The Grateful Eight: New Plague Edition

If you’re keeping score at home, this is only four days late. I was actually working on a long entry about how my tattoos served as a better diary for my life than anything I’ve written. Then, we got a much bigger storm that the meteorologists predicted, leaving us with eight inches of thick wet snow and a just-long-enough power outage to lose what I was writing. Usually if the computer crashes, it saves it, but for some reason, not this time.

Oh well. I used to get upset about that kind of stuff, but now I look at writing as something that just clears my head and passes the time even if nobody ever sees it. Losing a few hours of writing is a lot better than losing a few hours waiting in line outside of Wal-Mart. The one near my house, which winds around the building and back and forth reminds me of lines at Disney World. Except once you get in, it’s not a leisurely boat ride while dolls built in 1962 sing to you. If it were, I’d shop at Wal-Mart a lot more.

Anyway, eight things I’m grateful about:

  1. Equalizers – There are very few things in this world that can put rich and poor, conservatives and liberals, all races, religions, sexual orientations and all of those other little markers that we use to divide us together. Ironically, they’re the same things that they were back during the Spanish Flu: Weather and Disease. I don’t think it’s a horrible thing that once every hundred years that Mother Screen Shot 2020-04-12 at 12.00.55 PMNature reminds us that we’re not all that different. I have no confidence this will bring us together closer as people once it’s over – it’d have to go on a few years for that kind of solidarity – but seeing people who are used to having things their way not be able to manipulate the situation shows people’s true colors.
  2. Daily Press Conferences – To piggy-back off number one, I neither hate nor love Donald Trump and I don’t blame him for the virus hitting America or the “preparedness” of the government in the beginning. No world government was prepared for this. That said, watching him lose his shit when somebody asks him a perfectly reasonable question during his daily press briefings is entertaining as all hell. Watching him say things he doesn’t want to say because he has to admit he can’t control things is entertaining and watching him go off script as one of the world’s most awkward improvisers is even more entertaining. He’s proven, as a person, not to be a good leader during a time of crisis, but at least he’s not boring.
  3. Experimental aircraft – Anything that takes out John Denver is good in my book.Screen Shot 2020-04-12 at 12.02.59 PM
  4. Tiger King – My daughter and I polished off this Netflix show in two days earlier this week. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should. I’m not a fan of shows with 101 twists, but I think it’s because they are fiction and therefore unrealistic. Every twist in this documentary seems plausible. You’ll also start to understand all the Carole Baskin jokes that now exist.
  5. Home at Easter – I’ve been in rehab at Easter and I’ve been in jail at Easter. Home is better.
  6. FaceTime – My parents, thankfully, are taking this pandemic seriously, even though there are relatively few cases in Maine compared to the rest of the country, although, if you look at New York City and Boston, it is making its way up Interstate 95. My wife, son and I just got a FaceTime call from parents, who are only about two miles away. I’ve seen them in their driveway a couple times as my wife sends cookies and other treats over, but I respect them watching out for themselves, even if it puts my inheritance off a few more years. I’ve got to think the Spanish Flu might have ended quicker had they been able to use FaceTime.
  7. Los Angeles – I mentioned I’m home at Easter, but ironically, without the pandemic, I wasn’t going to be. My son and I would be in the middle of a trip to California. We had a couple of fun activities planned. Today was going to be deep Screen Shot 2020-04-12 at 12.04.35 PMsea fishing and Tony Overbay and I were planning on recording an audio version of our book. That project is still on hold unfortunately. If you’ve never been to LA, you really should check it out. I wouldn’t want to live in any other major city in the world at this point other than LA. The weather is great, the ocean is nearby and there’s enough food and culturally options to satisfy any diverse household. Where I live now, the dining and culture options are minimal. I think that’s why the pandemic is that big a deal to my outside life. There wasn’t much here to begin with. I drop hints about us moving to the West Coast all the time, especially since it would be nice to live near my brother, but until I get said inheritance, I just don’t see it happening.
  8. Time for My Own Projects – My clients are starting to pull back on the work they need done. I have a feeling that’s going to happen for a while. I’ve been looking at different unemployment insurance options both as a freelancer and as a “small company” but there’s really not much money out there for me. I’m trying to get excited to have time over the next month or two that I can focus on new projects I’ve been wanting to work on. I think I have to pull myself off caffeine so I can start feeling “up” for anything. Or I need to stop enjoying the smell of hand sanitizer so much. It’s killing brain cells. In reality, I need to get serious about finding new clients once this is all over. I’ve been coasting with the few I have. It’s a nice wake-up call.

 

Your turn. In the midst of the new plague, what are you grateful for?

Stringing Sentences Together When You Don’t Know What Else To Do

I’ve tried to write this multiple times. In fact, I’ve written the phrase “I’ve tried to write this multiple times” multiple times. I’ve created lists of what I’ve wanted to say and tried small chunks. This is the first paragraph you’re reading but it’s probably the 30th paragraph I’ve written.

I don’t get writer’s block, and this doesn’t feel like writer’s block. It’s not apathy. It’s not melancholy.

I’ve gone back to the TV news and most print/online news blackout I put myself in immediately after recovery began. I don’t find myself getting overwhelmed, nor do I want to share all of my opinions like I once did on every subject.

Objectively, I understand that people get through things by talking about them, and the kind of people who feel the need to become pundits, columnists or online forum commentators use their opinion as a shield to get through things. I was that person. Still am, but to a much lesser degree. Unlike them, I realize now sharing my opinion has never been about changing your opinion…it’s about processing my own thoughts and looking for a feeling of control over a situation.

I once had 4,000 Facebook “friends.” I wrote the editorial for a newspaper that reached almost 20,000 people. I was regularly quoted and on television for things I did in my community reaching who knows how many. Now? Since I stopped posting every day on the blog part of my website, hits are way down. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of only 200 people who will read this in 2020…or even fewer in future years. That’s OK. I’m not writing it for you. I’m writing it for me. Most people who share their opinion don’t recognize it.

I would bet less than 1 in 1000 people will have their opinion of Donald Trump altered to the point it changes their vote in November over how he’s handled the COVID-19 crisis. It’s only going to strengthen what people already think. I’ve heard people carefully defend and brazenly attack that think line between being prepared and hoarding – and it has nothing to do with their politics. And of course, this has helped everybody recognize what’s really important… as long as it was already really important to them (and hopefully this is a wakeup call that it should be important to you and it turns out, I was right all along).

I guess what I’m noticing more than anything else is that I’m at a stage of irritability with people where normal isolation usually works. What happens when the extroverts are forced to become introverts? The introverts really have to go to their secret happy place.

My problem in trying to write this has been that I can’t tie everything together in a nice bow and give a great line of summation. As a journalist, I always prided myself on the endings of my stories. I thought they were more important than the beginning. Sure, 100% of your readers start the story and only 30% ever reach the end, but I think you have a duty to leave that 30% with a feeling of satisfaction and my ability to bring it all together and end on some kind of takeaway was honed over years of writing thousands of articles.

Just not today.

I Confirmed It: Porn Companies Doing Big Business, Recruitment During ‘Social Distancing’​

When Donald Trump went on TV that Wednesday night in early March as one of the last people to admit what many of us had come to recognize in the previous 72 hours – the Coronavirus was the real deal – one of my first thoughts went to how this was going to be the single greatest boon to the pornography industry since the invention of the Internet.

We’re still in it – probably not even at the halfway point – and it turns out, I was unfortunately correct.

As much as I detest PornHub, I’ve got to give them credit for the statistics they provide. Granted, they are not independently verified and sometimes they leave out crucial information (such as ignoring the fact “teen” is a popular search term in their annual report) but I think they are providing a unique window into what is happening.

In late February and into the first week of March, when the virus was really starting to get its grips on Europe and gaining attention in North America, PornHub’s average worldwide viewership was up only 1% to 2% compared to an average day. In the second week of March, when Americans decided toilet paper was the hottest commodity, average traffic rose to 4% to 7% higher than an average day.

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The worldwide numbers exploded on St. Patrick’s Day, rising to 11.6% and have steadily been on the rise, topping out at 18.5% above average daily traffic.

In a PR stunt a few weeks back, PornHub offered its “Premium Content” service to all residents of Italy, followed soon after by Spain and France. That cause a huge overnight spike in Italy, with average traffic up by 5.3% on March 11, but then skyrocketing to 57% above average on March 12. The number fell over the next week, but is still between 25% and 35% above average most days. When the offer was extended to France, their traffic jumped overnight from 5.7% to 38.2% and in Spain, the jump was 12.7% to 61.3%.

Perhaps most troubling is that as the pandemic became truly worldwide, Pornhub extended its free premium service to every person who can find an Internet connection on Earth. The short-term true effect of the extent of this stunt probably won’t be known until the company releases its next numbers. The long-term effect makes me cringe.

You can find data for nearly two dozen countries on their Insights Page. (No Porn Visible)

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While men from the United States are looking at PornHub about 10% more than the average day, women are watching 21% more. In Mexico, the 20% rise for men is dwarfed by the 34% rise of women watching and in hard-hit Italy, while viewership for men is up 24%, it’s up 36% for women. These kinds of statistics are the same in countries like the UK, France, Spain, Japan, Canada, and almost every other civilized country in the world.

I’m not shocked by this because it tends to support statistics that show women are one of the fastest growing segments of pornography addicts along with my theory that with the Internet allowing more anonymity, women are sampling porn in higher numbers than ever. If 100 women were looking at porn in Italy on a January day it became 136 in less than two months. That’s a substantial jump and while not all will stick with it after the crisis, some will, and some of them will become porn addicts.

While most people think PornHub is the biggest porn site in the world, it was actually ranked third as of late 2019 (yet still in the Top 10 of overall sites in the world.) The other two, which I won’t name here, have not tried to build a brand the way PornHub has, nor – to their credit – have offered any special deals to try and profit off of this worldwide self-imposed isolation.

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Speaking of isolation, I’ll be fascinated to see what website traffic looks like in the upcoming months for cam sites. These are the sites where a male, female or couples (the “models”) are on one end of the computer and customers willing to pay them for nudity and/or sex acts sit on the other end. They usually come with a chat interface and an option for taking the models into a private room where only one customer, paying a premium, gets to interact with the models one-on-one, a virtual “private dance” of sorts. Of course, giving these bonus sessions away during a flood of traffic is a great way to get people hooked long after the virus is gone. It’s just drug-dealing 101. Get them hooked for free now and they’ll pay for it later.

While I’m sure that these sites are seeing double-digits increases in traffic, I’m more interested in finding out how many women joined their ranks. Think about it: We have the highest unemployment claims in American history by more than 500% and many service industry employees are wondering where their next paycheck is coming from. While I’m sure it’s not a huge leap for a stripper to make the transition, I have a feeling there are likely a lot of women (and a smaller percentage of men and couples) who either have, or will, make the decision that getting naked and/or getting sexual on their webcam for what they hope are only strangers will help make ends meet. I worry these people have no idea about this online culture nor the long-lasting effects of what making this decision will cause.

Understanding this, PornHub has again flexed its PR muscle. Instead of offering its models around 50% to 60% of the money spent by customers in their chat rooms and on private videos, during the pandemic, PornHub has raised its commission to 85%. Brilliant recruiting? Giving back? Capitalizing on pain? I guess it depends on who you are in the equation.

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I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Periscope, a streaming video platform similar to that of Facebook Live where hundreds or thousands can watch a single stream at one time. Owned by Twitter, Periscope has been known for its decent moderators and strict rules concerning nudity and sexuality.

That seemed to disappear in the third week of March, according to many users. Now, alongside people hosting cooking shows, exercise sessions and simply looking for company on the ride to work, there are plenty of nude models, people having sex and other explicit, sometimes illegal, material.

Did Periscope sent all its moderators home because of the Coronavirus? I tried to find some kind of confirmation of this online, but came up empty. It seems to me that the easiest job to do from home would be a moderator of an online chat site, right? Why would anything be different?

Of course, suspending monitoring of the rules will bring a lot of new eyes, and a lot of new streamers, to their site. Under normal circumstances, a website that goes from PG- to X-rated overnight owned by a media powerhouse like Twitter would get a lot of attention…but not so much during the modern plague. The media and those in power who would use this kind of news for views and attention have bigger fish to fry, so Periscope can fly under the radar.

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I’m sure there are plenty of other instances of companies that either peddle pornography or have found a way to use pornography to their advantage during the Coronavirus crisis. If you happen to see any, please let me know as I’d like to keep track.

Yes, I believe it’s more important to stay safe and keep your family safe in this confusing, scary time, but I also believe it’s important to not develop new routines and habits that may not be easy to break after this crisis has gone away.

Ironically, I often preach against filtering software as a false sense of power a parent has over their child’s use of pornography. But, we’re living in a temporary world where they don’t have easy access to their friends’ laptops or smartphones. You can actually lock porn down as long as we remain locked down. Now, more than ever, that may be the smartest move.

Prepare for a Post-COVID Explosion of Porn Addicts and An Idea to Keep From Going Stir Crazy

Note: I posted this on LinkedIn this morning, but I think it makes sense here, too.

The saying goes that idle hands are the devil’s plaything, and I think that’s never been more literally true. There are a lot of men and women in this world whose COVID-19 idle hands are likely turning them to online pornography. Not all will end up as addicts, but some probably will who never would have otherwise.

In a world where PornHub is offering premium access to Italian residents in a quarantine PR stunt and other sites are bracing for record-shattering traffic, I fear that porn addiction statistics are going to skyrocket during this worldwide pandemic.

In a normal scenario, I think most of us preach the opposite of social isolation to those seeking recovery from pornography addiction. Now, we’re encouraging everybody to embrace the aloneness.

I only did 12-Step groups for most of that first year of recovery, but they were crucial, as were weekly face-to-face appointments with my therapist and another weekly support group I participated in. Had they all been cancelled, and I was left alone, I don’t think I would have had the strength to abstain that first year, or maybe two.

I think about all of those men and women who have tried to kick the addiction on their own to this point. Many of them are stuck white-knuckling it through their seemingly endless days and even longer nights.

I’m worried about those who will never see the addiction coming. I’m worried about women who think porn addiction only happens to guys or older people who think it’s a younger person’s problem. I worry about people who have told themselves they use porn “recreationally” and didn’t have a problem who now are utilizing it two, three or four times more than usual. I’m worried about younger guys and gals who have never looked at online porn regularly who now find themselves discovering just how deep and dark the world gets and I’m worried about those who are addicted and are escalating the extreme nature of the content they are looking at because nothing else in the closed-for-business world can tweak their pleasure centers.

And the answer is… we have no perfect answers. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name, whether you fancy yourself a pornography addiction expert or not, whether you’ve been an addict or not, or which spiritual building/book/deity you prefer. We’ve never seen a global health crisis in the age of the Internet, nor in a world where porn is so pervasive.

A few days ago, I put out a message on LinkedIn letting people know if they wanted a non Covid-19 person their podcast, I could talk porn addiction, and I was expecting one or two reactions. I’m booked on four shows and did two over the weekend. We actually talked a lot about being stuck at home and the lure of pornography.

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I came up with one potential solution that everybody who feels like they’re on house arrest can utilize. It once helped me. Maybe it can help you in the coming days when it feels like the walls are closing in on you.

For those who don’t know, I once did six months in county jail. With few people to talk to and my safety never an issue, it only took a couple of weeks before I was going stir crazy. The key to keeping my shit together was routine, scheduling and knowing what was coming next.

I always knew the next 2-3 things I was going to do, whether they would take 15 minutes (doing a Sudoku puzzle) or 2 hours (watching another insipid superhero movie on FX or USA). I knew what I was going to do after that, and after that. It allowed me to create the illusion that I was always busy, had a full schedule and always had something else to do.

My activities were reading the newspaper, writing letters, cleaning the pod, reading books, doing Sudoku, doing crossword puzzles, talking on the phone, exercising, showering, writing books, napping, reading the newspaper, playing cards, talking to people and watching TV. I’m sure there were other things I did and don’t remember, but I always had a basic structure for my day, even if the specific tasks weren’t always the same. Sticking to a schedule and having a plan for my day allowed me to have some of the normalcy of my busy life in the outside world and I think maintaining that structure allowed me to reintegrate much easier than I expected.

If you’re an addict, partner of an addict or help addicts and need to talk, I’m here, by email, telephone or video call. If you’re looking for something to read, I’ve got a ton of blog entries on this website and my books are on Amazon. If you’re looking for resources, this site can help, or I can help you find what you need as well. And if you need a podcast guest, my headphones are always ready.

I have no magical answers. Nobody does. But when you think about, we don’t even in the best times either. We just pretend we don’t need each other as much, so maybe that’s a lesson we can take from this weird era in history we’re living through. We need each other so much more than we admit or recognize.

I Totally Forgot My Anniversary of Sobriety…Maybe That’s a Good Thing

I’m writing this the evening of March 22, 2016. March 20, which is the anniversary of the last time I used pornography (six years and two days ago) and I didn’t realize it. In past years, it’s something I’ve seen coming and celebrate. I know we’ve got a worldwide plague going on, but I don’t know how much that really distracted me this year.

The truth is, I don’t feel any more special than I did on years 4 or 5. I expect to feel the same on year 7, with 100% assumption I’ll get there. Sure, I’m proud of myself, but it’s my new normal. It’s not even my new normal. it’s just my normal. I don’t know if my normal state of being is what is to be praised or if failing my normal state of being is now the bigger story, should it ever happen. I don’t think about the fact on April 1, it will be 6 years since I’ve had a drink because I just don’t drink anymore, much like I don’t about how on April 15 it’ll be 28 years since I got my driver’s license. I’ll only think about how long I’ve been driving when I crash the car.

I think the celebration of milestones is a little piece of what drove me from the 12-step groups. You get chips/coins for certain amounts of days, months or years that you’re sober, like little trophies. Since a pathological need for trophies was part of my sick former life, and I operate better without them now, highlighting moments that I feel should be part of the process seems wrong in my situation. If you feel better about a coin that says you didn’t use in a certain amount of time, please, take one. I just don’t want it.

I have two coins that mean something to me and I got each upon graduating from my two inpatient rehabs, respectively. I see them about once a year when I clean out my desk drawer.

I guess by mentioning the milestone of two days ago, it does still mean something to me, but more than that, I want anybody reading who is short of six years or has absolutely no time behind them to realize that you can get here. If I, who was a porn addict, alcoholic, horrible husband, father and son, self-centered narcissist and egotist who thought you were only put on this earth to serve my needs can change 180 degrees, so can you.

Early recovery is a bitch, but it does get easier. Yes, your life will change. Yes, many of the people around you will change. But those are good, necessary things. I’ve still not met a truly recovered person who is not far happier than when they were using. After a while, you even stop romanticizing the “good times” and see them as what they were, the “sick times.”

We’re in a weird time right now, and I worry about former addicts falling back into old roles and those in early recovery tossing in the towel. If there was any time to say, “screw it” one could make the argument it’s now, but those of us deep into recovery can testify there is no time to say “screw it” ever. Especially if you’re a sex addict. Heh heh heh. We have nothing if we don’t have laughter.

So yeah, six years. Yay me. Go wash your hands.