I drove nearly 9,000 miles on my vacation last summer through places like Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Indianapolis and more, yet I will testify in any court of law that Boston has the worst traffic in the United States. It took me nearly an hour to drive four miles on a Saturday afternoon, without construction! So much for the Big Dig.
I shared a photo yesterday from the Osterville Village Library in Barnstable, Mass., where I took part in my second Human Library. The Human Library sprang out of Europe and is an event where people (dubbed “books”) who have a unique personal story to share gather at a traditional library and patrons take turns “checking out” these books, which really just means they spend 30 minutes in conversation with the person.
My book is unironically called “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About” and either goes in the direction of my personal story or how I believe porn addiction will be a national healthcare crisis by 2050 unless we take certain steps; I let the patron decide where to take the conversation. Other books included an African-American police officer, a rabbi in the U.S. military, an atheist, a person recovering from drug addiction, somebody who has been through the U.S. Immigration process, etc. It’s stated purpose is a chance for people to understand someone else who is nothing like them.
This event was far more successful than the first one I participated in at a New Hampshire library last year. I was only booked for two of the six sessions then as attendance was sparse. This time around, I was booked for five of the six and spent the spare session doing a long interview with a local radio station.
I felt prepared, bringing a handful of copies of my first book and a sheet of statistics regarding pornography addiction. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional outpouring from the other chair.
The first gentleman who came in around 1 p.m. was probably in his late 50s or early 60s. I shared my personal story, largely uninterrupted for about 15 minutes. When finished, he called me brave and thanked me for being willing to talk openly about porn.
“After listening to you,” he said softly with a stutter, “I’m now left to wonder if I’m a pornography addict, although I guess if I’m asking myself that question I know the answer.”
I told him he was brave to admit that and started defining addiction, including some of the specifics of porn addiction. I could see tears well up in his eyes.
As our time reached an end, I told him that only he can determine if he’s an addict and if he should seek help, but I urged him to sit down with an addictions counselor at least once and get a baseline for where he is. I only know his side of the story, but if addiction is there, I think it’s more to the mild side of things, thankfully.
I didn’t expect such an emotional first session and it reminded me not to pre-judge anybody. I can’t tell people not to stereotype who is or isn’t a porn addict and then do it myself.
The second woman worked in health care and simply wanted to learn more about the addiction in general. She had fantastic questions, and frankly, getting a bit of an emotional break was nice.
My third session was the radio interview. The interviewer wasn’t intimidated by the subject, but you could tell she feared offending me with personal questions. I assured her that I’ve been asked everything, so she couldn’t offend me. I get this same reaction with some of the podcasts I appear on. People are more scared to ask questions than I am to answer them. I’d never really recognized this before until someone was sitting across from me.
The fourth session was another gut-churning one. The woman, who said she’d been married for 45 years, mentioned up front her husband has a great tolerance for things, specifically mentioning he needs to drink 10 beers to feel anything where the average person only needs two or three. She called it a “high tolerance for pain.”
I got through my story and she asked a few benign questions about how my wife handled the situation both before and after I entered recovery. In sharing the premise of my soon-to-be-released book geared toward the partners of porn addicts, she asked what advice is given when the man doesn’t want to attend therapy.
I told her that it’s best to not pretend the partner doesn’t have an addiction. I said that the partner needs to suggest couple’s counseling, but even if the addict doesn’t want to go, they should still find a counselor on their own, and to never forget that self-care is the most important thing, because you can never make an addict do something they don’t want to do. I finished by saying ultimately the non-addict has to decide what they can live with and if they need to create boundaries or ultimatums. I told her that the key is to enforce those boundaries and ultimatums or they mean nothing.
She began crying and said while she and her husband didn’t have this problem with pornography addiction, they were going through it with something else and she was doing everything I suggested. I didn’t know if it was alcoholism as she didn’t say and I didn’t pry. I just assured her that she had to do the right thing for her, not her husband or adult kids or anybody else. As our time came to an end she tried to dry her tears and thanked me for being a shoulder to cry on.
The next woman came in and after listening to my little introductory speech told me that she has a problem with chat rooms that tend to lean toward the kinky side of things. In her situation, her husband wasn’t against it as he had fetishes and she believed a touch of sex addiction. She, too, began crying and telling me that she just wanted a normal life and not one where she found herself with strange people in basement sex clubs in Boston at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. I urged her to see a therapist, but told her that she can’t look at it as an on/off switch, whether it’s recovery or transitioning to a new life, it happens slowly, with clear, deliberate steps.
It was a bit of a relief that the last woman to stop by was just looking for information. She said she had an extended family member dealing with this and she wanted to learn more about it. I shared my details, which would have been hard two years ago, but was easy, especially since she wasn’t crying.
After wrapping up and talking with the head librarian and volunteer who coordinated the event, letting them know I thought it went well based on comparing it to my first experience, I got in the car and made the trek north to Maine and through the heart of Boston.
At least the traffic gave me time to reflect on the emotional outpouring I received from many of the people who sat with me. Even those who didn’t have an issue were gracious and I could tell appreciated what I was doing. It’s good for me to see that face-to-face because despite the comments section in these blogs and the fact I know people listen to the podcasts I appear on, getting that one-on-one interaction reminds me what I’m doing is not just a selfish activity to keep my own recovery on track.
I went to bed around 10:30 p.m. last night and didn’t get up until 11:30 this morning. Clearly this took a lot more out of me than I realized, but in a good way. Actually, a great way.
If there’s a Human Library event taking place near you (this Facebook page for the organization is constantly updated), I urge you to go check it out and learn the stories of people who are not like you, or maybe even more importantly, those who are exactly like you.