked (or more) by the waves or poolside. It’s almost like there is something wrong with you if your body isn’t on display in the least amount of clothes allowed in public — and this is before you get the ones who may take it even a step further with some of their bedroom mirror selfies.

Now, it’s more of a rarity if you don’t know what a handful of people in your high school class look like because of leaked photos…but it’s also not all that shocking anymore.

No, a picture of a high school girl in a bikini is not porn. Technically, neither is a photo a boyfriend took of his genitals meant only for his girlfriend’s eyes that ends up in front of plenty of other eyes. But I also don’t know where the lines of pornography begin and end anymore, especially with the younger culture. They grew up on the Internet. They’ve seen graphic things that would have shocked me as a porn addict when I was 16, that are now just funny or weird.

We’re never going back to those days before the Internet was the center of most young people’s lives. I have my answer from 20 years ago. Now, what happens in the next 20 years, when these people start to have kids, as taboos continually fade…but as education about pornography addition starts to become slightly more mainstream?

I guess John and I will have to have lunch in 2040, and at that point. I’ll let you know.

I Did Something Very Stupid the Other Day

So, I’ve been feeling pretty good this week. The new book was released, I somehow navigated my daughter’s 21st birthday without too much fret that I was getting old, I’m just waiting for the green light to announce something else fairly major that I thought was coming this week and the weather has been standard Maine summer, which evokes a sense of positive nostalgia. Also, the hammock my kids got me for Father’s Day has really been a nice respite at the end of the day.

Several days ago, for the first time ever in my life, I was offered edibles — marijuana-laced foodstuffs. It has been preached to me to try smoking a little to see if it helps with anxiety issues, but with my wife working in a respiratory therapist’s office, she’s taught me to be smarter than to ever put any burning substance into my mouth and ingest it into my lungs. Weed smokers — I know you like to preach that it’s more organic than cigarettes, and it is, but it is never healthy to have any kind of smoke in your lungs. Are you familiar with how they smoke meat? Your lungs are meat.

Anyway, through a third party, I was given a small tub of cotton candy and a chocolate bar. While my anxiety isn’t kicking my ass right now — it oddly hasn’t been since the start of the pandemic — I wondered if this might be the answer instead of the Ativan, which has some side effects.

I asked a friend who I know is a marijuana guy how many milligrams I should ingest. He said he didn’t know. He liked smoking because there was a fine line of edibles not working and of sending him into a deep high he didn’t like.

Like a geek, I looked at the Internet and it said that the first time user should go for 10-15 milligrams and appreciate that everybody’s metabolism is different. Some need more, some need less. Some hits fast, some takes forever.

My body is not predictable with chemicals. I don’t know if it has to do with the bipolar disorder or if I’m just a rare bird. I have no medical data to back this up, but I believe when I was 17 and had a nasty, extended case of mono that my body’s chemistry changed. Maybe it was coupled with the end of puberty, but I came out of it different than I went in. Suddenly things like codeine or Nyquil had a stimulant effect, yet to this day, there are also sedatives that my doctors have laughed about because they give me the dosage they start a 90-pound, 80-year-old person on and it knocks me out for two days. Morphine does nothing for me and I’ve had three hydrocortisone shots that have done the exact opposite of what they are intended. Anytime I try new medicine, I never know what’s going to happen.

I also wonder if the mono could have somehow triggered or aided the bipolar in developing because it was immediately after I recovered that I started having the kind of manic and depressive swings that marked the next eight or nine years. Whatever it was, my drinking increased a bit post-mono, but I discovered marijuana and for the first time in my life, I started feeling OK.

I’m not going to bore you with long stories of my extended adolescence/early adulthood. I don’t find them interesting either. Suffice to say, for three years, I smoked marijuana at least five days a week, usually seven. Much like the way I enjoyed drinking alone, I was not a social smoker. I did it on my own in a safe place. While it numbed me to the point of what most people call stoned, I tried not to overdo it. I just wanted to feel nothing.

But, feeling nothing isn’t an exact science and there were times the marijuana was either too strong or I didn’t pace myself. In my spectrum of intoxication, be it alcohol, marijuana, or one of the other substances I may have experimented with in my youth, I realized that I have different stages. The final stage, overdose/poisioning, happened a couple times but I don’t really tell those war stories anymore. The stage before that is being out of control. I can’t control my thoughts, my mouth, my actions. This is when I always knew to be in a safe place, just ride it out and not interact with people. Prior to that stage is very intoxicated, and then it winds down.

I don’t know if I was addicted to marijuana in those three years, but I quit one day, cold turkey, without even thinking about it. It was the week after I was put on anti-depressants and other anti-psychotic meds (I love the name…so dramatic) for the first time. I didn’t need the weed anymore so I stopped. The co-pay on the pills was much lower and it was still technically illegal at the time. (When I think about it, between the invention of the Internet, legalization of gay marriage, legalization of marijuana and this Coronavirus…my world is really different than it was 30 years ago. History marches on, even if you don’t feel like you’re part of it.)

I briefly returned to smoking for a couple months at 25 when I dated the woman I saw immediately before I met my wife. This woman smoked for a lot of the same reasons I did prior to getting on meds. Now, the weed just made me tired and hungry. I didn’t need it anymore and didn’t like the sluggish feeling it left me with. Prior to us breaking up, she started in on meds and her smoking dropped a bunch, too.

That was probably 2000 or 2001. Over the next 10 years, I took a hit off a joint or pipe four or five times total. Over the last 10 years, I haven’t touched the stuff once. Marijuana hasn’t been part of my life over the last 20 years. There’s been plenty of drama…weed just hasn’t been a player.

So, the other day, I took what I figured to be around 5 milligrams of cotton candy around 4:30 p.m. I wasn’t feeling anything by 5:30, so I took another 5 milligrams. I still wasn’t feeling anything at 6, so I broke off a piece of the candy bar, which I thought was 10, but turned out to be 25 upon inspection the next day. At 7 p.m. I was still not feeling anything, so I took another 5 milligrams of cotton candy.

And then around 7:30, it all hit. In my typical obsessive fashion, instead of taking the 10 to 15 milligrams and being patient, I had to keep adding on until I felt something. By the time I did, I was 40 milligrams in.

My wife knew that I was doing this and even she thought once 7 p.m. rolled around that my body had just changed and the THC wasn’t going to hit me. I was alone watching TV in our bedroom when it did because I just don’t like the Survivor binging kick my wife and son have been on since the pandemic started. I texted her to come in the bedroom and was completely honest, telling her that the sense of intoxication was coming on strong and that I may have gone too far with it, like my friend had warned.

When she came in the bedroom and I started trying to talk to her, I was immediately back at that place of being a 20-year-old kid, holed up in my room in my apartment, unable to put together a real sentence because my thoughts wandered between the start of the sentence and the finish. I felt nothing but shame. This was the bad kind of nostalgia.

Within this moment, there was the recognition that at 22, I never would have told anybody what was happening. The fact I could tell my wife open and honestly without fear is actually a big step. Shame forced me to hide so much in my earlier days. At least with my wife, I clearly was beyond that.

My son went to bed early since he now has a job that kicks his ass he has to be at first thing in the morning. Around 9:30 p.m., my wife needed to go to bed, so I went to the living room and continued watching Everybody Loves Raymond.

I next entered the phase of false enlightenment, when I start to understand the subtext of everything — even if it isn’t there. It usually starts as something stupid, such as recognizing that in Everybody Loves Raymond, the character of Debra is the surrogate for the audience watching, not Raymond. Or, that Michael Scott only plays dumb on The Office and he’s the smartest person there. You know…totally deep stuff. This also comes with a sense of shame because I know come the next day, I won’t find any of this stuff especially interesting, and am embarrassed I do in the moment because I know I shouldn’t be high to begin with.

After that comes the creativity. This surprised me. I spent the next two hours writing a series of disjointed paragraphs that could serve as openings to chapters from a couple different recovery books. I was thinking to myself, “Maybe it’s good I did this because I don’t have the next great idea yet and this is helping me!” But, the next morning I read over this stuff. While it wasn’t incorrect, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Reading it that next morning made me feel like an idiot because I know in the moment I’m writing it, I feel like a Pulitzer Prize, and perhaps even a Nobel Prize, is coming from my fingertips onto the page.

This entire time, though, there were introspective waves of regret for trying the edibles, knowing from the beginning there couldn’t be a happy ending. Sometimes the introspection was about all the mistakes I’ve made in life and others it was about how grateful I am to have what I have despite all of my bad choices and poor treatment of people along the way. I tapped into something in my mind that I hadn’t experienced since I was an addict more than six years ago. It was a level of self-loathing and regret I thought was behind me. I also had lots of jarred memories of being high when I was younger and what my mindset was then, a cross-section of naive optimism and a sense my future was doomed. Introspective waves are the toughest to go through when I’m in this condition. They are what make me feel completely out of control.

Then, it’s just a matter of being tired. This hit me hard around 1 a.m. as the effects of the edibles turned the corner and started easing off. I went to bed about 1:30 a.m., slept like crap and had a headache and dry mouth most of the next day. I also threw away the rest of the edibles. It was an experiment and a big part of me is glad it didn’t work because I don’t want to become a marijuana guy. I know every other person has their dispensary card and perhaps they can handle it better than me, but since kicking alcohol and porn, I don’t need something to extract me from real life. I prefer real life now.

This experience also reminded me that I’m getting older, my body isn’t what it once was, and there isn’t any need for me to seek any kind of medicinal relief because I have it under control. My issues with addiction were always about control and I don’t know if my marijuana use in my early 20s had anything to do with it, since I don’t think I was actually addicted, but with the lack of control it made me feel, I recognized that security is more important to me now than ever and the criteria for making choices as a 44-year-old in recovery is very different than the criteria of a 20-year-old guy who is just trying to navigate early adulthood.

The experience sucked, the lessons I learned were ones I probably already knew, but needed reinforced. It was stupid, but it could have been so much worse.

Remember kids, Just Say No.