I’m Finally Proud to be from Maine

I’m rarely proud to be from Maine. I see it more as something that just happened. On my mother’s side, her relatives arrived from Canada three generations ago to work in textile mills and shoe shops. On my father’s side, I think it was either four or five generations, mostly from Ireland, who first arrived in Boston, then came up to Maine looking for a better life. I could have just as easily been born in Massachusetts or New York had those families made slightly different decisions, or I could have been born anywhere in the world if my parents didn’t feel the need to stay so close to family.

I left briefly several times, living in Boston, Providence RI and Tokyo for several months each when I was much younger, but I always ended up back here. Part of me always felt disappointed in myself about my retreats, but through recovery and lots of therapy, I learned that I needed the security blanket that being near my parents always provided. In many ways, I still do.

One of my biggest complaints, whether I was 22 in the late 1990s or 44 today, is that lack of choices that comes with living here. Yes, if you’re an outdoorsman, it sounds like there are a myriad of opportunities to scratch that itch, but I’m not an outdoorsman, and it seems to me that there is outdoors in every state. Maine has more trees per acre than any other state. Big deal. Outside of the cocoon of downtown Portland, Maine doesn’t have an endless supply of interesting, independent businesses. It doesn’t have a bevy of dining choices or cultural opportunities. Even many of the biggest chain stores don’t come here and quite often, those that do don’t survive. I was waiting for 20 years for a Krispy Kreme to come here, and when two were opened in Maine in 2018, they survived about 9 months. Despite far superior donuts, you don’t go against the morning coffee monolith of Dunkin’ Donuts.

That coffee example is another thing I’ve not liked about being here – people are labeled as fiercely independent, but seem to mostly think with one mind. You get your coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, you hate the New York Yankees and despite the hype, you rarely eat lobster. I used a photo of a lighthouse to lead this article because that seems to be the stereotype so many have of us. I’ve never been in a lighthouse, nobody lives in a lighthouse anymore and I can tell you the names of exactly two. Mainers mostly don’t care about lighthouses, yet if Google the word “Maine” it’s almost the only thing that comes up in the images category. There are pockets of true independent thinking here and there, and the sameness can change depending on what part of the state you’re in (keep in mind that by square miles, Maine is as large as the rest of New England combined.)

I am very proud however, in how most of our elected officials, businesses and residents took the Coronavirus seriously from March 11, the first time Donald Trump admitted it was a problem in the evening address on television. My son was only in school two more days, and all of the non-essential businesses were closed within the week. My wife, who ironically works in health care, was furloughed a week after that. Patients just weren’t seeing their doctors if it wasn’t an emergency.

Mask orders came immediately, we were social distancing very conservatively before it became in vogue and people took the orders to stay at home and stay away from family and friends seriously. We also urged out-of-staters to stay away and put a 14-day quarantine in place for those from away.

Most of the northeast, whether hit hard like New York or Boston, or hit mildly like we were in Maine or Vermont, took serious precautions. Yes, it pissed off some people and business owners, but those in power held firm. Never did it seem like a political statement. Even when Donald Trump started shifting and making this a conservative vs. liberal issue did most people in the northeast make it about that. Sure, there was our cranky former governor trying to score political points demanding our governor do this or that, but I think he just saw his opportunity to make a few headlines. He shut up when it was clear no more than a couple hundred people were going to support him.

I remember watching the cable news channels as how to handle the virus was becoming political, and that’s when I really stopped following closely. I have never been able to understand how people can so quickly detach from common sense in the name of supporting their own little political tribe. I think they look to these tribes to be convinced what they should think and don’t apply common sense. If they did, many of these state leaders, like the governors of Florida, California and Texas would not have rushed to reopen. They would have listened to their health experts who warned the peak hadn’t happened there yet. But, they wanted to show how business-friendly they were and that they knew what was best for their residents.

I’m not going to start railing against Donald Trump. If your common sense doesn’t tell you that he has mishandled this crisis and misinformed the citizens and world of what is happening, you’re coming from a different place of logic than me, so I probably can’t convince you otherwise.

Here are a handful of maps that Vox.com put together that tell the real story of what is happening:

So what do we learn from this map? It shows only the positive progress that is being made in the fight against COVID-19. Any state that is not light blue is doing better than it was either one or two weeks ago, and in most cases, both. Beyond just the northeast, you’ll see that northern mid-western states which had a vocal minority demanding the states be reopened — but officials who refused — are doing the best. Also, while the majority of the states doing better are blue states and led by Democratic governors, this is not the case across the board, underscoring this is not a conservative or liberal problem and it isn’t about a conservative or liberal solution. It’s a virus. It doesn’t care who you vote for.

This is where the “Too many tests equal too many positive cases” of many virus deniers falls apart. Obviously, you’re going to get more cases in more populated states. You’re obviously also going to get more positive cases if you test more people. That’s simple math. However, you can make things equal by working on percentages. If only 100 tests are given and 5 are positive, it’s a 5% infection rate. If 1,000 tests are given and 50 are positive, it is still only a 5% infection rate. Once again, in this map, you’ll see that the infection rates are higher in the south and west — the states that reopened without any plan, in defiance of public health experts.

Here’s another one that shows where the cases are increasing without regard to total population. It only takes someone with vision who is five years old to recognize that purple and hot pink are bad, and off-white and light pink are good. This is about as solid a map to teach the Mason-Dixon line as anything I’ve seen.

Yeah, I’m usually not proud to be from Maine, but when I look at these maps, it’s nice to know that our leaders have exercised common sense in handling the virus. They put public health ahead of small business profits. They put public health in front of the renegades who didn’t like masks. They put public health in front of all else and like the governors and other public health officials of states around us, the results are hard to argue with.

Maine just opened dine-in service at restaurants and it’s still very strict. There are still lines outside of certain stores and while mask restrictions have eased, many stores demand you have them, and many residents have them anyway. Gyms, nail salons, tattoo studios and several other “high risk” businesses still won’t be open for a little bit… and while I’m itching to get my yearly tattoo, I can wait for the greater good.

If you’re in one of these hot zones, I don’t know if your leaders are going to see the light and start relying on serious data instead of their political supporters to make common sense decisions. You may just have to self-quarantine and take care of yourself, exposing yourself to people who have no common sense as little as possible.

I’ve seen a lot of people who had that “the virus isn’t going to get us” mentality, for whatever naive reason they had, later go on TV and lament how stupid they were, or how they lost a loved one because of not taking the virus seriously. Over 120,000 in the US have died of this. Compared to the entire population, yes, it’s a small number, but if one of those people was a beloved friend or family member, the only number that matters is theirs and it doesn’t matter who they voted for in the last election.

Finally, I’d urge you not to get distracted. While cases of COVID-19 are higher than they’ve ever been, conservative cable news stations are dedicating far more time to Southern statues being torn down. This isn’t happening nearly as much as they’d have you believe and not a single statue has caused hundreds of deaths daily. Do not be distracted by cable news stations trying to play on your emotions. The riots and looting are long over, even if they show old videotape. COVID-19 is a serious health risk. Do not be distracted.

Please, my friends in the states where things are the worst, take this very seriously and take care of yourselves.

Warning: You’ll Never Get the Three Minutes Back It Will Take to Read This

I’ve been trying to write two blog entries a week and trying to make sure at least one of them is about pornography addiction, but some weeks are easier and some weeks are harder to get up for research and this is one of those difficult weeks, so maybe it won’t happen.

In the past, as recently as four or five months ago, I would have been a little more down on myself for not hitting a blogging deadline, but I’ve learned not to treat this as such a lifeline to a world, or to look for my blog for as much interaction as I was getting. Yeah, my views are down 50% what they were when I was writing every day and that would have killed my spirit in November, but now, I think I have the healthier “it is what it is” mindset. If this blog was monetized, that would be one thing, but a steep dip in stats is yielding just as much money as it did before: Zero dollars, zero cents.

I stopped blogging as much because I had a few projects I wanted to start. Some happened, some are still on the to-do list. And of course things pop-up, like a once-in-a-lifetime plague.

I’ve been recording a lot of podcasts lately because I’ve been following the effect of the pandemic on porn and a lot of people have wanted to talk to me about it. I very much appreciate the slow movement away from my personal story and into one where I serve the role of pornography addiction expert. If you’ve never checked out my podcasts page or listened to one, many of the recent podcasts have been quite good. I haven’t gone back and listened to any of my first from early 2018 in a long time. I’d probably be embarrassed by it.

I also had the very cool opportunity to play interviewer to Tony Overbay on the 200th episode of his podcast, The Virtual Couch. Tony was the co-author of my latest book and I actually first met him through his podcast back when it was only episode 27. These days he gets thousands of hits and is one of the most popular mental health podcasts. Tony’s story is amazing, and it gives a lot of people to see the roles reversed where I’m the interviewer and he’s the subject. When I was a full-time journalist, I was always the interviewer. It was nice to see I hadn’t lost it.

I actually have to play catch-up on my to-do list, since I’m already a day behind this week. Had one of those days yesterday were everything I wasn’t planning jumped ahead of the stuff I was, including reading other blogs. I hope to get to them later today when I need a break from the writing.

Hope you’re hanging in there. We are going to get through this. If you live in a state where things are reopening, be careful. And remember, doctors and health officials know what they’re talking about when it comes to public health… politicians just play to the masses. There’s an election coming up and every politician’s actions right now should be looked at through that lens. Catchphrases like “We can’t let the cure be worse than the disease” make great soundbites, but when there are still states like Texas where 1,000 per day are reporting infection rates and the peak is now, the disease is still much worse than the cure.

I really hope these mainly Republican politicians aren’t wrong with their decision making. If they are, and we see a spike worse than we had before, I think the Republican party can kiss its control goodbye for a long while. Conversely, if everything goes well, I can see them getting stronger. The Democrats have nothing to lose, so standing on the sidelines of caution and staying closed is their best tactic. It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next few months, with the real fallout coming that first Tuesday in November.

I know 45% of people will vote Republican and nothing will change their mind, and 45% will vote Democrat and nothing will change their mind. I’m in that 10% in the middle. I’d guess I probably have voted Republican far more times for national elections and Democrat far more times in state and local elections. I’m going to be one of the few people who help decide the presidential race and right now, I don’t know what I’d do. Both parties could get my vote, but they both have a lot of work to do before November.

No, I have no idea why I chose a picture of Donny and Marie Osmond from the late 1970s for the picture. None at all.

Stay safe, use your head and we’ll get through this.

And then one by one, we will all eventually die someday because that’s the way it works.

The Longer I’m in Recovery, The More I Avoid Conflict from Differing Opinions

Over the years, my wife has pointed out to me that I tend to speak of the Boston Red Sox in terms of “we” as in “We just may have made the greatest mistake in trading away Mookie Betts since we let Babe Ruth go to the Yankees.” My wife is the first to point out to me that it’s a situation of “they” not “we.” I was not consulted on the Betts trade and aside from the large tattoo on my calf and numerous articles of clothing, I don’t actually contribute anything to the Red Sox.

I laugh about this because I don’t think this is one thing I’ll ever be able to change. It doesn’t matter exact players, I feel like I have a connection to the Red Sox and understand when people feel the same way about their teams. But here’s the thing, I think even the most diehard fan understands that it’s all harmless fun. Well, maybe not some groups of European soccer fans, but for the most part, here in North America, I believe we large have our sports fanaticism in check.

If you ever get DirecTV, the remote controls stink. Just when you think it’s the batteries, it turns out you have to reboot the system because a gremlin got into it. This is how I ended up on a Fox News program this morning. If I understand it correctly, they were talking about the fact that another cable news network show had said Michael Bloomberg was as bad in his debate the other night as Donald Trump was in 2016. So simply by repeating this, and actually show stats that proved it to be true, Fox News got the ire of Donald Trump. But a different Fox talking head was appearing to defend the first talking head for having stats to back up what a talking head said on a different channel about a comparison to something that happened four years ago that in the end, had no bearing, because Trump won.

This was the moment that I got up out the chair, went to the back of the TV, and turned the damn thing off. It was also the moment that I realized something else. Over the last two years, I’ve not been to a Boston Red Sox game (about a two-hour drive from where I live) nor had I watched more than a couple of game on television.

I used to be a politics junkie. I loved the game, especially when I was covering it for various newspapers I worked for. I’ll admit that for years, I didn’t vote because I didn’t want to have to pick a side. I was trying to be impartial back when that was still the norm. Unfortunately, in a splintered information world, there’s more money to be made preaching to the choir than informing them of things they don’t want to hear.

Early in recovery, I stopped really following the news. I still see headlines and can’t avoid what’s going on entirely, especially if I tune in to see the weather report, but I work my hardest not to pick sides now because the news is really just one person’s interpretation of something that happened. Most news today isn’t even that. It’s one person’s interpretation of another person’s interpretation of something that happened. Those nighttime news commentary shows, whether it’s Sean Hannity, Don Lemon or Rachel Maddow are entertainment, not news. It’s like Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight for people who follow pop culture news. And, it’s also like the pre-game and post-game shows for actual Red Sox games. It’s just talk, talk, talk.

Over the last few months, I think I’ve recognized early recovery is over. I’m in a new phase. Maybe it’s intermediate recovery. The thing that is bother me most is that I find I’m getting a bit testy toward people who can’t divorce their personal opinions and beliefs as being correct facts from other people with different personal opinions and beliefs as being incorrect facts.

Guess what? There is no correct religion. There is also no incorrect religion. Not have a religion isn’t even right or wrong. The fervent believers of any religion believe that they have the correct set of answers to this and the next life. By believing that, they believe that someone just as devout who worships in a different building is wrong. In essence…they picked the wrong team.

Guess what? There is no correct political party. There is also no incorrect political party. And there’s nothing wrong with removing yourself from politics. Democrats are arguing for things Republicans argued for 40 years ago and vice versa. It’s not about the rhetoric…it’s part of making sure you’re picking the right team.

Intermediate recovery has shown me that in this life, there really are no teams. There’s just all of us, and clinging to a belief that your team is better than the other team is more a function of your own inadequacies and fears than whatever the other side is saying or doing. As humans, we have an inner need not only as individuals to be unique and special, but also to identify with others who share our beliefs about what make us unique and special.

I don’t care if you love the Yankees. It’s your belief I’m less of a person because I like the Red Sox that bothers me. I don’t care when my liberal friends say I’m too conservative or my conservative friends say I’m too liberal. If they think the political beliefs – that I mainly keep to myself at all times – make me a bad person, they’re the one with the problem. If somebody thinks that I’m in a position for eternal damnation because I don’t worship their version of God or the rules they adhere to for following him, they should really spend more time worrying about their bad habit of passing judgment on others.

Maybe intermediate recovery is very isolating. Maybe it’s about becoming a curmudgeon. Maybe it’s about cutting myself off from what other people think. Maybe it’s about recognizing I can’t control the world – and as a guy whose control issues defined him and caused the addictions – it’s better to cede all control of everything except myself.

I don’t care who you’re voting for in November. I don’t care why you like them. And most importantly, I don’t care why you don’t like the other guy.

It’s going to be a long eight months…

Pornography Cannot Become Just Another Political Issue

When I’m up with the dogs at 5:30 a.m., letting my wife sleep an extra hour because she has to head for a job outside the house and I have a leeway in catching a nap if need-be, I’ll browse headlines in the Google News feed. I rarely ever read stories unless it’s good news, but an article on pornography was featured today and I’m not sure what to think.

I stopped reading halfway through to be honest because there wasn’t a ton of substance to it. Essentially it said that there are a small handful of Republican members of Congress who have been making waves about doing “something” about pornography. It talked about how this issue was more one of the radical liberals in the 1970s and 80s, but seems to have evolved as the other side’s cause in recent years.

Most of you know my stance on the pornography industry. You can’t fight it. Much like prohibition, it would be destined to fail. And unless it involves children or animals, porn may be immoral or unhealthy, but it’s not illegal. I don’t want the government defining what is or isn’t pornography. That’s not its role. Pornographic magazines are failing not because of any government interference. They’re dying because print media as a whole is collapsing. Let the market define its needs.

I would like to see an embrace of some kind of health curriculum in schools that makes basic pornography addiction education mandatory. A middle school teacher could literally spend only 30 minutes on it in one class per semester and I believe it could change a generation. If Congress is willing to pony up the money for that, I don’t care if it’s a Republican or Democrat; it’s a bill I can get behind.

As an ex-journalist, my former life before recovery was consumed with news and like almost everybody with access to social media, I didn’t mind sharing my opinions on whatever the topic of the day was. I think that was done far more to see myself pontificate and get like-minded people to tell me how right I was vs. truly changing anyone’s mind.

In recovery, I largely limit myself to headlines and stay off all social media except LinkedIn. I suppose I have my website to expound on issues, but it’s still 97% politics-free. I do this because despite my disconnect, which has moved me even further into the middle of the political spectrum, it has certainly not been lost on me that this country is divided more than anytime I can remember.

Now, it doesn’t worry me too much. As a student of history, this is a cyclical occurrence, not an anomaly. If you think politics seems bad now, go read the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow upon which the musical was based. That was a disgusting, divided time that makes today seem much more civil. I guess it can and may get worse, but I don’t worry about it bouncing back eventually.

Unfortunately, the issues of pornography, pornography addiction and pornography addiction education are coming along during this time of people dividing into little tribes and circling the wagons. I’ve mentioned this before, and I think most people truly in the middle agree, but there’s very little difference between the two political parties except for the small details. Both sides act completely boorish, make unintelligible statements, pander to their base and are far more about power than figuring out solutions. You’ll know if you’re one of these people if you immediately thought, “That’s not me! That’s the other side!” Sorry, buddy, it’s also you.

I’m concerned that if conservatives take up this cause right now, liberals will fight it simply because they feel they’re supposed to fight whatever conservatives want. Similarly, if the liberals were to take up porn, whatever position they took would be opposed by the conservatives not because of facts, but because that’s just the way things are done today.

I know I have people from both sides of the aisle who read my articles, and plenty of folks in the middle, too. I urge you, do not make whatever fight against pornography that may be on the horizon a political one. I know that’s easier said than done, but there are some issues that should bridge the political gap.

Do not let your party affiliation dictate your stance on pornography and if you’re active in your political community (boy, I don’t miss those days) be a voice of reason. If your side is for it, reach out to the other side. They’re probably not against it – just against the idea of agreeing with you. If your side is against it, explain to your brethren why this may be an issue that needs partisan walls to come down. And let’s be honest, you don’t want to be on the side that is trying to frame the argument pornography is not a problem. There’s far too much data against that position…although facts and data just don’t mean what they once did.

This cannot turn into just another political issue. It’s too important.

 

You Don’t Have to Be An Angry, Resentful Person Just Because Everyone Else Is

I don’t think this entry needs a trigger warning in the traditional sense, but perhaps a “take offense” warning is necessary. I’m not attacking or critiquing any specific individual with this entry, although if you take offense, maybe you should stop for a second and figure out why.

One of the biggest parts of my recovery journey is the conscious attempt to be a better human being. I actively work on skills like empathy, inclusiveness and compassion. While I still certainly have a long way to go before I’m the person I’d like to become, I feel that while my life is swinging in one direction, the attitude of the population in general is swinging the other way.

It could be the 24-hour news cycle, more social media than we know what to do with or some other factor, but people seem to have no problem putting their lack of compassion and empathy on full display. Instead, those traits have been replaced with resentment and anger.

I’m not going to get into politics, religion, science, patriotism, parenting or any of the other areas that seem to set people off. I’m far less interested in the specifics of peoples’ opinions than I am in the way that many people present those opinions these days.

I think there are reasons that people become addicts, but there are only excuses why they don’t seek help, especially after learning why they have the problem. I also believe there are reasons that people turn into who they are with the belief system that they have, but only excuses why that belief system allows them to present themselves as boorish oafs.

I’ve been trying to figure out the cause of what feels like this massive pendulum swing in the attitudes of our society. I know it can’t just be the fact that I’m actively trying to become a better person. I’ve come up with a few theories:

The world is moving too fast. While older generations always make the argument their experience and wisdom trumps youth and inexperience, our older generations have seen exponentially more change than those before them. I think this is also filtering down into middle-aged generations. Technology moves at such speed that it seems like only 17-year-olds can keep up with it because the rest of us don’t have the extra time to learn. With all of the new media we have, getting glimpses into the past is easier than ever. I’m sure because of television and the Internet, I understand the culture of 1955 far more than the people of 1955 understood the culture of 1895. I believe this causes a bit of romanticism of the past, forgetting the negative and remembering only positive. The feeling you’re being left behind doesn’t feel good.

People are smarter than you. This has always been the case, but with the Internet and 500 TV channels, we’re constantly exposed to people who are more intelligent, deeper thinkers and understand things many of us could never grasp. I think we also are aware that most smart people recognize their intelligence and far too many of us make the leap that they therefore believe they are better than us when that has never been established. There is deep resentment in this world toward people who act like they are better than someone else, but we seem to be at a point where we invent the idea that others believe they are better without them doing anything to suggest it.

There’s more diversity than ever. I’m sure there have been studies done and I’ve just never had enough incentive to look them up, but I’d like to know when it comes to fear of people who are different how much is nurture and how much is nature. Somewhere, there is somebody out there who has 100% the opposite views as you when it comes to politics, culture, entertainment, etc. They are the bizzaro, anti-you. And guess what? They’re not a crazy psychopath either. It’s not just diverse ideas, it’s also basic demographics. Communities are not as homogenous as they once were. Different languages are being spoken, even in small towns and people who don’t look like previous generations now live there. This is scary to many people.

The recognition you were wrong. I think at one time or another we’ve all recognized we were incorrect about something and instead of correcting course, we doubled-down, despite being wrong. I believe this also extends to those around you who you discover were wrong. Many people directly get their beliefs from their parents and others they knew when they were young, but how many of those beliefs ever get questioned? Something isn’t OK just because mommy or daddy acted like it was. Your friends may all think one way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the correct thing. When recognition that those around you made poor decisions, it’s often hard to stand up to them and blaze your own path.

Simply because you can’t relate to someone does not make them a bad person. Moreover, simply because you can’t relate to them does not mean that you have to present an argument why they are not a good person.

A changing world does not mean it is changing for the worse. Yes, new things – including attitudes and societal norms – take adjusting, but that does not mean they are bad. Despite what people who eschew change believe, most change is designed to make the world a better, inclusive place. Yes, it takes getting used to new ideas, concepts and technology. Changing who you are does not mean you are any less or more of a person before and after that change.

I think most people today are of a mindset of looking for what makes them different than the next guy, and whatever that difference is, it becomes the weakness of the other person, ripe for attack. This is also true with thoughts. The general rules seem to be that if two people think differently, one must be wrong, and it’s always the other guy. In most cases, neither – or both – are wrong.

We live in a world full of angry, sad, resentful, non-compassionate, close-minded people. Standing behind the fact you have the God-given or governmental-given right to be that way doesn’t make it OK. Feeling emboldened by like-minded people to share your negativity doesn’t make it OK.

There is someone, probably more than just one, who is reading this feeling attacked. I’ve shared no actual specific opinions here. I’ve isolated no specific group or type of person. If you’re feeling attacked, I hope you’ll take a few minutes and figure out why.