Goodbye, Carla

Last night I needed to find an old photo, so I briefly reactivated my personal Facebook account to track it down. I only have about 15 people as “friends” and they are all from my rehab days. I haven’t talked to any of them in at least three years. One, a young woman who was in the eating disorder program, wrote that another (who I’ll call Carla), died late last week of a heart attack. While the odds seem to have favored someone going sooner, this is the first person I knew from rehab who has been confirmed dead.

Carla wasn’t well when I knew her. Probably around 30, she mostly kept to herself and in the morning meeting where everybody at the rehab has to say a couple of things, she never seemed comfortable. Even those who don’t like public speaking eventually got comfortable around the group of 30. She arrived sometime before I got there, was there for the entire 7 weeks I attended, and remained after I left. I have no idea how long her stay was, but based on talking to some of the other women in the eating disorder program, it sounded like Carla had among the most severe trauma and her mental health was not solid.

The place where Carla and I bonded was before breakfast. She and her only friend (who wrote the Facebook entry) were the first two up in the morning, along with me. The dining room didn’t open until 6:30, so it would usually be the three of us sitting around in a common room adjacent from around 6:15 to 6:30. The two of them would sneak out and go for a walk at 5:45 a.m. to burn calories. Apparently it was a no-no, but I didn’t subscribe to the “rat out your peers” theory until jail.

The women in the eating disorder program had to wait until 6:45 to eat breakfast, when they could be coached on what they chose to eat and then made sure to eat by a monitor. I’m not a big breakfast guy, so some days I’d remain sitting there and in those 15-30 minutes, I got to know Carla probably better than any other person, except her one other friend, and I still feel like I didn’t really know her.

She wore the same ratty, oversized sweater every day. One of the first mornings I was there when she came in from her walk, she sat down and said, “You probably wonder why I wear this every day.”

“It means something special to you, reminds you of someone, makes you feel safe, hides your body or some combination I’d guess,” I said. “Whatever makes you feel good is good with me. You don’t have to explain anything.”

I think that was the initial bonding moment. Later that morning, she told the entire group she didn’t want anyone asking her why she wore that sweater every day because if they didn’t get it, she didn’t want to explain. And then she smiled at me.

We also found that we shared a mutual disdain for the phrase, “How are you?” as a greeting. Sure, it’s just something we say, but it’s not something an unhealthy person wants to hear. We know the person asking doesn’t care and doesn’t want the truth if it’s not “good” so they can move onto the next thing.

Carla and I decided to stop saying that to each other. We thought a more appropriate greeting was, “I see you there” because that’s all “How are you?” means to most people.

I think I was the only male, and certainly the only one in the sex/porn program that she spoke to with any regularity. My guess would be that there was some kind of sexual assault in her past that made her scared of men and sex, but as she slowly heard my story she asked a few questions. Nothing too prying, but I think it was part of her trying to process her own demons.

While we both had alcoholism issues in the past, neither of us were there for that kind of treatment. We often talked about how that was a more clear-cut disease to fight. The goal is to stop drinking. With both porn/sex addiction and eating disorders, the goal is to find a healthy balance. Yes, I needed to stop looking at porn, but I also needed to develop the healthy sexuality that eluded me in life to that point. She needed to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with food.

You can’t stop having a sexual identity and you can’t stop eating if you’re going to be in recovery. These kinds of recovery are very individualized because what is one person’s demon doesn’t bother the person next to them. Healthy eating, or sexuality, can look very different to two people who have the same problem.

I never had any illusion we’d stay in touch after rehab. I talked to her friend a couple times after we were both out and she told me Carla wasn’t doing well, but I even lost track of that woman pretty quickly. It surprised me when I read her announcement of Carla’s death on Facebook, but it didn’t shock me that Carla didn’t make it to old age. It still shocks me more when an addict does. Goodbye, Carla.

 

Don’t Blame Me, Blame the One Who Gave Me the Blogging Award

As some of you who are very old to this site know, I generally am not very gracious with the fake awards, and never post anything about them. Part of that is because awards were like catnip to me in my old life, if I were a giant feline. Too easy to go for the Are You Being Served?-style pussy joke right there. But, it’s the weekend and I’m avoiding my real work, and nothing immediately springs to mind to write about, so my new rule is that I do one of these per year.

And I mean no disrespect calling it a fake award. It’s just that, at their core, all awards are subjectively fake, or at least I have to tell myself that to keep my walls free of them.

I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by Food.For.Thoughts, which is one of my favorite blogs. The award is designed as:

“The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award of recognition given to bloggers from fellow bloggers. It recognizes those who are creative, positive, and inspiring. It celebrates people who spread sunshine.”

Yup, that’s me.

So, I’m supposed to nominate a bunch of people and ask them questions, but I choose not to do that. Two or three weeks ago, I posted a list of a bunch of smaller bloggers (in terms of followers, not their actual BMI) I like, and you can see that list HERE.

Then I’m supposed to answer some questions so you can all get to know the deeper me:

  1. What is the best advice you’ve ever heard?

I bet this is a question that doesn’t get asked a lot in the deaf blogging community. Most advice are clichés, like “It’s nice to be important, but important to be nice” but they’re true. It’s hard for me to point to one nugget and say that’s the one. I guess “Don’t do it for the money” because that’s never been a priority in my life and as you read HERE, I’m still struggling with the concept.

  1. What is a lie you tell frequently/with ease?

Many of my freelance writing/ghostwriting clients know nothing about my addictions, crime or recovery. I worry what they would say and if they’d dump me. So, I use an assumed name in all of our dealings. And no, I won’t tell you that name, even if you’re currently working with me and don’t realize it.

  1. Do you have a blogging routine? If so, enlighten us.

I either write my blog first thing in the morning and wait for between 10 a.m. and noon to publish it, eastern time, or I write it the night before and schedule it if I know I have a lot to do the next day. Either way, serving you is my priority.

  1. What is one thing you really want to do/accomplish?

I only need to go to Colorado, Utah and Alaska and then I’ll have been to all 50 states. I need to get that done before I die because it would be a cool line in my obituary. “Former city counselor, magazine publisher, film festival founder, professional wrestler, ex-con and 50 states visitor — you see George, you really did have a wonderful life.”

  1. What is your biggest pet peeve?

When my dogs bark at the door, but won’t come in. My biggest human peeve is when people are late. It’s just as easy to be early or on-time as it is to be late. I think it’s one of the most disrespectful things you can do. The next closest is willfully embracing ignorance. The next is being susceptible to the placebo effect.

  1. Do you have a ‘pick me up’ song?

Depends what I’m doing. On long road trips, I like peppy 80s music. Best of the Go-Gos is a staple on that playlist. When I’m doing yard work like raking or shoveling snow, I listen to 90s gangsta rap. I don’t listen to music when I work anymore because it distracts me too much.

  1. What do you like the most about blogging?

I think it’s the best way for me to follow my passion of educating about porn addiction. As a professional writer who doesn’t run a newspaper or magazine anymore, where I could write about whatever I wanted and ensure thousands of readers saw it, this is as close as I can get to sharing my thoughts with an audience I couldn’t otherwise reach.

  1. Which household chore are you most likely to skip?

Cleaning the garage. It’s been like four years and aside from my mostly clean house, it looks like an episode of Hoarders in there. Speaking of which, has anybody seen my cat lately?

  1. Which event from history is most fascinating to you?

I wish I could go back and record the Big Bang to shut a lot of deniers up, although these days, even photographic, scientific proof doesn’t stop a lot of people from believing what they want. I’d also like to see what really happened the week of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, maybe pick up a T-shirt. That week set off waves that, believer or not, we’re all still feeling today. Not many weeks in history that are over 2,000 years old can claim that. It would be interesting to observe what really happened, even if I’m not religious.

  1. Are you superstitious? If so, what do you do or believe?

No. Much like religion, I think we codify things we can’t explain to make them more palatable. I’m perfectly OK walking under a ladder or believing there is no afterlife. I’m not an atheist, I’m just a realist and don’t sweat too many questions I know mankind will never be able to answer. And I’m cool with anybody believing what they want as long as they don’t pick a fight, try to make me join their team, or shame/pass judgment on others. Although I may have problems hiding my smirk when you tell me about the benefits of essential oils and reiki.

  1. What made you happy today?

There are so many awesome wiseass answers to this that sprang into my brain. I don’t really shoot for happy anymore. I shoot for contentment and thus far, I’m there today because nothing bad has happened yet.

Much like seeing the doctor, that wasn’t as painful as I thought and much like seeing the doctor, I don’t plan on being back here for another year. Don’t forget to set your clocks back if you’re in the United States. Set ’em back anyway no matter where else you live.

 

 

The term ‘Gaslighting’ Comes From a 1944 Best Picture Nominee, And I Can See Why

It’s been somewhat of an every-few-years tradition of mine to listen to War of the Worlds on Halloween night, ever since I stumbled upon it on the radio when I came back from an eighth-grade party where I kissed a girl for the first time. BTW, the mass hysteria we all have been retroactively led to believe happened that night, didn’t actually take place. The original broadcast of War of the Worlds, I mean. Not me kissing a girl. Although it was a phenomenon rarely duplicated in the next few years.  The War of the Worlds “hysteria” is a fascinating story, but you know how to use the Internet and I’m not wasting space here. Instead, for the first time, I watched a nominee for the 1944 Best Picture Oscar (based on a 1938 British play and remake of a 1940 British movie) that is probably better known for creating a key piece of the Addiction/Recovery/Betrayal Trauma lexicon: Gaslight.

Starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, it’s quite a far-fetched story, even for early cinema standards, and I’m not talking about the actual gaslighting that takes place. Any plot that involves assuming another person’s identity and jewel thieves automatically goes into the “ya, sure, whatever” category for me. That must be why I don’t like Nicholas Cage films.

The psychological part of the movie, however, is very well done, and it is indeed the place that we get the term “gaslighting” from. Boyer hatches a plan to make his wife, Bergman, think she’s going crazy, hoping it eventually results in eventual financial gain. He does this slowly by setting her up to believe she’s a kleptomaniac when in fact, he’s taking things and planting them on her. For good measure, he also deliberately dims the gas in the lights in their house. He insists he never touches them and claims they are always the same brightness, yet they get darker, night-by-night, contributing to Bergman’s self-doubt and belief she is losing her mind. Finally, Boyer flirts with the maid (played by Angela Lansbury, about 300 years before Murder She Wrote) in front of Bergman. Lansbury develops a bit of a disdain for Bergman because she reciprocates the flirting, but when Bergman brings it up to her husband, he again tells her that it’s all in her head.

You’ve had 75 years to see the movie, so I’m going to slightly ruin it. In the end, the husband is tied to a chair by police and Bergman’s learned about his deception…however, he can’t stop. When the police briefly leave the scene, Boyer tells Bergman to untie him so they can escape and be free together. She comes to her senses and lets the police take him away.

While it’s the Hollywood ending the viewer wants and can somewhat see coming a mile away, real life often doesn’t end like that and the gaslighting takes place over may years, not months. It’s not just pornography or sex addiction either. If there’s an addict in your life, there’s a gaslighter in your life.

I heard of cases much more worse than me when I was in rehab and recovery, but I think that’s because I had my hand involved in so many different things I didn’t have to convince any single person of anything too ridiculous. I didn’t spend enough time with any one person for them to get too close to my addictions.

My wife – just like with every couple that has a male addict – was the biggest victim of my gaslighting. Most of the time, it was convincing her that I wasn’t nearly as drunk as I was and fully capable of driving.

Occasionally, she would say things like, “I guess you don’t like us anymore” or “Nobody has to work that much.” I didn’t like anybody, especially myself, at that point, which is why I wanted to be alone. And she was right about how much I worked, but it was the only place I felt like I was in control of my life until the end. I always convinced her she was wrong and acted offended she’d even bring up such things. I even surprised myself  how often I was successful. The last person to say “sorry” loses and I was never the last person. Like I said, not the worst gaslighting stories, but I certainly knew the drill.

Manipulating someone into believing they’re the crazy one, to the point it becomes second nature: Yep, that’s gaslighting and now you know where the term came from.

While none of the Q&As I sometimes post on the site are in the Top 10 most popular you can find on the right side, the one that I wrote a while back about gaslighting is by far the most popular and talks more about the nuts-and-bolts of what it is. If you’d like to take a look at it, click HERE.

The Mental Health Breakdown I Still Can’t Figure Out

The therapy I’ve done that involves understanding how events in my life are connected and the role they play with each other in my mental, emotional and even physical life has been invaluable, but there are still things that are anomalies. This is one such story that I still can’t completely figure out.

This takes place almost immediately after The Suicide Story, but I don’t think there’s any connection. It was the first or second week of 2014 and unbeknownst to me, I was only about 12 weeks away from being arrested and my life forever changing.

Despite the fact that my magazine was falling apart, my addictions were running rampant and I was heavily involved in coordinating the next version of the large film festival I helped create, I decided to take a course at the local college.

The offer was too good to pass up. I was essentially handed a scholarship to take the class and all I had to do was give a speech at a “Return to College” event that was held annually in the area. I’d never finished college – barely got started, actually – and did dream of one day finishing. I figured even if it was only one course, it would put me that much closer to getting a diploma at some point in the far future.

I had a tremendous amount of anxiety walking into that classroom for the first time. I’d quit college three times to that point, although it had been 15 years since my last attempt. I was now one of the older students I always felt bad for in a sea of 19- and 20-year-olds. I liked the idea that these people didn’t run in the same circles as me. I wouldn’t be the magazine guy or the city councilor. I’d just be the old guy (37, but still old comparatively) in class.

It was an ethics class, and after the instructor introduced the idea of ethics vs. morals, she opened things up for discussion. I remember sitting there aghast at the naivete of the students. I knew they were young, but they really had no clue how the world worked. Instead of speaking up, which is my natural reaction, I kept quiet, observing what was going on around me. Later on, we were put into the groups we would be working with toward a massive final project at the end of the semester. They seemed nice enough, but I still felt so out of place.

When the syllabus was handed out, I saw the presentation for projects was to be done the first night of the film festival. I was not going to miss that, but didn’t want to tell the teacher right away for fear I’d be given an ultimatum and she’d get pissy I didn’t pick her course.

The class met once a week and in the six days in between, I didn’t do any of the reading in our textbook. I could make excuses I didn’t have time, but if I had time to cruise chat rooms in the middle of the night, I had time to read a couple chapters about ethics.

The following week, I pulled up to the building, walked in and proceeded to walk right by the classroom. I couldn’t force myself inside. I walked to the end of the hall and sat in a chair in a lounge area to catch my breath. I psyched myself up to enter the room, got out of the chair, walked down that hall and…walked right by the classroom again, out the front door of the building and into my Jeep.

I couldn’t quite explain it, but the anxiety and fear I felt was overwhelming. I decided to go back to the office and try to forget about what happened. On my way to the office, I got nabbed for speeding. I’m not a speeder and in 30 years of driving have only been stopped one other time.

The officer came to the car, asked if I knew why he stopped me and I immediately burst into tears. He knew who I was and wasn’t expecting that response. Looking back, I think it really threw him. He asked what was wrong and I didn’t get into details, but just said my life was falling apart around me and all I could do was watch. I think it was the first time I’d said anything like that out loud to someone. He asked me to gather myself before I kept going and just to drive safely.

I didn’t do any of the reading that week either. I believe I sent the teacher a note with some BS excuse why I didn’t attend class.

I got myself ready for class the following week, spending a little extra time beforehand on the mental side of things. I was going to walk through that door, put last week behind me and become a contributing member of that class.

I couldn’t even get myself out the Jeep. I was sitting in the parking lot, crying as hard as I did when the cop stopped me a week earlier. I probably sat there for 20 minutes before deciding to call it a day and just head home. I didn’t have these outbursts other times during that time period. Just when the cop stopped me and when I was in the school parking lot. A few days later, I called the organization that awarded me the scholarship and told them that my schedule wouldn’t allow me to continue with class and offered to pay them back.

To this day, I still don’t know what happened there. I have a lot of theories:

  • Going back to school conjured up memories of never finishing
  • I was simply too scared to be in a room where I stuck out like a sore thumb
  • My schedule was too full and this was just an involuntary reaction – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back
  • I’ve always disliked school and felt vulnerable not being in control of the classroom the way I was in control with my professional endeavors at the time
  • I feared it would be all for naught if I wasn’t there to give my final project presentation – I’d fail
  • I had some sixth sense that my life was about to come crashing down – in reality I never would have finished the class after my arrest

Truthfully, I have no idea what happened here, but my reaction was way over-the-top considering the situation. Granted, I wasn’t healthy at the time, but I wasn’t having this reaction to everything happening in my life. I don’t know if I threw in the towel before I started, after that first week, when I couldn’t get through the classroom door of the second week or when I couldn’t even get out of the car in week three.

This incident still leaves me scratching my head. I don’t know that it would have any profound effect on my life today figuring it out, but it’s one of those things I’d still like to understand.

 

The Suicide Story

Major trigger warning on this one. I’ll be discussing suicide casually, perhaps too casually for many. You’ve been warned. And don’t commit suicide. Please don’t. Hopefully this story shows that it can be a misinterpretation of what’s happening around you. Don’t kill yourself.

 

I don’t remember where I first heard it; maybe it was on TV or at my doctor’s, or perhaps even my first therapist visit, but I took it seriously. The message was something to the effect of “we have totally confidentiality unless I feel that you’re a danger to yourself or others.”

The “others” part I understand. If my wife goes to see her doctor and says she’s going to murder me, I say please intervene. When it comes to myself, I can read through your state board of health mandated language: If I tell you I’m going to kill myself, you have to tell them to take me away.

Now to me, this is counterintuitive. If somebody actually is suicidal and you want them to tell you, you can’t first threaten them with involuntary hospitalization. The serious ones are going to keep their mouth shut.

I was always afraid to ask the question: “How far do suicidal thoughts have to go before they actually become dangerous?” I thought the men with the jackets would come and get me just for wondering that aloud.

I think since I was a kid I always wondered how I would kill myself if I was going to do it. Would I have the guts to hang myself or would I try something more passive like carbon monoxide poisoning? Could I slit my wrists or even in my last moments, would that pain be too much to handle and I’d just swallow a fistful of pills? It’s dark, but I figured everybody had those thoughts.

I can’t quite explain this, but when I was 19 years old, I went to Amsterdam and when I managed to pull myself away from the Red Light District, I visited the Van Gogh Museum. It instantly became my favorite museum on Earth. Something happened within me that just connected. Maybe it was that we shared red hair and a beard. Maybe it’s that we are both destined to never sell a painting while we’re alive. I can’t tell you what it was, but a feeling washed over me that told me like the great artist, my life would come to an end at my own hand at 37 years old.

This plagued me for a while. Suddenly, I was convinced I knew when I was going to die. I didn’t know how, but I knew that it was suicide. I brought up the “have you considered how you’d kill yourself?” question to a few people over the next decade and found that they have never asked themselves that question. I started to keep my mouth shut about it and never mentioned it to a health professional.

Wouldn’t you know, my personal and professional worlds started crashing not long after I turned 37 years old. I couldn’t figure a way to save my businesses or relationships with those around me. The addictions exploded. Bad memories came flooding back. It wasn’t a good scene. I was falling fast and nearly circling the drain.

On Christmas night 2013, about six weeks before I was to turn 38 on February 8, after everyone else had gone to bed, something washed over me. It was a feeling of calm warmth that I’d never felt before and it came with a message: Now is the time to kill yourself. There was no debating how to do it. No finding pen and paper to write a note. I knew it was time and it would be by hanging in my garage.

The only thought of worry was if the beam would hold me. I walked out to the garage and looked up the beam when I realized that both cars weren’t in our driveway. We’d only taken one car that day to my parents’ house for Christmas dinner. If I was going to hang myself in there, I’d have to move the car. If I did that, the garage door would need to be opened and the car moved. I’d have to then shut the garage door so nobody passing by saw me. All of that would have been too loud and woken up my wife and kids.

And then, like air shooting out of a balloon, that warm feeling left. I was cold, in the garage, in my pajamas. I knew how I got there, but I suddenly felt very removed from the out-of-body experience I just had. I didn’t want my kids to discover me and I didn’t want them to grow up feeling like they lost the DNA lottery because their dad couldn’t handle things. I left the garage and went back to the living room, scared that I was capable of having such a clear message to take my life. If that feeling is what people have before they commit suicide, I can see how it happens.

Thankfully I’ve never had that feeling again, in my last few weeks as a 37-year-old, or otherwise. Keep in mind, this was about 12 weeks before the police showed up at my door. Even during the entire legal ordeal, I never felt this way again and hope it never reappears. There was a calmness and finality to it that is scary in retrospect.

Fast-forward about two years to 2015 and I’m between the time I was arrested and sentenced, becoming mentally stronger every day, starting to understand how I became an addict, and learning how to live a life of recovery. I finally decided to share this story with my therapist because I wasn’t having any suicidal ideations, almost for the first time, in my life.

“I think you were about six weeks off predicting the end of your life,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You turned 38 on February 8. You were arrested March 20 and let’s be honest, that life, the sick life, came to an end. I don’t think you subconsciously planned anything, but it’s interesting that nearly 20 years ago, you knew something was going to happen when you were 37. You just got the fine details of timing a little wrong,” she explained.

I liked that conclusion and have adopted it. The rush that my life was going to end didn’t mean my physical life. It meant that the illness of addiction that was enveloping me came to an end. I have pictures and plenty of memorabilia from that other guy’s life, but I’m not that other guy anymore. He died, and every day, I make sure he remains dead.