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.

The Grateful Eight, Only One Day Late!

I know that I’ve been providing less entries lately, but one that I enjoy writing and I think is a healthy exercise for me has been the Grateful Eight, even if it isn’t always coming out on the Eighth. So, here’s another example and I hope you’ll let me know of some things that you’re grateful for in the comments.

To refresh the concept, on the eighth day of the month, you’re supposed to write eight things that you’re grateful for and make several of the non-traditional. We’re all grateful for health, family, etc., and it’s important to acknowledge that, but it’s just as important to acknowledge the mundane and trivial that help to flesh out the quieter, less memorable moments.

Anyway, here are my Grateful Eight for February.

  1. Tiramisu – My 44th birthday was yesterday, and I frankly just can’t take the frosting on any cake these days larger than a cupcake. Over the last 10 years I’ve been introduced to and fell in love with this dessert and for a guy whose sweet tooth is rapidly fading, it’s the perfect piece of birthday cake.
  2. Unexpected Plans – When you get married, have children, work from home and have to abide by a few rules because of something colossally stupid you’ve done, spontaneity isn’t a great presence in your life, which makes when it happens all the more special. I sat down at my computer on Friday around noon and by 2 p.m., the opportunity to road-trip with my daughter to North Carolina at the end of this month and fly to Los Angeles with my son in April presented themselves. No, I don’t get to scratch any new ground covered off my map, but in two hours, two experiences I know I’ll remember forever materialized. Funny the way things work.
  3. The Sun – When I was struggling with the Higher Power concept in my first few days of AA at my first rehab, one of the people suggested I just make the sun my Higher Power since it was literally high in the air and provided all the power for life on earth. I’ve never forgot this idea. All life on Earth, would essentially be dead with 90 minutes if the sun flamed out. Most of us would be dead with 20. Glad it’s there, aren’t you?
  4. Bell Telephone systems – Yeah, it’s a rant about being an old person, but remember when you’d get pissed off when your phone bill was over $50 because somebody spent too many minutes on long distance? We’re now paying nearly $400 for a family of four on our cell phones per month and after shopping around, can maybe save only $50 with another carrier. We survived before Smart Phones – we just had to look stuff up in the encyclopedia and telephone book.
  5. Not Being a Hoarder – My parents aren’t hoarders and with the spate of people in my family who have died over the last 5 years, they’ve been serving as executors on a lot of estates and all of these people had giant houses and wouldn’t be called hoarders technically, but that’s only because of the space they had. I like the fact I live in a very small house. It forces me to prioritize stuff. I just got a bunch of clothes from my uncle’s estate and instead of just adding them to my closet, I made sure to try and donate or throw away one old piece for every new piece I added. My parents aren’t hoarders either, which when I’m forced to clean out their home…hopefully not for another 20+ years…I won’t be faced with what they’re dealing with.
  6. Sugar-filled Kool-Aid – Going hand-in-hand with my rant about phones, I tried Kool-Aid for the first time in 35 years the other day. They don’t make it with real sugar anymore like when I was kid. It tasted like nothing. That stuff back in the day? That was the shit.
  7. Glasses – I’m not nearly as visually impaired as most people who wear glasses. It’s mostly because I’m in front a computer screen 12-15 hours per day and have been since I was 17, which was a pre-Internet, Smart phone world, so my eyes get tired quickly now. I’m thankful though because I think of those people who helped settle the West, or the Europeans in the 1500s and 1600s who led the world, or all of the people in poor, developing countries these days. How much must it suck to have blurry vision all the time? Really glad I have my glasses. Also glad I could find a picture of the Kool-Aid man in glasses to combine two things on this list for visual representation.
  8. Dog Shit – I’m just kidding. That’s not on my list. My ability to not take things like this too seriously and think outside the box is something I’m grateful for. Yeah, I don’t always know the right time and place and it often leaves people confused, but it always amuses me. There are people who didn’t think writing Dog Shit was funny. That’s OK. We can’t all be as hilarious as me. Be thankful I didn’t try and find a picture of this.

 

Like I mentioned at the top, I’d love to know what some of the random things you’re grateful for in your life are that aren’t obvious. Practicing gratitude has been one of the best ways to keep perspective on things in my post-recovery world, even the mundane things. It is with them that I often realized how truly lucky I am to lead the life I do.

Six Years After Starting Recovery, I Make One of My Biggest Advances Toward Normalcy

I did something I’m actually going to brag about, that I never would have thought I would have done in a million years, but it felt like such a step forward, I’ve been meaning to come here and write about it to show people just how far you move away from mistakes you made and how you don’t need to hide from who you are, no matter what has happened.

As many of you know, my uncle died about a week ago. He was one of those guys who was the glue in any group he was a part of, be it our family, his friends or his professional life. I won’t say the world revolved around him, but if his life was the show Seinfeld, he was the Jerry Seinfeld upon which everything was held together.

He was also an administrator in the school district I attended. Since I’m 43 and he died at 63, most of the teachers I had while he served are still alive and I knew many would attend his wake. I also know he was one of those guys who knew everybody and could theoretically foresee anybody walking through the doors of the funeral parlor, so when it came to his wake I was very nervous.

The people I have around me in life have pretty much all uniformly moved on from my arrest six years and the attention it drew. They’ve seen the new guy I’ve evolved into and life is pretty routine these days. For the first time since my arrest in early 2014, I was looking at seeing people I hadn’t seen since before that all went down.

I’ll be honest with everyone. I took an Ativan. It doesn’t escape me that 10 years ago, I would have had a couple drinks before going to something like this. I took a bunch of Ativan immediately after I was arrested and in the week leading up to going to jail. I also took it for about a month last year when I was going through debilitating anxiety attacks. I have been very cognizant to not take any more than I need. I took one about 30 minutes before leaving and haven’t needed another. I expressed hesitation to my wife, but as she said, “The medicine specifically exists to help you in a moment like this.”

At first I was sheepish. I saw my third-grade teacher, a cousin who had given me the cold shoulder for a while and a guy who was a freelancer at the magazine I owned. They were all friendly exchanges.

I don’t know why I chose them, but about an hour into things, my junior high school principal, who’s got to be 80, give or take (he was my mother’s 9th grade math teacher…and she’s 71) and his wife, who I worked with at the local newspaper for about five years before she retired approached me to express their condolences.

When they asked what I was up to, I explained that I ghostwrite books for people who are usually CEOs, working on self-help programs or simply want an autobiography. And then it hit me. I’m proud of my work with porn addiction. I’m not ashamed of it. It was nothing I set out to do, but it’s a problem and if my mission is to educate the world, I should let the world know what I’m doing.

“If you remember all that stuff that happened to me six years ago, I got my head on straight and now I write books about pornography addiction and try to help people and their families who are struggling with it,” I told them. “There was nothing for me when I wasn’t doing well, so I thought maybe I could make things better for other people. It’s a huge problem out there.”

They told me that they knew I did one book but were glad to hear I just released a second one. They said it seems like pornography is everywhere these days and they were proud of me. Then they each gave me a hug.

In my wildest dreams, since first meeting the man 31 years ago, I never thought that I’d hug my junior high school principal. I also don’t remember him being that short. I’ve grown.

Telling them what I do now was such a feeling of relief and moment of empowerment. I went on to tell probably four more people in the last two hours. I didn’t make it about me, I didn’t quote stats or do my podcast-style preaching. I just mentioned in matter-of-factly. The results were positive across the board.

Six years ago, when this all went down and it was headline news, I was scared to death. I barely left the house. If I went to a restaurant, it was 30 miles away. Over time, I’ve become comfortable being out in public locally and have been surprised just how few interactions I’ve had with people from my former life. I think that my uncle’s wake may have been a huge final step toward whatever level I end up at in being comfortable owning what I did and being open with what I do now, no matter who I’m talking to or where I am.

The last step is going to be the people who I work with. It never comes up, but most of them don’t know my real name. I intentionally hide it from them whenever possible, and when it has to be revealed for payment or tax purposes, I tell them I professionally just go by my first and middle name.

Anyway, my message is really just if you have something that you don’t think you can face, or something you feel shame an embarrassment about, try being open about it. Try with someone who you think will be safe. I mean, realistically, unless my mother dies very soon, I don’t think I’ll ever see my junior high school principal or his wife again. They were safe people, and it felt damn good. Damn good.

Do You Know How to Properly Say Sorry?

My daughter was in a pretty nasty car accident this morning. Thankfully, she’s fine. She was returning to our home on the Maine Turnpike when a tractor trailer truck likely didn’t realize she was trying to pass it (it’s a two-lane road) and nudged her to the left. She probably would have recovered had the weather not been freezing rain, coating the untreated road with a thin layer of ice.

Instead, she spun around and smacked into the center guardrail quite hard. My wife and I got the call about 5:20 a.m. and what would usually take 25 minutes to reach her took almost 90 because of other accidents diverting traffic on and off the turnpike. It was not a morning to be driving.

The Maine State Police officer who stayed with her that entire time was wonderful. Despite the fact they were the agency that arrested me back in early 2014, I have no ill will against any law enforcement personnel. We can certainly poke holes in the system, but the foot soldiers didn’t create it. Adapting another old saying is true: It’s better to have a cop and not need him than need a cop and not have him.

On the ride home, she was still slightly in shock and the adrenaline was still coursing through her veins. As she started to come down, she started apologizing. We tried to assure her that we knew it wasn’t her fault, we have insurance and we were just grateful that she wasn’t injured.

It got me thinking about apologies. She was apologizing for creating a difficult situation. Yes, it will be a pain in the ass dealing with adjusters, making decisions based on amount of damage and having to split two cars among three people. But, it wasn’t her fault. She was merely at the center of a storm she could not control. I think her reaction to apologize is a knee-jerk one that many of us have, even in situations that we were simply victims.

One of the things that was actually difficult to learn when I entered recovery was how to give a proper apology. I was taught the skills at one rehab, but don’t think it clicked until a year later when I was part of a monthly support group.

Most people confuse real apologies with an opportunity to explain how they are only “mostly” at fault, or how extenuating circumstances dictated their behavior:

“I hadn’t eaten in two days and I knew the sandwich in the fridge was yours, but I was starving.”

“I know most people call into work when they are sick, but I was sicker than I’ve ever been.”

“I was late picking you up because I got in a conversation with Tina, and you know how she can talk.”

These are three very minor examples because I just don’t want to get too heavy with this and lose the meaning. The reality is, most apologies are just excuses tinged with a tiny bit of responsibility attached. That’s not what apologies are supposed to be.

Here are a few things to think about when you’re ready to make a proper apology:

  • When you’re giving an apology, you are not to expect to be let off the hook for your behavior. In fact, you shouldn’t expect any reaction. They don’t owe you an “I forgive you” or “That’s OK.”
  • Apologies are not about making you feel better or releasing the guilt or shame you may have. Get this…they’re not about you at all other than admitting wrongdoing.
  • Ask yourself why you are apologizing. If the reason is anything other than to acknowledge that you recognize you did something to hurt the other person, you’re overdoing it.
  • A simple statement of regret is not inappropriate, but that should be the most you interject your thoughts into the situation. How you feel is not important, and frankly, it’s not what the other person is looking for or needs.
  • An apology should never make a request, especially to accept the apology. It also shouldn’t ask things like: “But you have to see my side of things…” or “I hope you can understand…” This is you trying exonerate yourself of 100% culpability.
  • Do not accompany the apology with a gift or something cutesy, like a card with a teddy bear holding a balloon. If you want to make reparations, do it at some point after the apology is given. Saying sorry and making things even are two different things for two different moments.
  • Consider writing your apology before giving it. If you have patterns of giving incorrect apologies, you may find it best to be able to review what you’re going to say. It may even make sense to send it to them in writing so you don’t go off script.

Let’s take that first example I gave above of an incorrect apology:

“I hadn’t eaten in two days and I knew the sandwich in the fridge was yours, but I was starving.”

There are three justifications for the wrong choice here. If you ever feel like you’re explaining your actions, you’re giving an improper apology.

Here are more wrong examples:

“Sorry. Despite being very hungry and knowing I shouldn’t, I took the food that was yours.”

Your hunger situation has nothing to do with a proper apology.

“Sorry. My mind was just thinking food and I was going to ask but I didn’t see you anywhere and thought I could make up for it later.”

Rationalizing a solution to make your behavior OK is not an apology, whether you bought a new sandwich or not.

“Sorry. The next time I have anything in the fridge, you can eat it. You don’t even have to ask.”

Encouraging the same behavior toward yourself does not cancel out your poor choice.

 

Here’s are a few examples of a proper apology:

“I took your sandwich without asking which is stealing. I’m sorry.”

“You were probably hungry because I stole your sandwich. I’m sorry.”

“I apologize for stealing your sandwich. It was the wrong thing to do.”

Usually, the proper apology is the shortest one. It doesn’t preface with situational exceptions nor ask if everything is OK at the conclusion. It is an act of contrition, an admittance of guilt and understanding of wrongdoing. And that’s all it should be.

The Third Addiction was Workaholism and I Must Never Forget It

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but in early recovery, I talked a lot about my workaholism with therapists and in different processing groups I was a part of, but somewhere along the way the porn addiction education/advocacy took over and it has largely remained a silent part of my story.

While I was a moderately well-known guy in Maine’s largest high school, I don’t know if I’d cross the line into the word “popular” and like most of my life, don’t think the word “well-liked” would have been applied by many. I was never able to hide my Machiavellian tendencies, but didn’t care. Unlike many who were experiencing their glory years before my eyes, I saw high school as little more than a legal requirement for whatever was next.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.50.25 AMThat changed the day between my junior and senior years of high school when, at 17, I walked into the local newspaper office as an employee for the first time. Unlike working at the baseball card store at the mall or the Burger King on the Maine Turnpike, I didn’t detest going into work. I actually loved it. I started at the bottom rung as a sports clerk and within two years I was handling the beats of writers on the city side when they were on vacation or when the position was vacant. It was somewhat understood they weren’t going to hire a 19-year-old multi-time college dropout for a full-time position.

They walked back that stance when I was 20 and the industry moved to 100% desktop publishing. The software used at the time, QuarkXPress, was not hard for me to pick up, but for those people who had worked decades pasting up columns in the old-school way papers were made, the transition was rough. I was hired full-time to design pages at night while still keeping the technically part-time with full-time hours gig of writing during the day.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.51.37 AMI felt important in the newsroom. I wasn’t among people who made poor decisions and now had to make burgers for Canadian tourists on the turnpike. I also didn’t have to deal with 9-year-old boys who wanted to tell me I was wrong about a baseball card that was made 30 years before they were born. These people didn’t see age and it was empowering. I was expected to deliver as good as the person sitting next to be who had been there 20 years and had a college degree.

Thankfully, I rose to the occasion and tried to work as many hours as possible. I took to design like I took to writing and felt completely in control of my life when I was part of the team putting together the Lewiston Sun Journal. There was no porn addict within those walls. Despite approaching legal drinking age, I didn’t have a beer before my shift, which I can’t say about every shift at Burger King. It’s one of the few jobs I’ve ever had when the boss announced someone could go home early, I’d shoot my hand in the air like Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter.

As the years went by and I grew my resume and climbed up the editing ranks to a point I rarely wrote anymore and was learning the administrative side of things, I always loved the news/publishing industries. Forget no two days being the same. No two hours were the same. I met amazing, sometimes famous people. I experienced things I could have only dreamed about as a kid, I saw government work from the inside and made decisions to help shape how the public received its news. It always felt like I was doing something that mattered.

I launched my magazine in 2009, 16 years after I’d entered the journalism business, despite only being 33 at the time. I had literally spent half my life working at newspaper and magazines and finally had my own.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.52.56 AMI won’t go through the highlights or lowlights of the next four years, but for everything my professional life had provided prior, it was now exponential. I had responsibility like never before, but I loved devoting my life to the professional cause. Over the five years the business existed, we launched another magazine and a film festival. Work became just about the only thing that I defined myself on, which was a shame, because I had the world’s greatest wife and two terrific kids that I didn’t spend enough time with. If they wanted to do something with me, it was usually tagging along to one of my professional commitments.

When things took their real turn for the worse and I full-on began to neglect my mental health, it felt like work betrayed me more than anything. When the magazine was collapsing under its own weight and my lack of business skill, it felt like my world was imploding. Instead of medicating properly with my bipolar medication, I abandoned that and used alcohol and porn to soothe the wounds. Yeah, that sounds stupid in retrospect to me, too.

I think I talked so much about work in early recovery because I was still very fresh from losing my professional life. I knew no matter the outcome of any legal matters, my time creating a product for a local audience was over. One of the first “a-ha!” moments of recovery was recognizing that the only place I ever felt I had control, work, had in fact been an illusion for quite some time. I was a flight attendant on a plane plunging to the ground giving passengers comforting glances while they looked back at me saying, “You genuinely don’t recognize we’re going down, do you?”

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.54.41 AMOne of the biggest moments in early recovery was when a friend, a former Hells Angel member who had been kicked out for illegal activity and was essentially hiding from the law at rehab while his pregnant girlfriend half his age tried to kick heroin, brought up the fact I wasn’t the successful businessperson I portrayed myself to be.

It was a bit of a kick in the groin hearing it, but he was right. Had things not turned out the way they did, I would have driven that magazine straight into the ground within about six months. That’s not success and that’s not control. I had both of those for a while, but began lying to myself when they had disappeared.

In the moment, my workaholism probably did more to hurt my family than either of my addictions. I think when it comes to family, one of the most important things is simply showing up and being there. I rarely did this and missed some key moments.

I do have to add that part of my ongoing recovery has been not torching everything to the ground that was connected to my magazine. We did a lot of good work and shared many important stories. We gave awareness to good causes and worked hard to make our community a better place. None of that should be tainted by the horrible way it all ended, although I’m sure for many, it is. Despite that, I’ve shared a few of my favorite covers with you as I don’t think anybody has seen this magazine I often write about.

These days, I don’t define myself on my work, whether it’s the mindless ghostwriting I do for corporate clients or the pornography addiction education route. But I don’t define myself based on the family now either. I try not to define myself at all beyond a man constantly searching for balance.

Assuming this is the last thing I write before Christmas, I wish those who celebrate a Merry Christmas. If you’re in the midst of Hanukkah, enjoy that. Or Kwanza. Or whatever you’re into. Don’t let differences between people define us. There’s enough of that going in the world.