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.

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…

Your one-minute answer to “Why Don’t Addicts Just Stop?”

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I do podcasts is something along the lines of “When the average person looks at an addict, they can’t understand why the addict doesn’t just stop. Why can’t they?” For someone who doesn’t have the experience of being an addict, it’s a question that makes sense to me. I have no idea how so many things in this world work or why they are the way they are. The best way to find out is to ask, so for all of those who have ever wondered, I provide this 1-minute answer from my appearance on The Come to the Table Podcast.

Even if you’ve heard my story before, I’d urge you to at least listen to the first 20-25 of this episode as it’s a conversation I’ve not had before, touching on my spirituality, upbringing in the church, the modern state of the Catholic Church, and a quirky “would you rather” game.

How Does Your State Rank When it Comes to Mental Health?

I don’t want this entry to get political, but I feel many people are going to interpret it that way. That’s the problem with providing data these days. There are no such things as facts if people don’t want to believe objective information, and most people take their talking points from whatever cable news channel fits their political party’s agenda.

Mental Health America, a well-respected, non-profit, non-political organization that is now 111 years old released their annual status of the country report that ranks states (and Washington DC) in very specific areas of cases of mental health and access to care.

I can only encapsulate their results, so I urge you to check out their full overall rankings at: https://mhanational.org/issues/ranking-states

I also don’t want this to become too ridiculously dry, so I’ll highlight only a few areas and if you don’t see your state listed, you can find it at the link above.

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Adult Mental Health

The MHA ranked adult mental health using seven metrics, including adults who: have diagnosed mental illness, serious thoughts of suicide, are uninsured, have disabilities who could not see a doctor due to costs and a few others. States that ranked highest have lower prevalence of mental illness and highest rates of access to care for adults. The lowest ranked have higher cases of mental illness and lower access to care.

The Top 5:

  1. Hawaii
  2. Iowa
  3. Minnesota
  4. New York
  5. Maryland

The Bottom 5:

  1. Oregon
  2. Utah
  3. Idaho
  4. Wyoming
  5. Nevada

Youth Mental Health

The MHA also used seven measures to determine the state of youth mental health in America. Among them were youth who: had a substance use disorder in the last year, were diagnosed with mental illness but did not receive services, had private insurance that did not cover mental or emotional problems and had at least one major depressive episode in the last year.  As with adults, the highest ranked have a combination of the least cases and best access to care, while the lowest have a combination of most cases and worst access.

The Top 5:

  1. Washington DC
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. North Dakota
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Massachussets

The Bottom 5:

  1. Nevada
  2. Wyoming
  3. Alaska
  4. South Carolina
  5. Oregon

Access to Care

The MHA goes deeper with many of their categories, and I’m not listing several here for space reasons, but one of the lists I found quite compelling was about overall access to care. The list is comprised of nine metrics covering both adult and youth needs, including quality and cost of insurance, access to special education and mental health service both available and rendered.

The top states have the best access to mental health care while the bottom have the worse.

The Top 5:

  1. Vermont
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Iowa
  5. Maine

The Bottom 5:

  1. Texas
  2. Georgia
  3. Nevada
  4. Mississippi
  5. South Carolina

Now here comes the bugaboo that I’m hoping doesn’t draw the ire of those from mostly conservative states.

I’ve given you just a snapshot here. I urge you to go look at the rest of the lists. If you look at the Top 10 or Top 20 and their bottom counterparts, along with the maps they provide, one of which I included here, you’re going to see some patterns emerge. The southeast, south and northwest sections of the U.S. tend to score lower than those in the Northeast, Great Lakes area, and California. What does this remind you of?

Looking at the maps and their color-coding, it reminds me of the electoral map of US presidential elections. Those states that are traditionally states that cast their vote for the Democrat candidate are those that have the combination of the lowest cases of mental health issues and the best access to care. The states that traditionally cast their votes for Republic candidates are the ones that consistently have the most cases of mental health issues and worst access to care.

Did I make a fair generalization? Is there any connection between political affiliation and opinions/priority place on mental health care? Is this just a coincidence?

I’m not going to wade into that debate here. I just wanted to provide you with the information and let you draw an informed conclusion.

Always Staying Ahead of the Next Obsession is the New Normal in Recovery

Anybody else feel weird when a repairman is at the house, like you’re not sure just how much of the process you’re supposed to participate in or what proximity you’re supposed to maintain? I’ve got the guy in my mud room right now trying to figure out why my dryer won’t dry and am trying to work from the breakfast bar in my kitchen, but am not getting the regular stuff done, so I figured I’d write an entry to stay busy.

I’ve noticed my mind is trying to find something to glom onto in the last few months and it all seems to have to do with the computer or some kind of communication.

At the end of last year, it was blogging. I was justifying daily entries by saying I was getting more hits than ever and building up my base which could only help me eventually turn the porn addiction writing and educating into a money-making entity, but taking a step back, it was clear that I wasn’t reaching that many people and certainly not very many new people. The reality was, I liked seeing the little bar on the stats page go up and I liked the interaction with people and started to depend on it at much as interaction with people in real life, which I don’t think is healthy.

I’ve been winding down the amount of podcasts I’m doing, too. They are a free means to reach potential readers of my books or people who want to utilize my counseling/advising service, but every one hour podcast you hear probably involves three hours of actual time dedicated to it. I was trying to book 3-5 per week which was taking too much of my time. Thankfully, a couple of very smart people told me that I need to shoot for quality, not quantity. I recognized that I wasn’t really after the attention as I may have been 10 years ago, but just wanted to feel like I was always doing something to push the book. I’ve always confused working smarter with working harder. Balancing those two things is going to be a life-long struggle.

As these things have waned in my life, I found myself introduced to Reddit. First, I found a couple of porn addiction boards, some about addicts and some about partners. I liked being a voice in the conversation, but it was the same conversation over and over and over. Not long after, I was introduced to the “roast” page. I found it hilarious. I’m one of those people who love it when people roast me. I’ve always had a good sense of humor when it came to myself and believe I had a good sense of humor when it came to roasting others. It turns out, I have a gift from God for roasting people. I started to get people up-voting my roasts in the thousands and was told by a few that considering I’d only been on Reddit 10 weeks but had around 50K upvotes, they thought I could be among the fastest in the history of the site to reach a million. This is when I started to take it too seriously. I started finding the “system within the system” realizing that roasting females got more votes and roasting between noon and 4 p.m. EST was best and just overanalyzing the whole thing. I was stopping work mid-project to head over to see if there were new people who needed roasting. So I deactivated my account. It was creatively fun, but again started to show signs of becoming a bit of an obsession — and I didn’t even have a way to explain it away or rationalize it as doing something good.

I started a new diet today because I’ve been eating crap food at all hours and seem to find myself thinking about food more than in the past. My weight isn’t too bad compared to where it’s been in the past before I started a diet, but I’m a good 20-25 pounds more than I should be. My mind should not be a place where Chicken in a Biskit crackers or Cheetos take up any real estate. Hopefully my junk food cravings go away as I lose a few pounds. After all, bikini season is just around the corner.

I guess my point, as I spy the guy starting to reassemble the dryer, is that for recovering addicts like me who can easily turn something new into an obsession, vigilance and analyzing your patterns of behavior is a constant necessity. Yeah, it would be better if I didn’t sucked into something new and want to master it immediately, nor be able to explain why quite often why mastering it was a good thing. But those aren’t the cards I’m playing with and recognize your situation, tendencies, and limitations is a key part of being healthy I’m always learning.