It Was Harder Growing Up With Religion Than Recovering Without It

When a new book comes out, I generally get a lot of messages and while it’s happening again, I’ve had several this week that had deeply religious connotations and I don’t know if they don’t read the site or I haven’t explained it well in a long time, but I figure since it’s Sunday, it would be a great day to get into the whole spirituality/religion thing with you.

I apologize up front as I know this is going to be all over the place, long and I’m sure unintentionally offensive to some.

I was raised by a devout Catholic father and a hugely, hugely devout Catholic mother. They were raised by largely absentee, alcoholic parents. Their faith was something they pursued as they both went to parochial school. They didn’t meet until college, but I think the fact their religious upbringing was so similar helped things.

As I told someone the other day, words like “God,” “sin,” “Bible” etc. are a little bit triggering for me and I think I know why. I have started to draw a lot of parallels to my need for control that was borne out of the environment where my abuse took case. Let me stress I was not abused in the church, but being in a place where I felt completely helpless and lost was not good for my mental health.

I was the inquisitive little kid who had questions at Sunday School or for my mother. The answer was usually the same, “Don’t ask questions” or “It’s God’s Law.” That’s not an environment for somebody like me, who already had power and control issues, was going to thrive.

The rare answers I got didn’t make any sense and attending church was a miserable experience, only second to Sunday school. I would say that other kids around me were having a better time, but based on the exodus from the Catholic Church in America, they just weren’t marketing it to kids in the ’80s very well. They did not communicate what God was supposed to be in a way that we understood. Like chemistry or physics in high school, eventually one gives up trying to understand.

Back then, you went through Confirmation at 15 or 16 and I made a deal with my parents that I’d agree to be confirmed, but at that point, I was going to stop going to Church. They did their job getting me that far, but I was done. I think they recognized I wasn’t joking. I didn’t hate their faith, but I didn’t have it.

My Higher Power, The Afterlife and Mom Gets Mad

Keep in mind that while I attempt to be respectful of people’s religious beliefs, I think the biggest thing missing from the religious (not necessarily spiritual) is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn’t subscribe to the exact same doctrine that they do. I mean, you only have to look at history’s great wars; almost all have a religious angle to them. One of the reasons that 12 Step Groups were not my ultimate answer was (aside from the fact that they don’t really mean “higher power of your choosing” because they end every meeting with a Christian prayer) there is no room to talk about what not having a higher power means.

I have never felt powerless over alcohol or porn because despite my lowest points, I was the only who actually had the power. I just chose not to use it. Today, I have a concept of a higher power that I simply call “the universe” and it doesn’t really have a set of rules, dogma or doctrine you have to follow. It doesn’t care if you get a midnight abortion or if gay people marry. It isn’t about raising a dime, nor about any particular book. I don’t pray to it, nor does it threaten to smite me when I don’t. My concept of it is vague, but I don’t need to have all the details. It’s a balancing energy in the universe and that’s all I really need to know. I have a Higher Power and that’s that. It just doesn’t have a name tag or handbook.

People get awkward fast when I tell them that I don’t really care if there’s an afterlife. I don’t think there is, there has never been a single piece of proof there is, and while it’s a pleasant story, I believe that you get your years on Earth and then you’re done. And I’m far more OK with that than the people who hear me say it, because they can’t believe I’d have such a view. It’s fine because it doesn’t have to be your belief, and vice versa.

This is clearly turning into a ramble, but here’s a quick story for you. As I mentioned, I was raised Catholic by two very devout, wonderful people. I was baptized, did the first communion and confirmation all in the same church. Saw many of my relatives married and memorialized there as well, and midnight mass on Christmas was a regular stop for me even long after I left my parents’ home. There was a purge here of Catholic churches in Maine about 10-12 years ago. The numbers of parishoners had dropped so dramatically, the diocese said they couldn’t afford to keep the churches open. My family’s church ended up on this list of closures, like 5 of the 7 churches in our town. With our particular church, the reason given was that it was too expensive to heat the church between September and May. It’s a valid argument. The place was huge and old members were dying off like 8-to-1 against bringing in new members and tithing just wasn’t what it used to be.

My mom asked me to come on that last day and being a sometimes sentimental, nostalgic person, I said OK. I didn’t enjoy the thousands of hours I spent there, but knowing it would be my last hour was a little sad. When the service was over – ironically to a packed house like they hadn’t seen in years – there was an organization in the back that was collecting money to try and overturn one of Maine’s gay rights laws. It didn’t bother me because it’s an issue that’s been decided and the right side won. When we got to the car, my mother let loose on the Church, I think for the first time in her life and I wouldn’t have believed it unless I was there. I’ll spare the long diatribe, but she thankfully saw the complete hypocrisy and overall wrongness of a Church that couldn’t stay open because of lack of funds collecting funds for a group that wants to discriminate. I pointed out how well the UU church was doing in town in terms of both attendance and funding. They, of course, were gay-friendly. Since that day, my mother still goes to church elsewhere, but it’s with far, far less devotion than she did in the past. She’ll even skip Sundays if the mood strikes her. She’s finally come around to what I recognized a long time ago – you need neither a book, nor a building to have a relationship with a Higher Power.

In losing a giant chunk of my mom, the church lost one of its staunchest advocates.

Religion is Not The Only Road to Recovery

I promise I’m about to wrap this up.

I think that there are really three main branches to pornography recovery. Maybe it’s true of all addiction, but since I’m immersed in this culture, it’s what I see. Those three branches are religion, will-power, and science. People can absolutely dabble in more than one, but I find a lot of people who are into things like NoFap (will-power) refuse to see a real therapist and many religious people think you can pray away a medical condition. Obviously, I’m a big believer in the science side of things because that is my experience and it was successful.

Nonetheless, if you go to the WordPress reader and type in “Pornography Addiction” or “Pornography Recovery” you’re going to probably find 75% of the entries have some reference to The Bible. Beyond the whole shaming thing that religious people are so good at doing to others which is an entirely other issue, the overall theme of these entries is that one must follow a religious path to addiction recovery, just like you have to follow their religious path to the afterlife.

It’s just not true. I mean, I can point to plenty of people it worked for, but I can point to plenty of people, myself included, who are happy and healthy without a word of Scripture read in recovery.

I’m OK if you want to use God as a tool for pushing recovery as long as you’re not shaming the addict, but it can’t be the only tool used and it can’t be preached that without God, recovery is impossible. That’s plainly wrong and frankly, a dangerous thing to say for two reasons: a) You wouldn’t encourage a person with cancer or severe hemorrhaging to only pray…you’d get them real medical treatment; b) Somebody believing your attitude may be stopped from recovery if the religious route doesn’t work for them. Is it better they go your way and fail or go their own way and succeed?

I’m sure many of those who actually got this far were offended along the way, and I apologize if my words were ever poorly chosen. There were a few places I debated writing certain things, but went for it anyway. I know that my personal issues with the church and religion are just that – my personal issues – and I know they carry over into my writing, but in a space where I try to be honest to a fault, even when it rankles some feathers, I thought it was time to explain myself.

I don’t know if there was any theme here but I guess sometimes these blogs are just for ranting and working things out.

 

 

Should Those Who Look at Underage Pornography Be Allowed to Tell Their Therapists Without Fear of Consequences?

I was about three years into recovery, taking part in a group therapy session when the therapist said something in passing that caught my attention. He mentioned that in Maine, if a patient reports that they have looked at underage pornography and the therapist does not deem them to be a threat to act-out in a hands-on manner, that behavior does not have to be reported to authorities.

As I’m sure you know there are plenty of behaviors that have to be reported, like threat to commit suicide, plans to hurt another person, certain deviant illegal behavior, etc. But in Maine, there is no provision for reporting the use of underage pornography.

I bring this up because yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, there was an article about how their therapists are mandated to report the use of underage pornography and that the law is being challenged by therapists and therapists’ groups because they don’t think they should be reporting these people outside of their office if they pose no danger.

It’s an interesting debate and I’m not completely sure which side I fall on.

A quick recap of my story

Unless you’re new here, you know that I was arrested in early 2014 for illegal behavior in a chatroom that happened in late 2013. I encouraged a girl who I was unaware at the time was underage to perform sex acts on herself. At the end of our session, I created two screen captures as “trophies.” I’m not going to turn this into a giant rehash of exactly what happened or include my typical disclaimers about blaming myself, not the addiction. You can find them many places on this site.

It was obvious to the judge I wasn’t a serial offender but rather an ill person who took strides to get better, but you can’t do what I did and get away with it. I think a lot of discretion was shown in the fact I only served six months compared to what I could have done.

I appreciate that discretion. I was a guy who made a terrible mistake, not a pedophile, child stalker or anything of that ilk.

In the six years since the crime took place, I’ve been called a pedophile twice. It wasn’t out of malice. It was out of generally not understanding what the term means.

A pedophile is somebody who is attracted to children above the age of infant, but who have not yet reached puberty. There is also a difference between a pedophile and a criminal. Not all pedophiles are criminals. Most never act out on their attraction.

Both in rehab and as part of the ongoing legal case, I took several assessments to test for my likelihood of recidivism. It was as non-existent as the tests could score.

The fact my victim was underage was not lost on anyone, but based on the fact I’d done similar things in chat rooms with over a dozen adult women and the teenager in question could realistically pass for an adult, I was not cast a sex offender with a taste for underage girls, which was entirely correct.

Meeting the offenders

All of that said, when I was released from jail, I was court-mandated to participate in a weekly meeting of people who were on probation and had similar crimes. There were a few guys, like me, who I believe just made horrible mistakes. There were also several guys who – in a non-contact way – had been acting on their pedophilic tendencies for quite sometime before being arrested, sentenced and released.

Some of them were too ashamed to ever talk in any detail about it and others genuinely wanted to get beyond it and move on to having normal lives. Having spent a year seeing these men weekly (I was moved to a different group that only met monthly after a year – again, deemed no risk to re-offend) I felt like I got to know them on a personal level and I got the feeling that they couldn’t be “cured” but that they could develop the tools to not succumb to their attraction.

These men didn’t talk in graphic terms of what they saw in the underage pornography they looked at or why they were attracted to it, but I can’t remember a single one who struck me as the kind of person who would take that attraction off the computer screen and actually harm a child. Most clearly had co-occurring addictions and/or mental health disorders and it seemed like the pornography they used was a certain way to cope, leaning toward their pathology.

This is largely what they are arguing in California. A passage from the LA Times article that ran Monday, December 9, 2019:

 

Sharon O’Hara, a Los Angeles County therapist who began her career treating rape survivors, said people “with true porn addictions tend to look at everything.”
“They are looking for intensity,” she said. “It is the intensity and shock value” they seek.
She compared them to people who play violent video games but lack a propensity for violence in real life.
Ira Ellman, one of several scholars who joined a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said the state law is based on misconceptions.
“Half of the people who molest children don’t test positive for pedophilia, and a lot of people who do test positive for pedophilia are almost at zero risk for molesting a child,” said Ellman, a retired law and psychology professor from Arizona State University and now a scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society.
The scholars cite a federal government study that followed men whose only sexual offense was viewing child pornography and found that 96.4% committed no contact sexual crime during an 8½-year follow-up period. A 2010 study found that “online offenders rarely go on to commit contact sexual offenses.”
Therapy may not be able to change a person’s sexual interest in minors, Ellman said, but it can help someone control impulses and avoid criminal acts.
People who molest children are likely to have antisocial personality traits, including lack of empathy, the scholars said, and therapists can identify them.
“I am not suggesting there is nothing wrong with looking at pictures of kids,” Ellman said. “Obviously, the creation of such a picture requires horrible abuse of a child. Everybody agrees that is a horrible thing.”

What to do?

I could present another dozen statistics that are in line with what these experts from the LA Times article are saying. There really is no connection between a hands-off crime leading to hands-on crimes. The link has never been made.

Here’s where the whole thing may fall apart for me. The people looking at the underage pornography are still consumers. Most never purchased it, but they are creating the demand for the product. If there was nobody who wanted to see the stuff, it stands to reason that far less would be made, right?

Any child who appears in any of those photos is a victim. Sure, maybe it’s not a violent sex act, but a “harmless” photo of them on a nude beach from a vacation in 2008. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being naked on a beach where it is allowed, but I do think there is a problem with posting a photograph of anybody – child or adult – at one of those beaches in a state of undress without their consent.

If a nude photo of me from a beach ended up on the Internet now, I probably wouldn’t fret too much. However, if I had been 13 or 14 in one of those photos and it fell into the wrong hands of people I knew when I was in my 20s, I could see some severe long-term PTSD happening and a life with more therapy than I’ve already needed. The reality is, I can’t imagine a situation where any child, no matter what is happening in the photograph itself, provided their consent.

If somebody is perpetuating this underground network of underage pornography to continue, that’s a crime. Perhaps if they are downloading pictures and videos from peer-to-peer networks there is no supplier making money, but should the producer making money be our litmus test to determine if this is wrong? No. Looking at underage pornography is wrong. We all know this.

From a philosophical standpoint, everything I just argued makes sense, but in reality, reporting every consumer of underage pornography in California – heck, reporting every consumer in America – is not going to end the international problem and do we want to clog up our court system with people who clearly need rehabilitation, not incarceration? If a therapist reports their client for admitting to look at underage pornography, you risk potentially moving the client from an environment of rehabilitation into one of incarceration. Isn’t that exactly not what is best? The perfect-world philosophy and real-world circumstances are clearly at odds here.

Should California look the other way at perpetuating this underground industry, as Maine does, under the guise that the consumer will likely not physically offend? Isn’t it better, as many of the experts believe, that the patient feel comfortable enough to share this information and address their issue before it gets worse? If they can be given tools to fight their urges now, the situation may not worsen in the future, but if they know they’ll end up being reported to authorities, there is no incentive for them to share their tendencies, which will likely continue without therapeutic attention.

This feels like one of those situations where this is no clear-cut correct answer and you’re almost picking the least of two evils. I just go back and forth on which option is the lesser of the two.

 

 

 

The Grateful Eight, December 2019

Generally, I don’t like these entries that mimic what other bloggers do. I have no problem with anybody else doing them, but I’m not into awards or challenges or any of that stuff. However, since I am a hypocrite at heart, I’m going to continue with an idea I found on another site and began last month.

The Grateful Eight is a chance on the eighth of every month to pause and mention eight things you are grateful for. They can be serious, funny, whatever. I enjoyed writing last month’s entry and I think since being grateful is such an important part of recovery, I need to display it openly a little bit more on this award-winning blog.

In no particular order, this month’s Grateful Eight:

BooksInHand1) My Book Finally Coming Out – I’m sure the regulars are already way sick of hearing about it, but apparently in its first week it has surpassed the publisher’s expectations and we are now moving up the Kindle release to much earlier in 2020 than first planned, and we’re having a conversation about producing a hardcover version for libraries. Even with all of my ghostwriting, I’ve never had a hardcover book before.

2) Podcasts – For the last several weeks, I’ve been a guest on 3-5 podcasts per week and I continue to get requests to book spots, now into February. If not for them, the only way I’d be able to spread my story is the occasional radio interview and this blog. Yes, I tell a lot of the same stories over and over, but to someone out there, they are always new. In my post-recovery world, it’s also connected me with some terrific people I’m still talking with to this day who aren’t into judgment. I still need that. I probably always will.

E5380CCF-602F-4F33-9069-5BC0CD70324D3) The movie Midsommer – I saw it at the movie theater twice this summer and while I know it’s not going to be 80% of people’s cup of tea, I was so moved that I got a tattoo based on the film when on my trip this past summer. Then I didn’t see the movie again for nearly six months. I watched it the other day now that it’s on demand and any fear I had of regretting that tattoo is gone. Again, I warn you that it’s a pretty intense movie. Nobody who is easily triggered by anything should watch it, ever.

4) My Son Being a Fool Like Me – On the way to school in the morning on Friday, I had the satellite radio on the Christmas classics channel. Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas came on. At the exact same moment that I launched into my over-the-top hack Elvis impression, he started an over-the-top hack version of the back-up melody. It was just like the end of the evening at a bad office Christmas party that employees were forced to go to that only had karaoke for entertainment. I couldn’t have been prouder.

5) The Me Who Once Was Up for Anything – When we’re young, we don’t think of consequences and are willing to take more risks based on blind optimism and the kind of naïve understanding of what could go wrong that only comes with youth. Toss two heaping cups of mania on top of that and I really had some amazing adventures when I was younger. Sure, there was plenty of recklessness and bad decision making, but I saw the world, met amazing people, pursued whatever my dreams were at the moment and didn’t let anything stand in my way. My life was the Laverne and Shirley theme song. I’ve been told more than once I’ve lived enough for three lifetimes already and while I’m very different now, I can appreciate who I was back in the day, despite any other issues I may have had.

6) The Moment I Grew Up – Yes, I can point to the moment that any thoughts of bungee jumping, becoming a race car driver, randomly moving to Jamaica and a whole lot of other stupid shit was erased from my bucket list. It was the day I volunteered to be tasered by the police department where I was a newspaper editor. I thought it would make a funny story for a column I wrote. It did, but it was a miscalculation of how far to go for a story on my part. Basically, it turned out to be the electroshock treatment I needed to cross the threshold into adult…at around 32. And yes, it’s all on film. Enjoy:

7) Frank Sinatra’s Music – Sure, he dealt with some questionable people as the Chairman of the Board and stories of not being the best father or husband exist (not to Bing Crosby-level genocide, however) but man, that cat could swing.

8) This Decade Coming to a Close – If you told me on January 1, 2010 — just as my magazine was starting to really gain local attention — what was going to happen to me this decade, I would have said you were crazy. Actually, that downplays it. The first five years and the last five years are the most Jekyll and Hyde span of my life, or just about anybody I know. Oh well, I’ve always been into extremes. Here’s to a less dramatic Roaring ’20s.

So, what are you grateful for? None of that typical family or health stuff…I want the trivia.

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.

 

Recovery Wouldn’t Have Been the Same Without My Dogs

We’re having our first measurable snowfall of the year and as I look out of the windows of the office that doubles as my bedroom, I can see our three dogs playing outside, reminding me of how I used to play with my brother or other neighborhood kids on a snow day when we were little.

We always had cats growing up. I liked cats because they fit my general detached, non-empathetic mindset. They, too, also seemed to have the bipolar disorder I had not been diagnosed with yet, either running around causing havoc at full speed or taking long naps wherever they could find a flat surface.

My family had one dog that we got when I was about five and I think lived 12 years. The dog and I never bonded. It needed too much attention and too much care. It demanded things yet didn’t follow commands 100% of the time. In essence, I had no control over the dog and that made me uncomfortable, so I never got close to it.

It was probably two or three years after getting married before my wife brought up getting a dog, but I shut that down quickly, and did every time it was brought up afterward.

It took almost 10 years for her to wear me down. It was in the early years of running the magazine, so everything was going well, and I was usually in a good mood. Our daughter was 12 or 13 and my wife thought it would be a great Christmas gift for her. I relented and my wife stood in line for nearly 7 hours at the shelter one cold early December morning for a chance at one of the retriever/lab mix puppies that were going up for adoption. Her face day home is the lead photo on this entry.

In the late morning, the Saturday before Christmas, she came home with Finley, who is now eight years old. I never remembered the puppy from my youth, so this was really a chance to have one for the first time. I was up at all hours, so Finley would stick next to me while everyone was awake and slept with my wife and I most nights. My daughter revealed herself to not be willing to care for a dog, so it fell on my wife and I. Living near my office, I’d come home at lunch to let the dog out.

It would be hard to say that Finley and I deeply bonded, but we certainly had a decent thing going. I laughed at any suggestion of a second dog and life took such a crazy turn not long after that any talk of new pets stopped as I went through my legal ordeal.

Fast-forward about three-to-four years. I’m several years deep into recovery and doing a very good job turning my life around. I’ve been out of jail for eight or nine months, and building a decent little ghostwriting and freelance writing business from home. However, with both kids in school and Finley now mostly just a fan of laying in my bed, I was lonely.

One weekend my wife made an off-hand comment about a post she read on Facebook that the local shelter was taking in 40 puppies from down south after some kind of disaster. I don’t know why, but I knew at that moment I was going to get another dog. About a week later, after everyone had gone to work and school, I went to shelter, waited in line about two hours and eventually took the puppy that ran at me from the holding pen. I was probably 20th in line to pick and I have no idea how this one slipped through the cracks.

I took her home, after swinging by wife’s office. She was upset I got a new dog without telling her…for about 15 seconds. My wife and daughter named her Scout and while we were told she was a Shepard mix, three years later, it’s clear she’s mainly a begel mixed with a couple other things. I thought I was getting a big dog, but she’s half the size of Finley.

Thankfully, she and Finley got along immediately, and she helped Finley lose a much needed 10-15 pounds with the playing they did. I couldn’t believe I was a two-dog household.

I’ve never bonded to anything except my kids and wife as much as this little dog. She’s slept next to me since day one and is the most loving dog I’ve ever seen in my life. I never thought it was possible to love an animal, but I love this one. I like our three cats and I like Finley, but I finally understand that bond with an animal, and no, she doesn’t always do what I say and she’s the first one up in the morning, usually around 4:45, which means I’m up to care for her (and by default the other dogs).

In the summer of 2018, my daughter – who was leaving for college just months later – somehow convinced my wife she was ready to take care of a dog and was willing to spend money to get one. I think this shows just how much recovery mellowed me because I didn’t fight it too hard. I was concerned about being the one to be at home trying to work with three dogs, but didn’t sweat it.

On a late June day, we went to a breeder about an hour away and my daughter dropped $1,000 on a purebred German Shepard. She named him Arlo and he was the naughtiest puppy to the point that it took me a long time to like him, but now, as he approaches his second birthday and is a huge beast, we get along very well. He sleeps at my feet in the bed and Scout is tucked into my neck and head. Finley loves this, because it gives her the entire couch in the living room.

I was never a dog guy, but I have to say, having these dogs during my recovery has been terrific. No, they don’t always listen. No, I don’t always have control. The feeding duties fall to me and I spend way too much money on grooming and vets throughout the year.

Scout broke her leg around the time we got Arlo and the surgery was over $1,500. I just handed them my credit card without thought. My wife and daughter both told me that I never would have done that five or six years earlier. I also never would have been the guy whose phone was 75% pictures of his dogs.

The dogs don’t know what I do for a living, or what I used to do. They don’t know about my legal ordeal or how big my bank account is or isn’t. They don’t care. They just need me to be there for them and that’s a healthy thing for me now.